Chapter 13 – Guiding Lanterns
“Let’s stick to the original plan and keep going. We don’t need these though. You can take care of them.” Li Yiming pointed at the three spiderbots.
Eyeglasses nodded and grabbed the remote controller from Shen Jianming. The spiderbots were made to walk into the woods and he returned without them a little while later.
‘Take care? Does he mean to dispose of them?’ Lin Lu frowned, but refrained from asking questions.
“I’ll lead the way. Let Eyeglasses stay at the rear. Keep a tight formation, we need to stay as close as possible. Chen Quan, I’ll leave the directions to you.” Li Yiming left Liu Meng in the middle of the column and led the way into the forest.
Contrary to outward appearances, Li Yiming was not as calm as he seemed. Eyeglasses and Liu Meng were unaware that Bai Ze was not only his summon, but also his soul summon. Even when Bai Ze had been forced into a deep sleep by Heaven’s Punishment, Li Yiming could still feel her presence within him. However, now, there was nothing. Li Yiming felt an indescribable loneliness, even with Eyeglasses and Liu Meng being right beside him.
The team continued their journey. Night fell at the exact same time as the previous day, and the team paused briefly to wait for the moon to show up once again; it was nearly impossible to search for a suitable location to set up camp in the complete darkness. Dead silence reigned as the entire team waited quietly. They opted to only keep one flashlight open, since even Li Yiming did not know how long they would be trapped in this mysterious realm, and he was confident in Eyeglasses’ night vision for alerting them about any oncoming danger.
Li Yiming was keeping track of time, and, after about half an hour, the woods were illuminated by a cascade of silvery moonlight once again.
“Let’s go.” Lin Lu ordered out of habit and let out a sigh upon remembering that she was no longer the head of the team. She looked at Li Yiming to try to convey a silent apology, only to find the latter staring at the front. In fact, the entire team had their attention absorbed by a sight right in front of them. It was some kind of hollow stone pedestal, about half a meter high, in which a small flame burned.
“A Guiding Lantern?” Chen Quan mumbled. It was a rather ordinary object used for lighting up roads in ancient times, and they were not a rare sight in temples or abbeys. However, to see such a lantern on a mountain where no one has supposedly ever set foot, not to mention the fact that it was lit up.
“You can all see it?” Li Yiming knew from the expressions of the rest of his team that this time, he was not alone in seeing the object.
“What’s that? A road light?” Zhang Shanjun asked hesitantly. He was finally able to believe in Li Yiming’s stories about the people in the woods.
“Let’s go have a look.” Li Yiming nodded at the rest of the team and signaled at Liu Meng to be careful.
Lin Lu and her two subordinates approached the stone structure with their weapons drawn. Chen Quan, however, lit up a candle that he took out of his pocket and put it down on the ground. This was the second time Li Yiming had seen him do something like that. He initially thought that it was meant to provide light, but he was obviously mistaken. Although the candle flame looked nothing out of the ordinary, it produced a thick pillar of smoke that shot up the sky like a signal flare, carrying with it a rather unpleasant odor.
“The flame of this candle is meant to lure ghosts away.” Chen Quan explained when he saw Li Yiming’s confusion.
Li Yiming nodded. He had nothing but respect for these ancient techniques that he could not quite understand.
Chen Quan put his candle down and walked right to the stone pillar, scrutinizing the flame within it.
“It’s just an ordinary fire.” Liu Meng said to Li Yiming after a moment.
Chen Quan seemed to also have reached the same conclusion. He took out his dagger and cut off a piece of the material which served as the fuel for the dancing flame. He brought it to his nose and rubbed some of it between his fingers.
“It’s pine resin. We’ve seen plenty of it on the road. At least the fuel for the fire is nothing out of the ordinary.” Chen Quan wiped his dagger on his pants. Resin was a long-lasting fuel that could burn for hours.
“There’s another one!” Zhan Shanjun suddenly said and dashed into the forest.
