Tian Xiewen glanced at the three disciples huddled in the corner, before squatting down beside the counter. He knocked his knuckle against the table lightly until the female disciple, Wen Yi, looked up at him. She smiled gently with a hint of irritation, and set her book down.
"Shishu, is there something you need?"
"Tell Shishu again—who decided on this punishment again?"
"Yu Lan Sword Immortal did," Wen Yi affirmed.
Tian Xiewen rubbed at his chin as he looked back towards the crowd of disciples. "Isn't Yu Lan supposed to be coldblooded? What's with this simple punishment? It's like a teacher punishing their students."
Wen Yi's smile tightened. "This is how children learn, Shishu."
Tian Xiewen looked up with a quirked brow. "What do you mean?"
"If you teach the children, they will learn better. If you punish the student, they will only listen out of fear," Wen Yi explained.
"Who told you this?" Tian Xiewen asked. "Was it Yizhou?"
"Shishu, I look after the younger disciples more than you do," Wen Yi said as she dipped her brush into the ink. "I also looked after the other kids on the street when I was younger. Of course, I would know how to raise children better than you do."
Tian Xiewen nodded. It made sense. Ren Yizhou also didn't know how to take care of children. If it weren't for Wen Yi, who knows what would happen to half of the disciples that ran under Ren Yizhou's care?
"Shishu, did you come here for something?" Wen Yi asked without looking up again.
"Where's your shizun?" Tian Xiewen asked, finally cutting to the point.
"Out where?" Tian Xiewen asked curiously. "They didn't go to Jasmine Fairies, did they?"
Wen Yi continued transferring records. "Shizun actually left you a message."
Tian Xiewen straightened. "What message?"
"Shizun told me to tell you 'What does it have to do with you where I go?' if you were to ask about their whereabouts," Wen Yi said.
Tian Xiewen fell down onto his butt and draped his arms over his knees. A look of displeasure covered his handsome face, making him look somewhat terrifying, but the young woman was unphased. "What's with your shizun anyway? I just want to find them to play, but they're always avoiding me."
"Shishu, this answer can only be found through self-evaluation," Wen Yi replied.
"You're quite snarky."
"Shishu seems to have a lot of free time on his hands," Wen Yi noted.
"Trainings only happen on the last days of the week. Your shishu is very free right now," Tian Xiewen said, tilting his head childishly.
"Shishu may have a lot of free time, but Wen Yi doesn't," the female disciple glanced at her shishu. "Perhaps you should go find someone else to converse with."
Tian Xiewen let out a long sigh before slowly standing up. He dusted off his knees and threw one last glance at the three disciples huddling in the corner before leaving the library. His first thought was to find his own little disciple to bother, but he knew that silly girl had most likely snuck off to the city again. His mind drifted off towards any of the direct disciples, but ended up drawing a blank. Li Qing would be the freest, but Tian Xiewen didn't necessarily want to play with a child right now. As for Su Han…it would be better to not talk to him while he was in a good mood. Tian Xiewen might get angered to death in the next second.
Tian Xiewen let out a loud sigh as he swung his arms and clapped his hands together. He tilted his head from side to side in an attempt to stretch out his neck. His sight wandered as he walked down the path away from the library. Of the disciples that he did see, they were all in the middle of errands and almost all of them avoided his gaze.
Tian Xiewen clicked his tongue. "Everyone's no fun."
His arms fell to his side as he reached the top of the stone steps. The green field was normally filled with disciples lazing around. Who knew what it was different about today, but everyone seemed to have something to do. No one laid out sprawled in the field as they usually would.
Tian Xiewen let out a sigh and made the decision to go down the mountain to the nearby city and head to a tavern. He turned his head to glance through the field one last time, not expecting much of anything, only to find a flutter of white fabric that caught his eyes. Tian Xiewen raised an eyebrow.
