Chapter 1: Decision
At his side, the barley sugar in the fatty’s mouth crunched as he chewed. The setting sun’s afterglow sprinkled on the ground and the gentle breeze was as soft as a feather, not the least like everyday’s typical harsh coldness. Ai Hui didn’t know if he would remember this day in the future.
“You’ve decided?” The fatty asked ambiguously.
“I’ve decided.” Ai Hui replied with much certainty. He had long since decided, and there wasn’t anything for him to hesitate about.
The fatty seemed to be lamenting, and also seemed to be admiring: “Don’t get beaten up by those little wimps, that would make me feel as if I’ve lost face. I just don’t understand, what’s so good about all that fighting and killing? If we just take this money, it’ll be enough for us to go back and live half our lives with! How many people had come with us into the Savage Territories? Two thousand! And only the two of us lived! This money is to buy our lives, ya understand?! If I died, at least my family can get the money. If you died…”
“That’s why I have to live.” Ai Hui interrupted the speech of the fatty who had immediately stood up when it was getting more and more emotional with an indescribable calmness on his wild face.
Being able to enter Five Way Heaven was not an easily obtainable opportunity. His natural talents were not remarkable and he originally did not have the qualifications to enter Five Way Heaven. However, he performed outstandingly during these past three years. In that complicated tense environment, the calmness, along with courage and fighting spirit he displayed at crucial moments caused one to be deeply impressed.
When he requested to be allowed to enter Five Way Heaven, the authorities ultimately agreed after consideration.
Out of two thousand coolies, only two survived. No matter how this could be said to be mostly good luck, it could also be said that this illustrated its many problems.
The fatty sat down in disappointment. He was all too familiar with Ai Hui’s stubbornness. When he thought about it again, his spirits rose once more as he spoke with genuine sincerity: “Remember what that compensation sheet wrote with my name, they can be cheap with others, but not with me.”
Ai Hui did not bother to pay attention to him as he casually pulled out a grass stalk and put it in his mouth. He pillowed his head with his hand as he contently laid down on the floor. During these past three years in the Savage Territories, everyday was one where everyone’s mental state was stretched to the limit. Filled with blood, death, fighting and killing, it was a dark, ice cold world mixed with scarlet.
He didn’t know how he had gone through those three years, and he did not want to remember it either. They were not beautiful memories.
The setting sun’s afterglow illuminated his body, making him warm and snug. Ai Hui’s brows involuntarily smoothened as his cold, wild face relaxed a bit with tranquility.
His warm and cozy body gradually relaxed, and Ai Hui’s thoughts had also slackened, like mist that had lost its bindings, as it noiselessly diffused into the air.
The warm sunshine and the slightly intoxicating wind were somewhat strange yet familiar sensations, that aroused those strange yet familiar memories deep in his mind.
Three years before those three years, the sword cultivation training hall’s sunshine and breeze also felt like this.
The sun had not yet risen, but he had breathed in the clear, cold air. He was beginning to sweep the worn out warehouse that had been remodeled into a training hall. He had to clean the floor three times for it to be considered a warm up. After wiping the floor, he would begin to make wooden shelves. The wood was usually picked up by him from the nearby vicinity. They were of different sizes; some would be long, short, thick or thin. Due to this, the shelves’ forms naturally could not be carefully selected.
After making the wooden shelves, he would begin to arrange the newest secret sword manuals that the owner had previously obtained.
These manuals were one yuan for ten kilograms at market price. The paperbacks were cheap, and the ones that were iron bound with gold covers were a bit more expensive. The job experience was of little value, and the workload wasn’t too few, but nobody rushed him. Ai Hui had also never been in a hurry, so he casually flipped and reviewed through them.
At times, he would daydream about how well off he would be if he had lived in the cultivation era; he would sell sword manuals until his hands went soft.
After straightening the secret sword manuals, he would begin to straighten the various flying and treasured swords.
At this time, the sun had already risen. It was warm and cozy, just like this times. Ai Hui couldn’t help but slightly raise the corner of his lips into a slight smile.
