Arc Four: Shop Sanmi
Despite Xie Wen telling them that Wen Shi himself was behind the waving hand, the others were still a bit hesitant. After all, they had never seen Wen Shi behave in such a way.
Da Dong pulled Lao Mao back. “Don’t be in such a hurry to jump. I know that your boss is acquainted with the Shen… with Chen Shi-xiaoge1, but even his little brother thinks that something’s wrong. Why act so rashly?”
This entire time, he kept referring to Wen Shi as the Shen family’s eldest disciple, similar to how he would address a nameless junior. But now that his eyes had been opened, it wasn’t appropriate for him to continue calling the other person that. As a result, the Shen family’s eldest disciple finally obtained a name in his mouth.
“What if it’s another Shen Man—” Da Dong choked on his words for the second time. He glanced at the ghost in question before he silently decided to amend his phrasing. “What if it’s another one like the little girl, pretending to be xiaoge so that they can trick us into jumping down.”
That couldn’t be considered “summoning a person” anymore; that was summoning a soul.
Shen Manyi blinked and looked at him innocently.
At its core, what Da Dong said wasn’t incorrect, so Sun Siqi nodded in agreement.
Upon seeing that someone was backing him up, Da Dong gained confidence and said, “How about this. Let me examine this string some more to check if there are any issues with it. Worst case scenario, I’ll send my Golden-Winged Dapeng down first to scout it out, just to be on the safe side.”
His bird let out a long cry.
Originally, Lao Mao had already stepped out of the way, but his face grew green again the moment he heard “Golden-Winged Dapeng.” Right as he was about to curse at Da Dong, he suddenly heard a certain sound ring out from the thick darkness outside the window, jingling and clanking like metal grating and knocking against metal.
“What’s that noise?!” Da Dong said in bewilderment.
He leaned out the window in an attempt to hear it better.
A second later, a vortex swept straight towards him and nearly tore off his skull.
“What the fuck!” Da Dong swore as he clung tightly to the window frame. He couldn’t straighten up because of the gale, so he had no choice but to half-squat and use his elbow to block his face, which was being distorted due to the wind.
“Get down, find something to hide behind!” Da Dong roared amidst the vortex. Immediately after, the clinking metal noises grew louder and louder, faster and faster.
It also sounded a little familiar…
Da Dong made a “ss” noise in his mind and managed to lift his head from his elbow.
In the blink of an eye, he saw a colossal python barreling towards him! It was pitch-black all over, but every scale glinted with an icy sheen, like densely packed knives.
The fathomless darkness couldn’t stop it at all! Its body was enormous, but it slithered extremely quickly. They only caught a glimpse of its silver underbelly scales as it rolled past the window, along with the giant rusty chains wrapped around its body, which tightened and rubbed together as it moved.
For a moment, sparks sprayed out, and wind eddies sprang up everywhere.
With fire streaking across its body, the black python flipped over and coiled in a circle. Accompanied by the whistling wind, it stretched its huge head towards the window as its tongue flickered in and out of its mouth.
Its eyes were a brilliant yellow color, and they narrowed into thin slits as it stared at the people in the room for several seconds. Then, it abruptly opened its mouth, revealing fangs that were even longer than a human.
An even more violent wind hurtled into the room the moment it opened its mouth, like that of a cold-blooded creature hissing to threaten its prey.
Da Dong immediately hugged his head and crouched down.
On reflex, he curled his fingers sharply, wanting to call his puppet over to bolster his courage—except his “Golden-Winged Dapeng” was given a fright by the giant black python, and it turned tail and ran, scared witless.
It flapped its wings so hard they nearly fractured, and transparent feathers scattered all over the floor.
The bird was originally fairly large, and it seemed to be quite impressive at first glance. But in comparison to the giant python, it instantaneously became nothing more than child’s play.
“Ah! It’s that snake!!!” Zhou Xu started shouting from the back.
