“Sounds like a horror film I’m starring in. Am I horror film material? Wait, no, am I even the star?” – Fan Tong
The Eastern City looming in silence continued to radiate at night. Torches on the city wall lightened the gates and surrounding periphery.
The Eastern City. The board inscribed with these three words hung majestically above the city doors. The stone wall seemed a solid structure despite its long existence; the bricks felt clean and placid, displaying no signs of weathering.
Across the widely-welcoming gates, one could see orderly roads and houses. The frame-work of these civilian dwellings remained primarily low-set and simple, complementing the appearance of the city’s outskirts.
Some businesses still haven’t closed in this dead of night. The alleys clustered with them all bustled lively and illuminated like day, contrasting with the soundless residential areas.
On his way to the city, Fan Tong was already drilled with much of this world’s knowledge.
According to what they said, this world contains a treasure called “Chen Yue”. They didn’t clarify on exactly what this thing is, but Fan Tong assumed it’s probably similar to the satellites orbiting Earth. The clothing and architecture here though, showed a prehistoric and antique civilization. No one would know what a satellite is, and so Fan Tong could not confirm with them.
It’s said that a long time ago, the Eastern City’s Queen and the Western City’s Emperor discovered Chen Yue together. Fan Tong took a while until he realized “” actually refers to the Western City. Since the moon sets on their side, they are named as so. As for the Western City’s residents, they call the Eastern City “”, referring to how the morning sun always rises from the East.
Chen Yue possesses incredible power. Not only can it lure souls across the universe to this one, it can provide these wandering spirits with new bodies. However, the souls attracted by Chen Yue must fit under certain conditions. People who died in an accident, people who died filled with regrets, children who died before fully maturing; it’s these types of souls who are more likely beckoned to this world.
Fan Tong carried loads of doubts when he heard this. Actually, he suspected Chen Yue probably grabs living souls as well. If not, why couldn’t he even remember his own death and just miraculously ended up here?
On side note, current citizens would aid humans from alien worlds in becoming familiar with the culture here. To settle the new members quickly as New Residents, they’d cast memory suppression spells, sealing off parts of the person’s original memory. That’s exactly what Ling Shi just performed on Fan Tong. Fan Tong was unconscious for but a moment when he encountered the spell.
In that same moment, Ling Shi warped back to the city. As for Luo Shi, he traveled on foot with everyone else. Apparently, they did prepare seals to teleport home, but it’d be wasteful to use them unless it’s a crucial situation. It ended with Luo Shi walking home, explaining basic knowledge to Fan Tong along the way.
After joining the Eastern City, residents may polish their skills to improve their social standing. As a reward for each rise in rank, part of their original memories will recover. Fan Tong cared little for his sealed memories. What’s sealed cannot be remembered, and thus he wouldn’t be able to connect their missing links to other events anyway. Frankly, he’s just not motivated at all to put forth the effort.
Fan Tong wasn’t aware which memories Ling Shi sealed away, but since nothing felt off, then everything should be okay.
“After we return to the city, we’ll prepare a temporary home for you. A specialist will come tomorrow and explain.”
Since their departure at dusk to now, more than half the night has passed, and fatigue could be seen on everyone’s faces. Fan Tong also felt exhausted, but he became exhausted just from walking to the city.
Until their arrival at the Eastern City’s entrance, Luo Shi didn’t talk to him again. Fan Tong wanted to ask a few questions, but in this situation, the smart man would remain quiet.
Listening to explanations alone was very simple. All he had to do was to go “uh huh”, “okay”, “uh huh uh huh” the whole time. These responses required little variation, maybe a change to “wha?” at most, but that’s not too difficult. Just wait for more explanations and he could continue to go “uh huh uh huh” again. Very convenient.
The small troop grew delighted upon seeing their home city. Everyone wanted to rush back and rest, but a situation suddenly occurred.
They heard frantic footsteps from afar. No, it was from afar, but in a flash, the sound was no longer from a distant place and approached at an alarming speed. Everyone turned to look, and when they saw a person rocketing towards the gate while driving a magical beast, all froze in expression and parted to the sides in tacit agreement. All but Fan Tong, that is.
Fan Tong admits that his response reflex is a bit slow and his eyes aren’t the best either, but…
“Aghhhhhhh! Why’s there a person in the middle of the road!”
But… is this universe really such a hazardous place? Where people with slower reactions and less than perfect eyesight are killed at any moment?
When Fan Tong heard that person’s cry and got trampled flat by his dutiful beast, he suspected and really wanted to ask… is this what people call illegal driving?
As for the pain, he’d get used to it after a while right? Actually, would he get used to it or get tired of it?
