——Volume Two: Labyrinth of Time [Begin] ——
When a knock came at the door, the three people in the room were a little surprised.
Dong Zheng and Dong Linhai had just arrived in the Pure White Realm. Aside from Allen King, whom they’d met in Hamelin, they didn’t know anyone else. Who would come to visit them?
Dong Zheng got up. “I’ll open the door.”
They were now living in the most common tube house. It wasn’t big, consisting of merely one bedroom and one living room. The room key had been given to them by the clown through the novice box. The furniture was barely sufficient, and the brothers had to take turns sleeping on the bed.
Dong Zheng had been observing the neighbors for the past three days. It appeared that their neighbors were all new residents just like themselves. But, many people seemed to have left and never returned. Apart from changing houses, the only other likely option was that they’d died.
He opened the door, but there was no one in the hall except for a courier box.
Dong Zheng crouched down to look at the courier note posted on it. His name was written down as the recipient, but the sender’s information was left blank.
There were many things in this place that could not be explained with the common sense of the real world. Dong Zheng no longer bothered with trying to make sense of these things and simply carried the box into the house.
It was quite heavy.
And…there seemed to be something moving inside?
Dong Linhai approached him curiously. “What’s that?”
“I don’t know.” Dong Zheng put the box on the table. Cui Zuojing, who was sitting on the window sill and falling into memory, turned his head and saw the box. His eyes lit up, and he immediately came over. “That’s for me.”
“Aren’t you a prisoner? Why would someone send you something? It also clearly says my brother’s name,” Dong Linhai spit out.
Cui Zuojing ignored him and took Dong Zheng’s pen on the table. The nib easily cut the tape along the box cover. Along with the sound of the torn-off courier box, the contents inside made a restless noise and could not wait to show his head.
Is that… a cat?!
The moment the box was open, a white cat jumped deftly out of the box. His pink, pointed triangular ears quivered, and his amber eyes were clear and transparent like two glass sun-like beads. His tail swept across Cui Zuojing’s wrist.
He sat gracefully on the table, looked at the two brothers in front of him with surprised eyes, and said in a deep Russian accent, “Hello.”
…Wait, the cat talked?
Not only was it a him, but mom, was that a Russian accent?!
Dong Linhai was dumbfounded.
What a fantasy world this was!
Although he looked calm on the surface, Dong Zheng also couldn’t help but be surprised. In his cognitive world, he’d never imagined a cat with a Russian accent—Actually, in Hamelin, even the rats could talk and wear vests. Having seen this, what else couldn’t be possible?
Cui Zuojing stretched out his hand and scratched Victor’s chin, finally feeling relieved. “He even used a courier box. Wasn’t he afraid of you being bored?”
“He sent me over, and I just stayed in the box for a while. It doesn’t matter.” Victor rubbed intimately against the teen’s palm and smiled at the two astonished brothers. “Don’t be surprised. I’m A’Zuo’s friend, Victor Vladimir Molotov. You can call me Victor. Or, like A’Zuo, you can call me Uncle.”
The string of Russian names rolling off a cat’s tongues directly stunned Dong Linhai. He looked at Cui Zuojing, then at the white cat, and then at Dong Zheng. Wisely, he chose to temporarily remain silent.
“You’re not an ordinary prisoner, are you?” Dong Zheng asked after a moment of silence.
Cui Zuojing raised his eyebrows. “Why do you say that?”
“Although I haven’t been here for a long time, it is clearly written in “The Pure White Realm’s Survival Guide for Newcomers” that once someone became a prisoner, although he could keep his memory, he wouldn’t be allowed to have any private contacts with the people he knew in his past life.”
Dong Zheng calmly looked at Cui Zuojing and added, “When I was fighting the flute player, you also suddenly ran out of the prisoner’s space at your own initiative. Now, another old friend showed up at the door. Actually, you’re not completely under my control, right?”
“You’re right,” Cui Zuojing admitted frankly. “I’m not a real prisoner. There are indeed other purposes for me coming here. But, you have to believe that if there is a blood contract, I cannot easily harm you.”
“I know. But, the feeling of being kept in the dark is very uncomfortable.” Dong Zheng wasn’t used to being unable to control anything. But, at this moment, he could only get used to it slowly. “I’ll wait until you’re willing to tell me.”
“Don’t worry. Once we’re sure that you can help me and A’Zuo, we will confess everything.” Victor extended a pink front paw and touched Dong Zheng’s finger. He knew that, with Cui Zuojing’s personality, he was very likely to show a cold face and not speak well at all when interacting with unfamiliar people. Therefore, he needed to take the initiative to show goodwill first.
Let him do the social work for now.
The little white cat standing in front of him looked harmless. Dong Zheng hesitated but did not dodge, and two fingers gently gripped Victor’s front paw. “Okay.”
It looked fluffy, soft, and furry, like a real cat. Was it really a cat?!
Dong Linhai resisted the urge to touch it and asked, “That… I’m taking the liberty to ask, have you always been a cat? I mean, did you learn to speak like this, or were you a person before?”
“I’m a person,” Victor replied patiently. “It’s just that I’m trapped in a cat’s body. One of A’Zuo’s goal is to help me get back to how I once was.”
“Oh, this is easier to understand.” In the end, as a teen with a fantastic imagination, Dong Linhai quickly accepted this fact and asked, “What do you eat? Do you need to buy cat food or other things? Or, do you eat the same thing we eat?”
