Chapter 25 – Team Progress (4/4)
After discussing the news on TV, two aunties began gossiping about the happenings in the neighborhood. Jiang Yujin, eager to listen in, leaned closer, but his attempt to eavesdrop got him in trouble with his former boss, who gave him a knock on the head for disrupting work.
He slowly moved back to his original position.
As they talked about local affairs, one of the aunties slapped her thigh and said, “I remember now, isn’t there an unfinished building near our area? I heard from Xiao Su on the third floor that when she took a shortcut past there one evening, she thought she saw someone inside the building.”
The other auntie’s heart skipped a beat, sending shivers down her spine.
Jiang Yujin listened intently but felt like he was missing something. Without turning back, he waved to the barber shop owner and said, “Bring me some melon seeds.”
Jiang Yujin ended up being thrown out of the shop by the owner, who had clenched fists.
The shop’s door was soundproof; standing outside, Jiang Yujin couldn’t hear what was being said inside. He still wanted to listen to the gossip but, after some contemplation, decided to buy a pack of cigarettes to bribe the boss and get back in.
The convenience store was tucked around the corner of the street, surrounded by shops that were open and closed intermittently. Eventually, it was the only one still open, while the other shops remained shut.
Approaching the store’s entrance, he noticed that things seemed different inside than usual.
The most noticeable change was the cashier enthusiastically raising their hand and not putting it down.
As Jiang Yujin approached, the automatic doors opened. Looking at the cashier, he said while walking, “Pack of cigarettes.”
He paused, struggling to think, and added, “The slightly more expensive ones.”
The convenience store was eerily quiet. The cashier didn’t respond, their eyes fixed on one spot, and the only sound was the welcoming music that played when the motion-sensor door opened.
Following the cashier’s gaze, Jiang Yujin saw a person wearing a hat and a mask standing not too far away, holding a gun pointed at the cashier.
The gun didn’t look conventional; it had a unique design with dark red lines that seemed to move and emit a faint light.
It was evidently a convenience store robbery in progress.
Temporarily diverting attention from the cigarettes, Jiang Yujin seemed oblivious to the tense atmosphere. He turned his toe and walked toward the robber holding the gun.
As he got closer, the person with the hat and mask instantly aimed the gun at him and warned in a low, threatening voice, “Don’t come any closer.”
But Jiang Yujin did come closer. He leaned in to take a better look at the gun and then asked the robber, “Do you know what this is?”
The robber hesitated, then stubbornly replied, “Of course, I do.”
Jiang Yujin, curious, probed further, “Where did you get it from?”
These two suddenly began a conversation, and he felt his raised hand growing sore.
The person in the hat and mask, gripping the gun tighter, didn’t respond to Jiang Yujin’s question.
Jiang Yujin put his hand on the robber’s shoulder and said, “Why are you being so standoffish?”
The robber attempted to move but felt an odd sensation near his neck. Lowering his head, he saw a small, knife-like object that appeared out of nowhere, slender and pointed, touching his skin. It seemed like it could pierce through his neck with just a little force.
His raised arm inexplicably began to numb, making it difficult to apply strength. The gun he was holding started slipping, eventually caught by a slightly pale hand.
Jiang Yujin took the gun and glanced at it before turning to the cashier, who still had his hand raised. “This is a toy gun,” he said.
Though it didn’t quite look like one, the sincerity in Jiang Yujin’s expression made the cashier uncertain, so he cautiously lowered his hand.
The man with the hat was then escorted out of the convenience store by the person who had intervened.
After leaving the store, Jiang Yujin led the man into a narrow alley where there were no surveillance cameras. He glanced at the gun and casually remarked, “You’re using this thing just to rob a convenience store? How pathetic.”
Feeling inexplicably offended, the man hesitated to speak or make any unnecessary movements.
Jiang Yujin lowered his head again and asked, “Where did you get this from?”
