He had to say, being able to fall asleep without any reservations or even the slightest trauma despite being in such circumstances was truly a praiseworthy talent on a whole new level.
That night he had no dreams. Lin Qiushi had originally expected an incident to break out on the first night; he certainly didn't expect to be able to sleep peacefully throughout the entire night, only to awaken when the sun rose.
By the time morning arrived, the triplets' household had already prepared breakfast for them.
The mother of the triplets was extremely kind and welcoming, and the meal smelled absolutely delicious. But at first, everyone just sat at the table; not a single person touched their chopsticks, until finally, Ruan Nanzhu took the first bite of the food.
"Not bad." Ruan Nanzhu remarked. "What are you all staring at me eating for? Why aren't you eating?"
"Can this be eaten?" Xu Xiaocheng, who had dark circles under her eyes and looked as if she hadn't slept well last night, wondered if the food was safe to eat. "There isn't a problem with the food, right?"
Ruan Nanzhu snorted, "Even if there's a problem with it, you still have to eat. What, do you only plan to drink water for the seven days we’re staying here?"
Well, that was certainly the case. After all, there were no other sources of food in this building.
After thinking long and hard, and eventually coming to terms with this, everyone picked up their chopsticks and began digging into the breakfast before them. While they were in the middle of eating, the triplets came out of their room. The three wore the same exact blood-red dress, their hair was tightly drawn back into pigtails, and their identical faces carried no expressions. From the very beginning, the triplets didn't show any emotion to these strangers who had arrived without any notice; it was as if they were merely facing some empty air.
Tang Yaoyao finally couldn't bear being subject to their dead stares. In a low voice, she inquired, "Children, what are your names?"
When this question fell from her mouth, three pairs of eyes stared unblinking at Tang Yaoyao. The pairs of eyes only revealed black and white; not a single trace of life could be found in their eyes, they were completely devoid of any feeling. Those who encountered such a scene were only left inexplicably terrified and flustered.
"I can't just tell someone my name." The little girl standing in the middle finally opened her mouth. She added, "And even if I did tell you, it's not like you'd be able to recognize me."
Tang Yaoyao was rendered speechless by this statement. "Ah, I see…"
"If you don't tell us, how are you supposed to know for sure we won't recognize you." Ruan Nanzhu, who was sitting at the side, suddenly spoke up. He didn't seem the least bit afraid of the temperament of the three strange kids before him. He gracefully set down the chopsticks in his hand, and his tone was cold, deadpan. "Whether you like it or not, you should be polite to any guests who come over to the house, don't you think?"
Upon hearing this, the three little girls exchanged glances with each other. Finally, the one in the middle decided to speak. She introduced, "My name is Xiao Yi. Her name is Xiao Shi. And she is Xiao Tu1."
It took Lin Qiushi every ounce of strength in his body to hold back from spitting out everything in his mouth after finding out their names. He thought to himself, your mother is really perfunctory, to think she even gave you guys some half-assed names like this.
While listening in, the others also exposed faint smiles.
Xiao Yi: "Now that I've told you, you have to remember it well, okay?"
Ruan Nanzhu examined their appearances, before suddenly reaching out and patting the top of Xiao Yi's head. He smiled softly, "Of course, I'll remember it." He then extended his arm again and patted the shoulder of the second nearest girl. "Now, run along. Your mother made breakfast."
The three little girls happily skipped away.
A sense of dread haunted the back of Lin Qiushi’s mind; he kept getting the feeling that there was something awfully wrong with the last sentence the younger girl uttered. Just why would she tell them they had to remember their names, and more importantly, what exactly would happen if they didn't remember? But seeing the way Ruan Nanzhu puffed up his chest in confidence, perhaps he could actually distinguish between these three identical little girls?
Faced with Lin Qiushi's skeptical eyes, Ruan Nanzhu didn't bother explaining anything. He downed the last bit of milk in his cup and announced, "Come. Let's go downstairs."
It was already somewhat late when they'd arrived here the evening before, which is why they didn't dare explore that far; they only investigated the roof and the top floor. But deciding to take advantage of the bright daylight today, Ruan Nanzhu proposed that they go downstairs to check whether there were any other tenants living in this fifteen storey building.
The light blood coating Zeng Ruguo's body still had yet to be washed off, as he wasn't able to get rid of it yesterday. Judging from the other's weary face, he probably didn't get any sleep last night. After listening to Ruan Nanzhu's suggestion, he lowered his voice into a hushed whisper and asked Lin Qiushi if he could accompany him to the bathroom, as it was that he wanted to take another shower.
Lin Qiushi openly expressed his admiration for the other. "We both saw that thing yesterday, and yet, you still have the guts to go? Just deal with it for a while; get some hot water and splash it on your face if you really need to. Your life is more important than staying clean."
"What did you guys see?" wondered Tang Yaoyao upon overhearing their conversation.
