“Shifu,” Xi Ping said.
It was several days after Xi Ping had woken up on Flying Jade Peak. Earlier, Zhi Xiu had tested him on the contents of Introduction to Arrays and Inscriptions: The Structure of Spiritual Energy. Upon finding out that this disciple of his not only did not read it but even had the guts to make the half-puppet Xi Yue read it in his stead while he played around in the snow, he hadn’t wasted his breath scolding his deaf ears and directly brought out Zhaoting, wanting to beat this delinquent into shape.
Now, under Zhaoting’s vigilant watch, Xi Ping held the book in his hands, reading it however half-heartedly. Although it really couldn’t be considered reading either. Xi Ping stared unseeingly at the pages for a long time, eyes vacant, then would jolt with a start, pinching a corner of the page and arduously dragging it over and across, almost as if he was peeling his own skin off rather than turning a page.
Hearing him call, Zhi Xiu thought he had a question about a sentence his eyes managed to stumble across on those slow-turning pages. He looked over and saw Xi Ping staring out the window with a frown: “What is it?”
Xi Ping did not respond at first, looking so intently out the window that Zhi Xiu wondered what had stumped this disciple of his to this extent. Eventually, Xi Ping asked, like a true slacker who could not even scrape up the energy to pretend he was studying, “Why is it always snowing on Flying Jade Peak?”
Mercilessly, Zhaoting flew over and knocked him upside the head with its hilt.
Zhi Xiu rebuked him silently, but he still patiently replied, “Each of Xuanyin’s peaks has its own temperament. For example, Her Highness Duanrui’s Green Pool Peak has mild weather year-round. It hardly rains, and even in winter, it rarely snows. Your Lin-shishu’s peak is home to several stores of spiritual ores, an ideal environment for toolmaking. Halfway down the mountain is a forest where many karma beasts thrive as well.”
“And Flying Jade Peak is always snowing…” Xi Ping said, thinking, “... because rain or shine, its master doesn’t care?”
Zhi Xiu’s fingers twitched. Zhaoting swooped by again. This time, Xi Ping ducked under it, dodging, then rolled to his feet.
“Shifu,” Xi Ping said, filled with grievance, as he jumped away from Zhaoting. “I was only guessing at it, why do you always pull out Zhaoting whenever you’re upset?”
If you were a little more ambitious and half as studious as that half-puppet, would there even be a need for Zhaoting to reduce itself into an ascended spirit level discipline rod? Zhi Xiu thought.
Certainly, there was no use talking to Xi Ping. If he said one thing, he’d take those handful of words and run off with them, talking around twists and turns.
Zhaoting chased after his wayward disciple, swatting at him like one would swat at a particularly irksome fly. Xi Ping ran left and right, then leaped out the window where he kicked up snow trying to match wits with General Zhi’s vital weapon.
This vital weapon was an ascended spirit’s weapon, after all. There was no way a newly established foundation cultivator like Xi Ping could avoid it for as nearly as long as he did, but Xi Ping, this ambitionless ant, forget about striving for greatness in the mortal world, he had been wholly uninterested in the myriad layers of cultivation until just recently — and even so, he still couldn't bring himself to sit and learn properly. Of course he didn’t think too deeply about this.
In truth, Xi Ping’s guess was not too far off the mark. Flying Jade Peak was a peak suited for sword cultivators. These solitary individuals, after many years of cultivation, would one way or another begin to embody the sword itself. Sharp and unyielding, merciless and unfeeling, cold as frost.
In the end, Zhi Xiu actually didn't mind the weather at all because of his own natural, flexible temperament.
Still, suddenly, he asked Xi Ping, "Do you dislike it?"
Zhi Xiu knew how to command armies and control the battlefield, how to divine with his hands and the stars above his head, single-mindedly cultivate to the point of being an ascended spirit. He muddled through life learning what he needed to learn, cultivated with his sword, and looked directly at his Way of the Heart, thinking that for the rest of his immortal life, this was the only thing left for him to question —
— but now, after over two hundred years, looking at Xi Shiyong, he realized he did not know how to be someone’s shifu.
General Zhi’s luck had always been very good. Out of the entire batch of new disciples from the Latent Cultivation Temple, he happened to choose the most troublesome one as his direct disciple, but Zhi Xiu didn't feel regretful about it.
Firstly, he felt some responsibility being the ascended spirit who went down to investigate and settle the evil cultivator "Tai Sui". In hindsight, the situation was handled rather poorly; how many events in the past with evil cultivators had implicated a mortal to this point? It was almost shameful.
Secondly, Zhi Xiu did choose Xi Ping. After coming to a decision, he wasn't one to have serious second thoughts about it — a habit honed during his time as a mortal. Besides, for all that Xi Shiyong was unmotivated in studies, he was clever and more than willing to jump into the more hands-on training. With some patience, he could grow into a respectable cultivator.
Mostly though, no matter if he was trying to get out of studying or exclaiming Zhi Xiu's "frugal living", raising hell on the sensitive mountain and Zhi Xiu's blood pressure along with it, at the end of the day, Xi Ping sincerely called him "shifu".
A sense of dependence sprouted from that "shifu". That single word coiled around his heart, tying them inexplicably together.
It made him realize that, past the wittiness and stubbornness, this disciple of his was young. He was someone who needed his protection and guidance.
This weighty responsibility laid across his shoulders, firm and grounding.
"No," Xi Ping answered. "Shifu, don't you know? Even if you beat me to the ground with Zhaoting, the snow will always cushion me. It hardly even counts as a beating!"
… his words were certainly asking for a beating though.
Zhi Xiu was pulled out of his somewhat sentimental musings. He sharply waved a hand, dispelling these thoughts, and Zhaoting flashed over to Xi Ping in an instant, pinning the hem of his robe into the snow. Before he could shout, a book appeared before Xi Ping's face, making him swallow his words with a disgruntled expression.
Xi Ping: "Shifu…"
"Read," Zhi Xiu said, not giving him time to plead his case. Looking at Xi Ping's increasingly already bored to tears expression, he added, "If you pass the next assessment, I'll teach you how to fly on your sword."
Just like that, Xi Ping's eyes lit up.
Zhi Xiu smiled, feeling a bit like he'd finally captured the tiger, completely unaware that having something to look forward to would make Delinquent Xi disregard whatever he was supposed to do in the first place.
… Alas, with a disciple like Xi Shiyong, General Zhi still had a lot to learn.