Underworld Playerchapter 10: elementary, my dear watson

"This world is getting more dangerous..."

Bai Zhi was on his way to the campus to attend the early morning self-study period with some books under his arm. He frowned slightly as he recalled the supernatural entity that had brazenly accosted him yesterday.

People are wont to cling to things they have lost. Having lost his life once before, Bai Zhi was not keen to lose it again.

In truth, the fact that it had approached him openly was quite unexpected, but he could not fathom what the entity had hoped to achieve. His best guess was that it was simply mad about how it had been foiled the previous day.

It had spoken in such a roundabout manner... what was it trying to say?

Bai Zhi stroked his chin as he mulled it over in his mind.

All fear stems from the fear of the unknown. He might have been more wary of the entity if it had continued to remain in hiding, but that brainless stunt it had pulled off this morning... it was completely incomprehensible.

As Bai Zhi walked along, lost in thought, a pale figure emerged from a thicket of jade-green bamboo where few people ventured. The figure made a beeline for Bai Zhi, its face set in a stony expression.

"Studying so early in the morning, huh? Among the bamboo, too." Bai Zhi muttered, silently cursing in his heart as he recognized the figure. It was the same person he had encountered at the café a few minutes earlier… Nevertheless, he made some room on the sidewalk as he kept walking.

Before his all-seeing eagle eyes, there could be no hidden secrets; discerning the genuine article from a fake was easy-peasy.

Take the one who approached him at the café this morning. The way she acted all smarmy with him, one glance was all it took for him to know that she was clearly the fake. This one, however, who stiffened up as soon as they saw him, as if afraid that he would pester her again, was obviously the real deal. Only a fool would mix up the two, you know?

While he was caught up in his thoughts, the figure of Lin XiaoYi who had emerged from the bamboo thicket was fast approaching him. The way her eyes were fixated unblinkingly on Bai Zhi the whole time, her face devoid of all expression, could be said to be odd, though. Even after she reached him and started walking alongside, she kept up that intense stare, which a bystander would certainly describe as unsettling. Not Bai Zhi.

So she's that wary of me, huh? The other Bai Zhi's harassment must have traumatized her pretty badly... Bai Zhi thought, as he shrank away from her. Regretting it slightly, he decided to raise an arm in a friendly greeting, to show he meant no harm.

She continued staring at him in silence.

Perhaps it was his sincerity that had moved her, but when Bai Zhi raised his arm and smiled at her, he clearly saw her stiffen up, then swiftly turn away and speed off into the distance.

"Oof," Bai Zhi sighed. "Hope she gets over her trauma soon..."

Bai Zhi gave a pitying shake of his head as he watched her figure recede, imagining her panic. Then, he continued on his merry way.

In order to access all the privileges given to academic elites, what was important to him now was to keep his nose to the grind and study hard.

As he passed by the empty lot in front of the Teachers' Residence, he noticed that it was occupied by the same boy he had seen playing with his shadow the day before. This time, the boy was not alone, but seemed to have some friends his age to play with.

He shook his head and muttered something vaguely sympathetic. "Even grade-schoolers get up this early, huh? The pressure of mandatory education these days..."

As he walked away breezily, he gave the children a wide berth, to keep his shadow from being stepped on, just as he had done before.

The children had their backs turned to him, but if he could see their faces, he would have seen twisted expressions of horror that belonged to faces far older than their figures suggested. Despite this, they continued to dance stiffly around the little boy, their movements coordinated with his.

Just like... marionettes.

The morning self-study period was not considered essential by most university students, but for first-years, attendance was supposed to be a mandatory requirement.

By the time Bai Zhi arrived at the classroom, students were already scattered throughout the room, and the room was half-full. His arrival did not cause a general stir. Those who knew he habitually skipped the morning self-study session were surprised to see him, but they minded their own business.

Bai Zhi did not take issue with that at all. He headed directly for the last row in the classroom and found a place to sit.

It would have made him feel more awkward if anyone had greeted him instead. After all, despite the class being quite a large one, he could still count the number of people whose names he knew on one hand... The other Bai Zhi was truly antisocial.

The rest of the morning was spent quietly reading. As the morning self-study period came to an end, it became time for the morning classes to begin.

Suddenly, a small commotion broke out at the front of the class. Out of curiosity, Bai Zhi went up to take a look, and what he learned put a significant damper on his mood.

One of his classmates had gone missing.

The person in question was Luo Hao, a glasses-wearing, inoffensive-looking young man. He had not been seen since yesterday after the chemistry lab class, when he had said that he was going back to the campus to retrieve something. It seemed that he never returned to the dorms after that, and nobody had heard from him or been able to reach him on his cellphone all morning.

It was nearly time for class to start, and Luo Hao, who had never skipped a single day, was still nowhere to be seen. His roommate, panicking, finally reported his disappearance to the faculty.

Coincidentally, there had also been a missing persons incident in the neighboring class. Not one, not two but three students from that class had gone missing, under similar circumstances as Luo Hao. They had been unreachable by phone or any other means since yesterday afternoon, and had not been seen in the dorms either.

Since this was a matter that involved the safety of its students, the school treated the news with the appropriate degree of seriousness. After offering some reassurance to the student body, they filed a full police report.

Due to the shocking news, the students were too worried to pay attention and the teachers did not have the heart to teach, so the morning classes ended up getting canceled. And thus, Bai Zhi, who showed up for class for the first time in a long time, was forced to skip it anyway.

"Did some new supernatural entities show up inside the school? So... it's not just the entity that latched on to me now..."

Leaving his books in his desk drawer, Bai Zhi walked outside where he noticed clear skies and pleasant weather. He raised his head to take in the beautiful day, and the corners of his eyes crinkled as he began to smile.