PG Chapter 83: Liu Village

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Arc Five: Grave of the Common Folk

This answer matched Wen Shi’s guess. After all, he only came to Tianjin at the very beginning of all this because he was following Zhang Wan’s trail. 

His original intent was to understand Xie Wen’s recent background a little more through the lens of Zhang Wan. Yet after all those twists and turns, this was where he ended up finding traces of the other person.

His first reaction was that it was too coincidental, but then he swiftly realized that it wasn’t actually a coincidence at all. Although he and Xie Wen had followed two different paths, those paths ultimately converged at the same place.

Wen Shi had never met Zhang Wan before; he had only heard a few scattered anecdotes about her from Zhou Xu. He knew that she was remarkably talented, and that she specialized in divination and array-casting. He also knew that several things took place which caused her to break off ties with the Zhang family. Afterwards, she changed her name and started wandering around before eventually settling down near Tianjin.

Zhang Wan used to keep correspondence with Zhang Biling. Zhou Xu had once mentioned a few sentences from her letters to his mother, two of which Wen Shi had particularly deep impressions of.

She said, “This is my blessed place,” and “There should be a resolution for the generations of accumulated worldly bonds.”

But why would she call this a blessed place?

And what did “generations of accumulated worldly bonds” mean?

Zhang Yalin brushed the dust from his pants and stood up with an extremely complicated expression. 

He couldn’t really say anything to his sister in front of so many people, so he merely shot Zhang Lan a look and kept his eye roll to himself.

Upon doing so, he discovered that Zhang Lan was staring at the objects Zhang Wan had left behind. There was a pensive look on her face, and she was seemingly lost in thought.

Based on Zhang Yalin’s understanding of his sister, Her Great Ladyship had either deduced something, or she had remembered some kind of related rumor.

Either way, he was quite curious as to what it was.

In the past, the two siblings could’ve had a discussion ten thousand different ways without being noticed. However, in their current situation, none of them could be put to use.

After all, considering the ancestors in front of them, it was highly likely that those ten thousand different methods were antics left behind by these very people. If the siblings were to employ one of them, it would be the same thing as streaking through the streets with a megaphone.

They were better off just behaving and keeping a low profile by quietly observing the new developments.

In comparison, the ancestors were much more straightforward.

Wen Shi walked over to the bed and lifted the edge of the cloth strip with a finger to look at it again before asking Xie Wen, “You have a connection with her?”

Xie Wen gazed at the cloth strip. A beat later, he lifted his eyes and said, “You’ve actually met her before too.”

Surprise flitted across Wen Shi’s face. “Me?”

Xie Wen nodded.

Wen Shi searched through his memories, brows furrowed, but failed to come up with anything. “When?”

Xie Wen: “Do you remember a place called Liu Village?”

“Liu Village…” Wen Shi repeated lowly. The name felt a little familiar in his mouth, but in the end, he had drifted through the world for too many years and encountered too many things. His memory was vast and jumbled, and he couldn’t recall anything about it at first.

Instead, it was Bu Ning who let out a soft “oh” and said, “Liu Village.”

Wen Shi looked at him.

Bu Ning’s last memories were from a millennium ago, so it wasn’t as difficult for him to rummage through those old bygone days. He reminded Wen Shi, “The year before we left the mountain, there was a time when I started bickering with Zhong Si for whatever reason at the practice terrace—do you remember? I said that there would be a calamity six days later…”

It took Wen Shi a moment, but then he finally recalled it.

Of course he remembered that day.

He was nineteen years old, and in his dreams he had seen for the first time a version of himself filled with worldly desires, along with a Chen Budao in a form like that.

That dream had induced too much panic, and as a result, it had occupied his thoughts so thoroughly that he had almost forgotten that an assortment of random events had actually taken place that day, large and small. One of those events included Bu Ning’s impromptu announcement of a calamity occurring six days later.

Bu Ning didn’t say such things all too frequently, but it certainly wasn’t uncommon either. Most of the time, it came out subconsciously, and even he wouldn’t realize right away that he had said it.

He was often briefly taken aback afterwards. Then he would wave his hand and add, “A slip of the tongue is all, and it is not something that I can see very clearly. No need to let it weigh on your minds; simply be a bit more cautious over these next few days and that will suffice.”

Reality proved that Bu Ning’s words were accurate most of the time. But there were always some things that could not be prevented even with caution, just like tribulations that could not be avoided in one’s fate.

At the beginning, Wen Shi and the rest were always a bit vexed and apprehensive whenever this occurred. Eventually, however, they slowly discovered that even if they could not avoid those tribulations in question, the trials were never too awful upon finally being dealt with.

As time passed and those occurrences increased in number, Bu Ning’s words seldom alarmed them anymore.

Which was exactly what happened the day he said, “There will be a calamity six days from now.”

Zhong Si responded, “No worries. At worst, we will just stay on the mountain.”

