Chapter 11: On A Snowy Night, He Returns (5)
Li Shuangshuang felt a little nervous at the moment.
She had come to Yong Ye City for a month and a half, done several missions and met many people, but she had never seen people like Tang Cuo and Jin Cheng. Their aura was so strong that even if they just stood by the side and didn’t say a word, people still wouldn’t miss their presence.
When she hid in the kitchen just now and saw Jin Cheng’s arrow pointing at Zhang Zhiqiu through the window, she became even more certain of this thought.
She was somewhat afraid of Jin Cheng, but with Tang Cuo here, she could ease her mind.
“When the staff asked for help to prepare lunch, she directly called out to you, didn’t she?” Tang Cuo asked.
“Yes.” Li Shuangshuang carefully recalled the situation at that time and continued: “She had too many things to do by herself so she let me help. But it could also be because I was a girl so she came to look for me. After I followed her into the kitchen, we were kept busy until she said that she felt unwell and wanted to go back to rest. After that, I was alone here.”
Tang Cuo asked again: “Did she say anything to you while you were here?”
Li Shuangshuang was stunned for a moment: “It’s just some small talk…”
“It’s very important, try to remember.”
“Urgh… She talked about the weather. She complained about the bad weather recently and the likes, about how the blizzard didn’t come too early or too late, about how it waited to the point when she could finally go down the mountain. At other times, she talked about our lunch and how Li Ying Jun likes to eat beef potato stew. I, I then put the poison in the beef potato stew… “
Tang Cuo frowned slightly.
Li Shuangshuang thought she said something wrong and looked at him anxiously, then she heard him ask: “What else did she say about her going down the mountain?”
“She… Oh right, she said that a new employee was in training. She also mentioned that the new person couldn’t come here yet. I was too nervous when she just casually slipped that sentence, so I can’t clearly remember all her words.”
Tang Cuo changed the question again: “Who gave you the poison?”
Li Shuangshuang replied without thinking: “Zhang Zhiqiu.”
“Okay, you go out first.”
Tang Cuo watched her go out and tapped his finger on the fire tongs. Amid the “ding ding” sound, one thought after another came to his mind. He clearly remembered that the staff named Xiao Yuan had said this when he first entered the dungeon ―
[My contract actually will expire soon and I want to go down the mountain to hand over to the new employee, but now I’m also stuck here and can’t leave.]
Who is this so-called new employee? Has the person arrived? Can that person be the NPC among them?
If so, this new employee is supposed to be just an NPC, why is he or she mixing in with the players? What is his or her purpose? Is it Qu Li? Or is it the inconsistent Zhang Zhiqiu?
“Do you need a hint?” Jin Cheng asked.
“Do you have one?” Tang Cuo looked up.
Jin Cheng had picked up a tomato from somewhere and was peeling it. A small, delicate silver folding knife moved beautifully in his hand. But this was the first time Tang Cuo saw someone peel the skin off a tomato. What’s wrong with you?
“You look at me so contemptuously, shall I peel one for you too?”
Jin Cheng didn’t expect Tang Cuo to nod, his mouth twitching in surprise. But after all, he was a real man who kept to his words. However, it got a bit boring to keep doing this, so he started talking: “I saved you twice and now I’m giving you a hint, how will you thank me?”
Tang Cuo showed no expression. “We’re all players and have to clear the game. Why should I thank you?”
Jin Cheng felt that this sentence really made some goddamn sense, so he spit out another sentence that also made sense: “Well, I can wait for you all to die then clear the game by myself.”
“What good will come out of it for you?”
“It keeps me happy.”
Tang Cuo didn’t believe in even half a word.
He simply turned his head to burn the fire. After that, he didn’t forget to remind Jin Cheng: “Don’t forget my tomato.”
Why are you so humourous?
Jin Cheng moved to a small stump chair to sit down and carefully looked at him for a moment before saying: “Mr. Crow is obsessed with you probably because he loves your sense of humour.”
