There is somehow only one chapter (and epilogue) left to answer all the questions…
Translated by: TaffyGirl13
Chapter 9: Abandoned Village on Ghost Mountain
A week later.
The abrupt, perverted serial killing case finally came to an end.
The murderer that had cruelly killed three young women in their prime, Wu Chang, had been found in an abandoned church in the city outskirts by two criminal investigators. Wu Chang had subsequently lit his hiding place ablaze. Amidst the raging fire, the criminal and the police had engaged in a life-or-death battle, and the heinous “lady killer” had ultimately been shot dead at the scene. The victim had been rescued out by the police as well, and was no longer in critical condition after being saved at the hospital.
This was the article showing on the latest news publication.
The headline written in large, black letters was: “Perverted Murderer That Killed Young Women Finally Falls into Net of Justice”.
There was a magnified photo of the criminal’s face underneath the headline.
Ye Xiao roughly skimmed through it and then put the newspaper down. He let out a conflicted sigh.
He had just returned to the police station after the hospital had confirmed that Ling Dang’s injuries were no longer critical. She had merely lost too much blood, and required proper recuperation for a while. However, after staying only a few days at the hospital, she seemed to have already returned to her usual lively state. Every time Ye Xiao went to visit her with food, she would throw her arms around his neck excitedly for a long time. She was very strong with an amazing appetite, and was nothing like a wounded patient.
Per Su Mu’s words, the sibling pair were “cut from the same cloth”.
Seeing Ling Dang’s positive recovery, a part of Ye Xiao was finally put at ease. Despite not sharing any blood, the girl that had grown up together with him since they were children was even closer to him than a biological sister.
At the moment, the victim was fine and the perpetrator had fallen. Logically speaking, this case counted as closed. However, Ye Xiao could not get rid of his anxiousness. There were several puzzles hidden in this case that remained puzzles, with plenty of unexplainable questions.
For example, Silent Mountain Ridge.
After they submitted their report and left the group leader’s office, Ye Xiao stared at Su Mu. Rubbing the back of his head, he asked in confusion, “Um, how did you know Wu Chang was in that church? What connection does he have with the Shen Guo Zhong from forty-nine years ago? Why did he commit these bizarre murders?”
Su Mu did not respond to a single one of the questions that were tossed out in a rapidfire stream. He merely shot Ye Xiao an aloof look before turning to leave.
“Damn! Treating me like air again?”
Ye Xiao glared in frustration. Unable to restrain the burst of anger, he charged forwards and grabbed Su Mu by the shoulder, then dragged him into the break room and slammed the door shut. Without holding back, he forcefully pressed Su Mu against the door and glanced around before saying, “There isn’t anyone else here. Tell me the truth. What exactly do you know?”
Su Mu let out a snort. He did not move, letting himself stay restrained as he calmly replied, “What do you want to know?”
Ye Xiao furrowed his brows in thought. He lowered his voice and quietly asked, “If my guess is correct, that monster…girl in the church was Shen Guo Zhong’s daughter, Shen Wei, right?”
Su Mu merely looked at him without affirming or denying.
Shaking his head in disbelief, Ye Xiao asked doubtfully, “But didn’t Shen Wei already die forty-nine years ago? How could she…still be alive? Don’t tell me the thing I saw was a ghost? Or a reincarnation or something…you know, the things that are often in TV shows. Don’t tell me those are all real?”
Su Mu let out a light sigh, exasperation in his eyes. “There are some matters that are better off not being pursued.”
With this, he opened the door and strode out.
Ye Xiao rolled his eyes in annoyance at Su Mu’s back. With his hands clenched into fists, he muttered to himself, “Hmph, you don’t want me to know? Then I’m going to do anything to find out!”
The more abnormal the case, the more Ye Xiao wanted to investigate to the end. This was just Ye Xiao’s personality.
Thus, at noon, he grabbed the car keys and left the police station alone. But unexpectedly, when he entered the driver’s seat and put on his seatbelt to start the car, Su Mu silently opened the car door and sat inside.
“Oi, wha—what are you doing?” Ye Xiao asked in bewilderment.
“You dropped something.” With a blank face, Su Mu passed a piece of paper over.
