Cycle 1: Shishen Apartment
It all started with a bright yellow kindergarten bus with the bloody poster 'Shishen Apartment' written on it.
Jin Jiuchi paused whilst holding the grilled skewer with one hand. He could not help but feel amused. What was this? Had he left the normal world for so long that apartments had started to accommodate buses for its tenants nowadays? Moreover, what was up with the passengers sitting inside?
He stood in the middle of the desolate road and counted. One… two… three…
There were five passengers inside, three men and two women, their age varied from 20-50. Instead of a delightful expression of finally being able to go home, each of them had a grave look on their faces. Due to the white light shining from above, their skin looked especially ghastly, it reminded him of a corpse whose blood was drained to the last drop. The thin middle aged man sitting near the window was trembling so hard that Jin Jiuchi could see his teeth chattering from where he was standing.
It was… perfect! Just like the apartment name!
Jin Jiuchi narrowed his eyes, curiosity piqued. Well, it's not like he had anything to do after going home. Might as well find something fun to amuse him with.
Swinging the plastic bag in his hand, Jin Jiuchi bit down on the lamb skewer and made his way to the bright yellow bus. The people inside did not seem to notice his approach, too caught up in their own thoughts.
Jin Jiuchi's attention was soon drawn to the poster on the bus' body. "Hmm?" He raised a brow when he saw that the crimson liquid on the poster was still half-dried.
Illustrated in the poster was a six-story old apartment building — even older than Jin Jiuchi himself, he surmised — and six people were standing on its entrance with a bright smile on their faces. However, due to the red ink trailing down from the words 'Shishen Apartment' above, it made their smiles look distorted and malicious.
Curious, Jin Jiuchi leaned in and sniffed.
—Wow, it was real blood.
He stared at the poster, then at the passengers sitting inside. Grinning, Jin Jiuchi finally moved to the door. Even though there was no driver, the door automatically slid open when Jin Jiuchi came close with a faint hiss. Chilly wind rushed to his face, so frigid that the warmth from his skewer cooled down in an instant.
It stood to reason that even in the height of summer, an ordinary bus' air-con should not be this cold. Not to mention that it was autumn now. However, Jin Jiuchi did not think too much of it. He only sped up his eating before his skewer could become icicle.
As soon as he stepped foot inside, the five people snapped their heads up, alert and vigilant. They did not let their guard down even as Jin Jiuchi climbed in. The man sitting in the sixth row, whose muscles almost bulged out of his shirt, even brandished a sharp dagger as though preparing to attack.
Interesting. They were so interesting…
Jin Jiuchi made eye contact with the dagger wielder and gave him a wide grin, showing a pair of canine teeth. He thought he looked friendly enough but the man actually shivered. With a flip of his hand, the dagger on the man's grip disappeared and he slumped on his seat, forehead dripping with sweat. He did not lift his head anymore.
Jin Jiuchi leaned against the driver's seat and observed the five passengers with undisguised curiosity.
The atmosphere inside the bus was so tense that it was like they were heading to the Underworld. And it was under such circumstances that Jin Jiuchi continued to devour his lamb skewers to his heart's content. The noisy sounds of him chewing and the alluring aroma of grilled skewers spread across the air, causing the passengers' faces to turn weird.
It was the young girl in the third row seat who braced herself to speak to him, "Excuse me… b–brother. You'd better take a seat according to the ticket before the officer comes in." She had a delicate oval face, huge nervous eyes and a cyan blue hair clip to pin her bangs to the side. She looked like a high school student judging from her youthful features.
"Oh?" Jin Jiuchi tilted his head, his messy medium-length curly hair draped over his shoulder. "Or else?"
The young girl fidgeted under his stare. Her fair complexion became even paler. "Y–You're a newbie?"
"Hmph!" The bespectacled woman clad in a business suit harrumphed coldly. She sat in the fourth row behind the young girl, looking like an executive in one glance. Even her tone carried authority and unveiled arrogance, indicating that she was used to giving orders to her subordinates. "Just leave him alone. Ignorant newbies will die sooner or later."
"'Ignorant newbies will die sooner or later'?" Jin Jiuchi repeated her words as his grin became even wider. His blood started to boil with excitement. It had been so, so long since he had felt something like this. Goodness… it had been the perfect choice to get into this bus. He could feel that something thrilling was waiting for him ahead!
Perhaps sensing that the atmosphere was on the verge of freezing, a young man who was sitting on the back called out with a bright tone, "Hey, hey, don't argue. We are going to be teammates in the next six days, remember? It's not good to have conflict before we even start!" Because he was sitting so far away, Jin Jiuchi had to squint his eyes to look at him. The young man had handsome features. His eyes were naturally curved and friendly, giving people a very pleasant impression. He waved at Jin Jiuchi with an amicable smile. "Yo, my good brother there. Is it your first time here? Don't be scared. You have a ticket, don't you? Go and take a seat first. Oh, by the way, my name is Tang Ye and this is my second time."
