Chapter 54 - The Parrot
Shi Wu went into a remote house in the residence area and walked through the front door, which was made of stone. The interior surprised him a little: a stone bed, two stone stools and an oil lamp. Besides these basic amenities there was nothing else in the room. The bareness made him knit his eyebrows. After carefully closing the door, he threw his package on the bed and soon fell into a deep sleep.
The next morning he woke up, a little hungry. Sitting up in the hard stone bed, he fumbled in his package and took out two rock-hard steamed buns and downed them without any water.
Next, he decided to check out the contents of the package. It was mostly filled with clean black robes. They felt silky to the touch but, when tugged on, didn't behave as though they were fragile. In fact, the cloth was extremely tough, despite its thinness. Three white bottles and twelve red tokens the size of a finger sitting on the stack of robes, along with a thick book, as big as a palm. Shi Mu held the bottles in hand, and opened each lid to sniff the contents. According to Wild Zhou, the pills in the bottles were Blood-Strengthening Pills, which could nourish one's blood and real qi - the most desirous pill for a beginner - one pill was able to accelerate training greatly. This was also the most basic resource for primary disciples, rationed to each beginner three pills a month totally for free. But Shi Mu had not started to practice arts concerning real qi yet, so he would not use the pills yet. After memorizing the scent, he put the bottle away carefully, then he took up the tokens to have a closer look.
This red token was the most important resource, according to Wild Zhou: the Black Fire Token. It was the only thing that could be used to exchange for arts in the Black Demon Sect, and he would probably be unable to obtain more any time soon. Some black patterns, shaped like clouds, were engraved on its surface, and when he held it in his hand, it felt rather warm, which indicated that it was made of some special material; hence, there was next to no way of making imitations of the token.
After playing with them for a while, Shi Mu put them away and picked up the thick book. A brief skimming of it took him around an hour, in which time he had gleaned an understanding of the contents and made a map of the Black Fire Sect in his mind. The rules recorded in the book were numerous, but, after reading a little more deeply, Shi Mu came to the conclusion that, all in all, the rules were made to encourage competitions among disciples, letting them kill each other to find the most promising ones, like sifting wheat from the chaff. Once screened, these elite disciples would be provided with the best resources, over three times the amount of a junior disciple, whose monthly ration was also three times more than a primary disciple. Moreover, disciples who ranked high in the annual matches and competitions would also receive a huge award: Black Fire Tokens. This was the only way to obtain large amounts of the tokens.
Shi Mu let out a sigh. He did not put down the book until he had read it once more to memorize some tricky rules. All done, he changed into a black uniform, and found an embroidery of a ball of red fire on both sleeves. At the center of the fire there was a word "primary" written with silver threads. Seeing this, Shi Mu shook his head and left his room.
On his way, he encountered several primary disciples walking past him, and they were all beaten black and blue. Shi Mu could not help but ask one of them what had happened to them. Then he was informed that Qu Kun, the one who blocked the way to the stone houses the day before, "went nuts" - according to the disciple - after Shi Mu resisted his punch. "He knocked five of us down, and then those junior guys jumped on us and beat us until we could barely rise from the ground. He wouldn't even let us go get our wounds treated if we refused to give them the token." Shi Mu finally understood why he had met only a few beginners. Those who could rise from bed and walk around were not beaten as badly as the rest. Even Shi Mu, the usually stone-face cool youth, felt a little indignant.
As he went down the road, the looming black mountains stood there like a temptation. He looked back at them and sank into contemplation. According to the map, the nearest mountain was numbered the thirteenth and it was the residence for beginners - primary disciples - along with mountains 11 and 12. Mountains 8, 9, and 10 were for junior disciples only. As for senior disciples, though there were only ten of them, they had mountains 5, 6, and 7 all to themselves. As the number became smaller, the residents grew more significant in position: mountains 2, 3, and 4 were saved for sect heads and elders. Mountain No.1 is a forbidden area in the sect. Without the permission of an elders, no disciples were allowed to approach the forbidden mountain. Shi Mu only gave it a small glance before his eyes were drawn to a small blue building situated in the depths of the valley: it was the General Sutras House for primary and junior disciples! Shi Mu had acquired his qi-sensing, so naturally he wanted to exchange for arts that used real qi with his Black Fire Tokens. With those arts he would be able to become a real Houtian warrior! The thought made his heart burn with desire. He quickly worked his way down the mountains and deep into the valley.
"Why, Brother Shi! You are so late! Brother Xiao and I have already picked our arts, and I finally understood why Brother Zhou out so much emphasis on the token. It was definitely worth meeting Qu Kun's strike yesterday." Just as Shi Mu entered the sutra house he was met by the long-haired youth, Stone Bai, who greeted him in an exhilarated mood. Meanwhile, the big-mouthed Xiao Ming, beside him, seemed rather despondent.
"Oh, did Brother Xiao lose a token yesterday?" Shi Mu asked in surprise.
"Yes, and I am regretting it bitterly now. I should have risked being made to be bedridden for a month to save my token!" Xiao Ming snorted, crestfallen.
"Why's that? I know the tokens are not easy to get, but certainly they are not that valuable!" Shi Mu was now quite confused.
"Brother Shi, see for yourself." Stone Bai prevented Xiao Ming from telling Shi Mu anything, and gave a vague answer, with an enigmatic expression on his face, which made Shi Mu even more curious. Shi Mu quickly gave the two a few parting words and hurried up the nearby stairs.
A cold voice came to his ears as he entered the building,. "Cultivation in the middle; techniques on the left; magic arts to the right!"
Shi Mu looked at the owner of the voice, and was astonished by what he saw. Three long shelves, each over twelve meters long, were lined with all kinds of books on them; among the books, bundles of ordinary paper rolls and bamboo slips, as well as broken slates and large patches of hides. But the most surprising sight was not the books or the shelves. In front of the three shelves, a square desk stood near the stairs with a large golden cage on it. In the cage, a huge parrot, with flamboyant feathers, was cocking its head, looking coldly at Shi Mu.