Chapter 2 - Entrance
Everything started on that day last year.
Thinking about it right now feels like a nightmare.
After graduating from college, Li Yin disregarded his parents’ opposition and became a web novelist. He certainly did not do it for his dreams, his ambitions or other such reasons. It was purely because he knew he could earn money by working in this industry.
It is rare that people write web novels for a living, but Li Yin is one of those people. Actually, the pay he receives from his manuscripts is not too high, barely enough to sustain himself. Moreover, his works might fall in popularity in the future. In this age, there are too many readers who prefer new novels and forget about the old ones. Especially since most web novels now are simply indulgent “fast-food” reads, the majority of readers merely use them to provide some seasoning to daily life.
Li Yin was once very lost on the road of life. He always felt like there was no direction in his future. He lived alone in a rented house in K city, switched on his computer to write everyday as soon as he woke up and even did his daily shopping online. Slowly but surely, he converged into an “otaku”.
He always had a nagging feeling that his life had entered a very strained path.
Then, that one day…
In the end, he was too naive after all. Although he knew that this day would come sooner or later, he had thought that he could at least accumulate some money to invest in the stock market and maybe even start a business in the future.
However, reality was not so not simple.
To search for jobs? He had no working experience. Nowadays, which company can overlook the lack of experience? Since freshly graduated college students are as plenty as blackberries, someone like him would simply not receive any attention at all.
Li Yin’s brows furrowed more and more tightly as he clenched a Jobs Weekly magazine between his fingers.
As he plodded on and on, he had already unknowingly entered a certain neighbourhood and walked into a small alley.
“Nevertheless...I should find a job first.” Li Yin could not bear to do such a thing as going back home and begging his parents. Even if he exhausted all his energy, he needed to get over this hardship by himself.
But still...if he continued to owe his rent for this month, then he would be kicked out of his house by the landlord.
He had moved out from his house and lived alone initially because he and his parents possessed contradictory sets of beliefs. He hoped that one day, he could become successful and return home proudly. Yet… now, he had become like this.
As he walked, he suddenly felt an intense chill run down his lower back.
He moved the Jobs Weekly magazine he was holding in front of his face. Under the sun’s rays, he saw the shadow cast on the ground in front of him…
But still, he continued to hold the job magazine in front of him.
Following that, he saw his shadow undergo a horrifying change.
Although Li Yin was clearly standing stock still at the moment, the shadow underneath his feet started to move. The shadow broke free from Li Yin’s feet and shifted on the ground towards the corner of the alley!
Li Yin was instantly flabbergasted! It took a few seconds for him to gather his thoughts.
Right now, he had no shadow!
His mind completely blank with shock, Li Yin recklessly sprinted in the direction that the shadow fled towards. As the shadow moved with lightning speed in this alley with so many twists and turns, Li Yin exhausted his energy to catch up with it.
Finally, after he had crossed another alleyway, Li Yin saw his shadow enter a piece of spacious land. In the middle of this vast and empty land, there was a very tall apartment.
That apartment seemed to contain more than 20 storeys. It occupied a large area of land, around 200 meters by 200 meters. The walls were white and along the exterior of the building, there were rows of orderly balconies.
But there was something off about this apartment.
It was already precisely noon and the sun was shining down directly from above. And yet this huge apartment...did not cast even a trace of shadow on the ground!
How was this possible?
Li Yin rubbed his eyes rigorously, strongly suspicious that he was dreaming.
But the scene in front of him was undoubtedly the truth.
There was a revolving door located at the entrance of the first floor of the apartment. Li Yin’s shadow moved along the earth towards that revolving door, and automatically passed through it.
At this moment, Li Yin recalled the many ghost stories that he had heard when he was little.
He was only around thirty meters away from the apartment. But this seemingly ordinary apartment felt as though it was a man-eating monster. As though at any moment, it would swallow him whole.
But, for some reason, he was still walking towards that apartment.
It was like there was something summoning him.
When he arrived in front of the revolving gate, Li Yin extended his hand, pushed the glass panels of the gate and walked inside.
His eyes were greeted by the sight of a spacious lobby. The floor was paved by shiny clean marble. A crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling. On the left side of the lobby, there was a flight of stairs. And on the right side, there were three elevators.
He saw his shadow drift along the ground towards the front of an elevator. Right after that, the elevator doors opened and the shadow floated inside. The elevator doors then shut tightly.
Li Yin rushed to the front of the elevator doors, staring at the elevator’s electronic screen nervously.
The elevator stopped on the 4th floor.
Li Yin hurried to another elevator and pressed the button twice. The doors opened slowly. He shot inside as fast as an arrow and pushed the button that indicated the fourth floor.
As the floor numbers increased, Li Yin’s heart rate also increased.
My shadow… My shadow…
Li Yin had a strong feeling inside his heart that if he lost his shadow, then something terrible would happen to him.
Finally, the elevator stopped at the fourth floor. As soon as the elevator doors opened, he walked out immediately and found himself standing in a long hallway.
