In Virtual Reality 70 ☆ The Library of Eternal Life (4/10)

It was drizzling between late autumn and early winter, making the already bleak weather even more frigid.
The man shut his black umbrella and shook off the slippery water droplets, which collected and dripped on the ground, leaving a wet trail.

He nonchalantly left the black umbrella outside the door, then deftly turned the doorknob to step inside.
Despite daylight outside, the dense clouds made it nearly impossible to see any light indoors.
Beyond the iron walkway, he could still sense someone sitting on the sofa in the hall, even without turning on the lights.

After closing his eyes to adjust to the darkness, Cao Wei Min opened them again and recognized the figure on the sofa.

“Why isn't the light on…?”

“Shh!” The man on the sofa hushed him and gestured for him to be quiet.

Wang Jin Long sat on the sofa, his sharp eyes piercing through the darkness as he murmured, “I'm thinking…
Darkness can inspire me.”

Cao Wei Min rolled his eyes in exasperation but refrained from interrupting his companion's moment of contemplation.
Wang Jin Long's sulking was palpable when he was ignored.
He casually glanced at the man sitting on a high stool and asked, “What are you doing?”

It was a question that had been posed several times over the past few months, initially causing Cao Wei Min to bristle.
However, he had grown accustomed to it over time.
“Researching,” he replied curtly before adding, “I'm not you.”

In their tiny group of three and a dog, even the farm dog, Wheatley, was more acquainted with the mysteries they sought to unravel than Cao Wei Min.
One had experienced it, another had visions of it, and even the dog could smell it.
In contrast, Cao Wei Min was just an ordinary person who relied on the most basic techniques to gain a foothold in this elusive terrain.

Now that Cao Wei Min was a jobless wanderer, he no longer had access to the official channels he once did.
During his time on the team, the investigation department was given little importance, leaving Cao Wei Min to gather most of the information on his own.
He relied on folklore, rumours, and even street gangs to get his hands on whatever information he could.
Though he was never sure of its accuracy, he had to take what he could get.

Wang Jin Long sneered at his efforts.
“It's useless,” he declared, his fingertips steepled together as his sharp gaze paced through the darkness.
“The Shenanigans isn't something you can uncover just by searching for it.”

Cao Wei Min turned to him, his right hand tapping a regular rhythm on the bar table.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“It sounds like you've made a discovery.”

Wang Jin Long chuckled, his arrogance palpable as he replied, “Perhaps I have.”

Cao Wei Min's frustration grew.
“You invited me to join you,” he said, his voice rising as he stood up and loomed over Wang Jin Long.
“Yet you've hardly said a word since we got here.
Explain yourself!”

Wang Jin Long's voice sliced through the room's quiet like a knife.
“I'm the only one investigating.
Because everything you do is useless.”

At last, Wang Jin Long spoke more freely.
“The more you try to evade the Shenanigans, the more it ensnares you.
And the more you crave to unravel its mysteries, the more elusive it becomes.” He reclined on the couch and gazed out the window, watching the rain cascade down the pane.
“I've only recently realized this.
Since leaving there, I've been pursuing it for years.” His words were soft like he wished to dissolve into the wind.
“In my dreams, I yearn to be submerged in it.”

A gust of wind howled through the room, swallowing the latter half of Wang Jin Long's sentence.
Cao Wei Min strained to catch a word or two.

“What?” he prodded, unable to contain his inquisitiveness.
“What do you mean by 'submerged'?”

“Nothing,” replied Wang Jin Long.
Fatigue seemed to consume him, and he sank into the couch, motionless.
This man was genuinely inscrutable.

He was like a rock in speech and manner, impervious to the flattery that had initially convinced him to join the team.
Except for his name, Wang Jin Long embodied all the traits of a Shenanigans man.
He had a cryptic past and an equally obscure purpose.
He seldom took action!

Cao Wei Min had grown accustomed to seeing him stationed on the couch in the lobby of their temporary abode.
But then again…

'Do those who yearn for the Shenanigans never encounter it, while those who fear it will inevitably encounter it?' Cao Wei Min whispered, striding towards the bar.
Suddenly, he collided with something.

The hapless creature let out a pitiful whimper and snuggled up to Cao Wei Min, seeking his approval.

“Wheatley, is that you?” Cao Wei Min was caught off guard but crouched down and approached the dog.

The black, damp nose of the rural dog nudged his palm.
Cao Wei Min instinctively stroked the dog's head.

Cao Wei Min's heart sank as he realized that Zhang Rou Rou wasn't there.
The girl, always inseparable from Wheatley, had left him alone.
He called out her name, but the only response was the echo of his own voice.
Cao Wei Min's brows furrowed with worry as he randomly stroked the dog's head before getting up to search for Zhang Rou Rou.

He walked towards her usual room, rapping his knuckles against the door, “Knock knock,” and calling out her name.
There was no answer.
Wheatley should have been at home with her, but no sound came from the room.
Cao Wei Min began to knock harder, apologizing loudly, but still, there was no response.
Suddenly, he remembered the slight convulsive reaction that Zhang Rou Rou had earlier when she fell into a vision.

Cao Wei Min's heart raced as he knocked faster and faster, the sound echoing through the house.
He twisted the door handle and burst into the room, flicking 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.


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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