Thank you to pusheen and Anna for the Ko-fis!
Arc Five: Grave of the Common Folk
That question was uttered too near, the voice too deep.
Wen Shi averted his head slightly. Starting from the base of his ears, a light red flush bloomed across his pale neck. But because the candlelight wasn’t particularly bright in the room, the transformation was largely disguised.
It was only noticeable at close proximity.
“You were pretending to be asleep?” Wen Shi straightened upright.
He was very tall, and his expression was always quite cold. As a result, whenever he gazed downwards at someone, he often gave off a somewhat unapproachable aura and the impression of being “rather displeased.”
Xia Qiao would’ve most likely bolted if Wen Shi had looked at him in such a manner, but it never worked on Xie Wen. What’s more, Xie Wen’s gaze was still lingering on the part of his neck that was dyed with color.
Consequently, the flush refused to fade.
For the first time, Wen Shi felt that it was very inconvenient to have pale skin.
Fortunately, Xie Wen had already retracted his gaze. When he spoke, the weariness in his voice was laced with a trace of laughter. “How come you’re shifting the blame to me now?”
Wen Shi: “Bu Ning said that you were asleep.”
“Was he also here earlier?” Xie Wen said. “Then he probably only glanced in from the doorway—he didn’t come over and paw at me.”
Wen Shi’s lips twitched, likely because he wanted to fire back a retort but couldn’t manage to come up with a suitable excuse.
Xie Wen lowered his eyes and studied Wen Shi’s hand intently. All of a sudden, he said lowly, “Did it hurt?”
“Did what hurt?” Wen Shi questioned.
The withering on Xie Wen’s hands had yet to fully disappear, so they were still abnormally slender and dry, as well as slightly rough and cool to the touch. Stroking Wen Shi’s knuckles with his thumb, he asked, “When these hands commanded the puppet string to pierce into your own body: did it hurt?”
Wen Shi was caught off guard, and he subconsciously attempted to pull his hand back, only for Xie Wen to tighten his grip instead.
He said, “I didn’t teach you puppetry so you could use it on yourself.”
Wen Shi’s mouth flattened into a thin line. Because he had just woken from a deep slumber, there wasn’t much color in his lips.
Without avoiding it or giving in, he gazed downwards at Xie Wen, like the thinnest, sharpest of blades pinched gently between fingers, quiet but unceasingly keen.
He said, “It became mine when I mastered it, which means I can use it on whoever I want.”
Xie Wen glanced up at him. “Who’d you learn such mad things from?”
Wen Shi: “You.”
Something flickered in Xie Wen’s eyes.
Clearly, he was sitting, and Wen Shi was standing; he was the one with his head tilted slightly back, whereas Wen Shi was the one looking down from above. But even so, Xie Wen didn’t seem to be at any sort of disadvantage. Despite being in a position that could allow him to be easily oppressed, he still gave off an air of gentle nonchalance.
The two of them were just like Wen Shi’s favored white cotton string: stretched extremely taut, with only a whisper of space between each strand.
Intertwined, and entangled.
Eyes fixed on Xie Wen, Wen Shi couldn’t help but say, “You’ve known for a long time now why I would do such mad things. Then, what about you?”
Xie Wen’s voice was soft and deep. “What about me?”
Wen Shi pressed his lips together and remained silent.
“Are you referring to the Soul Cleansing Array…” Xie Wen paused for a while. “Or the spirit transfer?”
When the words “spirit transfer” rang through the air, Wen Shi blinked once, the faintest of flutters.
“The Soul Cleansing Array was because I knew you were stubborn and liked to stealthily search for your own way to handle everything. Even though you weren’t very good at fooling others, you would always attempt to do so anyway. And if your deception failed, you would even start sulking.” Xie Wen’s voice was pitched very low, and a muted hint of laughter bled into it when he mentioned the sulking, though that disappeared swiftly afterwards.
