Chapter 2: A Cannon Fodder’s Guide to Magic and Identity Theft

‘To whoever finds this: My name is Lian Chanjian, courtesy name Zhidiao, of the Xideng Wa sect. In order to leave notice for my family, I have written this last letter before going on to the far shore.’

Something tickled the back of Chen Jiajian’s mind. There was something familiar about that name, Xideng Wa sect. Something familiar about Lian Zhidiao, too. He read on. 

‘I was cast out of my sect. Two winters have passed since then, and I have had to find other means of support. I traveled with my jade beast, cleansing stained and crawling earth as well as helping maintain immovable jade beasts that fell into disrepair. However, I made a mistake and somehow my jade beast fractured. I have meditated quietly over this for some time, and have decided that I cannot go on any longer.’ 

Chen Jiajian’s heart sank, even as protests rose in his mind. What do you mean you can’t go on any longer? I mean, if you hadn’t died, I’d be in a real bad spot, but that’s not the point! The point is: don’t give up! It’s not as bad as you think!

Is what he’d have liked to say, but it was only a letter from someone that was already gone. 

‘Please do not mourn. I apologize deeply to you, the finder of these artifacts, for the imposition I will make upon you, but I ask that you return my personal effects to my family. They are expecting them to be returned, and for certain reasons, I cannot return them myself. Although my contributions to this world have been small, there may be some lingering gratitude that you can call upon to accomplish this goal I have set before you. As payment I can offer only the silver taels at the bottom of this bag. I hope that this and your honesty will be enough to see them safely recovered.‘

Sorry Lian Zhidiao, but I’m not sending your material goods anywhere. I’ll need them to live in this world. 

Which brought him to the question: what kind of world was he in, exactly? He had his suspicions, but…

Chen Jiajian looked back at the letter, reading it through again. He was still mulling over the name of the sect, when a sudden realization hit him. He looked again at the slashes to his arms and pressed his fingers against the bruising on his neck. 

If you weren’t murdered, then who did all this damage? Won’t they be looking out for a chance to finish the job? How could you leave out important things like who your assailants were? I am the one who has to look over his shoulder because you couldn’t write down any useful warnings! 

Given the damage, the lack of information about the injuries in the letter was highly suspicious. If he had been watching a drama with this kind of twist, he would expect to find out that it was not suicide, but murder. 

With a sound of disgust, he folded the letter up and set it aside to begin going through the rest of his belongings. The spindle with the jade disc he left out to the side, feeling like that was important. The rest of it he took out and inspected one piece at a time. 

A set of black robes and undergarments that looked significantly older and shabbier than the ones he currently wore, along with a few pieces of jewelry. There were a few books of bamboo slips, rolled up and carefully laced shut. Unfastening them and reading the first few slips, he discovered that this was something like a manual for the care of jade beasts. Each slip tersely listed a date and location, along with some small feature noted in very neat calligraphy. 

‘Jade beasts may be used to concentrate magic, but this is not as effective as concentrating qi. 

Jade beasts with an excess of yin may be cleansed with several weeks in the sun.

An excess of yang is rare, but may be cleansed by storing the beast in a river or rice field until cured.’ Small notes were made in silk scraps and glued to the end, noting the successes and failures of various methods. Chen Jiajian unfolded the book a little further. 

‘Jade beasts contain the intent of the Emperor, and tend naturally toward harmony. All energy, including demonic energy, that moves through a jade beast emerges in a small exhale of purified qi. However, too much demonic energy will occlude the beast, rendering it unable to perform this function until the blockage caused by demonic energy is removed.’ 

Chen Jiajian leaned back against a tree. All of this seemed very familiar when he began to read, and now he was sure: this world was one of his own creation, some time very early in his career as a writer. His fourth? Or was it his fifth novel? It hadn’t sold well, earning rude comments from readers: 

This is stupid! The jade beasts have nothing to do with the plot! Is this P*kemon??

Jade beasts seem like they’d be powerful enough to solve any problem, so why not just put them wherever they can absorb demonic energy? The author really has no idea what he’s doing.

