Faced with Gu Qishao’s question, Long Feiye went silent. His heavy gaze turned complicated as Gu Qishao flew away from the roof, scarlet robes looking forlorn and desolate against the dark night sky. It was a sadness that came from an eternal loneliness. Tonight promised to be a restless one for both of them. Gu Qishao curled up in the branches of an old tree in the courtyard and dreamed about his childhood…
Endless mountain ranges stretched out in the expanse behind the medical academy, interspersed with luxurious plants and trees. Yet tonight, a sharp, bright wailing filled the air above the forbidden grounds of the Poison Sect, which had been deathly still for decades. In the mountain valley closest to the medical academy, a baby boy had been born in a small thatched cottage. There had been no midwife present at the scene, only the boy’s own father. His mother had already lost consciousness and was quickly sent away, never catching a glimpse of her child. Because the baby couldn’t find his mother, he was crying nonstop as he sought comfort.
The father held the babe in its swaddling clothes and gently rocked him to and fro as he cooed, “Child, be good...don’t cry, child, be good….”
He was born from an old and illustrious family in Medical City and was known as the medical academy’s most talented disciple to date. The head of the academy had already appointed him as his successor, making him the youngest vice-head in Medical City. They all called him Vice Head Gu. Despite this, he had yet to marry anyone and was the only person who knew of the origins of this child. He was also the only one who knew why he wanted this son in the first place.
The baby’s cries grew louder and louder, a desolate sound in the still valley. Soon enough, a black-robed man appeared and took the babe from his arms to inspect him, before proclaiming with a start, “He’s actually completely unharmed!”
While the baby was still in the womb, the two of them had already started performing all sorts of experiments on the foetus. They used specialized acupuncture to stimulate all sorts of illnesses in the baby, then observed the effects before treating each ailment, tracking the prognosis all the way. Throughout the ten-month pregnancy, they had completed a different experiment every month to break through a thorny disease that had plagued the pregnancy and find a proper cure and prescription. Although it was only one cure, its ramifications still shook the medical community. Now both of their ranks had risen in succession---a double rank increase to Sage for one and a single rank increase to Primogenitor for another. Naturally, once they got rid of the mother, no one beyond the two of them would know the cruelties they’d inflicted on her womb.
“He’s been cured, so naturally he’s unharmed,” Vice Head Gu replied.
“Vice Head Gu, this child is hungry. Should he be fed milk or---”
“Feed him with medicine,” Vice Head Gu cut him off.
“He’s still too young. I’m afraid that---”
“He’s been eating medicine every day since he was in the womb and still survived fine. What else could you be afraid of?” Vice Head Gu interrupted him again. He was crazy about medicine to the point of obsession, especially when it came to researching pathological changes in the human body. He had wanted to perform this sort of experiment from the womb for a long time now, just to observe the properties of the human body at each stage of development, its reactions to various forms of disease, how it nurtured resistance against illnesses, and how it ultimately cured itself.
The other man was wholly subservient to the Vice Head and immediately went to bring over a pre-prepared bowl of a medical decoction. One of them held the baby while the other used a small spoon to feed him. They treated the child with the same care one would treat a patient---exacting, prudent, and completely serious.
The baby’s first taste of food was bitter.
Without sweetness as a contrast, the child had no idea that flavor was ‘bitterness,’ or that the world considered it the worst flavor profile of all. He ate the medicine with relish, his tiny lips sucking at the medicine until he was satisfied enough to stop crying. His soup stained lips drew up into a sweet smile, inexplicably inviting others to grin with him.
His smile had been beautiful ever since he was a babe.
“Vice Head Gu, how about giving this child a name?” the man said with a grin.
“Today’s the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, so let’s just call him Little Qi (Seven).”
Vice Head Gu only gave the child a nickname because he felt the child didn’t need a real one. He was a secret existence, after all. Just like that, they fed Little Qi days’ worth of medicine without any ill effects until the fourth day. He cried nonstop that day, spitting up any and all the medicine and water they gave him. Like a lost child looking for its mother, he rejected any form of comfort or coaxing. Both Vice Head Gu and the man were tormented for an entire day, their stone hearts shattering and growing fearful of his cries. Of course, they were more afraid that they’d lose their special child---the baby they had cultivated with all effort with bring into this world. Without a choice, they could only stop the medicine and find a wet nurse for him. The woman immediately calmed Little Qi down, and the man was quick to find something off about the child’s pulse.
“Vice Head Gu, we must stop the experiment for a while and raise him up a bit first. Otherwise, all of our efforts will be wasted.”
Vice Head Gu gently stroked Little Qi’s cheeks, his motion like that of a loving father as pity and fondness filled his eyes. Little Qi was his treasure, ah, his most alluring gem. Of course he would dote completely on the boy.
“Let’s keep trying a bit longer,” he said.
For the next three days, Little Qi was alternately fed both milk and medicine as his pulse grew ever worse and erratic. Finally afraid, Vice Head Gu immediately stopped the medicine and began to treat him instead. He didn’t dare to sleep all day or night, holding Little Qi as he watched him sleep, wake, laugh, and cry. Ten days later, Little Qi finally recovered, but developed a bad habit as well. He would always have trouble sleeping unless someone rocked him to sleep for half the night.
