Thank you to Somebody for the Ko-fi!
Arc Five: Grave of the Common Folk
To tell the truth, the name register mural didn’t change much when the cage was first resolved. It was even relatively quiet for an entire day after they got out of the cage. Perhaps something would shift at a certain moment, but that only ever lasted for a second, and nobody noticed it.
So initially, the group who entered the cage all came out “normally”—
Zhou Xu called a ride for Sun Siqi and sent him home.
When Sun Siqi’s mom opened the door for them, she hadn’t removed her face mask yet. At first glance, even Zhou Xu was so scared that he almost swore out loud, whereas Sun Siqi instantly collapsed in the doorway reflexively and started bawling. He kept clinging to Zhou Xu while calling him “Great Immortal,” causing his parents to almost arrest Zhou Xu on the spot.
Fortunately, Sun Siqi didn’t say anything significant, since he had forgotten most of what happened in the cage already. He simply felt as if he had fallen asleep in the car, after which he had an extremely realistic nightmare. Zhou Xu was eventually released because of that, and he wasted no time in rushing back to his own home.
Zhou Xu, on the other hand, was a unique case. He clearly remembered everything that took place in the cage, but as a glass cannon, that didn’t help him much. He started having a high fever not long after he returned home, and he drifted in and out of sleep.
Da Dong had also suffered some hardships in the cage. However, since he came from a panguan background, he didn’t react as severely as Zhou Xu. As a preventative measure, he forcefully downed a packet of cold medicine; his head only hurt for half a night, and he was all better after getting some sleep.
By contrast, his partner Haozi was in a much more troublesome state.
Although everyone entered the cage as incorporeal forms of themselves, the outcome still wasn’t great if something really did happen to them in the cage.
In cases where a cage took a long time to be undone, this world would probably gain yet another person in a coma or a madman. If their luck was good and the cage was resolved quickly, they would nonetheless be afflicted with severe illness and constant nightmares for quite some time.
The most tragic scenario was to be trapped in a cage’s “dead zone.” There was no way to survive that regardless of whether the cage was undone or not.
That was the only good thing about Haozi’s situation: he wasn’t stuck in a dead zone, and Wen Shi just happened to be there, so he was able to undo the cage for him. But Haozi was still sent straight to the hospital afterwards.
Da Dong returned to his residence and stayed there for a night before going to the hospital to look after Haozi. A few other Zhang family members who were on good terms with Haozi also went to visit him, but at that time, nobody had alerted the main family yet.
By the time the core Zhang family discovered that something was amiss, it was already the evening of the next day.
Zhang Lan had just returned from a trip, and she was tired and travel-worn. As she attended to various matters, she was also arguing with someone about a cage, and the Shen disciples were tossed to the back of her mind. For a while, she forgot to contact Da Dong as well.
Meanwhile, Zhang Yalin had just finished resolving an extremely tricky problem of his own. After the two siblings ran into each other on their way home, they decided to have a welcome-back feast in their enormous reception hall to wash away the weariness of their travels. They invited the people they were originally traveling with, along with several members of the same generation or younger who lived near the main residence.
Welcoming each other home, and washing away their weariness together.
At the beginning, the gathering was kept relatively restrained because they were afraid of disturbing the family head, who was in one of the back rooms. But later, once they consumed some alcohol, the atmosphere gradually relaxed. In the end, they were all fairly young in age, and their personalities were also quite lively, especially Zhang Lan’s.
Led by the Great Lady Zhang, who revolved the festivities around driving her little brother Zhang Yalin mad, the gathering lasted until it was almost midnight.
It was supposed to be a rather enjoyable evening, but unfortunately, two friends drank a little too much and insisted on arguing about which one of them resolved the more difficult cage recently. As a result, they did something that they would all come to regret immensely later—they staggered over to the panguan’s name register mural, arms around each other’s shoulders, in an attempt to find some evidence to support their claims.
One person said, “After I undid my cage, I moved up a rank on the mural that very day.”
The other person said, “My line might not have moved, but—”
Before he could finish his sentence, he sucked in a breath of air through his teeth, because he discovered that there was now a new name next to his on the mural. “Hey, wait a second, Zhang Xiaodong… Who is this? Sounds a bit familiar.”
