The coordinates provided by AliveAfter500Years were near the border of District 79, quite far from downtown. Jinro couldn't see another soul. A factory-type structure stood by the suburban highway. Most players wouldn't spend much time here because there wasn't any food. You needed food to survive in the game.
After logging in, Jinro headed to the coordinates. The location his account had entered the game at wasn't far from the coordinates, about 2 kilometers. Although for newbies or players who were relatively unskilled, even covering 1 kilometer unscathed was quite difficult.
This must be a preliminary test, Jinro thought.
Judging from the footage of AliveAfter500Years mowing down monsters on his heavy-duty bike, if he wanted to, he could totally set the entry point of Jinro's account to the exact coordinates, but he'd chosen not to. The purpose of setting the entry location 2 kilometers from the final destination was to test Jinro's abilities. If he couldn't gain safe passage through these 2 kilometers, AliveAfter500Years would most likely drop him.
The time of the meet was 10 a.m. the day after tomorrow, but Jinro headed straight to his destination right after logging into the game using the account number in the message from AliveAfter500Years. It took him some time to avoid and get rid of all sorts of mutated beasts, but no one was around when he arrived at the location.
There weren't that many threats inside the building where the coordinates were located. At least when Jinro arrived, he didn't see any mutated humans or beasts. The space looked like it had been cleared out. As for who was responsible, wasn't it a no-brainer? Perhaps no one other than AliveAfter500Years was capable of the job. Only that supergod could execute a clean sweep at will.
The building was five stories tall. Every floor had been swept, including every single room and every warehouse. Jinro took a quick tour. Apart from a few small beasts, he didn't locate any other threats. The sweep had probably taken place not long ago. Few new beasts had shown up.
Just as he wrapped up his walkabout, Jinro noticed an approaching figure.
Jinro scanned the person quickly. His clothes were tainted with some blood, but not much. He was a fast mover, taking no time to climb over the 3-meter-tall wall surrounding the factory without so much as a whisper, but he wasn't AliveAfter500Years. He lacked that kind of aura.
Maybe it was another person who'd gotten the same message from AliveAfter500Years?
When the thought struck him, Jinro didn't hide. He waited for the person to climb the stairs, but he didn't let down his guard either. If the new visitor wasn't who he thought it was and instead made an aggressive move, he would be able to fend off the attack.
The other player paused when he saw Jinro. Clearly he hadn't expected any company, but soon, surprise shifted to excitement and he dashed toward Jinro. "Would you happen to be AliveAfter500Years? How do you do, Supergod? I am..."
"I'm not him."
Schwarzer was all geared up to introduce himself when he heard the denial and was plunged into disappointment. "You're not him? Then why are you here?"
"I got a message from him." Jinro still hadn't let down his guard.
When he heard Jinro's answer, Schwarzer cast aside his disappointment and enthusiastically said, "Me too! I rushed over as soon I got the message. My entry point was about 2 kilometers away. It took me a while to get here."
"Same here." Schwarzer's response took Jinro by surprise. He had expected the visitor to be a fellow invitee, but this man spoke like a newcomer. Yet clearly this person couldn't be underestimated. Covering 2 kilometers wasn't easy for a rookie gamer, and his new friend appeared unharmed. He also seemed quite relaxed.
"I thought I was the only invitee." Schwarzer looked around. "Any others?"
"Yes." Jinro looked out the window.
Schwarzer followed his line of sight. Someone stood on the wall surrounding the building, twirling a short pistol with his fingers. He met their gaze. The man didn't look out of sorts, or perhaps the character settings for the accounts included in the invitations didn't include any defining features. Schwarzer couldn't identify the person, but his gut told him this was also a tough customer.
It was the sound of boots stepping on shards of glass.
Schwarzer shifted his attention to the entrance of the room he and Jinro were located in. Standing there was a tall, bulky man, as built as a metal tower. He gave off killer vibes, whether because it was an inborn quality or he was fresh from a killing spree. He was clearly a big fellow, but before he stepped on the glass fragments, Schwarzer had not detected his presence whatsoever.
