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The Protagonist’s Halo
In the following time, Shi Jin became the most compliant patient in the world. Lian Jun wanted him to drink water, so he drank; to use the toilet, so he went; wash his hands, so he did; eat, and he ate. It was hard to believe he could be so obedient.
After lunch, Lian Jun accompanied Shi Jin to play a few mahjong games, until he felt the teenager should’ve almost finished digesting his meal. He was about to have him take an afternoon nap when there was a knock on the door.
Shi Jin immediately looked over, even ignoring the mahjong game.
Lian Jun glanced at him, helped him pull up the blanket, and called for the visitor to come in.
Gua Five gently pushed the door open. When he saw the scene, his eyes rounded and he froze for a moment. He smiled at Shi Jin then looked at Lian Jun, miming that he was on the phone. “The boss of Phantom called, he wants to talk to you,” he said.
Lian Jun nodded. He turned to Shi Jin: “I’m going to answer the phone. I’ll be back soon.”
Shi Jin hurried to say it was fine, and he didn’t need to mind him.
Lian Jun watched his silly appearance—the younger man apparently still hadn’t completely absorbed the two kisses that morning. The look in his eyes deepened. He took Shi Jin’s hand and kissed it, then turned the wheelchair around and headed for the door.
Shi Jin sucked in a shocked breath and instinctively covered his right hand with his left. He looked at Gua Five with ‘brother, there’s an explanation for this’ written on his face.
Lian Jun went out, and Gua Five remained to accompany Shi Jin.
Shi Jin tried to explain, “Um, Jun-shao, me and him… We…”
“You’re finally together?” Gua Five picked up where he drifted off, a genuine, happy smile on his honest-looking face. “Congratulations! It’s long overdue. You kept us waiting.”
Shi Jin: “…Eh?”
“We all already knew you liked Jun-shao but didn’t know it. Jun-shao is a good man and serious with his feelings, he will treat you well… I will entrust Jun-shao to you, Shi Jin. Thank you.” Gua Five sighed with feeling, looking at Shi Jin as if he was a daughter-in-law he was particularly satisfied with.
Shi Jin got goosebumps. He really wanted to ask what the hell the phrase ‘We all already knew you liked Jun-shao’ meant, but seeing Gua Five’s contented, gratified expression as if some kind of great ordeal had come to an end, he couldn’t bear to open his mouth. Finally, he squeezed out a smile and stammered, “You-you’re welcome?”
Gua Five laughed out loud. “No wonder you managed to make Jun-shao fall for you, Shi Jin. You’re quite interesting.”
Shi Jin: “……” Thank you, I think, though somehow that doesn’t sound like a compliment.
Lian Jun came back just as they finished talking. He found Shi Jin’s expression was a bit sillier than before and eyed Gua Five. He handed the phone back to him. “Arrange the car, I need to go out for a while. Have Gua Two come stay with Shi Jin,” he said.
Gua Five confirmed. He took the phone, gave Shi Jin a final smile, and stepped out of the private ward.
“You’re going out?” Shi Jin asked with a frown, attention instantly focused on the critical matter.
Lian Jun moved his wheelchair next to the bed. “There’s something to talk about with Old Ghost, but it shouldn’t take long. I will definitely be back before dinner.”
Shi Jin, however, was not reassured. Checking Lian Jun’s progress bar, he saw it had fallen to 500 so his nerves eased a bit, but he couldn’t help but nag, “Where are you going to meet? Don’t agree to go somewhere remote or deserted, it’s too dangerous. Take a few more people, you always take too little, and don’t eat or drink anything outside, who knows if there won’t be something strange in it?”
Lian Jun quietly listened to him ramble. Suddenly, he leaned closer and called, “Shi Jin.”
“…Ah?” Shi Jin paused mid-word. He looked at the face approaching his own, his gaze fluttering around it, finally resting on the thin lips. He swallowed noiselessly.
Are, are you going to do this again? This time he will show his skills!
“Thank you.” But instead of kissing him, Lian Jun embraced his shoulders and drew him close, wrapping him in a hug.
