Chapter 32: A Round of Murder

It was 6 p.m. Qin Ye hailed a rickshaw and joyfully made his way towards the Fenglai Hotel.

Inland counties could hardly be considered rich or wealthy. To put things into context, some of the wealthier coastal counties could even be richer than cities located inland. Therefore, all things considered, the Fenglai Hotel could hardly be considered large or extravagant. Despite being called a hotel, it hardly looked anything like one. The building it occupied used to be a state-run guest house in the nineties. After a series of restructuring and reorganization, the hotel was bought over by Wang Chenghao’s father and transformed into the Fenglai Hotel.

Despite that, the Fenglai Hotel was still the only presentable hotel in the entire Clear Creek County. Therefore, business was still relatively good.

“I’m going...” Qin Ye hopped off the rickshaw and looked at the six-storey hotel in earnest. Arthis, on the other hand, was baffled, “What’s so good about this place? It looks so rickety.”

“You don’t understand…” Qin Ye was bursting with emotions, “I haven’t been to such a high-class place in almost three whole years now…”

At this moment, Arthis wanted to abandon Qin Ye and leave him as far behind as possible. You’re tainting my reputation by association!

He entered the hotel, reported his room number, and took the lift to the sixth floor. As soon as the door opened, a rush of clamouring sounds immediately bounced off their eardrums.

This was an event space that was approximately two hundred square meters large. Almost all of the weddings in the county had been celebrated here. Its decors were fairly decent. Exquisite, meter-large ancient chandeliers hung majestically from the ceiling. Large ink murals spanning tens of meters cleverly subdivided the event space into smaller partitions. The red carpet was cheap, but festive. The antiquated wooden tables only accentuated the style of the room.

The entire event space had been booked out tonight. All thirty-five students from their class were present today, and they all sat around large 8-men tables, properly filling up four and a half of these. The rest of the event space felt somewhat empty and gloomy. As soon as the elevator door opened and Qin Ye appeared, several people immediately waved and called out, “Qin Ye, over here! Come over here!”

Qin Ye felt like he was caught in a bind.

He was torn as to where he should take his seat. After all, he was so enthused about this meal that he had even skipped his lunch in preparation to stuff himself tonight. He was looking for the best place to sit at strategically so that nobody would notice his gluttonous ways.

Can you guys please restrain yourself? Please don’t make it seem like we’re very familiar with each other. I would just like the opportunity to indulge myself tonight.

“Qin Ye, over here.” Just as he was hesitating, a somewhat hoarse voice called out to him. Wang Chenghao had stood up from his seat, and was beckoning to Qin Ye.

The entire place was suddenly silent.

“I’m curious!” From another table, Zhang Yilong glared at Qin Ye and muttered in a low voice, “Since when did this idiot get so close to Brother Hao?”

“What happened?” Another curious student immediately chimed in response. Zhang Yilong had spoken with a hushed voice, but the distance between students at the table wasn’t large either. 

“Nothing much. Last time, he stayed to help Brother Hao and I clean up the classroom. Who would’ve expected this idiot to be that much of a social climber? I don’t understand what Brother Hao sees in him!”

Qin Ye was naturally oblivious to Zhang Yilong’s slanderous accusations. He glanced at Wang Chenghao’s seat. Both Lin Yue and Wang Chenghao were seated at a table that was only half filled with four people. Apart from them, there was a middle-aged man with thick eyebrows who wore a black face mask and his police uniform. The only thing that was lacking was his policeman’s cap with the national emblem on it. The last person present at the table was the class vice-president, Su Chaoyang.

Qin Ye made his way to the main table and took his seat under everyone’s watchful eyes. As soon as he took his seat, the middle-aged man immediately spoke, “And you are?”

Qin Ye furrowed his brows almost imperceptibly, and he maintained a faint smile on his face as he responded, “Class President Lin Yue’s class-... mate…”

Qin Ye could sense that something felt slightly off about the situation, yet he couldn’t quite place a finger on it. However, as soon as he glanced at Lin Yue, his pupils immediately constricted.

It was early autumn right now.

The weather was still somewhat warm, and Lin Yue was still wearing her school uniform.

She could be considered rather attractive - a seventeen years old girl who was still in the midst of blooming into a beautiful flower. She had pretty eyebrows and shoulder length hair. That said, it suddenly dawned on Qin Ye that Lin Yue had not spoken a single word from the beginning. She simply hung her head low, allowing her jet black hair to drape over her face, obscuring most of her facial features.