And who's that? Schwarzer glared at the big fellow, who was entering the room.
"BlackWizard?" Jinro was even more surprised this time.
"BlackWizard" Milo, another master who was exceptionally fast at switching weapons; he was fairly well-known in e-sports circles. He'd risen to fame around the same time as Jinro. BlackWizard was his regular ID. Most gamers knew each other by IDs. Quite a few folks knew of BlackWizard, but few knew his real name.
The big fellow's gaze lingered on Jinro and Schwarzer for two seconds before landing on Jinro. "Former 2S stalwart and captain Jinro?"
"You actually recognize me." In fact, Jinro wasn't too surprised that Milo could identify him. Milo had great instincts. Even in a game, he could dig beneath the surface.
"How come you're not retired?" Milo said in a confused tone. "There's been no word of you for such a long time. I didn't expect you to be invited as well." He turned his attention to Schwarzer. "Who's this kid? And the kid behind me?"
The person twirling his pistol on the wall had arrived as well.
"He probably got the same message too," Jinro said while looking out the window.
A nimble figure glided in from outside. Her short hair was dyed like camouflage. It was a woman, someone both Jinro and Milo knew.
"Jasmine?" Jinro was caught off guard once again. Milo and Jasmine were both freelancers. They had never joined any teams or factions. They were both good enough to rank within the top 50 in Yanzhou on most of the major games.
Making the top 50 as a freelancer was not easy at all. Jinro had speculated that AliveAfter500Years had invited them to audition for a team, but the appearance of Milo and Jasmine led him to have second thoughts.
What exactly was AliveAfter500Years planning?
Schwarzer looked out the window, then at Jasmine. This is the third floor. How did she get up here?
After climbing in from the window, Jasmine eyed the gathered crowd and frowned, oblivious to the gazes thrown her way, before standing in a corner.
The big fellow Milo asked, "You got a message too? AliveAfter500Years actually invited you?"
The woman addressed as Jasmine finally spoke. "You were invited, so why wouldn't I be? I'm ahead of you in the rankings."
"I don't have much time because I need to keep an eye on my shop."
"Sure, you're busy. Just find another excuse next time."
Milo and Jasmine were on friendlier terms because they were both freelancers.
Realizing he was in the presence of well-known figures in the gaming community—all more senior than he was—Schwarzer started to get nervous. His professional e-sports career hadn't even kicked off—he wasn't even considered a newcomer, at most ranking on the level of an intern. He didn't dare butt in when these senior gamers spoke, so he focused his attention on the bloke standing at the entrance to the room, the one "BlackWizard" Milo had also called a kid.
"Hey, I'm Schwarzer. I got the invitation too. And you are..." Schwarzer said enthusiastically.
The man gave him a sideways glance. "SillyBloke from Yanbei University of Finance?"
Schwarzer's smile disappeared instantly. He looked like he was staring at a heap of trash. "SmellyBug from Ocean University of Yanzhou?"
When he heard their conversation, Jinro knew what was going on. Yanbei University of Finance and Ocean University of Yanzhou had long been among the top four universities for e-sports. Even in their less glorious days, they had ranked among the top eight. They were longtime rivals and had quite a few run-ins. No wonder the two of them spoke to each other in that tone.
Schwarzer had shined in gaming competitions in the first half of the year. Word was that quite a few clubs had already put out feelers. And the other kid was from Ocean University. Even though Jinro didn't know his name, he was certain the other kid was also a talented newcomer.
After the five of them showed up, another three appeared. One was from HWR Club's first team. His contract was about to expire and he was still negotiating his extension. Everyone wanted a piece of him. Lo and behold, he was here too.
Jinro couldn't identify the other two folks and they didn't introduce themselves. Milo figured they were from the amateur gaming community.
Be they pros or amateurs, veterans or newbies, every person had thought at the outset they were the only invitee. They hadn't expected that players other than themselves had been invited.
Schwarzer was about to suggest that they take a stroll on the other floors when a ninth person appeared.
