“A weird person?” Ruan Zhan frowned. “He makes you nervous?”
“I don’t know. I just felt uncomfortable hearing about him.” Xiao Xia was unsettled for some reason. “You know a woman’s sixth sense is sharper. I’m afraid he might be one of those Daoists, monks and yin-yang masters Zhang Xue’s dad invited. You’ll be exposed if that’s the case. We must be more careful.”
“You think he’s here to capture me.”
“Isn’t it obvious? Apart from the police, only Zhang Xue’s dad is putting in huge amounts of effort to track down the evil practitioner. I don’t want you to get discovered. I’ve heard that Zhang Xue’s dad is eager for vengeance and has placed a kill order. Don’t think you will get a fair trial if you’re caught. I also won’t get the chance to defend you in court. You’d definitely be done for.”
“And you say Ni Yang is the one who’s watched too many Hong Kong and Taiwanese police dramas.” Ruan Zhan couldn’t help but laugh. He felt some strange expectation. “Are you afraid something might happen to me?”
“Of course. I wouldn’t have a free priest to use anymore, right?”
“Only looking out for your own interests!”
Xiao Xia laughed. “I’m just kidding, don’t take it seriously. I do have many female friends, but you and Wan Li are my only male friends. If something happens to you, I’d have lost fifty percent for no reason. I can’t accept such a high loss percentage. It seems terrible just thinking about it. Therefore, we definitely have to be careful. Haven’t you heard the sayings? Zhuge was cautious his entire life, and a carefully steered boat can sail ten thousand years. It’s completely correct to be a bit more careful. Unless you think you’re smarter than Zhuge Kongming.”1
“Fine, I’ve never slipped up before anyway. Just work by yourself in the future. That way you won’t have to worry about my matters.”
“You wish. You already said you would help with this matter so you have to see it through to the end.” Xiao Xia knew he wasn’t being serious but still earnestly reminded him. “I’m worrying about your safety but you want me to go face a vicious evil spirit by myself. Where’s your sense of camaraderie?”
“Then what do you think we should do?”
“Of course there’s a way. Think about it. I’m the school’s legal representative at the moment. No one will find it suspicious if I’m moving about in the school. Then, I’ll say this case is too scary and I need my boyfriend to accompany me. Who could say anything about it?”
“What a great honor.”
“It’s all just for the sake of this job.” Xiao Xia said extremely earnestly. “We just have to pretend until this matter is over.”
She glanced at those women nearby. They seemed to be chatting while drinking, but were actually keeping an eye on her and Ruan Zhan. The two of them were speaking on the stairs and she could see the people in the bar. She knew this looked like they were sneaking about, but she dared even less to brazenly call him upstairs for a private discussion. That would stir up the vivid imaginations of many people.
People were ultimately social creatures, and still needed to be mindful of appearances. Gossip is quite scary after all.
“Do you think it would seem a little weird if we headed out to take a look right now? It’s also at its most powerful at night, right?”
“Let’s do it tomorrow! We should first find Tao Xiao Chun’s body. Also, we should make some preparations first. Wouldn’t it be very strange for a legal representative to run off to some old garage instead of working on legal matters?” Ruan Zhan thought for a moment. “How about this? Since everyone knows you are close with Liu Tie, just say he’s showing off his bike to you. As your “boyfriend”, I naturally have to come along as well.”
“That won’t do.” Xiao Xia rejected. “First of all, I don’t want to get Liu Tie involved in this. I just made him promise not to go to the garage in the next few days. More importantly, I’m connected to both you and Liu Tie. While it seems like a coincidence on the surface, it would be bad for you if someone determined insists on digging deeper.”
“There’s too much evidence linking us all together if someone really wanted to look into it. No need to worry about this little bit.” Ruan Zhan said. Her concern for him warmed his heart. She was at least doing more than that friend of his who he had known for twenty years. “Blessings aren’t calamities, and calamities are unavoidable anyway. Also, it’s not like there’s anything others can use against us. It’s good to be a little careful, but with me there, there’s nothing to fear!”
“Need me to tell Liu Tie?”
“I’ll do it. You go up first.”
Xiao Xia nodded and returned by herself to Ruan Zhan’s room, which currently belonged to her.
Ruan Zhan’s bar had a great location. It was between the office buildings and the other bars. At night, the front was very lively while the back was very quiet. It also wasn’t the noisy type of bar and the second floor had very good sound dampening. Therefore, the bedroom was like a separate space, extremely quiet and cozy. Xiao Xia changed her clothes and lay comfortably in bed. She closed the lights and allowed herself to sink into the darkness. She blurrily thought about that weird man until she gradually sank into sleep.
Bang bang bang!
Suddenly, a crisp knocking sounded from the window in the silence of the night.
Xiao Xia was startled awake immediately, staring at the ceiling in the dark. Was someone knocking on the window? But this was the second floor. Furthermore, since it was a little warm, the window was wide open.
She held her breath and didn’t move. The silence stretched for a while.
She thought it must have been a dream, and relaxed. But right as she was about to roll over and go back to sleep, a woman’s light and trembling laugh sounded out. It sounded clearly in her ears.
“Who’s there?” She cried out in shock.
“Yue…Xiao…Xia, Yue…Xiao…Xia, Yue…Xiao…Xia!”
Xiao Xia almost replied subconsciously. However, she suddenly recalled Wan Li’s story about the abandoned house and hastily kept quiet. She leapt out of bed and turned on the bedside lamp.
There was only her and her shadow in the room, along with the intermittent strange noises from the window.
There was no wind and the curtains were still. Xiao Xia walked over quietly and stopped by the window. She hesitated about whether she should open the curtains and take a look. Perhaps it was an illusion due to her nerves? Or perhaps she was confused due to being half awake? If she went to find Ruan Zhan without figuring things out, wouldn’t she be relying on others too much?
