Chapter 16: On A Snowy Night, He Returns (10)
At 6 o’clock in the morning, the six of them woke up one after another even without the sound of Li Ying Jun knocking on the door. Qian Wei sneezed as soon as he opened his eyes and turned around to see the bonfire completely extinguished. He shivered and wanted to burn another fire but found that his whole body was almost frozen, so he struggled for some time before finally being able to move.
Zhao Ping was closest to the bonfire and took on the task of relighting it. When the warmth came back, everyone felt a lot more comfortable.
But Tang Cuo still didn’t feel well.
Though not completely frozen, both his hands and feet were extremely cold due to his inherent condition. As he tried to sit up, he took out the chocolate beans and put two in his mouth, then drank the remaining half of the potion as water and chewed on chocolate beans as though they were some medicine.
As he put in another two beans and his mouth was overwhelmed with the sweetness, his HP returned to more than 10. Only then his face lightened up a bit, but the fatigue around his eyes couldn’t be hidden.
“Can you still go?” Jin Cheng frowned as he knelt on one knee next to Tang Cuo.
“I won’t die.” Tang Cuo replied calmly, then he paused for a second and took out the hand warmer from his chest, shaking it slightly: “Thank you.”
Jin Cheng said nothing and turned around, throwing a few pieces of jerky to Peng Mingfan: “Take this and make some soup. Let’s head back after we’ve eaten.”
For this trip, they were quite well prepared. They brought not only jerky but also some pots and seasoning. Although food made in this condition wouldn’t be very delicious, drinking a bowl of hot soup in this ice-cold weather felt like a luxury.
It was already early morning the next day. Li Ying Jun probably had finished cutting firewood and returned to the hostel and Zhang Zhiqiu must have disappeared. Thus, no one was in a hurry, and they drank the hot soup while asking Tang Cuo about why he rushed back last night.
“Why do you want to find Zhang Zhiqiu? Did you find a way to prevent him from disappearing?” Peng Mingfan asked. Qian Wei and the others also looked at Tang Cuo hopefully. It wasn’t like they particularly cared about Zhang Zhiqiu – it was because what happened to him would directly impact them.
Tang Cuo said: “He’s not Zhang Zhiqiu.”
Qian Wei: “Huh?”
An Ning said anxiously: “What do you mean?”
“What he means is ―” Jin Cheng intentionally dragged out his sentence and suddenly laughed: “Li Ying Jun didn’t die, he has never died since the beginning. That’s why we never managed to clear the game.”
Wait, what the hell are you two talking about?
Qian Wei, An Ning, and Zhao Ping were all dumbfounded, and even Peng Mingfan frowned.
Jin Cheng smiled: “It’s actually very simple.”
Tang Cuo shrunk into his military coat with a bowl of soup in his hand and automatically turned on his energy-saving mode: “You talk.”
Jin Cheng raised his eyebrows: “Why am I talking again?”
Tang Cuo: “Don’t you see that I’m dying soon?”
We beg you, can you two please focus on what’s important here?!
Perhaps because of the four audiences’ pleading eyes, Jin Cheng cleared his throat and finally returned to the topic: “Li Ying Jun’s course of action is very simple. He returns to the hostel at 6 in the morning every day, picks a player, swaps his body with the player’s, then uses this body to kill the player who is actually inside Li Ying Jun’s body, every action completely undetected. When everyone falls asleep at night, he will carry the body out to destroy the evidence.”
Wait, what are you talking about again?
Qian Wei’s eyes widened and his tongue was numb: “Swap bodies? So who killed whom in the end?”
“Tsk.” Jin Cheng’s mouth tugged downward, impatientness almost written all over the upper-half of his face hidden under the mask: “Was what I said not clear enough? Which word did you not understand?”
Big brother, I understand every single word but I’m at loss when they are combined!
Qian Wei really wanted to shout that out, but this big brother would likely kill him if he dared to say even half a word, so he desperately held back his urge.
Tang Cuo glanced at Jin Cheng suspiciously. This familiar choice of words, this familiar tone and even this familiar style of narrative inevitably reminded him of someone.
