As Tang Shan walked past the third intersection, he crossed paths with Jake who was patrolling the area.
"Tang Shan, where are you going this late?" Jake greeted him as he approached. It was extremely unusual that he wasn't making fun of him and instead, actually quickened his footsteps to catch up to him.
Tang Shan intended to reply, but as the wheels in his mind began to turn, he sighed. "Yuanyu asked you to come, right?"
Jake gave a sheepish laugh and did not deny that statement.
"Can he just stop worrying about me?" Tang Shan was slightly frustrated by Li Yuanyu's efforts.
"Don't flare up at me; tell him yourself." Jake blocked his ears, unwilling to hear Tang Shan's complaints. Instead, he spoke up for Li Yuanyu. "It's not like you don't know how complicated the roads are in this city. A foreigner like you is bound to get lost, and it's not unusual that you might not even be able to find your way back at all!"
Tang Shan, who had gotten a bird's eye view of the city, was definitely aware that Jake wasn't merely trying to scare him. Though he was planning on just strolling along the exterior of the city, he still allowed Jake to come along for his own safety.
The main reason why he had Jake follow him was because having a conversational partner was much better than sulking alone, though there was not much they had in common in the first place.
"So what did you fight over this time?" Jake asked.
"Nothing, really. I just had something I need to sort out."
Jake didn't pursue this any further and the conversation ended.
They didn't see eye to eye in the first place, though it wasn't to the point that they were enemies. However, they still weren't comfortable enough to have a pleasant conversation.
After strolling for around thirty minutes, Tang Shan still didn't look as if he had any plans of stopping any time soon. Jake couldn't help but ask, "Hey, how long are you planning to walk for?"
"Till the end of time."
Jake spat out a curse.
Tang Shan chuckled at that. "I'm joking. I actually want to get to the villa."
"But that's at the other end of the town!" Jake cried out in misery.
"You don't have to follow me, I won't tell on you to Li Yuanyu."
"No! This is my duty! What are you planning to do in the villa? Don't tell me you just want to reminisce there."
Tang Shan's response stunned Jake for a moment, and all he could do was glare at him wordlessly.
On the way to the villa, the two of them remained speechless.
The thing that broke the silence was an explosion a few streets away from them.
"Boom!" Red sparks flew and a large portion of the district was instantly covered by dense, black smoke. The glass in the surrounding residences and shops all shattered from the impact. The sounds of confusion gradually increased in volume, and they could clearly hear people shouting and screaming.
Jake's walkie-talkie bleeped, notifying him that the culprit responsible for the explosion was nearby and requested that he assist in the capture.
"What the hell!” Jake suddenly pointed at Tang Shan. "You! Get back to the house. I need to do my job, and I don't have the time to take care of you!"
"But judging by the distance now, the villa is closer-"
"Then go to the villa! Don't bother me with trivial issues! Leave! Run!" Jake pressed and then rushed towards the site of the crime without looking back.
It really wasn't a situation where Tang Shan could follow the policeman to satisfy his curiosity, and he stared at the direction where Jake disappeared. Not too long later, there was another explosion, and he clapped his hands to his ears. His ears ringing, he finally began dashing in the direction of the villa.
After escaping to the villa, Tang Shan made use of his memories and found the key that was hidden in the bonsai outside. He entered the house and went to the second floor, concerned but confined to the safety of the house. He looked out from a window, taking note of what was happening within the town.
Soon, a female officer came knocking, and Tang Shan quickly went downstairs and answered the door.
"Mr Tang Shan."
"How's the situation out there?"
"We have it under control, so please don't worry. Mr Li sent me here to inform you that you are to stay in the villa tonight. Mr Tang Shan, I need to emphasize this once more – please don't leave the house tonight!"
Her stern warnings made it seem as if something big was happening.
"It's getting late now. You should get some rest. I still have to meet with the others, so I'll take my leave."
The female officer finished her report and left after bidding him farewell.
Tang Shan returned to the second floor and continued monitoring the situation outside. It was much too far, however, and he couldn't see much. There wasn't a television that could give him live coverage of the incident either, and he was in no mood to sleep yet.
Or at least, that's what he thought. In the end, Tang Shan was exhausted and finally fell asleep by the window wrapped in a blanket.
