Unfortunately for Zhan Cheng, this whole matter had agitated him so much that he had trouble falling asleep even after realizing that this ghost that was haunting him could somehow be repelled by the satchel the witch had given him. Still, when morning finally arrived, he felt better.
He might not have been able to really sleep but this time, it was because he had kept awake on purpose, hoping to find out just how long this could last. To his surprise, for the whole night, there had been nothing. He was still a bit worried about the next few nights but he was willing to give it a try. Yes, tomorrow, he might have a full night’s sleep.
In a good mood, he got the list that the witch had given him, and then picked up a scroll of paper, noting down the herbs that he still needed. Thinking for a bit, he finally wrote down the full list once again and put both into his sleeve before he left the house.
He still needed the last few ingredients and considering the attitude that the store owners had given him because the list had been written by the witch, he wasn’t sure if he could trust that the things he had bought yesterday were actually of good enough quality. Maybe because it came from Gongliang Ye the store owners would give him something worse, feeling that the witch didn’t deserve anything better.
Thinking of last night, Zhan Cheng scoffed. That witch could do more than the lot of them had been able to do together. But they still dared to be like this. It actually annoyed him. When he went back there in six days, he had to make sure that he told him.
Zhan Cheng went to the next town and with a new list in hand that had no indication where it came from, he didn’t have any trouble getting the herbs that he needed. For good measure, he got another set of the ones he hadn’t been able to get yesterday, and then returned home.
He went about his days as usual for the rest of the week, waiting for the day to arrive that he needed to go back.
On the other hand, Gongliang Ye had made his way through the forest, looking for the other herbs and ingredients that were still needed. One by one, he found the spots where they grew and remembered them, finally making a round on the last day before Zhan Cheng would come over. He only picked them now so they would be as fresh as possible. No matter what people thought, he treated them and their issues seriously.
When he went to sleep that night, he looked out of the window where he could already see the trees whose leaves had turned to bright colors and sighed. “I hope he really comes tomorrow. Otherwise, that would’ve been a waste of my time.” He shook his head at himself and then went to sleep, feeling that he probably shouldn’t get his hopes up too high. How often did these guys really return? He could probably count the times on both hands and feet.
The next morning, Gongliang Ye got up and stretched, looking up at the ceiling feeling tired. That march yesterday really hadn’t been easy. He had made his way through almost the whole forest, taking quite a lot of energy. If that man really came over today, he hoped that it would be a bit later so he would have time to rest up some more.
He put away his blankets and then went to open the window and the door, wanting to let in some light and fresh air. When he did, he came face-to-face with Zhan Cheng.
The witch slowly raised his brows. “You actually came.” Now, this was a surprise. And he was even this early. It seemed that his issue was even more severe than he had let on the other day.
Zhan Cheng gave an embarrassed smile. “Did I get the day wrong? I could’ve sworn you said to come back in another week.”
Gongliang Ye gave him a long look and then stepped to the side, motioning inside. “It is not that you got the day wrong. It is just that I did not quite expect this to happen. You wouldn’t be the first to come to consult me but then thinks it would still be safer to go somewhere else. Now, come on in. Give me some time to get ready. It is still rather early in the morning. I wouldn’t have thought that you would be this early even if you came.”
Zhan Cheng glanced up at the sky that had just turned bright and winced. “I hope I’m not inconveniencing you. If there is something else you have to do, please don’t mind me. I can just wait.” He wanted to step back but Gongliang Ye’s gaze froze him on the spot.
“Well, even if you want to just wait, you can still do it inside. It is already autumn by now. The temperatures aren’t getting any higher. I wouldn’t want you to fall sick after being treated by me or they would just have another reason to say that I’m putting curses on people.”
Zhan Cheng hurriedly nodded and followed him inside, not quite sure what to say. He could imagine that people weren’t too nice to this witch considering how he had been treated when he just showed the list Gongliang Ye had written. He didn’t dare to ask about it though. It just seemed like something that might not be a good idea to inquire about.
Gongliang Ye motioned to a small table in the back part of the hut and then went to the shelf, looking around for some ingredients. “Did you eat anything yet?”
Zhan Cheng shook his head. “No. I … To be honest, I came here as soon as I woke up. I really want things to go back to normal.”
Gongliang Ye looked over his shoulder, once again raising his brows at him. “And you believe that I’m able to do that for you?”
Zhan Cheng took out the satchel that the witch had given him last week and held it up. “Well, I can’t say for sure if you can get rid of it but I know that this helped a bit.”
