Chapter 1 – Oh No, An Error!
The collar that’s meant for research cannot be removed!
Edited by: Tin, Planetes
This was a forest. The towering trees with their luxuriant foliage tried their best to cover the sky. However, the rays of the sun did not give in, forcing their way through and scattering across the face of the youth lying on the ground below.
The sunlight, the shadows of the trees, the light breeze, the buzzing of insects, as well as the scent of the earth that wafted over, all felt inescapably realistic, to the point where people were unable to believe that this was only a fictitious world.
Except for that flying bird frozen in midair.
Ling Xiaolu had already been motionlessly staring at that bird for half a minute, afraid that it would drop and crash onto his face.
Still, if the bird did not move, he did not move as well. Not because he did not want to, but because he could not do so.
On the surface, he quietly laid there. However, the earth knew he was restless. His rapidly pounding heart, despite being separated by his slender back and thin shirt soaked in sweat, could still be transmitted to the ground, not to mention his unusually high body temperature. Fortunately, the earth could not see his face. If it could, it would have seen his face that was red like a fully-ripened autumn’s apple.
Although the narrator had tried their best to describe this situation as elegantly as they could, it was likely that the listener had already guessed it. Ling Xiaolu, this pitiful, miserable, unlucky person, at an unsuitable time, in an unsuitable place, had gone into heat.
A handsome face appeared in his vision, blocking that bird. On his head was a name in gold.
The person who had caused Ling Xiaolu to go into heat, this gold-named benefactor called Ji Meng, cluelessly showed Ling Xiaolu his concern.
“You don’t look very good. Your face is very red, are you feeling uncomfortable somewhere?”
If not for the fact that he could not move, Ling Xiaolu really wanted to let this person know that when he felt “uncomfortable”, he would have violent tendencies.
Just like now, he really, really, really wanted to use the Deer Fist passed down from his ancestors to pound in Ji Meng’s face that had undergone physical modification.
As for the origin of this incident, we would have to go back to even earlier than today…
The game store was deserted. The only salesperson was idly playing a virtual space construction game. These small, casual games were very good for wasting time, and he also would not miss out any customers who might enter the shop.
The automatic door quietly opened and closed. Walking in was a youth of about seventeen or eighteen years of age, and his hair was dyed an eye-catching gold.
In this era where everyone shopped online, and customers could have everything delivered with a tap of their terminals, people who were willing to browse through a physical store were decreasing. People who turned up would usually be students with free time on their hands, or customers who needed some technical help.
With the salesperson’s experience in studying people, the new arrival must belong to the first category. Especially now that it was the school holidays, he was even more confident of his speculation.
He snapped his fingers, and the balls of light on the panel in front of him scattered one by one, like a mini display of fireworks. They glowed brilliantly, and Ling Xiaolu who saw this upon entering the shop whistled in surprise.
“Welcome, is there anything I can help you with?”
Ling Xiaolu skipped to the counter, giving off an impression of a lively youth.
“I just saw this at the traffic stop.”
He showed a photograph, and on it a huge, handsome, silver dragon could vaguely be seen.
“Do you know what game this is?”
To be able to have an advertisement by a traffic stop, it definitely would not be some unpopular game. The salesperson recognised it straight away.
“This is the VR game <Spirit Contract> developed by the Xinshan Company. What you saw was probably their newest teaser, <The Hidden Dragon>.”
“Yes, it’s this one! May I know where I can buy it?”
The salesperson casually dragged his hand in midair, and the icy clear blue counter rotated sixty degrees counter-clockwise. This type of counter that would automatically move by itself was made out of photons. When turning, the edges would glow with a blue light that had a science fiction feel to it, then slowly stop.
The salesperson tapped lightly on the counter, and the top gradually opened, rose, and shifted backwards. Not only were the items within displayed to the customer, the upright top now converted into a 3D LCD display, and started playing various promotional images from the game.
“That’s right, it’s that one!” A dragon identical to the one in the photo was flying across the screen. Its silver scales reflected a blinding light, and every line was displayed clearly.
“<Spirit Contract> is an online roleplaying game where the main focus is on pet battles. What you’re seeing now is one of the top combat-pets Wind Pterosaur that is coming soon, and it’s a flying, dragon type.”
All these terms of combat and type, Ling Xiaolu did not understand a single bit of it. He only knew the most direct one.
“Is it powerful?”
“So far, according to the data released by the developers, the strength and agility of the wind dragon is the most outstanding amongst all the pets, and there’s no need to even mention the HP level and magic level of the flying dragon type. It can be said to be a rare offensive type dragon with both strength and magic. Its all-round balance is impeccable.”
