Translator : Casualtranslator
~ Enjoy ~
After walking on the snow for an entire morning, there were still no traces of animals to be found and it even became more difficult to walk, Zhang Xiaohua would almost slip at times and therefore he could only rely more heavily on his crutch.
The entire world was made of snow and bare branches in the forest, and apart from the “su su” sounds of the snowfall, all one could hear was Zhang Xiaohua’s soft footsteps. In such an environment, one would not be able to tell if he was heading towards north or south, but there was not much difference in the directions to the road-dumb Zhang Xiaohua. He would only raise his gaze to look at the small mountain, but after not doing so for a while, he realized that he had neared the mountain by quite a bit the next time he looked up again.
However, this boy named Zhang was uninterested in the small mountain, he only cared if there were small animals to eat, and after walking for so long, he realized that there were no wild hares that were common in the mountains around Guo village, and even the squirrels that hopped around the trees were rare, so how could he hunt any for food?
Zhang Xiaohua grew even more surprised, but if the squirrels that were hibernating in their tree holes knew about Zhang Xiaohua’s thoughts, they might all wake up from the hibernation to bite him together. It was fine if he admired their dances on the treetops on usual days, but now that the snow had enveloped the mountain and they were hibernating, he wanted to eat them and didn’t care if they were living or dead.
If the scholar Li Jinfeng knew of this matter, he would sneakily have slipped the book “Man and Nature” to Zhang Xiaohua before feeling embarrassed at himself for not being a good enough teacher.
Hence, Zhang Xiaohua would pause frequently to study his surroundings while continuing to walk ahead, and just as he was walking, his eyes suddenly twitched and he squinted to look at his distant front. Zhang Xiaohua became overjoyed, was it not a large grey hare spacing out dozens of steps in front of him? Was it not the roasted rabbit leg that he was looking forward to?
Since he found his prey, Zhang Xiaohua began to walk forward carefully, his footsteps were light and careful in fear of alerting the hare which was spacing out.
Unfortunately, even though Zhang Xiaohua had experience chasing chickens and rabbits in his youth, it was restricted only to playing games and having fun with them. When it comes to actual hunting, Zhang Xiaohua was far from being able to catch this hare which was currently spacing out in the snow. The moment he entered a few zhang within the hare’s perimeter, the hare’s ears straightened and it immediately escaped from being in the same realm as the heavenly rabbit. It was no longer a spacing out hare, it inherited the glorious tradition and merged its soul with the wizard rabbit, Bug’s Bunny, Roger Rabbit and Mashimaro. At that moment, it was not a hare that would only stay in Zhang Xiaohua’s face, it was like all the hares that were hunted. In short, it ran far away from Zhang Xiaohua.
Run rabbit run!
How could Zhang Xiaohua rest when he saw his roasted rabbit leg try to escape? He immediately carried his clutch, threw his injuries to the back of his mind and sprinted after it, but sigh, there would always be times when the human’s body could not move according to how he wished it to be.
Hence, this single person and single hare began a wild goose chase in the boundless snowy wilderness. The hare was quick-witted and it ran fast while changing its direction often which made it more difficult for Zhang Xiaohua to chase after it. On the other side, even though Zhang Xiaohua could not run very fast, he had good endurance and this body which would perform the horse stance for more than half a day without feeling any trace of tiredness should not be underestimated. He did not feel any fatigue after chasing for some while, but the injuries on his body would flare in pain ever so often thus preventing him for pushing himself further, and hence, he could only maintain a certain speed and chase behind the hare until it got tired and succumbed to him.
Even though Zhang Xiaohua’s plans were slipshod, they were in the right direction and indeed, after chasing for some while, the hare began to slow down. Happiness rose from the bottom of Zhang Xiaohua’s heart as his legs moved even faster.
As he was chasing, Zhang Xiaohua’s eyes suddenly brightened. There was a wide and flat field in front of him, and in front of the field was the small mountain he had been looking forward to visit all these while. It seemed that he had closed in to the forest while he was lost in chase with the hare.
