The thick, dark clouds made the night even darker. There wasn’t even a hint of moonlight and the winter rain continued to fall without end.
Within a luxurious residential apartment, the security guard who was patrolling the lobby suddenly felt a gust of cold wind, as though something had walked passed him. There was rustling but nothing could be seen. He only heard a light bump and a woman’s soft cry.
Recalling that the female tenant surnamed Gu had died violently, the security guard figured a ghost had appeared and was scared stiff. He watched as the elevator doors closed by themselves and the light indicated it had stopped on the floor where the murder occurred.
“Looks like your abilities have improved once again. The invisibility talisman can now hide our shadows as well.” In the “empty” elevator, Wan Li spoke. “You don’t understand, Xiao Xia. A talisman’s power is related to the creator’s abilities. It’s just like how the richer someone is, the bigger the checks they can write.” He saw Xiao Xia’s confused expression and took the initiative to explain. Others couldn’t see them but they could see each other.
“Really don’t know why the Americans are spending so much money researching stealth technology. Can’t they just pay Great Fortune Teller Ruan a couple hundred million to teach them?” He continued speaking.
“It’s just a method using the trigram positions and blind spots in people’s perception. It can be scientifically explained.” Ruan Zhan spoke as he stepped out of the elevator. He noticed there wasn’t the slightest aura of life on this floor. The other residents probably moved out after the murder. Everyone living here was wealthy, and would definitely have other residences. They weren’t like salary workers who would have to bear with it despite being scared.
The place had been sealed by the police so he knelt down and picked the lock. The clank of metal was especially loud in the silent night.
“It’s really a waste for you not to be a burglar.” Wan Li saw Ruan Zhan open the door while leaving the seal intact and lamented. “Unfortunately there’s going to be further rumors about hauntings here tomorrow. They won’t know it was due to your display of skill.”
“No one will think you’re mute even if you don’t speak.” Ruan Zhan retorted. He stretched out his hand and held Xiao Xia’s slightly trembling hand and slipped in through the door.
He immediately stopped after reaching the center of the living room. With the faint glow of a flashlight, he started using his steps to measure the most suitable location. Wan Li helped him arrange the miscellaneous items. There were talismans, slips containing the Flower Society members’ birthdates, pieces of their belonging that they used prior to death, as well as the bloodwood sword and tattered banner.
These had all been gathered by Wan Li to improve Ruan Zhan’s chances of summoning the spirits.
Xiao Xia watched them busy themselves and could only stand quietly on the side. She figured since she couldn’t help, the least she could do was avoid getting in their way. She turned her head and noticed a large painting of potted flowers on the wall. Under the faint glow of the flashlight, she could tell they were large, blooming chrysanthemums. They should have been beautiful, but they made Xiao Xia feel threatened. The flowers seemed like bottomless mouths and the petals seemed to be beckoning her, inviting her to fall inside.
She felt her scalp turn numb and could only turn away, no longer looking at the painting. She told herself she was seeing things!
However, she didn’t see that as she turned away, the flowers in the painting bloomed a little as though parting their mouths and smiling evilly.
“Alright, the timing happens to be good. Let’s begin.” Ruan Zhan said softly, but his voice still startled Xiao Xia who had been scared by the painting.
“Stand behind me, not too close.” Ruan Zhan instructed. “Wan Li will stand behind you.”
“Aren’t we just lining up in a row?” Wan Li interrupted. “Am I going to hold the bloodwood sword?”
“That’s right, but don’t bring it out unless they intend to harm us.”
“I completely understand. Let’s hurry, there’s a game later I plan on watching.” Wan Li urged, his tone relaxed as though they were doing something simple like shopping.
Ruan Zhan ignored him and started making preparations. First he burned the birthdate slips in a special vessel he brought along. Their belongings followed afterwards. Finally, he did some chanting and cut his finger using the sharp edge of the tattered banner. He flicked the bead of blood into the air and waited for the metal banner to turn a foot long.
The tattered banner made a humming sound, like the echo produced from lightly flicking metal. However, there was no change in the surroundings after the sound reverberated for a minute.
“Didn’t come?” Wan Li asked.
Ruan Zhan shook his head.
