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As a hotel that was worth a five-stars rating, the lobby was exceptionally s.p.a.cious and the ceiling was around eight meters high from the floor.
Two years before, when the electricity was still running, the ma.s.sive prismatic chandelier that hung from the dome glowed like a gigantic rainbow light ball in the air. In such a vast and high-ceilinged area, the human voice that fleeted across from the other end of the lobby sounded like the soft background music in any of the high-end restaurants.
It was also due to this reason that the hair-p.r.i.c.king m.u.f.fled thump produced when Qing Jiuliu rammed his shoulder towards the marble column did not stir up anything in the air. n.o.body, aside from himself, could hear his groan of pain.
The moment he thrust himself toward the pillar, his left hand had missed its target as well. When he turned to look at his shoulder, the face was no longer there.
Nevertheless, Qing Jiuliu had never expected this attack would bear any fruitful result, so he was unfazed at his failed attempt.
Leaning against the marble column, Qing Jiuliu caught his breath and took out a crumpled cigarette before putting the cigarette in between his lips. As he was rummaging for the lighter in his pocket when a sudden unsettling thought rammed into his mind, he stopped.
He lifted his head, but there was nothing that could be seen as far as his vision stretched. The curtains had stopped fluttering, and the soft rustling of tree leaves had abated like a waning tide. What was left behind was absolute darkness and silence.
It was too dark. Suddenly, with his eyes, Qing Jiuliu had seemingly caught something that moved far in the distance. However, when he looked closer, he saw nothing.
"Ji Shanqing…?" He called, tentatively, "Is that you over there?"
His voice lingered in the air for a while before it fleeted away. He waited for quite a while, yet received no response.
As things were, he couldn't go upstairs. Putting aside the large distance between his current location and the stairwell, he felt it was unwise to traverse the staircase alone in the dark.
Qing Jiuliu s.h.i.+fted his gaze onto the entrance. As if the last remaining glimmer of light from the heaven and the earth had gathered there, the small radius around the entrance door was the only spot that was less dark than the rest of the area.
Qing Jiuliu detected no motion in the air even though he had waited for quite some time. He took a step forward, then a thing from his body fell to the ground with a clear clank.
After he'd contemplated for roughly two seconds, Qing Jiuliu still bent down and fumbled for that thing in the dark. Then, he froze, as the second he found his lighter, his finger touched the toe cap of a shoe.
Quick as thought, Qing Jiuliu sprang up and sent his hand upward. However, just like last time, his attack missed the target and hit only air. After he had failed his ambush, he did not hesitate and immediately turned around, darting toward the entrance door.
After he had retreated into the darkness, Ji Shanqing looked over his shoulder to see that the figure at the entrance had disappeared.
Resting his palms on his knees, Ji Shanqing felt his heart was fluttering madly as he had a hard time breathing. It wasn't caused by the fast sprinting; it was due to the mounting anxiousness of not knowing where he should run to. There was darkness everywhere.
He couldn't get out from the main entrance; hence his only retreat was the stairwell. He knew very well that it wouldn't be a royal road to what he was going to do next. Whatever was in there was going to hurt him badly. However, he still had to try.
Using the remnant of memories he had with the formation of the lobby, a safe path was immediately formed in Ji Shanqing's brain. As he worked his way toward the track in the dark, he made his move so light that it did not induce any sound.
Then, a voice calling his name from the void, and the grand prize froze on the ground.
"Is that you over there?"
Biting his lower lip, Ji Shanqing did not respond to the call. Instead, he p.r.i.c.ked up his ears, trying to discern the source of the sound. But the task was near impossible, for the vastness of the lobby had dispersed the sound, causing an echo that bounced around in the air.
Chk, chk. As if the man had run out of his patience for not receiving any reply, the flint of the lighter itching came twice from the dark. A moment later, a small ember lit up the area in front of him with its orange-red luminance, and Ji Shanqing felt at ease for a bit.
The flickering flame had chased away the darkness surrounding Qing Jiuliu, casting a long and eldritch shadow on the pillar not far away, and lit up half of his face.
Half of his face and his entire torso below his neck was immersed in the dark, giving people an impression that only half of his face was floating in the air.
"Why are you standing there?" The fluttering flame cast Qing Jiuliu's face a rhythmical alternation of light and dark. It didn't last long, however, as the ember went off after three seconds. Once again, they were devoured by the darkness. Even though he had only a split second, Ji Shanqing had seen very well with the help of the feeble light that Qing Jiuliu's mouth didn't move when he spoke.
