Chapter 86: Meeting Again
November 20, 2022Merchie
Three years later.
A sheet of smoke lingered over the lush mountains and forests.
This smoke covered a vast stretch of land and could not be dispelled.
If one stumbled into it by mistake, they would definitely die from poisoning.
A figure dressed in white and carrying a bamboo basket on his back scuttled back and forth through the smoke.
From time to time, he would bend down and pick a few herbs, before tossing them into the bamboo basket on his back.
Then, he skipped away, disappearing into the smoke.
He arrived at the edge of a stream, which was exuding a faint heat; a small boat was parked at the side.
He threw the bamboo basket onto the boat and got on.
The boat wobbled slightly under his weight, before it began to glide deeper into the forest.
The mountains on either side seemed to soar into the clouds; the valley between them was so deep and dark that one wouldn’t be able to find a path in front of them.
This was the place known by the world as the ‘Ghost Valley’.
No one had been able to find this place for thousands of years, so many people simply believed that it did not exist.
The little boat sailed past the rugged mountains and finally stopped at a field of waist-high grass.
The figure slung the bamboo basket back onto his back, and walked into the grass.
Behind the grassy field, there were a few tranquil-looking bamboo houses, which all had smoke rising from their roofs; the scene resembled an otherworldly fairyland.
“Ah, ah, ah, ah….”
A few screams sounded from inside one of the bamboo houses.
A dark shadow suddenly burst out; their buttocks seemed to be on fire, and they ran straight toward the stream behind the grassy field.
The bamboo basket was thrown to the ground, and the white-clad figure hurriedly sprinted after the dark shadow.
The grass had been burnt away to form a path, and that dark shadow crawled out of the stream and sat dumbstruck on the bank.
“Shifu, are you all right, you’re not injured, are you”
The white-clothed figure ran over and squatted at the side to carefully inspect his shifu‘s condition.
“Shi2, my experiment failed again wuuuu… I’ve already tried eighty-one times; at this point, I could’ve already retrieved the holy scriptures3, why haven’t I succeeded yet wuuuu, my reputation as the “Ghost Doctor” that I’ve cultivated for all this time, will be completely ruined wuuuu…”
Shi wiped away his shifu‘s tears, and accidentally wiped off the burnt human skin mask on his shifu‘s face.
He frantically tried to repaste it, but in the end, the nose and eyes he had stuck back on were all out of place.
Shen Huan simply tore the human skin mask off her face, revealing the youthful, beautiful visage underneath, which looked quite well-maintained.
Her eyes were also full of spirit and charm.
She also stopped using a voice-changing technique and returned to using her normal, soft voice.
“Shi, help your master4 take a look, my real face hasn’t been burnt, has it!”
Shi leaned over and carefully scanned her face once, “No. Shifu, don’t worry, you’re just as beautiful as before.”
Only then did Shen Huan wipe her tears and flash a smile.
She looked at the person squatting in front of her; on his long, boring-looking face, only that pair of shining bright eyes stood out; when he looked at someone, they were always full of sincerity.
Shen Huan touched her disciple’s face, tracing her fingers down his chin, all the way to the backs of his ears.
After confirming that the mask was still firmly stuck and fitted to his face, she finally felt at ease.
In order to protect this foolish disciple of hers, she had also crushed her old mother’s heart.
“Shi, do you know why your master has to wear a mask and disguise herself every time she takes a trip out of the mountain”
Shi tilted his head and thought for a bit, then replied diligently, “Shifu dresses like an old grandpa every time, so it must be…”
Shen Huan looked at him expectantly.
“… must be because you want to sneak into the city and mooch some of the steamed buns from that one place, the fat owner said that he didn’t charge old people and children…”
The light in Shen Huan’s eyes went out, she let out a long sigh, patted her own forehead, and stood up.
“Ai, it’s because the world is too chaotic.
You can only be safe if you’re ordinary and don’t attract the attention of others.
Forget it, why would your master ask you this kind of question.
It looks like I will just have to continue experimenting, when will I be able to fix your melon skull5…”
Shen Huan walked toward the bamboo house as she spoke.
Seeing that Shi wasn’t following her, she turned and waved at him, “Come here, you little fool.”
Shi stood in place, but his eyes reddened.
“Master, you must despise me, and not want me anymore, right…”
Upon seeing his pure and innocent almond eyes swimming with tears, Shen Huan’s heart immediately began to ache.
