Book 6 Chapter 2: Coming of winds, herald of rain

         Xiao Xia’s hairs stood on end!

  Especially the ones on the back of her head, where she sensed something abnormal by the bedside lamp. She was no longer able to hide under the covers and feign sleep any longer. She leapt up and pounced over to the lamp, turning it on.

  The warm yellow light instantly turned on in a murky semicircle. However, it only lit up half the room. The area by the bathroom door was still dark.

  Xiao Xia stared wide-eyed, trying to see through the darkness, afraid to see something moving. As if in response to her, there was another flurry of sounds!

  Almost instinctively, Xiao Xia leapt for the lamp on the other side of the bed. She had completely forgotten that the creepy feeling had been coming from this direction!

  Her actions were rushed and chaotic. Her palm touched the porcelain base of the lamp, but before she found the switch she felt a burning sensation! She instinctively tried to withdraw her hand, but it was unexpectedly stuck to the base. As she pulled her hand back, the entire lamp was pulled onto the bed!

  ”Save me, it’s so hot!” A man’s crying voice came from the lamp.

  Xiao Xia cried out in fright. She scrambled away and leapt off the bed. Unable to worry about anything else, she immediately ran for the bathroom. Ah Bai was there. Wasn’t she an awesome witch doctor in her previous life? She must have a solution!

  As she dashed to the bathroom door, she happened to see a vase lying on the floor. It was desperately trying to “climb” back up, like a turtle that was flipped on its back!

  Clang, clang…

  The vase struggled a couple more times before finally “standing” up!

  This vase was an ornament that had been sitting on the room’s table. The white vase had faint red patterns. It was extremely beautiful. Xiao Xia loved the beauty in its simplicity. She even fiddled with it for a while before bed. But at this moment, what should have been a lifeless object now seemed as if possessed. It stood there “looking” up at her, its dark opening continuously making whimpering sounds!

  Xiao Xia was stunned. She stood at the bathroom door unmoving, until a voice called her from inside. Only then did she remember Ah Bai and hurriedly barged in!

  The silver bracelet was on the makeup counter, giving off a slight silver light. It was indeed Ah Bai calling her!

  She rushed over and picked up the bracelet. Only when the cool, gentle sensation in her palm spread did she feel that lingering burning gradually fade.  She tried to undo the patterned string seal, but the more anxious and flustered she was, the more she couldn’t undo it! Outside, footsteps sounded continuously, and she heard a door opening!

  This startled Xiao Xia. She thought the bathroom door had been opened. Her hand jerked heavily and the patterned string was pulled off.

  ”What happened? I heard you scream!” Ah Bai asked in concern. “Look at you, you’re covered in sweat!”  

  “Didn’t you sense it?” Xiao Xia stared at the bathroom door. It was still properly shut.  Now that Ah Bai was with her, she felt much safer. But Ah Bai unexpectedly hadn’t sensed the supernatural occurrences outside. “The vase…the vase and the lamp are both alive. They kept saying it was hot and wanted me to save them. There was also the sound of a man crying!”

  Ah Bai saw that Xiao Xia’s face was pale and her body was trembling. She hurriedly passed through the wall. Xiao Xia opened the bathroom door and followed closely behind. However, the situation in the room made them look at each other. There wasn’t anything abnormal at all. That white vase was properly in its place on the table and the lamp was also extremely normal.

  “There was definitely…”

  ”Shhh…” Ah Bai interrupted Xiao Xia and slowly drifted to the table. She looked the vase over repeatedly, and then went to check out the lamp.

  ”How is it?” Xiao Xia asked anxiously.

  ”Very normal. There’s no ghostly aura!” 

  “But I…could it have been a nightmare?” Xiao Xia approached the bed doubtfully. She mustered up her courage and quickly snuck her hand out to touch the lamp. It was slightly cold. It wasn’t even warm, let alone burning hot.

  She looked at her hand. Although the feeling earlier had been too realistic, the current situation made her start wondering whether it had been a dream.

  Right as she thought she had made a fool of herself and raised a false alarm, Ah Bai sniffed and said, “There’s an unfamiliar person’s smell in the room. Someone was in here! But don’t be afraid, there’s only the two of us now.” 

  ”You mean there was a thief earlier? Could the footsteps I heard have been…”

  ”I don’t know either, but I feel it wasn’t a hallucination or dream earlier. It might be someone acting as a ghost to scare you. Or perhaps there really was something unnatural that left the moment you entered the bathroom!” 

  Xiao Xia was speechless for a moment. Ah Bai’s conclusions were a little unexpected. She thought for a moment and picked up her clothes from the bed. “If it’s a ghost, you can deal with it. If it’s human, I’ll go get the innkeeper. I remember he was acting strangely today. Maybe the issue lies with him!” 

