The World Below Surface 28 ☆ Must escape!

Leaning against the wall, Lu Yan took deep breaths to conceal the melancholy etched between his brows.
He absorbed He Lou's words and grasped the gravity of the situation, just like Ding Cong Lu had twenty-four hours before her wedding, when a sudden memory had hinted at something beyond just the culinary delights on offer.
The banquet held a more significant purpose or, perhaps, an unpleasant surprise.

He Lou attempted to ensnare Lu Yan, but he was no easy prey.
Calm and composed, he strode out to confront He Lou, whose pupils shrank as he realised he had been caught red-handed in a treacherous scheme.
He had always been wary of Lu Yan, knowing that he was not one to be trifled with.

Lu Yan acknowledged He Lou's presence with a nod, and He Lou nervously inquired, “Were you outside all this time?”

“Yes, I heard everything,” Lu Yan responded promptly.
He turned to Shen Na with a sly grin, “You don't need to select me.
Instead, why not join Liu Xia's? Unfortunately, Liu Xia recently passed away.
He was a dutiful villager, just like you.” His tone was smooth, yet calculating, akin to a predator eyeing his prey.

He Lou was caught off guard and exclaimed, “You!” He was on the verge of saying something more, but the scorching rage emanating from Lu Yan's eyes silenced him.
Meanwhile, the other man's lips moved silently, leaving He Lou to swallow his words.
If Lu Yan had a solution, he didn't care about anyone else.

“Shen Na, do you have any reservations about him? It was challenging for me to find one for you,” He Lou cajoled Shen Na, attempting to sway her decision.

Shen Na was hesitant, “That's true.
Liu Xia just happened to pass away, so it could be him, right?”

The duo took turns persuading her, and in a dazed state, Shen Na ultimately agreed.

He Lou, however, couldn't focus on that anymore.
He noticed Shen Na had given her consent and left them to discuss it amongst themselves before scurrying over to Lu Yan and speaking in a hushed tone, “What did you mean by that?”

As the weight of his impending execution hung heavily over him, He Lou's mind was consumed by a flurry of thoughts, desperately searching for a way to escape the inevitable.
Even with the absence of Lu Yan's looming threat, He Lou still needed his assistance to complete their mission and evade certain death.

Lu Yan hinted at a potential way out, but his cryptic words left He Lou in the dark.
“There is a method, but I cannot yet be certain of its success.
Therefore, I am unable to disclose it at this moment,” Lu Yan said, his tone enigmatic.

The sounds of the approaching villagers heightened He Lou's sense of urgency.
He could feel his execution drawing nearer, and the thought of the villagers' smiles only served to intensify his anxiety.
He felt as though he was walking towards a fiery furnace or a sharpened blade, desperate to escape.

As the villagers drew closer, He Lou considered fabricating an excuse to delay his execution.
The notion of requesting a postponement of the wedding date flitted through his mind, but he knew that it would be a flimsy excuse and likely viewed as a breach of their customs.

He was in a precarious situation that necessitated quick thinking and a stroke of good luck.
Even if the excuse he offered was false, he knew that he had to try, regardless of the consequences.

“I beg of you, please tell me.
What is this way out you speak of?”

“Very well, in that case, let me reveal a solution: you must flee,” Lu Yan declared with a cool demeanor, momentarily stunning He Lou.

Although He Lou's intuition hinted at the veracity of Lu Yan's words, the threat of death and the enigmatic ambiance of the village had stifled their cognitive abilities, making it difficult to analyze the situation.

“However, we are obliged to stay for a month, and even if we tried to escape, where could we possibly go?” He Lou articulated with a sense of unease.

Lu Yan responded impassively, “Where you choose to flee is of no consequence to me.
I merely ask, how long have you truly resided in this village?” With a flick of his wrist, Lu Yan retrieved a slim notebook from his satchel and presented it to He Lou.

He Lou was dumbfounded.
How long had they lived in the village? Hadn't they just arrived recently?

The memories in his mind were a tangled mess.
On one hand, he recollected living in the village for years with his friends, but on the other hand, he had a nagging feeling that something was amiss.
The moment the “newlyweds” prostrated themselves at the first wedding banquet, their memories vanished, and their perception of time became distorted, jumping ahead three years.
Then, after the second wedding for Chen Zheng Hao and Ding Cong Lu, their world rewound several months.
The disorientation was overwhelming.

As He Lou attempted to sort through his thoughts, he found himself unconsciously reaching for the notebook Lu Yan held.
But as he began to peruse its pages, he suddenly froze.
Whose diary was this?

Before he could make sense of the situation, several people emerged from the courtyard.
An Xing Yu led the group and immediately spotted the notebook in He Lou's hand.
“What are you doing with my diary?” he exclaimed in surprise.

