Si Tian Guan Chapter 185

Chapter 185: Leaning Moon

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Although Dingling Hill wasn’t famous nowadays, it had been a royal capital several hundred years ago during the time of the Nine Wangs’ struggles for power. Traces of its past glory remained on the old city walls.

Merchants and travelers came and went through the city gates, and occasionally there were foreign-looking visitors. No one paid much attention to the group of six passing by.

Having fortunately secured an upper room, Qu Chenzhou leaned by the window, removed his bamboo hat, and silently ate. From time to time, he glanced at the pedestrians on the street below.

The remaining two people didn’t dare disturb him. They were tired and hungry, so they focused on filling their stomachs first.

Qu Chenzhou’s chopsticks suddenly tapped against his plate, then pointed outside, prompting both of them to stand up and look outside.

“Do you see that middle-aged man in the green robe?”

Of course, they had both seen him. He appeared to be a traveling merchant, his goods seemingly running low. He was urgently moving against the crowd, heading toward the city gate.

“What’s going on?” Ding Lekang asked.

“Tree trap Disaster. If the matter with the strange tree isn’t a rumor, I guess he’ll encounter that tree soon,” Qu Chenzhou decisively instructed. “Send someone to follow him. If he can be saved, save him. If not, at least gather some information about that creature, find out what it really is.”

In a place where business was conducted, it naturally fell under Liu Zhongming’s jurisdiction.

But Ding Le Kang, seeing Liu Zhongming leave, nodded briefly at Qu Chenzhou and hurriedly left the room as well.

Qu Chenzhou calmly sipped his tea, suspecting that the agents arranged by Huai Wang had probably been waiting in Dingling Hill for quite some time. Every move Liu Zhongming made was under their watchful eyes.

Now, with the potential presence of the strange tree, he was afraid Liu Zhongming might seize the opportunity. They would undoubtedly dispatch someone to tail the middle-aged merchant.

Before long, Ding Lekang returned ahead of the other, behaving as if nothing had happened. He quietly asked Qu Chenzhou, “Qu Sitian, should we inform the local authorities? Have them send some people over so we can act more easily?”

“No,” Qu Chenzhou shook his head. “We still don’t know the cause of the seven or eight deaths. If it’s not due to some supernatural creature, but rather an unspeakable matter here, with the local authorities getting involved…”

Ding Lekang understandingly agreed, “Qu Sitian is right! The truth isn’t clear yet. We have limited manpower, and if we reveal our identities too easily, if there really is some hidden hand at play, we might end up at a disadvantage.”

Qu Chenzhou readily agreed, “General Ding understood it right away. Borrowing troops from the local authorities is indeed a good idea, but we need to first determine what exactly this ‘man-eating strange tree’ is.”

“Qu Sitian is right. The Tree Trap Disaster… mentioning tree… could it really exist?”

Ding Lekang paused for a moment, leaned forward slightly, and asked in a low voice, “May I ask, Qu Sitian, since the future is uncertain, can I request a divination from you, sir?”

If they were still in the capital, this request would be unimaginable. However, after spending so much time together, Ding Lekang could tell Qu Chenzhou’s temperament – he was kind to everyone except the Shizi.

Qu Chenzhou looked at Ding Lekang in silence for a moment, and his heart suddenly skipped a beat.

He knew that unexpected events were likely to happen once they entered Dingling Hill. He had been secretly calculating the timing for divination. The general situation was now clear, and even if Ding Lekang hadn’t asked, he naturally had his own plans.

Although this divination was different from the one related to the middle-aged merchant, it seemed to prove that the “strange tree” was not a baseless rumor.

Rest in Tree.

A mutable death divination.

“Qu Sitian?” Ding Lekang nervously pressed for an answer. “How is it?”

“No danger,” Qu Chenzhou smiled lightly. “Everything will be fine. General can feel rest assured.”

Ding Lekang wiped the sweat from his palms, repeatedly expressed his gratitude, and only realized after sitting down that although this was his second time seeking a divination, those eyes that seemed capable of peering into one’s soul and the invisible pressure they exuded left him no choice but to believe.

Thinking like this, he began to feel uncomfortable being alone in the room. He found himself actually looking forward to Liu Zhongming’s return.

The door to the room was pushed open, and following behind Liu Zhongming was a young waiter from the inn. He solemnly gestured to the two of them, “There’s actually something quite interesting in the real location.”

The young waiter was momentarily startled when he locked eyes with Qu Chenzhou. “This… Is this a foreigner? Where’s he from? This is the first time I’ve seen him. Young Master is indeed…”

“Where are all these useless words coming from! Take another look and I’ll gouge out your eyeballs!” 

After Liu Zhongming gave him a pat on the shoulder, the young waiter finally snapped back to reality. He bowed and said, “G-Gentlemen, what would you like to know?”