Furthermore, her school uniform was somewhat ill-fitting… and she presented herself almost akin to an ugly looking rag doll.

The middle-aged man glanced at Lin Yue with what appeared to be a soft, tender gaze. Yet his expressions remained completely unchanging. 

“Do… do you find her a little bit different from her usual self?” The man’s hoarse voice interrupted Qin Ye’s train of thought and abstruse gaze. Scratching his head, Qin Ye responded, “Is she sick?”

The middle-aged man continued to stare straight into his eyes. His facial muscles contracted slightly, and it looked almost as though he were smiling faintly under his facial mask, “That’s right… she’s quite ill…”

“How do you do… I’m her uncle, Lin Chaosheng.”

Qin Ye gave him a fleeting glance, and he couldn’t help but feel, more than ever, that something wasn’t quite right about this man. He had lived long enough and experienced enough of life’s lessons to know certain things without being taught.

For instance, he knew that if a person were to speak, it required much more than the simple movements of one’s tongue. In fact, it required the concerted effort of the entire mouth, including some of the muscle groups at the throat and larynx.

However… he could clearly see that this was not the case for Lin Chaosheng. His movements were no different from that of a living dead. No… perhaps it would be more accurate to say that his movements were no different from that of a puppet. The words spoken were clear and coherent, yet there was hardly any trace of emotional undertones to it.

“This man…” After some moments of hesitation, Arthis, who was in Qin Ye’s pockets, spoke up mentally. “He’s not one who belongs to the mortal realm.”

She couldn’t see him. Her perception had been solely based on the nuances of the man’s voice.

Qin Ye nodded lightly, but for now refrained from taking any actions. This was a county that was established by the nation. Furthermore, the supernatural perimeter had been deployed, and the county was on full alert.

Those who were able to escape from the eighteen level of Hell would know far better than any living person just how precious life was. Who would dare to show up in such a dangerous place?

Qin Ye raised his eyebrows and smiled faintly as he nodded to the man. Following that, he turned around and began chatting with Wang Chenghao. Wang Chenghao was still in the midst of grieving for the loss of his parents, and his disposition hardly looked good. In fact, he appeared to be barely hanging in there, “Mm… this place is most well-known for their steamed river dumplings. I’ll treat you to it next time… the other accompanying dishes are not too bad either…”

Just then, he suddenly lifted his head in confusion, because he belatedly realized that Qin Ye was currently writing words on his lap.

One stroke, two strokes… He glanced discreetly at the word that was being written - it was the word “follow”.

Wang Chenghao looked back up at Qin Ye in surprise, yet Qin Ye’s appeared to be his usual, jocular self. After several more jokes, he patted on Wang Chenghao’s shoulder and asked, “Washroom? Let’s take a smoke break.”

“Alright.” Wang Chenghao agreed readily, and both students took their leave.

Clack… As soon as the two students stood up, Lin Chaosheng set down his chopsticks silently and gazed at their backs as they departed. It was only after they vanished around the corner that another somewhat apprehensive voice called out, “Uncle Lin… what happened to Lin Yue? She’s not lifted her head a single time tonight… shouldn’t she go have a proper rest if she’s not feeling well?”

Lin Chaosheng shifted his vision and stared straight into Su Chaoyang’s eyes. Chaoyang couldn’t help but lick his dry lips. His hands gripped tightly to his pants under the table. It was only when Su Chaoyang was on the verge of getting chills down his spine did Lin Chaosheng finally respond, “Are you feeling very nervous?”

“Haa… no… I’m not nervous. W-w-why would I be nervous?” He was, but he didn’t understand why. As soon as Qin Ye and Wang Chenghao stood up and left the table, Su Chaoyang suddenly felt an intense chill assault his body.

And it was not a chill from excessive air conditioning… it was something that was intensely frigid and immensely frightening.

Golden lights shone brightly and boisterous voices echoed all around them. Yet, for some strange reason, Su Chaoyang felt isolated from all of this, almost as though he had fallen into an icy cellar of sorts. This strange sensation permeated every fiber of his body, and even he didn’t know how to describe the terror within his heart. That said, the terror within made his heart beat wildly.

Lin Chaosheng pinched the wine glass with two fingers, turned around, and appeared to reveal traces of a smile, “Give the fruit wine here a shot. It tastes pretty good. It should be able to help calm those nerves of yours too.”

