A respectable master, why did he need to “pay respects” to the eldest senior brother?

Both Cheng Qian and Han Yuan were confused, but the master explained anxiously, “Don’t worry, your eldest senior brother is carefree himself. There’s no need to be afraid of him. Just treat him the same way as I do.”

Wait, what does “treat him the same way as I do” mean?

In any case, Master Mu Chun successfully transformed the shallow confusion on the two disciples’ minds into a thick paste.

After passing through the mountain gate, several young Daoist attendants greeted them along the clear flowing water.

The attendants ranged from seventeen or eighteen to thirteen or fourteen years old. They were all handsome and resembled golden boys under the control of immortals, with their robes fluttering without any wind.

Not to mention the dumbfounded Han Yuan, even Cheng Qian, who had been somewhat proud along the way, subtly felt a sense of self-disgrace.

Due to this self-disgrace, Cheng Qian instinctively put up a resistance. He consciously stiffened his face, straightened his back, and carefully concealed his curiosity and lack of knowledge.

The leading attendant smiled as soon as he saw Master Mu Chun from afar. Even before approaching, he casually said, “Where did the Sect Leader travel to this time? Why do you look like you’ve been through a disaster? Oh, who is this… where did this young master come from?”

Cheng Qian dissected and scrutinized this friendly greeting in his mind, but he couldn’t find a trace of reverence in it. The attendant’s welcome seemed more like that of a “Neighbor Han Uncle” rather than a “Sect Leader.”

Master Mu Chun didn’t mind at all. In fact, a somewhat absent-minded smile appeared on his face. He pointed to Cheng Qian and Han Yuan and said, “These are my new disciples. They’re young. Please take care of them.”

The attendant smiled and asked, “Where should we take care of them?”

“Take them to the Southern Courtyard,” Mu Chun casually pointed to Han Yuan. Then, he lowered his head seemingly intentionally or unintentionally and met Cheng Qian’s upward gaze. In those young eyes, there was inherent restraint and a hint of uneasiness in unfamiliar surroundings.

The half-hearted smile on Master Mu Chun’s mouth suddenly disappeared. After a moment, he pointed out Cheng Qian’s destination with a somewhat solemn attitude. “Let Cheng Qian stay at the Border Pavilion.”

“Border Pavilion” wasn’t an actual pavilion but rather a small courtyard located in a remote position, implying a reclusive lifestyle. On one side of the courtyard wall, a small stream flowed silently, while the other side was covered in a large bamboo forest, exuding a serene tranquility.

The bamboo forest seemed to have existed for quite some time, as even the passing breeze had tinted it with a hint of green. The entire courtyard felt as if it were submerged in a sea of bamboo, imbued with a sense of simplicity and detachment.

Two bright lanterns hung at the entrance of the courtyard, also inscribed with talismans. However, they were much more delicate than the “family heirloom” in Cheng Qian’s home, emitting a soft halo that couldn’t be disturbed by the wind or startled by footsteps. On the left and right sides, they quietly flanked a door plaque inscribed with the characters “Qing An.”

It seemed that these characters and the “Fu Yao” characters at the mountain gate came from the same hand.

The attendant leading Cheng Qian was named Xue Qing, about the same age as his eldest brother at home. Xue Qing was of average height and build, neither fat nor thin. Upon closer inspection, he appeared delicate, but his features were somewhat dull, making him the most inconspicuous among the attendants. He was also reserved and seemed to avoid the limelight.

“This is our Border Pavilion on the mountain, also known as the Qing An Residence. I heard that the Sect Leader used to live here, but it became vacant later and also served as a fasting hall,” Xue Qing explained slowly. “Does Third Senior Uncle know what a fasting hall is?”

Cheng Qian wasn’t quite sure, but he still pretended to be indifferent and nodded slightly, following Xue Qing into the small courtyard. In the middle of the courtyard, there was a small pond measuring about ten feet in all directions. Inscribed talismans adorned the black elm wood tray beneath it, which must have had some fixed purpose—the water in the pond didn’t flow, remaining still.

However, upon closer inspection, Cheng Qian discovered that it wasn’t a pond at all, but a rare large gemstone.

The stone wasn’t jade or emerald, but it felt cool to the touch, with a slight blue tinge amidst its dark green color, exuding a cold and profound stillness.