However, as he was currently hunting, Zhang Xiaohua did not welcome the small snaky paths in the mountains as he continued to chase the hare which had spaced out earlier.
The hare was not foolish and when it heard the sounds from behind, it also increased its pace and rushed towards the small mountain in front of it. Not long after reaching the front of the mountain, the rabbit began to slow down as it thought that Zhang Xiaohua should have run out of steam. However, the mountain in front of it was not less steep compared to the plateau behind the grass hut so how could it climb up?
When it thought that it had found a place to escape, the escape road turned out to be a dead end so the hare stopped for a moment before running in another direction along the mountain’s side.
Zhang Xiaohua naturally continued to chase the hare single-mindedly.
When he saw that the hare was beginning to slow down, Zhang Xiaohua naturally became happier as the distance between them closed down until it was only a few steps before Zhang Xiaohua could extend his hand and catch it.
However, the hare suddenly stopped at that moment, it sniffed a little and its long ears turned around, and once it saw Zhang Xiaohua behind it, it changed its direction and charged towards the mountain.
Zhang Xiaohua who was behind it became overjoyed, had this spaced out hare became stupid from being chased for too long? Was it planning to smash its head onto the mountain? As the saying goes, there is free lunch in the world, Zhang Xiaohua felt as though he was deceived!
However, the thing that happened later left Zhang Xiaohua gaping in astonishment.
When the hare was about to strike onto the stone, it did not break its head and died like how Zhang Xiaohua expected. Instead, there was a faint flash of light and the grey hare, the hare which was chased by Zhang Xiaohua for the entire morning, actually disappeared!
When Zhang Xiaohua caught up to the spot, he rubbed his eyes in disbelief and wondered if his eyesight had turned bad. If not for the tracks the hare left behind, Zhang Xiaohua might have thought that everything that happened earlier was a dream.
Zhang Xiaohua was dumbfounded as he walked to the spot where the hare disappeared earlier, he did not dare to use his hands to feel the area so he used the crutch to prod the rock forcefully to check if there was anything mysterious about it. The crutch did not disappear so he studied the area more carefully, and indeed, he soon discovered that on the spot where the hare disappeared was a region about the size of half a person. Even though if felt solid when prodded by the crutch, there was no snowflakes, bits of stones, or mud dropping from the top, and as any bystander could have guessed, at least some snow should have fallen if Zhang Xiaohua had used his force to poke the area.
Obviously, there was something out of the ordinary in the spot.
Zhang Xiaohua used his crutch again but he poked the spot from downwards, and he realized that there was an area about a foot square where the crutch could extend into as though there was a hole that was invisible to the eye. Zhang Xiaohua did not dare to believe what he saw, but his crutch could extend into the rock wall easily in front of his eyes.
Even when his crutch was about to disappear completely into the hole, he still could not feel the end and just as his hand was about to near the rock wall, Zhang Xiaohua stopped and pondered for a moment before continuing. When his hand disappeared, Zhang Xiaohua finally believed that there was a hole in the rock wall in front of him.
After Zhang Xiaohua retracted his hand and the crutch, he stood there on the same spot in the snow and began to analyse the situation.
What on earth was in front of him? Should he risk the danger to investigate it?
Youths are curious by nature and Zhang Xiaohua was no exception, but to enter a small cave that he could not see was something out of his comfort zone. After all, he also knew the logic of curiosity killed the cat.
However, Zhang Xiaohua was also unwilling to return to the grass hut empty handed. After pondering for a while, Zhang Xiaohua made large actions and walked towards the forest, but after walking for some distance, Zhang Xiaohua lay on the snowy ground and sneakily raised his head so that he could see the area on the rock wall.
Zhang Xiaohua was going to wait for the hare*.
*TN – Word play: waiting for the hare has the same meaning as waiting for free lunch to appear.
However, after waiting for quite some time, the wild hare did not reappear and Zhang Xiaohua grew frustrated. Perhaps the hare was too smart so it hid deeper into the cave, or perhaps it already succumbed to whatever danger there was inside, or could it be that there was another exit which the hare had escaped from? While Zhang Xiaohua entertained the idea of the third possibility and was about to get up, he saw the head of the wild hare poking out. The hare twitched its head and studied its surroundings before jumping out of the rock wall and running along the mountain’s side.
