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A Will Eternal

A Will Eternal

Chapter 1: I’m Bai Xiaochun

Mount Hood lay in the Eastwood Mountain Range, and at its base was a quaint little village. The villagers there lived off the land, and didn’t have much to do with the outside world.

Currently it was dawn, and the villagers were congregated at the village gate to see off a young man of fifteen or sixteen years of age. He seemed thin and weak, but had a healthy, fair complexion, and an overall charming appearance. He wore an ordinary green robe that had apparently been washed so many times it was nearly worn through. Something about the way he was dressed, plus the innocent look in his eyes, made him seem exceptionally quick-witted.

His name was Bai Xiaochun.

“Dear elders and fellow villagers,” he said, “I am on my way to learn about immortal cultivation. I shall miss all of you!” The young man wore a slightly pained expression, as if he couldn’t bear to part with his fellow villagers. This made him look even more charming than before. 

The surrounding villagers exchanged glances, shrugged helplessly, and then pretended to look even more reluctant to see him leave.

A white-haired old man stepped out of the crowd and said, “Xiaochun, ever since your dad and mom left us, oh so long ago, you… you have been, er–” he paused for a moment “–such a good kid!!” Seeing that Bai Xiaochun hadn’t left yet, he continued, “Don’t tell me you’re not interested in living forever? All you have to do is become an immortal, and then you can live forever! That’s a really, really long time! Well, it’s time for you to leave now. Even a baby eagle must learn to fly eventually. No matter what situations you run into out there, you have to hang in there and keep moving forward. Once you leave the village, you can’t come back, because your path will always lie ahead, not behind!

The old man patted Bai Xiaochun kindly on the shoulder.

“Live forever….” Bai Xiaochun murmured. A tremor ran through him, and a look of determination slowly filled his eyes. Under the encouraging gazes of the old man and the other villagers, he nodded his head seriously and looked around at everyone one last time. Finally, he turned and walked away from the village.

As he disappeared off into the distance, the villagers started to look more and more excited. Their forlorn expressions turned to those of joy, and the kind-faced old man began to tremble. Tears even streamed down his face.

“Justice from the heavens! The weasel… is finally gone! Who was it that told him they saw an immortal in the area? Whoever it was, I’m going to give you a huge reward on behalf of the village!” 

The village was soon echoing with cries of rejoicing. Some people even took out gongs and drums and began banging them excitedly.

“The weasel is gone,” someone said, “but oh, my poor chickens. He hated the roosters crowing at dawn, so he somehow got all the kids in the village to eat every chicken we had….”

“Today is the beginning of a new era!”

By this point, Bai Xiaochun was still fairly close to the village, and could actually hear the sounds of the gongs and drums. He even caught wind of some of the cries of excitement.

He stopped in his tracks, a strange expression on his face. After a moment, he cleared his throat and proceeded on his way. Accompanied by the faint sounds of rejoicing, he began to make his way toward Mount Hood.

Mount Hood wasn’t a very tall mountain, but it was covered with thick vegetation. Therefore, despite the fact that it was dawn, beneath the trees, it was dark and quiet.

“Double-Dog told me that he was hunting some wild pigs a few days ago and saw an immortal flying around….” Bai Xiaochun proceeded along, heart thumping. Suddenly, a rustling sound could be heard from some nearby shrubs. It almost sounded like a wild pig, and it immediately caused Bai Xiaochun to grow extremely nervous. The hair on the back of his neck stood up straight as he asked, “Who is it? Who’s there?!”

He quickly pulled four axes and six machetes out of his travel pack, but that in and of itself didn’t make him feel much safer, so he also produced a bit of black incense from within his robe, which he clutched tightly in his left hand.

“Don’t come out!” he shouted, trembling. “Don’t even think about coming out! I’ve got axes and machetes, and this incense can call lightning from the heavens, and even summon immortals! If you dare to show your face, you’re dead!” Finally, he turned and ran toward the mountain path, simultaneously juggling all of the various weapons in his hands. Clanking sounds could eventually be heard as axes and machetes began to fall to the ground left and right.

Perhaps whatever it was that had been rustling around in the shrubbery really did end up getting frightened by him. The sounds ceased, and no wild animal burst out of the bushes. Bai Xiaochun hurried toward the mountain, wiping the sweat from his brow. By this point, his face was pale, and he was almost considering giving up this crazy idea of climbing the mountain, but then he thought about the incense stick, which his parents had handed down to him before they died. Supposedly, it had been passed down from their ancestors, a gift bestowed by a down-and-out immortal they had saved. Before departing, the immortal had given it to them to pay back the kindness they had shown. Furthermore, the immortal had even promised to take a member of the Bai Clan as a disciple. He told them that merely burning the incense stick would summon him to their side.

Bai Xiaochun had actually lit the incense stick more than ten times in the past few years, and yet, no immortal had ever shown up. It had eventually reached the point that Bai Xiaochun was starting to suspect whether or not the story about the immortal was even true. Finally, he’d resolved to climb the mountain. For one thing, the incense stick was almost used up, and also, there was the matter of the flying immortal being sighted recently.

And that was how he ended up in his current situation. His theory was that if he could get a bit closer to the immortal, then perhaps it would be easier for that immortal to sense the incense stick.

Standing in front of the mountain, he hesitated for a moment, then gritted his teeth and decided to keep going. Thankfully, the mountain wasn’t very high, and it didn’t take long to reach the peak, where he stopped, panting. He looked at the village down below, and an emotional expression appeared on his face. Then he glanced at the finger-nail sized bit of black incense. It had clearly been burned on numerous occasions, and was almost completely used up.

“It’s been three years. Bless me, mom and dad. It has to work this time!” Bai Xiaochun took a deep breath, and then carefully lit the incense. A stiff breeze instantly kicked up, and in the blink of an eye, dark clouds filled the sky. Lightning crackled, and deafening thunder boomed in his ears.

The majesty of the entire scene caused Bai Xiaochun to tremble, fearful that he might be killed by the lightning. He very nearly spit on the incense to extinguish it, but managed to hold back.

“I’ve lit this incense twelve times in the past three years, and this is the thirteenth time. I have to let it burn! Come on, Xiaochun! The lightning won’t kill you. At least probably not….” All twelve times that he had lit the incense in the past, there had been lightning and thunder, and yet no immortal had ever appeared. Each time, he had gotten so scared that he spit on the incense to put it out. He actually found it a bit strange that a supposedly immortal stick of incense could be extinguished with some ordinary saliva.

Bai Xiaochun sat there shaking in fear as the thunder boomed around him. Suddenly, a streak of light appeared in the air off in the distance.

It was a middle-aged man wearing luxurious clothing. He had the demeanor of a transcendent being, yet he looked weary and travel-worn. In fact, if you looked closely, his eyes seemed to flicker with extreme exhaustion.

“Finally I can see exactly what moron has been lighting that incense stick all the time for the past three years!”

Every time the man thought about what he had experienced during the past few years, he got extremely annoyed. Three years ago, he had sensed the medicinal aura of an incense stick he had given away back when he was in the Qi Condensation stage. That immediately caused him to recall the debt he owed back in the mortal world.

The first time he flew out in response to the incense stick being lit, he had assumed it would be a simple matter of heading out and then immediately returning. He had never imagined that before even being able to find the incense, its aura would suddenly vanish, severing his connection to it. If it had happened only once, it wouldn’t have been a big deal. However, over the course of three years, the aura had appeared more than ten times.

