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Arc Five: Grave of the Common Folk
Everyone knew that spiritual creatures possessed extremely keen senses. They could see and smell things that ordinary people couldn’t.
By the time the twelve array spirits knelt down, Zhang Lan actually already understood what was going on.
She knew that the array spirits had undoubtedly caught the scent of a familiar soul, and from there, they had identified a certain someone.
However, that was still hard to believe.
From beginning to end, none of it felt real to her. Someone must’ve used the array to fabricate an exceedingly realistic hallucination, all for the purpose of playing a massive joke on them.
She even felt the urge to touch the spirits, to test their authenticity…
And so Her Great Ladyship really did touch one of them.
Immediately after, vibrations seemed to reverberate through her mind, as if someone had struck an ancient bell with a heavy piece of wood. With a dong, both her consciousness and soul trembled—
The array spirit was entirely oblivious to her touch. Like the others, it leaned forward in a deep kneeled bow, one of antiquity’s greatest displays of respect. Their voices were akin to a distant wind traversing through the mountain’s forests and caves for the sake of coaxing a millennia-old xun1 into song.
“This servant conveys its master’s will to stand guard over Mount Songyun. After an eager wait a thousand years hence, at long last does the array gate see an opening. On this day, as evinced by our undyed garb and solemn ceremony, do we welcome all old friends back home.”
The moment the spirits finished their recitation, rocky terrain and vegetation scattered through the air.
As the barrier disintegrated and crumbled into pieces, the entire landscape started to reorganize itself, swirling around the twelve array spirits. Gradually, it reassembled into something completely different to behold.
A huge boulder slammed into the ground, accompanied by a thunderous boom…
And Zhang Lan fell to her knees with a thud.
Xia Qiao was still dumbfounded by everything going on, so he was given quite a scare when Zhang Lan kneeled.
In comparison, her younger brother Zhang Yalin seemed to be much better off. Even though his expression was one of stunned fear—as if he was currently experiencing a world-shaking dream—at least he was still standing perfectly upright. At a time like this, that was more or less enough to save half of the Zhang family’s reputation.
The array spirits were as tall as mountains. In a circle like this, the pressure of their aura was too great to bear, to the extent that the average person would find it impossible to withstand. Even Xia Qiao felt his scalp prickle as his legs went weak.
At first, he didn’t have the guts to say anything, but after shooting Zhang Lan numerous looks, he couldn’t help himself. He did, however, keep his voice extremely quiet, lest he disturb the array spirits. “Jie, what are you doing?”
Zhang Lan’s voice was even softer than his, as if she was talking in her sleep. “I’m fine. I’m just kneeling because I got tired of standing.”
Xia Qiao: “…”
Zhang Lan continued murmuring, “And don’t call me jie, that makes me afraid.”
Xia Qiao: “?”
Zhang Lan closed her eyes briefly before she grabbed onto his hand. As her long nails essentially dug into his flesh, she asked faintly, “Tell me the truth. What exactly is your ge’s surname…”
At this point, her question didn’t really mean much anymore, but she seemed to be seeking the final blow.
Xia Qiao glanced at Wen Shi several times. After hesitating for a few seconds, he landed the blow right on the crown of her head. “It’s Wen.”
Zhang Lan went silent for a second before she turned around and grabbed onto her little brother’s hand. “Did you hear that? His surname is Wen…”
As she spoke, she tugged at her brother’s hand and shook him a bit. Zhang Yalin, who was staring unwaveringly in Wen Shi’s direction, responded calmly, “I heard.”
His perfectly upright body swayed a little. Immediately after, his knees gave out, and he also went down with a thud.
Xia Qiao: “…”
The puppet master was already kneeling, so naturally, Xiao Hei was duty-bound to do the same: he kneeled firmly and bowed deeply forward. The same process ensued with the other three puppets Zhang Yalin had released earlier…
This bow went down the line like a row of dominoes toppling over before it swiveled around and reversed all the way back to Xia Qiao.
Peering around him, Xiao Qiao discovered that nobody in his vicinity was standing anymore. After a few seconds of hesitant deliberation, he decided to conform with everyone else.
Lao Mao had a strange feeling upon hearing all the commotion. He turned his head, only to see that everyone behind him was now kneeling on the ground, including that fool Xia Qiao.
Initially, he felt deeply moved when he heard the words “Mount Songyun,” and there was even some heat welling up in his eyes. But that vanished completely because of the thuds coming from this group of idiotic descendants.
He surveyed the group, hands braced against his waist. In the end, he couldn’t stop himself from pointing at Zhang Yalin’s neck and saying meaningfully, “Your amulet is out.”
