"Ying Chen should not be in the fourth-floor corridor and expose himself to the public. He'll be hiding in one of the rooms and probably waiting for people to go by. He is a predator waiting for his prey. The man does not operate like a normal person, and his way of thinking is cruel and unusual. I must be more careful. I need to be as cautious as possible."
Chen Ge did not know if Ying Chen had managed to get any information about him from the middle-aged man, but it was not the time to care about small things like that. Since Ying Chen had not made his move, Chen Ge wanted to meet up with Miss Red as soon as possible and get as many allies as he could.
With Miss Dress leading the way, Chen Ge came to the landing between the fourth floor and fifth floor. A light stench lingered in the air, and Chen Ge felt his shoes stepping on puddles of what seemed to be water.
"Why did we suddenly stop?" Chen Ge asked softly. He was on the way of moving up when he realized that Miss Dress, who had been holding him by his arm, had suddenly stopped. Unable to see anything, when he sensed this anomalous behavior from Miss Dress, his heart started to race immediately.
Moments later, he heard a girl's singing. It sounded like it came from a broken music box. It sang intermittently, and the tone was one that was impossibly weird to describe.
"Is someone coming? Then we must rush to the fifth floor now. We must not stay here any longer!" Chen Ge had a very bad feeling. He could sense that the singing came from the fifth floor, and he was afraid that the sound would attract Ying Chen's attention.
"There was someone who just went past the fifth floor, but the person made no sound at all when they were moving," Miss Dress said in a baffled tone. "Or did I see it wrong?"
"Wait a minute! A music box? A girl's singing? A person who moves without making a sound? It was not Ying Tong that you saw, right?" Chen Ge knew that in real life, Ying Chen had a broken music box sitting on the table in his bedroom.
"Should we chase after that person to find out?" the woman asked.
"No, that is too risky, and this whole thing feels so fishy." Chen Ge's grip on the strap of his backpack tightened. "If I were Ying Tong, I would not purposely make the sound come out from the music box if I was attempting to escape. Isn't that a surefire way to expose my own location? Why would I do something like that?"
"Perhaps he accidentally bumped against it and caused the music box to start playing?"
"I have been to Ying Chen's house before. At the time, the music box was placed inside Ying Tong's bedroom. Assuming Ying Tong has not returned home, then it is definitely not Ying Tong who is in possession of the music box now!" Chen Ge was sweating cold sweat already. "There is someone else in the building who is helping Ying Chen! It is this person who is holding the music box and walking around to distract our attention! The b*stard has probably already guessed that someone else is searching and trying to help Ying Tong!"
Ying Chen was very clever, but Chen Ge was a very astute person as well. Both parties were able to find out the problem from the smallest details.
"Do you know anyone who has a very good relationship with Ying Chen in this building? The kind of person that Ying Chen would be able to trust unconditionally?"
"There are many tenants who have a good relationship with Ying Chen, but if you have to pinpoint those who love Ying Chen unconditionally, it should be the children. Ying Chen is very welcomed among the group of children, and they are very willing to play with him."
"Ying Chen is good friends with all of the children in the building?"
"Yes, Ying Chen has a good personality, and he likes to play with the children. Occasionally, he even buys sweets and toys for them."
"Did the person who went past earlier look like a child to you?"
"Now that you mention it, perhaps it was. The person was very small, and they moved without making a sound. They were so quick and silent that I thought I was mistaken." The woman gave a long sigh. She too was slowly discovering that the building that night was rather different from a normal day. "Are we still going to the sixth floor?"
"Of course, but we have to be extra careful when we go past the fifth floor. Pay attention to the corridor and see if there are people there." Chen Ge bent down to touch the puddle on the ground. "The puddles are drying up. They do not appear to be something purposely left behind by Ying Chen for us to step into so that we would leave behind a trail of footprints."
"Now you are just being too cautious. The water is probably there because Auntie Wu just cleaned the building."
"How can you be sure that it was Auntie Wu who just cleaned this place?" Chen Ge heard another new name from the woman's lips-Auntie Wu.
"She is our building's cleaner. She is a very responsible worker. She cleans the entire building every morning and night," Miss Dress explained and tossed out this question casually. "You don't suspect that it was Auntie Wu who is helping Ying Chen, right?"
Chen Ge did not reply because he was thinking about something else. Even though the building that Ying Chen and Ying Tong were living in was extremely poor and dilapidated, many years ago, this had been the richest apartment in the old city. This was viewable from the fact that this building was one of the earliest apartments to be fitted with an elevator.
Having a special cleaner to take care of the building's sanitary work was nothing big, but the issue was that this Auntie Wu had appeared in the world behind Ying Tong's door. Perhaps this cleaner had already been killed Ying Chen in real life, just like Miss Dress and Mr. Wood. But on the other hand, there was a different possibility. This Auntie Wu might have done something traumatic toward Ying Tong and thus carved her existence into his mind. Many different speculations appeared in Chen Ge's mind. Auntie Wu might have helped Ying Tong mount his escape before, or it could be Auntie Wu who leaked Ying Tong's escape to Ying Chen every time.
