6 Four Well Village (1/2 end)

Feng Yan was running until his lungs ached in his chest, but it was nothing compared to the fear drumming furiously in his heart.

Behind him, he could hear the horrified and pained screams of what must be people but it sounded more like the screeching of dying pigs being slaughtered. The piercing sound seemed to stab at his ears and scrape his trembling heart, but he didn't dare look back.

Instead, he glanced to the side and quickly ran into a thin alley-like space between two old houses, immediately feeling a little safer no longer out in the open and familiar main path.

"Psst...Over here!"

A hissed and urgent whisper attracts Feng Yan's attention, and he sees a side door to one of the houses open. With only a little hesitation, he carefully walks in, his breath laboured and stifled as he tries to make as little noise as he can despite his lungs begging for deeper breaths of oxygen.

As he enters, the door quickly closes shut, and a hand grabs him, shoving him onto a couch made of rough fabric. Feng Yan didn't even have time to react when a frantic-looking village woman shook his shoulders with wide, frightened eyes. "You- what did you bring here??" She hisses.


An older man in his mid-fifties, the man that shoved him onto the couch, puts a hand on the lady's shoulder, "Shh.." He reminds her. Even though he seemed more collected and calm, the sweat on his forehead and the trembling in his voice betrayed his true emotions. "Don't talk here." He orders, and he gestures for Feng Yan to follow the couple.

Full of anxiety, the sunny-looking teenager found he had no other way but to comply for now. Honestly, even though he wasn't sure if he could trust the two villagers, it was infinitely better than running alone away from... that thing.

The village was not prosperous, and the house reflected it quite well; there were only very simple items either crudely carved or obviously constantly patched up in the house. As Feng Yan forced himself to calm down, he smelt a strange mouldy, fishy odour that seemed to faintly pervade through the house, making him frown slightly. However, the house, while poor in conditions, seemed neat, tidy, and dry. So he ignored his doubts for now.

The older man and woman led him to a kitchen that looked like it came from an ancient era, if not for the battered-looking but still, more or less modern, pots and pans. On the floor of the kitchen was a large dirty mat, which, after being pulled away, revealed a trapdoor. Unlike the rest of the house, the trapdoor looked strong and sturdy and was constantly being reinforced.

Even though the strong-looking trapdoor gave one a sense of assurance looking at it, it also gave Feng Yan a sense of unease.

It could be said in a rural household, the women will prioritize the kitchen and the children, and the men will prioritise their tools of trade to survive. Therefore the kitchen, the children's room, and the study, livestock, or shed will be the places with the most effort to maintain and the most money to spend on. But what sort of living environment will make a household prioritise the trapdoor and basement?

Feng Yan is a young and trendy high schooler. He has read many online novels and understood he was most likely in an Unlimited Flow-type situation.

The system prompt, mission goals, and typical opening statements of those men who were clearly veterans of the game all added up. However, even if he grasped the situation, it doesn't mean he can do much about it. Information was useless without the ability to do anything with it.

Helplessly, Feng Yan was ushered down into the basement by the two villagers. As he went down, the strange scent of fish, mildew, and mould seemed to grow even stronger, making him even more wary of what was below.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the villagers had the thoughtfulness to walk both at the front and the back of him. In that way, he was not being led headfirst into the unknown, where he could easily be attacked by whatever was in the darkness. But simultaneously, they had cut off any chance of escaping and backing out. He could only trust in these people and his own luck.

The basement was really in better condition than the house. However, unlike the house, it was damper and more humid. The walls were cold and a little slimy, making Feng Yan suspect he was touching mould or even algae that was growing there, making him instinctively want to recoil.

However, since there were no lights, he could only rely on the wall to guide him and the footsteps of the man in front of him. So, suppressing his disgust, Feng Yan pressed his hand firmly against the wall and continued walking downwards.

It felt like hours into the darkness with his own beating heart and the sound of footsteps accompanying him and his anxiety. The steps were evenly spaced both in height and width, so there were no added worries about suddenly falling or stumbling from any uneven stairs, but the consistency also only served to confuse him in its monotone.

In pure darkness with no light, just the wall and sounds around him, Feng Yan felt like he couldn't tell where was up and where was down. There were no signs or indications to tell him how close or far he was anymore. There was no wind and no sense of heat, yet no sense of cold. Directionless. Lost.

