Yan Zhengming’s words stunned Li Yun and Cheng Qian. Li Yun hesitantly asked, “So… he’s our martial uncle?”
Upon the utterance of his words, Li Yun felt like he was possessed by Han Yuan, and promptly kneaded his forehead in regret.
“Of course not, did the sect rules all go down your stomach? Once you’ve stepped onto the path of malevolent Taos like ghostism or slaughterism, you shall be expelled from the sect and never be allowed to return,” said Yan Zhengming sternly.
Silence filled the room.
Cheng Qian pulled himself back after a minute or two and murmured, “That means… the old friend is probably…”
He paused involuntarily, seemingly not sure how to address the person. He thought a good while before it came to him. “Err, former martial uncle.”
“Who else could that be?” said Yan Zhengming impatiently. “Fuyao Mountain isn’t the supreme headquarters of demonic cultivators.”
“First Senior Brother, what’s your opinion on this? Shall we just go ask master tomorrow?” Inquired Li Yun tentatively.
Yan Zhengming shook his head. Despite Master’s talkativeness, most of what he said was rubbish. When it came to something serious, he’d be like an oyster with his mouth zipped tight. Yan Zhengming definitely didn’t believe that they could pry something out of him. He deliberated for a while and said with a glimmer of hope, “Is there a way… that can let us find master’s whereabouts when he tries to throw us off?”
Cheng Qian had hung around the Library all day long. After he heard what Yan Zhengming said, a big heap of strategies came flooding into his head. But he rejected them one by one and at last, he found that the chances were near impossible—for them to track their master, the first condition was that one of them had to be more powerful than their master.
“I think it’s hopeless,” Cheng Qian said. “Unless second senior brother could get another toad and make master carry the smell of Toad Liquid on his body—but I’m afraid that second senior brother’s toad would fake death again upon meeting a strong demonic cultivator.”
“Don’t look at me; I have no idea,” Li Yun shrugged. “Once confronted with a formidable enemy, any creature with intelligence would be terrified. The ones that aren’t are too dumb to be utilized to track people.”
“Must have intelligence and won’t be terrified…” Yan Zhengming pondered over Li Yun’s words. “Hey, what do you think of Puddle?”
Cheng Qian rolled his eyes—neither did he believe that his junior sister had intelligence nor did he think that she wouldn’t be terrified. But the next second he suddenly got what Yan Zhengming meant. Though they didn’t have the ability to track their master, they could try to do something to their junior sister.
Since master always took the kid with him and she couldn’t understand human language yet, it definitely wouldn’t be found out.
After some discussion, the three got a batten and whittled it down to a slim piece. The well-read Cheng Qian provided the idea and Yan Zhengming was in charge of the manual operation, thus they got off to the rocky start of carving the tracking charm.
This tracking charm was very primary because Cheng Qian hadn’t read to the advanced part. But even so, first senior brother’s skills were so unexpectedly bad that he failed again and again.
Yan Zhengming shook his aching hand, feeling that he’d never been so diligent even in formal charm classes. He couldn’t help but vent his anger on Cheng Qian.
“What the fuck is this crap? Should I really rely on your memory?” seethed Yan Zhengming, staring at Cheng Qian.
He who couldn’t shit blames the latrine pit1—Cheng Qian swallowed back this vulgar sentence and stuffed it into his eyes, looking first senior brother up and down with an explicitly disdainful gaze.
With Yan Zhengming and Cheng Qian quarrelling and Li Yun desperately trying to make peace, they finally finished carving the batten by midnight.
Yan Zhengming handed the baton to the yawning Li Yun. “I’ll leave this all to you from here. You try to attach this to her. Can’t believe I stayed up so late with you guys because of this goddamn thing.”
Who the heck was to blame? This was really a case of “the thief cries the thief.”
Cheng Qian was so sleepy that he felt lopsided. Leaving behind the ”Niangniang”2, Cheng Qian doddered towards his own room. But when he just got to the door and was about to enter, he was called by Yan Zhengming who caught up.
“Wait, Xiao-Qian. I have a few words for you.”
Yan Zhengming’s height was growing fast this year as if he’d eaten some fertilizer, his voice gradually deepened, and he no longer sounded clear and melodious like a teenager. As long as he himself didn’t bluster loudly, he’d sound like a real mature man.
Cheng Qian had seldom heard his voice so solemn. He turned around, looking at Yan Zhengming puzzledly.
The young man stood straight behind him, drenched in the moonlight. His restlessness and willfulness seemed to be reduced by and melted into the dark. For this moment, Yan Zhengming didn’t look like himself.
There was a minute of hesitation before he said, “I left something out just now. In fact… I heard another sentence from Wen Ya.”
Cheng Qian frowned.
“He said that Fuyao Mountain was beautiful and bred talents, there would always be a devil in every generation…” Yan Zhengming’s voice faded out. He regarded Cheng Qian for a fraction of a second, feeling that this boy was like a fragile bamboo which appeared to easily break off, but was actually cold and hard. Nobody could tell how many difficult feelings he’d hidden in his heart. Yan Zhengming dropped his head a bit, whispering softly, “You know where your limit is, don’t you?”
Hearing that, Cheng Qian didn’t dig at him. He didn’t talk back either. He could hear the sincere care in Yan Zhengming’s words. Whether it was senior brother’s groundless fear or not, he had this feeling that Yan Zhengming said that just for Cheng Qian’s own sake. As first senior brother was always slothful and pampered, most of the time his junior brothers just gave in to him, thus Cheng Qian rarely found a sense of senior brotherness in him.
Until this moment.
