The First Arc: Blood Rain Reaching Towards a Flower
Chapter 17: Within Pu Qi Monastery, Strange Tales of Ban Yue Pass
San Lang glanced at him, chuckling as he said, “I’m leaving for a bit.”
After casually dropping this line, he turned on his heels and left. Logically speaking, Xie Lian should have chased after him to ask about it, but he had a strange feeling that since the young man had already said he’d only be gone for a bit, then he wouldn’t be gone for very long. He would definitely come back. So, Xie Lian took the initiative and went back inside the monastery.
Xie Lian rummaged through the things he had collected last night while wandering through the city’s alleys; his left hand grasped a metal pot, while his right found a cooking knife. He looked at the pile of fruits and vegetables on the offerings table and rose from his seat.
After about an incense stick later1, the sound of footsteps indeed sounded from outside the Pu Qi Monastery. These footsteps sounded neither soft nor hurried, and upon hearing them, one could easily imagine a young man walking in with a casual demeanour.
At this point, the items Xie Lian had been holding in his hands had already transformed into two plates. He looked left and right at the stuff on the plates, before letting out a long sigh. Not wanting to look at it anymore, he peered outside and, as he had expected, he saw San Lang again.
The young man stood outside the monastery. Perhaps it was due to the blaze of the harsh sun, he had taken off his red outer shirt and had it casually tied around his waist. He only had on a thin, white shirt for his top, with his sleeves were rolled up, making him look rather clean and dexterous. His right foot stepped on a rectangular piece of wood, and his left hand spun a billhook machete.
The machete was probably borrowed from one of the villagers. It looked dull and heavy, yet in his hands, it seemed light and extremely sharp. Every so often, San Lang would shave off a few slivers of wood from the wooden board, much like peeling rind.
When he raised his eyes and saw Xie Lian come out, he said, “I’m making something.”
Walking over to take a look, Xie Lian realized he was actually making a door. The sizing was just right. With excellent craftsmanship, the door was beautifully elegant and had a smooth finish. Due to how the young man seemed to have come from a rich background, Xie Lian had thought he would be the type who could do neither physical work nor distinguish rice from wheat2. Who knew he was so quick with his hands?
“I’ve troubled you, San Lang,” Xie Lian said.
San Lang smiled, adding no further comment. Swiftly throwing the machete aside, he immediately went to install the door. Then, he knocked on it a few times before telling him, “Since you’re going to draw a talisman, why not draw it on the door? Wouldn’t that be better?
Having said that, he nonchalantly lifted the curtain and entered.
It seemed that the barrier talisman on the curtain really acted as no deterrence for him, and San Lang appeared to not care at all.
Xie Lian closed the newly-made door, but then he couldn’t resist opening it again, only to close, open, then close it again. Admiring how well-made the door was after opening and closing it a few times, he was suddenly taken aback by how senseless he was acting. On the other end, San Lang had already sat himself down in the house. Xie Lian left the door alone and brought out a plate of plain, steamed buns that were this morning’s offerings from the villagers before placing them on the offering table.
San Lang took a look at the buns. He didn’t say a word but quietly started to laugh again, as if he had seen through something. Xie Lian acted as if nothing had happened and poured another two bowls of water. Just when he was about to sit down, he saw what was under San Lang’s rolled up sleeve. His forearm had a row of tiny tattoos, and the tattooed characters were all quite strange. Noticing his gaze, San Lang let down his sleeves and chuckled as he said, “I got them when I was young.”
Since he had let down his sleeves, it meant he didn’t want to discuss the topic further. Xie Lian understood. He sat himself down before lifting his head to look at the portrait again, saying, “San Lang, you draw so well, did you have someone teach you back home?”
San Lang jabbed at a few buns with his chopsticks. “No one taught me. I just drew for my own amusement.”
Xie Lian asked, “How did you even know how to draw the portrait of ‘the Xian Le Crown Prince who pleased the Gods’?”
