Chapter 7: Newcomer
On the day when the new challenge level opened.
Zheng Luozhu arrived at his boss’s company on time. Then, he sat in Fan Peiyang’s office on the visitor’s sofa, watching his boss sign documents, sign documents, and sign more documents.
Half an hour later, President Fan finally let his assistant come in and take away the last document. Then he put down his pen and looked up. “Is everything prepared?”
Zheng Luozhu patted the heavy luggage bag next to his foot. “Don’t worry, Boss. I’ve got everything ready. I even added a few blades inside.”
As for whether the new challenge level allowed carrying weapons, no one was certain. However, it was better to have them just in case. If they weren’t allowed, the weapons would likely stay in the real world when they were sucked into the challenge level. But if they were allowed, they would have a means of self-defense.
Fan Peiyang nodded and looked him up and down. “You’re looking good.”
Zheng Luozhu immediately straightened up and replied enthusiastically, “I’ve done nothing but eat well and sleep soundly for the past month, making up for all those nights I stayed up for the previous challenge level.”
As they locked eyes, Zheng Luozhu gradually fell silent.
The visibly tired boss, whose eyes were showing signs of exhaustion and dark circles, didn’t seem to genuinely compliment about his appearance…….
A gentle breeze slipped in through the partially open window, causing a book on the desk to flip open, making a rustling sound.
Fan Peiyang followed the sound with his gaze, but his eyes seemed to lose focus midway, as if he had suddenly entered a state of meditation and contemplation.
Zheng Luozhu didn’t dare to disturb him. Experience had taught him that after dealing with company matters, his boss would quickly switch back to the mode of preparing for the challenge. As an employee, all he needed to do was wait for instructions.
Sure enough, after a moment, Fan Peiyang’s fingers, which had been placed on the desk, began to tap lightly, one after the other.
“Why… do they give us a month of preparation time this time….”
“The coordinates of the new challenge level… where are they….”
Zheng Luozhu, unsure whether he was being addressed, cautiously spoke up, “Boss, are you asking me….”
Fan Peiyang shifted his gaze to Zheng Luozhu’s face and asked, “Do you have any thoughts?”
Zheng Luozhu replied, “None.”
Fan Peiyang simply said, “Okay.”
Zheng Luozhu: “……”
He seemed like, no, he’s definitely being disdained.
Without any warning, the office door opened once again, the person entering skipped the formality of knocking, naturally pushing the door open.
Zheng Luozhu reflexively stood up and met eyes with Tang Lin. He quickly greeted him politely, “President Tang.”
Although he had crossed paths with Tang Lin a couple of times, this was the first time they had a real conversation.
Realizing that Tang Lin might not know his name, Zheng Luozhu promptly added, “I’m Zheng Luozhu. You can call me Zhuzi.”
Tang Lin gave him a polite smile, his demeanor distant yet courteous. “Just call me Tang Lin.”
In his peripheral vision, Zheng Luozhu could see his boss closely monitoring the situation. Zheng Luozhu nodded vigorously. “Alright, President Tang.”
Tang Lin nodded slightly and didn’t dwell on the form of address. Instead, he walked to the desk opposite Fan Peiyang’s and pulled out a chair to sit down.
Zheng Luozhu looked at his profile with some confusion, feeling that Tang Lin seemed different now. During their previous encounters in the hospital, Tang Lin had given him the impression of being very optimistic and gentle, but the current Tang Lin seemed to have a hint of coldness.
The three of them stayed in this office until late at night.
During this time, Fan Peiyang and Tang Lin discussed various matters related to the upcoming challenge, and Tang Lin took notes diligently.
After that night, neither of them mentioned the issue of memory loss again.
Midnight, 12 PM.
Tang Lin heard the owl call for the second time, and this time he understood clearly that it was indeed an owl, just as Fan Peiyang had described.
A purple vortex appeared on the ceiling, sucking the three of them in.
They experienced a dizzying sensation, and when they landed, they found themselves in a narrow corridor in front of an old elevator. The hallway was worn down, adorned with colorful advertisements and signs, while the elevator looked decrepit. In front of its doors was a horizontally sliding iron gate, giving it a touch of the old Hong Kong Kowloon City atmosphere from the last century.
However, when the three of them landed, there were seven thudding sounds.
