“Who are you?”
A man with his head wrapped in linen yelled at them, frightening the child in front of Mo Li. He hugged the cloth bag tightly and went to a narrow alley next to them without turning his head.
Suddenly, many people appeared on the originally empty streets.
Some wore mourning clothes while some smeared incense ash on their faces, looking very strange.
“Leave, no outsiders are allowed to enter Qinghu Town.”
The townspeople shouted loudly with hostile eyes as if they were going to surround Mo Li and Meng Qi.
Changed to other people, they’d naturally turn around in a panic and run out of town upon seeing this. Although there are no warm houses and shops selling hot food outside the town, it’s better than losing your life.
The townspeople also looked accustomed to intimidating others. When they discovered that the two people had no intention of escaping, they became annoyed, and a few men picked up wooden sticks, bamboo poles, and other things placed on the roadside, then pretended to fiercely rush at them.
“Get out! This is not where you came from!”
Mo Li wore heavy windproof clothes which was common attire for travelers, but Meng Qi next to him looked very eye-catching. In winter, he wore a single brown robe with extremely long sleeves and hem which wasn’t something ordinary people would wear at all.
This made the townspeople hesitate. They whispered to each other, talking about the two men in a heavily accented dialect.
Mo Li could only get a general idea that some of them were talking about Meng Qi’s appearance.
“…born with that style, he must be from a rich family, maybe even from the government.”
When they mentioned the government, these townspeople immediately became angry and one person came up to them, shoving and saying: “There are no official dogs in Qinghu Town, get out!”
As a result, the pusher didn’t push but was pushed back instead.
In the chaos, a tambourine suddenly rang.
A group of people in white clothes ostentatiously came over, led by a handsome man, just that there’s a blue mole on his forehead that couldn’t be covered, destroying his majestic appearance though he tried very hard to pretend.
“It’s Master Xiang!”
“Master Xiang is here!”
The townspeople beamed with joy and quickly scattered to give way. Then they bowed and clasped their hands reverently, muttering some words.
“Holy Lotus Shrine?”
Mo Li had only seen one group that pretended to be in contact with the supernatural. Seeing the group of people led by this Master Xiang, holding gongs and drums and ringing a bell, even grabbing incense ash and scattering it, the full ensemble was here. It’s truly like the congregation of Holy Lotus Shrine that he’d seen in Zhushan County.
“It should be. I haven’t dealt with them before, so I’m not familiar with them.”
Meng Qi said dismissively, looking like a worldly expert that’s completely different from when he was just outside the town.
Sometimes, such posturing was necessary. Even the Holy Lotus Shrine’s Master Xiang looked at Meng Qi suspiciously and didn’t act rashly. Instead, he took the strategy of saluting first before resorting to force. He arched his hand and asked in a loud voice: “Who are you two? What do you want to do in Qinghu Town?”
Mo Li subconsciously turned his head and found that Meng Qi didn’t intend to say anything. Don’t know when, but this guy took a step back and stood behind him as if he was the leader.
Master Xiang looked surprised. He regarded Mo Li as the follower before and directly ignored him, but now he had to look again. It’s a pity that Mo Li is not like Meng Qi as the thick robe on him has a collar that can be used as a hood. With it upright and blocking most of his face, Master Xiang couldn’t see Mo Li’s appearance at all.
“We’re lost and just want to find a place to rest temporarily. We’ll leave the next day.”
Mo Li said, but his eyes fell on the townspeople.
These people looked strong and full of energy without any sickness, but that kid who ran away said that many people in the town were sick.
With the Holy Lotus Shrine swaggering so much, the people here are probably already bewitched by them. Although Mo Li didn’t understand why people would believe Holy Lotus Shrine’s nonsense, Elder Li once said that many people can’t even eat so they’ll naturally follow whoever could keep them alive and such believers are the most troublesome.
Master Xiang of the Holy Lotus Shrine stared at Mo Li for a while before saying with a smile: “Recently, the town is doing something to get rid of evil spirits, so outsiders shouldn’t stay here to avoid being contaminated. Among those entangled with evil spirits, the mild ones get sick, while the severe ones die. I don’t think the two of you want to die here for no reason, so it’s better to leave as soon as possible.”
“I think Qinghu Town looked ominous. Is your ritual to exorcise evil spirits or to summon demons?” Meng Qi sneered.
Master Xiang sharply said: “It’s hard to persuade those who wouldn’t listen. If you insist on staying here, the chaotic graves outside the town will not lack two pits.”
After speaking, he led his people away under the prayers of the townspeople.
When Master Xiang had gone far, the town residents turned their heads and stared at Mo Li and Meng Qi before slowly dispersing.
Mo Li took out a small gourd from his rucksack, poured out two pills, and stuffed one into Meng Qi.
“Just in case.” Mo Li swallowed the pill and then explained, “I suspect that Qinghu Town is infected with something. Although that Master Xiang’s entourage kept spreading incense ash, I still smelled some medicinal herbs.”
Meng Qi rubbed his jaw and said with some surprise: “I think the people in this town are too energetic as if there’s no epidemic.”
“Go to the drug store in town first.” Mo Li made a decision.
Qinghu Town is very large and was about to catch up with the County Town of Zhushan County. The long streets connected with alleys, making the roads complicated.
Dilapidated brick houses are everywhere with some having thick straws on the roof, some having yellow mud cover the walls, and some having weeds cover the gates, making these crowded houses look very desolate.
Mo Li frowned all the way. He felt that Qinghu Town should have been a town with many people and should be very lively.
There are restaurants and tea houses, but their windows and doors are locked, even the paint on the window lattices peeling off.
