Arc Four: Shop Sanmi
What did “I hid her away” mean? Hid her away where?
The unexpected appearance of this statement was truly frightening and shocking.
Wen Shi frowned deeply.
He wasn’t actually scared. Rather—even though the characters written in the diary couldn’t be considered particularly beautiful, each stroke was made with meticulous care, as if the author was someone who had just recently learned how to write.
It was indeed very unsettling to see something like that written in such earnest, childish handwriting.
Wen Shi raised his head and was about to make a remark when he accidentally met Xie Wen’s eyes. However, it only lasted a split second before the other person’s gaze swept lightly past him and landed tranquilly back on the diary pages.
Momentarily startled, Wen Shi pressed his thin lips together and lowered his eyes as well.
His thumb rubbed against the paper; the brief silence was made all the more conspicuous.
Xie Wen lifted his free hand and flipped through several more pages. All of a sudden, he laughed and said, “It seems like you really aren’t afraid.”
“So?” Wen Shi didn’t bother looking up. “Who would go out of their way to put on a facade like that.”
Xie Wen raised an eyebrow slightly and didn’t comment.
He preemptively flipped to the very end of the journal and tapped the last page with the back of his finger. “Fortunately that little brother of yours only went through a few pages before he put it back. Otherwise… by the time we found him, he probably would’ve already fainted from fear.”
Wen Shi went straight to the page Xie Wen was referring to. The entry on it read:
「May 22, 1913: Sunny
Mr. Li said that there was a strange odor in the house. He has quite the keen nose.
During the midday nap, I smashed the perfume bottle that Mother brought back from the Port of Guangzhou. Now he has something else to nag about.
Although he’s very well-read, he doesn’t know how to be impartial; he’s a harsh person, yet he loves to flatter. He often praises Shen Manshu for crying resonantly, as that means she’s a healthy young girl, and he praises Shen Manshan for having a round face, as that means she will have good fortune. He praises Shen Manyi for having the aura of an educated, well-bred young lady when she wears glasses, but she frequently loses them. It’s a troublesome thing, because then everyone has to help look for her glasses.
Jun-ge also learns how to write from Mr. Li, but he acts completely differently around Jun-ge, and he’s always nitpicking him. That’s why it’s even more sickening when Mr. Li compliments us for no good reason.
Even though Mama Cai changed the rug, the smell of perfume didn’t completely disappear. Mr. Li kept sneezing the entire afternoon, and Uncle Qi also felt a little dizzy, so they went to stay in a small room downstairs for the evening.
This way, they won’t be able to smell Shen Manyi anymore, and I can also have some peace and quiet for a few days.
Except Shen Manyi still likes to make me guess “Real Bride, Fake Bride.” Before she did it during the daytime, now she does it at night. She tells me that if I guess wrong, I’ll have to play with her forever.
Truly, so annoying.」
The entries in the diary were all disjointed, as if its owner only remembered to write something down every couple days or so.
There should’ve been many more pages after this one, but they were all missing. Someone had cut them out with a paper knife, leaving behind a neat and tidy line.
“At the very least, there’s still half left,” Wen Shi said as he touched the severed ridge.
Holding the candle lamp, Xie Wen glanced around the room. “It’s most likely stored somewhere else.”
The Shen young master’s room was large, but it wasn’t decorated in a complex manner. Apart from the couch and some wardrobes, there were only two beds. One was soft, spacious, and had a gauze curtain, while the other one was much more simplistic. It was placed next to the bigger bed and seemed to be where the help or caretaker slept.
However, the simplistic bed hardly seemed to have been slept in at all. On the other hand, two sets of bedding were arranged neatly on the big bed.
They even lifted the mattress and checked under it, but they couldn’t find the remaining part of the diary. As a result, they decided to first return to the little room they were in before.
Prior to leaving, Wen Shi stared at those two side-by-side beds and spaced out for a bit.
He only snapped out of it when the candle lamp flashed past in front of him.
Xie Wen said, “What are you daydreaming about?”
“Nothing.” Wen Shi withdrew his gaze and murmured lowly, “I feel like I’ve seen something like this before.”
He walked out of the room pensively, diary in hand, and didn’t notice how Xie Wen halted in place for a moment when he heard Wen Shi say that.
Right as Wen Shi left the room, he heard the sound of footsteps and suppressed whisperings.
He turned his head and unexpectedly saw the group of people who were originally waiting for them in the other room.
“Why did you all come over here?” Wen Shi was puzzled.
