Chapter 1 - Card World
In the cold winter months, the temperature plummeted and the heavy snow for several days turned the entire city of Jiangzhou into a world of silver.
School was off for winter vacation and the students had already returned home. Xiao Lou was sent by the department to attend an academic exchange. This meeting lasted until the 28th day of the 12th lunar month. Then after a day of rest, he packed his bags and flew back to his hometown to spend the new year with his grandparents.
As a child, his parents had been too busy working and Xiao Lou lived in the countryside for a while with his grandparents. He had been too young at the time and only had a vague memory of his childhood. However, he returned to his hometown every year during the Spring Festival because the New Year reunion was a tradition of the Xiao family. His father and uncle would bring their wives and children home to spend the new year together.
By the time Xiao Lou arrived home, it was the afternoon of New Year’s Eve. He entered and his female cousin Xiao Xinyue greeted him with a smile. “Brother, why are you so late? Grandmother was just saying something about you!” She came over and whispered in Xiao Lou’s ears. “She is asking why you aren’t married yet.”
Xiao Lou, “…”
Every New Year’s Day at home, he would be urged by his elders to marry.
Xiao Lou was now an ‘old, unmarried youth.’ The 27 year old was still a single dog.
He went to school early and was admitted to medical school at the age of 17. After graduating from university, he stayed on as a teacher and became an associate professor at a young age. Xiao Lou was tall, had a gentle personality and looked very handsome. It was reasonable to say that he should be very popular in the blind date market…
Unfortunately, he studied forensics.
If a person heard the word ‘forensics’, they naturally thought of corpses. Who wanted to be with a man who dissected corpses every day?
In fact, Xiao Lou wasn’t a criminal forensics investigator and there was no need for him to go to a murder scene to identify the cause of death.
After graduation, he stayed on at the medical university under the recommendation of his supervisor. He usually spent most of his time teaching students of the Forensics Department. In his spare time, he would go to the Jiangzhou Forensics Identification Centre to help. The cases sent to the identification centre were generally to identify car accident injuries, fighting injuries and occasionally genetic identification and poison identification. He hadn’t seen a corpse in a long time.
Xiao Lou went to the living room and politely greeted the elders. He distributed the gifts to everyone and then his grandmother asked him with a smile, “Little Lou, when are you bringing a wife home to grandmother?”
Xiao Lou placed one hand on the old lady’s shoulder and spoke warmly, “Grandmother, I am currently too busy at work. I want to wait until I am 30 to consider marriage.”
Xiao Xinyue teased him from the side, “Brother, if you studied clinical medicine and went to the hospital as a doctor then you will definitely have many girls waiting in line to chase you. Now when they hear that you are a forensics doctor, most of the girls are scared away. Hahaha.”
Xiao Lou looked at his cousin and smiled. “This is professional prejudice. A forensics doctor doesn’t dissect living people. It isn’t as perverted as horror movies. Moreover, I haven’t touched a corpse in a long time.”
Hearing the word ‘corpse’, Xiao Xinyue’s scalp became numb and she immediately turned away.
They headed to the dining room and prepared to start the meal. Xiao Lou helped his grandmother sit down and changed the topic by asking Xiao Xinyue, “Do you have any idea what school you want to apply to next year?”
His youngest cousin Xiao Xinyue was 18 years old and would face the university entrance examination next semester. The moment Xiao Lou asked this, the elders started discussing what courses would be good for a future job. Xiao Xinyue actively joined the discussion and no one mentioned Xiao Lou’s marriage, causing Xiao Lou to feel slightly relieved.
The New Year’s dinner finished and the elder started to play mahjong. Xiao Lou took his cousins to the next room to play.
Xiao Xinyue took out a brand new deck of cards. “The three of us will play Fight the Landlord (card game). How about the losers drink?”
His younger male cousin Xiao Wei rolled up his sleeves and looked eager to try. “Come, I am the best at Fight the Landlord!”
Xiao Lou wasn’t interested in playing cards but every Spring Festival, the elders would always play mahjong. It was too boring for two people to play cards so he had to accompany them as an elder brother.
Fight the Landlord was one of the most common ways to play cards. The rules were very simple. The ‘landlord’ could add a few hands to enhance combat power while the other two ‘peasants’ needed to unite. The two sides were divided into two camps and whoever lost their cards first won.
