"Sister, it's the Spring Festival!"
On the edge of the Misty Mountain, the small village was swept up in an atmosphere of joy as the Spring Festival was just around the corner.
This year marked a turning point for the village. Wang Tianlei had driven the whole village since his return. The gain had doubled several times with fewer casualties, which meant increased income and improved living conditions. In the Spring Festival season, even the old storyteller of the village could treat himself with meat occasionally. Wang Tianlei had found him a job teaching people to read. Young women could buy cloth of different colors to make one or two new padded jackets and even Little Shiba himself got one. Now, with the annual festival around the corner, happiness abounded in the prosperous village.
Zhou Hua, whose belly was much larger and rounder than it was a month ago, was well protected by the Wangs. Her husband's parents would not allow her to work at all. All she had to do was eat, sleep and wait for the big moment when she would give birth to a fat baby boy and make them happy grandparents.
This was killing Zhou Hua, a mountain-born girl who had started helping her family out with everyday chores at the age of four.
Over a decade's worth of daily routine made her uncomfortable with such an easy life.
She could do nothing about it.
This was the reason Zhou Hua had nothing to do these days but sun-bathe, sitting by the wall of her yard, eyes closed, resting her hand on her big belly. Lately, however, it seemed it would soon snow with the dark sky and fierce north wind. In such terrible weather, she stayed indoors, sitting by the charcoal stove. A thick cotton curtain hung on the door, making it a warm haven.
Little Shiba visited and talked with his sister regularly for the chance to have a few more peeks at the Ignis Skill. He could not afford the trouble he would get himself into if his memory failed and he misunderstood one of the acupoints.
Seeing her little brother bounce into the room, Zhou Hua laughed and said, "Yay! It's almost Spring Festival. Want your lucky money? Don't worry. You'll get it."
"Now that you are married, you have to give me lucky money, too! Hooray!" Little Shiba laughed and said. Actually, in this village, kids were lucky to receive one or two copper coins as their lucky money. He didn't really care about the money.
They stayed in the warm room, talking to each other from time to time. Instead of going deep into the mountains, Wang Tianlei was practicing shadow boxing with the young men in an open space in the village. They didn't go hunting in the woods for two basic reasons. The first being that they already had enough animals for food and other basic daily necessities. The second reason was that with the weather getting cold, the northern winds blowing and the first snow coming, the hunters wouldn't find anything even if they did go hunting. The cunning beasts in the woods had already stocked enough food to get themselves through the winter. They were hiding in their caves and waiting for the first snow of this winter. The men would rather take advantage of this time and practice boxing and combat tactics, and hope for better harvest when the snow stopped.
Time flew by peacefully and happily. Little Shiba chatted with his sister for a little while, scanned Wang Tianlei's Ignis Skill again when he had the chance and would then put it back, fully content. It was almost time to go home as it was starting to get dark outside.
"It's too late. Why don't you stay here tonight and have dinner with us?" Zhou Hua said.
Little Shiba shook his head immediately and said, "No, thanks. Mom will be upset if I come home late again."
Zhou Hua laughed and said, "You don't say! You should be a good boy and not make her worry about you all the time."
"Sure!" Little Shiba waved his hand impatiently and ran to the door.
He ran fast because it was getting dark and his mom would definitely be harsh on him if he was late again. As soon as he reached the woodshed and was about to step out of the yard, he heard a loud "Bang" coming from the yard, and then, a scream.
"Sister?!" Little Shiba suddenly stopped, his heart fluttered. That was Zhou Hua. What happened?
There was no time for hesitation. He picked up a wood chopping axe from the ground, and headed back to the yard.
The moment he arrived, Little Shiba saw Zhou Hua stagger from her room, panicked. At the same time, Wang Tianlei's father heard the big noise, and rushed out from a wing room.
Wang Tianlei's father was hardly an old man. He was a strong man in his mid-forties. Seeing Zhou Hua flee out in panic, he ran to her aid and helped her stand.
"B-b-bear! Bear! A bear!"
ROAR!! A loud roar came from the room, the walls and door collapsed. A black bear, over three meters high, rushed out from the ruins of the destroyed pitiful little house.
