Yan Zhengming’s shoes were almost stuck, while Cheng Qian stood three steps away, hesitating to speak, appearing somewhat lost and helpless.

That’s how Yan Zhengming was when he was a child. He would refuse to sit on the stool because it was cold, standing there with a displeased expression, silent, waiting for the numerous maids and Dao disciples to guess his intentions. With so many Dao disciples around, there would always be one or two clever ones who could understand, saving him the trouble of speaking.

Unfortunately, there was only Cheng Qian, a block of wood, here. No one indulged him in this quirk of his.

After a brief struggle in his heart, Yan Zhengming suddenly had an epiphany in the midst of the “desperate situation”. He made up his mind and thought, “Since he dared to say such things in the stone garden, what’s wrong with me being shameless?”

So, Yan Zhengming raised his head and boldly drank all the wine from the jade jug. Liquid courage emboldened him. He changed direction and calmly walked past Cheng Qian, crossing the courtyard of Qing’an Residence without hesitation, and straightforwardly announced to Cheng Qian, “I’m not leaving today.”

His change of heart was faster than flipping through a book, unpredictable.

Cheng Qian didn’t catch on and said in confusion, “Uh… Ah?”

Yan Zhengming glanced at him and asked, “What? Do you have a problem?”

Cheng Qian had no problem, only intentions.

Yan Zhengming gave a straightforward command, “Tell your little Dao disciple to prepare a bath for me.”

Cheng Qian stood still for a moment, and inattentively let his thoughts wander. His heart raced, and in a fluster, he turned and left.

In the backyard of Qing’an Residence, there was a small pond with fresh, clear water that could be drunk as it was purified by talismans at the bottom of the stream. Cheng Qian didn’t disturb Teng Huang or seek help from others. He personally drew a circle of talismans, heating the water in the pool. Within moments, the pool was enveloped in mist, creating an ethereal scene.

Cheng Qian squatted by the edge of the pool, testing the water temperature himself. He busied himself for a while but suddenly felt like he was taking care of a difficult cat. Despite the trouble it caused, he still enjoyed it.

Just as he was about to stand up, Yan Zhengming, without making a sound, stood behind Cheng Qian.

Taking advantage of a slight buzz from the alcohol, Yan Zhengming summoned up his courage and, before Cheng Qian had fully stood up, he hugged him around the waist. There was sweat in his palms, but he discreetly wiped it on Cheng Qian’s belt. With a lazy drawl, he nonchalantly said, “This place of yours is nice. Care to join me for a bath?”

Cheng Qian fell silent for a moment and couldn’t help but blurt out, “Senior Brother, why are you trembling?”

Yan Zhengming: “…”

Beside the mist-shrouded pond, both of them fell into silence.

Cheng Qian realized that he had spoken out of turn and quickly tried to remedy the situation, “No, I mean…”

He didn’t finish his sentence when a strong force suddenly attacked from behind. Angrily, Eldest Senior Brother held him and jumped into the pool. The water, too warm for Cheng Qian, quickly soaked his clothes, enveloping his body. Cheng Qian trembled slightly, but before he could speak, Yan Zhengming released him, showing a cautious retreat in his eyes.

Cheng Qian, not much more sober than him, gasped for breath, feeling a slight pain in his chest, meeting the nervous gaze of Yan Zhengming—filled with indescribable longing, yet hesitant to take a step further.

Cheng Qian’s mind wandered for a moment, reminding him of the scene he had seen in Zhaoyang City. He had a bad impression of it and only took a brief glance at the time, finding it unbearable.

Yet, that unbearable scene ignited unconventional thoughts in his mind, just like when he was a youth going through a mountain cave, passing through the Heart Devil Valley. When he looked down from a high place, he could clearly sense the danger, but he couldn’t help but lower his head to take a closer look.

Cheng Qian said with a hoarse voice, “You’re blabbering.”

