Qiu Yanzhi’s junior wasn’t here, and it wasn’t like he could conjure one out of thin air.
He was no magician.
Qiu Yanzhi sat at a table outside the theatre with his head down, guiltily slurping his coke.
He Zhou: "So all of those progress reports you gave me about how well things were going were lies?”
Qiu Yanzhi shrunk down more and more, ashamed. “Sorry."
He Zhou leaned back in his chair, crossing his long legs as he casually scrolled through the chat logs. “Let me see…you sent me a picture of your guys eating hot pot with a caption about how you were constantly wiping Ye Mingxu’s forehead because he couldn’t handle the heat.”
“You also mentioned how you were planning on sneaking over to watch Ye Mingxu’s basketball practice tomorrow morning and surprise him on the court.”
“Oh, that’s right. You also told me how you specifically bought a medium popcorn because it’s the perfect size to maximize unintentional physical contact and contribute to a flirtatious atmosphere?"
As He Zhou finished, he casually glanced at the bucket of popcorn in Qiu Yanzhi's hand -- it was so big that his head could fit inside.
Qiu Yanzhi almost chewed the straw in his mouth in two.
He Zhou put his phone face down on the table. "Qiu Yanzhi, why did you do all this?"
Qiu Yanzhi finally let go of the poor straw that he had bitten into a crooked mess. “Because lies become more believable when you incorporate elements of truth.”
He Zhou: "......"
He Zhou: "I was asking about why you lied to me."
Qiu Yanzhi looked up and gave a sad sigh. “He Zhou, I really can’t capture Ye Mingxu at this point. I saw him this morning. Before I could even try to get close to him, he said…”
He Zhou: "What did he say?"
"...He said he saw us go to the hotel last night."
Qiu Yanzhi blushed and spat indignantly, "How do you expect me to capture him now?!”
A very faint flash of humour crossed He Zhou's eyes, but it quickly faded away. He coughed and said, "And whose fault is that?"
Qiu Yanzhi pursed his lips. "Mine, okay? I know it’s my fault.”
...Actually, it wasn't just Qiu Yanzhi’s fault.
He Zhou intended to head straight home after work yesterday.
But then he received a text from Shen Xingwei.
"Your dear wifey came to my bar. Judging by the state of his company, he’s probably going to get wasted today. Don’t forget to come and pick him up."
He Zhou stared at this message for a long time.
Then he sent a reply.
"Don't call him that."
"We're not in a relationship anymore."
He Zhou put down his phone after typing that. He put on his seatbelt and prepared to leave.
But Shen Xingwei's next text came almost instantaneously.
"I've just got a new batch of wine. Do you want to come over and try some? It’ll just be the two of us.”
He Zhou gripped the steering wheel and gazed up at the dark, dreary sky.
Then he went to Shen Xingwei's bar.
After that, he encountered Qiu Yanzhi, who had been drugged, in the bar’s bathroom.
He Zhou actually saw Ye Mingxu while he was carrying Qiu Yanzhi out of the bar.
Ye Mingxu was walking by with some of his classmates when he suddenly stopped.
Standing just a few dozen meters away, he stared straight at the two of them.
Even He Zhou himself couldn't tell what was going through his mind at that moment.
He paused. Looking down, he asked Qiu Yanzhi, "Qiu Yanzhi, should I call Ye Mingxu over for you?"
So, when Qiu Yanzhi told him that he and Ye Mingxu had reconciled and were even going on a date together...
He Zhou was quite surprised.
At the time, he thought: “Either Qiu Yanzhi’s lying or Ye Mingxu’s up to no good.”
So when he saw the picture of the two movie tickets Qiu Yanzhi had sent him, He Zhou bought the ticket for a neighbouring seat.
Qiu Yanzhi was still looking down. He attributed his constant ability to mess everything up to back luck. "Anyways, I can't capture Ye Mingxu."
He Zhou pursed his lips. "Don't you have a lot of powerful cards you can buy?”
Qiu Yanzhi: "...None of them can be used on Ye Mingxu."
He Zhou: "Why not?"
Qiu Yanzhi turned away and said somewhat embarrassedly, "...Because I committed a serious violation of the game rules and got punished."
He Zhou asked again, "What rule did you break?"
Qiu Yanzhi: "......"
He Zhou frowned. "Qiu Yanzhi, did you do something unforgivable in this game?”
The tips of Qiu Yanzhi's ears flushed red.
"Did you kill, commit arson, or rob someone?” He Zhou became very stern. “Qiu Yanzhi, you have to respect the law here even if this is just a game…”
Qiu Yanzhi suddenly blurted out, "It’s because I cheated."
