Chapter 3 - Auntie Zhen
Da Qi Heavenly Kingdom's territory was located within a peninsula that projected out from the east land of Dong Zhou and neighbored the Yan Fire Kingdom and the Sun Huang Kingdom. To the east was the Eastern Sea, and to the west lay a wasteland which belonged to many barbarian tribes. Therefore, for hundreds of years the three countries had formed a strong alliance to fight their common foe.
The Da Qi Heavenly Kingdom lay in the center of the peninsula, and was therefore sandwiched by the two other countries. The Da Qi Heavenly Kingdom had the strongest military and claimed that a standing army composed of a million soldiers. The Huang Sun Kingdom was ranked the second strongest while the Yan Fire Kingdom was considered to be the weakest of the three. Apart from its capital area which was directly under the control of its central government, Da Qi Heavenly Kingdom had nine prefectures which were subdivided into thirty-six districts altogether, and each district administering to some ten-odd cities. As for towns and villages, nobody knew the exact number of them.
Feng City was the largest and the capital city in Quan Zhou. Even within the whole Kai Yuan prefecture it could be ranked at least the fifth largest city. The Jin Clan was one of the most influential clans in Quan Zhou, holding large numbers of fields and manors in the city outskirts. Their main export was medicine and ore and was able to influence almost half of the events in Quan Zhou.
All of these information was given to Shi Mu from Jin Cheng, the blue-robed old butler. He was a diplomatic butler of the Jins, and enjoyed a rather high status among servants, or was at least well revered by the Jin's riders.
The trip back to Feng city took them almost a month. After going through two cities, they finally arrived at Feng. There they directly went through the city gate and head toward the northwestern part of the city.
Shi Mu could not help but stare at both sides of the streets through the window of the carriage. His whole world previous was the small fishing village he was born in. The largest "city" he had ever been to was only the nearby village.
Feng City truly earned its title as the largest city in Quan Zhou. All kinds of buildings could be seen along the roads that were crowded with passing townspeople creating a scene full of hustle and bustle.
Their carriage slowed down and traveled almost another hour to reach their destination --- a rather ordinary-looking manor. Upon getting down from the carriage, Shi Mu saw a white fan hanging at the side of the gate, but his look only slightly changed. He followed the blue-robed old man into the gate while the riders stood beside the carriage.
Shortly afterwards Shi Mu arrived at the hall where a memorial ceremony was being held. The hall was somberly dressed up in white streamers and linen. Standing there was a teenage girl and a woman in the traditional white mourning dress.
The woman looked no older than thirty years old; her appearance was natural and graceful. The moment they met she half reproached Shi Mu with tears in her face, "Too late! You're too late! Your father passed away the day before yesterday. I know not what you think of your father, but you are his true son. Come and see your father, we can talk about the other things later." The teenage girl seemed sad with swollen eyes, but had an eager and curious face upon seeing her half brother for the first time.
Shi Mu somberly looked at the black coffin lying in the middle of the hall, his mind a whirling mess at the rapid series of events.
The woman slowly ceased her tirade upon seeing this. The blue-robed old butler seized the opportunity to walk up to her and to say something in a low voice before he retired quietly.
After a long period Shi Mu finally moved forward. Walking slowly to the coffin, he said calmly, "Open the lid, I want to say goodbye to my father."
The woman clapped her hands twice and two burly fellows came forward from the sides of the hall and opened the lid with a push. There in the coffin quietly lay a man, with whom Shi Mu shared rather similar features. He lowered his head and gazed at it, his face pale and somber. Only after a long while did he move, taking out a bronze mirror that did not look special at all. He placed the mirror beside the body without a word.
"This is......" the woman said with slightly knit eyebrows.
"I've no idea as to what reason he abandoned my mother, but her last wish was to have this mirror buried with father." Shi Mu answered slowly, turned to burn an incense in the burner in front of the coffin. He then made three loud kowtows to his father.
The woman in mourning dress did not quite expect this, but she did nothing to stop Shi Mu and just watching the coffin with a forlorn look absentmindedly. At last she waved and the two burly fellows closed the coffin.
"Follow me, this is no place for us to talk. There is something your father wanted you to know before he died." The woman led the girl to a smaller adjacent hall, after saying this.
Shi Mu raised his eyebrows and followed quietly.
Once they arrived at the adjacent hall the woman turned and said, "It seems I have not wasted my time asking Butler Cheng to bring you here. You have kowtowed to your father, so I will not for anything else. I will not ask for your to call me mother, if you will, 'Auntie Zhen' is fine. This is your half sister Yu Huan. Come and meet your brother, Yu Huan."
"Nice to meet you Brother Mu," greeted Yu Huan obediently in a clear and melodious voice. The girl had rather big eyes and curved eyebrows. Her mouth was delicate and her nose prominent. When she moved her eyeballs she gave a cute sense of being clever and impish. Shi Mu nodded to the girl and broke the stiff his face had become with a forced smile.
"Though your father married into the Jin family, he possessed his own manor at the suburb. He has made the wealth himself. You are his only son, so all of it is yours now. I will only ask to be able to live with Yu Huan in this manor. After all I'm a Jin, and have no need for money. Besides the reason why he died young, is because your father made a big contribution to the Jins. However he has not been rewarded yet for his contribution. So now, you as his successor have two choices." The woman paused for a moment. Shi Mu looked at her in surprise.
