The winds howled on the roof and the Yin Sacrifice text flew up, binding Sheng Lingyuan like shackles.
At the same time, the thunderclouds that had been brewing for a long time finally erupted, a sharp clap of thunder tearing through the night sky and directly smashing into the hospital building. Everyone's faces were exposed in the pale whiteness, like a mural on the road to hell.
However, in an instant, the flesh and blood on Bi Chunsheng's face had melted away and she was left with a shriveled skin draped over her rugged skull.
She knelt on the ground, like a withered corpse in a legend of despair.
Sheng Lingyuan stopped smiling, bent down and stroked the top of her head. He asked, "Who do you want me to kill? Those who use the 'human-faced butterfly' to replace the dead? With them killed, can you be relieved?"
Bi Chunsheng's lips could no longer cover her teeth, and two rows of teeth trembled.
Sheng Lingyuan asked again, "Then, if we also bury those who know the ins and outs but remain silent, can you be relieved?"
A ghost fire-like light appeared in Bi Chunsheng's eyes, and her fingers twisted his cuff.
"Still not enough, right?" Sheng Lingyuan sighed, the withered small curls springing out from between his fingers, "What should I do with you?"
"I want... the truth to come out..." Bi Chunsheng's voice sounded like the sound made when rubbing bones, "I want them to give me an explanation..."
Sheng Lingyuan nodded: "It should be."
"No, the explanation is not enough, I also want... I also want them to taste my pain a thousand times..."
"Hmmm," Sheng Lingyuan nodded, "It's not difficult, anything else?"
Every time she said something, a line of rituals was added to Sheng Lingyuan, and Sheng Lingyuan listened very carefully, almost with a sense of treasuring.
However, at this time, Bi Chunsheng forced out the last few words: "I also want... Chiyuan..."
Sheng Lingyuan's face suddenly changed slightly, and he slowly raised his eyes: "Hmmm?"
It could have been that this demon was not very good at Mandarin, and was naturally puzzled when hearing an unfamiliar word. But Xuan Ji was struck by his own intuition, and the "hmmm" inexplicably made him startled.
In the blink of an eye, Xuan Ji struck the ground with the heavy sword in his hand, using its force, jumped into the window extended from the third floor, then stepped on the window sill with the toes of his feet, jumped to the roof, and fell next to the several trapped field agents.
The Yin Sacrifice text on the roof of the building surged towards him, and Xuan Ji slashed towards the ground with a sword. The fire on the heavy sword instantly pushed the rituals back one square meter, and several field agents were temporarily freed.
"I want... Chiyuan's fire to be reignited..." Bi Chunsheng was immersed in her own world, mumbling, the rituals on the ground suddenly turned blood red, rolled up into a bunch, drilled into Sheng Lingyuan's spine, "I..."
Xuan Ji turned his head and shouted at the field personnel who were stupidly standing aside: "Why are you still standing there! Retreat!"
The several field agents obeyed subconsciously, pulled up the protective devices on their bodies and jumped off the roof. Just before their feet left the ground, Bi Chunsheng suddenly jerked, and the violent wind rose from Sheng Lingyuan's feet and roared in all directions.
Xuan Ji rushed toward him and was in time to grab Sheng Lingyuan’s sleeve, but the sleeve tore away immediately. He was swept away by the fierce wind and he fiercely wedged his heavy sword into the cement of the rooftop. Both hands clutched desperately onto the sword handle, turning him into a flag that was waving in the wind.
He saw that the five fingers of Sheng Lingyuan, which had been tenderly caressing Bi Chunsheng's head, suddenly retracted with no warning and plunged into her skull. Bi Chunsheng's eyeball was squeezed out of its socket, and blood gushed out of her head. She was so shocked that her face was blank.
Sheng Lingyuan straightened his back and looked down on the woman lying on the ground, "No."