Only then did He Lou realize that the book did look familiar.
Since arriving in this world, An Xing Yu had taken to scribbling in his notebook during his free time, jotting down personal reflections or working on academic topics.
Whenever asked about it, he would simply reply, “If I make it back alive, I still need to prepare for my college entrance exams.” But now, as He Lou pondered the absurdity of such a notion, he couldn't shake the feeling that something sinister was at play.

Gingerly grasping the notebook with trepidation, He Lou detected a disquieting aura surrounding it.
“I chanced upon this diary,” he said, attempting to appear casual, “does it belong to you, by any chance?”

With a deft movement, he tendered the journal to An Xing Yu.

In Red River Village, harboring lost objects had severe repercussions – one was subject to execution if found guilty.
However, deception was another matter entirely.
So long as one remained undiscovered and refused to confess, one's safety was secure.

An Xing Yu accepted the diary with a hint of annoyance but withheld any verbal reproach.
Holding the book, he simply nodded at He Lou.

Observing the scene with a smirk on his lips, Zhao Chuan remarked, “The village chief and his cohort are approaching, likely to offer Brother Lou a ride.”

Preferring not to pursue the matter further, He Lou turned his thoughts to other ponderings – what was the impetus behind Lu Yan's theft of An Xing Yu's diary? Could there be something of value written within its pages?

As the villagers drew nearer, Shen Na and her comrades greeted them with palpable exuberance, elaborating on the situation to the village chief, who headed the group.

The chief's delight was discernible upon learning that all the pledges had been found, as his furrowed countenance transformed into one of pure elation.
The crowd erupted into cheers, buoyed by their leader's felicity.

However, He Lou's laughter was stifled.
As he scrutinized the procession, he spied a villager trailing behind the chief, carrying a tray that held a menacing dagger.
They were condemning him to death.
But what was the genuine means of survival? Was it genuinely as uncomplicated as fleeing, as Lu Yan had suggested? Even if He Lou evaded the villagers, he would face certain death if he violated the rules and his allotted time had not yet come.

While simultaneously lowering his head, Lu Yan whispered to He Lou, “The diary holds little significance; it is the recorded time that matters.” The timeline of Red River Village was in a state of chaos, a stark contrast to their traditionally strict adherence to customs and regulations.
For generations, the village had prided itself on its rigid adherence to rules and traditions.

However, the village itself was in a constant state of disorder.
Did it truly matter to keep track of time in this chaotic village? According to the village's “rules,” they had been living there for years.
If they were forced to keep up with the outside world's time, the village would be considered “unruly,” and an unruly village cannot survive.

He Lou attempted to check the time on his phone, but it had somehow malfunctioned.

“Don't bother, I cannot read the time on my phone either,” Lu Yan replied without hesitation when He Lou turned to him.

The village headman arrived, wearing a kind smile that appeared no different from that of an ordinary old man.
He said, “He Lou, tomorrow is your wedding day.
Today, we have come to send you on your way.”

He Lou had now calmed down, putting on the same smile as if he hadn't noticed the extreme malice behind the village chief's facade.
Calmness was his only chance now.
Lu Yan wouldn't assist him in escaping; instead, he would likely exploit He Lou's flight and escape.

Nonetheless, He Lou tentatively asked, “Village Chief, I want to have a wedding with my friends…
Should we postpone it for a few days?” All the villagers turned their heads simultaneously, their mouths agape.

Lu Yan was observing carefully.
Most of the time villagers appeared like ordinary individuals, nothing out of the ordinary.
However, once someone violated the rules, their faces collectively transformed into a flat, miserable white, much like…
paper people.

The village chief's voice was stern as he spoke, “You have set a date for your wedding, and now you wish to retract your promise?”

When Lu Yan initially proposed the wedding date, it was done so for the purpose of experimentation.
However, it was fruitless, for as soon as the wedding banquet was held, they would immediately shift to the corresponding time point.

Realizing this, He Lou altered his approach, “No, I simply wish to celebrate with my friends, for we journeyed to Red River Village together…”

Instead of softening, the village chief's expression grew increasingly menacing, and his eyes shone with cold malice and resentment.
Slowly, his mouth opened wider and wider, stretching beyond the limits of human physiology until it gaped all the way to his waist.
Within that colossal mouth, a seething torrent of red liquid surged, threatening to consume He Lou.

Faced with the imminent threat of being devoured, He Lou swiftly changed his tune, declaring with conviction, “I shall not alter the wedding date!”

These words caused the village chief's agape maw to freeze mid-action, and the rest of the villagers likewise froze in place, as though someone had paused a video.
Even Lu Yan remained motionless.

One second ticked by, then another, until finally, the village chief's mouth returned to its normal size, and his expression softened, as though he had not just been on the brink of swallowing a human whole.
He Lou breathed a sigh of relief, “My friends will also be getting married tomorrow, alongside me.”

If they were to escape, it would be more economical for all of them to escape together.
Therefore, it was best to awaken their memories now.

The village headman, who had regained his composure, wore a look of surprise and concern when he asked, “Is that so? Have you all found someone?”