Feng Yan felt the paranoia seep into his skin, much like how he felt the sliminess of the unknown mould on the wall seep into his hand. Sticky and disgusting. Making the hair on his skin stand on end, hyperaware of every sensation, and yet no sensation at all, as if completely numb to the world like it wasn't even his own body. He swore he could hear more footsteps than there should be, but at times, he thought there were fewer as well, making him want to turn around, despite knowing he could see nothing there.

In order to try and stay calm, Feng Yan could only focus on his own body to anchor himself. To hear his heartbeat in his ears, feeling his teeth with his tongue, the sliminess of the wall with his hand, and the hair brushing against his neck… except… He has short hair… it shouldn't be brushed.. not on the nape of his neck like this…

Feng Yan stops mid-step.

With a trembling hand, he reaches up behind him and touches his neck. There dangling on his exposed skin, he could feel hair that definitely does not belong to him, slimy and oily.

He doesn't dare to touch it any more and quickly puts his hands back where they should be.

"What's wrong?" The voice of the village woman asks behind him. But the voice was close. It was too close. Feng Yan couldn't feel it before, but now that she spoke, he can feel puffs of air on the top of his head. The village woman was quite short. Even though she was behind him and there for a few steps higher, it should not be so exaggerated that her face would be where it felt like it was… unless her body…

"Hurry up. Hurry up." The village man in front of him barks impatiently. At the man's sharp and commanding tone, Feng Yan can feel the sensations of breath and hair pull away, making him want to sigh in relief.

But then, realising that he hadn't been imagining the phantom sensation at all and thinking of all the other strange things that he had felt, Feng Yan nearly burst into tears in fright. Somehow the unknown of whether what was real and what wasn't was even more horrifying. His heart felt like it would explode in fear, but he had to keep walking downwards.

Finally, finally, the footsteps of the man in front of him changed, indicating that the floor underneath the other had changed. Sure enough, after a few more steps downwards, he felt his shoes drop onto a sandier surface.

After ages of descending down steps, the sandy soil felt like a blessing and a curse. Now that nothing bad has happened to Feng Yan on the staircase, his mind can't help but feel a little reluctant to leave. It wasn't that he suddenly found a newfound love for it, but more like he was too afraid of what new things he must face next.

Isn't it in UF novels the first day in an instance is always the calmest day in order for the players to look for intel and clues more easily and provide them some buffering time to understand the situation? Why was he suddenly placed in hell mode, facing back-to-back scares??

After reaching the sandy floor, the village man in front made some rustling movements, and after a few clicking sounds, a small handheld lamp in his hands was lit up, causing Feng Yan to stare at the other in disbelief.

Fuck! This guy had a light source this whole time?!

Thinking of that pitch blackness that threatened to swallow him whole, Feng Yan was ready to cough up five litres of blood to express his current emotions right now.

"There's something wrong with the staircase." The village man informs the sunny teenager gruffly upon seeing the other's dumbfounded and collapsed expression. "We've learned it's better to not use light when going up or down there."

"Yes." The voice of the village woman behind him speaks up, causing Feng Yan to stiffen. "Sometimes it really is better not to let your eyes see the things it can see. After all, you may not like what is presented to you."

The voice of the village woman is quite calm, but her words are full of implication. Feng Yan didn't have the courage to look behind him still. Recalling her breath and hair that tickled him, he shudders.

She was right. Sometimes it was better not to see. Feng Yan wasn't very imaginative and didn't consume horror media, so he truly felt the reality would definitely have been far worse than whatever his mind could conjure up anyway.

Now with the dim light of the lantern leading the way, Feng Yan could see they were in some sort of cavern. The smell of fish and humidity was much stronger. If it wasn't for the lack of saltiness in the air, Feng Yan would have suspected he was in some sort of cave connected to the ocean.

Recalling the mission objectives of this Four Well Village instance, Feng Yan was a bit stunned. No matter how you look at it, this sort of hidden area should only be unlocked near the late stages of the instance, right?

[You are the first person to enter the Hidden Lagoon. Gain 300 points. Newbie bonus. Gain another 100 points. Refuel!]

The first person? Feng Yan was both surprised but not surprised.

