Chapter 51 - Duped

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“Rubble Village? No, we’re Clear Pond Village,” replied the young man as he shook his head. His voice sounded grave as he said, “Please, listen to me and leave this village as soon as you can!”

“Thank you for the warning, but what was that you said about this village being cursed by some evil spirit? What stupid reason is that? My friends have died here, so I suspect someone in the village murdered them.” Su Jin pretended like he didn’t believe in the supernatural and insisted on finding an actual human murderer.

The young man was surprised by Su Jin’s insistence. He hesitated for a moment, then said, “I’m not lying to you. Didn’t you notice that all your friends died very strangely? All of them looked like they were drowned, although they were in a place that didn’t even have water.”

“Well, if what you say is true, then please tell us the reason behind it,” Kano Mai spoke up.

“I don’t know much either, but I know that every time there’s a snowstorm, at least 13 people in the village will die. This is the fourth time this is happening.”

Su Jin’s mind started working quickly but he kept his doubtful expression on. “What sort of strange logic is this? Even if some people did die around the same time, the first possibility you should consider is murder, right? Why would you assume it’s some curse?”

“Because…because I remember when I was very young, the village chief got drunk and I heard him say that this was a curse brought upon Clear Pond Village by a woman. That the village had let her down.”

The young man could see that everyone was still deep in thought, so he said in a frustrated voice, “I’ve already told you everything I know. If you still stubbornly insist on staying here, then…good luck to that!”

After he left, Su Jin began analyzing everything the young man said. He said to Yu Guangde, “I’ve got an idea, but I’ll need you and Mr. Yang to come outside with me.”

“Sure,” Yu Guangde agreed and called Yang Mo over.

Su Jin led both of them up a small hill behind the ancestral hall. This small hill was the source of their drinking water and the spring was somewhere on this hill.

The three of them followed the stream of water up the mountain and climbed for slightly more than 30 minutes before they finally arrived at the supposed source of the water. Su Jin told the other two to be vigilant, then bent down to inspect this water source carefully.

“See anything yet?” asked Yu Guangde.

Su Jin nodded and pointed to the source, “Look at where the water’s coming from. I’ve looked carefully at it and it’s a typical spring. Normally, water from such a source would be really clean and clear.”

He squatted down next to the flowing spring water. The stream of water was only about as wide as his palm, flowed at a steady pace and looked fairly clear.

Then, he got up to look at the trees around them and led them further up the hill. They soon spotted a pond from afar.

Compared to the spring, this pond was in a humid area, away from the sun. It was surrounded by dead and rotting leaves, and the water seemed slightly greenish. Algae was definitely flourishing in this pond.

Su Jin’s ears twitched slightly. He could hear the faint sound of water flowing.

“Come with me!” Su Jin waved at the other two and began hunting for the source of this sound. The sound of the water was extremely faint. If the hill wasn’t fairly quiet and Su Jin hadn’t enhanced his body twice and heightened his senses, no ordinary human could have heard this sound.

The three of them followed the sound for a while and the sound of water slowly grew louder again. But that was because they had come back to the source of the spring. The sound of water flowing was coming from this downward stream down the side of the hill.

“Did I…make a wrong guess?” Su Jin was rather surprised. He subconsciously started tapping his index finger on his nose as his eyes kept scanning the stream, as if he was trying to find something.

“Mr. Su, what are you looking for?” Yu Guangde couldn’t help but ask.

“Water.”

“Isn’t this…all water?” Yu Guangde couldn’t understand what Su Jin was talking about.

“This isn’t the water I’m looking for.” Su Jin shook his head, then he suddenly noticed something strange about the ground. He took out the lighter he always carried and put it near the ground to take a closer look. His expression instantly grew grim.

Yu Guangde and Yang Mo looked at the area that Su Jin had illuminated with his lighter. There was a very thin line on the ground that was slightly darker in color compared to the rest of the ground, as if someone had painted this line.

Su Jin brought the lighter closer to the surface of the ground and the dark color began to lighten as it got heated up by the flame. Yu Guangde and Yang Mo were both surprised.

“The ground can change color?!” said Yang Mo.

Su Jin shook his head as he said gravely, “I see. We’ve been duped right from the start.”

“We’ve been duped? What do you mean? Who duped us?” Yu Guangde asked several questions in a row.

Su Jin didn’t reply to his questions. Instead, he took his Boning Knife out, then started digging around the area where the ground was a darker color. After digging for a bit, water started gushing out.

It turned out that the ground was a darker color not because someone had painted it that way but because there was actually another stream of water beneath the soil. The soil looked like it was darker because it was wet.

