Having figured that out, Yan Zhengming knew he should go down the mountain on a journey.
Sufferings and miseries could exercise a man’s body, while delight of meeting and grief of parting could temper a man’s mentality.
Although Fuyao Wooden Swordplay was only a primary swordplay, it implicated the ups and downs of a mortal life. It was not something created from imagination and divorced from reality. If he kept hanging around in the Land of the Tender, one thousand or ten thousand years would bring the same result, that his pace would be forever unable to catch up to the ever changing world.
Not everybody could get enlightened as luck would have it. If an ordinary cultivator could find out where the rub was, they would probably be delirious with joy, and take the bull by the horns to strive for a breakthrough.
But was young master Yan anywhere near ordinary?
The words “go down the mountain on a journey” only flashed into his head for a split second, and then were rapidly submerged by his imagination of the hardships and inconveniences of an arduous journey.
Speaking of going down the mountain, Yan Zhengming felt a terrible headache at the bare of idea of how many pieces of luggage he would have to take, and his laziness would rebel against him and take the control of his body, hampering him from heading for a promising future.
“Traveling? Whatever! I am not going anyway — screw the bottleneck, who cares.” The young master thought. He finally decided not to lend himself to worries.
Yan Zhengming had made up his mind to neglect the bit of nonfluency in his moves. He deluded himself into thinking that he had mastered it as he remembered the moves, and was planning to ask his master for the fourth form tomorrow.
The unambitious and perfunctory first senior brother began to slack off comfortably. He tossed several stones at his fourth junior brother who was climbing up the tree for the bird nest, accurately, but with moderate strength.
Looking at Han Yuan howling on the ground, Yan Zhengming felt that he had made an achievement in cultivation and there was no need for him to be too serious.
At midday, the mutual torture for the master and his apprentices came to an end.
Everyone except first senior brother went back to their own yard for lunch and rest, and would practice independently in the afternoon — those who were unwilling to practice could play with monkeys in the mountain.
Muchun Zhenren gave his apprentices enough freedom. He only warned them to obey the sect rules and not to wander around the mountain in the evening of the first and fifteenth day of every month.
Only Yan Zhengming had to stay and continue to face his master’s wizened face in the afternoon.
Seeing Taoist children successively bringing wood and a graver, Li Yun explained to his junior brothers, “They are used for carving charms. Charms are categorized into two groups, visible charms and invisible charms. Visible charms are inscribed on material objects; the most common is the wood. Some ace masters can also use gold as material. Invisible charms are way more powerful, they can be inscribed in the water and on the air, even mere thoughts can make them — that is a legend though, as none ever saw one. Probably only almighty beings can make it.”
Cheng Qian feigned disinterest, but was actually straining his ears.
After all, charms were the root of magic tools, and magic tools were the most direct impression of cultivation for ordinary people.
Han Yuan came closer and asked intimately, “Second Senior Brother, what is an almighty being?”
Li Yun grinned at him and said, “Nowadays, who on earth dare to claim to be almighty? True almighty beings have already ascended to the heaven.”
Han Yuan didn’t have a good impression of first senior brother, but he also knew he couldn’t afford to provoke him. On top of that, the little beggar didn’t have so high self-esteem as Cheng Qian, and he wasn’t the sort of person to bear a deep grudge, a sachet of pine-nut candies was enough to make him give up his hatred with a smile.
Watching Yan Zhengming’s relaxed figure admiringly, he asked Li Yun eagerly, “Senior Brother, when can we learn that?”
“We can’t learn it yet.” Li Yun waved his hand and said in mock regret. “To learn charms, you should have energy feel first — don’t ask me what energy feel is, I don’t know either. According to Master, it is a mysterious ability to communicate with the heaven and earth… but as you will know in the future, you can’t take his words too seriously because they are abstruse and don’t make sense.”
Li Yun had a mean curling mouth, which made him look like he was smiling all the time. But when he actually smiled, he looked even more vicious. Speaking of this, he paused purposely and frowned affectedly. “However, due to poor talents or bad luck, some people may never have energy feel.”
