Chapter 135 The Hidden Danger
"You're giving up time on this earth to rid us of a dangerous spirit." I thought at the golden man before us, "Thank you Master Nangong." I nodded to him in respect.
The Nangong thing rose and moved its hands in the dispelling ritual. The light around him brightened and then began to fade. When it was gone entirely, the man that remained looked exhausted. His eyes had lost all of their light and looked unnaturally dark. The white had taken on a light gray color. His mouth sagged at the corners in a concentrated frown.
"Thank you." He said, eyes still closed. When he opened them, he looked down at the spot the old woman had been. His face twitched in what could've been a smile, and then he collapsed. I half caught him and half fell myself until Wei Wei showed up to help.
We set him down against the wall as he protested. "I'm fine. Thank you. I'm fine." After he was settled he waved a hand to Xu Liang. "Bring me your hand."
Xu Liang walked over slowly, cradling his blackened hand. "It's okay master..." He said, not sounding remotely okay.
The hand was black everywhere except for the nails, which were a sickly red and purple color. It looked swollen and deflated at the same time, turning his forearm into a stick that supported a malformed baseball glove-like monstrosity.
Nangong Zhentian studied the discolored hand for a moment. He reached into his pocked and withdrew a jar of ointment. With slow careful words, he explained, "This was given to me by a man of great talent. It should remove the Yin air."
Xu Liang wasted no time. He grasped it in his good hand and wrenched it open with his teeth. Using one hand as a spoon, he plunged into the jar and came out with a glob of the medicine. He closed his eyes in relief the moment the substance touched his blackened skin.
Nangong Zhentian looked away from his apprentice and back to us. "Help me downstairs now. I'll instruct Liu Qing to begin the necessary rituals. This haunted house is at its end."
Wei Wei and I helped Nangong Zhentian limp downstairs. Liu Qing rushed to us looking baffled when we stepped through carrying his master.
Nangong Zhentian waved the man away, saying, "I'm fine. Age has caught up with me. We need your help Liu Qing."
"Mine? But Master..."
The Sky Master shook his head again. He was looking worse by the minute. "Don't overthink. I'll not die today."
Xu Liang came out of the building still cradling his hand. Liu Qing saw him and gaped. "You too? What happened in there?"
"Oh, this is nothing!" Xu Liang replied almost jovially. "Master gave me medicine."
"Guys..." Wei Wei said quietly while the others continued talking. Something in his voice drew my attention. I looked at him to find he was looking away from the others, not at the building, but alongside it.
"Guys..." He said again in that long lost tone.
"The amulets are burning..." We said together as I followed his line of sight. The red ribbon lining the building hung slack. Each and every thunder amulet was burning its last goodbye.
Nangong Zhentian heard us after a moment of awful silence. "Oh that's nothing to worry over. The ghost's Yin air must have expanded when she died. The ribbon kept her from hurting anyone. It's over now."
"Thank you for everything you did." I told the Sky Master. He waved a hand at me nonchalantly and settled into a meditative pose. I watched him in silence and let my thoughts gallop around the strange powerful man.
"Why did he come all the way and sacrifice part of his life force? Is that what Taoism is? Simply sacrificing yourself for the greater good. Or..." I thought. "Is there something else? He's not going to get money for doing this. Nobody will know his name. Yet, he showed up at just the right moment to stop the old woman... Maybe he knew the ghost when she was still alive? Maybe it goes deeper than we know!"
After ten minutes Nangong Zhentian's eyes popped open and he stood with renewed energy. He looked my way and loosed a contented sigh. "Shi Yong, I owe you my gratitude. Without your suppression, I imagine I would have had to call upon much more power and sacrificed a part of my life. I am in your debt."
I gave him the appropriate smile and stepped closer. "While I'm very glad you helped us, you didn't spur this spirit on. In fact, you're not connected to her at all. You don't owe me anything." I bowed and waited.
Nangong Zhentian barked laughter and said, "Don't tell me Liu Chunan didn't teach you why we do these things? Taoists spend their lives protecting the delicate balance of nature! That is why I'm here. Why we're all here in fact."