Da Dong swore furiously in his mind: Your daddy’s a snake, is this a snake to you???
“You fucking recognize it?!” Da Dong yelled without turning his head as he continued to squat there.
Zhou Xu shouted back, though his voice was almost swept away by the gale. “Yeah! I’ve seen it before! Of course I recognize it!”
Da Dong: “What the hell is this?”
Xia Qiao said, “My ge’s puppet.”
Da Dong: “…”
Da Dong crumbled into pieces. “Why is your ge sending his puppet after us for no reason!”
This question was answered soon enough—
They watched blankly as that little puppet string hand stopped waving. Most likely, the person controlling the string had completely exhausted his already limited patience after never receiving a response.
The giant python’s golden eyes glared loftily down at the people in the room before it suddenly opened its mouth and spoke. “The first floor and the courtyard are at the bottom. I’ve been waiting for such a long time, are you all going to jump or not?”
This giant python’s voice was very raspy, and it sounded thin and dry sandwiched amidst the raging wind, almost as if it was hissing. It was quite terrifying.
Everyone froze for a second before they began clambering up onto the windowsill without any further objections. “We’re jumping, we’re jumping.”
Who the hell would dare to not jump.
They merely hesitated for a brief moment, and that small waving hand turned into a black python. If they still didn’t jump, there was no damn telling what would happen next.
Xia Qiao was worried about his ge, so he was the first to leap over. Sun Siqi clung to the window, still a bit scared, before Zhou Xu directly dragged him down. His screams were swallowed up right away by the darkness, and everything fell silent once more.
Da Dong crouched on the window frame like someone who was sending everyone else off. He gripped the edge of the window with one hand as he said to Lao Mao and Xie Wen, “Who’s jumping first? I’ll be last regardless, I’ll—”
Before the words “bring up the rear” could leave his mouth, he was sent out the window by a light push from Xie Wen.
Da Dong fell down with his back to the ground. Before he was enveloped in darkness, he saw the forgotten Shen Manyi climb onto the window frame.
He abruptly thought of a problem—if this window was the path to the downstairs section, that meant that this cage was separated into different areas. Every time they went into a new area, they had to experience the whole process of “entering a cage” all over again. It was just like cracking open several eggs into one bowl: the yolks didn’t actually mix together.
The entire second floor was one such egg yolk. As the master of the second floor, Shen Manyi should be subject to restrictions. Could she really make it down to the first floor?
She probably couldn’t, right…
Because of his limited experience, Da Dong wasn’t very certain. Right as that thought flashed through his mind, he saw Xie Wen lift his hand and tap on the center of Shen Manyi’s forehead.
Da Dong had a vague feeling that this movement looked a little familiar, but he sank fully into the darkness before he could think it through.
Shen Manyi huddled on the windowsill and peered at the darkness below her, her expression somewhat timid. “I can’t go down. I haven’t gone downstairs in a super long time, I can’t go down.”
Xie Wen said, “Now you can.”
Startled, Shen Manyi felt a bit wronged and also a bit lost. “Why? Is it because you tapped my head just now?”
She touched her forehead.
Xie Wen nodded.
Shen Manyi was still quite confused. “Why does that make it okay?”
This little girl wasn’t actually a real human. To many people, it was meaningless to explain anything to her.
But Xie Wen still spoke. “I helped you switch to a different identity.”
Shen Manyi: “What identity?”
Xie Wen: “Have you ever played with puppets before?”
Shen Manyi nodded. “Yes, I like them.”
Xie Wen: “Right now, you’re pretending to be a puppet.”
In puppetry, there was a special name for the forehead tap: Spirit Fixation. It transformed a living person or creature into a puppet for a period of time. This way, Shen Manyi could move about freely in the various areas.
The little girl clapped enthusiastically out of happiness. Only Lao Mao gravely voiced his opinion on the matter: “Could I make an interjection?”
Xie Wen shot him a glance. “Speak.”
