Thank you to Somebody, Darkia1030, and Dilyn (x2) for the Ko-fis!
Arc Five: Grave of the Common Folk
Chen Budao lost his mother when he was young. The cage master in Liu Village was her reincarnation.
“Zhang Wan is also…?” Wen Shi kneaded the strip of cloth between his fingers, stunned.
Although the writing on the surface was barely discernible, there was nevertheless a valiant, elegant beauty to it. It was still quite unfamiliar to him, but it was made special because of the associations attached to it.
“Also what?” Bu Ning asked in bemusement, perplexed by Wen Shi’s seemingly nonsensical comment.
Xia Qiao and the Zhang siblings were also looking their way with confusion, waiting for Wen Shi to elaborate.
Upon seeing their puzzlement, Wen Shi abruptly realized that Chen Budao had actually told him many things before in the past—even more than he had previously thought. Those were things from long gone days that nobody else knew about, that weren’t mentioned even in the rumors…
He had simply forgotten, that was all.
“It’s nothing,” Wen Shi said to Bu Ning. Only Xie Wen could decide whether or not to tell them; it wasn’t Wen Shi’s place to do so in his stead.
“Ah.” Bu Ning’s sense of propriety was very well-honed. That, in combination with the fact that there were two outsiders present, caused him to immediately drop the subject and lower his gaze, hands cupped in his sleeves.
But speaking of Liu Village…
Wen Shi was the only one who their shifu had brought with him that time.
The sole reason why Bu Ning remembered that place was because upon his return, Wen Shi had made straight for the meditation cave located in the cradle of the mountain to find Bu Ning. His intent was to inquire about the exact details of the calamity that Bu Ning had predicted, since his initial description of it was too broad.
Bu Ning was puzzled at first, so he asked, “Did something happen, perchance?”
Wen Shi described the situation at Liu Village to him.
“It was similarly a landslide, and similarly a village that suffered a catastrophe. Did it have anything to do with the arrays we established here?” Wen Shi asked.
“Unlikely. What we did can be compared to bringing along a paper umbrella on days one knows that rain is imminent. We did not go so far as to defy the heavens and alter fate—I was well-aware of the limits…”
Despite saying that, he still didn’t feel completely at ease, so he performed a few more divinations on the spot.
But no matter how he adjusted the divination, the disaster at Liu Village bore no connection to the safeguards they had implemented on Mount Songyun.
He also made another discovery: the general terrain and the distribution of villages in the region where Liu Village used to reside was remarkably similar to that of the area surrounding Mount Songyun. The two regions would often get mixed up in divinations, as was the case with his current casts, where one kept being confused for the other.
Thus, it could be concluded that there wasn’t an issue with their arrays—rather, it was the location he initially foresaw that was incorrect.
The place that was foretold to be “struck by a calamity in six days” was Liu Village, not Mount Songyun.
In the end, the incident was regarded as a miscalculation, but it couldn’t be considered a false alarm. After all, over a hundred households had indeed perished because of a natural disaster elsewhere in the world.
From that point on, Bu Ning’s internal misgivings increased a little more. Even when he foresaw certain events, he would no longer drag the others in so easily; for the most part, he would just stealthily enact some preventive measures or make a few back-up plans on his own.
After all, he couldn’t guarantee that there wouldn’t be any more miscalculations, nor could he guarantee that the limits wouldn’t be exceeded in a moment of carelessness. Altering fate at the whim of one’s will was the most unspeakable of all taboos, the consequences of which were too terrible to imagine. It was one thing to suffer the wrath of divine retribution himself, but if he were to also implicate any innocents along the way, then he would truly be bearing a nearly unforgivable blame even if he died a hundred deaths for it.
After he came of age and left the mountain, he began to journey through the surrounding lands. One year, upon reaching a certain region, he remembered that the Liu Village Wen Shi had once mentioned was nearby. As a result, he followed the path through the mountain forest and made his way over.
