Chapter 38 Grasses—Part Six
Surrounded by an ambience of frost and ice, Lan WangJi stood in front of Wei WuXian. Xue Yang fended the attack by casting out Shuanghua. The two swords collided, then flew back to their respective owners. Wei WuXian commented, “Isn’t this called ‘to come in time is better than to come early’?”
Lan WangJi, “Yes.”
As their exchange finished, they turned back to fighting with Xue Yang. A few moments ago, Wei WuXian was chased around by Xue Yang, but now, Xue Yang was driven around by Lan WangJi. In reaction to the adverse situation, with a roll of his eyes and a grin on his face, he tossed Shuanghua to his left hand. His right hand shifted inside his sleeve. Wei WuXian was concerned that he might hurl poisonous powder or hidden knives from the qiankun sleeves. However, he simply pulled out another sword, and seamlessly adjusted to a double-sworded style of attack.
The glare of the sword that he pulled from his sleeve was grim and dark. As it was wielded, it almost seemed to emit a black aura, creating a stark contrast with Shuanghua’s silver radiance. Using both swords equally well, Xue Yang’s hands kept in perfect time with each other. He gained the upper hand at once. Lan WangJi questioned, “Jiangzai?”
Xue Yang, “Hmm? HanGuang-Jun, you know of this sword? What an honor.”
“Jiangzai” was Xue Yang’s own sword. As its name and as its owner, it was a foreboding sword that brought with it bloodshed. Wei WuXian interrupted, “The name matches you perfectly.”
Lan WangJi, “Step back. You are not needed here.”
Thus, Wei WuXian humbly listened to the suggestion and stepped back. When he got to the door, he looked outside. Expressionless, Wen Ning was gripping Song Lan by the neck. He lifted him into the air and slammed him onto the wall, creating a large man-shaped dent. Similarly expressionless, Song Lan grabbed Wen Ning’s wrists. With a backflip, he threw him onto the ground. Both corpses fought expressionlessly, ceaselessly smashing and banging. Since neither of them felt pain or feared injury, unless they were cut into pieces, they would continue to fight even if they lost a limb or two. Wei WuXian muttered under his breath, “I don’t think I’m needed here, either.”
Suddenly, he saw that Lan JingYi, inside a dimly-lit shop, was frantically waving to him. He beamed, Aha. I’ll definitely be needed there.
Just as he left, Bichen’s sword glare brightened tenfold. With a brief slip of the hand, Shuanghua flew out of Xue Yang’s grip. Lan WangJi conveniently caught the sword. Seeing that Shuanghua was in someone else’s hands, Xue Yang had Jiangzai slash directly at the left arm that Lan WangJi used to grab the sword. As the attack was dodged, a chilling rage flashed within Xue Yang’s eyes. He demanded coldly, “Give me the sword back.”
Lan WangJi, “You do not deserve this sword.”
Xue Yang made a bitter sound of laughter.
On the other hand, Wei WuXian walked over to the disciples. Surrounded by the boys, he inquired, “Everyone alright?”
“We all listened to you and held our breaths.”
Wei WuXian, “Good. If anyone doesn’t listen to me, I’ll feed him congee again.”
The few boys who had encountered the taste pretended as if they were vomiting. Suddenly, the sounds of footsteps came from all around them. Shadows had already begun to emerge from the end of the street. Lan WangJi heard the sound as well. With a wave of his sleeve, he took out his guqin, Wangji.
The body of the guqin was horizontally slammed onto the table. Lan WangJi tossed Bichen to his left hand and continued to fight with Xue Yang, his attacks remaining strong. At the same time, without even turning his head, he raised his right hand and strummed across the strings.
The chord was loud and clear. It resonated all the way to the end of the street. What came back was the strange yet familiar noises of the corpses’ heads bursting. Lan WangJi continued to fight Xue Yang with one hand and play the guqin with the other. He’d glance across the scene as if it was only a simple matter, then nonchalantly curve his fingers to strum again. Working with both of his hands, he somehow still seemed calm and unhurried.
Jin Ling blurted out in spite of himself, “He’s so good!”
