Chapter 6: Pressed talisman on the bottom of the box

Fortunately, it was dark outside, so the bloodstains on my equipment weren’t too noticeable.
Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to explain to the taxi driver, no matter how hard I tried.

After having Mr.
Xie, with the thinning hair, dropped me off at the adult store, I tossed and turned in bed all night long, unable to fall asleep.
Finally, I managed to doze off for a little while as the sun began to rise, but not before having a nightmare about being trapped in an abandoned hotel with a female ghost.

Despite sporting two dark circles under my eyes, I opened up the shop and got down to business, knowing that I had to keep it up regardless of how I was feeling.

I brewed myself a strong cup of tea and sat down at my computer desk, organizing my thoughts and writing down what had happened the night before.
This was a habit I had developed many years ago, as meticulously recalling details helps with problem-solving and prevents me from missing any important clues.  

The fresh morning breeze blew into the room, lifting the curtain of the military coat, and a young girl full of vitality and cuteness snuck in.

“Xia Qingzhi, aren’t you supposed to be in class today?” I asked, my thoughts interrupted by the girl’s sudden appearance.

“It’s still early, I just came by on the way.
So, how’s it going? Any progress with my brother’s case?”

Xia Qingzhi’s hopeful gaze made it hard for me to tell her the truth.
I glanced at her deflated chest and blushing cheeks and turned my computer screen to one side.
“I went to the underworld show in the no lights road last night, following the address on the card.
I found some clues about your brother, so at least now I can confirm that you were telling the truth.
Your brother did exist at some point.”


“So…do you know where he is now?” she asked.

“I still need to investigate further.
It’ll take some time,” I replied, taking the egg pancake the girl had brought and sniffing its delicious aroma.
It had been a thrilling night, and the smell of food finally made my stomach growl.

“Hey! That’s my breakfast!” she protested.

“Next time, put less lettuce and more chili…” I replied absent-mindedly.

After Xia Qingzhi left, I opened the suitcase I had brought back from the underworld show and wiped the bloodstains off the broadcasting equipment with a cloth, tinkering with it.

There was nothing special about the selfie stick or the camera, but the large-screen phone caught my attention.

I plugged in the charger and waited for five minutes before turning it on.
To my surprise, the nearly eight-inch screen displayed only three icons: a phonebook, an email inbox, and a symbol that was unmistakably my black-and-white picture!

I clicked on this strange app, and a line of text appeared on the screen: “12 hours and 30 minutes until the mission is released.”

“Well, these knockoff devices seem to have some pretty advanced technology,” I muttered to myself, turning to look at the digital clock on the wall.
It was now 7:30 in the morning, which meant that the mission for the underworld show would be released at 8:00 tonight.


“At night again?” I caught a whiff of conspiracy in the air, and this time, I couldn’t afford to charge in recklessly.
I needed to prepare myself thoroughly.

I retrieved my phone and located a familiar number from my contact list.

“Hey, Er Gouzi, I have a job for you.”

I heard a bottle shatter and a woman scream from the other end of the line.
After a prolonged pause, someone finally picked up and said, “Jian Ge, I’m tied up at the moment, so keep it short.”

“Wow, Er Gou, using idioms now? You’ve really come a long way.” The person on the other end of the line was a young man named Chen Er Gou, also known as “Er Gouzi”.
He dropped out of school at the age of fourteen and became a thug.
Three years ago, he came to my shop to collect protection money, but I ended up tying him up, beating him, and giving him an electric shock for half an hour.
Afterwards, he had a change of heart and became an informant of mine.


In our line of work, we encounter people from all walks of life.
Informants provide us with valuable information and we compensate them accordingly.
It’s an alternative type of transaction where both parties get what they need.

“I’m currently investigating a supernatural disappearance case and I need your help in obtaining something that can ward off spirits,” I said.

“Jian Ge, the police are getting closer.
Can’t you wait until later to tell your story? Damn it! You’re really testing my patience! Hey, Jian Ge, I wasn’t talking about you!” the person on the other end of the line replied.

“I know it may be hard for ordinary people to understand, but this is not a joke.
Before nightfall, I need you to get me some blessed talismans or Buddha statues that have been properly consecrated.
The price is negotiable, but the items must be effective,” I explained.  

“Brother Gou, the police are here!”

“Retreat, retreat, retreat! Go out the back door! Hey, Jian Ge, I guarantee the goods will be delivered! Get lost, remember this! From now on, this bathhouse is my turf! Let’s go!”

As I listened to the gradually clear sound of police sirens on the other end of the phone, I couldn’t help but marvel at how good it was to be young.