Is this supposed to be a harem novel? Shouldn’t we like at least one of the women, then?

Why did I bother reading this? The main character is so one-dimensional, and he telegraphs his attack moves well in advance. The only ones dumber than the villains getting defeated by them are the people paying for this drivel.

Indeed, Chen Jiajian remembered some of the cutting remarks better than his own work. Shortly after this novel–Supreme Warlord of the Beast World, he recalled it now–was published, he’d become like a cheap public restaurant, producing anything anyone wanted. New ideas like jade beasts fell by the wayside, forgotten experiments as he moved toward profitability. Slowly his memory of this world had faded away, supplanted by more traditionally gripping martial plots. 

Yes, he remembered. That was the problem with this world. The overarching story been about cooperation, and no one wanted to read about that in this sort of genre. He’d tried to catch every kind of fetish with the Beauties in his story, and in doing so, had only split his readers between which girl they liked best. The girl he’d intended for the Hero’s true wife had actually ended up the least popular girl, since she was introduced last. Instead of committing to his choice as a writer, he’d wavered, and this had also made reviewers pan the webnovel. Utterly discouraged, he hadn’t had the heart to publish the last chapter, ‘The Red Emperor’s Wedding’, and it had remained unfinished. It wasn’t until the next novel was done that he began to receive praise from readers. 

Of all the worlds of mine to be put into, the cat-emperor chose this one. I couldn’t even be the hero, or anyone significant in the plot. Instead, I’m… Chen Jiajian let his head rest against the tree. I don’t even remember who Lian Zhidiao was in the book. I’ve been transmigrated into the body of cannon fodder. 

The sounds of a galloping horse slowly drew near, coming from the east. Chen Jiajian slunk behind the trees, keeping himself hidden until the rider passed him. He looked around the western tree at the green-robed rider disappearing into the woods. 

Green… Chen Jiajian frowned as he tried to think back to his notes about this world.  Each sect specialized in a kind of elemental magic alongside cultivation, which used qi as the feedstock for spells both simple and complex. It was only available to cultivators of a certain high level, which, given the kind of novel it had been, were rare in name only.. All magicians were therefore cultivators, but not all cultivators were magicians. 

Early in his career, before he’d found his own style, he made it easy to remember different cultivation sects by putting them in different-colored clothes. Green magicians lived in forests, red magicians lived in the mountains, and the blue magicians lived on the coast, or out on islands. Black magicians lived in swamps and on waterways. The white magicians had ended up in the plains, deserts, and high steppes, simply because there wasn’t anywhere else to put them. Like any sect, a student could walk up and ask to be taken under the master’s tutelage, but most students kept to the sects associated with their families. 

Black robes with green trim indicated he was a member of the sect with high knowledge of black magic, and some knowledge of wooden, or green magic. Black magicians worked with earth, poison and decay, and the sect was particularly prone to instances of qi deviation. There was a high percentage of black magicians that went to study with other sects and learn their secrets, like exchange students. Chen Jiajian crisped the green trim on his sleeves between his fingers. So this Lian Zhidiao had been not just a cultivator, but a black magician, with some expertise in wooden magic. 

So, if he was a cultivator—and a magician—before, was that something he could still do? Would this body remember how to use magic? 

Chen Jiajian stared at the books in front of him for a few moments before frowning hard.

It doesn’t seem fair to get transmigrated into a world I made and end up just a peasant. There must be something I’m missing. 

Then his eyes landed on the red bag, and he remembered the slips of carved jade. 

If a member of a sect wanted to protect his secret techniques, of course he’d try to dispose of them when he died…

With eager hands, Chen Jiajian opened the pouch again, pulling out the bamboo slips and setting them out to dry properly. The two jade slips he held in his hands, turning them over and inspecting them more closely. 

One had no carvings. The other was engraved with lotus flowers and dragonflies. 

Well, with a name like Lian, I should try the lotus one first. 