They exchanged surprised glances, clearly taken aback.
“Five Black Gang?”
“Xiao Yu and Xiao Li?”
With each person’s statement, they gradually recognized one another.
They had all encountered each other in previous challenge levels, and some had even clashed.
“I was wondering why they made us wait for twenty days. It turns out it was to gather enough participants.” Ge Shaping had a look of sudden realization.
“Twenty days? You’re behind the times,” Yu Fei taunted. “We’ve been resting for a whole month and a half.”
Upon hearing this, Zheng Luozhu more or less understood. The opening date of the new challenge was fixed, but the arrival time of each team at the Wishing House was different, so naturally, the duration of each team’s vacation varied.
The question was why the opening time for the new challenge was set so late.
Was it, as they heard in the Wishing House, to give them more time to prepare, or, as Ge Shaping suggested, to gather more participants…
“It’s fate that we meet here,” Ge Shaping said with his characteristic booming voice, teasing, “It seems like we all have grand wishes.”
No one picked up on his comment, and everyone smiled and moved on.
In the previous challenge, they had to pass together as a team of five to enter the Wishing House. But now, with seven people, there was no complete five-person team left. It was clear that each team had obtained information on how to leave this place completely and had teammates who successfully left.
They were the last ones remaining, choosing to stay in exchange for wishes. However, this topic wasn’t something they enjoyed discussing.
Two notification sounds chimed one after the other. The first was the elevator arriving, and the second came from everyone’s forearm.
Tang Lin pushed up his coat sleeve, seeing for the first time the important symbol that Fan Peiyang had explained in detail—a picture of an owl’s head.
By clicking on this symbol, they could check the received notifications——
<Cheat Sheet>: All stationery has been cleared. Challengers, please enter the elevator.
Tang Lin didn’t have any stationery, so this didn’t affect him at all.
However, the faces of the others turned grim. Even someone as optimistic and spirited as Yu Fei couldn’t help but mutter, “F*ck.”
The elevator door and the iron grille opened simultaneously, revealing an empty car.
Zhang Quan put down his arm and called out to everyone, “Since we’re here, let’s go.”
Tang Lin was the first to enter the elevator, standing at the back. The elevator gradually filled up, and as Yu Fei and Li Zhan entered last, the elevator doors closed slowly, then it began to descend.
Zheng Luozhu secretly reached for his travel bag, the blade was still there. Not bad.
At that moment, no one realized that the familiar rules of the level had quietly changed.
The clear notification sound, while not loud, penetrated the oppressive machinery noise.
Tang Lin, Fan Peiyang, and Zheng Luozhu all raised their arms to check the notification. Yu Fei, a short distance away, took a few seconds to react.
Tapping the owl icon, the interface that was supposed to appear on their arms now popped up in mid-air, but each person could only see their own, as if there was a private, exclusive projection
The new interface had undergone some changes, or rather, simplifications. There were now only two tabs: <Cheat Sheet> and <Stationery Box>.
<Cheat Sheet> displayed all the hints and information within the challenge level, and it appeared to be the same as before, but with one new message: The stationery tree has been generated. Meeting the corresponding conditions will unlock permanent stationery.
The function of “<Stationery Box>” is to store “Stationery,” but now, on the left side of the rows of empty stationery compartments, there is a “Stationery Tree.”
From the roots to the trunk, and then to the branches, each stage has a “Permanent Stationery Compartment” hanging from it, with the conditions for unlocking the stationery written inside. As you go higher up the tree, the requirements become more demanding.
Taking the example of Zheng Luozhu’s stationery tree, the stationery compartment at the root has already been unlocked, and it’s called “[One Iron Plate]”, without the “[Attack][Defend][Heal]” prefixes that regular stationery items usually have. It’s a straightforward stationery name.
Moving upward, there are——
Only the first four have clear unlocking conditions, and the rest are marked with question marks. Zheng Luozhu was currently puzzled by the question marks.
The level 1 and 2 are relatively easy to understand. They are likely considered as a fresh start, so where they are right now is the first level. To unlock permanent stationery, they need to pass through the corresponding levels. However, what do 100, 500, and 1000 mean? Money? Points? Experience? Collecting certain items? It’s unclear, as these elements have never appeared in previous challenge levels.
