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For a long time, the banshee-like wailing of pain reverberated in the air. When it finally dissipated, what followed after wasn't the tranquility of silent but something more intense and depressing. It sounded like a loud thud as if something had rolled over the floor. The echo of every collision even penetrated the soundproof wall of the hotel, causing the heart of a man to beat along with its tempo.
The duo who had just arrived at the top floor stopped their advance. Both of them exchanged glances and saw a similar bewildered expression on each other's faces.
"...Let's head back," Qing Jiuliu said after he had contemplated for a while, but his brows remained locked at the center of his forehead. The cigarette that dangled from his lips flicked up and down whenever he spoke, granting him the look of a delinquent. "Magus couldn't divert her concentration now. I suppose she wouldn't know what was that even if there was something there."
The grand prize craned his long neck as if he was trying to see through the wall, but he soon realized how stupid his action was. Sighing, he spun and walked together with Qing Jiuliu toward the flight of stairs.
Lin Sanjiu was probably the only one who remained unclear and puzzled at what Magus had told her. Meanwhile, the duo, who didn't have any Higher Consciousness, was quick to understand even though they did not get to hear the full explanation. Looking from the other angle, it could be said that both of them had a better grasp of the current condition than Lin Sanjiu.
"This wasn't the first time you've heard of it?" Ji Shanqing queried Qing Jiuliu again when they were walking down the staircase, "The last time was with sis?"
Qing Jiuliu growled lazily as a response to Ji Shanqing's question.
"No matter what it is, since this wasn't the first time you heard of the whistle, somebody or something must be coming for you, or sis. I do hope that their target is you, by the way," Ji Shanqing said without mincing matters, "...So, what are we gonna do now?"
"Sleep; that goes without saying," Qing Jiuliu replied matter-of-factly. "I'm going to sleep even if somebody out there is after me. Besides, there's nothing in here, and I can't see any reason why we cannot just take it easy and chill out."
The grand prize couldn't comprehend the logic behind his reasoning. He looked at him like he was looking at a mentally challenged person.
"Bah, you just can't get the gist of it, can you? We should cherish every moment we have to live our lives in the most comfortable way, however dangerous the situation is—that's my motto of life… By the way, if someone out there is really coming for me, I wish the killer would be a woman. After all, dying in the hand of a damsel on a bed sounds nicer, right?"
Ji Shanqing couldn't resist anymore and he boomed, "Wake up, dude! Wake up and smell the coffee! No one would take the effort to come and kill you when they can just wait until you die of alcohol poisoning! I suspect he or she, whatever it is, is coming for sis."
Clearly, Qing Jiuliu did not take the opinion of the grand prize to his heart. He began to yawn and sauntered toward a hotel room at his side. When Ji Shanqing realized where Qing Jiuliu was heading, he immediately stepped forward and clawed at his arm, "...No, you have to follow me to have a dekko downstairs."
Even though Qing Jiuliu's battle capability wasn't high, the grand prize felt it was still better than his [Spumous Visa].
Qing Jiuliu was not happy with Ji Shanqing for stopping him. With frowning brows, he threw the grand prize a glance and said with notable irritation, "Let go—" Then, he opened his eyes wide in surprise in the next moment. This time, he spun around, facing face-to-face with the grand prize and scrutinized him from his head to his toe, "That's weird… You really are not a human? You have no blood?"
Ji Shanqing tightened his grip and avowed to Qing Jiuliu's claim begrudgingly, "No, I have no blood, so your ability won't work on me. C'mon, let's have a quick look downstairs."
The expression that dawned on Qing Jiuliu's face was capable of making woman soften into tears. Whenever somebody entrusted a job to him, Qing Jiuliu would always have that pitiful look on his face. The grand prize was persistent, and Qing Jiuliu couldn't free himself from the grand prize's clutch. As such, he had no choice but to follow after him resentfully. The duo went first to the kitchen. When they didn't find anything suspicious, they continued their search down the building floor by floor. Soon, they had arrived in the lobby.
There were no lights, and the lobby looked like a vast black hole. Several French windows were overgrown with creeping ivy, casting a variety of contorted and ghostly shadows under the sunlight of the eventide. As the sky became darker, the tenebrous felling that reigned the lobby continued to advance, covering the rest of the s.p.a.ce and every facility in a darker tone. Both of them couldn't see through anything.
