That night, Tang Zhou slept restlessly. When the sky outside started getting brighter, he was suddenly woken up by the sound of a flute. The sound was sorrowful and the flute player sounded like they had endless misery to tell. Tang Zhou put on his robes and silently crept outside. No one had visited the courtyard last night, yet there’s a big pit in the ground.
He held his sword scabbard and crept closer.
There was a shallow layer of petals, which Master Shen had buried yesterday, except the petals were wrinkled and dry. He brushed aside the soil with a sword, and it revealed a hand underneath, looking as white as ceramic.
The person buried under there might still be alive!
Tang Zhou didn’t have a hoe or something else to dig with, so he could only use his sword. Fortunately, the person wasn’t buried very deeply, and a person’s face slowly appeared. He stretched out his hand and placed it under the person’s nose, but there weren’t any signs of breathing. Tang Zhou lifted his sleeves and gently wiped off the sand on the person’s face.
It was a girl’s face, with sleek eyebrows and a smile in the corner of her mouth, and looked like she was alive.
Tang Zhou’s hand paused, suddenly hearing footsteps behind him. He immediately turned around, knitting his eyebrows a little, “How did you get out?”
YanDan held up the ripped-up talisman, “I was talking to Xiang Jun, the paper talismans were too ugly and it would be better to rip them up. She immediately ripped it up.” She got closer to the pit, looking at the person inside, and whispered softly, “What are you doing? Are you trying to destroy or hide the body?”
Tang Zhou looked at her, “Don’t you think that the person inside the pit looks like someone you know well?”
YanDan knelt to take a closer look, “Yeah, I think we might’ve seen her somewhere before…”
“… This person looks just like you.”
YanDan jumped a little in shock and stood up, “When you say that, she sure does look similar. But why would there be someone who looks identical to me in this world?”
Tang Zhou replied slowly, “Not only does she look similar, your spiritual auras are also the same. Do you really believe that there would be a person like this?” YanDan looked at the woman buried in the pit and murmured, “Definitely not.” She looked really sad and slowly raised her head, saying, “That means… that I’ve already died but don’t know of it yet?”
Tang Zhou was silent, but YanDan’s face grew pale, muttering, “I see, I see…” She suddenly turned around and grabbed Tang Zhou’s sleeves, “I’m like this because of you! How do you plan on paying me back?” Her fingers were turning pale and she started bleeding, “If it weren’t for you… if it weren’t for you, then how would I have ended up here?”
She looked sad and her eyes held a sort of despair that he’d never seen before.
Tang Zhou didn’t pull away, he didn’t try to pull away, only asking, “What do I owe you? What do you want from me?”
YanDan stared at him and said slowly, “You owe me half a heart and I want you to give it back… please give it back…” Her voice had already gone from a warm tone to a crying tone, which made it even sadder.
Tang Zhou was inexplicably horrified and stepped back. He didn’t know why, but his head suddenly started hurting.
He opened his eyes and found himself lying on the bed in the guest room and a pillow was knocked to the floor. He sat up and rubbed his eyes until he was fully awake. It turns out that that was just a dream. But why would he choose to dream of YanDan, of all people? It really is a nightmare within a nightmare. He got up from bed, rinsed his face with the water from the basin, and slowly put on his robes.
There were suddenly some bird chirps from outside and the laughter of a young girl. Seems like Shen XiangJun has come over. Tang Zhou couldn’t help but remember last night’s dream vividly.
YanDan’s warm voice rang out, “Miss Shen, you wake up quite early.”
Xiang Jun laughed while saying, “The early bird gets the worm and the birds told me to wake up early.”
“Miss Shen, is it alright if I ask your birds a few questions?”
“Feel free to, but I’m not sure if they will understand you.”
Tang Zhou walked quietly to the door and pushed it open a little. YanDan was standing in front of Xiang Jun, and holding the parrot from yesterday, smiling happily.
“Birdy, don’t you think that those pieces of paper on the door are rather ugly? Do you think that I should rip it apart?”
Tang Zhou immediately realized what was happening. This lotus demon planned on getting rid of the constraining talismans by having the birds rip them up! But he stood still, waiting to see what she would do next.