Around two or three in the afternoon, a young man with a bandage wrapped around his forehead arrived at the adult store.

His right hand was wrapped in a cast, and his left hand was holding a wooden box that looked quite old.

“Jian Ge, come and check out the goods.” Er Gou placed the box on the table and opened it with one hand, revealing a variety of colorful paper talismans and miscellaneous exorcism tools inside.
“I didn’t know what you wanted, so I tied up Blind Liu, the fortune teller from Tianqiao, and all these things were retrieved from his house.”

“Blind Liu?” I had a brief encounter with him at the police station before, when I was warned for installing a camera in a hotel without permission.
He was just a fraud who pretended to be blind…

After I rummaged through the box and found a silver-plated cross and two long strips of garlic, I became even more certain of my suspicions.

“What is this? A fusion of Eastern and Western methods? He certainly has a wide range of knowledge.”

At this point, I had little hope and could only nervously sort and organize the paper talismans in the box, quickly stuffing them into my pockets.
It was a last-ditch effort when all else had failed.
If there was even a slight chance that Blind Liu was some kind of reclusive master, then it would be like hitting the jackpot.

“Jian Ge, if you don’t need anything else, I’ll be going.
Blind Liu is still being held, and I’m afraid my brothers might go too far and hurt the old man,” Er Gou said as he picked up the now-empty box and prepared to leave.

“Wait a minute.” Just as Er Gou was about to pick up the box, I noticed a piece of talisman paper that was different from the others.

This talisman was stuck to the bottom of the box and had been there for so long that its color had turned yellowish, making it almost blend in with the box.

“Jian Ge, this peach wood box was passed down by Blind Liu’s ancestors.
Don’t even think about taking it, or else Blind Liu will have to fight me to the death,” Er Gou said as he rubbed the cast on his arm.
“That old man still has some tricks up his sleeve.”

Hearing Er Gou’s warning, I became even more convinced that this box was no ordinary item.

Indeed, despite its ancient appearance, the wooden box emitted no hint of decay or mustiness.
Instead, it exuded an indescribable charm.

“You can take the box, but I must keep this talisman paper,” I said, as I changed into a pair of disposable gloves for examining corpses.
Carefully, I peeled off the talisùan that had been pressed against the bottom of the box.

The paper was surprisingly thin, and it was impossible to tell what material it was made of, but it was more resilient than regular paper.

“Jian Ge, what’s written on it?”

“If I could read it, do you think I’d be selling adult toys to people?”

The two of us stared wide-eyed at the jumbled characters on the talisman.
We knew they were Chinese characters, but we couldn’t make heads or tails of their meaning.

It’s strange to say, but as soon as I peeled off the talisman, a foul smell emanated from the wooden box.
I knew something was wrong and gave Er Gou fifty bucks to return the box immediately.

As night fell, I sat quietly at the table, fully armed, staring silently at the clock on the wall.

“Eight o’clock!” As the hour hand passed, my phone’s screen lit up.

No ringtone, no vibration, no indication of any kind—just a cold light as an unknown number dialed in.

“Hello…” The icy phone pressed against my ear, and all I could hear was a woman sobbing on the other end.
“Who are you looking for?”

The crying gradually stopped, but the feeling of terror gradually approached, as if the woman on the other end of the phone was crawling out of my phone and leaning on my shoulder.

“I want to find someone.” Her voice was devoid of any emotion, as cold as a lonely gravestone on a pauper’s grave.

“I’m sorry, but this small store only sells adult products.
If you really need it, you can add me on WeChat…” I trembled as I struggled to put my thoughts into words, not even knowing what I was saying.

“Help me find someone.
He hid me under the floor, inside the walls, and behind the bathtub in the bathroom a few years ago.
Find him, find him!” The voice abruptly stopped, and the call was disconnected, leaving me with endless speculation.

“Was she dismembered?” I shuddered as a new text message appeared in my inbox.

“It’s late at night, and my dormant desires are about to erupt.
Pick up the phone in your hotel room, engage in flirtatious banter, and she’ll be waiting for you outside your door, with crimson eyes, ready to come in…”

“Live streaming mission: Check into Room 203 at the peace of mind Inn at midnight and survive until the sunrise.”

Instantly, I knew the location of the mission, and it sent chills down my spine.
Just three months ago, a bizarre and gruesome murder had taken place in that very Inn on the outskirts of the city.
The victim was a male, and the details of the crime were beyond disturbing.
With this knowledge, any doubts I had previously held about the mission quickly dissipated.

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