Chapter 2: Burning Stoves Kitchen
The Spirit River Sect was located in the Eastern Forest continent, in an area surrounding one of the Tong Tian River’s lower branches. Sprawled across both the north and south river banks, with a history of over ten thousand years, it was feared but respected across the world.
Eight towering mountains swathed in swirling mist lay in a line beside the Tong Tian River. Four on the northern bank, three on the southern bank, and in the middle of the Tong Tian River protruded the most majestic mountain peak of them all.
Half of the mountain was covered entirely in dazzling white snow. The mountaintop could barely be seen because of its sheer height. What could be seen though, was that the bottom half of the mountain had been hollowed out, allowing the golden waters of the river to rush through this opening. The cliff-faces on both sides of the crevice towered over the violent current like a bridge.
At that moment, a streak of rainbow light soared rapidly over the southern side of the Spirit River Sect. Wrapped in the shifting rainbow were the middle-aged cultivator Li Qinghou and Bai Xiaochun. Even as the rainbow streak disappeared into the Handyman District located beneath the third mountain, Bai Xiaochun’s screams of terror could still be faintly heard.
Bai Xiaochun was scared to death as he flew with Li Qinghou, dangling above countless lofty mountains. His body overtaken by uncontrollable terror, he had almost released his grip on the cultivator’s thigh multiple times.
In his adrenaline, the scenery in front of him was but a blur. When his vision finally cleared, he had already arrived outside an ordinary-looking loft. As he touched the earth once more with trembling legs, he looked around him. Comparing this environment to his village was like comparing Heaven and Earth. It was as though he had entered a whole new world.
Beside the attic in front of him protruded a huge boulder. Three characters were masterfully written on its surface in lively and vigorous calligraphic strokes:
‘The Handyman Department’.
A woman whose face was thickly dotted with pock-marks, had been sitting beside the stone. She stood up instantly when she spotted Li Qinghou, then politely saluted to him.
“Send this kid to the Burning Stoves Kitchen,” said Li Qinghou, without even sparing a glance towards Bai Xiaochun. He turned around, once again transforming into a rainbow streak, and flew off into the distance.
Upon hearing the words ‘Burning Stoves Kitchen’, the pock-marked woman’s face momentarily blanked. Sweeping her measuring gaze across Bai Xiaochun, she wordlessly handed him one of the fabric bags that had been prepared for every sect worker before expressionlessly listing all the basic rules of the sect to Bai Xiaochun. As the pair ventured out of the attic, they passed by various intricately designed patios and countless other pavilions, constructed with simplistic elegance. The road was paved with azure quartz and the air was suffused with the gentle, refreshing aroma of flowers and fresh herbs. It was as though they had stepped into the realm of the gods. As Bai Xiaochun appreciated the exquisite environment, the anxiety that had filled his heart earlier dissipated.
“What a nice place... This is so much better than my village.” murmured Bai Xiaochun, the anticipation clear in his eyes. The further he walked, the more beautiful the surrounding environment became. When he even saw a few delicate beauties walk past, he instantly felt endeared to this wonderful place.
A short while later, Bai Xiaochun became even happier. Because at the end of the road in front of him was a seven-story crystal building shining with a radiant light. Overhead, a dozen cranes, the epitome of elegance, soared past.
“Sister, have we arrived?” asked Bai Xiaochun in excitement.
“Hmm, over there.” The pock-marked woman replied blandly, her expression remained emotionless even as she pointed a finger towards the end of a side path.
As Bai Xiaochun looked in that direction with a heart full of anticipation, his entire body turned as stiff as a block of ice. He rubbed his eyes in disbelief and stared harder, but the scene that greeted him remained the same. That small side path was strewn with cracked earth and broken flagstones. The surrounding area lay in a state of disrepair, with straw houses scattered everywhere. From within a few of those straw huts emanated a strong stench …
Bai Xiaochun felt like crying, but was unable to shed a tear. Grasping desperately for his last strand of hope, he turned towards the pock-marked woman with an imploring face.
