You Jiajia leaned over to He Xiaoqing's ear and whispered, "What, you like him?"
He Xiaoqing's eyes widened as she hastily denied it, “I wouldn’t dare to!”
He Xiaoqing spoke a bit too loud, causing Qiu Yanzhi to turn and look at her again.
She coughed lightly and muttered for them to quickly go on without her.
After that, she looked down and started to eat her cupcake with a miniature fork.
Qiu Yanzhi didn’t recognize her at first, but upon closer inspection he identified who He Xiaoqing was.
When He Zhou first entered Qin He's body, Qiu Yanzhi did some serious research online about Qin He’s family.
Qin He and his grandpa both accepted very few interview requests. Only this He Xiaoqing was alway in the public eye. She was the darling of the media, with news and pictures about her all over the internet.
Additionally, He Xiaoqing was the one who told He Zhou that Qin He used to often run over to Qiu Yanzhi’s school to spy on him.
In other words, this He Xiaoqing was very familiar with the past affairs of him and Qin He.
Despite that, Qiu Yanzhi was quite relieved to see her pretend to not know him.
To be honest, he didn't want to lose a six figure job because of things from the past.
He Xiaoqing kept her head down and munched away at her cupcake religiously.
She refused to look up. It was almost like a sign was hanging around her neck saying: You guys chat, pretend I’m not here.
Her indifference persisted until one of the girls asked with a smile, "Does Mr. Qiu have a girlfriend?"
He Xiaoqing paused from eating for a moment. Her ears secretly perked up in anticipation for the answer.
Qiu Yanzhi's lips curved up slightly. His voice was warm and melodic, "I have a boyfriend."
"Wow, that’s so cool!" The girl's eyes widened.
Their group consisted of a bunch of girls in their early twenties, so they were quite accepting of homosexuality. Not to mention how they have a private hobby of passing around BL manga.
But even so, they had never met a man who boldly admitted to be gay on the very first meeting. Plus he was cute.
The eyes of the girls immediately became starstruck. They eagerly began asking him all sorts of questions.
So cheerful and bright they were that soon Qiu Yanzhi became Yanyan.
"Yanyan, what kind of man is your boyfriend?"
Qiu Yanzhi: "A good-looking one."
He Xiaoqing stabbed her little golden fork into the cherry on top of her cake. She sneered coldly on the inside: Heh. No way he’s as good looking as my brother.
Qiu Yanzhi: "Also very smart."
He Xiaoqing: My brother graduated from high school at the age of 16, took a gap year, and studied a double degree in math and finance at an Ivy League university when he was 17! No way your boyfriend’s as smart as my brother!
Qiu Yanzhi: "He’s very business minded. A real genius.”
He Xiaoqing: Like your boyfriend can be as business minded as my bro! He’s the CEO of Faraway Technologies, the sole heir of Shengyuan Group, and showed incredible business talent even as a child! Who the hell is your boyfriend for you to praise him so much?!
He Xiaoqing couldn't hold it in anymore. She looked up at Qiu Yanzhi and asked, "Then may I ask where Mr. Qiu's boyfriend is now?"
Qiu Yanzhi: "He’s selling stocks at home."
He Xiaoqing exclaimed incredulously, "He’s a hobo?!”
Qiu Yanzhi smiled and thought to himself.
Not only is he a hobo, he’s also an undocumented immigrant who doesn’t even have a body of his own yet.
He Xiaoqing felt that her previous statement made her disdain too obvious. She coughed lightly before asking, “Then which school did he graduate from? What was his major? If he really is this talented, I might be able to recommend him for a job or two.”
Qiu Yanzhi: "Academic qualifications often don’t reflect a person’s potential.”
He Xiaoqing nodded in understanding and took a sip of coffee.
Oh, so basically he has nothing to show for his education.
She immediately took out her phone and started texting her brother under the table.
"Ge, listen to what I just found out today! Not only is Qiu Yanzhi’s boyfriend uneducated, he’s also a hobo! You won’t believe how much he’s praising his boyfriend right now. In my opinion, his boyfriend’s a little vixen who relies on Qiu Yanzhi to support him! He probably used his body to seduce Qiu Yanzhi to his core!”
