Stranger Danger

Chapter 26: The Perfect Scapegoat



Chapter 26: The Perfect Scapegoat

Swoosh swoosh!

Countless strands of bull fur were flying toward Ye Qing, and each strand was as thick as a bucket. They easily smashed every tree standing in their path into smithereens. Ye Qing had no doubt that he was a goner if he allowed them to catch him.

There was no time to think. After rolling on the ground and dodging a deadly swipe that was aimed at his back, Ye Qing leaped back to his feet and accelerated toward the Jade Dragon Lake with everything he got.

Honestly, there was no good option here. He was stuck between a rock and a hard place, though one threat was more immediate than the other. It was why Ye Qing ultimately decided to risk the Jade Dragon Lake. One way or another, he wasn’t going to give up until the last moment.

When the bull fur got within ten meters of the Jade Dragon Lake, it suddenly began to take on a blood red hue. The next moment, it began bleeding bright red blood like it was flesh, not fur.

“Ahhhhh!”

The clump of bull fur writhed violently like it was alive. At the same time, countless warped and tormented faces began appearing on each individual strand. It looked horrifying in every sense of the word.

The faces weren’t doing well, however. Like candle wax melting under a hot flame, they were slowly but surely dissolving into blood. They struggled and screamed as an unnatural, irresistible power strove to unmake their very existence.

The clump of bull fur immediately stopped pursuing Ye Qing and pulled back, but it was too late. Before it could withdraw out of range, it melted completely into blood and dyed the ground red.

“Argh! You abominable bitch! How dare you damage my beautiful hair! One day, I swear I will…”

In the forest, the tail-woman was screeching angrily like a banshee. The blood had essentially destroyed a good portion of her hair and made her partially bald, so she looked incredibly ugly right now.

When she was finally done with her swearing, she looked at Ye Qing and let out a bone-chilling cackle. “I will remember this, cutie, and I will find you even if you run to the ends of the earth!”

She then looked away and said, “Let’s go find some flesh food, Bull. The sooner I can regrow my beautiful hair, the better!”

With that, the bull Stranger turned around and trotted back into the forest, wantonly carving yet another path of destruction.

“Phew… it’s finally gone!”

When he confirmed that the bull Stranger was truly gone, Ye Qing let out a huge sigh of relief and collapsed to the ground. He shot back to his feet almost immediately, however. It was because he remembered that he wasn’t out of the woods yet. The memory of the sarcophagus nearly annihilating the August Hill Village and the bull fur rotting into a pool of blood were still fresh in his mind.

According to Granny Xia, there existed three forbidden regions around August Hill Village. They were the underbelly of Little August Hill, the Haunted Wail Gorge, and the Jade Dragon Lake respectively. Of the three, the Jade Dragon Lake was easily the most dangerous because any living being who got too close to the lake would be corrupted by its blood qi and suffer either one of two different fates: One, they would turn into a Red Walker who fed on all things with even a sliver of blood in them. Or two, they would be melted down into a pool of blood.

Even if there was a way to shield themselves from the blood qi, they still had to contend with the lake of literal blood and the sarcophagus at the center of it. It was why no villager was allowed to get close to the Jade Dragon Lake under any circumstances.

“So like… why am I still alive?” Ye Qing asked no one in particular while rubbing his nose. Not only did he feel perfectly fine, he felt an inexplicable sense of closeness to this place. To be specific, his blood was unusually lively, and it was constantly consuming the blood qi in the air to strengthen itself.

“Is it the Annon Sutra or the mysterious blood? It’s probably the blood!”

He had refined the mysterious blood from the Stranger in the sarcophagus, and the Stranger was probably the source of all the oddities surrounding Jade Dragon Lake. That was why he was safe. The Annon Sutra might be able to shield him from the blood qi, but it would not be able to trigger a resonance between his blood and the blood qi!

Ye Qing reached out and made a grabbing motion. Wisps of blood qi immediately entered his body almost as if they couldn’t wait to become one with his blood. The effects were immediate. He began healing at an accelerated rate.

“Looks like I’m right. This is a safe zone for me!” Ye Qing was delighted, of course. The Jade Dragon Lake was the bane of all things alive, and not even the bull Stranger was an exception. Logically speaking, no Stranger should exist in the area besides the one lying in the sarcophagus at the center of the lake. It should be safe for him to catch some rest.

