Book 6 Chapter 26: Forest for the trees

Wan Li hid in the food cart that brought the midnight snack over, and was wheeled to the kitchen by Boss Sun. After confirming no one was around, he climbed out and limbered up. For the sake of stuffing his tall body into that narrow space, he almost folded himself in half.

  He had already used the invisibility talisman back in his room. Therefore, if anyone was currently present, they would only see the small cart move around, the table cloth covering it lifting up, hear someone curse quietly and then hear footsteps leaving. However, they wouldn’t see anyone at all.

  This was the most he could do to avoid Si Ma Nan’s surveillance!

  Although Hongqing Town couldn’t be called small, it wasn’t too far from the inn to the west side of town where Lady Feng lived. Wan Li walked merely around half an hour before arriving at the small courtyard. He took a glance and saw that the surrounding walls were indeed easy to climb over. However, the front had clearly been renovated before, probably Boss Sun’s handiwork. Wan Li felt that Boss Sun could be said to have kept his promise. That was why he hadn’t suffered any reprisals!

  After climbing the wall, he crept beside the three rooms and listened for a bit. The worship hall was silent and so was Lady Feng’s room. However, the room containing the box of porcelain was emitting unusual noises: there was the sound of sobbing and also the sound of a busy kitchen, the extremely soft clattering somehow sounding clamorous.

  Wan Li calmed himself and opened the door.

  Under the moonlight, four pieces of snow-white porcelain were arranged on the floor. As the door opened, they were squirming, doing their best to move in a certain direction. Yet after the door opened, they suddenly froze. They were only four porcelain pieces, but Wan Li had the feeling they turned their heads to “look” at him.

  He swallowed, not knowing what to say. Yet as he was hesitating, the porcelain on the floor rolled together as if pushed. There was a crisp sound of collision.

  “Who is it?” The elder’s voice sounded from her room.

  It was the middle of summer so all the windows were open. The night was also more still. Therefore, the noise had immediately reached the elder’s ears, startling her awake.

  “It’s nothing, ma, go back to sleep. I’m getting up.” A man’s voice came from the room. It spoke in a heavy local accent. Although Wan Li was very brave, he was still startled at this sudden occurrence.

  The porcelain on the floor slowly gathered into a grey clump that formed into a drifting, transparent human figure.

  “Feng Yong Zi?” Wan Li asked extremely quietly. At the same time, he took a step into the room.

  Seeing him approach, the blurry figure swiftly shrank towards the corner. Only then did Wan Li recall he was carrying the fishing rod case with the bloodwood sword inside. Therefore, he quietly closed the door, placed the case beside it and walked inside by himself.

  “Feng Yong Zi, I mean no harm. I’m here to help you.”

  “You are here to help them!” Feng Yong Zi said resentfully as he slowly materialized. The face was oblong, with straight features. There were two vertically aligned moles on his cheek, hanging there like two teardrops of mud. They gave the pretty, delicate face a crying appearance!

  He was the “good buddy” that saved him twice when he was ambushed in the alley!

  Although Wan Li had suspected this, it was only now confirmed. It turns out he was Lady Feng’s son, the soul who couldn’t leave his mother behind and remained for a decade.

  “Why do you say that? You’ve helped me twice before, why would I bite the hand that feeds!?” Wan Li tried to express some friendliness.

  “You want to save those people inside the new town. This means you’re opposing us!” Feng Yong Zi cried out resentfully.

  Wan Li wasn’t worried Lady Feng would wake up. Ruan Zhan had said before that spirits let you hear and see them when they wanted to. Otherwise, no matter how much of a ruckus they made, you wouldn’t have the faintest idea.

  He was worried about Feng Yong Zi’s attitude. He had been in too much of a rush to help Ruan Zhan that he had overlooked Feng Yong Zi’s position. Wan Li wanted to save Xiao Xia and the other survivors. To Feng Yong Zi, only killing everyone would pacify his rage. Killing Xiao Xia and Ruan Zhan would fulfill their promise to Si Ma Nan for freeing them.

  They were absolutely on opposite sides. It was impossible for Feng Yong Zi to help him. He had been too naive.

  “But you saved me!” Wan Li did his best to pull their relationship closer.

