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The woman opened her eyes when she woke, and as soon as she saw Yan Xiaohan, she cried out in alarm. “It’s you?!”
The Prince of Qi and his group had been rare foreign guests in Brook Hill, and practically the entire village had run over to come see the excitement. Yan Xiaohan had been singled out in particular amongst them, leaving an even deeper impression the village men and women. For that reason, the woman could still recognize him at once, and was even soon weeping out of fear. “You… came back for revenge?” she asked, trembling. “It was the village chief and the rest who wanted to harm you! We don’t know anything at all!”
Fu Shen lazily prodded at the fire with his iron. “You shaking like that doesn’t seem like ‘not knowing anything at all’.”
Though he had charming features, his imposing aura was too overwhelming, a sort of thorn’s tip that couldn’t afford to be provoked with even one look. On the other hand, Yan Xiaohan’s looks were very deceptive; so long as he didn’t tear his mask of cordiality off of his own accord, he could assume a face of flawless, warm benevolence.
Seeing as Fu Shen took the initiative to sing bad cop, the other man was forced to play good cop. “I took your husband out from the river. Don’t be frightened, I didn’t come to seek vengeance,” he said, words carrying comfort.
Receiving such a reminder from him seemed to have her soul return to its spot. She lifted her sleeves to wipe at her face, then crawled over to help her husband, patting his back and cleaning up his mouth and nose for him. While she worked, she once again recalled all the events that had occurred before she was knocked out, and couldn’t keep her sorrow in, bursting into tears.
Neither of the two said anything to stop her, quietly listening to her mournful wails.
From yesterday night until this one, she had no idea how many times she had cried; helplessly watching as her husband suddenly contracted a malady, then as he was thrown into the river, and then after she had returned home that night, tying a belt from a roof beam in preparation to hang herself with it. Fortunately, Fu Shen had been keeping watch on her each and every move from a hiding spot, and had knocked her out and brought her away at the pivotal moment, disallowing her suicide attempt’s success.
Perhaps sensing goodwill within their silent waiting, her weeping gradually ceased after a while. She raised her thoroughly red eyes to timidly take a measure of them, then knelt towards them and prostrated herself in a bow. “I have no way to pay you back for this immense kindness and favor.”
Yan Xiaohan thought about how that much was obvious. “It wasn’t a huge effort, there’s no need for that,” he said, waving his hand. “I have some things I want to ask you. Just answering them truthfully will do.”
“I will say anything and everything I know. I would never dare to dupe my saviors,” she replied.
Having gone through a near-death experience, the woman no longer held any yearning for Brook Hill. Anything asked would be answered, and she poured out the entirety of the village’s insider secrets.
Brook Hill had a hundred or so households, many of which were of the Tian clan. The man thrown into the river was named Tian Cheng. The woman’s surname was Ou – different, as she had married over here from another village.
In Lady Ou’s words, Brook Hill faced the water with its back to the mountain, and though it couldn’t be said to be cut off from the world, few foreigners came there. About a year ago, fallnight white propagated throughout the Jingchu region. The young son of a family in the village was attending school in the county capital, and got lured by his classmates into going to a brothel lane to ‘open his eyes’. Due to his inquisitiveness, he wasn’t being careful and got addicted to the drug, and he took advantage of the interim he went back home for break to pass fallnight white out to playmates of his same age group. By the time his parents became aware of it, the boy’s addiction had already gotten in deep, and thinking to abstain from it was almost impossible.
The family had meager assets, yet doted especially upon the boy. They didn’t take fallnight white seriously at the start, claiming that it was no big deal for them to buy drugs for him to smoke for his whole life. However, the deeper the cravings got, the more fallnight white a drug user required. The drug was a highly-demanded, rare item even within Kuangfeng County’s capital, so even ordinary families might not have been able to enjoy it, let alone a mere peasant’s home. As a result, it wasn’t too long before the family wasn’t able to provide any for their youngest son. When the difficult-to-endure pain of the withdrawal flare-up came, he was ultimately unable to bear with the torment on his immature body and ran out of the house on a rainy night, throwing himself into the water in suicide.
Despite that being said, all the rumors in the villager’s private conversations said that he actually hadn’t killed himself, but that the family genuinely couldn’t keep leading along this burden and had shoved him into the river after drowning him, putting on the facade that he’d tossed himself to die in the river.
