PG Chapter 81: Awakening

Thank you to Anon for the Ko-fi!

Arc Five: Grave of the Common Folk

The soul fragment entered his body once more, and it was just as difficult to bear as the last time.

Similar to before, Wen Shi could sense that he was in a long, deep slumber, during which he ended up recalling many things in his dreams.

He dreamt of himself passing by the foot of Mount Songyun time and time again, though rarely did he ever actually make his way up the mountain. The village at the bottom was close to the main road, and there was a rest station nearby with hitching posts for horses and a stand that served tea and wine.

The elderly man who owned the stand was a very good person. He had a clear, bright laugh, and he could strike up a lengthy conversation with anyone—even someone like Wen Shi, who appeared frosty and glacial.

There was just one distinct characteristic about him: the old man was physically disabled.

Although a handful of ignorant people would often make fun of his ability to walk, the old man never grew irritated. Instead, he would simply laugh and brag about how his legs, even with their disability, had carried him faster than the wind the one time a large boulder came tumbling down while he was up on the mountain.

If Wen Shi happened to be present, he would freeze away those ill-mannered fools in no time at all, after which the old man would replenish Wen Shi’s tea with a chuckle and recount some interesting anecdotes from recent days.

Wen Shi could always catch a glimpse of Mount Songyun, along with the person who lived there, from those anecdotes.

Later on, after he lost both his soul and his memories—after he became nothing but an empty shell—he had subconsciously returned to Mount Songyun.

However, the mountain was nowhere to be found, and the village had also vanished. There was only a rest station standing solitary and alone next to the main road, with an expanse of untamed forest sprawling out behind it.

Wen Shi stood where the tea stand once sat and gazed at the overgrown woods, overcome with the feeling that this place was achingly familiar. Yet when he lifted his leg to take a step, he was at an utter loss as to where to go next.

He only snapped out of his daze when an almost feral, beggar-like child let out a soft noise nearby.

The child crawled out from the underbrush behind the rest station, gripping dry rations that had likely been sitting out for an indeterminable amount of time. He circled around Wen Shi a few times before he hesitantly broke off a small piece from his pitiful bar of rations and extended it towards him. “You can’t find your home anymore either?”

The little beggar said that his grandpa was physically disabled, and that he had a bad fall once when he was getting up in his years. Not long after that, he ended up passing away. The child was young and couldn’t remember how to get anywhere; no matter how long he wandered through the forest, he just couldn’t find his way back home. As a result, he turned into a child of the wilderness.

Eventually, that little beggar became Wen Shi’s disciple.

Quite a few different theories circulated amongst the later generations of panguan concerning this disciple. Some people claimed that he was the child of Wen Shi’s old friend and was appointed to become Wen Shi’s disciple the moment he was born. However, he had a rather misfortunate fate, as his master was lost to the giant sealing array shortly thereafter. Luckily, his innate talent was incredible, and he unexpectedly proved himself worthy of being called Wen Shi’s disciple. At the age of thirteen or fourteen, he finally appeared on the name register mural, thus singularly carrying on Wen Shi’s line.

That disciple’s temperament was completely different from Wen Shi’s. He was actually a bit similar to how Zhong Si was, back in those days; perhaps he had inherited the disposition from his grandfather.

Since it wasn’t easy to hold a conversation with Wen Shi, he would seek out as many other people to chat with as he possibly could. Afterwards, he asked Wen Shi: The honorable founder that everyone is so secretive about—what did he look like? Are there any portraits of him?

It was the end of summer, the beginning of autumn. The evening rain drummed unceasingly against the trees outside, a gentle murmur reminiscent of the patter of rain deep in the mountains.

Wen Shi lifted his brush and dipped it in ink. Standing in front of the desk, he stared at the swaying candle flame and thought for a long time, but he was wholly unable to recall what that person had looked like.

Despite his efforts, all he could remember was a blurry mask—half-benevolent and half-malicious, half-demon and half-immortal—along with long crimson robes and a branch of white plum blossoms.

