Chapter 1 — The Last Knight
“As I stand before the lone lamp amidst the cold dampness, I think back to my distant friend whom I shared a drink with amidst the peach blossom spring.”
-3 WEEKS LATER-
Midsummer, at Lake Tai surrounding Suzhou.
The fishes drifted in the water, ebbing up and down. The engines of the vehicle from the highway behind me roared as a white Porsche pulled up next to me.
Frowning, I lifted my rod. The fish bait had already been nipped to bits. I slid my gaze to the Porsche.
A lady exited from the sports car. She was breathtaking.
Dressed in a simple sky-blue frock, she clutched a notebook in her hands. She stepped towards me carefully in exquisite high-heeled shoes. I drew in a breath when she made her way towards me. Pale, delicate cheeks like cut jade with curved eyebrows. Bright eyes brimming with intelligence without a speck of dust in them. Her jet-black hair fell to her shoulder in ripples, and frock drew the perfect curves on her body. She seemed to have walked right out of a picture scroll.
A female goddess who had just appeared with a Porsche. Was she lost?
I hesitated, unsure if I should replace the bait on the hook.
She elegantly and naturally made her way towards me, fixing her beautiful eyes on me. She seemed to be as bewildered as I was. Glancing down at the notebook in her hands, she seemed to pluck up enough courage and approached me, uncertainly standing before me. “Excuse me, may I ask if you are Ding Muchen?”1
Like a clap of thunder had sounded out, I shook myself out of my trance. It seems like the heavens have had pity on me; could it be possible that the heavens had finally opened their eyes and seen my ‘single’ status that I maintained for many years? Have the heavens finally dropped an exceptionally beautiful woman to help those in distress like me?
“Is…is there any problem?”
I replaced the bait, feigning my indifference. However, my mind was on anything but the fishing hook. I had already caught many fishes today, but the best fish I would catch would certainly be this mermaid.2
She shifted uncomfortably. “I am Tang Yun, I believe it’s our first time meeting. It’s a pleasure to meet you…”
I turned around and watched her. “What do you need me for, beautiful?”
The notebook in Tang Yun’s hand was about to be crumpled from her grip. The long strands of hair seemed to faintly radiate a sweet scent. The fringes of her frock fluttered slightly in the wind. “Not long ago, you announced your indefinite retirement. As a result, I would like to extend this invitation. May I ask if you are willing to become a member of my club? Skyroad will be opening in three weeks, why don’t we push for the national golden league together?”
I relaxed, unable to conceal my disappointment. It seems like it was just another invitation from some club.
“Sorry, I have no plans for joining any club at the present.”
A look of disappointment flickered in her eyes. Pursing her cherry lips, she asked, “After your retirement, will…you be here everyday fishing?”
I grinned. “Reminds me, how did you find me? If memory serves me right, I did not leave any addresses or clues.”
Her dimples showed as she smiled. She glanced towards the stone railing beside her with two cups of milk tea on it. “Actually, I got information from outside sources to track you down. You punctually order two cups of iced milk tea and have them sent here every day. En…the address is “the mouth of third street at the second stone railing at the fishing spot to the most handsome man overlooking the lake”. Correct?”3
I felt my face redden. “Touché, haha!”
Tang Yun seemed unwilling to give up now. Biting her lips, she adorably asked me, “Ding Muchen, I know a little about your affair with Silverfox club. I agree with you. Among the five big tactics core of the nation, you are the youngest, but also the one with the most potential. In the nation’s server, you are dubbed the ‘The Last Horseman’, and also the strongest horseman. Even if Silverfox does not want to use you, I am willing to. As long as you agree, I will fully satisfy your opening salary.”
I waved her away, laughing. “I am truly apologetic, but I really have no interest in joining any club. I may not even register an account with Skyroad.”
She gritted her teeth. “I am willing…to buy you over for three times your wage at Silverfox. Why don’t you think it over?”
“No need, money will not sway me.”
I flickered my eyes back to her, only to see a pair of slender snow-white legs as her frock rose in the wind. Her chest contained a full set of busty peaks.4My pulse sped up, and I almost nodded instinctively to her words. Like my entire body had received an electric shock, I calmed myself with a few breaths. “Tang Yun, thank you for your invitation. However, people change with the passage of time. If it were two years ago, I would have agreed.”
Disappointment filled her features. “Then add me as a contact. If you change your decision, then you can find me any time. My studio and club will welcome your arrival.”
I lifted my mobile phone and opened WeChat.5 The new profile picture of an adorable kitty appeared in my contact list. Her username was “Tiramisu”. It was a rather familiar username.
“Then, I wish you the best~”
Tan Yun suddenly walked forward a few steps, staring down at the ‘spoils of war’ in my bucket. She grinned up at me, her beautiful eyes curving into crescent moons. “Quite a lot of yellow catfish. Not bad…”
“Ha…my fishing skills are all right.” I awkwardly smiled.
Tan Yun lifted a hand in farewell. “In that case, see you again.”
“See you again.”
Seeing the Porsche kick up dirt as it took off, I found myself surprisingly lonely, like I had lost something. It seemed that I had thrown away a pretty good opportunity.
However, my loneliness was immediately tempered by the punctuated honks of a scooter (motorcycle). In place of where the Porsche had stood a few seconds before was a gray scooter. Full of stains and rust marks, the rider of the ramshackle scooter proudly donned a dull, golden helmet. Taking off his helmet, he revealed a handsome face, shooting me a grin. “Chen Ge!”