“It’s the one you just mentioned,” Liu Zhongming instructed. “Explain it in more detail. What does it look like? Where did it appear? What’s strange about it?”

“Oh, oh,” the young waiter hurriedly complied. “I heard about it from the herbalist and woodcutter. The place is in the mountains about ten miles south from here.”

“The strange tree?” Ding Lekang asked anxiously.

The young waiter shivered, “No, no, it’s not. Please listen to me.”

“The mountain over there is called Chengsong Ridge. There aren’t many houses there, but there are quite a few abandoned graves. Over the years, many graves have been eroded by rain, damaged, and no one bothers to repair them.”

“However, halfway up the mountain, there are three graves that are very peculiar. People renovate and repair them from time to time. Even the weeds around the graves are cleared. Old folks say that when they were young, their grandparents told them that those graves were already there, and they were quite strange.”

“It’s said that the people buried there are from a hundred or so years ago. No one knows who their devoted descendants are, but they’ve been remembered all this time and haven’t been moved.”

“Then a few days ago, the herbalist said he saw a large bird carrying someone, landing halfway up the mountain, followed by smoke rising from the same spot – right where those graves are.”

“Some brave souls wanted to check it out, but they just kept going in circles like they hit a dead end. No one has dared to go into the mountains these past few days.”

Liu Zhongming added, “When I heard him saying this, I thought it might be related to the man-eating strange tree. However, the young waiter said that apart from not being able to find a way up the mountain, he hasn’t heard of anyone having an accident. I think these should be two separate matters…”

His gaze inadvertently met those heterochromatic eyes, and suddenly his heart skipped a beat.

It was the intuition that had developed through long acquaintance, telling him that he was on the right track, that Qu Chenzhou must have discovered something.

“How does Chenzhou plan to handle this?”

“Chengsong Ridge is over ten miles to the south?” Qu Chenzhou made a firm decision. “We’ll set out tomorrow at noon to visit Chengsong Ridge.”


Ding Lekang replied, his eyes fixed on Qu Chenzhou’s hand as though he feared he might suddenly pull out a dreaded purse of money.

As if playing with his apprehensions, Qu Chenzhou kept his hand concealed within his sleeve, as though clutching a purse, making Ding Lekang anxious, causing his mouth to stay parched for some time, the tea sitting untouched.

“Let’s be thrifty with our expenses.” Liu Zhongming intervened sympathetically, rescuing Ding Lekang from his anxiety.

But before Ding Lekang could release a sigh of relief, he was caught off guard by Liu Zhongming’s generous offer.

“On the road, it’s been Chenzhou spending money all the time. Today, it’s my turn to play the host. Please, both of you, don’t refuse.”

Ding Lekang struggled to swallow the tea, and in a bitter voice, he reminded, “But we’re still setting out tomorrow…”

“Let loose tonight and tomorrow will be a more spirited day,” Liu Zhongming casually reassured him, as if it were a matter of course. “Big Brother Ding, don’t worry. I’ve already arranged everything. I guarantee they are all first-rate.”

Ding Lekang was about to say something, but Qu Chenzhou had already placed down his teacup and calmly nodded, “Very well, thanks for your consideration, Zhongming.”

A loud buzzing rang in Ding Lekang’s mind, and before he could fully wake up, he found himself pretending to be confident.

“Alright… I’ll also… need some…”

Liu Zhongming had the door firmly closed against him, and with windows and doors securely locked, he could only call out in a hushed voice through the window slit, “Could you open it, please? It’s quite chilly out here.”

“If you’re cold, you can go back,” a voice from inside replied coldly. “There’s nothing to attend to tonight. You don’t need to bother yourself serving Shizi.”

“I… have something to discuss,” he rubbed his hands together, then attempted to push the window again, but it didn’t budge. He lowered his voice even further, “Chenzhou, could you please open it? I’ve been standing here the whole time; it’s not good for someone to see me like this.”

There was a moment of silence from inside before the voice spoke again, “We’re leaving for Chengsong Ridge tomorrow. Don’t get too close to Ding Lekang.”

“Can you tell me why you’ve decided to go to Chengsong Ridge?”

Liu Zhongming was certain he hadn’t misunderstood. When he had the waiter mention the strange occurrences on Chengsong Ridge, Qu Chenzhou’s gaze had fallen on him.

Embarking on a journey to Chengsong Ridge couldn’t have been just a mere gamble.

“A turning point,” came the response from inside. “The specifics will depend on what we find.”

The footsteps receded from the window. It seemed there wouldn’t be a chance to enter tonight, but Liu Zhongming wasn’t particularly disappointed.

Once, he had yearned for Qu Chenzhou to take a few more steps towards him, to give him the courage to get closer. Now, even if the little fox was retreating, he was determined to catch up, to make up for the lost time and missed opportunities.

