What to do? She didn’t know, and could only inch slowly backwards, doing her best not to make any noise. One step, two steps, three steps. Right as she thought she could leave the courtyard, she suddenly felt something soft wrap around her waist. She yelled out in surprise, making those faceless women all turn to look at her as if in astonishment.
The women had no faces but were still staring at her, leaving Xiao Xia frozen in fear.
But the thing wrapped around her waist didn’t allow her time to space out. It threw her to the stone benches with a large amount of force. In her panic, Xiao Xia turned to look and saw a small scarecrow with a single arm raised to the side. Its unusually wide mouth and two stones for eyes had a blank yet malicious expression. The arm that had been pulled off was thrown to the floor.
He stood blankly at the door to the courtyard. It wasn’t clear when he had appeared, but he had blocked Xiao Xia. It was that little boy.
Xiao Xia wanted to leap up as though scalded but realized she was firmly stuck on the stone bench. She struggled with all her might but to no avail. Those women were still staring curiously at her with tilted heads.
“Next.” A man’s voice suddenly rang out.
This alarmed Xiao Xia even more. How many weird situations were still to come? She looked around, but only heard the voice without seeing a face.
One of the women obediently stood up and slowly walked towards the stone mill. She suddenly jumped and somehow landed in the round hole in the center of the mill. She immediately disappeared inside. Before her head faded from view, she had given Xiao Xia a nod.
The little mule started walking once again and with a creak the mill started spinning continuously. At this time, Xiao Xia wasn’t able to think and could only watch everything anxiously. Gradually, she felt the noises sounded like bones being ground up mixed with pained moans.
She felt her hairs standing on end. She watched as these faceless women threw themselves mechanically into the mill one by one. It was as if they were throwing themselves into the mouths of a demon. The trough around the mill slowly filled with dense, fresh blood, making her almost throw up.
“You’re the only yet to go in.” The man’s voice rang out again.
Xiao Xia sat up and looked around fearfully. She suddenly realized that the voice was actually coming from the little mule.
“I’m calling you.” The little mule spoke again. It stretched its head into the bloody trough and drank a mouthful of blood. When it lifted its head, it still had the body of a mule but with the face of a man.
Fair and slightly chubby, his features were delicate but filled with ill intent.
“Come, no one’s going to save you.” He nodded to her. She immediately felt a strong attractive force dragging her towards the mill. She wanted to grab the stone bench but instead of sticking to it she was now repelled. She was unable to avoid being thrown onto the mill.
From the outside it seemed to be an ordinary stone mill. Only once she was on top of it did she see it was a huge, deep hole with countless female hands hovering over it. At this moment, they had all gathered and grabbed onto Xiao Xia’s limbs. She wanted to struggle but suddenly felt powerless. She could only get pulled along and was about to be swallowed up.
In her despair, she let out a final cry: “Ruan Zhan, save me!”
“It seems you aren’t that important to him after all.” The human-faced mule laughed coldly.
However, before his voice fell, someone ran out from the dark building across from them.
“With layers of all-encompassing heaven’s law, obscure the sun and moon, bring forth darkness, summon qi, and with qi as medium, eradicate all evil!” The person who arrived chanted loudly and pointed with his finger.
A beam of red light formed into a whirlwind and swiftly spun over. The large centripetal force tossed everything outwards including the stone mill, the dark building, the scarecrow and Xiao Xia.
“Ruan Zhan!” Xiao Xia loudly called the man’s name. She stretched her hand out to grab him but wasn’t able to get close. She watched as he grew further and further, and suddenly startled awake.
She was lying in bed, covered in cold sweat. The cold night seemed even colder. Was it a dream? She hesitated for a moment before turning on the bedside lamp. Under the warm yellow light, she saw her wrists and ankles were covered in scratches. The scrapes on her palms were also present and her body was truly hurting.
It couldn’t have been a dream, right? Otherwise, it wouldn’t be possible for her to have physical injuries. But how did she return to her bed?
Forget about being unable to differentiate between dreams and reality. Why did Ruan Zhan appear without allowing her to grab hold of him? As she thought of this, and recalled his concerned gaze towards her while she was unable to grab hold of his hand no matter what she did, her tears welled up.
In the end, it was probably a dream.
The sound of a piano rang out.
It was very elegant, but since it was in the middle of the night, the suddenness made the still frightened Xiao Xia jump out of bed in shock. She stared blankly at the vibrating cellphone by the bed.
She had forgotten to turn it off again. Who was calling her? Why didn’t Wan Li, who was sleeping in the storage room next door, wake up? Should she wake him up? She was hesitating but the caller seemed insistent on having her pick up. The melody rang without end.
She firmed her heart and grabbed the phone. The display showed it was an unknown foreign number.
“Who is it?” She asked nervously.
“It’s me, Ruan Zhan.” The calm voice rang out.
Xiao Xia’s tears flowed out.
He really existed in her life. It wasn’t all a dream. He had finally appeared.
“Are you crying?” He asked.
“No.” Xiao Xia wiped her eyes wildly with the back of her hand. “I’m just a little under the weather.”
“Alright, then hurry and get back in bed.” He said gently.
This puzzled Xiao Xia for a moment. He had never treated her so well before. And how did he know what she was doing?
“Having just woken from that nightmare and having picked up the phone in the dead of night, you must have jumped out of bed.” As though knowing what she was thinking, Ruan Zhan took the initiative to explain. “You’ll catch a cold. Sit back in bed and I’ll take my time in explaining things.”
Xiao Xia obediently returned to bed and covered herself with the blankets. Hearing his voice, knowing he was on the other end of the line, she felt completely safe. She let out a long breath.
“I’m sure you don’t understand why you would have such a realistic nightmare, and why I would appear, right?” He said.
“It wasn’t really a dream. Someone used a method to have your soul leave your body and enter an illusory world he constructed. That’s why the injuries you suffered in the dream really appeared on your body. Are…you ok?”
“I’m fine.” Xiao Xia shook her head. “But how did you know about that dream and manage to enter it?”
Ruan Zhan hesitated for a moment. “That technique is very high-level, but is also taboo due to it being very damaging to the caster’s karma. I don’t know who you managed to offend again, but this person isn’t simple. As for why I could enter, it’s because I am very sensitive towards such techniques. I can sense it even if I’m thousands of miles away. I was just planning on saving whoever was caught in it. I didn’t know it was you at first.”
Hearing him say this, Xiao Xia was a little disappointed.
She didn’t know that the reason Ruan Zhan left the city was to avoid her, but he had been extremely unsuccessful. He was able to enter the dream because his mind was strongly linked with hers. He lied to avoid getting entangled any deeper.
“Are you staying at my place?” Ruan Zhan changed the subject.
“Someone must have tampered with the place, it’s no longer safe. Is the bloodwood sword by your side?”
“It is.” Xiao Xia stroked the wooden sword by her pillow.
“Then hold the sword and stay where you are. Don’t go to sleep again. Wait until dawn.”
“Alright.” Xiao Xia agreed. “Will…you come back?”
“I’ll be there latest around dinner tomorrow.”
Hearing his answer, Xiao Xia’s heart calmed completely.