The scent of blood permeated the air. It was not raining outside, but the red raincoat that the woman was wearing was dripping wet. Her black hair stuck to her face, and the water droplet slid down her collar. The woman entered the hotel with her head lowered-she did not look up at anyone as she wandered to an empty seat and sat down.
"We should stay away from her." Jia Ming opened his lips to whisper as he stood up and nudged to the other side of the table. He did not discuss this with Lee Zheng beforehand, so when he stood up and moved away from Lee Zheng, other people could see clearly that Lee Zheng was holding a gun in his hand.
"Sit right here honestly and stop moving!" Lee Zheng pressed Jia Ming back to his original seat. He used the corner of his eyes to silently scan the woman in the red raincoat and then lowered his voice to ask Jia Ming, "Do you know this woman?"
"She's a madwoman. Everyone who wears red clothing in this place is a mad person. If you want to live, stay away as far away from them as you can. Do not try to interact with them." Jia Ming's body was shivering lightly. "This is what the shadow told me. If you want to die, then go ahead, but don't drag me down with you!"
"The color red represents some kind of special meaning here?" Lee Zheng had more questions that he wanted to ask. Ever since he entered the small town, he had noticed many strange things, but since he possessed too little information, it was hard for him to tell whether Jia Ming was lying to him or not.
"Red represents extreme danger. Just stay away from them. That is the rule that you need to follow inside the door." Jia Ming's voice became smaller and smaller. "The shadow has left my body, but he used this body to conduct many things, so I still know some of his secrets."
"Inside the door?" Lee Zheng jotted down every single sentence that came out of Jia Ming's lips. "Are there any other rules that I need to pay attention to in this place?"
Probably realizing that he was unable to escape, or perhaps deciding to change his plan because he had encountered Chen Ge, Jia Ming became more honest and cooperative. "Do not enter any buildings with their doors closed, and do not walk past any buildings with their doors opened. Gray represents relative safety, and red represents danger. However, if you see the color black, don't even waste time trying to run; it'll be better to use the final moments that you'll have to come up with your last words."
When Jia Ming and Lee Zheng were conversing, the sound of footsteps once again came from the hotel entrance. Everyone turned to look in unison.
"This place sure is crowded tonight." A man wearing a black coat and dragging a large case entered the room. Five bloody red female skulls were tattooed on his arm, and there was a bone whistle dangling on his lips. No one in the hotel answered his greeting, but that did not dampen his mood. He greeted the people inside the hotel one by one, but when he noticed the woman in the red raincoat, his body froze before walking swiftly past her to reach the counter. "Boss, I wish to stay the night."
His voice lowered conspicuously as if worried that he might disturb the woman in the red raincoat.
"There's another customer?" Chen Ge walked out from the kitchen pushing the cart. They had ransacked the kitchen, but other than some unknown meat that was already cut and prepared, the only food item that remained was some cake. Naturally, the boss did not prepare the cake for the customers. From the menu inside the kitchen, it was clear that all the items on the menu were those favored by the female boss. In other words, the menu at this restaurant was made just for one customer, the female boss. The cake still needed post editing before it could be completed. For example, there was ketchup or raspberry sauce in the kitchen, but parts of the cake were red in color.
"A Red Specter that likes dessert? That is quite an interesting feature." Chen Ge pushed the cart out. He had decided to transform this hotel into a scary scenario related to food after the mission was completed. He had been inside the kitchen for several minutes at most, but when he came out, he realized that the number of visitors in the lobby had grown. Of all of them, the appearance of the woman in the red raincoat surprised him the most.
Speaking of which, after the door in Li Wan City had gone out of control, it had transformed the small town into a unique location where living humans were able to be seated at the same table as a Red Specter.
"Perhaps such is the reality behind the door. There are ghosts formed from a persistent will and humans who stumbled into the nightmare." Chen Ge served the cake that was not dyed on the dining table. "Please enjoy the meal. I am not going to collect any fees; I just need you all to answer a few questions for me later."
"Are you sure? You're not going to open this to take a look? Perhaps you might see something that you might be interested in?" The woman was tightly wrapped inside her clothes. She dragged her box and walked toward Chen Ge. After straightening up, she removed her fingers from the box and placed it right under the seam of her clothes. The 'this' that could be opened probably referred to two different things.
"There's no need. If it was necessary, I would have done it myself." Chen Ge held the heavy backpack on a single arm. The hammer had just tasted the glutton monster's tongues and blood veins, so the heavy scent of blood on it had not dispersed.
