Chapter 1: Encountering An Attack
The incident happened too suddenly.
With a ‘thump’, a small porcelain bowl painted with an underglaze blue fell onto the floor; it rotated twice before shattering into pieces. Concurrently, the shining brass bell polished carefully to shine also fell from high ground. It jingled twice, making ringing noises, and ultimately laid askew at the side of the broken bowl fragments.
“Young Master… Young Master, Young Master… Someone, please come! Young Master has been bitten by a snake…!”
The sharp voice pierced through the sunny afternoon of the early spring. Immediately after, the original tranquility and quietness of the mountain courtyard was echoing with the sounds of numerous rushing footsteps. Stomping and kicking, you could even hear the sounds of things getting knocked over from these frantic footsteps.
Shen Qingxuan stared ahead with wide eyes, exerting great efforts to take a look at the appearance of the beast that bit him. However, his vision was blurred, as if his eyes were covered by a layer of a thin white veil. No matter how hard he tried to, there was no improvement. He could not help but feel appalled at the toxicity of the snake’s venom. He thought inwardly about how heaven’s plans superseded man. He thought of the countless ways he would met his demise yet he never expected that his life would end at the poisonous fangs of a snake.
His thoughts had reached this conclusion, so forth there was no fear in his heart. He only closed his eyes and was vaguely aware that the servants had hurriedly arrived and removed him from his wheelchair. They panicky called for the doctor and shouted flusteredly for someone to bring detoxifying pills.
As for what happened next, he was completely oblivious.
The young master of the Shen family was bitten by a snake in the mountain courtyard.
It was as if the news were being carried out by the birds fluttering in the mountains and forests. Soon enough, on the mountain road that was originally peaceful and quiet was reverberating the sound of several horse hooves on the pathway.
Horse carriages and silk litters arrived in sequence at a hurried pace, finally stopping at the gates of the mountain villa. Immediately stepping onto the ground, the nobles and accompanying horse riders entered the doorway. Without waiting for anyone to greet them, they burst into Shen Qingxuan’s room.
The man lying in the green gauze had his eyes closed. An ominous purple mark was visible on the top of his nose. The thick blackish purple color gradually spread to his entire face. The original light-colored lips were now a strange red against the black-purple face. His original clear appearance was all gone. When one take a glance, he looked thirty percent human, seventy percent ghost.
“Xiao Xuan!” Upon seeing this, two elders whose wrinkled temples reflected the hardships they had faced in their life, gave a low cry at this sight.
“My son!” There were more words to be said but only choking sounds were made.
“Master.” The butler standing at the side of the room quickly interrupted his master’s anguish, reminding him: “The master must not be sentimental at this time. We should first think of a way to save the young master’s life.”
“Yes.” Under the effects of his grievance for his son, Master Shen was reminded of what must now be done and promptly stood up, covering his eyes with his hands. While still choked up with emotion, he asked the servant beside him: “Is it still possible to detoxify him?”
“Snakes, rats, and ants are common in the mountains, so there is always medicine prepared just in case. The pills were specially for snake venom has already been fed to the young master, but the effect is not immediate.”
“Did you see what kind of snake it was?” The butler hurriedly asked.
“All the chaos at the time prevented this servant from being able to see the snake clearly; it was hidden by the vines and branches on the rattan frame in the courtyard. I only caught a quick glimpse of an open mouth and a large body…”
The man was gesturing as he spoke. He had only just finished his sentence when he was furiously slapped by the angry household butler: “Useless, spewing nonsense!”
Also ignoring Master Shen’s lamishment, the butler turned to him and explained: “Master, I used to live in these mountains as a child, and I’ve never heard of such a large snake as the one described. The only possibility would be a python; but although they are large, they aren’t violent, and the toxicity of their venom isn’t nearly this severe. This little servant must be babbling nonsense; he described such terror, thinking that this would save him from more punishment.”
Master Shen’s heart was still in turmoil and he couldn’t bother with the situation. He only screamed for the servants to leave.
“Where is the wound?” The butler asked the trembling servant girl by the door, who was Shen Qingxuan’s personal maid.
“On his wrist,” The maid was pale and hurriedly said: “The sun was good today, and the young master wanted to go bask in the sun; so I pushed him to the courtyard. As usual, the young master requested to drink a pot of scented tea so I left to steep the tea for the young master. I had only turned around and walked a few steps when I heard the sound of a bowl falling. When I turned back, the young master had already been bitten…” Having said that, the maid started weeping.
“Did you see the snake?”
“I saw it. That man did not lie, the snake truly was large; it completely overtook the entire railing. When I saw it, it had just retreated out of sight. I saw that it was completely black except for its underside, which was a golden color. I have served the young master for many years in the mountains, and I have also seen some dead snakes before, but never one as large as this one…”
“Was it really so big?” The butler was doubtful.
