Chapter 21 Contentment—Part Three
Wei WuXian replied, “Huh, so there’s an evil being that eats humans there?”
Having heard of at least thousands of legends like this and killed at least hundreds of them with his own hands, he found it somewhat boring. The charlatan continued, his voice rising and falling, “That’s right! It is said that, in the ridge’s forest, there is a ‘man-eating castle’ with monsters that feed on the humans living inside it. The monsters will devour anyone who ventures inside it without leaving a single crumb behind. No corpses could be found—there wasn’t a single exception! It’s scary, isn’t it?”
No wonder that Jin Ling also came here. Unable to suppress the soul-consuming goddess at Dafan Mountain, he definitely came for the monster in the Xinglu Ridge again. Wei WuXian exclaimed, “Scary indeed! But, if nothing was left behind, and no corpses could be found, how can it be known that they were eaten?”
After a pause, the charlatan answered, “Of course someone saw it.”
Wei WuXian expressed his admiration, “But, before this, didn’t you say that anyone who ventures inside it would be devoured without any crumbs being left behind, no exception? Then, who on Earth could have started this legend? How powerful would they have to be, having lived to tell the tale after seeing this kind of scene?”
“…” The charlatan, “That’s how the legend goes. How would I know?”
Wei WuXian, “Then, do you know how many people were eaten in the Xinglu Ridge? When were they eaten? Their ages? Their gender? What their names were? Where they lived?”
The charlatan, “I don’t know.”
Wei WuXian, “Qinghe’s know-it-all? Huh?”
The charlatan picked up his basket in a fury, “The legends didn’t have this kind of information!”
Wei WuXian laughed, “No, no, don’t go yet. Let me ask you something else. Is the Xinglu Ridge a part of the Qinghe region? Isn’t Qinghe the Nie Sect’s area? If there really are monsters roaming around Xinglu Ridge, why are they ignoring it?”
To his surprise, this time, the charlatan didn’t answer “I don’t know” again. Instead, a smudge of disdain appeared on his face, “The Nie Sect? If it were the Nie Sect from back then, it definitely wouldn’t be ignored. Before the second day of the legend’s appearance, the Nie Sect would have raided where the monsters roamed at once, in the most resolute way possible. But, isn’t the sect leader of the Nie Sect now, heh, that ‘head shaker’?”
The leader of the QingheNie Sect used to be ChiFeng-Zun, Nie MingJue. After his father, the last sect leader, was outraged to death by the leader of the QishanWen Sect, Wen RuoHan, he took over the Nie Sect before he even reached twenty, doing everything in a direct, forceful fashion. He was also sworn brothers with ZeWu-Jun, Lan XiChen, and LianFang-Zun, Jin GuangYao. After the Sunshot Campaign, the Nie Sect was quite powerful with him in the lead, its influence almost reaching that of the LanlingJin Sect’s. But, after a qi deviation, he died in front of the public’s eyes, and so, the next person in line for the sect leader position must have been his younger brother, Nie HuaiSang. Wei WuXian inquired, “Why is he called the ‘head shaker’?”
The charlatan, “Don’t you know the story behind it? No matter what other people ask Sect Leader Nie, if he doesn’t know it, he won’t say anything; if he does know it, he’s too scared to say anything. If you ask too harshly and force him, he’d shake his head again and again, saying as he cries, ‘I don’t know, I don’t know, I really don’t know!’ He’d then beg the other to let him go. Isn’t it obvious why he’s called the ‘head shaker’?”
In the past, Wei WuXian and Nie HuaiSang studied together, so there were a few things he could comment about this person. Nie HuaiSang wasn’t an unkind person. It wasn’t that he was not clever, but that his heart was set somewhere else and used his smarts on other areas, such as painting on fans, searching for birds, skipping classes, and catching fish. Because his talent in terms of cultivation really was poor, he formed his core around eight or nine years later than the other disciples of the same generation as him. When he lived, Nie MingJue was often exasperated by the fact that his brother didn’t meet his expectations, so he disciplined him strictly. Despite this, he still didn’t improve much. Now, without his older brother protecting and supervising him, under his lead, the QingheNie Sect declined day by day. After he grew up, especially after he became the sect leader, he was often troubled by all kinds of affairs unfamiliar to him and looked for helpers everywhere, mainly his brother’s two sworn brothers. One day he’d go to Jinling Tower to complain to Jin GuangYao, and the next day he’d go to the Cloud Recesses to whine to Lan XiChen. With the two leaders of the Jin and Lan Sects supporting him, he still barely managed to settle on the sect leader position. Nowadays, whenever people mentioned Nie HuaiSang, although they didn’t say anything on the surface, the same phrase was written on their faces—good-for-nothing.
