Footsteps rang out from the stairs. Perhaps because they were made of wood along with the spacious interior of the tower, the sound seemed especially oppressive.
Xiao Xia stood up, looking at down vigilantly. She saw a figure slowly turn the corner. It was Reporter Ma.
“Is something wrong?” Xiao Xia wasn’t close with Reporter Ma, and didn’t understand why he came up.
“No. Just wanted to check if you needed some water.” Reporter Ma raised his hand, holding up a bottle of water.
A drink? Of course she needed it. Ever since they entered this empty city, who knows how long ago, they had been running for their lives and constantly in fear. She had been unbearably thirsty long ago.
“Where did you get water from?” Xiao Xia received the water bottle and asked hesitantly.
“I had it in my backpack this whole time.” Reporter Ma pointed at the backpack on his back. “I brought it myself.”
Xiao Xia let out a breath. She had been afraid he had filled it up in the lake. However, she looked at it and saw the cap was still sealed. She laughed at herself for being paranoid.
“No problem. However…” Reporter Ma smiled. “There isn’t much water left. You should share it with Mister Ruan. He’s been protecting us the whole time. He’s probably the most exhausted.”
“En, alright. I’ll give him some.”
“Is…he alright? He didn’t seem in great shape.”
“He’s fine, just a little tired. He’ll be fine after resting a while.”
“Then…I’ll be going. Remember to let him drink! You must remember!” Reporter Ma seemed to be reminding her considerately, but Xiao Xia’s sharp senses felt his expression seemed a little disappointed. What was that about? She felt it was a little strange.
Seeing him slowly go back downstairs, Xiao Xia sat down again.
She felt a little uneasy, felt that something was off. However, she wasn’t able to figure it out. It was like an extremely small grain of sand was grinding against her soft heart. She couldn’t describe where it was, but felt it pricking her painfully. She wasn’t able to dig it out as it was mixed with her flesh, making her experience what it felt to have a thorn in her flesh. She looked at the water in her hand. Nothing seemed wrong with it. Even the expiration date on the cap was completely whole. It was impossible to have been tampered with.
Was she overthinking things? However, she had to be extremely careful in this sinister environment. This empty town was horrifying. Danger abounded and there were traps everywhere!
She looked at the bottle of water again. Her fierce thirst made her want to immediately open it and drink, but she ultimately licked her cracked lips and put it down beside her.
She can wait for Ruan Zhan to recover a little before deciding. He should be able to tell if there was something wrong with it. Her most important task right now was to protect him, preventing anyone or anything from disturbing him. Although she didn’t have any powers, she could still desperately block for him if something happened!
But what had been off?
Another person came up. This time it was Liu Hong!
Xiao Xia furrowed her brows. This woman annoyed her. Ever since they encountered strange events, she had never contributed anything. Not only that, she had also brought a ton of trouble to the group. If possible, she didn’t want to waste any words with her. Yet Liu Hong approached all smiles, and she was unable to avoid her.
“May I help you?” Xiao Xia was still a little impolite.
“Lil’ Ma had me bring over some food.” Liu Hong smiled flatteringly, raising up the bread in her hand. “He really brought quite a bit in his backpack.”
“Thanks, just leave it here!”
Liu Hong carefully put the bread on the railing. “Can I ask when Mr. Ruan plans to bring us out of here? Being stuck here isn’t a solution! Is…he alright? I want to check on him. Is that possible?”
“He’s perfectly fine.” Xiao Xia was cold. “There’s no need to see him. He’s resting. Once he’s ready, he’ll definitely take us out. No need to worry.”
“That’s good, that’s good. I was just being considerate.” Liu Hong said in embarrassment, glancing at the unopened bottle of water next to Xiao Xia. “Aren’t you hungry? How about you eat a little first?”
Since her maintained a smile this whole time, Xiao Xia was a little embarrassed to be too impolite. Therefore, she stood up, “Thank you. I’ll eat it in a bit.”
Liu Hong let out an “oh”, also seeming a little disappointed. She nodded towards Xiao Xia and then turned and headed downstairs.
