“You dummy! If you couldn’t turn the laptop off no matter what, can’t you just pour your bowl of noodles over it?”
Xiao Xia stood dumbly, not knowing what to do.
“Is…is it already over?”
“Isn’t it?” Bao Da Tong shrugged. “If this happens again in the future, remember to chant the water spell before pouring water over the laptop. See, your laptop wasn’t plugged in but it still burnt out. This is due to sorcery.”
“It was sorcery.” Bao Da Tong was too smug to notice Xiao Xia’s tone was off. “The five element spell. I taught it to you, remember?”
“You taught me?”
“Alright, then compensate me for the laptop.” Xiao Xia had been scared and was now angered. Fuming, she stretched her hand out towards Bao Da Tong. “Couldn’t you just have driven it out of the laptop? If I could just pour water over it, why would I call you?”
“It…took less effort.”
“Less effort, huh? Then get me a new laptop. Otherwise, I’ll make it so you won’t need to use any effort for the rest of your life. You’ll have to lie there, freeloading, waiting for death!” Xiao Xia leapt off the bed as she spoke, closing the closet doors.
“Where would I get the money?”
“Keep swindling rich people, I don’t care. You have to compensate me!” This was the second computer that got broken within the year. The first one was due to Guan Zheng, and this time was due to the missing children. She didn’t have the money to buy a new one. Furthermore, all her files had been on it. She would have to get a friend to check it out. If the hard disk wasn’t damaged, she might be able to retrieve some of the data.
“Fine, fine!” Bao Da Tong saw how vexed she was and could only agree. “We’ll stick a talisman on the computer next time, just like the phone. That way, the fiends won’t be able to cast illusions through it anymore.”
“If it’s hellbent on coming after me, it’ll have all sorts of channels. Did you notice? Although it couldn’t enter the room, it could affect me through many different media.” Xiao Xia sighed. “Forget it, let it do as it pleases. It’ll be fine if I can reach you guys at all times.” She waved the phone.
There was a sticker of Bao Da Tong on the back. In reality, it was to hide the fact that there was a talisman. If it weren’t for this talisman, she couldn’t have called for Bao Da Tong with the fiend’s seals preventing outside communication. Actually, she hadn’t called using the phone. She had notified him of the urgent situation directly through the talisman.
“Right, is Wan Li back yet?” Xiao Xia asked.
“Does he have that much work piled up?”
“That…I think, how should I put it? I’m not someone to sow dissension, but I feel his movements are very worthy of suspicion. He probably isn’t engaging in proper business.” Bao Da Tong winked naughtily. “I think you shouldn’t wait for him any longer. Might as well come downstairs and play a while. There are many people downstairs, and Master Bao here is overseeing things.” He knew Xiao Xia’s work files were all in the laptop. She clearly couldn’t keep working anymore, so he made the suggestion.
Xiao Xia hesitated for a moment. “Forget it, I’m going to sleep for a bit. We still have to move according to plan a few hours later. I don’t want to show up at work with bags under my eyes tomorrow.”
“Won’t you be scared being by yourself upstairs?”
“Yes, but it can’t be helped. I have to face it by myself. I can’t always have others protecting me. You all must remember, I am your companion, not a burden!” Xiao Xia paused and then spoke again. “Besides, as long as you stick a talisman on the phone and the power outlet, there won’t be anymore links to the outside. It has also just made a ruckus, so it probably doesn’t have the energy to come bother me again.”
Bao Da Tong nodded. “You’re right. Ah Zhan’s formation should still be effective. Otherwise, that powerful thing won’t be using such roundabout methods to get at you. However, this does make me curious. Why is it so interested in you?”
“I’d rather it ignore me.” Xiao Xia was thoroughly annoyed. Was her birthdate really that inauspicious? “Enough nonsense, hurry and draw the talismans!”
Under Xiao Xia’s urging, Bao Da Tong went to his room across the hall and fetched the small wooden chest. He took out paper and brush to draw talismans before sticking them on the outlets and landline. The things inside the chest were all extremely special evil-warding objects. Even the paper, brush and ink contained spirit power. Therefore, they were extremely effective.
Although this was mending the pen after the sheep had escaped, it was still better late than never. This way she could sleep in peace for a while. Because Yang Yang’s mom had returned the day before and Bao Da Tong had placed a restriction on their house, they didn’t have many lingering concerns.
Xiao Xia tidied up the suddenly messy room and then lay down on the bed. She reached under the pillow and fished out the small bloodwood sword, placing it on her chest.
