It was dead silent.
A silence that reached further than the depths of the dark night; a silence more somber than Xu Zhimo’s Cambridge poem. (1)
Although no one made a sound, chaotic sparks flew through the air.
At this moment, the hourglass hovering in midair exploded into a brilliant firework.
The rain of black and white sand had a strange beauty to it.
If it were any other time, Qiu Yanzhi would have marveled at the artistry of such a sight. He would also wonder about the reason it had exploded.
He would’ve pondered over an eternal question in his mind. Did the hourglass blowing up mean He Zhou wanted to divorce or not? Or did the overly complicated calculations cause the hourglass to short circuit?
But Qiu Yanzhi didn't have time to think about that right now. There was a more pressing issue that made his back become covered with cold sweat.
--What am I going to do now?!!!!
Qiu Yanzhi was caught too many times.
He barely escaped by the skin of his teeth each time.
But this time was different. In the unnerving and embarrassing silence, a sense of panic started to overwhelm him.
If what he did before was flipping the car…
Then he completely demolished both the road in front and behind him this time.
There was a voice screaming hysterically in his head: Hurry up and log out before it’s too late!!!
Another voice refused to give in until the end: Fleeing the battlefield is a coward’s path!
The crazy voice continued to shriek: Why are you still thinking about that at a time like this?! Since when were you a f*cking warrior?!
The unyielding voice remained steadfast: Don’t sweat the details. I can still salvage things… I- F*ck that motherf*cker He Zhou’s getting closer what is he trying to do oh man I don’t like the look on his face is he going to kill me I’m so scared what’s the pain sensitivity set at right now how much is it going to hurt if He Zhou beats me up……
The voice of madness issued its final warning: Log out, now!!
The stubborn voice finally cracked: I want to, but I f*cking can’t. This sh*tty game doesn’t allow players to log out via voice commands in front of NPCs… Laozi can’t even open my mouth right now…...
He Zhou approached Qiu Yanzhi step by step, his face red and purple and green from rage. An irrepressible storm that only grew stronger with time brewed within his dark eyes.
Qiu Yanzhi tried backing away, but he couldn’t go fast enough. He tried to run, but couldn’t get away.
There were no excuses left for him. All he could do was tremble in place as He Zhou drew closer.
He Zhou growled through clenched teeth. His every word was like chips of sharp and jagged black ice.
"You think I'm scummy and stupid?"
...Yeah, kinda. Just a little bit.
Qiu Yanzhi shook his head as his face drained of all colour.
"You think I'm nothing without my face?”
...Wasn’t that obvious?
“...N-no. That’s not--”
He Zhou paused. His chest heaved in anger. His voice held the grim determination of a butcher sharpening his bloodied knife.
"You've been lying to me and pretending to like me this whole time?"
...Sorry that you had to find out, but yeah.
Qiu Yanzhi cringed and shuddered: "No..."
He Zhou's expression didn’t improve at all. He distrusted every word that came out of Qiu Yanzhi’s mouth now. He even felt like Qiu Yanzhi was the living embodiment of the world’s most disgusting lies and deceptions.
There was a ringing noise in his ears as his sanity crumbled. Rage consumed him as he ripped off his tie aggressively. The look on his face was even more terrifying than the King of Hell himself.
He leaned over, his red-rimmed eyes glaring daggers at Qiu Yanzhi. “In that case, why don’t we test if my techniques suck or not right now?”
Nope. Thanks but no thanks.
Qiu Yanzhi called out He Zhou’s name with a trembling voice, hoping to bring him to his senses.
Before he had time to say anything else, He Zhou stepped forward and forced Qiu Yanzhi’s hands above his head. He fiercely kissed the smaller man.
This could no longer be considered a kiss.
It was just blood-soaked resentment and lashing out due to shame.
His lips were wounded by teeth. Qiu Yanzhi was in so much pain that tears threatened to fall from his eyes. All of his limbs were secured, but he put up one last futile struggle against the bloodthirsty predator before him.
With a tearing sound, the buttons of Qiu Yanzhi's shirt fell to the ground.
Qiu Yanzhi stiffened and stopped resisting. He closed his eyes and tried to mentally prepare for what would happen tonight.
However, He Zhou stopped again.
His hands held Qiu Yanzhi's wrists with a death grip, like he wanted to crush Qiu Yanzhi's bones to smithereens.
He looked up at Qiu Yanzhi with red-rimmed eyes and blood dripping from the corner of his mouth. He stared down the other person and spat out a single sentence through clenched teeth.