Vice Head Gu would spend his nights personally holding the baby and coaxing him. “Qi’er, be good….Qi’er, good good…”
“Qi’er, be good and sleep….Qi’er, good, good…” His soft and gentle voice lulled Little Qi to sleep every time with a sweet little smile on his face. Even in his dreams, everything was still wonderful.
An infant’s memories were short lived. They didn’t understand how to hate, so they forgot about the first few days of suffering soon enough. Vice Head Gu and the man discussed things over and over as they analyzed the situation. In the end, they chose to raise Little Qi until he was six before starting their sacred experimentation. Just like that, Little Qi began to grow up in the Poison Sect’s forbidden grounds. When he was four months old, his wet nurse disappeared. From his earliest memories, there were only two people by his side: his daddy and a man surnamed Ling that he called Uncle Ling.[1. Uncle Ling (淩叔叔) - Ling is a surname meaning “rise high, tower aloft, insult/bully.”]
As he gradually grew older, he began to have distinct likes and dislikes. He bravely ventured into the mysterious world of the Poison Sect’s forbidden grounds, filled with curiosity and pleasant surprises. When he found a tree he liked, he’d wait until nightfall and would tell his father, “Daddy, Qi’er wants to be a tree and bloom flowers all over my body.”
When he found a high-flying bird, he’d wait until his father got home at night and declare, “Daddy, Qi’er wants to be a bird and fly all the way to the other side of the mountains.”
When he found that all the plants withered and died in winter, he would tell his father sadly, “Daddy, will Qi’er wilt away and die one day, too?”
“Those that wilt and die will come back to live once spring arrives again,” his father replied.
Little Qi grew anxious at that. “Daddy, Qi’er doesn’t like wilting or dying.”
Every time his father looked at him, it was with eyes full of love. His father never got annoyed at his questions, but answered every single one. In Little Qi’s universe, his father was his everything. But despite asking all those questions, he never asked his father where his mother was, because there was no one to tell him that things like ‘mothers’ existed in the first place. Little Qi’s world consisted only of his daddy, Uncle Ling, and the mountains full of flora and fauna.
Little Qi was highly intelligent. He would learn something as soon as he was taught and never forget it. Every poison plant that father pointed out, he remembered. Before he reached the age of six, he could already recognize every single poison plant in the mountains where they lived. Living in the wild, he had no restrictions and was like a feral child. Every day, he would run free in the mountains with his dirty face and behave as crudely as he liked, free from all cares. Despite this, Little Qi always needed someone next to him and night, and for his father to coax him to sleep.
“Qi’er, be good...Qi’er, good good...Qi’er, be good…”
Those were the words that followed Little Qi for six entire years.
One day, his father came to visit him at noon. Little Qi was still running about the mountains when he heard the melodious notes of his father’s flute. Thrilled, he quickly ran back home.
His father picked him up and raised him up high, then tickled his armpits until he broke into giggles. Father was affectionate with him for quite a while before setting him back down. When Little Qi entered the house, the first thing he saw was a table full of his favorite foods. He looked questioningly towards his father, who smiled before suddenly growing serious.
“Little Qi, after this meal you’ll only be eating medicine from every day on.”
Six-year-old Little Qi didn’t understand. His whole attention was on the table full of food, feeling pleasantly surprised. “Are these all for Little Qi to eat?”
“Little Qi, tomorrow daddy will take you to the medical academy. You can’t call me daddy anymore, can you remember that?”
Little Qi didn’t speak in reply, but simply ate with gusto.
His father continued, “Little Qi, you’ve contracted a strange illness. Daddy can’t cure you, but Uncle Ling can. In the future, you can just follow Uncle Ling and call him ‘Daddy’ instead. You have to be good and listen to Uncle Ling’s words to take your medicine everyday, alright?”
Little Qi still didn’t reply, busy licking his lips as he searched for more favorite foods to eat.
“Little Qi, you can’t tell anyone what’s happened here. No matter what they ask you, just shake your head, alright?” Father continued to speak.
Little Qi still did as he liked until he ate his fill, then turned back to blink innocently. “Daddy, Little Qi doesn’t want to go.”
“Daddy wants Little Qi to go,” his father said seriously.
Little Qi grew hesitant, before asking, “Why?”
“You’ll understand when you’re older,” his father replied.
“I really don’t wanna go,” Little Qi was stuck in a hard spot.
“If you don’t go, you’ll never see daddy again,” his father suddenly grew stern.
Little Qi gave a start, before murmuring, “Little Qi...isn’t sick.”
“Does Little Qi still want to see daddy?”
After thinking it over for a long while, Little Qi seemed to understand a bit of things while still feeling lost. He hung his head and muttered, “Little Qi is sick…”
In that year, Vice Head Gu had become the head of the medical academy, assuming greater responsibilities that made it impossible for him to visit the Poison Sect’s forbidden grounds everyday. At the time same, Elder Ling had become Head Elder of the Council of Elders, leaving him with more free time to practice his medical arts. The two of them had never planned to use the Poison Sect’s forbidden grounds for so long. After some discussion, they resolved to take Little Qi back to the medical academy as an adopted son who need to take medicine, then enroll him as a disciple in the school.
On the seventh day of the seventh lunar month in his sixth year, Little Qi was taken back to the medical academy by Head Elder Ling...