Chapter 13: On A Snowy Night, He Returns (7)
“Slam!” A silver knife suddenly slammed into the floor in front of Li Ying Jun, its blade continuing to vibrate while blocking his path.
The familiar scene made everyone turn their head to look at Jin Cheng. The man was sitting lazily in his armchair, his face looking like he had just woken up. The other man opposite him, Tang Cuo, stood up, his lips pale and his expression cold as always: “Everyone, stand still.”
For two days in a row, he was woken up barely before 6 in the morning, and he didn’t feel too good about that.
“Ah, ah.” Li Ying Jun pointed at the firewood on his back as he gave them an honest smile, as though he had no idea why he was being stopped.
The rest were also baffled.
Tang Cuo looked at Jin Cheng. Jin Cheng now straightened up a little and stomped on the ground. With a thud, the floor trembled, countless dust shaken up and down. A dim blue lustre glowed on the ground.
Qian Wei’s eyes widened. “What is this?”
Jin Cheng smiled: “Have you ever played online games? This is called Dust of Appearance1.”
Qian Wei looked at Peng Mingfan, but Peng Mingfan shook his head.
Zhang Zhiqiu suddenly widened his eyes, because he thought of another item — The Witch’s Ashes. Jin Cheng was obviously bluffing. That thing he said was Dust of Appearance had to be ashes, but this wasn’t something that could be obtained in a low-level game of Zone F. Who is this person really?
“Look, there are footprints on the ground!” An Ning’s astonished voice disrupted everyone’s thoughts. Everyone looked towards the ground to see footprints appearing on the glowing blue dust.
Precisely speaking, there were three strings of footprints. One string extended from the spot where Li Shuangshuang sat last night all the way to the corridor, then another string extended from the corridor and led all the way to the back door. The last string followed Xiao Yuan closely, which clearly showed that she had stepped on the dust when she came down from upstairs.
“We put this after everyone went to rest yesterday.” Tang Cuo said.
Peng Mingfan instantly understood what he meant: “These footprints are Li Shuangshuang’s?!”
Qian Wei stuttered: “No way? She went out on her own?”
“The two strings of footprints are the same size so they should belong to the same person.” An Ning didn’t move and squatted down to observe the footprints carefully before continuing: “Last night, we fell into a deep sleep as we did the previous night. There was nothing else apart from these two similar strings of footprints. Except for Li Shuangshuang going out on her own, is there any other explanation?”
Zhao Ping’s face twisted into an ugly expression: “Just like Qu Li yesterday?”
Peng Mingfan nodded: “It should be.”
“Zhao Ping, Zhang Zhiqiu, Qian Wei, you stay here to watch over Li Ying Jun and Xiao Yuan, the rest of you go with me to the linen room.” Tang Cuo quickly made a decision. “Be careful not to destroy the footprints.”
The others nodded one after another, as though Tang Cuo taking the lead was a given. As for Jin Cheng, he could wander off however he liked and no one could say a word against it.
They stayed close to the wall as they followed the footprints, and soon they arrived at the linen room. Unsurprisingly, the body was gone. After Li Shuangshuang’s footprints reached here, they seemed to have made a U-turn to head for the back door.
Peng Mingfan squatted down to examine them carefully: “Although the footprints are of the same size, the footprints that go out are deeper than the ones that come in, so Li Shuangshuang took the body out of the hostel on her own? Why? If she wanted to leave, why did she take the body with her?”
Tang Cuo didn’t answer and he followed the footprints to the back door with some thoughts in mind. Opening the door, he found footprints on the steps, but a thick layer of snow had completely covered the backyard so no other footprints could be seen.
He turned around and asked Jin Cheng: “Does this dust have a limited range?”
Jin Cheng: “No.”
If it didn’t have a range, as long as the dust was still on Li Shuangshuang’s feet, there would still be a possibility of locating her, in the condition that the place hadn’t been entirely buried in snow.
