Wen Xiaoyi looked dispirited as Wen Nine idled away the time by aimlessly pulling at the red vines. Wen Thirteen stood in front of the human marionette and frowned, “Why are you still not awake?”
Wen Nine popped his head out and said to Wen Xiaoyi, “Little girl, did you remember the wrong date? Based on my calculations, only twenty days have passed.”
Wen Thirteen shook his head and answered without waiting for Wen Xiaoyi’s reply, “It is impossible, winter will be upon us soon. I’d say at least half a year had passed. If you don’t believe me, I’ll work it out for you! On the first day little Taiyang fell into a deep sleep; on the second day we plucked some vines and made the human marionette; on the third day… Argh!” Wen Thirteen abruptly let out a fearful scream as his heavyset body tumbled stiffly onto the ground. He pointed at Wen Leyang and exclaimed, “His eyes… He opened his eyes!”
Wen Leyang had indeed opened his eyes and he was trying hard to focus on the blurry image in front of him.
The little girl immediately darted to Wen Leyang’s side. She refused to blink her round eyes and her lips moved as if she wanted to say something but she was speechless.
Suddenly, the sound of two loud slaps echoed through the forest.
Wen Leyang stretched out his hands and rubbed his cheeks and asked through a torrent of curses, “Who slapped me?”
Wen Nine dropped the vines in his hands and laughed merrily. He jumped towards his brother and pulled his Wen Thirteen upright while cheering, “Little Taiyang is awake! He’s finally awake!”
Wen Leyang felt his body go limp as the vines lost their hold on him. His legs buckled and he almost fell flat on his face but he managed to stabilize himself by exerting his core strength. He then shook his head with all his might and once his vision cleared, he saw Wen Xiaoyi standing before him. His mouth widened in a grin as he said, “Little girl… Oh!” He suddenly clamped his legs together and covered his crotch before hiding behind a huge tree.
The two foolish uncles roared with laughter as they followed him around the tree. With their agile movements, they skillfully removed the vines on Wen Leyang’s body effortlessly.
Wen Xiaoyi stared at Wen Leyang as her huge eyes gradually turned red and tears began shimmering, threatening to spill over. She asked, “How did you… Not wake up earlier?”
Wen Leyang did not understand that she referred to the number of days he had been unconscious. He muttered with a frown, “A few days ago I came to my senses but my mind was so confused that I continued to sleep.”
Contrary to Wen Nine’s usual behavior, he smiled benevolently and chastised sternly, “You should thank the little girl! Over the past twenty days…”
Wen Thirteen interrupted, “It was at least six months!”
“… The little girl has been scrubbing you clean every day, and she even massaged your stiff muscles!”
Wen Xiaoyi burst out crying. She ran behind the tree and held out her little arms before clinging tightly onto Wen Leyang. The Buddha’s Light Bug crawled from her arms onto Wen Leyang’s shoulder and stretched out its tiny body with effort. It then rolled all over him, as if it would only be satisfied if it were to stick every inch of its skin onto Wen Leyang’s body.
Wen Leyang was beginning to recall the events before he had lost consciousness, albeit he was still uncertain what had happened afterwards. He could only imagine how many hardships the little girl must have been through over this period of time and he immediately raised his arms and hugged Wen Xiaoyi. He comforted her and asked with a soft voice, “Look, can you pass me a shirt? Before the both of us continue crying.”
Wen Xiaoyi could not refrain from smiling through her tears and sniggered, “You think you look great? Those two black patches on your buttocks are hideous!” As she was saying that she let go of him, picked up the garments she had brought from the Red Leaves Forest, and tossed them over to Wen Leyang.
“Well, I got that from riding a bicycle in the county town…” Wen Leyang answered passively as he pulled his pants in a swift motion. While he was trying to tighten the belt he overexerted his strength and the leather belt, which was of a good quality, broke unexpectedly into over 10 pieces with a loud crack.
Wen Xiaoyi giggled happily, “Well it seems like your strength has weakened slightly. How about your body, do you feel anything odd or out of place?”
Wen Leyang stretched actively and moved his head around with a strange expression on his face. He did not say a thing but he could feel that his body was much heavier than it was before. It’s not like he had gained weight, but more like the earth’s gravitational pull towards him had grown stronger.
