Qiu Yanzhi seemed unaware of what had happened. He continued to blink those bright eyes at He Zhou and smile.
His smile was so innocent and pure that it made others hate him.
A cold wind suddenly blew over, and Qiu Yanzhi glanced at the half-open window at the end of the corridor. His eyebrows furrowed together.
He took another small step forward, slipping both hands into He Zhou's coat and embracing him.
He leaned his head against He Zhou's chest and muttered, "He Zhou, I'm so cold."
He Zhou looked at Qiu Yanzhi expressionlessly.
Then he reached out and pried Qiu Yanzhi's arms off his body.
He Zhou pushed him away.
Confused, Qiu Yanzhi looked up at him. "...He Zhou?"
He Zhou looked at Qiu Yanzhi expressionlessly, his voice a dull monotone.
"Qiu Yanzhi, do you only like me because I look like that Qin He?"
Qiu Yanzhi vaguely felt that something was off, but he was so dizzy that he could only blink dumbly and nod his head.
He Zhou asked again, "Qiu Yanzhi, are you still drunk."
Qiu Yanzhi thought hard for a moment. "...A little."
He Zhou then grabbed Qiu Yanzhi's wrist and turned to walk away.
His grip was so strong that he almost crushed Qiu Yanzhi's wrist, causing him to frown in pain and exclaim, "He Zhou, you're hurting me!”
But He Zhou ignored him.
At the end of the corridor was a complimentary room offered by the karaoke place for booking the entire top floor.
He Zhou didn’t expect this room to be of use after all.
He took out the room card and opened the door.
Qiu Yanzhi looked at him in confusion. "He Zhou, what are you doing?"
He Zhou didn't say anything as he closed the door and pulled Qiu Yanzhi into the bathroom.
Qiu Yanzhi was about to ask again when He Zhou pushed him under the shower.
He then expressionlessly turned it on.
To the coldest temperature possible.
As the cold, biting water drizzled down from the top of his head, Qiu Yanzhi winced and sobered up for the most part in a flash. He instinctively tried to escape from the shower, but He Zhou tightly restrained both his hands and forced him to remain in place. Nonetheless, his futile struggles continued.
The weather was already cold enough to make people shiver in November, not to mention that Qiu Yanzhi was only wearing a thin shirt. The ice cold water flowing down from above stabbed into every part of his body like ice picks, quickly cooling his dizzy, feverish mind.
Qiu Yanzhi finally completely came to his senses.
Then he heard He Zhou's cold voice: "Qiu Yanzhi, are you awake."
He was awake.
Not only was he awake, he also knew exactly what heartless words had just come from his mouth.
Qiu Yanzhi's face turned pallid.
He Zhou finally let go of Qiu Yanzhi's wrists and turned off the shower. He looked at Qiu Yanzhi and asked.
"Qiu Yanzhi, do you still think I look like Qin He."
Qiu Yanzhi's face was already half drained of blood. His head jerked up hastily. Water dripped from his hair and traced the line of his chin down. He was soaking wet and looking rather haggard.
But He Zhou stood straight in front of him, wearing a custom-made black coat. The only traces of what had transpired were inconspicuous splashes of water on his body. Only his cuffs were as wet and haggard as Qiu Yanzhi. His clean and decent appearance created a clear contrast between the two of them.
He Zhou's eyes were devoid of warmth. He reached out to clasp Qiu Yanzhi’s chin and force the other to look up at him. Then he asked, "Qiu Yanzhi, do I look like him now."
Qiu Yanzhi was silent for a long time while he wiped the water from his face. His reply was hoarse, "He Zhou, I never tried to pretend you were him."
He paused, "You just look a lot like him. But I've never confused the two of you."
The corner of He Zhou’s mouth curled up into a sneer. "Why, because only my face reminds you of him?"
...No, because Qin He’s a human and you’re a NPC.
He Zhou took Qiu Yanzhi’s silence to be agreement.
His lips twitched like he was trying to smile but failed.
It was a long time before he asked, "Qiu Yanzhi...have you ever really liked me?"
Qiu Yanzhi closed his eyes for a long time before answering, "No."
He Zhou finally laughed. "Then why did you lie to me, Qiu Yanzhi."
"...I'm sorry." Qiu Yanzhi's voice was a little hoarse.
He Zhou looked at him. "Qiu Yanzhi...turns out I was crazy to think you had a heart."
The moment He Zhou finished speaking, he opened the bathroom door and prepared to leave, But just before he set foot outside, he turned back. “You know something Qiu Yanzhi? A deceitful, habitual liar like you doesn’t deserve to be loved.”
Qiu Yanzhi suddenly found it harder to breathe.
Ten years ago, Little Trash called him a liar and a cheat. Then he told him, “Xia Yuan, a person like you will never find love your entire life. You don’t deserve to be loved.”
Ten years later, He Zhou also told him, “You know something Qiu Yanzhi? A deceitful, habitual liar like you doesn’t deserve to be loved.”
Qiu Yanzhi suddenly felt his organs begin to twist and cramp. The aching pain from his heart and stomach seemed to be never ending. In the end, he almost felt like he was suffocating.
