Chapter 132. Theory of Relativity (4)
Before they started wandering around, they decided to set a clear goal first.
“There’s no problem without a cause,” Nangnang continued. He was a more reliable guide than what his teammates expected. “Identifying the cause is the first step to solving any problem.” Then, Nangnang proposed the 5W1H method to approach the situation, namely to identify the Where, What, When, Why, Where, and How. Currently, they were able to answer five of the six questions, leaving only the ‘how’ to be figured out. To find an answer to the question, Nangnang suggested a very simple method.
“There’s no getting around it. We have to search the place thoroughly no matter how long that would take us.” Even at a first glance, there were already several buildings that they could immediately see, and the campus was quite vast. But for some reason, Nangnang thought they would be able to complete their search quickly. He pointed at the corpse at the bottom of the staircase and said, “That corpse’s face was stricken with fear, and based on the manner in which he died, he seemed to be running for his life before he exhausted his strength and died. In other words, there’s something in this building that killed the knight.”
Nangnang looked up at the towering main building quietly. Sometime later, the expedition team got into a rhombus formation again. Taking the lead, Nangnang climbed up the staircase and cautiously opened the gla.s.s door. They went inside. The interior was no different from a regular school. At the front stood a wide staircase leading upstairs, and a pa.s.sageway stretched forward each. Stopping in his tracks, Nangnang pondered for a bit before heading to the hallway on the left. As he had suggested before entering the campus proper, it seemed they were going to search the place thoroughly without overlooking a spot.
Although he could intervene, Chi-Woo decided to respect the guide’s judgments. The hallway was lined with doors. Nangnang went to the nearest one and pressed his face against it, craning his ears to listen closely. After staying in that position for a while, he gave his companions a pointed look, and Snowy Mountain came forward.
“I’m opening the door,” Nangnang said quietly before pus.h.i.+ng the door open with great care. Snowy Mountain raised both arms, ready to drop into defense; he put his arms back down when nothing happened.
The room was a mess. It looked like a cla.s.sroom, but all the desks and chairs inside were broken and scattered.
—Oh my. This is no joke.
Philip whistled while looking down from the air. ‘Oh, that’s right.’ Chi-Woo only remembered then there was a spirit following him around. He glanced at Philip, and his tenseness eased a bit. For some reason, Philip’s presence was rea.s.suring.
“Hm…” Nangnang went inside and slowly circled around the cla.s.sroom, scanning the room at the same time. Then he looked down at the floor and sniffed.
“There are traces of escape.” Nangnang’s nose twitched. “There are signs of a disorderly, hectic retreat. It seemed about six or seven people had hurriedly escaped after seeing something.”
“The door was closed,” Snowy Mountain added in a low voice. If people were running away so hurriedly, the door should’ve been left open.
“That’s why I am still looking at the area. It seems some had run toward the door and…” With his eyes on the floor, Nangnang returned to the door.
“…When they were about to reach the door,” Nangnang looked back again and continued, “…They were dragged off. None of them were left behind, not even one.” In other words, there had been a mysterious monster strong enough to overpower several skilled individuals at once.
As Nangnang shared his observations, Chi-Woo looked at him in awe. He couldn’t for the life of him figure out what had happened no matter how hard he surveyed the room, but this cat was painting a vivid picture with the traces left in the room, as if he had been at the actual scene.
“…It really is strange,” Nangnang said with confusion, “If they had tried to run away but failed…they must have died.” Nangnang looked around and tilted his head, “But I can’t find any traces of blood. It’s too clean here.”
Like the knight they found dead from blood loss outside of the building, there was little evidence for the exact cause of their death.
“Perhaps they weren’t dragged away?” Shadia made a logical guess, but Nangnang refrained from giving an answer due to his uncertainty.
“I think we have to look around a bit more for now,” Nangnang said and made his way to the hallway. Afterward, the same thing happened over and over again. The expedition group opened every door in the hallway and searched inside. Sometimes, they found things worth taking, but as their guide, Nangnang asked them to ignore these items for now and continue going forward.
“Our captain doesn’t have much time to spare. We have to weigh the things we have to do in terms of importance.” They could stop for an artisan-crafted item that would grant them extra power instantly, but for things like gems and other metal goods, they could come back to them at a later time. Although it was a bit of a shame, Chi-Woo decided to focus on the investigation at hand.
Unfortunately, they failed to gather more information after the first room; the rooms were all in similar messes, and there wasn’t much of a difference between the traces they found. After not achieving much on the first floor, the group went up to the second floor without pause, but the search turned out to be likewise futile. They were about to go up to the third floor when Nangnang suddenly stopped walking.
“What is it?” Shadia asked.
Dropping to all fours on the staircase with his tail raised high, Nangnang whispered, “I hear a sound,” his hair standing on end.
Chi-Woo craned his ears to listen.
He heard it then. It was a faint sound that he could barely make out.
—They seem to be crying very sorrowfully… Why is it so creepy?
Philip hunched his shoulders and shuddered.
