The next day when Cheng Qian woke up, he felt like he had almost perished last night. He opened his eyes only to see Han Yuan by his bedside, looking at him nervously as though he was dying.
Cheng Qian took no notice of him as he crawled out of bed and began to wash and rinse.
Han Yuan just acted like a big Pekinese dog that had caused trouble, following Cheng Qian wherever he went. Finally, Cheng Qian coldly told him: “Scram.”
Han Yuan pocketed his pride and said flatteringly, “Little Senior Brother…”
Cheng Qian looked frosty. “I will not report to Master, alright? Get lost! Or I’ll tell Master right now.”
Han Yuan ran away quickly with his tail between his legs.
Cheng Qian wiped his face dry. He had his own deliberations—from what first senior brother said, Master had already learned from Wen Ya that the so-called Jiang Peng had also arrived here. As a result, he wouldn’t report what happened last night to Master; it might alert him to what they were planning to do. If so, it would be more difficult for them to stalk Master.
Upon walking out of his cottage, Cheng Qian noticed first senior brother expressing his disdain for the food in the inn, then proceeding to ask a Taoist child to prepare better food for him, in Wen Ya Zhenren’s presence.
Han Yuan clearly didn’t learn his lesson from last night’s fearful experience. He jabbered on and on to first senior brother, expressing his wish to hang out.
First senior brother used a bunch of excuses, like he had a stiff neck because of the hard pillow, implying that he didn’t feel like moving around.
Yan Zhengming also refused to get on his carriage again because of junior sister’s urine.
Cheng Qian felt terrible all over his body and was in a bad mood. So when he saw his clamorous martial brothers, he immediately found a way to relieve his anger as he sneered, “You can have Puddle wash your cushion.”
With that, he lifted his finger, and in the direction he pointed, little junior sister Puddle had climbed into first senior brother’s carriage again and was stuffing the cushion on which she had peed yesterday into her mouth. Her innocent eyes were blinking, and a big smile was hanging on her face.
And as she hadn’t grown a full set of teeth yet, saliva was spilling out of her mouth.
It seemed that Cheng Qian feared that first senior brother wouldn’t feel bad, as he gave him another verbal stab. “Look: junior sister has washed your cushion with her drool.”
Yan Zhengming looked as though he was going to kill his junior sister and then kill himself.
Anyway, the cottage was definitely not a place to stay, and neither was the carriage. Here was miles away from Fuyao Mountain. Yan Zhengming raised his eyes heavenward, feeling sad that there wasn’t even a shelter for him in this vast world.
But soon his master saved him from his sadness.
“There isn’t morning class today; you can all go out to have fun in the morning. In the afternoon, we shall set out for the Azure Dragon Island on the boat.”
Han Yuan cheered for that and looked eagerly at his master, saying, “Master, I heard there’s another fair today.”
“Didn’t I give you a pouch of money yesterday?” Muchun Zhenre said, exasperated. But he was defeated by Han Yuan’s eager expression, so he took a pouch out of his sleeve and exhorted his apprentice like a miser. “Be careful with your money and use it wisely.”
Han Yuan was filled with boundless joy, like a bird flying out of its cage. First senior brother just ignored him. He asked his Taoist children to find a place and put several felt blankets on it so that he could take a nap.
Li Yun had wanted to go with Han Yuan, but after glancing at Cheng Qian, he changed his mind. He said, “I’ll practice swordplay.”
Han Yuan turned to Cheng Qian and obsequiously said, “Little Senior Brother, how about I take you to buy fruit?”
“Take junior sister with you,” replied Cheng Qian ironically. “You two play nice together.”
Han Yuan: “…”
In the end, Han Yuan held Puddle up with one arm. Scratching his cheek, he felt that he seemed to have been mocked. But soon he forgot it because Cheng Qian was like a needle hidden in silk floss that would prick whoever touched him. Sometimes even Master couldn’t be spared. Han Yuan was used to it, so he didn’t mind and joyfully went out with Puddle.
Wen Ya pulled a long face. Watching Muchun Zhenren’s apprentices break up in a hubbub after brief conversations, he gave each of them an evaluation. Staring at Yan Zhengming, he remarked, “Lack discipline, ne’er-do-well1.”
Then he looked at Li Yun. “Short of firmness, ne’er-do-well.”
And to Cheng Qian, his evaluation was concise. Without specifying the reason, he stated, “Ne’er-do-well.”
Han Yuan was the last, and the only one who didn’t receive “ne’er-do-well” as his evaluation. Wenya Zhenren asked Muchun Zhenren very surprisedly, “Did you pick up this guy to make up the numbers?”
As for Puddle, she was neglected as she was only half human and didn’t have a full set of teeth.
Finishing his comments, Wen Ya snorted and walked off without looking at Muchun Zhenren’s cloudy face.
At nightfall, the people of Fuyao Sect boarded the ship for Azure Dragon Island.
Cultivators were all built with flesh and blood just like mortals. They were also divided by ranks and liked to compare.
At the port of East Sea, tens of ships and boats were lined up in a row. Some were big ships decorated with carved patterns and exquisite curtains, and some were small boats which were so broken that it seemed that water would come in if they were rocked.