Even though the unlit flying swords and treasured swords that had lost their spiritual power were simply scraps of metal. However, under the sunlight, Ai Hui would frequently be attracted to their beautiful antiquity.
Flying swords represented the peak of the cultivation world and were favorites of the past era’s great cultivation masters. There were all sorts of various oddities, and they existed in any shape possible, so much that there were some in which one would never associate them with flying swords whatsoever.
He did not touch the ones that had rusted for far too long, for fear that the owner would scold him again for breaking one.
It was a job with no salary, but three full meals. To him, who was once a ten year old street urchin that had been miserable and homeless, this kind of lifestyle was as beautiful as the current sunshine. He could not find a better word to eulogize it.
The owner was a good person, it was just that he wasn’t all that good at doing business.
Would qualified businessmen manage a training hall?
Ai Hui had stayed in the training hall for three years. Those who had visited the training hall did not surpass ten people. When they saw the sign board hung on top of the doorway that said Sword Cultivating Training Hall, ninety percent of the adults would turn their head around and leave.
Where the heck would you find people cultivating the sword?
Aside from the innumerable amount of secret sword manuals, treasured swords, and flying swords, there was nothing else in the sword cultivation hall. Just for these things, the owner had scurried through all sorts of rubbish marketplaces and would even bring some back from other parts of the country.
It could be said that the owner’s craze for sword cultivation related matters were simply unreasonable. Even the travel fees were even more expensive than what they cost.
Of course, at times, Ai Hui would feel that with the owner’s pathetic financial abilities, he could only play and take pleasure in such a cheap hobby like sword cultivation.
Ai Hui had tried to persuade the owner to change it into a body toning hall, or such. It would at least, have more prospects than sword cultivation. When the owner became extremely angered and scolded him through and through, it was then that Ai Hui realized that the owner’s business management skills were truly lackluster.
Ai Hui guarding the completely empty training hall, could be said to have been foolishly daydreaming about those one yuan for ten kilogram secret sword manuals. He did not successfully cultivate the sword, but due to his perseverance with his continuous exercise, he was pretty good in fighting and his dependable fists attracted two or three wimpy kids.
Due to the owner’s inability, his business failed and he owed a debt that could not be returned, so he committed suicide. Ai Hui was really sad because the owner was a good guy, even if he wasn’t mentally strong.
It was a matter of course to return an owed debt, so the training hall should be given back to the original owner. On the final day, when the debt collectors came to recover the training hall, Ai Hui said this to himself.
He saw the bookshelf that he had personally made himself get thrown to the ground. The secret sword manuals, with more than half of them dragged back by the owner from very far away cities, were scattered about on the floor. He saw sword racks that the owner had said to have been a treasure which had been plundered from a sword master’s cave get trampled to pieces by the debt collectors. In those days, the flying swords on that sword rack would have dyed a thousand miles in blood and intimidate outstanding heroes of that time. He saw the Nine Tone Sword Chimes that had been hung under the eaves of the hall get smashed to bits. The owner had said that it used to be the illustrious and most important treasure of the Nine Tone Sword Clan. Once the nine swords came out, the heavenly sound would break even space.
He could not tolerate it, and like a directly injured wolf at an impasse, he crazily threw himself forward.
It was merely a struggle, yes, a final struggle and nothing more.
Ai Hui didn’t know the owner’s name, but he looked for a plank of wood and wrote the word “Owner”, and made it his spirit tablet. He pretended the thin branches were incense sticks and burned the sword manuals that could be burned for the owner. After knocking his head against the ground, he made a wish for the heavens to protect the owner in heaven’s paradise, hoping that he could fulfill his sword cultivation dream there.
Bringing a body filled with injuries, he gazed at the training hall that was completely messed up for a long while before turning around to leave. Walking along the sunshine penetrated street’s uneven borders under the light and shadow of the roofs with holes, he mechanically walked forward subconsciously while not knowing where to go.
That feeling during that year of when he was helplessly at a loss with no one to depend on was still clear in his mind. He remembered that when he felt a bit cold at that time, he had tightly wrapped himself in the clothes that had turned white due to his constant washing and stuck both hands in his pockets. That day’s sunshine was different from today’s sunshine; it was cold enough to pierce bone.