Li Yiming looked in the direction and could distinguish a faint light in the distance. He followed Zhang Shanjun, but after barely a few steps, he suddenly noticed that the latter was fading away. He turned back to look at the team, and was reassured when he saw nothing wrong.
“Careful!” Li Yiming yelled. He leaped forward and reached out for Zhang Shanjun’s shoulder.
However, Li Yiming’s hand went through Zhang Shanjun’s body as if it was thin air. The latter did not seem to hear Li Yiming’s call and continued making his way forward until he vanished a few steps later.
Li Yiming fell down and rolled on the ground as he missed his target. When he stood up again, a sword which sent cold reflections of steel around suddenly appeared in his hand; it was a level three sword he had kept from his encounter with Bing Shuai back in Hangzhou.
The appearance of the sword was the least of the concerns, as the entire team had their eyes riveted to where Zhang Shanjun was a moment ago.
“Zhang Shanjung!” Shen Jianming shouted and waved his rifle around, sending a ray of light in an arc in front of him. However, there was not a single trace left of his friend. It was as if he had never existed.
“So that’s how it happened…” Eyeglasses stared forward with a grave countenance. ‘No signs before it happens, and not a single trace left behind…’
“You’ve seen things like this before?” Shen Jianming looked at Li Yiming with fiery eyes.
“Keep your formation. Stay close to me.” Li Yiming answered coldly and led the way with his sword ready.
“Go.” Lin Lu threw a glance at Shen Jianming and followed up.
The other five team members followed Li Yiming to the next stone lantern. On their way, they saw Zhang Shangjun’s footprints cut short after the first two steps.
The second lantern was as plain-looking as the first one, but Li Yiming knew that that was exactly the problem.
“There’s another one there…” Liu Meng said hesitantly as she pointed forward.
“Let’s go, it’s our only clue.” Li Yiming looked at the faint glow of fire behind him. It was barely visible, but Li Yiming had the impression that it was the eyes of some kind of spectrel.
But Li Yiming had no choice, he could not give up now, not after Bai Ze was gone. He would need to move forward and investigate further, regardless of whatever hellish danger that might give him cold feet. After the second stone lantern came a third one, and a fourth one, all the way until the seventh, where Li Yiming paused in front of. He could see a road ahead that made its way into the depths of the forest.
“A road here? Impossible!” Shen Jianmin peeked from behind Li Yiming. If it was not for what happened to Zhang Shanjun earlier, he would have rushed out of formation.
“Well, the lights were man-made, so it’s no surprise that there’s a road here.” Eyeglasses took out a small, metallic transmitter, about the size of a button, and threw it onto the road. The team stared at the object as it landed in the distance.
“Nothing out of the ordinary.” Eyeglasses said after a moment of silence.
“We can’t give up now after coming this far. Just be careful.” Li Yiming took a deep breath and walked forward with his sword ready.
“There shouldn’t be anything here. At least according to satellite images.” Eyeglasses looked at his tablet once again and searched for their current location.
“We’ll go have a look.” Li Yiming looked at the road ahead and could see a few faint haloes of light in the distance.
“I’ll lead the way.” Lin Lu suddenly walked forward and turned on the flashlight which hung on her rifle.
Li Yiming stayed silent, knowing well it did not matter whether he led the way or not.
The road was rather poorly maintained, and it seemed little more was done beyond clearing away the wooden debris, which exposed a rather moist and dustless carpet of vegetation. After another sharp turn, the eighth stone structure appeared. The road ahead made a quick descent down a steep hill and joined a stream which ran in the valley below.
“Are we going downward?” Lin Lu turned around and waited for Li Yiming’s decision. The stream grew visibly deeper ahead, and the dark water seemed like the mouth of a monster waiting for oncoming prey.
“Let’s go. We should hurry.” Li Yiming’s eagerness to get the end of it grew as he had a sudden feeling that this light was going to be the last one.