Feeling the overwhelming threat, the man hesitated before admitting, “It was… given to me by someone else.”
Jiang Yujin patiently persisted, “Who gave it to you?”
The man mentioned it was from their boss.
Jiang Yujin chuckled, “Could you take me to meet him?”
The man seemed polite, albeit with something still pressing against his neck.
The man with the hat could only lead the way. They walked together, arm in arm, looking inconspicuous on the street.
During their walk, Jiang Yujin casually inquired, and with the man’s life still in his hands, he revealed everything he knew.
He worked under a boss, responsible for gathering information on strange species and players, occasionally scavenging for supplies when they were scarce. The gun was also provided by the boss. However, this attempt to gather supplies ended up with him being threatened.
As the man continued, Jiang Yujin realized, “You’re essentially a cult.”
The man choked on his words.
Crossing several streets, the crowd dwindled, signaling a potentially risky area. Jiang Yujin yawned, questioning how much longer until they arrived.
Noon was indeed the time for a nap, not for being in such a place.
Not remembering that he had risen from bed at noon, Citizen Jiang was solely fixated on the idea of a nap.
The man with the hat admitted they had about a third of the distance left.
Approaching the last stretch, a worn-out building covered in green fabric, standing on an empty lot, came into view. Rusty steel frames surrounded the building, and the gray walls were weathered, covered in green moss-like growths.
The man’s gaze fixated on this building, clearly their destination.
“So, it was your group that appeared in the middle of the night.”
Jiang Yujin glanced at the man, his expression hard to decipher. “Don’t you think you’ll get moldy in these conditions?”
The man chose not to respond.
Not expecting a reply, Jiang Yujin proceeded towards the building.
Upon entering, covered by the green fabric, the light dimmed instantly, the air seemingly dampened.
The ground floor held household waste and other items, looking relatively new, evidence of past habitation.
As Jiang Yujin surveyed the interior, the man let out a primal shout: “Help!”
Jiang Yujin glanced at him, somewhat surprised.
After such a long journey, the man still possessed such vigor.
Perhaps triggered by this primal cry, shadows flickered on the stairs leading to the basement, followed by several people rushing out, all wielding identical guns.
Seeing familiar faces, the man with the hat finally eased up a bit. About to say something, he saw the other person pulling out the same gun that had been taken from him.
Jiang Yujin kindly turned his head towards him and said, “This is how you should use it.”
The man with the hat, looking at the other person holding the gun, didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger.
In an instant, the solidified cement splattered and the ground caved in, and a few of the people at the stairway didn’t even have time to react before they plummeted straight down.
The man watched as reinforced steel snapped and concrete layers were pierced, his eyes widening.
He seemed to understand the meaning behind the earlier comment, ‘Using this thing just to rob a convenience store? How pathetic.’
After firing a shot, Jiang Yujin was about to casually discard the gun when suddenly something occurred to him. He spun the gun in his hand before ultimately putting it back in his pocket.
A pained cry echoed from the massive hole the gunshot created. The man with the hat, now completely silent, couldn’t bring himself to speak at all. It wasn’t until he saw a man jumping out of the staircase that he unconsciously shouted “Brother” with hope in his eyes.
The man addressed as “brother” had tattoos covering his arms, holding a gun in his hand.
The tattooed man held an ordinary gun. After the gunshot, the man with the hat acquired a hole in his forehead and fell back limply, a glint still lingering in his eyes.
The tattooed man reloaded, firing several more shots at the hole he created, showing no emotion. “Useless, can’t even stop a single person.”
The cries from the hole ceased.
After killing several people in the pit, he looked up at Jiang Yujin, who had been quietly standing on the side, raising the gun in his hand once again.
Bullets flew out, only to be caught steadily by his hand.
Jiang Yujin held the bullet and flipped it out effortlessly, like flipping a coin.
The man holding the gun had his shoulder blade pierced, he lowered his head, witnessing an inexplicable hole in his body, blood beginning to flow.