Lin Qiushi replied, "While Zeng Ruguo was showering yesterday, there was something stuck to the showerhead. I'm not entirely sure as to what it was, but it kind of resembled the corpse of a baby."
Tang Yaoyao gave a slight utter of understanding.
When Xu Xiaocheng heard Lin Qiushi's account of yesterday, she began to weep. Between her heavy sobs, she declared that she would never step foot into the bathroom to take a shower in the future. As she sniveled, she looked at Tang Yaoyao, only to be left in shock at the other's unperturbed appearance.
With a cool voice, Tang Yaoyao said, "If you're constantly exposed to scary things, you start getting used to it. In any case, no one died. That just means there's nothing threatening about it, so what's there to be so scared of?"
Her words certainly held a bit of truth. Lin Qiushi munched on cookie, then patted the crumbs off his hands after finishing it. "Well, no matter. Just try not to go."
In the end, Zeng Ruguo was someone who cherished his life. After a moment's hesitation, he decided against going to the bathroom to the take a shower. Instead, he fetched some hot water from the wash basin in his room and grudgingly wiped his face as clean as he could.
"Let's get a move on and take a look downstairs." Ruan Nanzhu got up from his seat and walked out of the room.
The others followed him on his heels.
Iron doors of the same color stood before every room in this building. The bulky doors were all of a vermillion shade, and the paint coating the surface had long been mottled. No one knew for how many years these doors had been used. There were stacks of coal and piles of debris haphazardly scattered about the staircase, giving the impression that this place was inhabited.
However, after a quick survey of the area, Ruan Nanzhu determined that there wasn't a single person residing here.
"How can you tell?" Tang Yaoyao said, "Though it is true that the place is a bit too quiet."
"Because there is a lack of the most crucial objects here.” Ruan Nanzhu stated.
"And what's that?" Tang Yaoyao pressed him for an answer.
"Trash," answered Ruan Nanzhu. "The garbage cans on every floor are clean."
That explained the matter rather well. Tang Yaoyao finally nodded in understanding. "But in this entire building, there's only one family that lives on the top-most floor? This doesn't seem very plausible either, to be honest."
Ruan Nanzhu lifted his eyes and faced upstairs. "It is quite implausible. The existence of every world is structured on logic and common sense—to a certain extent, that is. It's impossible for an empty building to just appear randomly. There must be some sort of reason for the building to be empty like this." This was similar to case of the previous world, the mountain village. Although the situation surrounding the village was beyond horrifying and abysmal, there were still villagers residing in such a dreadful place. These seemingly insignificant 'residents’ may prove to be quite significant, for they may be able to provide them with vital information.
"Let's continue going down." Lin Qiushi suggested. "Don't we still have six floors left?"
The lights on the staircase were rather dim, but with everyone banding together and moving along in sync, the heavy fear permeating the atmosphere gradually dissipated, leaving them slightly less afraid. The group continued moving downwards. When they reached the fourth floor, they finally found some traces of human life—located at an inconspicuous corner was a half-eaten apple, spotted by Lin Qiushi.
"Is this an apple core?" Lin Qiushi originally suspected that he must've seen wrong, that his mind was playing tricks on him. Nevertheless, when he walked over to the area to take a closer look, he realized it was indeed an apple; granted, the apple was thin, small, unappetizing and unappealing in every aspect one could think of.
"It really is one." Xu Xiaocheng reaffirmed softly. "Is this floor possibly occupied?"
The floor there were currently situated at was the fourth floor. At first glance, it didn't seem any different from the other floors, but this one apple core clearly exposed its difference. Ruan Nanzhu immediately decided to go around and knock on every door to see if anyone was living in one of the rooms.
Thereupon, Lin Qiushi walked down the hall, rapping his knuckles on every door he passed by. At last, when he knocked on a certain door located near the window, he heard the sounds of shuffling footsteps inside the room.
Thankfully, the soundproof walls of this old building were growing poorer with the passage of time; otherwise, if this were a newer building with optimal soundproofing, Lin Qiushi definitely would've overlooked this faint noise.
"It seems that someone is here." Lin Qiushi stopped in his tracks. "I heard a sound coming from inside the room."
Having heard what was announced, everyone gathered around. Tang Yaoyao then knocked on the door twice. "Is there anyone inside?"
Only a still silence remained in response, as if the sound Lin Qiushi perceived coming from the other side of the door was but a mere hallucination.
"Is there anyone inside?" Tang Yaoyao raised her voice. "We just moved in here, and we want to ask you something—” She knocked repeatedly for a long time, but despite all, there was no answer. "Yu Linlin, are you sure you didn't hear incorrectly?"
"I'm sure." Lin Qiushi insisted. "It came from this door. Unless, the sound actually came from outside the window?"
However, there wasn't anything outside except for the thick, dark fog that practically shrouded everything before their sight.
Ruan Nanzhu studied the lock. "The lock is old; it'll be easy to open."
Lin Qiushi gaped in shock. "You even know how to do something like this?"