Zhang Yalin’s mind was still wandering far away, and it took him quite a few seconds before he looked down—
A long black cord was strung around his neck, the ends of which were tied into a deft knot. Something was hanging from the knot: an alternative name for it was an “amulet,” but it was originally known as…
Wen Shi’s finger bone.
Not too long ago, he had just meticulously described the manner in which he viewed that bone.
To Wen Shi himself.
Zhang Yalin: “…”
For a few short seconds, he felt as if he had already passed away.
Despite facing death, he managed to preserve his decorum. With a thoroughly flushed face, he stuffed the “amulet” expressionlessly under the collar of his shirt and covered it up securely. Then, he retorted to Lao Mao out of instinct, “His surname is Wen—do you know who that means he is? Are you sure that you and your boss want to stay standing?”
Lao Mao: “…”
He stood there for a long moment with a complicated expression on his face before he responded, “I think it’s best if my boss doesn’t kneel, or else the aftermath is going to be a bit hard to handle.”
Before Zhang Yalin and the others could fully process what he meant by that, large slabs of rock were stacked around them in a deafening rumble of noise, after which the dust slowly settled.
Their surroundings had been transformed into that of a cavern, and the ancient village, encircled by the wooden fence, was nowhere to be found. All they could hear was the gurgle of running water; it wasn’t clear where the water was coming from or going to, but it nevertheless flowed through the space.
The ceiling of the cavern wasn’t completely solid. It contained holes of varying sizes, which were connected by long and straight grooves. At first glance, the formation seemed to be naturally formed, but when the light of the sun or moon trickled down through the holes at clearly defined distances, the truth was clearly unveiled—the entire ceiling was a complex map of the stars.
Meanwhile, crevices crisscrossed neatly and uniformly across the floor of the cave like a square checkerboard.
Wen Shi was once very familiar with this place. It was an extremely hidden cavern located on the side of Mount Songyun that faced away from the sun.
Bu Ning had discovered it before he was even ten years old, and from then on, he had treated it as his hideaway. When he wasn’t training, he was fond of coming to the cave to meditate and ruminate. He would gaze up at the holes dotting the ceiling, like stars filling a vast sky, and sit there for long stretches of time.
He would occasionally drag Wen Shi, Zhong Si, or Zhuang Ye over as well. Pointing at the ceiling or the floor, he would attempt to explain some things to them, but he could never articulate it very clearly.
As he grew older, he eventually stopped doing that kind of thing—for the most part.
There was one exception. After listening to the sound of flowing water and sitting in the lotus position for quite some time, he suddenly said to Wen Shi, “Shifu frequently says that he is not skilled in divination, that he lacks the necessary innate spiritual meridians, which is why he never divines anything. However, I feel that this is not actually true. I often get the sense that shifu is capable of foretelling certain events as long as he wishes to do so, but he closed off the spiritual meridian of his accord.”
Bu Ning and the others rarely speculated rashly about Chen Budao behind his back, not even about the most trivial of matters. If such a topic was brought up every now and then, they wouldn’t discuss it too deeply, or else they would start to feel a little nervous, as if they had committed some sort of offensive wrongdoing.
Wen Shi was well aware of that, so he simply listened to what Bu Ning had to say and didn’t question it any further. Instead, he said, “What about you?”
Bu Ning: “Me?”
Wen Shi: “How much have you foretold?”
Bu Ning: “Not too much.”
He went silent for a long moment. Then he said, “A mere drop in the ocean.”
The cavern was empty until Bu Ning eventually placed a table in it. He would hunch over it at times, scribbling and sketching things that no one else could understand.
Back in the present, the table was nowhere to be found, but some other items had taken its place—
A yin-yang symbol was sketched across the checkerboard embedded in the floor. On top of the symbol sat two silhouettes covered in white hemp cloth, one on each side, back-to-back; judging from their outlines, they seemed to be two life-size statues. Cobwebs clung to the cloth draped over them.
The two statues were surrounded by nearly a hundred round stones that had been separated into several piles and placed on points of intersection. On top of that, there were also five individual stones scattered in various positions. Those stones were carved with densely packed runes.
Five portraits were hung up on the rocky wall that the five stones were pointed at. Unlike the cobwebbed hemp cloth, the portraits were still flawlessly pristine, even after spending a thousand years in a damp cavern that rarely saw the light of day.
Zhuang Ye and Zhong Si were on the right, and Bu Ning and Wen Shi were on the left.