“We’re waiting anyway even if we just sit around the room, so we might as well come and check out the situation.” Da Dong had somewhat assumed the air of a leader. “Besides, with just the two of you am—”
He swallowed down the word “amateurs” that almost slipped out of his mouth and gave a cough. “With just the two of you out here searching around, who knows if you’ll run into something that you can’t fend off and drag yourselves into the mess too. I thought about it and decided that it’s still a safer idea to move as a group. It’s hard to predict what could happen in here, so it’s best if you all stay close to me.”
As he was speaking, Lao Mao shifted over to Xie Wen and reported the situation to his boss in an extremely small voice. “He felt even more afraid staying in the room and started suspecting everyone. He huddled there and didn’t move for a long time before he finally decided to venture outside and gather everyone together.”
Wen Shi was nearby, so he overheard most of that, and he cast a glance at Lao Mao.
Xie Wen straightened upright. When he spotted Wen Shi’s gaze, he said softly, “Lao Mao is fairly brave, so I told him to keep an eye on them.”
Wen Shi let out an “oh.”
Afterwards, he was suddenly overcome with bewilderment: why did he care about Lao Mao? And Xie Wen even good-naturedly explained everything to him too.
He furrowed his brows faintly as his expression became a little strange.
In the end, Xia Qiao was the one who asked: “Ge, did you find the diary?”
“Mn.” Wen Shi displayed the journal. “But some of it was cut out, so it’s not complete.”
“Cut out? Where’s the rest then?” Xia Qiao took the diary and began flipping through it. Da Dong and Sun Siqi also leaned closer to him.
“It’s probably hidden in another room, we’ll have to find it.” Wen Shi said.
“Doesn’t that mean we came just in time?” Da Dong was proud of his brilliant decision. As he illuminated the content of the diary with his candle lamp, he said, “Let’s search through every room in a bit.”
The diary entries were truly quite chilling. After they read a few lines, they swiftly stopped talking, and their faces looked ashen under the light of the candle lamp.
Haozi stood behind them, peering over their shoulders with his head stretched forward. His face was reflected in the hallway mirrors, and even though there wasn’t anything obviously wrong, there was something indescribably eerie about it.
Wen Shi stared at him silently.
A short while later, Lao Mao finished talking with Xie Wen and returned to the group. Should anyone pay a little more attention to him, they would find that he was standing diagonally in front of Haozi. If anything happened, he would be able to separate Haozi from the others with a single step.
Upon deeper contemplation, his positioning was somewhat meaningful—as if he had already tacitly ascertained that something was wrong with this Haozi.
…Or rather, not him, but his boss had tacitly ascertained that something was wrong.
Wen Shi observed it all and abruptly came to the conclusion that Xie Wen really was a little unusual.
His name had evidently been struck off the name register mural, and he hadn’t entered many cages before. That body ridden with karmic debt also clearly indicated that he couldn’t undo cages, yet he appeared to be calmer and more clear-headed than everyone else when he was actually in one.
If he wasn’t plagued by karmic debt, he would probably be able to accomplish far more than most people could, Wen Shi thought.
Xia Qiao and the rest finished reading the diary at last. Alarmed, they didn’t say anything for quite a while.
Zhou Xu lifted his head noiselessly and accidentally glimpsed everyone’s deathly pale faces in the mirror. He let out a sudden yelp and latched onto Xia Qiao’s arm, only to scare Xia Qiao into kneeling.
Sun Siqi followed close after and collapsed onto the ground with a thunk.
Da Dong’s knees also went weak for a second, but he managed to stay standing.
“Great Immortal, what are you doing?!” Sun Siqi clutched his chest, his soul long gone.
“It’s nothing.” Zhou Xu blinked forcefully and quietly shuffled a few steps away. “I misinterpreted something and got scared by the mirror.”
This was actually a type of psychological effect. As soon as you started thinking that something was off about one of your own people, everyone began to look unreal. They were currently in this sort of paranoia-filled situation.
“Don’t just scream randomly.” Da Dong made himself appear to be calm as he analyzed, “This is the Shen young master’s diary? Judging from the diary, he’s most likely the one who did away with his older sister.”
As he spoke, he also frowned. Even though this young master wasn’t very old, he was truly a bit abnormal.
“There are probably important clues in the remaining half of the diary too. Let’s keep looking.” Da Dong rolled up the diary and stuffed it into his pocket before he ushered everyone towards the next room.
When they turned the corner, Xia Qiao grew even more apprehensive.
Clutching the candle lamp, he illuminated the hallway as he narrowed his eyes and extended his hand, counting something.
“What are you counting?” Zhou Xu said, perplexed.
“The doors on the floor.” Xia Qiao said.
