A shrill voice interrupted the exchange of gaze between Su Heting and the Inspector. Su Heting looked over towards the voice and saw a mechanical eunuch, dressed in the palace eunuch attire of the Ming Dynasty, standing in the center of the street acting as a traffic light at the road junction.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the eunuch lifted an arm rigidly and waited for a moment. When the pattern on its outer covering turned into a green gourd, it shouted again in its sharp, shrill voice, “Pass—”
The wind at the road junction suddenly accelerated with the torrential rain in tow as it came raging from behind the mechanical eunuch.
Su Heting raised an arm to block the wind, which was so strong that his hood was blown up. The Inspector’s umbrella went flying in mid-air too.
This wind was so unreasonable it simply bulldozed over the bench and slammed into the buildings beside the street. Glass doors promptly shattered, while signboards swung wildly. In the blink of an eye, the scene descended into chaos. The loud and clear sound of wings flapping suddenly rang out from the sky. Su Heting looked up under the pounding of the rain and saw a one-legged bird flying out from the other dark, drizzly end.
The mechanical eunuch held both its arms flat. Its electronic eyes flashed emotionlessly as it announced haughtily, “Gods and demons passing through, Mortals, make way!”
The moment it said that, the one-legged bird instantly landed on the ground. In no time, a gale ravaged the streets. This time, Su Heting was really tipped over by the wind. Had he not reacted quickly to grab hold of the bench, he would have been hurled up into the sky.
That one-legged bird, which carried itself with elegance, was impressively huge, and when it raised its head, it was half a building tall. The blue feathers on its body glowed with a metallic luster under the flickering streetlights. Its white beak was matte, as if it was thinly coated with paint.
Su Heting braced himself against the wind. He could barely see ahead of him.
These were not in the data given by Punisher of Heaven!
The mechanical eunuch’s voice, which had been adjusted louder, echoed through the streets, sounding somewhat electronic. It repeated those words, “Gods and demons passing through, Mortals, make way!”
Its voice made up the background music resounding in the rain, going on and on endlessly in the ears and making such a din that Su Heting could hardly hear the sound of the rain.
The one-legged bird looked all anticipatory and chipper as it slightly raised its beak and let loose a clear cry of “beep” towards the straight street. That sound lasted less than two seconds when an artillery shell the height of a human suddenly shot out between its beak and blew up this long street!
In just an instant, flames, like furious dragons, swelled into waves in the rain.
Human cries rang out from those burning buildings. Some people were holding each other up, stepping on shards of broken glass as they fled their way out of the buildings.
The mechanical eunuch stood as steady as a mountain in front of the one-legged bird. It berated those cries, chanting as if it was reciting scriptures, “Do not step outdoors during the curfew. Do not make a din during the curfew. Do not block—”
Before the eunuch could finish its words, its head exploded with a “bang”.
With the floating barrel mounted, the Inspector fired with precision through the scope.
The springs in the neck of the mechanical eunuch bounced around. Parts from the blasted head fell all over the ground. The vocal device among them was still saying, “the way…. during the curfew—”
The Inspector pulled the trigger, and the vocal device of the mechanical eunuch exploded into pieces with a “bang”.
Ignoring the assault at its foot, the one-legged bird raised its head and let loose another clear cry at the same time it flapped its wings. That same blinding glare condensed between its beak. The situation was extremely critical.
The Inspector fired another bullet, hitting the one-legged bird right in its beak and knocking its head askew. The artillery shell from the one-legged bird’s beak smashed thunderously into a giant billboard not far away, setting off a blazing fire.
Su Heting waved away the gunpowder smoke.
This bird is a mobile super turret!
The fire started by Bifang’s artillery shells burned with even more intensity instead of being doused by the rain. Tongues of fire licked the streets, forcing out all the people who were hiding inside the buildings. The flustered people crowded together among the fire, and some even fell while they were running. Several of the elderly hobbled along with their canes, stumbling as they followed behind the others.
“Protect and evacuate the masses,” the Inspector’s voice was slightly deep but pleasant on the ears as he said into the communicator on his ear. “It’s Bifang.”
“Roger that!” A crisp reply rang out from the communicator.
Su Heting suddenly remembered the Monk’s introduction of the Inspection. The Inspector would protect the others in the Punishment Zone, but could these be considered people? They were just data created by the Supreme God System. They were just NPCs1 disguised as people.
The muzzle of the Inspector’s gun suddenly shifted. He aimed right at Su Heting. At the same time he pulled the trigger, he commanded, “Get down!”
Su Heting’s body reaction was even faster. Right before the bullet was fired, he had already lowered his head. The bullet shot into some sticky body with a “plop” before it was spat onto the ground.
Su Heting heard a familiar cry of lingering whimpers and sobs. His ears stood up. As he cocked his head, he saw the pale face of the Nocturnal Wanderer.
“Hello,” Su Heting greeted politely.