It seems the plot has been pushed very quickly because of... Anyway, most likely under a sudden emergency, the villagers would immediately try to hide in the most concealed secret areas they had on hand. This Hidden Lagoon was not only underground but had a strange and horrifying passage to enter through.

As for why the xenophobic villagers would bring him along, well, not only was there safety in numbers it was more likely they thought he had the information they needed to squeeze from him, or maybe they wanted to use him to trigger the final boss. For a moment, Feng Yan wondered who exactly was the NPC here.

Then he remembered the strange village woman still walking behind him and trembling. Never mind, it was still them.

Walking on the sand was far more relaxing than the stairs, and the whole experience could even be considered quite a beautiful stroll if it wasn't for the nightmarish memories still fresh in Feng Yan's mind. As Feng Yan continued forward, he noticed the sand seemed to glitter wherever the soft light of the lantern touched. Glancing up, he can see the walls and the ceiling have a similar appearance under the light, like captured starlight trapped in the rocks, making them glow faintly for a while longer after the lantern light leaves them.

It not only felt very serene but even magical, and for Feng Yan, who had suffered from no visual stimulus for a while now, he couldn't help but greedily soak up such an enchanting view, sighing in admiration at the natural beauty of this underground cave. The two villagers, however, seemed fairly unmoved.

Feng Yan figured that was pretty normal, given they seem to be quite familiar with the place. But strangely, rather than hold a dismissive and nonchalant attitude, they seemed almost warier, with the man constantly looking side to side, up and down as if worried something would jump up at him.

Feng Yan noticed such an abnormality, and he knew he should also be just as worried if the locals were. However, for some reason, he just couldn't and was to entrance and awed at the cave's beauty. Compared to the scariness of the staircase, he couldn't believe this place could be any worse.

The village man glanced back and saw the teenager's dazed appearance and silently snorted in disdain, with a trace of complacency in his eyes, before facing forward again.

Although they had been walking on the sand for quite a while, Feng Yan didn't feel tired at all, which was odd given the fact that sand generally takes more leg strength to walk through. In fact, the longer he was the cave, the more relaxed he seemed to feel.

The teenager even had the energy to spin in a circle, arms wide and brightly smiling as he giggled at a stray humorous thought that had passed his mind while staring up at the glittering cavern ceiling. "Hehe, you know you could probably make a lot of money here ah," He sighs, "This place could be a tourist attraction, even the stairs, oh, they're a bit scary but- ah!?"

The sand was soft, and even if the young man didn't feel it, his body was fairly exhausted now. He hasn't eaten or drank despite running and sweating profusely. It was no wonder he would end up tripping after spinning around like that.

"Oi! You-" The village man who had been trying to ignore him turned around and was ready to scold him. Feng Yan lays on the sand in a stunned state, now so close to the floor he could see the details of the sand he had been so engrossed and amazed with.

Idly touching the sand, he was surprised to find it was wetter than he had expected; rather than say it was like fine wet sand, it was more squishier and delicate to the touch. Despite that, when he pinched the sand in his fingers, expecting it to pop like fruity popping pearls in a boba, the grains bent but didn't break, bouncing back to their usual form once he took off the pressure from his fingers.

Curious about the sensory feeling, Feng Yan drunkenly giggles and grabs a handful to stare at. His eyesight was pretty good, at least it wasn't to the point he desperately needed glasses, but with his phone addiction, his parents had been considering getting his eyes checked up not too long ago after he confessed he was having a little trouble seeing the whiteboard in class. Therefore under the dim light, he had to squint and put the sand closer to his face, ignoring the strange fishy smell that had grown much stronger since he had fell down.

The sand was a lovely amber colour, more orange-red than Feng Yan had expected, but upon closer inspection, he could see a yellow colour he assumed was the core of the sand. As if responding to his gaze, Feng Yan watches as the yellow form of the core… wriggle.

The light reflected the tiny form's movements, producing a hypnotically beautiful shimmer.

Feng Yan stares at this for a few seconds longer, his brain slowly connecting his thoughts together before everything finally clicks like a car being jumpstarted and the teenager's eyes widen. "AH! AH! AH!"

Scrambling with horror Feng Yan drops the sand and helplessly flails as he tries to scramble back up while trying to touch as little of the sand as possible.

No! Not sand! Eggs! Everything was eggs!

