Highway 404 (1)
Chi Nan’s ears were filled with the flexible rhythm of slowly shaking music, gradually waking him from a deep sleep.
Even if he didn’t open his eyes, he could feel the warm sunlight on his face. The air was filled with a dry, dusty, primitive smell, and was mixed with a slightly industrial smell of leather and gasoline.
His body jerked violently. Then, Chi Nan and the sleepwalkers in the car woke up completely.
The sunlight was too strong, so everyone instinctively reached out to cover their eyes. They slowly adapted to the environment of bright light through the cracks in their fingers.
Chi Nan blinked a few times before confirming that he was sitting in the back row of a seven seat SUV by the right side window. There were four people in the car. It was the driver, a man and woman were sitting in the second row, and a young woman sat in the back with him beside the left window.
Among them, the woman with the big wavy hairstyle on the left side of the second row felt very familiar to Chi Nan.
All the passengers woke up, adjusted to the glare, and started to observe this nightmare.
The car drove on an empty and deserted highway at 60-80 km an hour. The sun was so hot that it hurt the skin, but the driver was in a happy mood. He hummed slowly, as if he was on a road trip.
The driver seemed to sense the awakening of the passengers and whistled happily. “Welcome to the Highway 404 Tour.”
The woman in the second row on the left stretched. She instinctively put her hand into her pocket and touched a lighter and a pack of cigarettes.
She lit a cigarette and handed it to the driver. “This car is EM00404.”
Before entering the instance, everyone had received the license plate photo that read ‘EM00404.’
“Thank you.” The driver bit the cigarette. “Yes, I’m the driver of this car and I will be driving you for the next 4,000 kilometers. I hope you enjoy this journey full of surprises.”
Numbers that emerged from the mouth of an instance NPC were often important information. Chi Nan noted down this information point of 4,000 kilometers.
The driver continued speaking, “This trip is more special and time is relatively tight. You can’t get out of the car and walk around the road at will. You can only get out of the car when we arrive at the rest service station.”
The woman blew out some smoke. “What if I want to go to the bathroom? Can’t you park the car?”
The driver answered, “Believe me, you don’t have to worry about going to the bathroom.”
The woman raised an eyebrow. “Why?”
The driver smiled. “You’ll know when the time comes.”
Chi Nan seized the key point. “How much time do we have?”
The driver glanced at him through the rearview mirror. “I can’t say this well. The time on the road is naturally determined by our itinerary and road conditions. You know, this car will always encounter many unexpected situations on the road and all types of things.”
The woman wondered, “Then why did you just say that time is tight?”
The driver had no intention of answering her question. He whistled loudly and started to follow the song again.
The woman: “……” It seemed to be a hidden information point.
She turned her head and offered cigarettes to the remaining three passengers. The middle-aged man sitting on the right side of the second row took it.
“It seems there are only the four of us in this nightmare. My name is Jiang Yu and 404 is my sixth instance.” The woman introduced herself before turning to Chi Nan with a smile. “I didn’t expect to go through an instance together so soon.”
The face-blind Chi Nan finally remembered that this woman was Jiang Yu from the Dusk Cruise.
The middle-aged man looked at Jiang Yu doubtfully before turning to Chi Nan, smiling in a very friendly manner. “You knew each other before? Was it in reality?”
Jiang Yu exhaled and replied honestly, “No, we went through one instance together.”
The middle-aged man nodded, maintaining his warm and smiling expression. “My name is Pei Mo. This is my second time clearing an instance.”
Chi Nan was the only other male present, so he held out his hand to Chi Nan.
“I’m sorry, I’m not used to physical contact with people.” Chi Nan politely declined Pei Mo’s invitation to shake hands, simply saying, “My name is Chi Nan and this is my fifth instance.”
Pei Mo smiled and withdrew his hand. “It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter. I can understand.”
The silent young woman sitting in the back row with Chi Nan finally spoke. “Lu Baizhou, and it is my third instance.”
She explained her situation simply and clearly. Then her eyes flickered and moved out of the car window.
Jiang Yu glanced at Lu Baizhou through the smoke and suppressed the doubt in her eyes. “We are all experienced sleepwalkers. It is convenient, but also difficult.”
