Chapter 22 – This is 001

The search that lasted half the night concluded, and the unidentified strange species were handed over to specialists for containment. All the strange species’ collections were thrown to the forensic department.

Not willing to continue the futile work of searching without any leads, Xu Gao, taking advantage of being the first discoverer, stayed back in the forensic department, claiming to assist with the investigation.

He didn’t assist much in the investigation, but managed to grab quite a few snacks from the forensic department. In the afternoon, he even encountered Hu Li, who dropped by for afternoon tea at the usual time.

A small portion of valuables, which were considered normal in meaning, taken out from the storage room, had been counted and classified. These seemed to be the strange species’ stolen goods from various places and would require a notice to find their rightful owners.

The rest of the unclassified items, whose specific value remained unknown, were left on the table. At a glance, they looked like a pile of rubbish.

Naturally, amidst the chaos, Hu Li grabbed a forensic department’s mini cake. Approaching the platform where things were placed, he held a plate and scanned from left to right, stopping near the end.

After placing down the mini cake, he picked up a few shards of glass and asked, “Were these found there as well?”

It was an obvious question, and Xu Gao nodded. One of the forensic personnel sitting nearby remarked, “We’ve seen these before. It’s a piece of glass with a peculiar structure. We’ll clear it out later.”

Hu Li didn’t respond to the mere glass explanation but turned to Xu Gao. “Was this broken from the start?”

The glass shard was an item in the game, a sort of storage medium, randomly generated and not present in all instances. It couldn’t be destroyed using in-game tools or abilities; only physical damage could destroy it. It could randomly record images within the instance and be read using special tools.

The retrieved images could be meaningless or contain helpful visuals of previous players escaping from dungeons or scenes of people dying in despair.

Many were searching for this item, unaware that it had been obtained by the Collector.

Xu Gao nodded, “Yeah, I guess so.”

It was too small for him to have noticed from the beginning, and he didn’t recall ever stepping on it.

Hu Li crouched to piece the shards together and said, “Heard someone was with you last night.”

“Him?”

Anticipating the other’s thoughts, Xu Gao waved his hand. “It couldn’t have been him. He stood by me yesterday and didn’t move an inch. At first, he didn’t even want to enter that hole.”

Hu Li casually inquired and then gathered all the fragments with a piece of cloth. He looked at the forensic personnel and stated, “I’ll take this with me. I’ll report to your department head later.”

*

The next day when Jiang Yujin woke up, it was already noon, and the high schooler had already gone to school.

Blearily, Jiang Yujin got up, washed his face, and with half-closed eyes, went to the kitchen to find some food. He grabbed the breakfast left by the industrious high schooler and finally opened his eyes when he turned on the television.

But just as he was enjoying the TV moment, someone called.

He put the phone on speaker and placed it on the table, watching TV while listening to the phone and not forgetting to eat.

The call was complicated, but in simple terms, a friend of a friend’s former neighbor contacted him, saying they urgently needed someone’s help.

Thinking about the recent commitments he’d taken and feeling the need for his own time, Jiang Yujin decisively declined.

“Just for a day’s work, and you’ll get half a month’s salary.”

Picking up the phone to his ear politely, Jiang Yujin asked, “Where?”

The other person mentioned a location.

Jiang Yujin jotted it down on a piece of paper, feeling oddly familiar with the place name.

That afternoon, the high schooler returned home unusually early, saying, “I won’t be coming back tomorrow, going to a classmate’s.”

Jiang Yujin was an open-minded parent, nodded in agreement, and reminded the other to be polite when visiting others.

Chen Jing nodded.

That evening, the two had dinner together, and the next day, while the high schooler went to school, Jiang Yujin slept until he naturally woke up, then rode his own electric scooter out.

As the scooter went farther, greenery along the roadside increased, and villas started to appear.

The destination was a grand estate, with a wide lawn and a solemn gate exuding an entirely different air of opulence compared to the electric scooter.

There was someone by the gate who opened it upon seeing him.

Jiang Yujin patted the electric scooter in his hand and asked, “Where should I park this?”

So, the electric scooter successfully entered the parking lot and found its own spot among a crowd of luxury cars.

Later on, Jiang Yujin met the supervisor who had contacted him.

Jiang Yujin familiarized himself with the surroundings as the supervisor guided him. The supervisor mentioned, “The old master is having his birthday banquet tonight. Everything was arranged a month ago, but a few people encountered last-minute issues.”

He urgently found a few replacements but felt it wasn’t enough. He didn’t want to casually bring someone in just to fill a gap, so he mentioned it to a friend, who recommended the boss of an office, finally filling the last vacancy.

Observing the bustling lobby, Jiang Yujin sensed the importance people here attached to the evening’s banquet.

He valued his salary, so as the supervisor spoke, he received a set of work attire.

The uniform comprised a classic white shirt, black trousers, and a tie, giving a somewhat formal appearance.

While an adult man could dress himself, Jiang Yujin wasn’t accustomed to tying a tie. After coming out of the changing room, the supervisor looked at the tie, tied in a manner resembling a red scarf, and fell silent for a moment before offering some help.

With the tie properly secured, the supervisor examined Jiang Yujin for a moment, somewhat surprised. After two seconds of contemplation, he said, “You’ll be in charge of receiving the guests then.”

