Su Jin’s eyes nearly popped out of their sockets and he couldn’t think straight anymore because of the lack of oxygen. He wondered if he was going to meet his end right here. Was both his life in the real world and his journey through the Handbook’s Challenges going to end like this?
“HAA!” Just then, a loud shout resonated in his ears and the vengeful spirit in baby form let go of Su Jin’s neck in terror and jumped out of Su Jin’s hands, diving head first into the pond again. Su Jin regained control of his own body and he quickly retreated from the pond as he took huge gasps of air.
“Mr. Su, are you all right?” Yu Guangde helped Su Jin up and Su Jin noticed a bright red dagger in Yu Guangde’s hand. There was a red mist swirling around it too.
“Thank you,” Su Jin thanked Yu Guangde. He knew that it was Yu Guangde who saved him just in time.
“You don’t have to be so formal around me. We’re allies after all,” said Yu Guangde with a smile as he kept his dagger away.
Su Jin glanced at the dagger and asked directly, “Brother Yu, are you a veteran?”
“Ho! You know the term ‘veteran’? That’s right, I’m a veteran.” Yu Guangde confirmed Su Jin’s guess and didn’t hide it from Su Jin.
“What does that mean?” Yang Mo seemed confused. It seemed like despite going through five Challenges, he hadn’t run into an owner with Spirit Power before.
“That’s the term for owners with Spirit Power. Only those who have activated Spirit Power have the right to consider themselves powerful in the world of the Handbook. No wonder you’ve been able to get such a good team together, Brother Yu. A veteran would certainly be able to attract good team mates.”
Until now, Su Jin had only met three owners with Spirit Power. He met Jiang Li and Liu Yingying in the first Challenge. He wasn’t really sure exactly how powerful they were, but anybody who dared to hunt down a monster in a Level B Challenge like Jiang Li did was definitely someone who was pretty powerful. Liu Yingying defeated the hunter without breaking a sweat too. The hunter had lost his weapon to Su Jin but Su Jin was sure that the hunter couldn’t be that weak either. That proved that Liu Yingying must have been rather formidable herself.
Yu Guangde was the third one he had met so far. Having someone with Spirit Power by his side made him feel more assured and he had guessed that Yu Guangde had Spirit Power right from the start. That was why he wanted both Yu Guangde and Yang Mo to follow him here. His cautiousness had paid off.
“What was attacking you just now?” asked Yu Guangde as he glanced at the pond.
Su Jin asked puzzledly, “You didn’t get a good look just now?”
Yu Guangde shook his head. “I didn’t see anything, never mind take a good look. I just noticed a pained expression on your face and guessed that you were being attacked by the evil spirit, so I used my Spirit Power to chase it away.”
“I see.” Su Jin realized how lucky he was. If Yu Guangde hadn’t noticed his odd behavior earlier, he would have been dead by now.
“The thing that attacked me just now was…an evil spirit in the form of a baby. It had a pair of goat horns on its head and once it took control of me, I couldn’t move at all,” said Su Jin. The terror that he had felt from being controlled by an evil spirit was something he would never forget and never wanted to experience again.
“But now I know why the village allowed water from the pond to be mixed in with the spring water. They weren’t worried about whether we’d find out about this. They wanted us to check out the pond.” Su Jin’s expression turned frosty. The villagers had purposely mixed the water so that Su Jin and his companions would notice a problem and eventually take a closer look at the pond. That way, that evil spirit could kill whoever came close enough.
The other two understood what Su Jin meant and had to admit that the villagers had laid a really good trap for them. Now that they knew what the problem was, they weren’t going to stick around anymore. A murderous evil spirit lurked in the waters, so even though Yu Guangde had chased it away temporarily, nobody knew if that evil spirit had other means of killing a person.
The three of them went back down the hill and saw that Xiang Nan had returned as well. He got them to enter the ancestral hall first, then said to them, “I asked the village chief about the water. He said that the well is only for the villagers to use and that outsiders are not allowed to drink from it. When I asked him why, he refused to tell me anything.”
“Thanks for checking with him, but that’s not important anymore. We’ve figured out the water problem,” Su Jin thanked Xiang Nan, then said, “Did you find out more about this village?”
“A little, but not much. All I found out was that this village was indeed called Rubble Village a few decades ago, but I’m not sure why the name was changed later. The older villagers refuse to talk to me, so I only managed to get this much information from the younger ones.” Xiang Nan shook his head helplessly. This information was nowhere near helpful.
“Oh! Never mind the village – I also heard that a young man from the village passed away. Guess who?” said Xiang Nan in a secretive manner.
“It’s the young man who stopped the village chief’s tractor when we came in, right?” said Su Jin without even pausing to think.
“You mean the one who kept telling us to leave this place?” asked Yu Guangde.
Xiang Nan blinked in surprise and asked Su Jin suspiciously, “How did you know? Did you…did you kill him?”
“No, that’s not it. He’s the only young man we know in this village, so since you’re asking me like that, it’s got to be him,” replied Su Jin with a laugh.