“As for the spirit transfer…” Xie Wen went quiet for a moment. “That was because your soul fragment was mixed with those worldly bonds and ended up with me.”
Wen Shi gazed at him, eyes lowered. “You could’ve used your finger.”
Just like how Shen Qiao had transferred his spirit to Xia Qiao back then: by squeezing out a drop of blood from his fingertip.
Xie Wen said, “My fingers were severely petrified at the time, so they were already incapable of producing any blood.”
After that explanation, Wen Shi didn’t say anything.
He looked at Xie Wen for a long moment. Then, he shifted his gaze away.
Just when he thought that nothing else was going to be said about the topic, that it was going to be brushed past once more, Xie Wen’s voice rang out again, low and deep. “To tell the truth, if I really had to extract the blood somehow, there were still other ways to do it.”
Wen Shi’s heart jolted abruptly, and his eyes snapped back to him.
There was a lengthy silence before Xie Wen said, “I had no intention of considering them, that was all.”
A wisp of the evening wind slipped in from a crevice in one of the window frames, causing the tiny flame on the table to quiver. The light from the candle was reflected in the lamp oil, dyeing the room a warm yellow.
A bird was startled into flight outside, and it flapped its wings as it flew away from the tree it was perched on.
The atmosphere in the room was charged and heavy. It was only then that Wen Shi realized just how close the two of them had gotten; even their breaths were mingling in the space between them.
Right as they were about to make contact, he slanted his face slightly to the side and mumbled something hoarsely.
It was too quiet and indistinct, so Xie Wen didn’t hear him clearly. He lifted his hand and touched Wen Shi’s cheek as he asked, “What?”
Wen Shi swiveled his head back towards him, eyes narrowed. “I said… We’re still in Bu Ning’s array. Seeing as he’s the master, he knows everything.”
He straightened up after that, though his expression was the tiniest bit displeased.
Taken aback, Xie Wen also narrowed his eyes as he stared at Wen Shi’s face. Then he suddenly turned his head to the side and started chuckling softly.
It was at this moment that Zhang Lan and Zhang Yalin returned to the peak.
They had discovered some new information while investigating the situation at the bottom of the mountain. Upon their return, Bu Ning-laozu had politely and courteously directed them next door, where he said the decision-maker was.
As a result, Zhang Yalin knocked on the door of the neighboring room with his six puppets in tow.
Only to be promptly greeted by the sight of his idol’s glowering face.
The six puppets collectively took a large step back at the same time.
Zhang Yalin nearly swore out loud on the spot, but his self-restraint fortunately managed to kick in just in time. He was left standing awkwardly and silently in the doorway, unsure of what he did wrong.
He was the well-mannered type, so upon realizing that the atmosphere was a little off, he subconsciously asked, “Am I… interrupting something?”
It would’ve been fine if he hadn’t said anything, but the question just made Wen Shi’s expression grow even darker.
The circumstances had changed. If this was the past, Zhang Yalin would’ve most certainly tossed out a “let’s discuss this another time then” before spinning on his heel and leaving. Whether or not there would actually be “another time” was a different story entirely.
But ever since he found out who Wen Shi and Xie Wen were, his legs had become very uncooperative: whenever there was the slightest conflict, they would refuse to take a single step, causing him to be trapped between leaving and staying.
Luckily for him, Bu Ning and Xia Qiao also made their way over shortly.
“Shifu is awake?” the array master asked while giving a respectful bow.
Immediately after, he swiftly retreated to a corner of the room, exuding an air of “I can’t see and I can’t hear, I don’t know anything and don’t ask me anything.”
Wen Shi was originally going to walk back over to the bed, but he subconsciously changed direction the moment he saw Bu Ning. As a result, he had to settle for leaning against the wooden wardrobe.
“Bu Ning told me that you two left the mountain?” he asked, searching for a topic of conversation.
