Under the pitch black curtain of the night, the unbroken chains of mountain peaks crouched like giant beasts, quietly waiting for dawn.

Under a small hill shaped like a crouching bull sat a small small village.

“Li the Second, wake up and hurry up to get to work!” A scold broke the silence. A middle-aged peasant woman with a waist like a barrel cursed at the bullpen.

On a stack of hay in the bullpen, a thin young man woke up with a start from his dreams, blankly thinking: “Where am I?”

He had that dream again. In the dream he lived in a city with high-rising buildings, and he played all day on the magical treasure known as a computer. On the streets strange monsters made of steel pushed and shoved and b.u.mped into each others.

Then finally on a certain day, he was run over by a strange beast called “BMW.”

Then he suddenly awoke. Oh right, he crossed to another world.

More than a dozen years had gone by, and the things that happened in his previous world were almost like a dream.

He felt the itch of mosquito bites as he surveyed his surroundings. Obviously this wasn’t any kind of grand place. There was probably no world-crosser as miserable as him in the whole universe.

Counting the time, it’d been probably fifteen years already!

His parents in this world were the most ordinary of farmers in this Crouching Bull Village, and they both pa.s.sed away years ago when he was still a child, leaving him to be raised by his older brother. His brother was Li the Eldest, so he was Li the Second.

The village wasn’t very sophisticated and many villagers went all their lives without a decent name. Thanks to the knowledge from his previous world, he had chosen a formal name for himself, called “Li Qingshan,” meaning Li Green Hill.

“Why be bones buried in the birthland, when life is high and low a green hill?”1 Even if he crossed to another world, he still had to survive. No, he had to lead a better life than in his previous world, or it would be a waste of this second life the heavens had given him.

Remembering his childhood back when he had just crossed over, his mood quieted down from dread and confusion, and the grand ambition of a world-crossed ignited in his chest. But then he found out his belly was hungry, and he had no food to eat.

Those brother and sister-in-law of his saw him like a burden. They threw all the dirty and tiring ch.o.r.es at him, and they always left him the worst food. There was no shred of any family affection.

His age was small and he had nowhere to go. The only thing he could do was to try and display the att.i.tude of a child prodigy, but people thought he was possessed by ghosts, and the village witch forcefully poured his belly full of blessed water. He hadn’t dared to act rashly since then.

Consequently the villagers still called him Li the Second. Li Qingshan was only a joke.

Li Qingshan’s sister-in-law cursed him for a while, and when he showed no reaction, she broke inside and brandished a bamboo strip in her hand, mercilessly whipping it on his body. “Lazy bones, play dead will you, play dead!”

Li Qingshan was thinking of his former life and his mind was distracted by his anxiety right then. He abruptly stood up and s.n.a.t.c.hed the bamboo strip away, glaring at the peasant woman.

Big Wife Li saw that the child from back then was already half a head taller than her, and she felt some fear, but her momentum didn’t diminish in the least: “What a good Li the Second. We raised you painstakingly for so long, but you still dare to act wild with me. Wait til your brother wakes up and sorts you out. You’re not getting anything to eat!” She turned and left as soon as she was done talking.

After Big Wife Li left, Li Qingshan threw away the bamboo strip and sighed heavily. He went beside the manger and told an old green bull: “Elder brother bull, Elder brother bull, I already grew up and became a man. I don’t want to endure this anymore, I just don’t want to part with you.”

His parents had split the family properties on their deathbed, but the house and farm fields had all been forcibly seized by his brother and sister-in-law. The only property he had left now was this green bull.

Thanks to this bull he could usually find work with his landowner, and he could still tag along and get enough to eat. He didn’t know how thin he be if he had to stay at home and only eat rice peels or wild gra.s.ses. So he never treated the bull like livestock, and instead respectfully called it “elder brother bull.”

Everyone in the village knew that Li the Second could do without Big Brother Li, but he couldn’t do without big brother bull.

