As the countless black hands were about to grab her, Xiao Xia swiftly reacted and instinctively dropped to the floor, narrowly avoiding them. She knelt on the floor, enduring the fear and nausea and forced her way out of the ghost pack.
Their legs were already rotted and gave off a nauseating stench. Some were already rotted down to white bone and others seemed to be barely held in place. Xiao Xia snapped off several legs pushing her way out. Along with the snapping legs, the bodies they supported also collapsed to the floor, smashing towards the crawling Xiao Xia. She had no choice but to dodge and evade.
The terrifying ghostly faces were all facing her as they fell. They all had the same excited expression and mouths like black holes with bared black teeth that seemed ready to chomp down. Some of their heads had even fallen off, but still struggled to roll towards her, sniffing in her scent greedily.
Xiao Xia crawled desperately, almost getting bitten by the falling ghosts on several occasions. She was unable to decide if she was making the right decision in her fear, and could only focus on getting away from here. Gradually, she realized these ghouls were all the same: eyeless and earless, with only their noses and mouths still in place. They were relying on her scent to find her position. Since they only had these two senses remaining, they were probably especially sensitive.
Perhaps she could avoid making noises and even hide herself, but she couldn’t hide her own scent! Because of this, they pursued her like maggots on bone!
Since Xiao Xia was crawling around on the floor, the blind and deaf ghouls were all a half-beat slow when they tried to grab her. But once she finally struggled free of the crowd, she realized they had all gotten on their hands and knees as well, grabbing at her from the same height. However, they crawled much faster than her, scurrying along the ground almost like a dense swarm of giant black rats.
She got up and ran for it, not caring which direction she went. She only felt the hallway was like a maze. There were no rooms on either side, merely windows that revealed the darkness outside. She didn’t know how long she ran, but despite continuously changing directions, those ghouls still managed to catch up. The wild chase did result in their numbers thinning and some began to fall behind. However, no matter where she ran to, she would always encounter one or two. Gradually, her paths of escape were getting blocked off.
She was their food. They wanted to eat her!
This fact terrified her. She would probably have preferred they killed her instead. She blindly ran to a crossroad in the building and realized she was completely surrounded. Drooling ghouls came from every direction. She felt like a small animal surrounded by predators: helpless, frightened and with nowhere to go.
Without any other options, she could only desperately try to open a window. She would rather fall to her death than get eaten. However, the window was already rusted shut and couldn’t be opened. The hungry ghosts surrounding her slowly closed in. The only reason they hadn’t made a move yet was because they all fought to take the first bite.
They pushed and crowded each other, letting out groaning swallowing sounds with their throats, slowly approaching her. The fear Xiao Xia felt was indescribable. The despair of soon being torn to pieces, chewed and swallowed up blanked her mind out, leaving behind only terror…
Crack! The crisp noise sounded out. Xiao Xia screamed and covered her head.
“Here!” A woman’s smooth voice rang out.
Xiao Xia turned and saw the window had been smashed. A pale and extremely thin woman’s hand was hanging there, making a pulling motion towards her.
“Hurry!” The voice smoothly urged her once again.
The smell of outside air seemed to have alerted the hungry ghosts who were focused on Xiao Xia. They disregarded everything and pounced towards her. Xiao Xia was no longer able to hesitate. She stretched her hand over and the hand pulled her out of the window.
“Ah!” Xiao Xia screamed because one of the hungry ghosts had grabbed one of her legs, suspending her in midair. She couldn’t go out and couldn’t get down. The person outside the window pulled even harder but the ghost inside refused to let go. Xiao Xia seemed like she was about to get torn in two. The ghost even stroked her leg infatuatedly and was about to bite down.
She instinctively kicked out desperately. With a snap, the ghost’s head twisted and fell off. A dense swarm of ants rushed out of its neck.
It relaxed its grip and Xiao Xia was pulled out of the window, escaping the crowd of hungry ghosts. She panted raggedly, and noticed she was sitting on a treetop. Below her was a bottomless abyss. She hurriedly hugged the tree trunk.
Behind her came a rustling sound. She knew this was the person who had saved her.
“Thank you.” She said, turning her head around.
The person who looked like a nurse was crouched across from her. Beneath her nurse’s cap, a wave off black hair hung down, blocking her face. She was carving a wooden stick in her hand with great strength, over and over again. The stick grew sharper and sharper.
“You’re really strong!” Xiao Xia looked at the haggard figure and thought back to how she was pulled outside. Now, she was effortlessly using a small surgical knife to sharpen such a thick branch. Xiao Xia vaguely felt something wasn’t right. “What are you doing?” She asked.
