Chapter 18: The tasks of the Yama King (Part One)
Layers of mist rose from the ground, obscuring the black-and-white world on the other side of the archway; in the distance, some big cubes appeared faintly behind the mist.
As Xia Qiu and her companions wondered if they should head toward the cubes, blue butterflies flew out from the mist. In this world devoid of bright colors, the butterflies which flew in the shape of a hyacinth were very eye-catching. They hovered in the air before the three teenagers, flapping their blue wings which glittered in strange lights like peacock feathers; it was a beautiful and riveting sight.
“Are you trying to show us the way?” Xia Qiu looked up at the butterflies and asked.
They seemed to understand her words and flew up and down as if they were nodding.
“Maybe we can follow them!” Xia Qiu suggested to Ouyang Xiaoleng and Qianqi.
Seeing Xia Qiu and her companions had decided to follow them, the butterflies began to fly forward; occasionally, they’d hover above their heads or around them. As they flew, glittering dust-like stuff fell from their wings, forming glittering light spots in the air and lending some liveliness to this lifeless world.
Under the guidance of the butterflies, they got closer to the huge cubes, and sounds of mechanical grinding and shrill screams became more distinct as if they could pierce their souls. When they stood before these cubes, they found they were cages which kept rotating like Rubik’s cubes. Each cage imprisoned many souls which had been tortured into unrecognizable shapes. They were tortured day and night for the crimes they had committed before death and received the pain ten times, one hundred times, or even one thousand times more severe than they had inflicted on others.
Xia Qiu didn’t dare to look at the rotating cube-shaped cages. The shapeless souls with distorted faces extended their hands from the bars on the iron cages. A group of people with leg chains staggered over and were driven into a cube-shaped cage by two black-cloaked skeletons with iron whips.
Suddenly, the two black-cloaked skeletons looked toward the three teenagers. When their gazes met, red flames leapt several times in the eyes of the skeletons. The three teenagers held their breaths and didn’t dare to move, bracing themselves for attacks. At this moment, the blue butterflies flew over and made a circle around the skeletons; then the skeletons moved in another direction and left.
The blue butterflies continued to fly and led them to a wide river full of lifeless and sticky black liquid. The unmoving liquid seemed to contain a dark force that could draw in people’s souls.
They walked along the bank and saw several black tower tops in the mist. When they got close, they saw it was a crooked building. It was crooked because it was formed by two totally different buildings; one half was a European-style castle and the other half looked like an ancient Chinese palace. They seemed to be hinged together by a mysterious force and merged seamlessly.
“Is this the Yama palace?!” Qianqi looked up and down this weird building in surprise.
“I don’t know. Now that we’re here, let’s go in and have a look!” Ouyang Xiaoleng felt uneasy as he looked at the building.
Xia Qiu didn’t pay attention to their conversation as her attention was drawn to the huge clock at the top. It sat on the side of the European castle and the needles were rotating quickly with clicking sounds. It made her feel like this castle had its own life and might open its eyes at any moment.
The gate of this weird building was in the center, which connected the castle and palace. The statues standing on both sides of the gate were unique, too. On the castle side was a statue of a European knight from the Middle Ages holding a sword and a shield; on the palace side was a statue of a black yaksha and its bat-like wings were so vivid that it seemed as if the yaksha would fly away any moment. Blue butterflies flapped their wings against the closed gate as if they were urging them to enter.
Qianqi pushed at the gate but it didn’t budge; it seemed to be locked from the inside. He patted on it and received no response for a few seconds; then the sound of something unlocking came from the inside and the gate opened slowly. The blue butterflies flew in lightly with the three teenagers following them closely. The moment they entered the gate, the butterflies vanished in the darkness soundlessly.
Compared with the weird outlook, the interior looked quite normal. In the spacious and dim hall, gloomy blue flames on the torches hanging on the stone walls flickered in the air. On both sides of the corridor in the center of the hall stood countless copper mirrors, each of which was taller than a man. As the three teenagers walked past the mirrors, they saw their reflections in the mirrors. But their reflections looked very weird since the images in the mirrors didn’t look exactly like themselves. When they stared at these images, they were terrified because the images in the mirrors would suddenly put on a creepy and distorted expression. Some even tried to jump out the mirrors to catch them; some seemed to be in pain; some covered their eyes as if they didn’t want to hear something; some closed their eyes as if they were terrified of what they had seen…
After her eyes got used to the dimness in the hall, Xia Qiu suddenly saw several pairs of eyes staring at them like red flames from the end of the hall. She didn’t speak and tugged at Ouyang Xiaoleng’s clothes. In fact, he had noticed the figures staring at them before she did; he stood before her to shield her from their gazes.
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