Tang Cuo ignored him.
“How much do you know about Yong Ye City?” Jin Cheng suddenly looked serious.
“I don’t know anything.” Tang Cuo replied.
“Also, you’ve just arrived and were put in Zone F.” Jin Cheng said: “Yong Ye City has a rule that they don’t sell information to the players. You will only know when you have completed more missions or advanced to the high-ranking zones. Such information isn’t any big secret, and knowing it probably won’t help much either.”
Tang Cuo also looked up with a stern expression: “Go on.”
Jin Cheng said : “When one arrives at Yong Ye City after he dies, he is told that everything in his life was a game. Completing this game and getting the initial score is the first step in survival. The game mission of Yong Ye City is like a huge screening system, where better players can rise step by step and finally earn enough points to enter reincarnation, but what about the people who die in the game missions? Where do you think they go?”
“Their souls just disperse?”
“No, there are actually very few people whose souls completely disperse. Compared to the missions of Yong Ye City, having your soul disperse might be an escape. Many players from low-ranking zones think they will just die, but they don’t. They could become like Xiao Yuan, or Li Ying Jun.”
Tang Cuo suddenly thought of those who were swallowed by the black holes during The Wheel of Fortune. With Jin Cheng’s explanation, he finally understood where those people had disappeared to.
“You mean, the players who failed the mission would be trapped in the dungeon. Xiao Yuan said she was about to go down the mountain, meaning her punishment was almost over?”
“Yes, this is considered ‘karma’. You can think of it as though they are playing out a role or paying for their bad deeds. Each player bears a different ‘karma’, and the duration of their punishment is also different. It can be three years, five years, or even hundreds of years. After they serve their ‘karma’, they’ll be free.”
“Do they know what they are doing while serving their punishment?”
“No, they are just NPCs.”
Tang Cuo understood it now.
Xiao Yuan was about to finish serving her karma, so she would leave this place to reincarnate. The new employee who succeeded her must be another player who died in the mission.
In other words, among the eight of them, there was a ‘dead person’.
Does the person know that he or she is already dead?
“Choo-choo.” The water boiled.
“Knock knock.” The knock on the door sounded almost simultaneously.
Before Tang Cuo and Jin Cheng could respond, Peng Mingfan pushed the door in, his face covered with band-aids. He closed the door and walked inside to stand in front of the two, then said: “I suspect Zhang Zhiqiu has a problem.”
Tang Cuo also went straight to the point: “Why?”
“This is a dungeon of reasoning and Li Ying Jun could come back from the dead. Even a simpleton like Qian Wei can guess that Li Ying Jun isn’t easy to kill, so he can’t be reckless. But Zhang Zhiqiu not only urged Li Shuangshuang to poison him, but also wanted us to directly kill him just now. “
Jin Cheng laughed: “You’re right, but for Zhang Zhiqiu to do that, doesn’t it just prove that he’s smart? He wanted Li Shungshuang to poison Li Ying Jun, which didn’t succeed, then he turned to hoping that I would kill him with my arrow. Either way, he didn’t need to take any risk himself.”
Peng Mingfan took a deep breath: “I know. But what if he is the NPC? For example, killing Li Ying Jun may trigger some kind of punishment, and we will walk into this trap one by one with him pulling the strings from behind. “
“So?” Tang Cuo looked directly into Peng Mingfan’s eyes, his expression undisturbed. From within, Peng Mingfan’s trembled inexplicably, but he gave them a fearless look and asserted ―
“We should let Zhang Zhiqiu do it himself.”
Tang Cuo and Jin Cheng looked at each other. Jin Cheng handed him the peeled tomato in a bowl, then turned to look at Peng Mingfan and asked: “What if it turns out that he is not the NPC?”
Peng Mingfan remained silent for a few seconds and replied: “I’ll do it next time. The mission is to kill Li Ying Jun. Someone has to do it, so if it’s not you, then it’s me.”
