Seeing the chief have misgivings, Wan Li once again mentioned some of Witch Doctor Ah Bai’s appearance and mannerisms, including the red coral necklace around her neck and the snake-shaped ornament made of white pearls. Because he spoke in such detail, the chief completely believed him.
“I have extreme respect for your beliefs and religion. However, I have a question. I heard that people who raise Gu must repay the Gu in some way. The more evil the Gu, the harsher the requirements. Gu that kill people must use their victims as nourishment. If, someday, the so-called evil people have all died, the person raising the Gu must offer it innocent lives to prevent themselves from being devoured. Is the drug spirit the same way? I’m guessing the people here must have suffered plenty of harm from this?” Wan Li took a guess at seeing the chief’s expression. Unexpectedly, the chief really nodded. It seemed this place truly had suffered from Gu poison before.
“It’s normal to fear retaliation. However, allowing this killer to roam free might result in an even worse outcome. We also promise to protect the village.” Wan Li said sincerely. “My friend is actually a very powerful Daoist. He will definitely keep the villagers from harm if you help. Please trust us.”
The village chief remained silent. He was clearly having an internal struggle. He wanted to protect the village but was also afraid of bringing supernatural retaliation upon his family. He was stuck between a rock and a hard place, and was temporarily unable to choose.
Wan Li understood the chief’s dilemma and didn’t rush him. He just waited quietly to one side. After a long time, Ruan Zhan who had been silent the whole time suddenly spoke. “I think that Witch Doctor Ah Bai showed Xiao Xia this dream because she wants us to get rid of this Gu caster. After all, only the god of all things has the right to preside over life and death. No one should be allowed to act in the place of god. Since she has already become an immortal, she’s unable to make a move herself. Therefore, she wants us to resolve this matter.”
He knew the villagers worshipped their god of all things. They also revered and trusted this Witch Doctor Ah Bai, even to the point of blind worship. Therefore, he used these points to persuade the chief.
Ruan Zhan also believed Ah Bai was trying to tell them something. Otherwise, Xiao Xia wouldn’t repeatedly have these visions. He had previously investigated this bamboo building. There weren’t any spirits lingering here, and there was also no evil aura. It wasn’t a place where Yin and Yang collided. That was just hearsay and legend turning it into something mysterious. As for the visions, there was no malicious intent within them. Ah Bai must have foreseen some things and used witchcraft they didn’t understand to leave behind her will. It was like a video recording. That wedding dress was like the play button on the video.
It is said powerful witches could foresee the future. Ah Bai was a famous witch doctor from the past. It wasn’t that strange for her to have this ability. Perhaps some of it had occurred right under her nose, but she had been powerless to change them. Therefore, she was asking for help from those who came after.
His words were effective in persuading the chief as expected. The elder hesitated again, and seeing their sincere faces he finally decided to tell them everything he knew.
“In our generation, Witch Doctor Ah Bai was extremely revered. Every village in the area would look for her if anything occurred. She wasn’t like those powerful Daoist Lords who would charge high fees for their services. She also wasn’t like those witches who were unapproachable. Her powers were incomparable yet she didn’t charge the villagers a single penny. She lived an extremely simple life. This bamboo building and her daily necessities were all willingly donated by the villagers. Since she was powerful and kindhearted, our villages remained safe despite being impoverished, no matter what was going on outside the mountains. Everyone said it was due to her protection. The people here practically believed in her like the god of all things. However, she suddenly vanished not long after the emancipation. We saw no signs of her, alive or dead. Some say she had revealed too many of heaven’s secrets and was punished for protecting too many people. Others say she had become an immortal. Regardless, no one saw her ever again. Since then, no witch doctors here were ever as powerful or as kind as her.” The chief let out a long sigh. “Actually, I’ve only just turned sixty this year. I almost have no impression of this incredible witch doctor. However, my dad was the previous chief. I’ve heard him speak about Witch Doctor Ah Bai too many times. The elders still around in the village all know about her too.”
“Was she married?” Wan Li asked.
“It’s said her abilities are innate, which is to say bestowed by the heavens. Therefore, she couldn’t marry a man of our world. However…” The chief hesitated for a moment. “The elders said people have seen a man around her bamboo building before. Because she was of the Su Su Tribe, everyone assumed she took a drug spirit as her husband. Yet she’s lived here for so long and no one ever came to harm. It shouldn’t have been a drug spirit.”
