Part of a Peony’s Tavern translation project at fruitydeer.com.
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Source: 芍藥客棧 by Yi Mei Tong Qian // Translated By: Xin (fruitydeer)
Hi all, sorry for no Thursday update last week. I briefly mentioned why in the recent chapter update for Memories of a Graceful Reflection.
This long and dazzling road of spider lily blossoms could take one all the way to the Netherworld; it was a place that every soul must pass through. It is said that when dead spirits come through this road, they slowly forget their past lives, which makes this place quite worthy of its name, Road to the Netherworld. Once a fork is reached, another path leads of the River of Oblivion1 while the other leads to the River of Three Crossings2. Lastly, there is a path that leads to Yan Wang Town.3
Millions of dead spirits throughout the Six Realms all have their own domains and livelihoods. Even souls that have temporarily yet to reincarnate into their next lives could live and work happily here whilst waiting for the opportunity to reincarnated. Thus, cities and townships existed as well.
Upon stepping onto this road of flames, Shao Zi finally understood why this umbrella was called an obscuring umbrella. Just now, she had heard the pitter-patter sounds of rain and assumed it was raining in the Netherworld. But when she looked out, the road was completely dry. She looked up and found that the mountains and water4 were fluctuating. The bamboo forest swayed gently, listening to the rain as it descended upon leaves.
Gao Ren chuckled softly: “They’re transforming ghostly energy, lest we get swallowed by the ghosts’ auras.”
Shao Zi understood, latching onto his robes and scooting closer so as to not get discovered and cause trouble for themselves: “Let’s go ask around at the tea houses and taverns.”
“The number of souls passing through the ghost town are in the thousands and tens of thousands. Asking here wouldn’t be of much help.”
Hearing that Gao Ren might have some proposal, Shao Zi’s eyes lit up: “Then where should we ask?”
“Yan Luo Palace.”5
“…” Shao Zi looked at him pathetically while tearing up. “Gao Ren, can we…not deliver ourselves to death’s door?”
Gao Ren couldn’t help but laugh: “It’ll be fine.”
Though he said this, she still felt very unsettled…that was Yan Luo Palace, where Yan Wang conducted his official business, okay!? This would essentially be akin to a commoner trespassing through governmental offices; a light offense could turn into a heavy crime worthy of jail time. What if she got locked up?
She eventually just hugged Gao Ren’s arm, the closeness leaving her with a sudden sense of security. Sure enough, it was much more helpful when a man had brawn. Unexpectedly, she thought of the scholar’s meager physique, but she quickly shook her head to rid herself of those nonsensical thoughts.
Though she had never come to Yan Luo Palace, it was easy to detect the sudden and strong wave of ghostly energy. Chilly yin energy blew so roughly that the exposed areas of her arms turned purple. She kept ducking her head behind Gao Ren’s shoulder, shivering as she said: “My intuition tells me that I’ll be frozen to death before we reach Yan Luo Palace.”
Gao Ren gazed down at her. Mulling it over for a brief moment, he took her hand into his right hand while his other held the umbrella. Shao Zi’s immediate reaction was to shrink away, but that hand held onto hers so tightly, sending her an endless stream of warmth. The frigid air dissipated as her body warmed up again.
A soft and tender hand in his palm was simply…too wonderful…Gao Ren sighed with sentiment as he peered in the direction that the frigid coldness came from. The corners of his lips curved upwards. How long had it been since they cleaned up this place? So lazy. It was as cold as an ice cap in here. Later on, he must…give them some heaping praise!
At last, they reached Yan Luo Palace. Shao Zi once again began to shrink away. It wasn’t from coldness, it was fright ya! She looked up at the plaque. Withered vines twisted around it while crows sat on top, occasionally letting out sharp cries while staring straight at her. A scene of being bit and pecked at by all kinds of bird demons instantly began churning in her mind. Shao Zi trembled and looked down. “Don’t eat me, don’t eat me.”
“Don’t be afraid.” Gao Ren’s left hand drew back slightly and the umbrella closed with a “pa.” Shao Zi stilled. Seeing her own demon energy extend towards all four corners, she was so frightened that she nearly fainted.
Immediately, Ox-Head and Horse-Face6 jumped out, each holding a three-pronged spear: “Audacious demon, you dare trespass through Yan Luo Palace, you deserve to be punished!”
Gao Ren spoke up: “Is Little Yan…ahem. May I ask if Yan Wang is here?”
“Is da ren someone you can see just because you want to? Hurry and get out of here.”
