Thanks to Somebody and a certain someone for the Ko-fis!
Arc Three: Wangquan Road
“You two can combine to make a whole. When they were coming in, did he miss counting someone?” a gruff, hoarse voice suddenly interjected.
Wen Shi looked over and saw that it was Zhang Biling’s bratty son speaking. His name had been on Shen Qiao’s memorial guest book: Zhou Xu.
The name was a good one, but the person it belonged to was a bit of a troublemaker.
“Did anyone ask for you to interrupt?” Zhang Biling gave him a push and hastily smoothed things over with Wen Shi. “This kind of situation happens quite often when possessing mannequins. It’s a common occurrence, so it’s nothing alarming.”
Zhou Xu scoffed disdainfully. “Who said that? This doesn’t happen to my aunt.”
Zhang Biling stared at him. “Your aunt, your aunt, all you know how to do every day is brag about your aunt. How old was Zhang Lan when she first started going into cages? Can she even be a comparison?”
Wen Shi very rarely paid attention to the other families, nor did he recognize many of the living people on the name register mural. He silently listened to their conversation for a while before he asked the person on his back, “Who’s Zhang Lan?”
Before Xie Wen could speak, Zhou Xu ended up being startled first. Unexpectedly, he had quite the sharp hearing. “You don’t know?”
Wen Shi: “Should I know?”
Zhou Xu: “The one at the very top of the name register mural! You do this kind of thing, yet you don’t know who she is?”
I know the ancestor of your aunt’s family.
That’s not supposed to be an insult, I really did know him.
Wen Shi thought.
“Have you had enough!” Zhang Biling put in an extremely awkward spot by her son, and she forced him behind her. She said to Wen Shi, “When he was small, Zhang Lan… or rather, his aunt, brought him to live with the main family for a few years. He’s fairly close to her, which is why he’s always going on about her. You don’t have to bother with him.”
Wen Shi: “Mn.”
Zhang Biling spoke again. “I heard Xiao Xia say that this is your second time entering a cage? Since it’s only your second time, it’s already really great that you can accomplish this much. Take it slow, Grandfather Shen isn’t lacking successors.”
Wen Shi shot a glance at Xia Qiao.
It seemed that this fool actually knew to hide information and hadn’t given out the inside story.
Zhang Biling probably took him to be another one of Shen Qiao’s disciples, one that was slightly better than Xia Qiao—who didn’t know anything at all—but just barely so.
After all, his name as a ‘new disciple’ didn’t show up on Shen Qiao’s branch in the name register mural. Clearly, he was also an incompetent good-for-nothing.
However, Zhang Biling’s character was very good. She remained polite and courteous even to good-for-nothings and didn’t really put on airs.
“Oh right, ge.” Xia Qiao spoke up again, aggrieved.
Wen Shi: “Speak.”
Xia Qiao: “How long do I have to stay in the mannequin legs? How come Aunt Zhang and the rest aren’t possessing anything?”
Wen Shi pondered silently for a few seconds.
Zhang Biling answered instead. “Ai! Everything was in such a rush just then, I forgot to tell you. When we find an object to possess to enter the cage, it’s because we’re afraid that if a stranger’s aura suddenly barges in, it’ll alarm the cage master. Before we can figure out anything, we’ll be chased and attacked. The gain isn’t worth the loss.
“However, this cage is different. There are already a lot of strangers in here, so what should’ve been disturbed has long since been disturbed. Possessing an object or not doesn’t make much of a difference.” Zhang Biling pointed at the group of people in the corner. “I came in a step earlier than you all and attached myself to the mirror, giving them quite a scare. I was concerned that I would scare them witless, so I left the mirror.”
Xia Qiao revived. “So can we also come out?”
Zhang Biling: “You can. But if you guys feel that it’s safer to be in a possessed object, there’s no problem with staying in it.”
Xia Qiao: “No thanks, no thanks.”
Her explanation was very detailed, as she was afraid that these young people wouldn’t understand.
In reality, Wen Shi understood it better than anyone else.
The moment he entered, he knew that they could extract themselves, but he hadn’t mentioned it. He wanted Xie Wen to be stuck in that half-mannequin for a while longer, since in the end, Wen Shi had been forced to stay in that doll for several days last time.
Now that Zhang Biling had brought it up, he had no choice but let Xie Wen off the hook.
“Did Grandfather Shen never tell you two that?” Zhang Biling asked.
Wen Shi lied expressionlessly, “He didn’t, I just found out.”
He left the mannequin. Upon turning around, he saw Xie Wen also leave his mannequin and raise an eyebrow at the same time, as if he had overheard some pure nonsense.
Wen Shi looked at him suspiciously.
Xie Wen said politely, “It’s nothing, I also just found out.”
Now that they looked human again, the complexions of the people cowering in the corner grew much better, and they didn’t seem so frightened anymore.