He carried the excitement that originated from the forbidden and, based on his vague impression, clumsily removed Yan Zhengming’s wet clothes. But then he felt a bit lost, not knowing where to start. So Cheng Qian paused, racking his brain to recall how others had done it.

He suddenly regretted not paying closer attention back then—this was the first time he truly understood the meaning of “regretting not learning enough while reading.”

…Until he was forcefully pressed against the pool wall by Eldest Senior Brother without any explanation.

Yan Zhengming had suppressed his desires for too long, endured for too long, and no longer wanted to be polite with him.

From then on, someone began to consider himself the master of Qing’an Residence.

On the first day Yan Zhengming stayed at Qing’an Residence, Cheng Qian, who rarely slept late, woke up and felt a sweetness in his heart upon seeing him. Despite feeling a bit uncomfortable in his own skin, it wasn’t a big deal. Eldest Senior Brother rarely revealed his true feelings so openly, and Cheng Qian felt that it didn’t matter what happened.

On the third day of Yan Zhengming’s stay at Qing’an Residence, Cheng Qian started to find it unbearable. Yan Zhengming turned Qing’an Residence into a state of neither clarity nor peace, and he became excessively clingy—Eldest Master had his own way of being clingy. It wasn’t an ordinary kind of clinginess. He would only drop a hint, expecting an immediate response, so that he could play the role of a senior brother saying, “Why should I spoil you? It’s only right that I pamper you.”

If Cheng Qian didn’t catch on or occasionally ignored him, he had to be prepared for a day of continuous nitpicking.

There is a saying, “It’s easy to invite a god, but hard to send them away.” After Yan Zhengming stayed at Qing’an Residence for half a month, Cheng Qian couldn’t bear it anymore and was on the verge of going crazy. In the past, he would rather face the wall by the icy pool than chat with Nian Mingming, who came to visit. This showed that, apart from being resolute, he also preferred tranquility.

Frustrated with being ignored several times, Eldest Master finally exploded, “Didn’t you say you would never be heartless? It only took a few days! You really are an ungrateful person! You were never easy to get along with since you were a child!”

Cheng Qian’s head throbbed, “Senior Brother, just let me live a few more years.”

Furious, Eldest Master ran to the bamboo forest to practice his swordsmanship, leaving the bamboo sea of Qing’an Residence in ruins. He had intended to leave, but in the evening, he returned, drenched from running back in a fit of anger, waiting for Cheng Qian to return from his trip to Han Yuan so he could reflect on himself.

Days passed by in a flash, and soon the rainy season arrived in the vicinity of Mount Fuyao. It rained incessantly day and night.

On this day, as Cheng Qian was about to descend the mountain, he was stopped by Yan Zhengming.

“Take this to him.” This was the first time Yan Zhengming mentioned Han Yuan and handed Cheng Qian a small bead the size of a mung bean.

Cheng Qian reached out and felt the coolness of the object. The dampness from the rain clinging to his body dissipated instantly.

“These are water-repelling beads that leaked out from the Xixing Palace in the early years. I managed to get a few of them,” Yan Zhengming explained. “The Fifteen-Year Agreement that Tang Zhen established is coming up soon. Don’t let him embarrass himself by looking like a drowned rat.”

Although he cared deep down, he always maintained an expression of slight disdain. That was just his way.

Before Cheng Qian could see Han Yuan, he encountered Tang Zhen near the foot of Mount Taiyin.

Tang Zhen was an easy guest to handle. Besides the first day when he arrived at Mount Fuyao and was personally guided around the mountain by Li Jun, he mostly stayed in his room’s courtyard, rarely venturing out.

Tang Zhen held an oiled paper umbrella in his hand but didn’t bother wasting spiritual energy to block the rain. His robe sleeve was soaked, but he didn’t mind and walked calmly in the rain.

Cheng Qian let Frost Blade fall to the ground and greeted, “Brother Tang.”

Tang Zhen replied, “Are you going to the Tenfold Array? Let’s go together.”

Both of them didn’t say much. Without using their swords, they walked slowly on the clean paths amidst the rain-washed mountains. The sound of wind and rain in their ears was delicate, as if everything had slowed down.