By then, Liu Village had already been overtaken by the wilderness, and it was filled with abandoned graves. Because it had been struck by a natural disaster, the locals believed that the region was too ill-fated and inauspicious to stay in. The living all moved far away, leaving behind only the partial remains of the mountain and numerous burial mounds.
Nobody referred to that place as Liu Village anymore. If it was brought up, it was always called Ghost Village, which was then amended to Gui Village1 to avoid the use of such an unlucky name.
And eventually, even that was lost to time.
“Where did you find these objects?” Xie Wen’s voice rang out.
Snapping out of his thoughts abruptly, Bu Ning discovered that Xie Wen and Wen Shi were both looking at the Zhang siblings.
“Zhang Wan” was a name that the siblings fully were not expecting to hear; on top of that, Zhang Wan also had deep ties to the Zhang family. Zhang Lan was in the middle of mulling over this new finding—running through countless rumors and pieces of gossip in her mind—when Xiao Hei prodded her with his elbow. Only then did she realize that Xie Wen was actually talking to her and Zhang Yalin.
She glanced at Zhang Yalin, but her hapless little brother seemed to be lost in thought and was reacting even more slowly than her. Zhang Lan had no choice but to answer hastily, “At the foot of the mountain.”
The ancestor trio looked at her wordlessly. “You don’t say” was written bright and clear across their faces.
“…” By this point, Her Great Ladyship had already gotten over her sudden burst of lightheadedness from earlier, and her legs no longer felt as if they were about to give out on her. She thought for a moment before she pointed at the door and said, “Would you like to see where? I can lead the way.”
“Okay,” Xie Wen responded.
Bu Ning and Wen Shi immediately turned in unison to stare at him.
Bu Ning was a bit more respectful about it, and his expression didn’t reveal too much.
But that wasn’t the case for Wen Shi. Brows furrowed tightly together, he stood next to the bed and scanned Xie Wen up and down. His gaze swept from Xie Wen’s neck to his fingers as he asked, worried and doubtful, “Are you able to stand?”
His question was a bit too blunt, and Bu Ning silently took a step back to give his shidi free rein to do as he pleased.
Of course Wen Shi wasn’t going to back down. He was already starting to earnestly contemplate whether carrying Xie Wen on his back or in his arms was more convenient.
As the thought crossed his mind, he began to bend forward.
Right as he was about to extend his arms, he felt someone gently flick his forehead with two fingers.
“Bowing so arbitrarily.” Xie Wen’s voice sounded softly in his ears, and a breeze swept past him as the fabric of Xie Wen’s outer robe brushed across his cheek.
Wen Shi straightened up, eyes narrowing briefly, only to see that the person who was previously on the bed was already by the door.
The loose red robe was draped over his body. One side of his exposed neck was still withered, and judging from his fingertips that were visible beyond his sleeve, the other parts of his body closest to his heart weren’t faring much better.
He tucked the withered hand behind his back and pushed open the door.
Zhang Lan stood there blankly for a moment. Then she hastily grabbed Zhang Yalin and hurried out of the room, puppets in tow, so she could lead the way down the mountain.
Xia Qiao hesitated before he followed after them with Bu Ning.
“Shifu, you…” Even as Bu Ning approached the doorway, he still wasn’t completely reassured.
“It’s not that bad.” Xie Wen responded.
By that point, Wen Shi had also caught up to them.
The strip of fabric was still dangling from Xie Wen’s fingers, and he raised his hand so that the cloth was slightly blocking Wen Shi’s line of sight. “Don’t glare at me. The last time I asked you to carry me on your back, you seemed rather averse to the idea, and you even told me to crawl—”
Bu Ning, who was walking ahead of them, stumbled over the threshold of the door and slammed his hand against the frame with a bang to hold himself up. With a complicated expression on his face, he turned to look back at them.
