Arc One: An Old Friend in the World of Mortals
Karmic debt was equivalent to all the sins that someone was carrying. Some were innate, and some were acquired. But regardless of whether it was innate or acquired, karmic debt like Xie Wen’s was very seldom seen in this world.
As expected of a blighted fate that harmed his parents, others, and himself…
Xiao Qiao saw Wen Shi close his eyes and swallow lightly. A certain emotion was lingering on his face, transient and fleeting to the point that Wen Shi himself probably hadn’t noticed its existence.
After a moment of alarm, Xia Qiao finally realized something: the emotions that had flitted across Wen Shi’s face were, most likely, a shallow form of sorrow. Or perhaps it could be called… compassionate pity, something that he had seen before in Shen Qiao’s eyes as well.
Upon meeting a select few people on this earth, those who were panguan would always reveal this sort of emotion.
Wen Shi’s lips moved again.
Xia Qiao asked subconsciously, “What did you say?”
Wen Shi opened his eyes, his gaze still focused on the garden. A second later, he spoke at last, and he said, “I’m hungry.”
Xia Qiao: “?”
Xia Qiao: “???”
Wait a minute, what happened to that compassionate pity?
They were discussing serious matters just now, how was he hungry all of a sudden???
Xia Qiao’s mind was full of question marks.
He stood there stupidly for quite a while before he finally remembered that black mist was entangled around normal people’s souls. He also recalled what Wen Shi had eaten yesterday, and he felt enlightened.
“Does he have a lot of black mist surrounding him?” Xia Qiao tried asking.
“What do you think.” Wen Shi was abnormally calm… then, he licked the corner of his lips.
How was this a tenant? This was a self-delivered meal.
As he was stunned, the meal pressed the doorbell.
Xia Qiao hesitated for a moment, but he still ended up walking over and opening the door.
Early in the morning in April, the air was as chilly as ever. That man called Xie Wen tilted his head to the side and gave a few more muffled coughs before turning to face forward. Even a sickly aura wasn’t enough to conceal natural good looks.
“I’m sorry, the wind is a little strong today. If I had known earlier, I would’ve worn a few more layers,” he said.
Most likely because this person’s parent-harming reputation was too loud, Xia Qiao was inexplicably a bit afraid of him, and he unconsciously shrank back. He also forgot his manners and that he needed to respond.
Meanwhile, Wen Shi swept a glance at Xie Wen’s elbow, from which a black coat was obviously hanging. As a result, he said rudely, “Bringing along a coat but not wearing it, if you’re not cold, who would be?”
Xie Wen probably hadn’t expected to be treated like this upon entering the house, and he was momentarily taken aback.
He lowered his head and scanned himself before he lifted up the arm with the black jacket thrown over it. “Are you talking about this?”
Wen Shi didn’t say anything.
When Xie Wen raised his head, his eyes were already curved upwards, and he explained extremely good-naturedly, “This isn’t mine. The color is too dark, and this isn’t the style that I like either.”
Wen Shi was expressionless as he thought, Who cares if you like it or not, it clearly matches pretty well with that karmic debt of yours. After that, he continued to remain silent.
In such a situation, only those with low emotional intelligence wouldn’t be able to tell that there was something wrong with the atmosphere. Someone who could read the room would’ve most likely bid a farewell and left. But Xie Wen was an odd one.
Wen Shi’s attitude of not giving him any face seemed to pique his interest quite a bit.
Xie Wen’s gaze shifted slightly, and in the space between his muffled coughs, he looked Wen Shi up and down. He asked, still smiling, “Are you Xia Qiao?”
Over the phone, he had referred to Xia Qiao, extremely politely, as “Mr. Xia Qiao.” But now that they were face to face, he had abandoned all that etiquette for some unknown reason.
Wen Shi’s lips parted a tiny bit, and two stingy words jumped out. “You guess.”
Inexplicably, just like that, the two of them ended up in a confrontation. Even though there was still a short distance separating them, it felt like sparks were flying through the air.
