Chapter 1: The Boy From The Fishing Village
Translator: Novel_Saga Editor: Maggie_, Novel_Saga
~ A remote fishing village, Quan Zhou, Kai Yuan Prefecture, Da Qi Kingdom. ~
A richly ornamented carriage stood parked outside a shabby wooden cabin. Several armed men in black robes stood on guard around it. The villagers were swarming around the scene in excitement; they were talking to each other in whispers.
“Are they really from the Jin Family… the Feng City’s Jin Family?”
“Yes, I’m not mistaken. See that golden embroidery on their robes… No other family in the Kai Yuan Prefecture wears it apart from the Jin Family.”
“This is unbelievable! Everyone had assumed that Shi Ting had died an untimely death. No one heard anything from him in the ten years after he abandoned his wife and son. Everyone thought that he had probably fallen prey to some illness in some unknown land. But now… it seems that he has established himself with the Jin Family… and has sent his men to get his son – Shi Mu. It’s a pity that the boy’s mother has died. Otherwise, she would’ve enjoyed a life of wealth and prosperity.”
“Wealth and prosperity?! That’s quite unlikely. Didn’t you overhear the Jin family’s soldiers’ conversation that Shi Ting is now the son-in-law of the Jin family… and he wouldn’t have dared to send his men for Shi Mu if the boy’s mother was still alive?”
“Nonetheless, Shi Mu’s hardships will finally come to an end now. He was just an orphan until yesterday. But, he’ll become a Young Master now.”
“My father is seriously ill… and lies in bed. Moreover, I’ve a younger sister that I didn’t know about?” Shi Mu asked the blue-robed old man who stood in front of him in a tone of disbelief.
The harsh sun and the winds from the ocean had turned his skin into a shade of auburn; this made him look a lot older than his thirteen years of age. His features were strong, and made him stand out from his peers. His shabby shirt did little to hide his muscular stature, and added a fierce aura to his presence.
“That’s right. The ailing Master may not be too far from his day of doom. That’s the reason why I’ve come here. Madam has asked me to bring Young Master Shi back with me to bid the Master goodbye at his deathbed,” the man replied with a mild smile.
“Who’s this Madam that you speak of? My father abandoned me and my mother when I was a little child. There’s no use of him coming back for me after all these years. You may leave. I’ll not go with you to the Jins’,” the boy answered in a sour tone without any hesitation.
“Alas! I’m afraid that you – Young Master Shi – have misunderstood my Master. Master has faced several difficulties over these years. So, he couldn’t come back for Young Master Shi. It’s his greatest desire to meet the Young Master in order to resolve the differences… and leave the past behind,” the old servant explained.
“Humph! That man abandoned his own family. Nothing that you say can change this fact. You may leave now,” the boy said in a cold tone.
The blue-robed old man seemed to be in state a flux. He knitted his brows, and observed the boy’s feature. He then spoke with a sense of decisiveness, “Didn’t the medicine that Young Master Shi has been buying from the town’s pharmacist seem unreasonably cheap? Hasn’t the martial arts instructor of the town been charging the Young Master less than all his other students? Aren’t the fish that are caught from the sea sold quickly and almost magically when Young Master Shi goes to the town’s market? Haven’t there been quite a few customers haggling over the prices of the Young Master’s fish?”
“Do you mean to say that all these things have been arranged by that man?” the boy asked in a blunt manner as his color rose.
“I don’t know if it was Master’s idea. But, Madam had requested these arrangements in person,” the servant answered with a smile.
The boy started to look agitated and troubled as he heard these words.
“May I ask if you – Young Master Shi – has been studying the Art of Body Tempering? There’s no doubt that Young Master aspires to be a true warrior. Madam was kind enough to secure an opportunity for Young Master Shi to take the enrollment test of the Kai Yuan Martial Arts School… as long as there’s an agreement to meet the Master from his side. But, the final admission would depend on the extent of Young Master’s talents and abilities,” the man played his trump card.
“The Kai Yuan Martial Arts School?!” the boy repeated in a dumbfounded manner. He was moved by this temptation – like any other boy of his age.
“Young Master is a martial arts student. So, I’m sure that he must be aware that the Kai Yuan Martial Arts School is one of the four most prestigious schools; it enrolls students once in every five years. The candidates are required to meet two important conditions to be eligible for the entrance test. First – they must’ve finished studying the Art of Body Tempering before they turned fifteen. Second – they are required to have grasped the essence of Qi… which is essential for them to cultivate their real Qi; it allows them to be able to circulate Real Qi easily through their meridians. It’s impossible to be a true martial arts scholar without fulfilling these conditions. But, it’s not easy to sense one’s Qi. A Qi Ling pill is required to induce one’s Qi into a flexible state. This pill costs a lot of money. Even the Jin family can afford only ten pills at a time. I’m worried for Young Master’s dreams and aspirations since I can see that he wishes to fend for yourself,” the old man spoke slowly, but with confidence; he ensured that his words were fully registered.
The boy was silent for a long time. His voice was as cold as ice when he finally spoke, “You may come back in three days for your answer.”