He had seen Jiang Cheng and Jin GuangYao go on night-hunts and kill beasts, which made him think that his two uncles were the two most powerful cultivators in the entire world. Toward Lan WangJi, though, he had always felt more fear than respect, especially toward his technique of silencing others and his cold temper. However, at the present moment, he couldn’t help but admire Lan WangJi’s abilities. Lan JingYi approved, “Well, obviously. Of course HanGuang-Jun is good. He just never likes to show it off. He is very low-key, right?”
The “right?” was directed at Wei WuXian, who replied in confusion, “Are you asking me? Why are you asking me?”
Lan JingYi was on the verge of being angered, “So you think that HanGuang-Jun is not good?!”
Wei WuXian touched his chin, “Hmm. He’s good. Of course. He’s really good. He’s the best.” As he talked, he couldn’t help but break into a smile.
The dangerously terrifying night was finally about to pass—dawn was almost here. However, this wasn’t the best of news. If daylight came, the fog would also become thicker. Then, they’d again be unable to do a thing!
If there were only Wei WuXian and Lan WangJi, it wouldn’t be as difficult. But with so many living humans around, if they end up surrounded by a large group of walking corpses, escape would be close to impossible. As Wei WuXian urgently tried to think of a solution, the crisp tip-taps of the bamboo pole sounded once more.
The ghost of the blind-eyed, tongue-less girl came again!
Without any hesitation, Wei WuXian ordered, “Go!”
Lan JingYi, “Where to?”
Wei WuXian, “Follow the sounds of the bamboo pole.”
Jin Ling was somewhat surprised, “You want us to follow a ghost? Who knows where she’ll take us to!”
Wei WuXian, “That’s precisely what you’re going to do. The sound has been following you guys ever since you came, correct? You were trying to go into the city, but she was leading you toward the city gates, where you ran into us. She was chasing you out—she was trying to save you!”
The strange, sporadic sounds of the bamboo pole were a technique that she used to scare people who entered the city. The Nether Brawler’s head that Wei WuXian stepped on was possibly also placed there by her to startle and alert them. Wei WuXian continued, “And, last night, she clearly wanted to tell us something really important, but couldn’t explain it. However, she disappeared as soon as Xue Yang came. She was most likely trying to avoid Xue Yang. Anyways, she definitely isn’t on the same side as him.”
“Xue Yang?! Why is Xue Yang here as well? Wasn’t it Xiao XingChen and Song Lan?”
“Uhh, I’ll explain that later. Anyways, the one fighting with HanGuang-Jun inside isn’t Xiao XingChen, but Xue Yang, who pretended to be him.”
The bamboo pole’s noises continued, as if the girl was waiting or urging them. If they followed her, they could fall into a trap; if they didn’t follow her, they’d be surrounded by corpses who release corpse-poisoning powder. It wouldn’t be much safer. The boys decisively chose to follow the knocking sounds along with Wei WuXian. Sure enough, as they moved, the sounds also moved. At times, they could see a small, vague shadow amid the thin fog in the distance, but sometimes there was nothing at all.
After running for a while, Lan JingYi spoke up, “So we are just going to run off like this?”
Wei WuXian turned around and shouted, “HanGuang-Jun, it’s up to you now. We’re gonna go ahead!”
The strings of the guqin vibrated, as if someone was saying “mnn”. Wei WuXian cracked up with a pfft. Lan JingYi hesitated, “That was it? You are not going to say anything else?”
Wei WuXian, “What else do you want me to do? What else should I say?”
Lan JingYi, “Why did you two not say ‘I’m worried about you. I’m staying!’, ‘Go!’, ‘No! I’m not going! If I’m going, you’re going with me!’? Is it not a must?”
Wei WuXian was left open-mouthed, “Who taught you this? Who told you that this sort of conversation must happen? It’d sound fine out of my mouth, but can you even imagine your HanGuang-Jun say such things?”
The Lan Sect’s juniors chorused, “No…”
Wei WuXian, “Right? It’s a waste of time. I believe that someone as reliable as HanGuang-Jun will definitely be able to deal with it. I can just focus on my own things and either wait for him to find me or go find him myself.”