Ye Xiao lowered his head and saw that it was actually the roadmap from the exploration group that he had previously printed. He rubbed the back of his head and then exclaimed, “Su Mu! You thief!”
Su Mu was unfazed as he replied, “You were the one that carelessly dropped it on the floor.”
“That’s a lie! I even touched my pocket before leaving to confirm it was there. You clearly stole it!”
“If you want to frame someone, you need to bring out evidence. Where is your proof?”
Ye Xiao knew he could not defeat Su Mu. He only fiercely snatched the roadmap back and slapped it onto the dashboard.
Su Mu shot him a sideways glance and lightly asked, “You really plan on going?”
“Yes.” Ye Xiao studied the roadmap and answered, “If I don’t figure out what exactly happened at Silent Mountain Ridge, I won’t ever think of this serial killing case as ended, and I’ll never have peace of mind.”
Su Mu leaned back in the front seat, the corners of his lips tilting upwards slightly in either ridicule or amusement. A complicated emotion faintly flashed in his eyes before he stated in an advising tone, “Sometimes, you cannot turn back once you take the first step. Are you absolutely certain?”
“Fucking hell! You’re still threatening me?” Ye Xiao glared at him, then said with complete seriousness, “It doesn’t matter what the truth is. Either way, it’s better than just being obscurely kept in the dark.”
Su Mu turned his head so that his eyes locked onto Ye Xiao.
“Did-did I say something wrong…what are you staring at me like that for?”
Su Mu chuckled, then pulled out something from his pocket and handed it over.
Ye Xiao focused on it and saw that it was a piece of jade. He waved his hands, not sure whether to laugh or cry as he said with a strange expression, “I’m very sorry, but I don’t accept gifts from men…Besides, I-I don’t have that kind of taste…”
“Idiot! What are you thinking about?” Su Mu’s expression darkened before he explained, “This object was taken out from Shen Wei’s mouth. Didn’t you really want to know how Shen Wei was still alive?”
“You said from Shen Wei’s mouth?” Ye Xiao was stunned. He hurriedly grabbed the jade and scrutinised it before asking in complete confusion, “Why did she have jade in her mouth?”
“This isn’t ordinary jade. It’s called a Resurrection Gem.”
Ye Xiao’s brows knit together as he flipped the jade around in his hands a few times to examine it. However, he could not see anything abnormal about it. It was merely a bit more transparent and slightly more exquisite to the touch. It was also a strange shape, like a small comma or half of a yin-yang symbol.
“Um, what is this thing used for?” He asked.
Su Mu answered, “You should know that humans have three immortal souls and seven mortal forms; those nearing death will first experience their seven mortal forms fall apart. Then, the three immortal souls will perish, and the spirt will then be completely dispersed. That is when the human is deemed ‘dead’. The Resurrection Gem can draw the dead’s three immortal souls and seven mortal forms from the netherworld back into the world of the living. This is what is typically called ‘resurrection’.”
“Holy shit, this thing is actually that magical?” Ye Xiao suspiciously peered at the jade in his hand as he murmured, “So there really does exist an elixir that can bring back the dead…”
Su Mu paused for a moment before adding, “However…the thing you are holding is only half of the Resurrection Stone.”
“That’s right.” Su Mu took the jade back and weighed it in his hand as he stated, “The original meaning of the ‘gem’ in its name is two combined pieces of jade. Hence, the Resurrection Gem actually has two pieces. In other words, only if one combines the halves together can it really be called the ‘Resurrection Gem’. Yet Shen Wei’s mouth only had one piece, which meant that her three immortal souls and seven mortal forms were only half-gathered. That’s why she can’t truly be called ‘resurrected’. She needed the help of other things from the living world to restore her appearance.”
“Ah, you mean, that is the reason Shen Guo Zhong turned into a serial killer?” Ye Xiao rubbed his chin as realisation dawned on him. “Hair, teeth, ears, tongue, nails, and skin…so these were all to resurrect his daughter…but…wait a minute….”
He pondered over this for a moment, then lifted his head to blink at Su Mu in confusion. “That’s not right. It makes sense if the criminal you’re talking about it the Shen Guo Zhong from many years ago, but why would Wu Chang do these things? He has no relation to Shen Wei. Why would he readily risk the crimes to resurrect her?”