“Sister, you must have pointed in the wrong direction...”
“No.” The woman’s response was curt as she stepped onto the small trail. Hearing that, all of Bai Xiaochun’s fantasies instantly shattered. He could only follow after the pock-marked woman with a bitter face.
They had not walked long before he spotted the end of the the shoddily-constructed path, where there were a few huge black pots darting about. Upon closer inspection, he realised that underneath each of those pots was a huge obese man. All of them looked like irreparable gluttons; it seemed that the moment you poked one of them, nothing but oil would ooze out of the pores of his skin. They were incomparably, abnormally fat. Especially the one who had been standing beside a cottage -- he was a massive, bulging mountain of meat. Bai Xiaochun feared that at any moment, he would explode.
Surrounded by hundreds of huge pots filled with rice, these fat men had been pouring water into them to soften the grains.
Sensing that someone had arrived, the fattest man looked up. The moment he spotted the pock-marked lady, that mountain of meat’s expression instantly lit up, and an overjoyed grin appeared on his face. Carrying a large ladle, he ran straight towards the pair, causing the earth to shake under his mass as his rolls of fat trembled and rippled with the sudden movement. Bai Xiaochun stared at the scene in disbelief, subconsciously feeling the urge to look for an axe.
“This morning, when I heard the magpies sing, I wondered what good fortune would happen today. So it’s because you’ve come to visit! My dear Sister, could it be that you’ve had a change of heart and noticed my many talents? Let’s take advantage of this prosperous day. You and me, let’s get together.” The fat mountain’s eyes shone with perverted thoughts as he yelled emotionally while running.
“I’m just delivering this kid to your Burning Stoves Kitchen. And now that he’s here, goodbye!” After the pock-marked woman saw the mountain of fat, her expression instantly turned ugly. Her irritation was clear as she rapidly retreated.
Bai Xiaochun inhaled sharply. He had observed the pock-marked women during their short trip together, and he finally reached a conclusion: her appearance must have been painted by a ghost! Just what kind of taste did that fat man have? How could he be so horny when faced with such a woman?!
Even before Bai Xiaochun had completed this thought, the mountain of meat had already arrived before him, huffing and puffing. With his bulk, he blocked the sun entirely as his shadow covered Bai Xiaochun.
As he raised his head to stare at the mountain of meat whose rolls of fat were still quivering, Bai Xiaochun swallowed nervously. In his life, he had never seen such a fat man!
The enormous man pitifully tore his eyes away from the spot where the pock-marked woman had been standing and glanced at Bai Xiaochun.
“Whoo, so we have a new guy here. Kid, to take the place of Xu Baocai who was arranged to join our kitchen, you’ve got some background.” said the fat man.
“Brother, my...my humble name is Bai Xiaochun.” Under the pressure exerted by the sheer bulk of the other man, Bai Xiaochun subconsciously took a few steps back.
“Bai Xiaochun? Hm... your skin is white and your body is small and delicate… Good, good! Your name suits my tastes perfectly,” the fat man said as his eyes lit up. When he patted Bai Xiaochun’s bony shoulder, the boy nearly collapsed to the ground.
[TL: Bai Xiaochun’s name directly translates into ‘small, white, pure’.]
“Brother, may I ask for your name?” Bai Xiaochun took a deep breath as he rolled his eyes and shot a disdainful glare at the wall of wobbling fat before him. In his mind, he was already thinking of ways to mock the fat man using his name.
“My name is Zhang Fatso One, and that’s Yellow Fatso Two and Black Fatso Three…” the fat man chuckled.
As he heard these names, Bai Xiaochun instantly lost his desire to play with their names. He could not help but marvel in shock at just how appropriate those names were.
“As for you, we will call you Bai Nine from now on…Hmm, but little Brother, you’re way too skinny! At this rate, you’ll completely humiliate our Burning Stoves Kitchen! But don’t worry too much, in less a year, I promise that you will be just as plump as the rest of us. Then, we shall gift you the name of White Fatso Nine,” said Zhang Fatso One as he patted his chest, causing his gelatinous body to wobble madly.