“Fan Tong! Why’d you get yourself killed again?”
Before his soul completely left the body, Luo Shi screamed at him in disbelief.
The last time was because you killed me! You don’t have a right to ask!
Although Fan Tong ached to scream back, he would have to wait until his body has regenerated.
Experience often upsets theory. If you’ve experienced it, you’ll understand it. What’s happened to you, you will never forget. Experience is the best method to learning. All hired employees must undergo a training period, an unpaid month to associate with our company’s environment… In any case, all these quotes generally convey: Whether you understand it or not, no one knows. Probably you don’t know either. So let’s have you experience it, and you’ll see…
Fan Tong is currently living this principle – using death to understand Easten City’s resurrection system, the great complex powered under Chen Yue’s influence: the Pond.
If a New Resident bearing the Eastern city’s mark dies, his soul will be delivered to the bottom of the city’s Pond. Chen Yue’s energy will construct for the soul a new body, guaranteed to look exactly the same as before. The skills and knowledge developed before, not one will be missing.
However, the Pond’s system still wasn’t as considerate as the passageway. Fan Tong’s missing his clothes. This made him want to complain that the “Not one will be missing” commercial is a scam.
Awfully deep and as wide as a lake, the Pond almost caused he-who’s-not-acquainted-with-water to become a fresh, floating corpse again. Luckily, Luo Shi was very altruistic and brought a batch of people to lug him out. If not, he’d probably drown, die, regenerate, and drown again until someone finds him.
Fan Tong felt that the system, as though designed to force the creation of swimming experts, is truly not human-friendly. If something happened, that Pond would be filled with his corpses! Each one’s puffiness would be different as well. Isn’t that just disgusting? Has no one died this way before? Won’t others who die and regenerate here later be shocked?
Fan Tong believed this conversation will likely happen: “Ahh, Nice to meet you!” “No, I’ve seen your corpse before! What happened to you? A whole pile’s floating around. I carefully counted and you died a total of thirty-eight times! This is public contamination, you know! Can’t you at least clean up after yourself?” “Eh… but… to clean my own corpse, it feels really weird…” “Then what should we do? We, the people who bump into your corpses our whole way swimming to shore! That day, a whole hundred and eight people died. Every single one of them now recognizes your face!” “I’m really sorry. But wow, the corpses are already so bloated they’re distorted beyond recognition, I’m surprised you can still tell they’re me!”…
It’s possible to even become a celebrity because of this. Just the thought is horrifying.
Although people were here to salvage him, and he’s basically grateful at heart, it’s still difficult to cheer and rave when one’s being net out like a fish.
Upon boarding the boat and putting on a set of new clothes, his mood fell even heavier when Luo Shi solemnly spoke to him,
“I think you know already that New Residents will always regenerate here after death. Although that technically makes the New Residents immortals, don’t just casually die and think it’s okay. Let me tell you some things beforehand right now.”
Hearing this, Fan Tong really wanted to refute. Why would he think it’s alright to just casually die? He’s intensely scared of pain!
“The body you’re using now lasts ten years under normal circumstances. Dying within ten years is a waste of resources, and you must pay fees to change bodies. Don’t think no one will know if you secretly died. The Pond leaves a record. However, in consideration for the people who just arrived and are not used to this environment, the first three deaths within the year are free. It won’t be afterwards. You’ve already used two of those chances, so take good care of yourself.”
“What! Why? I didn’t even step into the Western City yet. That still counts?”
“This is the Eastern City! Is your brain still incomplete?”
Facing Luo Shi’s harsh outpour and stern image, Fan Tong once again failed to voice his suffering. Of course he knows this is the Eastern City. It’s exactly because he knows that it became the Western City when he tried to say it.
“It’s not cheap to change bodies, so careless New Residents often fall deep into debt. It’s not so much that you can’t regenerate if you’re unable to pay up, but severe pain will be produced during regeneration. Some people’s debts are so insanely large and impossible to pay back, they’d stop working, stop taking care of themselves, and would just mindlessly die. As punishment, pain will increase in proportion to the amount of debt.”
With Luo Shi’s every word, Fan Tong’s face scrunched up a bit more. When Luo Shi finished, Fan Tong’s expression could only be described as utterly miserable.
It’s already sad that I kept dying, and now I risk gathering a large debt as well? Those together already makes a tragedy, yet the pain to reborn will be more intense each time? This place really isn’t heaven but hell instead. Just what did I do to be clawed into hell? Did I gather too much as a fortune-teller?
Riding this wooden boat on the Pond sure feels like crossing River Styx. If this is true, then doesn’t that make Luo Shi and the others demon minions… Fan Tong flung off this wild flight of fancy and decided to empty his mind before reaching the coastline.