Xiang Jun couldn’t help laughing, “The birds say that it is ugly indeed, and are asking why you don’t tear them apart already.”
YanDan sighed, “Tang Zhou painted it because he was afraid that I would get possessed by ghosts.” She rolled her eyes and smiled, “But it’s fine, although it’s annoying, he did spend time on it.” After she said that, she walked forward and slammed against the door that had talismans glued onto it.
“Are you okay?” Xiang Jun also walked forward and the talisman that was glued to her shoe was torn apart.
YanDan smiled a little, “It’s alright, I don’t know what happened earlier, I was suddenly a little dizzy.” Tang Zhou had posted multiple talismans on the door, and each one of them took quite a toll on her demon energy. She smiled again and walked into Tang Zhou’s side of the guest room, “You’re also awake this early?”
Tang Zhou crossed his arms, “I was already awake when Miss Shen came over.”
YanDan smiled in a flattering way, “Turns out that you worry about me bullying Miss Shen. Why would I do that? Miss Shen is both pretty and kind. If she becomes my sister-in-law, I would be very happy.”
Tang Zhou didn’t smile, “You’re thinking too much.”
YanDan’s face immediately changed, “Really? But I really wanted her to be my sister-in-law.”
They heard Shen XiangJun ask the parrot on her shoulder, “What’s a sister-in-law?”
Tang Zhou grabbed YanDan’s wrist and pulled her outside, to somewhere XiangJun couldn’t see. He stuck another piece of talisman to her wrist, “I made this just yesterday and I didn’t think that I would have to use it now.”
YanDan watched the talisman turn into a shiny ray of light, and there was suddenly a heavy bracelet on her wrist. She looked at it, “Does this also stop me from stepping a couple of steps away from you? Remember that we should still avoid other people’s suspicions. I’m not supposed to sleep in the same room as you, am I?”
Tang Zhou smiled a little, “This talisman stops you from leaving the Shen Mansion.”
She thought for a while, yet still didn’t get angry, “But anyways, it doesn’t look that bad to me.”
Tang Zhou looked back at her, only to see her still having that flattering smile. He immediately turned around, and walked away, but only after a few steps, he turned around, “I forgot to tell you.”
She looked at the bracelet on her wrist and replied casually, “What is it?”
“Yesterday, when I was drawing the talisman, I decided that if I just limit you from stepping out of the Shen Mansion, it’s not enough.” Tang Zhou added slowly, “So I added another one, which blocks half of your magic. Even if you do meet some evil spirits, you should still be able to deal with them with the magic left.”
YanDan gritted her teeth, pulled on the blades of grass at her feet and threw it at Tang Zhou. He turned sideways to avoid the grass, only to hear YanDan’s “hmph” and stare at the ground intently. He had traveled with her for quite some time now and knows that whenever he sees her like this, it would be best to leave. Leave as soon as possible.
YanDan continued staring at the ground for a while, before taking a deep breath, “Tang Zhou, come quickly.”
Tang Zhou didn’t even think about it, saying, “It would be better if you just told me what’s happening.”
She raised her head with a complicated expression, “Bring back that blade of grass, I’m not playing with you this time. I’m afraid there are going to be changes to this matter.”
Tang Zhou understood that “this matter” was referring to him exorcising ghosts from the Shen Mansion. He picked up the grass and walked towards YanDan. She said slowly, “I already had my suspicions, because this place has beautiful flowers and long blades of grass, but if you look anywhere else in the town, there’s not another place that grows flowers or plants.”
He looked down, and saw that in the dark soil, there was something white, kind of like… a bone! He thought back to that dream that he had and couldn’t help but look at YanDan. She looked down, but then turned around and her dark eyes stared back at his.
Tang Zhou looked into her eyes and couldn’t seem to look away. Her eyes held no trace of joking around, her pupils were dark, kind of like a small animal. YanDan suddenly laughed, “Why did your face turn white?” She touched her cheek and said to herself, “Why does it seem like everyone’s so afraid of me nowadays? Is it because I look too fierce?”
Tang Zhou put the blade of grass back in its original position before patting the dirt off his clothes, “I don’t think it’s fierceness, I think it just looks really scary.”
YanDan muttered something under her breath and twisted her hair, frowning, “It’s not like you’ll die if you say something nice.”