“Then did she take any apprentices?” Ruan Zhan raised another question.
Their main goal was to get information regarding Ah Bai’s lover Si Ma Nan and the groom from back then. Various pieces of evidence suggested that the two were intricately linked with this entire matter. The plan was to gradually approach the topic before bringing up the groom. However, the chief’s expression immediately changed at the mention of the word “apprentices”.
The two looked at each other and sharpened their attention. Was the source of all their problems Witch Doctor Ah Bai’s apprentices?
“Chief, if it’s something important, please tell us about it.” Wan Li hurriedly added earnestly. “It might be the key we need to solve the case. If you have misgivings, we can set up a restriction. No outsiders will know what we’ve discussed today.”
The chief smiled bitterly and shook his head. “The heavens observe the acts of man. What can be hidden from man cannot be hidden from god. I’m not afraid for myself, I just don’t want to implicate my family or the village. However….forget it. Since Witch Doctor Ah Bai has sent a dream, she will definitely protect us.”
The chief let out another long sigh. He rolled up a tobacco pipe and took a long puff. “Witch Doctor Ah Bai’s two apprentices are a little older than I am. One of them is a distant cousin of mine. The other is the groom from Najin, whose bride threw herself into the river. My cousin is called Ah Wu. The groom’s family is from our village. He was called Huang Shi Tou, but we called him Ah Ya. He didn’t speak when he was a child so people in the village assumed he was a mute.”1
Neither Ruan Zhan nor Wan Li spoke. They were startled by the truth of the matter. They didn’t expect the weirdo in the woods Ah Wu to be the chief’s cousin. They also didn’t expect the groom was Witch Doctor Ah Bai’s apprentice.
Actually, this seemed to be very reasonable. They suspected the groom to be the mastermind, and he was also so powerful, essentially a genius in the Gu arts. He could also easily control plants and animals. He must have certain innate abilities and a skilled teacher. Within the mountain, was there anyone more skilled or powerful than the legendary and revered witch doctor?!
“You outsiders don’t understand. In this place, children with innate abilities are regarded as divine children. They aren’t common, and whether boy or girl, they will live a long life while protecting these woods. Legend says only one such person appears in several centuries.” The chief blew out a puff of smoke, immersed in his memories. “My dad told me after Witch Doctor Ah Bai was confirmed to possess abilities bestowed by the heavens, confirmed to be a divine child, everyone in the mountain was extremely excited. Someone with divine powers had actually appeared within our generation. It was a huge blessing. Everyone assumed it would be several centuries before a new divine child would appear. Unexpectedly, it happened again twenty years later, and there were actually two of them. They were my cousin Ah Wu and Ah Ya.”
“How is possession of divine powers verified?” Ruan Zhan asked.
“When a divine child is born, the local Daoist Lords and Ladies will receive a premonition. They will know which family had given birth to the divine child. Some divine children are only discovered after they grow up a little. They’re able to suppress ordinary ghosts without any training and control ordinary Gu. The most powerful witch doctor recognized by the public does the final verification. We ordinary people do not know the details.”
“Why is it similar to some Tibetan customs?” Wan Li muttered quietly and continued to listen.
“My cousin Ah Wu and Ah Ya were both five years old when they were discovered to have powers. Witch Doctor Ah Bai was the one who confirmed their identities as divine children. It goes without saying that my family was overjoyed and proud to have given birth to my cousin. Ah Ya’s family was even more so. His family had always been disdained by the tribespeople. Actually, the villagers aren’t bad people and won’t shun others for no reason. Especially those of the same tribe. However, Ah Ya’s dad was a renowned scoundrel around here. He was lazy and muddled about. His lack of ambition infuriated his parents to death. He then ran off to Burma to cause trouble, and was almost killed as a sacrifice to the gods by the aborigines there. Although he escaped back here, he became crippled and was no longer able to cause trouble for his village. He depended on the charity of those he bullied previously to make a living. Later, he picked up a crazy woman from somewhere and made her his wife. Only then was Ah Ya born. With parents like that, the child was pitiful to begin with. However, he never spoke with anyone. His staring eyes were sinister and gave people the creeps. No one dared get close to him. Immature children and unkind adults would sometimes bully him, but he never resisted. If someone hadn’t seen him speaking to the village dogs, the villagers would really have assumed him to be mute.”
