Chapter 46 Guile—Part One
As though somebody dumped a bucket of cold water over his head, the curvature of Wei WuXian’s smile froze at once.
Standing below the dead tree, the tall figure faced Wei WuXian. If a head sat atop his neck, he’d be staring silently at Wei WuXian for sure.
By the bonfire, the juniors of the Lan Sect saw the shadow as well. Each of them felt their hair stand up. With widened eyes, they went for their swords at once. Wei WuXian put his pointer finger in front of his lips and softly shushed them.
He shook his head, then looked at them with eyes that said “no”. Seeing this, Lan SiZhui noiselessly pushed back Lan SiZhui’s half-unsheathed sword.
The headless man reached for the tree trunk beside him and felt it for a while, as if he was thinking or trying to figure out what it was.
He walked a small step forward. Wei WuXian could finally see most of his body.
A burial robe hung over the man, somewhat tattered. It was indeed the one that the torso buried in the Chang Clan’s cemetery had been wearing.
And, by the man’s feet, a pile of shreds lay scattered on the ground. Wei WuXian could tell that this was a couple of torn-up Qiankun Pouches.
Wei WuXian, My mistake. It seems that our dear friend has pieced himself together!
Now that he thought about it, after he and Lan WangJi entered Yi City, so many things had happened that they hadn’t played Rest for almost more than two days. During the time that they spent travelling, they only barely managed to suppress the parts again. Yet, since all limbs of the corpse had been collected already, the attraction between each part multiplied. Perhaps they had felt one another’s resentful energy and their desire to be put back together grew, now that Lan WangJi was out patrolling, they hurriedly rolled off to the side, barged out of the Qiankun Pouches that had bound them, and pieced into a corpse by themselves.
Unfortunately, however, the corpse still lacked a part. One most important part.
The headless man put a hands to his neck, feeling the clean, crimson cut at his throat. After he had been at it for quite some time and still couldn’t find the object that was supposed to be there, as though enraged by such a fact, he suddenly slammed his palm into the tree beside him!
With a crack, the trunk broke at once. Wei WuXian commented in silence, What a temper!
Lan JingYi held his sword horizontally in front of his body and stammered, “W-what sort of monster is this?”
Wei WuXian, “You haven’t been reviewing the basics, have you? What’s a monster? This is obviously a corpse, categorized as the ghoul type. How can it be a monster?”
Lan SiZhui whispered, “Senior, you… you are talking so loudly. What if he hears you?”
Wei WuXian, “It’s alright. I suddenly realized that it’d be fine no matter how loud we talk. Because he doesn’t have a head, he doesn’t have eyes or ears, which means that he can’t see or hear anything. If you don’t believe me, give him a shout.”
Lan JingYi was curious, “Really? Let me try.”
After he spoke, he indeed shouted a couple of times. As soon as he had finished, the headless man spun around and walked in the direction of the Lan Sect’s juniors.
The boys could almost feel their souls escaping their bodies. Lan JingYi wailed, “But you said that it would be alright!”
Wei WuXian cupped his hands over his mouth and raised his voice, “It really is alright, look! I’m talking in such a loud voice and it’s not coming over, is it? But over on your side it’s not a matter of being loud or not. It’s because there’s firelight! It’s hot! There’s a lot of live humans and they’re all male! The yang energy is too heavy! He can’t see or hear, but he can walk in the direction where he feels is the most crowded. Why aren’t you putting the fire out already? And scatter around!”
With a wave of Lan SiZhui’s hand, a gust of wind put out the fire. The boys immediately scattered all around the deserted garden.
Just as Wei WuXian said, after the bonfire died and the people had dispersed, the headless man lost his direction.
He stood still for a few moments. Just as the group was about to sigh in relief, he suddenly started to move again. And, without any hesitation, he walked straight toward one of the boys!
Lan JingYi started to wail again, “But you said that we would be fine as long as the fire was out and we were scattered!”
Wei WuXian couldn’t find the time to answer him. He shouted at the other boy, “Don’t move!”
He picked up a pebble beside his feet. With a flick of his wrist, he threw the pebble toward the headless man. The pebble landed at the center of the man’s back. He stopped in his tracks and turned around. After he pondered for a moment, as though deciding that this side was more suspicious, he started walking toward Wei WuXian.
Slowly, Wei WuXian shifted two steps to the side, only closely missing the trudging corpse. He continued, “I told you to scatter, not to run around. Don’t run too quickly. The ghoul has quite a high level of cultivation. If you move too fast and carry the air with you, he’ll also notice.”
Lan SiZhui, “It seems like he is searching for something… Maybe it is… his head?”
Wei WuXian, “That’s right. He’s searching for his head. There are quite a few heads here, so since he doesn’t know which one is his, he’ll pull off the head of each person and place it on top of his own neck to see if it fits or not. If it does, he’ll do with it for a period of time, and if it doesn’t, he’ll throw it away, so you should walk slowly. You must not get caught by him.”
