The entire village had been frightened by the “male vixen”. Along with the villa people’s vivid recount of the “villa’s haunting”, no one dared go outside. The braver ones merely peeked by the doors and windows.
Ruan Zhan was the only person on the clean and tidy village road, walking unhurriedly. Even the undulating barking seemed to have calmed quite a bit at his appearance.
There was a pile of something in the middle of the road. The glow of the moonlight revealed it was a person lying there. Or rather, it was a corpse. The moment he saw the scene, Ruan Zhan could tell there was no aura of the living.
That person was lying askew on the snowy ground. The lower body was twisted sideways with both legs stretched out rigidly. The upper half was facing towards the sky. From the distance, it looked like two people pieced together.
He walked over but didn’t touch the corpse. He merely circled around a few times before crouching to examine it.
The body belonged to a male in his thirties. From his dress and facial features, Ruan Zhan could tell he wasn’t Chinese. Thinking of the Japanese people that were lurking around, he figured this was one of them, assuming there wasn’t a fourth person lurking nearby.
His face was pale and his hair dark. His seven facial orifices had streaks of blood that had frozen into icy beads. His eyes glared sightlessly at the person crouched next to him. His lips were slightly parted as though in a smile. The entire face seemed malicious and sinister. Anyone else would have been frightened by the corpse’s condition and fierce appearance. Unfortunately, the person in question was Ruan Zhan.
“I’ve heard people lock up in a smile when they freeze to death. I’ve really broadened my horizons today. Turns out it was true.” Ruan Zhan muttered to himself, looking indifferent. “Why don’t you accept some of China’s essence? Maybe you can gather it up and become a fiend? That could be some sort of accomplishment.”
He then stared silently a little longer before finally straightening up. He loudly cried out to the silent surroundings: “Call the police! A foreign tourist has died. Don’t disturb the crime scene!” His voice spread far in the snowy night. He knew many people were secretly watching and could hear him. They would do as he instructed. Therefore, he left without looking back.
The moment he returned to the place he was staying at, the town started getting lively. The dogs started barking again and the braver townsfolk slowly came out to watch the show after calling the police. Although the corpse’s appearance was so horrifying, people weren’t as scared when they were in a crowd. They surrounded the corpse while gossiping, some in quiet discussion. The kinder ones said a few prayers for the deceased, blessing him with safe passage to the other side and reincarnate. Or they prayed for their own safety, hoping to avoid being haunted by the evil spirit.
“What is this development?” Wan Li asked Ruan Zhan.
“Sacrificing the pawn to save the king.”
“Did the Japanese old fogey kill off his own disciple as a show of force?” Wan Li tutted. “He really needs to see a psychiatrist!”
“Are you saying that old man is the master?” Ruan Zhan responded inexplicably.
“Isn’t that usually the case? Well I do feel that Yinyang Path or whatever is kinda weird. Maybe they have young people accepting old fogeys as disciples. Did you discover something?”
“No, but this definitely wasn’t a show of force. You should know that since the opponent is perverse, they shouldn’t be idiots. How could they decrease their own fighting strength?! You know that perversion stimulates intelligence.”
“Then what did you discover? Stop beating around the bush. Speak.”
“First of all, I’ve set up formations around the town that will react if anything evil passes through. This means he couldn’t have gotten there by himself after death, and he wasn’t carried over by ghosts or fiends.”
“This means a human brought him over. Otherwise, he walked over by himself and then committed suicide. Didn’t you say there were no signs of blood or other traces around?”
“After the blizzard, the town had already swept the snow clean. Do you think the opponent would leave any evidence behind on the asphalt if they were just a little careful? Even if they did, the townsfolk would have trampled it all. From what I saw, the person hadn’t died too long ago. Even if his spirit had already departed, it’s impossible for it to leave no spirit aura. Unless….”
“Unless his soul was swallowed.” Ruan Zhan said emotionlessly. “The following is all just my conjecture, but I believe this is how it played out. Xiao Xia used her borrowed divine might and the talisman’s might to injure the Yuki-Onna. Furthermore, she injured all three of them. When shikigami get injured, their master does too. If the three belonged to a single person, he must have taken a lot of damage. Kenji Ganmura lost to me. Although he was actually swallowed by the little ghost due to Yang Mu You’s scheme, he had atoned for his failure with death. According to traditional Japanese logic, failure is a disgrace that can only be redeemed by death. If our opponent is attached to such ideals, a defeat at our hands impinges upon their honor!”
“What extremism.” Wan Li raised his thumb but it was pointed downwards. “However, in my opinion there should be other reasons. Think about it. One of their members was heavily injured and they are also “tourists”. Dragging a sick person behind them would be very obtrusive. They definitely don’t wish to draw any attention. They seemed to have vanished into thin air, probably to plan their next move. There should be some invisibility arts in Japanese ninjutsu, but it’s probably hard to do while injured? Could they have killed him so he wouldn’t expose them and drag them down?”
