The First Arc: Blood Rain Reaching Towards a Flower
Chapter 18: Within Pu Qi Monastery, Strange Tales of Ban Yue Pass
Under the gazes of the other two in the room, the Taoist man picked up the bowl of water. With his back hunched, he began to drink it slowly. Through his body language, it didn’t seem like he was a man who chanced upon rain amidst a long drought, but rather a man who was hesitant and on guard.
Concurrently, as he was drinking the water, Xie Lian clearly heard the sounds of plop, plop, plop, as though water was being poured into an empty jar.
Instantly, he realized something. Grabbing the other’s hand, he said, “Stop drinking.”
That Taoist’s hands shook as he stared at him in bewilderment. Xie Lian smiled and said, “It’s useless even if you drink. Isn’t that right?”
Having heard what he had said, the Taoist’s complexion suddenly changed. With his other hand, he unsheathed the iron sword by his waist and made to stab at Xie Lian. Xie Lian stood in place, motionless, before he raised a hand to block him. With a ‘clang’, he swiftly blocked the blade’s edge.
When that Taoist man saw how he was still firmly holding his hand, he gritted his teeth and yanked away. Xie Lian only felt the arm suddenly deflate, as though it were a ball that leaked air, completely shrivelling up before it slid free from his grasp.
As soon as the Taoist man broke free, he fled towards the door. Xie Lian wasn’t worried because in this kind of place where there weren’t any external forces that could obstruct him, even if the Taoist man tried to run ten feet, Ruoye would still be able to drag him back.
However, just as he lifted his wrist, a sharp ‘whish’ passed by him.
That noise sounded as if someone had shot a sharp arrow from behind. It immediately pierced through the Taoist man’s stomach and nailed him to the door. Xie Lian fixed his gaze upon it before realizing that it was actually a single bamboo chopstick.
He turned to look, and saw that San Lan had stood up from the table, his demeanour calm and unruffled. Brushing past him, San Lang pulled out the bamboo chopstick. He swayed it twice in front of him before saying, “It got dirty. I’ll throw it out later.”
As for that Taoist man, despite suffering heavy injuries, not once did he utter a single cry of pain. Instead, he silently leaned against the door and slowly slid down. What gurgled and flowed out from within his stomach was not blood, but clear water.
It was in fact the very same water from that bowl he had just drunk from.
The two of them both squatted next to the Taoist man. Xie Lian pressed down on his wound a couple of times, and felt as if this wound was similar to that of a punctured hole in a balloon with air seeping out from the whole. In addition, this Taoist’s ‘corpse’ also began to change. His previous appearance was evidently that of a robust man. Now, it looked as if this person shrunk and got rid of a whole layer of fat. His face and his limbs withered a bit whilst it shrunk in size, so his appearance now was similar to that of an old man’s.
Xie Lian said, “It’s an empty shell.”
Some demons and ghosts weren’t capable of transforming themselves into perfect human forms. Thus, they would think of other ways: creating empty shells.
They would use some extremely life-like materials to meticulously create a fake person’s skin. More often than now, ‘skins’ like these would be referenced off of real people. Sometimes, they would even just directly use a person’s skin. In that case, one’s palm lines, fingerprints, and hair would naturally look flawless.
In addition, for an empty shell like this, as long as they didn’t wear the skin themselves, the shell wouldn’t be contaminated with ghost aura, so they wouldn’t be afraid of those talismans that ward off evil. This would also explain why the talisman on the door didn’t block the Taoist man from coming inside.
However, an empty shell like this could also be easily seen through, because after all, they were just hollow dummies. If no one was to wear the skin, then it could only move according to the commands it received.
In addition, these orders could not be too complicated and had to be simple, like repeated movements or ones previously set up beforehand. Thus, the appearances of these shells would usually appear relatively dull and lifeless, unlike an actual, living person.
For example, they would repeat one or two phrases, do the same thing over and over, answer their own questions, or answer evasively. If they had to hold a conversation with people, they would quickly expose themselves.
