Chapter 35 Grasses—Part Three
T/N: *You don’t want to be eating while reading this.
He couldn’t help but loosen his hand, yet Wei WuXian saved the oil lamp just as it was about to hit the ground. Calmly brushing it against the burning fire talisman on the other hand, he lit it up and set it onto the table, “Did you make these yourself, Manager? They’re quite well-made.”
The rest finally realized that the people who stood in the room were not real humans, but actually paper mannequins.
The mannequins’ heads and bodies were delicately crafted, the same size as those of real people. There were men, women, and even children. All of the men were “Nether Brawlers”, crafted with tall, sturdy bodies and angered expressions. All of the women were fair-featured beauties, with hair in either single or double buns. Even when covered with loose-fitting paper clothes, one could still see their graceful postures. The patterns on the clothes were almost finer than those of real brocade robes—some were colored with rich, vivid ink; others were uncolored, left with ashen grays. On each mannequin’s cheeks, there were two smears of blush in pretense for a living person’s rosy complexion. However, none of their pupils had been added yet—the eyes were entirely white. The bolder the blush was, the gloomier they looked.
There was another table in the room. On the table, there were a few candlesticks, each a different length than the others. Wei WuXian lit them up one by one, and the yellow light illuminated most corners of the house. Aside from the paper mannequins, there were also two wreaths placed on both sides of the room. Paper gold, ghost money, and pagodas were heaped up beside the walls.
Jin Ling already had his sword slightly unsheathed. Seeing that it was only a shop that sold burial goods, he sighed with discreet relief and sheathed his sword again. In the cultivational world, even if a cultivator passed away, nobody employed the eerie, chaotic obsequies of the common folk. Since they hadn’t seen such things before, after the initial scare, curiosity sprouted from within their hearts. With skin covered in goosebumps, they felt that it was even more exciting than night-hunting ordinary beasts.
No matter how dense the fog was, it couldn’t seep into houses. Ever since they entered Yi City, this was the only point in time were they could easily see one another’s faces, which set their minds at rest. Wei WuXian saw that they’d relaxed, and asked the old woman again, “Would it be possible for us to borrow your kitchen?”
The old woman almost glowered at the lamp, as if she disliked the presence of any light, “The kitchen is in the back. Use it as you please.” After her words, she dodged into another room as though she was avoiding the plague. She slammed the door so loud that a few even shivered.
Jin Ling exclaimed, “There’s definitely something wrong with the hag! You…”
Wei WuXian responded, “Okay. Hush. I need somebody to help me. Any volunteers?”
Lan SiZhui hurried, “I can come.”
Lan JingYi was still standing as straight as a stick, “Then what do I do?”
Wei WuXian, “Remain standing. Don’t move if I don’t tell you to.”
Lan SiZhui followed Wei WuXian to the kitchen in the back. As soon as they went in, they were overwhelmed by a foul stench. Lan SiZhui had never smelled such a terrible scent before. Although his head spun, he managed to stop himself from rushing back out. Jin Ling followed as well, but leapt outside again immediately after he entered. He fanned the air as fast as he could, “What in the world is this?!! What are you doing here instead of thinking up cures?!”
Wei WuXian, “Hmm? Perfect timing. How did you know that I was going to call you over? Lend me a hand.”
Jin Ling, “I’m not here to help! Urgh! Did somebody kill someone but forget to bury them?!”
Wei WuXian, “Young Mistress Jin, are you coming or not? If you’re coming, then come in and help; if you’re not coming, then go back and tell someone else to come over.”
Jin Ling raged, “Who are you calling Young Mistress Jin? Be careful what you say!” He pinched his nose for a while, debating with himself whether or not to stay or to leave, and finally humphed, “Well I want to see what on Earth you’re trying to do.” With this, he stormed inside. Yet, he didn’t expect that, with a bang, Wei WuXian opened a chest on the ground, which was where the stench came from. Within the chest, there were ham and chicken. Blotches of green dotted among the red meat, while white, coiling maggots dotted among the green.
Jin Ling was forced to exit the room again. Wei WuXian picked up the chest and passed it to him, “Throw it away. Anywhere works, as long as we don’t smell it.”
