Chapter 34: Ankang Ancient Town (13)
The rainstorm continued, and a curtain of darkness enveloped the sky. Dark clouds even concealed the dazzling stars. Only the distant lightning brought a faint glow.
The candles were lit in the main hall of the mountain temple.
Yan Wei held an umbrella, failed at whistling, and took out a flashlight from his pocket. He turned it on and unhesitatingly shone it on Jiang Xiu’s face.
Jiang Xiu’s gloomy face was dazzled by the intense light. He lifted his hand to cover his face and cursed in rage. “Even you waste dare to take advantage of one’s weakness?”
“Of course.” Yan Wei fulfilled his wish, seeing the man’s angry and remorseful expression. “You dare not kill me.”
Jiang Xiu gritted his teeth.
Jiang Xiu certainly knew what Yan Wei meant. It was already dark, and according to the instance’s circumstances, nightfall was the time for ghosts to act. It was a fact that he had the lowest score, and now, neither Yan Mingguang nor Yan Wei was his highest priority.
As a player who came down from the tenth floor to the seventh floor, Jiang Xiu didn’t expect that he would face the threat of death just over a day after the instance began.
He glared at Yan Wei fiercely. “After tonight, I won’t let you live to another day!”
Yan Wei raised his eyebrow.
“Then you’ll have to endure until after tonight. By the way, the umbrellas may appear again, be careful… the bones.”
Jiang Xiu turned around and walked into the mountain temple. As soon as he turned, in front of the steps of the temple hall was Yan Mingguang. He stood there holding an umbrella and looked at Jiang Xiu condescendingly.
Jiang Xiu hurriedly walked up and bypassed Yan Mingguang — he had no time to care about Yan Mingguang right now.
“Jiang-ge!” Zheng Mao was shocked for a moment and lifted his heel to follow.
Yan Wei suddenly turned to the side, blocked the road ahead, and collided with Zheng Mao, who was in a hurry.
At that moment, Yan Wei took out the prepared object from the black ring and quietly stuffed it into Zheng Mao’s pocket.
Zheng Mao glanced at him with an unknown look, grumpily exclaiming, “Get out of the way!”
Yan Wei shrugged, refusing.
Seeing that Jiang Xiu had entered the mountain temple, Zheng Mao had to navigate around Yan Wei and head up the steps. He followed Jiang Xiu and quickly disappeared at the entrance of the temple.
Yan Wei was at the bottom of the steps and looked up at Yan Mingguang standing by the doorway at the top of the steps.
Most of the candles in the hall were lit by players, which were much brighter than those last night. The candlelight behind the man flickered, giving a slight outline on this man’s robust silhouette, faint and reliable on this dark, rainy night.
The temperature lowered at night. Yan Wei felt a slight chill, but it wasn’t too cold.
He thought for a moment.
It seems it was because Yan Mingguang was looking at him.
Thinking of this, Yan Wei held up an umbrella, sneered, and walked up the stairs to Yan Mingguang’s side.
“What are you thinking?” The other party asked him. After a pause, Yan Mingguang added, “I turned off the projection when I first came out.”
“I think it’s wonderful.” Yan Wei grabbed the swallow coin in his pocket with one hand and blinked rapidly. “I’ve never felt reassured handing over my plants to others before, but today… when I was waiting for Jiang Xiu to appear at the temple’s entrance, I didn’t seem to think about any other possibilities.”
He was already confident Yan Mingguang would not slip.
Yan Wei knew his sexual orientation, but he also understood that his heart was full of indifference, let alone intense emotions.
Yet, in the retrospective illusion, when Yan Mingguang gently rubbed the corner of his lips in a scene that needed reason and concentration, his heart was essentially in chaos.
The man glanced at him.
“It’s getting dark. It’s time to go in and have a rest.”
“It’s time to go in, but I’m not in a hurry to rest.” Yan Wei went under the eaves and withdrew his umbrella. “There’s still a good show tonight.”
Yan Mingguang naturally understood that Yan Wei was talking about Jiang Xiu and Zheng Mao. He did not say much, agreed to take the umbrella, and returned to their room with Yan Wei.
Yan Mingguang lit the candles around the room. Yan Wei wiped the table and chairs, then sat down in front of the old desk and said, “I listened carefully to the three first answer prompts. They were exactly what I thought they were.”
This instance of Ankang Ancient Town originated from the customs of a remote region.
The ancestors of the townspeople settled in this place near the mountains and rivers. They discovered a stone on the mountain wall. The shape of the stone resembled a man with an umbrella, so the ancestors surrounded the stone on the mountainside, and they worshipped this human-shaped stone as a mountain god.
They began believing that the mountain god brought them favorable weather for crops. They regarded umbrellas as totems, worshipped rainy days, and gradually developed bloody and disgusting customs.
— If a girl in the town was caught in a rainstorm on her wedding day at eighteen years old, it meant that the mountain god had chosen the girl. She would get skinned alive to serve as the umbrella cover, and her bones would get pulled out to serve as the handle and rib.
In the last few decades, when the matron was in charge of the temple, there was an appearance of five qualified girls.
