After a while, Zhao withdraws his pressurising glare, looks down and half-genuinely frowns. He asks nonchalantly, “Besides, I find this exceptionally strange, that you don’t even dare touch the Guardian Order, and yet you recognise an ordinary human like me as the Guardian, why is that? You see, I have a big mouth and a thick skin, but I have really got no real talents, and my brain is not working well either.”
The judge finds a rusty organ in his stomach squirming with pain, but rigidly squeezes out a smile, “That is not true.”
Zhao suddenly leans forward, and says, “Don’t tell me my ancestors are related to Kunlun. That’s way too badass.”
The judge is calling out for help deep inside.
Unfortunately, Zhao has no intent of letting him off easy, and keeps on yapping, “And boy has it been hectic the last six months, first the Sundial of Reincarnation, then the Pillar of Nature, and now the Ink Brush of Virtue, if the fourth one appears too we’ll have the Four Winds. Do tell, where do the Four Artifacts even come from? So it seems the Ink Brush of Virtue is related to Kunlun. As for the Sundial, legend tells that it was crafted from the Stone of Reincarnation. When Nuwa created mankind, a pebble would form when every human was created, and soon the pebbles have gathered into a pillar piercing through the sky, threatening the three realms. Empress Nuwa made haste to collect the pebbles, turning them into a stone, which contained the limitless reincarnations of all mankind. As for the Pillar of Nature, Xuanwu belongs to water,so perhaps it’s related to Fuxi? We’re in deep water here, aren’t we? I’m terrified just thinking about it.”
The judge wipes off sweat, “My knowledge is limited, this is really…”
“Besides, a calamity that affects the Thirty Three Skies would definitely attract a good amount of formidable figures. Saving all living souls, what a tremendously virtuous deed, there must be many who would want to seize this opportunity. What’s Hell’s backup? The fairies ? Cultivationists? Angels? The Ghost Slayer must be obliged to settle a problem that hits so close to home, is he not?” Zhao pauses for a moment, and glances towards the judge, “What can a wishy-washy jellyfish like me do ? The only person I know is the Ghost Slayer. Don’t tell me…”
The judge’s heart sinks and skips a beat, as Zhao laughs lightly, and slowly says, “I’m just supposed to go and say hi and chitchat?”
The judge is terrified, and looks up abruptly to the same impenetrable and inexorable face.
For a moment, he believes the man sitting across might have figured him out, but there does not seem to be any discernible clues.
Da Qing’s fur stands upright, and screeches with an unfriendly “meow” from the throat: it doesn’t sound like that of a normal cat, but rather the roar of a tiger. It stands up on Zhao’s legs, and reveals its razor- sharp claws; the bell on its neck quivers.
The judge seems to fear it, sitting back on to the chair. He looks up to Zhao, all smiles, “What is the Guardian trying to say…”
Zhao cannot be more relaxed: unfashionably leaning back on to the chair, “I’ll tell you what I’m trying to say. I’m just an ordinary human, getting involved in such a perilous ordeal, what if something goes wrong, what if I don’t get to see next year?”
“We swear to ensure the Guardian’s safety.”
Zhao sneers, “Can’t even get into mountain on your own, how do you ensure my safety?”
“I’m bringing my own men, that shouldn’t be a problem, right?”
The judge flinches.
Then, Zhao the bane puts on a look as if he had a toothache, and the judge can’t help but feel like he is getting one too, as Zhao lets out a long sigh, “But I don’t have enough backup, you see. Almost all my staff are nocturnal, the only exceptions are a little snake that still can’t fully transform, a little cat less than a foot long, a useless trainee, and a selfie-obsessed geek…”
The judge can somewhat tell where he is going with this.
“We do have a Zombie King who is quite strong, except… oh, what a pity!”
The judge knows well between Chu’s matter and the Ink Brush of Virtue, which is more important. Though Hell has made it a custom to keep postponing jail time, but it seems now that it wouldn’t do them any good opposing Zhao, especially on something so trivial. So the judge compromises, “Mr Chu’s time has been served, we only have some procedural matters to finish. Since the Guardian mentioned it, then I will issue the order first, he is free to go immediately.”
“Ow,” Zhao hears his tone and seizes the opportunity to twist the knife deeper into the wound; he says with austerity, “and here I thought he did something terrible behind my back, I even locked him into the room… look at this mess, your people aren’t very efficient it seems; what a misunderstanding, those who don’t know the details might even think Hell is stalling on purpose.”
