Agarwood like Crumbs (沉香如屑) Novel Translations

Chapter 18: The Last Clue

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A long time passed before either of them spoke. Tang Zhou was the one who ended up breaking the silence, “Let’s check out the house again. Maybe Master Shen’s body might be there.” YanDan replied tiredly, “Tang Zhou, ever since I met you, I’ve had terrible luck.” 

Right after she said that, there was a sound of footsteps behind them and someone called out, “Everyone be careful, the person who lit the fire might still be inside!”

The voice was very close, so the two of them quickened their pace. She’d planned to go to the backyard and escape from there, but it’s not possible anymore. Back when she had her magic powers, she would never be afraid of a few mortals but now that she’d lost her powers, she’s no different from any ordinary woman and can only run away. 

Before she could run to the backyard, someone behind her yelled, “There’s someone inside! They’re running away!”

YanDan glanced back and saw the townspeople chasing them with hoes and shovels, and felt a bitter taste in her mouth. Suddenly, she felt her wrist tighten as Tang Zhou pulled her and whispered, “Right.” 

YanDan looked to the right and there was a half-burnt wall. Before she could speak up, she felt her body lighten. Tang Zhou had picked her up and they flew over the wall. She heard the yells of the townspeople getting closer and, she didn’t know where she got the courage for, jumped the other way off the wall. The wall was nearly as tall as three people and when she fell, she’d sprained her ankle but she kept on running. 

Seeing that she was so brave, Tang Zhou swallowed the phrase “it would be better if I carry you”. 

YanDan ran until she was out of breath but her strong will to survive kept her in one piece, as they ran out of Qingshi Town. 

She looked at the stone tablet in front of her, engraved with the word “Xiangdu” and knew that they were finally at the Xiangdu border. Her legs collapsed and she fell to the ground, finally able to take a rest after running for so long.

“You’re still pretty powerful,” commented Tang Zhou.

After a long time, YanDan calmed down and looked at him miserably, “I twisted my ankle…”

He was at a loss for words.

“I twisted it when we jumped off the wall…”

“That’s quite impressive. You still ran continuously for an hour even after you twisted your ankle.”

YanDan ground her teeth, “My ankles are still swollen, you bastard!”

He walked to her side and slowed crouched next to her, “Let me see.” 

YanDan swatted his hand away, “Don’t touch me! Everything was all your fault. I told you to leave earlier but you chose not to, and then you even made me jump that wall!”

Tang Zhou sighed, not having the energy to argue with her, “If you don’t let me take a look, how would you know if you injured your bone?”

YanDan didn’t know what else to say, so all she could do was grumble angrily as Tang Zhou checked on her ankle. “It’s swollen but the bone isn’t injured. When we get to the next town, we’ll find you a doctor.”

He turned around, “I’ll carry you.”

YanDan suddenly thought that this isn’t a great time to escape so she obediently climbed onto his back.

After a while, she said, “You don’t have to carry me. It’s just a small injury and I’ll be okay… if only you gave me some of my magic back…”

A moment of silence passed before Tang Zhou asked, “Why do you want to become a demon so badly?”

“Huh? Well…” YanDan thought for a little bit, “If I’m not a demon, nor a mortal, nor a god, then what’s the point? Wouldn’t you feel lonely if there wasn’t another of your kind?”

“But now that I sealed your magic, you’re no different than a mortal. Isn’t that good?”

Only then did YanDan realize what Tang Zhou was trying to say, and replied bluntly, “If I turned you into a demon, would you enjoy it?”

Tang Zhou couldn’t deflect the answer so he decided to shift the topic, “Our luggage was left at the mansion and I have very little money right now, so I’m not sure if it would be of any use when we get to the next town.”

YanDan didn’t even think before blurting, “That’s easy to fix. Just find some travel merchants and beat them into giving us money.”

Right after she spoke, there was a distant sound of horses and carriages getting closer and closer, until it was right next to them. The driver of the carriages wore expensive clothes, almost as if saying “I have a lot of money, please beat me up”. Unfortunately, YanDan couldn’t do anything in her current state and since Tang Zhou didn’t do anything either, she didn’t have the courage to force him to do it. 

The curtain of the carriage was slowly lifted, revealing a pair of dark and indifferent eyes. 

All of a sudden, a young woman jumped out of the carriage and told them in a chirpy voice, “Childe Tang, my master invites you to come into our carriage.”