With a churning stomach and a head full of doubt, Jin Ling threw it out as he was told. He fiercely rubbed his fingers with a handkerchief, then threw it out as well. After he returned to the kitchen, Wei WuXian and Lan SiZhui fetched two buckets of water from the well in the backyard, and were currently cleaning the kitchen. Jin Ling demanded, “What are you doing?”
Lan SiZhui wiped around in diligence, “As you can see, we are cleaning the kitchen hearth.”
Jin Ling, “What’s the use of cleaning the hearth? We’re not making food or anything.”
Wei WuXian, “Who told you so? We are making food. You can sweep the dust. Get rid of all the cobwebs up there.”
His words sounded so natural, so assured that, with a broom stuck into his hands, Jin Ling somehow obeyed. The more he cleaned, the more he felt that something was off. Just as he was about to throw the duster at Wei WuXian’s head, Wei WuXian opened another box, scaring him to the point that he darted out again. Luckily, this time, there wasn’t any stench.
The three worked quickly. After a short while, the kitchen looked completely different. The house finally seemed a bit more lively, no longer haunted and long-abandoned. In a corner, there were some already-chopped firewood. They piled them into the hearth and set them alight using a fire talisman. They rested a large pot that they had already washed on the hearth and began to boil water. Wei WuXian poured some glutinous rice out of the second chest, washed all of it, and put it into the pot.
Jin Ling, “You’re making congee?”
Wei WuXian, “Uh-huh.”
Jin Ling hurled the cleaning rag onto the ground. Wei WuXian commented, “You see how you get mad after working for just a bit? Look at SiZhui. He worked the hardest and didn’t even say anything yet. What’s wrong with congee?”
Jin Ling, “What’s not wrong with congee? It’s so watery and tasteless! Wait… I’m not mad because there’s something wrong with congee!”
Wei WuXian, “It’s not for you anyways.”
Jin Ling was even more angered, “What did you say? I worked for so long, and I don’t even get any?!”
Lan SiZhui, “Young Master Mo, is it that congee can cure corpse poisoning?”
Wei WuXian smiled, “Yes, but it’s not the congee that can cure corpse poisoning—it’s the rice. This is folk medicine. Normally, you apply the glutinous rice to the scratched or bitten wound. In the future, if you ever find yourselves in such a situation again, you can try this. Although it’ll hurt a lot, it definitely works efficiently. But, since they swallowed corpse poisoning powder instead of being scratched or bitten, we can only make some rice congee for them to eat up.”
Lan SiZhui came to realization, “So that was why you intended to enter a house with someone inside. Only a house with someone living inside could have a kitchen. Only a kitchen could have glutinous rice.”
Jin Ling, “Who knows how long the rice has been here for? Can you still eat it? This kitchen hasn’t been used in at least a year. There’s dust everywhere and the meat’s even rotten. Don’t tell me that the hag hasn’t eaten for an entire year. It’s impossible that she has practiced inedia. How did she survive?”
Wei WuXian, “It’s either that nobody has been living here and that she really isn’t the shopkeeper at all, or that she simply doesn’t need to eat.”
Lan SiZhui lowered his voice, “If she does not need to eat, then she would be dead. But the old woman clearly breathes.”
Using a spatula, Wei WuXian nonchalantly stirred the pot of congee, mixing in ingredients from various bottles and jars, “Right. You haven’t finished explaining. Why did you come to Yi City together? It wasn’t just by chance that you ran into each other and then us, was it?”
The boys’ expressions immediately grew serious. Jin Ling replied, “I, the Lan Sect’s people, and the ones from other sects were all chasing after something. I came from the Qinghe area.”
Lan SiZhui also replied, “We came from Langya.”
Wei WuXian, “What was it?”
Lan SiZhui shook his head, “We do not know. It never showed its face. We don’t even know what or who… or which organization it was, exactly.”