San Lang laughed, saying, “Didn’t you say before that I knew everything? Of course I’d know how to draw it.”
Even though this was a rather shameless reply, his attitude was magnanimous, as if he wasn’t worried about raising Xie Lian’s suspicious, nor was he afraid of being further questioned. Xie Lian smiled and dropped the subject. And at that precise moment, a clamour arose from outside. The two of them raised their heads in sync and glanced at one another.
Only to hear someone from outside fiercely pound on the door, yelling, “Great Immortal! Oh my gosh, it’s terrible! Great Immortal, save us!”
Xie Lian opened the door and saw a crowd of people standing out front, encircling the entrance. Upon seeing him open the door, the village chief called out in exultation, “Great Immortal! This person looks like he’s about to die! Please, quickly save him!”
As soon as he heard someone was about to die, Xie Lian hastened to look, only to see that the person the villagers had surrounded was a Taoist. His hair was dishevelled and his face dirty. His clothes and shoes were ripped and tattered, as if he had been on the run for many days. It seemed as if he had only just collapsed and passed out here before he was then brought over. Xie Lian said, “Don’t panic. He’s not dead.”
He bent down to check the person’s body. During this process, he noticed that the person had carried some objects on his person, such as the eight trigrams and an iron sword, all which were effective enchantment tools. It seemed that this person wasn’t an ordinary jianghu3Taoist. Xie Lian’s heart couldn’t help but sink at the fact.
Not long after, the Taoist awoke before asking with a hoarse voice, “ …..where is this?”
The village chief answered, “This is Pu Qi Village!”
That person mumbled, “……..Out. I’m out, I’ve finally escaped….”
He glanced around. Suddenly, his eyes widened before he fearfully said, “H-Help, help! Please help!”
Xie Lian had anticipated this kind of reaction. He said, “Fellow Taoist friend, what is the matter? Who should I help? What’s wrong? Don’t rush, take your time and tell me clearly.”
The villagers also said, “That’s right, have no fear. We’ve got a great immortal here, he will definitely settle all your matters!”
Xie Lian, “???”
Actually, these villagers had never seen him perform any godly feats, yet they all seriously believed he was a living god. Xie Lian didn’t know what to say either as he thought, ‘to settle all his matters was something impossible to guarantee.”
To that person, he asked, “Where did you come from?”
The Taoist devotee said, “I……I came from Ban Yue Pass.
Hearing this, everyone present turned to look at each other. “Where is Ban Yue Pass?”
“Never heard of it!”
Xie Lian said, “Ban Yue Pass is in the Northwest region. It’s extremely far from here. How did you get here?”
That person said, “I……It was through great difficulty that I could escape to here.”
He spoke incoherently, and his emotions were extremely unstable. In this situation, the more people around, the harder it was to speak. With everyone talking at once, you wouldn’t be able to speak clearly nor would you be able to hear clearly. Xie Lian said, “Let’s talk after going inside.”
He gently helped the man inside, then turned around to speak to the villagers. “Could everyone please go home and stop spectating?”
The villagers, however, were all very enthusiastic as they asked:
“Great Immortal, what’s gotten to him?”
“Yeah, what happened?”
“If there are difficulties, we will all pitch in to help!”
Sadly, the more enthusiastic they were, the more they would be incapable of assisting. Feeling helpless, Xie Lian lowered his voice and solemnly said, “This……could be possession.”
The villagers were aghast upon hearing those words. Possession was nothing to joke about. It wouldn’t do for them to keep watching, so they all quickly dispersed. Xie Lian, unsure of whether to laugh or cry, closed the door. San Lang was still seated beside the offering table, his hands twirling a pair of chopsticks for fun. He was squinting at that man, his gaze rather scrutinizing. Xie Lian told him, “It’s nothing. You can continue eating.”
He let that man sit down, but remained standing himself. “This Taoist friend, I am this monastery’s master, and I can also be considered as a cultivator. Don’t worry, if something has happened, you can say it. And, should there be something I can help you with, perhaps I can lend what little strength I have. In regards to what you mentioned earlier, what happened to Ban Yue?”