“Can you even see them all?” Zhou Xu also narrowed his eyes and faintly made out the silhouettes of the doors lying on the ground. “No wonder you kept mumbling to yourself the entire way over.”
Da Dong was lost, and he asked Xia Qiao, “Why are you counting that?”
After Xia Qiao finished tallying up the doors in this hallway, he swallowed and silently shrank behind Wen Shi and Xie Wen.
“Why are you hiding?” Wen Shi asked.
“If I counted correctly, the number of doors on the floor are the same as before.” Xia Qiao said.
“What’s that mean?” Da Dong was still confused.
Zhou Xu was the one who understood first. Although he was rebellious and a know-it-all, his mind was very sharp. “Oh!!! You’re saying that the doors in the corridor are the same ones we opened earlier?”
Xia Qiao nodded. “Yeah!”
Sun Siqi pondered over that statement. Suddenly, his scalp prickled. “Didn’t the H-Haozi-ge with the walkie-talkie say that he just opened his door, so he was going to come find me? If there aren’t any other opened doors…”
Then, which door did that Haozi open?
Da Dong shouted an “oh shit” and finally realized what was going on.
“This makes it very obvious then! There’s something wrong with the other Haozi, and ours is indeed the real one.” After Da Dong finished shuddering, he immediately hugged the big, square-faced man next to him. “Bro! I almost falsely accused you.
“Oh man, what the hell. Honestly, everyone was starting to look suspicious to me just now.” Da Dong threw his arm around Haozi’s neck and let out a long exhale, filled with the euphoria of having survived a major tribulation. “You better not hold a grudge and blame me. If you’re gonna blame anyone, it should be that trick-playing little—”
Before he could say “girl,” Da Dong heard someone behind him abruptly announce, “Hey, there’s a pair of glasses on this shelf. Which one of you forgot it here?”
It was instantly clear that the voice belonged to Xie Wen. He spoke calmly and leisurely in an exceedingly natural manner.
Everyone’s first instinct was to look in his direction. Only Haozi, who Da Dong’s arm was wrapped around, subconsciously touched the edge of his cheekbone.
Da Dong and the rest spotted this movement in their peripheral vision, and their minds went blank for a moment.
A second later, it dawned on them that this was the kind of movement someone would make if they were accustomed to pushing up their glasses…
But Haozi—didn’t even wear glasses.
Da Dong’s eyes widened, and he immediately withdrew his hand from Haozi like he had been burned.
While everyone else was still stunned, a slender, pale hand landed brusquely on “Haozi’s” shoulder. A long index finger curled in the air and pretended to lift a bridal veil.
After that, Wen Shi’s voice sounded behind “Haozi” and called out to him: “Shen Manyi.”
“Haozi” turned to look at him.
Both of the candle lamps flickered and died, plunging the entire hallway into a sudden pitch-black darkness.
A little girl started giggling; it seemed to come from among them, the place where “Haozi” was standing. But soon after the laughter faded into the distance, accompanied by the pattering of leather shoes, as she ran away to somewhere unknown.
By the time the candle lamps lit up again, five out of the seven people left were kneeling on the floor.
Da Dong braced his hand against the wall and asked weakly, “How did you two react so quickly? Don’t tell me that you already noticed it earlier?”
As unruffled and composed as ever, Xie Wen said quite modestly, “Perhaps a little bit.”
If you noticed, you noticed. How could it be “a little bit”?
Da Dong gripped his chest. “If you noticed, why didn’t you freaking say something earlier?!”
Then he turned to shout at Wen Shi, “If it’s something that can be settled with a single pat, why didn’t you freaking pat her sooner?!”
Wen Shi said scornfully, “I initially wanted to keep her around for a while to see if she could provide some clues. Who would’ve expected you to throw your arm around her?”
Da Dong looked at his hand, and a chill promptly passed through him.
Wen Shi reached out and pulled out the diary from Da Dong’s pocket.
“What are you doing?” Da Dong attempted to guard himself.
Wen Shi flipped to the final page and read over the entry once more before he said evenly, “Let’s hurry up, or else she’s going to come back to play with you again.”
Da Dong thought: Oh fuck.
Wen Shi spoke it into existence.
Not long after, Shen Manyi came back. However, she wasn’t there for Da Dong—she was there for him…
At that moment, he was in the middle of closely inspecting the rug in the hallway, one of the candle lamps in hand. But then he looked up and was greeted with the sight of two Xie Wens. One had just walked out of the Shen young master’s room and was also holding a candle lamp. Meanwhile, the other one… was standing right behind him.
Wen Shi: “…”
He felt like this little girl from the Shen family was purposefully causing him trouble.