After some warm-up exercises, Wen Leyang began to jog. Wen Xiaoyi who was by his side yelled at him and he felt a black shadow flashed by his eyes. Before anyone could understand what was happening Wen Leyang had crashed into the mountainside with a grunt and was now sitting in a pile of rubble.
It was indeed a strange sensation, his gestures appeared clumsy and heavy. All his movements felt like he was going against a strong force of inertia. Swinging his arms was akin to wearing boxing gloves weighing a few tons, the act of jogging felt like he was carrying a huge millstone on his back, but he was fully in control of his newfound strength.
“Wen Xiaoyi, will you please tell me what happened to me?” He asked while aiming a punch at a nearby tree which was as thick as a drum. Prior to his injuries, if he were to throw a punch with all his might, this tree would have been snapped into two or be shaken into sawdust. If he were to make the hit with The Faulty Punch and the Art of Poison a tree of this thickness would most probably have wilted and died in a short time.
A dull thud was heard and his punch was a complete failure, the tree didn’t even move or drop a leaf. Suddenly, Wen Leyang jumped up as he stared at his fists in joy and surprise. His gaze glimmered and he looked at the vines on the ground then towards Wen Xiaoyi and said, “The ancestor Wen Lazi… didn’t he try to refine poison directly into his body?” His intonation was strange and sounded like a combination of hesitation and astonishment in the tone of his voice.
Wen Xiaoyi nodded and gazed towards the tree with slight hesitation as she wondered at Wen Leyang’s excited reaction. To her, it had been a completely ineffective punch and the tree had hardly moved at all.
Wen Leyang laughed loudly and pointed towards the tree, “Wen Xiaoyi, listen to me, why don’t you go ahead and give the tree a punch?”
Wen Xiaoyi did not question his intent but gave her agreement with a curt nod. She then clenched her tiny fist, pulled back and punched the tree with all her strength.
Smoke and dust rose in all direction.
Wen Xiaoyi’s fist had barely touched the tree when it abruptly burst into powder. The tree, which was in prime condition, was pulverized into a fine dust that rose upwards and filled the sky.
The four of them coughed had a coughing fit while breathing in the dust cloud.
After catching her breath, Wen Xiaoyi shrieked loudly and grabbed Wen Leyang’s hands tightly while asking, “Wen Leyang, how did you perform this magic trick?!”
Wen Leyang felt lighthearted and his serene laugh echoed through the forest as far away in another mountain a wolf howled in response.
The Faulty Punch imbues a person’s attacking power with an outburst of poisonous force from the toxins which have accumulated in the body. However, there is a clear distinction between pure physical strength and poisonous force. Yet with his one casually executed punch, the power of poison from his body and the strength of his fist had merged into one, with the strong poison converted into immense strength, pulverizing the thriving tree into dust.
Wen Xiaoyi smiled happily as she passed him a carrot, and filled him in on what had transpired since he lost consciousness on that stormy night. She chuckled happily from time to time, while at other times her tears fell profusely like a loose string of pearls. The two foolish uncles took out their wooden marionettes and acted out Wen Xiaoyi’s storytelling with actions of their own, which Wen Leyang found to be both funny and annoying.
At last, the broad outline of the story was explained completely and the two foolish uncles heaved a long sigh of exhaustion. The act of manipulating the puppets with skill and dexterity took a lot of energy and it would be utterly impossible for one to do so without a certain level of expertise.
“In the past, our ancestor Wen Lazi could not solve this problem and yet… It is now solved by us. Even if he were to have found some Return-To-Before fruits to retain his life, he would have fallen into a deep sleep of a hundred days and be unable to move a muscle. He lacked two heroes who were expert puppeteers and were highly proficient in the practice of The Faulty Punch!” said Wen Xiaoyi. She had witnessed Wen Leyang not only survive the ordeal without permanent damage but had also managed to turn the misfortune into a blessing. She also had a newfound respect for the two uncles. Within her tiny heart, the only person in the world who was as kind to her as her grandfather is Wen Leyang and she felt a deep gratitude to these two arbitrary saviors if she had known of the word savior .
The two heroes danced around in unbridled happiness. They felt extremely proud of themselves but all of a sudden Wen Nine stopped and frowned, then asked his foolish brother, “Now that little Taiyang has refined the poison into his body, does this mean that he has now turned into a poisonous Taiyang?”
