Chapter 23.2: First-Generation Players (Part 2)
“Zhu Rong has been studying highly resistant animals to let them replace humans in the task of purifying the surroundings. At first, his experimental subjects were mice and then dogs. But their intelligence is too low and their lifespan is too short.”
Zhu Yanchen said as his hands turned over the objects on the corpse. Shu Jun looked at his back, suspecting that this guy was deliberately avoiding eye contact.
“After getting that inspiration, he began to use humans as experimental subjects. He separated the genes of highly resistant humans, randomly mixed them up and selectively supplemented them with fragments of other species’ genes — With such fusion, the final ‘product’ has enough resistance and intelligence. Except for their short lifespan, there are no other defects.”
So it turns out that I don’t even have a fixed model… just a casual mix of the many jigsaw pieces.
No wonder Zhu Yanchen said that “Each synthesised human has a different synthesis combination”, Shu Jun snorted.
“As long as the hibernation pod functions such that the synthesised humans see the purification project as part of a ‘game’, they won’t have anything to complain about. Since Zhu Rong succeeded in replacing ordinary humans with synthesised humans, mortality rate has dropped significantly. Over the years, the Player System has continuously been improved, and the result is what you see right now.”
Shu Jun was speechless.
To Shu Jun, Zhu Rong was the creator of all nightmares, but to humanity, he was likely considered a hero. Thinking this way, everything before him seemed even stranger. If out of nowhere, Shu Jun claimed that there was a serious problem with the synthesised humans, it might be treated as crime. After so many years, humanity still insisted that the tragedy in X City was a natural disaster. They simply continued to use synthesised humans, which meant the issue hadn’t been exposed in any way.
“So what’s going on here?”
“I don’t know.” Zhu Yanchen lowered his gaze: “The Zhu family has very few records of Zhu Rong. But this man is very smart. Since he chose to commit suicide here, he would definitely leave behind some clues.”
But it seemed that Zhu Yanchen himself hadn’t managed to gather much information either — He stopped searching, took out the recording chip from the device and began to install it on the messenger monster. But before he could even finish the installation, the device without the recording chip made a sound by itself.
[The personality of a synthesised human can neither be controlled nor mass-produced. We were supposed to produce only a minimal amount of synthesised humans to ensure that the purification project goes on normally, but the current number of these humans has seriously exceeded the allowance… This is a dangerous and uncontrollable project that can only be used as a means of transition. Once humanity is out of this survival crisis, the Player System must be abolished immediately.]
[Considering the possible loopholes and risks of the Player System, my research is forcibly suspended, but I’ve given the initial findings to someone I trust.]
[I don’t accept any research to further improve the ‘players’, nor do I accept any threats against my parents for this reason. I can’t leave the Zhu family, but I can demolish the project this way.]
[When you find my body, I’ve probably begun to decompose. I don’t need any repair on my appearance, just let me go like this.]
[I am very sorry.]
That voice of a young man sounded calm and distant, yet it also carried with it suppressed agony. Following this, the message kept being repeated and no new information was revealed.
Shu Jun suddenly realised a problem and a chill climbed from his ankle to his back. He was pretty sure that Zhu Yanchen also thought of the same thing.
Based on the message, Zhu Rong deliberately shut the door to prevent people from finding his body too soon. The best case scenario was that they left as soon as they saw his deformed appearance. But there was a prerequisite for this plan to work — If people found something wrong, they would come to him.
But no one came to find him. This only meant one thing: Zhu Rong died before the Erosion Marshes attacked this city. People were driven out of the city by the marshes before they had time to discover his corpse.
Shu Jun thought that Zhu Rong’s last message could give some answer to their problems, but it turned out that the disaster of X City now became even more confusing. Shu Jun lost his appetite: “Let’s go.”
“I should train to suppress the erosive substance inside me. The sooner I master the technique, the faster we can leave this place, right?” Shu Jun couldn’t help but look at the glass window: “The things you saw in the city, my blood sample, plus Zhu Rong’s message. If you want to prove that there’s a problem with the Player System, these should be enough.”
