It took a whole week for Zhan Cheng to feel somewhat normal again. At this time, he was finally able to visit some of the other towns in the vicinity to stock up on a few more supplies even though he felt completely drained after each visit.
Looking at everything that he had gathered, Zhan Cheng nodded to himself with satisfaction. This wasn’t bad. There were some dried fruits, two types of grain, even some dried meat. All things that could be stored for a long time but would still add a bit of variety to Gongliang Ye’s meals.
He would have loved to bring him something fresh but that wouldn’t be convenient. It needed to be something the witch could store. Otherwise, he’d be hard-pressed to use it up immediately which would interfere with his life too much. He didn’t want that.
Zhan Cheng packed up a few things that he was sure he would be able to carry even in his current state and then set everything down, going to bed for yet another night. He had trouble falling asleep at first, his thoughts constantly on how his meeting with Gongliang Ye would turn out.
What would the witch say when they saw each other again? Would he … maybe give him a smile? Come to think of it, he didn’t think that he had ever seen him smile even though he had been there twice and had even spent a night at his place and shared three meals with him. Gongliang Ye probably wasn’t the type to smile much.
Zhan Cheng’s thoughts drifted further and further away and finally, he fell asleep after all, the exhaustion after another day of preparations overwhelming him.
The next morning, he got up as soon as he woke up, rushing to freshen up and put on his best clothes before he grabbed the bundle he had packed yesterday. Then, he carried it into the forest, making his way over to the witch’s house again.
At this time, Gongliang Ye had already gotten up and was inside, going about his days as usual. This witch, he probably hadn’t thought of the man that he had helped just two weeks ago even once.
Zhan Cheng stood in front of the small staircase, looking up at the door on top, unsure what to do despite having thought about this moment for a long time last night. Should he knock and then hand the things over to him? But what if Gongliang Ye rejected it? That wouldn’t do. Then maybe he should just put it down where he was and wait for the witch to discover it himself? It seemed to be wrong though. In any case, with how suspicious Gongliang Ye seemed, he might think that somebody was trying to poison him or something.
While Zhan Cheng was still agonizing over this, the witch inside the hut had already realized that somebody was outside. He waited for a moment, thinking that another patient was hesitating over when to come in or not but the person still hadn’t left after several minutes but also didn’t come inside.
He sighed and walked out from behind his counter where he had been preparing some herbs, and opened the door. He wanted to tell the person his opinion but stopped when he saw just who it was. “What are you doing here? You wouldn’t have gotten yourself infested with another ghost, would you?” He looked him over but couldn’t see any kind of sign that there was something unnatural going on with him.
Zhan Cheng straightened up, his ears turning red. “That … No. Just …” He hugged the bundle in his arms a little tighter and then finally just walked up and stuffed it into Gongliang Ye’s arms. “I brought this over for you.” He hastily took a step back, afraid that the witch would hand it back to him and refuse.
In fact, he was of half a mind to turn around and just run away. He probably would’ve done that but it would’ve felt impolite and might imply that he was afraid of him which he definitely wasn’t. In fact, looking at him, he felt …
Zhan Cheng glanced up and then looked away again, his ears reddening further. Over the last few days, he had thought back to how the witch had looked at the time he was banishing the ghost every now and then. He had usually pressed the thought down and tried not to focus on it but it was an image he couldn’t get out of his mind.
If he had told anyone about it, they probably would’ve said that Gongliang Ye had put a spell on him but he was sure that that wasn’t it. He just … he had just looked a little too closely. Sometimes, this kind of thing happened whether the other person was a witch or not.
But that was his own problem to deal with. He knew that it was something that he shouldn’t put on Gongliang Ye’s shoulders to deal with as well. His life here was hard enough as it was.
Gongliang Ye watched him closely, taking in how the man was evading his gaze and his ears had reddened. Well, it was pretty obvious that Zhan Cheng was embarrassed. As for why … he didn’t dare guess. It might just be that the thing he had brought over was the reason for that. At least he hoped that it was.
He looked down and carefully opened the bundle, taking a look at what was inside. He actually couldn’t say that he was surprised. “I believe I told you that I don’t need anything.”
Zhan Cheng lowered his head even further. If a person said no, and you went ahead regardless, how much respect did that show? Probably not much. And still, he had refused to do the respectful thing and just gone ahead.
“I’m sorry. I just … You’ve really done me a big favor. And I … Even if you say that you don’t need it, I want to make up for it at least a little bit. Please accept it. If you don’t want to accept it for yourself, then just do something else with it.” He glanced up and then looked away again, feeling a bit uncomfortable when he looked into the witch’s eyes.
Gongliang Ye’s gaze was a thing of its own. It couldn’t compare to the way any human had ever looked at him. He couldn’t even describe it. But those eyes … they seemed to have seen way too much. There was a hint of disdain for the world in there, but also knowledge much deeper than he could even imagine it. Just from those eyes alone, it was clear that he wasn’t human.