“--Qiu Yanzhi, I want to kill you so badly.”
Then he let go of his hands, stood up straight, and left.
It might be due to his messed up clothes, but his back surprisingly seemed a bit haggard.
Qiu Yanzhi sat on his bed and tidied his clothes. For some reason, he looked up to watch He Zhou’s retreating back.
That man staggered out on unsteady feet.
Qiu Yanzhi silently took this in. He suddenly felt that he himself was lower than even the lowliest bug.
Then he suddenly realized what he had been thinking.
Qiu Yanzhi quickly shook his head to clear those thoughts away.
Don’t be so f*cking sentimental. I can’t believe you’re sympathizing with a NPC so much after playing a damn game for a few months.
Qiu Yanzhi touched his lips.
The pain caused him to suck in a mouthful of cold air.
It still hurt. A lot.
Is He Zhou a f*cking dog or something?!
Qiu Yanzhi got off the bed and felt his legs wobble.
Welp, time to log out. Today’s Thursday so I’ll take a nap now.
Tomorrow I have to deal with Fei Sihao and Qiu Xicheng, and the day after tomorrow I have to get to Father’s birthday party on time.
Not for the inheritance, but to take revenge on Qiu Xicheng.
I wonder when the next time I log into this game will be.
He Zhou was just awful and the situation was basically unsalvageable. All of his schemes had come to light, and there was no way to explain away his actions again.
Not only could he not explain it to He Zhou, he couldn't explain it to his parents, to Zhang Yuxuan or to anyone else.
Unless he admitted that he was playing He Zhou and that this was all a game.
That would be like shooting himself in the foot.
...He’s played this game into a dead end.
So next time…
Although he was reluctant, it was probably for the best if he didn’t log into this game ever again.
Qiu Yanzhi's mood was a bit complicated. He sighed, "Log out."
A minute passed, then two.
Huh? Why isn't it working?
Qiu Yanzhi soon found out what the problem was. His shirt was torn.
Maybe the game was automatically on lockdown due to the player being damage?
Qiu Yanzhi changed his shirt, but the system didn’t pop out with a “lockdown disengaged” notification even when he zipped up the zipper.
Qiu Yanzhi felt something wasn’t right.
“Log out!" he shouted again.
There was no answer.
Qiu Yanzhi licked his lips and suppressed the worry and anxiety stirring in his heart. He called for Big Yellow a few times.
But Big Yellow was nowhere to be seen.
Qiu Yanzhi's palms were sweating, and the unease in his heart grew stronger.
His mouth was going dry. "...Bring up the game’s control panel."
A minute passed, then two.
The space in front of Qiu Yanzhi’s eyes shifted before a huge blue holographic panel slowly unfurled before him.
Qiu Yanzhi finally relaxed and grumbled under his breath about how this game was hot garbage.
Qiu Yanzhi didn't use this control panel very often. He had to look carefully for the log out button in the lower left corner.
He pressed it nonchalantly.
In the next second, a black window popped up, covering the blue holographic control panel.
There were bright red letters written on it.
"Warning: this function is missing!"
Qiu Yanzhi was stunned. He hit the emergency alarm button.
The same message popped out -- this function is missing.
Qiu Yanzhi began to panic. He messed with the settings with no rhyme nor reason. Pain sensitivity, sound sensitivity, taste sensitivity, taste sensitivity…...
But no matter what Qiu Yanzhi pressed, a gigantic warning window would appear on screen--
This function is missing.
Goosebumps rose all over Qiu Yanzhi’s body.
He tried his best to reassure himself: It's okay, it's probably just a temporary bug in the system. Everything will be restored soon.
Qiu Yanzhi stayed restlessly in his room for 3 hours, 6 hours, 12 hours, 24 hours...
But nothing changed when he pressed the log out button.
Qiu Yanzhi finally had to face the truth.
He was stuck in this game.
“...What if I never got out?” such a thought suddenly popped up in Qiu Yanzhi's mind.
He shook his head, comforting himself.
That won't happen. The game company will definitely find this bug and they will be able to rescue me.
But no matter what he told himself, one thing was undeniable.
...24 hours had already passed.
He couldn't send any messages to the outside world, and it was very likely that the game company wouldn't even notice the bug here.
So what the hell should he do?
Qiu Yanzhi covered his head and fell onto the bed, closing his eyes and pressing on his temples.
Suddenly, an idea came to him.
It was something Big Yellow had told him the day he blocked the chandelier for He Zhou.
