The sun spilled in through the paper-thin windows, creating elongated shadows on the floor. The sound of hurried footsteps neared the room. Soon, the door opened with a creak, followed by a set of smaller feet. The remnants of a tired huff reached the inside of the room along with the splash of water against the side of the basin. A disgruntled grunt punctuated the closing of the door along and the water basin was placed down at the tea table.
Li Qing collapsed down on a chair. She rubbed the sweat away from her hairline and rolled up her sleeves. A slight pout emerged on her lips as she mourned her bad luck. Today was supposed to be Su Han's turn to watch over the messenger hall, but it turned out that he hadn't been informed ahead of time. Because of this, he had been unable to tell a servant to come in and help wipe down the comatose person sleeping in their master's guest courtyard. Li Qing had been skipping back from breakfast when Su Han grabbed her and directed her in the direction of their master's home with a basin filled with water and a dry cloth.
Li Qing pulled herself together and prepared to go into the inner room. When she turned around, however, she was greeted both by a figure, standing beside a screen that separated the inner room from the outer room. .
Li Qing froze.
The man was an icy beauty. His brows were naturally pinched and lowered. His lips stayed in a straight line and, even though he was still dressed like a sick patient, he had an air of elegance about him that no one could even dare to think of imitating. His sickly pallor made Li Qing think that he may be a ghost guard that had come to take someone's soul away.
"Who are you?" the chilling voice rang throughout the heated room. Li Qing couldn't help but take a step back.
"I…I," Li Qing's fingers dug into the side of the basin.
"Where I am?" the man asked, his eyes wandering around the room.
"You…you…" Li Qing's fear was slowly replaced by awe. "…You're Yu Lan Sword Immortal, aren't you?"
Wu Lingtian's brows pinched tighter. He looked at Li Qing again and his phoenix eyes narrowed. "Answer my questions."
"M-My name is Li Qing. This is Screeching Sparrow Sect," Li Qing's voice trailed off. She held up the water basin. "My da-shixiong told me to come…help you clean a little."
Wu Lingtian's eyes landed on the water basin and his brows seemed to smooth out. He took a few wide strides over and lifted the water basin from her hands. "No need."
Li Qing watched as Wu Lingtian moved back behind the screen. She tottered back and forth for a moment before carefully moving towards to the other side of the screen. "Um…Lord Immortal?"
Wu Lingtian's movements froze. He glanced up.
Li Qing shyly pointed at herself. "Do you remember me?"
Wu Lingtian looked at her unsurely and slowly shook his head. "I am afraid not."
"Oh, that's fine!" Li Qing quickly said. "It's just—um. A few years ago, at Golden Deer Mountain, there was a competition? I was there with my shijie. There was a mishap and some rogue cultivators managed to run amuck, allowing dangerous creatures into the area. You were the one that saved us! I…never got the chance to thank you, so…"
Wu Lingtian's gaze slowly left Li Qing's blushing face. He bowed his head and carefully washed his face. Once he finished, he dried himself off and hummed. "I see."
Li Qing pursed her lips, somewhat disappointed. Well, it was Yu Lan Sword Immortal. What was she expecting really?
"It was nothing," Wu Lingtian spoke up abruptly. He met Li Qing's surprised gaze. "I do not quite remember it, but I am glad you are safe."
Li Qing gaped at him silently before slowly tearing her gaze away. Wu Lingtian's sincere eyes scared the wits out of her.
Wu Lingtian peeked down his shirt and furrowed his brows. Any scars he could have had from the week's worth of torture had disappeared or faded a tremendous amount. He carefully pressed about his body, searching for any hidden internal injuries but came up with none, save for a slight dip in his cultivation base.
Li Qing observed Wu Lingtian silently and felt a sense of pride well up inside her. "My shizun is really good at healing people, isn't he?"
Wu Lingtian looked up at Li Qing. "Your shizun?"
"Mn! He's the one that brought you back and nursed you back to health," Li Qing said, her eyes glimmer innocently.
"Who is your shizun?"