Behind him, Xia Qiao nodded surreptitiously, indicating that Xie Wen was telling the truth; it was a long story; best not to ask.
The Zhang siblings were already heading down the mountain path. Startled at the abrupt commotion, they also glanced back in confusion.
Bu Ning had already regained his dignified aura, and he walked towards them in a refined manner. “Everything is fine. Thank you for leading the way.”
Wen Shi retracted his gaze from his shixiong’s back. Expressionless, he shot Xie Wen a look and said, “You walk in front then, and I’ll keep watch.”
His voice was chilly, yet his neck was flushed with color. He was likely quite disgruntled; his hands were lowered at his sides, and he kept cracking his knuckles.
The village at the foot of Mount Songyun was barren and uninhabited, desolate and quiet.
There was no moonlight here. The sky was blanketed in dark clouds, thunder a constant rumble in the background. Violent winds scraped across the land with no sign of stopping.
Upon their initial arrival at this place, they hadn’t thought much of this sight. But now, Wen Shi and Bu Ning were simultaneously reminded of those few nights from many, many years ago.
This was also what the foot of the mountain had looked like back then, when Bu Ning foresaw that there would be a calamity. The wind and clouds were churning, thunder mingling with lightning. By midnight, every residence in the village had their windows and doors sealed tightly shut—not a single flicker of light could be seen. At first glance, it was like no one lived there at all…
“Here, this is it.” Pushing against the wind, Zhang Lan walked over to a spot some distance away. The dark portal that they took to get here was still swirling next to her like a whirlpool.
Xiao Hei crouched down next to the “whirlpool” and combed through the dirt a little. “Those items were found right here. There’s still something underneath this, but it’s buried too deep. If you get close, you can sense it, but it most likely cannot be dug up.”
Zhang Lan nodded and pointed at her little brother as she added, “He even summoned all six of his puppets, but that last item still couldn’t be dredged up. It’s firmly stuck down there.”
Zhang Yalin dragged his hand over his face. He didn’t know if he wanted to thank her or have her stop talking altogether.
He was rendered speechless for a long moment before he finally grumbled, “The creator of the array was Zhang Wan, after all.”
That was the woman who had almost become the family head. No matter what, her skill level wouldn’t be blatantly worse than theirs.
“Allow me to try.” Bu Ning approached the portal and half-knelt beside it, stooping low to listen to the sounds coming from underneath the ground.
It was the array melody. Those who had reached a certain level of proficiency in arrays could discern the complete composition of the formation just by listening to the melody. That made it significantly easier to break through the array, as the key pieces could be directly targeted.
Bu Ning listened to the sounds for quite a while before he said, “No wonder…”
“No wonder what?” Wen Shi asked.
“No wonder puppetry could not jostle it free.” Bu Ning braced a hand against the ground and pushed himself to his feet. “The array itself is not all that difficult to undo, but the item underneath is hard to retrieve. It actually has nothing to do with this array at all, as it is a message left behind by the creator.”
Wen Shi: “What kind of message?”
Bu Ning pointed at himself. “Similar to me: a bit of the soul was extracted.”
He had to split his soul in half to support the entire mountain-sealing array. Typically, however, people only needed to portion out a small segment of their soul when leaving behind a message, and said message could only be opened by a designated recipient.
Zhang Yalin and Zhang Lan evidently understood that as well, and they retreated a few steps. “It really is a little troublesome if it’s a message. How are we supposed to know who it’s for? Won’t we just be…”
Before she could say “fumbling in the dark,” she saw Xie Wen snap off three dried-up branches from a nearby tree.
He patted Wen Shi’s shoulder lightly before drawing Wen Shi behind himself. Then, lifting up the hem of his sleeve, he inserted the three dried-up branches into the earth one after another in the spot where Wen Shi was originally standing.
After that, he pressed down firmly on the ground with his slender, withered fingers—
Instantly, the wind and clouds transformed drastically.
