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Chapter 1 – Rebirth
「Born into suffering. Suffering leads to death.
Parting with one’s desire leads to bitterness.
Bitterness leads into what one does not desire,
Being unable to obtain one’s desires leads into Suffering.」
In Buddhism, there are the Eight Sufferings; our protagonist had experienced no fewer than five of these sufferings. His whole life since birth had basically been a chronicle of tragedies. Fortunately, it was a short chronicle, because he only lived to the age of twenty-eight before facing his mortality.
Perhaps his life ought to have ended at that point. However, at that moment, fate conceived a single turning point.
Nie Yan turned over. A feeling of wetness arose from his back as his clothing clung closely to his skin. It was an uncomfortable sensation. He vaguely recalled having been shot in the back and collapsing onto the ground. His blood flowed out, seeping into the earth.
Isn’t it just death? He lay there calmly where he collapsed. To silently pass away like this… Couldn’t this also be considered a peaceful death of sorts?
He had lain in ambush for five whole days at the gates of the Cao Xu Mansion. There, he waited with great anticipation for his target to emerge. In the moment when Cao Xu nearly disappeared into his vehicle, Nie Yan pulled the trigger. Employing his sniper rifle, he delivered a bullet straight through Cao Xu’s skull.「Bang!」Blood dyed the ground. Gazing through the scope from a distance, he noticed a hole in Cao Xu’s head with blood flowing out smoothly.
Cao Xu’s eyes stared vacantly before finally becoming blank as the light in them gradually faded away.
Replaying the event in his mind, Nie Yan felt incomparable pleasure in his heart as he recalled the scene of the bullet piercing through Cao Xu’s head. Naturally, it was because he had been unburdened of his hatred.
Cao Xu possessed a lifetime of glory and splendor, yet he died at the hands of a nobody like Nie Yan. Even if he became a ghost, Nie Yan wouldn’t be too particularly bitter. In the face of death, everyone was at an equal standing. Even if he had the wealth to rival nations, it still hadn’t been able to save his life.
Cao Xu had committed too many evils… It would be hard for him to escape retribution in the afterlife.
At the same moment when Cao Xu’s brains were blown out, Nie Yan came to a realization. His perspective on life underwent a complete transformation. So everything in life could be determined by no more than a single shot of a sniper rifle. Perhaps tomorrow his picture would appear plastered on the front page of the morning newspaper. The headline would read “Millionaire Cao Xu Assassinated!” Below, a giant mug shot would lay on the page for the common people to revere and worship.
Immediately after Nie Yan had assassinated Cao Xu, Cao Xu’s personal bodyguards discovered his location and went in pursuit. They shot at Nie Yan, and a single bullet managed to hit him in the back.
He felt a burst of sharp pain. So this is how it feels to get shot… His heart gradually grew colder as his life force rapidly escaped his body.
Am I about to die? he thought, and let out a faint laugh. He laughed at the bitter shortness of life. He laughed at his life of confusion and hesitation. Only when he was about to die did he finally awaken to reality.
Shortly after this realization, tears began to streak down his cheeks.
The deep animosity he felt towards his parents had already ceased to exist. The events of the past were now replaying within his mind as if they were some kind of film. The only thing he longed for now in his fading time on this Earth was her faint, unblemished smile.
She was Nie Yan’s fellow classmate in high school. By now, she had already been engaged to someone else, yet her elegant and refined complexion remained engraved in Nie Yan’s mind; the same as it was in the past. Following the passage of time, her image became all the more unforgettable. He wondered… When she receives the news of my death, of how I took Cao Xu out with me, how will she react? Will she sigh? Or perhaps… will she shed tears in grief?
The old memories of the past seemed to breach through their constraints and began flooding in. They were now drifting and floating within his mind. He was quite regretful. Sometimes, when you finally realize or understand the truth of something… it is already too late to do anything about it. In this lifetime he truly had too many regrets, too many unfulfilled desires…
Nie Yan reached out to grab at the empty air, wishing to grasp onto something… However, to his dismay, everything had gradually gone out of his reach. Alas, his life had finally reached its limit—up ahead lay only an eternally silent abyss.
Remorse and dismay resembled a dagger as it incessantly sliced at his heart; the pain in his chest was unbearable.
What wrongs have I committed in my past life for the Heavens to torment and punish me in such a way!?
Nie Yan’s grievances soared to the Heavens. He was bitter. He screamed resentfully in his mind as teardrops continually tumbled down his cheeks.
The moment seemed to last forever, and Nie Yan was actually completely unaware of how much time had passed. Eventually, his mind calmed down and gradually became serene.
His mind was still active as he pondered away… Could it be…? Is this death? Perhaps, I’m in spirit form now?
For a long time Nie Yan felt sensations in his fingers, moreover, it felt real. Why, after all this time, why am I still conscious? He immediately sat up. Surveying his surroundings, he stared out blankly, at a complete loss.