When Zhang Xiaohua saw the wild hare escaped, he did not chase after it immediately and continued to lie down until he was certain that nothing else was going to jump out of the rock wall before walking over slowly.
Actually, when Zhang Xiaohua was lying in the snow, he already made his mind that if the hare could jump back out from the cave, then it should be safe inside and there should not be another exit, so it should be sealed for certain. Furthermore, the entrance seemed to be only a square foot wide so larger animals would not be able to enter, and thus there should not be any dangers inside.
If the hare did not come out after entering the cave, Zhang Xiaohua would not have dared to follow after it.
When he walked to the front of the rock wall, Zhang Xiaohua stopped his steps, squat down and extended the crutch in again. This time, he tried to investigate if the cave inside was curved or if it was large enough for a person to stand inside. Indeed, when his hand could extend into the cave without feeling any obstructions, Zhang Xiaohua had an idea of how large the cave was in his mind.
Following which, Zhang Xiaohua took out the small sword from his breast and carried it with his left hand while his right hand continued to hold onto the crutch. He first extended the crutch inside before clenching his teeth and climbing into the foot square area in the rock wall.
Zhang Xiaohua who was crawling on the ground only felt his eyes turned blind for a moment before entering the area, and was it not just a normal cave in front of him then? He was lying on the snowy ground of the cave he just entered.
When Zhang Xiaohua stood back up, he observed his surroundings and saw that there was something like a thick fog permeating the entrance he just crawled in from and rays of hazy light fell from it, but he was unable to see the outside. There was still snow blowing in from the entrance and onto his head, while the snowy ground had traces of the wild hare’s footprints.
In front of him was a commonly found cave which was slightly taller than Zhang Xiaohua’s height, but the inside was pitch black darkness and Zhang Xiaohua could only see the hare’s footprints going in and out again messily.
Zhang Xiaohua’s heart became more stable somewhat when he saw the tracks.
However, he still threw the clutch in his right hand inwards and when he heard the “dang” sound of it falling onto the ground with no other movement, he took out a fire starter from his breast, lit it up and carried it with his right hand while his left hand still gripped onto the small sword and protected his front. With the little light from the fire starter, Zhang Xiaohua took carefully steps into the darkness.
When he walked into the cave with the fire starter illuminating his surroundings, Zhang Xiaohua finally relaxed completely.
It was a very common cave about the size of a small room, and there were rectangular rocks inside. On the side of the rocks was similar to a table, and there were even small stone stools around the table. There was a money pouch and a rectangular rock on the table, and everywhere else was bare apart from the crutch he had thrown inside.
When he saw the scene in front of him, Zhang Xiaohua wrinkled his brows, what kind of place was this for it to be so mysterious, yet there was nothing but a money pouch inside of it?
He did not rush to pick up the money pouch since whatever on the table would belong to him sooner or later. Hence, he did not give up and carried the fire starter to study the entire cave carefully, even using his crutch to knock onto its walls, but apart from finding some round dents in the wall, there was nothing else. Some of the round dents were too high for Zhang Xiaohua to reach so he used his crutch instead, but there were still no new findings so Zhang Xiaohua finally gave up and went over to the stone table.
Zhang Xiaohua raised his small sword and prodded the money pouch, he shook the pouch but it did not feel any different, so he poked the rectangular stone instead, but it also looked very normal. Zhang Xiaohua kept his small sword into his breast and used his left hand to pick up the stone, he brought his fire starter closer to it and inspected it carefully, but no matter how much he looked at it, it seemed not different from the cobblestones in the river. Was it here because its shape was unusual?
Zhang Xiaohua threw the stone back onto the table top unhappily, his heart was filled with anticipation as he picked up the small money pouch. However, when he picked up the money pouch lightly, his heart also flew away lightly and all the warm excitement cooled off immediately. While he thought that the money pouch would contain several coins, if not some pieces of gold, the feeling when he picked up the money pouch told him that it was empty and made him disappointed.