Su Mu shrugged. His gaze shifted to the deep blue sky outside the window as he replied, “I’m afraid that going to Silent Mountain Ridge is the only way we can answer that question.”
Ye Xiao only stared at him for a beat. Without asking any further, he glanced at the digital clock on the dashboard and started the car.
It was currently noon on the dot. Although the winter winds were still chilly, the sunlight was exceptionally abundant, the golden, dazzling rays of light scattered everywhere. A great amount poured in from outside the glass window, shining onto their bodies so that they could feel a trace of warmth despite the severe winter.
There was a steady stream of people moving to and fro along the bustling road.
Ye Xiao drove quickly, but not very steadily. He would frequently slam onto the breaks, causing them to be thrown forwards and backwards from the momentum. If they had just eaten, they might have thrown up.
However, Su Mu was used to Ye Xiao’s “ultra thrilling” driving skills. He remained stably in his seat at the front with the roadmap in hand as he gave out prompt directions.
The car flew down the streets.
Four hours later, they left the lively S-city to enter a distant, remote mountain area. Judging from the map, this place that did not even have a name was precisely the border of Baishui.
As far as the eye could see, the surroundings were filled with desolate farmlands and farmhouses. There were no road signs or directions. The roadmap became chaotic at this point. They roamed back and forth but could not find a road. Originally, they had wanted to leave the car to ask people, but there was no sign of human life in the farmlands or along the small paths. There were only a few free-range cattle standing along the ravine, swishing their tails as they stared blankly at the car.
“What the hell, where did all the people here run off to?”
Ye Xiao sighed and fished out the Baishui police station’s number that he had called in the past. When he dialled again, it failed multiple times in a row. Then he glanced at his cellphone screen and couldn’t help but curse.
“Fuck! What kind of damn place is this? There isn’t a single bar of signal!”
Su Mu looked down at the complicated roadmap in his hands and did not respond.
With lack of better option, Ye Xiao could only steel himself and continue driving along the small path. However, they were low on gas at this point. Before heading out, the gas tank had not been full. Originally, they had expected to be able to find a gas station around here to replenish it; who would’ve thought that this place wouldn’t even have a public telephone, let alone a gas station?
The fields on both sides weaved in and out with each other, stretching out endlessly. The rustic path in front of them continued straight ahead, but they had no idea where it connected to. And at the moment, they could not see any other path aside from the one currently below them. It felt as though they were powerless without any way to go in the vast world.
They followed this small path between the fields, driving for another half an hour or so. Then, they finally reached its end. However, this end connected to the start of another mountain path.
From what they could see, the narrow mountain path spiralled upwards to a peak beyond their vision.
This was evidently a winding mountain trail that had not been maintained for a very long time. The surface of the path was bumpy and uneven, and some parts had split and cracked from the forces of nature. In addition, the start of the path was covered in a chaotic mess of weeds. There wasn’t even a road sign, so they did not know what exactly this mountain was called.
Ye Xiao stopped the car at the foot of the mountain and eyed the low gas notification. “This won’t work, there isn’t even gas. Even if we can make it up, we won’t be able to come back down. Plus, it’s already half past four; the sky will darken soon. If we reach the top and are unable to return down, we’ll have to wait until tomorrow for rescue. Staying at the peak on a winter night might be enough to freeze us to death, especially without any warm air. Or there might be some wild animals on the top and we could end up becoming a lump of meat in their stomachs.”
After evaluating the severity of the possibilities, Ye Xiao turned to look at Su Mu and smiled. “Oi, what do you think? Go or no go?”
Su Mu returned his gaze and indifferently asked back, “What, are you scared?”
Ye Xiao raised a brow and let out a snort. “What a joke. If even you aren’t scared, how could I be?”
Then, he started the car once again and began to drive up the unknown road that spiralled upwards.
It was fine at the beginning when they first started driving up. Aside from some bad bumps, everything was normal. But as they got higher and higher, a sudden flash of lightning struck down right as they were about to reach the halfway point of the mountain. It was extremely close to the window and was blindingly bright.
Without warning, thunder exploded from the clear skies with rumbling booms. Startled by it, Ye Xiao jerked the wheel and the tires nearly went skidding down the slope.