Without uttering another word, Wen Thirteen grabbed Wen Leyang’s palm and gave it a lick. He savored the taste carefully before exclaiming, “It’s salty, so it’s not poisonous!”
Wen Nine pressed his lips close to Wen Thirteen’s ears and whispered, “We shall break our meridian vessels too, afterwards…”
A sign of reluctance appeared on Wen Thirteen’s expression as he asked, “Where are the meridian vessels?”
Wen Xiaoyi immediately interrupted the two foolish uncle’s imagination and said, “Please don’t! The Return-To-Before fruit is a holy plant, it is rarer than a thousand-year-old ginseng or Lingzhi fungus. Without the Return-To-Before fruit, one who had cut his meridian vessels would only find death in the end.”
The Wen brothers were not dissuaded by her words at all.
Wen Leyang chuckled, “It’s no good if you were to learn this skill, one punch to a wild animal would pulverize it to dust and you won’t be able to eat the meat anymore.”
The two fools were suddenly enlightened, they looked at each other and cried out in unison, “What a narrow escape for us!”
Wen Leyang laughed along for a little while. He then focused his senses on his three million and six thousand pores which were gradually contracting and relaxing, sequentially exhaling and inhaling the air from the surrounding area.
Every time his pores constricted he could feel a slightly heavy sensation all over his body. He felt it especially when he was exerting himself, he could sense his skin tightening intensely all of a sudden and turning every inch of his body rock-solid and heavy.
When his pores relaxed and opened up, his entire body became light as a feather. He could see his surroundings in a much brighter and clearer manner. He could also see far ahead to where the red leaves were billowing in the wind, and even the little insects sleeping underneath the rock next to him. Everything was within his perception, yet everything was unrelated to him. He felt that he was having an out of the world experience; that nature was nature itself, and he was still himself, nature was just right by his side, yet it felt like they were of two individuals existing on separate realities from one another.
All the martial art practices under the heaven, regardless of its selling price and whether it is authentic or bogus, is focused on training one’s Qi as the base of practice. This practice often derives force from an internal source to the external environment. A successful practitioner would be able to become one with nature and their surroundings, fulfilling the concept of the universe-and-self-as-one.
However, in Wen Leyang’s current situation, he felt as though his force was exerted externally to his internal core. If he were to devote all his senses, he would feel that not only was he not one with nature, he was removed from his surroundings entirely. He had no way to tell if he had successfully mastered the practice that was inherited from Wen Lazi, nor did he know how he should continue this practice upon a successful attempt. Wen Leyang felt as though he was standing on a path that no one has ever crossed before. It seemed that a bright future was in sight but in reality, he felt that he was still trapped in the dark.
Upon hearing of the present situation from Wen Xiaoyi, Wen Leyang put these concerns aside and immediately returned to the Red Leaves Forest with Wen Xiaoyi. The Forest appeared exactly the same as before, with the exception of the completely deserted Death Trademark. The caretakers from the rest of the trademarks were still as cold and emotionless as before and seemed neither surprised nor pleased at his return. Only the two who were raised by beasts bounded happily towards them and received Wen Leyang with a warm welcome.
According to his calculations, Fourth Elder Wen had left the Red Leaves Forest for almost three and a half months. Before he left, he had instructed Wen Leyang to bring the red jade box to the Elders at the Wen family’s village if he had not returned by now.
However, the red jade box had been shattered during the confrontation and the magical seeds had been used up by him. Nevertheless, Wen Leyang gathered the medicinal poisons that he was familiar with and immediately left the mountain to return to the village. Wen Xiaoyi was hesitant to follow him at first, but she was convinced to leave the Place of Birth, Life, Sickness, and Death after she heard that Fourth Elder Wen could be at the village.
As they were making preparations for the trip, Wen Shulin hobbled towards them and passed a long cylindrical bundle to Wen Xiaoyi. The little girl cheered jubilantly upon seeing the item in the package – the old man had repaired the big-muzzled blunderbuss during the past few months.
The two foolish uncles bustled around and pestered about returning home to visit their eldest brother, as they followed the same path as Wen Leyang.
After two days, the company of four including Wen Leyang are well-prepared to endure the hardships of the long journey. They each held a carrot between their lips and with high-spirits they left the Red Leaves Forest on a small winding road in the Nine Peaks Mountain.
