Chapter 13 – Human Skin Honghong (2)
Although he didn’t quite understand why reimbursements had to double, Zhou Yang still nodded. Later, surprised, he asked, “Are you going in?”
The answer was obvious, so Jiang Yujin chose not to answer.
The tunnel was right in front of them, not entering would have seemed very impolite.
As they reached the mouth of the tunnel, it appeared even larger. Looking up, one could barely see the top. Jiang Yujin averted his gaze and stepped inside.
Zhou Yang followed suit. The crimson laboratory rejected anyone who hadn’t been invited, but right now, he didn’t qualify as a person.
This was his first sober look at the inside of the tunnel.
The ashen walls had bits of plaster falling off, revealing a mosaic of stones inside. Dim light, seemingly from nowhere, illuminated the ground, showcasing various items strewn across the floor. Footsteps echoed in the cavernous tunnel, evoking an eerie sensation for no apparent reason.
Continuing forward, they finally encountered incandescent lamps that illuminated the tunnel’s interior.
This place might no longer be aptly termed a ‘tunnel.’ Some sections of the walls were dilapidated, lacking support, and people had piled up assorted items to act as makeshift walls. Upon closer inspection, Zhou Yang noticed something amidst the items, causing him to pause and lean in for a closer look.
…It was black hair, covered in dust but still identifiable as human.
Zhou Yang’s eyes widened, his feet seemingly rooted to the spot, unable to move.
Jiang Yujin also saw it, but only glanced briefly before averting his gaze, offering no comment. It wasn’t until Zhou Yang finally snapped out of his trance that he continued walking forward.
Air circulated through the tunnel. Incandescent lights hung from chains swayed, their light shifting and illuminating the trash heaps on the ground, mountainous in size.
One side of the garbage heap left a narrow path just wide enough for one person to pass. Jiang Yujin took this route, and although Zhou Yang could have traversed the garbage heap directly, he chose to take a detour, similarly using the narrow path.
He glanced at the garbage heap as he walked.
These black, colossal mounds of trash contained various clothing, toys, and even protruding, decaying hands, faintly revealing white bones.
He could tell what these were.
This was the first time in Zhou Yang’s life that he had seen such things. Though he couldn’t smell anything, he could only imagine the putrid stench of decay that must lingered here.
Walking this path, his beliefs were teetering on the brink of collapse.
Growing up in a civilized society, he was taught and surrounded by the belief that every individual was unique, entitled to basic human rights. Yet here, these people seemed discarded like trash, rotting alongside other nauseating things, devoid of any semblance of dignity or humanity.
Jiang Yujin turned to look at the person whose arms were already trembling faintly and said, “If you can’t bear to look, you don’t have to.”
He hadn’t spoken much since entering the tunnel; this was the first time he’d spoken since they arrived.
This was just a microcosm of the game. More brutalities, perhaps incomprehensible to most people, were all left within the game. Those living in the real world needn’t understand or come into contact with such things.
Jiang Yujin spoke, and Zhou Yang dared not look, forcing himself to focus entirely on the person ahead.
The person in front seemed unchanged, but compared to playing puzzle games, there seemed to be a slight absence of that comforting ease.
Jiang Yujin simply despised the smell here.
This place was probably a fragment preserved from the game’s collapse, retaining the game’s nauseating essence.
Beyond the colossal trash heap was a seemingly endless passage, pitch black with no visible end.
After walking a considerable distance, light finally emerged ahead.
A fluorescent lamp swayed in mid-air, illuminating a distinct area. A metallic door separated what lay inside and outside, as if dividing two different worlds.
Jiang Yujin gently pressed down on the door handle; it was locked and wouldn’t budge.
Zhou Yang had assumed he couldn’t enter, mentally preparing to use his body’s current conveniences to phase through the wall. Unexpectedly, as he lifted his foot, it collided directly with the wall.
He couldn’t get in.
Frustrated by the failed attempt, he turned to look at the other person and saw him pull out a small clip he had briefly used before.
He watched as Jiang Yujin straightened the clip, squinting slightly at the keyhole.
Zhou Yang: “?”
Jiang Yujin, effortlessly attempting to pick the lock, managed to glance at the ghost standing beside him. He said, “I’ve done lock picking before.”
Zhou Yang: “……?”
Under Zhou Yang’s watchful gaze, Jiang Yujin tinkered away. With just two clicks, the metal door cracked open a sliver.
Tucking away the hairpin and making an effort to restore its original state, he pushed the door and stepped inside. Zhou Yang hesitated for a moment before following suit.
