“What?” Shi Mu was surprised. He gazed at the thing and found it to be a black iron piece decorated with delicate patterns. They looked like characters but Shi Mu could not identify a single one of them.
“Miss Zhong, have you seen this thing before?” He was curious as he picked it up and studied it.
"It’s the first time I’ve seen it. It must have belonged to the zombie. That’s not strange, zombies used to be humans, so it’s normal for them to carry some human things." The girl came up and looked at the thing, suppressing her nausea at the smell of the decaying corpse.
Shi Mu nodded and, after some hesitation, stored the iron piece away, then he carried the leaf-covered body out of the hall.
Shortly afterwards they were on their way to the city. Shi Mu could not resist asking Zhong Xiu about her shriek that made the zombie recoil. But Zhong Xiu was baffled too. Seeing this, Shi Mu did not ask any further. Since it was late in the day and the west gate of the city was already closed, Shi Mu took the girl back to his suburban manor.
In the evening, Shi Mu was resting in his room, observing the iron piece in his hand. At first glance, the piece seemed to be made of common black iron, but it was heavier than expected and was particularly cold to the touch. Moreover, the delicate decorations, when examined closely, gave a sense of primitive simplicity, creating a sense of mystery and fascination. By then, Shi Mu could tell that it was not an ordinary item. But, still unclear of its origin after examining it for a long time, he carefully put it away. Then Shi Mu took out the wooden case he got from Zhong Ming before his death.
The Zhongs seemed to be no ordinary family, and, as such, their heirloom should be something special too.
Shi Mu opened the case and found a thick book inside, its pages already yellowed by time, and on its cover, four characters were written:“Zhong Gong Mi Dian” - The Secret Arts of the Zhong Clan. A little surprised, Shi Mu pulled the book out to get a better look.
There were a whole three hundred pages in the book, all printed with tiny black characters, some of them vividly illustrated. After only briefly glancing over the first few pages, Shi Mu’s face was covered with shock. He sucked in a cold breath, sinking into silence at the book’s contents.
The book was divided into two parts, the former telling of a great number of methods to make rare weapons, while the latter describing instructions to produce delicate tools and poisons. Both parts far surpassed Shi Mu’s imagination, considering their obscurity and mystery.
For example, there was a weapon, named “The Blade of Moonlit Sea”, which had an ordinary shape, but the inside of its body was empty, making it possible to infuse the sword with a large amount of poison. When used in combat, the sword would splinter, splattering poison on the enemy.
There was another weapon - a small crossbow named “Bow Bolt” - which was even more vile in use. It was a hidden weapon that one wears on their back. In order to use it, one had to bow towards the person they intended to kill, then give a slight pull on a strap hidden inside their cuff, which would cause three bolts to shoot out from the crossbow toward the target, killing them before they are even aware he were shot.
As to the kinds of poisons in the book, they ranged from those which could knock people unconsciousness to those whose deadly effects would only mature after a few days. Simply put, there were many kinds of poisons in the book.
“I really wonder what the Zhongs did that required them to develop such vile things. Looking at its worn-out condition, it should have been handed down from their early ancestors.” Shi Mu thought to himself. This book was a real eye-opener. If completely memorized, it would be useful when it came to dealing with people who bore similar skills. Some of the other things recorded also drew his attention. He turned the pages quickly and found the illustration of two weapons, one large and one small, arranged high and low respectively. The larger one was a slightly arched single-edged knife, its handle long enough to be held with both hands. A black string could be seen faintly around the handle. The smaller one was a tiny, yet incredibly sharp looking, dagger. Deep in thought, Shi Mu Gazed at the illustration.
The next morning, Shi Mu, alongside a swollen-eyed Zhong Xiu, came to a certain street in Feng City. On one side of the street stood an eye-catchingly huge manor, covering an area of a little over half a square kilometer. After a look at the blue doorway, which had a golden doorplate where a huge “Wu” was engraved, Shi Mu walked up to knock on the door.
“Who’s knocking at this early hour! The sun’s not even up yet!” The door was finally opened and a man, who looked to be a servant, said this in an impatient voice as he came out, glancing at the two visitors.
“This girl is one of your relatives, would you please report her arrival?” Shi Mu passed a jade plate to the servant while he said this.