"Fine, suit yourself." The woman dragged the box and retreated several steps. The coquettishness on her face had already disappeared, and she shifted her expression as fast as one would flip through the pages of a book.
"Hey, where is the boss? I need to talk to him. About the thing that he told me to investigate last time, I've already gotten some leads." The man who was tattooed with women's skulls walked to Chen Ge, also dragging his case.
"He has left the hotel and left this place to my care temporarily, so now I am the shot-caller. How may I help you?" Chen Ge had a smile on his face. In terms of service provided, he was definitely much better than the previous owner.
"The boss is not in?" The tattooed man was very clever, so he instantly caught up to the problem. He smiled in embarrassment at Chen Ge. "Then I suppose I'll return another day. Sorry for the disturbance. See you again."
Then, he was turning to leave without even taking his case.
"Wait a minute, perhaps you did not understand what I mean earlier." Chen Ge had Scissors stop the tattooed man. "I am technically the owner of this place now. Since the boss gave you some task earlier, you can just report the result to me, and I'll relay the information to him."
The tattooed man stood where he was, and his eyes kept darting involuntarily to the kitchen. The more he looked, the more agitated he became. "Are you sure that is a good idea?"
"Why would you think that is not a good idea?" Chen Ge leaned slightly to the side to allow the tattooed man to glance into the crumbled wall inside the kitchen.
"Since you are the boss' friend, then naturally, you are my friend. Since we are all friends, of course, this cannot be a better idea." The tattooed man instantly changed his stance. The honesty and sincerity on his face formed a great contrast to the five evil-looking female skulls tattooed on his arm. "There are too many outsiders here. Do you mind if we go to somewhere quieter?"
He turned to head up the second floor. It looked like he was very familiar with this hotel; he appeared to be a regular here.
"Scissors, come with me." Chen Ge had Scissors follow him-he did not treat the man as an outsider at all.
"Me?" Scissors was startled. He did not expect Chen Ge to bring him along when he was about to be shared some valuable secret. Just how much trust did Chen Ge have in him?
"Quick, our friend is waiting." Chen Ge and Scissors followed the tattooed man up to the second floor.
"Just now, I saw the hidden room inside the kitchen has collapsed, but that female monster was not inside it." The tattooed man sucked in a cold breath. "She is detained inside this hotel, but currently, she is not where she should be-the only explanation is that she has disappeared."
"You are a very clever person," Chen Ge said emotionlessly. "I do not like to interact with people who are too clever unless they prove useful to me."
"Bro, don't be like that! I assure you that I'll be useful to you, and you'll be surprised at how useful I might be." The tattooed man held the bone whistle in his palm, and he paused for a long time before continuing, "I know the way to leave this place. It is related to a door."
"This is barely considered a secret. All of you came from outside the door, so when you find the door, you'll naturally be able to exit through it." Chen Ge used a single sentence to choke the tattooed man. "Stop trying to play tricks. I know more than you might believe. I advise you start giving me a reason to keep you around."
"Other than that, I know the door's location." The tattooed man's fingers closed over the bone whistle tightly. "Everyone who was brought in here by the ghost fetus had black cloth over their head. When they woke up, they were already deposited on the streets. I've asked many people, and the location that they woke up at after removing the black cloth was different every time."
"Wait a minute, you were brought in here by the ghost fetus? The ghost fetus is actually not a flash of dark shadow? Why would you not refer to him as a shadow but a fetus?" Chen Ge did not seem to care about how to escape from this place but showed more interest in the small details.
"Bro, the things that you focus on are just... something else. You must have seen the shadow since you're here. After all, when you were asked to make the choice at the ghost apartment..." The tattooed man stopped himself halfway, and he looked at Chen Ge and Scissors with disbelief. "Wait a minute! Don't tell me you entered this place on your own? You didn't even pass through that door?"
"If you don't want to die, I advise you just answer my question." Chen Ge took out Doctor Skull-cracker's hammer to show that he was serious.
"Bro, calm down. I was just shocked. Of course, occasionally, there are some unlucky b*stards that wandered into the blood fog due to various reasons, but they rarely survived here longer than an hour." The tattooed guy looked at Chen Ge, who held the hammer, and Scissors, who looked scary. "A situation like yours is extremely rare."
"Now can you tell me more about the ghost apartment and the ghost fetus?" Chen Ge lowered his voice, and his gaze was getting sharp.