“Good! It’s settled then. I’ll be back in three days for the good news,” the blue-robed man said.
He could sense that the boy had made-up his mind. So, he bowed and left.
“Butler Cheng, why have you returned without the boy? We won’t have to waste any more time if we take him by force,” a rider spoke-up once they had left the village.
“Nonsense! He may not be Madam’s own son… but Young Master Shi is Master’s son by blood. We’ve been asked to bring him back safely… and of his own will. Otherwise, Master will not be happy. We’ll lose our jobs if we end-up upsetting Master… as Madame has great affection for him,” the blue-robed man retorted in a sour tone.
“Ah, I’m sorry… I was being foolish,” the rider mumbled.
Suddenly, a shadow flashed in the distance. Then, a black-robed rider rushed to the old servant and bowed.
“Butler Cheng, we’ve found some Biao warriors sent by the Fifth Master. What should we do?” he asked.
“Humph! It seems that the Fifth Master is sticking to his earlier plan. You’ll not be able to handle the Biao warriors. I’ll deal with them. Show me the way. Ask the rest of the men to wait here. I’ll bring this foolish scheme to an end myself,” the old man frowned and said.
“Yes,” the rider said. He then advanced into the woods – from the path that he had come from.
The blue-robed man jumped-off the horse, and started to follow him; his stature resembled a light feather. He disappeared in a flash. The other rider stayed back with the carriage; he didn’t even dare to move a muscle.
It was nearly evening. Shi Mu knelt before a tomb on an unnamed hill outside the village. The moonlight shone softly on the yellow tombstone, and illuminated what it read – ‘The Tomb of the Shi Family’s Wife; Originally Surnamed Wang.’
“Dear mother, you’ll not believe what I’m about to say. Father isn’t dead. He has married into some other family in an unknown land. But, you need not fear as I’ll fulfill my promise to you. Father had lied to you when he told you that he was leaving to pursue martial arts. But, I’ll become a true warrior. Your son will be the strongest warrior the world has ever seen… so that you can rest in peace.”
The boy murmured a few more words to his mother’s tomb. He then stood-up. After that, he stretched his muscles, and started to exercise on the same spot.
His body resembled that of a tiger’s from afar. His movements grew faster with every passing second; the sound of the creaking and cracking of his bones could be heard from a distance. It became hard to see his frame in the cloud of dust that had been stirred-up owing to his intense movements.
Suddenly, his figure charged and emerged from the cloud of dust. He then punched the trunk of a nearby tree. ‘Bang!’ A thunderous sound echoed as the tree trembled with the impact of the blow. Several leaves fell from the tree. An impressive fist imprint could be seen in the center of the tree-trunk.
Shi Mu raised his eyebrows as he noticed the deep mark that his fist had left on the tree-trunk.
This series of movements was the first technique that he had been taught at the town’s martial arts school. It was the most popular skill in the Art of Body Tempering in the Da Qi Kingdom. His instructor had told him that one had to be at the seventh level of Body Tempering Art to be able to leave an imprint as deep as the one that he had left. This meant that he only had to cross two more levels before he could start practicing Qi-sensing.
It had taken him four years to reach the seventh level of the Body Tempering Art. The saying that ‘martial arts was only for the rich’ was indeed true.
It had taken him five or six months to save up the tuition fee of thirty-two silvers once he had decided to study martial arts. This was a lowered fee; others had to pay an even higher fee for their training. He had managed to reduce the fee because of his relentless and sincere pleads.
The exorbitant price of the medicine bath that was needed to temper his body had left him penniless. Shi Mu had been able to reach a remarkable level despite his poor situation. This had left the entire school astonished. Moreover, he had ended-up gaining his instructor’s respect and admiration. It was believed that Shi Mu was a natural warrior owing to his talent and physical stature.
He had wanted to ask the school’s pharmacist to prepare medicinal baths for him from time-to-time. But, he didn’t have the required money. So, no one could afford to give him rare and expensive herbs. Therefore, he could bathe with only ordinary herbs; it did little to enhance his physical growth.
Shi Mu sighed heavily as he knew that he hadn’t been born with sturdy bones. There had been a stroke of luck two years ago; it had played a huge part in his achievements in the following time. He knew that this was partly the reason why he needed time to make his decision regarding whether he wanted to move with the Jins or not.
He looked-up at the moon as he was troubled by these thoughts. He then rushed down the hill. He arrived at the seashore near the groups of rocks. Suddenly, he jumped into the sea. He moved his arms swiftly – like a giant fish in the deep sea. He swam three to four-hundred feet deep into the sea in a short span of time.
Suddenly, he saw something spectacular.
The pitch-dark sea began to glitter with a white light. The light gradually became brighter, and illuminated the entire area.
Shi Mu wasn’t taken aback. Instead, he held his breath, and started to swim downwards. He swam to a patch of sandy floor. He had reached the bottom of the sea; it was covered with white fine sand.
Shi Mu saw that the glittering light was emanating from ten shells; each of these shells was as big as a man’s palm. A seventy or eighty feet high rock stood in the center of the circle of the shells; it was flickering in a continuous manner.