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Fang Mofei stared wide-eyed, and his breathing became increasingly labored. The shock was just too much for the man who had just been recently injured. Before he knew it, he had collapsed in a dead faint, Yun Yang’s laughter ringing in his ears.
“Why do people always feel that they need to gain the upper hand in every situation?” Yun Yang murmured to himself. Fang Mofei had attempted to intimidate him by using his native intelligence to deduce Yun Yang’s ident.i.ty, even as he was confined to his sickbed. Yun Yang had turned the tables on him instead, using his superior powers of observation to gain the upper hand.
Ji Ling had finally brought the Silvermoon Celestial Wolf out of her room and into the courtyard. The small, lupine figure with a snow-white coat padded behind her merrily, attesting to the reliance it already placed on her.
“These children from the influential families certainly have a way about them,” Yun Yang looked out from the window and marveled. “A single night of effort and the notoriously rebellious and highly unapproachable Silvermoon Celestial Wolf has already developed a sense of kinship with her.”
“Yun Yang!” Ji Ling howled from the courtyard, “What is the matter with your kittens?”
Yun Yang peered out into the yard and saw that the timid Silvermoon Celestial Wolf had come to a complete halt, refusing to budge upon seeing the four Eclipse Panthers were lying peacefully on their sides. The corners of his mouth curling up in amus.e.m.e.nt, Yun Yang went out to them. Looking at Ji Ling, who had regained some semblance of her former self, his smile grew broader; he could sense the difference, a vague sense of distance, from the shift in her att.i.tude.
They were indeed from two very different worlds.
Yun Yang smiled inwardly, but kept a straight face as he wandered over and asked, “What is it?”
“Why does my wolf not dare to go over?” Ji Ling asked.
“Wolves are pack animals; they have been conditioned to move about in a large group. This little one is young and without companions; it hasn’t even been through a battle and it now has to face five cats all at once. They are so similar in size, I’d be surprised if it actually dared to advance,” Yun Yang rolled his eyes.
“If that is the case, could you just share how exactly do you plan for me to obtain victory?” Ji Ling asked in consternation.
“I shall keep it as a secret, for now.” Yun Yang said lazily, “I can guarantee that you will win, and I only ask that you keep your word at the end of it.”
Ji Ling rolled her eyes in exasperation as well, “What a petty man you are! Of course, I’ll fulfill my end of the bargain!”
Yun Yang looked at the young Silvermoon Celestial Wolf and squatted down whilst waving his hands, “Hey little fellow, come over here.”
“Good try, but it won’t be that easy.” Ji Ling laughed. “I’ve spent so much effort yesterday…”
Before she could finish her chiding, the tiny Silvermoon Celestial Wolf stood up and wagged its tail like a puppy, before it shot towards Yun Yang, straight as an arrow, yowling in eagerness the entire way.
Ji Ling’s jaw dropped in disbelief.
In an attempt to get the baby wolf used to her presence, she had resorted to using her treasured spiritual medicine.
This guy is great! Just a crook of his little finger and this tiny fellow here runs over, as joyous as if seeing its own mother.
There is no longer any logic left in this world.
Yun Yang scooped up the Silvermoon Celestial Wolf and patted its back with his right hand. Suddenly, he flipped the tiny body over, and held only onto its front left paw, leaving the rest of the torso dangling in mid-air. As it hung there, Yun Yang gave it a vigorous shake.
“What in the world are you doing?” Ji Ling screamed and gathered up her dress, ready to charge over to this callous man.
How could you treat such a tiny creature like this? If you didn’t know your strength, you’d end up killing it!
Oddly enough, the young Silvermoon Celestial Wolf was howling in delight, its tail wagging feverishly even if it was held with just one paw. Yun Yang then tossed it like an embroidered ball straight up into the air. With a quick flick of his right hand, he caught the wolf’s right front paw and swung it around.
Ji Ling was paralyzed by fear at the sight she saw in front of her eyes.