"How is the relationship between this Auntie Wu and Ying Chen?"
"Like a cat and dog. Auntie Wu always gets into arguments with Ying Chen. She does not like cats, and she feels that by bringing back all these dirty and unkept strays from the wild, Ying Chen is purposely adding to her workload.
"Oh right, one time when I was chatting with her in private, Auntie Wu mentioned that she smelt a sour smell from Ying Chen's body. It smelt like cat's meat that had been left out to decay for too long."
Chen Ge's brain was moving quickly to piece the puzzle together. He connected all the known information together. "This place has just been cleaned, and that proves that Auntie Wu was here earlier. Right after that, it was followed by that small shadow who was holding the music box. The music box originated from Ying Chen's house. I believe it was Ying Chen who tasked that small person with using the music box to test Auntie Wu, and that is because Ying Chen suspects that it was Auntie Wu who had sneaked into his home!"
"Even though I do not quite understand what you are saying, from the way you said it, it does sound reasonable." Miss Dress realized that Chen Ge had a way with words, and he was able to convince people to see his perspective quite easily.
"Ying Chen should not have known about my existence, so it is totally normal for him to suspect Auntie Wu." The world behind the door was made from Ying Tong's memory. The rules of the way this world operated were thus based on Ying Tong's memory. If Ying Tong wanted to escape, the only tools he had access to were the people and things from his memory. However, Chen Ge had entered his world behind the door, and he became the only extenuating factor. While the two were exchanging information, they had reached the fifth floor. The floor was quite wet; Auntie Wu had probably just cleaned this area.
"There is no one in the fifth-floor corridor. Should we go up to the sixth floor now?"
"There is no need to hurry. Can you tell me if there are any footprints on the ground? Try to be as careful as you can." Chen Ge leaned against the wall. By now, he had basically gotten used to the darkness, and he was slowly able to overcome the discomfort that came from his physical disability.
"Footprints?" The woman released the hold on Chen Ge's elbow. She sounded like she had walked deeper down the corridor. "There really are footprints here!"
"Shush, do not make such a loud noise. How many types of footprints are there on the ground?"
"This first set of footprints should belong to Auntie Wu. She likes to wear cotton slippers. The other set of footprints has been left behind by a pair of sneakers, so they probably belong to one of the children in the building."
"Looks like our guess was not that far from the truth. Now try and see what direction the tips of the footprints are pointing in, and that will help us determine the direction that they were coming from and the direction that they had headed to." Chen Ge was unable to see, so he could only rely on the help from Miss Dress.
"Auntie Wu left behind more footprints. She seems to have lingered for quite some time at the door to the cleaning closet. She was likely there to grab her cleaning equipment. The other sneaker footprints have been going straight. It feels like the owner of the footprints has been trailing behind Auntie Wu," the woman said. "Currently, there is no one at all on the fifth floor. Is it possible that they have all gone up to the sixth floor?"
"Auntie Wu lingered around the cleaning closet? Normally, isn't the storeroom prepared for the cleaning services located on the ground floor? Wouldn't it be extremely inconvenient for Auntie Wu if her supply room is placed on the fifth floor?" Chen Ge thought back to his visit to Ying Chen's house in real life. He could not remember encountering a cleaning closet on the fifth floor.
"When the architect designed this building, they planned to have a cleaning supply room on every floor, but it is more of a place for the cleaners to store their equipment. It works in an emergency as well. Other than the daily cleaning supplies, it is also where the fire extinguisher and ropes are stored."
"That sounds reasonable, but why would Auntie Wu linger around this particular cleaning closet on this floor?" Chen Ge grabbed Miss Dress by her elbow. "Is the closet locked?"
"Go and open the door. I suspect Auntie Wu might have hidden something inside the closet."
The woman led Chen Ge and walked to the side of the cleaning closet. She gave the door a light tug. "Hmm?"
"It cannot be opened. It feels like something is stuck against the door on the other side."
"It is not locked, but it cannot be opened, huh?" Chen Ge was suddenly reminded of something. He leaned toward the door and softly whispered, "Ying Tong? Are you inside there? I know your elder brother is a crazy murderer who likes to torture cats. I am here to help you escape this building!"
"What are you mumbling about at the air?" Just as Miss Dress said that, a click suddenly came from inside the cleaning closet. It sounded like someone had removed the item that had blocked the inside of the closet door. "Who's in there?"
Opening the door, Miss Dress sucked in a cold breath.
"What did you see? Say something! Don't just stand there," Chen Ge urged in the smallest voice he could manage.
"Ying... Ying Tong is inside the closet! Why is he hiding here‽" The woman was shocked and that caused the volume of her voice to rise.
"Ying Tong?" Even though Chen Ge had already mentally prepared himself and knew that Ying Tong would be hiding somewhere in this building, he did not expect to encounter him so early in his journey. "Looks like I am quite lucky this time."
