A Record of a Mortal’s Journey to Immortality
Chapter 1 – The Village by the Forest
“Second Fool” opened his eyes and stared at the mud and thatch roof over his head. The quilt covering his body was a deep yellow color and had a musty smell. It was so old that its original color could no longer be distinguished.
Next to him lay his second brother, Han Zhu, who appeared to be in a deep slumber. Snores intermittently floated over as he slept.
Five feet from the bed was an earthen wall that had suffered from numerous cracks due to the passage of time. From the other side of the wall came the nagging voice of his mother and the occasional deep breathing of his father who was smoking his pipe.
Second Fool slowly closed his eyes, trying to force himself to sleep. He knew that if he didn’t go to sleep now, he wouldn’t be able to wake up early the next day. If he woke up late, he would not be able to go up to the mountains with his good friends to gather firewood.
Second Fool’s real name was Han Li. This elegant name was not given to him by his parents. When he was born, his parents had offered two pieces of cornbread to the village’s Elder Zhang in exchange for giving the baby Han Li a second name.
(TL: “Second Fool” [er leng zi 二愣子] in Mandarin has a pleasing sound despite its meaning)
When Uncle Zhang was young, he had attended school with the wealthy children in the city. As he was the only one in the village who knew how to read a few words, more than half of the children in the village were named by him.
Han Li was called “Second Fool” by those in the village. Despite his name, he wasn’t stupid looking or foolish. On the contrary, he was actually the smartest person in the village. But just like the other children, aside from when they were home, nobody called him by his official name “Han Li”. Instead, they called him by his pet name “Second Fool”.
The reason why he was nicknamed “Second Fool” was due to the fact that there was already someone named “Fool” in the village.
This type of nickname was nothing. There were children in the village named “Doggy” and “Dumb Egg”. These names weren’t nearly as pleasant-sounding as “Second Fool”.
Because of this, Han Li felt some consolation even though he was not very fond of his nickname.
Physically, Han Li was very ordinary. He was tan and matched the generic descriptions of a child born in a farming community. Deep in his heart however, he had matured faster than others of the same age. Ever since he was young, he had yearned that one day, he would be able to leave his small village and explore the fertile lands of the outside world that Uncle Zhang had always talked about.
Han Li had never dared to speak of his dreams to anyone else in the village because they would be deeply shocked. After all, leaving this place was a notion that even adults didn’t easily think about, let alone a small child. Children around his age only knew how to chase chickens and pet dogs. They had never entertained the strange notion of leaving the village.
Han Li’s family had a total of seven members, including two older brothers, one older sister and one younger sister. He was the fourth eldest in his family and turned ten this year. Together, they lived a hard yet honest lifestyle. Very rarely did they get to eat meat and fish, but the entire family was content with living with the meager resources they had.
At this moment, Han Li was hovering between the state of sleep and consciousness. As he slowly drifted to sleep, only one thought was on his mind. While in the mountains, he had to pick more red berries for his younger sister whom he doted on the most!
The next morning, at noon, Han Li was shielding himself from the scorching sun overhead in the shade casted by the pile of lumber on his back. Wrapped around his chest was a pouch filled to the brim with red berries that bounced with each step as he walked home. He had no idea that at this moment, there was a guest in his home, a guest that that would change his destiny forever.
This guest was actually someone who had very close blood ties with Han Li. It was his Third Uncle!
It was rumored that his Third Uncle was the shopkeeper of a restaurant in the nearby city. According to his parents, Third Uncle was the most capable within their family. After a few hundred years, the Han family had finally produced someone like his Third Uncle, a figure with status and respect that was unrivaled within the family.
When Han Li was young, he had only met his Third Uncle a few times. Han Li’s older brother became a blacksmith’s apprentice in the city thanks to Third Uncle’s introduction. Every so often, this Third Uncle would even gift some food to his parents to bring home and eat. Because he had looked after Han Li’s family with great consideration, Han Li had a very good impression of him. Even though his parents never said anything, he knew that in their hearts, they were very grateful.
Han Li’s eldest brother was the family’s pride and joy. As an apprentice of a blacksmith, he was able to bring home 30 copper coins every month, minus living expenses. And when he finally graduated from his apprenticeship, he would earn even more money!
Every time his parents talked about their eldest son, their spirits would soar with pride. Although Han Li was young, he was tremendously envious. The best work he could find was to be the apprentice of a craft master and rely on the crafts he made to earn money.
So when Han Li saw the brand new satin robes and the round face that belonged to his Third Uncle, Han Li was overjoyed.
Setting down the firewood in a corner outside of the house, he went to the front of the house to greet his Third Uncle. “Third Uncle, Han Li greets you.” After doing so, he obediently stood by the side and listened to his Third Uncle chat with his parents.