“Oi, drive a bit slower,” Su Mu couldn’t help but remind.
Ye Xiao was still shaky from the sudden peril. He tightened his grip on the wheel and subconsciously slowed down. However, for some reason, following the lightning bolt, the previously sunny weather had abruptly transformed into a heavy storm to assault them.
Layers of dark clouds began to collect in the sky. A deep black colour had at some point enshrouded the top of the mountain. Their vision became darker and blurrier as well.
Ye Xiao turned on the wipers and the headlights. The beams could not shine very far through the vast curtain of rain. The two slim wipers swished back and forth on the windshield, but the downpour would quickly blur their field of view right after.
“It’s so weird. Why did it suddenly start raining?” He frowned and slowed the car even further.
Su Mu remained silent next to him, though his expression turned graver.
The car trudged through like a tiny boat fighting against stormy waters. It braved the waterfall-like torrent of rain alone without stopping its journey forwards cautiously along the narrow and winding path.
They did not run into a single other car, person, or even creature along the way.
Time passed slowly. The might of the rain only grew without subsiding, the droplets pattering loudly on the glass windows like bullets. The noise was deafening.
The dashboard’s low gas light never stopped blinking. There were no more markings on the gas meter.
Ye Xiao felt himself break into a cold sweat as he clutched the wheel and focused hard on the path in front. After a while, he glanced at Su Mu and then hesitantly asked, “Um…did you notice?”
Su Mu barely nodded as he calmly replied, “Yes, I noticed twenty minutes ago. This is now our ninth circle.”
Ye Xiao gulped. “So it wasn’t just my imagination. We really are just constantly going in circles? I’ve already seen that half-broken tree trunk next to the cliff multiple times.”
“Yes, we really are circling around the same spot.” Su Mu added, “Moreover, our elevation isn’t increasing.”
“But that-that’s impossible.” Ye Xiao shook his head. “We’re currently in the mountain’s midsection. The mountain path clearly inclined upwards. If our elevation didn’t increase, the logic doesn’t match up.”
“I know, but for the past half an hour of driving, we’ve only been repeatedly circling back to our starting point.”
“Fuck, this is too ridiculous…don’t tell me we’ve been running into ghost walls?”
Ye Xiao didn’t know whether to cry or laugh as he shook his head. He had never believed in things like “running into ghost walls”, so it was beyond his imagination to have actually encountered it today.
Right as he was mulling over this, there was a clattering sound as the car’s front headlights instantly died. Their surroundings immediately sank into a darkness so deep that it was impossible to see their own fingers.
What’s going on?! The headlights broke?
Ye Xiao subconsciously slammed onto the brake. However, the brake wouldn’t budge no matter how hard he tried.
Don’t tell me it’s stuck? No way, the brake was working perfectly fine just now!
Ye Xiao anxiously broke out into a cold sweat. While stabilising the steering wheel, he exclaimed to Su Mu, “The brake is failing!”
However, the instant he spoke, there was an explosive, sky-shaking boom as the rolling thunder swallowed his voice.
Su Mu looked at him with furrowed brows.
Ye Xiao urgently shook his head and yelled, “The brake is failing! Hurry up and jump out the car!”
However, there just happened to be another thunderclap at this precise moment. As though the Heavens were purposely opposing him, the blast of thunder once again covered his shout.
Damn it! Why is this happening?
Ye Xiao fiercely kicked at the brake that was as unmovable as a boulder. Right at this moment, the back tire suddenly slipped, and the entire car skidded back several metres.
In his panic, he urgently stamped down on the accelerator. However, the car suddenly flew out at a different angle, crashing straight into that tree next to the cliff. Then they dove down headfirst into the endless abyss.
The intense momentum activated the airbags that immediately smashed into Ye Xiao’s face. The impact threw his head backwards, and with a muffled groan, he lost consciousness.
There was no knowing how much time had passed. Ye Xiao had originally expected to have died after falling from such a high precipice, but as he blurrily opened his eyes, he instead saw a grey, misty horizon and yellow, dried-up underbrush. He was currently lying on a dense mound of dried grass. Somehow, he did not feel any pain, nor did any bone seem to be broken. His limbs were still whole, his mind clear. He was simply a bit dizzy.
