No one expected that afterwards, disturbances started happening in the Ye Estate. Despite the dry weather, it was damp everywhere. In the middle of the night, various banging noises could be heard. Some of it sounded like knocking on doors while others sounded like the cracking of whips. They sought the help of many priests but to no avail. Servants who tried to run off would always die suddenly. Finally, one night, the entire town heard the beating of gongs and drums signaling a bridal procession at the Ye Estate. The noise lasted the entire night but no one dared to go see what was going on. Only the next morning did they find out the estate’s people had been dead for a while.
The way they died was extremely horrifying. Their faces were pale and their eyes bulged outwards, as though they had suffocated to death. Based on the large pool of water on every bed, they could be said to have drowned, drowned in their own beds during a year of drought. When the head steward’s corpse was touched, it leapt up like a false corpse.
Only Lady Ye and her son had died differently. The mother was wearing a crimson wedding gown and was hanged in the middle of the main hall, her tongue lolling. The child was blackened as though baked in a fire, but left behind a pair of sightless eyes. But this wasn’t the end of it. Afterwards, the entire town’s people suffered endless harassment. People would see something lurking behind others, and even the various objects in their homes would start speaking randomly. Although no one else died, there was no peace.
After many years, as everyone was about to be driven out of their hometown, a very young Daoist priest wandered over. He noticed that this place had an extremely heavy aura of resentment. Thus, he carved a strange symbol on a stone sword and threw it into the river where the scholar had died. Only then did things return to normal.
“Do you think ‘it’ is that scholar?” Xiao Xia looked at her arm. It was already covered in goosebumps.
“Most likely.” Ruan Zhan ate heartily, seeming to take some petty pleasure in Xiao Xia’s terrified appearance. “According to my speculations, it has nursed a grudge for over a century. The folks here are conservative and simple. That matter was the biggest thing that happened in over a century. How else would I have easily learned about an event so long ago if it weren’t rare and controversial?”
“Goodness, I had thought that all vengeful spirits were women!”
“This goes to show that both men and women can get bullied in this world. Didn’t you hear Li Jing Ming speaking about his circumstances?”
“But while Li Jing Ming and it have their similarities, they aren’t exactly the same. Furthermore, that scholar was also partly responsible for his situation. Why did he shamelessly insist on staying? Also, that Lady Ye. If she didn’t like him, just beat him and be done with it. Why continue to abuse him and humiliate him!? Say, did he really scheme to kill his wife, or was he framed?”
“The latter is more likely.”
“How infuriating. Why not just kill him outright instead of framing him! This scholar is also something. He’s already gotten his revenge, why still hold onto his grudge for a century? He insists on doing this to other people. Does he have to go that far!?” Xiao Xia initially felt some pity for that scholar, but then felt he was being too excessive. This was what was meant by “pitiful people must have played some part in their situation”. Especially since it was trying to harm others now.
Ruan Zhan watched Xiao Xia losing herself in wishful thinking and couldn’t help but bring her back to reality.
“Its grudge is too deep, how can it be evaluated with common sense? If it were human, it would have what’s psychologically known as extreme prejudice. Unless it suddenly achieves supreme enlightenment and resolves its resentment, this matter will only end after it is eradicated.”
Xiao Xia thought about his words and suddenly realized the scholar’s tale wasn’t a distant matter, but rather something they had to resolve urgently. However, she didn’t know whether Ruan Zhan was as powerful as the Daoist priest from a century ago.
“What are we going to do?” She asked.
“I’m waiting for the diving equipment Wan Li sent over to arrive. Then, I’ll go into the water to verify my conjectures. I’ll see if that stone sword’s spell has faded over time and weakened as the scholar’s grudge festered. Li Jing Ming adding new resentment probably gave it the last bit of strength needed to undo the seal.” He also had to see what else was in the river. He kept getting the feeling that this riverbed wasn’t so simple.
“Why didn’t the Daoist priest back then directly exterminate it?”
“Perhaps he didn’t want to act with such finality. Or perhaps that ghost’s resentment was too overwhelming, leaving him with no choice.”
