The First Arc: Bloody Rain Reaching Towards a Flower
Chapter 4: Discussion Between Three Fools In The Ju Yang Temple At Night
Things started to get out of hand ever since then. In the hundred years afterwards, a total of seventeen brides went missing in the Mount Jun region. Sometimes there would be a dozen or so years of peace. Other times, two brides would go missing in the time span of a short month. Before long, a frightening legend rapidly spread around: within Mount Jun lived a ghost bridegroom. If he fancied a woman, he would kidnap her during her wedding procession before devouring the party of relatives that were sending her off.
Originally, this situation wouldn’t be communicated to the Heavens. Although there were seventeen missing brides, hundreds of thousands of other brides in the world had passed their wedding days safe and sound. In any case, it was impossible to find those brides or protect them now, so people had no other choice but to make due in this kind of event. The families who dared to marry their daughters off in this region merely lessened a bit, and the local newly-weds didn’t dare to make their weddings a big event. However, it was precisely the seventeenth bride who had a bigshot official for a father. This father rather doted on his daughter; and when he caught wind of this legend, he meticulously selected forty brave and outstanding military officials to escort his daughter to her bridegroom. However, despite all of his preparations, his daughter still disappeared.
This time, the ghost bridegroom really stabbed a hornet’s nest. This official could not find anyone in the human realm who could do anything to help. As a result, he furiously made an alliance with his government official friends, and then crazily performed a ritual. This official even followed an expert’s advice and opened the granary to help the poor. After making an uproar, he finally managed to startle a Heavenly Official. Otherwise, it would have been almost impossible for those tiny, mortal voices to reach a Heavenly Official’s ear.
Xie Lian said, “That’s more or less the big picture.”
As the two martial gods’ expressions looked very uncooperative, he wasn’t sure if they were listening or not. If they hadn’t been listening, Xie Lian didn’t have any choice but to explain the situation once again. Yet contrary to what he had expected, Nan Feng raised his head before wrinkling his forehead. He asked, “Do the missing brides have anything in common with each other?”
Xie Lian replied, “There were some rich brides and some poor ones. There were beautiful ones and ugly ones. Some were wives, and others were concubines. In short, the disappearances completely lack a pattern. One simply cannot determine the preferences of this ghost bridegroom.”
“Mm,” Nan Feng grunted once, before raising his tea cup and taking a sip. He seemed to have started pondering over their problem. On the other hand, Fu Yao didn’t even bother touching the tea cup Xie Lian pushed toward him. He just leisurely and continuously wiped his fingers with a white handkerchief before he asked indifferently, “Your Highness the Crown Prince, how did you decide that the ghost is a bridegroom? That can’t be certain. No one has ever seen it before. How can you tell if it’s a man or a woman, if it’s old or young? Are you thinking of things too simply?”
Xie Lian smiled before answering, “The conclusion written on this scroll was a summary by the Heavenly Officials from Ling Wen’s Palace Hall. ‘The ghost bridegroom’ is just the popular name used among the people. However, what you’ve said really makes sense.”
After these exchanges, Xie Lian realized that these two martial gods’ thought processes were quite sharp. Although their expressions didn’t look good, they weren’t careless about their work affairs. This made Xie Lian feel considerably gratified. Since the sky outside the window was darkening, the three of them temporarily left the small teahouse. Xie Lian put on his bamboo hat before he started to walk. After walking for a bit, he suddenly became aware that the two people behind him hadn’t followed. Bewildered, Xie Lian turned around to take a look, before realizing that those two were staring at him in bewilderment as well. Nan Feng asked, “Where are you going?”
Xie Lian replied, “I’m going to search for a place to stay. Fu Yao, why are you rolling your eyes again?”
Nan Feng asked again in bewilderment, “Then why are you walking toward the mountains and the wild?”
Xie Lian was accustomed to frequently eating and sleeping on the streets. As long as he could find a piece of cloth to spread on the ground, he could lie there for a night. Naturally, he was preparing to find a cave and light a fire, something he usually did. It was only after this reminder that he remembered; Nan Feng and Fu Yao were martial gods under their respective Palace Halls. If there was a Nan Yang or Xuan Zhen temple in the vicinity, they could directly enter it. Why would it be necessary for them to sleep outdoors in the wilderness?