He couldn’t stay in this situation for too long, but he wasn’t ready to leave immediately either. So, he leaned against the window, settling onto the tiles.

Everything around him was shrouded in darkness and silence. He gazed into the emptiness for so long that he couldn’t tell which world he was living in anymore, be it the past or present. Not only in this lifetime, but there seemed to be memories from even further back.

The candlelight inside the room went out, and the last trace of light vanished.

The proverbial candle at its end — he suddenly thought of that melody — a crescent moon leaning against the window.

Staying by someone’s side like this, it felt as though it had happened before. At that time, the person standing here seemed to have been humming that farewell tune. And the person inside was pleading in a mournful voice — don’t leave, don’t leave, I promise I’ll listen to you from now on, I won’t be willful anymore.

If it were now, how could he bear to leave?

Liu Zhongming took a deep breath as the cool evening breeze of late summer filled his chest. He hummed softly to himself, “Night…”

As the words were about to leave his lips, before he could even make a sound, the window was suddenly pushed open. Although it was just a narrow gap, it collided with his shoulder.

The person inside didn’t expect him to still be there. In surprise, they stuttered, “You…” and immediately moved to close the window, but he was quick to thrust his arm through the gap and block it.

“Chenzhou, can I come in for a moment, please?”

Qu Chenzhou attempted to close the window frame a few times but failed to drive him away. With a resigned expression, he flung his hand and returned to his seat at the table.

Liu Zhongming let out a sigh of relief and quietly slipped inside, earnestly speaking, “Chenzhou, I truly have something to discuss. I’ll leave as soon as I’m done.”

Saying this, the irate tone Qu Chenzhou had earlier seemed to dissipate.

“What is it?”

“Is it auspicious or ominous for tomorrow’s trip to Chengsong Ridge? I’ve arranged some people at Ding Lekang’s end at Dingling Hill. Six out of ten are staying in the city to intercept their arrivals. The rest, the ones with good skills, will trail behind from a distance to Chengsong Ridge. What do you think?”

Qu Chenzhou lowered his gaze for a moment, unable to come up with a better idea.

“Leaving people in the city is necessary. But what exactly is waiting for us at Chengsong Ridge, I don’t know. Ding Lekang’s divination isn’t unchangeable; if he gets into trouble now, Huai Wang’s people will immediately target you. But I’m afraid preemptive defense might complicate things, so I haven’t told him.”

“That’s right,” Liu Zhongming agreed. “Avoiding Ding Lekang isn’t the best solution. If something does happen, if there’s a chance to rescue him, we should take it.”

Qu Chenzhou made a thoughtful sound, loosening his hair, and looked at Liu Zhongming.

This was his way of saying farewell.

Liu Zhongming scratched his face, searching for words, “Chenzhou, what about my divination? Is it auspicious or ominous?”

“If the Shizi truly believes in me, then you shouldn’t need to ask such a question,” Qu Chenzhou loosened his hair, laid down, and gazed at the wall in front of his nose through the dimness, “It’s late, Shizi, you should go to sleep.”

The sound of shoe soles sliding against the floor moved away from the table.

His heartbeat seemed to sync with those footsteps, rhythmically expanding and contracting. His heart raced, and he couldn’t close his eyes. When the edge of the bed softly creaked, he finally realized someone was brazenly crawling up.

“Liu Zhongming!”

Someone gently pressed his shoulder, then smoothed out his disheveled hair on the pillow and whispered, “I’ll be here for a little while. I’ll wait until you’re asleep before leaving.”

Qu Chenzhou turned halfway to face the blurry silhouette, a mix of reality and illusion.

“Liu Zhongming, are you showing pity for me by lowering yourself and embracing the cold, or remembering the past?” he asked. “You don’t need to. Whether in the past or now, we don’t owe each other anything. You don’t need to demean yourself.”

“If you’re really willing to listen to me, then stop provoking me.”

“I’ve repaid my debt to you…”

He continued speaking, but either his breath was running out or something else happened, because his voice choked off at the end, and he fell silent.

Liu Zhongming didn’t appear to be deterred by his stern words or harsh tone; he even continued to gather up his hair without hesitation.

Even without turning around, Qu Chenzhou knew exactly what he was doing.

Back when they lived at the Jinxi Academy, sometimes during noontime, Liu Zhongming would go to his residence to take a nap. Qu Chenzhou used to complain that he was pressing down on his hair, causing pain.

Not long after he voiced his complaint, Liu Zhongming had learned somewhere how to braid hair properly. Every time he did it, he made sure the braid was loose.

“You…” he pulled back the half-braided hair, “You’re giving me…”

The word “leave” didn’t make it out of his mouth. Liu Zhongming’s hand lightly patted his shoulder.

“Chenzhou, you cried last night, didn’t you? Did you dream about the past again?”

“I’m here with you. I won’t let you have nightmares again.”

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