Chapter 1 Night of the Ancient Castle
Note about the title:
“禁止套娃” (No Nesting Dolls) is a popular internet slang term inspired by the traditional Russian toy “Matryoshka” dolls, which feature a series of dolls nested inside each other. In the online world, this phrase is used metaphorically to criticize or mock repetitive behaviors where individuals continuously reuse the same material or topic, creating an endless loop similar to a broken record or echo chamber. This slang gained prominence in 2019 and serves as a humorous way to comment on such repetitive actions in internet culture.
It looked like an ordinary city.
Along the streets, tall buildings stood in rows, and the transportation network spread out from the city center in all directions. The only mode of transport in this city was the tram, which took people to different places.
Due to the strict hierarchical divisions within the regions, hardly anyone dared to roam around. Hence, only a few people rode the tram.
The city remained enveloped in fog throughout the year.
Plazas, malls, and main streets were filled with huge screens, showing global game-like rankings in various corners of the city.
Those who made it to the top one thousand were admired and celebrated throughout the city.
There were two types of screens in the city. One displayed ranking levels, while the other showed the ongoing instance match. In the instance match, player numbers and match statuses were densely listed, with the majority displayed in yellow to signify a normal gaming status. However, one match was highlighted in red, drawing extra attention.
“The instance has entered the endgame.”
“Players ranked in the top one thousand are in there. No wonder the twenty players were reduced to only three,” the speaker raised an eyebrow, “Someone else got dragged into an endgame, starts with number【46】. Huh, must be a newbie.”
“Which newbie’s luck is that bad?”
The onlooker veteran players exchanged glances. “Wanna bet on how long he’ll survive?”
“A low-stakes bet,” another person shook their head, “Newbies usually panic and run around when they get in. Plenty get killed on the spot, let alone in an endgame. Death is just a matter of time.”
Strange sounds echoed intermittently in his ears. When he opened his eyes, everything around him was blurry. After a while, his field of view became clear again.
Standing tall on the dimly lit path was a slender pole reaching up to an old black street light at its top.
The light was excessively glaring, accompanied by eerie sounds now and then.
Below the streetlight, there was stagnant water, with the low-lying ground accumulating a large puddle of dirty water.
The water surface reflected a white coat and glasses.
As Wen Shi blinked, he belatedly realized that he was dressed as a doctor. Despite having had perfect vision just moments before, he now found himself wearing a pair of gold-rimmed glasses.
Wen Shi began to recall what happened before he fainted.
He was perfectly fine as he was walking on the road under the glow of street lamps, but then the safety charm hanging on him inexplicably started to heat up. Unable to stand it, he tried to pull it off forcefully, but only the red string came off. The safety charm seemed to have vanished. Soon after, his whole body felt like it was burning, and then he lost consciousness.
The sizzling sound continued.
With no time to ponder how he ended up dressed like this or where he was, Wen Shi’s main concern was the possibility of getting an electric shock. He carefully avoided the sewage while his attention was diverted by something even more grand.
Not far away stood a mysterious ancient castle, its tall walls stretching for unknown miles. The thick walls were covered in thorns, occasionally adorned with a few red roses. At this moment, the top spire of the castle was illuminated by moonlight, outlining the cold silhouette of iron bars on the windows.
It was too magnificent and imposing, resembling a beast that could devour everything.
Wen Shi instinctively wanted to step back.
Just as he took a step back, something slipped through his pants and tightly clung to his ankles.
Cold and damp, the skin that was touched hurt.
Goosebumps rose all over Wen Shi’s frozen body. Finally, taking a deep breath, he slowly lowered his head.
As Wen Shi saw the scene below, his pupils trembled. A ghastly white handbone emerged from the ground, gripping his delicate ankle and pulling him down forcefully.
“What the fu—k!”
Startled, Wen Shi took a step back.
The hand tightened its grip instantly.
After another slight movement, his ankle was almost crushed. Wen Shi gritted his teeth and, with his mind in a daze, took a step forward.
There was always a way out. The ghastly white and icy handbone loosened its hold on him. Seizing the opportunity, Wen Shi sprinted forward with all his might.
The night wind blew into his throat, carrying a metallic taste that made Wen Shi’s mouth dry. He didn’t dare to look back and instead swung his arms widely to run faster.
In the quiet night, only the hurried gasps were audible. At the end of the road was the ancient castle. Almost the moment Wen Shi reached it, the three-meter-high iron gate automatically opened to both sides.
