Chapter 4: Mr. Crow’s Blacklist
Tang Cuo, merely one step away from death, ransacked all the money and the Skill card from Lu Wenming, then stripped his coat to tie him.
His biggest gain was a small package of jerky in Lu Wenming’s pocket. Tang Cuo ate the jerky and took a few steps towards the door.
Outside his room was a corridor with five doors on each side. When Tang Cuo opened the door, the second door on his right-hand side also opened. A skinny middle-aged man poked his head out and saw Tang Cuo.
“You, you, you…” He stuttered before retreating back into his room in fear.
The man was covered in blood and seemed to be a newcomer that arrived at the same time as Tang Cuo.
After standing still for a few other minutes, no other trouble came to find him, so Tang Cuo returned to the room and began the interrogation.
“No. J19756, Zhang Xing.”
“Is this place the world after death?”
“Yes and no.” Zhang Xing shook his head with a wry smile: “I also thought it was like that at first, and that someone assigned me a score to judge whether I should be going to Hell or Heaven. But everyone who comes here will hear this sentence “Welcome back to Yong Ye City”. The life a person lived before entering this city was just a damn trial, a newcomer village1, or a prologue. Death is the real beginning. Eventually, are we dead or alive now? There is no way to tell.”
“After entering Yong Ye City, what happens?”
“You try to survive and earn points through the game missions. It’s only when you get enough points that you can enter reincarnation. During this period, you have to hand in sufficient points every month to survive. “
Who in their right mind invents such a screening mechanism for reincarnation?
Tang Cuo felt there was a problem. After he was reborn, he would no longer be himself. Why should he risk his life to earn points for a stranger? Wouldn’t it be possible to live forever if one stayed here?
“What if I don’t leave the city?”
As the question was brought up, Zhang Xing’s whole body shuddered and his lips paled: “I’m afraid even the elites in Zone A won’t harbour such an idea. Yong Ye City is not a modern society. There is no law against killing, no morality, no regulations, only the most basic rules of survival… To live here, you have to hand in points every month. I really didn’t lie to you, newcomers have a protection mechanism so they only need to give 5 points in the first month. Even if I am not an honest man, I won’t leave you to die as soon as you just arrive.”
Tang Cuo was indifferent to this.
Zhang Xing had no other choice but to continue speaking, his face as white as a sheet: “In addition to points, there was a compulsory requirement, which is performing the game missions. Even if you have enough points to hand in, you have to do the mission at least once a month. If you don’t initiate the mission on your own, you will be forced to do it and there is no way to escape. All forced missions will leave you with little chance to stay alive out of them, so it is impossible to just live a peaceful life here. The missions constantly force you to go forward. Going backwards means death.”
“Then what is Zone A?”
“That is how the zones are divided here. When everyone first comes, the system will put you into a corresponding zone according to your rating and initial score. There are a total of seven zones. Zone A is the strongest and Zone F is the weakest.”
“Where is this?”
“Zone F. Newcomers are usually put into Zone D and below. Zone F is the most populated zone. I’ve been here for almost three months and still stuck here. It’s too difficult to level up. Also, when you level up, the points to be handed in every month will also increase, so for people like me, well…”
As his words faded, Zhang Xing fell into an inexplicable sorrow.
Tang Cuo didn’t bother to take care of his mood. The basic questions had all been asked. Such a middle-aged man who wasn’t strong in combat and needed to earn points by cheating newcomers wouldn’t be much of a threat. After thinking for a moment, Tang Cuo asked: “The first point addition is based on the initial character score, right?”
Zhang Xing’s eyes widened. He nodded.
Tang Cuo understood now. In online games, the new player starts with a number of points for each attribute. By that logic, with a Strength of -8, Tang Cuo should be weaker than a fried chicken, so weak that he couldn’t even clear the Tutorial round. But in reality, he only suffered a debuff that wasn’t fatal, meaning the effect of attribute points was only an increase or decrease from his body’s original characteristics. (T/N: A bit of explanation here: In online games, every new player should first be given a minimum Strength attribute, say, 10 points. Hence, a Strength of -8 will be as good as death. But in Yong Ye City, this attribute value is instead benchmarked based on the player’s original strength as a person – when he was still alive.)
And this initial character score was gained from the so-called Trial Game of Life ― Tang Cuo’s first 24 years in the human world.
But then, Tang Cuo was most interested in the Skill card and Zhang Xing’s combat style.
Zhang Xing’s head was still hurting. Hearing this question, he no longer bothered to hide anything. He had never seen a newcomer like Tang Cuo, and he knew that even if he didn’t reveal it, Tang Cuo would soon find the answer anyway. It would be meaningless to hide.
“The Skill card was obtained during the mission. There are all kinds of strange things in the mission. Magic, martial arts, abilities and various items, as long as you can get them. But the eventual combat style is not the same for each person, and how they adopt that style is also different. I’m just a minor character, so I can’t even join any party, let alone forming one by myself. I can only depend on items like the Skill card…”
Actually, Zhang Xing felt very odd. How could this know-it-all newcomer be put in the weakest Zone F? This man had him scared shitless time after time.