Looking at Liu Hong’s receding figure, Xiao Xia felt an inexplicable sense of unease again. What did they want? Why did they seem very disappointed at being unable to see Ruan Zhan? Had something happened outside the tower, making them impatient to leave? Luckily she hadn’t revealed anything to them. Who knows what they might end up doing? However, something was just off, making her feel uncomfortable. Was there a problem?
She took two steps to grab the bread from the railing. Yet the moment her fingers touched the bread, a thought suddenly flashed through her mind. She finally figured out what was off!
The sound of footsteps!
The entire tower was made of wood, and it was also so spacious. There would naturally be echoes when they walked around. However, it shouldn’t be that sort of muffled thudding. When Reporter Ma and Liu Hong walked earlier, it felt as if they were purposefully stomping downwards at the wooden boards. Although the sound hadn’t been very loud, it had been extremely stiff!
Furthermore, Xiao Xia had been focused on Liu Hong’s words and expressions at the time. She hadn’t noticed her body’s condition. Now that she thought about it, one detail made her heart suddenly constrict and practically stop!
Her legs had been off!
Reporter Ma had been wearing long sleeves and long pants. Therefore, apart from his footsteps nothing seemed to be off. Yet Liu Hong was wearing and exquisite dress. The hem went over her knees, only revealing a small section of her thighs and ankles.
Her legs hadn’t been slender and soft as usual. Instead, they were stiff and bulky, with the paleness and luster of plaster!
Those hadn’t been human legs!
Thinking to this point, Xiao Xia sucked in a cold breath and knocked the bread on the railing over. It fell to the level below. She subconsciously looked down. She suddenly realized the shape of the entire tower seemed to have changed. The staircase wound down into darkness and it was no longer possible to see the previous floor. The stairs seemed to have become endless!
The sound of an exhale came from behind her, startling her into whirling around. From what she could see, everything was still empty. She was the only one on the entire top floor, apart from the separated small room.
However, she had the strong sense that she was being watched.
She suddenly looked towards the window. The fog which had been like a layer of white paint had faded at some point. At this moment, the window was tightly packed with many faces pressed against the glass! They were male and female, young and old. They were all expressionless, with pale eye sockets. They had no lips or eyeballs but they were obviously staring at her, filled with resentment!
They were surrounded! She had to inform Ruan Zhan!
Once she realized this, she immediately rushed towards the small room. Yet before her feet could move, she felt two rigid arms wrapping around her waist. At the same time, a hand devoid of warmth covered her mouth.
“Don’t move! Heh heh. Don’t go tattling. Otherwise, you’ll also get killed. You’ll get killed along with everyone in the village!” A “person” moved in front of her and spoke.
It was Liu Hong, which meant the person holding her in place was Reporter Ma. Or rather, they were the ones impersonating Liu Hong and Reporter Ma!
Xiao Xia struggled desperately to no avail. “Reporter Ma” was incomparably strong. The arm around her waist felt like it was about to break her ribs.
“Every debt has its proper debtor. Speak if you all have some grievance, I can help. Stop killing the innocent!” Xiao Xia wasn’t able to speak, and could only mumble against the hand over her mouth. However, she felt the other party could understand her.
“It’s useless.” “Liu Hong” said. “No one let us speak a word back then. You don’t need to try and defend yourself. Everyone is guilty!”
“What am I guilty of?” Xiao Xia continued to mumbled, trying her best to increase the volume of her throat’s vibrations so Ruan Zhan could hear from inside the room.
“Being with them makes you guilty!” “Liu Hong” suddenly turned fierce. “Don’t bother trying to inform the Daoist inside the room. No matter how loudly you shout, the sound won’t carry inside. I’ve already cut this place off!”
“Ruan Zhan, look out! Ruan Zhan, look out!” Xiao Xia ignored her words and continued to struggle.
With a clang, her foot kicked against Liu Hong’s leg. She had kicked out too hard and the pain in her foot made her tear up, feeling like her toe might have broken.
“Liu Hong” seemed to know her thoughts. She smiled maliciously, “You’ll be fine. I’m the one that’s hurt. You’ve broken my leg.” She bent over, picking up a broken piece. “Look, you’ve broken my leg bone.” As she spoke, she inserted the fragment back into her thigh.