After he finished piecing together his amalgamation of a portrait, he wanted to write down a name next to it, yet the first character to emerge from the tip of his brush was “Xie.”

His disciple was taken aback at the sight of it, and he asked Wen Shi why he had written that character.

Wen Shi had no answer. Instead, he continued to stand there, silent and a little lost.

A drop of ink pooled off his brush and landed with a splat on the character for “Xie.” In the blink of an eye, it all merged together into one wet puddle.

Wen Shi’s heart abruptly emptied, and it was at that moment that he woke with a start.

Before opening his eyes, he heard his disciple ask him from the lingering wisps of his dream: If it is such agony to traverse the Gate of Oblivion, what is the purpose of suffering so?

He replied: I lost something. Without it, I cannot be liberated.

The disciple asked: What is it that you lost?

He gazed down at his empty vessel. After a long moment of contemplation, he said: My soul.


As soon as Wen Shi opened his eyes, he was greeted by the sight of a wooden beam suspended high in the air, close to the ceiling. From smell alone, he could tell that it was made of pine.

Immediately after, he spotted a familiar branch, as well as the bird perch hanging from it.

There was nothing on the perch, and it swayed gently in the wind, as if a palm-sized Golden-Winged Dapeng had been perched on it mere moments earlier, before it had suddenly spread its wings and flown out the door.

This was… his room at the top of Mount Songyun.

He stared blankly at the swinging bird perch. For a brief moment, he had no idea what day or year it was.

Until a joyously surprised voice rang out next to him: “Ge, you’re awake?!”

That was Xia Qiao.

Wen Shi blinked once and came to his senses abruptly.

He pushed himself into a sitting position on the bed, and Xia Qiao hurried over to help. He also brought over a cup of tea, but Wen Shi lifted his hand and blocked it.

“Where are they?” Wen Shi’s voice was heavy and hoarse, and his question was a little nonsensical.

Xia Qiao was caught off guard, but before he could answer, someone else interjected first. “Shifu is in his own room next door. The withering is receding, but it is proceeding rather slowly, so he has yet to open his eyes.”

It was Bu Ning who spoke. He was still borrowing Zhou Xu’s body, but he was extremely well-acquainted with the ins and outs of Mount Songyun. With cloth wrapped around his hands, he carried over a cauldron filled with boiling liquid medicine and set it down on the table. Throughout the process, he never once stopped talking. “Zhong Si and Zhuang Ye suffered somewhat severe damage to their souls, so I set up an array for them to aid their recovery. As for the Golden-Winged Dapeng…”

He unwrapped the cloth and wiped his fingers with it. “The Golden-Winged Dapeng’s withering also has yet to fully recede. Considering the shock it received, it will likely be a while before it awakens.”

Wen Shi had already climbed out of bed and was starting to make his way towards the door. Upon hearing the last part, he was momentarily startled.

“Shock?” He frowned and looked at Bu Ning with puzzlement. “What could possibly shock the Golden-Winged Dapeng.”

Bu Ning scrubbed at his fingers extremely attentively and didn’t look up. “Mm, indeed… it is rare that something can.”

His reaction was even stranger.

Wen Shi was filled with anxiety just a beat earlier, but that was quickly overtaken by bewilderment as a baffled expression appeared on his face.

He had always been very straightforward with this shixiong of his. Now thoroughly confused, he furrowed his brows and questioned him directly. “What does that mean?”

Bu Ning had almost rubbed his skin raw by the time he finally lifted his gaze and glanced hesitantly at Wen Shi.

His mouth opened and closed numerous times… before he switched to wiping the table.

Hello? What’s the problem?

Wen Shi’s frown deepened, but right as he was about to speak, Bu Ning abruptly halted in place.

Hands braced against the edge of the table, he looked over at Wen Shi and forced out an ambiguous, tactful response. “Perhaps the Golden-Winged Dapeng has never witnessed a spirit transfer before.”

A question mark slowly emerged over Wen Shi’s head.

