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    Chapter 155: Stop 24: The Prophecy

    The title "Handball Song" immediately reminded Guan Zhiyi of the leather ball with Little Li and Qinghe's names on it. It made him feel uneasy, but given the peculiar circumstances, he suppressed his discomfort and remained silent.

    Despite its nostalgic-sounding name, "Handball Song" was actually a new tale. At a certain intersection notorious for traffic accidents, a third-rate composer sought fame by composing a song for children to sing while playing handball, intending to teach them road safety.

    However, he found himself lacking inspiration for the melody or lyrics.

    That changed when, on his way home, he witnessed six bizarre accidents involving children at that very intersection. The composer was chilled to the bone, yet to his ecstatic surprise, these incidents sparked inspiration for the handball song!

    He rushed home and spent the night composing both the melody and lyrics.

    Exhausted yet content after a sleepless night, the composer felt a sense of fulfillment.

    He went to the washroom to wash his face. As he lifted his head, he was startled to see six children peering at him from over his shoulder in the mirror.

    Then, those children sang the last two lines of the lyrics that he hadn't had time to jot down on paper:

    "The child who runs through red lights will be as ruined as a deflated ball."

    "Where have you been, where have you been, Mother asks."

    Half a month later, the police discovered the composer's severely decomposed body.

    During the investigation, they accidentally found the composer's handwritten draft of "Handball Song," along with a car key and blood-stained clothes that hadn't yet been washed.

    Upon forensic examination, it was revealed that the composer had been the hit-and-run driver who had killed a child and fled the scene. It was on that very day of the accident that he had composed "Handball Song."

    There was a brief moment of stillness in the air after the story concluded.

    Ikeko Touzuki let out a somewhat resigned sigh.

    "I know my ghost stories are terrible, but can't you all at least give some sort of reaction?"

    Guan Zhiyi attempted to console her with mixed feelings:

    "In any case... at least it's a horror story."

    Ikeko Touzuki watched as the door to the Story House creaked open and muttered softly:

    "Never mind, at least the door is open now – it acknowledges my story. That's more sincere than what any of you have shown."

    Without rising from her seat, she turned to Tojo Shuang and asked:

    "It's your turn. What did you see in the mirror?"

    "... A woman?"

    Tojo Shuang's voice was laced with profound uncertainty, suggesting he found it challenging to articulate what he had witnessed:

    "But that woman... was myself."

    Everyone: ???

    Tojo Shuang deliberated over her words:

    "I transformed into a woman in the mirror."

    Ikeko Touzuki grew anxious.

    She was the next one scheduled to visit the House of Lies, and she feared that she might also witness something terrifying within the mirror.

    Promptly, she asked:

    "How did you turn into a woman? Have you noticed any changes? Are your... certain parts still there?!"

    Ming Yiyang: !

    He was deeply struck by the boldness of this woman's statement.

    Tojo Shuang was also taken aback by her question, a fleeting flash of annoyance crossing his face:

    "What are you talking about?! Of course, I haven't turned into a woman! My body is perfectly fine! If you're referring to the characteristics of that woman... beneath her right eye, there's a red birthmark, roughly the size of a small thumb, shaped like a heart."

    Yan Qiling suddenly lifted his gaze, his heterochromatic eyes flashing with an enigmatic luster that vanished as quickly as it appeared. Then, he slowly lowered his eyes once more.

    Ming Yiyang noticed the change but, unsure of what Yan Qiling had discovered, he chose not to inquire.

    Ikeko Touzuki sighed audibly, "I hope nothing bizarre emerges from the mirror to frighten me..."

    As she prayed, she reluctantly left the House of Tales, dragging her feet.

    The door closed behind her.

    However, mere seconds later, it was rattled by insistent knocks.

    Then, the door creaked open, and Ikeko Touzuki appeared in the entrance.

    Her face was deathly pale, and she was gasping for air. Upon entering, she collapsed to the ground from sheer terror, barely able to move.

    Guan Zhiyi was utterly stunned.

    "Why are you back so soon?!"

    Tojo Shuang quickly grasped the issue at hand:

    "Although each of us spent a brief time outside and returned at different intervals, could there be some pattern to it?"

    Guan Zhiyi approached to help Ikeko Touzuki, who had turned pale, signaling to everyone present that the situation was escalating.

    Hope vanished from Ikeko's eyes, leaving only a sense of helplessness in the face of terror. She muttered to herself:

    "I saw... we... all dead..."

    She trembled as she touched her neck, almost as if confirming her own life:

    "Oliver, he fell into a hot spring fueled by charcoal and burned to death... Little Li Qinghe became insane at the dining table, then he... hanged Miss Sanrei, and afterwards, he hanged himself in the Situlanya Restaurant... Next will be... me..."

