Chapter 98 - The Crafty Skeleton
The Space of Death.
Murky clouds hovered over the land, obscuring the moons above. Biting wind swept across the wilderness like hungry beasts giving menacing howls. Looking up through the clouds, the sky were a stifling grey color. Down on the earth, near a deserted hillock, a human skeleton was inching its way through the mud. Due to its crippled left arm, its movement somehow lacked balance. Moreover, many of its bones were missing, and with a few serious fissures on its ribs, it could hardly keep its body from falling apart. Each step seemed to take great effort, and its remaining bones creaked in pain all the time, which was quite an ominous sign of its imminent doom.
Despite all its missing bones, the quality of perseverance was not missing in this physically challenged skeleton. It never stopped its advance. It would only pause to look up to the twelve blood-red moons every now and then, and the dark holes of its eye would glitter, as if paying homage to the moons.
Time seemed to have lost its existence in this world. Nobody knows how long it took the skeleton to arrive at another black hillock. It looked around and chose a new direction to continue its trudge. Just as it was to leave the hill, the ground near its feet suddenly opened a slit, from where leaped a white shadow which turned out to be one of the white worms Shi Mu had seen at the battlefield some time before. This attacking worm, as thick as an arm, opened its mouth like a viper to bite into the one-armed skeleton's ankle. The skeleton gave no response, the green gleams in its eye-holes swaying indifferently. The worm wriggled wildly, trying to rip the ankle and bite the bone in two with its teeth which were making a grating noise.
However, without warning, the one-armed skeleton began its vigorous counter-blow. It swayed its only arm, leaving a shadow in the air, and snatched the white worm's latter half body with an incredible speed! The worm was left absolutely no time to react, and before it could relax its teeth it had been torn into halves, with its head still dangling in the skeleton's ankle. Such a series of movements were conducted so skillfully like a flash of lightning that few would believe their eyes. The skeleton had appeared literally to be falling apart! In hindsight, its nonchalance at being attacked by the worm was actually a well-designed trap!
The skeleton opened its mouth and had a suck at the worm's body. Instantly a bean-size green light ball flew from the worm, and the skeleton swallowed it with enjoyment. It's green gleams twinkled, and was now stronger than before. Then a layer of dark fog emerged around its body, and the fissures on its ribs began to heal. As the fissures grew smaller, the dark fog faded gradually until it totally disappeared. The skeleton's eyes twinkled again, and at the same slow pace as before, it moved forward, leaving the hill behind as if nothing had happened.
Shi Mu left Uncle Ju's residence and returned to his stone house. After closing the door, he sat by the desk, the previous excitement still in his eyes. He had gained much from this experiment with Uncle Ju and also had a taste of a Spirit Adept's wonderful life. What's more, judging from his performance in this experiment, he had a good chance of becoming a Spirit Adept himself. But this occupation was as challenging in its demand of money as in skills, and given his current financial state, as well as his income, this was still quite an exacting task.
Shi Mu sank into a brief silence before he fished out the thin brochure to peruse it once more. After a thorough reading, he began to calculate the cost of the formula on a piece of paper. Even the crude result was astonishing to his eyes! To finish this beckoning formula, he needs at least forty thousand silver, not to mention the extra money needed whenever he would make a mistake during the process. Shi Mu grinned bitterly to himself, putting away the brochure. He had just finished a batch of paper charms made for the Holy Spirit Group, so he should soon meet a due reward, but even so his overall property amounted to no more than thirty thousand silver, which was still ten thousand silver short of the demanded sum. Furthermore, he still needed money in practicing the Art of Heavenly Elephant, there was no way for this part of his budget to be diverted to the beckoning ceremony's purpose. Releasing a resigned sigh, Shi Mu totally abandoned the thought of beckoning that skeleton.[A]
He meditated in silence for a moment and finally made up his mind. One hope having come to nothing, he would not discard the other too. Fishing out the bottle containing the lizard's poison from his shirt, he studied it, thought for a while, and then decided that he should prioritize the work about the meteoric blade. With the poison's assistance, to upgrade the blade to a magical weapon was not impossible. But there was another person's help that he must seek to accomplish this mission. And this person was none other than Zhao Ping, the owner of the smithy. Shi Mu had assurance that, considering his identity as a Charm Adept, Zhao Ping would probably nod his agreement. The main issue was about which formula he should choose to be imprinted on the blade. He sat, deep in thought, with the jade slips recording the Great Sutra of Magical Charms in hand. Carefully he studied the various formulas in the book.
Three days later, at Zhao Ping's smithy.
"Haha, I knew it! I knew you'd get the lizard's poison successful, but would have believed that you get so much in a few days! You know, the lizard is uncle Ju's treasure, and what an effort it was for my group, the famous Li Fire Group, to get a tiny drop! But you got such a big bottle of it! I've gotta hand it to you, that's amazing!" His eyes fully attracted by the bottle in Shi Mu's hand, Zhao Ping could not help but exclaim with wonder.
"I just did uncle Ju a small favor, and it was so generous of him to have given me so much of the poison. Can we upgrade the blade to a magical weapon now? I must reply on brother Zhao's help." Shi Mu held up a teacup and took a sip of the content. He smiled sheepishly, a smile that he usually gave whenever he asked someone for help.
"Sure, no problem. I made the blade, so it must be me who makes it a magical weapon." Zhao Ping nodded without the slightest trace of hesitance.
Shi Mu felt so much relieved that the smile finally became a natural one. He quickly handed Zhao Ping the large wad of paper charms he had asked for. The thick wad proved again Shi Mu's capability as a charm Adept. Such a demanding job would never have been accomplished by any other Adept in a mere month, but Shi Mu did it without difficulty, and in a few days' time! Gazing at the charms, Zhao Ping could not help but feel surprised again, and the thought to draw Shi Mu over to his side grew ever stronger.
"Since you've come, why not begin it now? Follow me, brother Shi." Zhao Ping stood up and walked to an inner room.
The two soon arrived at a large stone room, which was precisely the forging room of the smithy. The spacious room had over ten stoves laid in perfect order, each spouting raging flames that made the room unbearably hot. Several burly men were working at the stoves, bare to the waist, and the boisterous noise of striking kept ringing. Seeing Zhao Ping and Shi Mu entering the room, the burly men all greeted them by nodding their heads. But the latter ignored them, leading Shi Mu directly to another sealed stone room through the forging area.
"This is a forging room I keep for myself. A little better than the bigger one you've seen." Zhao Ping introduced, pushing the door open. Shi Mu followed without a word, and immediately had he entered the space he was wrapped in by the scorching heat. Zhao Ping shut the door, and leading Shi Mu to a burning stove, which was made from some black stone Shi Mu had never seen. Though smaller than the outside stoves, this black one had a pure white luster, and its heat was much more intense, even sending the air above it rippling. Aside from the stove and a forging table, there was no other equipment in the room.
[A] - This is actually the first time Shi Mu's lack of money makes sense! (He spent most of it buying the sword, a few chapters back.) Though I still think he could, very easily and very quickly, make 30k silver.
ED: Of this chapter, a ⅓ of it is dedicated to the skeleton, and then Shi Mu decides not to summon it...? You know, aside from the issues we have had with money counting, this author, Yang Yu, writes a very interesting Xianxia. And Shi Mu, while lucky, is not, seemingly, perfect. I like it!
-EliteCreature (Why am I even noting my name here... If a TL posts a note, it's Humbert Jin. If an editor posts a note, it's me. :P )
ED: So, do you guys think the skeleton has a male or female persona?