By the time Chang An returned home, A’Yan had already fallen asleep. He hesitated at the door for a while, but in the end did not enter. He stood on tiptoe and looked at the woman’s back from the window for a moment. Then he wiped the ash on his face with his sleeve and whispered, “A’Ma1阿妈 – mother, I’m going.”
With that, he left without even saying a word to A’Yan.
Chang An walked through the familiar woods, passing by the training ground where he’d often take a peek, then drilled through a crack in the door. Soon, he picked up a scrap razor blade, held it in his hand, and continued running up the hill without stopping.
Constantly running fast made his chest feel tight and painful. It felt as if he was pierced by a long needle and it was churning everything inside. And he was so bold, he actually trotted all the way to Yufeng Mountain, which was usually regarded as a forbidden place by the people.
The elderly who knew of Yufeng Mountain all said it was a real man-eating mountain, a place where only the True God and the devil could live in. In the split second they start walking up the mountain, mortals couldn’t help but want to prostrate in worship as they could hear their tremors and fears from the depths of their souls.
However, Chang An, perhaps because he was too young and his soul hadn’t had the time to develop fully, actually held his breath and rushed to the forbidden area. He had decided to go find that person who had taught him a trick.
Regardless of whether he was a True God or a devil.
The top of Yufeng Mountain held no difference with the bottom of the mountain. It was still a dense forest, but the further up the mountain, the more sparse and colder it got, and at the top, there was only snow.
The sweat on Chang An’s thin clothes was soon dried up by the night wind. He shuddered hard, gripping the rusty piece of metal in his hand.
Chang An went up the hill, but then stopped. He looked up to find the peak between the clouds but could not see it. He was at a loss. Suddenly, he realized that the mountain was too high, too steep, and too big. He could not even distinguish the southeast from the northwest. Don’t mention one person; inside, he feared he couldn’t even find a big lion.
But going back was something he mustn’t do.
After burning the carpenter and running out of A’Yan’s house, Chang An felt that he had completely betrayed Zhe Yan’s last words.
There was kindness to repay kindness; enmity to repay enmity. If you said something, you mustn’t take it back. If you had nodded your head, you shouldn’t go against your words2出尔反尔 – to promise now and then deny later.
This was what Zhe Yan had constantly exhorted into his ears ever since he was a child—Zhe Yan probably lived a very cowardly life himself, so he always wanted to cultivate Chang An into a tough man. These words would be repeated every morning and evening. Like chanting sutras, Zhe Yan would always harp on about it to Chang An; otherwise, he’d feel that something was missing from the day
Growing up receiving such education, Chang An had merely nodded at first. But now he had gone back on his words, an unforgivable crime. He decided to carry this “serious crime” and go up the mountain to find that person who could teach him how to wield a saber. Having made such a solemn promise to himself, if he were to back out and give up at this point, wouldn’t he be going back on his word once again?
Chang An, seven years old, did not know what this thing called “conscience” was, yet he already felt condemned by something mysterious.
With that in mind, he puffed up his chest and continued heading heedlessly up Yufeng Mountain.
The night was thick, and the sound of sha sha came from around, as if there was a shadow endlessly chasing after him.
Chang An looked back in the darkness using the light from the moon, and his heart jumped. Behind him were many pairs of small, glowing red eyes, which had been in the darkness for who knew how long. Each and every one of them were facing him and salivating at him.
Chang An stopped in his steps, unable to decide if he should run or do something. The leader among them took two steps forward, exposing its body to the moonlight.
That thing was about as long as a big lizard. It had a long tail, slender limbs, a mouthful of canine teeth, and a body reflecting light of every color. It walked very lightly. Each one of them was as thin as a Snake Ant, but they had enormous heads. When they walked, it was very wobbly, as if their heads could fall down any moment.
It was very funny.
But when they lined up one by one, their red eyes all looking at Chang An as if they were trying to figure out which part of him would taste best, it was not funny at all.
What kind of monster is this? Chang An had never heard of it. He stepped back half a step, and those things crept on him inch by inch, forming a half-circle around the kid.
