Xie Lian said, “It’s possible that the child was eaten.”

The wealthy man trembled, “Eaten?!”

Xie Lian nodded. The wealthy man asked, “Then, Master, what should we do now? I still have another wife who is pregnant. What if the monster comes again?”

It turned out there was another pregnant woman in this household!

Xie Lian raised his hand and said, “Stay calm, I will ask some more questions. Does your wife remember where she encountered this child in her dream?”

The wealthy man said, “She vaguely remembers it was a large room, but she can’t recall more than that. It was just a dream, who would remember it so clearly?” He gritted his teeth and said, “I… I’m already in my forties and finally hoped for a son. I’m so miserable! Master, can you catch and kill this monster? Please don’t let it harm anyone in my family again!”

Xie Lian said, “Don’t panic, don’t panic. I will do my best.”

The wealthy man rejoiced and rubbed his hands together, saying, “Very well, Master. What do you need? The reward is not a problem!”

However, Xie Lian said, “No need for a reward. I just need your help with a few things. Firstly, please find a set of loose women’s clothing for me, preferably something that can fit a man. Also, I’m afraid I will need a strand of hair from your other wife to perform the ritual.”

The wealthy man instructed his servant, “Take note, take note!”

Xie Lian continued, “Secondly, please advise your pregnant wife to sleep in a different room if possible. But regardless of where she is, whenever she hears the voice of a strange child calling her ‘mother,’ she must not agree. She must never agree, and it’s best if she doesn’t even open her mouth. Although people often do not realize they are dreaming and become confused while dreaming, if you repeatedly remind her of this in her ear, deeply ingraining it in her mind, it might still be effective.”

The wealthy man agreed to all the requests. Xie Lian then said, “Thirdly, I have brought two children with me. I would appreciate it if you could take care of them and arrange a good meal for them.”

The wealthy man said, “Such trivial matters, don’t mention two, even if it’s a hundred, I can handle it for you!”

Finally, it came to the most important and final matter. Xie Lian said, “Fourthly…”

He took out a blessed talisman from his sleeve and handed it over with utmost seriousness, saying, “Please hold this talisman and say loudly, ‘Prince, please protect me!’ — This way, this matter can be recorded under the name of my temple.”

“…”

That night, Xie Lian once again changed into women’s clothing.

Although he seemed to be quite familiar with cross-dressing, pretending to be a pregnant woman was a first for him. He dressed and groomed in front of the mirror, spending only a short amount of time. Finally, he stuffed a pillow under his clothes, hiding the strand of hair he obtained from the pregnant woman inside. Xie Lian then lay down on the bed. Calm and composed, he slowed his breathing and soon fell into a deep sleep.

After an unknown amount of time, Xie Lian slowly opened his eyes. What came into view was no longer the room of the wealthy man’s concubine but a luxurious pavilion.

Xie Lian’s first reaction was to touch his sword, Feng Xin, to confirm its presence. Once he felt it, he felt relieved. After that, he slowly sat up and suddenly felt something sticky in his hands. He looked and discovered that he was lying on a bed, covered in large patches of blood that were still wet, staining half of his body, a shocking sight.

Unperturbed by the gruesome scene, Xie Lian got off the bed and took a few steps. Suddenly, he felt something fall from his belly. He looked down and saw the pillow, hastily picking it up and stuffing it back in place. As he took a few more steps, his belly fell again, so Xie Lian had to hold it with both hands as he looked around.

Having grown up in the palace, he was exposed to and influenced by various things, and he had his own set of standards when it came to beauty. In his eyes, this small pavilion, although luxurious, exuded an air of artificiality. If he had to guess, it felt more like a brothel or a place for entertainment. Moreover, compared to the prevailing architectural styles of the present day, this style seemed quite old, resembling a house from several hundred years ago. Xie Lian couldn’t determine where exactly it was.

Therefore, it was highly unlikely that the haunting was caused by the spirit of the wealthy man’s aborted daughter. Illusions created by malevolent spirits were based on one’s own understanding. Clearly, this ancient-style building would only exist in the knowledge of an evil spirit that was several hundred years old. After circling around and finding no one, Xie Lian returned to the room where he had first laid down.

It was a woman’s bedroom with a dressing table and a cabinet that could be opened. Inside were some children’s clothes, as well as dolls, tambourines, and other toys. Xie Lian carefully inspected everything and found that they were all brand new. It was evident that the owner of this room cherished these items. In other words, this woman had a deep affection for “children.”