What’s going on? Where is this?
Ye Xiao sat up from the pile of grass just in time to see Su Mu walking over from nearby.
“You’re finally awake?”
Ye Xiao was speechless for a moment. Then he anxiously raced over to grab Su Mu by the shoulders and demanded, “Oi, are you alright? Do you have any—”
Before the word “injuries” left his mouth, his voice paused. Su Mu’s clothes were still neat and tidy; he didn’t even have a single strand of hair out of place. In comparison, Ye Xiao was covered in dirt and looked terrible.
“Tch, did this guy really fall down from the same place as me…”
After grumbling this to himself, he scratched his head and asked in bewilderment, “Where are we right now?”
“I don’t know either.” Su Mu shook his head and replied, “You were unconscious so I didn’t dare to walk too far. I only circled around a bit. There seems to be a village in front.”
“A village? Let’s go and take a look.”
As Ye Xiao spoke, he glanced at his watch out of habit. The hands on the watch had stopped moving. Both the hour hand and minute hand were stuck at the moment they had fallen from the cliff: 5:47 PM.
“Oh, is the watch broken?” He knocked at the surface and casually asked, “Um, how long was I unconscious for?”
“About five or six hours,” Su Mu answered.
“Five or six hours?” Ye Xiao was taken aback. He lifted his head up to gaze at the sky and frowned. “That’s a lie. If it was already five or six hours, then it would already be later at night. How could the sky still be so bright?”
Despite saying this, the sky was not exactly the clear brightness during a sunny day either. Rather, it was all hazy and kind of dark, giving off a mixed feeling of being both bright yet not at the same time.
Su Mu also stared up at the grey sky. “Your watch isn’t broken, it’s stopped.”
“Yes.” Su Mu was silent for a moment before he added, “The time in this area seems to be static.”
“Huh? What did you say? Static time?”
Ye Xiao blinked and had the sudden urge to laugh. However, he could not do so in front of Su Mu’s solemn expression. Instead, his lips only twitched as he said, “You mean that this place doesn’t have a distinction between day and night?”
“Um…since we fell from the midpoint of the mountain, this should actually be the foot of the mountain, shouldn’t it?”
“I don’t think it is.”
“Have you not noticed that the car is gone?”
“Car?” Ye Xiao was taken aback. He turned his head to scan the vacant surroundings, then exclaimed, “Right, we were sitting in the car when we fell off the cliff. Where’s the car?”
Su Mu shook his head and replied, “I haven’t seen the car since arriving here.”
Ye Xiao pensively rubbed his chin in thought. Then realisation dawned on him and he said, “Could it be that what you’re trying to say is that the car landed at the bottom of the cliff, while we have fallen into another space? And that is why we haven’t seen the car?”
Su Mu shot a sideways look and snorted. “I guess you still have some sense of perception.”
Ye Xiao dropped his jaw in astonishment. “But-but…hey, wait for me!”
Su Mu had already spun around to walk ahead. With no other options, Ye Xiao could only follow tightly behind. Within ten minutes, they reached an open field where a massive stone tablet magically appeared before them.
Rather than a stone tablet, this object was more like a stone memorial arch erected to honour the four virtues back in feudal society. The thick stone pillars had words carved on them, standing on both sides of the path. The words carved on the arch were blurred from age and erosion. All that Ye Xiao could barely make out on the mottled, breaking stone were two words.
The first word was “Ghost”, and the last word was “Forest”.
“Ghost something Forest?” He quietly read out aloud while peering at the stone carving.
“It’s ‘Huaiyu Village’,” Su Mu corrected.
Ye Xiao was puzzled. “What? Pregnancy Village1?”
Su Mu rolled his eyes and stared at the incorrigible Ye Xiao for a moment. Ultimately, Su Mu could not be bothered to go back and forth with him, so he wordlessly strode over.
Left behind, Ye Xiao muttered to himself, “Weird, there’s actually a village here?”
