Once the black must dispersed and after sometime passed, Zhang’s eyes slowly opened.
What was peculiar about them was that they still retained the blood red colored pupils that they had before he had lost consciousness.
“Damn it’s bright out…” Zhang cursed in his mind as blinding light from the sun shone into his eyes.
Although he tried to lift his hands up to shield his eyes from the blinding rays, they would not move. Perhaps if he saw what had become of his body then he would shriek in horror.
For the past month after the remnant soul had pulled him into the woods and tried to snatch his body, Zhang had gone without food or drink, causing his body to burn whatever muscle and fat he had to sustain his life.
It got to the point where he was only skin and bones and was surviving solely on the faint strands of essence they flowed into his body.
While his body would not respond to him, his stomach began to roar in hunger. However, since he can’t move, there is no way for him to possibly get food or to replenish his body’s strength.
“%&$#?@! Why’d this have to happen to me… That bastard!” Zhang cursed, despite the state of his body, his mind was as clear as day and unhindered in anyway. This was of course thinks to his month long trip down the white marble hallway.
As Zhang was laying on the ground, powerless, something was lurking within the woods. Unknown to Zhang, a large looking White Striped Panther was moving in on him. The black mist that had enveloped his body had deterred the demonic beasts from feasting on his body, but since it dispersed, there was nothing to hold them back any longer.
The panther slowly made its way to where Zhang’s body laid. Thanks to his clear state of mind, his senses were heightened, allowing him to know that something was approaching him, however since he could not move there was nothing he could do to protect himself. Soon trails of saliva began dripping onto his forehead.
“Well, fuck me…” He thought as he panther loomed over him.
Seeing that Zhang was defenseless the panther widened its jaw, revealing rows of sharp fangs. With intense ferocity it bit down toward Zhang’s face, going for the kill.
“Not the face! C'mon now....” Zhang cried in his mind, as he somewhat resigned to his fate and closed his eyes while the panther’s fangs would so pierce his skull and send him on his way.
While Zhang’s eyes were tightly shut and as the panther was about to bit his head off, his body suddenly began to emit large amounts of black mist. This of course caused the panther to cease what it was doing to jump backward to distance itself from Zhang.
The panther growled as the black mist danced in the air. After a few breathes had passed, the panther turned back and began to run away, this was because every living being within the Graveyard were all subconsciously conditioned to avoid the black mist. Having witnessed what, the black mist could do over generations the animals within the Graveyard all had a build in fear of the black mist, no matter how powerful they were.
As the panther fled, the black mist shot forth at blinding speeds and wrapped around the panther. The panther roared as it’s body slowly began to wither and become a dried up corpse that was practically a pile of skin and bones. It was then that the mist moved back toward Zhang’s body while somehow extracting the panther’s bones while leaving its withered corpse intact, soon after the mist faded and the bones were absorbed into Zhang’s shadow.
After sometime passed, Zhang finally opened his eyes. “Somehow I’m not dead...” He thought, somewhat confused. Although he had heard the panther roar he did not open his eyes due to the sense of helplessness that overcame him.
However, after a long moment of silence he decided to see what was going on, because by now the panther should have ripped off his head and ate him.
So after opening his eyes he noticed that he could feel his arms and legs once more, tilting his head for the first time in a month Zhang’s bones made cracking as he examined his body.
Now it was no longer skin and bones, but returned to the condition that it was a month ago. Unknown to Zhang when the black mist was causing the panther to wither, his body was slowly being restored.
“Don’t know what happened but whatever…” Zhang said as he pushed himself up from the ground. Although he did not know how his body was restored, there was no use pondering over something that cannot be answered.
Once he got up and saw the withered corpse of the panther, a shiver ran down his spine.
“That bastard is still around here somewhere.” He thought as his eyes scanned the woods around him.
Only once Zhang was sure that there was nothing watching him from within the woods did he pick up the sack that he had been carrying while the black shadowy figure had grabbed him a month ago and left. Of course he did not forget to grab the panther’s pelt and stuff it into his sack before leaving.
While he made his way out of the woods and toward the massive gates that led out of the graveyard, Zhang was lucky enough not to encounter anymore demonic beasts, or rather no demonic beasts were unlucky enough to encounter Zhang because although the remnant soul was dispersed and destroyed by the light that came from Zhang’s ring, he was somehow able to retain the power to control the black mist. Well subconsciously of course since he himself does not know he had such a power.
The shadow had dragged him all the way into the middle ring of the Graveyard so by the time Zhang made it to the exit it was already nightfall.
Pulling out his dirt encrusted door sealing talisman that had been hanging by his waist, Zhang opened the barrier and walked outside of the Graveyard.
“I’m out!” He yelled at the top of his lungs with glee. But as soon as he made his first stops out of the Graveyard, water began to trickle down from the sky and it began to rain.
“I guess the heavens want to rain on my parade.” Zhang laughed as he began doing heading in the direction where his courtyard was.
“Once I get back, I’m going to sleep and ask brother Cai Cao to cook up something tasty to eat.” He laughed while walking through the now muddy ground.
Despite the rain and the long walk, Zhang would not seek shelter instead he continued walking because he very much wanted to return to the comfort of his room. Also what's a little walking going to do to him now after walking continuously for an entire month without rest nor sleep.
So with the thought of a comfy bed and tasty food driving him, Zhang did not rest and kept walking all the way until he reached his courtyard that he shared with Cai Cao. By now the rain had mostly subsided, however there were still clouds looming overhead.
Pulling out his door sealing talisman that is not cleaned thanks to the rain, Zhang opened his two courtyard gates and entered.
