Thanks to Lenette, Delana Siwarka, and Quairaus for the Ko-fis!
Arc Five: Grave of the Common Folk
Wen Shi saw many versions of himself.
He saw himself sitting amidst the lush branches of an aged tree, leaning against the trunk and reading a book with downcast eyes. The Golden-Winged Dapeng soared over from somewhere in the distance; as it approached the tree, it shrank until it was merely the size of a hawk and settled down on a cluster of branches and leaves. Only then did the person lounging in the tree look up from the pages of his book and gaze over from afar…
When did this scene take place?
After scouring through his memories, some of it finally came back to Wen Shi.
He had already been of age for quite a few years by then, and he had journeyed to many places in the world. Every once in a while, on the occasions that he passed by Mount Songyun—either intentionally or unintentionally—he would always have the urge to go up and visit, to see the person who lived on the mountain.
In those days, he was often filled with derision. Someone had clearly once told him that the mountain would always be a home for him, yet every time he returned “home” later on, he would unfailingly have to conjure up some sort of excuse for himself.
That time, he wanted to say that he had encountered a few thorny situations, so he had come back to conduct some research. But it was only after he made it up the mountain that he realized—the person he was there to see wasn’t even present.
He was a little disappointed, but he also didn’t want to leave immediately. As a result, he decided to take his book and leap onto one of the higher branches in the tree. Once he found a suitable place to settle down, he started to flip through his book while listening to the long-awaited sound of the wind blowing across the mountain.
He finished reading through the entire book in the tree before he finally looked up and discovered that there was someone standing on the path.
That person always moved about noiselessly; Wen Shi had no idea how long he had been standing there.
The other person walked towards him with a smile. Coming to a halt underneath the tree, he flicked his gaze up at Wen Shi and said, “Why are you nestled here to read? Take care not to be mistaken for a pile of snow, lest someone sweeps you away.”
Wen Shi should’ve been happy, since it had been too long since he last saw the other person. But in the end, he seemed to have only responded with a brief: “Why would there be snow in June.”
That was truly a moment that took place much too long ago, something ordinary and trifling. There wasn’t anything notably special about it, and even he had almost forgotten it entirely. Yet, unexpectedly, the other person still remembered.
The person who he thought would be the least likely to remember that moment… actually remembered every detail of it.
At that instant, he couldn’t even figure out why the other person still remembered that particular moment in the first place.
He also saw himself standing amidst the aftermath of devastation, among piles of corpses and pools of blood. Controlling countless intertwined strands of puppet string and twelve giant, world-shaking puppets, he shifted his eyes and glanced over—
He saw himself standing at the summit of the mountain, the wind a boundless sigh through the pine. Under a river of stars, he lifted a pot of resinated wine and handed it over—
He saw himself standing next to a white plum tree. For a second, his face was drawn rather tight and expressionless, but a beat later, a breeze swept a spray of flowers in his direction. As he averted his head, a smile suddenly bloomed across his face.
But most of the figures consisted of distant silhouettes glimpsed from the side or behind.
Walking on quiet, tranquil stone-paved paths; walking through mountains, fields, or villages. Passing through lively, bustling crowds; passing through dark, narrow corridors… Then, the figures would turn the corner and vanish altogether.
Wen Shi stared blankly at the figures. It felt as if he was watching scene after scene of a silent show that was familiar yet foreign.
He never knew…
That Chen Budao had actually sent him off so many times from afar.
All he knew was that every time he left the mountain, the other person would simply lean next to the door and watch him walk past the first curve in the path before turning around and going back inside. That person never even had any words of farewell to say…
Except for one time.
There was only one time…
That person said to him, “Don’t look back…”
At that moment, the memories that had been long buried in the deepest parts of his mind suddenly started to shake free. Perhaps it was a result of the illusory heart demons, or perhaps it was because he could clearly sense that the other person’s spiritual consciousness was beginning to dissipate.
Extinguishing bit by bit, like a flame that had run out of lamp oil.
