Chapter 6: Bad Fortune

Chen Pingan arrived at the east gate and saw the middle-aged man sitting cross-legged on a tree stump at the fenced gate.
He was basking in the early spring sun, his eyes shut, humming a little tune.

Chen Pingan sat beside him.
It was a little awkward to bring up the money the man owed him.

The boy looked at the wide road, leading out of the east gate.
It seemed to go out endlessly, twisting and winding like a snake.

He grabbed a handful of soil out of habit and began running his fingers through it.

He used to follow Yao over mountains, while carrying heavy luggage on his back.
He carried various objects such as hatchets and hoes.
Following Yao’s lead, they would travel everywhere.
During these trips, Chen Pingan would often taste the soil.
He would grab a handful of soil and put it in his mouth.
He would taste the earth, feeling its texture.
Over time, practice made perfect, and Chen Pingan could accurately identify the texture and quality of soil with just the touch of his fingers.
Later on, Chen Pingan could feel broken pieces of pottery and identify its origins.

Yao had a withdrawn personality and would often beat and scold Chen Pingan.
Once, Chen Pingan was having trouble understanding something, so, in a fit of rage, Yao threw him into the wild and abandoned him.
The old man returned to his home alone.
When Chen Pingan arrived at Yao’s home, traveling over eighteen miles of mountainous road, it was already late into the night.
The rain poured.
The boy staggered in the mud.
When he finally saw the little flickering light in the distance, he, who had struggled to make ends meet alone, felt the urge to cry.

But, he never hated Yao, never held a grudge against him.

Although he came from a poor family and had never read a book, he understood one thing very well.
In this world, nobody except your parents was obligated to treat you well.

And his parents passed away.

Chen Pingan waited patiently.
The sloppy man finally stopped fooling around and opened his eyes.
With a playful gaze, he said, “It’s only five copper.
Geez, so stingy.
That’ll hurt you in the future, you know.”

Chen Pingan looked at him.
“Aren’t you the stingy one?”

The man grinned, revealing a row of jagged yellow teeth.
He chuckled and said, “So be it.
If you don’t want to become a bachelor like me, you shouldn’t make a fuss over five copper.”

Chen Pingan sighed, raised his head, and said seriously, “Okay, if you’re that tight on money, then forget about the five copper.
However, we agreed beforehand that you would give copper for every letter.
You can’t break this agreement in the future.”

The smelly man turned his head.
“Little guy, you got such a crappy attitude.
Haven’t you heard the saying ‘a blessing in disguise’? Sometimes you gotta lose a little to know how much you have.”

He glanced at the soil in the boy’s hand, paused for a moment, and said, “Don’t sweat the small stuff and keep working, like those farmers.”

Chen Pingan retorted, “Didn’t I just say I didn’t want your five copper?”

The man, a little frazzled, looked at Chen Pingan angrily and shooed him away.
“Shoo, shoo, it’s such a bother chatting with you brats.”

Chen Pingan spread his fingers, the soil dropping, and got up.
“That stump is damp…”

The man raised his head and scolded.
“Do I need you to teach me a lesson, kid? I’ll have you know my ass is just fine!”

The man looked at Chin Pingan’s back.
He muttered something under his breath, cursing. 

Sir Qi ended his teaching session early today.
This was unprecedented. 

There was a courtyard behind the school.
There was a gate northward that led to a bamboo forest.

Song Jixin and Zhi Gui were listening to the story by the storyteller under the locust tree when they were called over by a schoolboy to play go.
Song Jixin did not want to play, but the schoolboy said that Sir Qi wanted to see if their go skills improved.

Song Jixin respected Sir Qi and treated the teacher solemnly.
His impression of Sir Qi was inexplicable, a mix of respect and fear.
So, since Sir Qi had personally issued such a decree, Song Jixi had to be present.
However, he needed to wait for the storyteller to finish his story before going to the backyard of the school. 

The schoolboy nagged Song Jixin about not being late, saying stuff like how you better be on time, keep your promise, etc.

Song Jixin plugged his ears and said, “I know.
I know.”

Song Jixin and Zhi Gui arrived at the backyard of the school.
A cool breeze passed.
In the south, a schoolboy with a scholarly air sat on a stool, upright.

In the north, Song Jixin sat opposite to the schoolboy.

Sir Qi sat on the west, watching the go board without saying a word.

Zhi Gui would always go on walks in the bamboo forest whenever her master played chess with the others, so as to not disturb the three “scholars,” today no exception.

In this small town, it would be a stretch to call anyone here a scholar.
Scholars were rare.

Song Jixin and the schoolboy opposite him had learned go around the same time, but Song Jixin was talented and sharp.
His go skills improved by leaps and bounds.

To decide who played which color, Song Jixin reached out to grab a handful of white go stones. 

The schoolboy would then try to guess if the number of stones Song Jixin was holding was even or odd.
If he guessed correctly, he would take black, which got to go first. 

Song Jixin never lost in his first two years of playing go.

But, Song Jixin was not that interested in go.
He did not study the game hard, constantly getting distracted.
On the other hand, the schoolboy was a book boy and student of Sir Qi.
He got guidance from Sir Qi constantly.
He benefited a lot from practicing with Sir Qi.
He went from winning rarely by fluke with black to now beating him.
His go skills clearly improved.
Sir Qi did not seem to care about the discrepancy between him and Song Jixin.