Ever since a few days ago, after Jin Ling lied to his uncle and let Wei WuXian go, he had been worried that this time Jiang Cheng would really break his legs, so he decided to sneak out and disappear for a few days, not appearing in front of Jiang Cheng until his anger subsided. He ran away immediately after he passed Zidian to one of Jiang Cheng’s trusted subordinates. Having arrived at a city on the border of the Qinghe area, his journey paused. In search for the location for his next night-hunt, he took a short rest at a large inn. At night, when he was memorizing spells in his room, Fairy, who lay by his side, suddenly started barking at the door. It was already deep into the night. Jin Ling ordered the dog to stop, yet he immediately heard someone knocking on the door.
Although Fairy stopped barking, it was still restless. Its claws dug at the ground as it growled deeply. Already on the alert, Jin Ling asked for who the person was. There came no reply, so he got back to his business. However, after an hour, the knocks sounded again.
Jin Ling leaped out the window along with Fairy. He circled around and went upstairs from the first floor, intending to see who exactly was messing with him in the middle of the night. Despite his efforts, there was nobody there. He waited silently for a while, but still didn’t see anyone in front of his door.
Keeping an eye on this, he let Fairy guard the door. He was ready to attack the person at any moment and stayed awake for the whole night. Despite this, nothing had happened. There were only some strange sounds, as if water was dripping down.
On the second morning, a scream came from outside the door. Jin Ling kicked the door open only to step into a pool of blood. Something fell from above the door. Darting backward, Jin Ling barely managed to prevent it from hitting him.
It was a black cat!
Someone, not long ago, nailed the corpse of a dead cat on top of his door. The strange dripping sounds he heard throughout the night were from the cat’s blood dripping down.
Jin Ling, “It was the same after switching to a few different inns, so I went on the offensive. If I heard that a cat’s corpse happened to appear anywhere, I would go and see, since I just had to find out who was messing around.”
Wei WuXian turned to Lan SiZhui, “You guys as well?”
Lan SiZhui nodded, “Yes. A few days ago, a few of us were night-hunting at Langya. During dinner one day, we suddenly fished out the unskinned head of a cat from inside the soup… In the beginning, we did not know that it was directed at us, but on that night, when we switched to another inn, we found the corpse of a cat in one of the bedsheets. It was the same for a few continuous days. We chased after it, arrived at Yueyang, and ran into Young Master Jin. We found out that we were searching for the same thing, so we decided to work together, and only arrived at this area today. We asked a hunter in the village in front of a stone tablet, and we were shown the path to Yi City.”
Wei WuXian thought to himself, A hunter?
The juniors should’ve passed the village in front the road fork after Lan WangJi and he did. However, they didn’t see any hunters at the time. There were only a few timid village women feeding chicken, who said that the men were out shipping goods and wouldn’t be back for a long while.
The more Wei WuXian thought about it, the more solemn his expression grew.
From the narration, their opposition did nothing other than killing cats and dumping the corpses. Although it both sounded and looked scary, they weren’t actually harmed. In fact, these events stirred up their curiosity to get to the root of the matter.
Also, these juniors met one another in Yueyang. Wei WuXian and Lan WangJi also came to Shudong from Yueyang. It almost seemed as if somebody was purposely leading the muddleheaded juniors to meet up with the two of them.
To lead a few confused juniors to a dangerous place for them to face the violent limb of a fierce corpse—wasn’t this the exact same routine as the occurrence at Mo Village?
And, this wasn’t the most complicated part of it. Right now, what Wei WuXian feared the most was that… the Stygian Tiger Seal might be within Yi City at this very moment.
Although Wei WuXian didn’t really want to accept this possibility, it was nonetheless the most reasonable explanation. After all, someone who could restore half of the Tiger Seal had even existed. Despite the talk that he had been dealt with, who knew where the seal that he had restored went?
Suddenly, Lan SiZhui, who had been squatting on the ground to fan the flame, raised his head, “Senior Mo, I think that the congee is ready?”
Gathering his thoughts, he stopped stirring. He grabbed the bowl that Lan SiZhui had washed and tasted a spoonful of the congee, “It’s ready. Take it out. Feed one bowl to each person who had been poisoned.”
However, after it had been carried out, Lan JingYi only had one mouthful before spitting it out, “What is this? Poison?!”
