There was no needless, banal chatter. Qin Ye reported the location of his destination, and Wang Chenghao drove straight to it.
Clear Creek County was hardly large by any means, and they arrived at their destination in just under ten minutes. It was the Ethnic Minority Street.
As soon as they arrived, Qin Ye immediately opened his eyes. Just as Qin Ye was about to hop off the car, he suddenly paused in his steps.
“This is…” He couldn’t quite believe what he had just sensed, so he whipped his head around and looked straight into the sky.
Such dense Yin energy!
And this is even more terrifying than Arthis’ earlier display of Yin energy! Yet, it feels as though I’ve experienced this sensation before?
His eyes brightened, and he reached into his robes and pulled out a crimson stone that appeared to have been cut into a triangle. After sensing the undulating might hidden in the depths of the crimson stone, he exclaimed in horror, “This is… another shard of King Yanluo’s Seal?”
“And it’s… actually moving closer to my location?”
Before he could finish speaking, a tiny cloud of smoke suddenly appeared in the sky and hurtled towards Qin Ye just like a meteor.
Whoosh! Then, just as it drew closer and closer to Qin Ye, the meteor suddenly stopped and hung in mid-air. Qin Ye took a closer look at it. Sure enough…
It was crimson-red.
And it sported the exact same cut marks.
“Is this really another shard of King Yanluo’s Seal?” Qin Ye stared at the hovering shard, completely flabbergasted as he continued with disbelief, “How did it find its way here and track me down?”
“Leave this place… immediately.” Arthis’ voice sounded so weak that it seemed almost on the verge of disappearing, “Clear Creek County… has some experts - some true experts… They might have travelled here from Lotus City recently…”
“He’s… killed the puppet master.”
“Are you okay?” Hearing Arthis’ voice immediately set his heart and mind at ease.
After all, something that he had traded the Sixfold Ghost Kings Summoning Scroll for should never be allowed to perish so quickly…
“I’m not dying… Kid, regarding these shards… It’s only when the owner of these shards die that they would automatically search out the next closest shard to fuse with it. These shards are of great use. As soon as you gather two pieces, Yin and Yang would meet… cough cough cough…”
“Don’t speak for now.” Qin Ye’s voice was finally laced with a touch of sincerity. Perhaps it might have been a result of the fact that Arthis had lent him a hand in the most crucial of times. Regardless, Qin Ye continued in earnest, “Let’s negotiate? Would you be willing to die a bit later? Could you let me milk you for what you’re worth first?”
Forcibly suppressing the netherfire that was raging in her heart, she gritted her teeth and continued, “Do the math. How long have we been here? Less than twenty minutes, right? This person… cough cough… the period of time from his appearance to his disposal of the puppet master… couldn’t have taken more than ten minutes.... He’s at least of the Anitya Hellguard level! The traces of the shard’s movement can’t be easily concealed. Even if he couldn’t be bothered with it right away, he’s most certainly still going to rush here at the earliest possible moment. I estimate we’ve got one hour at most…”
“I’m going to take a rest now. And I’m afraid it’s going to be for several months at that… Take care of yourself. Remember to keep the shards safe… and wait for me to wake up…”
As soon as she finished, Qin Ye no longer heard even a whisper from her.
After squeezing the two shards together and muttering to himself for several seconds, he solemnly placed the shards into his pockets and dashed into the heart of the Ethnic Minority Street.
“Eh… Qin Ye! Wait for me! You’re hurt!”
“Sit tight in the car!” Qin Ye responded, “Wang Chenghao, don’t be mistaken… We have just one hour, but I don’t mean one hour before we leave this place. Rather, it’s the time we have from now until we clear the borders of Clear Creek County… In other words, once tomorrow comes, we won’t be able to leave this place any longer.”
“You must go back and pack your things immediately. As soon as I’m done with my business here, you’ll have to be waiting here for me! Gas up and brace yourself. You’ll be driving all night later. The further we leave this place behind us, the better!”
Wang Chenghao gnashed his teeth as he departed.
Qin Ye fought back the dizzying sensation that was plaguing him. A gale of Yin energy swept eerily, and Qin Ye was back in his Hell’s Emissary uniform in just an instant. As the rushing sound of wind swept past his ears, Qin Ye quickly found his way to the end of the Ethnic Minority Street.
Incidentally, it was also the cheapest rental house in the area.
“House number 81… This is it!”
