TW: Violence, potentially disturbing content
There was a huge metal rectangular bracket set up on the edge of an unfamiliar abandoned high-rise.
Tied on each of its four corners was a twine rope.
And tied to the other end of the ropes was one of He Zhou’s four limbs.
He Zhou looked into the camera, his face and lips bloodless.
And beside him squatted a tall, well-built man wielding a huge pair of scissors.
It seemed like he would cut the ropes and send He Zhou hurtling down ten stories as soon as the order was given.
Qiu Yanzhi’s throat was as dry as a desert. He almost wanted to scream at Ye Hongyuan to let He Zhou go.
However, he dug his fingernails into his palms and forced himself to remain calm.
No, I can’t panic.
I can’t let Ye Hongyuan get his way.
Negotiate. I have to negotiate.
Panicking isn’t going to save He Zhou.
Qiu Yanzhi closed his eyes. When he opened them again, he spoke in a bitter tone, “Ye Hongyuan, haven’t you learned your lesson from failing in the last round? Are you really going to use the same trick again?”
The speaker in the corner broadcasted Ye Hongyuan's ominous laughter. “How could I not have learned my lesson? Isn’t how I kidnapped He Zhou this time the best proof that I have?”
As soon as he finished speaking--
The man shown on screen raised his scissors and cleanly cut through the rope connected to He Zhou’s right leg.
He Zhou’s right leg violently dropped down, making his whole body almost flip over in midair.
“No!” Qiu Yanzhi screamed reflexively. His back was drenched with cold sweat.
Ye Hongyuan laughed again, the sound almost chilling. “He Zhou’s different from your mom. Your Reset Cards and Healing Cards have no effect on him, and that crippled leg is the best proof. If he dies, he dies for good.”
Qiu Yanzhi's lips quivered. His entire body seemed to stiffen like a statue. His palms were cold to the bone. All he could do was stare at the camera and ask in a soft, trembling voice, “What do I have to do for you to let him go?"
Ye Hongyuan chuckled pleasantly, "I already told you last time. Open the control panel, modify the player facial recognition function, and give up your player privileges."
"...Alright," Qiu Yanzhi said, "I'll do it."
With that, he shouted, "Control panel."
The huge holographic panel opened before him.
With a trembling finger, Qiu Yanzhi tapped on Settings, Modify Personal Identification, and then Facial Recognition.
He had never used this feature before so he wasn’t very familiar with how it worked.
By force of habit, Qiu Yanzhi called out for Big Yellow.
But Big Yellow didn't appear.
Qiu Yanzhi pursed his lips and clicked on Modify Facial Recognition.
A mechanical female voice sounded in his ears: "First step: Please enter your personal identification number on the current screen."
Qiu Yanzhi stiffly typed in it.
"Step two: Please show your current face in the display box."
‘Current’, as in his face after ‘plastic surgery’.
At this moment, the door to Qiu Yanzhi's room suddenly opened.
Ye Hongyuan took off his mask and walked in.
Qiu Yanzhi suddenly saw something. His entire body stiffened, his eyes widening in shock. Then he clenched both hands into fist and hissed through clenched teeth, "--Big Yellow!"
With its head down, Big Yellow stood by Ye Hongyuan's side.
A full-body shudder ran through its frame when it heard Qiu Yanzhi shout its name. It looked up with red-rimmed eyes, “Qiu...Qiu Yanzhi, he promised me he wouldn’t h-hurt you. I just wanted to protect this world with him, that’s all. I-I’m sorry.”
Qiu Yanzhi sneered. "Protect the world, huh? How naive can you be? Do you know what he’s done? Any NPC he has no use for anymore, any NPC that’s a thorn in his side, he literally throws them into trash cans and gets rid of them by exploiting a bug!”
Big Yellow's eyes widened.
"Shut up!" Ye Hongyuan suddenly roared.
Qiu Yanzhi: "Big Yellow, did you know that he sent people to capture Liu Cheng today and stuff him in a trash can?! He doesn’t even care anymore if other people find out about the bugs in this world! All that stuff about protecting means shit to him! If you ask me, it looks more like he wants to leave this world after taking out everyone on his bad side, consequences be damned!”
"Qiu Yanzhi, I told you to shut up!"