Tang Cuo came to the conclusion that he didn’t need to rush to find her. He returned to the main hall and glanced through the whole place before finally fixing his eyes on Qian Wei: “Can I trouble you to take off Li Ying Jun’s shoes?”
Qian Wei: “Take off his shoes???”
Peng Mingfan: “Do you want to check if there’s any dust on his sole?”
Everyone could see it now. A small part at the front entrance didn’t have any dust on it, and Jin Cheng’s knife had blocked Li Ying Jun right within that part.
Qian Wei understood and immediately pulled up his sleeves, getting ready to start. Zhao Ping also stepped forward to help. The two held Li Ying Jun down and took off his shoes in a heartbeat.
At this point, Li Ying Jun just remained pitiful and helpless with some “Ah ah ah”. He stood there barefoot with a hole in his sock. Xiao Yuan couldn’t stop them, so she just stood by the side with a dumbfounded expression, totally at loss about what she should do.
“Tang ge, look!” Qian Wei happily raised the shoes up as if they were an Olympic trophy.
Tang Cuo took them and turned the soles up, and the rest came over to have a look. These shoes had rubber soles, and because Li Ying Jun’s path was totally covered in snow, the soles were relatively clean. Even if there was any mud, it would have been washed off by the heavy snow.
“There’s nothing.” Qian Wei’s voice was slightly disappointed.
“Do you think it’s that simple?” An Ning spread her hand and walked over to talk to Xiao Yuan again. “Do you remember what happened yesterday?”
Xiao Yuan scratched her head: “What happened yesterday?”
An Ning said: “Li Shuangshuang murdered someone.”
“Oh my god!” Xiao Yuan covered her mouth in shock.
“We tied her up yesterday, but today she is gone. Have you seen her?” An Ning continued to ask.
“No, I only saw you all as soon as I went downstairs. She won’t run away, will she? It’s terrible.”
Xiao Yuan’s behaviour was exactly the same as yesterday: she completely forgot about Li Ying Jun’s death. Besides, she was clueless about Li Shuangshuang’s whereabouts. An Ning also didn’t want to tell her any lies, so she just pursed her lips and turned back to look at Tang Cuo.
Tang Cuo looked at the shoes for a bit, then suddenly walked to Li Ying Jun and pulled out the knife on the floor. Li Ying Jun’s face crumpled into extreme fear.
“Ah ah ah.” He tried to gesture something but Tang Cuo paid him no attention. He picked at the shoe sole with the knife tip for a few times, until a pea-sized pebble was finally pried out.
An Ning’s sharp eyes saw it immediately: “The pebble is glowing!”
Qian Wei also exclaimed: “Isn’t it the Dust of Appearance?!”
A tiny pebble was embedded deep inside the sole of this rubber shoe, leaving only a very small hole that was almost not detectable on the sole surface. Tang Cuo then opened up the whole sole to find a little bit of black mud in it.
Jin Cheng said with a smile: “You really found it.”
Tang Cuo turned his head: “How do you think this pebble got in here?”
“This rubber sole is very hard, yet the pebble is so deep inside…” Jin Cheng leaned on the tea table and hugged his arms. “When cutting down a tree and swinging your axe, a plot of pressure is put on your soles.”
Tang Cuo also thought the same. There were no footprints of Li Ying Jun on the ground, so the dust must be brought outside by Li Shuangshuang. Wherever she went, the dust followed. The pebble must have come into contact with the dust at one point and was later stepped on by Li Ying Jun. He carried the pebble and went to cut firewood, and in the midst of exerting his force on the ground, the pebble was squeezed deep into the rubber sole.
Returning what was left of the two shoes to Li Ying Jun, Tang Cuo broke away from the group on the grounds of ‘needing breakfast’.
Looking at the two of them leaving, Qian Wei felt his head going dizzy: “What about Li Shuangshuang? Even if we find out about this, what do we know about Li Shuangshuang?”