Wei WuXian, “How is this poison? It’s the cure! Glutinous rice congee.”
Lan JingYi, “First of all, I don’t know know why glutinous rice would be the cure, but I’ve never eaten such a spicy bowl of congee before!”
The rest of the boys who had taste their servings nodded in unison, all of their eyes wet with tears. Wei WuXian stroked his chin. He grew up in Yunmeng. People from Yunmeng were all quite spice-tolerant, but Wei WuXian’s penchant for spice was beyond hardcore. Anytime he set about the kitchen, the food would be so spicy that even Jiang Cheng could only smash his bowl and curse. Yet, for some reason, he just couldn’t hold back from adding spoonful after spoonful of seasoning. It seemed that, this time, he wasn’t able to control his hands either. Out of curiosity, Lan SiZhui picked up the bowl and tried a mouthful. Even as his face flushed red and his eyes teared up, he pursed his lips and refrained from spitting it out, thinking to himself, The taste… is so scary that it almost brings about a sense of deja vu.
Wei WuXian, “All medicine is poisonous to some degree. The spice will make you sweat so that you get better sooner.”
The eww-s coming from the boys revealed their disbelief. Nonetheless, with bitter faces, they ate up the congee. Within seconds, all of their faces reddened and their foreheads gleamed as they suffered from the agony. Wei WuXian couldn’t help but comment, “It’s not that serious, is it? HanGuang-Jun is also from Gusu. He takes spice quite well, so why are you guys like this?”
Lan SiZhui answered with a hand covering his mouth, “No, Senior. HanGuang-Jun’s taste is very mild. He never eats spice…”
Wei WuXian paused for a moment, “Really.”
But he could remember that in his past life, before he betrayed the YunmengJiang Sect, he had met with Lan WangJi in Yiling once. At the time, although Wei WuXian was widely reviled, it wasn’t to the point that everyone wanted to beat him up. Thus, pulling on a thick face, he asked Lan WangJi to have dinner with him so that they could reminisce together. All of the dishes that Lan WangJi ordered were packed with Sichuan peppers, and so he had always thought that Lan WangJi’s taste for spice was pretty much the same as him.
Now that he thought about it, he couldn’t remember whether or not Lan WangJi actually picked up his chopsticks. Then again, he even forgot about how he said that the meal was his treat, so Lan WangJi ended up paying for them anyway. This was why it was only natural for him to forget such a detail.
He didn’t know why but, all of a sudden, he really, really wanted to see Lan WangJi’s face.
“… Senior, Senior Mo!”
“Hmm?” Wei WuXian finally pulled himself together. Lan SiZhui whispered, “The old lady’s door… has opened.”
From somewhere came an eerie gust of wind, faintly opening the room’s door. The door swayed open and closed, revealing the vague outline of a stooping shadow sitting by a table within the frightful darkness. Wei WuXian signalled for them to stay put and walked into the room alone.
The dim light of the oil lamp and candlesticks in the central chamber leaked inside. The old woman sat with her head hung low, as if she didn’t notice that someone had entered. A cloth lay on her knees, tightly stretched with an embroidery frame, suggesting that she was doing needlework. Her two hands stiffly stuck to each other as they tried to guide a thread through a needle.
Wei WuXian sat down by the table as well, “Manager, why not light the lamp if you’re threading a needle? Let me help.”
He took over the needle and thread—the thread went through at once. Passing it back to the old woman, he walked out of the room as if nothing had happened and closed the door behind him, “There’s no need to go in.”
Jin Ling, “When you were inside, did you see if the hag’s actually alive or not?”
Wei WuXian, “Don’t call her a hag. That’s quite rude. The old lady is a living corpse.”
The boys looked at one another. Lan SiZhui asked, “What is a living corpse?”
Wei WuXian, “From head to toe, everything seems to say that they’re a corpse, but the person is actually living. That’s what a living corpse is.”
Jin Ling was shocked, “You’re saying that she’s still alive?!”
Wei WuXian, “Have you looked inside?”
“What did you see? What was she doing?”
“Threading a needle.”
“Did it go in?”