Eastern City’s resurrection pool isn’t contained in a shut room. Although the sides are surrounded by dirt walls, leaving only one exit at the city’s west, the Pond is open-air. One can see the vast clear sky, the white clouds, and the silver moon.
Hidden from sight now, the moon sank lower and became hidden underneath the horizon. That’s how long it took for everyone to finally go home. They stayed up the entire night.
Breathing a different air, absorbing a different atmosphere, gazing at the sky, and chilling under the somewhat breezy wind, Fan Tong finally felt his body relaxing and his emotions calming.
…If not for those two deaths today, the loveliness of everything would probably increase much more.
“I’ve never seen anyone die so quickly. I’m afraid you just set a new record,” said Person A.
“I know right? Last time, this guy got crushed when the city sign coincidentally fell on him. I thought that’d be the fastest record, but what do you know. Someone died before even reaching the city!”
Deriving pleasure from someone else’s misfortune and gloating about it isn’t right, you know. Even if I’m a record-holding champion, I don’t feel the slightest ounce of happiness! …twitched the corner of Fan Tong’s eye.
“Row the boat! What are you chatting for?” With an icy expression, Luo Shi immediately ended the dialogue. Person A and B hushed at once and diligently continued their work.
A few boats of similar size perched near the Pond’s shore, complete with oars and fishnets. It seems they are convenient measures for hauling friends and family at any time. Upon seeing this, Fan Tong didn’t know how he should feel.
After passing through a somewhat winding underground alley, Fan Tong finally entered the city’s innards. Fan Tong’s roving eyes glanced in all directions as he walked steadily and surely on the roads paved with ash-white bricks. Everything felt novel and fascinating.
The light of dawn began to surface from the east. Naturally, not many pedestrians strolled the streets so early in the morning. When Fan Tong gazed far into the north, a grand structure captivated him.
The looming structure was a mystical ice blue that projected a sense of transparency, probably an illusion caused by reflecting lights. It sat atop the only hill nearby, which further hinted at its distinguished status. Just by looking, spectators could find wholehearted respect for the solemn building.
“That’s…” Fan Tong pointed to the structure and asked the one walking next to him. The person yawned and answered in an exhausted tone.
“That’s Shen Wang Dian, dwelling of Her Majesty the Queen and the five Lords of Shi.”
Basically, where the dictators live right? Fan Tong understood.
Fan Tong glanced suspiciously at Luo Shi. Noticing him, Luo Shi furrowed his brows in discontent.
“That’s my house. Do you have a problem with that?”
I really didn’t mean to start a fight.
“And what problem would that be?”
A dim shade shrouded Luo Shi’s delicate face. Fan Tong’s memory isn’t so horrible that he’d forget what happened that same day. He clearly remembers how he died the first time and the sensation when Driven Fire roasted his life to a black and white crisp…
What to do? Fan Tong became a bit scared. Even if he wanted to say “I just didn’t know the person welcoming me is a noble comparable to the queen,” there’s a very high chance the words will become insults belittling both of them instead.
He labored to find something that won’t sound odd even on reverse.
I could have just shook my head earlier! What possessed me to answer with words?
“Lord Luo Shi, we’ve arrived.”
Person B aptly spoke again and interrupted the atmosphere. On this, Luo Shi looked away. Feeling rescued, Fan Tong followed along and looked towards his temporary home in the Eastern City.
The home was one of many . It appeared bland yet proper, still acceptable and had nothing in particular worth complaining about.
“Before the employee assigned to inform you comes, do not wander out of here by yourself.”
Luo Shi instructed stolidly and reminded an extra note,
“We’re only lending this house to you temporarily. Although no one lives in it, it’s still government property. You will compensate for any loss or damage.”
Fees fees fees fees. Fan Tong found the Eastern City very stingy, demanding payment for every rebirth and asserting authority even in temporary housing. Is it because he hasn’t received his citizenship yet that the treatment is so horrible?
“Are you clear?”
This time, Fan Tong remembered to nod.
Fan Tong fell asleep at dusk, but that’s not the case for his tour guide. Right when he started catching some shuteye and drifted to a deeper slumber, his guest came knocking in and woke him up. Sleep deprivation currently at a maximum.
That’s how it is when one has a cheap life. I don’t even get the right to sleep a good night’s sleep… Lifting his muddled head, Fan Tong looked at the man beaming at him with a professional smile.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Mi Zhong, responsible for teaching you the required knowledge about Huan Shi and the Eastern City. Just call me by my name.”
? Fan Tong literally translated.
“What a nice name.”
No, I wanted to say what a strange name it was. Who would name themselves this? The world is really full of wonders.
