*Announcement: Cursed is being replaced with Baiyuyi on the regular rotation due to Cursed no longer being easy to write chapter by chapter (I have to plan out each arc in one go, which makes things take a lot longer and can bog everything down). This change will hopefully streamline the updates, and will also hopefully free up some mental space for me to jump back into some of the other non-regular stories.
Sorry for not announcing it beforehand, but these few weeks have me running ragged, so I’m cutting my losses in hopes of swifter future updates.
Chapter 29: Unfortunate Coincidences
Yuan Chenglei was standing outside the store at dusk, staring blankly into the setting sun while clutching an old polaroid camera.
First of all, how Laoban whisked a still-working polaroid camera with usable film out of nowhere was a mystery to Yuan Chenglei. They were already obsolete when he was a kid, after all.
Secondly … why did he have to tell Laoban that he was afraid of ghosts?!
Yuan Chenglei’s feelings swirled in a maelstrom, swinging between regret, confusion, and terror so wildly that his face had stopped trying to express his feelings and was frozen into an expressionless mask – slightly blue in the face with lifeless eyes, but expressionless all the same.
Earlier that evening, Laoban Song had laid down the ultimatum.
“Your assignment is to take pictures of 10 different ghosts in the city. I don’t mind how long it takes you to do so, but you will be going out every evening until you’re done.”
Laoban… it’s not like I don’t want to do it … but I don’t want to do it!
Also, it seems like my feet are frozen to the ground, so I think I physically can’t.
Yuan Chenglei almost jumped out of his skin as the door opened and the bell sounded.
“Little Cheng, if you keep standing there all night, I’m going to make it 100 ghosts.”
With Yuan Chenglei standing there, frozen, Laoban Song couldn’t stand it anymore and poked his head out the door.
It’s not like Little Cheng would obstruct business just by being there, but his pitiful figure hadn’t moved a centimeter since Laoban had shoved him out the door.
“… Laoban, isn’t there a better way to go about curing me of my fear of ghosts?”
“I think this is the easiest and quickest way to deal with it, though. I even marked the spots where you will be most likely to run into ghosts so you could get it all done in one night,” Laoban said as he leaned against the doorframe, tilting his head thoughtfully.
“I also think it’s amazing that you are so uselessly high-tech that you have a ghost spots map setting on your shared maps-! That’s not it, isn’t there like, some kind of cultivator trick that can help me get over it quicker?” Yuan Chenglei couldn’t help asking.
He really, really, really didn’t want to go walking around the city at night now that he knew ghosts really did come out!
For him, this map was showing him the places to avoid, not approach!
Laoban stared at him for a moment before saying, “Well, certainly, imprisoning you in an illusory realm full of ghosts and haunted things based on your worst nightmares would definitely help you get used to things much more efficiently, but I just assumed you would be against that sort of thing. If you wanted to try …”
“No, I’ll just go take pictures of ghosts now!”
Laoban Song chuckled as he watch Yuan Chenglei run off, trembling, into the night.
Naturally, he wasn’t letting Little Cheng run off without any sort of defenses.
With the talisman he had pasted on Little Cheng’s back, most of the basic types of hungry ghosts would be incapable of harming him, and even some higher grade ghosts would have some trouble getting through those defenses.
As long as nothing unexpected happens…
Laoban furrowed his brows. Why was he still kidding himself? This little disciple was a wealth of unexpected happenings.
Still, he was reluctant to follow Yuan Chenglei around.
If a bigshot like White Jade Wings wandered around too much, it would attract attention in quite a bad way – for Little Cheng.
Anyway, he attached an emergency rune to the talisman, as well. Although it wasn’t like the previous paper doll, allowing Laoban to keep a watchful eye on everything that happened around Yuan Chenglei, if Yuan Chenglei was attacked, the rune would activate and Laoban would be aware of it.
To be honest, Laoban Song found this kind of thing distasteful, believing that a teacher who hovered over the disciple in order to protect him would stunt the growth of the disciple due to over-care, but … Little Cheng was definitely a special case.