Xiao Lou’s first hand was very good and he directly got a king bomb. (TL: In the game, the two jokers are the highest rank. A king bomb is having two jokers).
Seeing the king bomb in his hand, he didn’t hesitate to say, “Calling me Landlord.”
Xiao Xinyue and Xiao Wei had to join forces to beat him.
The result was that in this game, Xiao Lou’s cards were too good. In addition to the big straight of 9, 10, J, Q and K, he had several pairs, four bombs (four cards of the same rank), and a pair of king bombs. He simply didn’t give the opponents a way to live.
The younger brother and sister looked at him with a sullen expression as he finished playing all the cards in one breath.
Xiao Lou smiled. “I won, you drink Coke.”
Xiao Xinyue and Xiao Wei had to drink Coke with a bitter expression.
Next, regardless of whether Xiao Xinyue was the landlord or Xiao Wei in the village, every time they would be beaten by their big brother. Xiao Lou’s cards tonight were so good that people couldn’t evaluate it. Several times, he touched a king bomb and the brother and sister almost vomited as they drank.
The trio played until midnight.
The deafening sound of fireworks came from outside and the brother and sister excitedly ran to the yard to set off fireworks. Xiao Lou had just put on a coat and went outside when his mobile phone lit up and a message appeared on the screen. “Happy New Year.”
Sender: Yu Hanjiang.
Seeing this familiar snowy avatar, Xiao Lou’s lips slightly curved and he quickly replied, “You too. Happy New Year.”
Yu Hanjiang asked, “When are you going back to school?”
Xiao Lou replied, “I’ll be back on the seventh day after New Year’s Day.”
Yu Hanjiang: “Thank you very much for your help last time. Once you come back, I’ll invite you to dinner.”
Xiao Lou: “Captain Yu is too polite. I’ll contact you when I’m back.”
There was the sound of ‘bangs’ from outside the window. A variety of colourful fireworks blossomed, the night sky becoming as bright as the day.
Xiao Lou stood in front of the window and stared at the conversation records in his phone. He couldn’t help recall the first time he saw Yu Hanjiang.
It was a rainy day. A girl from the medical university fell to her death. This alerted Jiangzhou’s criminal police. Xiao Lou wasn’t familiar with this girl but her last class happened to be his class. As a person related to the case, Xiao Lou was asked by the police to make a statement.
Walking into the police squad, he saw the man at first sight. The man was wearing a dark blue uniform and stood upright at the window. He was tall with long legs and a handsome face, looking like the most exquisite statue.
He seemed to sense the gaze and the man turned to look at Xiao Lou. He came over and nodded, saying, “Hello, I am the the group leader of the criminal police’s Major Crimes Unit, Yu Hanjiang. Professor Xiao, please come over here and cooperate with the investigation.”
Xiao Lou nodded politely to him. “Hello, Group Leader Yu. I will cooperate fully.”
Yu Hanjiang walked into the inquiry room with Xiao Lou and made the ‘please sit gesture’ before lightly asking, “Name, age and occupation. These are the necessary procedures for making a statement. Please answer truthfully.”
In the process of writing the statement, the man’s voice was low and powerful. His expression was extremely serious and his eyes as sharp as a sword. He gave off a strong sense of oppression when staring, causing Xiao Lou to be almost breathless.
Even if Xiao Lou didn’t have a direct relationship with this matter, he didn’t want to look this man in the eye.
These eyes were deep and cold, like an ice-covered lake in the cold winter months which made people’s backs cold.
The resolution of the case was much faster than Xiao Lou had imagined. It was determined to be murder and the police caught the murderer the next day. It was the girl’s roommate who pushed her down the stairs. This incident caused a sensation on the Internet.
At that time, Xiao Lou noticed that the Jiangzhou police’s efficiency of solving the case had greatly improved.
He inquired about Yu Hanjiang through his forensic classmates and discovered that Yu Hanjiang’s background was very mysterious. He suddenly landed as the group leader of the police’s Serious Crimes Unit at a young age. The Serious Crimes unit was a special action group set up in Jiangzhou City to investigate murder, rape and other major criminal cases. Since Yu Hanjiang took office, many unsolved cases were solved and he greatly improved their efficiency when handling cases.
