After Qiu Yanzhi confessed, his heart suddenly started to pound uncontrollably. He could feel it beating faster and faster until it threatened to jump out of his throat.
Everything he just said was the truth, but that didn’t stop panic from flooding his being and making his palms sweaty.
Qiu Yanzhi had no idea what would happen to him next.
Would the game world collapse again?
Would the sky, the ground, and all the grass, flowers and trees before him scatter into dust once more?
Would he have to face that endless white void alone?
Qiu Yanzhi looked into He Zhou's eyes. Due to his excessive nerves, his voice grew strange with a hint of tense, paralyzing fear.
"...He Zhou, I-I’ve told you everything. Honest."
He Zhou didn't say a word. He just stared at Qiu Yanzhi with those deep, dark eyes.
His eyes were so dark they seemed like black holes. Artificial like a robot’s.
Then Qiu Yanzhi saw the whole world split apart.
It was as if a huge axe had come down from the sky, aimed at a spot right by his side. Immediately afterwards, a gaping crack appeared in the ground.
Qiu Yanzhi's eyes widened in horror as he saw the trees nearby being uprooted, their misshapen roots disintegrating into clouds of dust that rapidly dissipated.
The shrubs, the grass, and even the pebbles beneath his feet soon followed.
Dust consumed everything like a horrifying swarm of locusts, leaving nothing but an empty void in their wake. It was as if the entire world was fading away.
I don’t want--
Qiu Yanzhi opened his mouth, but his extreme fear prevented him from uttering a single word. Then he turned his head and saw He Zhou. Qiu Yanzhi got up and lunged at the man like he was a lifesaving straw, clinging to him while trembling in fear.
He Zhou tried to push him away, but Qiu Yanzhi refused to let go.
Qiu Yanzhi clung to He Zhou's waist for dear life, burying his face in the other’s chest. His fear made tears drip uncontrollably out of his eyes.
He cried and pleaded incoherently for something in a shaky voice.
And then darkness swallowed him whole.
When Qiu Yanzhi woke up again, he was in a hospital room.
The first thing that greeted him after he opened his eyes was the white ceiling of the hospital. This caused him to panic and scramble to look around. Only after seeing the walls, the floor, and He Zhou by his bedside did Qiu Yanzhi relax.
He Zhou gave him a cold look before pulling his hand away.
Only then did Qiu Yanzhi realize that he had just been holding He Zhou's hand.
He was stunned. "...What happened? How did I get here?"
"You had a high fever and passed out." He Zhou then stood up to leave.
"Don't, don't go--" Qiu Yanzhi nervously called out to He Zhou, "W-where are you going??"
He Zhou ignored him and kept walking.
Qiu Yanzhi panicked and scrambled off the bed. He tried to follow He Zhou but nearly tripped over a line on the ground.
When he looked down, Qiu Yanzhi noticed that he had an IV line attached.
Without even thinking about it, he pulled the needle out of his hand before running after He Zhou.
He Zhou turned and saw the blood coming out of the back of Qiu Yanzhi’s left hand.
He Zhou frowned. "Qiu Yanzhi, what do you think you’re doing?"
"Where are you going?" Qiu Yanzhi stared at him anxiously.
He Zhou was quiet for a moment. "The washroom."
Qiu Yanzhi looked around. He pointed to the washroom in the corner of the room. "...There's one here."
He Zhou gave him a look. Then he strode a short distance into that washroom.
He paused as he closed the door. In the end, he reached under the handle and locked the door from the inside.
Then He Zhou walked over to the sink and turned on the tap.
Water poured out of the tap. He Zhou splashed his face with it a few times.
The ice cold water dripped down his cheeks and into his collar, gradually bringing clarity and focus to his disordered mind.
He Zhou turned off the tap and braced his hands against the sink. He looked up at the man in the mirror.
He was a NPC.
He Zhou could no longer recall how he had felt when Qiu Yanzhi told him that.
He hadn’t had time to be shocked, or to be angry, or to be agonized over this revelation.
Because Qiu Yanzhi collapsed in front of him.
It was clearly Qiu Yanzhi who revealed the truth…
It was clearly Qiu Yanzhi who acted as judge, jury and executioner, looking down on He Zhou as he sentenced him to death -- by saying that he was a NPC.
...It was clearly Qiu Yanzhi who completely invalidated his existence.
But the person who fainted ended up being Qiu Yanzhi.
