Lin Sanjiu followed Mickey across the kitchen. After they went through a cartoon-like pink door with an extravagant design, she found herself walking on dark green grass that squeaked with every step she took. She suspected that the grass field was made from plastic.
"Look over there," Mickey pointed his three white glove covered fingers to the sight in front of them.
Lifting her head, Lin Sanjiu gazed into the distance.
Under the dismally daubed blue sky, the plastic grass plain seemed to end ten steps from where she stood and gave way to the edge of a brown cliff. Craning her neck, her eyes trailed all the way down the cliff into the chasm. Through the thick fog, she saw the surging river at the bottom of the valley. On the other side of the cliff was another low grass plain. If it weren't for the eerie green color, it would have been beautiful scenery.
"How can I go over there?"
Just as the thought swayed into her mind, she accidentally kicked a small piece of rubble. It rolled, fell into the chasm and vanished beyond the thick fog.
"Hot diggity dog, the scenery of our Cartoon World never fails to impress me. Don't you think?" Mickey poked his nose high into the sky and stood with arms akimbo. He looked amusing, "All our visitors who have chosen the apple pie embarked on their adventure into the Cartoon World from here."
"All the players who have chosen the apple pie will depart from here? So that means there are other routes for those who choose the other two pies?"
Lin Sanjiu was stunned and said, "You haven't told me the answers to the other two pies' riddles yet."
Her comment had successfully drawn Mickey's attention. His grin grew larger.
"Minnie used NOTHING as the base ingredient for the second pie, so you wouldn't taste anything even if you devoured the whole pie. The ingredients for the third pie are human hair and nails… Although neither ingredients wouldn't cause adverse effects to a human, I believe the taste wouldn't be appealing. I have seen those who eat that pie and have to pick hair from their teeth."
A storm was brewing in Lin Sanjiu's stomach at how Mickey described the ingredients of the third pie.
" None of the pies lead to a death route, so the first level is just helping the player to filter out which "path" they should embark on? Is there any differences in difficulties among the three "paths?" Will the "path" for the apple pie be easier than the other two routes? "
Her thoughts stopped there as she lifted her head and asked, "Where is the starting point for those who choose the other two pies?"
"It's none of your business, so stop asking," Mickey answered her question with a shrug as he narrowed his eyes into two straight lines. Then, he smiled at Lin Sanjiu with the smile that he never dropped since Lin Sanjiu had entered this attraction and said, "I have a simple errand for you."
"Why do you need my help?"
"Well, it went like this," Mickey pointed his fingers towards the chasm, "While Minnie was busy baking you the pies, her gold ring slipped off her finger. The gold ring rolled all the way to the edge of the table, and when Minnie extended her hand to press the ring down on the table, it jumped out of the window and bowled its way along the grass plain before falling into the chasm. That's the whole story."
With a gaping mouth, Lin Sanjiu turned her head. As she looked back at the kitchen window, which was roughly a hundred meters away from the cliff, she couldn't help but to buy his story as "anything can happen in the Cartoon World."
"The ring means a lot to Minnie," Mickey suddenly got closer to Lin Sanjiu, peering into her eyes with his glassy eyes that seemed to absorb light, "All I want you to do is look for the ring while you go around our Cartoon World. It's as simple as that."
Lin Sanjiu looked at Mickey before kneeling to inspect the chasm.
The fog was so thick that she could barely see the outline of the river. A strong breeze whipped past her face and disheveled her hair, but it did little to affect the fog. The fog continued to reign, looming over the space in the chasm above the river.
"How the hell can I find a small ring in such thick fog?"
"That's all from me. Have a pleasant trip, and I hope you'll have Minnie's ring with you the next time we meet."
Before Mickey could finish his sentences with his positive and exuberant tone, Lin Sanjiu's hypersensory state kicked in. Under the alarm of her hypersensory state, her body shot up but to no avail. Somebody pushed her from her behind and thrust her into the deep chasm.
At the same time as the sense of weightlessness caused her blood to scream, the tee-hee of Mickey wafted into her ears, "Freefalling is yet another salient feature in our Cartoon World! Now, you have two options: A: use a branch to save your life, or B: use nothing and continue to descend like that. What is your answer?"