"Patience is a virtue. Since you're outsiders, I'll tell you about some of the rules here. Believe me, this is for your own good." The tattooed man looked outside, and after making sure that there was no one paying them any attention, he continued. "There are many unfortunate events happening all over the world every day, and this contributes to an endless parade of unlucky individuals. Some managed to survive the most difficult hurdle in their lives with hope and faith in their hearts, but others sunk deeper into despair.
"I've interacted with at least ten people that came from outside. They all ran into the shadow at the lowest point of their lives. Everything happened the same way. Initially, they would hear their own voice coming out from their shadows. With the guidance from the shadow, they were told to take the last bus on Route 104 to come to Li Wan City. Once they entered the ghost apartment, salvation would be waiting for them.
"The owner of the ghost apartment is also a shadow, but no one has ever seen his real face before. He has always been a shadow in our eyes, a shadow who might materialize next to you at any moment and transform into your identity. He is like the monster that is formed form the darkest shadow inside our hearts because he is incredibly familiar with our weaknesses and desires.
"The shadow refers to himself as the ghost baby. According to the previous hotel boss, the shadow was actually the shadow of a living person, but it was abandoned by that person. I know how preposterous all that sounds, but that is the truth. Li Wan City, the ghost apartment, and the strange things that happened in Eastern Jiujiang, those are all the shadow's doing. He will stop at nothing just to accomplish a singular goal-to turn himself into a human and then transform the human who once abandoned him into a shadow.
"Resentment will fester and corrupt. Initially, the shadow was just a shadow, but as he consumed more despair and resentment, he has turned into a..." The tattooed searched his brain for a long time but failed to land on an appropriate term. "In any case, it is something incredibly scary. He placed most of his body and negative emotions inside an unborn child, and that is the original form of the ghost fetus. He only left a small part of himself at the fetus' side to protect it while the rest of him continued to move his plan forward."
"How do you know all this?"
The shadow was cautious and watched his every step. Chen Ge knew that it would not have voluntarily shared this information with some outsider unless this was the information that the shadow was willing to reveal to lay down a trap or something of that sort.
"The hotel boss and I were the earliest living humans to enter the door. We've lived here for so long and figured out the truth from the shadow's words and actions." The man removed his coat to show a black-red rope that was tied around his stomach. The rope seemed to have been tied a long time ago, and it had never been removed. In fact, the rope had grown into the man's flesh. The stranger thing was, with the rope as some kind of margin, the tattooed man's upper body was perfectly fine, but underneath the rope, his skin was ashy gray.
"This rope is made from the blood vessels taken from the boss' mother. Without it, I would have died already."
"But that cannot prove that you're telling me the truth." Chen Ge had his own judgement to everything. He would not believe everything other people told him, and that was one of the reasons he had been able to survive so many Trial Missions.
"I cannot prove conclusively the validity of my words. I am merely sharing with you everything I know. I hope you can sense my sincerity so that we can work together in the future to escape from this place." The tattooed man put his clothes back on. He understood Chen Ge's caution. In fact, if Chen Ge believed him too easily, he would have been concerned. "To continue the topic earlier, I've asked around and finally landed on one of the shadow's secrets.
"Everyone who is here had a black cloth placed over their head at the ghost apartment. However, they would only pass through the door to enter this world after some time had passed." The tattooed man's eyes narrowed like he was about to say something important. "The ghost apartment is at a place adjacent to Li Wan City. It's an abandoned housing project known as Ming Yang Residence.
"Many who were sent in there were not satisfied. They wanted to escape, and they'd move to explore the outer fringes of Li Wan City. However, none of them ever returned. Initially, I also thought that the door might be at the ghost apartment, but after asking many locals, I realized that the door might be in Li Wan City."
The tattooed man felt like he had discovered a great secret. "After people entered the ghost apartment, their main consciousness would flag as the evil within their heart was purposely pulled forward. However, there were some who managed to keep their sanity intact. They did not lose themselves, and they remember that they were not pushed through the door but told to move down a particular direction for a very long time. After several years of investigation, without arousing the shadow's suspicion, I believe I've found the door's location."
"It's in a residential area on the outskirts of Li Wan City, right? If I'm not mistaken, it should be one of the rooms in the first block on the first floor." Under the tattooed man's shocked scrutiny, Chen Ge revealed the location that the former had taken years to uncover. "Never mind, I guess you've given me more than enough useful information. At least now I know that the ghost apartment is at Ming Yang Residence and the shadow has placed most of his 'body' into an unborn child."
Chen Ge asked the tattooed man a few more questions. He realized how unusual this man was. He had a natural closeness to ghosts and spirits, kind of like a weakened but adult version of Fan Yu.