“That’s great! How much is it going for?”
The salesperson now felt awkward. This sort of rare pet was very difficult to obtain. To preserve its value, before the next promotional update, the developers would not release more than three of them, and only a few elite players would be able to get any. For a new player, it would be impossible for him to get even a dragon scale.
Of course, he would not say it like that.
“If you purchase the deluxe edition of <The Hidden Dragon> expansion now, you can gain a lucky draw chance to obtain the Wind Pterosaur, a chance to get an ultra-rare pet, as well as all sorts of other prizes. The chance to win a prize is 100%.”
On Ling Xiaolu’s face was an expression as though the dragon was already his. “Alright, I’ll buy this deluxe edition you’re talking about!”
“The price for the deluxe edition is 888 dollars.”
“Oh, it’s not expensive.”
“However, before this, can I check if you own the Xinshan Company’s peripheral device?”
“Is this the first time you’ve come in contact with Xinshan’s VR games?”
“That’s right,” The youth nodded. “Don’t even talk about Xinshan, this is the first time I’m playing a game.”
“All Xinshan’s VR games require a peripheral device for you to access them. You won’t be able to play the game if you just buy the game client only.”
“Oh, it’s like this? Then how much is the peripheral device?”
“Every style is charged differently. I suggest you choose this one; it’s also one of the most popular options amongst the players.”
He took out a bracelet from the counter. Its width was about two centimetres, of a metallic texture. Engraved on it was the company’s logo, and its design was well-received by youths.
“This is the bracelet-styled device, and most younger males prefer this one. It costs 8888 dollars, and if you purchase it together with the game client, you can get a 5% discount.”
“It’s 10 times more expensive?!” Ling Xiaolu exclaimed.
“Although it looks very expensive, the device is a one-time purchase, and will have free lifetime upgrades. It can be used for any games by Xinshan. You only need to download the game data, or plug in the game chip and use it straight away.”
Ling Xiaolu was still somewhat hesitant. “Do you have any other options?”
“Around the same price we have the headbands, ear studs, necklaces etc. There’s no differences with their functions, only their style.”
Ling Xiaolu kept shaking his head. “No, no. The headband is a little stupid, and the rest are too girly.”
The salesperson smiled. “The necklace and ear studs are mostly purchased by female players. We can also modify the device into a wrist watch, or even embed it into your communication device. However, that would require customisation, and the price will be even higher. You will also need to wait for the item to be produced.”
“Forget about the customisation.” Ling Xiaolu bent over to look at the devices in the counter, and one of them caught his eye.
“Wow, there’s also a ring! This one seems pretty good!”
“That’s not the actual device, it’s only a model. We don’t have any stock available in the shop for the ring, you’ll need to order it from the company website.”
“Why? It’s very rare?”
“This is not an ordinary ring. It’s a VIP device produced according to the request made by some of our VIP players. Players who use this device can also receive VIP treatment in the game. Online, people have a special nickname for these players, calling them benefactors.”
“The accounts are even divided into ordinary and VIP ones? Won’t that alter the balance of the game?”
“There’s no game that is designed to be completely balanced. With the appearance of the benefactors, the game’s fairness has definitely been affected. However, the price of the ring has also determined that there would be very few players who can enjoy such treatment.”
The salesperson rattled on, “When Xinshan first released this design, many players had also raised their objections, and even stopped playing as a protest. However, as time went on, as well as the small number of benefactors, most of the players gradually started to accept its existence. As for the benefactors, players moved from ostracising them and protesting against them to admiring them and pursuing them. And now, in the game, no matter where the benefactors are, they’ll be the center of attention.”
“Huh?” Ling Xiaolu found it very interesting. “It turned out like this? Then, how much does it cost?”
Ling Xiaolu’s feet slid from under him, and he nearly fell to the ground.
“Obviously, the production cost of this ring is not so expensive, and the VIP treatment that the benefactors can enjoy are also not worth this value. The reason for this sky high price is solely to make sure it’s not widely available, and increase the barrier to being a benefactor.”
“I don’t believe that there’s really anyone who would spend 5 million to buy a game device.”
“Comparing the ratio of players in <Spirit Contract>, the number of benefactors to other players is 1:10000. Ever since the ring has been released, less than a 100 people have purchased it.
