Midnight Ten Chapter 17

Chapter 17: Sphinx

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There were girls in this challenge world?

Tang Ling looked at Fan Peiyang skeptically. “Didn’t you say there were no women here?”

Fan Peiyang frowned. “Based on my experience in this challenge, there indeed aren’t any.”

“So, is this….. an NPC?” Tang Ling turned to look again. The beautiful woman hadn’t squeezed into the square but had sat down near a mechanical device on the outskirts. The device was made of iron pieces and gears, resembling a motorcycle, and the woman leaned against it, creating a stark contrast between firearms and roses.

Zheng Luozhu turned half of his body to face the direction of the woman and observed, “If she were an NPC, wouldn’t she have issued a mission as soon as she arrived? What’s the point of sitting there without doing anything?”

In fact, the beautiful woman hadn’t been entirely motionless. At least, after sitting down, she had lifted her arm to check once.

Tang Ling squinted his eyes: “NPCs, do they also have an owl on their arms?”

Fan Peiyang and Zheng Luozhu fell silent together.


The owl pattern on their arms was the most basic and the only emblem for challengers.

The commotion in the square showed no signs of calming down; instead, it was growing more intense. 

Everyone’s gaze was inevitably drawn to the woman. The mere presence of a woman in this context was as rare as lightning on a clear day or moonlight on a stormy night. Furthermore, she had an alluring figure and was exceptionally beautiful.

There were people like Tang Lin’s group who observed and pondered, others engaged in conversations and discussions, and those who attempted to flirt with her from a distance. The square was filled with chatter, laughter, and whistles, creating quite a commotion.

The woman remained composed. 

She seemed to have anticipated the square’s reaction and was prepared for it. Her demeanor was calm, and she occasionally glanced at the clock next to the subway entrance, while also scanning the square like every other challenger waiting for midnight.

But there was something different in her eyes, something that set her apart from the rest of the challengers. Her gaze lacked the usual nervousness, anticipation, or perhaps, she concealed them very well, hidden beneath the surface like calm waters after a storm.

Despite the initial astonishment and curiosity, even those who were trying to flirt or whistle at her eventually remained still in their original spots. 

The logic was simple: the beautiful woman had become the center of attention, and anyone approaching her at this moment would attract the scrutiny of the entire crowd, which was unnecessary.

So, an hour passed like this, and as the clock approached 22:00, the attention on the woman gradually faded. People’s focus shifted back to the challenge entrance, realizing that it was the battleground where their lives were at stake.

The square returned to a moderate level of noise and began to attract people from the outskirts, with occasional scuffles breaking out. 

At this moment, two men approached the device where the woman was located, acting suspiciously. 

Zheng Luozhu had been fixated on the woman for a whole hour, unable to divert his gaze. He suspected he had OCD, as he only knew the names of four out of the five major forces. The sudden appearance of the woman troubled him. He was the first to notice that something was amiss. 

“F*ck!” he exclaimed, standing up from the rooftop, “You guys are acting like thug——”

However, his voice was drowned out by the commotion in the square. 

But Tang Lin and Fan Peiyang were startled by the noise. 

They looked up and saw the woman being restrained by some stationery items, unable to move, with one man holding down her shoulders to prevent her from resisting and another about to grab her arm…

Wait, it seemed like they weren’t thugs.

Zheng Luozhu tilted his head and looked for a few more seconds, his anger blazing in his eyes. “Fu*ck, they’re stealing stationery!”

He was the first to notice but the slowest to react.

Tang Lin and Fan Peiyang understood at first glance.

A woman who could come here alone must have a large amount of stationery on hand, otherwise she wouldn’t have the ability or the courage to do so – that would be the assumption of many men in the square. And among these people, a few would definitely resort to unscrupulous means and rob her.

“No, Boss, I have to go,” Zheng Luozhu couldn’t stand it anymore, “It’s considered skillful to rob men, but what about robbing women?”

“Zhuzi, ” Tang Lin calmly said, “Take another look.” 

Zheng Luozhu was anxious, “What else is there to see in this situation?” 

