“I’ll lead the way, Little Guo follow me, Old Chu stay at the back.” Zhao starts walking, and thinks of something. He takes out a spare gun from the bottom of his pants, and asks Guo, “did you pass the shooting test?”
Guo shamefully lowers his head, “the examiner said unless he dies and comes back to life, otherwise he wouldn’t let me pass.”
Zhao sighs, “what about a knife? Can you use that?”
Guo lowers his head even further.
Chu laughs coldly and mockingly; his attitude makes Guo even more miserable.
“I recruited a world peace ambassador.” Zhao looks at the endless cave sadly, and pulls out a miniature stun baton, handing it to Guo. He explains impatiently like teaching a kid how to wipe his ass clean, “take this, its very simple, just hold it out in front of yourself, no need to do anything else. Just try not to be too scared to move, is that okay?”
Guo holds the small gadget and shakes it a bit, nothing happens. The thing looks like a little torch. But Guo doesn’t suspect that the Chief is lying, he thinks he must be too dumb to understand what this does… he has a tendency to think the worst about himself.
Zhao is tired of explaining, and starts moving forward. Guo runs a few steps to catch up, pondering whether he should ask. A normal human’s rational mind tells him that under dangerous circumstances he shouldn’t be kept in the dark, but…
Guo stares at Zhao’s tall figure, and fearfully thinks: if he asked, the Chief would probably bite his head off.
When he imagines a furious Zhao, he trembles, and the “stun baton” suddenly shoots out a string of sparkling flare, which rushes towards Zhao from behind.
Luckily Zhao is incredibly alert, he hears something fishy, and swiftly dodges aside. The streak of ember flies deep into the cave with a rush of heat.
Chu shouts, “fuck!”
Chu stares at Guo with shock, he never thought this piece of garbage would do what nobody in the SIU dares to even think about… beating up the bastard Chief.
Zhao embarrassingly wipes of mud and water from his clothes, “what the fuck did you do!?”
Guo is extraordinarily innocent, “I, I don’t know… it it it it it suddenly moved…”
“Bullshit, that thing attacks when you’re scared. The more frightened you are, the more powerful it becomes. It’s totally tailor-made for you, alright?” Zhao is losing his mind, “what the hell were you thinking looking at my back that got you so scared!? We were just walking!”
After a period of eerie silence, Guo points at the stomping and enraged Zhao while quivering, “this… I was thinking about this.”
Chu really can’t hold it anymore, he laughs wholeheartedly at the hilarious situation.
Then, Chu extends his hand, “let me take a look.”
Chu rarely talks to him. Guo is flattered and dazed, and obediently hands it to him.
Chu shakes the “stun baton” next to his ear, and knocks on it. His eyes seem to realise something, and throws it back to Guo. He looks at Zhao with a hidden realisation, “Chief Zhao, this is probably something inappropriate, isn’t it.”
Zhao chuckles, “as if you’re a decent guy yourself… careful!”
He hasn’t finished his sentence, and his face changes. He kneels down and pushes Guo aside. A large explosion blasts off, and a surge of gale sweeps above their scalps. A putrid odour oozes out, and a giant comb-shaped object flies above. Its base is made of thick wood, around three metres long, and is covered with sharp blades. If it hits you, you’d turn into a meat pie instantly.
Chu stands against the wall, and takes out a dozen of paper talismans.
The ten-feet “giant comb” makes a u-turn mid-air, and swings towards them from above. The talismans in Chu’s hand fly out like throwing darts, and precisely adhere to the densely packed knifes. But perhaps he picked the wrong talismans, the object is completely unaffected, and comes crashing down with a penetrating gust.
Zhao’s gun slides on to his hand.
At this instant, nobody sees it coming, but the slow-witted Guo finally realises the situation, and screams inhumanly, “mommy!!!”
Then, a blast of flames shoots out from his “stun baton”: three metres of intense heat. The power of the fire is not less than that of a gas explosion. Zhao and Chu dodge at the same time, and the pillar of blaze crashes towards the few dozens of blades. The giant “comb” quivers in the fiery vortex and eventually melts into a liquid, splashing on to the ground with hissing noises.
For a minute, nobody speaks.
A long time has passed, and Chu rigidly turns his neck, sincerely looking at Guo, and exclaims from his heart, “you’re so badass.”
Guo’s mind went blank in pure terror, and his heart is still thundering. He desperately needs some medicine to calm him down. When he hears Chu, a million emotions surge up inside of him.
“I thought you just sealed an earthbound spirit into a stun baton, which feeds on fear as a source of energy,” Chu turns towards the Chief, shivering a little, “what… what did you do to make that thing?”
Zhao’s expression switches from astonished to pretentious at the speed of light. He adjusts his clothes, and says seriously, “it’s illegal to imprison spirits, I’m a decent, law-abiding civil servant, why would I blatantly break the law?”
Chu has nothing to say to that.
“Well… inside contains the shattered souls of a few hundred executed ghosts, most of them I got from the Ghost Slayer, and some I exchanged with the Hell Guards for spirit money. Then I mixed the souls with Samadhi true fire…”
Chu is having an emotional breakdown, “and where the hell did you get the fire?”
