Xiao Xia’s mouth was open in horror as she sat there rigidly. She watched as Zuo De’s turned figure with hand outstretched remained still for a long while, as though a freeze frame in a movie. The black shadow that had also remained motionless suddenly become shorter by a head.
Its head was gone, leaving only the body! The instant its head disappeared, it started drifting backwards, and swiftly vanished into the darkness!
Zuo De turned his head around. Xiao Xia saw in terror that his face was no longer his own. It was as if he had changed skins and become a different person!
The face was oblong, with straight features. There were two vertically aligned moles on his cheek, hanging there like two teardrops of mud. They gave the pretty, delicate face a crying appearance.
He smiled. “Let’s enter the city!” He said slowly in Zuo De’s voice.
“Ah…..” Liu Hong screamed again from behind.
Xiao Xia instinctively turned to look at her. She hadn’t been screaming due to Zuo De’s abnormal appearance. She had been startled by several round things rolling down the mountain.
In the light of the flashlights, everyone present could see that those things were skulls!
Then, the mountain seemed to tilt. They weren’t able to remain seated in place, and were swept downhill by an invisible rockslide!
Everything happened too suddenly, catching Xiao Xia off guard. The group was sent tumbling down in a state of terror. She knew it was an illusion but she wasn’t in control of her own body. Her hands scrabbled desperately at the weeds around her but she couldn’t stop her descent.
Below them was the empty city. They had been trying to avoid entering it the entire time, but in the end they had no choice!
In the midst of the thudding and screaming, Xiao Xia felt her body land heavily on the firm pavement. Pain immediately flared in her shoulder, making her temporarily lose consciousness. Xiao Xia awoke after some time. She was lying faceup on a flat road. Although her shoulder was still burning with pain, her head was extremely clear.
The rain had stopped, but the sky’s color was off. It should have been night time, but the sky was greyish, as if just before five in the morning on a summer day.
When they had fallen, it had been around eleven at night. Had she been unconscious for an entire night? What about the others?
She struggled to get up. Looking around, she saw several people lying scattered around her like broken puppets. They were across from a small, artificial lake. Careful examination of her surroundings made it clear she was in the uninhabited city.
The artificial lake was located at the intersection of two broad streets, which were lined with houses. However, the area around the lake was very empty. It was paved with marble and filled with decorative greenery. It was a large plaza with the lake at its center.
In the center of the lake was a tower, sitting there like a lonely island.
She had seen the tower when they were outside the town. At that time she had only thought it was very tall. After seeing it closeup, she realized it was magnificently built, as if with golden steps and jade tiles. Although she didn’t know if it had anything to do with Buddhism, it gave off the feeling of a temple. There was only one winding, open walkway to the center of the lake. The only other way there was to swim.
”Where is this place?” Liu Hong’s voice came from beside her. She was the second person to wake up after Xiao Xia. She knelt on the ground and looked around in horror. Xiao Xia didn’t need to respond for her to realize where they were.
What time is it now?” She asked again.
Xiao Xia normally didn’t wear a watch. She took out her phone to check. The time there showed 2:17. When she took out her phone, she was reminded of its primary function as a communication device. However, she also noticed there wasn’t any signal!
Xiao Xia gave a wry smile and realized she had been too foolish. This was clearly a trap. The city had been like a fiend, waiting silently in the corner to devour them. Now that its prey had been hooked, how could it let them easily escape?! Although she didn’t understand why something like this would happen, she knew it was either some devil making mischief or someone amongst them had offended or harmed something, perhaps inadvertently.
Liu Hong saw Xiao Xia’s actions and recalled she had her own phone. She hurriedly pulled it out and fiddled with it in a panic, breathing as if she had lost her reason.
Although Xiao Xia knew Liu Hong was babbling due to fear, and that it was her way of coping, she was still unable to put up with her yelling and screaming. She looked around and saw that the others were waking up one after another. She quickly stood up, walked to the edge of the artificial lake and whispered to the bracelet,”Ah Bai, do you know what’s going on?”
The bracelet hung on her fair wrist quietly, not moving at all!
Xiao Xia was startled and hurriedly shook it a couple of times, raising her voice. “Ah Bai, Ah Bai, are you there? Answer me!”
