Lishui Hospital

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The two brothers watched the horror movie together.
Fei Yujing was frowning, his face solemn.
He leaned back in his seat, trying to keep as far away from the tablet as possible.

Shi Jin had pulled out a bag of melon seeds from who-knows-where.
He lazily slouched on the armrest of his single-person sofa, watching the bloody picture on-screen and munching on the seeds.
Not only was his face serene, he was even being so annoying that he would blab spoilers. 

“Look there, under the table—you see that pen? It’s actually foreshadowing.
That idiot who went wandering around earlier in the day is already dead.
The guy in the checkered shirt killed him.” 

Fei Yujing glanced at the screen, then flinched and snatched his gaze away.
Hidden under the table was a bloody fingerprint and several severed fingers.
Taking a deep breath, he leaned back again.

The film continued.
However, since Fei Yujing already knew who the murderer was, he was no longer fixed on looking for clues, and his frown relaxed a little.

“And here, don’t you think this statue looks strange? That’s because that girl’s body is hidden inside.
The protagonist is going to be scared, poor thing.”

Sure enough—the moment the protagonist walked by the statue, it gave a sudden shudder and fell to pieces, revealing the gory horror within. 

Fei Yujing was rattled once more, but since the spoiler had prepared him for it, it wasn’t too bad. 

“Oh, another one’s about to kick the bucket.
Look, this guy here is gonna get his head chopped off in a sec.
Check out the blood—it looks so fake, you can totally tell it’s ketchup.”


Cannon fodder C lost his head, and ketchup… Oops, blood splattered all over the wall.

Fei Yujing watched the blood drip down the wall.
The scene was supposed to be frightening, but once he noticed the blood was just ketchup, it completely lost the terrifying atmosphere.

After a while, there was an abrupt surge in the music—the protagonist had made a mistake and stepped into the murderer’s trap. 

Tensing by reflex, Fei Yujing’s heart began to race. 

Shi Jin’s munching became louder all of a sudden.
He leaned over and refilled their glasses with milk, talking in an exaggerated tone.
“Whoa, the final confrontation, things get exciting from now on.
The protagonist is going to unmask and defeat the killer.”

The sound of crunching almost drowned out the sound effects, and the climax of the movie played out just as Shi Jin bustled around pouring the milk.
When Fei Yujing looked at the screen again, the protagonist had already killed the murderer, who had been pretending to be a ghost.

With that, the truth was revealed: nothing supernatural had ever happened in the movie.
Those who died hadn’t become ghosts and hurt others, it was all just a trick.
In reality, the killer was just a weak, incompetent coward.

“Tsk, no wonder this movie has such bad reviews, the plot is so cliché.
Let’s watch something more interesting,” Shi Jin said, shaking his head with dissatisfaction.
He stuffed the melon seeds into Fei Yujing’s hands and fiddled with the tablet, looking for another movie.
“Oh, this should be nice—it’s a splatter flick.
I’ve heard it has no plot at all, just people dying in all kinds of gory ways.”

Fei Yujing glanced at the half-full bag of seeds in his hand which still retained the warmth of Shi jin’s body, and frowned.
Seeing the teenager tear open a new bag, he hesitated, but in the end didn’t say anything or return the first one.

Drowning, burning to death, car accidents, poisoning, a fall from a height, a falling brick… As various ways to die appeared on the screen, Shi Jin threw melon seeds in his mouth, looking bored.
He kept remarking that this blood was fake, that knife was rubber, there you could see blah blah blah… He didn’t shut up for longer than ten seconds.

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At first, Fei Yujing had thought that watching this movie would be torture, but due to Shi Jin’s commentary, he discovered that those grisly scenes were, in fact, nothing to be afraid of.
He moved to grab a seed on autopilot and cracked it, his hand drifting towards his mouth.
Absent-minded, he remembered hearing somewhere that cracking melon seeds could relieve stress… 

The movie continued, and Shi Jin kept munching and criticizing.
Fei Yujing seemed to be listening to him, but looking at the screen, his eyes were blank.
He became more and more proficient at eating melon seeds, and the tension in his body relaxed bit by bit. 

“Eh, this is boring too.
Let’s watch something else, for example… this.
It’s a show on haunted houses, people say it’s pretty interesting.” Shi Jin changed the movie again.
The screams and blood were gone, replaced by refreshing music.
After the opening, a low, magnetic voice started to recount the tale of a so-called haunted house. 

After being baptised by the previous horror movies, Fei Yujing couldn’t help but snort in disdain as he listened to the deliberately mysterious narration.
Ghosts? There was no such thing.
These days, TV shows were getting more and more brain-rotting and careless with their premises. 

“What the heck, you call this haunted? Boring, more like,” Shi Jin ridiculed.

Fei Yujing echoed his words in his mind—indeed, it was awfully boring.

Despite the show being tedious, Shi Jin didn’t put on a new movie, and instead continued to watch, slouched on his sofa.
His hands became more and more sluggish as he cracked melon seeds, his body slid down bit by bit, and his comments were gradually replaced by yawns. 