“…For now, I’ll deliver this data first. We’ll start your training once I get back.” Zhu Yanchen stood up. “The data is still lacking. But I promise you that I won’t rashly come near X City until we fully understand the current situation.”
“Uhm.” Shu Jun looked at Zhu Yanchen and opened the door: “Wait a minute, I’ll take… A Yan!!!”
On the other side of the door was no longer a corridor. It was a cloudy, giant eye. It crammed the entire door frame and looked inside.
Zhu Yanchen reacted very quickly. He tried to avoid it at once then threw the messenger monster and the chip to Shu Jun. However, this was a room with no exit and he was standing too close to the door. Like a long knife, a thread directly pierced his abdomen.
“Keep it safe!” This is the first time Shu Jun heard Zhu Yanchen yell: “Don’t worry, it won’t kill me…”
Before his voice even faded, the eye retreated, dragging Zhu Yanchen completely out of the door. Shu Jun grabbed the chip in one hand and his broadsword in the other, then he slashed forward. But the eye disappeared before his sword hit the ground.
What did he do wrong? Did he not hide his presence well enough?
Why did the Alpha Erosion Marsh of X City personally chase after them till here?
Shu Jun didn’t take the stairs. He directly split the concrete ceiling with his sword and rushed straight up. Reaching outside, Shu Jun threw the damn chip into the sky, watching the little mutated monster flying away crookedly, then he immediately turned to the giant head not far away.
That thing was too big. Earlier, it extended its eye like a snail’s and squeezed it into the corridor, and now the eye was retracting back into the head. It was penetrating through Zhu Yanchen, who didn’t give up resisting at all, drowning the scene with endless firing from his purification gun.
But the opponent was as firm as a mountain.
As the eye crawled back into the head, the terrifying face took shape again. It didn’t open its mouth, but Shu Jun could heart its voice. Unlike those four-legged monsters, the sound crashed into his brain, feeling as intense as something was poking through his heart and causing all the organs inside him to crumble into a mess.
“Is he your friend?”
This wasn’t just a vague thought; it was definitely a voice. It belonged to a young woman and carried a rather strange tone, as if she hadn’t spoken in a long time.
“He’s really your friend.” Seeing that Shu Jun didn’t respond, she began to answer her own question.
Shu Jun’s felt his hand holding the sword going cold. No matter how he looked at it, he wasn’t her opponent.
But he must take Zhu Yanchen back. Not to mention the partnership between them, if Zhu Yanchen had come to investigate this place alone, he wouldn’t have been targeted by these outrageous creatures, for his only goal was to record some findings. If this thing asked such a question, the target was clearly Shu Jun himself.
“What do you want? Intelligence?” Shu Jun firmly responded with his own voice while keeping his eyes fixed in Zhu Yanchen’s direction, trying to find an opening: “Put him down, we can discuss in truce.”
The head didn’t even move its lips, yet a string of laughter bammed into Shu Jun’s head.
“I want you to be more serious.” She said: “You’re obviously pretty strong, but you ran away as soon as you saw me. That was bad.”
She provocatively stretched out those silky threads and shook Zhu Yanchen in front of Shu Jun. Shu Jun immediately swung his broadsword while Zhu Yanchen also took the opportunity to fire several shots. But, those silky threads quickly enlarged and turned into a large lump of flesh, sucking in both the Shu Jun’s blade and Zhu Yanchen’s bullets like a cotton ball. Shu Jun watched Zhu Yanchen being pulled away again, the heated blood inside him rushing straight to his head.
It was like a cat playing with two tiny mice.
“If you want intelligence, come, take whatever you want. In any case, I’ll just lose a little bit of flesh, and I’m not poisonous either.” Shu Jun gritted his teeth.
“You should be more courteous to your senior.” Numerous silk threads surrounded Shu Jun, each staring intently at him: “You’re also a ‘player’ — you should know, that isn’t what I want.”
