The mastermind, Ah Ya, the Divine Child with heavenly gifts, the Daoist Lord with incomparably profound witchcraft and sorcery, the almost seventy-year old who harmed countless people, Huang Shi Tou, was actually Guan Zheng! The Guan Zheng who had died!
The moment Wan Li saw the photo, the memory that had been out of reach due to his injuries immediately recovered due to the stimulus. The malicious face that appeared outside the wooden building’s window the night he lost consciousness immediately surfaced in his mind. It was the face of the person in the photo: Guan Zheng!
“Didn’t…he die?” Xiao Xia asked in shock. “He was autopsied by the forensic investigators, and then cremated! I personally arranged his memorial service!”
“His powers are so great, it’s completely possible for him to keep things hidden from the police and use an illusion to trick the investigators into thinking he had been autopsied. Huang Bo Heng was a millionaire, and was also the donor behind the non-profit law firm. The funeral was arranged with their money and manpower. You only arranged the gathering. There were too many opportunities for them to falsify things with money!” Ruan Zhan explained.
“But what made you think it was him?” Wan Li asked. “I have to say, I’m unwillingly impressed by you.”
“It wasn’t any exact analysis. It was just a sort of feeling.” Ruan Zhan said honestly. “I sorted out all the people involved in this matter. I assumed each one was the mastermind as long as they were just slightly involved before using the process of elimination. In the end, Guan Zheng was the only murky trail. Therefore, I showed you his photo. Luckily, Xiao Xia had taken a picture of him.”
“Who would have thought she could conjure up clues by messing around.” Wan Li patted her head. “Have you noticed? Although she messes up a ton, she’s super lucky. That’s why Gu Long1 said it best: Those naturally beautiful or intelligent cannot compare to those naturally lucky. Our Xiao Xia is such an example.”
“Stop joking around.” Xiao Xia still found it hard to believe. “But how did you come to suspect him?” She asked Ruan Zhan.
“Because he died! Because he seemed to be uninvolved on the surface, yet is intricately linked to this matter. Think about it. Who approached you and got you involved? Who lured you to these mountains? Who encountered those elder-bullying cases? Who was closely connected to Huang Bo Heng? As Sherlock Holmes once said: When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
“But what is his goal?”
“We’ll let him tell us once we find him. Or perhaps we can have this incredible psychiatrist of ours do some analysis.”
“Better to let him tell us.” Wan Li shrugged. “I’m more worried about how to lure him out, and then how to beat him.”
“No need to lure him out. He will come find us.” Ruan Zhan smiled coldly. “What we need to do is once again win from a position of weakness. We’ve done it many time before. We can definitely do it again.”
“Then let’s go back and wait for opportunity to knock! No, more like wait for the opportunity to knock him dead!” Wan Li stood up and pulled Xiao Xia up.
“You guys go back first. I’m going to make a trip to the village chief and show him Guan Zheng’s photo. I want to be absolutely certain Ah Ya is Guan Zheng!”
“Alright, I’ll go back and put on that wedding dress.” Xiao Xia suddenly said. “I want to see if Witch Doctor Ah Bai will contact me via visions again and tell me more. Perhaps it’ll be of help to us.”
Witch Doctor Ah Bai sat cross-legged on the altar. She wore a long red robe embroidered with strange symbols. There was a feathered crest decorated with red and white beads. Both hands were elegantly clasped as they formed seals and she was lightly chanting something.
Some special objects were placed around her. They seemed to be bones of various animals, but they were decorated with fresh flowers. Perhaps it was due to her gentle features but the scene wasn’t weird or sinister. Instead, it gave Xiao Xia a feeling of holiness.
The chanting grew louder and louder, and became a sort of humming in the end. It sounded like the chirping of cicadas on a summer afternoon. It was clamorous yet also tranquil, making one feel drowsy.
At this moment, the scene before Xiao Xia’s eyes swayed and the ground also started trembling underfoot like there was an earthquake. After several seconds, things became calm again. Witch Doctor Ah Bai stood up and lifted the bamboo mat in front of her. Beneath it was an enormous copper basin over two meters in diameter.
The basin was filled with water. When the bamboo mat was lifted, the water started sloshing fiercely. The strange thing was that despite the fullness of the basin and the violent shaking, not a single drop spilled out.
