In the plaza.
The group was still facing off against the resentful spirits hidden in the thick fog. Luckily the tree that had been ignited by the talisman illuminated a small corner like a torch. The talismans on the floor also prevented the evil aura from encroaching.
However, Ruan Zhan was a little uneasy. It was something instinctual and he wasn’t able to point to a reason. He felt that a threat was near.
A gust of cold wind brushed the tips of his hair. The speed and direction from which it came was a little strange, making him immediately tense up. He breathed in deeply from that direction and keenly smelled a hint of abnormal fishiness and dampness.
This place had been surrounded by thick fog and closed off by his barrier on the outside. It was like they were all in a giant glass container. Even if wind still circulated, there wouldn’t be a gust of chilly wind. Furthermore, the wind had come from the direction of the lake. Although he couldn’t see, he could sense it.
“Xiao Xia, come over here.” He accurately reached out and held her hand in his own, immediately pulling her to his side. “Keep hold of my hand. Don’t let go, no matter what!”
Xiao Xia gave a sound of agreement, not even asking what had happened. She just saw that his face was serious and knew some issue had cropped up again. However, she just needed to stick close to him. She trusted him to deal with it, so she wouldn’t make a fuss.
There was another gust of wind, much larger than the previous one. Ruan Zhan gripped Xiao Xia’s hand tightly. He used the small amount of his abilities that had been unsealed to listen carefully to the source of the sound. He heard a sound, imperceptible to others, that signified something was approaching from the distance. Along with the swishing of water there was a strange rumbling sound that grew closer and closer!
What was that? Why did it contain both the auras of water and fire?
He furrowed his brows in thought. Suddenly realizing something, his heart jolted as he shouted, “Throw the talismans away and get down next to the flowerbeds!”
After speaking, he immediately pulled Xiao Xia down next to the flowerbed nearby. He put his arm over her tightly. The flowerbed gave off the smell of fresh dirt and flowers, allowing him to accurately judge his position. He felt it was strange that the resentful aura in this vile environment didn’t kill the flowers as they still bloomed normally.
Perhaps it was related to that tower. He was not too familiar with feng shui techniques, but the tower’s appearance, position and makeup seemed as if it were truly suppressing something, to the extent of having some sealing power. If anything else happened outside of his control, he could only take these people inside the tower to see if there was a path of survival.
After he shouted, he had taken the lead in taking cover. The others froze for a moment in their tensed states before hurriedly doing the same. Zuo De had even pulled the crazy Mao Fu over.
All this happened within a dozen seconds or so. The moment they left the “torch” and the talismans’ protective area, the thick fog started moving in.
The fog seemed about to drift over and devour them. Liu Hong screamed in fear, but along with her voice, a sharp splash sounded from the artificial lake. A clump of black water shot over through the air!
The clump of water flew extremely quickly, but Xiao Xia was able to see it was in the shape of a fish. It looked like a transparent fish lantern like the ones during the Lantern Festival. Yet unlike the lanterns, this fish had strange black spellscript in its stomach instead of lightbulbs or candles. They were like a tangle of small, thin snakes that crawled forwards along with the black fish’s movement.
After the black fish surfaced from the lake, it seemed to have some sort of guidance system as it shot straight towards the “torch” and the talismans on the ground. Then, it split into countless water droplets in the air, but they didn’t scatter. Not one drop went to waste as they all fell towards the place the group had been sitting in earlier!
Strange cries sounded all around.
Xiao Xia watched all this in alarm within Ruan Zhan’s arms. The droplets of water had strong corrosive power. Not only did the “torch” get instantly extinguished, everything it sprinkled on got destroyed. The plaza’s marble gave off white smoke as it sizzled, as holes and pits appeared due to the corrosion. The plants that were touch by the droplets immediately withered. The paper talismans actually started burning up upon contact and immediately burnt up without a trace.
The water droplets were somehow so destructive that even the formless fog was damaged. As the black water passed through, the fog seemed to have taken shape. Along with mournful cries that sounded both near and distant, pieces of what looked like rags dropped from midair before reforming into white mist and evaporating!