No one answered him as Peng Mingfan, An Ning and Zhao Ping were all deep in thoughts. Qian Wei turned to stare at Zhang Zhiqiu. This man hadn’t said a word since the beginning, and no one knew what crap he might be scheming again: “Hey, mister, don’t you have any comments today?”
His tone was somewhat provocative but he only realised it after the words left his mouth. Zhang Zhiqiu didn’t care anyway as he just turned to look at Qian Wei, his eyes a tinge of contempt.
Qian Wei got angry right that instant. Isn’t he not as smart as others? How could he look at people like this? He was about to explode, but he suddenly remembered Zhang Zhiqiu’s words yesterday and a flash of light came through his mind ―
“Maybe we are all wrong!”
Peng Mingfan was startled by him: “Wrong about what?”
Qian Wei: “This game’s clearance requirement is to kill Li Ying Jun, right? Li Shuangshuang killed Ying Jun and took his body away, then he came back!”
Peng Mingfan was not the only one in doubt. Everyone turned to look at him.
Qian Wei took a deep breath and said: “She has cleared the game and won’t come back. She managed to kill Ying Jun, so she passed the game requirement. We were all forced to fall asleep while she could move around freely. And Li Ying Jun coming back from the dead is equivalent to resetting. Because we haven’t cleared the game, the boss has to be brought back again! We just made it to be too complicated, perhaps this game is just playing with words after all. The real requirement to clear it is very simple!”
Using the simplest logic to restore the original meaning was indeed Qian Wei’s style.
Peng Mingfan was stunned for some moments while Zhang Zhiqiu continued to think deeply. An Ning hurriedly waved her hand: “Wait, let me ask ― how about Qu Li?”
Zhao Ping also said: “Yes, what happened with Qu Li?”
“Wasn’t it mentioned yesterday that Qu Li is also a newcomer? She must have acted hastily.” Qian Wei became more excited the more he talked: “When Li Ying Jun was killed the first time with the bronze trophy, maybe it was her doing. She killed Ying Jun, so she also disappeared. If you kill Li Ying Jun, you disappear, and if you disappear, you clear the game. Isn’t it just like that?”
Everyone looked at each other, no one able to deny that Qian Wei’s deduction was very convincing and reasonable. But the risk was too high and no one could prove how correct this deduction might be.
Their eyes turned to Tang Cuo again.
Tang Cuo was a little irritable and his expression was gloomy, all due to his low blood sugar condition. And because those eyes of his were remarkably bright, he often gave people an overflowing sense of oppression when he stared at them.
Everyone subconsciously fell into silence while Jin Cheng looked at his pale face with a frown.
At this point, Xiao Yuan came out with an early breakfast. Today’s menu was oatmeal with milk, boiled eggs and toast. Although simple, they smelled good.
Tang Cuo’s eyes instantly lit up and he declared the final verdict: “Let’s eat breakfast first.”
Saying so, Tang Cuo sat down to eat, completely focused on the meal and paying no mind to whatever else. Everyone looked at each other, then sat down with him — food was important after all; there was no harm eating first.
Tang Cuo felt much more comfortable after a bowl of oatmeal. As he reached out for a boiled egg, he found that all the eggs in the bowl had been peeled, each perfectly smooth and tender.
The eggs were divided into three bowls placed at different spots on the table. Tang Cuo looked at the other two bowls: those eggs clearly had their shell on.
The mastermind: Jin Cheng.
“Do you like peeling so much?” Tang Cuo couldn’t help asking.
“Yeah.” Jin Cheng was still peeling one in his hand, then instead of eating it, he put it back in the bowl and took a piece of toast to spread some jam on it. Tang Cuo really couldn’t understand what was wrong with this man. Tomatoes had to be peeled and eggs had to be peeled, do you really have so much time?
Tang Cuo was one who wouldn’t care about such troublesome things.
But it’s good that someone peeled it for me.
Tang Cuo pulled the whole bowl of eggs to himself as-a-matter-of-factly, then poured himself a cup of hot milk. Eating eggs with milk turned out to be ― not bad at all.
