Auntie Yimin and Xiaoli continued making small talk and catching up with each other for a while when another room close by opened. From the doorway, walked a boy who exuded a strong aura.
“Ah, Jing’er. Are you done for the day?”
The boy turned to Auntie Yimin and smiled.
“Auntie Yimin. I didn’t expect to see you here. Why aren’t you at the front like usual?”
Auntie Yimin shifter herself, revealing Xiaoli, who was behind her.
“This girl decided to show up today.”
“Oh. Xiaoli. Long time no see. Have you finally decided to take your cultivation seriously? I’m getting ahead of you, you know?”
Xiaoli stuck her tongue out.
“With the way you cultivate, I would have to stay in the library all day every day to keep up. Who wants to do that?”
“What happened to your dream of becoming a demon slayer? Didn’t you want to be like Lady Shufang?”
Auntie Yimin could only nod her head in agreement.
“He’s right Xiaoli. You should take notes. Jing’er is a true example of someone who works hard for their goals.”
Xiaoli pouted her lips.
“I will slay demons, but that doesn’t mean I have to cultivate like one.”
Auntie Yimin rolled her eyes and turned to Jing’er.
“You see this girl. Oi. You boys sure have it easy these days. Back in my day, I even gave your father a run for his money, and now you’re miles ahead of any girls your age. Truly a shame.”
“Haha. I wouldn’t want to face you when you’re serious, Auntie Yimin. I don’t know how Father was able to snatch the clan leader position from you.”
“You and your words.”
Auntie Yimin rubbed Jing’er’s head and gave him a warm smile.
“With your father it was close, but if it was you, I would be just like this girl. Oi. To be young and talented.”
“What are you talking about, Auntie Yimin? You’re plenty young and talented if you ask me.”
“What’s the big idea? Are you trying to get something from me?”
“Maybe. Is it working?”
Xiaoli was feeling strange at this time. Such an atmosphere and at such a time. This could only take place in the library. Anywhere else, and Jing’er… He would surely be devastated.
Knowing that he would eventually find out, she decided not to take his happiness away from him just yet. Instead, she joined in on the fun.
“He’s probably just practising for when he’s married. He’ll have to say a lot of this to his future wife, no?”
“Ah, is that how it is? You little rascal!”
Auntie Yimin twisted her fists at the sides of Jing’er’s head.
“Ah. Auntie Yimin…”
His eyes sharpened.
Xiaoli walked over to Jing’er who was holding a stack of books in his hand and circled him as if she were a cat waiting for a chance to pounce.
“What is it?”
“Oh, nothing. It’s just that I noticed…”
Xiaoli brought her face closer to Jing’er’s, and placed her hand in between two of the books he was holding.
She managed to pull out a sheet of paper.
“Oh. A beautiful girl. I wonder who she is.”
Xiaoli smiled mischievously and hid her mouth with her hand.
“Could she be a certain fiancee?”
Jing’er nervously shifted his eyes between the portrait and Auntie Yimin. Nothing good would come of this.
“G-give it back!”
Xiaoli shifted the paper away as Jing’er tried to grab it. And he tried again and again but to no avail.
“What’s this, Jing’er? Could it be that you have come to my library to laze about, dreaming about the future?”
Jing’er’s body froze as he felt the chilliness in Auntie Yimin’s words.
He ratcheted his head over to face her.
But then his eyes became sharp.
“Jeez. Why does every junior go around doing this? Can’t you understand that the library is a special place? It is where you should come to seek knowledge, not to daydream about married life! Oi. It was bad enough that Xiaoli brought a boy here.”
Jing’er turned to Xiaoli and returned her mischievous smile.
“Could that be why Auntie Yimin escorted you personally? Tsk-tsk. I drew a picture of my beautiful fiancee to motivate myself, but you brought an entire person to distract yourself. Truly disappointing.”
Jing’er exaggeratedly shook his head while raising his shoulders.
“I can see what you mean about the female disciples, Auntie Yimin. It’s truly unfortunate.”
To add icing to the cake, Jing’er hid his mouth with his hand, just as Xiaoli had done.
“Jing’er, don’t try to shift the focus!”
Xiaoli waved the paper back and forth.
“I wonder what kind of inappropriate thoughts you were having when you stared at this picture.”
Jing’er adjusted his posture such that he was standing straight as a ruler, and placed his hand over his heart.
“Inappropriate? Perish the thought. My fiancee and I are virtuous people. I would never defile her in my mind.”
“Yeah right. I know how you boys are. Nothing but women on the mind.”
“Says you, who brought a boy here. At least mine is my fiancee. What relation do you have with the boy you brought here.”
“Ah… Well… We met today...”
“I rest my case.”
Jing’er brushed his hands together, washing them of this matter. However, Xiaoli wasn’t down and out yet.
“If-If I’m not wrong, you’ve only seen this fiancee of yours once! Do you even know her name?”
“Well, that’s because of the circumstances. And, of course, I know her name. It’s Jingfei. The daughter of the sect leader of the Radiant Jade Sect.”