“It’s best to have cat food. I can also eat normal food if conditions don’t allow.”
“Hey, I don’t know if they sell any here, but I’ve heard about the best cat food.”
While Dong Linhai and Victor chatted happily, Cui Zuojing picked up “The Pure White Realm’s Survival Guide for Newcomers” on the table and looked through it. The one he took must have belonged to Dong Zheng. It was covered with many markings, including how to perform in the box to get more points, the rules of the night clearings, etc. It reflected the man’s seriousness.
“I still don’t understand much about this place,” Dong Zheng suddenly said. He was leaning against the wall and was looking at the teen who was looking down at the handbook.
Cui Zuojing raised his head and looked at him. “Such as?”
“The clown said that if we want to go out from here, we must participate in the pilgrimage, reach the queen’s palace, and make a request to the queen. This was also written in the handbook.” Dong Zheng’s voice was calm. In fact, this problem had been bothering him since he came. “But has anyone really gone back successfully? Everyone came here after their death in the real world. Mine and Linhai’s corpses are probably out of shape. If we go back now, in what form would we exist in?”
“……” Cui Zuojing was silent for a moment. “This, I can’t tell you yet.”
Dong Zheng asked him sharply, “You can’t or you don’t know?”
“I know, yes. But, right now, it might not have any good reference value.”
After all, since the existence of the Pure White Realm, only he had successfully gone out alone.
On the evening of his sixteenth birthday, the whole family made a sumptuous dinner and waited for him to come home from school. But, there was no news until 7 pm. Meanwhile, news of a prisoner’s escape from prison repeatedly ran on the television.
His mother accompanied his sister at home, while his anxious father went out to look for him. He found the body of his son, who’d been stabbed a dozen times, in a remote alley. He was lying in a pool of dried blood, his body already cold and stiff.
The man, who was on the verge of fainting, barely had time to cry when he unexpectedly saw his son’s bloodied eyelashes tremble slightly and then drifted open.
Cui Zuojing had struggled in the Pure White Realm for three years and four months. But, in reality, only two hours and thirty-seven minutes had passed.
What happened eight years ago was still so vivid. Cui Zuojing closed his eyes and thought of his parents and sister’s tears as he left. There was no wave in his heart, only a dull ache.
“Okay, let me change to another question.” Dong Zheng asked instead, “Can you tell me about the pilgrimage?”
This question was very easy to answer. Cui Zuojing said, “The geographical layout of the Pure White Realm can be understood as a round target. Now, we’re at the outermost layer, and the queen’s palace is at the center of the bullseye. The area between two locations are filled with twisted space that only endless trains can pass through.”
“Countless people who want to go out will take risks and travel half the Pure White Realm to petition the queen. Over time, people began to call the journey to the central area a pilgrimage.”
“As for the process…It is to enter the box and get from it points, props, clues, skills upgrades, and tickets to enter the next area. This process needs to be repeated until you reach your destination.”
Then, you will be greeted with lies, followed by death.
As Cui Zuojing was explaining this, Victor and Dong Linhai subconsciously stopped talking and quietly listened. The youth’s voice was the only sound in the living room. Victor’s tail had been swaying back and forth, but now it drooped against the coffee table. His white eyelashes hung down, covering the sorrow in his amber eyes.
—He couldn’t remember how many deaths he’d witnessed.
“That must be difficult,” Dong Linhai murmured.
Cui Zuojing said, “It is very difficult, so some people choose to live here forever and not to go on the pilgrimage. They just regularly enter low-level boxes to earn points that can be lived on for a while. Even so, it is still very easy to die in low-level boxes, either due to various accidents or lack of strength.”
“There are also some very few people with certain characteristics that are recognized by the Pure White Realm. As such, they’re employed by the Pure White Realm as weapons manufacturers, ticket inspectors, or guides, and they can rely on these works to obtain the qualifications of life.”
Cui Zuojing’s words fell, and everyone was silent.
“So this is the case.” With these last words, he broke the heavy silence. “What do you want to choose? Would you rather count on the points at hand to struggle to survive day by day? Would you rather wait for destiny to select you and become employed by the Pure White Realm forever? Or, would you rather embark on a pilgrimage with the risk of death, chasing the opportunity to go back home? It must be difficult to choose, right?”
But for Dong Zheng, there was no choice at all.
He had always believed that destiny was only in his own hands and directly rejected any other method of destiny from the very beginning.
Stay here for a lifetime? Impossible!
“Let’s go on the pilgrimage.” The man said it so simply and neatly that he didn’t notice the slight waves in Cui Zuojing’s eyes the moment he heard his answer. He looked at Dong Linhai. “Are you going with me?”
“Of course!” The teen immediately replied loudly. “I don’t want to stay here for a lifetime. It’s better to fight. At least there’s hope.”
“Then it’s done.” Cui Zuojing snapped his fingers and leaned against the wall, not noticing that on his lips was a small smile. “I will help you on your pilgrimage. I hope the two of you can live long enough for Victor and I to share our secrets with you.”
“They definitely will,” Victor corrected him. The man in this cat’s body was as gentle and firm as ever. “They will definitely be successful.”
A small seed was planted at this moment, quietly brewing, waiting for a thunderstorm to subvert the world.
Cui Zuojing looked at the horizon again. He knew that in another dimension, where his vision could not reach, his family was still waiting for him to return home.
The bondage of the prisoner card made Dong Zheng choose him at the most critical moment, but at this moment, he also chose Dong Zheng.