  ”Hey, don’t be impulsive!” Ah Bai stopped Xiao Xia who was tossing on her clothes randomly. “It’s so late. We don’t even have any proof, it won’t be easy to go bother others. If we were wrong, wouldn’t it be very rude? How about this. Since everything is calm again, you should sleep a little longer. I’ll protect you. We can go investigate the innkeeper early in the morning. Then, we can come up with countermeasures after getting back from the village.”    

  Xiao Xia considered it. “I guess. We shouldn’t startle the snake by beating the grass. If they ran off the moment you came out, they probably aren’t too powerful. It’s at most a sketchy inn where the guests get killed or robbed! Ai, I can’t change my impetuous nature!”  

  “But there are people who love that brash and impetuous nature of yours!” Ah Bai smiled and joked.

  Xiao Xia didn’t respond but she still felt a sense of accomplishment. When Ah Bai first came back with her, she was extremely reserved and timid. Now she had become much more relaxed and happy. If it weren’t for her being determined to find Si Ma Nan and Ruan Zhan saying it wasn’t appropriate for a human to stay with a spirit in the long run, Xiao Xia really wanted to be friends with her forever!

  They discussed how to investigate the innkeeper tomorrow and then Xiao Xia went back to bed. However, the moment she lay down she recalled what had happened earlier. With Ah Bai around, she wasn’t afraid anymore, but she became curious instead.

  Just what was going on? If it was a ghost, that wasn’t a big deal. It was either scaring her out of malice or it needed her help with something. There was no other explanation. If it was human, especially if it was the innkeeper, then that would be weird. She didn’t bring much money or precious jewelry. It wouldn’t make sense if they were after her life either. She had never been to this place before. She naturally had no grudges with anyone here, let alone one that was worth killing over. They could be after her beauty, but she didn’t think she was beautiful to that extent. Besides, she trusted her intuition. The shopkeeper’s interest in her was definitely not that type of interest.

  Could he have some grievances that required her help? But what grievances required him to scare others in such a frightening and annoying manner?!

  She tossed and turned, unable to sleep. Only when it was almost dawn did she sleep a little. Yet in such a brief period of time, she had another strange dream. She couldn’t remember any of it when she woke up. She only vaguely recalled walking in an empty town by herself.

  Even stranger was that when she went to look for the innkeeper in the morning, he was actually gone. Supposedly, he went out to handle some business right at dawn.

  This was too much of a coincidence. Was he avoiding her?

  Xiao Xia wanted to investigate a little. However, a large group of people in three vehicles were waiting for her to go give her sermon in the village. She had to give up her plan. She left after hurriedly sealing Ah Bai back into the bracelet.

  This day was extremely rough. The unmaintained roads were extremely bumpy, almost making her throw up everything she ate last night. Yet what made her almost vomit even more was how the day’s work turned out. What should have been an educative legal seminar became Vice Mayor Mao Fu’s personal public lecture, as well as those of the various public officials. This was all extended by several hours of interviews and filming by the reporters and journalists!

  The other three places hadn’t been like this!

  This made her vow in her heart that she would go to the next village by herself, even if she had to walk. She would never go with these people ever again!

  Only when dusk came did the group depart majestically. The trail of dust left by the cars was the only thing left behind that day. Maybe even the heavens were disgusted at this. On their way back, the weather suddenly changed.  The clear summer evening suddenly became dark. The wind blew wildly and rainclouds descended, pressing down upon the fifteen people in the three cars on the mountain road.

  Xiao Xia felt an inexplicable unease while Mao Fu spoke jovially next to her. “Truly, the coming of winds is the herald of rain. It is at times like these where we feel the bleakness and fickleness of life.”

  Xiao Xia had intended to ignore this Vice Mayor Mao Fu acting profound, but when she recalled she was in his territory, she felt it was best not to offend. The strong arm of the law was weak in rural areas. Unreasonable officials were like a local emperor in these parts. If they really ended up making things difficult for her, there was no one for her to cry to! Therefore, she forced out a smile and spoke a few words in agreement.

  Perhaps Xiao Xia’s nervousness and praise delighted Mao Fu. He started comforting her, “Don’t worry, the weather up here is always like this. It rains for a bit and then clears up again. It changes faster than a woman’s mood! Haha, of course that’s not the case for an educated and beautiful woman like Miss Yue, right, lil’ Liu?” He patted the driver in front of him. 

  Driver Liu hurriedly nodded, but before he could speak up in agreement, they heard a screech and everyone pitched forwards as the car suddenly stopped!

  ”What happened, lil’ Liu?” Mao Fu had been laughing complacently, not expecting the turn of events at all. His wide and shiny forehead had collided against the seat in front of him, irritating him to the extreme.

  ”Just now…I saw someone running in front of the car! Weird, that person ran really quickly. They were gone in a flash!” The rearview mirror reflected Driver Liu’s pale face. He had clearly been given a fright. 