Ruan Nanzhu shrugged, "Life forced me to know."
Lin Qiushi: "…" Just what exactly has life done to you in the end?
With that said, he removed the hairpin from his hair, half-kneeled on the ground, and began fiddling with the lock, getting down to business. But before he could show any results by exhibiting one of the skills life forced upon him, the door was abruptly slammed open. An incredibly anxious face fraught with immense horror appeared from behind the door. "What are you doing?"
Despite being caught in the act, Ruan Nanzhu actually didn't reveal a hint of panic or guilt. After heaving himself up from the ground, he smiled ever so sweetly. "Good day, sir. We just recently moved in, and we would like to ask you a few questions, would that be alright?"
Behind the door stood a young man with unkempt hair. At first, his eyes were filled with vigilance and apprehension, but after catching sight of Ruan Nanzhu's incredibly deceptive female appearance, his misleading queenly aura, and his insincere, yet lovely smile, he inevitably relaxed his guard. "I'm afraid you won't be able to ask me anything because I also don't know anything."
"Sir." Ruan Nanzhu's beautiful eyes glistened with pitiful tears, making everyone's heart throb at this so-called delicate beauty. "Is it really impossible to do us a small favor?"
The man awkwardly swallowed as he hesitated. "What do you want to ask?"
Ruan Nanzhu got straight to the point. "Why are there no other tenants living in this building?"
Lowering his voice, the man grimly urged, "If I’m not mistaken, you guys are new here, which means you just moved in, right? Hurry up and get out of this building. This building is cursed. Anyone who ends up staying here doesn't live for long…"
Ruan Nanzhu: "And that one family living on the top of the building?"
No one knew what had struck the man's nerves, but, without any warning, the man became hysterical. "I told you to get out! There are demons living here!! Demons!!" Panting angrily, he took in large, ragged breaths. He had wanted to close the door, but, just then, two men in the group pulled the door back, holding it in place and, ultimately, obstructing the man.
"The hell do you mean 'demons'?" Ruan Nanzhu demanded the man for answers.
"You guys don't know?" The man continued, "The family living on the top of this building…they're all demons!!!"
The impact of this statement left everyone paralyzed with shock. Taking advantage of their confusion and dazed states, the man slammed the door shut.
"What does he mean?" Tang Yaoyao asked incredulously, still having not comprehended what just happened. "Don't tell me that the one who gave us the task this time isn't even a human?"
Ruan Nanzhu shook his head, indicating he didn’t know, and remained silent.
Lin Qiushi suddenly noticed something. "He seemed to have scattered something at his doorway…? Is this blood?"
Everyone bowed their heads, looking down at what Lin Qiushi pointed out, only to see that the ground in front of the man's door was covered in some dark substance, a disconcerting substance which bore an uncanny resemblance to congealed blood sticking to the black, dirty floors. If one didn't pay careful attention, they would certainly fail to spot this, especially considering how difficult the substance was to make out in the first place.
"It really is blood." After squatting down and examining it closely, Tang Yaoyao came to this conclusion. "I just don't know whether this is human blood or the blood of something else, it's been some years…"
Lin Qiushi: "This blood was deliberately spilled on the ground."
Tang Yaoyao: "How so?"
"If the person didn't deliberately splatter in on the ground, then he surely would have cleaned it up by now. Look, there is no trash around; there are no magazine scraps, or advertisements anywhere near here." Lin Qiushi expressed his opinion. "Which means the owner should be someone who loves cleanliness and organization."
"You're right." Tang Yaoyao agreed after some rumination. "But what's the point of this blood? To ward off evil?"
Lin Qiushi didn't reply. As a matter of fact, the moment he caught sight of the blood, the first thought that ran through his mind was the fairy tale written on the note—Fitcher's Bird.
When the sister holding the egg entered the room containing mangled corpses, the egg in her hands immediately fell the ground, only to be stained with blood. As of this moment, he still wasn't certain whether the blood spilt on the ground before his eyes had some sort of connection to that gruesome fairy tale he read.
Continuing on with their previous task, the group then proceeded going downstairs. They soon discovered another occupied room on the very first floor, and inside the residence lived an elderly grandmother with some serious hearing problems. They had struck the door for ages, before the elderly grandmother finally opened the door and peeked her head out. Afterwards, everyone tried communicating with the women, but they couldn't even have a proper discussion. Having attempting to exchange words with her, only to be left frustrated at a conversation that just wouldn't show any progress anytime soon, everyone simply chose to give up. After all, both sides of the conversation only paved the way to a dead-end; regardless what questions were asked, the other would reply the same thing. One side would persistently question, "Grandma, do you know why nobody lives in this building?", and the elder women would repetitively give the same vexing response, "I have already eaten."
It was as if the dialogue was endlessly stuck on repeat. At last, everyone just exposed a look of helplessness at this conversation that was doomed to futility.