Could it be…? Is this the underworld?
Nie Yan’s dull eyes gradually began to regain their focus. As he looked around, a few old things entered his vision: a wooden bed, a chair, and a visibly damaged floor.
Where is this place? Didn’t I already die?
He felt as if he were in a dream—having a sort of illusory sensation. He began feeling his back; his entire hand felt wet and sticky. However, as he moved his hand into view, he saw that his palm wasn’t covered in blood but rather sweat. The wet sensation he felt earlier was due to the clothing on his back having been soaked wet in his own perspiration.
What’s going on?
Didn’t I lose a lot of blood? He vaguely recalled his blood being red. It was just like red wine, except with a scarlet tint; it was the colour of his life gradually fading away.
Nie Yan still felt pain after pinching himself. This really isn’t a dream. Don’t tell me… assassinating Cao Xu was a dream as well?
Why did it feel so real?
It was just as Zhuang Zhuo muttered as he awoke from a dream, “Am I Zhuang Zhuo who dreamt I was a butterfly, or a butterfly who dreamt it was Zhang Zhuo?”
How do I determine what is real, and what is a dream?
He surveyed his surroundings with a hint of doubt. There were just too many questions left unanswered.
Within the dim lighting, there was a shabby-looking wooden bed, chair, and desk. By the wall, there stood the grandfather clock his old man loved to exaggerate as a priceless antique.「Tick Tock Tick Tock」The sound it produced echoed into the silence. Nie Yan recalled that the clock’s time had never been accurate, not even once.
It was as if his past memories were stored in an old photo album, they slowly began opening up.
This room here feels so familiar. Isn’t this the house I lived in when I was in high school?
Through the gap in the window curtains, sunlight shone in. He felt a stinging sensation as the sunlight entered his eyes, causing his pupils to violently contract. This was a type of dazzling awakening into reality.
I’m still alive… Nie Yan stretched his right hand forward. He gazed at its tenderness and slight immaturity before noticing the sickly pale skin tone.
I… What’s going on here? Am I myself from ten years in the past, or am I myself from ten years in the future? Nie Yan scratched his hair in great bewilderment.
Aligning his train of thought, a few fragments from his memories began emerging. Gradually, they became clearer and distinct.
This was the year he turned eighteen. It was summer vacation and his parents weren’t home. He had developed a forty degree fever that summer and nearly died… Only through luck did he manage to keep his life.
During that time, his parents had left him with a bit of money—immediately afterward, they took off without a word of goodbye. They never returned home, not even after two or three months, and he wasn’t able to reach them through their cellphones either. It was as if they had just vanished without a trace. At that time, he believed his parents didn’t want him anymore. He was alarmed… terrified… scared. All kinds of emotions began to plague and burden him. In addition to this, he had also developed that high fever. The experience left a deep trauma within his heart. He became timid, cowering at the slightest breeze. It took him until the age of twenty-five to begin correcting that personality to some extent.
Only afterwards, when he grew up, did he find out that his parents hadn’t abandoned him on purpose. Rather, they had borrowed money from a family friend and started up a smuggling businesses at the country’s borders. At that time, the country urgently needed a type of metal called polonium; it proved to be an important strategic resource. Following every nation’s discovery of this metal’s usage, they rapidly began placing restrictions on its export and started hoarding the resource for themselves. It was unknown how Nie Yan’s parents were able to find such a source. Although, in the end, they managed to smuggle the metal back into the country, selling it to the government at several hundred times the price they purchased it for. As a result, they earned a huge sum of money.
Their current circumstances at the time were very stressful and nerve-racking. Thus, Nie Yan’s parents were unable to contact him through the phone. Furthermore, their matters were classified military secrets. If any information were to leak out, it would result in their deaths. As a consequence, Nie Yan and his parents’ misunderstanding became buried in such a way. It took many years after the matter had passed for his father to inform him of the truth, and only then did Nie Yan forgive the both of them.
It was that year when his father had earned his first major payout and used it to establish a smelting company. Furthermore, he undertook and completed several large projects, advancing the company’s reputation by leaps and bounds. He resolved his family’s plight, and as a result, Nie Yan was transferred over to a high-class school within the city.
Is it possible? Have I really returned to that time?
I can start all over again from the beginning?
Nie Yan’s current emotional state was hard to describe; pleasant surprise and nervous apprehension interweaved with each other as his emotions swayed all over the place. He was anxious that everything occurring now was simply a dream.
Nie Yan climbed out of his bed and opened the window curtains. Rays of sunlight were scalding as they released their scorching heat onto his skin. The sensation clearly informed him that at present, he truly wasn’t dreaming.
