Book 8 Chapter 9: Doubts

It was evening by the time she reached the dried well.

Xiao Xia poked her head into the mouth and was met with an aura of profound stillness. It didn’t have the expected chill, nor the smell of dampness, mold, withered leaves or dust. It gave off the same feeling as Ah Bai: gentle, quiet, kind and melancholy.

Looking into the darkness, Xiao Xia wasn’t able to see anything for a moment. Yet she didn’t make a sound, not knowing if Ah Bai was “awake”. For spirits, this was technically still early in their day.

“Xiao Xia!” Right as she was about to leave, planning to wait for the sky to completely darken, Ah Bai’s voice came from the bottom of the well. “Why are you here?”

“Can’t I come visit you? You said you would come visit me, but you never did.” The voice made Xiao Xia exceptionally happy. She never expected her best friend to be a spirit instead of a human. Romance between human and ghost happened a lot in movies, but friendships were very rare.

“Sorry, Xiao Xia.” Ah Bai was as gentle as before. “Then…how about you come down first? I’m unable to go up.”

Xiao Xia had long since prepared a rope and tied it to the tree. After hearing Ah Bai’s invitation, she started climbing down the rope. The walls were dry and rough. She had never gotten good grades in sports before, but managed to smoothly reach the bottom.

Seeing Ah Bai’s serene yet haggard face, Xiao Xia instantly teared up. She went to embrace her, but only contacted air.

“Sorry, I don’t have a body.”

“Silly, it’s my fault for forgetting your situation. Why are you apologizing?” Xiao Xia acted casual and shrugged, glancing around. The bottom of the well was spotlessly clean, but also completely empty. Even Ah Bai’s remains had been buried. It was like a meditation chamber, without any influence from the outside word.

“Why don’t you move into the octagon pagoda? It’s unoccupied anyway.” Ah Bai’s lonely state made Xiao Xia’s heart ache. She felt her own life was so blessed in comparison. At the least, Ruan Zhan had always helped her and never harmed her. She had also never sacrificed that much for him.

Ah Bai smiled beautiful and said quietly, “Although that place is unoccupied, people often go there. I’ve already left the human world. It’s best not to bother others. I’m buried here, so this place is my home.”

“But the environment there is at least somewhat better. You won’t be bothered by the wind or rain.”

“Xiao Xia, you know my mana is basically depleted. I’m unable to handle the dangers in the forest. When he…sealed me here previously, a large part of it was to protect me. That barrier kept me trapped, but it also prevented anything else from entering. Therefore, I reactivated it the moment I got back here. Besides, I’ve been cultivating anew these days. Although I cannot recover my innate powers, I’ve still increased my mana a little. See, I can set up a simple barrier that keeps out the weather. It’s like having a roof over my head, isn’t it great?”

Xiao Xia was very surprised as she hurriedly looked up. She knew there was a formation on the walls. Ruan Zhan had shifted it slightly to free Ah Bai. Who would have thought Ah Bai would have moved it back in place from below. No wonder she said she wasn’t able to come up.

“But there’s no freedom like this!”

“My freedom is wherever he is.” Ah Bai said, an incredibly determined expression on her beautiful face.

Looking at the lovestruck woman, Xiao Xia didn’t know what to say. How could a woman love a man so wholeheartedly? Perhaps only someone so extremely pure and kind like Ah Bai could make a devil like Si Ma Nan have a shred of conscience and love!

Looking around, she saw no sign of Si Ma Nan. Ah Bai seemed to know what she was thinking and pointed above her own head. Only then did Xiao Xia see a white silk-like band wrapped tightly around a strand of Ah Bai’s black hair. The silk band seemed to have a life of its own, flowing between her hair like a ray of light through the darkness. It lit up Ah Bai’s entire face.

“Si Ma Nan?”

“It’s no longer him, just a part of him.” Ah Bai was a little sad, but then gave a gratified smile as she stroked the band with a finger. As if in response, the white silk band also naturally twined around her finger affectionately. “For me, this is enough. If even a strand of his hair is with me, I won’t be lonely until the end of time.”

Xiao Xia was once again speechless. Yet as a woman herself, she understood Ah Bai’s heart.

Ah Bai was willing to remain in this dark well for centuries, leading a dull, lonely and even hopeless life. Yet she wasn’t willing to reincarnate, because that would mean forgetting the love that was engraved in her body. Wasn’t she the same way? Her memories were so important. How could she bear losing them?!