The Nocturnal Wanderer put her hands to her bosom and cried even harder. Its loose, scattered hair was almost about to cloak Su Heting. Those cold, glinting steel legs lifted with a “swish” and hacked down repeatedly on the bench, as if they were chopping vegetables.
“Come home…” It wept and wailed. “Come home with me!”
Su Heting dodged swiftly amid the continuous slash and hack of those steel legs. “No, thanks.”
The Nocturnal Wanderer did not seem to understand human language. It chopped up the bench in a few blows and dragged its arms to grab Su Heting. Su Heting held onto the bench behind the streetlight with one hand, using it to fly up and kick out at the side of the Nocturnal Wanderer’s neck.
The Nocturnal Wanderer immediately fell over to the ground on its side, sending up a spray of dust. The sound of its six steel-bladed legs scraping on the ground was jarring to hear. Viscous liquid pulled out thin filaments from its exposed and opened chest cavity, inside of which were steel teeth used for chewing.
The sorrowful cries of countless Nocturnal Wanderers spilled out of the nearby darkness. They walked in the shadows of the streets, avoiding the fire as they cowered and paced around to encircle the place.
Bifang, enraged by the Inspector’s bullet, looked up to the sky and let out a furious howl. It opened its wings and took to the air. A gale burst forth at once, making the raging fire on the street blaze even harder.
Su Heting’s ears were blown askew in the gale. He gripped the streetlight, but then he heard the metal pole of the streetlight buckle with a “snap”.
Bifang unexpectedly came gliding.
This street was too narrow for it. When it brandished its wings, the tall buildings on both sides collapsed, cut across in the middle by its wings. Those glass on the exterior shattered with a thunderous bang.
“Beep—” Bifang swung its head and let out a clear cry. The artillery shell between its beak detonated on the streets.
The Inspector’s sniper rifle clicked and folded. The barrel split and covered his right arm like a black tide. He dashed in the rain, his speed so fast that his figure was blurred. All one could see was a flash of silver on his right ear, and he had already charged his way right in front of Bifang.
Once again, Bifang opened its mouth, and the cannon between its beak shone brightly—
The Inspector’s shirt flapped in the gale. The expression in his eyes was frostily icy as he suddenly smashed his raised arm down!
Struck by an invisible fist, Bifang’s head instantly crashed into the ground. The shell exploded on the ground, spraying forth a burst of dazzling sparks.
The side of the Inspector’s face was very clear in the storm of sparks dancing in the air. Rainwater wetted his shirt. He turned his head and fixed his eyes in a stare at Su Heting.
The surrounding smoke dispersed slightly, and the wind blew the raindrops at a slanting angle. Smashed into the ground, Bifang choked out a mouthful of smoke from the unfired shell. A weird burning smell wafted through the air.
“Sir,” an urgent voice came over the Inspector’s communicator, “there’s still—”
Shrill “beeps” sounded from the air, and two artillery shells blasted out in unison from the left and right with burning fire in tow. They immediately exploded in the center of the street.
Su Heting dragged along that broken streetlight and swung his tail. The “X” in his right eye had already materialized, but someone was even faster than him!
Steel armors landed on the ground with a “clang”. Both sides stacked together to forge a double-sided iron shield that blocked the pincer attacks from the left and right for Su Heting, even as the sound of explosions bombarded the place.
The Inspector, who had one arm held up, was a very close distance away from Su Heting.
① Mechanical eunuch: Has a shrill voice. Dressed in the eunuch attire of the Ming Dynasty. It is a traffic light in the Punishment Zone after sunset, responsible for warning mortals and paving the way for gods and demons. Although it will not die and can refresh and respawn every night, it’s very vindictive. Loves wearing new clothes, and rumors have it that it is very particular about them.
—Right on Target Records of Supernatural Anecdotes
② Gaimian Covering: A outer clothing of a high-ranking eunuch. Different patterns will be embroidered on it according to the solar terms.2 The gourd pattern is one of them.
③ Bifang Bird: Commonly between 20 and 30 meters in size. Prefers to act alone; occasionally flocks together. It looks like a crane, with only one steel leg. Its feathers are forged from steel of unknown origins and are very hard. It has a very bad temper, and is very aggressive. Can only make a “beep” sound. Has a cannon between its beak. Likes to bomb everywhere and create fires.
—Right on Target Records of Supernatural Anecdotes
③-1 Inspiration source for Bifang setting: “There is a bird, looks like crane, has one leg. Has a blue body decorated with red patterns and a white beak. Its name is Bi Fang. Where the cries of this bird could be heard, strange fires are sure to follow.
—Classic of Mountains and Seas《山海经》
Thank you for reading!
- Non-Playable Characters for those not familiar with gaming terminology.
- The solar term is a calendar of twenty-four periods and climates to govern agricultural arrangements in ancient China. Each solar term has about 15 days and it is decided by the position of the sun in the sky. If you are interested to learn more, check this out