Agarwood like Crumbs (沉香如屑) Novel Translations

Chapter 15: Real or Fake

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Tang Zhou leaned against the side of the wall of the well and with the few rays of moonlight that shone through the well, he realized that the person turned out to be Ling Xuzi. It was as if all the skin on his body was shriveled, his blood drained. But it turned out to only be because he had been soaking in the water for a while, so his skin turned wrinkled and white. 

He calmed down and asked, “Do you know who practices witchcraft?”

Ling Xuzi’s lips trembled as if he was saying the most terrifying thing in the world, “Seven Luminary Divine Jade, Seven Luminary…”

“Have you seen the Seven Luminary Divine Jade before?”

Ling Xuzi shivered and let out a yell, except he didn’t have any energy left, so his hoarse voice sounded as quiet as a butterfly. Tang Zhou hurriedly reached out his hand, but suddenly felt the cold iron clasp against his wrist. Someone probably threw it in there to pull him back up. 

Tang Zhou withdrew his hand. This was a remote place without a lot of people, so if someone had bad intentions, then he could probably die at the bottom of this well. 

He suddenly heard a laughing voice come from the top, “You old man took so long to die. No one is here, so they can’t save you!”

The moment Tang Zhou heard the voice, he connected it to Master Shen. 

Things took a massive u-turn and his mind was a mess, not knowing what to think at all. 

He suddenly heard the sound of a hoe falling to the ground, someone struggled by the well, and then it was silent. Master Shen said to himself, “Isn’t it so much cleaner now that you’re dead? You’re a Taoist monk, yet you’re still stained. In this world, the dead are the cleanest.” There was a sound of a hoe falling again as if he was trying to dig with all his might. 

Tang Zhou was still in the water, so he felt his entire body go cold and started to ache slightly. He inserted his dagger against a crevice in the wall, but the wall was smooth and difficult to climb. If he made any rash movements now, Master Shen might find out, and then he wouldn’t have any chances of escaping. 

“These peach blossoms are freshly picked. Spread them on your body and you will smell a little better.” Master Shen’s voice suddenly became gentle, as if he was talking to someone he loves.

Tang Zhou finally realized why he buried flowers in the middle of the night. 

The sound of digging finally stopped and Master Shen wondered, “Why did such a large portion of the well collapse like that?” His tone suddenly became fierce and the sound of footsteps was getting closer and closer. Tang Zhou smiled bitterly, knowing that his own life would be buried inside the well. It turns out that the reflection he saw in the well earlier wasn’t an illusion. 

The footsteps suddenly stopped, and a fire starter fell into the well. Tang Zhou hurriedly dived into the water and the fire was extinguished when it touched the water. At the top of the well, someone looked down for a long time, before muttering, “There’s nobody there…”

Tang Zhou waited until Master Shen walked away from the well before poking his head out of the well and exhaling. Before he could take another breath, he heard the sound of moving stones. He immediately knew what was happening. Master Shen, although he didn’t see anyone, was very cautious, so he was going to seal the well completely by placing stone slabs over the top. Even if he did have the ability to climb out of there, he wouldn’t be able to move the stone slabs by himself. Although he was extremely skilled, there was nothing he could do except to await death. 

There was suddenly a bright voice, “Birdies, what are you trying to say? It’s really dark here. If I’d known earlier, I wouldn’t have followed you here!”

The sound of stone slabs moving suddenly stopped, and Master Shen’s voice was a little flustered, “What… are you doing here?”

Shen Xiang Jun smiled, “The birds told me to come here and take a look.”

Tang Zhou was already turning numb, but when he heard those words, he felt a strange feeling in his heart. This seemed like a good opportunity and if he grasped it, then everything would be solved. 

Master Shen didn’t say anything for a long while. 

Xiang Jun whispered, “It’s really gloomy and scary here after nightfall, I don’t want to stay here anymore.”

Master Shen immediately replied, “Here, I’ll bring you back.”

Tang Zhou heard the sound of their footsteps dimming as they walked farther and farther away. He inserted his dagger back into the crevice and pulled himself up a little. His body was still numb from the cold and his movements were stiff. After a while, he looked up, but he was still really far from the top of the well. 