Fan Peiyang, composed and relaxed, said, “She’s more composed than you.”

It took Zheng Luozhu a while to understand who “she” referred to (because she or he have same pronounce in Chinese). Looking again, he realized it was true. Although the woman was trapped by stationery, she wasn’t struggling violently. At this moment, her sleeve had been roughly pushed up, but she still didn’t resist.

There were only two possible explanations for this situation – either she had given up or… 

Suddenly, the woman raised her eyes, her gaze was as intense as fire, just like the person she was.

Even though they were far apart, and even though the woman wasn’t looking at him, Zheng Luozhu was still overwhelmed by her presence.

“A woman who can venture into the Underground City is no delicate flower.”

This was the last sentence Zheng Luozhu heard, spoken by Tang Lin with a cool and clear voice.

After that, the woman in the distance took a deep breath and began to scream.

It was a prolonged, devastating scream that left people shattered.

Like a spoon scraping against glass.

Like nails scratching a chalkboard.

Like freshly uprooted mandrake.

The scream lasted for over twenty seconds.

The two thieves, without saying a word, hastily fled, and even the people who were originally sitting nearby scattered like birds and beasts, creating a clear space with a radius of ten meters, centered around the gear and iron plate contraption.

The woman stopped screaming, pushed her hair from her shoulders to the back, and stretched her neck, as if she had just finished doing yoga.

The whole square fell into silence.

Some people silently crumpled pieces of paper and stuffed them into their ears to prevent further harm.

Though Zheng Luozhu was far away and didn’t need to cover his ears, he still felt shaken: “She won’t scream again, will she?”

Tang Lin smiled: “She probably won’t.”

Zheng Luozhu felt conflicted: “Is this her stationery or a natural ability…?”

If every woman’s scream had this destructive power, Zheng Luozhu sincerely believed that it would be better for male companions to handle such situations together.

“Stationery,” said Fan Peiyang, without any hesitation or uncertainty in his tone.

Tang Lin agreed, “A regular scream can startle someone, but it won’t make two determined robbers flee.”

They fled because they couldn’t bear the mental pressure, in other words, the scream had an attacking effect on them.

After some thought, Zheng Luozhu understood.

This was an offensive stationery, or more likely, it belonged to the woman’s Stationery Tree.

After this incident, no one dared to provoke her anymore. The woman’s side became quiet, and the square also calmed down. Everyone began their final wait.

It was 11:15 PM, there were 45 minutes left until the challenge level opened.

As the time approached midnight, time seemed to slow down. The square remained peaceful, but beneath the tranquility, a surging undercurrent was building. It was like a tug-of-war, where both sides held the rope, ready to exert force once the referee blew the whistle. In theory, neither side should exert any force, but once the rope was in their hands, it was inevitable for both sides to tense up.

No one pretended to sleep anymore.

Everyone sat up, either looking at the clock, the subway entrance, or each other, seemingly casual but with hidden intentions. Calculating power, calculating competitors, calculating their positions for the upcoming scramble…

Without warning, Tang Lin’s owl emblem on his arm flickered again.

He quickly tapped on it, but nothing changed, for better or worse.

Fan Peiyang noticed his reaction and asked, “What’s wrong?”

Tang Lin stared at his arm in a daze, “It happened last time too.”

“Last time?” Fan Peiyang was puzzled.

Tang Lin explained: “The day the Night Roamer entered the Underground Well, this owl emblem also flickered, but when I tapped on it, nothing happened.”

Fan Peiyang: “It flickered again just now?”

Tang Lin: “Yes.”

Fan Peiyang: “Are you sure?”

Tang Lin: “Last time, I thought it was just my imagination, but it can’t be a coincidence twice.”

Fan Peiyang fell into thought and after a while, he said, “Perhaps it has something to do with the Stationery Tree that you haven’t unlocked yet…”

But he abruptly stopped speaking.

Tang Lin looked up in surprise and noticed the furrowed brow and strange expression on Fan Peiyang’s face. 

