"When we came over, the entrance to the lair was open. I distinctly remember that it reverted to its original state when we left. Clearly someone discovered this too."
Garen started frowning too. "That is troubling, indeed. It could be the Golden Hoop." Suddenly he smelled a trace of fragrance, like sandalwood, but fainter. "What's that fragrant aroma?"
"Eh? This scent…" Detective Dale paused his conversation with the bearded man. His expression changed. He seemed to recall something.
Suddenly his face turned and he shouted, "Everyone get out! Don't stay here!"
Everyone else wasn't clear what had happened, but out of their trust toward the famous detective, they instantly ran out of the castle.
Garen did the same, but he only managed a few strides before all of a sudden he saw stars.
Subtle laughter could vaguely be heard coming from behind him.
His scalp went numb. He instantly remembered the time he was pushed out the window. It was the same laughter.
He quickly turned back, but there was no one behind him.
"Go!" a muffled voice said beside him. Garen felt a force pulling him straight out the castle gates.
He was shocked. He looked at his surroundings, but everyone who had been around him earlier were no longer there. He was the only one left in the castle. An invisible person seemed to be running in front of him, pulling his hand and swiftly running forward.
The gates crashed open. Garen felt dizzy and lost his balance, falling on his face onto the grass. In the cool wet grass, a gust of fresh air went into his nostrils, waking him up in an instant.
Suddenly his vision blurred. A group of people appeared on the grass lawn around him all at once. The sergeant from earlier, the expert, a few policemen, Dale Quicksilver, Si Lan, The White Eagle, Black Panther and the others. Cynthia and Grace lay by his side. They looked dizzy.
"That was close!" Detective Dale Quicksilver stood up and wiped the sweat off his forehead. He warily turned to look at Silversilk Castle. "I kept thinking that scent was naturally occurring, but now it seems that someone must have intentionally released it. This time there were more of us, so they increased the concentration. That's how everyone managed to detect it."
"What was that?" Sergeant Rio stood up from the grass lawn, panting. Everyone else followed suit. Their gaze turned to the solemn looking Dale Quicksilver.
"I saw everyone around me disappear earlier. What happened?"
"Me too! I think I heard someone laughing behind me!"
"Keep calm. Let's listen to what the detective has to say." The sergeant gestured his hands and the surroundings quieted. Everyone focused on the detective.
Garen had prepared to ask questions, but hearing what the others had experienced, he suddenly realized that their experiences were identical to his own. He was shocked, and his gaze focused on Detective Dale too.
"This is a really strong hallucinogenic scent." Dale Quicksilver looked somber. "I’ve read its description in the books, but I didn't expect to encounter this almost obsolete thing in real life."
He took a deep breath, looked at everyone around him, and said word by word.
"Mindtwister Vine. This scent is the hallucinogenic poisonous gas naturally released by the Mindtwister Vine after it matures, which is extinct according the books. It can induce hallucinations of loneliness and fear. The toxic gas released by this type of vine is usually extremely mild, imperceptible to humans. Only certain animals sensitive to smell can distinguish it."
"Mindtwister Vine…" Garen's eyes narrowed. He recalled being injured after being pushed out the first floor window when he first visited Silversilk Castle. "Looks like someone probably used the scent of Mindtwister Vine to hypnotize me first, and then took used the advantage to push me out the wi
ndow when I approached it. And The White Eagle and Dale were probably hallucinating from the scent too, causing us not to see each other after we entered the room together."
"If that's the case, then someone is intentionally trying to stop us from entering the tunnel?" the sergeant asked in a hushed tone.
Dale Quicksilver nodded and started discussing the strategies with the sergeant and the booby trap expert.
On Garen's side, Cynthia and Grace had both regained consciousness. Cynthia was in fact the one who dragged Garen out of the castle earlier.
"If not for my prior training in resisting hallucinogenic poisons, I probably wouldn't have been able to drag you out of there." She smiled at Garen. "Thank me. You would have been in big trouble if not for me."
"Yes, yes. Thank god you were there," Garen said speechlessly. But it was true, Cynthia had played a significant role ever since she came. If not for her, Garen would have presumably been like the policemen who didn't manage to run out of the castle in time—passed out on the ground.
A group of people stood at the gates but didn't dare to enter. They merely looked at the two policemen lying on the ground through the gates. No one dared to rush in there, in case they suffered the same fate as the two of them.
"Quick, look over there!" a policeman suddenly yelled, his finger pointing at the roof of the second and highest floor.
Everyone looked toward where he pointed. In the second floor’s window stood a person clad in black, seemingly a pale-faced woman. She had a strange smile on her face. Her pupils were dark green, and she drooled from the corner of her mouth from time to time.
The moment they got a good look at her, the woman instantly disappeared into the shadows behind the window.
"Use a wet towel to cover your nose and mouth! Water should be able to absorb the hallucinogenic scent!" Dale Quicksilver instructed loudly.
Everyone immediately took out the water bottles they had with them, wet their clothes, and covered their noses and mouths with it.
The sergeant was the first to rush in with a handgun. He ran to the two policemen lying within the castle and started examining them.