When he heard the three words “White Fatso Nine”, Bai Xiaochun’s face looked like he had swallowed a bitter lemon.
“Since you are now our ninth Brother, we’ll treat you exactly like one of our own. Our Burning Stoves Kitchen has this pot carrying tradition. See this black pot behind my back? This, This is the king of all pots! Look at this beauty -- top-quality iron, engraved with the magical flames of the Earth...Compared to the rice cooked in an ordinary pot, the spirit rice boiled with this pot has a far, far superior taste. You must also choose a pot. Only when you carry it on your back will you truly look fierce and glorious!” Zhang Fatso One boasted as he smacked the pot on his back.
“Senior Brother, can I…not carry the pot…?” said Bai Xiaochun quickly after he pictured himself carrying a huge black pot on top of his head. He glanced furtively at the pot strapped to Zhang Fatso One’s back and it suddenly occurred to him that perhaps, everyone in the Burning Stoves Kitchen walked around with a pot day after day.
“Of course not! Pot-carrying has been a long-standing tradition of our Burning Stoves Kitchen! In the future, when you’ve entered the main sect, as long as other people see this pot behind your back, they’ll know that you’re from the Burning Stoves Kitchen! No one will dare to bully you, for our Burning Stoves Kitchen holds great power!” Zhang Fatso One winked at Bai Xiaochun. Before Bai Xiaochun could even get a word in, the fat man had already dragged him to the back of the straw hut. Behind the hut, thousands of huge pots were piled one on top of another. Most of them were covered by a thick layer of dust as it was immediately clear that no one had been here for a long time.
“Ninth Brother, choose a pot here and let’s go cook. If the rice is burnt, then the other Brothers will never stop complaining,” Zhang Fatso One gave a parting shout. He then turned around to join the other fat men in darting around the hundreds of pots again.
Bai Xiaochun sighed loudly as he stared forlornly at row after row of pots. As he contemplated over which one he should choose, he suddenly noticed that in a corner, there was a pot half-buried beneath a large pile.
This pot was somewhat special. Instead of being round, it was oval-shaped which made it looked less like a pot and more like a turtle shell. On the surface of this pot, upon closer inspection, a faintly visible carved pattern could be seen.
“Eh?” Bai Xiaochun’s eyes suddenly lit up. Hurrying over to the pot, he crouched down and inspected it carefully. Pulling the pot out from under the pile, he scrutinised it further, before a satisfied smile appeared on his face.
Even when he was young, he had always adored turtles because the turtle was a symbol of longevity. And the reason he had come to seek immortality, was precisely because he thirsted for a long life. So today, the moment he laid his eyes upon this turtleshell-shaped pot, to him, it had already become a lucky omen that would grant him great fortune.
As he lifted the pot out of the storage hut, Zhang Fatso One spotted him from a distance. With his ladle still in hand, the fat man hurriedly wobbled over.
“Ninth Brother, out of all the pots, why did you choose this one? This pot had been left there for god knows how many years. Since it resembles a turtleshell, nobody has ever used it or chosen to carry it on his back, this…Are you sure you want this pot?” Zhang Fatso One absent-mindedly patted his stomach as he advised kindly.
“I’m sure, I’ll take this pot,” said Bai Xiaochun determinedly. The more he examined this pot, the more he liked it.
Zhang Fatso One urged him to rethink his decision once more but when he saw that Bai Xiaochun had already firmly made up his mind, he shot the youngster a weird look before giving up and falling silent. After arranging a straw hut for Bai Xiaochun to live in, Fatty One went back to cooking.
By now, the sky had already turned orange, the tell-tale sign of dusk. In his straw hut, Bai Xiaochun turned the turtleshell pot which he had been given over and over in his hands, carefully observing the shape of the pot. As the fading sunlight hit the steel, he traced the dozens of lines running along the back of the pot, forming a pattern. These lines had faded to the extent that there were invisible unless you were exceptionally observant.
