Ruan Zhan nodded. “That’s right. This fiend is very arrogant and probably underestimated me since she didn’t conceal herself. I saw a clump of red yang aura in the pit of her stomach. I’m guessing that’s the fiend’s true form. The girl called Zhang Jia Lin shouldn’t have any issues originally. Her body is merely being used, though I don’t know if she’s still alive or not.”
“I say, Zhang Jia Lin shouldn’t have any grudges against Xiao Xia. Why try to harm her?”
“The question is what grudge that red fiend has with Xiao Xia.” Wan Li said. “And also why it’s taking away so many children. Does it have a purpose? Or was it just random?”
“Actually, the red aura had some sort of shape.” Ruan Zhan continued thoughtfully. “It seemed to be a red lotus. What I don’t understand is that with the lotus being a holy object, why would a fiend aura cultivate into such a shape?”
“Perhaps it is related to where it dwells or where it cultivated. You know people usually subconsciously replicate things they like or are familiar with. Such essentially instinctive behavior is extremely honest.” Wan Li said.
“Speaking of where it came from, I have another piece of information.” Ruan Zhan glanced toward Yang Yang. “This kid almost got abducted by that fiend. However, he said he smelled its scent.”
“Its scent?” Bao Da Tong laughed in surprise. “Do you believe him? Such a young fellow. He might very well be talking nonsense, or he maybe he imagined it. You know how children are. They often believe in all sorts of things.”
“It’s not out of the question.” Wan Li said. “Children shouldn’t be underestimated. They are often much smarter than adults expect.”
“I also think he was telling the truth.” Xiao Xia carefully recalled Yang Yang’s expression back then. “He said there was the smell of mud.”
“Alright.” Bao Da Tong shrugged. “We can take it with a grain of salt. However, I’m more interested in whether it was “it” or “them”?”
“That depends if Lu Yan and her son are what we suspect them to be.” Ruan Zhan said. “If they are just an ordinary yet weird pair, then it’s just “it”. Otherwise, it would be “them”!”
“You just said you saw two “Zhang Jia Lin’s” at the hospital. Could it be…” Bao Da Tong tapped his finger against his chin as he looked at Ruan Zhan.
“I think the one in the morgue was a clone. I could tell she was an empty vessel that could only defend but not attack. Yet this also proves how powerful she is. She actually knows a clone technique.”
“Could there be more?” Wan Li asked.
Bao Da Tong gave him an incredulous glance, as if he had asked a very stupid question. “Fiends we can’t see through have cultivated for at least two or three centuries. Do you think those things grow on trees?”
The conversation caused Ruan Zhan to seriously recall Zhang Jia Lin’s state back then. He frowned and said, “From what I saw, our previous guess was mistaken. “She” or “they” might have existed for even longer.”
When he struck using his newly created spell, the little girl wasn’t hurt at all despite being flustered. Considering how she thoroughly looked down upon her opponent, it proved her skills were very powerful.
In human society, people in their prime had the advantage in strength and intelligence. Yet for fiends, the weaker they looked the more terrifying they are. Especially women and children.
“It’s best to be prepared for the worst.” Wan Li said. “Let’s assume there are three of them. The girl Ruan Zhan and Xiao Xia encountered seems to be more unbridled. What about the other two?” He looked at Bao Da Tong as he spoke.
Bao Da Tong shook his head. “I went over early in the morning to help them open up shop, and was observing secretly the whole time. Therefore…if they really are fiends, then they would be too incredible. Not only are they not afraid of crowds or sunlight, Lu Yan even personally lit the firecrackers. Of course since Lil’ Tong is frail, the morning sun was bearable but at noon he complained about feeling dizzy and went to the back. Using the excuse that the aura inside the store was off, I even placed an exorcism formation but they didn’t let anything slip.”
“Could we be mistaken and there’s nothing wrong with them?” Xiao Xia raised the possibility but was immediately shot down by Ruan Zhan.
“Believe me, Xiao Xia. The mother and son pair are definitely not normal. At the very least, Lil’ Tong isn’t as simple as he appears. Just like how people have different natures, there are also many types of fiends. Some, like Zhang Jia Lin, are unbridled. Others are very cautious. The latter is even harder to deal with.”
Xiao Xia lowered her face glumly. She really hoped they were wrong. She was unable to believe such a cute kid was actually something harmful.
