Yu Cheng took the opportunity to make his escape. He stuck close to the edge of the narrow aisle and scraped his way through, not daring to touch Su Heting even by a little. The teapot in his hands clattered noisily as he dashed over to the partition. Dongfang pulled the partition open, yanked Yu Cheng over, then slammed the partition shut, all in one smooth move.
Su Heting, “…”
Am I some kind of dangerous person???
At this time, the vehicle doors and windows were all closed, and the drumming of the rain turned muffled. The sound insulation of the partition was pretty good; Su Heting could only hear the four people on the other side muttering, but he could not hear what they were actually talking about.
“Your team members are quite shy,” Su Heting remarked. “Just a few words, and they blush.”
The Inspector seemed to be very sleepy as he slowly replied, “It’s the first time they meet you, so there’s that.”
Su Heting gave a perfunctory “oh,” looking like he believed him. He had a second hand in his mind that was always oscillating. It was in this way he listened to the sound of the rain for a while. Su Heting counted the time; it had almost been four hours since he entered the Punishment Zone.
“A question,” he said. “What time does day break here?”
Due to the handcuffs, both of their hands were very close together, their warmth just within reach. They only had to move a little, and they would be able to touch each other.
“Not sure.” The Inspector’s eyes were almost closed. “If the eunuch judges that the time of slaughter is not over, the sky will remain dark.”
The dry and dull voice of the mechanical eunuch echoed in Su Heting’s head. He pushed on with his question, “What are the criteria for judgment?”
“Number of deaths,” the Inspector answered.
Something had to die after sunset. Even if it wasn’t a human, it had to be a god or demon. Gods and demons could offset human lives—one for five for the Nocturnal Wanderer and one for thirty for Bifang. The number of deaths every night was randomly determined. If the quota was not reached, the eunuch would not light up the red light, and the supernatural entities would keep on coming.
This was what the eunuch called “gods and demons passing through”.
“The fark with this rule?” Su Heting blurted.
They had killed four Bifang tonight, yet the sky showed no hint of brightening, and the rain did not recede either.
They were in the midst of talking when the lights in the vehicle flickered.
The Inspector opened his eyes, which were bright and clear. As if he had sensed something, Su Heting did not speak as well. Both men sat side by side, shoulder to shoulder. About half a minute later, the lights in the vehicle suddenly went out.
There was no sound; the lights simply went out just like that, as though someone had blown gently on it.
Su Heting held his breath and focused, not wanting to miss any sound. Immediately right after, he heard the sound of metal scraping against the ground. It was very similar to the sound made by the Nocturnal Wanderer, but then Su Heting’s cat ears twitched, and he decided it didn’t sound like it.
The Nocturnal Wanderer walked, but this sound was that of running, as if there were a pair of lightweight, agile legs moving exceptionally fast. The vehicle body suddenly shook as that thing sprung onto it while Su Heting was thinking.
Su Heting gingerly shifted his legs so that it would be easier for him to leap up. But the moment he moved, he touched the Inspector’s leg. The interior of the vehicle was pitch dark, and when he turned his head, he almost bumped against the inspector.
The Inspector backhandedly held down the back of Su Heting’s head to prevent him from moving around.
The four people on the other end of the partition went extremely quiet. Silence seemed to be a necessary survival skill for them in this place. Everyone was waiting, as if they had yet to figure out what was overhead.
The two at this end of the partition were face-to-face with each other. Su Heting could feel the Inspector’s breaths. He wanted to ask, can we change pose, like this pose is really damn weird, as if we’re gonna kiss the next second.
The Inspector seemed to know what the cat was thinking and slightly averted his face away.
“Sir,” a voice suddenly rang out. It was very magnetic, and all prim and proper, like a broadcaster’s voice.
“That’s—” Yu Cheng on the other end of the partition started, only to be gagged.
