Chapter 1 - Fishing Boy
Our story begins in a remote fishing village in Quan Zhou, Kai Yuan Prefecture during the reign of the Da Qi Heavenly Kingdom.
Outside an old ruined shack of a log cabin stood a richly decorated carriage garnished with gold, silver, and precious embroideries. Several black-robed sword wielding riders stood guard around the carriage. Villagers excitedly swarmed in small groups around the hut to see what had happened.
“Are they really the Jin family, the Jin family of Feng City?”
“I can’t be mistaken, see the golden embroideries in their robes, throughout Kai Yuan Prefecture no other household could have that except the Jin."
“God, incredible! No news was heard from Shi Ting ever since he left ten years ago, leaving his wife and son behind. No one would doubt it if he had died at some strange place. But now! It’s the Jin family, that he has connections with, is here! Moreover Shi Ting is back to take his son Shi Mu. It’s a shame the boy’s mother died , or she could have had a high position and great wealth as long as she lived!”
“Position and wealth? Don’t be too hasty. Haven’t you overheard one of the Jin servants saying that Shi Ting is already the Jin’s son-in-law, he wouldn’t dare to have come here if Shi Mu’s mother had not died!”
“Anyway Shi Mu’s chance has come. Yesterday he was an orphan, today he’s a young master.”
“My father is sick in bed and I have a blood sister?” Shi Mu fixed his eyes on the elderly blue-robed visitor, asking hesitantly.
Though he was only thirteen, his skin was a light auburn colour due to continuous exposure to sun and wind from the ocean. His features were heavy and stood taller than any of his peers. Even in an old and shabby shirt, his sturdy muscles were visible which added to him a sense of untamable wildness.
“That’s right, master is seriously ill at present, his day of doom may really come this time. That’s why madam asked me to take young master back: to see master at his deathbed”, answered the blue-robed old man, smiling.
“Madam? Now that he’s abandoned my mother for so many years, what’s the use of taking me back now? Please return, I won’t go back with you to the Jins.” The youth answered without hesitation, his face sour.
“Alas! I’m afraid that you, young master Shi have wronged my master. Master has his difficulties so he could not return here and only wishes that you two would be able to meet and all misunderstandings can be lifted,“ the old servant continued after a light cough.
“Humph, that old man abandoned his own wife and son, nothing will change even if you talk your head off. Now scram.” The youth snorted coldly.
Hearing this, the blue-robed old man could not help but knit his brows. He spoke again only after having another close look at the youth, as if a decision was finally made.
“Wasn’t the medicine young master Shi has been buying from the town’s pharmacists unreasonably cheap? Moreover, has not instructor Li of the town’s martial arts school charged you less than other students while he teaching you the exact same skills? Last but not least, are not the fish you, young master Shi, caught from the sea quickly sold every time you come to the town’s market? Plus there would even be a few buyers haggling over the price.”
“Do you mean, all these were pre-arranged by that man?” The youth could not help but ask directly, his color changing.
“I know not whether it was master’s idea or not, but madam did request these arrangements in person.” The blue-robed old man answered with a smile.
After hearing those words, the youth began to grow agitated and irresolute.
“By the way, hasn’t young master Shi been studying the art of Body Tempering? You must aspire to be a true warrior. Madam told me in particular that as long as young master Shi agreed to see master, she would definitely secure an opportunity for you to take the enrollment test of Kai Yuan Martial Arts School. As to whether you could get enrolled, it will be up to your talents.” The blue-robed old man finally played his trump card.
“Kai Yuan Martial Arts School?” Obviously the youth was moved by such a temptation. What youth of thirteen years old would not be moved by the name Kai Yuan Martial Arts School.
“Being a practitioner of martial arts, I’m sure you must know this: this is one of the four famous martial arts schools which only enroll students every five years and candidates must meet two conditions strictly before they are eligible to take the test. First they must finish studying the art of Body Tempering before the age of fifteen. Second, they must have already grasped the essence of qi, which is indispensable in the further practice of cultivating one’s real qi; to be able to circulate it smoothly through their veins. One can never be a real martial arts practitioner before these conditions are fulfilled. However, to sense qi is not easy at all; one has to obtain a Qi Ling pill at an exorbitant price in order to induce his qi into a flexible state. Even our Jin family can only get at most ten pills each time. I worry for your lifetime dream if you want to fend for yourself,” the old man said in an unhurried way, full of composure and confidence.
The youth sank into silence, and only spoke again in a cold voice after a long time.
“Return in three days, you will have your answer then.”
“Good, it’s settled then. I’ll come to hear good news in three days.” The blue-robed old man did not persist, knowing that the boy had made up his mind. Hence, he bowed slightly and left.
