The heavy rain that had fallen overnight had washed away the mugginess that had been building up for days, leaving the distant mountain cliffs basked in golden light, with white clouds drifting over them like fish swimming in the sky.
When Lin Shouxi pushed open the door in the morning, he felt a cool breeze and saw the empty courtyard. For the past few days, he had been carrying a faint mist in his heart, but after seeing through Xiao He’s true nature, the mist lifted with the rain and sunlight. As he walked towards a waterlogged depression, Lin Shouxi caught his reflection in the water for the first time in this world.
He noticed his long black hair flowing over his shoulders, his youthful cheeks revealing a slight sharpness, and his black and white eyes clear as water.
His white Taoist robe swayed in the water, blending with the clouds in the sky.
He felt somewhat unfamiliar with himself due to his thinness, but after a moment’s observation, he smiled faintly and shifted his gaze to a distant place.
Gradually, the lake’s appearance became clearer, steam rising from the center, and a large flock of black birds hovering over the surface. Lin Shouxi turned sideways and looked up, and he could even vaguely see a corner of the Wu family mansion.
Behind him, the ancient courtyard hung alone on the cliff, like a row of rooted old trees, always on the verge of being torn apart by frequent storms.
Taking a deep breath, Lin Shouxi took in the new reality of the world that had been given to him. Soon after, Wang Erguan pushed open the door, his diligent nature leading him to the wall with the core method written on it early in the morning. Sitting down like Perfected Yun, Wang Erguan lifted his head, poked his chest out, and began to practice.
Upon Lin Shouxi’s return to the courtyard, Wang Erguan was surprised. “Why did you get up so early today?” he asked. “Don’t tell me you’ve started practicing again?”
Shaking his head, Lin Shouxi replied, “I haven’t been able to sleep well since yesterday’s episode. I’m afraid that if I close my eyes, I won’t be able to open them again.”
“I see,” said Wang Erguan, feeling relieved.
Not long after, Ji Luoyang pushed open the door as well. Initially cold when they first met, he now seemed more amicable. “How are you feeling?” he asked Lin Shouxi.
Sighing helplessly, Lin Shouxi replied, “I’ve accumulated new injuries on top of old ones, so about as good as one can expect. I’ve almost given up all hope.”
“You don’t strike me as someone who gives up easily,” Ji Luoyang said with a smile.
Wang Erguan snorted. “Appearances can be deceiving. The more carefree someone appears on the surface, the more they take everything seriously deep down.”
Following a light smile from Lin Shouxi, Ji Luoyang found a position next to Wang Erguan. He began to cultivate when the chubby youth suddenly started to boast about his progress.
“How are you coming along with the Cold Expulsion Technique? I’m about to master the Water Repulsion Technique,” he said.
“Where you have a natural talent for practicing spells that surpasses mine,” Ji Luoyang replied, humbly. “I’m still just getting started.”
“If you can’t even master the Cold Expulsion Technique, then our gap will only get wider,” Wang Erguan said, his tone condescending. “This is because of your weak martial arts foundation.”
The jab had also been for Lin Shouxi, but when Wang Erguan glanced back and saw that he was no longer there, he chuffed.
Lin Shouxi shut the door to his room and sat silently on his bed, his eyes closing.
Yesterday, to keep Wang Erguan from revealing the diviner’s prophecy and to deceive Xiao He, he feigned illness. During the fake episode, Ji Luoyang and Wang Erguan had shared some of their true energy with him, resulting in a happy accident. The infusion had accelerated the time he needed to recover.
After getting a taste of the benefits, he wondered whether he should trick other people into doing the same. Of course, now that Ji Luoyang and Wang Erguan knew the truth, the only other person he could target was Xiao He.
Not wanting to think about this, he used the River Luo Inscription’s breathing method to circulate his inner energy and found that the pain in his body had greatly subsided.
He loosed a sigh of relief at the discovery and began to reflect on his study of the White Pupil Black Phoenix Sword Scripture.
