Arc Three: Wangquan Road
Wen Shi shifted the blame and swiftly hung up the phone.
He did it so quickly that Xia Qiao didn’t even have time to react.
If it weren’t for the fact that Wen Shi looked as aloof as ever, and that he didn’t behave like this towards other people, Xia Qiao was about to start suspecting that his ge was actually quite mischievous.
Xia Qiao silently stuffed his phone into his pocket and praised, “Ge, you actually know how to hang up on someone now.”
Holding the cat that had been spawned because of his jolting hand, Wen Shi said derisively, “Am I an idiot?”
“No no no, that’s not what I meant.” Xia Qiao hastily waved his hands. “I was just trying to say that it’s pretty smart of you to have learned how to do this, even though you’ve never used a phone before.”
Wen Shi stared at him expressionlessly.
Xia Qiao: “…”
Xia Qiao: “I was wrong.”
He acknowledged his mistake very mindfully before he inquired politely, “Oh, by the way ge, maybe we should buy you a phone later?”
Wen Shi wasn’t particularly interested. “Who would I use it to contact?”
Xia Qiao opened his mouth, only to get stalled.
He suddenly realized that Wen Shi truly didn’t have many people he could contact in this world. Everyone he was once familiar with had already passed away; Xia Qiao was the sole remaining descendant. Although he called Wen Shi “ge,” they hadn’t actually known each other for all that long.
…and he wasn’t even a real human.
Xia Qiao wilted and thought, Me and my big mouth, I just had to touch his sore spot. But the question had already been asked, and it seemed even worse not to respond.
As a result, he began bluffing, “Well, there’s more to it than that, ge. Do you think I have a phone for the sake of making calls? Wrong. Out of the 24 hours in a day, I can pass 16 of them on my phone. It can do anything I want, including making and answering calls.”
Wen Shi: “?”
Xia Qiao saw that his ge was caught off guard by his dupe. Before Wen Shi could reply, Xia Qiao immediately concluded, “In short, this is a treasure that you deserve to have.”
Wen Shi honed in on the important point. “How much does it cost?”
Xia Qiao: “Mn…”
Wen Shi: “Not buying it, we don’t have money.”
Xia Qiao instantly said, “We’ll have money after Boss Xie moves in.”
Consequently, despite Xie Wen having done nothing at all, he ended up bearing the weight of a small innocent life and an innocent cellphone. What’s more, before the weekend even arrived, he had already received excessively frequent greetings from the Shen family’s second “disciple”—four phone calls.
The last call came in on Friday evening. It wasn’t too late, and most people would have just finished eating dinner.
Xia Qiao wanted to confirm the meeting time tomorrow with Xie Wen.
The phone rang for a long while before it was finally answered, but not by Xie Wen. Instead, it was Lao Mao.
For some reason, Lao Mao’s voice was very quiet, and he seemed to be fretting over something.
Xia Qiao was startled. “Uncle Lao Mao, what’s the matter? Where’s Boss Xie?”
Wen Shi was currently sitting on the living room sofa, legs bent. A noisy variety show was playing on the TV, and though his gaze was fixed on the screen as he listened to some of the unfamiliar phrases being used on the show, his attention was actually focused on Xia Qiao.
Upon hearing Xia Qiao’s question, he raised his head and looked over.
Very thoughtfully, Xia Qiao switched to speaker mode.
Lao Mao’s voice floated hesitantly out from the phone. “Boss… Boss is a bit busy.”
Wen Shi remembered the scene from the last time they went to Xiping Gallery. Xie Wen said that he was too cold and didn’t want to go outside to see people, which was why he told Lao Mao to send away guests in that manner.
But he didn’t need to go outside to answer a phone call, right?
Wen Shi thought.
On the other end, either Da Zhao or Xiao Zhao asked distantly, “Lao Mao, come over here quickly—what are you doing?”
“Answering a call.” Lao Mao hurried downstairs. The wooden stairs creaked as he stepped on them, but he swiftly lightened his footsteps.
Lao Mao clicked his tongue.
He most likely accidentally pressed his finger against the phone’s microphone, causing the ensuing conversation to grow muffled and indistinct in a way that was completely indiscernible. The atmosphere on the other side seemed to be somewhat strange, as if… they were trying to be very careful and cautious.
Wen Shi thought he overheard his own name, but it was too vague. At the same time, he felt like it didn’t really sound that similar, and he had probably misheard it; after all, he hadn’t told anyone else what his name was.
After quite a while, rustling movements came from the call, and Lao Mao raised the phone back up to his ear. He said quietly, “I’m truly very sorry, I might have to trouble you to try again later—”
Before he could finish his sentence, a low and deep voice lightly interrupted him. “Lao Mao, give me the phone.”