“Ruan Zhan.” She murmured softly, as if just calling his name put her at ease. “You must come back safely.”
The bloodwood sword seemed to understand Xiao Xia was calling for its master. It vibrated extremely lightly, and Xiao Xia fell asleep to the humming rhythm.
“We’re just going to foolishly wait?”
Around midnight, Xiao Xia and Wan Li sat in Ruan Zhan’s car, parked outside a newly constructed residential neighborhood.
“Sometimes, waiting in place for the rabbit is better than running around randomly.” Wan Li adjusted his seat, making himself more comfortable. He wasn’t anywhere near as nervous as Xiao Xia, as if he was at a movie theater instead of tracking evil spirits. This made Xiao Xia feel both admiration and worry.
However, Wan Li was right. The city was too big and it was only the two of them. They might pass by the evil spirits on any street. It was more likely to find clues by waiting in a set location instead.
“Why did you choose this place?”
“Because these places aren’t as heavily guarded.” Wan Li explained. “Even after the police made the announcement to have families with children around that age remain on guard, children continue to go missing. The parents of those missing children all said that despite not sleeping, they would mysteriously lose consciousness around that time. In households with dogs, those dogs didn’t even bark. When they woke up, the child was gone. You probably know that these cases have caused the whole city to be in a state of panic. Under these circumstances, the police are out in full force, assigning many units to patrol throughout the night. I’m thinking no matter how powerful the fiends, they wouldn’t dare take on such a large group of zealous cops. They would definitely be more careful, perhaps not daring to make a move or perhaps choosing a place with less of a police presence.”
“Aren’t the police evenly deployed?”
“It’s due to insufficient personnel. However, since this is a large case, this gap will swiftly get plugged. Yet before that happens, the children here are relatively more at risk.”
“Where did you find out about these things?”
“All information related to this case is top secret. How would I be able to get any information? These are all just my own conjectures.” Wan Li rapped Xiao Xia’s head. “Think about it. The previous cases all happened downtown. The police naturally gathered their forces there. This place is a newly constructed neighborhood on the outskirts. The local police station hasn’t even been built yet, so how could there be a defensive presence?”
“Since you can come up with this, the police can naturally do the same. They aren’t idiots after all.”
“That’s right, they probably realize it. The evil spirits would also know this. Yet while they realize it, there are bound to be places with less protection when they are lacking in manpower. There are actually patrols arranged here, but it isn’t a complete network like the one downtown.”
“There are patrols?” Xiao Xia looked in the rearview mirror. “Have you considered we might get in trouble for doing this? If a patrol spots a man and a woman out and about in the middle of the night, suspiciously sitting in the car, wouldn’t they view us as suspects?”
Wan Li glanced at Xiao Xia with a smile and didn’t say anything.
“What are you smiling about?”
“You said it yourself, a man and a woman acting suspiciously. Wouldn’t it be fine if we pretend we’re having an affair? Speaking of which, you should sit a little closer. That way, when a patrol comes over, it’ll be easier for us to be entangled. You know, actions speak louder than words sometimes.”
Xiao Xia smacked his arm. “Stop messing around! You’re so annoying. I’m so nervous! What are we going to do if we really encounter it?”
Wan Li smiled again and once more didn’t respond.
He had been very busy lately, and many things had happened. Of course, there was also that annoying Bao Da Tong. All this resulted in him not having had peaceful time alone with Xiao Xia in a very long time. Their familiarity, warmth and feeling of ease was something he liked a lot. That was a sort of mutual trust, comfort and a little bit of ambiguity. This made him feel calm and cozy. Although the beautiful feelings in his heart had slowly shifted towards love, he understood that her feelings for him leaned more towards friendship.
She loved his best friend, he understood this very well. His job involved helping others deal with their feelings and figure out the best thing to do. Yet his own feelings were now a mess, so he decided to ignore them. Having lived for so many years, he had learned something extremely useful: let something sit if it couldn’t be resolved, and time will settle everything for you.
“Hey, I’m asking you. If we’re really ‘lucky’ enough to encounter the evil spirit, what should we do?” Xiao Xia lightly smacked him again.
“Follow the child!” Wan Li snapped out of his musings. “A total of fifteen children have gone missing since Zhang Jia Lin started, and there have been no reports of them leaving the city. Therefore, there has to be a hiding place, unless they’ve already entered the fiend’s stomach.”
