Returning from the stream, Jian Cheng sat down cross legged in the lotus position to meditate and consolidate his gains. Across from him, Kong Wang picked up the discarded jade vial and squeezed out two more drops from his sliced finger, then handed it to Jian Cheng. Afterwards he appeared visibly pale.
“They’re more than merely drops of blood,” he explained wearily. “I’ve forced the essential essence of the Black Tortoise into each one. It will take me months to regenerate but for my good friend and the glory of the sect it is surely worth it.”
Jian Cheng couldn't help but be touched. His big brother had made such sacrifices for little old him.
"I suppose I should head home as soon as possible..." Kong Wang sighed. "... as there's several weeks of space travel ahead."
Jian Cheng couldn't stand to see his benefactor becoming gloomy. He couldn't sit there and let that happen so he bounced to his feet
“You’re the son of the sect leader I’m sure they’ll just be relieved to see you safe and sound.”
“Hmm, maybe but, if truth be told, I’m considered a bit of a disappointment at the sect. I got lost again and this time was lucky to escape with my little life.”
For all his fantastic power, Kong Wang was starting to remind Jian Cheng of Fatty Li Feng. Both were born with plenty of power but far too little confidence. Instinctively he knew what to do.
“Nonsense. You’re looking at it all wrong. You were ambushed by an assailant yet reversed the script and killed a famous foe.”
“He was rather well known…” Kong Wang nodded. “Although his name escapes me at the moment ...”
“Take his head then,” Jian Cheng suggested. “As proof.”
“Absolutely, it’s the truly brutal thing to do – you’ll appear really ruthless.”
“Okay then,” Kong Wang shrugged. “Let’s dig him up.”
Jian Cheng jumped at the chance - no matter how gruesome - to flex his newfound muscles and began shoving boulders aside willy nilly.
“Who knows maybe he has something valuable on him as well.”
He did too - treasures aplenty.
Soon the two slightly sweaty friends and a slumped headless corpse were staring at the contents of the elder's spatial belt strewn across the rock table in front of them. Riches beyond Jian Cheng’s wildest imaginings were littered along that narrow ledge.
“Bah,” Kong Wang spat. “Barely worth it. The Shining Phoenix Sect is only this much. How pitiful - they really are a poor cousin.”
Jian Cheng couldn’t disagree more. There were thirty-something crystal spirit stones in three glowing shades of green, each appearing stronger than the last. There was also a shining pile of gold and silver coins of an unknown denomination. The apple of his eye however was the dazzling lightning sword… Following his gaze Kong Wang sighed. He reached forward and slapped the sword lightly and it disappeared into his storage ring.
“Sorry,” he said making a face. “It is indeed a halfway decent sword but it’s some way beyond your current capabilities. Same goes for all but those first five spirit stones. These coins aren’t valid here either so I’ll be taking them too.”
As Kong Wang spoke the items he’d indicated evaporated into his spatial ring.
The constant stream of disappearances led Jian Cheng to feel a bit bitter. Not with his friend, he couldn’t fault his logic. No, it was his own lack of power that caused his dismay. Staring at the wealth, his eyes had become bigger than his stomach. Power was the real riches. Jian Cheng didn’t have the power to covet those treasures, that to Kong Wang were only old tat. The saying went to the victor the spoils, yet while it was Jian Cheng who had finished off their foe, the treasures had been tucked away by Kong Wang.
Realistically they could never be kept by Jian Cheng. Having them was merely a ticket for trouble, even Kong Wang could see that. Apart from the powerful weapon, a few paltry second and third grade spirit stones and a fistful of coins weren’t enough to get a yuanying expert like Kong Wang out of bed. But they could bring a world of misery down on a novice ninqi like him.
As the other saying went, to treasure a jade ring was a crime. However, if Jian Cheng had been, say, level nine ninqi, his friend would surely have given him some face and let him keep the lot. Sighing, he scanned the remaining items.
“How about this?”
“A stupid book… how boring…” Kong Wang appeared determined to downplay their windfall. “I never read them, they can make you go blind you know.”
“It appears to be a ledger.” Ignoring his bitter older brother, Jian Cheng flicked through a few random pages.
“Yes, see these pages record payments… Most seem to be to other sects, Tang Clan, the Beggars Sect… There’s a real goldmine of information in here...years’ worth of entries. …”
Closing the book again, Jian Cheng checked the cover. “Apparently it belonged to a Yao Bao...”
“Ke-ke,” Kong Wang appeared in much better spirits now. “Yao Bao, you clown, that’s his name alright. He’s their sect accounts keeper or some-such. Or was. Should have stuck to his abacus and not crossed me! Stupid bean counter… Hee-hee, now they’ll have to teach someone else to read and write…”
“Senior, your sect elders would kill for this book it has countless secrets within.”
“Does it? I thought it was all amounts of money…”
Jian Cheng gave up. He tossed the book to his friend. “Trust me, hand this book to your father and you’ll be a hero.”
“I trust you.”
“Good, now trust yourself. You’ve not only performed qi-hole surgery, formed a new sect and vanquished a famous foe you’ve now retrieved invaluable information for the sect.”
“Wait, is the information valuable or invaluable?”
“Ahh,” Jian Cheng didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “Put it this way, your father will be proud. A tiger father does not beget a dog son.”