“Very good, brave one.” Jin Cheng wiped his hands and stood up: “How do you plan to get him to do it himself?”
Peng Mingfan clearly had thought through this and replied immediately: “By voting. Qian Wei and I give two votes and you give two votes. That’s already half of the votes.”
This was a form of alliance.
Tang Cuo once again examined Peng Mingfan carefully. This schoolboy was probably the cleverest here. It was clear at one glance who was the strongest among the eight players, so with this move, he could not only test Zhang Zhiqiu but also drag them to his side. That was some calculation.
That said, Peng Mingfan seemed to be an important player to keep. At least he had tried to stop Li Shuangshuang from giving the poison, so Tang Cuo’s impression of him wasn’t bad.
The three headed to the main hall one after another, with Peng Mingfan leaving first then Tang Cuo and Jin Cheng slowly walking out. On the way out, Tang Cuo found some sugar in the kitchen and added a spoon to the tomato bowl.
Jin Cheng saw it, his face showing utter disapproval.
Who eats tomatoes with sugar?
In the hall, Xiao Yuan was arguing loudly: “How could it be?! There must be some misunderstandings. You must have done something to Li Ying Jun. He is a very good man, all he does all day is cutting firewood. He doesn’t hurt even a small animal, how can he hurt you?”
Just like before, the one who spoke to her was still An Ning: “But he did try to hurt us.”
Xiaoyuan still didn’t seem convinced, and Li Ying Jun himself wasn’t here. Everyone wanted to discuss the ultimate way to kill him, so to prevent him from hearing them, they locked him in the linen room next to the toilet on the first floor.
Zhang Zhiqiu sat in the rest area, quietly observing the interaction between Xiao Yuan and An Ning. When he saw Jin Cheng and Tang Cuo, he only slightly nodded and made no particular move.
“Really, Ying Jun ge won’t hurt anyone. He can’t talk, you shouldn’t treat him like this…” Xiao Yuan still tried to argue.
Peng Mingfan went straight to her and said: “We are hungry, hasn’t lunch been prepared yet?”
Xiao Yuan was startled and immediately apologized: “I’m sorry, I’m going to prepare now, who of you can…”
Peng Mingfan interrupted her: “Go by yourself.”
“Okay, okay.” Xiaoyuan left.
There were only the eight of them left in the hall. Peng Mingfan quickly talked about the voting. Some people remained silent, some people nodded while some people frowned.
Zhang Zhiqiu remembered that just now Peng Mingfan took the initiative to go to the kitchen to call Tang Cuo and Jin Cheng. His life of so many years would have been a waste if he couldn’t see through such a simple trick.
“I object.” He stood up and looked at An Ning. “You guys both came in pairs, but this lady and I came here alone. Such a voting system seems unfair to us.”
An Ning smiled brightly: “I have no objection, if you want to vote, let’s vote.”
Zhang Zhiqiu quietly clenched his fist, yet remained calm and said: “If you have no objection, then of course I won’t either. But on the grounds of fairness, I propose that we cast blind votes.”
Peng Mingfan stared deeply at Zhang Zhiqiu, wondering what he had in store this time round. But Zhang Zhiqiu’s request was reasonable and they still hadn’t managed to expose him yet, so it was difficult to refuse.
Blind voting thus began.
Peng Mingfan cut a blank piece of paper into eight equal pieces. The players would first write down the name they wanted to vote for, then fold the paper and have all the pieces shuffled. Finally, the votes would be read out altogether. The person who announced the votes was still Peng Mingfan. When he picked up the first slip, the name that got called out wasn’t unexpected ― “Zhang Zhiqiu, one vote.”
“Li Shuangshuang, one vote.”
Peng Mingfan glanced at Zhang Zhiqiu and continued to read out loud.
“Zhao Ping, one vote.”
“Peng Mingfan, one vote.”
“Li Shuangshuang, one vote.”
The further he called them out, the lower Peng Mingfan’s tone became, almost as though he was unable to breathe. Five had already been called out yet Zhang Zhiqiu only received one vote, how was it possible?!
