Please Note: The following chapter contains graphic depictions of child abuse and multiple emetophobia triggers.
Six-year-old Little Qi saw more people than he ever had in his life after Head Elder Ling took him to the medical academy. He never realized the world could be so loud and didn’t smile the entire day. The first night, all he got was a bowl full of medicine, which left his stomach rumbling before bedtime even hit. He snuck out to knock on Head Elder Ling’s door.
“Head Elder Ling, Little Qi is hungry…”
“You have to call me ‘Daddy,’” Head Elder Ling didn’t even open the door as he shouted from the other side.
Little Qi didn’t want to, but simply dropped the issue to insist, “I’m hungry...really hungry!” Head Elder Ling was annoyed by his disregard and didn’t reply immediately, causing Little Qi to renew his knocks on the door. “I’m hungry!”
“Little Qi, be good. If you go to sleep, you won’t feel hungry anymore,” Head Elder Ling went through the motions without losing his temper.
“I’m too hungry to sleep,” Little Qi said pitifully.
“Then go drink a bit of water. Your daddy said you can’t be allowed to eat normal foods,” Head Elder Li replied.
Little Qi stopped talking. As he looked towards the brilliantly illuminated medical academy, he suddenly missed his dark little thatched cottage. He was about to leave when Head Elder Ling added faintly, “If you dare to steal food to eat, you’ll never see your daddy again.”
“I wouldn’t do that!” Little Qi huffed back ferociously. But there was no reply coming from within the room. Little Qi stood there for quite a long time with no response from inside. He hastily went to knock on the door. “When is my daddy coming?”
“Your daddy’s gone into seclusion and won’t be out for a month,” Head Elder Ling replied honestly.
Little Qi didn’t like Head Elder Ling, but he didn’t leave either. He ended up sitting in front of the door for an entire night. Without his daddy there to coax him, it was very hard to fall asleep. Eventually, he drifted off and had a dream of his father’s gentle voice. “Qi’er, be good….Qi’er, good, good…”
The next day, he drank a single bowl of medicine for each of his three meals. If he didn’t drink them, he wouldn’t be able to see his daddy; if he stole food, it was the same penalty. Even the smartest and most obedient six-year-old couldn’t take a scare like that, but neither could they deal with such hunger! Little Qi grit his teeth and foolishly held out for three days and three nights straight. Finally, he collapsed in front of Head Elder Ling’s door on the fourth day.
Head Elder Ling had been keeping an eye on his movements the entire time and knew straight away that he had fainted. He immediately opened the door to check his pulse, only to feel delighted. The results were exactly as he and the Academy Head Gu had predicted. If the child made it through the next three days and nights, he would only be able to eat medicine for the next few years.
Head Elder Ling fed Little Qi his medicine along with some sugar water at the same time. One day later, Little Qi finally regained consciousness and almost mistook Head Elder Ling for his father. He was on the verge of calling out ‘daddy’ when he swallowed the words again. Instead he mumbled, “Little Qi will be good… Little Qi will be good…”
He quickly fell unconscious again, allowing Academy Head Gu to slip out from the side and personally check his pulse.
“Things are progressing very smoothly,” Academy Head Gu murmured in a low voice.
Head Elder Ling was thrilled. “Academy Head, don’t worry. He won’t be able to escape from my grasp.”
“He won’t run away,” of this, Academy Head Gu was certain. After raising this child for six years, he was very clear on how much the boy depended on him. A single ‘you’ll never see daddy again’ was enough to threaten him into behaving. After two more days of sugar water and medicine, Little Qi suddenly woke up and felt something strange with his stomach. But he couldn’t figure out what it was. He sat blankly by the edge of the bed and rubbed his abdomen.
“So hungry….” he muttered.
At that moment, Head Elder Ling sent in a table full of rice and dishes, its delicious aromas quickly filling the room. Little Qi was already hungry, but the scents nearly drove him mad. He stared at the food while swallowing his drool. Still, he neither asked nor begged to eat. He knew he wasn’t supposed to.
“Little Qi, you can eat something today. Come on over,” Head Elder Ling finally spoke.
Little Qi was starving, yet he still didn’t approach the food. Instead he asked cautiously, “If I eat...will I still be able to see daddy?”
“You will!” Head Elder Ling chuckled.
Thrilled beyond words, Little Qi stopped asking questions for fear that Head Elder Ling would retract his promise and went over to devour the meal. Even adults would be voracious after starving themselves for so long, to say nothing of a little child.
Little Qi hadn’t eaten very much before his stomach started feeling uncomfortable, he bore the discomfort to keep eating, gobbling everything in his wake. He had no idea when he’d be able to get a proper meal again. If I eat a lot of food and store it in my tummy, I won’t get hungry as quickly.
But gradually, the discomfort in his stomach grew. It felt swollen, cramped, and stuffed, almost as if he wanted to throw up but couldn’t. Even his breathing grew slow and labored. Finally, he set down his chopsticks to shoot Head Elder Ling a pleading look. He felt...awful!
Head Elder Ling only looked at him coldly as he waited with indifference.
Little Qi retched a few times, but couldn’t throw anything up. He suddenly grew rather fearful, beating against his chest and stomach until he began to cry and shout. “Daddy! I want daddy! I want daddy...sobsob….”