Those in the great hall had already fallen into a tizzy and were whispering about. Shao Zi heard them talking and was itching to grab Gao Ren and dart like crazy out of there. She’d rather spend some time looking around the ghost town rather run such a big risk. When she looked over, she saw a massive head emerge from inside the palace, its eyes glowering and filled with hostile energy. As her gaze moved downwards…Heavens! All there was was an extremely long neck while the rest of the body remained inside the great hall! This, Shao Zi could endure. But when she came to her senses, she saw his mouth opened wide like a bloody sacrificial bowl. Shao Zi’s eyes rolled back and she passed out.
Gao Ren quickly pulled her into his arms, frowning. In his irritation, he struck that head with a crisp smack.
Ox-Head and Horse-Face were dumbstruck. The ghosts in the great hall simultaneously looked at that meteor-shape and hurriedly leapt over: “Da ren! Da ren!”
Shao Zi thought she had died by means of getting swallowed and digested by a monster’s stomach. But when she slowly came to, she found that she could still detect light. If she wasn’t inside a stomach, then where was she?
When Shao Zi heard these soft-spoken words, she forced herself to open her eyes. What she saw was Gao Ren half-squatting next to her. She wasn’t dead yet! Feeling like she received a new lease on life, she got up and hugged him, sniveling: “I thought I was a goner. In the future, I won’t come back to Yan Luo Palace even if I die. I just want to live well and be a peony flower that’s content with my lot in life.”
The scholar kneaded his nose: “The one who scared you was Yan Wang. He was feeling guilty for making you faint, so I took the opportunity to ask after the whereabouts of the little grandson. He very happily told me.”
Shao Zi was flummoxed: “So it turns out that Yan Wang is this pleasant to talk to.” Then she asked: “So where is the little grandson then?”
“He’s waiting at the Bridge of Helplessness for his soup.”7
Shao Zi got up immediately: “Let’s hurry over then. Before he reincarnates, let him meet the old granny just once.”
Gao Ren paused, wanting to hold her back. But after a thought, he ended up saying nothing. Shao Zi was five or six paces ahead, and just as he lifted his foot, intending to follow, he suddenly stopped and his ears shifted. From afar, he heard, “Just now, Yan Wang said he was heading this way,” “Since his intention is to hide, he’ll be difficult to find.” He mulled it over for a moment and the next time he stepped forward, his blue robes had turned into grey ones. Once again, he was the refined scholar.
Those two individuals passed him by, spared a glance, then continued to rush towards the Bridge of Helplessness. The scholar laughed and turned to follow after Shao Zi from a distance not that was not too close, yet not too far.
By the time Shao Zi realized Gao Ren had not followed along, she was almost at the river. Upon looking around and finding not a single trace of his shadow in sight, Shao Zi began to panic. Upon studying carefully, she found that one person had quickly turned around so their back was facing her. She squinted and refocused her eyes several times, but when she leapt in front of them, the person quickly turned again. Shao Zi snarled: “Innkeeper!”
He’s been caught…
“Dumb Scholar, you actually left the tavern behind and left Da Huang behind to follow all the way here.”
“…There’s something I want to tell you.” Just as the scholar opened his mouth, he saw those two sages looking around. He really wanted to….smack each one into the air…
Shao Zi spent a good while angry at him before it finally occurred to her that nobody would go to the tavern this late at night. The thought of this appeased her somewhat, but then she thought quietly…he clearly knew that ghosts and dangers awaited, but came along anyways. Was he…worried about her? In that case, how could she even find fault with him?
“On the other shore of the River of Oblivion lies the path towards eternity. Through the Bridge of Helplessness and Old Lady Meng’s soup, break away from an ill-fated relationship.”
That elderly voice rang next to her ears like a quiet song of mourning, full of melancholy. Shao Zi looked over and saw a man with a red birthmark on his forehead reaching out to receive the bowl. She froze. That appearance looked just like what the little flower lantern described. It was exactly who she was looking for, and she could not help but shout: “You can’t drink that!”
The stunned ghosts all turned their gazes on her in succession….ra, raid?
Shao Zi jumped in front of the ghosts and took the bowl away, saying cordially: “Qin Sheng, follow me to the realm of yang8 to see your grandmother one time.”
Qin Sheng looked at her blankly: “Who are you? Go see who?”
“I’ve been entrusted by another to take you back to the realm of yang in order to fulfill your grandmother’s wish.”