  “That’s because my ma told me you were nice to her. These matters are unrelated.”

  So his trace of kindness had brought him luck. It seems there was still karma in this world.

  Wan Li thought this as he took a few more steps into the room. In the end, he directly sat onto the bed, less than two meters away from Feng Yong Zi’s spirit. If he pounced over, Wan Li wouldn’t have any chance to resist.

  “An eye for an eye isn’t the right approach. Tell me what injustice you all suffered. I swear I can help you vent your resentment.” Wan Li understood there was no way of resolving this grudge no matter what he said, but he had to try.

  “Hurry up and scram. I don’t want to tell you. If I knew you were with them, I wouldn’t have saved you that day!”

  “My friends are in there, I can’t scram yet. They are innocent. Don’t you know every debt has its debtor? You should let them go at least!”

  Feng Yong Zi was sulking and completely ignored Wan Li.

  “Revenge will only feel good for a moment. It won’t do you any good at all.” Wan Li continued to try his best. “You’ve possessed these four porcelain pieces because you cannot leave your ma behind. An act of benevolence on your part may result in good karma for your ma. Do you really want to keep going down this path?”

  Feng Yong Zi froze for a moment, seeming to ponder this question. But right as Wan Li thought his words might be slightly effective, Feng Yong Zi’s face turned green again. “Karma? In this world…the good die young and the wicked live long lives! My mom is kind. During the Cultural Revolution, she risked becoming a pariah and assisted one of the persecuted. No one cared about him at the time. Someone so capable was about to starve to death. Yet what happened in the end? That bastard, for the sake of his nephew, actually…!” He suddenly stopped speaking.

  “Fine, let’s say you want revenge. Then tell me what you guys suffered ten years ago. That shouldn’t do any harm, right?”

  Feng Yong Zi glanced him over with reddened eyes. He suddenly started laughing. This was Wan Li’s first time hearing such a laugh. He felt it was very eerie, as if it was muffled, giving him the chills.

  “So that you can dig this matter up and ruin our plans after I tell you? I’m not that foolish!”

  “This won’t harm you guys in any way. Why won’t you speak of it?”

  “Don’t bother.” Feng Yong Zi said. “I won’t say anything. Whether or not there is any harm, I won’t speak. Furthermore, don’t think about asking Big Sis Bai about it. The person helping us will have everyone in the loop fall into a horrifying dream. They will know that if they leak a single word, they will die without a proper grave!  You won’t be able to find anything out, unless we complete our revenge!”

  “The person helping you?”

  Wan Li’s heart turned cold. He didn’t expect things to develop like this. He had everything planned out, but Si Ma Nan ended up pulling the rug from under him, making it all for naught. He was really a fool. He clearly knew Si Ma Nan was a wily fox but hadn’t prepared a backup plan. Now he was forced into a passive state!

  If no one in town was willing to speak, how was he supposed to investigate? Even if he eventually figured it out, could Ruan Zhan wait that long? Even if he ran into the street right now and grabbed someone who was yet to sleep, would they tell him out of the blue?! Besides, he might end up implicating innocent people that way.

  A thought flashed through his mind. The thought was sharp and clear, making him immediately remorseful and wanting to give himself a beating!

  He had fallen into a trap of his own making by only thinking about the kiln facility. In reality, if he asked around regarding events resulting in catastrophic loss of life, it should be possible to follow the trail back. But he had been stuck in his train of thought, truly unable to see the forest for the trees!

  Had Si Ma Nan known his thinking was a mess?

  Perhaps he had, and merely pretended to be forced into covering things up. In reality, he had been disdainfully watching as Wan Li fell into his trap! He had assumed he was matching wits with Si Ma Nan, but in reality he had been at a disadvantage the whole time. Si Ma Nan had been watching him scurry around while tightening the noose around Ruan Zhan’s neck!

  Haste makes waste!

  This saying was absolutely correct. If he hadn’t been in a rush to investigate the injustice of the past, unwilling to let the smallest clue slip by, wanting to follow every trail to its end, he wouldn’t have been blinded to all other possibilities. He wouldn’t have made such a foolish mistake, missing such an obvious clue!