Wen Shi slowed his pace and nervously walked inside.
The heavy door behind him closed with a loud thud, and the sudden gust of cold wind added pressure. The door ahead leading to the castle was also partially open.
Wen Shi wasn’t too keen on going in.
However, his sore ankle reminded him of the ghastly white hand hiding in the darkness. Without hesitation, Wen Shi chose to open the door.
The words “Is anyone there?” automatically stuck in his throat as there was no one inside. The door faced an endless corridor. To be safe, Wen Shi refrained from making too much noise as he walked forward with slow steps.
The castle’s interior had poor lighting, much worse than the streetlights outside.
Walking alone in the empty corridor, Wen Shi couldn’t tell if it was his imagination, but he felt a sticky sensation when his shoes touched the red carpet on the floor.
This corridor was too long, empty, and creepy.
Finally, after walking for a few minutes in a daze, a relatively bright light shone from a diagonal corner, prompting Wen Shi to move towards the light source.
His initial plan was to hide behind the wall and observe the scene inside. However, as he carefully peeked out half of his head, several eyes turned towards him simultaneously.
Wen Shi laughed awkwardly, no longer concealing himself, and also got a clear view of the scene inside.
A long table, food, and three pale-faced diners sat around it–two men and a woman.
Without a doubt, this was a dining hall. Wen Shi raised his collar as the temperature inside was even colder than outside.
The surrounding walls were primarily in crimson red, adorned with numerous abstract paintings featuring chaotic overlapping colors that might be challenging for non-artists to appreciate.
The entire dining hall had only one small window, with an additional layer of iron bars welded on the outside.
A luxurious crystal chandelier hung high above the long table, and without a doubt, the one sitting at the head was the owner of the castle.
“You broke your appointment. Don’t let it happen again.”
The castle master, with a stern and lifeless face exuding the elegance of a noble, seemed to recognize Wen Shi. He spoke politely, but his amber eyes occasionally emitted a sinister glint.
“Please have a seat,” the castle master said.
“Do as he says,” the slender man quietly reminded Wen Shi, lightly tapping the seat beside him.
As Wen Shi approached, his fingers suddenly clenched.
Despite the brightness of the room, the castle master had no shadow.
Wen Shi’s breath tightened, while the slender man shook his head slightly at him. Wen Shi suppressed his momentary shock, acting as if nothing happened, and pulled out a chair to sit down.
The slender man’s hand trembled slightly too.
This was due to excitement.
Not long ago, the castle master had designated him to find the perfect bride. If he couldn’t find one within a day, he would die–it was the most terrifying death rule in the instance.
At this critical moment, the match entered the endgame.
The so-called endgame meant players could choose to eliminate each other when they saw no hope, to reduce the game’s difficulty.
Unfortunately, no one was easy to deal with, and attempting to harm each other often led to a stalemate. Many players died in a short time. When the instance progressed normally, new players would join the game.
Wen Shi’s hairline was dampened with sweat. Confusion clearly showed on his face, leading the players present, including the slender man, to make a basic judgment: he was a newbie.
Newbies were good.
Having a newbie as a buffer was excellent, as it could buy them more time.
In a strange and terrifying environment, people always developed some fledgling sentiment.
The slender man comforted Wen Shi, “Don’t be afraid. Calm down first.”
While speaking, he immediately used the skill 【Taming】.
In the instance, each player had their own skills. The slender man’s skill was quite terrifying. It could magnify others’ sense of trust, similar to psychological suggestion, ultimately making the target fall under the tamer’s control, with all actions influenced by the tamer.
However, this skill had a prerequisite: the target’s level of trust in the tamer needed to be greater than zero. After the slender man diligently upgraded the skill, even a slight sense of dependence could be infinitely amplified.
A faint smile appeared on his lips.
This skill was virtually flawless against someone who knew nothing.
“Notification: Taming failed.”
The slender man was taken aback. 【Taming】 had three levels: low, medium, and high. The point cost varied for each level. The low level only required thirty points, the medium level needed one hundred points, and the high level was more like a premium feature, costing three hundred points.
Dealing with a newbie with the low-level Taming should have been more than enough.
It seemed like the target had a suspicious nature. The slender man calmly activated the medium-level skill.
“Notification: Taming failed.”
In less than a second, the notification sound came through. If someone didn’t know, they would have thought he was just pretending.