After rummaging around, Xie Lian suddenly gasped in astonishment. Among the child’s clothes, there was a talisman tucked inside. And this talisman, surprisingly, was his own!

Extremely puzzled, Xie Lian had to confirm it multiple times. Yes, it was indeed his talisman. Not the simple one he made himself by collecting herbs, weaving, drawing symbols, and tying it with red thread, but the kind that was widely circulated throughout the country eight hundred years ago, during the peak of Prince Xian Le’s glory. The material and patterns were exquisite, and it was clear where it came from and whether it was blessed.

Could it be that the woman who owned this room was once his follower?

At that moment, in the midst of the silence, Xie Lian suddenly heard a series of giggling laughter.

It was the laughter of a child, startlingly clear and echoing in the emptiness, but he couldn’t determine its source. Xie Lian remained composed, pondering inwardly: This voice sounds familiar, as if I’ve heard it somewhere before. Where could it be?

Suddenly, a string of innocent childish voices resounded in his mind: “New bride. New bride, on the red flower sedan chair.

“Tears well up, passing through the mountain pass, the veil must not reveal a smile…”

On Mount Youjun, on the flower sedan chair, he heard the voice of that child spirit back then!

When Xie Lian abruptly awakened, the child spirit’s laughter ceased as well. He turned around in an instant, but there was no trace of anyone.

After the incident on Mount Youjun, he had also inquired about the child spirit within the spiritual array, but others told him they hadn’t found any child spirit on the mountain. Only he had heard the voice of the child spirit. And now, this was the second time the child spirit had appeared before him. Was it a coincidence or intentional?

The child spirit stopped laughing and said, “Mother.”

This “mother” was spoken so close, yet Xie Lian couldn’t determine where it came from. He remained silent, holding his breath and listening intently.

After a long silence, the voice of the child spoke again, “Mother. Hug me.”

This time, Xie Lian finally realized—the voice was coming from his own belly!

Xie Lian had been holding the fake belly with both hands, but now he realized that the pillow he was holding had become surprisingly heavy. With a palm strike, a “crack” sound echoed, and a clump of something rolled out from his clothes. It vaguely appeared to be a pale, pale child. It spat out a few clumps of cotton and a strand of black hair before rolling into the darkness, disappearing in an instant. Xie Lian rushed forward to take a look, realizing that what it had spat out were clumps of cotton and a strand of black hair. It seemed that his illusion had worked, as the mischievous spirit intended to devour his “child” just as it had eaten the previous pregnant woman’s child. However, it ended up consuming the cotton substitute that Xie Lian had placed in front of his belly. Immediately after, the entity let out a sorrowful cry, “Mother!”

No matter how it called out, how sorrowful its cries were, Xie Lian remained calm and kept his mouth shut. He concluded that this child spirit was a fetal spirit, and this room was where its mother had once lived. Since it didn’t have a definite form, if it had died at the age of a few years old, it would appear in that form when haunting. However, most of the time, it appeared as a black smoke or a vague white figure, indicating its own uncertainty about what it should look like. Moreover, the small clothes in the cabinet clearly showed no signs of being worn, and coupled with the large amount of horrifying bloodstains on the bed, Xie Lian deduced that the owner of this room had likely experienced a miscarriage, and her unborn child had already taken shape and developed some consciousness. After becoming a fetal spirit, it wanted to return to its mother’s womb and sought out the wealthy man’s wife.

In her dream, it called out “Mother,” and the woman’s mistake was answering. One must know that the bond between “mother” and “child” was extraordinary. By responding, it was a granting of permission for the spirit to enter. With another word, she unknowingly provided the evil entity with an opportunity. The entity slipped into her through her mouth, sneaked into her belly, and devoured the fetus that had originally been in her womb. Although Xie Lian was a man, he couldn’t be certain that if he spoke, the child spirit wouldn’t take the opportunity to enter his own belly. However, just to be safe, it was better to keep his mouth shut.

So, with his mouth firmly closed, Xie Lian wielded his sword, called Fang Xin, and searched for the child’s traces everywhere. Xie Lian had always possessed strong intuition when it came to danger, honed through countless battles. He didn’t need to scrutinize carefully; he would simply thrust his sword at wherever he suspected, and eight or nine times out of ten, he struck true. Although the harm he inflicted on the child spirit within the illusory realm would be diminished, Xie Lian managed to strike it several times, which should be quite effective. After a while, Xie Lian suddenly felt a sharp pain under his foot, as if he had stepped on something extremely sharp, causing him to stagger momentarily.