" Fuck you! " Lin Sanjiu cursed Mickey inwardly. However, she had to make a choice now as the gravity was pulling her even faster down into the chasm. Pushing down the conditioned reflex that demanded her to choose option A, she screamed, "B. My choice is B!"
Mickey who stood by the cliff said something, but the wind carried away before it reached Lin Sanjiu's ears. She couldn't even tell whether or not Mickey received her answer. Suddenly, the wind became stronger and masked all sounds. She was falling faster and faster, yet her heart was still suspended in the air. As she was screaming, she expanded her two skeletal wings and staked them deep into the cliff.
As if cutting through tofu, her skeletal wings slid into the cliff without much effort. However, the cliff was made of an unknown material. It provided no friction and restriction at all and Lin Sanjiu was still descending down the chasm rapidly.
Before she could come up with another solution, she had already slammed into a few large boulders that protruded from the rugged wall of the cliff. Thump, thump! After two dull, heavy blows sounded out, her body was thrown up into the sky again and started falling in the next second. Cartoon World had negated all of her self-rescue actions, turning her effort into all but wasted energy. When she finally landed on the ground helter-skelter, her eyes could see only stars.
After waiting for quite some time for the stars in her eyes to fade away, Lin Sanjiu gasped and slowly stood up.
She raised her head and peered into the sky, but she could see nothing from her point. Then, she checked her body, and to her surprise, she only sustained a few bruises. She didn't even have a broken bone.
It was a miracle for her to sustain such light injuries falling from a cliff. What would have happened if she'd chosen the first option?
Lin Sanjiu did not want to know the answer regarding this question. She then began to study the clearing.
She was now standing on a rocky river bank. There were a few Hooker's green plants sprouted out sparsely from the cracks in the stone, struggling for their survival. The land of plants that was close to the river had already turned black as a result of being washed and eroded by the river all year round.
Even though Minnie was massive, the size of her ring was no larger than a stone. Looking for a gold ring of a size comparable to tiny rubble on a river bank was undoubtedly a fantasy, an impossible mission for which even Lin Sanjiu did not hold much hope to complete. After searching the river bank, she indeed discovered nothing just as she thought.
While she dazedly stared at the river bank, pondering her next move, a ripple, as if something was moving under the water, came from behind her. Turning her head, she looked over to the origin of the sound and was stunned.
A large, greyish-white fish head surfaced from the water. Because Lin Sanjiu was standing right in front of it, it re-adjusted both its eyes to the front so they formed two little dots beside its gaping mouth.
"My dear friend, you seem troubled," the fish said with a kind tone. Like a round peg in a square hole, its emotionless face was in ajar with its manners, "Please tell me if you're facing any trouble, I'm here at your service!"
Lin Sanjiu looked at it for a few seconds before walking two steps closer to it.
"I'm looking for a golden ring," She asked vigilantly, "Have you seen it anywhere around here?"
"Golden ring, golden ring. Ah, is that one? If that's so, I might have seen it before," the fish said, facing the sky, "There was a man here not long ago. I saw him suddenly pick up something akin to your description from the ground and left ecstatically."
"Do you know him?"
The fish head moved a bit. Lin Sanjiu couldn't tell it was nodding or shaking its head, "Although he and I ain't an acquaintance, I know the way he went."
"Can you show me?" Lin Sanjiu's eyes gleamed brightly. If she was on the right track, then finding the golden ring must be the requirement for clearing the first level in this attraction.
Hearing her question, the fish turned its head to a side and looked at Lin Sanjiu with one of its eyes.
Lin Sanjiu swore that she had never seen a fish smile ever since she was born.
The line that divided the fish lips curved upward as a white lining appeared behind its greyish black, beady eyes as it smiled, "I'm bad at giving direction. Why don't you sit on my back? I'll take you there."
"Sit on its back?" Lin Sanjiu's brows frowned, but she couldn't resist the temptation when she realized she was going to get this level cleared. Just as she stepped into the river with her ambivalent feeling intact, a shrill cackle filled with derision drifted into her ears from behind her, "Don't listen to it!"
