Yan Zhengming hesitated for a moment. Although he didn’t say it out loud, Cheng Qian had already sensed his doubts. In fact, Cheng Qian was often observant of others’ words and expressions, but he usually kept his thoughts to himself and didn’t take them to heart.

Seeing his senior brother hesitate, Cheng Qian continued, “If you want to go and take a look, we can find Second Senior Brother now.”

Yan Zhengming remained motionless, pondering. After a while, he suddenly said somewhat unrelatedly, “Our Master cherished the sect until his death. He would rather die and scatter his soul than let the sect face a great calamity. The Demon Breaking Valley, the Devouring Soul Lamp… Besides, although he fell into demonic cultivation, he doesn’t seem like a completely evil person. If you were the Master, considering this sense of loyalty, would you have the heart to bury him under a tree?”

Cheng Qian paused for a moment, not directly answering, but instead asked, “What about Xiao Yuan? If we really find him in Southern Border, what do you plan to do?”

Yan Zhengming furrowed his brow and remained silent for a while.

Regardless of what path Han Yuan chose after that incident, Yan Zhengming killing Cheng Qian wasn’t intentional. The person under the influence of the Soul-captivating Art had no awareness, and Han Yuan was defenseless. Yan Zhengming was fully aware of this, but he still harbored resentment.

At this moment, a small voice in his mind asked, “What if it was Xiao Qian who fell under the influence of the Soul-captivating Art back then?”

As soon as this thought surfaced, Yan Zhengming couldn’t help but get lost in contemplation. His gaze slowly shifted to Cheng Qian—Cheng Qian’s appearance was not much different from when he was a youth, just slightly taller, with slightly more defined features. But whenever Yan Zhengming looked closely at him, he would have a strange, indescribable feeling.

At first, he thought it was just a sense of unfamiliarity after many years of separation. But then he realized that something was off because every time he closed his eyes, he could vividly remember even the smallest details of Cheng Qian, including his eyelashes.

According to common sense, one should be familiar with people or things they were close to, right?

Yet Yan Zhengming found himself increasingly unable to stare at Cheng Qian for long, as if looking at him for too long would burn his eyes.

“If it were Xiao Qian, I probably wouldn’t have let him jump into the sea that day.” After a long time, Yan Zhengming reluctantly came to this conclusion, sighing inwardly and feeling a bit guilty because he was clearly biased.

As Yan Zhengming pondered on the sidelines, his gaze inevitably appeared somewhat infatuated. Cheng Qian, for a moment, recalled the appearance of him being tormented by inner demons in the bamboo forest that day, and suddenly felt a bit annoyed.

“These troubles shouldn’t be on his mind,” Cheng Qian thought to himself. “If there are any difficulties or doubts, I should handle them all. Why make things difficult for him?”

Senior Brother had suffered enough over the past hundred years. Cheng Qian decided to let him eat, drink, and play as much as he wanted from now on, occasionally pretending to be the Sect Master and indulging in some whims—after all, he had already survived the Seven Great Heavenly Tribulations. Could he not withstand the crumbling state of the Fuyao Sect?

“Let’s go. Since the Earth Lock is in the Sect Master’s seal, we must go and take a look at the Vermilion Bird Pagoda.” Cheng Qian stood up and reached out to pull Yan Zhengming.

For certain reasons, every time Cheng Qian’s hand flashed in front of his eyes, Yan Zhengming couldn’t help but feel nervous. Subconsciously, he blocked it and grabbed Cheng Qian’s hand.

Cheng Qian’s fingertips were cold, but there was a faint warmth in the palm that seemed to be burning.

Yan Zhengming trembled imperceptibly but didn’t let go.

Cheng Qian didn’t mind and “tsk"ed, grabbing the “Money-grubbing Gentleman’s” claw with the copper coin ring and roughly took off the ring that was obstructing the view, putting it into his sleeve, sighing, “Alright, no one will slap you this time… Wearing such a fake spiritual item, I bet you’re really full to the brim.”

Yan Zhengming’s hand suddenly became empty, and a moment of loss washed over him. Meanwhile, Cheng Qian had already walked out of the inn, puzzled, and turned back to ask, “Senior Brother, what are you doing?”

Yan Zhengming stammered, “I… um, it’s a bit hot today…”

As he mumbled, he despised himself. Xiao Qian wasn’t a stranger. When they were young, he had rolled on his bed countless times after sword practice without even taking a bath. What would happen if he said, “Come here and let me feel the coolness”? At most, he would get a few glares!

However, Yan Zhengming couldn’t bring himself to say it. Not being able to speak wasn’t the main issue, his mind was like a wild horse running uncontrollably in increasingly bizarre directions. He envisioned a scene where he would wholeheartedly embrace Cheng Qian in his arms.

It felt so real!

