First Published on Chaleuria
073 – King vs. King
Century City was not far ahead. At the very top of a tall building, a logo of two spread golden wings shone in the sunlight.
The bus turned onto the street.
The downtown district was crowded and pedestrians filled the streets. The bus slowed to a crawl. After several minutes had passed, the traffic lights had changed twice but the pair of golden wings was still on the other end of the street.
Xie Yu glanced at the message again and laughed out loud.
Shameless was not just shameless. He had a face. A very big face. He had a face so thick even bullets couldn’t pierce it.
“……” The gaps between cars were very narrow. Xie Yu shifted uncomfortably in his seat, his foot catching on a protrusion on the seat in front, and cursed out loud. “Idiot.”
The bus moved too slowly.
Cars honked outside the window, making a lot of noise.
Xie Yu lifted a hand, finger catching on the side of his mask. He pulled his mask down some and took a breath.
After another several minutes, the bus finally started moving again at its original pace. The golden wings drew closer and closer, and an announcement rang through the bus. “Next stop, final destination, Century City. All passengers, please exit through the rear doors.”
There were still about a dozen people on the bus.
Several of them had already stood up and started walking towards the rear door when they heard the announcement. The bus had not stopped, but they held onto the railings and waited by the door.
Xie Yu didn’t move, but he put up the hood of his jacket. The jacket was black, loose-fitting, and the loose hood covered most of his forehead.
Together with the mask, nearly his whole face was hidden.
Xie Yu tapped out a message to Question King: Nearly there.
Shameless finally described in detail what to look for.
Xie Yu elected to ignore the decorative descriptions. Nonsense like, Although the sweater is a standard one, on me, it’s not standard at all. An extraordinary aura…
Xie Yu had the sudden impulse to walk across the street and get on the bus going in the opposite direction.
He endured it for a while, but ultimately caved.
He looked down and typed out a sentence.
[jsdhwdmax]: ****** [Sensitive phrases have been automatically censored.]
[Question King]: ?
[Question King]: You were swearing at me?
If Xie Yu carried on this conversation, it wouldn’t stop at just cursing.
Century City was very big. It was a shopping mall and amusement park in one, and there was even a small theme park at the city center. A carousel turned slowly.
Several little girls sat on the carousel, their parents squatting to one side taking pictures.
Xie Yu passed through the theme park, asking Question King generally where he was while he walked further in.
The idiot had said he was at the entrance, but Xie Yu discovered after he got off the bus that Century City had four entrances. Which one??
Xie Yu had covered up well.
He wore both a hood and a mask, so his face was not visible, but he was tall and he carried himself well, so by covering up like this he drew even more attention.
[Question King]: Entrance 3. What are you wearing?
[jsdhwdmax]: Mask, hood. Black.
[Question King]: All right. Hurry up.
[jsdhwdmax]: Are you holding an exam paper?
[Question King]: Yes. Best of the College Exams. Pick whichever you want to do.
Entrance 3 was on the other side of the open-air play area.
Xie Yu pulled out a folded mock paper. As discussed beforehand with Shameless, they both brought a mock exam with them. They would exchange papers and complete them within half an hour.
Mock paper in hand, Xie Yu subconsciously looked through the crowd for an idiot wearing a sweater ‘extraordinarily well,’ and who was holding a copy of Best of the College Exams.
There were many people at the entrance coming and going, but not many of them were standing still.
Xie Yu glanced around a few times. After eliminating the ones standing around the door, his gaze swept over the elderly janitor bending over and cleaning the floor before landing on the railing on the opposite side.
Someone was sitting arrogantly on the railing, which was no wider than a palm.
He wore a thick sweater, both legs swinging in the air, a booklet in hand. Red cover, bright gold words: Best of the College Exams.
From Xie Yu’s perspective, he could only see the person’s back.
He seemed quite tall.
Xie Yu looked again. He seemed very damn familiar.
His bearing, his body shape… were all very like a certain person.
Xie Yu thought again. It was impossible. His boyfriend—last name He first name Zhao—had still been lazing in bed an hour ago. When Xie Yu had called him, he had said he was going to go back to sleep again.
Then he had said in a low voice, “See you in my dreams.”
[jsdhwdmax]: On the railing?
Xie Yu sent the message and the figure immediately looked down at his phone.
After this confirmation, Xie Yu walked over, clutching his own mock paper. A few paces away, he raised the booklet and tapped the person’s shoulder with it.
Then, without any warning, Xie Yu caught sight of his boyfriend’s face.
The boyfriend who had said, “See you in my dreams.”
He Zhao’s fingers were still on his phone screen, the message, ‘Yes that’s me,’ not yet sent. The Question King PM interface was very recognizable—formulas were rolling across the announcement marquee.
He Zhao turned and was stunned speechless.
Even though he had covered his face, He Zhao could instantly recognize his little friend in a crowd. Xie Yu radiated aloofness; he was a central air-conditioner, a walking pack of gunpowder.
He Zhao’s grip on his phone slipped and he nearly fell off the railing.
The word ‘fuck,’ ordinarily harsh, intense and full of complicated meaning, now seemed too placid for this long and intense eye contact.
Xie Yu’s hand was still frozen.