“Eh? How did that come about? Aren’t they an iron fortress? How did you even meet her?”
“It was a few years ago. Do you remember when the sect leader came for a visit?”
“Was there something like that?”
“… The whole clan was decorated to celebrate the occasion, Xiaoli.”
Xiaoli scratched her cheek in embarrassment.
“Oh… I remember now… I think I was in seclusion at the time…”
“Yeah right. The day you enter seclusion, is the day demonic cultivators appear in the clan.”
Xiaoli’s face became extremely awkward at this time, but Jing’er continued.
“Anyway, it seems that the sect leader and my father got to talking and one thing led to another, and it was arranged for me and Jingfei to be engaged.”
“Oh. I see. How fortunate.”
Xiaoli handed the paper back to Jing’er.
“Right? Now, if you do things the proper way, then maybe your parents will find a husband for you. That’s if they ever come back from vacation long enough to get around to it.”
“Hey! They just like to travel, okay? It has nothing to do with me!”
“If you truly believe that, then maybe you really have been in seclusion.”
At this point, Jing’er and Xiaoli were at each other’s throats.
“That’s enough of that! Both of you, don’t forget where we are.”
The two stopped bickering and apologised to Auntie Yimin, who then held her hand out to Jing’er.
“Give us a look.”
She closed and opened her hand twice, gesturing for Jing’er to hand her the paper.
“But, Auntie Yimin…”
“Oh be quiet. You really think I’m an old bat don’t you?”
His eyes sharpened.
This time, Auntie Yimin didn’t give out any loving head rubs.
Jing’er rubbed his head where Auntie Yimin left her mark. She had also conveniently taken the paper from him.
“Jeez. You kids think you can give me the run around? You think I don’t know that you’re trying to show off your little fiancee?”
Jing’er laughed awkwardly.
“Would Xiaoli have been able to take this from you if you didn’t want her to? And would you be unable to take it back? ”
“Hehe. So you noticed?”
“Of course, I noticed. My chest may not be what it used to be, but my mind is as sharp as ever.”
“Auntie Yimin... what does your chest have to do with anything?”
“Are you speaking about my chest? Do you need to be taught a lesson?”
“But you were the one who-”
Auntie Yimin pushed hear glasses up with her middle finger.
“It looks like someone thinks he’s too big to be disciplined.”
Jing’er’s hands somehow found themselves covering his backside.
“You’re right, Auntie Yimin! It was my mistake! My mistake!”
Auntie Yimin took a look at the girl on the paper and nodded her head. She then gave it back to Jing’er, who placed it safely between his books.
“Isn’t she the most beautiful girl in the world, Auntie Yimin?”
“Humph. She should enjoy it while it lasts. Darn gravity.”
Jing’er and Xiaoli looked at each other and shared a mutual confusion.
Everyone knew about Auntie Yimin’s fixation with chests, but no one knew how it came about.
“Anyway, did you make any gains today, Jing’er?”
“Mm. I feel like I’m starting to understand the minute realm better day by day.”
“The minute realm? There’s no need to rush. You’re still only at the seventh layer of the transcendent realm, so you have a lot of time to slowly digest the minute realm.”
Auntie Yimin saw the smile Jing’er had on his face, so she decided to take a look. She pulled her glasses down slightly and gave him a once-over.
“Oi. Breaking through to the 8th layer at your age… The heavens like to play tricks on this lady.”
“Please keep it secret, Auntie Yimin. I want to surprise my father when I break through to the minute realm. That goes for you too, Xiaoli. We all know who the big mouth of the clan is.”
The three started laughing, but Xiaoli’s contained something else. Auntie Yimin noticed this.
“Xiaoli. Ever since Jing’er appeared you have been acting strangely. Is there something you want to say?”
“… No. I…”
Xiaoli didn’t want to break the news to Jing’er. He was so happy at this time, and she knew that it would all disappear as soon as he found out what happened.
Her fear of making him sad clashed with the fact that, if the situation were reversed, she would want him to tell her. And so, there was a part of her that wanted to tell him.
But she ultimately couldn’t.
Jing’er noticed her trouble, so he decided to lighten the mood.
“She probably just doesn’t want me to meet the boy she brought over. Nervous, are we?”
“No! Besides, you’re reading too much into things. I… I don’t like him or anything.”
“Sure you don’t. That’s why you brought him to your private study?”
“That’s not it. He said he was going to develop a way to detect demonic cultivators.”
Both Jing’er and Auntie Yimin were surprised to hear these words.
“But Xiaoli. That boy is even younger than you. How could he do such a thing?”
Xiaoli had a blank expression.
“I said, how could he create a method to detect demonic cultivators?”
“No… Before that… What did you say?”
“That he’s younger than you? You didn’t know that?”
The information was still being processed in Xiaoli’s mind.
“What?! He’s younger than me?!”
“… Yeah, but that’s not the-”
“How much younger?”
