External Forces, Warnings and Popinjays
The deal was sealed.
Unsurprisingly, Ji Ling insisted on spending the night at the Residence of Yun.
“Such a large home, and only for the both of you?” Ji Ling asked. “How lonely that must be! I’m sure you wouldn’t mind if I availed myself of your hospitality tonight then.”
“Seeing as to how we are both unmarried, that would be an inconvenience. It would be much more appropriate for Lady Ji to rent a room at the tavern, instead,” Yun Yang said while carefully nursing his bruised right eye, the price of his incessant mocking earlier.
“In that case, I’ll just have a little chat with my sisters about how fondly these mystical beasts take to you…”
“Very well, which room will you have?”
Yun Yang endlessly sighed as he ate.
Seated across him, Lady Ji watched with increasingly widening eyes as he shoveled food into his mouth.
“How can you possibly eat so much?” Ji Ling felt nauseous looking at Yun Yang practically inhale the small mound of mystical beast meat, albeit with table manners elegant enough to rival any lord…
This would come up to forty, maybe fifty catties?
“Eat quickly, Lady,” Lao Mei’s hands flashed as he quickly skewered a piece of meat, “It’ll all be gone very soon.”
Ji Ling had nothing to say in response.
At the mystical beast market, Yun Yang strolled along dressed in resplendent purple; if he had no choice but to come despite his reluctance, he might as well look his best. Although shops were lining the streets, the mystical beast market was entirely different from the pet market; here, it was clean without any unpleasant odors of animal waste or musk. The creatures being put up for sale here were all of good stock, second level and higher. These beasts had already begun to gain a reasonable amount of intelligence, and that included an aversion to being dirty as well. Ji Ling trailed behind Yun Yang, casually playing with the Thousand Illusion Monkey that was sitting comfortably on his shoulder. She played the part of an innocent wife, but Yun Yang knew that this girl was far from that. The manner in which she could accurately identify his Achilles’ heel and threaten him with it was a telltale sign that she was no ordinary girl.
The Thousand Illusion Monkey also managed to look docile, its horns had shrunk into its head somehow; and even if anyone were to look closely, it resembled a perfectly normal baby monkey. Its crimson eyes darted around in mirth along the entire journey, but it remained perched on Yun Yang’s shoulder despite the many things that caught its attention.
An odd hissing arose from the entrance of the first shop they passed. Here, a mass of golden, statue-like snakes writhing in a cage raised their hooded heads, hissing fiercely at Yun Yang. Their long coils undulated wildly as if attempting to break out.
Ji Ling’s eyes radiated with glee at the sight.
“I’ve made the right choice indeed!”
Although Yun Yang had not practiced his cultivation, he could not entirely conceal his uniquely fresh scent and the immense air of vitality enveloping his being from these mystical beasts.
“Golden Silk Snake,” Yun Yang muttered under his breath and continued to saunter past the shop. These third level beasts were extremely venomous, but Yun Yang barely slowed down to even take a second glance at them. He did the same at the second shop, and then the third. The creatures would grow agitated and work themselves into a frenzy as Yun Yang passed by.
In his mind, he had to keep to remarkably high standards when selecting a mystical beast. It had to be more obedient than the current one, able to form a tacit understanding with its owner, able to be taught new abilities, and must also able to show dependency on its new owner.
All of that, and it could be no higher than a fifth level beast.
That would come up to a total five conditions; the number of fifth level mystical beasts that could accommodate all of them was few and far in between. To Yun Yang, there was another condition; seemingly insignificant, but in reality, of utmost importance.
It had to be able to receive training from a girl.
This was Yun Yang’s first visit to the market. He would normally never deign to step foot in such places; the lower level mystical meat that he consumed would usually be bought and prepared as a bountiful meal by Lao Mei. Now that he was here however, he saw how merry the place was. It was a lively arena, teeming with people walking about, all abuzz with excitement. Up front there were a number of people dressed in white, chattering loudly as they fanned themselves while walking.
A chuckle almost escaped Yun Yang’s throat when he recognized who they were.
Ah, familiar faces.
Young Master Ma and Young Master Qin had each brought their servants along and were looking around openly. Their gazes strayed everywhere but boldly lingered longest on the ladies who were passing by with their mystical beasts.
Yun Yang’s eyes sparkled with curiosity, was that a baby beast that Young Master Ma held in his arm? Its bright, innocent eyes seemed to be taking in its surroundings.
“Hey, little lady, have we met before?” Young Master Ma attempted to waylay a girlishly slim figure that walked by, pretending to be deep in thought. “Where was it again? Allow me to think…”
The girl spat on the ground in disgust and stalked off in a huff.
“Hey, wait, don’t go! I’ve figured it out! Why are you leaving? Meh, girls these days. No fun whatsoever.” Young Master Ma wore a bored expression.
“Hey, lady, seeing you today has inspired me to write a poem… Hey, don’t go!” Young Master Qin stared at the girl dejectedly and said, “I just wanted to show you my talents! Sigh.”
Undaunted, the two womanizers just shrugged and continued the hunt for their next prey.
Yun Yang hid a smile.
These lechers! Philanderers indeed!
“Those two men are utterly unsavory!” Ji Ling’s frowned in their direction.
Even as she spoke, Young Master Qin and Young Master Ma had already spotted her from a distance. Although they could not see her face from the angle that she stood, her well-proportioned figure had the two animals rushing over in a frenzy. Being somewhat blinded by lust, they did not see Yun Yang standing just within arm’s reach. Casually placing themselves on both of Ji Ling’s sides, they wheezed, “Young lady, you look familiar!”
“Ahem,” Yun Yang gave a discreet cough in warning. If he did not intervene in time, Ji Ling might pummel the men to their deaths.
