Ling Hu's house was at the furthest corner of the Ling Palace. There were only two thatch cottages on his land, and the conditions of them were even worse than Ling Xian's home.
Ling Hu's mother was lying in bed sick. Her face was as white as a sheet of paper. Light was drained out of his eyes, and the smell of death was surrounding her. It seemed that the disease had spread and she did not have many days left.
She was a mere mortal with no spiritual energy. Due to her marriage with Ling Hu's father, who was a cultivator, she could not endure the powerful essence he emitted. After giving birth to Ling Hu, the lack of natural spiritual energy caused her to lose a lot of blood, and many illnesses followed after.
The disease she had was very unusual because a cultivator would rarely choose to marry a mortal. There were, however, exceptions. Ling Hu's father, for example, fell in love with Ling Hu's mother at first sight. Sadly, what started as a beautiful love story ended as a tragedy.
Originally, her sickness could be controlled and contained because her disease was the direct result of her weak physique. However, three years ago, Ling Hu's father passed away suddenly after being sent on a clan's mission. The tragic news made her sad to her core, and all rare symptoms of her disease emerged. Her body got worse and worse each year. If it weren't for Ling Hu, she probably would've passed away a long time ago.
"Cough cough… Hu, don't be sad. I want to go keep your father company. I'm worried he's lonely down there." Ling Hu's mother was hanging on by a thin thread. Her beauty still managed to shine through despite her pale complexion.
"Mother, I don't want you to talk like that. You will be okay, I am certain of it!" Ling Hu's eyes got misty. He kneeled before the bed and held onto her hand tightly.
There was no more light in her eyes. She seemed to have remembered the good times she had with Ling Hu's father as the corners of her mouth curved up to form a smile. "I miss your father. If I weren't so worried about you, I would've gone to find him a long time ago. I didn't want your father to find you a step-mom, but now that I remember the clumsy way he was… I'm sure no young woman would want to marry him. Ha, I was the only one who was willing to marry that guy. I wonder what happened back then. I must have been possessed to have walked through rain and wind with him for so long. Years have passed in a blink, time sure is fast."
"Mother… I don't want you to die!" Ling Hu was in agony, he begged, "Mom, please hang on for a few more days. Wait for the Dan from the Qi Zhen Pavilion to arrive, then we can cure you!"
"You are being silly!" Ling Hu's mother shook her head and struggled her way up to a sitting position, "Go, find a mirror for me."
Ling Hu nodded, he found a mirror and handed it to her.
Looking at the weathered face in the mirror, Ling Hu's mother could not help but think she was no longer beautiful. She sighed softly and brushed her hair behind her ears, "Back in the years, I was well-known for my beauty and many cultivators pursued after me. For some reason, I only liked your father. I liked his clumsiness, his stupidity, and his honesty."
Ling Hu listened beside her in silence. Hearing all these wonderful stories that happened between his parents, his face dampened with tears.
"Why are you crying? Wipe off your tears," Ling Hu's mother ordered. "You are no longer a kid. Learn to be strong. After I leave, you'll have to depend on yourself for everything. I do not need you to be better than everyone else, and I do not want to ask you to make our ancestors proud. I just want you to safely survive in this harsh world. If I can make sure of that, then your father and I can live peacefully in the other world."
"Mother, stop talking like this." Ling Hu tightened his grip around her hand. "You will be fine. You'll definitely be fine. Just hang on a bit longer. Once the spiritual Dan comes from the Qi Zhen Pavilion, you will be saved."
"Silly boy, everyone's life is finite and predetermined by higher beings. I was supposed to die a long time ago. God was kind enough to give me a few more years so I can raise you until you become an adult. I am satisfied, I really am." Ling Hu mother's expression was composed. Perhaps it was because of the pain she endured from this long-term disease, or perhaps she knew this day would come someday. Regardless, there was not a trace of fear on her face, only a hint of affection for Ling Hu.
"But… but mother, I cannot live without you." Ling Hu burst into tears again.
Looking at her kid drowning in sorrow, Ling Hu's mother withheld tears of her own and advised, "After I pass away, stick with Ling Xian and listen to him. He is a good kid with great integrity and intelligence. Most importantly, he values people, especially his friends. Now that he has made something out of himself, you should live your life with him. I am certain he will take care of you the way he would his own blood-related younger brother."
"Yes! Brother Ling Xian definitely has a way! Mother hang on. I will go find him now!" Excitement flashed across Ling Hu's eyes. That day, Ling Xian brought him too many pleasant surprises. Ling Hu has since then categorized Ling Xian as a god who could do anything he desires. His mother's reminder of Ling Xian brought him a lot of hope.
As he was about to walk out to find Ling Xian, he heard a voice.
"There's no need Ling Hu, I am here."
In an instant, Ling Xian moved from the door to the bedside. He looked at Ling Hu's mother who was weak and pale, and tears filled his eyes.
"Brother, you are an alchemist now, think of a way. Save my mother," Ling Hu requested impatiently.
"Did you get the Dan from Qi Zhen Pavilion?" Ling Xian asked.
"No, the manager at Qi Zhen Pavilion said that the Dan I want has to be transported here from another pavilion. I just came back from Qi Zhen Pavilion and the Dan… it hasn't arrived," Ling Hu whispered.
"Looking at aunty's body conditions, I don't think she can hang on much longer." Ling Xian frowned and grabbed Ling Hu mother's hand. He blamed himself greatly. "I am so sorry Aunty. I am late. I should've paid you a visit a long time ago."