Due to the external assault, the surrounding fog retreated like the tide along with cries and curses. A large clearing was opened up as the fog retreated outside the plaza.
“Where has the fog retreated to?” Ruan Zhan asked Xiao Xia.
“Outside the plaza.”
“Before they catch up, hurry and go into the tower!”
Before Xiao Xia could respond, Liu Hong charged over from beside her, almost knocking her over. Then came Reporter Ma, along with the clueless, laughing and shouting Mao Fu who tagged along with the liveliness.
Only Zuo De didn’t run. He stayed with Xiao Xia and Ruan Zhan. Since Ruan Zhan couldn’t see, Xiao Xia didn’t dare to run and proceeded at a brisk walk.
The fog had been forced to retreat in fear at the black fish’s sudden appearance. However, once the strong corrosive power vanished and the group started running towards the tower, the resentful spirits recovered and immediately pursued.
Xiao Xia walked quickly while turning her head to look. The fog seemed like white smoke being blown by a gale, roiling towards them with extreme speed. It seemed about to catch up despite their head start!
“Get in the tower first!” Ruan Zhan’s expression was calm as he lightly pushed Xiao Xia.
“Never! Not unless I die!” Xiao Xia held Ruan Zhan’s arm tightly and looked back again. The fog was only dozens of meters behind them.
Ruan Zhan knew there was no way she would let go. He didn’t have time to persuade her. He waved his hand backwards, but didn’t send anything shooting out. It was just a feint. As the fog halted for a moment, he said one word to Xiao Xia: Run!
There was only a twisting walkway from the plaza to the tower. Although Xiao Xia wasn’t going fast, Ruan Zhan still couldn’t see. He had to rely on her to be able to run. Luckily Ruan Zhan ran firmly and easily, completely trusting her to lead the way. Therefore, she didn’t find it too exhausting. Furthermore, Zuo De was bringing up the rear the whole time, making sure Ruan Zhan wouldn’t fall off the narrow walkway into the water.
Only after getting to the walkway did Xiao Xia realize they definitely couldn’t fall in the lake!
The group had gone up to the edge of the lake when Reporter Tan turned into the dead fish. At that time the water had been crystal clear. It had at least been normal and flowing. Now, the entire lake’s surface was like a piece of rusted metal. Not only were there no ripples, the color had also turned dark brown. Furthermore, this metal plate seemed like a terrifying grinder. One had Xiao Xia’s shoes had fallen off while she ran, and Zuo De had accidentally kicked it into the lake. She personally witnessed as countless rows of teeth suddenly surfaced from the almost black lake as they fought each other to tear her shoe into pieces!
What was inside the water? They were fiercer than the hungriest of sharks!
Yet she wasn’t in the mood to think about such things, and she no longer had time to look back. She focused on running forwards. Ten meters…five meters…three meters…
Right as she was about to step into the tower’s doors, she felt the fog wrap around her. The sound of creepy crying rang by her ears!
There was only one meter left!
She yelled and pushed forwards desperately, pulling Ruan Zhan with a death grip. The two practically fell into the tower like a pair of flopping fish! An angry wail sounded as the tower doors clanged shut behind them!
Bang bang bang…
Hammering sounded against the doors as they shook continuously. They seemed like they would fall at any moment, but since the resentful spirits were shut outside, they had managed to temporarily escape.
Xiao Xia felt her heart was about to split as she lay sprawled unmoving. All her strength was being used to struggle for breath. She panted heavily as he turned to look at Ruan Zhan. He seemed better off than she was, but he was also panting.
She rejoiced in her heart. Luckily those who had first entered the tower had left the doors open. Luckily the doors were wide enough yet not too tall. Luckily they made it in the last second. Luckily Zuo De also managed to get inside.
They sat there for a while as they caught their breath. Only then did they realize the tower was too quiet. The three people who had entered first couldn’t be heard anywhere. Even Mao Fu’s crazy laughter was absent.
“They went up.” Zuo De pointed at the stairs.