Lao Mao: “An amateur who was removed from the name register mural usually can’t accomplish something like this. If we take her down with us, how are we going to explain that?”
Xie Wen: “Well, you spoke too late then.”
Lao Mao: “…”
If I had spoken up earlier, does that mean you wouldn’t have done it???
Lao Mao didn’t really believe that.
His boss was used to doing whatever he pleased; he had always been like this. Perhaps it was because he truly didn’t have many things or many people that he cared too deeply about. Oftentimes, he never bothered to pay attention to the trivialities—if there was something he could do in passing, he would do it without much apprehension.
However, this didn’t mean that he was a careless person. If he really wanted to hide something from someone, he was capable of effortlessly keeping a tight lid on the matter for more than ten years or even several decades. Lao Mao had witnessed it firsthand before, which was why he felt all the more baffled now.
Not much time had passed since Xie Wen found Wen Shi again, during which Lao Mao had observed the vast majority of their interactions—
Because it was impossible to stay for a long time, it was better to simply avoid a reunion.
Xie Wen had no intention of letting Wen Shi recognize him. Lao Mao knew that better than anyone else.
But on occasion, on some extremely rare occasions, Xie Wen’s way of handling things would give Lao Mao a certain misconception. Almost as if… for a split second, he was acting in complete opposition to his intentions.
Though it only ever lasted for a mere moment before he quickly returned to his original plan.
Just like right now. As Lao Mao was starting to look concerned, the puppet string that Wen Shi left between the cracks in the window frame suddenly moved.
It swept its way along the edge of the window and accurately located where Shen Manyi was. Obeying its master’s wishes, it tapped the center of Shen Manyi’s forehead before it wrapped itself around her wrist.
This was the complete Spirit Fixation technique; he had the same idea as Xie Wen.
This meant that even though Wen Shi was waiting downstairs, separated by the darkness, he hadn’t left behind this little girl who couldn’t go down.
Xie Wen looked at the puppet string bound around Shen Manyi’s wrist and said, “I thought that he forgot about this little girl, but it turns out his memory isn’t too bad after all.”
Now that Wen Shi had done his own Spirit Fixation, Lao Mao heaved a sigh of relief.
Maybe his relaxation was too obvious. Xie Wen flicked his eyes up and glanced at him. “You don’t need to worry about me being exposed anymore.”
Lao Mao nodded. “Exactly.”
Xie Wen withdrew his gaze and directed it out the window instead. Something must’ve crossed his mind, because he couldn’t help but let out a short chuckle. Then he patted Lao Mao, turned around, and plunged into the darkness.
The first floor of the Shen home was built in a very similar structure as the second floor. The only difference was that it had one less room at the front of the house, with a large door replacing it. There was also one less room at the back, with a drawing room in its place and a door leading to the backyard.
In the drawing room, there was a luxurious sofa meant for receiving guests, as well as a carved coffee table. A chandelier was suspended over the coffee table. It was crafted in a fusion of styles, and its hanging crystal ornaments were linked to the red-brown wood of its frame—it was a decorative item that was popular among wealthy merchants during the early to mid 1900s. But in the present day, it seemed rather heavy and lifeless.
There was a floor lamp next to the sofa. It also had a red-brown wooden frame, and embroidered silk covered it on all sides. Its light caused their shadows to flicker across the ground.
In Wen Shi’s hand was a piece of paper that was originally sitting on the coffee table, and he stood there, waiting for them.
Actually, back when he first came down, he had already made his way around the entire lower floor by himself.
Based on his past experience with cages like this one, which had crevices in between the respective areas, every time they stepped into a new section, it was similar to entering a cage all over again.
Usually, he would’ve encountered something troublesome while he was falling—for example, when they first entered Shen Qiao’s cage, he met that fake Xia Qiao on the bus. Or on the street outside Xiping Gallery, with the two fake humans walking alongside him.