However, in the previous challenge levels, there were no permanent stationery items; all stationery was disposable and used once and then gone. From this perspective, having a stationery tree is quite good, even though [One Iron Plate] appears to be purely defensive in nature and is simple without any flashy features, carrying it all the time also provides a sense of security.
“Boss, what’s your first permanent stationery item?” After looking at his own stationery tree’s roots, Zheng Luozhu became curious about others.
Fan Peiyang gazed silently into the void for a long time.
Zheng Luozhu: “…”
It seemed like the boss didn’t want to discuss this issue.
“Zhuzi” suddenly Tang Lin looked over, “did your Stationery Tree unlock?”
Zheng Luozhu nodded, “Yes, the one at the very bottom unlocked directly.”
Tang Lin frowned and then looked up again.
Zheng Luozhu suddenly realized, “Yours didn’t unlock?”
Tang Lin said, “Not a single one unlocked.”
The two of them looked at each other again, and then they both turned to look at Fan Peiyang.
“I unlocked one too.” Fan Peiyang withdrew his gaze, and the interface in mid-air disappeared with it.
Zheng Luozhu became concerned; both he and Fan Peiyang had unlocked items, while the least experienced Tang Lin had none…
Fan Peiyang: “With me here, you don’t need to use stationery.”
Tang Lin: “…”
Zheng Luozhu: “…”
Boss was indeed impressive.
A group of people approached from a distance, or rather, two groups of people, each consisting of six or seven individuals. One group was dressed in white shirts, looking like fresh-faced youngsters, while the other group was composed entirely of muscular men, walking separately, showing no sign of blending.
The leader of the white-shirted group was a bespectacled man, exuding an elite aura. The head of the muscular group was a bald, heavily tattooed man, who could easily scare children just by standing there.
The two leaders walked side by side at the front, not bothering to hide their disdain, engaging in lively conversation.
White-shirted leader: “You’re pretty quick.”
Bald, tattooed leader: “You guys aren’t slow either.”
White-shirted leader: “If I were you, there’d be no need for this trip; those four obviously will be in our White Team.”
Bald, tattooed leader: “You’re just fooling yourself. Even with your eyes closed, you can tell your team doesn’t have anything good.”
White-shirted leader: “If I remember correctly, your ‘Step by Step Ascend’ hasn’t added any new members in half a year, right?”
Bald, tattooed leader: “F*ck, that’s because they lack vision. ‘Step by Step Ascend,’ what an imposing name, such a profound meaning. We climb up one challenge level after another, ascending with every challenge. They just can’t f*cking recognize quality.”
White-shirted leader: “I’m glad they have a healthy sense of aesthetics.”
Bald, tattooed leader: “I really want to kill you.”
White-shirted leader: “There are newcomers watching, you know.”
Bald, tattooed leader: “You get to live another day.”
After their chat, the two leaders approached Fan Peiyang’s group. Their followers immediately stood at attention, splitting into two groups: the fresh-faced youngsters gathered around the white-shirted leader, while the muscular men gathered around the bald, tattooed leader.
The formation looked intimidating, but the ones who interacted directly with the four were two friendly faces.
“Hello,” the bald, tattooed leader extended a hand of friendship, shaking hands with each of them, regardless of whether they liked it or not. Yu Fei, who was a bit far away, walked over to shake his hand and then returned to the group. “You can call me Shark. You’ve probably noticed from the elevator screening that this place is different from the previous challenge levels. Death is real, and it’s genuinely challenging here. Even if you want to survive, you’ll need to find a group. We’re ‘Step by Step Ascend,’ a warm and welcoming family…”
Bulging biceps, muscles, and an average height of over six feet. Zheng Luozhu quietly observed and thought, “Indeed, they do provide a sense of security.”
“Are you done talking? If you are, please allow me to speak,” the white-shirted leader pushed up his glasses, maintaining a polite tone despite interrupting, “Hello, I’m Lu Jue. No need for ridiculous nicknames; we’re all with our real names in our White Team…”
Being interrupted and then taunted was standard procedure, but Shark had to tightly embrace his bulging arm to resist the urge to give Lu Jue a good shove.
Zheng Luozhu discreetly glanced at Fan Peiyang, hoping to discern some indication or attitude from their boss’s eyes. However, there was nothing. It seemed like his boss wasn’t paying any attention at all.
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