"Either I will arrange for you to receive a Qi Ling pill from the Jin clan as a reward, which will allow you to have an opportunity to attempt to pass the Kai Yuan martial arts school's enrollment test.
Or I can arrange for you to receive a title of nobility --- of course the Jin Clan cannot afford to give you a high nobility one. But with the title you'll be rich all your life; even your sons and grandsons will be able to benefit." The woman said earnestly, looking into the youth's eyes.
"A real noble title?" Shi Mu knit his eyebrows hearing this.
"That's right. There are five levels of title in Da Qi: Gong, Hou, Zi, Nan and Xun, each with its respective status and power. With your father's contribution and the Jin's influence, a title can be obtained easily. Moreover we can make you an official in the court. " The woman explained briefly.
"I don't care for the title, give me Qi Ling pill!" Shi Mu said without hesitation.
"Make your decision after you've considered carefully. If I were you I would take the second choice." Shi Mu's answer surprised her.
Shi Mu paused a moment before he responded, "What do you mean by that?"
"How much do you really know about qi and about being a warrior?" The woman asked pointedly.
"Do you mean... Auntie Zhen are you also a warrior?" Shi Mu thought for a while in surprise and asked slowly. This time the woman did not answer, only her figure flickered momentarily and flashed to a wall in an instant. She lifted her arms and a sword tinged with gold was already in her hand poised to strike.
A loud crash sounded out as the woman moved the sword; it was as though heaven itself was pierced through. The movement of the sword left numerous illusory images in the air, then with a cold blink and a clear, clean sound the sword merged into the wall, leaving its handle out still shaking slightly.
Shi Mu was absolutely amazed at such a sight.
"Don't judge me from my appearance. The Jin Clan has three advanced Houtian Warriors and I am counted as one of them. If not, why can I get you a Qi Ling pill from the Jins considering the pill's invaluable price? Moreover even if one has the money he may not necessarily have the opportunity to do so.
A dead man is quickly forgotten. Some in the family think that your father's contribution no longer deserves such rare herbs. You will only cause irritation and disdain if you ask for Qi Ling pill. I can help you this time, but not the next."
"I'm determined to be a warrior whatever it takes." Shi Mu retorted firmly without a pause.
"...Since your mind is made up I won't persuade you any more. First tell me the different levels of warriors to the best of your abilities. "Auntie Zhen let out a sigh and said.
"The levels are the Tempered Body, the Real Warrior and the National Guardian! I heard that once one achieves National Guardian he is ranked equally with princes and marquises!" answered Shi Mu.
"You learned this from the village school? not bad! But even the best instructor in those martial arts schools are nothing compared to real warriors. Do you expect to learn any real division of levels from them?" Auntie Zhen was not surprised at Shi Mu's answer, obviously she had guessed it beforehand.
" Auntie Zhen please teach me!"
"The Tempered Body, the Real Warrior and the National Guardian are all titles used by commoners. The real levels of warrior in Dong Zhou should be separated like this: Instead of The Tempered Body, Real Warrior, and the National Guardian, the true names should be Practitioner, Houtian Warrior, and Xiantian Saint respectively. At the beginning level any Practitioner can study the art of body tempering, but for those not born with fine bones they may never accomplish much in their lives. The Houtian Warriors are those who have perceived Qi and thus can practice real Qi arts. Aided by Real Qi, they can easily match a hundred armed men. These are what you commoners call Real Warriors. As to Xiantian Saints, once their qi quality and control has reached a certain level, they can use their diaphragm to breath deeply and only then, can inborn Real Qi be induced.
These Xiantian Saints are the best of the best! If ten practitioners can kill one Houtian Warrior, then even hundreds of Houtian Warriors could not harm an Xiantian Saint in the least.
This is because Xiantian Saints' Real Qi can manifest outside the body to kill someone from a distance. Generally speaking there's an qualitative difference between an Houtian Warrior and an Xiantian Saint counterpart that is an undeniably impossible wall to cross. But very few will ever be able to reach that bottleneck to realize the difficulty of becoming an Xiantian Saint.
As far as I know, throughout the Da Qi Heavenly Kingdom there are only seven or eight of Xiantian Saints. " Auntie Zhen expounded to the youth.
"Such a small number!?" Shi Mu was astonished indeed.
 Zhou: an ancient administrative division in China.
 Fan: a long and narrow flag hung at funerals, usually white.
 Kowtow: a ritual performed in ancient China to show respect and obedience to someone in authority. A loud kowtow indicates sincerity, earnestness, awe, or some other extreme emotions. This ritual is rarely performed at present.
 Yu Huan: both a usual female name and jade bracelet.
 Advanced HouTian warrior: The Jin Clan has three HouTian warriors who are all at the advanced stage in the level of Houtian. So now that there are generally three levels in martial-art learners in a crude way: practitioners, HouTian warriors, and XianTian warriors, each level higher than the one before. And in each level, there are three stages: elementary state, intermediate state and the advanced state. So there are actually altogether 9 states and 3 levels where a martial-art learner can be. In this context, Antie Zhen has not yet explained to Shi Mu, or to readers, what is a HouTian warrior or a XianTian one, neither has she specified the more detailed stages. But she will do so immediately in the following text,