Yin Ci's heart skipped a beat.
He had changed into his sect robes and even changed his undergarments to avoid any bloodstains. Just to be safe, he even walked around the streets a few more times, dodging the crowded pedestrians and the pungent smells of rotting fish and vegetables.
He wanted to make sure he was completely clean.
But he couldn't believe that Shi Jingzhi was so sensitive to chicken blood.
Yin Ci lifted his knife and the chicken on the cutting board shook before being sliced into several pieces.
The streets of Qizhou were filled with fireworks and beautiful women, but Shi Jingzhi stood out with his face, and even heavily made-up women stood out less than he did. He had even caught the eyes of Madam Li.
However, he couldn't fool the old folks of Qizhou who had lived in this unjust land for a long time. They had seen all kinds of monsters and demons and were always on guard.
Despite this, Shi Jingzhi was still able to quickly make friends with them. His act wasn't shallow.
Yin Ci cooked up some ginger chicken and crispy vinegar fish, added two vegetarian dishes and a pot of cloudy wine, and the discipleship meal was complete.
This time, Shi Jingzhi didn't have the energy to chatter while eating, and finished everything. In the end, he weakly slumped onto the bed, clearly feeling quite full.
In Aunt Zhang's house, there was an empty room in the side building used for storing odds and ends. Inside the room was only a discarded bed covered in a straw mat, but it was relatively clean.
Shi Jingzhi lay on the bed, surrounded by the shabby environment, looking like he was about to pass away.
"Ah Ci..." Shi Jingzhi weakly spoke, as if giving his last words. "Go help your master...buy some hawthorn to aid digestion..."
Yin Ci took a deep breath, unsure if this person was a wise fool or just lacking in common sense. "Shizun, can't you just prepare the medicine yourself?"
Shi Jingzhi replied, "Good medicine is bitter, and I don't feel like taking it."
Yin Ci: "..."
As he noticed the disdain in his disciple's eyes, Shi Jingzhi quickly got up and said, "I am not a lazy master. I just got carried away because I haven't eaten enough in a while--"
"Why can't you eat enough?" Yin Ci asked.
Shi Jingzhi didn't lie. When he first met in Ku Mountain, his weakness was not simply due to hunger from missing a single meal. However, he had enough money and shouldn't have been unable to afford food.
"If it's not tasty, I can't eat it," Shi Jingzhi replied.
Yin Ci said, "...I'm leaving now, goodbye."
"Wait, wait," Shi Jingzhi pulled out his money bag and put on a kind fatherly expression. "You just arrived in the city, take your time and explore. I'm not in a hurry."
Yin Ci took the money bag and left without looking back--he had just finished playing the role of a grandson and didn't want to seamlessly transition into the role of a filial son.
As Yin Ci left the courtyard, Shi Jingzhi leisurely lit the medicinal powder. Soon, a chubby sparrow hopped onto the windowsill. He glanced at it, reached out and caught the thin silk tied to its foot.
After reading the contents, Shi Jingzhi took out a small knife and coated the handle with white orchid and cinnabar, carving fine lines on the back of the silk. The chubby sparrow seemed to understand human behaviour and patiently waited for him to tie the silk back before fluttering away.
After finishing everything, Shi Jingzhi lay back on the bed, rubbing his stomach and sinking into deep thought.
Outside the door, Yin Ci had already gone far.
He had bought a hood to cover his face and stopped outside a luxurious courtyard.
"Tell Old Master Sun that someone from the Su family has come to visit."
Qizhou was bustling, and the area near Yueshui Bureau was filled with the powerful and influential. He happened to have an old friend living here.
Sun Huaijin was over a hundred years old. When he was young, he was saved by Yin Ci, who took him in and taught him at the Red Hook Sect. He had a sharp mind and good luck, and he knew when to advance and retreat. After making a fortune, he turned to legitimate business.
Now, his children and grandchildren filled his home, and he was a wealthy man with a good relationship with the government.
Having received Yin Ci's kindness and guidance since he was young, Sun Huaijin had kept his mouth shut for decades, and only now after that did he learn a small part of Yin Ci's secrets.
Soon, the gatekeeper led Yin Ci to a hidden door and invited him into the courtyard.
Sun Huaijin sat quietly in the courtyard, looking like a dried-up peach pit wrapped in thick silk and fur. His eyelids were almost covering his eyes, but when he saw Yin Ci, two gleams of light shone through the wrinkles.
The old man dismissed his servants and approached the fire pit. "Big Brother Su," he said.
"Huaijin," Yin Ci nodded.
