Although Han Yuan was slightly older than Cheng Qian, in terms of seniority, he became Cheng Qian’s fourth junior brother. Cheng Qian, the “closed-door disciple,” had only been here for a few days and already became someone else’s senior brother.

It seems that the backdoor of the Fu Yao Sect is not tightly shut.

As for that beggar’s chicken… naturally, most of it ended up in the master’s belly.

The chicken couldn’t stop the incessant chatter of Wooden Chunchun’s mouth. It’s unclear where he acquired such a penchant for sermons. While eating, he asked, “Where did the chicken come from?”

Han Yuan had a special trick with his silver tongue—he could gnaw on chicken bones without using his hands and effortlessly spit out a clean bone after a few crunches.

He spat out the bone from his mouth and rudely replied to his master, “Stolen from a village ahead.”

Confucius said, “When eating, one does not speak; when sleeping, one does not snore.”

Naturally, the beggar’s chicken was delicious. Cheng Qian, who was hesitating whether or not to join his master in tearing off a chicken leg, decided otherwise after witnessing the situation and hearing the story. He silently withdrew his hand and began nibbling on the rock-hard flatbread.

With Han Yuan’s demeanor, could he produce a chicken with any class?

From this perspective, although Cheng Qian was still young, his Dao heart and principles were already firmer than his simple-minded master’s.

Wooden Chunchun obviously had not lost his appetite due to these matters. He merely opened his mouth halfway while chewing and shook his head as he said, “Taking without asking is thievery. How can I, a cultivator of the Dao, stoop to stealing chickens and touching dogs? Ah, what a disgrace! This should not set a precedent!”

Han Yuan replied dejectedly. Little beggar boys like him didn’t know anything and didn’t dare to argue.

“Stealing chickens and touching dogs may not be allowed, but cheating and deceiving probably are.” Cheng Qian sarcastically thought to himself. Then he remembered the hidden tolerance he had shown his master in the pouring rain moments ago and couldn’t help but sigh, feeling somewhat world-weary. “Forget it.”

This fourth junior brother, Han Yuan, had a small nose, small eyes, and a slightly protruding chin. His small eyes constantly twinkled with a sly and lazy light, making him quite unlikable.

Cheng Qian wasn’t pleased to see Han Yuan. Not only did Han Yuan have an unsightly appearance, but he also held the title of “junior brother.” Cheng Qian couldn’t develop any positive feelings towards anything related to “brother.” However, he silently maintained an outward appearance of friendliness and kindness, pretending not to mind.

In the Cheng family, the newly made clothes were for the eldest brother, the sweetened porridge was for the younger brother. Good things never fell into Cheng Qian’s hands, and he was often assigned chores. Cheng Qian, who was not magnanimous by nature, naturally felt resentment. But he had also heard the words often spoken by Old Tongsheng, “A filial son and a respectful brother,” and so he often felt that his resentment was unreasonable.

Such a young boy hadn’t had the opportunity to cultivate a refined demeanor. Cheng Qian couldn’t truly rid himself of resentment, so he had to pretend not to have any. Now that he was in the sect, he continued with the same attitude.

Since the master was being inconsistent, reopening the closed door, Cheng Qian reluctantly took on the role of senior brother.

There were errands along the way, which he, as the senior brother, had to handle. If there was anything to eat or drink, he had to let the master have it first and then let the junior brother have it. It was never easy to achieve this, so Cheng Qian constantly examined himself to ensure he maintained the appearance of a gentle and frugal person.

Cheng Qian often demanded this of himself—he had a father who had been poor and destitute his whole life, coarse and irritable. Cheng Qian dared not openly hate his father but pitied him in secret. When the young boy had nightmares at midnight, he often thought that he would rather die than become someone like his father.

Therefore, this dignified appearance was something he had worked hard to maintain amidst confusion and predicament. He couldn’t afford to lose it no matter what.