Fei Yujing heard Shi Jin’s yawns.
He persevered through the narrator trying and failing to make the situation more interesting by keeping things mysterious, and yawned as well.
He raised a hand and massaged the bridge of his nose.

This show was so boring it was almost incredible.
It was making him sleepy. 

“I’ve heard this narrator used to do food shows.
You think they were better?” Shi Jin mumbled out of the blue.
His head lolled to the side as he spoke, then dropped.
He fell asleep.

Fei Yujing gave him a sideways glance.
More and more confused, he began to recall some of the food shows he’d seen, his thoughts a thousand miles away from the bloody images that had haunted him for so long.
Accompanied by the faint smell of milk and melon seeds, little by little, his eyelids drew shut. 

When the show came to an end, the autoplay switched to the next video, called Serene Music Collection For Relaxing Your Mind. Soft, soothing music played, coaxing the two adults with irregular sleep schedules to sleep.

Early in the morning, Shi Jin was awakened by Xiao Si.
When he checked the hour, he found it was almost the time Lian Jun usually got up, so he gave his eyes a quick rub and stood.
The tablet had run out of power and shut itself down.
He put it away, then took a look at Fei Yujing, fast asleep on the single-person sofa beside him.
In for a penny, in for a pound—he moved his brother to the larger couch, covered him with a blanked, and left.

Since Shi Jin’s actions weren’t exactly gentle, Fei Yujing woke up.
He opened his eyes, dazed, and caught sight of Shi Jin getting up and walking away.
Stunned, he stared at Shi Jin’s back with a blank gaze for a moment, then pulled the blanket up and closed his eyes again.

When Shi Jin returned to the room, Lian Jun was still sleeping.
He tiptoed in and carefully got in the bed, trying not to jostle it too much.

“Where did you sneak off to pilfer food from? You smell like melon seeds,” Lian Jun asked without warning, opening his eyes.
They were lucid, not like those of someone who had just woken up.

Startled, Shi Jin froze.
He looked at Lian Jun for a few seconds, then pounced at him and peppered him with enthusiastic kisses. 

So attacked, Lian Jun grunted in surprise and hurried to raise his arms to hug him.
Lifting an eyebrow, he said, “Don’t try to distract me… Mm.”

Shi Jin nibbled on Lian Jun’s lip for the last time, then withdrew.
“I woke up and couldn’t fall asleep again so I went for a walk.
I bumped into Fei Yujing in the living room.
He’s been looking worse and worse ever since the villa, and it didn’t seem he would be able to deal with it on his own, so I made him watch horror movies.”

Lian Jun pinched his chin and raised his face up, stopping him from moving away.
“Aren’t you too soft-hearted?”

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“Saving a life is beneficial in boundless ways,”  Shi Jin replied, letting himself be pulled to lie against him.
“Actually, I’m still sleepy, all these all-nighters screwed up my internal clock.”

“Trying to change the subject is useless,” Lian Jun said, but moved to stroke the teenagers back with a gentle hand.

Satisfied, Shi Jin found a comfortable position in his arms, hugged him like an octopus, and fell asleep once more.

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 they woke up, they found that Old Ghost had sent news—Zuo Yang promised to release all of Phantom’s members that had been detained,  but under one condition: Lian Jun must come to collect them in person. 

“Zuo Yang sure has a short memory—the idiot just keeps dreaming,” Gua Two sneered upon hearing the demand, rolling his eyes in annoyance.

Everyone’s faces were ugly.
They remembered quite well the nasty scheme Zuo Yang had cooked up last time.
It wasn’t that long since he’d had it explode in his face, yet here he was, trying to do something again.

Shi Jin also couldn’t understand what in the world Zuo Yang was thinking.
Perhaps the man really was stupid? Though even an idiot would know there was no way Lian Jun would agree to step into such an obvious trap.
Did he want to kill Lian Jun so much that he lost all rationality?

{He wants to sow discord, to make my relationship with Lian Jun worse,} from the other side of video call came Old Ghost’s calm voice.
He looked at Lian Jun, who had kept silent the entiretime, and continued, {I assure you, Lian Jun, that I’m not stupid enough to hold a grudge against you just because of this.
It’s clear that Zuo Yang is not negotiating in good faith—I sincerely doubt he ever planned to let my people go.}

Lian Jun pondered for a while, then refuted his words: “No, he would release them.
He made that kind of demand not to sow discord, but to stall for time.” 

{What do you mean?} Old Ghost asked, surprised.

“Nine Eagles developed at a fast pace, but that means their foundation is unstable,” Lian Jun explained.
“They won’t last long if you keep attacking them so savagely.
Knowing Zuo Yang, once he discovered he wouldn’t gain anything from this war and might even bleed out instead, he would usually seize a chance to make peace with you and reduce his losses.
However, while that does indeed seem to be what he wants right now, this demand calls his sincerity into question, which is the complete opposite of his goal.
Why do you think he would act like this?”