While thinking this, Fan Tong remained fully ignorant about his own name’s oddity and how his current thoughts complemented his name.
“Thank you for your compliment. Before I take you to see some important landmarks, let me take care of the basics.”
Mi Zhong spoke while pulling a white object from his pocket. Fan Tong saw this before. That object usually hangs atop clothing as decoration, called a tassel or something.
“This white tassel is yours. I’ll explain to you the meaning behind it.”
Mi Zhong cleared his throat and explained eloquently with fine professionalism.
“Our city distinguishes social ranking using different colored tassels. The spectrum begins with black as the strongest, then descends to purple, red, blue, green, and white. All who have just arrived will receive white tassels, indicating blank records in their appraisal tests. Wage is determined based on this as well, with income increasing with higher-tiered colors. Within the same color, darker shades better the light. For example, deep blue indicates a stronger level than pale blue. Also, whites receive no wage. Everyone begins at zero. Please do well to increase your status.”
The Eastern City truly values money it seems. Fan Tong dejectedly received the white tassel that symbolized his uselessness.
The tassel dangling around Mi Zhong’s waist was pale green. According to Fan Tong’s memory, Luo Shi carried a scarlet tassel and led followers with reds and blues. As for Ling Shi, who appeared for only a second, Fan Tong didn’t notice.
“Stop looking, alright? My light green tassel allows very few money each month. Fortunately there are always newcomers, so I can at least work as a tour guide. If not, I wouldn’t have enough money to pay my debt when I accidentally die…”
Seeing the man scratch his head with sighs, Fan Tong didn’t know how to comfort him. After all, he’s in a stickier situation. Wasting two free rebirth opportunities right after arrival, he possessed no extra energy to sympathize with other people.
“What’s next? Since I am here, I should know who are in the ruling class, in case I offend any of them by mistake…”
I think I already offended one yesterday. A slightly depressed Fan Tong presumed.
“Our most honored figure is our ruler, Queen Xi Ying. The queen’s age isn’t important. She looks young anyways. You can only see her from a distance, since she only appears on certain public events. However, Chen Yue Jie, the holiday commemorating the launch of Chen Yue, will take place half a month from now. Her Majesty and the five Lords will ride to Chen Yue’s Altar and perform a ceremony. When the time comes, you can follow their carriage and revere their noble presence.”
Fan Tong nodded and Mi Zhong continued.
“Second to our Queen are our five Lords of “Shi”. I believe you’ve seen Lord Ling Shi already. As the executive controlling memories, he personally performs a ritual with every New Resident to seal their memories. Consequently, each one is enslaved by his beauty. The event rewarding memories to those who rose in rank is also carried out by Lord Ling Shi himself! Sigh, why can’t I scale up faster. I really want to see Lord Ling Shi…”
That last sentence was just your inner voice and desire, right? Is this level of professionalism alright as a tour guide?
While Fan Tong doesn’t deny Ling Shi’s beauty, his feelings after Ling Shi dictated his death was a whole different matter.
“Lord Ling Shi also acts as the Queen’s close attendant. I heard he tends to every trivial matter, from dressing her hair to preparing her bath. Ah, I envy the Queen so much…”
You’re still not done? Also, don’t people usually envy the one who serves the Queen? Why is it switched? If hair and bath duties are included, then what about bed service?
“As for Lord Yin Shi, how should I say this… he’s very frank and lacks a royal conscience. An eccentric person. Probably because he’s too much of an eccentric, he still can’t find a dating partner despite being a talented and handsome guy. It’s quite unbelievable.”
“Yeah. I heard he was out handling some affairs for a month and finally returned yesterday night. He lost control while riding a he caught for fun. That devastated a good sum of businesses after he charged through the city gates. In the end, the disturbance shocked the Queen and she scolded him as punishment.”
At least Fan Tong now knows who murdered him last night, and it appears he can never hope to ask for compensation.
“The one who brought you home yesterday is Lord Luo Shi, the youngest among the five lords. He’s only fourteen this year. His personality’s a bit hard to get along with… Right, he’s also the Queen’s son. This background added on to that personality makes him feel quite distant.”
Fan Tong turned pale.
Dammit! Of all things to offend I offend a prince!
“You look horrible. What happened?”
Fan Tong listlessly shook his head. A slip of the tongue can cause eternal hate, and this might cause him another hundred deaths.
“Lord Wei Shi doesn’t appear very often. He’s probably in his thirties now. There’s not much information about him, but it seems his word weighs very heavily on the Queen. Many of her orders are decreed from his advice and suggestions. Ah, Lord Wei Shi also favors Natural Residents. He’s always bullying some New Resident and keeps suggesting unfair regulations, so New Residents generally hate him.”