Speaking of which, Tang Cuo sometimes liked to say “Tsk”, which was a bad habit he picked up during his puberty years.
Thinking about that, Tang Cuo looked away from Jin Cheng and turned to Peng Mingfan: “This is indeed a dungeon of reasoning. There is no such thing as killing Li Ying Jun will make you disappear, and there is also no death cycle. Although swapping bodies isn’t humanly doable and requires some kind of special ability or illusory magic, he is bound to make mistakes while carrying out the trick. What we need to do is to take advantage of these mistakes to uncover Li Ying Jun’s crime.”
Peng Mingfan’s jaw dropped slightly.
If what Jin Cheng said is true, then Li Ying Jun’s murder plan was perfect. He made all players think that he was killed by them, but what happened in fact?
It was Li Ying Jun who killed the players one by one.
Tang Cuo continued: “So far there have been three deaths, namely Qu Li, Li Shuangshuang and Zhang Zhiqiu. First, about Qu Li: she is just a NPC in disguise and won’t die at all. The reason why Li Ying Jun engaged her help in this scenario is because he wants us to see him die at the beginning and come back from the dead the next day. From this observation, we will have misguided judgment.”
Such misguidance was frightening, because it affected how people formed their thinking and blurred the path to the truth.
“As for Li Shuangshuang and Zhang Zhiqiu, before they killed Li Ying Jun, they both had wandered off alone. I think Li Ying jun took this opportunity to swap his body with theirs. Then he boldly used their identity to stand in front of us and killed the real Li Shuangshuang and Zhang Zhiqiu, shutting them up entirely. We couldn’t find out what was wrong because Li Ying Jun was mute. ‘He’ couldn’t say a single word even when he got killed.”
Hearing that, An Ning remembered when she went to the bathroom to find Li Shuangshuang the day before yesterday and suddenly came to a realisation.
“I remember now! When Li Shuangshuang went to the toilet and didn’t come out for a long time, I went to find her and passed by the linen room. As I looked in through the small window, Li Ying Jun kept calling out to me and seemed very scared. Now that I think about it, when he was first tied up, he didn’t even look so anxious…… So by that time, the person inside him was already Li Shuangshuang?! “
As her words felt, the others felt a tingling sensation in their scalp.
An Ning then remembered something else: “There’s also a vent in the toilet cubicle! That vent leads to the linen room! When Li Shuangshuang went to the toilet, maybe Li Ying Jun quietly got through the vent and suddenly attacked her from behind, so Li Shuangshuang couldn’t call for help at all!”
At this point, Li Shuangshuang’s death was basically solved. No one knew how Li Ying Jun stealthily attacked her, but it was certain she was completely mute after that and couldn’t call for help.
Li Ying Jun disguised her as himself and put her into the linen room, where she tried to signal to An Ning, but An Ning didn’t recognise her. Later, Li Ying Jun came back and stabbed her to death with the metal broomstick.
“Now, about Zhang Zhiqiu.” Tang Cuo put down the soup bowl and sat upright. “When we found him in the kitchen, he fell asleep. After waking up, he found that he was mute and looked scared. It seems that he wasn’t actually poisoned, rather, he was shocked at his inability to speak. Thereafter, when all of you rushed to the kitchen and he jumped at the group, it was likely not at any of you but at Li Ying Jun.”
Peng Mingfan took a deep breath. “Indeed, even if he doesn’t know that he has become Li Ying Jun, he can see that there is another ‘him’ in the group and must have realised something, but he can’t speak up, and then —”
The fake Zhang Zhiqiu rushed forward and stabbed him to death.
Zhao Ping murmured: “No wonder… no wonder they all behaved like a different person…”
As he said so, he couldn’t help but ask: “But just based on those clues, how can you conclude that their bodies have been swapped?”
“Because of the dust, and also because of Qu Li.” Tang Cuo said.