Hundreds upon thousands of cracks spidered outwards from the earth underneath his palm. It was as if a colossal lotus flower had bloomed into existence in the span of a breath, with staggeringly deep chasms underscoring the spaces between the petals.
A boundless tide of black mist soared up from the crevices and shot straight for the skies.
That was followed by the faint quivering sound of something—things—climbing, like thousands of insects emerging from their lair.
The black mist seethed and melded together. On different land fragments, everyone evaded the fissures while searching warily for the source of the climbing noises.
A moment later, they finally found it.
Countless huigu were scuttling and climbing up from the depths of the earth, spider-like limbs stretching outwards, necks writhing.
Over the course of a single second, they had already swarmed all the way up onto the fractured land.
Zhang Lan vaguely heard her little brother swear out loud. She gripped her talismans as he pulled his puppet string taut, and they shifted to face the horde of monsters that had crawled out from the filthy space.
“Wasn’t it supposed to be a message?” Wen Shi asked, voice low and expression tight. Tugging on the long string wrapped around his fingers, he turned around and pressed his back decisively against Xie Wen’s.
“Don’t be alarmed. It is.” When Xie Wen spoke, his voice was transmitted to Wen Shi through their pressed-together backs, where it rumbled deeply in Wen Shi’s chest.
Wen Shi looked over, startled, to see a woman’s hazy silhouette.
Like Bu Ning’s array spirits, her feet were semi-transparent even though she was standing on the ground.
Although Wen Shi had never seen her before, he knew with one glance…
That was Zhang Wan.
Mortals entered the cycle of reincarnation as their souls, which meant they possessed a different appearance in every lifetime. It was impossible for ordinary people to detect the ties that bound past reincarnations together; only spiritual creatures that had an extremely keen sense of “smell” could do so.
But every once in a blue moon, perhaps there would be a feeling of having known someone once before.
Numerous reincarnation cycles had passed since the cage master from Liu Village, so Zhang Wan looked completely different from her—and who knew how much her appearance differed from that of Chen Budao’s mother.
However, there was a complicated look in her eyes when she gazed over at them, as if she actually remembered both of those past lives.
She said to Xie Wen, “I finally… get to see you.”
According to Zhang Biling’s letter, Zhang Wan had her son the year after she arrived at Tianjin. When the son came of age, she inadvertently entered the dead zone of a cage and never emerged again.
Yet she said to Xie Wen: I finally get to see you…
Almost as if she knew full well that the person she had raised for eighteen years was—in fact—nothing but an empty vessel wandering the world.
Black mist coiled around them like a fabricated barrier. It seemed that no one but Xie Wen and Wen Shi, who was standing next to Xie Wen, could see her through the thick haze.
Xie Wen went quiet for a long moment. Then he said, “You remember me?”
Not “recognize,” but “remember.”
Zhang Wan smiled. “I originally shouldn’t have been able to, but because of some… fateful coincidences that could either be seen as good or bad, I ended up remembering.”
She remembered that many, many years ago, a household with the surname Xie used to reside in Qiantang. It was a wealthy and influential family that had served as officials for several generations.
A meandering river2 flowed in front of the residence; the complex itself was sprawling and deep. The courtyard was decorated with beautiful trees and stunning plants, along with pools filled with koi, and open-air mahogany corridors snaked through rock gardens composed of longevity stones. It was a place of prosperity and elegance.
She remembered how bright and promising, openhearted and honest the Xie family’s little young master was. All who saw him could not bear to look away, and they sang his praises without restraint: noble of character, magnanimous of spirit. If he was already standing so far above the rest as a youth, then it was only inevitable that he would one day become an illustrious individual who would bring glory to his family and live an untroubled life.
That little young master was her son.
Surnamed Xie from his father, with a given name of one character: Wen.
“Wen,” as in to bestow.3 A gift from the heavens.
She thought that this gift would accompany her for many decades, until she grew old, until she passed on.
