Chengfeng and Yuehan led their horses down the path, seeing more and more people as they walked. All these were people here for the sect’s Great Ceremony while many businessmen had set up stalls by the road for passersby to rest and have something to eat.
Li Chengfeng noticed that these stalls and shops had small flags hanging in front. This flag was an equilateral triangle on top and a rectangle below. The rectangle was divided into four sections with one diagram in each, from left to right and top to bottom: a sword, a cauldron, a hairpin and a scroll. On the triangle was a mountain surrounded by mist, its peak slightly visible among the clouds.
Li Cehngfeng ordered two cups of tea at a drinks stall and asked the owner about it. “All the businesses at the foot of Spiritual Mountain must have the sect’s flags hanging by their doors or trouble will come.
The stall owner hesitated then whispered, “The kind that makes you go out of business!”
He wanted to ask more questions but the stall owner turned and left hurriedly so he sipped tea and smiled at Su Yuehan. “Looks like these cultivator sects aren’t much different from martial arts sects.”
Su Yuehan replied, “There are differences.”
“Oh? What are they?”
“Fiercer, greedier and more ruthless!”
Chengfeng clapped and laughed. “Indeed, indeed!”
Both of them rested and then continued up the mountain with their horses. In an hour, they arrived at the entrance of the sect.
There was a path with a row of guesthouses along it. All sorts of horses and carriages were parked at the entrance and back alleys of these guesthouses, within them were the sect recruitment candidates and their family members.
There were enthusiastic young men and women patting their chests betting that they would be recruited, some crying and hugging their families, some quietly praying to god, some drinking alone while pretending to be mysterious. The sounds of sellers yelling and advertising their products rang across the streets. It was bustling with all kinds of people.
The other side of the street was a quiet path that extended deep into the mountain. There were two cultivators standing like stone statues in front, clad in grey robes with three turquoise stripes embroidered on their sleeves. With both hands in their sleeves, they squinted their eyes slightly. If Li Chengfeng hadn’t noticed them quietly observing every person, he would have thought they were made of stone.
Behind them was a narrow path winding up the mountain. Next to the steps was a stone slab different from the magnificent boundary markers from before. It was short and slanted, two characters carved haphazardly on it: Spiritual Mountain (灵山).
The words were blurry and haphazard like a child’s handwriting.
Li Chengfeng grinned. “The Spiritual Mountain Sect’s first boundary marker was so impressive, can’t believe the marker at the actual entrance is as shabby as a rock in front of a farm.”
“How dare you!” The cultivator at the foot of the steps suddenly said coldly, “This was a carving made by the founder of the sect when he was drunk one night! Do not be rude!”
Li Chengfeng’s smile vanished as he said respectfully, “I apologise. Brother Disciple, is this the path up to the sect?”
The cultivator eyed him. “You’ll only call me Brother Disciple when you’ve actually entered the sect! This is the right path, up you go then.”
He thanked them, gave Su Yuehan a look and prepared to head up when the cultivator stopped them. “Eh, you can’t bring horses up.”
“What do I do with my horse then?”
The cultivator looked at the street nearby. “Go ask for a spot in one of the guesthouse stables. You can bring your luggage up yourselves.”
Left with no choice, they both turned back to the street. Before they had taken a few steps, a person hurled themselves into him.
After years of training, he fortunately had reflexes quick enough to dodge. The person brushed past his shoulders and then fell heavily on the ground.
The person rolled a few times on the ground and shouted, “Aaah, it hurts so bad! It hurts so bad!”
A short man appeared and pounced forward, shouting in panic, “Brother, brother! Are you alright?”
He clutched his chest, blood dripping out the corner of his lips. “My… my chest hurts! I think I’m dying!”
The shorter one immediately turned to shout at Li Chengfeng, almost crying, “You hurt my brother! What are you going to do?!”
Su Yuehan could barely react in time.
No… no… What’s happening?
Why does this feel so familiar?
Are they… swindlers?
The two of them continued shouting as the crowds all turned towards them. The short guy looked as energetic as ever as he yelled arrogantly, “Tell me, tell me what you’re going to do about it!”
Li Chengfeng said gently, “Calm down, don’t worry. I’m not running, nor can I run! There are so many people here!”
The short guy sighed a little and glared at him fiercely, “Let me tell you this, if anything happens to my brother, I’ll fight you!”
Someone from the crowd yelled, “How dare you act so recklessly at the foot of Spiritual Mountain? How arrogant!”
Most of the people here were candidates for the great ceremony. While they were not members yet, they all subconsciously viewed themselves as future Spiritual Mountain cultivators. All of them were filled with heroism as they surrounded the place as if ready to fight.
Li Chengfeng explained patiently, “Eh, calm down everyone! I never said I was going to run!”
The short guy yelled angrily, “Then tell me what you’re going to do!”
Someone from the crowd yelled, “His injury is serious, what else? Pay him, of course!”
Someone agreed immediately. “Yes, you must pay!”
The short guy continued, “You must pay up, my brother is heavily injured! At least one thousand silver pieces!”
The crowd gasped. Someone had a revelation as a voice came from the crowd, “One thousand? Isn’t that too much?”
“Are you both… scammers?”
“I can’t believe there are scammers right at Spiritual Mountain’s doorstep!”
“Heh, that’s impressive! Can’t believe they’re bold enough to play tricks on the Spiritual Mountain Sect’s turf!”
Li Chengfeng’s jaw dropped. Oh my goodness! They really are swindlers!
Li Chengfeng did not expect there would be swindlers here in broad daylight, right at the doorstep of the third-best sect in the world!
Chengfeng was so angry he laughed. How dare they try to swindle me? You’re using my own tricks on me!
How dare you!