The weak individual trapped in the middle was sprayed in the face by the sparks. He couldn’t help but interrupt, “Er… my apologies, I’m Xia Qiao.”
Only then did Xie Wen move his gaze away from Wen Shi.
When he looked at Xia Qiao, he also sized him up; it wasn’t clear what he was thinking. A beat later, he nodded. “My guess is also you. Then he is?”
Xia Qiao thought, He’s my grandpa’s ancestor, but he still responded obediently, “My older brother.”
Xie Wen let out an “oh” and nodded again. “Have I offended him before? Or has your older brother always been pretty fierce?”
Perhaps since he was standing closer to Xia Qiao and didn’t feel like expending the extra effort to speak louder, he lowered his voice quite a bit, but he also asked his question very earnestly.
Wen Shi: “…”
Xia Qiao didn’t know whether to answer or not. He could only force a laugh and say, “He woke up early today, so he isn’t in a very good mood.”
In fact, the current Wen Shi was indeed abnormal.
Before, at the most he would just smoothly and defiantly say a few words in response. Most of the time, he would only think it in his mind, and that would be the end of it. This was actually his first time targeting someone so blatantly, but you couldn’t blame him; this was Xie Wen’s fault.
Even though they clearly didn’t know each other well yet, Wen Shi’s feelings toward Xie Wen were already fairly complicated—
On the one hand, his pursuit of the huigu led him to Xiping Gallery. Before the situation was resolved, it would be very difficult for him to have a favorable impression of Xiping Gallery’s owner.
But on the other hand, whenever he saw Xie Wen, he would start feeling hungry.
If you were famished, and someone set up a table full of gourmet food in front of you, before then putting up a sign that read “poisonous, so you can’t eat,” wouldn’t you feel annoyed?
That was the exact state that Wen Shi was currently in.
He knitted his brows together and glared at Xie Wen for a while. Finally, he couldn’t take that strange and ambiguous confrontation any longer, so he turned on his heel and walked away.
Xia Qiao was a little worried, and he called out to him. “Wen-ge, what are you doing?”
Wen Shi went into the kitchen without looking back. He said stiffly, “Looking for something to eat.”
The kitchen was extremely neat, and the countertops were mostly empty. Wen Shi opened all the cabinets one by one and found condiments, as well as raw rice. He then opened the refrigerator and combed through its contents from top to bottom; he had no interest in the cooked food, and he didn’t recognize the rest. He forcefully restrained his temper and randomly selected a box.
He only left the kitchen once he heard Xie Wen start walking towards the living room.
As a result, when Xia Qiao glanced back, he saw a certain ancestor leaning against the kitchen door, chewing one of the chocolate biscuit sticks that Xia Qiao had opened last night, looking coolly in their direction.
For some reason, this scene was very mystical.
“How old are you this year?” Xie Wen suddenly spoke.
Even though he was here to see the house, he only cast a cursory glance over his surroundings. Instead, he seemed to be more interested in chatting. Xia Qiao followed along blindly and answered, “I’m eighteen.”
“Oh, you look quite young.”
Probably wanted to say that I’m short… Xia Qiao grumbled silently.
He was a coward, and he felt uneasy being too close to Xie Wen. Consequently, he looked behind him every three steps, hoping fervently that Wen Shi would come over and save him, even if it was just to argue with Xie Wen.
Unfortunately, Wen Shi pretended to see nothing.
“Then what about your…” Xie Wen also glanced at Wen Shi; the pause in his speech sounded like an adjective that had been purposefully omitted. “Older brother? How old is he?”
Xia Qiao suspected that the omitted adjective was something along the lines of “fierce.” He opened his mouth and started to make up a reply. “He’s around the same age as me—”
Then he heard five words float distantly over from behind him. “None of your damn business.”
Xie Wen laughed.
Only then did Xia Qiao remember: Shen Qiao had told him before that he shouldn’t casually give his age to strangers. More likely than not, he might run into some powerful person.
Luckily, he hadn’t been very specific in his description. In addition, this Xie Wen… wasn’t some powerful person either.