“He spoke with animals?” Ruan Zhan asked. After the chief confirmed it, he finally understood why the mastermind could so easily control plants and animals as well as Gu. It turns out he was innately gifted with such awesome powers.
This made him recall his own childhood. When he discovered his innate Yinyang Eye that enabled him to see and play with ghosts, he was immediately isolated like some freak. As a four or five year old, he had to face this world’s misgivings, malice and rejection. Almost everyone hated, feared or neglected him. This sort of fear and loneliness couldn’t be described by words.
In that moment, he understood Ah Ya’s feelings and sympathized with him a little.
“Therefore, once Ah Ya was confirmed to be a divine child, his family was naturally proud. The villagers started treating them well since they were the divine child’s parents. His dad actually turned over a new leaf.” The village chief sighed. “Everything was fine at first. However…ai, you guys know that the word “witch” in witch doctor implies they were all female. Only the women could pass down the divine powers to the next generation. Men were not able to do so. Therefore, Ah Ya was able to marry and have children. It happened to be the period of the Cultural Revolution. All ancient superstition was to be abolished. The Daoist Lords and Ladies all had to go home and become farmers. However, their status was still very high in the eyes of villagers like us. This might be why the Najin Village girl’s parents happily agreed to the marriage when she caught Ah Ya’s eye. They didn’t care whether or not their daughter was willing. In the end…ai!”
“Although this matter is very tragic, why is it so taboo to discuss?” Wan Li gently guided the discussion. “When we asked around in the village, none of those elders were willing to talk. They seemed very afraid. Did something happen afterwards?”
“That’s because Ah Ya also…also….” The chief struggled for a while, unable to find the right words to describe the man no one in the village was willing to mention. “He used extremely vicious methods to retaliate against those involved.”
“What happened?” Ruan Zhan frowned. He knew the chief was about to get to the heart of the matter.
The chief swallowed, clearly still a little frightened. “Have you guys looked into the bride’s family?” He asked.
“We have.” Ruan Zhan answered honestly.
“The bride’s parents died shortly after of unknown causes.”
“Ai, looks like that’s still the official explanation.”
“Things didn’t happen like that, right?” Wan Li pressed.
This region was rife with Gu poison and knowledge of witchcraft. The normal people were already filled with reverence towards those with powers. Towards a divine child like Ah Ya, they were both reverent and afraid. In the minds of the commoners, each place would have a powerful sorcerer for protection. Yet if that person was angered, it would affect the entire region. There would be plague and calamity to come. As expected, everyone worked together to cover up what Ah Ya did in his anger and humiliation. They were afraid to anger him further into retaliating against the village.
Someone who’s been bullied from a young age suddenly became a divine child respected and feared by all. Unless his willpower was exceptional, he would naturally become arrogant and intolerant. Huang Shi Tou, or rather Ah Ya, was a little more extreme. His transformation occurred during his childhood. He had yet to mature at the time. He had a cripple and a madwoman as parents. From a psychological standpoint, his personality would change even more violently.
Therefore, when his love and marriage suffered a setback, it was way too likely for him to become enraged. It was essentially guaranteed.
“His parents were actually the first to die.” The chief shook his head, clearly still apprehensive. “They died three days after the wedding. They were smiling in death, as if they had seen what they most wanted in the world. However, their bodies were stiff like wood, their hands grasping upwards even in death. Everyone knew what had happened, yet no one dared say anything. They didn’t expect him to be so horrifying as to vent his anger on his own parents. He avoided others during those days, like when he was a child. He didn’t speak, and he would glare creepily at anyone who walked by. He went all over the mountain every day, until one night ten days later. That night, over twenty people disappeared from Naman and Najin. They were all involved with the wedding, including the bride’s parents. The scholarly youth had returned to the city so he wasn’t included.”
“What on earth happened that night?” Wan Li was impetuous in nature and couldn’t help but rush. He was stopped by Ruan Zhan’s look, which told him to calm down and keep listening.