The judge is lost for words; he really wants to drop dead right in front of Zhao. He wonders what he has done to displease this troublesome Guardian, who seems to be toying with him all day: this game of trick or treat leaves the judge no time to catch a breath.
Zhao waves, feigns helplessness and takes out a piece of letter paper from his desk, and begins writing while he says, “Forget it, Old Chu and I are not on good terms, so I really don’t have enough backup right now. But this is an important matter, of course I won’t be the one who hampers it, I can’t bear this sin…”
The judge seems to be getting used to his torture. A breath is held in suspense; in a horror movie, if the sky is clear and bright, something menacing must be looming. The judge looks at Zhao with increasing anxiety.
Zhao continues, “I can’t go, but you won’t take the Guardian Order either, so I have come up with the perfect plan: find someone who dares to take it…”
The judge instantly has a bad feeling. He takes a look at the letter, and barely understands Zhao’s chaotic handwriting: “To the Ghost Slayer: take this letter as my person.”
The judge almost falls off the chair.
Hell is of course not too afraid to take the Guardian Order. This is nothing but a scheme of those ten ruling Hell: they thought that three of the Four Mystical Artifacts have emerged, the Sundial is with ghost face, the Pillar is nowhere to be found, and the Ghost Slayer naturally has no intention of handing it away. Who can say for sure that the Ghost Slayer will never try to do what ghost face is doing? If he turns, what will they do then?
There is no-one on Hell’s side who can stand up to those two mighty gods, so all they can think of is to use Zhao to threaten the Ghost Slayer.
But this Guardian is no average Joe, what goes on in his mind can almost qualify him for ascending to godhood, it’s no wonder trying to take advantage of him is virtually impossible, isn’t it? The judge feels like Zhao already knows everything they’re thinking, and he is only toying around with him.
He doesn’t know exactly how much Zhao has figured out, or whether he has a plan that the Ghost Slayer also knows, but he simply can’t handle this anymore; his face sinks, “What does the Guardian mean by this?”
Zhao says innocently, “Nothing really, does the judge think this is inappropriate?”
The judge stares at him coldly.
Zhao continues, acting surprised, “How come? Doesn’t the Ghost Slayer come from Hell as well?”
Another question the judge can’t answer.
After moments of painful silence, the judge finally understands what is meant by “to hide a lie, a thousand more are needed”. He says rigidly, “That foul creature was born beneath Hell in front of the Primeval Tree of Virtue, and is somewhat related to the Ghost Slayer, so it might be inconvenient for him.”
“Oh,” Zhao’s smirk wears down a little, and nods, “and here I thought the judge would stick by ‘not talking about the great saints behind their backs”, turns out beating around the bush gets us nowhere, though, wouldn’t you agree? You worry about him, I can understand that… this is my being inconsiderate then.”
He crumpled up the letter into a ball, “I will go with you.”
The judge is knocked unconscious by this manna from Heaven.
The next moment, Zhao takes out his phone, and calls HR, “Hey, Wang Zheng, it’s me, did you get my message? Uh, right, print a copy, bring it upstairs for our guest.”
Wang is well-trained for this: she floats in within three minutes with an extended name list; when the door opens, the judge can see a horde of ghosts, small and big, all glaring inside, nervewreckingly headache-inducing for the judge.
Zhao’s chin rests on one hand, the other handing the name list to the judge, “When it comes to unjust cases, these few years have been full of them. Some perpetually postponed by procedural technicalities, some were simply disproportionate punishments. Since the judge is here already, how about we settle this once and for all… ah, right, as for Chu Shuzhi’s incident, were there not some ‘old belongings’ still with you?”
The judge sits in silence.
The judge squeezes out one phrase with great difficulty, “They will be returned.”
Zhao seems displeased still, “When, we are gonna need some time to pack.”
The judge doesn’t want to see more of him, utters “before sunrise”, and leaves with the name list.
Zhao smirks at his scurying figure, lights a cigarette with the burning paper money, puts them out, and opens the window for some air.
Da Qing jumps on to the window sill, “Didn’t the Ghost Slayer tell you not to go?”
“Why are you so nosy?” Zhao glares at him, and then gets serious, “There is no debate, I must go.”
