The First Arc: Blood Rain Reaching Towards a Flower
Chapter 14: Clothes Redder Than Maple, Skin as White as Snow
His face had an expression of ridicule, yet he held an inexplicable, omniscient composure. Although he had the voice of a teenager, it was slightly deeper compared to other boys his age and was extremely pleasant to hear. Xie Lian sat upright on the ox cart, still, with serious concentration. He pondered for a moment before saying, “Blood Rain Reaching Towards a Flower, this scene sounds rather impressive. Friend, would you be able to tell me how it came to be?”
As a show of respect, Xie Lian decided best not to add the ‘young’ word in front of ‘friend’1. The teen sat casually, with his arm propped on a raised knee. He tidied the cuffs on his sleeves before nonchalantly saying, “The backstory isn’t that impressive. It’s only because Hua Cheng had once eradicated another ghost’s nest, and just as he was done, it started raining blood all over the mountain. When he left, he saw a flower on the side of the road beaten rather pitifully by the blood rain, so he tipped his umbrella and provided it with cover for a bit.”
Xie Lian imagined the scene and only felt that amidst the blood rain and wind, there was some elegance and sentiment deeply entwined. He recalled again, the legend of how the ghost clad in red had set fire to thirty-three temples, before he said with a laugh, “Does Hua Cheng frequently pick fights everywhere he goes?”
That teen replied, “Wouldn’t say frequently, I guess it depends on his mood.”
Xie Lian asked, “What kind of a person was he like before he died?”
The young man replied, “He definitely couldn’t have been a good person.”
Xie Lian asked, “What does he look like?”
The moment this question was asked, the teen lifted his eyes to peer at him. He cocked his head from side to side before he stood up to walk over to Xie Lian, then sat back down beside him. The teen replied with a question himself, “What do you think? How ought he look like?”
Upon looking at him much more closely, Xie Lian felt that this teen was even more striking up close. In addition, it was the kind of handsome that brought about a faint sense of being attacked, much like an unsheathed sharp sword. It was an image so dazzling one couldn’t look at it directly; causing people to not dare look him straight in the eye.
Their gaze had only briefly met, and already Xie Lian couldn’t take it anymore. After slightly inclining his head to the side, he said, “Being such a renowned Demon Lord, it can be assumed that he shape-shifts a lot, so he must have many appearances.”
When he saw how he turned his head, the teen raised an eyebrow and said, “That’s right. But sometimes he still uses his real appearance. The appearance we’re talking about is naturally his original self.”
Xie Lian was unsure if he was sensing wrong, but he felt as if the distance between the two of them had grown further apart. Thus, he once again turned his head back before saying, “Then I feel like his original self could definitely be a teenager like you.”
Hearing this, the teenager’s mouth curved upwards before he said, “Why?”
Xie Lian said, “Not ‘why’, since you can say whatever, then I can think whatever. Everything can just be whatever we please.”
That teen chuckled twice before saying, “Perhaps……Although, he’s blind in one eye.”
He tapped the spot under his right eye and said, “This one.”
That statement wasn’t unheard of. Previously, Xie Lian had also somewhat heard about this. Within certain versions of the legends, Hua Cheng wore a black eye-patch over his right eye, covering the eye he had lost. Xie Lian said, “Then, do you know what the matter is with that eye of his?”
The teen replied, “Nhn, this question, a lot of people want to figure it out too.”
When other people wanted to know what had made Hua Cheng lose his right eye, they were in fact just wanting to know what his weakness was. But with Xie Lian asking this, he purely just wanted to know. Xie Lian hadn’t spoken his next words before the teenager said, “He dug it out himself.”
Startled, Xie Lian asked, “Why?”
The teen replied, “He went mad.”
…..After going insane, he would even dig out his own eye. Xie Lian’s curiosity toward this Blood Rain Reaching Towards a Flower, the Ghost King clad in red, continued to increase. He reckoned it couldn’t be as simple as having gone crazy, but since the teenager already said it like this, presumably there wouldn’t be a more detailed explanation. Xie Lian continued to ask, “Then, does Hua Cheng have a weakness?”