He Lou, with a calm façade, was drenched with sweat, and the cool wind made him more alert.
“Yes, we've found good partners,” he replied.

“Shen Na and Liu Xia, Zhao Chuan and Wang Jing, An Xing Yu and…,” He Lou stuttered.

In their group, there were only four female members: Shen Na, Ding Cong Lu, Lu Xiu Xiu, and Wang Jing.
What about An Xing Yu?

An Xing Yu turned to look at He Lou with the same confusion, his youthful face making him look like an ordinary high school student.
He no longer appeared as calm and robotic as when they first met.
“Who is my partner?” he asked.

Sweat trickled down He Lou's forehead.
“I have found one for you.
You and…you and…” His eyes wandered around as he searched for a suitable match.

“Who is it?” An Xing Yu trailed off.

“You and…,” He Lou turned his head and saw Lu Yan.
Without thinking, he blurted out Lu Yan's name.

Lu Yan's eyes glared with hostility.
“He Lou, in Red River Village, it's against the rules for men to marry men.”

Rules, always rules! So not having a ghost marriage partner was the key to survival?

Lu Yan gave He Lou a quick glance before withdrawing his gaze.
He paid little attention to He Lou's babbling, still preoccupied with the scene he had just witnessed.

When the village chief opened his mouth, it was filled with fishy red liquid, which could have been blood or some other red substance, such as the Red River in the village.
Lu Yan also remembered the red mushrooms that spilled the same foul-smelling liquid when bitten.

Were there any similarities between these things?

The village headman smiled and said, “So, you're all planning to get married tomorrow, are you?”

He Lou's influence over the crowd was still apparent, as Shen Na and Zhao Chuan nodded in agreement.
A few others who had not found suitable partners also congratulated them without any hard feelings.

He Lou's entire body tensed up.
Would their memories return twenty-four hours before the wedding? Was it true or not? The most crucial thing now was to separate them.

“Village Chief, please allow us…” He Lou began.

The village headman was still smiling.
“Oh, you all want to get married? That's great! We'll all get together and have a good time.
Then it's settled.
You all will get married tomorrow without any objections, right?”

Shen Na spoke up, “I have no problem with it.”

Zhao Chuan and Wang Jing both nodded in agreement.

He Lou gestured towards a wedding dress held up by one of the villagers and addressed the village chief, “Village Chief, with the increase in weddings, do we have enough wedding dresses? Is there anything else we should consider?”

It was then that the village chief suddenly recalled the matter and instructed the other villagers to retrieve additional wedding attire without delay.

Of the seven or eight villagers following behind, more than half had already gone ahead.

He Lou realized that this was his opportunity.

As the village chief walked ahead of him towards the courtyard, he asked in passing, “He Lou, have you decided how you would like to die? Would you prefer to be killed with a sharp knife that will slit your throat in one cut?” Despite the gruesome topic, He Lou managed to remain composed and calmly replied, “I have no objection to that.”

Shen Na, on the other hand, wrinkled her brows and expressed her preference, “I'd like to change my method.
How about being strangled with bare hands instead of satin? I enjoy the sensation of having my throat squeezed by bare hands.”

Zhao Chuan chimed in, “I don't want a knife either.
Pour boiling water on me from head to toe, and I'll be scalded to death in an instant.”

The people were now invested in discussing their preferred method of death.
He Lou found himself even more resolute and managed to listen without betraying any emotion, though he inwardly cried out in desperation.
Just then, he caught a glimpse of Shen Na's face suddenly turning pale.

This, this is ……

She, what was she doing?

Was tomorrow truly the day of her death? And had she just revealed her preferred way of dying?

With the mental fortitude honed by many missions, Shen Na managed to hide any signs of panic or distress.
He Lou had quickly approached her, gripping her hand tightly, his gaze unwavering as he shook his head slowly and mouthed silently, “I have a plan.”

However, Zhao Chuan and Wang Jing were not as composed.
Within moments, Zhao Chuan's complexion turned pale as a flood of memories crashed into his mind, reminding him of their mission.
He had unwittingly agreed to a ghost marriage, and it was set to take place the following day!

The village chief's menacing visage loomed before him, and Zhao Chuan jerked upright before making a dash for the door.
He managed to keep his mouth shut, but the expression on his face spoke volumes, and the village headman could already sense what had happened.

“Someone has broken the rules and is attempting to flee the marriage,” the village chief said, his tone laced with regret.

The other villagers' faces mirrored his sorrow as their bodied became light as paper and they drifted in air towards Zhao Chuan, ready to catch the disobedient man and punish him severely.

The entire room chased after them.

Wang Jing also finally snapped out of his daze and realized what was happening.

He Lou bellowed, “Run!” and quickly pulled An Xing Yu, who was still in shock, out of the house and in the opposite direction.
Shen Na was hot on their heels, sprinting towards the edge of the village.

“We have to escape!” she urged, her voice filled with urgency.

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