Chapter 33 Grasses—Part One
The Shudong area was abundant in rivers and valleys. With towering peaks and a rough terrain, only faint breezes passed the area, causing the majority of places to be enveloped in mist.
Walking straight toward where the left hand pointed, the two of them came upon quite a small village.
A few rails of fencing encircled thatched houses made from mud. A brood of colorful chicks scuttered in and out of the yards, pecking on the ground for rice. A large, bright-feathered rooster stood single-legged on a roof. With a twitching comb, it looked downward loftily, its neck turning left and right. It was fortunate that nobody had any dogs. It was likely that these villagers could only get their hands on a few chunks of meat a year, much less have any leftover bones to feed the dogs.
In front of the village, there was a fork road, leading to three different directions. Of these, two were rather bare. Covered with a great deal of footprints, it was clear that they were often walked upon. Yet, the last one have been overrun with weeds. A square sign made from a piece of rock was positioned slantingly at this road. Subject to age and weathering, the sign was split down the middle with a large crack. Even from within the crack, withered weeds peeked out.
Two large characters, which appeared to be the place that the road led to, had been carved onto the sign. One could manage to tell that the bottom character was the character for “city”. However, the top character was complex in both form and brushstrokes. The crack just so happened to have run through it, causing a few broken bits of rock to lay scattered on the ground. Wei WuXian bent down and pushed the weeds aside. Even after staring at it for a long time, he still couldn’t figure out what the character was.
Coincidentally, the direction that the left arm pointed at was indeed this path.
Wei WuXian, “Why don’t we ask the villagers?”
Lan WangJi nodded. Of course, Wei WuXian didn’t expect him to ask. With a large grin over his face, Wei WuXian walked toward the villager women who were feeding the chicken.
Among the group women, some were old and some were young. Noticing the approach of an unfamiliar man, all of them looked nervous, as if they wanted to throw their dustpans away and flee back inside. Only after Wei WuXian exchanged a few words with them, a cheerful smile on his face, did they finally begin to calm down and respond shyly.
As Wei WuXian pointed at the sign and asked a question, their expressions changed at once. They paused for a moment, and unwillingly started to converse with him. During the chat, they didn’t dare to look at Lan WangJi, who stood by the sign, at all. With the corners of his lips still curved upward, Wei WuXian listened intently. Eventually, it seemed as if the topic had switched, and the women’s expressions calmed again. They gradually relaxed and started to smile timidly at him.
Lan WangJi stared at them from afar. He waited for a while, but Wei WuXian still didn’t seem like he intended to return. Slowly looking to the ground, Lan WangJi kicked a small chunk of rock that was by his feet.
He stepped on it for a long time, rolling the innocent rock over again and again. As he looked up again, he saw Wei WuXian take something from his sleeves and hand it to the woman who spoke the most.
Lan WangJi stood still, a blank look on his face. When he really couldn’t control himself anymore, ready to approach them, Wei WuXian finally sauntered over.
He stood back beside Lan WangJi, “HanGuang-Jun, you should’ve went. There were even rabbits in the yard!”
Lan WangJi didn’t react to his teasing comment and responded with feigned indifference, “What have they answered?”
Wei WuXian, “This path leads to Yi City. The first character on the sign is ‘yi’.”
Lan WangJi, “Yi as in chivalry?”
Wei WuXian, “Yes and no.”
Lan WangJi, “And why is that?”
Wei WuXian, “The character is correct, but not the meaning. It’s not yi as in chivalry, but yi as in a coffin home.”
They stepped over the bundles of weeds and went on the path, quickly passing the sign. Wei WuXian continued, “The girls said that, ever since a long time ago, most of the people in that city have died early, either having short lives or meeting accidental deaths, so there were a lot of coffin homes for temporarily holding the corpses. Also, their specialty is in making coffins, paper money, and other sorts of burial goods. Everyone was skilled at no matter it be making coffins or paper mannequins, which is why it became known by such a name.”
Aside from wilted weeds and pieces of rocks, on the path, there were also cracks and ditches that were difficult to notice. Lan WangJi kept his eyes on wherever Wei WuXian stepped, while Wei WuXian talked as he walked, “They said that the people here rarely go to Yi City. The people inside don’t leave, either, for reasons other than the export of goods. In the past few years, almost nobody could be seen leaving. Nobody has walked on this path for years. Sure explains why it’s so hard to walk over.”
Lan WangJi, “And?”
Wei WuXian, “And what?”
Lan WangJi, “What did you give them?”
Wei WuXian, “Oh. You mean that? It’s rouge.”
When they were in Qinghe, he bought a small compact of rouge from the charlatan that told him information about the Xinglu Ridge, and had always kept it with him. Wei WuXian, “You have to show people your thanks when you’re asking them things, right? I wanted to give them money, but they were too scared and didn’t dare to take it. It seemed like that they really liked the scent of the rouge. They had probably never used such a thing before, so I gave it to them.”
