The sky was overhung with dark clouds and rain drizzled unceasingly onto the roofs of Xiao Xi town, gathering in puddles on the street. In the distance, thunder rumbled and every now and then lightning illuminated the outline of the trees.
The hunched down figure of an old man hurried along between them and hastened toward the gates of the town that had already been shut for the night. The man stopped in front of them, grabbed the hem of his cloak’s hood and looked up while blinking against the rain. Who knows what he did but a moment later the tightly shut doors swung open as if moved by invisible hands.
The man hunched back down and hurried into the town, the gates silently shutting behind him again. He walked down the main street, his gaze flitting over the houses at the side while his brows drew closer and closer together. It seemed as if he was searching for something but couldn’t find it.
He turned into a side street and continued on. Halfway down the lane, the light of a lamp lit up the darkness surrounding him. The hunched down figure stopped and peered through the crack in the door. A small figure could be seen on the other side. It blinked its big eyes and looked back at him.
The old man once again grabbed the hem of the hood and lifted it up. "Little boy, what are you doing out here? Where are your parents?"
The child lowered his head.
The old man crouched down in front of the door and took a closer look at the boy. He wasn’t dressed nicely but still neatly and his face was clean. He was probably the child of the family living here. "Child, what’s your name?"
The boy looked up again. "Yun Bei Fen."
"Oh? That’s a good name. Did your parents tell you what it means?"
Yun Bei Fen shook his head.
"Mn, Bei means north and Fen means to strive. The north is the territory of the Black Warrior that represents longevity. So your parents hoped that you’d have a long life and since the Black Warrior followed the Way they may also have hoped you’d also strive for that and discard all evil."
Yun Bei Fen looked at him but it wasn’t clear if he actually understood what the old man said.
The man smiled. "Little boy, are your parents inside?" He nodded at the house he could see behind him but the child already shook his head. "No? Then where are they?"
Yun Bei Fen lowered his head again. "Gone."
"Gone?" The old man’s expression changed. "So, is there anyone else living here? Or are you alone?"
Yun Bei Fen thought for a while and then nodded.
The boy shook his head, giving the old man a bit of a headache. Why was it this difficult to talk with this child?
"So, who else lives here?"
"My uncle and his wife. And their children."
"I see. Could you call your uncle out?"
Yun Bei Fen shook his head again.
"There’s a storm coming." Yun Bei Fen pointed at the sky to make sure the old man would understand even though the old man was obviously completely wet from the rain already. The water was still dripping from his coat, after all.
"So he can’t come out if there’s a storm? What about you? Why are you standing here and not inside?"
The child hesitated again. "Uncle has to stay with his children. They’ll be afraid if he doesn’t."
"And you’re not afraid?"
Yun Bei Fen shook his head. "Mother and father are already gone."
"So you can’t be afraid?"
Yun Bei Fen nodded.
The old man took a deep breath and looked at the house behind the boy. They had already talked for a while. And who knew how long the boy had been standing here? Why didn’t anyone come to get him? Could it be that his uncle and aunt didn’t have enough time to care for him? This child really was too pitiful.
He looked a bit closer at the little one. Considering his bone structure, he was probably suitable … "Say, Yun Bei Fen, would you like to be a cultivator?"
The boy blinked. "A cultivator?"
"Mn. Like the Black Warrior of the north. You could follow the way and become an immortal."
Yun Bei Fen didn’t really understand what this was about but he still remembered that the old man had said before that his parents had wanted him to do that so he nodded.
The old man gave him a smile, reached out and tousled his hair. "Then let’s go in and ask your uncle if it’d be alright."
"But it’s going to storm soon." Yun Bei Fen shrank against the wall next to him. He didn’t dare to step out from the dry space at the gate.
"Mn. That’s true. How about this? I’ll give you this coat. It’s actually an immortal treasure. As long as you wear it nothing will happen to you regardless of how much it storms."
"Really?" Yun Bei Fen looked at the simple-looking coat.
"Mn. It’s true. Here. You have it." The old man took the gray coat off, revealing a pristine white robe beneath it and put the coat on the boy’s shoulders. He patted his head and picked him up from the ground. "Let’s go in and hear what your uncle says."
He carried the boy over and knocked on the door. Soon enough, steps sounded from the other side and a man opened. He looked at the old man in front of him and the little figure in his arms and frowned. Wasn’t this his brother’s child? Why was he with this old man? Who was this man anyway?
The old man nodded at him. "May I come in?"
"Ah. Sure." Yun Bei Fen’s uncle stepped aside but vigilantly stared at the old man. Xiao Xi town was a small place and he was sure that he had never seen this person before.
The old man put Yun Bei Fen down and patted his head again before turning to his uncle. "I am Baili Chao, an Elder of the Teng Yong Sect. When passing through this town I coincidentally saw your nephew Yun Bei Fen and I felt that this boy might have some fate with the path to immortality. Would you be willing to let him join our sect?"