“So you’ve come!” A woman suddenly spoke from behind the curtain.
Xiao Xia took a step back in shock. At the same time, the wind brushed the curtains and three unmoving, bloodied faces that seemed to be smiling yet not at the same time appeared faintly in front of her eyes. They were hanging upside down in the air, around a meter from the window!
They seemed unable to pass through the window, but stubbornly waited outside without moving. From any angle, Xiao Xia was able to see their sinister presences through the gaps of the windblown curtains.
She leapt up and ran downstairs as though escaping from something.
“Ruan Zhan! Ruan Zhan! Ghosts! There are….”
Her yells made everyone in the bar look at the stairs. The crowd’s gaze made her cries come to a halt as she froze in place. She looked pleadingly at Ruan Zhan.
“Miss Yue, did you watch scary movies online again? Why watch them if you’re so timid!?” Ruan Zhan looked at her pale face and calmly gave an explanation. “Too scared to turn off the computer? Fine, I’ll help you.”
Xiao Xia agreed ambiguously, pulling at her pajamas restlessly. Luckily it was a conservative style.
“Sis Xiao Xia, what scary move? Let me see some time. I’m not afraid.” Ni Yang burst out thoughtlessly.
Ruan Zhan who had just reached Xiao Xia’s side turned his head around. Ni Yang immediately fell silent. This was Xiao Xia’s first time seeing Ruan Zhan’s intangible imposing aura.
“There are no ghosts in this world.” He lied calmly. “Even if there are, haven’t you heard that Confucius speaks not of fear, force, chaos and spirit? Kid, if so many cute ladies get scared, I’ll hold you responsible!”
Ni Yang waved his hand in panic, “How could I dare!? I depend on these older and younger sisters to make a living. I have my hands full just coaxing them!” He made a face, his lively and naughty expression immediately relaxing the scene, reverting it from when Xiao Xia was yelling about ghosts. However, the face he made caused Xiao Xia, who had just suffered a fright, to shiver. Ruan Zhan squeezed her cold and small hand, transferring warmth and comfort to her.
“You don’t have to go up.”
“No, I’ll go. It seems to be those three female ghosts. If possible, I wish to communicate with them. I can’t just let them keep watching me like this.” Xiao Xia gritted her teeth and used some anger to overcome her fear.
“Up to you.” He pulled her upstairs. “I really doubt it’ll work.”
“I’m just afraid they’ll run off once they see you. Perhaps they’re already gone.”
As expected, she was right again.
Ruan Zhan walked to the window and faintly felt the ghostly aura that had yet to disperse. It was clear the three female ghosts had truly left not long ago. It wasn’t Xiao Xia being paranoid. He frowned and knew this meant trouble. His house had gone through “special treatment”. Not only were ghosts unable to enter, they had to pay a price just to get close. However, those ghosts had taken the risk to come harass Xiao Xia. It was clear their resentment ran deep. This meant that even if they perfectly solved Bloody Mary’s case, the three would never rest if Xiao Xia saved Tao Xiao Chun’s soul from the evil spirit. As long as Xiao Xia left his protection, she might be harmed or even killed.
If this matter wasn’t thoroughly resolved, Xiao Xia would keep sticking close to him due to uncertain fear. That way he won’t be able to keep his distance from her as he had planned. Therefore, her problems had once again become his problems!
Xiao Xia saw that he was silent and hurriedly asked: “You wouldn’t just not care about this, right!?”
“It’s all thanks to Tao Xiao Chun’s grandparents. You shouldn’t have gotten involved in these muddy waters.”
“You saw it yourself. I wasn’t the one who wanted to get involved. There’s always something or another forcing me into a corner. Is this some dark version of heaven’s will?”
“I don’t know. That depends whether you accept it or endure it.”
“I was forced to accept, and am now enduring.” Xiao Xi was extremely aggrieved. “Now I even have to come up with a solution.”
“There are only two possible solutions. One is to resolve their grudge, but believe me, it’ll be very difficult. The second is to use the bloodwood sword to annihilate them.”
“No need to be so ruthless, right? They are also victims after all.”
“There is no third option.” Ruan Zhan told her coolly.
Xiao Xia fell silent.
Every time when it came to solving problems, Ruan Zhan seemed so unemotional. Ever since she met him, she realized he would alternate between warm and cold, seeming close yet distant, making it extremely confusing. Even now, he had just gently held her hand and comforted her, but was forcing her to make a choice in the blink of an eye. He didn’t consider her frightened and disturbed emotions at all.
“I choose the first option.” She couldn’t bear letting the three twisted female ghosts suffer such a tragic outcome. She should at least try to resolve their grudges. Her decision was also partly her being stubborn in a fit of temper at Ruan Zhan.
Ruan Zhan wasn’t surprised.
He walked to the bookshelf and took down three small cartoonish horse-shaped candles. He broke the outer wax seal, revealing a red, black and rust colored metal flag.
“What treasure is this?” Having seen the little wax rabbit containing the bloodwood sword, Xiao Xia leaned over curiously.
“Tattered Banners.” He said briefly. He cut his finger on the sharp edges of the flags and silently chanted a spell he had long since become rusty in. He flicked a bead of blood into the air and watched it vanish.
“What mighty Daoist spell is this?”
Ruan Zhan didn’t respond.
Daoist spell? Sorcery? He wasn’t sure what it was. He didn’t understand why his dad had forced him to learn these things back then. His dad had known these secret arts were taboo and inappropriate to be passed down! Was it just because of his strong, innate powers which he hated? Or was there a deeper meaning?
This was a mystery to him.
At this moment, an abnormal wind blew over and rattled the windows.