And so he dropped back to the ground and rested. It wasn’t until he was more or less back to peak form that he finally climbed back to his feet and examined his surroundings.

The Jade Dragon Lake was around thirty meters in diameter and blood red in color. Its waters were perfectly still, and everything around it—the grass, the trees, the rocks, the soil, and even the sky were dark red in color. It was like an independent domain that existed separately from the outside world.

Floating in the middle of the lake was a sarcophagus, and blood qi was constantly seeping into it. It was as if the mysterious Stranger inside the sarcophagus was also absorbing the surrounding blood qi to restore itself…

Thump!

Suddenly, the sarcophagus shuddered once and scared the shit out of Ye Qing. He would have turned tail and run if the sarcophagus hadn’t fallen completely silent after that. He sighed in relief when he confirmed that it was just a false alarm.

Afraid that staring at the sarcophagus for too long would trigger it somehow, Ye Qing looked away and muttered, “That sarcophagus is weird as hell. Best not look at it any longer!”

Ye Qing spent the next period of time examining every nook and cranny for cultivation manuals, medicine or anything that could be valuable to him. There had to be some treasures lying around this strange land, right? Unfortunately, he was wrong.The only thing he found was trees, grasses, and rocks. He sighed. “Oh well. I guess it’s time to leave!”

Chu Nianjiu and the others should be pretty close by now, and it would be troublesome if they found out that he was immune to the deadly phenomenon of the Jade Dragon Lake. In fact, he would have left way sooner if he wasn’t worried that the bull Stranger could be lying in wait for him somewhere. He wouldn’t count out the possibility considering how intelligent the tail-woman was.

As expected, he had just returned to the forest when he heard a bunch of rustling noises not far ahead from him; the sound of footsteps to be exact. Ye Qing immediately hid behind a large tree and pretended to be nervous.

Not a moment too soon, Chu Nianjiu came into view and called out warily, “Who’s there?” At the same time, the Wine Gentleman stared intently at Ye Qing’s hiding spot.

“It’s you, my lord? Thank goodness!” Ye Qing exclaimed in pleasant surprise as he ran out of his hiding spot. He was so happy, so excited that he even tripped and ate a faceful of dirt.

“You’re… Ye Qing, right?” Chu Nianjiu asked.

Still brimming with excitement and relief, Ye Qing scrambled to his feet and nodded. “That’s my name, my lord!”

“Where’s Chen Zheng?” Chu Nianjiu asked another question while looking left and right for Chen Cang’s younger brother. He was getting a bad feeling about this.

“Chen Zheng?” Unconscious fear and horror crept over Ye Qing’s face as he stuttered, “Captain Chen, he… he was eaten by a bull Stranger!”

“He what?” Chu Nianjiu urged. “What the hell happened? Please tell me everything from the start!”

Ye Qing took a couple of seconds to rein in his emotions before he began, “From the beginning… Not long after we parted ways with you, we ran into a swarm of Bloodsucking Mosquitoes. Captain Chen and I fought them off as best we could while trying to make it back up the hill.”

“However, a dozen or so giant birds with snake heads suddenly descended from the sky and began attacking the Bloodsucking Mosquitoes. When they opened their mouths, they spat out this disgusting wind that’s incredibly deadly. I… I only touched the wind for a second, but it was enough to rot my skin…”

“That’s the Malice-class Stranger, the Gale Bird!” Chu Nianjiu clarified. “Continue!”

“Since the Gale Birds’ attention was wholly on the Bloodsucking Mosquitoes, we thought that we were safe. We were just about to make a run for it when… when…”

All the blood suddenly drained away from Ye Qing’s face as if the memory was too much to bear. “The ground suddenly split apart, and clumps of fur the size of buckets suddenly burst out into the open. It caught most of the Gale Birds and… and Captain Chen. He was just too close to the scene when it happened. Then, they were all pulled into the underground.”

“After that, the ground shook like an earthquake, and a gigantic bull the size of a small hill burst out into the open. It had a horse’s face and a long tail with a woman’s face on it. The fur that caught the Gale Birds and Captain Chen originated from that tail, and that woman, she… she pulled Captain Chen close and ate him in one gulp!”

