Although Wei Ying had grown to more or less accept Shen Yuan, his favorite was still Shen Jiu, and the time he found himself without his father was starting to become upsetting. So, as a way to please the whining little boy who kept pestering for time alone with his a-die, Shen Jiu had decided to take the boy on a trip to Yiling.
Leaving Shen Yuan alone.
Now, Shen Yuan had been in this world for almost four years now which, though a lot to a human, in his new fox state was hardly significant. And though the man had made significant progress in things like cultivation and calligraphy, his housekeeping and cooking skills were still subpar to say the least.
So, it was obvious to both Shen Jiu and Wei Ying that he was not very confident in staying alone.
“Don’t worry too much, we’ll be back by tomorrow at the latest” Wei Ying had mentioned, trying to help. This however, had instilled even more fear into Shen Yuan, considering that he had now realized that he would have to cook not one meal, but two by himself.
“If you want, I can just ask the neighbor to make you something for lunch and dinner. She’s a kind woman, so I don’t think she’ll mind” Shen Jiu offered. Shen Yuan almost accepted the offer before realizing that Wei Ying, an 8-year old, was capable of taking care of himself when Shen Jiu had left him alone in the past, but him, a 20 something year-old man was scared of cooking himself lunch and dinner for one day.
“No, it’ll be fine. I don’t want you to worry.” He said, and before either Wei Ying or Shen Jiu could say anything, he waved his hands and led the two of them to the door. “You two should go before it’s too late and gets dangerous. Yiling might be safe from poachers and cultivators, but we still have robbers and kidnappers walking around at night.”
He was not fine.
When Shen Yuan rushed them out, he failed to remember something very important: this universe lacked anything electronic. This meant that if he wanted to have anything to eat, he would have to cook it the old-fashioned way. Even worse: he’d have to try his hand at using fire talismans.
Although Shen Yuan knew the character for fire and had trained before with talismans, he was still not the best at using those that were for fast use. Fire talismans, for example, required the person to use immediately after completion, otherwise there was a chance they’d end up burning their hand instead. Shen Yuan, who usually double checked his talismans over and over again to make sure he wrote them right, was thus terrified of burning his hand before he could look it over. This meant he’d have to just send it out and hope he didn’t give the wrong stroke more power than it should have.
While Shen Yuan suffered in the kitchen, Shen Jiu and Wei Ying had already reached the particular food shop they wanted to go to in Yiling. Since they always kept only a small amount of spice inside the house - Shen Jiu might have forgiven Wei Ying for the food poisoning, but his mouth and stomach never did - Shen Jiu had decided that the best way to award the boy was to let him have extra spicy food.
“Since you have been working hard to accept Shen Yuan and tutor him, I’ll let you eat the spiciest noodles for today.” he said, and Wei Ying’s face had lit up comically fast. It seemed like the years without spice did nothing to make him forget his love for it.
“A-die, are you also having spicy noodles?” Wei Ying asked excitedly. Maybe if he gets his father used to the more mild ones, he’ll eventually love them as much.
Shen Jiu made a pained expression before reluctantly nodding and replying, “Yes, but only milder ones. I’m still not very used to spicy food, so I’m worried it’ll cause indigestion.”
Wei Ying seemed to not pay attention to what his father said after the yes, however, and was already planning to order for his father. As soon as a server reached their table, he smiled and said,
“Could I have hotpot with extra chili oil please? Also some added chili flakes would be great.” Upon hearing Wei Ying’s order, Shen Jiu’s expression turned into pure agony. It seemed like his request had gone completely over a-Ying’s head.
The result was a hotpot with fiery red soup, which Shen Jiu could already guess would be painful to swallow simply by its color. He considered asking Wei Ying if he could have something else instead, but he was sure it would end up hurting or disappointing Wei Ying. And since he didn’t want to after not being able to spend time alone with Wei Ying at all, he’d simply have to try to survive the ungodly concoction in front of him. It couldn’t be that bad, right?
It turned out that it could, in fact, be that bad. As soon as he put the spoon in his mouth, he was met with a burning sensation that quickly overtook his senses. It didn’t take long for Shen Jiu to look as if he was in pain, and by the time Wei Ying checked on him, his father’s entire face was flaming red.
“A-die, are you okay?” Wei Ying called, worried. Shen Jiu went to reply, but rather than verbally answering his son’s question, he simply writhed in pain on the table. Feeling increasingly concerned for his father’s wellbeing, Wei Ying immediately called for a waitress to bring them water.
Shen Jiu downed all of the waters brought to him the moment he saw them, but not even this seemed to stop the intense pain he was feeling. Not wanting to see his father suffer in pain, Wei Ying did his best to take him to an inn and call a doctor there. It seemed like they would have to go back home as soon as his father was treated.