Chang An swept his eyes over those unknown monsters eyeing him covetously, waiting to eat his flesh. He didn’t know what to think. He looked down at himself and thought incomprehensibly, “Are these all here to eat me?”
Then he looked at those enormous heads atop the monsters’ slender bodies, and in his anxiety, he blurted, “I’m just a little meat and also not enough to eat ah!”
These big-headed monsters didn’t care if he was enough to eat or not. Smelling the sweet scent of blood and flesh wafting from the little guy’s tender skin, they resolved that, even if everyone was to rush up and grab only a lick of blood, being born with such a disgusting countenance wouldn’t be in vain!
Chang An thought in his heart, but he didn’t dare turn around and look for a way out. He could see that if he moved even just a bit, the biggest monster directly in front of him would pounce on him and bite him to death. Chang An gripped the hilt of his blade tightly, and only then did he finally feel a little scared.
But he had come up the mountain to find that person who could teach him how to wield a blade. How could he die on the way?
This bit of fear, on the contrary, gave him an unprecedented clarity of mind. But although he was clear-headed, he unfortunately hadn’t had time to learn any skills. The mind was wide awake, but it was completely empty—except for that one trick that strange man taught him.
He could only do this one trick. He didn’t know how long it would support him, but since he didn’t want to die here, he could only try.
Chang An silently lowered his center of gravity and lightly adjusted the angle of his wrist.
He suddenly revealed his knife, but it didn’t bring much deterrent to the other side. That monster stretched out its long tongue and very quickly waved it in the air. Chang An could clearly see that the tip of its tongue was full of barbs that would tear off a large chunk of flesh once it hooked onto him.
Sounds of rustling were once again all around him. Chang An firmly planted his foot on the ground as he thought about the man’s movements that day. Without any guidance from a teacher, he took a half-step back—this made him feel more powerful.
The moment he gripped the handle of the blade, the fear in Chang An’s heart miraculously disappeared, as if he had obtained a great support, as if the broken copper and iron in his hand was some divine weapon for beheading gods and killing devils.
However, his divine weapon was of no use at this time.
Just as that big-headed monster was about to rush towards him, a sharp cry suddenly came from the distance. It sounded like a crane’s cry, but much sharper than a crane’s cry. That sound could pierce through the skies and make a person’s scalp feel numb.
When the big-headed monsters around Chang An heard it, they immediately shrank back a step at the same time.
Then the sound of wings fanning out was heard, and a huge shadow came down from the sky. Without even thinking about what the shadow was, Chang An took advantage of the gap where the big-headed monsters had withdrawn and lurched forward—He was already running very fast, but he was still caught by the wind swept up by the wings of that unknown giant bird and was slammed into the roots of a big tree.
This nearly knocked apart Chang An’s small and not-very-sturdy body. His vision turned black, but he still gritted his teeth and groped for the roots of the big tree behind him. He propped himself up, heaved a breath, and climbed up the tree dizzily.
It was a long while before he finally relaxed a bit and looked down to see what it was that was thrown down.
It was an oddly large bird, about seven or eight zhang3丈 – measure of length, ten Chinese feet (3.3 m) in length, and its wings were spread out. Chang An thought it would even be able to hide the sky and cover the earth. However, only one of its wings had skin and feathers. The other side was somehow a row of morbid skeleton.
As it wobbled, the skeleton creaked.
That big bird had a hook on its beak that was like steel. With a nod down, it could poke the brains out of two or three big-headed monsters at the same time. It was terribly awesome.
Chang An stared at the big bird in a daze, then blankly looked down at his little hand. All of a sudden, he felt so inferior. He was so jealous, and he wished badly he could be that awesome. He even opened his arms foolishly and followed the movement of spreading his wings, which almost made him fall head first from the tree.
For the first time in his life, he thought about this question—How could I be so weak?
Be it the creatures that flew in the sky or those that ran on the ground, they were all so strong, they could eat him if they wanted to. He might still have the courage to fight when encountering that big-headed monster alone, but what if he encountered a single big-headed bird like that?
With a spread of its wing, he would be blown three, four battlefields away. With a peck of its beak, his skull would split open!
