Wan Li instinctively felt the fishing rod case on his back. It was unmoving. He took a glance and saw the bloodwood sword wasn’t giving off red light. This meant there was nothing nefarious around. But why did those lights suddenly go out?
He stood vigilantly for several seconds before slowly turning around.
Behind him, flickering flames were shining. He counted, and realized there were still four of them as before! This meant that the fires hadn’t gone out. Their locations had just changed from in front of him to behind him.
It had only been the blink of an eye. How had they gotten behind him? He had been at least two hundred meters away. If they were going to make such a drastic change, they needed to go quite the distance. How had they done it so quickly? Furthermore, why was that weird, darkened house also behind him? The house couldn’t have also moved, right? Unless what he saw was an illusion, like a mirage, or perhaps some mountain ghost trick, or…those things hadn’t moved, but he had!
He was sure this wasn’t ghost building walls since the bloodwood sword showed no reaction. Then what was going on? Had he walked into some formation? This would mean that there was a formation around two-hundred meters from the weird house. Since this was the middle of nowhere, it meant that the owner of the house must have set it up. It was very likely to keep uninvited guests away.
To the owner of the house, someone visiting in the middle of the night like himself was precisely an uninvited guest!
He didn’t know anything about formations or cardinal positions. Therefore, he could only give it a try. He kept his eyes and ears open as he slowly walked towards the flames. He did his best to keep going in a straight line, seeing the weird house get closer and closer. Suddenly, everything turned dark. It was exactly the same as before.
Turning around to look, the weird house and fires once again appeared behind him!
“Truly, something supernatural!” Wan Li furrowed his brows, looking at the seemingly inapproachable weird house and muttered to himself.
He had to find Master Long. Therefore, despite having failed to approach the weird house in the mountains, he could only keep trying. However, he figured that since walking towards the fires would make the weird house do a one-eighty, he might as well try walking away from it. Perhaps it would end up in front of him.
He steadied his mind, confirmed his position and then walked in the opposite direction of those fires. After walking over ten minutes, he suddenly realized something was wrong. He was getting further and further from the weird house, seeming to have left the formation already. He turned back to look, and saw that the fires had truly become dimmer.
Without any choice, he could only walk back. Yet once he got within two-hundred meters, it once again changed directions. It was like an invisible turntable on the ground.
Wan Li doggedly tried again with the same result. Walking towards the fires would turn him around. Walking away or to the sides would take him out of the strange formation!
Having wandered around in the woods for half the night, he was already extremely exhausted. Having fallen into an unsolvable predicament at this moment, he was out of ideas and sat down on the ground. He decided to rest for a while first, no longer caring about the biting insects.
He sat like this for a while and suddenly realized he was being stupid again. It was still best to act the way a visitor would.
He stood up, cleared his throat and called out towards the weird house. “Master Long, Master Long, are you there? My name is Wan Li, I’ve come for a visit.”
The night in the mountains was very still. Wan Li’s shout seemed exceptionally resounding and abrupt, and even had a lasting echo. Not only did it startle a group of birds, it even startled himself.
The weird house remained silent without any reaction. Even the flickering flames were as before, not affected in the slightest.
Wan Li looked around uncomfortably, and continued calling. “Master Long, I know you’re in there. Please stop hiding from worldly affairs, ok? I also wouldn’t dare disturb you in the middle of the night if it weren’t for urgent matters. I also wouldn’t come trouble an elder unless many lives were at stake!”
“Master Long, treat it as me begging you. As long as you can provide guidance, I’ll go save the people myself. I won’t trouble an elder to act personally. If…if meeting you requires some token of worship, I will do as instructed.” He knew such reclusive masters were all a little eccentric. They might not insist on some precious gifts, but might want to test him or probe him.
However, there was still only silence.
Wan Li begged a few more times. Seeing no response from the weird house, he couldn’t help but get a little angry. According to his investigations, while this Master Long hadn’t helped the evildoers and suppressed those resentful spirits to purify their grudge, allowing them to smoothly transition to the other world, he ultimately still didn’t seek justice for them. Furthermore, he had some selfish motives. Now that there was such a huge issue with the new town, he also needed to take some responsibility. Why was his attitude still so arrogant?!
“Master Long, an elder shouldn’t be sulking.” Once he got angry, his words became impolite. “Those people died so unjustly and are now out for vengeance. Someone powerful is helping them. Your evil-suppressing tower and fengshui arrangements have all been broken. The resentful spirits can no longer be contained. If you help someone, you should see things through to the end. Isn’t it too late to act aloof and let matters rest?”
Still no sound.
“Master Long, my friends have inadvertently been sealed in the new town. They are completely innocent.” Wan Li said loudly. “I insist on meeting you. If you still refuse and force me, don’t blame me for burning down the mountain!”
This time, although there was still a long silence, Wan Li sensed that his words made Master Long who was hiding in the house react. As expected, after a minute, an aged sigh rang from the weird house. Despite the distance, it sounded clearly in Wan Li’s ears.