There was also a portrait in the very middle. The figure in it wore a snow-white inner robe and a scarlet outer robe, along with an intricate antiquated mask that was half-deity, half-demon; half-good, half-evil; half-alive, half-dead, symbolizing the complex mortal realm.
Zhang Lan and the others knelt amidst the portraits, in front of the yin-yang symbol and the two statues swathed in white cloth.
When they saw the central portrait, they were suddenly rendered speechless.
As far as they could remember, none of the rumors they heard or books they read growing up contained a visual description or illustration of Chen Budao. He was said to be reclusive and arrogant, condescending and unapproachable, so much so that he considered it beneath him to reveal his true appearance. Since he always wore a mask whenever he left the mountain, not even the outer disciples knew what he looked like.
It was said that he entered and undid cages—cultivating the resentments and grievances in the mortal world—purely for the sake of advancing his half-immortal vessel. In order to achieve that, he would often do things that exceeded the limits of what he could bear, which was why he ultimately met such an ignoble end.
It was said that at the end of it all, he was shrouded in karmic debt and boundless malevolent energy, far more than what other people could suppress. Almost every single living creature that drew near him or touched him would either shrivel into bones, their spiritual consciousness completely drained, or find themselves also filled with malevolent energy, contaminated by the corrosion.
It was extremely easy for such a high concentration of malevolent energy to stir up the darkness in someone’s heart, making them susceptible to impulsivity, anger, desire, and envy. Even Chen Budao himself couldn’t subdue all the energy, turning him into something akin to a ghost or a demon. The plant life withered everywhere he went; despite involving and harming countless people, he didn’t restrain it in the slightest.
It was said that his direct disciples depleted all of their spiritual energy when they sealed him away, and that their own defenses were nearly breached in the process. In the end, it was only because of the combined effort brought forth by the outer disciples—spearheaded by the Zhang family—that the seal was fully activated.
Not long after, those renowned and illustrious direct disciples disappeared in quick succession and became nothing more than names mentioned in anecdotes from the past. In Bu Ning’s case, there wasn’t even a disciple who could directly succeed him.
All of it could be attributed to Chen Budao.
That was why… the version of Chen Budao known by the descendants didn’t have a portrait, and it was also why his name was never brought up.
Everyone steered clear of him, while simultaneously fearing him.
They never could’ve imagined that Chen Budao’s portrait would look like this in Bu Ning’s ancient, millennium-old array, in the cavern that a direct disciple had concealed and hid away. Even that half-deity and half-demon mask exuded a sort of noble and unsullied aura, akin to moonlight shining brightly on the peak of a cold mountain.
As Zhang Lan and the others were trapped in a state of dumbfounded shock, the twelve kneeling array spirits stood up. Their broad sleeves swept past like the mountain mist, stirring up a wind of unknown origin.
The breeze seemed to have a mind of its own, and it flicked up the portraits on the stone wall.
Any panguan who had been in a cage core before knew that portraits were extremely sensitive to things of a spiritual nature.
Zhang Lan and the rest watched as Wen Shi’s portrait abruptly dropped from the wall. Buoyed by the wind, it descended at an angle and just happened to arrive in front of Wen Shi.
He reached out and caught the scroll.
When the portrait fell into his hand, spiritual flames ignited from the bottom of the scroll and scorched a path upwards.
They saw a reflection from a thousand years ago wash over him: his hair was bound, and he was wearing a long robe that resembled frost and snow. A tiny pendant hung from his waist, adorned with a blue rope and tassel.
They saw long string wrapped like silk around his fingers—like intertwined bonds, neat yet tangled. They saw a hawk-like bird perched on his shoulder, and a withered tree at his side that sprouted fresh buds, which then bloomed into white plum blossoms.
This was drawn from the array master’s lingering memories, the fragmented images left behind in the array. It contained the mountain’s endless cycle of time, all the days and all the seasons.
Zhang Lan and Zhang Yalin were at a loss for words upon witnessing the reflection. It was only after the scroll had burned fully into ashes that they realized they had forgotten to breathe.
Right as they were about to exhale lightly, another portrait shifted on the wall.
Their eyes widened. This time, they kept silent out of trepidation.
Because the portrait swept down by the wind was Chen Budao’s.
The portraits were spiritual in nature, and they were originally hung up in the array to act as substitutes. The scrolls would only fall and self-ignite if the array was destroyed, or if the person the portrait was substituting for arrived in the cavern; it indicated the portrait’s return to its original owner.
Even though the Zhang siblings had never specialized in arrays, they could still more or less understand what was going on.
And it was precisely because they could understand it that they were so stunned and alarmed.
Chen Budao was here.
