The moment Bai Xiaochun stuck his head out, he was instantly spotted by the scrawny teenager. When the teenager’s gaze landed on Bai Xiaochun’s face, his temper flared up. “The person who stole my place must have been you!”
“It wasn’t me!” It was already far too late for Bai Xiaochun to retract his head, so he hurriedly fixed his face into a mask of innocence.
“Bullshit! You’re so skinny and your head is tiny. You’re obviously new here!” Xu Baocai clenched his fist tightly as he glared at Bao Xiaochun.
“It really has nothing to do with me…” Bai Xiaochun muttered softly. When he saw that Xu Baocai was about to explode from his rage, he felt a little sorry for the guy.
“I don’t give a fuck. Three days from now. The southern slope of the Main Sect. You and me, we’ll have a death match. If you win, I’ll tolerate this nonsense. If you lose, then you’ll hand your position over to me.” Xu Baocai spoke loudly. From within his robes, he retrieved a challenge letter written in blood and tossed it at the window in front of Bai Xiaochun. On the letter was a dense mess of countless crimson promises of blood-soaked death.
Bai Xiaochun stared blankly at the bloody letter, before reading the numerous blood-soaked characters. He could feel the killing intent rising from the letter and was actually quite frightened, especially after recollecting that the other party had talked about a death match.
Bai Xiaochun inhaled sharply. “Dear Brother, is this really so important that you would use your own blood to write so many characters…? It must’ve been so painful.”
“Important?! I was scrimping and saving day after day to gather seven years of spirit pebbles. Seven years! Seven whole fucking years!! And only after honorably handing them over to the Deacon, did I manage to secure entrance to this Burning Stove Kitchen. Only to be blocked by you! We can’t both work here. Three days from now. Either you die or I live!” Xu Baocai was nearly hysterical, as he ground his teeth.
“Well, there’s no way I’m showing up.” Bai Xiaochun gingerly pinched the edge of the bloody letter between his fingers and tossed it out of the window.
“Youuu!” Xu Baocai was about to explode when he felt the ground shake and a mountain shift towards him. Without him realising, Zhang Fatso One had already appeared, glaring at Xu Baocai with a frosty gaze.
“Bai Nine, go and scrub the bowls with your Second Brother. As for you, don’t scream so loudly in this kind of place. Go and play somewhere else.” Zhang Fatso One flapped his hand dismissively, creating gusts of wind.
Xu Baocai’s expression changed as he retreated several steps. He seemed to want to say something, but restrained himself after seeing Zhang Fatso One. He could only shoot a final poisonous glare at Bai Xiaochun, before reluctantly leaving.
As Bai Xiaochun thought about his situation, he felt that Xu Baocai’s parting gaze was quite sinister. For the next few days at least, he should probably play it safe. He decided to avoid stepping out of the Burning Stove Kitchen, unless it was absolutely necessary. As long as he remained here, that guy wouldn’t dare to enter.
As the days passed peacefully, Bai Xiaochun began to get used to the the working life at the Burning Stove Kitchen. During the night, he would train his Purple Qi Cauldron Manipulation Technique. However, it was a pity that his progress was so slow that even now, he was unable to practice this technique beyond four breaths at a time, causing Bai Xiaochun plenty of distress.
This night, as he trained, he suddenly heard sounds of loud excited cheering from the fat Brothers of the Burning Stove Kitchen coming from outside his window.
“Close the gates! Close the gates! Yellow Fatso Two, quickly shut the gates!”
“Black Fatso Three, hurry up and check if there’s anyone spying on us!”
Bai Xiaochun was slightly stunned. This time, he had learned his lesson -- he wouldn’t peek out from his window, but through a gap in the door. From his narrow vantage point, he could see that the fat men outside were incomparably lively, as they sprinted frantically around the yard, as though harbouring a huge secret.
Soon, the front gates of the Burning Stove Kitchen were tightly shut and someone had executed a technique that apparently filled the surroundings with a thin layer of fog, adding even more mystery to the shadowy figures of these few fatties.
Bai Xiaochun stared at them for quite a while, before noticing that the fat men were no longer darting about, but rather secretively huddling in front of a straw hut. Even through the fog, he was still easily able to identify Zhang Fatso One’s hulking figure, who seemed as though he was muttering something under his breath. Bai Xiaochun reasoned that the less he knew about this secretive event, the better it was for him. So he retreated a few steps and pretended that he had seen nothing.