“Do you know why this place is called the hungry ghost path?” The nurse responded with a question. The voice was monotone, without any inflection.
“Because the ghosts here suffer unbearable hunger every day. Anything that comes will get completely devoured without exception.”
“Then, why did you…save me?” Xiao Xia surreptitiously shifted to towards the side.
“I wasn’t trying to save you. I just wanted to enjoy you by myself.” She turned her head over and smiled “happily”. She was also eyeless and earless, with maggots burrowing in and out of her face.
She gestured with the sharpened stick. “I’m going to use this to stab your heart and pour it over the rice I’ve been saving for many years. Then, I’m going to hang you out to dry on top of the tree where no one else can reach you, slowly devouring your flesh.”
She stretched her hand out towards Xiao Xia as she spoke. Xiao Xia dodged and leapt off the tree.
She would rather die!
In her daze, she felt as though she saw Hong Hao Hao’s face. Then, there was a sharp pain and everything went black.
Ruan Zhan stood by Xiao Xia’s bed, using his finger to lightly smoothen her furrowed brows. He knew her soul wasn’t in her body and couldn’t feel his comforting gesture. But his heart was twisted with pain as he thought of the torment she was enduring.
He stood for a while before turning resolutely and leaving. He knew if the soul left the body for too long, there was a possibility she would never wake up. Therefore, he had no time to be distressed. He had to do something.
When he reached the living room, Wan Li happened to come in at the same time.
“How was it?” He asked urgently. He looked around and made sure nothing was watching them.
Wan Li shook his head. “Yang Mu You isn’t in this city. Or rather, there were no records of entry. He won’t be found using conventional methods. Even Hong Hao Hao has vanished. At the moment, we have no idea where to look. Even if you want to go all out against him, we don’t know where he is. How is it going on your end? Did you discover anything?”
Ruan Zhan took out the thing he had taken from Gu Yu Fang’s fish tank the other day and put it on the table. It was a tiny, flat, round stone. It was pitch-black, smooth and shiny.
“How pretty. Was this what you grabbed from Gu Yu Fang’s place that day?” Wan Li picked up the stone and took a look, praising it. “It’s not a gem, right? Aiya…” He hadn’t finished speaking yet when he felt his hand go numb. The stinging and itchy feeling made him immediately put the stone down. “It’s alive, it bites.”
“Take a look at the front. It’s very smooth.” Ruan Zhan picked it up and showed it to him. Then, he turned it over. “But the back is very rough.”
“Did it scrape me just then, rather than bite me?”
Ruan Zhan didn’t speak. He suddenly took out a knife and cut deeply across his hand. Fresh blood immediately flowed. He dripped it onto the stone’s rough side. It immediately moved as though alive, and then sucked up the blood without leaving a trace. Within a few seconds, it seemed nothing had ever dripped upon it.
Wan Li watched the process in astonishment. The stone shuddered and the rough surface slowly became smooth, before finally falling still.
“This…this….” He raised his hand and looked at Ruan Zhan for answers.
“That’s right, this is the key. That day when you guys entered Gu Yu Fang’s bedroom, I felt there was something off with the fish tank. I saw a small fish accidentally touch this rock and get sucked upon it until it died.”
“Until it died? So vicious? Is this a stone or a monster!?” Wan Li prodded at the stone with a finger, sensing that it truly seemed alive. “What is this made of? We should have the Department of Research take a look.”
“Go ahead if you want to look for trouble.” Ruan Zhan said. “Regardless, I don’t know what it is. However, I remember reading an ancient book of historical ghost stories. In it was a sort of stone that could suck out people’s blood essence, suck them completely dry. I thought it was just a legend, but it seems the world is truly large. There are all sorts of weird things out there. Take a guess…what do you think happened to the little fish?”
“Don’t tell me it turned to ash?” Wan Li said without thinking.
Wan Li froze. He didn’t expect this to be the reality. “This is the reason those women’s corpses didn’t conform to science at all?” Wan Li was extremely astonished. “Where did he…Yang Mu You I mean…find such a terrifying stone?”
“How much can humans know of this vast and diverse world?” Ruan Zhan carefully wrapped the stone up. “I don’t understand why he’s absorbing those women’s blood essence with this stone.”
“Don’t Daoists often harvest yin to supplement their yang?”
“This is sorcery, and has nothing to do with Daoism…”
He was in the middle of speaking when he stopped. At the same time, Wan Li felt a sense of dizziness.
“What’s happening? Earthquake?”
“No!” Ruan Zhan gritted his teeth. “He’s attacking.” After speaking, he ran to Xiao Xia’s room.
The room was completely empty. Xiao Xia had disappeared.