After a short while, Tang Cuo’s HP returned to 7 thanks to the jerky. He stood up, frowned at the blood stains on his body and made the decision to go shopping first.
He temporarily stopped interrogating Zhang Xing, but he knocked the man unconscious rather than letting him go. There must be other people backing Zhang Xing. He feared that Zhang Xing would later get help and come back to burn down his room.
Leaving his room and going downstairs, Tang Cuo didn’t meet anyone again this time. He went all the way to the cobblestone street outside. On the sidewalk, there was even a street sign in a ubiquitous blue colour that read: East Cross Street, Zone F.
Tang Cuo followed the route that Zhang Xing gave him. As he crossed into an alley for pedestrians, more people suddenly appeared.
It was very lively here. There were many neon signs hanging under the eaves, windows wide open on two sides of the alley, as well as the sound of music and the smell of liquor coming from inside the buildings. The smiles and the playfulness of those young men and women looked nothing like the fearfulness that Zhang Xing carried on his face.
No one shot any weird looks at Tang Cuo’s bloody clothes. The door of the tavern in front suddenly broke and from inside came the noise of what sounded like a gang fight.
Someone was crying.
Someone was laughing.
Someone was singing and playing guitar on the sidewalk. Tang Cuo remembered him as a not-so-popular singer who died in a car crash a few years ago. A female classmate of Tang Cuo liked the singer very much and even bought a bunch of flowers for him.
Tang Cuo stopped to listen to a few lines, but it wasn’t very nice, so he left.
The supermarket was three junctions away. It looked like a department store of the old times, with huge posters of sexy girls from the 1980s hanging on the outside wall. Tang Cuo slowly walked in and made one round around the place. A pair of socks were sold at 1,000 RMB and a bowl of hot-and-sour noodles was sold at 5,000 RMB.
In other words, 1 point could only be exchanged for four bowls of hot-and-sour noodles.
Tang Cuo didn’t believe in this evil scheme and asked the lady who sold hot and sour noodles. The lady particularly took a liking to this handsome guy who looked like he had been an exemplary student since young. She told him that the current exchange rate was 1 point to 1 million RMB.
It was because the RMB was no longer valuable. Nowadays people burnt everything for their loved ones: BMW, iPhone, even sex dolls. So as more and more money got burnt, inflation happened.
Tang Cuo decided he would go back and beat up Zhang Xing.
But Tang Cuo was not in a hurry to go back now, nor did he want to find the people who arrived here at the same time as him. After a meal, he walked around the streets of Yong Ye City and saw a quaint hot spring bathhouse, so he went in with his newly purchased clothes to take a bath.
The money he ransacked from Zhang Xing was just enough for him to spend one hour here. But what he didn’t know was that just when he was peacefully soaking in the hot water, a commotion started in the game hall right at the heart of Yong Ye City because of him.
The game hall was where players got their missions.
The size of Yong Ye City game hall was comparable to the most luxurious casino of Las Vegas. It was round in shape and about the size of two football fields, with a height of roughly 30 meters. The place was supported with black steel frames and adorned with many irregular-shaped crystals, making it both sassy and extravagant. Once you step into the game hall, the scene before your eyes would transport you into the Las Vegas dream of the 90s.
Claw machines, fishing games, billiards, car racing, Taiko drums, fighting games, wheels of fortune, dancing floors, etc., almost all kinds of games that had ever made an appearance in an arcade could be found here.
The hall was very crowded. At this moment, many people had their eyes on the three huge electronic screens hanging from the steel frame in the center of the hall.
The electronic screens showed a long list of names arranged from 1 to 99. The very list that everyone was paying attention to at the moment was called — Mr. Crow’s Blacklist.
The list was as follows:
1st place: Zone A, G79081
2nd place: Zone A, E57456
3rd place: Zone B, F66666
99th place: Zone F, K27216
“The Blacklist hasn’t been changed in years, where did this person come from? And how can a Zone F player even enter the list?”
“Isn’t that the big guy from Zone A who was punished to Zone F?”
“Zone A has such a person?”
The people discussed furiously and a small man with pink hair suddenly had an idea. “But considering the timing, is it a newcomer? This player has piqued so much hatred even though he just arrived, he must be damn good.”
“How is it possible?”
“For a Zone F player, it will be very good already if he can hold himself from being scared out of his wits.”
“Have you all forgotten about that guy in the 1st place?”
“That’s different! You can’t compare with someone who was assigned to Zone A the moment he started! Mr. Crow was so fond of him. F**k the privileged! Who on earth gets blacklisted on his first day…”
The guy who hushed them stealthily looked left and right like a thief, fearing that someone might have heard it. The other people around him seemed to remember something, then they shuddered and shut up.
Not long after, everyone dispersed and the commotion brought about by Tang Cuo gradually subsided. In this city, there had been many short-lived flames. It was after all just the last position on the Blacklist, so really there was nothing to pay attention to.
