3:6 – The Second Lesson
“Why are you so against marrying Master Wang Tian, Lady Xinxin?”
Xinxin frowned and sunk deeper into the tub, hiding in the warm water.
Xinxin shook her head and said, “I just don’t.”
Xiaomei poured a bit of water over Xinxin’s hair and scrubbed it. “But Master Wang Tian is an upright and honest young man. In addition, he seems to be fated to reach the level of a Saint. Many would envy your position.”
“Do you, Xiaomei?”
The maidservant toweled Xinxin’s hair and said, “Of course not. I’m content just being by your side, Lady Xinxin. I am curious, however. You’ve always been obedient to Master, especially after Mistress disappeared but now you suddenly rebelled. Master was extremely upset when he couldn’t find you last night.”
Xinxin felt a pang of guilt but quickly crushed it. “Serves him right. I didn’t ask for this marriage.”
“Even though it will benefit the clan, and even though your husband is one blessed by the heavens?”
Xinxin huffed and went back to washing her body. “I just don’t want to, alright?”
“Fine, fine. Then… will you tell your big sister Xiaomei about your Sifu?”
Not far from the clan manor, a small pagoda stood within a courtyard of flowers. In the past, a regal beauty could be found admiring the view and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere. But in recent days, a different beauty frequented it.
Silk drapes hung from each side of the pagoda and could be lowered if the occupant wanted to rest in privacy. At the same time, a bed with soft sheets as well as some cushioned chairs suited for lounging were present for the occupant.
It was an elegant and private detachment fit for a lady to quietly and regally pass their time. And normally, that was the case.
But that day was different.
After her bath, Xinxin had retreated to the pagoda that her father had gifted to her mother. It was her escape for when she went to avoid the fervent gazes that followed her wherever she went. There was an unspoken rule preventing anyone from being within viewing distance of the pagoda at all times except for Zhan Long, Xinxin’s father, and Xinxin herself. To back it up, there was even a concealing formation laid down as well as protective barriers.
The rationale was to give privacy and peace of mind. Yet, instead of the expected scene of a beauty lazing around in comfortable clothing, a different scene played out.
“Breathe in… breathe out.”
Xinxin stood in the center of the pagoda, holding out a broken piece of bamboo in front of her. Bewitchingly beautiful Xinxin, clutching a piece of trash in her delicate pale hands.
If anyone could see her, they would charge and urge her to stop, not wishing for her to blemish her hands.
But no one could, and so Xinxin continued without heed of what others might have thought.
The sound of a bamboo stick cutting through the air echoed in the pagoda. One, two… slow but firm strikes echoed over and over.
After a few more, Xinxin frowned and lowered the bamboo stick. “This is hard.”
Sifu hadn’t given Xinxin anything to practice before leaving and none of the techniques in the book her father gave her seemed to fit.
Left to her own devices, Xinxin tried her best to replicate the sensation she felt when fighting the Shadow Panther.
Xinxin took a deep breath and raised the bamboo stick again. “Focus, Xinxin. You only have two years.”
Two years to become stronger. Two years until she had to defeat the heaven sent Wang Tian. Two years until her fate was set in stone.
Xinxin closed her eyes and swung her stick.
Once. Twice. With the third, she felt something. A peculiar sensation, like a slight ‘weight’ in her attack-
“You’re doing it wrong.”
Xinxin jumped and spun around, swinging her stick at the voice.
Guilao stopped Xinxin’s attack with his left hand. He raised an eyebrow and said, “You’re still going to take someone’s eye out with that.”
Xinxin sighed and relaxed. “Sifu. You need to stop sneaking up on me like that.”
Guilao let go and then shrugged. “It’s not my fault you’re so inattentive.”
“…More than inattentive, you’re like a real ghost. How did you even get past the formations without alerting anyone, Sifu?”
Guilao simply smiled.
Xinxin sighed again and leaned her stick against the pagoda’s wall before sitting down on her bed. “You’re really strange, Sifu.”
