The old lady's footsteps were like that of scurrying mice which made their nests in cupboards. The rustling sounds were fleeting. Qing Jiuliu pressed his forehead against the carpet. He was unwilling to even look. After seeing that woman's crooked smile, he had enough. He really didn't want to witness the very moment that the old lady would disappear from the corridor.
Once she left, that would mean that the four of them would be stuck in this limbo between life and death. Perhaps, they might have to live out their lives like this forever. If they were lucky, hopefully, their lives would be short. If they were unlucky, they would be stuck in their current conditions until they went to the next world and die of whatever other means.
"The worst thing of all is that I'll have to bear with my alcohol addiction until I die…" Qing Jiuliu thought to himself helplessly as he listened to the grand prize struggling beside him.
Despite Ji Shanqing's quick-wittedness, he could not think of any way out. Between the intensive beatings, he tried his best to rush toward the corridor, hoping to catch up with the old lady. However, amidst the blurry afterimages which trailed behind the old lady, she left him far behind and disappeared from his sight.
Qing Jiuliu closed his eyes and sighed.
"Save the effort," Qing Jiuliu knew that Ji Shanqing's face was swollen and covered with bruise even without looking. "You are the only one who can move right now. Quick! Can you think of something to nullify the effects on our bodies?"
"Well! We can only get rid of these effects if we get her!" After hitting walls metaphorically and literally, JI Shanqing didn't display the best attitude. "If we can't catch her, we can only wait for death!"
"Look, we can't get her now!"
"How will we know if we don't try… huh?" the grand prize suddenly hesitated.
"What's wrong?" Qing Jiuliu, who was lying by the pool, didn't even feel like turning his head. After waiting for a few seconds, Qing Jiuliu had no choice but to turn around because Ji Shanqing did not answer him.
Surprisingly, the round hunchback in green clothes appeared at the corner of the corridor again.
"The old lady returned?"
Before his hopes could be reignited, Qing Jiuliu knitted his brows. By the looks of things, the old lady had retreated, walking backward. She was still facing the corridor as she took a few cautious steps backward. She stood quietly behind a corner.
"What is sh-she doing? Why did she come back?" Qing Jiuliu groused doubtfully before he suddenly raised his brows. The voice which echoed faintly in the air seemed to answer his question.
"Ah, yes. It is very important but I said…"
A faint voice floated toward them from a distance as the owner of the voice walked through the corridor. As the person was still very far from them, it was hard to discern who he was. In spite of that, Qing Jiuliu's eyes lit up when hearing that strangely familiar voice. He knew that person!
The old lady held her breath as she stood by the corner of the corridor. She was also waiting for the man who was speaking to walk out of the corridor.
Ji Shanqing and Qing Jiuliu exchanged glances. Both of them saw the same thought in each other's expression. "Strange…"
The old lady was probably great at combat. Since she knew about the existence of Astral Plane, she could clearly use higher consciousness. However, why did she have to hide before she activating her ability?
However, this wasn't the right time to ponder about the old lady's actions. Seeing the grand prize signaling, Qing Jiuliu immediately raised his head and shouted, "Don't come over!"
The footsteps stopped immediately.
The old lady snapped her head around and glared at Qing Jiuliu. When she turned back to look at the corridor again, two rows of words had appeared near her finger. The content in the "conditions" and "consequences" was refreshed once more. The option of "schizophrenia symptoms" disappeared.
"Why? What happened?" A slightly puzzled voice came from the corridor.
As the old lady suddenly took a step forward, Ji Shanqing's voice burst out, "Hide! Quick!"
No one could see what had happened at the corridor as it was in their blind spot. After the old lady rushed into the corridor, they heard a clatter as if something had fallen on the floor. Subsequently, there was silence. By then, even Lin Sanjiu had walked closer to the corridor with her expressionless face. The three of them stared in the direction of the corridor.
