Shengtian, the Jiang's place.
Yang Qing lay in the bedroom, all four limbs tightly constrained by ropes. She had not regained consciousness, but in case she should wake up and hurt someone else, they had to resolve to such measure.
Father, Mother, and Uncle Jiang stood in a row by the bed, their faces ridden with worry.
They had no intention to send Yang Qing to a hospital, for the abnormality was clearly beyond science. Moreover, with the status of the Jiang Family, they had pretty much learned all there was to learn about the current situation.
"When did this happen?" asked Father Jiang.
"She already sounded strange when I called her, but she said herself that she had been eating for a day and a night, so I think it began yesterday morning…"
The look on Uncle Jiang's face was painful as he watched his wife. After decades of their marriage and with his well-established career, he had had his wanton life every now and then out there, but he still cared about his own wife.
"Did anything unusual happen before this?"
"We had a row—that's why she went to live out there. We haven't been talking these past days. I really don't know."
"Sigh, don't get too worried. Let's wait until the kids get here."
Father Jiang could do nothing but pat his younger brother on the shoulder and console him repeatedly.
Phoenix Mountain got the news in the afternoon and it would take them at least over three hours to get here. The three sat idly in the room and without any warning, Yang Qing stirred, then opened her eyes.
"Qing Qing, how are you feeling?" Uncle Jiang immediately went up to her.
"Are you all right? Do you remember what happened?" Mother Jiang also asked.
Watching her family, Yang Qing assumed a dreamy expression for two seconds before the lucidity in her eyes was gone and her face was twisted into a savage expression.
"I'm hungry! Cut me loose! Give me food! I'm hungry! Let go of me! Aaaaaah!"
She looked like a fish struggling at the bottom of a drying riverbed, fighting with all her strength to break free of the ropes while yelling like a mad person. The other three stared at the woman in bed in utter silence, their faces filled with terror.
After a moment, it was Mother Jiang who made the resolute decision to stuff a towel into Yang Qing's mouth. As sound-proofing as the walls were, they were no match to all the screaming.
Seeing this, Uncle Jiang looked even more worried. By now there was sadness in his eyes as well.
Just then, the door downstairs was slammed open and there came the sound of shuffling footsteps, together with Xiaojin's yelling, "How's mum? Dad? Dad?"
The girl dashed into the room after those words and froze on the spot as soon as she caught sight of her mother.
She neither ran to her howling, nor did she shout in rage. She only stood there, then squinted her eyes. A cold and murderous aura was emanating from her.
Even a soap had a line that could not be crossed!
Behind her, the other three filed in. Father Jiang was delighted to see them and greeted, "Xiao Gu, thank you for coming!"
"That's the least I can do!"
They skipped all the small talk. Sitting on either side of the bed, Gu Yu and Xiaozhai each took a hand of Yang Qing's and examined her. He carefully sent in a streak of his refined energy, which slowly threaded through her body.
As the energy explored on, what he found intrigued him even more.
First of all, there was nothing wrong with her physically. Despite of all the food she had eaten, it did not make her sick.
Secondly, her mental state was… well, not exactly unwell. It was only extremely acute and confused, as well as exhausted.
Finally came the biggest problem, which was invisible to ordinary people. One sweep with his mental force and he saw a layer of blackish gray air covering Yang Qing's face.
The air seemed to have life of its own and integrated into one with its host, constantly consuming her vitality. The integration was so seamless and deep into her mind that he dared not dispel it just yet, fearing that the removal process might harm Yang Qing.
He put down her hand after quite a while and looked at his girlfriend, who nodded back at him, apparently having found the abnormality as well. Xiaozhai then said, "Shall we try the Evil-dispelling Dan?"
With that, Xiaozhai took out the gourd, poured out a pill, and fed it to her. Gu Yu kept himself busy as well, helping with guiding the energy so that the medicine could take effect more quickly.
Momentarily, Yang Qing's cheeks flushed and debility-induced sweat covered her forehead. She instinctively tried to struggle, but was pinned down by Xiaozhai. Even her attempt to scream was interrupted halfway—she only made out half a syllable before her voice was sealed and she was left opening her mouth in silence.
About twenty minutes passed when the lump of air stiffened and turned sluggish. Yang Qing also gradually calmed down and fell asleep.
"Xiao... Xiao Gu, Xiaozhai, what's happening to her?"
It was Uncle Jiang's first time meeting Gu Yu and he stuttered a little when asking the young stranger.
"She's fine for now. Let's talk downstairs."
Hence, the group filed down to the living room and sat down.
Three elders turned their attention in unison to certain fellow, who organized his thoughts and began to talk. "It's actually not very complicated. In plain terms, auntie's probably been infected by an evil of Yin."
"An evil of Yin?" Father Jiang was surprised. "But according to the data so far, we haven't found anything like that!"
"That does not mean such a thing did not exist. You know, many of the changes brought by the recovery of spiritual essence had a long brewing time before the sudden outbreak. This one is no exception," explained Gu Yu.
"Aunt is in an extremely confused mental state, as if another force is interfering with it, which we cannot detect. She is wrapped by a layer of black air, which was draining up her vitality. We can only suppress it with our Dan for now," said Xiaozhai.