  He didn’t have time to ask around in the nearby villages anymore, regardless of whether outsiders would know about such a hidden matter.

  What should he do?

  Seeing Wan Li’s anxious expression, Feng Yong Zi started laughing again. “There is nothing you can do. Just return obediently, stop floundering about. If you hadn’t treated my ma with kindness, you would be thoroughly dead by now!”

  Hearing Feng Yong Zi’s words, Wan Li raised his eyebrows at him. “Is that so? I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve slipped by the gates of hell ever since I got involved with the supernatural. Yet I’m still alive here shooting the breeze with you.” Wan LI stood up. Feng Yong Zi’s words had stimulated his pride. “You saved me before and I’m very grateful. My desire to help Lady Feng is also not due to wanting some form of repayment from you. However, I’m going to tell you this: evil never wins. You guys were clearly the victims. Don’t stubbornly force yourselves into becoming the side destined to lose!”

  He stepped towards the door, unafraid of Feng Yong Zi’s fierce expression. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you. I’m someone with overflowing Yang energy. It won’t be easy for you to approach me, and I’m only two steps away from that Daoist treasure. You saved me before, I don’t wish to hurt you.”

  “There’s nothing you can do! They are dead for sure.”

  “Then let’s make a bet.” Wan Li smiled. “I bet my friends will return safely. If I lose, I’ll commit suicide and my soul will attend your ma with you. But if you lose, I want you to relinquish all that resentment and treat everything with benevolence.”

  Feng Yong Zi ignored him.

  Wan Li walked to the door and picked up the fishing rod case. “You saved my life before. I will repay you. Trust me, I am a man of my word!” After speaking, he quietly walked out and climbed over the wall again.

  He had been foolish for some time, but he didn’t have time to waste fretting about it. He figured that even the wisest person wasn’t infallible. Si Ma Nan was certainly very impressive. If that wasn’t the case, there wouldn’t be any meaning in going against him. Although he had been dancing in the palm of his hand, he had had a flash of insight and finally found a way to break free.

  He walked along the street. Wan Li was going to pull off the invisibility talisman, but ended up not doing so after some hesitation. Instead, he acted sneakily, not caring whether people could see him or not.

  He had been fixated on one idea previously but now realized he had been mistaken the whole time. Now, he felt more emotionally unrestrained instead.

  There was no need to worry about implicating Boss Sun. Si Ma Nan and those resentful spirits were on the same side. Feng Yong Zi had actually called him their “helper”. They were clearly in communication, so he would also be aware that Boss Sun was involved. He could also guess that Boss Sun had gotten in contact with Wan Li.

  Xiao Xia had said a resentful spirit had appeared when they were on the small mountain road. It seemed to have possessed the cameraman called Zuo De. Based on her description, wasn’t that precisely Feng Yong Zi? This meant that the resentful spirits had been cooperating from within and without the city, with Si Ma Nan personally helping from the side. Feng Yong Zi was one of the main forces of their vengeance the whole time.

  Wan Li being under surveillance had long since been part of the plan. Being saved by Feng Yong Zi was a complete accident!

  It was his own fault for not seeing the forest for the trees. Therefore, he might as well put on a show until the end. Weren’t they treating him as a monkey? Fine, he’ll act the part. Si M Nan won’t realize he had figured it out and will continue to mock him, watching him scurry around like a headless fly. He already had a new lead. He naturally had to pursue it. He just needed to make Si Ma Nan think he was still fixated on the kiln facility.

  The kiln facility was very important, but it was just the location where the corpses were destroyed. The true cause was elsewhere. Could it perhaps be related to the secret porcelain refinement method? Well, he won’t worry about these things for now. He first had to investigate the other lead. He had agreed with Ruan Zhan to investigate the source of the strong resentment together. Even if he made no progress, he trusted Ruan Zhan wouldn’t return empty handed. Even if all else failed, the answer would be revealed during the final battle!

  It felt great to have thought things through. Si Ma Nan probably wouldn’t have thought his superior intellect and overbearing pressure actually allowed his opponent to relax! Those with a superiority complex wouldn’t understand the way of the bachelor and the necessity of showing weakness. On the roof of the inn, Si Ma Nan had his eyes closed as he sat cross-legged in front of a strange incense burner. Hong Hao Hao stood beside him holding a tray covered in red cloth.

