59 The Straw Man

    "Hey! Who are you and what are you doing here?" A man's voice screamed.

    The shout somewhat startled Gan Tian Chi and he retracted his hand from that spot on his neck. He looked towards the source of the shout.

    The voice belonged to a man in his fifties. Gan Tian Chi slightly tilted his neck as he looked at that man. This old man reminded him of that farmer just outside the imperial city who refused to believe him, calling him a swindler and charlatan.

    His gaze made the man feel all sorts of discomfort. They resembled that of a corpse that refused to shut its eye even in death, seemingly with endless vengeance and regret. It brought chills down upon one's spine.

    Just when he was about to abandon his trail of questioning, Gan Tian Chi suddenly spoke: "How much is the dried grass?"

    Startled, the man realized that he was hulling bundles of dried up hay to send to the barracks for their horses. He scratched his head and wondered why he had suddenly felt the urge to question this plain looking fellow.

    "You a traveler boy?" The man looked at this seemingly young scholar who was dressed poorly. He looked like a man who kept failing the government exams, yet refused to give up, and continued to go to the capital every three years to take a part of the exam.

    Would there be a government exam soon? He scarcely remembered.

    Gan Tian Chi helplessly nodded. This had happened many times before, and he was already used to it. It was no use getting angry at this point.

    Looking at Gan Tian Chi's appearance, he seemingly made some calculations before he raised three fingers and said "Three coppers."

    Gan Tian Chi looked at him and pulled out three copper coins and handed them to the man before he dragged a bundle of dried grass with him. Yup, he had definitely paid above the market price for this bundle of straw, that he could have gathered himself. He looked towards the man who went back to his loading of the straw bundles on the wagon and doubted whether all those bundles combined could even fetch a bronze coin.

    In truth, he did not really feel that cheated. This was, without a doubt high-quality straw that he would not be able to get if he was to gather it by himself. Plus, he just did not feel like doing much these past few days.

    He slowly left the small village, making his way to an abandoned hunter's shed. Hunting, in the Eastern Jin Kingdom, was a seasonal activity carried out at the end of fall, now that the time has passed, they would not return for an entire year, and this place would be his for the time being.

    The hunter's shed was filled with all the equipment and weapons one would be needed when one went on hunting trips, there was even some dried meat to be eaten and some rations when people would stay here for long periods of time.

    Gan Tian Chi, put a piece into his mouth and chewed before he spat it out in disgust. It somehow had the consistency of leather and was as salty as putting actual salt in his mouth to chew on.

    Looking at the sky, he determined that it would not rain for about two days. He nodded and laid out the straw on the frozen dried ground.

    Getting some string, he began to take some straw, bending it, he wrapped some string around it, making it as sturdy as a house. He worked slowly and with utmost meticulousness. As though he had all the time in the world in his hands.

    Soon, the sky grew into darkness, the stars were covered in clouds so that not a single hint of light shone through. The only source of light was from the sliver of the moon that shone through the thick blanket of mangled clouds.

    Far away, Gan Tian Chi spotted gray smoke rising from the village he had visited earlier in the day. He could smell the dishes that the villagers were cooking up this night. It would be a gathering of a large family around a table, eating the dishes that were freshly cooked up.

    Such a comfortable and simple lifestyle was what some yearned for, yet could not be a part of.

    Gan Tian Chi shook such thoughts from his mind.

    Oh dear, what was he thinking? Just because he found someone that was like him did not mean she would consent.

    He hurriedly shook all thoughts from his mind and continued to grab some straw.

    By now, the straw had been fortified with an unknown number of twists and knots, that it resembled that of a grown man. About 1.9 meters, and with mobility where it's jointed were located, it even had five fingers made of straw. Yet it required the help of a stake of wood to keep it standing like a human being.

    On its face where the features were supposed to be, in place of that, there was nothing but the perfectly lined straw that was interwoven, almost like a grass mat.

    Gan Tian Chi fetched a set of black stones from his pocket and carefully placed them in the place of the eyes on the blank straw canvas.

    They fitted in just right.

    The light from the clouds shone upon the glistening black stones as if they were a pair of pitch-black pupils that had somehow come alive.

    "Perfect." He muttered to himself.

    This made for a horrifying contrast as aside from the all black stone eyes, there was nothing upon that empty face that had been so meticulously interwoven. There were no lips, no ears, nothing.

    It looked like a thing that was so close, almost at the brink of being considered alive, yet it was not at the same time.
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