Arc Three: Wangquan Road
Wen Shi glanced back to see Xie Wen holding his umbrella in one hand, the other one stuck in his pocket.
The edge of his umbrella was pulled very low to block the slanting rain, revealing only his well-defined, good-looking jawline.
“Did you pat my shoulder just now?” Wen Shi asked.
“Me?” Xie Wen didn’t stop walking, but he did seem briefly startled. “No, a person patted you?”
“Who knows if it was a person or not.” Wen Shi said mockingly.
That gave Xia Qiao a scare, and he latched onto Wen Shi’s arm, his voice like a mosquito’s cry. “What do you mean? Is something following us?”
Wen Shi: “That’s not it.”
He happened to reach the intersection where the long street and Wangquan Road met. There was one sole street lamp here, but its bulb was covered with dust, so even the light it emitted seemed ashy gray.
Xia Qiao was still trembling. He clung to Wen Shi’s arm, his grip growing tighter and tighter. “That’s not it? Why say that’s not it?”
Xie Wen also peered over curiously.
“Because it’s not following us—” Wen Shi lowered his gaze to look at the ground. The three of them were walking side by side, but only he had a shadow. “It’s following me.”
“Xia Qiao” and “Xie Wen” screeched to a halt.
Wen Shi turned on his heel and whipped his umbrella towards them!
His movements were both ruthless and fierce. As the umbrella swung over, it was even accompanied by the whistling of wind.
“Xia Qiao” and “Xie Wen” retreated back a little due to the sweeping umbrella. They were about to charge at him again when Wen Shi tugged out a ball of cotton thread from the pocket of his jeans.
With a nimble tug and twist of his fingers, that seemingly tangled ball of thread swiftly coiled itself around his left hand. A second later, the string thrashed outwards.
Even though there was clearly nothing attached to the other end, it was as if the thread was weighted by a thousand jin. It cut sharply through the air, wrapping itself several times around those two impostors before returning to Wen Shi’s right hand.
He tilted his head slightly to the side, wedging his umbrella in the crook of his neck, and pulled his taut, slender fingers in opposite directions. The cotton thread instantly tightened, unrelentingly binding the two “people” tangled in its hold.
They twisted about, screaming silently, before they scattered into a cloud of mist with a pop, vanishing entirely.
Wen Shi straightened his head and gripped the umbrella again.
The rain was still unceasingly pouring down. That tense moment from just now felt like an unexpected interlude, but Wen Shi knew that he had entered someone else’s cage once more.
He surveyed his surroundings and faintly saw that there were lights near the middle of Wangquan Road. If he wasn’t mistaken, that should be Wangquan Ruins.
Holding his umbrella, Wen Shi started walking in that direction. At the same time, he ducked his head and tore off the cotton string twisted around his fingers with his teeth.
Except, right as he tugged once on the thread, he felt something splatter against the nape of his neck. It was most likely a drop of water, bone-chillingly cold, and it slid into his shirt following the line of his spine.
He subconsciously looked back. Behind him stretched a street so long that he couldn’t see the other end, utterly quiet and empty.
Another droplet of water fell, soaking into his hair.
Abruptly, Wen Shi realized something: he was still holding his umbrella up, so how could a water droplet possibly pass through that???
He lifted his head—
A ghastly pale face was nestled in the umbrella. Its soaking wet hair dangled down, and drops of water dripped from the ends.
Wen Shi: “…”
He went silent for a moment. Then, with one hand wrapped around the umbrella’s metal shaft, he pulled it shut with a bang!
The face was squashed inside the umbrella, and it let out a muffled shriek. After that, both the face and umbrella combined… were thrown away by Wen Shi.
Thanks to those things, by the time he reached Wangquan Ruins, he was completely drenched. When he stood expressionlessly next to the gate pillar, he was even more frightening than a ghost.
Xia Qiao was scared to tears by him.
“Why are you squatting?” Wen Shi gave that disappointing brat a kick.
Xia Qiao sniffled and stood up next to the pillar. “The angle is good here, I can see if people are coming. And this gate pillar is big, so I feel safe with my back pressed against it.”
But who would’ve fucking expected that his Wen-ge wouldn’t take the usual path? Instead, he had circled around from behind without saying a single word, just to stand there at the side dripping water.
Xia Qiao thought a bit and added, “Squatting also feels safer than standing.”
Wen Shi: “There’s not much of a difference between you standing or squatting anyway.”
Xia Qiao: “???”
“This is considered a personal attack, isn’t it ge?” Xia Qiao said.