However, Cheng Qian quickly realized that although he was doing well, this junior brother didn’t deserve any special treatment. Not only was Han Yuan’s appearance unpleasant, but his temperament and disposition were also quite annoying.

First of all, Han Yuan was very verbose. Before they encountered this little beggar, it was the master who was responsible for the incessant babbling. After encountering the little beggar, even Wooden Chunchun appeared much more composed.

The little beggar boy seemed inspired by his master’s remarks about “stealing chickens and touching dogs” and casually concocted a story about how he defeated a giant yellow weasel that was ten zhang long and stole a fat chicken.

He spun the story with gusto, embellishing it with vivid details, with a clear beginning, middle, and end, displaying his personal brilliance and martial prowess.

Cheng Qian attempted to reasonably question it and asked, “How can there be a yellow weasel ten zhang long?”

Han Yuan felt challenged and immediately straightened his chest, raising his head to defend himself. “Of course, it became a spirit. Master, can yellow weasels become spirits?”

Upon hearing the story about the weasel spirit, the master’s expression seemed strange, as if he had a toothache or an upset stomach. After a long while, he absentmindedly replied, “All things have spirits. Most likely, they can all become spirits.”

Han Yuan seemed to have received a great affirmation. With an undisguised expression, he tilted his chin slightly towards Cheng Qian and said in a strange tone, “Senior brother, you’re just not used to it. If humans can become immortals, naturally, animals can become spirits.”

Cheng Qian didn’t reply and sneered inwardly.

If a yellow weasel really grew to be ten zhang long, its four legs would surely not be enough, and its long body would have to drag on the ground to move.

Could it be that a demonic cultivator worked so hard just to grind out a sturdy, hairless iron belly?

Cheng Qian couldn’t comprehend demonic cultivation, but he understood what Han Yuan was after.

This little beggar was like a leech that grew in a foul-smelling ditch. Once it smelled blood, it would desperately latch on and snatch. In his bones, he carried a fierceness. Han Yuan was vying for their master’s favor.

Seizing every opportunity, the little beggar showed his extraordinary bravery to the master while also subtly disparaging his “weak and easy to bully” senior brother. Seeing him jumping around, Cheng Qian found it quite laughable. He imitated Old Tongsheng and, in his heart, gave his fourth junior brother a half-hearted and spicy final verdict: “A gentleman should endure poverty, but a petty person endures only poverty. Useless creature, what is he?”

After listening to Han Yuan’s tales of “fighting the weasel spirit,” Cheng Qian witnessed firsthand how “extraordinarily brave” his little beastly junior brother was the next day.

That day, the master leaned against a tree and took a nap, while Cheng Qian flipped through an old classic from the master’s backpack. The old book had convoluted and obscure language, and Cheng Qian’s knowledge was limited. Most of the scriptures were like “acquaintances without recognition.” Nevertheless, he enjoyed it. No matter what was written in the master’s scriptures, it was still the first time in his life that he openly touched a book.

The master had taken in two young disciples—one was as motionless as a wooden stake, the other as restless as a monkey. Cheng Qian remained motionless like a stake, while Han Yuan couldn’t stop moving for a moment.

At the moment, Han Monkey seemed to have run off somewhere. Cheng Qian was enjoying the peace and quiet when he saw Han Yuan return, whimpering and crying.

“Master…” Han Yuan whined.

The master responded with a soft and delicate snore.

Han Yuan continued to cry, glancing at Cheng Qian beside him.

Cheng Qian suspected that the master was actually awake and pretending to sleep, intending to observe how the two senior brothers interacted. With his junior brother crying like this, he couldn’t turn a blind eye as the senior brother. He had no choice but to put down the old scripture, and with a pleasant expression, he asked, “What’s wrong?”

Han Yuan replied, “There’s a river ahead, and I wanted to catch fish for the master and senior brother. But there’s a big dog by the riverside, and it chased after me.”

