Chapter 3: Aunt Zhen
Translator: Novel Saga Editor: - -
Neighbouring the Yan Kingdom and the Huang Kingdom, stood the Da Qi Heavenly Kingdom. Its territory was within a peninsula which protruded out from the eastern lands of Dong Zhou. The Eastern Sea lay to its east, and a wasteland belonging to many barbarian tribes to its west. The three kingdoms had been strongly allied for hundreds of years in order to fight their common foe.
The Da Qi Heavenly Kingdom lay in the middle of the peninsula, and was hence jammed between the other two countries. It had the strongest military, and claimed that its standing army alone consisted of a million soldiers. The Huang Kingdom's military was ranked second in strength, and the Yan Kingdom's military was considered the weakest of them all. Da Qi Heavenly Kingdom's capital area was directly controlled by its central government. Apart from this area, the kingdom had nine prefectures which were subdivided into thirty-six districts. Each district was meant to administer ten-odd cities. No one was aware of the exact number of towns and villages in the kingdom.
Feng City was the capital city of Quan Zhou, and also the largest. If one considered the entire Kai Yuan prefecture, it could possibly have been ranked the fifth largest city. Because of the large number of fields and manors the Jin Clan held on the city's outskirts, it was considered one of the most influential clans in all of Quan Zhou. Their main export items were medicines and ores, which is why they were able to influence almost half of the events in Quan Zhou.
Jin Cheng, the blue-robed butler, gave all of this information to Shi Mu on their journey back. He enjoyed a high status among the servants as a diplomatic butler of the Jin Family, or, at the very least, was well respected by the Jin Family's riders.
They had to go through two cities to finally reach Feng City, after almost a month. They directly went through the city gate and headed towards the north western part of the city.
Shi Mu found himself staring out of the carriage window at both sides of the streets. Prior to this journey, his entire world had been the small fishing village he had been born and brought up in. The nearby village was the largest 'city' he had ever been to.
Feng City lived up to its status of being the largest city in Quan Zhou. The crowded streets were a scene of complete chaos, with the townspeople walking past all kinds of buildings.
Their carriage slowed down, but it took them another hour before they reached their destination, which was a rather ordinary looking manor. As he got down from the carriage, Shi Mu noticed a white fan hanging from the side of the gate, but his expression did not change drastically at the observation. He followed the blue-robed old man through the gate and into the manor, while the riders stood beside the carriage.
Soon thereafter, Shi Mu arrived at a hall where a memorial ceremony was being held. The hall had dull white streamers and linen all around. Standing in the hall was a 10-year old girl with a married woman, both of them wearing the traditional white dress of mourning.
The woman could have been no older than thirty, and her appearance was natural and graceful. The moment she saw Shi Mu, she half reproached him with tears streaming down her face, "Too late! You're too late! Your father passed away the day before yesterday. I do not know what you think of him, but you are his true son. Come and see him, we can talk about the other matters afterwards."
The teenage girl had red and swollen eyes, and seemed sad, but her face expressed a tinge of curiosity and eagerness on seeing her half brother for the first time.
Shi Mu gazed at the black coffin that lay in the middle of the hall, his mind struggling to make sense of the whirling mess these rapid series of events had caused.
The woman stopped scolding the boy as she followed his gaze. The blue-robed butler seized the opportunity to approach her and whispered something, before retiring quietly.
After a long period of time had passed, Shi Mu finally managed to move forward. He walked slowly to the coffin and said in a calm voice, "Open the lid, I wish to say goodbye to my father."
Two burly men approached the coffin from the sides of the hall and pushed it open, after the woman clapped had her hands twice. A man whose features resembled that of Shi Mu's was lying quietly in the coffin. The boy lowered his head and gazed at the body, his face pale and dull. A long time passed before he moved. He took out an ordinary looking bronze mirror, and placed it beside the body without uttering a word.
"This is..." the woman said, her eyebrows furrowed.
"I don't know why he abandoned my mother, but it was her last wish to have this mirror buried with my father," Shi Mu answered slowly, turning to light an incense stick in the burner in front of the coffin. He then began kowtowing three times in front of his father's coffin.
The woman in the white mourning dress had not quite expected this, but she did not attempt to stop Shi Mu from gazing absentmindedly at the coffin with a forlorn look on his face. At last, she waved her hand and the two burly men closed the coffin lid shut.
"Follow me; this is not the place for us to talk. Your father wanted you to know something before he died," the woman said, then led the girl to a smaller hall adjacent to the previous one.
Shi Mu raised his eyebrows, but followed silently.
Once they arrived at the adjacent hall, the woman turned to the boy and said, "It looks like I have not wasted my time in asking Butler Cheng to bring you here. Since you have kowtowed to your father, I will not ask for more. I will not ask you to call me mother; you may call me 'Aunt Zhen'. This is your half-sister, Yu Huan.
"Yu Huan, Come and meet your brother."
"It is nice to meet you, Brother Mu," greeted Yu Huan obediently, in a clear and melodious voice. The girl had curved eyebrows that sat atop rather large eyes. Her mouth was delicate, and stood out in contrast from her prominent nose. When she moved her eyeballs, she tended to look cutely clever and mischievous. Shi Mu nodded to the girl, and the stiff expression on his face gave way to a forced smile.