Chen Jiajian picked up the carved slip and held it, wishing for its secrets to be revealed. But nothing happened. Then he shook it a little bit, like a magic wand, and still, nothing happened. Then, at last, he tapped it against the side of his head. 

Information sluiced into him like water into a terraced field, filling his mind as fast as he could take it in. The jade slip fell out of his hand onto the soft moss underneath the tree. His mouth went dry and his eyes rolled in his head as he tried to keep track of all the things that he suddenly knew. The secret sword techniques protected by the Black sect: the Swords of the Myriad Dead. In cultivation, patterns of breathing to isolate and expel deviant qi, and spiritual sense techniques like earth-seeing. In magic spun out of qi, spells like bogflame, choking vines, and lightning—it all overwhelmed him. They were just there, as if he had always known them. 

Perhaps most enlightening, the moment the cool stone had touched his temple, Chen Jiajian became aware of an inward sense, a way of looking into himself that he had not had before. He was aware of his meridians, the pathways for qi that wrapped up his entire body. He knew his dantian, the place low in his body where his golden core would be. Then, like turning to face the sun, he became aware of his golden core itself, deep and full and brimming with power. More curiously, he could sense something ‘else’, something ‘other’ than his own golden core: a vessel without contents, which he could only imagine was the original golden core of the body he now inhabited. 

He had both a golden core and an empty core inside him. 

Was this… worldbuilding that I did? Chen Jiajian couldn’t remember. Ah, but then again, it’s not like I’d ever thought there would be transmigration, so it’s natural that the system might not have rules for that. Wait wait wait! Isn’t there supposed to be a System? Or Status? Or something? It’s like a video game, right? 

But no matter how Chen Jiajian squinted at things in his peripheral vision, or thought about a system as hard as he could, or visualized menus popping open in front of him, nothing happened. 

It seems that there is no System in this world. He closed his eyes again and looked inward, finding his golden core as well as the ‘vessel without contents’. It also seems like the world can compensate for unforeseen circumstances such as this. But it isn’t something I’d imagined to be in the world–so the world is filling itself out in ways that I don’t know or anticipate. 

Suddenly Chen Jiajian began to regret the early days when he hadn’t put much emphasis on making a sensible world that followed well-known and defined rules. Much of his story—well, his life—might now be out of his control. Was this temporary? Permanent until a mission was achieved? What could the mission of a cannon fodder character be? Without a system, it was anyone’s guess. 

Given that I don’t know what point in the story I’ve arrived at, or if I have any plot armor, I should proceed with caution. 

He carefully rolled the books back up and put them away, and turned his attention to the ornate wooden case. It was not locked, and the lid sprung open easily. 

Inside was a green jade cat statue. It seemed to have been carved in an unnatural pose, on its back, like an animal in submission. A messy break completely severed the head from the body. Chen Jiajian ran his finger along the jagged edge; small crystals like green sugar collected on his fingertip. So this is a jade beast… 

This jade beast had been the key to Lian Zhidiao’s livelihood when it was still intact. Broken, it touched Chen Jiajian’s heart in the same way that the loss of any beautiful thing might touch someone. What a waste

Is it worth it to cart this thing to the next village? Chen Jiajian looked at the case dubiously, but in the end, it might be better to keep it close for now. Leaving a “dead” man’s things unattended could lead to disastrous consequences. In fact…

It’s best if I adopt this man’s life until I can figure out what’s going on. And so Chen Jiajian cast off his name and became Lian Chanjian, courtesy name Zhidiao. To survive, he needed to discard what was left of his life in his own world, at least for now. His name was the last thing he had that was given to him by his parents. It drifted away from him, as useless here as his original body, lying in a puddle of blood on the concrete. 

A little more rummaging around in the knapsack found a paper packet of dried fruit, and he ate a few of these thoughtfully while trying to decide his next course of action. There should be a village not far from where he was, as long as he hadn’t wandered far afield to die. Most villages were separated by a day or two’s ride, at most. 

What’s more, the people in those villages might already know him or know of him. Being able to remember who the character was would be the most helpful, but leaving that aside, the best thing he could do was at least blend in so well that no one questioned him. 