The wolf then flew into the air once more, this time hurled by its left hind paw followed by its right hind paw, and finally by the skin on its neck.
Ji Ling was nearly beside herself with hysteria. This is a wolf, not a cat! What are you trying to achieve, grabbing it by its neck? She was almost certain that she could hear fragile bones cracking in the tiny cub’s body.
“My baby wolf!” Ji Ling’s eyes were rimmed red in distress.
Finally, she looked on as Yun Yang tossed the cub into the air again, where he actually grabbed onto its tail and twirled it about. Instead of crying out in pain, the wolf actually howled in excitement and danced enthusiastically with all four paws waving about.
“Yun Yang!” Ji Ling could not hold it in any longer. “Is my cub now part of your circus juggling act?”
Yun Yang turned around and smiled a genuinely delighted smile, “Don’t you see that this little fellow is almost frantic with joy?”
As much as she would have liked to refute that claim, Ji Ling had no reasonable response to his question. Instead, she remained sullenly silent.
“Alright.” Yun Yang said, “All I ask is that you leave your baby in my care for two days. You can then bring it to the tournament, and if you can’t win it, I’ll do whatever you want me to do. Of course, if you do win, you will have to adhere to your promises, as we agreed earlier.”
Ji Ling could not help but sigh, “Again, the conditions. Must you always speak of them?”
Yun Yang replied with a grin, “One always has to be practical.”
Ji Ling was immersed in her own ruminations as she brought her Thousand Illusion Monkey back to her room. Yun Yang, having gained momentary ownership of the baby wolf, carried it back to his own room with a grin. He patted the cub’s head and said, “I can tell that you understand what I am saying. If you win the tournament for your owner, I’ll lift you the same way I did earlier, as your reward. Understood?”
The cub gazed at Yun Yang with its shiny eyes, its tail wagging furiously.
“Do you understand?”
Yun Yang’s face darkened as he seized the back of the cub’s neck and lifted it like a rag doll. “Do you understand? If you win, I’ll lift you up again. Agreed?”
The cub’s sparkling eyes blinked twice before it suddenly lifted its front paws, its hind legs following closely behind. It then turned and pointed its rear end towards Yun Yang, tail standing tall. Its limbs and tail lowered down again and it hopped twice to indicate that it wanted to be lifted, to be shaken. Looking at Yun Yang, its dazzling eyes seemed to ask if it had shown the correct response to his demands.
“Yes, that is correct!” Yun Yang was simultaneously exasperated and elated.
“Wooo!” the cub howled in happiness in its yet unformed voice.
A bargain had been struck. Yun Yang heaved a sigh of relief; these mystical beasts were creatures of intelligence, and yet, the Silvermoon Celestial Wolf had managed to exceed Yun Yang’s wildest expectations. Staring into the little fellow’s distinctive pair of luminous eyes, he mumbled under his breath, “Could this be the direct offspring of the Wolf King? Certainly, this girl can’t be as fortunate as that!”
“May I ask if Young Master Yun is available?” a baritone voice hailed from beyond the gates.
Lao Mei immediately replied, “Who is it?”
The voice answered, “Please inform Young Master Yun Yang that Ximen Wandai from the Ximen family, Dongfang Mingtian from the Dongfang family, Nangong Bubai from the Nangong family, and Beiye Qingkong from the Beiye family, are here to pay him a visit.”
As he heard the names being spoken, Lao Mei’s expression took an increasingly worried cast.
Ximen Wandai, Dongfang Mingtian, Nangong Bubai, Beiye Qingkong.
East, South, West, and North.
By themselves, these four people would not have been the cause of much worry, as Lao Mei had never heard of them; but the weight of the bloodlines they represented was substantial. Arrayed in front of the Residence of Yun were members from four of the eight greatest families in the empire! The one who had taken up a wager against the young master was Ximen Wandai, and he was the young master of the Ximen family. It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to a.s.sume that Dongfang Mingtian, Nangong Bubai, and Beiye Qingkong were also young masters from the other three families. While it was possible that they were not direct descendants of these n.o.ble families, they were still part of an elite group of people, worthy of immediate attention.
