Not a single root grows on the Wen. Never befriend a Miao. To die a dog’s death on Crow Ridge.
A folk song which had been inherited and passed down for a millennium named the three powers beneath the heavens that one should never ever take on.
The Wen family that resided on the Nine Peaks Mountain to the west of the Chuan region were experts in the Art of Poisons. It was said that even the chili sauce at the Wen residence was made up of He Ding Hong, a poison akin to arsenic. Their chosen method of poisoning was also unbelievably outrageous. During the Ming dynasty, there was once a gang of outlaws who took the laws and regulations of the Imperial Court lightly. Unintentionally, they offended the Wen family. As a result, everyone living in their cottage died a violent death. Even the greenery growing on the mountains had withered overnight and for a good ten years, the mountain remained completely barren. That was how the Wen got the epithet of Wen Bucao – not a single root grows on the Wen.
In the central Shu region, at the foot of the Seven Maidens Mountain, there dwelled a clan of Qing Miao. The Qing Miao were devil worshippers and practiced black magic. Though eccentric and withdrawn, they were clear about love and enmity; to repay kindness with kindness and to repay enmity with justice. Travelers passing through the area near the clan had to be extra cautious to not leave behind any trace, be it a single strand of hair or a fingernail. Otherwise, they might be left puzzled when bereavements strikes one after the other in later years, wondering how they had offended the Miao clan in the first place.
Lastly, the Luo family on the Crow Ridge, at the south of Chuan, were the masters of the Secret Art of Zombies. Those who had bad blood with the Luos would not only die a dog’s death, even the dead would not be able to keep their bones. The Luos would craft the skeletons into undead marionettes. For thousands of years, there was no peace nor reincarnation for the dead as they lived the wretched life of the undead; the zombies.
These three powers lived in seclusion and had always kept to themselves. They were not regarded as the gang of Jianghu, the underground world of martial arts, nor involved in the strife between good and evil. They seldom provoked others and in return, no one interfered with them either.
With the passage of time, thousands of years had passed.
Over time, the descendants of the three families have gradually integrated with the real world. There were less people in the world that still remembered the warning in the folk song of ‘Not a single root grows on the Wen; never befriend a Miao; to die a dog’s death on Crow Ridge’.
It was springtime in March, heralded by the budding of new shoots, the gentle flight of the oriole and a pleasant breeze while a spray of red apricot blossom hung over the wall. It was a scene of exuberant freshness and renewal.
On the 19th of March, the usually somber Wen family on the Nine Peaks Mountain suddenly became lively. The Major Examination of the Decade was around the corner and all of the immediate descendants who were away started returning home at this time.
In the eyes of outsiders, this was just a secluded village deep in the forest. Who would have thought that this was the very village who had made its name under the heavens thousands of years ago as the experts of poison; that they were known as the Wen Bucao and both good and evil avoided them like the plague.
Wen Leyang, a pure and honest youngster, was walking up the mountain while munching on a carrot. He is a direct disciple of the Wen clan, aged sixteen. As he was currently studying in the county town, he hurriedly made his way back to the mountain. He looked just like any other youngster from the village, slightly small and weedy with an average but honest look. Though nothing special in particular, there was a sense of sincerity in his bright eyes.
There were all sorts of vehicles parked at the entrance of the village; wagons of all sizes, two rows of cars and a trishaw. The descendants of the Wen clan were conveyed up the mountain in whatever manner that befits them.
Several old folks were laughing merrily at the entrance of the village. All of the returning unmarried descendants of the Wen clan, regardless of gender, were given a red packet which was filled not with money but a quantity of thin, golden leaves which felt substantial in the hand.
The moment Wen Leyang entered the village, he was immediately surrounded by his younger brothers and sisters. With some dexterous movements, he took a bag of sweets out from this backpack. Though the snacks were not of significant value, it was not a common find in a small village deep in the mountain. Therefore, he would always remember to bring some for his younger brothers and sisters whenever he returned home.
Wen Leyang smiled happily as he watched his brothers and sisters cheering and jumping jubilantly, revealing his white and tidy teeth. He then took a carrot out of his pocket and started munching, as carrots are his one and only favorite snack.
