Home Post 3098-chapter-24


Chapter 24

Lambskin, calfskin, pigskin… many cleanly processed skins were spread out on the rack. Tanyin touched each one, picking out a piece that was both elastic and slightly stiff. She carefully cut a piece with scissors, then compared it against the life-sized mechanical man frame in the corner, nodding with satisfaction.

She was working on a highly challenging mechanical man. In the past, she had made many wooden figures that could sing, dance, fight, and do chores, but this one was more complex than all of them combined. It was another test of her craftsmanship.

The table was cluttered with numerous materials she had never used before—no longer the cold wood and bronze, but cleaned intestines and other oddly terrifying items, along with the treated skins.

Tanyin focused on cutting the skins into various sizes and roughly stitching the pieces together with large needles. She then switched to a small needle, using flesh-colored thread to cover the stitches. With a few turns and folds, an ear took shape.

The air gradually filled with an unbearable fishy smell, replacing the previously balanced fragrance. Tanyin glanced back to see that the incense in the burner had burned out. She usually worked with wood and bronze and wasn’t used to these skins and intestines. When she first got them, the strange smell gave her a headache, so she had to ask Yuan Zhong for some incense to cover the odor.

Tanyin covered the mechanical man frame in the corner with a large black cloth. She wanted to keep it a secret from Yuan Zhong until it was finished. She wondered what his reaction would be when the mechanical man stood in front of him. Would his eyes pop out? Maybe his jaw would drop too.

She couldn’t help but chuckle at the thought. Growing up and even after becoming a goddess, she had always been silent and serious, rarely having such playful thoughts. But after being with Yuan Zhong for a long time, she felt that she was being led astray, and she couldn’t help but think of some interesting ideas.

The old saying that those who are close to vermilion will be red and those who are close to ink will be black does make some sense.

After washing her hands, Tanyin went to knock on Yuan Zhong’s door. His small building had three floors. She had borrowed a room on the second floor for her work, and his bedroom was on the third floor.

She knocked for a long time but got no answer. Curious, she gently pushed the door but couldn’t open it—it was sealed with a spell barrier, which was unusual. She hadn’t seen him for several days, which is also unusual. What was he up to?

She decided to get some fresh air. Outside, it was in the middle of the tenth lunar month; the sky was clear and the weather was crisp. The distant mountains had turned from lush green to shades of gold and deep yellow, with large patches of fiery red, likely maple trees.

A cool autumn breeze brought a rich fragrance. The aroma in Xie Xiang Forest became more robust in the autumn. The odd smell in the room had given Tanyin a headache, so she took a deep breath, enjoying the fresh air. She then saw Yuan Zhong approaching with a large bundle of freshly cut branches. Seeing her daydreaming at the door, he smiled and said, “What? You don’t want to do your secret activities anymore?”

Tanyin, thinking of how the mechanical man would surprise him, couldn’t hide her joy and deliberately avoided mentioning it.

“I’m out of incense. Can you make more?”

Yuan Zhong brought the freshly cut branches to her.

“Little girl, you came at the right time. I just picked the incense wood.”

He gently led her back into the building. It was similar in structure to the Hexagonal Hall, with one underground floor and two above ground. The basement was his usual workshop, as messy as the room where Tanyin worked on her mechanical man. In the corner were several flat, round bamboo baskets containing dried herbs like spikenard and frankincense. The floor was scattered with various scissors, knives, and stone mortars for grinding incense. The bluestone table was even more cluttered with half-finished incense materials, filling the room with mixed aromas.

Yuan Zhong lit a torch and carefully roasted a peeled branch over it. Soon, a fine layer of resin oozed out, releasing a strong fragrance.

Tanyin sat opposite him, watching him make incense. This wasn’t the first time. They were both used to this: she made her trinkets while he silently watched; he made incense while she silently watched. No words were needed.

“How can you make a wooden figure speak?” Yuan Zhong asked suddenly while mixing the incense with honey.

Without thinking, Tanyin replied, “Fix a membrane in the throat, and air passing through will create sound.”

After answering, she paused and asked, “Do you want to make a mechanical man too?”

Yuan Zhong pretended to be stern. “Why can you make one, but I can’t?”

Tanyin quickly shook her head. “No, I didn’t mean that…”

Yuan Zhong placed the finished incense cake in a semi-old box, closing and opening it again. The incense cake seemed aged and ready.

“Here you go.” He tossed the cake to her with a smile.

“Tell me what you’re making, and I’ll tell you why I asked.”

Tanyin shook her head vigorously, still wanting to surprise him.

Yuan Zhong flicked her forehead playfully.

“Then I won’t tell you. I’ll surprise you instead.”

What was he secretly working on? Her curiosity was fully aroused. Was he really making a mechanical man? But he knew nothing about it. She wanted to break through the spell on his bedroom door and find out.

No, that wouldn’t be right. Resisting the urge, Tanyin returned to her room and continued her work, driven by a mix of determination and curiosity.

The mechanical man took more time and effort than she had anticipated. When the first snow fell in their immortal cave, she finally completed the last step.

She looked up at the mechanical man, which was as tall and well-built as a real person. She felt the same sense of accomplishment as before, but it was more than that. Every detail, from the carefully carved contours to the individually glued hair strands, was her work. Now that it was finished, she felt an indescribable emotion.

