The thin moving line crawled into the forest glade and a faint burning smell filled the air. Wen Leyang squinted and finally saw the incoming object clearly.
It was a little insect the length of a pinky finger, sparse with a few barbs around its body, dark red in color and fat in size. It looked just like an overfed caterpillar that had crawled through a tin of red paint.
The bug left a trail behind; there was burnt blackened vegetation and seared rocks as if they had been scorched by a hot burning rod.
The fat caterpillar circled around the Black Jade Incense Tripod for few times before it jumped into it with a high, squeaky sound. It almost sounded like it was overjoyed. It then went quiet inside the tripod.
After waiting a while, Wen Tunhai exclaimed with a smile, “Done!” He jumped off the tree and picked up the tripod before lifting the lid to check on the trapped bug. He then handed the tripod to Wen Leyang while exclaiming, “Boy, do you know what this is?”
Wen Leyang held the tripod in his hands and shook his head. The insect that had a grand entrance earlier on was now all curled up, lying still in the tripod comfortably, though he was unsure if it was sleeping or dead. Wen Leyang wanted to reach out and touch it but held back out of fear, because even a disciple of Wen dared not simply touch a poisonous insect that would be attracted by the tripod.
Wen Tunhai laughed out aloud, “Scaredy-cat! Don’t worry, this insect is called the Buddha’s Light Bug. Don’t get scared of the burnt trail that it left behind, its toxicity is minimal, in fact.”
Looking puzzled, Wen Leyang went, “Minimal toxicity?”
Wen Tunhai nodded with a smile, “This is only the larval stage. Wait till it undergoes the metamorphosis and become the Buddha’s Light Fly, then it’ll have the invincible Fire Poison! Put your hand in there!”
The two foolish uncles who were perched on top of the tree gazed at the ground in curiosity. However, neither of them made the first move. Only their eyes fixed unwaveringly on the tripod. It was almost as if they were trying to touch the tripod with their eyes.
Wen Leyang did not understand the purpose of his First Uncle’s instruction, but he obeyed nonetheless and put his hand into the tripod cautiously. The small fat bug suddenly straightened up its body and quickly climbed up onto his palm, wriggling its plump body around playfully. Wen Leyang immediately felt a burning sensation on his palm. His body trembled and he wanted to pull his hand out but First Uncle held his wrist and said, “Don’t move! You mustn’t move!”
The Buddha’s Light Bug frolicked for a while on Wen Leyang’s palm before it suddenly looked tired and shakily wobbled back into the tripod. It then curled itself back up and went to sleep.
Only then did Wen Tunhai allow his nephew to remove his hand. “Boy, you’ve got to play with it every day starting from tomorrow. Remember, you’ve got to let it leave your palm on its own will before you even think of removing your hand from the incense tripod!”
Wen Leyang examined his palm in the glow of the moonlight. A fine red line was beginning to spread from his palm towards the shoulder along the blood vessels. There were countless fine holes on his palm that were caused by the barbs of the bug.
Wen Leyang was shocked by the seriousness of the matter because if the red line ever spread to his chest, not even the immortals could bring him back to life. He hurriedly reached for the medicinal powder from the chest pocket of his shirt. This powder has the property of drawing out poisonous pus from the body. He applied it to his palm while his other hand moved in a circular motion and continuously massaged the spot three inches below the arm’s meridian vessels. The poisonous line soon stopped spreading and started moving back towards the palm. Moments later, a few drops of bright red blood was squeezed out from the wounds in his palm.
Ever since he started soaking in the extremely poisonous medicinal potion and practicing The Faulty Punch, venomous creatures such as scorpions and centipedes would avoid him. Once, he cornered a blood red centipede nearly three inches long which attacked him out of self-defense. The red centipede died instantly on the spot while he was totally unharmed.
As for the Buddha’s Light Bug, though it was not regarded as a highly venomous creature by the Inner Disciples of Wen, it was in fact, lethal to ordinary people. This type of bug belonged to the Fire Element, playful in nature and was especially fond of small boys. However, none could escape death if they were to encounter one in the wild.