Over and over again his search was interrupted, ensuring that he was constantly leaving his sect and then going back. Back and forth, back and forth. It was torment.

As he closed in on Mount Hood, he caught sight of Bai Xiaochun. Fuming with numerous frustrations, the man landed on the mountain top and waved his hand, instantly extinguishing the sputtering incense stick.

The thunder ceased, and Bai Xiaochun stared at the man in shock.

“Are you an immortal?” Bai Xiaochun asked cautiously. Still unsure about what exactly was going on, he slipped his hand behind his back and grabbed an axe.

“You may call me Li Qinghou. Are you from the Bai Clan?” The middle-aged cultivator’s eyes shone like lightning as he measured up Bai Xiaochun, ignoring the axe behind his back. To him, Bai Xiaochun seemed delicate, almost pretty, and reminded him of his old friend from years ago. Furthermore, his latent talent seemed suitable. Li Qinghou’s anger gradually began to fade. 

Bai Xiaochun blinked a few times. Although he was still a bit scared, he sat up straight and quietly said, “Junior most definitely is from the Bai Clan. I’m Bai Xiaochun.”

“Alright, well tell me this,” Li Qinghou said, his voice cool. “Why did you light that incense so many times over the past three years!?” He very much wanted to know the answer to this question.

As soon as Bai Xiaochun heard the question, his mind spun as he tried to come up with a good answer. Finally, a melancholic expression appeared on his face, and he looked down toward the village at the bottom of the mountain.

“Junior is a sentimental and righteous person,” he said. “I simply couldn’t bear to part with my fellow villagers. Every time I lit the incense, I was overwhelmed with feelings of sorrow. The mere thought of leaving them behind was far too painful.”

Li Qinghou stared in shock. He had never considered such a possibility, and as such, the anger in his heart faded even more. He could tell from this young man’s words alone that he was definitely good material.

However, the next thing he did was send his divine sense down toward the village, and he heard the sounds of drums and gongs and rejoicing. He even heard the villagers talking about how glad they were that ‘the weasel’ was gone. An unsightly expression appeared on his face, and he felt a headache coming on. He looked back at the charming and pure Bai Xiaochun, who seemed like he wouldn’t hurt a fly, and suddenly realized that this kid was a villain to the core.

“Tell me the truth!” Li Qinghou said, his voice echoing like thunder. Bai Xiaochun was so frightened that he started shaking.

“Hey, you can’t blame me!” Bai Xiaochun said, sounding very miserable. “What kind of crappy incense is this anyway!? Every time I lit it, lightning would start crashing around everywhere! I almost got killed on several occasions! In fact, avoiding that lightning thirteen times was quite a feat!”

Li Qinghou looked silently at Bai Xiaochun.

“If you were so scared, then why did you light it over ten times?!” he asked.

“’Cuz I’m scared of dying!” Bai Xiaochun replied indignantly. “Isn’t the point of immortal cultivation to be able to live forever? I want to live forever!”

Li Qinghou was once again struck speechless. However, he found the kid’s fascination with living forever laudable, and realized that his personality might change a bit after some hard training in the sect.

After a moment of thought, he waved his sleeve, sweeping Bai Xiaochun up into a beam of light that shot off into the distance.

“Alright, come with me,” he said.

“Where are we going?” asked Bai Xiaochun, suddenly realizing that they were flying. “Ah, we’re so high….” The ground was very, very far down, causing the blood to drain from his face. He immediately dropped his axe and grabbed onto the Immortal’s leg.

Li Qinghou looked down at him clutching his leg. Feeling a bit at a loss, he replied, “The Spirit Stream Sect.”

Chapter 2: The Ovens Deathblade’s Thoughts

The Spirit Stream Sect was located in the Eastwood Continent on the lower branch of the Heavenspan River, and was divided between the north and south banks. Its history stretched back countless years, and was very famous in the area.

Eight enormous cloud-wreathed mountains towered over the Heavenspan River. Four of those mountains were located on the north bank of the river, whereas three were on the south bank. Shockingly, one mountain, the most majestic of them all, rose up from the middle of the river itself.

The entire top half of that mountain was covered with brilliant white snow, and rose up so high that the peak of the mountain wasn’t even visible. The middle of the mountain had been hollowed out, allowing the golden river water to flow right through it, and causing the mountain itself to somewhat resemble a bridge.

Currently, a beam of light was speeding along near the south bank of the Spirit Stream Sect. It was none other than Li Qinghou and Bai Xiaochun. As they raced into the servants’ quarters beneath the third peak, it was just possible to hear Bai Xiaochun shouting out in fear.

He was scared to death from all the flying. They had passed over countless mountains, and the entire time, he had felt like he was losing his grip on Li Qinghou’s leg.

Eventually, everything turned into a blur. When everything finally became clear again, he realized that they had landed just outside of a building. He stood there, legs trembling, looking around at a scene that was very different from what he was used to back at the village.

Towering up in front of the building was a huge stone, upon which three characters were written in flamboyant calligraphy.

Department of Servant Affairs.

Sitting next to the stone was a pock-faced woman. As soon as she caught sight of Li Qinghou, she rose to her feet and clasped hands in greeting.

“Send this kid to the Ovens,” Li Qinghou said. Without another word, and paying no further heed to Bai Xiaochun, he then transformed into a beam of light that shot off into the distance.

When the pock-faced woman heard him mention the Ovens, she stared in shock. She looked Bai Xiaochun over, then handed him a bag which contained a servant’s uniform and other items. Face expressionless, led him away from the building toward a nearby path, simultaneously explaining some of the basic sect rules and customs. The path was paved with green limestone, and wound through numerous buildings and courtyards. The fragrant aroma of plants and flowers filled the air, and the entire place seemed like a celestial paradise. As he looked around, Bai Xiaochun’s heart began to thump with excitement, and his previous nervousness and anxiety began to fade.

“This place is awesome,” he thought. “It’s way better than the village!” His eyes shone with anticipation as he followed the woman along. The scenery only continued to get more and more spectacular. He even saw some beautiful women along the way, which instantly caused his heart to surge with delight.

Soon, Bai Xiaochun got even more excited. That was because he caught sight of what appeared to be their destination; at the end of the path was a seven-story building that sparkled like crystal. There were even celestial cranes soaring in the air above it.

“Are we there yet, Elder Sister?” Bai Xiaochun asked excitedly.

“Yes,” she replied coolly, her face as expressionless as ever. She pointed to a small path off to the side. “That’s where we’re going.”

Bai Xiaochun looked in the direction she was pointing, heart bursting with anticipation. But then, his entire body went stiff, and he rubbed his eyes. He looked again, a bit more closely, and saw a gravel path lined by haphazardly-constructed thatch-roofed huts that looked like they might disintegrate at any moment. A strange aroma wafted out from the area.

Bai Xiaochun wanted to cry, but no tears would come. Still clinging to a scrap of hope, he asked the pock-faced woman another question.

“Elder Sister, did you point in the wrong direction just now?”

“Nope,” she replied coolly, stepping onto the gravel path. When Bai Xiaochun heard her response, all of the beauty of the place seemed to disappear. A bitter expression appeared on his face as he continued to follow her.

Before long, he caught sight of the end of the decrepit path, where he saw several huge black woks running around. After a moment, he realized that the woks were actually attached to the backs of several incredibly fat young men. These young men were so obese that it seemed like squeezing them would cause pure fat to ooze out. One of them was even fatter than the others, so fat that he looked like a mountain of flesh. Bai Xiaochun was even worried that the man might explode from being so fat. 

