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However, everything was still just speculation—there was no point in worrying about it now.
Shi Jin pushed all the messy thoughts out of his mind with a determined shove, adjusted his emotions, and, filled with diligence, went to the bathroom to help Lian Jun to “warm up” in preparation for the massage.
Shi Jin finally got a good night’s sleep that night, but when he woke up, his mentality nearly collapsed again.
“600? How did it go up to 600? That’s it, I give up, I’m not doing this anymore.” He buried his head in the poached egg pillow, disappointed with the cold, cruel world.
<The progress bar rose in the early morning. You and Darling were sleeping so soundly, and it didn’t go up by that much, so I didn’t wake you up…> Xiao Si uttered weakly.
“A one-off increase of 80 isn’t much, you say.” Shi Jin couldn’t even sigh. He patted about for his phone and found Shi Weichong’s number. He wanted to call his brother to ask if he had quarreled with Xu Jie, but in the end, he didn’t—he was afraid that asking a question like that was too conspicuous, and it would arouse Shi Weichong’s suspicion. Frustrated, he shoved his phone back under the pillow.
The bathroom door opened and Lian Jun came out, sitting in the wheelchair. Noticing that Shi Jin had changed positions and was now hugging the pillow, he guessed the teenager was awake and leaned over to pat his back, saying, “Get up, I have a present for you.”
Shi Jin turned to look at him.
“Actually, this is something I was supposed to give you much earlier.” Lian Jun smoothed the younger man’s hair, messy from sleep. “Some time ago, I promised you that I would check Shi Xingrui’s correspondence records. Since then, the whole of Annihilation had been busy with other things and the investigation got delayed a little, but I got the results a few days ago. I didn’t show you right away because I didn’t want to distract you before the college entrance examination. Do you want to see the information now?”
For a moment, Shi Jin was confused; it took him a minute to remember that he had indeed asked Lian Jun for help with that. He thought of Shi Xingrui’s mysterious “white moonlight,” and the last vestiges of sleep disappeared like the morning mist. He jumped up and grabbed Lian Jun’s hand, saying with excitement, “Yes yes yes! I want to see it!”
After washing at record speed, Shi Jin finished his breakfast in two or three bites, then took the tablet from Lian Jun.
The file was huge and password-protected. He took a deep breath and entered the password Lian Jun told him.
As the document opened, the first thing that appeared on the screen was an outstanding mini-essay written in a primary school student’s style. Shi Jin blinked, taken aback, and scrolled down. To his bewilderment, he found that the following pages held similar pieces as well.
Wasn’t this supposed to be correspondence records? Why is it all compositions and essays?
“Shi Xingrui erased his correspondence records so completely that the investigators couldn’t find any leads, so they decided to tackle it from another direction,” Lian Jun provided a timely explanation. “Don’t hold too much hope, though—this document doesn’t contain much definitive information. I’m making the investigation team continue digging; when they find anything, they’ll send it over.”
Shi Jin’s eyebrows wrinkled, but his frown smoothed out as fast as it came. He scrolled up to the first page of the document—sure enough, the name written on the mini-essay was Shi Xingrui.
So the investigators decided to start from the pieces of writing Shi Xingrui published?
It wasn’t a bad idea. After all, if Shi Xingrui wanted to publish an article, he first had to submit it, and it had to be done by letter.
That reasoned out, Shi Jin collected his thoughts and focused on the file again. After taking a careful read through the essay, he checked the publication date; roughly calculating, it had been written when Shi Xingrui was ten years old, when he should have been in fourth grade.
The information stated that this essay was Shi Xingrui’s first published work. It had been submitted by his teacher and finally published by a small campus newspaper in a nearby city. The investigators were very thorough—they also added the name, photo, personal situation of Shi Xingrui’s teacher at the time, and their situation now.
After checking the photo, Shi Jin found that he’d seen it before, when he’d read Shi Xingrui’s investigation record last time. The person in the picture bore no resemblance to himself, so he scrolled to the next page without further ado.
Another essay jumped out at him. Judging by the date, it should be the second piece Shi Xingrui published, only half a month after the first. Just like the first one, it had been submitted by the teacher and appeared in the same campus newspaper.
Shi Jin skimmed through the next pages, finding that all the compositions published by Shi Xingrui in fourth grade were submitted by the same teacher. In other words, all correspondence Shi Xingrui exchanged with the outside world during that period was through that teacher, not by him in person.
In the fifth grade, Shi Xingrui had a new teacher as his previous teacher had been transferred, and so a short gap appeared between the publication dates—it took until the second half of the school year for the next article to be published.
It was still an essay, but the place it was published changed: instead of a small campus newspaper, it appeared in the education section of a mainstream municipal newspaper, in the special column meant to introduce exemplary examples of essays.
