Chapter 1: Zhushan County

MC: The one who wrote the county’s records must be a liar!

A mountain’s renown comes not from its altitude but from the presence of immortals.[1]

It was not known from when it began, but if a mountain did not bear a few peculiar myths, then it wouldn’t be worthy of having a name within Zhushan County.

If this mountain had a story of a woodcutter encountering an immortal, then there would be a fox spirit coming to repay its benefactor in that mountain. On the same mountain, there could be tales of immortals giving directions and demons that devour humans, though it is uncertain how immortals and demons could get along well enough to be neighbours.

Scholars often ridiculed them while preaching that the wise man does not get himself involved with strange happenings or acts of bravery, nor participate in talk of uprisings or gods and demons.[2]

Yet the general populace remained unconvinced, and as a result they often treaded with caution, afraid to unwittingly offend these gods and demons that were residing within the mountains. They passed down many taboos to their succeeding generations and ensured that they would also strictly observe these rules.

Zhushan county is such a place.

Even though it was named Bamboo Mountain (Zhushan: 竹山), however there is not a single mountain located within the county’s territory. It only got its name from its verdant green hills and clear waters. Altogether there were over ten hills both big and small, and even more if one counted every single peak.

Surrounded by mountains, the roads are rugged and difficult to traverse, property is sparse, and the location is remote. Even if a war were to sweep through the Central Plains[3] it would be extremely difficult for it to reach this place. However, though the place might be small and poor, the people lived stable and happy lives that were rarely disrupted, except by minor happenings like the East family’s chicken or the West family’s blocked wall.

The town was not large and had only a single street running through it.

Ten steps away from the town’s gate was a medicine shop that had herbs hanging out to dry on a wooden frame in front of the door. A boy was busy sweeping stray herbs into a dustpan while casting frequent glances at a dumpling shop[4] across the street at the same time.

At this moment, the dumpling stall owner was juggling twin burdens, on one hand holding a large pot over a hot stove and on the other he carried dumplings that were wrapped firmly around a wooden stick. Whenever he receives a new order, he would stop what he was doing to serve up a steaming hot bowl of dumplings. The customers also did not seem to mind their surroundings and lounged casually by the side of the road while eating.

In this cold weather, the white mist mingling with the fragrance constantly drifted over.

The boy in the medicine shop couldn’t resist glancing over repeatedly.

Just as he gulped down a mouthful of drool, the dumpling stall owner noticed his longing gaze and smiled, picking up a brimming bowl of soup before coming over to hand it to the little boy.

“No it’s okay Uncle Niu, I’ve already eaten.” The boy hurriedly declined.

“You’re a growing child, you’ll get hungry easily and it’s still a long while before dinner. Quickly drink it up before it gets cold in this weather.” The dumpling shop owner smilingly replied as he glanced into the medicine shop and inquired, “Is Physician Mo not around?”

“Physician Mo went up to the mountains to gather herbs.” The boy folded his sleeves before carefully receiving the bowl of soup.

The bowl was somewhat hot, and he was worried that he would not be able to hold it properly.

After all, he was still young, and his hands lacked calluses.

The soup was made from wild pheasants and though it was diluted with water it still retained its fragrant smell.

After blowing a few breaths on the soup to cool it, the boy slowly took a sip, feeling the heat suffuse throughout his body as he did so.

“Uncle Niu, your cooking remains as good as ever.”

“Ha ha, that’s a given.” The dumpling stall owner kept the empty bowl and remarked, “According to the old sayings, one should not head into the mountains on a wintry day. Why did Physician Mo make his way there? Going in such cold weather to gather herbs is too dangerous. Besides, what kind of herbs can he find?”

The boy shook his head and said, “I’m not sure either. Physician Mo only said he would head up the mountains to have a look. Perhaps he spotted something the previous time he visited the mountains?”

“Oh.”

