Whiz! A green arrow whistled through the air and disappeared behind a huge rock, where a withered yellow branch was covered by a shrub. The arrow sank accurately into the branch.
However, the dead yellow branch suddenly flipped and started rolling wildly. It slapped against the shrub, and the leaves fell down to the ground.
As the matter of fact, the withered branch was the head of a large viper. It was over fifteen meters long, was so thick that a grown man could barely wrap his arms around it, and had striped scales, which seemed to be as solid as rocks. The arrow had pierced its head up to the fletchings. The yellow viper’s sturdy body, at first, made an unyielding struggle, twisting and turning like crazy. Its thick, long tail sweeping the ground vigorously. Some towering trees nearby were struck in this undiscriminating attack, torn down after a succession of rustling sounds. A quarter of an hour later, the large viper lost the last bit of its strength, barely able to make the slightest twitches. It eventually lay dead, with its belly upturned.
Out of a huge rock, some one hundred meters away, jumped a couple of figures. The one rushing in the front was Shi Mu, whereas the ones behinds him included Sand Girl, Sand Star, and some tribesmen of the Flying Raven, who were each carrying a number of animals, which they had hunted.
Shi Mu was holding a large yellow bow in his hand. The bow was decorated with snake’s heads at either end, and the bowstring ran through their mouths. This long bow was none other than the one he had gained from the green-skinned barbarian. For fear that it might be recognized by the barbarians, he had deliberately applied some beasts’ blood to the bow, dying it yellow. At this moment, he was looking over the bow with satisfaction. This ‘Air-Piercing Bow’ was even more powerful than his Purple Steel Bow, and the characters carved on it were, according to Feng Li, some black magic, unique to the barbarians. They held some mysterious ancient might, and worked in a similar way to the magic characters of humans. To some extent, human magic and barbarian black magic learned from each other. Once one learned of something, the other could, more or less, perceive it.
With the black magic on it, this Air-Piercing Bow had a range much longer than the Purple Steel Bow and, moreover, it could apply its magic to arrows that were fired from it, intensifying them so that they were able to pierce through armor. Also, when instilled with magical power, the bow could change its size freely within a range that made it suit the user’s need at anytime. The large viper it had just shot was powerfully built, able to beat an intermediate Houtian warrior in a fight. However, this Air-Piercing Bow, together with the Wind-Chasing Arrows he was using, had rendered it as weak as a rabbit.
Shi Mu and his barbarian friends soon marched to the viper’s side. Sand Star gave its body a heavy kick, but the overweight body barely moved. This filled Sand Star with awe.
“Brother Mu, you are a hero!” Sand Star looked at Shi Mu with glittering eyes, shouting proudly, as if Shi Mu was really his brother.
“I agree! This kind of viper can change the color of its scales to disguise itself. A sly animal, if there ever was one. Also, you can barely smell its scent. It’s scales are solid as iron. Even a heavy weapon may not leave a cut on them. However, brother Mu can kill it with a single arrow! You are a real Balute of our kinsmen!” Another barbarian with curly golden hair echoed, his eyes filled with admiration.
“You flatter me, brother Hu Han. It’s not me who killed it, it’s my arrow.” Shi Mu returned an embarrassed smile, thinking of the dead green-skinned barbarian.
Balute is an honored title for heroes in the barbarians’ culture. They are a people that worship bravery and strength more than anything, and would only hail someone they truly admire as “Balute”. And this yellow viper’s changeable color is, indeed, difficult for ordinary people to handle. But it is only a sham under Shi Mu’s superhuman eyes. If you include the Air-Piercing Bow and the Wind-Chasing Arrow, the snakewas a good as dead as soon as Shi Mu decided to kill it.
Saying this, Shi Mu stepped forward and stooped over the ground, withdrawing the arrow from the snake’s head. He wiped the blood off the arrowhead, then carefully returned it to the quiver. He had, altogether, thirteen such magical arrows, which he got from the green-skinned barbarian. Despite their killing power, the effect of this black magic would dwindle slightly each time the arrow was used. A crude estimation told him that each arrow’s life was no longer than five uses, at which point the magic power would have fully run out.
The barbarians around him all gazed at the bow and arrows helplessly and enviously. They couldn’t avert their eyes. Their tribe was a poorly-equipped one, and barely had any metal. Most of their warriors were still using weapons made of bone.
“Brother Mu, is that a black magic weapon?” Sand Girl asked, her watery eyes glistening.
“Sort of,” Shi Mu scratched his head, and meanwhile the bow flashed, shrinking quickly until it was as small as a palm. Then he slipped it into his shirt.
“Eh...It’s getting dark, and we have hunted enough animals. Let’s go back.” Sensing Shi Mu’s reluctance to talk about the bow, Sand Girl changed the topic and suggested they return to their village.
The others answered gladly, and smartly trussed up the viper and then merrily started returning to their camp, singing barbarian songs in high spirits. They soon forgot about the weapon that had reminded them of their scantiness, thinking solely of the yellow viper. This is absolutely a treasure: its skin can be made into soft armor, and its sinews and bones into arrows and bows. The remnants will be good material to exchange for valuable things with other tribes. Above all, the snake meat will suffice to feed the entire tribe for a few days.
So the blissful barbarians brought the huge yellow viper back to their tribe. Immediately a commotion was aroused. Some children had not seen a viper’s body before, so they chased after each other, shouting and yelling excitedly around the snake’s body. Shi Mu stood like a pleased father near the children, with his hands on his hips. Looking around, the whole tribe had done much to prepare the night’s ceremony. Several high wooden platforms were built on the central open space, and around them there stood over ten unlit torches.