Seeing how skillful Leyang was in removing the poisonous pus by himself, traces of satisfaction were observed on Wen Tunhai’s face. “Do play around with it whenever you have time. One day, if it leaves the tripod and moves your arm instead, this means it has acknowledged you as its master and you can then bring it along with you. If it manages to break out from its cocoon alive and becomes the adult fly out of sheer serendipity, boy, you’re in luck!”
Wen Leyang nodded his head in excitement at first but then turn puzzled, “Out of sheer serendipity?”
The Buddha’s Light Bug was a bug that had the Fire Element from the Five Elements. When it has transformed into an adult and becomes the Buddha’s Light Fly, the fire poison within its body will also grow exponentially and it then becomes an exceptionally poisonous creature. However, according to the record by the Wen clan’s ancestors, upon cocooning, this type of bug would typically die in their cocoon before their final transformation into an adult. The cause of this immature death remained unsolved.
Wen Leyang opened his eyes wide in awe and thought that since his First Uncle did not know the cause, he had no reason to further crack his head to find out. However, when he thought of the bug’s capability of recognizing its master, on top of being such a fat worm, he found it interesting. The Wen clan had been playing around with poisonous insects since young and usually the higher the toxicity of the insect, the uglier and more ferocious the look, which in turn made this cute looking bug even rarer.
Finishing the advice for his nephew, Wen Tunhai pointed to Thirteenth Uncle and shouted, “Thirteen, you moved! You are a b*stard!”
Thirteenth Uncle let out a cry and jumped down from the tree, “I didn’t move!”
“How’d you jump down if you didn’t move?” Wen Tunhai burst into laughter while winking mischievously at Wen Leyang, “In the future, if the two brothers won’t let you go, you just use this trick!”
Wen Leyang grimaced and replied, “I wouldn’t dare call my uncles a b*stard.” After pausing for a while he added, “I wouldn’t dare call you a b*stard either!”
Wen Tunhai spat to express his exasperation, “Go to sleep, go to sleep! Whoever doesn’t is a b*stard!”
Thirteenth Uncle felt bullied by First Uncle and refused to sleep. He took out a marionette which looks to be his all-time favorite toy from his chest pocket. However, his marionette was a lot more complex than ordinary ones and had countless control strings attached. Thirteenth Uncle skillfully fiddled with the marionette and it seemed to come alive with all its joints moving fluidly.
Ninth Uncle was attracted by it as well and shouted, “Yue Buqun, you despicable scumbag, return the five hundred lives of my Independent Regiment!” He came dashing while manipulating a marionette of his own.
Not backing down, Thirteenth Uncle replied, “Here’s the Dharma God Punch from your Daoist Grandpa ancestor!”
The two brothers happily went on with the marionette fight and their shouts were met by the cawing sounds of frightened crows few miles away from them.
Wen Leyang followed his First Uncle deep into the mountain with the two foolish uncles accompanying them at their side, cracking jokes and playing around from time to time. Ninth Uncle and Thirteenth Uncle were as simple-minded and naive as toddlers, especially with their family around, they were in high spirits and messed around with everything. They got acquainted with Wen Leyang in no time.
Wen Tunhai did not have even a hint of impatience and on the contrary, he looked at his brothers with great affection and attachment in his eyes. From time to time, he would tell his two foolish brothers, “If Leyang gets bullied in the future, as his uncle, you must intervene!”
“I’ll beat anyone who dares to bully our Taiyang till their intestines fall out!”
The two brothers could not remember the name Leyang, so they resorted to calling Leyang as Taiyang and he has since gotten used to that nickname.
As they headed deeper into the rolling mountains with its numerous peaks, Wen Leyang could hardly remember the path they took. All he could recall was that they kept walking West, passing one peak after another. Whenever there was time, he would put his hand into the tripod and played around with the Buddha’s Light Bug for a while; followed by removing the poisonous pus in pain. Three days later, First Uncle finally pointed towards a clump of red leaves at a distance in the forest and exclaimed, “We’re here, Leyang!”
They were surrounded by lush green mountains with spring in full bloom. The small patch of Red Leaves Forest looked like dancing flames against the sea of greenery; it was indeed a spectacular sight.