The room was lit, but unlike the outside, it emitted a serene blue light from various three-dimensional tubes standing within the room.
These tubes connected to the ceiling and housed motionless figures submerged in an unidentifiable liquid, gently swaying with its flow. The foremost tube remained empty, as if deliberately reserved for someone.
Or perhaps not just someone, but also peculiar creatures Zhou Yang had never encountered in his memory.
These were evidently Honghong’s collection—some looked used while others appeared untouched.
The room wasn’t small, at least not smaller than the trash heap they’d encountered earlier. Tubes neatly lined the space, overwhelming Zhou Yang. He quickly averted his gaze, instinctively edging closer to Jiang Yujin, “Are all these people the recently missing ones?”
Jiang Yujin responded, “I’m not sure. I’m just a patient.”
Though some of the missing individuals might be here, not all of them were. Most were from the game or were exotic beings, occasionally recognizable faces.
The other person had remained too composed throughout the journey. Zhou Yang momentarily forgot that this person was a patient he had brought out from the hospital. He nodded, “Right.”
Jiang Yujin surveyed the array of tubes for a while, then lifted his foot, stepping among the tubes, passing by the people within. Eventually, he halted in front of a specific tube.
Zhou Yang, trailing behind, also stopped and, as he looked up—
He saw himself.
Immersed in the liquid, eyes closed peacefully, displaying none of the fear from when he entered.
His transparent hand reached through the thickened glass, and involuntarily, he tried to touch his own body.
The instant the transparent hand met the real one, the illusory figure vanished. The person within the unidentified liquid opened his eyes, reflexively attempting to speak but instead swallowing a mouthful of liquid. Eyes widened, he struggled within the tube.
Jiang Yujin glanced down at the two buttons—one red, one green—on the tube. After half a second’s hesitation, he pressed the green button.
It thoughtfully replenished the liquid that Zhou Yang consumed in his mouth.
Muttering an apology, Jiang Yujin pressed the other button.
This time seemed to be the right press. After pushing the button, the liquid within the tube vanished, and the thick glass slowly descended.
Observing the young man, still half-kneeling and clutching his chest as he struggled to catch his breath, Jiang Yujin’s expression held a hint of surprise, restrained as though he was politely acknowledging the situation.
It was just as he had speculated.
This person seemed to have had a stroke of bad luck; encountering Honghong as soon as he came and was quickly dealt with.
Honghong had a penchant for collecting soulless bodies, deeming them the most natural and pure collectibles. Skilled in separating body and soul, Honghong left Zhou Yang’s body while discarding his soul like garbage, allowing it to wander the world until it forgot its own existence and eventually faded away.
Whenever the soul touched the body, it automatically returned. Clearly, Honghong had noticed this detail, hence the construction of this room with materials preventing both tangible and intangible entry.
Yet, the most sophisticated security often had the simplest loopholes.
Having swallowed several mouthfuls of liquid in a short span, Zhou Yang held his throat, breathing in agony. As his body tilted, he tumbled out of the open tube.
He didn’t hit the ground; someone caught him. The warmth transmitted through the contact, unmistakably human, caused a twinge in his nose.
Jiang Yujin caught the falling person, intending to quickly release him. However, this tall guy, over six feet, didn’t loosen his grip, hugging tighter, seemingly unaware of his own weight.
Jiang Yujin’s brows twitched.
Before he could use a karate chop to force the person off him, the clinging person finally let go.
Initially intending to capture the tunnel’s appearance for the Special Investigation Unit, Zhou Yang hadn’t anticipated a direct return. Although the hold released, Zhou Yang’s enthusiasm remained intact. He excitedly examined his fingers, now free to move at will.
Footsteps echoed outside the room.
They were light but audible in the quiet tunnel.
The footsteps drew closer until stopping at the door.
A child’s head peeked into the doorway, wide eyes scanning the room, then stepping in, asking, “Are there two bad mice in here?”
She glanced at the two individuals in the corner — her face still stained with wet blood looked up — smiling innocently and carefree.
Jiang Yujin glanced at the child by the door, then at the befuddled person beside him. Finally, he patted Zhou Yang’s shoulder, “Close your eyes.”
Though unsure of his intentions, Zhou Yang obediently complied.
—And then he was knocked unconscious by a karate chop.
In the split second before passing out completely, he saw someone firmly standing between him and the child at the door, then lost consciousness.
After clearing away the irrelevant person, Jiang Yujin shook his hand slowly, focusing on the small figure by the door, politely greeting, “Long time no see.”