Third Uncle beamed at Han Li as he opened his mouth, praising his nephew. “What a sensible child!” After complimenting Han Li, he turned his attention back to Han Li’s parents and explained the reason for his visit.
Although Han Li wasn’t able to fully understand the words his Third Uncle was saying as he was too young, he still roughly understood what he said.
It turned out his Third Uncle’s restaurant had the backing of the Seven Mysteries Sect. This sect was divided into the inner and outer divisions. Not too long ago, Third Uncle had been officially recognized as an outer disciple. That meant that he could bring a child between the ages of 7 and 12 to take the Inner Disciple Examinations.
Once every 5 years, the Seven Mysteries Sect would formally issue invitations for youngsters to take the test to become Inner Disciples. The test would officially begin the following month. Third Uncle was a smart and astute man who was childless, so he naturally thought of Han Li who met the age requirement.
The moment the usually docile Father Han heard the words “Jiang Hu” and “Sect”, along with many other phrases he had never heard before, he felt very hesitant. Bringing his smoking pipe to his lips and giving it a puff, he sat down without saying a word.
(TL: “Father Han” is the title of Han Li’s father)
According to Third Uncle, the Seven Mysteries Sect could be considered one of the best sects within several hundred miles.
If one were to become an Inner Disciple, not only would one be able to practice martial arts for free, one would also receive a monthly allowance and have his needs taken care of. Not only that, those who didn’t pass the Inner Disciple Examinations could still enter the sect’s outer division and become an outer disciple like Third Uncle. They would still have the opportunity to help the Seven Mysteries Sect handle its external affairs.
Upon hearing the possibility that his son could receive a monthly allowance and even become as successful as his Third Uncle, Han Li’s father finally decided to give his approval.
After getting the approval from Han Li’s father, Third Uncle felt elation in his heart. Leaving behind two silver coins, he said that he would return in a month to escort Han Li to the testing area. During this period of time, Han Li’s father had to ensure that Han Li was clothed and well fed to improve his constitution so that it would be easier for Han Li to pass the test. After giving these instructions, Third Uncle bid farewell to Han Li and his father, patted Han Li on his head and left for the city.
While Han Li didn’t fully comprehend his Third Uncle’s words, he could understand that he would be able to earn money in the big city. It seemed that his dream from before was going to come true, making him so excited that he could not sleep for the first few nights.
After one month had passed, Third Uncle returned to the village, escorting Han Li to the testing site. Before he left, Han Li’s father repeatedly instructed Han Li on the ways of proper behavior.
One must be honest, have the capacity to endure, and avoid unnecessary conflicts with others. Meanwhile, Han Li’s mother urged him to take care of his health and to eat and sleep well.
The day finally arrived and Third Uncle came to take Han Li away by carriage. As his parents gradually disappeared from his sight, Han Li bit down on his lips in order to prevent his tears from flowing down his eyes.
Although he had always been more mature than other children of the same age, he was still a ten year-old child. This was the first time he had left home, so he naturally felt depressed. A homesickness developed in his heart. He was determined to rush home after he struck rich, never to be separated from his parents.
Han Li would never have thought that from this moment on, money would lose any meaning to him. He was unexpectedly going to walk a path different from ordinary mortals. Instead, he was going to walk down his own path towards Immortal Cultivation!
Chapter 2 – Green Ox Village
Han Li’s home was said to be a small city, but it was actually just a large village called Green Ox Village. Only those who lived in the mountainous region and the natives with no knowledge of the outside world called the village Green Ox City. The only reason why Han Li knew about this was because he had been informed by his Uncle Zhang, who had been working as a gatekeeper for more than ten years.
Green Ox Village wasn’t very large. It only had one main road, known as Green Ox Street, which spanned from the eastern to the western borders of the village. There was also only one tavern in village, located on its western border. For any traveling merchant that didn’t want to sleep outdoors, this tavern was the only option.
There was only one road for carriages in the western part of Green Ox Village. It ran from the gates of the village and the Green Ox Tavern all the way to the Spring Fragrance Restaurant, the only other place anyone would visit besides the tavern.
Spring Fragrance Restaurant wasn’t big by any means and was actually quite old-fashioned. However, this establishment had a certain charm that was appealing to many travelers. Every day at noon, there would always be a crowd of people, making the place constantly swamped.
A bearded man with a round face emerged from a carriage along with a dark skinned, rotund little boy who looked to be around ten years old. They both walked into the restaurant with a swagger. All of the regular customers knew who this man was. He was the manager of this restaurant, “Fatty Han.” The boy, however, was not someone they were familiar with.
