Hanging there precariously, Chang An stretched out a little foot and probed the slippery wall around him. The straw shoes were immediately pierced, and the burning digestive juice of that thing that swallowed him quickly corroded a small layer of skin on his toes. Chang An quickly retracted his feet and hung there in distress, afraid to move.
Soon, his small stick-like arms turned numb and began to tremble uncontrollably. Chang An knew that he mustn’t fall down anyway. Otherwise, he would soon turn into a pile of bones. It was not easy for him to escape from big-headed monsters, giant birds and double-headed snakes.
He couldn’t accept just turning into a pile of bones without even seeing what had eaten him.
But then, he still had a knife. Chang An was at ease when he thought so.
Once the child was at ease, he was prone to do bold things.
Chang An gritted his teeth and suddenly deeply inhaled the rancid smell around him. Then with his small, badly-mangled hand, he firmly caught that slimy digestive tract in a death grip!
That thing wasn’t very hard. Instead, it was soft, with fine hairs all over it. Chang An tightly held onto those hairs, even sacrificing a small foot to climb on them as well.
His palm quickly stuck to it, and it was like being set on fire. It hurt so much, it darkened his vision. Chang An took advantage of this pain to force himself, pulling out the knife stuck on the digestive wall. Afterwards, he aimed at an area and firmly stabbed it back in. With each stab he made, the thing trembled violently. The dangerous digestive juices beneath his feet made tiny waves, and its bones shook.
Gradually, Chang An couldn’t breathe. His chest ached like it was cracking open and his head throbbed endlessly. Despite this, he still stubbornly clung to that thing’s digestive tract. He jumped towards the digestive tract, clinging desperately. The layers of skin being corroded on his hands and feet hurt so much, they began to turn numb.
But in his eyes, nothing else mattered except piercing through that place.
And finally he screamed out in unbearable pain, tearing his heart as he cried his lungs out. Without any delay, he moved his knife, which had turned sharper from the digestive juices instead of rusting away. This bright and pretty kid was like a little death-defying demon1小鬼 (xiǎo guǐ) – Little demon is the actual translation, but it can also mean “brat,” often used as a term of endearment for a child, scary as hell.
He was exhausted and in so much pain. How much strength could such a small arm have?
Every time the knife went out, Chang An felt like he couldn’t lift his arm anymore. He was bleeding a lot, like his whole body was running out of blood. It was cold, but Chang An gnashed his teeth and thought: It’s not over yet.
The two of them—he was not done with this thing that ate him, and this thing was not done until it digested him into a pile of bones. Whether he had completely lost his breath, or whether that thing was stabbed to death, they were not done yet.
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Finally, that thing got scared first. It had probably never eaten such prey which made a lot of fuss in its stomach. In the extreme stomach pain, Chang An was spat out.
Chang An’s surroundings shook severely, then he was suddenly flipped over. Fresh air poured at once into his lungs. He was thrown heavily on the ground and fell in a very bad position… but in his small bloody hand, he still held that small razor blade, and it became so shiny after being soaked from the digestive juices.
He saw clearly what had eaten him—it turned out to be a flower.
The flower bud was as tall as two adult beastmen, not even counting its stem yet. However, this big guy who had oppressed2居高临下 – to live high and look down on others (idiom) Chang An for a while seemed to have remembered that very terrible feeling3翻江倒海 – lit. overturning seas and rivers (idiom) just now and slowly shrank back. Chang An’s sharp eyes caught sight of an inconspicuous hole in the bud, and liquid was gurgling out of it.
“I stabbed a hole through it.” Chang An was hurting all over, but at the thought of his accomplishment, he felt very happy.
What use is your big size when you’re useless—He evaluated his opponent in that narrow match4九死一生 – Literally, nine deaths and still alive; a narrow escape. Then he rose with a grimace, limped with his blade, and went on his way.
The long night finally passed. The first rays of sunlight penetrated through the depths of the dense forest and leaked down, plating the perennially frozen summit of Yufeng Mountain with a layer of gold. It was beautiful.