"Although your father married into the Jin Family, he was in possession of his own manor in the suburbs. This wealth can only be accorded to him. Since you are his son, all of it is yours now. I only wish to live with Yu Huan in this manor. I am a Jin and I have no need for money. One of the reasons why he died so young was because he had made a huge contribution to the Jin Family. The reward for his contribution has not come yet. As his successor, you have two choices now," the woman paused for a moment.
Shi Mu looked at her in surprise.
"I can either arrange for you to receive a Qi Ling pill from the Jin Family as the reward, which will provide you with an opportunity to try to pass the enrolment test of Kai Yuan martial arts school; or, I can arrange for you to be awarded a title of nobility. Of course, the Jin Family will not be able to give you a title of high nobility. But it will ensure that you stay rich all your life, and even your sons and grandsons will stand to benefit from this reward," the woman said earnestly, holding the young boy's gaze.
"A real title of nobility?" Shi Mu asked, knitting his brows.
"That's right. There are five levels of titles in Da Qi, and each comes with its respective status and power - Gong, Hou, Zi, Nan and Xun. Your father's contribution along with the Jin's influence will be able to secure a title for you without difficulty. Moreover, we can even offer to make you an official in the court," the woman explained briefly.
"I don't care about the title; I will take the Qi Ling pill," said Shi Mu without a second's hesitation.
"Consider the offers carefully before you make your decision. If I were you, I would take the second option," cautioned the woman, as Shi Mu's answer took her by surprise.
Shi Mu took a moment's pause before responding, "What do you mean by that?"
"How much do you really know about being a warrior, and about Qi?" the woman asked bluntly.
"Are you trying to say... Aunt Zhen, are you a warrior yourself?" surprised, Shi Mu slowly reflected. This time the woman did not answer, and her figure flickered for a moment, and then flashed to a wall in a second. She lifted her arms, and a gold tinged sword found its way in her hands, ready to strike.
The woman moved the sword with a loud crashing sound, and it seemed as if the heaven itself was being pierced. The rapid movement of the sword made many illusory images in the air. Then with a clean and cold sound, the sword found its way back into the wall, with its handle hanging out; still shaking.
Shi Mu was utterly amazed at this sight.
"Don't judge me by my appearance. I am one of the three advanced Houtian Warriors of the Jin Clan. How else could I be able to get you a Qi Ling pill from the Jin Family, considering the pill's exorbitant price? Even if one has the money to buy it, one may not necessarily possess the opportunity to do so. However, a dead man is quickly forgotten by the living. There are a few members of the family who believe that your father's contribution no longer deserves a reward such as these rare herbs. There will be irritation and disdain if you ask for the Qi Ling pill. I can help you this time, but I will not be able to do so in the future. "
"I am determined to be a warrior and I will do whatever it takes," Shi Mu said firmly, without pausing.
"I will not persuade you further, as I see that your mind is made up. Tell me the different levels of warriors, to the best of your abilities," Aunt Zhen said, sighing loudly.
"The various levels are the Tempered Body, the Real Warrior, and the National Guardian. I have heard that after achieving the National Guardian, one is ranked equally with the aristocratic ministers," answered Shi Mu.
"You were taught this at the village school? That's not bad. But you must understand that even the best instructors at those martial arts schools are nothing in comparison to real warriors. How can you expect to learn any real division of levels from them?" Aunt Zhen replied.
She was not surprised by Shi Mu's answer, having predicted it beforehand.
"Please teach me, Aunt Zhen," requested the boy.
"Commoners use titles such as the Tempered Body, the Real Warrior, and the National Guardian. The real levels of warriors in Dong Zhou are differently organized. Instead of the Tempered Body, Real Warrior, and National Guardian, the true titles are Martial Disciple, Hou Tian Warrior, and Xian Tian Warrior respectively. At a beginner's level, any Disciple is allowed to study the art of Body Tempering, but without the gift of fine bones, one may not accomplish much in life. Those who have perceived real Qi, and are able to practice real Qi arts, become Hou Tian Warriors. They can match a hundred armed men when aided by Real Qi. These are what commoners like you call the "Real Warriors". As for Xian Tian Warriors, they can make use of their "innate" Qi. This can only be achieved by establishing connections deep into their Dan Tian, once their Qi quality and control has reached a certain level.
"These Xian Tian Warriors are the best of the lot. If it takes ten Martial Disciples to kill one Hou Tian Warrior, then even hundreds of Hou Tian Warriors would fall short to harm one Xian Tian Warrior. This is due to a Xian Tian Warrior's ability to use his Real Qi to manifest outside the body in order to kill from a distance. There is a qualitative difference between a Hou Tian Warrior and a Xian Tian Warrior, that of a wall which is undeniably impossible to cross. But very few people will ever be able to reach that point to truly grasp the difficulty of becoming a Xian Tian Warrior.
"As far as my knowledge goes, there are only about seven or eight Xian Tian Warriors in all of Da Qi Heavenly Kingdom," Aunt Zhen explained to the boy.
"Such a small number?" asked Shi Mu, astonished.