Some of the elders were smiling at each other upon seeing this because out of the youngsters who had gone out of the village, Wen Leyang was the only one to be so thoughtful and have always remembered the siblings at home.
The descendants of the Wen nowadays were actually living a tougher life compared to their ancestors in the ancient times. Apart from brewing medicinal potion and practicing martial arts, they had to attend school in the county town. It was the age of technology and in order to blend in with the world, members of the Wen clan held all sorts of occupations nowadays. The First Uncle of Wen Leyang, named Wen Tunhai, was even elected as the County Head. However, due to him having too many mother-in-laws, he had been dismissed from his position. He now concentrates on refining medicine with his First Grandpa in the mountain.
For the next seven consecutive days, the village of Wen would serve up scrumptious dinners and the whole clan feasted and drank joyously; having fried eggs and braised lamb every day with the resulting overindulgence leaving everyone with a bleeding nose.
Day 8, 26th of March.
The very first rays of morning sunlight had just dyed the clouds red. The distant sound of a bell tolling was heard by everyone and the peaceful village slowly began to wake. Although all of the descendants of Wen, regardless of age, was in solemnity for the impending examination, the joy and excitement in their eyes could not be contained. Silently gathered together, hundreds of them marched towards the back of the village towards Qing Shi Square.
As the Head of Village and the Head of Family, Grand Elder Wen was already waiting at the Qing Shi Square. Wen Leyang’s First Uncle, Wen Tunhai, the Ex-County Head who had been dismissed from his position due to him having too many mother-in-laws, was standing respectfully in front of Grand Elder Wen.
Wen Leyang was anxious but excited and he felt like having a carrot.
Grand Elder Wen looked kindly down on everyone and he looked just like an ordinary amiable old man. However, when he was not so kind looking, he could poison a whole chicken farm to death with a flick of his fingers. The other two remaining elders of Wen – Second and Third Elder Wen, stood behind the Grand Elder with their gloomy eyes downcast and appeared almost like statues to the unsuspecting observer.
Clearing his throat lightly, Grand Elder Wen said with a loud and deep voice, “March 26th is the day for the Major Examination of the Decade for all descendants of the Wen. As usual, every disciple under the age of thirty is allowed to participate. Those who pass the exam would officially inherit the teachings and wisdom of our ancestors and become the Inner Disciple of the Wen Family on Nine Peaks Mountain.” The Grand Elder smiled widely as he spoke.
The Major Examination of the Decade has been the rule of the clan since ancient times and was the stepping stone for the youngsters of the Wen clan to achieve success. Only by passing the exam could one inherit the mysterious and wondrous Secret Art of the ancestors and become the Inner Disciple of the Wen. However, the exam was undoubtedly difficult to pass.
When Grand Elder had finished talking, First Uncle Wen Tunhai took a step forward and said, “Every disciple who is above twelve and under thirty is allowed to take part. You can challenge me by all means, be it poisoning or medicine testing. If I am troubled in any way, you pass the exam.” Although his tone was relaxed, no single disciple was taking it easy. He had said the very same thing during the last two Major Examinations and there hasn’t been a single Inner Disciple for the past twenty years.
Wen Tunhai was the disciple who had passed the Major Examination thirty years ago. Ever since that fateful day, he had remained as the sole principal in the Clan of Wen Bucao apart from the three Elders.
About a hundred of the youngsters of the Wen clan formed a line in front of Wen Tunhai according to their age. They will walk up to Wen Tunhai and challenge him one by one. Wen Leyang was the last one in the queue and he looked as honest and pure as snow with an inconspicuous presence. He was simply an innocent youngster queuing up sincerely for the examination.
The first disciple bowed and saluted to Wen Tunhai. Without standing back up on his feet, a queer snake with skin as white as alabaster and eyes as dark as night sprung out from his sleeve and dove towards Wen Tunhai. The snake reached Wen Tunhai in the blink of an eye. However, the moment the snake drew close to him it let out a cry similar to that of a monkey. Its scales stood up and fear grew in its dark eyes. It twisted its body strangely in the air and slithered away, leaving behind a black mark on the pathway. “Little Whitey!” screamed the disciple and they ran after the snake.