They followed the bamboo pole’s noises for less than fifteen minutes. After a few twists and turns, in front of them, the noises abruptly came to a halt. Wei WuXian extended his arm, stopping the boys behind him, and walked a few steps forward. A house stood alone in the fog that grew thicker and thicker.
Somebody pushed open the door to the house, which silently awaited the entrance of the strangers. Wei WuXian felt that something must be inside. It wouldn’t be anything dangerous or that could kill them, but something that would tell him things and show them the answers.
He turned to the disciples, “We’ve already come this far. Let’s go in.”
He raised his foot and stepped into the house. Adjusting to the dark, he cautioned without looking back, “Watch for the threshold. Don’t trip.”
As he had expected, one of the boys almost tripped over the tall threshold. He complained, “Why is the threshold so high? It is not a temple or anything like that.”
Wei WuXian, “It’s not a temple, but it’s somewhere that also needs a high threshold.”
Hustling about, they lit up around a dozen fire talismans. The orange light of the wavering flames illuminated the entire house.
Straws were scattered on the ground, serving as a carpet. In the frontmost area, there was an altar and a few fallen stools of different heights. A small, unlit room was on the right side. Other than these, there were also seven or eight black, wooden coffins.
Jin Ling, “This is the so-called coffin home? Where dead people are temporarily put?”
Wei WuXian, “That’s right. Corpses that aren’t claimed by anyone, that would make a house ominous, or that are waiting to be buried are often put into coffin homes. It could be described as a courier station for dead people.” The smaller room on the side was probably where the person who guarded the coffin home rests.
Lan SiZhui asked, “Senior Mo, why is the threshold to the coffin home so high?”
Wei WuXian, “In case any corpses transform.”
Lan JingYi puzzled, “Would making a high threshold be able to prevent corpse transformation?”
Wei WuXian, “It can’t prevent corpse transformation, but it can sometimes prevent low-level corpses that have already transformed from going outside.” He went to stand in front of the threshold, “Say, for example, I’m dead and I just transformed.”
The boys nodded. He continued, “Since I just transformed, my limbs are really stiff, right? And I can’t perform certain actions?”
Jin Ling, “That goes without saying. You can’t even walk. You can’t step forward, so you can only jump…” At this point, he immediately understood.
Wei WuXian affirmed, “Correct. I can only jump.” With both of his feet together, he tried to jump outside. However, since the threshold was too high, he failed every attempt. Seeing how his toes bumped into the threshold, all of the disciples found the scene funny. They started laughing as they imagined a a corpse who had just transformed desperately try to jump outside like this, but get blocked by the high threshold every time. Wei WuXian spoke again, “Do you see now? Don’t laugh. This is the intelligence of common folk. Although it’s lame and seems too simple, it’s indeed effective against low-level corpses. If a corpse who has transformed is tripped by the threshold, after they fall on the ground, with their stiff body, they won’t be able to get back up in a short time. When they’re finally able get up, either the sun will rise soon afterwards and the rooster will call, or the person guarding the coffin home will’ve discovered them. It’s actually quite impressive how ordinary people who didn’t cultivate could think of such a solution.”
Although Jin Ling had laughed at the scene as well, now that he heard the explanation, he stifled his laughter at once, “Why did she bring us to a coffin home? Don’t tell me that it was because we won’t be surrounded by walking corpses if we’re here. Where did she go herself?”
Wei WuXian, “It’s likely that we really won’t be. We’ve been standing still for so long already. Has anyone heard any walking corpses?”
Just as he finished speaking, the ghost of the young girl appeared on top of a coffin.
Due to Wei WuXian’s persuasion, all of them had already seen what the girl looked like. They had even seen how she looked with bleeding eyes and a mouth without a tongue. So, now that they saw her again, nobody felt scared or uneasy. It could be seen that, precisely as what Wei WuXian had said, one would become braver and face situations with better composure after being frightened a couple of times.
The girl didn’t have physical form, only a spiritual body surrounded by a soft, dim aura. Both her figure and her face were small. After some grooming, she’d become just the charming girl-next-door. However, from how she sat with her legs apart, she didn’t look delicate at all. The bamboo pole that she used as a white cane leaned on the coffin. Her two legs hung down, anxiously swinging to and fro.
