Usually, those who grew up together would naturally get close to each other and become good friends. However, this didn’t apply to those whelps on the Fuyao Mountain. One was overly coddled, one was always up to mischief, one was extremely detached, and one was unusually slovenly in dressing style and manner… But after the trip to the Demon Valley, the estrangement between the four martial brothers unknowingly melted away, and thus they began to reveal their true nature.
Muchun Zhenren felt very grateful about this at first. But soon he realized, that it would have been better if they had remained the same as they were before.
A mischievous child is only a child; two together makes 1000 ducks; and three combined, seas are overturned; as for four…
Peace has escaped from Fuyao Mountain—
One day, the more and more presumptuous young master Yan hit upon a strange idea that he wanted to put a censer under every junior brother’s desk. Thus, the Mission Hall kept emitting smoke that whole day like a large stockpot, while the culprit just slept comfortably in the vast expanse of whiteness like a joyful dumpling floating on the soup.
Li Yun couldn’t abide the sight of his cosy sleep. After a flash of inspiration, he took out the formula of “Sweet-Dream Incense”.
“Sweet-Dream Incense” was, without doubt, not as good natured as its name. It was said that it could bring people erotic dreams when burnt during their sleep.
Knowing that, Han Yuan volunteered to prepare it.
As everyone knows, Han Yuan always did things topsy-turvy, so what would you expect from a person who couldn’t even read characters?
What’s worse, the little beggar was also passionate about innovation. He daringly added his own ideas to the formula —he mixed two extra spices to it, which accidentally made the “Sweet-Dream Incense” psychedelic. Then he stuffed it into his own censer expectantly when first senior brother was having a morning nap.
That day, all the creatures around the Mission Hall went crazy.
Two butterflies floundered over master’s head, quivering their wings and making it seem as if master was wearing a hairpin of the gaudiest kind.
And Li Yun’s new favorite pet—a bellied katydid, crawled drunkenly out of its cage. At some strange pace, it plunged into Cheng Qian’s ink slab. Cheng Qian’s hand which had been lifting a writing brush, ready to dip it in ink, froze in the air. The flecks of ink on his sleeve were like a cluster of black plum blossoms.
Master had never been so attractive to butterflies that he couldn’t even continue reading the sculptures. He pushed Puddle, who climbed onto his head to catch butterflies, back to her basket on his back. Discomfited and exasperated, he rebuked Han Yuan in his drawling voice like a laodan1 singing an opera, and commanded him to put the censor out.
Han Yuan grinned cheekily. He took out the censer from under the table and was about to splash it with a bowl of tea. As Li Yun snickered at his master’s new look, Cheng Qian picked out the katydid using two brushes and tossed it into the censer, tittering, “Junior Brother, let me do you a favor.”
Li Yun: “Oh no!”
But it was too late. The katydid and Han Yuan’s tea had showered on the censer. Those censers that young master Yan brought here all had waterproof charms on them. If you did want to put it out, you’d have to pour the water through some special holes and canals. Being provoked, the waterproof charm fought back right away. A flame leapt up and sputtered, but surprisingly Li Yun’s katydid wasn’t burnt dead. It scooted out of the fire in a cloak of flames and scurried into master’s moustache, leaving a sharp streak of sparks across the air.
That was where the spices in the incense came in—the katydid burnt master’s mustache into a strand of flavorsome charred hair.
On that very same day, both Han Yuan and Lin Yun were punished by writing the scriptures twenty times; Yan Zhengming also didn’t escape the punishment. He was made to write it out ten times because he was the initiator and it was too unreasonable of him to sleep overtly in the morning class. Although Cheng Qian played a part too, considering that he had no intention of that and had admitted his fault timely, he was the only one that was spared.
Because of this, Yan Zhengming unashamedly halted Cheng Qian on his way back to Qing’an Dwelling in the evening. Putting on the air of first senior brother, he said, “Little Copper Coin2, I happen to have free time today, do you want me to give some guidance on your swordsmanship?”
Through the past period of getting along with him, Cheng Qian had already got him sussed out—when it came to eating or playing, young master Yan was bound to march first. But once asked to sit down to study, he’d immediately become a “sick beauty”, grumbling that he was aching from toenails to hair.
Just now when Yan Zhengming was practicing swordplay, he even claimed to have heatstroke.
He offered to give some guidance? Only when pigs fly.
