Besides Zhao, who knows the truth, Wang Xiangyang knows better than the others in this room that Shen is special. He looks at Shen in scrutiny, and says succinctly, “No.”
Shen turns around, and asks Zhao pretentiously, “How do you want to handle this?”
You’ve already handled it on your own, what the hell are you asking me for… Zhao stares at him, and coughs. He still has to help him cover up. And so he takes out a Guardian Order, slams it on the table, and pushes it towards Wang Xiangyang, “Wait here, the Hell Guards will get to you before dawn. Show this to him, and he will take you to the Kings of Hell for a permit.”
Wang Xiangyang’s lips quiver. After a while, he leans forward, and holds up the Guardian Order talisman with both hands.
“Final reminder,” Zhao says routinely, “like he said, once you’ve got the permit, you can get your revenge, but afterwards your punishment will be sized up, think before you act.”
Wang Xiangyang stares at the Guardian Order in his hands intently, and shakes his head, “No need to remind me, I’ve killed more than a dozen, I’m already in deep water.”
Then, he smiles bitterly, “I never thought after dying, there would still be a place of reason. Thank you.”
Everyone in the room is shocked. Zhu immediately asks, “Hold on, you said you already killed more than a dozen? Using the same method? And they’re all dead?”
“Of course they are, and they died untimely and dreadful deaths too, the kind that prevents them from entering reincarnation for eternity.”
Zhu looks at Zhao with astonishment… since the population is dense, and the city is busy and loud, it’s normal if they can’t realise when an evil ghost killed a few people. But when the number rises, not only the Guardian Order, but urban tribes in the same city with some cultivation should all be able to feel the black aura that reaches up to the skies.
And yet, till now, if it weren’t for Wang Xiangyang mentioning, none of them realised he had already killed more than a dozen people… including Shen Wei!
Shen instantly thinks of the Ink Brush of Virtue, and asks, “Did you by any means… change the Mark of Virtue on you?”
“I did.” Wang Xiangyang candidly admits, “I had just poisoned by wife and son, and was about to go after my first target. Then someone made a deal with me.”
“What kind of deal?”
“He said if I went on a killing spree so overtly and fearlessly, that would quickly alert law enforcers on earth. So he sold me a talisman, and told me to wear it around my neck, then you wouldn’t sense my presence. And in return, he would take away the souls of the people I killed.” Wang Xiangyang says frankly, “I thought, I had no use for the souls, and I’m already a dead man, I haven’t got anything to lose anyway, so I went with it. And turns out, he really up held the end of his bargain, and no-one stopped me… most of those people thought they got some strange, incurable disease and died in hospital, and who would have thought that someone eventually called the police for food poisoning.”
Zhao follows up, “Did you see what was written or drawn on the talisman?”
“I did.” Wang Xiangyang says, “There’s my name, date of birth and horoscope readings; first written in black, and then the words are circled in red, with cinnabar powder.”
He says, while holding up a small paper talisman folded into an octagon from his neck, “This one, you can take a look if you want.” Chu takes it and unfolds it, and sees a line of words circled in red. But he has yet to take a closer look, and the paper talisman combusts into a small pile of ash.
In just a glimpse, it is difficult for Shen to make out who the handwriting belongs to. But from Wang Xiangyang’s description, it’s almost certainly the Ink Brush of Virtue: black for evil and red for good, one on the left and one on the right, whether you’re a boon or a bane, a villain or a hero, it does not matter; the moving brush writes, and having writ, all will be forgiven.
Legend says that the shaft of the Ink Brush of Virtue comes from the root of a tree that grows in Hell. The wood is invincibly sturdy, unbreakable by blades. And yet the tree is leafless, flowerless and fruitless, and for unknown reasons, people call it the “Primeval Tree of Virtue”. The name came from ancient times, and the reason for its naming is now lost.
But Shen thinks, perhaps the naming of this “not yet lived but dead” tree ridicules the very concept of virtue and karma in the three worlds: doing good for good virtue, eschewing evil for fear of karma, virtue is born, but the heart is dead, and pure good is dead.
