“Mmm… softer… firmly now… that’s right, that’s the spot…”
Extremely lewd sounds came right out of his mouth. Qin Ye lay on the massage bed like a dead snake as he thoroughly enjoyed the masseur’s conscientious touch.
“... Can you stop calling out so lewdly? Even the masseur is getting aroused by it.” Arthis castigated him in disgust.
“...The way you described it made it sound worse. Your mouth exposes the true contemplations of your heart. Away from me!”
What do you mean, ‘contemplations of my heart’?!
Qin Ye squinted as he glanced outside. He could see that there were teams of armed policemen patrolling the streets from time to time. Even though nothing was happening just yet, their presence alone already created a tense and stifling atmosphere.
“God knows why there are so many armed policemen on the streets these days.” The masseur, who was a blind man, sighed wistfully, “They won’t even let us go out at night anymore. This massage parlor is on the brink of closing down.”
Qin Ye patronized him with some simple responses. He had to give credit where it was due - the masseur was truly quite skilled, and the soothing massage made him grow increasingly drowsy. However, Qin Ye did his utmost to stay awake. He was afraid that the masseur would take advantage of him if he did. Arthis could sense the disturbing thoughts plaguing Qin Ye’s mind, and this only increased her disdain for him.
Swish… The curtains were gently drawn aside. Arthis spoke in a deep voice, “Tonight is when the phantom market opens. What are your plans?”
Without raising his head, Qin Ye lifted his hand with style and elegance, revealing a single card between his fingers. Then, twisting his fingers slightly, he revealed that there were in fact two cards - one behind the other.
One of the cards was an identification card that read - Registered underworldly craftsman - Huang Sanhe, Linker. The other was an ICBC card.
“This is a symbol of friendship between Classmate Wang and I…” Qin Ye tilted his head slightly. His eyes were filled with a mesmerized look, “Look, this noble, gorgeous ICBC Platinum Card contains RMB 300,000… RMB 300,000! My word! I’ve lived an honest life thus far, and I’ve never received so much moolah before!”
Arthis trembled in shock, “Wait… you’ve just become friends, and you’ve already asked him for RMB 300,000?! Isn’t the entry fee to your inner circle far too expensive?”
Yet Qin Ye sternly responded, “Please get your facts straight. We first became friends, and then I got this card. Do you really think that our friendship can be bought by something so plebeian?”
“There’s nothing much more worth speaking about. You don’t know what I’ve been through! As a person who’s been through college five times, I can tell you that when I was at X University, tuition fees were only two to three silver dollars. But now, it costs well in the range of tens of thousands! Do you know the profit of the humble funerary shop I own? At best, my monthly profit is only slightly over RMB 3,000! There’s practically nothing left after paying rent! It’s the circumstances that are forcing this public servant to become corrupt!”
Pausing for a moment, he continued with much dejection, “Besides, there’s no outlet for me to indulge in corruption even if I so desired… Separately, I haven’t been to a massage parlor in ages on end now…”
Arthis blinked at him, “After all these years… don’t you have any savings, investments in real estate or the like?”
An abrupt, oppressive silence was one of the things that almost everyone hated.
Seconds later, realization dawned on Arthis, and she smiled insincerely as she continued, “I’m so sorry to hear that. Your lifespan is far longer than any of these houses, real estate and the like… why would you possibly dare to dabble in such high-risk investments? Kekeke… doesn’t this mean that you’ve barely been scraping by over the last few decades? What kind of indomitable spirit do you have to be able to persist for such a long time?”
Qin Ye drew a deep breath, “Arti. In order to prevent an irreparably large rift from appearing in our already unstable relationship, I think it’s best that you refrain from discussing such sorrowful topics in future.”
As long as she was in the soul sphere, Arthis had no choice but to comply. She nodded the… sphere. Then, she forcibly changed the topic, “Speaking of which, what’s the use of the identification card that Huang Sanhe had given to you?”
Qin Ye placed the cards gingerly back into his pocket, “Don’t underestimate their skills. Any qualified linker is also undoubtedly a masterful makeup artist. These professionals have another name now - plastic surgeons. Naturally, not every plastic surgeon is also a linker. That said, there would invariably be several linkers among all of the qualified plastic surgeons these days.”
