Chapter 21 – The Collector (2)

It didn’t matter when the injury occurred. After confirming the owner was still alive, Xu Gao grabbed Jiang Yujin and chased after the dark figure towards the door.

The streets were empty at this time, with only the streetlights on both sides still shining. Some streetlights were broken and yet to be repaired, enveloping the surroundings in darkness.

The figure dashed around the street corner, with Xu Gao pulling Jiang Yujin to keep up.

A yawn had barely escaped when Jiang Yujin was pulled away. His eyes half-opened, dazed as he ran along the road, the alcohol swirling in his stomach, and sleepiness churning in his mind. He turned to look at Xu Gao, wincing, “Chasing after it is your business, why bring me along?”

Xu Gao shifted his gaze, “It’s eerie at night. Don’t you feel safer with someone around?”

Jiang Yujin: ?

What nonsense was this big guy talking about?

In any case, Xu Gao refused to let go, determined not to let his companion for the night leave.

After a brief negotiation, with the other party promising to help pay for tonight’s drinks, Jiang Yujin took the initiative and started running.

Some people, even when drunk, never forget to take advantage, as if they’ve ingrained such behavior into their instincts.

The evening breeze helped clear the mind a bit. Sobriety often made reality even more painful. What was supposed to be a hard-earned night off ended abruptly due to the sudden appearance of something unknown. Xu Gao ran with a heart full of frustration and anger.

The ordinary citizen Jiang Yujin struggled to keep up. Despite the evening breeze, his eyes remained half-opened, upper and lower eyelids in a close, affectionate relationship.

Despite being injured, the dark figure’s speed was much faster than theirs. Xu Gao could initially see the figure at the end of the street, but eventually, even half of the shadow became invisible.

Jiang Yujin slowed down, half-heartedly gesturing, “Lost him. Let’s go back.”

Xu Gao wasn’t deterred by his half-heartedness. He turned on his phone’s flashlight and began searching for bloodstains on the ground.

Though the dark figure had run off after being injured, the bloodstains remained. Every so often, there were traces of blood, quite fresh and still distinguishable.

Failing to dismiss the person beside him, Jiang Yujin sighed with regret.

They followed the bloodstains, witnessing the gradual change in the streetscape. The tall buildings faded into the distant background, replaced by shorter buildings, cracks appearing on the roads, and the streetlights gradually diminishing into dimness.

They had reached the old city district.

Xu Gao continued shining the flashlight, carefully scanning the ground for bloodstains while Jiang Yujin walked idly, observing the old residential buildings on both sides and noticing the equally dilapidated storefronts below.

The trail of blood led to what seemed like an abandoned storefront. Xu Gao searched the surroundings but found no fresh bloodstains, prompting him to stop in front of the storefront.

Compared to the neighboring shops, this place appeared more rundown. The rolling shutter was rusty, and weeds had grown in the cracks on the ground, unkempt yet thriving.

There was a hole on one side of the shutter, surrounded by clusters of fine hair. The opening was neither too big nor too small, just enough for a bent adult to squeeze through.

After running such a long distance post-drinking, Jiang Yujin’s body, weakened by alcohol, couldn’t stand anymore. He stopped and squatted by the roadside, showing no intention of entering.

Glancing at the dark hole, Xu Gao’s hand holding the phone trembled. “You’re coming in with me.”

Facing Jiang Yujin’s unspoken resistance, he defended himself, “You know I was just a junior clerk before.”

The first time they met, this person used to pretend to be professional and composed. Now, there was no pretense, almost wearing this non-professional identity with pride.

After mentioning the money for drinks again, Jiang Yujin leaned on his waist and stood up.

Both entered the storefront.

The light from the phone’s flashlight flickered as Jiang Yujin glanced around.

It appeared to have been a restaurant before, with tables on either side revealing rusted metal underneath the peeled-off paint. Behind them was the kitchen, with tiles falling off the walls.

There was nothing unusual around the dining area, so Xu Gao slowly made his way towards the kitchen.

The kitchen had been cleared out, but some items remained, like a pot with its bottom missing and dirty towels overgrown with moss-like plants.

In front of the storage room on the kitchen’s side, dark red bloodstains were concealed by dust, accompanied by faint sounds from inside.

The phone was passed to Jiang Yujin as Xu Gao silently loaded a round into his gun, taking the lead into the storage room.

As he stepped into the room, the light from the phone’s flashlight inexplicably vanished behind him. An object lunged at him with a speed he couldn’t react to, almost coming face to face before stopping abruptly.

Xu Gao turned his head and saw Jiang Yujin standing to the side, drooping eyelids holding the phone with the flashlight on and grasping… a clump of prickly something. The prickly thing was struggling in the air, its hind legs wet with blood.

His horrified expression froze on his face, the sound building in his throat halted midway, leaving him momentarily stunned.

Finally snapping out of it, he awkwardly holstered his gun and reached for the object Jiang Yujin was holding, looking utterly bewildered. “What’s this?”

Jiang Yujin shook his head, returned the phone, and said, “I don’t know, never seen it.”