In the entire sect, no one bothered to wear white. It was a finicky fabric to wear and as cultivators who practiced the sword, it would be quite easy to get dirty when practicing. Fan Yi wore purely black while Ren Yizhou often wore a nice array of colors that stains wouldn't easily show through. The disciples all had their own uniforms that ranged on the darker side of blues with a dash of gold. Even Tian Xiewen himself only wore earthy tones.
Before Tian Xiewen could stop himself, his feet had already carried him over to the bottom of the tree. He tilted his head back and looked up at the lean looking youth that sat on the branch of the tree. Tian Xiewen's brows furrowed as he tried to remember who this person might be.
"Does Third Pillar need something?" a languid voice drifted down to Tian Xiewen's ears.
A smile flickered across his face. "Yu Lan, was it?"
Wu Lingtian's gaze shifted from the air that he had been staring at and looked down. He didn't bother straightening up. His entire torso was slumped against the tree trunk. His hair, which was tied up into a neat ponytail, was pressed up against his back and fell down over his shoulders. The only color to his entire outfit were the black cuffs around his wrist, the black belt that mingled with silver chains, and the jade crown that held up his hair. His entire person was relaxed and calm, seemingly the complete opposite of the fiery red-clothed youth from before his downfall.
Tian Xiewen was once again reminded of the phrase "the clothes make a person". His smile grew. "Are you busy?"
Short and sweet—what a curt answer. Tian Xiewen's smile turned sweeter. "Yu Lan, if you aren't busy, would you like to get a drink with me?"
Wu Lingtian had turned his head completely to face Tian Xiewen. His expression remained indolent as he stared at the older man below him.
Tian Xiewen leaned against the tree to his left and looked up. "Please? No one else wants to play with me."
"Do you not have responsibilities?" Wu Lingtian wondered.
"What kind of responsibilities would I have?" Tian Xiewen questioned back. "You aren't refusing because of the no-drinking rule in your sect, are you?"
"I do not belong to a sect," Wu Lingtian clarified.
"Oh, pardon me. Your previous sect," Tian Xiewen smiled widely, showing his little tiger teeth.
Wu Lingtian remained unmoved. He turned his head back away and continued staring at the air.
"It isn't like you're doing anything, right? You aren't even overseeing the punishment of those three rascals from yesterday," Tian Xiewen reasoned. "I just want someone to talk to while I drink—you don't even need to respond!"
Wu Lingtian's remained silent for a moment. He didn't turn his head as he spoke: "I do not have my sword and I'm still recooperating."
Tian Xiewen straightened excitedly and patted his chest. "I can fly you down."
Wu Lingtian swung his legs off the branch and pushed himself down. When he landed in front of Tian Xiewen, Tian Xiewen noted that Wu Lingtian was actually the closest to his height out of everyone in the sect. Tian Xiewen had expected Wu Lingtian, someone who was always made out to be feminine and dainty, to have a smaller stature. Granted, even the descriptions of Wu Lingtian being a feminine beauty were merely rumors without even a hint of truth. Although he possessed an unconventional type of handsomeness, Wu Lingtian, even at first glance, would never be mistaken for a woman.
Tian Xiewen gave Wu Lingtian a cheeky smile as the pair walked to the gates of the sect.
"What happened to your sword anyway?" Tian Xiewen asked as he recalled the night. "We went to your room and gathered your belongings that night, but your sword wasn't there."
Wu Lingtian glanced at Tian Xiewen.
The members of the Screeching Sparrow Sect were elusive and little was known about their past. Only Fan Yi, who had been loud and brash a few hundred years ago, retained a semblance of some type of public image and reputation. But even then, no one knew where he came from. Just like that, there were only vague rumors about the three leaders of Screeching Sparrow Sect. And, for Tian Xiewen, the rumor about him was simply that he had previously had zero involvement with the cultivation world until he met Fan Yi.
"In the world of righteous sects, when you betray your sect, your cultivation should be destroyed and your sword will be shattered," Wu Lingtian said. "They most likely broke my sword."
