Book 7 Chapter 37: Boy and Girl

“They were fine, more or less!”

“What does ‘more or less’ mean?” Bao Da Tong asked.

“It means the people of Creek’s Head Inn no longer suffered ‘obvious’ harassment’.” Ruan Zhan’s words were measured, not really knowing how to describe their situation.

In reality, things looked calm on the surface and no children came knocking at night anymore. However, since then the village seemed to become seriously ill. It seemed as if all the Yang energy had been stolen, and they never recovered their previous health. They were previously impoverished, but now the entire village was shrouded in a gloomy and frail atmosphere. There wasn’t the slightest bit of liveliness and the slightest breeze would cause them all the shiver. The people were also extremely weak. Even the livestock and animals often fell ill. It wasn’t clear whether they were all traumatized, or whether those three pestilences had left behind some calamity.

Ruan Zhan had seen everything and knew exactly what was going on. People have Yang lamps on top of their heads and on either shoulder. Therefore, elders often said not to turn your head when walking at night. Turning your head would extinguish the lamps. Once all three are extinguished, you wouldn’t have any innate protection left against Yin energy. Yet even if the lamps got extinguished, as long as you survived the night, the Yang energy of the earth during the day would replenish the source. When night came once more, the lamps would be lit again!

But the people of Creek’s Head Inn were different. They only had the lamps on either shoulder. The lamp on their heads had vanished. It wasn’t temporarily extinguished, but rather completely gone!

This allowed Ruan Zhan to get a better understanding of the fiends’ power. Their Yin essence was too tyrannical, to actually be able to swallow the villagers’ yang lamp the moment they appeared. They had accumulated boundless might during their centuries below the earth. To actually be able to seize and convert between Yin and Yang. Not only did it raise their strength, it also allowed them to roam freely without being restricted by their remains or the time of day.

This made them really, really, really hard to deal with.

To fully cure the villagers of Creek’s Head Inn from their Yang fire deficiency would require wiping out the two abominations. He wasn’t able to do this. It would require the inheritor of the orthodox Daoist arts, Bao Da Tong. They would have to fish out the Yang energy the fiend’s had swallowed before returning it to the villagers.

“It seems they weren’t really interested in a remote and desolate place like Creek’s Head Inn.” Bao Da Tong said. “From when they first surfaced until now, there was an incubation period of five years. What were they up to in those five years? Why didn’t they cause any further harm? Were they cultivating? Or did they want to ‘live’ peacefully? And what caused them to come out and run amok.”

“Zhang Zi Xin was probably the cause, right?” Wan Li said. “At least, his trip to Creek’s Head Inn caused the pair of fiends to become aware of the outside world. I’m thinking that since they were buried young and for such a long time, they might be extremely curious about the world. Perhaps that was why they didn’t harm anyone during those five years. On the other hand, perhaps they did commit evil, but kept things hidden or minor so nothing was revealed. As for the recent panic due to the missing children, there might be something pushing them to do so that we don’t yet understand.”

“Perhaps there isn’t even any reason. They might just be acting as they please.” Xiao Xia recalled Lil’ Tong’s expression and shivered. “Like you said, they were buried when they were around five or six years old. Although centuries have passed and their intellect has grown more cunning and cruel compared to normal adults, they might still be children at heart. As you all know, the minds of children are hard to understand. They do things on a whim, not necessarily with rhyme or reason.”

“I agree with Xiao Xia. Perhaps after Zhang Zi Xin arrived, his situation or background attracted the pair of fiends. Therefore, they ran off, perhaps wandering for a while or perhaps remaining hidden in our city all this time.” Bao Da Tong said. “That’s quite scary to think about. Ordinary people spend their days not knowing something supernatural might be watching them. Dangers can be lurking right around the corner without them knowing.”

His words caused everyone to fall silent. Then, he continued. “I don’t understand why that case didn’t get any attention. Did Zhang Zi Xin’s friends not tell the police anything, and did the police not notice anything suspicious?”

