Chapter 0244: Stumbling Mind

  

  

At the main gate at purified spot number 13.

Li Luo and the others stood before the light barrier, on the edge of the peaceful sanctuary. Outside, sinister, dark fog roiled, obscuring their vision.

The opacity was the crux of their fear. Who knew what lurked beyond? It was always the unknown that made one's imagination supplement the fear—and who knew one's fears better than oneself?

Jiang Qing'e's squad was calm, being familiar enough with the Umbra Cave through their years of experience.

The same could not be said for the twitchy newcomers. Past the barrier, there would be nothing shielding them from the raw reality of the Umbra Cave.

Other teams were nearby as well, and Li Luo sensed that they were watching with at least some amusement alongside their sympathy.

"Jiang Qing'e, first time for the first years, eh? How many attempts do you think they'll need to overcome the Stumbling Mind?" Duze Honglian's gleeful voice came from behind as she swaggered up with Ye Qiuding's squad in tow.

"Stumbling Mind?" Li Luo asked.

"What I told you about just now," Jiang Qing'e said, ignoring Duze Honglian completely. "The corruptive influence of the shadow world permeates the black fog completely. The transition is especially difficult the first time. After all, such people would never have experienced it before. They are especially vulnerable to the corruption before they get used to it.

"The corruption will affect your reason, play with your emotions... And so we call it the Stumbling Mind. You three will definitely encounter it as well.

"Still, there is no need to worry even if you fail to overcome it quickly. It's just a matter of time, and once you build sufficient resistance, we'll be good to go."

Jiang Qing'e explained everything lightly, but Li Luo understood. If the three of them faltered here, they would bring down the efficiency of the mission, since Jiang Qing'e's squad would have to wait for them.

Duze Honglian was watching with relish.

"The Umbra Cave is a freaking gauntlet of troubles." Li Luo sighed. Even stepping out was dangerous.

No wonder the school had never sent One Star Hall students before. Too green.

"Well, let's give it a try," Li Luo said to his two teammates encouragingly. "Best if we can clear it in one."

The two nodded seriously.

All three stepped out of the purified circle together.

In the first instant, Li Luo felt the temperature plummet to an extremely uncomfortable chill.

Voices. They whispered to him, speaking right into his ears, into his heart. They told him of his worst fears, promised them to him with a conviction he could not ignore. They came at him from all directions, and he was lost to them for a moment.

Eyes. He felt eyes on him, watching, watching closely. He spun around. They were watching him. He could feel them. Right on him. Right behind him. There! He spun again. Saw nothing.

Fog. The dusky darkness clung to him like cold condensation, and suddenly he felt clammy hands reach out to take him, to drag him down into what had to be death.

Absolute terror, swamping his every sense. Li Luo clung desperately to his sanity.

His face was pale, his breathing ragged.

From behind, Jiang Qing'e watched closely. If the three showed signs of trauma, she would reach out to pull them back, and they would have failed the first Stumbling Mind attempt.

Which would be normal. These were One Star Hall students who were entering the Umbra Cave for the first time.

She fully expected that they would take two or three attempts to get used to it.

Which would put them a few days behind other squads. The level one purification towers would have been cleaned up by the others already.

Duze Honglian smirked behind, watching Li Luo flail in terror.

Oh, Jiang Qing'e, such is the price you pay.

Ye Qiuding fought to keep his expression neutral, but there was a hint of satisfaction in his eyes.

Li Luo stood his ground, even as the whispers continued to tell their tale of despair, weaving the illusion of doom tighter and tighter around him.

Li Luo might be a newcomer, but his heart was not as frail as one might expect.

Terror failed to overwhelm his reason.

He was blind now, the darkness fully cloaking the others from him. He could hear voices, but they all sounded menacing.

And still, he grew calmer and calmer.

The Others were scary, dangerous, deadly. But what was his goal here in the Umbra Cave?

To earn his 100,000 points.

What would happen if he failed?

No Royal Sap. No progress beyond the General tier. No life after four years.

Duke in five years? A foolish dream.

If he didn't get the points, he was screwed either way.

Was there anything more frightening in the world than imminent death?

“I'm going to die, damn it! Why would I be afraid of you mongrel Others?!”

The fire in his brain started and chased back the shadows of fear far back into the corners of his mind.

His vision cleared. Everything was normal again.

The malicious whispers from Duze Honglian's group came to an abrupt end.

Li Luo opened and closed his hand experimentally. "Does this mean I've passed?" he asked with a tone of surprise. Inwardly, he laughed. Heheh, he sure was a good actor.

"Seems very easy." Bai Mengmeng's voice replied. He turned around to see her looking around with clear cognition in her eyes.

"You... you're okay?" Li Luo said, taken aback. She'd been quicker than him.

She blinked. "I felt something bad, so I went into my hypnosis state, and then it was gone."

Li Luo's jaw dropped. The hypnosis state that she refined spirit liquids in?

During that time, Bai Mengmeng had been calm, collected, and completely dismissive of any emotion that disrupted her work. That worked against the corruption?

That was cheating.

Li Luo cursed himself. Damn, the real pro was right here instead.

Suddenly, Jiang Qing'e jerked forward, moving right to the edge of the barrier. At the same time, Li Luo felt a deadly killing intent approach.

He whirled around to see Xin Fu, eyes red with pure spite and murderous intent.

Still, the red haze passed in moments, and Xin Fu was himself again. He looked up at Li Luo. "Is it over?"

Li Luo nodded wordlessly.

Well, well, so both of them were pros.

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