"It's no use. They're dead…" the detective said gravely after walking in. "Hallucinogen overdose, especially at such a high concentration, coupled with internal bleeding caused by a hard blow to the back of their heads."
Everyone else followed suit and re-entered the castle.
"We can talk after we've captured that woman! I'll go first!" The White Eagle said coldly. "Black Panther, you look after Mister Quicksilver and Miss Si Lan!"
"Leave it to me!" Black Panther beat his chest. He watched as The White Eagle sprinted toward the top floor, disappearing around a corner.
Cynthia too, was holding a white handgun, shielding Garen.
The sergeant stood up. His face was grim. "Everyone, search! Kill that mad woman on the spot once you discover her!"
Obviously, the deaths of his subordinates had fired him up.
"Yes!" All the policemen gathered and pulled out their handguns, all their faces showed a hint of anger and anxiety.
Everybody was on high alert, and started to spread out across the castle grounds to patrol. More than ten men divided into groups, patrolling every nook and cranny.
Garen led Cynthia and Grace carefully up toward the first floor. A few steps in, they heard two gunshots coming from upstairs.
"Arghhh!" a scream came suddenly.
"She ran toward the first floor! Quick, finish her!"
"Damn it! This maniac is too fast, I can't aim accurately!"
"She ran to the stairs!"
Garen and the other two were at the corner of the stairs when they saw a dark shadow leap from the top, floating like a black cloth, weightless.
Cynthia's reaction was the fastest. A white handgun was in her right hand in an instance. She aimed at the black shadow and pulled the trigger.
Bang bang bang bang!
She let out four shots in a row. Within a second, all four bullets hit the black shadow.
The black shadow gave a high-pitched laugh, stopped moving, then pounced at Cynthia. It seemed that the bullets had had no effect on her, and her speed was even faster than earlier.
A chunk of her black shadow split to grab Cynthia's neck like a black tentacle. It was extremely fast so it couldn't be clearly made out.
Cynthia looked calm, holding her gun and not making a move.
This shot made the black shadow's head lurch backwards.
The black shadow gave a piercing shriek. It gave up attacking Cynthia and escaped directly down the stairs. It was gone in a flash.
Garen did not move in the back. He didn't want to expose his skills when so many people were watching, The White Eagle particularly.
Even though he really wanted to help, he refrained.
"Are you alright?" He held Cynthia by her shoulders. She started, instantly snapping out of a highly-tense state, and gasped repeatedly to catch her breath.
"So… so powerful! Her speed managed to evade four of my shots!" There were tiny beads of sweat on her nose. "But in the end, wooh… I still got one shot in."
"It's a nightmare once martial arts experts get too close. Even if your marksmanship is excellent, it's no match for a close range martial artist’s skills. Naturally, the reverse is true for long range." Garen nodded. "Come on, let's go down and have a look."
Grace stood to a side, speechless. Her marksmanship was quite good, but if she faced such an opponent, she would definitely not be able to react in time and be strangled to death. She wasn't too impressed with Cynthia's marksmanship initially, but that spontaneous reaction immediately contrasted their true strengths.
Pulled by Garen, the three of them rapidly ran down the stairs.
In the ground floor lobby, five to six policemen had surrounded the woman. They all stood with guns raised and nervously stared at the center.
The black-robed woman lay on the floor, twitching from time to time. There was a small bullet hole on the left side of her forehead. The injury was deep and had apparently injured the brain.
Garen's group, the sergeant and the others all crowded over, including Dale Quicksilver and Black Panther. Everyone was staring at the woman in the middle.
"She was shot in the head, she won't last long," Cynthia said casually as she spun her handgun in her hands. "My bullets are custom-made. Their penetrating power is extremely high, specifically intended to deal with these types of martial arts experts."
Sure enough, after a little while, the woman gave another twitch, then stopped moving completely. Her black hood fell off, exposing a full head of white hair.
"How old is this woman?" Garen was shocked.
"At least 80 or 90. I don't know how she's been living in this castle for so long," the detective said casually, while smoking his pipe. "Very few people with special constitutions are able to withstand poisoning by the toxic gas from Mindtwister Vine. But long term exposure to the hallucinogenic poisonous gas would make them lose their sanity and act like beasts. This person must have been one of those special ones."
"What now?" the sergeant asked, looking at the detective.
"Let's examine the body, see if we can discover anything from it. Then we'll enter the lair according to plan," the detective answered, removing his pipe.
"Alright. We'll follow your plan."
"The White Eagle, you protect the expert then. We'll enter the lair together, and everyone else stand guard at the entrance above." Dale Quicksilver started making arrangements.
"Sergeant, you bring two men and follow us down. We'll leave a lookout at fixed distances and link everyone up with the rope we've brought."
"What about me?" Black Panther stepped forward to ask.
"You stay above ground to protect Si Lan and the entrance."
"I want to go down too," Garen said, stepping forward. "It's such a huge underground passage. There must be a lot inside. I can find the most valuable item and bring it up!" This was his initial purpose anyway. Moreover, with the detective and the expert leading the way, he wouldn't have to worry too much about his safety.