It was filthy. The trash and garbage along the doorstep hadn’t been cleared out for a long time. The curtains were tightly drawn, and traces of dark patches could even be seen on the windows. The appearance of the entire house made it look no different from a tomb of sorts.
The lights were all off.
A bad premonition arose in Qin Ye’s heart. He immediately rushed over and kicked open the door.
It was pitch-black inside. As soon as he switched on his flashlight, he let out a sigh of dismay.
He had been late.
A corpse was hanging from the roof of the small rental house.
The deceased had perished in the same manner as the previous deceased persons in the hotel. Several black threads were connected to different parts of his body, suspending him from an old ceiling fan as though he were a discarded puppet. It was no longer possible to see the deceased person’s original appearances. The black threads had wrapped around the corpse so tightly that they had cut straight through his flesh in several locations. It was almost akin to fish in a hanging net. A large, crimson pool of blood lay right under the corpse.
This man was none other than the corpse bearer who had taken on the corpse-bearing assignment from Eastsea Province.
Even though this man was dead, his Yin energy was still lingering in the air. In other words, he must not have died a very long time ago. By Qin Ye’s estimate, he should have perished earlier that day.
“The first thing that Lin Chaosheng had done was to kill and silence him…” His lead was gone. Qin Ye gazed into the distance where Rivergorge City was located, “I’ll only be able to find more traces of the mastermind from the next evil ghost residing in Rivergorge City…”
Shaking his head in disappointment, Qin Ye turned around and left the scene.
Forty minutes later, Wang Chenghao returned timeously to pick up Qin Ye from the Ethnic Minority Street. He only brought with him a single backpack.
The moon hung high in the night sky, accompanied by bright constellations in its surroundings.
Under the dim illumination of the stars and the moon, they began to make their journey out of Clear Creek County and onto the national highway with some measure of apprehension weighing on their hearts. After all, the eruption of large-scaled supernatural incidents had only begun recently, and it was evident that even the Special Investigations Department wasn’t prepared for something like this. Otherwise, they would have locked down the entire Clear Creek County in no time at all.
Or perhaps it was due to the fact that this was the very first incident on such a scale that had occurred, and the Special Investigations Department was simply not given the authority to call the shots just yet. The relaying of orders took time, and this provided Qin Ye and Wang Chenghao the opportunity to slip out in the interim.
“Brother Qin, where are we headed to?” Wang Chenghao asked as he continued to shoot down the highway.
Qin Ye looked at the map in his hands, thought for a moment, before responding, “Stillight City.”
“It’s along the north-south latitude from where we’re located. Furthermore… Stillight City has an airport that charters periodic flights to Lotus City. The high speed train also passes through from time to time. After all… we’ll be entering college soon, won’t we?”
Wang Chenghao nodded his head. The further away from Clear Creek County he got, the more settled his heart felt.
The daily temperature fluctuations in autumn could be quite substantial, and it was already fairly cold and chilly at night. Neither of them spoke. That said, Wang Chenghao had just been through some life-changing experiences, and he wanted to pour out his heart to someone, especially Qin Ye. Thus, as he continued to drive along the national highway, he also continued to steal glances at Qin Ye from time to time. Finally, after ten long minutes, he couldn’t help but break the stifling silence, “Brother Ye… are you alright?”
A sea of stars were visible in the sky tonight. Qin Ye appeared somewhat out of it as he gazed into the sky, before finally nodding his head sullenly. After pondering for several moments more, he added, “You don’t need to worry about me… I’m currently switching modes.”
Wang Chenghao: “???”
“... Like I said earlier, people have a thousand faces. If I’m always giving it my all in life, I might earn the respect of some, but I might also draw flak from others. So, in order to err on the side of caution and prefer survival over anything else, I’ve learnt that you’ve got to let your hair down sometimes… Do you have a cigarette?”
Wang Chenghao pulled out a packet of cigarettes and passed it to Qin Ye, who promptly lit one up. He rarely smoked to begin with, so he choked and sputtered for a little before finally taking a deep drag of the cigarette, “Wang Chenghao, I know a lot of people, and they’ve all been giving it their all for their entire lives. These people have everything, from cars, to houses, to even a throng of famous actresses pursuing them. However… as soon as they start to ponder about the meaning and purpose of life, these people would invariably feel… an onset of weariness sweep over their bodies.”
“That’s right. Some people may pursue a successful career. However… I’m different from most people.”
