Chapter 249: Racing Against Time
As Du Lingyu disappeared, the snowstorm outside raged even harder, as if it could bury this tiny Lantern Inn at any moment.
“Woof, woof, woof—” From outside the window came Koharu’s barking, as if urging everyone to go.
“Let’s go, we’re running out of time,” said Zhu Haowen.
Fang Fei climbed back onto the windowsill. “Follow me, jump down!”
Fang Fei’s figure quickly disappeared through the window, and her voice came from outside, “All of you come down!”
Everyone didn’t waste any more time and jumped from the window one by one until they landed safely on Koharu’s back. Only then did their suspended hearts find solid ground.
Luo Bu lay on Koharu’s furry back, feeling the familiar warmth. “Koharu, save up your strength, don’t tire yourself out!”
“Woo, woof, woof…” Koharu responded to its owner. The warm breath it exhaled was particularly visible in the snowy night, like steam from a train.
“Why’s there one person missing?!” Ke Xun counted the number of people. “There should be ten people, but why are there only nine?”
Everyone was stunned for a moment and quickly realized that Mai Peng was missing.
“What happened? Where’s Mai Peng?” Ke Xun’s gaze swept between them. He couldn’t believe that a living person just disappeared. “I was the last one to jump down just now. I clearly saw Mai Peng jump down too. He was behind Qin Ci and in front of Cao Youning.”
Cao Youning was completely frozen. He shed a lot of tears just now because of the departure of his companion Du Lingyu. Now, those cold winds had frozen his tear streaks. His expression was stiff. “Mai Peng? Mai Peng clearly jumped down, he was right in front of me when he jumped down! I saw him jump with my own eyes!”
Cao Youning’s voice broke from anxiety.
Fang Fei’s snowy white mask stood out in the night. She looked back at the window’s location. “We’ve completely entered the tunnel, and the tunnel’s entrance has closed. It won’t open again until tomorrow.”
“But, Mai Peng, he, where did he go?!” Cao Youning was frantic and helpless. He clumsily crawled toward the edge, trying to find clues below. But below was an abyss, shrouded in the howling wind and snow, making it impossible to see anything.
Mu Yiran’s hair was also disheveled by the wind. “It seems that Mai Peng’s deaths intersect at this moment. This was inevitable.”
Cao Youning turned his head back, his voice trembling with extreme sadness. “I don’t understand. Everyone else jumped down safely. Why did it happen to Mai Peng only… Are you saying Mai Peng died at this moment?!”
Mu Yiran’s voice was somber. “We should be entering the third night of our timeline now. It seems that in another timeline, Mai Peng died at the end of the fourth day. This world may seem like it has a chaotic sense of time, but it actually follows an extremely strict temporal boundary. Faced with predetermined death, there’s no room for even a second of delay.”
Cao Youning’s voice wavered weakly in the cold wind. “So, you mean… Mai Peng just now…he fell just now? Where is his body? Where is he now?”
No one answered this question, and no one could answer it.
Mai Peng felt himself descending slowly. When he had jumped out of the window a while ago, he had never touched the solid ground. He had been falling continuously, unable even to call for help.
The speed of falling didn’t seem particularly fast. At least Mai Peng could see the coffins hanging below the window. The first coffin held Xi Shengnan, and the second one was Lu Heng.
Thinking about that night before Lu Heng had left, he had repeatedly said to Mai Peng, “Mai Peng, promise me, if something happens to me here, you’ll carry my coffin. Promise me.”
Mai Peng had assured him, “Okay, I promise you. If something happens to me, you’ll carry my coffin too.”
“Yes, it’s a deal.”
A deal it was.
Mai Peng felt like he had been falling for a long time, but there was still no end in sight.
Until he saw someone coming toward him from the opposite direction. Right, there was someone falling on the other side, but in a completely opposite direction as him.
Mai Peng suddenly realized he wasn’t afraid. He widened his eyes, trying to see the other person clearly.
In fact, even before he could see clearly, he had already expected it. The person was himself.
It was the Mai Peng from the false timeline. He had chosen to end his life by jumping out of the window.
The two Mai Pengs looked at each other, both suspended in mid-air. The other Mai Peng asked, “I didn’t expect that we would meet here. Did you carry Lu Heng’s coffin?”
Mai Peng heard his voice coming into the cold air: “Yes, I carried his coffin.”
The other Mai Peng smiled: “Then we are even. After my death, it was Lu Heng who carried mine.”
Mai Peng felt pain in his heart. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t find the signature in time. If only we could have found it a day earlier…”
“There’s nothing to apologize for. We’re in this together.” the other Mai Peng smiled.
After death, one would meet the other version of themself.
Mai Peng believed in this now.
In another world, where Mai Peng could not see, Koharu was speeding toward a place filled with hope.
Everyone tried to maintain a safe position and held onto the fur on Koharu’s back to avoid being thrown out at this dizzying speed.
Only Cao Youning remained trembling uncontrollably. Ke Xun crawled over to him and patted his shoulder, but it didn’t calm him down.