The Yin Sacrifice had come to an end. The "host" of the ceremony, the demon, tore up the "contract" of the Yin Sacrifice text on the spot and arrogantly killed the person who cast the spell. It was unknown if this had ever happened before, and even the offering document froze for a moment. Then, the Yin Sacrifice text was furious and floated from him, turning into a sharp blade that counter-attacked.
The demon’s body, which was as hard as a stone sculpture, was instantly torn bloody, and yet his face still showed a smile.
"Wait!" Xuan Ji instinctively spoke, "No..."
A gust of wind shredded his words and a nauseating smell of blood rose in the fog on the rooftop. The only sound that could be heard was the "click" of the five fingers embedded in the skull.
"I have always been afraid of being bound."
The fierce wind blew Sheng Lingyuan's long hair. The crazy Yin Sacrifice text seemed to want to strangle him alive. His skin cracked and then his flesh and blood were peeled off layer by layer, revealing the veins and bones underneath... Yet, he seemed not to feel it, and the exposed bony hand still firmly nailed into Bi Chunsheng's skull, sinking inch by inch.
Blood mist sprayed on Xuan Ji and his sword. Both him and his sword could not avoid it.
The devil slightly tilted his head towards Xuan Ji. His originally handsome face was now unrecognizable, and the remaining patches of flesh and skin could not cover the white bones, but Xuan Ji could still feel that he was still smiling. His shoulder was still straight, and his collarbone was hooked on the broken cloth on his clothes. It was quite elegant!
The devil, who had been cut to pieces by the Yin Sacrifice text, was like a nightmare. Everyone should have been happy, but Xuan Ji did not know why he could not bear to look, so he closed his eyes.
The demon said slowly, "You dare to touch my reverse scale."
Bi Chunsheng's face was full of fear. She squeezed out a few words with difficulty from her throat: "Aren't you afraid... of having your bones crushed and ashes scattered?"
Bi Chunsheng's voice became a mosquito-like buzz: "Aren't you afraid... of your soul flying away and your spirit..."
Sheng Lingyuan laughed and Xuan Ji felt a chill down his spine. The patterns of flames at his brows involuntarily emerged. Then he heard the heavenly demon say, “That’s something I could only dream of.”
Before his voice had died away, the rooftop exploded with a loud “bang”, half the building was lifted up, Xuan Ji and his sword were thrown out of the building together. The bones of the man laughing wildly were scattered and at that moment, Xuan Ji seemed to hear thousands of people crying out in despair beside his ears. He was deafened for a moment and had no time to think, so he instinctively rolled off the rooftop and picked up a slow-moving agent when he landed, throwing him desperately towards the distance.
In the blink of an eye, the lightning struck like a downpour and Xuan Ji, who was a step slow, was swallowed into the electric light.
The entire Chiyuan area, consisting of three cities and seventeen counties, lost electricity on a large scale.
Eighty-one thunderbolts struck at the same place simultaneously, and all the plants around it caught fire. Thick smoke and tongues of fire spread, human voices, car noises... All were extinguished in the angry divine punishment. Whether it was special ability humans or ordinary people, they were all like grains of sand in the flood, struggling to escape desperately. Heaven and earth seemed to turn upside down for several rounds. After a while, the shocking thunder subsided slightly, and before people's overloaded sight and hearing recovered, the sky leaked and a heavy rain poured down.
The fire was extinguished.
On the rooftop, the crazy woman and the even crazier demon she had summoned had both turned into flying ashes, without leaving a trace.
The hospital building had almost become a ruin. Apart from Xuan Ji, there was no other living being.
Xuan Ji was kneeling on the ground with a pair of huge flame-colored wings on his back, which enveloped him. After the thunderstorm, the wings flickered and then turned into tiny points of light, disappearing.
The bloody heavy sword slammed to the ground with a "bang", and Xuan Ji's vision went black and he fainted.
When Xuan Ji woke up, he was already in the hospital.