Fan Tong made sure to remember his name well and waited for Mi Zhong to continue with everyone’s introductions.
“Finally, there’s Lord Hui Shi… Eh, let’s skip him for now. Let me tell you about Luo Yue.”
There are clearly five of them, yet he only introduces four. He even changed the topic so obviously. Fan Tong couldn’t help but feel confused. This really causes concern.
“Is this Lord Hui Shi even more hateful than Wei Shi?”
After finishing the sentence, Fan Tong wanted to cry a bit. Why does that ten percent chance of speaking correctly only happen during trivial conversation?
“That’s not true at all! Lord Hui Shi is a very good person, and everyone really likes him! Except… Sigh…”
After Mi Zhong passionately refuted, he wistfully adopted a sad tone.
“Oh well, it doesn’t hurt to tell you. Lord Hui Shi has been missing for two years already, and there’re no news of him even now. He disappeared at seventeen, and at that time, he already held a distinguished pale black tassel. You can say he’s an exceptional prodigy. That’s why the Queen adopted him as her son in the first place. In this situation, some say he died while others say he betrayed us. The matter is truly saddening… but don’t let Her Majesty and Lord Luo Shi hear about this. It’s taboo.”
Fan Tong never lived here before and thus could not sympathize with this story about Hui Shi. He just found one thing unclear.
“Don’t Natural Residents die in the Pond after living?”
And the word reversal functions returns to normal. Luck really doesn’t come in pairs. Honestly, is this curse some A.I. programmed with self-learning capabilities? It already sensed that “Natural Residents” is the antonym of “New Residents”…
“What are you talking about? Are you referring to how New Residents can be reborn after dying? The Queen and the five Lords are all Natural Residents. If they die, they die. They can’t relive. New Residents can keep reviving because we were already souls upon arrival. Basically, we’re just dead souls borrowing bodies from Chen Yue to move around. On the contrary, this blessing doesn’t apply to the people born here. It’s ironic, isn’t it? Since Chen Yue is originally from this world.”
What Fan Tong found most ironic is the fact that he still doesn’t know how he died. He feels frustrated every time he recalls this matter.
“Of course this isn’t definite either. A droplet of royal blood from our Queen or Luo Yue’s Emperor can revive a Natural Resident, though that person must not have died for longer than six hours. The Queen and Emperor can only use this power once a month, and when they do, they remain at a weakened state the entire day, which also caused our Queen to dislike using this power. Since Natural Residents can only relive once, Lord Wei Shi finds their lives more precious and in turn ignores the New Residents completely.”
Could this miraculous power be the reason why people enthroned them as king and queen? If it only works once a month, then they really do have to choose carefully. If they revived some insignificant person right before an important one dies, then that’d really create a problematic situation.
Mi Zhong began to speak again while Fan Tong’s thoughts wandered. Fan Tong paused in his thoughts and listened closely.
“New Residents aren’t indestructible either, you know. Huan Shi weaponry is split between normal weapons and soul purging weapons. New Residents’ souls disintegrate when they are killed by soul purging weapons. Afterwards, they will never regenerate again. Lord Wei Shi sees the advantage New Residents have, so he granted a soul purging weapon to each Natural Resident as protection. He even declared a verdict to purge any New Resident if they killed a Natural Resident without legitimate reason. That’s why I’d suggest you avoid angering any of the original residents here. The Eastern City ardently protects them.”
Unfortunately, Fan Tong already did, and a big fish at that. He could only pray that Luo Shi isn’t a stingy person who’d hold a grudge on such a small matter.
“Weapons here can speak, so don’t be too startled when they do. Also, the weapon must acknowledge you before you can use it. If you’re using a kitchen knife or a similar everyday tool, then the effect relatively stays the same even without acknowledgment. I’ll teach you how to distinguish between New and Natural Residents once we go out… right, I said I’d tell you about Luo Yue earlier. I almost forgot.”
Mi Zhong put down the bag he was carrying and informed Fan Tong that inside it are the city’s clothes and provisions. Fan Tong faultily said “You’re welcome” instead of “Thanks”, and Mi Zhong continued explaining after some moments of awkward silence.
“Luo Yue is the Western City’s alias. You should know already right? Everyone calls it that. The Western City’s young Emperor is called Englar. We’re uncertain of his age. Some say he’s eighteen, some say he’s not even ten. Anyways, the age should be under twenty. Luo Yue’s law restricts anyone from publicizing his age. I heard he remains hidden for most public events, and even the more important ones are attended by substitutes. Probably no one will see his face until he becomes an adult. That side’s quite complicated, isn’t it… You have to remember, the people from Luo Yue are our enemies. If you happen to cross paths with them while traveling, don’t hesitate to kill them.”