The child spirit, seeing him fall into its trap, let out a short, sinister laugh. The voice, though childish, shouldn’t have come from a child at all. Instead, it sounded like that of a wicked adult, creating a stark contrast that sent shivers down one’s spine. However, Xie Lian remained unfazed, continuing without a pause, and thrust his sword backward. Struck again!

The child spirit let out a cry of pain, retreating far away. Xie Lian lowered his head to glance at the sole of his boot and discovered that he had stepped on an inverted vertical needle. It was undoubtedly placed there deliberately by the child spirit, indicating its strong desire to see Xie Lian in pain. However, it had miscalculated. Xie Lian had an exceptional tolerance for pain. Even if he stepped on a needle or had a leg caught in a few feet of a trap, he could endure without uttering a sound.

The needle was small but deeply embedded. Xie Lian intended to remove it first, but the child spirit dodged after suffering a setback. Fearful that it might escape and harm others, Xie Lian pursued it while stepping on the needle, feeling no pain after a while as he swiftly chased. He searched around the small building but found no sign of the child spirit. Xie Lian wondered, “Could it be that it has scared me off?” At that moment, a window nearby opened on its own, without any wind.

Xie Lian immediately rushed over and took a look, only to be stunned. Outside the window, there were no streets, no mountain scenery, no pedestrians—only a bottomless deep pool.

Across this deep pool, there was a house with two children, Lang Ying and Gu Zi, sitting inside. They were eating at a table. Unbeknownst to them, a dense black mist hovered above them, emitting giggling laughter and crisply calling out, “Mother! Mother!”

Xie Lian’s heart tightened, and he placed his hands on the window frame, instinctively preparing to shout a warning but remembering he couldn’t speak. He forcibly suppressed his voice.

Although this was merely an illusion created by the child spirit, he didn’t know if Lang Ying and Gu Zi had been drawn into it as well. If so, the harm they experienced here would be inflicted upon their real selves. He thought of finding a vase to throw as a warning but couldn’t find anything to throw. The tables and chairs couldn’t be thrown out, and there was a large lake between the two rooms. Did it mean he had to swim across?

At that moment, a dispirited Gu Zi yawned, and the black mist suddenly gathered, as if it was about to slip into his mouth.

The defense of a child’s body was weak, and even without permission, there was a chance this entity could invade. With no time to ponder or swim slowly, Xie Lian made a quick decision and shouted, “Shut up! Run!”

As soon as the words left his mouth, Lang Ying and Gu Zi indeed awakened, frightened into silence. They leaped up, and the child spirit instantly disappeared. Then, in the next moment, a burst of black smoke exploded in front of Xie Lian!

Although Xie Lian immediately stopped himself from speaking, he could feel a cold air rushing into his mouth. The black smoke entered his throat, and in an instant, it felt as if his internal organs were freezing. He clenched his teeth, quickly dismantled several talismans, crushed the herbs and paper inside with force, and swallowed them. Before long, his throat felt itchy, and he forcefully expelled the black smoke!

Xie Lian covered his mouth with his sleeve, coughing incessantly. Tears welled up as he coughed, and he rapidly contemplated his countermeasures. Despite expelling the black smoke, it still enveloped his upper body, entangling him relentlessly. Therefore, Xie Lian pressed his hand against the window frame, leaped out, and dived into the lake.

With a loud splash, Xie Lian sank deeply into the water. He held his breath, crossed his legs, and folded his hands in a meditation pose, allowing his body to slowly sink in the icy water. After his heartbeat calmed, he looked up and could vaguely see the swirling black mist locking the entire water surface from above. As soon as he emerged from the water, he would need to take a deep breath. But if he did, the child spirit would undoubtedly be sucked into his stomach. It wouldn’t be pleasant for a man to suddenly have a bulging belly.

However, jumping into the water was only to find a moment of respite for contemplation. Before long, Xie Lian devised a plan to deal with it. He thought, “What if I swallow it? I’ll just swallow Fang Xin as well.” He had learned the art of sword swallowing when performing on the street, although it could be detrimental to his health. But it didn’t matter; as long as he could capture the child spirit.

Having made up his mind, he let go of his hand and swam to the side. Suddenly, he heard a muffled sound from above, and in an instant, his vision was dominated by large, dazzling patches of red.

The black, swirling strands of hair filled his entire field of vision, and water splashes and bubbles clustered together, obscuring everything. Xie Lian blinked his eyes and struggled to push aside the entwined threads and crystal-like bubbles, only to feel a pair of strong hands. One hand held his waist, while the other pinched his chin.

The next moment, a cold and soft object sealed his lips.

2 / 2