Xiao Xia stood still, not knowing if she should look into the basin.
She felt the other party had malicious intentions. They were trying to harm them in the first place. However, the thought of saving Wan Li was too alluring. Despite knowing it might be a trick, she still wanted to give it a try. The more choices they had, the more chances there would be!
She slowly walked to the bed. It had become crooked from being pulled by the white hands. Half of the curtains had also been torn off. Wan Li was still unresponsive, lying there like a wooden person. Although she had expected this, she still couldn’t help but feel sorrowful.
He was such a passionate, talkative person. He was curious towards novel things and loved to try things out. He loved helping others, was chivalrous, and was the ideal partner for many women. Now he lay there like a vegetable, unaware of what was happening. If he was still conscious, he would probably feel he’d be better off dead rather than endure this suffering!
He had done so many things for her without asking for anything in return. Now, it was her turn to repay him. Therefore, she was willing to pay any price!
With this determination, she first climbed onto the bed and struggled to adjust Wan Li into a more comfortable position. She tidied up the curtain and gripped the bloodwood sword tightly before walking to the water basin. Suspiciously and vigilantly, she looked inside.
The water was still shaking slightly. When she approached, it started shaking more vigorously, as though it were about to spill over. Xiao Xia instinctively wanted to move aside, but also understood she had no choice but to look. She forced herself to remain in place.
She remembered the water inside had been clear. Ruan Zhan had fetched it from a sweet mountain spring nearby. She had changed it out after washing her face. Yet at this time, the water had turned black for some reason. It was cloudy like a slurry, and gave off a grassy, fishy smell.
A bubble suddenly formed in the center of the water’s surface, startling Xiao Xia into taking a step back. She watched in astonishment as a second, third and fourth bubble arose, until the entire surface seemed to be boiling.
This lasted around two minutes before the water grew calm again. However, it was no longer black, and instead became reflective like a mirror.
Xiao Xia couldn’t help but take a closer look. Something round was gradually floating to the surface. It was right in the center of the water basin. Upon closer look, it turned out to be a woman’s face!
Maybe because it had been soaked in the water, the face was pale and swollen. The eyes and mouth were shut and the black long hair floated in the water like weeds, undulating gently as though beckoning her.
Xiao Xia didn’t know what the mastermind was up to. She only felt that the face was very familiar. Therefore, she held the bloodwood sword and took a step closer. She was practically standing over the basin as she looked downwards.
It was a proper oval-shaped face with a pronounced forehead. It had a pair of faint eyebrows and a small, cute pert nose. The lips were tender and alluring and by the corner of the left eye was a small, almost imperceptible red mole the size of a sesame seed…
Xiao Xia stood frozen. Cold sweat trickled down her brow, along her neck and into her collar. She had never seen such a horrifying scene, never had a more horrifying experience. The face in the water basin was too familiar. It was so familiar she didn’t even need to think to recognize it. She saw it several times on a daily basis!
The face in the water basin was her own!
If it weren’t for the paleness and the swelling, as though it had been drowned, and if it wasn’t just the head with everything below the neck ending in a bloody stump, Xiao Xia might have thought she was looking into a mirror floating in the water!
It was too similar! It was truly too similar! Even the red mole was exactly the same! This has to be an illusion intended to strike at her mind. But what did the person hiding behind the scenes want? Was it a prediction that she would soon drown, or was it just to scare her?
As though to clear up her doubts, the face in the water suddenly opened its eyes, staring straight at the startled Xiao Xia!
“Yue Xiao Xia!” It spoke, causing a stream of bubbles to rise to the surface. The voice was also filled with gurgling water sounds. It really sounded like a head was speaking underwater, not just an illusion.
Xiao Xia shrank back and didn’t answer.
The woman in the water started laughing and gloating. “Yue Xiao Xia, Wan Li will die soon! He’s about to die!”
Xiao Xia still didn’t respond, but she felt a spike stabbing into her soul.
“He will definitely die! It will be a very painful, tragic death. His organs will be shredded by an invisible hand. His skin will be corroded by seeping black water. He won’t be able to speak, but will die from the pain!”
“Shut your mouth!”
“He will die, in a lot of pain…a lot of pain…a lot of pain…” The image in the water was like a broken record, repeating the same words in a strange tone. It seemed as if it would never stop, each word like a needle stabbing into Xiao Xia’s heart until she felt the pain all over. She couldn’t listen any longer, yet had no choice but to keep listening.