He Zhou had stepped out of the bathroom already. He had opened the room’s door and seemed to be heading out.
Qiu Yanzhi forcefully thumped his aching chest before stumbling out after He Zhou’s departing figure. He suddenly spoke in a hoarse voice:
"He Zhou, do you want to know the truth about what happened?"
He Zhou’s steps paused for a moment.
Then he turned his head. "What truth."
There was a smile on Qiu Yanzhi’s bloodless face.
"The truth about everything. I don't want to lie to you anymore."
He Zhou gave him a look. "What else have you lied to me about?"
"A lot of things."
Big Yellow suddenly rushed out. "Qiu Yanzhi, what are you trying to do?! Have you gone crazy?!?"
"I'm not crazy, Big Yellow." Qiu Yanzhi said to Big Yellow, "I’m just so tired. I want to get it all off my chest."
Big Yellow: "Then have you thought about the consequences?? Aren’t you afraid the entire world will collapse once you let an NPC know that this is just a game?!"
He Zhou furrowed his brows. "Who are you talking to?"
Qiu Yanzhi replied, "It's called Big Yellow. Well technically it's called the AI Assistant Robot."
Big Yellow was freaking out. "Shut up Qiu Yanzhi!! Are you out of your mind?? Your body seems feverish… Just calm down and don't be impulsive..."
Qiu Yanzhi turned to look at Big Yellow. "Big Yellow, if you keep arguing with me, I'll go and mute you with the control panel."
Big Yellow’s jaw dropped. "...Qiu Yanzhi, you really have gone crazy."
Qiu Yanzhi ignored it again and walked towards He Zhou. "He Zhou, from now on, every word I say to you will be truthful. What I’m about to tell you might seem completely illogical or incomprehensible, but please believe that I, I won't lie to you anymore.”
He also added, "He Zhou, have you been drinking?"
He Zhou: "No."
Qiu Yanzhi said, "Okay. Then you drive."
When Qiu Yanzhi left the room, the wind from the corridor blew on him and made him shiver. Only then did he remember that he was completely wet from head to toe.
He wanted to tell He Zhou that he was going to buy some clothes first, but before he could say anything, He Zhou had already left him behind.
Qiu Yanzhi pursed his lips but didn't say anything. He quickly followed after the man.
They very quickly reached the bottom of the stairs. The people rushing to and fro in the bustling lobby glanced at Qiu Yanzhi with varying degrees of subtleness like they thought he was a wretched vagrant.
But He Zhou never gave him a second glance.
Qiu Yanzhi looked down, a sour sensation rising in his nose.
He Zhou opened the car door and said, "Where are you going."
Qiu Yanzhi: "...My clothes are still wet."
He Zhou looked at him, his tone aloof and indifferent: "I don't have time to go to the mall with you."
Qiu Yanzhi opened his mouth but eventually relented. "Forget it. Let's go straight to Lingyue Manor."
He went around to the other side to open the passenger door.
"Qiu Yanzhi," He Zhou suddenly called out to him, "you'll dirty my seat."
Qiu Yanzhi awkwardly let go of the door handle.
He stood in place somewhat uneasily, seemingly unsure of what he should do.
Then he suddenly thought of something as a nearby clothing store came into view. He hastily said, “I’ll go buy some clothes. Ten minutes tops.”
Qiu Yanzhi only took a step forward when he paused again. "My wallet is in my jacket."
And the jacket was back in the karaoke place where many of his colleagues were.
Qiu Yanzhi didn't want them to see him in such a state.
But He Zhou simply replied, "Go and get it."
Qiu Yanzhi's face paled drastically. He could only stammer out an agreement.
When he left, He Zhou turned to stare at his departing figure. There was not a trace of emotion in the man’s inky dark eyes.
He Zhou only looked away when Qiu Yanzhi disappeared into the building. He reopened the car door and sat in the driver's seat.
He was quiet for a long while after.
He didn't even fasten his seatbelt.
His eyes were fixated on the heating switch.
But he didn’t move a muscle.
Qiu Yanzhi’s fingertips were turning white when he pushed the karaoke room’s door open.
Fortunately, things were so busy inside that no one noticed him come in. It was only when he went to the sofa to get his coat that someone suddenly called out.
"Qiu Yanzhi?" Yang Fengcheng exclaimed with shock, "Why are you so wet?!"
Immediately, some of the people nearby turned to look at him. They asked with some surprise:
"Is it raining outside?"
"Qiu Yanzhi, what happened? Aren’t you cold?"
"You didn't fall into the river, did you? But wait, there's no rivers around here??"
"Where’s President He? Didn't you leave with him?"
Qiu Yanzhi obviously felt very cold, but he somehow felt a dry heat begin to radiate from around his body. It made the wet clothes touching his skin all scratchy and uncomfortable. A flush rose on his cheeks and ears.
"Come here... Come here… Come to warm up by the heating vent..."
Qiu Yanzhi was pulled forward by someone.
Qiu Yanzhi broke away from their grasp. He grabbed his jacket and said with some embarrassment, "...I have some urgent business so I'll leave first. Have fun without me guys."