As he tries to get up in panic, Feng Yan suddenly feels a pain in his hand and winces but forcibly ignores it first, focusing on standing up once more. But now that he's sobered up, the once sunny, now extremely dishevelled young man finally notices how bad the state of his body is. Muscle soreness, exhaustion, dehydration, hunger, not to mention weak from fear, it was really difficult to get back on his shaky legs.

Seeing that things had already gotten to this point, Feng Yan was really speechless at the absurdity of this situation.

Feng Yan: The FaceOfDespair.jpeg 'Isn't this too fucking hard???'

Seeing that the teenager was really struggling, the village man rolled his eyes and helps lift the other up roughly, allowing him a moment to steady his legs before he lets him go. "You city people are so weak." He comments, and the women giggle in agreement.

Usually, Feng Yan would be embarrassed at this sort of comment, but his head was full of the fact the sand was actually eggs. Thinking about the same shimmering on the walls and the ceiling, his skin crawls. "This, thank you, uncle." He croaks out, and it was only now he realised how hoarse his voice was as well. Touching his throat in distress, he looks at the large villager hopefully, "Do you, perhaps, have any water?"

"Hmph, it seems you really woke up." The village man sneers with a trace of pity in his eyes, "I'm not sure if that's a blessing or a curse for you kid."

Feng Yan smiled weakly; he had no ability or energy to retort back to this. Besides, a large part of him really thought that maybe it would've been better to have succumbed to this trance; even if he died, it would've been in blissful ignorance, at least. As soon as that thought enters his mind, though, he harshly slaps his face.

Even tired, the strength was not held back, and Feng Yan hissed in pain, making the two villagers look at him like he was crazy. However, with that slap, he had never been more clearheaded.

With bright resolve in his eyes, Feng Yan and the stingy pain on his face, he strengthened his determination to get out of here no matter the cost. He can die, but certainly not in this insane place. Of course, it's even better not to die at all! He's sure his parents are worried about him! His younger sister still hasn't graduated middle school! And the animes he has been chasing weren't even close to finished, ok!? There's no way he won't fight to get out of here!

Clenching his fists, the teenager flinches subconsciously as a sharp feeling of pain pricks at his hand. Looking down at his hand, he found a scratch on it, most likely from a rock or something while he had been scrambling around. He might have brushed it off before, but now seeing the 'sand' around his wound, his back was full of cold sweat.

Did any of it enter? What's going to happen? He fell; how many of those things are on his clothes, on his body??

Feng Yan wanted to go ask the villager, but instinctively, he held his tongue. No matter what, he was on a different camp as the NPCs here, and it shows clearly by the fact they didn't stop him from entering that dizzying muddleheaded headspace from before. He needed to rely on them, but he still didn't know enough about whether he could trust them to see his wound.

Acting like he was just faltering from tiredness, Feng Yan gives the increasingly impatient village man an apologetic look. "Sorry, let's go?"

Seeing how cooperative the younger man was even without being sent into a trance, the villager's face eases. "Yes, we need to meet up with the others and discuss what is happening." He glances at Feng Yan's thin and trembling arms and legs before deigning to give out another sentence, acting like his words were worth their weight in gold or something, "My sister can help you with water and things if you need."

Feng Yan's smile stiffens. "You, ah, you don't have these things?"

The village man immediately sneers, "Why would I hold those things? To provide is the women's job."

Feng Yan: …Damn these patriarchal backward villages! Damn them!!

No matter how reluctant he was, in order to keep going, Feng Yan had to face the truth and turn around. The village woman's face, which he had been avoiding looking at since the staircase, was completely normal, just how he remembered her at the start. However, the fear of the hair and breath in the darkness was too ingrained in him, and he still couldn't look at her without shivering like a wet mouse placed in the fridge by a cruel child. "M-may I, is there, uh, anything to eat big sister?" He flatters.

She blushes shyly as if charmed by his strained smile and rummages through her worn-out bag before handing him a slightly bruised apple and a rather dirty jar of water. "Here, ah, for you." She softly whispers, like a demure and meek young girl who had found first love. Her appearance was not bad, and if it was any other situation, Feng Yan would also feel embarrassed and shy in response.

However, Feng Yan would be a complete fool to buy into this now. The fact she acts as if the previous angry questioning and creepy behaviour in the staircase didn't exist wasn't enough; she even dares to pretend to be affectionate, really making Feng Yan repulsed and wary. He fears after seeing the exaggerated duplicity of this woman, he may have trouble trusting the fairer sex after this.