Such a shame that those in desperate situations couldn’t enjoy such scenery.
When Bei Shi found the strange child he had seen under the hill last time, he almost didn’t recognize him.
At this point, Chang An had been wandering around the mountain for an unknown number of days. He’d been finding streams to drink from when he was thirsty and eating dead animals and wild fruits when he was hungry.
Now, he was lying on the brink of death under a dead Eagle Wolf5雕狼 – I had first translated this as carved wolf/carving wolf, coz the first character could also mean “to carve” or “to engrave.” But considering the made-up animals in BB, and checking the dictionary later, the first character here could also be a general term for a predatory bird.
Bei Shi prodded his chest—the child was still alive, but he looked the same as a dead person.
The middle-aged man thoughtfully turned over the Eagle Wolf’s carcass and found a curled up knife pierced into its throat.
He recognized this move. It was what he had personally taught him before. It was just that, after this blade was sent out with a lot of force, it had to be pulled back. The little guy’s knife had been smashed and stuck in the wolf’s throat. He couldn’t pull it out. Then the kid simply made a stupid move at this point. Although he couldn’t pull it out, he still clutched onto the handle to death, and as a result, he was knocked unconscious by the Eagle Wolf’s corpse.
Fortunately, he had good luck. The Eagle Wolf was just a big guy with sharp teeth and claws. It wasn’t much of a big guy. At least it didn’t crush him on the spot.
Bei Shi gently kicked the body of the Eagle Woolf to the side with his toes and then went to open the child’s hand—he couldn’t open it. It was clutching too tightly, and Bei Shi dared not use any force. The little guy’s hand, even with all five fingers stretched out, was not big enough to fit in his palm, and it was covered with wounds of all sizes. Bei Shi was afraid of accidentally breaking his fingers, so he had to use two fingers to hold between the broken copper handle and the iron blade and break it cleanly in tw from there.
Then he bent down, picked up the child and went deep into the mountains.
How on earth did such a little thing who’d been pinching his fingers to death struggled for so many days? Nobody knew.
Bei Shi walked very smoothly, with almost no sound beneath his feet, and he carried a small basket full of herbs on his back.
His figure seemed to be quite thin for an adult beastman. If not for the less obvious beast marks on the back of his hand, he could be easily mistaken as a gentle sub-beast doctor. With inconspicuous lines at the corners of his eyes, coarse linen clothes casually rolled up on the sleeves and pant legs, and long hair neatly tied and hanging down behind him, there seemed to be nothing special about him.
On this Yufeng Mountain where crisis was found at every step, he strolled casually without even glancing sideways, and walked all the way up to a small cabin in the middle of the mountain. Those forest monsters and huge animals all over the mountain seemed to be like little kids avoiding those mythical evil spirits. Nothing ventured into their way, save for the sound of animals fleeing from the short shrubs around them.
Including the two-headed snake that dominated the mountain.
By the time Chang An woke up, it was already ten days later.
If he never woke up again, Bei Shi had planned to throw him out. The man had never seen such a troublesome child before. His fever came in waves. After lowering his temperature with much difficulty, he would burn up again.
While he had a fever, Chang An would unconsciously move around on the bed, curl into himself, and grip his chest tightly. It was as if he couldn’t breathe. His mouth would unconsciously issue weak whimpers, and it made one wonder if he was really in a coma or was just having a nightmare.
Sometimes, Chang An would suddenly shed tears. His tears were very strange. He would make no sound when he cried that it was hard to notice he had even cried. One could only touch his face to notice the wetness.
He looked very pathetic.
It was a rare occasion for Bei Shi to feel some compassion beyond the initial curiosity.
When Chang An opened his eyes, he knew he was no longer in the woods. He was sitting in a cabin next to the mysterious middle-aged man he had been looking for. He was sitting with his back towards him, and he seemed to be napping by the window.
