Chapter 4 - The Manor
"Little? That's a lot! Do you know how much it costs to train an Xiantian Saint!? An inconceivable amount! Moreover, there is no guarantee of success even with such a huge investment. Very few can really reach the Xiantian level at all." Auntie Zhen let out a sigh with a bitter smile.
The youth sank into an utter silence.
"Well, that's still a long way ahead. If one day you really reach that level, the whole nation would be at your service; even the emperor of Da Qi would be polite to you to curry favor with you. That's why the top warriors are called National Guardians. Now let's talk about the art of body tempering and Qi-sensing first. Which level are you at now?" The woman asked.
"The seventh level." Shi Mu answered with lifted spirits, for it would suit him best if he could learn some Qi-sensing and get enrolled into Kai Yuan martial arts school considering his current abilities.
"The seventh? That's only a fair achievement. Kai Yuan Martial Arts School will start its enrollment next year! You must reach level nine within one year. Can you do that?"
"I was not sure before, but now I am... at least to some extent. " Shi Mu gave a positive answer after some thought.
"Even if you could reach level nine and succeed in sensing your Real Qi, that's only the basic requirement for everyone. You will still have to compete fiercely with all the other candidates." The woman seemed a little strange, but still said so.
Shi Mu listened with his ears wide open.
"As far as I know, there are more than a normal amount of talents among the candidates this year. Some of them have already tempered their body to the ninth or even tenth level. After all, the higher levels help one to sense Qi more successfully. According to previous records, even with the aid of Qi Ling pill, less than one-tenth of your peers would be able to really sense Qi. The majority of Practitioners can only manage this with difficulty in their thirties or even forties, not to mention their repeated use of Qi Ling pills. This is why Kai Yuan requires applicants to be between the ages of ten and fifteen. At that age ten and under, one's bones are not quite shaped, making one unable to temper his body, while at age fifteen is the point which one loses his potential for accomplishment. If one has not yet tempered their body by then, it is worthless to continue the training. Da Qi boasts many accomplished warriors but only less than a hundred of these warriors have the opportunity or talent to struggle for the upper level. One of our Jin's ancestors was an advanced Houtian Warrior! His reputation is the one of the main reasons that the Jin clan has become so prominent in Quan Zhou. " An expression of pride was shown on her face as she ended her words.
The saying that "higher levels make Qi-sensing easier" and the tiny number of "one-tenth" kept resounding at Shi Mu's ears. He took a deep breath to calm himself down. Though he had expected that not all who took a Qi Ling pill would successfully acquired Qi-sensing, he did not expect that the chances would be that low!
"You can change your mind if you are regretting your decision." Auntie Zhen smiled, gazing at the youth.
"No! I have made my mind." Shi Mu shook his head.
"If so.Take this suburb manor's title deed. You can live there with Jin Cheng, our butler. If ever you need anything, go to him. The Qi Ling pill the Jin Clan have ordered will be delivered in one year. I shall let you know when it arrives. Mind you, besides body tempering, you should take upon yourself to learn martial arts for real fights as they will be needed in the enrollment test. The Jin Clan owns a unique martial arts manual, but alas, only the Jins can learn them." After giving a nod Auntie Zhen gave him another piece of advice.
"Many thanks, Auntie Zhen". This time there contained a real sense of gratitude in Shi Mu's words.
A quarter of an hour later, Shi Mu left the manor with a wooden case in hand, his expression somewhat puzzled.
The wooden case contained all of his late father's property: the big manor in the suburb, three thousand liang of silver notes, some three to four hundred mu of fine land near the manor, as well as a well located restaurant in the city. In less than a day, he went from a poor village boy to a rich man.
Shortly after Shi Mu was leaving a middle-aged man, quickly paid a visit to the manor in a violent rage, questioning Auntie Zhen in the hall,
"Seventh Sister, are you really going to send the only Qi Ling pill to some outsider instead of your own nephew?"
"Father had promised this in person, so do you have any objection to father's decision?"
"I do have objections as to how we deal with the Biao brothers, but that's not what I came here for. That chap is not a Jin, so why should the pill we Jins obtained after so much trouble be handed over to some outsider? Father will not refuse you if you change your mind. You know your nephew did not make it last time when he tried Qi-sensing, so this year is a very important opportunity he must not miss out on. He has finally reached the bottleneck this year in coincidence exactly the same year of Kai Yuan Martial Arts School's enrollment! If he misses the enrollment, he will regret this for his whole life!" The middle-aged man's rather long and narrow face contorted in anger and frustration as he nearly hit the roof, his eyes as if spouting flames.
"Humph, an outsider? He's the only flesh and blood of my husband thanks to whom half of our Jin's properties were saved. Are you satisfied with this answer, Brother Wu ?" Auntie Zhen snorted bluntly.
