SoN (3): The Witch’s Dance (3)

The witch faintly raised his brows when he saw that there were more than the ingredients he had actually written down. He raised his gaze to Zhan Cheng, silently asking for an explanation.

Zhan Cheng’s ears reddened when he was looked at like that. “That … Well, as I said, they didn’t really seem to be that forthcoming anymore when they realized that the list was written by you. So I had trouble getting some of the ingredients at first.

“I figured I could only go to another town close by but I was worried it might be more of the same so I rewrote the list in case they could recognize your handwriting as well. It worked and, well, I figured that there was a chance the ingredients I already had weren’t any good after all. Who knows if they might have given me something of lower quality since they knew who it was for? I wouldn’t be able to tell myself so I thought it might be better to get another whole set of everything.”

Gongliang Ye made a sound deep in his throat, not bothering to say what he believed. In any case, he wouldn’t put it past them to actually try something like this and then say that his treatment hadn’t worked.

Little did they know that even without those herbs, he might be able to banish a small ghost. It was just that it was not his style to leave these things up to chance. Since the probability of success was higher if he used them, he would naturally try to get his hands on them. He owed that to the person who had come to him for help.

Gongliang Ye took out the herbs and then chose the best ones among the batch, laying them out on the table quietly. Then he got up and went to get the herbs that he himself had gathered the day before, sorting them into what he already had. When he finished, he looked up at Zhan Cheng, his bony fingers rubbing the top of the table.

“There are a few things that ghosts loathe. That will make it easier to have them reveal themselves and then banish them. At the same time, the place easiest for a ghost to hide is inside a person. I guess that is what the ghost is currently doing: using you as a host that they gain strength from.”

Zhen Cheng froze at that and couldn’t help but reach up to touch his chest, rubbing it uncomfortably. There was a ghost inside his body? He had thought he was haunted but not to this degree.

Gongliang Ye ignored the movement and just went on with his explanation. “After the ghost is driven out, they might try to return inside. In this case, as we are rather far outside, you’re the only possible host they can attach themselves to. We will have to take some protective measures for you to not end up in a worse state than right now.”

Zhan Cheng lowered his hand and nodded, his expression taut. It had been bad enough for the last half a year. He definitely didn’t want it to get worse. “Just tell me what to do.”

Gongliang Ye inclined his head and then got up again. “Well, first of all, we have to prepare a bath.” He took another long look at Zhan Cheng, sizing up his arms.

Zhan Cheng tensed and slowly got up, finally clearing his throat. “Do you want me to do something?”

Gongliang Ye’s gaze was thoughtful. “You could go and draw some water for me.” With that, he pointed at a bucket that stood in the corner of the room as well as a large tub on an elevated platform. “I need enough water to fill the tub.”

Zhan Cheng looked at the tub and realized that it was definitely big enough for a tall man to fit in without it feeling cramped. Going with one bucket would require quite a number of times to go back and forth. If it had been anybody else, he would’ve asked if there was a second bucket to draw more water at a time but looking at the house, he swallowed the question down as soon as he thought of it and nodded. “Of course.” He went to grab the bucket and then motioned outside. “Get the water from …”

“The old well behind the house.”

Zhan Cheng nodded again and then went outside to start. He hurried up, not wanting to waste any time. Over this last week, he had been terrified of the possibility the satchel should suddenly lose its power over the ghost.

It hadn’t happened but it could be that it had weakened a little. He wasn’t sure. But he also didn’t dare to ask the witch. In any case, he wanted this to be over once and for all. Not just for him but also for everyone else. After all, if he had understood the witch right, then it might very well be that if the ghost was made to leave him, it would try to possess somebody else.

Come to think of it … When he walked in, he looked over to the witch who was currently kneeling on the ground, stashing some firewood beneath the platform with the tub.

Zhan Cheng poured the bucket of water into the tub and then looked at him. “Say, if you get the ghost to leave my body, it wouldn’t be dangerous for you, would it?”

Gongliang Ye looked up and there was the faintest of smiles on his thin lips. “Me? No, you don’t have to worry about that. As a witch, I’m immune to that kind of thing. Ghosts can only possess humans, never another spirit or something close to that.”

Zhan Cheng gave a relieved nod and then continued to go and draw water. He really needed to make more than a dozen trips before he had even filled the tub halfway. By the time he finally finished, the witch had not only lit the fire beneath the tub, making the water slowly warm up, but also started to process the ingredients, making a faint scent linger in the air that made Zhan Cheng’s nose tingle.

Zhan Cheng stood next to the tub, the bucket still in hand, not sure what to do next. He turned to the witch but was afraid to disturb him. In the end, he still cleared his throat. “I’m not quite sure if it’s enough.”

