The Soul of the Living, The Heart of the Dead, The Sin of Redemption, The Return that was Unfinished, Part One
Da Qing was about to tear a hole through the Criminal’s Investigation Division’s floor. Zhao Yunlan and Zhu Hong returned, one walking behind the other.
Even though the atmosphere between the two of them were obviously off, Da Qing thought that as a cat, it would be best for him to stay out of fickle human matters and feelings, instead picking up the ‘Book of Ancient Secrets’ with his mouth and depositing it at Zhao Yunlan’s feet. “The resentful energy residing in this book is strong. I checked, and it was from Antique Street.”
Zhao Yunlan picked up the book, using his sleeve to wipe off the cat’s drool on the cover. “Antique Street?”
‘Antique Street’, true to its name, was a street full of shops which sold unique, odd antiques. Most of it were useless fakes, but occasionally one or two authentic artifacts are unearthed.
However, the ‘Book of Ancient Secrets’ had, without a doubt, been photocopied. Any human with an average intelligence would realise the book not to be any ancient artifact, and that the abundance of resentful energy came not from it, but the eucalyptus tree that most people overlooked, hiding in the furthest shop on Antique Street.
The tree, if Zhao Yunlan were to describe it, was like a transportation hub of sorts. A train station, if you will, where all forms of “trains” were to bring you to all sorts of destinations. Some to hell, some to the mortal realm, but they all had to pass through there first.
The tree leaves were connected to the mortal realm, the roots firmly linked to the yellow spring. It was a non-human, non-ghost entity.
Zhao Yunlan looked up and met Da Qing’s eyes. “What you’re saying is that this book came from the underworld?”
The black cat nodded his head.
Zhao Yunlan asked again, “Who bought it?”
Da Qing licked his paws. “It isn’t stated, and I couldn’t find the buyer history. Maybe it’s the previous Guardian… ”
“That’s impossible.” Zhao Yunlan carelessly flicked through the book with no publisher nor identification number. “Based on the colour of the print and the pages, it’s pretty new. It’s definitely after I became the Guardian; the past Guardian would be too far back the timeline.”
“Then we have a conclusion: it was sent along with the cat food.”
What Da Qing was saying was that, someone had, somehow, slipped it between bags of cat food and brought it in. The person had to know the Ancient Secrets very well, even the seals on the column had been written carefully.
The SID were very organized when it came to their books, having bright coloured labels and numbers stuck on the spine of every book. It was the reason why the illiterate San Zang could arrange the books in order, back at their original spot. So why would this book of ancient secrets be tucked between “Nuwa Creates Humans and the Skies’” column?
“This is a ‘black leather book’,” Da Qing butted in. “Black leather books’ were referring to the workers on the night shift, who had gotten books not from the human realm through some way. Books not from the human world were opposite from the ones who had only been in contact with the human world; known as the ‘white leather books’.
When Da Qing decided to claw his way through the book, an ebony mist hissed the minute his paw came into contact. The smell was indescribable and odd. Da Qing retracted his claw, saying, “Very suspicious. Even we didn’t label the book. If you want to follow up on it, I suggest we head to the Antique Street when night falls.”
When the sun finally set, and the golden glow dissipated into a dark, cold shade of gray, the moon high in the sky, Zhao Yunlan could not resist any longer, and called Shen Wei. On the other end was the cold, robotic voice of a woman. “The number you have reached is not available…”
Zhao Yunlan stared dazedly at his phone for a while. Finally feeling what “not seeing a day was equivalent to failing to experience three autumns” was like, he stood there until Da Qing came over and swiped at his arm. “Stop dallying, let’s go.”
He then picked up that failure of a cat, and walked out to see Zhu Hong, silently waiting beside his car.
At the sight of Zhao Yunlan, she laughed self-mockingly. “You must think me cheap–the shitload of words I offered you, and yet here I am still, following you.”
Zhao Yunlan was stunned for a second, rendered speechless, before saying, “… I was just going to remind you to wear your down jacket.”
Two humans and one cat travelled to the Antique Street in a sort of awkward atmosphere. They arrived under the eucalyptus tree.
Zhao Yunlan turned his head to see that beside the eucalyptus tree was a store. It had two bright paper lanterns hanging from the door. The words on the lantern were ripped, and one could only barely make it out to be the words ‘Town Spirit’.
Zhao Yunlan finally remembered something he had overlooked. He patted Da Qing’s shoulder, asking him in a low voice, “What does ‘Town Spirit’ really mean?”
“The soul of the living, the heart of the dead, the sin of redemption, the return that was unfinished.” After Da Qing finished that sentence, he reverted back from his literary genius to a cat with words that were enough to make a human convulse. “Isn’t that written on the back of the Guardian Order? You blind?”
It was rare that Zhao Yunlan had less experience than Da Qing, so he asked again, “But why did Lord Kunlun write ‘Guardian Order’ on it?”
And what did Shennong’s utterings about life and death mean?
Zhao Yunlan was pondering over everything. He walked into the eucalyptus tree, and once he followed the path down, it would be the yellow spring.
The path to the yellow spring was often unsuccessful when attempted, but amongst the three of them, two were not human, and one had the Guardian Order. It could be considered a special case. With the echoing of the water all around, and the cold that felt like it could freeze ice with a touch… no one would dare to scream and shout in anger in fear of angering the resentful ghosts walking around.
The “people” that walked by had their mouths agape, and were being herded like a flock of sheep with a shepherd.
In his whole career, Zhao Yunlan had of course travelled through here before. It was just that every time he did, he would walk at a fast pace, keeping his gaze directly ahead of him.