His eyes fell on the jade ring with its ebony wood spindle. Even though he now knew how to use it, putting it into practice was something that he should try at least once before needing to apply it in a tense situation. He tied the belt around himself, over the cloth belt he already wore. 

He lifted the weight by its silken cord and let it hang from his hand, thinking on what the jade slip had pressed into his mind. 

‘The belt must be made of silk, for a single long fiber transmits qi better than many short fibers. The qi is collected in the hand; the magician is a distaff, and he spins the qi through the silk. It is the transmissive and refractive power of jade that allows qi to be changed into one of the elements.’ 

Lian Zhidiao gathered up a handful of qi and began to spin the spindle in his hand, with thoughts of fire. The jade weight on the spindle bristled as each of the silken cords floated briefly in the air, and then the spindle itself ceased to weigh anything at all. 

‘Changing qi to elemental magic is non-conservative; the golden core is diminished with each spell spun. Repeated use of magic will leave one out of breath and weakened at a rate higher than cultivation alone. It would be possible to destabilize one’s cultivation base and lose one’s golden core entirely through the overuse of such magic, although no one has ever done so. The utility of magic is in providing more tools at the skilled cultivator’s disposal, to allow problems to be solved for the good of the people.’

The tip of the ebony wood spindle floated up, and Lian Zhidiao pointed it at an unsuspecting bush across the road from where he was hidden. With a clipped thought, he released that strand of qi. The spindle spun once more, and then a fireball the size of Lian Zhidiao’s head rocketed out of the wooden tip. With an explosion of flame and smoke, it set the entire bush ablaze. Its job done, the spindle slowly sank in the air until its weight was once again pulling on Lian Zhidiao’s fingers. 

It’s slower than paper talismans, but can be adjusted as conditions change. Lian Zhidiao looked at the burning bush across the road, and his lips twitched at the roaring fire he’d made. It’s also infinite, as long as you have enough qi. 

He raised the spindle’s weight on his fingers again, this time spinning blue magic. Again the spindle floated up in front of him. He guided the magic in the right direction with the help of the ebony stick. The spindle whirled, cords radiant, and then a sphere of water the size of the bush squeezed out of the tip of the ebony wood. It rolled in the air like a runaway parade inflatable, and landed awkwardly on the fire, more-or-less extinguishing it. 

Maybe that could use a little more work. 

Lian Zhidiao let the spindle come to rest again. It seemed like green and black magic would produce similar effects, like shooting vines or raising a hill of earth, but what would white magic do?  He hadn’t actually written anyone using white attack magic in Supreme Warlord of the Beast World

He twisted the silken cord. Qi flowed from his forearm into the silk, and again the spindle rose into the air, hovering in front of him. It began to spin, the knotted cords whirling out from the edge. Light collected at the tip of the spindle. Focusing on the burned bush, he let the threads of qi in his fingers snap. 

There was a distinct whistle, and then the heavy sound of something hitting the bush. The spindle fell to his side, hitting him in the thigh as he ran to the other side of the beaten path. Searching through the blackened, wet mess, he found what must be the result of white magic: a black iron bolt, buried in the woody trunk. As he handled it, it crumbled away in his fingers, turning to ash. But the proof was in the deep gash in the trunk of the bush.

Not just archery, but armor-piercing! What fearsome power! 

Lian Zhidiao straightened up, dusting his hands off. That was elemental magic handled. All I have to figure out now is how well I can handle cultivation and–

The sound of a horse cantering along the path made him stop mid-thought. It was coming towards him from the trees to the west.

Next Chapter > Chapter 3: Lian Zhidiao Has Not Unlocked Fast Travel
Previous Chapter < Chapter 1: Chen Jiajian Throws His Life Away

Chapter 1: Chen Jiajian Throws His Life Away

Chen Jiajian was the youngest of three children. His eldest brother was a doctor, and his older sister was also a doctor. So of course his parents looked at him like a gambler might look at the third rolling wheel on a slot machine when the first two show the same bunch of cherries. Chen Jiajian enjoyed reading and learning, so he did his best to meet their expectations, even getting into a low-to-middle-ranked medical school. He attended diligently for a few weeks, and then a few months, and then a year. 