“This time, you’ll lead.”
The person across the hole chuckled. “Something useful.”
In the blink of an eye, the person who was originally at a distance suddenly appeared beside him, an odd sensation creeping up his neck.
Reacting swiftly, the tattooed man tried to free himself, but he was restrained.
Jiang Yujin kicked the gun that had fallen from the person who fell in the hole, presenting it to the tattooed man. “Take me to the person who made this.”
The tattooed man, more experienced than the man with the hat, managed to keep his composure, not answering Jiang Yujin’s question but instead asking, “Who are you?”
With a faint click, Jiang Yujin deftly removed the magazine from the gun the tattooed man held, taking out a bullet.
This time, the bullet aimed for the heart.
A drop of sweat trickled down his face as the tattooed man said, “I’ll take you.”
Jiang Yujin reloaded the bullet into the magazine. “Let’s go then.”
This road was quite long, passing through the urban and suburban areas, finally entering deep into the mountains. However, because there was the company of Xiaoxiaole, it was still a relatively pleasant journey.
In the deep mountains, the signal was weak, Xiaoxiaole couldn’t be played, and the phone battery was dangerously low. Jiang Yujin had to stash the phone away and started to appreciate the natural scenery.
Honestly, within the deep forest of the mountains, there wasn’t much scenery to admire. He resorted to turning around and chatting with the people around him.
After a short distance, he found out that the organization was called [Zero], which meant an existence beyond all players. The place they were going to was the branch of the organization, and the person they were looking for was also a member of it.
Jiang Yujin, with drooping eyelids, raised an eyebrow slightly and remarked, “You guys seem quite energetic every single day.” It was surprising how they still had the energy for all these things.
Faced with such a comment, the tattooed man twitched at the corner of his mouth and chose to remain silent.
It wasn’t until they turned halfway around a small mountain that a dilapidated wooden house appeared, and the tattooed man led him inside.
With wounds untreated, the person’s condition wasn’t good; his complexion had notably paled. He pointed at a red-carved wardrobe, saying, “Just open this wardrobe door.”
Jiang Yujin didn’t move, so the tattooed man, enduring the pain in his arm, eventually opened the wardrobe door.
Behind the wardrobe door, there was a metal door.
On it was an obvious password input machine, and the tattooed man entered a series of numbers. The password was correct, and the metal door opened.
The main door automatically slid open to reveal a staircase that seemed to have no end.
Seeing the staircase, Jiang Yujin mentally connected it to the stairs he’d walked in the estate earlier, recalling the feeling of climbing up and down, falling into a slight silence.
Nevertheless, he descended the stairs.
Fortunately, although the staircase seemed long, it didn’t take much time to reach the bottom.
Despite being labeled as a branch, there was no one around; all rooms were closed, and a corner led to stairs going deeper.
Jiang Yujin wasn’t particularly interested in the organization and didn’t feel like exploring around. He asked the person beside him, “Where are the people who make things?”
The tattooed man replied, “At the very bottom.”
Thus, Jiang Yujin continued down.
Further down, unlike the brightness of the previous floor, here was dimly lit, or rather, had no lighting at all, just footlights barely illuminating the path.
Without turning on the flashlight on his phone, Jiang Yujin glanced inside and saw huge cages lining both sides of the path, most of them containing creatures.
Monstrous, bizarre, these were strange species. They were all alive, some awake, entirely frantic, colliding within their rooms, but emitting no sound due to some specialized sound-absorbing material.
The species ranged from high to low categories, though the higher ones were scarce, with the majority being ordinary.
While still observing the captive creatures, a faint sound came from behind. Jiang Yujin turned and saw people in special clothing covering their faces crowding both up and downstairs.
Not surprising at all.
The tattooed man’s eyes shifted awkwardly while entering the password, his actions not smooth as usual, unlike when entering regular passwords. The branch shouldn’t have been this empty.