“What nonsense are you spouting If your master didn’t want you, I wouldn’t have saved you; I would’ve just left you to drown in that water.”
Upon hearing these words, Shi’s tears hung precariously from his eyes, ready to fall, “Shifu…”
Shen Huan quickly explained, “No, no, your master doesn’t want to drown you, your master meant… Ai, you just need to remember that the one your master cares for the most is her little disciple, you understand”
Shi choked twice and nodded.
Shen Huan wiped his tears, and looked at the only disciple she ever accepted.
Her eyes were full of concern and worry.
She hadn’t told him that their first meeting had been in a small town outside the Imperial City.
At that time, this boy had been extremely weak.
At that time, Shen Huan had been disguised as an old doctor.
The moment she saw that small, beautiful, fragile man for the first time, she had a feeling of inexplicable intimacy, and felt that there was some sort of bond between them, so she lent them a hand.
But she didn’t expect that the next time she would meet him would be in a stream in the Ghost Valley.
No one could enter this place, but he was able to float all the way here along the stream, which made Shen Huan even more adamant in her belief that there was some kind of connection between them.
At that time, the little man was covered in blood, and was about to breathe his last.
Shen Huan took him back into the bamboo house, and after exhausting all her efforts, he had been brought back from the brink of death.
But the small man who awakened had lost all of his memories; he didn’t know his name, who he was, or how much he had suffered.
Shen Huan thought it might have been the heavens’ will to let him forget everything that happened in the past and start fresh.
Shen Huan had lived alone in the Ghost Valley for so long, but still felt lonely sometimes.
With the small man as a companion, life finally bloomed with a bit of color.
Shen Huan taught him about medicine, and the art of healing.
Unexpectedly, he actually had some talent in this area.
He learned quickly and even came up with recipes that even Shen Huan hadn’t thought of.
Shen Huan also gave him a name: Shen Shijiu, because the day he had been saved happened to be the tenth day of the month.
Although Shen Shijiu was a bit naive and silly, he always showed filial respect to his shifu.
He always looked up to her and was never stingy with his admiration and compliments.
The master and disciple lived alone in the isolated mountain, free and unfettered.
Time flew past; it had already been three years.
“All right, my good disciple, don’t cry, let your master go back and change into some clean clothes.”
Shi nodded, “Master… change out of your wet clothes quickly… you can’t… catch a cold…”
His words were disjointed since he was still crying and hiccuping, which made Shen Huan want to laugh, but she didn’t dare to, and held it in until her face was about to turn red.
“Master… y our face is really red… have you… caught a cold…”
“Hahahaha…” Shen Huan couldn’t hold herself back any longer.
She clutched her stomach and laughed wildly, almost crying from laughter.
“Disciple, stop talking, this teacher is about to die of laughter, you know, you’re just like a little frog hahahaha-“
Shen Huan waved her hand, still guffawing as she walked toward the bamboo house.
Shen Shijiu stood stiffly in place.
His tears had stopped flowing, and his hiccups had ceased.
He watched Shen Huan bent over from laughing, and caught up to her with an aggrieved expression on his face.
Shifu definitely didn’t love him anymore. Shifu used to say he was like a cute little bunny, but now he had been reduced to a frog.
He was quite aggrieved.
The bamboo house was a complete mess; beside the stove was a big, black pile of ash, and a hole had been blown out of the bottom of a pot.
Shen Huan had already changed into clean robes, and had stuck a new human skin mask onto her face.
Master and disciple sat around the stove in a daze.
“Master, how are we supposed to cook now”
Shen Huan folded her arms, and her brows raised, “Let’s go, your master will take you to the city to eat!”
Shen Shijiu’s excited eyes seemed to be shining with stars, “Master is the best!”
The two arrived in the biggest city of the Celestial Dynasty, the Imperial City.
This was the capital, so it was lively and prosperous.
The sides of the streets were lined with a myriad of eye-catching goods, as well as row upon row of different shops.
The best restaurant in the city was Yi Pin Xiang; one could have a taste of any delicacy from across the land.
Today, Shen Huan was wearing the mask of a normal-looking man’s face.
Shi, who was next to her, also looked quite ordinary.
Standing at the door of Yi Pin Xiang, Shi nervously tugged at Shen Huan’s sleeve, “Shifu, it must be very expensive here, we don’t have any money…” Shen Huan glanced at him, “Hmph, who said that, this teacher can still afford to treat you to one meal.