“What you’re doing is actually pretty dangerous, but luckily you turned down your pain sensitivity to 60%. If you experienced 100% of the pain here, the system might think that an accident had taken place and force you to log out.”
An accident? Forced log out?
Qiu Yanzhi got off the bed and walked to his window.
There was no way to adjust his pain sensitivity now. It just happened to be stuck at 100%.
Jumping from here should count as an accident, right?
But he hesitated when his fingers met the curtains.
This was all just speculation on his part. What if he was wrong?
What if...he died after jumping?
He might be stuck in the game forever, possibly horribly maimed and disfigured too.
Moreover, the faces of several people suddenly flashed past Qiu Yanzhi’s mind.
Father, Qiu Xicheng, Fei Sihao…
Was his terrible life in reality...really worth risking his life for?
There was more than one night where Qiu Yanzhi wished that this game was his reality.
Here, he had a loving mother, a stern father, kind friends, and a bright life that was very different from his own.
Qiu Yanzhi always felt that he went through life with shackles on. He lived in the shadows like a gutter rat, forever oppressed by his miserable childhood, painful memories and overt and covert accusations.
That was why Qiu Xicheng called him Zhizhi. (2)
When he first entered that place, he thought his miserable life had finally come to an end. At least in this rich home, there was an older brother who liked him enough to give him a nickname.
It was only later that he overheard his brother talking to his friends that he learned the truth.
The ‘zhi’ in Zhizhi meant a squeaking rat.
That day, Qiu Xicheng smiled at his friend and pleasantly said, "Don't you think Qiu Yanzhi is like a rat that got into my house?”
Qiu Yanzhi also suddenly recalled a day 10 years ago when he heard that an asteroid had deviated from its orbit and would obliterate the Earth in 10 years.
On that hot and noisy summer night, he was lying on a roof in the slums with Little Trash.
Little Trash asked him, "If the world is really going to end in 10 years, do you have a wish you want to realize before then?"
Qiu Yanzhi looked at the moon in the bright night sky and said, "My wish is for the destruction of the world to come as soon as possible."
On the other side.
Kong Xiujie felt that something wasn’t right today. Qiu Yanzhi didn’t leave his room once.
Because Mr. Qiu said that his meal times were erratic, Kong Xiujie usually left the meal on the table and left.
That was what she did yesterday afternoon, but none of the dishes had been touched when she returned in the evening.
She thought that Qiu Yanzhi just didn't like the food, so she threw it away and made something else.
Yet yesterday’s dinner hadn’t been touched either.
Was Mr. Qiu not at home?
Kong Xiujie called out to Mr. Qiu but received no response.
Kong Xiujie pushed open Qiu Yanzhi’s bedroom door and found Mr. Qiu still sleeping in the steel box.
Something about how pale Mr. Qiu’s face looked bothered her, so Kong Xiujie knocked on the glass cover of the steel box.
But Qiu Yanzhi just laid there without any reaction.
The glass cover was tightly secured to the steel box. Kong Xiujie found that she couldn't break no matter how hard she tried. Then a blue button next to the box caught her attention. She tentatively pressed it and watched as the lights on the iron box flickered as the glass cover slowly opened.
Kong Xiujie shook Qiu Yanzhi who was still out cold.
Fortunately, Kong Xiujie was very strong for her age. She managed to drag him out of the game pod and onto the bed. She shook him frantically and called his name many times, but Qiu Yanzhi still wouldn't wake up.
Kong Xiujie finally realized that he wasn’t just sleeping.
In a panic, she called 120.
As Kong Xiujie waited anxiously, there was a knock on the door.
Kong Xiujie remembered that Mr. Qiu had said the man in the suite opposite his was his boyfriend.
But Mr. Qiu had also said that this boyfriend was not a good person. Mr. Qiu didn't like him.
Fei Sihao asked, "Is Qiu Yanzhi home? I had a date with him today, but I didn’t see him after waiting two hours at the restaurant. He’s also not answering his phone."
Kong Xiujie hesitated. She said, "Mr. Qiu fainted."
Fei Sihao was stunned. He stepped into the room. "How did that happen?"
Kong Xiujie remembered Qiu Yanzhi had said to not tell others that he slept in a steel box.
Kong Xiujie also felt that there wasn't much difference between sleeping in a steel box and sleeping on a bad, so she said, “...I’m not sure either. He was in bed for so long that I was worried. When I went into check on him I realized he had fainted.”