He took another breath and continued climbing, but he suddenly lost his grip and fell back into the well. It was a big fall and he took some time to rest before climbing up again. When he was about halfway up, he heard footsteps again. Great. Now he had a problem. If he dived back into the well, he wouldn’t have the energy to climb up again, but if he stayed there, he could easily be seen. 

Suddenly, a hemp rope dropped down from the mouth of the well and extended all the way to the bottom. 

The person above didn’t speak but waited quietly for him to pull himself up. After he got out of the well, the sudden light in front of him made him squint. 

The sun was already rising in the east. A gloomy face stared back at him. Tang Zhou couldn’t help but say, “It’s you.”

The girl looked at him coldly, letting loose a small laugh, “Of course it’s me. Who else would it be? My sister, my father, or your smart and obedient junior disciple?”

Tang Zhou smiled, “Thank you.”

Xiang Yijun untied the rope and threw it aside, speaking coldly, “Seems like while you were in the well, you heard and seen a lot of things you shouldn’t have.” She swept her hair to the side, “Your junior disciple was right. I never wanted you to learn the secrets of this house, but you still know them.”

Tang Zhou was speechless. The warmth of the sun seeped into his damp clothes, making him a bit warmer than before. 

“My mother was from the Yi Clan, and she fell in love with my father, and married him. My mother… although she knew witchcraft, she also knew that my father disliked it, so she kept it a secret. But…”

That sounded exactly like what Master Shen told them earlier.

“But my father found out, yet didn’t blame my mother. Because of this, she was much more obedient to him.” Shen Yijun sighed, “About 9 years ago, she went into the mountains to pick some herbs, but didn’t come back. Everyone searched for a long time but didn’t find her, so they all said that she met some creatures deep in the woods and was torn apart and eaten by them. 

“I didn’t believe it, so I went to look for her one night. When I came back, I saw a silhouette that looked like my father burying something, so I hid behind the bushes to watch. After he left, I was still afraid, so I remained in my spot. Sure enough, he looked back once more before leaving for real. I’d already squatted for so long that my feet were numb, but I still pulled myself up and walked to the place. I dug and dug until my hands were covered in blood and I saw what was inside.”

She smiled strangely at Tang Zhou, “Guess what I saw?”

Tang Zhou whispered, “… was it a corpse?”

Shen Yijun nodded, “It was my mother’s corpse. Her body was shriveled as if all the blood and life were sucked out of her. She wasn’t eaten by a python, she was killed by my father! After knowing that she’d learned witchcraft, he’d begged her to teach him and then used that method to kill her. Later, my father realized that the place in which he buried her was dug up, so he began to suspect me and my sister. My sister, of course, is so stupid that he didn’t suspect her at all. He only suspects me. I didn’t even know how much I would’ve had to suffer just because of that. Later, my family moved to QingShi town. There’s always been a lot of people randomly dying here, and the moment I see their symptoms, I can tell the reason behind their death.”

When she said this, there were already tears in her eyes, “Fortunately, my sister doesn’t know anything about it. Only me knowing is enough.” She wiped her eyes with her sleeve, “Ling Xuzi was also killed by my father, probably because he was afraid that he found a clue. Childe Tang, I think it would be better for you to leave as soon as possible. Your junior disciple is young and it would be a shame if she died here.”

Tang Zhou finally remembered what he’d thought earlier: the family behaved strangely, although the two were father and daughter, they were wary of each other and kept on slandering each other.

Shen Yijun also mentioned YanDan twice, which gave him a bad feeling. She shouldn’t have been in any harm’s way, but now that her magic was restricted, she might be in trouble if she meets something dangerous. 

He turned around and walked back to the guest room, bumping into someone as he turned the corner. 

YanDan tilted her head, saw him drenched in water, and smiled, “Ohhhh, did you go out for a morning swim?”

Tang Zhou looked at her, noticing her bright smile, nice complexion, gentle appearance, but he was already feeling terrible enough, so he just replied bluntly, “I was out swimming all night.”

YanDan heard the undertone, so she quickly stepped forward and asked softly, “It’s still April and if you go out for a swim, you will definitely get a cold, right? You should go and quickly change your clothes.”

