Ruan Zhan didn’t deliberately change the style of the bar to the way it was. However, just his presence behind the bar and his faint smile caused the recent ruckus to die down somewhat. He was a calming presence here. This was his domain, and no one could overshadow him.
Yet while he seemed to be casually taking care of the customers, his mind was occupied by other things.
In his opinion, this case of Bao Da Tong’s was very fishy. It was just a spirit summoning, but things have gotten weirder and weirder. Was something up with the woman called Lu Yan and her child? Was something up with where they lived? Had she intentionally come for Bao Da Tong or was it a random coincidence? Why did Xiao Xia see the girl that had been missing for ten days. From her description, that girl didn’t seem to belong to the world of the living anymore. But if that girl had already died, why could she appear during the day?
Bao Da Tong had wanted to work with him to resolve this matter but he had refused. He wasn’t being petty. He just didn’t want him to know his secrets. He had to figure out his past. Apart from Wan Li, he didn’t trust anyone. As for Xiao Xia, he just wanted her to have the most simple and happy life. He didn’t want her to get mixed up with these things.
Bao Da Tong’s powers weren’t weak. That he could tell. However, seeing he was just as warm, sloppy and impulsive as ten years ago, it reminded him somewhat of Xiao Xia. He was a little more frivolous than she was though. This was also why he didn’t wish to work with Bao Da Tong. He had a feeling the truth would slowly surface, not just for this case, but also about his past. He had to tread exceptionally carefully, which meant Bao Da Tong might be more hindrance than help with his personality.
The impatient Bao Da Tong had already gone over to Lu Yan’s place to look around. Ruan Zhan wasn’t impatient. He would head over right before daybreak. With Bao Da Tong’s abilities, he probably wouldn’t startle anything before the situation crystallizes.
Xiao Xia was currently sleeping upstairs. He had already recast the protective formations. No evil would disturb her as long as she remained here at night. As for her amulet, he had kept it ever since Hongqing Town. He applied his willpower to it daily, hoping it would increase the protection it offered her.
As he pondered, the door opened. Ruan Zhan looked up. It was Wan Li and Bao Da Tong.
At Ruan Zhan’s questioning gaze, Wan Li shrugged. Ruan Zhan immediately understood that he hadn’t come together with Bao Da Tong. They just happened to meet up at the door.
With two hunks entering, the pressure on Ruan Zhan immediately lessened. However, this prevented them from discussing things. They only had the opportunity when it was almost closing time.
“I didn’t find anything.” Without waiting for Ruan Zhan to ask, Bao Da Tong reported the results of his investigation. “Although there aren’t many people and the yin aura is strong, there isn’t anything abnormal. The strange thing is why Lu Yan’s husband hasn’t shown up at all these few days despite her saying he was always there?”
“Perhaps her husband had never really shown up. It might have been something she seized upon due to her longing. From a psychological perspective…”
“No need for nerds here.” Bao Da Tong shot an irresistible smile at an elegant woman who had yet to leave while interrupting Wan Li. “Since Xiao Xia encountered something strange, we can first assume what Lu Yan said is real.”
Wan Li looked at Ruan Zhan. Ruan Zhan recounted Xiao Xia’s experience.
“Don’t tell me the person Xiao Xia saw was that Zhang Jia Lin. Wan Li was a little shocked.
“It was precisely that little girl.” Bao Da Tong nodded. “From what Xiao Xia said, that little girl’s situation…doesn’t look promising.”
“Did you find any clues?” Ruan Zhan habitually furrowed his brows.
As his long-time friend, he could understand Wan Li’s thoughts from the slightest actions. Although Wan Li’s face was currently calm, his gaze told him that he knew something.
“The newspapers haven’t reported it yet so you guys aren’t aware. Seven children have gone missing over the past ten days. They were all between four to six years old, and they all disappeared during the night. There were no prior signs.”
“Missing in the night?” Bao Da Tong was startled. “Shouldn’t such young children be sleeping with their parents?”
“That’s why it’s strange.” Wan Li took a sip of alcohol. “The police are still trying to keep things from blowing up. The only reason I know this little bit is because I went to the station for a session with a criminal suspect. As for the details, such as how it occurred, I’m not able to casually find out.”
“Such human traffickers should go straight to hell. And then get cursed so they have to undergo sufficient torment before reincarnating, and then become a pig or a dog in their next life!” Bao Da Tong said viciously.
“It’s definitely not the work of traffickers! When traffickers kidnap children, they always trick, steal, lead them away or occasionally forcibly kidnap. Yet these cases all happened in the middle of the night. The parents didn’t notice anything. The doors were fully open without any signs of forced entry. The children seemed to have vanished into thin air.”
