LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS

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CHAPTER 2: CRYSTAL FALLS

The air was chilly in the small village where Cha Ming had washed up. It was noticeably colder than Green Leaf City or Fairweather City, indicating that he had teleported far north. When he had asked Li Yin where the village was located, he simply replied that it was a secret. All he could let Cha Ming know was that the town was called Crystal Falls. It was named after the gigantic waterfall beside the village, which shrouded it in mist and humidified the air. It sparkled in the sun, often manifesting rainbows when the light passed through.

The village was in an isolated valley, and strangers were rarely permitted inside, while very few who left could ever come back. This was a strange policy for any village, as isolationism would make trade and exchange of knowledge extremely difficult. Still, he didn’t bother pressing the issue. After all, he didn’t have long to live. Besides, the people were very friendly. Children ran around and played, and everyone walked with smiles on their faces.

Cha Ming asked a stranger for directions, and they kindly directed him to an indoor shop in their small merchant district. No one answered when he knocked on the door, so he let himself in. The soft sound of ringing bells served as both a gentle warning and a greeting, a promise that someone would be there soon.

The jewelry store was unlike any he had ever seen. Typically, goods would be on display behind glass cases to prevent theft. The people in this town clearly trusted each other, as pieces of jewelry were left out in the open for anyone to touch. While there was jade and silver, he noticed a distinct lack of gold and other precious stones. What he did find, however, was a multitude of bright, clear stones fashioned into jewelry and ornaments.

There were earrings fashioned from long crystals the size of his fingers. There were statuettes carved from that same clear stone. He also saw several timepieces and necklaces, but strangely very few rings. The ones he did see were fashioned with plain silver and completely unadorned with decorative stones.

“Can I help you?” said a wizened old man who walked up to the counter. He seemed to have just woken from a nap, given his disheveled appearance. As Cha Ming walked over to the counter, the man placed a pair of spectacles on his wrinkled face. Cha Ming took out three gold crystals the size of a fist and gently placed them on the counter.

The man gave him an excited grin before picking up one of the crystals. He observed it keenly with a large magnifying lens, then he used a metal instrument and easily dented the crystal’s soft surface and nodded in appreciation. “You’re looking the sell these?” he asked Cha Ming, who nodded in response.

The man thought for a while before taking out a notepad and scribbling on it unintelligibly. Then he frowned. “You’re not very familiar. Are you new around here?” he asked.

“I’m afraid I washed up on shore a month ago,” Cha Ming said wryly. “My name is Cha Ming, and I’ve been staying at Doctor Li Yin’s residence for the past month.”

“Right, right,” the man replied while nodding. “Little Chin told me about that. It’s nice to see you’ve made a good recovery. My name is Xu Peng.” He continued scribbling on his piece of paper before making an offer.

“You’re in luck, young lad,” the man finally said. “We don’t get a lot of gold around here, so anything I fashion with them will sell like hotcakes. The last time I got my hands on any gold was five years ago. For Li Yin’s sake, I’ll give you a good price. Five stones and twenty shards apiece.” Cha Ming looked puzzled when he saw the fifteen stones a quarter the size of a fist, followed by sixty shards as big as the tip of his pinky. They weren’t clear or lustrous like the stones on display, but they were obviously made from the same material. Moreover, the material looked familiar.

“Spirit stones?” Cha Ming gasped in shock. This was the first time he’d seen spirit stones so strangely cut. There was a continent-wide standard on cut and quality, so the irregular shape surprised him. He could also feel a gentle warmth emanating from the stones. If he hadn’t been injured, he would have tried absorbing the qi trapped in it to test the quality. Simply by judging by the intensity of their aura, these stones were not low-grade stones. Rather, they appeared to be mid-grade spirit stones. He had never seen high-grade stones before, so he couldn’t discount the possibility.

“I’m not sure what they’re called,” the man said. “We’ve used these as currency for over two hundred years without any issue.” He didn’t seem to want to talk more on the subject. Cha Ming was happy to exchange the gold crystals for something with actual value, so he quickly agreed to the exchange.

If I’m not mistaken, three shards are equal to a mid-sized spirit stone, Cha Ming thought, then quickly turned glum once more. It was a very ironic situation; the town had excess spirit stones, but he had no ability to use them.

A quarter hour later, he walked down the street and went into another shop. There were no outdoor stalls in this town, at least not yet. The winter cold had not yet subsided, and any perishable goods would freeze out in the open. He wandered through the small store with a basket in hand and picked up some onions, some cabbage, and some tofu—the ingredients for a dish he had made far too often in the past.

A pleasant young lady met him at the till, where she tallied up the total cost of his order. “That will be five specks,” she said.

