Chapter 36 – Pillar of Nature (16)
First Published on Wattpad, Reposted on Ainushi
The small puppet cackles, and stabs Zhao on the cheek with its tiny finger bones. It then points towards a wall not far away, and cackles again.
Zhao raises the torch, and finds some writings on the wall.
“Well, you don’t have eyeballs, but your eyeholes are sharp… that’s Hanga language.” Zhao moves closer, and touches the wall lightly, “no… strictly speaking the Hangas didn’t have their own language, this must be a special kind of spell.”
The small skeleton says, “ga… ga…?”
“Don’t ask me, I’m not a multilingual dictionary, god knows what that means.” Zhao moves in even closer, and murmurs, “but I do know that in Hanga culture, round shapes were considered benign and peaceful, whereas cornered shapes were considered evil. For instance a triangle is the prison of spirits, and I saw an octagon too but I haven’t yet figured out what it means…”
He runs his fingers across the writings, and finds an octagonal symbol.
“There it is,” Zhao says calmly, “great, now the scary part comes.”
A huge explosion interrupts him, and the entire cave quivers. Zhao almost loses his balance, and the small puppet screeches as it tightly clutches Zhao’s collar and hair. A flaming dragon howls and comes rushing forward; Zhao holds on to the wall and puts the little skeleton in his arms, a blazing red light shines on his face.
The flickering flames reflect on his black irises, with a peculiarly scorching coldness. Zhao pats the scaredy skeleton on its skull, “don’t hang on to my clothes, get in my watch if you’re scared.”
The small puppet forgets all about his master’s orders, and turns into a cloud of grey mist and jumps into his watch. The next moment, a wave of flare engulfs him.
Zhao clutches a paper talisman in his hand, but it doesn’t burn in the fire, and he doesn’t feel the heat either.
Zhao hesitates, and puts away the talisman. He looks up to the vortex of flames sweeping the entire cave clean, but the fire doesn’t touch him. As the fire wears away, the octagonal symbol on the wall falls off along with a pinch of mud.
He quickly catches it and puts it in an empty cigarette box.
Then, larger pieces of the wall begin to crumble, and as Zhao wipes off the dirt, a wall painting vaguely emerges.
Perhaps due to its age, most of the painting is obscured. The symbols on it are very abstract, they’re scattered all over the place like a stream of consciousness. Maybe an archaeologist can figure it out, but not Zhao. He studies the painting till his eyes almost become short-sighted, and still he has no clue what it’s about.
He loses interest quickly, and continues walking. Suddenly, he thinks of something and stops, and looks at the wall from further away. The torch light shines on to the top of the painting, then forty five degrees downwards, theee o’clock position, then forty five degrees downwards…
He realises that the painting makes a giant octagon, and each corner has a small octagon.
Zhao stares at the painting, and starts searching in his pockets: wallet, some coins inside, and credit cards and receipts and finally, a small piece of scruffy paper… teared off from an ancient book.
It’s a page about Luobula restriction magic from the Ancient Scroll of Dark Magic. For some reason, he didn’t show it to Chu.
On it is a drawing of a hideous monster, with six arms, a head and only one leg, each pointing to one corner of an octagon. The monster looks ferocious and menacing, and its wide-open jaws hold a mountain, while its left chest has an octagonal symbol on it.
“The mountain is in its mouth, and that thing is in its heart…” Zhao pauses for a moment, and sticks the old map he carries around on to the wall.
Zhao then puts the drawing of the monster on to the map, and slowly rotates the map, turning South upwards. He marks a line with his fingernail connecting the monster’s mouth with its heart and finally to the deepest part of the stone cave.
The strange fire in the valley, the skulls at the mountaintop, and the dark magic of the extinct tribe: these things all seem to hold a deeper and darker secret.
And why did Wang run off here on her own?
Why is she so obsessed with her hundred-year-old corpse?
Zhao has an ominous feeling… when he finds Wang Zheng, he will lock her up in a dark room for a month, this troublesome suicidal girl!