“Elder Han, this tanned little boy resembles you a lot. Could it be a child from a prostitute you spent the night with?” someone joked.
The moment the joke was uttered, the entire restaurant roared with laughter.
“Peh! This is the son of my blood brother, my own nephew! Of course he’ll look like me,” Fatty Han said proudly instead of being angered.
This duo had traveled for three whole days without rest before arriving at the village. They were Han Li and his Third Uncle, who was known as “Fatty Han” by the villagespeople.
Fatty Han greeted a few regulars before bringing Han Li to the back of the restaurant, and entered a remote courtyard.
“Xiao Li, you should rest here for a while. When the time comes for the Inner Disciple Examinations, I’ll call you. For now, I must leave in order to attend to a few regulars.” Fatty Han pointed at a side room in the courtyard and kindly motioned for Han Li to enter it.
(TL: “Xiao” in this context means “little”)
After saying that, Han Li’s Third Uncle turned around and hurried back inside the restaurant to tend to his customers.
As he reached the door, he felt a sudden unease in his heart and reminded Han Li, “Don’t run about. You might get lost in the village if you wander around. So it’s best if you don’t leave this courtyard.”
Hearing Han Li’s honest response, he nodded in relief and walked out the door.
After his Third Uncle left the courtyard, Han Li suddenly felt exhausted. The moment his head landed on his pillow, he fell into a deep sleep and began snoring, surprisingly without the fear of a normal kid staying alone in unfamiliar surroundings.
When the night came, a servant came by with some food. Although it wasn’t a lavish meal, it was still delicious. After Han Li ate the food, the servant was clearing away the remaining dishes when his Third Uncle leisurely walked in.
“How was it? Was the meal suitable to your taste? Do you miss home?”
“Yes, I miss home…” Han Li replied in his childish voice.
Third Uncle seemed satisfied with Han Li’s response. He began to talk to him about his daily life and bragged about many of his experiences. Gradually, Han Li became less shy and started to laugh and talk with his Third Uncle.
In this manner, two days quickly passed.
On the third day, after Han Li finished dinner, he was waiting for his uncle’s stories of Jiang Hu when a carriage stopped in front of the restaurant door.
(TL: Jiang Hu – World of Martial Artists)
This carriage was painted a shiny black color and even the horse was a rarely seen golden steed. But what attracted the most attention was that on the frame of the carriage was the word “Mystery” written in silver characters in the middle of a red triangle emblazing a black banner. The image on the banner also emitted an unfathomable air.
Seeing this banner, every martial arts expert in the area knew that this carriage belonged to one of the two local overlords in the area, the Seven Mysteries Sect. It seemed that an esteemed guest had arrived in Green Ox Village.
The Seven Mysteries Sect was previously known as the Seven Supreme Sect. Two hundred years ago, the sect was established by an extremely famous martial master named “Sovereign of the Seven Supreme”. Having once swept across and dominated the Jing Province and the nearby Shu Province for a few decades, the Sovereign of the Seven Supreme was resoundingly famous. But after he was afflicted with illness, the power of the Seven Mysteries Sect took a devastating hit and its influence dropped drastically. In the end, the Seven Mysteries Sect was forced out of the main city of the Jing Province by the combined efforts of its rival sects. A hundred years ago, the sect was forced to relocate to an extremely remote area called the Celestial Rainbow Mountain. From then on, they rebuilt their roots in that third rate region and became a local powerhouse.
Locally, the only other power that could rival the Seven Mysteries Sect was the Feral Wolf Gang.
The Feral Wolf Gang was originally a gang of horse-mounted bandits from the Jing Province that had no qualms about burning, killing, looting and pillaging. After a while, an army dispatched by the imperial court encircled and fiercely suppressed the bandits. Some of the bandits accepted the amnesty granted to them by the imperial court while the remaining bandits reformed themselves into the Feral Wolf Gang. The Feral Wolf Gang was exceedingly cruel and bloodthirsty, retaining their former characteristics of having no qualms about committing atrocities. Thus, whenever they clashed, the Seven Mysteries Sect was always at a disadvantage.
Even though the Feral Wolf Gang controlled more villages than the Seven Mysteries Sect, the gang didn’t know how to manage the villages effectively to run businesses and generate income. In comparison, the wealth of the villages controlled by the Seven Mysteries Sect vastly outstripped the villages under Feral Wolf Gang’s control. Jealous of the Seven Mysteries Sect’s prosperity, the Feral Wolf Gang made plans to take over the Sect’s territory, resulting in the longstanding conflict between the two major powers. The conflict gave the current Sect Leader of the Seven Mysteries Sect endless headaches. Because of the Feral Wolf Gang, the Seven Mysteries Sect have been accepting an increasing number of disciples in recent years.