On the altar, a black bird, carved from some unknown material, was placed, looking so vivi, it could have been real. Especially that pair of blood-red eyes. They cast obscure red lights, as if watching the tribe quietly the entire time. Shi Mu knit his eyebrows, and narrowed his eyes to stare at those realistic bird eyes. An eerie feeling crept upon his heart, but soon vanished, as if it were only his illusion.
Sand Girl and Sand Star could not wait to retell how Shi Mu killed the yellow viper with an arrow, and a fit of enthusiastic cries burst out among the crowd. The simple-minded tribesmen immediately encircled Shi Mu, hailing him, and throwing him adoring looks. Sand Sun walked to Shi Mu, applauding, “Master Mu is really a Balute! You can even kill a yellow viper! That’s incredible!”
“I don’t deserve this, Shaman Sand. I’ve already brought much trouble to your honored tribe, so I don’t want to attend your ceremony with empty hands. So this yellow snake is my gift for the Raven God. I hope it can add color to the great ceremony you are holding tonight.” Shi Mu turned his eyes from the crowd and smiled widely.
“Master Mu is so generous, I, on behalf of our Raven God, accept your sincere gift.” Sand Sun bowed with one hand on his chest, commenting in a serious tone. As a shaman, as well as the leader of the tribe, he feared and worshiped the Raven God more than any of his tribesmen. Shi Mu’s blessing of their ceremony won his liking immediately. So any suspicion of Shi Mu’s identity and purpose, if there was any, was swept away cleanly. After chatting with his children, Sand Sun then called out his tribesmen to deal with the viper.
Shi Mu, standing by peacefully with a heartfelt smile, suddenly frowned, gripped by a pain without warning. The curse of the tattoo on his chest had, unexpectedly, activated, sending a burning pain, like a sharp knife, piercing into the depths of his spirit. His face blanched in pain, and his body staggered helplessly for a moment before he managed to regain the balance.
“Master Mu, are you alright?” Sand Girl asked, full of concern, after detecting Shi Mu’s abnormal change.
“It’s nothing, I’m just tired. Let me have a rest and I’ll be ok.” Shi Mu took a deep breath and forced a smile. He then told San Sun that he would like for a nap, and turned for his tent.
Watching Shi Mu’s receding back, the unadorned, pretty face of Sand Girl was clouded with worry.
After returning to his abode, Shi Mu hastily took off his clothes, and saw the snake tattoo glowing red on his chest. The pale, red lights flowed quietly, like blood. The sight made him gasp, and his face dropped. The Eternal Doom Spell had finally begun to corrode his spirit.
He took a deep breath to calm his nerves, then took out a gourd shaped jar made of green jade. Pulling out the plug, he poured the content on his palm with great care. A thick, transparent light blue liquid slowly streamed out. This was the unicorn viper’s blood he bought before he left Lan City.
He slowly applied the blue blood to the tattoo, and a soothing cool feeling spread across his chest. In accordance, the red lights emitted by the tattoo faded until they, at last, vanished. He exhaled a long, deep breath. Even though the pain was only momentary, it had made him perspire all over his body.
Storing the jar cautiously, he rose and walked to the window. The vast sky in the east was darkening, and the air felt thin and melancholy. He clenched his fists, and his eyes grew forlorn and cold.
“Mother, your Mu Er will definitely survive, and become a strong warrior. Believe in me and don’t worry!” He murmured, softly.
Under the night sky, the camp fire leaped up high merrily, and lit up the sky. So the Annual Raven God ceremony had begun.
All the tribesmen had convened before the high altar, and Shi Mu sat by Sand Sun and all the other elders of the tribe. The great ceremony had two stages. The first was for the shaman Sand Sun to chant a song of praise for the Raven God, and then the whole tribe would offer food and gifts to the Raven God, praying for the Raven God’s bless them in the coming year.
After the solemn sacrifice came the all-night party. A huge bonfire was lit before the altar, and the blazing flames illuminated the whole tribe. People swarmed by the fire, and placed delicacies and wines, rarely seen in normal days, which were shared between all the tribesmen.
The ox horn cups, and camel bone bowls were filled with excellent wines. Amid a Twelve-String qin’s clear and beautiful sounds, the tribesmen danced in a festive mood, holding each other’s hands. A jovial atmosphere pervaded in the air above the vast, night-sky covered wasteland.
“Master Mu, please.” Sand Sun passed Shi Mu a full bowl of wine, which Shi Mu accepted with pleasure and drank in one clean gulp. The barbarian wine was less delicious than a human wine, but this wine was made from the yellow viper’s gallbladder and, thus, had a peculiar, yet pleasant, scent and tasted rather refreshing.
“Good Wine!” Putting down the camel bone bowl, Shi Mu exclaimed loudly, stroking his knees.
“You flatter us, Master Mu. You’ve seen the world, so how could the poor wine of a small tribe please you?” Sand Sun replied humbly, but his eyes were sparkling with joy.
“You are very polite, shaman. Your honored tribe’s wine really impresses me. This drink is strong, pure, and has a unique flavor after concocting it with the snake’s gallbladder. I’ve never tasted a better wine.” Shi Mu laughed heartily.
Although Sand Sun knew this was just Shi Mu being courteous, the praise still delighted him, the leader of a small, struggling tribe. He could not help but laugh with Shi Mu to his heart’s content.
Just then, there was shouts of joy among the tribesmen by the campfire. Sand Girl had appeared among them at some unknown time. At this point, she was wearing a long dress, which was as red as the flames. On her clear forehead was a silver band decorated with moonstone. Her slim wrists and ankles were wound with red threads, from which silver rings were hanging. This image was radically different from her usual valiant and heroic bearing, and the long dress showed off her delicate figure even more.
chapter from: http://www.xianxiaworld.net/The-Portal-of-Wonderland/