"Silly kid, I do not blame you at all. I know you have lots of other things to attend to and I am very happy that you came to see me one last time." She smiled kindly and patted his hand. "I heard from Ling Hu that you have started your cultivation journey and have become a highly-respected alchemist. Seeing that you have gone to places and found ways to survive in this society, I can be at ease even if I die."
Ling Xian sighed deeply as sadness spewed out of his heart. He grew up helpless with nobody to rely on. It was the kind lady before him that provided him with family-like warmth and meticulously took care of him.
The woman who dedicated her life to raising him was about to pass away. Looking at her sunken eye sockets and her dried up complexion, she seemed like an oil lamp that was about to be burned out as her life was slipping away.
He really hated himself then, hated his lack of abilities and his lack of ideas for how to save her life.
"Ling Xian, I have to ask for something from you. You have to promise to say yes," Ling Hu's mother said in a serious tone.
"Of course Aunty, if it's within my abilities, I will do my very best to fulfill it," Ling Xian's voice was confident and stern.
"It is something I shouldn't even talk about. All these years you have lived frugally and often used the spiritual stones you earn to sponsor my medicine. My family already owes you so much." Ling Hu mother's face was filled with deep guilt. However, for her son, she gritted her teeth. "I am about to pass away now, and I hope you can take care of Ling Hu. He has a dull brain and doesn't know how to think flexibly. In this survival of the fittest society, he will be taken advantage of and may even be killed if nobody takes care of him. Therefore, Aunty must beg for you to look after him. Do you think you can do that for me?"
"Mother…" Ling Hu wanted to say something, but she gestured for him to stop. Her dim eyes were staring right at Ling Xian, and they were sending him way too many signals; there was hope, guilt, and uneasiness.
She waited for a long time, but Ling Xian still did not answer. She felt her heart drop, but she simply smiled. "I have been too blunt Ling Xian, just pretend I never asked anything of you."
"Aunty, I never said I would not do this. Ling Hu is like my real little brother. Even if you didn't ask I would've looked after him. However, I was thinking…" Ling Xian suddenly grinned. "Wouldn't it be even better if you were the one taking care of him?"
"What nonsense are you talking about. I am fully aware of my own health. I could breathe my last breath any second, where would I find the time to take care of Ling Hu." Ling Hu's mother sighed as she again displayed much unwillingness to let go.
She then realized the grin on Ling Xian's face and asked carefully, "Do you… maybe… have a way?"
"Of course I have a way." Ling Xian nodded. His confidence was off the charts.
The few seconds before, his soul had entered the Painting of the Nine Immortals, and he had told the situation to Liao Cang Qiong. Ling Xian was heavily scolded by him, but he had no words of retaliation.
Ling Xian forgot an important thing; the identity of Liao Cang Qiong. He was one of the only alchemists who was highly worshiped and was nicknamed Immortal of Alchemy.
His alchemy ways were unprecedented in the past and in the present. He could use his body as a cauldron and take a star as an ingredient and turn any leaf of a flower into a medicinal Dan. He had countless Dan recipes in his mind. Such a powerhouse in the alchemy community, how could he not take care of Ling Hu's mother's sickness?
After listening to Ling Xian's stories, he searched his memories and found a curing Dan named Qing Hua Dan. This Dan specifically cures Qi and blood deficiency and improves the lack of spiritual energy in people. The only roadblock was that it was a sixth-realm medicinal Dan and Ling Xian was only a Ninth-Realm Alchemist. Therefore, Liao Cang Qiong made some changes to the Dan and adjusted it into a ninth-realm recipe. Though the realm was lowered, it was more than enough to cure Ling Hu's mother's sickness.
"Brother, do you really have a way?" Ling Hu screamed out of excitement.
"Since I said that confidently, of course I have ways to cure Aunty." Smiling, Ling Xian patted Ling Hu' mother's hand again and said, "Aunty, you have to endure the pain a little longer. You haven't even seen Ling Hu getting married and you haven't even held your grandchildren. How could you leave him now."
"You are right. I haven't seen him marry any girls or have any offspring, how could I be at ease." Some lights returned to Ling Hu mother's dark eyes and death's presence in the room seemed to have lightened.
What Ling Xian said really hit her emotionally. Back then, Ling Hu's father and her had a really strong bond. When she heard the bad news of his passing, she really wanted to go with him by ending her own life. She only stayed because of Ling Hu, who was still a baby at the time. Even now, she was still worried for her son and could not simply let go if there was a way to heal her illness.
Seeing the light in her eyes and the lift of energy, Ling Xian sighed in relief. His words worked. Ling Hu's mother believed what he said and regained her determination to live. This was the only way he could make sure she holds onto life while he was away.
If he didn't say what he said, Ling Xian was really afraid that before he could finish brewing Qing Hua Dan, she would be gone.
"Aunty, please don't worry. You will only need to hold on for three more days. I will make sure that I return and cure your illness. Then, you will be able to be there to see Ling Hu get a wife. When that happens, you will have a son who respects you and a daughter-in-law who is virtuous. Your family will live a very happy life. Doesn't that sound wonderful?"
Ling Xian described to her the perfect familial image he had for their future. Then, he whispered into Ling Hu's ears, "Ling Hu, take good care of your mom. Remember, if you notice her energy decreasing, repeat what I had said to her again to solidify her will to live. Do you understand?"
"I understand brother. Go quickly, and remember to return as fast as you can!" Ling Hu nodded and watched Ling Xian with tears in his eyes.
Ling Xian turned, walked out the door and rushed towards the Lin Pavilion.
He was ready to practice alchemy.