After the carriage stopped, a skinny forty year-old man jumped down. His movements were extremely nimble, indicating that he was a powerful expert. He seemed to be very familiar with Fatty Han’s restaurant and walked pompously towards the room Han Li was residing in.
Upon seeing the forty year-old man, Fatty Han immediately greeted him respectfully.
“Protector Wang, why has an esteemed person such as yourself personally made the trip?”
“Humph!” Protector Wang coldly snorted.
“The roads here haven’t been peaceful lately. Because of this, there’s a need to strengthen the defenses. Thus, the elders ordered that I personally come. Don’t speak any more rubbish. Is this the child you wanted to nominate?”
“Yes, yes, this is my nephew. I hope that Protector Wang will take care of him.”
Looking at the impatient look on Protector Wang face, Third Uncle immediately retrieved a heavy-looking pouch and secretly passed it over to Protector Wang.
After he assessed the weight of the pouch, Protector Wang’s impatient demeanor visibly relaxed.
“Fatty Han, you truly know how to conduct yourself! On the way back, I will make sure that all of your nephew’s needs are well cared for. Anyways, it is getting pretty late now. We had best hurry on our way.”
Chapter 3: Seven Mysteries Sect
The smell inside the carriage was unpleasant, but this could hardly be surprising. The optimal capacity for this carriage was only ten people, but currently there were about thirty young children squeezed into the carriage. Even if young children had smaller bodies than adults, the space inside the carriage was intolerably cramped.
The clever Han Li had chosen a seat near to the sides when he had first entered the carriage and was now stealthily observing the other children.
The children who had registered or been nominated to take the test at the Seven Mysteries Sect could be segregated into three different groups based on their clothing and bearing.
In the first group, there was a youth wearing silk clothing seated in the center of the carriage, surrounded by the majority of the children.
This youth’s name was Wu Yan. He was 13 years old, one of the oldest children to be seated inside the carriage. Normally, he would not be even here since his age had already exceeded the age limit, but one of his older female cousins was married to someone of authority inside the Seven Mysteries Sect. Therefore, Wu Yan’s age was purposely overlooked and he was allowed to join the selection. Wu Yan’s family ran a martial arts dojo, so he had access to a considerable amount of wealth. From a young age, he had practiced external martial arts. Even though his talent could not be considered excellent, when facing against Han Li’s type—those children who had never practiced martial arts before—it was more than enough for Wu Yan to trample them underfoot.
It was very clear that children like Wu Yan, who came from powerful wealthy families and had previously practiced martial arts, could be considered the elite within the group of children inside the carriage.
They were from different backgrounds: some came from the families of shopkeepers, some came from the families of workers, or families of craftsmen, etc. However, they all had one special thing in common; they grew up in the city. Thus, from an early age, they had learned from the elders of their families on how to observe people and know what was beneficial for them. Because of this, these people surrounded Wu Yan and repeatedly called out “Young Master Wu” and “Big Brother Wu” to curry favor. Wu Yan seemed to be used to being fawned over.
The third group of people were people like Han Li; this group came from remote and poor villages. They usually made do with what they had, were poor, and had suffered a life of hardship and strife. Only five to six people belonged to this third group, creating a minority inside the carriage. They usually kept to themselves, and had a quiet demeanor, not even daring to speak or laugh loudly. They were a refreshing change when compared to those loud children.
After the horse carriage exited Green Ox Town, it sped westward and made a few detours to visit other locations and collect even more children. On the fifth day, they managed to arrive at the Celestial Rainbow Mountain, the home of the Seven Mysteries Sect, near sundown.
The first thing the children saw after exiting the carriage was the beautiful, captivating sunset. It was only when Protector Wang started to rally the children that they woke up from their daze and continued proceeding forward.
Celestial Rainbow Mountain was originally Setting Wind Mountain. Legend has it that during ancient times, a five-coloured wind blew past this location, instantly transforming the mountain. After this place was discovered by humans, they realized how beautiful the sunset looked behind the rosy pink clouds. Inspired by the majestic image, the humans decided to rename this place Celestial Rainbow Mountain.
The Celestial Rainbow Mountain was the second largest mountain in the Jing Province after the Bai Mang Mountain. It was extremely spacious, spanning a radius of ten Li. The Celestial Rainbow Mountain was actually a mountain range consisting of ten mountain peaks, each of them being incredibly dangerous, and under the control of the various divisions of the Seven Mysteries Sect. The main mountain peak of the Celestial Rainbow Mountain was named the “Setting Sun Summit”; it was treacherous and dangerous beyond comparison. Not only was it extremely steep, there was only a single path between the peak and base of the mountain. After the Seven Mysteries Sect rebuilt their roots in this area, they set up a total of thirteen checkpoints on the path up the mountain. Some of these checkpoints were hidden while others were out in the open. They were prepared for every single route that the Feral Wolf Gang might use to invade the mountain.