Cheng Qian had never seen such a rare object before. Although he didn’t want to appear like a country bumpkin, he couldn’t help but be amazed for a moment.

Xue Qing said, “We don’t know what this thing is, but we call it the Clear Heart Stone. The Sect Leader found it, and he used to place it on the tray when he studied scriptures during his fasting. With it, this courtyard becomes much cooler in the summer.”

Unable to resist, Cheng Qian pointed at the visible talismans on the elm wood tray and asked, “Brother Xue Qing, what are these talismans for?”

Xue Qing seemed surprised by Cheng Qian’s politeness. He paused for a moment before answering, “Third Senior Uncle, don’t trouble me—these aren’t talismans.”

Cheng Qian glanced at him, and Xue Qing strangely sensed a hint of restrained doubt in his gaze. This young man’s eyes seemed to speak, becoming even more refined when compared to the other person picked up by the Sect Leader.

Xue Qing didn’t know how to describe it. He could tell that this child didn’t come from a high background and probably hadn’t read many books. However, he seemed to be striving to mold himself into a refined gentleman, but it came off as forced and rigid. Every movement and gesture was restrained, as if he didn’t know how to interact with people.

In simple terms, he was a bit affected—without any particular goal or model to imitate.

Usually, affected people tend to be annoying, even if they are just children. However, for some reason, Xue Qing didn’t find Cheng Qian annoying. Instead, he inexplicably felt some pity for him. Thus, he answered in a soft voice, “Third Senior Uncle, Xue Qing is just an untalented servant responsible for taking care of the Sect Leader and the junior disciples. Talisman magic is vast and profound, and we, as ordinary people, only have a superficial understanding. We’ve merely heard fragments of it from the Sect Leader and repeated them. It wouldn’t hurt for the young master to ask the Sect Leader or… your eldest senior brother at home.”

Cheng Qian keenly caught the words “eldest senior brother” and combined them with the familiar and respectful attitude of these attendants towards the Sect Leader, which only deepened his confusion.

Xue Qing quickly familiarized him with the furnishings inside Qing An Residence and hastily helped him clean up from his journey, providing him with appropriate clothes and tidying him up inside and out before leading him out.

While maintaining his composed image, Cheng Qian subtly inquired about the identity of the eldest senior brother from Xue Qing. He learned that his eldest senior brother’s surname was Yan and his name was Yan Zhengming. He came from a wealthy and prestigious family.

To what extent was his family wealthy? Cheng Qian couldn’t quite grasp it—being a poor child, he had no concept of “wealth.” The so-called “wealthy” people he had encountered were merely village notables like Wang Yuanwai, who, at the age of sixty, took a concubine for his third household. In Cheng Qian’s eyes, that was already considered wealthy and imposing.

It was said that when Yan Zhengming was seven years old, for some trivial reason, he ran away from home and was picked up by their cunning… shrewd and calculating master, who saw his potential.

The cunning old trickster used his eloquent tongue and successfully lured the young senior brother, who was still ignorant of the harsh world, into joining the sect, becoming the founding disciple.

However, Young Master Yan went missing, naturally causing great worry to his family. It took tremendous effort to find Yan Zhengming, who had already gone astray—whether he was drugged by Mu Chun or simply didn’t want to behave, he was bewitched and refused to return home, insisting on staying and cultivating with the master.

As the young master had been pampered since childhood, the Yan family couldn’t bear to see their precious child suffer under the influence of a sect resembling a theater troupe. After several disputes that ended in a stalemate, they had no choice but to compromise and provide funds to sustain the sect, considering it as an amusement park for the young master.

There were numerous types of cultivation sects in the world, but the genuinely reputable orthodox sects and wicked cults were few and far between. The majority spread across the Nine Provinces were mediocre sects.

Cheng Qian calculated in his mind. Sects like Fu Yao Sect, which had some face due to a wealthy patron, could roughly be called “domestic fowl sects.”

Thus, he understood that their eldest senior brother was not only the eldest senior brother but also played the roles of “the patron of the sect,” “the Sect Leader’s financial supporter,” and “the founding disciple of Fu Yao Sect.” Naturally, he held the most prominent position within the sect, even the master had to flatter him.

As for the person occupying this prominent position—Cheng Qian would find out upon meeting him—he was an indescribable prodigal son.

