Chapter 1449: Haowie
On the border of the ninth continent of Planet Vast Expanse was a river which snaked back and forth to parts unknown, dotted on either side by little villages.
One of them was called Peach Blossom Village.
A few hundred people lived in the village, and generally speaking, they all got along well with each other. Supposedly, they descended from a group that migrated to this location from one of the great clans many years in the past. Exactly what happened along the way was unknown, but years later, Peach Blossom Village came to be.
Most of the people who live there made a living by hunting or fishing. In the morning, smoke would curl up from kitchen chimneys, and at night, the stars twinkled in the sky. It was a peaceful and auspicious place....
Occasionally, though, a commotion would break out, and one might even hear shouts of rage....
“Fang Mu! Haowie! When I get my hands on you I'm gonna spank that little butt of yours!” [1. In Chinese, the nickname I translate as “Haowie” is based on the “Hao” character in his name. The nickname itself rhymes with a Chinese word that means “mouse.” In this chapter, the actual word for “mouse” is used as the nickname, although it would sound exactly the same as Meng Hao’s nickname, so I decided to keep “Haowie”]
“I don’t care what you say, I’ve had enough. Stop right there, Fang Mu! If you try to run, I’ll just have to go have a word or two with that drunkard father of yours!”
“That’s my rooster! Y-y-you... you can’t take my rooster!”
On one particular morning, as smoke rose from the chimneys, cries like this echoed out in the village. The voices belonged to the elderly, the village grownups, and even children.
Meanwhile, a six-year-old boy was hiding in the bushes in a far corner of the village, looking very pleased with himself. He was handsome, with eyes that glittered like stars and skin as smooth as jade. He wore rough, hemp garments, and even had some mud smudged on his face, but that couldn’t conceal the clever, intelligent gleam in his eyes.
His hand was clasped around the throat of a chicken. At first glance, the chicken appeared to be struggling, but closer examination revealed that it was trembling. It trembled, not because of the boy, but because of the hunting dog that was stretched out on the ground off to the side.
The dog lay there lazily, and yet it emanated an invisible pressure. Whenever the chicken started to struggle, the dog would growl, and the chicken would instantly sag listlessly in fright.
Some time passed, and the village eventually quieted down. The boy licked his lips, then slowly began to tip-toe his way back through the village, chicken in hand. The hunting dog followed along, also licking its lips.
“This isn’t for you,” the boy whispered, “so don’t even think about it. This is my tuition!” He threaded his way through the village until he found himself in front of a somewhat dilapidated house, whereupon he gave the gate an urgent kick.
“Master!” he whispered. “Open up. Hurry!”
The gate opened, revealing a slovenly old man. He reached out, dragged the boy inside, then looked around to see if anyone had noticed before closing the gate.
As soon as he was inside the courtyard, the boy spoke in a loud voice, “Master, you old fogey, I brought this rooster as my tuition. I want to study Immortal magic!”
The old man wasn't very tall, and had a hunched back. He turned and looked at the boy with narrowed eyes, then looked at the chicken, and began to salivate.
“Excellent. Excellent,” he said, sounding very serious. “Ah, you know how to bring gifts to your Master, kid, you really have potential. Alright, fine. After I deal with this evil creature, I’ll teach you some Immortal magic!
“You just wait here for a bit while I convert the wicked, shameless beast!” With that, he grabbed the chicken and took a few steps toward the house.
“Master, how are you going to convert it?” asked the boy, eyes wide with curiosity.
“No peeking,” the old man said sternly. “Master is going to be using some magic, so you’ll probably smell something strange. There’s not much spiritual energy in this remote place, plus I'm injured, so I’m counting on you to act as Dharma Protector.
“Haowie, I'm placing my life in your hands. You must do a good job as Dharma Protector.”
The young boy nodded excitedly in response.
The old man entered the house, and a few moments later, a miserable squawk could be heard. Then came the sound of feathers being plucked, and the hiss of boiling water. Before long, a fragrant aroma drifted out.
The boy was very curious, and after a bit of time, couldn’t help but ask, “Master, since this evil creature is a monster, why is it so weak? I caught it almost without even trying.”
“That’s because Master used some magic earlier to drain its power.” By this point, it sounded like someone was eating a meal inside the house.
“Master, I've helped you catch a lot of monsters throughout the years. In fact, the village is almost completely cleared out of the things. That’s why my dad spanks me all the time. When are we going to leave the village to kill some monsters and fiends?”
“Oh, there’s no hurry. Yesterday, I noticed a mutt in the yard of Old Zhu’s house on the west side of the village. You should bring that dog over to me for inspection. It's also an evil creature!” The sounds of ravenous devouring could now be heard in the courtyard.
The boy looked quietly up into the sky.
“Master, my dad’s temper is really bad. A few days ago when he was spanking me, he said I was the reason he failed in the Imperial examinations.
“Oh, another thing. He said I got picked up out of the river, right?
“I’ve been having a lot of dreams lately. I dream about weird people and strange things. I even see people flying around. Something about all of it seems really familiar. It's almost like someone is calling out to me, as if... there are two me’s.” The boy seemed to have difficulty expressing what exactly he wanted to say, and the more he talked, the more confused he seemed.
At some point, the slovenly old man had emerged from his house, and was now standing in front of the boy, looking at him.
“Don’t let your imagination run too wild,” he said, yawning. “Two you’s? You're talking about a clone, and only very powerful people can have clones. Yes... powerful people like your Master. Tell me, based on your feeling, where is this other version of you?”