As she sat on the coffin, she used her hand to tap on the lid. She then hopped down and circled around the coffin a few times, making hand gestures at them. This time, the gesture was rather easy to understand. It was the action of “opening” something. Jin Ling guessed, “She wants us to open this coffin for her?”
Lan SiZhui suggested, “Would it be that her body is inside of here? She may want us bury her and bring her peace.” This was the most logical inference, since one of the most common reasons why plenty of ghosts haunted the Earth was that their corpses weren’t buried. Wei WuXian stood on one side of the coffin, while a few boys stood on the other, intending to help him open it.
He reassured them, “You don’t have to help me. Stand further back. What if it’s not a corpse and spurts out some more corpse-poisoning powder at you?”
He opened the coffin alone and lay the lid onto the ground. Looking down, he saw a corpse.
However, it wasn’t the corpse of the girl, but somebody else instead.
It was a young man. He had been put into a peaceful position with his hands folding crisscrossed together, beneath of which rested a horsetail whisk. On his body was a cultivational robe as white as snow. The silhouette of the lower half of his face, along with a pale countenance and soft-colored lips, was handsome and refined. The upper half of his face, though, was enfolded in layers and layers of bandages that totalled a width of four fingers. Under the bandages, nothing protruded from where his eyes should’ve been. The bandages sunk in instead. There weren’t eyes, only two empty hollows.
Having heard them open the coffin, the girl stumbled over. She stuck her hands into the coffin and, after some searching around, she finally felt the corpse’s face. Stomping her feet, tears of blood trickled down from her blind eyes again.
Everyone understood, without the need of any words or gestures. Placed all alone inside of a coffin home that stood all alone, this corpse was the real Xiao XingChen.
Ghost tears were incapable of dripping down. After the girl cried for a while, she suddenly stood up and ahh-ed at them through her clenched teeth. Appearing both angered and irritated, it was as though she really wanted to express her thoughts. Lan SiZhui asked, “Should I play Inquiry again?”
Wei WuXian, “There’s no need. It’s possible for us to ask the wrong questions, instead of the questions that she wants us to ask. And, I think that her reply will be quite complex, quite difficult to interpret.”
Although he didn’t say “you might not be able to do it”, Lan SiZhui still felt rather ashamed. He silently promised to himself, After I get back, I will study Inquiry with greater diligence. I will have to be as fluent, as quick, and as accurate as HanGuang-Jun. Lan JingYi asked, “Then what should we do?”
Wei WuXian, “How about Empathy?”
All of the major sects specialized in various methods of gaining information and searching for material on ghosts. Empathy was the one that Wei WuXian was the best at. His method wasn’t as profound as those of the other sects. Everyone could use it. It was simply to ask the ghost to possess his own body. Using his own body as medium, he could invade the spirit’s soul and memory, hear what they heard, see what they saw, feel what they felt. If the spirit’s emotions were abnormally strong, then he’d be affected by their sorrow, their rage, their ecstasy. Thus, it was called “Empathy”.
One could say that this was the most straightforward, most convenient, and most effective method. Of course, it was even more so the most dangerous method. Everyone feared and avoided chances for ghosts to possess their body. On another level, Empathy, though, was playing with fire. The slightest mistake happened, and it would backfire. If the ghost went back on their word and used the opportunity to counter-attack, even the best result would be the seizure the Empathizer’s body.
Jin Ling protested, “That’s too dangerous! Using such a dark technique without someone…”
Wei WuXian broke him off, “Okay, okay. We’re running out of time. Stand up properly. Quick. We still have to go back and find HanGuang-Jun after we’re finished. Jin Ling, you’ll be the supervisor.”
A supervisor was an indispensable part of the Empathy ritual. In case the Empathizer lost themselves in the ghost’s emotions, they needed to settle on a code with the supervisor. It was best if the code was a sentence or a voice that the Empathizer was familiar with. The supervisor must preside over the scene at all times. If they saw that the situation had changed, they’d need to act at once and pull the Empathizer out of the trance. Jin Ling pointed to himself, “Me? You want a young mast-… You want me to supervise you while you do something like this?”