Yun Yang waved his hands and his five kittens ran pell-mell into the eastside room obediently.
“Invite the four young masters in.” Yun Yang directed Lao Mei, “We shall have tea by the flower yard.” The flower yard was the pavilion under the flower canopy in Yun Yang’s courtyard. There the flowers had blossomed, their fragrances filling the air with the scent of serenity and peace.
Yun Yang spoke with refined elegance as he held the teapot with a single hand, “It is my honor to play host to four young masters today. This is spring tea, which I have just obtained this year. It grows only on the mountain’s snowy peaks and thrives in the coldest of blizzards. This is the shoot of the Evergreen Rattan; it has to be picked while still covered in frost, dried in the cold, dry air of the mountains, and baked under a chilly shade. After three cycles of steaming and drying, it is placed in an ice cave high in the mountains to absorb the spiritual energy that swirls in the frigid air, before being baked dry under extreme heat. This turns it into tea immediately and locks in the flavor. The tea cannot be kept for too long and has to be consumed within a month. If it were to be left out in the open, it would absorb the moisture in the air and be absolutely worthless in a day!”
The emerald tea poured out from the teapot was a vision of polished jade turned liquid, forming a crystal-clear amethyst surface; wisps of steam above the cup gave it a mysterious and ethereal look.
“This tea is called Snow Flurry of Cold Mountain.” Yun Yang smiled as he raised his teacup, “Please, drink up.”
As they sat silently, all four young masters were transported into the wondrous world of tea; Yun Yang, in his valediction, had made the story sound exciting and poetic all at the same time. Savoring the hot beverage, they could taste a myriad of flavors coiling about their tongues.
Ji Ling looked upon the scene from the window of her room in the west and sighed. Yun Yang, who held the lowest rank and status, acted more the part of a great lord than the four other young masters who sat together with him. His poise, demeanor, and composure outshone his compatriots, and would probably even put the direct descendants of the greatest families to shame! They would not possess an iota of the grandeur that Yun Yang now displayed and Ji Ling surmised that it had to be from the tranquility that resided deep within his bones.
“Young Master Yun does indeed possess an amazingly grandiose demeanor as well as a benign temperament.” Dongfang Mingtian gulped down his tea that of which he could not discern the flavor, and smiled lightly, “It is no wonder that Brother Ximen lost to you.”
A glimmer of resentment flashed across Ximen Wandai’s eyes, almost too quickly to be noticed, before he smiled lightly in response, “If it’s laid, it’s played. It is within Young Master Yun’s capacity to win. As such, I admit my defeat.”
Yun Yang smiled amicably, “Young Master Ximen is too polite. Fortune was on my side during our wager. Besides, I am immensely impressed by Young Master Ximen’s magnanimity and unrestrained nature. I have been longing to meet Young Master Ximen to form a companionship ever since that day.”
As he spoke, Ximen Wandai’s tensed face relaxed.
“Of course, I would also like to forge a friendship with the other three young masters here, alongside Young Master Ximen,” Yun Yang spoke earnestly and without guile.
The young masters still maintained a sn.o.bbish air, but the tense atmosphere had evaporated, and their animosity grew lesser with every word that Yun Yang said. Perhaps only Ji Ling, who was eavesdropping by the window, could truly understand the implied meaning of Yun Yang’s words amongst these people, “I wish to be friends with all of you, which allows me to swindle you even more easily!” Looking at Yun Yang’s artfully earnest face and the young masters who were obviously entranced by this charming man, Ji Ling almost laughed out loud.
She grew increasingly certain that these young masters from great families could not hold a candle to an ordinary marquis’ son! These elites, who had received extensive education in the ways of speech and culture since birth, could come nowhere near Yun Yang’s tranquil composure and cunning mind!
How odd indeed!