Not just Little Cheng, but also Little Jing; there were too many abnormal characteristics about the both of them that made it impossible for Laoban Song to be able to raise them in his preferred style: hands-off.
Zhao Jinjing’s case is obvious.
Having the Maiden Yin Body, it would be imprudent not to take precautions for her safety, and this would likely be the case for as long as Laoban remained a bigshot whose strength towered over others, so it would likely be the case for … a long time.
Well, Laoban was fine with that.
She was his friend’s daughter, and he had officially adopted her; there was no point in dodging about the string of karma that was now tying them together, so he might as well accept that she is a person who he should consider as having familial ties to. Although she was not his daughter, he would watch over her life as a parent or grandparent, or maybe an ancestor considering his age.
The problem was Yuan Chenglei.
A common person who had nothing to do with cultivation for most of his life, suddenly becoming the disciple of someone like Laoban Song … it really increased the chances of the disciple’s premature death!
Even if Laoban Song just treated Little Cheng like a normal disciple, there would be many cultivators just itching to look for an opening they could take advantage of. If Laoban started sticking precious treasures and protective talismans all over him, wouldn’t it be like advertising that Yuan Chenglei was a good target for people looking to get at White Jade Wings?
Instead, Laoban Song was perfectly happy to take advantage of his reputation as an eccentric mad scientist in order to make outsiders believe that he took in Yuan Chenglei with a whim, like he was some sort of guinea pig for his experiments.
Why cultivators thought the consequences would be far worse if they messed with the subject of an experiment compared to a precious disciple, well, Laoban Song himself wasn’t too sure about that either, but it was convenient.
Besides, although he was definitely taking his role as Little Cheng’s master seriously, it can’t be denied that he WAS handling this disciple’s things unconventionally…
However, Little Cheng just HAD to be difficult.
Although Yuan Chenglei took surprisingly well to cultivation, he has some strange constitution that keeps him from making that last leap into the First Stage, and he has so many random encounters with the cultivation world – if Laoban didn’t take any precautions, he’d really be an idiot.
If only Laoban could tell whether this random encounter skill of Little Cheng’s was based on good luck – or if it was 100% random and pulled in troublesome matters as well… until he could figure this out, Laoban had no choice but to be cautious.
Well … the bigshot White Jade Wing’s cautious was a little different from others’ cautious.
It can’t be helped; Laoban was used to mundane humans and other people around his level in the cultivation world. One would die with anything you threw at them from the cultivation world, and the other could deal with anything you threw at them from the cultivation world.
It’s not surprising that he would have some issues predicting how much of a threat dangers would pose to cultivators who weren’t at one extreme or the other.
Yuan Chenglei’s fear of ghosts wasn’t just for show. He was genuinely terrified of unknown things that lurked in the dark and harbored malice towards the living.
If you asked him whether he found people or ghosts more terrifying, he’d say ghosts without a single hesitation.
At least humans were limited by the laws of physics!
Helplessly looking at the polaroid camera in one hand and the map app on his phone in the other, Yuan Chenglei was asking himself the important questions in life.
How do you use a polaroid camera?
Luckily, Yuan Chenglei’s grandparents were old-fashioned people who lived far out in the country, so Yuan Chenglei had had his share of tinkering with older gadgets.
Also, it really wasn’t that difficult since Laoban had loaded the film in for him.
The only problem was that Laoban had also cautioned him that his targets had to be within 3 meters of him!
Yuan Chenglei sighed.
If he went just one street over, the night streets and shopfronts were lit up brightly and still bustling.
The only problem with that was … would ghosts show up in that kind of place?
Although the nightlife here wasn’t young or chic, it also wasn’t sleazy or suspicious.
It was just full of shops and restaurants for the housewives to drop by during the day and the older salarymen to drop by during the night.
… Yeah, Yuan Chenglei knew that ghosts would be unlikely to show up in that kind of a place, unless there were extenuating circumstances.
