Chapter 14: Still Alive

Legend has it that every person has three lamps illuminating their bodies, each of which represents the three parts to their soul - Nascent Light, Spirit of Vigor, and Hidden Essence.

These are also known as the three lamps…

As soon as these three lamps… rather, the three fires from the lamps are extinguished, a person’s soul would leave their body and they would experience true death. A normal person should possess a vibrant flame in each of these lamps. If any one of the flames weakens or even flickers out, that person is commonly known to have too much Yin, or be plagued by Yin energy. If left unaddressed, that person will go on to encounter a series of unpleasant experiences, including a demotion, a pay cut, trouble with their career, etc.

If one’s Four Pillars of Destiny[1] leans towards the Yin affinity, he would even begin to notice unusual, unclean occurrences. Other legends say that when one walks along the street at midnight, or even evenings if one walks along a secluded path, one should never turn his head to answer any person’s call, especially if the voice sounds unfamiliar. As soon as a person turns his head, the ghost will extinguish one of the fires on your shoulder.

This is why the saying goes, “men light fires, but ghosts snuff flames”. These are popular sayings among the military as well. 

Perhaps it was a result of Qin Ye having already completed the netherworld odyssey once, but all he had to do was to think about it in order to perceive the three lamps hovering about Wang Chenghao’s body. Currently, notwithstanding that only one day had lapsed since they last saw each other, the lamps hovering about his body were almost entirely extinguished.

This was by no means a good sign at all. The fact that a radiant, hot-blooded teenager could be reduced to such a tragic state in just one day meant that this ghost was definitely not to be underestimated!

“The netherworld and the mortal realms are two entirely separate planes of existence. Ordinary spirits would never be able to affect a mortal to such an extent.” Qin Ye had hung the soul sphere on his bag like a cute ornament. Arthis cautiously added, “I had once assumed a post in the mortal realm for a hundred years as well. Those entities depicted in mortal horror films, such as Sadako, Churenmei and Jason are all ghosts that are at least of the fifty-year grade.”

“Right now, I can already say with utmost certainty that the ghost we’re dealing with has obtained the shard of King Yanluo’s Seal not more than half a year ago. Otherwise, a mere mortal like your friend would already have perished.”

“This is good news for you.”

Qin Ye nodded his head as he looked at the dazed Wang Chenghao. Then, just as Wang Chenghao began to break out in cold sweat once more, Qin Ye began to speak placidly, “How did you discover it?”

Wang Chenghao bit down on his lower lip, switched on his phone and showed Qin Ye the photograph that had mysteriously appeared.

His gaze lingered on Qin Ye, scrutinizing every expression on his face. When Qin Ye returned Wang Chenghao’s phone, and before he could even begin speaking, Wang Chenghao immediately grabbed hold of Qin Ye’s arm tightly and pleaded with a trembling voice, “Previously… I’m sorry for all I’ve done to you previously! I’ll never do it again… please… please save me just this once!”

This was a towering, well-built teenager who had habitually flaunted his endowment of strength in front of others. Yet, his feet were currently ostensibly weak and limp, and it was clear from the scars on his lips just how much he had bitten down on them last night. If not for the fact that he was on a public street right now, he might already have knelt down to beg Qin Ye for help. If their other classmates could see how Wang Chenghao was clinging on to Qin Ye like an ornamental brooch and pleading for his help, they might very well find themselves completely flabbergasted.

“Let’s speak somewhere else.” Qin Ye lifted his head as he responded resolutely.

As soon Qin Ye finished speaking, Wang Chenghao dragged him off his bicycle, “Let’s go… you haven’t had breakfast, right? It’s my treat! I’ll buy you anything you want! And just leave your bicycle here. Once we get back, I’ll give you a Pinarello!”

The two students hailed a taxi. As soon as they hopped on, Arthis mocked, “Mercy? That’s an emotion only the weak possess.”

“Do you think I’ll actually have such useless feelings for someone who has only crossed paths with me for less than three years?” Qin Ye gazed out of the window as he responded placidly, “He’s no more than a sojourner in my life. That said, since this matter implicates him, it’s… convenient to have his help.”

The two students went straight to a small shop within the county town that was hailed by all high school students to be a “dating paradise”. This shop’s design was clearly inspired by various popular anime series. Even though the shop had been standing for more than ten years now, it had managed to keep prices low and maintain the quality of its products. Most importantly, the seating within this cafe was cleverly designed in booths, and the privacy offered attracted many couples, especially those who were in their early days of courtship.

