Xi Zirui wakes up in stages. As his awareness returns he's relieved to discover that the unbearable heat is no longer clouding his senses.

He looks around at his surroundings, and comes to a chilling realisation. He's back in Peiya village, close to Physician Wei's practice, but the village looks nothing like he remembers it.

There's a thick miasma about the entire village, oppressive and grim like a bad omen.

He struggles up to his feet, checking himself for any injuries. He's at once relieved and confused not to find any.

Xi Zirui remembers vividly how smug Han Chang looked when he found him in such a compromising position with Han Yu.

In fact, it doesn't take a genius to realise that was probably his plan from the beginning. Maybe while he and Han Yu thought they were being discreet under the covers Han Chang was already planning all this.

Without any other options, Xi Zirui makes his way through the desolate roads. He remembers what Han Yu told him when he woke up after his two-year coma, about how She Yong went on a rampage and absorbed the qi of every villager.


That explains the bleakness of the village, that in two short years looks much worse than Han Yu remembers, and it wasn't in particularly good shape even back then.

Everything about the desolate village makes Xi Zirui's hair stand on end. He also has no memory of what happened after Han Chang walked in on them, he's worried about what might have happened to Han Yu.

The temperature is several degrees cooler in Peiya than it was in Heavenly Dragon sect, and Xi Zirui can't be sure how long he's been unconscious, or how long it took to bring him here.

More importantly: why he was brought here in the first place.

He walks by a familiar dingy little house and freezes.

He recognises the house of the three orphaned children he and Han Yu met when they first came to Peiya.The chances of them having survived on their own all this time are slim, but Xi Zirui still wants to make sure.


The rickety door gives away easily under his shoulder, and he makes his way inside. Everything looks the same as he remembers, except for the extra layer of dust.

"Is anyone here?" Xi Zirui asks into the gloom, already sure of his answer by the lack of light in the house.

If the children were still alive there would be at least a fire burning in the hearth.

He's about to turn away and leave when a childish voice calls out to him, "Nice gege, is that you?"

Xi Zirui recognizes A-Jiu's voice but there's something chilling and hollow about it. When he turns around and sees her emaciated state, his fears are confirmed.

She's no longer alive.

There are dark circles around her sunken eyes, and her lips are cracked bloody. She's a hungry ghost, who for some reason isn't being violent right now.

"It's me," Xi Zirui says, trying his best to smile at her. "What happened. A-Jiu?"

Her small face scrunches up in pain, and she shakes her head. Her neck is so thin that it doesn't seem like it can support the weight of her head.

"A-Jiu doesn't remember."

"Yes you do," Xi Zirui says, smiling sadly. "I know you probably don't want to, but you do."

Her face crumples and she hides it in the crook of both her elbows. Her small frame is wracked by sobs, but no tears come. Xi Zirui wishes there was something he could do for her.

Not knowing what else to do, he sits down against a wall and hums a tune Tuya used to sing to him whenever he had trouble sleeping.

He no longer remembers the full melody, just Tuya's pleased expression as she hummed it to herself. It's that sense of peace and tranquillity when the two of them were working side-by-side in their little cabin that Xi Zirui tries to recreate in the dismal house. Hoping to bring even the barest glimmer of lightness into A-Jiu's short, sad life.

After some time her dry sobbing subsides. When Xi Zirui next looks at her, she's sitting down next to him, hugging her legs to her chest.

"Who did this to you?" Xi Zirui asks, trying to keep his tone even.

"That snake," A-Jiu says, her eyes terrified and frightened.

Xi Zirui sighs. He still doesn't know what She Yong had to win by destroying the entire village when by all accounts he was already getting enough qi through his scheme with Physician Wei.

"He killed everyone," A-Jiu says, looking up at Xi Zirui in horror, as if she still hasn't been able to digest the enormity of what happened. "But it wasn't just him. There was that scary man with him too."

Now, that's new. Han Yu didn't tell him anything about someone else helping She Yong.

"He dressed kind of like gege." A-Jiu says, looking down at Xi Zirui's robes.

"The person who was helping She Yong was from Heavenly Dragon?"

Xi Zirui has no doubt that everyone in Heavenly Dragon has questionable morals, but with how much they hate spirit beasts he can't see why they'd help one.

Even so, A-Jiu's conviction is unwavering and she nods. "Sometimes there were other people, but they just watched. The snake and the scary man did everything."

"What exactly happened?" Xi Zirui asks, puzzled.

"They drained everyone's qi and killed them." Her voice lowers almost a whisper. "Now, everyone in the village is dead but they keep coming here still."

Xi Zirui frowns. "To do what?"

A-Jiu looks more frightened than ever, her throat bobs up and down several times. "Everyone who died was buried here. In the end, when there was almost no one left to bury the bodies, they were just left out to rot." She shivers again. "The scary man with the cold eyes can make the corpses do what he wants."