However, in regards to discerning empty shells from actual people, Xie Lian had an even more practical method. Making them drink a bowl of water or eat some things would be enough. After all, the shells were hollow, so they wouldn’t have the five viscera and six bowels1. When they ate something or drank water, the results would be similar to that of one dropping something or pouring water into an empty jar. You would be able to hear a clear echo, something completely different to a living person when eating food or drinking water.
That Taoist’s body had completely deflated. By now, it was more or less a puddle of soft skin. San Lang used his chopsticks to poke at the skin a couple of times, before he threw the chopsticks aside and said, “This shell is a bit interesting.”
Xie Lian knew what this teenager was referring to. They had all observed this Taoist man’s expressions and demeanour and kept them in mind. Not only did he behave lifelike, he was practically a living person. When he was talking to him, he was able to reply quickly and fluently. It could be said that the person controlling him possessed an astonishing amount of spiritual energy. Xie Lian gave San Lang a glance and said, “It seems like San Lang has some knowledge of this as well.”
San Lang smiled, “Not much.”
This empty shell had specially sent itself to his door to inform him of the matter with the Ban Yue Pass. Regardless of whether the information was real or fake, its goal was to lure him to Ban Yue Pass.
Just to be safe, he ought to drop in on the spirit communication array and ask around. Xie Lian pinched his fingers and calculated that his remaining spiritual energy was sufficient enough to support him through a few more uses. With that, he casted a secret art and entered the spirit communication array.
Once he entered the array, he was met with the rare occurrence of it being filled with bustling excitement. Moreover, it wasn’t the kind of liveliness accompanied by busy official affairs, but rather one as though they were all playing some game, where they were happily laughing and giggling together. Xie Lian felt truly amazed before he heard Ling Wen say, “Your Highness has returned? How were your days in the mortal realm?”
Xie Lian said, “Not bad, not bad. What is everybody doing? They’re so cheerful.”
Ling Wen said, “Wind Master has returned and is scattering merits. Will Your Highness go and snatch some too?”
Sure enough, Xie Lian heard numerous Heavenly Officials within the spirit communication array shouting themselves hoarse.
“A hundred merits! I’ve snatched it!”
“Why did I only get a single merit……”
“A thousand! A thousand! Ah! Thank you, Wind Master! Hahahaha……”
Xie Lian thought to himself, could this possibly be coins falling from the sky as everyone scrambled to collect them?
On one hand, even though his merit chest was completely bereft, but Xie Lian didn’t know how he would go about snatching some. On the other hand, all the Heavenly Officials here were extremely familiar with each other. Snatching merits from each other for fun as they joked around wouldn’t matter much. It would just be weird if he suddenly took part in this.
Thereupon, he stopped minding it and took it upon himself to ask, “Does anyone know about the place called ‘Ban Yue Pass’?”
The moment the words were out, the aforementioned happy and excited spirit communication array still fighting over merits instantly dropped silent.
Once again, Xie Lian felt slightly depressed.
Previously, when he sent them little poems or secret recipes, it wouldn’t matter if the other Heavenly Officials didn’t respond because they didn’t send things like that either. Therefore, since Xie Lian had sent them, he was indeed like a square peg in a round hole.
But, within the spirit communication array, there would often be Heavenly Officials asking questions in regards to official business. For example, ‘Anyone know this particular ghost? Are they easy to deal with?’ Or, ‘Is anyone’s domain near here and could lend a hand?’
During times like these, everyone would provide their own opinions. The ones with suggestions would offer their suggestions, the one who didn’t would say they’d ask around if they get the chance upon their return.
So, when Xie Lian inquired about the Ban Yue Pass, it could be considered as official business. There should be no reason for everyone to turn deathly silent the moment he opened his mouth, like what used to happen in the past.
After a while, someone suddenly shouted, “The Wind Master threw another hundred thousand merits!!!”
The spirit communication array instantly became lively again. One by one, the Heavenly Officials began fighting over merits, which also meant nobody cared about the question he had just asked. Xie Lian knew that the matter at hand was probably not an easy one, so he probably wouldn’t be able to inquire further within the array.
In his heart, he thought the Wind Master was really generous, because a hundred thousand merits in a single toss was quite amazing. Xie Lian was just about to withdraw from the array when suddenly, Ling Wen privately sent him a message.
