The sound of the erhu rang throughout the sect. The cheerful tune matched the sunny day, allowing the disciples to more happily move around and go about with their duties. Only a few still remained dredged down by the summer heat, but as soon as they passed by the gazebo, their entire person seemed to lighten again. However, soon, the cheerful music came to an end and the disciples all heaved a mournful sigh as they waited for the inevitable heat to consume them once more.
"I should invite you over more often," Fan Yi said as he observed the reactions of the disciples. He turned his head to look at the woman that sat opposite of him. "Your skills are as impeccable as always."
"Sect Leader Fan, you are overpraising me again," the woman let out a long sigh, though she happily tossed her hair over her shoulder. "You could have asked your lovely Second Pillar to play for you. They also do musical cultivation, do they not?"
"They do, but Yizhou's specialty does not lie within that. It is always better to call upon a specialist," Fan Yi said with a polite smile. "Miss Zhen—you are a specialist."
Zhen Yueyue slowly nodded. She lifted her hand and blocked her laugh with her sleeve as she batted her eyelashes at Fan Yi. "Sect Leader Fan, do you need some of my service?"
Fan Yi stood, one hand behind his back, and looked at Zhen Yueyue.
Zhen Yueyue let out a long sigh as she stood and carried her erhu along with her. "My services are quite expensive."
"Can you pay them?" Zhen Yueyue wondered aloud.
Fan Yi glanced at Zhen Yueyue. "I have ways to pay you."
"You are going to ask Sect Master Zhong again, aren't you?" Zhen Yueyue shook her head. "That old man is far too doting of you. Whenever you ask for a loan, he just waves his hand and gives it up. What is with that at any rate? How are you two related?"
"Miss Zhen, you are overstepping some boundaries," Fan Yi said without looking at her.
"You're using me, yet you won't even answer a simple question," Zhen Yueyue sighed. "Besides, aren't we on the same side? It's not like I'll sell your information to the righteous sects. They're all a load of pigs at any rate. You and your kids are much more fun."
"Thank you, Miss Zhen."
Zhen Yueyue glanced around at the disciples and leaned a little closer to Fan Yi to whisper. "Fanfan, are you pretending to be serious or are you actually this serious? Sometimes I really can't tell."
Zhen Yueyue let out an exasperated sigh. "You're no more fun like this! I liked you better when you were younger."
"Even a dog's personality changes when it gets older, much less a person's," Fan Yi said.
"But you were so much more fun! You were such a troublemaker," Zhen Yueyue said.
"I was a brat," Fan Yi said.
"Oh, please, you still are. Just because you've gained a few hundred years, you think you've grown out of it?" Zhen Yueyue rolled her eyes. "But I suppose this is good. Back then you weren't afraid of Heaven and you weren't of earth, you felt that nothing could be your match. I guess you weren't wrong, but it was really irritating to see."
"If it was irritating, why did you stick around?" Fan Yi asked monotonously.
"You were good looking," Zhen Yueyue winked.
Fan Yi glanced at his old friend and let out a laugh. He bowed his head and shook it silently as they came closer to his home.
"I heard a rumor, recently," Zhen Yueyue said as she stepped onto the zig-zagging bridge.
"What sort of rumor?" Fan Yi asked.
"That you kidnapped someone who was on death row and brought them back because you were in love with them," Zhen Yueyue said. She glanced at Fan Yi. "Is that true?"
"Half and half," Fan Yi replied, not at all afraid of exposing himself to Zhen Yueyue. "I had to stall for time because Yizhou was setting up their array, so I said a load of nonsense. I did save someone though."
"See, that's what I thought! You aren't the type to just admit you love someone," Zhen Yueyue said. "But then I thought about it some more and felt it made sense. How come you would offend such a big sect for someone you didn't love?"
Fan Yi met Zhen Yueyue's curious gaze. "Well, I do not love him."
"Then why? The Fan Yi I know wouldn't do something without reason."
"I owe him," Fan Yi said.
Zhen Yueyue's eyes widened. She glanced around and scooted a little closer. "You owe someone?...You? Fan Yi? The great sect leader of Screeching Sparrow Sect?"
Fan Yi nodded.
Zhen Yueyue scoffed and shook her head. "Impossible."
"Then would you rather believe I love him?"
"I really would! How does he owe you? Isn't he just…some kid?"
"He is Yu Lan Sword Immortal, Wan Li Sword Immortal's last disciple, the pride and joy of Drifting Clouds Mountain Sect. He is far from 'just some kid'," Fan Yi said.
"Well, that's what he was before. He's not any of that anymore," Zhen Yueyue shrugged. "But you're avoiding the question."
"He saved me a few times," Fan Yi replied.
"…He did?" Zhen Yueyue's expression cooled and she shook her head. "Just admit you love him."
Fan Yi's brows furrowed and he turned to look at Zhen Yueyue. "I don't."