Unsurprisingly, in the next moment, his first senior brother spoke out his true purpose unblushingly. “Alas, I suddenly remembered that master asked me to copy the scriptures. Hmm… it seems that I don’t have free time now, but if you could help me with that…”
As they saying goes, an owl in the house—he doesn’t come with nothing.3
So Cheng Qian declined him without any hesitation. “Senior Brother, you might as well just write the scriptures. I dare not trouble you to do such heavy manual labor as practicing swordplay. I’m afraid you may sprain your back.”
Yan Zhengming: “…”
Why couldn’t people forever remain the same as they used to be? His hypocritical yet courteous third junior brother would never return.
“Wait!” Yan Zhengming was loath to give up. He turned his head and scanned around. Seeing nobody else, he threw his arm around Cheng Qian’s neck and pulled him over, saying quietly, “Write me a few copies, and I’ll tell you a secret.”
Cheng Qian sighed and said in all earnestness, “First Senior Brother, if the secret is ‘how to tie your belt to make it flutter’, you needn’t tell me.”
Without a word, Yan Zhengming just took advantage of his height and abducted Cheng Qian by carrying him under his arms—he walked so quickly that it was as if wind blew under his feet, not one bit like someone who’d gotten sunstroke.
Cheng Qian seldom wandered around the mountain. His life was confined to a narrow trip between Qing’an Dwelling and Mission Hall.
Of course it wasn’t because he had no curiosity, but that he had strong self-control. He thought that it would be unacceptable if he ran about before he truly learned something. Therefore, although he knew there were a lot of caves left by predecessors, he never visited any of them.
Yan Zhengming carried him to the top of a hill. In the whistling of the wind, he took him to a big stone which resembled a monkey. “Here we are.”
Cheng Qian shot a glance at the stone and was surprised. “This… Is this a statue put up for little junior brother?”
“Little brat, just go on with your acid humor, you’ll be begging me soon enough.” Said Yan Zhengming, his tone triumphant.
Finishing that, he produced a handkerchief out of his bosom and wiped the dust off the stone, revealing a crack outlining the shape of a gate.
Yan Zhengming put his hand on that “gate”, head down and eyes closed for a moment. After some creaks, he pushed open the gate on the stone monkey’s stomach. It was a dark cramped cave inside, with a flight of steps heading downwards to the deep.
Yan Zhengming: “This gate can only be opened by people who can absorb qi into their body. Unless you go to beg master, no one else except me can take you in.”
With that, he bent and went in.
Cheng Qian followed him languidly. He wasn’t very interested, so he asked perfunctorily, “What’s this place?”
“No name, but master calls it a Library.” Answered Yan Zhengming as he led the way.
Cheng Qian was taken aback.
Charms were carved on both sides of the stone walls. It seemed that they could sense people coming in, as the walls that were originally dark gave off dim light as they entered. It wasn’t dazzling, but enough for illumination.
“It has an expansive collection of ancient books and records passed down through thousands of years. Apart from scriptures of various schools which master preferes the most, there are many cultivation methods and swordplay collected by seniors.” If Yan Zhengming had a tail, it must have been sticking up now. “Little Copper Coin, if you can help me when master asks me to copy scriptures or sect rules… I can open the gate for you every ten days, how about that?”
As he spoke, they were reaching the end of the steps. A burst of the smell of ink from old papers assaulted their nostrils. Cheng Qian couldn’t help but ask doubtfully, “If so, then why did I never see senior brother come down here?”
“You can’t bite off more than you can chew; and more haste, less speed. I’m focusing on the Fuyao Wooden Swordplay right now, I’ll get easily distracted if I learn more than I should.” Yan Zhengming answered sternly.
Just one set of introduction swordplay had been taking him seven or eight years to practice, he really had the cheek to say that—
The narrow blind alley led suddenly into an open space. A huge cave presented itself. A book shelf stood there majestically from the ground to the roof. Piles of glass tablets, bamboo slips, hides and paper were neatly arranged by categories, including cultivation methods, swordplay, and varieties of erratic tricks, as well as travel notes of famous mountains and great rivers and so forth.
And in the back of the cave, there were steps leading to even deeper.
“The Library has nine floors in total with numerous collections. Li Yun’s formulas were just stolen out of here by me when I came to do cleanings. Tsk, the ne’er-do-well—by the way, Copper Coin, have you decided to write scriptures for me or not?” Said Yan Zhengming, hands clasped behind him.
Cheng Qian felt he was a mouse falling into a rice jar—it fitted his wishes exactly.