Gongliang Ye didn’t answer immediately. He didn’t like doing people favors. And he did indeed feel just like what he had told Zhan Cheng the other time: That as a witch, it was his duty to help humans if they were haunted by somebody or something from the spirit realm.
That didn’t mean that he necessarily had to forgo some kind of pay. That was the way he wanted to deal with things but if it was a genuine gift out of somebody being grateful, he would be lacking in decorum if he just rudely told them off. Also, he couldn’t deny that it would be nice to have something more to eat. He was able to get quite a few things from the forest but that naturally couldn’t compare to the things that could be gotten in the towns.
He hesitated for a moment longer and then just closed the bag again, and looked at Zhan Cheng. “Well, it’s almost time for breakfast. Why don’t you come in?” With that, he just went inside and left the door open, putting the things down on the table before he started to put them away.
Zhan Cheng stood in front of the door, unable to believe what was happening. Then, his expression lit up and he followed him inside, conscientiously closing the door behind him. “If there’s any other way I can help you … just say so. I’m not … well, not that talented but maybe there’s something simple that I could do for you.” He went over to the table and awkwardly stood a few steps behind Gongliang Ye, hoping that he would have anything to do for him. If it was something difficult, he also wouldn’t mind. At the very least, that would give him an excuse to come back here.
Realizing the kind of thought he had just had, he shook his head at himself and then faced the ground, hoping that it wouldn’t be too obvious. He really needed to work on this.
Gongliang Ye glanced over his shoulder, his eyes narrowing a little. “I think you’ve already shown your gratitude with this. There’s no reason to make more out of it than it is. In any case, dealing with that ghost was something I should do. I said that before and I will repeat it for you as often as you need to hear it. Don’t make more out of it than it is.”
Zhan Cheng nodded but his expression said that he would still continue.
Gongliang Ye wondered if he should say something but in the end, he just finished putting the provisions away and then started to make a simple meal. When he had finished, there was a smell in the room that he hadn’t smelled in a long time. Always eating plain rice … while it wasn’t bad, it couldn’t be called good either. If he could, then he would also prefer having at least some kind of variety every now and then.
Looking at it this way, what this Zhan Cheng had done wasn’t too bad even though it really wouldn’t have been necessary. Feeling better about the gesture, Gongliang Ye waved for him to sit.
Zhan Cheng sat down indeed and ate with his head lowered. He couldn’t help from tensing up every now and then though, taking peeks at Gongliang Ye’s face.
The witch also raised his gaze, finally catching him in the act. “If you want to know, you can just ask.”
Zhan Cheng did not what to say. In fact, there was nothing he wanted to ask. Or maybe there were questions that he had but they really weren’t the polite thing to bring up so he wouldn’t.
Seeing his gaze that was a bit evasive but also a bit curious, Gongliang Ye sighed. “Not everybody is as grateful as you. Even if I tried to help people, it will not always go the way it was intended. If I am unable to make their life change for the better, some will get angry at me even though I wasn’t the one who caused the whole matter.” He sighed faintly and then motioned at the scar that was running from his brow over the bridge of his nose, looking quite deep. “This one is a reminder of an encounter like that. I actually didn’t expect it at that time. Well, we were all young once and didn’t have as many experiences that taught us how to judge some situations. By now, I’m able to prevent things like that from happening.”
Zhan Cheng’s expression was apologetic. “I didn’t … I don’t mind.”
Gongliang Ye gave him a puzzled look, not quite sure why he was saying that. In any case, a scar on a witch’s face, was that really something that anyone had to mind?
Zhan Cheng also wasn’t sure what to say and could only bow his head to continue eating. In any case, to him, no matter what, he still felt that the witch was attractive.
That thought made him pause and then look up again, wondering just what about Gongliang Ye’s face it was that actually was attractive. He clearly didn’t look human. Most likely, a lot of people would really get scared of him. And the scar might indeed add to this. But he hadn’t minded in the beginning and now, he minded even less. At most, he felt sad because Gongliang Ye had had to make that kind of experience even though he had only wanted to help. It was just wrong.
Gongliang Ye once again met his gaze, understanding this man less and less. Stealing a few glances if you were scared was alright. He was used to that from the few times that he actually left his house because there was something that he could only get in the town.
There were more than enough people that were a bit timid and would run away or hurriedly turn around as they saw him approaching. That wasn’t anything new. But those people also wouldn’t take the initiative to come and see him at his house. This Zhan Cheng … he was a strange one.
When Zhan Cheng saw that Gongliang Ye was actually watching him, his ears turned red again. He really felt put on the spot and as if he needed to say something but he still couldn’t think of anything. They had just spoken about his facial scarring. Who knew if he paid attention to his looks? Maybe he wanted some reassurance?