"My shizun is—"
Wu Lingtian's head jerked up. Li Qing turned abruptly and looked out towards the door. Various shadows flashed by, followed by a deafening crash. The door eventually came tumbling down, knocking aside the decorative vases and the screen divider.
Li Qing shrieked in surprise, but before she could gather her bearings again, she was swept off her feet. She saw a flash of white from underneath her and caught a glimpse of the splintered door as she moved through the air. A piercing roar sounded close to her head and she raised her hands to cover her ears just as she was placed down.
"What happened?" Wu Lingtian's languid voice gained a sense of urgency.
The three disciples stared at Wu Lingtian in bewilderment. They had not been mentally prepared for the Flying Crystal Lion to suddenly go on a rampage and barge into the sect leader's home. They had also not expected someone to come out from the guest room and exhibit amazing martial ability. Due to this, only one disciple could stutter out a poor excuse for an explanation.
Wu Lingtian's brows furrowed, showing his displeasure. The three disciples unconsciously straightened as cold sweat began to pour down their backs. They were even more frightened than if Fan Yi came to personally scold them.
However, Wu Lingtian said nothing. He simply turned and looked back at the towering white lion who almost reached the ceiling tiles. The lion's wings were spread out ferociously and its roars penetrated the peaceful morning air.
"Take Li Qing away," Wu Lingtian threw this phrase back.
Li Qing's eyes widened and her hand reached out, but her body only reacted faster than her brain. Before she could utter a word, she watched as Wu Lingtian climbed onto the tree and hopped onto the lion's back. The lion, feeling a new weight on it, fell into another fit of rage and flew directly into the sky, carrying its new passenger along with it.
"Wh-what do we do?" one of the disciples stuttered out.
"Get Shizun!" Li Qing smacked aside the trio as she began to run out of the estate and towards the main hall. The three disciples glanced at each other and quickly followed after her, their minds only filled with how much trouble they will be in once this fiasco was over.
Meanwhile, the Flying Crystal Lion had shot straight up into the sky and was quickly making its descent again. Wu Lingtian observed its erratic movements and felt that there was something severely wrong. Although the Flying Crystal Lion was a large animal, it was extremely docile to anyone that it didn't claim to be its enemy. They were often the favored choice of pets to female cultivators due to their loyalty and gentleness. It was not the type of spiritual creature that would go on a rampage unprovoked.
Wu Lingtian braced himself as the lion slammed down onto the ground and began to thrash about again. Wu Lingtian unconsciously held out his hand, palm down, and called for his sword. His head snapped towards his empty hand as he grasped at the air.
They broke my sword.
Before Wu Lingtian could recover from the initial shock, the lion began rearing its head again. Wu Lingtian held tightly onto the lion, but soon fell to the ground. The leash that had been clipped onto it was still tightly wrapped around Wu Lingtian's fist. Instead of becoming completely thrown off, Wu Lingtian ended up being dragged through the summer grass. He bemoaned the inconvenience but did not lose his temper. He carefully relaxed his body and allowed himself to be dragged as the lion sprinted. When the lion stood back on its hindlegs, Wu Lingtian caught a glimmer of something in the light of the sun.
Very quickly, Wu Lingtian stood as well. He gave the lion a harsh tug and immediately shoved it into a tree with his entire body. He worked swiftly so as not to alarm the lion any further and reached down to pull a thorn from its hind leg.
The Flying Crystal Lion's body tensed beneath Wu Lingtian but soon melted into a large cloud beneath Wu Lingtian's body.
Wu Lingtian's grip on the leash loosened. He turned to the Flying Crystal Lion, who was curled into a ball and knelt down beside it. He reached out and carefully patted the top of its nose, his voice soft and gentle as he spoke.
"Are you okay? That must have hurt," Wu Lingtian murmured. "I didn't injure you, did I?"
The lion purred pitifully and moved one of its paws to take a look at Wu Lingtian. It moved a little closer and nudged its head against him, looking extremely embarrassed.