Qiu Yanzhi looked like he had received some huge shock. Even though he was unconscious, he refused to let go of He Zhou. His high fever made his face flush scarlet and his body scalding to the touch.
When He Zhou picked him up, he heard Qiu Yanzhi beg through his sobs. He cried out: He Zhou, save me.
He Zhou felt it was ridiculous.
A player asking for help from a NPC?
A human being asking for help from an amalgamation of data?
Lying came second nature to Qiu Yanzhi. He’s been deceived by that person from beginning to end. Sometimes, He Zhou even suspected that every word that came out of Qiu Yanzhi’s mouth might be a lie, that every one of his actions were a part of some plot.
But when Qiu Yanzhi stared at him with those clear eyes and said that this world was a game, He Zhou immediately understood that -- Qiu Yanzhi was not lying this time.
Qiu Yanzhi had lied to him so many times before, deceiving him with honeyed words and saccharine affection.
And yet, he had revealed the terrible truth to him in the cruelest way possible.
He Zhou hardly knew whether he should thank Qiu Yanzhi for finally telling him the truth or hate him for being so heartless.
Qiu Yanzhi's entire brain was turning to mush.
He just stood in front of the washroom door in a daze, his mind in chaos.
It was only when a nurse passing by saw him, ran over in a panic, and asked him why he had pulled out the IV that Qiu Yanzhi returned to his senses.
The nurse brought a wheelchair over and took him back to bed. She used a cotton swab to carefully dab his hand clean of blood. Then she sterilized the area and reinserted the needle.
She reminded him as she left, “You need to get three more infusions today so just stay put and don’t move around. Your temperature was almost 40 degrees when you were brought in so you need to be careful…”
After the nurse left, Qiu Yanzhi sat on the hospital bed. He turned to look out the window.
He suddenly noticed that he seemed to be able to see very far away.
Qiu Yanzhi remembered that he could only see a very small radius last time when he was reliant on He Zhou.
He blinked and looked up at the IV bag. This time, he removed it from the hangar and brought it with him as he got out of bed.
With the needle in his left hand and the IV bag in his right, Qiu Yanzhi stepped over to the window.
Yes, he could see far, far away.
Qiu Yanzhi glanced in the direction of the washroom before he turned and left the room.
He walked to the roof and then downstairs before returning to his room.
The world was still intact.
Even when He Zhou wasn’t around, the world didn't collapse.
Maybe what he saw before was nothing more than a hallucination or nightmare caused by the fever.
Qiu Yanzhi felt that he should be ecstatic or revitalized right now.
But he was still worn out and tired.
...Maybe it's because I’m sick.
Qiu Yanzhi thought.
Was it really necessary for even sickness to be so realistic in this game?
When Qiu Yanzhi reentered the room, He Zhou was already out of the washroom.
His expression didn’t look good. "Where have you been."
Qiu Yanzhi: "...I just went out for a walk."
Then he went back to bed and with some effort put the IV bag back in its original position.
After walking around with the bag for so long, blood was being sucked back into the infusion tube. Qiu Yanzhi squeezed it to try and push the blood back into his hand, but without success. So he simply decided to let it be.
He Zhou looked at the back of Qiu Yanzhi's hand, but he didn’t say or do anything.
After a long time, his eyes moved back to Qiu Yanzhi's face. "Qiu Yanzhi, you haven't finished what you were saying before."
Qiu Yanzhi blinked. He asked slowly, "...What do you want to know?"
He Zhou's voice was clear and light. His expression was very calm.
So Qiu Yanzhi began to tell him everything that had happened.
He told He Zhou that this was a dating simulator that was involved in an accident before.
He told He Zhou that he had accidentally stumbled upon this game and chose the man as his capture target in the first round.
Qiu Yanzhi paused for a moment there.
He Zhou asked, "Did you choose me because I look like Qin He."
The question was delivered more like a calm statement.
Qiu Yanzhi nodded.
He Zhou's eyes remained still like a ripple less pond. "Go on."
So Qiu Yanzhi continued.
He told He Zhou that he had drawn his Marriage Card.
He told He Zhou that he had quit this game for half a month in a fit of rage.
He told He Zhou that the game had once again bugged out, that he was trapped in here with no escape.
He also told He Zhou about the white void he had once faced, that all-consuming expanse of nothingness.
And how the entire world reappeared before him when He Zhou arrived.