Because of getting that lesson ahead of time, all the rest of the villagers didn’t dare to touch fallnight white – with the exception of the few boys that had come into contact with it at the beginning. Yet, that didn’t stop people from coveting its high price, and they secretly grew a few plants at home.
An unfortunate event had happened last autumn. There was a day when a roaming priest came to the village, as he’d met with heavy rain on his journey and had nowhere to take shelter, thus requesting lodging. The villagers enthusiastically welcomed him in, letting him stay in an empty house and sending him food and tea to treat him.
That midnight, someone’s withdrawal just so happened to recur. The situation was extremely dire, the huge disturbance alarming the entire village. The Daoist was also startled awake, and went out to see what was happening. Witnessing someone rolling about on the ground in the downpour, blood covering him all over, the priest scrambled up to press on a few of his acupoints, quickly knocking him out and calling for the villagers to carry him back home.
The Daoist was well acquainted with a bit of medical knowledge, and could tell with a glance at his appearance that this was caused by fallnight white. However, the addict’s family didn’t have the coin to buy the drug, and although fallnight white was grown in town, processing it into a drug needed time. He, having received their grace, felt compassion, and turned around to go back inside and make some unknown banging sounds. He was carrying a paper bag when he came out, which contained some fine brown dust, and had them use this to take the drug’s place for the time being.
He had good intentions, but since time immemorial, ‘not exposing one’s wealth’ and ‘getting into trouble for cherishing a treasure’ were both morals of blood.
Villagefolk who were in the know recognized this as the finely-processed, invaluable, hard-to-find whitedew. The saying “one tael of fallnight is one tael of gold” was currently going through Kuangfeng County. They noticed that he had procured a tiny, half-tael of fallnight white, and knew for certain that he had to have been hiding even more on him. Growing evil with thoughts of wealth, they waited until after everyone else had gone back home and into sound sleep, then snuck into the Daoist’s residence and hacked him to death with blades while he still breathed.
At hearing this, Fu Shen wasn’t sure what was brought to his mind, but his right hand suddenly trembled a little.
Yan Xiaohan held it without batting an eye.
They discovered a hunk of fallnight white around the size of a woman’s fist on the Daoist’s body. Its hue and shine was pure and transparent, similar to amber, and with one of its corners stained with blood, it had a further, different kind of beauty. Its value excelled even its equal weight in gold, and those few people were overjoyed, stowing it away well. Afterwards, they made use of the night to carry the Daoist’s corpse out of the village, and tossed it into the river.
One wandering Daoist with no family or employment disappeared, and no one would take notice.
That evening, the residents of Brook Hill silently listened to blades and axes chopping down, blood splattering, and the wild laughing and shouting of the murderers in the night, yet not a one dared to speak up and put a stop to it.
That evening, they were all people not awoken, feigning sleep.
The river raced, sweeping the miserably murdered carcass away, together with clusters of white bones and old matters stored away for years, and sinking them all to the secluded, dark lakebed outside of the fox immortal’s temple.
—However, true retribution was about to begin.
Those few that held the fallnight white feared that hasty action would arouse others’ suspicions. Following negotiations, they decided to divide and conquer by breaking it into small chunks and selling them separately. Unexpectedly, they hadn’t yet set into motion when one among them abruptly caught a strange illness. First, he had a persistent fever, the coughs, rapidly lost weight, and delirium. Then, different degrees of red rashes began to subsequently show up on his body, even to the extent that his flesh would fester, and that death was preferable to life.
That wasn’t the end of it. Shortly following, all of the people who had participated in that night’s violent act got the same symptoms.
The villagers finally started to panic. However, flaunting one’s kill and murdering someone for his property were still major, heinous crimes that could not be redeemed, and the ones that harbored them would also be charged by accessory. The village head didn’t dare to report to the authorities, and had no choice but to gather the clan’s male elders together for a joint discussion. One clan elder who could invoke spirits performed a ritual in the ancestral hall, requesting for the Tian clan’s ancestors to possess him. The “ancestors” stated that the villagers schemed for wealth and conspired against someone’s life, and the aggrieved soul who died so tragically was not at peace, transforming into a malicious ghost that demanded lives. This was heaven’s punishment; the evildoers needed to atone for their sin, and their accomplices needed to settle the grudge.