The entire area was filled with hundreds of huge cooking woks, within which fat men were boiling rice.

Sensing that someone had approached, the young men looked up and saw the pock-faced woman. The fattest of the young men, the one who looked like a mountain of flesh, hefted his ladle and hurried over. The ground trembled as he walked, and his fat bounced and jiggled in a way that made Bai Xiaochun stare in shock. Without even thinking about it, he began to feel around for an axe.

“The magpies were singing especially beautiful songs this morning, and now I know why,” the mountain of flesh cried out as he ran over. His eyes flickered with a lustful gleam. “It was all because you were coming, big sis. Could it be that you’ve changed your mind? You finally realized how talented I am, and want to take advantage of this auspicious day to formally become my Daoist partner?”

The pock-faced woman looked at the mountain of flesh with both disgust and anger.

“I’m just here to deliver this kid to the Ovens,” she said. “Task accomplished. I’ll take my leave now!” Then she hurried off.

Bai Xiaochun gasped. He had taken the time to check out the woman on their way here, and she really looked like a freak. He couldn’t help but wonder what kind of taste this fat man had. Apparently even someone with a face like hers got him all hot and bothered.

Before Bai Xiaochun could consider the matter any more, the mountain of flesh was suddenly standing in front of him, panting a bit. The young man was so huge that Bai Xiaochun found himself completely covered by his shadow.

Bai Xiaochun looked up at the enormous young man and his quivering rolls of flesh, and swallowed hard. This was actually his first time ever seeing someone so fat.

The mountain of flesh glanced resentfully at the pock-faced woman, who was making her way back up the gravel path, then looked back at Bai Xiaochun.

“Well well, we have a newcomer. We’d left a spot open for Xu Baocai to join, so this complicates matters.”

Bai Xiaochun felt nervous just looking at the young man’s enormity, and subconsciously took a few steps back. “Elder Brother, I am your humble… er, humble servant Bai Xiaochun….”

“Bai Xiaochun? Hmm…. White skin, slender and dainty. You look pretty innocent. Excellent, excellent. Your name really fits my taste.” The mountain of flesh looked him over, then clapped Bai Xiaochun on the shoulder, which very nearly sent Bai Xiaochun flying off to the side.

“Uh, what’s your name, Elder Brother?” Bai Xiaochun took a deep breath and looked up thoughtfully as he prepared to make fun of the young man’s name.

The mountain of flesh chuckled and slapped his chest, causing the fat to ripple back and forth. “I’m Big Fatty Zhang. That’s Second Fatty Huang, and that’s Third Fatty Hei…”

As soon as Bai Xiaochun heard these incredibly stirring names, he abandoned any plans to make fun of them.

“As for you,” Big Fatty Zhang continued, “from now on, you’ll be Ninth Fatty Bai! Er…. Wait a second, Junior Brother. You’re way too skinny! If you go around looking like that, you’ll lose face for the Ovens! Well, I guess that doesn’t matter for now. Don’t worry. After a few years, you’ll get fat too. Then we’ll call you Ninth Fatty Bai.”

When Bai Xiaochun heard the nickname Ninth Fatty Bai, he grimaced.

“Well, since you’re already our Ninth Junior Brother, you don’t count as an outsider any more. Here in the Ovens, we have a long-standing tradition of carrying woks on our backs. See this wok here on my back?” He slapped the wok and continued boastfully: “It’s the king of woks, forged from the highest quality iron and engraved with an earthflame spell formation. When you use this wok to cook up spirit rice, the flavor is far, far better than the rice cooked in any other wok. By the way, you’ll have to choose a wok to carry on your back, too. Then you’ll look really impressive.”

Glancing at Big Fatty Zhang’s wok, and realizing that everyone else in the Ovens was similarly adorned, Bai Xiaochun suddenly got an image of himself walking around in such a fashion.

“Elder Brother,” he blurted, “is it possible to opt out of the wok-carrying thing…?”

“Are you kidding me? Wok-carrying is an important tradition in the Ovens! Later on when you’re out in the sect, people will see the wok on your back and instantly recognize that you’re from the Ovens! Once they know that, they won’t dare to pick on you. The Ovens has a lot of influence around here, you know!” Big Fatty Zhang winked at Bai Xiaochun. Allowing no further discussion of the matter, he led Bai Xiaochun to one of the thatch-roofed huts, within which were stacks of thousands of woks, most of which were covered in layers of dust. Clearly, no one had been in here for quite some time.

“Go ahead and pick one, Ninth Junior Brother, then come on over and help tend to the rice. If the rice burns, then the Outer Sect disciples will make a scene again.” With that Big Fatty Zhang turned and ran back to join the other fat men as they hustled and bustled among the more than one hundred cooking woks.

Sighing in despair, Bai Xiaochun looked over the woks, and was agonizing over which one to pick when he suddenly noticed one particular wok off in the corner, buried under a big pile.

It was a unique wok that, instead of being circular, was shaped like an oval. It almost didn’t even look like an oval, but rather, like a turtle shell. There were also some faint markings visible on its surface.

“Eee?” Bai Xiaochun’s eyes brightened, and he quickly walked over and squatted down to look at the wok more closely. After dragging it out and examining it further, his eyes began to shine with satisfaction.

He had been fond of turtles ever since he was young, mostly because they represented longevity. Considering that he had come to learn about immortal cultivation for the purposes of living forever, as soon as his saw the turtle-shell wok, he knew that it was an auspicious sign, a good omen.

After he emerged with the wok, Big Fatty Zhang caught sight of him and hurried over, ladle in hand.

“Ninth Junior Brother, why did you pick that one?” he asked sincerely, rubbing his ample belly. “That wok has been in there for years, and nobody has ever used it, mainly because it looks like a turtle shell and people don’t want to put it on their backs. Umm… are you sure, Ninth Junior Brother?”

“I’m sure.” Bai Xiaochun said resolutely, looking fondly at the wok. “This is the wok for me.”

Big Fatty Zhang tried to dissuade him some more, but eventually realized that Bai Xiaochun had made up his mind. Finally, he gave him a strange look and stopped trying. After assigning him one of the Ovens’ thatch-roofed huts for housing, he went back to work.

Soon, dusk had fallen. Bai Xiaochun sat in his thatch-roofed hut, examining the turtle-shaped wok. One thing that stuck out to him were the designs traced on the back of the wok, which were so faint that you wouldn’t see them unless you looked closely.

He could instantly tell that this was no ordinary wok. Carefully putting it on the stove, he looked around the little hut. It was very simple. In addition to the stove, it had a bed, a desk, and an ordinary copper mirror hanging on the wall. As Bai Xiaochun had his head turned to look around, the seemingly-ordinary wok behind him suddenly emitted a flash of violet light!

As far as Bai Xiaochun was concerned, this had been a day packed with all sorts of momentous events. He had finally arrived in the land of his dreams, a world of immortals. At the moment, he was still in a bit of a daze.

After a bit of time passed, he took a deep breath, and his eyes began to shine with anticipation.

“I’m gonna live forever!” As he sat there, he pulled out the bag which the pock-faced woman had given him.

Inside the bag was a medicinal pill, a wooden sword, some incense, a servant’s uniform, and a command medallion. Finally, there was a bamboo scroll with several small characters written on the cover.

“Violet Qi Cauldron Control Art. Qi Condensation Manual.”