There were fourteen floors in this building, and only two rooms of the numerous ones available were occupied—one on the fourth floor and another on the first floor. Nevertheless, at least they all gained something from their search; that was to say, right outside the doors of both residences were traces of splattered blood.
"I feel like this might be a hint for us." Tang Yaoyao softly discussed her suspicions with everyone as they ate their lunch. "How about it? Want to try spilling some blood on a door?"
"Where are you going to get the blood from?" Ruan Nanzhu suddenly raised this question.
Tang Yaoyao: "I'll find a random animal or something, I guess."
Ruan Nanzhu: "And whose door do you plan to spill the blood on? Your door?"
Directly confronted by a menacingly imposing Ruan Nanzhu, Tang Yaoyao wasn't able to utter a single sound, and, truthfully speaking, there were no words needed; she obviously didn't dare sprinkle blood on her door. After all, no one knew for sure whether this was merely a practice to ward evil spirits, or if it was actually a condition for death.
"Even if you don't approve of my methods, you don't have to be so aggressive about it." Tang Yaoyao began sulking after being reproached. "Or perhaps you happen to have a better idea to share with us?"
Ruan Nanzhu's tone was beyond impassive and disinterested. "Nope."
Tang Yaoyao grinded her teeth in infuriation. She had to admit it, although this Ruan Nanzhu looked quite strong and fierce, she was also incredibly attractive. The other just had to sit there and do nothing, and he would still make people feel at ease. As the team discussed their plans, almost everyone's eyes were glued to Ruan Nanzhu, especially the men's. They all eyed Ruan Nanzhu suggestively, leering at him; then again, they also didn't know Ruan Nanzhu was actually a trap, a true man through and through, with a questionable crossdressing hobby.
"So, what do we do now?" Tang Yaoyao asked.
Ruan Nanzhu: "We wait."
Tang Yaoyao: "Wait for what?"
Ruan Nanzhu: "Naturally, we wait for something to happen." Then he added, "Of course, if you'd really like to try splashing some blood on the doorway first instead of waiting, be my guest; I certainly wouldn't mind."
Tang Yaoyao refused to speak any more; her angry silence reflected her rejection of the idea.
Xu Xiaocheng looked as though she was going to cry again, but the instant her line of sight coincidentally collided with Ruan Nanzhu's, those tears of hers that were threatening to fall suddenly disappeared. After forcing her tears back and stifling her sobs, she feebly whispered, "Are those triples really human? They look so scary!"
"Who knows." Ruan Nanzhu replied. "None of us are certain about this yet."
Sure enough, it was as the saying went—"Speak of the devil!" It just so happened that the moment they began talking about the triplets, the three little girls mysteriously appeared behind them. Lin Qiushi was the first to spot them. He was completely unprepared to see the three little girls standing hand and hand at the doorway, so to say he received quite the jump scare would be an understatement. "When did you guys come?"
The three girls remained silent. Lin Qiushi repeated his question, and he finally received a response. But rather than being met with the answer to his question, he was met with an inquisition from one of the little girls. "Do you know who I am?"
"What?" Lin Qiushi blurted reflexively, still having not reacted to their question.
"Do you know who I am?" Another little girl echoed.
The room suddenly quieted into an awkward, uneasy silence. The tension in the atmosphere built up, eventually giving rise to Tang Yaoyao's nervous chuckle. "Sorry, sweeties, but us adults are having a serious talk, right now." She placated, "Be a darling and try not to cause any trouble, okay?"
"So you don't know who I am?" The last girl demanded.
"Oh, I know." Ruan Nanzhu's playful voice broke the deafening silence. He pushed himself up and approached the three little girls, crouching before one of them and affectionately pinching her cheek between his fingers. "You are Xiao Yi."
Xiao Yi blinked very slowly.
"You are Xiao Shi." Ruan Nanzhu continued, pointing to the girl at the right.
Xiao Shi beamed brightly.
"And you are Xiao Tu." Ruan Nanzhu finished identifying the three girls. "Now, do we get a prize for guessing correctly?"
"Your prize is playing with us for a bit longer!" Xiao Yi giggled happily. Her mouth split into a wide grin, and her rosy lips parted, revealing neat rows of pearly white teeth that sent penetrating shivers down their spines. "I really, really like you, big sister!"
"And I really, really like you, too," replied Ruan Nanzhu as he picked himself back up. "Now, run along and play with each other. Big sister here has some important adult stuff to do."
After Ruan Nanzhu told them to, the triplets unexpectedly turned around and obediently left the room.
Everyone regarded this scene with stunned expressions on their faces, wondering just how Ruan Nanzhu managed to distinguish the three little girls from each other.
Ruan Nanzhu leisurely strolled back to the table. After calmly sitting himself down in response to the looks of utter disbelief, he nonchalantly spit out two words, "I guessed."
Lin Qiushi thought to himself, it'd be even more unbelievable if anyone actually believed you. He just wasn't convinced that Ruan Nanzhu would easily be able to name the triplets based on some casual guessing. He must've had his own recognition method, it's just that he was probably reluctant to reveal it.