  “Will Wan Li fall for it?” Seeing Si Ma Nan open his eyes, Hong Hao Hao asked.

  “I don’t care whether or not he fell for it. The result is the same regardless.” Si Ma Nan revealed a disdainful expression. “I gave him the chance to choose. If he is smart enough to leave by himself, I will let him go.”

  “This isn’t your usual style of thorough extermination.” Hong Hao Hao said with a charming smile.

  Si Ma Nan stood up and patted her face amiably without speaking.

  How could she understand?

  The reason he had some goodwill towards Wan Li was because he was one of those who had brought Ah Bai out, and he also treated her well. Because of this, he wanted to spare his life. This even included Xiao Xia. The only one he definitely couldn’t let off was Ruan Zhan. He had done many things in life that ordinary people would view as heinous. He didn’t think it was a big deal. In his eyes, the weak dying was a necessary sacrifice for the strong to succeed. This was natural selection, survival of the fittest. This world was one of predators and prey to begin with!

  His only guilt was towards Ah Bai. In this world, the only person he let down was her! Because she was that type of person. Young people had a saying: she was an angel who could make demons shed tears!

  However, now that Wan Li and Yue Xiao Xia both chose to oppose him, and were unwilling to take a step back, the trace of goodwill engendered by Ah Bai had also vanished. This was a battle to the death. He currently held the absolute advantage, but he didn’t dare grow careless. The youngster surnamed Ruan was truly hard to deal with. He grew stronger when he encountered strength, and was able to win from a position of weakness each time, turning the tables around!

  “This is your nightmare spell? There was no complicated process, and no special clothing or hairstyle.” Hong Hao Hao glanced at Si Ma Nan. Seeing his relatively relaxed expression, she took the opportunity to make a request. “You said before you would teach me, remember?”

  “You haven’t perfected the dream murder spell yet. Don’t be greedy.” Si Ma Nan showed no expression and his voice contained no trace of emotion. “Besides, Daoist arts require power and strength of mind. What does clothing and hairstyles have to do with it. Even rituals are just preparations prior to casting the spell. You’ve watched too much television after I brought you out.”

  Hong Hao Hao responded with a laugh, but she still had many misgivings in her heart. From what she say, the man in front of her had always been cold and cruel. This was what drew her to him. He made her feel safe, feel that she had someone to rely on. She was the only one who knew him. He needed a companion like her, whether as lover or servant.

  Yet now the situation had changed. Ever since that Ah Bai appeared, he never looked at her. He had already changed, had become distant and hesitant. It made her feel he could leave at any moment, leave with that Ah Bai and never return.

  This made her feel afraid.

  After so many years, she was still afraid of this world. She didn’t even dare imagine being by herself. Therefore, she had to come up with a way to keep him by her side. Or else she had to bitterly learn Daoist arts and become incomparably powerful.

  She raised her head and watched Si Ma Nan walk towards the incense burner. She was lost in her own thoughts as she followed him over, placing herself and the tray in her hands within his reach.

  Si Ma Nan quietly recited a few lines with his eyes closed, his hand drawing strange shapes in the air. He took out a talisman he had drawn in advance and threw it into the burner.

  Immediately, a wave of brilliant yet supernatural green flame burst forth. Si Ma Nan withdrew his hand and tore off the red cloth covering Hong Hao Hao’s tray, revealing its contents!

  There were a total of twelve dark objects. They were shaped like hearts in the size of a child’s fist. They steamed with heat and gave off the smell of fresh blood as they were still beating. These were the hearts of infants!

  Si Ma Nan grabbed one of them and threw it inside the burner. The flames immediately surrounded the small heart. As it beat, it leapt around like a small fireball, but it wasn’t able to escape the incense burner. It let out crackling sounds, like a chestnut about to burst! After burning like this for several minutes, the small heart gradually shriveled. A gust of thick, green smoke arose from the incense burner.

  Si Ma Nan threw in another heart while drawing symbols with his other hand, pointing towards the town. The smoke spread in the direction of his finger, dissipating into the air.

  This night, the entire town had repeated nightmares!

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