Shi Jin’s nerves, a little tense, relaxed in an instant, and he hugged him back. As Lian Jun leaned on his chest, entrusting his weight to him, and put his head on his shoulder, eyelids drooping, his heart melted like butter. He gathered his courage, bowed his head, and gave the other man a quick peck on the forehead. “The earlier you go, the sooner you will come back. I’ll be waiting for you to have dinner.”
Stunned, Lian Jun got up to look at him. He raised a hand to touch his forehead and suddenly smiled wide. He kissed Shi Jin’s hand again then tucked him in the blanket, saying, “Very well—when you wake up from your nap, I should be back.”
That smile… It dazzled like a dusty pearl washed clean by spring water and put in a patch of sunlight—anyone who saw it couldn’t help but want to indulge in its mellow glow forever.
Shi Jin stared, expression foolish, and his heart beat faster and faster. Suddenly, he was unbearably envious of Long Shi—was the Lian Jun Long Shi met that year the one who smiled so gently?
He felt he was both blessed and lucky.
He didn’t know how, but he found strength to sit up and stretch his arms to embrace Lian Jun, rubbing his head against his face. “Lian Jun, I will be good to you,” he promised with all the seriousness he could muster.
Although he was still a bit confused when exactly their relationship had been decided, his wish for Lian Jun to be happy had always been steady.
This man deserved the best.
Lian Jun returned his hug. Feeling the strength of Shi Jin’s embrace, he closed his eyes contentedly and replied, voice soft, “I know, you have always treated me well.”
When Gua Two walked into the ward, he saw Shi Jin laying motionless on the bed, hands folded on his chest, expression dazed and eyes fixed on the ceiling.
Frowning, he followed the young man’s gaze, but the ceiling was the usual bland, white hospital ceiling, the lamps were not in the least interesting either. He leaned over and poked Shi Jin’s head, asking, “What’s the matter with you? You look stupid.”
Shi Jin glanced at him with a solemn expression on his face and said as if announcing something important, “I can’t sleep.”
Gua Two rolled his eyes, exasperated. He sat next to the bed, picked up a banana from the bedside cabinet and peeled it. “Day in, day out, all you do except eat is sleep—it would be weirder if you could fall asleep now. Don’t sleep, get up and talk to me.”
“You stole a patient’s banana, doesn’t your conscience hurt?” Shi Jin’s hands regained enough strength that he could peel a banana by himself. Also reaching for one, he asked, “Then tell me, what’s the situation right now?”
Gua Two saw he was struggling to peel the banana while lying down, and wordlessly raised the upper half of the bed to let him sit comfortably. While eating, he said, “What could the situation be? Zuo Yang ran, and the government is about to move in on Nine Eagles. We’re going to get busy again.”
Shi Jin frowned, took another banana, and stuffed it in his hand as a bribe, motioning for him to continue.
So, Gua Two temporarily changed his profession to a storyteller. He leaned back in his chair and began to tell the tale.
That night, Phantom’s vessel rammed into Nine Eagle’s ship, nearly sinking it. Seeing the situation wasn’t good, Zuo Yang abandoned his subordinates and fled to another boat in the confusion. His current whereabouts were unknown.
The next step would likely be a trip to the southeastern region because the authorities intended to deal with Nine Eagles but couldn’t do so directly—they could only move to stabilize the overall situation, and for that, they needed a distinct reason. They wanted Annihilation to find that reason and would only send some people to help in secret. So after preliminary discussion, Lian Jun decided to go southeast to dig up evidence on Nine Eagles’ collusion with foreign forces and use it against them.
Old Ghost and Fei Yujing would follow on this trip as Old Ghost wanted to use this opportunity to locate his missing subordinates. In addition, they would visit the place Long Shi had been hiding during the past years to see if there were more clues about Lian Jun’s poison.
Shi Jin asked in a hurry, “Where’s Long Shi now, how’s his condition?”
“He’s also in this hospital, watched by Gua One personally. His condition’s stabilized. He woke up once yesterday and demanded food and drink, looking to be in excellent spirits,” Gua Two answered with a sneer.