Tian Xiewen's brows furrowed. "Does Fan-ge know?"
"He should have assumed."
The breaking of a sword cultivator's weapon was not something to play around with. Once you reached a certain level within your cultivation, you would gain a soul bound weapon. Since the sword would become linked to your soul, shattering it would harm one's cultivation base. That was why most cultivators would store their weapon in their dantian, not even allowing those they trusted the most to handle it. While the sword is not easily breakable, when such a feat is accomplished, it could have long lasting and even detrimental side-effects on the cultivator.
Someone of Wu Lingtian's level should have that strong of an attachment to his sword.
"And you're fine?" Tian Xiewen asked.
Wu Lingtian nodded. "Just harmed my cultivation base a bit."
Tian Xiewen moved a little closer, his eyes scanning Wu Lingtian up and down. When Wu Lingtian looked over at him, Tian Xiewen met his gaze with furrowed brows. "Is it true you were born from a rock?"
Wu Lingtian stared at Tian Xiewen blankly. "Third Pillar, I am human."
"…That's true," Tian Xiewen took a few steps back. "You're human, so how could you be born from a rock. Then, where are you from? Your accent doesn't seem like it's from around here."
"You also do not sound as if you are from around here," Wu Lingtian said. "Where is Third Pillar from?"
Tian Xiewen and Wu Lingtian looked at on another once more. Tian Xiewen stuck his tongue against his cheek. "Far west."
"What's your hometown?"
"What is yours?"
"…Long Guang City."
Wu Lingtian tilted his head to the right as he shuffled through his own memories. "I have never heard of it."
"It would be odd if you have," Tian Xiewen laughed. "It has another name—the Lost City."
Wu Lingtian turned to Tian Xiewen for an explanation.
"Overnight, the entire kingdom—not just the city—was buried under the sand. What was found of the bodies of the residents were bathed in blood, soaked completely through," Tian Xiewen shook his head with a soft sigh. "An odd phenomenon that has yet to be explained."
Wu Lingtian had indeed heard of the Lost City. He had originally thought it was just another myth. It was something that had happened a long time ago, just a few hundred years before Wu Lingtian was born.
"I've already told you. Where are you from?"
"…Heixue Town?" Tian Xiewen frowned. "Isn't that the place that's right beside Fengya?"
"It is," Wu Lingtian confirmed.
"You…" Tian Xiewen found himself at a slight loss for words. He chewed at the inside of his cheek and then leaned closer again. "You are a resident of Fengya?"
Fengya was a region to the north that extended larger than both Jianshi and Xianping, the areas that those who used spiritual energy to cultivate lived. Many millions of years ago, during the fights between the demon clans and the celestial clans, the area of Fengya had been heavily polluted by demonic energy. After so many centuries and millennia of no one bothering to clean it up, it had turned into a hub for demonic cultivators and demonic spirits. Not only was it cold, but regular plants and animals would not be able to survive there. Any animals and plants that lived there had mutated an extreme amount. While the common people could live alongside cultivators in Jianshi and Xianping, a regular mortal would not be a regular mortal anymore after spending a few nights in Fengya.
Only Heixue Town, a small town that sat on the bordering patch of land that had miraculously not been infected, had normal people. But even then, it was known for its lawlessness and danger. It was a favorite for black markets to settle when they were not roaming the continent.
Wu Lingtian did not bother stepping away from Tian Xiewen, who had well invaded his personal space. He merely looked at him as they stopped walking. "Believe what you will."
Tian Xiewen scoffed as he unsheathed his sword. The saber hovered steadily, allowing Tian Xiewen to step on. He reached out his hand and helped Wu Lingtian onto the flat of the sword as well. "Speaking of, you haven't been around these parts, have you?"
"I can give you a tour," Tian Xiewen said. "You righteous sect people rarely come over to the west side anyway. I'll have you know, the Jianshi Province is very different from the Xianping Province. I bet you even the way we speak is different."