Wu Lingtian comforted the large lion: "It must have been scary. You were hurt, but no one even noticed."
Wu Lingtian glanced back at the lion's leg. "Can you walk?"
The Flying Crystal Lion stood slowly and gently moved its leg a few times. It let out a soft roar in affirmation. Wu Lingtian stood and dusted himself off. He reached up and combed his fingers through his hair before turning around, ready to lead the lion back to wherever there were people. But when he turned, he found that he didn't need to.
There was already a crowd watching him in a stunned silence.
"Lord Immortal!" a pitched voice sounded out from the middle of the crowd. A few seconds later, Li Qing emerged with a red face. She turned towards the lion and then looked back at Wu Lingtian. She let out a loud sigh of relief and patted her chest. "Oh, thank goodness, you're fine! I thought Liangliang was going to bite you to death for sure!"
"Good thing Lord Immortal is so agile and dexterous!" one of the disciples from earlier perked up.
"Mn! If it was anyone else, they may already be dead!" the other said.
At first, Wu Lingtian's expression had been rather neutral. However, once he heard two of the three disciples speak, his expression cooled. He turned his gaze towards them.
"You three are in charge of watching over the spiritual animals?"
The three disciples felt a chill crawl up their backs. They straightened unconsciously and nodded.
"Y-yes. We were for today…"
"If you had handled this matter differently, then I would not have had to intervene," Wu Lingtian spoke coldly. Everyone was suddenly conscious of how loud they were breathing and the sweltering summer air chilled. "A Flying Crystal Lion is a very docile creature. If it goes on a rampage, that means it is feeling unwell—normally because it got hurt. Were you not even aware of such a simple fact?"
Wu Lingtian frowned at the three disciples in disapproval. "Who put you three in charge?"
"We signed up for it."
"Then you should have properly educated yourselves on the creatures you were caring for first," Wu Lingtian said. "They are not just here to play with you or help you fight. These spiritual creatures have feelings and thoughts too. They cannot communicate them other than doing what their instinct tells them to do. It is up to you, as their caretakers to be able to read those cues. If you cannot even do that, then why did you bother signing up?"
"We…we…" the disciples lowered their head in shame.
Wu Lingtian opened his mouth to give out a punishment but lips soon shut.
He was not in Drifting Clouds Mountain Sect. In fact, he was not even a part of this sect. Not only was he scolding disciples out in the open in another people's territory, the area he was staying in had also been crushed by the lion. His expression cooled even further as he felt a headache coming on.
He closed his eyes and pinched and bridge of his nose. He vaguely heard Li Qing's excited greeting before he felt a warm breath brush against his cheek.
Wu Lingtian's heart slammed against his chest at the familiar voice. His eyes immediately snapped open and he took a few steps back from the man.
Fan Yi's eyes trailed down to Wu Lingtian's feet. "Even if you are going out for a walk, you should wear shoes."
"I…I…" Wu Lingtian unconsciously wanted to hide his feet. He met Fan Yi's gaze and quickly averted his eyes. "You…"
"This is my sect," Fan Yi said with a bright smile on his face. He took a step closer and pulled Wu Lingtian's hand from his side. His expression recovered a hint of seriousness as he carefully checked Wu Lingtian's pulse. He looked back at Wu Lingtian and smiled. His voice was soft as he leaned in a little closer. "Why is your heart beating so fast?"
Wu Lingtian slowly turned his head back towards Fan Yi. He resisted the urge to smack Fan Yi away and slowly took a deep breath. "You brought me here?"
"I did," Fan Yi nodded. "Do you like it?"
Wu Lingtian stared at Fan Yi blankly. "Like what?"
"…I have not looked."
"Then, after you bathe and change, I will take you around for a look," Fan Yi suggested.
Wu Lingtian nodded silently.
Fan Yi smiled in satisfaction and stepped back. He looked at the three disciples standing off to the side. "You three were looking after the spiritual creatures today?"
"Y-yes, Sect Leader."
"Handstand for three hours. You also have kitchen cleaning duty for two weeks," Fan Yi said.
