34 As In Purgatory
There was no sound when the spheres of air hit the stone door, and neither did the door break apart. Instead, there looked to be two globs of liquid stuck on the door, slowly spreading out to cover the center of the door.
Gaoqin Jiuye said, “We don’t know what’s behind this door, so I used the air current to create a hole. On the opposite side, the air current will reflect the image of a stone door so whoever is on the other side remains unaware that we’ve broken through. Once we see what lies behind the door, we can decide if we will really break in.”
I inwardly praised his thought process, but I was also surprised by his ability to control the flow of air. The air in the Split Zone was indeed different.
Just then, an area on the stone door turned transparent, as if part of it had been dug out.
“But don’t speak. Sounds and smells can still permeate through.” Gaoqin Jiuye whispered to us as the transparent area on the door grew larger. And so, we all held our breaths as we looked into this window-like gap in the door.
As my field of vision widened, I saw a stone room, chiseled deep into the darkness. On the wall was an old-fashioned torch that looked like it could go out at any moment, casting a yellow glow on the walls. A silent, cutting cold crept out from inside the room, spreading over my skin.
From the hole, I could only see a flickering light. The light illuminated a wooden barrel in the center of the room. We could see about two meters around the barrel.
Curiosity overcame me, and I stepped forward, my breathing heavy. Even Nie Zun and Jie Pa couldn’t help step forward. The three handsome men looked like a group of desperate chicken thieves, as they and I leaned in for a look.
After careful inspection, I saw that there was a woman whose body was half trapped underneath the barrel. The woman’s dried up hair was matted together with red-brown blood. It was so stuck to her face that it looked like a single tug might pull her entire face off.
I widened my eyes, but perhaps because she’d been tortured for too long and her hair was covering her face, I was unable to ascertain if she was the person I searched for.
The clothes on her body had long ago been torn to shreds, now mixed together with dark blood. Her full chest was covered with dirt, and she lied on the ground like a corpse under the barrel.
Suddenly, two figures appeared; they were two women in brown robes. Their faces were exceptionally bewitching, with crimson eyes and lips so red they seemed covered in fresh blood. Had they been licking blood?!
Although I very much liked the color red—scarlet red—these two strange, red-lipped women left me feeling disgusted.
As I watched them, I saw the women each carrying a bronze basin, slowly closing in towards the wooden barrel. Their eyes were locked on the girl under the barrel, never once losing sight of her.
One of the women told the other, “Be careful, this isn’t just an ordinary thing! This doesn’t exist in the Split Zone. Putting aside how precious it is, you must remember how dangerous it is. Once it climbs onto your body, you will hope to live without being about to live, and pray to die without being able to die. Make sure you don’t get it on your body.”
I could see hesitation on the face of the woman who had spoken. It was clear that she was afraid of whatever was inside the bronze basin. When the woman slanted her hand, I saw that there was something dirty and filthy inside of it. The basin also seemed deeper than ordinary basins, but I couldn’t clearly see what was inside it.
The other woman opened her red lips and smiled ever so alluringly. “I know, I know. There will be a good show soon. Shall we make a bet on how long she’ll last today?”
The uncertain looking woman didn’t reply. Instead, she cautiously poured the contents of her basin into the wooden barrel. With a splash, fresh blood splattered in all directions.
As she was pouring, I finally saw what was inside her basin. They were about ten centimeters long and three fingers wide. Squirming around, they looked like centipedes, only longer and thicker. They were headless and had soft, flexible, black and yellow bodies.
I used my mental force to heighten my visibility, but because of the dim lighting conditions in the stone room, I could only see a little more clearly.
On either side of those things, there were crab-like claws that extended another finger’s length. As they fell into the barrel, they seemed to come to life. A lively sound echoed, like someone grinding their teeth. When they landed on the woman’s body, they started to crawl around rapidly. They wandered onto her body and wantonly danced around, clamping onto and cutting her flesh until blood started flowing out.
The other woman went to pour her basin into the other side of the barrel, and those creatures covered up the fallen woman’s beck, chest, and the rest of her body under the barrel. The woman instantly woke up. In between all the matted hair, a mournful light burst out from her eyes. Just watching it, I couldn’t help feeling frightened.
I quickly looked up and motioned to Nie Zun. The meaning being, ‘We’re just going to keep watching and not do anything to save her?’ His eyes concealed a dark gloominess.