Cheng Qian said, “With Brother Tang’s company, I feel like nothing is urgent.”

Tang Zhen responded, “Ordinary people spend their lives chasing after fame and fortune, while cultivators, despite having hundreds or thousands of times more time, still chase after cultivation and realms. They go against the current in the world, never daring to relax for a moment. If they slack off for a moment, they will fall one step further from the Dao. That’s why we can’t afford to not be in a hurry—As a walking corpse, I don’t have much to ask for, so naturally, I am more leisurely than others.”

This statement briefly sparked some confusion in Cheng Qian’s mind, and he thought, “If you don’t seek anything, why did you come all the way here?”

But that confusion passed in an instant. Cheng Qian didn’t have many friends, and he trusted each of them. He didn’t like to doubt his friends, so he casually responded, “I think occasionally taking a few slow steps is a good adjustment. If we live leisurely every day, wouldn’t we be living like old turtles? That wouldn’t be meaningful either.”

Tang Zhen smiled and changed the subject, saying, “The Fifteen-Year Agreement is approaching. I wonder what your sect leader thinks about it? In this battle, the Demon Dragon will bow its head, Tian Yan will fall, and the Four Saints will decline. Most of the elite disciples of Mu Lan Mountain will be damaged, and the other small sects are not worth mentioning. Fuyao Mountain might become a new force, and the major sects will be reshuffled. You should also plan ahead.”

Cheng Qian smiled and replied, “Our sect leader doesn’t have ambitions to command the world and receive the adoration of all directions. He just wants to be bothered less by others. He’s always reluctant to leave his place. After so many years of wandering, I think he’ll become even more stubborn when he returns.”

Tang Zhen said, “Whether as a sect leader or a sword cultivator, Yan Zhengming has his own unique style. His natural approach aligns well with the true meaning of the Dao. Combined with his outstanding talent, he may truly reach the peak of longevity.”

Since its establishment, the Fuyao Independent Sect has never pursued longevity, always positioning itself as “humane.” Its extraordinary talents are comparable to Tong Ru’s, and it prioritizes individual cultivation over sect heritage. However, Tang Zhen was an outsider, and Cheng Qian didn’t say much, only saying, “Thank you for your auspicious words.”

Tang Zhen said, “But when it comes to longevity, you are truly blessed.”

Cheng Qian asked, “What do you mean?”

Tang Zhen replied, “Sometimes cultivation and artifact forging are intertwined. The Three Princes, for example, turned themselves into a bone formation, which actually makes sense. Cultivators contend with the heavens and earth in their cultivation. If their progress stagnates and the new spiritual energy cannot circulate into their true essence, their lifespan will come to an end. But you are different. The Spiritual Gathering Jade naturally absorbs the essence of the heavens and earth.”

Cheng Qian casually replied, “Just like a jade, neither it nor a person can age with the heavens and earth. When it comes to the Divine Soul stage, they both reach the same destination. I don’t feel any difference.”

“There is one,” Tang Zhen said calmly. “You have forged the Spiritual Gathering Jade into your physical body. After experiencing Heavenly Tribulation, you already possess a semi-immortal body. If you are willing to cultivate in the Ice Pond of Mingming Valley, with the pond constantly supplying true essence connected to your physical body, your cultivation will never stagnate. You may not necessarily ascend, but you can achieve longevity. Oh, don’t misunderstand me. I’m just stating the facts.”

Tang Zhen spoke without any ulterior motive, but Cheng Qian simply treated his words as if they were mere background noise and smiled, saying, “I only use the Spiritual Gathering Jade as a shelter. I’m living a good life as a human; I don’t really plan on becoming a jade.”

Tang Zhen looked deeply at him, said nothing, and only echoed, “Indeed.”

Cheng Qian said, “Speaking of spiritual objects, Brother Tang, with your extensive knowledge, have you heard of the ‘Listening to the Heavens and Earth’?”