A year and a day into his work, Chen Jiajian woke up and just…laid in bed. The sun rose, and the time for his first meeting with the rest of his cohort passed by. Instead of going to his lectures, he sat in his apartment and stared into space. He never went back to class, letting weeks and then the entire quarter slide into the past. Then with the lack of self-consciousness that only a baby of the family can lay claim to, he announced to his parents that he was dropping out. 

Well, no one was content with that except Chen Jiajian. He withdrew from public life, such as it was, and then mostly from his family life. He spent all his time alone, on the computer, and within a few weeks had begun to spend his spare time writing fiction. He showed no interest in bettering himself. After one year had passed, he was given up to be a family disappointment. 

From then on, Chen Jiajian made his living like many in the growing tech sector: he did ‘online work’, which was all he ever told his parents to avoid hearing the word ‘disappointment’ said to his face (not that it stopped them when they were in a mood to tell him what they thought about the choices he’d made). Eventually, when his future was brought up at all, it was in the hope that he would marry well so that they would at least have some grandchildren to show for it. 

Fat chance of that, he thought to himself. 

This attitude was one born of pure pragmatism. In his line of ‘online work’, he had a vanishing chance of meeting potential marriage partners. Why? 

Well, for one, girls don’t read harem novels! 

Chen Jiajian’s ‘online work’ was writing webnovels. Within two years, he had over 50 webnovels of varying lengths under his belt: the words fought to get out of his hands. Many of them were successful—not successful enough for drama or manhua adaptations, but they each provided a trickle of gold into his coffers. Altogether, he made a comfortable sum peddling fantastic stories of strong, masculine men dazzling legendary beauties with their wit and swordsmanship. Sprinkling in just enough sexual tension to keep his readers hooked, he deftly wove tales of romance across time and class, despite having never felt such deep love for any girl himself. When it came to girls, he was content to trust chance rather than show initiative. 

The increasing availability of high-speed internet meant he could work from anywhere, so he was quite happy to move far from home and live in a small apartment by himself. He had even found his apartment near an e-sports stable. Lots of similarly-minded young men around meant his odd hours and strange habits were never questioned. Like everyone else around him, he kept to himself and lived in relative peace and quiet. 

Until he died, that is. 

Chen Jiajian was walking home from the market along a busy road. He wasn’t a particularly agile man, so he kept his distance from the traffic and was attentive to road conditions. Better safe than sorry. 

That is how he saw from a long way off, in the middle of the traffic lanes, a small kitten, fur quivering with each truck and car that passed over it. 

Chen Jiajian’s heart sank. He’d always been partial to cats, and seeing one dead in the road prompted him to whisper a wish for better things in its next life. 

Then, after a car passed by, just as he drew even with it, he saw the kitten move. It dashed toward the middle of the street, but not far enough to get clear of the traffic. A large truck hurtled toward it, the broad tire lined up directly with its small, soft body. 

Chen was in the street before he realized what he was doing. The little furball was in his hands and then it wasn’t, thrown clear of the truck just before pain exploded along the entire length of his body. He heard the truck skid to a stop in the distance, just before his own body stopped rolling brokenly over the pavement. But after a moment, the truck started up again and sped away. 

He tried moving each of his arms and legs, with no luck. Pain shot through him at the mere thought, and then even more terrifyingly, all of the pain seemed less, and then less still, until he couldn’t feel anything at all. In front of his eyes, he could see blood spreading across the pavement. Then to his great surprise, the kitten he’d saved bounded up to the side of the road, joined by a distinguished-looking yellow cat with a very small mianguan on its head. Threads of jade beads in five colors—black, white, green, red, and purple—hung off the edge of the coronet, motionless. A stray thought drifted through Chen Jiajian’s mind, like a mote of dust in sunlight. 

