Illusions, Lies, Truth Volume 5: The Fallen, Jiu Ge, Part One
Original novel in Chinese by: 御 我 (Yu Wo)
Chapter 1: The Novices Debut, Part 2—Disciple—translated by lucathia (proofread by J Tao & Trespasserby)
“Jiang Ziya, over here, over here!”
As soon as Jiang Ziya parked his motorbike, he saw Lin Zhixiang run over from under a tree. He reflexively glanced at his watch to make sure he wasn’t late. It was still ten minutes to seven.
Lin Zhixiang dashed in front of him, the smile on her face so huge that it was about to split her face.
“Why haven’t you gone inside yet? It’s too hot to wait outside.”
This was Jiang Ziya’s first time seeing Lin Zhixiang in a skirt. Her hair was tied in a high ponytail. He could tell she had put careful thought into her appearance. However, sweat covered her forehead, with strands of hair plastered against her face. She looked disheveled. Fortunately, she had not put on makeup, or he’d be witnessing a mudslide!
“I’m waiting for Lu Yang. He hasn’t arrived yet.”
Is she afraid to head inside without “Slay” here to suppress her aura of misfortune? Jiang Ziya sighed to himself at the lie he had woven. We better quickly resolve the problem of Lin Zhixiang’s curse on herself. This is just too sad to watch.
Lin Zhixiang kept glancing at the entrance to the parking lot and said, “Why don’t you head in first? My brother and his family should already be waiting in a private booth in the restaurant.”
“I’ll wait with you.” Jiang Ziya shook his head. How can I let a girl stubbornly wait outside by herself?
After nearly twenty minutes, Jiang Ziya felt like he could wring a cup of water out of his t-shirt if he were to take it off, even though they were standing in the shade. However, he didn’t dare protest. He had made Lu Yang wait for more than half an hour before, though the weather hadn’t been so sweltering then.
Be as that may, he saw that Lin Zhixiang was growing more and more nervous, so he decided to call Lu Yang on the spot. Fortunately, the call connected after only a few rings.
“Hey! Lu Yang, where are you?”
“SHIT! Is it already seven?”
“It’s more than ten minutes past.”
“Wait for me. I’m almost there. Just a few more lights, I think? It’s all Hu Lican’s fault. After I solved these cases for him, he forced me to choose another case to solve. If I didn’t pick one, he would have Fang Da cling to my thigh so I couldn’t leave…”
“Cut the crap, just come as soon as you can.” Jiang Ziya hung up, allowing Lu Yang to continue driving. He turned his head and said, “Don’t worry, he’ll be here. Tell your brother and the rest to start eating first.”
Lin Zhixiang, however, hadn’t heard him. She suddenly backed several steps, looking nervously in a certain direction. Jiang Ziya quickly followed her line of sight.
“Zhixiang! Why haven’t you come in when you’re already here?”A smiling man walked over with brisk steps and a slight limp. The limp was only obvious when he walked faster near the end. When he had been walking slower at the start, it had been unnoticeable.
“D-don’t come near me!” Lin Zhixiang shrieked, as if being molested, making even those nearby glance over.
That man slowed down, his smile frozen on his face. He was at a loss.
Jiang Ziya placed his hand on Lin Zhixiang’s shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll help you block your aura of misfortune. You won’t harm your brother.”
Lin Zhixiang’s eyes shone, but then she immediately asked, in doubt, “Will that really be effective? Didn’t you say before that only Slay would be able to block my aura of misfortune?”
Don’t claim that men are useless! Jiang Ziya booted up Hold Keeper’s bluffing mode and decisively said, “I’m Lu Yang’s partner. How could I be ineffective? Although I may not be able to block the aura of misfortune as well as Slay, who’s an ancient sword that has dispatched countless spirits, blocking it for a short period is simple!”
Jiang Ziya saw that Lin Zhixiang seemed to believe him for the most part, but there was still doubt swimming in her eyes. He immediately added on, “But you can’t touch your brother. Directly touching him might be dangerous. I can’t guarantee I’d be effective in that case.”
Lin Zhixiang immediately answered, “Okay! I’ll stay three steps away from him. Even if I extend my hands, I won’t be able to touch him!”
A successful bluff! Jiang Ziya relaxed. He was lucky to have conversed with Hold Keeper often lately. He had learned a lot of ways to lie… no, to speak from him!
Lin Zhixiang cried out, “Gē, you can come over now, but stay three steps away from me. Don’t touch me!”
Jiang Ziya saw everyone nearby glancing at them oddly, but Lin Zhixiang didn’t seem to care at all. Her dear family, who she hadn’t seen in so long, was right before her eyes. No one else mattered at all.
