Thank you to Rick for the Ko-fi!
Arc Five: Grave of the Common Folk
Doors slammed shut in quick succession. The sound of chickens crowing and dogs barking mixed with frantic screams, only for it all to be muffled behind closed doors.
In the blink of an eye, the entire village became a ghost town.
Lu Wenjuan’s house was located at the westernmost edge of the village. As everyone ran over to it, they glanced behind themselves.
The heavy rain had stirred up smoke and dust; everything was blanketed by a certain haziness.
The terrain wasn’t flat here. It rose up and down in one continuous stroke, like a hill that wasn’t particularly steep. Those small, uniquely decorated two-story houses sat amidst the undulating landscape. At first glance, with the addition of the fog, the village looked just like a massive grave mound.
Even though they were mentally prepared for it, the unexpected glimpse of this scene was still enough to make their blood run cold.
They only stopped in the doorway for a bit, but Lu Wenjuan was already urging them shrilly, “Get in here!”
She reached out to drag them inside. Her sharp fingernails caused Zhou Xu to let out a howl, and five red scratch marks immediately appeared on his skin.
“Auntie, could you be a little more gentle? I’m made of flesh!” Zhou Xu gasped.
He wasn’t actually much braver than Xia Qiao, but since there were a lot of other people present, he wasn’t afraid of Lu Wenjuan at all.
Lu Wenjuan was dumbfounded by him calling her “auntie.” After a few seconds of shock, she said, “Stop looking over there! If you don’t come in soon, those things are going to start growing! Hurry up and get inside!”
It would’ve been fine if she had just kept her mouth shut. Instead, Wen Shi and Xie Wen stopped in their tracks at the back of the group because of her prompting.
They weren’t the only ones who stopped. The Zhang siblings and Lao Mao also came to a halt as they stationed themselves in the doorway and began to wait.
Zhou Xu and Xia Qiao were quite timid, but at the same time, they couldn’t suppress their curiosity. They peered out from behind Lao Mao, who they were using as a barrier of defense.
“How long do we have to wait?” Xie Wen went so far as to glance back and ask Lu Wenjuan about the delay.
Until you die.
Lu Wenjuan cursed internally, on the verge of coughing up blood.
However, her face immediately paled a second later.
Because a certain odd creaking noise abruptly echoed through the seemingly abandoned village. The sound mingled with the hiss of the rain, giving rise to a clammy, eerie feeling.
Everyone instantly held their breaths and listened intently.
“Looks like it’s coming from over there.” Brows furrowed, Zhang Lan traced the source of the sound for a while before she pointed at the woods nearby.
But then she quickly refuted herself and said, “That’s not right, it’s over here.”
Her finger shifted a bit closer until it was directed at one of the small buildings across from them. After that, she kept listening and adjusting the direction of her finger, bit by bit…
When she finally stopped, she was pointing at the entrance of Lu Wenjuan’s house.
Everyone’s expressions had already changed by that point.
Those creaking noises couldn’t be obstructed any longer. Something seemed to be squirming in the ground beneath them, separated only by a thin crust of cement that it was attempting to break through.
At that exact moment, Zhou Xu suddenly heard a series of banging noises.
His mind tended to wander very easily, so his attention was promptly diverted. Looking around in search of the sound, he discovered an open door leading to a room on the eastern side of Lu Wenjuan’s house. The curtains in the room were also open, and from his angle, he could see someone standing outside the window.
The banging noise was most likely produced by that person.
The figure leaned towards the glass. Their pasty face was somewhat blurred by the condensation, and Zhou Xu could only sense the other person’s eyes shifting around, as if they were trying to see what was happening inside the house.
“Is that your neighbor? Do they need something from you?” Zhou Xu stared at the window and patted Lu Wenjuan.
Lu Wenjuan glanced over in confusion.
A moment later, the person outside the window abruptly opened their mouth.
That mouth was extremely large. As it opened, the entire upper half of that person’s head seemed to topple backwards.
“Fucking hell!!!” Zhou Xu swore.
Immediately after, a wave of dizziness crashed over him, as if something had sucked away a mouthful of his soul out of nowhere.
He braced his hand against the door frame and started to dry-heave.
Right before he doubled over, he saw countless cracks split apart the ground in front of the door. Black weeds pushed up through the crevices in tangled knots, only to be plastered wetly against the cement by the rain.
He retched quite a few times before he suddenly realized something: those weren’t weeds at all!
That was hair.
Hair was the first thing to grow out of the ground, followed by round, white faces and limbs.
The reason why he described it as “limbs” and not “arms and legs” was because those creatures seemed to resemble wild cats, feral dogs, or spiders that were missing a few legs—the sole exception being their human-like faces.