As Han Li followed the escorts in front of the group, he surveyed his nearby surroundings. Suddenly, the escorts stopped as waves of friendly and amicable voices rang out.
“Little Brother Wang, why did you arrive so late? You’re two days late.”
“Division Head Yue, we were delayed by the journey here, sorry for causing you to worry.” Standing in front of all the children, Protector Wang replied respectfully as he bowed to a red-faced old man. Protector Wang’s stern facade was instantly replaced by a look of fawning.
“Which batch of children is this?”
“This is the batch number seventeen.”
“En!” This Division Head Yue pompously looked towards Han Li and the other children.
“Send them to the courtyard, let them rest for tonight. Tomorrow morning, we’ll begin the selection process. Send those who fail or break the rules back down the mountain.”
“Understood, Division Head Yue.”
Walking atop of the mountain’s stone steps, the children were tremendously excited, but no one dared to speak loudly. Despite their young age, the children somehow knew that this place would determine their destiny.
Protector Wang was in the lead and greeted several figures on the way to the children’s sleeping quarters. It could be seen that he was familiar with a lot of people and was quite popular in the region.
The majority of the people they met on their way were all wearing green clothes and equipped with a blade or sword. Even those that appeared empty-handed wore pouches full of mysterious items around their waists. From their bearing and conduct, one could tell that all of these people were somewhat proficient at martial arts.
Han Li and the rest of the children were brought to a mountain peak that seemed lower in height in comparison to the other mountain peaks. On the summit, there was a house made of mud, built for the children to sleep in during the night. As he slept, Han Li dreamed that he was wearing silk, had a golden sword in his hands, and possessed peerless martial arts, soundly beating the village blacksmith’s sons who he previously were no match for. Then he woke on second morning, still reminiscent of his dream.
Protector Wang did not let the children enjoy breakfast. Instead, he brought all of the children down the mountain to a steep slope containing many bamboo shoots. There, Division Head Yue and a few other youths whom Han Li didn’t recognize were already waiting for them.
Chapter 4 – Bone Refining Cliff
In front of the children, Division Head Yue hollered, “Everyone, listen well. Inside the bamboo forest, there’s a small path on which you’ll proceed forward where you will eventually reach the Bone Refining Cliff of the Seven Mysteries Sect. The first area of the path will be the bamboo forest. The second area will be a rocky slope region. The last area will be the cliff. Only those who have managed to climb the Bone Refining Cliff by noon will be disciples of our Seven Mysteries Sect. If you finish after noon, although you won’t become an Inner Disciple, you can still become an Unofficial Disciple as long as your performance demonstrates remarkable prowess.”
Han Li naturally did not understand what it meant to be an Unofficial Disciple. He only knew that all he had to do was to climb the cliff. Casting his gaze forward at the uneven, steep slope, he saw many lengthy bamboo shoots sprawled across the surface of the cliff. Seeing this, it seemed that the first obstacle should be pretty easy!
Studying the other children, Han Li was unwilling to lose to those in his age group. The atmosphere quickly became tense for the other children as well.
Division Head Yue cast a glance at the rising sun and said, “Okay, it’s almost time, prepare to set off! Don’t be afraid, your seniors will be protecting you from behind in case there’s any danger.”
Han Li turned his head and glanced at those unrecognizable youths.
These people were the senior disciples, so they should be from an earlier batch. Han Li could not help but think, “How impressive, if I managed to join them, could I wear the same robes of an Inner Disciple?”
As he was blindly pondering, Han Li discovered that the other children had already rushed into the bamboo forest. Seeing that he was left behind, Han Li quickly started moving forward.
Once the thirty children rushed in, they stopped moving as a group and scattered within the spacious bamboo forest. Behind Han Li was a lanky senior disciple with a cold look on his face, silently following Han Li. Han Li was a bit fearful, but he did not dare to start a conversation and waste time. Slightly intimidated, he lowered his body and proceeded to tread on the steep slope.
This stretch of bamboo forest looked ordinary on the outside, but after Han Li walked for a distance, he found that it was slowly becoming more and more difficult to move forward. His footsteps got heavier, and gradually, Han Li began to use one hand to pull the bamboo shoots, using the momentum of the bamboo springing back to its original position to propel him forward.
Han Li persisted in this manner for quite some time, At a certain point, he became extremely exhausted, so he had no choice but to find an empty space to sit down and rest, his breath leaving him in heavy bursts of air.
