Cui Zuojing didn’t take him seriously. Although he’d left his feelings with the clown, the lingering fear and hysteria from the dream still made his chest so tight that he could barely breathe. The severed head, the miserable state of his companions, and the vague, unclear figure was firmly imprinted in his mind.
Finally, Cui Zuojing rubbed his eyes and laid back on the bed again. He said to the man, “Can I take a short rest?”
“Okay,” Dong Zheng agreed.
Cui Zuojing rarely showed a bit of softness, but now he closed his eyes, squeezed his brows with two fingers, and let out a long sigh of relief.
Luo Yan became the controller of the dream in the end, so the dream just now should be a hint given by her.
Was she reminding him that he couldn’t contend with the queen and rescue his companions alone, and that he needed to rely on the help of others to reach his goal?
Would this “others” be Dong Zheng’s group?
Cui Zuojing wasn’t sure.
Dong Zheng glanced at Cui Zuojing and continued to sit at the table and fiddled with his electronic equipment. But suddenly, he heard an earth-shattering scream downstairs.
The voice clearly belonged to Allen. Dong Zheng frowned and got up to see what had happened.
In the living room, Allen lay on his back on the ground. He was covering his head and moaning. The mural that had hung on the wall had fallen off and the frame had long cracks in it. As the master of the painting, Fu Zhe rubbed his forehead.
Dong Linhai stifled a laugh and pulled Allen up, only to see that his forehead was just a little swollen. “Your scream was so highly exaggerated, ah. Don’t know what happened to you.”
Dong Zheng, who had barely descended two steps down the stairs and with absolutely no sign of slipping, suddenly—Slipped.
Under everyone’s watch eyes, Dong Zheng slipped “thump, thump, thump” down a series of four to five steps before finally sitting on the steps. He grabbed the handrail with his left hand in time to barely stabilize his body.
Dong Zheng was embarrassed for a few seconds. When he recovered, he felt a cold sweat behind his back.
Dong Linhai shouted, “It’s nothing.”
Dong Zheng waved his hand and tried to stand up, but his right ankle felt a sharp pain.
He hissed and lifted his pant leg. His ankle was already swollen enough to be clearly seen with the naked eye.
The source of all disasters, Lin Hangzhi, shook in horror, too afraid to make a sound.
Who am I? What did I do? Why am I here?
Under the effect of the blood contract, the injury was faithfully shared by half with Cui Zuojing. The sudden pain caused Cui Zuojing to suddenly open his eyes.
Some thoughts were just interrupted. The youth yawned violently, got up, and limped out the door unhappily.
Dong Zheng was sitting on the stairs. He turned his head to see Cui Zuojing move over with some difficulties, only to remember that his injuries would be shared with him.
“Uncle, treat him. It hurts.” Cui Zuojing sat down at the top level and faced Lin Hangzhi’s timid, rabbit-like eyes. He took a deep breath, reigned in his irritation, and forced out a “kind” smile.
It was him who made Lin Hangzhi do that test, and it was him who promised to hold the pot. Now that the retribution had fallen on him, he was the last person who should complain.
Lin Hangzhi saw Cui Zuojing’s smile and couldn’t help but feel more afraid. He gave an embarrassed smile, stepped back quietly, and stepped heavily on Dong Linhai’s foot.
Dong Linhai exclaimed, “Owww—!”
Victor hurriedly scampered up the stairs and pressed on Dong Zheng’s ankle. Under the glare of the white light, the red swelling visibly disappeared. Victor’s tail slumped tiredly and he shook his head. “I can only do this much for now. This cat’s body is very restrictive and even half of my ability couldn’t be used.”
“You’ve worked hard.” Dong Zheng stood up with the support of the railing and went down to the living room. He patted Lin Hangzhi on the shoulder and said, “It’s okay. Since we agreed to be your teammate, no matter what happens, we won’t blame you.”
