Chapter 1: Thriller (1)
On the 2nd day of February, the undulating dragon raised its head and looked above the heavenly abode.
Under the twilight dawn, in an isolated berth named Muddy Bottle Lane, there was a gaunt and lonely looking little boy. As per custom, he held one candle in one hand and a peach branch stick in another, its silhouette shining on the beams of the many houses, walls, wooden beds, and various places, while the peach branch stick beat and hammered away the scorpions, snakes, and centipedes with means to drive them away.
The boy was surnamed Chen and his name Ping.
Chen Ping’s parents died when he was of a babe and was without any memories of their sudden death.
The furnace or rather, kilns of this small little place was famous. Since the founding of this place, the Muddy Botle Lane assumed the heavy duty of burning and offering the mausoleum according to the imperial edict.
There were officials from the imperial government stationed here year-round to supervise the affairs of the kilns.
At first, Chen Ping could only do many of the menial chores, but after a few years of hard effort with the grumpy old master, he bested himself and figured out how to use the kiln.
As a result, many things changed. The town lost its official talisman protection causing dozens of furnaces the shape of crouching dragons to be shut down as the people put out the fire overnight.
Sighing with great troubles, Chen Ping put down the broken peach branch and softly blew out the candle against the galling winds. After walking out of the house, he sat on the steps and looked up at the resplendent starry skies.
The youth remembered the past, remembering clearly that old master, Old Man Yao, who was unwilling to acknowledge him as his own disciple. At most, he considered Chen Peng a half apprentice if not one.
He recalled Old Man Yao would often sit on the small bamboo chair during the early days of autumn with eyes closed facing toward the direction of the kilns.
There were only too few people like Old Man Yao. Those able to compare to him were outstanding in their own rightful ways.
From generation to generation, the craftsmen of this small town only knew one thing, the art of burning kilns. They dared not overstep their boundaries and sell their kilns to the common people so they were left without a choice but to find another way out. And Chen Ping, who only fourteen years of age, met the same fate. He was swept out of the house and went to Muddy Bottle Lane to guard a dilapidated old house.
Relying on his meager savings only, the youth could barely fill his stomach full.
A few days ago, Chen Ping heard there was blacksmith surnamed Yu who came to Muddy Bottle Lane claiming that he’d accept seven to eight blacksmiths in training to take on as his apprentice. Blacksmith Yu did not give them any money to pay for their means, but nevertheless, Chen Ping quickly ran over to try his luck. He had not expected the middle-aged man to give him only a furtive glance before refusing him at the door.
Chen Ping was left in a trance, wondering whether the blacksmith’s skills depends on the size of their abilities… or their looks?
Chen Ping thought his foundation, which had been forged by burning kilns year-round, wasn’t too bad. He also followed Old Man Yao through his rigorous training; they ran hundreds of miles through the mountains and rivers, tasting the scent of the air, of all the soils around him. He was even willing to do any kind of dirty work, not once holding back in the slightest just to live another day, but it’s a pity that Old Man Yao never liked Chen Ping. He despised the youths, despised them for their lack of intelligence. They could never compare to his eldest disciple, Liu Xianyiang.
Though Chen Ping might never amount to anything in life, he continued on. He closed his eyes and imagined himself sitting on a green stone and inhaled the energy of life.
Every quarter of an hour, the youth would rest. He’d flick his wrist slightly and repeat the cycle ‘till he was exhausted and out of breath. Only then would he rise to his feet and begin to walk around the courtyard and slowly stretch out his muscles. No one ever taught Chen Ping these things. It was something he blindly taught himself.
Originally, the world was completely silent and only the sound of cicadas roamed about.
Then, Chen Ping heard a harsh and mocking laugh and he quickly stopped in his tracks. He turned his head and saw a youth near his age with back leaned against the wall. He had a grin plastered on his face which failed to conceal the look of disdain.
This man was Chen Ping’s old neighbor. It was rumored that he was the illegitimate son of the former overseer.
The overseer, afraid that he’d be criticized and impeached hurried back to the capital and bid his time for his misconduct. There was no need to care for his illegitimate son so he threw in some silver coins and went on his way.
The neighboring youth, Song Jixin, who had unknowingly become an abandoned child leisurely lived out his days. He’d spend the day with his personal servant, wandering around the town leisurely year round never worrying about his financial status.
The walls of the courtyard were low. The neighboring people did not need to stand on their tiptoes to see the scene. However, every time they spoke to Cheng Ping, it seemed to him that they liked to hide against the wall.
Compared to Chen Ping whom they thought was crude and vulgar, the other youth, Song Jixin, was much more refined. Even the servant girl had a touch of a scholarly name.
At this moment, the servant girl walked out and stood on the other side of the courtyard wall. She had a pair of almond-shaped eyes and looked timid and weak.
A voice came from the other side of the gate.
“Are you selling this servant girl?”