Someone at the dining table heard him say that, and that person leaned against the back of their chair as they taunted him, “You must be wasted if you think that name sounds just ‘a bit’ familiar—isn’t that Da Dong!”
It was then that the forgetful Great Lady Zhang slapped her thigh and said, “Oh right, Da Dong! If you hadn’t mentioned him, I would’ve completely forgotten that I told him and Haozi to help me follow someone.”
As she fished out her phone, she asked without lifting her head, “What’s up with Da Dong, is it worth such a big fuss?”
In a tone of voice that implied he was doubting his entire existence, the person next to the name register mural said, “His line is right beside mine…”
At that, the people around the table all turned to stare at the mural. “Are you kidding?”
Everyone in the room who was familiar with Da Dong knew that although there wasn’t much to be said about his level of strength, his personality was rowdy enough, and he always had quite a lot to say. He was someone who could liven the atmosphere, so they had all interacted with him to some degree before.
But the important part was: there wasn’t much to be said about his level of strength.
This person only occupied a decent rank on the name register mural because he couldn’t stay idle and entered cages frequently.
“How many cages has he gone into lately for him to jump up a whole rank on the mural?” someone mumbled.
“Who the hell told you that he only jumped up one rank?” The person whose name was adjacent to Da Dong’s grew unhappy, and he jabbed at a certain spot on the mural. “He was here before!”
That was no longer a matter of jumping up one rank—he had jumped over three entire lines.
The middle section of the name register mural was occupied primarily by the younger generation. They were vigorous and full of energy, and a good number of them entered and resolved cages on a recurring basis. Because of that, their rankings were often unstable, but it was all still within the same general range. Even if their ranking rose or fell, it was by the measure of “one place,” since they predominantly went into smaller cages.
Jumping three ranks in one go, like what Da Dong just did, was a little excessive.
“Someone told me yesterday that he just finished going into a cage.”
“What the fuck, jumping three ranks with a single cage? Did he get possessed by an ancestor, or did his puppet string become gilded in gold?”
“Maybe that guy managed to release a burst of spiritual energy and summoned the real Dapeng.”
The group chattered with each other, half-debating and half-joking.
Zhang Lan herself occupied the spot at the very top of the mural all year round, so she didn’t actually care that much about how other people’s rankings changed. To put it more accurately, she didn’t have any concept of it.
Back when she first got on the name register mural, she was climbing up the ranks almost every single day. The most ridiculous leap happened after she undid a big cage once and was forced to tap into her unleashed potential. With the help of talismans and the cooperation of a junior panguan, she recreated a large array that was one of their ancestor Bu Ning’s specialties back in the day. Thanks to that, she jumped straight from a middle-tier ranking to number five.
She performed very well in the consecutive cages following that one. Since it wasn’t just a one-off incident, she naturally ascended to the top of the rankings.
Zhang Yalin’s experience was more or less the same as hers. Someone from the older generation had even said once that perhaps if Zhang Yalin made a push for it, he could overtake his older sister and go from being eternally number two to number one.
But Zhang Lan knew that that was impossible.
Unless her brother abruptly changed his personality to become the hardworking type and stopped clinging to his idol’s little box all the time, wiping it down three times a day… Such a turn of events would have to depend on being struck by lightning.
So while everyone else passionately discussed Da Dong’s three-rank jump, Zhang Lan didn’t bother to look up. She merely sent Da Dong a text, inquiring about the situation.
Except the answer to her question was a little bit astounding—
Da Dong responded: We undid Shop Sanmi’s cage.
Zhang Lan stared at that line of text for three seconds before she immediately sent an audio message over, voice pitched high. “You guys undid what???”
Her volume was very loud, causing everyone in the hall to quiet down as they looked at her, blinking. They didn’t know what was going on, nor did they dare to move.
Even Zhang Yalin, who was starting to zone out after drinking too much, couldn’t help but say, “Lower your voice a little, what do you need to make so much noise for?”
As soon as he said that, he heard his sister play a voice message out loud. Da Dong replied, “Lan-jie, I said that we undid Shop Sanmi’s cage, the one in the underground passageway that was originally an escape room. It’s on Yunjin Street, do you remember it?”