At that, Han Yuan tensed and straightened up unconsciously. “That’s a pity.”
“Of course it is.” Said Li Yun. “Without energy feel, however proficient we are in swordplay, we can do nothing more than keep fit with it.”
To start with, Cheng Qian didn’t take Li Yun’s words to heart, because he had concluded that Yan Zhengming was only a macaroni. If even a macaroni could acquire energy feel after frittering away seven or eight years, he might as well give up on cultivating and go back to being a farmer or trading, if he couldn’t do at least this much.
But at this point, Cheng Qian had perceived the insinuation and hook in Li Yun’s words.
Cheng Qian turned around. Looking straight at Li Yun, he asked in a lazy tone, “Second Senior Brother, you sound like you already know the method to arouse energy feel, right?”
Li Yun smiled at him, his eyes as well as brows crinkled into crooks. He didn’t respond though, instead, he stared at Cheng Qian meaningfully.
But Cheng Qian wouldn’t be hooked. He said indifferently, “Oh. That’s awesome. May senior brother get what you wish soon.”
If a method to arouse energy feel really existed, why hadn’t Li Yun tried it out himself? Evidently he had an axe to grind and wanted a fall guy to test for him.
The brat was oversensitive, Li Yun thought as his crooked eyes twitched.
But Han Yuan could hardly repress his curiosity. He pursued impatiently right away, “What? What method?”
Li Yun thus shifted from Cheng Qian to Han Yuan. But he kept him in suspense. “I can’t say, or I will break the rule.”
Though what he was saying was “I can’t say”, he sounded like “come and ask”.
Li Yun dug a huge hole in front of him, and Han Yuan was so cooperative that he jumped in without demur.
Han Yuan seemed to think that he became good friends with his second senior brother during the toad incident. He kept pumping Li Yun for the answer. With all his pretended dodging failed, Li Yun was “compelled” to reply in whispers, “I’ve read a book about sceneries of Fuyao mountain. It says that there’s a strong monster pressed down under the mountain, and every night of the first and fifteenth day of the lunar month, the monster’s demonic energy will echo with the moon, and pure and turbid energy veiling the mountain will swirl and surge. At that time, if one stands on the caves where the two energies meet, even a mortal could easily obtain energy feel.”
Then he suddenly changed his tone. “Of course, sect leader — our master has commanded, we are not allowed to go out of the yard on these two nights. The cave in the mountain is especially a forbidden area.”
Han Yuan seemed to be lost in thought at his words.
“Junior brothers shouldn’t have finished writing the sect rules 49 times yet. It is written plainly that you have to cultivate in a systematic way. You own good aptitudes, so you will have energy feel sooner or later. It’s not worthwhile to take a shortcut by breaking the rules. Do you agree, third junior brother?” Li Yun pretended to be exhorting them.
“Of course second senior brother.” Cheng Qian smiled stiffly.
Li Yun: “…”
Li Yun scrutinized Cheng Qian from head to toe. His reticent third junior brother was thin and tiny as though he hadn’t reached the age of growth, and no one would see his face once he lowered his head.
Li Yun developed a temporary confusion about whether his third junior brother’s inarticulacy was because of his young age and cowardice or a result of his oversensitivity.
Cheng Qian’s echoing his words placed Li Yun in dilemma. He forced a smile and said, “Third junior brother is well-mannered indeed.”
Not far away, Yan Zhengming took over a bowl of osmanthus and plum soup from a Taoist child’s hands. He lifted his head and happened to see the scene. He had always felt that Li Yun was a rogue with sinister designs, so he somehow saw evil plots from his second junior brother’s eyes when he grinned.
On a whim, Yan Zhengming turned around and said to the Taoist child, “Go and ask that little… the shortest kid. I forgot again, what’s his name?”
“That’s third martial uncle, Cheng Qian.” The Taoist child answered with reverence and awe.