It was Xie Wen.
Lao Mao seemed to have been given a scare, and he jumped up with an “oh my.” A long moment passed before he said, “Boss, you… woke up already?”
“Mn.” Xie Wen took the phone. “Go ahead and get back to work.”
Lao Mao responded with a sigh and departed hastily.
“Hello.” Xie Wen said.
His voice was still somewhat hoarse and mostly toneless. Perhaps because he didn’t have a smile on his face yet, he didn’t actually seem all that approachable.
“Boss Xie…” Xia Qiao inexplicably chickened out. He glanced at Wen Shi before he tossed over the hot potato. “Um, my ge is looking for you.”
Wen Shi: “…”
He felt like this fool Xia Qiao was probably sick of being alive.
Caught unprepared, the phone landed in Wen Shi’s hand just as Xie Wen happened to ask, “Is your ge next to you?”
Wen Shi said coldly, “I’m here. He’s long gone.”
Xie Wen was amused by his reaction, and he let out a soft chuckle.
Right as Wen Shi turned off speaker mode and pressed the phone against his ear, that warm and deep laugh sounded at close proximity. It felt like something flimsy and delicate was tickling him inside.
The actors on the variety show were having a lively discussion together. All of a sudden, they seemed much too loud, and he picked up the remote to turn off the TV.
“Lao Mao said that you were busy just now?” Wen Shi asked as his surroundings quieted down.
Xie Wen gave a lazy “en.” A beat later, he added, “Well, I wasn’t really busy, I was asleep. My temper is quite bad when I’m sleeping, so they don’t dare to wake me up.”
Wen Shi recalled the careful, cautious atmosphere permeating the other end of the phone earlier and thought, Exactly how bad would his temper have to be?
His mind wandered for a moment, and the call fell silent. Unexpectedly, Xie Wen just sat there and listened without pressing him for the reason he was calling.
In the end, Xia Qiao ran over to the fridge, grabbed two cans of milk, and handed one of them to Wen Shi as an apology. He whispered, “When is Boss Xie coming tomorrow?”
Only then did Wen Shi snap out of it. He asked the person on the phone, “What time are you coming over tomorrow?”
Xie Wen: “Let’s do the afternoon.”
He said the afternoon, but by the time he arrived, it was actually already the evening.
After the rainstorm from the last several days passed, Ningzhou’s temperature rose another level and shot straight towards 30 degrees Celsius1. Wen Shi disliked the heat, so the air conditioning in the house was set very low; it was the type of cold where you could wrap yourself in a blanket and gnaw on a popsicle.
The moment Xie Wen entered the house, he laughed.
Xia Qiao’s intuition told him that the laugh was born from exasperation.
“Are you two trying to have an early winter in your house?” Xie Wen said.
“It’s hot,” Wen Shi said shortly and concisely. Then he surveyed Xie Wen. “Why are you wearing even more than you were a few days ago?”
Xie Wen was still wearing those black gloves, and complicated beaded bracelets were strung around his wrist. On such a hot day, he was wearing a dress shirt and long pants, and there was even a jacket draped over the crook of his arm.
Unlike his vanishing black jacket from last time, this one was a brilliant red.
“Because I foresaw that you would maliciously plot to freeze me to death here.” Xie Wen joked, “Am I not allowed to plan ahead for my survival?”
As he sat down on the sofa, he also put on the jacket.
Typically, if someone wore that color during this season, it would give off quite a restless feeling. But Xie Wen was an exception—this color seemed to suit him especially well.
Maybe it was because the jacket collar revealed a section of his snow-white shirt, or maybe it was because this shade of red just happened to perfectly neutralize the heavy, sickly aura surrounding him.
Xia Qiao was stunned.
He only regained his composure when Xie Wen pulled out a pen from the jar on the coffee table and tapped lightly against the stone surface of the table. Xia Qiao dashed into his room and grabbed several sheets of paper.
“This is the contract. Boss Xie, please look it over.” Xia Qiao dragged over a little folding stool, sat down on the other side of the coffee table, and also picked up a pen. “Ge, do you want to come and read it?”
“No, you two can take care of it.”
Wen Shi bent over and sat down on the other end of the couch, the place that was closest to the air conditioning vent. He completely occupied all the cool air as he lazily pinched the outer rim of his ear and acted as a supervisor.
They had already entered cages before together, so the contract was a mere formality. Xia Qiao went over the information with Xie Wen, who gave simple answers in return.
Wen Shi listened to their conversation for a while. His peripheral vision inadvertently focused on that streak of red; when Xie Wen spoke, the clear-cut line of his jaw shifted up and down.