So I… I had found him?
Chang An blinked blankly. It was unbelievable.
Bei Shi did not look back, but he felt it when the child opened his eyes. He muttered, “Little boy, your root bone is not good, but this time you were lucky.”
Bei Shi stood up and stretched. He glanced at Chang An, then went out for a while. When he came back, he brought a big bowl of porridge made from malted wheat. Chang An did not know what else was put in it, but it looked really dark.
“Eat.” Bei Shi placed the big bowl beside him.
Chang An didn’t think about it. He picked up the bowl and almost couldn’t carry it—His wrists were too weak to hold it up, so he hurriedly used both hands instead. It was only after a few shivers and gulps that he drank it up. The porridge had a strange fishy taste, but when tasted carefully, it didn’t seem to have any fish. It was more like it had some kind of herb with a very strong taste. But at the very least, this was porridge, and it was much tastier than the rotten meat and half-ripe fruits in the forest.
Bei Shi knew how strong the herb was, so he was already preparing to face Chang An sternly and force him to eat. Who would’ve imagined that this little thing would actually eat it up as if eating some kind of rare lingzhi and immortal grass6Lingzhi (spiritual mushrooms) and immortal grass are medicinal herbs that are often mentioned in xianxia stories, and they are said to have great medicinal properties.. In no time at all, he had drunk that big bowl empty.
Chang An put down the bowl then sat for a moment, painfully pressing on his stomach—he ate too much.
But he was reluctant to spit out, and he was ready to swallow it back if the food went backup. He ate it, it was his. No one else could take it.
It was strange. Didn’t all kids like candy and acting spoiled? Bei Shi looked at the little thing and thought to himself: He turned out to be a little freak.
He wasn’t given enough time to talk with the little freak. They stared at each other for a while, then the medicine kicked in. Chang An lied down and fell asleep. After finally having enough to eat, his rarely ruddy face had a bit more redness in it.
Bei Shi curiously extended his hand and carefully poked Chang An’s face. It was soft and tender. He found it quite intriguing; it was as if the little thing wasn’t the same kind as him.
However, Bei Shi’s curiosity completely disappeared after Chang An was able to run and jump. He was simply getting annoyed with the little thing. Whether he was eating or drinking or solving other problems, he could see this little thing persistently following behind him.
And he was like a myna, endlessly saying only one thing: “I want to learn how to use a blade.”
Finally, Bei Shi could not bear it. He jumped to his feet and shouted at him, “Learn the blade, learn the blade! Can’t you say anything else? Why should I teach you? You can’t learn it!”
“I can learn.” Chang An raised his head and stared at Bei Shi with his big grape-like eyes. He stalked his neck and roared like Bei Shi, “I want to learn how to use a blade!”
Bei Shi said patiently, “You are a sub-beast. Why don’t you learn how to be a carpenter? Or how to settle accounts for others? If that won’t do, you could also be a doctor…”
Chang An: “I want to learn how to use a blade.”
Bei Shi continued to say bitterly, “What’s the use of learning the blade? You see, I learned the blade, but I still have to eat and drink every day. I’ve got no money, no power, not even a beautiful wife. Little one ah, you’re only so young, why are you so stubborn?”
Chang An: “I want to learn how to use the blade.”
Bei Shi grabbed his hair painfully and asked, “Are you able to hold a blade?”
Chang An shua-ed, then pulled out a small blade about the size of an adult’s palm and showed it to Bei Shi.
Bei Shi: “……”
He was dumb for a moment, but then asked, “Where did you get that?”
Chang An calmly said, “In the small house next to your yard. I can only carry this now, but when I grow up I can pick up the biggest one.”
Bei Shi sneered, and looking at him with an eyebrow raised, he said, “The saber? You even want to play with a saber? You are really… If you think too much, you won’t grow very tall.”
Chang An glared at Bei Shi with his cheeks bulging up. It was very funny that Bei Shi could not help but poke him.