Pei Mo nodded in agreement and frowned. “It is very uncommon to have no newcomers. Now, the rules given by the driver were too vague. We don’t know the road trip’s specific purpose, just some information. We know too little and there are no clues…”
Then he smiled in a very friendly manner. “Fortunately, you are all bigshots who have passed through several instances. Then, please give me more advice when the time comes.”
The remaining three turned a deaf ear to his praise. Finally, Jiang Yu bit her cigarette and said, “You have to rely on yourself. Don’t expect things blindly.”
Pei Mo’s expression froze awkwardly for a moment. “It is the truth…”
“This time, it is different from the closed environment of a traditional instance.” Jiang Yu stared at the warm daylight outside the window and the vast wilderness, her eyes narrowing slightly. “The heavens and earth are big. It is a wilderness and there are many possibilities.”
Chi Nan thought about it. “I think it is quite similar to the previous Dusk Cruise Ship, which moved forward in an enclosed vehicle while the destination wasn’t clear.”
“In an enclosed vehicle…” Jiang Yu said with a silent smile, “Let’s find any clues in the car first.”
“In addition, let’s search our own bodies,” Chi Nan added.
Compared with the previous villa, cruise ship, town, and school, a seven seater SUV was much smaller. In less than five minutes, Chi Nan found an old, cut out newspaper that was under the seat in front of him.
Chi Nan picked up the old newspaper and showed it to everyone. “There is a missing person notice published on it. This should be a useful clue.”
[Name: Qu Yijun. Age: 27 years old. She was wearing a white dress and red high heels before disappearing, as well as red coral stud earrings. She hasn’t returned for many days. Anyone with information, please contact the number 4040404. There will be a large reward.]
The missing person notice also had a photo of Qu Yijun. Her eyes were beautiful and gentle in the black and white photo. Her beautiful long hair was loosely pulled up and looked like a shampoo advertisement.
Jiang Yu looked over while searching for clues. Her gaze was instantly attracted and her eyes narrowed. She said, “It is a beauty.”
She pulled out a wallet from the pocket of her shirt as she spoke. It had strange craftsmanship and was obviously an item belonging to the ‘character.’
Jiang Yu’s expression changed when she opened her wallet. “This is…”
She took out a photo from a compartment in her wallet. It showed two girls wearing loose shirts and kissing sideways in a hugging posture. Jiang Yu was standing behind the girl with her hands around the other person’s waist. The girl who was hugged from behind was Qu Yijun from the missing person notice.
The most numbing thing was the lower right corner of the photo was soaked with dark red bloodstains. Countless dried, bloody fingerprints overlapped everywhere in the photo.
Jiang Yu’s hand holding the photo shook a bit and her brow furrowed.
Chi Nan asked, “Do you know her?”
Jiang Yu shook her head. “I don’t know her. The photo should belong to the ‘character.’”
Lu Baizhou, who hadn’t spoken much, looked at the photo before looking at Jiang Yu again. “It looks like she should be ‘your’ girlfriend.”
Jiang Yu shrugged. “This character’s luck with women isn’t shallow.”
She paused. “My ‘girlfriend’ has obviously encountered a disaster.”
Chi Nan looked at the photo. Judging from the bloody fingerprints, this photo must’ve been taken out by the ‘suspect’ over and over again and looked at countless times.
Lu Baizhou asked again, “Can I ask if you are bent?”
Jiang Yu’s action of biting the cigarette stopped. “It doesn’t matter. At the very least, my current clues show that my character is bent. This girl’s disappearance is obviously related to the plot of this nightmare.”
“Then let’s keep looking for clues.” Pei Mo saw that this clue couldn’t proceed and cautiously suggested.
No one answered him, and the other three continued to silently look for clues in the car.
There wasn’t much space in the car. Before long, the four people had searched through almost all of it. They rummaged through everything while the driver hummed to himself and didn’t get in the way.
Unfortunately, the group didn’t gain much.
Chi Nan pulled out a pair of iron rings from his pocket. They looked cheap, but were hand-crafted with the utmost care. The people who created them were obviously very careful.
Pei Mo found a book under his seat called ‘Killing Intentions with Nowhere to Escape.’ The author’s pseudonym was ‘The Judge’ and he flipped through it. The book wasn’t thick. There were 366 pages total.
There were a few oily spots on the side of the book, like marks that were accidentally splashed when eating takeout.
