Recognizing the character, he began to concentrate on the white cloud, doing everything he could to see if he could condense the cloud into a magic character. While he did not hope for much, the moment he started focusing, the white cloud began to rapidly rotate, gradually forming a magic character - the one he had been trying to comprehend earlier.
But one thing was different. The character should have been red since it was of the fire element, but this one was white. He paused, which made the character immediately lose its form, collapsing into a shapeless white cloud, with no sign of re-coalescing.
Mildly shocked, Shi Mu comforted himself in the fact that characters formed in his dreams would not really count. He quickly resumed his former poise and calmness, proceeding with his Moon-Swallowing Art. Soon the night passed and daylight began to take hold, the moon receding into darkness. Shi Mu woke up with a start, feeling wonderfully refreshed. He let out a long breath, straightened his shirt, and stood up. He began an internal check, working his way from his dantian to his mind, and that was when he got received a large shock.
Right now, in his mind, a blood red character was floating quietly, deep in his sea of consciousness, glowing softly, like a dying firefly. This was the character of the fire element, which he had failed to understand after three day’s musing.
“Why now...?” Shi Mu was dumbstruck, unable to believe what he saw in his brain. The next moment, he started to laugh. He did not regain his usual calmness until god-knows-how-many minutes later, the spontaneously happy expression fading from his face. So it seems that the ape’s dream was more powerful than he had thought! Shi Mu shook the morning dew off his shirt and walked to his house.
Several days later, Shi Mu came to the valley plaza in excellent spirits. He stopped before a three-storey building with red tile roof, down the path from where he used to buy pills. A glamorous board, above its gate, said “Five Elements House”. Shi Mu had noticed this place long ago, when he visited the medicine shop for the first time, and bore it in mind in case he, one day, might need to go there.
To his disappointment, no one greeted him when he entered the first floor. A huge, wooden counter filled his view, and he saw a skinny middle-aged man with a goatee busily leafing through a thick wad of hides. Two black-robed servants were also deeply engaged in bookkeeping.
Finally, the skinny man noticed someone had entered. He stopped, looked up, and smiled, “Can I help you, little brother? Buying or selling?”
“Oh, you resell things?” Shi Mu was secretly moved, but did not let his excitement show on his face.
“That’s right, we resell anything concerning magic. Do you have something you would like to sell to us?” The skinny man’s eyes sparkled.
“Not really, I’m here for some materials to draw paper charms. Could you please recommend some good materials for me?” Shi Mu replied, with a faint smile.
“Drawing paper charms? Then you’ll need a magic brush, ink, and some paper. If you would take a look over here you will see the best magic paper we have. Made from Purple Magic Trees, at least a hundred years old. Excellent at absorbing magic ink, and able to enhance the power of the charm being made.“ The skinny man began his introduction enthusiastically, fetching a wad of magic paper from the shelf behind his back. The scent, given off by the paper, soon filled the air.
“How much does this wad cost?” Shi Mu asked tentatively.
“Not much. Only thirty thousand silver.” The skinny man extended three fingers.
Though he prepared himself, Shi Mu was still shocked by the exorbitant price. Thirty thousand silver for a hundred pages of magic paper! That means a piece of magic paper costs as much as three hundred silver!
Shi Mu frowned as he steeled himself to ask the embarrassing question, “er...what’s the price for your cheapest paper?”
This question made the smile fade from the skinny man’s face. He slowly put down the precious paper and answered in a cold voice, “one thousand five hundred silver!”
“Then what about your cheapest ink and brush?” Shi Mu calculated in his heart and asked again.
“Each costs three thousand.”
“Well. I’ll have a set.” Shi Mu made the decision, handing the man seven thousand five hundred silver notes.
With an expressionless face, the skinny man took the notes and, with a quick, uninterested glance, waved to a servant disciple and whispered to him. Again he began to leaf through the hides as if forgetting Shi Mu’s presence. But if he believed that this abrupt change of attitude would lead Shi Mu into regret and self-criticism for his stinginess, he would be utterly wrong. Shi Mu was not in the least upset with being cheap, though he might feel sore from spending more than he had originally intended.
A short while later, a servant disciple approached him, passing him a parcel containing the stuff he had ordered. The brush was made from some unknown animal’s hair, the ink looked quite common, and the wad of yellow paper contained a hundred pages. After checking the stuff, Shi Mu nodded, satisfied, and asked the servant to wrap them.
After leaving the Five Elements House, he returned to his room and shut the door. He did not pick up the parcel, but instead sat down and closed his eyes, waiting until he was as calm as possible to continue. Then he scattered the contents of the parcel on his desk, examining them one by one. Choosing a single page from the wad, he spread it on the desk and opened the lid of the ink. Immediately an unpleasant smell of blood came out of the bottle, but this did not disturb him. Shi Mu picked up the magic brush, concentrated his thoughts, and slowly closed his eyes, his face solemn. The red magic character emerged in his mind, rotating unceasingly.
After studying the character for a long time, he opened his eyes and let out a long breath. While recalling the strokes of the character, he dipped the brush in the ink, and, with the lowest speed he could manage, Shi Mu wrote the character bit by bit, as if painting a complex picture.
It took him, altogether, two complete hours to finish writing the magic character.
Having finished, he found himself to be covered in sweat. He then picked up the paper with the utmost caution, studied it with narrowed eyes, made sure there was not the slightest mistake, and only then was able to calm himself down.
Next, without delay, he touched the paper with the tip of his right index finger, and his spirit power gushed out from his lower abdomen. Then, closely following the instructions written in The Great Sutra of Magical Charms, he guided his spirit power into the paper charm.
As power was instilled bit by bit into the charm, dots of light emerged on the paper, which soon joined together, and, when the last bit of his spirit power was instilled, the whole magic character began to shine and wriggle like a living animal.
As things were going smoothly, Shi Mu put down the brush and gestured at the paper, which soon flew to his hand, as if a tamed bird. He gave it a gentle shake, then threw it into the air, and, with a crack, the paper charm caught light, turning into a spark the size of a bean, before it spread to out, burning the paper. The spirit power which had just been instilled into the paper was now unleashed.
Shi Mu’s face lit up at the sight, but he soon realized that this was only a trivial success. The magic character was a basic fire element character, which did not count for much when fighting, and, at best, could be used as a lighter. More disappointingly, apart from some basic characters, the Great Sutra of Magical Charms only recorded some elementary formulas of the five elements. All of the powerful formulas were sold at the Holy Spirit Pavilion at prices much higher than he could afford right now.
Shi Mu shook his head and quietly put the stuff away. He sat on his bed and crossed his legs, contemplating. If only he could become a real charm Adept! Then large amounts of well-paid tasks would come to him, as well as all the best resources. After nourishing his discouraged heart with the tempting mental image, he once again took the charm art out and began studying the next character.
EC- Wow. Shi Mu. Bad with money. Miser. (Though, if you think about it, I guess those two do go together.)