What are you afraid of, come in!”
After she spoke, she swaggered haughtily through the door like some powerful lord, and Shi obediently followed her inside.
A waiter quickly greeted the two of them, “Esteemed guests, come, you’ll be seated in the main hall.”
Shen Huan waved her hand, and said in a rough voice, like that of a snobbish rich man, “No, we want a private room on the second floor.”
The waiter looked a bit sheepish, “I’m sorry, esteemed guests, there aren’t any available seats in the private rooms on the second floor.
Would you both be all right with sitting in the hall, or will you be going somewhere else for your meal”
Shen Huan stroked her chin and considered the options.
Shen Shijiu sneakily tugged her sleeve, and said softly, “Master, I’m hungry.”
Shen Huan immediately decided, “All right, if there’s only the main hall, then so be it; let’s just bear with it this time.”
The waiter happily led the two of them to be seated in the main hall.
Shen Huan ordered a bunch of food, and the dishes were served to the table one by one.
Shen Shijiu lifted his chopsticks and smacked his lips, before looking eagerly at Zhen Huan, who still hadn’t moved.
Shen Huan looked up and saw her little disciple’s pitiful eyes across the table, “Eat up, you little hungry ghost.
You’re a small boy but you have a big appetite, your master might not be able to take care of you anymore.” Shen Shijiu stuffed a chicken leg in his mouth, and said in a muffled voice, “Don’t be afraid, Master, when I grow up, I can practice medicine and make money, and I’ll take care of you.” There were also many other guests sitting in the lobby, all eating and chatting, noisy and lively.
Master and disciple ate and drank their fill.
Shen Huan got up and followed the waiter to pay, and had Shi stay in his seat and wait for her.
Shi obediently laid onto the table, and rested his chin on top, his legs swinging below him.
Suddenly, the noisy voices around him disappeared, and everyone fell silent for a moment.
They all simply engrossed themselves in eating, their faces practically buried in their plates.
Shi was very surprised.
He straightened up and looked around.
A bunch of guards suddenly poured in through the door, before they all lined up at the doorway, blocking the guests behind them and forming a path.
Then, a man walked in, wearing a black robe.
He was quite handsome, but exuded an unusually cold aura.
One couldn’t help but shiver once they saw him.
Shi watched as the man walked upstairs into a private room, and when the door was shut tightly, he actually felt a deep, bitter sadness welling up inside him.
Immediately, he felt a dull pain in his heart, so painful that his eyes glazed with tears.
He laid sprawled over the table, at a complete loss.
He didn’t know what was wrong with him, he just felt terribly uncomfortable.
After the man entered the private room, everyone in the hall seemed to breathe a sigh of relief, and the noisy chatter resumed.
Shi laid silently on the table, and his heart finally felt a little better.
He turned his head, and saw that his shifu was chatting with the restaurant manager, so he turned back around.
The waiter happened to pass by, so Shi called for him.
“Excuse me, who was that person who just came in Why did everyone seem to be so scared of him”
The waiter was startled by his wards, and cast a glance in either direction.
Only then did he dare to whisper into his ear, “Esteemed guest, you must not be from around here, you don’t know the Prime Minister Pei Zheng”
Shi blinked, “I don’t..”
“Ai, this Prime Minister Pei, among the court officials, is…” The waiter gave a thumbs up, “…is a person of great status, one that stands above thousands.
Moreover, his temper has gotten weirder over the past few years, anyone who offends him won’t meet a good end, so everyone keeps their tails between their legs around him.”
Shi nodded, and asked quietly, “Is he really fierce”
The corner of the waiter’s mouth twitched, “It’s not a matter of him being fierce or not.
He smiles a lot, but if he smiles at you, it means you haven’t got much time left to live.”
The waiter’s entire body shuddered.
Unwilling to say anymore, he turned and got back to work.
Shi rested his cheeks in his hands and pondered for a while, and stayed in his seat to wait for his shifu.
He suddenly felt something fluffy brush past his feet.
When he looked down, he saw that it had actually been a little black cat.
The cat’s fur was pure black, and shone with a rich luster.
One could tell at a single glance that this cat was under some rich family’s care.
The cat curled up beside his feet and was unusually obedient.
