After a few paces, Yan Zhengming thought of something and turned back. He fished a package of milk cakes out of his sleeve and gave it to Cheng Qian churlishly. “Take it, little dwarf.”
Cheng Qian readily accepted it without saying thanks. He waved his hand impatiently, signaling Yan Zhengming to piss off quickly.
That day, he finished reading Introduction to Charms. After finishing the desserts, he suddenly felt like cleaning the ground floor of the Library.
The ground floor of the Library was like a dump. With no one coming for years, it had been covered by a thick layer of dust. All other floors, walls and shelves were carved with moth-proof and damp-proof charms, but only the ground floor was an exception. Everywhere you could see worm-eaten and page-missing books, whose contents were multifarious and disorderly. Cookbooks, gardening books, esoterica for brewing, and even a pornographic album—a buttock of the man on the head-page had been “eaten” by worms.
Perhaps due to the influence of first senior brother, Cheng Qian just felt disturbed by the messy sight, so he couldn’t help but decide to clean it up.
This cleaning rewarded Cheng Qian with a surprise—he found a wall bestrewn with small characters behind a broken shelf. Brushing the dust and cobwebs off, he finally saw the characters clearly.
The title was concise: Diabolism.
Cheng Qian was startled; he didn’t expect that such things existed in the Library of Fuyao Sect. He wavered, thinking that he shouldn’t peep. But when he lifted his foot to leave, he reminded himself of Lord Beiming.
Cheng Qian forced his eyes to not rove. He cleaned the ground floor up at a snail’s pace and went upstairs reluctantly.
But shortly after he left, he regretted it and quickly ran back, reading the writings on the wall word by word.
That wall recorded hundreds of thousands of kinds of Diabolism, among which were those who became diabolical from sensuality, bloodthirstiness, obsession… Some volunteered and some were the result of coincidence. But Cheng Qian soon found that apart from a few disgusting cultivation methods, many of the others didn’t seem so abnormal.
Among demonic cultivators, some people also practiced the Tao of sword and charms. And even the classification and practicing ways of charms weren’t so different from what master had taught first senior brother.
Cheng Qian had been seeking the way of feeling qi in the natural world and absorbing it into his body, so he’d read many different types of cultivation methods. Thus, he was also surprised that the way of absorbing qi recorded here was very similar to those recorded in other cultivation methods; they all required “inner peace”, “purity of mind” and such.
Cheng Qian was imbued with doubts. So the next day, he decided to ask his master.
Muchun Zhenren lifted his own head upon hearing the question. For a second, Cheng Qian felt a black mist flash across his eyes. But it was so quick that Cheng Qian thought perhaps his eyes were playing tricks on him.
“Diabolism?” Muchun Zhenren looked distracted. There was a silence before he asked, “Why are you asking about that?”
Yan Zhengming used a book of swordplay to cover his face and gave Cheng Qian a good kick under the desk, lest the brat give away that he’d taken him into the Library without permission.
Cheng Qian was banged into the stone desk by this kick and almost fell. Angered, he kicked back at once, leaving a black footprint on first senior brother’s white satin shoe, and forgot to answer master’s question.
Muchun Zhenren had already gotten used to them kicking each other under the desk, so he didn’t pay much attention. He deliberated carefully and said, “The stalk and the pillar, the leader and the beautiful Xi Shi, and all sorts of strange things and fantastic phenomena–they are all one from the viewpoint of Tao. There’s no right way to the Great Tao. Different routes can lead to the same destination; demonic cultivators are just taking a different way. It’s not strange that those ways have similarities.”
Cheng Qian found his words strangely familiar. Then he remembered—wasn’t that what he said to swindle first senior brother in the Library?
As he thought about it, he hurried to lift his feet and avoided first senior brother’s second kick.
Cheng Qian couldn’t shake off the feeling that master was putting him off, so he questioned closely, “Master, why do we choose this one instead of the other?”
Muchun Zhenren looked at him silently. At length, he said meaningfully, “The plum tree by the road has fruited, but nobody goes to pick. Do you know why? Because it must be bitter!”
His words were like a pot of cold water pouring on Cheng Qian’s head down to his tailbone, cooling off his inner depths thoroughly. He felt that master had seen through him completely.
After meeting Lord Beiming, the words “grandmaster of all magic” had been rooted into his mind. While in the Demon Valley, those monsters that were invincible in his eyes seemed to be unworthy of mentioning in Lord Beiming’s. Even the arrogant Zipeng Zhenren trembled in his wake.
Last time, when Li Yun talked about demonic cultivators, he was shouted down by Yan Zhengming. That enabled Cheng Qian to have a glimpse of people’s common attitude towards demonic cultivators. But anyhow, he was still attracted to seek the truth on his own.
Before being disabused today, Cheng Qian had thought a lot. He’d been thinking that since he already had a partiality, he would always be able to retort no matter what master said. However, the older, the wiser. Although Muchun Zhenren’s words seemed to weigh light, it actually dealt a heavy blow to Cheng Qian’s chest, shattering all of those excuses he’d came up with into pieces.