The founder himself, the one that none of the descendants wanted to—or dared to—bring up, was here.
That realization made the Zhang siblings’ blood run cold and their scalps prickle.
If the eldest Shen disciple was Wen Shi, then who was Chen Budao?
Out of the people here, who could possibly be the figure that they all avoided and feared…
Zhang Yalin’s head whipped around with so much force that the bones in his neck cracked almost audibly.
He had most likely never revealed such an astonished expression before in his life, as he stared unwaveringly at the person standing next to Wen Shi.
Zhang Lan was a bit slower than him. By the time she looked over, her eyes were no longer filled with shock—instead, they brimmed with terror.
All of a sudden, it dawned on her that when the twelve array spirits were prostrating themselves earlier, they were in no way bowing solely to Wen Shi. They were also paying their respects to the person at his side.
While she stared at Xie Wen like she was meeting him for the very first time, the portrait floated down at a slant and headed straight for him.
Standing amidst the mountain wind, he was just as calm and composed as he always was.
He watched as the portrait approached him. After a beat of silence, he extended his hand and caught it.
Sparks flickered to life at the bottom of the scroll and crawled upwards in uneven flames.
Under the influence of the array, a reflection from the past was draped around him in the form of a long snow-white robe and a scarlet outer robe. Simply standing there was enough to make him seem remarkably tall and poised, as if there was a vast sea of stars above his head and a bottomless icy chasm beneath his feet.
The Golden-Winged Dapeng’s clear cry rang out behind him, piercing through heaven and earth.
The scene did indeed resemble bright moonlight illuminating a mountain of pine.
But the Zhang siblings were on the verge of death.
By nature, puppets tended to yield to those who were more powerful, so when the Golden-Winged Dapeng’s cry reverberated through the mountain, Zhang Yalin’s four puppets bowed fully forward.
This time, their master didn’t question anything, because he was as ashen as a corpse.
Yet the heavens still didn’t relinquish their hold on the siblings. While the Zhang siblings’ psyches crumbled, a third portrait dropped from the wall.
It was Bu Ning himself this time.
The scroll drifted down lightly, but it didn’t head for anyone in the cavern. Instead, it landed right next to the statues covered in white hemp cloth.
Zhang Lan’s mind was utterly empty. Almost mechanically, her eyes shifted towards the figures.
The wind created by the array spirits grew a little stronger. As it flowed through the cavern, it dispersed the entanglement of cobwebs and tugged away the cloths covering the statues.
At this point, they finally realized something: only the cloth on the left had a stone statue underneath it. On the right… there was a person sitting cross-legged, head lowered, back-to-back with the stone statue.
A living person.
Zhang Lan and Zhang Yalin stared rigidly at the person’s profile, their eyes completely blank.
Something imploded abruptly in their already vacant minds, leaving them scattered in a million shell-shocked pieces.
That person was none other than the one they had been searching for this entire time: Zhou Xu.
Then, Bu Ning’s portrait silently burned into ashes next to Zhou Xu’s feet.
It seemed like the heavens truly weren’t planning on letting the two siblings make it back alive.
Yan: Hehe some big reveals in this chapter (for the Zhang sibs lol). But also Bu Ning!?! Hopefully this isn’t too big of a cliffhanger, because I’m not sure when the next chapter will be out :’) I’m not going to be able to translate anything for at least ten days, but once I’m back… we’re going full steam ahead, I promise!!!!
9 thoughts on “PG Chapter 74: Three in a row”
Thank you for the chapter!
ALSO ZHOU XU IS BU NING, BU NING’S REINCARNATION, DESCENDANT?? I am shook!! Can’t wait to see how Wen Shi and Chen Budao also deal with this reveal of who they are!
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They know about each other and I’m quite sure they don’t care about what the rest of the people present think 🙂
But I guess Bu Ning’s presence might be a bit surprising even to our two protagonists!
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Thanks! Good luck with everything, I’ll wait patiently for the new chapter 🙂
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!!?? BU NING? HE’S THERE ALL ALONG??? THE REVEAL IN THIS CHAPTER ASDFGHJKL MUDAOLI NOT LETTING US GO IN PEACE–
Cough thank you for the update, stay safe and healthy! (人*´∀｀)｡*ﾟ+
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thank you for the update
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Thank you for the chapter! I was wondering where it was heading and what a great reveal, I love it!
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Woooow A real surprise without any previous clues!!!! Bu Ning!!!!
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This is awesome!! The reveal. The intricacies. omg!!!!
HELP BU NING BLOWING OFF EVERYONE’S COVER AND EVEN REVEALING ANOTHER PARTY 😭