“No… no thank you! P-please enjoy it yourself.” Su Chaoyang responded almost on instinct. He had already begun to regret sitting at this table tonight. 

He didn’t know why.

And Man’s greatest fear was the fear of the unknown.

Lin Chaosheng gazed deeply into his eyes once more. After a long pause, he hissed, “Then, I’ll taste some myself.”

He picked up the wine glass.

And lowered his head.

Then, he slowly pulled off his face mask.

In the very next moment, Su Chaoyang’s jaws dropped, and his mind drew a complete blank!

What lay under Lin Chaosheng’s face mask was not the mouth of a human being.

Rather… it was a grisly set of skeletal teeth!

A dense clew of dark worms crawled in and out of his gums, and a long, thin, scarlet tongue dripping with crimson blood stretched out into the wine glass and licked its contents.

This is not a human… I’ve been sitting with Uncle Lin for close to an hour, and he’s not even human!!! Of all the people here today, I’d been seated right next to an evil ghost… Su Chaoyang didn’t even know whether or not he had already screamed in response to this frightening sight. After all, whenever a person is faced with an extreme terror that transcended the limits of what the human heart could bear, he would never be able to react or scream at the situation. His senses and thought processes would all be reduced to a completely blank slate of nothingness.

T-t-t-t-t-t… His teeth began to chatter. Lin Chaosheng continued in a soulless voice, “Tastes pretty good…”

“Ahh…” Just as Su Chaoyang returned to his senses and was about to scream in terror, a small, sharp knife plunged straight through his body, right between where his third and fourth ribs were located.

This was the first time Lin Yue had looked up.

Mechanical, just like a puppet.

In fact… one could even clearly see that her sharp jaw barely obscured a faint, red line on her neck.

Her head had clearly been sliced off and reattached once again!

And she was the one who was holding onto the knife.

“What… are… you…” Everything in front of Su Chaoyang had begun to blur. And before he collapsed to the ground, his final words were but a simple question addressing the bewilderment in his heart.

The entire dining hall was abruptly filled with silence.

Thud… Crash!!

Su Chaoyang’s eyes were still wide open when his body collapsed into a pool of his own blood. In his dying breath, he tugged at the tablecloth in a feeble attempt to support his own body, only to send a multitude of plates and dishes crashing onto the ground.

The boisterous students turned around to the commotion. Their gazes went from that of suspicion, to that of shock, and finally that of horror. Every single student was staring at the source of the commotion with widened eyes and gaping mouths within a span of three short seconds.

Female students subconsciously covered their mouths, while male students couldn’t help but gasp in disbelief, before instinctively motioning to retreat.

The pool of crimson in the middle of the event hall was incredibly striking.

“Formal introductions are in order.” Amidst the terror-stricken atmosphere, Lin Chaosheng stood up at the same time as Lin Yue in a perfectly synchronous fashion.

“My profession belongs to a type of sub-specialization among the linkers. They call me the puppet master.”

“I’m sorry, but you’ll all have to die here today, because I’m not quite sure who’s touched our things…”

“After all I’d rather kill three thousand than risk letting the culprit slip by…”

…………………………………………

At the entrance to the security passageway, Wang Chenghao looked at how Qin Ye was desperately attempting to break the lock as he exclaimed, “What’s going on? Are you not eating anymore?”

“We’ve got to go!” Qin Ye’s expression was stern and somber and he added through his gritted teeth, “Something’s wrong with this place!”

“What happened?” Wang Chenghao was baffled, “It’s already 6.30 p.m. outside now! I’m afraid to go out.”

“Come with me. I’ll make sure you’re fine! It’s ten thousand times more dangerous to remain in this place right now!” Qin Ye hammered the lock several times, albeit with measured force for fear of making a commotion. Then he cursed under his breath, “Damn it!”

“What the hell is going on?!”

Qin Ye ran his fingers through his hair. Fenglai Hotel was hardly large by any means. There was only one passageway here, and it led straight back into the event hall. And Qin Ye was now one hundred percent certain that something was wrong with Lin Chaosheng!

“Listen to me.” Qin Ye stared straight into Wang Chenghao’s eyes, “Did you notice that when I first sat down, Lin Chaosheng asked me who I was?”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Everything!” Qin Ye drew a deep breath as he attempted to calm himself down, “Normally, a person in his capacity would be asking Lin Yue. But, he didn’t. And do you know why? It’s because… Lin Yue is simply unable to answer him!”

Then, he dropped the bombshell, “And that’s because… she’s already dead.”

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