But at this moment, he heard Zhang Fatso One’s call out to him.
“Fatso Nine, you’ve already seen everything. Why don’t you hurry up and come out?” His voice wasn’t loud, but it carried a heavy pressure.
Bai Xiaochun blinked a few times before he put on a mask of obedience. Looking as though he couldn’t harm a hair on anyone’s head, he walked out of his hut.
The moment he neared the scene, Zhang Fatso One grabbed and swept Bai Xiaochun beside him. As Bai Xiaochun huddled together with a few other fat men, he instantly detected a unique smell. When it entered his nostrils, it dissolved into numerous currents of warmth that assimilated into his entire body.
Looking around, the people beside him all displayed expressions of comfortable bliss. Bai Xiaochun also felt refreshed. He saw that in Zhang Fatso One’s palm, there was a Lingzhi Mushroom the size of a baby’s head. As this mushroom glowed softly with a crystalline light, he could tell from a single glance that this was no ordinary item.
“Ninth Brother, come. Take a bite.” Zhang Fatso One grunted. He glanced at Bai Xiaochun as he tossed the mushroom over.
“Ah?” Bai Xiaochun looked down at the Lingzhi Mushroom, then looked up at the fat Brothers around him. As he noticed Bai Xiaochun’s hesitation, Zhang Fatso One instantly became mad. The expression on his face implied “If you don’t eat it, then you’ll never hear the end of it from me.”
It was not just him. The others brothers around him, Yellow Fatso Two, Black Fatso Three and so on, had similar expressions on their faces as they glared at Bai Xiaochun.
Bai Xiaochun swallowed a mouthful of saliva. This kind of priceless, treasured Lingzhi Mushroom had been tossed to him like it was a chicken drumstick and now he was being forced to take a bite of it, if he didn’t want be scolded. This was something that he had only dreamed of. It was the first time such a fortunate event had happened to him.
Bai Xiaochun’s heart beat wildly. Gritting his teeth, he received the offered mushroom and violently took a huge bite. The flesh of the mushroom melted the moment it entered his mouth, assimilating into his body. The bliss that he felt was countless times stronger than before, to the extent that Bai Xiaochun’s face had flushed red with pleasure.
“Good, now that we’ve eaten the Hundred Year Old Lingzhi Mushroom that Elder Sun requested to be placed in his soup, we have truly become our own people.” Zhang Fatso One’s expression was filled with satisfaction, as he also bit off a small portion of the mushroom before passing it on to the next fatty. Very quickly, bite after bite, the outer rim of the Lingzhi Mushroom had been eaten. A furtive smile appeared on Bai Xiaochun’s face.
With a chuckle, he instantly understood that these men were all in cahoots with each other. Since the other Brothers had eaten until such obesity without any complications, this kind of wild gluttony must be safe. No wonder Xu Baocai had given him a challenge letter with so many characters written in blood… “Brother, this Lingzhi Mushroom is too delicious. My whole body feels warm.” Bai Xiaochun licked his lips, greedily looking at Zhang Fatso One.
Hearing this, Zhang Fatso One’s eyes lit up as he laughed heartily. From within his robes he retrieved a piece of Solomon’s Seal and tossed it to Bai Xiao Chun.
“Little Brother, now you know how great this place is. Your senior has not lied to you. Eat up, there is still more to come!”
Bai Xiaochun’s eyes sparkled as he took another huge bite. Just as he finished swallowing, Zhang Fatso One retrieved a stalk of orchid. This orchid had a golden yellow colour and its fragrance spread in all directions.
This time, there was no longer any need for Zhang Fatso One to speak. Bai Xiaochun quickly bit into the orchid. Bursts of sweet and sour flavours filled his mouth and pleasure rushed throughout his body. Immediately after, Zhang Fatso One once again took out a red coloured spirit fruit. The fruit’s flesh was almost sickeningly sweet. Within the fruit, a strand of energy slowly revolved.
Thereafter, be it mushrooms, medicine, spirit fruits or orchids, Bai Xiaochun had taken a bite of everything, just like the other fatties. He had eaten till his head was spinning, as though he was drunk. His body was bloated with heat as wisps of smoke were even given off from the top of his head. He felt like his waist had expanded by at least a few centimeters.