Once they sat down, Wang Chenghao handed the menu over to Qin Ye, currying favour with him, “Feel free to order whatever you like.”

Qin Ye ordered an assortment of deep-fried skewers and a cold beverage. It was early in the morning, and the shop was not too busy yet. Naturally, the food that they had ordered arrived promptly. Qin Ye took a sip out of his iced citrus tea, “Tell me more about it.”

His comment came out naturally, yet seemed somewhat arrogant at the same time.

Qin Ye’s disposition was clearly different from that which he displayed when he was in school. However, Wang Chenghao didn’t find anything wrong with this. His hands were wrapped tightly around the milk tea in his hands, while his eyes were quivering and filled with fear. It took him several deep breaths before he finally managed to organize his thoughts and explain the situation.

With a trembling voice, Wang Chenghao began, “Did you notice this - I’ve been eating at school everyday over the last few months?”

Qin Ye thought about it before nodding slightly.

Wang Chenghao shrank back slightly as he muttered, “This is because… the food at home has become completely inedible! I don’t know when exactly this began, but my dad has taken a liking to raw food in recent times. He first started by taking a fancy to Japanese food, and I welcomed its freshness. H-however, his condition began to worsen like an illness! Roasts, steaks, and the like - he began to lean towards the rarer side of things. From medium-well to medium, then to rare… and then finally to blue-rare[2].”

“All the meat at home is completely bloody and raw when you bite into it! It’s completely inedible! And that’s not all. My dad has also become very strange. Over the last ten days or so, I began to detect a very strong stench of cologne on his body. But… but the strangest part is that he had never worn cologne ever before! That’s right… that’s right! Since last week, my dad has even stopped eating rice altogether!”

These were things that could ordinarily be attributed to nothing more than mere quirks and idiosyncrasies. However, under the influence of Wang Chenghao’s paranoia, he began to string them all together and pour out his heart.

“I haven’t been too concerned about these things previously. After all, I’d only found it somewhat peculiar, but nothing went overboard. Until last night… last night…” His body began trembling uncontrollably as he gripped tightly to Qin Ye’s hands. His hands were already covered with sweat, “I’d clearly locked the door to my room, yet that woman was there, sitting at the foot of my bed at three in the morning! When she stepped out, she even left a trail of bloody footprints! F-furthermore…”

He shuddered once more, and his voice grew hoarse, “I-I-I saw her. I saw her… she ate my family’s Labrador! When I left the house this morning, I particularly made it a point to glance at the kennel, and I saw that it was empty! Empty!”

His entire body was shaking like a sifting chaff, and his voice was breaking up, “She’s a ghost… she’s not human! She must be an evil spirit!”

Qin Ye picked up the spoon in his cup and gently stirred his drink as he interjected, “Where’s your father?”

Wang Chenghao was bewildered.

“How was his funeral?” Qin Ye furrowed his brows.

Wang Chenghao stared at Qin Ye in astonishment, “What are you talking about?”

Qin Ye appeared somewhat upset, “I’m talking about your father’s funeral. Did your mother handle it, or were you in charge of it?”

“My father’s… funeral?” Wang Chenghao’s lips trembled as he squeezed Qin Ye’s hands tightly, “B-b-brother Qin… d-d-don’t scare me like that…”

“M-my father… should still be alive and well…”

Swish… Qin Ye’s gaze flickered as he gazed deeply into Wang Chenghao’s eyes.

At this moment, the only sounds that could be heard was the light rustling of leaves in the soft morning breeze.

It was quiet.

So quiet that it was even slightly eerie.

Sweating profusely, Wang Chenghao took out his cell phone and dialed the number of his father, Wang Zemin.

“Hey, A’Hao… Father’s busy right now.... Mm… study hard… I’m hanging up now…”

It was a brief conversation, but it was most certainly the voice of Wang Zemin.

That said, there was still something peculiar about his voice. His statements were somewhat fragmented, and his thoughts didn’t seem to be too coherent. It could be likened to the words spoken by a person who had not been speaking for a long time.

Wang Chenghao’s lips trembled furiously. Qin Ye’s words had been far too shocking. What exactly do his words mean?

His gaze was transfixed on Qin Ye, while Qin Ye furrowed his brows slightly as he continued to stir his citrus tea.

This was the first time he was dealing with a supernatural encounter as a fully-fledged Operative. Yet, he had already run into such a bizarre situation.