They crouched against the ground. Whenever they moved, all four of their limbs shifted at the same time, generating a soft rustling sound. If they pressed themselves against the wall and stood upright, they looked just like the “neighbor” that Zhou Xu saw earlier.
The instant Lu Wenjuan caught sight of those things, she leaped forward in fear and dragged Wen Shi and the others into the house, brooking no refusal. Then she closed the door tightly and drew the curtains shut in every room.
Through the door, they could hear the shuffling, crawling noises outside increase in number, growing louder and louder…
It was as if those things had sprouted up all over the village in no time at all, and they were now crawling everywhere.
But those noises didn’t last for very long. Scant minutes later, the entire village fell silent once more; at least, the only sound they could hear was that of the rain.
Flicking aside the curtain, Wen Shi glanced outside and discovered that it now looked exactly the same as the interior of the house. Just like when he opened the door in the middle of the night, everything outside had become a dead zone again.
It wasn’t just Lu Wenjuan who didn’t want to go out. None of them could anymore.
“What were those things just now?” Xia Qiao recovered from his shock. After thinking back on the creatures, he said, “Why do I feel like I’ve seen them before?”
Lu Wenjuan said faintly, “Those were evil spirits.”
To Wen Shi, that particular phrase truly carried a bit of a different connotation. His fingers twitched briefly against the curtains, and he turned to cast a look at Lu Wenjuan.
Then he heard Xie Wen say evenly, “Incorrect. Those were huigu.”
“Huigu?” The word sounded a little familiar to Xia Qiao, but he couldn’t recall it immediately.
Fortunately, Wen Shi reminded him. “You’ve seen them before.”
Xia Qiao finally remembered everything. The first night after Wen Shi arrived at the Shen home, those three funeral musicians had transformed into creatures called “huigu.” But he never saw them again after that, so he forgot about their existence.
However, he did recall Wen Shi telling him that those creatures crawled out of the ground.
“Filthy things.” Zhang Yalin explained with considerable disgust, “According to the books, the more resentful and malevolent energy a place has, the easier it is for those things to come into existence. So in large cage vortices or even more troublesome places, a few to several dozen of those creatures will sometimes appear. Even if you kill them, more will show up. They can never be eradicated completely.”
“That’s not totally fair. They’re indeed unclean creatures at their core, but they can still occasionally be put to proper use.” Zhang Lan added, “Look how good they are at finding people or objects. Of course, that’s with the precondition that they must not harm anyone.”
Zhang Yalin’s expression indicated that he didn’t really agree with her, but since she was his older sister, he didn’t argue back.
Moreover, it was true that many panguan these days didn’t kill huigu immediately upon capture, excluding people like him who were relatively old-school. The huigu had an innate tendency to steal and consume souls and spiritual items, and some panguan would utilize that nature to search for cages or help out with other tasks. Before this could lead to any danger, the panguan would dispose of the huigu or sell them off to spiritual item stores.
As long as they had a certain amount of control over the creature, it wasn’t a big problem.
But Zhang Yalin was never able to accept it; perhaps he was just a bit too fastidious.
Xia Qiao didn’t think much of the siblings’ disagreement. His only opinion was that the huigu made him feel very uneasy. Two or three of them were okay, but his scalp prickled if there were any more than that.
As for the situation outside earlier, that wasn’t just a couple hundred huigu… The entire village was filled with them.
“If that’s the case, isn’t this village even worse than a cage vortex?” Xia Qiao mumbled.
“Correct. That’s why this cage really is a bit abnormal.” As Zhang Lan helped the reeling Zhou Xu over to the sofa and laid him down, she couldn’t help but murmur, “An ordinary person’s cage would hardly look like this…”
Although this haughty woman was a seasoned veteran, she was also direct and straightforward, and she wouldn’t deliberately downplay something troublesome for the sake of making herself seem superior.
Zhang Yalin stole a basin from the kitchen and stuffed it into Zhou Xu’s lap. Then he sat down on the nearby couch and pointed at the basin as he said courteously, “Vomit at that, not me.”
Zhou Xu had been retching for ages now, but nothing was coming out. He panted for a while like a puppy, hugging the basin in his arms. Weak but still stubbornly insistent on saving face, he said, “I was sick before coming here, or else I wouldn’t be like this.”
Nobody else in the room had reacted as strongly as he had. Even Xia Qiao, who was even more cowardly than a chicken, was still standing just fine.
“Oh forget it, you’d be like this even if you weren’t sick.” Great Lady Zhang hit him with a roast before she stroked his hair and said, “Ah, it’s my fault. I should’ve gone to Da Dong for something like entering a cage. I shouldn’t have dragged you out here—”
Zhang Yalin forcefully cleared his throat and shot a glance at Wen Shi’s back, reminding his sister to watch her words a little.