Ling Xiaolu sucked in a breath. “There are actually so many rich tyrants with nothing better to do. You’re right, if the cost of this VIP treatment is 5 million, I really don’t mind that these suckers affect the balance of the game, just like… I wouldn’t be jealous that Wang Sisuan is richer than me, nor be jealous that Wu Yansun is more handsome than me 1 .”
“It’s exactly like that. Also, the layout of <Spirit Contract> is pretty big. If you’re not watching any important matches or anything, there’s a very small chance that you would happen across these benefactors.”
Ling Xiaolu nodded to show that he understood, and he shifted his gaze to the next item. It was also round and metallic, but the size was a few times bigger than the bracelet.
“Where is this supposed to be worn?”
“On the neck.”
“That’s right, this is a collar.”
“A collar.” The salesperson repeated. “It’s made of the identical material used to make the ring, and the production cost is fairly expensive. It can be said that it’s a larger version of the ring.”
Ling Xiaolu’s jaw dropped. “Such a tiny ring already cost 5 million, won’t this thing cost 5 billion then?”
“No, this collar is free. Or to be exact, it’s free for the person using it.”
Nothing could describe Ling Xiaolu’s shock.
“Its function is similar to the ring. Players who enter the game with the ring would automatically have the identity of a benefactor, and players who enter the game with the collar, would also gain another type of identity.”
“What is it?”
“The thing you just heard about, a combat-pet.”
“… Wind Pterosaur?”
“That’s right, the Wind Pterosaur is a representation of the combat-pet’s AI. The so-called AI is artificial intelligence, and to be clearer, it’s made up of data.”
Ling Xiaolu listened attentively. “And so?”
“However, no matter how smart an AI is, it can only follow according to what people have designed it to be, and react accordingly to its programming. Even though Xinshan has made amazing advancements towards the abilities of AIs, but an AI’s intelligence will never be able to exceed that of human beings, and will never have independent will.”
“If it does, that would be even scarier!”
“So, after the ring with the special privilege was released, to satisfy the benefactors’ desire for non-AI combat-pets, an item to match the ring was created. Players who enter the game with a collar can be obtained by the players with a ring as combat-pets. As for the cost of the collar, it would be covered by the benefactor after the player with the collar signs an agreement with the benefactor.”
“What?! Rich people sure know how to play!”
“However, no one had expected that a huge problem would arise during the development of such combat-pets.”
“Many people are unable to wear this collar.”
“Exactly what I said. This problem may sound very ridiculous, but all the developers of Xinshan, and experts whom they have sought after for help, and even the most secretive hackers have all been unable to solve this technical problem.”
“What’s so difficult about this? I know what’s the problem.”
The salesperson was pleasantly surprised. “You do?”
“The collar’s too small, the player’s neck is too thick. Of course they wouldn’t be able to wear it.”
The salesperson gave an awkward cough. “That’s not the reason.”
He took it out from the counter, and invited Ling Xiaolu to come nearer and take a closer look.
“This collar is made by a material imported from beyond the galaxy, and can adjust itself according to the size of the wearer’s neck. The rings produced by Xinshan are all of the same size, but they all fit the wearers perfectly, and the same goes for the collars.”
“If it’s like that, then why can’t people wear it?”
“I can demonstrate it for you.” The salesperson placed the collar on his left hand, and his right index finger lightly touched the collar and traced along the edge, drawing an arc. Ling Xiaolu watched in astonishment. The silver collar now had a gap following the line of the finger, as though it had been erased on the spot.
“That’s too amazing!” Ling Xiaolu could not help but exclaim.
The gap was big enough to go around the salesperson’s neck. The original collar in his hand now could barely be called an arc.
Under Ling Xiaolu’s gaze, the salesperson placed the arc around his neck. With the same method from just now, he drew his finger from one end of the arc to the other. The erased part regenerated, and once again became a flawless collar, and the place where a gap used to be was seamless.
Ling Xiaolu was surprised. “Aren’t you wearing it now?”
The salesperson did not answer him directly, only placing his hands on either side of the collar. “Three, two, one.”
When the countdown ended, the collar broke into half and became two semi-circles, both caught by the hands of the salesperson.
“Why is it like this?”
“This is also a problem that has troubled Xinshan for the past year.” The salesperson placed the two halves of the collar together, and they joined back flawlessly as one.
“This isn’t scientific. Logically speaking, if the ring can be worn, why can’t the collar that is made from the same material be worn?”
“Probably because the biggest difference is that the identities of the players wearing them are different. According to a related source, the main reason the collar would split apart is because there’s a conflict with the programming of the combat-pet.”
“What do you mean?”