Yan Zhengming couldn’t help but shudder inwardly. It was too strange. Could it be that the demonic inner turmoil from their training hadn’t dissipated after all?

But then, a hidden desire rose in his heart.

He was truly restless, scratching his head in confusion.

“Why does this feel so much like the rumored springtime infatuation of a young girl?” Yan Zhengming stood frozen in place as if struck by lightning, his soul disoriented for a while. His fragile heart let out a desperate cry, “Heavens, I must have gone astray in my cultivation.”

Lost in his thoughts, Sect Master Yan and Cheng Qian left the town and made their way towards the area with the most abundant spiritual energy in the mountains. However, before they found Li Yun, they heard a commotion.

From a distance, they saw a flamboyant flying carriage parked there. The carriage was adorned with pearls, and the fluttering curtains gave the surroundings the appearance of an impending shower of petals.

Flying carriages were not something ordinary people could afford. It would take a sect of the scale of Mingming Valley to support them. Moreover, cultivators could control objects with their spiritual sense soon after condensing their spirits. Teleportation over long distances was also common. Riding in such an ostentatious flying carriage, if it wasn’t because they were too weak to control objects with their spirits, it was purely for show.

Regardless of the reason, the people inside the carriage must be of a high rank.

The canopy on the carriage was extremely light and adorned with talismans. When it was pulled down, a young man could be seen inside. He leaned lazily against it and indeed had an attractive appearance, but it wasn’t quite upright. There was a red birthmark above his left eyebrow, adding a touch of inexplicable hostility.

There were at least ten cultivators following the flying carriage, all with considerable cultivation. Two white-haired old men were walking on either side behind the carriage, exuding an ethereal aura. They were probably experts above the Nascent Soul realm.

In the midst of being stared at by this group of people, Li Yun, who resembled a barefoot physician, stood at the center.

Li Yun had a cunning mind, but unfortunately, he was easily distracted and had a mischievous heart. This didn’t bode well for his cultivation. When he was young, Cheng Qian used to motivate him, but later, he followed Yan Zhengming and got involved in all sorts of side practices. In recent years, his progress in cultivation had been mediocre, stuck at the threshold of condensing his spirit for over ten years without any advancement. He didn’t know why, but he was getting anxious.

A pit hung above his head, and all the hairs on his body stood on end. Charging toward the young man in the carriage, he cursed, “Who’s the bird here? I think it’s you with your sharp tongue and monkey cheeks! Even if I’m really a bird, I’m someone else’s pet. You, on the other hand, brought so many fathers to snatch and plunder. Shameless!”

The young man in the carriage didn’t seem to have a good temper, but he clearly took the water pit as a talkative little bird. Instead of responding to her insults, he found it amusing and smiled as he spoke to Li Yun, “I assume you practice alchemy? I’ve heard that alchemy requires utmost concentration, without any disturbances. Having this bird with you, wouldn’t it be noisy? Besides, alchemy isn’t easy. The herbs thrown into the pill furnace are valuable resources. With these three talismans, you can exchange them for some good items from them—sell this bird to me.”

Li Yun remained silent, appearing as if he had truly been moved by the offer.

The water pit grew agitated. Her second senior brother was timid and had no principles. There was a chance he might actually sell her. Stirring up trouble, she shouted at him, “How dare you! If you dare to sell me, the Sect Master will break your legs!”

The flamboyant young man was different from the likes of her eldest senior brother. Although he could pretend to be friendly, he made sure his subordinates surrounded Li Yun and prepared to either snatch or buy her.

Li Yun’s eyes flickered slightly, thinking to himself, “What a hassle.”

He reached out and grabbed the chattering Water Pit bird, muttering, “Junior Sister, how about I sell you first, then go back and bring reinforcements to rescue you?”

He wasn’t very worried about the Water Pit bird. Although the bird wasn’t very clever, it knew its place. For example, when the eldest senior brother wasn’t around, she didn’t provoke others unless provoked first.

The Water Pit bird pecked him fiercely, and Li Yun pondered with a troubled expression, “Forget it, you’re not worth a thousand taels of gold… sigh, but what can I do? You’re still my senior brother.”

He pinched the bird’s beak, preventing her from making any noise, and showed a dilemma. He said with a cupped hand, “Sir, your offer is indeed generous. However, this little creature you have seen has a bad temper and is difficult to raise. If she offends you… sigh, it’s a life, after all.”

The dandy in the carriage, impatient with Li Yun’s clinginess, flashed a hint of impatience on his face. It seemed that he had no intention of continuing the conversation. He urged, “I paid a high price for it, so naturally, I will take good care of it. Just tell me, will you sell or not?”

Before he finished speaking, the Water Pit bird seemed to have seen something. She suddenly broke free from Li Yun’s grip and rushed out of the crowd.

