Su Heting swiped the page on his mobile screen, wanting to see the gambling updates in real-time, but his phone was too old, and the page remained stuck for a long time without loading.
The Monk saw the cat pressing furiously on the screen before tossing it into his pocket with a frown.
The Monk, “…”
What a short-tempered lad, this one.
Su Heting walked into the crowded street and asked the Monk, “You going into the arena with me?”
“Uh-huh.” The question put the Monk at a loss. He rubbed his bald head with a palm. “I definitely have to go with you. Otherwise, I won’t be able to report back on my mission if you end up getting off-ed during the match.”
“Whether I get off-ed or not remains to be seen, but you will definitely get recognized.” Su Heting looked back at his bald head. “Wear a wig, old man.”
◈ ◈ ◈
Although the Coliseum was built in imitation of the Roman Colosseum, the design of the auditorium was not common. To ensure an immersive experience on site, the spectators’ seats were all sunken, with electrodes covering the head portion.
This kind of round electrode was a non-implantable brain-computer interface with limited functions. It could only provide sensory stimulation to the live spectators and cannot be connected to other networks.
When the match started, the spectators just had to lie back and shout. But for the players, the battle began from the moment they connected to the brain-computer interface. This was because the arena in the player’s view of vision would be inverted, and they had to adapt to the upside-down world.
The Monk was rather curious about the tournament matches. “Can you see the live barrage of comments during the match?”
“At different intervals,” Su Heting answered. “Usually, the barrage of comments will roll when the fight is at the climax.”
The comments actually would not float past the players’ eyes, but turned into a flood that materialized from above to submerge the virtual arena.
When Su Heting thought of the barrage of comments in the match, he only remembered the words, “kill him’.
This was a frequently encountered word in the comments barrage, and it was also a way for the viewers to vent. They often instigated and egged on the players to deal the killing blow, even if they were all fully aware that players who died in the match would die for real.
“I’ve seen a few matches.” The Monk tried his best to find a topic for conversation. “I saw them online… The prices of some videos seemed to be more expensive?”
“Oh.” Su Heting had already caught sight of the Coliseum. “Videos of matches where there’s death are all more expensive. Some people will buy them specifically for collection.”
The Monk was momentarily rendered speechless.
He actually did not watch much of the matches because money was tight, and the salary of the Armed Squad was just enough to put food on the table. He thought the Black Market would, at the very least, ensure the safety of its players, even though these players were all commodities on display in the Coliseum.
The Monk found the tournaments inhumane, but he would say not a word of it. The dogma he believed in when it came to dealing with matters warned him not to grouse about anything in the New World, especially when it came to the Hybrids.
The Monk was a Survivor. As long as the rules of the New World were not harsh on the Survivors, he would keep silent.
Su Heting swiped his tail at the entrance and verified his identity data. After two seconds, the passageway opened. Without looking at the Monk, he went about his own way and entered.
The Coliseum’s teaser proved to be effective, as the venue was already full with still half an hour left to go until the match. The attendants inside shuttled through the auditorium, reminding the spectators with gentleness and patience to tuck in their thin blankets, as the temperature in the arena was a little low today. They carried trays with them, even providing the spectators with wine and simple snacks of mushrooms.
“You’re here so early today!” The manager rose to greet Su Heting when he saw him. “You can go to the private room first for a rest. There’s still a while more to go before the match begins.”
Su Heting cut to the chase. “Is King Shen here?”
“In the waiting area.” The manager blocked the staff in front of Su Heting and gradually increased his volume over the music in the venue. “He’s been here since five.”
Someone among the spectators yelled until his voice broke.
“King Shen!” A heavily made-up clown suddenly appeared. He hovered in the center and snapped his fingers to draw the attention of everyone present. “Ladies and gentleman. That’s right, tonight’s player is none other than the much-anticipated King Shen!”
Cheers instantly broke out in the venue. King Shen was more popular than Titan.