“Because although the concept of the benefactors was only included later, they still belong to the category of players. However, the original design of combat-pets was that they were lifeless NPCs. Now, forcing the design to be changed into players with their own will, the game data is now complicated, and the terminal is unable to process it. So, the system would naturally reject the registration of this type of players.”
“So it’s like this.” Ling Xiaolu got the gist of it.
“However, this is the strange part about it. After a long period of testing, the server does not reject every account that registers itself as a combat-pet. There’s still a very small group of people who can overcome this error, and successfully bring about Xinshan’s intended design.”
“You mean, there are players who can wear the collar without it splitting apart?”
“Yes, despite there being very few of them. Up to now, there are only about 30 players who have passed the test, and the quantity can only satisfy less than 30% of the benefactors.”
“If that’s the case, why don’t the game developers target these 30 players and examine them? Maybe they’ll be able to find out the reason why it’s like that.”
“Xinshan has never stopped studying these special players. Not only that, they’re even doing a nationwide survey. As long as a person can successfully wear the collar without it splitting apart, they’ll be given a gaming peripheral for free.”
“Including the bracelet that costs 8888 dollars?”
“Yes.” The salesperson tapped a few times on the screen that was showing the promotional images just now, and displayed the challenge posted by Xinshan.
The prize was pretty good, Ling Xiaolu was a little tempted.
“Does it mean that once a person wears it, they’ll have to continue wearing it to play the game?”
“Of course not. Ignoring the fact that the success rate is only 0.00001%, even if you succeeded, Xinshan only needs to collect your data once. As for how you want to enter the game, it’s your own choice. You can use the free bracelet to enter the game as well.”
“If that’s the case, I don’t mind trying.”
“No problem.” The salesperson again created the gap in the collar. “I’ll help you put it on right now.”
The metal-looking collar rest upon Ling Xiaolu’s neck, but was not as hard and cold as he had imagined.
“The material is really very amazing.”
“Yes, it is. You can wear it to eat, sleep, and do anything, and it will never feel out of place.”
“Ha, even if you say it like that, I also don’t want to wear it.”
The salesperson’s finger drew an arc on Ling Xiaolu’s neck, and the collar sealed itself.
“How does it feel?”
Ling Xiaolu did not answer. In reply, he copied his actions just now, placing both his hands on each side of the collar.
“Three, two, one.”
He counted three consecutive “1s”, but the collar did not move. In alarm, Ling Xiaolu looked up, and the salesperson’s shock was no less than his.
“Am I considered to have succeeded?”
“Yes, and you’re actually the first person I’ve personally witnessed to have successfully put the collar on. Congratulations, you’ve won a gaming peripheral worth 8888 dollars.”
“Great!” To have so easily saved over eight thousand dollars, the student Ling Xiaolu could not be any happier.
“Once someone successfully wears the collar, the game terminal will be automatically notified. The technical department will soon be able to gather all data about you; all you have to do is sign an authorisation agreement.”
Ling Xiaolu signed his name on the screen, and a bar showed the progress of the data upload.
“You really don’t plan on testing out the game content as a combat-pet? As such players are even rarer than the benefactors, a human combat-pet is very popular in the game, and an unbound human combat-pet is a target that all benefactors would compete for.”
“You’re joking. I want to catch pets in the game, not be a pet.”
The screen flashed silver, a notification that the data had been successfully uploaded.
“Thank you for your support and cooperation. Your data has been gathered, I’ll help you remove the collar now.”
“Thanks.” Ling Xiaolu raised his chin to allow the salesperson to access it easily.
One second, two seconds, three seconds… half a minute had passed, but Ling Xiaolu did not feel the collar coming off.
“What happened?” Ling Xiaolu questioned. With the speed the salesperson had put it on just now, it should not take so long to remove it.
The salesperson looked up, his face troubled.
“I don’t know what happened. This… isn’t opening…”
The novel is titled <群雄逐鹿> 2. The main plot is them racing to the top, the story is them racing to the top, and in one sentence, it’s “a group of males chasing after a deer [一群雄性追逐小鹿 – yi Qun Xiong xing zhui Zhu xiao Lu, over here, the author broke down 群雄逐鹿 into a literal meaning. The little deer (xiao lu) sounds the same as Ling Xiaolu (凌小路). I love this author and her wordplay![/efn_note] ”.
Readers who only want to read about a couple dating should avoid this novel. The males will never give up, and the deer will continue being chased.
This will be a 1v1! If you’re worried about that.
*off to pat myself on the back for the punny novel title”