“So you’re going to put on makeup to infiltrate the phantom market? Are you certain?” Arthis was rather skeptical of his plans, “Isn’t the government regulating people with special crafts with extra stringency these days? Furthermore, the entire county has already gone on full alert. Are you certain you know the exact mode of verification for entry to the phantom market this time? Are you certain you won’t be discovered?”
Qin Ye sighed, “I’ve at least got to give it a shot.”
After pausing for a moment, he continued with some measure of hesitance, “Furthermore… my eyebrows have been twitching non-stop since last night. It’s almost as though… something terrifying is going to happen soon..”
Arthis' voice grew somber, “Don’t underestimate these little twitchings.”
“Do you know something? Ordinary people have five senses, but us Emissaries of Hell, as well as cultivators, possess six senses.”
“Buddhism calls this the arya sense. It’s a type of sensation that can generally be dismissed summarily, but there are also times when the sensation can also be an incredibly accurate premonition of an upcoming crisis.”
Qin-coward-Ye lifted his head, “Are you kidding me?”
“Do I look like I am?!”
Qin Ye gazed deeply at the soul sphere placed at the head of the massage bed. The sphere looked almost like a mummy with strings after strings of Sanskrit words written all over it…
Qin Ye chuckled in a wicked manner.
His expression was coy and subtle, and he even made a slight huffing sound to boot.
“Ssss…” Arthis drew a deep breath of air, “Kid… you best pray that you’re already an Infernal Judge by the time I’m out of this soul sphere. This is a grudge that I’ll remember for the rest of my life…”
Nobody said a single word after that.
Indeed, there was no other way out. Every day that they remained in the dark as to the evil mastermind’s true identity was a day that the Sword of Damocles continued to hang over their head. Nobody knew when it would finally drop down and cleave them in two.
And so what if there was a premonition of a crisis? If this was something that they had to confront head-on, they would have to do it regardless.
Both Qin Ye and Arthis continued to rest. It was almost as though the altercation last night hadn’t happened, and they continued to maintain the somewhat cordial basis of their previous interactions that entailed mutual ill-treatment from time to time.
This was because… they were both clever people.
The older, the wiser. They both knew that a deteriorating relation would serve neither of them any good. Since they both had a flair for acting and pretension, what harm was there in continuing to validate each other as life went on?
Just then, Qin Ye’s cell phone suddenly buzzed. He picked it up to take a look, and immediately furrowed his eyes.
What he opened was a WeChat group chat entitled “Clear Creek County High School Class 3-4 Group”. A series of messages popped up within.
“What’s that?” Arthis asked curiously.
“It’s a tool to show off to one another. For instance, you could post a photograph of yourself standing beside someone else’s car, or with your hand placed on the high speed train, and then invite others to ‘like’ your post. Then, a bunch of people would compliment or ‘like’ your photograph, and your ego would be greatly gratified and receive a massive boost. After that, you’ll set your phone down and continue eating your pickled vegetables.” Qin Ye continued to skim through the messages as he explained.
Arthis responded disdainfully, “What’s so interesting about a post on a meagre car? Back then, my choice of transport was a majestic golden chariot driven by eight powerful horses.”
This is why I say that there’s just no way to bridge this generation gap with this ancient granny!
“What are they talking about?” Arthis asked lazily. She was unable to see the messages from where she was at.
“This stupid group has been quiet almost any other day, yet it just went crazy today…” Qin Ye continued to skim through the messages as he pursed his lips, “So that’s it…”
The first of the series of WeChat messages was posted by a person with a flower as her display picture. Her ID read: Lin Yue, Class President. Her message read, “Dear Classmates, my uncle who works in the Public Security Bureau in the city is coming to visit tonight, and he would like to invite everyone to dinner. Please be sure to come!”
Within moments, her initial post exploded with responses.
“Where’s the location? Can we stay over? I wouldn’t dare to go out after 6 p.m. It just seems particularly gloomy and chilly outside these days.” - Wang Zhenshan, English Class Representative.
“Ooo. Wealthy! I’m guessing Class President Lin’s uncle must be a high-ranking official, isn’t he? Is he really treating so many of us to dinner?” - Wang Zhi, Math Class Representative.
