Chapter 1: Spring Bloom

The critters stirred with the coming of spring.
The dragon awoke from its winter slumber, heralding the onset of spring rain.

Dusk fell.
In a remote street called Muddyrun, there existed a frail boy.
He was alone in a house, poking away at various critters.
He held a candle in one hand and a branch in the other.
The candle’s light illuminated the wooden bed, as the branch drove away centipedes, snakes, and other pests.
While the boy did this, he muttered an old saying that had been passed down from his town’s forefathers: spring blooms, insects bite, shine the candle’s light, till they’re no longer in sight.

The boy’s name was Chen Pingan.
Both his parents had passed away.
The pottery in the small town he was in was held in great esteem.
The town had directed the firing of imperial pottery since the beginning of the dynasty.
Imperial officials were stationed here regularly, overseeing the firing process.
Alone and hapless, the boy decided to involve himself in pottery and took an apprenticeship with a temperamental pottery master.
In the beginning, he did only menial chores.
After several years of hard work, he managed to touch the surface of the world of pottery. 

However, things took a turn for the worse.
An amulet produced by an imperial kiln went missing in the town.
As a result, in the span of a single night, the government ordered the shut down of dozens of kilns in the town, putting an end to the town’s potters.

Chen Pingan put down the broken branch, blew out the candle, and walked out of the house, stepping into his yard.
He sat on the steps, raised his head, and stared at the starry night.

The boy still had vivid memories of his master, the master who did not recognize him as a full-fledged apprentice.
On late autumn mornings, his master would be found sitting on a bamboo chair, facing the direction of the kiln, his eyes shut.

There were few people as stubborn and inflexible as his master, Yao.

For generations, the craftsmen of this small town only knew one thing: pottery.
With the kilns gone, these people needed to find another way to make a living.
They also could not sell the pottery they had stored to the common people since that would infringe on the imperial rules. 

At the age of fourteen, Chen Pingan was kicked out and forced to return to Muddyrun.
He lived out his days in a dilapidated house, poverty-stricken.
He had no idea how to proceed.
The little money he saved up could barely fill his stomach.
He wandered the streets like a broken soul, unable to find a way to make money. 

A few days ago, he heard that an old blacksmith from out of town by the name of Ruan had stopped by Qilong street, which was only a few blocks away.
The blacksmith had announced he would be taking several apprentices.
Although the apprenticeship offered no working salary, food would be provided.
Chen Pingan ran over to try his luck.
However, much to Chen Pingan’s surprise, the blacksmith took only one glance at him before turning him down.
At the time, Chen Pingan was left wondering whether being a blacksmith had more to do with one’s appearance than one’s strength.

Although Chen Pingan looked weak and frail, his strength was not to be underestimated.
His body was a result of many years of firing pottery.
In addition, Chen Pingan had followed Yao, traversing the town’s surrounding mountains and rivers.
He traveled everywhere during these years, worked to the bone, tasting the earth as he went.
He would do whatever dirty work assigned to him with the utmost diligence.
Unfortunately, Yao, from beginning to end, disliked Chen Pingan.
He loathed the boy’s lack of intelligence and insight.
He thought the boy had rocks in his head and that he was far inferior to his eldest apprentice, Liu Xianyang.
Yao’s bias for his eldest apprentice was not without reason.
Liu Xianyang was simply more talented.
Liu Xianyang’s half a year of work was equal to Chen Pingan’s three years of work.

Although he would most likely never use this skill ever again, Chen Pingan still shut his eyes and began to imagine himself molding clay and spinning the potter’s wheel.
He would continue to practice his pottery skills.

Around every fifteen minutes, he would take a short break and shake his wrists.
This cycle would repeat.
Once he exhausted every last bit of energy within him, Chen Pingan got up and took a stroll, stretching out his legs.
No one had ever taught Chen Pingan these things.
He had to go in blind, figuring out things as he went.

The silence of the night was broken.
Chen Pingan heard mocking laughter and his footsteps halted.
He saw someone similar to his age couching atop a wall.
He had a smirk on his face.

This person was Chen Pingan’s neighbor.
He was allegedly the illegitimate child of the imperial official who once oversaw the pottery.
Afraid of being reprimanded and impeached, the official left the child behind when he was recalled back to the capital.
The child was left in the care of the succeeding official, who had a close friendship with the child’s father. 

However, after the amulet incident, the town lost the right to produce imperial pottery.
The official, who was responsible for overseeing the imperial pottery, could not even protect himself, let alone others.
He had no time to protect his colleague’s illegitimate child.
After entrusting some money to the child, he rushed back to the capital.

The child, who had been abandoned, passed hi

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