“We’re going up. Just refrain from making too much noise to the best of your ability.” Nangnang began to climb the stairs again, but he was more cautious than before. Trying their best to stay as quiet as possible, the groups climbed up to the third floor, and the sound became clearer.
“Uhah…Uhahhhh…” It was a frail, thin voice. It sounded like a baby babbling, or a girl sobbing. No sooner had all of them made it to the third floor that Nangnang swiveled to one side. Chi-Woo also turned around, his eyes narrowed. To the left of the stairs that led to the fourth floor, there was a girl sitting in the middle of the hallway. Because she was back facing them, they couldn’t see her face. She simply made sobbing noises with her head bowed. She wore what looked like a uniform, and it seemed she was one of the Salem Academy’s students.
“Uhah—Uhahhhh—” Alone in the reddish hallway, she cried.
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It wouldn’t have been suspicious if she was quietly sobbing by herself, but why would she cry out loud in such an open s.p.a.ce, given the circ.u.mstances? It was strange and extremely suspicious. Nangnang, who was cautiously watching the girl bawl, turned to look over his shoulder. When Chi-Woo gave him a nod, Nangnang cleared his throat and was about to say something.
There was no way of knowing what she was talking about, but there was one thing that was clear. The girl—no, the being that looked like a girl—was enraged. She looked as if she had experienced a great injustice, and was now showing intense fury.
“Zumuru Butchsu zuzueh…” Something changed. “Thar ughru zumuru su…?” Dark red veins popped out of her skin and quickly spread to her whole face. “Busuhu thar…” Her face turned into a muddy color as if it was molding, and the whites of her eyes became black. “Duzudu Bres…!” Her mouth opened inhumanly wide until her chin reached her chest. Then her tongue rolled out and touched the floor. “Zu-uh-eheheheh-!” With a scream, she rushed up to them with reckless abandon, moving so terrifyingly fast that her arms dangled on her sides, along with her long, long tongue.
“Be careful!” Nangnang quickly shouted and lowered his stance, ready to retaliate. However, the monster who used to be a girl jumped over Nangnang and plunged into their formation, going after Shadia in the middle. Snowy Mountain was already in a defensive stance, and he quickly moved in front of Shadia to block the monster’s path. He swung his fist at the monster’s mouth.
Punch! His fist, which was the size of a pot lid, collided with the monster’s face, and yet it was Snowy Mountain who ended up flinching. It didn’t feel like he had hit something hard. There was no impact. It felt as if he had hit an empty bag.
“Ugh!” Snowy Mountain cried out as he felt a burning sensation from his fist. Even though he was sure he had gotten a solid punch in, he was bitten instead. The monster did not let go. It clamped its teeth together hard and chewed on Snowy Mountain’s fist. Even though Snowy Mountain used his free hand to hit the monster’s stomach once more, its body simply sloshed. It didn’t seem to have received any damage.
“Nangnang!” At that moment, Nangnang quickly hurled himself toward the monster, his sharp claws piercing the monster’s deer-like neck, and the monster’s head separated from its body. Nangnang narrowed his eyes even after fulfilling his objective. The sensation he felt when slicing into the monster’s neck was strange. He might as well be hitting a hollow snowman. Moreover, not a single drop of blood could be seen, and even though its head had been cut off, it still didn’t let go of Snowy Mountain’s hand.
It was at that moment Chi-Woo clearly saw it: the monster’s hair began to move like it had a life of its own, and every strand shot at Snowy Mountain’s hand at once to pierce it. The monster’s darkened face instantly returned to its original color, and the hand in its maw turned black instead as if the monster’s head had injected ink into Snowy Mountain’s hand with a syringe.
While everyone’s eyes were focused on the monster, Snowy Mountain quickly cut off his wrist with his other hand.
Splurge! Blood burst out, and his cut hand fell to the ground. It absorbed all the scattered blood in an instant and started scrambling like an octopus.
Crackle! The hand was engulfed in flames. It was a spell from Shadia. She had responded quickly, but it was in vain. The crawling hand sprang like a spider and quickly skittered away like it was trying to escape. With a quick flick of her wrist, Hawa shot a dagger through the air, making a whoosh. The blade pinned the large hand on the floor with great precision.
“If fire doesn’t work…!” While the hand was skewered and prevented from moving, Shadia cast another spell. Wind gathered around the hand and sliced it into pieces. Subsequently, frost appeared on the pieces and froze them completely. The hand, which had been scrambling to flee, finally grew still.
“Pwehh—” Shadia let out a sigh in relief and threw Snowy Mountain an apologetic glance. “I took care of it just in case. Was it all right?”
“It doesn’t matter. I was the one who sliced it off in the first place. But…” Snowy Mountain clutched his b.l.o.o.d.y arm and let out a small sigh as he looked down. The others followed his gaze and looked taken aback.
The corpse had reverted back to that of an ordinary girl, but it was completely hollowed. No organ, no bone, not even a drop of blood—the only thing left was an empty sh.e.l.l made out of skin.
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