The bargain-hunter Master settled on the small boats at once; it would only cost them five coins per person. That couldn’t be any cheaper and better for them.
There were a few pots and bowls on the boat. It was said that they were used for bailing water when the boat leaked.
But Master’s plan fell through this time. Just as he was walking to the boat at the dock, Yan Zhengming had sent a Taoist child to book the largest, most expensive, and most splendid ship. He took the lead to go abroad, head high and chest out.
Cheng Qian went last with his master because he really didn’t want to go with any of his martial brothers.
Then Cheng Qian saw his master frown at first senior brother for the first time.
Seeing that, Cheng Qian inquired, “What’s wrong, Master? Is it because first senior brother is too prodigal?”
“It’s indeed hard to do anything without money,” said Muchun. “But money is ultimately an external thing which we can’t care too much. He shouldn’t have been so ostentatious.”
Cheng Qian did a double-take before he realized what his master was talking about. He scanned his surroundings and saw around them were all people heading for Azure Dragon Island. Except for sailors and fishermen, there were also people from other sects.
Some young people who couldn’t hide their thoughts were already scrutinizing them up and down.
Yan Zhengming ordered the Taoist children to carry his luxurious stuff onto the ship. His lofty manner had seemingly hidden his identity as a cultivator and made him look somewhat like a profligate son from a wealthy family. He was giving an impression of an unworldly insolent loafer.
Some people thereby showed contempt, some showed repugnance, and several people in rags walking around the boats stared at Yan Zhengming with strange expressions.
Cheng Qian tightened his grip on his wooden sword involuntarily. He suddenly looked up and asked, “Master, when can I have a real sword? A sword like first senior brother’s—I think his swordsmanship isn’t even as good as mine.”
Muchun Zhey looked at him tenderly. “Why do you want a real sword?”
Cheng Qian ran his eyes around those people with unkind expressions again, thinking how he should reply. He was extremely sensitive to hostilities from others and would feel secured only if he was holding a real weapon.
Though Cheng Qian thought first senior brother had got lousy wiring too, Master’s words sounded harsh to him…
Why must a man live under other people’s views and cater to others’ likes?
Why should people disobey their own wills because of the envy of others?
But these thoughts couldn’t be said to Master. Cheng Qian was sure that Master wouldn’t like to hear. So he said instead, “I see everyone else has one.”
Muchun Zhenren smiled. “The sword you’re practicing with is different from others’. And real swords might injure you. Just wait until you’re a few years older.”
Cheng Qian: “…”
He felt there was more to Master’s words than met the ears.
As the large ship was already booked, Muchun had no choice but to board the vessel with Cheng Qian.
The weather was fine today. Ships were sailing on a calm sea, and the Azure Dragon Island that used to be indistinct could be clearly seen now. Puddle was extremely excited by the smell of the sea. She never calmed down for a second, climbing up and down on Master’s shoulders, and messing his hair up like a birds nest.
There were many traveling together with them. From the deck, they could see some sword cultivators fighting each other for practice on the ship beside theirs.
On another ship, several old men were traveling on flying swords, probably to escort juniors of their sect. Perhaps they thought the ship was sailing too slowly, as an old man who looked like a fat radish raised his arms, making his sleeves bulge against the sea wind. There and then, the wind and waves swelled up, and their ship cleaved merrily through the sea as if being pushed by an invisible hand. Several boats nearby were nearly turned over.
Those sword cultivators’ ship also came close to capsizing. A middle-aged man who seemed to be a senior ran to the bow of the ship with his heavy saber. He erected the saber beside him and used some unknown force to stabilize the ship, which was neither too small nor too big. His face reddened.
Although Fuyao Sect had nobody to escort them, they had a large ship instead. It just swayed slightly in the huge waves, splashing some seawater.
But hence, Cheng Qian felt more hostile gazes from the small boats around them.
Grabbing his wooden sword, Cheng Qian stood by the railing of the ship expressionlessly. He just felt those cultivators weren’t so peaceful, and didn’t have a similar laissez-faire attitude2 as the people from Fuyao Mountain. Some of them abused their power to bully others, and the ones who were bullied didn’t hate those who bullied them but instead envied those who escaped.
Cheng Qian suddenly lost his exhilaration. He didn’t want to watch those almighty beings ride the clouds anymore, and his self-pride was at work again; it bothered him that they were traveling side by side with those people.
Getting back in the cabin, Cheng Qian found a place to sit down and took up his burin to do extra practices, with the itchy wish to become an almighty being when he woke up the next day.
Apart from that, he had taken out a swordplay book form the Library. It was called Tide Swordplay, which happened to coincide with their journey on the East Sea. Cheng Qian had finished learning the second form of Fuyao Wooden Swordplay and had just begun learning the third one. He had almost caught up with Li Yun’s pace—the reason why he was learning so quickly was that he was the only one of all Muchun’s apprentices who got his hands torn from practicing.
Compared with Fuyao Wooden Swordplay, other swordplays seemed to be much more in a straightforward and flat style without those dazzling variations. Just when Cheng Qian got some insight after practicing Tide Swordplay several times, Li Yun broke in.
“Xiao-Qian!” Li Yun pushed the door open, gasping for breath. “Why are you hiding here? Come up with me. It seems that the archdevil first senior brother mentioned is here!”