"I'd always thought there was something wrong with those triplets." Xu Xiaocheng mumbled. "They look so scary."
"Indeed, they are quite creepy." Ruan Nanzhu reflected. "But they should be human now." He said, "At the very least, they seem to have warmth, a human's temperature." He wanted to ascertain this when he pinched the little girl's cheek.
"There are still six days left." Tang Yaoyao reminded. "What do you suppose will happen on the day of their birthday party?"
The feeling of waiting for the expected date to arrive was torturous; it was practically like waiting for the next year to arrive.
By now, Lin Qiushi pretty much knew his team members well enough. Excluding Xu Xiaocheng, Tang Yaoyao, and Zeng Ruguo, who had already introduced themselves, there were still two members left—one, a veteran who went by the name of Zhang Xinghuo, and the other, a rookie who went by Zhong Chengjian. This was Zhang Xinghuo's third time entering the door world, and this was obviously Zhong Chengjian's first time entering the door world. The both of them were considerably introverted, and they hardly spoke up during discussions.
The next two days in the building were spent peacefully. From the way things were looking, Lin Qiushi had assumed that any dreadful events would occur on the day of the birthday party. But an unanticipated incident suddenly shattered the tranquility in the air.
Someone had died.
The person had died at the top of the stairs. Their body was finely cut into several pieces by a sharp instrument. Thick blood flowed along the staircase, trickling down the stairs and filling every crevice with its dark crimson color, only to eventually form black stains on the ground.
The instant Lin Qiushi heard Xu Xiaocheng's blood-curdling shriek, he rushed over in a haste. Before he even arrived at her side, he heard Xu Xiaocheng's grief-stricken howls, "Somebody died! Somebody died—"
Upon hearing this, Lin Qiushi's very first reaction was to find Ruan Nanzhu. Just when he twisted his head around, he caught sight of Ruan Nanzhu standing directly besides him, tenderly gazing at him with a smile. Using a soft, gentle tone, Ruan Nanzhu whispered, "What are you looking for?"
His beautiful face and his touching smile were just too deceitful. Even though Lin Qiushi knew the other was a man, he just couldn't calm down the rapid beating of his heart; faced with this man's passionate stare, his heart automatically started pounding wildly against his chest.
"Nevermind." Lin Qiushi awkwardly averted his gaze. "I was just looking for you."
Ruan Nanzhu's smile grew wider, more affectionate. "You don't have to worry too much about me."
Together, the two marched up to the top of the stairs and soon saw just how chaotic the place was. Xu Xiaocheng had even collapsed into heavy sobs and was sprawled delicately across the steps.
"Wah wah, so scary! How terrible, wah!" Xu Xiaocheng saw someone coming, and she quickly scrambled to her feet. "They were chopped into several pieces—”
Because of the dreadful experience he went through in the previous world, Lin Qiushi wasn't as panicked or perturbed as the others were. He sauntered over to the top of the stairway and finally spotted the dead body Xu Xiaocheng was screaming to the world about. But just one glimpse caused Lin Qiushi to involuntarily suck in a startled breath. "This is…"
Ruan Nanzhu knitted his brows.
They'd all assumed that the corpse would be one of them, but they certainly didn't expect to see the mutilated corpse of a little girl. Although they all held some doubts, and the corpse itself had been mercilessly hacked to the point of being unrecognizable, the clothes on its mangled body were enough to identify her as one of the triplets.
The little girl's body had been ruined into a grotesque mess. Torn patches of clothing were entangled with splattered flesh and limb, dully glistening with the thick blood that once trickled from the exposed organs and bone that remained of her body, leaving the entire floor smeared in residues of foul human tissue and skin. Such a sight was beyond appalling and gut-churning.
"Blergh…" Having arrived more recently, Zeng Ruguo's stomach for gore proved to be weaker than that of Xu Xiaocheng's. He merely took one glance at the gruesome scene and subsequently regurgitated his previous meal.
On the other hand, Lin Qiushi was awfully calm. He swept his eyes across the scattered body parts and found that the head of the deceased had rolled over to a corner. As he had suspected, the pitiful corpse did indeed belong to one of the triplets.
"How could this be?" Tang Yaoyao couldn't wrap her disordered mind around this; frankly speaking, she thought that the first death being one of the triplets was ludicrous. "Just how could the first person to die be an NPC???"
"Who killed her?" The trembling of Xu Xiaocheng's low voice revealed how terrified she was. "We didn't even hear anything…"
Someone was ruthlessly killed in this manner, and yet, not a single person on this floor detected any noises.
"Ahhhhhh! Ahhhhhhhh!!!" Dreadfully plaintive cries echoed from behind them. Lin Qiushi shot a glance back and caught sight of the triplets' mother. The older woman was wearing an apron, and she seemed to be in the middle of preparing lunch for them. But after catching sight her daughter's tragic appearance, a disseminated corpse which would never become whole again with its scattered viscera, shredded tissues, and severed head, her mind completely broke down. She softly collapsed to the ground and emitted the most ear-piercing wails of lamentation. "Oh my daughter, my poor daughter! You have died so wretchedly, so miserably! Ahhhhhh, just who was it that killed you, my poor baby girl!!!"
