Book 7 Chapter 25: Toad

Our campus dormitory buildings have uniform layouts, with a long hallway in the middle and individual dorm rooms on either side. Nana’s room happened to be in the middle of the hallway while the footsteps came from one end.

Rhythmic footsteps could clearly be heard approaching, one after another, as if someone was walking at a slow, steady pace. Every few steps, there would be a pause, as if they were peering into each room.

The footsteps came to a halt right outside the room we were in, and through the door, I could hear a deep sigh. Then, the footsteps gradually faded away, moving slowly towards the other end of the hallway. Then, it returned again. The pattern repeated several times.

“What’s going on? I asked in an extremely quiet voice.

Bao Datong gestured for me to lie down on the top bunk and remain silent, while he himself began drawing some symbols on the door. The night was eerily silent, and even the soft strokes of his fingers on the wooden panel produced a faint “swishing” sound. Just as he finished drawing and moved to the bed across from mine, the footsteps happened to stop right at our door.

This time, the footsteps didn’t continue forward but instead uttered a soft sound of surprise, before remaining in place. I held my breath, remaining completely still. I watched in horror as the round doorknob on the door began to turn slowly, followed by a “click” sound, and the locked door opened. A blurry white mist drifted inside the room.

The mist was chilling and carried beads of moisture. Swirling within it were strands of black hair that resembled water plants. As it passed me, I experienced a suffocating sensation. I endured it as I peeped out from under the blanket. The mist slowly moved to the window and pulled aside the hanging curtains!

Outside, a bloody face was stuck against the glass!

It was the girl who committed suicide! Two “unidentified objects” thus looked at each other.

With a crash, a pair of hands broke the window and seized the clump of mist. With a violent tug, the mist immediately condensed into a human shape before falling out the window. At the same time, the girl crawled through the window, inching her way inside. She arrived at the bed below Bao Da Tong’s and, with a sinister laugh, pounced. The figure immediately vanished, replaced with bloodied short-sleeved pajamas!

“God of crimson maw, dispel impurities. God of the tongue, nurture the essence of life. God of teeth, protect against evil and uphold truth. God of the throat, tiger’s roar. Bright gods, harmonize mind and body, enlighten me. Ignite the elixir and immortalize spiritual path. Pressing, like the rule of law!”       Bao Da Tong suddenly started chanting.

His voice came too suddenly, startling me. Thinking something else had appeared, I bolted upright. I saw Bao Da Tong rolling off the top bunk and kneel beside the bottom. One hand held a talisman towards the bottom bunk. “The cycle is finished. Leave!”

“I’ve been wronged!” A shrill female voice came from the bottom bunk. The set of pajamas shot up and hovered in the air before it started sobbing!

It drifted around the room as if looking for an exit. It almost brushed against my nose a couple of times. I got chills all over, but it failed to break out of the room.

“Ah, no need to cling on. You reap what you sow!” Bao Da Tong sighed. The finger that had been pointed had the pajamas moved lightly, drawing a small symbol. Immediately, an invisible vortex formed, drawing the nightgown towards the bed. Resisting its capture, the nightgown writhed in agony, emitting painful moans of struggle. Bao Da Tong, left with no choice, used his other hand to perform additional incantations. Unable to endure any longer, the entire garment transformed into a torn and tattered piece of cloth, falling back onto the bed. It seemed to be writhing in “pain”.

Bao Da Tong shook his head, as if a little reluctant. However, he still shot the talisman in his hand onto the bottom bunk, causing the pajamas to immediately catch fire. It cried out in pain, its voice soft yet piercing like nails scraping over glass.

“I didn’t wish to burn you, but you refused to pass on. I can only send you on your way!” He leapt off the bed as he spoke, watching the garment swiftly turn to ash.

“You should come down. Are you waiting for me to give you a lift?” He said to me without turning.

“What kind of trick was that?” I also leapt off the bed, looking at the pile of ashes. “Where did you send her?”

“Where she belongs, of course.” Bao Da Tong still didn’t turn. “She died unjustly, which is why she refused to go. Earlier, I was letting her relive the events leading up to her death in order to settle her hangup. However, she still refused to leave, insisting on seeing the perpetrator brought to justice. I could only forcibly send her away.”

“You still didn’t say where she ended up.”