Xiao Xia was frozen and could only look downwards. She saw “Liu Hong’s” leg was actually made of clay. Or rather, her whole body was made of clay! The person speaking to her was a clay person! No, to be more precise, the vivid color of her leg indicated it was made of porcelain! She was speaking to a porcelain person! But where did the actual Liu Hong and Reporter Ma go? Could they have been killed? Did this mean the tower hadn’t stopped those resentful spirits?
“You guessed it, I’m not a clay person! I am the most exquisite porcelain, understand? The best baked porcelain!” “Liu Hong” suddenly yelled, “Throw her into the cabinet!”
The moment her voice fell, Xiao Xia felt a huge force throwing her backwards. She fell towards the stairs. Before she fell, she only had time to glance at the small room’s doorknob.
Upon it was her amulet.
Luckily she had hung her protective amulet on the door, hoping that the Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva would keep Ruan Zhan safe! She comforted herself like this as she continued to fall, yet she didn’t make contact with the stairs. The tower had truly changed, making the staircase without end.
With a swish, she was sucked into darkness, no longer plummeting downwards but also unable to move. She felt a formless sort of force binding her, being shut tightly inside some sort of cage!
“Open your eyes. Take a look at who I am.”
This time it wasn’t Liu Hong’s voice, but it was also a woman’s voice. Her tone wasn’t really soft, but sounded rather mischievous and very familiar. It was a voice she heard every day. It…it was her own! It was actually herself!
In shock, Xiao Xia felt things turn bright and she was able to see the person in front of her.
Who else could it be but herself? Or rather, who was it that had possessed her body? Furthermore, why had she turned so small while the body that previously belonged to her became so large? Was it because souls were all very small?
“That’s right!” The “person” occupying her body said smugly. “I’ve possessed your body. It feels pretty good. Unfortunately, that person’s magic prevents me from using a human body for long. It’ll slowly turn to porcelain, because I am baked porcelain to begin with!
“She” roared with laughter as she raised an arm. It had already become snow-white porcelain.
Xiao Xia felt cold all over. It wasn’t due to her soul being pulled out of her body or because her own body was turning into porcelain. It was because she suddenly realized what the resentful spirit wanted to use her body for.
“That’s right, I’m going to use your body to trick that Daoist! He trusts only you, and won’t be on guard against you. We already know he’s been injured and doesn’t have much strength left. If I put on a good performance, and if we all work together, he will meet a tragic end!” “She” became angry again. “Daoists deserve death! All Daoists deserve death! He shouldn’t have helped those villains. Sealing us in the dark, leaving us to die, covering up this enormous injustice! Otherwise, we would have let go of this grudge long ago, and wouldn’t have lingered in this purgatory to suffer endless torment!”
“Don’t hurt him, none of this is related to him! He wasn’t the Daoist who sealed you all!” Xiao Xia yelled anxiously. This time, she could hear her own voice but it was quiet like a mosquito.
“All Daoists deserve death!” “She” said quietly.
Xiao Xia looked in shock at the malice on her own face. It was unbearable to the limit. She couldn’t bear to think how the resentful spirit would use her own hand to harm the person she loved most. The man who she kept in the warmest part of her heart. That was the heaviest punishment in the world. How could she bear it!?
“Don’t go! I beg you! He’s the most innocent! It’s always others forcing him. He’s never hurt anyone before! Don’t blame it all on him! Don’t!” Xiao Xia shouted, desperately ramming against the walls that held her. The “cage” shifted under her frenzied assault, but she still couldn’t get out. Instead, the scene before her eyes changed, as if she was looking out from a different angle.
Right as she was feeling helpless, a hand suddenly reached over. The resentful spirit occupying her body had grabbed at her. She thought it would hurt but it didn’t. There was only a wave of dizziness. By the time she recovered, the glass display cabinet present on the second through seventh floor appeared before her.
She had been in a rush to climb the tower earlier. Along with the dim lighting, she hadn’t examined the cabinets clearly. At this moment, she realized they were filled with rows of porcelain dolls! They were exquisitely made and vividly painted. There were male and female, young and old, all with unique and lifelike appearances!