“Correct. She’s incapable of threading a needle. Dead people’s muscles are too rigid to perform complex actions such as threading needles. The marks on her face aren’t age spots, but livor mortis. And she doesn’t need to eat, either. It’s only that she can breathe which makes her alive.”
Lan SiZhui, “B-but, the old lady is already quite elderly. A lot of old ladies have poor eyesight and cannot thread needles by themselves.”
Wei WuXian, “So I helped her. Did you notice the other thing, though? From opening the door until now, she hasn’t blinked even once.”
The boys blinked a few times. Wei WuXian continued, “Living people blink to prevent eyes from becoming sore. Dead people, on the other hand, have no need to do this. And, when I took the needle and thread over, did anyone notice how she looked at me?”
Jin Ling, “Her eyeballs didn’t move… but her head did!”
Wei WuXian, “Precisely. When most people look somewhere, their eyeballs usually move, no matter how slight the movement is. However, dead people’s eyes don’t. This is because dead people can’t carry out an action as subtle as moving their eyeballs. They can only turn their heads and necks instead.”
Lan JingYi was baffled, “Should we be taking notes?”
Wei WuXian, “A good habit, but do you think you’d have time to flip through your notes when you’re out night-hunting? Keep it in your minds.”
Jin Ling spoke through clenched teeth, “Walking corpses are already weird enough. Why do things like living corpses exist?!”
Wei WuXian, “There are a lot of disadvantages to dead people: rigid muscles, slow movement, and so on. However, there are also quite a few advantages: the lack of fear towards pain, the inability to think, how easy they are to control. Somebody thought that they could amend for the disadvantages of corpses and create perfect corpse puppets. This was how living corpses came into being.”
Although the boys didn’t say anything, one single sentence was written all over their faces— “This person must be Wei! Wu! Xian!”
Wei WuXian didn’t know whether to laugh or frown, thinking silently, But I really haven’t done such a thing!
Although, it really did sound like his way of doing things!
He carried on, “Ahem. Alright. Wei WuXian started it. But, he successfully made Wen Ning, or the Ghost General. To be honest, I’ve always wanted to ask—who exactly came up with this title? It’s so dumb. Anyways, there were some other people who wanted to imitate this but weren’t good enough, so they used improper means. Targeting living people instead, they developed living corpses.” He concluded, “A type of failed imitations.”
Hearing Wei WuXian’s name, Jin Ling’s face froze over. He snorted, “Wei Ying himself used improper means.”
Wei WuXian, “Yep. Then, the ones who developed living corpses used the most improper means of all improper means.”
Lan SiZhui, “Senior Mo, what should we do now?”
Wei WuXian, “Some living corpses may not know that they’re already dead. I think that this old lady is one of the confused corpses. Let’s just not disturb her for now.”
Out of blue, a series of the crisp taps of a bamboo pole knocking on the ground suddenly sounded.
The sound came from nearby a window, which was sealed shut by strips of black, wooden boards. All of the disciples in the central chamber turned pale. Ever since they entered the city, they had been constantly pestered by the sound. They now panicked whenever they heard it. Wei WuXian gestured for them to be quiet. All of them held their breaths as they watched Wei WuXian walk to the window and look outside through a narrow slit between the boards.
As soon as Wei WuXian approached the slit, he could see a field of white. He thought that the fog outside was too thick for him to see anything. Suddenly, however, the whiteness rapidly shrunk backward.
He saw a pair of white, hideous eyes, glowering at the slit between the boards. The field of white he saw wasn’t fog, but the pair of pupil-less eyes.
Senior: This is another honorific, where the Japanese senpai honorific came from.
Living corpse: This has been used to mean “moving corpse” in past chapters. It will now refer to this specific type of corpse. In apologies for all of you having to memorize yet another phrase, here is a spreadsheet that compiles most of the important terminology: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1a9FyU-53VTTRZ_QkNMtIAq1ld61r8YPzw0g-Vu_jY3A/edit?usp=sharing
Livor mortis: Livor mortis is a settling of the blood in the dependent portion of the body after death, causing a purplish red discoloration of the skin (which means that the old lady died with her face down/being the dependent portion of her body) (Wikipedia).