After taking a breather, Han Li turned his gaze and saw the lanky senior behind him. Although the ground was very steep, this senior disciple was standing nonchalantly on the ground as if this was nothing to him. His body was totally devoid of dirt, standing erect like the bamboo shoots nearby, while he silently looked at Han Li in the distance.
Looking at the cold glance of this senior, Han Li felt fear in his heart and rapidly turned his head back. He also heard sounds of heavy breathing in front and deduced that one of the faster children was also making use of this opportunity to rest. After a short break, Han Li swiftly resumed his journey.
The slope was perilously steep, and Han Li’s energy reserve got smaller and smaller.
He decided to lie flat on the ground and claw his way forward instead of walking on his legs; such that if he exhausted his energy, he would not fall flat on his face. Luckily, his clothes were made of strong materials; if not, his limbs and knees might have been damaged by being dragged across the rocky ground.
As he almost reached the end of the bamboo forest, Han Li felt that it was very tough to complete the last few steps. This was because as the stones and rocks on the ground increased, the number of bamboo shoots decreased.
Han Li finally reached the point where there were no more bamboo shoots for him to use for support. Han Li slowly moved inch by inch past this last stretch of road and overcame the first obstacle.
The moment he walked out of the bamboo forest, he could only see a vast expanse of land. In front of him was an incomparably huge, rocky mountain. On top of the gargantuan mountain were a few skinny kids, slowly climbing up the stone cliff along with a few senior disciples keeping a close watch on them. Han Li did not dare to hesitate any longer and rushed to make his way to the front of the huge rocky mountain.
The mountain consisted of layers and layers of sedimentary rocks stacked upon each other and appeared very eroded. In some places, the ground crumbled when touched. Of course, there were also solid slabs of broken stone, but finding them was extremely perilous as they would lead to injury. Han Li had only practiced the most rudimentary of martial arts and as such, his hands were already filled with injuries after his trek through the bamboo forest. At the same time, his clothes were torn and tattered around his knees, and the flesh and muscles hidden by his clothing were also scraped and injured. Although the wound on his knee was small, Han Li gritted his teeth every time it came into contact with the jagged rocks; the pain almost more than he could bear.
The few children in the lead had already climbed the furthest. Seeing the others ahead of him, Han Li refused to give up. The moment any thoughts of giving up flashed past his mind, images of his Third Uncle and his family would appear, giving him the motivation to carry on. With the memories of those he loved urging him to continue, Han Li relentlessly proceeded forward.
Before Han Li left for the Inner Disciple Examination, Han Li’s father and Third Uncle reminded Han Li that the test would be extremely tough. If he did not persevere to the end, Han Li would have no chances of joining the Seven Mysteries Sect. At this moment, Han Li no longer cared about joining the sect. Instead, the only source of motivation pushing him forward was an unwillingness to give in and the urgency to catch up to the others in the lead.
Han Li raised his head and noticed that Wu Yan was currently in the lead. Wu Yan was older than Han Li and had even practiced martial arts; unsurprisingly, he had a stronger body compared to the others.
Once again, Han Li turned his gaze backwards and saw that he had surpassed quite a few children, many of which were still rushing forward. Sucking in a deep breath, Han Li increased the speed of his ascent.
Despite exhausting the majority of his strength, he still hadn’t shortened the distance between him and those in the lead. As the unyielding sun climbed towards the center of the sky, Han Li’s body got heavier and heavier, making it harder for him to reach the summit. In the meantime, Wu Yan had already reached the top of the huge mountain.
Near the summit of the a hundred-meter-tall mountain was the incredibly steep Bone Refining Cliff. Over ten ropes, each with knots the size of a fist, hung from the top of the cliff. Wu Yan selected one and began to climb up the cliff.
Han Li gazed over at Wu Yan, who was in the lead, and felt resigned in his heart. He knew that he could not catch up to those in front in the short amount of time left until noon.
The notion of failing was quickly erased by the sudden pain that flared up from his injuries. The waves of fiery pain sapped the strength from his limbs. Feeling his body fall downward, Han Li frantically grasped a stone with one hand. His heart was beating erratically as he rapidly pasted his body onto the side of the mountain, not daring to make any sudden motions.
After a moment, he calmed down, using his hand to test the strength of the stone slab. Only after he determined it was secured in place did he manage to let go of his worries.
Looking downwards, Han Li saw that the lanky senior was in a half-squatting position with his arms extended out, preparing to catch Han Li if he fell. Seeing that Han Li was safe, however, the senior retracted his arms.
Han Li felt relief in his heart. If he really fell down the cliff, all of his efforts would have been wasted! After a short moment, he slowly inched forward and crawled towards the remaining ropes hanging down the Bone Refining cliff.