Ah Bai slowly knelt in front of the basin and used her slender, fair finger to stir the water inside. The surface immediately became calm without the slightest ripple. Then, a silver luster spread and the surface became a mirror. Xiao Xia felt this mirror of water was similar to the water basin the raincoat ghost used the day of the forced marriage. However, Ah Bi’s mirror of water was very pure, without any hints of fiendish aura.
“Your follower knows all things must follow the path set before them. Knowing today what tomorrow brings goes against the heavens and shortens life.” She spoke piously towards the mirror. “However, your follower won’t live beyond this year’s harvest season. There is no difference between living a few days more or less. To atone for all my mistakes, your follower has no choice but to defy natural order. God of all things, give your follower a sign of things to come. Allow your follower to make arrangements and prevent her personal mistakes from harming others!”
After Ah Bai finished speaking, she hesitantly leaned towards the basin but stopped halfway. She seemed very afraid of what the future might show. However, she still leaned down after a moment of hesitation.
Xiao Xia couldn’t see what the basin showed. She only saw Ah Bai watching seriously. Less than a minute later, the feathered crest on her head started trembling. In the end, her whole body started shaking. It was obvious she had experienced a fierce change in emotions. When she raised her head, her face was already covered in tears.
“Your follower’s sins cannot be rectified. May the god of all things administer punishment.” She took several steps back, knelt and kowtowed. Then, she got up resolutely, took out a small embroidered pouch and put it in a hidden compartment.
This compartment was different from the one where Xiao Xia stored the bloodwood sword. It was behind the altar. This plain, bamboo building unexpectedly had so many secret mechanisms. Besides, no one would search behind the altar. The location was rather secure.
She used a special method to open the complicated mechanism and then closed it again. She repeated this three times while leaning to the side, as though intentionally giving the “observer” Xiao Xia a clear view.
Afterwards, she took out a pair of scissors. Removing her feathered headdress, she viciously cut at her thick, black hair, removing a large handful.
Her actions were swift and decisive, making Xiao Xia cry out loud. Yet she realized she didn’t actually make any sound. She watched as Ah Bai soaked the hair in a prepared basin of liquid. The liquid turned grass green and Xiao Xia could smell a piercing medicinal and herbal scent.
The smell made her dizzy and the vision became a little blurry. This made her feel anxious, afraid the scene was going to fade. Luckily, things became clear again after some time. However, they were now on the third floor of the bamboo building. Ah Bai’s outfit had also changed. She wore a casual outfit and her uneven hair was now neatly done in a bun. She had her head lowered as she embroidered the wedding dress.
Xiao Xia could feel that this scene wasn’t set right after the previous one. Several days had already passed.
She knew that the tribal wedding dress took a long time to embroider. Some girls would even start personally embroidering their dress at eight or nine years old, and only complete it a few days before they got married. Ah Bai seemed to be on the final stretch of her work. Xiao Xia strongly felt that the threads she was using were the hairs she had soaked in the special liquid.
Was this how she left behind those visions? She used her witchcraft to preserve her memories in her hair, allowing Xiao Xia to see the past with her own eyes when she put on the dress! But what mistake did Ah Bai commit? What had she seen in the mirror of water? Why did she only leave hints without giving any answers? Had she seen Xiao Xia’s group when she looked into the future?
While she was pondering, the vision before her eyes vanished. The scene had completely vanished as if there had been a power outage. She awoke at the same time and saw Wan Li sitting on the bed looking at her concernedly.
She rolled over and got up. Without a word, she ran to the second floor, wanting to check on that secret compartment right away. Wan Li hobbled behind her, crying out: “Hey, hey, wait a moment. Your injuries aren’t healed yet. Hey, what are you doing? You should at least tell me. Why are you in such a hurry? Oi? Ignoring me? As expected, people are molded by their environment. You are acting just like Ah Zhan…”
He stopped speaking because he saw Xiao Xia desperately pull aside the heavy altar before opening a secret compartment with some very complicated and strange methods.
“Was this a hint from your visions?” He leapt over and asked, his expression growing serious.
Xiao Xia looked at him without speaking. She inexplicably felt nervous, and didn’t know what she was afraid of. Was the embroidered pouch still inside?
“Let me grab it.” Wan Li walked over and slowly stretched his hand in.
Looking at his careful probing, Xiao Xia didn’t even dare to breathe loudly. She saw him pause and slowly withdraw his hand. There was a small, embroidered pouch in his palm. Although its appearance was unbearably old, Xiao Xia immediately recognized it as the one Witch Doctor Ah Bai personally placed there.
