icking on the light switch.
The bedroom was tidy, without any signs of a struggle.
The desk was neat, and everything was in its place.
Cao Wei Min's calf was gently nudged as Wheatley entered the room, walking around before settling in front of him and whimpering softly.
If Zhang Rou Rou had been abducted, Wheatley would have been more agitated.

He suddenly remembered Wang Jin Long, who had been sitting in the living room.
Turning around, Cao Wei Min rushed towards the sofa.
“Gone?” he said, disbelief in his voice.
The person sitting on the couch had disappeared, leaving the temporary residence empty except for Cao Wei Min and Wheatley.

Cao Wei Min quickly dialled Zhang Rou Rou's phone number, but there was no answer.
His anxiety grew, and he called Wang Jin Long, but the other party hung up when he heard Cao Wei Min's voice.
The sense of foreboding only intensified as Cao Wei Min repeated the call, but finally, the other person answered the phone.

“Zhang Rou Rou,” almost instantly after picking up the phone, Cao Wei Min shouted in a questioning tone, “Where did you take her?!” he demanded.

“Don't jump to conclusions, Little Cao.” Wang Jin Long lounged in a coffee shop, a sly grin playing on his lips as he accepted his order from the barista.
“Rou Rou is a grown woman.
I can't control her every move.”

“Then where are you?” Cao Wei Min's tone was icy, his anger simmering beneath the surface.

“I'm just watching a movie,” Wang Jin Long chuckled, glancing at his laptop screen.

Before Cao Wei Min could say anything else, the line went dead.
His mind raced, piecing together the scattered fragments of information.
Zhang Rou Rou's delicate health made her dependent on Wheatley, and the rain outside made it unlikely she would venture out alone.
Unless someone had coaxed her out.
And that someone was almost certainly Wang Jin Long.

That conniving snake!

Cao Wei Min gritted his teeth, whipped out his phone, and unlocked the concealed compartment.
He swiftly accessed the hidden system, and a blinking red dot appeared on the screen, threatening to vanish at any moment.
Without hesitation, he pocketed his phone and made for the door.

The door slammed behind him as he burst into the rain; but seconds later, he returned and rushed into Zhang Rou Rou's bedroom, searching for a moment until he found what he was looking for.
Cao Wei Min grabbed a leash and secured it around the dog's neck.

“Let's move, boy!”

“Woof!” Wheatley barked, his tail wagging eagerly.

Together, they raced out of the room and into the rainy day.


**

Xu Jin Yi perched on the book ladder, her gaze roaming the endless rows of dense hardcovers.
“There are quite a few books about «Red Staircase»,” she mused aloud, her voice tinged with curiosity.
She noticed many books, many of which seemed to have been documented before the game's takedown.

Amongst them, she stumbled upon several forum posts and booklets that had been purged without a trace.
Grabbing a book randomly, she was about to delve into its pages when a blaring red exclamation mark appeared in front of her, catching her off guard.

【You have a new patron in the library.】

“A new patron?” Xu Jin Yi blinked in confusion, the implication of the message eluding her.
Could it be…an NPC?

**

At first, Zhang Rou Rou thought it was just a light drizzle.
But the rain grew steadily heavier, pummeling her hand that clutched the umbrella with icy needles.
Numb and red, she tried to shake the sensation out of her fingers.

“Thank goodness I left Wheatley at home,” she thought.

Bathing a soggy dog requires Herculean effort.

Approaching the address, Mr Wang had given her, Zhang Rou Rou peered through the deluge at the glass doors ahead.
With each step, her heart raced a little faster.

“Is this the place…?” she wondered.

The girl's grip tightened on the handle of her umbrella as she pushed open the glass door and stepped inside.

“Hmm?”

What's going on?


Zhang Rou Rou stood frozen at the door, still clutching her rain-soaked umbrella.
She looked ahead, then couldn't help turning back for another look.

Had she…
travelled through time?

In front of her stood a sleek, high-tech glass door flanked by two towering potted plants.
Yet there was no exit behind her.
Through the tall windows, she could see a sun-drenched day outside.
But shouldn't it be raining out there?

Zhang Rou Rou shuddered at the thought of what could be happening.
When she returned to her senses, she noticed an eerie aura from the glass door.
She folded her umbrella and reached for her phone to call someone from her contacts.

But despite her repeated attempts, no one picked up.

Zhang Rou Rou stood frozen, staring at her mobile phone's screen.
The signal icon was eternally stuck on 2G.
She felt a rising sense of panic as she wondered what to do.
This was familiar territory – she had been led to disaster before – but why was there no foreshadowing this time?

She stood outside the glass door for what seemed like an eternity, her fingers nervously fidgeting with her phone, but no solution presented itself.
Her heart pounding, she finally made a decision.
She gritted her teeth, safely stowed away her phone, and stepped through the sliding glass doors.

The automatic door mechanism whirred to life as Zhang Rou Rou became the first customer to step inside.

**

The computer screen hissed and flickered, oscillating between light and dark.
Wang Jin Long, once collected, furrowed his brow and rose from his seat to test the device with tentative taps.
As his fingers hit the keys, the image cleared slightly, but the screen plunged into darkness once more when he let his guard down.

He pounded the device's screen, seething with frustration, until finally, the blackened abyss was replaced by a pair of dark, all-encompassing eyes that seemed to bore into his soul.
The screen's observer appeared to etch his image into its inky depths.

“…
Good day,” a mirthless and cryptic voice emanated from the screen.

Wang Jin Long sat transfixed, aghast.

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