It was evening, and Big Fatty Zhang and the others in the Ovens were bustling about. Meanwhile, Bai Xiaochun was looking at the bamboo scroll, eyes shining with anticipation. He had come here in order to learn how to live forever, and he held the key to achieving that goal in his hands right now. After taking a deep breath, he opened the scroll.

Moments later, his eyes were gleaming with excitement. The bamboo scroll had three pictures, and accompanying text that described how cultivation was divided into two stages of Qi Condensation and Foundation Establishment. As far as the Violet Qi Cauldron Control Art, it was divided into ten levels, each of which corresponded to the ten levels of Qi Condensation.

By practicing cultivation to a given level, it was possible to exercise control over physical objects. After reaching the third level, you could control half of a small cauldron. At the sixth level, it became half of a large cauldron. At the ninth level, it was a full cauldron. As for the final full circle, you could actually control two full cauldrons.

Unfortunately, this scroll only described up to the third level of the art, with no further information about the subsequent levels. The key to the whole thing was cultivation, using a prescribed set of breathing techniques to develop the Violet Qi Cauldron Control Art.

Bai Xiaochun cleared his mind and began to regulate his breathing. Then he closed his eyes and imitated the posture depicted in the first picture in the bamboo scroll. He was able to hold on for three breaths of time before intense pain filled him. Finally, he let out a shout and gave up. From what he could tell, using this breathing technique actually sucked all the air out of him, making it impossible to actually breathe.

“This is way too hard,” he thought. “According to the description under the picture, when you practice this kind of cultivation, you should be able to sense a strand of qi flowing through you. Just now, though, the only thing I felt was intense pain.” He was starting to get frustrated. However, for the sake of living forever, he gritted his teeth and tried again. He repeated the process over and over again until it was the middle of the night. During that entire time, he never once sensed any sort of qi in his body.

He had no way of knowing it, but even someone with exceptional latent talent who tried to cultivate the first level of the Violet Qi Cauldron Control Art would need at least a month to succeed, unless they had some outside help. Considering that, it was simply impossible that he could have succeeded after only a few hours.

Body aching painfully, Bai Xiaochun finally stretched, and was about to go wash his face when, all of a sudden, he heard a commotion outside. He stuck his head out of the window and immediately caught sight of a sallow-faced young man standing in the door of the main courtyard of the Ovens. He looked angry.

“I’m Xu Baocai! Whoever it was that took my spot here, get the hell out here right now!”

Chapter 3: Six Lines of Truth

The motion of Bai Xiaochun sticking his head out of the window instantly attracted the attention of the sallow-faced young man. Enraged, he yelled, “So, you’re the guy who took my spot!”

It was too late for Bai Xiaochun to duck his head back into the window. He immediately pasted an innocent expression onto his face and said, “No, it wasn’t me!”

“Liar! You’re so skinny and short, you’re obviously a newbie here!” Xu Baocai clenched his hands into fists and stared furiously at Bai Xiaochun. He was so angry that he looked like he might explode at any moment.

Feeling quite wronged, Bai Xiaochun peeped: “It really had nothing to do with me!”

“I don’t care! Three days from now on the southern slope of the sect, you and I are gonna have a fight to the death! If you win, then I’ll have no choice other than to suck it up. If you lose, then I get my spot back.” Xu Baocai shoved his hand into his robe and pulled out a blood notice, which he threw onto Bai Xiaochun’s window sill. The notice was covered with countless versions of the character “DIE,” all of them written in blood.

Bai Xiaochun looked down at all the “DIE” characters and couldn’t miss the killing intent roiling off of them. His heart went cold. Then he remembered that Xu Baocai had just mentioned a ‘fight to the death,’ and he gasped.

“Elder Brother, this isn’t that big a deal! Why did you have to go and use your own blood to write so many characters? Didn’t it… hurt?”

“Not a big deal?!” Xu Baocai roared, gnashing his teeth. “Humph! I’ve been living frugally for ages. I saved up spirit stones for seven years! Seven years, do you hear me!?!? Only then could I afford to bribe the honor guard into getting me a spot in the Ovens! Then you decide to stick your foot into the door? This enmity will never be reconciled! Three days from now is the day you die!”

“I think I’ll pass,” Bai Xiaochun said, picking up the blood notice gingerly between his thumb and forefinger, and then tossing it out the window.

“YOU!” raged Xu Baocai. Suddenly, he felt the ground shaking, and he realized that there was a mountain of flesh standing there next to him. It was hard to say how long Big Fatty Zhang had been standing there, but there he was, off to the side, coldly measuring up Xu Baocai.

“Ninth Fatty,” he said, addressing Bai Xiaochun, “you’re on dish duty with Second Brother.” Then he looked back at Xu Baocai. “As for you, stop causing such a ruckus! Get your ass out of here!” He swept his ladle through the air threateningly, causing a gust of wind to spring up.

Xu Baocai’s face fell, and he backed up several steps. He wanted to keep arguing, but seeing the impatient look on Big Fatty Zhang’s face, he shot a venomous look at Bai Xiaochun, then stalked off.

As Bai Xiaochun thought about it, he realized that considering the vicious look Xu Baocai had given him, he was certain to pop up again at some point. Therefore, the best thing to do in this situation would be to stay put in the Ovens. Most likely, Xu Baocai wouldn’t dare to come back there and cause trouble.

Days passed. Bai Xiaochun slowly got used to working in the Ovens during the day, and cultivating the Violet Qi Cauldron Control Art at night. However, progress was slow. Eventually he got to the point where he could endure for four breaths of time, but no more, leaving him very frustrated.

On one particular night in the middle of his cultivation session, he suddenly heard a big commotion among the fat Elder Brothers.

“Close the gate, close the gate! Hurry up, Second Fatty Huang, close that gate!”

“Third Fatty Hei, check and see if anyone is spying on us. Quickly!”

Bai Xiaochun blinked in shock. Having learned from his previous mistake, he avoided the window and peeked through a crack in the door. What he saw was a bunch of fatties bustling around the courtyard so fast they were almost flying.

Moments later, the main gate to the Ovens was closed tightly. Furthermore, for some reason, a light mist had sprung up, making the fatties look even more mysterious than ever.

Bai Xiaochun watched the scene playing out. The fatties were now hustling over to one particular thatched hut. Despite all the mist, Bai Xiaochun could clearly see Big Fatty Zhang’s formidable frame, and he seemed to be speaking to the others. The whole scene was very odd, so Bai Xiaochun began to edge away from the door in an attempt to pretend he hadn’t seen anything at all.

However, it was at that exact point that Big Fatty Zhang’s voice echoed out: “Ninth Fatty, I know you’re watching. Get out here!” Although he didn’t speak very loud, his voice instantly weighed down on Bai Xiaochun.

Bai Xiaochun blinked a few times, then slowly walked out the door, putting on the innocent expression of a person who wasn’t capable of even hurting a fly.

As soon as he neared the group of fatties, Big Fatty Zhang grabbed him and pulled him over to stand among them. Almost immediately, Bai Xiaochun caught a whiff of some unique aroma, something that instantly caused a warm feeling to spread throughout his body.

He looked around at the others, and saw that they all had euphoric expressions on their faces. For some reason, he also felt enlivened. It was then that he noticed that Big Fatty Zhang was holding a magical mushroom in his hand. It was about the size of an infant’s hand, and as translucent as crystal; all it took was a single glance, and anyone could tell that it was no ordinary item.

Big Fatty Zhang looked over at Bai Xiaochun, then held out the mushroom and gruffly said, “Come on, Ninth Junior Brother, take a bite.”