He crawled up with gritted teeth, feeling that something was wrong all over his body, as if his bones had been disassembled and reassembled... His neck was also crooked. He pulled out the needle from his hand and tried to straighten his neck while remembering what had happened before, and at the same time he felt that something strange was missing from his body, as if something was missing.
What was missing?
No, his wallet and accessories were almost the same, and shouldn't have such a strong presence.
Is it the phone?
Oh, right, his phone was frozen to death by the demon in Chiyuan Hospital, and he hoped the bureau could reimburse him.
Although it was inconvenient not to have a phone, but... This strange feeling seemed not to be caused by a mere phone. Xuan Ji moved his shoulders uncomfortably. He always felt that when he woke up, his whole body bones were lighter by a few catties, and he felt unstable.
What was missing?
It was not his phone, but something else. Xuan Ji struggled to get up. He felt that he was missing something, something important.
At that moment, the door of the hospital ward opened, and Xiao Zheng walked in carrying a one-meter-long cloth bag.
Xuan Ji straightened his neck and groaned in pain, "Ah!"
Xiao Zheng threw the cloth bag onto his hospital bed, and the single bed creaked in despair, almost collapsing from the weight.
"Hey, you ungrateful grandson!" Xuan Ji quickly dodged away in surprise, "What's this?"
Xuan Ji opened the cloth bag and was shocked to see his sword, which was stained with blood and hadn't been wiped. Xuan Ji was stunned and then twisted his neck, suddenly understanding why he had that strange feeling of lightness in his lower back– his spine was empty!
This sword was his life-bound sword, which was inserted into his spine every time he summoned it. After killing the enemy, it would automatically return to his back. This sword had a very aloof temperament, as if it didn't want to be seen by any outsiders… so why didn't it return to his back this time?
"According to the regulations, any objects with special abilities must be reported to the bureau. It's a small matter, but this thing is too eye-catching," Director Xiao pulled up a chair and slumped down. He had been busy at the headquarters all night and had flown over without waiting for the day to dawn. He rubbed his face tiredly and said with exhaustion, "But with all the chaos yesterday, I guess no one noticed."
Xuan Ji wrapped up the sword and asked, "How is it?"
"The Yin Sacrifice ritual text has now disappeared and we haven't found Bi Chunsheng's corpse."
"The field agents outside the Chiyuan were seriously injured, and the others only had minor injuries. Fortunately, no one died."
"When the building collapsed, there was an agent who was close by. I threw him out. Is he okay?"
"Yes. He thought you had sacrificed yourself to save him and he was so upset that he was given a sedative and put to bed in the room next to yours."
"That's not good," Xuan Ji gritted his teeth, "When he wakes up, I have to stay away from him and avoid him seeing my handsome and graceful self, otherwise he will insist on thanking me with his body."
Xiao Zheng stared at him with a blank expression, not smiling or rolling his eyes at his inappropriate joke. He took out a cigarette box from his pocket, fiddled with it in frustration, then remembered the hospital didn't allow smoking and reluctantly put it away.
Seeing this, Xuan Ji stopped joking and stretched out his arm. A coin flew out from his palm and landed on the door of the single bed room, forming the character "stop". He then extended his arm and opened the window next to the hospital bed: "No one comes in, you can smoke–Old Xiao, are you okay?"
Xiao Zheng threw a box of cigarettes into Xuan Ji's arms. The two of them, who were uncivilized, each spewed clouds and fog in the ward, and the room was instantly filled with human sorrow.
"The Ji Qingchen shot dead by us—the one with the small mustache—was an ordinary person," Xiao Zheng said. "Because he was infected with a butterfly, he showed some abnormal energy features, so he could not escape the mithril bullets. Yesterday, although he was already completely controlled by the butterfly, the person was still alive. The real cause of death was being shot by bullets."
Xuan Ji opened his mouth—causing the death of an ordinary person due to misjudgment was a serious dereliction of duty.
