“Children are easily traumatized. Come, let me take a look.” Bao Da Tong stepped up and took Lil’ Tong, allowing Lil’ Tong’s small body to rest completely on his shoulder. He gently patted Lil’ Tong’s body while chanting something under his breath.
“Anything wrong?” Lu Yan asked worriedly.
“Nothing, he didn’t get frightened.” Bao Da Tong returned Lil’ Tong to Lu Yan’s arms and narrowed his eyes.
Nothing out of the ordinary, not a single bit. His aura felt completely like a normal child. Even though he had secretly probed inside Lil’ Tong’s body with his Daoist techniques, there hadn’t been any reaction. But why did he just feel something was weird about that little thing?
“Aiya, Xiao Xia, your hand is bleeding.” Lu Yan cried in shock, hurriedly placing Lil’ Tong on the bed. She raised Xiao Xia’s right hand up. There was a deep gash on her ring finger, and there was even some rust around the edges of the wound. “Let me help clean it up.”
“It’s better to go to the hospital.” Bao Da Tong stopped Lu Yan. “If there’s rust, it’s better to disinfect it and get a vaccine. Getting tetanus would be deadly. How about we head out first. I’ll come by to help tomorrow.” Bao Da Tong glanced at Lil’ Tong as he spoke. The child’s eyes brimmed with tears as he sat on the bed, weak and harmless. Bao Da Tong wondered if he was being overly sensitive.
“Alright.” Lu Yan looked troubled as she spoke. “You guys helped me so much. I feel so bad that Xiao Xia ended up getting hurt.”
“Don’t say that, it wasn’t your fault.” Xiao Xia hurriedly comforted Lu Yan and then faced Lil’ Tong. “Lil’ Tong, auntie is heading out. I’ll come see you again some other time.”
Lil’ Tong nodded, his eyes filled with reluctance. However, he still obediently said goodbye, seeing the three adults off with his eyes.
Once the footsteps faded with only the sounds of the street coming from the window, the room fell strangely silent. There wasn’t even the sound of breathing, as if it was it’s own little world.
Lil’ Tong, the five year old crippled child, leapt from the bed. He was agile like a monkey and landed soundlessly like a fallen leaf.
He slowly walked over to the closet and looked at himself in the mirror, his expression changing. Bit by bit, his mouth curved upwards and his gaze changed. The innocence and harmlessness were slowly replaced by immense satisfaction.
He grinned and laughed silently for a while. Then, he lowered his head to look at his hand which had been clenched the whole time. On his palm was a bloodied rusty needle. He took the needle and swiftly drew a symbol on the mirror.
The needle moving across the mirror made a screeching noise. Once the symbol was complete, “Lil’ Tong” softly pressed against it. The needle sank into the mirror, making a noise that sounded like a sob.
“You said you would play with me, oh auntie.” Lil’ Tong sighed softly, his expression turning solemn. He stared eerily, unmoving.
Step, step, step…
The sound of footsteps rang out. Lil’ Tong knew it was Lu Yan. Therefore, he turned and leaped back onto the bed and sat. After he left the spot, a small figure of darkness remained inside the mirror. It was like he had left his shadow there.
He waved his hand and the mirror returned to normal. Lu Yan happened to enter at the same time.
“Lil’ Tong, what did you do?” Lu Yan asked with a serious expression.
While Lil’ Tong was undergoing these changes, Xiao Xia and Bao Da Tong had already reached the streets. The previous events had left Xiao Xia feeling a little dizzy. The sunlight was rather harsh, so while Bao Da Tong ran off to buy ice cream from a stand, Xiao Xia waited in the shade under a tree.
Although Lil’ Tong’s transformation wasn’t as obvious back then as the other day, she would still notice something was different no matter how dense she was. What she didn’t understand was why such a cute child would turn so creepy! She knew Bao Da Tong had probed Lil’ Tong when he patted him, but since he didn’t say anything, it meant he hadn’t discovered anything. But why did the adorable Lil’ Tong suddenly turn so unfamiliar? Was it some mental illness or was something supernatural going on?
She was lost in thought as she stared aimlessly at the people on the street.
Play with me!
Suddenly, a voice rang out in her mind. At the same time, she suddenly noticed that her gaze had swept over an extremely familiar figure, making her involuntarily glance over in that direction once more!
A little girl stood on the corner across the street. She was around five years old with a flowery patterned dress. The long hair, oval face and large eyes. Who else could it be apart from Zhang Jia Lin, who had been missing for quite a while?
Xiao Xia shot up. “Zhang Jia Lin!” She called loudly, wanting to run across the street. Yet she had just reached the side of the road when an arm reached over and dragged her back.
There was a crash as the sign of the store undergoing renovations fell, viciously smashing the spot Xiao Xia was about to cross.
Everyone was stunned, including the worker doing the renovations.