“There....” said the boy, rising to his feet and pointing off in a certain direction, a blank look on his face. “There. Very, very far away. I dreamed about a huge temple, and lots of mountains.”
“Hahaha! Master knows exactly what place you’re talking about. That’s the Ninth Sect! The Vast Expanse School’s Ninth Sect. Now that I think about it, the Ninth Sect has been recruiting disciples in this area recently. If you serve Master well, I might be able to recommend you.” The old man chuckled. Seeing the blank look on the boy’s face, he reached out and tousled his hair.
“Alright, fine. You’ve always loved to let your imagination run wild. Poor kid. Okay, I'm going to teach you some amazing Immortal magic today. It’s a natural Heavenly Dao, something Heaven-shaking and Earth-shattering, something that ghosts and gods alike revere. We're talking about the essence of life here, the origin of all magics, the Dao of all Daos!” The boy’s previous confusion was gone, and now he seemed excited.
“Let’s go!” said the old man, looking up at the evening sky. He led the way out of the courtyard and then down a little path behind the house. The boy followed along, as did the lazy dog.
They walked along for awhile until it was dark, whereupon they reached the back courtyard of a certain house. The old man looked this way and that, then leaped over the wall and into the courtyard with the boy. Then, he whispered, “You’re definitely not allowed to see what will happen in a moment. Just listen. There’s going to be a sermon on the Dao, understand? Master is going to be doing some cultivating. You just stand there and watch me as I, er, I mean, you stand watch as Dharma Protector.”
The boy’s heart began to pound, and he nodded eagerly. Looking pleased, the old man walked over and entered the house. Moments later, the boy heard the voice of a woman.
“What took you so long, you old bastard?”
“I'm here now, heh heh. Alright, let’s hurry things up. I’m going to perform some magic for you....”
Soon, some very strange noises could be heard coming from inside the house. The boy’s eyes went wide. He didn't quite understand what was happening, but he suddenly remembered that Widow Li often had male visitors coming and going, bringing her various gifts.
“So, it turns out Widow Li is a cultivator!” he murmured. He was so engrossed in listening to what was happening that he didn’t notice something behind him. At some point, a blurry figure had appeared. Of course, even if the boy hadn’t been so engrossed, he probably still wouldn’t have noticed.
It was a young man wearing a green robe. He looked like a scholar, except his expression was cold. He appeared on the scene without making the slightest sound, although his arrival caused the starlight to distort somewhat. The hunting dog shivered, and a warm look appeared in its eyes.
“Seventh Year Tribulation.... Tonight, my clone’s Seventh Year Tribulation will come.... After the tribulation, his memories will eventually return. Then, he will be me, and I will be him.” That young man was none other than Meng Hao, and this boy was the clone he had sent into the mortal world to live his fourth life. He was also the clone who would seek enlightenment of the Ninth Hex.
“It should be coming any time now,” Meng Hao said softly. In almost the exact same instant that the words left his mouth, a tremor ran through the boy, and he coughed up a mouthful of blood. He let out a sudden cry as his body began to wither.
The sudden cry startled the old man, and also rang out through the quiet night to be heard by other villagers. The old man rushed out of the house, and when he saw the boy, a look of sincere concern appeared on his face. The truth was that he really did care for the child, and because of that, he quickly ran over and pushed his hand down onto his forehead. Nothing happened. The old man’s face fell. He knew that some vile ailments were best treated by medicinal plant concoctions prepared by doctors, so he scooped the boy up in his arms and raced through the village toward the doctor’s house.
It was a sleepless night for most of the villagers in Peach Blossom Village. At some point, dark, churning clouds had filled the sky, though no rain fell. Thunder boomed, and gradually a mist built up. Strangely, the mist was violet-colored, and roiled as if countless terrifying entities existed inside of it whose roars echoed out into the night.
The little boy who had somehow come to be known as Haowie lay trembling in the courtyard of the doctor’s house. Many villagers were present, including the slovenly old man. There was also a middle-aged scholar who, despite wearing his scholar's robe, had a stubbly beard, and held a flagon of alcohol in his hand. His eyes were blank and unfocused.
This was the boy’s father. Years ago, he hadn’t been like this. However, after failing the Imperial examinations, he had abandoned himself to despair. He was as drunk as usual, and had been physically dragged over to the doctor’s house by one of the other villagers.
“I can’t save him,” the doctor said, sighing.
When the middle-aged scholar heard that, he looked over at the boy he had picked up out of the river, who was now withered and gaunt. The scholar shivered, then raised his alcohol flagon and took a long swig.
“He’s better off dead....” he murmured, sounding pained.
The other villagers in the courtyard sighed sadly. Although the boy was often a bit naughty, to see him die of illness like this was very distressing.
Meng Hao currently hovered up above, looking down silently at the events playing out. Just when he was about to reach out his hand, though, something happened.
“Who said he’s better off dead! Haowie’s not going to die!” The old man strode forward, eyes bloodshot as he once again took the boy into his arms.
“He’s not going to die, you hear me?!” he yelled. “He’s just sick, right? You people can’t save him, and his dad doesn’t care, but I’m his Master and I care!” With that, the old man carried the boy away.
Everyone was shocked, and instantly devolved into a hubbub of voices. Suddenly, people saw the old man erratically flying up into the air, which caused the entire village to break out into an even bigger commotion.
Meng Hao hovered there, watching thoughtfully. Gradually, he faded away. He could sense that his clone was gradually awakening, and that soon, there would truly be two versions of himself.
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