Thinking of that, he finally gave it a try. “I don’t think it changes your looks that much.” He winced and shook his head, trying again. “I still think that you look good.”
Gongliang Ye made a sound deep in his throat in response, wondering just what this man was trying to say. He still looked good … what an odd thing to say to a witch. He didn’t ask though and just continued to look at him, making Zhan Cheng feel even more embarrassed.
He tried to think of anything else he could say but there didn’t seem to be any topic. So far, they had only spoken about the witches, the spirit world, his problems, and food. We would he take a topic from?
Zhan Cheng looked around, trying to find something, and finally noticed the chest in the corner that Gongliang Ye had taken the mask from. “I was wondering … that mask, what is it actually for?”
Gongliang Ye tilted his head, feeling that this man was quite peculiar. That was probably one of the least elegant ways to change the subject that he could imagine and he definitely wasn’t one for polite conversation. “Just like the herbs, it’s an instrument. It is made from the wood of a willow, something that ghosts fear. The design is the same. In anything I do, I try to heighten the chance that things will work out.”
Zhan Cheng nodded faintly. “You’re really committed to this.”
Gongliang Ye gave a faint hum. “I have my reasons.” In any case, that was something that he really wasn’t about to explain to a stranger.
Zhan Cheng also noticed that he had stumbled upon some things that he wasn’t supposed to hear so he didn’t ask any further. Instead, he tried to look for something else that wouldn’t be too bothersome to talk about. “So … So then how did you … I mean you know quite a bit about these things. How did you learn all that? Did the people of the spirit tribes tell you?”
Gongliang Ye continued to look at him and once again just made a sound. Did they tell him? It probably couldn’t be said like that. “To say that they did is not quite right. To say that they didn’t also wouldn’t be the truth.
“The reality of it is that I’ve learned with time. Listening to the people of the tribes, listening to humans, trying to find a way in life and a purpose I guess. With time, I learned more than I ever thought possible. I guess it still hasn’t gotten me far but it’s the only thing that I can do.
“No matter what, witches like me aren’t welcome among humans and whether we are welcome among the spirit race depends a lot on the story behind our existence. Some of us are but others don’t have as much luck.”
“Oh.” Zhan Cheng nodded, feeling like he had gotten the drift. This, as well, was a sore subject. It seemed that there were quite a few of those around. He probably shouldn’t blindly look for things to say.
This time, Gongliang Ye did him the favor of taking over. “After the ghost was banished, did you figure something out? I mean the reason why they came to haunt you of all people?”
Zhan Cheng shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. I mean it’s not like I got any more information about it. There is nothing I can think of that would explain it.”
Gongliang Ye gave a hum and pondered, finally putting down his chopsticks and leaning back. “I can’t tell you much either but I could feel that this ghost had rather strong emotions left. It was mostly anger but there was also some passion hidden below that.
“I would guess that while they were alive, they were in love with a person and they probably treated them rather well. But in the end, their love was betrayed and they were left with nothing and maybe even found death that way. Thus, anger was born and this ghost remained. Does that ring a bell?”
Zhan Cheng still shook his head. He really didn’t know. In fact, he had thought that it might be something like that but he had no idea what that might have to do with him or his family. “I guess I could inquire back in town. I’m just not sure if they would tell me anything after I came here. They aren’t really open-minded.”
Gongliang Ye nodded. “Nothing unusual. In any case, since the ghost left, you don’t have to feel bothered by it. The obsessions of the dead aren’t necessary for the living to resolve. Naturally, if it has to do with yourself, then maybe you will want to know. Sometimes, that can help.” His thin eyes narrowed further, making it seem as if there was something in his own past that this applied to.
Zhan Cheng was curious but he didn’t ask further and just nodded. “I’ll try to ask around for a bit and see where it leads. If I can’t find anything, I wouldn’t be bothered by it but if I can, I guess it can’t hurt either.”
The witch nodded and then got up, clearing the table. “Well, if there is nothing else that you want to know …”
Zhan Cheng leaned back, looking at Gongliang Ye’s back. He knew what he meant. He had taken up quite a bit of his time and now wasted some of his food again. He probably wanted him to leave. But … he was reluctant to go. Still, it also wasn’t right to bother him too much. “I don’t think there’s anything. You probably have other things to do. Then … I’ll leave for now.”
Gongliang Ye nodded and turned to him, giving a faint nod. “Well, I guess I don’t need to show you the door.” Since his house was just one room, there really was no need to do so, and this guy had come by often enough now.
Zhan Cheng gave a faint smile and nodded, finally getting up to leave. He couldn’t help but glance at the witch again before he closed the door on his way out, wondering when they would see each other again. He really hoped that it would be soon.