For an instant, that strong sense of deja vu poured over him again and softly scratched against his heart.
Wen Shi retracted his gaze as he lowered his eyes and touched his throat.
A second later, he stood up and clattered away in his slippers.
He rummaged through the fridge and found a can of Coke. Then, he popped the tab and guzzled a few mouthfuls before he turned around and discovered that Xie Wen had shifted his gaze from the coffee table to Wen Shi at some unknown point in time.
Wen Shi paused in the middle of tilting back his head to drink the soda. He shot a glance out of the corner of his vision and met Xie Wen’s eyes.
After a moment, he walked back to the living room, still holding that can of Coke. He picked up the remote and turned off the air conditioning before he asked Xie Wen, who had already looked away, “What do you want to drink?”
Xie Wen’s gaze landed on the drink in Wen Shi’s hand. “Are all the options this cold?”
Xia Qiao was filling out the number of rooms and the rental fee. Upon hearing that, he lifted his head dumbly, confused about how these two people had abruptly gotten on the topic of drinks.
“There’s also hot water,” Wen Shi said.
“Are you going to pour it for me?” Xie Wen smiled as he directed his focus back to the coffee table. He pointed at the “1” that Xia Qiao had written down and corrected, “This is wrong, I’m renting both rooms.”
Xia Qiao: “Ah???”
Xie Wen: “Didn’t you put the two rooms on the second floor up for rent? I’ll take them both.”
Wen Shi swallowed his “pour it yourself” retort back down. A short while later, a cup of hot water at just the right temperature appeared on the coffee table.
Xie Wen was a bit surprised.
He lifted his head when he heard Wen Shi mutter, “On behalf of the money.” After that, Wen Shi left with his can of soda.
Xie Wen watched Wen Shi’s tall figure round the corner, enter his bedroom, and close the door. A second passed before a faint beep came from inside, as Wen Shi most likely turned on the air conditioning in his bedroom.
Xie Wen withdrew his gaze and pulled off the pen cap to sign his name on the last page of the contract. Once he was finished, he said lowly, “Where did he learn to be such a little miser.”
“Learn what?” Xia Qiao didn’t hear him clearly.
“Nothing.” Xie Wen set the pen down before he picked up the glass cup and took a sip from it. He said slowly, “I wasn’t talking about you.”
“Oh.” Without Wen Shi at his side, Xia Qiao was a bit afraid of Xie Wen, so he was extremely well-behaved and respectful. “Boss Xie, you can move in today if you’d like.”
“So the entire second floor is mine now, correct?” Xie Wen confirmed again.
“That’s right,” Xia Qiao responded very frankly.
“Then I’ll tell them to pack and send my things over. It might be a little much.”
Xia Qiao only understood what he meant by “a little much” after Lao Mao and the rest rushed over under the cover of the night with a large truck.
Wen Shi was startled out of his bedroom by the “heigh-ho heigh-ho” chanting.
Several movers were in the middle of transporting an enormous object wrapped in red silk upstairs…
Wen Shi stepped out of the way and spotted Xie Wen leaning against the kitchen entrance, arms crossed.
“What exactly did you bring over?” he asked, brows furrowed.
“A tree.” Xie Wen said.
Wen Shi: “A what?”
Xie Wen: “A tree.”
Wen Shi: “…you’re renting a room for your tree?”
Are you crazy?
“Don’t secretly swear at people.” With one glance, Xie Wen knew what Wen Shi was thinking, and he smiled from his spot next to the door. “Haven’t you seen it before? It’s that tree from the second floor of Xiping Gallery. If it can fit there, it should fit here too.”
Very soon, Wen Shi realized that he had cursed Xie Wen out too early.
After the tree came a pile of decorative rocks and stones in various sizes, flowers and plants, nests for some unknown creatures, and… two little turtles.
This could hardly be considered moving; this was transplanting Xiping Gallery’s entire second floor into their house.
Judging from this setup, Wen Shi nearly thought that Xie Wen was getting ready to abandon his shop and run off. Fortunately, he hadn’t moved over the stuff from the first floor and managed to maintain a bit of his store owner image.
By the time everything was moved over, it was already past ten at night.
Lao Mao paid the movers and the truck rental fee before he entered the house, round belly swaying, with Da Zhao and Xiao Zhao. They lined up obediently next to the entrance and blinked as they looked at Wen Shi and Xia Qiao.
Xia Qiao was extremely frightened.
Wen Shi glanced in the direction of the second floor. Although a certain person had made an abnormally large ruckus while moving, the stair railing, walls, and floor were all perfectly intact. There weren’t any scrapes or abrasions, and the floor had also been cleaned very well.