Wu Lingtian remained silent as Tian Xiewen rambled on about the differences between the two places. His posture remained straight as they flew. His head barely turned more than a few degrees one way as he glanced around at his surroundings. If there was one thing he could note as a difference between the territory of the Xianping Province and the territory of the Jianshi Province was the difference in color. Xianping tended to keep things clean, with few decorations lingering on the streets unless it was a time of festivities. But in the Jianshi Province, everywhere Wu Lingtian glanced at seemed to be covered by a colorful flag or a banner.
As they descended, even the sign that signaled the entrance of the town seemed different. The calligraphy on the sign felt more flamboyant than Wu Lingtian was used to. The words WuYe City seemed to scream out in front of him.
"Watch your step," Tian Xiewen said, his body suddenly pressed somewhat close to Wu Lingtian as they walked. "People here don't care much for personal space."
Wu Lingtian hummed in acknowledgement. He stuck close by Tian Xiewen as the pair of them weaved through the crowd.
WuYe City was a bustling town that was built above a lake. Each floating island was connected by a bridge. People passed through here every few days due to business and stayed for a few days longer because of the lively atmosphere. Because of this, WuYe City was the city that made Screeching Sparrow Sect the most money, even though their fees were just as low as any other town and city within their territory.
As Tian Xiewen guided Wu Lingtian over a bridge, a delightful chirp sounded just nearby, causing Tian Xiewen to pause and move in a different direction. Wu Lingtian shifted on his heels as well and followed Tian Xiewen without a second thought.
"Third Pillar, who's that you have with you?" one of the younger women working by the docks tossed Tian Xiewen a crisp apple.
The man caught it from the air and wiped it on his shirt before taking a bite. He glanced at Wu Lingtian. "This kid?"
"Mn! We usually spot you from miles away, but with this shining young lord beside you, we could catch you even before you landed."
Tian Xiewen threw his head back and laughed. "What an exaggeration!"
Tian Xiewen took another bite from the apple and glanced at Wu Lingtian thoughtfully. "He's…Hm. He's my ge's…"
"Your ge's?" the girl's eyes widened.
Tian Xiewen choked. He waved his hand frantically and nudged at Wu Lingtian to explain himself as he stepped off to the side to recover. Wu Lingtian looked upon Tian Xiewen without a fraction of worry in his eyes before he looked back at the curious girls and a few gossipy elders. He bowed his head.
"I am just a guest," Wu Lingtian said.
The common folk in the cities run by the righteous sect was always starving for gossip about the cultivators. From dusk till dawn, there would even be a storyteller sitting at the corner of every populated street, talking about the latest gossip or adventure or misfortune. The cities under the jurisdiction of the unorthodox sects were different. They lived their own life and had a much more harmonious relationship with the cultivators. They didn't see the cultivators as beings mightier than them, and they didn't see the cultivators as arrogant and prideful. To the people in Jianshi, cultivators were merely protectors and they should be grateful as well as respected. Therefore, the common folk were very rarely caught up on the gossip of the cultivation world.
"Just a guest?" one of the younger maidens leaned forward with interest. "Who's guest? Third Pillar's?"
"Simply a guest of Screeching Sparrow Sect," Wu Lingtian replied.
"Honey, where are you from? You don't sound like you're from around here, your accent is far too harsh," another of the girls spoke in a sweet tone, native to the West.
"I am from the north," Wu Lingtian said.
An old man snapped his fingers together. "That's what I thought! Those up in the north are just like the weather—rigid and cold!"
"What are you talking about? The men in the north are the most charming," an older woman rolled her eyes. "They have a strong sense of responsibility and a fierce loyalty."
The old man rolled his eyes. "You can find men like that everywhere!"
"No, you can't," the three girls piped up.
Tian Xiewen rejoined the group and laughed heartily. He clapped Wu Lingtian on the back. "I see you're quite popular already, aren't you, Yu Lan?"
"Yu Lan? Is that your name?" one of the girls asked.