Mo Li approached a clothes shop with no signboard and saw a thick layer of ash accumulating on the threshold. With the original door missing, you can clearly see the empty inside.
There were faint deep marks of heavy objects being dragged on the ground, and that location should have been the counter where the goods were kept.
Mo Li suddenly wiped the ashes on the wall and saw a dark brown spot.
Meng Qi, who followed him, walked to the wall with great interest and gestured: “The blood splattering in this direction should probably come from a tall man when his head was hit. The person who killed him shouldn’t have used a sword, since even with a blunt sword, blood wouldn’t fly in such a clear arc.”
“…have you seen a lot of these?”
“I remember that on the day the previous dynasty fell, blood was everywhere on the Great Capital’s magnificent Palace, and everyone was running for their lives. The stern soldiers under Lu Zhang killed people whenever they saw them. They swung their blades, leaving traces on the white jade stone wall, a countless number of them.” Meng Qi reminisced while also muttering. Mo Li discovered that he was actually quite normal, not like an ill person.
“Where were you? Also running for your life?”
“Me?” Meng Qi looked in a trance as he murmured, “I seem to be just watching. It feels weird, physician. I watched the fall of a dynasty with my own eyes and saw the yellow robe on General Lu Zhang but no one saw me… the Palace was burning and thick smoke hovered in the air. I’m like that smoke, formless and invisible, with no joy and no sadness…”
Mo Li stared at him closely, a ridiculous thought suddenly appearing in his mind.
Without waiting for him to continue to guess, Meng Qi was shocked, as if he suddenly woke up.
“Physician, did I just say something?” Meng Qi asked suspiciously.
“…nothing. The shops on this street are all empty, so something must have happened in Qinghu Town. There should have been a lot of people living here.”
Mo Li went out of the cloth shop and found it’s the same as the abandoned medicine shop at the end of the street.
“Half the town is empty.”
Going around this deserted street, they could see a building with a high foundation in the distance, like a temple. The wind brought the strong smell of incense, somewhat choking people.
“That’s probably where the Holy Lotus Shrine pretended to exorcise the ghost.”
Although the townspeople were full of malice towards them, if the two masters wanted to spy on the temple, they wouldn’t be seen at all.
They went up the wall and hang around the beams.
There’s no plaque in front of the temple, but the inside was enshrining Ziwei Xingjun whom the Holy Lotus Shrine believes in. The statue was roughly made, and it can be said that Ziwei Xingjun looked like the gods of other temples. They all have fully round faces with two long eyebrows dragging down.
“Why is this god holding a pig in his hand?” Meng Qi asked in confusion.
Mo Li recognized the statue of Ziwei Xingjun, then found it looking down his nose at, not a pig, because pigs don’t have beards around their mouths.
“No, that’s a dragon…”
Meng Qi fell silent. After a while, he said with difficulty: “I have never seen such an ugly dragon.”
The congregation of the Holy Lotus Shrine was busy adding fire to the incense burner in the temple while the townspeople seemed unable to enter and could only bow down in the open space outside the door. They muttered obsessively, but there was no one else in the temple, let alone Master Xiang.
“Go and find the child we met.” Mo Li made a decisive decision. It’s impossible to inquire about the situation from the townspeople and only the people here knew what happened to Qinghu Town.
“How to find?”
“The child’s cloth bag contained herbs, all of which were taken from this temple…maybe even stolen. There’s no medicine store in town, no physicians, and no patients. Why would this kid steal medicine?”
“Herbs can only be used to cure diseases.” Meng Qi snapped his fingers and said with certainty, “Since he ran away when he saw people, he should have stolen the medicine, or maybe concealing his illness and wanted to secretly cure himself. Wouldn’t the Holy Lotus Shrine people know that there are sick people in his family?”
Mo Li shook his head and said: “I don’t know about this, but I know that he didn’t have enough medicine, so he must have a way to steal again. Let’s wait where we met the child before.”
In a narrow alley, a child stretched his head and looked around, before tiptoeing and hiding under the shadow of the eaves.
He had just walked a few steps when a hand suddenly picked him up.
The child was so scared that he was about to yell, but covered his mouth in time, looking at the person in front of him with a pale face.
“Quick reflexes.” Meng Qi raised a brow, looking at the thin child with some surprise, “Yes, it saves me the time of pressuring your mute acupoints.”
The child’s eyes lit up. He looked at Meng Qi, baffled, then asked in a low voice: “You, do you know martial arts? Are you great? Are you like the heroes in stories?”
“Don’t care about any heroes, what you need now is a physician.” Meng Qi grabbed the child’s thin arm and stuffed it toward Mo Li.
Mo Li naturally took the child’s pulse then touched his head.
“Okay, no fever.”
The child twisted uncomfortably, looked at Mo Li, and whispered, “If you’re a physician, can you help treat Uncle Lin?”
“Where is your Uncle Lin?” Mo Li realized that said person might be more ill, otherwise, he wouldn’t let a child steal herbs.
The child pointed in the direction outside the town.
“Why don’t you live in town?”
“…if found, we’ll die.” The child carefully said, “Master Xiang said, if we’re sick with evil spirits, we must bow down sincerely. If we didn’t get better, it’s time to ask Ziwei Xingjun to lower the fire and exorcise evil spirits.”
The author has something to say:
A seasonal epidemic is an epidemic that broke out in a place in a certain period, not the name of the disease. Several diseases can be called seasonal epidemics.
The seasonal flu we’re talking about today was also an epidemic in ancient times because if not treated in time, it’d become pneumonia and they’re basically hopeless.
This disease broke out in one place but not everyone got sick. The elderly and children and those with disabilities will get sick, but young adults rarely get sick.
It’s so weird to be translating this during a pandemic.