Chapter 1: Traveling the World and Growing Old
In troubled times, human lives were miserable. Only the rich were able to afford coffins and decent crypts, while commoners’ corpses were discarded in the wilderness or buried in anonymous tombs.
Mu Yi was resting within one of those anonymous tombs when an old Taoist priest picked him up.
The priest gave him this name because it suited the child’s personality. Ordinary.
In the year 1894, the year assassins visited the Self Palace, Mu Yi was only six years old.
“Grandpa, don’t worry. You can go. I will do what you want by getting three concubines.”
Mu Yi was heartbroken when the old man died, but he only allowed himself to cry for a short time. He had to continue with his life. He and the priest had spent eight years traveling the world together. Mu Yi had grown up with only this old man to care for him, but his grandfather was now gone.
During those eight years together, the two had deceived many people. When he was younger, Mu Yi believed that the old man had supernatural powers, that he could heal, practice divination, fight ghosts, and even exorcize evil spirits. Through his young eyes, Mu Yi thought that the old man could do anything, but in reality, the old priest was just a scam artist.
Mu Yi and the old man were forced to escape from many dangerous situations, but Mu Yi had never complained. Without the old man, he would have been alone and starved to death long ago. Thanks to his grandfather, Mu Yi had learnt how to survive in the harsh world.
The poor old priest said that he had been injured when fighting against an enemy, but he was blessed by the gods to survive as long as he had.
For Mu Yi, this was just another one of the old man’s stories. In the beginning, Mu Yi was thrilled when the old man told such stories, but as years passed, he started pretending he hadn’t heard anything.
The last six months they spent together, the old man already knew he was dying. Mu Yi had begged him countless times to stop traveling and to buy a plot of land in his hometown to be buried. To his dismay, the old man always said that he spent his entire life travelling the world and he wanted to die while traveling. Mu Yi didn’t understand such principles.
Funiu Mountain, Mountain God Temple, was the last place they travelled together.
The Mountain God Temple had been abandoned for many years. Mu Yi had cleaned the temple so that the two could live inside. He had always followed the old man on his travels, never having a place to call home, but towards the end of the old man’s life, the priest had the sudden urge to settle down in a home of his own.
It was there in the Mountain God Temple that the old man had died. The place they called home.
After his grandfather’s death, Mu Yi followed the traditions. He mourned for three days and then buried the old man in a wild field behind the temple.
During their years together, Mu Yi had learned many things from the old man. One in particular being Feng Shui.
Mu Yi placed the old man’s corpse in a red willow coffin and buried him a place of good Feng Shui so that maybe that during his next life, he would be born wealthy.
This year, Mu Yi was only fourteen years old. He wasn’t tall or strong. He was slim and certainly not handsome. Most who saw him described him as clean, but with an impure look in his eyes.
When Mu Yi spoke, people had the impression he was innocent and artless. This became very useful when he traveled around deceiving with the old man, because it gave people the impression that he was a good person.
On the day he buried the old man, he did nothing. He just sat there and for an entire day looking at the old man’s grave. The autumn sun shined down on him, but there was nothing but a look of emptiness.
When the sun set, Mu Yi ate a simple meal and went back inside the temple, to his drafty room.
His room held a simple table with a missing leg with an oil lamp sat upon it. Although it didn’t provide much light, Mu Yi was able to see his dimly lit bed. His makeshift bed was a door covered by a piece of cloth.
The table and the bed were already in the temple when they had found it. The oil lamp was one of the old man’s “treasures”. He had bought the bed linen in the market and with this little touch, he had transformed that place into a home.
Mu Yi lied down on the bed but couldn’t fall asleep. It wasn’t because of how much he missed his grandfather, he just felt incredibly lonely.
He didn’t know who his parents were, and the old man had adopted him when he was six years old. He didn’t remember anything before the age of six and had no souvenir to remember his family. His only real belonging was a jade pendant.