Tang Zhou went back to the guest bedroom and was about to take off his clothes, only to see YanDan come into the room with him, “Aren’t you going to leave?”

YanDan smiled, “I’m only sitting here and talking, I won’t look at you.” She paused, “You told me yesterday you saw an illusion in the well. What did you see?”

That was nothing compared to the more important matter. Tang Zhou hummed slightly as he changed into a warm set of clothes.

YanDan smiled slightly, “This is very important. Don’t make fun of me.”

Tang Zhou looked at her, “Do you already know something?”

She rolled her eyes and stared at his back, “How about we talk some more about the conditions? I’ll tell you everything I know, and you’ll unlock this restrictive spell.”

Tang Zhou immediately replied, “Don’t even think about that.” If she knew something, he also knew it, so this exchange would have been worthless.

YanDan stood up abruptly, “If we can’t agree on anything, then forget about it.” Tang Zhou almost wanted to stop her, but he held back. Sure enough, YanDan turned around, asking again, “Are you sure?”

He laughed in his heart, “Instead of trusting you, I might as well think about it myself.”

YanDan sighed but had no choice except leave.

Tang Zhou put on his outer robe, but the belt suddenly slipped out of his hands and landed on the floor. He knelt down slowly to retrieve it, and suddenly had a realization: Master Shen didn’t know why the edge of the well collapsed. Does that mean someone cut it out on purpose? Or was it just a coincidence?

If it really was a coincidence, then there are honestly way too many coincidences. How did Shen Yijun know that he was at the bottom of the well? And why would Master Shen leave with Shen Xiang Jun halfway through?

If this was on purpose, then what’s the reason behind it?

YanDan sat next to the lotus pond, continuing her hobby of feeding the fish. Sometimes, a fish would be bold enough to snatch some food from her hand, and then swam away quickly with a flick in its tail. She couldn’t help but chuckle, seeing that that same fish came again, but didn’t try to swim away like before. 

YanDan touched her face, distressed, asking herself, “Is it because I look untrustworthy? But everyone is smiling and friendly…” There were suddenly footsteps behind her and the shadow of a young girl swept over her. YanDan smiled, “Xiang Jun.”

The girl smiled, “I can understand the birds, and seeing that you’re always by the lake, can you understand the fish?”

YanDan nodded, “Yep, they tell me a lot of interesting things.”

Xiang Jun knelt beside her, clearly curious, “What do the fish tell you?”

“They tell me that there are many resentful spirits here and they won’t leave unless they’re restrained. They also said that when entering this household, you must bring something to ward off the evil spirits.” YanDan raised her hand and shook it, “Fortunately, my brother gave me this bracelet. This bracelet has a special spell on it, so if anything bad happens to me, he would know.”

Shen Xiang Jun reached out to touch YanDan’s bracelet, “This is a really pretty bracelet, it’s also nice to the touch. He sure is nice to you…”

YanDan immediately choked. There was a bigger chance of the sky flipping upside down than Tang Zhou being “nice to her”. However, she felt no need to tell Xiang Jun about that, so she could only hum in embarrassment. 

Xiang Jun looked at her with crystal clear eyes. YanDan stared into them, suddenly sleepy and she closed her eyes. Xiang Jun suddenly ripped the bracelet from her wrist and threw it into the lotus pond, where it landed with a thunk, sinking to the bottom immediately. 

Xiang Jun lowered her face and her expression suddenly turned fierce. She said coldly, “Now that you don’t have the bracelet to ward off evil spirits, what’s the use of being  a little clever?” She called over Maid Hu, who wrapped YanDan up in a giant towel, laughing, “Miss, this young girl is really light as if she didn’t have any bones.”

Shen Yijun walked to the abandoned well and ordered Maid Hu to throw YanDan into it. She then caught a glimpse of the flat stone lying around and ordered her to also put the slab over the well.

There was a heavy click and the slab slid smoothly over the well. There were some gaps, but they were so small that only a small child could crawl through them. 

Shen Yijun reached out and pressed her hand against the stone, brushing off some of the dirt. Her slow smile looked like a blooming spring flower.

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