“What are you going to do?” Jin Cheng asked.
“I’m going to the forest again.” Tang Cuo swallowed the egg and asked: “Are you coming?”
“Are you inviting me?”
“There are bears in the forest.”
Very good, very honest.
Jin Cheng kept smiling and took the remaining eggs back.
Tang Cuo didn’t mind anyway; the eggs had been peeled by him, so of course he could eat all he wanted. He had no objections and even turned to express his thoughts earnestly with Jin Cheng.
“We will take Li Ying Jun with us and walk through the back door.”
“You want to reproduce Li Shuangshuang’s path?”
Tang Cuo nodded. “At least part of what Qian Wei said was correct. It should be Qu Li that killed Li Ying Jun for the first time. She arrived here at the same time as me, but I’m not sure if she stayed alive long enough to enter Yong Ye City.”
Jin Cheng: “What do you mean?”
“We triggered the Easter egg game.”
The Wheel of Fortune had four rounds, and in the third round of The Great Soul Pendulum, almost everyone was displaced from their position. Tang Cuo was certain that Qu Li survived the first round and the second round, but he wasn’t so certain about the third round.
Combined with Jin Cheng’s explanation on “karma”, Qu Li was likely to have died in the Easter egg game, so she was sent to the dungeon of [On A Snowy Night, He Returns] to take over Xiao Yuan.
In other words, she came here earlier than anyone. The Qu Li that Tang Cuo saw was already an NPC by this time, and all her actions were controlled by the system.
Tang Cuo said: “If she is meant to be a distracting element, then the person most likely to be distracted by it must be me. Since I know her, I will recognise her as a real player and start doubting others.”
In fact, Tang Cuo did juggle between Qu Li and Zhang Zhiqiu. However, Zhang Zhiqiu’s behaviour was in line with that of a usual player. He was cunning and selfish, and he liked to manipulate other people with words to fulfil his own purpose.
At this moment, someone cried out: “Where is Zhang Zhiqiu?!”
Tang Cuo and Jin Cheng looked up to see Qian Wei turning back and forth and Zhang Zhiqiu nowhere in sight.
Zhao Ping quickly said: “I just saw him asking Xiao Yuan for milk so I didn’t pay much attention. He really seems to have disappeared in a blink.”
To everyone, Zhang Zhiqiu was the prime suspect for being the NPC, so they quickly went to search for him in different directions. Jin Cheng probed his chin for some time, then turned to look at Tang Cuo with a cold smile: “Don’t you want to explain it to them?”
Tang Cuo asked: “Do I look like such a nice person?”
Zhang Zhiqiu wasn’t the NPC, but he did stir up some sh*t. Why should Tang Cuo help him clear his name? It wasn’t like he had enough energy to care about other people’s business.
Within two minutes, Zhang Zhiqiu returned. Faced with everyone’s questioning look, he only said that he went to Xiao Yuan to ask for more food then went to the toilet on the way.
Peng Mingfan: “I went to see the toilet, you weren’t there.”
Zhang Zhiqiu: “I went to the toilet first, then the kitchen.”
The two sides were at heads with each other again, and Peng Mingfan’s suspicion rose even further.
Tang Cuo wasn’t interested in watching this battle. He casually stood up and announced: “I’ll take another look at the forest.” With that, he headed straight for the back door.
Peng Mingfan, Qian Wei and others couldn’t care more about fighting with Zhang Zhiqiu and immediately followed. Qian Wei shouted: “Tang ge, why are you going there again?! There are bears in the forest!”
Tang Cuo kept walking and went to find Li Ying Jun. But when he saw Li Ying Jun’s back, his eyebrows furrowed ― Li Ying Jun had dozed off, lying atop the small round table in the kitchen with a bowl of half-eaten noodles in his hands.
Xiao Yuan was nowhere to be seen.
“Wake up.” Tang Cuo kicked slightly at his stool.
