The World Below Surface 33 ☆ The Black Cat


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The Awakening of NPCs…

Was it an individual or a group? Was there a trigger for it? To what extent have they awakened? Why did “Tall buildings will fall” use the phrase they have an awakening? The other party would not have used such dramatic language if they were simply high-intelligence NPCs.

Chu Xiu had many questions but wanted to avoid publicising this issue.

Task-takers can't predict the future or find hope.
Like ordinary people, if nothing unexpected happens, they would have spend their lives in peace.
Yet they live on the edge of life and death.

Unfortunately, they've been pulled into the most terrifying and darkest world, where the scythe of death always looms.
The psychological pressure is unimaginable for ordinary people.
Every month, the website records over a dozen suicides.
Batch after batch of people dies, yet the number of registered users on the site only increases and never decreases.

The other three people in the car appear optimistic, laughing and playing around.
But it's precisely because they know they could die at any moment.
They try their best to leave a smile on their face in their last moments of life.

After experiencing life-and-death escapes, it's difficult for them to follow the rules and regulations of modern society.
They've already accepted the behaviour of the taskers venting their anger on the local residents of this world and calling them NPCs.

Killing people here was still preferable to killing people in the real world.

This was the reason why Chu Xiu chose to conceal this information.

If this matter were made public, it would undoubtedly cause the executors' already fragile mental state to spiral out of control, with immeasurable consequences.
“Tall buildings will fall” may have had the same thought, so he shared the information with Chu Xiu.
However, although he claimed to have only informed Chu Xiu, it couldn't be guaranteed that he was telling the truth.
It remains to be seen whether others received the same information.

While He Lou's message hinted unease, Chu Xiu had a different perspective.

Many have attempted to uncover the secrets behind the tasks, but they've all come up empty-handed.
The NPC that He Lou mentioned might be a turning point.

Unfortunately, there was no further information disclosed.
Chu Xiu needed to find out who this NPC was and whether he could be found in this world.

As the vehicle continued to drive, the four people inside chatted away, appearing no different from ordinary tourists if it weren't for the fact that the areas they passed through were becoming increasingly remote and desolate.

Upon arriving at their destination, the sight before them was terrifying.
It was silent and devoid of any people; not even the insects that had constantly been chirping before could be heard now.

The sun-bleached road revealed a mottled white background, and the trees were bare and leafless.

The vehicle came to a halt in front of an old signpost.
The sign had an unusual appearance, with its blue paint mostly worn off, revealing the shiny silver metal underneath.
However, the words on top were bright red and entirely intact, clearly spelling out the words “Yin-Yang Road”.

It was as though the words were written with…
blood.


“Okay, this is it.
Let's go over the mission again.
Seven days, seven games.
On the first day, we'll randomly select two passersby from Yin-Yang Road and play a game called Shadow with them at the crossroads at midnight.
Each person takes a turn and must complete all the steps.
Only when everyone has finished can we leave.” The driver, Nie Yun Zhen (聂允真), spoke first after stopping the car.

Once he had finished explaining the mission, he looked at the signpost and felt a heavy weight in his heart.
There seemed to be something ominous about this place, something lurking in the corner, watching everyone closely!

“To play this game in such a place…” The man in the back seat turned pale.

He had tried to steer the conversation away from this topic earlier to ease his fears.
Still, Nie Yun Zhen's words mercilessly shattered his illusion.

He was still afraid of the whole thing, including the game.

The game was called Shadow, but it might also have another name – Summoning Ghosts! It required the players to stand alone on the roadside after midnight, facing their shadows while walking forward, calling out their names with each step.
Only after taking thirteen steps could they leave.

The man in the back seat, Ye Sheng Ke (叶盛科), was a materialist before being inexplicably pulled into this mission.
At that time, he was a very courageous person who did not believe in ghosts and often played supernatural games with like-minded friends.
He had played everything from “Pen Fairy” (笔仙) to “Bloody Mary” (血腥玛丽), and his highest record was spending a night in a cemetery alone.

He was proud of himself at the time and filmed the entire process of playing the game, boasting to his friends, “I told you, there are no ghosts in this world; it's all just self-scaring.”

However, that was until he learned his lesson.

Three years ago, he played “Shadow” with his friends.
It was said that when you reach the thirteenth step, you will find an extra shadow on the ground, which is the “thing” you have summoned.
It may help you, or it may ask for your help.

At that time, Ye Sheng Ke didn't believe it and played the game first.
Nothing happened.
His friend, who was originally a bit timid, saw that he was okay and got out of the car to face his own shadow step by step.
But when he reached the thirteenth step, something indeed occurred…

Ye Sheng Ke closed his eyes, unable to think about it again.

Now, he had to play the game again.

“Yezi, are you thinking about that again?” The woman seated next to him comforted him.

She was petite, with a doll-like face that gave her a cute appearance, but she was actually two years older than Ye Sheng Ke and had attended the same university as him.