“Innocent? Not necessarily, right?”
“They weren’t the ones who harmed those people back then!”
“However, that so-called “powerful person” only meddled to deal with your friends. Otherwise, why would those resentful spirits come out? Just a month away, just one more month. Ai…” Master Long let out another long sigh, his voice filled with helplessness and grief.
Wan Li had no retort.
That was indeed the case. Because Si Ma Nan wanted to deal with Ruan Zhan, all those living and dead people had become pieces on his board.
“Master Long, but…”
“If you insist on seeing me, come then.” Master Long interrupted Wan Li. “Be careful.”
Wan Li didn’t understand what he meant. He also didn’t sense any changed in his surroundings. After Master Long finished speaking, it became silent again. He could only walk tentatively towards the fires again.
After walking a dozen steps, Wan Li understood he had already broken through the formation. He felt the distance to the weird house slowly decreasing. Although he didn’t understand why the place was still dark, he still walked forward unhesitatingly.
There was an extremely large courtyard with very low walls. Due to Wan Li’s height, he could easily climb over it. However, there was no need to do so. The courtyard’s gates were wide open. It wasn’t clear if they had been opened for him, or if they had been open the entire time.
Wan Li didn’t dare assume. He remained by the gates and observed for a while. There were two stone buildings in the middle of the courtyard. The one in the center was extremely large, making the smaller one on its left seem very small. Overall, it seemed very disorganized. Apart from a well, there was nothing else in the courtyard, making it seem uncomfortably empty.
“Master Long, I’ve arrived.” For the sake of politeness, he announced his arrival. At the same time, he shone his flashlight onto the doorstep and lifted his foot.
“No intruders!” The moment his foot passed the doorstep, two voices suddenly came from either side of him. However, they spoke in such unison it sounded like a single voice.
Wan Li was startled. He hadn’t realized that apart from Master Long, there were others in this weird house!
He looked left and right, seeing two figures on either side by the walls. Each of them held a lantern in their hands. They were the flames he had seen in the distance. He now understood why the fires seemed to be roaming. The four of them seemed to be patrolling as they circled their courtyard in two groups. The reason he hadn’t seen them when he was at the gates earlier was because they happened to have gone behind the buildings.
Wan Li felt a little confused. He hadn’t realized Master Long actually had bodyguards!
He looked at the ground. Despite the dark night, he could still see four blurry shadows on the ground, making him let out a breath. He was in a hurry and didn’t want to get caught up with ghosts or ghouls. It was good that they were normal people with shadows.
Yet immediately after, he felt that these four “people” were a little off. Not only were they abnormally silent, they also stood especially rigid. The lanterns they held were even weirder.
Normally, lanterns were translucent on each side. These ones had covers made of wood on three sides. Only the last side was open, which was where the light came from.
The light from the lanterns were very weak and the four held them with outstretched arms, preventing Wan Li from seeing their appearances. Furthermore, they spoke no further after their one line. Wan Li didn’t move and neither did they. When Wan Li tried taking a step backwards, they lurched forwards like robots.
He recalled Master Long telling him to be careful, and instinctively grew wary. Although the bloodwood sword showed no reaction, However, if Master Long was truly so capable, he might have done something. He was a hermit, so it definitely wouldn’t be so easy to meet him. But who were these four people? Corpses?
For the sake of politeness, he had refrained from shining the flashlight towards those four “people”. Now, he could no longer bother to stand on ceremony. As he slowly retreated, he moved the beam towards them.
The black shoes and white socks on their feet were normal. The black shirt and pants on their bodies were normal. The white gloves on their hands were also normal. When the beam of light slowly moved to their faces…
Normally when someone got light in their faces, their eyes wouldn’t adjust right away and they would instinctively turn away, squint, or hold up a hand to block. However, when the strong flashlight shone upon the four’s faces, they stood straight without any reaction. Furthermore, under the light Wan Li finally saw their faces clearly!
Wood! Their heads were made of wood, and it seemed their bodies were the same way. They weren’t human at all. They were merely human-sized puppets!
Wan Li remembered the villagers at the foot of the mountains saying the person living up here was an old puppet craftsman. He had thought it was a false persona Master Long had come up with. Only now did he realize the latter truly made puppets. However, the puppets he made could move, and could scare people!
However, Master Long’s artistic skills were mediocre. These puppets had proportionate limbs and bodies, but their facial features were blurry. The carving was rather rough, and the painting was even more shoddy, making the faces patchy with red and green. They seemed even more sinister and horrifying in the night. Even someone gutsy like Wan Li got a fright.
He continued to slowly retreat, wanting to keep some distance between the puppets. However, he tripped over a rock and almost fell. His larger movement was like a trigger for those puppets. They immediately shot towards Wan Li. Since he had yet to find his footing, he was rather bedraggled in dodging the blow. The case containing the bloodwood sword on his back also fell to the floor!