In a short while, the three of them found a worn-out and damaged local shrine in an unremarkable and tiny corner. The plate holding the incense was broken, and the whole place gave the feeling that it was rarely frequented. The Earth God’s name was engraved on a small, round stone plaque. Xie Lian called out to him a few times. It had been many years since someone had called or made an offering to this local Earth God. When he suddenly heard someone calling him, his eyes widened. He saw the three of them standing in front of him. Even the area around their bodies was covered with a rich layer of divine light. It was simply impossible to see their faces clearly. Jumping up with great alarm, the Earth God trembled and shivered before asking, “Do the three Heavenly Officials have any orders for the humble me?”
Xie Lian nodded his head in greeting before speaking, “There are no orders. We merely wanted to ask if there are any General Nan Yang or General Xuan Zhen temples in the vicinity?”
The Earth God didn’t dare to slight them, and thus replied, “This, this, this…” He calculated on his fingers before saying, “Around five li1 from here, there is a temple to provide offerings to, to, to General Nan Yang.”
Xie Lian pressed both of his hands together before replying, “Many thanks.” However, that Earth God felt as if he was being blinded by those two dazzling lumps of divine light standing beside Xie Lian. Thus, he quickly concealed himself again. Meanwhile, Xie Lian fumbled around before finding some coins to use as an offering to the Earth God’s shrine. Then, upon spotting the incense sticks scattered to the side, he straightened them before lighting them up. During this process, Fu Yao had rolled his eyes so many times Xie Lian practically wanted to ask him if his eyes were tired.
As expected, five li later, they really spotted a temple. It was erected beside the roadside, and it looked to be popular and prosperous. Although the temple was rather small, everything one would need was there. Still, the place bustled with unusual excitement and noise as people came and left. The three of them concealed themselves before entering the temple. And sure enough, a Godly statue of an armoured Nan Yang Martial God holding a bow was precisely what was located on the altar for offerings.
The moment Xie Lian saw this Godly statue, he went “Uh huh…” once in his heart.
For a small temple in the countryside, the Godly statue itself and the paint on were created quite crudely. As a whole, the look of this statue contrasted hugely to Xie Lian’s impression of Feng Xin himself.
However, most Heavenly Officials were accustomed to how their Godly statues were inaccurately depicted. Don’t mention how their own mothers wouldn’t recognize them, there were some Heavenly Officials who couldn’t even recognize their own Godly statues. After all, there weren’t many master artists who had met the Heavenly Officials personally. Therefore, these statues were either beautiful to the extreme, or immensely ugly. One could only rely on the statue’s specific posture, their weapon, and their garments to recognize which Heavenly Official the statue was depicting.
Generally speaking, the richer the area it was built on, the closer the Godly Statues would look when compared to the Heavenly Officials themselves. The poorer the place, the more inferior the artist’s taste, which would result in the Godly statue becoming a truly tragic sight. Until now, only General Xuan Zhen’s Godly statues were rather nice as a whole. Why? It was because most Heavenly Officials didn’t really care if ugly Godly statues of themselves were made. However, whenever Xuan Zhen saw someone make an ugly Godly statue of himself, he would stealthily break it to make the artist remodel it. Sometimes, he would even create a vague dream to express his dissatisfaction to the artist. Thus after a while, all the believers now knew they needed to create a nice-looking statue of their master!
Members of the Xuan Zhen Palace Hall had a personality similar to their General’s. All of them were rather fond of paying attention to detail. Within one shichen2 of entering the Nan Yang temple, Fu Yao continuously found fault in the details of the Godly statue. It was either “the shape was distorted”, or “the colours of the paint were vulgar”, or “the technique the artist used was of inferior quality”. He even commented on how the artist’s tastes were too strange. When Xie Lian saw how the veins on Nan Feng’s forehead were slowly bulging, he began thinking about how he should quickly find another topic to divert his attention. Coincidentally, Xie Lian saw yet another young lady come inside to pay homage to Nan Yang. As she piously kneeled, he began to talk warmly. “All things considered, Nan Yang ZhenJun’s home ground is in the Southeast. I didn’t expect the incense burning for Nan Yang to be this strong in the North as well.”
When mortals constructed temples, they were actually trying to imitate the Palace Halls in the Heavens. The Godly statues, on the other hand, were supposed to be a reflection of the Heavenly Officials themselves. The gathered believers at a temple and the incense they burnt became a Heavenly Official’s important source of magical power. In addition, as a result of every individual’s geographical location, history, social customs, class and many other reasons, people living in different areas normally worshiped different Heavenly Officials. Every Heavenly Official’s magical power was the strongest on their own turf, which was also known as the home field advantage. Only a deity like the Martial God Heavenly Emperor could have believers in every nook and cranny under the sky. He was a Heavenly Official with temples erected in every direction, so whether or not Jun Wu was on his ‘home ground’ didn’t have any meaning. Nan Feng should have been proud that incense was burning so vigorously at a temple not on his General’s domain. However, looking at the complexion of his visage, it didn’t appear like it was a good thing to him. Fu Yao stood to the side and smiled faintly before saying, “Not bad, not bad. General Nan Yang receives no small measure of love and respect.”
