Chapter 2 Purgatory
Pain ripped Lan Dan’s face. Her whole head hurt so much that she just wanted to smash it to pieces.
When would it end? Would it… never end?
Her despair at this moment was a thousand times worse than she had ever felt before. Suddenly, the light hit her swollen eyes, shining into her heart like a beacon of life.
Life? In fact, she was yearning for the opposite. This agony was too excruciating that she only wanted relief. On the high platform that day, she died with a resolute conviction that she would bear any punishment for her crime, even if it meant an eternity of suffering. Yet in just a few days, she could no longer endure. Maybe she even misestimated. Who knew how long it had been? Maybe just a few hours.
Someone applied a cooling balm to her face, providing some much-needed relief from the pain.
She let out a long sigh, grateful for any means to end this torment.
“Looks like you’ve made it,” an old, indifferent voice said. “Given the copious amount of Mafeisan I used, especially since it was my own carefully concocted blend, you’re lucky to have survived.” The old man sneered a few times. “Sure enough, the wicked ones live for thousands of years.”
Lan Dan’s mobility and speech were still impaired. It turned out that someone had rescued her, but her savior didn’t seem to have any kindness towards her.
“Because your bones were moved, I have to use the maximum dosage of Mafeisan. I can’t say how long it will last but in the future, your arms and legs may not be very flexible. Don’t ask me anything because I don’t have answers. I was just entrusted by someone to help you change your appearance.”
Entrusted by someone? Lan Dan pondered the words carefully. Who could it be?
All she could think of was Shentu Cheng.
Except for him, everyone who knew her hated her to the bones, so who else would come to save her?
Under the care of the old man, she gradually improved. Her face was no longer as painful, and the swelling in her eyes have significantly reduced. She could even open her mouth slightly to accept some liquid food. However, her left leg and left arm felt very stiff, making it difficult to get up and walk. She was like a semi-paralyzed person.
The old man never spoke to her again, but contempt and disgust were clearly written on his wrinkled face. However, he was very meticulous in taking care of her injuries. His medical skills were truly extraordinary.
Lan Dan soon discovered that the thatched hut where she and the old man were staying was just next to the mass grave. No wonder she could always smell the stench of corpses. The hut actually belonged to a grave keeper.
Clad in tattered clothes, her head was wrapped in a clean gauze under a layer of dirty cloth strips. The unwashed hair, coupled with the abnormal gait, made her looked like a disabled hag who could only marry a grave keeper.
This year’s snow was more frequent than in previous years. The miserable white cover made the remote mass grave even more desolate and dilapidated. Lan Dan felt surreal, unsure whether the vibrant and splendid world she had seen a few days ago was real, or if the bleak graveyard in front of her was the reality. Who was she in the past, and who was she now? No one talked to her, and she didn’t want to talk. The past and the future were both burdens for her.
The battered wooden carts carrying heavy loads creaked along the solitary pathway as the handymen grumpily treaded on the snow. Disgusted and fed up, they brutally dumped the corpses into the shallow pit. Lan Dan saw them daily, sometimes making several trips in a day. In the beginning, they would wrap the bodies in simple straw mats before burying them, but later they became impatient and simply tossed the bodies in. They even threw several bodies into one shallow grave, and the loess used to cover the pit could not conceal their clothings. Lan Dan sat on the stone beside the wicker door and stared blankly at the abandoned bodies… She recognized many of them.
The person who saved her was definitely not Shentu Cheng. He was so ruthless that he almost exterminated all of her nine clans. Even those who were slightly related or received small favors were not spared. How could he, who hated her kins so much, change her appearance for her and let her continue living?
Besides, if he wanted to save her, there was no need to hide her in such a place.
Days passed by uneventfully. For Lan Dan, she was born without knowing why, and feared death because she had died before. If death was the inevitable ending, she could still accept it calmly. She wanted to die, but she lacked the courage.
One day, she saw the bodies of her Third and Ninth Brothers.
They were wearing filthy prison uniforms, with black blood oozing from their mouths, eyes, ears and nostrils. They must have died with some decency, at least they were not beheaded or dismembered. They were born as royalty, but their corpses were so tragically abandoned in the shallow loess pit. Lan Dan silently walked over and stood by the crude grave that was only partially filled. If it weren’t for her, these two should have been buried in the high hills of Xiling, enjoying a ceremonious funeral and the incense offerings of future generations.
She raised her eyes and looked at the desolate graveyard where perhaps her sisters, brothers, and even her parents… had been abandoned.
The heaviness was too much for her to bear, surpassing any feelings of sorrow, rage, or any other emotions. It left her feeling disorientated and mentally exhausted, similar to how she felt when she heard the death knell for her father.
