Wen Xiaoyi forced herself to open her eyes with all her might, yet her mind was still as confused as before. The scene before her eyes flashed with a shaky jumble of human figures; her ears could hear the sound of the huffing wind and the ha-ha sound of laughter. It took the little girl a moment before she recalled the situation before she fainted and it made her leap up quickly.
The sky was already light and Wen Leyang was standing in front of her, dancing with joy and making rattling sounds with his feet and fists.
Wen Xiaoyi could not believe her eyes, she goggled in surprise for almost half a day before she cried out loud. Only then did she sit up from the ground with her legs crossed in front of her. Wen Leyang’s eyes were tightly shut and he had an odd smile on his face.
“Oh dear!” Two voices cried out in unison. It was from Wen Nine and Wen Thirteen who were hugging each other so tightly that they resembled two koalas. Both of them turned their face towards her with a panic-stricken gaze and said, “She has turned into a zombie!”
Wen Leyang’s body slumped and he crashed limply onto the ground. It was only then that Wen Xiaoyi noticed that every joint on his body was covered and bound in dense Red Vines. This species of Red Vine was one of the special local product from the Nine Peaks Mountain. They are roughly as thick as a ballpoint pen’s cartridge, yet they are extremely tough and even the strength of two strong lads could not break one of these vines.
Wen Thirteen looked as pale as a ghost and he held his brother and asked under his breath, “What… what to do, do we use a black dog’s blood or do we burn spirit money?”
Wen Nine was as astonished as his brother as he said, “There are no black dogs in this mountain, black… do you think a black bear would suffice?”
Wen Xiaoyi ignored them and ran towards Wen Leyang. She first checked if he was still breathing and once this was confirmed, only then did she allow herself to relax. She then stared at the two foolish uncles and asked, “What is happening here?”
The two fools shrieked in terror. They knelt on the ground with a mournful expression as they confessed, “This is the practice of The Faulty Punch so will you please forgive us?”
Wen Xiaoyi was amazed at their reaction and she hastily knelt down as well and asked, “Please don’t… what were the two of you doing?”
The two foolish uncles put on a long face and tried to move a few steps backwards by shuffling with their knees together. As they backed away from where Wen Xiaoyi was kneeling they said, “It was Your Ladyship’s dying wish to see Wen Leyang practice The Faulty Punch, we were not fooling around, and yet you still will not rest in peace after we made him practice the Faulty Punch.”
The little girl could not have received a more solemn respect from these two elders. In return, she tried to adjust her kneeling direction by scuffling her knees forward in great haste and said, “Wen Leyang knows how to practice The Faulty Punch? You are certain that this is the genuine practice of The Faulty Punch?”
“This is the genuine practice of The Faulty Punch, the two of us have been researching it for the past two days!”
The three of them pursued one another in a kneeling position for a few rounds. The little girl felt overwhelmed with dizziness and her whole body felt lethargic. She had not realized that she had passed out for almost three days. In the end, she could no longer sustain her energy and with an ‘ouch’ she fell down to the ground. Still puzzled with disbelief she asked, “Was that really it?”
The two foolish uncles expressed disappointment when the little girl tumbled, as they found the process of moving around while kneeling amusing. Wen Nine was the first to leap up and said, “We will now show it to you… for Your Ladyship to watch! Eighth Brother, let’s go!” While saying that he ran behind a tree, pulled on the long vines that were wrapped around Wen Leyang’s body and hooked the vines in between the fork of a thick branch all the way around the tree. When Wen Nine dragged and pulled along the long vines with great strength, Wen Leyang was hauled upright into a skewed position.
Wen Thirteen answered to his brother’s summons as he too leaped up. He stood side by side next to Wen Leyang with their shoulders aligned as he chanted, “One, two, three, go!” Immediately he threw a punch with the sound of a ‘huff’.
Wen Nine was quick at started getting busy on his own, his actions were similar to a huge monkey, where he jumped across and in between the countless long vines. In one hand he held on tightly to a few crucial vines, while with his other hand he reached in between the other vines and pulled on them rapidly, so rapid it was nearly impossible to see his gestures clearly.
Wen Leyang immediately started moving by himself, his hands were shaking and his feet were stamping, making a shuffling sound as he moved around practicing the act of boxing, shadowing the action in accordance to Wen Thirteen beside him. Once in a while, their actions would deviate ever so slightly and when it happened each time Wen Thirteen would yell, “Hey! Take note on this quick, this part here is not correct!”
Wen Nine would answer him with a great commotion, “Don’t point out even if it’s wrong, she cannot tell the difference.”
Wen Thirteen followed along with the practice of The Faulty Punch for a while until he got bored with it. He then took a leap behind the tree and said, “The two of us should do it together, I want to play along for a while.” The two brothers tittered with joy as they tugged on the vines and Wen Leyang’s actions became much faster all of a sudden.
The little girl goggled so hard her eyeballs almost detached from their sockets as she asked, “How are the both of you doing it?”
Wen Nine realized that his extraordinary skill was capable of stunning a ghost. He forgot his fear for a moment and stuffed the vines he had been holding into the other foolish brother’s hands, before jumping forward to Wen Xiaoyi and beaming with pride as he told her, “You do not know this, but we brothers have been playing this game since a long time ago!” While saying that he tore off his upper garment in one pull.
Wen Xiaoyi was greatly astonished. There were deep and shallow scars all over Wen Nine’s body.
Wen Thirteen was busy minding his task but he stuck out his head and laughed merrily, “I have it too, in the past there was nothing to play in the big mountain during winter, so we started playing puppetry, sometimes he was the puppet, sometimes I was the puppet.”
