Because Xiao Xia had to look something up for her director, it was already after dinner time when she got back. The moment she entered, she only saw Wan Li sitting there happily reading a book.
“Where’s Ruan Zhan?”
“He went to buy something from the market.” Wan Li didn’t raise his head.
“But his car is still outside.” Xiao Xia looked out. The weather today was very unusual. It was actually raining in the middle of November. It felt very cold and wet, and one was guaranteed to get sick if rained on.
“It’s not far, only ten minutes. He used his legs.”
“Did he bring an umbrella?”
“Ah?” Wan Li finally raised his head. “It’s raining? I thought it would snow. Don’t worry, he’s not stupid. He’ll wait until it stops raining before coming back.” He went to look at the weather outside. “However, winter rain doesn’t stop that easily so it’s hard to say. He still has something to do later tonight so he might brave the rain and run back.”
“Can you go pick him up?”
“No.” Wan Li was very surprised at Xiao Xia’s suggestion. “Two grown men picking each other up back and forth. Those who aren’t in the know might think we’re an item. That would seriously ruin my image. Also, what if he ends up falling in love with me due to this?”
Xiao Xia left angrily. “I’m not going to listen to your nonsense. I’ll go myself.”
“You? Is that necessary? A bit of rain won’t kill him.”
“He’s our only high priest. If he kicks the bucket, we’ll all be screwed.” Xiao Xia said as she ran upstairs. Then, she grabbed an umbrella and ran outside.
She wasn’t able to figure out whether she didn’t want Ruan Zhan to get sick because she wanted to better use him or because she cared about him.
Wan Li watched Xiao Xia coming and going in a hurry, unable to even get a word in. He could only stand silently in the still turbulent air for a moment before speaking to himself: “Looks like Ruan Zhan will have to hang it up at this rate. That damn lass managed to strike his soft spot.” He slowly returned to his seat and recalled his and Ruan Zhan’s childhood.
It was the rainy season back then. After the rain, parents would gather at the school gates with umbrellas to pick up their children. Although Ruan Zhan’s father adopted him, he always treated him cold and sternly. He had never picked him up from school. Every time, Ruan Zhan would leave by himself in the rain. He didn’t know to avoid the rain, and also didn’t run. He just walked back one step at a time. Even if someone offered to walk with him under an umbrella, he would stubbornly refuse. Therefore, the townsfolk spread even more rumors about Ruan Zhan’s weirdness.
Wan Li hadn’t understood at the time, and had even sulked about it. He felt that they were good friends, and there was no need to be so fussy. But the one time Ruan Zhan ever got drunk in his life, Wan Li had found out that Ruan Zhan had been jealous of him. He had someone waiting for him in the rain. Ruan Zhan had longed for someone to pick him up in the rain, even if it was just once.
However, he had never experienced such a common warmth!
Now, the muddle-headed yet considerate Xiao Xia was straightforwardly rushing over, becoming Ruan Zhan’s first time. She would probably melt that cold heart of his. It was quite amusing now that he thought about it. There were so many women trying to capture Ruan Zhan’s heart, but none of them realized such a small matter was all it took.
Thinking of this, he was no longer able to read calmly. He ran to the door and looked around under the eaves, but Xiao Xia was long gone.
This was because Xiao Xia was running, deeply afraid she wouldn’t make it in time. She ended up seeing Ruan Zhan carrying a bag of things, about to step outside without thinking. “Halt!” She yelled loudly, startling Ruan Zhan and also many others inside the market.
Her chest rose and fell rapidly from the running, her legs so weak she had to grab Ruan Zhan’s arm to steady herself. “Do you have any common sense?” She reproached him loudly, not caring if people were watching. “What’s so important that you have to leave immediately? You’ll definitely catch a cold if you get wet in this weather.”
Ruan Zhan stood frozen, remaining vacant for a while. He looked at Xiao Xia who was struggling to catch her breath, still holding the umbrella in her hand. He listened as she scolded him in the tone only someone extremely close would use. Suddenly, he felt something collapse with a crash in his heart, and he was unable to say a word.
“Hey? Not leaving anymore? How did I offend you this time? Was it because I educated you about not getting wet in the rain? You immature man!” Xiao Xia didn’t understand his silence and roughly pulled his arm over. “Stand closer. I should’ve brought two umbrellas. Spending too much time with you has made me stupid as well. Hey, why aren’t you moving? Are you really angry?”
“Hello? What’s wrong? Is something the matter?”
“Nothing.” Ruan Zhan smiled, his Adam’s apple moving several times before finally saying. “Let’s go.”
He stepped forward and wrapped an arm around her shoulder, pulling her closer to his chest. This caused Xiao Xia’s body to immediately stiffen up. She felt the two of them standing under one umbrella was a little too intimate. However, before she could decide whether this was appropriate, she saw a white object swooping towards her, crashing to the floor a meter in front of her.
She subconsciously cried out. She realized it was a paper crane with blood-red eyes.
“It’s this thing again. So annoying. Is folding these things the new trend?” She gave it a kick but didn’t manage to kick the soaked paper crane far.