Zhang Xiaohua did not gave up hope and put his hand into the money pouch to search before facing its mouth downwards to empty it, but there was not even a single rabbit hair inside.
Zhang Xiaohua could not help but feel extremely disappointed, had he known that this would happen earlier, he would have continued to pursue the hare so at least his dinner for that night would be satisfying. Instead, all he had to show for the time he spent lying in the snow was an empty money pouch and a lousy cobblestone.
Zhang Xiaohua pursed his lips and was about to throw the money pouch back onto the stone table when his fingers rubbed against it, and he felt that the material used to make the money pouch seemed quite good. He pondered for a while, and thought that since he did not own a money pouch, and the coins the master gave him was still bundled in a cloth, he might as well take it back with him. Thus, Zhang Xiaohua placed the fire starter onto the table and took out the coins from his breast before pouring all his money into the money pouch, sealing its mouth, threw it into the air and catching it again. He felt pretty good, haha, at least it was not a completely wasted trip.
Just as Zhang Xiaohua was about to take back the fire starter from the table, his attention fell onto the stone on the table top. Even though it seemed normal, why would someone place it in here specially? Perhaps there was some mystery surrounding it? Whatever, he might as well take it with him than to lose out on an opportunity, why would there not be any treasure in a treasure trove? He had to bring it away even if it was just a normal piece of stone. Hence, Zhang Xiaohua picked up the rectangular stone and threw it into the money pouch before keeping it into his breast, and he picked up the fire starter again.
After checking his surroundings for a final time, he exited the cave reluctantly.
Zhang Xiaohua stared at the hazy light of the entrance and felt strange, how could such a mysterious place not contain anything mysterious for him to take away? He would not be surprised even if the money pouch was filled with gold, yet it was empty instead.
Suddenly, he thought of a question, why would there be a foot square entrance that leads to the cave? Someone must have entered here before, and since that person came here, why couldn’t he leave anything behind for him? The empty money pouch was definitely the result of someone else taking all the money inside and casually leaving it behind, whereas the white rectangular stone was definitely left behind as well on purpose because it was of no use. Zhang Xiaohua sighed in his heart, forget it, at least he managed to pick up a money pouch to hold those few coins he now possessed.
After raising his spirits again, Zhang Xiaohua was prepared to leave when the snow from the save entrance fell even greater, and the tracks he left earlier were about to be covered. Zhang Xiaohua picked up his crutch again and bent his body as he slowly crawled through the cave mouth. Hence, from the outside of the cave, an unimaginable scene appeared. A solid looking crutch first poked out from the rock wall before a youth’s head appeared, and he finally climbed out completely.
Fortunately, there was no one around or they might have been frightened out of their wits.
When Zhang Xiaohua climbed out of the cave, he looked at the surroundings and felt that it was getting late, there was still a forest he had to cross and there was no wild hare around. Zhang Xiaohua dusted off the snow and mud from his clothes and looked at the ordinary rock wall which was no different from the other sides, he then followed his footprints in the snow and walked back from where he came from.
After Zhang Xiaohua left, the snow fell heavier and not long after, the snow covered Zhang Xiaohua’s footprints completely. Even before nightfall, there was only a flat white ground of snow left from where Zhang Xiaohua came from.
At that moment, the pitiful directionally-challenged Zhang Xiaohua was still following his footprints on the snow as he rushed back to the grass hut. He prayed as he ran to never, ever get lost in a time like this.
Perhaps because Zhang Xiaohua’s prayers were effective, or that he had already been through the forest many times, but just as the sky was about to turn dark, Zhang Xiaohua found himself in front of the tall plateau again.
Zhang Xiaohua could not help but feel happy inside, his worried state of mind calmed down and right at that moment, his left leg suddenly kicked something hard that was not like a stone or tree branch. When Zhang Xiaohua picked it up and raised it to the front of his eyes, he realized that it was a wild hare that was frozen to death.