Stunned by the voice, Lin Sanjiu immediately spun around and her gaze met with a yellow bird that was about half the size of a human. It was roosted on a boulder ten meters away from them.
In the same way as the birds in cartoons, the large bird moved with an animatronic stiffness and spoke human language as well, "You're new here, so you didn't know what is going around here. Let me tell you, this fish is a great liar. It often tricks new visitors like you to sit on its back, and then bring you guys down into the water along with it. Of course, it'll be fine, the one who will be in trouble is you. Speaking of which, you mentioned that you're looking for a golden ring? I've seen that guy as well. Follow me; I'll lead you there."
"The fuck is this—"
The bird stiffly crooked its head and interrupted Lin Sanjiu's thought with a question, "Me or the fish? If you can't make the decision, you can as well spend 50 Stamina Points to buy the coordinates of that guy from us."
Lin Sanjiu did not have 50 Stamina Points, and she still had to earn Meowie Hu's portion. Her gaze jumped back and forth between the fish and the bird while racking her brain to find out which one was the better option. In the end, she left her fate to the hand of God and made a wild guess, "I'll follow you, then."
Lin Sanjiu chose the yellow bird. Putting everything aside, at least in term of the size of the yellow bird, it couldn't carry Lin Sanjiu on its back so it couldn't throw her down from the sky. However, what if the yellow bird was telling the truth? What would happen if the fish suddenly dove into the water? Looking at her two enormous skeletal wings, she was sure that she would drown and things would become messy from there.
"What are you waiting for, then? Come out of the water!"
A wave hit her ankle, and her body reacted to the stimulus ahead of her brain. She stretched her skeletal wings, burying them deep into the riverbank, and used them as the center point, to circle in the air and pull herself out from the water.
As soon as she left the water, a pool of darkness surrounded her and flooded the area. Feeling that she shouldn't stay there any longer, Lin Sanjiu quickly jumped onto the river bank. When she retracted her skeletal wings, she found something was dripping off her skeletal wings. It was hard to articulate what it was, and if there was a good description, it would be long black worms that looked like maggots as they squirmed. They wriggled through and left a couple of shallow scars on her wings.
Lin Sanjiu's skeletal wings were as tough as iron. The sight of the worm flailing on her wings caused her hair to stand on their ends. Lin Sanjiu quickly shook them off her skeletal wings. However, after the worms fell to the ground, they continued to approach Lin Sanjiu. She made quick work of them by summoning her [Tornado Whip] and blew all of the worms back into the river.
After it had witnessed this scene, the greyish-white fish head shrunk back into the water and left Lin Sanjiu's sight.
"A lot of people fish with those kinds of worms," the yellow bird gloated over Lin Sanjiu's misfortune, "So that fish collected all the worms and uses the river as its breeding farm."
"So I hit the jackpot again this time?"
Just as Lin Sanjiu marveled at her good fortune, Mrs. Manas spoke, "Wait a sec," she paused briefly before continuing with a stern tone, "I guess we have a misconception about this game. The decision you made didn't matter much in this game. The best example would be the pies earlier on. Although it seems to have both good and bad option, in the end, it's just a way to filter out which pathway we should take."
"Are you saying that different choices will lead to a different ending?" Lin Sanjiu said as she walked toward the yellow bird.
Mrs. Manas contemplated for a while and agreed to Lin Sanjiu's comment at last, "Yeah, that basically sums up what I'm trying to say."
From a closer look, the words ugly would be an understatement for its appearance. Its two cartoonish eyes were overly large, occupying almost half of its head. The brightness of its eyes did not add to its appearance but made its overall front even more freakish.
Under the fervent gaze of such eyes, Lin Sanjiu couldn't help and stop a few steps away from the yellow bird.
"I'll take you there now," the yellow bird chirped, "Hang on tight!"
Everything happened within a mere second. Lin Sanjiu only blinked her eyes once and the yellow bird had already turned into a streak of yellow and shot up into the sky. It turned into a yellow dot in the next instance and merged into the sky.