Chapter 34 – Pillar of Nature (14)
First Published on Wattpad, Reposted on Ainushi
All is quiet in the small mountain hut. Zhao’s friend contacts Lin, telling him that the road will probably be blocked for another three to four days. Shen briefly discusses with the students and they agree that given the aftermath of the avalanche, the survivors in River Village probably wouldn’t want to entertain them. They decide to head back to Dragon City when Zhao returns.
The class captain heats up some milk for Da Qing, and starts preparing breakfast. The students are told by the Professor to help Lin clean up the courtyard.
It’s a simple and violent task… under Lin’s directions, they dig up all the skulls that were trying to bite them last night, and line them up on the ground. The fake monk takes a giant rock and smashes all of them to pieces.
A while later, Zhu returns with a gigantic bag: its taller than a person. Superwoman puts down the bag, takes out a small bottle, heats it, and gobbles the liquid down. Then she quickly takes over what Lin has been doing, and smashes the skulls one by one like smashing walnuts. Success rate a whopping one hundred percent, it’s efficient and quality work.
This straightforward and brutal morning workout continues until the girl inside calls them in for breakfast.
Zhu must be on drugs: she pushes away a boy and Da Qing who’s drawn to Shen, and squeezes on to a spot next to Shen. She says impolitely, “Professor Shen, can you pass me the chocolate sauce.”
She mixes sweet with savoury: one cannot imagine what chocolate beef jerky would taste like. Zhu eats while peeking at the calm and reserved Shen. She pretends to focus on dipping chocolate sauce, and says without looking up, “our Chief is courting you.”
Shen pauses and looks at her.
Zhu is still looking down, and says as if making small talk, “you wouldn’t have not noticed, would you?”
Shen’s expression doesn’t change, and he doesn’t answer either. He hands her another pack of chocolate sauce, “want some more?”
Zhu stops talking, and looks up; she stares at Shen with a very peculiar gaze. Her round irises gradually contract into two thin slits: the eyes of a cold- blooded animal. The snake eyes look exceptionally creepy on her pretty face.
But Shen only glances at her, and focuses back on the food as if nothing happened.
“Then do you like him?” Zhu lowers her voice and asks softly by his ear.
Shen asks calmly, “why do you want to know?”
“I…” Zhu’s eyes roll around, “I’m nosy, every exploited and oppressed employee has the right to be nosy about their boss.”
Shen looks at her with a half-smile, “if you’re so nosy, can’t you figure it out yourself?”
Shen laughs lightly, and takes the pot of heated milk with a wet tissue; he asks, “this food is dry, want something to drink?”
Zhu’s face is slightly distorted, and struggles to fake a smile, “sure, I’ll have some, thanks!”
Zhu carelessly crushes a few dents on the outer layer of a thermos cup. Shen doesn’t seem to notice, and pours her some milk; he says, habitually considerate, “drink it while it’s warm.”
The dents on the cup deepen in her grasp.
A hint of smile flashes across his eyes, and Shen puts the pot back. Suddenly, he feels something, and turns around looking out the window. His face changes.
Zhu doesn’t know whether she is over-sensitive or not, but Shen’s sombre expression makes her very uncomfortable. Instinctively, she wants to move away from him, but she stops herself.
Why would she be afraid of a helpless university teacher?
Sunlight shines on Shen’s lenses, reflecting a blinding gleam.
“I’m full,” shortly, Zhu hears him say, “I’ll go tidy up the courtyard. You guys don’t run off on your own, listen to the police officers.”
He walks out to the courtyard.
Nobody is paying attention to this small interlude… what’s odd is, twenty minutes later, everyone has finished their breakfast, and nobody realises that Shen is missing as they enter the courtyard.
He is like someone who never existed. Including Zhu and Lin, nobody realises there ought to be one more person.
Ten minutes later, the missing Shen appears at the spot where Wang’s “arm” was found.
He doesn’t even have a jacket. The wind whips up the collar of his shirt and his hair; snow falls on his lenses. He doesn’t seem to feel the cold.
Shen stands below the cliff, looks around, and suddenly extends his arm. His palm faces downwards in a clawing gesture.
His hand is incredibly pale, and green veins emerge clearly, as if his body were meticulously crafted. The ground shakes with his movement, the wind strengthens and whirls into a howling vortex, soaring into the clouds like a sharp blade. Then, the entire ground is lifted up in mid-air, and beneath the thick layer of ice is a cracked layer of frost soil.
At this instant, something drills out of the ground and shoots at Shen from behind like an arrow.
A mixture of decaying odour and floral aroma slowly spreads. The next moment, Shen turns around at a speed imperceptible by the naked eye, and clutches the other’s neck.
The thing that he picks up by the neck is a spirit beast.
Shen’s eyebrows twitch, and his face is filled with ferocity.