It must be very hard for a cat not to paw at strings of jade beads

As Chen Jiajian’s vision failed, the distinguished cat sat up on its hind legs and bowed to him. It then gestured to the small kitten next to it. “Human man, tonight you have saved the life of my only son. I am indebted to you and would have directed my court to serve your whims for the rest of your life, if only it would not be so short. In recognition of your sacrifice, I will grant you one of my nine lives to give you a cat’s chance at utmost happiness.” 

Chen Jiajian’s dimming mind stumbled over the words. Wait, what do you mean, grant me a life? 

Then everything went dark. 



Chen Jiajian woke with the shock of being plunged into ice-cold water. His chest spasmed, and the air in his lungs bubbled out between his lips. The need for oxygen burned in his chest, and he kicked his legs, chasing the bubbles to the surface. 

But no sooner had he sucked in a breath than he felt something pulling him back down underneath the surface of the river. He ducked his head, looking to see what it was that caught him, but saw only a cloud of black fabric and a small flash of red on the river bottom. When he tried to swim forward, his arms were leaden and even seemed to push him back. But at last, he was able to get to the side of the river, into a small pool just outside the river’s strongest flow. He crawled into the mud on his hands and knees, and then collapsed on the pebbled riverbank, too tired to go further. 

He came back to consciousness slowly. First, the sound of a river’s flow, and the distant roar of falling water pressed into his ears. Then the pain of dozens of rocks digging into his back, but even this wasn’t enough to get him moving. 

I was lying on a road before. This isn’t so different.

Then it dawned on him that it was quite a bit different from the numbness after the truck hit him: he could not only feel every rock, but soreness in his body, the way his hair had dried in clumps, stiff mud on his face, and the river still lapping at his heels. Experimentally, he tried to give a small kick. 

There was a small splash behind him, and a few drops of cold water landed on the backs of his legs. Relief spread through him. 

That’s already doing better than before. Guess I should try getting up. 

His arms were weak, but he was able to roll over and look up at the sky. It was a little cloudy, neither warm nor cold, and the branches of trees moved lazily in a small breeze. He heard the songs of birds and the frequent chirping of frogs and insects, but he couldn’t hear any airplanes or cars. No sound of industry at all. 

Figures I would end up in the middle of nowhere.

Chen Jiajian raised his hand to rub his face, and a long sleeve trailed over his chest. His hands were soft and thin, with long, almost spidery fingers, but his nails were packed with dirt and split in several places, bloodied in others. 

What kind of hands are these? It doesn’t leave much hope for the face!

He smoothed his hands over his face, feeling the shape of his cheeks, nose, and brow. Not deformed at all, thankfully. His fingers slid along his jaw, tested the character of his chin. Maybe that cat-emperor knew what he was doing!

At last Chen Jiajian had the strength to sit up, but as he did so, it seemed like all the muscles in his chest and stomach were sore. Worse than sore, it was like he’d been set upon by ten men and beaten black and blue.

He got to his knees, and found himself fettered by water-logged black robes that tangled around his legs. Pulling them up carefully like a lady with heavy skirts, he got to his feet. With a wince, he noted that he was not wearing shoes. He hobbled up the shoreline until he was walking on a carpet of soft moss. Following the rolling hill towards the cliff further up the river didn’t bring him within view of any buildings. He could see a little further in each direction, but there were still no signs of civilization. 

Did I get reincarnated into the middle of nowhere?

The mud on his face and arms began to crust over, and rather than continue to walk around aimlessly while looking like a salamander that had crawled out of some dirty, slimy hole, Chen Jiajian decided that the best course of action was to clean himself. 

A bit of searching at the side of the river found a slightly more secluded part of the pool, bound on several sides by rocks. Feeling a little more protected, he stood on a rock that was just below the water’s surface and started to figure out how to take all this stuff off. He was dressed in some kind of robe with trousers and a long sleeveless jacket, cinched in with a broad fabric belt at the waist. The whole ensemble was black or dark gray, trimmed in rich green-blue, reminding him of the iridescent black feathers of a rooster. His hair was up in a tight topknot, the whole of it wound around a pin on the top of his head. Even after a dip in the river, it still seemed like it was holding up pretty well. 