This talk of supernatural judgment managed to fool the alarmed villagefolk. The chief had people provide offerings, and also united a few villagers to lift those several sick murderers onto decorated carts, mimicking an ancient sacrificial ceremony to the Count of the River. They cast the criminals into the water to quell the resentment of the unjustly killed priest.
After the sacrifice’s conclusion, the villagers had some lingering uneasiness, and tossed that unlucky fallnight white into the river as well. They thought that everything should have been calmed overall now, but it didn’t take long for someone to actually show the exact same symptoms again!
The wronged soul on the riverbed was still not letting them go.
One wrong step led to further wrong steps. In order to make up for their wrongdoings, they committed more wrongdoings that were even less forgivable. Every single person was a locust on a string, and not one of them wanted to jump off alone.
The paradise-like village became indistinguishable from hell at that point on. Every time someone got sick, the villagers would carry them off to fill in the river. Day after day, the river’s water was like an enormous mouth that never knew when it’d eaten its fill, and sooner or later would swallow up everyone in town until nothing remained.
The night was without bounds in the world, only a small bit of precious flame shining in this dilapidated temple.
Fu Shen said nothing for quite some time. Yan Xiaohan thought about the lightning that had split the idol that night. Maybe they really did have heaven’s will guiding them for reasons they couldn’t fathom. Were it not for that storm, they would have left straight for Jing Prefecture after recuperating at the temple instead of staying in this tiny village for a time, becoming all the more unable to discover this secret that all the villagers were tight-lipped about.
In the temple’s legend, the fox suffered heaven’s wrath because it predicted a flood. Was it warning them this time, too? Letting them ascertain the truth, to avoid the sky-high tides that were about to come?
“It wasn’t any kind of evil ghost wanting lives to begin with, just a plague. Maybe it’s because the murderers all touched the Daoist’s blood that they all got the same disease, and then infected the other people in the village,” Fu Shen said coldly. “It’s the karmic cycle. Those who’ve sinned must not live.”
“Remedies won’t have any effect on your husband’s illness, and he can only wait for death. You should still have many years to go, yourself. Once authorities track this event down to Brook Hill, no one will be able to escape. Since you came across us, though, we can leave the net open for you, and allow you to make your own way in life. How about that?” Yan Xiaohan asked Lady Ou.
She wept as she lay prostrate. “This lowly woman and her husband have been married since we’ve bound our hair. We’ve had many years of kindness that I wouldn’t dare to throw away lightly. I hope my saviors will also be generous on this.”
Fu Shen looked at her pitiableness and was just about to give his consent, only to be blocked by a meaningful look from Yan Xiaohan. “He’s contagious, and cannot be allowed to live out of pity.”
He hadn’t lowered his voice, and Lady Ou heard it loud and clear. Her heart filled with despair, but in the end, she was unable to change the unfeeling Flying Dragon Guard’s mind, and had to be forcibly hauled outside by Fu Shen, looking on powerlessly as Yan Xiaohan went to look for dry wood and cloth to make a fire. A short while later, thick smoke soared skyward as the fox immortal’s temple turned into a sea of flame.
Lady Ou knelt on the ground blankly, already cried dry of tears. Her eyes were deep red, but not a drop flowed out anymore.
Fu Shen casually tossed a coin pouch into her arms, its weight not at all light. “You still have a long road ahead of you. Go start your life again somewhere else. A day will come where you can forget him.”
Saying that, he turned around with Yan Xiaohan, and entered the limitless night.
Lady Ou grasped the purse tight in her hand, the red-gold blaze reflected in her pupils. It wasn’t known how much time had passed when she finally muttered a reponse. “I won’t be able to forget…”
How will the remainder of life be, after a tragedy? It left only a handful of remnant burnt ash, making the one thrown aside live in a pale shadow from then on.
The author says: Ok, I made that weird disease up. Don’t judge me, mua mua~
The translator says: The fox immortal gets revenge on a bunch of criminal ingrates from beyond the grave.
 Binding one’s hair up (hairpins for women, guan/pin-crowns for men) indicates one coming of age. In ancient times, I believe this was 20 for men and 15 (ew) for girls,