I hardly ever saw An Ning looking so serious, so when I saw her expression, my heart tightened.
She knew something about the ritual.
When Grandfather An had helped the antique seller exorcise the antique, he seemed to have used some kind of ritual and with the main family’s help, successfully drove away the spirit that had been in the antique.
An Ning’s hands were curled tightly into fists and her brows scrunched. She said: “Grandpa told me that the rituals are never to be taken lightly, even as just a joke, it’s not allowed! Because you’ll never know if some strange things from the Underworld will be summoned.”
Yang Yi explained to her the situation that the Yue family had caused, but he stopped when the ritual was brought up, and sent conflicted glances first towards his uncle, then his grandparents.
As soon I saw An Ning’s expression, I knew that she must have had a certain understanding of rituals. Even if she was not continuing the family’s business, Grandfather An had taught her the basics.
“Grandfather Yue must know what ritual it was, please tell An Ning.”
They looked at An Ning with uncertainty. That was when I remembered that although now they knew who I was and my background, they did not know An Ning’s.
I hurriedly introduced them.
“This is An Ning, my best friend. You don’t have to worry about whether the situation with your family will be exposed, An Ning’s family have been exorcists for generations. Her grandfather is an Eclipser.”
Yang Yi looked at An Ning, shocked.
After Grandfather Yue and Grandmother Yang heard my introduction, their eyes still held some suspicion, but they quickly accepted An Ning, most likely because of me.
“With an extra person to help, the situation will be resolved faster. Tell us exactly what kind of ritual it was. Maybe An Ning knows of it. If we know what happened and what it is, then we can find a way to get rid of the thing.”
Grandfather Yue looked like he wanted to say something but then stopped himself. His hands held onto his walking stick, repeatedly stroking the polished wood, his wrinkles resembling the bark of an ancient tree.
I looked at him quietly, waiting for an answer. Yang Yi anxiously tried to hurry his grandfather up.
“Grandfather, An Ning comes from a family of exorcists. I think we should tell her, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. It would be better if her family could help us.”
I coughed and explained: “That depends on you.”
The meaning behind my words was that I would introduce my friend, but that didn’t necessarily mean that she would and definitely did not mean that her family had agreed to send aid.
Yang Yi seemed to understand and stopped talking and instead, stood to the side silently.
Grandmother Yang saw that her husband was still not talking and slapped his shoulder angrily.
“Just tell An Ning! What choice do we have now? Ah! I regret marrying you back then. If I knew that your family had this kind of history, I would have definitely rejected your proposal!”
Grandmother Yang looked very angry and had hit Grandfather Yue hard, but I could tell that her tone held more helplessness and despair.
Her voice was childish. She was disappointed in her husband, who was still not being forthcoming, but did not really blame him.
Tell them, tell them.
That was what she was thinking.
Grandfather Yue seemed to understand his wife well and did not get angry. He nodded rapidly and then got ready to tell us everything. “Ah, everything I know I heard from my parents after they were kicked out of the family.”
“My grandfather sent my parents a letter that mentioned the ritual.”
“I don’t know what it was called, the only thing I know is that the head of the Yue family wanted to extend his life and somehow stumbled upon the ritual. What happened after that….I think you all know even if I don’t tell you.”
Grandfather Yue’s voice was filled with sorrow. After An Ning finished listening, she snorted coldly, as a derisive smile appeared on her face.
“As I thought, this ritual was what ruined the Yue family.”
When I saw her smile, filled with anger, I felt the hairs on my back stand up. I had never seen such an expression on An Ning’s face.
“An Ning, do you know what ritual it was?”
“Of course, you could say that I have an in-depth understanding of it.”
She reeled in her eerie-looking smile and looked at me seriously. I saw a strange flickering glow appear in her eyes.
“Even if I don’t say it, I think little Hua already knows. Trying to extend your life is forbidden, because it goes against the laws of nature that all humans must follow.”
She crossed her hands in front of chest as she continued. Her voice was very cold, “Trying to change the edicts of fate only results in death. Humans cannot survive in this world independent of nature’s laws.”
“The disappearance of the last generation of the Yue family was to be expected.”
An Ning signalled for Yang Yi to bring a pen and paper to her.
She squinted slightly. The words that fell from her lips sent chills down my spine, as I gulped.
“Extending life, hah. For someone to extend their life, the years they gain have to be taken from someone else.”