After a few seconds, Irezumi's enraged voice rang out. "Who the fuck is this old lady? She scared me! I even dropped my communicator."
The few of them let out a collective sigh of relief. Ji Shanqing quickly shouted toward the corridor, "Are you alright? Don't let her see you!"
Before Irezumi said another word, Ji Shanqing paused for a moment and shouted, "And don't let her run away!"
"Hey girly boy, why don't you attack her? Hey, you're all talk and no action." They heard Irezumi's grumbling voice clearly. Apparently, he was still alright. They didn't know where he was hiding but he could see the old lady without her spotting him. Unfortunately, both of them had to go through the same corridor so they were stuck in a bizarre tug-of-war.
"Hey, are you sure it's alright if he just stays out of sigh?" Qing Jiuliu asked quietly with a frown.
"If the old lady caused the apocalypse, wouldn't she need to see every person in this world before she could activate that effect… In that case, wouldn't it be meaningless if Irezumi kept himself out of sight?" Qing Jiuliu thought to himself.
As Ji Shanqing gasped, he answered between the beatings, "Think about it. She knew that Magus was in this building but she needed to nullify Magus's illusion and see her before she took action against her. Previously, she saw you and made use of your concept of the word "everybody" before we all changed. I think the minimum requirement for her to use her ability is to see her target."
After he finished his sentence with intermittent pauses, the two people in the corridor were still stuck in a deadlock situation. Qing Jiuliu thought for a moment, before he asked diffidently, "Maybe, the apocalypse in this world has nothing to do with her?"
Qing Jiuliu expected a simple "yes" from Ji Shanqing. However, the grand prize simply bit his own lower lip and did not say anything as if there was still something that didn't make sense to him.
With only his head mobile, Qing Jiuliu had to stretch his neck to see how the situation at the corridor would play out. Soon, his neck hurt badly. Considering that nothing would happen for the time being, he finally lowered his head and sighed.
The moment he lowered his head, a gust of wind suddenly swept past his head from behind him. It struck outward and hit the wall with a violent thud, seemingly carrying along with it.
Meanwhile, Qing Jiuliu's once world-renowned face was smashed partially into the carpet by the invisible large creature that hit him from behind. His eyes widened, as if the unexpected force shocked him so badly that he couldn't react. For a short moment, he couldn't even say a single word. If he had hesitated for a second before lowering his head, half his brains would have been blown away.
"Oh my," Irezumi's voice rang out from the corridor. He even sounded slightly apologetic, "[A Bashful Python] is like a bull in a china shop, but don't you know how to dodge?"
"Can I dodge right now?!" Qing Jiuliu ranted inward. Even though he couldn't feel his body, he was aware that part of his body was pinned under that 'bashful python'. Qing Jiuliu made every effort to turn his eyes to Ji Shanqing and discovered the grand prize sitting on the floor staring blankly in the direction that the large python went.
"What happened?" Qing Jiuliu asked with difficulty. He had a hard time breathing under the weight of the large python.
"His… his python has wrapped itself around the old lady," Ji Shanqing gulped as if he couldn't process the image he was seeing, "The python is tightening itself around her… It is tightening its grip…"
Qing Jiuliu immediately recalled a scene in his memory. When Lin Sanjiu was fighting with Irezumi downstairs, she was wrapped by the python. She couldn't move and her face turned red...
He finally felt a little less worried. Since the old lady had already been bound so tightly that she couldn't move, she shouldn't be able to activate her ability so she probably wasn't much of a threat right now.
However, when Qing Jiuliu saw Ji Shanqing's expression, he couldn't help feeling nervous again.
The grand prize gaped, "But, the old lady's body is contorted."
"What?" Qing Jiuliu didn't understand his words, "She has been crushed by the pressure?"