He didn’t understand what the other person was trying to imply. His shixiong, who was renowned for having thin skin and excellent manners, stared at him silently for a long moment. Then, Bu Ning suddenly cupped his hands together and bowed towards him. “Spare me, shidi.”

When that refined, cultured shixiong straightened upright, his face was unexpectedly red.

Wen Shi: “???”

They stared at each other for quite a while. It was then that Wen Shi abruptly remembered what had happened a second before the agony from the spirit transfer had overwhelmed him…

At the time, he couldn’t even see Xie Wen in front of him, like someone severely affected by vision loss. As a result, the entire memory seemed to flash by in disjointed segments, and he almost couldn’t piece it together.

Belatedly, he remembered—in that instant—something pressing warm and soft against his lips. He remembered his face seemingly brushing against the tip of another person’s nose; he remembered catching, in between breaths, the almost imperceptible fragrance of pine, along with the strong scent of blood…

Stunned, he rubbed the corner of his lips with his thumb.

Upon looking up, he saw that Bu Ning’s face had grown even redder.

Wen Shi: “…”

Seems like you remember now” was written clearly across Bu Ning’s face, and he bowed in Wen Shi’s direction again.

The news arrived in swift, fierce succession, and for a moment, Wen Shi didn’t know what to address first. He had probably never been more dumbstruck in his entire life, and he stood frozen in place for a long time before he finally said to Bu Ning stiffly, “Wasn’t there an illusion?”

It was one thing for Lao Mao to know about it, since he had been with Xie Wen, but how did Bu Ning find out?

Bu Ning proceeded to bow towards him for the third time. “All of Mount Songyun is encompassed within an array. As the master of said array, I can more or less sense a little bit of everything that happens within it, even with a diversionary illusion in place.”

Almost out of habit, he added, “I am ashamed—my sincere apologies.”

Wen Shi: “………”

To top it off, there was also that fool Xia Qiao, who kept glancing back and forth between Wen Shi and Bu Ning. Completely oblivious to the current situation, he asked, “Ge, what are you guys talking about? Why don’t I understand any of it?”

None of your damn business.

Wen Shi shot a look at Xia Qiao, but just as the harsh words were about to spill out of his mouth, he suddenly remembered the puppet that he had released on the day of the sealing, the one he made to trick Chen Budao because he was afraid of being interrupted while peeling out his soul…

That puppet was also clean and pristine, immaculate and unsullied. And because he had already lost control at that point, he had no energy to spare on the form and appearance of the puppet he threw out. All he had was a subconscious inkling of an idea, nothing more.

Thinking about it that way, it was highly likely that Xia Qiao truly was his creation.

Consequently, right as the words reached the tip of his tongue, he stalled before eventually changing them to a rigid: “If you can’t understand, then don’t listen.”

Immediately after, he continued making his way to the door.

It was Bu Ning who ended up comforting Xia Qiao. “It is nothing important. May I trouble you to keep an eye on the medicine?”

Xia Qiao nodded obediently and took over the task.

Once Bu Ning was done consoling him, he straightened up and asked Wen Shi, “Are you going to see shifu?”

There wasn’t anything intrinsically wrong with his question, but due to the stilted, hesitant exchange that they had just shared, it instantly gained a more ambiguous meaning in Wen Shi’s ears.

As a result, he stopped in his tracks and answered, “No.”

“Then, you are leaving to—?” Bu Ning was a bit perplexed.

Wen Shi bit out: “See Lao Mao.”

Bu Ning: “…Okay.”

Perhaps there was just something about the tone of that “okay.” At the door, Wen Shi abruptly asked a question that was completely unrelated. “Shixiong, about this cage—”

Typically speaking, you couldn’t be this blunt with someone in a cage unless it was their final moments. After all, there were few people in the world who could calmly accept such a reality.

But Bu Ning was different.

However, Bu Ning’s reply was still out of the bounds of Wen Shi’s expectations. Mildly, Bu Ning interrupted him and said, “This is likely not a cage.”