By the look on his face, Shi Jin could tell Long Shi was about to fall on hard times. He asked, “Then, since he woke up, is Uncle Long…”
Gua Two’s mocking smile faded, and he sighed. “Uncle Long seems to have gotten ahold of his emotions. He said he’d cut all ties with Long Shi and whatever happened to him, he wouldn’t care. Now he’s focusing on studying the fragment of the poison formula and the drug you got from Long Shi—keeping busy should distract him.”
Shi Jin, too, let out a sigh. He kept silent for a moment then asked, “So was that part of the formula useful?” The day after the first time he woke up in Lian Jun’s cabin, his mind was clearer, and he told Lian Jun everything he pried from Long Shi about the poison, worried he’d forget the complicated medical terms if he delayed too long.
Gua Two’s furrowed forehead unconsciously smoothed out, and there was even a hint of excitement on his face. He couldn’t help leaning over and slapping him on the shoulder. “It’s very useful! You only got a part, but combined with the ingredients we already know, figuring out the original formula is only a matter of time. Uncle Long estimates even if we don’t get any more clues and brute force it by permutation and combination, it will take no more than a year to get the results.”
No more than a year.
Shi Jin first beamed with joy, then fell back on the pillow, face distorting.
Gua Two asked, puzzled, “What happened to you?”
Shi Jin held his patted shoulder and gave him a middle finger, hand shaking from the pain. It hurt so badly he couldn’t speak.
“Shit! I forgot you’re as fragile as a porcelain doll right now.” Gua Two expression changed, and he hurriedly rang the bell to call the doctor.
If you’re seeing this notice, you’re reading this chapter on pirate site – the original translator of Death Progress Bar is Betwixted Translations.
When Lian Jun come back and found a new bandage on Shi Jin’s shoulder, he immediately turned to look at Gua Two, face devoid of any expression.
Gua Two promptly begged for forgiveness, an embarrassed, guilty smile on his face.
“He just patted me gently. It wasn’t on purpose. The doctor bundled me up like this, but it’s nothing serious,” Shi Jin explained, bailing Gua Two out.
Lian Jun turned back to him. He carefully pulled his collar open to take a look at his shoulder and asked, “Does it hurt?”
“No, it’s fine. How did your talk with Old Ghost go? When do we leave for the southeast?” Shi Jin quickly changed the topic.
Lian Jun helped him arrange the collar, answering, “It went smoothly. Our departure time is still under discussion. However, we’re going in two groups. Gua Two and Gua Three will lead the first—they will make preparations and get the feel of the situation. We will follow with Gua One and Long Shi.”
Shi Jin hadn’t expected this. “Long Shi is going too?”
“Yes. He’s been hiding in the southeast for many years and knows the situation there well. It’s not a bad idea to bring him. Besides, he might be useful as bait if needed,” Lian Jun replied. Seeing Shi Jin was still frowning, he continued, “I only ever considered Long Shi one of my subordinates—I never thought about him any other way.”
Shi Jin stared at him blankly for a moment before realizing he was explaining himself to him, and suddenly, a peculiar mix of emotions swirled in his heart: wonder, joy, satisfaction, and just a bit of a strange, itchy feeling.
“I never doubted it—how could you possibly look at such kind of a scum?” He pretended to be unconcerned but was secretly delighted.
Lian Jun glanced at him but said nothing. He took out a tablet and offered it to him.
Shi Jin waved his hand. “I don’t want to play now. It’s almost time for dinner, let’s just chat.”
Lian Jun turned the tablet on and said, “This isn’t for playing. While we were on the sea, there was a problem with data transmission, so information on Shi Xingrui couldn’t be delivered. Now we’re back on land, and it finally came in. You can take a look.”
Shi Jin remembered that, indeed, Lian Jun had promised him to investigate Shi Xingrui. He took the tablet, hesitated, then set it aside, saying, “Let’s have dinner first. I will read it later.”
Lian Jun knew he did it because he wanted them to talk longer and couldn’t resist leaning over to kiss his lips.
After dinner, Lian Jun left to discuss the arrangements for the first group with Gua One and the others, leaving Gua Five in the ward. The man sat against one wall, quietly working on his laptop without disturbing Shi Jin.
