Zhan Cheng started to ask around in the town the very same day. He hadn’t told anyone yet that Gongliang Ye had been able to help him with his problem. He didn’t want to put even more attention on the witch. Even though being helped by him should have a positive effect, after what had happened before, he didn’t trust that that would really be the outcome.
If he said too much, maybe people would get even more prejudiced. He wasn’t about to risk that. Thus, he just pretended that he was still troubled by the same affliction, and asking for information in the hope that this would yield some kind of clue that could lead him to a solution that would work this time.
Seeing him this ‘desperate’, the other townspeople actually felt quite sympathetic and were willing to help out. He was directed to some people who might know more and finally found an old man who knew stories that might have to do with this.
Zhan Cheng listened quietly and thanked him before he went back home. The story the old man had told him made sense with what he had experienced and what Gongliang Ye had insinuated. It also seemed like he had gotten into trouble not because there was something wrong with him but because he had just had bad luck.
In any case, he probably didn’t need to worry about the future. Not that that was at the front of his mind. Rather than that, he couldn’t help but think that having found out about this was a great opportunity to go back and tell Gongliang Ye.
He knew it was stupid. In any case, the witch clearly wasn’t interested in him in the same way that he was interested in the witch. But he couldn’t help himself. Since the opportunity was there and he finally had an excuse to go there again, why wouldn’t he try? He didn’t want anything much, just seeing him again would be nice. He didn’t expect to get anything more out of his visit.
Trying to convince himself that this was more than enough for him, Zhan Cheng finally rushed back into the forest the next morning. He reached the door to Gongliang Ye’s house a while after the witch should have gotten up and this time, he didn’t hesitate and just knocked on the door.
Inside, Gongliang Ye looked up, his brows raising faintly. Recently, his small hut sure was busy. “Come on in.”
The witch’s voice was just as flat as always when he called out but it still made Zhan Cheng’s heart thump. He opened the door and stepped in, giving the other man a faint smile. “Good morning.”
Gongliang Ye gave him a long look. He could understand the other time considering that he had helped Zhan Cheng after he had been haunted by the ghost for half a year already. Some gratitude was to be expected of a kind person. This time, however, he really didn’t know what to make of this.
“Good morning. Mind telling me just what brought you back here?” From what he could see, there still wasn’t any problem that had surfaced after the ghost had left him. This man really shouldn’t have anything that needed his assistance.
Zhan Cheng started to feel a little self-conscious when the witch looked at him like this but he still cleared his throat and stepped closer, rubbing his hands on his pants now that they suddenly felt sweaty. “I came to talk to you. You see, I asked around a bit and I might have found out something about the ghost.”
Gongliang Ye still just looked at him as if he was searching for something. After a while, he straightened up from where he had been crouching to tidy up his hut. “Is that so. Well, come on in then.” He motioned at the table and then went to take a seat opposite him. “What did you find out?”
“It wasn’t about me. It was about that house. One of the old men in the town could still remember that when he was young, a couple lived there. The man was quite wealthy while the woman came from a poor background. Or maybe it would be better to say that originally, her family had been well off as well but they fell on hard times. Her chances at a good life were destroyed and it was only thanks to him and his offer to marry her that she was able to do better again. He also helped out her family.
“The man believed that their feelings were mutual but actually, that wasn’t the case. A few years into their marriage, he actually had to find out that she cheated on him with a man that she had apparently been in love with for the longest time.
“When he found out, he grew angry. In fact, the man she had committed adultery with was also somebody that he knew and that he had considered a close friend. So this betrayal felt even worse to him.
“In his anger, he wanted to kill the man who had dared to betray him like this, but his wife tried to hold him back and killed him in the process. The old man didn’t know whether it had been an accident as she claimed or her and her lover trying to get out of the situation.
“But anyway, just after that man had found out that the two of them had betrayed him like this, they actually killed him as well. I guess it doesn’t matter much whether they had planned to do so. Naturally, he would be enraged. It also took quite some time before everything finally came out since the adulterous couple had tried to keep things a secret. It was a big scandal.”
Gongliang Ye nodded faintly, feeling that this matter made sense considering what he had gleaned from the ghost. “Well, if you are unrelated to both that man or the woman, you really shouldn’t worry.”
Zhan Cheng nodded. “That shouldn’t be the case. From what I found out, the other man took his life later on. Meanwhile, the woman was shunned and had to leave the city. The house was sold and then ended up with my family years later. That is how I was involved in all of this. I merely moved into the wrong house.”
Gongliang Ye nodded. “Well, then you know now that you don’t have to be afraid. The ghost has already been vanquished and can’t come back. It is very unlikely that there will be a second one around when there was one like this already. You can live peacefully from now on.” He inclined his head toward him, expecting Zhan Cheng to get up and leave now that he had his answers.
Needless to say, that wouldn’t happen though.
Zhan Cheng nodded as well, indicating that he understood, but he still didn’t want to leave. In any case, they had merely talked for a few minutes. That seemed to be quite little. If he could, he naturally wanted to get more time. He didn’t need much. Just … just a few more minutes.
Unfortunately, he also didn’t quite know what to say. He kept quiet for a moment, searching for something.
Gongliang Ye watched him and realized that something had to be up with this man. He wasn’t quite sure what it was and didn’t know what direction to think in but this clearly wasn’t normal. Still, right now, he didn’t feel like he needed to do anything about that. Thus, he just waited for him to speak up again.