A cultivator immediately reached out to knock her down, and a true element had already flown through the air.

At that moment, the cultivator suddenly felt a chill down his spine. Then, a sword energy passed precisely by, seemingly disdainful of an ambush. It didn’t harm him, but it shattered his true element. The sword intent dissipated, leaving a refreshing chill in the scorching surroundings.

Everyone turned their heads abruptly and saw two people approaching from a distance, as if they had arrived in an instant. The two old men who followed behind the flying carriage suddenly became serious and walked through the crowd to meet them, being cautious, “Where are the two of you going, fellow cultivators?”

Before the Water Pit bird could speak, she had a natural talent for seeking reliable people when trouble arose. She saw her plunge into Cheng Qian’s hand, instantly transforming from a fierce scolder into a pitiful creature. She complained with a grievance, “It was that person who set a trap for me on the way, causing me to end up like this. And now, he still relentlessly pursues me here. That despicable Li guy wants to sell me!”

The person surnamed Li, “…”

Cheng Qian reached out and smoothed the Water Pit bird’s head, glanced at the person in the carriage, and then looked at the two old men in front of the carriage.

Just as Li Yun anxiously thought he was going to speak disrespectfully, Cheng Qian nodded slightly at the group of people. Although it wasn’t a smile, it was polite.

“Thank you for taking an interest in my little sparrow,” Cheng Qian calmly said, “However, she has been with me for a long time and possesses spiritual sensitivity. She’s like a half-family member to us, and we don’t treat her as a pet. It would be inconvenient to sell her. I hope you understand.”

Yan Zhengming remained silent by the side, scanning the seemingly valuable carriage from top to bottom. He secretly decided that he would get some flying carriages for the sect when he returned to the estate. Even if they were of no practical use, it would still be a way to show off.

Cheng Qian had once been someone who would resort to violence at the slightest disagreement. However, that didn’t mean he was combative; he just couldn’t help it.

Now that he had cultivation strength to roam freely and a Frost Blade in his hand, he had long lost his fear. However, he became more polite in his interactions with others. Although his tone was light, he held the broken-mouthed bird carefully in his palm, displaying a sincere sense of understanding.

The young man in the carriage looked down at Cheng Qian, frowned, and asked, “Are you also trying your luck at the Vermilion Phoenix Pagoda?”

With a single glance, Cheng Qian could tell that this person’s cultivation level was probably stuck at the Concentration stage. He thought to himself, “Does it concern him?”

But because he didn’t want unnecessary trouble, Cheng Qian replied, “We plan to go to Southern Frontier. We are just passing through here. If we happen to admire the elegance of the Vermilion Phoenix Pagoda, it would be an unexpected gain.”

Seeing that the young man didn’t know what’s good for him, one of the old men in front of the carriage couldn’t help but turn around and whispered a few words to him.

However, no one knew what the old man said. He didn’t speak, but when he did, as soon as his words fell, the young man became agitated. He pointed at the old cultivator and said, “What’s the use of keeping you people? Every one of you, even the wild cultivators we encounter on the road, must be treated with great caution. I want that bird!”

The old cultivator was already advanced in age and had been revered wherever he went. To be shouted at like this in public by a brat made his face look ugly.

Yan Zhengming pulled the Water Pit bird, who was enjoying the coolness of summer in Cheng Qian’s hand. Feeling somewhat relieved, he murmured, “It’s rare to come across someone even more of a scoundrel than me.”

He had self-awareness, leaving others with nothing to say.

After Yan Zhengming finished speaking, he gestured to Li Yun and said, “We’ve already said we won’t sell it. Junior Brother, let’s go.”

Without even summoning his sword, he transformed his true essence into sword shadows, soaring into the sky, emanating a sharp sword intent.

The two Nascent Soul stage old men looked at each other, their expressions cautious. Many cultivators could wield swords, but not everyone could be called a sword cultivator. Sword cultivators could transform their Nascent Soul into a sharp sword, making it difficult to distinguish between reality and illusion.

Cultivating the Sword of Nascent Soul was incredibly difficult. It required favorable circumstances and at least a hundred years of effort. Seeing someone so young achieve such a level, his future prospects were likely boundless.

Sword cultivators were rare to begin with, and those who achieved some level of mastery were usually arrogant. Someone like Yan Zhengming, who was willing to speak like a normal person to his juniors, was already showing great respect. But this young master, who couldn’t even control his sword, with his naturally scornful expression, felt slighted. He couldn’t contain his anger and said, “Since you’re useless, I’ll handle it myself.”

Before the two old men could stop him, the young man flew out a small flag from his sleeve. The colorful inscriptions on it were like a Soul-summoning Banner. It seemed to be a precious treasure acquired from somewhere, requiring no particular cultivation level to activate. In an instant, it enveloped the surroundings, creating a small world that changed the time and space.