“Uhh…” replied Bai Xiaochun, eying the magical mushroom. Then he looked around at all the fat Elder Brothers, and hesitated. Big Fatty Zhang instantly got irritated. From the look on his face, if Bai Xiaochun didn’t eat the mushroom, the two of them would become enemies.

It wasn’t just him. Second Fatty Huang, Third Fatty Hei, and all the others were all glaring at Bai Xiaochun.

Bai Xiaochun swallowed hard. Even in his wildest dreams, he would never have imagined himself in a situation where people would flip out in anger if he didn’t take a bite of a priceless magical mushroom, as if it were nothing more than a chicken leg. And yet, that was exactly what was happening right in front of his very eyes.

Bai Xiaochun’s heart was thumping as he gritted his teeth and accepted the magical mushroom. Finally, he opened his mouth and took a big bite. The mushroom instantly dissolved in his mouth, causing a wonderful sensation to fill his body, something many times more intense than what he had experienced moments before when merely smelling it. Almost instantly, his face flushed bright red.

“Excellent. Elder Sun demanded that we use this hundred-year-old magical mushroom in a soup. If we all take a bite, then we’ll have to sink or swim together!” Big Fatty Zhang looked extremely content as he opened his mouth and took a nibble. Then he tossed the mushroom to the next fatty in line, and soon, all of them were munching on mushroom flesh. Now that they were all chewing together, the group smiled at Bai Xiaochun as if he were now one of them.

Bai Xiaochun chuckled as he realized that all these guys were essentially partners in crime. Furthermore, considering they had gotten so fat this way, it probably wasn’t dangerous to join them. It was little wonder Xu Baocai had given him a challenge notice with the word “DIE” written on it so many times….

“Elder Brother,” Bai Xiaochun said, “that magical mushroom was scrumptious! I feel like my whole body’s on fire!” He licked his lips and looked impatiently at Big Fatty Zhang.

In response, Big Fatty Zhang’s eyes began to shine brightly. With a hearty laugh, he flamboyantly pulled out a sealwort flower, which he handed to Bai Xiaochun.

“Now do you see how amazing the Ovens is, Junior Brother? I wasn’t lying! Alright, eat up. Eat till you’re stuffed!”

Bai Xiaochun’s eyes began to shine as he took a big bite. Next, Big Fatty Zhang pulled out some sort of natural precious material, something that looked like a golden jewel, which emanated a fragrant aroma.

Bai Xiaochun needed no prompting from Big Fatty Zhang. He immediately took a bite and swallowed it down. The tangy flavor filled him with a wonderful sensation. After that, Big Fatty Zhang produced an incredibly sweet red spirit fruit.

More items emerged. Magical mushrooms, various medicinal ingredients, spirit fruits and other precious items. Bai Xiaochun partook of them all, as did the other fatties. He ate so much that soon, his head was spinning. He almost felt drunk, his body hot and burning to the point where white steam rose up from the top of his head. He already felt as fat as a ball.

The more he ate, the more kindly Big Fatty Zhang and the others looked at him. In the end, they slapped their stomachs and laughed heartily, and they all truly seemed like partners in crime.

Head swimming, Bai Xiaochun stretched out his arms and legs. His hand landed on Big Fatty Zhang’s giant stomach, and his foot landed off to the side. He began to laugh along with the others.

“Other servant departments would kill to get one of their own into the Outer Sect. But we kill to make sure we stay out! Who wants to go there anyway? What’s so good about the Outer Sect, huh?” Big Fatty Zhang sounded very proud of this. As he finished speaking, he pulled out a ginseng root. The root itself had countless faintly visible age rings, and was covered with numerous rootlets. Clearly, this ginseng root was very old.

“Ninth Junior Brother, our cultivation bases are all strong enough that we could have become Outer Sect disciples a long time ago. However, we prefer to hide our true level. Look, there are Outer Sect disciples who would kill for the chance to get a single bite of a one-hundred-year-old ginseng root like this. Do we look scared?” Big Fatty Zhang subsequently plucked a rootlet off and popped it into his mouth, chewed, and swallowed. Then he handed the ginseng root to Bai Xiaochun.

Bai Xiaochun was so stuffed he almost couldn’t see straight. “Elder Brother, I’m full…. I really can’t eat another bite–”

Before he could even finish speaking, Big Fatty Zhang plucked off a rootlet and stuffed it into Bai Xiaochun’s mouth.

“Ninth Junior Brother, you’re far too skinny, so skinny that the girls in the sect won’t like you. In our sect, they like guys like us Brothers, stalwart and plump! Come on, eat….” Big Fatty Zhang let out a huge burp. Then he picked up a stack of empty bowls, simultaneously pointing to two scrolls hanging on either side of the nearby thatched hut, upon which was written a couplet. “Look, we have a saying here that goes I’d rather starve to death in the Ovens than struggle up the ladder in the Outer Sect.”

Bai Xiaochun looked over at the couplet and said, “Yeah, for sure! We all want to starve to death here! Uh… yeah, starve to death.”

Then he slapped his stomach and let out a burp.

Hearing this, Big Fatty Zhang and the others all started laughing. They all were finding Bai Xiaochun to be increasingly charming.

“Today is a great day,” Big Fatty Zhang said. “Ninth Junior Brother, I have something important to tell you. We have certain ways of doing things here in the Ovens, and to fit in, you need to memorize a certain mnemonic. Pay attention. Fruits and herbs of a magical nature; Nibble the edges but spare the stem; Slice the meat thin when there’s some to butcher; As for the bones leave some flesh on them; Spirit congee? Water it down until it’s thin; Fine wine? Half a cup will do you in.

“These six lines were compiled after years of suffering by previous generations. If you go about eating following these principles, then you’re guaranteed to be safe. Alright, let’s call it a night. Head to sleep everyone, today’s midnight snack is over. The Outer Sect disciples are still waiting for their soup.” As he spoke, Big Fatty Zhang began to fill the empty bowls with rice gruel.

Bai Xiaochun’s head was spinning, and he couldn’t stop thinking about the six lines of truth he had just been told. He looked over at Big Fatty Zhang and the others filling up the bowls, let out a burp, then squatted down to examine the bowls themselves. Then, his mouth turned up into a smile.

“Elder Brothers, these bowls are too nice.”

Big Fatty Zhang and the others looked back at him with strange expressions.

Looking as charming as ever, he chuckled and said, “At first glance, they don’t look very big, but can actually hold a lot of food. Why don’t we make them look big, but hold less food? For example, we could make the bottom of the bowls… thicker!”

Big Fatty Zhang stared in shock, as though he had just been struck by lightning. His rolls of fat then began to quiver, and his eyes began to shine brightly. The other fatties began to pant, and their fat also began to tremble.

All of a sudden a loud smacking sound rang out as Big Fatty Zhang slapped his thigh. Then he threw his head back and laughed uproariously.

“Yes, yes, YES! That’s an idea worth passing down! Future generations in the Ovens will all benefit from this! Ninth Junior Brother, I never imagined that someone as charming as you would actually be as crafty as this! Hahaha! You were born to be a part of the Ovens!”

Chapter 4: Spirit Enhancement

Everyone was in a wonderful mood, and were extremely pleased with Bai Xiaochun. Not only was he very charming, he seemed to have lots of crafty ideas. Big Fatty Zhang decided that a reward was in order, and pressed a grain of spirit rice into Bai Xiaochun’s hand.

