The burning pain reminded Wan Li that he had focused on the satisfying kick, forgetting the opponent was made of wood! Now he’d be limping for at least a week. He swore never to laugh at Ruan Zhan for being injured all over after his battles again. Only now did he realize that it wasn’t easy being the main force in a battle against the supernatural. Especially when fighting solo.
“One really shouldn’t talk shit. Karma comes around quickly!” He said in annoyance, hopping as he picked up the bloodwood sword. He took out the backup flashlight from his backpack and prepared to enter the courtyard.
At that moment, a noise rang out from beside him. One of the headless puppets closest to the door had actually gotten there first, crawling towards the gates!
The scraping of wood on stone and the clanking of joints sounded exceptionally piercing in the silent night. Once the first puppet moved, the other three also started moving, struggling to crawl into the courtyard.
Wan Li got the creeps while watching. Before he could react, he felt something bump against his heel. He hurriedly leapt aside. He saw the bisected puppet pulling itself along with one hand while its other hand dragged its lower half. Since Wan Li was in its way, it kept colliding against him.
Seeing those puppets reach the gates, Wan Li suddenly realized that these puppets shouldn’t be moving without some external force. If it wasn’t sorcery or talismans, then they were possessed by spirits.
Thinking of this, he immediately pulled the bloodwood sword out. It immediately glowed faintly red after coming out of the case.
The reason it had been calm previously must be due to Master Long having done something with the puppets. Yet now that their heads had fallen off, the protective layer definitely shattered. The bloodwood sword immediately reacted!
Wan Li ignored the pain in his right foot. He walked over and stabbed down with the sword.
“Mercy!” A voice suddenly rang out from the courtyard, stopping him. At the same time, the door to the small wooden building opened with a creak. A thin figure appeared in the doorway. “They are all damaged spirits with nowhere to go. I’m merely helping them gather their aura. They won’t harm people!”
Wan Li sighed, looking at his tattered body and suspended right foot. Wasn’t this called harming people? If he didn’t possess some means and if he hadn’t been vigilant, it would be a miracle if he was still able to crawl, let alone be able to stand here and chat.
“I did warn you to be careful.” Master Long seemed to have read his mind and said faintly.
“I’m so extremely grateful. If I hadn’t been able to hold on, would you have immediately stepped out to stop things?” Wan Li’s tone was sarcastic as he hopped to one side, allowing those puppets to crawl into the courtyard and directly into the large stone building.
“Actually, no. If you couldn’t even handle these possessed puppets, there would be no need for your to go help your friends in the new town. You’d be throwing your life away, without any chance of victory.” Master Long still spoke indifferently, as if talking about someone unrelated. “Come in.”
Wan Li had no retort. He knew Master Long’s word made a lot of sense, but still felt this sort of test was a little excessive. The withered elder walked out of the small tone building after speaking and followed the puppets into the larger building without looking back.
The inside was pitch black. A gust of damp and cold air greeted Wan Li as he entered, and he couldn’t help but shiver. What made him even more uncomfortable were the numerous eyes staring at him. However, there wasn’t the slightest presence of living humans. Instead, even Master Long’s traces had vanished.
Wan Li stood still, his hand gripping the bloodwood sword tightly as he turned on the flashlight. The stone building was very large. It was at least forty square meters. It was a long rectangular shape, and for some reason Wan Li felt he had entered an enormous stone coffin. There was no furniture. A pile of shining white objects lay by the wall.
The beam of the flashlight hesitated before stopping on the objects.
Puppets. They were still puppets, the size of actual people! They were similarly whole in body and varied in appearance, but their features were still blurry. Unlike the ones patrolling outside, these ones weren’t wearing clothes and they hadn’t been painted. Apart from two black circles for their eyes, their glossy wooden parts emitted a faint white light.
These puppets were piled by the walls against each other, layer by layer. There were at least over a hundred standing there in a dense group, making Wan Li feel surrounded. Even more frightening was that despite them not moving or breathing, he felt that they were alive. They all stared mutely at the visitor. No matter where he stood, the pairs of round and dark eyes still stared at him coldly. He felt inexplicable nervous and a layer of sweat formed on his brow.
“This way.” Master Long’s voice suddenly rang out again, startling Wan Li. He didn’t know where it had come from. Looking towards the sound, he realized the building had a tiny door on the right. It seemed to be linked to the smaller building.
Wan Li was a little dissatisfied. He hardened his scalp and walked into the smaller building. He felt goosebumps along his back from being stared at by those puppets, wishing to leave as soon as possible. He did his best to steady his steps, not wanting to be looked down upon by the strange elder.
He had always been brave, and was able to handle actual ghosts. However, this sort of silent threat tested his mental endurance.
“You are very courageous.” The moment he entered, he heard Master Long say. Although the tone was still indifferent, it finally contained a hint of praise.
The smaller building was just as dark. Master Long had no intention of turning on any lights, but Wan Li could see the situation inside using the flashlight. It was much smaller than the bigger building, less than six square meters. A heated brick bed commonly seen in northern farming villages occupied half of the room. There were two simple pieces of furniture and some luggage. A small brick bed table, a wooden chest and some blankets were placed on one side of the bed. Apart from that, there was only a wooden shelf containing neatly arranged carving tools.