Although Shen Wei seems gentle and polite on the outside, he is in fact extremely stubborn. Most of the time he needs to consider his status, but he would not tolerate Hell like this. Zhao thinks that there must be something more, something that he must abide by. And not only that, it seems like he has already planned the future for him, and Zhao has a bad feeling about it.
He fondles with Da Qing’s head, and agilely dodges a cat paw, then says. “I want the Ink Brush of Virtue, it can be my wedding gift…”
Da Qing is pissed, “Don’t be ridiculous!”
“A tooth for a tooth, an eye for an eye.” Zhao’s face darkens, “The Kings of Hell have a term of a century; this batch has only been up for 20, and they have been more and more deplorable. I never meant to cross them, but they messed with me in the first place… so, I’m taking you up to Kunlun together, Mount Kunlun is a forbidden and sacred place, not a backyard for their freak show.”
Da Qing bounces on to his shoulder, “What about Chu?”
“Leave him, how dare he talk to his boss like that.” And yet Zhao can’t help but want to go in to take a look.
Guo is already sound asleep, but not on the bed, only on the desk. Chu can’t do a thing against the Guardian Order, so all he can do is sit. But he has a blanket wrapped around him, and Guo probably feared that he might be bored, and gave him earphones, then put a long movie playlist on.
Chu nonchalantly glances towards Zhao, and as if he saw nothing but air, he turns back towards the computer screen.
Zhao locks the door and leaves, “Keeping an eye on a prisoner became serving the great king, Guo this motherfucking idiot, how I pity his uncle.”
The next day, Guo is awakened by a phone call from Zhao. He rubs his eyes, and is shocked to find Chu already standing up, and the blanket now no longer on him but wrapped around Guo himself. Chu stands in front of the window with a stern expression, brows intensely frowned, glaring at the sky… pitch-black; the street lights are out.
The sky is still dark.
Zhao says, “Little Guo, are you up?”
Guo rubs his eyes again, and replies.
Zhao puts on a very rare gentle tone, “Later someone will be coming over to Bright Avenue No 4, it’s someone from the ‘other side’, prepare some gifts. Keep an eye on your Brother Chu, tell him to stay calm, this is not the time to start a fight. No need say too much to them, but don’t be afraid, got it?”
Guo nods sluggishly, “Chief Zhao, where are you?”
“I have something to do.” Zhao seems to be losing signal: some buzzing noises are heard. He says finally, “Call your family, and listen to Chu.”
Guo puts away the phone, and immediately hears a chilling sound of wooden clappers. He turns around, and hears a knock on the door of Zhao’s office. Chu turns around, and says calmly, “Come in.”
The locked door opens itself, and a paper man wearing a high hat comes in with a gigantic bag, placing it in front of Chu with reverence. The person puts their hands together, mutters something, and Chu’s body begin to change: some writings appear on his face, and shackles emerge around his neck, wrists and feet, then all these things fall off on to the floor, roll up into a ball, and is sucked in that person’s hands.
Guo’s mouth is agape with shock.
The paper person bows, Guo returns the bow, and accidentally bangs his head on Zhao’s computer.
Chu glares at the Hell Guard with arrogance, and then opens the bag… most of the items inside are made from bones, sparkling with cold violet light. These are all familiar to him… from three centuries ago.
Chu frowns, and then says with an unfriendly tone, “Where’s the Guardian?”
The Hell Guard must have been lectured by the judge… shaking their head, showing that they won’t talk, bows, and then leaves.
Right this moment, the Ghost Slayer is at the bottom of Mount Kunlun. He takes a deep breath of the thin and freezing air, almost carrying a brush of primeval solitude and sobriety. It is dawn, and yet the peak is pitch-black and the sky is still night.
Vaguely, sounds of wailing and weeping are mixed in the wind; chillingly macabre, as if slumbering souls from Hell are being awakened.
He holds on to his blade. Just this moment, the Ghost Slayer hears footsteps from behind. Without turning around, he says stately, “We should get moving.”
“Hang on,” a familiar voice says, “the one who invited me is not here yet. I was afraid the plane might be delayed so I came early.”
The Ghost Slayer turns around abruptly, and sees Zhao wrapped around in many layers of hiking gear, with a black cat following him by his feet. He is holding a cup of coffee, and takes a bite out of a burger. He waves, and says with a blissful smile, “Have you eaten? I still have a hash brown.”