"Ancient Endor had many such disgusting practices. That was just one of the many inexplicably strange traditions that remains from the history of that grand bygone empire," Golden Hoop Number 9 calmly replied.
The two did not speak much after that and continued walking downward.
It was getting colder. A thin sheet of frost started to appear on the white chrome handrails. The breaths they exhaled visibly formed two white strands, then gradually dispersed into the air.
"Be careful," Golden Hoop Number 9 suddenly said.
Puzzled, Garen looked at him. Then he looked down to the front of the stairs and discovered a black uniformed policeman sprawled on the steps with a short black arrow pierced through his throat. He was slumped motionlessly against the wall. Blood flowed out slowly from his lower body, dripping bit by bit into the infinite darkness.
"The temperature is too low so his body temperature dropped too quickly." Golden Hoop Number 9 crouched to examine the body. "But he shouldn't have been dead for more than twenty minutes. Looks like the detective and the others shouldn't be too far ahead."
"If you meet Detective Dale, what do you plan to do?" Garen asked from behind.
"If he knew his place, I would spare him as well," Golden Hoop Number 9 answered casually.
As they stepped over the policeman's corpse and continued on, their crisp footsteps continuously reverberated in the silent space.
A gunshot rang out from the darkness below, followed by a faint yelp.
"Quick, run!!" a voice shouted.
Golden Hoop Number 9’s expression changed. He sped up and ran downward. Garen hesitated for a moment, then jogged in pursuit.
Detective Dale and the rest soon appeared on the staircase in front of them. Stunned, they stood on the steps and looked down the stairs.
Garen followed their line of sight and looked ahead. The steps in front were like thin spinning plates, revealing the dark empty space below as they systematically revolved. There was a normal step every five steps, but the rest of the steps were constantly and rhythmically rotating.
The person who approached had to keep leaping forward. Otherwise, once they stepped on a revolving step, they would immediately drop through, get caught between the revolving stone steps, and be crushed to bits.
One of Dale Quicksilver's leather shoes had been clipped into two halves. He was with the White Eagle. The booby trap expert was behind them and a young policeman was protecting Miss Si Lan.
Apparently, the sergeant had refused the initial arrangement to follow them because he wanted to marshal and command the police force. Instead, Si Lan had volunteered to follow the detective and the others to this place.
The five of them heard footsteps coming from behind them. When they looked up, they saw that Garen was slowly walking over with a black-hooded man. The man caught their eye due to wearing a black mask over his face and a golden earring engraved with the number '9'.
"It's one of Golden Hoop's men!" The White Eagle reacted quickly, drew his gun, and aimed at Golden Hoop Number 9.
"Keep calm." Golden Hoop Number 9 was unfazed as he looked at the group in front of him. "I think our motives should be aligned: we all want to find out the secret of this underground passageway, correct?"
"So you mean…?" the detective asked with a somber expression.
"Cooperate, of course. You help me explore this cavern and I can provide you with a lot of valuable information. Rest assured, you'll be at the bottom soon enough." There was an unusual calm in the eyes of Golden Hoop Number 9, without a trace of ripples.
Detective Dale pondered for a while. No one knew what he was thinking.
"Alright, you have a deal," he actually agreed.
Everyone else looked bewildered and even Garen who was at the back was stunned.
"Word is that Golden Hoop Number 9 is someone who doesn't break his promises. I trust you." Dale Quicksilver ignored everyone else's expressions and directly addressed Golden Hoop Number 9.
"You know me well."
"Let's move on then." Golden Hoop Number 9 smiled and suddenly lightly rapped the wall to the left.
The revolving steps before them stopped spinning and froze completely.
"Great, let's move on."
He led Garen directly to the front. When they passed the group of five, the White Eagle and Si Lan looked extremely nervous. They were clearly angry when they saw Garen trailing behind.
Garen gave both of them a wry smile and shrugged helplessly. It was just as well if he walked together with everyone else.
At the front, Golden Hoop Number 9 did not seem to mind. He walked on alone at a moderate pace and soon only the amber glow from the torch in his hand could be seen.
"Why don't we head back now?" Garen suggested in a whisper.
"We can't escape. Golden Hoop Number 9 is extremely swift and silent, so it's impossible for us to escape." Detective Dale looked calm. "Come, let's keep up."
He took the lead in catching up. Everyone behind him looked at each other and could only continue.
Garen and the White Eagle walked together. As he reported on the situation above ground to the rest of them in an undertone, the atmosphere in the group turned bleak.
"We're in a really sticky situation right now. Fortunately, the one we've encountered is Golden Hoop Number 9. He’s a relatively unique presence within the entire Golden Hoop organization. If the key was in anyone else's hands, it would be much more problematic," Si Lan analyzed in a hushed tone. "I'm just not sure what Mister is thinking."