Lin Qiushi was just about to step forth, but Ruan Nanzhu suddenly shot out his arm, ultimately stopping the other from taking another step forward.
"Wait a minute." Ruan Nanzhu commanded. "Don't go there."
Puzzlement was written all over Lin Qiushi's face at Ruan Nanzhu's words.
Ruan Nanzhu whispered, "Look at her shoes."
Lin Qiushi lowered his head and studied the shoes of the girls' mother, only to discover that the soles of her shoes seemed to have been stained with something. Judging from the color, the substance soaking the bottom of her shoes couldn't have been anything other than blood…
After registering this, the expression on Lin Qiushi's face twisted slightly.
The others had failed to notice this particular detail, so they all just cast glances of pity at the weeping mother who had just lost her poor daughter.
Tang Yaoyao came forward to offer some polite words of comfort to the mother, when, out of nowhere, the mother gripped her arm in a frenzied fit. "It was you! It must’ve been you! You all are the only outsiders here. You must've been the ones to kill my poor daughter!!" The might of her grip was frightening. Being directly caught by this hand that contained enormous power caused Tang Yaoyao to yelp in pain. Wanting to escape from the other's terrifying grasp, she mustered up all of her strength and stubbornly tried tugging her hand back, only to sadly find out that her own meager strength couldn't rival the other's power.
"It has nothing to do with us. You're hurting me! Let go of—ahhh!" Tang Yaoyao let out a miserable scream.
The others finally dashed forward to help. Zhang Xinghuo shoved the girl's mother with all his might, eventually freeing Tang Yaoyao from the other's hold.
"Are you alright?" Zhang Xinghuo asked worriedly.
"I'm fine." Tang Yaoyao eyes were filled with terror. After pulling her sleeve up, she saw five dark purple marks on her arm, bruises that were made by the mother's fingers. "She was so strong…"
"Ohhhh my poor daughter, my poor daughter." The woman continued sobbing on the ground.
As she wept for her daughter, two shadowy figures appeared near the doorway behind her. Lin Qiushi squinted his eyes and fixed his attention on the figures, only to soon discover that it was the remaining little girls, now a pair of twins, seeing as though their sister had just died.
The two stood far from the doorway. The expressions marking their identical faces were chillingly indifferent as they peeked at the scene through the crack in the door. Even though their very own blood sister had died so tragically, their faces didn't show the slightest change in expression, not a hint of sympathy, and they didn't even bother coming out of the room to comfort their mother. The two little girls stood motionless for a while, before vanishing almost as suddenly as they'd appeared. If it weren't for the fact that Ruan Nanzhu also saw the same thing, Lin Qiushi would've suspected that his vision was just growing poor and his mind, delusional.
The woman spent an outrageous amount of time sobbing on the ground. Just when everyone's thin patience was about to run out, she ceased her crying, silently picked herself up from the ground and whirled on her heels, swiftly going back inside, only to return a few minutes later with a mop and bag in each hand.
"Oh my daughter, my poor, poor baby girl. Mama's going to bring you back home now, okay?" Sighing with the gentleness found in every endeared mother, she affectionately picked up all of her daughter's strewn limbs and placed them in the bag as one would with groceries, then lowered her head as she began focusing on mopping up the bloody scene before them.
Though her hair remained in disarray, the woman no longer gave a single exaggerated reaction after that. Bagging every piece carefully, she slowly disposed of the mutilated corpse that was once her daughter.
The expressions of everyone who had witnessed the scene became distorted as they watched on, and those who had weak stomachs started feeling the beginnings of nausea brewing deep in their gut.
"Let's go get something to eat." Despite encountering an incident like this, Ruan Nanzhu still kept his cool. "I'm starving."
"How can you still want to eat?" Tang Yaoyao's eyes nearly popped out of her skull after hearing Ruan Nanzhu's words; she stared at Ruan Nanzhu incredulously, as if she were looking at a monster. "Especially after seeing something like this…"
Ruan Nanzhu: "Stuff like this happens all the time. If witnessing something like this causes me to lose my appetite every time, wouldn't I just end up starving to death?"
Tang Yaoyao wanted to retort, but Ruan Nanzhu no longer wanted to listen to what she had to say. Taking Lin Qiushi by the arm, he pulled him into the room.
The two individuals sat themselves at the table and began eating the dry bread that was placed atop the table. With his thoughts roaming elsewhere, the solemn Lin Qiushi devoured the bread without focusing on the taste. After a while, he croaked, "What's up with their mother?"
"I suppose she hacked her 'poor baby girl' to death." Ruan Nanzhu surmised. "She had blood all over her shoes, but to think she was lucky enough to go unspotted by everyone else."
