Chapter 37: Northwards

Within the snowy white canvas, a lone wheelchair rolled along amidst the dense foliage; unobtrusive yet so glaring amidst the surroundings.

As the wheels crushed the frigid snow beneath them, a stabbing pain wracked the legs of the teen driving it forward. Compared to the majority of people, Ning Chen wasn’t at all afraid of the cold thanks to the Divine Frost Herb and the Cold attribute of his True Qi, and yet none of this could numb the piercing pain which slowly drained the color from his face.

Unknowingly, he had almost spent half a year in this world. It wasn’t particularly long but it was particularly arduous.

This trip northwards had no aim in particular, he just trudged along through the snow with not much more than the silver taels he had earned while chopping wood.

At times, he would camp out in the wilderness with his meals consisting of dry rations or some wild game he caught. As for water, wasn’t the sky full of snow? The last thing he needed to worry about was water in this weather.

Within this drab colorless world of white, only the billowing sounds of wind and snow could be heard, mixed within were the occasional rolling sounds of wheels. Due to the lengthy snowstorm, there was barely any travellers on the road. Even the merchant convoys were waiting out the storm.

Slowly but surely, Ning became accustomed to the loneliness and pain; soon he became numb to both. Such was the scariness of humans, at times even the most unbearable things could become as natural as breathing.

The road to Shu was difficult, more so than climbing to the heavens above. However, this wasn’t the road to Shu, and yet this snowy road wasn’t any less arduous.

(Road to Shu: set of mountain roads linking Sichuan (Shu) and Shaanxi (Qin).

This is a phrase from a poem called The Difficulty of the Shu Road by Li Bai. It’s a poem describing the road to Shu’s majesty; its lofty peaks, its indomitable vastness. )

Only when one experienced loss did one learn to treasure what one once had. The frivolity of youth was nothing but a memory now and yet all Ning Chen could do was move forward, with his wheelchair, moving ever forward.

His progress down the martial path had quickened significantly in recent days as if aided by the bitter coldness of the snow. With a flick of his wrist, the moisture in the air condensed into rime on his palm, as if there was a mini snowstorm swirling within it.

Houtian Fourth-grade was a respectable level in this world especially given that he had only started cultivation less than half a year ago.

Compared to the average practitioner, he was fortunate. After all, not everyone had the fortune to be guided by so many experts. He had even came into contact with the headmaster, although he was unconscious then.

On the fifth day of travelling, he finally saw an end to the seemingly endless plain. Standing right before him was the ancient city of Luo Yue.

The name of this ancient city had a backstory behind it. Apparently, there was a stream named Luo Yue right outside the city; while the stream was extremely steep, it was also the shortest route linking the south to the north. In the past, the majority of the merchant convoys would pick this route to avoid a great deal of detours.

After over a month of snow, the storm began to show signs of letting up; though the skies were still overcast. Yet this didn’t deter the residents of Luo Yue, who after being cooped up in their houses for so long began clearing the snow around the homes and streets.

As time passed, the city regained some of its hustle and bustle. The streets were filled with the sounds of merchants hawking their wares, people bargaining, couples quarreling and children crying.

Ning Chen sat there atop his wheelchair serenely as he watched the changes within the scene; as if he was merely a passerby, of which he actually was.

“Hah!”

Suddenly, the rapid clip clops of a horse shattered the scene’s serenity as a young man and his horse galloped down the main street. The residents scrambled to the sides, barely avoiding the inconsiderate pair.

From his position in the middle of the street, he had ample time to avoid the incoming horse and yet as his arms reached for the wheels, they stopped.

Why must he avoid them?

Hasn’t he done enough avoiding in his life?

Along the now mostly empty main road was a galloping horse and the lone teen sitting atop his wheelchair.

Some were stunned while some were worried and some were even gloating at his upcoming misfortune.

Within the crowd was a delicate girl dressed in light blue who looked on curiously at the teen with a hint of worry on her face.

As the black horse galloped, a derisive grin crossed the lips of its rider.

*bang*

A resounding collision; a pained neigh and a cloud of snow. The teen sat there atop his wheelchair as unmoving as before.

