Su Jin fell silent. He knew what Xiang Nan meant, but Kano Mai and Yu Guangde had no idea what was going on. Su Jin said in a quiet voice, “I know what you were trying to do. But did you really have to do it this way?”
“What else could I do? There is always a certain order of things within the Challenge. Since whatever you guys were doing would definitely incur the wrath of the evil spirit, I had to make the evil spirit kill someone else to keep all of you safe.” Xiang Nan shook his head helplessly. He swirled the cup of water in his hand and said, “And if you guys had delayed a little longer, I was going to drink this cup myself.”
Kano Mai and Yu Guangde understood what was going on now. The logic was simple. This Challenge had a limit of killing only one person over a particular period of time. The evil spirit could only kill one person during this time and this was already proven by the previous deaths. Also, the evil spirit would always choose to kill someone by water first and not by ice.
With this pattern in mind, Xiang Nan tricked the three newbies into taking turns to drink the water from the pond. Since the evil spirit could only kill one person at a time, the three newbies had given the trio at the village chief’s house quite a bit of time.
The trio had not found the whole process too difficult also because Xiang Nan had kept them safe by killing these newbies instead.
Su Jin was no saint. He knew that it was hard for anyone to survive a Challenge, but it didn’t mean that he could accept Xiang Nan’s way of dealing with this problem. Xiang Nan had tricked someone into getting killed just so that he could live. He simply couldn’t agree with this.
“Mr. Su, you need to understand one thing. Kindheartedness is a luxury in the Handbook’s world,” said Xiang Nan very gravely to Su Jin.
Su Jin stared right back at Xiang Nan and said in an equally grave voice, “This has nothing to do with kindheartedness. This is a matter of principle. A matter of moral boundaries!”
“Stop being so naïve! What moral boundaries? The only boundary we have in these Challenges is to stay alive! That’s the only thing we need to care about! Everything else…everything else doesn’t matter!” Xiang Nan suddenly raised his voice and yelled fiercely at Su Jin like he was an angry tiger. The veins on his forehead bulged and his eyes reddened.
“Both of you have different philosophies, so there’s no need to convince each other!” Yu Guangde stood in between the two of them and sighed. “Look. What’s happened has already happened. It’s more important to save those who are still alive. If you two still want to convince each other, wait till we’re done with the Challenge!”
Su Jin tried his best to hold his anger back and finally calmed down after a while. Xiang Nan had also calmed down as he asked quietly, “Just like what Brother Yu said, there’s no point in arguing about this now. I don’t think you’re stupid enough to take revenge for them, right?”
“Tsk, I’m not interested in that sort of thing,” scoffed Su Jin. He didn’t agree with what Xiang Nan did, but fighting Xiang Nan now was definitely as good as committing suicide.
“Good. Since you’ve gotten the village chronicle, it’s time for us to get cracking.” Xiang Nan held his hand out at Su Jin.
Su Jin threw the chronicle at him and Xiang Nan caught it. He immediately started flipping through it to look for any records of what happened 40 years ago. At the same time, the sound of people knocking and banging on the door from outside could be heard.
“I’ll block them, you guys better hurry up,” said Yu Guangde before heading towards the main door of the ancestral hall. He had Spirit Power, so it was more than enough to fend off some villagers.
Xiang Nan quickly looked through the information and quickly found what he was looking for. He murmured, “1967, winter. Snowstorm. Wait… Rubble Village?!”
The records in the village chronicle weren’t that of Clear Pond Village but of Rubble Village. In other words, this village was still named Rubble Village 40 years ago.
“The wind and snow was strong but it did not hit the village. But even though the village was not hit by the snowstorm, it was hit by a plague. 13 people died between late winter and early spring.”
The records dating back 40 years ago were very clear. The curse on the village started from there and a total of 13 people died that year. But the villagers of Rubble Village thought it was a plague and didn’t realize that they had actually been cursed.
“Keep flipping back! Find the previous snowstorm!” said Su Jin.
“Here. 1959. There was a great famine, snowfall was heavy and the chilly winds cut like knives. Our crops on the mountain were barely enough to feed the village. An unexpected group affected by the famine came by. A few hundred of them were like hungry ghosts1, willing to do anything for a meal. Some women sold their bodies, some sold their children. It was such a tragedy, yet the heavens did not pity them. How sad!” Xiang Nan read out what was recorded.
Su Jin paused to think, then said, “Try to see if anything strange happened between 1959 and 1967.”
Xiang Nan nodded and continued flipping the pages. After a while, he paused and read, “1965. It was a good year. A woman came looking for her son and brought 13 goats as a gift of gratitude. She searched the village but failed to find him, so she killed the goats to perform a ritual, resulting in blood everywhere. Later, she went mad, cursing others while hugging a goat’s head and eventually left.”
Xiang Nan stopped there and looked up at Su Jin. Su Jin nodded and said, “I think we can confirm who that evil spirit is. In fact, we can pretty much guess the entire story.”