From an unknown campus newspaper to the education section of a municipal newspaper—Shi Xingrui’s publishing platform made quite a qualitative leap. Unfortunately, the name of the person who submitted his work wasn’t recorded this time.
Since there was no teacher helping him anymore, Shi Jin was certain Shi Xingrui must’ve submitted it by himself. There was no information on who sent the article in because Shi Xingrui wiped the records of his correspondence too thoroughly.
Unwilling to give up, he checked the next articles with the faint hope that whoever Shi Xingrui hired had missed a piece of information somewhere, or that perhaps the newspaper kept the original letter of submission in its archives. Unfortunately, anything he could think of, the investigation team could think of too, and it went without saying that Shi Xingrui could as well. The investigators did all they could but found nothing.
It was as if Shi Xingrui’s compositions just materialized on the managing editor’s desk, without passing through anybody else’s hands.
Shi Jin reluctantly accepted that this was a dead end and turned instead to analyzing the writing itself. As he continued reading, he discovered that from that point on, Shi Xingrui’s articles were published more and more widely.
Ever since the first time Shi Xingrui’s writing was published in the municipal newspaper, his articles had become a permanent fixture in the contributors column. By the time Shi Xingrui graduated from primary school and successfully entered the public junior high school, the residents of the city had long acknowledged him as a child prodigy.
After Shi Xingrui was admitted to the county town middle school, his parents sold their house and fields in order to raise enough money for the tuition and moved from their home village to the county town, but they had a hard time in the beginning. It was during this time that Shi Xingrui’s articles stopped being confined to newspapers, as some textbook publishers and educational institutions began to take a fancy to them. They were included in many textbooks and teaching materials; naturally for a generous fee. This helped his family survive the most difficult period after their move.
At this point, Shi Jin stopped reading and turned his attention to one of the textbooks that included Shi Xingrui’s writing.
It had been scanned to convert it into an electronic version and attached to the investigation file. A few words on the title page attracted Shi Jin’s attention: Planning editor – Jian Chenghua.
If you’re seeing this notice, you’re reading this chapter on pirate site – the original translator of Death Progress Bar is Betwixted Translations.
That name rang a bell.
Shi Jin’s heart skipped a beat. He promptly scrolled back to the articles Shi Xingrui published in sixth grade.
The information Lian Jun’s subordinates had gathered was very detailed. The investigators had carefully collated general information about all the journalists and reporters who contributed to the issues Shi Xingrui’s article were published in, including the names of the editors in charge of each section and other behind-the-scenes staff. The names of the people responsible for reviewing submitted manuscripts were thoughtfully marked in red.
Shi Jin scanned that part and soon saw what he was looking for: Jian Chenghua, the editor-in-chief and the editor in charge of the education section.
Was it a coincidence that two seemingly unrelated things, the municipal newspaper and the textbook, carried the same person’s articles and were edited by the same person? Or was there a deeper connection?
Without realizing it, Shi Jin straightened in his seat. He went over the information again, this time paying more attention to Jian Chenghua’s name.
After Shi Xingrui entered middle school, his articles still appeared in the education section of the municipal newspaper from time to time, and Jian Chenghua was still the education section’s editor. On the surface, they had no personal relationship, and Shi Xingrui’s articles didn’t appear in any other textbooks Jian Chenghua worked on.
Shi Jin frowned, uncertain—according to the available information, the overlap of editor and writer in those two publications really did seem to be just a coincidence.
He shook his head and continued to read the file.
In the second grade of middle school, Shi Xingrui no longer wrote only essays—he began to try his hand at literary analysis and short stories, slowly expanding the the range of places he submitted to until it included national education journals and magazines. Little by little, he accumulated some reputation and popularity. However, even then he didn’t abandon the local municipal newspaper and regularly published something in the education section—sometimes articles, sometimes poems, sometimes tips on how to study, cementing his position as a prodigy.
This situation continued until Shi Xingrui was admitted to the provincial high school and advanced to the second grade without difficulty. In the last semester of his sophomore year, Shi Xingrui’s writing stopped appearing in the municipal newspaper. Shi Jin noticed it coincided with Jian Chenghua’s sudden move to B City, where he joined a major newspaper.
He felt his heartbeat speed up—his hunch was correct, Jiang Chenghua had some connection to this case.
Him being responsible for editing both the newspaper and the textbook that Shi Xingrui submitted to, could be explained by the fact that there were a limited number of people in the education circle of a rural area, so it was inevitable that people’s work would overlap sometimes. But could it still be called a coincidence if Shi Xingrui stopped submitting articles to the newspaper as soon as Jian Chenghua left?
What’s more, with Shi Xingrui’s utilitarian character, it was suspicious as hell that he still insisted on publishing articles in an insignificant local newspaper when submitting them to a national-level one would be much more beneficial to him. He must’ve had some kind of ulterior motive!
