Su Jin whacked his forehead a few times tiredly. The force exerted by his hand reminded him that he was still alive. He wasn’t dead, of course, but since he was such a poor and lowly person in this city, he thought that he probably wasn’t much different from a dead person.
After graduating from university, he hadn’t been willing to return to his poverty-stricken hometown. He wanted to change his fate and increase his family’s standard of living. That was why he had chosen to remain in S City in the hope that his hard work would eventually lead to success.
But after working for some time, he began to find that his original intentions were really naïve. S City seemed to be filled with life and hope, but in reality, it was just a cold and ruthless city. Hard work was considered cheap and worthless.
"My sister's in her final year of high school already. Her school fees, her textbooks, and her meals have to be paid for," he said to himself with a sigh. All the kids who lived in the mountain villages longed for the day they could leave the mountain, and the only way to do that was through getting a good education. Su Jin hoped that his younger sister could leave the mountain someday too.
His family had initially wanted his sister to drop out of school and intended to either make her help with the farm or find some work for the extra money. That would have helped to relieve the financial burden on the family.
But he had protested against that decision, and thus, his sister had been allowed to continue studying. The only condition was that he would have to be the one to provide for her expenses, including her allowance and textbooks.
His salary wasn’t high, but he had to split up his salary into several parts. One part went to his family, one part went to his younger sister, and the last part went to his rent and food. He was always left with almost nothing at the end of the month.
After he tidied up his office desk, he left for the day. It was 10 pm, and there were some stars in the sky. That was quite a rare sight to see in such polluted city skies.
"We're having a company gathering in three days' time, and we're expected to pay for our own share. But it's the end of the month, so I don't have any money left for that. Maybe… maybe I should just pretend to be sick and skip the gathering altogether!" Su Jin mumbled to himself. This sort of thing was really just a burden to a poor person like him. There was no way he could afford such luxuries.
One had to spend money in order to upkeep relationships with others in this society, but the harsh reality was that Su Jin just didn’t have money to spare at the end of the month.
The office wasn’t very far from the apartment that Su Jin was renting. He didn't rent the entire apartment, though. The landlord had split the apartment into separate rooms so that he could rent it to more people, and Su Jin rented the narrow cellar of the building. But even though the rent for the cellar was much lower than the rooms, it was still difficult for him to cough up the rent every month. S City was an expensive place to live in. The cost of living in this city was seriously insane.
It was autumn, so the weather was getting a little chilly. Su Jin instinctively pulled his jacket around him a little tighter. His cellar was just around the corner, so he started walking faster.
But just before he made it around the corner, he noticed a small makeshift stall selling books. The stall owner was a middle-aged man, wearing a hat that covered half of his face, so it was hard to see what he looked like. He kept rubbing his hands together and seemed to be feeling cold.
Su Jin casually glanced at the books the stall owner had put up for sale. Most of them were old issues of magazines, and there were also a few novels here and there.
“Hello there, how much are you selling these books for?”
“Ten dollars for two books, pick anything you like,” replied the stall owner as he continued rubbing his hands together.
That was very cheap. Even plain paper costs more than that these days. Su Jin picked a few books randomly, waved them at the stall owner, and said, "I'll take five books. Could I have all of them for 20 bucks?”
The stall owner looked ready to close shop for the day, so he just nodded, took the 20 dollars from Su Jin, and started packing everything up.
Su Jin returned to his place with the books in hand. The cellar he was living in measured only slightly more than 10 square meters. Furthermore, it was divided into two sections — the first being his bedroom, and the other a tiny bathroom.
After he washed his face and looked at himself in the mirror, he couldn't help but feel really lost. The reflection he saw in the mirror wasn't the most handsome, but he had pretty decent features, and if nobody explicitly said anything about his origins, others would never have guessed that he actually hailed from the mountainside.
He sat down exhaustedly on the bed and picked up the books he had bought earlier. His gaze froze for a moment when he flipped through them. Didn’t he only buy five books? Why were there six books now?
“Did I take one more by accident?” Su Jin shook his head. Even though these books were being sold really cheaply, the stall owner had sold them to him at a discount, and he had actually taken one more by mistake.
The extra book had a black leather cover and felt slightly textured. It was a really nice cover.
“There’s no title?” The entire cover was black and didn’t have any words on it. That was very strange.
He was about to open the book when he suddenly shivered, and he even felt goosebumps on his arms. His first thought was that he might have caught a chill, but this didn’t stop his hand from flipping the book open anyway.
Immediately after he flipped it open, white smoke suddenly rose from around his body, and a creepy voice started narrating inside his head.
“Fengxi Town was originally a scenic place, but a few decades ago, the villagers of Fengxi Town disappeared overnight. From then on, on one night every decade, the extinguished lights of Fengxi Town would light up once more in anticipation of the crazy night to come. And today… you shall experience this crazy night for yourself."
The creepy voice rang in Su Jin’s head for a long time. The voice was maniacal, unfeeling, cruel, violent, and seemed to be a combination of every negative emotion known to mankind. Every syllable it uttered made his head hurt terribly.
“Wh-what is this place?!” Just then, a woman’s voice rang out, and Su Jin suddenly realized that he was no longer on his own bed. Instead, he was seated next to sheaves of grain. Besides himself, there were four other men and two other women.1
He was immediately thrown into confusion, and he wondered if he was just dreaming. But everything here was a little too realistic for him to be merely dreaming.
“I’m sure all of you already have the answer. Remember the voice you heard in your heads just now?” One of the men leaned against the sheaves as he spoke. His hair was entirely white, but he looked very young. He wore a black suit and sounded both distant and aloof. But what he said reminded everyone of the hair-raising voice they had heard in their heads earlier.