This room didn’t have the damp, chilly air. Instead, it was filled with the sweet fragrance of wood!
Wan Li was a little doubtful for a moment.
Was this frail elder really Master Long? Why did he live in such poverty? This differed from what he had imagined. An expert like this, even if he was no immortal, should at least be free and uninhibited. Why did he feel Master Long was like a spirit? Furthermore, his actions were also extremely weird. Someone so famously skilled at fengshui and geomancy was carving puppets, and shoddily at that, instead of reading the Book of Changes or studying trigrams or what not!
The villagers said he made a living by crafting puppets, but from what he saw, that was impossible. Who would want these life-sized creepy dolls? He didn’t seem like a craftsman. Instead, he seemed like a witch that played around with ghosts and spirits!
Had he fallen into another trap? Dangers lurked around every corner, so he had no choice but to be cautious!
Thinking of this, he shone the flashlight onto Master Long’s body. He was sitting next to the brick bed, his body completely covered in oriental robes. Only two withered arms and a head full of white hair could be seen. On the ground was his small shadow.
However, when the strong beam of light hit his face, his eyes showed completely no reaction. They were still half-opened, the pupils unmoving!
Just what was going on? What did he not react like a human being?
“I am blind.” Master Long’s dried lips moved, answering Wan Li’s doubts.
Wan Li softly let out a breath. He was really afraid of encountering something unexpected. He wasn’t afraid of things he could interact with, no matter human or ghost. Yet at this moment, he was afraid of being led in circles again.
He had made contact with Ruan Zhan prior to heading up the mountains. Ruan Zhan had told him he had already recovered his powers. The situation in the new town couldn’t be dragged out any further, so he was preparing to act. He hoped Wan Li could find Master Long, because he needed the architect of the tower to cooperate with him outside the town.
Wan Li knew that if he couldn’t find Master Long, Ruan Zhan would still make his move. It was just the chances of victory wouldn’t be great. Ruan Zhan was facing a hundred and seventy-three resentful spirits. Those resentful spirits held extremely deep grudges, and had been suppressed for many years. Now that they were released, their powers naturally shouldn’t be underestimated. However, the chances of suppressing them were also slim to none. Therefore, with the stubbornness ingrained in Ruan Zhan’s bones, he would definitely give it his all, even if he only had a one percent chance of success.
The situation in both towns kept changing and opportunity could knock at any moment. Therefore, they couldn’t prearrange a moment to act. However, Wan Li really hoped to finish preparations on his side first and wait outside the new town. When Ruan Zhan gave the signal, he could make his move. He wouldn’t want Ruan Zhan to receive no reinforcements after giving the signal.
“Sorry.” He felt a little awkward. “It wasn’t intentional.”
“Do you understand now why I don’t need any lights? I’m not a puppet, I just don’t need it.” Master Long said. “If you’ve seen me clearly, could you please move the light away from my face?”
Wan Li thought Master Long had somehow seen his surreptitious appearance and coughed awkwardly, hurriedly withdrawing the flashlight, shining the beam at the ceiling.
“Find a place to sit.” Master Long spoke once again.
There were no stools or chairs in the room. Wan Li could only sit on the brick bed as requested.
“Master Long, I…”
“You don’t trust me?” Master Long interrupted him, pointing out that Wan Li was sitting some distance away.
“I’m afraid you might throw some more trials at me.” Wan Li answered honestly. “I’m already spent just finding this place. I can’t take anymore surprises.”
This elder was really something. The smaller building clearly had a door, but he insisted on making a detour through the larger one. He had clearly been testing him a second time, observing whether the eerie scene would frighten him.
“You must be wondering why I’m living like this, why I would carve those puppets, why I hide in the dark like a spirit, why my eyes are blind. You must have heard from others that I don’t have any handicap. You might even be wondering whether I am the “Master Long” you are calling for. Then let me tell you, I am not.”
“You’re not?!” Wan Li almost leapt up.
“I’m not. That so-called Master Long had already died after the matter from ten years ago. What you see now is just a spirit.” Master Long sighed.
Wan Li didn’t speak He could sense the elder’s warmth and breath, and there was even a shadow on the ground. He couldn’t be a spirit. He was just lost in regrets and speaking metaphorically. However, this fengshui master was truly different from what he imagined. He wasn’t profound like he knew the mysteries of the heavens. Instead, he was a little frank and overbearing.
“No matter what you are now, you still have to help us this time.” Wan Li said sincerely.
Master Long let out another long sigh. His expression was filled with desolation and helplessness as he avoided the request. “Just one month away, just thirty more days, but everything ended up being for naught! Fate, it really is fate!”
“Were…things really about to be resolved? Could you perhaps lock them up again and complete the final month?”
Master Long faintly shook his head and smiled bitterly. “That is impossible. I’ve already said I’m not someone with great powers. I merely rely on my understanding of the elements and fengshui to erect formations, suppress spirits and communicate with the netherworld. For the sake of suppressing them back then, I spent all my energy which was why I ended up blind.”