"Hahahaha, haha, hahahahahaha-"
There seemed to be the constant sound of children's laughter in his dreams.
Tang Shan woke up, the sound of laughter still resounding in his ears. No, those giggles really did exist. He climbed up and gazed out of the window, to the sight of a few children dancing excitedly as they headed towards the other end of the town.
He turned to look at the wall clock behind him, only to find that it was two in the morning. Why were there children hanging around outside at this time? Furthermore, there had been a huge commotion not long ago; it was far too dangerous!
Worried, Tang Shan left the villa and chased after the children.
"Hey! You guys! Wait!"
He shouted at the top of his lungs, and the children suddenly turned around, their laughter halting.
Tang Shan was unnerved by their stares. As he was still a distance away from them and couldn't see the expressions on their face, the atmosphere was terrifying and bizarre at the same time.
"You guys-" Tang Shan started.
One of the children began to chuckle once more, and like a chain reaction, all the children began to laugh along. They ignored him and advanced forward cheerily.
"Hey!" Tang Shan wanted to stop them, but they picked up speed and he had to jog a little to catch up to them. In the end, even he forgot why he wanted them to halt and only mindlessly trailed after them.
The children slowed their footsteps as they approached the square, their presumed target. In front of them were even more children in a circle, all of whom were prancing and grinning cheekily.
Tang Shan got closer and realised that nobody was paying him the slightest attention. He bent down to examine the child who was closest to him, and couldn't help but feel that this face was unexplainably familiar. He racked his brain for any answers – where had he seen that face before?
He remembered now. A quick look around at the faces of the children, and he was so stunned that he stumbled onto his behind. He could not believe his own eyes.
These “children” were the ceramic dolls that every family in the town possessed!
The dolls gathered in the middle of the square while they filled the area with their hearty laughter.
It sent chills down his spine.
Then abruptly the laughter stopped. A person walked to the middle of the square wearing a black cloak and a hat, seeming to merge with the darkness of the night. It was impossible to tell who it was.
Next, the female officer who had greeted him earlier that night appeared. She was holding onto a thick rope, the other end of which was tied around a man's neck. His eyes were covered by a black cloth, and his body was bounded so tightly that it seemed impossible to move. The female officer led him forward and stopped in front of the cloaked man.
Another person brought a chair over from the opposite side – Jake. He tried to get the man to sit, but he disobeyed and desperately tried to resist. The female officer punched him until he was dizzy and forced him into the seat. Meanwhile, Jake took the opportunity to tie him down to the chair.
The man moaned pitifully.
Tang Shan recognised the man who had been captured as one of Marie's suitors who often stalked her while she went out to buy groceries. Occasionally, he'd buy her some flowers, and even though he was a stalker, he'd never gone overboard before. In general, he was still a good man.
The man in the black cloak finally spoke. His words were lost in the raging wind, and Tang Shan couldn't hear him properly for a moment.
"You are guilty."
The wind whisked away the dark clouds, and moonlight streamed down, centering on the criminal. Tang Shan saw white smoke emitting from the man.
"Marie! Marie! Give Marie back to me!"
Tang Shan had to cover his mouth to prevent any sounds from escaping. The man's body actually began to combust with bluish flames. It was horrifyingly beautiful.
"You are guilty."
The judge, in his resolute voice, declared him guilty with no hesitation. All of the witnesses watched on coldly as the man burnt to ashes.
Tang Shan suddenly understood, after observing this event. This man liked Marie enough to wreck the town and had to pay the price – but what had happened to Marie?
He could more or less guess who the judge was. No one else fit the role better.
The judge suddenly discovered him – Li Yuanyu found him – and all eyes landed on him, even the ceramic dolls. They grabbed onto him and pulled him out from the crowd and into the middle of the square.
"Tang Shan!" Jake and the female officer simultaneously gasped, looking guilty.
He shouldn't be here.
Tang Shan didn't look at them and trained his gaze on Li Yuanyu.
They were so close, and he was absolutely sure that the judge was Li Yuanyu.
Li Yuanyu did not look stunned at being discovered, and instead answered with a firm look.
"What happened to Marie?"
"Tang Shan, come here."
Tang Shan stood close to the chair, rooted in the spot as he glared at Li Yuanyu.
"What did you do to Marie?"