Ji Shanqing inhaled deeply. He currently had enough experience finding time between his beatings to speak. As he examined the old lady from a distance, the grand prize wheezed as he explained, "No, she isn't dead… I don't know how to describe her… Let me give you an example. Right now, she is like a crushed photo in a person's fist…"
Qing Jiulilu knitted his brows together as he tried to picture that image.
"Wouldn't it be lethal if a person was crushed to that extent?" He had barely raised that question when he heard Irezumi suddenly cursing quietly. Next, Qing Jiuliu suddenly felt a weight lifted from the back of his neck. The [Bashful Python] seemed to have slithered away. Once he was freed again, he twisted his neck and looked behind him.
Once he turned behind, he immediately understood Ji Shanqing.
The old lady who had just been released by the python was still alive. On top of that, her expression didn't even change a bit. Apart from her normal human head, her body was like a crushed dollar bill. She exercised her shoulders and neck and tried to untangle her crumpled body. Ji Shanqing described her appearance very accurately. Other than her head and her legs, her body was like a crumpled photograph. There were deep, horrible-looking contorted folds in her body. With the addition of her blurry outline, she didn't even look human anymore.
"Where is this old lady from?" Irezumi cursed and questioned loudly, "I've already exerted the maximum pressure with the python. That should even crush a rock into powder. Why is she still perfectly fine?"
No one answered him. At that point, the old lady walked toward Qing Jiuliu. Step by step, with her deformed legs, she moved in an unimaginably grotesque manner. When her black cloth shoes were by Qing Jiuliu's ear, she finally stopped. For a second, there was complete silence.
Then, she chuckled. One couldn't help associating her coarse laughter to a dry dead tree struck down by lightning.
"You managed to get him to hide from me so that I can't see him. You guys are quick-witted. However, among the 'consequences' in my ability, there are some options which do not require specific targets…"
Qing Jiuliu was stunned. He suddenly remembered how the old lady had gotten rid of Magus's illusion. If she had an option like "show all hidden targets", wouldn't Irezumi's defeat be only a matter of time?
"I'm not in a hurry," the old lady looked around and noticed Qing Jiuliu's expression. Her saggy skin shook a little as she smiled. "Although I don't have an option like that right now, I'm sure a consequence like that would appear after we wait for a few minutes… You've all witnessed my ability. He can't escape now even if he tries."
The grand prize suddenly inhaled sharply. Considering everything, were their deaths inevitable now?
Once Irezumi came out from hiding, the old lady would spot him immediately. However, if he didn't show himself, the old lady could always wait for a suitable "consequence" and things would end up the same. Momentarily, all of them realized that they were back to square one. They could only wait and watch as the old lady refreshed her menu over and over again. There was nothing they could do.
The first 60 seconds passed quickly. The old lady read the menu and scoffed before she averted her gaze. She stared at the corridor but did not deactivate the menu. With that, she could use her [Concept Mishmash] on her opponent the moment he appeared.
"I'm giving you a warning! You better not come out, and don't make a sound!" A fuzzy arbiter's voice came out from the communicator. "I don't care if anything happened to you. However, that would increase my workload."
Surprisingly, Irezumi didn't make a sound just as advised though Qing Jiuliu could imagine the man indignation. After a while, the old lady scoffed. She stared back at her menu. The next 60 seconds interval ended, and the two rows of words were updated.
For a moment, no one on the entire floor made a sound. No one knew what to say and no one knew what to do. The only sounds they could hear were the muffled thuds as the grand prize was beaten up and the splashing sounds from the pool.
The second update came quickly and the content in the menu changed in a flash. Qing Jiuliu had been staring at the old lady's finger for a long time. With a sweeping glance, he noticed the fifth option: "See a person you long to see".
"Shit..." Qing Jiuliu closed his eyes. When he opened them again, he saw the old lady breaking into a wide grin. As she laughed, she chose the fifth option.
However, the old lady suddenly wavered. Her body suddenly grew longish, as if something was sucking her in. Just when Qing Jiuliu was about to scream, she already disappeared from where she was standing.