I laughed heartily. Lin Che was my good brother.6 We had grown up together, gone to elementary school together, gone to middle school together, and were both admitted into the Police Academy. We had entered the same occupation, retired together, and had even entered Silverfox together. However, he had left Silverfox half a year earlier than me.
Lin Che stopped his scooter and killed the engine. He walked to the lake’s edge and plopped down on the grass beside me. He eyed the direction that Tang Yun had left. “That girl from just now, was she finding you?”
“Who’s she?” His eyes shone, “Is…she my future sister-in-law? What a beauty…I daresay, with that sort of looks, even if you searched for them like sand on a beach, it would be hard to find another. It seems like you really have a thing with the ladies!”
“Don’t be absurd.”
I resentfully continued, “She was merely extending an invitation to enter her club.”
“Oh…” Lin Che chuckled. “With your ability, I imagine your phone must have been spammed after you announced your departure from Silverfox. There are so many clubs that dream of attacking for golden league and battle squads. They must have regarded you as premium meat.”
“Nothing that exaggerated.”
I gave him a sidelong glance. “Xiao Che, you’ve been doing rather well these days. When did you get that?”
Lin Che stared lovingly at the scooter, excitement flushing his face. “Hehe, it’s a cleaned-out second-hand bike. This baby’s engine isn’t much different from its looks. It’s only for transportation.”
“So, you must have found me for something, no?”
Lin Che grunted, nodding heavily as he spoke, his voice suddenly solemn. “Chen Ge, after retiring, haven’t you thought about any plans for the future?”
“No. I thought I’d figure it out along the way.”
“I have a suggestion.”
“Skyroad,has three more weeks before it goes online. It is the masterpiece of the reputed Yueheng corporation and reported to be game in which they poured the most investments in so far. There is none like it. It is also claimed to ‘approach the boundaries of reality’ in gaming. Don’t tell me you don’t want to give it a whirl?”
He touched his nose. “After leaving Silverfox, I had quite a lot of free time. I thought of many things, like about what I should do with my life.
“I eventually came to the conclusion that…there is nothing more enjoyable than playing games together with brothers. What do you say?”
My heart moved. “Yes…that’s true.”
“Why don’t…why don’t we create a group and re-establish a gaming studio. We can campaign in the world of Skyroad, what do you say? With our ability, we can conquer anything under the sky!”
I watched the fish drifting in the waters, my initial enthusiasm waning.
“Chen Ge, you’re worried?”
I continued, “You’ve experienced how it went in Silverfox too. When a professional gamer has his capital plundered, there is only one conclusion for him. In reality, we’re all very clear about it. There are no dreams; merely endless compromises and backing down.”
“Then-!” Lin Che balled his hand into a fist. “Let’s only create a studio, focused only on making money for ourselves. We won’t have sponsors, and we don’t rush for golden league. Just simply playing games. How about it?”
Lin Che was surprised, then his surprised turned into delight. “Then we’ve agreed on this?”
“Mhm. However, we are only two people. It will be hard for both of us in the early stages of Skyroad.” I frowned, “Besides, registering for a studio requires at least 4 names.”
“I have someone.”
“Wei Ge.” Lin Che’s eyes sparkled.7
I almost spat out blood. “Wei Ge? Are you sure? When that rascal played LOL (League of Legends), his Q’s were all reverse. He has also never touched Skywarp, do you think he can dominate in this ‘game turned reality’?”
“Give it a try man, if he really cannot make it then we can allow him to stay on as the studio’s logistic depot guy. Meeting the quota is never a problem.”
“Do you know how he has been doing recently?”
“Yeah, we can find him in the afternoon.”
Lin Che touched his nose again. “Chen Ge, my rent has just fallen due…do you have any place for me to live?”
“You joker, what happened?”
I pointed to a small, distant cottage by the lakeside. “That’s the house I rented. It has quite a lot of space, you can move in anytime you want.”
Lin Che’s jaw dropped. “You…you actually rented a villa?”
“After I retired, I had already made plans to live out the rest of my retired life. So I rented it for a year. Monthly rent’s eight thousand. How about it? We can take this place as our future studio. Not too bad, if I say so myself.”
“Can; it’s pretty good!”
Afternoon came quickly.
With the scooter bearing the weight of two adult males, it chuffed and groaned as it climbed up a slope. Under these circumstances of falling apart, we sped along several streets before we arrived at an outworn residential area. This was Zhang Wei’s residence. Zhang Wei was our classmate in senior high school, and also one of our inseparable friends whom we used to hang out with. However, we hadn’t met in fairly long.
I scanned the place. It was in dire need of a makeover. Paintwork peeled off the walls of the residential building. Vines had been allowed to creep along its walls and had grown all over the building. It seemed like nobody had bothered to clear it. As we walked through the corridors, we were hit by an eye-watering stench that made us gag. Various kinds of advertisements were plastered onto the walls. It was a terribly depressing sight. It seemed like Zhang Wei had not been passing well either.
Lin Che and I stopped at one of the doors along the corridor. The words “Ushering in Wealth and Prosperity” were messily scrawled on it.
Had to summon up my inner writer for quite a lot of parts. Hopefully I’ll keep this quality. Thanks for reading!