The man panted. It seemed that, after entering a less-crowded space and hearing Xie Lian’s comforting words, he was finally able to calm down. He said, “Have you never heard of this place?”
Yet, Xie Lian replied, “I’ve heard of it. Ban Yue Pass is an oasis within a Gobi desert4. Ban Yue’s nightscape is extremely beautiful, and can be described as quite a dazzling scenic view. That was how it got its name.”
That man said, “Oasis? Scenic? Those were times from two centuries ago. Now, calling it the Ban Ming Pass5 would be more accurate!”
Slightly perplexed, Xie Lian asked, “What do you mean?”
The man’s complexion turned pale to the point it was frightening. He said, “Because it doesn’t matter where one came from, at least half of those who travelled there will disappear without a trace. Wouldn’t it be more fitting for it to be called ‘Ban Ming Pass’?”
This was really unheard of. Xie Lian said, “Who did you hear this from?”
“I didn’t hear this from anyone. This is what I witnessed with my own eyes!” Sitting up, the man continued, “There was a caravan that wanted to travel through that place. They knew of the evils happening there, and had asked our whole division to escort them on their journey. In the end……”
His voice was filled with grief as he said, “In the end, I am the only one left.”
Xie Lian lifted his hand and motioned him to sit well and not get too agitated. “How many people were in your party?”
“My entire sect, plus the caravan, had around sixty people!”
Around sixty people. When that female ghost Xuan Ji had wreaked havoc within the course of a century, what Ling Wen Palace had finally calculated was that the total number of people killed hadn’t exceeded past two hundred. But listening to what the Taoist had said, this sort of event seemed to have been happening for over a century. If this many people went missing every time, then adding the numbers up altogether would render this no longer a small matter. Xie Lian asked, “When did Ban Yue Pass first become Ban Ming Pass?”
The man said, “Around a hundred fifty years ago was probably when it had started; when that place became the domain of evil.”
Xie Lian had wanted to ask in detail about the murders of his party and about this ‘domain of evil’. But, from the very beginning to this moment, he couldn’t help but faintly feel that something was off. Right up to this point, Xie Lian had no way of suppressing this feeling of suspicion in his chest. Thus, he ended the topic and began slightly furrowing his brows.
Right then, San Lang suddenly spoke up.
He said, “You escaped all the way from Ban Yue Pass?”
The man said, “Yes! Agh, it was a narrow escape!”
San Lang made an ‘oh’ sound of understanding, then said no more. Yet, it only took this single question for Xie Lian to perceive just what it was that felt so wrong.
Turning around, he warmly said, “Then, after escaping from such a long way, you must be thirsty.”
The man was startled, but Xie Lian had already placed a bowl of water in front of him, saying, “Here’s some water, my Taoist friend. Why don’t you drink some?”
Facing this cup of water, an uneasy expression flitted across the man’s face. Xie Lian stood to the side, both hands hidden within his sleeves, quietly waiting.
If this Taoist man really came from the Northwest, all the while fleeing in a hurry, he was bound to be parched and starving. And looking at his appearance, it didn’t seem like he had the free time on the road to eat or drink.
However, after he had awakened, he had spoken so much and yet had not brought up any requests for food or drink during that whole time. Despite facing all the food and beverages on the offering table after entering the building, he hadn’t displayed a single desire or wish toward them. He didn’t even cast them a single glance.
This really doesn’t seem to be a living person.
- This was how people kept track of time back then, it’s an approximate guess on time since every incense stick is different.
- Chinese idiom describing someone who’s ignorant to common things and can’t do physical work, AKA useless in both mind and body in a sense.
- 江湖 (jiānghú): Jianghu is the community of martial artists in wuxia stories and, more recently, outlaw societies like the Triads.
- This is a large desert region in Asia.
- A play on words. 半月 (bànyuè): means ‘half moon’, while 半命 (bànmìng): means half life.