Wen Shi raked his damp hair backwards and grabbed his shirt collar, shaking out the water. “Where’s Xie Wen?”
“I didn’t see him.” Xia Qiao was still somewhat panicked. “I was originally following you guys, but somewhere along the way I realized that something was kinda weird about you two. When I took a look, holy shit, your faces were all wrong! So of course I turned tail and ran, I didn’t have time to see if there was anyone else on the street.”
He had entered the cage last time with Wen Shi and Xie Wen, so he knew that the cage core was typically a building. This time, he didn’t run around randomly; the instant he saw this shopping mall, he headed straight over to keep an eye out for the others with a clear-cut goal in mind.
“If Xie…” Every time he had to directly say Xie Wen’s name, Xia Qiao would feel very timid, as if he was being impolite. But calling him Xie-ge was also a little strange, because though Xie Wen was mild and gentle, there was an indescribably distant aura around him.
He hesitated for a moment before he finally found a way to address Xie Wen that wasn’t so scalding to the tongue. “Er, if Boss Xie also entered the cage, he should know to come here, right?”
He was about to say that perhaps the other person had already entered the cage core, so maybe they should go in and look for him?
Except then Wen Shi lifted up the front of his T-shirt somewhat impatiently, trying to avoid the feeling of the damp material sticking to his skin, and said, “Let’s just wait.”
Aren’t you too impatient to wait???
Xia Qiao thought to himself.
This shopping mall was designed like a rolled up paper tube that inclined ever so slightly to the side. Its lines flowed quite well, and if it was clean, it could’ve been considered beautiful.
But it hadn’t been taken care of in a very long time. There were yellowed stains on the walls and the glass was dusty, making it impossible to see inside.
Standing outside, they could only see the fragmented incandescent lights coming from a few shops, cold and desolate like an abandoned building.
Who knew if this was the cage master’s perception of it, or if it just looked like this in reality.
“Wen-ge, whose cage do you think this is?” Xia Qiao murmured, “Is it that driver’s? If we had known earlier, we shouldn’t have taken that umbrella.”
But Wen Shi said, “I took it on purpose.”
Xia Qiao: “?”
He was about to question him further when the sound of footsteps came from not too far away. They both turned their heads and saw Xie Wen ambling towards them.
His umbrella was held securely in his hand, and his clothes were neat and dry. Even the hems of his pant legs didn’t really have any traces of wetness on them. It was clear that he hadn’t been given a fright, nor had he broken into a run.
“What happened to you two? Did you take a shower here?” Xie Wen asked when he spotted them from afar, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.
“You didn’t encounter anything?” Wen Shi asked, furrowing his brows.
“No.” Xie Wen stood underneath the overhang and put away his umbrella. “Thankfully I didn’t, my body constitution certainly can’t handle an outdoor shower.”
Just upon hearing that, Wen Shi felt like his words were full of provocation.
He let out a snort through his nose and thought, At least weaklings have good luck. He silently fished out cotton thread and a lighter from his pocket before he turned around and went to rummage through the flower bed area.
Xie Wen walked over. “You’re going to handle entering the cage core this time?”
“Or else what?” Wen Shi’s voice sounded irritated. He picked up three branches and wrapped some cotton string simply around them. “Give you another chance to mess with someone?”
Xia Qiao scooted over and said, “I don’t want to be in a doll again, ge.”
Wen Shi: “Mn.”
Only a dumbass would.
He knew his own skill level the best. When Wen Shi was hungry, he couldn’t really say anything. Now he was full, and though he was far from his condition back when he had a soul, it was good enough in comparison to an average panguan.
At the very least… it could still hoist up and smack a half-filled bucket of water like Xie Wen!
Wen Shi’s fingers had already started moving.
Xia Qiao watched him flick open the lighter. The moment the sparks flew out, he suddenly remembered something. “Oh right, Wen-ge.”
“Speak.” Wen Shi ignited the branches.
“The other day… the day after we came out from Grandpa’s cage.” Xia Qiao stared at the sliver of flame and said, “I don’t know if I was just seeing things, but on the name register mural, I saw that—”
He wanted to say “your name seemed to light up for a second,” but since Xie Wen was also here, he swallowed down those words and only mentioned the last part. “I saw that our family’s branch seemed to shift up a tiny bit.”
Wen Shi didn’t bother looking up. He enclosed the branches in his fist and coiled cotton thread around his fingers as he answered casually, “You weren’t seeing things. It was because we just undid a cage.”