At this moment, her eyes displayed a gentle side inconsistent with her usual temperament.
“Don't blame yourself.
It wasn't your fault.
You didn't mean to hurt him.”

Ye Sheng Ke forced a bitter smile.
“Sister, you don't have to comfort me.
If it weren't for me suggesting playing this game, he wouldn't have…”

“Alright, now that we're all here, can we say something auspicious?” Nie Yun Zhen interrupted their reminiscing.
“We should be worried if any passersby come to this haunted place.”

The desolate scenery was terrifying enough to be a setting for a horror movie.
Even if there were people, it was uncertain whether they were really human or not.
But the mission was established, and they dared not disobey.
Otherwise, it would be easier to grab two people randomly from the bustling city.

“Forget about whether there are passersby; even if there are, it's challenging to invite them to play this game together, right? We need to figure out a solution,” Nie Yun Zhen said again.

After all, ordinary people weren't foolish enough to play with this thing.
They would only scare themselves.
Perhaps they could only resort to some violent means.

Speaking of this, Chu Xiu, who seldom spoke, spoke up.
“Don't worry about this problem.”

Nie Yun Zhen didn't know Chu Xiu's method, but since he was so confident, he must have some means.
Nie nodded.
“Then we'll trouble Brother Chu later.”

The four sat quietly in the car, waiting for any passersby to come by.

**


“QingQing, it's already so late.
Do you really want to go over there at night? It's very dangerous,” on the other side of the road, two girls carrying backpacks walked by.

The taller girl looked at her friend's backpack and expressed concern.

She also looked frightened.

“Alright, QianQian, you don't have to persuade me.
My grandmother already told me that 'when a cat hangs from a tree, and a dog abandons the water, calamity will befall the whole family if I don't bring Little Mimi here,'” Wen Qing (温青) replied.

“However, this place is terrifying.
Can we come during the daylight tomorrow? It's getting dark soon.”

Winter was approaching, and the sun had already set long ago.
The sky was only lit by a faint warm light.
Looking at Yin-Yang Road's name and environment it was enough to scare even the most fearless of people.

Hearing her friend's suggestion, Wen Qing hesitated.
She clutched her book bag tightly and shook her head.
“No, we have to go today.
He said so.”

“Who is he? Did your grandma mention him?” Yun Qian (云茜) asked, but Wen Qing did not answer.
She only tried to reassure her friend.
“It's okay.
We've already made it here.
We just need to find a tree quickly and hang it up.”

A faint sweet smell mixed with a bloody scent emanated from her bag, causing Yun Qian to turn her head away.

“All the trees here have lost their leaves.
Where can we find a dense tree?” Yun Qian asked, looking around.

The road was lined with trees, but all the leaves had fallen off in the vast forest, leaving only twisted and bare branches.

“We'll keep looking,” Wen Qing said, a little embarrassed.
She held Yun Qian's hand tightly.
“Don't worry, I'll protect you.
We'll go back soon.”

Unbeknownst to her friend, Wen Qing's other hand clutched a talisman tightly in her pocket.

As it grew darker and darker, the two girls held hands tightly and strolled down the dark road, surrounded by the shadows of the trees.

Yun Qian wasn't sure if it was just her imagination, but the sweet and cloying aroma in the air was becoming more assertive.

In the distance, they could see a faint light, which turned out to be a car with people inside chatting.
Knowing they were not alone, the two girls felt a sense of relief and hastened their steps.
Illuminated by the car's headlights, they spotted a tree with leaves growing along the side of the road.

Yun Qian squeezed Wen Qing's hand and cried, “We've found it!”

The two of them ran towards the tree, leaving the main road.
Wen Qing gestured that she wasn't tall enough to reach the tree's lowest branch.
She looked at Yun Qian, who was a bit taller and should be able to reach it.

“Yun Qian, I can't reach it…” Wen Qing said, afraid.

Yun Qian shook her head nervously, “Don't count on me; it took a lot of courage for me to come with you.
I'm afraid I can't do it.”

“Alright then.” Wen Qing turned around and put down her schoolbag, taking a plastic bag and a rope from it.

Inside the plastic bag was a lump of something about the size of two closed fists.
Wen Qing carefully peeled off each layer of plastic covering the object inside.

As she moved, the sickly sweet scent grew even more pungent, causing Yun Qian to recoil and take a few steps back to breathe.
However, Wen Qing remained oblivious, intent on peeling back layer after layer of plastic bags until she revealed…
the grisly, blood-soaked corpse of a black cat!

Yun Qian was terrified and dared not look.
“I'll wait for you farther ahead,” she said hurriedly before making her way to the side of the road.


Undeterred, Wen Qing wept for her little cat.

This was her beloved Mimi.
Why would she be afraid?