After saying so much in one go, Mi Zhong took a short break. He drank a gulp of water and took a deep breath.
“They discriminate ranks using specialized embroidery on their belt. Five copper threads upgrade to one silver. Five silvers become one gold. The highest rank exhibits three golden threads, and that equates to our pure black tassel. Extremely rarely do people possess it. Alright, that’s it for now. Let’s head out. My mouth’s tired already.”
Fan Tong doesn’t mind going out right now, other than the fact that he seriously needs some sleep. Mi Zhong saw him put on the white tassel and attentively patched on more details.
“There’s something else I must tell you. Lower ranks can challenge and defeat higher ranks to rise in ranking. There’s no punishment for losing. However, the higher ranked person will drop one sub-level lower. For instance, a deep green will demote to a grass green. You’re still a white right now, so no worries. You’re not allowed to refuse challenges, so knit your social network well or trouble will constantly follow you… Definitely do not challenge me!”
Do I look so brutal and ruthless? Bastard.
Leaving the house, Mi Zhong explained that they will first register at the school campus. Only then did Fan Tong discover the existence of mandatory classes in this world. Along their route towards school, Mi Zhong pointed out important landmarks and explained their significance.
“Look. That’s the Pond on the west. If you accidentally died, that’s where you’ll pop back out.”
I know. I just popped out from there yesterday. Fan Tong silently fell glum.
“You see that eye-catching building over there? That’s Shen Wang Dian, where Queen Xi Ying and the five Lords live.”
I know. Because of that building, I got someone to hate me yesterday.
“The main gate is situated in the far south. It’s magnificent!”
I know that too. I died there yesterday.
While Fan Tong internally answered, he felt more and more depressed about his experiences in this world. He couldn’t find anything good at all.
Countless pedestrians strolled the streets now that it’s daytime. The eventful activities and multitude of humans created a lively atmosphere befitting this metropolitan city. Fan Tong also took this chance to scan everyone’s tassel. Most tassels were blues and greens, rarely red, while purples and blacks were nowhere to be seen.
“Come look on that side. Those people are Natural Residents.”
Mi Zhong suddenly pulled on him and pointed to a crowd. Fan Tong stared for a while, but ultimately could not tell the difference.
“You can’t tell? There are no marks on Natural Residents.”
Fan Tong felt suddenly enlightened.
The Eastern City uses a spell to embed a mark on each New Resident when they arrive. With this mark, the person’s soul will transfer to the Eastern City’s Pond after death. This goes for the Western City as well. As for Natural Residents, they do not revive and thus have no need for marks.
This so-called mark is planted within the body, and those with the same mark read the same wavelength. Natural Residents do not possess any waves, while New Residents of the Western City hold a different wavelength. So it’s actually quite simple to make distinction among the different classes.
“The school campus is just ahead of us. Let’s go.”
Actually, Fan Tong already felt impelled to sleep standing up. But upon hearing this, he could only force himself to stay awake and stride forward.
“Oh yeah. What’s your dying regret? Mind if I ask?”
Being asked so suddenly, Fan Tong felt a bit troubled.
“I don’t know how I lived. I don’t think I ever lived.”
“Oh? So you want to start anew? How noble.”
I think you misunderstood me. I wanted to say “died”, but it swapped with “lived”. Even this small change could create a whole different meaning. How interesting.
“Theoretically, only people who’ve died filled with regrets are summoned here. Some are so obsessed they could never pick themselves back up. Ah, you see, that’s one right there.”
Fan Tong followed the direction of his fingers and saw a man coiled on the ground. With his face distorted, the man repeatedly muttered an ambiguous statement, “I will be God of the new world!”
“How did he die?”
“It’s said that he died bearing more than two thousand gunshots.”
Wow, two thousand shots! A superman?
“People here died all sorts of bizarre deaths. I heard this woman in Luo Yue died choking on an apple, but a few days later she disappeared. It seems she came back to life after spitting the apple back out. Mind blowing, right?”
Of course this is a more extreme example. After hearing this, Fan Tong also made an effort to recall his past life. Maybe he ate something that could’ve choked him; if that was true, then there’s a chance he can live again…
Alas, he could not remember what his last supper was. Sigh.
The campus is positioned on the eastern side of the city. The Eastern City’s landmarks are quite easy to memorize. School in the east, Pond in the west, city gates in the south, and Shen Wang Dian in the north, all facing each other in those four directions.