“Okay!” The man slowly walked over. Before he even reached the three-steps-away distance, Lin Zhixiang yelled for him to stop. Unsatisfied, he took two more steps before he finally stopped and lightly scolded, “This is way too far to be three steps. You’re worrying for nothin’!”
Lin Zhixiang felt both wronged and happy. She took measure of her brother. He seemed well and like he hadn’t been hurt again in any way. However, when her gaze reached his lame leg, tears welled up in her eyes again, uncontrollably.
The man, gazing at his only sister, was unable to speak for a long time. However, a whole other person was standing beside her. This was a very important person to his sister, so he could only shelve his sorrow and cheer himself up to greet him.
“Is this Mr. Lu Yang?”
Jiang Ziya immediately introduced himself, “Hello, I’m Jiang Ziya. Lu Yang will be arriving soon. He wasn’t trying to be late. There were just a lot of emergencies.”
“No worries, no worries!” The man quickly indicated that he didn’t mind. “I’m Lin Lixiang. If you don’t mind, you can call me Lin-gē. Thank you for taking care of Zhixiang.”
“Don’t mention it. We haven’t really done much in any case…”
Before they even finished exchanging pleasantries, a heavy-duty motorcycle sped into the parking lot without seeming to slow at all. After a turn and stop, the motorcycle was beautifully parked in a spot to the side.
Lu Yang removed his helmet and let out a breath of hot air.
“This weather is a killer. If parking spots weren’t so hard to find, I’d really want to drive a car and blast the AC.”
“Lu Yang!” Lin Zhixiang exclaimed. She hurriedly asked, “Did you bring Slay?”
Lu Yang gestured beside him and said, “Bring Slay? Slay’s always with me!”
Jiang Ziya was speechless. Hey, hey, there’s nothing there, okay?!
Lin Zhixiang’s eyes shone. She nervously asked, “T-then, can I approach my brother now?”
Lu Yang put away his helmet and said as if it were a matter of fact, “Of course, even a hug is no problem.”
Before Lin Zhixiang could even respond, Lin Lixiang had already charged forward, three steps becoming two, and tightly hugged his sister.
Jiang Ziya was once again glad that Lin Zhixiang wasn’t a girl who wore makeup. With how much she was crying, her face would be runny by now.
After wining and dining, Lin Zhixiang urged her brother and his family to leave first and not to stay for too long. She was still extremely worried, deeply afraid that she would affect her two cute nephews.
They’re really too cute! The two little fellows kept calling her “Yíyí,” “Auntie.” Lin Zhixiang’s heart was close to melting. If her aura of misfortune were to harm these two kids, she would rather die on the spot!
Bracing herself, Lin Zhixiang begged Lu Yang and Jiang Ziya to keep her company for a bit longer, at least until her brother and his family safely returned home.
Lu Yang didn’t mind. In any case, he really wanted to slack off. In one afternoon, he had solved two cases and was even forced into a third case via thigh hugging. Who can understand the bitterness I feel?
I should order a few more desserts to comfort myself. Lu Yang never worried about eating too many calories. Even if he wanted to gain weight, he couldn’t when he was running every which way chasing after spirits.
“Your sister-in-law seems to like you quite a lot.”
Jiang Ziya admired her a ton. Even though Lin Zhixiang’s relatives had all fled far away from her, this sister-in-law, on the other hand, treated her amiably. She allowed her two children to flit around Lin Zhixiang. She truly had no complaints against Lin Zhixiang and didn’t care about her being existence’s bane.
Thinking of her sister-in-law, Lin Zhixiang was full of smiles, too.
“Sǎosǎo doesn’t believe in things like these. She thinks that existence’s bane is like how Europe used to burn witches. People are just trying to put the blame on innocent women. She isn’t convinced in the least and believes that my family was just unfortunate. Also, there are many families who are even more unfortunate, so are they all existence’s bane?”
Lu Yang nodded and said, “That’s a good way to think. There really is no such thing as existence’s bane.”
However, Lin Zhixiang was at a loss for words until she dispiritedly said, “I’ll try my best to convince myself I’m not.”
Jiang Ziya patted her shoulder and consoled her, “We’re here, in any case. You can meet with your brother often. You’ve already met your nephews, so you can take it slow now.”
After solving Lin Zhixiang’s problem, Jiang Ziya turned his head and asked, “Lu Yang, what case did you say Hu Lican foisted on you?”
Since he wasn’t doing anything anyway, Jiang Ziya decided to see if there was any way he could help. Since he had to help at the bookstore in the afternoon, he hadn’t been able to follow Lu Yang on his cases. He wasn’t going to miss out on another case.
