The night breeze caressed the candle flames.
The light dimmed and brightened as the tongues of the flames wavered.
The face before Kieran dimmed and brightened along with them.
The face was filled with intertwined scars. It was like a puzzle pieced together. One could hardly tell what the original face had been.
A huge clear scar extended from its right temple to the left corner of its mouth, standing out from the others.
The lifeless face stared at Kieran with dull dead eyes, its eerie gaze wearing down his nerves.
The messy scars on it made it look vicious and sent a chill down Kierans spine.
Kieran took a careful look at it before he barged in through the door.
As the door was pushed open, the face disappeared back into the darkness in an instant.
The candle flames were extinguished, the candles falling to the ground as the face disappeared.
The whole corridor and front hall were instantly covered in darkness.
Whispers were suddenly heard from the living room, but the blurry voice was too rough for Kierans C- Intuition to make out what it was saying.
When Kieran picked up a candle off the floor and lit it up, the whispers went away as if they were afraid of the light.
As soon as the whispers faded away, a breathing sound filled the entire room.
Before Kieran could make a move, a couple of emerald will o wisps appeared before him.
The will o wisps floated around mindlessly, passing before his eyes.
Kieran ignored them and took the candle in his hand, venturing into the living room.
The room was not big. There were a couple of sofas inside, and warmth was coming from a faux fireplace that was actually a heater.
Kieran picked a sofa and sat down, setting the candle down next to his feet.
Except for the sparks the candle produced from time to time, there was total silence.
After a full ten minutes, a diplomatic voice was heard from one side of the corridor.
"Fine, fine, you win!"
As the words faded away, a girl in ordinary clothes with delicate features entered the living room, holding a candlestick. Her face was quite pretty, but the dim light of the candle she was holding made her eyes seem cunning.
The candlestick in her hand lit up the living room.
She picked the sofa next to Kieran and sat down, staring at him in amazement.
"Arent you afraid?" she asked.
"Afraid? Of what? The mask? The balloons covered in phosphorus? Or maybe the recorder you placed behind the faux fireplace?" Kieran told the girl as he turned around.
"You saw through everything? Haha, seems like youre worthy of being my competitor! Pleased to meet you! The names Elli, Elli Jones!"
Surprised by Kierans discovery, Elli extended her hand excitedly for a handshake.
Kieran had no intention of shaking her hand though.
As he inspected the girls palm, he noticed a ring on her long, delicate index finger. The inner part of the ring reflected an unusual glint produced by the brightness of the candle flame. It looked wet.
"Is that superglue?" Kieran asked.
"Whoa, what sharp eyes!"
Elli did not look embarrassed or unsettled. Instead, she smiled brightly and energetically, inspecting Kieran as if she was trying to see through him.
Kieran was not bothered by her intense inspection. He just stood up and went on with his original plan, which had been to inspect the house.
The whole building was made of a ground floor and first floor.
The stairs in the living room connected the two floors.
There were corridors, a living room, kitchen, study, and a door on the ground floor that led to the backyard. Kieran tried opening the door the led to the backyard, but the handle was too rusty.
When he went up to the first floor, he found a master bedroom, three guest rooms, and a balcony.
The balcony was accessible, and one could see the backyard from it. There was a small garden in the backyard with only a dozen flower pots and a parterre. The plants in the garden had withered long ago, as no one was there to take care of them. The garden was surrounded by a metal fence, and the rust and dead plants made the scene look like a death cage without any signs of life.
Kieran noticed an entrance that seemed to lead underground.
It was on the side of the main building, so if Kieran had not been looking at the garden from the top of the balcony, he would never have discovered it.
Kieran went back to the ground floor and headed towards the underground entrance.
As he was walking out, Elli told him, "Theres nothing there, no message from Nikorei. No other competitors either. I still dont know what the test is! Do you know anything?" Elli asked with a puzzled expression, waiting for an answer.
Kieran of course knew what the test was about. He had already discovered some important clues before hed come in, but hed never tell her what he had found.
It was the key to completing the Main Mission and becoming Nikoreis assistant.
Kieran would not have paid so much attention if it had not been related to the Main Mission. However, getting the position was the Main Mission itself, and the penalty would be too heavy if he failed.