He Zhou: "?"
The tips of Qiu Yanzhi's ears were so red that they could drip blood. He spoke through gritted teeth, “My mainline capture target in this round is Ye Mingxu but I slept with you.”
He Zhou: "......"
He Zhou silently pushed the bucket of popcorn over to Qiu Yanzhi.
In conclusion, the mission to capture Ye Mingxu was a complete failure.
Both of them were at least partially responsible.
At that moment, He Zhou suddenly received an email.
His expression became grave once he opened it.
"Qiu Yanzhi, let's put aside capturing Ye Mingxu for now."
He Zhou pushed his phone over to Qiu Yanzhi. “Liu Cheng’s currently the more pressing matter.”
The questions surrounding Liu Cheng’s mystery needed to be resolved quickly. If they could find out why Liu Cheng became bugged or obtain any other useful information from him, Qiu Yanzhi might be able to leave the game without capturing Ye Mingxu.
Moreover, He Zhou felt that finding a breakthrough via Liu Cheng was much more logical than the ‘capture theory’ they had come up with based on speculation alone.
This was because He Zhou wasn't sure what exactly constituted a successful capture in a dating simulator.
Was it a confession? Dating? Marriage? Or sleeping in the same bed and being buried in one coffin?
Rather than risk that, He Zhou wanted to help Qiu Yanzhi find some other way to leave.
Qiu Yanzhi played the video on the phone.
It was the surveillance footage from Qiu Yanzhi’s neighbourhood he had asked management for this afternoon. However, they hadn’t gotten back to him yet. Who knew how He Zhou had secured this so quickly?
The video showed Liu Cheng running out of the elevator. However, instead of rushing out of the neighbourhood, he hunkered down in some bushes.
It was only after Qiu Yanzhi came down, looked around, gave up and went back inside that Liu Cheng came out.
How could Liu Cheng be so sneaky, ah!
Qiu Yanzhi slapped his thigh out of frustration.
Liu Cheng didn’t head for the main gates afterwards. Instead, he circled around to the farthest wall surrounding the neighbourhood and climbed out via a tree.
That’s where the footage ended.
This neighbourhood was situated in a university town rather than downtown. It wasn’t as populated.
There was a single surveillance camera in the area where Liu Cheng had scaled the wall, but it had been broken for many years.
He Zhou closed this video and opened another. "This is the surveillance of your building’s front gates."
He Zhou paused the video and zoomed in so Qiu Yanzhi could see the three black cars parked on a nearby road.
A tattooed arm holding a cigarette was hanging out of one of the car windows.
Those are Ye Hongyuan’s people.
No wonder Liu Cheng didn't go through the main gate.
He Zhou continued to play the video, which fast forwarded at 64x speed.
When the time at the bottom right corner indicated half an hour had passed, the video resumed normal speed. The three black cars at the main gate slowly drove off.
Looks like they just got work that Liu Cheng's escaped.
He Zhou turned off the video. "Although there were no cameras exactly where Liu Cheng left, I’ve already arranged for people to gather all the surveillance footage in a five kilometer radius from your building. They’ll also try to contact nearby car owners for their dashcam footage in places with broken cameras. No matter what, we will find Liu Cheng before Ye Hongyuan."
Qiu Yanzhi looked down and slurped up the last of his coke. He threw the cup in the garbage and mumbled a dull reply, “En.”
He Zhou noticed that he didn’t seem happy. He asked, “What? Is it too complicated for you to follow?”
Qiu Yanzhi rubbed his head. "...The road ahead feels so difficult."
He Zhou said, "You don't have to worry. Just go do whatever you like for now. I’ll help you find Liu Cheng."
He paused for a moment. “Qiu Yanzhi, I’ll let you go back as soon as I can.”
Qiu Yanzhi was slightly taken aback. Then he smiled and said, “Okay. I’ll definitely keep my promise then. I won’t ever come back to bother you guys after I leave.”
When Qiu Yanzhi returned to his flat, force of habit made him wander across the street to Zhang Yuxuan’s home again.
Zhang Yuxuan had changed into a clean suit. His hair was even gelled up.
When he saw Qiu Yanzhi come in, he looked up from putting on leather shoes to ask, “Yanyan, of these two pairs, do you think the brown one or the black patterned one look better?”
"The brown ones." Qiu Yanzhi answered, "It's almost eight o'clock. Where are you going?"
Zhang Yuxuan put on the brown leather shoes and stood up, "I'm going home."
Qiu Yanzhi froze for a moment. "Why are you suddenly going home? I thought you only went back over New Years?"
Zhang Yuxuan opened his mouth to say something, but then he suddenly sighed.