If guessing correctly, this number person should be something like a password acting as a signal, notifying the insiders of an outsider intrusion upon input. Perhaps to prevent him from escaping before entering, these people waited for him to reach this level before taking action.
Quite clever, but not much.
As if not noticing the people on the stairs, he glanced again at the creatures in the cages and curiously asked the tattooed man beside him, “What do you use these for, sell them?”
The tattooed man didn’t answer. The person standing on the stairs lifted a weapon, visibly modified, aiming at him. Their demeanor was entirely different from those encountered at the unfinished building, more trained and disciplined.
Unexpectedly, the tattooed man, who had always teetered on the edge of death, was easily released.
The moment he was freed, the person on the stairs wildly started shooting in Jiang Yujin’s original direction, filling the air with smoke.
As the smoke gradually dissipated, others approached with weapons, only to find the person who was supposed to be there had vanished into thin air.
As if suddenly realizing something, the tattooed man reached for the dagger by his side, finding it had disappeared.
In the darkness, a few faint sounds echoed, then suddenly intensified, mixed with the squirming and crawling noises of the creatures, along with deep roars. They looked up to meet the gaze of the enormous, murky vertical pupils.
The intruder who broke into the branch was nowhere to be found, but the creatures appeared in the place where he originally stood.
When screams echoed from upstairs, Jiang Yujin was already heading deeper in.
The deepest part of this small base-like place had only one room, right at the end of the corridor. Compared to the upper floors, this level was noticeably more rudimentary.
Walking through cluttered pathways, he reached the door, politely knocking first.
No response came from inside, so he barged in.
It was a rather small room, unlit except for the blue glow from a large electronic screen occupying an entire wall. The light illuminated a person slouched over the table, surrounded by piled-up food containers, instant noodle boxes, and trash bags strewn about.
Without needing much thought, one could easily guess how this person had been living for the past few days.
Upon seeing the gun in the hands of the man wearing a hat, Jiang Yujin had a faint suspicion, but now, seeing the mess, he was more certain that this was an old acquaintance.
He kicked the person lying asleep on the table directly in the back. “Wake up,” he said.
His kick wasn’t gentle, and the person on the table made a startled “Ah” sound, instantly jolting awake. He turned his head, blurting out, “Who are you?”
Then he received another kick.
This time, he was fully awake. After carefully examining the person behind him for a few moments, he pondered, focusing on the black hair, then uncertainly uttered, “001?”
Jiang Yujin chuckled.
That’s right. The change was quite drastic, no wonder he couldn’t recognize him.
He asked: “Where are Yuan Sanshui and the others?”
Jiang Yujin replied, “The boss is probably still cutting someone’s hair.”
Clearing some trash to make himself a spot, Jiang Yujin sat down, even bothering to charge his phone. He briefly outlined his journey here and then asked, “How did you end up here?”
Once he posed the question, he was mentally prepared for whatever response he might receive.
Shi Bu, ranked twelfth, known by others as the Mobile Armory, was, in reality, not the sharpest tool, appearing clueless both in the Game and real life. After coming out of the Game, he didn’t seem to have made the slightest progress. Regardless of the answer, there wouldn’t be any surprise.
After such a long time finally encountering a friend, Shi Bu began to lament his miserable experiences:
“After coming out, I initially worked in a laboratory, but it got shut down for inhumane research projects. Then I went to a firearms factory, which got sealed a few days later. Finally, I tried being a waiter, but the restaurant got investigated for using strange species’ meat.”
“Now, this organization is willing to take me in, providing food and accommodation. I hope it can continue for a long time.”
“…By the way,” Jiang Yujin asked, “how much is the pay?”
Shi Bu: “Twenty-five hundred a month, working year-round without breaks.”
Jiang Yujin was speechless and involuntarily glanced at the now-quiet upper floors.
This branch probably wouldn’t last long, in various senses.