"But why would she do something like that?" Lin Qiushi was rather shocked. "Also, I keep thinking about how she cleaned up the body. The competent way she disposed of the corpse made it seem as though she was completely accustomed to doing this."
Ruan Nanzhu rubbed his chin in thought but didn't speak.
That woman did seem to be quite an expert when it came to doing those kinds of things, placing the larger pieces of the mutilated corpse into a bag, then sweeping the smaller pieces of flesh and residue together; her skillful movements made it seem as if she was just completing some insignificant, mundane housework.
In the midst of the two's discussion, soft footsteps sounded near the doorway. Lin Qiushi glanced back and saw that quivering Xu Xiaocheng had come inside. This was the first time she had witnessed such an appalling scene. Her entire face was as white as a sheet, and she weakly walked over to Ruan Nanzhu's side, before taking a seat. She covered her mouth tightly and didn't utter a sound.
Lin Qiushi opened his mouth in an attempt to say something, anything, but he then saw Ruan Nanzhu turn his head and gently praise Xu Xiaocheng before reassuring her, "Good girl, you didn't cry. Don't be afraid. I definitely won't let you die."
Xu Xiaocheng feebly nodded her head as if she were a frail chick picking for grains on the ground. She looked as though she was just itching to hop into Ruan Nanzhu's protective embrace and shrink into his arms, which would undoubtedly be able to shield her from all the horrors of this world. She then wondered aloud, "Big sister, is this person also another client of yours?"
Client? Lin Qiushi's mind went blank after hearing that word.
"No, he isn't." Ruan Nanzhu immediately denied. "He's my boyfriend, and he and I will both protect you."
Having heard this, Xu Xiaocheng breathed out a sigh of relief, then moved her line of sight to Lin Qiushi, gazing at him with bright eyes entirely filled with dependence.
Lin Qiushi, who was now known as the boyfriend of this queen, suddenly felt embarrassed and shy. He swept a glance at Ruan Nanzhu's beautiful visage and, somehow, an inexplicable feeling of giddiness, the manifestation of euphoria itself, welled up from the depths of his heart, it was the feeling of finally experiencing what having such a lovely girlfriend was like. Of course, he could only relish such a heavenly feeling for but a split-second because reality soon came crashing down on him. It wasn't long before he remembered something important—what in the world did he look like inside the door world?
As Ruan Nanzhu was still trying to pacify Xu Xiaocheng, Lin Qiushi looked for an excuse to run off to the restroom. When he got there, the first thing he did was look at himself in the mirror, and staring back at him was a completely unfamiliar face.
It was a young man with a pair of peach blossom eyes that slightly curved downwards at the ends, giving himself an even softer, gentler appearance whenever he laughed. His nose was tall and straight, and his lips were naturally curled upwards, permanently set into a warm, kind smile—it was a face that didn't even carry a hint of aggression commonly found in masculine men.
Any girl who saw this current face of his would just feel at ease. Rather, a more specific adjective that could be used to describe the him right now would be the forever alone little brother type2.
Lin Qiushi: "…" Well, at least he wasn't ugly, right?
After staring at his appearance for a while, Lin Qiushi finally exited the bathroom. He came back only to see a now-calm Xu Xiaocheng. Though he didn't know how Ruan Nanzhu consoled her in the end, at least her mood had improved considerably.
"Oh, before I forget, I need to tell you something." Ruan Nanzhu said. "Just in case one of the triplets come to you and asks you for her name, I left some traces on their bodies that'll help you recognize them."
"What traces?" Lin Qiushi cocked his head to one side and stared at the other blankly.
"A fine powder that immediately becomes noticeable in the light." Ruan Nanzhu replied. "Xiao Shi has powder on her shoulders, Xiao Tu has powder on the top of her hair, and Xiao Yi has no powder on her." After finishing informing the other of the useful powder, he then shrugged his shoulders and added, "But, well, since there is one less person to identify now, it should be fine."
"When did you do all of this?" Lin Qiushi glanced sideways at him.
Ruan Nanzhu: "When then first introduced themselves. What they said should've provided us with some crucial information. That is, when they grill us with questions, we cannot be wrong and must answer correctly; likewise, if they ask for us to identify them, we mustn't make any mistakes."
"So, did you tell anyone else about this?" Lin Qiushi posed another question.
Ruan Nanzhu shook his head no. "I haven't informed them for the time being. Seeing as though we don't have any means of determining whether the others are friend or foe, we should just treat all of them as enemies for now."
Halfway through the discussion, Xu Xiaocheng went to the lavatory. Lin Qiushi decided to take advantage of the time she was gone to ask Ruan Nanzhu what she meant when she said 'client'.
Ruan Nanzhu explained, "It's just referring to someone who paid me to protect them." He jerked a finger in the direction of the bathroom. "You see her? She looks rather plain, pretty average, doesn't she? In reality, she's actually a big star. You've surely already seen one of her movies."