“He seems to be in his early teens at the oldest, but I'd say he's even younger than that. Even without the use of special techniques, It should have been obvious. Didn’t you notice his height and voice? Did he sound mature to you?”
Xiaoli didn’t hear anything after that point.
Jing’er couldn’t contain his laughter.
“Xiaoli… I didn’t know you had a thing for children… Pft! It seems that, instead of cultivating, you were going around robbing cradles these past few months. HAHAHA!”
“I… But… He…”
Xiaoli was thoroughly confused. How was he able to do all that if he was so young?
Jing’er’s laughter continued.
Auntie Yimin was on a different page though.
“Oi. Xiaoli, you need to be more observant. Who knows what this strange boy is up to?”
When they came in, Auntie Yimin thought Xiaoli knew the little guy well. But it seemed Xiaoli didn’t even know as much as she did.
“Detect demonic cultivators… Honestly.”
Auntie Yimin went over to open the door to the study. She fully expected to see the boy taking a nap or something.
“W-wait, Auntie Yimin. He-”
Xiaoli wasn’t sure about other things, but she knew that this boy had strength surpassing the patriarch. Disturbing him may not have been the best of ideas.
However, she was too late. Auntie Yimin had already reached the door and pushed it open.
Auntie Yimin was at the door, yes, but she didn’t push it open, it was opened from the inside.
From it, came a familiar form. It was the masked one.
“Have you had your fun messing around in there?”
Auntie Yimin’s eyebrows were twitching as she spoke.
“Mm. It was quite the learning experience.”
“Learning experience, was it? And I suppose you’ve completed your ‘work’?”
Auntie Yimin turned to Xiaoli.
She then turned back to Hei.
“Then why have you come out? Are you taking a break after all your hard work? Would you like something to drink? We have a lounge area on the second floor.”
Her words were steeped in sarcasm, but Hei didn’t notice. They actually caused him to develop a small amount of fondness for her.
“I appreciate the offer, Miss, but it won’t be necessary. I have yet to complete my work, but I have completed Miss Xiaoli’s request.”
Xiaoli now understood why he called her ‘Miss Xiaoli’. He was respecting his elders…
“Xiaoli’s request? And what would that be?”
“A method for the detection of demonic cultivators.”
“Oh? So you managed to whip one up? Do you mind if I take a look?”
Auntie Yimin was amused by this child. He was acting as if he had really achieved something.
“That won’t be a problem. In fact, I would appreciate your input.”
Hei pulled out a small book from his storage space.
“This is a battle formation, which can be used by anyone.”
He then pulled out another book.
“And this is a battle technique, which has more limited use. Only earth element cultivators will be able to use it to its greatest effect.”
Hei handed his manuals over to Auntie Yimin.
“From what I can tell, they are without flaws, but my limited experience may be affecting my judgement. Please take a look and tell me what you think.”
Auntie Yimin wasn’t expecting to see actual results, but she took the books anyway. What kind of colourful drawings had this boy come up with?
Xiaoli and Jing’er huddled up next to her as she opened the first book.
She read a few of the words and looked up to the boy.
“Oh. You actually wrote down some theory. Very impressive.”
“You flatter me. It is only the most basic of the basic.”
“Even so, to be able to articulate this at such a young age, your future is bright.”
Even if these were only the shallow comprehensions of a small child, Auntie Yimin was always appreciative of people who took their work seriously. Evidently, this boy had done just that.
As she was nodding her head, she felt two hands poking her from either side.
“Hm? What is it?”
Jing’er had a pale face.
“What’s the matter?”
“Auntie Yimin. Look here…”
Xiaoli looked much the same as Jing’er.
Curious as to what was causing such a reaction, Auntie Yimin looked at the spot where Xiaoli was pointing.
“Let’s see here. ‘When earth nodes are channelled into a rigid body in this way, an interesting phenomenon takes place among natural qi in the environment, creating something akin to an ethereal mass.’”
Auntie Yimin nodded her head in approval.
“You also know about formations?”
“I have studied the foundational material.”
“Good. Very good. I like you.”
“That’s good to hear.”
Auntie Yimin reached her hand over and rubbed the top of the boy’s head. Her smile was as warm as could be.
Xiaoli’s eyes opened wide for a moment. Her image of the masked one really didn’t mesh well with being petted by an elder.
After snapping out of it, she got back to the current issue, and Auntie Yimin felt the poking again.
“Keep reading, Auntie Yimin.”
“Right. Now, where was I? Ah yes, the ethereal mass. Ahem. ‘This mass, when exposed to demonic qi, will result in a violent… destabilising… reaction…’”
Auntie Yimin’s brows furrowed as she read the rest in silence.
After she finished the book, the way she saw the boy was much different than it had been before.
“Where did you get this from?”
“I wrote it myself. Have you found a flaw?”
If in Auntie Yimin’s eyes, the boy had been a cute little kid before, then he was now a monstrous genius.
She quickly switched to the other book, and after getting about halfway through, she, Jing’er and Xiaoli all exclaimed in surprised.
“How is this possible…?”