A spark flashed on the black screen of the TV, and the picture reappeared. It was an advertisement for a summer camp, where a group of children were playing and laughing on the playground. It was originally a very relaxing and happy scene, but for some reason, the image on the TV was stuttering badly, and the children's laughter became intermittent and suddenly eerie.
The little girl on the TV was too excited, and her expression was out of control. It stopped at a grimace that was unclear whether she was crying or laughing, and there was a missing front tooth in her open mouth.
Luo Cuicui's legs went weak, and she stumbled backward, kicking over a metal trash can with a loud clanging sound that echoed in the winding hallway.
Only then did Xiao Li react and asked the long-haired man, "What's going on with you? Hey, are you a psychic? Do you really think you can get away with forging documents with psychic abilities?"
The long-haired man in the lounge was startled by his sudden outburst. He slowly turned around, and Xuan Ji pressed his hand against Xiao Li's chest, giving the fierce young man a shove backwards. Almost at the same time, the man who had been sitting in the lounge suddenly disappeared from his seat. In a flash of lightning, Xuan Ji raised his right hand to block in front of his neck, and there was a flash of silver between his fingers. With a "ding" sound, the mysterious long-haired man had teleported from the lounge to the doorway, and was now standing right in front of Xuan Ji, his pale hand pointed straight at Xuan Ji's throat. Xuan Ji had a coin between his fingers that happened to block the man's hand.
As the coin and the hand collided, Xuan Ji had the feeling that he had hit a rock. Then he saw the face that was just inches away from him.
The man's eyebrows raised, his eyes slightly drooped, and the sharpness of his brow bone was filled with coldness that could keep people at a distance. But his eyes were like those of a lover, with a deep and warm look that could melt one's heart.
In an instant, Xuan Ji suddenly felt an indescribable sense of familiarity. With a light sound in his ear, a crack appeared on the surface of the stone on the ring on his right hand!
This ring was fireproof, acid-resistant, bulletproof, and capable of blocking knives. He had taken it with him everywhere he went for half his life, and he had always believed that it could turn into some kind of relic after he died. Yet it was shattered so easily by a light touch!
The originally bright and blood-red stone lost its vitality. Rust gradually appeared from the cracks, and a bone-chilling cold spread rapidly along the hand wearing the ring. The blood in his body seemed to freeze. Out of a self-defense instinct, Xuan Ji's coin exploded, a thin layer of metallic color covered his hand, and a cluster of small flames burst out from his palm, biting the man's fingers. The man with long hair skillfully withdrew his hand. The originally pea-sized flame instantly swelled several times and curled up his arm like a dragon made of fire.
The man with long hair lightly exclaimed "ah". Half of his arm was on fire, but he remained calm and turned his wrist over, grabbing the "fire dragon". As he pulled and tugged, the fire burning his sleeve was like a snake caught by its neck, helplessly curling up into a small ball, clutched in his palm. His fingers didn't even touch a speck of ash, and the skin of his palm was tinged with a warm color from the flame. Only his clothes revealed their original form: the black tactical vest he wore melted away starting from the sleeve, leaving behind a pile of tattered fabric tangled on his pale and skinny wrist. The man with long hair extinguished the flame, lowered his head and brushed his hand. The exposed half of his forearm's clothing returned to its original state.
His clothes were also copied from those next door. He even copied the holes on their tactical vests, but changed the color and details cleverly enough that it was difficult to notice the imitation at first glance. However, upon closer inspection, every color he wore was taken from those male tourists trapped with him, and even the thread and stitches were similar to those of the tourists' clothes.
The man with long hair politely nodded his head at Xuan Ji and spoke with a strange accent: "I'm sorry for my appearance." It wasn't Mandarin or any dialect Xuan Ji recognized. Xuan Ji was slightly surprised. The man with long hair thought Xuan Ji didn't understand him and looked back at the TV hanging on the wall, switching to poor Mandarin: "My clothes are..."
He paused because the word he was about to use was probably an uncommon vocabulary that neither the TV nor the trapped tourists had used. The man with long hair said, with a slight frown, "...um..."
Xuan Ji said, "It's a visual illusion."
The man smiled amiably, nodding his head like a host, and gestured politely to Xuan Ji to come in and sit down: "It's good that you understand. Please come in and have a seat."