She then turned to look at me, then at Grandmother Yang, before looking down and stating calmly, “That’s why Grandmother Yang said what she said that day in front of the elevator.”
What’s on the surface has changed, but what’s beneath has not.
The old site of the Yue family was the site of burial for all the people that had died because of the life extension ritual. So many innocent tribe members, innocent country folk, all died there filled with hatred and grievances.
I thought back to the huge rolling black mass from last night and its shrill, heartrending screams, which seemed to be telling us of the pain it had suffered, the dark history it was a part of.
“”Do you know how the ritual was performed?”
I did not want to ask the question, because deep inside, I already knew the answer.
The tragic screams still reverberated in my ears, again and again. They must have undergone heart-tearing, lung-ripping pain to have screamed like that.
But I still asked anyways.
An Ning’s face darkened, as she clenched her teeth. Her eyes filled with a crystalline sheen, but the tears did not fall.
She tilted her head back and took a deep breath before speaking.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
As I thought….my mood dropped, I mourned the pain that those innocents had experienced.
Uncle Yang, a tall, strong, middle-aged man, had only dark clouds on his face. Grandmother Yang no longer acted childishly, and Grandfather Yue, who was troubled the entire time, had his face turned dark.
Yang Yi brought a pen and paper over to An Ning, and she drew a well-practiced circle, before rapidly finishing her symbol.
As soon as she finished, she handed the paper to Grandfather Yue and asked, “When grandfather first returned to the old mansion, did you see this symbol?”
When he looked at what An Ning had drawn, Grandfather Yue’s face drained of all colour and he did not speak, but I already knew the answer.
“This forbidden magic has a hundreds of detriments and not a single benefit. Even if it did succeed, there would have been no good results, the destruction of the Yue family was only to be expected.”
An Ning explained calmly, the shine in her eyes completely gone, leaving only cold desolation.
“The more people that were sacrificed, the stronger the monster became.” Her gaze swept over me, then Uncle Yang, then Yang Yi, taking turns staring at every person present.
She opened her mouth, as if about to speak, before closing it again.
Finally, she let out a deep sigh, with an obvious expression exhaustion and powerlessness on her face, “I did not want to tell all of you this, but now I’ve decided I should say it.”
She wrote the word “spirit” on a sheet of paper, then said, “Spirits are immortal. Life extending rituals actually take your spirit out from your body and let it take a physical form and stay in this world. For a spirit to take a physical form, there are only two possibilities.”
“One, if they were born as a high level spiritual body in the Underworld, just like Little Hua’s husband. The other, if they transform into an evil spirit.”
When I heard what she had said, I shuddered.
An Ning did not continue speaking. Instead, she poked me in the arm and asked: “What level was the thing you and your husband saw yesterday?”
She wanted to know just how big of a mess the Yue family had left behind so she could decide whether or not to help them take care of it.
I laughed bitterly, then moved closer to her ear and said awkwardly, “Pervert said that it would be best if we left this place today.”
An Ning rolled her eyes. She understood what I meant.
If even the King of the Underworld said that we should leave as soon as possible, it was clear how scarily powerful and difficult to deal with the thing was.
When Grandmother Yang saw An Ning’s expression, she stood up abruptly and walked towards her, tears shimmering in her eyes. The wrinkles on her face seemed to carve in even deeper.
“I beg you, please help our family.”
Grandfather Yue grabbed her hands and admonished her: “Old lady, do not beg others. This is our family’s business, how can we inconvenience others?!”
“Let go of me!”
The old grandmother was pretty strong and shook of her husband’s hand, her tears still flowing freely down her face.
“After I married you, there hasn’t been a single good day. It was bad enough that our son was affected by this, but I won’t let it chain Little Yi down too. He’s still so young, unless you expect him to let this dictate the rest of his life?”
Her devastated wails almost shattered my heart.
This scene made An Ning sigh and tilt her head in thought. Then she said “I have to discuss this with my grandfather. He might agree to help. The enchantment on the borders of the mansion only treat the symptoms not the cause and normal exorcists won’t be able to deal with such a powerful spirit.”
After Uncle Yang heard what An Ning said, the gray clouds marring his expression cleared.
His broad, roughened palms covered his face and his shoulders were shaking. I couldn’t tell if he was crying or trying to suppress his overwhelming emotions. The apprehension in my heart disappeared and I quietly observed the expressions of everyone standing in the living room.
They must have been tormented by this for a very long time and wished fervently for freedom and relief.