Tang Zhen’s expression changed, and he asked in return, “How do you know that ‘Listening to the Heavens and Earth’ is a spiritual object? Instead of a person or a cultivation technique?”

Cheng Qian calmly smiled and said, “It feels like one, that’s all.”

Tang Zhen said, “Oh, that’s an ancient legend. Some say that holding ‘Listening to the Heavens and Earth’ allows one to hear the voices of the upper realm, but no one knows if it’s true or false.”

Immediately, he changed the topic and said, “Han Zhenren has fallen into demonic cultivation. It’s unlikely he will receive the death penalty, but escaping punishment will be difficult. On the fifteenth day, I will try my best to handle it. Even if we have to imprison and suppress him, I will strive to keep him confined to Fuyao Mountain.”

Cheng Qian could only sigh and say, “Then, thank you.”

Unfortunately, good intentions don’t always come to fruition.

On the fifteenth day, when the people of the Fuyao Sect arrived at Mount Taiyin, there were already representatives from many sects present.

This time, it was not about quantity but quality. Most sects sent only one or two representatives to make their stance known. The major sects sat scattered, clearly distinguished. However, a central position was left vacant.

Cheng Qian glanced at Tang Zhen, and Tang Zhen nodded, saying, “Indeed, that spot is reserved for your esteemed sect.”

Yan Zhengming thought, “If they reserved it, should I take the initiative and go forward?”

Without hesitation, he bypassed the crowd and, acting as usual, paid no attention to anyone’s face. He found a secluded corner and, as if no one else existed, entered the small space, leaving behind Stone Mustard, whom he had dismissed, to create a sense of seclusion.

Shaking his head, Tang Zhen called Liu Lang to walk towards the Tenfold Array platform. This gathering was his initiative, so he couldn’t just sit back and watch like the Fuyao Sect.

Standing outside the crowd, Stone Mustard exuded an air of independence. Liu Lang couldn’t help but feel envious and said to Tang Zhen, “I hope that one day I can become a person like Sect Leader Yan.”

Tang Zhen patiently tilted his head and listened as they walked.

Liu Lang continued, “I heard from the Daoist disciples on Fuyao Mountain that Sect Leader Yan was like this when he was young, only interested in planting flowers and amusing birds on Fuyao Mountain. After a coincidence, he spent a hundred years outside the mountain, enduring hardships all the way, and eventually became a great power. But when he returned to where he started, he remained true to his original intentions, unmoved by the world… Regardless of whether his intentions seem unambitious, I greatly admire him.”

Tang Zhen listened without expression and nodded, saying, “Indeed, it’s rare.”

However, he then raised his head, looked indifferently at the cultivators around him, and Tang Zhen’s words carried a hint of coldness as he said, “Unfortunately, when one is unaffected by the world, the world may not necessarily tolerate them. Such people usually don’t have a good ending.”

After he finished speaking, without waiting for Liu Lang’s response, he flicked his sleeve and walked toward the remnants of the Tenfold Array.

Tang Zhen briefly exchanged some pleasantries and then got straight to the point, saying, “I dare not make decisions on my own. I would like to trouble everyone to discuss the regulations today. Personally, I believe that revenge leads to no good, and even death may not redeem one’s sins. What do you all think?”

As soon as he finished speaking, an elder from the Baihu Mountain Villa spoke first, saying, “Yan Xingren died in the Tenfold Array, and the Demon Dragon is being held captive here. Currently, there is no one managing the affairs of the demonic cultivators. The Blood Oath restrains Yan Xingren and the Demon Dragon, but it cannot bind those lawless tyrants. They are causing chaos on their own, making the situation even more chaotic. I think…”

Han Yuan interrupted him without cooperating, saying ungratefully, “Yan Xingren himself doesn’t restrain his subordinates. If you want to blame someone, blame yourselves for being incapable of managing your own territories. Don’t expect me to bring them under control for you.”

The elder, who didn’t know Han Yuan, was only speaking kind words on someone else’s behalf. It was the first time he encountered someone so ungrateful and was momentarily speechless.