Since the new town was still uninhabited, there was naturally no staff on hand at the tower. Therefore, there was a thick layer of dust. From where they were, they could see scattered footsteps leading from the doors towards the stairs.
“Shall we head up?” Xiao Xia asked.
“Best decide quickly.” Zuo De glanced towards the door.
From the window, they could see that layers of fog surrounded them. Nothing could be seen outside. They seemed to be shut inside an enclosed space with four white walls. Although the resentful spirits had stopped pounding on the doors, they could feel traces of chill air seeping in from the cracks. Based on their experience at the apartment building’s bottom floor, they knew it was only a matter of time before the resentful spirits broke through the protective barriers.
Their resentful auras were too deep, and they had definitely been empowered by the one who released them, making them even stronger, almost unstoppable!
“Go up. Aura accumulates at the top of the tower. The obstructive power will be a little stronger there.” Ruan Zhan said.
Xiao Xia walked in front as before, with Ruan Zhan in the middle and Zuo De bringing up the rear. They slowly climbed upwards.
The tower was conical with the space on the bottom floor being the largest. There was a large copper bell in the middle, but it was hanging upside down as if it wasn’t meant to be rung. Around it was a circle of smaller bells. Strange patterns were carved on all of them, making them seem like an exhibition of antiques. Behind the bell was a similarly large incense burner table, though it currently wasn’t lit and lacked a Buddha statue. Instead of a statue, Buddhist images were painted across the walls like a mural. However, Xiao Xia was in a rush so she couldn’t recognize which Buddha’s were watching over them, preventing the resentful spirits from entering.
Every floor was very spacious and rather empty. There were only rows of glass cabinets along the walls. Since the tower was surrounded by the fog, it was murky inside and only the path ahead was visible. Xiao Xia wasn’t in the mood to sightsee.
They went up floor by floor until they reached the eighth floor. There were no cabinets on this floor. A trigram was laid out on the floor using bamboo. The three people who had arrived earlier were sitting around it. They looked startled at the newcomers, apart from Mao Fu, who was actually sleeping on the floor.
“Why not go to the top floor?”
“It’s too dark and cramped!” Liu Hong responded. “I’m scared!” She looked at Zuo De as she spoke.
Zuo De was softhearted after all. He sighed and still walked to her side, becoming her support.
“Then let’s head up!” Xiao Xia said.
She wasn’t afraid of it being dark and cramped. She also wasn’t afraid of it being dirty. What was most important was to find somewhere Ruan Zhan could recover properly. Furthermore, they had to communicate with Wan Li who was outside the barrier. Therefore, the first priority was somewhere quiet. If he couldn’t recover, none of them would survive. Even if that were the case, she still wanted to be alone with him.
Ruan Zhan didn’t speak, allowing Xiao Xia to pull him to the top floor. Actually, he hadn’t spoken since they had started climbing the tower.
The top floor truly was dark, but not to the extent where they couldn’t see their hands in front of their eyes. Xiao Xia felt around in her pocket. Her phone was actually still there, and hadn’t fallen out while she had been running around.
She pressed the button, allowing the screen’s light to illuminate the area.
The top floor was so dark because the windows here were extremely small. Although they made a ring around the walls, they were only three inches wide. It felt like they were shut inside a box with only a narrow opening. It was extremely strange.
“Are you alright?” Xiao Xia sat next to Ruan Zhan on the floor.
“I’m alright. I must recover as fast as possible.” Ruan Zhan furrowed his brows. “The situation is becoming more and more urgent. Wan Li is also not safe on the outside. Have you not noticed? Si Ma Nan has rushed over!”
“That black fish was made by him?”
“So it was a black fish!” Ruan Zhan sneered. “I’ve been pondering over his techniques. Now I see the technique he is most proud of is folding paper talismans into various objects to cast spells. Truly advanced!”
“You seem very familiar with it?”