With that, the rope securing He Zhou’s left leg was severed, leaving his hands as the only things suspending him in midair.
Qiu Yanzhi's heart skipped a beat. Like an animal grabbed by the scruff of their neck, his furious rant cut off abruptly.
Something suddenly dawned on Big Yellow. It dully turned to look at Ye Hongyuan. “...You--Didn’t you want to protect this world? So why did you tell other people about the bugs… Are you really trying to leave?”
Ye Hongyuan sneered. "Fine, I admit it. I do want to leave this place, and I already found a way to do it. How stupid do you have to be to actually believe I want to protect anything here? It’s all fake! There’s nothing worth protecting!!”
Qiu Yanzhi turned to glance at Ye Hongyuan. “...Then why do you want my player privileges?"
Big Yellow nervously muttered, "...Because...because his player privileges are about to expire."
A second later, Big Yellow jolted like it suddenly remembered something. It looked at Ye Hongyuan, unable to stop trembling. “Y-you’re not a player! You’re a NPC!!”
Ye Hongyuan's expression shifted. He suddenly burst into laughter. “What crap are you saying now? Of course I’m a player. How could I see you if I’m not?”
Big Yellow shook its head, its face pale. “No, no...You’re not...I finally remember… Y-you’re the NPC who ran over that player three years ago!!! I was only wiped of that player's information, but I retained everything else so I still remember you! No wonder you covered your face in front of me!!!”
Qiu Yanzhi’s heart almost stopped beating.
Big Yellow turned and shouted at Qiu Yanzhi: "Qiu Yanzhi, buy the Troublesome Character Disappearance Card! If he's a NPC, he'll disappear!"
Ye Hongyuan violently grabbed Big Yellow by the throat and choked it into silence.
He changed his name, only worked from the shadows, and didn’t dare to let anyone discover his true identity…
...All due to his fear of that Disappearance Card.
Ye Hongyuan gestured to the camera.
On screen, the rope tied to He Zhou’s right hand was cut. Now his entire body was suspended by a single rope on his left hand alone.
It seemed so brittle, like it would snap if exposed to a gust of wind.
Qiu Yanzhi's face was almost drained of all colour. He stilled instead of continuing to buy a Troublesome Character Disappearance Card.
"Qiu Yanzhi, I can see your control panel. Exit the mall now if you don’t want He Zhou to die.”
Ye Hongyuan’s expression was ugly and twisted, but he tried his best to soften his voice, “I won’t do anything to you. After I obtain your identity as a player, I will immediately leave this world. I won’t hurt He Zhou, and I won’t hurt you.”
He paused for a moment. "But if you refuse to do as I say, He Zhou will die before your eyes."
Qiu Yanzhi lips quivered. He stiffly reached out and exited the mall interface.
Ye Hongyuan took a step closer, his tone almost coaxing: "Go back to changing the Facial Recognition function.
Qiu Yanzhi looked up at He Zhou, who was suspended in midair on screen. The air around him seemed to grow thin. He tapped back to the previous Modify Facial Recognition screen.
The mechanical voice rang out again.
"Step two: Please register your current face in the display box."
Ye Hongyuan stepped forward and registered his face into the system.
"Step three: Player, please register your fingerprints and recite the following sentence to complete the registration procedure.”
Qiu Yanzhi looked up at He Zhou.
He Zhou seemed to be physically exhausted. His eyes only fluttered open once in a while. The rope strangling his left hand caused ghastly green and purple bruises to appear on the limb. His right hand clung to the only rope left. His face was far too pale.
Qiu Yanzhi reached out and registered his fingerprints.
He looked at the line of words and slowly read it out loud.
"Player Qiu Yanzhi confirms this modification of my face--”
Big Yellow broke out of Ye Hongyuan's grasp and shrieked!
Qiu Yanzhi frantically looked up!
Only to see on screen that He Zhou had untied the rope bound to his left hand at some point. The man looked into the camera and smiled faintly. His lips moved. He seemed to say:
“Qiu Yanzhi, you have to leave.”
Then he let go of the rope and plunged down towards the ground.
Qiu Yanzhi hysterically screamed.
Ye Hongyuan also froze.
