It took a long time to inform everyone of the official completion of our house.
I didn’t invite everyone for a party since there would be too many people and it wasn’t easy to get together. I just sent photos to various groups instead.
I was looking forward to everyone’s amazement, but most of them just sent a thumbs-up emoji.
Despite this lackluster response, we still got gifts. Black Glasses sent a package of saveloy while Xiao Hua sent a set of matryoshka dolls that had a lot of inner layers to it (1). It was very heavy after it was set up—just like a cannonball—so I took a lot of the inner dolls out and put them in various places around the house. Fatty used the one in his room for storing melon seeds.
“It’s all Russian stuff. Are they both in Russia?” Fatty wondered. But we didn’t get any replies to our WeChat messages, so they were probably doing something big.
We weren’t used to eating saveloy, so we put it in a casserole and sold it to our customers.
Jin Wantang sent a huge stuffed animal that was probably taller than me. It was a koala with a bag big enough for a person to sit in it. I had heard that he recently opened a plush toy shop, but I figured he was just using that as a cover to secretly transport antiques. The gift was especially boring, but Fatty liked it a lot because he could lie on it and take naps.
I wasn’t sure whether other people’s gifts were on the way, but we did have three unexpected guests who came to see the house in person.
Li Cu and his two buddies didn’t bring anything with them, but they did drink two bottles of wine and took away some of our old equipment. They were here to explore the Stagnant Water Dragon King temple. I told them to be careful since the place was very evil, but Yang Hao was a strong guy who had become the most powerful among them. He said that he would be the one handling the risks.
Now that the brats were older, they basically didn’t listen to us anymore. Poker-Face intended to go with them to protect them on the journey, but Li Cu refused.
They weren’t as inexperienced now and were full of curiosity about the unknown. I suddenly realized that they were almost the same age as I was when I first got that silk book from the Warring States Period.
When they left, they said that a bunch of guests would come here to surprise me at the end of the year. Although that was still some time away, they told us to save money carefully because we might have to spend a lot of money at the end of the year.
Fatty looked at their retreating backs and asked, “Is one generation inferior to another? These three aren’t as famous as us.”
I sighed. Li Cu was too similar to me, so it was only a matter of time before he followed in my footsteps. I just didn’t know if there were any opponents like Wang Zanghai in the world that could satisfy him.
That night, when I was in my study sorting out a new county annal about the Zhang family, I saw a cigarette butt Li Cu had left behind.
He had been looking at the things in my study while smoking a cigarette.
The cigarette butt had been thrown into one of Xiao Hua’s matryoshka dolls. As I stood there and simulated smoking, I found that he had been looking at a volume on the bookshelf.
It was a record of the two of us in the desert. I remembered that I had placed a lot of photos inside. I touched it and found that the volume was firmly stuck in place, which meant that he hadn’t pulled it out. He must have just been looking at the spine.
At this time, Poker-Face came in and knocked on the door. It was time for the three of us to head back to the village.
I put the cigarette butt to my mouth and gave it a symbolic puff. It was an action I had been extremely familiar with in the desert but now it felt too unfamiliar.
I threw it in the trash can, went downstairs, and heard Fatty say, “Last one back has to boil the water!” Then he took off running towards the back of the mountain.
Poker-Face and I completely ignored him and slowly followed behind. It was dark now, with only a thin line of the setting sun left on the horizon.
(1) Saveloy is a type of highly seasoned sausage that’s usually bright red. Info here. Matryoshka dolls are a set of wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one inside of another. Also known as Russian dolls. Info here.
Here’s a link to Restart Part III Chapter 0 if you all just want to jump straight into it.