While Shen Jiu dealt with the most intense stomach pain he had ever experienced, Shen Yuan tried to work on his cooking skills, but to no avail. So far, the most he had been able to do was cut the vegetables and meat, but actually lighting the fire seemed like a completely new monster. Not only did he not understand this old cooking equipment, he was also worried that lighting up the fire talisman would end up in a small explosion. If that happened, Wei Ying would kill him where he stood.
He sighed, considering once again either eating it raw (which he was still a little iffy about, but it was marginally better than not eating at all) or trying to start inedia. He knew it was possible, considering what Shen Jiu taught them in lecture, but it was rather complex for a beginner like him and Wei Ying to perform.
After some time deliberating, he decided that trying to cook was probably the safest out of those three options, and simply hoped that he wouldn’t write the talisman wrong.
It took around 15 minutes for the doctor to arrive, and by the time he did, Shen Jiu was half passed out and sweating more than it should be possible. A distraught Wei Ying was next to him, visibly worried for his father. The little boy seemed to eye the doctor guiltily, but also refused to leave the older fox’s side for the entirety of the time he was being examined.
The entire ordeal took around 45 minutes, and by the time Shen Jiu was partially better and ready to leave, both him and Wei Ying had decided to call it a day and return home.
“I’m sorry we didn’t get to spend as much time as we planned together” Shen Jiu had said once they started walking home. Wei Ying had made a confused expression, before saying, “a-die, it’s my fault you got sick, if anyone needs to apologize it’s me”
Shen Jiu simply smiled and patted the boy in the head, scratching the soft fox ears on top of his head. It was at this point that both of them seemed to remember that they had earlier let Shen Yuan alone.
“A-die” Wei Ying had started, the warm expression from earlier partially lost in his face. “Do you think Yuan-ge is okay?”
“Hm?” Shen Jiu had replied, before the realization hit him: they had left Shen Yuan alone to cook for himself, and it ended up that they didn’t even go out for as long as they both planned. He felt a little guilty for making Shen Yuan work for nothing, especially when he didn’t have that much experience cooking by himself, but he figured Shen Yuan would be able to figure it out on his own. After all, Shen Yuan was actually pretty smart, and if he could improve both his writing and cultivation, a mere meal wouldn’t have the best of him.
While the two walked home from Shen Jiu’s near death experience with spicy food. Shen Yuan was having a near miss with death himself. As soon as he had tried to write the talisman, it had started to malfunction, and he had only a small time of warning before it exploded. Thankfully, it was very incomplete, and the fact that he had not input enough power also helped minimize the catastrophe more or less. That was not to say he escaped fully from the aftermath: He was currently covered in condiments, and the rice he had washed for the congee was all over the floor and him.
Thus, when Wei Ying and Shen Jiu opened the door, they were met with the following scene: Shen Yuan, completely drenched in condiments, with bits of rice clinging to his body, trying to mop a completely ruined kitchen. Wei Ying, who usually cooked meals, had almost had a heart attack once he saw his precious spices on the floor.
Needless to say, Shen Yuan was banned from the kitchen from that day onwards.
For a young fox who was still on his first tail, Wei Ying was surprisingly agile. The little fox was becoming considerably hard to fight, dodging Shen Yuan’s attacks even when he tried to use midrange ones. Even Shen Jiu seemed surprised at how fast the little fox dodged some of the attacks, looking downright pleased at the elegant way Wei Ying dodged yet another of Shen Yuan’s talismans.
That wasn’t to say that Shen Yuan didn’t have any progress from when he had started cultivating. After the months of lectures and help from both Shen Jiu and Wei Ying, Shen Yuan could use a variety of moves large enough to last him a battle if he was caught by cultivators, and he had also started to fight Wei Ying a more even match, even surprising the little fox at times.
Of course, for the grown up adult he was meant to be, this was even a little underwhelming. But even after years living with the other two foxes and trying to regain the original person’s memories, he found himself still empty handed. Whoever the original person was, they were long gone.
This meant that all of the work that person had done, all of the fighting styles they had learned, all of that had simply disappeared once Shen Yuan came into this world. The fact that the original had barely progressed past forming a Golden core also didn’t help, but he guessed he could at least be glad he had one. According to how Wei Ying always complained, core formation seemed to be quite painful.
It took 50 years for Wei Ying to finally forget the kidnapping events completely. By then, he had already turned nine in fox years, and was, according to Shen Jiu, very close to forming a core and earning himself his second tail.
“For us foxes, tails come out of cultivation and spiritual energy.” Shen Jiu had explained one evening when the three of them had been sitting together in the living room. Shen Yuan, sitting next to him, immediately felt confused, and was about to ask when Shen Jiu continued, “of course you can achieve them just by aging up after you form your core, but that generally means you’ll be stuck as a three tailed fox. If you didn’t start seriously cultivating now, there would be no chance for you to ever have as many tails as I do.”