As he continued to eat, Zhang Fatso One and the other fat men all softened their gazes. In the end, they were all patting their stomachs while chortling with a hint of conspiracy in their laughter.
In a drunken stupor, Bai Xiaochun spread out his arms and legs. His palm landed on the stomach of Zhang Fatso One, his leg hitting the ground next to him as he began to laugh loudly like the rest of the fatties.
“The other houses in this Handyman department have thought of all kinds of schemes to grasp the title of Outer Sect disciples. But we, in order to throw away the title of Outer Sect disciples have similarly come up with all kinds of ideas. Who’d want to be an Outer Sect disciple? This place is too amazing!” Zhang Fatso One crowed proudly. The more he looked at Bai Xiaochun, the better his mood became. He took out a piece of ginseng, its top bearing numerous rings. The countless whiskers of ginseng roots tangled together into a mess, a clear testament to its old age.
“Ninth brother, each of us have long since cultivated enough to become Outer Sect disciples. But we need to hide that fact. See this? This is a Hundred Year Old Ginseng. To fight for the opportunity to have even a nibble, the Outer Sect disciples would even break their skulls. Look at us though.” Zhang Fatso One plucked a strand of ginseng root and tossed it into his mouth, chewing noisily. After he had swallowed it, he tossed the rest of the ginseng to Bai Xiaochun.
“Brother, I’m full...This time, I really can’t eat anymore…” Bai Xiaochun’s gaze was unfocused and distant. He had truly eaten too much. But even as he spoke, Zhang Fatso One stuffed a piece of ginseng root into his mouth.
“Ninth Brother, you’re too skinny! If you go out like this, what kind of girl in the main sect would fancy you? The people here who are popular are all people who are round and glorious like your Brothers! Come, eat… We have a popular saying here in our Burning Stove Kitchen -- Better to die hungry on a stove, than to fight for glory in the Outer Sect.”
“Yeah, yeah, we’ll all be going to die hungry here. Yeah… All die hungry...” When he heard the popular saying, Bai Xiaochun patted his stomach and burped.
The other fatties had all started laughing, as they felt that this Bao Xiaochun was becoming more and more adorable.
“Today, we rejoice. Ninth Brother, let me impart to you an important piece of knowledge. When we, the Burning Stove Kitchen, eat, we eat with discretion. There’s a saying that I want you to remember:
Eat the corners of the Lingzhi
But do not touch the stem
Cut meat with a heavy hand
To remove bone leave three-tenths
For Lingzhi porridge add more water
And a small cup of wine to blend.
These six lines of wisdom are lessons that our ancestors, from many generations ago, have learned. As long as you eat accordingly, nothing bad will befall you. Alright, all of you can leave now. Today’s supper is over. Those Outer Sect disciples are still waiting for their soup.” Zhang Fatso One said as he began to pour rice soup into numerous bowls.
Bao Xiaochun was in a daze, as those six lines of wisdom filled his brain. As he looked at the fatties who were busy scooping rice soup and then looked at the rows of bowls, he burped and squatted down to pick up an empty bowl. After careful inspection, his lips cracked into a smile.
“Brother, this bowl isn’t that great.”
After Zhang Fatso One and the rest heard him, they looked towards Bai Xiaochun, their expressions full of curiosity.
“All of you, look at this bowl. It doesn’t seem to be big but actually can hold a lot of food. Why don’t we change it so that it looks big but in fact can only hold very little? For example, maybe we can make the bottom of the bowl...a little thicker?” Bai Xiaochun said with a smile, his face the very picture of angelic innocence.
Zhang Fatso One momentarily blanked. A feeling of immense epiphany struck him, as his rolls of fat slowly began to quiver and his eyes began to shine brightly. The other fatties had all sped up their breathing, the fat on their bodies wobbling.
- Pa! - Zhang Fatso One suddenly slapped his thigh, threw his head backwards and laughed towards the sky.
“Great, great, GREAT! This idea can be immortalized! It’ll bring huge prosperity to future generations of this Burning Stove Kitchen! Ninth Brother, from your innocent appearance, I didn’t think that you’ll be this full of rotten ideas! Haha! With your personality, you’ve been destined to work in our Burning Stove Kitchen!”
: A Solomon Seal is a herb that’s used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to improve internal circulation.
TL: The eating scenes remind me of a certain ecchi cooking anime…