The townspeople sent them to the altar. They were skinned and boned by the matron.
After the sacrifices, the skinless corpse of the girls would be thrown into the well by the matron. She’d also lay hold of the girls’ skin and bones, constructing the skin and bones into umbrellas in a sacred place-like area within the depths of the well.
“I felt something was wrong in the morning.” Yan Wei frowned. “The matron said that their 12th-year Mountain God Festival is coming, and the town will start to worship the mountain god. The cook said that the townspeople would place white umbrellas at their doorway to show their reverence to the god. But have we seen any believers except those children who regularly come to the mountain temple every day?”
For ordinary fanatical beliefs, mountain temples should be prosperous with burning incense.
But there was no one here.
“They are no longer in awe of the mountain god temple. Their fear is far greater than reverence. Combined with the matron’s actions of setting umbrellas at our doors to attract skinless female ghosts, I boldly guess–that after these girls turned into ghosts, they started killing people in this town. Along with the scene we saw at the cave, the young girls killed people and put the bones of the dead below the well. The matron naturally discovered all this. She didn’t dare to defy these ghosts, so she had to continue making umbrellas from the skin and bones of the dead.”
“And then she found out that by leaving these umbrellas at the doorway, the girls would have prioritized killing those people. So the frightened matron constantly attracted travelers from other places, set the umbrellas at the doors or hid them in the rooms, and replaced the townspeople’s lives with the travelers’ lives.”
“This is the secret of Ankang Ancient Town, so we don’t have to go down the mountain to get the point.”
And then there’s the matter they accomplished.
From the start, he speculated that the matron had three points. Therefore, Yan Wei kept the clues the entire time, holding back all of the first answer points.
After catching the matron, Yan Wei forced Lin Zhen to cooperate with Yu Feizhou. Coupled with the help of Yan Mingguang, he waited for Jiang Xiu at the door while Yan Mingguang looked after the matron and located other non-Yuemang players.
Immediately after listening, you’ll acquire three points, and you won’t have to be the lowest scorer. Who would refuse other than Lin Zhen, a psychopath?
And Lin Zhen, the mental case, had long been dealt with by Yan Wei.
The matron was not a powerful boss but an important NPC in the instance. Naturally, she said everything under threat.
When Yan Wei caught sight of Jiang Xiu, the players gathered in the temple hall had already heard the matron explain the traditions and secrets of Ankang Ancient Town and why the matron used the skin and bone umbrellas to kill people.
Yan Wei caught a bug under the first answer system — all players heard the matron’s confession and gained three points. In addition to the three points that Yan Wei already had and the two points that Ning Yi herself found, Jiang Xiu and Zheng Mao should have tied for the lowest score.
Although some may harbor suspicions on where the initial two points about the subject of the umbrella and the water well went, nobody may have possibly paid attention to Yan Wei. He was not afraid of anyone guessing him.
Yan Wei took out the swallow coin in his pocket and tossed it casually in his hand.
“When it’s night.” He smiled. “How do you think ghosts will attack the lowest scorer?”
Yan Mingguang asked, “What did you put in Zheng Mao’s pocket? A finger bone?”
“Do you remember the rules? The ghosts will attack the lowest score only when ‘no player triggers the death condition.'”
“No player set off a death trigger.”
“There will be. But Jiang Xiu… will also die. “
It was still raining outside. The crackling sound of rainfall stirred people’s nerves bit by bit.
Jiang Xiu looked at the pile of clues sorted out in front of him, only to feel that the more he thought about it, the more irritable he became.
Ning Yi, like last night, just leaned there with her eyes closed, her head slightly lowered, and her face blocked by bangs.
When Jiang Xiu came in, he tried to seek the help of Ning Yi, but Ning Yi ignored him completely. He didn’t dare offend Ning Yi and give himself more trouble, so he could only sort out the clues here and wonder if he could find a new first answer point immediately.
“Jiang-ge.” Zheng Mao walked around the room. “We have the lowest score right now, and we need at least three points to catch up. What should we do?”
Even if they get 2 points, it’s a tie with Ning Yi. In the end, only those with three points will not be targeted by ghosts tonight.
On the first night, Jiang Xiu discarded the most useful exorcism item in his hand to deal with a ghost. He was not a player who ascended the tower three times consecutively, he had no skills from tower rewards, and there were not many life-saving items left on his hand.
Who knows the extent of the so-called ghosts’ attack?
Moreover, Zheng Mao was an ordinary player who ascended the tower while he was a player who descended the tower. The ghosts will attack him first and then attack Zheng Mao. He was the first preferred target of the apparitions.
“What else can we do if no one triggers a death condition? We can only grab first answer points–“
Jiang Xiu’s voice suddenly paused.
He turned off his projection. “No, I thought of a clue, but we are going to the main hall… I may need to use my secret items later. You turn off your projection.”
Zheng Mao nodded quickly, turned off the casino projection, and said, “Good! Okay, I’ll go with you.”
It was dusky and eerie outside, but both men had a life-and-death crisis hanging over their heads, and they could no longer manage the possible dangers.
