Chapter 6 - The Mutation
"No, not heavy enough. I can do even more." Shi Mu thought to himself as he prepared himself for another lift. The stone lock thudded down onto the nearby ground and made the whole square shake slightly.
Shi Mu raised his hand and studied his fingers closely. They were rather sturdily, long and lean, but he observed they did not seem to have the huge strength required to lift a thousand jin.
Shi Mu thought for a moment before he walked to the wooden shelf and took down a long saber. With a thought, a succession of flashing shadows left by the saber's movement exploded above the square, its overpowering manner able to send sand and stones flying.
Whiz! A white whip appeared rolling, striking a wooden target.
Pa! Pa! After a few clear sounds the target crashed into the ground eight broken parts in a blink.
One movement movement, seven cuts. One movement, seven cuts!! That was exactly what Li Canghai showed to him but not even a night had passed before he had overshadowed his instructor's record slash by doing seven cuts.
The shadows vanished and Shi Mu remained in the same spot, saber in hand, deep in thought.
Then night came.
A room's heavy wooden door was closed. The room was large quite austere and lacked any decoration. Shi Mu laid on the bed, his eyes closed, his skin reddish and sweating. Curling up, he kept murmuring and twitching in a half-unconscious state. An unknown amount of time passed before his groans died down and he began to slowly stretch his body. His skin gradually returned to its normal colour and his tired eyes opened. He took deep breaths and then got off the bed to try and exercise his body. He grasp the edge of the bed suddenly, flexing his fingers.
Crack! With a clear sound the solid wooden edge was crushed.
"My strength has grown, but not as much as last time. Besides the interval being one month, the effect only lasts for less than a quarter of an hour. It seems I won't make much progress next time. " Shi Mu murmured.
That amazing change began as soon as he moved into the manor, and had had happened more than once, giving him all the strength he displayed earlier in the day and sharpening his practice of the saber art. The first mutation happened in the first month after his moving in, which tormented his body for a whole night. But by the next day he found the pain had left, but also his strength and body elasticity had increased. The second mutation happened two days later at night once again. This pattern continued on for some ten odd times of mutation, each causing intense pain with the reward of its huge benefit. However each following mutation duration was noticeable decreasing, the intervals also lengthened and his strength began to stagnate. This time, the growth was negligible compared with the beginning mutations. But the achievements were still quite outstanding. Shi Mu was able to lift more than a thousand jin and his body responded far more quickly than common people. He was quick to deduce that the mutation must had something to do with the huge clam he saved from the sea. The whole process of mutations stirred spasms of pain similar to what he felt that day at the beach. He had been healed by the clam girl during his coma, and the feeling of his blood boiling inside awoken inside of him. The one difference was that the pain mutation was ten-fold sharper than the pain he felt on the beach. In the end, Shi Mu was secretly extremely happy at his increase of strength. He had had heard from others and envied the many fortuitous events that befell others But, now such a fortuitous event had befallen himself, and filled him with a confidence and yearning for the fierce competition he was to meet in the enrollment.
Shi Mu also knew from Li Canghai that even if he could acquire Qi-sensing, the competition would still be difficult for him. After all, considering the limited resource a school had, only a small number of candidates could pass the enrollment test out of the innumerable hopefuls.
Shi Mu was quite aware of his mediocrity. Even with the aid of Qi Ling pill he would not have a great chance to sense Qi. But according to Li Canghai, once one surpassed level nine in body tempering, one would have a much better chance in succeeding Qi-sensing; while if one was over level ten, even a Practitioner whose comprehension was low would have a success one out of three times. If he accomplished the whole thirteen levels of body tempering, it would be surprising if he still failed in Qi-sensing. This was why some inferior Practitioners were still able to sense Qi at their thirties or even forties. But such a wonder only happened to the rich because few Practitioners could afford the time and money invested. Furthermore, to not acquire Qi-sensing until middle age would leave little time for their further study. With the prime of a warrior already wasted, the difficulty of becoming an intermediate Houtian warrior would be tripled, let alone becoming an advanced one. But for some aristocrats, they collected rare herbs to help their Qi-sensing, which far surpassed the price of a Qi Ling pill. In his twenties instructor Li Canghai had finally reached the twelfth level in body tempering and had taken a Qi Ling pill twice before he finally managed to be an Houtian warrior. To his immense regret, he was not able to reach the Houtian stage before age fifteen. For Shi Mu, collecting rare herbs was out of the question; the only way to succeed was through his body tempering.