Lan SiZhui, “If Young Master Jin does not want to do it, I can do it as well.”
Wei WuXian, “Jin Ling, did you bring the Jiang Sect’s silver bell?”
The silver bell was a signature accessory of the YunmengJiang Sect. When Jin Ling was young, he was brought up by two sects. He lived at the LanlingJin Sect’s Jinlin Tower half the time, and the YunmengJiang Sect’s Lotus Pier the other half, so he should be carrying belongings from both sects. As Wei WuXian had expected, with a complicated expression on his face, he pulled out a small, simplistic bell. The Jiang Sect’s clan motif, the nine-petaled lotus, was carved onto the silver body of the bell. Wei WuXian stared at the bell for a few moments. Sensing that he looked a bit off, Jin Ling asked, “What?”
Wei WuXian replied, “Nothing.” He passed the bell to Lan SiZhui, “The silver bell of the Jiang Sect can steady one’s focus and calm one’s mind. Use this as the code.”
Jin Ling grabbed the bell back, “Actually, I’ll do it!”
Lan JingYi grumbled, “You did not want to do it, and now you do want to do it. With such a hot-and-cold temper, are you a young mistress?”
Wei WuXian turned to the girl, “Come in.”
The girl wiped her eyes and her face, and crashed into his body. Her entire soul was slammed inside. Leaning against the coffin, Wei WuXian slowly slid to the ground. The boys hurried to drag over a pile of straw for him to sit on. Jin Ling clutched the bell tightly, his thoughts unknown.
When the girl had just slammed into him, Wei WuXian suddenly thought of a problem, The maiden is blind. If I Empathize with her, wouldn’t I be blind as well and I won’t unable to see a thing? The effects would plummet. Oh well, only the ears should work as well.
After a few dizzying moments, the soul that had been light felt as though it landed on firm ground. As the girl opened her eyes, Wei WuXian opened his eyes as well. However, the scene before his eyes wasn’t a field of pitch-black, but instead a clear landscape with bright colors.
He could see!
Seemingly, at the time of this piece of memory, she wasn’t blind yet.
During Empathy, the scenes shown to Wei WuXian would be segments of her memory with the strongest emotions and that she most wanted to express to other people. He could simply watch quietly and feel what she felt. At the moment, the two of them shared the same senses. The girl’s eyes were his eyes; the girl’s mouth was his mouth.
Sitting by a brook, the girl groomed herself in front of the water. Although her clothes were tattered, she still needed the most basic level of cleanliness. Tapping a tempo with the tip of her foot, she hummed as she fixed her hair, as though she wasn’t satisfied no matter how she fixed it. Wei WuXian could feel a thin, wooden hairpin poking around in her hair. Suddenly, she looked down at her reflection in the water. Wei WuXian’s viewpoint lowered as well. A young maiden with an oval face and a sharp chin was mirrored against the water of the brook.
There were no pupils within the maiden’s eyes, only a field of white.
Wei WuXian wondered, This is clearly the look of someone who’s blind, but right now I can see, can’t I?
After the girl fastened her hair, she dusted her clothes and leaped up. Grabbing the bamboo pole by her feet, she skipped along the road. She swung her pole as she walked, ceaselessly swatting at the branches above her head, knocking at the rocks that she passed, scaring the grasshoppers within the bushes. As soon as somebody approached from afar, she immediately stopped skipping. Properly holding onto her pole, she knocked on the ground as she slowly wandered forward, appearing quite wary. The group that came was a few villager women. Seeing her situation, they all moved out of her way and whispered to one another. The girl nodded with hurry, “Thank you, thank you.”
One of the women seemed as though she felt sorry for her. Lifting the white cloth that covered her basket, she took out a steamed bun and gave it to her, “Sister, be careful. Are you hungry? Take this and eat it.”
The girl ah-ed and replied thankfully, “How can I take it? I-I…”
The woman shoved the bun into her hand, “Take it!”
She finally took it, “Sister, A-Qing is very thankful of you!”
So the girl’s name was A-Qing.