“I want to be a nine-tailed fox, this way I can make sure that a-die will be safe.” Wei Ying had said. Shen Jiu had smiled at that, and gently patted the child on his head.
“Oh so you don’t want to have nine tails because you’ll be powerful?” Shen Yuan asked, and Wei Ying’s face had immediately changed as if he was thinking hard about it, before he finally gave his answer:
“But Yuan-ge, I don’t need that many tails to be powerful. If I have six or seven tails, there’s no way anyone can win against me in a fight.” He concluded, seemingly very proud of his answer. Curious with the little fox’s answer, Shen Yuan decided to ask further to see where exactly he was going.
“Then why do you need nine tails a-Ying? Is it just so you look cooler?”
“No, it’s so I’m powerful enough to protect a-die. A-die is already so strong, if I’m only six or seven tailed, I’ll end up being less strong than him. I need to have nine tails if I ever want to come close to protecting him.”
Shen Jiu, who wasn’t expecting that answer, had smiled and patted the boy’s hair affectionately, earning Wei Ying’s smile in return. Shen Yuan, who had been watching the two of them, smiled at the heartwarming scene in front of him.
Once Wei Ying started to become more comfortable with going outside, Shen Yuan saw himself spending more time alone with Shen Jiu, which while at first wasn’t that much of a problem, grew very awkward once they realized how many of their conversations depended on Wei Ying joining in.
Actually, Shen Yuan and Shen Jiu had barely spoken together outside of the few words exchanged when Shen Jiu was finally out of his office, and Shen Yuan had finished his housework. The majority of those conversations were, of course, in the training room, with Shen Yuan always asking questions about movements and speed, and Shen Jiu patiently trying to answer all of them. Those conversations were almost always interrupted by an impatient Wei Ying, who, even after spending almost a hundred years with Shen Yuan, still viewed him as a contender for his a-die’s attention, even when all Shen Yuan was doing was being very confused.
And now, after being used to having the little brat interrupt them, he was gone, having decided to explore the neighborhood for more practical experience. Shen Yuan had been surprised Shen Jiu had allowed Wei Ying to hunt alone, but when he asked Shen Jiu about it, all the older fox had done was smile and say, “Wei Ying is smart Yuan-di, he’ll manage it just fine alone.”
Shen Yuan suddenly thought of how Shen Jiu had replied to leaving him alone years ago, and felt quite embarrassed at how Shen Jiu seemed to feel better leaving the 9 year old boy alone but not him. Didn’t this make him less trustworthy than a child?
While Shen Yuan dealt with this realization, Shen Jiu tried to find something to talk about. Feeling how awkward the two of them by themselves felt, he was desperate to break the ice.
“Yuan-di, how is your learning going? Do you need help with any talismans?” He asked. They usually had classes together, so this was a perfect time for him to tutor Shen Yuan if he needed to. “I know that a-Ying can learn things fast sometimes and forget to wait for others, so I’m wondering if you have been holding out on asking questions”
Shen Yuan silently thanked the older fox for opening a conversation in his heart, and replied, “I have been having problems with fire talismans in particular, but I have been uncertain in asking Wei Ying for his help since he might remember the kitchen accident.”
After Shen Yuan’s kitchen incident, the mere mention of something related to cooking by him would make Wei Ying unhappily glare at him. Even though Shen Jiu had bought new chilis for him, he had still not forgiven Shen Yuan for ruining those. Thus, even though Shen Yuan needed immediate help with his fire talismans, asking for it from Wei Ying during their practice time would only create a target on his back.
Shen Jiu bit out a laugh at the mention of the incident. Back then, he was still a little hurt from the spicy food, so Wei Ying had been holding onto him to make sure he was okay. This lasted until they arrived home, as Wei Ying had released him as soon as they opened the door. Shen Jiu had been confused on why, and then immediately figured out once he looked at Wei Ying’s direction. Once he noticed that Wei Ying’s chillies were also on the floor, he immediately felt bad for Shen Yuan. Wei Ying would definitely not forgive him soon for that.
“I see.” he replied, a glint of amusement still present on his face from the memories. “We can then practice writing and using fire talismans until Wei Ying comes back, it’s probably better for me to check where you went wrong last time anyways so we can prevent another one of these accidents.”
Shen Yuan didn’t see particularly amused by the comment, but nodded regardless. He did need to fix his talismans after all.
The two moved to a clearing in the forest somewhat far away from the house, not wanting to risk setting it on fire. Then, Shen Jiu started demonstrating once again how the talismans were supposed to be written.