“What on earth?!” Yu Guangde was stunned for a moment, then he turned immediately to look at the pond they saw earlier. Judging from the direction of this second stream of water, it probably came from that pond.

“It’s the village chief. He misled us right from the start, set up a trap for us and waited for all of us to die.” Su Jin frowned deeply. If the village chief had planned all this right from the beginning, then they were facing not just an evil spirit but also the schemes of the villagers.

“What’s going on? I still don’t get it.” Yang Mo didn’t understand how this other stream of water had anything to do with the village chief plotting against them.

“We can safely conclude that it’s the water that is problematic. The water acts like a medium and the evil spirit is only able to kill via this water. The first newbie who died, Mr. Zhang and the newbie who died later were all killed only after they had drunk some water,” said Su Jin.

“That’s right. You’ve already explained this earlier.” Yang Mo nodded.

Su Jin continued, “Earlier on, when we entered the village and settled down in the ancestral hall, the village chief told us that the village has three sources of water. The spring, the pond and the well.”

“If we discovered that the evil spirit was able to kill a person because of the water we were drinking, we would immediately become wary of where the water we were drinking was coming from. We probably would have thought that the water was from the spring, since that’s what the village chief said. So if we had to drink water, we would end up avoiding the spring water and start drinking from the pond water which seems completely separate from the spring.”

“But this secret second stream of water has mixed the water from the pond into the water from the spring. So in reality, we’ve been drinking from the pond as well. If we didn’t discover this mixing of water and decided we’d just switch to drinking from the pond instead, we would still fall victim to the evil spirit.”

Yang Mo finally understood what was going on. He gasped and spat angrily, “So that’s what happened. But…since we’ve discovered this problem, let’s just not drink water at all. In general, Handbook Challenges don’t last for too long. We should be able to get by without drinking water.”

“He’s right. Since there’s a problem with the water, we’ll just not drink any water. We won’t fall prey to his schemes anymore,” said Yu Guangde in agreement.

Su Jin nodded and looked towards the pond again. “Let’s go over and take a look. Perhaps we’ll find some answers there.”

The other two were agreeable to his suggestion, so all three of them headed for the pond. When they reached the pond, they instinctively pinched their noses. There was a terrible stench and a number of animal carcasses were actually floating in the pond.

“Augh!” Yang Mo was on the verge of puking. He turned away and muttered, “Oh my god! Just thinking about how some of the water we drank earlier came from here, makes me wanna puke.”

“It’s alright, if you feel like puking, just go ahead. You’d get used to it eventually,” said Su Jin with a grin. He sounded like he wasn’t bothered by the stench, but he actually felt like retching as well, so he pinched his nose harder.

The pond wasn’t really that big and looked like it was about 20 or 30 meters in diameter. The greenish water was quite murky, so it was probably really filthy inside.

Su Jin squatted beside the pond to take a closer look. He used a finger to touch the pond water to find that it was more like glue instead of water.

“That was…” Su Jin spotted something from the corner of his eye as he scanned the pond. He thought he saw something that looked like the body of a baby in the middle of the pond. But when he looked again, it was gone.

Before he could think about what just happened, a goat head floated towards him. Or rather, a skull with horns floated towards him.

When he saw those horns, he suddenly felt this strange urge to pull it out of the water, and that’s exactly what he did. He reached out to hold one horn in each hand and slowly fished it out of the water.

As the horns moved out of the water, Su Jin felt like he was being suffocated. He tried to fling the horns away but he simply couldn’t. His arms felt like they were no longer being controlled by himself, as if someone else were controlling them.

“Is this…is this why?!” Su Jin continued to fight against the force that controlled him but his body refused to listen to him. He couldn’t even shout or scream, as if he was watching an extremely realistic movie unfolding before his eyes.

After the horns were out of the water, the skull was next. But Su Jin didn’t think that was the end of it. Just as he expected, a large forehead was stuck to the bottom of the goat’s skull, as if that large forehead was wearing a hat.

“Gugg…gurrgglee!!” Su Jin tried his best to make some sort of noise in his throat in hope of attracting Yu Guangde and Yang Mo’s attention.

“Tee hee!” The goat head was now fully out of the water and Su Jin saw that the large forehead connected to it belonged to a baby. The baby was deformed and its face was red, and it looked like those paper dolls burned for the dead at funerals1(https://www.shannonshanike.com/post/paper-ritual-offerings-the-vivid-underworld)]. It started making strange laughing noises at Su Jin.

A pair of short arms reached for Su Jin’s neck and wrapped its fingers around his throat. It looked like a baby, but this monster had incredible strength. Su Jin’s face instantly turned red and his neck was about to be crushed.

  1. [Paper ritual offerings: the "vivid" Underworld ↩️

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