The pink-haired fella swam smoothly through the crowd like a fish. He made one round around the hall enthusiastically but it seemed that there was nothing else of interest to look at, so he took his leave and headed towards Zone A.
At this moment, in Zone F, Tang Cuo was thinking hard.
In any case, he was rated A, how could he be assigned to Zone F? Was it because of his character score? Was it a punishment in disguise for a negative score?
If so, then Tang Cuo wouldn’t feel very good about the next few days. According to Zhang Xing, points could only be earned from missions, and if you wanted to get points directly in Yong Ye City, you had to rob them from someone else. If Tang Cuo entered the mission with his current negative score, he definitely would be in trouble.
Half an hour later, Tang Cuo’s HP rose to 13 and he returned to East Cross Street. At this time, East Cross Street was much livelier than when Tang Cuo first came. From time to time, someone poked his head out from the window upstairs and examined everything in front of him in panic and confusion. On the roadside, there were people trembling in so much fear that even a wild cat could make them jump out of their own skin.
It seemed that a lot of new players were assigned to zone F.
The worst batch of players had truly lived up to their name.
Tang Cuo glanced quickly but didn’t find Chi Yan, but he also didn’t care much. He nonchalantly walked upstairs with a brand new trench coat and a large bag of daily necessities and didn’t want to make small talk with anyone.
The other people saw him and some clearly recognised his face, but they didn’t dare to step forward to say hello. Someone even shook his head frantically at him. Tang Cuo frowned and vaguely realised something, so he turned around and took a few steps. Sure enough ― the corridor was blocked.
A group of five youngsters in fancy clothes gathered there, two smoking and two playing cards, while the remaining one with blonde hair was playing with the steel rod in his hand. When they saw Tang Cuo approaching, the one of the smoking fellas raised his eyebrows and glanced at him, then spoke in an evil tone: “This pretty boy face – it must be him.”
Blonde Hair took a step forward with a smile and lumbered towards Tang Cuo. His mouth opened to let out a rowdy voice: “We’ve waited for you for half an hour. Newcomers must have a lot of nerves these days. You just arrived and already dared to rob someone else’s money and just leisurely went to the supermarket. What did you buy huh?”
Tang Cuo was expressionless and lazy to open his mouth.
“Yo.” Blonde Hair raised the rod to Tang Cuo’s heart and smiled evilly: “This one really has an attitude. Are you hurrying back to sleep?”
“Where is Zhang Xing?” Tang Cuo asked.
“Do you all hear that? He still bothers to care about Zhang Xing.” Blonde Hair happily gestured to his left and right companions and said: “Zhang Xing is still in your room. Do you want to go see if he’s dead? He can’t even deal with a newcomer. Even if he dies, his corpse will also be just a waste of space. How about you join us? With your face, I wonder how many people will be fooled?”
The other four laughed, then they smothered their cigarette butts and left the cards. They took out some strange-looking weapons from behind their back and came forward. Violence and ridicule could clearly be seen from their eyes.
Tang Cuo remained expressionless and turned to look at the street. People in groups of two or three were hiding not far away from here and sticking their heads out to look over, but no one dared to come.
“You can rest assured that no one will come to save you.” Blonde Hair sneered.
Hearing that, Tang Cuo just calmly took out a black steel cleaver from the plastic bag and grabbed its handle to feel the weight ― it was exactly how he liked it.
Blonde Hair paused slightly and raised one hand to stop his companions. He stared at Tang Cuo and said: “Do you want to fight against us with a kitchen knife and without any special abilities? I’m afraid you don’t even know where you are heading to. Little friend, if you don’t want to die a pathetic death, it’s not too late to beg for mercy.”
Tang Cuo asked: “Anything else?”
Blonde Hair finally lost his cool. This person, this poker face, this indifferent tone – all of them annoyed him to no ends. But at the exact moment he wanted to speak, Tang Cuo made an abrupt move.
Tang Cuo dashed forward and stood in front of Blonde Hair in the blink of an eye. He bent to one side and attacked, the cleaver in his hand moving at the speed of a flash. He smacked with the side of the blade and broke half of Blonde Hair’s teeth.
“Ouch!” Blonde Hair was sent flying upside down into his companions at the back, his teeth mixed with blood foam and his head in so much pain and dizziness, as though it had just been smashed by a door.
What abilities, what martial arts, what attacks ― all were just trash now.
The others were finally alarmed and raised their weapons, quietly mumbling how this was getting messier than expected. But Tang Cuo’s cleaver didn’t just stop there. He was so fast that even before the opponent could strike, the cleaver had already slammed down heavily from above.
Of all the martial arts tricks in this world, speed mattered the most.
This black steel cleaver’s blade was connected directly with its handle. The whole thing was entirely covered in a glorious dark shade with only the blade showing a dim, tiny luster of metal. It wasn’t very sharp, but it was supremely big and heavy.
With just one slam, even the immortals would return to Heaven.
Among all the basic equipment that a newcomer could get his hands on, this was the first choice for killing and robbing other people.
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”.