    She continued to caress her neck, her voice filled with fear for what was to come.

    "I was decapitated by a flying knife in the corridor..."

    The remaining few exchanged quick glances. Guan Zhiyi composed himself and asked,

    "What about... the rest of us?"

    "I don't know. Perhaps because I died before you, I'm unaware of your fates."

    Her initially blank expression regained some vitality from the warmth of human bodies around her.

    She abruptly sat up as if remembering something, looking towards Yan Qiling and Ming Yiyang with a mixture of surprise and suspicion,

    "But... these two! They never appeared at all from beginning to end! In that mirror, I could only see the six of us!"

    The atmosphere in the room turned somber.

    Tojo Shuang couldn't help but shift closer to Ikeko Touzuki and Guan Zhiyi.

    Yet, Yan Qiling spoke calmly,

    "So it's like this."

    Guan Zhiyi was perplexed.

    "What... what are you talking about?"

    The man leisurely pulled out a snowy white fan from his sleeve.

    He had changed into his own black silk shirt with narrow sleeves that seemed to conceal nothing. Yet, the fan magically appeared before everyone's eyes, as if by sorcery.

    His next words were surreal:

    "The flow of time for the deceased is different from that of the living."

    "The reason you returned so quickly after stepping out was because you were already dead."

    Ikeko Touzuki reacted the most intensely:

    "Nonsense! That's impossible!"

    Yan Qiling's countenance held an indescribable compassion, as if he were a divine bodhisattva:

    "If this place is a cycle for you, then time would naturally pass normally when we're not here interfering. But now, with us present..."

    "Little Li and Qinghe didn't even live long enough to reach the 'event' in the illusion you saw. Obviously, three of you telling stories takes less time than five."

    "Now that we're here, to synchronize the cycle's timeline, time speeds up when you're alone."

    While Guan Zhiyi was still confused, Ikeko Touzuki grasped the meaning first, her pupils constricting drastically:

    "You mean... we're about to reach the end of this so-called 'cycle'."

    Yan Qiling flicked open his fan, his peach blossom eyes gazing beyond the paper door:

    "Yes. To put it differently, your 'time to die' is almost here."

    The trio's faces immediately paled, but none dared to respond to Yan Qiling's statement.

    As long as there was a tiny chance, they didn't want to entertain that possibility.

    Guan Zhiyi swallowed, forcing a smile as he asked,

    "Is there a possibility... that the mirror intentionally fabricated illusions for you to see, with the purpose of sowing distrust among us?"

    Tojo Shuang quickly picked up on this line of thought,

    "Humans are the most vulnerable when tested. Once suspicion arises, our cooperation will undoubtedly be affected. In this situation, it's more advantageous for the master of the realm of chaos if we're in disarray... These are just speculations and prove nothing."

    Guan Zhiyi hastily responded,

    "It was just an illusion in the mirror. Why don't we proceed for now?"

    "Implying we should continue?!"

    Ikeko Touzuki, tears welling in her eyes, protested reluctantly,

    "Have you not noticed that the scenes each of us sees in the mirror are becoming increasingly terrifying? Is this so-called cooling activity really just about telling a hundred stories here?"

    "Do you know, when I returned... when I came back, I saw two girls wearing red shoes holding hands at one side of the corridor. But... when I got closer, they vanished."

    Guan Zhiyi recalled the ghost story he had told about the "Thirteen Stairs," and his face paled.

    "You mean, those victims in our ghost stories might have... been materialized by this hot spring inn?"

    But what could they do with so little information at hand?

    If they wanted more information, they could only continue telling stories.

    Amidst this oppressive atmosphere, the three of them returned to their seats.

    Thus, Yan Qiling could begin sharing his own ghost story.

    Yet, Yan Qiling didn't start immediately.

    He slowly fanned himself while gazing at the trio's anxious faces, saying,

    "I might have a chance to save you in this cycle, but it would merely prolong your survival, not guarantee your escape from..."

    Tojo Shuang hastily interrupted him.

    "Mr. Yan should continue with the story, didn't you say it's just a speculation…?"

    "Shut up!"

    Ikeko Touzuki interrupted Tojo Shuang frenziedly, then grabbed onto Yan Qiling's sleeve.

    "Mr. Yan, please go on."

    Tojo Shuang thought Ikeko Touzuki had lost his mind.

    But Yan Qiling wasn't surprised. He picked up where he left off:

    "It doesn't mean you can leave… Of course, if you manage to survive until the end of this world, you can try to see if you can escape. I can tell you the location of the exit."

    All three of them wore expressions of shock and disbelief.

    They wanted to ask more, but Yan Qiling had already closed his fan and held it gently against his lower lip, making a soft "shh" sound.

    "Now, let me begin my story."

    "However, this story will be a bit lengthy. It requires a touch of patience."


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