Despite saying that, they still didn’t brush it off completely—

The next few days, Bu Ning would often startle awake in the middle of the night, restless and uneasy. Because of that, he performed a divination with copper coins, the outcome of which was not very optimistic. As a result, he roused his fellow disciples and told them, “I foresaw that the mountain will become unstable, and the village at the bottom will likely suffer a catastrophe.”

At the time, it had been storming constantly in the area surrounding Mount Songyun, so the scenario he described was not entirely baseless.

After much pondering and contemplation, Wen Shi and the others decided that they truly could not just bow to the heavens and watch the calamity unfold with crossed arms. That very night, they added some reinforcements to the structure of the mountain, especially the side closest to the village, in addition to shielding arrays.

They were all rather absent-minded over the next couple days, even when it came to their daily training assignments, and they would take turns keeping an eye on the array stones and talismans placed in the areas at risk. Even Zhong Si and Zhuang Ye—typically the two people most fond of making trips down the mountain—had settled down quite a bit; they stayed obediently on the mountain and didn’t go anywhere else.

Just like that, nightfall of the sixth day came upon them…

All was quiet. Nothing happened.

If there had to be something that could be considered a “calamity,” then during the evening of the sixth day, there was a boulder that loosened and fell from the mountainside bordering the eastern edge of the village. It rolled down along a ridge and barreled straight towards one of the residential structures.

Allegedly, there weren’t many people in the residence to begin with, and they all fled quickly. Even the elderly were able to avoid it in a timely manner.

What’s more, the boulder ultimately didn’t end up colliding into any of the buildings. Instead, it came to a stop several meters away from the chicken coop…

Not even the chickens lost a single feather.

To Wen Shi and the rest, that day was merely a false alarm. However, they didn’t think of it as a waste of energy—on the contrary, they were in extremely high spirits.

Zhong Si couldn’t help himself and teased Bu Ning for an entire night, which culminated, as usual, in Bu Ning throwing Zhong Si into the same old labyrinth array.

With that incident serving as a distraction, Wen Shi didn’t even have time to think too deeply about his dreams for a few days.

That lasted until one early morning two days later, when the light was just starting to spill over the horizon. As always, he woke very early and tied back his hair before leaping onto the highest branches of a pine tree. One hand acted as a perch for the Golden-Winged Dapeng, while the other carried his puppet string.

Right as he was biting the string so that he could wind it around his fingers, he suddenly heard the door of the residence at the peak creak open. Immediately after, Chen Budao walked out, draping his red outer robe around himself; the bottom of it swept across the crawling vines.

Wen Shi narrowed his eyes a little in the ensuing breeze and released the puppet string from between his teeth.

For whatever reason, rather than calling out to the other person, he simply stood behind the swaying pine branches and watched him through the thin, densely-packed needle leaves.

Chen Budao ended up being the one to pause briefly while passing by, before abruptly looking up in Wen Shi’s direction.

For a second, neither of them spoke.

In the end, Chen Budao broke the silence first. He lifted his chin towards the residences and said, “Even the birds in the forest have not opened their eyes, yet here you are, up so early. Get some more sleep, perhaps?”

At the time, Wen Shi had just finished scouring and cleansing his soul, so he was coiled a bit too tight inside, which in turn made him seem a few degrees colder than usual.

Upon hearing the other person’s question, Wen Shi merely shifted his eyes the slightest bit and said, “I’m not tired.”

Chen Budao nodded.

He stood there for a while longer looking at Wen Shi, most likely because there was something he wished to say. But in the end, he didn’t voice it, and he turned around to make his way down the mountain path instead.

When Wen Shi saw Chen Budao divert his gaze, he suddenly asked, “Where are you going?”

In the past, that was always the first thing he would ask. Yet on that day, he had kept it stifled inside of him until the very end.

The person on the path finally laughed. Glancing back at Wen Shi, he told him from a distance, “To take care of some business elsewhere.”

Wen Shi asked again, “For how long?”

Chen Budao: “It will be a bit long this time. When I return, perhaps it will be the cusp between summer and autumn.”

That was quite a few months.

Wen Shi jumped down from the tree. Upon landing, he braced his fingers fleetingly against the ground—as light as a snowflake shaking itself free from the tip of a branch, but still tinged with something lithe and fierce.

When he straightened upright, he saw himself reflected in Chen Budao’s eyes, and he found himself abruptly at a loss for words again.

In the past, if he landed in front of Chen Budao like this, the other person would always ask after describing his plans, “Snowman, would you like to go on a journey?”

But Chen Budao didn’t offer that this time. Instead—still with a smile on his face—he said, casual and teasing, “Don’t work too hard. Remember to take advantage of my absence and loaf around a little more.”

Even though Wen Shi wasn’t originally planning on going with him, something tenuous and tight nevertheless swelled in his chest at Chen Budao’s words. It was almost as if… not only was he avoiding Chen Budao, Chen Budao was also avoiding him.