Qiu Yanzhi felt like he was almost running away as he sprinted out.
After his hasty departure from the karaoke place, he darted to the nearest clothing shop and bought some clothes.
The shop assistant didn’t let him take any merchandise to the fitting rooms after she saw how wet he was.
So Qiu Yanzhi went to pay before changing his clothes.
After changing, Qiu Yanzhi panted as he ran towards He Zhou's car again. He opened his mouth to explain what took him so long after getting in, how the shop assistant didn’t let him...
"Seat belt." He Zhou said.
...He almost forgot that He Zhou should be sick of his nonsense by now.
Qiu Yanzhi closed his mouth and put on his seat belt.
Then He Zhou started the car and drove off. Neither of them said a word the entire trip.
Qiu Yanzhi was in such a hurry to buy clothes that he didn't have the time to pick and choose. He took whatever was nearest. As a result, they were still on the thin side. This, compared with his slightly feverish body temperature, made him feel chilly again after a while.
He looked at the heater switch on the car for a long time before quietly glancing at He Zhou, who was driving.
Qiu Yanzhi pursed his lips tightly and decided to not touch the switch in the end.
He wrapped his jacket tighter around himself and then rubbed his ice cold face with his ice cold hands to warm up.
The place Qiu Yanzhi took He Zhou to was Lingyue Manor.
The place where they got married in the last round.
Qiu Yanzhi took He Zhou to the garden at the back.
Then he took him to the bushes.
Qiu Yanzhi: "Do you still remember this place?"
He Zhou: "Yes, I do."
He Zhou had pushed Qiu Yanzhi away during the wedding and was on the phone here with Meng Qikang.
Qiu Yanzhi hid in the bushes to eavesdrop on him but got caught.
Qiu Yanzhi: "A cherry fell on my head at that time."
He Zhou gave a cold grunt of acknowledgement.
Qiu Yanzhi stared at the tree in front of him and stopped talking.
He Zhou didn't know what he was trying to do, but he didn't open his mouth to ask either.
About a minute passed.
A cherry suddenly fell.
Qiu Yanzhi looked at his watch and said, "It’s 18:35 right now."
He Zhou finally spoke up, "What are you doing?"
Qiu Yanzhi said, "I'm looking for evidence for you or else you'll think I'm crazy. Let’s wait another three minutes."
Qiu Yanzhi looked down at his watch.
After a moment, he began to count down.
"Five, four, three, two, one."
The second cherry fell.
He Zhou froze.
Is…this an artificial fake tree?
He Zhou bent down and picked up the cherry that had just fallen on the ground.
Then he pinched the cherry with his thumb and forefinger and rubbed it not too gently. The flesh cracked and juice flowed out.
...It’s a real cherry.
Qiu Yanzhi looked at the tree in front of him and said, "In three minutes, another cherry will fall from this spot."
Qiu Yanzhi suddenly asked him, "He Zhou, when do cherry trees fruit?”
“In May or June.”
Qiu Yanzhi asked again, “What month are we in now?”
He Zhou’s expression suddenly became strange.
If it was November now and cherry trees fruit in May or June…
But why didn’t he find it strange before Qiu Yanzhi brought it up?
...It was like someone had purposely erased his ability to detect such inconsistencies.
Qiu Yanzhi knew based on He Zhou’s expression that one cherry tree alone wasn’t enough to make the man question his entire world.
This cherry tree would drop a cherry every three minutes regardless of the season but only when a player was nearby. This environment program was the first bug Qiu Yanzhi had discovered in game.
But the game world was very large. Similarly, such bugs were not uncommon.
Since Qiu Yanzhi could discover one, he naturally could discover another.
So he reached for He Zhou’s hand, intending to lead him to the second bug he had found in game.
But Qiu Yanzhi paused halfway. He grabbed He Zhou’s sleeve instead.
They walked for less than twenty steps to a trash can under a streetlamp.
The trash can was very clean and completely empty.
Qiu Yanzhi took off his jacket and threw it inside.
He glanced at his watch. “He Zhou, wait five minutes.”
So He Zhou stayed where he was and they waited five minutes together.
It was a very long five minutes.
He Zhou stared at the watch.
He watched the second hand tick forward one second at a time.
The entire world seemed to quieten.
The only sound left was the ticking of the second hand.
Four minutes left.
Then three minutes.
“It’s time.” Qiu Yanzhi said.
He looked up at the trash can. He Zhou followed suit.
The jacket that Qiu Yanzhi threw in was suddenly enveloped by blue light. A dense cloud of ever changing numbers emerged wherever the light spread. The numbers continued to shift and expand, eventually filling the entire trash can. Then all the colours became muted and eventually faded away.
Everything returned to their previous state when all the numbers disappeared.
--There was nothing in the trash can.
He Zhou could only stand in place. A chill spread up his spine, making all four of his limbs feel numb.
Qiu Yanzhi took a deep breath and turned to He Zhou. “He Zhou, aren’t you considering making a full dive game?”
He turned to He Zhou and stated, word by word:
“He Zhou, this world that you’re in is a full dive game.”
“I’m a player. And you...are a NPC.”