The darkest hour was the time before dawn. It was only minutes until daybreak, but the world was still an abyss of darkness. Nothing seemed visible within everyone's line of sight, especially as the fog continued to thicken.
The atmosphere itself was suffused with tension, then the tension reached a breaking point as that sudden yelp of fear made the agitated state of mind of the others' finally collapsed.
One of the few that came along with Chu Feng for the brief expedition almost succumbed to the startle as he teetered and stumbled. The shock went beyond the capacity of his endurance, causing him to throw himself to the ground as he began screaming hysterically.
"What on earth are you screaming for? Are you trying to frighten us to death?" Zhou Quan cursed in rage. He was quite stunned as well. The startle really made his hair stand on the end.
"What did you see?" Chu Feng asked. He had been walking beside Zhou Quan and kept a relatively short distance with the rest of the crew. The dense fog had hindered him from seeing anything outside the range of a few meters.
"Frrrr..." The teeth in that man's mouth chattered together relentlessly and uncontrollably. His lips could not stop trembling. He was in shock, and he had an urge to run, but he was not in control of his faculties. His legs were paralyzed.
"A shadow of something shaped like a ball. There! I see it!"he said in a trilled voice.
At this exact moment, the silence and calm within the carriage was at long last broken. Some women turned into a shrilly screaming beast, while the others dementedly broke out in tears.
This area was an ancient battlefield. Decades of endless war had claimed lives that belonged to thousands. Centuries later, here and now, as dense fog curiously rolled in amidst the tense and distress of many stranded passengers; its uncanny presence seemed to have served as a screen that had hindered more than just people's vision, but also their hope, their will, their confidence, their sanity and their beliefs.
Some people screamed out of terror, but most screamed because they felt powerless in face of an almighty higher power. They screamed because for the first time, they understood that their lives meant nothing to those who wanted change. However senseless or absurd it might be, those in power would nonetheless enforce their policy on those beneath them. Scapegoats were then arbitrarily chosen to lay the path to ensure the completion of their intended change.
"Everyone, stay calm!" shouted Chu Feng.
The shadowy figure still suspended in mid-air. The fog made it seem all the more inconspicuous and ominous.
It was the bawling voice of that man from earlier. He was the closest to the black shadow, standing directly underneath it. Previously, his limbs had all been locked up and paralyzed as fear overtook him, but now, as control over his body restored, he heavily slumped down to the ground, then in a hurry, he tumbled away.
"Blood! Blood! I saw him!" he cried as he hurried away.
"This blood on me is not mine. It's his! It's from that body!" Fright had clearly overcome this man as he tried to suggest something gory about that hovering shadow.
Zhou Quan strode directly towards the shadow. He realized that it was a hanged body, soaked in blood and sluggishly swaying in mid-air.
"Ghost! It's a ghost!" shouted that man who was still in shock. He picked himself up, making a dart for the train car.
Zhou Quan felt a shiver run down his spine. He summoned up his courage and braced himself to approach where Chu Feng
"So there's someone dead here. Do you reckon it's a murder?" asked Zhou Quan as he looked up.
There was a dark pool of something sinking into the fluffy soil underneath; presumably, it must have been blood.
In mid-air, that black shadow was still left swinging in the wind. It was a body, and blood was dripping from it.
"How was he hanged in mid-air?" Despite his braveness, what appeared before him had chilled Chu Feng to the marrow.
"Yes, it is strange indeed. Just look at it. There's absolutely nothing there that has used to hang him! He is literally floating!" Zhou Quan goggled his eyes in disbelief. He drew himself back from the scene a few meters away. To him, this was more bloodcurdling than anything he had ever seen.
People who stayed hidden in the train overheard their conversation. They became even more frightened. Some women shrieked in jitters while others huddled on the corner of their seat, weeping.
