Fan Xian could see that the man was not pleased. He thought back to the historical classics he had read; in the customs of the Imperial City, for someone to hide behind the door of the Temple of Qing to scare people, swooping like a hawk hunting a rabbit, was certainly not right.
Who the hell wanted to be that rabbit?
Fan Xian frowned. "Sir, you almost made me deaf with how loud you were."
The man's expression was thoroughly stern, and he pushed Fan Xian away, admonishing him in a low voice. "Get out of here, quick! There are people praying inside the temple and they are not to be disturbed." It was clear by the man's clothes that he was the attendant for some rich family, though his tone of voice sounded like some sort of government official.
But Fan Xian did not realize this. Ever since Fei Jie had taken him to dig up graves in his childhood, he had become something of a clean-freak. He saw the hand that was coming toward him, frowned, intertwined his hands and grabbed the man by the wrists.
There was a small cracking sound.
The two stared at each other in astonishment, having discovered that they seemed matched in skill; they were intertwined around each other like two snakes, neither able to break free.
The middle-aged man made a noise of approval, his eyes shimmering. With a hidden power that flowed like a river, he forced his wrists back toward Fan Xian.
Fan Xian groaned. He hadn't expected to come across such an expert fighter. His back began to feel hot, and the powerful zhenqi he had kept pacified for many years immediately reacted, pouring out form the dantian point in his pubic region, striking the man with a rigid blow in response.
With a low humming sound, the dust that sat on the stone steps began to rise up into the air, forming itself into some sort of strange sphere before dissipating.
The pair walked back a few steps, shaken. The middle-aged man covered his lips and coughed. Fan Xian remained expressionless, as if nothing had happened.
The middle-aged man eyed him coolly. "So young, but with such powerful zhenqi. Who are you?"
"It doesn't matter who I am. I just want to get into the temple to pray. Why are you stopping me?" Fan Xian replied, matching his gaze.
"There are nobles within the temple. You'll have to wait, boy." The man thought that this boy's power seemed similar to his own. He wondered just which of the capital's families he may have come from, and whether it was senior to his own, and so he suppressed his own urge for violence.
Slight amusement flashed in Fan Xian's eyes. "In the laws of the Temple of Qing, there is no regulation that states I have to wait outside before I can pray."
The middle-aged man frowned. He did not like this boy. He brushed down his sleeves and went into the temple, leaving Fan Xian outside.
Fan Xian opened his mouth to speak, but he was overcome with a sense of gloom. He tasted blood, and retrieved a handkerchief from his sleeve to wipe his mouth. Luckily, as his secret power had flowed, at the crucial moment, his right forefinger had quietly flicked the man's pulse point. He had a much greater understanding of the workings of the human body than most skilled fighters; otherwise it was likely that he would suffer great wounds.
He looked at the heavy wooden door again, and his heart skipped a beat. He didn't dare try to push the seemingly-unopenable door open again.
Fan Xian coughed. A determined look crept across his handsome face. Since he couldn't beat the man in combat, it seemed best to retreat and come back to beat him some time later. As he turned to leave, the door behind him opened again. The middle-aged man who had injured him stood at the entrance. "The master says that you may enter the side chamber to pray. Don't go into the main hall."
After he'd finished, he spoke again. "I said don't go into the main hall; do you hear me?"
Fan Xian turned around and looked at the man, and looked again at the seemingly unfathomable and eerie Temple of Qing. He frowned, dusted down his sleeves, and stepped over the tall threshold, walking toward the side chamber without looking back.
As he watched this young man face such an obstacle without getting anxious, angry, timid, or retreating, and continue on with his goal, the middle-aged man felt a twinge of admiration.
He closed the temple door and looked around, furrowing his brow. Those brats had let the kid get all the way to the door of the temple. They were getting extra drills that evening.
The Temple of Qing was a quiet place. The people of the Kingdom of Qing were realists - if they wanted to make offerings, they preferred to go to Dongshan Temple on the western side of the city to pray to the Maiden Who Brings Children and other immortals who would bring them wealth.
But the people of the Kingdom of Qing respected and feared Heaven, and the Emperor was the so-called Son of Heaven, so the Temple of Qing became a place where the royal family would offer sacrifices to Heaven. Although the Temple of Qing was open to commoners most days, the common people did not like its heavy and eerie atmosphere.
The main hall of the Temple of Qing looked a lot like the Temple of Heaven: It was circular, with two floors and eaves that jutted outwards; looked absolutely beautiful.
The middle-aged man stood respectfully outside the main hall, looking at the nobles inside who admired its colorful walls with their hands clasped behind their back. "I am allowing this young man to enter the side chamber in accordance with the master's wishes," he said in a low voice.
The nobles looked around 40 years of age, and though they did not look anything like soldiers, their eyes seemed world-weary, touched by an indecipherable tiredness.
"What family is he from that he would allow him to match blows with you?" asked one of the nobles, smiling.
Though he was a highly-skilled fighter, he was an attendant to the man who stood before him. "I do not know," he replied sincerely. "But I wanted to let you know, sir. His methods... were very similar to those of the family bodyguards."
The nobleman was astonished. "Oh? Could he be the son of Li Zhi?"
The middle-aged man laughed bitterly. "Sir, although I have never liked having dealings with him, Crown Prince Jing knows him."
"Oh." The nobleman turned around to continue looking at the murals on the walls. He had so many matters to consider each day that it was rare that he could find a moment's peace, so he decided not to trouble himself further with this small matter and let that youngster enter the side chamber to pray. It was good to know that the nation could produce such talented young people.
The middle-aged man stood guard quietly outside the main hall, occasionally glancing into the side chamber.
Some time later, a clamor arose from outside the hall. The nobleman suddenly frowned. "The girl isn't resting in the back. Is she doing something in the side chamber?"
The middle-aged man was alarmed. He turned his ears to the direction of the sound. He raised his head. "The princess has gone to the side chamber."
The nobleman furrowed his brow. "That noise..." He suddenly thought of something, and his face changed. "Go and look, and... bring that young man to me."
"Yes sir." The middle aged man was about to take his leave when suddenly, a squawk came from outside the temple. The temple doors were opened, and a rushed-looking man ran in, handing him a letter with a wax seal upon it.