"I hope you have a way to help yourself out from a difficult situation shall anything unforeseeable come up. As for you to know, I won't and wouldn't be able to save you, as I can't even save myself either," Qing Jiuliu said earnestly when he sensed the ominous feeling in the lobby, "...Oh, also, did I ever mention that I'm afraid of the dark?"
"I'll light a candle up," Ji Shanqing threw him a glance and took out a candle. A little hue of tangerine was then sparked into life in the darkness after a few strenuous attempts at handling Qing Jiuliu's spoiled lighter. It was just the light from the candle could provide them nothing but merely a small radius of visibility as the lobby was too large.
Both of them patrolled around the lobby for a few laps, but they found nothing at last. They stopped at the entrance.
The sky was getting darker by the minute. When they looked out through the window, they could see nothing but a barren dark world that stretched out far until the end of their field of vision. The buildings, the avenues, the trees—everything that telltale the once beautiful city had been smeared into blurry silhouettes under the gloomy blue sky.
It's one thing doing surveillance in bed and breakfast but it was a completely different thing to go out. After all, that was Magus' stronghold, and both of them weren't sure how far Magus' orbit was. Ji Shanqing was meticulous while Qing Jiuliu was slothful. The two of them took a sneak peek outside and then went inside again.
"Well, another false alarm," Qing Jiuliu dawdled before a whistle that came thrumming from nowhere hushed him down.
As if it was a joyous pa.s.serby, the brisk melodious whistle slashed across the air, stirring an echo in the lobby before it dissipated again. No matter how they looked, there wasn't any third person there.
The darkness was quiet, gazing at the back of the duo silently.
Ji Shanqing turned his head to check around. Even with the orange flame from the candle, his lips looked pale.
"Did you hear that?" He whispered, "It sounds like it's just outside the entrance."
"Of course I've heard that, I'm not dumb or whatsoever," Qing Jiuliu looked at the entrance with furrowed brows.
Except for the occasional gust that stirred up the gra.s.s and disheveled the curtains, there was nothing around the entrance to the lobby. Yet the humming tune remained vivid in their minds as if it was a creeping shadow, and they felt it would ring out again at any time.
"h.e.l.lo, anybody in there? Knock, knock," Qing Jiuliu said as he pushed the grand prize, who was still in a daze, "...Let's move to the floor where Magus is. Whatever that thing is, I suppose it would not be daring enough to step near Magus."
Ji Shanqing felt that was a good idea, so the duo set off toward the stairs. Most hotels provided elevators as the mean of transporting their guests up and down the building, whereas the purpose of the stairway was solely to serve as the fire pa.s.sageway. Hence, the stairway was built secluded at a far corner, in contrast to the elevator, which was located at the very center of the lobby. As such, both of them had to traverse back through the dark and gloomy hall.
There was a rest zone with a couch and a coffee table along their way and the nearest route was to walk through the small area between the sofa and the table. With only the weak candlelight as their primary light source, it was hard for them to see the path. Ji Shanqing had been lowering his head, scrutinizing the road through his narrow eyes. Suddenly, before he could walk any further, he felt somebody had gained on him from behind and the next thing he felt was a puff of hot air. Then, poof , the candle went out, and his vision swirled into darkness.
"What the h.e.l.l were you doing?!" The grand prize barked, stamping on his feet.
"What's wrong?" Qing Jiuliu replied soon after, "Did you blow out the candle?"
… Ji Shanqing stunned and froze on the spot.
The voice of the drunkard was obviously coming from his right side. In other words, Qing Jiuliu wasn't the person who blew out the candle from his back.
"Then, who's it at my back?"
"Can you light up the candle again?" The muddled figure at his right fiddled in the dark. As if the figure had confirmed the location of the grand prize, he then inched toward him, "...Why did you stop?"
Gaping his mouth, Ji Shanqing suddenly realized something was wrong. He boomed, "Don't come over here!"
His voice echoed in the air, causing the person in front of him to freeze in place.
Ji Shanqing's back was trickled with trepidation. He had laid his full concentration at his back, yet he could sense nothing, not even the sound of wind could be heard. He tried again and p.r.i.c.ked his ears; however, what rewarded his attempt was deadly silence.