"Ghost... ghost... it's a ghost... trust me, it's a ghost... Oh, it's a ghost... ghost..." The man who made the initial frightening discovery made it back to the train. Clearly, this poor old chap still had not freed himself from shock. He was mumbling gibberish while he hopped and skipped in a rather peculiar fashion. His face was as pale as a sheet, but it was embellished with stains of the corpse's dripping blood, giving his pale face a more savage look.
His mad words made the cloud of fright that had suffused the entire carriage more suffocating than before.
Not long after, a horde of well-built and vigorous young men braced themselves to join the two in speculating that swinging corpse.
Chu Feng climbed on top of the train car. There he could have a better look. At the same time, he also had realized that there was no better way than to reach for the corpse from his position if they really wanted to get it down.
But as he stood there, his heart almost dropped and skipped a beat. The apparel the corpse had was an ancient costume. He wore a wig and all the trappings that reflected its time. It followed the typical dressing code of the pre-industrialized era; its form and its trimming would certainly seem odd to any modern eyes.
And as of this moment, a corpse, which had seemingly lost its life just recently, was clothed in a costume so unusual to the current era. Undoubtedly, it would prompt anyone to wonder whether this was a haunting spirit that had risen from the dead.
Furthermore, the length of his unruly thatch of hair was also an uncanny piece of evidence suggesting the corpse's ancient root.
Zhou Quan climbed up after Chu Feng. Despite his chubbiness, his stamina was rather impressive. None of his moves felt clumsy or awkward.
Having witnessed the bravery of the two, those young volunteers soon followed. Fear had dissipated as this expedition crew became larger and stronger.
"What the... Were they shooting for a costume play here? What on earth is he wearing?" The sudden realization of the peculiarity of this scene almost prompted Zhou Quan to shout obscenities as a result of fright.
"What... who is he? Why is he here wearing clothes like that?" One of the few volunteers seemed also a bit at unease.
"Why do I have this funny feeling that this guy might be an ancient. I hope he isn't one of those who was buried here after the war. And... and why is he now just suspending there in mid-air?" said another person.
These were some rather haunting words. They sent shivers and chills up and down the spines of the witnesses.
"Is that... an iron chain on his body? How did it hang in mid-air while being attached to nothing on the other end? How... how is this even possible?"
Zhou Quan could no longer stay unperturbed. He pulled Chu Feng's sleeves and then whispered, "Hey man, I don't think it's a very good idea to provoke this. Everything seemed way too complicated for anyone's good. Let's just go!"
Fog continued to thicken.
In mid-air, some ghostly shapes loomed out of the fog. The outlines bore resemblance to whips of iron chains. They were thick as an arm, drooping around the corpse. This hellish scene seemed like a savage corporal torture of some sort.
The looks on the others dramatically shifted upon hearing Zhou Quan's whispers. They turned and prepared themselves to leap off the train at any time.
"Don't worry. These are just some vines. They are not chains."
Chu Feng clarified just in time, causing a visible shudder to seep over the others.
"Yes. It does look live vines." Many others nodded, eventually ceasing the panic.
"From what I observed, this man may have lost his footing on the cliff above and dropped to his death. These actors have really gone all out in work, even if that comes at the expense of one's life." Someone from the crowd shook his head regretfully.
Chu Feng took off his jacket and clutched at one of its sleeves. Then he slung it with great force, twining the jacket around one of the vines. He put forth his strength, then at last, he pulled over the body entangled by the vines.
"Ah..." Some of the volunteers seemed quite frightened.
"Oh man. You've really got some nerves, don't you. I can't believe you pulled this off just like that." Zhou Quan was taken aback. Fortunately, his calm restored soon after, hurriedly lending Chu Feng his helping hands.
"Over here! Give us a hand!" Zhou Quan beckoned to the others who were with them on the train.
They braced themselves to come closer at the pace of a weary trudge. They all rejected to be treated as a wimp, but none was willing to come into contact with that dead body.