Cold rain pelted against the window as the creature slapped on the roof of the vehicle. It had heard Yu Cheng’s response earlier. All of a sudden, it sprawled down to stick its face against the roof of the vehicle and called out again, “Sir.”
This time, the sound was right overhead.
“I’m cold, sir. Can you open the door for me?”
“You sent us to investigate Zhurong.1 I’m back.”
Dead silence reigned in the vehicle.
Su Heting turned his eyes and saw the Inspector’s unchanging icy face.
He asked with his eyes.
—Someone you know?
The Inspector did not answer.
“Zhurong is a god.
“Its fire came from the heavens and engulfed our entire squad.
“Everyone was burned to cinders, except me. I remember your instructions.
“I waited in the rain, and Zhurong’s war chariot ran over me. Of all places, the wheel happened to be crushing down on my chest. I couldn’t break free, but the fire was still raging. Sir, I can’t breathe.”
The sound of scraping rang out from the roof of the vehicle as sharp claws raked away at it. Iron scraps from the roof flew all over as it surprisingly managed to gouge into the vehicle. But this was nothing. The crux was that its weight was in the midst of increasing.
“In order to return and report back, I cut off my own head.”
It did not take long for the roof of the vehicle to be bent out of shape. The space inside shrank rapidly, to the point that it was almost pressing down against Su Heting’s head. The vehicle doors let out a horrifying groan under the increasing weight.
“It’s Yanguang.” The Inspector barked a command, “Get off the car!”
In response, the partition board broke, and the roof of the vehicle came crashing down!
The handcuffs instantly dismantled and transformed back into the familiar shield that wedged between the gaps to hold up against the roof of the vehicle.
That creature kept calling out.
Su Heting kicked out at a nearby window, which shattered. Wind and rain instantly came howling in, sending stray locks of his hair fluttering.
A black, giant ape of over three meters was sitting on the roof of the vehicle, which was rocking and on the verge of being snapped in the middle by its weight.
The Inspector pulled Su Heting tight, and both of them suddenly tumbled out of the vehicle window. Heavy rain pounded against their faces. The Inspector’s black diamond-shaped fragments withdrew with a swoosh.
The vehicle promptly caved in under pressure.
Yanguang sat on the rubble, smashing the roof of the vehicle with both fists, still shouting, “Sir! Sir!”
The contour of its back protruded as if it was installed with some kind of device. Thick, heavy chains covered its shoulders and arms, each link adorned with artillery shells for firing. But the most striking thing was still its face. This dude had no face; instead, there was a gun barrel where its face was, the muzzle of which kept expanding as its body grew larger.
Su Heting raised his hand to shield himself from the pouring rain and asked a question, but his voice was soon swept away by the wind. He had no choice but to ask again loudly, “Why is it still growing?”
“Yanguang’s unique trait is growing.” The Inspector’s diamond-shaped fragment clinked together to form a long, black gun. “Bullet is ineffective against it.”
In the time he said these two sentences, Yanguang had already grown to over ten meters. It lifted its buttocks to yank out the vehicle that had been crushed underneath. The chains jerked noisily along with its movements. It was only when it lifted the car with one hand that Su Heting saw it was not the one who made the sound at all.
There were many heads hanging on Yanguang’s chest. All those heads were not decayed, as if they had only just been cut off, and they bumped into each other amidst all the swaying. Their faces were ashen pale and lifeless, and their lips had gone black from the freezing cold.
“Sir! Sir!” They chanted woodenly.
Yanguang smashed the vehicle into the Inspector’s spot. It had no eyes, and it did not rely on eyes to discern the direction either. Gigantism was its unique characteristic. Like a heated engine, it was a raging behemoth when it reached a height of fifty to sixty meters, and it would blow up everything before it with those gun barrels that could be likened to guided missiles.
“We have to block its barrel when it fires.” The Inspector lifted a foot and gave a sideway kick to the long gun. “It’s scared of pain—Dongfang!”
“Roger that!” Dongfang, who had just rolled out, abruptly tore off his left sleeve to reveal a mechanical arm. He suddenly dropped down and thrust his arm into the ground.
