Over the years, the thick layers of fallen leaves had painted a blend of green and orange color on the avenue. The dead leaves were like a group of musician, singing a symphony of soothing tone for those stepping on them.
Accompanied by the cacophony of crackling leaves, Lin Sanjiu stopped moving forward as she felt a twinge of confusion.
An eddy of wind blew past her, picking up a few leaves and carrying them to her front. The sepia leaves whirled in the blue sky for a moment before falling on the bridge not far away.
Everything was so quiet, and there was no sight of either that old lady or Qing Jiuliu.
There was a river at the end of the street. The London plane trees were thinning toward the end of the road and there were lesser fallen leaves on the ground. Hence, it had become harder for Lin Sanjiu to keep track of them.
Without thinking twice, Lin Sanjiu activated her [Higher Consciousness Scan] and continued her search forward. Nevertheless, her attempt was futile as she couldn't find their traces anywhere in the end. Overwhelmed by her anxiety, she kept moving forward and just as she was crossing the bridge, she somehow caught a human voice from the air.
Stunned, she stopped and pricked her ears.
It was as if somebody was shouting in the distance, again and again. The speaker was too far away from her. By the time it reached her, the voice had dissolved into a bunch of meaningless words. She listened to it with her brows furrowed for a few seconds before jerking up from the ground and dashing back to the hotel.
It was Ji Shanqing's voice, and he was calling her!
"Was this all planned by that old lady? She lured me away so that she could target the hotel?"
Lin Sanjiu's heart was beating like a galloping horse beneath her ribs. She hastened her speed, arriving at the hotel in the blink of an eye. When she saw the person in front, her expression froze.
Qing Jiuliu was sitting in front of the hotel, surrounded with laundry bags that he had taken out of the hotel. Hugging a bag full of wine bottles, he looked confused, as if he had no idea where he was now.
"Sis—" Ji Shanqing's voice wafted into her ears from upstairs. It seemed like he had long realized Qing Jiuliu had returned, "Finally, you heard me."
"What is going on here?" Lin Sanjiu was all at sea. She lifted her head and yelled at her grand prize, "Are you all right?" After she had confirmed that the grand prize was merely calling her back, she walked closer to Qing Jiuliu and picked him up from the ground.
The man who slumped like slush in her arms raised his head. His eyes were glistering with tears.
"How did you get back here? I saw you go down that road just now, and that old lady—"
Qing Jiuliu smacked his lips as he slouched against Lin Sanjiu, "There's a person… I'm not sure if she is an old lady either. All I can remember is somebody tugging at my sleeve and telling me that I had gone the wrong way… Then, before I knew, I was already here."
Lin Sanjiu's frown grew deeper.
"How did she know you're heading the wrong way… What else did she say?"
"Ah?" Qing Jiuliu replied, waving his hand, "She did say something else, but I can't remember. My brain is all over the place right now… Let me have a cigarette to clear my mind."
With that, he took out a brand new box of cigarette and a split new lighter. He was unnaturally gifted in searching for tobacco and wine. As he took a long pull from the cigarette, he moved toward the front entrance with Lin Sanjiu. Although there was an entrance at the back of the hotel as well, it had been blocked by a dozen of crashed vehicles.
"Think, faster," Lin Sanjiu fanned away the smoke with her hand, "... You should go back and take a shower."
"You don't understand," Qing Jiuliu purred. "The more I look like a beggar, the fewer people would trouble me."
"Explain to me that old lady, then?"
"...Maybe she took pity on me? Or perhaps she's elderly with social graces?" Qing Jiuliu replied indifferently. Then, he drew his brows together, staring straight at the entrance door, "Wait, she seems to have said something about the "hotel."
"Hotel?" Lin Sanjiu looked at him. When she saw his half-closed eyes, she was getting more nervous, "Pick up your speed. Let's tell Ji Shanqing."
The grand prize was smart and perhaps he could analyze the situation better than her. But little did she expect that the moment she turned around, Qing Jiuliu had grabbed her by her arm from behind.
"Wait a sec," it was rare to see him moved so agile. However, the furrows on his forehead deepened as his eyebrows drew down further. Clawing tightly at Lin Sanjiu's wrist, he said, "Don't go in first… Some images are coming back to me."
"What? Spit it out."
"What I'm certain is that she wasn't talking to me at that time," Qing Jiuliu muttered. By degrees, he was regaining his sobriety; his eyes sparkled like two diamonds, "...I can still vaguely recall being taken by the old lady on her shoulder. The experience was bad as my face was pressing against her hunch. When she said those words, rather than saying that she was talking to herself, it's more like…"
"...It's more like she was activating some items or abilities," Qing Jiuliu paused as he realized he had been keeping Lin Sanjiu in a state of suspense. "She mentioned two words: 'hotel, and the fact...' Or did she say something else."
"What did she say?"
"Maybe I was wrong," Tilting his head, Qing Jiuliu said to himself, "... It can't be."
Lin Sanjiu was ticked off by his mumbles. She grabbed him at his collar and boomed, "Spit it out! Don't keep me hanging on!"
"She said something like when, then a hotel, and the fact that…"
Once again, Qing Jiuliu had a lapse on his memories. As if he was facing the hardest question in the world, his delicate face was all wrenched together, "...Ah, I can't remember what she said."
Lin Sanjiu finally had run out of patience. Without saying a thing, she dragged him into the hotel. Even though what Qing Jiuliu said made no sense at all, it still worried her sick. Logically speaking, the old lady and they were perfect strangers, and she found no reason for the old lady to find trouble with them. So, was Magus her target?
Besides, it was Magus who decided to turn this hotel into their temporary base.
When Lin Sanjiu went full tilt on her strength, there was no way Qing Jiuliu could free himself from her clutch. As he breathed out a serial of sounds that weren't really words, he kept patting on the back of her palm. However, he stopped struggling the moment Lin Sanjiu crossed the entrance door.
"I, I remember…"
Qing Jiuliu voice was quivering. However, at this moment, Lin Sanjiu, who suddenly had become shorter, didn't want to hear it anymore.