Bai Xiaochun laughed happily as he staggered back to his room. Before he could climb in bed, all of the spiritual energy he had absorbed by eating the various precious materials suddenly burst out inside of him. His head spun, and he flopped face-first down onto the ground, where he immediately began snoring.

He slept wonderfully for the entire night. The following morning at dawn, when he opened his eyes, they shone brightly. He looked down to find that he was fatter than the day before. Furthermore, his skin was covered in a sticky layer of filth. When he hurried out to wash up, Big Fatty Zhang and the others were preparing breakfast for the sect disciples. When they saw Bai Xiaochun’s bedraggled appearance, they started laughing.

“Ninth Junior Brother, all that filth comes from the impurities in your body. Once you get rid of it, it will be much easier for you to practice cultivation. Take a few days off, we won’t need your help anyway. In a few days you can start working again.”

“Don’t forget about that grain of spirit rice! Eat it up quickly before it goes bad.”

“Sure thing,” Bai Xiaochun replied. Feeling quite energetic, he returned to his room and grabbed the turtle-shaped wok off of the stove. After filling it with water from the washroom, he returned and put it back on the stove. Then he pulled out the grain of spirit rice to examine it. It was about the size of his thumb, crystalline in appearance, and fragrantly aromatic.

“If immortals eat this stuff, then it must be incredible.” Sighing, he threw a few pieces of wood into the stove, then lit the fire. He was immediately hit by a blast of heat, which caused him to back up, blinking anxiously. Then he looked down at the fire and clicked his tongue.

“That’s no ordinary fire. It lights faster and also burns a lot hotter than the fire in the village.” Taking another look at the burning logs in the fire, he realized that they were not ordinary pieces of wood.

About this time, the fire began to burn even hotter than before, and Bai Xiaochun watched in amazement as one of the designs etched into the back of the turtle shell wok began to light up, starting at what appeared to be the tail of the turtle shell and ending where the head would be. Soon, the entire design was shining brightly.

Bai Xiaochun stared in amazement, then slapped his thigh.

“I knew it! This is some sort of treasure! It’s definitely way better than Eldest Brother’s wok!” More certain than ever that this wok was something extraordinary, Bai Xiaochun quickly tossed the grain of spirit rice into the water.

Then he sat off to the side with the Violet Qi Cauldron Control Art bamboo scroll. Emulating the movements and breathing techniques depicted in the first picture, he began to cultivate.

He had only just begun when, suddenly, his eyes went wide; the posture which had been so difficult to maintain just the day before, was now much easier to assume. In fact, he actually felt very comfortable, without the slightest sensation of awkwardness. In addition, the breathing technique no longer left him feeling as if he were suffocating. Instead, he felt a very pleasant sensation.

Furthermore, he was absolutely certain that before today he could only maintain the posture for about three or four breaths of time, but this time, after seven or eight breaths, he didn’t feel the least bit of pain or discomfort.

Suppressing his excitement, Bai Xiaochun calmly continued until thirty breaths of time had passed. Just when he was finally starting to feel weak and uncomfortable, a strand of qi suddenly appeared inside of him. It was very cold, and swirled around rapidly; before it could make a full circle through his body, it vanished. However, Bai Xiaochun was so excited he leapt to his feet.

“Qi! Hahaha! Finally some qi appeared!” Bursting with excitement, he began to pace back and forth in his room. He quickly came to the conclusion that it must have something to do with all the precious materials he had consumed the previous night. Suddenly he wished he had eaten more.

“No wonder Elder Brother Zhang would rather starve to death in the Ovens than go climb the ladder in the Outer Sect. Not even the Outer Sect disciples would have opportunities like this.” Sitting down anxiously, he once again began to practice cultivation.

This time, he was able to maintain the posture and breathing for a full sixty breaths of time. At that point, a flow of qi appeared in him, almost a trickle, that rapidly circulated through his body.

Having experienced this once before, he was ready, and began to guide the qi through a specific path, as indicated by the first picture in the bamboo scroll.

Soon, the qi was flowing through him in just the way he wanted. He maintained the posture and movements indicated in the first illustration, and as he did, he could sense streams of coldness emerging from various parts of his body, almost like drops of water, which merged into the qi flow, causing it to grow larger and larger.

In the end, it was like a tiny stream, flowing in a continuous cycle. A tremor ran through him, and it was as if a layer of fog had suddenly been stripped away from his mind. A rumbling sound echoed out from his body.

He suddenly felt lighter and more agile than before. At the same time, globules of filth were expelled from the pores all over his body.

Unlike last time, the stream of qi inside of him didn’t vanish, but instead, remained there, circulating through his body. Bai Xiaochun opened his eyes, and they shone even more brightly than before. His mind even seemed to move a bit quicker and his body felt lighter and faster.

“A permanent qi vessel,” he thought excitedly. “That’s the sign that I’ve successfully cultivated the first level of the Violet Qi Cauldron Control Art! It also means that I’ve reached that, what’s it called…? The first level of Qi Condensation!” Bai Xiaochun was overjoyed, and immediately ran to the washroom.

When Big Fatty Zhang and the others saw him, they exchanged knowing glances. Although they were a bit surprised that Bai Xiaochun had reached the first level so quickly, they all knew why it had happened.

After returning to his room, Bai Xiaochun took a deep breath, and then began to study the bamboo scroll more thoroughly.

“After cultivating the first level of the Violet Qi Cauldron Control Art, I should be able to control physical objects. Wow, this is basically an immortal magical technique. I should be able to shoot things through the air.” Eyes shining, he followed the instructions prescribed in the scroll, moving both hands together in a special way to perform an incantation. Then, he waved his finger at the nearby desk. Instantly, the stream inside of him surged like a bucking bronco, racing toward his right index finger and then out through the tip of his finger.

It turned into something like an invisible thread, which then attached itself to the nearby desk. However, almost as soon as it reached the desk, the connection grew unstable, and the thread disintegrated.

Bai Xiaochun’s face went pale. After a moment of recuperation, he reviewed what he had just done, then decided to give up on moving the desk. Instead, he pulled out the wooden sword from his bag and placed it on top of the desk. He wasn’t sure what type of wood the sword was made from, but despite being much lighter than the desk, it still seemed unusually heavy. He waved his finger toward it, and the wooden sword twitched, then slowly floated an inch up into the air before falling back down onto the desk.

Bai Xiaochun was anything but discouraged. After a few more excited attempts, he was able to get the sword to rise higher and higher. Soon it was ten inches, then twenty, then thirty…. By the time dusk fell, he could get the wooden sword to fly in a straight line. Although it wasn’t very fast, and he couldn’t quite make it turn, it wouldn’t fall down as easily as it had when he first started practicing.

“Henceforth, I, Bai Xiaochun, am an immortal!” He rose proudly to his feet, held his left hand behind his back, and then waved his right hand, causing the wooden sword to fly unsteadily back and forth in his room.

Eventually, his qi began to grow unstable, so he put the wooden sword away and continued to practice cultivation. Later, he caught wind of a fragrant aroma coming from the wok, causing him to raise his head and take a deep sniff. Suddenly feeling ravenous, he realized that he had been busy cultivating all day, and had completely forgotten about the spirit rice boiling in the wok. He immediately walked over and lifted the lid to look inside.

The moment he did, the strong, fragrant aroma of spirit rice wafted out. Furthermore, at some point during the process, a brilliant, glowing silver design had appeared on the surface of the rice!