Clutching the little cat with both hands, Wen Qing realized she didn't have time to deal with the rope.
She suddenly became aware that her behaviour was inappropriate.
She should have thrown the rope over first.
What should she do now?

The little cat couldn't touch the ground.

“QingQing, can you throw the rope over for me, please? It's clean.
I'll tie Mimi to it,” said Wen Qing, lowering her head and cradling Mimi in her arms, paying no heed to the blood covering her hands.
She raised her voice to call her friend.

To her surprise, a strange male voice came from behind her.

“Alright.”

“Ah—!” Wen Qing jumped at the sound and quickly turned around.
She saw her friend standing not far behind her, fear etched on her face, yet too afraid to speak.

Yun Qian's head was held at gunpoint.

Four people surrounded Yun Qian, including three men and one woman.
The man who had just spoken was the closest to her, his face twisted with a sly grin.

“Who are you? What do you want?!” Wen Qing stepped back in fear, accidentally crushing a plastic bag, causing a slight rustling sound.
Her mind was flooded with news about the rule of law, but it offered little comfort.

Unbeknownst to her, the dead cat she held also startled Nie Yun Zhen, standing nearby.

The four people exchanged a furtive glance.
They all sensed this girl was strange, but they had no choice.
These were the only two people around.

“Don't worry, just play a game with us.” The woman among the four spoke, her voice laced with reassurance.
“As long as you cooperate, we won't harm you.”

Wen Qing was trembling from head to toe.

She knew what she should do: put the cat down and call the police.
But she couldn't just let Little Mimi fall to the ground.

“What…what game?” She had some ideas in mind that couldn't be published in Jinjiang, but she couldn't help but regret her rash behaviour.

If these men had ill intentions to do…
what should she do?

What could she and Yun Qian do?

If things got out of hand, she would have to…
set Little Mimi down.

But the group provided an answer that was completely unexpected and vastly different from Wen Qing's imagination.
“The Shadow Game?”

“That's right.
Have you understood the rules of the game?” the woman inquired softly, which sounded more sinister than comforting to Wen Qing and Yun Xian.

“I understand.
Can you please release her first?” Wen Qing pleaded with them.

Chu Xiu lowered his gun that was pointed at Yun Xian's head, nudged her gently, and she immediately ran towards her friend.
However, she hesitated momentarily because of the dead black cat in her hand.
She ended up standing beside her friend as a second choice.


“After midnight, once you've played the game, we'll let you go,” Chu Xiu promised, hiding the gun so swiftly that nobody noticed where it went.
He carefully examined the two girls, and his gaze lingered on Wen Qing's face for a second longer.

Could she be an awakened NPC?

No, he needed to observe her further.

“You better keep your promise,” Wen Qing said tremblingly.
Yet, she remained composed enough not to reveal any weakness, which surprised the group of four.

“By the way, what are you holding in your hand? Can you tell us?” Nie Yunzhen continued to smile while asking.

Wen Qing pursed her lips.
“My cat, Little Mimi.”

“Why did you bring it here? What were you going to do under the tree just now?” The woman among the four continued to ask in a soft voice.

Her name was Shi Yan (时燕).
Looking at the two girls leaning on each other, she saw herself and her former best friend, Axin.

Unfortunately, Axin…

Shi Yan's eyes dimmed for a moment but quickly recovered.

There was still a long time until midnight, so they were in no rush.
They needed to gather information first about these two peculiar girls and this eerie place.
What secrets were hiding behind them?

Wen Qing had no choice but to take a deep breath and answer, “Little Mimi suddenly died, and I brought it here to bury it.”

“Bury it? But why do you want to hang it on the tree?”

“That's what my grandmother told me to do.
She said…”

Meanwhile, in a secluded corner of an old residential area in the city, a handsome young man knocked on a door, cradling a black kitten in his arms.

“Excuse me, is this the Wen residence? I found the cat you posted a lost and found notice for.” The man smiled warmly and invitingly, “The little girl who lost the cat, her name is Wen Qing, right?”

An elderly woman opened the door and caught a glimpse of the kitten in the young man's grasp.
She nodded repeatedly and said, “Ah, yes, thank you, young man.
By the way, how did you know my granddaughter's name?”

After asking, the old woman slapped her forehead and said, “Oh, that little girl must have written her name on it too.”

The black kitten let out a gentle meow and jumped out of the young man's arms, strolling into the house as if returning to its own home.

“Would you like to come in for a cup of tea, young man?” The old woman greeted him warmly, “By the way, what's your name?”

The man smiled and replied, “No need to be so polite.
My name is Lu Yan.” He glanced around the house casually, “Has your granddaughter not returned yet? I found her student ID card.”

Hearing this, the old woman became worried, “Not yet.
I don't know if she went to look for the cat after school again.”

Lu Yan handed over the student ID card and reassured her, “Don't worry, she will return safely.”

With that, he left without heeding the old woman's invitation, waving goodbye.

 

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