“The case Hu Lican gave me is a criminal case. A ‘wrathful spirit’ is causing trouble. I don’t want to bring you there.”
Lu Yang was telling it straight. He was afraid that, with one glance from Jiang Ziya, hah, a leveled up wrathful spirit would be born. Even though Slay would still slay as usual, a case that could be easily solved should not be made more complicated.
Jiang Ziya gave an “oh” and didn’t dare to argue or say he wanted to go with him.
Lu Yang took out a case folder and tossed it on the table. “You might be able to help with this one: a haunting at Top Star Hotel. I’ve briefed myself, and nothing looks amiss. How about we wait for you to take a look instead? The case pays well. If you can identify the problem, you’ll earn a lot.”
After saying that, he continued to eat his second cheese pudding and his third tiramisu.
Jiang Ziya picked up the folder. First, he looked through the stack of photographs to prevent himself from being misled by the textual information. If he spotted something in the photographs that wasn’t originally there, then he would be adding to the problem instead.
Lin Zhixiang shuffled over to look as well and asked, “Can I help, too?”
Jiang Ziya was surprised. “You want to help? But we might run into ‘ghosts’? Aren’t you afraid?”
“Nope!” Lin Zhixiang patted her chest and said, “I’m existence’s bane. No ghost is scarier than me!”
Hey hey, who just said that they’ll try their best to convince themselves they’re not existence’s bane?
Lu Yang placed the cheese pudding down and said noncommittally, “Why do you want to come with us? Speak honestly.”
“To repay Jiang Ziya and your great kindness!” Lin Zhixiang firmly said. In the very next moment, her expression turned sheepish, and she quietly said, “And also, I want to buy toys for my nephews. If there’s compensation… But even if there isn’t, I still want to go!”
Lu Yang wasn’t against Lin Zhixiang coming along. After learning more, she should be able to more easily believe that she wasn’t existence’s bane.
An idea came to him. Lu Yang suddenly grew excited and asked, “Are you interested in becoming Qing Wei Gong’s disciple? There is a fee for the training. After completing your apprenticeship, you can apprentice to become a formal disciple. Once you strike out on your own, you will be considered a practitioner of Qing Wei Gong’s. Each mission you complete will require you to turn over a certain percentage of your compensation, but whenever you run into trouble, you can use Qing Wei Gong’s name.”
Lin Zhixiang agreed with a nod at once without asking any questions. She had said that she wanted to repay their great kindness, which she wasn’t lying about at all. Even if she had to turn over all of the compensation, she would be fine with it. She only needed enough for her basic living expenses and so that she wouldn’t starve to death. Oh, but if I can have enough money left to buy toys for my nephews, that’d be even better.
Lu Yang was satisfied. Qing Wei Gong should be accepting disciples; however, his mom was always overseas and couldn’t accept any. His gramps didn’t approve of the people who wished to apprentice under him either, shouting that they only wished to take advantage of their powers to make money. Their profession had no room for such immorality.
In the end, all the cases fell upon Lu Yang, exhausting him to the point that he didn’t even have time for his assignments. He wouldn’t be able to graduate from college at this rate.
If it were Lin Zhixiang, Gramps should be amenable to that. Lu Yang had heard Grandma praise Lin Zhixiang more than once for her perseverance. She came to Qing Wei Gong bright and early every morning to worship. Gramps had never complained a single bit about her. He only grumbled once, “Dumb girls have dumb luck.”
This was the first time Jiang Ziya had ever heard the term “disciple.” He asked, “So, am I also a disciple right now?”
He had not apprenticed to anyone, so he shouldn’t be a disciple. If he were Lu Yang’s disciple, that would also feel weird.
Lu Yang rolled his eyes at him and huffed, “You’re my partner. There was no training period and no apprenticeship. You directly started on the job. Quickly look at the photos and tell me how to solve this haunting case.”
Jiang Ziya gave an “oh” and looked at the photos in his hand. These were of various different angles of the same room. The room was fairly modernized. The bathroom had transparent walls, a currently popular fad. The room was not old and was very clean. It did not at all look like a hotel involved in a supernatural case.
Lin Zhixiang asked in confusion, “Is there something wrong with these photos?”
There was a woman combing her hair in the mirror, a black shadow kneeling in the corner of the wall, a frog huddling in the bathtub, and such. Jiang Ziya saw many things that were “wrong,” but these were all within the scope of what he saw daily. There wasn’t anything “particularly wrong.”
Jiang Ziya looked over the mirrors. Among ten mirrors, at least three of them had a woman combing her hair, and her head was not always necessarily on her neck.
