Others might not be used to eating these dumplings. Eldest Senior Brother should have instructed the chefs to prepare this bowl especially for him.
Eldest Senior Brother… was, in the end, the eldest senior brother.
Xiaodong’s wish of staying here had once again grown a little firmer than before.
He still wanted to pass the new year on Returnflow Mountain. Just like today. Just like this moment. His wish would be fulfilled just by eating a warm bowl of dumplings with his Master and senior siblings.
Among the dumplings was one sweet dumpling. Though it looked just like the other dumplings, sweet juices spilled out the moment he bit into it, and this sweet dumpling was even hotter than the other dumplings. Xiaodong did not prepare himself for this and his tongue got a little scalded. He cried out ‘ah’ and raised his head, trying to suck in the cold air.
Senior Sister Linglong asked him with a smile, “Did you bite on a sweet dumpling? There’s only ever two of them every year, and the moment they go into the pot, they cannot be discerned from the rest anymore. Whoever gets to eat it is said to be fortunate enough to live through this year sweetly and smoothly. Don’t mind the heat and eat it quickly.”
Xiaodong happily asked, “Really? Then I have to eat it quickly.” Not fearing the heat, he swallowed down the remaining half of the dumpling in two to three bites.
Jiang Fan was afraid he would choke, and urged, “Drink the soup. Why did you eat so quickly? Did you think someone would steal it away from you?”
Xiaodong hurriedly drank two mouthfuls of the dumpling soup. However, after finishing the soup, he could still feel the sweetness in his mouth and throat, all the way to his heart.
Li Fulin did not really care about the rules, and it was the first day of the new year, so he did not mind talking in front of the dining table. Xiaodong curiously looked around. “Aren’t there two sweet dumplings? Since I ate one, who else ate the other one?”
After he asked, everyone around the table laughed, even Li Fulin. Li Fulin pointed his chopsticks at Jiang Fan and Linglong. “You two learnt to trick little kids too, eh? This is the first time your Little Junior Brother is passing the new year on the mountain, and this will be the only time you lot get to trick him. This won’t happen again next year.”
Xiaodong grew even more confused.
In the end, Mo Chen cleared his throat and told him, “The sweet dumplings are actually made according to the number of people. After they’re done cooking, one will be placed in every bowl …”
So this meant that everyone actually had one of these sweet dumplings?
Xiaodong looked around again. Jiang Fan and the rest were all nodding while trying to curb their laughter.
“So everyone gets to eat one, and here I thought my luck was especially good.”
Though he put it that way, Xiaodong still felt satisfied as he continued to eat the rest of the dumplings. He had already secretly opened and seen the contents of the red packet Master gave. There were two gold leaves inside. Xiaodong had only heard about them before, and this was the first he saw one. He felt they were rather novel. The gold leaves were molded and tempered well, and the lines on the leaves were all engraved clearly. Even if he did not spend them, he could still use a red thread to connect them and wear them. It would definitely look rather good on him.
Unfortunately, the happy days lasted only for a short while. On the third day of the new year, Master declared to everyone to head to the practice grounds the next morning. He wanted to see if his disciples had made any improvements and check if anyone had lazed around.
Xiaodong became a little worried. He did not loaf around. In the past few days, he was either meditating or memorizing the heart cultivation mantra in his room, and he had been practicing his sword techniques, too. However, there weren’t many improvements. The first two moves of the sword techniques were still fine, but from the twenty-first onwards, they were a little wobbly. The final few moves were not as simple as the ones in the beginning, and whenever Xiaodong reached those moves, he would get a little flustered. If he concentrated on the movements of his hands, then he would easily forget what the next move was. On the other hand, if he concentrated on the next move, then the movements of his hands would be like drawing a tiger while looking at a cat, messing up the entire move.
Master left after leaving these words. The few disciples that stayed behind had different looks on their faces. Eldest Senior Brother looked the calmest, which was natural. Eldest Senior Brother outshone the rest of the martial siblings. In the first place, he had the best aptitude among them and was hardworking with his martial arts practice, never stopping for a single day. It was natural that he was not anxious about the test. Senior Sister Linglong was staring into the distance, muttering something under her breath. Not even bothering to bade farewells to the rest, she left before all of them. It seemed like she didn’t have much confidence in tomorrow’s test and was most likely heading back to cram everything. Jiang Fan’s expression didn’t look that good either. Though he did not laze around, he knew himself how focused he had been in his training. He had practiced the sword techniques everyday, to the point that they had already turned into a routine. Sometimes, his mind would stray away as he acted out the moves, not putting all the force into his moves. Now that Master wanted to test them, Jiang Fan lacked a little confidence as well, fearing that Master would see through him. If he were to be lectured by Master in front of Little Junior Brother, then he would not be able to hold his reputation as a senior brother. It was for the best that he return and work a little harder. He might not have much time, but a little bit of improvement was still an improvement. Not much change could be seen on Chen Jingzhi’s face. He greeted both Mo Chen and Jiang Fan before he took his leave.
Mo Chen and Xiaodong were the only ones who remained.
Xiaodong felt a little embarrassed. “Eldest Senior Brother, I’m still not familiar with these sword techniques. I might make Master angry in tomorrow’s test…”
“Don’t worry.” Mo Chen could see Little Junior Brother’s troubled look and first gave him a Heart-Calming Pill. “Don’t worry. Master puts more emphasis on a person’s character when taking in disciples. If we’re talking about aptitudes, Junior Brother Jiang’s aptitude isn’t that good either. As long as you’re willing to put in the hard work, Master will naturally be able to see that. He will definitely not chase you down the mountain.”