“Specks?” Cha Ming asked, confused.

The woman frowned slightly before a look of enlightenment flashed in her eyes. “Ah! You’re the new guy in town who’s staying at Li Yin’s!” she said, her face flushed with excitement. “How is the world outside? Have you been on any adventures? Are you single?”

A veritable barrage of questions assaulted Cha Ming, who stood there not knowing how to respond. Thankfully, a middle-aged lady sensed his plight.

“Go to the back, little girl,” the woman said. “It’s not good to scare away customers.” She shooed her off before continuing with the transaction. “I’ve heard that you’re new in town. I don’t suppose you have any money on you?” she asked.

Cha Ming looked at her helplessly and placed a pile of shards in front of her.

“Oh? So you do have money.” The woman snatched up one of the shards and took out forty-five diamond-like crystals and placed them back in front of Cha Ming. “There are fifty specks to a shard, and fifty shards to a stone.”

“Thank you very much for the explanation. I feel relieved now,” Cha Ming said. Not only could he now purchase food, but it seemed that the goldsmith had also been very generous with him. He packed up the food and headed toward the entrance.

Just as he was about to exit, the middle-aged lady yelled out. “Make sure to take care of Li Yin while you get better. He’s good at treating people, but he never watches out for his own health!”

Cha Ming turned around and nodded before heading back toward the doctor’s residence.

 

***

 

Cha Ming and the doctor sat in silence as they ate. Li Yin had a dull look, though Cha Ming didn’t feel slighted. He had seen that same expression when the doctor ate the day prior, and in his humble opinion, he was a better cook than he was. Not that he would ever say such a thing. What concerned him more was whether he would appreciate the lighter fare.

“I see that you don’t eat meat,” the man said suddenly.

Cha Ming nodded.

“Why?” he continued.

“Because I don’t want to hurt animals, and I’m perfectly capable of surviving otherwise,” Cha Ming replied.

“You’ve done this all your life?” the man asked. Seeing Cha Ming nod, he continued eating. “I’ll be sure to add a note in my dietary research. If you don’t mind, I’ll have you fill in a questionnaire later so that I can tabulate data on your eating habits, history, when you started cultivating, etc.”

The man’s comments brought a rarely seen light to Cha Ming’s eyes. “What other research do you conduct aside from dietary research?”

“All sorts of research: anatomical, diseases and their prevention and cures, infection, psychology, herbology, surgery, and anything else that can help mankind flourish.”

“Surgery? You perform surgery as well?” Cha Ming asked.

The doctor nodded. “Yes, surgery is very important for medicine for the masses. Specifically, severe trauma might require an amputation, and severe bone fractures have trouble healing without surgery. I sometimes do some operations on internal tissue damage, but these are very tricky, and the risk of infection is very high.”

Cha Ming marveled at the man’s dedication. Spirit doctors made the need for invasive surgery irrelevant. Moreover, invasive surgeries were extremely risky. Even back on Earth, surgeries had only been successful for the past two centuries. Infection had killed over ninety percent of amputation patients, something which was only alleviated with proper sterilization and cauterization.

“Do you wash your hands and wash the patient before performing surgery?” Cha Ming asked.

“Before and after each one,” Li Yin replied. “In the course of my research, I’ve discovered that agents of disease propagate through filth on human hands and bodies. I educate every patient I treat on this aspect. My data indicates that constant hand washing has greatly reduced the incidence of disease in town. Fortunately, it’s only a small town of 10,000 people. A larger data set would be unmanageable by me alone.”

“Do you sterilize the metal instruments you use and the string you stitch with?” Cha Ming pressed.

The doctor thought for a bit. “Yes, it makes no sense that only human touch would transfer…” he muttered. “But how to clean effectively. I could use soap, but is this treatment harsh enough? If I use boiling water, perhaps…” Without saying goodbye, he returned to his office and shut the door.

Such dedication and open-mindedness, Cha Ming thought. The doctors on Earth, in their arrogance, refused to accept the possibility that doctors could spread disease. In fact, when hospitals began to deliver babies, the death toll greatly increased since doctors refused to wash their hands even after surgeries and autopsies. The first man who brought up this concept was shunned by the entire medical community just for implying that doctors should wash their hands between patients.

A warm feeling suffused Cha Ming as he realized that these simple words he said might bring relief to countless mortals in the future. It was like a small speck of light in the darkness that was his current life.

Even if I can’t fight, and I won’t live for very long, maybe I can put some of my limited knowledge to good use in this small village, he thought. At least it’s better than doing nothing for the last few weeks or months in my life.