Indeed, this truly was a village, as massive farmlands began to appear in front of them after passing that stone tablet. However, the farmlands had long since become dried-up and abandoned. It seemed as though they had not been cultivated in a very long time. The earth was severely cracked, the seedlings were wilted, and even the scarecrow on the field was pecked full of holes by crows. It was crookedly collapsed off to the side, and at first glance, the face covered in black holes was somewhat creepy and disturbing.
Behind the desolate farmlands, they could see a row of shabby, brick farmhouses in the distance. There were even some calico coats being aired outside of them…
“Hey, look over there, there’s a house!” Ye Xiao pointed at the row of farmhouses and excitedly said, “That’s great. Looks like there’s someone living there. And if someone lives there, it means that this place isn’t the difference space or whatever you were talking about!”
He enthusiastically patted Su Mu on the shoulder, though the latter remained aloof. He merely turned his head to look in a different direction, confusion behind his slightly knitted brows.
“Oi, what are you looking at?”
Ye Xiao followed Su Mu’s line of sight. Then he squinted to see a bit clearer as he asked uncertainly, “There’s…a person?”
“But…what is that person doing? Digging a hole?” Ye Xiao’s eyes were wide in wonder.
Less than five metres away in front of them off to the right was a skinny figure sprawled across a dried-up gorge.
This person was the first living human they had seen since entering Baishui region.
The person had a very bizarre appearance. He was kneeling on the ground, his head low with his body scrunched up together. His thin arms were rhythmically moving back and forth, slim hands unceasingly digging up the loose earth. His movements were skilful and swift, and he had already dug up a decent-sized hole at the bottom of the gorge.
“What is he doing? Looking for something?”
Puzzled, Ye Xiao scratched his head and walked up to cautiously ask, “Um, excuse me, but could I bother you for a moment?”
His voice was not loud, but the person unexpectedly shuddered in fright. Their digging actions froze, unable to move for a long time as though they had gone into shock.
Ye Xiao was completely perplexed. After a few seconds, he took another two steps forwards and tried asking, “I’m sorry, don’t be afraid. I’m a police officer, and I just wanted to ask—”
He was caught off guard when the person suddenly began to furiously dig at the earth in a frenzy before he finished speaking. This time, the person’s actions were faster and more extensive. Quite a bit of dirt even flew onto Ye Xiao’s face.
Soon, a huge hole was dug out from the ground, and that person dove in headfirst. As he went further in, he continued digging at the dirt, as though trying to create a tunnel underground.
Ye Xiao stared at the person’s butt still sticking out, feeling both dumbfounded and amused at the same time. He then turned to look at Su Mu. “What in the world is he doing?”
Su Mu shrugged and answered, “As you can see, digging a hole.”
“Eh, I mean, why is he digging a hole?”
“Hide? Hide from who?”
“Don’t you think his movements became more urgent after you spoke to him? It seems like you frightened him.”
“Er….” Ye Xiao did not know whether to laugh or cry. He tilted his head and pointed at his head as he asked in a hushed tone, “It can’t be that he has issues over here?”
“Hard to say.” After a moment of contemplation, Su Mu turned and said, “Let’s go see what’s further ahead.”
Thus, they crossed the large intersection of dried fields to arrive before the row of farmhouses. They knocked on several doors but there was no one there. A few of the homes had their doors unlocked. With a light push, the rusty, old-fashioned doors squeaked as they moved. The tattered wooden door slowly opened; there were no lights in the house, so it was very dim. There was also a suffocating stench inside.
Ye Xiao turned on his cellphone flashlight and shone it around. The house was quite spacious, but everything inside was covered in a thick layer of dust. The roof was filled with cobwebs, and the dusty dining table still had a bowl of half-eaten noodles. However, the noodles had long since turned into black mould.
Just a single glance at the bowl’s contents was enough to make Ye Xiao avert his gaze from nausea.
“Looks like there hasn’t been anyone living her for a while.”
As he spoke, he continued to wander around the house.
There was another broken, old wooden door further inside. It was closed, and when Ye Xiao reached out to lightly push it, the entire door actually collapsed with a clatter, sending a bunch of dust flying through the air.
He waved his hands around to clear the dust, holding his breath as he crossed over the door. Before he could get far, there was a crunch, as though he had stepped on something.
He slowly moved his right foot and shone his cellphone light downwards. Then he immediately let out an alarmed shout. What appeared underneath his foot as actually a human’s face!
