Chapter 39: Soul leaves the bird house (Part One)

Xia Qiu didn’t know how much time had passed as she woke up gradually. Opening her heavy eyelids, she found she was lying on the same spot listlessly. She struggled and finally got up to her feet.

Glancing around the room, she found something wasn’t right. She remembered how the room had looked before she lay down to sleep; it had been messy with books and other objects scattered on the floor. But now everything was in its place on the shelves. Did someone come and tidy the room while she was asleep? The odd feeling struck fear into her heart. Her legs were soft, but she forced herself to walk out and check up on others.

With one hand on the wall, she walked slowly into the outer room and found it was also tidy and spotless, but Qianqi, Fenghuo, and Ouyang Hongye were not in the room. Her limbs became less stiff when she walked to the platform outside of the house but didn’t see Ouyang Xiaoleng or Wangyue. Alarmed, she looked down from the platform and saw no one.

She tried to yell their names but couldn’t utter a sound. Suddenly she realized it was daytime, but it had been night when she fell asleep. What was happening? Where were the others? She didn’t think she had slept for long and didn’t believe they’d leave without her! While she pondered, she saw a mass of black mist appear in the distant sky; it looked like a dark cloud in the low sky, or more accurately, black ink that had just fallen into water, dispersing and condensing and dispersing again and again as it flew toward her direction. In the blink of an eye, it came before her.

She had no time to dodge it. But when she thought she’d be engulfed by the dark cloud, it went through her body like a cold draft as if she was nonexistent. She looked back and saw the black shadow had transformed into a human form in the bird house. Then she remembered she had seen this ink-like black mist; it was the person named Black Death who had once attacked her. Was she dreaming? She didn’t understand why she dreamed of this person; meanwhile, her instincts told her that this wasn’t a dream.

When she was certain that Black Death didn’t sense her presence, she relaxed and began to observe him. He flicked dust from his black cloak, picked up a teapot from the low table, filled a cup with tea and drained it; he poured another cup and drained it again. He drank three cups of tea in one breath as if he had come back from a long trip.

Then he put down the cup and walked into the inner room. Xia Qiu followed him and saw him pick up a book. He sat down on a chair and began flipping through it quickly. She leaned over and tried to see what he was reading, but the words in the book looked like symbols and she didn’t understand any of them. The book looked very ancient and she guessed it was left by the late city master of the Bird Concealment Platform. The man frowned and closed the book; it seemed he didn’t find what he wanted in the book. He returned it to the shelf and picked up another one. After flipping through many books, his gaze rested on a book with a black cover, and he read it for a long time until sounds came from outside. He closed the book as a black wolf walked in slowly. 

Like a person, it bent its head to him deferentially and said, “Chief, as Lord Green Cloud predicted, people from the capital city are advancing in this direction and will probably arrive at nightfall. Please leave here as soon as possible, or we’d alert them and draw attention from Lord Green Cloud.”

Hearing the black wolf’s words, he said, “I see. You can go now; I’ll return to Lord Green Cloud in a minute. Besides, Lord Green Cloud and the others don’t know I’m here, right?”

“Yes! Please don’t worry!” The black wolf bent its head deeply and backed out of the bird house.

After the black wolf left, he glanced at the black-covered book longingly and Xia Qiu took the opportunity to memorize the shapes of the symbols on the cover as much as she could. After some hesitation, he stuffed the book into a pocket inside his cloak. Then he swept the objects on the shelves to the floor and dismantled the furniture, making the room look messy and deserted. He glanced around it again to make sure he hadn’t missed anything and left.

Xia Qiu tried to follow him, thinking she’d find Green Cloud’s hiding place by following him. But when she walked out of the house and tried to fly away from the platform after him, she was pulled back by a mysterious force which spun her back to the spot where she had slept on; then she lost consciousness.

When she opened her eyes again, she saw a pair of grey blue eyes were gazing at her. Ouyang Xiaoleng was lying on the floor not far from her without even a blanket. Seeing she had woken up, he turned his face away embarrassedly; then he realized it was more awkward, so he turned back to her with a rare tender look on his face. They gazed at each other quietly and didn’t say a word.

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