“Last year I captured an escaped Bifang bird, and I borrowed its flames to light a cigarette. And then I saved up a fire seed.”
Chu stays silent and can’t make any comment. He extends an arm to help Guo get up, and says feebly, “never mind, let’s keep going.”
He has a gangster Chief who makes friends with good and evil and all sorts of beings from the three realms, he’s afraid that in his entire life, through normal means, he will never fulfil his wish of beating this person up… perhaps this glorious and arduous mission will land on the office mascot Guo Changcheng comrade.
Zhao smiles, and is about to remind them to be careful. Suddenly, a long whistling sound comes from far away, and a cloud of grey smoke sparkles in fluorescence, floating forward and landing in Zhao’s arms. The shining mist disappears and a letter emerges in Zhao’s hand.
A familiar scent, pitch black envelope, blood-red words.
Chu’s face tenses up, and he retracts his step. Zhao is afraid Guo might lose control again, and walks forward a little to avoid that troublemaker.
Chu asks, “it’s the Ghost Slayer?”
“Yea.” Zhao rips the envelope apart, but what’s written in the letter puts a frown on his face.
The Ghost Slayer usually has a lot to say. He would have started with greetings and unimportant formalities, as if he wanted to ask about all your distant relatives, before he says what he’s actually writing to say in just a few words. Perhaps that’s called the subtlety of an accomplished gentleman. But this time, the letter is incredibly brief, and the writing is all scribbled; it reads: “danger, do not proceed, return promptly.”
Chu asks, “why would the Ghost Slayer send his letter here, what’s wrong?”
Zhao folds the letter and puts it in his pocket, not saying anything.
The Ghost Slayer usually sends his letter to the office, unless it’s extremely urgent, otherwise the letter wouldn’t fall right into Zhao’s hands. After all, the Ghost Slayer prefers not to be seen, and the same applies to his letters.
What’s happening now?
How does the Ghost Slayer know where Zhao is?
Zhao stays incredibly calm on the outside, but his mind goes round and round thinking of all sorts of possibilities. He hesitates, and says to Chu, “Old Chu, you bring him back to meet with Lin and the others.”
Chu says, “what?”
Guo asks, “we’re not going to find Wang Zheng anymore?”
“I’ll go alone, you guys go back first.” Zhao pats Guo on the shoulder, “hold it tight, and be careful on your way back. Destroy the ritual site on the mountain with Lin, keep an eye on Shen and his students. Wait for the rescue team to clear the road.”
Chu has an uneasy feeling, “you’re going alone?”
Zhao nods without saying a word.
Chu frowns, and holds Guo’s hand decisively, “let’s go.”
Guo still wants to say something, “but…”
Chu says, “but what, don’t waste time. Our Chief is in a hurry to get things done and go back to his boyfriend. Now come on.”
Chu pulls the reluctant Guo out of the cave, who keeps looking back at Zhao worrisomely.
Zhao holds the torch in his armpit, with his leather-gloved hands in his pockets, watching the two leave. As they leave his line of sight, and the sound of a closing door is heard, he keeps walking.
Suddenly, the grey smoke from earlier reappears and solidifies into the skeleton of a five-year-old. The skeleton blocks his way with arms wide open.
“Oh, you’re a very small puppet. Did the Ghost Slayer send you?” Zhao raises his eyebrows.
Perhaps it’s because of how small it is, the puppet’s black eyeholes seem to look very innocent. It doesn’t seem to understand what Zhao is saying. It blocks his way still.
Zhao rubs his chin… he never thought that the quiet Ghost Slayer actually knows him pretty well. If he had sent a giant skeleton, Zhao would have busted his way through violently. But this small creature doesn’t speak, and it’s so tiny and fragile, Zhao doesn’t want to hurt it.
Zhao examines the determined little puppet, “you’re not gonna move away, are you?”
The puppet twitches its mouth, and a cackling noise is heard.
Zhao shakes his head. He raises his leg and crosses above the small creature with a big step.
The small thing has yet to realise what’s happening, it turns its head following Zhao’s movements, and its skull almost falls off. It finally realises that Zhao is already walking ahead.
The small puppet scrambles forward and grabs hold of Zhao’s clothes, not letting him go.
Zhao keeps walking with the skeleton attached to him… the small thing isn’t heavy after all.
If it had eyes, it would probably be crying anxiously.
As he heads forward, a decaying smell grows stronger and stronger. The air humidifies. An ancient and battered flight of stairs extends downwards, and it gets narrower the further down he goes. Then, Zhao doesn’t want the skeleton getting in his way, so he picks it up like a child and puts it on to his shoulder. He looks at his watch.
The revealing mirror is eerily calm.
Zhao stares at it for two seconds, and he stops walking abruptly… he realises, the hands are going backwards!
No… not all of them are. The second hand is going anti-clockwise, but the minute hand is going clockwise, and the hour hand is at twelve o’clock. There seems to be a strange force drawing the three hands together.
Finally, they all meet at twelve, and stop dead.
Zhao wipes off some mud from the cave wall, and sniffs.
“Perhaps it’s an illusion.” Zhao murmurs, perhaps also saying to the mini skeleton, “but I feel like I’m buried alive.”