“Correct.” Zhang Yalin nodded. “Since the cage still wasn’t coming undone, Bu Ning-laozu said that something had likely been overlooked, so my sister and I went down to investigate.”
As the widely acknowledged next head of the Zhang family and the person ranked second on the name register mural, Zhang Yalin could be considered a child favored by the heavens. He was the center of attention everywhere he went, and he had long grown used to being stared at.
No matter how many people were watching him, he was always capable of remaining calm and unbothered. He would act as he pleased and say whatever he wished…
It was only today that he discovered there was actually a freaking prerequisite to this sort of effortless composure—
The prerequisite was that the people staring at him couldn’t be the ancestral masters of arrays, talismans, and puppetry.
And it especially couldn’t be the honorable founder himself, the very origin of the name register mural.
Any one of those options was formidable enough on their own, yet he just had to get all three at the same time.
Out of the three of them, Bu Ning was the only one who could be considered gentle and amiable, but that particular ancestor had strayed almost evasively far from everyone else. Head firmly lowered, he appeared to be deep in contemplation.
Zhang Yalin and Zhang Lan shared a look and thought, Maybe we should just have this discussion while kneeling.
However, in light of the reputation attached to their surname, as well as the fact that the puppets—headed by Xiao Hei—were still present, they managed to stand their ground for the time being.
Zhang Yalin mulled over his words briefly. “Bu Ning-laozu cleared the way for us earlier, which allowed us to investigate both inside and outside the array, including the area at the foot of the mountain and the village where Lu Wenjuan lives…”
The array containing Zhong Si and Zhuang Ye was located on Mount Songyun. Because of the soul cleansing exchange, Xie Wen had taken all the malevolent energy into himself, completely purifying the array.
His vessel had been prepared long in advance for this. It was modeled inherently and entirely off of his real body, and it was controlled by his original spiritual consciousness. As such, it was as if he had returned to walk the mortal realm once more, half-connected to the present day and half-connected to a millennium prior.
Through that vessel, all the black mist that had amassed on the mountain had been transferred, without exception, back to the giant sealing array where his original body was.
He should’ve perished together with the giant sealing array a millennium ago, but it was circumvented by Wen Shi stripping out his very soul. That soul then ended up becoming a cage that absorbed both him and the sealing array, forcefully keeping them here in this world.
That was why Xie Wen’s withering vacillated so much and was never fully actualized.
Because there was someone on the other side protecting him.
Of course, the Zhang siblings weren’t aware of the finer details; all they knew was that Xie Wen had dispelled one of the arrays layered in the mountain, significantly reducing the noise and interference. As a result, when they left Mount Songyun to investigate afterwards, they were able to see things much more clearly.
“Xiao Hei is proficient—er—” Zhang Yalin stalled momentarily before he amended, “Xiao Hei knows a bit about arrays, so he was able to find a few clues.”
“What clues?” Wen Shi asked.
“At the gate that we—” Zhang Yalin balked again after saying the word “we.” After all, he couldn’t exactly lump himself into the same category as those ancestors. Clearing his throat loudly, he shot a look at his sister, indicating that he was about to lose his mind talking like this and that she should speak instead.
Only for his sister to mouth back at him: Don’t look at me, pretend like I’m dead.
Zhang Yalin had no choice but to keep a straight face and continue. “I mean… In order to come here from Lu Wenjuan’s village, wasn’t there a passageway created by an array that had to be crossed? That gate was affected by the quake that went through the array, and it ended up revealing some things.”
Xiao Hei walked forward and pulled the objects one by one out of his pocket before placing them on the table.
There was a stone like the ones commonly used to set up arrays, though it was bound by three cogon grass knots. In addition, there was a tattered strip of fabric with some characters written on it.
It had been buried in the dirt for an indeterminate amount of time, and most of the writing could no longer be made out.
“Xiao Hei said that this kind of grass-knotted array stone is unusual.” While Zhang Yalin spoke, Bu Ning—who was originally avoiding everyone in the corner—had already started to make his way over. Simultaneously, Wen Shi also arrived at the table.