The massacre lasted for almost a month, tripling the size of the mass grave. Finally, after a snowstorm, no more bodies were brought in for disposal.
As the new year approached and the old year came to an end, all the eyesores would have been dealt with. For Shentu Cheng, the new year was a prosperous spring.
The thick snow buried all the hideous sorrows. Lan Dan continued to watch by the door. She was grateful for the biting cold, which froze her heart and emotions, leaving her alone to exist like a walking dead.
As Lan Dan looked on, a poorly dressed woman walked laboriously through the snow. She was the first person to come here and pay respects. But who was she going to see in this heavy snowstorm?
As the visitor came closer, Lan Dan froze on her spot. It was her Second Elder Sister, Lan Lan, wearing a worn-out cloth skirt and a haggard face that made her look like a different person. Lan Dan recognized her on first sight, but as the figure approached, she became uncertain.
[T/N] Lan Lan : 斓/lan means gorgeous and vivid, 蓝/lan means blue
Lan Lan walked towards the thatched hut. She glanced at Lan Dan with a blank expression on her face.
Lan Dan’s heart was thrashing violently. Despite the bone-chilling weather, fine sweat trickled down her back.
She was completely stunned, she didn’t expect to see her Second Elder Sister. She wanted to acknowledge her, but she didn’t dare. She was trembling almost convulsively that she had to tightly clenched her fists to steady herself.
“Excuse me.” Lan Lan knocked on the wicker door, addressing the old man who was decocting herbs in the room. She didn’t look at the dirty and dull-witted “woman” again. “Which one is…” She paused, as if saying the name was extremely humiliating. Finally, she continued, “Xiao Lan Dan’s tomb?”
The old man obviously didn’t expect that someone would come to pay respects to Lan Dan. His eyes involuntarily strayed towards the trembling figure by the door.
Seeing that the old man didn’t answer, Lan Lan frowned. After thinking for a while, she explained, “It’s… that previous dynasty’s… Princess Danyang.” The name was spat out so harshly that she had to clench her teeth to control her emotions.
The old man got up and walked to the door in front of Lan Dan, blocking her. He casually pointed to the deserted grave in the distance, intentionally sending Lan Lan away.
Lan Lan thanked him, then staggered to the spot where the old man randomly identified. Squatting down, she opened the bamboo basket on her arm, and took out a simple incense offering.
In the silent graveyard, the cold wind carried her low voice, “I shouldn’t have come to burn incense for you, you stupid thing!” Lan Lan cursed bitterly as she struggled to light the incense. “However, if you don’t receive an ancestral offering, won’t it be difficult for you to begin a new life? I madly hate you, but now that things have come to this, you may as well go.”
Lan Dan was shaking so hard that she could hardly sit still, as if she was really that helpless ghost wandering in the dark, waiting for the salvation of this ethereal incense smoke.
“I told you so! Young Master Shentu is very famous in the capital. He is a handsome and talented scholar that could even catch the eyes of Father Emperor and Mother Empress. Even if he is worthy to be a Prince Consort, he would be wed to Lan Huang. How could he possibly take a fancy to an unfavored and mediocre plain girl like you?”
Lan Dan bit her lip, striving to keep her teeth from chattering. All these words, she remembered all too well.
Because of these remarks, she secretly resented her Second Sister. She felt that Second Sister was the most difficult to get along with among her sisters, and would rather keep her at a distance.
Ironically, at this very moment, it was Second Sister who came to burn some spirit money and incense for her.
Lan Lan heaved a deep sigh. “Shentu Cheng is a beast under a human mask. He has deviously schemed against the whole world. How could a pathetically stupid little girl like you stand a chance against him? Now that you’ve reached the realm of the dead, drink a few more bowls of Granny Meng’s soup. Forget everything, forget it all! From now on, our Xiao family will never come to see you again, not after the crime you committed. But…” Lan Lan wiped the tears streaming down her face. “You are the first Xiao family member Shentu Cheng killed. I don’t know if I should despise you or pity you more…”
[T/N] Old Meng’s soup: myth. Next to Wangxiang Platform (Home-Viewing Platform) there is a small stall run by a little old lady called Meng Po (孟婆/meng po/old lady meng). If a soul wishes to be reincarnated, they must drink Meng Po’s Soup (孟婆汤/meng po tang) – the Five-Flavoured Tea of Forgetfulness – and wipe all memories of their previous life completely. From another source I’ve read, you can opt not to drink the soup, but if you do, you will be thrown back to hell and suffer for a thousand years before you can be reincarnated with your memories intact.
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