  ”This is a mountain road. How could there be anyone out here in the middle of nowhere!? Your eyes must be playing tricks on you!” Mao Fu scolded again. 

  Driver Liu mumbled a few words subserviently, not daring to refute. Yet it seemed he was quite certain of what he had seen.

  ”Hurry and keep driving. Mayor Mao is right, it must have been your eyes playing tricks! I saw nothing at all!” The person in the passenger seat was Zhao Jia Yuan, who used the excuse of touching the bracelet to get handsy with Xiao Xia yesterday. It seemed he worked for Mao Fu. No wonder he followed him around everywhere. However, since Xiao Xia clearly disliked him, he had remained silent this whole time.

  “Such a fool, you really slammed those breaks. See, the car even stalled!” He heckled.

  Driver Liu didn’t say anything else and started turning the ignition again. However, despite trying for a while, the car wouldn’t start!

  ”What’s the matter?” Mao Fu was a little impatient.

  “The car’s stalled.” Driver Liu responded.

  ”Obviously, but why can’t you start it again?”

  ”I…don’t know. I’ll go take a look.” Driver Liu opened the door and got out.

  Xiao Xia didn’t want to stay in the car with the other two so she also followed him out. She immediately realized the sky had turned even darker. The mountain wind which had already died down contained some moisture.

  ”How about letting lil’ Liu fix the car while we head back in the other cars first. Looking at the sky…” Zhao Jia Yuan, who had also gotten out of the car at some point, suggested to Mao Fu who had remained inside. “The rain won’t be light when it comes down. This road hasn’t been paved. The mud will get slippery, it’s too unsafe.”

  Their car had been in the very front, and they had gotten some distance ahead. Now, the other two cars had caught up.

  ”Might as well.” Mao Fu was a little annoyed as he got out of the car, yet he immediately put on a smile as he turned to Xiao Xia. “Oh, apologies, Miss Yue. The town’s resources have all been going into constructing the new town. The cars aren’t too good. Just hitting the breaks caused one to break down. How embarrassing. Hopefully Miss Yue doesn’t mind squeezing into the other two cars. What a disgrace. Shame, shame!”   

  Xiao Xia didn’t want to squeeze in with them, but the darkened skies looked like it would swallow them up. She involuntarily felt a little afraid and was forced to nod her head.

  Yet this matter wasn’t resolved so easily. When they reached the other two cars, their engines died too. They also couldn’t be restarted again.

  These two cars had stopped normally without slamming the breaks. Why did they also stall?!

  “Fuck, something foul’s afoot!” It wasn’t clear who spoke. 

  Everyone fell silent immediately. The only sound was the wind rustling through the trees on either side of the road. Xiao Xia looked over and saw several people turning pale, seeming a little frightened.

  ”What should we do?” Zhao Jia Yuan broke the silence and asked Mao Fu.

  Mao Fu hesitated as if unable to decide. In the end, he still spoke up. “It’s no longer possible to return to the town. However, we aren’t far from the village. Why don’t we walk back?”

  “I’m afraid we’ll encounter heavy rains, judging by this freakish weather!” A reporter from the province said.

  “This fellow reporter from the province might not be aware that from the looks of things, the rain won’t stop for a while once it starts. Once it gets dark, with the slippery roads, it’ll be even more dangerous to drive. Besides, taking a shortcut back is only around one and a half kilometers of mountain roads. If we walk quickly, we can get there in about an hour. I’m very familiar with this area, and we also have rain gear and flashlights in the cars. We can endure for a bit.” Zhao Jia Yuan naturally gave all his support to Mao Fu.  

  At his words, the scene grew chaotic. Everyone started talking at once.

  “How about this, let’s put it to a vote. The weather won’t wait for us. Let’s all decide and act soon!” Mao Fu waved his hand decisively. “Those who agree to leave immediately on foot, come stand by me.” 

  Actually, these people from the countryside where more superstitious to begin with. Seeing the weather change suddenly was already unexpected enough. Now, the normally well-maintained cars suddenly broke down half-way and Driver Liu insisted that he saw something running in front of the car. Everyone wanted to leave this godforsaken place. They were just afraid that it would rain heavily soon and the mountain road would become dangerous on foot.

  The town’s people weren’t willing to go against Mao Fu. The reporters and Xiao Xia also didn’t really understand the situation. Therefore, the vote to walk back to the village was actually unanimous. Once things were decided, the group immediately got moving, leaving behind the three drivers to mind the cars.

  After walking around half an hour, the group of twelve reached a fork in the road. On the left was still the mountain path while the path on the right was flat and smooth. Looking into the distance, it seemed to be that newly constructed town. They would reach pavement after crossing a dried ditch.

  ”Let’s go through this new town!” Xiao Xia suggested. “The road is paved so it should be faster.” 

  “No!” Mao Fu and Zhao Jia Yuan rejected loudly at the same time.  Their fierce and firm tone startled Xiao Xia!

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