She wanted to flip the water basin over. It would feel great and she wouldn’t have to listen anymore, but she would also lose the opportunity to find the other party.
“What the hell do you want?” She asked loudly during the brief pause between the words.
“I want you as the bride!”
This response left Xiao Xia stupefied. It was so unexpected, so incredulous that everything she intended to say got stuck in her throat. What did it mean? She was to be the bride? Whose bride? Why?
“Want to save him?” The person in the water asked. The voice suddenly became gentle and enticing.
“Are you willing to pay any price?”
“I’m willing.” Xiao Xia unrestrainedly voiced her inner thoughts.
“Then become the bride!” The person in the water started laughing sinisterly. “Become his bride! He’s waited for forty years!”
“Who is he?”
“You just have to put on the wedding dress tomorrow at midnight and the black cat will come fetch you.” The person in the water avoided the question and mumbled. Then, another white hand stretched out from beside the face as the water swayed.
That hand seemed to be the one from before, scaring Xiao Xia stiff.
Hadn’t those evil white hands been sucked into the tattered banner? What was going on? Did Ruan Zhan’s safety net have no effect?
As she hesitated, the hand from the water basin had already reached her neck. The wet and cold sensation made her shiver. She tried to get free but failed to do so. She could only suppress her chattering teeth and say, “Wan Li’s been afflicted by a death Gu. If the caster doesn’t die, he won’t be able to live. Besides, even if I agree to your master’s terms, what if he goes back on his word? Do you take me for a fool?”
“That’s up to you. He’s a devil, so he only offers a bargain. He won’t force you.”
“I don’t…believe you!”
“You don’t believe me?” The person in the water laughed again. “Unfortunately, it’s the only thing you can do to save your friend. It’s also his only chance. I know you guys are trying to find my master. But you won’t be able to. He isn’t him, he isn’t him!”
“Let go of me!” Xiao Xia wasn’t able to endure the cold, clammy sensation on her neck and struggled again, but still failed to free herself. Instead, she realized she was bending at the waist and was now face to face with the water basin, as if she were about to be pulled inside.
“It’s the only chance, take the risk! For your friend’s sake, take the risk!” The voice directed her enticingly. At the same time, the hand around Xiao Xia’s neck exerted some more force, pulling her face close to the water.
“Don’t tell the man surnamed Ruan about this matter! He will mess things up! Remember this, remember this by all means!” The voice grew soft, as if whispering, making it seem eerier. Looking at her own deceased face smiling sinisterly made fear well up from Xiao Xia’s heart.
The mention of Ruan Zhan’s name reminded her that she still held the bloodwood sword in her hand. The surface of the water grew closer and closer, as if the person inside intended to drown her. She hurriedly swung the sword, sweeping the water along with the basin away! The water splashed all over the floor and the basin tumbled away.
Xiao Xia stood there panting heavily, feeling the relief of being able to breathe unobstructed. She involuntarily touched her neck and felt a patch of water. She now understood the hand had been formed by the water.
“The wedding dress is underneath the shrine!” A voice sounded from the floor.
Xiao Xia jumped and looked over. She saw that the puddle of water on the floor vaguely reflected the face that looked like her own. It flowed, twisted and slowly vanished along with the water as the voice also slowly faded until it trailed off.
“Follow the black cat! The wedding dress is…”
She recalled that the night Wan Li was afflicted by the Gu, the strange black liquid in the jug had also slowly flowed like this and then drilled into Wan Li’s foot, causing him to fall unconscious with a blade hanging over him.
There was no way she would allow that blade to fall. If there was no other choice, she was willing to take that blow for him!
But what should she do now? Should she follow Ruan Zhan’s plan and have faith in him, waiting in place for him to save Wan Li? Or should she listen to the person behind the scene and make a deal with the devil?
The person in the water had warned her not to tell Ruan Zhan. This meant she had no one to discuss the matter with and had to make up her own mind. However, this choice was really too difficult. She wouldn’t hesitate to put her life on the line for Wan Li, but the thought of having to marry some unknown thing gave her goosebumps. She felt so uncomfortable she’d rather die!
He isn’t him!