Layers of erosive substance were boiling next to his ear, making a disgusting sticky sound.
“If you had asked me that question a hundred years earlier, I would have wanted to go home.”
She said with a very still voice, as though it carried almost no emotions.
“But now, I want you to kill me… What was your ranking before you ‘died’?”
“No. 1.” Shu Jun replied dryly. At this moment, ‘No. 1’ was nothing but a joke.
“What a coincidence, me too.” The smile hidden in her voice grew stronger: “You have to do your best — otherwise, I’ll devour you completely and make your friend my snack.”
…This time, I might’ve really encountered my true ‘kin’.
After all, they underestimated the Erosion Marsh of X City. As the top combatant of 200 years ago, she was definitely more familiar with the surrounding terrain than they were. If they had run away, she would have instantly discovered them, just like Zhu Yanchen had predicted. On the other hand, they disappeared into Zhu Rong’s basement and she also managed to figure that they would flee there.
From the moment she laid eyes on the two of them, they were doomed to never be able to escape.
“Since you want to die so much, you only need to work a little harder. Why do you have to waste so much effort?” Shu Jun tried to buy time while quickly forming a strategy a his mind.
“It seems that you’ve not been affected much by the Erosion Marsh inside you.” The smile in the woman’s voice faded a little: “A marsh isn’t so easy to control. If you want to live, it’ll make it possible; if you want to die, it’ll make it even easier. But the latter requires that you need to find an opponent stronger than the marsh inside you — Even if you don’t want to resist, the marsh will take over your brain and fight with all your strength. Unfortunately, I’ve encountered dozens of Alpha Erosion Marshes, yet the marsh in me had never lost.”
She opened her eyes slightly. Her cloudy eyes were full of longing.
“But you’re different. You have a mature brain, and your abilities are quite interesting. You can even run away from me once.”
Yes, that’s it, babble a bit more. Shu Jun stared at Zhu Yanchen and continued to consider possible solutions.
There’s one way.
“You…” Before the Erosion Marsh said the next sentence, a wind gathered under Shu Jun’s feet as his body swiftly dimmed into an afterimage that once again rushed towards the threads that were trapping Zhu Yanchen.
[Silence.] He concentrated all his energy, stared at the thread that was piercing through Zhu Yanchen and fiercely smacked his broadsword down.
This time the thread didn’t enlarge and was completely chopped off by the blade.
Shu Jun didn’t waste even a split second. He grabbed Zhu Yanchen’s arm and immediately fled in the opposite direction. The other threads frantically fought back, and Shu Jun dodged them one by one with his fastest possible speed. But before he could fly far, a soft wall made of erosive substance suddenly appeared in front of him.
This time it was Zhu Yanchen who made a move.
While the wall was still far enough, Zhu Yanchen took out two marble-sized items and resolutely tossed them at the wall, blowing out two huge holes. The explosion almost scorched a corner of Shu Jun’s hair.
“Bring the battle to the ground.” Despite the severe injuries, there was no weakness or panic in Zhu Yanchen’s voice. “This way I can fight with you.”
“I can fly upwards —”
“The same trick won’t work a second time. If I’m not mistaken, there should be no fewer than three layers of erosive substance above our heads now. If you turn against them, they’ll snatch any opportunity to attack you.” Zhu Yanchen took off the gas mask and put a handful of medicine in his mouth.
Then he didn’t put on the mask again.
“I’ll make sure you live.” Zhu Yanchen’s voice was unwavering: “Shu Jun, first bring its attack focus to the ground.”
“You’ve an ability to ‘suppress the erosive substance’… Very interesting.” The female voice came to his mind again, carrying with it a creepy delight: “I haven’t killed any Alphas with this ability. You still have a chance. Please be sure to do your best.”
“This is our first strategic partnership in a battle. It’s worth remembering.” Shu Jun suddenly shook his head and bolted towards the ground.