“Young Master Yun?” Young Master Ma looked like he had seen a ghost. On the other side, Young Master Qin who had also heard the admonition turned around with a sour expression on his face. “Brother Yun. It looks like there isn’t anywhere we can go without running into each other.”
Yun Yang sneered, “Are you two having fun?”
Young Master Ma laughed uncertainly, “Brother Yun, you would know better! There’s no way we can compare ourselves to you. You certainly have an eye for the ladies, walking about with a beauty like this!”
Young Master Qin plastered on a pained smile, “Right right, Brother Yun has all the luck when it comes to the opposite sex…”
It was at this moment that Ji Ling turned her head over, her eyes boring holes into both Young Master Qin and Young Master Ma. Their faces froze in a rictus as they caught her angry gaze. How could this lady possess such an elegant figure but have such a homely face? The compliments they were about to ply on her abruptly vanished, and they were left gaping in silence.
“Philanderers!” Ji Ling spat and walked away with her head raised high.
Young Master Ma exhaled in relief and looked towards Yun Yang, his expression filled with amazement. “Brother Yun, I must say… our tastes are… *cough* vastly different.”
Young Master Qin’s was a face of regret. “What a pity, such a waste…”
Pity? Looking carefully at Young Master’s Qin’s salacious eyes, Yun Yang concluded that he regretted letting that alluring body walk away from him, homely face notwithstanding.
Yun Yang tried not to laugh out loud and instead, waved a negligent hand at the baby beast in Young Master Ma’s arms, “Brother Ma, what is this is?”
Young Master Ma chortled, “This? It’s just a Lightning Cat. I bought it since it looks like lots of fun. Initially, I was attracted to its snowy fur; it’s pretty and obedient. Ordinary Lightning Cats are worth about 1,500 silver taels each, but I had to part with 2,000 silver taels for this one, it’s so expensive! I had to see what was so special about it.”
Yun Yang nodded distractedly. The self-indulgent fellow had actually bought the cat just because it was more expensive than usual. He probably had no idea what to do with his money. It looks like I asked for too little the last time. Furthermore, he said that this was…
A Lightning Cat?
Yun Yang’s thoughts came careening back to the grinning fool in front of him.
How could this be a Lightning Cat? A Lightning Cat would normally attain its third level upon reaching adulthood, but this one had already achieved the third level while still in its infancy!
“This is not a bad cat at all.” Yun Yang managed to keep the excitement from his voice.
“Does Brother Yun like it?” Young Master Ma asked in delight. “Please accept it then, with my compliments.” He handed the tiny bundle of fur over to Yun Yang.
Yun Yang was at a loss for words as he accepted the creature. Scratching his head, there was one thing he knew for sure; this wasn’t a Lightning Cat. It had to be an unidentified mystical creature… and it would definitely not plateau at the fifth level. For it to reach the third level before even a month of age, it was highly probable that the cat could reach the eighth or ninth level upon complete maturity!
To have bought it for 2,000 silver taels was such a stroke of luck, even the ancestor’s grave would smoke1!
Meanwhile, this philanderer Ma was willing to give it away, just like that.
“No, I couldn’t possibly accept this.” Yun Yang was torn. “It is, after all, Brother Ma’s most prized gem.”
Young Master Ma laughed, “This is nothing! It’s just a cat! With you, it’ll probably live a few days longer; if I were to bring it home, it would end up with a golden scaled snake in a pot of Long Hu Dou2…”
Long Hu Dou…
“If a small dragon was given to you, are you going to braise it too? What else do you know other than to eat?” Yun Yang was tempted to ask.
“If you so insist, then I shall accept it.” Yun Yang was graciousness personified. “Should I pay you 2,000 silver taels?”
Young Master Ma waved his hands in exaggerated protest, “Young Master Yun, please say no more! It would be an insult if I were to accept payment for such a petty thing. Are we not brothers? Even if you wanted my wife… of course, you’d never want my wife. But even if you did…”
Yun Yang promptly cut him off, “I get the point, let’s not wander off too far. Young Master Ma, I am in your debt.”
Young Master Ma positively beamed with delight.
Young Master Yun’s favor! That would mean…
Upon hearing this, Young Master Qin, wide-eyed with amazement, pushed himself over. “Young Master Yun, I have one here too!” he proclaimed loudly.
Yun Yang saw a small black bear in the arms of a guard standing behind Young Master Qin. It was struggling in his embrace as it cried pitifully.
“Ah, a third level mystical beast…”
Yun Yang shook his head, “No more, please. I have already accepted the cat. I’m embarrassed enough as it is.”
“No worries there.” Young Master Qin had already plucked the black cub from the guard’s hands and thrusted it at Yun Yang. “Don’t be shy, we’re brothers! You absolutely must agree to take this as well!”
Yun Yang felt out of sorts hugging the black cub.
I wanted the cat because of its potential; what use is this cub?
“This… cat… where did you manage to purchase it from?” Yun Yang asked, “Are there others left?”
“Why, sure, there were plenty!” Young Master Ma’s words set Yun Yang’s heart racing. Mystical creatures such as these were rarer than rare, and there were more where it came from?
“Let’s see, it’s just over there. It’s the first, second, third, fourth, fifth… ninth or tenth shop from here,” Young Master Ma counted. “Look for a big basket containing all these cats.”
Just as he finished, he saw a shadow streak past him, and Yun Yang was already gone.
“Where’s that man?”
Young Master Ma scratched his head. “Where’d he go?”
1 Ancestor’s grave would smoke(祖坟上冒青烟 zǔ fén shàng mào qīng yān): to have really good luck or fortune.
2 Long Hu Dou(龙虎斗 lóng hǔ dòu): literally ‘dragon fighting against tiger’; famous Cantonese dish made of snake and wild cat.