Lu Baizhou pulled out a neatly folded note from her makeup bag. She opened it and saw that it read: Dr. He – 4040404.
The string of numbers was clearly a contact number. The handwriting of the address on the note was blurred and soaked in water.
“This number is the same as the phone number on Qu Yijun’s missing person notice.” Lu Baizhou quickly found the similarities between the clues.
Jiang Yu searched again. “Unfortunately, this instance didn’t leave us any communication tools.”
Chi Nan looked at the driver. “Excuse me, do you have a mobile phone?”
The driver whistled and shook his head to indicate a no.
“Do you know where we can make a call?” Chi Nan asked again.
The driver glanced at him through the rearview mirror. “Wait until the rest area. There should be a phone at the hotel.”
Chi Nan nodded. “Thank you.”
Just then, the radio that was originally playing a slow song rang for a while. Then a female voice came from the radio broadcast.
[Listeners and friends having a good trip, this is the weather broadcast. It is expected that in the next two hours, the entire section of Highway 404 will usher in a heavy rain and the road will be slippery. Your field of view will be greatly affected. Driver friends, please drive carefully. Safety first…]
The group looked at the cloudless weather and wondered, ‘Does it look like it is going to rain?’
In addition, which radio station’s weather forecast was calculated by the hour?
Just as everyone was wondering about it, the originally clear sky was quickly covered by dark clouds and the sunlight disappeared.
In less than three minutes, the horizon at the end of the highway was swallowed up by a surging black cloud. Wind was blowing and there was thunder. The SUV driving on Highway 404 was like a small boat in the center of the storm.
The slow-moving music on the radio was gone. The driver stopped humming and the car was quiet. There was the sound of wind whistling in their ears and the closed window glass trembled in the wind.
Everyone fastened their seat belts and leaned back against their chairs. Unknowingly, they were breathing lightly. Their inner sense of security was crumbling on the eve of the storm in the wilderness.
Pei Mo cautiously suggested, “Should we stop first and wait for the storm to pass before moving forward?”
The driver’s voice no longer contained its previous happiness. “We can’t stop. This isn’t the place to stop.”
Pei Mo continued to argue, “However, driving in such bad weather is too unsafe. What if there is a car accident?”
The driver gave him a cold look through the rearview mirror. “It doesn’t matter. It is fine to have a car accident.”
Pei Mo got goosebumps from his stare and leaned back deeply into his seat.
Jiang Yu frowned. “It should be in the rules to not allow the car to be parked. Don’t waste your energy.”
Pei Mo: “……”
Chi Nan always acted like a disciplined good student. “Is there anything we need to pay attention to on rainy days?”
The driver’s gaze shifted to him. “The scenery along Highway 404 on a rainy day is unique. You can enjoy it.”
He paused before smiling stiffly again. “For example, the hitchhikers waiting on the side of the road on rainy days can’t be seen anywhere else.”
“Hitchhikers? This ghostly place?” Jiang Yu asked with a raised eyebrow.
The driver replied, “Yes, you might be able to see them later. Once it rains, those who can’t return home will wait on the side of the road to catch a ride and start their journey.”
Pei Mo’s face was full of doubts. “But…why are they waiting for a ride on a rainy day?”
The driver smiled again. “Have you ever heard of a saying? Dead souls need to use water as a medium to walk on a yang road. Therefore, it rains almost every day on the Ghost Festival just to wet the road and allow the dead souls to walk on the road.”
His words were enough to make everyone feel terrified. Only Chi Nan looked calm.
The torrential rain had already fallen. Through the waterfall-like rain curtain outside the car window, Chi Nan stared at the gray wilderness.
They drove for approximately 10 minutes in the rainstorm. Then, a silhouette appeared vaguely in the rain curtain.
The silhouette was of a long-haired woman. She stood alone in the grass beside the road, flashing past the fast-moving car window.
“I saw a person waiting for the car,” Chi Nan said.
Then he turned to look out the back window and saw there was no shadow where the woman just stood.
“I saw it too.” Jiang Yu looked out the car window on her side and pointed at the billboard not far away. “Just now, she stood under there. She…”
The sharp and straightforward Jiang Yu was rarely this choked up. “I saw her face. It was on the missing person notice… It was Qu Yijun.”