At first, Mo Chen told himself that he should be content after stroking Xiaodong’s head only once. However, after looking at Xiaodong’s expression and recalling that sensation from his hand, he reached out to stroke his head again.
In reality, many things were like this. If you don’t try, you won’t get to experience how it’s like. However, once you do, you will know how it feels. Once this brand new door is opened, you won’t be able to close it again.
Even if Xiaodong was still half-asleep, being stroked over and over again would definitely wake him up. With slow reflexes, he finally raised his hands to shield his head and stared accusingly at the serious yet hypocritical Eldest Senior Brother.
His round and shiny eyes seemed as if they could speak. Though he didn’t utter a single word, from his eyes Mo Chen read a stream of complaints at least a thousand words long.
He coughed a little uneasily, clearing his throat. Acting as if nothing had happened, he asked, “Is Junior Brother awake now? Does your head hurt? Do you want to drink some water?”
Xiaodong bit his lower lip. He kept quiet and simply shook his head.
Mo Chen was pretending as if nothing had happened, and even showing concern for him.
Did he think that he could muddle his way through like this?
Xiaodong was not so easily fooled.
Mo Chen looked at his angry expression… Those round eyes and puffed cheeks were reminiscent of an annoyed frog. Mo Chen’s face grew more and more serious, but he could feel an itch coming from his palm.
He wanted to stroke Xiaodong even more, what to do?
On the other side, Chen Jingzhi had woken up as well.
However, he did not open his eyes. He simply laid there without moving. Even his breathing didn’t change.
He had long mastered the act of pretending asleep. Before he came to Returnflow Mountain, the days he lived through were simply too dangerous. He had to guard himself against assassination attempts from his stepmother and the plots of his so-called “little brother” at every moment. Many years had passed, and he had never been able to sleep in peace.
Yet he was able to sleep so well last night. He felt especially at ease.
The bedding below him was brand new, and the bed-stove was warm as well. He could hear the movements of his senior brothers and junior brother next to him. At this very place, the heartstrings that had, this entire time, been wound tight, subconsciously slowly loosened.
He had a dream, as well. A good dream.
He had dreamed of something far back in the past, during the time when his mother had still been still alive. Back then, her body’s condition was already bad. But in the dream, his mother was smiling. Sitting in the compound that was sprinkled with sunlight, she was smiling at him. As he ran around the edges of the flower pond, he was smiling as well. The sunlight that shone upon him felt warm and fuzzy.
Even after he woke up, Chen Jingzhi could not say if that scene had actually happened or if he had dreamed of his mother simply because he missed her so much.
The weather was great in the morning, but right after noon it changed. The sky darkened, a thick mist rose in the mountain, and strong winds blew. When Xiaodong tried to set foot outside the door, the strong winds almost blew him away. It was impossible to walk at all.
Xiaodong had originally prepared a few things to clean his uncle’s tomb.
His uncle was buried right on Returnflow Mountain. This was natural. After all, his uncle did not have an actual place to call home. Rather, he had called the four seas home when he was still alive. As he had passed away on Returnflow Mountain, Master had organized his funeral and had him buried at a place on the mountainback.
Rather than seeking out his uncle’s faraway old home, which his uncle himself had never gone back to, it was better to have him buried on Returnflow Mountain. During the burial, Xiaodong had been in terrible pain. At that time, he had hazily heard Master say something.
He had said, many of their mutual old friends were also buried on this mountain, and that he himself wished to be buried on the mountain too. With each other as companions, they wouldn’t have to worry about being lonely.
There was no one else in the Yun Family, so naturally Xiaodong had to sweep and clean the tomb himself. However, he had never done such a thing before. He merely had some memories of seeing others clean the tombs a few times, and during those times he had always just looked from afar without watching closely. He had to bring offerings for tomb sweeping, right? Did he have to bring some sides as well?
Afraid that he would make a mistake, Xiaodong even asked Third Senior Brother Jiang Fan.
Senior Brother Jiang looked like he had the best temper after all, and he knew a lot of things as well. Other people might not know about something like this, but asking him was definitely the right choice.
As expected, Senior Brother Jiang did know, and he passionately gave Xiaodong several ideas.
“Fruits are a must for offerings. It’s best to offer a chicken, fish and two types of fruits. Oh right, did your Uncle Yun like to drink liquor in the past? Prepare a flask of liquor too. Also prepare a set of gold and silver joss paper as well.”
Yun Xiaodong opened his eyes wide and sternly committed everything said into memory. He regretted not preparing a pen and paper a little. After all, writing it down would ensure that nothing was forgotten. What if he were to forget to bring any of these items?
“Does the chicken and fish have to be raw or cooked? What about the fruits? Are you talking about fruits plucked fresh from trees, or should they be steamed fruit desserts?” He had to make sure of every single one of these details.
Fortunately, Senior Brother Jiang was a passionate person. In his eyes, Little Junior Brother was still a child. How could he possibly do something so huge on his own? Furthermore, he was a member of Returnflow Mountain now. As his senior brother, he could not afford to only watch from the side.
“Some of these things can be found on the mountain, while you have to head down the mountain to prepare the rest.” Senior Brother Jiang looked at the weather outside. “It most likely can’t be done in these two days, since the winds are too strong. I’m afraid that it’s going to snow. Once the sky clears up a little, I’ll accompany you down the mountain to buy things in town. Don’t worry, though the town may be small, these things can all be purchased there. I guarantee that nothing will go wrong.”