Kieran would never completely trust Elli.
He did not slow down to answer her question. He just headed straight for the underground entrance. He opened the door, which was on a corner of the main building, and a flight of stairs appeared.
Kieran took his candle and carefully went down the stairs with extra vigilance. Any potential danger he might encounter aside, he also needed to be vigilant around Elli.
Elli acted normally until he reached the underground room.
The room was exactly like she had said. It was empty of things, and there were no doors leading back to the main building. There was nothing unusual about it.
"You should trust people more!" Elli told Kieran when she saw him emerge from the underground room once again.
Kieran nodded without any further comment. His gaze just swept past Elli.
His rude manner made the girl frown, but suddenly there was another knock on the door.
"Someone else is here!"
A cunning smile formed on Ellis face. The prankster inside her took over as she quickly went back into the main building and waited by the door.
As soon as she went inside, a loud scream escaped her mouth.
When Kieran went back in, he found Elli pressed down against the floor, her arm twisted back by a middle-aged man.
Elli saw Kieran come in and naturally tried to scream for help. The words lingered on the tip of her tongue though, as she realized she did not know Kierans name yet. Still, the pain in her arm urged her to scream for help before her arm broke.
Just as Elli was about to scream again, the pain faded and the middle-aged man pressing her down dashed towards Kieran.
Before the man could move though, Kieran pointed a silver revolver at him.
"Who are you?" Kieran asked.
"Debosky! I received an invitation from Nikorei the Shaman. I did not intend to harm the young lady. She showed malicious intent first!"
Debosky was quite cooperative. He put hands up right away when he saw the revolver.
"It was a prank!"
Elli, who was rubbing her arm to ease her pain, stared at Debosky angrily.
"Pranks also hide malicious intent!" Debosky pointed out as he looked at Kieran.
The man, who was wearing a tuxedo, felt uncomfortable around his shoulders and collar as he raised his hands, but he dared not lower them before he confirmed that Kieran would not fire.
He knew that Kieran was not someone to mess around with. He was sweating hard under the pressure of his revolver.
Fortunately, Kieran put the gun away, and Debosky released a long breath of relief.
"Did the two of you also receive Nikoreis invitation? Are you here for the test?" Debosky asked.
"We are your competitors! Dont sweat it, with us in the game, you will never become the shamans assistant!" Elli said in an angry tone.
Out of instinct, she had labeled Kieran an ally and started to act like a fox with the power of a tiger.
"I wouldnt be so sure about that. I am quite the specialist in paranormal activity!" Debosky said confidently after shooting a scared look at Kieran.
"Your confidence will lead to your failure!" Elli mocked him.
"The same goes for overestimating yourself!" Debosky replied with a smile.
Kieran was not interested in their squabble.
He turned his attention outside. He had sensed another figure come in through the front gate.
The figure was in a trenchcoat, and under its black top was a face covered in bandages. Only its eyes, nostrils and chin were not covered.
As the figure approached, Elli and Debosky turned their attention to it as well.
"Excuse my looks. I suffered these injuries after a big fire. I was invited here by Nikorei the Shaman. And you guys are?"
The figures dry, rough voice had a sense of friendliness to it.
"We were invited as well!" Elli said as she looked at the fourth competitor curiously.
"You can call me Raul," the man introduced himself.
After Raul, everyone else started to introduce themselves as well. Kieran satisfied Ellis curiosity by giving his "2567" codename. No one seemed surprised by his nickname, not even Elli.
It seemed quite normal to people who dealt with the paranormal.
In other words, every single one of their names could be an alias, although perhaps not as odd as Kierans, which was obviously a codename.
The four of them went back inside the house. Kieran headed back to the living room and sat down on the same sofa hed been sitting on earlier.
Debosky and Raul went through the whole building, even the underground room, despite the fact that Elli told them exactly what she had told Kieran.
It drove her mad.
"You pipsqueaks!! Did you guys never learn how to trust people?" Elli said in a furious tone.
As she spoke, a sudden scream was heard from upstairs, followed by something falling on the floor.
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door and a heavy crashing sound.