Seeing the narrow path of the yellow spring, one would feel like it were the pathway to Heaven. The malachite-green stone floorboards and bubbles that would appear on the surface of the spring felt like at any moment something would claw their way to the surface. On each side of the path were lanterns, every ten-chi there would be one. They flared brightly, forming long shadows that seemed to drag on the ground.
Zhao Yunlan pondered for a moment before realising: It was the Lantern of the Guardian.
A while ago, he had read about it in an article, which said the lantern had guided any lost souls on the yellow spring. The length of the yellow spring was based on the amount of things in one’s life left unforgotten, but once the golden light of the lantern washes over you, and you drink the water that would cleanse your soul of any memories of your soon-to-be past life, you would be ready to reincarnate.
Your past life would be washed down to nothing. Though the light of the lantern seemed dim and insignificant, it had the ability to pull out new, clean souls.
Zhao Yunlan couldn’t resist the temptation to bend down and peer at the small lantern, whose bottom had carved four neat words; “The Path of Life till Death.”
The truth about reincarnation.
Suddenly, a blur flashed across his eyes, and Zhao Yunlan’s heart felt a sudden pain, as if he had been stabbed in the chest with a knife. He stumbled backwards to be caught by Zhu Hong. “What’s wrong?”
Zhao Yunlan was deathly pale, yet he pushed down the bark of pain rising in his throat, shaking his head at her before pursing his lips together and continuing on, hand pressed against his chest.
Once they reached the Ghost City, Zhao Yunlan fished out a few talismans. They split it amongst themselves, pressing it down against their tongues. This way, their living energy wouldn’t be detected, and they wouldn’t be of any suspicion to the ghosts there.
When Zhao Yunlan was younger, he came here to hunt down a misguided living soul. He hadn’t been able to bring him back, but had to watch as the ghosts in the city pounced onto the poor living soul, ripping it into shreds until none of its energy could be felt anymore. not to be a fucking whore but where is shen wei i miss him
Then, he had been young, and it had left an impact on him anyways. Him, a living person, who understood the concept of “What joy is there in living, what fear is there in dying?”
Dead souls yearned for the thrill and power the souls of the living could provide. They were as bloodthirsty for it as a man who had gone without air for days; going berserk without it, a crazy sort of violence.
It was why, at moments like these, Zhao Yunlan’s heart ached for Shen Wei. Sometimes, he felt like Shen Wei neglected himself, even to the point of ignoring his own nature.
Zhu Hong had never been to the Ghost City, and thus shot Zhao Yunlan an uneasy look. He said, “No matter what, don’t spit out the talisman in your mouth. If you do, it would be messy; some of them are small like ants, yet can chew through a whole elephant. These ghosts are stronger than you think.”
Zhu Hong nodded.
“How about you wait outside,” He suggested. She shook her head. Actually, she didn’t know what help she would be inside; she just felt like, wherever Zhao Yunlan went, if she went to take a look as well, she would be less jumpy.
They walked to the end of the street, and paused at a place where the door simply said, “Please.”
On the door were things similar to the ones by the eucalyptus tree, two white lanterns that simply said said, “Guardian.”
Zhao Yunlan took the initiative and walked forward, pushing open the door. With a crewak, the dilapidated door opened. He stuck a lense onto the door before walking in.
His foot had not yet landed when a high-pitched girl voice rang out. “A lense to guide the ghosts. Does our esteemed guest have any pressing matters?”
Zhao Yunlan tilted his head, signalling for Zhu Hong to shut the door. A girl with two braids walked forward. She only reached the waist of an adult, face the shade of paper, a pitiful shade of white. Her cheeks had two spots of red, and her eyes were black and pitless, her lips cherry red and her face expressionless.
To be frank, one would not find her cute, and instead terrifying.
Zhao Yunlan didn’t beat around the bush took out the Book of Ancient Secrets. On top, he put a Guardian plaque as a paperweight, saying, “Little maiden, I have need of your assistance.”
Her eyes landed on the plaque. “Ah, it’s the Guardian himself, gracing us with his presence. How is my brother?”
“Dare not, dare not. Your brother is doing well, I just sent him some kilograms of bacon,” Zhao Yunlan says politely. “I would like to ask this maiden, if this book belongs to your store?”
The girl reached over for the book. Coldness emanated from her figure, and her fingers trailed across the book as she flipped it. “Correct, the book belongs here.”
She turned the book over to its last page, at its most insignificant corner, were a gray marking. “This is our bookstore’s seal.”
Zhao Yunlan smiled. “Then may I ask once more, why was the book in the human realm?” As he said this, he took out a pile of paper money and used his lighter to burn it right in front of the girl.
She smiled. “Guardian is too kind. Wait here, and help yourself to some tea.”
Two humans and one cat entered the hut, and he of course picked up the cup, but didn’t drink from it. It would take a fool to drink from the dead knowing themselves to be alive.
The girl hauled a book of records, and flipped through the pages before suddenly saying, “Found it.”
The girl lifted her head and shot Zhao Yunlan another smile. “Dare I ask the name of Guardian?”
“Surname is Zhao,” He said, eyebrows furrowing, dread rearing up in his heart. “Zhao Yunlan.”
“Then it is correct,” The girl said, pushing the open book towards him.
The page recorded its buyers, and on it read: ‘On the noon of July 15th, Guardian, Zhao Yunlan.’
“not seeing a day was equivalent to failing to experience three autumns” → 一日不见如隔三秋. I have no idea what it means, but based on my understanding of Chinese, it’s not seeing the sun for a day feeling like not seeing it for three autumns.
“Town Spirit” is Zhen Hun. I had no idea if it meant Guardian or Town Spirit, so I just put the literal translation.
I miss Shen Wei so much please for the love of god come back I’m begging Priest