Years ago, before he ever learned the sword scripture, his master brought him to the back of the mountain to see a stone tablet. The tablet had been weathered down by centuries of wind, frost, rain, and snow, its ancient characters deformed by time, as if human hands had not carved them.
To his young self, it had been a sad looking thing, but the reverent light in his master’s never dimmed for a moment.
“The Black Phoenix, sovereign of the skies,” his master began, reading the back of the tablet, “was born of water and molded by wind. Its feathers were heavenly thunder, earth, and fire made form, its eyes coalesced from the clouds and light of the upper heavens. Over the course of its life, it pierced through the heavens and the void, entering nirvana three times, burning away flesh and bone, cutting away its shadow until it became immeasurable.”
“This is the story of the Black Phoenix.”
“Is this a myth and legend?” Lin Shouxi asked his master.
“Maybe it’s neither,” his master replied.
“Then why is there no record of it in the Mountain and Sea Scripture?”
“Because real gods cannot be captured by human language. They are one of the original symbols,” his master replied.
He couldn’t quite understand his master’s answer, so he went on to ask about the Black Phoenix’s sword scripture, “There are nine levels to the Black Phoenix’s sword technique. What are they?”
“The first six levels are of the same elements of water, wind, thunder, earth, fire, cloud, and light that made up the Black Phoenix’s body. Sundering void, nirvana, and shadow elimination are the final three, and their power is beyond measure,” his master said, recounting what the founder had heard in his dream all those years ago.
“It’s that amazing?” He asked, astounded.
“Of course, and if you encounter any difficulties in your practice in the future, just ask your master.”
Years later, after Lin Shouxi successfully reached the eighth level, he could not help but ask his master, “I’ve reached the eighth level, but I don’t feel even a fraction of the power you said i would obtain after attaining the first six levels, let alone of the sundering void and nirvana realms. What’s going on?”
“How would I know? Though I’m your master, I’m only at the sixth level,” his master responded with confidence.
To this day, Lin Shouxi had not been able to figure out where he had gone wrong in his training and could only blame his master or the founder for exaggerating their words.
But after the incident with the white sparrow, his confidence in the sword scripture had boosted. Furthermore, after being stuck at the eighth level for a year now, unable to uncover a path to advancement, his surroundings and inner world had undergone a sweeping transformation, and he had caught a fleeting glimpse of that elusive ninth level.
Whether time would permit him to achieve his aspiration, however, remained a mystery.
As Lin Shouxi continued to cultivate, he was interrupted by a knock at the door.
“You can come in, Xiao He,” he said.
A slender, snow-haired girl pushed open the door, her arms bent as she carried a wooden box of food from the old woman with the cane.
“How did you know it was me?” Xiao He asked.
“By the sound of your footsteps,” he replied, surprising Xiao He.
“You can hear my footsteps?” she asked.
“I knew it was you precisely because I didn’t hear them,” he explained.
Xiao He placed the box of food by his bedside and went to the window. “I see you’ve been cultivating, are you feeling better now?” she asked, opening the curtains to let in the light.
“I’m feeling somewhat better. The flow of my true energy has improved at least,” he replied.
“Good,” Xiao He said, giving a happy nod.
The room fell silent again. As Lin Shouxi returned to cultivating, true energy flowed around him, creating intricate patterns.
Initially bored, Xiao He gradually became interested, her eyes fixed on Lin Shouxi’s movements and the flow of his energy.
When Lin Shouxi opened his eyes, he saw that Xiao He was still watching him intently.
“Why haven’t you left? Why are you staring at me so intensely?” he asked.
“Because you’re handsome,” Xiao He replied sweetly. “I can’t help but look at you when you’re so good-looking.”
“Didn’t you get angry with me yesterday?” he asked.
“It was just a joke. I’m not that petty,” she replied. Her small body curling up in her chair, her hands holding her knees, she looked at him, a faint smile in her eyes.
“Don’t stare at me anymore, you’ll disrupt my cultivation.”
“I won’t disrupt anything,” she said, unconcerned.
With an exasperated sigh, Lin Shouxi began his second round of cultivation.