Making his way up the familiar steps a smile crept onto his face because soon he would be home.
Once he made it up the stone staircase, Zhang saw the door into his room was wide open and Cai Cao could be seen bent over in a bronze pail, burning something.
“I tried to get the elders to come and save you but no one would help and they even revoked my access to the Graveyard.” Cai Cao said with a sigh.
“So all I can do now is make sure you're well off in the Underworld, I'll make sure to burn you a lot of money, a big house and even some servants.” Cai Cao said as he picked up joss paper and placed them into the pail.
Before long a large amount of joss paper, a miniature house made of paper, and a few paper figures were burned and offered to Zhang who Cai Cao believed to be dead.
Just as Cai Cao finished burning the offerings, lightning flashed in the skies and snaked from one end of it to the other, while thunder roared down from above.
The rain began to pour once more, extinguishing the fire within the bronze pail.
“Brother Cai Cao, you shouldn't have.” Zhang’s voice crept into Cai Cao’s ears.
Once Cai Cao heard Zhang’s voice a shiver ran down his spine and when he looked up his heart felt like it was about to burst out of his chest.
Zhang could be seen standing in the rain, his figure only visible as the lightning flashed. His hair hung loosely and his clothes were rags, and his pupils were blood red.
“Bro-brother Zha-Zhang…” Cai Cao managed squeezed out. Even if two people were very close friends, if one of them became a ghost it was obvious the they would frighten the other person regardless of how close they really were.
“Yo-you didn't co-come back to haunt me did you?” Cai Cao stuttered.
“I appreciate the gesture but I can't use that joss money or the house or servants.” Zhang said as thunder continued to rumble in the background while rain would not cease falling.
“How come?” Cai Cao asked, although he was a tad afraid of Zhang being a ghost, he was also fairly intrigued.
“Because we don't use joss money in the underworld.” Zhang replied.
“But if you really want to do me a favor I have something in mind.” He also said.
“If it's anything in my ability I would gladly do it for you.” Cai Cao said instantly as if his fear was no longer present.
“First I'll need you to offer me a chicken because there just isn't a lot of good food down there, only dirt and worms day in and day out. Then I'll need you to help me find someone, a beautiful girl I saw a while ago, I would like you to confess to her for me. Lastly I would like you to join me, it's a tad lonely down there.” Zhang said as his blood red eyes shone in the dark.
“The chicken I can do, the girl I can find, but the last request I can't comply with, there's still a lot of things I need to do.” Cai Cao replied.
“Then I guess I'll have to hua-huachoooo.” Zhang tried to talk but before he could finish his sentence he sneezed.
“Wait a second… Ghosts don't sneeze…” Cai Cao said as he slowly stood up.
“How do you know ghosts don't sneeze?” Zhang asked.
“Ghosts don't feel pain either.” Cai Cao said as he rolled up his sleeve and balled his fists.
“Wai-wait now, how do you know ghosts don't feel pain? If they don't they why would they bother with all of the torture down, there. Let me tell you I'm a very fragile ghost.” Zhang said as Cai Cao’s fist swung at him.
“Ghosts don't dodge either!” Cai Cao cried after Zhang dodged his swing.
“You're alive!” He yelled happily as he jumped at Zhang with open arms.
“I’m alive!” Zhang said equally as happy.
“I thought you were dead…” Cai Cao said while sniffing and wiping his eyes.
“C’mon now none of that emotional stuff, I’d be happy if you were a girl but we’re bros we don’t cry.” Zhang said as he patted Cai Cao on the back.
So after an emotional reunion and preparing a chicken for dinner, our two adventures sat down within their room and ate. Cai Cao had many questions that he wanted Zhang to answer while Zhang had many dishes that he was craving to eat.
“So how do you know they don’t use joss money in the Underworld.” Cai Cao asked with a laugh as he watched Zhang tear apart a steaming hot grilled chicken.
“Funny thing, there’s a tradition in my clan that was established by one of our ancestors. Which state that all members of the Zhou clan are not to burn joss money to the deceased because the whole thing being a scam and that they don’t actually use joss money in the underworld.” Zhang laughed.
“How would your ancestor know.” Cai Cao said with a grin.
“Well there’s a story that’s passed down in my clan that states our ancestor had once visited the Underworld and escaped, he even kidnapped one of the Yama’s daughters and made her his wife.” Zhang said.
“Also you damn rascal you, trying to drag me down there with you and who's this girl you were talking about.” Cai Cao said as he pinched Zhang.
“Of course I’d take you with me, I wouldn’t be able to find a better friend in anyone else. As for the girl, I saw her one night at the lake and let’s say it was love at first sight” Zhang said with a smile as he bit into a chicken drumstick.
“Girl at the lake…” Cai Cao mumbled.
“Yup, she was very beautiful, but sadly I never got the chance to talk to her.” Zhang said with a sigh.
“So how was that chicken.” Cai Cao asked.
“Tasted great, too bad there aren’t any seconds, I haven’t eaten in a month.” Zhang said with a cough as he eyed Cai Cao, hinting that he would like more food.
“Yea too bad there aren’t any seconds. Time to get some sleep, we have to attend the outer sect gathering tomorrow.” Cai Cao laughed as he walked to his bed and crawled onto it.
Shaking his head and with a grin, Zhang went out to clean his plate before going to bed himself.
“He couldn’t mean…” Cai Cao mumbled once Zhang left the room, before long he shook his head and covered himself under his warm sheets.
Once Zhang returned to the room he too crawled onto his bed which he had yearned for and covered himself under his sheets.
Soon silence filled the room and dreams were the only thing Zhang and Cai Cao saw.