“Maybe its someone slapping drugs.” Bao Da Tong said very seriously. “When I was young, my dad mentioned a type of strange powder. Those child-trafficking scum would choose a target and slap the powder onto the child’s head. That child would be unable to see or here anything. They would only feel someone leading them, with running water on either side and a vicious wolf behind. Therefore, they would follow the trafficker.”
“Sounds like a hallucinogen.”
“I’m being serious. Those kinds of medicines really exist. China has a long and dazzling history of medical developments. Many strange herbs seemed to have been lost to time, but were secretly passed down amongst certain groups. It’s very possible for them to be used for harm by malicious people. You’re a doctor. You shouldn’t be narrow-minded about this issue.”
“I do admit there are many mysterious things circling around. I’m not against that at all.” Wan Li said. “But you said yourself they have to “slap” it on. Those kids all disappeared from their house in the middle of the night. How would they have gotten the chance to slap them? Besides, traffickers kidnap children to sell them. They certainly aren’t doing it so they can raise the children, right? They would need to leave the city to do any selling. Do you think the police are just for show? The city is completely under secret surveillance, but there hasn’t been any traces. Where do you think those children have gone?”
Bao Da Tong was stumped. He pondered a bit and still wanted to dispute something. Yet the moment he opened his mouth, he was interrupted by Ruan Zhan.
“Are you able to obtain the addresses of those seven missing children?”
“That shouldn’t be a secret. Didn’t you see that Zhang Jia Lin’s parents already made a listing in the missing persons column?” Wan Li said. “There should be a record of the report. The police are probably afraid of causing unnecessary panic and are temporarily not announcing anything. They aren’t intentionally keeping things hidden. I’m guessing the news will come out in a day or two, warning everyone to be on guard.”
“That’s good. We can go ask the parents directly for information.” Ruan Zhan was brief and to the point.
“What reason will we use to question the parents?” Wan Li asked.
Ruan Zhan didn’t speak, merely looking at Bao Da Tong. Wan Li immediately understood. The families of the missing children must be worried sick. If ordinary methods failed to produce results for now, the most common thing to do was to pray and ask for divine help. Bao Da Tong was such a “swindler” with a bit of fame. Therefore, it should be easy for him to approach the parents and find out some information.
“Now you know how useful I am, right? You guys are always like this. Especially you…” Bao Da Tong pointed at Ruan Zhan. “You don’t trust anyone. Now at this critical moment, you realize that I, Bao Da Tong, am not just some freeloader. That was the case with Duan Jin. Nana’s matter as well!”
Wan Li’s expression darkened at his sudden mention of Nana.
“I’m just borrowing your reputation. Didn’t say I was working with you.” Ruan Zhan changed the subject. “Don’t forget you promised Lu Yan you would find her husband Zhang Zi Xin. You still don’t have any leads at the moment.”
Bao Da Tong sighed. “That’s right. I’m planning on looking into what Zhang Zi Xin was up to before he died. I want to know why he died a few days before marriage, and how.”
“We only know he’s missing.” Ruan Zhan reminded him. Anything could be possible.
“Hopefully those children are only missing too.” Bao Da Tong sighed again. “After all, those who are missing can still be found.”
The three looked at each other, seeing helplessness within everyone’s eyes.
Whether it was the case in the past or the current ones, could the missing still be found?
Having decided on their plan of action, Ruan Zhan hid himself and took a trip to Lu Yan’s place before daybreak. The results were the same as Bao Da Tong’s: nothing abnormal. The painting hidden within the pile of junk described by Xiao Xia was truly there, but it had no evil aura. The creaking and rattling sounds were there too, but were caused by ajar windows covered by junk that rattled with the wind. The little girl who resembled Zhang Jia Lin didn’t appear at all.
Despite this, Ruan Zhan felt more certain there was something wrong with this place. Xiao Xia had truly encountered something abnormal.
The reason was that this place was too “clean”. There were all sorts of obsessions in this world. People died in all sorts of places, let alone such an old building. Although spirits didn’t usually appear in places where people gathered and resentful aura formed by malicious thought wasn’t commonly seen, it was impossible for there to be nothing at all. Problems could be hidden, but overdoing things would make it more suspicious instead.
He pondered while he walked, slowly making his way back. When he entered the bar, he noticed the chairs and tables had all been pushed to one side. Xiao Xia was dressed in a sporty getup, moving along with Bao Da Tong.