A long time passed before He Xiaoqing received six dots as a reply from her brother.
He Xiaoqing scratched her head at the cryptic reply.
Hmph! He must be just as outraged and unable to understand Qiu Yanzhi’s tastes as her!
He Zhou fell into deep thought looking at the text message on his phone.
Uneducated, a hobo, and a vixen?
He Zhou sighed quietly.
It seemed like the confession should be next on his to do list.
He Zhou put down his phone and looked up at Chen Lesi and the team leader. “How are things coming along?”
Chen Lesi’s fingers raced across the keyboard. He replied without even looking up, “It’s a bit more complicated than I thought but no major problems. Not long now.”
The team leader turned to He Zhou and explained in detail: “Mr He, for some reason, the NPC you asked us to erase, Ye Tongfang, was renamed to Ye Hongyuan in the next iteration of the game. To prevent a misname error, we are currently working on making all the places mentioning Ye Hongyuan mention Ye Tongfang instead. After that, we’ll be able to delete everything related.”
About another 10 minutes passed.
Chen Lesi stretched out in his seat. “Done. Now we can start erasing Ye Tongfang’s source code.”
He Zhou was sitting on a sofa to the side, drinking coffee.
He placed his cup down on the table in front of him upon hearing that.
The moment the bottom of the coffee cup touched the table, his hand jerked violently, causing the coffee in the cup to spill a little on the business magazine he had set aside.
At the same time, a mirage appeared before him. His eyes widened and his pupils became slightly dilated.
Ye Hongyuan could hear what they were saying. He could even vaguely perceive what was going on.
Ever since he was ‘suppressed’ by He Zhou, he’s been looking for a way out like a lunatic.
This already strong desire reached a climax when he heard a technician say ‘Now we can start erasing Ye Tongfang’s source code’.
He gathered all his energy. If he had a physical body now, he would be able to feel every cell of his being screaming madly.
He could see a glimmer of light. He rushed straight towards it.
He felt like he was sinking to the bottom of the sea. He opened his eyes, he looked upward, and he saw that at the end of the endless sea was the sun, the source of all light.
He swam with all his might towards that sun, but seaweed entangled his legs, sharks latched onto both his arms, and the water exerted its pressure on his being. He sank, meter by meter.
The fishy seawater soaked into his eyes, into his mouth, into every pore of his body.
He struggled to open his eyes, like a fish that refused to die just yet. Seawater washed over his eyeballs, plankton attached to his pupils…
Everything became dark. Even the sun had lost its colour.
Out of the darkness came a little light, weaved into a series of soft paintings.
Ye Hongyuan saw himself standing barefoot in a creek, smooth pebbles slightly digging into his feet. He wanted to move, but then he saw a very small slip past his toes.
He froze then.
Afraid that the fish would lose its way otherwise.
"Tongfang!" Mother called him gently as she set up the picnic supplies, "It's time to eat."
He frowned, his eyes fixed on the fish that was circling about his left foot. He tried to buy some time. "I'll eat later."
His younger brother, Ye Mingxu, took a sandwich from Mother in his chubby little hand before running over to him on his little short legs. “Gege needs to eat on time so you can grow really, really tall!”
Ye Hongyuan always knew he was a happy man.
Even when both of his parents died one after the other, he never considered himself unfortunate.
He raised his brother, managed his company, earned a lot of money, and became an extremely successful person.
He met an elegant blind woman in her early 50s in a nursing home who called him Tongfang in a way that sounded so much like his mother.
When he was in a bad mood, he would go to the nursery home to keep her company. To pretend for a while that Mother was still with him.
He’s failed and suffered before, but he never gave up on himself, let alone the world he lived in.
He diligently lived through every day.
Until one rainy night, when he smashed into a car in a moment of inattention.
He saw that sinister blue hole.
He picked up that strange physical control device.
And ever since, the fake mask laid over his entire world was torn off.
It turned out everything was fake. All of it.
It turned out he was nothing more than a capture target in a game.