“Sorry, sorry…I don’t know what happened.” He desperately explained. “I had clearly secured it properly, and it wasn’t moving at all. I don’t know…I…”
“It’s fine, it’s fine. As long as no one was hurt.” Bao Da Tong supported Xiao Xia who was scared stiff. “You should tidy it up quickly. It wouldn’t be good if anyone else got hurt.”
Seeing that the victim didn’t intend on pursuing the matter, the worker expressed his gratitude and left.
Xiao Xia looked over at the street corner, still frightened. However, that little girl had vanished! The street still bustled with activity but that girl seemed to have disappeared into thin air, as if she had never been there to begin with.
“I..I might be seeing things.” Xiao Xia said uneasily as she met Bao Da Tong’s gaze. “I’m really lucky. Otherwise, I might have died there.”
“You weren’t seeing things.” Bao Da Tong supported Xiao Xia over to sit beneath a canopy. He licked his fingers which was covered in melted ice cream despite having thrown it away. “I also saw it. Zhang Jia Lin, right?”
“You saw it too?!”
“That’s right.” Bao Da Tong turned his head and grinned, not seeming like they had just suffered a fright at all. “Do you think the sign would fall out of the blue? Do you think you were lucky? The former was due to evil influence, and the latter was due to me! Dummy!”
Ruan Zhan had also seen Lil’ Tong before but also hadn’t noticed anything abnormal. They had initially assumed it was the building that had issues. Yet now, unless the weirdness had followed the mother and son over, the source of the problem went without saying. “Information exchange!” Bao Da Tong sat down at the bar and said.
It was the weekend today, but the bar wasn’t open for business yet. Only the owner and a psychiatrist was present.
“First tell us what happened to Xiao Xia’s hand.” Ruan Zhan frowned.
The moment Xiao Xia walked in he had noticed the wound on her hand. She had kept her side turned, trying not to let anyone see. However, even though his eyes weren’t focused on her, his heart was. Her every move, including her slightly furrowed brows, did not escape his notice.
“That also counts as part of the information. It’s a package deal.”
“Tsk. Can’t I just ask her myself?” Wan Li scolded.
“Tell me what’s going on. Otherwise, you can pack your things and scram.” Ruan Zhan’s face was cold. “I promised your old man to help you, not to let you freeload off me!”
“Fine, fine. I’ll speak.” Bao Da Tong raised his hands in surrender, describing what had happened at Lu Yan’s place earlier.
Wan Li was quite alarmed, looking at the solemn Ruan Zhan and asking, “What do you think? Is something wrong with the mother and son?”
Ruan Zhan didn’t speak, furrowing his brows tightly.
“Sometimes, the most impossible thing ends up being the most likely.” Bao Da Tong said. “However, I don’t understand why neither of us sensed any fiendish aura.”
“There is one possibility.” Ruan Zhan sat down. “His powers could be far above ours. That would allow him to withdraw his evil aura or fiendish aura, preventing us from sensing anything.”
“Another big fellow, our luck is really great.” Wan Li sighed.
This time, Bao Da Tong didn’t retort.
What Ruan Zhan said was something he had previously considered, but he hadn’t been willing to confront that issue. He wasn’t afraid. It was just so unthinkable. He had cultivated the Dao from a young age with his father. Ruan Zhan was innately gifted. If they both weren’t able to see anything, their opponent might very well have cultivated for centuries. But how was it possible for him to believe that a delicate housewife and an innocent child were the culprits behind everything!? Yet what else could it be?
“There might still be some other reason that we aren’t aware of yet.” Ruan Zhan spoke as if he knew the conflicted feelings in Bao Da Tong’s mind, or perhaps he himself had those complicated emotions as well. “The world is vast and there are too many secrets we aren’t aware of. Things will only be revealed in the end, and anything is possible.”
Bao Da Tong shrugged. “You’re right. Then we’ll just have to confront it and see. In any case, all things must come to an end. They were the ones who came to us. I didn’t provoke anything!”
“Then…was that all the information you had? Wan Li asked. “The information you spent over a week gathering?”
“Hey, I’ve been busy helping Xiao Xia with her charity case. My legs are about to fall off. Why don’t you try setting up a store using so little money and time?” Bao Da Tong complained. “Despite that, I still found the time to investigate Zhang Zi Xin’s matter. I also probed the mother and son’s bottom line a little.”
“Let’s hear it.” Ruan Zhan said.
“Zhang Zi Xin was a reporter for this city’s Morning Post. You guys know this.” Bao Da Tong said. “But you might not have known that he is also a journalist for the Societal News. He’s also a freelance writer who is especially passionate in things like exposés. Five years ago, on the eve of his wedding, he had planned on combining the time off he got for his wedding along with his accumulated PTO to go on his honeymoon with Lu Yan to the Hainan Province. As it turned out, he suddenly changed his plans for some reason and used his PTO in advance. According to Lu Yan, he had been assigned to an urgent interview case. However, from my investigations, he had actually heard about a supernatural case and thus decided to go do the interview, planning on writing up an exposé about it. It was because he didn’t believe in things like ghosts and fiends. He wanted to solve the mystery!”