“These are meant to be written fast, as they can explode in your hands and harm you if you’re too slow. It’s also important to remember that adding too much strength to the first stroke might also create a dangerous explosion.” Shen Jiu explained, creating a fire talisman, then quickly throwing it on a bush, which soon caught on fire. “This is how you’re supposed to use them, simply write them down swift and fast, then immediately throw it away. Even if it’s not the correct order, you don’t want to have the defective one going off on you.”
Shen Yuan listened to him patiently before trying for himself. He quickly wrote and threw the talisman into a bush. Rather than caughting on fire however, the talisman created a small explosion.
“What did I do wrong?” He asked, and Shen Jiu seemed to think about it for a while before saying, “did you remember to balance stroke three and four?” to which Shen Yuan paled before replying,
“Stroke three and four are supposed to have the same strength?”
After they had finally figured out what was going on with Shen Yuan’s strokes, his next talismans had immediately shown signs of improvement. Shortly after, he was able to make a completely functional fire, and Shen Jiu had finally deemed him fit to use those talismans in the future.
Wei Ying returned shortly after they were done with their class, excitedly telling them about how the neighborhood was and the things he found. Although Shen Yuan had been nervous about letting the boy go out alone, he couldn’t avoid cracking a smile at Wei Ying’s account of the rivers and hills around their house.
Unlike the worlds of foxes, and the ever unchanging Yiling, the cultivation world experienced many dramatic changes in over 400 years. Namely, cultivators had become stronger, and finally figured out how to finally call and control their own spiritual weapons. With power, of course, comes new conflicts. In particular, those between the Wen Sect and other sects.
Now, the Wen sect was a respected sect of the cultivation world, and although all sects had agreed to be equal, it was clear that the Wen sect was the most powerful out of them. Therefore, them always trying to gain power had become an annoyance for those from other sects, in special from the ones who belonged to the Jin sect.
The main reason as to why those sects were almost declaring war on each other was, of course, Longshen mountain.
What hundreds of years later would become burial mounds was now still named Longshen mountain, the peak point for cultivation. Those who wanted to advance their cultivation would often pay even hundreds of silver to the foxes of yiling to simply be allowed to go to the mountain. This, of course, made the mountain a precious bargaining tool with cultivators, and was one of the reasons why foxes were safe in their territory.
The truth was that the mountain wasn’t really part of Yiling, but more that Yiling was part of the mountain range. It was said that years ago, a minor deity had fallen in that area and had been saved by a group of people. Finding that those people were fox spirits, the deity decided to build them a home, and blessed Yiling as the fox city. That had been the reason why humans weren’t all able to destroy it yet.
The deity had gone back to heaven after thousands of years on the mountain however, and now the cultivators had once again considered starting a siege against the fox territory in order to win over the land. This ended up sparking a big argument from all five big clans.
The Jins and Wens had been fighting over whose Yiling would be after it was conquered, with the Jin sect arguing that it would only be just for Yiling to belong to them as the Wens had more land. The Wens, on the other hand, argued that they would be the ones to do most of the work, so it would only be fair they earned the land. The Nie, Jiang, and Lan sect were all somewhat against the siege, with the Lan sect in particular directly opposing it. The sect leader hadn’t even participated in the meeting, sending instead a trusted Lan elder who didn’t belong to the main family.
“Does the Lan sect think that meeting us is beneath them?” Sect leader Jin had asked disdainfully after he received the message that the Lans would not join them again. “Are they such important figures that no one from the main family can’t bear to come to Lanling to discuss important matters?”
Next to him, the Wen sect leader was also visibly displeased at how the Lans were treating the meeting. While most sects had been deferential or at least polite to them, the Lan sect had treated it as a matter of minimal importance, sending an elder and a group of disciples rather than the sect leader or the young masters of the sect.
The almost antagonistic way in which they treated the situation was perhaps to be expected: it was a well known legend in Gusu that Lan An himself had been saved by a fox spirit in his youth. Due to this widespread belief, fox sanctuaries and groupings in Gusu were also very common, as the Lan sect seemed to refuse hurting them.”
“You’re simply protecting those animals because one of them saved your founder, aren’t you?” One of the Wen members had taunted the disciplesat the meeting, “Or maybe you all are in love with them. I heard you can marry any fox you want in Gusu, and that some of their disciples even have tails” another had joined in. This was mostly schoolyard taunting from the young Wen disciples, but those of the Lan clan had become visibly angry and simply stormed out. Seeing the hostile air between his sect and the other sects, the elder had too left shortly after, quickly apologizing for any disturbance. Later on, no coaxing or begging from the other sects had made them join the meetings again. It was clear then that no matter what the others tried to say in order to convince them, the Lan clan would refuse to fight in the siege.