“But that wasn’t all.” Master Long continued speaking. “My act was immoral. I claimed I was purifying their resentment and sending them off to where they belong, but I was actually just protecting someone for my own sake. This angered the heavens. I got what I deserve. Since you were able to find this place, you should have figured everything out. Say, I got what I deserved, right?” He raised his head and “looked” at Wan Li. “Ai. I still can’t get over it.”
“In my opinion, since things have already turned out this way, it’s best to figure out how to remedy things. Better late than never, right?”
Master Long fell silent as if pondering over his words. After a moment he spoke, “You…are very impressive. Your courage is extraordinary. If one possesses a measure of courage, one will possess a measure of opportunity. But who knows what the outcome will be?”
“No matter the outcome, I still have to try.” Wan Li hurriedly said. “Inside the new town is my friend who I’ve gone through life and death with, as well as the woman I care most about. No matter what, I have to save them.”
“What if I’m unwilling to help?”
“I’ll bring you there even if I have to use force!”
“What if I still refuse to help?”
“Then I’ll kill the one you are protecting. If you force me, I’m able to do anything!” In his anxiety, Wan Li’s tone contained some provocation.
“Him?” Master Long’s expression was calm, not getting angry at Wan Li. “Paper cannot contain fire. As the saying goes, nothing escapes heaven’s grasp. I wanted to extinguish the source of the flames and go against the heavens back then. It seems I was a mantis trying to stop a chariot. Now that this matter has been exposed, he will die sooner or later. What do I have to fear? However, you don’t need to worry. I won’t refuse to help. This was my fault, and I cannot let bystanders get implicated. Answer me honestly. That friend of yours, does he have innate gifts?”
“You know?” Wan Li asked.
Wan Li wasn’t actually that surprised. From the moment they met, this master seemed to know everything in advance. He had heard the townsfolk say that Master Long was filled with mysteries so it wasn’t hard to imagine that he already knew everything.
“I knew right away when things changed within the new town.” Master Long reached out and pulled the small brick bed table over, lifting the black cloth covering it.
Wan Li shone the light over and saw that the table wasn’t covered in food and drink, but rather a model. It wasn’t an architectural model used by real estate companies to show off model homes. Instead, it was a sand table used to plan military strategies. Clear vertical and horizontal lines were drawn, seeming to be streets, while partitioned squares represented buildings. There was a small saucer that contained water in the middle of the sand table. In the middle of the saucer was a detailed replica of a wooden tower.
“Do you see that tower? Tell me, how is its surroundings?” Master Long asked.
Wan Li focused the light on the sand table. “The sand around the saucer is a mess. The water inside the saucer is very turbid and the small wooden tower is…my goodness, it’s moving!” As he leaned closer to look, he saw the small tower suddenly shake and was startled, instinctively stepping back.
What was going on? Did all wooden things come to life around Master Long?
“There you have it.” Master Long said calmly. “The sand was previously level, the water clear, the tower steady. But one day, when everything changed, I naturally realized someone had broken the grand fengshui formation there!”
“What is going on here?”
“As I said, my powers are limited. I normally use my knowledge and experience to handle the occult. Besides, did you think that fengshui formation was all it took to suppress those spirits with towering resentment?”
“Could it be…for the past decade, you’ve been guarding the formation here?” Wan Li sucked in a breath, finally understanding why Master Long would live in this weird and murky place, using a formation to shut himself off from the world. So this was the reason.
Master Long nodded. “There’s also these puppets, a total of a hundred and seventy-three. Each of them have a name, carved behind their heads along with their birthdate. I move these specially constructed puppets into the courtyard each night, using the power of yinyang to purify their resentment and prevent them from breaking through the fengshui formation! I made those other four puppets firstly to store those pitiful damaged souls while also using them as guards to scare off animals with the fire. Animals don’t have human thoughts, and thus their minds are not like those of a human. Therefore, they aren’t bewildered by the surrounding formation. Their aura would startle spirits and cause those senseless puppets to also become fiendish objects!”
“That bastard!” Wan Li gritted his teeth and cursed Si Ma Nan.
Master Long naturally understood his meaning. “He should be called an expert. Although he broke my fengshui formation, I can’t help but be impressed.” He laughed bitterly. “From your perspective, you probably think he’s the one that messed things up. But from my perspective, it is the nature of the heavens that divine retribution cannot be avoided. That day, I was pouring magic into the puppets when they suddenly started moving about. You should know that they are lifeless objects. I merely carved their names and birthdates into the backs of their heads, seemingly giving them consciousness when I cast my magic. However, they are merely pieces of wood. But things were different that day. They seemed to be responding to the resentful spirits in the new town. I hurriedly withdrew the yinyang magic and returned to the house. Although I couldn’t see, I still sensed the changes in the sand table! At that time I realized someone had broken my arrangements!”
As he spoke, a wave of scattered noises came from the large stone building. Listening carefully, it was the sound of people speaking. Many, many people speaking at the same time!