“I personally asked Master about this, and Master told me that.”
This time, Xiaodong finally felt relieved.
However, this did not mean that he was no longer worried about the test tomorrow.
Senior Liu and the disciples he brought were still on the mountain. During tomorrow’s test, Senior Liu might have to be present as well. Xiaodong felt that he would definitely lose face, and the only difference was how much of his face he would lose. If Senior Liu would not be present, he didn’t mind losing face in front of his own Master and senior siblings. He was supposed to hold the rear for his senior siblings anyway. However, if he were to lose face in front Senior Liu, wouldn’t that mean he would be causing his Master and senior siblings to lose face too?
“Don’t think too much. Just execute the moves just like how you usually do during your practice. If you’re anxious for results, it might instead cause a mistake. Actually, if Senior Liu is going to be present tomorrow, it would be a good thing. He has profound and deep knowledge in the Dao of the sword, and even Master can’t compare. If you can receive a pointer or two from him tomorrow, it would be greatly beneficial for you in the future. Others can’t even hope to obtain such an opportunity. Otherwise, why do you think those three disciples would stick to Senior Liu so closely? What else would it be other than to obtain pointers and teachings from him?”
Senior Brother was right, and Xiaodong understood the reasoning.
However… He felt that Senior Liu had some opinions of him. Furthermore, he had even told Master about sending Xiaodong away. Xiaodong was a little afraid of this Senior Liu. The moment he thought that he would have to swing his sword in front of Senior Liu, his heart would unconsciously skip a beat.
Mo Chen stayed behind and taught Xiaodong a few moves. He had even especially demonstrated the Rudimentary Sword Techniques once more. Watching Eldest Senior Brother practice his sword was truly a joy.
Even though it was the same set of sword techniques, Xiaodong stumbled to execute them and mistakes could be seen everywhere. Eldest Senior Brother instead looked as if he was traversing the clouds and water streams, swimming about like a dragon, especially when he demonstrated the later few parts of the sword techniques. For the parts that Xiaodong found difficult, Eldest Senior Brother could execute them freely and with ease. When he completed the demonstration of the sword techniques, Xiaodong felt as if his spirits were lifted.
“Sleep early tonight to rest your mind and spirit. Don’t wake up too late tomorrow. Also, you just have to wear a pair of light and convenient shoes.”
Xiaodong hurriedly nodded. “Senior Brother, rest early too.”
However, when Eldest Senior Brother left, Xiaodong did not have the slightest bit of intention to sleep at all. No matter how he opened and closed his eyes, Eldest Senior Brother’s postures as he wielded his sword continued to spiral ceaselessly in Xiaodong’s eyes.
It would be great if he could train to become like Eldest Senior Brother. No, no. He didn’t need to be like Eldest Senior Brother, just half, or even a quarter would do.
In his mind, he repeatedly recalled Eldest Senior Brother’s actions, his breathing, and the weight of his foot movements. As he thought about it, he could not help but raise his sword. Without even unsheathing it, he began to draw arcs in his room.
For this move, Eldest Senior executed it really calmly with no emphasis for speed. For that move, his waist had to loosen a little, otherwise the stretching would make him feel uncomfortable.
For some reason, the demonstration that Eldest Senior Brother did earlier was really effective. Xiaodong felt that after this round of practice, he was calmer and more proficient than at any time before. It was as if he had released himself from the thing that had chained him this entire time. He felt more loosened, and even his movements were much nimbler than before.
He was both surprised and happy, and also found it hard to believe.
It was hard to put this feeling into words, and even he could not say what this change was or why it had happened.
He practiced over and over again. The movements that he could not make before could now be done, and the moves he would always forget had now become familiar to him.
When he he was out of breath and could no longer raise his arms, Xiaodong finally stopped.
He did not put much energy into it this time, yet he was still sweating profusely. His inner clothes were all drenched from sweat and he was greatly fatigued.
Though he was tired, he felt really happy.
Tomorrow, if he could execute the moves much better than he could now, then he should be able to justify himself in front of Master.
Xiaodong wiped away the sweat before sliding into his blanket, happily hugging the warm wood as he rolled around several times.
On the second day, Xiaodong woke up really early. Though the sun had yet to rise, he guessed that it was about time. Not daring to be late, he got up, changed his clothes, washed up, and hurried out of the door.
Senior Brother Jiang was waiting for him not far away from his door. Seeing him running quickly over, Senior Brother Jiang instructed him, “Slow down, don’t slip now. And here I thought you haven’t woken up yet and was thinking if I should call you.”
“Thank you Senior Brother Jiang for waiting for me. Is it time we head over?”
Jiang Fan was anxious as well. The hand he was holding his sword which was sweating constantly. He constantly passed his sword from his left hand to his right, and then from his right hand to his left. Even Xiaodong could see that Senior Brother Jiang was different than usual. This situation clearly looked really abnormal.
“Senior Brother, are you alright?”
“I’m fine, I’m fine.” Jiang Fan wiped his sweat. “It’s getting late, let us hurry.”
Senior Brother Jiang was worried too, right?
Xiaodong felt that his guess was right.
As for Xiaodong himself, before this, he was scared to death. Now, however, right before the actual event, he wasn’t afraid anymore. At this point, there would be no use even if he was afraid. Instead, just as Eldest Senior Brother had said, as long as he did not slack off, Master would not be too severe on him either, nor would Master chase him out of the mountain. It would be best if he could execute the moves properly, just as nimbly and freely as Eldest Senior Brother had yesterday. He would feel satisfied if he could produce just thirty percent of what Eldest Senior Brother had demonstrated.