“When did you all come in here?” Wen Shi asked them.
A young man wearing a checkered shirt said, “It’s been a while.”
The others all nodded too. “A long time.”
“I can’t remember, I’m about to lose it.”
Apart from Zhang Biling’s son, Zhou Xu, who could give a specific number of days, the rest were all muddleheaded, seemingly from fear.
“They should’ve entered around the same time as me.” Zhou Xu said, “When I came in, they weren’t this confused yet.”
Xia Qiao asked, “How did you get in here?”
“I was just walking along the road and I ended up coming in!” Zhou Xu’s expression clearly indicated he thought that was a pointless question.
Zhang Biling said on his behalf, “I asked him already. He also sat in that car and took the umbrella, more or less like what the rumors say.”
“You’ve heard of those rumors before?” Wen Shi asked.
Zhang Biling nodded and said to Xie Wen, “I heard your shop’s Da Zhao and Xiao Zhao mention it.”
“Those two girls like to run around all over the place, and they’ll use whatever they overhear to scare other people.” Xie Wen said, “Recently, the people nearby have been so frightened by those two that they don’t even dare to take taxis on rainy days anymore.”
Wen Shi: “Did the rumors say who the driver is, and what happened to them?”
Xie Wen thought a little. “Allegedly, they passed away in a car accident.”
“That’s not very much information.” Zhang Biling patted her son and said, “Xuxu, what have you encountered in here so far?”
Zhou Xu blanched a bit and avoided her hand before he said roughly, “Don’t call me that, that’s so disgusting. I’m already this old.”
Zhang Biling: “I’m asking you a question.”
Zhou Xu: “What else could I have encountered? Only that woman. When I came in, the woman was about to make her way upstairs, and there was a granny gnawing on chicken feet or something in a nearby shop. She suddenly put down her chicken feet and told me, ‘She’s coming to catch someone, she’s coming to catch someone.’ After that I ran away to the third floor and happened to see these people, so I slipped in here. From that point on, I stayed in here obediently and haven’t gone out since, besides to go to the bathroom or steal some food.”
What kind of useless information was that.
Zhang Biling’s head ached a little. She felt like they couldn’t count on her son at all, so she sighed and said, “Then let’s keep an eye out for now.”
Unexpectedly, Wen Shi caught onto something. “The granny in the shop talked to you?”
Zhou Xu: “Yup.”
“You’re sure she was talking to you?”
“If not, then who!”
Wen Shi was somewhat puzzled.
Generally speaking, the people in cages wouldn’t usually talk normally to strangers. They were essentially an extension of the cage master’s consciousness, so whenever they met strangers, their first instinct was to attack most of the time.
This cage was quite strange.
As Wen Shi was thinking, it just so happened that nobody spoke in the store, and the atmosphere abruptly quieted. The sound of someone banging against the door outside persisted, and it sounded fairly close.
The rattling noise of the shaking shutter door resounded through the shopping mall, jarring and ear-piercing.
A long while later, the buzzing whirr of the escalator finally started up again.
“Is she gone?” someone asked softly.
“She should be.”
Everyone in the corner let out a breath of relief. Afterwards, they started spacing out again.
The young man wearing the checkered shirt stared at Wen Shi and the others. Suddenly, he said, “Are you all able to bring us out of here?”
Zhang Biling was a dependable and protective person. She said, “I’ll do my very best.”
But in this kind of situation, saying you would “do your best” was far from reassuring. As a result, the young man let out an “oh” before he also fell silent and zoned out, like a paranoid, fearful wandering spirit.
They all looked to be in an extremely bad state, with patches of dark circles underneath their eyes. Who knew if they had ever shut their eyes after coming in here.
All of a sudden, the checkered shirt’s girlfriend said in a small voice, “I want to go to the bathroom.”
The inside of the shop hushed immediately.
It seemed like this had already become a conditioned reflex. As long as someone said those words, everyone would grow tense.
“Let’s go, I’ll take you.” Zhang Biling said.
The instant she spoke, the other three people chimed in too. “In that case, I’ll go too, let’s go together.”
They pushed the shutter door up halfway before they slipped out one after another, close on each other’s heels.
“You guys stay over here for now, don’t run around.” Zhang Biling spoke with a bit of the aura of a senior.
Her instructions were directed at Wen Shi, Xia Qiao, and even Xie Wen. After all, as far as she was aware, two out of the three didn’t have a family name to claim on the name mural, while the third person’s name had been stricken off. None of them were actually much use.
Except, as soon as she was gone, Wen Shi snuck out from under the shutter door.
“Where are you going?” Zhou Xu called out to him.
Wen Shi wasn’t a particularly gentle person, and he was even less interested in dealing with bratty teenagers. Consequently, he ignored him entirely.