Cheng Qian sighed inwardly. He was afraid of vicious dogs as well, but now that Han Yuan had mentioned it, being a filial junior brother who caught fish for the master and senior brother and was bullied by a beast, he had to step forward. The senior brother had no reason to back down.

He picked up a large stone from the ground, weighed it in his hand, stood up, and followed Han Yuan towards the riverside. With a pleasant demeanor, he said, “Alright, I’ll go with you to take a look.”

Cheng Qian was prepared. If they really encountered a vicious dog, he would smash that stone on the back of his junior brother’s head, making sure to turn the little beast into a smashed melon with exposed pulp, and then leave it to the dog to deal with.

Unfortunately, when the two arrived at the riverside, the dog had already left, leaving behind a few rows of small footprints on the ground.

Cheng Qian lowered his head and studied the footprints for a while, estimating that the “vicious dog” was probably less than a foot in size, possibly a clumsy little stray dog.

This little beastly Han Yuan couldn’t do anything right, but he never had enough boasting. He shamelessly flattered the world, lacking shame or self-respect. His courage was as small as a needle, but he boasted loudly. Cheng Qian thought this way as he clasped his hands behind his back, holding the brick, and looked at his useless junior brother with a gentle expression. He didn’t want to smash him—Cheng Qian couldn’t be bothered to argue with him.

The two returned with the fish they caught. The master had already “awakened” and was looking at them with benevolence and contentment.

As soon as Cheng Qian met the master’s gaze, he felt a heavy sensation in his stomach, an indescribable nausea.

Before he could say anything, Han Yuan had already approached the master in a fawning manner, embellishing a story about “how the senior brother wanted to eat fish, how he defeated a dog the size of a cow, and how he struggled to catch fish in the river.”

He didn’t hold much hope for a place like “Fu Yao Sect” that sounded like a theatrical troupe. He thought it might just be a remote and desolate chicken-path Daoist temple, where he would have to offer incense and kowtow to a “Grand Ancestor” who dressed modestly but always had a smile on his face.

But the sect turned out to be far beyond Cheng Qian’s expectations.

He saw that Fu Yao Sect occupied a small hill all by itself. The hill was surrounded by water on three sides, and looking up from the foot of the mountain, the green waves in the mountains were furious, leaving traces in their wake.

Amidst the sounds of insects and birds, occasional cries of cranes could be heard, and now and then a glimpse of a white shadow flashed by, instantly evoking a floating and ethereal fairy-like aura.

There were gently sloping stone steps in the mountains, clearly maintained regularly. A small stream flowed down from the mountaintop, murmuring.

As Cheng Qian climbed halfway up the mountain, he saw faint courtyard residences on the mountaintop, and a moss-covered stone gate stood on the mountainside, on which the characters “Fu Yao” were written in a vigorous and lively manner.

Cheng Qian couldn’t tell whether the characters were written well or not, but he felt that those two characters seemed to want to fly off the gate, exuding an unruly and arrogant pride.

This place wasn’t some ethereal immortal mountain shrouded in clouds and mist, but it contained an indescribable beauty. As soon as Cheng Qian stepped into the mountain, he felt it. With each breath, he felt considerably lighter.

He caught a glimpse of the palm-sized sky through the dense foliage, and a unique sense of the vastness of the heavens and the earth surged to his eyebrows, making him feel so exhilarated that he wanted to laugh and shout around the mountain.

But Cheng Qian held back—he didn’t dare to make noise at home, afraid that his father would beat him. Naturally, he wouldn’t do so here either, afraid that he would lose the gentlemanly demeanor he had eavesdropped on from Han Yuan.

The master patted the heads of his two newly picked disciples and kindly said, “Later, follow me to burn incense, bathe, and change clothes. I will take you to pay respects to your…”

Cheng Qian absentmindedly thought, “The smiling Grand Ancestor?”

The master said, “Senior Brother.”

Author’s note: Note: A gentleman endures poverty, but a petty person endures only poverty—The Analects of Confucius, “Duke Ling of Wei”