Imagining their heads being pulled off by the headless corpse and gruesomely attached to his own neck, the boys shivered in horror. Raising their hands over their heads in unison, they started to slowly “flee” around the garden. It was as though they were playing a treacherous round of hide-and-seek with the ghoul. Whoever that the ghoul seized would have to hand over his head. As soon as he caught of a boy’s presence, Wei WuXian would toss out a pebble and draw his attention to himself.
Hands behind his back, Wei WuXian moved slowly, walking as he examined the corpse’s actions, Our dear friend’s posture seems a bit strange, doesn’t it? He keeps on waving his arm with his hand in a loose fist. This type of movement…
As he thought, Lan JingYi couldn’t stand it any longer, “Are we just going to continue walking like this? Just how long will we have to keep on walking!?”
Wei WuXian pondered for a moment before replying, “Of course not.”
Just as he finished, he started to shout, “HanGuang-Jun! Oh, HanGuang-Jun! HanGuang-Jun, are you back yet? Help us!”
Seeing this, the others joined in as well. Since the corpse lacked a head and couldn’t hear anything, each shout echoed more passionate, more miserable than the last. A few moments later, the soft, flowing note of a xiao sounded amid the night. Closely following it was the limpid reverberation of a string.
Hearing the xiao and the guqin, the juniors were so ecstatic that they almost teared up, “HanGuang-Jun! ZeWu-Jun!”
Two slender figures flashed before the garden’s worn-down doors. They were the same jade-like posture, the same snowy shade. One holding a xiao and the other carrying a guqin, the two of them walked shoulder to shoulder. As they saw the headless shadow, both paused shortly.
Lan XiChen’s expression was especially surprised, almost to the point of shocked. Liebing’s ceased to sound, yet Bichen had already unsheathed. Sensing that a cold, powerful sword glare came at him, the headless man raised his arm and waved again. Wei WuXian exclaimed in silence, It’s that move again!
The man was also quite agile. Dodging Bichen’s glare with a leap, he backhandedly snatched at it. With this, he managed to grab Bichen’s sword hilt!
He held Bichen in his hand and raised it up, as if he was trying to examine what he had just got hold of even though he had no eyes. After the juniors saw that the man somehow stopped Bichen in midair, all of their faces paled. Lan WangJi, though, seemed as calm as ever. Taking out his guqin, he looked down and curved his finger, plucking one string. As if it was a formless arrow, the sound whistled as it whipped toward the corpse. The headless corpse slashed with the sword and fractured the note into pieces. Lan WangJi strummed downward. All seven strings vibrated, singing with even greater power. At the same time, Wei WuXian pulled out his bamboo flute and accompanied with an abnormally shrill pitch. It was as though the sharp blades of swords and sabers rained down from the sky!
The headless corpse lunged again. Lan XiChen had finally returned to his senses. Raising Liebing to his lips, he started to play as well. Wei WuXian didn’t know if it was only his imagination, but as soon as the soft, serene tone of the xiao appeared, the corpse’s movement paused. For a moment, he seemed to have stood still and listened, then turned around, as though he wanted to see who was the one playing the music. Yet, without eyes or a head, he couldn’t see anything at all. Still under the forceful attacks of the flute and the guqin, he looked as if he finally lost all energy, succumbing to the three instruments. With a stagger, he fell to the ground.
To be more accurate, it wasn’t that he fell down, but that he fell apart. There were the arms, the legs, and the torso, broken and scattered over the carpet of dry leaves.
Lan WangJi put his guqin away and summoned his sword back. Together with Wei WuXian, he walked toward the limbs, looked down, and took out five new Qiankun Pouches. The juniors encircled them, still in a panicked state. First, they saluted ZeWu-Jun, but before they had the chance to start chirping and twittering, Lan WangJi stated, “Go rest.”
Lan JingYi was confused, “Huh? But HanGuang-Jun, it is not nine yet.”
Lan SiZhui, on the other hand, tugged him and answered respectfully, “Yes.”
With that, he didn’t ask anything else. Leading the rest of the juniors, he went to another area of the garden, preparing to restart the fire and sleep.
Only three people were left by the pile of corpse parts. Wei WuXian nodded at Lan XiChen in respect. He squatted down and began to seal the parts inside the Qiankun Pouches again. Just as he was in the middle of stuffing the left hand into a pouch, Lan XiChen spoke up, “Please wait a moment.”
Back then, when Wei WuXian had seen Lan XiChen’s expression, he knew that something was wrong. Sure enough, Lan XiChen’s complexion was ashen as he repeated his words, “Please… wait a moment. Let me see the corpse.”
Wei WuXian stopped, “ZeWu-Jun, do you know who this person is?”
Before Lan XiChen could reply, Lan WangJi already nodded slowly.
Wei WuXian, “Well, then I also know who he is.”
He lowered his voice, “He’s ChiFeng-Zun, right?”