That was until a blind, street-roaming fate-diviner unexpectedly said: Everything else about this young master is brilliant, apart from his fate. Born under the star of disaster and solitude, all of his familial ties will end up severed.
The blind man didn’t hesitate at all to say such inauspicious words right in front of the young master.
But this didn’t seem to faze the young master in the slightest. Brushing it off with a laugh, he courteously handed the blind man a few silver coins.
Although the blind man eventually vanished without a trace, the Xie household truly did begin to slowly crumble apart.
She was the first to depart.
A disease, one that was severe and difficult to treat, attacked her vital organs. The year she left, Xie Wen was still just a youth.
Fortunately, there was an elderly retainer at his side who had watched him grow up and could look after him somewhat. But her worries still could not be appeased, and she was filled with a reluctance to part. During that time, she was always wandering around the Xie residence, inside and out. As time went on, she gradually started to forget that she had already passed away. It felt as if everything was the same as before; the only difference was that the other members of the household didn’t pay much attention to her, that was all.
She watched helplessly as the Xie family declined day by day, right before her eyes. In the end, per a written decree, all hundred and more people in the household—old and young included—were condemned to death. Yet due to an unexpected turn of events, Xie Wen managed to escape by the skin of his teeth, and with that, the blind man’s prophecy was truly fulfilled.
Afterwards, that once bright and promising young master fell gravely ill. Trapped between life and death, he did not awaken for a long time.
One day, while hovering next to his sickbed, she was accidentally dragged somewhere else.
In that place, the Xie family was still wealthy and influential, still flourishing with people. Fish danced in the ponds, and rain pattered against the loquat trees lining the courtyard. She saw Xie Wen, who had been bed-ridden for a while now, sitting casually in the open-air corridor, an outer robe draped around him. As he chatted with the elderly retainer next to him, a smile perched on his lips, he pinched a bit of fish food between his fingers and sprinkled it into the pond.
Back then, she hadn’t understood.
But if it was the present day, she would’ve known immediately.
That was a cage.
Its master was named Xie Wen.
What no descendant knew was this: the very first cage that the panguan’s honorable founder undid… was his own.
The author has something to say:
Serious illnesses and calamities can also lead to cages.
- Ghost (鬼, gui3) has the same pronunciation but a different tone from the Gui (桂, gui4) in Gui Village. 桂 is the character used in 肉桂 (Chinese cinnamon) or 桂花 (osmanthus), which is significantly less sinister than ghost. ^
- There’s a lot to do with fengshui that gets kind of lost here. Of course, having a river in front of the house means ease of access to water (for commerce or daily life), but per fengshui principles, the curvature and placement of this river are directly correlated with the Xie family’s wealth/status. ^
- 问 (Wen) by itself means “to ask,” but 问遗 together means to offer a present in appreciation. As such: 问，遗也。^
Yan: XW lore?! But it’s sad 😦 (as is said in PG… perhaps one of the most painful feelings in the world is realizing you’re in a cage, and that cage is yours)
And sorry… I have no excuse for how long it took this time except I fell back into the Sims pit by accident (iykyk). The amount of hours I logged in one week is actually embarrassing lol
6 thoughts on “PG Chapter 84: Xie Wen”
Thank you for the hard work!
Wow, some Xie Wen lore after all this time…
and omg Wen Shi really does get special treatment, only he gets to hear about shifu’s past
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thank you for the amazing translation .
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Thank you for the update 😊
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Thank you for the chapter! I am a bit confused, did he die and come back to life when he was younger?
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Sounds like he was hanging in between life and death due to his illness, and the author’s note says that severe illness can also result in cages, so he probably didn’t truly die back then….. probably
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Ah the first cage was his own
Poor little Xie Wen, I wonder how he learned and how he created all that panguan arts by himself
He was a true genius, and he even managed to clean himself from such hurtful past
Truly the greatest master
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