The mechanical elbow came apart swiftly, then speedily reorganized between the mechanical gears to become a “Y”-shaped, steel-forged weapon about the height of a person.
“Zhi-zi!” Dongfang cried out.
Hua Zhi unceremoniously stepped a foot on Dongfang’s left shoulder and drew out an arm-long steel arrow from the arrow case at the side. The Y-shaped steel-forged device immediately fired up from both ends, drawing out a lightning bowstring.
“Shoot it in the chest.” Dongfang raised his arm slightly to lift Hua Zhi’s angle of perspective higher. “Sir’s going up!”
Hua Zhi loaded the arrow and drew the bowstring with two fingers, both of which were made of steel too. She fixed her gaze on Yanguang, who was in the midst of raising its arms to smash down violently on the totaled vehicle.
The data in Su Heting’s modified eyes kept updating.
[Target locked. Attack target is in charging mode.]
Hua Zhi’s arrow shot forth.
That steel arrow hurtled forth in the rain, thunderously sizzling with electricity like a whip of lightning in the hands of the gods. The arrowhead let loose a loud and clear whistle. Before Yanguang could lift its hands it had smashed down, the steel arrow struck its chest, burying half of its arrowhead into it like an electric drill.
The heads on Yanguang’s chest all screamed in unison, their faces hideous as they attempted to scramble over one another to flee. However, they were all firmly secured by the chains. Yanguang soundlessly staggered, and under the howls and wails of the heads, crashed into the building at the side.
The moment the red exclamation mark appeared in Su Heting’s modified eye, he caught a whiff of something unusual. He grabbed at the corner of the Inspector’s shirt and lunged over.
White light immediately exploded, and Yanguang’s artillery shell roared past in a straight line. It exploded behind them, blowing up the ground.
Waves of fire swept out, and Su Heting felt the searing on his back. He pressed the Inspector down and looked back.
Everywhere Yanguang’s artillery shell had passed was now all in ruins.
“Aim for the head, otherwise—” Su Heting turned back, only to find that he was practically almost riding on top of the Inspector.
The Inspector was momentarily stupefied too, being pressed down by the chest, and this one second of daze dispelled his ascetic air, making him look more human.
Su Heting had to finish his words to prove that he was not a hoodlum. He sped up his pace of speaking, “Otherwise, it will still bomb—fuck me!”
The red exclamation mark in the modified eye had reappeared.
The Inspector clasped the back of Su Heting’s head and held him down towards the hollow of his shoulder. The long gun instantly disintegrated and reformed into a shield as he raised an arm.
A thunderous bang!
Su Heting’s ears went deaf from the explosion. The humming of the aftershock reminded him of the Great Explosion. It felt extremely uncomfortable.
“Something’s wrong tonight, sir!” Yu Cheng’s voice rang out over the communicator. “We’ve detected a lot of—”
“Gods and demons passing through, Mortals, make way!”
“Gods and demons passing through, Mortals, make way!”
“Gods and demons—passing through, Mortals—make way!”
Three statements from an electronic voice pierced through the heavy rain.
The mechanical eunuch held both sleeves together, its posture proud and aloof as it stood on top of a tall building, the gourd pattern on its outer robe so green it looked like a special kind of virus.
Countless heads hanging on Yanguang’s chest wailed, their voices so penetrating it enveloped everyone.
Then more than ten Yanguang walked out of the darkness and surrounded them.
◈ ◈ ◈
①Yanguang: Refer to details in this chapter for current unlocked data.
—Right on Target Records of Supernatural Anecdotes
③-1 Inspiration source for setting: “Citizens of the State of Yanguang. Lights emerge from their mouths. They look like apes. Black in color.”
—Records of Diverse Matters (Bo Wu Zhi): A Compendium of Chinese stories about Natural Wonders and Marvelous Phenomena《博物志》
Thank you for reading.