Just as he was about to ask, Zheng Luozhu, who had been lying on the ground, suddenly jerked upright with a bewildered look, muttering to himself, “What the heck…”

Then, one by one, people in the square began to stand up. Some looked around while others, like Zheng Luozhu, murmured to themselves.

The calm was shattered as at least a third of the people in the square started to become restless.

“What’s going on?” Tang Lin grabbed Fan Peiyang’s wrist.

Fan Peiyang snapped out of his daze and lowered his voice, “What animal walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three legs in the evening, with the most limbs when it’s weakest?”

“A human.” Tang Lin didn’t even need to think about it.

It was the “Rddle of the Shinx”, a well-known tale that many people were familiar with. Fan Peiyang couldn’t possibly be asking him for the answer. And why would he suddenly ask such a strange question?

“President Tang, can’t you hear it?” Zheng Luozhu asked confusedly.

Tang Lin was taken aback. “Hear what?”

Zheng Luozhu’s voice grew urgent. “There’s a voice in my head asking the same question the boss just asked, demanding an answer within two minutes. If we can’t answer or answer incorrectly, we’ll be devoured by the Sphinx.”

Tang Lin looked at Zheng Luozhu, then at Fan Peiyang, and finally believed that no one was playing a joke on him.

The Sphinx, an evil creature from Greek mythology, represented divine punishment. It sat on a cliff near the city of Thebes, stopping passersby with a riddle: “What animal walks on four legs in the morning… with the most limbs when it’s weakest?” Those who couldn’t answer would be devoured.

In the end, Oedipus guessed the answer—humans. As infants, humans crawl on all fours, so four legs; as adults, they walk on two legs; and in old age, they use a cane, hence three legs. The Sphinx was ashamed and jumped off the cliff to its death.

This riddle came to be known as the “Riddle of the Sphinx.”

“Human.” Though it seemed absurd, Fan Peiyang still whispered the answer.

Zheng Luozhu quickly followed suit. “Human.”

Tang Lin couldn’t hear anything, but in fact, the voice had started a countdown in both their minds after posing the question. Although being “devoured” sounded ridiculous, Zheng Luozhu didn’t want to take any chances.

But not everyone was cooperating.

Two minutes passed.

The square erupted with cries of anguish, followed by the thumping sound of bodies hitting the ground.

In an instant, the atmosphere in the square changed dramatically.

Those who had heard the question and answered correctly stood there in astonishment, while those who hadn’t heard the question erupted into chaos. Some shook their fallen companions, others looked around in confusion, and some angrily shouted, “Who is it?” and “Come out now!”

People were encountering the attack.

Tang Lin understood in an instant. With just over half an hour left until the challenge level opened, someone had taken the initiative to eliminate the competitors.

There were casualties under the abandoned house.

Tang Lin quickly jumped down to check. The person on the ground had a pale face, lips turning blue, no signs of breath or consciousness. Their body was cold and stiff, as if they had been dead for a long time.

He stood there in disbelief.

What kind of stationery could cause such widespread damage, especially in the form of answering questions…

Tang Lin got up and wanted to communicate with the rooftop. But as he looked up, he noticed that Fan Peiyang and Zheng Luozhu had serious expressions, abnormally quiet.

Tang Lin’s heart sank, and he immediately went to look at the square.

Sure enough, the people who had answered the questions earlier were in the same state as the two on the rooftop.

The answering wasn’t over yet.

And the questions they heard started to change, with less time allowed for answering.

Fan Peiyang heard——

[Do you regret bringing Tang Lin here? Please answer within one minute. If you can’t answer or answer incorrectly, the Sphinx will devour you.]

Zheng Luozhu heard——

[Do you hate your parents? Please answer within one minute. If you can’t answer or answer incorrectly, the Sphinx will devour you.]

“Heh, is there even a correct answer for this shit…” Zheng Luozhu let out a mocking laugh.

Unexpectedly, the voice responded——

[Yes, there is. The answer is in your heart, and I am also in your heart, so I know. But you may not. The countdown continues, 49, 48, 47…]

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