The Ghost Slayer’s dark cloak is a thick cloud of smoke that no light can shine through: a dozen metres of smokescreen whips up and engulfs the two, and extends into the Heavens. The shroud of darkness blocks out everything outside.
He embraces Zhao in his arms, and shouts towards the wristwatch, “come out!”
The small puppet floats upwards, and droops its disproportionately big skull. The Ghost Slayer glares at it, and absorbs it back into his sleeve, “come back.”
The small puppet obediently turns into a rush of grey mist and rolls into a ball and back into his sleeve.
Wang comes out of the watch as well, and looks at Zhao worrisomely.
The Ghost Slayer glares at her coldly, his gaze sombre and frightening; Wang quivers in terror.
After a long while, the Ghost Slayer looks away, sits on the ground, and carefully adjusts the man in his arms, “you work for him, I won’t judge whether you were right or wrong; sit aside.”
Wang dares not sit too close; she hesitates, and sits at the far corner in the pillar of smoke.
The Ghost Slayer seems to be afraid of making Zhao dirty… although it’s not like Zhao is in a pristine state after this whole ordeal… he carefully sets his weapon aside; Wang realizes that his blade is tainted with dark blood stains.
A pale white hand comes out of the black hole of a sleeve, and gently wipes away the blood stain at the corner of Zhao’s lips. As the finger touches the lips, he stops, as if he wants to kiss him. He acts like he is holding a piece of fragile and precious treasure, but not the ill-tempered and crude Guardian.
Wang’s eyes widen in astonishment.
A long time later, Zhao finally wakes up. He finds his head leaning against someone’s shoulder. He frowns; it’s as if he has just awaken from a deep coma and his entire body is drained of vitality.
He struggles to open his eyes and looks at the Ghost Slayer, “you…”
A frigid finger lightly presses on to his lips. The Ghost Slayer holds his hand against his heart, and says softly, “don’t talk, focus.”
Afterwards, a surge of freezing yet soothing energy gushes out of the Ghost Slayer’s palm. Zhao starts shivering, and yet as the energy passes through his entire body, he closes his eyes, and comfortably lets go and leaves his fate up to the other person.
The freezing flow comes from the ferocious and cruel nature of the Ghost Slayer, but Zhao’s vigorously chaotic heart seems to calm down amidst the endless stream.
Zhao admires the Ghost Slayer: ever since the Guardian Order passed on to him, the Ghost Slayer has always worked with him in times of crises. Throughout these years, Zhao has never seen him lose control.
The Ghost Slayer always seems so perfectly poised, polite and yet extremely restrained: his brutal and malevolent nature has always been in chains, and not a sign of it can be seen.
Extreme restraint could be to achieve utmost freedom: if a person, for thousands of years, has always hidden his true nature, then on one hand, he lives in pain, but on the other, he lives above everyone else.
Soon, the agonising torture on his soul wears away. Zhao opens his eyes, and sits up, “thank you, I guess I got lucky again this time.”
The Ghost Slayer reluctantly lets go of him, and moves aside a little. He says politely, “it’s my pleasure… but the Guardian should not have ignored my warning.”
“It’s all because of that stupid girl,” Zhao points at the head-dropped Wang, “I was worried sick, she works for me after all, I can’t just leave her to die.”
His face sinks into darkness, “come on over here, quick!”
Wang silently floats over, and Zhao’s whip comes whipping towards her. She closes her eyes, but the whip doesn’t touch her, it only rushes towards the ground, leaving a deep scar.
“Open your eyes. I never beat women up, now move in closer.” The whip transforms into a paper talisman, which floats like a feather on to Zhao’s hand. A corner of it is blood-stained. “You’re not listening to the Guardian Order now, are you?”
Wang kneels down in front of him.
But Zhao isn’t moved at all, “get back up, don’t give me that. What the hell are you kneeling down for, my wallet is still in the car, no red pocket money for you.”
Wang bites her lips.
Zhao furiously glares at her, and takes out a cigarette and lighter. A hand silently snatches the cigarette away.
He rubs his nose. He feels like something similar happened before.
“I checked your files,” Zhao rubs his fingers unnaturally, “you died in 1713, the second year of the civil war of the Hanga tribe. So what happened then? Did you prepare the offerings at the bottom of the big pillar just now? What’s that thing?”
The Ghost Slayer interrupts, “that’s not just any big pillar, it’s called the Pillar of Nature.”
Sounds familiar. Zhao pauses for a thought, and frowns, “one of the Four Mystical Artifacts?”
The Ghost Slayer nods, “the Guardian knows a lot.”