"Who... are you guys? Was it Auntie Wu who told you I am hiding inside the closet?" Ying Tong's voice sounded rather dull, like that of a robot. It was devoid of any human emotions.
"I am here to help you escape. I know the type of person your elder brother really is. I guarantee that he will receive his due punishment." Chen Ge took one step forward. His hand touched Ying Tong's shoulder. He used his fingers to lightly caress Ying Tong's face, and the tip of his fingers ran over the uneven surfaces that were from the many different wounds.
"I look like a monster, don't I?" Ying Tong's voice came from before Chen Ge.
"I'm blind. I cannot see your appearance, but I know that you have a strong and kind heart. More than that, you also have a very clever and calm mind."
If a normal child was placed in Ying Tong's position, they would have gone insane already, but that did not happen to Ying Tong. He had been trying to find an opening to escape, and even after so many failures, he had not given up. Even though the siblings' personalities could not have been more different, they were both incredibly clever, and in a way, both of them would grow up to become incredibly awe-inspiring individuals but for different reasons.
Chen Ge memorized Ying Tong's appearance. To gain Ying Tong's trust, he held Ying Tong's hands and placed them over his face. "My name is Chen Ge, and from now on, you are not alone. No matter the result, I will always be by your side."
No one had told Ying Tong these words before. That Auntie Wu should be helping Ying Tong in the dark, but she too did not dare give Ying Tong any promises. When Chen Ge was feeling Ying Tong's face, he brushed against something Ying Tong was holding. The boy was carrying a big bag with him. Inside it was something in the shape of a ball and a stick-like object that appeared to be a flashlight.
"What is inside that bag of yours?"
"Auntie Wu did not believe me initially, so I had to take something to show her for her to believe me."
"What is it?"
"A football that my elder brother made."
A rustling sound came from the small room. Ying Tong opened the bag, and Miss Dress peered to look into the bag out of curiosity.
"Ah! A human head!" Fear overwhelmed her heart. Miss Dress was stunned in that moment, and she forgot that she needed to keep her voice down.
"Shush, we need to be quiet! We cannot stay here any longer! We need to get to the sixth floor so that Ying Tong can meet up with Ah Ying!" Chen Ge's hypothesis would be proven when Ying Tong met Ah Ying. Now he could not wait for them to reunite. Miss Dress held Chen Ge and Ying Tong with each hand. The trio reentered the stairwell, but when they reached the landing between the fifth and sixth floor, the old elevator in the building suddenly started to move and make its horrible sound.
"The elevator is moving! Someone is using the elevator to come up the floors! Is it because Ying Chen heard our voices?" Miss Dress' earlier gasp when she found out about the human head was rather loud, so Chen Ge was quite worried about that. He stopped moving, and his expression turned dark. The elevator stopped at the fifth floor, and immediately following it was the weak meowing of cats.
"It is Ying Chen!" The cat's call did not increase in volume immediately, which meant that Ying Chen had stayed close to the elevator, but it was certain that the man was now on the fifth floor.
"We need to move." Since the group had gotten so big, their movement would be much louder. However, Chen Ge was devoid of a better idea other than to stay as far away from Ying Chen as possible.
"We will go to Miss Red's place first and hope that she will open her place up for us to hide in!"
The sound of the cat had not changed. Miss Dress led Chen Ge and Ying Tong up to the sixth floor, and they stopped before Miss Red's door.
"Do not knock. It will make too loud of a noise. Give her a call or a text message, and tell her to open the door."
"But I didn't bring my phone with me."
When the two spoke, the sound of a girl singing came from the other side of the staircase. The person holding the broken music box was coming up the stairs!
The cats would warn Chen Ge of Ying Chen, but they would not warn him of other people. Ying Chen had found help from the tenants inside the building. This was a very bad development for Chen Ge, who was unable to see anything.
"What should we do now?"
They were running out of time and options. Knocking would have a fifty percent chance of attracting Ying Chen's attention. If Miss Red took her time to open the door, they would be captured, and Ying Chen's helper was closing in from the other side.
"We will retreat to the left stairwell for now." The plan had to be changed. As Chen Ge's group was moving toward the left staircase, suddenly the cats started to growl and howl. The distance between Ying Chen and them was closing.
"The man has heard our movement!" Chen Ge gritted his teeth. He realized that Ying Chen was very hard to deal with. Earlier, he had been tricked before, so this time, he had found another person to go up the stairs with him. Each taking one side of the stairs, they would be able to corner the people in the corridor!
The cat's meowing drilled into his ears, and the meowing was becoming more shrill and twisted. The three of them stood at the mouth of the staircase, and Ying Chen was probably heading up the stairs.
"It was me who made the noise, so he'll be looking for me. The two of you should go and hide on the seventh floor. I will stay to delay Ying Chen as long as I can." Miss Dress volunteered to walk down the fifth-floor corridor. Chen Ge grabbed Ying Tong by his hand and led him up toward the stairwell, but they were moving silently up to the seventh floor.