Lin Hangzhi’s misfortune lasted for nearly five days. Except for him, the rest of the team went out looking for suitable boxes. What’s more, they were also able to stay away from the center of doom.
When they came out of the [Labyrinth of Time], Dong Zheng and Dong Linhai received 17 notes with clues relating to other boxes. Allen got seven and Lin Hanzhi got eight. However, only five of them could be used in District XII.
After searching hard, they finally located three of them.
By the time they came back, the mournful Lin Hangzhi had already been tormented to the point of losing weight. His eyes were tired and bruised, and he seemed to be drained of all energy.
“You’ve worked hard.” Allen patted his shoulder with a sincere heart.
Lin Hangzhi let out a long sigh and said, “I’ve been unlucky since I was alive. I’m almost used to it…By the way, did you find any boxes?”
Allen said, “We found three. We’ll decide which one to enter in a meeting. These clues were very vaguely written, and we don’t know if they will be useful.”
Dong Zheng sat at the table with a tea cup in hand and said, “After confirming it, we should be able to go in tomorrow. Hangzhi, have you determined if the misfortune is completely over?”
Lin Hangzhi said, “Mmn, I haven’t been unlucky for three hours and four minutes. It should be over.”
Dong Linhai held a jewelry box, a gift box, and a plain white box and placed them on the table. The jewelry box was the size of a palm, while the gift box was tied with a pink bow and painted with colorful stars and candies, like something a child would do.
“These three corresponded to [Northern Lights Tribute] [Doll’s House] and [Dream Gallery],” Dong Zheng said. “Among them [Northern Lights Tribute] is a fairy tale/challenge type, [Doll’s House] is horror/survival, and [Dream Gallery] is horror/heteromorphism. They should all be similar in terms of difficulty. Do you have any opinions?”
“None of them sounds good,” Allen said.
Lin Hangzhi said, “My thoughts…I don’t recommend choosing a challenge. I was in a challenge when I was in the novice area. At that time, I didn’t know about such classifications, and the outcome was that life was not equal to death.”
Dong Zheng hadn’t entered a challenge box yet and was still unclear about what it was like. He asked, “Can you tell me more?”
Lin Hangzhi organized his thoughts and said, “The type is probably that it set up a challenge mission for you. You must complete the mission within the stipulated time in order to trigger the next episode, otherwise you will be chased by the NPC in the game. Compared to others, the degree of freedom isn’t very high, and throughout the entire process, everything is controlled by the plot. The difficulty is also pretty high. The key point is that it gives a lot of tasks and they’re all crazy. You can’t imagine how crazy they are!”
Lin Hangzhi’s resentment was indescribable. Everyone wisely didn’t ask him for more details about what he’d experienced in the box, but they were certain that it must be pretty terrible.
“Okay, let’s rule this one out first.” Dong Zheng put the jewelry box aside. “In addition to the novice level, Linhai and I have only participated in three boxes. They were horror, fairy tale, and random. Your and Allen’s experiences are important. Allen, do you have any other ideas?”
Allen, who was waiting for the result with his face awake, unexpectedly let out a surprised cry. “Ah? I don’t care. Anything you pick will be fine.”
Lin Hangzhi also waved his hand. “I’m not sure about the rest. Since they’re both horror tags, whichever one you choose is almost the same.”
Dong Zheng asked Cui Zuojing, who had been silent beside him, “Do you have any opinions?”
Cui Zuojing said, “No, you decide for yourself. For the sake of not affecting the general direction, I won’t intervene too much.”
After going around, the decision rested in Dong Zheng’s hands. He didn’t ask too much and said his own thoughts, “My suggestion is to enter [Doll’s House]. Previously, Victor had followed the little girl to get the story fragments. He should have some understanding of the style and some aspect of the plot. Let’s choose this box. It should be better than [Dream Gallery], who we only know one sentence about.”
Victor, who just got out of the cat litter in the bathroom, pressed his paw against the door frame. His sensitive cat hearing allowed him to successfully hear Dong Zheng say his name. He tilted his head and leaned half of his body out. “What?”