YanDan knew Tang Zhou would definitely reject the offer so she quickly replied, “Thank you so much.” The girl reached out a hand and helped her get into the carriage. YanDan felt sorry for herself: with the girl’s strength, she definitely practiced martial arts. With YanDan’s magic gone, she couldn’t even be compared to a mortal girl. 

The master sat in the inside of the carriage, one hand holding a teacup. He nodded slightly to Tang Zhou before turning around and looking to the other side. 

YanDan followed that man’s gaze and saw a beautiful tapestry, made with velvety and thin embroidery threads. It was embroidered with a special technique originating in Yizhou. She looked back at the man gazing at the tapestry and wondered what he was thinking about. 

Tang Zhou whispered, “Young Master Liu knows my master well and would often come to play chess with my master.”

YanDan dropped her voice, “Master Liu’s chess skills are pretty bad, isn’t it? Even if he loses each time, he still comes back to play chess with your master.”

Tang Zhou was speechless. 

The young girl grinned, “What you said is almost true, but the one who has terrible chess skills and still comes back each time is actually Tang Zhou’s master.”

That shut YanDan up real quick. She now looked at Master Liu with a different gaze, although he didn’t move at all, still looking at the tapestry. 

She decided to take a closer look at the tapestry, but noticed a flaw in the knitting pattern so she didn’t think it was anything special. 

His maid, Xu’er told them that this is Master Liu, his first name being Weiyang. He’s a native of Liuzhou and had traveled across all five lakes and three rivers. 

Xu’er said softly, “Master, Anping Town is near us. Do you want to go into the town or get someone to bring us some food?”

Liu Weiyang lifted his sleeve and nodded slightly. 

The carriage suddenly jolted to a stop. YanDan had no time to sit down so she slammed into the wall of the carriage.

Xu’er looked down and replied warmly, “Xu’er understands.”

YanDan couldn’t help but ask out of curiosity, “What do you understand?”

She smiled, “My master said he wants to get out of the carriage.”

“How’d you know?”

Xu’er looked confused as if she couldn’t understand why YanDan would ask that question, “Because my master nodded his head.”

With her reaction, YanDan decided it would be better to drop this topic. Tang Zhou looked her in the eye, not saying anything. 

After an hour, the carriage stopped slowly and Xu’er poked her head into the carriage, “We’ve arrived at Anping Town.”

YanDan carefully got off the carriage and took a couple of steps. Thankfully, her ankle was almost fully healed. It was mostly thanks to Liu Weiyang. 

Tang Zhou talked about going to town to find a doctor, but Childe Liu just reached out and grabbed her ankle without saying a word. Then there was a crisp and pleasant “click”, followed by her screaming.

She never dared to look at him again: this person is even more ruthless than Tang Zhou!

The four walked into a restaurant. YanDan guessed that Liu Weiyang’s identity must be very unusual. His name was derived from a place named Liuzhou Weiyang, and most parents aren’t lazy enough to just combine the names of two places to use as their child’s name. 

Childe Liu looked at Tang Zhou and said in a low voice, “Brother Tang, please come and order.” Tang Zhou shook his head and declined, “It would be better if you do it.”

Liu Weiyang nodded slightly and announced several dishes in a low and comfortable voice. It was the first time YanDan heard him say so many words at once. 

The meal itself was rather boring. The dishes ordered by Liu Weiyang were delicious and the chef of the restaurant was also very talented, but the people she ate with were just too boring. This never happened back at Yelan Mountain, so YanDan gradually developed the habit of being uncomfortable without saying hundreds of thousands of words every day. 

Maid Xu’er would only answer with a couple of words, YanDan didn’t want to talk to Tang Zhou, and Liu Weiyang probably only speaks fifty sentences the entire year. 

YanDan was so uncomfortable that she had to go on a stroll. 

The evening wind blew across the paddy fields, whisking along the smell of earth. The silvery-white moon hung in the sky and the fields were peaceful and quiet. It’s still spring, so there weren’t many insects but if it was summer, there would probably be even more insects. 

YanDan had only walked a few steps along the path when there was a dark figure rushing towards her. The man looked at her and both of them were startled. YanDan looked at the man, who looked very familiar, and then remembered, “You-”

The man covered his face with his hands and shouted while running away, “It’s not me, it’s not me…”

Tang Zhou jumped in front of the man and tripped him, causing the man to fall to the ground. While pointing his sword at the man’s throat, he asked, “Tell me, did you set fire to the Shen mansion?”