Zhang Yalin: “…”
He sprang bolt upright in his chair and stared at Zhang Lan. “Isn’t that a fucking cage vortex?”
Because he was too shocked, he forgot all about his refined and cultured image.
Nobody was blaming the Great Lady Zhang for raising her voice anymore. The entire hall fell silent for a few seconds before everyone instantly exploded.
Undoing a cage vortex wasn’t exactly an incredible, miraculous feat. After all, Zhang Lan and Zhang Yalin had both resolved cage vortices before, but for those words to come out of Da Dong’s mouth—the effect could truly be described as… exceptional and unparalleled.
Fortunately, someone was still relatively rational. That person interjected, “Don’t get so worked up yet, do you all really think Da Dong can undo a cage like Shop Sanmi? Someone else must’ve been there too. He was probably an assistant at most, think about it a little.”
Coincidentally, Zhang Lan had just sent over a voice message asking Da Dong: “You said that ‘we’ undid the cage. Besides you, there were other people present too?”
Sure enough, Da Dong swiftly answered, “Yes, eight people entered the cage.”
Everyone quickly calmed down at that.
“You’re right, there were eight people.”
“That’s what I was saying.”
“So who else was there?”
“Maybe, but there had to have been others, right??”
The group brainstormed and listed off numerous people. If these more experienced panguan were also there, then the situation was understandable and less outrageous.
Zhang Yalin regained his cool as well. He made Xiao Hei get him a hot towel, and he wiped his face with it as a means of sobering up.
As he covered the towel over his face, he heard his sister send Da Dong another voice message. “Oh, you scared me there. It’s just because you shot up quite a few ranks on the mural, so they were all surprised. So who were the other seven? Mr. Yunqi and the rest?”
Zhang Yunqi was Da Dong’s shifu. Although his ranking wasn’t as high as Zhang Lan’s or Zhang Yalin’s, he had a fairly good relationship with the head of the Zhang family. They were close in age, and he had quite a lot of experience, so he deserved to be addressed with respect.
A moment later, Da Dong responded.
In great detail, he enumerated the name of every person who entered the cage. “It was me, Haozi, Zhou Xu, Zhou Xu’s classmate, Xie Wen, Xie Wen’s employee, and then the two Shen disciples, Xia Qiao and Chen Shi.”
Zhang Lan: “……………………”
It would’ve been better if Da Dong hadn’t freaking listed anything at all.
Because Zhang Yalin’s towel dropped.
And everyone else promptly went out of their minds.
Zhou Xu’s classmate?
Xie Wen’s employee?
What was even going on…
More importantly, that damn eldest disciple from the Shen family was here again.
With an ominous premonition, Zhang Lan said to Da Dong, “Just tell me who undid the cage.”
Da Dong said, “The eldest Shen disciple.”
Zhang Lan felt like she was suffocating.
Da Dong wasn’t finished yet. He added, “Lan-jie, let me tell you, it was incredible. I was almost scared to death in the cage, and I lost so much face. That eldest Shen disciple isn’t a weak rookie at all!”
As if that had to be said?
Everyone present shared the same thought: You already told us that he could undo Shop Sanmi. If he’s still a weak rookie after that, then what would we be???
“So…” The man next to the name register mural spoke. He was no longer bothered by Da Dong; his attention was directed entirely at the line right above Zhang Biling’s. “No matter what, a person who can undo a cage vortex should be more than powerful enough. Is a new name going to appear on the Shen family’s line?”
It wasn’t just him. Everyone was focused on the line that was filled solely with deceased members.
If they did some calculations—considering the amount of time that had passed since the cage was undone, the mural should be mostly stabilized by now. Since Da Dong’s line had already shifted, the Shen family’s should be moving soon too.
This time, not even Zhang Lan or Zhang Yalin could remain seated. They all clustered next to the mural and waited to see the new name that would be added to it, along with the number of ranks that the name would jump.
Everything was still for several minutes. Then, as expected, the mural changed, but the way it did so was rather absurd.
Only half of their expectations came true—
The line did indeed jump up.
Well, that wasn’t quite right. It shouldn’t be called a jump; it was a projectile launch.
The line that was ranked second from the bottom took off and skyrocketed straight to the upper tier of the mural.