Finally, he arrived at the bottom of a rope. The sun had almost reached the center of the sky, indicating that there was only one hour before the time limit was up. At this moment, Wu Yan had already ascended the cliff and he turned his head to gaze at the remaining children. Just as Han Li was climbing the rope, his gaze coincidentally met Wu Yan, only to see him giving a thumbs down gesture to the slower competitors. After laughing maniacally, Wu Yan continued onward.
With anger rising in his heart, Han Li grabbed ahold of the rope and began to climb.
However, Han Li had long since used up all his energy. Currently, even holding the rope tightly was a challenge for him, let alone climbing the rope.
Miraculously, Han Li climbed up to the first knot on his rope. Sitting on it, he felt as if his body had turned into cotton, unable to move a single finger. He turned his head and look at all the children behind him. Some of them had already given up, sitting down on the stone mountain and breathing heavily. Like Han Li, they had exhausted all of their strength and were on the verge of collapse.
Han Li could only bitterly smile; he had greatly underestimated this test. Fortunately, he wasn’t among the last of the children. After looking at the senior disciples’ cold gazes, he decided to carry on. Even though he had no chances of completing the test before noon, finishing late was better than hanging limp on a rope.
Han Li extended both of his stiff hands and used the strength he had recovered during his break to slowly climb up the rope. But at this moment, Han Li’s hands stopped responding to his will; he even lacked the strength to maintain a grip on the rope. Han Li paused there and lingered for a moment before reluctantly deciding to remain there seated on the knot.
Chapter 5: Doctor Mo
After a brief moment, Han Li felt a tightening sensation on his waist as his body grew light. His body was suddenly lifted upwards.
Turning his head, Han Li saw the lanky senior helping him ascend the cliff. With one hand around Han Li’s waist, the senior disciple climbed up the cliff with nimble legs. Han Li could not help but notice that the sun had already reached the center of the skies. It was noon.
“So I failed the test after all.” Han Li felt depression set in his heart. It seemed unfair. Even though he had desperately pushed forward, almost to the point of disregarding his life, why couldn’t he compare to the other children?
In an instant, the Bone Refining Cliff appeared before him. There were six other children resting on top of the cliff. Out of the six, only Wu Yan had the strength to have a conversation with a middle-aged old man wearing a dark blue garb. Division Head Yue as well as Protector Wang were also standing near him. They were waiting for the senior disciples to escort the rest of the children up the Bone Refining Cliff.
After all the children had been escorted up the cliff, Division Head Yue stepped forward with a solemn expression on his face as he began to address the kids:
“This time round, only seven of you passed. Out of this group, six will enter my Bai Duan Division and formally become our sect’s Inner Disciples.” Division Head Yue spoke slowly at the crowd of children.
“As for Wu Yan, the first disciple to reach the top of the Bone Refining Cliff, he performed outstandingly and, as such, will be directly sent to the Seven Supreme Division to learn the sect’s secret skills and martial arts.” After speaking, Division Head Yue glanced at the old man wearing the dark blue garb. The old man twirled his beard around one hand while nodding in satisfaction at Division Head Yue.
“As for the others… ,” Division Head Yue contemplated the outcome of the remaining children for a moment before rubbing his chin and saying softly:
“Zhang Tie and Han Li, although these two did not pass the test, they still performed admirably. Their determination will allow them to cope with the pain of practicing martial arts. The two of you will be Unofficial Disciples assigned to an instructor of our sect for the next half year. After half a year, you will be tested again. If you pass, you’ll be able to become Inner Disciples, but if you fail, you will be sent to join the Outer Disciples, helping the sect handle its external affairs.”
Han Li stole a glance at the person named Zhang Tie. Like Han Li, Zhang Tie had begun climbing the rope but failed to reach the summit of the Bone Refining Cliff before midday.
“Protector Wang, give the rest of the children some silver coins and send them back to their homes,” said Division Head Yue as he gave a cold stare at the children who failed the exam.
Protector Wang complied with the order and he led the remainder of the children back down the cliff.
“Zhang Jun, Wu Ming Rui, the two of you will assist me in sending the rest of these children to the Vice Division Head and Instructor Li.”
Two senior disciples stepped forward and separated Han Li and the rest into two groups before leading them down the cliff. One of the senior disciples was the lanky senior that had always been behind Han Li. As they were descending the cliff, Han Li could not help but steal a glance at Wu Yan and discovered that he was still chatting with the old man in a dark blue robe, seemingly without any intent of moving from the spot.