Zhang Lan swallowed down the words “to be a guide” and said instead, “Or maybe it’s Xiao Hei’s fault. If he didn’t divine such an awful fortune, I wouldn’t have—”
Zhang Yalin cleared his throat again, causing Her Great Ladyship to switch topics once more. She honed in on Zhou Xu and said, “Anyway, with your constitution, you should avoid entering cages whenever possible. Your soul isn’t as stable as everyone else’s, and it’s way too easy for something to go wrong. I don’t blame Biling-jie for keeping you from cages. Once we get out of here, I’ll have to take you over to her to apologize.”
Upon hearing that, Zhou Xu immediately jumped up. “My mom is exaggerating things! I’ve gone into three different cages recently, but aren’t I still perfectly healthy? Aunt Zhang, you can’t just use me and then—”
Zhang Yalin rolled his eyes and cleared his throat for the third time.
“You should stop doing that. It hurts the throat, and it doesn’t sound very pleasant.” As Xie Wen sat down in one of the armchairs, he pushed an empty cup towards Zhang Yalin and said, “You’d be better off pouring yourself some water.”
Zhang Yalin: “…”
He was more similar to a well-mannered young lady from an esteemed family than Zhang Lan was. Usually, he didn’t take a single step outside of the residence unless he was going to undo a cage, and he could count on one hand the number of times he’d come into contact with Xie Wen before this. In any case, he definitely didn’t have as much exposure to him as Great Lady Zhang did.
What few encounters they had were polite and distant. It was rare for them to interact so closely, yet this was the one time that the rug was pulled right out from under his feet.
However, Zhang Yalin was well-versed in the ways of the world, and he didn’t stumble that easily. He kept a straight face and elaborated, “It’s been quite hot and humid lately, so my sore throat came back.”
Next to the window, Wen Shi finally let the curtain fall back into place before he turned around and started walking towards the seating area. Without looking up, he said, “You’ve already chased the pigs, why bother with the sore throat.”
Zhang Yalin: “…”
If Xie Wen’s rug-pulling could be considered a careless tug at the rug’s corner, then this person came armed with explosives to blow the rug up entirely.
Xie Wen couldn’t help but laugh, most likely because Wen Shi was way too blunt about it. Then he averted his face and coughed quietly for a while.
The hell are you laughing at.
Wen Shi surveyed the room. The longest sofa was occupied by Zhang Lan, Zhou Xu, and Xia Qiao. Zhang Yalin was in one armchair, and Xie Wen was in the other one.
“I can let you have it?” Upon turning back, Xie Wen took one look at Wen Shi and knew what was going through his head.
But right as Xie Wen was about to stand up, Wen Shi declined his offer.
“Don’t,” he said lowly before he sat down on the armrest of Xie Wen’s chair.
The armrest was very wide, and it wasn’t particularly tall. It wasn’t unusual at all to treat it as a temporary seat. He originally wanted to ask the Zhang siblings why they were following them, but once he actually sat down, he felt like this position was a bit… ambiguous.
However, if he went back to standing, the implication of that was even more ambiguous.
And so, Wen Shi didn’t move. Instead, he tore at the puppet string twisted around his fingers.
It was obvious that Zhang Yalin was having an even harder time sitting still across from him. Most of the people that the siblings interacted with were the tactful type. Even if they tended to be more straightforward, they would show at least a little restraint in front of the siblings. It was truly rather rare to meet someone like Wen Shi.
After being embarrassed for quite a while, Zhang Yalin decided to just be honest. “It’s true that our methods were a bit presumptuous, but we were simply too curious.”
“Curious about what?” Wen Shi looked up, still tugging at his puppet string.
“Curious about why your name doesn’t show up on the name register mural, despite your impressive strength.” Zhang Yalin contemplated a bit and said, “Curious about where exactly a naturally gifted genius like you came from.”
Wen Shi: “…”
Because this person spoke too seriously, it seemed to add a twinge of envy to his words. Wen Shi wasn’t very accustomed to that, so he responded stiffly, “I’m not a naturally gifted genius. I’ve been doing this for many years.”
That wasn’t an untrue statement, so Wen Shi said it frankly and calmly.
“As for why my name isn’t on there.” Wen Shi frowned and said, “Go ask your mural that.”
He actually only threw the problem back at the other person because he couldn’t come up with an excuse, but Zhang Yalin was used to tactful gestures and hinting at what couldn’t be said. In his eyes, that brief frown seemed to contain dissatisfaction and resentment.
So he understood it to mean that this Shen disciple wasn’t purposefully trying to hide anything; instead, there really was something wrong with the mural.
Considering that the later revisions to the name register mural were designed by the Zhang family, Zhang Yalin was inexplicably a little at fault, and he unwittingly ended up in the more disadvantageous position.