Which made it all the more inviting for him to go towards!
Ugh… Yuan Chenglei sighed and stood by the bus stop, trying to ignore the curious glances at the camera in his hand.
Let’s just go back towards the train station… even though it’s busy there, with lots of people and lights, he HAD seen a ghost, just one, all by itself…
Yeah, that sounds good.
Let’s avoid the supernatural hotspots on Laoban’s map as much as possible!
The only problem with this plan was…
“… Eh? It’s gone?”
Yuan Chenglei didn’t know if he should laugh or cry.
He was truly glad the ghost was gone, deep down, but … if he looked at the big picture, that just meant the necessity of him going to ghostspots increased! Worse yet, he had no idea where to go from here on, if he DIDN’T go to the ghostspots!
Wuuu… Yuan Chenglei stood there dumbly, trying to avoid reality.
“…This little cultivator, was that small ghost your target? My apologies. She has already been ferried away, just now.”
Just now …. just now… those words echoed in Yuan Chenglei’s ears as the bald man in a black trenchcoat and sunglasses appeared from the shadows of the abandoned apartment building.
Yuan Chenglei didn’t even have the presence of mind to question why this man was wearing sunglasses at dusk. He directly crumpled down into an orz on the sidewalk.
So hardworking! Couldn’t you have waited a few more minutes for me to take a picture before you ferried her away?!
“Little friend! Um… … I’m sorry? Although it was a low-ranking ghost, this was a job, so … um … I’m sorry?”
The bald man panicked at what he assumed was Yuan Chenglei’s expression of despair.
Although Yuan Chenglei was certainly feeling some sort of despair, he wasn’t unreasonable. He actually wasn’t blaming this man at all.
Now, fate on the other hand….
However, from the bald man’s stammering, Yuan Chenglei could understand that he was thinking it was shameful for him to have stolen a weak prey that was being targeted by a junior. Maybe it was something like the shame of a max-level player coming into a beginner area and kill-stealing?
Well, cruel coincidence though it was, Yuan Chenglei wasn’t going to make the other carry this pot unfairly.
“No… I didn’t come to exorcise the ghost or anything…”
Yuan Chenglei laughed hollowly and explained the approximate situation to the bald man. That he was currently involved in a ghost-fearing, picture-taking task.
After he heard the explanation, the bald man stood there in mild surprise for a moment before laughing loudly.
Even though the abandoned apartment building was a little bit removed from the main street, his laughter attracted the attraction of a few people walking past, although all they did was glance curiously over as they continued on by.
“Haha! What an eccentric master! Well, I’m sorry for getting rid of the ghost before you came by.”
“No, there’s nothing to be sorry for… I’m just blaming my own bad luck.”
The friendly bald man had pulled a thermos of tea out of his spatial ring and poured both Yuan Chenglei and himself some tea into little plastic camping cups.
Yuan Chenglei gave the bald man a quick glance over as he accepted the tea.
At first look, the bald head the broad shoulders and big body frame dressed in a black trenchcoat made you imagine this bald man to be a tough guy, but actually…
After watching the bald man take out a handkerchief to sit on and then blowing desperately on the tea to cool it off, Yuan Chenglei was starting to see a different kind of personality.
Yuan Chenglei was already the type of guy who could get along with people, and with this amiable bald man, it was natural that they were soon chatting freely.
Unfortunately, the topic was about ghosts.
Yuan Chenglei felt a little helpless.
Was he destined to reveal how scared of ghosts he was to every cultivator he met from now on?
… This kind of question should be reserved for later.
For now, let’s make friends with this man who can get rid of ghosts!
<a/n: … Well, Chenglei’s just going to be the kind of guy who meets everyone, I guess. I have mixed feelings about moving the story along with new characters every time, but it can’t be helped with the major plot points ahead that are totally blocking me from moving the story along more naturally.
Just for the record, Cursed wasn’t the only reason this update’s so late, but because of the stuff that’s been going on in rl, I had to re-evaluate some things.>