Dong Zheng was startled. If he remembered correctly, when he first passed Hamelin, he asked Cui Zuojing if anyone had ever managed to get out. Cui Zuojing gave him a definite answer.
Was this the team?
Since this was concerning their future destiny, Dong Zheng became apprehensive as he continued to look down with complete gravity.
[The Afternoon Tea Party was a legendary team known widely throughout the Pure White Realm. This team first entered people’s eyes in midsummer eleven years ago. It developed rapidly in three years and was finally able to successfully complete the pilgrimage to become the eternal legend of the Pure White Realm.
The team had five members, with only code names announced to the world. The captain of the team was Silver Fox. The rest of the team members were Black Goat, Crow, Kingfisher, and Ash Wolf. So far, it was only known that Kingfisher’s ability was temperature control. Silver Fox could have mental influence on intelligent life forms. Crow was also called Plague Doctor. Black Goat and Ash Wolf were powerful combatants.]
Up to here, Dong Zheng frowned.
[No one knows the real names of the members of the Afternoon Tea Party. They gathered together with absolute cooperation and team spirit. Starting from the novice districts, they travelled through District II, District XIII, District XIV, Top of the Giant Tree, District VII, District XI, Arrow of Revival, District XII, The Endless Sea, District V, Chaos Library, Hell’s Circus…Finally, they entered God’s Back Garden, successfully stood in front of the queen, and made their wishes.”
Since then, they’d never been seen again in the Pure White Realm. Everyone believes that these five warriors had successfully left this post-death world and returned to their original lives. And this has revived the hopes and aspirations of all the people in the Pure White Realm.]
The document wasn’t long. Dong Zheng spent three to four minutes reading carefully and conscientiously. When he finished reading the last word, his brows were tightly furrowed, and his gaze shifted back up to the top of the document.
Afternoon Tea Party.
They first appeared eleven years ago and completed the pilgrimage three years later. Eight years had passed since then and no one had seen them again.
The team captain, Silver Fox, had a mind control ability, and Crow was also known as Plague Doctor.
The phone’s screen gradually dimmed due to long periods of inactivity. Dong Zheng closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and turned his head to face Fu Zhe, who was sitting elegantly at the table and reading a book. He nonchalantly called, “Silver Fox.”
Fu Zhe immediately reacted out of reflex, turning his head to look at Dong Zheng. Then, he finally registered the words and a hint of surprise flashed across his eyes.
Cui Zuojing, who was playing a game console, also abruptly raised his head. In each other’s eyes, they saw surprise and the realization that this was not unexpected.
After all, with Dong Zheng’s cleverness, he would guess the truth sooner or later.
Seeing Cui Zuojing and Fu Zhe’s reaction, Dong Zheng became completely convinced that his guess was correct. He placed the phone upside down on the desk, his expression solemn. “So, this was the rumored successful departure from the Pure White Realm?”
Dong Linhai was still sitting in the kitchen, playing with spoons. Cui Zuojing got up from the ground and said in a low voice, “Let’s go upstairs and talk.”
Dong Zheng and Cui Zuojing went upstairs to his bedroom. Fu Zhe didn’t follow, giving over the work of explaining to Cui Zuojing.
“How do you know that Fu Zhe’s code name is Silver Fox?” Cui Zuojing asked, sitting on the bed.
“The intelligence agent shared a legend, which tells of the story of your team.” Dong Zheng gave Cui Zuojing his cell phone. “Afternoon Tea Party, this name sounds really good.”
“Luo Yan really likes the story of Alice. So, she used this name.” Cui Zuojing read the information and laughed. “It was pretty professional. Even our abilities and schedules were fairly accurate. The only mistake was that Fu Zhe went to the library at the very beginning as one of the rare brain developers.”
Dong Zheng asked, “What was your name in the team?”
Crow, also called the Plague Doctor, should be Victor. Kingfisher was probably a girl, and although Ash Wolf sounded very domineering, Dong Zheng felt that it didn’t fit Cui Zuojing’s image. He guessed, “Black goat?”
Cui Zuojing snapped his fingers. “Bingo.”