Wang Zemin isn’t dead? That’s not possible. There’s no way this ghost could be as powerful as Granny Meng. Wang Zemin’s soul had been personally subdued by Granny Meng at the skeletal bridge. There’s no mistake about that!

So… Qin Ye drew a breath of cold air. So… who exactly is the imposter-father in Wang Chenghao’s home? Is he alive? Or… is he something else altogether?

“I understand. Let’s go. It won’t dare to emerge while it’s day. Come to my shop tonight after 6 p.m.”

Wang Chenghao’s adam’s apple shifted slightly, and his chest rose and fell sharply as he nodded his head furiously. However, he didn’t leave. He continued to stare anxiously at Qin Ye.

“Afraid to leave?” Qin Ye pointed at an adjacent booth, “Sit over there.”

“I…” Wang Chenghao pleaded with a hoarse voice, “I-I won’t disturb what you’re doing in any way… don’t leave me…”

“Get over there!”

Wang Chenghao gritted his teeth helplessly as he resigned himself to leave. But, just then, Qin Ye suddenly clutched at his heart and leaned back onto his chair weakly with an extremely pale face.

“Qin Ye! Brother Qin! What happened? What happened to you?!” Wang Chenghao almost jumped at the sight. In that moment of crisis, he didn’t even notice how he had subconsciously elevated Qin Ye’s status in his heart.

Qin Ye didn’t respond. Just underneath where his palm lay, his heart had actually… slowly stopped beating altogether!

This was a feeling that his fleshly body could clearly perceive. It was a feeling of the thread of life slowly drawing to an end.

His surroundings suddenly seemed muted. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. The only sound he could hear was that of his heart painstakingly drawing blood from every single blood vessel in its body as it inched closer to stillness.

His life’s countdown timer had begun!

“Go…” Qin Ye’s face was incredibly pale, yet he still managed to maintain his earlier command to Wang Chenghao.

“I…” Wang Chenghao was both frightened, and at a complete loss as to what he should do.

“Scram!!” Qin Ye’s bellowed with a low voice as the bulging veins on his forehead began to throb.

This time, Wang Chenghao picked up his school bag and dashed straight to the adjacent booth without any unnecessary words, “You must let me know if you need anything!”

The booth was finally silent. Qin Ye could somewhat sense that Arthis was calling out to him. However, his hearing was impaired at this very moment.

His moment of weakness lasted for a full five minutes. It was only after that that his heart gradually resumed its normal pulse, and colour returned to his face once again.

“Haa…” After yet another five minutes, he sighed in relief as he chugged down his tea.

That felt horrible…

He had just experienced the feeling of dying, and he never wanted to experience the same a second time.

“The Moribund Remembrance.” Arthis' voice was grave, “The imbalance in Hell has caused your source of immortality to become shattered. Your name… has once again appeared in the Book of Life and Death. Even though Hell has collapsed and the primordial treasures have been reduced to mere shards, some of these things will continue to function on their own accord. For instance, the Book of Life and Death.”

“Otherwise… this world would be filled with innumerable immortal monstrosities. This accords with the Heavenly Dao.”

Qin Ye nodded his head. Death was knocking on his door. His time… was running out.

“You can be certain that every single person in his family is problematic.” Arthis no longer minced her words, and kept her advice succinct, “The only unknown to us right now is how the problem had begun manifesting - whether by way of possession… or otherwise. What we do know is that Wang Chenghao’s father is the key to unlocking this mystery. He is most certainly dead. However, it is only his soul that is dead. His body still remains alive. There are but a few possible causes for such circumstances.”

“Let me now impart to you the first immutable principle of all Emissaries of Hell. No matter how bizarre the situation may seem, everything is related to a ghost’s obsession prior to his or her death.

“Every ghost is born from obsession. Whether that person died a violent death, or an unjust death, or something completely different altogether, it is invariably their pre-death obsession that keeps their spirit around and prevents them from moving on. Over time, these spirits turn into evil ghosts. When that happens, you can be certain that every single abnormality or peculiarity with the location or person it haunts can somehow be explained by the ghost’s obsession in its previous life. This is because ghosts will instinctively repeat their obsessions after death.

“These details may be minor, but they are most definitely the key to granting deliverance on this spirit.” She concluded affirmatively, “Tonight, when the clock strikes twelve, I’ll teach you how to summon a spirit. We’ll reawaken Wang Zemin’s spirit, and the spotlight shall fall squarely on him.”

2. It’s a doneness that is rarer than rare, damn near raw.

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