“You will know when you die. However, it might be very hard for your to understand based on your level of intelligence.” Bao Da Tong suddenly turned and made a face at me, rolling his eyes and revealing his little canine tooth.

I had gone through too many extraordinary events tonight, and got truly startled by his sudden weird expression appearing before me. He seemed very smug at my reaction. “Finally got you back for punching me!” He beamed.

Pissed, I was about to lay into him when suddenly footsteps rang outside the door again!

“Why was only one finished off ?” I said quietly once the footsteps passed by the door.

“This is the one that drowned. I have to go where she died to perform the rites! Besides, I’m not finishing them off. They are all pitiful people. I’m just sending them on their way, not letting them cause harm.”

“Then why would they come here?”

“This was the place they missed most, or perhaps where they were lured away from, idiot!” Bao Da Tong was still trying to get back at me.

“Could that have been Xiao Ling?” I responded in astonishment, ignoring his provocation. “It seems there is still something wrong with the lake.”

“I told you there was resentful aura around the lake.”

“Let’s go burn down the trees.” I firmed up my resolution.

“Yes, yes!” Bao Da Tong seemed a little excited. It didn’t seem to be about the exorcism, but more that burning down tress would be fun. “However, burning them down would only increase the yang energy. The resentful aura around the lake still has to be purified. Just burning down the trees won’t help.”

“Then why did you suggest something like that?” I involuntarily raised my voice.

Bao Da Tong motioned for me to be quiet, pointing towards the door. Xiao Ling had circled back again. When she passed by the door, I continued in a lower voice, “Don’t mention things that won’t help in the future. Aren’t you being too wicked for a Daoist? Aren’t trees living things?”

“True.” Bao Da Tong scratched his head. “Let me come up with something. Moving rashly without figuring out what’s in the water will mess things up!”

“I think we should leave this place first!”

“Good idea! But better leave through the window. Best not encounter the one outside to avoid unnecessary trouble. There were so many strange noises tonight. People will discover that the window was broken and a pile of ashes on the bed tomorrow. Rumors will spread about the female dorms being haunted!”

Realizing he was right, I started climbing out the window. I was extra careful this time, confirming that it truly was Bao Da Tong holding the rope before moving. Bao Da Tong followed me down. Just as I was wondering what to do about the rope, I saw him curling it up while shaking it. The rope returned to his hand obediently like a cultivated Daoist treasure.

The two of us wanted to discuss the situation so we didn’t return to the dorm. Instead, we snuck off campus. When we left, we intentionally avoided the grove and lake, afraid of meeting something strange while we were unprepared.

We sat down underneath an overpass outside the campus Bao Da Tong said the open layout prevented spirits from gathering so nothing could eavesdrop on us.

“Tell me first why you were late. You took forever to show up after I signaled, almost causing me to fall to my death!” It was time to settle accounts.

“I didn’t. I was waiting the entire time after the signal came.”

“Nonsense. Why would I have encountered something like that then?!”

“That…we were caught in an illusion and couldn’t see each other. However…wasn’t crisis turned into benefit in the end?”

“You turned my crisis into your benefit!” I was angry and frustrated. “I don’t have any spells or abilities, but you do! How did you fall for it so easily? You probably aren’t good with spells at all!”

Bao Da Tong unexpectedly nodded and admitted it honestly, but immediately changed the subject. “However, my stance is rather impressive, very elegant. Unfortunately, I can’t show it to the ladies.”

I completely lost confidence at his words. That horrifying time in the mountains, I had witnessed Bao Da Tong’s decent showing. I hadn’t considered that at his young age, he couldn’t have that much power. He might be able to deal with normal spirits, but what if there was a fiend hidden in the lake?

“I also didn’t expect the thing in the water to be so powerful. It’s impossible to see the what’s going on from the outside.” Bao Da Tong seemed to know my thoughts. “The fact I was caught in an illusion already indicates that the thing is extremely hard to deal with. Since it is something of utmost evil, those it kills are also especially ferocious. I was almost unable to handle it back then. You are someone with a unique constitution, one of utmost Yang. Theoretically, those things shouldn’t be able to approach you. Yet the girl who jumped from the building was actually able to do so. My analysis is clearly correct.”