“Our relative? Wait a moment.” Half-convinced, the man took the jade plate and closed the door.
It was only a short span of time before the door was opened again. This time, two men emerged from within. The one in front was a long-bearded old man while the one behind him was a youth of Shi Mu’s age, he looked like the old man, however, he was full of prideful arrogance.
“It really is my niece! Perfect! I’ve been waiting for so long since I got your letter. But where is my brother Zhong? And who is this...?” The pale old man was full of smiles seeing Zhong Xiu but seemed rather surprised at Shi Mu’s presence.
When he got a look at Zhong Xiu, a trace of disgust flashed across the eyes of the youth behind the old man as he saw the blue birthmark on the girl’s forehead.
“This is young master Shi. I... I lost my father on the way. It’s all thanks to young master Shi that I could be here now.“ Zhong Xiu greeted the old man in a polite and graceful manner, her eyes shining with tears.
"What? Has some misfortune happened to Brother Wu? Wait. This is not the place to talk about such things. Would you please follow me inside?" Apparently the news astonished him. He quickly comforted her and began to lead her inside.
The girl nodded.
“Oh, I’ve nearly forgotten this little boy, thank you for bringing my niece here. This is a reward for you.“ After another glance the pale old man frowned, passing Shi Mu a silver coin.
“Thank you, but I don’t need it. My task is finished since Xiu Er has safely reached her destination.” Shi Mu shook off the coin and left.
“What a proud bastard! I've seen lots of guys like him, acting like they are too good for our money, but you know they actually want it in their hearts.“ The youth snorted.
“Brother Shi is definitely not one of them.” Zhong Xiu said lightly.
The pale old man only smiled and led the two inside.
After leaving Zhong Xiu at the Wu residence, Shi Mu crossed some streets before finally reaching a building with a sign displaying “Liu Feng Martial Arts Club”. He walked through the gate and saw around ten teenage boys doing weapons practice.
“Brother Shi Mu’s here.” At his appearance, two youths immediately walked up to greet him. One of the two looked twenty while the other only looked around sixteen.
“Brother Feng, Brother Gao, you are here too?“ Shi Mu had not expected their presence here but still happily greeted them.
”We came to see the newly obtained medicines for body tempering. We heard they were cheap, so we were wondering if they could be useful to us. But for Brother Shi, there’s definitely no need. You must have finished your body tempering by now.“ The older one said. One might say that he looked elegant.
“I heard instructor Li say that you’d soon reach level ten, is it true?” The younger one asked with some doubt in his eyes. He had a deep knife scar on his left eyebrow.
Shi Mu came to know them only after he had entered the club for the first time. The elder one’s name was Feng Li, the younger one Gao Yuan.
“It’s true I’m near level ten. I did not come here for medicine but to ask instructor Li about some problems I've had." Shi Mu answered with a smile.
“So the rumor is true! Indeed, it seems Brother Shi can acquire Qi-sensing at an early age! Instructor Li’s right, you really are a talent! Hey, in the future, let’s get a drink at your restaurant to celebrate!“ Feng Li expressed his surprise with a sigh. Gao Yuan also showed expressions of admiration.
“That sounds like a great idea.” Shi Mu was in full agreement and left after exchanging some pleasantries. But at his departure Feng Li sent him a meaningful look, which was received by Shi Mu with mute understanding, his expression only changing for a moment.
Shi Mu then came to a yard behind the practice ground, where Li Canghai was lying in a wooden armchair, his eyes slightly closed as if deep in thought. Li showed a smile and rose from the chair upon seeing Shi Mu come in.
“Master Li, are we going to ask those senior Practitioners for help this time?” Shi Mu asked after bowing.
“No need. You are at the crucial moment of reaching the eleventh level, only I can help. You haven’t told others about your real level, have you?” Li Canghai asked in a relaxed manner.
“Of course not. I’ve been following master’s instructions, making people believe I’m only at the intermediate stage of level nine.“ Shi Mu answered with a smile.
“Good. Good. Then you’ll definitely surprise them in the competition in half a month. Our Feng Liu Club will outshine the three other clubs.” Hearing this, Li Canghai’s cracked a pleased smile.