"You do. You do, that's why you let him save you. And then you said 'oh I owe you, let's meet up again sometime' and that little young master probably rejected you because he doesn't want to talk to you again since you're so strange," Zhen Yueyue said. She nodded to herself, seemingly satisfied with her own explanation.
Fan Yi smiled. "Zhen Yueyue, you are the strange one."
"I am quite strange, but not the same type of strange as you," Zhen Yueyue tilted her chin up confidently.
Fan Yi's smile widened and he simply nodded as he reached the guest courtyard. He pushed the door open without knocking and stepped in.
Zhen Yueyue followed after him and let out a soft gasp. She moved forward with hurried steps and knelt down beside Wu Lingtian's bedside. "How handsome!"
Fan Yi resisted the urge to roll his eyes.
"Is this that kid?" Zhen Yueyue looked back at Fan Yi who nodded. She whipped her head back around to take a closer look. "Wow, he's so good looking. His face is like tofu!"
"Don't touch him randomly," Fan Yi waved Zhen Yueyue's hand away.
"What? Is your heart hurting?" Zhen Yueyue raised an eyebrow.
"He is asleep. Why would you randomly touch someone in such a vulnerable state?" Fan Yi shot back.
Zhen Yueyue pouted but stood nonetheless. "So? What do you want me to do?"
"Play something to rouse his consciousness," Fan Yi said, glancing at Wu Lingtian. "It's been a few days. I gave him a life saving pill, but he still isn't awake."
Zhen Yueyue's brows furrowed. "The one that Sect Leader Fei made?"
"Oh dear," Zhen Yueyue turned to Wu Lingtian. "You fished him right back from Naihe didn't you?"
Fan Yi let out a sigh. "Can you do it?"
"I could," Zhen Yueyue said. "I'll try. I have never played for someone in his state before, so I don't know how effective it will be."
"Anything is good."
Zhen Yueyue nodded. She sat down and carefully rested her erhu on her thigh. She began to play a calming tune.
Fan Yi took a sat on the other side of the table and watched Wu Lingtian in silence but even by the end of the song, the man did not make any movement.
"Was that the right song?" Fan Yi asked.
Zhen Yueyue raised an eyebrow at Fan Yi. "Of course, it was the right song. Do you think I'm just some jianghu scammer?"
Fan Yi looked at her skeptically as she sighed and stood. She smoothed out her dress and fixed her hair as she lazily threw a gaze a Fan Yi. "Have you ever thought about whether he wanted to wake up or not?"
Fan Yi's eyes widened.
"When a song is played to soothe a person's soul or to awaken them, the cultivator's spirit is temporarily connected," Zhen Yueyue said. She flicked her wrist and the erhu seemed to disappear into her sleeve. "Sect Leader Fan, some people have a chance to live but no longer want to. Some people want to live but feel that they are unable to. Life and death aren't something so easily comprehended, you should know this."
Fan Yi nodded.
"This child…His soul is whole and it is healthy," Zhen Yueyue said. "You have no need to worry. Just…treat this as him cultivating in seclusion. He will wake eventually."
Fan Yi's eyes remained on Wu Lingtian's still body and he began to feel a bubble of doubt rise in his chest, followed by unwarranted panic that began to slowly encase his entire person. His hands clenched into fists and his normally peacefully visage showed a flicker of irritation.
Zhen Yueyue observed him silently. "Maybe if you talk to him more, he'll realize there's someone that still wants him alive."
Fan Yi's head snapped up to look at Zhen Yueyue. "What do you mean?"
Zhen Yueyue smiled. "You don't need to ask me, Sect Leader Fan. You know."
Fan Yi felt the pressure within his chest. He swallowed and nodded. "Thank you, Miss Zhen. I will pay you accordingly."
"No need," Zhen Yueyue sighed. "I don't need a poor man's money."
Fan Yi frowned slightly. "We aren't poor."
"Alright," Zhen Yueyue shrugged. She led the way out of Fan Yi's residence.
"Are you still performing at Six Ladies?"
"Of course," Zhen Yueyue said. She nudged him playfully. "Come visit me some time."
"I'll think about it," Fan Yi said. He paused for a moment. "How's the family?"
Zhen Yueyue's eyes lit up. "Do you want to hear something adorable?"
"A-Lin bought me this hairpin yesterday," Zhen Yueyue gently touched the flower pin in her hair. She looked at Fan Yi with a brilliant smile. "Isn't it beautiful?"
Fan Yi took in Zhen Yueyue's shining visage and smiled gently. "Yes. Quite beautiful."
"That's what I told her! But then she didn't believe me. She only said that I was saying that to make her feel better, but obviously I wouldn't be," Zhen Yueyue murmured.
Fan Yi chuckled and nodded. "Has Miss Yu's parents said anything about your engagement?"
"Mn! They said they'll think about it," Zhen Yueyue rolled her eyes. "Obviously I such a powerful cultivator, but they still doubt me just because I don't belong to a sect or a clan. How ridiculous."
"This is why I say righteous sects can't even compare to unorthodox ones," Zhen Yueyue grumbled. "Except A-Lin! My A-Lin is the best."
