Right as Xiao Xia was stunned by the unexpected turn of events, the skeleton suddenly twisted and sat up. The face filled with weeds turned towards Xiao Xia: “Why are you getting in my way!” It suddenly screamed.
Which one was the real scholar’s ghost?
Xiao Xia wasn’t able to tell and could only retreat in alarm. Ruan Zhan suddenly realized that no matter what, he couldn’t allow the scholar’s ghost to merge with the skeleton whose heart was still beating. Otherwise, they would be ripped to pieces. Therefore, he no longer cared about the danger behind and mindlessly stabbed the wooden sword into that heart.
The skeleton screamed in pain and jerked around violently, ripping the sword from Ruan Zhan’s hands. However, he took the opportunity to take a deep breath of oxygen, retrieved the talisman that was the only thing lighting up the surroundings and stuffed it on Xiao Xia’s collar. He pointed forcefully and Xiao Xia was dragged out of the water and thrown onto the grass by the riverbank.
Ruan Zhan held his breath, drawing a mark between his brows using his middle finger so he could see in the darkness. He knew he had to retrieve that wooden sword or he would die without a proper burial. Therefore, he wasn’t able to observe the Daoist teaching of “knowing the enemy before striking their weakness”. He immediately turned in search of the skeleton.
However, the skeleton was writhing violently. It had gotten free of the stone box and swam away wildly in the river current. It let out anguished wails as though suffering extreme pain. It tried to pull the sword from its heart but the moment it touched the hilt, its hands cracked from the faint red light’s burn. It could only jerk its body around futilely.
However, this also made it impossible for Ruan Zhan to retrieve the sword. The skeleton moved further and further as the furious scholar’s ghost pressed closer behind him. Its fury churned the dark waters into a giant whirlpool that surrounded him.
“Give me your heart!” The chilling voice sounded from the depths.
“Come and get it if you can!” He responded in his mind, knowing it could hear him. He knew this would provoke it, but he had no choice. Only then would he have an opportunity.
He had misjudged the situation.
He had previously assumed it had only split into two, and that victory was possible as long as it didn’t merge. However, he didn’t expect that its biggest portion was this skeleton with a living heart that was cultivating in the riverbed. The part that followed Li Jing Ming back was only two parts of its three spiritual and seven physical souls. Luckily, they had stumbled across the scholar’s remains that he hadn’t been able to find any trace of previously. Luckily, there were other spirits in the water that helped bring Xiao Xia and the wooden sword to his side, allowing him to ruin and destroy its most powerful and scheming part that was weakened while undergoing cultivation. Despite this, he was defenseless against the enraged evil spirit. Furthermore, the longest he could hold his breath was five minutes, similar to those professional athletes.
These five minutes would decide his life and death. No matter what, he had to give it his all!
Ruan Zhan turned around and slowly retreated behind the stone box. His left hand remained pointed at the darkness in the river current, prepared for anything. Seeing Ruan Zhan hole up in its own territory, the scholar’s ghost grew even angrier. It turned into a giant face made of water and pounced towards Ruan Zhan, trying to swallow him whole.
Ruan Zhan didn’t dare underestimate it. He hurriedly drew the “Big Dipper Bone Smelting Glyph” in the air and cast it between the brows of the watery visage. Right as it was about to swallow him, it disintegrated into countless eddies. However, Ruan Zhan didn’t have it easy either. The water resistance slowed his movements. His lack of air and previous wounds already put him at a huge disadvantage so he was unable to resist pull of the currents. He was immediately sent flying into the distant sludge of the riverbed. The stone box also smashed down by his side, and hair started crawling out like black worms in an extremely unsettling display.
Even worse, he had landed next to the still rampaging skeleton. Although the wooden sword pierced into its body was gradually draining its spiritual energy, Ruan Zhan didn’t have any opportunity to rest. The pair of sharp arms that no longer had hands attached stabbed over like daggers towards his body.
Die then! Let’s die together!
Its obscure eye sockets contained burning resentment. Its jaws chattered in one final curse.
One foot, seven inches, three inches, one inch…Ruan Zhan watched as the bone daggers was about to pierce his chest. He put all his effort into muttering an incantation, biting the tip of his tongue and spraying a mouthful of blood onto the skeleton.
The skeleton’s momentum immediately lessened, but didn’t completely fade. Ruan Zhan saw it gradually turn red before falling to the side. It seemed to have been run over by a heavy invisible object as it lay twitching. With a sorrowful cry, it disintegrated.
The weird beating heart, despite having escaped, had become like withered charcoal due to the sword’s heat. It swam forward like a fish for a few meters before drifting in the water and turning to ash. The sword gradually sank to the riverbed.
Ruan Zhan wanted to retrieve the sword but the remaining two parts of the scholar’s ghost had finally managed to reassemble itself. It cried out in despair and turned into a malevolent black hand. With towering resentment and suicidal zeal, it struck Ruan Zhan, burying him face down in the mud.
Die! All those who obstruct me must die!
It laughed sinisterly as it pressed down harder on Ruan Zhan’s shoulders. It wasn’t planning on giving him the slightest chance to resist.
At this moment, Ruan Zhan already at his limits. His lack of oxygen made him sense death approaching. Despite this, he still refused to surrender. He didn’t want to give in to the evil spirit’s suppression. His stubborn nature directed his gradually scattering consciousness into finding even the slightest opportunity!
He endured the piercing pain in his chest and head as he scrambled and pushed at the mud. Suddenly, his fingers felt a solid object. He subconsciously grasped the cold object that felt like a sword’s hilt and slashed at the pressure on his shoulders.