He bent his head down to see that beside the windowsill lay his textbooks, arranged neatly on the table: mechanical theory, automation, language, advanced mathematics, A.I design, and so on…
Nie Yan flipped open a few pages. The familiar characters were like a clear stream. Along with his past memories, they rejuvenated his mind. These textbooks represented the youth that had passed by. After reaching his senior year of high school, he transferred to a high-class inner-city school. The projects that his father had undertaken succeeded. From then on, any materialistic desires he had were easily satisfied. His rise into becoming a well-off son of an entrepreneur caused him to turn lazy and idle. By the time he had graduated high school, his academic marks were definitely less than stellar. Afterwards, his father spent quite a bit of money to allow him to attend a famous university. Only… by the time he graduated from university, he had learned absolutely nothing; he wasted every day sitting around idly.
When he reached the age of twenty-five, his father’s business started suffering from the attacks of the Cao Xu Century Financial Group. Several family friends who were also trusted confidants were bribed by Cao Xu into betraying Nie Yan’s father. Thus, his company met with several setbacks in quick succession… Money, once more, had become a concern for the family. His father committed suicide by overdosing on drugs, and his mother fell ill due to the grief. She eventually passed away in the end as well. Only after suffering the pain of losing both his parents did Nie Yan begin making progress in his studies—self-studying in numerous courses. However, by that time it was already too late. He had simply missed too many opportunities.
Once full of longing, Nie Yan was prepared to hew out a piece of the world for himself. However, how could Cao Xu allow the son of his former enemy to make a comeback? With Cao Xu interfering behind the scenes, there wasn’t a single company who dared to hire him, leaving Nie Yan with nowhere to go. If it weren’t for him playing the Virtual Reality game Conviction—scraping by with what little income he could earn by selling items, he wouldn’t have been able to even eat a meal.
He had no hopes of gloriously defeating Cao Xu by rising to prominence as an underdog. However, an anxious hare could still give a nasty bite. Being at an impasse, Nie Yan’s final decision was to take Cao Xu out with him. The sound of the gunshot vented out all of Nie Yan’s resentments and loathing.
His destiny seemed bright and clear, so Cao Xu probably never thought his life would conclude in such a way.
Nie Yan believed himself to have died and never expected Time to play a joke on him, returning him to the summer vacation of his second year in high school. 1
And though he still wasn’t able to contact his parents, he could at least be certain they were still alive. When he thought of this, tears began filling his eyes.
When a son wanted to provide for his parents yet the parents were already gone… No other person was capable of understanding the bitterness and grief in Nie Yan’s heart.
The Heavens had given him another chance. He would absolutely never become confused and act indecisively again.
It would take a little over twenty days for his mother and father to return home. Since it was summer vacation right now, at the moment, he had no choice but to stay at home.
That year… in the latter half of the second semester during my second year of high school, if I recall correctly, the Virtual Reality game, Conviction, had just recently been released. Nie Yan distinctly remembered the scene of countless financial firms establishing a presence in Conviction’s rapidly rising popularity on the year of the game’s release. They poured tremendous amounts of resources into the large-scale development of this Virtual Reality game. It was truly due to these numerous financial firms that Conviction deservedly became the second world for humanity.
After he entered the high-class inner city school, he was finally introduced to the game by his best friend, by that time a semester had already passed. Only by then, many people were already at a very high level. He had already missed the best period of time to begin leveling. Left behind, he had no choice but to try and catch up with all his might.
The faded pages of the photo album—his memory—once again turned anew, revealing their bright colours. The most unforgettable moments in his life had come from the time he’d spent in the game. He had come to know so many friends in that game. In the calendar of his life, it was only because of them that those days of loneliness had not appeared too excessively senseless.
Prior to assassinating Cao Xu, Nie Yan was formerly a Level 180+ Great Thief. Though he wasn’t at the summit, he could barely be considered to be among the top experts.
Nie Yan suddenly recalled there was a bank card containing all of his savings in the drawer.
I have the money to buy a Virtual Reality helmet! Nie Yan thought to himself. Pulling open the drawer, he turned everything over, searching. At last, he found a silver-white bank card from the corner of the drawer. If he recalled correctly, the amount of money stored inside his bank account was two thousand credits; one credit the equivalent of one dollar. This money had come from him saving expenses on food and clothes over the course of several years. Back then, he wanted to buy the most advanced Model X3 computer. However, by the time he waited the several years needed to save up the money, the Model X3 had already become obsolete. Naturally, his pocket money was not merely this little after his father’s business had become successful. Due to his father wanting to make it up to Nie Yan, he gave Nie Yan practically everything he asked for. Something he wanted…? If it could be bought, it would arrive.
Nie Yan was eighteen years old this year. However, he possessed the soul of his twenty-eight-year-old self. Everything would once again start anew. From henceforth, a new chapter in his life would open up. However, without the sufficient capital, he wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything. So, he would start from the game. Using his prior experiences of the game, becoming a professional gamer and earning a little bit of money was a very simple affair.