He had also never thought of trying to find his parents. Apart from the fact that they were related by blood, he had no reason to look for them. He just couldn’t imagine himself meeting them and kowtowing with tears in his eyes. The only person he considered as a relative was the old man, but with him gone he had nobody.
Mu Yi was reminiscing. He kept thinking of the last two days of the old man’s life. The old man had kept telling him stories, but Mu Yi had found those stories unbelievable and difficult to understand.
Although, he didn’t have a highly retentive memory, he had a better memory than most people. However, he didn’t know why, but he hadn’t forgotten a single word that the old man had said during those last two days of his life.
The old man had told him that there were god like beings in the past, that people could use the Qi of the earth and the sky to do what seemed like magic. After the apparition of the Qin Dynasty and until the end of the Ming Dynasty, there had been magic in the world. After the beginning of the Han Dynasty, spirits had disappeared and along with it, the magical arts.
But apart from the using the Qi of the earth and the sky, there was another path, the path of the mind. He didn’t need to use the Qi of the earth and the sky because the path of the mind consisted of gathering and making use of the powers inside the human body.
There were four stages on the path of the mind, the first one was the Heart, the second: responsiveness, the third: Insight, and the fourth: Vision.
The stages became more and more dangerous, the most dangerous being the fourth- as it was a legendary power. The old man had told him that when he had sensed he was about to break through to the seventh gate, he had failed at the last minute.
Mu Yi didn’t believe a single word, but the old man explained everything in detail. The old man had told him that the oil lamp was a precious treasure that he needed to pass the third stage.
“Maybe I could try to cultivate.” thought Mu Yi.
But he was too scared by even the thought of trying. He was only fourteen. During those eight years, the old man had raised him to be cautious and careful. Besides, he didn’t feel like practicing cultivation right now, he wasn’t in the right mind.
The old man had told him that the path of the mind was dangerous, one mistake could doom you forever.
The night passed quickly.
By now the old man had been buried for two days. Mu Yi bought an ax, a saw, and nails. He knew that autumn would pass quickly and he knew how cold winter would be. In Funiu Mountain, there were countless trees. Although Mu Yi wasn’t tall, he managed to cut down a few.
On the third day, Mu Yi was done redecorating. It wasn’t luxurious but it would be enough for him to survive through the snowy winter.
Mu Yi’s room was in the western part of the Mountain God Temple, next to the main hall. In it, were many tables, stools, and a large bed that he had made himself using the trees he had cut down. Mu Yi put the wood scraps in a corner of the main hall, so that he could use them as firewood.
He also tidied up the temple, making sure it was very clean and orderly. The snakes, mice and spiders which had made home in the temple were swept out.
Mu Yi hadn’t touched the statue of the god residing in the main hall. He instead bought incense as a gift for the god, which he burnt as a sign of respect. Since there was a god in the temple, it meant that they shared the temple together. That was the main reason why he had chosen that particular room.
Because of the temple’s god, Mu Yi couldn’t take anything, otherwise, that would be seen as theft. Stealing a god’s possessions could have terrible consequences.
While traveling the world with the old man, they had never had any problems, because they were vigilant and respectful. After scamming people, they would always make a quick escape.
On the fourth day after the old man’s burial, it was the seventh day of his death.
Mu Yi went to his grandfather’s tomb and burnt some faux money as an offering to his spirit. He also started to drink a jar of alcohol. He remembered the first time he tasted alcohol- he stumbled, his eyes were glazed, and he tried to lie to the old man about drinking, but his grandfather still scolded him.
After that, the old man was not as strict, Mu Yi could drink if he wanted but he never did because it didn’t interest him.
This time was only the second time in his life he drank alcohol, and it was the second time he was drunk. He crawled into bed very early and drifted to sleep.
That night, Mu Yi heard a loud crash in the temple. As the sounds grew louder, he stood up suddenly, and jumped out of bed.
He was instantly sobered up.
“Someone’s here.” Mu Yi thought to himself.
Who could be in an abandoned temple this late at night?