The four words “arrogant, extravagant, and indulgent” completely suited him. Aside from lacking the audacity to be “indulgent” at the age of fifteen, the remaining “arrogant,” “extravagant,” and “indulgent” were fully realized.

When Mu Chun brought the two newly cleaned up junior disciples to the vicinity of Young Master Yan, he was combing his hair—not because the Sect Leader was oblivious to proper manners and deliberately disturbed others early in the morning while they were grooming, but because the eldest senior brother liked to comb his hair multiple times a day.

Fortunately, he was still young and not afraid of going bald.

To be qualified to comb the hair of the eldest senior brother, the person must be a woman—not too young, not too old, with every feature beautiful, and every scent pleasing. Apart from combing and fragrancing his hair all day, she shouldn’t do anything else. Her hands must be soft, fair as jade, without any rough calluses that would spoil the view.

People like Xue Qing and the other attendants were originally household slaves of the Yan family, carefully selected and sent to serve the sect on the mountain.

Attendants weren’t needed for the young master’s personal affairs. It was said that he didn’t quite like men, finding them clumsy. Therefore, the ones left to serve him closely in the courtyard were all young girls, making the whole courtyard always vibrant and lively.

Before entering, Cheng Qian secretly stared at the goatee on Mu Chun’s face for a while and came to a conclusion: the goatee on the master’s face had been combed.

2 / 2

On the way here, Xue Qing mentioned that Mu Chun assigned him to stay at Qing An Residence to calm his mind. Cheng Qian felt a bit uncomfortable but refused to admit that he was restless. Now, seeing the words “Gentle Town” at the entrance of the eldest senior brother’s residence, he finally put his mind at ease—it seemed that it wasn’t his own restlessness but rather the master’s confusion.

Beside him, Han Yuan playfully pretended to be ignorant and asked, “Master, what does it say at the door of the eldest senior brother?”

Mu Chun rubbed his goatee and recited it for him to hear. Han Yuan raised his eyebrows and asked again, “Does it mean to encourage the eldest senior brother to be more gentle?”

Upon hearing this, Mu Chun was shocked and cautioned, “You must never let your eldest senior brother hear those words.”

Cheng Qian and Han Yuan saw the Sect Leader, who was usually dignified, acting like a defeated dog, and they couldn’t help but think in unison, “This is simply unreasonable, disregarding the laws of heaven and propriety!”

Thinking this way, they exchanged a glance and saw the shock on each other’s faces. They quickly followed the Sect Leader in wagging their tails, learning the first and most important technique of the sect—the art of wagging their tails.

In fact, when Cheng Qian saw the eldest senior brother in person for the first time, he was astonished.

Although he still had a youthful appearance, he exuded an extraordinary charm. He wore a pure white satin robe with invisible patterns embroidered on it. Only when he moved could one catch a glimpse of the shimmering colors. He leaned back on the carved chair as if boneless, his eyelids half-closed, one hand propping up his chin, and his disheveled hair resembling ink splatters.

Upon hearing the sound, Yan Zhengming lazily lifted one eyelid. The corners of his eyes, like light ink strokes, were long and slightly upturned, emitting an air of arrogant and delicate charm. Seeing the Sect Leader, he showed no intention of standing up and sat comfortably on the chair, slowly opening his mouth to ask, “Master, you went out and brought back two playthings?”

He seemed to have matured later than others, and traces of youth still lingered in his voice. Mixed with a hint of coquetry, it became even more difficult to determine his gender.

Yet, his mother had the audacity to defend him, and this ambiguous appearance somehow didn’t seem out of place.

The Sect Leader accompanied him with a smile, rubbing his hands together, and introduced, “Oh, this is your third junior brother, Cheng Qian, and this is your fourth junior brother, Han Yuan. They are still young and inexperienced. As the eldest senior brother, you should guide and advise them more on behalf of the master.”

Upon hearing Han Yuan’s name, the eldest senior brother’s eyebrows twitched, and his facial expression seemed to contort for a moment. He half-opened his eyes, glanced at his freshly baked fourth junior brother, then swiftly averted his gaze as if it had been tainted.

“Han Yuan?” The eldest senior brother seemed dissatisfied and slowly commented, “Indeed, the name matches his appearance, a bit unjust.”

Han Yuan’s face had turned pale.

Yan Zhengming disregarded him and turned his attention to Cheng Qian.

“That child,” he said, “come here, let me have a look.”