“Hey!” Zhou Xu shouted at him again.
Wen Shi continued to pretend like he couldn’t hear him.
It wasn’t until Xie Wen followed him out too that he finally frowned and said, “Why did you come out?”
“Are you the only one who can leave through that door? Aren’t you quite the tyrant.” Xie Wen pointed at the dark hallway. “I’m going to take a look at those stores.”
After he said that, he started walking in that direction without consulting or waiting for anyone.
Wen Shi: “?”
He was about to leave when Zhou Xu raised his gruff voice and blared, “Weren’t you guys told not to run around?!”
Wen Shi gripped the bottom of the shutter door and bent over to look at him. “Who said that?”
He always behaved coldly, so when he lowered his head and looked over like that, it gave off a fairly oppressive feeling. Zhou Xu choked briefly before he shouted, “My mom!”
“It’s not like she’s my mom.” Immediately after, Wen Shi left.
Zhou Xu was sprayed with a faceful of icy sludge, and he felt both shamed and a bit frantic. He let out a “fuck” before he also proceeded to slip out from under the door. That fierce and aggressive aura was similar to a goose that was pecking and chasing after someone.
“Hey, why are you following after my ge?” Xia Qiao knew he was timid, so he was originally planning to obediently stay here for a while and not go out to cause trouble.
But when he noticed the chuunibyou tailing behind his Wen-ge, he promptly let out a cry and also went out.
As a result, by the time Ms. Zhang returned from taking the group to the bathroom, she discovered that merely two middle-aged men were left in the store, huddled together to keep warm. Everyone else was gone.
Zhang Biling felt like this cage was going to be done for.
Despite being such an enormous shopping mall, there were still only a few fragmented shops who had their pale lights turned on.
Wen Shi walked along the hallway. The door of the store closest to them was wide open.
Back when he first entered the cage core, he had swept a hasty look around. He had a vague impression of this store, because it seemed that the store was filled with photo frames. The shop owner was also very fat and looked to be at least 120 kilograms, so it had been very difficult for him to lean over and close the shutter door.
But now, that hefty shop owner had disappeared.
There was a puddle of unknown origin in front of the shop, as if someone had stood here for a long time earlier, drenched and dripping water.
Wen Shi pushed the shutter door up a little and slipped inside the store.
Only then did he discover that all the picture frames hanging in the store were black. There were large frames and small frames, but they all contained a photo of the same person.
Perhaps it couldn’t be called a photo, but rather, a drawing—
Full dark eyebrows, pitch-black ink blot-like eyes, and a flat mouth.
It was precisely the face of that woman who had chased them all over the place.
However, the drawings in the frames didn’t have any color. They were all black and white, as if the wall was covered with portraits of the deceased.
Just like that, all those portraits stared at Wen Shi, who was in the middle of the store.
Suddenly! A creaking noise came from the shutter door.
Wen Shi looked over to see a gloomy old lady standing outside the shop. Both of her hands were latched onto the bottom of the shutter door as she forcefully pulled it downwards.
She was both thin and elderly, but she was extremely strong, and with a clatter—!
She couldn’t pull it down.
Wen Shi stood inside the store. Cotton thread was wrapped around his lowered fingers, with the other ends of the string tied around the exterior lock. The long, taut threads held up the shutter door, and unexpectedly, the old woman couldn’t even tug it down a single bit.
The old lady, arms outstretched: “…”
Wen Shi asked, expression cold, “What are you doing?”
The old lady stared at him with milky eyes as she said wheezily, “This store is closed.”
Wen Shi: “Why?”
The old lady pursed her lips.
Wen Shi: “Where’s the owner?”
The old lady remained silent.
A little noise came from some distant location. The old lady turned her head and glanced in the direction of the stores on the opposite side before turning back around.
She smacked her lips together. Her aged voice was reedy and breathy. “It’s closed, it’s closed, I’m going to eat now, it’s time to eat now.”
As she spoke, she gripped the door and exerted a bit of effort to pull it down again.
Wen Shi was in the middle of pondering the logic connecting “the fat shop owner is gone” and “I’m going to eat now” when he saw a very tall figure walk over.
The person stopped behind the old woman. Pale, slender fingers grabbed onto her arm and removed her hand from the door, just as if he were picking up or putting down some object.
The old lady secretly poured more strength into her arms to the point that her face went green from exertion. But still, she was dealt with very thoroughly.
“I spotted you from quite a distance away. With such a slight build, isn’t it tiring to pull down the door? Let it go for now.” The hand pushed up the shutter door a bit more, revealing Xie Wen’s face.
Most likely since the lighting in the shop was too cold, when it illuminated his face, it made him appear even more sickly.
He looked at Wen Shi in the store before he swept a glance at those tight strings of long thread. He said tonelessly, “Who taught you to sneak into empty rooms all by yourself in a cage?”