Cui Zuojing said, “It’s not important. We’re having a meeting. Do you want to come over and listen to it?”
No one raised any objections. Although Victor would not take the initiative to help unless needed, he knew a thread of the story, after all, and would surely reveal some of them through his words or behavior while in the box.
As before, in order to improve their strength, Cui Zuojing and Victor would not help them unless their lives are in danger.
“Then it’s decided. We’ll enter [Doll’s House].” Dong Zheng placed the gift box in the middle and said, “Let’s have a good rest tonight to adjust our state. After breakfast tomorrow, we’ll enter the box. The meeting’s over.”
After several days of running around outside, everyone was very tired. Lin Hangzhi, who’d been staying in the castle, was also physically and mentally exhausted. After returning to their room to rest, the huge castle immediately became deserted.
Fu Zhe walked out of his study, holding a black leather book called God and Alchemy in his hand. He stood in the hall and looked down at the tea cups left on the living room table, the chairs pulled back, and the tapes on the wall eschewed. Everywhere was a mural full of traces of life.
Since being imprisoned in this old castle, he hadn’t been exposed to such a lively atmosphere in a long time.
Fu Zhe couldn’t help but showed a pleased smile. He leaned over, picked up Victor, who was pacing under his feet, and walked to the kitchen, saying, “Well, it seems that today’s dinner is on me again.”
The next morning, after having breakfast, everyone was ready to go. Fu Zhe’s castle, as an extremely special existence, would not permit them to directly enter the box. As a result, they returned to the house they applied for in District XII, where they had interviewed Lin Hangzhi
After making sure everyone was ready, Dong Zheng crouched down and pulled the bow’s ribbon.
The beautiful ribbon slipped to the ground, and the gift box automatically spread towards the four sides. A dazzling, white light exploded out, engulfing everyone’s figure.
The clock on the wall whispered the passage of time, and from the ceiling came the sounds of marbles falling to the ground and rolling in various directions. The oxygen generator in the fish tank hummed. But, everything else seemed quiet.
Dong Zheng opened his eyes.
He was lying on the sofa, and the TV opposite him was on, muted, and broadcasting an unknown variety show. There was a fish tank near his feet, occupied by green aquatic plants and a red fish.
Dong Zheng sat up and a paragraph appeared in his mind:
It’s already 7 o’clock in the evening, and it’s long after school. The children upstairs have already arrived home for dinner, but your child hasn’t returned yet.
You called the head teacher, but she didn’t know what happened.
You decide to go to the school to find him.
Then the progress of the task in the upper right corner of the vision was updated: Reach the school.
The sound of marbles overhead disappeared. All the rooms in the house except the living room were closed. Dong Zheng was not in a hurry to go to the school. He roughly explored the whole house. A picture frame was placed on the TV stand. In the photograph, Dong Zheng had a boy, about 11 to 12 years old, on his shoulders. He couldn’t see the boy’s face clearly, but knew that he was his missing “child.”
In all of the photos of the house, there was no figure of the mother, and there was no trace of a woman’s living at home. The child’s room was a bit messy, with two dinosaurs with sharp teeth and claws on the bed.
Dong Zheng found a flashlight and determined that there were no other clues. He no longer wasted time and opened the front door of the house.
This was an old-fashioned residential building style. There were two households on the first floor, the doors facing each other. The central wall was equipped with a milk delivery box and a switch for the hallway light. Green numbers flashed on the meter box.
Stencil patterns painted by children filled the whitewashed walls of the hallway, intermixed with small advertisements. Dong Zheng walked downstairs and once again heard the sounds of marbles falling overhead and rolling slowly.
Dong Zheng remembered the horror label of this box, and he couldn’t help but froze in his tracks.
At the moment, there was a “click” sound as the light switch was pressed down. Suddenly, the lights in the hallway went out.