Of course, Lao Mao and the twins were the ones who had tidied it up. As someone who looked like he never did any hard labor, Xie Wen very unashamedly chose to observe with folded arms. After it was over, he even flicked away some nonexistent dust from his sleeves.
“Is all of your stuff on the second floor now?” Wen Shi checked.
Xie Wen thought a bit and said, “No, there are still three things that haven’t been moved up there yet.”
Wen Shi surveyed the area. “Where are they?”
Xie Wen pointed next to the door.
Wen Shi looked over and saw—Lao Mao, Da Zhao, and Xiao Zhao.
He said, puzzled, “One room is for you and Lao Mao, and the other room is for Da Zhao and Xiao Zhao?”
Was their boss so kind that he would squeeze in a room with an employee?
Xie Wen: “No, I’m staying by myself.”
Wen Shi was even more bewildered.
He went silent for a long while. In the end, he wasn’t able to hold back. “One room is just for you, and the other room is for Lao Mao and the two girls?”
Xia Qiao: “???”
The four tenants, with Xie Wen as their leader, seemed to have never considered this problem before. After Wen Shi pointed it out, their expressions went momentarily blank.
This was very strange.
Xia Qiao couldn’t help but say, “What were your living arrangements before this?”
Xiao Zhao sniffed. “As long as we had nests, it was fine.”
Da Zhao smacked her and said, “Anyway, regardless of how big or small something is, it’s still just a surface to sleep on. Even a recliner can be a bed if you try hard enough.”
Xia Qiao couldn’t bear to keep listening. “Er… there’s also a small study room upstairs. If you pull out the sofa, it can turn into a bed.”
The two girls immediately said, “That works, let’s go with that. You’re so smart! Look, don’t we have enough places to stay now?”
Xia Qiao’s face flushed red from their compliments.
Lao Mao added, “In that case, we’ll be troubling you two for the time being, please look after us.”
Xia Qiao waved his hands. “It’s nothing, really, that’s what we’re here for.”
Everyone felt somewhat tired after such a busy night. Xie Wen especially was a little wan and appeared to be extremely sleepy. Once the living space was more or less set up, they parted ways and retired to their own rooms.
Each floor had its own bathroom, so it was like they were in two different worlds after the lights were turned off. They wouldn’t disturb each other too much.
By the time Xia Qiao collapsed onto his bed, he felt like this day had passed by somewhat unbelievably; the originally empty villa was suddenly crammed full of people, and it was a bit unreal, as if he were dreaming.
An odd thought popped up in his mind right before he gave into slumber—for some reason, this feeling seemed a little long-awaited.
Compared to Xia Qiao, Wen Shi didn’t fall asleep so quickly. As he listened to the shuffling footsteps upstairs, he became immersed in his thoughts.
Recently, he had undone two cages in a row and dissolved three people’s resentful, malevolent black energy. As a result, some changes had occurred to his body.
In reality, the process of dissolution was, in and of itself, very dangerous.
The cleaner someone was, the easier it was for them to dissolve those things. That was why the earliest panguan were always doing their best to give themselves the purest souls by cultivating paths that were each more uncompromising than the last.
Fewer people behaved like this in the later generations, because it was truly too difficult to achieve. Especially in the last few generations, it was already considered normal for panguan to get married and have children, and they no longer took such unrelenting paths.
Although their souls were cleaner than the average person’s, they still couldn’t compare to those ancestors. During the dissolution, they also had to bear a greater risk.
If they were successful, the things left behind after dissolution would become a part of them. It would slowly make them even stronger and cleaner, and it would extend their lifespan.
This could be considered a type of cultivation. Once their cultivation reached a certain level, they essentially became half-immortal.
But if the dissolving process failed, the malevolent energy transferred to them would genuinely become a part of them too. This was called corrosion or contamination.
If they kept failing, and the energy accumulated over a long period of time… then, it would likely only lead to one ending: their name being struck off the register.
If they couldn’t even save themselves, how could they help anyone else.
Wen Shi was a special case—
He didn’t have a soul. He was merely an empty shell, so corrosion didn’t affect him.
But similarly, a successful dissolution wasn’t of much help to him either. He was just like a skeleton: everything he ate would leak out from his empty bones. It was a temporary sustainment that didn’t have any other impact on him.
However, he actually sensed a change this time, as if he was starting to regain his former state.
Of course, it was just a tiny shift.
Perhaps due to this miniscule change, he unexpectedly dreamt for the first time in a long while that night. He dreamt of some events that had happened in the very distant past, and he also dreamt of a person.
- Approximately 86 degrees F ^