Still, no matter how disturbed he was about her, Feng Yan understood he was in an incredibly desperate situation and didn't have the strength nor the privilege to not trust the food and drink at this moment. At the very least, it's obvious nothing was going to kill him right now. If he died, they'll have to carry his corpse through the egg sand, and that's just unnecessarily burdensome on their part, really.

Timidly thanking her, he begins consuming the apple and drinking the water from the jar greedily. Fortunately, the water had no obvious taste other than a faint rusty tang, which in a way assured Feng Yan greatly. This meant it was most likely boiled in the villager's old kettle or pot; if it still retained a fishy taste, then he would be really worried.

After all, he remembers one of the optional missions in this instance was to [Clean the Water], and from what he's seen, he suspects that it's definitely not just a simple plumbing problem ah.

Under the village man's impatient eyes, Feng Yan quickly devours the apple. Because he understood his situation, he didn't even leave out the core, swallowing down everything, even the seeds. Though the apple was bruised, it was large and plump, so it was enough to sate his appetite and give him a bit more energy.

Fortunately, Feng Yan was the sort of young teenager who was not a complete homebody and often 'touched grass' playing sports with friends or doing nature walks with his ex-girlfriend. Therefore while he was still tired, at least half of it was due to extreme fear, dehydration and hunger, and he was more or less in passable shape once he barely satisfied two of the three problems. At the very least, he can probably confidently do another sprint if forced to.

…But oh, how he wishes he won't be forced to.

In a slightly better mood, Feng Yan politely thanked the village lady and passed back the empty jar, which she took with a silent smile that once again made the teenager shiver. With that done, their trek became much faster, and it only took around twenty or so minutes more before the scenery began to change, and the surrounding light was much brighter with the increasing presence of lit torches on the wall.

Not only was it brighter, but there was more noise. Feng Yan's heart beat quickly in excitement, and if it wasn't for the large village man's warning look, he would've run over to the source of the liveliness by now. Fortunately, it seems the two villagers were also excited and picked up their pace as well.

Striding up a sizeable 'sand' dune, Feng Yan could see, once he reached the top, a fairly large stone platform on the other side. The stone platform was circular in size and had the surface looked similar to a ripple in the water of a still lake- with bolder circular indents in the middle of the circle which spread out, becoming fainter and less pronounced in the outer rings that lay at the edge of the platform. In the very centre of the stone, though, it seemed quite lively given what looked like most of the village people had gathered there, discussing things in relatively loud voices.

"Come on." The village man roughly grabs the sunny teenager's arm and tugs him pointedly, "Stop gawking; we'll be down there anyway. Then you can tell everyone about the monster." There was no more patience in the man's movements. While Feng Yan hadn't been treated very politely beforehand, now that there were more villagers around, the male villager seemed to become more arrogant and rude.

Sliding down the dune, Feng Yan silently makes note of his surroundings as best he can. On his side of the platform, there was 'sand', but on the opposite side, there was, not so surprisingly, a large body of dark water. However, because of the lighting, it was impossible to see too far, and Feng Yan couldn't tell how much the water extended. It made him feel uneasy just looking at it, like staring into the abyss.

However, once he was on the platform, he also noticed the cavern ceiling was different, moving upwards and also entering an unseeable darkness, only the smallest circle of light to indicate that it connected to the outside world. Looking down, he could see the small circle of light on the platform, but it was still roughly half a metre away from the exact middle of the platform. Most likely… something must happen once the light perfectly aligns with the middle of the platform?

This place really seems like the final stage of the instance, the most secret and hidden area. He still didn't understand how this entire thing works, but generally, as long as he solves the mystery in advance, he can leave early, right?

Even if he doesn't have much in the way of evidence or anything, the veteran players said this was only a slightly complicated instance, and it was a little obvious that this village was leaning toward the 'religion goes wrong' trope or maybe 'discovered something and then in their greed fucked up' trope. Now as long as this wasn't the sort of unlimited flow situation where he needed certain triggered events and items to process, and he didn't have to run out and find a magic door that only appears after everything is completed, Feng Yan felt that things might work out okay.