Ye Qing continued while looking as pale as a sheet, “Not only that, that tail-woman… She can talk! She said she wanted to eat me! I could hardly believe my ears!”

Chu Nianjiu’s expression was inscrutable. He took a sip of alcohol before asking, “If what you said about that bull is true, then how did you survive?”

Ye Qing swallowed audibly before answering, “Well, I ran like hell as soon as I saw her taking a bite out of Captain Chen. It was while I was running that she said she was going to eat me. Thanks to the early start, I was able to escape into the forest before she could reach me, and after that… well… I’ve just been running non-stop and praying to all the gods and demons in the world to save me.”

“I should’ve died, really. I was about to run out of energy when I reached this place. For whatever reason, the bull Stranger just suddenly gave up and left without a word. Worried that there might be some grave danger lying ahead of me—danger that even the bull Stranger is wary of—I decided to hide here and wait for rescue. And… and you did!”

Chu Nianjiu asked another question, “Did you encounter anything strange on your way over?”

“Like what, exactly? Nothing about this place is…” Ye Qing frowned in confusion before exclaiming in realization, “Oh right, I did! There’s a black forest not far away from here that’s filled to the brim with the human skin Strangers! There’s even a giant that’s cobbled together from human skins. They tried to chase after me after I intruded their territory, but then the bull Stranger showed up, and they decided to deal with the greater threat first.”

“It was useless though. That bull Stranger, it… it just let out a sneeze, and the human skin Strangers, every single one of them…. They were gone just like that!”

“A sneeze? Are you sure?” Chu Nianjiu pressed.

“Absolutely. That sneeze was louder and more powerful than anything I’ve ever seen before. It was like the sky itself was sundered in half. It’s impossible!” Ye Qing said while wiping away beads of cold sweat from his forehead.

I see. That pit we saw must’ve been a result of that sneeze! Chu Nianjiu thought to himself.

Chu Nianjiu hid a sigh when Ye Qing’s story finally came to an end. He was unable to identify any inconsistencies or suspicion points from the young man’s words or expression.

In fact, he had encountered the bull Stranger just a moment ago. It was exactly as Ye Qing had described. He didn’t know why, but the bull Stranger had been trampling over the forest, catching every flesh-and-blood creature and Stranger it could find with its bucket-sized fur, and feeding them into the woman on its tail. It was bloody and horrifying to the extreme to put it mildly.

Well, this is bad. If Chen Cang learns that his younger brother had been eaten by a bull Stranger under my watch, and worse, that I had allowed its killer to escape right before my eyes, it’s gonna be soooo embarrassing! Chu Nianjiu thought gloomily while sipping his wine.

Bah. What was I saying? It’s better to be embarrassed than to be dead! Chu Nianjiu scratched his nose irritatedly. There’s no way I could’ve predicted that this would happen, and frankly it’s not my fault he’s so unlucky!

Ye Qing was way weaker than Chen Zheng, but he had survived the encounter with the bull Stranger, but Chen Zheng did not. Sometimes, life just rolled that way. L𝒂aTest nov𝒆ls on (n)𝒐velbi/𝒏(.)co𝒎

“My lord, do you know why the Stranger stopped chasing me all of a sudden?” Ye Qing asked. He had been examining Chu Nianjiu’s expression this whole time, and he finally allowed himself to relax after confirming that he had successfully fooled the Wine Gentleman. No one could contradict his story because there was no body, and since there was no body, no one could investigate it and find out that Chen Zheng had, in fact, had his crap beaten out of him before he died. He even had a perfect scapegoat to pin the blame on. It was the perfect crime!

“It’s probably because of the sarcophagus in Jade Dragon Lake!” Chu Nianjiu guessed. The sarcophagus was the reason he came to Little August Hill in the first place, though he wasn’t able to find anything despite circling the periphery for the past two days. Despite his powerful Strange Artifacts, he was unable to get within six meters of the Jade Dragon Lake without being corrupted by the blood qi. It was why he still couldn’t find out the true identity of the stranger in the Sarcophagus.

“The Jade Dragon Lake? You’re saying that the lake up ahead is the Jade Dragon Lake? No wonder!” Ye Cheng exclaimed with feigned surprise.


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