Just as Song Jixin was about to grab the stones, Sir Qi suddenly said, “You’ll be playing ancient go today.
White goes first.”

The two teens were confused, neither knowing what “ancient go” was.

Sir Qi explained the rules to them slowly and put the black and white stones in the corners of the board.
His movements were fluid, captivating to the eye.

This was a death sentence for the schoolboy who was a stickler for the rules.
He had not studied this.
In a daze, he stared at the go board and said tentatively, “Sir, it seems a lot of setups can’t be used.”

Song Jixin scrunched his brow in thought and then his eyes lit up.”The board has gotten smaller.”

He turned his head with a smile and asked, “Is that correct, Sir Qi.”

Sir Qi nodded.
“Yes.”

He looked at the schoolboy across from him.
“Go first, otherwise you’ll definitely lose.”

The schoolboy blushed, his ears turning red.
He was well aware that the main reason he was winning more and more was not actually because of a significant increase in his go skill.
It was because of Song Jixin.
In the past two years, Song Jixin played go absent-mindedly, not having his heart in the game.
Many times, Song Jixin would give himself a handicap, going easy on him.
Sometimes, Song Jixin would take huge risks in the middle game to spice things up.

Song Jixin treated go like a fun little game to play when bored.

“”

As for the schoolboy, he was obsessed with the game, victory and defeat meaning everything to him.

Sir Qi looked at the schoolboy.
“You can play white.”

The schoolboy placed his white stones gingerly, cautiously.
He did everything step by step.
In stark juxtaposition, Song Jixin played in a fast and relaxed manner, the board state in the palm of his hand.

Soon, the schoolboy was in a miserable state.
He lowered his head, his lips pursed.

Song Jixin rested his elbows on the table, his hands on his cheeks.
He tapped a black stone on the table lightly, looking at the go game.

According to Sir Qi, in a go game, a scholar admits defeat in silence.

The schoolboy placed two stones on the lower left corner reluctantly, indicating his resignation.

Sir Qi told his disciple, “Go practice calligraphy.
Write three hundred ‘永’ characters.”

The schoolboy got up and bowed his head before leaving.

Song Jixin watched the fading figure of the schoolboy and asked, “Sir Qi is leaving too?”

Sir Qi nodded.
“In ten days, I will leave.”

Song Jixin smiled.
“Just in time.
I can say my goodbyes to Sir Qi then.”

Sir Qi hesitated for a moment before finally saying, “There’s no need.
Song Jixin, when you go outside the town, remember to act with modesty.
three elementary books, “Primary,” “Etiquette and Music,” and “Calligraphy.” You can take them and brush up on your knowledge.
True understanding requires repetition.
The path of knowledge is a path of iteration, at the end one wields the brush of immortals.
You will… come to realize the true meaning of this later.
As for other books, I have a numeric book, “Essence,” a go book, ”Blossom,” and the anthology, “The World.” You can read this in your spare time to nurture your temperament.”

Surprised and feeling a little awkward, Song Jixin said bluntly, “Sir, it feels like I’m accepting your inheritance, like something might happen to you.
It makes me uncomfortable.”

Sir Qi smiled and said softly, “It’s not like that.
We will meet again.
It’s a small world after all.” 

His smile was like sunshine.
He suddenly said, “Go meet my disciple Zhao Yao, treat it as an early goodbye.”

Song Jixin got up and smiled.
“Okay.” The boy ran off.

Sir Qi leaned over and began cleaning up the go stones.
He picked the stones up in the exact order they were last played, the game reverting back to a clean state. 

Sometime later, Zhi Gui had returned from the bamboo forest.
She stood outside the gate, not stepping foot in the yard.

Sir Qi did not turn his head.
“Don’t test me.”

Zhi Gui, who grew up in Muddyrun, had an innocent expression on her face, looking weak and pitiful. 

The gentle scholar creased his brow and turned his head slowly.

A cold gaze.

The girl stared at them, looking confused.

Naive, pure.

The scholar stood up, his figure graceful in the spring breeze.
He looked at the girl and smiled coldly.
“Devil’s spawn.”

The girl’s innocent expression faded away, her eyes becoming frigid.
Her lips curved into a mocking smile.

She seemed to be saying, ‘What can you do?’

She stared straight at the scholar.

One inside the yard, the other outside, the pair stared at each other like clashing dragons.

The two loathed each other.

In the distance, Song Jixin shouted, “Zhi Gui, time to go!”

Zhi Gui got up on her tippy toes and replied, “Coming, master.”

She pushed open the gate and brushed past Sir Qi.
After taking a few steps, she turned around and bowed, her voice gentle, “Sir, Zhi Gui will take her leave now.” She left.

Sir Qi sighed.

A spring breeze’s rush, the sound of a turning pages, bamboo leaves sway, lush.

The taoist tidied up the stall and sighed, unhappy.
When the people who knew him asked the reason for his unhappiness, he would just shake his head, not answering.

In the end, a newlywed woman, who was passing by, noticed the taoist was acting strange.
She stopped by, her eyes beautiful, and inquired why, her gaze lingering on the handsome face of the young taoist.

The taoist glanced at the woman indifferently.
Then, his gaze went slightly downward. Well-endowed indeed. The taoist gulped and said, “Today, this one read his own fortune.
Drew bad fortune, very bad luck.”

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