He had tried his best to summon those memories numerous times in the past, but he was never able to recall the exact origin of those words. Yet it was precisely at this instant that he finally remembered some fragments from that day—
The giant sealing array was entering its final stages.
All the plant life within eight hundred li had been obliterated, and monsters ran rampant.
Under the influence of the array, the hundreds upon thousands of grievances and obsessions sustained within those worldly bonds were transformed into abominable evil spirits that shrieked and tore things apart.
Every living being and soul that entered the array was instantaneously ripped to shreds and turned into ashes.
He remembered that his mouth was filled with blood, and that his body was also coated in it.
Twelve enormous puppets let out long cries amidst the raging flames of a devastating inferno before they splintered into fragments lined with fire. The fragments drifted down, large and small, like a torrential rainstorm that scalded the heart with agony.
Even so, he tightened his grip on his puppet string, wanting to make his way to the center of the array.
He finally forced his way through it all. Staggering and on the verge of collapse, he grabbed ahold of the person in the middle of the array, only for the hand in his palm to transform into a white plum branch.
Even at the very end, even with millions of “evil spirits” feasting on spiritual essence and flesh—even when there wasn’t much that person could do to save his own life, he still crafted a calculated illusion…
To trick Wen Shi into leaving.
The path he forged was the way out of the array.
The person he wanted to keep here was left far behind him.
In that moment, all those mournful, shrill, hysterical voices were scooped into a whirlwind that was then muffled by the array. The light from the exit glimmered in front of him…
He felt someone touch the back of his head and gently push him a step forward. Almost coaxingly, that person said, “Don’t look back…”
Chen Budao said: Wen Shi, don’t look back… I’ll watch you go.
That name was personally chosen by Chen Budao, but in this lifetime, he had only ever earnestly uttered it aloud that one time.
And henceforth, never again.
The absolute despair in the memory induced a wave of heartrending anguish. It felt almost as if it was being carved into Wen Shi’s very bones—stroke by stroke—with the sharpest of blades, and it overlapped with everything else occurring at that instant.
However, upon looking up, all he could see was a world filled with himself.
The illusion produced by the heart demons grew clearer and clearer, sharper and sharper. At the same time, Wen Shi could sense that person growing weaker and weaker, but he was still wholly unable to see him.
He abruptly seized the puppet string wrapped around his body. Immediately after, he sliced open a line on his palm with it.
Accompanied by a searing stab of pain, the puppet string in his grip was slowly dyed red. Drops of blood beaded together on the string and slid down its length…
When the droplets reached a certain point on the string, the entire illusion shuddered.
Layer upon layer, the phantasms increased in number. Beyond the towering mountains were even more mountains; beyond the overgrown plains were even more plains. In a flash, their surroundings grew bleak and still.
And there Xie Wen stood amidst that desolate expanse, completely and utterly alone.
Snow-white cotton thread clung to his fingers and snaked away from him in strands that spoke of attachments, binding him to another person.
From start to finish, the figures brought to life by the heart demons continued to surround him, sometimes near and sometimes far. Some spoke to him, while others smiled elusively.
To tell the truth, he was actually quite clear-headed, and he knew that none of them were real.
That was why he only ever listened to them without responding.
He listened to that person’s bold defiance, and the way he would never call him “shifu.” Instead, that person would always call him directly by his name: Chen Budao, Chen Budao, Chen Budao…
And also, Xie Wen.
Xie Wen was the name from his youth. That was a period of his life that had almost been lost to time, so long ago it was that—for a while—even he couldn’t really remember it too well anymore. On one particular day, he left the mountain to take care of some business. Even though there were isolated mountain paths that he could’ve taken, he made an exception and chose to remove his mask and travel through the city streets instead. Perhaps it was fate, or perhaps it was just a coincidence: either way, he encountered Wen Shi.
By then, Wen Shi was often traveling about, and he seldom returned to Mount Songyun anymore.
