Chapter 26.2 – Observers and Rule Setters

As dawn broke the next day, inside the room, the barbershop owner couldn’t fathom why the person standing in front of the fridge was up so early to drink.

Setting down the water glass in his hand, Jiang Yujin glanced at the lit cigarette in the other’s hand and chuckled.

After drinking half a bottle and leaving the other half, he took the bottle and departed, leaving behind his peculiar farewell:

“You better die from smoking soon.”

The barbershop owner almost threw a cigarette at him.

Indeed, Citizen Jiang, who was absent for a night, knocked on the door. Chen Jing’s wounds still ached a bit, and he was a light sleeper, so he heard the noise and got up to answer.

As soon as the door opened, the other person walked straight in, holding the half-empty bottle of alcohol.

Clearly, he had been out drinking.

Jiang Yujin’s first act upon returning home was to charge his phone, and then he sprawled on the couch, waiting for his breakfast.

The congee and side dishes prepared by the high schooler this morning were surprisingly good. While sipping the congee, Jiang Yujin glanced at the other’s complexion and asked, “Staying up late to study?”

Chen Jing neither confirmed nor denied.

Jiang Yujin advised, “You should sleep earlier from now on.”

The high schooler nodded, finished eating, picked up the school bag, and left for school. The adult man returned to his room to lounge.

For the next few days, he remained a complete wreck, while the high schooler went to school punctually, seemingly looking slightly better each day.

Until Friday, the high schooler unusually returned home before dark and seemed oddly silent and disturbed.

During dinner, with a belief in caring for the mental health of modern-day high schoolers, Jiang Yujin asked, “Did something happen?”

The high schooler stayed silent for a good while before speaking up hesitantly.

It was because the class was going to perform a play. They were lacking a few people, but no one volunteered, so the class officers decided to draw lots. He ended up becoming a class officer inexplicably as he had helped an unknown classmate carry their suitcase at the beginning of the school year, receiving enthusiastic recommendations that led to his nomination as a class officer. Unexpectedly, he became the class president, and his name was added to the draw list.

Then, he got picked. The responsible teacher mentioned that this would be their grade’s final participation in such an activity, emphasizing the importance of seizing the opportunity to perform youthfully and with elegance.

To avoid disrupting studies, the play rehearsals were scheduled for two hours after school every afternoon and on Saturday mornings and afternoons. Today, he had just returned from rehearsal.

Jiang Yujin: “By the way, what role are you playing?”

Chen Jing, holding chopsticks, paused slightly and then said, “A magical witch.”

Jiang Yujin stifled a chuckle, “…Pfft.”

Chen Jing remained expressionless.

Jiang Yujin pretended to sip water, covering the upward curl of his lips, but ended up choking on the water, coughing continuously.

This time, the high schooler chose to be indifferent, observing from a distance.

He didn’t care, Jiang Yujin cared for himself. He patted his chest and, once he finally recovered, began to ask again, “Can I come and watch?”

His eyes were sincere, resembling a genuine parent eager to see their child perform. But Chen Jing knew the character of this person, realizing he just wanted to join in the excitement.

“No, you can’t.”

The high schooler paused, then chose to be honest, “Normally, no, but parents can be specially allowed in during next Saturday’s rehearsal.”

He saw Jiang Yujin immediately take out his phone to jot down a note.

It seemed this person couldn’t resist a lively atmosphere.

After writing the memo, Jiang Yujin casually checked the time, realizing it was time for the beloved evening news, so he turned on the TV.

Tonight’s news didn’t seem as harmonious as usual. As soon as it was turned on, the screen was filled with red and white-coded images. Even with the codes, there were faint red and black patches on the ground, resembling heads.

Jiang Yujin picked up some bamboo shoots stir-fried with pork with his chopsticks.

The news anchor, looking at the screen, stated, [On the 8th, around 6 p.m., the Wang family of three was found dead at home. There are numerous suspicious elements at the crime scene. Currently, the case is under investigation.]

After the anchor finished speaking, a video clip played. The bodies had been removed from the house, leaving behind only the furnishings.

Jiang Yujin noticed three pieces of paper, folded into paper airplane shapes, scattered near the table where the three individuals had sat. There were shattered plates and marks on the table.

The news wasn’t particularly appetizing, but the two people at the dining table remained unaffected, continuing to eat without discussing the news much.

That night, the Special Search Unit finally resolved the incident involving Zero’s branch. Jiang Yujin unexpectedly received 5,000 yuan as a reward for his timely notification and contribution, a sort of mental subsidy.

This one trip earned him twice his original monthly salary, solidifying Citizen Jiang’s determination to be a good citizen.

He had instructed Xu Tonggui to push for his salary, and it seemed that the person had indeed taken care of it. The payment for the work done at the manor had also been credited tonight.

With double blessings, Jiang Yujin added Captain Xu as a friend on his Xiaoxiaole game and, in a good mood, generously gifted him 20 energy points.

A while later, a response came: a simple “Thank you.”

The seasoned player Jiang graciously replied, “You’re welcome.”