Qin Sheng remained apathetic, his eyes dim: “What grandmother? Once I drink Old Lady Meng’s soup, I can reincarnate and be reborn. Yan Wang has allowed me to become human. Miss, do not stop me.”
While Shao Zi stared blankly, the scholar took the bowl and put it down, speaking unhurriedly: “Mortals are not like us. When they cross the Yellow Springs, all the experiences of their past life quickly get whittled away into almost nothing. He already doesn’t remember the old granny, and once he drinks the soup, he’ll completely forget any memories of the past.”
“Then what about the old granny?”
“If a soul is unwilling to leave and gets forced to do so, it will break the rules of the Netherworld. Moreover, since he’s about to return to the reincarnation cycle, should he miss the timeframe, who knows how long it’ll be before his next chance to reincarnate.”
Shao Zi fell silent for a bit, then finally said: “Give the bowl back to him then…”
On the return trip from the Bridge of Helplessness to the ghost town, the dispirited Shao Zi, with her head hung low, did not detect anything strange at all. But when when those dim, gloomy gazes piled up like thorns, she finally came to her senses. She looked up and saw the faint gazes of ghosts in passing pinned onto her, then finally remembered that she didn’t have the obscuring umbrella. Her demon energy was out on display! Shao Zi couldn’t help but swallow as she peered over at the scholar next to her. His back was straight and his footsteps steady. This should theoretically be a very reliable scene…but why was there sweat seeping from his forehead?
The scholar felt an immense pressure. He could still vaguely detect the auras of those two sages. Should he transform, it would take no more than a moment for him to get discovered. It’s just, right now his spiritual energy was sealed, so it wasn’t too convenient to act like a tyrannical despot, either. So he whispered: “Get ready to run.”
Without waiting for her to react, his gaze swept the scene and happened to meet the eyes of a ghostess. That ghostess immediately shrieked: “She wants to eat me!”
The streets abruptly fell into chaos, provocative shouts and curses piercing the eardrums while ghosts began rushing over. The scholar held Shao Zi by the waist and pointed his toes. Long sleeves brushed gently and an ink wash road spread before them, knocking away a few ghosts as they moved as quick as the wind.
This blast of wind caused the red spider lilies beneath their feet to billow; with such a shocking sight, it was as if they were moving across a bloody road.
Shao Zi clutched his robes, eyes staring at the road ahead for fear of accidentally falling down. Her heart sank as she saw the road of the Netherworld begin closing. But the scholar’s footsteps hastened and they escaped through the crevice. The pressure on his feet seemed to spread, and he fell to the ground with a “pu-tong.”
After a spell of dizziness, she realized she was sitting on the bluestone road. Thankfully, the sky had only just begun to brighten and there were no passersby. Looking to the side and finding the scholar lying there, she quickly rushed over: “Innkeeper, Innkeeper?”
The scholar panted lightly. This body had really used up its last bits of spiritual energy; his original soul was so much more useful, ah. When he gets back, he’ll really need to teach those buggers a good lesson. It’s been so long since he’s been out, was it really necessary to keep such a close eye?
Seeing him out of sorts, Shao Zi was so frightened that her heart was pounding: “Innkeeper, Innkeeper?”
The scholar turned his head to face her: “I’m alright.”
Translator’s Note: Anyone else feel like Shao Zi is Lois Lane and the scholar is Clark Kent / Superman? It’s so obvious at this point, but we still have to keep that suspension of disbelief and trust that Shao Zi is just that clueless. Lucky for us, a big reveal is right on the horizon…
- 忘川 // Wang Chuan: Similar to the Lethe in Greek mythos. Deceased souls must pass through on the way to reincarnation. Sometimes known as River of Forgetfulness.
- 三途河 // San Tu He: Deceased souls must cross either a bridge, a ford, or a stretch of snake-infested waters. The path taken depends on the level of one’s crimes during their life.
- Recall from 1.05 that Yan Wang is the deity presiding over the Netherworld and reincarnation cycle.
- Traditional ink wash paintings of scenery are called mountain-water (山水 // shan shui) paintings. The author takes this notion and runs with it.
- Yan Luo is another word for Yan Wang (the wang in Yan Wang means king, so Yan Wang itself means King Yan). He is also referred to as Yan Luo Wang sometimes.
- Guardians of the Netherworld, they also act as Yan Wang’s messengers in Chinese mythology.
- Every soul must cross this bridge and drink the soup from Old Lady Meng, which wipes their memory clean before before getting reincarnated.
- Referring to yang (light, sun) of yin and yang.