"It's been five years since we last met," the old man coughed twice. "I never thought we'd live to see each other again."
Yin Ci was never one for pleasantries. "Hmm, you must be 105 years old now. Quite the survivor."
The old man laughed, his cackle sounding worse than a crow's. "You got that right. I'm just an old bag of bones. Why did Big Brother come looking for me?"
"I'm looking for information on someone," Yin Ci said. "Shi Jingzhi, from Yi City, in the medicine business."
Sun Huaijin closed his eyes, his face changing a few shades.
"Yi City does have a Shi family that sells medicine. They used to have some dealings with us. Their business isn't that big. If Big Brother is looking for herbs, why not let this old man help you instead?"
Yin Ci shook his head.
Sun Huaijin said, "The Shi family is really insignificant. I don't remember much about their younger generation. Big Brother, have a cup of hot tea first. I'll have someone look into it for you."
With a fierce knock of his cane on the floor, a deaf servant approached and held out his palm for Old Master Sun to communicate through gestures.
"Huaijin, are you not interested in the Ghost Tomb?" Yin Ci took a sip of tea and suddenly spoke up.
Sun Huaijin's face, like a peach pit, trembled twice.
"Even if you were to give me the number one sword in the world for free, I wouldn't be able to hold it. I'm old and useless, I can't even swing a stick."
He looked up at the sky and his gaze became a bit melancholic.
"Back then, riding horses and wielding swords with my big brother, it was truly a joyous time..."
"You don't want the elixir of immortality?" Yin Ci responded coldly.
"With my current state, I've already lived long enough. It's up to heaven when it wants to take me." Sun Huaijin laughed. "Does big brother want to use the elixir of immortality to brew poison?"
After years of "stubborn persistence," Sun Huaijin knew exactly what Yin Ci was thinking.
There is a particularly enticing rumor about the Ghost Tomb - the leader of the Ling Sect has found the secret to immortality and left clues in the empty tomb. There are even those who swear they have heard the leader mention something about "eating the Shi Rou" to achieve immortality.
This substance not only grants eternal life, but may also be the most poisonous in the world.
"I have plenty of time, just taking a look on the way," Yin Ci did not deny it. "But in all these years, I haven't found a single immortal, so who knows if this thing is real or fake."
Sun Huaijin sighed deeply, "Then what is the reason for your immortality?"
Yin Ci replied succinctly, "I don't know. Everywhere I turn is a dead end, and I'm tired of searching."
Just as they were speaking, the deaf servant handed over a piece of paper and poured more tea for Yin Ci. Sun Huaijin glanced at it and threw the paper into the fire pit.
"Shi Jingzhi, the fifth son of the Shi family, and even has a younger brother. He never liked studying and only wanted to roam the world. He hasn't done anything wrong yet, he's a good kid."
Yin Ci remained silent for a long time before asking, "Is the information accurate?"
Sun Huaijin laughed, "Big brother, you don't even trust me?"
Yin Ci didn't answer, "Forget it. If he doesn't betray me, I won't harm him."
After leaving Sun Huaijin's house, Yin Ci bought a string of sugar-coated haws and went to coax that "good kid". Shi Jingzhi was happy to eat them, regardless of their deformed shape.
"We'll establish our sect tonight. Cough - they say the night scenery in Qizhou is beautiful, let's go take a look." Shi Jingzhi didn't finish his sentence before he suddenly spat out blood.
Yin Ci said, "You don't have to force yourself like this."
"Ah Ci, you don't understand. Time is money." Shi Jingzhi shook his head. "Come here, let me apply some burn ointment on you. It's been airing out all day, be careful not to get sick."
Soon, Yin Ci set out with a strong medicinal smell emanating from his body. The burn ointment had a strong odor, and he even secretly tasted it, but couldn't detect anything harmful, so he gave up.
As the sky darkened, the lights on the street shone brightly. The number of people on the streets did not decrease compared to the daytime. The scent of alcohol mixed with the fragrance of cosmetics, making it particularly intoxicating.
The Yueshui Bureau was located in the center of the city, with a striking blue lantern hanging outside.
Upon entering, a large white leather piece hung in the center of the lobby. A mechanical waterfall was installed on the leather, and the liquid medicine dripped down slowly, never stopping, to keep it moist.
Transparent glass plates were placed around the mechanism, clearly indicating that it was not to be touched. The leather slowly shimmered, with ink characters appearing and disappearing, occasionally revealing a few portraits.
The disciples of the Yueshui Bureau stood in a circle near the leather, each holding a pen and recording the content without pause.