He didn’t like the cold, so he often kept his sleeves pulled over his hands, revealing only the lower half of his fingers. The mock exam, rolled up into a long thin booklet, was currently also facing He Zhao: on it was clearly written Difficult High School Math: Booklet A.
Xie Yu’s mind had gone completely blank.
He steadied himself. Some memories of He Zhao’s actions now emerged one after another. The figure in front of him was Zero-Point Essay Contender He Zhaovsky, his magnum opus was My Silhouette is Damn Suave, he had once broken Liyang Erzhong’s record for lowest exam score with a 10-point math paper, and was always last in the year…
All this information arranged itself in Xie Yu’s mind where explosions were going off.
He Zhao was stunned, too. As he jumped down from the railing, he felt as if he was floating and he almost didn’t land properly.
Then he coughed and picked a very awkward conversation starter. “My friend… you look familiar.”
Xie Yu said, “Do I.”
He Zhao said, “You look very like my boyfriend.”
Before He Zhao was done, Xie Yu had already started calmly folding up his sleeves.
Really… very annoying.
A pile of question marks choked him.
The image of the idiot star student with glasses as thick as the bottom of a beer bottle now transformed into that of his own boyfriend.
His boyfriend, whom he had worried day in and day out would end up an excavator operator after the college exams. His boyfriend, whose grades even a thirty-day miracle brain medicine course would not be able to drag back up to a passing level.
“Pick a place,” Xie Yu said, after folding up his sleeves. “If here isn’t too embarrassing for you, here’s fine, too.”
He Zhao: “……”
He Zhao was that close to being murdered.
If he hadn’t happened to overhear someone asking, “Hello, may I ask where the entrance to the Question King Offline Meetup is?” he might really have died.
Xue Xisheng had tidied himself up and even put on a layer of greasy hair cream. He looked very energetic. Black spectacle frames and a checkered button-down shirt.
He also carried many books. Xie Yu glanced over and saw Beautiful Chemistry and Happy Physics.
Xie Yu: “……”
He Zhao: “……”
After a pause, He Zhao said stiffly, “Run?”
“Run,” Xie Yu replied. “Or were you planning to go up and say hi?”
The elderly janitor Xue Xisheng had stopped clearly wasn’t aware this activity was taking place. “Ah? What Quest King?”
Xue Xisheng said, “Question King Tournament. A studying game. Today is our networking event.”
The janitor shook his head, bent down, and kept sweeping. He said, “I don’t know… I’m old and I don’t understand what you young people are playing these days. Never heard of it.”
Xue Xisheng said, “Sorry, I’ll let you get back to work.” Then he looked up and glimpsed two silhouettes, but they had already vanished through a door to the side before he could take a closer look.
Although neither Xie Yu nor He Zhao understood what was going on, they both were in agreement that the study rep had to be avoided. So they found a chance and escaped through the side door.
There were more people inside Century City than outside and there was a crowd waiting for the elevator. They probably wouldn’t be able to get in until the third or fourth time it arrived.
So He Zhao made a split-second decision, pushed open the emergency door, and went for the stairs.
They ran up the stairs, clutching onto the railings. They ran fast, and who knew how many floors they climbed. Just turning the corners made their heads spin.
While dizzy, Xie Yu suddenly remembered that Baidu Q&A. What to do when boyfriend doesn’t study. My boyfriend is an angel but he’s second-to-last place in school.
The ‘Handsome He’ who lost all his hit points in that math class.
On the bus, He Zhao had said when he passed the tchotchke store, “I’ve come here before.”
And even further back, the messy circle drawn on the paper crane.
It had been a 0.
Xie Yu stopped running, panting lightly. He tore off his mask, leaving it hanging from one side of his face, then leaned against the wall and said, “All right… stop running.”
The emergency stairwell was silent, both upstairs and downstairs. Everyone else was waiting for the elevator, and even those taking the stairs wouldn’t come up this far.
He Zhao plopped down on the landing and thought about this whole matter between the two of them. He flat-out couldn’t remember the string of keysmash Xie Yu used for a handle, so he asked, “You’re that something-something-X?”
Xie Yu retorted, “You’re Shameless?”
He Zhao scratched his head. He thought he was good at rolling with things, but he was completely helpless right now. He changed the subject again. “Who’s the study rep?”
Xie Yu had temporarily lost his ability to think and said, “I don’t know. Could be anyone.”
On second thought, it made complete sense that Xue Xisheng used Question King. In all of Erzhong, no one was as hardworking or as focused on studying as him.
In his free time, he was either memorizing vocabulary or doing problem sets.
The two fell silent again.
Then Xie Yu clamped down on all his feelings and handed his mock paper over. “Did you bring a pen?”
He Zhao was thinking the same thing. If they didn’t do these mock papers on the spot, neither of them would believe this unbelievable coincidence.
This was too goddamn…
He Zhao took the paper and tossed Best of the College Exams over. “Yup, I brought one. You… pick a set.”
When Xie Yu left school, he had not imagined that one hour later he would be sitting in an emergency stairwell with He Zhao doing mock papers. Or that He Zhao, perpetually last place in the year, would tell him, “This mock paper is too easy…”
“Your mock paper is idiotic.” A vein throbbed at Xie Yu’s temple.