He shrugged and pulled a chair in front of Xinxin. “You should take a look in the mirror sometimes, girl.” Saying that, he sat down.
Xinxin stared at her Sifu and waited.
He stared back, an amused smile on his face.
Like that, a minute passed.
Xinxin’s eye twitched and she said, “Are you going to say anything, Sifu?”
“…Nevermind. But thank you for coming back, Sifu.” Xinxin smiled. “Are we finally going to continue our lessons?”
Guilao stared at Xinxin for a moment and then said, “You… really have no sense of caution, huh?”
Xinxin tilted her head.
Guilao shook his head. “Nevermind. I forgot that this place is like ancient China. Of course you wouldn’t be cautious of me now that I’m your Master.”
Guilao shook his head again and said, “Forget that. As for lessons… I won’t be teaching you anything yet.”
Xinxin jumped off the bed. “Why not?! I got through the first lesson well, didn’t I?”
“You did… but-“
“But what? Is it because I’m a girl? Because I’m ‘delicate’? Because you’re afraid I’ll blemish my ‘perfect jade skin’?”
Xinxin froze and then slowly sat back down. “…I’m sorry, Sifu.”
“You should be. If there were any easier way to-“ Guilao stopped talking and then said, “Anyway, I can’t teach you anything yet because I don’t know what you want to do.”
Xinxin blinked. “I… hasn’t Sifu already decided for me? You brought me up to Foundation Establishment already, didn’t you?”
“I did.” Guilao nodded and then said, “But that doesn’t mean anything in the long run. I heard from asking around that you made a bet to fight that One Tin or whatever in two years, right?”
“It’s Wang Tian, Sifu.”
Guilao narrowed his eyes.
“Why did you make such a reckless bet anyway? From what I’ve seen, that One Tin guy isn’t that bad of a person. His skill isn’t shabby either.” Guilao frowned. “I thought that you were trapped in a marriage to some terrible person, but considering everything around, your life wouldn’t be half bad. At least by this place’s standards.”
Xinxin sighed. “Sifu as well?”
Xinxin shook her head and then stared off into the distance. “It’s just… I don’t want to marry him.”
“So you dislike him? If you do, I can just-“
“It’s not that.”
“Tch. Missed opportunity.”
Sifu’s words sounded dangerous, but Xinxin decided to ignore them and said, “I know there’s not much wrong with the engagement. Wang Tian is even the perfect husband candidate. Marrying him would not only bring honor back into the clan, but I could live a life respected by everyone around… But I-“
Guilao raised his hand and said, “Spare me your teenage angst. You just need to get strong enough to beat that guy, right?”
Xinxin frowned. Cutting her off so suddenly when she was about to tell Sifu why she didn’t want to marry Wang Tian hurt. But in the end she didn’t have to explain the strange feelings in her chest at the thought of marrying to him, so it worked out, she guessed?
“Ah.” Xinxin quickly nodded. “Yes, Sifu. I just need to be strong enough to beat Wang Tian in a duel.”
“Hm.” Guilao glanced around at the surroundings. “That’ll be a bit troublesome to do with all of these people around though.”
“Eh?!” Xinxin spun around. “Where?”
This was supposed to be her private pagoda! If there were people around watching her, then-
“Relax. They look like they were sent by your father to guard your privacy, not peep. Still, it’s going to be a hassle… unless I do ‘that’?”
Xinxin watched as her Sifu muttered to himself.
She found it strange. At times like that, his harsh demeanor seemed to fade away and he felt like an ordinary person. Violent one moment and then amiable, if not a bit eccentric the next. Xinxin still didn’t know how she felt about that fact…
“Alright. We’ll do this. Lower the shades as if you’re going to take a nap and then we’ll get started with your power boost.”
“Won’t they notice then?” Xinxin frowned. “Actually… why haven’t they noticed that I’m here talking to you?”