"Ah Ci, do you see that? That's called the 'Word Cloth', made from the skin of a soft fish demon. The Yi City's Bureau Chief writes on the Word Cloth, and the message is synchronized across different regions. It's really amazing. Only the Yueshui Bureau knows how to maintain the skin, and it's said that even the Word Cloth in the palace is taken care of by their disciples..."
Yin Ci cooperatively stared in amazement.
"The Word Cloth from the sub-bureaus can also transmit messages to the main pavilion, and it's all thanks to it that the registration of sects is possible." Shi Jingzhi's voice lowered, and he reluctantly took out his money bag, slowly counting out the silver.
"It costs ten taels of silver for registration." The disciple at the Yueshui Bureau across the way had an extremely good attitude, patiently waiting for him to scrape together the money.
Shi Jingzhi scraped a little from his purse and a little from his medicine box, barely managing to come up with ten taels of silver, and reluctantly pushed it over.
"What is the name of your sect?" The Yueshui Bureau disciple finally picked up his brush after counting the silver.
"I am the head of the Ku Mountain Sect, with only one disciple. I am Shi Jingzhi, and this is Yin Ci, my closed-door disciple."
Yin Ci turned his face away, expressionless. Closing the sect's door after accepting his first disciple, it was clear what the motive for accepting a new disciple was.
The Yueshui Bureau disciple suddenly realized, "So that's it, you're here for the Ghost Tomb."
Shi Jingzhi smiled, but unfortunately he was wearing a Nuo mask, so his smile wasn't quite powerful enough.
"First, wash your hands and then sign and leave a fingerprint," said the disciple as he presented a small bowl of medicinal soup. "Don't worry, this potion is for washing fingers. It prevents bad people from impersonating good citizens or joining multiple sects...sigh, ever since the Ghost Tomb appeared, more and more people are taking advantage of loopholes."
Ordinary medicine cannot wash away the Ghost Skin Suit, so Yin Ci happily extended his hand and followed the instructions.
"Congratulations, the Ku Mountain Sect is now officially established. Whether you are conducting business or receiving donations, it can all be recorded under the Ku Mountain Sect. To maintain the sect, ten taels of silver must be collected before every New Year's Eve, and a list of members must be submitted..."
The disciple from the Yueshui Bureau recited the rules non-stop and wrote them down quickly.
"Do you two have any houses under your name? If not, the 'sect location' can be left empty for now."
Shi Jingzhi struggled for a while before turning to Yin Ci and asking, "Where do you live?"
Yin Ci raised his eyebrows and said, "Let's just take it that there's no house."
With a look that said "so that's really the case", the disciple of Yueshui Bureau handed him a delicate pendant and said, "This is the jade pendant of Yueshui Bureau. It can be hung as an accessory by the sect leader and presented at any time."
After leaving, Shi Jingzhi hung the pendant on his flag and started showing off.
Yin Ci didn't bother with him and turned into a human-shaped luggage, following Shi Jingzhi around. They wandered around until late at night before returning to the house.
Upon entering, Shi Jingzhi then hung the jade pendant on his wrist with a satisfied expression.
Yin Ci spread out some straw on the ground and prepared to sleep on the floor.
"Ah Ci, come up and sleep with me," Shi Jingzhi squeezed against the wall and said, "I'm not that particular."
Yin Ci replied, "I'm afraid you'll vomit blood on me in the middle of the night."
Shi Jingzhi said, "No need to be shy... Oh, you mean that, I'll remember to turn around."
Yin Ci sighed and rolled up his bedding, feeling a bit tired.
This kid Shi Jingzhi never gave him a moment's peace - whether he was simply clueless or intentionally probing, Yin Ci couldn't quite figure him out.
With this in mind, Yin Ci had a sudden thought: "Master, can I take a look at that jade pendant?"
They were so close, he couldn't let this opportunity slip by.
Let him probe his pulse again and see what was really up with this kid.
In later chapters, I will incorporate some legends from the Shan Hai Jing*, but the world-building will still be original and not based on it.
*T/N: A classic that describes various creatures, gods, and geographic features of the ancient world.
In Chinese mythology, there is a "Shi Rou" which is said to come from the flesh of either the Tai Sui* deity or a type of exotic beast. In this story, it's more of an OOC version of Shi Rou, with the only consistent trait being its ability to grant immortality when consumed. It doesn't really have any connection to its original depiction in the classic text "Shan Hai Jing".
The main point is that the name is cool. √
*T/N: One of the deities of Chinese mythology.
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