“Those poor women!” Wan Li sighed, leaving things unspoken.
They had just taken one wrong step, but this step caused them to die without corpses and even their souls were gone.
Ruan Zhan was silent for a while before taking out a piece of paper filled with words. He repeated the previous steps but there was still no movement after waiting a long while. Right as they assumed there would be no results, a cold wind suddenly blew in the enclosed room. It wasn’t clear where it came from. It had inexplicably wormed its way inside.
In her excitement, Xiao Xia subconsciously stepped towards Ruan Zhan but was held fast by Wan Li. Ruan Zhan turned off the flashlight and slowly approached the floor-length windows, opening the curtains.
There wasn’t anything there. Only a gust of wind blew past his head and a chill entered the room at the same time. It was like something invisible had entered along with the wind despite the windows not having been opened. The wind entered the living room and suddenly vanished. Then, pieces of things started appearing on the floor. It wasn’t clear what they were, but they trembled and moved.
Xiao Xia felt something soft beneath her feet as though something was pushing her. Looking down, she saw it was a severed pair of hands. This made her jump up in fright, and only by covering her mouth did she avoid screaming. Wan Li hurriedly stepped forward but accidentally kicked a head aside, making it let out choking groans.
“Don’t harm it!” Ruan Zhan stopped Wan Li from pulling out the bloodwood sword. “It’s just a shattered soul in the form of severed limbs.”
He walked over as he spoke, drawing symbols in the air and pointed towards the broken fragments. His hands were tight as though exerting a large amount of force. The fragments on the floor trembled, wanting to come together yet unable to do so. After several minutes passed with Ruan Zhan breathing heavily, they finally gathered together like water, forming a crooked human shape.
“Who’s this?” Wan Li asked. Although he couldn’t see “its” features clearly, it definitely was no female ghost.
“It’s Woman Flower Entertainment City’s previous owner.”
“Previous owner? It wasn’t a business agreement, but a murder!?”
“It started out as a business agreement, but this person,” Ruan Zhan pointed at the dark silhouette, “discovered something during the process and was thus silenced by someone.”
“He was dismembered?” Xiao Xia didn’t dare look at the broken spirit, but still had to ask.
“No, it was a very “ordinary” death. At least on the surface.” Ruan Zhan said. “However, someone guessed we would summon spirits to ask about the Flower Society. Therefore, they silenced the ghosts as well.”
“Like a shattered soul?” Ruan Zhan spoke Wan Li’s doubts out loud. “He had died two months ago and wasn’t a recently deceased ghost. He already had some ghostly powers. Perhaps that person overlooked this point and didn’t completely finish the job, allowing him a lucky chance at survival.”
“But why can’t he speak?” Wan Li gave a glance. “Could he be refusing to cooperate because his heart was perverted after becoming a ghost? We’ve encountered quite a few such instances.”
“He’s no longer able to speak. That person used sorcery to shock him until only a wisp of his soul remained. Despite my efforts, I could only help him take form. I’ll have to do some investigating.”
He walked over, chanting something under his breath. Then, he walked into the dark shadow, making Xiao Xia’s heart leap in alarm. She felt as though the dark shadow was now growing on his body, making him look like a demon.
“Don’t know if this guy was an honest businessman, but he’s rather polite as a ghost.” Wan Li distracted Xiao Xia, speaking softly by her ear. “Ah Zhan said that ghosts don’t normally enter a living person’s house for no reason. It’s called ‘no entry without invitation’. Did you see him just then? He had clearly been captured by Ah Zhan, but still didn’t enter until Ah Zhan called him from the window.”
“But his arm felt real under my feet.”
“For humans, the supernatural is merely something that affects the senses. What’s strange about that?”
Xiao Xia nodded, looking back at Ruan Zhan. Under the faint light of the glow stick on the table, Ruan Zhan seemed to be suffering, his body trembling slightly. He slowly bent over and finally knelt to the ground. The clump of darkness gushed out of his body like water, seeping through the wall and vanishing.
“Are you ok?” Xiao Xia ran over and asked anxiously. She felt he was cold all over and completely limp.
“Are you still able to stand?” Wan Li supported him from the other side. He didn’t expect searching for secrets inside a scattered soul would be so taxing. “Where did he go?”