The spirit beast’s throat crackles, its bloodshot eyes glare at Shen.
“Rules are rules.” Shen says without an expression, “you blatantly crossed the line, and came here without permission. Punishable by death.”
The spirit beast is lifted up and struggles mid-air like a dying fish.
Shen tightens his grip, and the spirit beast wriggles vigorously, then stops moving.
He throws it on the ground, and the corpse disappears as it touches the snow. A peculiar flower emerges from the snow.
Shen stomps on it and crushes it in two without looking.
He points his finger to the ground, and a black line extends vaguely across the snow and up the cliff into the stone cave along a trail of subtle footprints. Soon, something cracks explosively, and Shen’s eyes shine. The black line breaks into pieces.
At the same time, a sharp screech echoes from far away, and eight spirit beasts emerge from the ground. These look different from the ones Zhao saw on the rooftop. Each of them is at least three metres tall, red-eyed and howling ferociously; the snowy mountains quiver.
A cloud of grey mist emerges underneath his feet, and intimately swivels around his legs. Shen touches it with his toe, and the cloud flies into the stone cave.
Then, a black blade emerges in Shen’s hand: three feet and three inches long, incredibly thick and pitch black. There is only a slight glimmer at the edge of the blade… only the souls that will be slayed can see it.
The howling stops. In just a split second, they’re all beheaded simultaneously.
The humongous beasts crumble down. Then, a few even larger ones emerge, like undying weeds. It seems like someone desperately wants to stall him.
As for Zhao and the guys, they are inside the cave. At first, the cave seems ordinary, but as they move forward it gets deeper and darker, and eventually pitch black. Zhao turns on a torch.
Around a hundred metres further in, a door blocks their way.
Under the torch light, the door cannot be clearly seen, but it seems to be made of some ancient alloy; it’s rusty, and three skulls hang on top and on both sides. There is an inverted triangle marked on the door.
“A triangle? Is it Luobula restriction magic?” Chu moves closer and puts on gloves. He carefully runs his fingers on the door, and then knocks on it lightly as he puts his ear against it. He says, “there must be some hidden switch, it’s not that complicated, I will examine it.”
Zhao kicks Guo on the butt, “move in closer and learn from your brother Chu.”
Guo mindlessly stumbles forward.
Chu looks down on him with disdain… the arrogant and intelligent probably all disregard the dummies. But since the Chief is here, he examines the door while responsibly explaining, “it’s nothing remarkable, you will learn as you watch more.”
He says while taking out a torch. He points the torch at the door gap, and peeks inside. He says, “there is one thick column with thirty five small ones, making a total of thirty six. Since it’s divisible by six, they’re probably all hooked together.”
He signals Guo, “get down, I’ll step on your shoulders.”
Guo kneels down like a dog.
Chu doesn’t give him an easy time: he steps right on to Guo, and starts knocking at the triangle.
It’s not easy sustaining the weight of a man… though Chu is very skinny, Guo is very feeble. Soon, he starts shaking; afraid that Chu might fall, he grits his teeth and stays still.
When Guo thinks he is about to be squashed, Chu jumps down and says, “there are thirty six iron columns behind this door; because of the secret switches there are hollow spots. The materials are different too, so density varies. If your hearing is sensitive enough, you’ll be able to tell the difference with practice.”
Guo kneels on the floor, eyes wide open, huffing and panting with his mouth agape; he doesn’t understand a word he’s saying!
Chu glances at him, and ignores him. He is only talking to Zhao behind him, “now that I know it’s general structure, I’ll have to guess the details from experience.”
Chu triggers a switch and pulls out a piece from the centre of the triangle; Guo is startled and sits on the floor, falling backwards.
Chu runs his fingers across a circle and turns around, “there are thirty six columns round this circle, I guess only three can be triggered. Which three do you think it is, Chief Zhao?”
“South, Northwest, Northeast.” Zhao says without thinking.
Guo finally hears something he thinks he can talk about, and quickly asks, “so… are we counting upwards as North, downwards as South, left West and right East?”
Chu and Zhao tacitly ignore his existence.
Guo’s self-esteem is severely crushed; he doesn’t dare say anything else.
In this instant, his drooping head is pulled up, and Zhao shines the torch at the door. He points to the left and says, “what’s that?”
Guo says stupidly, “… mountains.”
Zhao violently turns his head to the right, “what about that?”
“The Hanga people lived between the rivers and the mountains, from the mid- levels down to the valley… I told you earlier, idiot… because of the mountains it was hard for them to tell directions. To them, upwards were the mountains, and that’s the South, downwards were the water, and that’s the North. What’s with the left West and right East,” Zhao smacks him on the head, “even a pig is smarter than you!”
As they are talking, Chu has already cracked the secret switches; the door opens slowly.
A humid and decaying odour engulfs their nostrils.