Chk, chk, chk… This time, the flicking of the flint came in rapid succession. It seemed that his opponent was trying to reignite the lighter, but he failed in the end. Ji Shanqing could feel his skin breaking out in gooseflesh, for the sound was getting nearer and nearer to him.
When the rasp of lighter had finally ceased away, Qing Jiuliu's voice rang out beside his ear, "Come, let's go back."
The hair on the back of Qing Jiuliu's neck bristled. He spun around and sprinted in full tilt. He ran out for two steps, then he stopped and looked over his shoulder.
"Strange… I have heard the same sentences twice," He whispered to himself as if he had forgotten about the fear. "The words he used, his talking speed, his tone… are all the same."
"Let me guess; you can record the sound. You can also remove the background noise, edit the sound, and replay it?" After a short pause, Ji Shanqing added, "Hmm, my voice sounds pretty clear to me now."
There was no feedback from Qing Jiuliu. It was as if he had merged with the darkness.
"On second thought, no matter what you are, if you could kill me when getting close to me, I should've been dead now," Ji Shanqing murmured, frowning, "So… what's going on right now?"
Just like what he had discovered, those words that had just been spoken did not travel out far. As if somebody had covered him in a dome of an invisible force field, his sound suddenly disappeared from the air without causing any reverberation.
"The second half of the sentence 'let's return' should be 'If Lady Magus runs out of patience and comes looking for us, we'll be in trouble,'" As Ji Shanqing repeated the sentence, he was slowly regaining his confidence, and his voice became much clearer, "When those words were spoken, 'Qing Jiuliu' was walking toward me from the entrance… Judging from this, I suppose your objective is to lower down my guard. Besides, don't you find the sentence itself weird?"
Ji Shanqing closed his mouth after he had finished his conjecture, allowing the silence that prevailed in the lobby to envelop him.
After a few seconds, an unfamiliar deep voice came from the dark, "... Weird?"
Ji Shanqing gave a silent laugh, "He took the bait."
However, the person spoke too little, so Ji Shanqing still couldn't locate him.
When the grand prize parted his lips again, he didn't answer the person's question. Instead, he asked rhetorically, "You dare to step into Magus' domain knowing that she's just upstairs right above us. Don't you know who she is or are you just overconfident with your plan?"
"It's both," the person laughed, his voice laden with thick exhilaration, "...Ah, it's coming."
"Coming? What's coming?"
Ji Shanqing frowned. He was within an ace of discovering that person's location. He asked again, "What is coming? What do you want?"
"I want nothing; Everything has been fixed into the right position now," the voice chuckled.
Ji Shanqing's heart seized, but he had no time to dodge. In the blink of an eye, a familiar face appeared from the darkness. The man leaped into the air, severing his retreat in an instance. Then, from the man's hand came a flas.h.i.+ng of light, and before the grand prize could know anything, the man had thrust his fist forward with great force, embedding a shard deep into his chest.
As Ji Shanqing went down to the ground like a puppet with its string cut, he somewhat made out the figure of the a.s.sailant amidst the dark through his blurred vision.
He realized that the man was Qing Jiuliu, who was holding a shard in his hand.
As if one stab wasn't enough, Qing Jiuliu stabbed the person below him again until the person had stopped moving entirely. Panting heavily, he pulled the long shard out from the person's chest and threw it far away.
"With that, you're done," he said, taking deep rattling breaths. He helped himself to his feet by resting his palm on his knee and looked around in the dark. Then, he navigated himself toward the direction which should lead him to the stairwell, "If I knew who the h.e.l.l was messing with us… I would…"
Perhaps he could finally relax his highly strung nerve as his mumbles which were layered with prostration were dwindling.
A loud explosion sliced apart the air. A shadow as large as the size of a room suddenly descended with extreme speed from above, cras.h.i.+ng down straight onto Qing Jiuliu's standing point. As the chandelier shattered with a loud crisp, a maelstrom of gla.s.s splinters was sent splas.h.i.+ng across the lobby, causing a booming echo that trembled even the vast hall.
The fierce symphony of gla.s.ses colliding against the hard surface lasted for a full minute before it finally quieted down. Then, a calm, unhurried voice appeared in the air.
"Gee... It looked magnificent up there... Never thought it would be even more impressive when it smash itself down into smithereens."
With that, a white light beam glimmered into existence amongst the shade, lighting up the area around the man. In the flashlight's faint and cold glow, the shattered prismatic chandelier had covered half of the lobby, with its remnants scattering in all directions.