"Even you cannot detect it?" Frowning slightly, Father Jiang asked, "Is this evil of Yin very powerful? Will you be able to solve it?"
"It is not that powerful, only very unfamiliar, so we don't know yet where to start." Gu Yu then turned to Uncle Jiang. "Please don't worry too much. Things like this do not possess someone for no reason. To solve it, we need to find the source first. Please try to remember, did auntie run into anything strange before this?"
"I really have no id— wait a minute!" Uncle Jiang smacked his own thigh. "She would go for a facial with her friends whenever she's in a bad mood. Let me ask them first!"
Everyone was putting in their thoughts; even Long Qiu would make a suggestion every now and then. Little Soap turned out to be the quietest one; she sat by her sister and did not utter a word.
Late at night, somewhere near Lilac Lake.
It was a little over ten o'clock and the street was deserted. The construction sites on either side of the road were enclosed in clapboards, making the place as still as a dead city. All of a sudden, the sound of a car engine came from afar, followed by the flash of the headlights.
The car drove near and stopped by the side of the road for no obvious reason. A couple walked out, who turned out to be Gu Yu and Xiaozhai.
"Is it here?"
"Um, should be around here."
The two went straight to business. Each taking a side of the road, they began to sweep the ground.
Earlier, Uncle Jiang made what felt like a hundred phone calls and finally came up with something: two nights before, Yang Qing got a flat tire on this street and it took forever to have the car towed away.
Xiaojin had wanted to come, but they ordered her to stay behind with Long Qiu. The latter was more capable and would be able to deal with unexpected problems.
"What was this place?" Gu Yu asked in passing.
"Used to be a farmland with villages around it. It is so remote out here that it was only included in the development plan a couple of years ago, for buildings and stuff," replied Xiaozhai.
"No wonder. Those things would never have shown up in populated areas… Why?"
With his mental force turned full on, even a grass would not get past him. Soon, he detected something unusual. He walked a couple of steps forward to his left, picked up a tiny fragment, and looked at it closely.
The material was some timeworn coarse pottery and couldn't look more ordinary, yet for some reason, it just felt out of the place. He immediately searched the surrounding ground and found a lot of similar pieces.
"Hey, check these out!" He called his girlfriend over. Xiaozhai took a glimpse and the look on her face was hard to describe. "I've seen it before when I was little."
"In Songjiang River. There was this beggar in town who carried it along all the time."
Xiaozhai took over the fragments and after some rearranging, she put them back into something resembling half a bowl. "That's it. It was indeed a coarse pottery bowl."
"It has a hint of, well, energy that I can't describe." Gu Yu thought for a moment and went on, "It feels to have something to do with its owner. Maybe an obsession?"
"Exactly! That explains everything." Xiaozhai nodded.
The couple had suspected all along that Yang Qing was possessed by a ghost. Only that they did not have any evidence, so they had to vaguely name it an evil of Yin. With the fragments in hand and considering the history and surroundings of Lilac Lake, they soon put everything together.
The area surrounding Lilac Lake had always been remote villages since the end of Qing Dynasty, which did not develop much further after the modern country was established. People here lived off the farmlands, which was the lifestyle of several villages.
Their general condition could be summarized in one word: impoverished!
Having not enough food and very little clothing, not to mention the looming plagues and diseases, men died easily those days—some of them turned into corpses by the side of the road without a family member to bury them. Decades later, new building sites were planned and new ditches dug; the broken bowl was probably unearthed during the process and just happened to be ran over by Yang Qing.
Of course, the details of how it got to her was not important. What mattered was that, it was really a bloody ghost!
Ghosts had never shown up in the picture up to now.
However, from the examination earlier, they concluded that it was a type of spirit energy, which was invisible, undetectable, and intangible. It was only through mental force that they were faintly aware of its existence.
Plenty of folklore was set around ghosts possessing human bodies, but based on their observation, the ghost was not attached to the body, but to the soul. Those possessed would usually have their mind distracted and their energy consumed at a tremendous speed, as well as presenting certain obsession of the dead person.
Such as: hunger!
It was a most thorny problem. They dared not dispel the thing with Thunder Technique or the circulation of the spiritual essence straight away. Should anything go wrong, their aunt's mind would be damaged.
The two searched for a while longer and made no other discovery. They then went back to the car with the broken bowl, but did not start the car right away.
After an unexplainable silence, Gu Yu suddenly chuckled. "Ha, we used to ask ourselves 'why didn't any ghost show up' all the time. Now that they do show up, it feels rather strange. Hey, Zhongyuan Festival is almost coming. Are we going to have a 'Night Parade of One Hundred Ghosts'?"
"I was just thinking that if there are ghosts, how about the netherworld? What about reincarnation?" Xiaozhai gave him an irrelevant answer, which was equally strange.
Then there was more silence.
To some people, ghosts did not bring fear, but hope. Especially when they were desperately missing someone who had passed away, they would not give up any chance to see them again.
"Well, we'll see how things turn out when they happen. Let's focus on solving this thing at hand now." It seemed forever when Gu Yu spoke again. "With what we have, I'm afraid we're not qualified to handle it. I think we should turn to the professionals."
"Agreed! Speaking of ghost-hunting, who better to talk to if not Maoshan Sect?"