After hearing the earth-shattering howl, Ruan Zhan realized he held a stone sword in his hand. The spell on it had already been worn out by the river current but it still had incomparable restrictive power towards this vengeful ghost. He had accidentally found this sword, or perhaps it was the will of the heavens. Only then had he been able to send the ghost flying like a dark cloud into the depths of the water. It swiftly vanished without a trace. At this time, countless ghosts of various shapes appeared around him, standing or crouching, crying or smiling. A female ghost dressed in red that looked like a bride stood in front, holding a small ghost in her arms.
Was this an illusion people saw prior to death?
Ruan Zhan’s consciousness grew muddled as the last bit of air left him.
However, the expected drowning sensation didn’t come. The essential oxygen suddenly flowed into his aching lungs. He took huge gulps of air and breathed violently. Then, he realized around this bubble of air, those ghosts all had their hands raised as they supported an area.
They had saved him! Just like how Xiao Xia had entered the river previously in a protective bubble.
“Thank you.” He nodded in gratitude, suddenly understanding where these ghosts came from. Saying anything else would be superfluous. He merely recited a silent eulogy in repayment, asking the heavenly father to guide their souls. “Go, return to your rightful place!” He said lightly.
As the bubble of air vanished, he watched as these pitiful spirits faded away. He felt a hint of happiness for the first time during this whole affair. This sort of feeling didn’t linger too long. He immediately picked up the bloodwood sword and swam upwards. He knew the scholar’s ghost hadn’t been completely vanquished, and Yue Xiao Xia was till up there, her fate unknown.
At this time, Yue Xiao Xia was panicking on the riverbank. She paced around, not knowing what to do. Anyone could see the turmoil underwater. However, despite being able to see this, she couldn’t tell what was going on.
How was Ruan Zhan doing? Why hasn’t he come out yet?
She wasn’t able to talk to spirits but she knew Ruan Zhan’s situation wasn’t good. Furthermore, that skeleton was clearly an extremely unfavorable development for them. Otherwise, Ruan Zhan wouldn’t have wasted his last talisman to send her out of the water.
He might have intended to let her escape first, but although she was timid, she couldn’t despicably flee by herself.
However, she didn’t have any other ideas. She could only wait helplessly, feeling as though she were suffering death from a thousand cuts!
“Ruan Zhan! Ruan Zhan!” She yelled loudly, not caring that it was the dead of night as the cold wind blew.
No one answered her. The silence made her just about to cry. As she despairingly assumed Ruan Zhan had met with misfortune, he suddenly appeared from the water in his diving gear and slowly crawled towards the shore.
He was heavily injured!
Xiao Xia hurried over and supported him. However, the icy chill she felt startled her. She clearly remembered that he had been warm despite being at the bottom of the river. As she hesitated, Ruan Zhan’s face that still wore the diving goggles slowly turned towards her.
The face was without features. Only the moonlight reflected off the corner of the goggles!
She subconsciously felt his face, seemingly wanting to confirm something. This sort of blankness was more terrifying than malevolence. However, she didn’t expect that this light touch would cause his head to sink to one side, hanging on his shoulder as if his neck was broken.
“He” wasn’t Ruan Zhan!
Xiao Xia screamed and instinctively tried to run. However, a pair of muddied ghostly hands had already seized her shoulders tightly and started moving towards her neck. It tittered weirdly and wanted to strangle Xiao Xia. However, when its hands touched her neck, they were repelled by the warm light of the amulet.
“Praise be Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva.” Xiao Xia recalled this chant that helped her avert disaster many times and cried out loudly. As expected, the ghost took a large step back in fear. She took the opportunity to turn and run. However, she only made it a few steps when the ghost suddenly blocked her path. “He’s dead! He’s dead! You must die too!” It announced malevolently.
Xiao Xia was stunned. Her willpower and desire to live suddenly vanished at the news. Even the glow of her amulet dimmed.
He died! Ruan Zhan was dead! Not only did she fail to save Li Jing Ming, she even cost Ruan Zhan his life! This was all her fault! Everything was her fault! What was there still to live for?!
The ghost looked at Xiao Xia’s despair and self-loathing in satisfaction. Suddenly, another head emerged from its neck. This head had the scholar’s appearance as it laughed sinisterly and maliciously. Blood and maggots flowed from its seven apertures.
Xiao Xia’s vision turned black and she fainted on the floor.
The ghost smiled as it stretched out its sharp claws, approaching the unconscious Xiao Xia step by step, planning to dig out her heart. However, a splash rang out from the river surface, startling it into immediately turning around. It saw Ruan Zhan appear above the water.
“How much longer do you plan on blocking my way?” It screamed hysterically as it asked such a useless and illogical question.
Ruan Zhan kept an eye on its movements as he slowly walked ashore. “You shouldn’t have harmed and killed so many people.” He held the stone sword in his left hand and the bloodwood sword in his right. “Therefore, we can only fight to the death!”
“You’ll be the one to turn to ash!”
“We shall see!”
His determination made the spirit realize he was putting his life on the line. Therefore, it tried to seize the upper hand while Ruan Zhan had yet to find stable footing. It turned into a black wall that crashed towards him. However, Ruan Zhan could tell that this soul no longer had much strength after being cut in the water by the stone sword. Therefore, he didn’t dodge and gritted his teeth. Using every ounce of his remaining strength, he stabbed both swords into the black wall’s center.
That night, many people who lived by the river were startled awake at the same time by an indescribably terrifying howl. No one dared to go take a look. Ruan Zhan was the only one who witnessed the end of this ancient, tragic and vile “tale” as it turned to ash. At the same time, the stone sword that had kept the peace all this time also crumbled into dust.