“Then what should we do? Ah Zhan isn’t here. It’s impossible to get in touch with him when he goes back home to pay respects!” I was a little anxious. “We can’t let it harm others anymore, especially since it’s after Nana and me. How about we call Uncle Bao for help?”

“He went on a pilgrimage. I’ve already tried contacting him several days ago.” Bao Da Tong sighed. “But I wasn’t able to reach him.”

“The elder didn’t give you a way to reach him before he left?”

“That’s the sad part!” Bao Da Tong said resentfully. “You think he look very benevolent, but he normally just lets me wander like sheep. Furthermore, he’s extremely unqualified as a shepherd. He basically just throws me on a mountain with grass and then leaves. He doesn’t care if the grass is enough for me to graze on, or whether there are big bad wolves in the area. This time, if he wasn’t going to be gone for several months, why would I have made my way here to you guys?”

His words blurted out in anger made me realize that his previous excuse of an educational trip had been a lie.

“You can’t even reach him telepathically?” I seized upon a lifeline, thinking cultivators all had such abilities. Unfortunately, Bao Da Tong still shook his head.

My heart chilled at his response.

If he was right, there truly was a powerful fiend out to get us. His actions indicated that he felt he couldn’t handle it by himself and had tried to find Uncle Bao, even if it meant losing his chance to keep hanging out with us. Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful.

The two of us fell silent for a time.

“It seems we can only rely on ourselves.” I made up my mind after a while. “Luckily, Ah Zhan will return in three days. We should have a chance of winning if the three of us work together, right?”

Bao Da Tong nodded without hesitation. “Although it is powerful, I was able to discern a few things. It’s not powerful enough that we can’t fight it. It’ll be no problem if another person with powers helps out. The dark aura around you and Nana’s face indicate that your fortunes have truly been affected and calamity clings to you. This is also why I’ve been refusing to leave…er, it’s one of the reasons.”

I almost laughed despite the situation. He was willing to admit that he shamelessly stuck around, and that he had some other reasons apart from wanting to help. Reasons he couldn’t speak out loud but everyone knew.

“The problem is…I’m not sure if you guys are its target, and also when it’ll make its move.” He added. “The only thing we can do is to be careful, and let give it any opportunities.”

“What should we do? Run away?”  I said. “If we ran away, what if it hurts others out of anger? What if it hurts Nana’s family?”

“You are right. Fleeing is no different from transferring your own calamity to others. It’ll harm innocents and stain our karma.” Bao Da Tong agreed. “Let me tell you, doing that will eventually result in retribution upon ourselves anyway. The only thing we can do now is to have the three of us stick together, not giving it any opportunities. Even if we slip up, we’ll at least be able to concentrate our strength. We should act normal and not let it see we are on guard. We also can’t make Nana worry.”

I nodded, a rare instance where we were in agreement. Yet since he mentioned Nana, I recalled her strange actions last night and figured it was better to ask. When I told him, Bao Da Tong felt we at least knew if our opponent was targeting us based on Nana’s words.

“You should also tell me what you encountered tonight.” He asked me after we discussed things for a while.

I repeated the entire sequence of events to him.

“That’s pretty much what I saw from above, but I only saw the outcome. I didn’t expect the details to be so thrilling. It’s impressive you didn’t die from fright!”

I didn’t know if that counted as a compliment but I wasn’t in the mood to think about it. Recalling the weird and disgusting toad, I quickly described it to him.

“I didn’t see it at all.” Bao Da Tong was exceptionally startled. “I only saw the girl who jumped from the building climbing the rope behind you. Actually, that wasn’t an ordinary rope. I’m not sure what it used for the illusion.”

“Illusion? You mean I climbed up the wall without actually holding onto anything?” I was a little surprised.

“You think yourself Superman?” Bao Da Tong mocked. “Although it was an illusion, it was still based on a physical object. I’m just not sure what it was. You’ve really got quite the imagination! However, are you sure there was a toad?”

I thought about it. Although it could have been part of the illusion, that toad was truly too realistic. I didn’t believe it was fake.

“If it was a toad with a human face, especially one with such a peculiar expression, perhaps the fiend personally made an appearance tonight!” Bao Da Tong conjectured based on my words. “You said his gaze was filled with resentment towards you. In that case, it is definitely targeting you. Maybe Nana is protecting you…no, wait!”

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