…Hopefully. QAQ

Still, he could really only continue to hold himself together with this optimism and his own determination to not die in this shithole of a place. Even if he wavers, he has to hype himself up. There was no way he wasn't going to leave. Dying was not an option. It can't be. It won't be.

At the very least, he must die surrounded by wi-fi. Dying in this backwards ass village with egg sand and not a beauty in sight is too damn abysmal ah.

Since he and the other two villagers slid down, they had already attracted the attention of the other villagers. Once he walked onto the stone platform, they vigilantly surrounded Feng Yan and gave him suspicious looks. Meanwhile, the large village man had grabbed his shoulder firmly, keeping him in place.

"What monster did you people bring?"

"I knew we shouldn't have allowed outsiders into our village."

"But if we didn't, we wouldn't be able to. "


"Speak, boy! Tell us what demon your group has summoned!"

Feng Yan became overwhelmed both by the questions and the hostility from these strangers. However, he could only suppress his temper and perform the scene of a little white rabbit. With reddened eyes, he looks at a downward angle and wipes the corner of his eyes, looking wronged. "I, I'm sorry… I have no idea; I was just a last-minute newcomer to the group. I just wanted to help the village since I also came from a similar background. D-do you know Auntie Yang from Baizhi* village? She's my mother, ah. I really am not familiar with the group, please believe me wu**…"

*White Branch

**wu or wuwuwu is a crying noise. Also, yingyingying is another crying noise. :3

With his good appearance and youthful looks, it was easy to produce the image of an innocent and ignorant teenager who had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Most villagers lost interest in interrogating him and left to discuss what to do, a few were still suspicious and kept looking back at him, and a few softer hearts felt pity.

An old man sighed and passed him half a rice cracker, a young teenage girl that looked similar to his age snuck a bit of boiled water for him, and a thin mother holding a malnourished baby passed him some dried fruit.

While they didn't say anything to him, the gesture was a kindness in itself that needed no words. Feng Yan couldn't help but be moved. He doesn't understand exactly how much these villagers know, but he can tell that most of them seem very human. Very real. With their own thoughts and limits, and flaws.

Of course, given this was a horror instance, and one that harboured such a large secret, it was more likely that no one was truly innocent here. However, some people's sins were deeper than others. From active participation to silent bystanders, the willing and unwilling. Feng Yan recalled the screams of those that had fallen under the clutches of the monster, and his stomach twisted.

Even if the villagers were NPCs, now that he had time to think about it, it still left a bad taste in his mouth. Not to mention his fellow players, who he knew should be real people from the same world as himself.

He sighed as he started to nibble at the cracker, his stomach felt too knotted up to eat, but he knew that he couldn't turn down these sources of energy. He was tired and scared, but he refused to give up. There was no other option but to keep going.

As he mechanically finished his cracker and dried fruit, there was new commotion making Feng Yan's ears perk up.

A new, more bedraggled group had come down to the platform and from the sounds around the teenager, he understood another outsider was brought in.

Another outsider!

These words made Feng Yan's eyes light up with some hope.

After being abandoned but not kicked out after the villagers had found he had no information on him, Feng Yan understood that the other party will most likely experience a similar situation. Meaning it was best to get closer and wait.

As expected, the villagers swarmed around the new group asking questions. Hearing the helplessness of the one voice answering instead of asking, Feng Yan recognised the deep voice belonging to a young adult man.

This observation ruled out the female players and the businessman uncle being the person that came down. The voice was not as cultured as Spectacles but not as rough as one of the older delinquents. So through the process of elimination, Feng Yan guessed the voice should belong to the muscular veteran player.

Sure enough, once the villagers had once again dispersed, Feng Yan saw the familiar albeit far more ragged appearance of the muscular man.

He wasn't the only one who recognised a fellow layer; the muscular man also remembered him when their gazes met.

"Ah?" The muscular man says dumbly, his numb and tired face morphing to shock before he breaks into a large smile of relief and rushes to hug the teenager after he mentally processed Feng Yan's presence. "You also made it?! Haha, thank god!"

Feng Yan understands the muscular man's sudden intimacy; he was practically moved to tears to see another player, and a veteran at that, here in the cavern. Seeking comfort, the teenager hugged him back despite both their embarrassingly dirty states, the warmth of an ally override it all. After they separated, Feng Yan couldn't help but ask, "What about the glasses-wearing man?"