The design was clearly visible, and when Bai Xiaochun looked at it closely, he suddenly felt lost within the light. After a while, though, the design began to fade. He narrowed his eyes, and after some more thought, picked up the grain of spirit rice and held it in his hand for a closer look.

“That design looks really familiar….” His eyes flickered with a thoughtful gleam. He ducked his head to look under the stove, and saw that the fire had long since burned out. The pieces of wood were nothing more than ash now, and the design on the wok had once again faded into obscurity.

However, he could still tell that the silver design on the grain of rice was the same design as the one on the back of the wok.

He decided not to continue to investigate the design, and to be safe, chose not to eat the rice for the time being. Instead, he put it into his bag, sat there for a moment in contemplation, then left his hut to help Big Fatty Zhang and the others.

Before long, half a month had passed. Bai Xiaochun’s cultivation progress had once again slowed down. However, after some discreet inquiries, he learned that silver designs never appeared on spirit rice when it was cooked.

His curiosity had definitely been piqued. The more he learned about it, the more it seemed that there was something special about this particular grain of rice, not to mention his wok, which seemed even stranger. A few days later, Third Fatty Hei left the Ovens to go purchase supplies, giving Bai Xiaochun the perfect opportunity to sneak into the Four Seas Room, a place where servants could get general information about cultivation.

On his way back to his hut, he did his best to conceal the excitement which filled his heart. After closing the door behind him, he immediately took out the grain of spirit rice and studied the silver design. Gradually, an expression of disbelief appeared on his face.

“When immortals practice cultivation, there are three skills they can’t do without. The first is medicine concocting, the second is equipment forging, and the third is spirit enhancement!” Bai Xiaochun thought back to the images he had dug up when searching through the ancient records in the Four Seas Room. One of them had closely resembled the silver design that was now visible on the grain of rice.

“Spirit enhancement!” After a moment, he took a long, deep breath.

Spirit enhancement was a special technique in which the energy of heaven and earth was forced into physical objects. It was a type of magic that essentially replaced the natural functions of nature, a technique which could be used on medicinal pills, incense, or magical items. Unfortunately, it was forbidden by heaven and earth, ensuring that the rate of success was limited. A success would lead to the item being vastly more powerful. A failure would result in the spiritual energy of the item becoming completely useless.

The most shocking thing about spirit enhancement was that it could be performed over and over again. Every success increased the effects of the spirit enhancement by tenfold, leading to heaven-shaking, earth-toppling transformations.

Of course, the more precious the item was to begin with, the more terrifying the results of success would be.

Unsurprisingly, the chances of success decreased with each enhancement. In fact, after a certain point, even some spirit enhancement grandmasters wouldn’t dare to go any further. After all, the ramifications of a failure in that case would be difficult to accept.

“The ancient records said that the Spirit Stream Sect’s guardian treasure is an item that was somehow enhanced ten times by spirit enhancement. The Heavenhorn Sword!” Bai Xiaochun’s throat felt dry. Eyes shining with disbelief and confusion, he swallowed and looked over at the turtle-shaped wok. There were ten faint decorative lines on the back of it, and when he looked at them, his heart began to beat so hard it felt like it was about to burst out of his chest.

As of this moment, he was sure that the design which had appeared on the spirit rice was a mark of spirit enhancement. Furthermore, the source of that design was none other than his wok!

After a moment of hesitation, he gritted his teeth. If he didn’t get to the bottom of this mystery, he wouldn’t be able to sleep. He knew for a fact that this wok was something extraordinary, and therefore, he couldn’t let anyone in on his secret.

He waited until it was late in the night, then very quietly tip-toed over to the wok. After taking a deep breath and trying not to think about what would happen if he failed, he pulled out his wooden sword and threw it inside, the same way he had thrown the grain of rice in.

Chapter 5: What If I Lose My Poor Little Life?

After waiting for what seemed like forever, nothing unusual happened. Bai Xiaochun looked thoughtfully at the patterns on the turtle-wok, and then looked down into the stove itself. Nothing remained of the wood but ash so he left, to return a few minutes later with some more firewood.

Firewood for personal use wasn’t very common in the Ovens, so he’d been forced to go find Big Fatty Zhang to make a special request for some more.

After kindling the fire, Bai Xiaochun once again focused on the first design on the turtle-wok. As the wood burned, the design lit up. Bai Xiaochun’s heart began to thump with excitement, and then suddenly, the wooden sword began to shine with blinding silver light.

He backed up a few paces, after which the light slowly faded away, and a piercing sensation began to emanate out from inside the wok.

He took a deep breath and carefully sidled up to the wok. The wooden sword, just like the grain of spirit rice, now had a bright silver design on it, which gradually faded to a deep silver color!

The sword appeared different than before. Although it was still made of wood, it now seemed more like it was made from metal. Bai Xiaochun’s eyes lit up as he carefully took the sword out of the wok. It felt heavier, and also emanated a certain coldness.

“It worked! My first spirit enhancement on the wooden sword worked!” Bai Xiaochun fondled the sword ecstatically, then glanced over at the wok and tried to decide what to do with it. In the end, he decided to just leave it where it was. The more he treated it like an ordinary item, the less likely it was that anyone would pay attention to it.

As for the spirit rice, he decided to eat it bit by bit over time. He would also be careful to not let anyone see the wooden sword. As an added measure, he came up with the idea of somehow painting over the glowing design.

Finally, he tidied his room, then walked out nonchalantly, as if nothing unusual had occurred. Over the next few days, he collected some various liquid materials from the Ovens which he used to paint the sword, making it bright and colorful, albeit somewhat unsightly. The most important thing was that the spirit design was covered up well enough that it wasn’t obvious. In the end, Bai Xiaochun nodded his head in satisfaction.

As the days passed, Bai Xiaochun became as comfortable with life in the Ovens as a fish in water. He quickly fit in with the other Elder Brothers, and also became familiar with the work that went on there. He soon found that different types of fire were necessary for cooking different spirit foods. In fact, the different types of fire were described in terms of color; there were one-colored flames, two-colored flames, and so on. The wood he had used earlier to heat the turtle-wok had been one-colored firewood.

Big Fatty Zhang began to grow especially fond of Bai Xiaochun, and took special care of him. Furthermore, just as he’d said, after a few months passed, Bai Xiaochun was starting to gain weight.

He was no longer the scrawny kid he had been when he had first joined the sect. He was fatter, but at the same time, his skin was also fairer and clearer than before. He also looked more harmless than ever, and was clearly reaching the point of being deserving of the title Ninth Fatty Bai.

He also experienced the special snack-time arrangement on more than one occasion. However, what Bai Xiaochun found especially frustrating was that, despite gaining weight, his cultivation seemed to progress as slowly as ever. Eventually, he stopped worrying about that and spent most of his time eating and drinking with his Elder Brothers. Life was good. As the months passed, he heard bits of gossip about recent events in the Spirit Stream Sect.

In addition, Big Fatty Zhang taught him more about the sect in general. He learned that the sect disciples were divided into the Inner and Outer Sects. Any servant who could practice cultivation all the way to the third level of Qi Condensation would be able to challenge one of the trials by fire, which were paths that existed on the various mountain peaks in the sect. A servant who passed the trial by fire could join that mountain peak as an Outer Sect disciple. Only by becoming an Outer Sect disciple could anyone truly become a part of the Spirit Stream Sect.

However, accomplishing such a feat would count as a stunning accomplishment, and would be equivalent to the old saying about the fish leaping over the dragon gate. Only the top three competitors in the monthly trials by fire would be accepted, meaning that the number of people who could become an Outer Sect disciple was limited.