Wu Lingtian ignored the growing culture shock in the back of his mind and opted to shake his head. "My childhood nickname is magnolia because they liked putting the flowers in my hair."
"That is so cute! Can we call you Yu Lan as well?"
Wu Lingtian nodded.
Tian Xiewen silently watched Wu Lingtian as he polished off the rest of the apple. He threw the core over his shoulder and dusted his hands together before turning to the girl. "Can you give me a small basket of apples? Ship it back to the sect for me."
"You got it!"
Tian Xiewen threw an arm over Wu Lingtian's shoulders. "Well, we'll see you later. I'm going to take this xiao didi to a tavern."
"Don't taint him!" an old woman scolded. "Look at how upright he is! Where is that Second Pillar of yours? He ought to give you a scolding!"
Tian Xiewen laughed. "Granny, if they were around, then I wouldn't have had to drag this little kid out with me."
Amidst the protest of the sellers by the riverside, Tian Xiewen merely waved his hand and guided Wu Lingtian back through the crowd. Wu Lingtian smoothly removed Tian Xiewen's arm from his shoulder and continued walking as usual.
"You're quite good at talking to people," Tian Xiewen noted.
Wu Lingtian glanced at Tian Xiewen and made no move to explain.
Tian Xiewen shrugged, unperturbed by Wu Lingtian's silence. He guided the latter until they made it to the tavern. He seemed especially close to the owner, even managing to get a private room in the back that could overlook the stage below them and see through the streets outside. Wu Lingtian followed in silence as the owner and Tian Xiewen spoke to each other. One after another, Wu Lingtian could clearly define the differences between the east and the west of Dongting Continent.
"Get in a few bottles of the usual," Tian Xiewen said.
"You've got it, Third Pillar," the owner smiled happily before closing the door on his way out.
Tian Xiewen glanced at Wu Lingtian, who sat with his back straight as a bamboo shoot. He threw shelled peanut at Wu Lingtian. "What's up with you?"
"It is different," Wu Lingtian said.
Tian Xiewen grinned and straightened. "Isn't it? Isn't it nice? Everyone here is so talkative and rowdy."
Wu Lingtian glanced out at the street below and nodded softly. "It is lively."
Life permeated every movement and every word spoken by the residents in this area. The smiles plastered across their face was filled with a serenity Wu Lingtian had never known. Despite the loudness of their surroundings, there was an odd sense of peace that settled in Wu Lingtian's heart and warmed his entire body. Even the activity that Wu Lingtian hated doing the most didn't seem like a chore and he had easily spoken with the people at the dock.
Tian Xiewen saw Wu Lingtian absorbed in his own thoughts and didn't bother waking him from them. He glanced out from under the tiling, towards the sky, and hummed. "It's about…the afternoon now, isn't it?"
"It should be."
"Let's say we drink until midnight," Tian Xiewen grinned.
Wu Lingtian met Tian Xiewen's gaze. "That would be a while."
"You must not know since you haven't tried it out, but cultivators have a strong alcohol tolerance to mortal's wine," Tian Xiewen said.
The door opened and a few waiters came in carrying cups as well as bottles of Tian Xiewen's usual wine. Tian Xiewen thanked them. He pulled aside the red cloth and poured a bit of the wine into the small cup before placing it in front of Wu Lingtian.
"But this is the good stuff—cultivator's wine. You can't come to WuYe City and not at least have a sip of wine," Tian Xiewen said as he poured himself a cup. He clinked the cup against Wu Lingtian's. "Just until the sun goes down then—how about that?"
Wu Lingtian looked at the alcohol in front of him. His slender fingers wrapped around the cup and he placed the cold surface against his lip, successfully drinking the first cup of alcohol he had consumed in a long time.
"Fine. As you wish."
↳ WuYe City – 无夜 (Wú yè)城。 Loosely translates to “nightless” because it’s known to be a very lively city that never sleeps.
↳ 师叔 (Shī shū) - younger martial uncle