The muscular man's smile collapses, "My brother, he.." His large fists clenched, and his expression was one of sincere pain and grief, "He distracted that thing so I could escape." The man looked at Feng Yan eagerly, "But he said as long as we figure out the mystery and find the exit, everyone who's alive will be able to leave too! So I should just focus on completing this as soon as possible!"

Looking at the other man brimming with determination, Feng Yan falls silent. Without the intelligent glasses-wearing man, it seems the muscular veteran player can only reveal his true simple nature. In his opinion, the intelligent big brother was definitely dead unless the other had some sort of stealth ability or defensive ability.

However, recalling the pressure and might of that monster and its plant-wielding abilities, Feng Yan really couldn't help but be pessimistic. If the veterans were really so good, they wouldn't have been so picky about entering an E-level instance over an F-level one, right? Not to mention if they had the ability to confidently defend against the monster, why run so panickedly?

Still, regardless of his thoughts, Feng Yan nods, smiling brightly and full of youthful vigour, "Yes, yes! We need to complete the instance as soon as we can!" He cheers before giving the muscular man a worried and dependent look, "But I'm still new, brother*. I don't understand this place at all, much less how to clear it. Can you please tell me what to look out for? Do I have to get proof or something? A key? A special item?"

Feng Yan was a good actor, but he was still young; in these stressful conditions, he couldn't help his eagerness and impatience for information leaking out. To be honest, if it was possible, he would drag it out of the man's mouth physically if he could.

Fortunately, the stressful conditions must have also gotten to the muscular man. After a moment of blankness, the veteran tilted his head in thought before answering. "This… it depends on the instance, but for this one, most likely, we must clear one of the missions, and a door will appear. Sometimes the door will require a key to open, but that only really happens in higher-level instances. Here there shouldn't be such a problem; as long as you pass through, you can leave."

Hearing these words, Feng Yan breathed a sigh of relief. While it still was difficult, it no longer felt so impossible, knowing that there was a way to leave; however, knowing is half the battle, and he still had more questions.

"Okay, then, can you tell me how does the game acknowledge we pass the mission? After all, I feel these are very, uh, unusual circumstances." He glances at the villagers, who are all conversing with each other in hushed worried tones and anxious whispers. Seeing how they kept looking over at the two with increasingly sinister glances, Feng Yan could guess they weren't exactly about to be offering to have picnics with them any time soon.

Feeling the pressure of so many looming threats, both near and far, the teenager became even more restless, hands subconsciously shaking with impatient energy. In contrast, the muscular man didn't even seem to be sweating. Feng Yan was a bit envious but also felt a bit fearful. How many things has this experienced to be so calm after everything? Was it optimism, stupidity or numbness?

Will he be like that? Forced to get over the death of others, being able to recover so quickly after seeing a life pass? Maybe one day, he will even kill without batting an eye. Could he ever truly go back once he took such a step?

"Hmm.. the objective is to survive a week, but generally, as long as we solve the mystery behind the four wells or clean the water, the events as a result of the actions of those who play the optional missions would trigger and generally, once you clear those events the game will automatically give you the option to leave the world as long as you pass through the door. So supposedly, as long as we trigger the final boss event and defeat them, we can directly summon the clearance door." The muscular man explains, shaking Feng Yan out of his own anxiety-driven thoughts, "For example, uh, there is this player. In a haunted mansion instance, he used his ability to dig underground and directly found the hidden tomb that would've taken various puzzles and traps to pass through if he went the normal way."

The muscular man scratches his neck awkwardly as he recalls the story, "Apparently when he saw the tomb, he didn't even talk to his teammates. He directly burned the entire place with a prop, killing the unawakened corpse demon boss, and then grabbed the only thing still unscathed by the flames. It seems the item was the most important plot item, so by recovering it from the demon, the game had no choice but to end the instance and open the door to pass the player."

Feng Yan: '…'

"That's quite amazing." He says sincerely.

"It is, isn't it?" The muscular man sighs. "To be honest, if we want to try that, it seems the optional mission of cleaning the water is too hard to attempt right now, but my reasoning skills are really poor; the mystery stuff is really not my forte."

