Chapter 7: On A Snowy Night, He Returns (1)
T/N: Lo and behold, we are entering the first game dungeon!
After a six-hour break, Tang Cuo’s HP returned to 30 and wouldn’t rise any further. The bright -8 in the panel laughed at him silently. It seemed that as long as he had a negative score, he wouldn’t be able to recover his full state within one day and would always be dangling around death.
The young man’s face in the mirror looked as pale as before.
Tang Cuo pulled out the chocolate beans from the supermarket plastic bag and put two in his mouth. Then he placed the box in his pocket and walked to the window to check the situation again to discover that ―
There was no day in Yong Ye City.
It was more appropriate to say this rather than saying that there was no sun in Yong Ye City, because there was also no moon last night.
Yong Ye City at the moment looked exactly the same as last night, but maybe because the new players had gone to rest, the street was much quieter. Tang Cuo intended to go to the game hall to take up a mission to train himself and at the same time boost the negative score.
Although laziness and dancing around death were his traits, after all, he didn’t actually want to die. In most cases, he just didn’t worry much or it just didn’t matter much.
As he pushed the door out, the next door opened almost simultaneously.
“Morning.” Today, Mr. Clown didn’t wear a fringe leather jacket, rather, he changed into army green overalls and military boots. His messy hair was still tugged up randomly with two hair ties, his figure tall and captivating. The difference was that a silver mask was covering his face from above the nose.
Tang Cuo nodded. He had neither ill feelings nor special affection towards this man.
The two went downstairs together.
Jin Cheng put his hands in his trouser pockets and walked leisurely behind Tang Cuo. He seemed to not have slept well and was even yawning. Tang Cuo didn’t care, but after he reached East Cross Street and walked some distance, Jin Cheng was still following.
“Is this on your way?” Tang Cuo looked sideways.
“Did you forget what happened last night?” Jin Cheng kindly reminded him: “You made me fall from Zone A to Zone F. Not only did I have to rise up level by level, but I also wasted a potion to save your life last night. If I don’t rely on you now, then who else?”
Tang Cuo didn’t believe in a single strand of hair on this man. From what Zhang Xing said about the elites of Zone A, they were at the top of the entire food chain of Yong Ye City. Even if they fell back from Zone A to Zone F, it could be said that they would level back up very quickly.
Relying on such an inexperienced newcomer like Tang Cuo had no other uses beside getting troubles. Tang Cuo also didn’t believe that the other man could already see through his power and wanted to make friends with him just after two encounters.
Was he looking for an opportunity to get revenge? This was even more nonsense.
But he was following on his own will, and the road was so big that Tangcuo couldn’t control where he was going. It was about 10 o’clock in the morning at the time. Although there was no daytime in Yong Ye City, the shops at the corner of East Cross Street were really open at this early hour.
The owner was a middle-aged lady who was blind in one eye, her expression cold and not very friendly, but the buns she made were especially fragrant. It was written on the blackboard at the door: 800 RMB for a vegetable bun and 1,100 RMB for a meat bun.
“Madam, do you accept credit?” Tang Cuo was out of money again.
“Go next door.” The owner answered very simply.
Jin Cheng smiled at the back and right under Tang Cuo’s watch, he bought six buns, three meat’s and three vegetables’, but he gave none to Tang Cuo.
Tang Cuo turned his head and left.
Jin Cheng’s long legs just needed a few strides to catch up with Tang Cuo. He ate the delicious steamed buns while teasing Tang Cuo: “Do you have any special skills? If you have the skills, maybe you can take the special exam of Yong Ye City and open a store just like that Madam. There is also no need to do missions.”
Tang Cuo: “You can do it by yourself.”
If it was so simple, then everyone would have done it and not have to struggle between life and death.
Jin Cheng smiled and didn’t speak anymore. He ate the buns slowly and halted halfway to buy two cups of soy milk and a few dough fritters. Tang Cuo didn’t wait for him. He saw a bus stop on the roadside and glanced over, but he needed to pay to get on the bus so he brushed off the idea.