The person’s mouth was open, their bulging eyes glaring hatefully at Ye Xiao.
“So-sorry…I-I didn’t mean to step on you…”
As he stammered this, he automatically took a step back. However, he heard another crunch this time, like the crisp snapping a bone. His heart skipped a beat and he lowered his head once again. This time, it was a broken arm!
“Fuck! What is this cursed place!”
His heart was about to burst from his ribcage in terror as he blurted out a curse and stumbled backwards multiple steps. This time, there was a bang as his back seemed to collide with something.
He turned his head and saw a slightly green, wan face very close to him.
This time, he could no longer take it, and he fiercely swung his fist out.
The heavy punch only struck empty air.
“Seriously, how many times must you try to sneak attacks on me before you’re finally willing to give it a rest?”
The dead face in front of him actually spoke.
Ye Xiao focused his gaze and saw that the face under the pale blue light was none other than Su Mu.
“Bastard! Can you not flash your cellphone light onto your own face? You can scare people to death, you know!”
“Tch, to think that a grown man would be afraid of a kid’s prank. Can you grow up a bit?”
Su Mu shot him a look of disdain before nonchalantly striding past him.
Ye Xiao was about to burst in fury and still wanted to throw some retorts back. However, he heard Su Mu say in a deadpan voice, “There are two dried corpses on the floor.”
Ye Xiao immediately shifted his focus and hurriedly shone his light towards the ground.
Indeed, the first human he had stepped on was actually a corpse lying with its face upwards. The broken arm he had stepped on afterwards belonged to another corpse sprawled on the ground.
Both corpses were completely dried-up, with the flesh shrunken into the shrivelled body, leaving them as thin as matchsticks. It was impossible to determine what their faces had looked like when alive. At first glance, they both looked like mummies. There was a Meiji knife sticking out from the chest of the corpse lying down while the other corpse had its arm and neck both broken. Aside from these, the corpses did not have any other evident wounds.
“What kind of situation is this?” Ye Xiao furrowed his brows as he attempted to analyse it. “Two people broke out into a fight for some reason. One used a knife to kill the other, while the other snapped the first one’s arm and neck bones with their teeth?”
“I’m afraid so.” Su Mu studied the corpses for a while, then said, “Also, look at their clothing.”
Only upon his mention of clothing did Ye Xiao realise that, under the dim lighting, the two shrivelled corpses on the ground wore identical clothes. They both wore a loose, nylon orange outfit with black rubber shoes. It appeared a bit similar to a uniform.
When they got closer and shone their cellphones on the sprawled corpse, they found that the back of its clothing had the words “No. 316 Geology Research Institute”. When they flipped over the other dried corpse, they found the same words printed on the back.
At this point, Su Mu and Ye Xiao exchanged a look and exclaimed in shock, “The geological exploration team that went missing three years ago?”
“Should be.” Su Mu nodded and said, “Back then, eleven people went missing, and three returned. There are still eight exploration members left. There are two here, and there’s another one—”
“The person digging the hole!”
Realisation dawned on Ye Xiao. The person that had been digging a hole just now had also been wearing orange clothing. However, since he had been covered in dirt, the text on the back had been covered, which was why they had not noticed.
“Quick! Let’s go find him!”
Ye Xiao shot up from the ground to stride out from the house. However, when he ran back to the fields, he saw that the person was gone without a trace. Astonishingly enough, a deep, dark hole was in the gorge.
“Is this for real?” He was dumbstruck as he turned to look at Su Mu with a bewildered expression. “He…he can’t have really gone through that hole, right?”
“It’s extremely possible.”
Su Mu crouched down to inspect the hole.
Ye Xiao did not know whether to laugh or cry as he scratched his head and asked, “What do we do? Do we wait for him to come out, or should we also go in?”
“I’ll stand guard outside while you crawl in to look for him.”
“On what basis? Screw that!” Ye Xiao glared back.
Su Mu calmly said, “Your clothes are already so filthy anyways. Getting dirtier won’t matter.”
“Tch, like hell I’m doing that! Why don’t I stand guard outside while you crawl in?”
“You refuse? If you refuse, then forget it, none of us need to go in. We can just wait here idly.”