In his agitation, Tang Shan exposed himself under the moonlight. Instantly, he could feel the heat enveloping him. He could see white smoke coming from all over his body. He, too, was going to be burnt to ashes. The fear of death encompassed his body, and he was paralysed.
He was suddenly covered in darkness as Li Yuanyu used his cloak to shield him, dragging him away from the moonlight. Tang Shan's emotional and physical state was unable to withstand much more and he soon fainted.
That was just the start of his nightmare.
It was a living hell.
Nobody would tell him what had happened to Marie, but he could guess the answer. It definitely wasn't the first time that a trial like this was held. There was too much happening in this town that couldn't be comprehended with common sense.
Ceramic dolls that came to life, people who spontaneously combusted, a town with no way of leaving, the rain that seemed to change depending on Li Yuanyu’s mood, and the rareness of sun... None of this could be explained with science.
He couldn't stay in this godforsaken place any longer. It was terrifying!
"I want to go home."
This wasn't where he belonged. He wanted to return home.
"I’m begging you. Let me go."
It was scary here. Li Yuanyu was scary.
Tang Shan cried silently, the state of his body and mind quickly deteriorating.
But Li Yuanyu still loved him, and no matter how many tantrums Tang Shan threw, he'd still stay by his side and take care of him.
But that wasn't what he wanted at all. He didn't want to deal with Li Yuanyu's love for him; all he felt was fear.
Li Yuanyu could tolerate Tang Shan's indifference, fear and anger, but he couldn't watch him get weaker day by day.
"I can't lose you."
Li Yuanyu said that one day.
He really wanted to laugh, wanted to ridicule Li Yuanyu's silly words. The man had lost him long ago, but his body was so weak that he could not retort nor scorn those words.
Li Yuanyu carried him to the bathtub in the villa, putting him down gently. The tub of water warmed his body.
Li Yuanyu started telling him stories about the past when they were in love, but he was in no mood to listen and closed his eyes. Then Li Yuanyu suddenly fell silent. Tang Shan's eyes flickered open and stared up at him blankly.
The man spoke after quite some time, "Tang Shan, I love you."
Li Yuanyu cried. He cried his heart out.
Tang Shan was equally miserable. He still loved Li Yuanyu, but it was impossible to accept him anymore.
Li Yuanyu reached out and rested his hand on Tang Shan's shoulders. In the past, that was a precursor to kissing, but it was completely different this time, different from anything he had experienced – Li Yuanyu pressed him firmly into the water.
The pressure on his shoulder, Li Yuanyu's anguish...
He now understood the situation. Li Yuanyu was trying to kill him; he couldn’t stand him anymore.
However, Tang Shan did not die, and the next time he woke up, all he remembered was that Marie had left town and they had moved to the smaller house. They were living in the house, and yet he woke up on the large bed in the villa. How had they gotten there? He had no recollection.
Li Yuanyu had prepared a large pot of Borscht for no reason, and Tang Shan felt increasingly confused as he sat at the table with a smirk, "Did you do something bad?"
Li Yuanyu smiled but did not answer.
That was the first time he lost his memory.
Jake would come over occasionally, sometimes staring at him with a complicated expression. He always found it strange and questioned Jake about it, but Jake was unwilling to give an honest answer.
There was once he'd let something slip though.
"Your existence is constantly destroying my image of Li Yuanyu."
Tang Shan thought his words were referring to their overly affectionate relationship and grinned obliviously, "He is quite clingy."
The illusion of a perfect, peaceful life continued for a period of time, until Tang Shan regained his memories of everything that had happened. At that point, his terror and anger towards Li Yuanyu was enough to swallow him whole.
Tang Shan's attitude towards Li Yuanyu was driving the man crazy, and he gradually became hysterical and easily irritable.
He disposed of Tang Shan's locket, had someone paint a portrait of Tang Shan and him even though he was unwilling to, and treated him like a sex slave, constantly tormenting him no matter how much he resisted and begged.
"I love you, Tang Shan."
Tang Shan would not accept it no matter how much Li Yuanyu told him he loved him. Li Yuanyu had gone insane and no longer was the person he had fallen in love with.
On the nights that Li Yuanyu did not rape him, the man would read out loud the novel that he enjoyed the most. It was the book that Tang Shan had once ridiculed before for being an overly mushy romance novel.