There was a bit of… inexplicable but extremely faint disappointment, like a wave of needles prickling densely across his heart.

He didn’t know what sort of expression he was wearing at the time, or if he had let any of those vague emotions slip out inadvertently. He only remembered being startled for a moment, after which he dropped his gaze and nodded.

The other person was going to be gone for months. By the time he returned, it wouldn’t be much longer until the disciples left the mountain. From that point on, Mount Songyun would become nothing more than a place of temporary respite; who knew how long it would be before Wen Shi came back again…

It was just as well—that way, he could put an end to these foolish desires.

As Wen Shi was admonishing himself internally, he heard Chen Budao come to a sudden stop after descending a few of the stone steps.

Upon looking up, Wen Shi discovered that the puppet string wrapped around his fingers had snuck away from him at some point to hook securely around Chen Budao’s wrist.

Like an unconscious plea for him to stay.

Chen Budao gazed down at the string curled around his wrist. He didn’t look particularly surprised, but he did fall quiet for a moment.

To tell the truth, this was merely a subconscious action on Wen Shi’s part, a trifling matter.

But Wen Shi was abruptly overcome with a surge of awkwardness and embarrassment.

Although his face gave nothing away, he immediately loosened the string’s hold on Chen Budao and announced, “I’m going to the terrace.” Then he spun around and began making his way into the depths of the pine forest.

Just a few steps later, he felt a firm tug come from the string tangled around his fingers.

He glanced down at his hand before he turned around again in accordance with the taut puppet string, only to see Chen Budao grasping the other end of it. Tilting his head towards the path, that person said, “Come with me.”

The first place they went was Liu Village.

The village was neither large nor small, and it was home to about a hundred households. Flanked by mountains and water, it was originally a lovely, peaceful place. Unfortunately, the heavens never obeyed the wishes of its people—a heavy rainstorm that lasted for several days eventually caused one side of the mountain to collapse.

As luck would have it, the landslide happened in the middle of the night, when all the residents were sound asleep. The houses near the mountain were instantly flattened into the mud by the crush of earth; not a single person inside was spared.

Wen Shi rushed over with Chen Budao. As soon as they stepped over the border of the village, they entered the cage.

Wen Shi had already experienced many cages by the time he was nineteen, and he had seen quite a lot.

The cage in Liu Village was by no means the scariest, but it was the most exhausting.

Because the people in the cage kept trying to dig out the landslide.

Just like Yugong1, they moved piles of earth and stone day after day, carrying them in the simplest type of bamboo baskets on their backs. However, large holes yawned at the bottom of those baskets, causing all the mud to leak out even if the baskets had been filled to the brim. As a result, the mountainous landslide could never be fully excavated.

The cage master was a woman who was rather young.

Like many other cage masters, her face was a bit blurry, and her eyes and brows were the only features of hers that were somewhat clear. She possessed a pair of beautifully shaped eyes—when she lowered her gaze, they made her seem gentle and compassionate, but when she looked up, they gave her the air of someone bold and dauntless.

Regrettably, those eyes were rendered tired and empty in the cage, and the cleverness that they should’ve contained was obscured, paling her significantly.

The first person to approach her was Wen Shi.

She was kneeling next to a bamboo basket at the time, scooping up the mud that had leaked out so that she could pour it back inside, stubborn but a little lost.

Softly and earnestly, she told Wen Shi that her entire family was underneath the landslide. Every night in her dreams, they would speak to her: The weight is so heavy on our backs, we cannot get up, the broken places hurt so much.

The elderly were too old, and the children were too young. Being trapped under the landslide was truly too much for them to bear.

“I have to help them. Oh, I have to help them…” the woman kept repeating.

After sorting out the last of the trouble, Chen Budao also strode over, sleeves sweeping at his sides—only to come to an unexpected halt upon seeing the woman’s eyes, seemingly stunned for a long moment.

That was Wen Shi’s first time seeing Chen Budao look at a stranger in such a manner, but he wasn’t affected for very long. Afterwards, he still did everything that he was supposed to do, as unfalteringly steady and untouchably clean as always.

However, when Wen Shi asked him about it later, he answered, “It was nothing much. I just remembered someone I once knew.”

Someone I once knew” was too multifaceted of a phrase, representing different degrees of closeness for different people.

Since Wen Shi had never heard Chen Budao use that phrase before, he had a feeling that the other person’s interpretation of it varied vastly from most people’s. Thus, he was left with a particularly deep and long-lasting impression of both that person and the phrase.

It was only much, much later that he found out: the person who Chen Budao said he once knew was none other than a family member from his youth; it was his mother.

Translation Notes

  1. Yugong (literally “foolish old man”) is the main character of a Chinese fable (愚公移山). In the story, Yugong attempts to move a mountain obstructing the road near his home by digging it out slowly. Although derided for his seemingly impossible task, Yugong still persevered. Eventually, the gods were so impressed by his hard work and determination that they separated the mountains for him. ^
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