Shi Jin picked up the tablet.
The shift in his and Lian Jun’s relationship lessened Shi Jin’s concern with Shi Xingrui and his sons. If not for the progress bar and the original ‘Shi Jin’s’ identify forcing him to care, he wouldn’t bother getting involved with that sick family again.
But reality wasn’t so accommodating. He glanced at his progress bar, which had returned to 490, thought of Lian Jun, patted his cheeks to perk himself up, and unlocked the tablet.
There were two files in the folder. Shi Jin opened the smaller one first.
An old hospital abortion record appeared on the screen. The patient’s name was Xiang Qing, and the reason for the abortion was written to be, “Pregnancy terminated because the gravida suffers from systemic disease unfavorable to the proper development of the fetus.”
Surprised, Shi Jin slid down the document.
According to the enclosed hospital records, Xiang Qing caught a severe case of flu while she was pregnant with her first child. It was bad enough her life was endangered, but the medicine she had to take had side effects and might have lead to malformation of fetus. In the end, she chose abortion.
It seemed this abortion wasn’t deliberate.
Shi Jin’s brows wrinkled. He closed the file and opened the second.
An old, black-and-white, family photo jumped out at him. The person who compiled the information considerately drew a red circle around a child to the right of the front row, indicating it was the young Shi Xingrui.
Shi Jin never expected the investigator would even dig up Shi Xingrui’s childhood and was very appreciative of his or her meticulousness. He examined the appearance of the people in the photo but found nothing special, so he continued to read.
The document was quite long—the information on Shi Xingrui’s childhood until high school, alone, accounted for over a dozen pages, most of which was a long list of school honors and awards, awards for winning writing contests, and so on. It was clear Shi Xingrui had always been “someone else’s child.”
Shi Xingrui’s family wasn’t well off—on the contrary, it could even be called impoverished. His father came from a large family and had seven siblings but only managed to sire a single child. His mother’s body was weak, and she couldn’t do much work. As such, his family’s livelihood was dependent on his father.
Probably because of the lack of more children and his mother’s poor health, Shi Xingrui’s family wasn’t very welcomed in their home village. They lived in the most remote house, and Shi Xingrui seemed to be often bullied by his cousins.
Shi Xingrui spent his first years in his hometown. When he graduated from elementary school, he became the only child in the village admitted to the county town middle school. This was when his and his parents’ luck shifted.
In those days, attending middle school required an expensive tuition fee; Shi Xingrui’s family couldn’t afford it. His father wanted to borrow the money from his siblings, but they weren’t willing. In an unexpected surge of determination, he sold the house which he’d bought less than two years earlier, transferred the fields under his name to somebody else, took his wife and son, and moved to the county town.
In the beginning, they fell on hard times because Shi Xingrui’s father wasn’t highly educated nor knew any profession other than farming. Fortunately, Shi Xingrui managed to win a scholarship and helped his father through those difficult days.
At the time, China was full of business opportunities. By chance, Shi Xingrui’s father met a small businessman and started doing business with him, gradually becoming more and more affluent. Shi Xingrui smoothly integrated into the county town middle school, continuing his “someone else’s child” glory.
The years of middle school passed without a hitch. Shi Xingrui’s father saved enough money to buy a house in the provincial capital and decided to move his business there, after Shi Xingrui passed the high school entrance exam, to let their family stay together.
It was a pity the Heavens made nothing of mortals’ plans. The day after Shi Xingrui got the results of his entrance exam, his mother, who’d returned to their home village to share the good news with his grandparents, died under unclear circumstances in the Shi family home. It was said that her old illness relapsed suddenly enough that she couldn’t be rescued.
It was impossible to know what really happened that year. However, according to the information, Shi Xingrui’s father never went back to his hometown, nor did he send money to his family again. He closed up his business, set up a small shop in the provincial capital, and cared only for his son.
Shi Xingrui also never returned to his hometown again. Even after he became successful, he refused every request for help from the Shi family. As if to make them deliberately angry, he went so far as to enthusiastically support his mother’s family.
