170 Chapter 170
The sun shone through Tianlan's windows, passing his white net curtains, and cast a soft light on his face, bringing a gentle warmth with it.
Tianlan, who still had his eyes closed as he listened to the sounds of birds chirping, couldn't help but feel things had gotten much better over the past few days.
There hadn't been any noises at night, the weather was great, he was making progress on his breathing training, and his baking was coming along too.
He could now begin to enjoy his sect life, he thought, as he got up from his bed and walked to his bathroom for a shower.
After coming out of the shower, Tianlan grabbed a towel and went downstairs to bake his daily bread. While it was in the oven, he walked over to his study and picked up a book titled "The Ins and Outs of Breathing: No Pun Intended."
With book in hand, Tianlan walked back to his brightly lit and spacious kitchen and took a seat at the dining table, opening his book to read while his bread baked.
While this book and the others of its kind could be described as extremely basic and of little use to cultivators, Tianlan felt differently. Time and again, he found himself learning new things from these basic books.
For example, he had learnt that to master the breath was to master the body, that to master the body was to master the mind, and that only those who had mastered the mind were ready to wield a sword.
Along with that notion came a clear path for progression. He would start with breathing, then movement, then meditation, and finally, sword techniques.
Though it admittedly sounded extreme and a slow way to progress, when Tianlan actually began to practice his breathing in accordance with the methods outlined in the texts, he found that it became quite a strenuous task. The very same thing he had been doing subconsciously since birth became something he found difficult.
If that wasn't evidence of the truth behind the books' sentiments, then what was?
After the bread was done baking, Tianlan ate a few slices then packed the rest into a picnic basket which he brought outside with him as he went to his rock garden for his training for the day.
When the wolf siblings, Rhava and Shiva, smelled the scent of the bread through the air, they quickly approached Tianlan, making clear their intentions.
"Have as much as you want," he said, allowing the basket to be floated out of his grasp.
As he watched the two eating the bread, he couldn't help thinking that they had gained a little weight recently.
'How would I even tell that?' he asked himself.
The two wolves were quite large in the first place, and they were spirit beasts, so seeing small differences in their physiques would be difficult, no?
And It wasn't exactly as if they were walking balls of fur either.
He decided to put that thought aside and proceeded to his rock garden where he practised his breathing for an hour before coming out drenched in sweat.
He used a cleansing technique and his towel to bring himself back to his regular condition then walked toward his back door.
Along the way, he noticed Shiva and Rhava lying on the floor, seemingly bored.
"There isn't much to do, huh?" said Shiva.
"Mm," replied Rhava.
Shiva sighed, but soon after, her eyes sparkled, and she raised her head.
"Maybe we could wrestle for a bit?"
Rhava remained in his lying position.
"That would make too much noise," he said.
Shiva lowered her head again and thought for a moment. Her eyes sparkled once more as she raised her head.
"Then how about we play tag?"
"There isn't enough space to run around."
Shiva lowered her head once more and both of them sighed.
"What's the matter, you guys? Don't you like it here?"
"Oh, Tianlan! Um… Well, actually-"
"No. Everything's fine. Isn't that right, Shiva?"
"You don't have to hide your true feelings from me. Tell me if there's something you don't like."
"Well…" said Rhava.
"This place is too small!" exclaimed Shiva. "We can't do anything here!"
"I'm sorry, brothers, but I can't take this anymore. It feels like I can't even stretch my legs. And… I think I've put on some weight too…"
"Uh… I appreciate your honesty…" said Tianlan. "Do you feel the same way, Rhava?"
Tianlan brought his hand to his chin.
To him, this abode was plenty spacious, but he hadn't considered it from Shiva's and Rhava's perspectives. To them, who had large frames and were accustomed to living in vast expanses of land, this place must have felt tiny.
He tried to think of ways to give Rhava and Shiva access to a more spacious environment, but other than sending them back to the third trial's Nameless Forest, he couldn't see any other short-term solution.
But if he sent them back there, wouldn't that be the same as abandoning them? He imagined a scenario where the two were worrying if he would ever return as they were once again trapped in that place.
He didn't want them to experience that.
That being the case, there was only one other option.
"Can you wait for me to buy your freedom? I'll do it as fast as possible, and after that, I'll take you to my hometown that has a forest next to it where you'll have plenty of space."
He also thought that if they were there, they could serve as an extra layer of protection for the bakery if any strong enemies came for the Shao Clan as Hei warned about.
"A forest?" asked Shiva. "Next to a human settlement?"
"Don't worry. It's a big forest, and the people around it aren't strong enough to pose a threat to you."
"But what about you? Will you just leave us there?"
"I didn't think you would want to follow me."
"If we don't follow you, where will we get bread from?"
"Oh… And here I thought we had formed a strong bond. It turns out you just want my bread…"
"Don't say it like that, Brother," said Rhava. "We like you too. It's just that…"
"I know, I know. The bread is irresistible. Well, you don't need to worry about it. If you like my bread, then you won't believe the bread my mother and grandfather make. I'm sure they can arrange something for you."
Both wolves breathed sighs of relief.
"… I guess I'm heading over to the Mission Hall then."