He had a hand pressed against the horse’s face and thus it couldn’t proceed any further. Its rider on the other hand, flew off the horse and landed on the floor with a loud bang; his appearance dishevelled and his face slightly bloodied.

“You’re asking for it.”

The young man leapt to his feet and drew the sword on his hip, swinging it at the teen with a savage look on his face.

“Sigh.”

The next moment, a machete swung down in a perfect arc. As for why it was perfect? That was because Ning Chen had swung this machete for the past two months.

*ding*

The sword in the young man’s hand snapped in half with a loud and clear ding.

He was stunned and so was the crowd. As for the teen, he quietly pushed his wheelchair around and left.

The curiosity in the delicate girl grew stronger; what a strange person.

Feeling her curious gaze, Ning Chen glanced at the delicate looking girl before leaving. Such a pretty girl but she seemed a little sickly; although she had hidden it well, that faint weariness gave it away.

Travelling the road, a chance encounter was as much fate as it was the will of heaven. The pair crossed shoulders as they passed by each other, their eyes never meeting while their heads facing forward.

“Missus.” The old lady beside her called out softly.

“He’s very similar to me.”She replied softly as a flash of weariness crossed her eyes.

“Missus is the smartest person in the world, there’s no one who can compare to Missus.” The old lady answered in a sure voice.

“He’s very similar to me.” She said once more in a calm voice that brooked no opposition.

Hearing this, the old lady kept quiet, not daring to rebut her.

“Let’s go.” With that, the pair walked away in the opposite direction of Ning Chen.

It was a short encounter that changed nothing. One headed north while the other headed south. A short crossing of shoulders that seemed almost fated.

The sights of the north were famous for being scenic. As he spent the night taking in the north’s unique hustle and bustle, a sense of attachment began to grow in his heart.

“GHOST!!”

Outside the city an unnerved scream cut across the night sky. Soon after, the entire city was in an uproar as a ghostly palanquin led by the Black and White Ghosts of Impermanence (Heibai Wuchang) and the Ox-headed and Horse-faced Guards of Hell made its way down the river Luo Yue, casting an eerie pall over the entire city of Luo Yue. [1]

A number of residents began fleeing in a frenzy at the sight of this terrifying scene. Loud bangs echoed across the city as the residents slammed their windows and doors shut immediately and huddled in a corner.

Originally, Ning Chen didn’t believe in the supernatural. Today however, his beliefs had been turned upside down. Thinking back on it, if the supernatural didn’t exist then what had he been experiencing this past half a year or so? Denying the supernatural was in a sense, denying his own existence.

With this question in his heart, he chased after the palanquin determined to verify the existence of the supernatural. Within the city, it seemed there were others who had the same idea as him. In the midst of these people, a blue silhouette could be seen hurrying along with the crowd.

She had originally intended to leave the city but upon seeing the palanquin, she turned around instead.

“Missus, your body is too weak to approach these ghostly creatures.” The old lady tried to persuade her in a soft gentle voice.

“Ghosts shouldn’t exist in this world.” The girl replied in a flat tone, her face not showing any signs of change.

Knowing that any further persuasion was futile, the old lady followed the girl without saying another word. It wasn’t that she was afraid of ghosts but rather the Missus was simply too sickly.

As a chilly gust blew through the air, the girl coughed softly as her face paled even more. Yet, this didn’t deter her as her feet continued down the path.

In the dead of night, the area surrounding the mountain stream was particularly cold, especially since it had been snowing for over an entire month. The mountain path had mostly been blocked up by snow with the shallowest being knee-high.

By the time the crowd reached the mountain stream, the ghostly palanquin had disappeared along with its servants leaving only that eerie and deathly aura lingering behind.

“Demon Girl.” The girl muttered after staring for a while.

“Ghosts shouldn’t exist in this world.” It was at this moment that a slightly confused voice replied to her.

A look of ridicule flashed across her face for a moment before saying: “This world already has monsters known as Xiantian, why can’t there be ghosts?”

Ning Chen fell silent for a moment before saying, “Xiantian used to be human.”

The girl gave a cold snort and said, “Then how do you know that the ghostly servants weren’t human once.”

Ning Chen fell silent once more not knowing how to answer that rebuttal.