Looking more closely, they were also very familiar! Those features, those clothes, that unique mark on the face…
It was actually Shuan Zhu and his family, who had tried to attack her in the fog! There were also those silent “people” living their “lives” that passed by on the commercial street where she encountered Ruan Zhan. There was the couple that walked past her, and the female ghost that was giggling when she was kissing Ruan Zhan!
She realized that the change in perspective was due to that resentful spirit picking her up and letting her look around. The cabinets were placed on each side of the room.
Having looked around in a circle, she felt more and more startled. She had seen people who were even more familiar: Zhao Jia Yuan, Reporter Ma and Liu Hong! Apart from those whose death she had personally witnessed, only Zuo De and Mao Fu were missing. These porcelain dolls were placed in neat arrangements. There was only one place with an empty space!
Was that spot for her? Xiao Xia thought in fear.
The reason she felt so small and trapped inside a “cage” was because her soul had been placed inside a porcelain doll! Yet when did that happen? Had Liu Hong and the others also lost their bodies and been placed here? Then did those resentful spirits live in those other porcelain dolls? Wasn’t she going to be living within those resentful spirits in that case?! If Ruan Zhan wasn’t able to realize this, she would have to be a small porcelain person forever. She would be an ornament for others to admire, living in inescapable boredom.
They had first taken over Reporter Ma and Liu Hong’s bodies before slowly approaching her. Perhaps they hadn’t known about Ruan Zhan’s situation, and thus tried twice to probe for information. The water and bread were all methods of harming Ruan Zhan via her!
Luckily she hadn’t fallen for it. Yet what was she to do now? Although she hadn’t revealed anything, they had still sensed Ruan Zhan’s condition wasn’t good. That was why they were going to use her body to harm him!
What should she do? What should she do?
She was extremely anxious, not even caring about her own safety. She felt another wave of dizziness as she was placed in her spot inside the cabinet!
“Shuan Zhu, keep an eye on her!” The resentful spirit in her body spoke.
Xiao Xia couldn’t move, but could see the porcelain doll with Shuan Zhu’s appearance in the cabinet across from her. Seeing Xiao Xia look over, the initially expressionless little figure suddenly split its mouth in a grin. “I’ll keep an eye on you!” He said.
Strangely, he had only moved his mouth but Xiao Xia actually “heard” his sinister voice.
However, Xiao Xia ignored him, looking at the resentful spirit about to go deal with Ruan Zhan. She hurriedly called out, “Come back! I’m doing this for your sake. He’s got the strongest powers in the world, he’ll scatter your soul! Don’t go provoke him!” She tried to use different methods to stop the resentful spirit. “I will help you all. I swear I will resolve your grudges. You can speak whatever grievances you have, I can help you! I swear it!”
She didn’t know how much Ruan Zhan had recovered. After all, Si Ma Nan had personally sealed his powers. He had been working on the seal the entire time without much success! Although he didn’t say it, she knew how much danger they were in this time!
The resentful spirit turned its head and laughed coldly. “There is no heavenly law in this world. Otherwise, those people wouldn’t have lived happily for twenty years! Furthermore, the Daoist surnamed Ruan is definitely not that powerful. Otherwise, why would you be so anxious? Don’t worry. We plan on swallowing his soul after killing him, but we will bake a porcelain person that looks exactly like him. We’ll place it in the cabinet across from you. That way, you can keep looking at his likeness. However, it’ll be a true porcelain person, without a soul. A porcelain person that won’t respond to you! How about it? Quite the kindness, right?”
Was that kindness? That was the cruelest thing in the world! Seemingly close, yet worlds apart. Furthermore, it would just be an empty shell whose soul had thoroughly vanished!
She laughed loudly and headed up stairs without looking back.
Xiao Xia looked after her in despair. It was her own figure that left. She never thought she would hate her own body so much. She really wished for some explosives to blow herself up, turning her into fragments. It was better that than let Ruan Zhan get tricked by the resentful spirits using her own flesh!
What should she do? Could she only wait?!
“Xiao Xia!” A tender voice called out to her.
It was Ah Bai! It was Ah Bai, who had gone missing for a long time!