The slender man’s smile gradually froze.
The instance was lenient with newbies, even if they attempted to escape the game, there would only be a slight warning. If they did nothing, the newbie might survive for a day.
He couldn’t let the other person survive for a day. Only when there was a funeral inside the castle, and the task of finding a bride was postponed, would he have a chance.
Clenching his teeth, the slender man spent three hundred points. When he heard the sound indicating the deduction of points, he couldn’t help but feel a pang of pain.
“Notification: Taming failed.”
This time, the notification sound showed some courtesy, taking at least a second before giving feedback, proving some effort was made.
Failure, failure, and more failure!
Despite his composure, the slender man’s face became somewhat unpleasant.
“Excuse me, Big Brother.”
The slender man was taken aback, realizing he was being addressed.
Wen Shi tugged at his sleeve and whispered softly, “You look familiar to me. Have we met somewhere? Whenever I see you, I feel a sense of familiarity.”
Wen Shi’s voice became weaker, “If it wasn’t for you, I’d probably still be standing there blankly. Thank you, Big Brother.”
Calling “Big Brother” again and again, Wen Shi expressed deep gratitude and reliance in his words.
If not for spending several hundred points and experiencing three failed attempts at taming, the slender man might have believed his nonsense. “You…”
Others didn’t know the specifics of the slender man’s skill, but his sudden coldness towards Wen Shi made the female player on the other side find it quite strange. Everyone knew what kind of person Exiu was. Having finally encountered a scapegoat, how could he let him go easily? Shouldn’t he be actively building a relationship at this moment?
Exiu couldn’t be bothered to continue pretending because it was utterly meaningless.
When seeing the shadowless castle master, normal newbies would have some inclination to stick together, at least because they were all human.
Now, he even suspected this young man might have an antisocial personality.
Wen Shi muttered in dissatisfaction, “Why is Big Brother ignoring me now?”
Exiu’s mouth twitched.
Don’t you have any common sense?
The female player exchanged a glance with the other player next to her.
The newbie didn’t cause a big commotion. In fact, his manners were quite good.
This was a good thing. When situations arose and he was used as cannon fodder, their relatively outstanding abilities would allow them to prolong the confrontation with monsters for a while longer.
The female player’s thoughts were floating. In a normal instance, if she encountered a newbie with potential, she might have protected and established a good relationship with them. Unfortunately, it happened to be an endgame instance. She could only blame this newbie for being so unlucky.
She indulged in a nasty joke to lighten her mood.
It was better to die than be a hapless ghost. It must be the most promising development path.
Completely unaware that others were imagining how to “make the most of him,” Wen Shi was contemplating how to understand the current environment. Suddenly, a cold voice sounded in his ear—
“Player account successfully activated.”
Who? Wen Shi subconsciously looked around, wondering who was speaking.
“Instance ‘Night of the Horror Ancient Castle’ has been successfully loaded.”
“Friendly reminder, this instance is an endgame.”
“Starting to load attribute panel…”
If the voice was somewhat distant at first, now it was completely resonating in his mind, invading his soul, with a consciousness not belonging to him.
“Attribute panel loaded successfully.”
Wen Shi’s eyes widened suddenly.
Holographic games had been popular worldwide several years ago, but the number of players who could enjoy a complete holographic experience was not high due to the expensive cost of the biological cabins.
Now, he felt like he was playing a holographic game, except he didn’t enter through a biological cabin.
【Player ID: 460872
Code Name: Not generated
Health Points: 101 (As long as monsters don’t deliver the last hit, a sliver of residual health can go a long way.)
Memory Points: 101 (?)
Charisma Points: 92
Initial Luck Level: B
You have a safety charm that can ward off evil and stack luck attributes. This might be the reason why you have a bit more health and memory than others. The player’s current luck level is 2B.
Shop: Not open
Ranking: Not listed
Role-playing score for this script: 0
Evaluation: Apart from luck, you have nothing.】
Wen Shi touched his neck, but the safety charm he had been wearing was still nowhere to be found.
At the same time, Exiu came up with a new idea and spoke again, “Actually, when we first came in, we were all the same. We know nothing.”
“No,” Wen Shi raised one finger, “Now I know at least one thing.”
Exiu asked in puzzlement, “What?”
Wen Shi proudly raised his head, pointing at himself, and said, “Me, lucky boy.”
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