With a pause, he added, “HanGuang-Jun, why are you looking at me like this? I know that the rouge’s quality really isn’t that great. But I’m not like how I used to be, when I always had a ton of flowers and jewelry on me to give the girls. I really don’t have anything else to give them. At least it’s better than nothing.”
As if a displeasing memory had bubbled up, Lan WangJi’s brows twitched, and he slowly turned his head away.
Walking along the rough path, the weeds gradually became fewer, climbing back toward the sides, and the road also widened. Yet, the fog grew denser.
As the left hand formed a fist, a city gate lay in ruins at the end of the long path.
The tower in front of the city had missing paint and a broken roof. With one corner chipped off, it looked unusually dilapidated. The walls of the city were covered in graffiti done by some unknown person, while the red color of the doors had almost faded white, every single one of its doornails rusty and black. The pair of doors was left unlatched, almost as if somebody had just opened a slit and slipped inside.
Even before entering, one could feel that this must be haunted with ghosts and demons running wild.
As Wei WuXian walked down the path, he examined the surroundings carefully. At the city gates, he commented, “The feng shui is horrible.”
Lan WangJi nodded without hurry, “Barren mountains and turbulent rivers.”
Yi City was surrounded by steep cliffs on all sides. The cliffs tilted toward the center in an extreme manner, appearing both menacing and constricting, almost as if it would collapse any moment. Bound by these dark, massive peaks and enveloped in the ghostly white fog, it appeared even monstrous than monsters. Even simply standing here would make one feel anxious and suffocated, along with a strong sense of being threatened.
Ever since the ancient times, there had been the saying that “the greatness of a person brings glory to their birthplace”. The opposite saying was also present. In some places, because of the terrain or location, the feng shui would be exceptionally awful. Surrounded by a natural gust of sinister energy, it was easy for anyone who lived there to die early or be generally unlucky. If all of their ancestors dwelled there, then they’d be even more unfortunate. Also, irregularities such as living corpses or the return of souls. It was clear that Yi City was such a place.
Places like this were usually in secluded locations that weren’t under the control of any cultivational sect. Of course, even if they were, sects wouldn’t want to help either. Such situations really were annoying, even more annoying than the Waterborne Abyss. The Waterborne Abyss could be chased away. However, feng shui was difficult to change. If nobody wailed in front of their doors, the sects turned a blind eye and pretended that they didn’t know.
For the city’s residents, the easiest solution was to leave the place. But, if someone’s family had been living at a secluded place for generations, it’d be almost impossible for them to make the decision to leave where they grew up. Even if five or six out of ten people would have short lives, maybe they would be the remaining three or four. It didn’t seem too unbearable.
The two halted before the city gates and exchanged a look.
Squeak. Supported by hinges on the verge of snapping, the two city doors, although being unable to align properly, slowly opened.
Before their eyes, there was neither bustling streets nor violent corpses. There was only an all-enveloping shade of white.
The fog was even a few times denser than the fog outside the city, allowing them to only see a long, straight street ahead of them. On the sides, there stood no passers, but only brooding houses.
The two of them naturally walked a few steps nearer to each other, and entered the city together.
It was still daytime, but no sound could be heard in the city. Aside from the lack of human voices, not a single note of caws or barks could be heard either. It was more than peculiar.
Then again, since this was the place where the left arm pointed, it’d be stranger if it weren’t peculiar.
They walked down the street for a while. The farther they went, the thicker the fog, as if evil energy permeated the air. At first, they could still manage to see anything within ten steps’ distance. And then it became impossible to make out any figure more than five steps away. In the end, they couldn’t even see their hands in front of them. The more Wei WuXian and Lan WangJi walked, the closer to each other they shifted. They could only manage to see each other’s face if they walked shoulder-to-shoulder. A thought suddenly popped into Wei WuXian’s mind, If someone took advantage of this fog and snuck between us, a third person to our group of two, it’d be hard to say whether or not we’ll notice.
Suddenly, his foot stepped on something. He looked down, but couldn’t tell what it was. Wei WuXian grasped Lan WangJi’s hand firmly so that he didn’t go off on his own, bent down, and squinted. A head with a pair of glaring eyes ripped through the fog, jumping into his sight.
The head had the face of a man with thick brows, large eyes, and two smudges of rouge that stood out acutely.
When Wei WuXian stepped on the head, he almost sent it flying, so he knew how heavy it weighed. Being so light, this definitely wasn’t a human head. He picked it up and squeezed it. A large part of the man’s face sunk in. Some of the rouge was also smudged.
It was a head made from paper.