Gongliang Ye raised his gaze from the ingredients on the table and then stood up halfway, craning his neck to take a look inside. “Yes, that should be enough. You can close the door then end take off your clothes.”

Zhan Cheng’s eyes widened and he stared at the witch unbelieving.

Gongliang Ye didn’t seem to notice though. He just sat down again and continued to grind the berries that he had gathered into a thick paste.

Not really sure what else to do, Zhan Cheng just put the bucket down in the corner he had gotten it from, and then went to close the door first. He stood there awkwardly and glanced at the witch again. Well, if he said that he was supposed to take them off then …

Feeling a bit strange, he walked back to the table and reached for his belt. Then, he glanced at Gongliang Ye. He was just a few steps away from him. Taking off his clothes seemed a little … weird. Then again, the witch wasn’t paying him the slightest bit of attention.

He gulped and then just took off the belt, hanging it over the backrest of the chair. The witch was still not looking at him or saying anything so he figured that it was probably alright and pulled the outer robe off his shoulders. He hung it over the backrest as well, and then let the inner robe follow, before reaching for his pants.

At this point, Gongliang Ye actually glanced up. “You can keep that on.” He stared at the man in front of him, his eyelids twitching slightly. Even if he hadn’t said anything, it wasn’t like he was blind. And his house was only that big. In one room, how much could escape his eyes? In any case, having a man frequently look at you while he took off his clothes was bothersome.

He didn’t have any further thoughts about it. In any case, he wasn’t conceited. He knew that he was not a good-looking man. Never mind that there were some faint differences between him and a human, he was also too thin from the harsh life out here and the scars on his face certainly didn’t add to his beauty. If a man wasn’t starving for attention, he didn’t think that he would waste a second thought on him. So this guy was just incredibly awkward.

He didn’t bother to think about it too much and just motioned for him to come closer.

Zhan Cheng still felt just as awkward as he had when disrobing but still did as the witch told him and took a step toward him.

Gongliang Ye dipped his fingers into the paste he had just finished and then reached up to draw some signs on Zhan Cheng’s face. “This is to protect against the ghost drilling back inside after they are forced out.

“Speaking of which, this builds a kind of barrier. When I force the ghost out and it passes that barrier, it will hurt. Please bear with the pain. I can’t change it. At that moment, I will not have the time to spare to do this so I can only do it in preparation. Everything else would leave you more vulnerable.”

Zhan Cheng gave a hum. He felt that he shouldn’t have a problem. In any case, he didn’t think that he was a man who couldn’t take some pain.

Gongliang Ye nodded when he agreed and then took back his hands as soon as he had finished drawing the spell. “Very well, you can get in the tub then.”

Zhan Cheng looked at him in confusion and then turned to glance at the tub. He was … supposed to get in there?

Gongliang Ye gave him an exasperated look. “What? You thought I was having you fill my tub just so I can go and relax after we’re finished? Of course, it’s for you to get in! Now, don’t waste any more time. I thought you wanted this ghost expelled.”

Zhan Cheng lowered his head in shame and then trudged over, stepping inside. Right now, he was quite happy that the tub was this big. It really helped with hiding. Yes, what had he been thinking? In any case, it did make sense.

It was just that … he was painfully aware of how small this house was. So he didn’t think that the witch was able to hide a second tub somewhere and that made him think of how this was very likely the witch’s very own, private tub. And that … well, he had some kind of thoughts about that.

Gongliang Ye didn’t care about his visitor’s tangled emotions. He picked up some of the herbs and threw them into the water after him before squeezing another kind of berries that he had cut before, making the juice spill out and over his fingers.

He rubbed them together, spreading it everywhere before he knelt down in front of a chest. He put his hands together in front of him before he kowtowed and started a low chant.

Zhan Cheng peered over to the rim of the bathtub, staring at his back. He really didn’t know what was going on but he started to feel a little restless when he heard that chant. Or rather than him feeling restless, it could probably be said that it should be the ghost inside him that did not like this. Well, this was a good sign.

Zhan Cheng kept quiet and just continued to watch the witch as he chanted in front of that chest. Finally, the chant seemed to get lower until it sounded as if he was only humming. Then, he reached up, opening the chest in front of him.

What lay inside was a mask. It was the size of a human face, with features engraved on top that looked rather ferocious. Even from inside the tub, Zhan Cheng was able to see a piercing pair of eyes and a row of sharp teeth, as well as what seemed to be a pair of horns on top of the head. The wood seemed to have been lacquered but other than that, no color had been used. He wasn’t sure what this meant but he trusted Gongliang Ye. Certainly, he knew what he was doing.

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