“Hmph. You underestimate your Sifu, girl. Even a god- no, it would be a ‘Saint’, right? Even if a Saint was standing right in front of me, they wouldn’t be able to notice I was there if I didn’t allow them to. For some measly cultivators that haven’t even gotten to the Core Formation stage… don’t even mention it.”
So her Sifu was someone that could hide from even Saints? …Was that a boast, or the truth, Xinxin wondered.
“You’re doubting me, aren’t you?”
“No, Sifu. I would never.” Mostly because Sifu seemed to have mind reading powers… or was scarily perceptive. Hopefully the latter?
Xinxin quickly set about lowering the shades before her Sifu asked any more questions. When she had done so, the pagoda dimmed. A bit of the light still filtered through as the fabric was thin and the sun was still relatively high in the sky, but it should have been impossible to look in from the outside now.
Guilao nodded and then said, “Good. Now, sit down.”
Xinxin sat back down on her bed.
When she was settled, Guilao said, “After looking through the scrolls in your clan library-“
“You managed to get into the ancient archives?!”
Guilao muttered something under his breath and then said, “Anyway, it’ll be impossible for you to cultivate properly, especially with your clan techniques. You already had just an average talent at best and as old as you are now you’ve missed the window to begin cultivating.”
Xinxin nodded. She already knew that. “But Sifu, didn’t you do something about that already?”
Somehow, her Sifu had given her the cultivation of Late Foundation Establishment. It was… strange, considering how it had two more Dao Pillars than the nine that were said to complete the Great Circle, but it was there.
“It’s… complicated. But even so, you won’t advance any further. Your cultivation is currently locked in stone, unable to advance beyond your current level.”
Xinxin’s heart dropped. “Then… is it impossible after all?”
Did she really have to marry Wang Tian?
“Ha! Who do you think I am, girl? It’ll be easy to fix that. The only question is if you’re willing to or not.”
“Why wouldn’t I?” Xinxin clenched her hands and then looked at her Sifu with determined eyes. “If it means that I can live my own life… I’ll do anything.”
Guilao nodded. “Good resolve. Better than last time, anyway.”
Xinxin smiled. “What do I have to do, Sifu?”
“Take off your clothes and lie down on your bed.”
“Didn’t you hear me, girl? Take off your clothes and lie down on your bed.”
Xinxin finally registered her Sifu’s words. She flushed a deep red and crossed her arms around her chest. “S-Sifu?! Th-this is…”
Guilao raised an eyebrow. “What are you getting so worked up about?”
Did he really want to make her say it?
Xinxin glanced at her Sifu and then looked away. “C-could it be…? Dual cultivation?”
That time Guilao froze. He blinked and then leaned forward to flick Xinxin’s forehead.
“Ow!” Xinxin winced and clutched her hands on her head. “What was that for?”
“Stupid girl. I need to gather the energy in your dantian and circulate it to engrave the pathways into your body.”
“O-Oh. Of course.”
Right. Sifu wouldn’t do anything like that to her.
…Or would he? If he felt he had anything to gain from it, perhaps? No, he seemed to have some morals at least, so he wouldn’t do that.
“I-it’s embarrassing, alright!” Xinxin blushed and said, “Could you at least turn around so I can-”
Before she could finish her sentence, Xinxin’s Sifu had already turned around to pointedly stare at the silk curtains.
The beautiful girl took a deep breath and then unfastened her robes before lying down on her bed. Even so, she covered her chest with her arms. “I-I’m finished, Sifu.”
The first man to see her body other than her father… The thought of that made Xinxin’s heart race. Panic, fear, and a little anticipation swirled in her chest. Even so, she resolved herself. If that was what it took, then she was willing to go through with it.
And then she felt a black cloth tossed over her chest and lower body, leaving only her midriff exposed.
“Sifu? What are these?”
“What?” Guilao turned around and walked over to the bed. “Did you think I want to look at your undeveloped body? I’m not a pe- a pervert like apparently 90% of this country.”
“T-then why did you tell me to take off my clothes?!”