“Ah Bai, don’t scare me, are you there? Are you ok?” Xiao Xia was panicking but didn’t dare speak too loudly.
What had happened? Could something have happened to Ah Bai?
Xiao Xia’s heart immediately twisted as she felt two types of fear! She had previously remained calm despite her fear because she thought Ah Bai was by her side. With Ah Bai gone, she suddenly felt panic-stricken!
She was also afraid something might have happened to Ah Bai. She wouldn’t have left without saying anything! What exactly happened while she was unconscious? Was this all just bad luck and her being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or was there some scheme awaiting here!? Regardless, she by no means wanted to bring harm to the kind and innocent Ah Bai.
”I want to leave! I want to leave! Zuo De! Zuo De, where are you?” Liu Hong’s shrill voice came from the distance. “Zuo De, take me away from this place! Zuo De!”
Zuo De? Where did the cameraman possessed by the shadow go?
Xiao Xia looked silently and cautiously around. Everyone else had gotten up, leaving a tall and chubby figure prone by the flowerbeds of the plaza. He lay unmoving, as though dead.
“Zuo De!” Liu Hong had also seen Zuo De. She got up and ran towards him. The others followed behind.
Liu Hong flipped him over and shook him desperately, hoping her protector would wake up. Under her violent shaking, Zuo De, who had clearly been knocked out by the fall, slowly awakened.
”Where is this? The new town?” He shook his head and glanced around, his voice filled with confusion and amazement.
The words “new town” immediately set off a fuse, making everyone explode in panic.
”Let’s leave immediately!” Someone said and many people spoke up in agreement.
”This way, the east gate is this way. We can get back to the old town through the east gate!” Another person spoke up, and ran towards the east without waiting for a response.
Now that one person started running, the rest didn’t hesitate for a second before charging towards the east. They were like birds in flight after hearing a gunshot, acting completely on instinct. Only Xiao Xia, Liu Hong and Zuo De remained.
Xiao Xia didn’t run because she had experienced such things too many times. She knew running was useless and would only waste her strength. That would reduce her chances of survival. She needed to make calm decisions to have a chance. Unfortunately the others had run off blindly before she could warn them. However, she predicted that they would end up running back here.
They were clearly trapped!
But why didn’t Zuo De run? Was he clearheaded and realized the situation, or was he no longer “himself”?
Xiao Xia looked over doubtfully. Zuo De happened to look back at the same time. At this moment, his face had recovered to its original appearance and his expression was also very normal. His gaze towards her was filled with admiration, as if surprised at her calmness in the face of danger despite being a woman.
However, Xiao Xia was completely guarded against him! Was he really still the original Zuo De?
”Let’s go as well!” Liu Hong helped Zuo De up and spoke anxiously, gripping his arm tightly.
“It’s better to remain in place until we figure out the situation.” Zuo De patted her hand.
”But I want to leave. This place is too quiet, it creeps me out!” Liu Hong said while looking around.
Xiao Xia also felt the silence.
It was normal for an uninhabited city to be silent and still. However, this place’s stillness felt unnatural. It wasn’t just completely without sound. There was a sort of gloomy, deathly stillness. Even one’s own breathing and heartbeat felt different. It seemed more like a graveyard than a city!
”Don’t be scared! I’ll protect you!” Zuo De comforted Liu Hong a bit and then got up and walked towards Xiao Xia.
He seemed to have hit his head. There was a large bruise by his temple and his steps were unsteady. He had only taken a few steps when he suddenly stopped. At the same time, a splash came from behind Xiao Xia.
The three of them looked in unison towards the noise. They saw that a fountain of water had suddenly shot up in the artificial like. It was like a snow-white pillar of water that shot into the air. Since there hadn’t been any prior indication, the three of them were startled.
“What was that?” Liu Hong asked in a trembling voice.
No one answered her. Actually, none of them knew what was going on! Was something trying to scare them or was there a deeper meaning to it all?!
Hurried footsteps broke the silence. Xiao Xia turned to look. It was as she expected. The first person to run off back then had returned.
Xiao Xia had been very annoyed this trip, so she didn’t remember people’s names unless they had some special characteristics. She only remembered his surname was Song, and he was responsible for propaganda or something. He was covered in sweat and panting, probably due to many years of sitting behind a desk without exercise. He looked to be at the limits of his strength.