Shi Jin called up Jian Chenghua’s information and checked his photo.
A picture of an overweight, middle-aged and plain-looking man popped up.
Shi Jin’s excited expression froze. He examined the photo but was disappointed to find that the fat man did not bear any resemblance to himself. Besides, with his age, it was unlikely he could’ve been Shi Xingrui’s “white moonlight” anyway.
He thought he’d hit the jackpot, but was he wrong after all?
His face set in a deep frown, Shi Jin scrutinized the photo again, but in the end, he was unable to fool himself—it was impossible for this person to be Shi Xingrui’s unforgettable love. Sighing with disappointment, he returned to perusing the information.
However, it only made him even more frustrated.
Because starting from the second semester of his sophomore year, Shi Xingrui stopped submitting articles, not only to the municipal newspaper but also to the other publications, and focused on studying. Shi Jin recalled that it was in this period that Shi Xingrui’s father’s health had taken a sudden turn for the worse, and he became a regular guest at the local hospital.
That was probably one of the reasons Shi Xingrui stopped writing, to take care of his father.
At this point, Shi Jin read more than half of the file already.
He began to lose hope.
Shi Xingrui erased the records of his personal correspondence too well. From the fifth grade, when Shi Xingrui began to personally submit his compositions, to the second year of high school when he stopped for a time—it wasn’t a short period of time, and he submitted so many articles over those years… and yet, Shi Xingrui hadn’t missed even a single letter. It was insane.
Without detailed correspondence records, it was nigh impossible to find useful information just by checking Shi Xingrui’s publication record.
Shi Jin was disheartened. After going over such a large amount of information, the only thing he got was a confirmation of his conjecture—Shi Xingrui’s letters must be the key, otherwise, the man wouldn’t have put in so much effort into getting rid of them.
I should be happy my guess was correct, Shi Jin consoled himself. Cheering up a little, he read the rest of the file.
Shi Xingrui’s publication history was blank from the second year of high school to the first half of his freshman year in university. It was only in the second semester that he started publishing again, but it was no longer the same as before—instead of polished essays and interesting short stories, what he published were only highly specialized, professional articles.
All of a sudden, Shi Xingrui transformed from a literary genius who loved writing to a studying tyrant. What’s more, he seemed to have no more intersection with Jian Chenghua. Although both of them were in B city, one was working peacefully in a newspaper and the other led a glorious university life. It seemed that, from the beginning to the end, they had never once met, even by chance.
Four years had passed like that. Once he finished reading the last paper Shi Xingrui had published during his college years, Shi Jin reached the end of the document at last—after graduating, Shi Xingrui focused on running the company and never touched a pen again.
At the end of the report, the investigators noted that since no written information about Shi Xingrui’s personal correspondence could be found, they paid special visits to Shi Xingrui’s high school and junior high school classmates to inquire about it.
Based on the classmates’ vague memories, the investigation team concluded that while Shi Xingrui often received and sent letters during his school years, they were all from newspapers and magazines—no one had ever seen him get any personal letters.
Shi Jin put down the tablet and collapsed on the sofa.
The investigation team had made great efforts, collecting every piece of writing Shi Xingrui had ever published, attempting to restore the correspondence records based on that. They partially succeeded, but it wasn’t enough—he needed more detailed information to find clues.
Should he continue to wait and see what else the investigators managed to ferret out?
He raised the tablet again, looked at the last page of the document, then stared blankly into space.
Even if he waited, this would probably be all he got. Shi Xingrui was too careful; Shi Jin wasn’t willing to bet that the man had missed anything that might be a clue.
The best course of action was to go over the data available to him with a fine-tooth comb, and try to extract useful information.
He refocused his gaze and read over the file page by page once again.
If Shi Xingrui’s white moonlight was a living person, if they really existed and had really contacted Shi Xingrui by letters, it would have left some traces for sure. Shi Xingrui wasn’t born into a rich family and as such, his circle of childhood acquaintances wasn’t large. There was pretty much no way he could get a pen pal other than through the newspapers.
There must be something related to that person in the data.
Were they Shi Xingrui’s fan? Perhaps they liked his articles so they wrote him a letter, or something like that?
However, Shi Jin recalled the last page of the data and dismissed the speculation with a shake of his head—if it was a fan’s letter, Shi Xingrui’s classmates should have heard about it. Besides, Shi Xingrui had never disclosed his address in a newspaper, so it wasn’t as if any fan could have sent him a letter in the first place.
Maybe it was one of Shi Xingrui’s schoolmates, one of those the investigators didn’t interview? They admired Shi Xingrui’s talent so they wrote an anonymous love letter, sparking Shi Xingrui’s feelings?
But that didn’t seem right either—a schoolmate could just sneak the letter into Shi Xingrui’s desk, they wouldn’t need to send it by post. However, with so many students at school, something like that wouldn’t have remained a secret and before long, rumors would be flying.