Ye Xiao furiously shot daggers at the other. Right as he was about to lash out, his gaze happened to shift and he suddenly froze. Then he pointed in front and exclaimed, “Oi, look! There’s a person!”
As he spoke, he immediately sprinted forwards.
Su Mu turned his head to see that there really was a person’s back facing them. They were in front of the farmhouse where the calico jackets were air-drying, and they were currently gathering the clothes up.
The person had a very stocky figure, and was quite tall. By visual estimate, they were at least 180 centimetres or taller. However, they just happened to be wearing a red dress, revealing their sturdy, suntanned legs. There was a thick and long braid tied at the back of their head. They seemed to be humming a relaxed tune while swiftly and lightly folding up the calico jacket in their hands.
“Um, may I ask…” Ye Xiao walked over to stand behind the person.
When they turned around, Ye Xiao was instantly struck speechless from astonishment.
What? A m-man?
This person with a long braid wearing a dress and even using their hands with their pinkies raised is actually a tough and sturdy man?
“May I ask where this is?”
Su Mu strode over and calmly asked this.
The man blinked as he stared at the two uninvited visitors. Then he suddenly grinned and spoke in a self-presumed “sweet” tone, though the “charming voice” only made Ye Xiao shudder. “Do you two customers plan on staying overnight or stopping for a snack?”
“Pfft!” Ye Xiao couldn’t help but sputter out a chuckle as he turned around and asked with his lips twitching, “Are they filming a movie?”
Su Mu was unfazed as he indifferently responded, “Stopping for a snack.”
“Holy shit, you’re joining the act too?”
Su Mu declined to comment. Under the man’s warm invitation, they entered a run-down farmhouse.
With no other option, Ye Xiao could only roll his eyes and cooperatively enter as well.
However, compared to the previous farmhouses, this one was very large and bright. It even had tidy tables and chairs that were wiped clean. It was clearly an environment that someone lived in.
Ye Xiao and Su Mu sat at the table.
The man placed the clothes in his hands into a closet. From the corner of his eye, Ye Xiao spotted the orange uniform inside when the closet was opened.
“Hey, look.” He covertly jabbed his elbow at Su Mu, shooting a meaningful look.
Su Mu glanced over silently.
After stowing the clothes away, the man walked over with a beaming smile. “Please wait for a moment while I prepare tea.”
He then turned around to enter the inner rooms.
Ye Xiao stared at Su Mu and pointed at his own head and asked, “Don’t tell me that this is another one with an issue here?”
Instead of answering, Su Mu only narrowed his eyes slightly in the direction where the man had vanished, seemingly deep in thought. Ye Xiao sighed and turned to scan their surroundings. There was a small plot of cultivated farmland outside the window, with some green vegetables being grown there.
It was not long before two cups of tea were brought out.
Ye Xiao looked down and couldn’t help but furrow his brows.
The water inside the cups was quite turbid, and it was an odd colour as well. It was not quite yellow and not quite red, and also had some grit inside. There was no telling what kind of tea it was. However, after all this time, he was indeed thirsty and did not care if it was clean or not. Thus, he tilted his head back to gulp all the tea down.
“Oi! You must not drink it!” Su Mu leapt up and flipped the table over. With one hand grabbing Ye Xiao’s jaw, he fiercely commanded, “Spit it out! Hurry up and spit it out!”
Ye Xiao was completely taken aback. He stared at Su Mu’s vicious expression in shock as he blankly replied, “I-I already swallowed it…”
“Tch! You bastard!”
Su Mu’s brows knit together as he turned to glare at the man. “Where did this water come from?”
The man took a step back in fright as he stammered, “From-from the river at the back the mountain…”
“Back of the mountain? Where is the back of the mountain?”
“Over-over there.” The man fearfully pointed outside the window.
Su Mu glanced over with a grave expression, then demanded, “Wait here, don’t follow me,” before striding out without looking back.
Ye Xiao immediately yelled, “Oi! What happened? Wait for me! I’m going too!”
Then he promptly dashed out to chase after [Su Mu].
1. Ye Xiao mishears “Huaiyu” (槐玉) as “Huaiyun” (懷孕) which means pregnancy. ↑