“Very simple.” Wan Li uncrossed his arms. “Either the villagers were too afraid to speak or the local authorities suppressed the matter due to superstition. Or maybe the fiends did something. However, since Zhang Zi Xin found out about it, it proves that news still leaked out somehow. Besides, didn’t Ah Zhan say the local newspaper had an article about it? It probably just wasn’t picked up by the larger outlets? Then, afterwards, it was probably suppressed. The question now is how Zhang Zi Xin managed to attract calamity, and what ended up happening over at the river.” He looked at Ruan Zhan as he spoke.

“According to the villagers, not long after the matter back then, someone from a large city came. He was a reporter surnamed Zhang who started asking the villagers about it. Rural folk probably held reporters in higher esteem, so despite being afraid of provoking the ‘three deities’, they still told him about the matter. Zhang Zi Xin naturally didn’t believe any of it, only thinking of exposing the truth. Therefore, he went to investigate the reservoir basin site, and also went to search the shrine for clues. In the end, he even made a trip to the place where the three skeletons were newly buried.”

“Had anything happened to the villages near the river?” Xiao Xia asked.

“Not too much.” Ruan Zhan said. “The people of Creek’s Head Inn were both afraid no one would agree and also kind enough to not bring disaster to others. Therefore, they had chosen a deserted area near the source of the river. There were no villages in the area and behind it was a barren mountain.”

“Wow, those people are truly good. If I were the fiend, I would also stop harming them.” Bao Da Tong sighed exaggeratedly. “They first dug me up, allowing me to see the world again. Then they gave me a fengshui paradise with both mountain and water, allowing me to absorb spiritual energy. Even if I was childish and temperamental, I wouldn’t bite the hand that feeds.”

“I was talking about the situation back then.” Ruan Zhan reminded him. “The economy developed so quickly. That burial site was assumed ownerless and flattened three years ago. It is now a flat stretch of highway. Countless cars pass over it daily. They aren’t able to cultivate in such an environment.”

“Wouldn’t that be like a highway to hell? The type that makes cars get into accidents or breakdown randomly?” Bao Da Tong asked.

Ruan Zhan shook his head. “No major accidents happened there. Don’t forget, Zhang Zi Xin went missing five years ago. If those two fiends left Creek’s Head Inn because of him, and they were strong enough not to be limited by their remains or sunlight, then the supposed burial site has long since been abandoned. How could a pile of skeletons harm passersby?”

Everyone nodded in agreement.

“The problem now is with Zhang Zi Xin. What did he encounter in Creek’s Head Inn? Why did he go missing?” Wan Li got things back on topic.

“According to the mayor, Zhang Zi Xin bustled around the village for a few days before heading over to the river. He was living at the mayor’s house at the time and the mayor did his best to urge him not to go. However, he was extremely stubborn and left by himself early the next day. He didn’t have any transportation and it wasn’t clear how he walked that five hundred kilometers. Previously, the villagers walked for an entire week to get there and bury those skeletons. A roundtrip would take at least two weeks, but he ended up returning on the seventh night. The night he returned, some villagers were also returning late since they made a trip to town. They were about to enter the village when they saw a man running around in a panic, seemingly trying to hide somewhere. One of the villagers recognized him as Reporter Zhang from the city. Therefore, he called out to him. Unexpectedly, he turned his head and almost scared those villagers to death. His body and neck didn’t move. Only his head turned a hundred and eighty degrees, his face pale and features indistinct. Right as everyone was scared stiff, a boy and a girl suddenly appeared. They each took one of his hands and forcibly led him away! Since then, he was never seen again. Therefore, although he was legally declared missing, the villagers were certain he had died. Otherwise, he couldn’t have returned within seven days, and he wouldn’t be in that sort of condition.”

“Then his soul…” Wan Li said a little worriedly. “Has it departed? Or is it still trapped there? Perhaps it was eaten. Those two fiends drank so much dog blood when they first appeared, and now kidnapped so many children. Is it all for food?”

“That mystery will only be solved when this case is fully cracked.” Ruan Zhan said. “However, the mayor gave me a notebook. It was left behind by Zhang Zi Xin. He must have been in too much of a hurry and left it behind at the mayor’s place.”

“Oh? A notebook? Where, where?” The impatient Bao Da Tong leapt up. “What does it say?”