"Well, well, if you still wants to favour an outsider, someone of no blood relation with you, then I'm done with you, sister. I won't beg you anymore, but I shall not hold back in obtaining a Qi Ling pill for your nephew." His words finished, the man rushed off in a rage.
"Mother, are you really going to let Uncle Wu just disrespect you and walk away like that?"
Yu Huan appeared from some unknown place once the man left and asked, her eyes blinking.
"No harm done. You know your cousin's talent as a warrior to be quite lacking, considering how many rare herbs used on him before he finally managed his body tempering. A Qi Ling pill won't help much in his Qi-sensing. Your uncle was driven to ask for the pill as his last hope."
"That's true. Jin Tian does not have as good a talent as Shi Mu Ge ; there's not a fat chance for him to be enrolled even if he manages to sense Qi." Yu Huan gloated, clapping her hands.
"He-he, you've already begun to side with your own step-brother. However I am not sure about Shi Mu's abilities quite yet. Nevertheless, I have done all could for your brother. Anymore help and I will truly anger the family."
"Although it's the first time we met, I have a good impression of him, at least better than those Jin idlers." Yu Huan grinned.
"Actually it's mostly for your sake that your grandfather promised to give Shi Mu a Qi Ling pill. After all you sensed Qi at only twelve and meanwhile have reached level ten. Your grandfather has much hope for you little one." Auntie Zhen gave a sudden smile.
"Dont worry, I definitely will be accomplished with the sword art in one year. And then it'll be no problem for me to get enrolled into Kai Yuan. I won't let grandfather down." The young girl was full of confidence.
Hearing thus the woman nodded, her eyes full of affection for her daughter.
In a manor ten miles away from the Feng city, Shi Mu stood in a square surrounded by houses showing a satisfied expression after looking around.
The manor had a space of at least four to five mu, more than twenty rooms, and the spacious square amazed and overjoyed the boy who came from a small hut in a little fishing village. He turned his eyes to the nearly twenty servants and tenants waiting in front of him and asked them,
"Who used to look after the manor and fields before I came?"
"Young master Shi, it was me." A sandy haired middle-aged man with a fairly clean shirt came to answer Shi Mu obediently.
"What's your name? Are you one of the locals?" Shi Mu asked slowly, feeling that the fellow was quite honest after looking him over.
"Your humble servant is named Zhang Suo, my family have lived here for seven or eight generations." The man answered with great respect.
"Good, I'll leave you to your old job. It's the same to all of you, so do your usual work and pay the same rent. Also, ask the manager of the restaurant to see me here tomorrow." Shi Mu thought briefly and sent his orders.
"Yes, young master." Zhang Suo answered hurriedly, immensely satisfied that his fears that arrangement would be changed were unfounded.
Other servants and tenants also relaxed at the news, bowing one after another to show their appreciation.
When they all had left Shi Mu turned to the blue-robed old man at his side and asked, "Did I make the right decision, Butler Cheng?"
"Well done Young Master Shi, you settled the matters quite nicely. It's amazing to think that you were born of a fishing family." The old man answered with a smile.
"I was quite surprised myself, but it is quite different to ask people do things for you. But I'd like to ask a favour from you. " Shi Mu said a little diffidently.
"Oh, anything, Shi shao. I'll do whatever I can." The request came somewhat unexpectedly, but was still accepted quickly.
"Right, it's only that I would like to have an expert martial arts instructor who can teach me personally. Do you have anyone in mind, Butler Shi?"
"Oh, speaking of martial arts schools, the four schools in Feng City are all quite famous. "
"Apart from body tempering I'd like to learn a martial art."
"If so, I recommend instructor Li Cang Hai from the Liu Feng martial arts school. He is quite well known for the rare skills he practices. But what kind of martial arts in particular does shaoye like?" The old man questioned him in reply after giving it some thought.
"Hmm, back in my village, I used to chop quite a lot of wood. So a saber art would best fit me."
"Then I should say the Feng Chi Club's Thirteen Series of Gale Force Blade Art, as well as their Stone-Breaking Fist, are quite renowned. But the cost for private instruction is quite expensive." The old man said slowly only after a moment's thought.
"That's alright, as long as it's really worth the money. " With three thousand liang of silver notes Shi Mu felt like a rich man.
"I see, then I shall invite Instructor Li immediately here tomorrow." The blue-robed old man answered with a smile.
 Mu: a unit of area (=0.0667 hectares).
 Qi: the number seven in Chinese. "Sister Qi" means one's seventh younger sister.
 Wu: the number five in Chinese. "Brother Wu" means one's fifth older brother.
 Ge: an affectionate tone to address your older brother in Chinese.