At this time, Jin Cheng caught up with him again and swayed the remaining two buns in his hand, then asked with a smile: “Do you want it?”
Tang Cuo took it casually, looking totally unconcerned.
Jin Cheng: “You aren’t angry?”
Tang Cuo asked: “Why should I be angry?”
Jin Cheng: “Because I didn’t give it to you just now, and this is leftover from what I’ve eaten.”
“Oh.” Tang Cuo only focused on the bag in Jin Cheng’s hand: “Do you still want the remaining dough fritters and soy milk?”
This was a thing that outsiders often couldn’t understand about Tang Cuo. His personality was odd and he never followed universal principles while doing his work, thus often distancing himself into his own party.
Jin Cheng handed all the remaining to him and even helped to put the straw into the soy milk. He seemed to be even more curious about Tang Cuo and didn’t move his eyes away from Tang Cuo’s face.
Tang Cuo ate whatever was left to him and couldn’t care less. Just stare then. It wasn’t like there would be any less meat.
After two buns, a dough fritter and a bag of soy milk, Tang Cuo was 80 percent full. About half an hour later, the two entered the central area from Zone F and saw the outline of the game hall from afar.
Jin Cheng also figured out his destination and asked: “There are special equipment stores and potion stores here. They give discounts to newcomers, don’t you want to see them first?”
“No, I’m broke.” Tang Cuo said boldly and walked ahead without looking back. All the money ransacked from Zhang Xing had been used up, and it was impossible to exchange for more with points. The most regrettable thing was that his cleaver couldn’t be placed in the Inventory Bar. Fortunately, he still had a Skill card which could be put inside inventory, and it might come in handy at a critical moment.
However, he didn’t intend to tell Jin Cheng that for the time being.
Jin Cheng no longer spilled any nonsense as the two reached the front of the game hall. Tang Cuo stopped and turned to look at him, at which point the two exchanged their names perfectly in coordination.
“Cheng Jin.” (T/N: Yep, it’s a fake name.)
No one knew where this coordination magic even came from.
Before going in, Tang Cuo asked the last question: “Why did you cover your face?”
Jin Cheng thought for a few seconds with his arms crossed as if thinking about something major, then tilted his head slightly and replied: “Maybe it’s because of the scar on my face?”
He smiled again and said in a nonchalant tone: “I have a lot of enemies. This face is too recognisable. If someone knows that I’ve fallen back to Zone F, it won’t be good. Although I don’t mind beating people up, peace has always been my pursuit.”
Tang Cuo wanted to roll his eyes but he held back.
In the game hall, it was as bustling as always.
Jin Cheng brought Tang Cuo through each and every game that he was thoroughly familiar with, but he didn’t say much about them. It was all concluded in one sentence ― “These games are boring. Do you want to try out the claw machine? There are many Easter eggs hidden in it, but some contain pretty bad debuffs like lethal types.”
Tang Cuo of course refused, and at this point, he saw three electronic screens hanging in the center of the hall. The screen facing him was “Mr. Crow’s Blacklist” with K27216 standing gloriously at the last position.
“Aren’t you a powerful one?” Jin Cheng also saw it.
“Since the crow vents his anger on you, it proves that you deserve to be angry at in the first place, so ― which one are you?” Tang Cuo asked.
“Do you want to make a guess?” Jin Cheng neither denied nor admitted it with a smirk. He really wanted Tang Cuo to make a bold guess, but Tang Cuo didn’t do as he wanted, rather, he was uninterested.
He turned to look at the mission.
The wall of the game hall, also known as the mission wall, seemed to be made of some kind of black crystal with thousands of missions blinking on it. From a distance, it looked like a data stream that appeared when a hacker attacked the computer. The whole hall was filled with players. From time to time, some players walked to the wall and stopped there for a while, their expressions either heavy, numb or somewhat relaxed. They spoke in groups of two or three, then entered the mission wall.