Gongliang Ye looked at the satchel and then nodded, turning back to the shelf. “Well, you will need as much strength as possible later on. Let’s eat together if you don’t mind.” He got out some rice and a pot, and then started a fire, slowly starting to cook.
Zhan Cheng watched him and finally couldn’t help but realize that the witch was indeed just making plain rice. He stared at his back for a bit, realizing that while he was a tall man, he was pretty thin. In fact, it was not wrong to say was he was just slightly more than skin and bones. Most likely, his life out here was pretty hard.
He hesitated for a moment, torn about whether he should say something or not but, in the end, he couldn’t hold back. “I got all those ingredients that you noted down. It wasn’t quite easy. When they realized that you were the one who had written the list, they weren’t really willing to work together. I guess you have that problem often?”
Gongliang Ye glanced over his shoulder, his already narrow eyes turning into slits. “You mean to say that you are unhappy with being served just rice?”
Zhan Cheng immediately shook his head. “No, that’s not it. I … I was really just wondering.”
Gongliang Ye sighed. Usually, people wouldn’t want to spend time with him and would walk around his house with at least a mile between them, hoping that they wouldn’t even catch a glimpse of him for fear of what he might do.
Who would’ve thought that he would one day get a guest that was this chatty? Ah, it had been so long since he had this kind of conversation, he wasn’t quite sure how to react.
For a while, he just watched the rice cook and then finally got two bowls with a sigh, filling them and carrying them over to the table. He put one down in front of Zhan Cheng before he sat down with the other, giving the man a long look. “You don’t know much about witches, do you?”
Zhan Cheng shook his head. “Well, I did hear some stories.” But just like the stories about spirits, ghosts, fairies, and gods and whatever else might be out there, he hadn’t believed much of it. That was until he was suddenly haunted himself. “But I guess not everything of that is true, right?”
Gongliang Ye gave a hum that could have meant anything and bowed his head, eating the rice.
Zhan Cheng also had a spoonful, feeling that it actually didn’t taste that bad. He took a bit more and then suddenly stopped, turning to the bundle he had taken with him. He took out the box that he had used to carry the ingredients so they wouldn’t be harmed and put it down at the side. “These are the ingredients.”
Before Gongliang Ye could say anything, he took out another package, and put it in the middle of the table, folding back the wrapping paper. “I forgot about it but I got these on the way here for later. It’s not much and they’re probably cold already but please have some.”
Gongliang Ye looked at the simple buns and then took a look at the man in front of him. Glancing at his clothes, it could be seen that his situation should be … quite well actually.
His clothes weren’t new but they were of good fabric and also reasonably well made. It could probably be said that originally, he shouldn’t have been hurting for money. Then again, being haunted by a ghost and not knowing who to turn to could make you poor in just a few weeks. Who knew if he was already used to this new life?
Gongliang Ye continued to look at him, making Zhan Cheng feel a little self-conscious. He took one of the buns himself, and then just buried his head, switching between eating the rice and a bit of the bun interchangeably.
Finally, the witch reached out as well, his bony fingers picking up one of the buns as well, and then taking a small bite. “If I told you about the witches, who knows if you wouldn’t run off before getting the treatment. Are you sure that you are in a position to do that?”
Zhan Cheng glanced up and shook his head. “I won’t run off. This is something that I’ve decided on. I won’t change my mind. Since I’ve come this far, I might as well go ahead. So don’t worry. But in any case, you don’t owe me anything. If you don’t want to speak about it, then I will not pressure you.”
The witch nodded faintly but, in the end, he still spoke up. Who knew what it was? Maybe after staying silent for so long and always being alone, it was actually quite nice to have somebody to talk to, even if it was only to rehash this kind of old story.
“We witches aren’t human. Not entirely at least. Neither are we of the spirit world, at least not completely. We are somewhere in between. Half-human, half-spirit. Hence, we are able to communicate with the other side. It gives us the possibility to help the humans but they do not like seeing us for the most part. I guess I can’t fault them for that. It is true that our … talents could also be used the other way.”
Zhan Cheng nodded, feeling that he at least half understood. “You are different so they don’t like you. They are afraid.”
Gongliang Ye gave a nod. “That about sums it up.” He kept quiet for a moment and then couldn’t help but switch to the topic they would have to deal with today. “Regarding using powers for bad things or good things … the same can be said for spirits.”