Zhan Cheng’s ears reddened under this gaze and he cleared his throat. “I was wondering … well, I mean the ghost has been banished but is there anything else that I should do? I mean he had a pretty violent death and the story behind it is also rather harsh. He didn’t really do anything wrong.”
Gongliang Ye raised a hand and cupped his cheek, tilting his head while he looked at the man in front of him. “Didn’t he? That woman had fallen on hard times, the survival of her family relying on her. You can say that he helped her but, actually, didn’t he just buy himself a wife? Can you expect her feelings to be true? She didn’t really have a choice.”
Zhan Cheng looked at him like a deer that had been caught by a hunter, unsure which direction to flee in. “But … shouldn’t she have been grateful?”
Gongliang Ye took a deep breath and then sighed. “Grateful? Well, that is certainly one way to look at it.”
Zhan Cheng couldn’t help but feel confused. “Do you not think she should be? He made a better life possible for her and he saved her family. Should that count for nothing? I couldn’t imagine too many things I’d be more grateful for than somebody saving my family from ruin short of a life-saving debt at least.”
Gongliang Ye’s eyelids lowered and for a moment, the hut fell quiet, only the sound of the wind going through the branches of the trees outside audible. After a moment, the witch looked back up, his gaze still veiled. “Do you want to know how I was conceived?”
“Ah?” Zhan Cheng was even more confused now. He couldn’t understand how this had anything to do with that but he still nodded in the end. Finding out more about the person he liked … why would he say no to that?”
Gongliang Ye nodded and lowered his hand again, leaning back in his chair while he stared at Zhan Cheng. Or, well, it looked as if he was staring at him. His gaze was somewhat empty though as if he was looking straight through him.
Finally, after another minute of silence had passed, he started to recount. “My father was of the spirit tribe. He was of high position, wealthy, and a handsome man as well if I might say so. You might think that women would have lined up if he asked for a spouse.”
“But they didn’t?” Zhan Cheng wasn’t quite sure what to make of that. He didn’t know which of his parents Gongliang Ye took after but if he looked anything like his father, then he would be surprised if there hadn’t been suitors.
Gongliang Ye chuckled darkly. “Oh, there were a few. But not … the one he wanted.” There was no smile on his lips when he said that and his gaze seemed to darken further. “The woman he fell in love with was human. She lived not too far from where his people lived just … on the other side. As such, he saw her quite a few times.
“She must have been lovely to have him take an interest despite being surrounded by the beauties of the spirit people. Or maybe it was the temptation of the forbidden of that which he could not have among his own people. In any case, he approached her and he asked her if she could imagine spending her life with him.”
Zhan Cheng shifted on his chair uncomfortably. Usually, he would have thought she should have been ecstatic but with how Gongliang Ye had started this story and how he had suddenly brought it up, he didn’t think there was anything like that. And that, in turn, made him wonder. Yes, just how had a child still been conceived?
He gulped when he thought of that, fearing for the worst. But he had told him that he wanted to know and he didn’t dare take the words back for fear of offending him. “I guess she said no?”
“She indeed said no. The thought of being with a man of the spirit race was scary to her at the very least, maybe even revolting. I don’t know. Anyway, do you want to know what my father did?”
Zhan Cheng shifted around even more and his gaze darted everywhere, unable to look the witch in the eye.
Unfortunately, the other man didn’t seem to have any intention of enlightening him. He just kept quiet, staring at him and waiting for an answer.
Zhen Cheng took a shallow breath and then slowly exhaled before he forced himself to look back. “He … he raped her?” His voice sounded pressed and he really wished now that he hadn’t accepted to be told. Not that he understood why Gongliang Ye had brought it up in the first place. This situation and that … weren’t they completely different? Or had her situation maybe devolved into something similar and he had taken advantage of that?
Just when his thoughts traveled there, Gongliang Ye shook his head. “He never intended to do anything to her. Even though he could have given her a better life on the other side, one where she could have lived much longer, maybe even forever, in a house where she would be well-off and would never have to worry about the roof over her head, the food on her table, or the fate of her future children for a moment, he didn’t make use of that. He pulled back and left her alone.”
Zhan Cheng’s gaze finally came to rest upon the witch again. “Then why …?” Why bring it up in the first place?
“Well, he tried not to think of her again but one day, she came to him. Apparently, she had changed her mind. She said she had been afraid at first but after thinking about it and also seeing that he was willing to let her go if she did not want, then she did not need to fear him and was willing to become his wife instead.”
“That’s a bit different from that man’s story, isn’t it?”
Gongliang Ye ignored the question and just went on to tell his story. “My father was ecstatic. He had the wedding prepared fast but in full and soon married her. Their life seemed to be absolute bliss until the time she had gotten pregnant and was about to give birth.”
Zhan Cheng froze, not sure what to expect this time around. Could it be that she hadn’t known the children of a human and somebody of the spirit tribes would be witches? Was that why he was telling him this? But it made no sense …
Gongliang Ye looked at him with half-lidded eyes, clearly aware that Zhan Cheng had no idea where this was going. “You know, childbirth is an arduous task and not everyone is equipped to handle it. On that day, halfway through, she lost consciousness. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that she regained consciousness while the one who had taken over her body lost it. Because yes, not only ghosts are able to possess somebody. In fact, some of the spirit tribes are a lot better at it and one of them had taken advantage of that fact in the most detestable way possible.”