Ling Wen asked, “Your Highness, why are you suddenly asking about the Ban Yue Pass?”
Thus, Xie Lian told her about how an empty shell had sent itself to his door. He continued, “That shell pretended he was a survivor that had escaped from Ban Yue Pass, so it’s inevitable that he came with a purpose. I didn’t know whether or not the things he told me were true or false, so I came here to ask. What happened to that place?”
On her side, Ling Wen pondered for a moment before she said, “Your Highness, in regards to this matter, I advise you to not take part.”
Xie Lian had more or less expected being told something like this. Otherwise, it was unlikely for this to have persisted for a hundred fifty years without anyone having inquired about it. In addition, the moment he asked about this, the whole court went silent. Xie Lian said, “Every time a party travels through the Pass, more than half of the people go missing. Is this true?”
After a pause, Ling Wen replied, “It is difficult to speak further on this matter.”
Xie Lian could hear the deliberation win Ling Wen’s tone. One thing he could be sure of was that she must be in a difficult situation. He said, “Okay, I understand. Since this is inconvenient for you, then there’s no need for you to say more. In addition, the two of us never had this conversation in private.”
After collecting himself, Xie Lian left the spirit communication array. He stood up and with his broom, swept the puddle of fake skin aside while he muttered to himself. Then, raising his head, he said, “San Lang, I’m afraid I will be travelling to a faraway place.”
Through Ling Wen’s attitude, one could tell that this was not a small matter. Since this empty shell had sent itself to his door, then it must have wanted to lure him into going, so this place couldn’t be anywhere nice. However, San Lang said, “Alright, gege. If you don’t mind, take me along with you?”
Finding this strange, Xie Lian asked, “The journey will be long with arduous sand winds, why would you want to come along?”
San Lang laughed and said, “Do you want to know what’s going on with Ban Yue Pass?”
Xie Lian paused before saying, “You even know about this?”
San Lang crossed his arms and said in a leisurely tone, “The Ban Yue Mountain Pass wasn’t originally named ‘Ban Yue Mountain Pass’. Two hundred years ago, that was the location for the ancient country Ban Yue.”
He slightly sat up straighter, and, with his eyes as bright as stars, he continued, “Ban Yue’s demonic cultivator is in fact……”
Xie Lian placed the broom against the wall and was just about to sit down and listen. However, at the same time, a knocking noise sounded from outside the door.
As of now, it was already night time. All the villagers were scared back into their homes, afraid to come back out by Xie Lian’s words of the Taoist man ‘being possessed’. Thus, who could have knocked on their door?
Xie Lian stood beside the door and held his breath for a moment, but he didn’t feel anything unusual coming from the talisman on his door. Following that, he once again heard another two knocks. From the sound of these knocks, it seemed like there were two people simultaneously knocking on the door.
He pondered for a bit before opening his door. Sure enough, two teenagers dressed in black stood outside his doorway. One looked bright and handsome, the other elegant and refined. They were precisely Nan Feng and Fu Yao. Xie Lian spoke up, “You two……”
Fu Yao took the lead and rolled his eyes. Right off the bat, Nan Feng asked, “Are you going to Ban Yue Pass?”
Xie Lian said, “Where did you guys hear that from?”
Nan Feng replied, “A few Heavenly Officials were talking about it on the road. I heard you were asking about the Ban Yue Pass today in the spirit communication array.”
Xie Lian immediately understood. With both hands covered by his sleeves, he said, “I understand. ‘I volunteered’, right?”
Both of them displayed distorted expressions, as if it were caused by a toothache. “……Yes.”
Xie Lian couldn’t help but laugh. “I get it, I get it. But let’s agree on this first, if we come across anything beyond what we’re capable of dealing with, feel free to flee at any time.”
At once, he shifted his body to the side and then invited them inside to fill them in on the details. But who knew, the moment the two of them saw the teenager sitting lopsided behind him, their originally dark complexions instantly turned ashen.
Nan Feng flashed inside, scrambling to place himself in front of Xie Lian before he yelled, “Back away!”