There were no loose ends to grasp, none at all.
Shi Jin frowned, his fingers unconsciously swiping over the tablet screen until Jian Chenghua’s photo appeared again. An instinct gave him pause, his attention refocusing back on this person.
Jian Chenghua, the only person in this information likely to have some special connection with Shi Xingrui, was fat, old enough to be Shi Xingrui’s father, and didn’t bear even a bit of resemblance to Shi Jin. However, as the editor-in-chief, he had access to all submissions sent to the municipal newspaper; if he used the replies the newspaper sent as a pretense to write to Shi Xingrui, it would have gone unnoticed.
While Jiang Chenghua was still working there, Shi Xingrui continued to submit excellent articles and pieces of writing to the municipal newspaper. He continued to do so even after being admitted to school in the provincial capital and having his articles begin to be published in nationwide journals and magazines. By then, he’d gained enough of a reputation that it was, in fact, not suitable for him to write things meant for primary and middle school students.
It was really, really strange. Shi Xingrui wasn’t a nostalgic person; after sailing out into the wide seas, he had no reason not to abandon this small pond as soon as it was no longer of any use to him.
In light of that, there must be something to Jian Chenghua after all.
Shi Jin sat up. After thinking for a moment, he headed to Lian Jun’s study—with a lack of other leads, any piece of information that made him think twice was worth digging into.
Lian Jun was approving documents. After hearing Shi Jin out, he took a look at Jian Chenghua’s picture on the tablet and said, “You can ask Gua Nine to investigate it—he can apply to log into the official system and check some basic information. This Jian Chenghua is just an ordinary person, it should be easy to check his background.”
Pleasantly surprised, Shi Jin thanked him with a kiss, took his tablet, and went to find Gua Nine.
It was indeed easy to check Jian Chenghua’s life history—it only took Gua Nine one morning. He brought his laptop to Lian Jun’s study to show the results of his investigation to Shi Jin, but for some reason, his expression was noticeably strange.
Shi Jin’s heart beat faster, in both anticipation and worry. “Have you found something?” he asked.
“Yes, I have…” Gue Nine trailed off, looking like he didn’t know how to continue. He stepped forward, put the laptop on the desk, and unlocked it. “See for yourselves.”
The screen lit up, and an old photo appeared, of a teenager. He was fat and pale, but the warm smile on his face made him look cute and kind. When the photo was taken, he was sitting in a hospital bed, looking towards the camera and making the V sign.
<Ah!> Xiao Si cried out.
Lian Jun frowned and instinctively looked at Shi Jin.
Shi Jin, in turn, was staring at the photo, struck dumb with shock.
When he first transmigrated, the body of the original ‘Shi Jin’ was very fat, and although he didn’t remain fat for long, he remembered quite well how he looked back then. If not for the fact that it was clear this photo had been taken long ago, he would’ve suspected the person in the picture was the still fat ‘Shi Jin’.
“Who is he?” he asked in a hoarse voice, his heart pounding and his pulse thumping in his ears. At last, he felt the faint touch of the truth brushing his fingertips.
“It’s Jian Chenghua’s son, Jian Jinwen. He died of cancer,” Gua Nine replied. He tapped the keyboard and continued, “This is a picture taken a month before his death.”
Another photo appeared. The teenager in the previous picture became a young man, but he looked quite ill: his skin took on a sickly pallor and his lips had turned blue. Despite this, the warm, gentle expression didn’t disappear from his face. He wore a hat on his head and held a magazine in his hand, smiling happily at the camera.
Apart from the complexion and age, the person in the picture was nearly indistinguishable from Shi Jin. The only difference between them was that the man lacked the small mole on Shi Jin’s nose.
Lian Jun stared at the photo in a daze. Looking at that face, identical to Shi Jin’s yet sallow and emaciated, for a moment he was caught in an illusion that he was looking at a Shi Jin who didn’t have long left in the world. Before he could think, he slammed down the lid of the laptop and slid out from behind his desk to grab the teenager’s hand.
Shi Jin was surprised by the sudden series of actions, but it didn’t take long for him to react and return his lover’s hold. Forcing down the shock and other feelings rocking his heart, he soothed, “It’s all right, that’s not me, you know I’m perfectly healthy, that’s not me.”
“I know.” Lian Jun felt the warmth of Shi Jin’s hand in his, and the frantic beating of his heart slowed down. Tightening his grip, he said, “I’m sorry, I overreacted… Gua Nine, bring the computer over here.”
Gua Nine glanced at his boss, worry evident in his gaze, but moved the laptop to the other side of the desk without protest.
After reopening the lid, Shi Jin hastily scrolled down, skipping over Jian Jinwen’s pictures until he reached the part of the file that held information.
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