“Butler Cheng, are we going back without the boy? Why not take him by force, so that we will not have to waste more time?” A sturdy rider could not resist asking once they left the village.
“Nonsense! Though he is not madam's true son, young master Shi is master’s son by blood. We are here to take him back safe and sound, and nobody is to cause strife with him, or considering the strong affection madam has for master, we can start looking for a new job now.” The blue-robe old man reproached him with a sour face.
“Ahh ahh sorry, I was foolish.” The sturdy rider fell crestfallen.
Just then, a shadow flashed past the road and there rushed out another black-robed rider, who bowed to the old man and then said, “ Butler Cheng, we found Biao warriors dispatched by the fifth master, what should we do?”
“Humph, it seems then the fifth master is still sticking to his old plan. The Biao warriors are not some people you guys can handle. Leave them to me. You, show me the way while the rest of you guys wait for me here. I shall end this foolish plan personally.” The old man decided, frowning.
The rider departed immediately, returning on the path he had come on, while the blue-robed old man jumped off his horse and darted after the rider. His body seemed feather-like, disappearing into the nearby woods in a moment. The sturdy rider remained with the others beside the carriage, not daring to move a muscle.
It was nearly evening. Outside the village on an unnamed hill, Shi Mu was kneeling at a tomb, moonlight shining softly on a grave mound of dirt. A yellow tombstone read clearly “The Tomb of the Shi Family’s Wife, Originally Surnamed Wang”.
“Dear mother, you would have never believed that father was not dead. He has even married into another family out there. But please rest assured, I shall do as promised. Father left you with the false pretext of pursuing martial arts, but I shall be a real warrior, the strongest warrior ever, so that you can rest in peace!”
The youth stood up before murmuring some other words, before moving his muscles as he started exercising in front of his mother’s tomb.
His moves grew faster as the sounds of his bones creaking and cracking was heard audibly, and his body whipped back and forth like a tiger. After a while it became difficult to make out his profiles in the yellow dust-fog stirred up by his intense movements.
A figure whizzed out of the fog and punched heavily on the thick trunk of a big tree. “Boom!” With a thunderous sound, the tree trembled. Countless leaves fell down and an impressive fist print was left half inch deep in the trunk.
Shi Mu raised his eyebrows, gazing at the fist print.
This series of movement was the only fist skill he learned from the town’s martial arts school, and it was also the most popular skill in the art of Body Tempering in Da QI Heavenly Kingdom. According to the school’s instructor, to leave such a deep print he must be at the seventh level in Body Tempering, and he only needed to reach two more levels before he was able to practice Qi Sensing.
But four whole years had passed since he reached the seventh level!
There was some sense in the saying that martial arts was only for the rich. "To be poor, was to be fated as a bookworm."
Ever since he decided to study martial arts he had saved money for nearly half a year to pay the tuition fee of 30 silvers.This large sum of money was already a reduced fee, much lower than the general requested sum, and was only secured at his repeated, earnest begging.
Moreover, the exorbitant price of the medicine bath needed to temper his body had costed him money, leaving him penniless. Given his situation, Shi Mu still managed to reach a level that astonished the martial arts school, obtaining the instructor's’ admiration. They said that with such amazing talents and well-made bones, Shi Mu must be a natural born warrior. After all, though he had asked the school’s pharmacist to prepare medicinal baths for him from time to time, with the money he possessed who would actually sell him rare herbs that cost much? Thus he could only bathe with ordinary herbs that only had a minuscule effect on his growth.
Shi Mu let out a sigh, knowing that he was not actually born with sturdy bones. His achievement these few years would be impossible had he not had incredible luck two years ago, which was also the reason why he needed time to ponder whether or not if he should move to live with the Jins.
With such thoughts on his mind, the youth looked up at the moon before rushing down the hill before arriving at the seashore where clumps of rocks stood. He jumped into the sea without any hesitation, moving his arms in tandem and slithering into the deep sea like a giant fish soundlessly. After a while, he swam to the depth of some thirty or forty zhang.
Then something astonishing appeared.
The originally pitch dark sea water began to glitter with increasing white light which grew brighter and brighter before illuminating the nearby area.
Shi Mu was not a bit surprised at this scene. While holding his breath, he quickly moved several meters downward before stood on a patch of sandy floor. It was the bottom of the sea here, covered with white fine sands.
There he was able to see clearly that the white glittering at the bottom came from the ten-odd shells each the size of a man’s palm. In the middle of the shells stood an immense rock of seven , or eight zhang high, flickering incessantly.
 Master’s fifth younger brother.
 Zhang, a unit of length (= 31/3 metres).