It was actually a bear!
Little Shiba thought his heart would explode.
He knew that the worst had come for them.
Living at the edge of Misty Mountain, he didn't know much but he had heard about bears hunting down in the village in winter.
To save enough energy to get themselves though the cold winter, the bears were the fiercest during these days. There were stories of hungry bears that could not find sufficient food and had decided to take their chances downhill, bringing mass casualties to the villagers. The bears wouldn't leave until they took many human lives. Such catastrophe didn't happen frequently, but occasionally every few years, which was why the villagers had let their guards down. No one had seen it coming today.
Little Shiba heard three screams, one of which belonged to Wang Tianlei's father, who rushed to protect Zhou Hua when the black bear came to her. It was not so much because he cared about her safety but because he was nervous about the unborn baby. Unfortunately, as strong as he was, he was no match for the gigantic beast. Before he could throw himself against the bear, he was struck on his shoulders and sent flying. He wanted to stand on his feet again but it was in vain.
The bear had no interest in him, staring at Zhou Hua's belly instead. It seemed that it was attracted by this strange-looking big-bellied creature.
Little Shiba took a deep breath and raised his axe. He was so scared, his body trembled and he nearly pissed himself. But when he saw Zhou Hua had stumbled, and fallen to the ground and the black bear swooped down on her, he suddenly found his courage from nowhere. He shouted loudly and ran toward the bear, axe in hand.
The black bear glanced at the small youth and just ignored him. Although it was a beast, as one of the few mighty ones among the Misty Mountain, the bear could easily tell what its enemy was capable of. The bear saw no threat, as the youth was no bigger than a skinny monkey.
Not surprisingly, just like Wang Tianlei's father, he was knocked into the air by the bear's paw, who clearly didn't strike gently just because its enemy was a little kid. As Little Shiba weighed less than the last victim, he hit the wall of the yard with a thump.
Little Shiba made a loud noise, his mouth spurted blood and his body crashed into the ground.
Is it over? Are they done?
Lying on the ground, Little Shiba was still alert, which surprised him. It was beyond his understanding that he hadn't passed out after his weak body took such a serious injury.
He was not a hero who would give his own life to save another. He should have made a run for it right away. He never thought that he would throw himself at the black bear and fight it; now he wished he hadn't done it. Yet, still, he felt an impulse to stand up and keep fighting.
It was nothing but an impulse. Although he practiced martial arts, he had taken a serious strike from the beast and fallen forcefully to the ground, totally smashing his body. His eyes were the only thing he could move.
Little Shiba struggled to open his eyes, seeing the fierce beast open its huge mouth. It was about to bite Zhou Hua. He regained his strength somehow, suddenly pushed the ground with his hands and surprisingly stood on his feet again. Just when he was ready to put up a fight, he felt a shock throughout his body and a sudden, burning headache. He buckled over in pain, holding his head, howling.
"Nooooooooo!" Howling like a wild animal, Little Shiba startled the bear, which was about to bite Zhou Hua. It raised its head, confused. Looking at the howling youth standing on his feet again, the bear was stunned. In the woods, all it took to kill such a little monkey was a strike from its paw. It had never seen a monkey who could take a punch like he had.
Little Shiba was stuck in an odd state, not knowing what was wrong with his body. He had a burning headache followed by muscle spasms and twitches, and then all he could see was infinite darkness. No, it was the shade of blood. He tried with great effort to open his eyes but his sight was blocked by blood.
"What's happened to my eyes? I can't see anything!" Little Shiba struggled to open his eyes in severe pain, but still, all he could see was endless blood.
"Why? Am I blind?" He was extremely scared but the unbearable pain didn't allow him to think. He wished he could just pass out or die for good, rather than suffer like this. But he didn't get what he wished for: he was conscious. He was more alert than ever, or at least he felt like it.
"Nooooooo! Ahhhhhhhh!" Little Shiba was howling again, louder than before. The beast was so irritated that it left Zhou Hua and headed towards Little Shiba, preferring to solve this first before treating himself to his prey.
The beast didn't and couldn't notice that Little Shiba's eyes glowed supernatural rays of light. In fact, in such a tight space, no one did except for one man.