Xuan Ji did not take his eyes off the man with long hair. He put his hand behind his back and gestured to the intern Xiao Li and Luo Cuicui not to follow him, and casually closed the door of the family lounge. The man just spoke in an ancient language. Xuan Ji had encountered many old objects before, some of which had spirituality and could say a few words. He had heard a lot of them since he was young, so he was familiar with them. Based on his unprofessional deduction, the long-haired man just now spoke a bit like the "classical language" from the era of the great Nine Provinces War over 3,000 years ago. However, he was not sure because the evolution of language in history was sometimes fast and sometimes slow. In some turbulent times, the popular official language could change within three to fifty years, and even in peaceful times, some regions' accents could change in a few decades. The man with long hair seemed to be deliberately hiding something, and Xuan Ji became more curious.
Who is this...let's call him a "person" for now. Which deep mountain forest did he crawl out from?
At this moment, Xuan Ji's eyes, which had been stuck on the "Thousand Demon Bestiary" for a long time, finally recovered from their frozen state. The pages of the book gently shook, and a hesitant line of small characters appeared in his field of vision, with a note beside the long-haired man: "Heart-Piercing Grass Puppet".
Xuan Ji was stunned for a moment, and then the note disappeared. The "Thousand Demon Bestiary" provided him with a more detailed explanation: The Heart-Piercing Grass is a substitute magic, which engraves the Heart-Piercing Grass curse on a puppet. The caster can control the puppet from miles away, and it can move, lie down, speak and talk like a real person, and share the six senses with the caster. The puppet can be made of wood carvings or clay sculptures, and the curse must be broken to see its original form.
Xuan Ji suddenly realized - so this person is not a real human being, no wonder his hair is so long and striking.
As he focused his gaze on the puppet of the long-haired man, the "Thousand Demon Bestiary" provided another thoughtful note: this puppet was carved from a thousand-year-old spiritual jade.
Xuan Ji: "..."
A puppet that tall, carved from a thousand-year-old spiritual jade, with such exquisite craftsmanship! It must be worth a whole courtyard house.
The facial features of the puppet were handsome, but Xuan Ji didn't know what kind of curse was on it. Staring at it for a while, he felt suffocated and couldn't catch his breath. He collected himself and lowered his gaze to the puppet's shoulder and neck, politely asking, "Hello, as part of my duties, may I ask who you are and why you sent such a valuable 'messenger' to our Chiyuan area? Is there anything we can assist you with?"
The puppet blinked and didn't say a word, looking at him with a kind of "this cat meows quite well" expression.
Oh, the phrasing was too convoluted. With the other's level of Mandarin, he probably didn't understand. Xuan Ji was helpless and had to use a more straightforward expression, "Just asking where you're from and what business you have - you can say it in your own words, I can get a general idea."
The puppet leaned loosely against the wall, raised his hand, and gently sniffed the fingers that had just collided with Xuan Ji's. He calmly asked, "Little demon, with your pure bloodline, why are you mixing in with humans?"
As the puppet spoke, a few strands of loose hair hung over his shoulders. His voice was gentle and soothing, perhaps because he struggled with Mandarin. Xuan Ji glimpsed him out of the corner of his eye and saw that the person's gaze was unusually focused, even with a hint of indescribable fondness. He didn't seem like a serious person.
"What do you mean?" Xuan Ji thought warily, "Are things so corrupt now that they have to resort to seduction right off the bat?"
"I'm sorry, but I'm the one asking questions now," Xuan Ji said. "Is 'Sheng Lingyuan' the name you gave or your real name?"
"I don't remember."
"Where is your true body?"
The puppet either didn't understand the question or didn't want to answer, so he tilted his head slightly and smiled without saying a word.
"Where did you come from?"
"Underground?" Xuan Ji didn't know if this was a literal meaning or had some special connotation. He felt anxious and asked, "What does 'underground' mean?"
"I woke up from a shallow coffin underground," the person claiming to be Sheng Lingyuan said, "The coffin was rotten, so my family must have been poor before I died."
Climbed out of the coffin...
Xuan Ji accidentally glanced at the other person's face and his heart started beating irregularly again. He didn't dare to look again. It was difficult for them to communicate, and they were both guessing and confused. If he hadn't misunderstood, this person seemed to be an old ghost. Judging from his accent, he had been dead for some years. But what was this? A resurrection?
"Did you wake up as your true body from the coffin, or as this...puppet?" Xuan Ji asked.
Sheng Lingyuan either misunderstood or avoided the question intentionally and only said, "I was forcibly awakened by someone, and it's very noisy outside."
"Who? Why did they wake you up?"
"The man spoke incoherently, with a tone I had never heard before. At the time, my mind was not very clear, and I didn't understand him," Sheng Lingyuan's thoughtful gaze remained on Xuan Ji, as he spoke slowly, "After leaving the coffin, I happened to meet those friends outside, but since I wasn’t dressed appropriately, it was inconvenient to show myself. Therefore, I just followed them secretly for a while. Unexpectedly, we encountered a tree demon, and I saw that my friends were completely unaware of it, so I had to imitate their appearance, transform my clothes, and lead them into the cave."