On one particular day, Seventh Fatty had been scheduled to go out and purchase supplies, but ended up being busy with some other matters. As a result, Big Fatty Zhang called for Bai Xiaochun and told him to stand in for Seventh Fatty. Bai Xiaochun hesitated for a moment, recalling the incident with Xu Baocai from a few months before. Although it probably wasn’t anything to worry about, he couldn’t shake his anxiety. Before leaving, he went back to his room and collected eight meat cleavers [1. Quick note about the meat cleavers. In Chinese the word is literally “vegetable knife,” and could more properly be translated as “kitchen knife.” However, the most common kitchen knife that you find in most Chinese households is what we would call a cleaver in English. You can see that by going to baidu and doing an image search for the term “vegetable knife” in Chinese. You’ll see a couple “normal” kitchen knives in that image search, because the word could also mean that. However, in both home kitchens and restaurant kitchens in China, cleavers are used for everything from cutting big chunks of meat to julienning vegetables, as you can see demonstrated by Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert in this video] and also donned six long leather coats. By the time he was finished getting dressed, he looked like a round ball.

However, he also felt much safer, which was the important thing. The last thing he did was strap his wok onto his back, leaving him feeling very safe. He then staggered out of the Ovens and down the mountain.

As he walked along the green limestone paths in the sect, he gazed around at the beautiful buildings and courtyards, and began to feel prouder than ever.

“How time flies!” he mused, clasping his hands behind his back. “Life is like a dream. I, Bai Xiaochun, have only spent a few months practicing cultivation. However, as I think back to the mortal world, and my life in the village, it fills my eyes with tears.” He walked along with eight meat cleavers hanging from his belt, a wok on his back, and multiple layers of clothing, looking very much like a dilapidated toy ball. Occasionally, he would encounter other servants, who would stare at him out of the corners of their eyes as he passed.

There were even a few female disciples who couldn’t help but laugh out loud when they saw him. They covered their mouths with their hands, and the sound of their laughter was like silver bells, clear and melodious.

Face slightly flushed, Bai Xiaochun couldn’t help but feel even more impressive than ever. Clearing his throat, he stuck his chest out and continued to saunter along.

Before too much time had passed, and before he had even left the third peak’s servants’ district, he noticed that quite a few servants were rushing off into the distance, looking very excited. They appeared to be heading in the direction of the path that led up to the top of the third peak, a place where Outer Sect disciples often congregated.

More and more servants began running over in that direction, looking very excited. Surprised by the scene, Bai Xiaochun quickly grabbed a scrawny servant who happened to be running by.

“Junior Brother, what’s going on?” Bai Xiaochun asked quizzically. “Why is everyone running over there?”

The young man looked over angrily, but then saw the black wok on Bai Xiaochun’s back, and his expression turned envious.

“I didn’t realize you were from the Ovens, Elder Brother. Why don’t you come along? Two Chosen from the Outer Sect, Zhou Hong and Zhang Yide, are fighting it out in the trial by fire arena. Supposedly, the two of them have a beef with each other. Whatever happens, they’re both at the sixth level of Qi Condensation, so we should be able to learn a bit by watching them, and maybe even gain some enlightenment.” Finishing his explanation, the young man hurried off, apparently worried about missing out on any of the action.

Feeling very curious, Bai Xiaochun set off in a hurry, following the flow of people as they left the servants’ district and headed to the foot of the third peak, where a large raised platform could be seen.

The platform was about 3,000 meters wide, and was surrounded by a crowd of servants. There were even people watching from positions further up on the mountain, all of whom wore resplendent clothing, and were clearly Outer Sect disciples.

Two young men occupied the platform, both of whom wore extravagant outfits. One of them had a scar running down his face, the other had skin as white as jade. The two of them were fighting back and forth, causing booming sounds to echo out.

The glow of magical items surrounded both of them. Floating in front of the scar-faced youth was a small flag that fluttered of its own volition, as if some invisible hand were waving it. The swirling flag formed the shape of a mist tiger, which let out deafening roars.

The jade-faced youth danced back and forth as he fought. He had a small blue sword which whistled through the air, leaving behind streaks of light.

When Bai Xiaochun saw the sword flying about, he gasped. Although he could control his own wooden sword in a similar way, it would be impossible to even compare his level of skill with that of the jade-faced young man.

What was even more remarkable was how the two young men didn’t seem to be holding anything back. Killing intent roiled off of them, and within a short time, numerous deadly situations arose. Both were heavily wounded, and despite the fact that the wounds weren’t critical, it was still a shocking sight.

This was Bai Xiaochun’s first time seeing cultivators fighting, and it was very different from how he had imagined immortals would look when they fought. The cruel and vicious way they attacked each other left his heart pounding in fear.

“Immortal cultivation… isn’t just about living forever? What’s this fighting and killing all about? What if I end up losing my poor little life…?” Bai Xiaochun swallowed nervously as he watched the scar-faced youth’s mist tiger lunging voraciously at the other young man. Wiping the sweat from his brow, Bai Xiaochun suddenly realized that the outside world was a very dangerous place; it was probably a much better idea to stay back in the Ovens where it was safe.

Having reached this conclusion, he began to hurry off when, all of a sudden, he heard someone shouting his name.

“Bai Xiaochun!!”

He turned his head and saw the author of the blood notice, Xu Baocai, hurrying in his direction, a vicious expression on his face. A wooden sword floated next to him, glittering with an unusual light that clearly surpassed the first level of Qi Condensation. As the sword flew along, it left a streak of light in its wake, and sent a formidable spirit pressure emanating out.

When Bai Xiaochun saw that wooden sword heading in his direction, his eyes went wide, and an intense sense of deadly crisis welled up in him.

“He’s gonna kill me!” he thought.

Instantly, he began to run in the opposite direction, screaming: “Murder! Murder!”

The other servants in the area all heard, and looked over in shock. The cries were so loud that even Zhou Hong and Zhang Yide stopped fighting.

In fact, even Xu Baocai was unnerved by the screams. He had obviously just yelled Bai Xiaochun’s name and then started to chase him. His sword hadn’t even touched Bai Xiaochun, and yet Bai Xiaochun was screaming as though he had been stabbed repeatedly.

Xu Baocai hated Bai Xiaochun so much his gums itched. Face ashen, he ran after him, shouting: “Come on, Bai Xiaochun, you know how to fight! What are you running away for!?”

“If I knew how to fight, why would I be running away, you moron!? I would have killed you a long time ago! Murder! Murder!” Bai Xiaochun’s screams grew even louder as he fled in the opposite direction like a fat little bunny.

Meanwhile, in a building which jutted out into the air at the very peak of the mountain, two men were in the middle of playing a game of Go. One was middle-aged, the other was an old man. The middle-aged man was none other than Li Qinghou. As for the old man, he had a full head of white hair, and a ruddy complexion. His eyes glittered brightly, and he was clearly no ordinary individual. Currently, he was looking down at the scene playing out down below.

Chuckling, he said, “What an interesting child you brought back to the sect, Qinghou.”

“How embarrassing, sect leader. The kid’s personality definitely needs a lot more work.” Feeling a headache coming on, Li Qinghou placed his game piece onto the board and then shook his head.

“The kids in the Ovens are pretty stuck up, and yet this kid fits right in,” scoffed the old man, stroking his beard. “Not an easy task. Hmm…”

Written by Ergen
Edited and proofread by audiowuxia.

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