“I’ve seen… far too many things. In fact, some of the experiences I’ve had might even be labelled by others as exaggerated stories or stuff of legends. Regardless, life is simply far too long and arduous in my eyes. I do possess the capacity to muster moments of courage to give it my all when circumstances begin to threaten the stability of my life. However, there’s just no way I can maintain it for my entire life, because there’s just no end in sight…”
“So, as soon as I’ve manifested these moments of courage, I would always allow myself to return to a far more relaxed state. You can call me what you want - even a piece of trash. But, I sincerely believe that people have to treat each set of circumstances with the appropriate attitude and personas.”
He flicked his finger, and the glowing ember of the cigarette flew out of the window, painting a bright red arc in the dark night sky.
Wang Chenghao pursed his lips lightly. These teachings were similar to the conversations that he has had with his father on several occasions in the past. But, he had never taken his father’s advice to heart. Yet when Qin Ye expressed these thoughts in all sincerity, Wang Chenghao completely bought it.
He couldn’t help but recall the things he had done over the last decade or so. On closer examination… what have I ever achieved?
Apart from riding on my father’s coattails, idling around, fighting and getting laid, what else have I done?
He was supposed to treat his studies - and even his life - with the commensurate amount of respect it deserves. Yet, he didn’t. Qin Ye was akin to an alarm clock that was ticking down at a constant pace - as soon as the timer hit zero, it would explode with incessant ringing. He, on the other hand, was no different from a mere watch, muddling along the path of life, not knowing when exactly he should explode and fight for his life.
When he saw Qin Ye’s bloody battle with the puppet master on the fifth floor of the Fenglai Hotel earlier, his heart had been violently shaken.
It was as though a dawn of light had shone through the sea of perplexing darkness in his heart.
He didn’t know exactly what kind of realization he had just come to. However, the one thing he knew for certain was that he had begun to despise his past self.
“I… will do my best.” He muttered softly, yet his utterances were quickly blown away by the wind as it dissipated into the darkness of night.
Even though Wang Chenghao’s voice had been soft, Qin Ye still picked up on it acutely, and he couldn’t help but roll his eyes at Wang Chenghao - What’s it to do with me whether you try your best or not?
Qin Ye had a long life ahead of him. There were far too many sojourners in his life, yet few could be considered his true friends. To him, the prerequisite for true friendship was a relationship that spanned decades of time. At present, Wang Chenghao had merely just been elevated into the ranks of acquaintances. He was still in a period of probation.
“Should we listen to some music?” Wang Chenghao felt ill at ease. He was hardly thick-skinned when all was said and done. To a person whose reputation precedes him, the admission of his fear in front of a newfound friend was something incredibly embarrassing and daunting. Thus, he immediately sought to cover it up and change the topic.
Wang Chenghao switched on his cell phone, and the first song that was played was a Nipponese song that Qin Ye had heard before. It was called “Bluebird”, and it had a pleasant melody.
The clear female voice resounded clearly throughout the car. However, the two students couldn’t help but frown in disapprobation. Given their current circumstances, they would very much prefer a softer tune.
Thus, before Qin Ye could even speak, Wang Chenghao changed the song of choice without hesitation. A softer melody danced to the tune of the night breeze.
“Wandering aimlessly on the roads...”
Qin Ye’s eyes shifted slightly.
“Are you leaving? To where, to where? Fragile but proud… That is how I once was…”
“Stirring, unsettling…” Qin Ye couldn’t help but sing along, “Enigmatic and silent… are you truly listening to my story…”
This was one of the few songs he could actually remember the lyrics to.
“I once crossed mountains and great oceans, and traversed a sea full of people. Once, all things were mine, but in the blink of an eye they have dissipated like wisps of smoke…” His soft accompaniment drifted dearly into the dark of night. As Wang Chenghao listened quietly to the melody that was sung, it suddenly dawned on him just how much the song complements Qin Ye. 
Both had their stories to tell. Their stories were simple, but also stirred with undertones of being weathered and worn.
Just then, Wang Chenghao’s phone suddenly buzzed with a disruptive beep. A mechanical voice quickly followed, “Your download is complete. Do you want to open the file?”
He paused for a moment before smacking his head, “Brother Qin, do you want to know what exactly happened after we left?”
“You can check?” Qin Ye responded with incredulity.
Too many things had happened after they had left the Fenglai Hotel.
Yet the single most important question that was weighing on his mind was… Who killed the puppetmaster?
1. RWX - This song is one of my FAVORITES. It is called 平凡之路, ‘The Ordinary Path’, and you should listen to it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjTT5_RSkw4. It is so so so so SO good!