He found his personal information in that physical control device.
His head was bleeding, blood seeping down into his collar, soaking through his shirt along with his tears and the rain. He sat in the grass on that rainy night, crying and laughing hysterically.
It turned out all the parents of the five capture targets died in accidents.
It turned out the plane his parents were on lost control because the plotline between the player and capture target didn’t need them. That was why the game took them out.
It turned out that looking into the deaths of his parents was a future event in his main plotline, paving a path for the player to more easily capture his character.
It turned out that his pain, his trauma, his every single failure and recovery...was nothing more than flavour text added by the game design team.
This world was fake.
There was only one protagonist. The player who forgot his identity after the car accident, He Zhou.
Since that day, Ye Hongyuan has been trying to get out of the game like a madman.
Now that he knew it was all just a game, he couldn’t bear to stay in this fake world any longer.
He wanted to become a person. A normal, independent individual.
He wanted to experience a life that couldn’t be easily manipulated by others.
Although he was using He Zhou's player identity, Ye Hongyuan knew that he only obtained it because He Zhou had given up his player identity after the accident.
Things happened to turn out in his favour by chance, and he was far from becoming a full-fledged player.
You could even say that he would be forced to step down if He Zhou ever recovered his memories.
Fortunately, he ran into another player after three years.
Ye Hongyuan planned every step diligently, wracking his brains for the perfect plan.
Yet a step before success was in reach, He Zhou committed suicide and ruined all his plans.
The moment Qiu Yanzhi shot him, he thought it was game over. But who would’ve thought that he would be revived in He Zhou’s body?
While he was elated, Ye Hongyuan also remembered to tie up loose ends.
Every step he took was calculated and measured, but he still ran into pitfall after unfortunate pitfall.
The heavens seem to be deliberately working against him, allowing He Zhou to recover his memory and retake control of his body.
Ye Hongyuan had fought with He Zhou and Qiu Yanzhi for so long.
He’s always felt that his ending would be a spectacle.
Maybe he would live, maybe he would die.
But at least he would go out with a bang.
Ye Hongyuan remembered when he was a child watching those animated movies together with Father in theaters. The protagonist would endure countless hardships on their way to confront the villain. And at the grand finale, as the story neared its climax, there would always be an epic fight scene.
Ending with the protagonist injured and the villain dead.
Ye Hongyuan didn't know which he was in the end, but he expected a long, drawn out fight with He Zhou in the end. It didn’t really matter where the fight took place, either in reality or in the game.
Maybe he would die, maybe he would just be wounded. But He Zhou would at least suffer no matter what.
Since they’ve been at odds for so long, it only made sense to give him, Ye Hongyuan, a proper ending.
Yet his ending was just: a few people tapping away on their keyboards for a few seconds. That was all it took to erase him completely.
He felt like he was a firework, flying up to the sky with tremendous presence and commotion. Yet there was no explosion at the peak of his arc, only a pause before he fell back to the ground, dying as a dud.
Ye Hongyuan found that he had forgotten something very important.
From the very beginning, he was a piece of data meant to be manipulated by humans.
But...if I was nothing more than data from the very start.
Why let me wake up?
To dream impossible dreams.
To take part in conflict with no conclusion.
Ye Hongyuan started to feel his consciousness become blurred.
Someone seemed to have taken an eraser to the images of his life. They dissipated one by one from his mind.
He watched as the eraser erased his mother’s likeness, then his father.
It erased the sky he had once seen, then the water.
It erased that beautiful, lively little fish that had swam gently by his feet.
And in the very end.
The eraser erased his name.
He disappeared cleanly, with not a trace left behind.
In the very last second before his consciousness disappeared.
He heard someone ask, "Is that all?"
"Yep. It's just deleting a piece of data."
Another person answered lazily.
Qiu Yanzhi: I have a boyfriend.
He Xiaoqing: *Starts mentally reciting the navy seal copypasta*
Ye Hongyuan’s death affected me more than I thought. He did a lot wrong but he’s also dealt with a kind of existential crisis that I can’t even imagine. What a tragic character in the end.