From time to time, it rubbed against Shi’s ankle with its fleshy little paws, as if it were asking him for a hug.
Shi looked into the cat’s big round eyes, and his heart was about to melt.
He bent down and picked it up; the cat seemed to have a spirit of its own as it stuck its tongue out and licked the back of his hand.
Shi laughed, hugged the kitten, and stroked the shiny black fur on its back.
The kitten squinted its eyes in comfort, obediently nestled into his arms, and didn’t move.
The cat meowed quietly.
Shi imitated the sound and meowed softly twice.
The cat seemed quite happy; it climbed with agile movements over his robes and curled up on his shoulder.
Its fluffy tail brushed over Shi’s face, making him giggle.
He and the cat were having fun, when someone hurriedly walked through the door.
He appeared to be a servant, and was searching through the hall of the restaurant, even crouching under tables and anxiously looking around.
Suddenly, the servant raised his head and looked in Shi’s direction, and his eyes latched onto him.
He seemed to bare his teeth, and resume an aggressive stance, as though he was ready to pounce.
Shi was terrified by his posture, and panicked.
Without thinking, he turned and began to run.
The kitten on his shoulder dexterously slid into his lapel, before its small head popped back out.
Shi ran through the main, dodging waiters serving food, crawling over empty tables, jumping over several stacked benches…
That servant was not as agile as him; he was knocking over the dishes in waiters’ hands, kicking tables and chairs, and shoving into innocent diners…
The entire hall was thrown into chaos, all that could be seen were the two figures chasing around and running around in disorderly haste.
Shen Huan haggled with the manager for a long time, but her efforts were fruitless.
After reluctantly paying the money, she saw what was going on in the hall, and folded her arms to watch the show.
Upon realizing that the one who was being chased was her little disciple, Shen Huan was furious, “Disciple! Run faster! How can you run so slowly! How did your master train you! Pick up the pace, lift your arms! You’re not allowed to get caught!”
The manager’s face flashed between green and white, “S-s-stop running! Stop chasing! Don’t knock over my Yuyao porcelain!”
Shi looked over his shoulder as he ran, and turned a corner.
With a “peng”, he crashed straight into someone’s chest.
He was dizzy from the sudden crash, and fell backwards involuntarily, still remembering to protect the cat that he hugged against his chest.
Shi and the cat were about to fall to the ground, when he suddenly felt a hand on his waist that gently pulled him upward, and he fell straight into a warm embrace.
The faint fragrance of sandalwood wafted over.
Shi’s heart was beating rapidly, and his breathing was uneven.
His hands were firmly pressed against the man’s chest; he could feel its heat, as well as the strong thudding of the heart inside it.
A few soft gaps could be heard from the people in the hall and reached his ears, and there was a disorienting buzzing sound in Shi’s head.
He raised his head, and his gaze just happened to lock with a pair of deep, narrow eyes.
The hand on his waist was still there; Shi stared into his eyes, and was stupefied for a moment, and felt a slender finger gently pulling at the lapel over his chest.
Shi’s earlobed burned, and he raised his hand to grab that finger.
His little hand was white and slender, his skin was too delicate, his bones small; it appeared to be only half the size of the hand he was holding.
That man’s eyes suddenly turned cold.
Shi froze unconsciously, and the moment was seized.
The lapel over his chest was completely lifted, revealing a small patch of the delicate, sunken collarbone beneath.
It was smooth and flawless as uncut jade, possessing an unadorned, yet eye-catching beauty.
Pei Zheng’s eyes narrowed.
Without any hesitation, he raised his hand higher into the air.
The little black cat that had been hiding in Shi’s arms this entire time seemed to be able to understand human language.
The well-behaved little cat poked its head out, and looked over at Pei Zheng with round eyes that were full of innocence.
“I’ll say it one more time, come out.”
Reluctantly, the kitten got out of Shi’s embrace, jumped into Pei Zheng’s palm, and wrapped its tail around his fingers as if to appease him.
Shi was suddenly thrashed aside, and the warmth and sandalwood fragrance surrounding him instantly dissipated.
He staggered twice and grabbed onto the table next to him.
This Lord Pei really was quite scary.
It seemed like this Xiao Miaowu was his cat, that meant he had just…
Shi felt a little guilty, and bowed his head, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know that was your cat.