Remembering the things that happened in the past, he couldn’t help but to sigh at it.
After Wei WuXian finished asking about the Xinglu Ridge, he still helped the charlatan’s business by buying two compacts of rouge. He tucked them into his clothes and walked back to Lan WangJi. The latter still didn’t appear to have any intention of asking for the pouch back. In silence, they walked toward the direction that the charlatan pointed at together.
There was a large cedarwood forest on the Xinglu Ridge, with a wide trail amid the shade of the trees. After a while of walking, they didn’t meet anything out of the usual. Regardless, in the beginning, they didn’t hold high hopes anyway, and only came here just in case. If a frightening legend of any area was true, then there would definitely be detailed information. At Dafan Mountain, where the soul-consuming goddess haunted, it was easy to find out where the victims lived and what their names were—even the nickname of A-Yan’s fiance. But, if the charlatan was unsure of the names and details of the victims, it was most likely a case of exaggerated hearsay.
After a bit less than an hour, they finally met a setback. From ahead came seven or eight figures, staggering toward them. Their eyes were white and they wore ragged clothing, appearing as if even a light breeze would be enough to blow them over. With their extremely slow speed, it was easy to see that they were a group of walking corpses of the lowest level possible.
Not only were these types of corpses bullied among their peers, if they met a slightly strong human, one could kick over a row of them; if they met a slightly fast child, they would soon be outran by a few blocks. Even if the victim was extraordinarily unlucky and had a few gulps of yang energy sucked out of them, they wouldn’t die from it anyway. Aside from how awful the corpses looked and smelled, they weren’t threatening at all. And thus, if they appeared during a night-hunt, most of the elders simply ignored them and left them for the juniors. This followed the same logic as hunting tigers and panthers instead of rats.
Seeing them walk over, Wei WuXian knew that something was going to go wrong, and ducked back behind Lan WangJi again. As he had expected, when these walking corpses wobbled to about twenty meters ahead of them, as they saw Wei WuXian, they were so terrified that they immediately turned around to retreat, their speed two or three times faster than when they came over. Wei WuXian rubbed his temples, turned around, and spoke in a fearful voice, “Wow, HanGuang-Jun, you’re so cool! They were so scared when they saw you that they ran away at once! Haha.”
Lan WangJi was speechless.
Wei WuXian pushed him while laughing, “Let’s go, let’s go. Let’s get off this ridge. I don’t think that there are any other monsters. The people here are so gossipy that a few useless walking corpses became ruthless monsters in their mouths. Things like the ‘man-eating castle’ must have been fabricated as well. Such a waste of efforts, don’t you think?”
Lan WangJi only started walking after a few more pushes from him. Before Wei WuXian caught up, a series of wild barks suddenly came from far away in the cedarwood forest.
Wei WuXian’s face changed instantly. He shifted behind Lan WangJi in lightning speed and squatted into a ball, arms hugging the other’s waist.
Lan WangJi, “… It is still far away. What are you hiding for?”
Wei WuXian, “I-I-I-I-I-I-I’m gonna hide first then see. Where is it? Where is it?!”
Lan WangJi listened intently for a moment, and responded, “It is Jin Ling’s black-haired spiritual dog.”
Hearing Jin Ling’s name, Wei WuXian stood up at once, but squatted back down after hearing a few more barks. Lan WangJi continued, “If a spiritual dog is barking in such a way, something must have happened.”
Wei WuXian groaned a few times, then stood up with effort, his legs still trembling, “Th-th-th-th-th-th-then let’s go and see!”
Lan WangJi didn’t move at all. Wei WuXian cried, “HanGuang-Jun, why don’t you move? Move! If you don’t move, what do I do?!”
After a moment of silence, Lan WangJi replied, “First… let go.”
The two pushed and staggered. Although they followed the barks of the dog, they only circled two times around the cedarwood forest. The spiritual dog’s barks also appeared sometimes near, sometimes far. Having listened to a long while of barking, Wei WuXian finally grew somewhat used to it, at least ceasing to stammer as he spoke, “There’s a maze array here?”
This maze array was definitely created by a person. A while ago, he said that the legends of the ridge were all hearsay, but, now, things were getting interesting.
After about fifteen minutes of barking, the black-haired spiritual dog still wasn’t tired out. The two followed the sound after they found the method to exit the maze array. Not long afterward, the silhouettes of creepy, stone castles appeared amid the cedarwood forest.
The castles were made of greyish-white stones, its surface covered in green vines and fallen leaves. Every one of them was made into strange semi-spheres, appearing as if a few large bowls were turned over on the ground.