When they were “playing hide-and-seek”, the headless corpse kept on repeating the same movement—with a loosely-closed fist, he waved his arm and slashed the air. It looked as though he was brandishing a type of weapon.
At the first idea of a weapon, Wei WuXian thought of a sword. But as someone who used the sword himself and had dueled other swordsmen, he had never seen any sword expert use their sword in such a way. The sword was the “gentleman of all weapons”. Anyone who used the sword would pay attention to an air of grace or dignity. Even the sword of an assassin would need to have some agility amid the cruelty. In the art of swordplay, there were more of “lunge” and “stab”, and less of “hack” and “slice”. However, the headless man’s movements were too heavy. There was an abundance in malice and the slashes of the arm lacked elegance.
But, if he wasn’t holding a sword, but a saber—and a hefty saber with a strong killing intent—then everything would make sense.
The sword and the saber were different in both usage and temperament. The weapon that the man had used before he died was probably a saber. As fierce as the saber was, it valued power instead of style. When he was searching for his head, he was searching for his weapon as well. This was why he kept on repeating the moves of wielding a saber and even grabbed Bichen, using it as though it were his weapon.
Moreover, this corpse didn’t have any special markings such as a birthmark. And now after he had been cut into pieces, it was impossible find out who he was. It was only natural that Nie HuaiSang couldn’t recognize it in the Saber Hall. In fact, even Wei WuXian couldn’t guarantee that if he cut off his own leg and threw it everywhere, he’d be able to recognize whose leg it was. It wasn’t until the torso and the limbs were temporarily pieced into a corpse capable of movement by the resentful energy that Lan XiChen and Lan WangJi finally recognized him.
Wei WuXian, “ZeWu-Jun, HanGuang-Jun told you about what we saw during the journey, right? Mo Village, the grave digger, Yi City and all that.”
Lan XiChen nodded. Wei WuXian continued, “Then HanGuang-Jun probably told you this already. The mist-faced man who tried to take the corpse away in the Chang Clan’s cemetery knew the Lan Sect’s sword moves like the back of his hand. There can only be two possibilities. One, he’s from the Lan Sect and has been practicing the Lan Sect’s moves since a young age; two, he’s not from the Lan Sect, but he’s really familiar with your sect’s moves. He either often dueled with the Lan Sect’s people or he’s so intelligent that he can remember the moves as long as he has seen them.”
Lan XiChen remained silent. Wei WuXian added, “He fought for the corpse because he didn’t want others to realize that ChiFeng-Zun had been cut up. If ChiFeng-Zun’s corpse is pieced back together, the situation would be really difficult for him. This is someone who knows of the secrets behind the Nie Sect’s Saber Hall. Someone who’s quite close with the GusuLan Sect. Someone who has a rather complicated history… with ChiFeng-Zun.”
Without having to say who this person most likely was, everyone had understood.
Although Lan XiChen’s expression was solemn, he still replied quickly, “He will not have done such a thing.”
Wei WuXian, “ZeWu-Jun?”
Lan XiChen, “Your incidents of investigating the corpse parts and encountering the gravedigger all happened within the present month. During this month, he has been discussing matters with me every single night. We were planning the Discussion Conference occurring next month at the LanlingJin Sect just a few days ago. He could not have been to anywhere else. The gravedigger could not have been him.”
Wei WuXian, “What if he used a transportation talisman?”
Lan XiChen shook his head. His tone was gentle yet resolute, “One must cultivate the transportation technique in order to use the transportation talisman. It is rather difficult to cultivate. He has never shown signs of cultivating it. Likewise, one must expend large quantities of spiritual powers to use this technique, but we night-hunted together just a few days ago. His performance was excellent. I am certain that he has never used the transportation talisman.”
Lan WangJi, “He did not have to go himself.”
Lan XiChen still shook his head. Wei WuXian continued, “Sect Leader Lan, you know who is the most suspicious person. You’re just refusing to admit it.”
The light of the bonfire casted everchanging shadows over the three faces. All was still in the abandoned garden.
After a while of silence, Lan XiChen replied, “I understand that because of certain reasons, the world holds quite a few misconceptions about him. But… I trust what I have seen throughout all these years. I trust that he is not this sort of person.”
It wasn’t difficult to understand why Lan XiChen defended this person. To be honest, even Wei WuXian himself didn’t have a terrible opinion of the person they were suspicious of. Perhaps because of his background, he had always treated others with kindness and humility. He was the type of person who never offended anyone, the type who could make everyone around him feel comfortable talking to him, let alone ZeWu-Jun, who had been friends with him for years?
The time before Nie MingJue’s death was precisely the peak of the QingheNie Sect’s advances toward the LanlingJin Sect. Who would’ve Nie MingJue’s death benefited the most?
Death by a qi deviation under the public’s eyes… It looked like such a reasonable, unavoidable regret, but was the truth really so simple?
Ghoul: This was previously referred to as ghost. It has been changed due to the fact that ghosts do not have physical form while ghouls sometimes do.
Liebing: Literally translated to “cracked ice”.