Unbeknownst to Cha Ming, the concept of surviving for only days had been pushed to the back of his mind.

After the doctor’s abrupt departure, Cha Ming cleaned the dishes and went back to his room. It was time to attempt circulating his qi a second time. This time, he didn’t circulate it at maximum capacity. Instead, he sat in meditation and guided his soul force to his dantian, where he could observe the situation. His dantian was intact, just as the doctor said. It was covered in multiple seals that traveled to and from each organ in a loop.

As he looked through the qi pathways leading outside of his dantian, his expression turned grim. Aside from the first half inch leading from his dantian, the remaining ones were a mess. They were covered in cuts and lesions, and sometimes entire sections were missing. And regardless of whether the qi pathways were whole or damaged, they were all covered in black burns, which limited their flexibility and caused them to be full of tiny holes.

When he arrived at his organs, his expression became ugly. His kidney, bladder, lungs, and large intestine were the most damaged. That explained why he was only able to take short breaths and was feeling increasingly lethargic. Conversely, his heart, small intestine, spleen, stomach, liver, and gallbladder were functioning at only a little over half capacity. These functioning organs were the yin and yang organs that he had refined via Seventy-Two Transformations. They were mostly whole and only slight burnt.

The more damaged organs were a different matter. They were charred black, and in some cases, up to thirty percent of the organ had turned to brittle coal. He felt his kidney barely keeping up, the consequences of its inactivity very clear to Cha Ming. Over time, his blood would become full of impurities, and he would eventually be poisoned to death.

Closer to his extremities, his meridians and qi pathways had suffered less severe damage. However, they were still burned beyond recognition. Using them to deliver qi to his extremities for techniques would be impossible. These pathways were extremely important for cultivation speed. Even if he did manage to cultivate, he would be limited to around ten percent of his original capacity.

Still, he had to try. He gritted his teeth and attempted to circulate the tiniest amount of qi possible. A searing pain shot all over his body, but it was still bearable. He continued this way for a quarter hour before increasing the flow of qi slightly. Pain ravaged his body for what seemed like an eternity. He saw several of his brittle meridians burst, causing qi to assault his muscles, which spasmed in response. Cracks appeared on several of his organs. Finally, an immense amount of pain in his lungs caused him to cough up blood.

Following his futile attempt, Cha Ming collapsed in bed. The pain was tolerable, but the dejection he felt was not. Was there truly no hope?

 

***

 

He woke up the next morning to the sound of crowing roosters.

“You look pale,” Li Yin remarked as they ate breakfast. “Did you try circulating your qi again?” he asked.

Cha Ming nodded, ashamed of his disregard for the doctor’s instructions.

“It’s difficult to let go of what you’ve lost,” Li Yin said. “Try not to coop yourself up in here. It’s bad for your mental health. It will do you some good to walk around a little. Personally, I enjoy going near the woods and watching the kids play.”

Cha Ming accepted the advice in silence.

Seeing his dour mood, Li Yin fetched a kettle of boiling water and poured tea for two. It wasn’t the best tea, nor was it the best tea set. However, it did remind Cha Ming that things weren’t so bad. There had been a point in his life where he’d had no teapot and no tea to brew.

“Now that you’ve finally evaluated your body’s condition, I have a few other recommendations for you,” Li Yin said between sips. “First, don’t run. While your mind can take it, your heart cannot. Second, don’t drink. Your liver is damaged, and you will poison yourself to death. Third, don’t eat too much salt, because your kidneys are now functioning below their necessary capacity. Finally, talk to people.”

The last comment surprised Cha Ming. He looked up at the doctor, who smiled before continuing. “People are social creatures. Without interacting with anyone, they will lose all hope. It is better to live in the company of a devil than to live alone for all eternity.”

With these words, the doctor put his dish down and closed himself up in his office once more.

Cha Ming went out for a walk later that afternoon and followed Li Yin’s advice. As he walked, he saw a man through a window. He was sitting at a bar and drinking away his sorrows. Unfortunately, Cha Ming already knew what this would do to a man. He had sworn never to drink, and he wasn’t about to start such a terrible habit now.

He continued walking until he reached the edge of the woods, where he saw a group of six children playing. They were playing a game called Swords, something he was very familiar with. Each child would take a long branch, and they would attack each other just like they would with swords. Cuts and bruises were inevitable.

The exchange between these children made him smile. Kids were a loveable bunch—quick to anger but quick to please. The sight made him mourn his lack of a childhood. Yet he didn’t look away. Before long, he realized that there was a smile on his previously bitter face.

Good doctor, he thought. He watched them for an hour. Only in his dreams could he have such a childhood.

 



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