“You exaggerate. He’s just an ordinary official who’s in charge of a few dozen people. It’s just a token gesture to thank everyone for taking good care of me… By the way, I’m taking all of this to mean that you’ve given your word. All of you must come. It’s going to be in the county’s best hotel, the Fenglai Hotel. You can stay the night there as well. Honestly, I really hate these bullshit rules… I feel like I haven’t been out at night in ages now.” - Lin Yue, Class President.
“Bullshit! How can you describe someone in charge of dozens of people as an ordinary official? But regardless, thanks for your goodwill! I’ll definitely be there!” - Xiao Huanshui, Physical Education Class Representative.
Qin Ye pursed his lips again, “Do you get the point?”
Arthis was bewildered.
Qin Ye laughed, “The focus isn’t so much on ‘I’m buying dinner tonight’, as it is on the fact that ‘my uncle who’s in the Public Service Bureau is buying dinner tonight’. Then, she goes on to casually mention that her uncle is only in charge of tens of people. But, having realized that the bragging was far too obvious, she attempted to conceal it by changing the subject and bringing the focus back to the invitation at hand. Her tactics are far too low and cheap.”
“... Yet you still seem to be enjoying it?”
“... Don’t you think it’s fun to watch a troupe of monkeys act in front of you?”
“If you ask me… we’re talking about a bunch of monkeys who have houses, relatives, cars and can rely on their parents to fund their university education. They might not be lower than you in terms of social status…”
“... Bloody hell…” Qin Ye rolled his eyes. It felt as though a thousand arrows had punctured his heart in that instant, as he tapped wildly at his phone, “Let’s go! I’ll definitely be there to cheer for the great beauty in our class!”
He was an archetypal poor man, and there was no way he was going to pass up on the opportunity to indulge in free food and drinks! Besides, given the current sweep it might not be a bad idea to hide out in plain sight amongst his peers.
His response didn’t cause a single ripple of comments in the group. After all, he was but a mere sojourner in these parts, and all he had to do was to remain as ordinary and dull as possible. He was the type of person in the class that everyone knew of, but would also easily forget if his name wasn’t mentioned at all. That said, Wang Chenghao responded almost immediately after Qin Ye chimed in, “You’re going? Then, I’m going as well.”
“Eh? Handsome Wang, why are you so free today? I didn’t think you were going to come as well.” - Lin Yue, Class President. She had even added a smiling emoticon to the message.
“Boss Wang is free? That’s awesome. That means that attendance is going to be complete tonight.” - Xiao Huanshui, Physical Education Class Representative.
“Yo, ‘Rodent’, when did you get so close with Qin Ye anyway?”
Qin Ye closed the WeChat group. What transpired in the group no longer bothered him anymore. Wang Chenghao was seen by everyone as the heir to his parents’ business and legacy. He was like the electricity and light to their world - an existence almost akin to that of a god.
They wouldn’t be able to help but begin to sing his praises…
“What about the phantom market?” Arthis asked.
“It only opens at midnight anyway. We’ve got time.”
Yet, nobody knew that Lin Yue was on sick leave today.
Lin Yue lived in an ordinary looking shop house. At this moment, the curtains were completely drawn, and the house was practically airtight. Not even a single trace of sunlight could enter the house.
The door to the room of Lin Yue’s parents was locked tight. Traces of blood seeped out from the little gap under the door. Meanwhile, Lin Yue… sat on the edge of her bed, ostensibly in a daze, as she continued to tap mechanically on her cell phone.
Just above her, dark macabre threads hung from the shadows in the ceiling, attaching themselves to different parts of her body, almost as though she were a puppet! These threads were exactly what were manipulating her hands to continue typing on her phone!
If one looked closer, there were in fact dark red slits in each and every single one of her joints. It was almost as though someone had dismembered her body like a rag doll before reassembling her once more.
Thud… As she switched off her phone, her body collapsed to the ground like a broken rag doll. Lin Chaosheng stood in the darkness behind her, wearing a black mask, watching silently as these events unfolded.
“Whoever touched His Highness’ things…”
“Has hidden himself rather well… Even the government hasn’t been able to locate you… But that’s fine, you… must definitely be among these people…”
“The one who’s had immediate access to His Highness’ pot of breeding fodder must be among his classmates… No matter. I will slowly but surely locate you… and then, I’ll bring your head back… and declare to the ‘survivors’ of the entire Westriver Province who our new king is…”
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