Such chance encounters between master and disciple in the mundane world were rare indeed. As a result, they journeyed together for over a fortnight, undoing cages of varying sizes along the way, occasionally lingering in a few cities or towns to rest.
Lao Mao wasn’t with them at the time. On the other hand, Da Zhao and Xiao Zhao had kicked up a fuss about wanting to leave the mountain to stroll around. The two girls were filled with curiosity everywhere they went, so they weren’t constantly by their master’s side. But when the sun started to set, they would always imitate the common people and kindle a fire so they could cook up some food while waiting for the other two people to return.
On one such evening, rose-tinted clouds drifted over the mountains and fields as smoke from cooking fires spiraled into the air. The entire city brimmed with the hustle and bustle of mundane life.
While walking down a side street, they heard a woman call out a few times, hands braced against a window frame. Afterwards, a few children shouted in reply and scrambled past, chasing and wrestling one another.
Wen Shi took a step back to give the children some space. Watching as they disappeared into the distance, he suddenly asked, “What is your original name?”
His question was actually somewhat impertinent. Typically, a disciple would never ask what their master used to be called; after all, that pertained to his private, secular life from days past.
In reality, he knew why Wen Shi was so frequently evasive—why, despite clearly wanting to return to Mount Songyun, Wen Shi would nevertheless pass it by in a hurry and vanish into the mundane world all by himself.
Chen Budao was often watching from the mountain, and he had seen it happen time and time again.
He shouldn’t have said anything more regarding the subject, but perhaps he was influenced by the bustling mortal world around them. After thinking back on it for quite some time, he told Wen Shi that his original name was Xie Wen. He had lived in Qiantang in his youth, and he had grown up in the lap of luxury, so he never did any physical labor and was rather ignorant when it came to common knowledge. Nowadays, some might even refer to him as a “spoiled young master.”
However, Wen Shi never did end up calling him by his secular name, not even at the very end of it all.
Instead, it was always: Chen Budao, Chen Budao, Chen Budao…
He didn’t originally intend to look for anyone after returning to the world of the living. After all, right before his senses disappeared and his spiritual consciousness scattered under the grind of the giant sealing array, he had watched that clean, unsullied soul leave the array.
Throughout his life, he never went out of his way to divine anything, excluding a few inadvertent incidents that had occurred before he came of age. The human realm was so vast; there was much more freedom to be had if one did not concern themselves with such matters of life and death.
He had only ever made one exception: the instant he was about to fade away.
A certain someone was much too harsh on himself and also much too stubborn, so he truly couldn’t rest easy. Thus, before submitting to the nothingness, he glimpsed into the future and saw that there were traces of that person in the world a thousand years later.
He thought to himself, That person must’ve properly entered the cycle of reincarnation.
Everyone had their own destinies after reincarnating. Since he couldn’t stay for long, he had no intention of interfering, and he truly wasn’t planning on seeking the other person out at first. But in the end, when it came time to depart, he still couldn’t help but want to take a look at that person.
And with that one look, he was almost unable to leave altogether.
Nonetheless, he still had to depart; that fate had been predetermined a thousand years ago. There was a limit to his time here, and adding unnecessary memories into the mix would inflict no small amount of suffering.
He had taken care of everything that he was supposed to, and all the fragments of Wen Shi’s scattered soul had been recovered as well. The Soul Cleansing Array helped him absorb everything that was in Lake Qingxin, including the rest of Wen Shi’s lost soul.
Now all he had to do was unearth the part that belonged to Wen Shi from the endless ocean-like expanse of worldly bonds and transfer it over to him. With that, everything would be finished.
And from then on, they would never see each other again.
After absorbing the deluge of black mist, his spiritual consciousness began to grow weaker and weaker, and his physical vessel was also starting to reach its limits. The thin strands strung around Xie Wen’s wrist snapped abruptly, causing beads to tumble across the ground.
The Sanskrit circulating across his skin also began to tremble ceaselessly, and a few drops of blood seeped out from the space above his heart.