With all his heart, he believed that this pot was special. Only after carefully placing the pot on the stove, did he begin examining the interior of the hut he had been assigned. The interior of the hut was simple -- a small bed, a set of table and chair, and an ordinary bronze mirror hanging on the wall. As Bai Xiaochun inspected his room, a beam of purple light flashed across the surface of the ordinary-looking pot behind him and immediately disappeared.
To Bai Xiaochun, too much had happened in a single day. Today, even though he had finally arrived at this world of the immortals that he had dreamed about for so long, his mind was still filled with confusion.
He took a deep breath and a look of anticipation appeared on his face.
“I want to be immortal!”
Bai Xiao Chun sat down and took out the fabric bag that the pock-marked woman had given him earlier.
Inside the bag was a single pill, a wooden sword, a piece of incense along with the uniform and badge of the Odd-jobs department. The last item within the bag was a bamboo scroll, with a few small letters written on the cover.
‘Purple Qi Cauldron Manipulation Technique, Qi Condensation Manual.’
[Editor’s Note: Qi is a branch of inner energy, directly translated as “flow of air” and commonly known as chakra.]
As dusk faded into twilight, the Burning Stoves Kitchen was suddenly filled a mad bustle of activity. Bai Xiaochun sat in his room, the bamboo scroll on his lap. His eyes were filled with desire. He had come in search of longevity and he was now holding the gates to immortality right in his palms! He took a few deep breaths and flipped the scroll open.
Immediately, Bai Xiaochun’s eyes shone brightly with excitement. There were three pictures printed in the bamboo scroll. According to the explanation written below, the foundation of this Cauldron Manipulation Technique was separated into two parts - Qi Condensation and Foundation Establishment. And this Purple Cauldron method contained ten levels which corresponded to the ten degrees of Qi Condensation.
When a cultivator rises to the first level, they would be able to manipulate small external objects with their Qi as though manipulating their own arms and legs. When they reach the third level, they would be able to control objects less than half the weight of a cauldron, and when they reach the sixth level, the weight of the object which they could control would rise to more than half the weight of a cauldron. When they reached the ninth level of cultivation, they could control objects as heavy as an entire cauldron. Finally, when they came full circle and achieved the peak level of cultivation, they could easily manipulate objects that as heavy as two entire cauldrons.
But this bamboo scroll only displayed the way to achieve the first three levels, with no information touching on the subject of the higher levels. Furthermore, in order to train in this Purple Qi Cauldron Manipulation Technique, cultivators were required to use a special breathing method.
Bai Xiaochun focused his mind and adjusted his breathing. Closing his eyes, he positioned his body according to the first picture in the scroll. However, he lasted a mere three breaths before his entire body became sore, so sore that he couldn’t help but yelp in pain. Just how was he going to hold such a demented pose? While using a breathing method that deprived him of air, no less?
“Too damn hard! What the hell! It says that while holding this pose, I’m supposed to feel a stream of energy flowing through my body. Well, apart from pain, I feel nothing else! Absolutely nothing!” complained Bai Xiaochun. But still, his thirst for immortality was too strong. Gritting his teeth, he readied his body and tried again. Over and over again, he stumbled along, trying to practice the first pose. But even as night fell, he was still unable to sense even a single strand of energy in his body.
He was unaware that even the most talented cultivator would need at least a month to finally sense their energy while practicing this Purple Qi Cauldron Manipulation Technique without external help. So in just these few short hours, it would have been impossible for him to feel any form of energy.
At this point, his body felt like it had been fed through a grinder. Bai Xiaochun stretched widely. Just as he was about to stand up to wash his face, a sudden loud commotion burst from outside his door. Bai Xiaochun stuck his head out of the window and instantly saw a scrawny young man standing outside the front gate of the Burning Stoves Kitchen, with a ghastly expression on his ashen face.
“I am Xu Baocai! Which bastard took my place?! Get your ass out here!”