A wave rippled through the wall as people walked into it without any hindrance before disappearing in front of everyone in the blink of an eye.
“The missions here come at random. The number of people in each mission is uncertain, the content is uncertain and the difficulty is uncertain, but if you go in at the same time, there is a high probability that you will be sent to the same dungeon. In Yong Ye City, almost everyone will eventually have a fixed team. It is easy to die if you are alone.” Jin Cheng explained.
“Was that your teammate yesterday?” He said and suddenly came to a realisation. Then he asked: “Can’t people from different zones do missions together?”
Jin Cheng smiled, holding his arms: “You are correct, sir, now I can only team up with you, the rookie. If I can’t level up back to Zone A, then we have to both die in the game, altogether.”
Tang Cuo raised his eyebrows: “Are you sure that if two names on the Blacklist are put together, the mission will be easier to clear?”
“That depends on our luck.”
“My luck is horrible.”
“Do you think I’ll let you go by saying that?”
Tang Cuo just wanted to give him a kind reminder because his luck was often really bad. But if the other person wanted to go looking for death, he wouldn’t be able to stop that person. Then it wasn’t his business anyway. And truth be told, he also wanted to see if this Blacklist was correct.
“Let’s go.” Without another word, Tang Cuo walked straight into the wall. Just pure blackness appeared in front of his eyes. He couldn’t see his five fingers, and even Jin Cheng who was just standing next to him had disappeared.
About five minutes later, a familiar bell rang.
“We’ve detected a new player joining the game. Priority has been triggered, kickstarting the mission [On A Snowy Night, He Returns] of the Blizzard Mountain Mansion series. There are a total of eight players in this round and your goal is ― to kill Ying Jun.
Tang Cuo found himself standing in the main hall on the first floor of a lodge.
This was a youth hostel with a green pine tree sign hanging behind the counter. Looking around, the place’s decoration was exquisite and fuzzy, with small wall lamps scattered everywhere and warm golden light shining on the white walls. Many pieces of crafts and landscape photos were also hung up, and just like any other youth hostel, there was also a wish wall.
In the dumpling making activity that was taking place now, there were four people including Tang Cuo.
The hour hand pointed at 6 o’clock in the evening.
“Sir, do you want to come to help out?” The staff was a round-faced girl who smiled brightly when she spoke, looking very pleased.
“No, I don’t.” Tang Cuo said coolly, his eyes glancing at the other two people. They were a man and a woman of about 20 years old, wearing wind jackets of different styles and sitting closely to each other.
The moment Tang Cuo met their eyes, the two almost jumped.
Without a doubt, they must be players.
But the two obviously knew each other, and they quickly bowed their heads to whisper together. Tang Cuo didn’t plan to talk to them and walked straight to the door of the hostel, then he lifted up the windshield and looked out.
It was an old-style red wooden door, where one could see the outside through the glass. At this point, the ice had formed on the glass and the wind was blowing strongly, the air so cold it pierced into his bones.
A mountain mansion trapped in a blizzard was a typical isolation setting in detective fiction. Tang Cuo understood the plot of the mission in a blink as he listened to the system announcement ― the new player was him, so the trigger was because of his priority ― this mission plot was probably based on his profession back when he was alive, with the purpose of giving the new player an easier head start.
Tang Cuo was a private investigator, but in his two-year detective career, he was rarely exposed to homicides.
On the other hand, cats and dogs going missing in the city were aplenty.
There were also a lot of cheating cases, but Tang Cuo always ended up having to take disturbing photos, so over time, he focused on finding cats and dogs. In addition to looking for cats and dogs, he also handled anti-fraud.
Recently, the elderly tended to not believe in their children, rather, they turned to believe in scammers. That said, they believed in Tang Cuo even more than scammers. It wasn’t because Tang Cuo was talented, but because he was good-looking, with pleasant facial features and courteous manners ― the type that often screamed ‘top student’, ‘someone else’s child’, ‘whatever he says must be right’ or ‘grandma’s baby boy’.