“Back to his place to hide and slowly gather energy, hoping to reincarnate.” Ruan Zhan forced himself up with their help. “However, I know what’s going on now. I’ll tell you when we get back. Let’s go. It’s not good to linger here.”
“Didn’t you say you want to search this place prior to leaving, and see if the police missed any clues?” Wan Li pulled Ruan Zhan to the sofa. “You sit here. I can search by myself. Hehe, this is somewhere Gu Yu Fang used to sit.”
Ruan Zhan struggled to raise his hand. He was in the middle of drawing a symbol when Wan Li immediately scampered off. “Fine, fine, fine, I’ll stop speaking nonsense. I’ll go search the bathroom and kitchen first. In geomancy terms, those places are more aligned towards water, and are thus more yin based. Also, evidence often gathers there. I’ll start looking there.”
“I’ll come help.” Xiao Xia didn’t want to be sitting idly and thus volunteered herself.
“Alright. Then we’ll first investigate her bedroom. There should be a bathroom in there.” Wan Li said.
Ruan Zhan muttered to himself for a bit. “You have to take the flashlight, and also leave the door open so I can see you.”
“Got it, I’ll call you if anything happens.”
“Forget it, might as well call me.” Wan Li waved the bloodwood sword in his hand. “He first used up a lot of energy piecing the spirit together, and then was exhausted from investigating via possession. He won’t be stronger than I am now. Or how about you take this sword?”
Xiao Xia firmly refused.
She knew the unexpected had kept happening throughout this entire case. Now, Wan Li was looking for evidence. Although the police had investigated this place already, they hadn’t been looking at things from an exorcist’s perspective. Perhaps they will discover something. Compared to the other two men, she was the weakest link. The only reason they brought her was because they didn’t feel at ease leaving her alone. Of course, she also understood that having the strongest person in top condition was the most effective arrangement.
Wan Li wasn’t a fussy person and didn’t insist. The two entered Gu Yu Fang’s bedroom together.
Her bedroom was very large in a luxurious, classical European style. It had an air of nobility but was also dark and complex. This was especially so under the flashlight’s wavering beam, making it seem filled with ghostly shadows.
“I’ll go check out the bathroom.” Wan LI said, subconsciously lowering his voice for some reason.
Xiao Xia watched him enter and used the flashlight to look around the room.
This was her first time in the room. She saw several large photos of Gu Yu Fang on the wall, making her seem rather narcissistic. However, Xiao Xia kept getting the feeling the photos were alive. No matter where she went, she felt the people in the photos staring at her.
She endured her unease and seriously searched for any clues. She found a watercolor painting on the drawers. The painting was of a beautiful field of flowers. Within it was a black stone building. This made her recall the place Gu Yu Fang had described where she met with Shuo Yue. From the looks of it, she had painted it herself.
“I’ll have to show Ruan Zhan later to see if it’s of any use.” She thought, and slowly walked towards the other set of doors, lightly opening it.
The scene behind the door startled her.
Was this what a rich person’s wardrobe was like? It was actually large enough to count as a separate room. Inside was filled with various sorts of clothing. At a glance, it looked like a room full of people.
Xiao Xia was a little scared. She had wanted to leave but inexplicably, as though she couldn’t control herself, she walked inside.
She kept walking, the flashlight’s beam accurately landing on a piece of clothing. It was hanging backwards, a jarring sight compared to the other clothing. This made Xiao Xia stretch her hand out uncontrollably, wanting to turn it around. When she lowered her eyes however, she saw even more jarringly a pair of white shoes underneath the clothes.
Something was wrong! The thought flashed through her mind as she hurriedly pulled her hand back.
At this time, the clothes turned itself around.
Even in the dark it was possible to sense its fresh redness, sleek, finely textured and a piercing raw scent mixed with that of light cosmetics in a nauseating combination.
Xiao Xia stared at the leather jacket that was made out of human skin and covered in fresh blood.
To put it more precisely, it was Gu Yu Fang transformed into a leather jacket. Her head was snapped backwards, sticking against the inside layer of the clothes, smiling straight at her. Her arms had become the two sleeves that reached towards Xiao Xia. “Little sis, put me on. I’m very beautiful!”