415 One more Time

    Before Gu Jun could react, the bat-like shadows swallowed him and Yu Chi. They were not corporeal but they were not pure mental projection either, they were something in between. They feasted on the men's mind and body. Yu Chi screamed in pain. He swung the shovel about him but it proved useless. The same thing was happening to Gu Jun. He was too tired to put up much of a resistance. He could barely put up his arm to sign the Ancient Seal...

    "Goodbye, I've won." The witch chuckled before she dissolved again into nothingness. Gu Jun struggled as best as he could but light disappeared from sight. Like a fire being extinguished... Was this how death felt like...

    Tik, tik. He believed he heard the sound of an old radio crackling. It sounded strange in this context. Suddenly there was a dull thud of something falling and then halting respiration. Finally, there was an excited male voice who asked, "Are we still on Earth? Or this is some kind of abnormal space..."

    Gu Jun's vision cleared and he saw Yu Chi climb up with enthusiasm beside him. They were on a spacious stone platform. Behind them was a wall and before them, two stone staircases led upwards. A row of lamps lined with walls on the sides... This was... the entrance, the place where they first landed. What... was going on?

    Gu Jun's mind buzzed with incomprehension. He felt mentally and physically exhausted but not drained. It reminded him of his state when he first arrived here. There was no visible wound on his face. It was as if the brush with death earlier did not happen. To borrow an analogy, someone had loaded the last save file because they failed the level. Gu Jun looked around and his mind worked overtime.

    At the same time, Yu Chi did the same and he soon discovered the anomaly. As he stared on the ground behind them, he whispered nervously, "Captain Gu, look." Gu Jun knew what Yu Chi was referring to, but how should he respond? He was reminded of the shadow inside the library and his ability to warn him about imminent danger in the future... And they were at Pnakotus... So what he experienced earlier should be an illusion, or rather, a possible future. The mysterious shadow was trying to warn him of the ruinous ending...

    "What?" He looked back casually, pretending not to notice that he had two shadows. Captain Yu clearly did not experience the illusion earlier and Gu Jun could not explain it, worried that once he did, they would end up in the same ending. Even now, without the physical taxation from climbing the long stairs, they were not in a good enough state to have a conflict with the witch. What they needed to do now was to neutralize any possible clash and try to recover as much as they could.

    "The shadows on the ground." Yu Chi said seriously as he readied to sign the seal. "You have two of them." Gu Jun pretended to be shocked and then narrowed his eyes on the ground. He frowned deeply and said, "I only see one. Captain Yu, are you still on the alcohol buzz?"

    Yu Chi shook his head and slapped himself several times. He took a second look and there were still 3 shadows on the ground. "Something's not right!" Captain Yu had his own discretion. He signed the Ancient Seal and the shadow which was hit flickered. A female voice chuckled, "Captain Yu, that is not the way to treat a woman."

    Gu Jun's heart sank and he continued to act dumb. When Yu Chi gasped out, "Who are you?", Gu Jun questioned, "Captain Yu, who are you talking to?"

    "My dearest little brother, you can stop acting." The witch cackled. "I know you can see and hear me, you have such awful acting skill." Gu Jun ignored him but Yu Chi was spun into confusion. He scratched his head in self-doubt. "Am I in a hallucination? What does this mean? What is the significance? Are you a ghost? Am I a ghost?"

    "Little brother, you should stop acting or your friend will really go crazy." The witch said haughtily, "Little brother, the game is reaching its end but for now, looks like I'll be the final victor." Instantly, the shadow left Gu Jun's body and flew up the stairs. Gu Jun watched in silence as Yu Chi's gaze wandered up the stairs. Gu Jun knew the witch would be waiting to ambush them at the top of the stairs so even though they were in a time crunch, he suggested, "Captain Yu, we should take a good rest before we depart. The journey ahead looks strenuous."

    "But we don't have much time left already." Yu Chi narrowed his eyes at Gu Jun suspiciously. Perhaps he was already questioning the identity of the man before him.

    "I have a feeling this is something we need to do." Gu Jun said, this could not have been a clearer hint. With clear hesitation, Yu Chi joined Gu Jun at the bottom of the steps. However, they only started to rest for a while, when Gu Jun felt the surrounding distorting. He heard the static from the old radio again... He was shocked... 'Does this mean... Again?'

    Suddenly there was a dull thud of something falling and then halting respiration. Finally, there was an excited male voice who asked, "Are we still on Earth? Or this is some kind of abnormal space..."

    Gu Jun found himself standing and Yu Chi beside him was already crawling up from the floor. Yes, it was yet another repetition. He just witnessed another illusion from the future, or rather the future timeline was once again interrupted. But compared to before, he felt slightly different. His mental and physical strain was even more pronounced. This kind of rewind could not go on forever... perhaps this was their last chance. If they continued to fail, then the only ending they'd reach would be death.

    'We would fail even after we choose to rest on the steps? Why? Time... The witch has too much of a leg up on us. She will achieve her own goal and we will lose this battle.' In that moment, many things crossed Gu Jun's mind. However, he quickly snapped out of it. He turned to face behind Yu Chi and shouted, "Captain Yu, you'll watch the front and I'll watch our back! Be on guard. Do not move your sight away from even a second. This place might be lurking with danger, we can't let our guard down." He naturally saw the 3 shadows on the ground but he did not point it out. His eyes swept over them but ignored the anomaly as casually as he could. At the same time, he tried to keep an alert about the witch. He wanted to let her know that he was privy to her presence but he was not going to expose her just yet.

    "Of course." Yu Chi nodded. Watching out for each other's back was indeed the optimum tactic in this kind of narrow, enclosed space. Yu Chi stared cautiously down the long staircase. He mumbled enthusiastically, "Where will this lead up to? A lost civilization, a city underground..."

    The tilted shadow on the ground remained unmoved. Gu Jun had no idea whether the witch could move freely or she needed someone to expose her to gain mobility. Language was inherently powerful, that was evident in spells and rituals. Would verbal discovery of the shadow be a kind of summoning spell in disguise?

    Regardless, Gu Jun did not dare to risk communicating the danger to Yu Chi because according to their previous two 'trails', the witch showed up every time after Yu Chi spotted and exposed her. The only thing Gu Jun could confirm for now was the witch arrived here through her connection with him. It was him who brought her here so it should also be him who kept her trapped inside his shadow.

    At that moment, since no fuss was made about the witch's shadow, the witch did not announce herself. It was unknown whether this meant that she was still in her slumber or she was plotting something else.

    "Captain Yu, we should take a break." Gu Jun suggested, "There is no telling what might be waiting for us up there. A rest is crucial."

    Yu Chi did not suspect Gu Jun because he did not notice the third shadow and he agreed that they indeed need to rest at that moment, "Of course."

    The two sat down at the bottom of the steps. Staring at the 3 shadows, Gu Jun made some calculation in his mind. He was trying to come up with a solution to this impossible quagmire.
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