Xie Lian wasn’t expecting an answer from the boy for this question, but he thought he’d ask it anyways for what it was worth. If Hua Cheng’s weakness could be so easily discovered by another, then the subject in question wouldn’t be Hua Cheng. However, who knew, the teen would reply without hesitation, “His ashes.”
If one could obtain the ashes of a ghost, then they would have the power to command the ghost. If the ghost did not comply with their orders, one could destroy their ashes, which would extinguish their form and have their soul shattered and scattered. This was common knowledge. However, when it came to Hua Cheng, even this common knowledge wouldn’t pose much significance. Xie Lian laughed and said, “I’m afraid no one would be able to obtain his ashes. Thus, this weakness is equivalent to not having one.”
And yet the teen responded, “Not necessarily. There is one kind of situation where the ghost would take the initiative to give away his ashes.”
Xie Lian said, “Like how he had challenged those thirty-three Heavenly Officials to a match, betting his own ashes as stake?”
Scoffing, the teen said, “Not possible.”
Although he didn’t say it fully, Xie Lian was still able to hear it the meaning behind his words. He had probably meant ‘How could Hua Cheng lose?’. The teenager continued, “There’s a tradition in the Ghost Realm. In the case where a ghost has chosen their person, they would entrust their ashes into that person’s hands.”
In reality, that would be the same as handing over one’s own life into another person’s hands. For such dedication, what sort of touching story that captured one’s imagination would this be? Engrossed on the subject, Xie Lian said, “So it turns out that the Ghost realm would have such a sentimental custom.”
The teenager said, “They do. But not many ghosts would dare do it.”
Xie Lian thought that was the case. If there were demons in this world who would scam or entice the hearts of people, then there would also be humans who would fool demons. There would exist much ongoing exploitation and betrayal. He said, “If it was handed over in infatuation, yet only results in broken bones and scattered ashes, it would indeed render one’s heart to feel aggrieved.”
However, that teenager laughed before saying, “What is there to be afraid of? If it were me, after giving away my ashes, I wouldn’t care if that person wished to break bones, scatter ashes or just toss it for fun.”
Xie Lian smiled before he suddenly remembered that despite how the two of them had chatted for so long, he still hadn’t learned the other boy’s name. He said, “This friend, how should I address you?”
The teen raised a hand to place it over his eyebrow, covering his eyes from the afterglow of the red-wine coloured setting sun. He squinted his eyes, making it seem as if he wasn’t too fond of the sunlight. He said, “Me? In my family, I’m ranked third. Everyone calls me San Lang2.”
He didn’t take the initiative to tell him his actual name, so Xie Lian didn’t continue to ask. He responded, “My family name is Xie, and my given name is the single character Lian. Seeing as you’re headed in this direction, are you also going to Pu Qi Village?”
San Lang leaned back against the pile of hay. He tucked both of his hands under his head as a pillow and crossed his legs before saying, “I don’t know. I randomly chose the way.”
There seemed to be an inside story to what he had said. Xie Lian said, “What’s the matter?”
San Lang heaved a sigh before casually saying, “There was quarrelling at home, and I got driven out. I walked for some time but there was nowhere to go. Today, I got so hungry I nearly fainted at the end of the main street, and only then did I randomly find a place to lie down.”
While this boy’s clothes appeared to be quite casual, the quality was of excellent material. In addition, with his refined way of speech and how he seemed to be very idle, having the time to read this and that, ever the all-knowing, Xie Lian had long suspected that he was some rich family’s young master who had come out to play. A pampered young boy who had wandered outside alone for so long must have inevitably come across many hardships along the road. This was something Xie Lian could deeply relate to. Hearing he was hungry, Xie Lian began rummaging through his satchel, but could only produce a single steamed bun. When he realized that this bun had not yet stiffened, he internally rejoiced before he said to the teen, “Do you want to eat it?”