Xia Qiao let out an “oh.” All of a sudden, he got a little excited. “Then Wen-ge, if you undo more cages, does that mean our branch can climb upwards some more, and our ranking will go up?”
Wen Shi: “…”
It could, it really could.
But that would truly be a damn bit terrifying.
Back when Shen Qiao was still alive, Wen Shi entered cages as he pleased. It wasn’t a problem no matter how high this branch jumped among the rankings; in any case, it could all be considered as the fruits of Shen Qiao’s labor.
Now Shen Qiao was no longer here, and this little puppet Xia Qiao didn’t have his name on the register yet. In the eyes of the other families, this branch was considered thoroughly finished on the name mural.
If a line in which all its members were already dead vigorously climbed upwards, dragging along a row of dead names written in red, who were they trying to scare?
Wen Shi realized for the first time the consequences of his actions, and instantly, his hand trembled.
The branches intertwined with smoke bumped against each other in their cotton thread binding, taking the three of them into the cage core.
The instant his vision darkened, Wen Shi thought, It’s over.
By the time he opened his eyes again, he was already inside Wangquan Ruins.
The structure of this building was a cylinder shape. The stores were placed right next to each other, forming a circle that seemed somewhat crowded.
Many of the shops had their shutter doors rolled down, with icy-cold metal nets sealing the exterior. It wasn’t clear whether they were only closed for the night or if they just weren’t going to open up ever again.
There were a few shops that were still open, sprinkled intermittently among those closed ones.
The main lights in the shopping mall weren’t on, so those open stores were the only source of light. The incandescent light bulbs illuminated a circle on either side of the storefronts, barely managing to brighten up their neighboring shops.
Wen Shi was in one of those “neighbors.”
Borrowing the light, the very first thing he did was confirm how high his line of sight was. Following that, he let out a sigh of relief—it was still quite high, so he definitely wasn’t in a doll.
But soon enough, he couldn’t stay happy for much longer, because there was a glass display window in front of him and when he attempted to move, his neck and limbs were all a little stiff, not very agile.
He exerted a lot of effort to turn his head, spotting his own gray-colored hand.
What was something that stood in front of a glass display window, had hands and feet, was stiff and also gray?
Answer: A mannequin.
The good thing was that at least this mannequin was wearing pants, as well as sneakers. The bad thing was that the only piece of clothing on his upper body was an unzipped jacket, completely revealing his chest and front.
Even worse than that was… his body could be assembled or disassembled, so there were small cracks along his head, arms, and legs. His head especially wasn’t put on very tightly.
It was to the point that Wen Shi didn’t really dare to move at that moment. If someone saw him, they’d scream and his head would fall off.
This choice of object to possess was a bit unfortunate.
Wen Shi’s mood instantly took a turn for the worse. However, it was his own fault this time, so he couldn’t call anyone else a bastard over it.
With a rigid neck, he accustomed himself to the body for a while. Finally, under the cover of darkness, he got down from the display window with difficulty.
This was an athletic apparel store. Besides the display window, there were also other mannequins scattered around the store. Typically speaking, if he was in here, Xie Wen and Xia Qiao should also be nearby, most likely in mannequins too.
At that thought, he felt like although his hand had trembled for a second, nothing particularly awful had come out of it.
The lighting in the shop was very dim, and there were clothes everywhere. The folded ones were fine, but the hanging ones were a bit strange. When you swept a look past them out of your peripheral vision, there was always this misperception that they were moving.
Exactly as if there was someone quietly watching you.
There was a lock hanging from the shop’s door. Wen Shi circled around the shop and found a pair of scissors and a roll of string at the checkout counter. He was about to make a grab for the string when…
Suddenly, a hand reached over from the side, latching onto his arm. Then Xie Wen’s voice sounded from the darkness, low and deep. “I’ve been watching you for a while now, waiting for you to come over. Stuffing me into this kind of thing, are you planning to hold me in your arms from now on, or carry me on your back?”
Wen Shi was startled.
“What thing? You’re dreaming.” After he finished his subconscious retort, he turned his head to look at Xie Wen.
He saw a mannequin who looked approximately the same as himself staring silently at him. Just like Wen Shi’s mannequin, the head and arms could be dismantled; just like Wen Shi’s mannequin, it didn’t have facial features, only a head.
The sole difference was… this mannequin was placed on the table, so it only had its upper half.
Question: What was something even worse to possess than a mannequin?
Answer: Half of a mannequin.
Yan: Quick announcement~ PG will be taking a break for next week’s chapter because I’m going on vacation and also need a break from translating ^^ We’ll be back the week after that! Get ready for a new spooky cage hehe