Lin Qiushi: "…" Even after being told she was a big star, he still couldn't recognize who she was.
"This also isn't her first time entering the door world." Ruan Nanzhu revealed. "Even when you're up against ghosts or demons, you still have to remember to guard against your teammates." He stopped at this point because the others soon entered through the door and came inside.
Lin Qiushi spotted Tang Yaoyao amongst those who arrived.
"I'm surprised you guys could actually eat." Tang Yaoyao's voice was frosty. "You two must be quite gutsy, huh?"
"Well, don't know about you, but I'd prefer dying on a full stomach; not really a fan of starving to death." Ruan Nanzhu retorted flippantly, before taking another bite of the bread that was clutched between his long, slender fingers. No doubt the bland-looking bread was as tasteless as it appeared, but the way Ruan Nanzhu heartily devoured it made it seem as though it was great delicacy bursting with unimaginable flavors. "You want some?"
Before Tang Yaoyao could say a word, she was cut off by the one standing beside her. Zhang Xinghuo nodded his head and said. "Come on, let's eat. I'm pretty hungry, as well."
And so, everyone seated themselves around the table and began feasting on the plain bread before them.
"Something's definitely going to happen tonight," reckoned Tang Yaoyao, as she rubbed her arms. The dark bruises she received from being caught by the older woman seemed quite severe. "Everyone should take some precautions. Be very careful and try not to go outside if you can."
"So, who on earth killed that little girl?" Zeng Ruguo shuddered in fear and unease. “Was it… Could it really have been one of us?"
At the end of this sentence, he let out a sigh of relief, before quietly muttering to himself, "Thank God I live alone."
Almost immediately, the expressions of everyone with roommates darkened. Zhang Xinghuo and Zhong Chengjian's faces, in particular, turned extremely ugly; they didn't even bother trying to hide the wary gazes they threw each other.
"You're reading too much into this; it definitely wasn't a human that killed the girl." An unconcerned Ruan Nanzhu coolly refuted. "Think about it. If a truly was a person who killed the girl, do you honestly believe she wouldn't scream for help? And besides, all of us live right upstairs on the same floor. There's no way we wouldn't have missed such a commotion if an incident like that broke out."
The logic in his words soothed the emotions of everybody in the room, dispelling the paranoia and negativity in the air.
Tang Yaoyao then glanced over at Zeng Ruguo and suddenly asked, "Ah, that's right. I forgot to ask you before, but what exactly did you see in that fog?"
Zeng Ruguo's reaction to her question was far from a positive one; all of the blood drained from his face, fear was prevalent in his widening eyes, and his expression grew ominous. His lips twitched, and he opened his mouth, only to close it again when no words came out. Finally, after a long moment had passed, he gathered his wits and, with great difficulty, he managed to choke out, "Everything…dead…a bunch of…moving corpses…"
And overbearing silence befell the room; not a single person spoke after hearing his incoherent blubbers.
Lin Qiushi inwardly rejoiced and silently praised himself, secretly patting his cowardly self on the back for not having the courage to challenge that dark fog. Although very few words were used to describe what Zeng Ruguo had witnessed, everyone could vividly envision the hellish scene that was concealed by that fog.
In the midst of their discussion, the mother of the triplets appeared once again. No one knew when she returned. She had exchanged her soiled apron for a cleaner, dark apron, and she was currently holding a large bowl in her hands.
Clouds of white steam wafted through the air from inside the steaming bowl.
The woman started, "You all must be starving, yes? Well, fortunately, I made you all something delicious!" She swiftly walked over to the table and placed the piping hot bowl down. "Have a taste, won't you?"
It was a bowl of thick soup filled with many ingredients, but the most eye-catching ingredient of them all were the meatballs. There were plenty of meatballs to go around; some sank to the bottom of the bowl, others remained afloat, and some even bobbed beneath the surface only to rise back up, but all of them added to the rich taste of the soup, giving rise to an intense aroma that drifted throughout the room.
And yet, not a single person moved their chopsticks after catching sight of the meatballs in the soup. Rather, the only thing that moved was the expression on their faces, slowly darkening and twisting into an uglier expression, an expression that exemplified the emotion everyone was currently experiencing—utter disgust.
1 So in order: 小一 (Xiao Yi/Little One), 小十 (Xiao Shi/Little Ten), 小土 (Xiao Tu/Little Dirt) As you can see, their names are very simple in Chinese. Imagine giving your children tally marks as names, it's pretty much the same thing. Doesn't help that although the third child's name isn't a number, it's still just a combination of the character for Yi and Shi (just three simple lines).
2中央空调: Directly translates into 'central air conditioner'. This is also a slang used to describe a man who is gentle and considerate to all girls but not really boyfriend/husband material. Basically, the cute, kind, pampered, sometimes dependable little brother who has tons of female friends but will, unfortunately, never be a love interest, as women tend to prefer 暖男 (the manly, family-oriented, competent man).