Who would have known that there really were such stone castles inside the Xinglu Ridge? It seemed that the legends didn’t appear out of thin air after all. However, it’d be hard to say whether or not this was a “man-eating castle”, and what beings were inside of it.
Jin Ling’s black-haired spiritual dog was outside of the cluster of stone castles. It ran around them, sometimes grunting in a low voice and sometimes barking wildly. Seeing that Lan WangJi approached, it backed off slightly out of fear, but, instead of running away, it barked even louder at them. It then looked toward the stone castles, its front paws restlessly digging into the ground. Wei WuXian hid behind Lan WangJi and spoke in a pained voice, “Why is it still not going away…? Where’s its owner? Why is its owner gone?!”
From upon hearing the barks until now, they hadn’t heard anything coming from Jin Ling at all, not even cries for help. This black-haired spiritual dog must have been brought here by him, and it must have been the one who broke the maze array as well. Yet, it seemed as if a living person just disappeared like that.
Lan WangJi spoke, “Let us go inside to see.”
Wei WuXian, “How? There’s no door.”
There really wasn’t a door. The grey-white stones were stuck tightly together, without any space for doors or windows. The dog yelped as it leaped. It seemed as if it wanted to bite the corner of Lan WangJi’s robes, but didn’t dare to, so it went around him to bite Wei WuXian’s clothes instead, tugging him in a certain direction.
Wei WuXian’s soul almost flew out of him. He extended his arms toward Lan WangJi, “Lan Zhan… Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan… Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan!!!”
The dog dragged Wei WuXian, and Wei WuXian dragged Lan WangJi. The dog lead them halfway around, to the back of the stone castle. To his surprise, there was an entrance about a person’s height in the wall. The shape was uneven, and there were fragmented pieces of rocks on the ground, which meant that it had just been violently blasted open with the use of a magical tool. The inside of the entrance was too dark for anything to be seen, aside from a red light that faintly shone. The dog loosened its teeth. It made another series of barks toward the inside, and madly wagged its tail at the two of them.
It was clear that Jin Ling must have broke open the stone castle by force, but something happened to him after he entered.
Bichen unsheathed on its own by an inch. The blade of the sword emitted a cold glow of light blue, illuminating the dark path ahead. Lan WangJi bent down and went inside first. Wei WuXian was almost stirred crazy by the dog, and rushed inside as well, nearly crashing into him. Lan WangJi held his hand to support him, and shook his head, either out of dissatisfaction or unwilling resignation.
The black-haired spiritual dog appeared like it really wanted to follow him, also trying to rush inside, but it seemed as if it was blocked outside by some sort of a force. It couldn’t break the barrier no matter how hard it tried, so it could only sit down outside of the entrance, its tail wagging faster and faster. Wei WuXian was so glad that he almost knelt down for it. Taking his hand away, he walked a few steps inside. The distant shade of blue light coming from the sword almost appeared to be white when surrounded in this darkness.
The Xinglu Ridge was covered in a tall, deep forest, so it was quite chilly. And, inside of the stone castle, it was colder than it was outside. Wearing only light clothing, there was wind blowing through Wei WuXian’s cuffs and behind his back—the cold sweat due to the dog had already dried. The light at the entrance had disappeared as if it was a candle having been snuff out. The deeper they went inside, the darker and more spacious it became.
The top of the stone castle was spherical. Wei WuXian kicked a few pieces of rocks on the ground. He could hear a slight echo.
He finally couldn’t endure it any longer and stopped in his tracks, pressing his right hand on his temple and scrunching his brows.
Lan WangJi turned around to ask, “What happened?”
Wei WuXian replied, “… It’s so loud.”
Inside the stone castle, there was only dead silence. It was as quiet as a cemetery. Actually, it itself also seemed similar to a cemetery.
But, in Wei WuXian’s ears, right now, they were already surrounded by noise.
Head shaker: The original phrase used for this was a traditional Chinese saying, which pretty much means that Nie HuaiSang answers “I don’t know” for every question directed towards him. As an adequate translation has yet to be found, this has been slightly modified to keep the flow of the English.
Qi deviation: A qi deviation, or a qigong deviation, refers to a physiological or psychological disorder that happens when someone cultivates using an “improper” method or a flawed technique (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zou_huo_ru_mo).
Yang energy: The “yang” here refers to the “yang” in “yin yang”. Yang energy represents life and goodness, while yin energy (also translated as “dark energy” or “evil energy” for a couple of times) represents death and evil.
Maze array: A maze array is most likely an array that can be used to confuse people’s sense of direction in order to trap them somewhere.