"Of course, she is. You're A-Lin is the best," Fan Yi echoed.
Zhen Yueyue frowned. "If you don't want to listen to me talk about my significant other, then don't ask."
"I wanted to hear," Fan Yi replied vaguely, though sincerity was obvious in his voice.
Zhen Yueyue fell silent and eventually let out a noncommitted hum.
The two old friends walked until the gates of Screeching Sparrow Sect. Fan Yi stayed at the top of the steps as Zhen Yueyue pulled out her long sword. She turned to Fan Yi.
"Talk to him more."
"Tell him things that happen around the sect," Zhen Yueyue advised. "That's what I did with A-Lin when she was…well, you know."
"It'll work, I promise," Zhen Yueyue said. She waved slightly as she ascended off the ground. "Don't just contact me if you need something. Stop by for a drink some time."
"I will," Fan Yi nodded.
With one last wave, Zhen Yueyue departed, leaving only the rustle of leaves behind her.
Fan Yi looked down at his feet for a moment and wedged his boots further into the dirt until it made a clear imprint. He took a step back and let out a soft sigh before turning around and began to head back to his home.
The sun in the sky was slowly setting, signaling the end of yet another day. The sound of cicadas began to fill the air with greater vigor, filling in the silence with a strange kind of symphony. The disciples had all filed to the dining hall now. Most of the noise and light was concentrated in that area. The only thing lighting Fan Yi's path back up the side of the mountain were lanterns that floated in the air, emitting a warm glow. Along with the cicadas was the crunch of Fan Yi's boots. His thoughts circled through events from the past to the events till now. The peace that he rarely felt when left alone arrived again, warming him a little bit more in the chilly summer night.
Fan Yi glanced towards the dining hall but turned his back, not feeling hungry enough or energetic enough to be bothered by the disciples. He made his way back to his own estate and glanced towards the guest courtyard. He thought about what Zhen Yueyue said and slowly trudged into the bedroom. He carefully lit a candle and sat down beside Wu Lingtian's bedside. He began to slowly undress Wu Lingtian again, as he had the past several days, and checked on the state of his bandages.
"You won't be needing my help anymore tomorrow," Fan Yi murmured to himself as he carefully stripped the bandages off. He leaned Wu Lingtian against his shoulders as he reached over for an ointment. "What's this I hear about not wanting to wake up? It isn't like you to throw a tantrum."
Only the sound of cicadas responded to Fan Yi.
"Are you angry at Li Ran?" Fan Yi wondered aloud. "It was unfair of him to not give you a trial. But if you feel that it was unfair, you should wake up and yell at him. Haven't you always hated when people put words into your mouth? You always glared at me when I did it."
Fan Yi carefully smeared the anti-scar cream across Wu Lingtian's shoulders and slowly massaged it in.
"Do you think no one wants you to wake up?" Fan Yi asked. His movements paused. "…Am I not a person? If I didn't want you to wake up, why would I take such good care of you. I might as well have let you bleed out and die."
Fan Yi softly sighed as he moved onto the next scar. "If the world didn't have Yu Lan, what kind of world would that be? There wouldn't be anyone to bring justice in the cultivation world anymore. No one cares as much as Yu Lan does."
Fan Yi looked down at Wu Lingtian, who was leaning against his shoulder and slowly laid him back down. "Aren't you a magnolia, resiliently growing amidst the snow? What happened to that resilience?"
Fan Yi fell silent and felt a bit of a loss. He really only knew how to provoke Wu Lingtian, but he wasn't sure if this kind of provocation would make Wu Lingtian wake up. His gaze traveled up to Wu Lingtian's closed eyes and he smiled.
"Yu Lan, I still haven't paid you back for what I owe you. I am someone who gives back what others have done unto me. What am I supposed to do? Follow you to the Yellow Springs?" Fan Yi asked. "If you died, how am I supposed to take care of you?"
The smile slowly fell from Fan Yi's face. He carefully pushed aside a loose lock of hair from Wu Lingtian's face. "If you wake, I'll give you candy."
Fan Yi reached into his sleeve and produced a round candy, carefully wrapped in paper. He played with the wrapper and glanced up at Wu Lingtian.
However, there was still no response.
"…What happened between you and your master…what happened to Drifting Clouds Mountain Sect and how they wronged you," Fan Yi started, "Don't you want to get justice?"
Seeing the man still unresponsive, Fan Yi let out a long sigh. He stood slowly and glanced back at Wu Lingtian one last time before he blew out the candle and stepped out of the guest room. Fan Yi didn't bother glancing back up again as he closed the door. If he had, he would have noticed the slight movement from Wu Lingtian's hand.
If you enjoyed, please consider leaving a comment or adding the story to your library :D
↳ 万里剑仙尊 (Wànlǐ jiàn xiān-zūn) – Wan Li Sword Immortal
↳ 江湖 (Jiānghú) – translates to rivers and lakes. It’s the community of martial artists.