“This code name.” Dong Zheng smiled. “Why did you use this? It felt a little bit different from other people’s titles.”
“Lovecraft once wrote in The Whisperer in the Darkness about Shub-Niggurath, the black goat of the woods with a thousand young. This created the most popular image of the female Cthulhu, and the black goat became synonymous with the seeds of darkness.”
“And in the Bible, God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only child, Isaac. At the last critical moment, God’s angel knew that Abraham feared God in his heart so he stopped him from killing Isaac and gave him a male goat to sacrifice instead. Therefore, the word black goat became an unspeakable mystery.”
Whether it was Cthulhu or the Bible, Dong Zheng knew a little bit, and he knew that Cui Zuojing was deliberately trying to fool him by what he’d said just now. The two looked at each other for several seconds, until Cui Zuojing finally shrugged and said with a smile, “Okay, in fact, I was 16 years old at the time, and I was in the second phase in my course of study. I thought this code name was very cool and strong.”
Dong Zheng said, “Do you mind talking about it?”
Cui Zuojing deliberately said, “If I say I mind, would you continue to ask?”
“I would just ask Fu Zhe and Victor instead.”
The youth waived his hand and said, “I was just playing with you. Since you know about it, there’s nothing to hide. As you saw, our team was called the Afternoon Tea Party. The team leader was Fu Zhe, codename Silver Fox, abilities [Mind Control/Illusion]; Victor, codename Crow, ability [Purification]; Luo Yan, codename Kingfisher, ability [Temperature Control]; Cheriyu Nana, codename Ash Wolf, ability [Strength Enhancement]; and I, Cui Zuojing, codename Black Goat, ability [Slayer].”
Dong Zheng thoughtfully said, “Your team has a very good composition: commander, doctor, two frontal combat units and a wizard. ”
“Yes, it was the same as playing games. The only drawback was that there was no meat shield (1), but it didn’t matter since Victor was a powerful support.”
Cui Zuojing added, “Our current team can almost have a similar composition. It happens that you’re also a brain developer. From the perspective of ability evolution, your brother can be a combat unit in the future, and Allen can develop in the direction of a scout. Although Lin Hangzhi’s ability can’t be so easily characterized, he obviously has the intention to develop in the direction of a meat shield.”
“We also have Victor as the healer. At the moment, I am the only person in the team with the highest combat strength. Actually, based on experience, I would suggest recruiting another team member, but what we have now is also good. Depending on the situation, you can recruit again if you find someone suitable.”
Dong Zheng said, “For new players, I actually have a person in mind. I just don’t know if she wants to or not.”
Cui Zuojing understood what he meant at a glance. “Wang Que?”
Dong Zheng nodded. “When I was on the wall, I always wondered what her ability was. She was better than us and knew about the arrival of the giant earthworms and caterpillars in advance. From her performance, it seemed to be a kind of perception.”
Cui Zuojing motioned for him to continue.
“At first, I thought her ability might be related to insects, but earthworms belong to annelids, not insects. So, perhaps it is anything related to the biological category?”
Cui Zuojing didn’t understand the classification of organisms and said, “I don’t know much about this but you can discuss it with Fu Zhe or the two doctors downstairs. Or, you can meet Wang Que next time and ask her yourself. To be honest, I also think this little girl is pretty good. I just don’t know if she would like to join in.”
Dong Zheng said, “Let’s let nature take its course.”
For a while, neither of them spoke, and stagnant silence filled the room. The light quietly illuminated everything, and through the crevice of the tightly closed window was a pure white emptiness that signifies limitless chaos and space.
“In fact, no one managed to get out in the end, did they?” Dong Zheng finally asked in a low voice, breaking the long silence.
“Yes.” Cui Zuojing’s voice was very soft. He stared into Dong Zheng’s eyes and saw his own appearance in those dark pupils.
In 11 years, nothing had changed.
“The only person who’d gone out was me.”
Cui Zuojing wasn’t surprised to see an uncontrollable shock on Dong Zheng’s face as soon as the words came out.
Even though he’d lost his feelings, the pain he’d once felt still faintly permeated his heart, leaving a gloomy mist.