"Don't worry about it. Mister won't be wrong. Let's just keep up," the White Eagle said while frowning.
The policeman held the trap expert by the arm. The trap expert was so cold he was shivering and could not utter a word. Both of them tried to warm themselves with the torch fire, but it did not help.
Since they were now under duress from the Golden Hoop, they did not dare say anything, so they just gritted their teeth and went along.
It was unclear how long they kept walking down the staircase. Golden Hoop Number 9 would hit and knock on the walls from time to time, as if he was very familiar with the surroundings. They did not encounter any other booby traps along the way and soon the bottom could be seen.
At the end of the stairs was a small circular open space. On the black floor, there were three gray leather sofas arranged in a triangle and covered with a thin layer of frost. Not far from the open space was a grubby fireplace and the coal inside was also covered by frost.
There was a bookcase, but it was completely empty.
When he reached the last step of the staircase, Golden Hoop Number 9 stopped in his tracks. He stood on the step and did not walk down.
He furrowed his brows and slowly reached out his right hand which had been hidden under the cloak. He slightly flicked his wrist and something black could be seen between his fingers.
The black object flew out and landed on the black floor of the open space.
Woosh woosh woosh woosh…!!!
A dense flurry of arrows fired out from both sides, shattering the black object. Countless short black arrows punctured the floor.
Golden Hoop Number 9 tossed out another black object and triggered another shower of arrows.
After three consecutive instances, the holes in the walls on both sides finally sealed themselves up, and there was no more movement.
The crowd behind him was stunned. All in all, there must have been up to 1,000 short arrows released and the tip of each one glowed with a trace of purple.
"The short arrows have all been released," Golden Hoop Number 9 said casually as he crouched down and removed his hood. Unexpectedly, he had a white rat in his left hand and gently placed it on the black floor.
The mouse gave a few squeaks and scurried towards the sofas.
It traveled few steps in before its body suddenly plunged downwards. It sank into the ground. The white rat squeaked wildly, but it was no use. Suddenly, a black wire dragged it up and flung it back into the arms of Golden Hoop Number 9.
The tail of the rat was coiled with strands of black wire. It would have been easily missed if one did not look carefully.
Golden Hoop Number 9 gently soothed the white rat, then stood up.
"In front of us is the Swamp of Malice, one of the booby traps used in Ancient Endor to punish thieves. Only thieves and cowards with malicious intent will be caught in the swamp."
"What is your motive then?" Detective Dale questioned softly.
"Of course it's…that." Golden Hoop Number 9 did not turn around, but directly strode down the steps.
"Wait…!!" The booby trap expert was about to stop him, but was dumbfounded when he saw that Golden Hoop Number 9 was still standing firmly on the black floor and had already walked to the three sofas in a few steps.
In the middle of the group, Garen looked uncertain.
Just as Golden Hoop Number 9 approached the sofas, Garen suddenly felt a stream of mild warmth permeate through his skin into his body. It was Potential, a small amount of Potential.
Golden Hoop Number 9 stood between the sofas — it was unclear what he did — but clicking sounds slowly came from the black floor.
Surprisingly, a light gray stone table gradually rose up from the floor in front of the fireplace.
The stone table was cylindrical and there were four owl sculptures around it. On the table was a black hardcover book.
There was finally a trace of excitement in the eyes of Golden Hoop Number 9. He strode towards the gray stone table and reached for the black book.
A gunshot rang out. A smoking bullet hole suddenly appeared on the ground at his feet.
Golden Hoop Number 9 stood in his place and looked over his shoulder at the crowd.
"What are you doing?"
The White Eagle stood in front of Detective Dale Quicksilver with his gun raised and a solemn expression on his face, but he was not the one who spoke.
The detective's gaze silently concentrated on Golden Hoop Number 9.
"If my guess is correct, that book is your ultimate goal. Am I right?"
"Indeed." The man nodded without hesitation. "I am grateful that you helped us find this underground entrance, but my gratitude is that I let you all go. Since we are on opposing sides, I should directly kill you to rid my organization of trouble. You understand."
"You can't kill us." The detective smiled. "The booby traps here are no joke. If my guess is right, that book is the legendary Book of Silence. If this treasure fell into the Golden Hoop's hands, it would be as if a lion grew wings. The consequences would be disastrous."
"This book is not for the organization." Golden Hoop Number 9 smiled. His body jerked forward then swayed abruptly left and right. He grabbed the book and leapt from the spot. Like a black bat, he flew up and hung by the side of the upper staircase. With a somersault, he was on the staircase one level above their heads.
"Don't move!" Detective Dale halted the White Eagle who was ready to spring into action.
Suddenly, like a forest of skewers, a dense bunch of black spikes protruded from the ground. The sofas were instantly punctured with numerous holes. The White Eagle was so frightened he broke out in a cold sweat.
It was only then that the detective looked at the booby trap expert to his side.