Those big-headed monsters who were so imposing a moment ago now retread like the tide. They clearly only bullied weak kids who tried to act strong. The strange big bird didn’t go after them, but wherever it went, monsters of all sizes became ugly corpses, sprawling on the ground and left to be cooked.
The ones that were alive and running didn’t matter, but the dead ones were enough for him to have a good meal.
However, just as it opened its mouth to eat freely, Chang An suddenly felt something behind him violently brush past him, setting off a harsh wind that brought up leaves that sliced at his neck and actually made a shallow bloody gash.
Chang An didn’t even see what it was. That bird’s shrill cry rang again. He looked closely at it and saw that it was a big two-headed snake. It didn’t even look at Chang An when it rushed towards the big bird—With one head, it was already as big as three or four Chang An’s. What kind of lion would step on ants for fun?
Two hideous snake heads bit down hard on the big bird at the same time that the bird screeched in pain. It flashed its wings and tried to jump high, but the two-headed snake pulled it back. The bird and the snake soon wrestled together, the dust around them being swept towards Chang An’s face.
The big bird frantically pecked the snake’s body with its beak. Black blood trickled down the snake’s body, but it didn’t let go, embedding its huge, venomous teeth in the big bird’s body.
Once again, the big bird tried to take off into the sky, right in the direction of Chang An’s hiding place. One of the heads of the snake loosened its mouth, and at that moment, its scaly body also soared into the air. When it suddenly opened its bloody mouth, which was actually several times larger than its own head, it bit down on the bird’s head less than two chi4尺 – a Chinese foot; one-third of a meter away from Chang An.
Warm blood sprayed all over the tree, and Chang An, unable to dodge, was also sprayed all over the face, turning into a little bloody man.
The bird’s blood was a little hot, so he reached out and wiped a handful of it on the tree trunk then looked down.
The big snake and the big bird fell to the ground together, and the whole ground trembled with it. Within a few dozen zhang, all living things, except Chang An, had run away, lest they be affected by the war between the two.
The bird twitched all over and finally died. The two-headed snake slowly coiled its body around it before swallowing it up. The bird’s bones were deformed by the snake’s grip, and the clicking sound was especially noticeable in the silent night.
Chang An didn’t expect that the big bird that was flaunting its prowess just now would quickly turn into someone else’s food. He didn’t understand the reason, but he was awed. When the big snake had eaten its fill and coiled into a little mountain to sleep, Chang An slowly slid down the tree, carefully bypassed the two-headed snake and ran forward.
But the danger of Yufeng Mountain was far more than this. Little Chang An ran but then suddenly stopped. Having lived in a jungle tribe ever since he was young, he could keenly feel that something was wrong. The cries of insects had vanished and the surroundings were suddenly quiet.
Chang An stopped. The blood on his face and body had dried up, making him a little uncomfortable. He casually rubbed his hands together and once again tightened his grip on his most faithful companion.
Like a vigilant, young wolf, he cautiously walked forward, looking around and listening in all directions.
However, even if he was a wolf, he was still a young wolf. His ears, eyes, claws, and teeth had not yet developed. Chang An hadn’t even taken ten steps when a huge shadow suddenly pressed down from above him. This time, the child couldn’t react. He tensed up in an instant, but the time was also just enough to tense up—Before he could move to dodge, that thing wrapped him up in one go.
He was flipped over, and head first, he fell.
It all happened in a flash. Chang An reached out his hand and felt some kind of extremely smooth mucus. When the mucus rubbed against the delicate skin, it burned so painfully. Chang An subconsciously swung to the side, and the razor blade got stuck into something, stopping his body from falling.
There was blood all over his hands, and Chang An could feel that a layer of skin had fallen off.
When the razor blade got stuck in that mucus-covered “wall,” Chang An felt a distinct tremor around him. He looked down, and it was dark. Vaguely, he could see something flowing, bubbling and churning. Like a pool of water with unknown depth. It was less than two feet away from his dangling feet.
Something floated up from within it. When Chang An’s eyes had adjusted to the darkness, he took a closer look and recognized it as a piece of bone.
He realized it then—He had been swallowed alive into that thing’s stomach.