This was a puppet’s weakness: as soon as it suffered enough damage, it would start to wither.
The Golden-Winged Dapeng let out a long cry. Flames streamed forth from its body, spreading inward from the edges of its wings. Everywhere the flames passed, the flesh shriveled, like wood that was now petrified and decayed.
Xie Wen was also enduring the same process. It started from the fingertips of his left hand and spread upwards through his arm to his shoulder…
But because his white and red robes were long and loose, the process was somewhat concealed.
However, it was as if he couldn’t sense it happening at all. With his eyes still shut, he searched through the boundless swathe of worldly bonds for the one that belonged to Wen Shi.
Even at a time like this, even with half of his body in a state of withering and the taste of blood permeating his mouth, he continued to remain standing. He even remembered to cast a diversionary illusion over himself, one that separated him from everyone else, so as to prevent them from seeing his current state and being scared by it.
He was like a solitary, isolated tree whose branches had transformed from lush and teeming to bare and skeletal.
The signs of withering had already almost reached his neck.
Xie Wen finally found the soul hidden within the black mist, only to discover something unexpected…
The puppet he had released into this realm had roamed the world for quite a few days now. In total, there were only two locations that contained traces of Wen Shi’s soul: one was Shop Sanmi, and the other was this place.
Shop Sanmi’s was a fragment, which meant that no matter what, the majority of his soul should’ve been located here.
But the part that Xie Wen had just unearthed was still merely a fragment.
Where was the rest?
Xie Wen was taken aback for a moment before his eyebrows knitted together tightly, finally displaying a hint of consternation.
Closing his eyes again, he continued his search through the black mist.
He could sense his original spiritual consciousness fading slowly in the giant sealing array due to the unceasing transfer of black mist, like a flame that was about to be extinguished.
At the same time, he was also growing stiffer and stiffer. Just a little more, and he would transform entirely into deadwood.
Right as he was about to tug Wen Shi closer so that he could give him the located fragment first, he heard the Golden-Winged Dapeng—which had already petrified completely—suddenly let out a cry as a streak of golden light blazed anew across the edges of its wings.
Immediately after, he discovered that the signs of withering on his own body, which had crept past his neck, were unexpectedly beginning to seep away from his jaw bit by bit. Upon reaching his shoulders, the withering’s retreat came to a quiet halt.
This back-and-forth exchange repeated quite a few times.
That feeling of reaching the cusp of death and being dragged back to life again was rather unpleasant. It felt as if someone was repeatedly seizing his throat in an iron grip, inflicting scorching torment.
But Xie Wen didn’t even notice the pain.
As he stood there all alone, he sank into an unprecedented, stunned blankness.
Because he knew what this abnormal cycle of living and dying was—
This was a kind of tug-of-war. Every time his spiritual consciousness was about to flicker out, something would emerge to protect it, to prolong it, to maintain its existence in this world.
Maybe that protection wasn’t limited to that particular moment, or one or two days…
Maybe, it had kept him here for over a thousand years.
The instant that realization dawned over Xie Wen, he almost frantically grabbed onto the soul fragment buried in his vessel and attempted to delve into it.
His original intention was simply to test if a connection could be established between the soul fragment and the giant sealing array. But as soon as he delved into it, he was met with the simultaneous wailing of manifold ghosts and a familiar yet foreign scene…
It was the day he was sealed away.
Just like before, desolation reigned for eight hundred li, as monsters and demons seethed around him.
But this wasn’t a scene from his own memories; it was from Wen Shi’s…
He accidentally caught a glimpse of Wen Shi’s memories within the soul fragment. As a result, he came to know something that he had never known before—
He watched himself cast a deceptive illusion to trick Wen Shi into forging a path out of the array. Staggering and stumbling, Wen Shi made his way towards the exit.
He heard himself tell Wen Shi: Don’t look back…
Wen Shi, don’t look back… I’ll watch you go.
At the same moment, countless worldly bonds fused to form a devastating vortex of wind that then surged towards him. Together, they sank slowly into the dust.