Xie Lian responded, “Although, I have a question. I don’t know…”
Nan Feng cut him off. “If you wish to say ‘I don’t know whether it’s something suitable to ask’, then just don’t say it.”
Xie Lian mentally thought, “No, I wanted to say, ‘I don’t know whether anyone could answer it’.”
However, Xie Lian had the premonition that the response to his question would be far from good. Thus, he decided that it was still better for him to change their conversation topic once more. Unfortunately, who would have thought that Fu Yao would choose to leisurely speak up now. “I know what you wanted to ask. You must have been wondering, out of so many believers who had come here today, why were there such a large amount women, right?”
That was precisely the question Xie Lian had wanted to ask.
A martial god’s female believers were always less than the male believers. Only he had been an exception eight hundred years ago, and the explanation behind this exception was very simple. It consisted only of a few words: he was good-looking.
Xie Lian thoroughly and clearly understood this fact. It hadn’t been because he was a person of virtue and prestige, nor was it because he was extraordinarily talented. It had only been because his Godly statues looked nice, and his temples also looked nice. Almost all of his temples were built by the imperial household, and his Godly statues were made by the top artists across the country. His statues had also been carefully sculpted according to his real face. Moreover, because of his phrase, ‘body in the abyss, but heart in paradise’, the artists usually liked adding flowers to his Godly statues. In addition, they were also fond of turning his temples into a sea of flowering trees. As a result, back then, he had another name. Xie Lian was also known as the ‘Flower Crown Martial God’. Thus, the women loved how his Godly statues were pretty, and they also liked how his temples were filled with flowers. That was enough to make them dash over. Fortunately, they were also conveniently willing to come in and pay their respects to him.
However, normal martial gods were usually surrounded by heavy killing intent. Thus, more often than not, the appearances of their Godly statues were solemn, fierce, or callous. For female believers, they would rather worship the Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin, rather than stare at statues like that. And although this Godly statue of Nan Yang was far from releasing killing intent due to its appearance, it was still far from something considered to be good-looking. Still, there were almost more female believers who came to pay homage to Nan Yang than male believers. In addition, it was clear that Nan Feng unexpectedly didn’t want to answer this question. Thus, Xie Lian found things to be quite weird. At that moment, that young girl finished paying homage and got up to light some incense. She also turned around.
When Xie Lian saw her turn around, he slightly pushed the other two people. Originally, neither of them were resistant to looking. Being pushed like that, they casually followed his gaze. However, this one look made both of their expressions suddenly change.
Fu Yao yelled, “Too ugly!”
Xie Lian choked for a moment before he managed to speak, “Fu Yao, you can’t say something like that about a girl.”
In all fairness, what Fu Yao said was the truth. That young lady’s face was incomparably flat, as if someone had flattened it by giving her a hard slap. In addition, if one said her facial features were mediocre, then it would cause the word ‘mediocre’ to feel wronged. If someone had to give her appearance a description, Xie Lian was afraid they could only use the phrase ‘a crooked nose and slanted eyes’.
However, Xie Lian absolutely didn’t distinguish whether she was beautiful or ugly. The main reason was, when she turned around, a gigantic hole could be seen at the back of her skirt. It was truly impossible to pretend they had not seen it.
Fu Yao was shocked at first, but he quickly calmed down. On the other hand, the pulsing veins on Nan Feng’s forehead disappeared without a trace.
When he saw how their complexion changed, Xie Lian hurriedly said, “Don’t fret, don’t fret.”
After that, young girl retrieved her incense and she kneeled down once more. Then she began to pay her respects as she started to talk, “Protect us, General Nan Yang. Female believer Little Ying prays that the ghost bridegroom will be captured as soon as possible. Don’t let innocent people suffer his evil…”
She did her worshiping in a truly devout manner, totally oblivious of the hole on her skirt. She was also completely unaware of the three people crouching by the foot of the Godly statue she was paying her respects to. Xie Lian felt a headache as he asked, “What should we do? We can’t let her leave like this, can we? She’ll be seen by everyone on her way home.”