Zhao keeps heading into the cave, which keeps getting narrower and narrower. He lowers his head and keeps walking, almost developing a chronic spinal injury, and only then does he arrive at the end.
There is another door, with the six-armed monster engraved on it, the same one from the page Zhao teared off.
Except it doesn’t look terrifying, it looks terrified.
Zhao slowly raises his hand, and as his palm touches the door, his chest sinks as if having a heart attack. But he does not hesitate and pushes the door open. He finds himself on the edge of a cliff in the mid-ranges, and below him is the mysterious valley.
He feels as though he were standing amidst a stormy ocean: heavy waves crush towards his chest, suffocating him.
The sun is still up, but the clouds enshroud the sun and no light can shine through. Zhao pauses for a moment, then walks ahead.
He takes the first step, and something is triggered.
From deep under the earth comes a silent wave of lamentation, like ripples on water, spreading out from the mountains of the Hanga people.
This valley contains something… something mystical.
Zhao walks towards the valley, and the air gets thinner and thinner; the force that clutches and squashes his chest grows stronger and stronger. His temples seem to be clasped and crushed: only he can hear the rapid pumping of his veins. His vision darkens, and he slowly adjusts his breathing… he would be exhausted if he breathes too vigorously.
His intuition tells him: if there is something that Wang cannot forget even after so many years since she died, it wouldn’t be her corpse, it would be this.
The small skeleton hiding in his watch sticks its skull out, and crashes its jaws together. It seems to be saying something, but it’s clearly scaredy; it wants to stop Zhao, but it doesn’t dare come out.
Zhao pushes it back into his watch, and moves forward against the overwhelming pressure with a sombre expression. He takes out three yellow paper talismans, but they are different from the ones he used before: they each have “Guardian” written on them. If the black cat were here, it would recognise them, as these are the legendary Guardian Order.
He doesn’t make any other movements, and keeps walking. For every step, one of the talismans will burn up, and as the final one burns and disappears, a long whip appears in his hand with three whipping sounds. The whip seems to be alive, it extends forward and pulls him along… until he sees a disappearing white shadow.
Zhao’s face darkens. He sends the whip flying, and pulls the white shadow towards him. Wang’s plastic body is long gone, and her spirit is incredibly feeble. She looks at him with the calm gaze of a dying person.
“Motherfucking, you must have lost your kind.” Zhao pulls her over and furiously stuffs her into his watch. In this moment, his agonised heart is about to explode, “this fucking place.”
Zhao has Wang now, and immediately decides to head back. But something seems to have attracted him, and he inadvertently looks up to where Wang was standing.
He sees a colossal stone monument, a few dozens metres tall, towering from the Earth into the Heavens. It’s entirely black, thicker at the top and thinner at the bottom, like a gigantic wedge nailed into the ground. At the bottom is a
ruined ritual site. Hanga spells are engraved all over stones at the ritual site, and the offering table is filled with freshly-prepared bloody offerings.
The moment when Zhao sees the humongous tower, a million faces emerge on it, tightly packed together in a giant horde. Each of them is mourning and screeching in agony and suffering; cacophonous wails pierce though his ears. It’s the sharp shrieks made by millions of people at the same time, with all their might.
It’s as if a huge boulder crushed on to his chest. A sharp whistle echoes inside his brain. His entire body suffers in acute and tormenting pain. He vomits and blood gushes out of his mouth. He struggles to stand up but he can’t feel his limbs. His knees bend, and he falls backwards.
For a few seconds, Zhao sees and hears nothing. His chest vigorously quivers in agony and eventually becomes numb.
I can’t pass out here, he thinks. He decisively takes out a knife with his bloodied hand and slashes towards his other hand.
A freezing hand stops him. Zhao is pulled into someone’s arms. Amidst the odour of blood he picks up a familiar scent… the odd aroma that comes from Hell.
Is it… the Ghost Slayer?
Zhao’s knife falls to the ground. His heart softens, and he falls unconscious.