Wen Leyang said with a grimace, “First Uncle, can you now tell me what this place is?”
Not waiting for Wen Tunhai to answer, Ninth Uncle came over and held Leyang’s hand, “Taiyang, I know. This is the home of the Old Fairy.”
Thirteenth Uncle nodded hard and said solemnly, “That’s right. There are many people in the Old Fairy’s family and they eat meat every day! If you go there, you get to eat as well!”
The two had barely finished talking when an androgynous husky voice was heard suddenly, “If the two of you are here, you get to eat meat as well. Why didn’t you come?”
Ninth Uncle and Thirteenth Uncle each let out a cry as though they had seen a ghost and hid behind the back of Wen Tunhai with Ninth Uncle warning Leyang in the name of brotherhood, “Taiyang, run! The Old Fairy’s here!”
A light but rapid footstep was heard and an old lady, dressed in a robe with white hair and a face full of wrinkles, was walking towards them from afar in a quivering manner. In a blink of an eye, she was standing before them.
Wen Tunhai shouted to Wen Leyang quickly, “Come and greet the senior of the Wen clan!”
Wen Leyang went down on his knees immediately and bowed with his forehead touching the ground, “It’s an honor to meet you, Grandma…” Without finishing his words, Wen Leyang’s vision suddenly went black, his skin felt tight instantly like a dried cow’s hide that had been splashed with cold water. This sensation mercilessly hit right to his bones and the extreme pain almost left him breathless.
Wen Tunhai held on to his nephew and said, “Boy, are you blind? This is your Fourth Grandpa, bow to him again!” He then turned to the old man, “Fourth Father, this kid has been foolish all his life, so don’t take offense at his stupidity.”
The three Elders in the Wen Village were all aged around eighty years old but looked after themselves well so they looked just over sixty years old. However, the Fourth Grandpa looked at least over a hundred years old with the shallowest wrinkle half an inch in depth, so old that one could not easily tell his gender. Wen Leyang had not heard about the Fourth Grandpa before and he was misled by his two uncles to address him as Grandma as a fairy is usually female.
The Fourth Elder Wen’s sardonic reply was like an icy cold needle that pierced through the air and struck right into the eardrums of Wen Leyang.
Wen Leyang was trembling in pain but bowed again with the help from his First Uncle, “It’s an honor to meet you, Fourth Grandpa. I was impolite earlier on, please forgive me.”
With that, Fourth Elder Wen waved his hand lightly, “This is the disciple of Wen who passed the Major Examination this time around? It’s getting worse by the generation!” Wen Leyang felt a sudden relief as the excruciating pain subsided in an instant.
With an obsequious smile, Wen Tunhai bowed to the old man before saying, “Fourth Father, please don’t say so. If you’ve spent enough time with him you’ll realize there’s a redeeming feature about this boy.” Wen Tunhai then asked, “Would you like me to tell him about the Red Leaves Forest, or do you want to tell him yourself?”
Fourth Elder Wen waved his sleeves impatiently and motioned to Wen Tunhai to speak while his cold eyes began scanning the Ninth and Thirteenth Uncle. Usually, the two fools refused to stop and rest without using the b*stard trick but now, under that look which was colder than poisonous snakes, they dared not move an inch and stood straight on the spot.
Wen Leyang was complaining deep inside and it looked like for the next two years, he would be eating meat with his Fourth Grandpa.
Ignoring the unhappy grimace on his nephew’s face, Wen Tunhai pointed to the Red Leaves Forest and announced, “The Red Leaves Forest is an important place for the Tuo Xie Sect, it houses The Place of Birth, Life, Sickness, and Death.”
Wen Leyang felt a cramp in his brain suddenly. This time, after entering the mountain he had met his two foolish uncles whom he had no knowledge of, then came the unheard of Fourth Grandpa. Last but not least, the most important place of the Wen clan was here: The Place of Birth, Life, Sickness, and Death.
Every power, be it a clan, a sect or an organization, had their own secret. The Wen clan, with ‘Tuo Xie’ as the master, entrenched in the Nine Peaks Mountain for over two thousand years and once considered as a forbidden place by the world, was no exception.