It was actually quite dangerous to encounter those things in a crevice, because everything was a void around him, and there was nowhere to land. If he accidentally mixed up his sense of direction or mistakenly believed that he had already reached the ground due to the interference, but in reality he had followed those things somewhere else completely, it was highly likely that he would enter a dead zone.
The entire way down, Wen Shi was very vigilant, but oddly enough—his entire fall was exceedingly peaceful. Nothing whatsoever came to harass him.
He was a little surprised by that. As a result, after reaching the first floor, he stayed there on his own for a while longer to confirm that there truly weren’t any filthy creatures coming to look for trouble. Only then did he finally send a signal to the people upstairs, informing them that they could come down.
Not long after, the sound of footsteps suddenly came from the stairs.
Wen Shi turned to look in that direction. Xia Qiao was the first to turn the corner, and he called out “ge” the moment he saw Wen Shi before he started jogging over. The second person to appear was Zhou Xu, followed by Sun Siqi, Da Dong, and lastly, Shen Manyi and Lao Mao.
Wen Shi counted them all, and his gaze landed on the empty space behind Lao Mao. “Where’s Xie Wen? Didn’t jump yet?”
Lao Mao was also startled. “Boss isn’t here? That shouldn’t be right, he came down before me.”
Da Dong and the rest shared looks of dismay. “Then where is he?!”
Wen Shi’s brows furrowed, and his heart jolted.
At that moment, the gramophone on the cabinet abruptly shifted. The needle scraped along the surface of the record, and outdated music began playing in the room. Every so often, a few notes would stray out of tune, giving the song a sort of eerie key change.
Then, the walkie-talkie in Sun Siqi’s hand crackled a few times and lit up. The female voice that they heard earlier upstairs started speaking again.
Amidst the warped music, she said warmly, “Many days after Shen Manyi disappeared, the Shen family’s tutor abruptly left a letter stating that something had come up at home, resulting in his temporary departure. The butler sent a telegram to Tianjin Wei, as well as Mr. Li’s hometown, but neither received a response.
“Nobody was sleeping well recently in the Shen home. The second floor was already empty, as everyone had moved downstairs. The two young girls slept with the nanny, while the young master shared a room with the nanny’s son, with the butler and Mr. Li together in another room. Now, there was a free bed.
“One night, as the butler tossed and turned, unable to fall asleep, he decided that he was going to the police station the moment the sun rose the next day. He rummaged through the wardrobe with the intention of setting out the clothes and shoes he was planning on wearing tomorrow. All of a sudden, he discovered that all of Mr. Li’s shoes were still in the wardrobe. Not a single pair was missing…
“What shoes did he wear to go home then?
“From that day forward, dirty things frequently began disturbing the Shen home. So long as everyone was asleep, Mr. Li would return…”
The gramophone didn’t stop even after the female voice was done speaking. It continued to play its strange squeaking song, whereas their corner of the room was deathly silent.
Suddenly, Zhou Xu said softly, “I get it now. We each correspond to someone in the Shen residence. When one of them vanishes in the story, one of us will also vanish. Earlier, she said that Shen Manyi went missing, and Haozi still hasn’t made an appearance. Now the tutor, Mr. Li, is also gone, which means…”
“Which means in the end, we’re all going to disappear?”
Which means I’m going to blow up this cage master.
Wen Shi’s expression went cold.
- Xiaoge (小哥) is a casual way of addressing a guy who’s younger/around the same age. Literally means little older brother, kind of a mix of bro/dude/young man in English. ^
Yan: Three things about this chapter that I liked! 1) 因为无法久留，索性免了重逢 – one of my favorite lines in all of PG. Because Xie Wen can’t stay by Wen Shi’s side, he decides to hide who he really is from him, to avoid both a reunion and another separation.
2) Wen Shi doesn’t encounter anything when he falls down bc Xie Wen cleared it all for him 🙂 hence his coughing last chapter
3) if you’ve read PG before, you’ll know what Xie Wen hid flawlessly from Wen Shi for over a decade in the past. *knife*