“That’s right. But who did the woman pass her son to? Since she brought those goats along as a gift of gratitude, that means she made an agreement with someone in the village. Someone in Rubble Village agreed to take care of her son,” said Xiang Nan with great confidence.
Su Jin took the chronicle from him and continued flipping. An entry in 1975 caught his eye. He read, “1975, spring. One of our villagers has returned from studying. He was away for 16 years and his name is now Fang Leng. He brought glory to the village and the village celebrated his return.”
“Fang Leng? 1975…since he was away for 16 years, that means…he left in 1959!” Kano Mai’s eyes lit up.
Su Jin continued flipping the records because he felt like he knew who this Fang Leng was. He eventually found another record and looked like he had found the answer to his questions.
“Brother Yu, let them in!” Su Jin yelled out.
Yu Guangde had no idea what Su Jin intended to do, but he allowed the villagers outside the ancestral hall to come in anyway. He kept his Spirit Power away and dozens of villages immediately poured into the hall.
The villagers immediately started cursing and shouting as they entered the hall. Su Jin frowned, took out Black Fire and shot an explosive round at one corner of the hall. The loud blasting noise shocked everybody and they fell silent immediately.
“Everyone, I know you’re all very angry right now. But could you let me say a few words? Once I’m done talking, you can do whatever you want to my friends and I,” said Su Jin while still holding Black Fire.
Nobody dared to say anything since he was holding a gun. But the village chief came forward and said, “You’re nothing but a bunch of thieves! What do you have to say for yourselves?”
“Thieves? At least we’re not a murderer like you!” snapped Su Jin coldly.
“A murderer? Me?!”
“Of course I’m talking about you! I’ve lost five companions in this damned ancestral hall!” spat Su Jin in a hateful voice, as if he was really furious.
The village chief scoffed. “What has that got to do with us? I think it’s more likely that you thieves didn’t split the loot equally, so you ended up killing each other in a fight.”
“Oh, really? Well, here’s your village chronicle and I took a look at it just now. Over the past 40 years, this village has met with a terrible snowstorm three times, and today is the fourth time. During the last three times, at least 13 people in the village died and the worst one had 21 fatalities. What happened? Did they also fail to split the loot equally among themselves?” said Su Jin.
“That was a plague!” said the village chief.
“Oh?” Su Jin smiled mirthlessly as he pulled a chair over, plonked himself down and started flipping through the village chronicle. “Let me tell you a story!”2
“We don’t have time to listen to you tell stories! You thieves must pay the price for what you’ve done!” The village chief refused to give Su Jin a chance to speak.
Su Jin raised Black Fire and shot several rounds in quick succession, sending waves of panic into the villagers. Su Jin glared at them and sneered, “It’s not up to you to decide whether you listen to my story or not!”
“Everyone, since my friend wants to tell a story, why don’t you give him a chance and hear him out? Otherwise…this theft case is going to turn into a massacre!” Yu Guangde stood next to Su Jin, flipped his Handbook open and retrieved a gatling gun from inside. The end of the gun was now pointed at all the villagers.
The gatling gun was clearly a greater threat to the villagers, so even the village chief shut up. Su Jin was sure that the village chief probably wasn’t scared of the gatling gun, since he was someone who could dodge bullets even while fighting a veteran. But if all the owners attacked him at once, the village chief might not stand a chance anymore.
Su Jin gave a pleased nod when he saw how everyone was cooperative now. He began speaking in a slow and steady voice, “The story begins in 1959, and I believe a number of you weren’t even born yet.”
When the village chief heard the year 1959, his eyelids twitched violently and he glared even more icily at Su Jin.
“1959 was a snowstorm year and it was also a year of famine. At that time, everyone was desperate to fill their stomachs but Rubble Village, or as you know it now, Clear Pond Village, didn’t have this problem. The geography of this village was such that there was enough for everyone to eat that year.”
“But since the famine hit so many people, it was impossible for Rubble Village to be completely unaffected. It didn’t take long for people from other villagers to find their way here. Rubble Village had enough to feed these people, but the food wasn’t free. If one wanted to eat, one had to pay the price.”
“According to the chronicle, many of these desperate people sold their children in exchange for food. One woman in particular, left her child with one of the villagers, or perhaps she used him as a guarantee. No mother would want to be separated from her child unless she had no choice. So the mother looked forward to better days, to a day when she could come back for her child.”
“Some years later, things did get better. The woman returned to Rubble Village and to thank the person who helped to take care of her child, she even brought 13 goats along as a present. But…not only did she fail to find her child, she also failed to find the person who agreed to take care of her child. She was heartbroken and absolutely furious.”
“But that wasn’t the end. This woman used her own way to find her child. She was a woman who knew some sort of magic, so she killed the 13 goats she had brought as a method of divination to find out where her child was.”
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