The wedding dress retained its color due to Ah Bai’s sorcery. It would only fade once her heart has died. This small pouch was clearly not the same.
“What is it?” She wanted to grab it but Wan Li moved his hand away.
“Wait for Ah Zhan to return. Don’t be impatient, Xiao Xia.”
The sky had turned completely dark as Ruan Zhan slowly walked down the small forest path.
He had just returned from the village chief’s house. When the chief saw Guan Zheng’s photo on the phone, his startled and horrified expression told Ruan Zhan everything. There was no need for words.
Before he left, the chief had said, “He hasn’t changed. His expression is still the same as that night.”
This meant that while Xiao Xia was messing around with her phone back then, he had already planned on killing people! As for the motive, Ruan Zhan believed there had to be some underlying reason. However, he didn’t need to think about that at the moment. There was no difference between Guan Zheng and those types of twisted people anymore.
He didn’t set up any protective measures for the village. He believed Guan Zheng’s attention would be completely focused on them. He had already retaliated against the villagers before! Now, his goal was to have the three outsiders understand everything before burying them forever with his secrets in the forest. Then, he would steal Xiao Xia from his and Wan Li’s hands and make her his slave forever!
Since they were his goal, they just needed to keep away from the village to prevent others from coming to harm.
He didn’t use the space-warping technique because the Gu was becoming restless. If he overused his powers, he would no longer be able to suppress it. He didn’t have the chance to rest. This matter was about to conclude after all.
He walked slowly, pondering his next move. However, he suddenly felt something move up ahead. He didn’t raise his head but immediately judged that it was the weirdo in the forest, Ah Wu.
“Wait up, I’m not going to try and catch you. I also won’t ask you anything. I just want to tell you a few things.”
The bushes around rustled as his voice fell. Ah Wu was clearly running away. However, Ruan Zhan stood still. He knew she would return. She must have appeared because she had followed him to the chief’s house. She understood that the mystery was about to be unraveled. As part of the secret, she must also be uneasy.
As expected, the human aura within the bushes slowly approached.
“I already know everything was done by Huang Shi Tou, which is to say Ah Ya. The name he used in the city is Guan Zheng.” Ruan Zhan looked towards the stars and not at the bushes. “I don’t know why, but he was the one who killed Ah Wang and his brothers. The murders in the city were also caused by him. The tragic case many years ago in the mountain villages was also his doing. He was the one who cast the Death Gu on my friend, and wants to cast a Ghost Gu on my other friend. However, there’s no way I’ll allow it.”
He paused, sensing Ah Wu was still there. “I also know you and he are both Witch Doctor Ah Bai’s apprentices. I know she had a ghost husband, I know about the matter with the tribal bride and groom. Ultimately, I know all the details and I’m not afraid. You may leave now, because there’s nothing I really need your help with. However, you must hide far away. By no means should you come out!”
He walked off after speaking. There was a strange noise behind him, as if Ah Wu wanted him to stay but hesitated.
“Did you need help with anything?” Sensing Ah Wu’s fear, Ruan Zhan let out a silent sigh.
“He…is…very powerful.” Ah Wu finally spoke in a trembling, incomparably quiet voice. “He might be watching you behind one of these branches!”
“I will let him know that I, too, am very powerful!” Ruan Zhan said arrogantly in a cold voice.
He had never spoken this way before, but he was exceptionally furious this time. Guan Zheng had harmed Wan Li, and even wanted to steal Xiao Xia away!
“He truly ended up going to the city. My master’s husband was extremely fond of him, and said he would take him out of this mountain to a bigger place.” Ah Wu said abruptly.
Master’s husband? Witch Doctor Ah Bai’s lover? The ghost husband?
“The spell where you draw a circle in the air and disappear after taking a step, my master’s husband knows it too.”
Ruan Zhan’s heart trembled. He finally knew who Si Ma Nan was!
There couldn’t be a second person who could use such a spell. Even if there was, that person couldn’t be so intricately involved in this affair. There couldn’t be such a coincidence in this world!
Si Ma Nan was actually Yang Mu You! Or rather, the true identity of their old enemy was Si Ma Nan!
It wasn’t clear where he was from and how he was related to himself. Furthermore, Ruan Zhan didn’t know if his father’s death had anything to do with him, or why he would become Ah Bai’s ghost husband. Yet he finally knew his opponent’s real name.
“Help me!” A hand stretched out from the bushes and grabbed Ruan Zhan’s arm. “I’ve made a huge mistake! All of this is my fault!”