“Do you mean… we’re in Fengxi Town?” asked another man a little puzzledly. This was a middle-aged man who was a little plump and showed signs of balding. The suit he wore looked extremely expensive, so it was clear from his appearance that he was pretty well off.
"That's right. We're in Fengxi Town, and this is where tonight's activities will be happening," said the other woman. She seemed to be barely 20 years old and looked rather sweet and friendly. The faint smile on her face made her seem approachable.
“Tonight’s activities? What’s that supposed to mean? Is it some party? But I was… I was eating at home just a few moments ago!” The middle-aged man was still puzzled by this whole situation.
“I was reading just now.”
The other two men piped up after hearing what the middle-aged man said. The two of them looked like students. One looked like he was in his late teens, while the other one looked a little younger, probably 15 or 16.
“I… I was reading too,” said the woman who exclaimed earlier. This woman looked like she was in her twenties. Her makeup was meticulously done, but there was also something provocative in the way she dressed.
“Oh, that’s right! I was reading a book while drinking my soup!” said the middle-aged man as he smacked his forehead.
After listening to their accounts, Su Jin remembered that this happened immediately after he flipped open the book that he had just bought. Since everyone had been doing the same thing before arriving in this place, there was definitely some sort of connection here.
“I know all of you have a lot of questions on your mind, but I don’t have the time to answer all of them now because we’re going to start in about ten minutes or so. So, listen up,” said the younger woman to everyone. “All of you have suddenly appeared here because of the book all of you are holding right now. We call it Hell’s Handbook.”
Su Jin suddenly realized that he was still holding onto that book he flipped open earlier. The previously blank black cover of the book now had two large words written in a bloody red color: Hell’s Handbook.
Everyone else besides the aloof young man was rather taken aback, but the young lady continued speaking, “Nobody knows who came up with Hell’s Handbook, but it undoubtedly carries a tremendous power. Every Handbook owner will have to go through countless nightmares. If you’re lucky, you might get the chance to escape from it.”
"I don't know why you're bothering to talk to these people. They're obviously all new, and I highly doubt they'll survive the night," said the aloof man emotionlessly.
“Are you… are you Mr. Jiang?” asked the middle-aged man a little hesitantly. He seemed to have recognized the younger man.
The aloof man was a little surprised as he heard this, and he asked, “Do we know each other?”
“Oho, I’m not surprised that you don’t know who I am, since I’m not anybody particularly important. I’ve come into contact with your company for business, that’s all,” said the middle-aged man with a cordial laugh.
“Since we’re business partners, then you can be on my team. If you’re lucky, you might survive,” said the aloof man with a nod. Then he eyed the young lady and said, “If you want to continue talking to these people, go ahead. I’m not sticking around.” After saying that, he walked away. The middle-aged man had no idea what was going on, but he followed after the younger man anyway.
The young lady watched the aloof man walk off and shrugged resignedly. She turned back to the rest of the confused people in front of her and continued, "There's no point in saying so much, and we don't have time for this anyway, so I'll just leave you with a few pieces of advice. Firstly, always keep an eye on your copy of the Handbook carefully; it will be your key to surviving this place! Secondly, you must never go beyond the borders of Fengxi Town. You're definitely going to die if you do that. Thirdly, try your best to survive this, and you'll get a huge reward at the end.”
“Sorry, Miss, but are you sure this isn’t just some reality show or some elaborate TV prank?” asked the older student.
The young lady laughed and shrugged his comment off. “If that’s what you think this is, you’re going to die very tragically.”
“How may I address you?” asked Su Jin. Regardless of what situation they were in, this young woman clearly seemed to know a lot more about what was going on. It was better to get to know her instead.
“My name is Liu Yingying,” said Liu Yingying as she looked a little surprisedly at Su Jin. Even though Su Jin also looked confused like the rest, he also looked a lot calmer than everyone else.
“You seem to know a lot more than we do. How do you know all this?” asked Su Jin. He didn’t even remember how he got here, and the rest obviously had no clue either. In that case, any information this young lady had was vital to them.
But the young lady just shook her head at his question and replied, “There are some things you wouldn’t believe even if I told you, so you guys can go experience it for yourselves. Bye, everyone!" Then she turned and left.
Su Jin ran after her, but she had already gone out of sight and disappeared into the darkness that shrouded the rest of Fengxi Town.
Everyone else was still feeling uneasy inside, so the meticulously dressed-up woman turned to everyone and said, "Hello, my name's Zhang Jing, and I'm in sales. I don't know what's going on, but I guess it'll be great if we all looked out for one another!"
The eerie atmosphere made Zhang Jing seem very afraid and instinctively turned to the three men in front of her for support. Su Jin also agreed that it was best that all of them stick together, so he nodded and introduced himself, "I'm Su Jin, and I'm just a low-level office worker. I think it’s best if we all stuck together and looked out for one another too.”
"My name's Chu Yi, and I'm a student. But I'm not attending a regular high school. I'm in a martial arts academy." Chu Yi was the older boy and was extremely muscular, so it was obvious that he was someone who worked out often.
"My name's Yang Zichen, and I'm in my freshman year,” said the younger boy timidly. He wore a pair of glasses and looked like the type who always stayed out of trouble.
Su Jin looked down at the Handbook he was holding. Liu Yingying said earlier that this book was going to help them to survive, so he flipped it open. Every page was empty except for the first page, and the content was about Fengxi Town.
Sheaves (plural) – Sheaf (singular) - a bundle of grain stalks laid lengthways and tied together after reaping. ↩️
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