With these two payments and the previous commission fee, his finances seemed capable of lasting for a while. Jiang Yujin happily indulged in a whole week of relaxation.

On Saturday morning, the high schooler preparing for the rehearsal woke up early.

Not having to wear the school uniform that day, he dressed in a simple white T-shirt. When leaving his room, he glanced at the adjacent one, finding complete silence. The person who had been enthusiastically jotting down notes last week was still sound asleep inside.

At this time, Chen Jing was happy that the other person slept soundly, preferably until the end of the rehearsal. Without waking or disturbing him, after finishing his morning routine, he left, taking public transport to school.

At the school gate, the security guards recognized him due to the daily rehearsals and, knowing about the rehearsal that day, let him in without asking questions.

The rehearsal took place in the auditorium. Arriving early, as others were setting up the scenes, he changed into his costume and, when he emerged from backstage, someone noticed him and asked for help.

By morning, the stage backdrop was set, everyone was present, and Chen Jing, sporting the white hair of the magical witch, stood at the edge of the stage.

There were indeed parents in the audience, sitting together, chatting animatedly, pointing and seemingly introducing their children to others.

A quick scan revealed no sign of Citizen Jiang, finally giving Chen Jing a sigh of relief.

As the lights dimmed, someone shouted, “Start!”

The actress playing the Count’s youngest daughter stepped onto the stage, followed by lights that illuminated her. But as she stood in the center, all the lights, including those above the audience, abruptly went out.

While the auditorium’s curtains remained open, the windows that once let in natural light now glowed a dark, eerie red.

Initially, parents and casually observing teachers assumed this was a theatrical effect. After the initial surprise, they found it stunning. However, as they looked at the actors on stage under the red light, they noticed expressions of astonishment.

The lighting technician immediately claimed they weren’t in control. Amidst the confused crowd, a sense of unease started to spread.

Chen Jing realized something was amiss. He took a closer look at the auditorium this time to make sure he didn’t see the familiar face. He took off his wig and frowned slightly.

Someone attempted to open the door, took two steps, and everything went dark.

When vision returned, everyone looked down to find a piece of paper in front of them.

Each person had a sheet of paper with the words:

【1. No leaving】

The sudden events and the inexplicable appearance of the words left the students trembling in shock. Some teachers picked up the paper but still attempted to open the door.

As someone gripped the doorknob to open it, the outside was also bathed in red.

With determination, the person swiftly pushed the door and stepped outside. Just as the door opened, the teacher collapsed, lifeless, and the paper disappeared.

A piercing scream erupted, and chaos ensued in the auditorium.

The papers in front of them changed again:

【2. No noise】

Those who were yelling had their mouths covered by others nearby, their legs giving way as they fell to the ground.

In the shadow opposite the stage, a semi-transparent figure gradually appeared. It stood at the edge of the audience area, its head touching the ceiling, featureless except for a pair of purely red eyes, silently observing everyone.

Chen Jing recognized what this was. The figure behind the scenes was the Observer, responsible for monitoring all actions within the “Rules.” The writings on the papers represented the “Rules” within this space, established by the Rule Setters. Typically, both the Observers and the Rule Setters appeared simultaneously. While Observers monitored players on-site, Rule Setters silently observed and formulated new rules within their sight of the space, usually remaining hidden.

In theory, as long as one person flawlessly navigated the established rules, everyone could survive. However, in practice, nobody could continuously abide by the increasingly bizarre rules. Most players encountering the Observers and Rule Setters in such dungeons failed to leave alive.

Chen Jing’s initial reaction was relief that the person who never obediently followed the rules had overslept and hadn’t appeared here.

*

Jiang Yujin didn’t oversleep. With a fully determined spirit to join in the fun, he had set an alarm while writing the memo earlier. This morning, the alarm woke him up after the high schooler had left.

Getting dressed, having breakfast, and even the commute to school went smoothly. However, just a street away from the school, there was a minor car accident. Two cars grazed each other, leading to the owners arguing fiercely, both articulate and heated.

He stood on the roadside, nibbling on breakfast, thoroughly engrossed in the spectacle. The commotion continued until the arrival of the traffic police, who mediated and dispersed the two individuals, and then he regretfully looked away.

Upon checking the time, he realized the rehearsal had already started.

Hurriedly filling in his information at the security booth, he dashed into the school and headed towards the teaching building. Suddenly, it dawned on him that he didn’t know where the auditorium was.

Far from the security booth and without a map, he decided between two buildings. Opting for a random choice, he entered one of the buildings, intending to reach the highest floor for a better view.

Before reaching the top, on the third floor, he glimpsed the outline of a building. Following its direction, he ended up in what seemed like a storage room.

Upon opening the door, his eyes fell on a tall, thin, dark figure floating in the middle of the classroom. Its face was flat, with only pure white eyes fixated on him.

Momentarily surprised, he remembered his purpose and politely maneuvered around the figure, continuing toward the window. “Excuse me,” he said courteously, sidestepping past it.

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