It was hard for him to breathe to begin with, but his crying made it even more difficult. His little face turned red with effort as he fearfully retched repeatedly. It seemed like he’d feel better if he just vomited, but he physically couldn’t. He tried standing, then lying down on his stomach, then finally rolling around on the ground as he wailed in heartrending misery. The fine features of his face had all distorted in his agony.
Finally, he rolled to Head Elder Ling’s feet and begged, “Uncle Ling...save Little Qi…. Uncle Ling, Little Qi feels so bad...sobsob…”
Head Elder Ling backed away, but Little Qi crawled towards him again. Head Elder retreated once more, but Little Qi rolled towards him one more time and hugged his shoes like his final straw of hope. “Sobsob….sobsob…”
But Head Elder Ling simply kicked him, sending Little Qi tumbling away until he lost all strength. He sprawled on the ground as if dead, his breathing weak. By now he couldn’t even muster up the energy to cry out, but whimpered out, “Ma…”
What was ‘ma?’
He didn’t know. He was like a newborn baby who didn’t know anything, yet instinctively sought the comfort of a mother’s arms and protection. As he murmured and wept, he gradually fell asleep. Perhaps he’d wake up, perhaps he never would.
Three days later, Little Qi had finally regained consciousness. But ever since then, he lost all of his ability to consume normal food. At first, he would retch at the very sight of it. Later, when hunger drove him to try again, he’d spit up everything he put in his mouth as an involuntary action. He had no idea why this was happening.
Head Elder Ling said that this was his so-called ‘strange illness.’ Little Qi didn’t believe him, but daddy had said the same thing so he accepted it in the end. He could only drink medicine, but it wasn’t just for his three meals anymore. Now he drank medicine whenever he felt hungry, and even the bitterest brews were delicious to him. He never spat those up.
Gradually, Little Qi began to grow skilled from drinking his medicines. Even without a teacher, he could differentiate between dozens of medicine and their properties. Thus, he began to study the art of medicine itself, comparing notes with books and manuals while using his own body to test their effects. He easily grasped the characteristics of various medicinal ingredients and even began to make prescriptions and plant medicine of his own.
Eventually, he grew older. He stopped stubbornly wishing for his daddy because he understood the significance of titles such as ‘Academy Head’ and ‘Head Elder.’ He understood how his status and identity would affect his daddy’s future prospects, and his own contributions to the medical community as a unique existence. He did get to see his daddy a few times and called him that in secret, but always kept quiet when outsiders were around. Instead of longing to meet daddy all the time, he began to think of ways to help him and the medical academy save even more lives.
Just like that, six more years had passed.
Within those six years, Little Qi had cultivated almost a hundred different new species of medicinal plants, more than any clan in Medicine City. All of the plants had saved countless people from the torment of disease and even death.
Soon enough, the seventh day of the seventh lunar month rolled around again---Little Qi’s birthday. Head Elder Ling took him out of the medical academy that day, but had people tie him up as soon as they reached a secret chamber.
“Head Elder Ling, just what’s the meaning of this?” Twelve-year-old Little Qi demanded, his voice still childish, but scornful.
“Little Qi, you mustn’t be so impolite.”
At the familiar sound, Little Qi turned to see his father, Academy Head Gu.
His mind turned blank with shock. “Father…”
Academy Head Gu only ignored him and went to a table to grab a bowl full of black soup. Little Qi recognized it as a poison, but couldn’t tell what type of toxin it might be. “Father, you....just what are you doing?”
Academy Head Gu carefully sniffed the bowl of poison to make sure it was right, before walking over. “Little Qi, be good. Drink this down for me.” Perhaps he had always thought that Little Qi was still the obedient and ignorant child he knew.
Little Qi pursed his lips and stared at his father, tears threatening to fall from his eyes. He seemed to suddenly understand something and yet still understood nothing at all. Academy Head Gu didn’t force him, but he handed over the poison to Head Elder Ling, who pried open Little Qi’s lips and stuffed a metal tube into his mouth. Then he force-fed the liquid down his throat.
This ‘poison’ wasn’t really a typical toxin, nor was it medicine. It was called Medicate Poison and could be used to make people ill on purpose. Before two hours had passed, Medicate Poison took effect. Little Qi sported red bumps all over his body that began to itch unbearably as his temperature grew scalding hot like a fever.
This Medicate Poison was used to stimulate leprosy.
Little Qi finally figured out what daddy and Head Elder Ling were planning. His eyes filled with more tears as he stared at his father and stubbornly refused to speak. Unfortunately, his father didn’t care about the tears in his eyes at all. He was far more interested in the changes happening to his body. The two of them refused to treat Little Qi for three entire days just to observe the progress of disease on his body. The high fever didn’t retreat while the itching intensified. They untied one of Little Qi’s hands so he could scratch himself, then observed the bleeding injuries from the scratches.
Even the strongest mountain had to bend before disease. Little Qi’s fever left him in a dazed stupor as he scratched himself subconsciously. It didn’t take a day before the skin on his stomach and arm were all bloody from his nails.
Finally, the two men began to use medicine to treat Little Qi. Typically speaking, leprosy at this stage was incurable, but they were using Little Qi as a human experiment. Each time they would try with a different medicine and observe its effects over the course of two days. In the end, they ended up experimenting for an entire month before finding the best acupuncture techniques and prescription. By now, the 12-year-old Little Qi had been reduced to skin and bones, his body a mass of cuts and bruises. He looked no different from a corpse.
As his high fever receded, he slowly raised his head and called out in his young and childish voice, “Daddy...you should just kill Little Qi.”