Because the city boasts quite a large landmass, it takes considerable time to walk from the southern point to the northern one. That’s why they made use of a few portals along the way. Fan Tong didn’t have the photographic memory to know his way in one swoop, so he’ll have to rely on Mi Zhong to guide him back later.
Hopefully Mi Zhong will draw me a map for the way home. Fan Tong prayed.
As the only place that creates new talents in Eastern City, the school campus is naturally very extensive and grand as well. After entering the stately campus doors, one could see three main structures, , , and . Each pavilion featured a distinct style of exquisite adornment. Mi Zhong brought Fan Tong to the General Affairs Department and registered for a uniform before beginning his explanation.
“New students begin with general studies on all three subjects. If you’re particularly able in a certain field, it’s not too late to specialize in it afterwards. Also, New Residents and Natural Residents study in different classes. Shufa Xuan’s rector is Lord Yin Shi, Fuzhou Xuan’s is Lord Lin Shi, while Wushu Xuan’s is Lord Hui Shi… currently substituted by Lord Wei Shi.”
Fan Tong has some confidence in his calligraphy, so if Fuzhou requires writing charms, it might match him quite well. Shufa would be a brand new experience, so playing with it a bit doesn’t hurt. But as for Wushu, Fan Tong’s interest plummeted. Well, he’s that clumsy type of idiot who trips over his own feet anyway, so he doesn’t anticipate any good results there.
“Also, about the temporary home you live in right now…”
Mi Zhong suddenly remembered that this matter still hasn’t been covered and thus hurriedly added,
“That’s because your bed location isn’t determined yet. Basically, three people with white or green tassels share one room. The space will be much more compact than it is now, so be mentally prepared.”
Of course there’s no such thing as good news in this world.
After completing registration, Mi Zhong handed him the school schedule, reminded him to go to school on time, and started guiding him home.
“Once your bed area is decided, I will come again to help you move. This is my contact information. If you need anything, just ask, but I guess you’ll have to learn the basics of Fuzhou first before using this… Oh right, there’s also this.”
Seeing Mi Zhong rummaging around, Fan Tong almost thought he had a present for him. In the end, it was just a survey.
“My tour was quite detailed and thorough, wasn’t it? Please help me fill out this questionnaire. It’d raise my salary. Please leave me some face and fill in “Very Satisfied”, okay?”
Fan Tong was left speechless.
In the middle of his battle with the survey, the door from the housing next to them flung open and out walked a person.
“Yo, Mi Zhong. Leading a newcomer?”
“Yeah, you too? Does someone live there?”
“About this, you see. Someone lived here all along, but the one responsible for the guy didn’t leave a note before resigning, so everyone just neglected his existence. He never went to school either. Only when a newcomer came in yesterday did they notice his situation on the register. And so they sent me to check things out.”
After he finished, the man mumbled, “But the person inside doesn’t seem to match with the profile…”
“Hey, Fan Tong. You have a neighbor now. There’s a big chance you guys will be placed in the same room, so get along okay?”
Mi Zhong lightly patted Fan Tong’s shoulders the same time Fan Tong finished the survey. Mi Zhong took the paper to look.
“…Fan Tong, you wrote my name wrong. It’s Mi Zhong, not Mi Chong…”
When Fan Tong sent Mi Zhong off and jumped to bed, it was still a shining afternoon. Thus, the moon was already hanging high at night when he woke up again.
Fan Tong didn’t want to become a nocturnal animal. School starts classes in the daytime, and there are no night classes. This abnormal sleeping schedule must be fixed, or his new life in the Eastern City will be even more worrisome.
At that same moment, Fan Tong noticed his growling stomach. He did go for a day without eating anything. Mi Zhong told him that for his three meals, “nasty and insubstantial” public rations are provided in the streets at set times everyday. If he wants to eat better, then he can go to a restaurant. Of course that requires money.
Fan Tong was here for only a day, so naturally he wouldn’t have any money on him. Even if he waited until payday, a white tassel wouldn’t earn him anything.
But he was agonizingly hungry. Staring blankly at home with an empty stomach was also very painful. So, although it’s pointless to shop the streets with an empty wallet, Fan Tong still set out for the night businesses.
A hundred qians makes one string, and the cheapest food here still asks for three strings… Mi Zhong told him that pale green tassels claim two strings each month. Also, a new body after rebirth requires one hundred strings. Thanks to that, low level residents who’ve died a couple times are already burdened with a large debt. Even blues get only about ten strings, so it’s very hard to survive just by claiming the monthly salary. Almost everyone finds a job to sell their labor, and one of the simplest occupations includes being a tour guide.