With weak knees, the maid fell to the ground, crying as she swore: “Such an important matter, how could this servant dare to tell lies? If I am lying, then let this servant cease to live!”
While the butler was facing with such testimony, the old master, whose hand was pressed over his hurting heart, pulled his son’s wrist and saw the wound bitten by the snake had been cut into a cross shape by a knife. His heart felt a little relief, knowing that the quick-witted servant had immediately made an opening to suck the poisonous blood out. However, the snake venom was so menacing that it could cause a adult to lose his sanity. He feared that this venom had long entered his heart and it will be difficult to clear it!
Master Shen grabbed at the thin and pale wrist, feeling distressed in his heart. There was a saying that the eldest son was the pillar of the family. He only had his son at age thirty, yet he let Shen Qingxuan, who was aged eight at the time, fall into an ice cave. When he was rescued, he was burning a high fever. From then on, his brain was damaged, making him unable to speak. Furthermore, his lower limbs were frozen and since then he could only stay paralyzed on the couch. He originally thought that as long as he gave support to him and didn’t demand him to earn any fame or fortune, then he would be satisfied to have his eldest son lead a safe life with his family’s vast savings. However, unexpectedly, at age twenty-seven, he was bitten by a snake.
“That evil creature!” With a low exhale, Master Shen desired to catch the snake and eat its body and heart to cease its existence entirely.
“Do not be hasty, Master.” The butler, an old housekeeper who had worked his entire life for the Shen family reassured him: “Young Master’s body has always been weak and he has spent most of his years in the mountain villa, so all types of rare medical ingredients are readily available. There might still be a solution.”
“What kind of solution?”
“Does Master still remember the incident at the Mid-Autumn festival two years ago when the Southern people offered two pills, claiming that they could relieve even the world’s most malicious poison?”
“I remember, I remember. I kept the pills…. Is it truly of use?”
“Old me is ignorant, but I heard that there are many poisonous insects and beasts in the Southern wetland. Maybe this pill really is effective?”
“Then why hasn’t it been brought here yet?” Master Shen hurriedly got up.
The medicine was quickly retrieved and melted in warm water for consumption. Shen Qingxuan’s mouth was tightly closed and his cheek muscles were stiff, it seemed as though his breaths were drifting away.
The house was filled with anxiousness and the air was heavy.
The sky was getting darker, and the servants lit up the oil lamps and shadows swayed.
Shen Qingxuan’s door opened and closed from time to time. People shuttled back and forth.
Yet, no one noticed the person standing quietly in the trembling shadows of the oil lamps.
His black hair was draped loosely at his waist that was clothed by a black robe. One of his hands was held at the front of his stomach, while the other at his back. His lapel was embroidered with a simple design made out of golden thread. His face was cold and his lips remained pursed for the entire duration by which he stood there.
No one noticed him, even those who brushed against him didn’t bat an eye at him. If anyone saw him, they would all turn a blind eye to this man who looked akin to a demon.
It was true that no one was aware of his existence.
In the dead of night, Master Shen was both physically and mentally exhausted, and although he wished to stay by his son’s side, the cruel shackles of his old age limited his fatherly love. Now it was the second month of the year, and although it was the start of the spring, the nights were still cold. Master Shen coughed a few times, feeling a dull pain in his head. Under the butler’s consoling, even though he was unwilling, he still went back to the warm room where the charcoal was burning and laid on the soft couch.
Only the butler and three servants were still guarding Shen Qingxuan’s room.
Two more hours had passed; Shen Qingxuan’s weak breaths began to stabilize and gradually strengthened. The unmoving man standing in the shadows raised his eyebrows slightly and his eyes showed a little surprise. He did not believe there existed a panacea in this world that could detoxify his poison. Sure enough, he looked closely at the thin and weak man on the bed and realized that this was only the so-called momentary recovery of consciousness just before death.
Those antidotes could at most delay only a few more hours the inevitable. Detoxification? Sheer delusion.
Shen Qingxuan tried his best to open his eyes, but his heavy eyelids were akin to weighing a thousand kilograms; he could not open them no matter what.
The servant guarding at the side noticed this and called in surprise: “Young Master, Young Master!”
The voice was laced with reckless joy and it woke both the sleeping courtyard and forest.
Soon Master Shen who had not even put his cloak, shoes, and socks properly, staggered over and shouted, “Xuan Er, Xuan Er… Are you awake, Xuan Er? Father is anxious to death..”