Wu Lingtian glanced at Fan Yi.
Fan Yi noticed his gaze and quirked an eyebrow. "No?"
Wu Lingtian looked away. "Not my position."
"No, no, no, tell me," Fan Yi waved his hand. "What would you do?"
"Tell them to study the creatures and then give them a test."
Fan Yi furrowed his brows at Wu Lingtian. "…That's so light."
"They would learn."
Fan Yi glanced at the disciples. "But they almost killed you."
Wu Lingtian turned to look at Fan Yi. His face read "do I look like I would die from that?"
Fan Yi received the message loud and clear. He nodded and dismissively waved his hand. "Go to the library and study the creatures."
The disciples who were previously terrified of Wu Lingtian showed a grateful expression. They hurriedly thanked their sect leader and then more sincerely thanked this lord immortal before sprinting towards the library, happy that their sentence had been reduced by so much.
Fan Yi clicked his tongue. "They are far too happy."
Wu Lingtian glanced at Fan Yi, but didn't bother saying anything else. It was always a waste of breath talking to him anymore than he needed to.
Fan Yi gestured for Wu Lingtian to stand off to the side as he met up with Li Qing to get a full account of what had just happened. Fan Yi glanced back at Wu Lingtian as he spoke, but Wu Lingtian opted to ignore the other man's gaze with his head turned away from them. Moments later, Fan Yi returned to Wu Lingtian's side with a flattering smile.
"Let's get you some clothes and a nice bath."
Wu Lingtian observed Fan Yi's expression with a lazy glance, but he followed Fan Yi nonetheless.
"Shall I carry you?"
"Why not? Isn't it uncomfortable to walk without shoes?" Fan Yi questioned.
Wu Lingtian glanced down at his bare feet. The sense of embarrassment he felt from earlier had completely dissipated along with his recovery from unexpectedly seeing Fan Yi here. "No."
"Oh," Fan Yi didn't seem disappointed at all by Wu Lingtian's short responses. Instead, he walked with his head turned so that he could watch Wu Lingtian as they traveled back down to his home. Neither men spoke but neither found it necessary to speak either.
"You aren't going to ask me anything?" Fan Yi finally questioned.
"Is there anything to ask?"
"I mean, I would think there are lots to ask," Fan Yi said. "For example, you could ask how come I knew to save you. Or you could ask how come I saved you at all. You could also ask what happened to you and how long you've been unconscious. Or you could ask what happened to Drifting Clouds Mountain Sect."
"Not going to ask?"
"I am not interested."
Fan Yi's steps slowed. He stared at the back of Wu Lingtian's head before quickly catching up again. "Why is that?"
"I am aware of my actions and the consequences," Wu Lingtian said. "As for why you saved me," Wu Lingtian glanced at Fan Yi, "If you want to use me, I will find out eventually. If it was merely because you are kind, then I do not need to worry about it."
Fan Yi was stunned for a moment before a chuckle let his throat. "Yu Lan, you sure are strange. You aren't even afraid if I wanted to use you?"
"You saved my life; therefore, my life is yours."
Fan Yi chuckled, though the amusement didn't reach his eyes. "Don't say that."
Wu Lingtian continued walking without a response.
"Then, do you want to stay?" Fan Yi asked.
Wu Lingtian lazily glanced at Fan Yi.
"I will feed you and cloth you and raise you until you're nice and plump," Fan Yi joked. "I'll give you a home."
Wu Lingtian slowly looked away. His expression was the same as it always was. "I do not need a home."
The soft hum of the cicadas overtook the silence. The sun beat down gently amidst the gather clouds. A shadow was cast across Wu Lingtian's face as the pair walked beneath a cloud on their way down the grassy slope. Fan Yi observed Wu Lingtian, taking in the dullness of his eyes.
"But I will stay," Wu Lingtian said. "In any case, in this world, there isn't anywhere I need to be."
↳ 大师兄 (Dà shīxiōng) – Eldest senior martial brother
↳ 师姐 (Shījiě）- Senior martial sister.