The next thing he discovered was that the pain he’d felt earlier was not due to the process of reincarnation. Pulling back the long sleeves, he found long, deep scratches crossing the skin of both forearms. Or perhaps they were knife wounds? The bottom of his stomach fluttered uneasily. The rest of his body was covered in bruises. They ran all over his chest and stomach in the shapes of blows from both fists and long weapons. It completely ruined his appreciation of this new body that was an upgrade in every other way.

Chen Jiajian slipped out of his clothing, dipping it in the pool and shaking it around to try to clean it up. He laid out all the clothes to dry on the rocks and then got to the task of washing his body. 

Cupping water in his hands, he held it as still as possible to see what kind of face he had and his heart sank a little bit. Well, it wasn’t bad, but this certainly wasn’t his face. The stranger that stared back at him from the water-mirror appeared to be in his mid-twenties, with a somber, distinguished look, especially for a man so young. He had a beauty mark near the corner of his left eye. Not bad but not great, either. Experimentally, he tried to smile. 

The man in the reflection gave him a winning smile that almost stopped his heart. The uplifting, winsome face of a man who dies a noble death protecting the hero! 

But I definitely don’t want to die. Dying would mean that I would go back…To what? A corpse? Certain death? A shiver shook his shoulders. 

Now clean, he decided to poke around in the river a little more and see if he could find that red thing he saw when he was struggling in the water. 

Ought to be a lot easier without robes getting in the way, right?

He waded out until he thought he was at the right spot and then dunked his head underwater. Sure enough, a flash of red waited at the bottom. Taking a deep breath, he dove and felt around the sandy river bottom until his fingers caught on something smooth and soft. At the surface, he found it was a red silk bag. He pried open the drawstring and looked inside. Several sticks of bamboo and two sticks of green stone, along with a little dirt. Nothing too valuable, but he couldn’t afford to let any potential clues slip away. 

The warm rocks baked his clothing dry in less than an hour, just as a thick layer of clouds began to roll over the landscape. It took him the better part of twenty minutes to figure out how to put it all back on. Once he’d done that, he took the sack of slips and decided to walk upstream, simply because it was the easier way to go. 

Near the top of the hill, the land to his right climbed even higher and towered above the river as it cut deeply into the stone landscape. The sound he’d thought was one waterfall was actually a set of three, which began further up the river, the largest and steepest of which was the one closest to him. There was a sturdy wooden bridge over the narrow chasm that opened up beyond the waterfall, lashed together with rope and large wooden pegs.

If there’s a bridge, there must be a road. 

Not more than thirty meters from two scholartrees with broad branches that gave heavy shade, he spotted the road. It was little more than a horse trail. Certainly not something big enough to move cars or even any large wagons over. It must be a back road which saw little use. 

Back to being reincarnated in the middle of nowhere. 

Closer by, there was a small statue in a natural stone alcove; Chen Jiajian paid his respects and couldn’t help but notice a cleared set of paths and footholds next to it, winding up to the top of the promontory.  

Well, I can take a hint. 

It was easy enough to get to the top of the cliff. At the very top was a pair of black boots with slightly upturned toes, just in his reach. The socks were gone, but the boots themselves fit him like they were made for him. An electric feeling ran down his spine as the custom fit all but confirmed that this body was not only not his, but its previous owner had not left it for long. Chen Jiajian stood up and walked around in them, enjoying the warmth and security of good boots. 

From this vantage point, he could easily see for several kilometers in any direction. The ‘road’ was clearer from up here, and it disappeared into the forest heading southwest. Looking northeast, from whence it came, the road was instantly engulfed by overgrowth, and its bearing couldn’t be determined at all. In the north and western distance, rising high over the landscape, he could see shadows lain down at the horizon, mountains that were far, far away. A ribbon of silver water wound through the land to the east; the lively river next to him likely joined it as the land leveled out far away to the south and southeast. 