He never felt Yan Zhengming was so pleasing to the eye. Right now, he would even answer yes if his first senior asked him to marry him, let alone to copy scriptures!
Thus from then on, Cheng Qian started a more secluded life. He not only worked hard on his own study but also snatched every minute of his free time to share the mounting punishment of first senior brother’s, and had to digest the books he’d read in the Library in the dead of the night.
As promised, every ten days Yan Zhengming would open the gate for him. Cheng Qian was so covetous that he wished he could hold the entire Library in his brain. Every time he’d devour several passages and then used the next ten days to digest them.
Such days were full and elapsed very quickly. With the change of seasons, a year passed in a flash.
During this year, the Heavenly Monster, Puddle, had showed her nonhuman side—she’d learned to crawl, walk and jump very prematurely. Even though she was only one-year-old, her height already reached that of a three-or-four-year-old mortal girl.
Cheng Qian continued to visit the Library with unfailing regularity. Meanwhile, his handwriting was improving too, getting more and more like the characters on the stone gate at the mountain waist, and he even learned to imitate Yan Zhengming’s handwriting.
At first, Yan Zhengming thought that Cheng Qian would take several books on erratic tricks or anecdotes out on the sly, just as Li Yun did. But much to his surprise, he once caught a glimpse of him seriously reading swordplay and cultivation methods.
Yan Zhengming, the worthless first senior brother thus drew a conclusion—Copper Coin was crazy.
Cheng Qian was an absolute aberration on the Fuyao Mountain, especially in contrast with Han Yuan, who couldn’t even recognize all the characters of the sect rules after a year had passed since he entered the sect.
One day, when Yan Zhengming opened the gate of the Library for Cheng Qian again, he couldn’t help but ask the question he had wanted to ask.
“Copper Coin,” Said the young master seriously. “What the heck are you planning to do? To cause trouble at the Southern Heavenly Gates4?”
“Master said, ‘the stalk and the pillar, the leader and the beautiful Xi Shi5, and all sorts of strange things and fantastic phenomena–they are all one from the viewpoint of Tao.’ The Tao(paths) may take different shapes, it never departs from the original aim. So I plan to read more so as to complement to the cultivation methods of our sect.” Cheng Qian prevaricated.
“You’ve just entered the cultivation world for a year, why would you even rush to read cultivation methods?” Yan Zhengming said out of curiosity.
“Last year, when we got back from the Demon Valley, didn’t first senior brother say that you’ll pluck all of Zipeng Zhenren’s feathers out? How can you defeat her if you don’t learn any cultivation methods?”
Yan Zhengming got more surprised. “Yes, I did say that. But I also said ‘one day’. The old hen is more than eight hundred years old, while I’m just sixteen. What’s the hurry? Perhaps I’ll be more powerful than her after seven or eight hundred years.”
He was definitely daydreaming…
During last year, Yan Zhengming’s height growth had accelerated, he was more and more like an adult male. Immaturity was disappearing from his behaviors while sanguinity and elegance was being brought out. After a look at his own slim arms and slowly-growing height and another look at first senior brother, Cheng Qian was more or less envious.
But his admire and appreciation wasn’t enough to make him endure Yan Zhengming’s aggravating narcissism.
That guy seemed to feel his beauty could even outshine Song Yu and shame Pan An6. Every reflective surface—puddles after the rain, shiny blades, could all be used by him as a mirror. From his facial expressions when looking at the mirror, Cheng Qian could refer that Yan Zhengming’s heart must be full of praises for himself.
For a man who took swords as a mirror, would it make any difference whether he’d cultivate eight hundred or eight thousand years?
Cheng Qian couldn’t think of anything to say to him and walked aside to continue the book he failed to finish last time.
Feeling that the sect was never going to go up again.
- laodan: an old female character in Chinese opera. see more here.
- Copper Coin will be a nickname used by Yan Zhengming to call Cheng Qian.
- A Chinese saying, if an owl comes to your house, it brings either good or bad fortune.
- Southern Heavenly Gates: said to be the entrance from the mortal realm to immortal realm in mythologies.
- Xi Shi: one of the renowned Four Beauties of ancient China. See more here.
- Song Yu and Pan An are two of the Four Handsome Men in ancient China, the other two are Prince of Lan Ling and Wei Jie. Though I didn’t find the English wiki page for Wei Jie, I did find a funny video on YouTube called “The Four Hottest Guys in Chinese History”.[ED: hubba hubaa]