After watching for a while longer, Xiao He couldn’t help but ask, “What are you cultivating right now? It doesn’t look like the core method taught by Perfected Yun.”
“Why do you care about this?” he asked.
Her face turned stern. “Because I care about you. Yesterday, your energy deviation frightened me. I won’t allow you to practice some random technique.”
“This is not some random technique,” Lin Shouxi retorted. “It’s a swordplay my master passed down to me.”
“A swordplay?” Xiao He’s eyelids rose.
In this world, swordplay was more valuable than martial arts and spells, for the two greatest enemies of the human race, evil spirits, and dragon corpses, could only be truly eliminated by a sword engraved with divine patterns or ancestral seals.
“My master said that when he was young, he met a swordsman covered in blood at the foot of the mountain. The swordsman had one eye and one arm, as if he had suffered torture. He passed on this swordplay to my master before he died, saying that it was a technique from an immortal. He told my master to remember it no matter what. Later, my master passed it on to me.”
Lying without changing his expression, Lin Shouxi continued, “But I don’t think there’s anything special about it. The story about the immortal is just a fantasy. I only practice it occasionally to stay fit.”
“A one-eyed, one-armed swordsman… an immortal…” Xiao He looked at him skeptically, and a flash of strange emotion flickered in her eyes. “Does this sword technique have a name?”
“It’s called the White Snow Drifting Cloud Sword Scripture,” he said, quickly changing the name of the Black Phoenix’s sword scripture.
“White Snow, Drifting Cloud?” Xiao He subconsciously tucked the strand of hair hanging in front of her chest and looked down at the tip of her hair. She lightly twisted her fingers and said, “It’s a name with a poetic feel.”
After Lin Shouxi nodded in agreement, Xiao He asked him, “Why are you practicing it in secret?”
“Because my master said it’s a secret that cannot be passed on,” Lin Shouxi answered seriously.
“I see,” Xiao He smiled, “Then why did you practice it in front of me?”
“Uh…” Lin Shouxi hesitated, “I thought you had left.”
“Really?” Xiao He rested her chin on her knees, tilting her head up at him.
Lin Shouxi did not answer.
“Or is it that you don’t treat me as an outsider?” Xiao He asked.
Lin Shouxi’s expression changed slightly, and he appeared flustered but tried to remain calm.
Xiao He walked to his bed silently, and sat down. She lightly swung her slender legs and stared at the boy next to her, as if trying to force an answer out of him.
“The truth is,” Lin Shouxi took a deep breath, “You remind me of my sister when she was a child…”
“What?” Xiao He jumped.
“When I was young, I had a sister…” Lin Shouxi remained silent for a long time. His eyes were slightly red as he looked at Xiao He. “If she were still alive, she would be about your age.”
This was the first time Xiao He had seen so much emotion cross Lin Shouxi’s face. Her eyes trembled slightly, infected by the deep sadness she felt in his slightly choked voice.
“You don’t need to say anything more.”
Xiao He did not want to ask about this sister of his if it meant bringing him pain.
“Thank you,” Lin Shouxi said, a sad smile on his face.
Xiao He sat with him in silence for a while, and after about half an hour, Lin Shouxi looked back at her, his face calm now.
“Are you very interested in this sword scripture?” Lin Shouxi had already figured out how to tamper with it.
“Ah… not particularly,” Xiao He said, a little shy.
“Then forget I said anything.”
“Hey, wait,” Xiao He quickly said, “isn’t this a secret of your sect? Even if I’m really interested, you wouldn’t teach it to me, right? After all, it’s forbidden by your ancestors’ teachings.”
“There is a way,” Lin Shouxi said.
“I can take you as my student on behalf of my master. That way, you’ll be part of our sect, and I can teach it to you without breaking any rules.”
“What? Take me as a student on behalf of your master?” Xiao He blinked, at a loss for words. “So then, wouldn’t I become your… junior sister?”
“Yes, you would be my junior sister.”
“No way,” Xiao He replied, her voice rising in protest.