Chu Feng winced as he struggled to pull over the vines and the body. He saw a piece of ancient artifact. Its form was of primitive simplicity, but its appearance here seemed ever so unexpected.
It was a black dagger. It did not have a metallic luster, so it seemed likely to have been cast with black gold. That corpse tightly clutched onto the dagger. He did not loosen his clutch until his last breath.
They pushed aside all the vines, before finally releasing the body from the entanglement.
"A dagger?" Many seemed quite surprised.
Chu Feng prised the black gold dagger from the body's clench. Weighing it in hand, Chu Feng was amazed by its immense weight. The dagger measured only less than an inch in length, but it weighed quite heavily.
"Let me see. Ah!" Zhou Quan was handed over with the dagger, but its excessive weight caught him off-guard. His hand reacted with a jerk, almost causing the blade to drop. "How come it's so heavy?" Zhou Quan jumped back several paces as he let out a cry of astonishment.
The other few seemed fairly disinterested in the dagger. Instead, they gathered around the corpse and gave it a thorough examination.
"Let's move it over there." Zhou Quan passed the dagger to Chu Feng, then he signalled the others to relocate the corpse.
Soon afterwards, some from within the carriage got off the train in curiosity. They gathered around the body. Everyone still seemed filled with apprehension, but at the same time, they all looked puzzled.
The body was heavily built and quite tall. His costume was a misfit to the current era. He had a fatal wound. His chest had been punctured through, leaving a gaping hole the size of a fist that saturated in dripples of fresh blood.
"Clearly, this is the work of an edged tool. Look at the fractured ribs. Even they have been neatly cut," in a whisper, someone pointed out the bizarre form of the wound.
It was a very tragic scene, and a bloody one too. It was a sight too sadistic for the women to lay their eyes upon.
"Hey man, why are you still up there?" Zhou Quan shouted in bewilderment when he saw Chu Feng was still lingering up on the train car.
Chu Feng crooked his finger to beckon Zhou Quan, suggesting him to also join him up here.
Zhou Quan climbed on top of the train car again, then followed Chu Feng along, walking ahead on top of the train.
"Take a look." Chu Feng pointed into the distance.
In the air, arrays of vines hung in tatters. They were dense and crowded.
"There are a lot of mountain vines here," Zhou Quan murmured, "Their roots, I suppose, should be located deep in those mountains. How have they managed to proliferate and elongate so extensively. If this goes on, no trains will possibly be able to run on this line."
"This doesn't look like a mountain vine. Because yesterday, when the train stopped here, I noticed that our nearest mountain was nearly hundreds of miles away. These vines can't possibly just stretch themselves for such an extensive distance, and then somehow decide to stop right by where we are," Chu Feng said as he looked up into the vault of heaven.
Zhou Quan was wide-eyed with astonishment. "If these are not from the mountain, are you saying that these are some sort of divine creatures dropping from the sky?"
Abruptly, he raised his head, looking up into the sky as well.
However, the dense fog made everything seem so vague and indistinct that no one could hardly distinguish anything.
Chu Feng still hung onto that black dagger. He poked aside the overhanging vines and continued along the top of the train.
Suddenly, he halted his pace. His body stiffened, his pupils rapidly constricted, his jaw tightened and his face lost its color. Astonishment had frayed every stand of his nerve.
"Why did we stop here?" Zhou Quan asked as he was trying to catch up.
In a split second, he was petrified as well. He stood transfixed for a moment, then burst into a tirade of foul language.
"What the fxck! Is this the thing that caused that tremble after midnight? What the fxck is this?" He could not believe his eyes. Just like Chu Feng, his initial outburst of rage and astonishment soon put him in a stupefied state of disbelief.
That "thing" was swathed in vines, swinging above the train car.
Zhou Quan raise his head, speaking almost in the form of a somniloquy, "This... this can't be real... this is... a man-made satellite... entangled in vines... suspending in mid-air?"
This was a sight not only hard to believe, but to Chu Feng, it was also a reality hard to accept.