This was a Collector, the most common creature in the game. They had the ability to move through different instances, had a liking for shiny things, were fragile, with an attack that could be considered negligible. Their only two abilities were speed and the capacity to momentarily darken their surroundings, aiding in collecting desired items.

Bending down, Xu Gao examined the wound on the creature’s hind leg.

The wound was peculiar. It was a thin, small cut, smaller than a knife mark, seemingly unnatural and puzzling as to what could have caused it.

With one hand holding the unidentified prickly creature, Xu Gao directed the flashlight into the storage room, finding it unexpectedly full. The light dazzled the eyes.

Unlike the outside, this place seemed oddly tidy, packed with items that gleamed under the light, from diamond rings to silver blocks resembling human bones, blood-stained daggers, and other unidentifiable, eerie objects.

The bottle of liquor that had been in the pub owner’s possession was also here, raising Jiang Yujin’s eyebrow in surprise.

So, this creature had barged in for the bottle of alcohol.

Jiang Yujin scanned the area and noticed a smooth, transparent, circular stone that looked like a glass block. His eyebrows raised slightly. He was about to bend down, but then Xu Gao glanced over, so he halted his movement, casually approached, and nonchalantly stepped on it.

The glass shattered into pieces.

Xu Gao took a quick look and then averted his gaze, making a call to inform the authorities about handling the scene and its contents. He didn’t notice any commotion here.

Chen Jing finished dealing with his affairs and headed to the pub at night, expecting it to be closed. Surprisingly, the lights were still on, and there were inexplicable bloodstains outside. Upon pushing the door open, he found the owner sitting at a table.

Before he could speak, the owner glanced over, initially taken aback and then recognized him. “You’re from the Jiang family, aren’t you?”

There had been a few instances where Jiang Yujin had been heavily intoxicated in the pub, and it was he who came to take him home, making the owner familiar with his face.

Listening to the owner’s brief account of tonight’s events, Chen Jing’s expression changed. Without inquiring about the alcohol, he swiftly dashed outside.

Following the bloodstains to the old city district, he found the usually quiet area bustling. Several cars with flashing red and blue lights were parked by the roadside, attracting the attention of residents who had come downstairs in the late hours to watch.

Facing the inquiries from the residents, those aware of the situation only mentioned the apprehension of a thief and the ongoing process of handling the stolen items, vehemently avoiding any mention of “strange species.”

Relieved that it didn’t involve anything abnormal, the residents relaxed.

Across the street, Chen Jing found Jiang Yujin observing the removal of dirty items from the scene.

Jiang Yujin squatted on the roadside, watching as they carried things out. Someone came out holding the shattered glass, asking Xu Gao if they still needed it. The rolling shutter was raised, and Xu Gao, managing at the entrance, glanced over and gestured, “Discard…”

He paused momentarily, then added, “Keep… keep everything. It’ll all be handled by the forensics team.”

The people sorting the items then tossed the shards into a bag labeled “Miscellaneous.”

—The view was blocked by two legs.

Jiang Yujin looked up to meet Chen Jing’s gaze. After a moment, Chen Jing sighed in relief and said, “It’s late, time to go back.”

He briefly explained why he had come there, prompting Jiang Yujin to stand up.

Chen Jing finally noticed that the person was actually carrying a bottle of liquor in his arms. The bottle had a unique design, reflecting light in all directions, looking utterly dazzling.

Upon catching the gaze directed at him, Jiang Yujin immediately defended himself, “This isn’t for me; I’ll give it back to the boss later.”

Chen Jing remained skeptical of his words.

Jiang Yujin expressed sadness and regret over Chen Jing’s distrust.

He did return the alcohol to the boss this time, but the boss, being generous, handed it back to him. The owner had originally intended to share the bottle with him and Xu Gao, but with the social animal Xu, laboring late into the night, he was left to drink it alone.

Jiang Yujin sat by the counter, happily pouring himself a drink. Chen Jing took the opportunity to pull the boss aside and inquired about the discontinued liquor from the small distillery.

“I’ve got some.”

The owner nodded in response to Chen Jing’s query. Then, turning around, he gestured not far behind and said, “Over there.”

He was referring to the bottle in the hands of the ordinary citizen Jiang.

As Chen Jing looked over, he witnessed a swift, effortless twist of the bottle cap with a slight “pop,” performed by Jiang Yujin. The motion was smooth and natural, devoid of any hesitation.

Noticing Chen Jing’s gaze, Jiang Yujin turned his head, swaying the glass inquiringly. “Care for a drink?”

The owner interjected sensibly, “Minors aren’t allowed to drink.”

Jiang Yujin chuckled, propping his chin. “Is that so?”

The owner joined in the laughter, the two of them enjoying themselves, while the underage person fell into silence.

Eventually, the underage person had to assist the thoroughly intoxicated adult in walking back.

Some people, though unable to walk, could still eloquently talk, intermittently recounting an old request for help investigating something.

The story was convoluted, the conclusion explosive.

After a belch, Jiang Yujin’s eyelids drooped, and in the end, he concluded, “Guess some things just can’t be figured out.”

Perhaps struck by the story, Chen Jing remained silent for a while before responding.

His light-colored eyes reflected the light from the street lamps as Jiang Yujin lowered his gaze, yawning once again.

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