Zhu Yanchen didn’t answer. He took out a few jars from the briefcase, then solemnly put the briefcase aside.
“We have three advantages. First, it seems to want to fight with you; but I won’t ask why now. A battle between two Alpha marshes gives one advantage — there’ll be no mutated monsters participating in such a high-level battle, so you’ve only one opponent. At worst, you could also count in the stuff that this opponent temporarily creates to attack you.”
“Second, so far, it doesn’t take me seriously.”
“Third, you are better than it.”
“Are you being serious?” Shu Jun couldn’t laugh when he glanced at the head as big as a hill in front of him, his voice shaking a little.
Instead, Zhu Yanchen laughed. This was the second time Shu Jun saw him laugh. This time his smile was much more natural, even with subtle satisfaction in it.
“The Erosion Marsh that merged with you is even bigger than this. I monitor your status every day. You and the marsh are fusing with each other pretty solidly.” He said softly: “Although there are differences in fusion and experience, in theory, you’re still stronger than that head. Be a little more confident.”
Shu Jun desperately scratched his grey hair to the point that he almost scraped his scalp: “Okay. Now that things have become this serious, we could only fight — Even so, I can’t let you get hurt. If I lose, I still don’t want to lose so badly.”
This person was obviously seriously injured, yet his behaviour looked as though he was totally fine.
The threads of erosive substance suddenly fell down and the huge Erosion Marsh really started to attack towards the ground. Shu Jun and Zhu Yanchen jumped left and right to quickly duck away. Shu Jun couldn’t help but glance at Zhu Yanchen.
Zhu Yanchen’s movements might seem rather normal, but each move was definitely calculated. He took advantage of the terrain and wandered through the ruins like a ghost. Many threads were drawn into the cracks between the buildings by him, thus the huge head was slightly deflected and the horrifying face lowered a few degrees downwards.
Shu Jun instantly understood Zhu Yanchen’s intention.
People couldn’t change their physiological structure. This Erosion Marsh retained the appearance of a human head, therefore the intelligence it had obtained must have come from a real human head.
Then it weakest spot must be where its brain lay.
If I can properly use ‘suppression’, I may be able to break through that layer of defence and grab its brain — The two of them didn’t have many choices right now. Although Shu Jun had no idea whether he could really defeat it after touching its brain, it was worth giving a shot.
Shu Jun immediately stepped on the wind and worked along with Zhu Yanchen on the ground. He deliberately circled a few more times and flew high enough, putting on a look of searching for the net of erosive substance in the sky, trying to divert the attention of the Erosion Marsh away from Zhu Yanchen.
However, as a former combatant, this Erosion Marsh wasn’t easy to deceive. It quickly discovered the problem with its stance and began to slowly adjust. Shu Jun caught the gap, dived down from a high spot and sprinted towards the head’s temple.
The intense focus made his brain ache. He ran so fast that the Erosion Marsh couldn’t react for a second and didn’t have enough time to set up sufficient defence —
At least on the surface.
The next second, an annoying chuckle came again. At the moment Shu Jun swung his sword down, a liquid pillar jumped horizontally out and pierced through his right shoulder. Shu Jun suddenly lost his balance and was slammed into an abandoned building on the side, blowing out a large cloud of dust.
“Too direct.” The Erosion Marsh whispered and more liquid pillars followed, looking as though they wanted to smash Shu Jun into minced meat.
“Really?” Shu Jun supported himself with his sword pointing at the ground and stood up, then he chopped off all the liquid pillars coming his way.
Thereafter, he smoothly slid down a liquid pillar and went straight for the head’s temple again.
And Zhu Yanchen was already waiting there.
Translator and reviewer at Strictly Bromance blog. In essence, she lives to indulge in plot-driven stories sprinkled with camaraderie and slow-burn drama-free romance, especially more so if they belong to adventure, mystery or supernatural genre. A trope that she always thirsts after: “Comrades who go through life and death together”.