The clown, playing emcee, made a show of listening attentively. “We have all heard about his achievements, but I have to reiterate it again to all of you. Fellow viewers. King Shen’s score ranking this month is—No. 1!”
The live projection turned into a scoreboard ranking, with King Shen topping it all. His name, tripled in size, took up almost half of the scoreboard. The spectators burst into cheers, whipped up into a frenzy in the shadows as they paid homage to King Shen, as if he was a savior that could bring salvation to all of them.
Su Heting saw “Meowzai” at the bottommost part of the scoreboard. It was so small it was only the size of his fist.
“Welcome, King Shen!” The clown brandished his arm out.
There was a “poof” as the live projection turned into a virtual gun salute, and the camera cut over to King Shen in the waiting area.
King Shen was a player who weighed over 200 kilograms.
“Don’t underestimate him.” The manager said as a way of introduction to Su Heting under the clamor. “When you connect to the brain-computer interface, you’ll be able to get a full view of him. He’s—”
“He’s the most mysterious player.” The emcee pretended to be enigmatic as he led the spectators to review the past. “He often changes his implants. Only ‘coldsnakes’ are his permanent hallmark. He once tore apart the bodies of his opponents with both hands, regarding fresh blood as a tribute to the strong, and he even crushed his opponents’ heads into bloody pulps with both feet, seeing death as the highest acclaim in the tournaments…”
“Watch his legs.” The manager raced against time to warn Su Heting. “When you see his virtual form later, don’t let his snakes fool you! Your speed is an advantage. Best you get rid of him in five minutes. After five minutes, he will get into the swing of it, and by then—”
“My friends, I believe there will never be another player who understands the art of killing better than King Shen, not even Meowzai tonight.” Under the direction of the emcee, the camera panned over and interrupted the manager’s words. He cupped his cheeks once again and let loose an exaggerated exclamation, “He’s still so adorable!”
“Adorable” was not a good adjective here.
Su Heting did not remove his hood under the eyes of the spectators, but the camera caught sight of his tail.
“Meowzai is ranked thirtieth in this month’s ranking on the scoreboard. Thirty is a good number; it implies unlimited potential. Meowzai has won four consecutive matches this month, each of which was marvelously and beautifully fought. He beat even the prospective champion, Titan, and tonight, he is going to face up against the real champion. I’m so looking forward to it!”
Su Heting did not listen to the emcee’s nonsense any further, nor did he listen to the manager’s advice. He looked across the waiting zone at King Shen.
King Shen was slumping on the recliner, panting as he cooled himself. He seemed to be intolerant of the heat. There was even an ice pack on his waist. He kept fanning himself with his hand, still sweating profusely from his forehead.
Watch his legs.
Su Heting remembered this warning. His gaze drifted down, where he saw King Shen’s legs covered with a white cloth.
◈ ◈ ◈
Jiali was mulling over the gambling bets at her stall when the Hermit anxiously hurried over. Without even putting down his stuff, he held up his robe and came over to Jiali’s side to ask, “Who the heck is this boss?”
“How would I know?” Jiali made space for him. “Didn’t he write his name? Go check it, man.”
“The problem is, I did.” The Hermit clicked the page open. “There’s nothing on him.”
The ID of the person who betted a million on Meowzai was “Asura”.
Jiali was puzzled too. “I’ve indeed never heard of it before… Should be a pseudonym.”
This name did not sound like a big boss’s.
“Perhaps he doesn’t want to offend Wei Zhixin? If he has to resort to using a pseudonym…” the Hermit said.
“He voted for Meowzai.” Jiali ran her fingers over sideburns. “So…”
Jiali had yet to finish her words when the bets on “King Shen” began to move. The name “Wei Zhixin” rose to the top of the bets on King Shen, with the sum soaring all the way to three million. However, once he moved, “Asura” moved too. As if in a provocation, his bet was “1” more than Wei Zhixin’s.