The two foolish uncles were not knowledgeable in life, and the intentions from their minds were of a naïve and innocent nature. However, they were exceptionally talented in the practice of martial arts. It was worrisome as their skills were not much different when compared to even Wen Lazi from the past. Unfortunately, they were born into the Wen family that treated skills in martial arts as secondary to the unique Art of Poison. They lacked the intellect to refine their own unique poison and thus faced difficulty in creating a breakthrough in their powers. If they had been born into a family that had emphasized martial arts, they would possibly have become unparalleled martial arts practitioners.
The two of them had been running around in the mountain for ten to twenty years. When they were bored they would play their favorite game of manipulating puppets. It was unknown which one of the two had got the idea to use a human body as a puppet but the two brothers had researched for the longest time. They carried out trials on their own bodies over just to figure out the crucial points in controlling the movements of the whole body. As a result, the two brothers had sustained numerous scarring during their time of experimenting with the making of a human puppet.
Only the fools could have endured the pain that came while researching this shocking game.
Not even eldest uncle Wen Tunhai knew about the two brother’s unusual skill.
Wen Xiaoyi walked in front of Wen Leyang on shaky legs. Upon meticulous inspection she discovered that some of the long vines were only binding the joints, while other vines had penetrated its thin tendrils into Wen Leyang’s body, leaving coagulated blood stains on certain spots.
The two foolish uncles had removed most of the iron pellets that were embedded into Wen Leyang’s body but there still some pellets that remained lodged in the wounds near to the joints.
Wen Nine went over and carefully explained, “Those wounds are too close to the joints, if we were to extract the iron pellets through a surgery, then there is no way we can string the vines through anymore.”
Albeit it was uncertain whether Wen Lazi’s legacy of the suicidal-styled training drill could eventually save Wen Leyang’s life, it was the last ray of hope for Wen Xiaoyi. Overwhelmed with emotion, the little girl could not stop her eyelashes from trembling and after letting out a cry of ‘oh’, she swooped over and held on to Wen Nine while sobbing uncontrollably.
Wen Nine dared not move an inch, he gingerly lowered his head to peek at the sobbing Wen Xiaoyi and said with a shudder, “You can eat me if you like, but please forgive my brother.”
Wen Thirteen too ran ahead while weeping loudly, “Please eat me instead and forgive my brother!”
Wen Leyang, having lost his puppeteers, spun around in a half circle before falling back onto the ground with a thud…
Wen Xiaoyi then went on to clarify to the two foolish uncles that she was not a ghost and finally convinced them after an exhaustive explanation. It took her another two days for her to recuperate and recover her spirit. Initially, she was hoping to bring along all three companions into the Red Leaves Forest but when they arrived at the border, all the branches were covered in the poisonous red leaves once more. As Wen Nine and Wen Thirteen did not originate from that place, if they were to enter the Red Leaves Forest it was feared that they might trigger another prohibition spell. So they forgot that idea and build a few shabby-looking shacks in the forest next to the Red Leaves Forest.
Wen Nine and Wen Thirteen mustered up their spirits every day to manipulate Wen Leyang into practicing with life-like vigorousness. Wen Xiaoyi returned to the Red Leaves Forest occasionally to make sure everything is alright. Otherwise, she would spend her day guarding these people and she was responsible in preparing meals for them. The two foolish uncles enjoyed the meals so much that they beamed from ear-to-ear every day.
At one point the two brothers had a sudden inspiration – they wanted to string some vines through Wen Leyang’s face so he could sit and join all of them during meal times. If Wen Xiaoyi did not put up a desperate fight, Wen Leyang would have been disfigured.
After more than 10 days had passed, the remaining iron pellets in Wen Leyang’s body were miraculously slowly being squeezed out from his flesh and skin. The large and small wounds all over his body had slowly healed while the strip of gray-white poison mark also gradually lightened. It was akin to the imprint of a snowy path slowly melting away. Wen Xiaoyi could see that Wen Lazi’s method was unexpectedly effective, sometimes she would even wake herself up from laughing in her dreams. Throughout all this, the Buddha’s Light Bug had been following by Wen Xiaoyi’s side. Every time Wen Xiaoyi laughed aloud while dreaming in the middle of the night, it would crawl up next to her and look curiously while wagging its head.
As Wen Nine and Wen Thirteen had played the human marionette for a long period of time, they started feeling bored. If it were not for Wen Xiaoyi’s attempt to lure them with scrumptious food, the two brothers would have run back into the mountain. Of course, they were not always unoccupied and soon they came up with a new game where one person would control the human puppet while the other person would challenge the puppet. It was still acceptable in the beginning but after a month, the person who was tasked to fight the human puppet would surrender croaking and contorting his face in pain whining, “The young boy’s body is too tough now, it hurts too much to hit him.”
The long vines began to wear out faster and faster. In the beginning, it took more than ten days before it was necessary to replace the vines, gradually they had to replace the worn vines every three to four days, especially for those long vines that needed to be strung into the body. Eventually, even with the use of steel needle, it became extremely difficult to poke through Wen Leyang’s toughened skin.
In the blink of an eye, three months had passed. The mountain passed from late summer to early winter but Fourth Elder Wen has still not returned to the Red Leaves Forest. None of the practitioners from the Death Trademark have returned as well. Wen Xiaoyi was weighed down with worry, yet the rest of the people living in that place continued their lives with their living dead expressions.
The Return-To-Before fruits’ expiration date of a hundred days was approaching soon. The poison mark from Wen Leyang’s body had vanished and the wounds from the poisonous vermin and iron pellets had healed without leaving a scar behind. But the spot on his cheek where the Black Jade Incense Tripod fragment had slashed him now left behind a red scar that extended all the way from his cheek bone diagonally towards the corner of his brow.