The long journey wore him out, but he refused to give up. She was his final destination.
Li Yuanyu read the last sentence, letting the words hang in silence. He flashed a gentle smile at Tang Shan. "I won't give up either, Tang Shan."
What an idiot. Tang Shan choked out a scoff, but he was definitely aware of how serious Li Yuanyu was.
At this point, the novel that Li Yuanyu loved the most was no different than a horror story to him.
Whenever Li Yuanyu couldn't be around to take care of him, he'd get Jake to help. He was like a prisoner, having the freedom to move around the town but unable to really leave.
"If you could be a little better to him, even just a little tiny bit, it'd be better for both of you." Jake nagged at him tirelessly. It had been raining non-stop all this while, and a lot of areas were beginning to flood. He couldn't bear to watch on anymore.
"I can't do it."
"Why can't you just accept it? Doesn't he treat you well enough?" Having his suggestion rejected, Jake became agitated at Tang Shan for not knowing better.
"How am I supposed to accept you killing people?! In my eyes, you're all murderers!" Tang Shan retorted with a vicious accusation.
Jake was stunned at his words, and by the time he came back to himself, he was already fighting with Tang Shan. In his fury, he lost control of himself and beat Tang Shan till the latter fainted. Only then did he realise what he'd done.
The next time Tang Shan awoke, Jake was no longer by his side. In his place was Li Yuanyu's concerned expression. For a long time after that, he did not see any signs of Jake.
"Where's Jake?" He couldn't control his curiosity and asked.
Li Yuanyu stayed silent.
"Did you kill him too?" At the mere thought of that, Tang Shan began to tremble, the terror surging through his body.
"Do you really think I'm someone capable of that?"
Li Yuanyu's question and his tone of dissatisfaction were all making Tang Shan nervous.
"Tang Shan, don't be afraid. I love you."
"I don't want this-"
Tang Shan knew he was a coward. In his current state, even Li Yuanyu's gentle smile multiplied his fears.
"I’m begging you. Let me go."
He pleaded repeatedly.
Why are you doing this to me?
Jake wasn't dead. Li Yuanyu had merely taught him a lesson after he injured Tang Shan and was currently recuperating at home. By the next time Jake saw him, he'd lost his memory again.
"Gosh, Jake, you got beat up pretty badly. Did you meet some thug?" Tang Shan was shocked at the bandages all over Jake's body and poked fun at his injuries.
They were friends again.
Tang Shan lost even more memories this time, and he had absolutely no memories of where Marie had gone, or even his lost locket. He had no recollection of how he even came to this town. His memories were all over the place, and he had trouble linking them together.
Jake discovered that every time Tang Shan lost his memories, he'd forget even more things. He had no idea if Li Yuanyu was aware of that, or if that was his intention.
Li Yuanyu was so, so deeply in love with Tang Shan. Even a fool could see that.
During this period of time when Tang Shan suffered amnesia, Li Yuanyu stayed by his side like a thoughtful lover. He was willing to spend an entire day accompanying his lover.
However, as Tang Shan regained his memories time after time, his resistance intensified day by day. In answer, Li Yuanyu gradually became cold and numb to his antics.
He didn't find it tiresome as he constantly wiped Tang Shan's memories to achieve his goals. No matter what, Li Yuanyu was unwilling to let Tang Shan go, much less let him leave. Not even death was permitted.
Li Yuanyu was a pitiful man, and Tang Shan was cruel.
Just the other day, Jake went to visit them. Usually, he wouldn't drop in if there wasn't anything important, but there was an incident within the town that required the manager's appearance. Coincidentally, the weather was good – only clouds, no rain.
Tang Shan was maintaining his garden outside the hut. The potatoes seemed to have turned bad, probably due to the roots rotting in the overly damp soil. He took notice of Jake and waved at him. "Hey, Jake! You're just in time. Are you free now? Can you pull some weeds for me?"
"I'm only here because there's some trouble in town." Jake looked at the messy, overturned soil. "What are you doing?"
"These potatoes have to be dug up and replanted."
What the hell?
"Where's Li Yuanyu? What's he doing?" Jake questioned. Wasn't there one more person in the house?
Tang Shan tilted his head, a little confused.