At various points in the distance, he could see blue-white clouds of smoke rising from the forest, evidence that he wasn’t alone in this world after all. And lastly, at the base of the two scholartrees at the bottom of this rocky cliff, he spied a pile of things hidden in the shadow between the tree trunks. He started to climb down from his perch, only to freeze as he heard the sound of a horse moving at a gallop from the northeast. 

The horse and rider burst out of the day-gloom of the forest. Chen Jiajian watched from his hiding place behind a rock. The rider was a man, dressed in green robes that seemed similar to his, and he wore his hair in a long ponytail. Without stopping, horse and rider thundered across the bridge, keeping the same breakneck pace for as long as Chen Jiajian could hear them. 

A messenger, probably

He sat back on his heels and counted up what he knew. Based on the lack of tall buildings and roads, the presence of horse messengers with robes like the ones he was wearing, and the overwhelming lack of airplane, train, and other noise, he was definitely in a pre-modern world, which meant no cellphones, no computers, and no internet. 

But the only thing I know how to do is have a frivolous internet existence! Do people in this kind of world even need harem novels?

It was a grim proposition. With a gloomy countenance, he picked his way back down the cliffside and went to inspect the pile of things at the two scholartrees. As he approached, he noticed that the pile of things was placed so as not to be seen easily from the road, but easily seen from the shrine. Probably to keep them safe from the most opportunistic bandits. 

The things were someone’s belongings, and given how the boots had been carefully set aside at the top of the cliff, it seemed likely that they were related to the person whose body and boots he now wore. 

There was a bedroll, a knapsack of some kind and an ornately carved wooden case with an iron handle that locked it shut while it was being carried. Giving it a trial lift, Chen Jiajian groaned: it had to be over ten kilos. No wonder the body was in good condition, lugging something like this around. Setting it aside, he was about to open the top of the knapsack when he saw the hilt of a sword sticking out of the bedroll. 

He reached into the bedroll, grabbed the handle, and pulled the whole thing out. It was a medium-sized jian, with a pommel of highly polished silver and an ebony wood handle. The scabbard was black with details picked out in silver; a tassel with a black jade bead and a silver ornament dangled from the pommel, and the distinct smell of incense cedar wafted to his nose. There was no sign of rust or other mistreatment. But try as he might, he could not get the sword to slip free of the scabbard; it was stuck fast. Chen Jiajian frowned, reprimanding the sword’s departed owner. 

You should know how to take care of your sword better. 

That the problem might not be one of maintenance didn’t occur to him; he had no experience with swords. Deciding to leave the stuck sword for a professional (or at least someone who wasn’t him), he turned his attention to the knapsack. After he pulled the flap back and opened it properly, he found that the first thing on top was a thick jade weight in the shape of a ring, engraved on the top and bottom. A slender stick of ebony rested underneath: put together, it made an ebony spindle with a jade weight to help it spin, all on top of a woven cord belt.

The outside edge of the weight had five short cords of varying lengths and colors hanging from it like fringe around the rim of a lampshade. The cords were silk, and had knots as follows: black with five knots, green with three, and white, blue, and red, all with one knot. 

Directly underneath this item was a folded letter on thin paper. Chen Jiajian unfolded it and revealed sharp calligraphy from a practiced hand.

To whoever finds this: My name is Lian Chanjian, courtesy name Zhidiao, of the Xideng Wa sect. In order to leave notice for my family, I have written this last letter before going on to the far shore. 

Next Chapter > Chapter 2: A Cannon Fodder’s Guide to Magic and Identity Theft

Akon and Launch

Hello Akon visitors! You’ve probably gotten here from a flyer made by my friend Kira.  (Thank you for stopping by their table!)

My plan before beginning to publish this serial novel was to build up a backlog of 10 chapters, edit them as a whole, and then begin publishing them. Each chapter is around 3000 words and a chapter will be published once a week. Editing the finished chapters is ongoing, so I’m going to say roughly that I’ll post the first chapter some time in this upcoming week (the first week of July 2019), regardless of whether editing on other chapters is finished.

Thanks for stopping by, please don’t forget to check back to start reading!