Wen Shi turned to look at him. “What do you mean? Not a cage?”

“At least, not the kind of cage that we are accustomed to.” Bu Ning elaborated, “You and shifu slumbered for a good while due to the heavy injuries you two sustained, so you are not aware, but we have been mulling over this matter for a few days now.”


“Ah, those two Zhang family members and I.” Bu Ning didn’t often display his affection or scorn openly on his face. Upon mentioning Zhang Lan and Zhang Yalin, he remained unfailingly polite. “We discussed it briefly. A normal cage is formed from the core that the cage master resides in, along with the surroundings that it absorbs.”

When Bu Ning uttered the words “cage master,” Wen Shi watched him closely and let out a hum.

Bu Ning laughed and said, “I know. You all must have initially considered me the cage master—after all, it is my array that is set up here. But it is actually not I.”

“Then who?” After hearing Bu Ning’s speculation, a faint hypothesis suddenly took shape in Wen Shi’s mind.

Sure enough, Bu Ning said, “My guess is that perhaps, the cage master is this Mount Songyun of ours. My array engulfed and concealed the entirety of Mount Songyun, as well as the village at the foot of the mountain and its residents.”

He curled his fingers into a loose fist. “It can be compared to a peach pit. All of the resentments and grievances contained within Zhong Si and Zhuang Ye for centuries—that is the black mist spilling out of the peach pit. Is it not the same principle as a cage master?”

But instead of the cage master being a person, it was a mountain that had bundled up numerous people.

“At first, I believed that as long as the resentments and grievances carried within Zhong Si and Zhuang Ye were cleansed away, the cage would naturally undo itself. Yet, it turned out that I was slightly off the mark. The two Zhang descendants voluntarily went down the mountain to investigate the specifics of the situation, and there will be ample time to discuss this further once they return.”

“Mn,” Wen Shi responded lowly.

It was for the best if they resolved and left this cage as quickly as possible. After all… he still had an even more troublesome cage to find: the one that contained both his soul and Chen Budao.

“All right, go see shifu now, though he is most likely still—” Bu Ning set the cloth down on the table and turned around, only to discover that Wen Shi was already gone.

It had been too long since Wen Shi last entered this room. As a result, when he stepped inside and closed the door behind him, he didn’t let himself produce a single sound.

Because of the array’s influence, he was clad in long robes the color of snow and clouds, and his hair was bound back neatly and deftly. Meanwhile, the person on the bed was sitting upright, eyes shut. His red outer robe cascaded over the edge of the bed as the faint scent of tea and medicine intermingled in the room.

Warm, soft light radiated from the candles on the table, concealing the intensely sickly aura of the person on the bed.

For a second, Wen Shi almost fell under an illusion.

It was as if he was back on Mount Songyun, practicing puppetry day after day. During the day, he would listen to his fellow disciples mess around nonstop; at night, he would return to the peak and, by the light of the moon and lanterns, steal a look at the person residing in this room. Then, before the other person could glance over, he would gather up the puppet string wrapped around his fingers and walk away, gaze fixed firmly ahead of him.

It was as if the past millennium—all those lengthy, tedious years, and everything that happened within them—was merely one prolonged dream.

Wen Shi stood there for a long moment, back pressed against the door, before he finally shifted forward and walked over to the bed.

He could see the other person’s hand hidden within the shadow of his sleeve. It was skinny and shrunken, like barren bones.

After staring at the hand for quite a while, Wen Shi couldn’t help but reach out and latch onto it. It wasn’t a touch that he was familiar with; instead, it was foreign to the point that he felt a little lost.

Countless tiny needles seemed to stab silently into his chest, inducing a wave of dull pain.

Wen Shi pressed his eyes shut. All of a sudden, he heard Xie Wen’s slightly raspy voice sound low and close to his ears. “If I hadn’t woken, would I have missed the sight of someone sneaking into my room?”

Yan: My busy period at work is finally over :’) hehe. Sorry for the wait!

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