The dumpling shop owner seemed to want to say something more, while the diners at the side also set aside their bowls and came over to gossip. “He should be looking for spiritual ginseng.[5] I heard that one should tie the ginseng with a red string so that it cannot run away. It is better to search for it in winter. Otherwise, when the grass is flourishing, the spiritual ginseng would burrow itself beneath the ground, and it would be extremely difficult to spot even if you had a pair of eagle eyes.”

The dumpling stall owner was suddenly enlightened and nodded his head.

A tall, thin man passing by heard this, and his sallow face immediately turned gloomy. His footsteps faltered as he cast a sinister look at the medicine shop, before abruptly heading in the direction of the dumpling shop.

“Owner, give me a bowl of dumplings.”

The man’s voice was harsh and unpleasant, and he wore a tattered old robe. At first glance, he looked to be no different from ordinary people. In fact, he even looked somewhat impoverished, but he was quick in handing over payment, casually fishing out over ten copper coins without counting and tossing them at the dumpling stall owner.

“Hey, you gave me an excess of seven coins.” The shop owner hurriedly said.

The man casually waved his hand to dismiss the owner, and asked in his sandpapery voice, “My legs are bad, it’s an old ailment. I wish to consult a physician. I wonder if there’s another physician in this town…… I just heard that the physician in this medicine shop has gone out?”

The medicine shop boy spun on his heels and headed inside without a word.

The dumpling stall owner smiled, “Unfortunately, we only have one physician here. The other practitioners all belong to the villages and are only able to treat a simple fever and headache. They are unable to treat more serious conditions and cannot be considered physicians. If you are really in pain, I can direct you to a place and check if it can be treated. If you are able to bear it, then wait for a few days for the physician to come back.”

“This Physician Mo, how old is he?” The man probed. “On such a snowy day, the mountain passes are probably sealed, yet he heads to the mountain to collect herbs. I’m afraid that he would only be back in half a month’s time.”

The stall owner did not reply to this statement but continued to praise Physician Mo’s great medical skill. He was full of effusive praises and only stopped once he had exhausted them.

Thus, when the owner had finished cooking the bowl of dumpling soup, the man was still unable to get any further information.

The man’s face sunk, and he left hastily after gulping down the soup.

Once the man’s figure had gotten far, the stall owner’s smile dimmed, and his expression completely changed. The diner who had previously been talking about ginseng suddenly made a reappearance and moved to stand next to the stall owner.

“Constable Qin[6], I say, based on my observation, this person is very suspicious. Why was he inquiring about Physician Mo?” the stall owner asked the diner.

“He came from outside the village. Besides him, there were also seven or eight other men who left for the mountains yesterday.” Constable Qin nodded his head as he continued, “I’ll get a few brothers to watch him. Perhaps he’s also here to harvest some spiritual ginseng.”

“Hai[7], I heard the vendors saying that these visitors from outside are very brutal, often killing others.” The dumpling stall owner sighed and said anxiously, “What if Physician Mo finds the ginseng first and is discovered by them?”

“Surely there couldn’t be that much of a coincidence…”

***

There absolutely could be.

Mo Li was carrying a medicine basket over his shoulders, both hands cradling a white ginseng that he had just dug out while he sat on his heels.[8] Glancing up, he suddenly noticed a group of warriors dressed in leather gathering around him.

“It really is a spiritual ginseng, and a top grade one at that!”

A man in the lead squinted his eyes as he looked at the plump white ginseng with greed.

The appearance is good, and it looks quite old[9], such a high quality spiritual ginseng has not been seen for many years. He’d heard that there were spiritual ginseng growing in this poor, mountainous region, but he did not believe it at first. What use would that kind of tiny and rough, ordinary wild mountain ginseng be? Even if it was sold, it wouldn’t be enough to support them. But a spiritual ginseng is different.

Just like this ginseng that spans the entire length of a fully-grown adult’s hand, its leaves and roots brimming with vitality and an abundance of spiritual Qi. It would be entirely possible to sell it for thousands of gold so that they would not need to worry about food and drinks anymore for the rest of their lives.