This iron-faced man was selfless, cold-blooded and ruthless, causing criminals to be disheartened. It was said that just one look could make a guilty person tremble. It was said that he had tremendous skills at investigating a criminal and the stubborn suspect would plead guilty under his questioning. In just two years, the name Yu Hanjiang had become a legend among the Jiangzhou police.
After hearing this, Xiao Lou admired this man and felt that Yu Hanjiang was very young and promising.
He thought there wouldn’t be too much of an overlap but within a few days, Yu Hanjiang suddenly found his office at the Forensic Identification Centre, requesting Xiao Lou to help identify an extremely rare poison. Xiao Lou specialized in forensic toxicology identification at the postgraduate level and published several high-value papers. He was well-known in the forensic field which was why Yu Hanjiang found him. The two people also exchanged WeChat and telephone numbers.
Xiao Lou assisted the police in identifying the nature of this poisoning case and this was the ‘thank you’ that Yu Hanjiang was referring to. The two of them had seen each other four times but thanks to their busy work, their friendship wasn’t deep. Therefore, Xiao Lou was very surprised when the indifferent group leader invited him to eat.
Xiao Lou, who was standing at the window and immersed in his memories, didn’t find that the playing cards on the table gained a blood red lustre at that moment. The luster gradually formed a vortex that distorted the space near the cards, as if to suck everything into the cards.
On the seventh day of the new year, Xiao Lou flew back to Jiangzhou after saying goodbye to his family. Thinking of the Wechat conversation on New Year’s Eve, Xiao Lou sent a simple message to Yu Hanjiang. “Hello, I am back. Do you have time for a meal together?”
There was no response.
He thought the other person might be busy and sat on the sofa of his living room, looking at the news while waiting for a reply.
It was past dinner time and Yu Hanjiang still hadn’t sent a reply.
In any case, Group Leader Yu had a special status. If he didn’t return the message then he might’ve encountered a difficult case and was investigating and collecting evidence. Xiao Lou didn’t want to disturb the other person and went to eat a bowl of noddles.
He finished eating and wanted to go to the supermarket to buy some daily necessities. As a result, he was crossing the road when he suddenly saw a bus driving around the corner and rushing quickly towards him.
Xiao Lou’s eyes widened and his heartbeat almost stopped.
He ran agilely but the speed of the bus was too fast. He had just taken a step when his body slammed into the air!
He suddenly turned in the sky and Xiao Lou completely lost consciousness.
Once he woke up again, there was a white mist around him. In the midst of the mist, a cold and mechanical voice clearly entered his ears. [Xiao Lou, congratulations on being selected by the Card World. You are now faced with two choices—
A: Die with peace of mind and forget everything. Your soul will be completely dead and never feel pain again.
B: Keep your memories in the Card World to be reborn and accept new challenges. However, the rules of survival in the Card World are very cruel. Rather than being alive here, perhaps it would be better to simply die.”
Xiao Lou felt some doubts.
Was this voice an illusion? It also gave him two strange options?
Since he didn’t respond, the mechanical voice said, “I will give you 10 seconds to consider before your memory is cleared. Countdown 10, 9, 8…”
Xiao Lou spoke decisively. “I choose B.”
Whether the voice was an illusion or not, he could only choose the latter of the two options.
He was only 27 years old and didn’t want his memories erased and to completely die. If he had a chance to revive, no matter how hard and danger the new world… well, at least he was alive?
There was hope in living.
Xiao Lou quickly calmed himself down and asked, “Who are you?”
The other party spoke coldly. “I am the Card World’s high intelligence elf system. You can’t see me but I can see you.”
The feeling of being monitored made Xiao Lou frown. He took a deep breath and continued to ask. “What is the Card World you keep mentioning?”
The next moment, countless cards appeared in front of him.
They were the playing cards he used when playing with his younger cousins on the night of the Spring Festival. The back contained the familiar blue diamond pattern, which was the most common one in stores. 5 of Hearts, 8 of Diamonds, 10 of Clubs, J of Spades… various playing cards became a long chain that swayed in front of him, like a film playing at four times the speed.
In the white fog, the card chains were arranged in horizontal and vertical directions. The four types of cards mixed together with no rules at all. At a speed visible to the naked eye, the cards formed a huge card wall in 10 seconds.
The system declared, “Player Xiao Lou, welcome to the Card World.”