While I was hesitating, a strange sound pulled my attention back to the scene in the room.
The woman seemed to be trying to speak, but it sounded like she couldn’t complete her words. A thick, piercing voice came from her mouth, reminiscent of the sound of nails on a chalkboard. Each cry grew louder than the last, and by the end, she was roaring.
Even standing on the other side of this stone door, all the hair on my body stood on end as I listened. Watching the scene, I even felt a stabbing pain across my skin, as if I were the one lying below the barrel! A retching feeling started to ruse up from my abdomen. I tried to stifle it, but the pain made it a struggle.
Although I didn’t want to keep looking, I forced myself to continue watching the girl being torn apart by those frightening poisonous bugs, while she looked like she’d prefer death over living.
I wanted to charge in, but Gaoqin Jiuye shot me a cold glare, as if having seen through my intentions.
Then I realized that there was more to the scene than I’d initially thought. Because our bodies will heal and regenerate in the Split Zone, as the girl’s body was being torn apart and mutilated by those bugs, her skin and flesh were healing. But since her skin healed quickly, the bugs ended up trapped in her skin and flesh.
Watching the girl’s skin envelope those horrifying bugs as it healed over, like a sponge soaking up water, while still having more of those bugs crawling on and eating her alive was really too much for me to bear. I quickly covered my mouth.
Then the woman who had mentioned having a bet lifted her arm and covered her red lips with her sleeve. A joyous laughter burst from her and she said, “Aiya, she’s really suffering. If her torture ends quickly, and we play with those three kids later, don’t you think we’ll sleep with smiles on our faces tonight?” As she spoke, she motioned to the other woman, looking towards the corner of the room.
The hole Gaoqin Jiuye formed in the door wasn’t wide enough for us to see the corners of the room, just the center where the women were. But hearing the woman’s words, I felt like I’d been hit by a large boulder. It seemed unimaginable to me that Laurel would be among the three kids that they tortured, and I subconsciously shook my head.
Gaoqin Jiuye seemed to have caught on to my thoughts again, for he gave me a look that said not to act rashly. But if Laurel was really one of the three kids, how could I just sit back and watch without doing anything?
As I tried to think up a plan, my eyes remained fixed on the door before us.
One of the two women slowly put down her empty basin, while the other woman enjoyed watching the girl being tortured, her skin fusing with the poisonous bugs, her tortured screams growing louder.
I couldn’t bear it any longer.
With my right hand, I grabbed the bow on my back; it was small and compact, easy to get a hold of. With my left hand, I reached for four arrows. From the hole in the door, I aimed two arrows at each of the women, and then let them fly. With a whiz, the arrows soared out.
I’ve been practicing archery for more than just a few days, and my bow had a special setup, so without a hitch, the four arrows shot out nimbly, accurately hitting the two women’s eyes!
As the arrows hit their eyes, their heads arched back and they let out anguished cries. Not everyone had the same pain tolerance as Jiao S, so the two women who’d been hit by the pain-stimulant coated arrow-tips dropped to the ground and wailed.
Gaoqin Jiuye turned and gave me a cold look, but there was also no uncertainty in his eyes. Instead, he raised his arms and once again, two vortexes formed. With a casual sweep of his arms, the stone door immediately cracked apart with a boom!
I stepped inside.
The two women were crouched on the ground, crying out in struggle as they tried to remove the arrows from their eyes. But because of the pain stimulant on the arrows, they were suffering too much to move. Blood sprayed out from their eyes, creating the effect of dark red eye shadow.
The woman beneath the barrel appeared to have melded in all the bugs. She was shaking and spasming, like someone who was being shocked by electricity. Her lips were dry and purpled, her hair matted onto her clothes and face.
I busily looked around the room, only to realize that the room was bigger than I’d thought; it was more than a hundred square meters. My eyes wandered until they finally landed on Laurel.
In a corner, Laurel and two other kids were strung up in the air. Laurel was in the middle. On the left was the girl with a mole by her lip—the missing child Jiao S mentioned, from the Eastern District. On the other side of Laurel was a bald boy whom I didn’t recognize.
Laurel’s body was covered in dried blood also. Her eyes were closed, her face dirty, and her soft, shining golden hair was stuck together with old, darkened blood.