Xiang Nan burst out laughing as well. Su Jin made it seem so obvious, but not everyone was able to make such links easily. He nodded and said, “I heard he didn’t die too far from here. But if we didn’t kill him, who did? Is the evil spirit going for the villagers too?”
Su Jin pondered this question for a while but didn’t think this was possible. He asked Kano Mai if the young man came by again after he left the hall, but she said no. The young man hadn’t taken any water from the hall either. Could he have gone to the hill to drink water? But why would he do that?
“Brother Yu, why don’t you take a rest? Mr. Xiang, why don’t you take a walk with me to check out what’s happened?” Su Jin asked Xiang Nan.
Xiang Nan was more than happy to accompany Su Jin to find out exactly what happened to the young man. Yu Guangde wanted to tag along as well because he felt that for as long as they were still unsure of what this Challenge was about, it was better to have someone with Spirit Power to go with them.
But Su Jin felt that it was probably quite safe for himself and Xiang Nan to walk around inside the village. On the contrary, the people left behind in the hall were probably in greater need of Yu Guangde and Yang Mo’s Spirit Power. Nobody else had Spirit Power, and one was a newbie while another was unconscious. After giving it some thought, Yu Guangde felt that Su Jin was right and agreed to stay behind in the hall.
Besides, it wasn’t as if Su Jin was completely unprepared either. If he really needed to use Spirit Power in a fight, he still had some to spare, so he didn’t need to have Yu Guangde with him all the time.
Su Jin and Xiang Nan walked over to where the young man died. Su Jin inspected the area and found that there was indeed something amiss. Xiang Nan said, “You’ve noticed it too, right? Something’s very wrong here.”
“You’re right. If this is where he died…then it’s impossible to explain this.” Su Jin used his fingers to pinch a small amount of mud. It was moist and more importantly, all the mud around here was icy cold.
“Yup. This place looks like it’s been soaked in water, which matches the way this evil spirit usually kills a person. But this isn’t like the drinking water we have in the hall. This is snow. That young man died more than half an hour ago, so the snow has melted. But it doesn’t snow in this village. You have to leave the village in order to reach a place with snow, and we did take quite a bit of time to reach the village on a tractor earlier today,” said Xiang Nan calmly.
Su Jin nodded and picked up where Xiang Nan left off, “Exactly. There would be no need to kill someone outside the village, then drag him all the way back here, unless the murderer wanted the villagers to discover his body. But if that’s the case, then the murderer should have killed him within the village itself and saved himself the trouble. And even if the murderer were afraid that someone would notice and tricked the young man all the way out of the village to kill him, the time doesn’t add up.”
“The young man came to the hall a little more than two hours ago, so that’s the time we last saw him alive. It would take so much time just to trick the young man into leaving the village, kill him and bring him back here. Even a tractor wouldn’t be fast enough. Besides, all the snow would have melted along the way back. But judging from how wet this place is, the young man must have been covered in a lot of snow!”
Xiang Nan smiled and continued, “Mr. Su, you’ve analyzed this very well. So, here’s one last possibility – do you think it’s possible for the murderer to have prepared some snow beforehand, killed the young man then piled the snow on top of his body?”
Su Jin considered this possibility, then shook his head. “I’m afraid that’s not possible either. We’re at an intersection within the village, so almost everybody in the village would have to walk past this intersection to get to any other part of the village. But if you look at the wet areas of the mud, it’s obvious that a large part of the snow was actually below the young man’s body.”
“It takes too much time to lay the snow, kill the young man and place him on the snow without being noticed. So, unless you’ve got a lot of accomplices, that’s not a very smart way to kill someone.”
“I think so too. So, if the chances of homicide are very low, then we’ll have to consider the possibility that…an evil spirit killed him!” said Xiang Nan solemnly.
Both of them fell silent for some time, then Su Jin broke the silence first, “It’s true that we’ve connected the deaths to the water, but perhaps the evil spirit of this Challenge has more than one way of killing people. In any case, we should take a look at the young man’s body. Perhaps his body would be able to tell us who killed him!”
Xiang Nan agreed with his opinion, so they asked some passersby and found out that the young man’s body had been brought to the ancestral hall, so they didn’t have to go elsewhere. They just needed to return to the hall.
They hurried back to the hall in time to see the villagers carry the young man’s body into the hall. The village chief was talking to Yu Guangde and the two of them seemed to be arguing about something.
“Brother Yu, what’s going on?” asked Xiang Nan.
Yu Guangde was relieved to see that the two most intelligent members of the group were back. “The village chief wants to leave this dead body in the ancestral hall and I don’t think it’s safe to do that.”
“Sir, I think my friend here is right. You have living people staying in this place, so I don’t think it’s appropriate to leave a dead body here. Or…why don’t you arrange for us to stay in some of the villagers’ homes instead?” said Xiang Nan with a cheery smile. Su Jin secretly gave Xiang Nan a thumbs up for trying to flip the situation in their favor. He couldn’t wait to hear how this village chief was going to deal with this situation.
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