Tianlan grabbed a book before heading out of his abode and over to the Mission Hall. Along the way, discussions broke out wherever he passed.
"Do you see that guy over there?"
"The one with the blue eyes?"
"What about him?"
"That's Shao Tianlan."
"The guy who rejected the sect leader."
"That's him? The guy who knew all the sword styles?"
"That's the one."
"Hm… He doesn't look all that impressive to me. He even looks a little timid. Are you sure it's him?"
"I was there, wasn't I? And timid? You didn't hear his reason for refusing the sect leader."
"What did he say?"
The entire stadium was in silence. The sect leader had just come out of seclusion with the sole intention of accepting a new disciple. His first one in years.
And that new disciple plainly refused!
"What's the reason?" asked the honoured sect leader.
"I'm still new to swordsmanship, yet to even learn the basics," answered Tianlan. "I wouldn't be able to make use of your teachings. The opportunity would be wasted on me."
"What's so special about that?"
"Let me finish."
"Your reason is your lack of experience? Is that not why one accepts a master?"
"A baby isn't taught to run before it learns to walk. It needs to build a baseline understanding of the movements first."
"It can still be supported and encouraged. It will learn to walk faster with the guidance of those who have more experience."
"It will learn to walk just by watching the world around it. Its elder siblings, on the other hand, need to be taught the proper ways to do things."
"A superior baby will quickly surpass its elder siblings and even its parents. It will one day be able to teach them all. Nurturing that superior baby benefits the entire family."
"A superior baby will be superior regardless."
"Do you mean to say that you will surpass all of your senior brothers and sisters, even without any guidance?"
"I mean to say that there's no one here I cannot surpass. Including you."
"He actually said that?!"
"Word for word."
"Is this guy crazy? How has he not been kicked out already?"
"The sect leader just disappeared after getting his answer. He actually seemed to find it amusing."
"That's the sect leader for you. He's really slow to anger. But I bet everyone else was shocked."
"You got that right. Everyone, well, except for Lanxiang Meili, everyone else was shocked. You could hear a pin drop."
"What about Lanxiang Meili?"
"She was smiling."
"How did you notice that? Why were you looking her way?"
"Coz she's hot. Duh."
"Right. My bad."
Tianlan had his focus on the book in his hand, and as such, didn't pay much attention to the conversations that were taking place around him. But as he neared the Mission Hall's doors, he noticed someone walking toward him out of his peripheral vision.
That person seemed to have no intention of changing his course, so Tianlan stepped aside, allowing him to pass without collision.
That was the extent of the encounter for Tianlan, but to the silver-haired young man who wore white robes adorned with blue snowflakes and had bags under his eyes, it was much more significant.
He stopped and observed Tianlan for a moment, then went about his business.
Tianlan cut through the awkward silence of the Mission Hall and walked over to the receptionist's desk where a young woman was resting her chin on her palm and flipping through a magazine.
"Excuse me," he said.
"Yeah?" she responded, not bothering to shift her sight from her magazine.
"I was wondering if there were any way for me to earn a lot of merit points in a short amount of time."
"Check the board."
She exhaled an impatient breath and used her pen to point in a certain direction.
"The bulletin board," she said. "All the best missions are posted there."
"Ah, right. Thank you."
Tianlan gave the young woman a slight bow then headed toward the bulletin board.
When he got there, he saw several missions that were giving out decent amounts of merit points.
'As expected of a paid advertising spot. It looks like this won't take so long after all.'
With just a few of these missions, he would be able to pay off the debt and free Shiva and Rhava from the sect's ownership. He could then come back and start earning merit points to purchase access to the sect's technique manuals.
'Let's see here… Innocence Lost.'
It was a simple mission. The objective was to discover the root cause of a string of disappearances. The targets were thought to be young, unmarried women, who had been disappearing at a high rate in recent months.
It was a mission to find information on a missing person. She was described as a cultivator of ice-based techniques who was sixteen years old and had a special blade with her. This mission promised rewards for any useful information on her whereabouts and strictly warned that she wasn't to be contacted. The reward was also the highest of the available missions.
'Oh Mr Snuffles.'
A wealthy woman's pet spirit beast had gone missing again. She was offering plentiful rewards for its safe return.
'A Wolf in Men's Clothing.'
The mission's objective was to find and capture a suspected demonic cultivator who was defiling daughters in the area. He was thought to have a disguise technique in his repertoire and had been eluding his pursuers for a very long time now.
'For the Love of Fur…'
A certain individual was offering a hefty sum for exotic spirit beasts. His reasons were stated as… personal interests…
'Lord Gekushin's Wrath.'
This was a mission request from a small village's chief. Apparently, their deity had been angered and was taking it out on the village by giving them bad harvests and plaguing them with illness. They had pooled all of their resources to offer a pitiful reward for finding a way to appease their god.
'Butcher the Butcher.'
A serial killer had appeared in a certain region and was wreaking havoc on the local population. He was wanted dead or alive.
As Tianlan wondered who it was that came up with the names, he grabbed all of the missions except for 'For the Love of Fur.' He didn't know exactly what those 'personal interests��� were, but he didn't want to subject an innocent creature to whatever fate that entailed.