Then he squatted down, curled up as much as he could, and with great difficulty, lowered his sight to Chang An’s level. Then he ruffled the kid’s hair ‘til it looked like a bird’s nest.
The man smiled gently, but his words were very cold as he asked, “Little fool, why would I take in a little burden like you when I’m doing fine on my own? On this Yufeng Mountain, the Eagle Wolf is the weakest thing, yet it can almost toss you to death. You can’t even chop wood. What can you do?”
Chang An looked at him for a moment and thought about it. He took it as an entrance exam, so he thought about it very seriously for a long time. Then he said to Bei Shi, “If you teach me how to use the blade, I can use it to chop wood for you, and I will be able to hunt and give you meat to eat.”
“Yeah, you’re not stupid yet.” Bei Shi straightened his back and stood up. He was amused. “You know to eat first and pay later.”
Chang An stared at him blankly for a moment, a little apprehensive, wondering if his answer had passed.
“You’re still so young. Isn’t it good to live well? Why are you having thoughts about these murder weapons?” After Bei Shi said so, he saw Chang An shake his head, ready to refute him.
Chang An was anxious. He opened his mouth, but then closed it. He didn’t know where to start.
But then a little tune from the depths of his memory suddenly came up—he didn’t know where he’d heard the song, nor remember who had sung it, but the tune seemed to be engraved in his soul, always there, along with the vague smell of blood and decay.
“The True God fell from the heavens, morals collapse and decay, the heavenly law wellaway, and humans can turn into beasts.”
The child’s tender voice sang a nondescript song. He did not seem to understand what it meant. He just sang it word by word according to the text. It was funny, but Bei Shi suddenly stopped.
“The blade-wielder whizzes, and the grass-eater runs. It runs and runs, lightly and resigned…” 7真神坠苍，伦常崩朽,
The first two lines lament the corruption of humankind.
食草 – Literally, to feed on grass. Probably a metaphor for the weaker ones (i.e. sub-beasts and women).
More notes about this song translation here
“Who taught you that?” Bei Shi turned around, the playful smile on his face and his kind eyes were gone. He revealed a sullen look full of knives, but the voice was still very soft. “Child, who taught you that?”
Chang An shook his head blankly. He did not remember.
Bei Shi looked at him for a moment, then noticed the red line hanging around his neck. He picked it up with his finger. He saw the old domino card hanging on the child. It was very old, with the words “Chang An” 8Chang An literally means “eternal/long-lasting peace” written on the back and a huge tusk carved on the front.
The man pondered for a while and then asked, “So you are from the Azure Dragon9The Azure Dragon is one of the Dragon Gods who represent the fore forces of the Wufang Shangdi. It is also one of the four symbols in the Chinese constellations. It represents east and the spring season tribe? Why did you run here?”
Chang An still looked at him blankly, clearly not knowing what the “Azure Dragon Tribe” was. He said, “It was Zhe Yan who brought me here… I don’t know anything else.”
“Zhe Yan? And where is this Zhe Yan?”
This time, Chang An lowered his head, looking blankly at the tips of his shoes. After a long time, he said, “Zhe Yan is dead.”
Bei Shi was stunned for a moment—The child called the man Zhe Yan, and not A’die10Ancient Chinese way of calling one’s father, so it was evident that he wasn’t a relative. Zhe Yan left the tribe with a child and joined other tribes. The child was obviously not a little boy with unknown origin. He even got the blessing of the elders of the tribe and got the old man’s only token.
All Bei Shi could think of was their original tribe…
Suddenly, he sighed heavily and looked across the dense woods on Yufeng Mountain, the expression on his face obscure and indescribable. In this mountain, the morning and evening were indistinguishable, and the sun and the moon were not divided. In a twinkling of an eye, while the outside world was still living, it would have already crossed over and reincarnated.
Like stroking a kitten, Bei Shi gently pinched the back of the child’s neck and asked softly, “Then what’s your name?”
“My name is Chang An.”