It became increasingly bright in the front, and the snow-covered landscape glowed like moonlight.
Finally, Koharu stopped on a large protruding ice rock. Fang Fei surveyed their location, “We’ve arrived at the Cold Night Inn.”
Everyone dismounted from Koharu’s back one by one. They hadn’t had a clear look at the giant dog Koharu’s entire form before it returned its original compact size and jumped into Luo Bu’s arms while making sounds of “woo”.
Qin Ci glanced at his phone, “The time has disappeared again.”
Shao Ling said, “We can use our phones to determine whether we’re still within the four Inns. After all, the exit where the signature lies is outside the four Inns.”
Wei Dong also felt it was reasonable, “So once our phones display time again, that means we’ve found the exit?”
Shao Ling: “That’s the idea. Koharu was very fast just now. I checked my watch when we were close to our destination. The journey took less than an hour.”
Currently, everyone was standing on an ice-covered platform. In front of them lay a vast glacier, with an ice cave atop it.
Every time they spoke, their breath appeared as white puffs in the air. Ke Xun looked around: “The pictures of the white fish were taken in a very dark place, and the fish were in water. I think we should check out this ice cave.”
Everyone agreed, so they entered the nearest ice cave.
Cao Youning couldn’t control his trembling: “Is death really unpredictable and unavoidable? Once your time comes, no matter how safe a place you’re in, you’ll still meet your end?”
Zhu Haowen: “Unless you’re outside the painting.”
Cao Youning’s expression was filled with agony. When they had arrived, there were five of them, but now only he remained.
Wei Dong tried to encourage him, “We must hurry. Once we find the signature, we won’t be manipulated by the timelines anymore. Let’s quickly go look for it, don’t waste a single second!”
Cao Youning’s gaze was vacant, and his voice trembled, “I think I saw it, I saw that knife…”
“What knife?” Wei Dong was confused.
“The knife used to cut my wrist. I saw it. I used that knife to cut my wrist…” Cao Youning sounded like someone who had lost his mind. His soul was gone, leaving behind only a lifeless body.
“Don’t scare me. Are you hallucinating from the cold?” Wei Dong patted his shoulder and then looked at Fang Fei, “Master Shaman, maybe you should slap him?”
Fang Fei walked over, her white mask staring at Cao Youning for a while. She shook her head without saying a word.
“Let’s keep moving forward, we can’t afford to delay,” Shao Ling had a premonition of something but didn’t say it out loud. For now, he could only ask everyone to pick up the pace.
As they ventured deeper into the cave, the light grew dimmer, and the air became gradually warmer. In the depths of the cave, there was barely any ice and snow.
Some of the icicles at the top of the cave began to melt and drop one by one.
Wei Dong was hit on the head by one of these icicles and felt a little painful: “Everyone, be careful, wear your hats. These things hurt when they hit…”
Before Wei Dong could finish his sentence, a sudden scream came from Cao Youning, “Ah! No!”
Everyone rushed over and saw Cao Youning clutching his left wrist, which was spewing blood continuously. On the ground lay a broken icicle in several pieces.
“It’s an icicle?” Shao Ling couldn’t believe it.
“The icicle was as sharp as a knife… it cut through my artery…” Cao Youning could hardly believe it himself. “Help me, I don’t want to die.”
“First aid! We need to quickly bandage it!” Qin Ci took off his medical kit and started preparing tools.
But the blood from Cao Youning’s wrist gushed out like a fountain, and even bandaging it did not help.
“No! No!” Cao Youning’s voice gradually weakened. Just when Qin Ci thought he had finally controlled the bleeding from the wound, another bloody fissure suddenly opened near the wound, and blood gushed out again… it was unstoppable.
“It’s fate. It’s death caused by the convergence of timelines.” Fang Fei’s voice sounded helpless.
Ke Xun began performing CPR on Cao Youning. As long as there was a glimmer of hope for a teammate’s life, they couldn’t let him die.
Cao Youning’s eyes were gradually losing their light. “I feel like I’ve seen the other version of myself… You shouldn’t have hesitated. You should have made the decision earlier. Just one day earlier, even a few hours earlier, maybe we would have made it out…”
“I don’t believe you died instantly in another timeline. Wrist cutting is a slow process,” Ke Xun tried to keep him conscious. “You won’t die that quickly. Hang in there!”
“No time left, hurry and go find the signature,” Zhu Haowen turned away, trying to sound ruthless. “There’s water ahead, the white fish must be in the water.”
Ke Xun decided to carry Cao Youning on his back. “Go, move out!”
They could only go forward, racing against time to find the signature.
Ahead was a stretch of water that, under the cave’s light, appeared black.
In the water there were fish swimming. They were exactly the white fish from the photos.
“These fish are alive, they don’t have the stiffness in the photos,” Zhu Haowen observed the fish in the water.
“Keep walking along the water, pay attention to every corner,” Mu Yiran said to everyone, scanning their surroundings. “Keep an eye on your phones. Once the time reappears, stop immediately.”