The person holding the torchlight was a chunky man who had rather common and homely features. His pair of thick-lensed gla.s.ses caught the flashlight and glowed. Fingering his t-s.h.i.+rt, he strode toward the chandelier as he kept his eyes on the surroundings.
"Not even an elephant would survive from such a fierce clash," he narrowed his eyes and chortled. Suddenly, he froze.
There was no blood under the chandelier.
It wasn't long before he realized something wasn't right. However, it was too late for him to turn around. A hand had grabbed on his neck from behind, gradually tightening its grip with every pa.s.sing second. The force used wasn't strong, but the flow direction of the blood inside his body had changed. Instead of flowing towards his heart, his blood was swoos.h.i.+ng towards the hand.
"Look at me closely," The rapid blood loss had taken the starch out of the thick gla.s.ses. He became dizzy, and his vision dimmed. However, he was still lucid enough to catch with his ear the words Qing Jiuliu hissed through gritted teeth. "...Did you really want to smash this flawless face with that chandelier?"
The thick gla.s.ses gurgled. It wasn't known if the sound was coming from the blood flow, or because he was gasping for air.
"I'm truly amazed by how you manage to compliment yourself whenever you got a chance."
Ji Shanqing then appeared from the other side of the chandelier. Seeing him, the thick gla.s.ses' eyes bulged, and he struggled like a beached fish. The chest area of the grand prize's cloth was punctured, but there was no sight of skin underneath his layers of clothes. With a sullen face, the grand prize fiddled with the hole and instructed Qing Jiuliu, "Put him down, or else you're gonna suck him dry. I don't want to deal with an emaciated bag of bones."
"...Gee, what an a.s.shole," Qing Jiuliu clicked his tongue. The complexion of the thick gla.s.ses was pale ashen. He looked as if he was going to black out at any moments. Ji Shanqing threw him to the floor, but he kept a few of his fingers on the thick gla.s.ses' neck.
The thick gla.s.ses, who had just lost a great deal of blood, was in no shape to clamber from the ground. He shot a glance at Ji Shanqing, and shot a question through his quivering lips, " You… why? How is that possible?"
"One, he is not a human; two, we have found out that we were both still in the hall. Ask something we don't know," Qing Jiuliu cut him short and answered before he could finish his question, "...No more? It's our turn, then."
"Is that your ability?" Ji Shanqing hunkered down in front of the thick gla.s.ses, his tone was firm, "Who are you? Why did you come for us?"
The thick gla.s.ses let out a breath and parted his lips.
[How to produce a horror film with 10,000 dollars?]
The answer is edit.
Once the 'cast' has been decided, the user can initiate the ability. After the ability has been activated, every action made by the cast, every word the cast spoke, and every scene the cast appeared would become the materials for the ability user to edit. The scene and sound that has been edited will then become the "setting" and "plot" for the cast, and every actor and actress has to play his or her role according to the script. Due to budget constraint, 15 minutes will be the maximum runtime. Hence, the film has to wind-up an ending within the given period. Since this is a horror movie, it's best if there are some casualties.
The budget for the filmmaking is 10,000 dollars. Please spend it wisely.
PS: Once the shooting has started, the set would be protected under an unknown force until the movie has come to an end.
"In other words, what we've seen, is the product of your editing?" Ji Shanqing sneered, "But this lighting, it doesn't look like it worth less than 10,000 dollars,"
"The prop in the apocalyptic world is valueless," the thick gla.s.ses answered while struggling.
"This is by far the worst movie I have starred ever since I became an actor," Qing Jiuliu spat. He tightened his grip on the man's neck and said, "Why would you come after us?"
"I can't say..." The thick gla.s.ses felt his blood was leaving his body again. He quickly yelled at Ji Shanqing, "Because a Consular Officer is dead! And you're the one who killed him!"
"...How did you know it was me?" The grand prize was stunned. Never once he had thought this man would be the candidates from another arbiter. When he thought about it again, his eyebrows frowned.
"I have a few more companions," the thick gla.s.ses stammered. "There's one woman in my group that can track…"
"Wait a sec," Qing Jiuliu also had realized something wasn't right, "The first time I heard the whistle, Irezumi hasn't issued us the mission yet."
"Whistle?" The man's eyes became bigger behind his spectacles, "Is this whistle that you're talking about?"
Both Qing Jiuliu and Ji Shanqing were stunned as their faces turned pale. The whistle rang out softly. This time, it was nearer to them, as if it was whistling by their ears.
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