Xuan Ji vaguely felt that something was off about this person. He squinted his eyes slightly and played with the coin between his fingers, "You could understand what those people were saying?"
"Not entirely, but I could follow some of their words, and my friends were not very guarded against me. By observing their expressions, I could guess the meaning of some of their words. I was afraid that I would reveal too much by saying too much, so I just imitated their way of speaking and exchanged some simple greetings with them. Fortunately, everyone was in a panic, and I didn't expose myself. However, that instrument," Sheng Lingyuan pointed to the television. The TV was no longer stuck and was now playing a subtitled TV drama, "The speech of the people in this program is clear and concise, and every word and sentence is marked. Is this used for children's handwriting practice?"
"Do you know simplified characters?"
"Simplified characters," Sheng Lingyuan was very interested and repeated the phrase, mimicking Xuan Ji's pronunciation perfectly. His ability to imitate was somewhat creepy. He answered with a smile, "I can't read them word for word, but I can guess about fifty percent of them based on their shapes."
Wherever this person stood, perhaps because of his jade-like body, he exuded a warm and gentle aura that made people naturally feel good about him.
"Being forcibly awakened from the coffin without any warning, confused and unable to understand a single word of what was being said. With clothes made of grass skirts woven from tree leaves. Yet he was just busy saving people, what kind of saintly person would do that?" Xuan Ji thought, "I almost believed him."
Suddenly, Xuan Ji realized that something was wrong with this "Sheng Lingyuan"—his tone of voice. Except for a few deliberately ignored questions, this person answered every question and was both detailed and patient in his responses. His tone was relaxed, but his words were scattered, like idle chatter with a stranger while waiting in line, to pass the time.
If he really had been buried for thousands of years and crawled out of the ground, with everyone and everything being incomprehensible, shouldn't his first priority be to find the one who awakened him? Even if he couldn't find the one who woke him up, shouldn't he try to understand what era it was and search for something familiar? Instead of sitting comfortably in a hospital watching TV and chatting idly with strangers, what was he doing with his time?
Xiao Li, who was locked outside the door, probably thought something was wrong and called a field team stationed at the hospital. At this time, the field team, who had received the notification, arrived at the door of the family rest area and knocked, "Director Xuan, do you need help? What's the situation?"
What exactly are you? Don't hide behind the puppet--
Sheng Lingyuan reacted quickly, lifting his hand to block the coin. As he reached out to grab the coin with his five fingers, it exploded in mid-air, flames shooting out over a meter and dragging him half-way inside. Several rows of "curse-breaking" spells were burned onto the white wall behind Sheng Lingyuan, and while the jade-carved figure was unscathed, the grass rope tying his hair was burned through. His long hair fell down and the fake clothes made of dried leaves vanished, but he was not naked.
There was another layer inside!
The pile of illusionary clothes made from deceitful magic was licked clean by the flames, revealing a white robe with a blood-drawn totem almost taking shape, emitting a horrifying and bloody scent. The man's once lively flesh and skin revealed a stony texture, pale with a tinge of blue. His lips, once a tender and affectionate smile, suddenly turned strange.
Wait a minute, doesn't the "Thousand Demon Bestiary" say that the puppet won't move when hit?
Where's the Heart-Piercing spell? The source code?
What is the bloody totem on his body?
Sheng Lingyuan sighed and extinguished the flames on him with a wave of his hand, standing up slowly. "Little guy, you're quite clever. You broke the curse well. Who taught you?"
As soon as he finished speaking, the long-haired man had already rushed to Xuan Ji's side like lightning. The edge of the coin in Xuan Ji's hand was as sharp as a knife, and he blocked the man's reaching hand. In the blink of an eye, the two exchanged seven or eight moves, the coins flying everywhere, and the black smoke in the family rest area had not yet dispersed before the sound of metal clashing filled the air.
Several coins shook loose from Xuan Ji's sleeve, bouncing and rolling around Sheng Lingyuan's feet. Xuan Ji reached out from afar and pressed down, and the coins suddenly embedded themselves in the marble floor, forming a formation that produced several burning iron chains out of thin air, roaring and wrapping around the long-haired man in the middle.
The "Thousand Demon Bestiary" was ignored and, upon a second glance, the annotations on the "Heart-Piercing Grass Puppet" evaporated like dew under sunlight, leaving no trace. Two bloody characters slowly rose from between the pages:
Happy readers make me float like a cloud in the sky. If you enjoy my translations and want to read them more quickly, I'll translate bonus chapters as a thank you for coffee!
Give me feedback at moc.ebircssutol@eyks.