“You found this out?” Ruan Zhan listened extremely seriously.
“That’s right.” Bao Da Tong was a little smug. “When he disappeared back then, the police had thoroughly investigated it. They haven’t been able to conclude anything, even to this day. However, during my investigations, my attention was drawn to his best friend Wang Yong. He too was a philosophical idealist. You guys know that people like us are good at discerning things. Therefore, he told me things that he hadn’t revealed to the police.”
“You didn’t use some illusion spells or something, right?” Wan Li asked.
Bao Da Tong chuckled. “That I didn’t. I merely…merely had him dream about his missing friend, and then helped interpret his dream for him.”
“Bao Da Tong.” Ruan Zhan’s brows knit. “Don’t blame me for not reminding you. As someone with powers, you are free to use your abilities for good. But you cannot randomly manipulate others unless they ask it of you. Otherwise, it becomes a violation.”
“I know, I know.” Bao Da Tong didn’t argue. “I also know I’ve been doing a little too much of that lately. However, this case has truly been cold for too long. If I didn’t use such methods, I won’t be able to find out anything. However, how would you rate my actions regarding the landowning wealthy merchant?”
Ruan Zhan gave him a thumbs up.
“This is your first time praising me. I’ll have to note it down in my diary later to remember this emotional day.” Bao Da Tong joked. “But guess what Wang Yong said?”
“You trying to sell tickets to your performance? Hurry and spit it out.” Wan Li urged.
“I really wouldn’t have known this without him. Five years ago, works that debunked supernatural phenomena were very popular. For example, that “Devil’s Valley” or whatever. Reporters like them loved such works, dreaming about writing something similar. However, he never really had the opportunity. Right before his wedding, he heard rumors of a supernatural case. Therefore, he dropped his wedding preparations and took time off to go there, wanting to investigate the matter. He would use the material to write his own book.”
“What case? Where?” Wan Li asked.
Unexpectedly, Bao Da Tong shook his head. “That I don’t know. He only knew that Zhang Zi Xin booked a plane ticket to Xi’an. As you guys probably know, best friends often have completely opposite personalities. Zhang Zi Xin and Wang Yong were like that. Wang Yong was timid and didn’t wish to get involved with such things. Zhang Zi Xin also wanted to solve the supernatural case by himself and write a sensational book. Therefore, he didn’t reveal too much.”
“This is a very small piece of information.” Wan Li said. “It only points us in the general direction without anything of real use.”
“Then let me add one more piece: Lu Yan and Lil’ Tong truly exist with complete records and papers. They didn’t just appear out of nowhere. Therefore…if there really is something wrong with them, at least their bodies are normal. So, what information do you guys have?”
“We used Great Master Bao’s name and visited the ten families of the missing children. In the end we found out…”
“Ten families? Wasn’t it seven?” Bao Da Tong interrupted in astonishment.
“It is clear you were very busy these days. Didn’t even have time to read the newspaper.” Wan Li said. “Three more children went missing this week. The authorities have notified the public to remain alert and keep an eye on their own children to avoid giving the kidnappers any opportunities.”
“But this isn’t really a case of human trafficking, right?”
“It really isn’t. From what we currently see, they merely kidnap without selling.”
“Then why are they doing it? Don’t tell me they’re eating them.” The moment Bao Da Tong said those words, he also gave himself a fright.
Hopefully that wasn’t the outcome. It would be too cruel. He couldn’t imagine eating children. If that really was the case, they were up against demons!
Wan Li ignored Bao Da Tong’s conjecture and continued speaking. “We questioned many parents of missing children. They all said their children disappeared very suddenly, without any warning. Furthermore, they all disappeared in the middle of the night and the doors were all opened. The issue is that the missing children are all between the ages of four and six. Such young children can’t even dress themselves. If the doors were locked from the inside, it’s impossible for the children to open it by themselves. However, when they went missing, they were dressed in their favorite clothes. The parents were all fast asleep and heard nothing. Most importantly, all the mothers heard something strange that night before it happened.”
“Before they went to bed, the mothers heard an infant crying, but there was nothing there when they opened the door to look. When they got in bed, they kept hearing a child in the streets, calling, “Mommy! Mommy!”
“Was the child male or female?” Bao Da Tong asked.
“Nonsense!” Wan Li helplessly let out a long sigh. “At that age, how can the gender of a child be differentiated by the voice?”
“Also…” Ruan Zhan continued the topic. “Several of the parents claimed to have seen a strange little girl appear in the surroundings. Their impression of her was very deep because she was a little strange.”
“Was it Zhang Jia Lin?”
Ruan Zhan nodded, “That’s right. Something else that’s strange: those who went missing are all girls!”