“The Dust of Appearance was scattered all over the hostel, but why didn’t Li Shuangshuang’s body have any dust on it? Obviously it was she who carried Li Ying Jun’s body out of the hostel. Even if some of the dust was rubbed clean along the way, it wouldn’t be such that there were no traces of dust in the pit where her corpse was buried. Instead, some dust was found on Li Ying Jun’s shoes.” Jin Cheng finally spoke. “There can only be one reason ― Li Ying Jun carried Li Shuangshuang’s body on his back and her feet never touched the ground.”
Zhao Ping was stunned, then he fell into a deep silence.
Peng Mingfan quickly asked: “What about Qu Li?”
Tang Cuo said: “Do you remember the first time we saw her yesterday, what was the first thing she said to me?”
Some of them didn’t hear it at that time because they were a distance away, but Jin Cheng heard it. She said ― [Why are you here?!]
“She was surprised when she saw me not because she didn’t know why I appeared in the forest, but rather, because she didn’t know why I appeared in this dungeon. The Qu Li we saw on the first day was not the real Qu Li, it was Li Ying Jun.”
At first, Tang Cuo thought that Qu Li ignored him and didn’t expose his new identity because of her personality. When they first met each other in the arena, Qu Li was like that – an egoistic, rather unsociable person.
But after meeting her again in the forest, Tang Cuo had been feeling that something was wrong. And last night, Qu Li appeared again and led Jin Cheng to find Li Shuangshuang’s body, so Tang Cuo could finally confirm that the first Qu Li he saw at the hostel was fake.
She recognised Tang Cuo in the forest. Perhaps she felt bitter at her own situation, or perhaps she thought of the bond they made when they arrived at this world at the same time, so she decided to help him.
Jin Cheng said that the players who died in the mission would become a full NPC and be controlled by the system, but now it seemed that Qu Li was still in the process of transformation and hadn’t totally lost her own will.
Perhaps when the newcomer’s training was over, she would become another Xiao Yuan.
Tang Cuo finally said: “This also explains why Li Ying Jung can be easily killed even though he’s a game Boss with strong combat power. Also, he isn’t actually mute.”
At this moment, the truth completely surfaced and every piece of the puzzle had fit in.
There was a long silence in the cave, especially for Zhao Ping. Whoever you were, if you found that the teammate you had been worried about turned out to be a ‘dead person’ in disguise who played tricks on you, you wouldn’t feel too good about it either.
It made you both angry and horrified at the same time.
“After going back, we shall immediately kill Li Ying Jun. I only ask you for one thing ― always stay in one group.” Tang Cuo said sternly. The moment they fell out from the group, they might be killed. If someone wandered off and they didn’t notice, this dungeon would easily turn into a ‘Guess who I am’ game.
To make matters worse, Tang Cuo was afraid that Li Ying Jun could borrow the system’s omniscient eye and already knew that they had discovered the truth.
Because yesterday, they all ‘fell asleep’ too timely.
If Li Ying Jun knew, he would definitely drop his previous method and do it differently this time. If Tang Cuo was in Li Ying Jun’s position, he would wait for the opportunity to swap bodies with any one player and mix in with the group, then kill them all with one fell swoop.
And Li Ying Jun was undoubtedly a smart Boss.
Half an hour later, everyone was mentally prepared and started to head back. They came out from the back door yesterday, so this time, they got back through the front door.
Just like last time, there was only Xiao Yuan in the hall. No one died this morning so Xiao Yuan was humming happily to herself while wiping the table. She casually opened the door for them as though nothing had happened: “You are back.”
An Ning asked: “You know that we went out?”
Xiaoyuan smiled: “I saw that you weren’t inside, so I know you must have gone out for a walk.”
Hearing that, Qian Wei rolled his eyes. He had done several missions but this was the first time he encountered such a low-IQ NPC, but Xiao Yuan wasn’t the main issue anyway so he quickly asked: “Where is Ling Ying Jun? Has he come back from cutting wood?”
“He’s back. He’s putting down the firewood in the backyard.” Xiao Yuan said and looked behind them, questioning: “Huh, are there only three of you? Where are the others?”
Yes, only Qian Wei, An Ning and Peng Mingfan entered the front door. As for where other people went, Peng Mingfan just pushed his glasses up and refused to tell her.