At that moment, Qiu Yanzhi suddenly pulled a gun out and aimed it right at Ye Hongyuan’s head. His eyes were bloodshot and filled with tears. Blue veins stood out on his temples. He glared at Ye Hongyuan and screamed, “Where’s He Zhou?!”
Ye Hongyuan knew that he had lost his leverage. He held up both hands, his face deathly pale.
“...Hong...Hong’an Building. S-spare m--”
With gritted teeth, Qiu Yanzhi pulled the trigger.
He closed his eyes, feeling fresh, warm blood splatter across his face.
Ye Hongyuan collapsed, dead before he hit the ground.
Qiu Yanzhi stood up and raised his gun again like a madman.
He shot the body before him in the head, then the waist, then the leg in quick succession.
The bloody holes in Ye Hongyuan’s body spurted blood nonstop.
Qiu Yanzhi couldn’t stop shaking as he used an Instant Transport Card.
In the blink of an eye, he arrived next to Hong’an Building.
But He Zhou was already an unrecognizable mess on the ground.
You couldn’t even piece the parts of his body back together.
Qiu Yanzh’s eyelashes were still coated with Ye Hongyuan's blood. They mixed with his tears and turned his whole world into a blurry, bloody mess.
Big Yellow seemed to shout something at him, but Qiu Yanzhi could no longer hear anything.
Qiu Yanzhi’s entire body was dyed red with He Zhou's blood.
He held He Zhou's hand in his arms…
He held He Zhou's shoes in his arms…
He held He Zhou's arm in his arms...
Then as if he was struck by a bolt of inspiration, Qiu Yanzhi opened his VIP mall again to try and buy a Reset Card.
However, when those five cards appeared before him again, He Zhou’s was grayed out.
Qiu Yanzhi frantically tapped on it with all his might.
But the same warning played in his ears: “This NPC does not exist. Please choose another NPC.”
Qiu Yanzhi hugged He Zhou's corpse and broke down crying.
Qiu Yanzhi didn't know how long he had been crying. His eyes had gone blurry some time ago and he couldn’t see anything. His voice was also hoarse as hell.
He Zhou's once-fresh blood had cooled.
Qiu Yanzhi’s head was pounding. He felt dizzy, like he could suffocate any minute now.
He cried until he couldn't cry anymore, until he had used up all the tears in his eyes.
Big Yellow shouted Qiu Yanzhi's name again and again. It flew over and used all its might to try and pry his hands away.
It shouted as loud as it could, "Qiu Yanzhi! You can leave now! You can leave! Qiu Yanzhi, you need to go!"
Qiu Yanzhi looked up dumbly.
Despite everything being blurry, he could see that a giant white ring of light had appeared beside him.
There were two words written in big letters on it: Emergency Exit.
He Zhou told him.
He Zhou told him to leave.
He needed to leave. He needed to leave with He Zhou.
Qiu Yanzhi started frantically collecting the pieces of He Zhou’s body, but some were very far away. So he bent down and collected them one by one. He put He Zhou in a very big bag that he had picked up along the way. Straining to carry He Zhou, he stumbled into that white light.
When Qiu Yanzhi opened his eyes, the white ceiling of the hospital greeted him.
"Mr. Qiu is awake! He's finally awake!" Kong Xiujie (1) shouted in astonishment. A few moments later, the room was swarming with doctors and nurses.
Qiu Yanzhi looked down.
There was no He Zhou in his arms.
Qiu Yanzhi's eyes widened. Tears suddenly welled up and overflowed.
"Mr. Qiu… What’s the matter, Mr. Qiu…?"
"Are you in any discomfort...?”
“You’ve been unconscious for quite some time…”
Qiu Yanzhi clenched his teeth as hard as he could, but his sobs still spilled out.
His tears ran rampantly down his face. He was trembling from crying so hard.
His face and neck were red and swollen. He couldn't breathe through his nose from crying, to the point where he had to open his mouth. The air was filled with the sounds of him alternating between breathing heavily and sobbing.
He closed his eyes as his sobs grew louder and louder. By the end, he was an inconsolable, hysterical mess.
He had fallen in love with a NPC.
But that person was already dead.
(1) - Kong Xiujie is the housekeeper Qiu Yanzhi hired just before he got trapped in the game. His father hired her to look after him while he was in the hospital.