Thanks to Tang Ye, the tense atmosphere relaxed ever so slightly. The young girl followed up with a nervous smile. "Hello everyone, my name is Xinxin. This is my second time too."
Then Xinxin glanced at the woman behind her tentatively. The woman in suit crossed her arms and snorted, "Just call me Sister Hong. Third time."
The middle aged man on the seventh row squeezed out through gritted teeth. His voice was shaky and small, "Old Guan. T–This is my f–first time." Among the people here, he was the one who looked the most unstable. Even now, he was still sweating nonstop and his hair was already sticking to his forehead wetly.
Why did he look so afraid? Jin Jiuchi wondered, slightly amused.
Finally, the man who had brandished the dagger added in a gruff voice, "Surname Zhi. Third time."
"Woah, so Sister Hong and Brother Zhi are going to advance soon?!" Tang Ye exclaimed in pleasant surprise. "I've been dying to know how difficult the test will be. Please take care of me!"
Jin Jiuchi listened with great interest. Tang Ye did not hesitate to reveal his full name. However, Xinxin, Sister Hong, Old Guan, and the man surnamed Zhi clearly did not want people to know their name. Why was it? Moreover, first time, second time, third time… of what? Just as Jin Jiuchi was lost in thought, he suddenly realized that everyone's eyes were fixed on him. Oh, it seemed like they were waiting for his response.
Hmm… what should he call himself?
Jin Jiuchi's eyes swept across the skewer in his hand and a brilliant idea popped up in his head. He grinned brightly, "My surname is Yang, name Rouchuan."
Could you even think of a better alias?!
Tang Ye coughed to disguise his laugh. "Then… I will call you Brother Yang."
Now that everyone had introduced themselves, the freezing atmosphere slightly thawed. Xinxin and Tang Ye could not help but urge him to take a seat again. However, Jin Jiuchi remained where he was standing and asked innocently, "Ticket?"
In an instant, everyone froze. Sister Hong snapped to him in disbelief. Her voice was almost shrill when she demanded, "You don't have a ticket?!"
Jin Jiuchi scratched his nose awkwardly. He really did not have a ticket. Was it too late to go down and purchase one if he wanted to follow them? However, he had not replied yet when the door beside him suddenly opened once again.
This time, two more people came in.
On the front was a little child around eight or nine years old. They looked so exquisite like a little jade doll. Their long hair was tied in a high ponytail, each silver strand was akin to a ray of moonlight. The child lifted their head and revealed a pair of pale purple eyes. Those orbs seemed ethereal, so mystifying and otherworldly. Alas, the temperature in those eyes were so cold and piercing as though one gaze was enough to freeze someone's blood.
Unfortunately, it did not deter a certain someone from admiring. Jin Jiuchi had never seen such striking colors in one person before and hence, he could not help but stare a little more, mesmerized.
This child was just like a snow elf. See, even someone like him could still appreciate beauty!
Alas, the child regarded him as air and took a seat on the first row adjacent to the driver seat.
Behind the child was a tall, muscular man clad in blue uniform and black polished hat. He must be the 'officer' everyone was talking about. His skin was grayish blue and if Jin Jiuchi had to be honest, he looked more like a corpse than a real corpse. His eyeballs were bulging out as though they were going to burst out of their sockets, and his pupils abnormally thin that they were almost unseen. When he spoke, his voice did not come from his mouth but instead, somewhere around the hollow of his throat, sounding scratchy and very unpleasant.
"Welcome, everyone. Thank you for boarding the bus in time." Even though he said that, Jin Jiuchi could sense a faint disappointment from his tone. Huh? Was he disappointed that everyone was here? What would happen if someone was late?
The officer continued, "We will be heading to Shishen Apartment now. I can see that all six passengers have—" The officer suddenly paused and blinked in confusion.
Bus officer: ??
No matter how many times he counted, the number of people on the bus was seven! But he was only supposed to bring six people in. Where did the other one come from?!
Everyone's eyes simultaneously landed on Jin Jiuchi who was finishing his last skewer. Under the passengers' terrified look, he licked his oily lips and grinned roguishly, "Well, I don't have a ticket. Can I still follow along with you guys?"
 Shishen literally means corpse, so the place they're heading to is called 'Corpse Apartment'. Jin Jiuchi was saying how their ghastly complexion fit perfectly with the name of the apartment.
 Yang Rou Chuan: lamb skewer
 Using 'they' because Jin Jiuchi is still unclear about the child's gender. As a child, our ML looks androgynous. He looks like a cute barbie doll hehe. Ofc it's not his real form. Don't worry, there is no pedophilia here. Pronoun will change accordingly after Jin Jiuchi found out about ML's gender :)