Bu Ning examined the stone, turning it between his fingers, before scooping up the strip of cloth.
Wen Shi could tell that the first two words at the top of the cloth were likely “owing to.” His entire understanding of arrays came secondhand from Chen Budao and Bu Ning, so he wasn’t very familiar with them.
But he just so happened to know a little about this type of array that required the creator to write something on an additional strip of cloth, starting with the words “owing to”—most of the time, it meant that there was initially a similar array in place where the array stones were, but that that foundation had been occupied and altered later by someone else. Out of concern that the new array would be negatively impacted by the lingering traces of the first array, that person would have to specially leave behind a note as a symbolic expression of their apologies.
Bu Ning confirmed Wen Shi’s suspicions. “There was originally another array where that gate currently is, and it also most likely dates quite far back. Perhaps the leftover energy from that old array has yet to dissipate, which in turn has affected this cage, thus explaining why it has taken so long for this cage to resolve itself.”
When it came down to it, Zhang Lan was someone who liked to talk. She finally couldn’t contain herself anymore, and she came back to life. “Two overlapping arrays? Do they do the same thing?”
“Not in this case.” Flipping the array stone in one hand, Bu Ning trailed his fingers over the strip of cloth with indiscernible writing. “The objectives of the person who created the latter array are a bit more obvious. Maybe they wanted the people at the foot of the mountain to transfer to a safer location, or maybe…”
He hesitated for a moment. “They wanted to give people outside the mountain a way to discover this place.”
“In other words…” Zhang Yalin said. “The mountain is hidden so well that ordinary people wouldn’t be able to find it. As such, a passageway was created, leading to a place that allows for an easier way in?”
Bu Ning nodded before handing the round stone and cloth to Xie Wen. It was nearly habit to ask his shifu to corroborate his findings, just as he had done when he was younger.
“This person sounds well-intentioned, but also a bit contradictory,” Zhang Lan murmured. “Why did the creator of this second array want people to discover this place? Was there a reason behind it? Also, where did they end up? Did they successfully make it out of here?”
Wen Shi wasn’t really participating in the discussion. Instead, he was thinking about something that Bu Ning had told him earlier: he said that he had once glimpsed a scene from the far future showing a reunion with old friends occurring here.
If the mountain was hidden too well, if over a thousand years had passed since then—it was uncertain whether said old friends could even find this place.
So… was it someone with another type of connection?
Out of nowhere, a name that he wasn’t particularly familiar with flashed through his mind, and he subconsciously looked at Xie Wen.
Xie Wen had yet to fully recover from the withering. His hand movements were still somewhat stiff, and he was shrouded in an aura of heavy sickliness. As he stroked the cloth softly with slightly curled, atrophied fingers, he looked like some otherworldly being that had emerged from an ancient tomb.
At the same time, upon casting his gaze downwards, that otherworldly being would radiate a bit of gentle compassion.
The writing on the cloth grew a little clearer everywhere his fingers traveled, as if he was brushing away the dust covering the surface.
Wen Shi asked him, “Who is it?”
Xie Wen answered, “Zhang Wan.”
The Zhang siblings were simultaneously stunned.
“Zhang Wan???” Zhang Lan blurted out without thinking, “Isn’t that the weakling’s mom?”
It was only after it slipped out of her mouth that she realized the “weakling” was actually their true ancestor.
As a result, she stared silently at Xie Wen while yanking hard on Zhang Yalin.
She managed to steady herself just fine, but because she had used too much force, she brought her little brother straight to his knees.
Zhang Yalin: Fuck.
4 thoughts on “PG Chapter 82: Connection”
wow it’s twist after twist huh. anyway thank you for updating !
LOOOOL her big mouth 😭
thank you soooo much for the update
I keep hearing incredible things about this novel, too. XD
Thank you for translating! ❤