Although the long hallway was brightly lit, the further down the hallway he walked, the more intense his feeling of deep seclusion was. Both sides of the hallway were lined with door after door. Each door was marked with a number, “411”, “410”, “412” and so on.
When Li Yin got to the “404” room door, he suddenly noticed his shadow float out from the gap underneath the door as it attached itself once again to Li Yin’s feet.
But even then, the shadow was doing something that Li Yin was not.
It seemed like the right hand of the shadow had grasped something, but it was impossible to see clearly what it is. After that, the shadow dropped that thing into the pocket of its pants. When it had completed this action, its hands dropped to its sides and it became motionless.
Li Yin hesitantly waved his right arm. To his surprise, the shadow was now also following the waving motion of his right hand.
Had his shadow...returned?
At that moment, he put his right hand into the pocket of his pants where the shadows placed the thing and touched a very hard object.
It was a key.
The key looked pretty normal except for the number “404” that had been carved on it. Thus, Li Yin turned his gaze towards the door to Room 404 in front of him and shakily inserted the key into the keyhole. With a slight spin of the key, the door opened.
He walked into Room 404.
What greeted him was a relatively large living room furnished with a coffee table, a sofa, a cabinet and a television. Attached to the TV were a karaoke box and a stereo that looked like a rather expensive one in the market. Next to the TV, there was a large window that connected the room to a balcony.
After carefully looking around, he saw that there were two bedrooms, a study room, a bathroom and a kitchen. Furthermore, every room was well decorated. Most furniture were sparkling new and originated from famous brands. This room was around 70 or 80 square meters. With current housing prices, even if this was a second hand apartment room, it still could not possibly be cheap. At least, with his current income, he could not even dream of affording such a luxurious room.
This… Just what was happening here?
“Are... Are you a new resident?”
Li Yin turned around immediately after hearing this voice. A pretty young girl in a green western-styled dress walked into his line of sight.
“Who… Who are you?” Li Yin asked cautiously, his danger senses working overtime.
“D-Don’t be scared.” The young girl waved her hands hurriedly and said, “I... I am the same as you… My shadow also suddenly disappeared on its own and ran into this apartment. Then I became a resident of this apartment. You also got the key, right?”
Li Yin was dumbstruck as he immediately took out the key. As he strode towards the young girl, he asked, “What’s going on here? What …what exactly is this apartment?”
“Since you are the new resident, I should follow our rules and bring you to to our residential representative. He was elected by all of us. When you meet him, he will explain your situation and then he will record your arrival.”
“There are currently 39 residents living in this apartment. With you, there will be 40 of us. We have all been forcefully restricted by this apartment, so we have no choice but to live here.”
Li Yin felt sudden outrage surge within him. “Are you kidding me? There’s no way I’m going to live in this creepy place! ”
That young girl laughed bitterly and said, “Well, you don’t have a choice… When I first entered this apartment, I was also very scared. But there really is no choice. As soon as our shadows enter this apartment and that key is given to us, it means that we are the residents of this apartment. And then....there is no longer any way to escape from here.”
As she said this, the young lady’s expression turned tormented.
“There...There’s no escape?” Li Yin felt the situation becoming more and more sinister by the minute and asked, “Why is there no escape?”
“In the past, there were residents who were selected but chose to not live in this apartment. Those people will eventually be killed by their own shadows.”
Li Yin’s eyes immediately widened as he stood there, aghast.
“This...is a joke, right?”
“Did you not see what happened just now? That shadow was completely controlled by this apartment. Normally, your shadow is under your control and will do whatever you do, but if you do anything thing that is against the rules here, your shadow will control your body to force you to commit suicide. I’ve lived in this apartment for two years… I’ve seen many people who were forced to kill themselves by their shadows because they have violated the apartment's regulations. ”
People were conversely being controlled by their own shadows?
This claim was entirely preposterous but Li Yin could not refute it, because he had just witnessed the unusual change of his shadow with his very own eyes.
Li Yin was starting to feel that this apartment completely exceeded the boundaries of common sense.
“Who...who built this apartment? In fact, why were we chosen to be the residents?”
That young woman shook her head and said, “I don't know… I have been thinking about this question many times over the past two years, but I just can’t understand. I seriously don’t understand! This apartment itself is beyond human logic! But there is only one thing that we can be certain of. We will not be able to see who built this apartment. And as for the non-residents, this apartment does not exist in this world.”
“W-what do you meant by that?”
“Did you pass by an alley to get here?”
“Yeah, I did...”
“In reality, that alley should be a dead end. Only people who have been chosen as residents can pass through that alley and enter this apartment. The land that is occupied by this apartment does not exist. This land does not exist!”
Li Yin looked at the balcony outside the window. He could clearly see the orderly rows of skyscrapers outside.
“We can see the world outside. But, the outside world does not see us.” The young girl saw through Li Yin’s doubt and explained to him, “When you leave this apartment and walk out of the alley, you will also not be able to see it. No one, excepts the residents of this apartment knows that such a building exists in this world.”
But this apartment’s existence is ultimately undeniable.
And the moment he stepped inside, it was as though he stepped foot on an extremely dangerous and terrifying road of no return...
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