Fei Sihao picked up Qiu Yanzhi from the bed and prepared to walk out.
Kong Xiujie remembered that Mr. Qiu had said bad things about Fei Sihao so she didn’t fully trust him. She quickly stopped him and said, "I've already called an ambulance. It'll be right over."
Fei Sihao frowned, "The ambulance hasn't come yet. It's faster for me to drive him to the hospital."
Just then, the paramedics came up with a stretcher, "Did you call 120? How is the patient? He seems to be in a coma… Come on, put the patient down here."
Only then did Fei Sihao put Qiu Yanzhi on the stretcher.
Before going to the hospital, Kong Xiujie paused before going to retrieve Qiu Yanzhi’s phone from his bedside table. She unlocked it with Qiu Yanzhi's fingerprints in the ambulance and called his father.
She remembered that, one day when she was cleaning up, Mr. Qiu said while eating that his father was the only one in the family who was good to him.
No, Mr. Qiu's exact words were: “In my family, only my father is decent. At least he can treat me like his son.”
When Qiu Xicheng rushed to the hospital, his father had already arrived.
Qiu Yanzhi was lying in a hospital bed. His complexion was pale, and there was an oxygen mask over his face and IVs in his arm.
The doctor and his father were talking, and Qiu Xicheng overheard a couple of sentences.
Qiu Yanzhi looked fine on the outside, but his nervous system was damaged due to unknown reasons.
His cerebral cortex was impaired, causing him to lose consciousness.
In short, Qiu Yanzhi has become a vegetable.
And his chances of recovery grew slimmer by the day.
Qiu Hongsheng frowned and spoke with the doctor some more, taking a phone call midway. It seemed to be about company business, because he left instructions with his secretary before leaving.
The secretary paid the medical fees and asked some more questions. She knew that the nearby Kong Xiujie was Qiu Yanzhi's housekeeper, so after a brief discussion Kong Xiujie became Qiu Yanzhi's caregiver. The secretary also left the hospital afterwards.
Qiu Xicheng took a glance inside the ward as he left.
In the sparsely decorated single room, Kong Xiujie was the only person inside other than Qiu Yanzhi, who was in bed.
The afterglow of the setting sun painted the space in the colours of a cold and lonely twilight.
Taking in all of this, Qiu Xicheng suddenly felt that his original plan for Qiu Yanzhi was unnecessary.
He was just a rat after all.
Father was only good to him because of the blood they shared.
It wasn't worth the trouble to get rid of him.
Qiu Yanzhi hasn’t eaten anything since the game broke 24 hours ago. He felt his empty stomach spasm and grumble painfully.
He decided to go out and find some food.
He was going to live on in this game until he got out or died.
From here on out, he wouldn’t be here as a player, but as a normal human being who wanted to live.
His hand gripped the doorknob, and a strange sense of wonder rose in his heart. He almost felt like a philosopher at this moment.
Qiu Yanzhi had always been an easy-going person. He could adapt to any environment.
Ten years ago, he moved from the slums to a large mansion.
Ten years later, he moved from real life into a game.
It wasn't really a huge difference.
However, from today onwards he would be a different Qiu Yanzhi.
He'll be Niohuru · Winner of Life · Qiu Yanzhi. (3)
He would kick out He Zhou, marry a rich and handsome man, and reach the pinnacle of his life.
Brimming with confidence and anticipation, Qiu Yanzhi eagerly opened the door, ready to embrace his new life.
Then the vibrant smile on his face cracked.
“...F*ck me.” he cursed.
"I might be blind." Qiu Yanzhi thought grimly.
Because all he saw in front of him was nothingness. A never-ending expanse of white.
Qiu Yanzhi tentatively walked out with his hand in front of him, but there were no walls or railings in this space.
It was as if he had walked into an ethereal fantasy world.
Qiu Yanzhi felt a little scared, he turned around to return to his room.
But the moment he turned around, he saw what was once his room disintegrate into grains of sand that scattered skyward and disappeared.
Qiu Yanzhi felt chills run up his spine, no, his entire body. A primal sense of fear filled him.
The entire world had ceased to exist.
(1) Xu Zhimo was an influential poet who wanted to recreate Chinese poems in English. His best known poem is the Cambridge poem about bidding farewell.
(2) The character in Qiu Yanzhi's name is 至 (until) while the character in the nickname is 吱 (squeaking sound)
(3) 纽祜禄 - A prominent Manchu clan during the Qing dynasty that produced many consorts of all ranks for the emperor.