In response, Lu Yang rolled his eyes to express: My utmost thanks to horror movies. At least this was better than needing to dispatch aliens with Slay.
“There isn’t anything particularly stra—”
As Jiang Ziya spoke, he flipped to a new photograph and froze. He turned the photograph over to look at the back.
Lu Yang asked keenly, “What? Is something wrong with this photo?”
“What is this photo of?” Jiang Ziya asked in return.
Lin Zhixiang got closer to look and asked in confusion, “Isn’t this just showing the underside of the bed?”
“Underside of the bed?” Jiang Ziya frowned and said, “I just see black, as if the lens were blocked. At first glance, I thought the photograph wasn’t properly taken, but such a photo probably wouldn’t be included, so I wanted to ask you two about it.”
Lu Yang handed his cell phone over. “When I couldn’t see anything wrong, I asked the hotel staff to take more photos at different times using their cell phones. They sent these over. Take a look.”
Jiang Ziya scrolled through the photos on the cell phone. There were three photos showing the underside of the bed. None of them were like the one just now, completely black.
“Nothing seems wrong.”
Frowning, he handed the cell phone back to Lu Yang. Just as he pulled his gaze away from the photograph, he abruptly realized something was wrong. He quickly snatched the cell phone back and immediately enlarged the upper left corner of the photo.
“Phew, thankfully I noticed. There’s a black shadow beneath the bed. When photographed, he was hovering below the bed, looking just like a shadow. Fortunately, his eyes are open here, and he glanced at the camera. But his eyes are in the corner and so small, I didn’t notice until my angle changed.”
Jiang Ziya gestured at the enlarged photo. Lu Yang narrowed his eyes to observe. The two white dots that had originally appeared to be a glare really did resemble a pair of eyes after Jiang Ziya pointed them out.
Jiang Ziya said, “He’s looking our way. Things that take notice of people are usually more troublesome.”
“It must be this thing. There’s no doubt about it…”
To the side, Lin Zhixiang didn’t dare say anything to distract them. All she could do was sneak a glance at the photograph on the cell phone. At a glance, she indeed saw eyes, but after looking more closely, they were just two shining dots.
Lu Yang put away the cell phone and clapped Jiang Ziya’s shoulder. “What a good partner! I should have known not to stare at these photos for an entire afternoon. My eyes are about to fall out.”
Jiang Ziya didn’t know whether to laugh or cry as he said, “They’re photos of just a single room. You stared at them for an entire afternoon?”
Lu Yang unhappily said, “They sent several hundred photos! That fellow isn’t always in the same room. A lot of rooms are problematic. It’s just that this one was problematic more often than the others.”
“Not fierce at all, just a little troublesome, scaring people here and there. But the hotel has to open for business and can’t allow such a thing. Now, there are even rumors that people have died at the hotel, or that it was built on top of a cemetery. That’s why they’re willing to pay a high price to cut in line for me to solve it right away. Otherwise, I usually leave this kind of small case for last. Even if other people snatch the case before me, I wouldn’t mind at all.”
“So, what’s the truth? Homicide or cemetery?” Only then did Jiang Ziya flip through the written information to read through it. The answer was neither. The hotel was a proper one and had opened for just three years so far. No homicides had happened before, and they definitely weren’t constructed over a cemetery.
“Nothing happened, yet it’s still haunted?” Jiang Ziya was confused.
Lu Yang shrugged and said, “This kind of thing happens a lot. In the past, there was this one hotel that often had students there for graduation trips. After many years, a Ouija ghost even appeared. Something about how there was a ghost who had committed suicide in the hotel bathroom from slitting their wrists. It was a fierce one, and lives were almost lost, but something like suicide and wrist slitting never happened in the first place.”
Playing with Ouija boards on graduation trips huh, why can’t you just go out to shop or eat late-night snacks?!
A cell phone rang. Lin Zhixiang quickly took the call, afraid she would disrupt their discussion. She walked to the farthest corner of the room to speak on the phone.
It didn’t take long before Lin Zhixiang hung up and excitedly said, “My brother is home. Nothing happened. Both nephews have showered and are preparing for bed. Slay is truly powerful. As expected of a spirit-slaying ancient sword!”
The two of them could only keep their “hehes” to themselves.
“Let’s go. Let’s head to Top Star Hotel right away. Things like ghosts are always easier to catch at night.” Lu Yang looked at the two of them and quickly backtracked, “Neither of you have anything important planned after this, do you?”
Stuff like going home, showering, and sleeping. Jiang Ziya felt that in the days to follow, these things probably weren’t going to be all that important.