The Place of Birth, Life, Sickness, and Death was the biggest secret of the Wen.
The Birth Trademark is a library of a vast variety of books, including the collection and summaries of experiences by the Wen Bucao’s ancestors, the Five Elements of all creatures, the prescription of poisons and medicines and the strange art found in the folk. One could never finish learning all these even in several hundred years.
The Life Trademark is the storage of the bodies of the Head of Family. When they were alive, their skills in the art of poison was outstanding with large quantities of poison and toxins accumulated in their bodies. When they died, their bodies would not rot nor decay. They would poison the fish to death if thrown into the water, poison the land until no grass could grow where they were buried, and diffuse poisonous gas that would corrode the bones and rot the soul if the body was burnt. For the sake of nature, their bodies had been stored here.
The Sickness Trademark is the rearing place of a lot of poisonous creatures.
The Death Trademark is the secret base where disciples of the Wen cultivate and train for power, strength, and talent.
The Wen clan had endured for over two thousand years with an increasingly sophisticated Art of Poison and it all came down to having this important base.
Fourth Elder Wen was the absolute master of this place. Without his consent, even Grand Elder Wen would not be able to disclose to others on anything related to this place.
Fourth Elder Wen, expressionless, waited for Wen Tunhai to finish then took a harsh look at Wen Leyang before sticking two fingers up at him, “Two years. You’re allowed to stay in The Place of Birth, Life, Sickness, and Death for two years. You can read all the books within the square as you like, or ask me if there are any problems and you don’t even have to inform me when you leave. But, you have only two years and whatever you manage to acquire and learn is none of my business. If you refuse to leave after two years, you shall remain here forever.”
Wen Tunhai frowned with concern and asked, “Fourth Father, isn’t two years a bit too short? There’re so many ancient books and records in the square…”
Fourth Elder Wen shook his head stiffly with an emotionless face, “With this kind of talent, so what if there are ten years or a hundred years?”
Though he was blushing with embarrassment and anger, Wen Leyang asked politely, “Are there any rules in the square? Could you kindly advise?”
To that, Fourth Elder Wen replied in disdain, “There aren’t many rules, I’ll tell you the rest later. Basically, there’s no limitation or restriction for other matters. If you think you’re capable of burning this place down, you can give it a try as well.” Not taking another look at Wen Leyang, he then turned to Wen Tunhai and asked abruptly, “How are things going?”
Shaking his head, Wen Tunhai took a look at the puzzled Wen Leyang standing next to him, not saying a word.
Fourth Elder Wen sighed unexpectedly, that was the first time Wen Leyang had sensed this emotion in this old man since they first met.
Fourth Elder Wen took out a red-colored square box from his chest pocket and threw it over to Wen Tunhai, “Bring this with you, be extra cautious in everything and don’t work yourself too hard!” With that, he turned around and walked towards the Red Leaves Forest.
With the box in his hand, Wen Tunhai took a step forward and tapped lightly on Wen Leyang’s back, “You’re here to study the ancient books and records left by the ancestors in Birth Trademark. If you manage to get some insight, you’ll naturally progress to another realm which in turn helps you in cultivating the most suitable poison prescription for your physique in future. If you can’t, there’s no harm in picking up more poison prescriptions. Fourth Father is someone who seems cold on the outside but he is warm-hearted inside. You’ll know more about him once you spend some time with him. You better catch up with him quick, you’ll learn a lot if you study hard. I’ll come and pick you up in two years’ time!”
Ninth Uncle and Thirteenth Uncle jumped over and pulled on Wen Leyang’s sleeves and asked him solemnly, “Taiyang, we’ll come look for you to play later?” Then, they secretly told him, “We’ll teach you to control the marionettes. ”
Wen Leyang nodded with a smile and then hurried after his Fourth Grandpa. Looking back, Wen Tunhai opened his mouth slightly as if to say something, but shook his head in the end. Reaching out to his two foolish brothers he said, “Let’s go, Big Brother will play with you two on the mountain for a few days!”
Ninth Uncle and Thirteenth Uncle cheered loudly…