"Deducted two points from me...It's nothing, I still have eleven points after deducting them. I don't think I'll have many chances to directly command battles in the future, so it's enough." Xiao Zheng waved his hand with a strong fatigue, "The most ironic thing is that I was wrong yesterday, bearing the torment and ordering Bi Chunsheng to be sacrificed, ensuring that Ji Qingchen was killed before the dawn of the night, and it turned out to be a 'correct command to minimize losses' and a reason for exemption from responsibility. Adding the fact that the Mirror Flower Water Moon Butterfly was exposed, it seemed that other things were not counted, so I was just kept in office for investigation."
Xiao Zheng seemed to be debating internally about something, furrowing his brows and taking two deep puffs of his cigarette. The cigarette crackled softly and then he exhaled a disordered cloud of smoke, continuing, "If a normal person witnesses an abnormal event, we have to erase their memory, usually with instruments and drugs, but it still causes some harm. Whenever Bi Chunsheng went on an external mission and saved a normal person, she never let the clean-up team take over, instead using her own special ability to alter their memory herself. Her spiritual-type special ability is much gentler than instruments, but it takes time, and it's troublesome... But she probably doesn't mind the trouble. I don't think these are tasks that she has to do, but rather the ones she likes to do the most."
This is her belief, this is the meaning she once firmly adhered to.
Xuan Ji sat cross-legged on the bed, holding the cigarette without saying a word, just listening. He pulled the bunch of flowers from the bedside and folded a simple ashtray with plastic wrapping paper, throwing it between the two.
"Those who have been saved by her, have their memories modified, and have kept in touch with her for a long time. Bi Chunsheng specially made an address book for these people, that address book..."
Xiao Zheng tried several times and couldn't say the rest of the words. Xuan Ji knocked off the ash, and said lightly to interrupt him: "The people in the address book have already become walking corpses controlled by the butterfly, right?"
Xiao Zheng’s gloomy mood was cut off by his official tone, and he could not help but pause.
"It's not hard to guess," Xuan Ji slightly shrugged with indifference, "She spread the butterfly eggs?"
"She sent out gifts with butterfly eggs mixed in them, and then sent an audio message telling the other person that the food would expire soon, asking them to eat it quickly. Her special ability was hidden in the audio message. Those people were all modified by her special ability and trusted her, so they were especially susceptible to suggestion. Even if they didn't like the food, they would open it and have a try after hearing the message. When these people were completely infected by the butterfly and lost control of their body, she would call them and tell them the truth."
Many illusions were broken, and the victims understood that they were killed by the person they trusted the most.
The immense resentment produced by this will become the nourishment of the Yin Sacrifice.
Xuan Ji remembered Bi Chunsheng's blank face that gradually melted away: "Is her language special ability also effective for the Mirror Flower Water Moon Butterfly?"
"Yes, humans have their own emotions and instincts, if the target itself is very wary and hostile, it will reduce the effect of the spirit-based special ability. But Mirror Flower Water Moon Butterfly has no 'ideas' or emotions. It just controls the host's body according to external information, which is easier to be affected by the spirit-based special ability than humans. The Ancient Studies Department even thought that the Mirror Flower Water Moon Butterfly might be the earliest tool of some malicious spiritual forces."
Xuan Ji sighed: "No wonder she can control the boy to write with the Yin Sacrifice text."
Xiao Zheng was silent for a moment, then said: "When we found the bodies of her family, the bodies were quietly lying on their own beds, the bodies had rotted, and the walls and floors were written with sacrificial texts, which covered up the smell of the corpses, so the neighbors did not notice. Her lover died without rotting because he was parasitized by the butterfly... Maybe when his head was split open, the murderer was too excited and the sweater was torn at one corner."
Xuan Ji asked vaguely while holding a cigarette: "Was the sweater seaweed-green in colour?"
Xiao Zheng didn't hear clearly: "What?"
Xuan Ji shook his head wearily.