Jiali finished her words with difficulty. “… How the hell does that look like he’s afraid of Wei Zhixin?”
The Hermit, “…”
Just how vexed is this buddy with Wei Zhixin???
Su Heting was totally in the dark about the competition outside the arena. He could not tell what was so remarkable about King Shen’s legs, but he guessed that King Shen came prepared today.
King Shen was not nervous. He did not even cast a glance at Su Heting. He was so obese he had trouble getting up and needed his manager to push him into the arena, during which he kept panting for breath, as if even sitting was draining his strength.
The manager pushed aside the flesh on the back of King Shen’s neck to let the referee check. The referee bent down to scrutinize it. Once he made sure that there was no issue with King Shen’s brain-machine interface, he made a “ ” gesture to the camera.
“Both players, please take up positions.” The clown pressed his hands down, then lifted it high suddenly, as if he was presiding over a car race, “Ready for the countdown—Ten. Nine…”
The holograms got ready, while the spectators held their breath.
Su Heting swapped the tip of his tail and plugged it into the venue’s connection port. Those familiar stimulus signals surged through his entire body in a second, stimulating him to the extent his cat ears twitched. He opened his eyes slightly.
The virtual arena popped open in an instant, and the nine-headed bird1 charged out with a whistle and flew past before everyone’s eyes in a psychedelic blur.
The scene slowly reversed, and rainwater on the ground churned like boiling hot magma over the players’ ankles.
By the time the nine-headed bird had parked itself at the edge of the arena, the entire scene was already completely reversed. Its nine heads stretched down from above and twisted 360 degrees around to monitor the arena in real-time.
Countless people chanted.
The ground under Su Heting’s feet shook. Immediately right after, he heard the sound of the ground cracking originating from the end—a grating “crunch”.
King Shen strode forward very slowly. He walked out of the darkness and, with a “thud”, stopped below the upside-down nine-headed bird. That more than ten-meters tall body almost blocked off Su Heting’s line of sight, as well as the live camera.
King Shen gave a big yawn. He clapped his hand, causing his flesh all over to quiver, but that was not all. With this clap, his belly that was hanging down to his calves moved, and two long snakes with white scales poked their heads out from underneath to wind around him before standing erect at the sides of his left and right hands.
“Cat…” His voice was loud and deep, like a massive vat being struck. However, his speech was very slow, as if he was conserving energy. “Come… on…”
Those two snakes that were as thick as human waist hissed.
“If you don’t… attack.” King Shen stretched a foot out and stomped on the ground in a terrible temper, cracking it and sending water splashing all over. “You won’t… have any more chances to!”
But Su Heting did not move.
His gaze was fixed on King Shen’s calves, one tattooed with the words “The Giants”, and the other, “Safe Voyage”.
Those were Titan’s legs.
A pair of unmodified legs in the flesh.
① [NINE-HEADED BIRD] Nine heads, scarlet eyes. Will fly out of the sleeve of a mysterious old monk at the start of the match. All that is known about it currently is that it’s the monitoring setup for the coliseum tournaments’ matches.—《Right on Target • Records of Supernatural Anecdotes》
①-1, Inspiration source for the setting: Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang 《酉阳杂俎》. “It is said that this bird used to have ten heads and was able to harvest human souls. One head was devoured by hounds.”
② [KING SHEN] At present, only part of the information unlocked in this chapter is known.—《Right on Target • Records of Supernatural Anecdotes》
②-1, Inspiration source for the setting: Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang 《酉阳杂俎》. “King Shen suffers from obesity, so obese that his belly hangs down to his underbelly. He always ties white silk around his abdomen each time he goes out on a journey, and he will feel so stifled when hot summer days hit that he can barely breathe. Xuanzong bestowed two cold snakes upon King Shen. When King Shen places them under the groove of his flesh in the summertime, he no longer feels so vexedly warm.”
Thank you for reading.