Feng Yan pats his fellow player on the shoulder and gives him an enthusiastic smile. "Uncle, do not worry! I'm not too bad at mystery games, and I've read a bit of the genre. I may not be as good as your previous brother, but we must make do with what we can! You have experience and brawn, and I have youth and brains; I think it's not impossible ah."

"You-" The muscular man gives him a moved expression and was about to continue when-

"Great River God!" An elderly village woman who was dressed in bright and colourful patterns lined with bright golden spheres at the hem cried aggrievedly and loudly to the shrine as she fell to her knees, drawing everyone's attention. Unlike the other villagers, who had rather poor and ragged-looking, thin clothing, only hers was thick and well-maintained. "Oh, Great River God, your devout worshippers and followers have met with a fierce monster! Is this the calamity you prophesied before? Please, as your humble servants, we beg you to help us!"

"Please!" The villagers also fell onto their knees, prostrating devoutly. Feng Yan and the muscled man hesitated for a moment before awkwardly getting onto their knees and following suit for better lack of anything else to do. Feng Yan, however, did not trust the villagers much, so he shifted his sitting position so he wasn't really kneeling but more sitting on his side in a mermaid pose. That way, he wasn't too inconspicuous, but his legs would become less numb, and it may be easier to get up and run if needed. "Great River God! We beg of you! Help us!"


"Save us!"

"Help us!"

"Great River God!"

The elderly woman puts a hand up, silencing the crowd before raising some sort of rattle with large marble-like objects inside with her other hand. Shaking the rattle, she chants a strange, incomprehensible mantra. The marble objects seemed heavy, with an exterior appearance of glass; the sound they made when they hit each other in the rattle reminded Feng Yan of those lottery draws; it was a hollow, light sound of a thin surface with something empty inside.

Feng Yan was not familiar with this village at all, but he could guess that these xenophobic people were not capable of producing plastic, and with respect for this 'River God, ' they wouldn't use some cheap child's toy as a ritual object, so, these spheres were most likely something with strong relations to the 'god' in some way. Intuitively, his eyes slowly gaze down at the floor. Because everyone had to walk through the strange desert, it was impossible for the 'grains' to not get stuck on various items of clothing and, as a consequence, fall onto the altar floor.

Staring deeply at the 'sand' on the floor, Feng Yan was at least seven to eight points sure that these were related to the things in the rattle. But the implication of such a thing was already quite horrifying. Because not only did this mean that the eggs were capable of growth, most likely under specific circumstances, they could, and have been, hatched.

And whatever came out of those eggs... Feng Yan wasn't much in favour of finding out.

Suddenly the back of his neck prickles, and the young man looks up to see the eyes of all the villagers staring widely at himself and the muscular man. The elderly woman points her mystic rattle at them and smiles horribly as she shakes it like the worst-dressed and ugliest baby known to man. "Great River God, we have even brought fresh, young and healthy meat from the outside. Please, accept our offering and our love, and give us hope in your protection!"

Feng Yan: To be honest, I knew it would be something like this, but I'm still shocked.

"Fuck your mother!" He can't help but swear vulgarly with an extremely ugly face, pointing back at the old woman, "Who told you I'm fresh, young and healthy?! Maybe I'm a forty-eight-year-old man with STDs and haemorrhoids! You don't fucking know!"

Some of the villagers hesitate. One of the village girls was staring at Feng Yan's face contemplatively. "He doesn't look forty-eight." She whispers.

"I don't know; I heard the city people have a lot of evil beauty treatments." Another village girl mutters as she subconsciously touches her dry, cracked skin with a little envy. "Even the men there will do it. Really shameless."

Feng Yan didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Surprisingly his retort served to confuse the fairly ignorant villagers. However, he couldn't complain, as the stalling was enough for both Feng Yan and the muscular man to get on their feet and get a bit of distance between the group.

"Are you stupid?! Does it even matter!?" Seeing the villagers dither about and the two men starting to slink away, the elderly shaman was about to grind her yellow teeth to dust, "The Great River God will be happy either way! So stop standing around and go get them!"

"So… this is where you've all been hiding ah~" A gentle but hoarse voice suddenly echoes in the cave, causing everyone to freeze. The inside of the cavern was already quite cold, but now it felt like the inside of an ice cellar. Feng Yan was so frightened his knees almost softened into jelly; just the monster's voice was enough to grip his heart so tightly he felt it was about to explode any second.

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