Ruan Zhan frowned at this unexpected visitor. He glanced at the crane but didn’t do anything else. He merely looked around imperceptibly and confirmed there wasn’t another one nearby. “Probably a trend from Japan. Maybe it’s a sort of blessing. Ignore it, let’s go back first.”
He held Xiao Xia’s shoulder and carefully stepped over the paper crane’s remains. An inexplicable feeling welled up in his mind. “Do you see these often?”
“Where have you seen them?”
“Are you interested in this?” Xiao Xia was a little curious.
“No, just wondering. Maybe I can learn to make them as a blessing for your safety!”
“No!” Xiao Xia refused decisively. Her reaction let Ruan Zhan sense her unease. “I don’t like it. Its red eyes make me feel uncomfortable. If you give me one, I’ll throw it at your face. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!”
“I won’t give it if you don’t like it. But maybe you’re a little jumpy.”
This paper crane should be controlled by magic, but had fallen due to the rain! There had to be something up with this. He had to think about it carefully.
“Regardless, I hate it. Must be some damned brat following the trend, folding some daily and throwing it everywhere. I saw one on my balcony before, and also by the office window. I’ve also seen it when Wan Li and I were eating. It’s like they have a grudge against me, following me like lingering spirits.”
“Don’t be afraid, it’s just a piece of paper.” He comforted her gently, pulling her in tighter by the shoulder, enjoying this rare moment of warmth.
Because Xiao Xia hadn’t noticed Ruan Zhan’s expression was different from usual, she was still complaining about the troubles caused by the paper cranes. They walked up to the bar’s door when Ruan Zhan suddenly stopped. “I like white shirts.” He told her.
“Huh?” Xiao Xia didn’t understand right away.
“What I’m saying is that pure cotton white shirts are better than mink fur coats.” Ruan Zhan repeated, and then walked inside without waiting for her response. He didn’t say anything else up until he left in his car on his tracking mission.
“It’s so late. Where’s he off to?” Xiao Xia asked Wan Li suspiciously.
Thinking of Ruan Zhan’s earlier words, she felt warm and fuzzy inside. However, at this moment she felt like the two men were hiding something from her.
“Did you get married to him?” Wan Li answered.
“Hello? Are you from outer space? Do you not understand Chinese? What’s with the non sequitur?”
“Since you aren’t his wife, why do you care where he went? Maybe he’s attending a fortunetelling convention. Maybe he went to pick up girls. Go upstairs and get some sleep. Lack of sleep makes it easy to get wrinkles.”
“Don’t tell me if you don’t want to. What’s the big deal? I’m just asking whether it has to do with the Flower Society’s case. Do you think I’m that gossipy? You men always cover for each other. I’m ignoring you!”
Wan Li made an inviting gesture.
Seeing that she wasn’t going to get anything out of him, and that he also seemed preoccupied, she made her way upstairs alone.
She lay silently in bed waiting, pondering how to figure out what Ruan Zhan was up to so secretively. However, she hadn’t come up with anything by midnight, and Ruan Zhan had also yet to return. Wan Li didn’t come upstairs at all either. Instead, she ended up dozing off, drifting in and out of sleep.
As she was dreaming, she sensed an unusual odor and sound. She didn’t realize anything at first, but the feeling grew deeper and deeper. She suddenly sat up in bed.
It was a crackling sound along with the smell of smoke.
Was there a fire?
She anxiously leapt out of bed and ran barefoot down the stairs. She saw the first floor already engulfed in a sea of flames. At the edge of the fire, Wan Li sat in the chair unmoving. It wasn’t clear if he was unconscious from the smoke or sound asleep.
“Wan Li, wake up! There’s a fire!” She yelled loudly as she ran down the stairs. She shook him fiercely but he didn’t wake up. It was like he had died.
“Wan Li! What’s wrong? Hurry, wake up!” She cried out once again but he still didn’t move.
She looked around in panic, not knowing what to do.
The fire swelled, shattering the transparent tubes of unknown material that made up a trigram on the wall. The cracking sound as it burst shocked Xiao Xia into instinctively covering her head.
Afterwards, as it completely disintegrated, Xiao Xia suddenly felt space warping around her. It was still the same place but she felt something wasn’t right. She felt a chill around her despite the raging flames. She saw a tongue of flame moving abnormally, stroking the surrounding objects like a hand. Wherever it went, the fire spread even faster. Suddenly, dark silhouettes stood up in the middle of the flames by the door in fighting stances.
These were people who were burned to death!
This knowledge made Xiao Xia pull Wan Li’s hand heavily in fear, but he still didn’t wake up. She had encountered a similar case before. People who died in a fire would all curl up into such a stance. Forensics called it a boxing stance.
These blackened silhouettes let out long keening sounds, tunneling out from the fire towards them with malicious intent! They were very slow, as though struggling to break through an invisible boundary. However, they were already getting closer and closer.
Ruan Zhan hadn’t returned her amulet yet and the bloodwood sword was still upstairs. She was like a morsel of food placed next to an evil spirit. She wanted to run but couldn’t leave Wan Li behind.
“Wan Li, wake up.” She yelled desperately. In the end, she had to put his hand in her mouth and bite down viciously.