“Sometimes we have no choice but to face things that are hard to accept.” Wan Li patter Xiao Xia’s shoulder. “Think of those innocent missing children. Their fates are still unknown. If they are still alive, we can save them by wiping out the fiend!”
“I understand.” Xiao Xia nodded. She wanted to grab the soda on the bar, but due to her preoccupied state, her hand knocked against the counter. It happened to knock against her wound, causing her to yelp.
“Be more careful you impetuous lass.” Because Wan Li was sitting next to her, he pulled her hand over to inspect. Unexpectedly, Ruan Zhan shot his hand out and gripped Xiao Xia’s in his own.
“Pass me some scissors.” He said while staring at her hand.
“What are you doing?” Wan Li was a little shocked.
“He got stimulated today, and now wants to destroy any fabric he sees.” Bao Da Tong smirked. “He turned into beast earlier and tore her clothing. Now he wants to cut open the bandage on her wound.” Yet despite his words, he still ran upstairs to fetch the first aid kit, scissors and his own wooden chest.
Ruan Zhan didn’t explain, and carefully cut open the bandage on Xiao Xia’s wound. There was a thin scratch on her ring finger. It didn’t look serious, but it had turned a strange shade of red. At first glance it might look like the wound had scabbed over, but he smelled a hint of blood around it.
How could such a small wound have such a strong smell of blood?
“How many days has it been? Why hasn’t it healed yet?” Wan Li frowned, also realizing something was wrong. “Didn’t you also go to the doctor?”
“What’s going on? I don’t feel anything strange.” Xiao Xia noticed their interest in her finger.
“If you hadn’t bumped your injury, I wouldn’t have realized it.” Ruan Zhan gathered his spirit power as he spoke. He extended his senses for a moment before speaking. “Do you know how that fiend was able to break through my formations and send its voice through the mirror?”
“Don’t tell me it was because of my hand?”
“It’s because of the bloody aura on your hand. He only absorbed a bit of it and was able to find you through a spell. Just like a telephone line.”
“Hearing that makes me despair.” Despite his words, Bao Da Tong looked unconcerned. “The more we analyze things, the more powerful I feel they are. In theory, crushing us would be as easy as crushing an ant.”
“Let’s get rid of the blood tracking magic before speaking.” Ruan Zhan placed Xiao Xia’s hand on the counter and pointed at Bao Da Tong’s wooden chest.
“See? I’m the most useful companion. At least in terms of dispelling various evil spells, my sect is the most orthodox.”
Bao Da Tong opened the chest as he spoke, taking out a yellow piece of paper. Then, he took out something that looked like a jar of medicinal powder and a jar of spellwater. He first dumped the powder in the middle of the paper and then poured the spellwater over it. Immediately, the yellow paper which should have gotten soaked, swiftly turned red as the powder dissolved. The moment it turned fully red, Bao Da Tong seized it and threw it in the air.
The paper immediately started burning. Bao Da Tong stretched his hand out, chanting several lines, and the ashes of the paper gathered in his palm. He grabbed Xiao Xia’s injured hand and rubbed the ashes on the back of it. He closed his eyes, continuing to chant something under his breath.
Xiao Xia thought the pain would be similar to when he expelled the corpse poison, yet it wasn’t the case. The back of the hand merely got very itchy, making her want to scratch at it. When Bao Da Tong finally withdrew his hand, Xiao Xia was surprised to see that the piece of paper had reformed.
Bao Da Tong took the red paper and took out another type of powder and spellwater. Using the same process, he turned the paper yellow again.
“Magical, right?” He tilted his head and smiled at Xiao Xia. “Don’t mistake this paper for ordinary paper that you can get wherever. This was refined using special ingredients. I only have three in total.”
Xiao Xia looked down and saw the wound was still there. “Nothing really changed. That must have been for show.”
“No, this isn’t some scientific experiment, and it also isn’t something swindlers use to trick people. Although it looked simple, it is actually really hard do.” This time, Ruan Zhan explained things for Bao Da Tong. “The wound on your skin needs to heal by itself. However, the external sorcery on it needed to be dispelled by magic.”
“So basically he’s saved me twice today?”
“That’s right. Might as well give your heart to me!” Bao Da Tong said with an indecent smile.