With the right pay, Jiang Yujin nodded.

“Just that your expression isn’t quite suitable.”

His eyelids drooped, seemingly disinterested in everything or equally disdainful of everyone.

The supervisor manually lifted Jiang Yujin’s eyelids, but as soon as the hand was withdrawn, the eyelids drooped again, repeating this pattern.

The supervisor sighed, “Well…”

He then suggested, “You’ll be responsible for delivering dishes in the kitchen later.”

Jiang Yujin had no objections, nodded, and proceeded to the kitchen to familiarize himself with the environment and procedures.

In the kitchen, there was another temporary worker, like him. Upon meeting, they instantly got along. Jiang Yujin warmly referred to him as Zhao Liu. Since there wasn’t much for them to do at the moment, they squatted in a corner, chatting.

Zhao Liu mentioned that many VIPs would arrive that night, expressing his initial intention to greet and mingle with them but deciding to stay in the kitchen due to social anxiety.

While listening to Zhao Liu chatter away, Jiang Yujin’s eyebrows lifted at the mention of “social anxiety.” He was about to respond when suddenly, the ground trembled.

Zhao Liu felt it too and turned to Jiang Yujin, his voice trembling slightly, “That was a tremor just now, right?”

Jiang Yujin nodded, “If I didn’t misinterpret the sensation.”

The supervisor passed by the door and noticed them both squatting in the corner. He reassured, “Don’t worry, there’s construction downstairs.”

As the supervisor walked away, Zhao Liu leaned in and whispered to Jiang Yujin, “I heard the owner of this estate keeps some strange creature as a pet beneath the manor.”

Jiang Yujin responded, “Is that so?”

The kitchen remained busy, time passing swiftly. By the time Jiang Yujin finished a couple of rounds of a Xiaoxiaole in the restroom, he could already see the courtyard lit up with lights and faintly hear the lively atmosphere outside.

Guests were starting to arrive, and the electric scooter in the parking lot was surrounded by numerous luxury cars.

Someone called out to him from behind. Jiang Yujin adjusted his tie slightly and turned, heading back into the kitchen.

*

Special Investigation Unit Headquarters

Vice Captain Hu Li unusually didn’t leave work on time, strolling around in his own floral shirt.

Xu Gao helped from the Forensic Department by coming to collect the report Hu Li had promised earlier, only to find him still tinkering with the previously taken glass shards.

“You’re just in time.”

Noticing Xu Gao coming in, Hu Li gestured and said, “Help me stabilize this piece of glass.”

He requested it so casually that Xu Gao approached, put on gloves, and steadied it as directed.

The meticulous act of piecing together a shattered glass fragment seemed completely out of character for Hu Li. Yet, he surprisingly focused on it, successfully reassembling it. Every shard fell back into place except for the cracks that couldn’t be repaired.

Struggling to put the glass back together, Hu Li slowly withdrew his hand, then bent over his own desk, rummaging through drawers.

He found another slightly larger circular glass piece.

It was the first time Xu Gao realized that Hu Li had stuffed such an item into his desk. “What’s this?”

“It’s a medium,” Hu Li placed the disc on the table, saying, “You can think of it as a player.”

“?”

Xu Gao didn’t quite understand, but that didn’t stop him from wanting to see what exactly Hu Li was up to.

Hu Li moved the glass shards onto the disc.

Perhaps it truly was a player or maybe not.

Xu Gao watched as the once transparent disc gradually turned black and eventually displayed a dark image.

It seemed like a barren land, yet different from his familiar world. Blood-red sky—though perhaps not, as he preemptively assumed it to be the sky—stretched over an expanse of red and yellow grass that seemed to extend endlessly.

Despite no other elements in the scene, an indescribable sensation seized his breath. Xu Gao’s heart raced, an inexplicable sense of panic filling his chest.

Though he was merely watching the images, he felt the suffocating oppression and despair enveloping the space.

Due to the damage, the footage was unstable and erratic, many scenes were blurry or partially lost, lacking coherence. In a blink of an eye, the wilderness revealed a massive, shattered body of a strange species, with jagged black bones protruding from torn skin, twitching slightly.

A vague figure slowly approached from afar, its form indistinct.

Hu Li’s expression shifted slightly. Xu Gao widened his eyes, trying to get a closer look. At that moment of proximity, the image distorted, rapidly transitioning through several scenes accompanied by brief blackouts. When it reappeared clearly, the once vivid red and yellow grassland was now obscured by heaps of bodies.

Suddenly, a set of eyes from one of the bodies appeared unexpectedly, startling Xu Gao, causing him to step back.

The previously seen figure emerged again in the footage, amidst various strange species, each conservatively estimated to be of high risk in today’s terms.

In just a few blinks, the figure in the footage moved at inhuman speed, toppling colossal, grotesque creatures as blood gushed forth.

The figure rose from the pile of bodies, its blurry form oddly frail. Slowly, it walked away.

In the fleeting moment before the figure disappeared from sight, the image became clear.

The winds swept across the wasteland, revealing white hair billowing in the wind, its tips stained crimson—a scene of chilling desolation.

Hu Li said, “This is 001.”

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