"What's wrong?" Jake began to get a little flustered at the attention from Tang Shan and scratched his head while he looked away.
"You called Yuanyu by his full name. It feels a little strange to me. Don't you usually call him Mr Li?" Tang Shan didn’t mean anything and laughed as he turned back and continued taking care of his vegetable garden.
Jake glared at his back, unable to speak for a long while.
You were the one who ruined Li Yuanyu's position in my heart! He roared soundlessly within.
"Yuanyu is preparing dinner inside. He should be in the kitchen if you're looking for him." While working, Tang Shan guided him without even raising his head, patting the ground and digging up an entire potato plant.
"...Thanks." Jake thanked him uncomfortably and entered the house through the unlocked door. The moment he entered, he could smell the rich aroma that came from brewing soup.
"Tang Shan, come here and taste this for me." Li Yuanyu heard the sound of the door opening and shouted in that direction.
Jake entered the kitchen and saw Li Yuanyu, who was busy working in the kitchen. "It's me."
"Oh, it's you." Li Yuanyu wasn't all that disappointed either, scooping up a bit of soup and passing it to him. "Try it."
Jake took it and reported matters while drinking the soup.
Upon hearing all this, Li Yuanyu turned off the gas, put on his suit and prepared to head out.
"Where are you going?" Tang Shan, who was outside, was full of questions while he saw them come out.
Li Yuanyu came to Tang Shan's side, bent and kissed his face and explained, unwillingly to leave, "There are still some things I need to deal with, so I'm not coming back to eat. I've already prepared dinner, so you can just heat it up later."
"Jake will keep you company."
Jake stood by the door, staring coldly at their intimate actions.
"I don't need anyone to keep me company," Tang Shan glared as if he was being looked down upon.
"But I'll worry. There's a storm coming, so finish up here and head back to your room as soon as you can. The vegetable garden can wait for another day. Let Jake help you," Li Yuanyu kissed him again, and then got onto the horse carriage that Jake called for and left the wooden hut.
Seeing the horse carriage about to disappear into the distance, Jake leant against the frame of the door, exclaiming unhappily, "I am not helping you."
"I thought so too. I never expected you to," Tang Shan continued to work. He had already dug out quite a number of potato 'corpses'.
"You're pretty smart, huh."
"Thank you, I've always been." Tang Shan laughed, hands not resting.
Jake periodically bantered with Tang Shan, standing on the same spot and refusing to help out.
Tang Shan spoke, "Do you want to go in first and help me prepare dinner? Just standing there and bickering with me must be pretty boring, isn't it?"
"You want a guest to help prepare dinner?"
"Why not? Technically speaking, we're both Li Yuanyu's guests."
"Haha, how are you a guest? You're the 'mistress' of Li Yuanyu's home." After saying this, Jake began to guffaw.
"Hey! That's not funny at all!"
All of a sudden, a few lightning bolts streaked across the horizon interjected by the claps of thunder every few seconds. The ear splitting, terrifying noises struck fear in his heart.
Tang Shan stood up, gazing at the place where the lightning struck.
"Tang Shan, get into the house!" Jake urged him.
In the next moment, fire burst out in the distance. An explosion occurred at the center of the town.
Staring hard at the thick smoke produced by the explosion, Tang Shan did not even blink as he asked, "Jake, where did you say there was an issue at? Where did Li Yuanyu go?"
"What do you want? Don't tell me you want to go there. I'm not going to watch you go to your own death in front of my eyes." Jake stepped forward and held onto Tang Shan, just in case he really ran out there.
Tang Shan suddenly looked a little vacant, "Jake, I remember."
"Wha- What do you remember?" Jake was stunned, uneasiness apparent in his gaze.
"There was also a huge explosion like this that day. You- You burnt the man who was sweet on. Marie – What happened to Marie? What right does Li Yuanyu have to pass judgment on anyone? What did Li Yuanyu do to me? Why is he treating me this way?"
Tang Shan stared wide-eyed at Jake, terrified and disbelieving.
Jake really wished he could evade the line of questioning, because he was one of the main actors who had a role in the tragedy that was Tang Shan's life. He found out the truth, then lost his memories time and time and again. The same play was reenacted over and over, continuously increasing Tang Shan's sense of hopelessness.
Faced with this, Jake chose to close his eyes.