"Actually, I don't want to go back either. I can't even wear my skirts there. Yanyan, you have to look after my skirts for me while I’m not here.”
Qiu Yanzhi blinked. "Why are you going if you don't want to go back?”
Zhang Yuxuan tugged at the corner of his shirt and said, "I...I'll tell you. Just don't scold me."
Qiu Yanzhi became more and more curious. "Why would I scold you? Tell me already."
Zhang Yuxuan said, "Because I called my dad to help me find Liu Cheng. He said he would only help if I moved back in with him.”
Qiu Yanzhi: "...Why’re you looking for Liu Cheng?"
Zhang Yuxuan looked up. "Liu Cheng’s out there with no phone or money. Where could he possibly hide? If Ye Hongyuan catches him, he’s going to be beaten to death."
Qiu Yanzhi took a deep breath and tried to remain calm. “Baby Yu, do you still remember when he drugged you last night?”
Zhang Yuxuan bit his lip. "...I do, but nothing ended up happening. Besides, besides! How can I just stand by and watch him get beaten to death!"
Qiu Yanzhi swore he was going to get a stroke because of Zhang Yuxuan one day. “...Nothing happened?! If Shen Xingwei hadn't helped break down the door, do you still think nothing would’ve happened? Zhang Yuxuan, do you even understand what’s going on?? That bastard Liu Cheng almost raped you just so he could guilt you into staying and protecting him! Can’t you see he’s using you?!”
Zhang Yuxuan’s mouth flattened into a line. He muttered, somewhat aggrieved, "Yanyan, you just said that you wouldn't scold me."
Qiu Yanzhi looked at Zhang Yuxuan. He suddenly narrowed his eyes and asked, "Zhang Yuxuan, do you have a crush on Liu Cheng?"
Zhang Yuxuan froze for a moment before standing up to frantically shake his head. "No, no way! What are you saying?! I only like my senior! Liu Cheng’s just a friend to me, just like you!”
Qiu Yanzhi gave him a look. "But I wouldn't rape you."
Zhang Yuxuan: "...I'm not going to be friends with him anymore, okay? I'm just going to help him out this once. Just to make sure he doesn’t get killed."
Zhang Yuxuan was such a stubborn dummy that Qiu Yanzhi saw no point in arguing with him anymore. He could only wave his hand and say, “Fine, do whatever you want.”
He suddenly thought of something else. "One more thing. You have to tell me if you find Liu Cheng first. I have something important to ask him."
"Okay." Zhang Yuxuan agreed.
Qiu Yanzhi laid alone on his bed, unable to sleep.
He suddenly realized that he hadn't seen Big Yellow for a long time.
He had a sudden urge to chat with it.
"Big Yellow!" Qiu Yanzhi called.
But surprisingly, Big Yellow was nowhere to be seen.
"...Where could a support AI run off to?" Qiu Yanzhi muttered.
"Hey little yellow thing," A voice suddenly rang out, "we meet again."
Flapping its tiny wings, Big Yellow slowly turned around.
"Want to work with me?"
Big Yellow: "And why would I do that?"
The man: "Because if Qiu Yanzhi leaves, I’ll be the only one in the world who can see you."
Big Yellow: "So what? I’ve gotten used to being alone a long time ago. I don’t mind being the only AI here.”
The man laughed.
"Are you being this obtuse on purpose? Do you really think this world will continue to exist if Qiu Yanzhi leaves?”
"Since Qiu Yanzhi’s been trapped here for so long, there'll definitely be an investigation once he gets out. Then everyone will know about the secret of this game.”
“After everything goes public, people will start talking about the incident from three years ago once more.”
“Do you really think this world is invincible, perfect and everlasting? No. A few taps on the keyboard by personnel outside is enough to condemn this place to destruction.”
"Little thing, there are tens of thousands of NPCs in this game. Thousands of them have their own families, feelings and consciousness, and that number only grows by the day. There are countless skyscrapers and roads here, as well as hundreds of thousands of trees, flowers and grasses. Every human, every animal, every flower, every stalk of grass...they’re all trying their hardest to live and carry out their functions. They’re no longer just figments of data. This world has already grown beyond its programming. Are you really going to stand by and watch it be completely destroyed now?”
"The peace and tranquility of an entire world often requires the sacrifice of a few individuals. Right now, we need only sacrifice one Qiu Yanzhi to ensure our world is never disturbed, to ensure it can continue to prosper for all eternity. What a great and inspiring duty this is, ah.”
"Not to mention that Qiu Yanzhi is just a shameless intruder, a destroyer. I’m just doing my best to protect this world, that’s all.”