Nie Yan remembered the time when Conviction’s first gaming helmets had just begun selling. In an effort to make them spread, the prices were unusually cheap. There were three entry models: Model A, B, and C. Each entry model’s configurations were unique. The immersion level of the Virtual Reality helmets ranged from 76%–98%. A sum of a thousand three hundred credits was enough to afford the cheapest model. With the current amount of money Nie Yan had stored in his savings, it was sufficient for him to purchase the lowest tier model Virtual Reality helmet.
He could clearly and distinctly recall many items and things from the game. If he started all over again, it wouldn’t be too difficult for him to procure some results.
Placing his bank card within his pocket, he shifted his gazed towards the advanced mathematics textbook on the side. As if God himself had just slightly nudged the textbook up, it trembled a little bit before a crisp new hundred dollar bill emerged and fell out. At that moment, he recalled several things as memories once again began floating into his mind.
He suddenly remembered that the first meeting between him and Xie Yao would occur today. He had taken the hundred dollar bill and left the house to buy medicine at the pharmacy.
Xie Yao was his deskmate during his senior year of high school, as well as the prettiest girl in his class. Once again, he reminisced on this past event, a segment of his life that he couldn’t bear to look at without causing his wrists to tremble. After nearly a decade had passed, Xie Yao and the publically recognized gifted student in his class, Liu Rui, had fallen in love; the two of them had moved together to the Moon. Only after he and Xie Yao communicated through several calls did he find out Xie Yao was not the least bit happy. When matters relating to the past in his senior year of high school were brought up, both of them would sigh incessantly.
If he had just been a little bit more courageous… if only he wasn’t so gutless and inferior in front of Xie Yao. Perhaps, he wouldn’t have missed his chance…
Sometimes… there were decisions that lasted for an entire lifetime; they would become regrets that one would never be able to resolve.
At the time, Xie Yao always liked wearing a white skirt. Pure and beautiful, her appearance remained engraved deeply in Nie Yan’s heart. This sort of melancholic yearning was just like the sound of a flute playing in the evening, tranquil and far away in the distance…
Nie Yan glimpsed at the shabby-looking clock, the hands pointing to three o’clock.There still might be enough time! He picked up the hundred dollar bill, rushed down the stairs out, and out the door.
His family lived in a suburban district. It was extremely bleak. A shabby street that wasn’t at all wide, and as the wind blew over, it picked up a lot of dust. Contrary to what one might expect, many trees were seeded on either side of the street. Under the blazing hot sunlight, they remained lush and flourishing, casting shade on the earth below them…
Greeted with a hot afternoon, no pedestrians could be seen walking by. Cars were also few and far between… Occasionally, one or two hover cars would drive by…
In the past, Nie Yan had loathed this town very much. However, after his reincarnation, as he once again met with this bleak place, Nie Yan did not feel loathing or disgust. To the contrary, he unexpectedly felt an amiable familiarity. This was the place he lived in when he was eighteen years old.
Before Nie Yan reached the age of twenty-five he was timid and weak; it was not unrelated to the living environment of the former years of his life. He was just a little boy from a small town whose family suddenly became wealthy, and because of this, he was transferred over to a high-class city school.¹ Originally during his first and second year of high school, his academics could actually be regarded as pretty exceptional. However, by the end, it was the complete inverse. He was also frequently ridiculed for wearing tacky clothing. In addition to the events that occurred during that hot summer, it caused him to have a very low self-esteem and left behind many psychological insecurities. By the time he moved to a new environment, he had already become insecure and timid, seemingly never fitting in with everything and everyone. If he hadn’t come to know several good friends, it would be hard to say he wouldn’t have suffered a mental breakdown.
However, this was in the past. Presently, never did he expect that after going through an entire lifetime, he would return to where it all started. This time, he promised to himself that he would never repeat the mistakes of his previous self again.
He sprinted off towards the pharmacy.
The surrounding buildings looked somewhat shabby, there were no signs of human life… Following the increasing speed of the urbanization process, the people of this small town would migrate towards the dense crowds of large cities. And the area within this small town’s borders would become increasingly desolate as the population became fewer and fewer. After a hundred years, this area would become demolished and once more change into an open field…
Over here is the school, and on the other side is the supermarket… Like an old horse that knew the way, Nie Yan gazed at the surrounding buildings with familiarity. His frame of mind gradually became more optimistic. I’ve gone back! I’ve truly gone back!
In the past, he had always held a lot resentment towards his unjust fate. However, now he was grateful towards the Heavens.
I’m going to start all over again! I’ll do it right this time! Nie Yan was tempted to scream these words at the top of his lungs, venting out all of the indescribable emotions he had held within his heart.
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- Chinese people start high school at grade 10, so they only have three years of high school as opposed to our four. ↩