He continued to walk and walk. It was not known how long after did an intense hunger awaken him from his blank state of mind. That was when the cold and hungry him saw the Five Way Heaven’s notice which was recruiting coolies in the Savage Territories.
With nowhere to go, he, who was at the end of his tether, went.
Fortunately, he had survived.
Ai Hui recovered from his train of thought, and discovered that his body had unwittingly become a bit tense. He couldn’t help but laugh bitterly in his heart. This kind of beautiful time had once again been destroyed by a not so beautiful past.
He released a deep breath, and tried to relax his tense muscles.
He had luckily survived through a whole three years of time within the Savage Territories. There were only two survivors out of their squad of two thousand people; one was him, the other was Qian Dai. Oh, the fatty’s name was Qian Dai.
(TL: Qian Dai (钱代) is a pun on qian dai (钱袋), which means money bag in Chinese)
The families of the coolies who died would receive some compensation, but the ones who survived would obtain a large amount of money. Towards this, Five Way Heaven was never stingy.
Fatty prepared to return home. His home consisted of orphans and widows, and he had to support his entire family himself, so the pressure on him was larger than the one on Ai Hui.
“Alright, I also know that you are determined and would never change your mind. Your temperament is terrible with too many deficits, and you’ve never listened to others. You’re also not too young anymore, yet you still behave like this. How are you going to get yourself a wife? Save a little money…” The fatty still continued to incessantly talk, and it wasn’t known when they were going to part ways.
Since he usually talked this much, Ai Hui didn’t really feel that it was too annoying. However, the moment he heard Fatty talk about money, his head ached a little. The moment this guy touched the word money, it was as if he was had been injected with chicken blood.
As expected, when he saw the blue veins on Fatty begin to throb, Ai Hui promptly made a decision and immediately threw out a sack of money: “For you!”
Fatty looked at Ai Hui with a somewhat puzzled expression, but he caught it with a nimbleness that did not match his body. Once the sack entered his hands, Fatty’s little eyes immediately grew round.
With a pull from his fingers that were as coarse as carrots, he instantly untied the sack. After taking a look, Fatty was so moved that even the fat on his entire body began to vibrate.
Ai Hui turned his face away in avoidance; Fatty’s face when he saw money was simply unsightly.
“Clap!” Fatty dashed over and gripped both of Ai Hui’s hands with a completely moved face as tears rotated in the rims of his eyes.
Seeing Fatty look like this, Ai Hui was also touched, and felt that he thought too poorly of this fatty. The two had fought side by side for a long time, so this friendship was deeply sincere. He wasn’t quite accustomed to this kind of situation and wanted to shout out “scram!”, but when he thought about their imminent separation, he forcibly restrained himself, speaking with a somewhat shaky and slow voice: “I’m only one person anyway, so there’s not much of a need for me to use money. Once you return to Old Earth, you would have many family members, so there’s more of a use for money to you…”
“Good brother! You’re truly my good brother!” With eyes brimming with tears of excitement, Fatty choked with emotion when he shook Ai Hui’s hands as if his life depended on it: “Five Way Heaven covers room and board, so if you leave half for yourself, you still wouldn’t be able to use it all up. How about giving it all to me?”
He had actually been a bit hopeful toward this guy, how naive. Ai Hui’s hands that had been gripped suddenly turned over and opened with a bit of power. Like a light and plump cloud, Fatty flew out for more than thirty meters, and then smashed to the ground like the barley sugar in his mouth.
To have finally be able to speak his mind was truly a good feeling.
Ai Hui softly patted his hands like the wind and clouds, and then randomly felt against the purse in his bosom. Fatty’s hands were extraordinary fast and was impossible to defend against.
Fatty crawled up from the ground covered in dirt.
The distant encampment’s whistle for assembly sounded and the two quieted down at the same time.
The time for separating was now at hand, for this was the final assembly. Ai Hui would be leaving for Five Way Heaven, and Fatty would be returning to Old Earth. The orange lowering sunset dragged their shadows longer and longer.
“Ai Hui, survive!”