Ji Shanqing took a tentative step forward. There was only his puff and blow in the air. He paused, then took another step.
The atmosphere behind him remained silent.
Beneath his ribs, Ji Shanqing's heart fluttered like a caged bird. He seized the opportunity and darted out. After his thigh had knocked into the couch a couple of times, he finally arrived at where Qing Jiuliu was standing. Catching his breath, he mouthed at Qing Jiuliu, "Is there anybody... behind me?"
The person in front of him did not reply after a few seconds. Piqued by his curiosity, he raised his head and his blood turned cold at what he had seen. The sentence "Do you hear me" was left dangling at the tips of his tongue.
The was no light outside or inside the lobby, so an unbreachable umbra had filled every inch of the lobby. He was very close to the man, so he could see that the man was slowly turning his head to face him.
…He remembered very clearly that Qing Jiuliu was taller and slimmer than the person in front of him.
Ji Shanqing recoiled one step, turned around, and sprinted away. Since he couldn't see clearly in the dark, he had accidentally banged into the coffee table. He winced at the pain but didn't dare stop running. He continued to dash at his full speed toward the entrance. After he had run for some distance, he looked over his shoulders. He saw that the figure didn't chase after him; instead, it remained standing at its spot, hiding amongst the thick darkness.
"As long as I can get outside, Magus and sis will surely be able to hear my call—"
Just when he almost arrived at the entrance, Ji Shanqing's eyes widened in horror and he stopped.
"Where are you going?" Qing Jiuliu was standing at the footsteps outside the entrance door; his figure had blended into the pitch-black sky. Spreading his arms, he asked as he ambled toward Ji Shanqing, "...Were we not going upstairs?"
Ji Shanqing spun his body abruptly. The trail he had pa.s.sed by just now had dissolved into darkness.
…Qing Jiuliu looked at the motionless figure that was standing not far away from him with questions in his mind. His hand dug into his pocket and took out a lighter.
The lighter was the one he found when Lin Sanjiu and he were searching for the building. It was pretty time-worn, and it was hard to use—this time was no exception. He struck the roll wheel for a total of six times, yet not even a fire spark came out.
Qing Jiuliu turned the air blue inwardly, then the lighter suddenly worked. An ember flashed, lighting up the small area around him in a red-orange. Raising his head, only now did he realize that the standing figure in the center of the lobby was a luggage barrow that was left unattended. The reason it looked like a human was because of the trench coat that hanged from the hanger on top and the small suitcase below.
"Was the luggage barrow here all the time?" A question surfaced in Qing Jiuliu's mind. However, before he could take a close look, the ember went out.
…Standing alone, Qing Jiuliu felt somewhat uneasy.
He rolled the spark wheel in quick succession. Though he had succeeded twice, the duration the ember stayed alive was shorter than the last. The fire went off almost the instant it was brought to life. After the last flame had extinguished, Qing Jiuliu returned the lighter into his pocket calmly. Then, quietly, he slowly recoiled one step back.
No wonder he felt uneasy.
With the help of the light from the fleeting fire, Qing Jiuliu saw a face, resting his chin on his right shoulder. The alternation of light and dark had caused a smile to appear on the face. As the flame extinguished, the face disappeared and merged into the darkness.
Although the face appeared for only a few seconds, he knew that it was Ji Shanqing's face.
"Let's go. They are probably waiting for us."
Qing Jiuliu didn't turn his body around nor looked over his shoulder. He kept his posture and recoiled step by step. He sounded calm as if he didn't realize anything, "...If Lady Magus runs out of patience and comes looking for us, we'll be in huge trouble."
The sentence resounded in the dark lobby before it frittered away into the air. Ji Shanqing received no response, and everything remained the same.
If he hadn't left the siren on the bed because it was troublesome carrying it whenever he went, he might be able to shatter this predicament. Qing Jiuliu thought inwardly begrudgingly, though he didn't allow his real feeling to escape to his face.
The face was getting closer and closer. It was so near that he could see the pale contour of the face through the corner of his eyes. It was only due to his expertise in acting, otherwise, he wouldn't be able to retain that deadpan expression for such a long time.
When he walked past a pillar, Qing Jiuliu rammed his right shoulder into it. Concurrently, he brandished his left hand after the face.
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