He spoke calmly, but Xiao Xia shivered as she listened. She was unable to imagine human-eating demons hiding in this bustling city. What kind of world was this, where there were still so many secrets hidden within the masses? Perhaps people might seem incomparably clean, but there were the most unsightly desires hidden in every corner!
Actually, the police are already looking for the hiding place. It’s not possible for them to know the culprits are evil spirits. At most, they would assume some pervert is kidnapping children. However, the city is too big. They need time. I think we should do our best to resolve this case. If we can’t, we should try and ruin their plans. Every child we manage to save counts for something. At the same time, we can indirectly help the police.”
“I understand.” Xiao Xia nodded.
The two no longer spoke. They sat quietly in the car, seriously observing the darkness around them.
This was a new neighborhood. Not only were the roads not fully paved, there wasn’t a single streetlamp. The surroundings were dark and still. There was an empty field with overgrown grass where the sounds of summer insects could occasionally be heard, as well as the small specks of light from fireflies. The tranquility should have felt soothing, but it actually made Xiao Xia feel like the scene of some horror movie. Even the night wind blowing in through the windows made her feel some chill. At that moment, she suddenly felt the wind seemed to have gotten stronger.
She sat up straight, feeling Wan Li’s comforting large hand pressing against hers, making her feel less jumpy. However, she could feel that Wan Li’s entire body was tensed. He was looking over at her side, staring at the empty field outside the window.
In the thicket, a rustling sound could be heard. Their eyes had already adjusted to the darkness and they could see the long grass moving about. It was as if something was moving through the grass towards the road behind them.
The scene made Wan Li snap to a decision. He pulled out two invisibility talismans Ruan Zhan had left behind and stuck one on his and Xiao Xia’s shoulder.
From the rearview mirror, they saw a tiny figure leaping out of the moving grass.
It was a young girl around five years old. She wore a beautiful red dress and small sandals. Her hair was short, and although her features couldn’t be clearly seen, her eyes were glowing green specks like two fireflies. This reminded Xiao Xia of those ghostly children she encountered at the hospital.
Swish. Another gust of wind swept by. The little girl standing vacantly by the road suddenly made a strange turn and started walking towards them. Her movements were stiff, slow and unsteady, as if she was sleepwalking.
“What should we do?” Xiao Xia asked quietly.
“Don’t worry, we’re currently invisible.” Wan Li gripped Xiao Xia’s hand, feeling that her soft palm was covered in sweat. “It’s fine as long as we don’t speak.” He trusted Ruan Zhan. Ruan Zhan’s powers had undergone a complete transformation. His invisibility talismans were definitely foolproof, even to that fiend. Although those with the talismans could see each other, in the eyes of other humans or spirits, the car was empty!
Xiao Xia nodded, nervously watching the little girl walk over. Her footsteps were rhythmic and heavy, step by step! She prayed that the girl would keep some distance from their car and pass them by quickly, but her hopes were in vain. The girl not only stuck close to their car as she passed, she even stopped next to the door and turned to face the car.
Click…she actually opened the door and sat down in the backseat!
This was definitely unexpected. When the door closed again, Xiao Xia glanced at Wan Li, not knowing what to do. Wan Li thought for a moment and then winked at her, giving a gentle smile. She understood he was telling her not to panic and not to move. They would observe silently first.
Xiao Xia obediently remained still, watching the girl through the rearview mirror. Her features were delicate and cute, the green light in her eyes already gone. However, it made Xiao Xia feel even more unsettled. Despite the expressionless face, there were still signs that she was being controlled. The girl’s skin on her face was completely still and she wasn’t even breathing. Her eyes stared straight ahead without focusing on anything. She was like a moving doll made out of a real human!
She didn’t know why the doll would get into the car or what she wanted to do. She just sat there silently and unmoving.
“Should we take her away?” Xiao Xia asked with her eyes.
Wan Li blinked and then shook his head. He meant to say, “Of course, but not yet.”
Xiao Xia didn’t know what he was waiting for, but she didn’t refute. After over ten minutes, she suddenly heard something scraping against metal above her head, moving around behind them.
She hadn’t seen what had crawled onto the roof of their car, but she could clearly hear it crawling about.
Slowly, the sound reached the front of the roof before suddenly stopping. After a long while, a head lowered itself in front of the windshield! Although it was upside-down, although the long black hair brushed softly against the windshield like overgrown weeds, Xiao Xia still recognized her at a glance: Zhang Jia Lin!