Until the oceans dried, the rocks crumbled, the skies wasted away and the earth aged. This was something difficult for both humans and spirits. Humans aged and spirits faded. Only memories remained whole. That one moment of mutual love and investment remained unchanging, no matter how the world transformed! If she couldn’t find her own love, all she asked for was also that one perfect moment in her memories. How could Ruan Zhan have been so cruel, to casually take it away without her knowledge?! Pain, regret, resentment, and even falling out would have been fine. But how could he mercilessly ruin the only the she had?!

This was the only reason she hated him, why she couldn’t face him!

“When will you leave?” Ah Bai suddenly asked.

Xiao Xia snapped out of her thoughts and tried her best to hide her emotions. “I only just got here and you’re kicking me out? We’re friends, you know. Shouldn’t you host me for a few days? Is spending some alone time with him all you can think about?”

Ah Bai blushed a little. “It’s not that I don’t want to have you around, Xiao Xia. I can go without food or drink, but you still need to stay alive! It’s also not good for your health to sleep in a well. Besides, you are human after all. It’s not alright to keep hanging around a spirit.”

“But I want to stay with you for a period of time.” Xiao Xia said innocently. “How about this? You can only restore the barrier sealing this place but I can open it since I have a physical body. How about you and I…and also Si Ma Nan leave this place for now and move into the octagon pagoda for a period of time. Then, after I leave, you guys can move back here. I will give the villagers a heads up.” Xiao Xia patted her backpack. “I brought some money. Not a lot, just a few ten thousand bucks. I plan on donating it to the village. It’s not enough to renovate the place, but hopefully it can be used as investment capital to grow some wealth.”

“I’m afraid I won’t be able to protect you from the dangers in the woods.” Ah Bai was a little hesitant. She was happy to see her friend. Although their worlds were separate, it was nice to have someone unafraid of her, and also not worship her as a mighty witch doctor. It was a blessing to be able to have some girls’ talk.

“Don’t worry.” Xiao Xia raised her chin smugly. “I’m no longer the old Yue Xiao Xia. I have a senior apprentice brother now who taught me some spells. With these spells, we’ll be unstoppable if we work together!” She bragged while pulling out the remaining half of talismans from her backpack, reciting the five elements spell for Ah Bai.

Ah Bai smiled gently and took a step backwards. “Don’t do it so close to me. Although the spell wasn’t cast, it’s filled with spirit power. It scares me, you know!”

Xiao Xia hadn’t considered this, and was startled. She hurriedly took a step back but forgot the well was narrow. She bumped into the wall and hissed from the pain.

“Hey, be careful!” Ah Bai felt a little guilty at Xiao Xia’s reaction and hurriedly approached to support her. Yet the moment she got close, Xiao Xia’s amulet gave off a glow, preventing her from getting closer.

“The amulet has become so powerful!” Ah Bai praised. She carefully observed it. “Previously, it seemed to have gotten used to me and wouldn’t have reacted. Now I can’t even get close despite not having ill intentions. Ah Zhan must have continuously infused it with spirit power. Doing so causes him…”

Ah Bai was going to say that was very harmful to Ruan Zhan. However, she noticed Xiao Xia’s abnormal expression and her mind turned. She started to get an idea of why Xiao Xia had come. Looking at the sorrow written all over Xiao Xia’s face, she decided not to broach the topic. They successfully relocated to the bamboo pagoda.

A week passed and they spent their time in the tranquil mountains, living in peace and comfort. To accommodate Ah Bai, Xiao Xia also got accustomed to being nocturnal. The two chatted constantly but Xiao Xia avoided mentioning Ruan Zhan. She didn’t even think about Wan Li and Bao Da Tong, afraid of stirring her emotional trauma. Ah Bai noticed all of this. On the seventh night, she was unable to refrain from asking.

Xiao Xia cried. She first teared up, and then actually started bawling, telling Ah Bai everything in bits and pieces. It was as if she finally vented out all the turbulent waters within her heart.

“He really went too far this time.” Ah Bai was silent for a while. She reached out to stroke Xiao Xia’s head, feeling vexed at her lack of body for the first time. If she had a body she could hug her comfortingly, but she was currently unable to do anything. “However, he is a man. Men have their own ways of thinking. If he realized those memories were extremely important to you, he wouldn’t have done it.”