That was a treasure of the Daoist world. Even if it wasn’t very effective in his hands, he still had to guard against potential thieves. With Master Long’s disposition being an unknown, he naturally couldn’t leave it lying around.
Seeing the puppets crowd over once again, he immediately leapt for the sword. They were faster than he imagined. One of the puppets raised its sturdy foot, ruthlessly stomping down on Wan Li’s arm, making him hurriedly withdraw it.
With a thump, a deep oval footprint appeared in the ground.
“Fuck. So vicious!” Wan Li cursed angrily. He got up and intended to strike back, but two puppets on either side swung their arms at his chest, forcing him to leap backwards. Then, a gust of air came from behind him, forcing him to bend over to avoid the third attack.
“There’s even teamwork!” Despite a lack of beauties observing the battle, he still continued to shoot his mouth as usual. He threw the flashlight he held onto the whole time provocatively at the closest puppet.
Unexpectedly, the puppet didn’t bother to dodge, solidly taking the hit. Due to the force, the flashlight immediately broke. If it weren’t for the four lanterns being placed neatly in their original spots, it would have immediately become pitch black. The puppet’s head had been knocked clear off, rolling into the thicket nearby. However, it still remained unmoving. It was a different puppet that went to find it.
Wan Li froze before cursing his rashness!
He was quick-witted, but because of his eagerness to rescue Ruan Zhan and Xiao Xia, and also due to being by himself, he had repeatedly made mistakes. He forced himself to steady his mind. As one puppet helped the injured one reattach its head, he hurriedly seized the opportunity. With two steps, he rushed to one of the other puppets and raised his foot, kicking at that puppet’s joint.
The puppet naturally felt no pain. His foot was what ended up hurting. Although he had used the sole of his foot instead of kicking directly, his foot had still gone numb. Yet it was still effective. Although it felt no pain, it lost its balance and fell stiffly backwards to the floor!
This was his experience in battling zombies. Although the puppets were weird, their bodies were rigid so the theory was similar.
He had noticed just now that the wooden head didn’t seem to be attached to the body. Its head was inserted with its neck into its torso. Therefore, after knocking one puppet over, he immediately leapt upon it. Pressing its legs down with his own, he pushed one hand on its chest while pulling at its head with his other hand.
There was a crack and the wooden head was pulled off!
Without waiting for it to react, he kicked it away and tossed the head far into the distance. His arm was pretty strong and the head sailed for quite some distance before landing, making a light muffled sound.
He had thrown it too far. The puppets wanted to search for it but weren’t able to. The one without its head was immediately like a robot without charge, unable to keep attacking Wan Li.
While the puppets stood temporarily frozen, Wan Li swiftly leapt at another one, sticking to the same formula. Yet as he got up to deal with the third one, the puppet caught on. Although it also tipped over after due to its rigid joints, it kept one hand on its head, causing Wan Li to fail to pull it off after a couple attempts. Its other hand pressed against Wan Li’s face, desperately shoving his head into the ground.
Although the puppets were clumsy, they were incomparably strong. Even though Wan Li was quite strong, he felt like an ant trying to shake a tree as they wrestled, completely unable to get free!
The burning sensation on the back of his head from the rough ground told him his head might get crushed at this rate. Through the fingers pressed against his face, he also saw the first puppet whose head he had knocked off picking up a large rock. It staggered towards him, clearly planning to smash him to death. However, its head had been reinstalled backwards, so it was a little slower.
Despite this, it would eventually reach him. At that time, he would be done for!
Realizing this, he let the puppet keep its hand on its head. Enduring the pain in the back of his own head, he urgently felt around with his hands. He remembered something hard and sharp almost breaking his waist during the struggle. It must have been a large rock.
It wasn’t by his waist!
It wasn’t by his ribs!
It wasn’t by his hips!
He finally felt something above his shoulder. The cold and rough sensation told him it was that usable piece of rock!
He had struggled too fiercely earlier. Therefore, the rock was currently out of his reach. Feeling his head about to crack and with the puppet behind also fast approaching, he mustered up his strength and bucked upwards. Using the second of time, he pushed his body in one direction, both hands desperately picking up the rather large rock. He turned and smashed it at the puppet entangling him!
In his haste, he didn’t know where it struck. He only felt the wooden hands holding him loosen. At the same time, a rush of air sounded from behind his head.
He hurriedly rolled to the side as a large thump rang out behind him. He felt a wave of force brush against his back. He turned to look. The puppet that had been tangled up with him had a stone jutting from its sunken wooden torso. There was another large rock that had smashed onto its stomach, directly bisecting it!
“Hoho, you actually ended up harming your teammate.” Wan Li jumped up before bending over again and letting out a shout.
The final puppet’s head was turned backwards. Therefore, it’s leg joints were right in front of him. It would be too easy to knock it over. Would he pass up such a good opportunity?!
The puppet toppled over with a grunt. Wan Li leapt up and kicked at the improperly installed head!
Wan Li was the one who cried out!