He thought it had all ended there…
It was only today, at this exact instant, that he found out…
As he was sinking into his final resting place, dragging all of the black mist down with him—his senses a void and his spiritual consciousness scattered—the person he wholeheartedly believed to have already left the array, the person he couldn’t let go of even when he was about to depart… Amidst the violent gales stirred up by the black mist, that person gripped the illusory white plum branch and descended into hysteria.
He watched as Wen Shi stood up—covered in blood, eyes red through and through—and flung out a perfectly clean, unsullied puppet. The puppet exited the array in Wen Shi’s stead, diverting the attention away from him, after which he directed his fingers inward towards himself. The puppet string tangled around his hands shot out, each and every strand aimed at his own body.
He watched as Wen Shi nailed the puppet string strand by strand into his own flesh, head lowered, with the utmost tranquility and the utmost madness. Like hooks, each strand was affixed to Wen Shi’s soul.
A second later: a monumental outburst of force.
It was well-known that when a person suddenly encountered a serious illness, calamity, or reached the end of their lifespan, their soul would grow unstable, and their deepest, strongest grievances and attachments would take over, forming a cage.
If other living creatures were coincidentally nearby, it was easy for them to be swept in too.
Throughout his lifetime, Xie Wen had entered innumerable cages, and he had also undone innumerable cages. He had sent off countless people, and he had seen countless souls.
But this was his first time ever witnessing someone flay out their own soul, instantaneously forming a cage that pulled both him and the giant sealing array into its gravity.
It was a common rumor that cages created by particularly heavy grievances could stay in the world for a decade, or even a century.
So if the grievance was a little heavier, would the cage also be able to stay for a little longer?
When Wen Shi peeled out his soul, some fragments ended up ricocheting off. Those fragments then flowed out into the world, along with the bits of black mist that slipped through…
Henceforth, lingering and wandering for over a thousand years.
A thousand years…
Even a spirit transfer was agonizing beyond belief. What did flaying one’s soul feel like, then?
It was a feeling Xie Wen didn’t dare to imagine…
When clearly, he couldn’t even bear to see that person shed a single drop of blood.
He couldn’t even bear to see that person shed a single drop of blood, yet things had ended up like this.
For a second, he seemed to hear a laugh bubble out of the phantasmal person created by the heart demons. Then, in a raspy and muffled voice, that person said, “See, I also tricked you once.”
Xie Wen tilted his head back. A long moment passed before he finally opened his eyes.
Right as he extracted himself from the memories, Wen Shi broke through the diversionary illusion he had cast. Gripping the bloody puppet string tightly in his fists, Wen Shi staggered closer.
He could still only see whatever it was that Xie Wen saw, excluding Xie Wen himself.
As a result, his gaze traveled around aimlessly as if he had lost his sight, disoriented and uncertain where to focus.
Xie Wen’s throat bobbed once before he suddenly reached out and grabbed onto him.
Wen Shi startled briefly. Immediately after, he also grabbed onto Xie Wen.
His grip was extremely forceful, like he wanted to carve Xie Wen into his flesh and bones. As soon as he found him, he fell to his knees, as if he had finally lost the strength to support himself.
His head drooped forward, and his voice was so hoarse that it was almost inaudible. Only his lips were moving.
Xie Wen also knelt down with him, and he tilted his head closer to hear Wen Shi speak.
He heard Wen Shi say, low, raspy, and stubborn, “I remember now… I already remember. You can’t leave anymore.”
Xie Wen’s heart ached dearly for him.
“You can’t leave anymore,” Wen Shi said.
Xie Wen blinked and responded hoarsely, “Mn, I can’t leave anymore.”
Starting from a thousand years ago, from a moment he knew nothing of, they had already been entangled together. As long as one person was not yet dead, then the other person would not rest; he could never leave again.
Xie Wen nudged Wen Shi’s chin to make him lift his head a little. Lowly, he said, “One of your soul fragments is still with me. I’ll transfer it to you.”