The green bull had a s.h.i.+ny hide and was plump and strong. It was obvious how much time and energy Li Qingshan spent everyday on taking care of it, but it already showed signs of aging, and one of his horns was broken. That break was very smooth, like the cut of a blade.

The green bull opened its moist eyes and watched Li Qingshan as if it could understand human emotions. When it pulled itself together and stood up, Li Qingshan hefted himself on it with practiced ease before it leisurely walked toward the Crouching Bull Hill.

Li Qingshan raised his head and watched the sky as he rode on the green bull. The stars were incomparably bright; it was a brilliance that didn’t exist in that other world. Like an ordinary cowboy, he blew a crisp and clear tune on his flute.

The flute’s sound reverberated in the early fog. Behind him the village woke up gradually.

Trees were spa.r.s.e on the Crouching Bull Hill and the green gra.s.s was laid like a mattress.

Li Qingshan borrowed the faint light from the east and gazed to the west. The mountains linked themselves in uninterrupted ranges, and deeper in were the hundred thousand great mountains. Rumors had it that not only wild beasts but even spirits and ghosts haunted them, so hunters didn’t dare go deep inside.

Li Qingshan had never seen a decent map in the village, and he couldn’t figure out this world’s geography. He only knew the mountains were incomparably tall, and the rivers incomparably vast. Even if they contained all kinds of perils, it was still a whole new world waiting for him to explore.

Li Qingshan had already made his decision to leave, and in the end he patted the green bull’s back a few times.

“Elder brother bull, elder brother bull, you’re already so old, if I sold you others would certainly cut you up and eat your meat. These skies are broad and the lands are vast, so wander forth. There are many savage beasts in the mountains, you be careful.”

At this time, the smartest thing to do was to sell the green bull and gather some travel expenses. He’d also have some guarantees in Suncheer City, or else he might fall down in hunger and die in the streets. But he refused to do such.

Any farmer would laugh if they heard of such childish practices, but this was his resolve.

“You already call me big brother, how can I bear to part ways?”

“One may send off a guest for a thousand miles, but the time will still come to say good…bye…” Li Qingshan answered instinctively, but his voice became lower bit by bit. He stared at the green bull with round eyes and felt like all the hairs on his body had stood up. He retreated a step: “Evil spirit!”

The green bull said: “Don’t be afraid, I won’t harm you.”

Anyway they’d gotten along for so many years so Li Qingshan wasn’t actually very afraid, but he just couldn’t accept this surreal scene for a while. But after thinking about all he had gone through, he also calmed down and tentatively probed with a frown: “Are you really elder brother bull?”

The green bull saw him calm down so fast and nodded its bullhead in praise: “Worthy of someone with innate wisdom.”

“What innate wisdom?” Li Qingshan immediately became wary. He absolutely didn’t want others to discover his status of a world-crosser. He remembered that while he could usually still pretend in front of the villagers, he wasn’t so guarded in front of this green bull, and his att.i.tude didn’t match his status and age. He never thought that the bull had already seen it clearly.

“Occasionally some people will retain memories of their former life through the six paths of reincarnation, this is precisely called innate wisdom.”

“I see.” Li Qingshan relaxed slightly. He had also heard about this kind of things, but at least his world-crosser ident.i.ty wasn’t yet exposed: “I didn’t expect that this world would really have monsters and evil spirits. I even fed and took care of you for a dozen years, why didn’t you speak before?”

“There’s not much to say. I don’t ask you where you come from, you don’t ask me where I come from. It’s enough for you to know what I can give you.”

“Give me…what?”

“Have you heard about supernatural powers?”

The green bull didn’t wait for Li Qingshan’s questions and continued to say: “The so-called ‘supernatural powers’ are the means of demon and G.o.ds who know all under heaven. Down below you can s.h.i.+ft mountains and fill up the sea, up above you can gather the stars and hold the moon. You can live long if you desire a long life, and if you wish for immortality you can obtain immortality. Let alone glory and wealth, gold and women, those you can obtain in pa.s.sing. Are you tempted?”