Moreover, the tear on her skirt looked as if it was deliberately created by someone with a sharp object. Xie Lian was afraid that not only would there be people who would come and watch, there would also be people who would wantonly ridicule her, creating a public spectacle. Something like that would truly be humiliating.
Fu Yao replied indifferently, “Don’t ask me. The one she’s worshiping isn’t my General Xuan Zhen. There wasn’t harassment, I didn’t see anything.”
On the other hand, Nan Yang’s handsome face just alternated between green and white. He could only wave his hand around, but he couldn’t say anything. A proper and proud lord was forced into becoming a mute. It was clear you could no longer count on him. Thus, Xie Lian had no alternatives other than doing something himself. After thinking for a bit, he took off his outer robe and dropped it. Following a breeze, that robe floated toward the young girl’s body before blocking that indecent hole on her skirt. With that done, the three of them released a sigh of relief.
However, that gust of wind was really too perceptible. It scared the young girl and made her look around in all directions. She then took off that robe, hesitated for a moment, before placing it on the stage of the statue. She was still completely unaware of her own situation. As her incense had finished burning, she began to prepare to leave. If they really allowed her to walk out and about, Xie Lian was afraid that this young lady would no longer dare to face people because of her shame. When Xie Lian saw the two people beside him were just stiff and stiffer, both looking completely useless—he sighed a bit. Nan Feng and Fu Yao only felt the space by their sides empty before they realized that Xie Lian had already taken a form mortals could see and jumped down.
The lights in the temple weren’t dark, but they did make things look unclear. The jump of Xie Lian’s brought about another gust of wind, making the flames of the candles flicker. The young girl, Little Ying, only felt as if her sight shimmered before she saw a man abruptly emerge from that darkness. The upper part of his body was bare. Thus, when he extended a hand toward her, Little Ying’s soul basically flew away and scattered in fright.
As expected, the girl shrieked. Xie Lian was just about to speak, when the girl reflexively threw out a slap as she yelled, “Ah, harassment!”
“Pa!” Xie Lian earned a slap on his face.
The sound of the slap was sharp and clear. When they heard it, the faces of the two people who were still crouching by the Godly statue both began to rapidly twitch in the same way.
Although he suffered a slap, Xie Lian was neither annoyed nor angry. He only resolutely passed over his outer robe, before rapidly saying a few words in a quiet tone. Upon hearing him, that girl became shocked. The moment she touched the back of her skirt, her face immediately became red as her eyes filled with tears in less than a split second. One was unable to tell if she was angered to tears or shamed to tears, but she firmly grasped the robe Xie Lian gave her, before she rushed out of the temple and left. Only Xie Lian’s fragile-looking figure was left in that empty temple. When a cool breeze passed through, he suddenly felt a bit cold.
Xie Lian rubbed his face before he turned around. Sporting a red handprint on a cheek, he began speaking to the other two little gods. “Alright. Everything’s fine now.”
The moment his voice faded, Nan Feng pointed at him before asking, “You… Did your wound open?”
Xie Lian looked down before uttering an, “Oh”.
What was revealed after he took off his outer robe was pretty skin as white as jade. However, his chest was covered completely with layer after layer of white cloth, bound extremely tightly. Even his neck and both of his wrists were wrapped with bandages, with countless tiny wounds crawling from underneath the edges of the white cloth. It was truly a shocking sight.
After thinking about it, Xie Lian determined that his sprained neck should be fine by now. Thus, he began unbinding his bandages. Fu Yao gave him two glances before asking, “Who was it?”
Xie Lian replied, “What?”
Fu Yao elaborated, “Who was the one who fought against you?”
Xie Lian: “Fought? Ah, no one…”
Nan Feng: “Then these wounds on your body…”
Xie Lian hurriedly explained, “I fell by myself.”
They were the wounds he had accumulated as he rolled down from the Heavens. If he really had fought against someone, then it would be hard to say if he could even be wounded to this degree.
Fu Yao muttered something under his breath. Xie Lian couldn’t make out what he had said, but since it was certainly not praise for him trying to be strong, Xie Lian disregarded it. He just focused on unwrapping the cloth around his neck. Yet the moment he finished, Nan Feng and Fu Yao’s gazes became so concentrated, they practically solidified on his neck.
A black collar encircled his snow-white neck.
1. An ancient Chinese unit of measurement, it is approximately 500m. Thus, 5 li would be around 2500m.↩
2. One shichen is about two hours.↩