The paper head was skillfully crafted. Although the makeup was overly dramatic, the features were rather delicate. Yi City’s specialty was burial goods, so of course the technique of crafting paper mannequins was decent. Among the paper mannequins, there were substitute mannequins, which the people believed that, if burned for the deceased, would suffer in hell in place of them; there were also maidservants and beautiful girls, which would attentively care for the deceased in the nether world. Of course, these were really only made for the living to feel some relief. This paper head was probably a “Nether Brawler”.
Like its name, a “Nether Brawler” was a fighter, said to be able to protect the deceased from the bullying of other ghosts or tricky Judges; the paper money that the juniors burned wouldn’t be stolen away by other souls either. The paper head definitely had a large, sturdy body also made of paper to go with it. Someone had probably pulled the head off and thrown it onto the streets.
The strands of hair on the paper head were jet-black and quite glossy. Wei WuXian touched it. The hair was firmly attached to the scalp, as if the head really grew the hair. He thought to himself, It really was crafted skillfully. Did they take real, human hair and glue it on?
Suddenly, a thin shadow swept past him.
The shadow was extremely bizarre. It ran past, brushing against his shoulder, and instantly disappeared into the thick fog. Bichen unsheathed on its own, chasing after the figure, but quickly returned to its sheath.
The thing that slipped by him ran too quickly—a human definitely couldn’t have reached that speed!
Lan WangJi, “Pay attention. Be careful.”
Although it only brushed past, it was difficult to say that the next time it came, it wouldn’t do something else.
Wei WuXian straightened up, “Did you hear that?”
Lan WangJi, “Footsteps and a bamboo pole.”
He was correct. During the moment, aside from hurried footsteps, they heard another strange noise. The ta-ta sounded rather clear, as if someone was quickly tapping a bamboo pole on the ground. Wei WuXian didn’t know why the noise was present.
In front of them, from within the fog, came another series of footsteps.
This time, the footsteps were light, slower, and greater in number. It seemed as if a group of people were carefully approaching, but not saying anything. Wei WuXian fished out a Gloom-burning Talisman and tossed it forward. If anything surrounded by resentful energy was in front of them, it would burn up, and the fire would probably somewhat light up the area.
The people in front also noticed that something had been tossed at them. They immediately attacked.
A multitude of differently-colored sword glares rushed over. Bichen unsheathed calmly and drifted in front of Wei WuXian, fending off all of the glares. On the other side, the people fumbled in confusion. Hearing the shouts, Lan WangJi immediately sheathed Bichen. Wei WuXian called out, “Jin Ling? SiZhui!”
As he expected, he hadn’t heard wrong. Jin Ling’s voice sounded through the white fog, “Why’s it you again?!”
Wei WuXian, “Well, actually, I want to know why it’s you again!”
Lan SiZhui tried to contain himself, but his voice sounded delighted, “Young Master Mo, you are also here? Then is HanGuang-Jun here as well?”
Hearing that Lan WangJi might also be here, Jin Ling shut his mouth immediately, as if he had been silenced again. He was probably scared that he’d be punished again. Lan JingYi also shouted, “He definitely is! The glare before was from Bichen, right? It was Bichen, right?!”
Wei WuXian, “Yep. He’s here, right beside me. You should come over.”
As soon as the boys knew that the ones in front of them were friend instead of foe, they immediately let out a few sighs of relief and scurried over. Aside from Jin Ling and some of the Lan Sect’s juniors, there were also seven or eight boys wearing clothes of different sects, who still acted hesitant. They were probably also disciples from distinguished backgrounds. Wei WuXian asked, “Why are all of you here? With such an attack, it’s lucky that I have HanGuang-Jun by my side. What if you hurt ordinary people?”
Jin Ling retorted, “There isn’t any ordinary people here—there isn’t any people here at all!”
Lan SiZhui nodded, “It is daylight, but there is fog everywhere. And there is not a single shop open.”
Wei WuXian, “This won’t matter for now. How did you guys run into each other? Don’t tell me that you arranged to night-hunt together.” Jin Ling saw everyone as an eyesore and wanted to fight with everyone. And, since he already had an unpleasant interaction with the Lan Sect’s disciples, how would it be possible that they wanted to night-hunt together? Lan SiZhui obediently explained, “That would be a long story. We were originally…”
Suddenly, a series of clucks and taps, the unusually ear-piercing noise of a bamboo pole knocking on the ground, came from within the dense fog.
The juniors’ faces changed at once, “It’s here again!”
Coffin home: A coffin home refers to a building where “a temporary coffin depository where the coffins containing the cadavers of recently deceased people are temporarily stored while awaiting transport to the place of burial.” (Wikipedia)
Judges: In Chinese folklore, when someone dies, they go to the underworld to be recorded by a judge. There are a lot of different versions, and this really isn’t that important.