Wen Leyang had only walked a few steps before he furrowed his brows and stopped. He could sense that since he had regained his consciousness, he was much more sensitive towards his surroundings as compared to before.
Two young lads of impressive presence slowly walked out of the side of the road and gave a friendly smile as they stood in the way of Wen Leyang’s path. Their eyes shimmered profoundly, their complexion was rosy and healthy, and their skin was as delicate and fair as a newborn infant. However, they were not the Baby Faced Man and did not wear long swords on their backs. If one were to judge based on their overall appearance, they closely resembled the young man who had been poisoned to death by You’ve Got Me after he attacked the Place of Birth, Life, Sickness, and Death on that rainy night.
The two young lads blocked their path and smiled as they asked in a sincere voice, “Your Excellency, may I inquire if your surname is Wen?”
Wen Thirteen took a puzzled look at his foolish brother and asked, “Are they here to rob us?”
Wen Leyang raised his eyebrows and asked the question while laughing, “What happened? Are we not allowed to cross this path over here?” The lads could see that the person talking had a sturdy and muscular physique. He was bright-eyed, plain looking, and appeared to be a normal youth of the mountain village. But the deep gash of a dark red scar on his face tempered his innocent façade and gave him a roguish character.
Within the gaze of the two young lads, a shade of contemptuous arrogance flashed in their eyes. It was the shade of arrogance that was all too familiar to Wen Leyang.
In their observation, it would seem that out of the group of four two were dim-witted, one is a little girl, and the only one with a sturdy physique looked as if he was clumsy and foolish as well.
The young man on the left was still smiling as sweetly as before he declared, “The place beyond this path belongs to the Wen’s household, and only those with the Wen surname are allowed to pass.”
Wen Leyang kept a tight grip on his foolish uncles and his voice was longer courteous as he said, “Since when do the Wen family employ outsiders to guard their borders! Who do you think you are?”
The two young lads glanced quickly at each other and lit up with a smile. They leaned sideways and opened the way on the path, the one who had first spoken earlier told them, “For the past few days there were at least two others who speak like you. It is for certain that you too from the Wen family. You should get home quickly and not be like the rest of them, they were only allowed to continue on the path after being badly battered.”
His manner of speaking was gentle and awfully sincere, yet that shade of arrogance was undeniably present.
Wen Leyang knew that something must have happened up on the mountain but he refused to be caught in the two men’s business. He voiced a ‘humph’ and walked past them with big strides but as he did so the two foolish uncles unexpectedly burst out shouting, “Attack!”
The two foolish uncles broke out of Wen Leyang’s grip and dash towards the two lads in a flash. Before the smiles on the two young lad’s face could be wiped away, they were already surrounded by Wen Nine and Wen Thirteen’s dark shadows!
The blunt dull sound made by fists striking against flesh was almost like that of rapidly fired bullets. In the blink of an eye, the two foolish uncles wielded the Wen Family’s Faulty Punch to the utmost pinnacle of performance. A flurry of punches landed on the elbows, shoulders, arms, head, feet, knees, legs, and even on the backs and buttocks of the two lads. The speed of this attack was akin to spilled quicksilver on the ground, it only took a brief moment of effort to send these two young lads screaming and tumbling as far as seven to eight meters away. Red blood gushed out of their mouths as each of them spat out a few teeth, their formerly exquisite appearance all of a sudden looked ridiculous with the loss of their front teeth.
Wen Nine spat at them, “Do not ever try to rob us!” He dragged his brother along and they hiked up the mountain path with their chins up and chests out. It was unknown how he had arrived at this supposition.
Wen Leyang was at a loss on whether he should laugh or cry. If they were to be ranked based on their expertise with The Faulty Punch, the first place would go to Fourth Elder Wen, followed by the eldest uncle Wen Tunhai, the third place would be held by his two foolish uncles.
He had experienced the power of their punches when he first entered the mountain. It was during the incident with the barbequed meat and he was sorely beaten by these two elders. If he were to reflect on his attainments then, the beating would be one of them.
The two young lads were ordered to seal the mountain pass and they had only chanced upon a few minor characters of the Wen family for the past few days. Now they had encountered the formidable Wen Nine and Wen Thirteen. There was no chance of defending or resisting the attack and they were tossed far away with their mouths and eyes askew. Yet they were still alive after receiving so many blows, so they must have decent abilities.