Bidding the villager women farewell, A-Qing finished the bun in just a few bites, and continued to skip along, hopping three inches high each time. Skipping with her inside of her body, Wei WuXian’s head spun from dizziness. He thought to himself, The maiden is so full of energy. Now I understand. She’s pretending to be blind. She was probably born with those white eyes. Although she looks blind, she can actually see, so she’s pretending to be blind with her eyes, tricking people into feeling sorry for her. Being a girl who roamed the streets alone, if she pretended to be blind, people would naturally think that she really couldn’t see and lower their guard. However, in reality, she could see everything. This allowed her to adjust according to the circumstances and was indeed a clever method of self-protection.
Despite this, A-Qing’s soul was truly blind, which meant that she did lose her sight before she died. Then, how did she go from pretending to be blind to being actually blind?
Was it that she saw things she shouldn’t have seen?
When nobody was around, A-Qing skipped along; when people were around, A-Qing shrunk down and pretended to be blind. Pausing now and then, she arrived at a marketplace.
Since it was bustling with people, of course she’d show off her skills. Performing to the fullest, she knocked on the ground with her bamboo pole, her act as believable as ever. Slowly walking through the crowd, she suddenly ran into a middle-aged man dressed in bright, expensive-looking clothes. She pretended as though she was frightened, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I can’t see. I’m sorry!”
She couldn’t see? She clearly rushed right into the man!
Having collided with someone, the man turned angrily around, as if he wanted to curse at whoever was in front of him. However, seeing that it was not only a blind person, but also a young maiden who looked rather pretty, if he slapped her face in the streets, he’d definitely be criticized by the passerby. He could only scold, “Watch where you’re going!”
A-Qing continued to apologize. As he was about to leave, he still wasn’t satisfied, and squeezed A-Qing’s buttocks with his right hand. Since they felt the same things, it was as though the squeeze landed on Wei WuXian’s body. Instantaneously, Wei WuXian felt as if a blanket of goosebumps climbed over his heart. He wanted no less than to slam the man into the ground.
A-Qing shrunk herself into a ball as if she was deeply frightened. However, after the man was some distance away, she tapped her way into an obscure alleyway, and immediately spat on the ground. Fishing out a money pouch, she poured the contents out, counted them, then spat again, “Those lousy men, all of them are like this. Dressed as if they really are something, but they don’t have any coins. You can’t even shake a penny out of them.”
Wei WuXian was halfway between frowning and bursting into laughter. A-Qing was still young, possibly younger than fifteen-years-old, but she was already quite adept at cursing, and even more adept at snatching people’s money. He reminisced, If you stole my money, you wouldn’t have cursed in such a way. Back then, I used to be wealthy as well…
Just as he was sighing about how he became so poor, A-Qing had already found her next target. Acting as a blind person, she walked out of the alleyway, wandered on the streets for a while, and did the same thing. With an “ah”, she drove herself into a white-robed cultivator, then apologized, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I can’t see. I’m sorry!”
Wei WuXian silently shook his head. This young beauty didn’t even change her lines!
Having been jolted by her, the person turned around. He helped her steady herself first, “I’m fine. Maiden, you can’t see either?”
The person was fairly young. His cultivation robes were simple yet clean, and he carried a sword wrapped in white cloth on his back. The lower half of his face was quite handsome, although somewhat emaciated. On the other hand, the upper half of his face was covered with bandages about four fingers wide. A soft tinge of blood vaguely seeped from beneath the bandages.
Qiankun sleeves: Similar to a Qiankun bag, robes that have Qiankun sleeves are often worn by cultivators to carry things with them. This is what xianxia stories mean when someone takes something “out of their arms” or “out of their sleeves”.
Courier station: Courier stations were implemented in the past for couriers (or messengers) to relay letters to the next person when the distance was too long for one courier to make.
Jinlin Tower: Jinlin Tower has been mentioned a few times already, hasn’t it? The same as the Cloud Recesses and Lotus Pier, Jinlin Tower is where the LanlingJin Sect is situated. However, since the former two were translated without pinyin, I’m thinking about changing this one to English as well. Then again, Jinlin means “golden carp”, so it wouldn’t sound as pretty if it’s called “Carp Tower”.