Chapter 22: Faces in thick mist (Part One)

Hyacinth summoned a rope with spirit power. The hollow tube-like rope seemed to contain something like a fluorescent power which glittered a green light in the thick fog.

He tied himself to Ouyang Xiaoleng, Xia Qiu, and Qianqi along the rope with skylark knots and said, “This way we can stay together. It’ll be horrible if we get lost in the Forbidden Forest; we might be sucked into black holes leading to alternate worlds. Don’t talk in the forest, or you’ll draw strange things. Stay calm because all your emotions will double in strength in this place; it will make people crazy!”

After entering the Forbidden Forest, they saw countless trees that resembled each other; they all had pitch-black trunks, branches, and leaves. The most puzzling thing was that the trees hovered in midair; the tree above had one stem attached to the tree below it, looking like a reflection in water. The sight gave them the suffocating sense of unrealism. The light was dim in the forest and the thick mist made it dimmer; they couldn’t see things four or five meters away, so they couldn’t see danger until it’s too late.

Hyacinth treaded as light as he could as he led the youths into the Forbidden Forest to look for colorful crystal stones. Engulfed in the mist, he found it was as chilly as the fog created by dry ice and shivered involuntarily.

Xia Qiu was especially sensitive to the cold and felt her feet and hands had turned icy. She wanted to curl up in a ball but knew she must control the urge. She disliked this place because she couldn’t see Ouyang Xiaoleng before her and Qianqi behind her in the heavy mist even though they were very close. Occasionally, unknown creatures let out strange sounds which were neither birdlike or beastlike; they were sometimes near and sometimes far, giving her the feeling that a powerful monster would charge at them any moment. 

The invisible enemy was the most terrifying enemy; it was especially true to spirits since their senses were sharper than human’s. Right now, Ouyang Xiaoleng was being troubled by his sharp senses. Upon entering the Forbidden Forest, he had known that Hyacinth hid something from them probably because he didn’t want to alarm them. The scents in the forest were very complicated as if many worlds were forced into one fragile structure. Maybe this was why Hyacinth told them to be silent; any sound might cause a chain reaction like domino cards. If the fragile balance supporting the Forbidden Forest was broken, the consequences would be severe; the chain reaction it caused might even damage the entire Yellow Spring Kingdom. He wondered why the Yama King made them come here; after all, he knew the consequences more than anyone else and could have given them another task.

Engrossed in his thoughts, he slowed down a bit and Xia Qiu bumped into him as she walked forward. Even through their clothes, he could feel the chill from her body. He wondered how long she had suffered from the cold. She didn’t want others to worry about her and always held on by herself no matter how difficult it was; maybe this was the gentle nature unique to humans. His heart went out to her whenever she acted like this. He reached out and groped until he touched her hand. He gripped it tightly as she had gripped his hand when he was uneasy at the spirit king election meeting. 

Qianqi had disliked this world even before he saw that crooked Yama Palace. Finding colorful crystal stones in a place where he couldn’t see the path before him was no easier than finding a needle on the bottom of an ocean. As he walked, he felt as if sparks were rising in his heart; the little sparks of restlessness were tiny, but they might kindle a fire.

Suddenly, Hyacinth sensed things were approaching them in a circle. The cyclones around the attackers dispersed the thick mist. Anxiously, he glanced at the youths behind him. After making sure they were with him and unhurt, he followed their gazes and looked up at the sky.

Hovering in midair were giant translucent human faces from which came the noises sounding neither like birds nor beasts. These things must have been following them right after they entered the Forbidden Forest.

Horrified, Xia Qiu stared at them and covered her mouth with one hand to stop herself from yelling in terror. These ghost-like faces must be monsters from an alternate world that Hyacinth had mentioned. These monsters seemed to be waiting for their reaction.

Ouyang Xiaoleng hesitated, wondering if they should brace for a fight. He was about to summon his Godly Ice when Hyacinth raised a hand and signaled him to wait. Hyacinth wanted to try their luck. If they used spirit powers, they might draw other monsters to them. These monsters hadn’t attacked them ever since they entered the forest; maybe they just wanted to observe the intruders.

There was nothing in the eye sockets in these translucent faces. The longer they stared at these creatures, the deeper they were drawn into the empty darkness which was trying to connect with the black holes in their hearts. In fact, every person had a dark side that they didn’t want to show others and it was a part of them that they concealed carefully; it might be hatred, desire, or an ugly past they didn’t want people to know about… Hyacinth felt the seal on his memory was opened slowly while the familiar sense of despair swallowed him again.

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