He wore battle fatigues that were popular during the Period of Destruction. He didn't wear a helmet and had two scars on his face. He didn't look out of the ordinary, and his gaze was quite peaceful, but anyone who was eyed felt as if they were shoved up against the wall.
Jinro hadn't felt this way in a long time. The last time was in front of his mentor, but that had been a long time ago. He had been a team leader since then, and former newbies were now more senior than he was. Standing in front of this person, he felt a genuine sense of fear.
Milo's pupils shrank. He was sure he had never seen this guy, but he was absolutely certain this was...
"AliveAfter500Years?" the eight of them said, nearly in unison.
Before he'd showed up, they had all wondered what kind of person the man who held the coveted top spot in the global rankings was. How would they recognize him? Now they knew they hadn't needed to worry about identifying characteristics at all. When they saw him, they knew instinctively: this is him!
Schwarzer was so emotional his voice started shaking. He wobbled over and said, "How do you do, Su-su-supergod?"
Schwarzer had prepared a whole list of questions for AliveAfter500Years before logging into the game, but now he was stuck after a simple greeting.
The eight of them fell into an extended silence. It wasn't they didn't want to speak; their heads were all filled with questions, but all of sudden, they were afraid to talk. Especially when they were stared at.
"Pretty fast." Fang Zhao was happy to see all eight. He'd gotten online again about an hour after he'd sent out his message. He'd wondered if anyone would wait until the scheduled time the day after tomorrow; he hadn't expected all eight to show up right away.
The group was still silent, but a strange feeling crept up in them. Praise? They were just a teeny bit excited.
As the eight wrestled with the feeling, the next sentence shook them to their senses.
"I'm going to give you a chance to kill me," Fang Zhao said. "Right here, 10 a.m., the day after tomorrow. No restrictions."
For many professional gamers, the greatest accomplishment wasn't their points total but taking out a worthy opponent.
Even Schwarzer, who grew up worshipping the big stars in e-sports, wanted to take down his idols.
Back when he'd been in Secondary Two, Schwarzer had issued a challenge to a few of the gaming stars he'd idolized, but it had just been a drop in the ocean of fanmail the stars received. No one paid any attention to a kid in Secondary Two.
Now he was in university. He was a grown man and had been exposed to greater variety of hit games. His list of idols was changing. He had just started worshipping AliveAfter500Years and he'd actually been offered the opportunity of a duel.
He was ecstatic. Moved.
"Anyone wanna back out?" Fang Zhao asked.
None of the eight uttered so much as a grunt. Their eyes were oozing anticipation. It was impossible to stay calm when you had the chance to cross swords with the gamer sitting securely at the top of the global rankings. They were all wondering whether they had what it took to take out this supergod that took the gaming world by storm out of the blue.
No one would choose to back out now.
"Great," Fang Zhao continued. "If anyone isn't happy with their account settings, I'm happy to switch you to a smoother account."
Still no one spoke up. Their account settings were all set according to their preferences. There was no need to switch accounts.
"If you don't have any other questions, you're dismissed. You can familiarize yourselves with the location. This is my first time as well." What he meant was that he was no more familiar with the location than his eight invitees. The difference was that he'd swept the building that morning.
Schwarzer had a case of shivers. He had noticed on his way here that there were no mutated humans or beasts. Had they all been killed? No wonder AliveAfter500Years's points total had risen again today.
Noticing that Fang Zhao was about to go offline, Jinro seized the opportunity to speak up.
"Please wait." Jinro summoned the courage to return Fang Zhao's gaze and ask, "Your eminence, Is this your test for us? If we pass, will we be invited to join your excellency's team?" Jinro had started addressing Fang Zhao with honorifics unconsciously.
This was the same question on the minds of the other invitees,
Fang Zhao had no reason to be coy. "Yes." His objective was recruitment.
Jinro relaxed instantly. This was the answer he'd wanted to hear.
"What if I want to pass your test but not join your team?" Milo AKA BlackWizard asked.
Fang Zhao glanced at him and responded, "That's OK. Just take part in a second fight."
The eight gamers: "..."
What was that supposed to mean? Were there dire consequences?