“Hand it over, and we might spare your life.” The man in the lead said to the still digging Physician Mo.

If it wasn’t because the other party still held the ginseng and he was afraid of harming its delicate roots, he would have already sent a strike over with his sword.

Mo Li glanced at the ginseng in his hands, then glanced at the aggressive group of men who looked as if they wanted to gobble him up, before giving a gentle shake of his head because they couldn’t have this ginseng.

“You’re courting death!”

The leader flew into a fit of rage, while the warriors standing behind him began to unsheathe their weapons.

They had already killed many people in order to get their hands on their valuables, sometimes even going to the extent of slaughtering their own brethren. Right now, they were more wary of the people around them. Such a valuable piece of spiritual ginseng, it would be even better if there were lesser people around to split the profits with.

At this moment a strong gust of wind blew by, stirring up the snow and causing it to obscure their vision. Somehow their feet slipped, almost as if there was an invisible being that was pushing them backward.

“What’s going on?”

The leader cried furiously, but he was unable to open his eyes due to the harsh wind whipping at his face.

He exerted force in his legs and grappled for something to hold with his arms, but still he was unable to halt his movement backward. He was suddenly horrified.

Because behind them was the cliff.

“Ahhhh – “

These sturdy men in leather began to push and shove each other, like dumplings entering a pot. Just like that, with snowflakes clinging onto them and looking as though they were being coated with flour, they tumbled off the cliff together, momentarily creating a big cloud of snow.

This cliff could not be considered too high up, but neither was it low. Added to that was the fact that there was a thick layer of snow at the bottom. Hence even though it was possible that people would not fall to their deaths, however, if they were unable to climb up, then they would probably freeze to death.

Mo Li, who did not want this place to be tainted with blood nodded his head with satisfaction and covered the ginseng with soil before placing it into the medicine basket.

“This year, I’ll find another place filled with dense spiritual Qi for you.” Physician Mo stroked its roots gently, and as if he had something important to say, began talking to the ginseng. “You need to hide yourself better to prevent others from discovering you. I say, you’re already three hundred years old, so why haven’t you attained human form yet? Even Uncle Niu who sells dumplings in the Zhushan county knows that there are spiritual ginseng growing in the mountains.”

The white ginseng remained completely still.

The whistling wind abruptly died down and vanished when it reached Mo Li’s side.

Mo Li carried the ginseng and began to walk. As he passed by a cliff, he frowned, and his silhouette turned illusory. Suddenly, he reappeared ten meters away, standing next to a tall pine tree and clutching a white-coloured fox in his hands.

The fox’s grape-like eyes widened as it stared at Mo Li with an extremely pitiful expression.

“You have a lot of courage to shadow me.” Mo Li shook the fox’s tail that he held within his grasp.

The white fox did not attempt to struggle but continued to gaze tearfully at the medicine basket that Mo Li is carrying.

Mo Li brought the fox up close to his face and warned, “You are not allowed to eat the spiritual ginseng, not even its leaves. All of you are spiritual creatures, and I’m still waiting for you to take shape.”[10]

The fox let out a low whine.

“You’re still not satisfied?” Mo Li lectured with a stern face.

At the same time, he ran a hand down the length of the fox, beginning from its head all the way to its tail.

But no matter where he touched, it appeared to be just a normal fox, without any signs of change.

Mo Li sighed as he took out a gourd-shaped medicine bottle and poured out a pill. Once the wax layer protecting the pill was peeled apart, a clean fragrance began to drift out, attracting the attention of the white fox, who immediately whipped its head around. With a quick sweep of its tongue, the pill disappeared down its throat.

The abundant spiritual Qi within the medicinal pill made a look of satisfaction surface on the white fox’s face.

However even after eating the pill, it still remained as a fox, and continued to stare eagerly at the white spiritual ginseng resting within Mo Li’s medicine basket. It really was lusting after the pot while eating from the bowl![11] Such a greedy little fox, but yet so adorable.