Otherwise, Zhang Xing wouldn’t have been tricked.
The staff’s voice, still with a smile, came from his back: “The broadcast said that it would take seven days to wait for the blizzard to stop and for the road repairers to come. 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. But don’t worry, heavy snow is common here, so our hostel not only has its own generator but also stores a lot of food. Even if it takes ten days or half a month, there won’t be any issue. Oh, there’s also hot water, definitely enough hot water for everyone!”
Tang Cuo said nothing.
It was at this moment that there was a scream from upstairs.
The man and woman in the wind jackets looked up alarmingly but all they could see was a gust of wind. The young man who was standing by the door had already run up the stairs. The two hurriedly followed suit, and upon reaching the second floor, they found everyone gathered in the room at the end of the corridor.
This was a common bathroom. Right behind the door were two washbasins and a row of lockers, and further inside were four shower cubicles separated by plywood. There was no distinction between men’s and women’s.
Right this very minute, everyone was gathering in front of the lockers and staring at the second locker from the left, their expressions either astonished or solemn. Tang Cuo stepped forward to find a corpse hidden in the locker.
It was a male of about 30 years old, with a well-built body, short hair and some stubble on his chin, wearing a black fur collar leather jacket. His cause of death remained unknown.
After sweeping a glance at the people, including the man and woman in the wind jackets and Tang Cuo himself, there were a total of eight people. The announcement just said that there were eight players in this game. Everyone was already here. What about Cheng Jin?
Did he not come in?
When Tang Cuo frowned, a middle-aged man in a jacket with calm manners drew an ID card from the pocket of the body. The light in the bathroom was dim, but it didn’t stop him from reading the name on the ID card correctly ―
“Li Ying Jun.”
“Ying Jun?!” Someone who looked like a student with a buzz cut hurried over to look at it, then stood stunned: “Isn’t the mission this time to kill Ying Jun? Why is the person already dead?”
He couldn’t help but look to his side at the boy with black-framed glasses. The boy pushed up his glasses and said, “It’s a scenario of a blizzard mountain mansion. It definitely won’t be just a simple murder.”
The two looked like they knew each other.
“You’re right.” The middle-aged man glanced at everyone and said, “May I ask who is new here? Everyone should have heard the announcement. There is a new player among us and the priority has been triggered, so this dungeon should be something that person is good at. “
Hearing that, everyone looked at each other, but no one admitted.
Tang Cuo was very certain at first, but he accidentally discovered that there was another newcomer beside him ― the lady in red whom he met in the arena last night.
She was folding her arms and leaning on the door frame. She pretended to not catch Tang Cuo’s eyes, but she also didn’t expose him.
No one answered and the middle-aged man’s brows furrowed slightly.
There was no special reaction from Black Glasses as he just went to examine the body at once. “There is blood in the back of the neck, which should be caused by a blunt instrument. No wounds are found elsewhere. The body is stiff, and the temperature here is low, so he likely has been dead for a few hours. Who was the first to find the body?”
“That person isn’t there.” A pretty schoolgirl with short hair raised her hand and pointed to the window where a crack was left: “He jumped out of the window.”
“There is another person?” Buzz Cut blinked. He counted each person by each person with a dumbfounded expression and asked, “Aren’t there already eight people here?”
The girl shrugged: “You ask me, I ask whom?”
Buzz Cut wanted to ask something else, but at this point, a cold wind rushed in from behind his collar and sent shivers down his spine. He turned around to find himself staring at a silver mask.
It was from the window. The person pushed the window and came inside, himself clad in black military boots and army overalls, his build as sturdy as a cheetah. When he looked up, a few snowflakes were still sticking on his silver mask, then with a flick of his right hand, a bloody bronze trophy rolled to the side of the body.
“Are you looking for me?” He asked.
The author has something to say: Jin Cheng just never takes the usual route.
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”.