It was pressed right up against another person…
That person was Zhang Yalin.
Upon seeing this scene, everyone was already on the verge of collapse.
But this was followed by something even more unbelievable—
Even though the line had almost reached the very top of the mural, that supposed new name had yet to make an appearance.
The line was still an expanse of red across the board. Every member was clearly and undeniably dead.
That was right when Wen Shi was unconscious, his spiritual state unstable. Perhaps the name register mural was just too sensitive.
After the line soared to the top, it stayed there for less than three seconds before it dropped back down to its original position, second from the bottom.
A few minutes later, it shot up again.
Then it dropped back down.
And back up.
And back down.
That cycle repeated over and over.
After watching it for a while, Zhang Lan felt like she could have a seizure on the spot.
This group was still relatively well-off. At the very least, they were more or less mentally prepared and just barely knew what to expect. They were also somewhat aware of what was going on.
Everyone else who was unfamiliar with the situation was completely done for. They couldn’t do anything except stare, dumbfounded, as the line danced around the mural.
As a result, Da Dong and Zhou Xu—the two people who still had fairly decent mental states—were shipped straight to the main Zhang residence. Thoroughly surrounded, they told the story of what happened at Shop Sanmi.
When Zhang Yalin heard that the eldest Shen disciple had released a snake, his reaction finally differed from last time.
His expression cracked for a second. He latched onto Zhou Xu’s gesturing arm and asked faintly, “What color did you say the snake was?”
Zhou Xu: “It was black.”
Zhang Yalin: “Were there flames on its body?”
Zhou Xu thought back briefly. “I don’t think so, does it count if it slithered through flames?”
Zhang Yalin still wasn’t reassured. “Specifically describe the appearance of that snake again.”
Zhou Xu: “Super long, super big, impressive and formidable. There were two bones or something protruding from its back, and the chains on its body—”
Zhang Yalin suddenly interrupted him. “It had chains on it?”
“Of course, don’t all puppets?”
“You’re sure that you saw chains?”
Zhou Xu nodded as he thought, It’s not like I’m blind.
Zhang Yalin slumped back against the sofa and seemed to let out a sigh of relief, but he also seemed to be quite distracted.
Someone couldn’t help but ask, “Yalin-ge, did you think of something?”
Zhang Yalin shook his head and said, “No, I’m probably just losing it. It’s impossible, that person’s puppet doesn’t have chains.”
As soon as he said that, the other people started to lose it.
Because if a puppet was unchained, it meant that the puppet master was so powerful that they didn’t have to worry at all about having an uncontrollable puppet; they didn’t need to exercise any restraint.
There were only ever two puppet masters who could do such a thing.
The group didn’t dare to think about it too deeply—if they did, it would become a ghost story.
They also didn’t understand why Zhang Yalin suddenly decided to tell this ghost story.
Collapsed against the back of the sofa, Zhang Yalin contemplated for a while. Then, he said abruptly to Zhang Lan, “Maybe… we should invite the old man out and ask him. I really can’t come up with an explanation for that mural.”
But Zhang Lan said, “Invite the old man out? What if this is all just a giant mistake.”
Zhang Yalin: “Then what do you think we should do?”
Zhang Lan: “Make Xiao Hei perform a divination first.”
Zhang Yalin suffered greatly as he held himself back from cursing. He stared expressionlessly at his sister.
A few seconds later, he said, “How about this.”
Zhang Lan shot a look at him. “Mn?”
Zhang Yalin: “Let’s go find him.”
Zhang Lan: “And then what?”
Zhang Yalin: “Go into a cage.”
Zhang Lan: “???”
In the middle of their indecisive brainstorming, Zhou Xu’s phone suddenly vibrated with an incoming message.
This is Chen Shi, is now a good time.
The arrival of this message was very discreet, but someone still glanced at Zhou Xu.
Based on Zhou Xu’s personality from before, he definitely should be bragging loudly about this big moment and making sure that everyone was aware of it. He might’ve even gone so far as to raise his phone and say, “The person that you’re talking about just texted me.”
But for whatever reason, he didn’t say a single word about it this time, and he even subconsciously drew back his phone a little to avoid having the message be overseen.
Then, he swiftly replied: I can’t call, but texting isn’t a problem.