His journey through high school was smooth. Always one of the best students in school, he managed to get high marks in the competitive exam and was admitted into one of the best universities in B City, choosing to study finance. That year his father passed away, leaving Shi Xingrui all alone in the world.
After his father’s death, Shi Xingrui sold his home and store in the provincial capital, moved to B City, and started his own business while still a student. That was the beginning of his legacy.
He spent two years investing in a variety of businesses, completing his first wave of capital build-up. In his second year, he founded Ruixing and developed it slowly, paying equal attention to his business career and his studies. By the time he graduated from university, Ruixing was already a small but prestigious enterprise. When he could fully concentrate on managing the company, Ruixing began to develop at a rapid pace. In less than five years, it gained a firm foothold in B City and aimed for the world.
Nothing significant happened in the next few years. Then, when he was 27, Shi Xingrui met Shi Weichong’s mother, Xu Jie, and accepted her as an assistant.
At this point, Shi Jin paused. He returned to the beginning of the document and carefully analyzed the first half of Shi Xingrui’s life. As he did so, a strange sense of violation grew stronger and stronger.
Although the world has never been short of geniuses or lucky people, someone like Shi Xingrui, who seemed to have never failed since he was a child, nor made a single misstep, was an anomaly. Shi Jin had never seen a child whose academic performance was so perfectly stable even after just losing a parent.
Moreover, Shi Xingrui’s investment vision was way too accurate—not only had his business never lost money, it had made him a fortune. All the competitors who tried to stop his development ended up bankrupt. He avoided all the severe business crises, and he pulled out of all the businesses affected by a sudden change in official policy in advance as if he could foretell the future.
It was too amazing—he seemed enveloped in a protagonist’s halo.
But was it possible for someone to be this outstanding and this lucky?
Shi Jin frowned. Recalling his own transmigration, he couldn’t help but wonder if Shi Xingrui also had some sort of cheat, or maybe had been reborn, or…
He shook his head, stopping with pointless guesses, and turned his attention back to the document. He skimmed through the pages describing how Shi Xingrui became a business legend, moving onto the part about his interpersonal relationships, and began to browse through the photos, searching for anyone who looked similar to him, either a man or woman.
Due to the sheer number of photos, it took him a lot of time, but in the end, Shi Jin never found anyone with an appearance close to his own. He was overcome with doubt.
The document even contained the photos of Shi Xingrui’s elementary school’s classmates. He speculated the man wanted someone’s replacement, his first love or such, but had he been wrong?
Refusing to give up, he looked through the photos again, this time adding one more condition—someone fat.
He still got nothing.
Was he wrong after all? He frowned, distressed, noticed a straw next to his lips, and reflexively sucked on it. He found it was his favorite mango juice and muttered approvingly, “Tasty.”
“What’s troubling you?” The person who fed him juice asked affectionately.
Shi Jin nearly choked. He looked at Lian Jun, who had reappeared at his bedside at some point, and a smile lit up his face. “When did you get back?”
“Just now,” Lian Jun replied, his expression easing at the teenager’s smile. “Is there something wrong with the information? You were frowning.”
Shi Jin was happy to have someone to bounce ideas off. He edged closer and showed him the document on the tablet, telling him his speculations and suspicions. Finally, he sighed. “I’m beginning to doubt whether I guessed wrong, but my intuition tells me I’m right. I don’t know what to think.”
“Maybe Shi Xingrui’s love was unrequited? What’s more, they didn’t necessarily have to know each other—at least on the surface, there might have been no intersections between them,” Lian Jun spoke his thoughts then appeased, “You shouldn’t doubt yourself—when all the clues point to one thing, then no matter how impossible, it’s likely to be true.”
Shi Jin’s heart steadied. He took a deep breath and picked up the tablet, studying the information and photos again. He put a hand on his forehead and continued to ponder—Shi Xingrui had never been able to forget this person, so just when and how could have they met?
1. “Someone else’s child” [别人家的孩子] – have you ever heard the “How are your grades so bad, just look at your cousin/classmate/the neighbors’ son…” speech? Need I explain more?
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