The teenager nodded, so Xie Lian gave him the steamed bun. San Lang looked at him and asked, “You don’t have any more?”
Xie Lian said, “I’m okay, I’m not that hungry.”
San Lang pushed the steamed bun back to him and said, “I’m also okay too.”
Upon seeing this, Xie Lian took back the steamed bun and broke it, dividing it into two halves. Then, he once again gave the teenager one half and said, “Then you take half, and I’ll take half.”
Only then did the boy take the steamed bun, nibbling on it with him as they sat side by side. Seeing how he sat by his side and took a bite of that bun while looking ineffably a bit well-behaved, Xie Lian couldn’t help but feel as though he had wronged him somewhere.
The ox cart moved up and down along the bumpy mountain road, being slowly pulled along as the sun began gradually setting in the west. The two of them sat on the cart and continuously chatted. The more they talked, the more Xie Lian felt how peculiar this boy was. Despite his young age, his every word and action had an air about him. He was always undisturbed, as though between the vast expense of heaven and earth, there was nothing in this world that he wouldn’t know or could ever confound him. It made Xie Lian believe he understood a lot, and was quite mature despite being so young. And yet, sometimes, he would also reveal the enthusiasm belonging to that of a youth. When Xie Lian said he was the master of Pu Qi Monastery, the teenager said, “Pu Qi Monastery? It sounds like there’d be a lot of water chestnuts to eat, I like it. For whom is the Monastery devoted to?”
After once again being asked this headache-inducing question, Xie Lian lightly coughed and said. “Xian Le’s Crown Prince. You probably don’t know about him.”
A lazy smile appeared on the teenager’s face, but before he could respond, the ox cart suddenly jolted in a sudden quake.
The two of them swayed two and fro. Xie Lian was worried the boy might fall off and reached out to grab a hold of him. But who knew, the moment he touched San Lang, that teenager acted as if he was scorched by something hot and forcefully shook off his hand.
Even though his expression shifted only slightly, Xie Lian still perceived it. He thought to himself, perhaps this boy actually really hated him? Yet during this ride, it was clear they had fun conversing. However, right now, there wasn’t time to think further on the topic. Standing up, he asked, “What’s happening?”
The old man driving the ox cart said, “I don’t know what’s going on either! Old Huang, why have you stopped moving? Come on, move!”
At this time, the sun had already set with twilight approaching. Yet the ox cart was still within the mountain’s forest; where it looked gloomy and dark all around. The old ox stubbornly stood in its spot, refusing to move and being temperamental. All the urging the old man did was rendered useless with the ox, for it acted as if it wanted to bury its own head into the ground. Its tail vigorously swished around like a whip as it continued to persistently moo. Xie Lian perceived that something was off and was just about to leap off the cart, when suddenly, that old man pointed at something up ahead and started yelling.
Xie Lian turned, only to see at the front of the mountain road, many clusters of green flames in the east and the west that were burning faintly. A group of people clothed in white were holding their heads as they slowly walked toward them.
Seeing this, Xie Lian immediately uttered, “Protect!”
Ruoye broke away from his wrist before circling the ox cart once, creating a ring floating in mid-air that protected the three of them and the animal. Xie Lian turned his head and said, “What day is today?”
The old man had yet to reply when the teenager behind him said, “The Ghost Festival.”
Halfway through the seventh month, the Ghost Door opens. He hadn’t looked at the date when he left, but today just happened to be the Ghost Festival!
Xie Lian lowered his voice and said, “Don’t randomly walk about. We’ve bumped into evil today. If we walked down the wrong path, we won’t be able to return.”
- Raws for this is 小朋友 which directly translates to ‘little friend’ but in this context could be understood as ‘young one’. Basically, even though it would be more natural for Xie Lian to say that (since he’s very old haha), he opted not to out of respect.
- This can be roughly translated to ‘third son’ if used by family members, but it can also be used as an endearment between lovers.