"Other outsiders?" The main reason Chen Ge's group had entered the village was to search for Fan Yu and Jiang Ling, so when they heard there were other outsiders, their ears perked up.
"Before you arrived, two kids accidentally entered the village because they were lost." Ah Qing tried to remember the details. "A boy and a girl. The boy is very thin and of average height. The girl looks about four; she's just like a China doll, very cute."
"Fan Yu and Jiang Ling!" Hearing Ah Qing's description, Chen Ge's speculation was confirmed. He grabbed Ah Qing's graveclothes. "Where are they now? Bring me to see them!"
"I don't think that's possible." Ah Qing tried to pry Chen Ge's hand away, but he realized that the thin-looking man before him was quite strong. "When they entered the village, they were spotted by the other villagers. Then the Zhu woman appeared and personally arranged a place for them to stay. She paid special attention to the girl."
"Jiang Ling? Why?" Chen Ge was confused.
"According to rumors, that Zhu woman plans to have the girl join the ceremony. At the time, I was also confused. This is the first time in decades that someone from the outside has joined the ceremony." Ah Qing finally stopped struggling and allowed Chen Ge to grip his shoulder.
Did the woman notice Jiang Ling's history? She plans to gift Jiang Ling to the female ghost? Chen Ge started to think. Zhu Xinrou is staying by Jiang Ling's side, and she wouldn't let any harm come to Jiang Ling, so there are only two possibilities. Either Zhu woman has some method to suppress Zhu Xinrou, or Jiang Ling joined the ceremony voluntarily.
On the drawing that Fan Yu had left behind, he had written two words-Going Home. There had to be a reason they returned to Coffin Village that night. Coincidentally, that day was the day the ghost stories society made their move and placed their target on Jiang Ling. All roads led back to Coffin Village.
Other than the villagers at Coffin Village, I have to be cautious of the society's members. Chen Ge released his grasp and patted Ah Qing's shoulder lightly. "If possible, try to bring that thin boy out."
"Understood." Ah Qing rubbed his shoulder. "When the ceremony starts, the whole village will be affected. The maze will automatically be deactivated, and the sleeping monsters will awake. You'll see this village's real face."
He spoke very fast, and he kept looking around. "There have been too many deaths in this village, collecting a heavy amount of Yin energy. It's the perfect birthing ground for ghosts and monsters. They will wake up following the ceremony. You have to be careful, don't taunt them. After stealing the baby, leave immediately."
"But how are we supposed to steal the baby?"
"The ceremony starts at the ancestral hall that is in the middle of the village. All the children will be taken inside the ancestral hall, and then the procession will move toward the well that the woman died in. All you need to do is sneak into the ancestral hall after the procession leaves to find a baby with a copper coin around his neck and bring him away with you." Ah Qing paused and took out a cloth from his pocket with hesitation. "The village layout can get quite complicated. Some roads lead to hidden monsters and ghosts. If you want to leave, follow this map."
He handed the cloth to Chen Ge. "You have to save my son!"
After that, Ah Qing left in a hurry. Chen Ge looked at the cloth in his hand. It was a simple map for Coffin Village, and more than twenty spots were marked with a red cross.
"He trusts us so much to leave the map with us? Isn't he afraid we'll leave without saving his child?" Master Bai looked at the map, and his heart was chilled. He had been to many places with crosses when he was young, but at the time, it had been during the day.
Chen Ge shook his head. "The man has planned this for a long time. He wouldn't commit such a careless mistake. This could be a fake map and the real one is probably on the baby."
The streets outside started to change. All the white lanterns were extinguished at once, casting the whole village into darkness. In the silence of the night, someone's house was pushed open, and a woman's voice rang in the dark.
She seemed to be calling someone's name like she was trying to rouse them. The doors were pushed open, and footsteps echoed on the street. The deformed villages exited their homes with masks on their faces. They held white lanterns in their hands, but none spoke. They passed the door of the old home Chen Ge's group was hiding in and stopped about ten meters away. The woman's screamed became clearer, and the weird village was shedding its disguise.
Night fell like silver, suffocating those underneath it. Blood stains started to surface on the village's clean walls, and scratch marks as well as knife marks appeared on the ground. The things that once happened at this village had been bloodier and scarier than Ah Qing's described. The story he told was probably part of the whole truth.
The maze was broken, and where all the streets intertwined was an old ancestral hall. Standing just next to this building was a bright red coffin!
The woman's voice stopped. The deformed villagers stood before the ancestral hall. They looked like soulless puppets with their heads lowered and hands holding the lanterns. No one spoke; the place was deathly quiet.
A door of a two-story building next to the ancestral hall was pushed open. The building was the tallest inside the village and was also the best preserved. The darkened home puffed out a cold draft. Several minutes later, a woman in a bright red dress came out of it. Her face was white and lips purple like a frozen dead person.
Her eyes scanned all the villagers as she walked to the ancestral hall. She gesticulated to the coffin three times, mumbling some local language. When she was done, several villagers come out of the crowd holding bamboo baskets. The baskets were covered with a layer of fabric, and the crying of babies came out from underneath it.
The woman walked past them one by one, lifting the cloth off to inspect the product closely. When she came to the forth basket, she stopped and opened her lips to say something. The one holding the fourth basket was Ah Qing in his mask. His arms of different lengths shuddered like the woman was telling him something scary. After looking at all the babies, the woman pulled out a bloodied scissors from inside her sleeve.
She stood beside the coffin and had the first villager place the basket in the middle of the ancestral hall. Then she walked into the hall with the pair of scissors. The door closed, and the baby cried. The plaques in the hall creaked, and all the villagers lowered their head with despair. Only the red coffin at the door emitted the echoes of a laugh.