This “supernatural” word simply contained all the longings of every living person. Li Qingshan was also but one in the crowd, how could he not be tempted?

The deeper feeling was incredulity, like a person blind for a more than a dozen years suddenly opening his eyes. Everything in front of his eyes was so dazzling and fascinating, and he was filled with an unreal sensation.

Li Qingshan restrained his heart’s excitement: “Elder brother bull, you want to teach me supernatural powers?”

The green bull shook its head: “You’re not qualified right now.” Then it changed the topic: “If you want to cultivate supernatural powers, first you have to eat meat!”

“What?” Li Qingshan wondered if he had heard wrong. He felt a burst of absurdity, supernatural skills that could move mountains, fill the sea, gather the stars and the moon, how did they get tangled together with these ordinary matters?

“The first step to cultivation is to “refine vitality and produce qi,” refine the yuan essence in the body and transform it into true qi. With your yellow face and emaciated body, where would you find yuan essence to refine?”

Li Qingshan smiled bitterly. No one who grew up and matured like him could have become robust. And for a man who struggled to carry a bucket of water to talk about s.h.i.+fting mountains and filling the sea, wasn’t that ridiculous?

“I dare ask, where does the meat comes from?” How would Li Qingshan not want to eat meat? Compared to illusory immortal pills and spirit herbs, the taste of meat was truly engraved in his brain, making him dream of it at midnight and endlessly cherish the memories.

But where would a kid who couldn’t even eat his fill of coa.r.s.e grains find meat to eat? He couldn’t stop himself from staring at elder brother bull’s plump bull body, subconsciously cutting it in his head in tenderloin, ribs, t-bone and many other parts. His eyes shone green with envy.

The green bull hit his head: “Don’t get any idea about me.” It boldly lifted its hoof and pointed to the hundred thousand great mountains in the west: “The meat is right there.”

Li Qingshan wasn’t happy but rather afraid instead. Was it so easy to be a hunter in this world? The mountain beasts weren’t mere trifles. Moreover there was the living example of the green bull standing in front of him. Those legends about ghosts and demons weren’t empty words it seemed. If he randomly crossed the path of one of those, he would have to hand over his poor life.

But the green bull only told him not to worry and go home, then wind rose under its hooves and it left without a trace.

Li Qingshan went alone down the hill, the excitement in his heart still hard to quiet down. This world was unexpectedly filled with so much bedazzling strange things and colorful beauty. If he could really cultivate the dao of the immortals and tread across the green hills, then it wouldn’t be a waste of this name he gave himself.

Li Qingshan returned back to his house. His Big Brother Li had already gone to the fields, and only his sister-in-law was there, leaning on the door and eating melon seeds. She rolled her eyes when she saw him. Usually when men went to work in the fields, womenfolk would do ch.o.r.es in the house or weave clothes to earn some pocket money, but she was famous in the village for being a lazy wench. She threw all the ch.o.r.es to Li Qingshan, and as to the loom, she’d never even touched one.

Li Qingshan only pretended to turn a blind eye. He went straight inside and opened the lid of the cooking pot. Don’t mention hot dishes or warm rice, there wasn’t even cold leftovers.

Li Eldest’s wife said eccentrically: “Our family doesn’t raise idle people, why don’t you quickly take the bull and go work at Steward Liu’s place?” Then she suddenly remembered: “The bull?”

1. Excerpt from a poem by j.a.panese general Saigo Takamori. Later the line was “borrowed” by Mao Zedong in a poem of his own, making it famous in China.

Green hill here means somewhere seen as a good place to die. The line literally means: Why should you be buried where you were born, when anywhere’s a good place to die? The deeper meaning is: men shouldn’t be restricted to the place they were born, but follow their aspirations throughout the whole world.

By the way, Takamori’s stand against the Meiji government is the basis of the movie The Last Samurai. Katsumoto from the movie is also based on him.

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