“Oh yes.” Yan Zhengming nodded. “Tell him to wait. Just say Master asked me to give some advice on his swordplay after I finish talisman practice.”
“He didn’t give a shit when I asked him to do so, and now he uses me as a pretext.” Muchun Zhenren thought to himself. He looked at Yan Zhengming but didn’t lay bare his lie — the young master was quite lonely growing up on such a large mountain and he seldom got a kid as a companion.
The Taoist child trotted to pass the word. Hearing that, Cheng Qian didn’t give a comment, he only thought that first senior brother might have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed.
But Han Yun was reluctant to leave. He grumbled, “I was thinking of going to your place to play.”
Cheng Qian glanced at him and thought, “You’d better be played by your second senior brother.”
Harboring such mockery, he nonchalantly said goodbye to Li Yun and Han Yuan, and waited aside as told quietly — certainly not for young master Yan, whom Cheng Qian was uncertain whether to call senior brother or senior sister. He was in fact curious about the so-called “charms”.
But soon he found out that people without energy feel were unable to sense the profoundness of charms — at least from what he could see, first senior brother did nothing that whole afternoon. He was simply carving vertical lines on the wood, with a knife, under his master’s nose.
The only gain was that Cheng Qian saw their master’s strictness.
As expected, first senior brother was a hundred-percent macaroni. He had only sat for a short while before he rocked from side to side as if there were nails on his bottom, and bustled the Taoist children and maids around.
One minute he felt his hair knot was too tight and required re-combing, and the next he disliked the sweats on his body and would like to get his clothes changed; and now he felt like going to the restroom, then he thirsted… but when the water was served, he either found it too cool or thought it scalding. Nothing was to his liking. In a nutshell, he couldn’t remain seated.
And he often lost his concentration and often glanced this way and that; he sometimes criticized Li Yun and Muchun unvoiced in his heart, and on occasion hummed a tune lately composed by the maids. In a word, his mind was not on carving the wood at all.
Although Cheng Qian had no idea about the benefits of carving the wood, he despised first senior brother’s behavior a lot. “Idle folks lack no excuses.” He thought.
Muchun Zhenren already knew his undeserving apprentice would make a fuss about nothing. He placed a sandglass on Yan Zhengming’s desk. It only took half an hour for the sand to run out, and that was when Yan Zhengming’s practice would end. But as soon as his attention wandered, the sand would stop flowing. Therefore, the half-hour practice would usually be prolonged until it got dark.
Yan Zhengming had thought he and his master could become bosom friends in the aspect of “floating through life”, but when it came to practicing charms, his master became so unlike him, to the point of being insensitive.
Muchun Zhenren had said, Yan Zhengming’s Tao was actually the Tao of sword. Such cultivators mostly had a strong willpower, but there were exceptions, Yan Zhengming was one of them. Therefore, he must be trained doubly so that his talent would not be dissipated.
Cheng Qian watched for a while and felt he got not benefit from it at all, so he withdrew his sight and asked the Taoist child beside him for paper and writing brushes, and got down to doing homework for today — write sect rules first, then Scriptures on Clarity and Stillness his master read this morning.
Seeing that, Muchun softened his severe expression and beckoned Cheng Qian: “Cheng Qian, come here. The light isn’t good there.”
Yan Zhengming frowned and looked upward right into his master’s bird-eyes.
Where could the light be poor at noon? Clearly his master was disgusting him by letting him know he wasn’t as dependable as a little kid.
Yan Zhengming turned to have a look at Cheng Qian’s handwriting. He briefly forgot the fact that it was himself that had asked him to stay. Venting his anger on Cheng Qian unreasonably, he said, “A dog’s footprints are far better than your writing.”
Cheng Qian was too young, after all, he didn’t have an involved mind. Hearing that, he retorted without even making a peep, “Thanks for senior brother’s edification. But it makes no difference however neat the prints are, because the little beast cannot remain seated at all.”
Finishing the words, he flashed an ironic glance at the sandglass. Yan Zhengming fumed, because he found the bloody sandglass stopped flowing again, expectedly.