As he spoke, he released the puppet string bound around Wen Shi.
Mixed with a mess of bloodstains, the long, thin strands of cotton thread tumbled to the ground, red intertwined with white.
Spirit transfers required the feeding of blood.
The signs of withering had yet to vanish completely from Xie Wen’s body. Since he was still half-petrified, his fingers resembled slim, eerily pale bones, and no blood could be produced from them at all.
He considered quite a few spots on his body, but he truly couldn’t find a place that could cleanly produce a drop of blood.
He let out a wry laugh that sounded closer to a sigh as he gently thumbed Wen Shi’s waxen, colorless lips with a bone-like finger. Eyes cast downward, he gazed at him quietly for a long moment before he bit down on the tip of his tongue. Tilting his head to the side, he leaned forward…
Just like the day the giant sealing array had been cast…
The center of the array was fraught with illusions and bleak wasteland. For eight hundred li, streams of blood snaked across a land overrun with deadwood.
He knelt amidst it all, and kissed the world of mortals.
The last line of this chapter is one of PG’s most iconic lines! “The world of mortals” is a metaphor here (see the end of chapter 79 and my T/N), and he is indeed kissing Wen Shi. >< Also linking (with permission) Ellie’s wonderful analysis of the kiss scene. Highly recommend reading it to get a deeper understanding of all the nuances in this line/kiss ^^
So sorry for how long this chapter took to come out 😦 Work gets really busy for me around this time of year, so updates might be really slow for another month. But no cliffhanger this time! Happy New Year everyone~
14 thoughts on “PG Chapter 80: To wither, to thrive”
Thank you and happy new year!
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Thank you for this chapter…
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The pining, the nostalgia, the sacrificial love… Wow, WHAT A DAMN RIDE. Shed tears but got my heart pieced back together in the end. I love them so much it aches esp. when they hurt.
The way Mu Su Li writes angst is incredibly poetic; every line lingers in the mind.
I’m so excited for the next chapters and also take your time! Thank you for this update. Your hardwork translating the novel is greatly appreciated ❤
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This chapter was beautiful as always!! I really love the way Mu Su Li writes, it’s so beautiful and deep,it makes you love the characters even more. Thank you so much for translating this,you don’t know how happy I was when I realize there was a new chapter!! I can not wait for the next chapter !!
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welp… never thought i would read the analysis of a scene outside of class but maaan this was so enlightening
also, thank you for translating! please take all the time you need~
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i am in pain because of this novel seriously. I binged all 80 chapters in two days and now i am devastated and i just need, really need to know what happens after this because im just so sad and i NEED THEM TO BE HAPPY 😭 MUSULI WHY ARE YOU STABBING MY HEART???
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Thank you for the update~
That last line was already beautiful but it was so much more impacting after reading the analysis.
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Beautiful chapter and beautiful translation! Thank you for sharing this! It really conveys the delicate nuance and emotional impact of this chapter.
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Thank u. 😭
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I think all the cages in previous arcs were somehow related to WS/CB but I can’t remember how the one in shop Sanmi was related
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Shop Sanmi contained a fragment of WS’ soul, but it was also related because Shen Qiao (Xia Qiao’s “grandfather,” WS’ disciple who guided him back at the very beginning) was the “young master” of the family that was killed. In other words, it’s related to Shen Qiao’s backstory, who was related to Wen Shi 🙂 hopefully this helps!
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and also seriously man the translator is just top notch! thank you so much for all your hard work it’s really really amazing im crying
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Thank you. Beautiful translation and great analysis made by Ellie 🙂 I am looking forward to learning more in next chapters.
Happy New Year!
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i’m still rather confused about what happened when chen budao was first sealed away… so wen shi peeled off his own soul and what? how did he manage to link himself to chen budao so that as long as one of them is alive, the other one can’t die either? and if the xie wen we’ve met so far is only a puppet, what happened to his real body?? can somebody explain pls i didn’t really understand 😅