But for each level over level nine, the time it would take to advance would would increase exponentially. This time far exceeding the amount commoners could afford to spend. To reach level twelve was not possible for common Practitioners at all; only those born with monstrous talent would be able to achieve that stage, and throughout the history of Da Qi those geniuses could be counted on one hand.
However, Shi Mu's fortuitous event had allowed him to reach as high as level nine. By the pain and sweat of each mutation, he was infinitely closing to level ten.
Judging by common knowledge, he could have reached level ten within a year, but level eleven? That was hard to imagine. Besides, Shi Mu was not satisfied with gambling a Qi Ling pill with a only chance of mere one-third. Thus it seemed that he could only resort to an insane approach Li Canghai mentioned to him earlier.
According to Li Canghai, there was a special method of body tempering passed down by a martial expert. It was simple and crude and yielded amazing effects. The only condition was that whole process was full of danger and suffering; it even had a big chance of premature death which was the reason why it had been rarely imparted to other Practitioners. Li hinted that he would like to teach Shi Mu all he knew if a large sum of tuition was paid.
Danger? What danger would scare him back now that he had made such an oath to be the strongest warrior ever in front of his mother's tomb?
But his immediate goal was to master the Stone-Breaking fist art, before he concentrated completely on body tempering. Shi Mu pondered; before long an idea dawned on him.
Seven days later, at the center of the manor's square, there stood a blue tank three chi high, filled densely with soybean.
Ha! Ha! Shi Mu stood before the tank shirtless, wearing a pair of over-sized black trousers and a thick silver glove on each of his hands. He started pounding heavily at the soybean in the tank with both fists.
"Listen, though your body strength is the basis of power for the Stone-Breaking Fist, the key to fully grasping this art is through the toughness of your fists. Otherwise, your great strength would only rebound on the stone causing you to self-mutilate your own fists. You are only a beginner and the toughness of your fist can only deal with wood at most right now. These gloves are made of layers of fish's skin in order to train your sinews, tendons, and flesh while preventing your fists from too much injury. When you can break through the tank with a punch, I'll use stones instead of beans and take away one layer of fish skin from your gloves. When you can do the stones and you will advance to real iron sand. Then, real rock. Left hand! Don't wave it that far! Elbow! Keep it tucked! Good! Good!." Li Canghai explained with a poker face, his arms folded.
Shi Mu answered and kept moving his arms, each punch sinking a half inch deep into the tank. His upper body was sweating profusely, each muscle trembling incessantly, as if he was immersed in a strange fanaticism.
After half a quarter of an hour Shi Mu suddenly shouted loudly and pounded into the tank at least one inch deep and buried nearly half of his arm into the beans.
"Stop! Didn't I tell you to restrain you strength? Let me check your fists for injury!" Li Canghai's expression hugely changed at such a sight. He scolded anxiously and produced a medicine bottle from his pocket immediately.
"Master Li, I'm all right. " Shi Mu grinned, pulling out his half buried arm from the beans.
"Humph! I'll be the judge of it! Take off the glove." Li Canghai snorted without thinking.
Shi Mu could only take off the layers of the glove after a swing of his arm obediently, after which he waved his reddish fingers leisurely before Li Canghai.
"Hmm... That's quite strange. Your hands are actually fine! I've been a teacher for years, it wouldn't surprise me if your fingers were bleeding. How about this. Come over here and pound this wooden target with your fists, this time, go all out." After studying Shi Mu's fists closely instructor Li was quite amazed, and after some thought, pointing to a nearby thick stock.
"Yes," Shi Mu answered and took a deep breath, then walked to the stock, measuring it in circles.
After stretching his arms leisurely, Shi Mu's gaze sharpened and gave a sudden punch which smashed the thick wooden target into two parts. the upper part whizzing across the square straight toward the outer wall of a house which shivered mightily at the collision.
His fist was, however, safe and sound.