Tang Zhou snorted softly, “Although that’s not true, why should I say something that’s against my thoughts? It might make you feel better, but then I would feel uncomfortable, right?”
YanDan clenched her fists and stood up, and after a while, she smiled as if she had a toothache, “Very correct.”
The Shen family was one of the wealthiest families in town, so breakfast was obviously very lavish.
YanDan gently split the lotus bun in half and took tiny bites at a time. Although it looked pretty, the bun was quickly finished and she found herself taking another bun.
Master Shen saw her only eating buns, and smiled, “Miss YanDan, the buns are only meant to fill your stomach. Would you like to try some of our porridge? We also have some tea brought from the northwest, and it tastes very unique. If you’re not used to the taste, we also have regular tea.”
YanDan shook her head, “I’ve never tried buns before and I really like them.”
He immediately replied, “Is it because your cultivation is so strong that you don’t need to eat food anymore?”
Tang Zhou sighed.
YanDan thought about it for a little and actually said, “I could probably go seven to eight days without food.”
Master Shen was in awe, “You already have such strong cultivation at such a young age. That’s really admirable.”
Tang Zhou couldn’t help but say, “Master Shen, please don’t believe her. She’s a naughty girl and eight out of the ten sentences she says are a joke.”
YanDan raised her chopsticks and gave a meat bun to Tang Zhou, “I know that you enjoy eating these.”
Tang Zhou looked at the bun, wondering whether to eat it or throw it back at her, but after a little bit, he made his decision. After he finished eating the bun, there was suddenly another one on his plate. YanDan said obediently, “I think it would be better if I grabbed your food.”
Master Shen saw the two of them like this and touched his nose, “Childe Tang and Miss YanDan sure have a deep friendship.” He sighed and said, “Originally, I wanted to… but it seems like there’s no need for it.”
YanDan smiled when she heard those words and gave another bun to Tang Zhou, “Master Shen, me and Tang Zhou have a sibling-like relationship. I think you might have misunderstood something.”
Master Shen’s eyes lit up, “The thing is, Xiang Jun actually talked to me earlier. She really likes Tang Zhou and you have also treated her really well, which rarely happens. I was originally in favor of the marriage. It’s just that Xiang Jun… she’s a really stupid child.”
Tang Zhou was about to speak but was interrupted by YanDan, “If I had such a wonderful sister-in-law, like Xiang Jun, I would be really happy. Besides, Xiang Jun is really kind and my brother*** definitely wouldn’t dislike her.”
Tang Zhou coughed lightly, “Master Shen, actually I…”
“I grew up with my senior brother*** and I’ve never seen him act like this around a girl before.”
Tang Zhou put down his chopsticks, “You…”
“You’re a grown man, if you like her, then you like her, it’s not that big of a thing to admit it.”
His expression turned dark, “Are you done?”
YanDan flicked her fingers and continued inhaling buns, “Yep.”
Tang Zhou paused a while before continuing, “Master Shen, your daughter is a really nice and beautiful person, but I’m not ready to settle down and form a family yet. Apologies.”
Master Shen waved his hands and replied with a smile, “I understand, I understand. You’ve already done a lot, and for Xiang Jun… I’m afraid she won’t get married any time soon, so if you’ve finished everything and remembered her, then I would feel at ease.”
As soon as he finished speaking, a slender figure walked down the hall. The moment Master Shen saw her, his face turned white and his fingers kept on trembling.
“With a father like you, Xiang Jun really is pitiful.” The girl who walked in looked exactly like Xiang Jun, that was obvious. But why would he be scared of her? The girl looked every bit like Xiang Jun, but her expression was gloomy and her eyes were vaguely fierce.
Tang Zhou suddenly realized that the person he met last night wasn’t Xiang Jun, it was this girl.
YanDan could see Master Shen’s every movement from the corner of her eyes. Why is he so afraid? This girl looks exactly like Xiang Jun, which means that she’s probably his eldest daughter. But why would he be so afraid of his own daughter? Why are there two people who look so alike, but are completely different?
***When YanDan and Tang Zhou introduced themselves to the Shen household, they introduced themselves both as disciples who had the same master. Disciples would often call each other “brother” and “sister” even if they aren’t blood-related.