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    Translated by boilpoil
    Edited by boilpoil


     

    The closer the Missiontakers approached, the more they can feel the liveliness and even passion emanating from the hotpot store. It is almost subconsciously infecting the three Missiontakers, who simultaneously gulps, in anticipation of biting down into their favourite meal the next second.

    That is why, they all reflexively stopped in place.

    Fei says, “something’s wrong,” she says, staring at the store, “something… feels off.”

    Mu Jiashi says, “this madness, might be infectious.”

    Fei murmurs, “how hopeless that must be.”

    Mr Suicide is staring at the hotpot store and continuously gulping down saliva. He can feel his appetite burning, but the more it burns, the less willing he is to move. He seems to be enjoying this almost torturous sensation.

    Neither Fei nor Mu Jiashi pay any attention to him.

    Then Fei yells out to someone waiting for a seat, “hello? Can I ask you a question?”

    Perhaps dozens of metres separated them yet, but Fei really would rather not walk any closer. It feels dangerous.

    The person raises his head, looking rather stunned, pointing to his own chest in confusion.

    Fei nods, saying, “yes, you! I want to ask something.”

    She chose this person because all the others were here in pairs or groups, but he alone is by himself at the end of the queue, cowering, seemingly tortured by his hunger.

    Fei asks, “is the hotpot here good? There are so many people queueing we don’t know how long it’ll take!”

    “It’s amazing!” Says the person, giving her an awkward thumbs up. He then adds, with an almost religious fervour, “but, we’re all mainly here for the hotpot bath.”

    Hotpot bath?

    Fei asks him what that is.

    The person explains, “you pour boiling hot hotpot soup base onto your head, until it flows down right up to your toes… I heard some people can do it all the way, and I wish I can, too.”

    Fei’s expression looks quite complicated as she wonders, wouldn’t that send someone straight to the hospital?

    She then asks, “does it have some kind of special meaning?”

    “Cleansing of the self,” the person says, widening their eyes, “that is the meaning of the hotpot bath.”

    “Why don’t you just use water?” Fei asks, “hotpot is piping hot too.”

    “The hotter the better,” murmurs the person, “it kills bacteria…”

    Fei “…”

    Who in the world would use hotpot to kill bacteria, oi!

    Fei remains vehemently opposed, and is about to keep arguing, when Mu Jiashi tugs at her clothes, saying, “they’re too far gone,” he then adds rather sombrely, “you shouldn’t waste your time with them.”

    Fei snaps back to reality, realising she seemed kind of obsessed earlier.

    She quietly wonders, still in shock, “that is… the infectious madness?”

    “Possibly,” Mu Jiashi says, looking at the booming business of the hotpot store, “they seem to treat hotpot as some kind of religion… the hotpot soup base as holy water or something.”

    Fei feels a malicious chill down her spine, as if tiny worms were squirming on her back. Under the searing summer sun, her sweat has gone all cold.

    Shakily, she says, “but, it couldn’t be that only this hotpot store is crazy…”

    “That’s why it’s infectious…” Mu Jiashi quietly says, “say, how many in the world, are in this kind of madness?”

    Fei bites her lips, and, looking in the direction of that hotpot store for a bit longer, says, “let’s keep going. I want to know, what would be waiting for us still in front.”

    “The Nightmare itself is more important,” says Mu Jiashi, “these deranged people are merely a ‘danger’ in the Nightmare.”

    Fei forces a smile, and says, “I know, I get what you mean. I just… I just…” her expression almost goes blank, “I’m just thinking, what really happened, back then…”

    It is difficult for them to still treat these scenes as a mere game setting. They couldn’t anymore. These once happened back on Earth. Their Earth. Perhaps, on themselves personally, on their closest family, friends and neighbours.

    Even if all those terrifying memories have been taken from them, it is not hard to empathise.

    That’s why, when Fei sees these mad people in the Nightmare, she is not thinking about how scary or terrible the Nightmare is. Instead, she is wondering, back then, on Earth, did humans once face such similar desperation?

    A sudden, unexpected, madness, that has destroyed human civilisation?

    The three Missiontakers leave the hotpot store behind, each mired in their own thoughts.


    Ding Yi and He Shujün didn’t immediately start heading south.

    Earlier, the couple studied the sign at the bus stop before Ding Yi and He Shujün realised the bank contained something crazy. The couple didn’t report the bus stop as having anything suspicious.

    Yet, right when Ding Yi and He Shujün were walking by the bus stop, they hear the engine sound of a large vehicle heading their way from the intersection.

    A bus is coming.

    He Shujün turns to check the out, and confirming it with the oncoming bus, she is surprised, saying, “it’s the tourist bus, headed for the last stop, museum… two stops away. How about it? Want to get on?”

    Ding Yi nods, silent.

    He Shujün, being quite the bombastic, energetic ball of energy herself, doesn’t seem at all miffed at Ding Yi’s muted responses. Smiling, she boards the bus.

    Ding Yi follows after her.

    They haven’t any money on them, but the bus doesn’t take any either; the tourist bus line is free of charge.

    The bus driver looks to be a guy in his forties, and merely glances at Ding Yi and He Shujün when they board, before looking back at the road to start the bus back up.

    He Shujün quietly mutters, “I have a bad feeling about this.”

    She looks at the rest of the passengers on board.

    There are seven, eight of them. Every one of them merely gives them a glance like the bus driver, before looking away, disinterested.

    Ding Yi and He Shujün take a seat at the very back of the bus.

    He Shujün quietly speaks to Ding Yi, “I suspect there’s something up with this bus.”

    Ding Yi responds quietly as well, “if it’s still operating as normal like this, then that’s guaranteed.”

    He Shujün nods in agreement.

    They look out the window quietly. They can see the scorching sun causing the road outside to look almost like it’s undulating.

    The rather wide sidewalk could let them imagine how, when everything is normal, there should be all the tourists there happily clamouring along even in spite of the sun shooting deadly laser at them.

    “Cangcheng…” He Shujün whispers to herself, sounding baffled, “I feel like I’ve definitely heard that name before somewhere.”

    Ding Yi glances at her, but then lowers her head back.

    The bus continues chugging along normally, not malfunctioning or anything as they imagined it would. The bus driver obeys the traffic rules as normal, even when the traffic lights are all off.

    The only time the bus stopped on the way, which shocked the two Missiontakers, by the way, turned out to be because some lunatic has suddenly leapt at the road and towards the bus, seemingly trying to kill himself.

    The driver slammed on the brakes and stopped the bus.

    Inertia dictates that Ding Yi, He Shujün, and the rest of the passengers were all sent tumbling. He Shujün, who was sitting at the aisle seat, yelped out in pain, but then, she immediately retracts her voice, looking around her with doubtful eyes.

    None of the seven or eight passengers, made a single noise.

    They were merely disturbed from their seating posture, and has straightened themselves back up. They could convincingly pass for nothing having ever happened. They merely sit there with unflinching, unchanging expressions, like lifeless, artificial golems.


    Read only at Travis Translations


     


    boilpoil's notes:

    This part of the chapter reveals the madness of the hotpot store... as operated by Wei Lezhang! Did you forget about him and his hotpot-themed Nightmare? Hehe. Anyway, the two remaining Missiontakers, Ding Yi and He Shujün, are taking the innocuous-seeming bus, but something seems wrong with the passengers and the driver... keep reading to see how this turns out!

    boilpoil

    This should go without saying, but considering the nature of this novel, please think twice before posting a comment on any chapter in order to avoid spoiling any possible future plot points or twists from later chapters.

    Travis Translation

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