Jiang Xiu walked swiftly with Zheng Mao to the main hall.
Candles faintly lit the main hall, and the torrential rain outside brought strong winds, flickering the swaying candles. The stone statue of the mountain god stood there silently, dragging out a treacherous shadow under the candlelight.
In front of the statue was food such as cured meat and ornaments that were used as offerings — things that people offered to the god at the Mountain God Festival.
Jiang Xiu’s eyes sank, but his expression revealed nothing. He only pulled Zheng Mao and said, “There are clues about the items offered to the mountain god. Let’s go up and take a look.”
Zheng Mao bobbed his head again and followed Jiang Xiu to the sacrificial items. Unconsciously, Jiang Xiu slowed down when he approached the sacrificial offerings, and Zheng Mao reached the offerings first.
As soon as Zheng Mao approached, Jiang Xiu raised his hand slowly from an angle Zheng Mao couldn’t see.
“Jiang-ge–” Zheng Mao’s words halted.
Jiang Xiu suddenly gave Zheng Mao a forceful shove!
Zheng Mao, who was eager to find clues and get points, was entirely unprepared. Caught off guard, Zheng Mao stumbled and knocked against the altar.
The gifts placed were pushed to the ground by him, and the cured meat rolled several times on the floor of spoils.
There was the sound of heavy rain and thunder surrounding him, but Zheng Mao felt dreadfully muted. The instant he pushed over the offering, he felt something staring at him in the dark, making his spine shiver.
Jiang Xiu stood aside with a rather grim smile and finally heaved a sigh of relief.
On the first day, they asked the matron if they could walk around. The matron’s answer was that as long as they didn’t affect the sacrifices.
Like all instances’ guide NPCs, what she said at the beginning of the allocation of rooms was the most basic rule of the instance. In other words, if the offerings are affected, the person will trigger the death condition, and they will become the ghosts’ first target.
When no one triggers the death condition, ghosts will attack the people with the lowest points. There was no way for Jiang Xiu to get three points in one go before the spirits appeared, but that didn’t mean he had no alternative.
—Zheng Mao bumped into the offerings, triggering the death condition.
Jiang Xiu will be fine tonight. Even if he didn’t do this, Zheng Mao would still die tonight, so it was better to let him live. Before they came out, their projections were also closed. No other player or members of the Yuemang organization would know that Zheng Mao would exchange his life for Jiang Xiu.
All Jiang Xiu needs to do is close the gap tomorrow during the day.
The goal was achieved. Jiang Xiu raised his foot and was about to turn around and head back to his room.
When Zheng Mao fell to the ground, he knew that he was being used.
He was so angry his eyes seemed to pop out. He got up in a hurry and grabbed Jiang Xiu, roaring, “Jiang Xiu, y-you used me?! You have no conscience!!”
Jiang Xiu shook him off. “You’re going to die tonight anyway. You might as well give me a chance to live. I’ll let Yan Mingguang and Yan Wei die to avenge you.”
As an ordinary player, Zheng Mao’s stats were no match for Jiang Xiu, and he was pushed away by Jiang Xiu in an instant.
He tumbled into the corner of the table, and something suddenly rolled out of his pocket.
Zheng Mao saw the object in the dim candlelight–it was an average phalanx.
In his panic, fear, and regret, he remembered what Yan Wei had said at the entrance of the mountain temple.
–“Be careful… the bones.”
Zheng Mao’s face stirred. Desperation and cruelty replaced his panic.
He grabbed the phalanx hastily, and when he saw Jiang Xiu walking back, he got up instantly, ran forward, and hugged Jiang Xiu. “Jiang-ge! Jiang-ge, you can’t treat me like this. When I entered the instance, you said you’d bring me out alive… Jiang–“
He was pushed away by Jiang Xiu again.
Zheng Mao stuffed the phalanx into Jiang Xiu’s pocket the moment Jiang Xiu pushed him.
Since Jiang Xiu wants him to serve as a scapegoat, he won’t let Jiang Xiu live!!
In the guest room
Yan Wei, who sorted out all the clues, got up slowly and smiled.
“I’ll be right back.”
Yan Mingguang was smoking by the window. The gust of wind brought by the rainstorm instantly blew the smoke away. His eyes were even colder under his lens.
The man looked up at Yan Wei and asked, “Where are you going?”
“Go and take back the ordinary victim’s phalanx that I got from dismantling the umbrella. I’ve always wanted to confirm whether the ‘unknown effect’ of the ordinary victim’s phalanx has the same effect as I guessed — attracting ghosts.”
Yan Mingguang seemed to be stunned for a moment. “I thought you gave a girl’s phalanx.”
The girl’s phalanx was an item that could resist the attack of ghosts.
“You think I’m going to save Zheng Mao? Not everyone is as kind as you, Mr. Ice Cube. Zheng Mao stood in line with Jiang Xiu. He chose the wrong side, but he also wanted to kill us — he deserves death. But well, if I predicted correctly, the phalanx should be on Jiang Xiu by now.”
“I’m leaving. I’ll confirm the function of the ordinary victim’s phalanx and along the way… I’ll appreciate death.”