Looking at Little Junior Brother’s skinny figure, Jiang Fan poured him a huge cup of warm tea and even brought out a bag of willow tree leaf sweets that he had incidentally bought some time ago. “Eat up, eat up. Eat a bit more. I still have some leftovers here. Eat more sweets during winter for warmth. You’re not like us yet, and you’ve only recovered a little from your illness, so don’t get sick again.”
Xiaodong nodded as he held onto the sides of the tea cup to warm up his two hands. Willow tree leaf sweets were actually a type of sweets sold at the town down by the mountain. The sweets didn’t taste good when warm. They were not too sweet, and because they were powdery, they couldn’t be sliced into nice bite-sized pieces. They were as thin and flaky as willow tree leaves. Yet when paired with warm tea, they tasted rather sweet and delicious.
On the other side, Jiang Fan was flipping through his room in search of something.
“Oh right, Senior Brother. Why haven’t I seen any birds or birds nearby these past few days?”
In the past, the place that Xiaodong lived in was in a rather mountainous region as well. In the early mornings, he would always be woken up by the cries of noisy birds. However, it was different at Returnflow Mountain. Xiaodong didn’t have the mood to notice such things at first, but now, he was slowly beginning to find it strange.
Why hadn’t he heard any bird cries? He hadn’t seen the activities of birds nor crows in the surrounding areas either. Not to mention in a forested mountain like this, there should definitely be animals such as wild rabbits, gold pheasants, and roe deers.
“You’re only asking now?” Jiang Fan could not be considered tall, and he was currently on tip toe to reach a box on top of a shelf. “There’s an array set up on our mountain. It can drive out wild beasts and prevent them from approaching. After all, there are many outer sect disciples who do not know enough martial arts to defend themselves and have only learned about three moves or so. If they were to truly encounter a tiger, they might get eaten up.”
Xiaodong felt a little embarrassed hearing these words. He truly did not dare to say he could defeat a tiger with the martial arts that he knew.
“Array? Did Master design it?”
So Master was actually so amazing.
“It seems like that array was designed by an ancestor? It’s been many years. In any case, from the time I can remember, I’ve never seen any birds or wild beasts in the vicinity of our mountain. Even during hot summers there isn’t a single fly or mosquito.”
After Senior Brother words, Xiaodong recalled, “I remember now. We really didn’t use incense or rice wine yeast during summer, and even then there weren’t mosquitos biting me.”
However, back then, it had only been a short while since his uncle’s passing. He was gloomy and absent-minded the entire time, and basically didn’t notice such little things at all.
“It’s so mystical. In the past, I’ve heard of arrays, but I’ve never seen one myself. I never expected that we would have an array on our mountain. Senior Brother, do you know how to set up an array?”
Jiang Fan laughed out loud. “I don’t. It seems like Master only learned a little as well. Eldest Senior Brother seems to know a little bit more. If you want to learn, you can try asking him. Master has a few old books, though I’m not sure how many generations it’s been since they were passed down, as they are now all tattered and incomplete, but they are all about arrays. If you’re interested in them, you can ask Master when he gets back.”
“Alright, I will.” After drinking the warm tea, his body felt much warmer. Xiaodong curiously asked, “Senior Brother, what are you looking for?”
He had been searching through his things for a long while, but it seemed like he hadn’t located what he wanted, although his head was now covered in sweat.
“I’m looking for an oil used for rubbing hands that Eldest Senior Brother brought back for me when he returned. I’ve only used it once, and now I can’t remember where I placed it.”
Xiaodong stood up. “Is it stored in a small box that looks like a peach blossom seed? You seemed to have placed it next to the well when you were washing your hands after practice.”
Next to the well? Jiang Fan pondered for a moment. He vaguely recalled that he had casually placed his sword and towel there. As for that box of oil, he didn’t have any impression of it at all.
“Then I shall go and take a look. Junior Brother, stay seated here. There’s still warm water in the kettle, remember to pour some for yourself.”
Xiaodong stood up as well. “Senior Brother, it’s about time I head back too.”
The moment the door was opened, the strong wind blew. Fortunately, they lived rather close to each other. The place he lived in was just across the hanging bridge. Pulling himself along step by step as he held onto the railing of the stone bridge, Xiaodong really was afraid of being blown down by the wind.
The covered bridge was suspended in the air, and beneath was the deep abyss. Even during clear skies, the depths beneath the bridge still couldn’t be seen. The rampaging winds swirled upwards from beneath his feet, and the winds sounded like the wails of ghosts and the howls of wolves.
He basically did not dare to let his hands go from the bridge railings. If he were to truly fall, even deities wouldn’t be able to save him.
Only after taking two steps away from the bridge did Xiaodong finally heave a long sigh of relief.
When he returned to his room, his face was already about to turn stiff from the cold. His arms and legs, too, were so numb they didn’t listen to his commands.
He had long heard from his senior brothers that the winter of Returnflow Mountain was especially cold, but he never expected that it would be this cold. He hurried inside and embraced the warm wood that Eldest Senior Brother intentionally prepared for him. He heard that this thing originated from far southwest, at an island called Linzhou. It did not have any peculiarities other than being warm and fuzzy. The one that Eldest Senior Brother brought back was about two feet long. Xiaodong embraced it tightly, and even leaning his face against it.
“Phew…” After hugging the warm wood for a good while, he finally felt alive again.
He heard that the weather had yet to reach its coldest, but he had already wrapped himself with everything that he could possibly wear. If the weather were to turn colder than it was now, Xiaodong suspected that he might freeze into a piece of dried human meat.