Underworld Playerchapter 85: elementary, my dear watson

While he was loath to admit it, Traveler's spirits had been steadily declining—after all, he and Viridescent had been effectively imprisoned.

It had become overwhelmingly clear that the corridor the two Players were in had no beginning and no end, and ten minutes of non-stop running along it had put them no closer to finding an exit. Meanwhile, the wall-slapping shadow had tailed them the whole way, never falling more than a few meters behind.

Whenever the shadow got within about five meters of them, Viridescent had to slash at it to send it further back along the corridor. Failure to do so meant that little cuts would start appearing on their bodies out of nowhere.

Despite Viridescent's speedy reflexes, both Players had suffered dozens of cuts over the past ten minutes. Fortunately, the cuts were not deep, and they had supplies with which to heal themselves, but this state of affairs was far from sustainable.

As she sent the shadow back once again with a swing of her blade, Viridescent shot a gloomy look at Traveler. "This cannot continue. At this rate, we'll die to attrition!"

Not a single one of her attacks had landed. Every time she slashed at the shadow, it merely teleported a short distance away, then resumed its approach. Conversely, it was the Players who suffered under the relentless barrage of cuts. While they could keep it up for some time, they knew it was over for them as soon as they expended the last of their stamina.

"There's nowhere else we can go but forward." Traveler frowned as he tore a strip of gauze to bandage the wounds on his arm.

He had suffered the brunt of the shadow's attacks, with dozens of cuts to show for it, while Viridescent was relatively unscathed. It was as if he had been sliced by so many invisible shards of glass, and new bloody lines always appeared suddenly and without warning whenever the shadow drew near.

So far, they had determined that the cuts would start appearing whenever the shadow approached within five meters of them, and increased in severity the closer it got. Several times, the shadow even managed to get within arm's reach—putting Traveler dangerously close to getting his throat sliced open.

However, even at close quarters, the shadow remained visible only as a blurry shape.

Perhaps they could have counted themselves lucky that the shadow's attacks were not instantly fatal, but what difference did it make, if they did not even know whether they could keep it up for much longer?

On and on the corridor went, the doors to either side defying any attempts to open them, as if they were only ornamental. With no way to escape the shadow, nor harm it in the slightest, Traveler and Viridescent's fates appeared to be all but sealed.

"No!" Traveler slumped against the wall and slid down with a sigh, ignoring the blood seeping from the bandages around his calves. "I'm sure there's something I overlooked...!"

He fixed an unwavering gaze at the black shadow, roughly a dozen meters away.

All this time, the shadow had done nothing but beat the wall. It looked harmless—ridiculous, even—but the myriad lacerations that it inflicted whenever it was within a five-meter radius was no laughing matter.

Traveler was still racking his brains for some important clue that he was sure he had missed, but try as he might, he simply could not recall what it was.

As the shadow was once again repelled by Viridescent's blade, this time at the ten-meter mark, Traveler reluctantly drew his walkie-talkie, feeling a vague sense of failure weighing on his heart. In as calm a voice as possible, he conveyed his and Viridescent's present circumstances to the other Players.

A long pause later, a certain voice replied.

"So, you're stuck in an endless corridor with no exits with a dark shadow that won't stop slapping the wall while it stalks you... Man, what kinda twisted nightmare did you guys stumble into? Over."

Bai Zhi nonchalantly kicked open a door to a room even as he listened to Traveler's voice coming from the walkie-talkie, one eyebrow quizzically arched.

"Damned if I know, but look—we've been trapped here for ten minutes, and I... I can't find a way out."

There was a palpable sense of defeat in the tone of Traveler's voice.

"Huh... How about you go over again, in detail, what exactly happened after you walked into that corridor?" said Bai Zhi as he surveyed the room before him. It was empty, and showed no signs of ever having been lived in. Meanwhile, the walkie-talkie crackled as Traveler spoke.

"... And that's about it. I'm pretty sure that there's something else I overlooked but I can't, for the life of me, figure out what it is." Traveler gave a helpless sigh as he concluded his retelling of the events. "The way you handled the last encounter showed me that you are my better in this regard. In your shoes, while I believe I would have solved it eventually, I would not have had your composure, nor realized the connection to the kids' drawings as quickly... So if anyone can help us now, it's you. Over."

Bai Zhi looked around the empty room again as he memorized its layout, before turning and moving on.

Into the walkie-talkie, he said, "You said earlier that when you detonated the little robot, the explosion was somehow reflected onto yourself, right?"

"Correct. If Viridescent hadn't kicked me backward, I would have been injured by my own explosion. Over." Traveler's answer sounded hurried, as if he was on the move. it seemed that they were in the midst of avoiding another attack.

"What does the black shadow look like, then? Any particular rhythm to its wall-slapping?" As he strolled to the next room, Bai Zhi continued to speak to Traveler in a calm, unhurried tone of voice.

"It just looks like a blurry shadow, even up close. As for the slapping, it's monotonous, completely steady and mechanical, with no variation whatsoever... I tried decoding it with various telegraph codes, but got nowhere with it."

After patiently explaining all this, Traveler added urgently, "Well, any ideas?"

"Oh sure, I've figured out what you're dealing with. Or rather, I should say the clue was there from the beginning. Obvious, really." Bai Zhi replied, almost lazily, as he casually kicked another door open.

"You, my friend, have been blinded by your own intelligence. It's elementary, my dear Watson~"

Traveler was dumbstruck.