Cheng Qian’s curiosity evaporated in a flash. He inclined his head respectfully, saying, “Many thanks, Master.”
Cheng Qian’s comprehension exceeded Muchun Zhenren’s expectations. Feeling gratified and satisfied, he coughed to draw his apprentices’ attention and announced, “Apprentices, work hard these days; we’ll go on a trip.”
Exclaimed the apprentices in chorus. Some were delighted and some were shocked—for someone like Han Yuan, a trip was of course like a festival; but for Yan Zhengming, it was like a thunderbolt out of the clear sky.
Muchun Zhenren said, “The decennial Celestial Market is about to open. You only have a very narrow view of the real cultivation world on Fuyao Mountain; it’s about time you open your eyes to the outside. And I’ll drop by at a few friends’. Since we all have apprentices, comparison is unavoidable, so make sure your master doesn’t lose face.”
Losing face… was also unavoidable.
Yan Zhengming was the first to understand what that meant. He sat square and said in all seriousness, “Master, in case I bring you into contempt, you may just take junior brothers and sister; I’ll stay to look after the house.”
“Taoist children can look after the house, it needn’t bother the first apprentice of our sect,” said Muchun, looking at him benevolently.
“No way! What if things go wrong in the mountain cave again? And what if some thieves covet the treasures here and come to steal?” Yan Zhengming retorted plausibly.
Muchun Zhenren replied unhurriedly, “Zipeng Zhenren and I have reached an agreement that day. She has sealed the cave, so you don’t need to worry. Plus, there are charms at the foot of the mountain and Taoist children guarding the gate; common thieves can’t go up.”
Yan Zhengming was about to continue arguing, but Han Yuan, who had been itching for the trip, couldn’t help but cut in, “Senior Brother, why are you acting like a young lady who never steps out of the house?”
Young master Yan’s face turned crimson from anger. He gave a sweeping jerk of his sleeves and flung off, feeling that the Hans couldn’t be more detestable.
Muchun Zhenren saw him off smilingly. Then stroking Han Yuan’s head, he threatened him with the same kindly face, “Xiao-Yuan, since you made no effort to seek progress and haven’t remembered the sect rules so far, how about you stay and watch the house?”
Han Yuan suddenly lost his high spirit, like a frosted eggplant.
The next ten days, Fuyao Mountain was thrown into bedlam by the first apprentice, Yan Zhengming.
In order to not go on the trip, Yan Zhengming feigned illness and did everything he could to oppose his master, to the point that he nearly acted shamelessly to beg his master.
Unfortunately, Muchun Zhenren steadfastly refused to indulge him this time. His determination to get his first apprentice down the mountain was rather unshakable.
Han Yuan was exactly the opposite. In order to go out, he spent almost every second and minute on memorizing the sect rules. Nevertheless, this guy’s brain was probably not designed for this. Those characters made his poor head spin, yet he still couldn’t memorize them all. Cheng Qian had seen Han Yuan knock his head against the wall, as though he was demented.
And the master also became mysterious about his whereabouts.
That day, Cheng Qian spread a piece of rice paper on the Peaceful Stone1, writing the Scriptures on Clarity and Stillness from memory.
Since the day he received the answer to his doubts from Master, he’d had a feeling that he seemed to have touched something, but it was wrapped in a thin film which he had no means to break for now, so he was a bit anxious.
Anxiety does no good to cultivation. Cheng Qian had to stop his other work to write scriptures to calm his mind down.
But halfway through that, he heard a knock at the door. Xueqing went to answer it and after a minute came back with a chubby girl in his arms. That was exactly his junior sister, Puddle.
Puddle had half-demon blood, so she was naturally different from normal girls. She had a fondness for exertion of an unusual degree of activity—climbing the tree and up to the roof was just a cinch for her. But she couldn’t speak yet. On this score, she was more like a clever and nimble animal full of intelligence. She was already able to recognize others’ emotions by their tones and behaviors when she was still in an egg. But strangely, she was extremely slow when it came to specific speech.
Master said, it could be her demon blood at work; it wouldn’t be strange if she couldn’t speak even when she reached ten.
Puddle probably sneaked out when master didn’t notice. There were only two things that could attract kids: food and playthings. Puddle usually preferred going to the Land of the Tender, because as a neat freak, first senior brother would always prepare a lot of good food to get rid of her as soon as possible. Once Puddle came, he’d use food as bait and ask her to bring disaster to others. Puddle secondly liked to go to Han Yuan’s place—as Han Yuan himself was a “plaything” for her.
But she rarely came for Cheng Qian, because Cheng Qian didn’t like playing with her.
And she was never interested in Li Yun—he had turned her into a toad.
As it was rare to have junior sister in Qing’an Dwelling, Cheng Qian was surprised. “Why are you here?”
“Ah ahh,” Puddle groaned. She went up to pull Cheng Qian’s trousers, and with a puff, her clothes were ripped up by something behind her. Startled, Cheng Qian turned her over and saw two wings of an unknown bird growing out of her back!
- In case you forgot, Peaceful Stone is a huge stone in Cheng Qian’s yard, first mentioned in Chapter 4.