“He’s different from the rest of you. In the future, he will most likely be a core disciple. Only core disciples are sent to the Seven Supreme Division to train in the sect’s secret arts. Once he completes his training, at the very least, he will have the rank of a Protector.” The voice belonged to the long and thin face, who could tell what Han Li was thinking. From his tone, Han Li could hear undisguised hints of envy mixing with jealousy.
“Hmmph, isn’t Wu Yan just pulling strings and depending on his family’s connections? If it wasn’t for his older cousin being married to Sect Leader Ma, how could he be selected as a core disciple with such meager skill? He already surpassed the age limit but he was still sent to the Seven Supreme Division,” the senior said in a freezing tone that was comparable to a cold wind on a winter day.
“Zhang Jun, have you gone mad? How dare you gossip about the Sect Leader’s decisions? If this news was spread, both of us could suffer from cruel punishments and end up in dire straits!” After hearing Zhang Jun’s words, the other senior with the long and thin face felt shock in his heart and rapidly checked his surroundings to make sure no one heard Zhang Jun. Only after discovering that there were no other disciples did he heave a sigh of relief.
The senior with the cold countenance snorted as if he were harboring hatred in his heart, but after Wu Ming Rui’s warning, he stopped talking. Only then did Han Li understand that the senior with the cold countenance was Zhang Jun. Listening to their conversation, Han Li could roughly understand what they were talking about. Wu Yan entered the Seven Supreme Division, not because of his own skills, but because he had the backing of the Sect Leader!
As they walked along the mountain path, these two seniors both thought of the sect’s internal affairs, which filled them with sadness. Lacking the mood to converse, they silently led the children forward. The rest of the children also dared not speak out of turn; perhaps they were thinking of the differences between the Seven Mysteries Sect and their hometowns.
Just as they were passing through a forested region, a sixty year-old man emerged from the woods. He was tall and thin with a yellow tinge to his skin and a head full of white hair. As he approached them, he coughed with every step, causing many of them to worry that he was suffering a great deal and could collapse at any moment.
The senior disciples, upon seeing this old man, did not show a trace of worry on their faces. Instead, they respectfully greeted the old man with a bow.
“Doctor Mo, this disciple greets you. Is there anything that you need this disciple to handle?” Zhang Jun, unlike his previously cold demeanor, now had an expression full of respect. To Zhang Jun, this old man in front of him was worthy of more respect than Division Head and even the Sect Leader.
“Oh, is this the latest batch of disciples?” The old man continued coughing and asked with a hoarse voice.
“Yes, among the eight of them, six are official Inner Disciples and two are Unofficial Disciples,” responded Zhang Jun.
“Coincidentally, I’m currently in need of some manpower, specifically an alchemy apprentice and an herb gatherer. Let these two follow me instead.” Doctor Mo randomly raise his finger and pointed, just as luck would have it, towards Han Li and Zhang Tie, the two Unofficial Disciples.
“This disciple will obey your words. These two Unofficial Disciples actually caught eyes of the esteemed Doctor Mo, their karma must be exceptional…The two of you, why are you still standing there? Hurry and come to pay your respects to Doctor Mo. If you are able to learn a thing or two about the arts of healing from this esteemed elder, you will be extremely fortunate.” The two seniors had no traces of hesitation or objection on their face. The senior with the long and thin face, Wu Ming Rui, flattered Doctor Mo in order to curry favor with him.
Han Li and Zhang Tie, upon seeing the two senior disciples’ sudden change of heart, had no objections. They could only accept in silence and follow the old man into the forest.
Doctor Mo led the two of them down a small path that meandered through the forest. The path turned east and west before suddenly stopping in front of an entrance leading to a luscious green valley.
On the left side of the valley was a courtyard used for farming medicinal herbs that emitted a fragrant smell into the air. After they entered the courtyard, Han Li spotted many herbs that were unknown to him. On the right side of the valley were lines of houses in various sizes. Looking in all four directions, Han Li saw no exit besides the gateway from which they entered.
“This valley is called the God Hand Valley. Other disciples will not dare enter this valley unless they are suffering from injuries.” The old man stood in the middle of the line of houses and pointed to a smaller house. “For now, this will be your home. Rest and replenish your energy. When night falls, look for me in my house so I can inform you about several things.”
“The two of you can call me Old Mo.” The old man huffed and considered for a moment before saying:
“Doctor Mo is also acceptable.”
After speaking, Doctor Mo ignored the two of them and slowly walked towards an impressive looking house, coughing with each step.
Completely exhausted, Han Li did not bother to check with Zhang Tie before entering the house and selecting a bed to fall asleep on. He was satisfied, because, at this moment, he was halfway to becoming an Inner Disciple of the Seven Mysteries Sect.
Edited and proofread by audiowuxia.
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