According to the rumors, among the panguan, the Zhang family’s branch produced many capable people, both from the original clan and from branch families with different surnames. They were all well-known among members of the same generation. There were only two faulty outliers: the first was Zhang Biling, the woman who came to pay her respects yesterday, and the second was Xie Wen, whose name had been crossed out.
Even among these two outliers, there was still a difference.
Reportedly, Zhang Biling’s family had average aptitudes and weak constitutions, which was why their abilities were limited. But even with that being the case, they were still ranked above Wen Shi’s branch.
As for Xie Wen, he had a blighted fate, and with a body full of karmic debt, how could he help anyone else? So it was useless even if he were to learn anything, and he was destined to be struck off the name mural.
For many people, something like this would become a sore point, but Xie Wen didn’t seem to really care.
When he walked past that lengthy name register mural, he didn’t reject it to the point of ignoring it, nor did he stop walking to examine it closely. Instead, he treated it as if it were an ordinary painting and swept a look over it once before shifting his gaze away, completely unconcerned.
Wen Shi crunched his way through a box full of snacks. It had no taste or flavor, but it was better than nothing.
He went to the fridge again and swiped a box of milk, finishing it in a few gulps. That ice-cold feeling alleviated the starving sensation in his body. He felt a bit better now, so he threw away the empty box and returned to the living room.
While Xie Wen wasn’t looking, Xia Qiao pressed his hands together and bowed towards Wen Shi, begging him for help.
By the time Wen Shi came over, Xie Wen was standing in front of the honorable founder’s portrait.
He seemed to be especially intrigued by this area. His gaze traveled from the incense burner, filled with fine ash, to the three characters that made up “Chen Budao,” and then to the painting itself. He even reached out and pressed his fingers against the figure’s crimson robe.
Xia Qiao nearly let something slip out that he shouldn’t have. “You mustn’t, you mustn’t, do you not want to live anymore, touching the honorable founder so casually!”
Wen Shi also frowned and said, “Why are you touching it?”
Xie Wen rubbed his fingers together.
His fingers were also the same sickly pale color. As a result, that streak of red staining his thumb was particularly conspicuous. He stared at the dash of red with an odd expression for a few seconds before he said, “The color of the robe is quite vivid.”
Wen Shi’s face stiffened and he didn’t respond.
Xie Wen then asked, “Who drew this?”
Wen Shi finally opened his precious mouth. “Me.”
That odd look appeared in Xie Wen’s eyes again.
Wen Shi was very displeased by his look. “Is there a problem?”
Xie Wen said, “Have you seen him before?”
“Who?” Wen Shi was caught off guard.
Xie Wen pointed at the portrait.
In fact, this question of his was very strange. Nobody would ask a young person in his twenties: have you ever seen this person who existed a thousand years ago?
But at that moment, Wen Shi didn’t actually notice that oddity.
He was only thinking: he ought to have seen Chen Budao before, he could even be considered as that person’s disciple once upon a time. But that was something that had happened much, much too long ago. Wen Shi had traveled to and from the mortal realm twelve times already, living and dying without any attachments. He could no longer remember what many people looked like anymore.
Back then, when he was painting this portrait, Shen Qiao wasn’t yet the one at Wen Shi’s side; it was his disciple at the time. The little disciple prepared everything according to Wen Shi’s request. Then Wen Shi stood next to the table for an entire day and didn’t know how to put his brush to the paper.
The little disciple asked him if there was something wrong with the ink.
He answered that there wasn’t, he just couldn’t remember what the person he was trying to draw looked like.
The little disciple was very perplexed. He had never seen Chen Budao before, and he couldn’t even find a reference painting of him. At the same time, he couldn’t bear to see Wen Shi idling away in front of the table, so he found a variety of god and buddha portraits instead.
Consequently, such a pieced together drawing came into existence.
A ringtone suddenly echoed through the room, and Wen Shi abruptly snapped out of it.
The ringtone came from Xia Qiao’s phone. He stepped to the side and answered the call, which informed him that the driver who was going to take them to bury the urn had already departed and was currently on the way over.