The man smiled and replied in a mocking voice, “Why would I set fire to my own house?”

So this person was Master Shen.

YanDan stepped forward and smiled slightly, “Since you didn’t set fire to the house, then you must’ve killed Miss Shen.”

He smiled bitterly and bit back, “Stop joking around, how could I harm my own flesh and blood?”

YanDan grabbed the long sword out of Tang Zhou’s hand, only to realize the sword was too heavy. Staggering around, she almost slashed Master Shen’s face. Master Shen was so frightened that he started sweating and he tried to talk in a better tone, “Miss Yan, be careful and don’t shake your hands that much. This sword is heavy so it’s better for Young Master Tang to hold it.”

YanDan pouted, “You’re still talking nonsense. Miss Shen isn’t your biological daughter.”

He replied simply, “Indeed, Yijun isn’t my own, but I’ve always treated her as my biological daughter. Even if she’s crazy and sometimes stupid, I still treat her respectfully. How could I just murder her in cold blood?”

Tang Zhou took the sword from YanDan’s hand and said slowly, “So you should know that the murderer is someone else.”

Master Shen closed his mouth immediately, his face turning pale, “There is no murderer… it was a dry day and it would be strange if something caught on fire…” He looked so terribly frightened that no matter how Tang Zhou poked and prodded, he didn’t say anything else.

Tang Zhou sighed and returned his sword to its sheath. YanDan started speaking softly, “Are you really not going to tell the truth?” 

Master Shen simply closed his eyes and ignored her.

YanDan squatted beside him and said leisurely, “You know, I heard this rather interesting story from Lord Chi. There was an adult in this dynasty that was very proficient in criminal law. The official worshipped the minister of punishment and no one under his command dared to disobey him. Have you heard of it?” She touched his eyelids, “What did that person say about eyeballs again? Oh right. He said that it was a skill to only cut the eyelids but the eyeballs are still there.

It’s also not that bad to cut someone’s nose, because they can still breathe out of it… But it’s rather useless to keep your tongue, and you wouldn’t scream too much if we removed it.”

She smiled, “Have you heard of live peeling? I heard that people sometimes get roasted on the fire until they’re medium cooked and that’s when the skin and flesh will loosen. Then, using a knife, they peel the person’s skin little by little…”

Master Shen’s eyes flashed open and he said in a trembling voice, “I’ll say it, I’ll tell you everything!”

YanDan waved her finger lightly, “No, no. You don’t have to say it. I’ve always wondered what’s it like to be the person involved in a live peeling.”

Master Shen shouted in a trembling voice, “Shen Yijun and I are both…subordinates and we all obey his orders. Young Master Tang has a pure soul, so he can’t be controlled by my master. We all want… the result…but that person found out we had other ideas, so he…”

Tang Zhou asked impatiently, “Who is this person you’re talking about?”
Master Shen’s eyelids twitched and he made a few guttural sounds in his throat, but he could speak. 

YanDan sighed, “It seems like we’ll have to make the fire first. I heard that after the human skin is peeled off, the texture inside is still intact and you could see the blood pulsing in the body. Quite interesting if I say so myself.”

Suddenly there were a few coughs from behind them as an old farmer walked along the path, holding a tobacco pipe and having his back hunched over. Tang Zhou dragged Master Shen to the bushes by the roadside and pulled YanDan behind another bush, five steps away. YanDan sighed, “I was treated as a murderer the day before yesterday, but I guess this time I’m a thief again.”

Tang Zhou lowered his voice, “You’re quite familiar with the criminal laws around here.”

YanDan smiled lightly, “I’ve known Lord Chi for a long time, so I picked up a few tips and tricks.”

Tang Zhou couldn’t tell if she was speaking nonsense or the truth. While they were talking, the old peasant walked over, still smoking the tobacco pipe, and the sparks of the pipe looked reddish in the night. Suddenly, there was a faint light – almost impossible to see. Tang Zhou immediately stepped forward and pushed aside the bushes, “Damn it!”

Through the vague moonlight, YanDan could see clearly: Master Shen had a fatal wound on his brow and there was blood. They chased along the field path, trying to catch the old peasant, but all they could find were a few pieces of cloth and a pipe.

The old farmer had disappeared.

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