I didn't respond, not wanting to sound foolish. Of course I knew the reasoning behind Taoism! He gave me a strange look and continued. "Either way you're not a member of my organization and I have every obligation to repay my debt to you and your master. That said, I will teach you a skill." He grinned broadly at me.
"What skill?" I asked cautiously, thinking that the more skills the better.
"The one I used to defeat the old woman. Xu Liang also used it, so you are aware of the possible...turnouts."
"The tiger seal?" I pushed.
Nangong Zhentian nodded and said, "Specifically speaking, it's called four seals. The tiger seal is one of the four. The remaining are dragon, turtle, and rosefinch. I can't pass on the knowledge of one without the rest. Remember though, I can teach the movements and incantation, but you," He pointed at me, "Are the key to its successful use."
"Thank you!" I said quite earnestly. "I didn't think you even liked me, and now this?" I almost added.
The Sky Master told Liu Qing to continue expelling the Yin air and instructed Wei Wei and Xu Liang to protect him. He took me by the arm and we walked away from the evil building and down one of the school pathways.
When we reached a suitable spot, the stage area used for gym performances, he walked me through the four seals and their incantations. We practiced until I could reproduce all of it by memory. It took almost an hour.
As we were walking back to the others he spoke without looking at me, "I'll speak with your head teacher before we leave and let him know that it is done. The students will be back in no time."
I nodded knowing he'd be leaving soon, but not knowing how I felt about that. The old guy was kind of cool.
"When I'm home I'll spread the word about you. Remember our deal? I'll expect those amulets each month."
I looked up at him. He was still staring straight ahead. "You'd better be a good guy." I thought to myself. Out loud I said, "I won't forget, Master Nangong."
We gathered in front of the building and exchanged goodbyes. I was sad to see that Wei Wei was also leaving. As they were walking away, I realized that I was the only one left on school ground. I let out an audible, "Nope," as I jogged back to the admin building and collected my bags. I was going home.
When I finally got home my parents jumped all over me. They'd heard the school was closed yet I didn't return.
"Were you with your girlfriend?" My mom teased. I rolled my eyes and walked past them, going straight to my room to practice the four seals.
I spent the next few days pushing that practice. I grew insanely familiar with the rosefinch and turtle seals, but the tiger and dragon seals eluded me.
The week ended far too quickly and I set off to return to school. I wasn't surprised to see that the dorm had been refurbished. I was surprised however, to see the extent. Every single window in the building was glossy and shining with that new plastic glass that doesn't break. Some of the doors had been replaced, and the eighty flowers room was being gutted for new students to live in.
Our new dorm super, Uncle Qi, came to our room shortly after I arrived and beckoned me to see the head teacher.
I quickly put away my things and followed him out.
Head Teacher Qu was sitting behind the grand desk when I came in. The other deans were absent from this meeting. He offered me a cup of water, which I took and promptly pushed to the side. "Shi Yong, I want to thank you for dealing with the- er, the situation. The school has decided to provide you with the remaining tuition for the extent of your stay here, although, you mustn't tell anyone. What do you say?"
I honestly couldn't say. My tongue felt like a dead worm. "I, I, thank you!" I told him. Free tuition would help my family so much! I realized I was still nodding and made myself stop. I was also smiling like a fool.
My life in senior high school leveled out after that. It turned out that Wei Wei was promoted to liaison between his master, Nangong Zhentian, and I. He was the one who came knocking for the amulets each month. It was wonderful to see him. The first time he came around, he stayed at the school for almost two weeks! We spoke with the head teacher and got him into a spare dorm. I'd go to his room to make amulets and we'd hang out.
Nangong Zhentian sent Wei Wei with amulet supplies that I'd never seen before. The papers were made of supernatural grass, medicine balm, and cinnabar. The package that Wei Wei handed to me at first reeked of medicine, and then overwhelmed me with supernatural air. "This stuff is wild!" I told Wei Wei with a grin.
Using and making the newly textured amulets turned out to be equally wild. With the proper tools, I was able to make two blue amulets and eight yellow ones. I jumped up from the desk and screamed in joy, "I did it! Blue Amulets!"
I wish that I'd have known what they'd be used for. I wish that I had thought harder before agreeing to work with Nangong Zhentian. I wish I'd expected the hidden danger.