“Because I needed you to. And that cloth is vital for what comes next, so don’t move them. In fact, don’t move at all and relax.”
Xinxin nodded and closed her eyes, focusing on staying still.
Then she felt a cold hand brush against her navel.
Xinxin let out a breath and forcibly calmed her racing heart down.
She did, but it didn’t last long.
A pleasant warmth began spreading throughout her body.
Xinxin’s eyes snapped open. “Si-“ She started to call out to Guilao, but when Xinxin saw her Sifu’s focused expression she closed her eyes and tried to relax again.
Cold spread throughout her body, sapping away all the warmth. But that was quickly replaced by a pleasant tingly sensation before the warmth returned. And then that cycled over and over.
After what must have been an eternity, Guilao stepped back. “Done.” He turned his back to Xinxin and said, “Put your clothes back on.”
The beautiful girl sat up and took her time doing so, hoping that the red would fade from her face when she did.
But her Sifu didn’t give her the chance.
“Are you done yet?”
Xinxin sighed and quickly fastened her robe. “Yes, Sifu.”
Guilao turned around and then scrutinized Xinxin’s body from head to toe. After a few moments he nodded. “Good. It seems like the world’s energy is naturally flowing into you now. Seems like the experiment was a success this time.”
Guilao shrugged and sat back down in his chair. “You wanted to get strong enough to beat that One Tin or whatever, right? You wouldn’t be able to do it the traditional way, so I took some liberties and modified your physique.”
Xinxin blinked. Some ridiculous words were coming from her Sifu’s mouth. “…Did you say that you modified my physique?”
“I’m not going to repeat myself, girl.”
“But that’s impossible!”
Guilao nodded. “Ordinarily, yes. But who do you think helped keep your body intact when you stupidly took that pill?”
Xinxin glared at her Sifu. If it wasn’t for him, she wouldn’t have taken the pill from the clan in the first place!
Guilao glared back.
Xinxin shifted her gaze and muttered, “You did.”
“…But Sifu, being able to do that shouldn’t be enough to change a person’s physique.”
“Hmph. Just know that I can and I did. Does the method really matter?”
Saying that so casually… was her Sifu secretly an immortal that had descended to the mortal realm?
“Anyway, this should be good enough. Like this you can focus on training techniques.”
Guilao frowned. “Are you really that stupid, girl?” He paused and then said, “Never mind. I guess you don’t have to ability to see things like I do.”
Xinxin pouted. “That’s not true! I’m smart! Even the imperial tutors praised me when my father hired them to teach me!”
Guilao scoffed. “They obviously didn’t teach you common sense if you decided it was a good idea to take a healing pill to a stranger you found in the woods.”
“…Fine. That wasn’t the smartest idea, but at least I got you as my Sifu, didn’t I?”
“Tch.” He scoffed and started walking away. Before he reached left, Guilao picked up the bamboo stick leaning against the wall and examined it. After a few moments, he tossed it to Xinxin. “Here.”
“I put some sword techniques into the stick. Keep swinging it around until you can use them with even an ordinary stick. When you manage to do so, we’ll move onto the next stage of your training.”
Guilao walked through the curtain, swiftly fading from view.
“Wait, Sifu!” Xinxin ran after him. “What about my cultivation?”
She pulled aside the curtain only to find empty air. No, that wasn’t true. There was someone walking towards her, not far away.
“Lady Xinxin?” Xiaomei called out and tilted her head. “Have you finished with your rest? I’ve brought lunch.” The young maidservant raised a large package wrapped in a violet cloth.
Xinxin sighed. “Thank you, Xiaomei.” Saying that, Xinxin turned and walked back into the pagoda. She let out a sigh and sat on the bed. When she did, Xinxin noticed that the book her father gave her was placed on the chair where her Sifu had sat.
Curious, Xinxin picked it up and flipped through it. Inside, each page was filled with annotations written in a neat and methodical handwriting.
Xinxin smiled and shook her head.
That Sifu of hers… he really was something else.
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