Xiao Xia’s words made Ruan Zhan fall silent temporarily, before he slowly said: “Si Ma Nan might be connected to me in some way. My father also knew such techniques. When I was younger, he often made small animals out of paper to keep me company when he wasn’t around. I thought he didn’t love me. Actually, I thought no one in the world could love me. Therefore, I resented him a little, resented him for adopting me but not caring about me at all. Very heartless of me, right?” Ruan Zhan sank into his memories. “Although I remember everything he taught me, I never practiced. Even though I could still use them due to my natural gifts, I sealed them up and refused to do so. I wanted to anger him, but he still never said anything, as if he didn’t see it. Actually, he knew everything. He was just more patient than I was! I was sent to his side when I was five. He left me when I was seventeen. Throughout these twelve years, he only treated me with indifference. I never understood him back then, but now I’m starting to. Although I’m not able to explain it, I think I understand his thoughts a little.”
Xiao Xia listened silently and saw his eyes gradually become moist. She didn’t interrupt him, merely moving a little closer and holding his cold hand. He looked so refined and magnanimous, but he actually just buried his thoughts very, very deeply. He rarely revealed his emotions like this. Only after she gradually become closer to him did she realize he had it harder than anyone else, arousing the decision to keep him warm and accompany him forever.
She would be with him. She wouldn’t give up, no matter what!
“I was so discomfited back then!” Ruan Zhan smiled bitterly. “Like a hedgehog, I would prick whoever got close. I wanted the whole world to hate me!”
“That’s fine. My love is enough.” Xiao Xia said softly. “I also want the whole world to hate you. That way, no one will try to fight over you.”
Her words, both in tone and meaning, were too gentle. Ruan Zhan only felt his heart melt as he pulled her into his arms. He felt her warm lips press against his. Unable to help himself, he kissed her back deeply.
The dark, chilly and cramped space became warm due to the lingering kiss. What Si Ma Nan, what resentful spirits, what empty town? Everything was negligible. Only her love for him and his thirst for her was the most important thing in the world!
After a long while…
“I’m not able to undo the seal on my powers if you keep this up!” Ruan Zhan panted, pulling Xiao Xia away slightly before the kiss spiraled into something uncontrollable. “At this rate, we’ll really be sitting ducks!”
“Fine, fine!” Xiao Xia naughtily pecked his lips again before letting go. “I won’t bother you anymore if you tell me the connection between you and Si Ma Nan.”
“To tell you the truth, I don’t know the details.” Ruan Zhan habitually furrowed his brows. “I only know my father also knows his techniques. You don’t know it, but sects are clearly divided within the Daoist world. Unless there was a special relationship, one sect wouldn’t know anything of another. It’s like how Bao Da Tong and his father are lifelong friends with me and my father. Yet despite this, we don’t understand each other’s techniques.”
“Could he and your father be fellow apprentices?” Xiao Xia guessed.
“Very possible. However, it might also be some other relationship. Regardless, the connection is a deep one.” Ruan Zhan said. “Therefore, although I somewhat understand him, it’s not complete. However, he might know all of my techniques. I must come up with something. Otherwise, I won’t be able to beat him.”
“Fine, I won’t bother you!” Xiao Xia knew that the two of them wouldn’t be able to calm down if they were in the same room. Therefore, she directly got up. “I’ll leave you with…how should I put it…a blessing, right, I’ll leave you with a blessing. It looks peaceful now, so I’ll be on the stairs outside the door. Take your time in thinking things through and recovering. If anything happens, we can just call out to each other.”
Ruan Zhan nodded and listened as Xiao Xia quietly opened the door. She sat down on the stairs and leaned against the door.
He was going to get her out of here, and was also going to settle things with Si Ma Nan. Therefore, he had to recover his abilities quickly. Furthermore, he had to come up with a good plan! There was currently a sword hanging over their heads. This included Wan Li, not just him and Xiao Xia. If time dragged on or if he was just a little weak, they might all lose their lives!
He had to win!
Ruan Zhan gathered his mind and desperately suppressed the intoxicating tenderness in his heart. He focused all his attention on recovering his abilities and coming up with a strategy!
Meanwhile, Xiao Xia was wondering on the steps: where had Ah Bai gone?
Neither of the two had noticed that the tower had undergone some changes!