Having missed what they wanted to see, the majority of the crowd left with a disappointed look on their faces. Ning Chen left for the city as well with a turn of his wheelchair. It was then that a pair of delicate hands lightly grabbed onto the back of his wheelchair and began pushing him along quietly without saying much.

The old lady stared at the scene with her eyes wide open; not because of her Missus’ lofty background, but because the scene looked so natural as if it was meant to happen.

“My thanks.” Ning Chen said in a soft voice.

“Mhm.” She accepted his thanks in a soft voice.

And so the pair continued on; a boy and a girl, one sitting on a wheelchair and the other pushing it, quietly they traversed under the cloudy night sky. From time to time, a ray of moonlight could be seen peeking through the fluffy covers only to retreat shyly a split second later.

“May I know your lady’s name?”

“Yue Ling.”

“What about Young Master’s?”

“Ning Fan.”

The pair reported their surnames but hid their names. Ning Fan was an alias he came up with on the spot while Yue Ling was one she made up as well.

To them, a name was merely something you used to address a person; whether it was true or not didn’t matter.

“Where is Young Master Ning headed to?” She asked.

“The north, what about Lady Yue?” He asked without much thought.

“The south.”

“How unfortunate.”

“Indeed.”

The two continued their stroll under the night sky with the old lady following at a distance.

The nights in Yue Luo City were particularly beautiful with a crystal clear river running through its streets illuminated as bright as day with incandescent lamps. Even the bitter cold wasn’t enough to stop the scholars and the ladies from basking by the riverside, playing their instruments and reciting their poetry as they enjoyed the romantic scenery.

The red light districts were lively no matter which city one was in.

“Young Master seemed to like this place.”

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Yue Ling said in a calm tone without any hidden sarcasm as if she was merely stating a fact.

“It reminds me of an old acquaintance.”

This revelation on the other hand surprised her. In her mind, Ning Chen didn’t seem like a person who would feel an attachment to such people so why would he have an old acquaintance in such a place.

Ning Chen didn’t elaborate any further on his statement either. During the day, he had noticed some stalls selling soap at a reasonable price that even the commoners could afford. Looks like that Yue Hanyi wasn’t that unscrupulous after all.

For some reason he just couldn’t bring himself to like her even after he found out that the ladies weren’t treated too badly in Ling Yan Pavilion.

“Having not been here for a while, I would’ve never imagined that the central plains would possess a product such as soap.” She couldn’t help but sigh as she said that, her eyes fixed on the prosperous scene. It was almost as if she had read his mind.

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“Your Lady isn’t from the central plains?” Ning Chen asked.

“Cough” She shook her head without saying anything more, clearly not intending to continue this topic.

“Young Master Ning, would you allow this lady to examine your pulse?”

“Lady Yue is versed in medicine as well?” He asked, slightly surprised by the question, while sticking out his wrist.

“I’ve picked up some skills after being sick for so long.” She replied in a tranquil tone while placing her fingers on his wrist.

A moment later, she retracted her right hand and said, “Young Master seemed to have sustained severe injuries from falling from great heights. That’s the cause of the meridians and bones in your legs being severely injured.”

“Lady Yue’s skills are truly impressive.”

“You’re too kind. However, this lady is curious, with such severe injuries how was Young Master able to survive. Which physician has such transcendent skill?” In her memory, there was no doctor who possessed such medical skills.

Ning Chen remained silent not wanting to answer her question.

At that, she chose not to pursue the matter but instead said, “Actually, Young Master’s injuries aren’t as hopeless as you think they are. According to this lady’s knowledge, there are at least three things in this world which can cure Young Master’s legs.”

“What are they?” His eyes narrowed as he asked.

“The Eternal Night Cult’s Heavenly Bible, the Divine Pond of the Mongol Horde and the Xiantian Pill of Grand Xia.” She answered in a serious tone.

“Hah.” Ning Chen laughed softly before saying, “Your Lady jests.”

Footnotes:

[1] Heibai Wuchang – Heibai Wuchang are the subordinates of King Yama, the ruler of the underworld. They are worshipped as fortune deities in some countries and are known as a constable of sorts for the underworld.

Ox-headed and Horse-faced are guardians of the underworld and are known as Gozu and Mezu respectively in Japanese Culture.

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