The two young lads tumbled onto the ground and croaked in anger. They struggled and failed to get up, so they simply lay on the ground and cursed loudly, “You scoundrelth 1 !” They clasped their hands and wrists together with their index and middle finger firmly joined they made the gesture for summoning their secret swords!
An eerie howl was heard as two gleaming short swords flew out from their waists!
Wen Leyang immediately roared with rage as his rushed forward with his fully restored power. His skin tightened swiftly, accumulating all the force within his body and firmly engaging his muscles, tendons, and bones. His resulting dense body rippled a strong force of inertia and his whole being resembled a raging tornado!
The recently unsheathed flying swords staggered in the air and dropped onto the ground as the bodies of the two young lads twisted in agony on the ground. Their visions blurred and they were only aware that a storm of vicious momentum had swept over them, followed by the grip of a pair of hands as strong as a metal vice which clamped on their sword-summoning fingers.
The deep gash of the dark-red scar on Wen Leyang’s cheekbone shone with a captivating light under the bright sunlight.
The two foolish uncles scampered out of the way while cheering. They picked up the motionless flying sword and returned. As they scrutinized the sword under the sun, Wen Leyang asked, “You said that the swords can fly?”
Wen Thirteen shook his head and rolled his eyes at him.
Wen Nine roared with laughter, “I suspect there is something hidden within the sword, we should break it open to take a look!” He bent over and picked up a rock, Wen Thirteen too followed suit, as he picked up an even larger rock.
When the two young lads heard this, the rage within their eyes was almost spitting fire. However, regardless of what they tried, they could not break free from the metal vice-like grip of those hands.
Wen Leyang felt a twitch of sympathy in his heart as he saw their expressions.
The flying swords may be razor sharp and are strong enough to split through gold and crack through stones, but no matter how good its quality is, it would not be able to withstand direct hits. As the two uncles pounded on the swords with the rocks, fine cracks began to appear on the blades. The swords began to rattle, as if they knew of the imminent threat to its life. As the two foolish uncles saw this reaction, they became even more motivated and pounded the rocks harder. In another moment the gleaming flying swords had shattered into thousands of fragments.
The two uncles’ disappointed yet curious expressions were reflected on the multitude of fragments, almost like a mosaic.
Within the practice of the Art of the Flying Sword, a sword would be emphatically connected to its master. If the sword was destroyed, the master too would be severely injured and suffer a major decline of his power, as compared to physical injuries such as fractured fingers, this incident was far more critical.
The two young lads’ complexions dulled rapidly, their bodies were shivering with fear as Wen Leyang released his grip and muttered, “Hmph!” His opponents’ fingers were twisted at unusual angles, it was unknown how many shards of bones had the fingers shattered into.
These two young lads were similar to the Baby Faced Man who had attacked the Red Leaves Forest earlier. They could control flying swords and while they also practiced some form of dark arts, their physical ability was not much different from that of a normal person. Cast aside their flying swords, they were not much stronger than an average martial art practitioner. Even Eldest Uncle Wen Tunhai would have been able to dodge the Buddha’s Light Bug’s attack which had killed the Baby Faced Man.
Wen Leyang casually went through the young lad’s pockets and found a cellphone. He dialed a familiar number and waited.
There was no cell phone reception in the depths of the mountain, nor were there any charging points. Wen Leyang had not brought his cellphone along during his trip up the mountain.
There was a buzz as the call went through, and Eldest Uncle’s slightly fuzzy voice came through. Upon hearing Wen Leyang’s voice, he immediately said, “Be a good man and wait for me at the Red Leaves Forest!” He then hung up the call. What was surprising was that Wen Tunhai did not even ask Wen Leyang about how he obtained a cell phone and how he was able to make the call in a place without cell phone reception.
Wen Leyang had an ashen expression as he stretched out his arms and carried Wen Xiaoyi on his back. He then hiked up the mountain in rapid strides.
Wen Nine and Wen Thirteen followed closely behind him. They still held the rocks in their hands as they cast furtive glances at the pocket where Wen Leyang had kept the cellphone. They seemed inflamed with the desire to crack the phone open to have a look inside.