“He hates me!”

“Enough, Xiao Xia. Stop sulking. Even if you don’t know whether he loves you or not, you should at least know he definitely doesn’t hate you.”

Xiao Xia sobbed, her heart feeling much better. She had kept this matter bottled up this whole time, without anyone to talk about it with. After telling Ah Bai, it was like she had shed all her burdens. She was now able to examine things objectively.

Thinking of how well Ruan Zhan normally treated her, she suddenly felt she was a little bit of a bully. Yet she still couldn’t accept him wanting to erase her memories. It implied that he regretted what happened between them, implied that he wanted to give it up.

Yet if he was giving up, why had the vanished telepathic summons resumed three days ago again? Guilt? Or was it sympathy? The summons had come too suddenly and she had almost responded. Almost “relapsing” made her realize how much she missed him, and how much she loved him. It hadn’t decreased in the slightest despite hating his actions. She started to truly understand Ah Bai. When a woman truly loved a person, she would continue loving whether or not it was worth it, and whether or not it was harmful. Nothing would be able to change it.

Did he love her, or did he just like her? The way he normally acted confused her, and she couldn’t be sure. Sometimes his gaze made it seem like he loved her, but sometimes he was so distant. His treatment of her was like a mirage. She could see it, but never touch it.

“Perhaps he has some secret difficulties.” Ah Bai thought of Si Ma Nan and sighed gloomily. “You fell in love with a complicated man, so you have to consider more things. For your sake, and also for his.”

Secret difficulties?

Xiao Xia hadn’t considered this possibility. She was like a firebrand that burned continuously after she fell in love, trying to melt him and warm him. She never thought about why he would refuse to melt.

“What secret difficulties could he have? There are only a few things standing in the way of a relationship: parents not agreeing, materialistic pressures, a third party’s interference. His parents are long gone…” Speaking of this, Xiao Xia suddenly recalled Father Ruan’s situation, but then shook her head. She knew Ruan Zhan’s relationship with his father was extremely bad. He wouldn’t reject her for his father’s sake. Besides, Father Ruan hadn’t appeared yet when he forcibly erased her memories in Hongqing Town.

“We don’t have any materialistic pressures. He has his own bar and I have a career. I’m also not asking for an extravagant lifestyle. There are absolutely no monetary issues. A third party? There doesn’t seem to be…unless, he already has a wife?” Xiao Xia was startled by her own guess.

“How could that be?” Ah Bai laughed. “Any woman would keep a close eye on a husband like him. How could there be a chance for another woman to get involved? Besides, you’ve been together for so long. Have you ever seen his wife show up?”

“Maybe his situation is similar to that of Mr. Rochester.” Xiao Xia’s wild imagination was activated, recalling the plot of Jane Eyre. She imagined that Ruan Zhan might have an insane wife he kept hidden in the attic, or back home!

She felt it more possible the more she thought about it, and her heart couldn’t help but ache. It turns out he was already married!

“Xiao Xia, stop letting your thoughts run wild. Trust me, Ah Zhan definitely doesn’t have a wife.” Ah Bai interrupted Xiao Xia’s thoughts. Although she didn’t know who Mr. Rochester was, she knew Xiao Xia’s thoughts had far departed from reality.

“Then what other secret difficulties could he have? Unless he doesn’t love me, or perhaps he cannot love me!” Xiao Xia paused, startled at her second thought.

She couldn’t confirm that Ruan Zhan loved her, but she was sure he cared about her. Otherwise, he would have treated her the same way he treated his other pursuers. He wouldn’t be at such a loss when faced with her towering tantrum. On that day, a man such as him, who faced enormous danger without blinking…perhaps he did truly love her. But what was stopping him?

Was she allowed to think like that?

Could he be seriously ill, and was on the verge of death? But he was always so healthy, and quickly recovered from his injuries. How could he be sick? Even if he was, he would have known it prior to Hongqing Town. Why were there no symptoms after such a long period of time?

Nope! That wasn’t it!

But the words “secret difficulties” opened Xiao Xia’s mind. She started thinking of other possibilities that would make Ruan Zhan indecisive.

“Why not go back and see? It’s clear you’ve been missing him for a while.” Ah Bai said softly. “But don’t reveal your doubts. Otherwise, a man like him who bottles everything up inside might very well cover things up again!”

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