Kong Wang was silent for a second, before sitting up straighter. Finally he stretched his lazy waist and smiled before pointing at the shrinking pile of goodies.
“You should take that black cloak, it’s a little like armour plus it’s fairly fire resistant.”
“Really? Thank you.”
"And those boots too.”
“Oh, what special properties do the boots have?”
“Style. Class.” Kong Wang smirked. Two things you could really do with. Good leather that. They’re so much better than those smelly sheep-innards things you’re sporting.”
“Fine then. They're a bit big but I’ll put them on now.”
“Do it over there. Don’t take off those stinky things anywhere near me -Don't worry you’ll grow into them... How old are you by the way?"
"This one has just turned 12 , so can be considered your little brother."
"Oh that's great! I don't have a little brother yet... I've just got a little sister, she's elev-- Oh no, she's twelve. I've missed her birthday... Quick, I need a present or she'll never forgive me.”
"Do you want the armoured robe back?"
"No, no ... It's got to be something good. ‘Unique and thoughtful’ she said. Help!"
Jian Cheng thought for a second then reached into his tunic pocket.
"Here's a hunting knife me and my father made. It's super sharp and never goes dull."
Kong Wang made a face.
"My father has a special secret technique he learned abroad, where he folds the metal over numerous times..."
"It's also made from a magic ore my father brought back."
The face tilted slightly.
"You realise of course it's from another world and no-one else will have one..."
The face actually started to show some interest.
"Also, it's rare and handmade, which is practically the same as unique and thoughtful."
"Is it?" Kong Wang held out his hand. "Ohh, it's got a fluffy little fox carved on it! You should’ve said so, she'll simply adore it!"
"It's a dire wolf."
"Oh really? I doubt she likes dirty old wolves--"
"No, no it's a fox for sure. That was another knife I was thinking of. Anyway I was saying it would be a dire wolf that looked so cuddly and cute."
"Phew," the blade disappeared into the ring. "How much do you want for it?"
"Nothing of course, big brother has given me so much."
"I have to pay something. It's such a unique and...Thoughtful... knife… I know, I'll teach you the guixigong."
Jian Cheng stared at his friend with wide eyes, full moons over a slack jaw. The Tortoise Breathing Art was a legendary martial technique used to restrain one’s breath and reduce one’s heartbeat. A powerful concealing technique which could mask cultivation levels and even feign death... It was also a myth!
"I take it you've heard of it then." Kong Wang continued. "That first breathing technique I taught you was good but this is much better for advancement as well as all those concealment aspects. It's what I was taught as a child and it worked fine for me. Technically it's restricted to core disciples only, but since you're founding elder of an entirely new chapter I suppose it’s okay."
Apparently it wasn't a myth.
Jian Cheng’s slack jaw opened and closed but he still couldn't speak.
"You know, you must be the youngest elder ever! Hah!" Kong Wang seemed to recall something else.
"Also, I almost forgot to give you these special clan body and soul enhancement techniques."
A fistful of green jade slips appeared in his hand and he began shuffling through them.
"Can't remember which is which. Should be two for the body and one for the six senses... Here take the lot, I can't be bothered reading the bloody things. Those other slips should be some low level techniques or pill recipes I picked up on my travels. I can't even remember, rubbish mostly..."
Receiving the nine slips with trembling fingers, Jian Cheng couldn't help but sigh. One man's trash was indeed another man's treasure. He reverently slid them into his pants pocket but Kong Wang plucked at his sleeve.
"You should put them in your storage belt so they don't get stolen. Sacred techniques and all."
Spatial ring. He'd been given that elder’s spatial ring. It was a belt but still. How rare was a ring like that? Not just one that was a belt buckle, but any spatial storage artefact. The three Misty Cloud sect elders didn't have one between them. Only a yuanying level artificer - a specialist talismans expert cum blacksmith could create one using the rarest inter-dimensional ore that occasionally fell from the heavens in meteorite form.
Overcome, he fell to his knees and kowtowed. As he bent forward for a second bow he was dragged roughly to his feet by the collar of his tunic.
"Little brother you embarrass me. No more." Kong Wang bent and retrieved the belt then proceeded to show Jian Cheng how to use it with his consciousness. The first things that went were his "ugly boots". Followed by the blood vial, the five spirit stones and the nine jade slips. He sat there for an incense stick of time gleefully inserting and retrieving items - "anything other than the boots". It never got old.
Kong Wang lectured the whole time about the Thundering Tortoise Sect and the ins and outs of the techniques including the specifics of the guixigong . While a lot of it went in one ear and out the other, he could sense how proud his friend was. Talking about his beloved sect Kong Wang showed a real pride and surprising technical insight. Occasionally, as he told an anecdote, Jian Cheng got glimpses into his home life. It seemed the sect was rife with political intrigue and his father's position as sect head was coming under fire from his un-filial family.
The sect was beset by more tangible enemies too, especially the other divine beast sects, which occasionally tried to gang up on them. It seemed even the powerful had problems - the tiger truly still fears the dragon. And they both bully the tortoise it seems...
The only ones with Kong Wang's best interests at heart appeared to be his doting father, his first uncle and his wilful younger sister. Silently, Jian Cheng reaffirmed his vow to become powerful enough to help his senior brother in their central sect endeavours.