The person in the water had said so. Then who was he? Why was he interested in her? If he really was Huang Bo Heng, were his feelings for her so deep? Deep enough to harm Wan Li just because he was her “boyfriend”? Then if he found out she lived with Ruan Zhan, if he found out she pined for Ruan Zhan, would he try to kill him?
Even if she made the sacrifice, would the other party keep their word?
However, the person in the water was right: she wasn’t qualified to discuss terms. She could only take the risk! She was in the open while their opponents were in the dark. If Ruan Zhan really wasn’t able to find and kill the mastermind within the time limit, Wan Li was dead for sure.
She couldn’t let him die, and couldn’t let Ruan Zhan die even more! If there really was no other way, she should still take the chance. However, thinking of Huang Bo Heng, that perverted thing, made her feel like throwing up.
She was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Either choice would lead to regrets. She stood for an unknown period of time before deciding to first wait and see. If Ruan Zhan failed to find a way to save Wan Li before tomorrow night, she could only take the risk. Even if she didn’t know whether that pervert would keep his word…as the saying goes, “one can only do one’s best, and the rest is up to fate”!
In the worst case scenario, she’ll take that perverted bastard down with her!
Xiao Xia was a frank and slightly stubborn person. Since she made up her mind, she no longer worried about it. Therefore, she first limped back to the bed and checked on Wan Li. He was still unconscious but at least his situation hadn’t worsened. She figured that since the opponent’s goal was achieved, they probably wouldn’t mess around anymore. Therefore, she decided to go take a look at the shrine on the second floor. She wanted to see whether it had all been an illusion, the work of ghosts or if they had already fallen into their opponent’s scheme.
She used the lighter’s flame to find the fallen candleholder and lit it once again. She stood for a while, watching the flame flicker. Only after seeing it was burning normally did she go downstairs in relief.
The second floor was very spacious. One side was filled with jugs and the other was the empty shrine. Ruan Zhan had already checked it out when he brought them here. Based on his cautious nature, he would have discovered anything strange.
Yet when Xiao Xia lifted the bamboo screen underneath the shrine, she found a large red bundle as expected!
She reached her hand out probingly, and ended up taking it out in the end. Then, she slowly sat on the floor and lightly opened it up. In the candlelight, the wedding dress in the bundle was laid out before her.
There was a silver head ornament at the very top. Xiao Xia was completely unfamiliar with the garments of the minority tribes, and wasn’t able to tell what tribe this was from. She just felt that the silver ornament was rather complicated, but the craftsmanship was extremely exquisite. Underneath the ornament was a tribal wedding dress. The top was completely embroidered with a multitude of colors. It was extremely beautiful, and the original color of the cloth was completely covered. There were many embroidered patterns such as flowers, birds, fish and insects, but each one was vivid and lifelike.
Xiao Xia reached out and touched it. The fabric felt rather good. The natural, pure texture was transmitted to her heart via her hand, making her stroke the wedding dress admiringly. If it hadn’t been gifted by that pervert with extremely disgusting intentions, if it had been gifted by Ruan Zhan, she would have wanted to try it on immediately.
Beneath the dress was a pair of shoes. When she picked them up, Xiao Xia realized she had seen them twice before. Once was on the feet of the raincoat ghost and the other was on the feet of that weird woman. It turns out those really were bridal shoes!
The shoes were too beautiful and Xiao Xia couldn’t help but hold them in her hand. The moment her hand made contact, she felt a wave of dizziness. Her hands seemed to not be under her control as she put one of the shoes on her foot.
She hadn’t actually put it on, and merely wanted to measure it against her foot. However, the shoe seemed to have a will of its own as it wrapped around her foot. It fit just right!
The moment she put the shoe on, a scene flashed across her mind…
A young ethnic girl stood in front of her beside the shrine. She held a Dharmic tool Xiao Xia had never seen before, and danced a dance Xiao Xia had never seen before. Then, she knelt before the shrine and said, “God, I don’t want to let my man be taken by a ghost. He would have to eat an infant every other season. I can’t bear it. I’ve thought of another way, Ah Nan!” She cried out, her voice both clear and delicate, exceptionally pleasant to the ear.
A man’s voice responded and a dark shadow appeared before the shrine.
“He has voluntarily imbibed my Gu. From now on, he is my ghostly husband!” That woman’s voice said.
Xiao Xia did her best to see the man’s face, but all she saw was a clump of shadow!