"Her son and mother were in their respective rooms, covered with blankets. Her lover's body was in the master bedroom, and there were traces of someone lying down next to it. From that time... or maybe since eight years ago, she had already gone crazy."
For eight years, she lived in a restless nightmare, suspecting that her loved ones were fake husks all the time. Until she found the butterfly parasites on her father's corpse.
Nightmare became reality; she probably could no longer distinguish between illusion and reality.
Her battle companions, who had been entwined in life and death, turned out to be the hidden masterminds. Then, what she had decided to fight for her lifetime was just a ridiculous scam?
When she went mad and knocked open the heads of all her family, she found that her mother and son were not parasitized. What kind of feeling was it?
How many layers were there in this underground hell? What level did one have to fall to for the voices to be heard by the evil spirits wandering the underground?
For a moment, both of them were silent, until their cigarettes had burned to the end. Then, Xuan Ji remembered something and asked, "What about the child who was parasitized by the butterfly? Is he alive?"
"Yes, the cryogenic surgery was successful. He should be able to recover back to normal after a while. We have isolated the butterfly that was taken out. However, this cannot be concealed anymore. This is the biggest scandal since the establishment of the bureau... Maybe that was her purpose. Chief Huang has been called away by the higher-ups, and they haven't returned yet."
Xuan Ji: "Are the child and the last offering also people saved by Bi Chunsheng?"
"No," Xiao Zheng shook his head, "The two of them had no connections with Bi Chunsheng or the Control Bureau before. They didn't even know each other. The only common point is that they were both from Dongchuan. But Bi Chunsheng had never been to Dongchuan, so this is really strange. The investigation team is digging into their social relationships. In addition, where did the parasitized butterfly come from, and how did Bi Chunsheng know about the Yin Sacrifice ritual... All these are not clear yet."
Xuan Ji extinguished his cigarette and raised his eyelids: "I originally thought Bi Chunsheng chose to retire to the Aftermath Department because of her special ability, but it wasn't, right, Old Xiao?"
Xiao Zheng was shocked.
"This isn't hard to guess," Xuan Ji lifted his eyelids to reveal a pair of cold eyes. Looking bored, he casually picked up the shaken-off cigarette ash, pinched it piece by piece and threw it into the plastic ashtray. His movements were slow, and his words came out slowly as well. "The one who conspired to manipulate the mortality rate with the 'Mirror Flower Water Moon Butterfly' should be my predecessor in the aftermath department, right?"
Xiao Zheng didn't make a sound and tacitly agreed.
"You know that the Aftermath Department has deep waters, and it is difficult to get involved. Therefore, you deliberately brought me, an 'outsider' carp, to try to break the ecology of the Aftermath Department. I am a person who is afraid of trouble and death. If I had known in advance that this was a position with ‘little money, lots of trouble, and full of landmines’, I would have run back to my hometown with a debt on my back. So you didn't mention it beforehand, and you wanted to deceive me first... Old Xiao, time has passed and my old friends are gone. I, a homeless youth from the north, have had very few friends in these years. You cheated me like this. Can you bear it? It's too heartbreaking."
Xiao Zheng was speechless, looking up at Xuan Ji.
Xuan Ji's eyes still twinkled with a smile, but upon closer inspection, the fullness of the smile seemed like a burden, hanging heavily on his droopy eyelids. His eyes were youthful and bright, but because the weight of the smile was too heavy, they carried a strange sense of weariness. In that moment, Xiao Zheng suddenly realized that Xuan Ji was like his smile - sincere but soulless, treating everyone as brothers but without truly connecting with them.
Xuan Ji was usually very relaxed, his edges and corners all contained within the limits of an experienced social animal, as if there was no bottom line. Until he revealed his alienation to Xiao Zheng, who realized his boundary of rejecting people to a thousand miles away.
"I...I really don't have anyone to trust." Xiao Zheng said somewhat embarrassedly, "I even suspect that there is a 'shadow of a butterfly' on my resume..."