“Our sect is a little different from Ruan Zhan’s.” Bao Da Tong completely ignored the owner’s return, earnestly explaining to Xiao Xia. “His powers are innate and cultivated after birth. It’s more unconstrained. Although it’s very impressive, how Daoist methods are more orthodox.”
Xiao Xia snuck a glance at Ruan Zhan just as his gaze involuntarily flew towards her. Their eyes met and both hurriedly looked away.
“Your foundations are too shoddy. Although there is no age requirement to learning the Dao, you have too many distractions in your mind. It’ll definitely be very hard to master the basics.” Bao Da Tong didn’t seem to be watching, but his words seemed to be pointing out her distracted state. She hurriedly gathered her mind.
“How about this!” Bao Da Tong thought for a moment. “Our sect has a taboo elemental technique. It doesn’t have that high of a requirement on the user. I only need to draw a set of corresponding talismans and have you memorize the chants and footwork. You would be able to block off ordinary evil manifestations. As for mastering the basics, we can take it slowly. Apprentice sister Xiao Xia, you’re the only one I would treat so well. The set of talismans are a secret technique that isn’t taught. Even if you can draw them, they are useless without my accompanying cultivation technique. My…”cousin” over here, he also doesn’t know it.”
Hearing him mention Ruan Zhan, Xiao Xia involuntarily looked at him. “I…I’m afraid of encountering something again and being a burden. Therefore, I also want to cultivate. At least I’ll be able to…protect myself!” She didn’t know why she was explaining things to him, but she just blurted it out.
“That’s good. However, you’ve just recovered so don’t tire yourself out.” Ruan Zhan said softly, standing there without moving.
Xiao Xia lowered her head.
What did he mean by that? Why did his treatment of her vary so? Since he was avoiding her, it was clear he didn’t have any special feelings for her. But why did he smile so gently? This made her afraid to open her mouth again, in case her wildly beating heart leapt out! Damn she was dying, why did his smile look so good!?
“So, are you guys planning on chatting or do you want to continue learning the Dao?” Bao Da Tong’s voice rang out. His voice wasn’t reproachful, his tone more teasing.
“Learn, learn, learn. I’ll learn immediately.” Xiao Xia hurriedly surrendered, forcibly suppressing her heart tremors. “You dragged me out of bed so early in the morning. If I don’t learn anything, wouldn’t I have gotten up for nothing?”
“That’s a good girl.” Bao Da Tong beamed. “This set of taboo elemental techniques consists of the five elements of gold, wood, water, fire and earth. The footwork and hand gestures are a little complicated, but the chant is very easy. Let’s go step by step. We’ll learn the gold one first. The chant is…” Seeing Ruan Zhan still standing there, Bao Da Tong lowered his raised hand.
“Cousin, don’t you have any sense of propriety? I’m trying to teach my apprentice sister some secret inheritances. Shouldn’t you be more discreet? Stop standing there like a piece of furniture, ok?”
“Oh, apologies.” Only then did Ruan Zhan realize he had been standing there unmoving.
He walked passed them. When he walked by Xiao Xia, their proximity made his heart clench painfully.
She was learning exorcism techniques! If she really mastered Bao Da Tong’s spells, she wouldn’t need him anymore. But if she no longer needed him, what was left for him in this world? He really couldn’t bear that! She didn’t need him! She didn’t need him!
“Right, I forgot to tell you.” He stopped by Xiao Xia, desperately trying to remain calm. “Don’t go to Lu Yan’s place by yourself, not even during the day.”
“Did you discover something?” Xiao Xia asked.
Ruan Zhan shook his head. “You just need to promise me.”
“But, I promised Lil’ Tong I would go play with him. It’s not good to lie to children, right?” Xiao Xia revealed a troubled expression.
“We’ll find some way to help the mother and son. You need to be good this time and listen to me.” Ruan Zhan said patiently. “I’ll go visit Lil’ Tong around lunch time in your stead. You won’t be breaking your promise. I will tell him you got sick.”
“Actually, her body truly has yet to fully recover for some reason.” Bao Da Tong interrupted. “That said, just what did you discover?”
“We aren’t working together.”
“True.” Bao Da Tong admitted honestly. “However, based on our relationship, we can at least exchange information.”
“We can make the exchange when you have some new discoveries.” Ruan Zhan spoke curtly before heading upstairs abruptly.
“Things don’t seem to be going well. He isn’t happy.” Xiao Xia looked at his receding figure and felt very anxious. Therefore, she missed Bao Da Tong’s pensive words.
“He’s unable to control his own heart.”