At the back door, Tang Cuo and Zhao Ping crouched behind the storage shed. Although they also came from the front, it was possible to detour to the back door. There were only two people in this whole hostel, Xiao Yuan and Li Ying Jun, so they didn’t have to be too careful.
The two listened carefully to the movements in the backyard and confirmed that Li Ying Jun was not in the shed.
Tang Cuo couldn’t help raising his head up to look around. Jin Cheng was steadily breaking into the hostel through the window on the side. The window headed into the corridor on the second floor and the staircase was on its right.
The six players were divided into three teams. They would search for Li Jing Yun’s whereabouts from all directions while trying their best to not fall out of the group.
After five minutes, Jin Cheng’s poked out from the window and shook his head at Tang Cuo — Li Ying Jun wasn’t on the second floor.
Qian Wei’s hungry complaint came from inside, so it seemed that Li Ying Jun wasn’t on the first floor either.
Tang Cuo’s eyes narrowed slightly.
They divided into three teams to test whether Li Ying Jun changed his murder plan. Considering that they couldn’t find him away, it was likely that he had hidden somewhere and was waiting for the right moment to attack them from the back.
But where is he hiding?
The solemn thought went through Tang Cuo’s mind, but his expression remained calm.
Zhao Ping just sat there quietly, paying full attention to the movements around him as he didn’t dare to disturb Tang Cuo. He still remembered Jin Cheng’s cautionary words to him just now: Look after Tang Cuo carefully. Although Tang Cuo was powerful, he didn’t seem to be in a good condition. If it wasn’t necessary, their team shouldn’t face Li Ying Jun heads-on.
A minute later, Xiao Yuan appeared in sight as she walked into the kitchen. Although the kitchen window frame was now covered with frost, it could be seen from their position, allowing them to roughly observe what was happening inside.
Xiao Yuan hummed and walked to the refrigerator. She first opened the refrigerator and looked at it, then took out some ingredients to wash and came to the chopping board to prepare them. These were all common steps, nothing too unusual.
At this moment, Xiao Yuan picked up the kitchen knife and weighed it in her hand. This subconscious movement made Tang Cuo frown instantly and a flash of light stroke through his mind ―
“Li Ying Jun!”
Tang Cuo had seen Xiao Yuan cooking and she didn’t have this subconscious movement; in fact, very few girls would try to feel the kitchen knife before cutting ingredients.
Figuring out that point, Tang Cuo immediately looked up at the window on the second floor and gestured an ‘OK’ sign at Jin Cheng, pointing to the direction of the kitchen.
Jin Cheng understood and disappeared from the window at once.
Outside of Zhao Ping and Tang Cuo’s line of vision, Jin Cheng put his hands in his trouser pockets, his 1.9 meter-tall figure walking leisurely in the corridor like an outlaw.
A few seconds later, he went down the stairs and came face to face with the three players in the main hall. None of them spoke a word and Jin Cheng winked at the kitchen. Peng Mingfan pushed his glasses up and thought for two seconds, then made an ‘OK’ sign at Jin Cheng, his eyes inquisitive.
Jin Cheng nodded. Kids are easy to teach.
The three stepped forward and were ready to follow Jin Cheng, but Jin Cheng shook his head as he looked at all three in the eyes before finally pointing to Peng Mingfan and An Ning: “You two continue to look for Li Ying Jun.”
‘To look for Li Ying Jun’ meant to look for the real Xiao Yuan. To achieve their final goal, every possible factor must be accounted for.
The labourer squad had grown to trust Tang Cuo and Jin Cheng completely, so they nodded without a second thought. Qian Wei followed Jin Cheng to the kitchen, both a little excited and nervous at the same time, and he asked in a low voice: “Now?”
Jin Cheng just casually pushed open the door.
“Squeak.” The door opened in a blink and Xiao Yuan turned around at the sound.
Jin Cheng leaned on the door frame and asked with a smile: “What do we eat today?”
Xiao Yuan scratched her head: “Beef potato stew.”
At that exact moment, Tang Cuo and Zhao Ping appeared outside the window. Across the glass, Tang Cuo’s eyes met with Jin Cheng’s — Attack now?
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”.