Just now, I shouldn’t have run around while carrying it… I’m sorry…”
The figure in front of him flickered, and Shi lifted his head again, only to find that the man had long since taken the cat and left, without sparing him a single glance.
He bit his lip, and felt terribly apologetic in his heart.
The servant who had been chasing Shi for a long while walked over, placed his hands on his hips, and said loudly, “Y-y-you! What were you running for Were you trying to steal His Lordship’s cat You bold cat thief!”
Shi’s eyes reddened, “I’m not… I wasn’t trying to steal… it’s just that the way you looked at that moment really scared me… I thought you were going to snatch Xiao Miaowu… “
That servant only wanted to continue arguing, “You even found out about our manor’s cat’s name, and you still say you weren’t trying to steal it! His Lordship should’ve had you arrested, how could he be so kind-hearted and just let this slide! And you even say that I scared you, are you really such a coward How pretentious, ugly people always stir up trouble!”
Shi couldn’t take his overbearing attitude, and clenched his fists tightly.
His voice rose, “If you had just told me about it instead of chasing me, I wouldn’t have been scared and ran away! You’re the ugly one! You are! You’re also a big dummy!”
The servant was stunned by his roar, “Y-y-y-you still dare to curse at me! I will beat you to death!”
As he spoke, he bared his teeth and was about to charge over, but unexpectedly Shi wouldn’t give in, and puffed his small chest, ready to fight.
A loud, deep shout commanded.
That servant’s expression changed, and he immediately shrank back meekly.
A black-clad man with a sword at his hip came over and said to the servant, “What happened today was purely due to your negligence of your duties.
By yelling and screaming here, you are embarrassing His Lordship.
Hurry up and get out of here.”
The servant lowered his head and responded.
Before he left, he waved his fist in Shi’s direction, Shi also lifted his head and stared back.
The black-clad man had an expressionless face.
He glanced at Shi with indifference, and didn’t say a word, before he turned and walked to the side of the staircase.
The rest of the guests in the hall also gradually dispersed.
Those who had witnessed the entire debacle thought that Prime Minister Pei would punish that cat thief severely, because that little black cat of the Prime Minister’s Manor was well-known, and was treated like a young master; the entire manor cherished it like a treasure.
But unexpectedly, they didn’t get to see that highly-anticipated show, and everyone felt that something was a bit off with Prime Minister Pei today.
Shen Huan squeezed past the crowd and came to Shi’s side, “Disciple, how are you, you’re not injured, are you”
When Shi saw his shifu, he felt extremely aggrieved again, “Shifu… I’m fine…”
“All right, all right.
Disciple, it’s getting late, we have to hurry back now, be good.
When we get back, your master will teach you a few tricks, so next time you can run faster-“
Shen Huan talked as she held Shen Shijiu by the hand and led him to the door.
The walked past the staircase, and someone just happened to be walking down it, wearing an embroidered dress with complicated patterns, gracefuland luxurious.
“Guard Feng, thank you for specially coming here just to pick me up.”
“The Second Princess’s words are too serious, this subordinate is just doing his duty.”
Upon being addressed with that title, Qi Bingzhi froze on the staircase for a moment, before a smile returned to her face.
She was just about to continue down the stairs, when she suddenly saw a white figure flash past the door, thin and slender, just like…
Qi Bingzhi suddenly became nervous and flustered.
She rushed out the door in a hurry, stood on the bustling street and looked around, but found nothing.
She laughed at herself: there were so many people in the world with a stature like his, what the hell was she so afraid of
That person was already dead, and that was the reality that everyone accepted.
Everyone except Pei Zheng.
So she named him ‘nineteen’ because she found him on the tenth day…
Maybe it’s too late at night and I’m seeing weird **
Thanks for reading~~
1.師父 (shī fu): Master, not to be confused with 師傅.
An oversimplification of the difference between the two is that 師父 usually refers to a master of martial arts, or a religious figure, while 師傅 refers to a craftsmen (Ex: 麪包師傅 (bread master, or baker)
Ok so his name is actually Shijiu (nineteen), but he’s called Shi (ten) for a lot of this.
3.A famous example of this is Journey to the West (西遊記), in which a monk and his three disciples go on a long ass journey to find some holy scriptures
4.為師: I dunno, I just… just roll with it, “your master” is technically accurate, it can be “teacher” as well.
Sorry if it sounds silly ;-;
瓜腦殼 (melon skull): Sichuan dialect word for fool