Wen Shi glanced at the wall clock and realized then that it was 6 AM. They had to get ready to travel up the mountain.
After their earlier conversation was interrupted, nobody had continued it. In the first place, it was just an unrelated casual topic, and if Xie Wen wasn’t curious about it anymore, Wen Shi didn’t feel like making up some lie either.
Xia Qiao hung up the phone and hurriedly showed Xie Wen the bedroom. Then he said apologetically, “It’s my lack of consideration, I should’ve explained the situation when we were scheduling a time to meet. The circumstances really are special today, so I can’t keep showing you around. There’ll still be chances in the future.”
Wen Shi thought: That’s right, I’ve still got my eye on your Xiping Gallery, you won’t be able to run away.
Xia Qiao spoke again. “I understand what it’s like to look for somewhere to rent, you definitely have to visit a few more places and compare them all to pick the one you’re most satisfied with. You’re just taking a look today, it’s very normal for you not to make a decision. How about you go back and consider it some more?”
Wen Shi hoped that Xie Wen wouldn’t even consider it. He didn’t want a sumptuous banquet of unknown toxicity wandering around everywhere in his house.
Unexpectedly, right as that wish popped up in his mind, Xie Wen said, “I don’t need to consider it, I’ll rent it. When can I move in?”
Wen Shi immediately grew very unhappy.
Xia Qiao didn’t make it so obvious. He only said hesitantly, “Actually, this neighborhood is pretty out of the way, and it isn’t super convenient in terms of transportation or anything else. It’s not lively either.”
He glanced at Wen Shi before he scratched his head and said, “Er… to tell the truth, there really are a lot of other good places to live. There’s no need to rush and decide now.”
Xie Wen said, “I think there is a need.”
Wen Shi: “Why?”
Xie Wen’s thumb stroked across the slim knuckle of his index finger over and over. The blue-green veins on the back of his hand were distinctly visible.
Because this was his first time seeing someone cutely and obediently worship him with an altar.
And also because…
“I’m trying to catch someone.” He looked at Wen Shi and suddenly curved his eyes.
Precisely because of that line, which could be true or false, the timid but plentifully imaginative Xia Qiao felt his back continue to prickle.
At six, the people who came to send Shen Qiao off on his final journey all arrived one after another.
Zhang Biling, who said earlier that she would do her best to come, didn’t show up. Instead, Xie Wen, who said before that he had something to do, ended up staying the entire time. He stood among the sparse crowd, still carrying that black jacket.
Since he voluntarily wanted to send Shen Qiao off, it wasn’t convenient for the host family to chase him away, so they had no choice but to allow him to come along.
The burial location was somewhat far. The mountain was extremely steep, and it was raining as well, so the roads weren’t ideal.
The bus carried around ten or so people in it and glided slowly through the rain. Xia Qiao held his grandpa’s urn and sat in the very front, with Wen Shi next to him. Friends and relatives then filled the seats behind them, resulting in the majority of people sitting in the first few rows.
When the bus started, Wen Shi carelessly swept a glance behind him.
Originally, he thought that Xie Wen, as a stranger and outsider, would choose to sit by himself in the last row. Unexpectedly, as soon as he turned his head around, he saw Xie Wen sitting in the third row, listening to the middle-aged folk around him chatter away endlessly.
Their dialects were very heavy; in any case, Wen Shi couldn’t understand them. He suspected that Xie Wen actually couldn’t understand them either, yet Xie Wen still seemed like he was perfectly happy to be there.
Wen Shi stopped paying attention to him. He tugged down his hat and leaned against the window, relaxing with his eyes closed.
Some time later, he suddenly heard Xia Qiao calling out to him in a whisper. “Wen-ge, Wen-ge.”
Wen Shi opened his eyes. “What is it?”
He then saw Xia Qiao shrink back in his seat with a rigid neck. His voice was so soft that it nearly sounded like he was crying. “Take a look behind you, where did all the people in the bus go?”
The author has something to say:
Not angsty, sweet cake, happy ending, really.
Yan: *looks into the camera* it was angsty. (mu dao li strikes again)