Its eyes were made of the finest black gemstones; its skin was smooth and polished; and its hair was real and meticulously styled. Dressed in the white robe she had prepared, it stood there, its eyes gleaming like those of a living person, looking as if it were smiling at her.

Tanyin stared at it for a long time, lost in thought.

Why did she make it in his likeness? She couldn’t explain it herself. It was just like when she instinctively shielded Yuan Zhong behind her. Making this mechanical man was also a completely subconscious act. She never even considered making it in anyone else’s likeness. Why? She couldn’t say. Despite living so long, she still couldn’t understand people’s hearts as well as she understood craftsmanship. She couldn’t even understand her own heart.

After an unknown amount of time, she suddenly let out a silent sigh. She took a bronze rod, rolled up the mechanical man’s sleeve, and found a small hole at its elbow. She inserted the rod and turned it ten times. The mechanical man shuddered and made a distinctive clicking sound as it moved aimlessly around the room like a headless fly. Then it stopped, turned to face Tanyin, and its eyes shone with a lifelike glimmer, making it impossible to distinguish it from a real person.

“Greetings,” it said, clasping its hands together and bowing to Tanyin.

Tanyin smiled.

“Come, let’s go and give him a surprise.”

It was a quarter past the hour of Chen. At this time, Yuan Zhong was usually gathering incense materials in the Xie Xiang Forest. Tanyin quietly led the mechanical man outside, walking slowly along the snowy lakeshore. The snow had been falling all night and showed no signs of stopping, but it wasn’t deep. A wooden figure with a broom was diligently sweeping the snow around the lake, likely set up by Yuan Zhong earlier. He had long since learned how to operate these wooden figures.

(T/N: 07:00–09:00 am)

The Xie Xiang Forest was blanketed in snow. Yuan Zhong, without an umbrella, was bending down to clear the snow and find the mature vetiver that hadn’t yet been harvested. Hearing the sound of footsteps in the snow behind him, he turned around with a smile and said, “What made you leave your workshop today…”

(T/N: Chrysopogon zizanioides, commonly known as vetiver and khus, is a perennial bunchgrass of the family Poaceae. Vetiver is most closely related to Sorghum while sharing many morphological characteristics with other fragrant grasses, such as lemongrass, citronella, and palmarosa.)

He trailed off, stunned. Standing behind him was not Tanyin but a man in white, holding a purple bamboo paper umbrella in his hand. The umbrella was tilted low, hiding his face, with only the black hair draping over his chest visible.

“The silver world of the three thousand realms, twelve towers made of jade. Such rare snowfall today, would you care to join me for a drink?” The voice was deep yet clear, strangely familiar.

Yuan Zhong stared, speechless, recognizing the man’s height and build but unable to see his face under the umbrella. The white robe fluttered gracefully in the wind and snow.

“Brother, if you do not speak, I must have been presumptuous.”

The man in white laughed.

“I shall offer a song and dance to earn a smile.”

With that, he released the umbrella, which was blown away by the wind and snow. The face beneath was pale, with slightly upturned eyes that seemed cold but had a faint smile. As soon as Yuan Zhong saw the face, he was thunderstruck, pointing at him, speechless.

The man in white clasped his hands together, then began to sing and dance, his movements powerful and his voice resonant. He sang the song that Yuan Zhong had heard countless times, “Jian Xi”:

“Jian Xi, Jian Xi, dance the great dance. At midday, in the forefront.”

The hem of his long robe swept the snow, making it swirl. The heavier the snow fell, the more his white robe blended in, making it hard to see clearly.

After the song and dance, the man in white bowed and said, “Pardon my poor performance.”

Yuan Zhong was dumbfounded. Suddenly, he realized something and shouted, “Ji Tan Yin! You Damn Girl! Come out!”

He called twice, but no one answered. Yuan Zhong, with sharp eyes, saw a figure hiding behind a tree in the distance, looking foolishly sneaky. He strode over, and Tanyin, seeing his angry expression rather than the joy she expected, was puzzled, staring at him as he approached. Then he reached out and flicked her forehead hard.

“Is this what you’ve been working on day and night for three months?”

Yuan Zhong’s expression was strange as he pointed to the lifelike “Yuan Zhong” in the forest. It took him a while to find words.

Tanyin nodded, rubbing her forehead. Seeing his odd expression, she murmured, “Don’t you like it?”

She intended to surprise him, but though he was surprised, he didn’t seem pleased.

Yuan Zhong stared at her for a long time, so long that a thin layer of snow accumulated on her shoulders. Finally, he blinked, a cloud of mist escaping his lips.

“I… I really didn’t expect this…” He smiled bitterly, but it quickly turned into a genuine smile. His beautiful eyes were filled with uncontainable joy.

So stupid, it looked so stupid, but he couldn’t help laughing.

“Do you like it?” Tanyin wasn’t a fool; she could see his smile spreading, and she couldn’t help but smile too.

Yuan Zhong touched his nose, looked back at “Yuan Zhong,” then down at her. A faint blush appeared on his pale face.

“I like it.”

His voice started soft but then grew louder, echoing through the Xie Xiang Forest.

“I like it.”


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