Cheng Qian replied with a silent nod.
Yan Zhengming let out a relieving breath. He reached out his hand, placed it on the back of Cheng Qian’s head, and gently pushed him into the cottage.
“That’ll be the best,” said Yan Zhengming softly. Then he returned to his old self and pointing at Cheng Qian’s creased clothes, he said, “Get your clothes changed tomorrow. Don’t you think they resemble cleaning rags?”
Cheng Qian probably didn’t agree with him—his answer was a slam of the door, which blocked Yan Zhengming outside.
This night was indeed eventful. Sending Yan Zhengming away, Cheng Qian threw himself onto the bed but was woken again when he had just fallen asleep.
Compared to first senior brother who just kicked the door open and pulled him out of the quilt, Han Yuan was more of a nuisance—he stealthily knocked at the window lattice like a woodpecker pecking a tree, which made Cheng Qian terribly perturbed upon waking up.
Even when on the horseback, Cheng Qian didn’t drop his charm practices. These days, he’d suffered from the pain of growing and broadening his channels as well, which resulted in bad sleep quality. Being woken up twice tonight, Cheng Qian fruitlessly wished to kill the noise maker with a knife.
Han Yuan didn’t walk in through the front door. Under Cheng Qian’s expressionless gaze, he crawled in through the window and slumped down on Cheng Qian’s bed, whispering, “Guess what I saw just now?”
Cheng Qian didn’t want to guess. He fell back into his bed, face upward, and tucked himself into the quilt without saying a word.
“Hey, don’t sleep. Get up! I’ll show you something rare,” Han Yuan threw himself upon Cheng Qian and pulled his quilt with both hands. “You’ve definitely not seen it before. Xiao-Qian? Xiao-Qian!”
Cheng Qian doggedly refused to stick his head out and shouted to Han Yuan from underneath the quilt, “Go find Niangniang!”
Han Yuan was shocked. “You must be joking. I dare not. He’s bound to throw me into the censer.”
“Then go find Li Yun!” Cheng Qian rolled to the other side of the bed.
“I did,” said Han Yuan, complaining. “I almost set off firecrackers by his ears, but he just wouldn’t wake up.”
Cheng Qian: “…”
So he was the easiest to wake up and least likely to get angered!?
Han Yuan successfully pulled the quilt off Cheng Qian. Ignoring his restrained anger, he whispered into his ear, “Have you seen a ghost before?”
Cheng Qian was about to kick him down when he heard this sentence. His knitted eyebrows suddenly twitched. “What?”
A few moments later, Cheng Qian slipped out of the Shabby Inn with Han Yuan.
“There’s a fair in the town recently, so I hung out a little late,” said Han Yuan as they moved. “I took a shortcut on the way back—this way, mind your steps.”
Cheng Qian followed Han Yuan disorientedly. He gingerly avoided the mud on the road, unable to understand how Han Yuan got familiar with the environment in such a short time. Could it be a special talent of beggars who travelled extensively? Han Yuan was leading him to somewhere more out-of-the-way. Cheng Qian carried his wooden sword with one hand and gripped the burin which he used to practice charms with the other hand, leaving marks along the way by making small piles of stones, because he didn’t completely trust Han Yuan.
In the cold wind, Cheng Qian’s muddled brain was beginning to clear. He only then realized that he was influenced by first senior brother’s words about ghostism that he subconsciously followed Han Yuan out upon hearing the word “ghost”.
Getting out to see a ghost with a little beggar, that was…
Cheng Qian wondered if he had been infected by Han Yuan with some stupid disease.
All of a sudden, Cheng Qian shivered from head to toe.
Han Yuan led him to a river. He didn’t have the energy feel, so he only thought the shore was cold because of the late night dew.
But Cheng Qian already felt something abnormal about this chill as he had smelled a trace of an ominous stench in the air.
Cheng Qian gave a start. The last bit of drowsiness vanished.
“There can’t be real danger,” Cheng Qian calmly thought to himself, picking the leaf that had fallen on his shoulder and holding it in hand. “Or how could Han Yuan run back just now?”
Han Yuan cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, “Hey, where are you? I brought my little senior brother. Come out.”
Cheng Qian rose to cover Han Yua’s mouth right away. He asked gnashing his teeth, “What did you do?”
Han Yuan: “Umm… ummm…”
Mouth muffled, Han Yuan made eyes at something behind Cheng Qian. Cheng Qian looked back and his breath almost stopped.
A phosphorescent light had appeared behind him when he didn’t notice, and a male ghost with a pale face was standing there, his eyes dull and remote.
Cheng Qian swiftly pulled Han Yuan behind him. “Who’s there?”
Han Yuan finally struggled free of Cheng Qian’s hand. He patted Cheng Qian’s shoulder carelessly, saying, “It’s OK, don’t be afraid. I was also startled by him at first. But I soon found him stagnant and quite interesting.”
With that, he bent to pick up a small stone and tossed it before Cheng Qian could stop him. That stone flew straight through the ghost’s body and bounced twice on the ground. The male ghost looked down at the stone blankly as though he was sleepwalking.
Han Yuan said to Cheng Qian smiling broadly, “See?”
Cheng Qian only wanted to give him a slap in the face—when the stone went through the ghost’s body, he clearly sensed that smell. It was like stink but mixed with some disgusting bloody smell.
Corpse oil and boy’s blood…
At the moment Cheng Qian had no time to consider why the ghost would have let Han Yuan go just now. He only had one question, what luck had this little beggar got?
Last time he went to the Demon Valley, he encountered the rebellion of monsters; now on his night walk, he even met a demonic cultivator of ghostism!