Li Ying Jun suddenly became awakened and looked around with confused eyes. When he saw Tang Cuo, he opened his mouth and let out an “ah”. Astonished, he quickly “ah” a few more times. He covered his neck in disbelief as his face twisted into a horrified expression.
“What’s wrong with him? Was he poisoned again?” Qian Wei’s eyes widened and he subconsciously looked at Zhang Zhiqiu. Could the same tactic be used twice?
When his words fell, Li Ying Jun broke into a terrifying cough and started vomiting blood.
“F**k!” Qian Wei swiftly retreated as Peng Mingfan and the others took out their weapons, all fearing that Li Ying Jun would go berserk again. In a split second, Li Ying Jun rushed towards them with bloodshot eyes.
The narrow kitchen door wasn’t helping them to escape, so the group huddled together, An Ning and Zhao Ping pushed to the rear without even knowing what actually happened. Qian Wei anxiously yelled out: “Disperse!”
To everyone’s utter surprise, Zhang Zhiqiu suddenly ran forward and stabbed Li Ying Jun in the stomach with a fruit knife, his move so fast that Qian Wei didn’t even have time to blink.
He stabbed once, then twice. The blood gradually dyed his clothes red, the scene looking almost likethat of Li Shuangshuang yesterday. After Li Ying Jun was finally dead and fell to the ground, he seemed to regain his composure and suddenly dropped the knife from his hand.
“What did you do? Why did you kill him all of a sudden?!” Peng Mingfan rushed to the scene, cursing to himself why he couldn’t just kill Zhang Zhiqiu on the spot.
Zhang Zhiqiu was desperately gasping for air, but unlike Li Shuangshuang, he was perfectly calm. He just stared at Peng Mingfan and said, each word clearly emphasised: “Because, I, want, to, clear, the, game.”
Peng Mingfan almost couldn’t breathe.
Zhang Zhiqiu continued: “We can clear the game if we kill Li Ying Jun, isn’t it? For such a dungeon, how can they be so generous to let everyone smoothly clear it? There must be a quota. Qu Li and Li Shuangshuang already accounted for two, I’ll be the third one.”
“You’re crazy! That’s just a deduction!” Even the person who came up with that deduction, Qian Wei, thought that Zhang Zhiqiu had gone mad. Was this what he really was? A cold-blooded maniac hidden under the disguise of a selfish man?
Zhang Zhiqiu laughed as if mocking how stupid they all were.
“Don’t care about him! If he wants to go looking for death, leave him be!” Qian Wei got angry again, then he glanced at Tang Cuo and Jin Cheng from the corner of his eye to see the two big shots standing by the kitchen window.
Those two handsome faces were really in their own league.
“Blood is all over the entrance now, shall we go out from the window?” Jin Cheng suggested sincerely.
Tang Cuo was speechless. Why does this person have so many quirks? When he wasn’t peeling off skin, he was climbing the window. But the kitchen entrance was indeed scattered with blood and made it really difficult to walk through, so he nodded without much care.
The two got ready to jump off the window.
As a mere young girl, An Ning couldn’t just jump over the whole blood pool, so she stepped on it nevertheless. By the time she reached the window, those two couldn’t be stopped anymore, hence she could only poke her head out of the window and cry out: “Someone just died, where are you two going?!”
A second later, Qian Wei also joined her: “Big brothers! He’s dead! Come back! What do we do now?!”
One big brother waved his hand, the other big brother didn’t even look back.
An Ning quickly patted Qian Wei: “Hurry up and follow them!”
Qian Wei: “But there are bears in the forest!”
An Ning glanced at Zhang Zhiqiu: “Well, there’s a murderer here.”
Qian Wei: “True.”
Qian Wei pulled Peng Mingfan, An Ning pulled Zhao Ping, and they all ran away.
Translator and reviewer at Strictly Bromance blog. In essence, she lives to indulge in plot-driven stories sprinkled with camaraderie and slow-burn drama-free romance, especially more so if they belong to adventure, mystery or supernatural genre. A trope that she always thirsts after: “Comrades who go through life and death together”.