Wen Tunhai scoffed, “Eliminated! Treating a stray snake as treasure, what a joke! Little Whitey?”
The second disciple also began with a bow while a piece of moss with a green shimmer secretly crept its way towards Wen Tunhai’s body. The disciple was overjoyed thinking that they have succeeded and took out the antidote hastily. Alas, Wen Tunhai stomped his feet and the moss that was about to creep onto him withered instantly and fell off like dead skin. “Eliminated! There’s some effect of poisonous moss if it is used as a medicinal plant. But you thought you have found a niche by using it as a weapon. You’re making a fool of yourself, scumbag! While your moss is creeping its way to your enemy, there is more than enough time for the enemy to stab you to death!”
The third disciple carried a medicine bottle and Wen Tunhai took the bottle and poured all the medicine into his own mouth and started chewing. After swallowing everything down he sneered, “Eliminated! Ear of black fox, salt of moss and rosewood pod seeds. The three ingredients were alright, but the heat during the refining was not enough and the ratio was out. More importantly, you’ve missed out the strawberry leaves! Yuck, disgusting!”
This went on for the whole day and one by one, the disciples were eliminated from the exam and had to leave the line shamefully. By the time the sun set, all the disciples had left the line and it was finally Wen Leyang’s turn. He had a small pill in his hand. It was white in color and looked as pure as snow.
With the same look of disdain on his face, Wen Tunhai took the pill and threw it into his mouth without asking about its properties or purpose. After chewing it a few times, a surprised look appeared on his face. The ever-glowing eyes suddenly retracted and pierced coldly toward Wen Leyang, ” B*stard! This is the Wang Zai Mantou snack! Get lost!”
Wen Leyang had always been an honest and cheerful youngster in the family. Whenever his siblings made fun of him, he would play along and not be calculative and therefore remained lovable by others. Therefore it was a surprise to see that he had played a joke during the important Major Examination.
All the other disciples were having fun and never thought Wen Leyang had such a cheeky side to him, who only had his love for carrots. Some of the smarter disciples were secretly regretting not playing a trick and having some fun rather than being humiliated by the First Uncle.
Wen Leyang, with a sad expression, shook his head and said, “It’s not a mantou snack, it’s just the flavor. It’s a medicine pill. You can’t feel it right now, but when the time comes…”
Wen Tunhai impatiently waved his hands, “Get lost! Next!”
There was no other challenger after Wen Leyang. Although it was said that all disciples who were above twelve of age were allowed to take part in the exam, the disciples of the Wen would start the rhymed instruction of the Poison Art at the age of twelve as well. Without a few years of cultivation, there would not be any results observed. Youngsters like Wen Leyang, who took part at the age of sixteen, was considered very young indeed to participate in the exam.
With the same fate as the previous two exams, the Major Examination of the Decade concluded with no disciples meeting the standard requirement to become an Inner Disciple.
Grand Elder Wen sighed, “The younger disciples shall put in more effort in cultivation and re-attempt the exam ten years later. As for the older disciples, do not despair as you’ll be the pillar of strength for the Wen. This property of our ancestors will one day be passed on to you.” Although the words were encouraging, the disappointment was clearly shown in the face of Grand Elder Wen. After saying a few more words, he dismissed the crowd.
The Second and Third Elder Wen looked at each other coldly other and saw the disappointment in the other’s eyes.
At night, the village of Wen was quiet and peaceful but the festive mood was gone because, for the past thirty years, no one in their clan had been able to pass the examination. A few snobbish disciples were discussing and complaining to each other softly and thought that the rules set out by the First Uncle were too strict. Every household then went to bed with a dispirited atmosphere lingering in the air.
Midnight, a thundering roar broke through the dark. First Uncle kicked down the door of Wen Leyang’s house in a rage and pulled Wen Leyang out of his bed and yelled, “Little b*stard! What the hell kind of a pill did you give me?”
Wen Leyang was stunned and looked at First Uncle sleepily for a moment. Recalling suddenly and with a surprised tone he asked, “The medicine worked?”
Wen Leyang’s father ran over while putting on his shirt and asked, “What happened, Big Brother?”
“Stay out of this!” Wen Tunhai picked up his nephew and said, “Come, let’s go meet the Grand Elder!”