There’s no hope for Fan Tong in becoming a tour guide with that mouth of his. He might even have to pay reparations for misleading newcomers. If he accidentally called Englar the Emperor of Eastern City, reparations alone won’t be enough…
No one would gift him with food even if he kept staring, so Fan Tong dully walked away. He decided to leisurely stroll around the neighborhood and hoped that that will make him forget about hunger a little bit.
Walking without direction, Fan Tong wandered to the main gate. The doors remained open at night. This style differed from what he remembered. He gave it some more attention because of this and noticed a human shadow standing on the side.
The shadow’s profile looked rather familiar. Fan Tong stepped closer and recognized it.
It’s Luo Shi.
Knowing it’s Luo Shi, Fan Tong wanted to turn around and run. But, he was a bit curious about the reason why Luo Shi didn’t sleep but rather ran here in the middle of the night. The feet that rotated for escape turned back.
Under the gentle, delicate moonlight, the young boy’s silhouette appeared fleeting and unreal. It even carried a sense of vulnerability.
He seemed to be waiting for someone, gazing motionlessly towards the gates’ exterior. Melancholy tinted his graceful features.
Nights are in fact quite chilly this season of the year. Mi Zhong mentioned that New Residents are fairly immune to weather conditions, so when Fan Tong felt pain from that gust of cold wind blown at his face, he could tell just how cold the temperature is right now.
Yet Luo Shi stood there as though he couldn’t feel the cold. He wouldn’t find something to cover and warm himself.
That silhouette looked very lonely.
Suddenly, Fan Tong wanted to offer Luo Shi a fortune-telling… Does this count as workholism acting up? Even if his fortune-telling is inaccurate, Fan Tong wanted to help Luo Shi get rid of any knots inside his heart. He wanted to help out, no matter how minute it may be.
“Who is it?”
When Luo Shi discovered someone behind him and turned around, his attitude was very cautious and hostile. Realizing it was Fan Tong, he was stunned for a moment before raising his eyebrows.
“Fan Tong, why is it you again?”
“If you’re passing by, why did you stop here?”
Forcing me to talk now is it.
Fan Tong despairingly decided to try and explain, giving it up to the heavens to decide what will spout from his mouth. Out of the blue, a chain of growling noises interrupted the hushed setting. The origin was his stomach.
Luo Shi’s gaped at him with an inexplicable expression. Fan Tong paused for half a day until he finally said this one sentence.
“I was just wondering… if I could borrow some money from you for dinner…”
A frosty wind blew by.
Fan Tong felt that even crows cawing wouldn’t be too weird right now.
◎ Fan Tong’s Afterword
After many twists and turns and experiencing things I’ve never imagined before, it seems I have officially settled in a temporary home. Officially yet temporarily. I know this is confusing, but that’s how things are. I’m hungry and tired. If you don’t get it, it’s fine.
On that note, I really didn’t think I would be stomped to death by some magical beast. I never even thought of being trampled by horses or cows or dogs or cats before… What, you think cats and dogs can’t crush someone to death? People who underestimate them will one day die squashed by them. If you’re scared, my disaster-evading services are available for each time. It’s a very reasonable price… Oh, I really have run a fortune-telling business for too long. I forgot that I don’t do that anymore. Pretend I didn’t say anything. What! Is it weird for fortune-tellers to help others avoid disasters? I’m an omnipotent, heaven-loved talent that’s invincible in everything, okay? Don’t mind the petty things!
This is terrible. My brain is empty when my stomach is empty. I’ve pretty much forgotten everything Mi Chong introduced to me today. It’s really hard to register so much information at once. If only I had a recorder and could study from it, but this place doesn’t seem like it’d have one. I can only rely on my unreliable brain. This really makes me worried.
…? I got the name wrong? Well, Mi Chong is easier to remember, plus the pronunciation’s the same anyways. He wouldn’t know. Calling it this way will aid my memory, so what’s the problem? You ask why I don’t call myself ? You’re joking! What normal person can’t remember their own name! If you can find just one… hundred twenty people who can’t, I’ll start using my name backwards!
What’s the significance behind the number one hundred twenty? There’s no significance behind it of course. The number’s got no sincerity in it? Well, too bad, I’m insincere. My name sounds better backwards anyways? …That’s going a bit too far.
Alright, I’m going to go eat now. Although I did imagine myself dying from hunger back when I did my fortune-telling business, it’s still lame to pay for my own death. A good-hearted money tree is hard to come by, so it doesn’t hurt to ask for an occassional bowl of rice or two.
…Well, I think I’ll eat a bit less. Borrowed money still has to be paid back.
Next: Chapter 2: A HUMAN REALLY SHOULD “LOVE THY NEIGHBOR”
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Xuan, by itself, refers to either a school, pavilion, or a circle of something.