“Back then, we succeeded in reaching the queen, but lost at the last step. The queen used a [Reversal] card to remove all our advantages. In our most desperate times, we were selected by the five elemental powers of the Pure White Realm, but because of the queen’s curse, we became the prisoners of time, space, body, dream and chaos.”
Cui Zuojing lowered his eyes, recalling the desperate and tragic final battle of that year. Cheriyu Nana was entangled by Tang Ji and was the first to fall behind, while Luo Yan was trapped in Kether’s server by Administrator 03. Fu Zhe faced Worm of Mystery alone, and Victor became Midnight’s prey.
And he could only watch helplessly as his companions fell one by one to buy precious time for himself. Then, he was running wildly through the long corridor. And, the girl with the umbrella stood at the end of the scarlet carpet, her eyes seemed to contain thousands upon thousands of thoughts. All the while, her seven-eyed, three-tail beast sat calmly at her feet.
Then, she gently pushed open the closed door for him.
“Fu Zhe lost parts of his soul and was trapped in the castle. Luo Yan’s body dissipated and she could only wander in dreams. Nana’s whereabouts were unknown. Victor was turned into a cat. I took him with me and escaped from the Pure White Realm.”
“Then…I woke up in the real world, where I should have been dead.”
“My dad sent me to the hospital, and within two weeks, I was discharged home. I found Victor downstairs, waiting for me. After leaving the Pure White Realm, Victor could no longer speak and could only meow like a cat. Fortunately, we can type to communicate.”
“When I told my family everything I’d experienced in the Pure White Realm, they didn’t believe me at first and thought that it was all a hallucination due to excessive shock. But, as time passed, they discovered that I seemed to have stopped growing and Victor could use electronics to do math problems. These simply proved that I was telling the truth, so they had no choice but to believe it.”
“My father was the first to believe it. When he found me, my body was obviously cold, but I came back to life right in front of his eyes.”
“After eight years, the people around me gradually aged, but time hadn’t left any traces on me, as if it’d completely forgotten about my existence. Victor’s cat body was already getting very old, to the point where he could die in his sleep at any moment. I finally couldn’t stand this kind of life anymore and made up my mind to sneak back through a baby’s dream.”
“In order to avoid being discovered by the queen too soon, my old friend, the Clown, used a special method to turn me into a prisoner. I thought that the number of black-gold prisoner cards are very rare to begin with so I wouldn’t be summoned for a while. I originally planned to take a good look at the Pure White Realm’s current situation and to recuperate for a period of time to regain the peak of my strength. I didn’t expect that I wouldn’t even have time to talk to the Clown before I was summoned by your brother.”
After saying this, Cui Zuojing couldn’t help being angry again. He took a deep breath and finally couldn’t endure and pretend in front of Cui Zuojing any longer. He raised his leg and lightly kicked him in the foot to vent his anger.
“So, I was very, very angry. I’d suffered untold hardships and made so much psychological preparations to smuggle back. Instead, I became the life mentor of two newcomers who don’t know anything. Really, if it weren’t for the signed blood contract, your head would have been long gone.”
Dong Zheng didn’t know how many times he’d heard Cui Zuojing made such cruel complaints, to the point that it no longer bothered him much anymore. He raised his hand and touched his neck. Then, he smiled and said, “Are you going to say next that fortunately, your cheap master is relatively reliable?”
Cui Zuojing was exposed by him. Scoffing, he muttered, “But unlike Fu Zhe, I don’t have much interest in playing at cultivation. You have to hurry up and become stronger yourself. At least…you also have to meet my expectations, right?”
“What are your expectations?”
Cui Zuojing thought for a while, and said, “Anyway, there’s still a wide discrepancy, so I won’t say anything in case it might hurt your confidence. Is there anything else you want to ask, my dear cheap master?”
(1) Meat shield — In game terms, the meat shield is the player who attracts to most firepower in order to increase the team’s output. Also known as a tank.
(2) I’ve changed the description of Cui Zuojing’s ability from [Killer] to [Slayer]. I now feel that perhaps the term slayer best represents the author’s intention.