“Her hand was injured at Lu Yan’s place. Does this mean we can basically confirm there’s something wrong with the mother and son?” Wan Li got things back on topic.
“The problem is how we’re supposed to expose them.” Bao Da Tong sighed in vexation. “Ah Zhan and I have both approached them before, but weren’t able to find any openings. Theoretically speaking, no matter ghosts or fiends, they all have their weaknesses. Just like how the golden shield or iron skin techniques have their flaws. Zhang Jia Lin is more rampant and underestimated Ah Zhan, which allowed him to discover the red lotus inside her. That is also her weakness. Yet I can say that we see nothing from the mother and son pair.”
“Then what should we do?” Xiao Xia said. “Don’t tell me we can only imitate Jiang Ziya burning the Lute Fiend, and burn the mother and son to death to force out the fiends?”
“That won’t do!” Bao Da Tong said hurriedly. “Exorcism is similar to giving out death penalties. It must be done extremely carefully. Only when things are a hundred percent certain can an exorcism be carried out. Otherwise, if innocents are harmed in the slightest, the karmic repercussions would be severe.”
“This means that unless we are certain they are fiends, we cannot touch them? But how are we supposed to catch them out?” Wan Li spread his arms. “They are elusive, powerful and have at least thee centuries of cultivation. Ah Zhan and Bao Da Tong only have fifty years combined. Even adding myself and Xiao Xia, that is still only around a century. Even that’s an overstatement.”
“Furthermore, I can’t figure out their motives. Why are they kidnapping children? What are they using them for? Even if they are using illusions to lure the children to leave voluntarily without the parents’ knowledge, why is there the sound of children calling out ‘mommy’? Is that related to their past, or when they were still alive? Why would Lu Yan come looking for Bao Da Tong? Purposefully revealing their identities? Some other reason? Or does she really want to find her husband?” Xiao Xia asked.
“We’ll have to rely on our psychiatrist to analyze this.” Bao Da Tong nudged Wan Li with his elbow.
“As long as we find enough clues, I’ll be able to analyze it. No matter human or ghost, their actions are governed by something.” Wan Li said. “Based on what we know so far, we have our objectives: Lu Yan, her son, and Zhang Jia Lin. We have a few related clues, such as the case of Lu Yan’s husband Zhang Zi Xin. We also know a bit of the techniques involved, including the red lotus, the smell of mud, the historical attire and the random grudge against Xiao Xia. We even have some initial estimates of their capabilities. One of them is arrogant, one is cautious, they have centuries of experience, they can use clones and blood tracking. The female fiend’s weakness is in the middle of her chest, and they all look down on us a lot. Although it’s not a lot to go off of, it’s also not that little. However, a few more details need to fall into place before I can make an initial analysis and conclusion.”
“So we need to do some investigating?” Bao Da Tong used his other elbow to nudge Ruan Zhan. “Cousin, what would you say is the next step?”
Ruan Zhan pondered for a moment. “Since we already have our objectives, we should focus on them. How about we split up. One party investigates the case of Lu Yan’s husband Zhang Zi Xin. It might be related to the missing children. The second party keeps an eye on Lu Yan and her son. I have a feeling the key to solving this mystery lies with them. The third party will follow the case of the missing children. Trust me, children will continue to go missing. Therefore, it would be very beneficial for us if we can discover something.”
As he spoke to this point, Ruan Zhan looked at the others, having some difficulty in deciding how to split the tasks. Whether he liked it or not, Bao Da Tong was a fresh force for them, and was his greatest help. However, while their own forces had grown, their opponents were also more powerful. This made it hard to arrange things as he had in the past. Luckily, Xiao Xia had learned a bit of magic. Although it wasn’t of that much use due to her innate constitution and the small amount of time she’s been studying, she could at least protect herself. This meant he could worry a little less.
Yet worrying less didn’t mean not worrying at all. No matter which task he assigned Xiao Xia and Wan Li, there was bound to be danger. Yet if he didn’t assign her anything and left her alone, the danger would be even greater. The fiends would definitely ambush those on their own.
The enemy was too powerful. He was very worried about the integrity of the formations here. Especially since they were able to use other methods as well. Defense was always passive. If he wasn’t there, accidents may occur at any moment.
Everyone else was silent, waiting for him to speak. He hesitated a long time before finally making a decision.