First the Sundial of Reincarnation, then the Pillar of Nature. The Four Mystical Artifacts have long been lost and scattered across the universe, it’s not like they are vegetables found in a wet market; coming across two of them
in just half a year, Zhao feels like he should have bought the lottery ticket instead.
The conspiracy theorist in him emerges, a million possibilities shine through his mind: the oddly tranquil office building of the Dragon City University, the hungry ghost that chased after Li Qian, the missing sundial, and the wanted criminal spirit beasts, and… the warning from the Ghost Slayer.
Zhao’s expression turns to solemn, and asks the most important question at hand, “what’s the Pillar of Nature?”
“People often say ‘the gods and the spirits control Life and Death’, but that’s not true. Ever since the dawn of time, there were Good and Evil. The earliest judgment was engraved on to the Pillar of Nature, to tell Good from Evil. This great pillar was formed from a million mountain and river spirits, and it extends from the Nine Heavens down to the depths of Hell. On it is the details of all Eighteen Floors of Hell, and the Book of Life and Death comes from the judgment engraved upon it. Ever since the creation of the pillar, people believed that the mountains and rivers have their spirits.”
The Ghost Slayer pauses for a moment, and adds, “the Pillar of Nature was first created to suppress ghosts, over time, millions of evil spirits end up imprisoned within it. Who would have thought that humans made use of it to enslave their own kind for eternity.”
“Other people wouldn’t be affected by it, but you…” The Ghost Slayer hesitates, and he rarely does. He continues, “you were born with an unstable soul, so you were affected greatly by it.”
Zhao has never heard of that before, he asks, “my soul is unstable? My soul is just fine, how is it unstable?”
The Ghost Slayer stays silent for a moment, and says, “a human has Samadhi true fire in three places: head and both shoulders. Your left shoulder is missing a fire, in the olden times that was called a ‘ghost-handed shoulder’. It causes instability in your soul, the Guardian must be extremely careful in the future.”
Zhao frowns and looks at his left shoulder. But he gets over it quickly and continues, “so Luobula restriction magic was the Hangas using the Pillar of Nature?”
The Ghost Slayer nods, “they would behead people and burn their bodies, and use dark magic to trap their souls inside the valley. The pillar would absorb the souls, and one can control the dead spirits using their skulls.”
Zhao points at Wang, “what about her?”
The Ghost Slayer looks at Wang, who shivers as his gaze seems to pierce through her soul and look into all her past-lives.
He says, “she was beheaded, but her body seems to have been kept intact, so her soul was never imprisoned in the pillar.”
Wang smiles bitterly, “yes, I was immature back then. I died with a grudge, and took possession of the body of a living. The former Guardian captured me and took me in under the Guardian Order. ‘Wang Zheng’ wasn’t my birth name, it was the name of the girl I possessed… my real name is Gelan, I was the daughter of the leader of the tribe who died in the civil war.”
Zhao realises with discontent that his SIU is full of people born into rich and powerful families.
Wang continues, “the leader of the rebels was called Sang Zan, his mother was my mother’s maid. Our tribe didn’t have normal citizens, you were either the royals or a slave. So Sang naturally became a slave as well. He was one of the elites among the slaves as he was capable and brave. My father appointed him to be in charge of the war horses. He was quite admired by many.”
She laughs bitterly, “but in our tribe, no matter how capable you are, if you’re a slave, your life can only amount to that of a dog or a pig or worse. You can be sold and killed for no reason. You could have had a lot of admirers, and you could have been rich, but you wouldn’t have had dignity after all. At one point, my father got a female servant pregnant, and my mother was furious… that servant was Sang’s younger sister. My mother furiously beheaded Sang’s mother for some trivial reason, and my brother killed Sang’s father. His sister… well, she eventually hanged herself.”
Zhao starts chewing some beef jerky, and comments, “your dad was a jerk.”
The Ghost Slayer can see that he is not in a good mood; he coughs, and asks, “there used to be a stone tablet at the bottom of the pillar, and on it a list of all
the imprisoned souls was engraved. I see that the stone tablet remains, but the list had been scrapped, did that happen during the war?”
Wang nods, “Sang brought his followers to victory, and eventually arrived at the forbidden site… the Pillar of Nature. He said he wanted everyone in the tribe to live equally and with dignity, so he destroyed the name list on the stone tablet. The leader… my father, mother and brother, the rest of the royal families, and all their followers and soldiers were all hanged in the watch house at the mountaintop. Ever since, the Hanga tribe abolished royals and slaves.”
“What about you?” Zhao asks, “you weren’t executed, because you helped Sang in secret, didn’t you?”
Wang drops her head, “I knew him since we were little. My father was hunting him down, and I hid him… I really didn’t want him to die, but I never thought the war would turn out like it did…”