Zhan Cheng nodded along even though he had to admit that he didn’t quite understand what the witch was getting at.
Gongliang Ye give him a scrutinizing look and then sighed. “Let me say it like this: Most of the time, what humans really get in trouble with are ghosts. Now, ghosts are just what is left from a human after their death. There is nothing more to it than that. But how the person lived and died will have an influence on what kind of ghost one has to deal with.
“Sometimes, a good person will die early or maybe they leave behind somebody that they are worried about like a loved one that the ghost fears might not be doing too well without them. Those ghosts can’t find peace in death despite living a good life. They want to make sure that somebody is there to protect their family. Thus, they linger.
“Those ghosts are usually not even noticed because they won’t make trouble. As long as one does not trouble their family, they will keep away from others. If one tries to harm the people they care about though, the ghost will get active and protect them, even to the extent of harming the one wanting to harm them. When this happens though, people will just say that it was karma and not think of ghosts.”
Zhan Cheng nodded but furrowed his brows. “I don’t think that the ghost troubling me is that kind. He … sounds angry.”
The witch gave a faint nod at that. “Yes, and that is a type of problematic ghost. It might’ve been a person too attached to life, somebody who just does not want to pass on and clings to the world of the mortals. It could also be that before their death, they were wronged, and that resentment lingers. They want to stay behind not to help but to punish somebody, to avenge their grievances, and gain justice. And then they will go and harm people.”
Zhan Cheng faintly furrowed his brows. “Why me though? The voice that I hear is not that of a person that I know. If it was that I wronged somebody and they were now haunting me in their death, I could understand. But since that isn’t the case, I’m feeling lost. Why did that ghost come to me?”
Gongliang Ye did not answer immediately. He took a long look at the man in front of him as if he was searching for something.
Zhan Cheng raised his brows but didn’t urge him. He didn’t understand anything about these things. If the witch needed more time to find an answer, then he would give him time. So, he just sat there, letting Gongliang Ye look for whatever it was that he was searching for.
Finally, the witch sighed. “The answer to that is something that is difficult to say without knowing more. There can be many reasons: Maybe this ghost has some kind of connection to you that you’re not aware of. It could be that you are related to the ghost in some way. Maybe they were an ancestor that is trying to connect with the younger generation so they can help them take revenge.
“It could also be that this person was harmed by somebody who is related to you and now the ghost wants to vent their grievances on you. In fact, even if there is no direct relationship, just resembling that person or having acquired something of theirs might be a possibility.
“Also, sometimes, even a regular human can be more susceptible to the spirit realm. Then, they are an easy target for this kind of harmful ghost. I cannot tell you what it is in your case. Maybe you have some guesses yourself?”
Zhan Cheng furrowed his brows but he couldn’t think of anything. Anyway, he had thought about it many times before and that voice didn’t resemble anyone that he knew. “If it is somebody that had to do with my family or something in the past, then it should have been so long ago that I really have never heard about it. As for being perceptible to the spirit realm, I don’t think so either. I mean I never noticed anything … strange before. You know what I mean?”
Gongliang Ye chuckled at that. “You probably don’t have a good idea what the spirit realm is really like.” In fact, the differences were sometimes almost imperceptible. Explaining that would take too long. There would also be no benefit in telling him so Gongliang Ye kept quiet.
“Well, no matter what the reason is, the core of the problem is that this ghost has chosen to haunt you and will likely not leave on their own. So there is no way but to banish them back to the place they came from. Now, as you’ve seen with that satchel I gave you there are ways to do that. Contrary to other spirits ghosts are rather easy to get rid of if you know how to do it.”
Zhang Cheng gave a humorless laugh. After half a year, this didn’t seem to be true but considering what he had seen so far, it seemed likely that Gongliang Ye would be able to do it. Maybe it was the fact that he was a witch and had more intimate knowledge of the spirit realm but it seemed that it really wasn’t that difficult for him. “So, what exactly are we going to do? I mean … is there anything that I need to do?” He touched his chest, feeling a little worried. He really didn’t know about these things. If he messed up …
Gongliang Ye shook his head though. “No, not much at least. Just a few things here and there but I will guide you through the process. Don’t worry.”
Zhan Cheng nodded, giving a sigh of relief. “Well, thank you. You’re my last hope.”
The witch nodded and then got up, taking the two bowls and putting them to the side. “I will check the ingredients first and then we can begin in a minute.”
Zhan Cheng nodded and opened the chest he had brought with him, letting Gongliang Ye check everything.