He quickly opened the rest of the votes to see two Li Shuangshuang’s and one Qian Wei’s.
Li Shuangshuang had three votes!
“Why did you stop?” Zhang Zhiqiu asked suspiciously.
Peng Mingfan clenched the note in his hand and didn’t answer. An Ning and Zhao Ping also noticed that something must be wrong, and they glanced at Tang Cuo and Jin Cheng before turning to Zhang Zhiqiu, both of them frowning.
They actually could guess what Peng Mingfan had planned, so they voted for Zhang Zhiqiu.
An Ning had a sharp mind, so she immediately stepped forward to look at all the eight notes and picked up the one she wrote ― it was indeed her handwriting, but the name had changed from Zhang Zhiqiu to Zhao Ping.
“Something is wrong with these voting slips.” An Ning looked at Peng Mingfan.
Peng Mingfan stared at Zhang Zhiqiu.
Zhang Zhiqiu said: “Why are you looking at me? I have cooperated and voted with you all. I wouldn’t have the nerve to work up some tricks right under your very eyes.”
Zhao Ping hesitated and voiced out: “Is it the system? Does this game want to choose the person by itself?”
As his words fell, Li Shuangshuang turned completely white.
Zhang Zhiqiu said nothing and just shook his head to show that he also had no idea.
Tang Cuo didn’t say a single word from beginning to end. At this point, he whispered to Jin Cheng: “Is there such a manipulation ability in the combat system of Yongye City?”
Jin Cheng smiled: “Yes.”
Tang Cuo said aloud: “Let’s do open voting.”
“It’s not like we can’t do open voting, but this isn’t the first time everyone takes part in a mission, so we should know what will happen if we fight against the system.” Zhang Zhiqiu said in a hushed tone. “Don’t you forget? This mission has been triggered because of a newcomer’s priority. It seems that the newcomer is Qu Li. She may have disappeared because this is her first mission, so she doesn’t know how things work and behaves recklessly. Otherwise how would we explain that?”
Both Zhao Ping and Li Shuangshuang seemed wavered by his words. Even An Ning was deep in thoughts.
Qu Li’s disappearance was difficult to explain and what Zhang Zhiqiu said actually made sense.
Qian Wei became anxious: “How can you guarantee that what you say is true?”
“I can’t guarantee it.” Zhang Zhiqiu said earnestly. “But can you guarantee that your approach is correct? This is a mission of Yong Ye City. It is not simply a game of reasoning and definitely not a child’s play, you can’t just come up with any ‘because it is A, therefore it is B’ and hope to clear it.”
“You!” Qian Wei almost jumped up. He could insult his IQ, but how could he insult Peng Peng?! Peng Peng might not talk much, but he was always a smart guy!
Peng Mingfan stopped him: “So what do you suggest?”
The atmosphere tensed up as the two sides came to a confrontation.
Jin Cheng watched the fights with his arms held tight and even bothered to comment: “The kid still has a long way to go. When you spoke just now, you should have directly made Zhang Zhiqiu shut up. Ignore his nonsense, screw the system. Let’s kill first, talk later.”
Tang Cuo glanced at him sideways: “Kill which one?”
Jin Cheng smiled and was about to speak, but Tang Cuo nonchalantly moved his eyes away and walked right into the confrontation. With his military coat taken off and both hands in his trench coat pockets, he turned to look at Zhang Zhiqiu: “You are not entirely correct. Qu Li is indeed a newcomer, but it was me who triggered the priority. “
As he finished his sentence, everyone couldn’t hide their shock.
Qian Wei’s face was full of question marks. You were so f**king strong when you killed that bear, now you tell me you’re a newcomer???
“Let’s vote by raising hands. Whoever has the most votes, I will go with that person.” From the corner of his eye, Tang Cuo saw Xiao Yuan coming out of the kitchen. It seemed that lunch was finally ready, so he continued: “The time is set after lunch. “
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”.