“I’ve put it away. It’ll be useful in the future.” Ruan Zhan said flatly. “As for what it says, it’s the results of his investigation over those few days.”

“What did he say?” Wan Li was curious how a atheistic reporter would view the strange happenings.

“He thought the site of the reservoir used to be an old Daoist tomb. The large vase contained and elder Daoist, which could be seen from his hair, teeth and remaining clothing. The reason the vases retained their color after so many years was due to a lost artistic technique that would be worth studying. The lattice within the vases were inserted during the crafting process, probably to increase durability. He figured the strange glyphs the villagers found on the pieces of vase and stone were some sort of burial tradition, like funerary scripture. The two lifelike children were probably also the cruelest burial custom of the ancients: funerary virgins. Holes would be drilled in their heads and palms before being filled with mercury. Along with other weird and profound preservative methods, this allowed the child corpses to remain preserved. When the villagers dug them out, the contact with the air caused them to swiftly decay. As for the horrifying knocking and dead dogs during the night, he attributed that to the villagers seeing things due to fear, or perhaps the appearance of some vicious beast.”

“Dogs are the most sensitive animals. Even the most vicious beast couldn’t have silently killed them all.” Bao Da Tong said. “That theory doesn’t work.”

“That’s right. This issue is also addressed in his notes. He thought it was definitely some sort of rare animal that could spread hallucinatory pheromones that caused the dogs to obediently follow it to the shrine and allow it to kill them.”

“That’s a great explanation, but how could there be such an animal?” Wan Li said. “If there were such things, wouldn’t they be immediately snatched up by the government for research?”

“He drew a huge red question mark here. It was probably just an initial assumption that required further evidence. Unfortunately, he didn’t get that chance.” Ruan Zhan sighed softly, looking out the window. “Actually, his previous guesses were all correct. The old Daoist that died had relatively high status, so he was given a boy and a girl to accompany him in death. As for those glyphs, the whisk in his hands and the bell in his mouth, they were all used to suppress spirits. Only his theory regarding the children was mistaken. They truly were ordinary children prior to being buried, but after being buried alive, something might have caused them to transform.

As for those glyphs and Daoist tools, those were probably to prevent the spirits of the two children from leaving after death so they could forever be servants of the old Daoist. Yet the Daoist’s strength was clearly insufficient to allow his spirit to cultivate even after death. Or perhaps never gained innate consciousness. But as you know, the younger and weaker the person, the deeper the grudge if met with violent death. The boy and girl might have formed enough power after death and swallowed the Daoist’s soul. They might have even absorbed his previous cultivation. But since they were suppressed by the whisk, golden bell and vases covered in glyphs, as well as the unknown lattice and being buried underground, they remained for centuries until the villagers inadvertently dug them up. Because the suppressive items were removed, they were able to escape.

Their cultivation might have been inadvertent since they were young back then after all. But this sort of cultivation without distraction allowed the powers they received from the old Daoist to flourish. Considering the dark and lonely environment they endured for centuries, as well as their growing intelligence, they might have started cultivating harder for the sake of breaking free one day. You can imagine how strong they must be now!”

After Ruan Zhan finished speaking, everyone was silent for a while. They all mulled over the barbaric cruelty those fiends suffered in the past, their current strength and how they could do as they pleased.

Who was to blame? They might have been victims themselves, but now that they’ve become the mighty oppressors, what were those who suffered at their hands supposed to do?

“That…I mean…” Xiao Xia theorized. “Although there were three sets of remains, if the Daoist’s soul no longer exists, there should only be the boy and the girl remaining who are inadvertently hurting people. Then if our conjecture is correct, they should be Lil’ Tong and Zhang Jia Lin! But what about Lu Yan? What role does she play in this? Has Zhang Zi Xin left or not?”

“Slow down, don’t be rash. There are still many questions.” Ruan Zhan’s mouth raised in a smile towards Xiao Xia. “For example, did they come looking for us intentionally or not? Also, they seem to have a grudge against Master Bao over here. Did you forget? Lil’ Tong previously said: I can recognize him no matter what he looks like. Then, just who is our Master Bao?”

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