“That’s why I called it sacrificing the pawn to save the king.” Ruan Zhan said. “There’s also another important reason. That little ghost was injured by me. If the opponent’s leader treasures that future high-level shikigami, he might very well use other shikigami and people’s souls to let it recover sooner or to avoid damaging its spirit root.”
“So the dead was sacrificed by his own side. Then I guess it has nothing to do with us kind and magnanimous Chinese folk. This opponent is ruthless enough. He uses every resource to its fullest. He’s a lot like Yang Mu You. Birds of a feather flock together as expected.” Wan Li looked out the window and saw the police had arrived. “He obtained three things with one move. First, the death absolved them of their failure and they can pretend it never happened. Lying to oneself is a very good way to reconcile things mentally. Secondly, they got rid of a wounded burden and kept their advantage of being hidden. Perhaps there had been no hope of recovery for that person, and there was no further use for him. Thirdly, the little ghost healed up after devouring the failure and his shikigami. Using the weak to protect the strong. Japanese society truly is a little animalistic. Survival of the fittest. No wonder they are all so tough under their cultivated appearances.”
Ruan Zhan also strolled over to the window and watched the sirens and churning crowd. “They actually gained four things with one move! You forgot the most important thing. The opponent’s act successfully keeps us stuck here!”
“They don’t want us to return to City A?”
“That’s right.” Ruan Zhan nodded, but didn’t look too worried. “As I said, that basement has a spirit suppressing spell that seeped through the wall. The origins of the house and the little ghost are so mysterious. Its sudden appearance might very well be the source of the secrets. You know that if it’s hard to catch a spirit, finding its corpse and luring it back is the best way to destroy it. I’m guessing the little ghost died near the house, perhaps even inside it. Although we don’t know why he died there, why he’s so perverse and why he’s in that form, we should start figuring things out from the house. I was planning on going back to City A in the morning to do so, but it seems the opponent is aware of this point as well. Therefore, they made the first move to keep us here before looking for the little ghost’s corpse themselves. Think about it. If a foreign tourist died so tragically, as though crushed by a hundred carriages, could the local police turn a blind eye? If they applied some pressure via the consulate, no one here will be able to leave.”
“That’s right. By the time we’re free to go, the dishes would have gone cold!”
“They’ll also be waiting to settle the score.”
“Then what should we do? Waiting for their revenge is so terrifying.” Wan Li said weakly, but his expression didn’t look worried.
“I hear you’re college educated.” Ruan Zhan suddenly laughed. “You should know what ‘the mantis stalks the cicada while the oriole waits behind’ means!”
The deceased was verified to be Matsui Shigenori, son of Matsui Iwane who had reported the incident. According to his testimony, the family of three had made a trip to China since his son had some rare vacation time. Because the father, Matsui Iwane, was a little superstitious, they had fled down the mountain after hearing weird noises the night before. They didn’t have time to inform anyone. They ran straight to the back of the mountain where they found an abandoned little hut. Since Matsui Iwane was elderly, they decided to rest there for a bit. Matsui Shigenori wanted to find some firewood for warmth, but ended up not returning. Matsui Iwane and his daughter-in-law Noriko only left the mountain the next evening and came to town to report him missing. Unexpectedly, they found his corpse in Xiaowang Village that very night.
“What a well-crafted story!” Wan Li raised his thumb again, but this time in sincere praise. “Apart from thinking they’re a little weird, there practically isn’t anything that can be refuted. Ha…to travel here in such weather and run off in the middle of the night. They found a little hut but the filial son actually went to get firewood in a blizzard. Furthermore, after such an ordeal that old fellow actually didn’t die! But how did they explain the son’s corpse being moved to the village? It was even placed in the middle of the main road. What enemy of theirs pulled off such a feat!?”
“That’s no longer their concern. They just tossed the mystery to the Chinese police and retreated. Really impressive!” Ruan Zhan looked out the window as he spoke.
It was already noon the next day. As expected, they were stuck in this village and had to cooperate with the investigation. Luckily he had performed deep hypnosis and inception on the people in the villa earlier. Therefore, they were able to pose as ordinary tourists and didn’t go through too much trouble. He knew that after this matter, the opponent will know he had the ability to alter people’s short-term memories. They would be even more on guard!
“They’ve trapped us but they aren’t able to leave either! Do they have reinforcements?” Wan Li asked.
“How can there be so many Yinyang Masters and Daoists in this day and age!? Moreover, the fewer people who know about such a secret matter the better. I think there won’t be anyone else.”
“Didn’t you say we should be on guard against a fourth person?”
“That’s just being cautious. At the least this fourth person won’t be nearby. I just heard that due to his son’s passing, Matsui Iwane suffered some major heart problems. He has to go to a large hospital in the city for treatment.”
“Like a cicada shedding its carapace!” Wan Li sighed in praise again, blurring the lines between their camps. However, he immediately expressed his stance with his next sentence. “Or rather…more like a turtle shedding its shell?”
Ruan Zhan started laughing. “Fine, let them shed their shells while we make like cicadas and shed our carapaces.”