Perhaps his family’s call gave Shen Qingxuan strength, his trembling eyelids struggled and he actually opened them. His expression was disorganized, it took a long time before it gradually gained cohesion and the fundus of his eye had some expression.
Shen Qingxuan opened his mouth slightly, but could not make any sound.
But everyone knew what he said was: Father.
“Ai, Father is here…” Suddenly the old man burst into tears, and Master Shen could not bother about the stance he held for so many years. He seized his son’s hand trembling and murmured, “Qingxuan, do you feel better? Father will feel rest assured if you get better…”
Shen Qingxuan tried his best and was just able to make his stiffened face pulled out a smile. But in his heart, he was aware. He could not evade this time. His whole body was trapped in a sense of paralysis, unable to make any movement. When he breathed, there was a fishy smell permeating into his mouth and nose. What was more, his vision was a space of pitch black darkness.
The feeling of dying, it must be something like this.
In fact, there was nothing terrifying for such a disabled person as himself. Death was not necessarily as terrible as compared to living.
The only thing he could not let go was his parents and his younger brother.
His relatives were the only pillars that supported his efforts to search for happiness in life these years. Every time he thought of the tragic situation in the hall after his death, he couldn’t bear it.
He imagined his own death, but not because of self-abandonment. After so many years of being unable to take care of himself who was in a wheelchair, he had long become accustomed to it. Burying his ideal of whipping the horse was not a very difficult thing.
It just that his body was not as good as each year.
He used to be able to bask in the sun from time to time, to be pushed by someone and to go for a walk in the mountains and woods.
In the past two years, it had been getting worse and worse. Just a slight blow of the wind, he will get sick once, and each time it was worser than the previous one. Later, it developed to the point that he could not get out of bed a month or two.
He hadn’t been out this winter, and he even seldom opened the windows.
It was rare for him to recover from an illness so he wanted to bask in the sun, yet he startled a snake that just finished hibernation; the snake that also came out to bask in the sun.
Shen Qingxuan couldn’t help smiling at this thought. It seemed that neither he nor the snake was comfortable with the sun.
It was clear to him that the snake was laying on the railing basking in the sun. He was sitting in a chair. One man, one snake, they were both minding their own business.
They could have stayed in peace and went back to their own houses after the basking.
But somehow a piece of scattered leaf dipped in soil fell into his clear tea. His natural disposition was to be fond of being clean, so he poured the hot tea out of the bowl without thinking about it at the moment.
He did not notice the snake at that time. When he sensed something was wrong, the tea had already spilled out, and the bright black scales were soaked in the steaming heat.
Before he could retrieve his hand, the startled snake turned around and bit him.
In fact, his fault was bigger. Such hot water, do not mention about a snake, even a rabbit, would be frightened to fight back.
That was a very majestic snake. He had only managed to steal a glance at it before the severe pain forced his change of sight. But Shen Qingxuan remembered that when the snake was black and bright, coiled and erected with its head. Its neck and abdomen were golden, and it was particularly dazzling in the afternoon sunshine. Later, he wanted to look at it carefully, but he could no longer see it clearly. He did not know if the snake was scalded or not.
It was said that this kind of animal was covered with tiny scales, so it should not be easy to be injured by hot tea.
In front of him, there was a very dazzled black, and even the voice of his father was fading away. Shen Qingxuan tried to listen to what his father was saying, but he could only feel a wave of rumbling sound in his cochlea. All the chaotic and broken sentences came from the sound, but it still could not reach his mind. Shen Qingxuan only knew that his father was going to speak again, but he could not hear what he was talking about, no matter how hard he tried.
Shen Qingxuan knew that his time had come, and he could not tell whether he was sad or relieved. He always knew he was going to die, but this scene still caught him off guard.
The thoughts in his heart made him want to take a last look at the world that accompanied him for more than twenty years. Despite not even having the strength to breathe, Shen Qingxuan tried hard to open his eyes, and the scattered look in his eyes was also stubbornly gathered and he looked at his relatives. He watched for a long time.
The well-maintained but old-fashioned father, the busy old butler who spent his life running for the Shen family, the servants who had already cried and softened into a mess, and those familiar ones. Every one of those who took effort to take care of him over the years … His vision slowly glided across the faces of every person, Shen Qingxuan gradually lifted up the corner of his lips, revealing a thin line of smile, as if he was bidding goodbyes.
His smile was extremely shallow and it reflected a ferocious expression on his hideous appearance.
Yet it deeply depicted his nostalgic and reluctance for life.
Such a desperate yearning, yet it bought along a relief from death.
Perhaps this smile was too shocking. In the shadow, the frozen man who saw the play from the beginning to the end raised his eyelids. The dark eyes akin to the water of the abyss was splashing ripples.