He was also stunned when he spotted Xiao Xia and the others, not expecting to have looped back to the plaza. He immediately dropped to the floor and started crying in despair. “Couldn’t see the east gate, couldn’t see the east gate! We can’t get out anymore! Can’t get out anymore!”
”Why couldn’t you see the east gate?” Liu Hong screamed and pounced over to ask.
The fact that this person was back meant her hopes of escape had been shattered.
“Don’t say there’s something weird about this empty city. This is a large town that can fit over fifty thousand people. It’s modern and based on international standards. How can it be possible to reach the east gate that quickly?!” Zuo De scolded. “I’m assuming this place is really the town’s center.”
”That’s right.” Liu Hong nodded desperately. She appeared to be agreeing with Zuo De, but was actually trying to convince herself. “He must have gotten lost. The other might already be…”
She stopped speaking, her hopes of escape thoroughly shattered. Panicked footsteps sounded from everywhere as eight people ran over from different directions. Of the nine people who had run off, not a single one managed to get out!
”How did this happen?” Zhao Jia Yuan muttered to himself, looking at a loss at Mao Fu. “We initially constructed this town with an organized layout!”
Mao Fu had no response because they had indeed designed the town to have long, straight lines. From above, the entire town was neat and square, like a chess board. It couldn’t be any neater. Their mayor loved order, which was why it was designed this way. In theory, you could use binoculars to see the west gate from the east gate without any obstructions.
They had all run in a straight line without making any turns. The plaza was along the main roads, so there was absolutely no mistake. How did they get looped back here?!
“Maybe we were too panicked. The fog is so thick as well, so we might have made a wrong turn.” The town’s journalist said.
Only now did Xiao Xia notice the city had actually become foggy in the middle of summer! The fog was thick and strange. It enveloped the entire town, but the plaza remained clear!
”That’s right, we should try again.” A horse-faced person surnamed Zhang spoke. “We should all head out together, holding hands and lined up in a row. Walk in the middle of the road and follow the road markers. That way we won’t get turned around.”
”I don’t think it’s a good idea.” Zuo De interrupted. “The situation is unclear and the fog is also strange. It’s best to stay in relative safety and come up with a plan before moving. Or we can wait for the weather to clear up.”
”No.” Someone immediately refuted. “Waiting here is to wait for death. We must have gotten lost in the fog. If we walk straight the whole way this time, there definitely won’t be any mistakes.”
”Should we take a gamble?” Zhao Jia Yuan asked Mao Fu.
At such a critical moment, he still didn’t have his own opinions and would blindly follow Mao Fu. The nature of a servant was already deeply ingrained within him.
”Alright, let’s gamble.” Mao Fu gritted his teeth. His gestured grandly, but his following words revealed his mental weakness. “If it doesn’t work…let’s come back and come up with a plan. It’s safer to stay together anyway. What so you all?”
”I’m firmly against it. This is the dumbest method.” Zuo De said.
When Mao Fu’s gaze swept over, Xiao Xia also shook her head. “Fine, let’s decide with a vote again. Those willing to charge out, come line up.” Mao Fu sighed.
Xiao Xia observed from the side. She felt his urgency to leave wasn’t just because he was afraid of being trapped. He seemed to have a guilty conscience. The twelve people split into two groups, one with ten and the other with two.
Xiao Xia had assumed she, Zuo De and Liu Hong would remain like before. Unexpectedly, the person who stayed behind with her was Wang Wen Ge. Despite Zuo De’s fierce opposition, Liu Hong insisted on giving it a shot. Zuo De clearly had feelings for Liu Hong and wanted only to protect her. Therefore, he followed her against his will.
This made Xiao Xia let out a breath. She was a little afraid of remaining behind with Zuo De by herself. The matter with the black shadow made her unable to trust him completely. Although he seemed to be the most clearheaded in the group, she was afraid he would suddenly turn, and tell her that he wasn’t Zuo De.
Xiao Xia watched as the group disappeared into the fog which was as thick as milk. The fog roiled, as if sucking the people into a bottomless hole. She suddenly recalled her dream last night at the inn.
In it, she had been in a maze-like empty city, and had then been killed and dismembered!