Zhao then asks, “What did the person look like, and where did you see him?”
Wang Xiangyang hesitates, then replies, “He looked… quite normal I guess. It’s strange, I can’t think of it now that you mentioned it, it was….” He pauses, and rubs between his eyebrows; he seems to find it weird himself, “Exactly where I saw him, I can’t really remember. But it was probably near my home, in Plum Village, twenty miles from the city. You can take a look there.”
Shen stands up, and nods, “Thank you.”
Wang Xiangyang says calmly, “I should thank you instead. I will not lie about killing or anything, there really isn’t anything I can’t tell you, so you can just ask me if you have questions.”
Shen gives Zhao a knowing glance, and leaves the interrogation room.
Zhao pats Lin on the shoulder, and says with a low voice, “Call the Hell Guards, explain the whole thing, and the other side will know how to take care of this.”
Then, he follows Shen out.
Shen awaits at the end of the corridor, and Zhao brings him to his office, locks the door, and asks, “So? Do you think it’s THE Ink Brush of Virtue?”
Shen frowns, “I’m not entirely certain, but it’s very probable. Even if it were a fake, whoever made it knows the Four Artifacts inside and out.”
“Hmmm.” Zhao touches his own chin.
“What?” Shen asks.
Before Zhao says anything, suddenly, the silhouette of a skeleton puppet is cast on to the window of Zhao’s office. He opens the window and lets it in.
The puppet lowers his skull, and eerily bows towards Zhao. Then, he walks beside Shen, transforms into a letter, and floats on to Shen’s hand.
Zhao squints, stands beside the window, and looks into the hazy night. He can’t help but feel like a pair of eyes is watching his every move.
After a while, he closes the curtains, and laughs scornfully. But as he turns around, he returns to the know-it-all knucklehead prone to all sorts of ridiculous hoity-toity with or without a reason.
And as Shen finishes reading the letter, he frowns.
Zhao asks, “You’ve got something to do?”
“It’s urgent, I’ve got to go.” Shen swiftly transforms from a gentle and polite professor to a cold and cloaked Ghost Slayer. He rushes towards the window, and reminds Zhao, “You will not go to Plum Village on your own, no matter what, wait for me to return.”
Zhao doesn’t answer.
Shen turns around to look at him, who is sluggishly leaning against the wall, and half-genuinely complaining, “Jeez, it wasn’t easy getting Your Honour to open up you know, and here I thought I would get some tonight. I’m horny, and I get insomnia when I sleep alone. Sigh, I’m gonna go to work as a panda tomorrow.”
Shen realises he can’t talk about serious matters with this one, and so he silently passes through the window, swoops into a cloud of black smoke, and vanishes without a trace.
Zhao stands beside the window, and takes out a cigarette. Without moving, he silently finishes it. Knowing that Shen is probably long gone, he opens a drawer in his desk, fully loads the gun he usually hides at the bottom of his pants, and adjusts the dagger he wears on him. Then, he takes out the talisman
wallet, leaves half of them, and only brings with him those for attack and defense.
“Why wouldn’t I go?” Zhao snickers, “I wouldn’t want to let down whoever led you away intentionally.”
Then, Zhao puts on a jacket, takes with him his bag, and like always, greets his colleagues and walks out steadily. He turns on GPS in his car, and heads for Plum Village.
The roads are clear at night. In about two hours, Zhao arrives at Plum Village. It’s like any other village on the outskirts of Dragon City: very tranquil, with the occasional dog barks.
He drives around the village, and finally, at the western corner, he finds several conjoined pagoda trees.
Zhao stops his car, walks around the gigantic trees, and finds something… years ago, when the fairy tribes ran rampant, they used the same trick: they would plant pagoda trees in the shape of the asterism Big Dipper, the “bowl” in shadows and the “handle” extending to the west, taking the meaning of connecting Yin and Yang, the realms of the dead and the living. When an enough amount of dark energy is collected, the entrance will be found.
And just so happens, the mountain above these trees is laden with barren tombs.
A deserted and frozen hillside, a land full of mounds.