Xiao Xia didn’t speak, blaming that Daoist for not seeing things through. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be in such a predicament, and Li Jing Ming’s family wouldn’t have been harmed. Furthermore, she was worried. If the scholar’s ghost was already so powerful a century ago, wouldn’t it be even stronger now? Were the two of them done for? In Ruan Zhan’s mind, he wasn’t sure if he was strong enough to subdue the evil spirit. He would have to take it one step at a time. He also had to figure out how to preserve his life if he really couldn’t overcome it.
The two fell silent.
After a long while, Xiao Xia asked: “When is the equipment arriving?”
“Should be in a day or two.” Ruan Zhan said. “To avoid attracting people’s attention, I must act at night.”
“Then what should I do?”
“You stay in the inn and don’t cause trouble.”
Xiao Xia looked unconvinced at him but also didn’t refused. The two paid their bill and returned to the inn, remaining quiet the entire time. When they got to the inn, Xiao Xia suddenly asked: “Say, did Lady Ye ever love that scholar?”
“What love? The way I see it, she probably chose that scholar because he was honest and easy to control.”
“No, I feel she loved him before. However, she didn’t see understand her own heart and loved him too briefly.”
Ruan Zhan looked at her weirdly. At this point, any wrong move would result in the loss of several lives, but here she was wondering about a relationship that was already inconsequential a century ago.
At this time, a breeze swept over like a sigh filled with hidden bitterness brushing through Xiao Xia’s hair. It seemed to be commiserating with her sympathetic feelings that had come a hundred years later.
The moment the equipment arrived, Ruan Zhan started getting busy.
He first observed the river from the room using binoculars. Then, he strolled around the riverside with a strange tool, choosing his point of entry. He carefully inspected the various equipment before pondering silently in his room. He didn’t speak and didn’t eat dinner. This lasted until after midnight.
When he finally moved, Xiao Xia let out a breath. Ruan Zhan’s solemn air made her feel both anxious and excited. She felt something huge was going to happen.
“Are you sure you don’t need my help?” She asked kindly.
“If you insist on running around the shore with the waves of yin energy, there’s nothing I can do.”
Xiao Xia was angered.
Being filled with righteousness was one thing, and being loyal was also good. However, she didn’t really dare keep watch on the deserted banks by herself in the dead of night. This person clearly knew she didn’t have the guts to do it and was merely being sarcastic. How unforgiveable. Xiao Xia sulked and ignored Ruan Zhan. However, she wasn’t able to keep it up for long. Seeing Ruan Zhan cutting his finger and using the blood to draw strange characters on several pieces of yellow paper, she couldn’t help but ask: “Why do you need to use blood?”
“Blood incantations are more powerful.”
“But isn’t it impossible to use the paper in the water? Or are you going to stick them on the shore?”
“If I say I can use it then I can use it.” He kept writing as he spoke. Then, after considering how powerful the fiend was, he decided to write a few more and cut open another finger.
Xiao Xia felt apprehensive as she watched from the side. She slowly walked over and said fawningly: “Doesn’t it hurt?”
“It hurts!” Ruan Zhan stopped and looked seriously at Xiao Xia. “How about getting some blood by cutting your neck. It’ll be even more effective.”
Seeing him holding the bloody knife and baring his teeth, Xiao Xia got a fright and hurriedly moved away. However, she soon realized Ruan Zhan was joking. She didn’t mind it this time. She felt he wasn’t as useless and nervous as she was, and felt more optimistic about their chances. She was rather happy.
Ruan Zhan focused on writing and then handed a small paper box to Xiao Xia. “You keep hold of this. If there is any danger, crush the layer of wax and it’ll definitely be fine.”
During his period of silence today, he had felt unsettled. He ultimately wasn’t too reassured about leaving Xiao Xia by herself. Therefore, he decided to give this failsafe, the bloodwood sword, to her. When the evil spirit’s remains were disturbed, it would definitely sense it. He believed it would definitely rush over and there would inevitably be a huge battle. This was also why he refused to let Xiao Xia be present no matter what. If it spotted her, it might make a move on her. Furthermore, if he were in trouble he could still figure out a way to escape. If she encountered the raging fiend, she would die for sure. Her precious charm wouldn’t be able to protect her from that level of resentful aura. He had promised Wan Li he would keep her safe, so he would definitely not let anything happen to her.
Hopefully his disquiet wasn’t due to a change in their circumstances. As long as that evil spirit was not whole, he had a fighting chance.