He Zhou looked at him. "So you clung to me and refused to leave my side while I wanted to divorce you because you could only see the world when I was there?"
Qiu Yanzhi: "Yes. The reason I got snow blindness then was also because you weren’t there that morning.”
He Zhou remained calm, terribly calm. "So I went back four months in time because you used a card?”
Qiu Yanzhi: "...Yes, I used the Reset Card. It allows you to go back to the capture target selection. After I used it, my player status was restored. All the functions except logging out worked.”
Qiu Yanzhi took a deep breath and continued, "After using the Reset Card, everything went back to the start. But for some reason you didn't lose your memory..."
He Zhou's eyes were dark. His voice was steady: "So was the car accident I saw you get into also your handiwork?"
Qiu Yanzhi opened his mouth and then closed it. He spoke with some difficulty: "...Yes, that was the Troublesome Character Isolation Card. It creates the illusion of my death for you. You wouldn't have been able to bother me anymore if it was allowed to finish.”
"Then why did you come back and tell me it was an illusion."
"...Because...because I didn't know it would do that… I, I didn’t want to drive you insane.”
He Zhou scoffed, his gaze dripping thick with ridicule.
"You know what Qiu Yanzhi? You suck as a player too."
Qiu Yanzhi knew that.
As a ‘lover’, he was full of lies, cunning and hypocritical.
As a ‘player’, he was indecisive and self-sabotaging.
Qiu Yanzhi pursed his lips, unable to utter a single in response.
"Qiu Yanzhi," He Zhou suddenly spoke, "how about we make a deal."
Qiu Yanzhi looked up at him. "...What kind of deal?"
"I'll help you leave this game. In return, promise me..."
He Zhou paused for a moment.
"After you get out, never come back here again."
Qiu Yanzhi froze.
The corners of He Zhou’s mouth twitched into something resembling a smile. “I’ll take that as agreement.”
Then He Zhou turned and left.
Qiu Yanzhi felt a dull ache build up in his chest again, like there was something putting pressure there. He looked up and noticed that the saline in the IV bag was almost finished.
So he once again removed the needle from the back of his hand and got out of bed.
Qiu Yanzhi walked to the nurses' station and spoke to a nurse he hadn’t seen before, “Hello. I think something might be wrong with my heart because it’s been hurting a lot lately. Could you please tell me where to go for a check up?"
The nurse seemed to be hard at work. She looked up at Qiu Yanzhi and said, "You could go have an ECG done on building three’s ground floor for now."
Qiu Yanzhi thanked her and walked slowly towards the elevator again.
Big Yellow suddenly appeared. "Qiu Yanzhi, this is just a game. You’re a player with normal organs. Why are you going to do an ECG?"
Qiu Yanzhi paused and looked up at it. He asked, somewhat bewildered, "...Then why does my heart hurt so much?"
Big Yellow was silent for a moment. "Forget it. Go have it done then."
So Qiu Yanzhi continued on.
This was a very large general hospital.
Qiu Yanzhi was in building one. Building three was several hundred meters away.
Qiu Yanzhi only realized he had no coat on when he walked out the door. He shrank back from the cold, but he was too lazy to go back upstairs again. He headed straight towards building three.
He kept his head down and used the bricks along the road to guide his way. He concentrated on only stepping on every fourth brick.
He suddenly heard a loud banging coming from nearby, followed by the screams of several women and children. Shivers ran down Qiu Yanzhi's spine from shock.
He looked up towards the place where the sound came from and saw a black car had hit a tree. The entire vehicle was deformed and smoldering.
...It was He Zhou's car.
Qiu Yanzhi’s heart skipped a beat. He practically flew towards that car.
When Qiu Yanzhi got there, He Zhou had already opened the door and limped out.
There were fresh wounds on his cheeks and his elbow seemed injured as well. It was hard to tell because of the black coat he was wearing, but large amounts of blood were dripping out the sleeves, forming a shocking puddle on the ground.
Qiu Yanzhi opened his mouth in shock. He suspected his heart had stopped beating.
He Zhou looked at him. Bright red blood trickled down from his forehead, from his eyebrows and from the corners of his eyes.
"I’m fine." He Zhou said, "I just got lost in thought. I wondered if I would clip through the tree if I hit it.”
The corners of He Zhou’s mouth twitched as he seemed to smile very softly.
"Qiu Yanzhi, I don't seem to be afraid of car accidents anymore."