Another person beside them said coldly, “Since this demon admits it himself, what else do we expect? It’s better to kill him cleanly.”

It was Bian Xu, the master of the Xuanwu Hall, who spoke up. Someone with his status and position shouldn’t have personally intervened, but when it came to avenging his child, he considered it an irreconcilable grudge. Bian Xiaohui had only died a year ago, and Bian Xu’s hair had already turned completely white, revealing a sense of desolation that hinted at his impending demise.

Even a generation’s great cultivator had fallen to such a state, truly lamentable.

Han Yuan countered, “Indeed, it would be best to kill all the trash and demons. Only those who are knowledgeable and devoted to the Dao like yourselves would remain in this world.”

Inside the Stone Mustard, Yan Zhengming asked Li Yun, “Can you make that bastard shut up?”

Li Yun furrowed her eyebrows and replied, “Bian Xu? It’s a bit difficult.”

Yan Zhengming said, “…I meant Han Yuan.”

“Sure.” Li Yun turned to Cheng Qian and said, “Cheng Qian, do you see the big phoenix tree across from Han Yuan? Cheng Qian, go with Junior Sister on a trip there. That should shut him up.”

Yan Zhengming said, “…”

After a while, the water pit transformed into a large bird and flew out of the Stone Mustard, landing under the big phoenix tree opposite the Tenfold Array. It was positioned perfectly, directly facing Han Yuan.

The fiery red feathers of the Vermilion Crane hung down, particularly eye-catching. When Han Yuan, who had been speaking arrogantly on the Tenfold Array, saw the two of them, he was instantly silenced and surprisingly remained quiet.

Li Yun triumphantly said, “Junior Brother has experienced a turbulent life, filled with blood and tears. But if you think about it, it was actually Little Qian’s death that had the greatest impact on him. Have you noticed? Every time he encounters Little Qian, his inner demon weakens… and also Junior Sister. When he was a child, he was closest to her. That day when his demonic nature was unleashed, he said he wanted to extract her demonic bones, and he feels some guilt towards her. When he sees her, he naturally restrains his inner demon.”

Li Yun shook her head and acted smug, feeling like she had found the perfect solution.

Yan Zhengming irritably hit her with a folding fan and squeezed out a few words through gritted teeth, “Didn’t notice, shut up.”

Li Yun fell silent, feeling like she accidentally knocked over someone’s jar of vinegar.

After all, Bian Xu’s status and seniority were there. It wouldn’t be appropriate for him to lose his composure. In terms of arguments, as long as Han Yuan quieted down, he would be left helpless. Before long, he stopped his objections and left with the parting words, “Forgive this old man for not being well-versed in cultivation and unable to let go of the grudge against his child. The Xuanwu Hall and I will never coexist with this person. He must be killed!”

These words immediately stirred up everyone’s hatred towards Han Yuan, and the crowd became noisy.

At this moment, a voice suddenly came from a distance and said, “The guilt of the Demon Dragon is evident to all. If we have no personal grudges with him, there is no need for us to gather here. There is no point in bringing up these resentments. I think Tang Zhen’s words make some sense. What’s the meaning of killing him when death is already certain? It’s better to let him live and atone for his sins.”

Everyone turned to look and saw a middle-aged man walking with several disciples from a distance. It seemed as though he had appeared in front of them with just a flash, arriving in an instant. The middle-aged man had an elegant and scholarly demeanor.

The elder from the Baihu Mountain Villa immediately stepped forward to greet him, saying, “Villa Master.”

Surprisingly, it was the Villa Master of the Baihu Mountain Villa.

The Villa Master nodded, gathered his robes at the cuffs, and cupped his hands to Bian Xu, saying, “Brother Bian, long time no see.”

Cheng Qian frowned as he observed the newcomer from the treetops and suddenly widened his eyes. Wasn’t this the crazy old man, Ji Qianli, from the Locking Immortal Terrace?

Why did he suddenly look so composed?