Xuan Ji smiled and thought to himself: "Do you still need to suspect it?"
If everyone is mixed up very badly, only a few people have good luck, there is probably something wrong in it.
Xiao Zheng could be considered a true " son of heaven." He came from a privileged background, and even more remarkably, his family was harmonious without any ridiculous "rich family feuds." Being an only child, he was showered with affection from a young age. When his family learned about his unique abilities, they didn't treat him as a freak but instead took pride in him.
At the age of eighteen, Xiao Zheng officially joined the Bureau while simultaneously pursuing an undergraduate degree and training with the Security Department. After graduation, he directly entered one of the "Three Specials," Thunder, and climbed the ranks rapidly. Now, this young talent has entered the power core of the official organization for special ability people.
Then his three views of the world were broken into slag.
"It's okay, Little Xiao. If you float around in society, how can you avoid getting cut by a knife? It's just that you haven't been cut yet, so it's time to make up for it. At your level, being put on probation is basically just a formality, don't worry about it," Xuan Ji said.
"As for that butterfly incident, since you had no idea about it before, there's no need to think too much about it in the future. Sometimes it's better to remain ignorant. Don't get too caught up in these Schrödinger's truths - isn't Bi Chunsheng a warning from the past?"
Fate and history are like "second-order chaotic systems", intertwined with cause and effect.
If Bi Chunsheng hadn't been so paranoid about those things, she wouldn't have been driven half-mad by her mental abilities and she certainly wouldn't have desecrated a corpse by opening her father's skull. She would have retired as a hero, with the glory that she deserved, and gone to dance in the square, travel and visit the Bureau during holidays to give lectures to the young people. Her husband may have been just a shadow of thirty years ago, but her mother and son were at least alive.
Life is like a dream, and whether it's people or butterflies, who can say what is more real than the other?
Xiao Zheng didn't accept this meaningless comfort.
He said lowly: "I don't understand. In the end, why is there such a 'Fifteen-People Red Line' rule that eats people at its core?"
"Why is it that people with special abilities can't see the light in this society? Why do they have to prioritize protecting ordinary people? Why is it that when in danger, people with special abilities are the ones who have to be sacrificed and abandoned? Are people with special abilities inferior to others? Should their lives be discounted and sold off?"
As Xiao Zheng vented, Xuan Ji's gaze swept over his empty right ring finger. The spot where a ring used to be was now just a white circle. He deftly transformed a plastic ashtray, shaping the ash and cigarette butts in the center and folding the outer ring into a strange flower, which he then placed on Xiao's coat. Only then did he say, "Yong'an West Mountain is a nature reserve."
Xiao Zheng was stunned. "What..."
"Twenty miles to the south, which is also our neighbor in the Bureau, is the West Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center. The 'Conservation Center' is surrounded by fences, and if wild animals are obediently 'protected' inside, they will have food and drink as 'human friends.'
But if they break free and run around outside, then...sorry, 'friend,' they will be knocked down at best, and killed at worst." Xuan Ji got off the bed, and moved around as if partially paralyzed, picking up his heavy sword and swaying it toward the door of the hospital room.
"The Bureau is just like the Conservation Center, and the 'Fifteen-People Red Line' is one of the fences that nobody is allowed to cross. Xiao Zheng, you're not a child anymore, how can you not understand this? That's why I, a wolf in sheep's clothing, only wanted to have a few scraps to eat, and didn't want to get mixed up with you all."
Xiao Zheng thought he was going to run away on the spot, and stood up in a hurry: "Wait, where are you going?"
"Ah–calm down, I'm not planning to resign for the time being. The devil summoned by the Yin Sacrifice ritual may have some origins with my family. I'm going back to my hometown to get some information, please give me a week off, Director Xiao."
Xuan Ji pulled open the ward door and remembered something. He turned back and said to Xiao Zheng, "Remember to compensate me for my mobile phone, and if you dig any more holes for me, you have to pay more money."
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