“…… Your ancestors understand the meaning of repaying one’s debt, yet why is it that you only know how to eat?” Mo Li felt resentful that his efforts were not coming to fruition.[12]

The gazed at Mo Li ignorantly, not understanding a single word he said.

“Nevermind, let’s go.”

Mo Li began heading deeper into the mountains with his medicine bag, and the white fox trailed after him for a period, feeling reluctant to part from him. However, halfway through, it spotted the trace of a rabbit, and faced with the choice between a ginseng that it could only stare at and a rabbit that it could eat, the fox chose not to hesitate on the latter but chased after the rabbit.

“The one who wrote the county’s records must have been a liar!” Mo Li thought.

The wind and snow are getting bigger and bigger, and after walking alone for a long time, he finally came across a hidden mountain stream. After feeling around for a bit and confirming that the spiritual Qi around here was full, only then did he place the medicine basket on the ground before lifting the white ginseng out to find a suitable position and start digging.

After carefully planting the ginseng in the ground, he crushed a medicinal pill and mixed it with the snow before sprinkling it in the vicinity of the ginseng. The originally wilted leaves of the ginseng was instantly revived.

“Alright, this will be your home this year.” Mo Li dusted the soil and the snow off his body and left after bidding the ginseng goodbye.

Having the transplanted the ginseng, Mo Li was not in a hurry to leave the mountain, but continued at a slow pace, as if he there was something that he was searching for.

After walking around a few neighbouring hills, he finally stopped before a rock wall and reached out his hand to begin to dig. A mountain cave with an entrance lined with rocks was slowly revealed beneath the thick layer of snow.

Mo Li carefully moved the stone wall away with a wave of his hands. At the same time, the snow began rushing into the cave.

He stooped his back and climbed into the cave’s entrance. The owner of the cave is a brown-scale python that is nine feet long with a thick body that looks extremely terrifying. Now that it is freezing, the python is in the midst of hibernation, its body stiff and cold, and curled up into a ball.

Upon closely inspecting the state of the python, Mo Li was disappointed. Before he left, he placed a medicinal pill at a corner of the mountain cave before resealing the entrance.

Just like that, another year had passed.

The spiritual ginseng is still a ginseng, the white fox is still a fox, and the enormous python is still a snake.

Where were the legendary monsters?

  
  

Translator’s Notes

[1] 山不在高,有仙则名: It basically means that it doesn’t matter how tall or imposing a mountain looks, it would only have a well-known reputation if prominent people lived in there.

[2] 子不语怪力乱神: I think it was a quote taken from one of Confucius’ teachings. I’m not sure if the translation is 100% accurate, but I tried.

[3] 中原: Pronounced Zhong Yuan, literally the Central Plains.

[4] 馄饨 (dumplings): refers to a dish that is made using minced meat wrapped in flour and boiled.

[5] I think the author is making a reference to spiritual ginseng, the word 参 is used here. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

[6] Name of the diner (it took me so long to figure it out T.T)

[7] Sound of a sigh.

[8] Medicine basket:

[9] The older the ginseng, the better it is. Its medicinal properties is said to be richer and more beneficial. Kind of like how one would treasure aged wine.

[10] Basically, another way of saying attain human form

[11] Basically means that the fox is greedy, for it not only ate what was given (in the bowl) but also lusted after the food that remained in the pot.

[12] 恨铁不成钢: hate the iron for not becoming steel. If one wishes for steel but only gets iron, it basically means that that person’s expectations were not reached despite the effort put into trying to achieve it. Also, the bit about the fox’s ancestors knowing to pay their debt is a reference to the legends surrounding the mountains of Zhushan county that was mentioned at the beginning of the chapter.

  

Translator’s ForewordChapter 2

5 thoughts on “Chapter 1: Zhushan County

  1. This story sounds interesting. I wonder how long he has been alive since he has been raining them and such. I wonder who ML is. I am looking forward to this story very much. How often you are going to update do you think? I’m only curious.

    Like

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