“Oh right, about the puppet you released earlier. It seemed to resemble the Tengshe?” Zhang Yalin said.
He was still being very tactful by using the word “resemble,” but there was actually quite a difference between Wen Shi’s puppet and the Tengshe. For example, the Shen disciple’s Tengshe didn’t have wings or fire wreathed around its body. At best, its scales glowed a little red, like sparks that couldn’t ignite.
Most importantly—and Zhang Yalin saw it with his own eyes this time—there were chains wrapped around the snake; they were just far fewer in number compared to the amount most puppet masters needed.
That was already extremely, extremely impressive, and it was true that this Shen disciple could be ranked first or second among all the people Zhang Yalin had ever encountered in his life.
No wonder the Shen family’s line could leap straight to the top and sit right next to his line like that.
However, the disciple still fell far short compared to the person who actually once commanded the Tengshe.
Under the influence of rose-colored glasses eight kilometers thick and a bit of rationality, Zhang Yalin observed a night and day difference between his idol and the eldest Shen disciple.
“This is something I don’t mind admitting. A few days ago, when I heard Da Dong and Xiao Xu describe your puppet, I was subconsciously reminded of someone else.”
In order to ease the awkwardness stemming from their previous conversation, Zhang Yalin decided to explain his entire thought process from beginning to end. This way, he could also reduce some of the wariness surrounding Wen Shi and the others. “As someone who specializes in puppetry, you must know that the puppet our forebear used the most frequently back in the day was also the Tengshe.
“Of course, even though panguan cultivate lifespans that are slightly longer than average, they still can’t escape the cycle of life and death. That person can be considered one of our earliest ancestors, and just like the other forebears, he’s long since returned to the earth, his life an extinguished light.” Refined and courteous, Zhang Yalin said rather earnestly, “But perhaps you were one of his descendants or reincarnations.”
As an avid lover of gossip, Zhang Lan made a timely interjection. “Descendants? Did he even get married?”
Zhang Yalin was dumbstruck for a moment before he turned to look at his older sister. “Of course I know he didn’t have any children.
“When I thought about it later, I felt like my initial reaction was a little ridiculous.” Zhang Yalin turned back to Wen Shi and said, “However, considering how powerful you are, my sister and I couldn’t help but want to see it for ourselves. I heard my sister say that there was a bit of a misunderstanding between you two, so we wanted to use this opportunity to get in touch with you. Certainly, it’d be wonderful if we could gain a friend from this.”
Probably for the sake of making friends, Zhang Yalin chose the most conservative point of entry: shared interests—
With that Tengshe in mind, he asked Wen Shi, “So do you also admire that forebear greatly?”
There was something very mystical about the word “also.”
Great Lady Zhang was accustomed to undermining her little brother, so she added something that was even more mystical, “To the point where you keep and treasure some items that used to belong to that naturally gifted genius of a forebear. Or to the point where you light incense for him every morning and night as a way to pay respects, and you insist on bringing all those belongings with you every time you leave home.”
Wen Shi was rendered speechless upon hearing that.
Meanwhile, Xie Wen suddenly said, “I’m quite curious. What items belonging to that… naturally gifted genius of an ancestor do you keep and treasure?”
Even though calling Wen Shi “forebear” to his face truly wasn’t very appropriate, considering his youthful appearance, changing the form of address to “ancestor”1 seemed to imply something a little different.
Especially coming from Xie Wen’s mouth…
Wen Shi kneaded his earlobe.
Then he heard Zhang Lan continue to betray her little brother. “Withered branches, cotton thread, a finger.”
Wen Shi: “…”
He silently shot a glance at his fingers. Finally, he couldn’t take it any longer, and he said to Zhang Yalin, “Do you have a grudge against him?”
- Forebear vs ancestor: so forebear was 老祖 (laozu) – literally “old ancestor,” hence why it isn’t very appropriate to call WS that. Instead, XW uses 祖宗 (zuzong) which also has a double meaning these days – if someone isn’t easy to deal with/you have to baby them, you can call them 祖宗/ancestor (ironically). For this chapter I translated laozu as forebear because of the added zuzong layer, but going forward I will likely translate laozu as ancestor, unless it’s a direct form of address. ^
8 thoughts on “PG Chapter 66: Honest discussion”
“Do you have a grudge against him?”
hahaha poor Zhang Yalin, so misunderstood by his idol 🙂
thanks for the chapter!
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Pfffff the ancestor is right before you!
I love this chapter (well,I love everything about the novel )I can not wait to the next chapter
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thank you for the translation, just finished binge-reading it! looking forward to the continuation!
thank you for the amazing translation .
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Thank you for the chapter!
Thank you for the chapter!
poor wen shi, getting called old AND difficult to his face. thank you for translating!