Old Ghost chewed it over.
Suddenly, his expression changed.
{Is it because it’s impossible for him to negotiate in good faith? Have my people already been killed?} he growled out, his voice dripping with killing intent.

“No—it’s more likely they were never in his hands in the first place, and he has no right to decide whether to let them go.
Don’t worry, neither Zuo Yang nor Gunfire will kill them unless they have to,” Lian Jun reassured him.
“They are their bargaining chips.” 

Old Ghost calmed down a little.
As he thought about Lian Jun’s words, he frowned.
{So according to you, the situation right now is that Nine Eagles wants to return my people to me and bring an end to this incident, but Gunfire—who captured them in the first place—isn’t willing, and they’re in conflict?}

Lian Jun nodded.
“Gunfire is a local organization, with a stable foundation and deep roots in the region.
Even if we harass them as we’ve been doing, they won’t compromise just like that, and I have no doubt they’d attempt to bite back.
My guess is, Nine Eagles and Gunfire can’t agree whether to fight with us or not.
When you add that to Nine Eagles’ failure to help Gunfire gain a foothold in China, it makes me think that their cooperation started having problems long ago.”

Old Ghost couldn’t help slamming the table and saying with a snarl,  {Good, let the dogs tear into each other!}

Lian Jun glanced at him and poured cold water over his temper: “Their alliance might have problems, but it doesn’t mean it’s broken.
Right now, Zuo Yang wants time and breathing space to negotiate with Gunfire, so he needs you to sit still.
Once they’re done negotiating, this war will come to a head.”

Old Ghost frowned.
He took a deep breath to get a hold of his emotions, and asked, {So what should I do now?}

“Keep pressing, the harder the better—don’t give Zuo Yang any chance to rest, force him to clash with Gunfire.
Their disagreement can have only three possible outcomes: first, Gunfire completely throws in with Nine Eagles, helps it resist your attack, and keeps fighting with us; second, Nine Eagles convinces Gunfire to compromise, let your people go, and settle this situation peacefully; third, Nine Eagles and Gunfire can’t reach an agreement and their alliance breaks down.
Anyway, any one of these results is advantageous to us.”

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{Any of them? Even if they decide to fight?} Old Ghost asked, brows knitted.

“Of course.
Gunfire has many enemies.
We just have to weaken it enough and somebody will seize the chance to stomp on it and finish what we started.
While both we and Gunfire suffer in this war, we’re fighting on their home ground, this is where their foundation lies.
That’s why, in the end, Gunfire’s losses will be much heavier than ours.”

His words completely convinced Old Ghost.
{Okay, then I will continue to attack them! Thank you, Lian Jun.}

Lian Jun didn’t acknowledge his thanks.
“We’re both just taking what we need, that’s all.”

Old Ghost, however, didn’t seem to agree.
He gave Lian Jun a profound look and cut off the video chat.
He decided to do his best to minimize Annihilation’s losses in this conflict.

“What the hell, that look in his eyes just now was creepy. Brrr,” Gua Two said, rubbing his arms in an exaggerated manner.

Gua One threw him a warning glance, then turned to Lian Jun.
“What are we going to do next, Jun-shao?”

Lian Jun also looked at Gua Two.
Having made sure he was going to behave himself, he replied, “Stop with the cleanup in the outer region for now.
Zuo Yang contacting Old Ghost wanting to get a ceasefire definitely pissed Gunfire off—they’re going to put in double the effort in striking back at us.
Make our branches in the Southeast reinforce their defenses, then gather troops and start dealing with Gunfire forces here, in L country.
Ensure that Gunfire is weakened enough for anyone to see, and break off all business routes leading outside.” 

“All of them? The hidden ones too?” Gua One clarified.

“All of them—Gunfire won’t become ‘sensible’ unless it suffers enough losses,” Lian Jun said.

Gua One nodded, acknowledging the order.
Seeing that Lian Jun had no other instructions, he was about to take the others and leave, but Lian Jun stopped him.

“Wait—this time, bring Shi Jin with you.” Not looking at the teenager sitting by his side, who whipped around to stare at him, he continued, “In addition to Gunfire, you should take care of that organization Long Shi had been hiding in these past few years.
Be careful though—with his character, he wouldn’t have chosen it if there wasn’t something special about it, so don’t let down your guard.”

Gua One eyed Shi Jin, who clearly had something to say to his boyfriend.
He exchanged quick glances with the others, and in tacit understanding, he and the rest left the room. 

The moment the door closed, Shi Jin grabbed Lian Jun’s palm.
“Lian Jun, you…”

“This should be good training for you,” the older man interrupted.
He turned to face him and said, “Shi Jin, I’m giving you an opportunity to grow, and myself time to adapt.
Learn well from Gua One and the others—and don’t make me regret this decision.”

All sorts of feelings welled up in Shi Jin’s heart.

It turned out that when Lian Jun had said “Give me some time,” it wasn’t just to appease him.
He was also serious about learning how to make their relationship work.
After discovering an issue which might create discord between them, he didn’t try to convince Shi Jin to let it go, but thought about how to solve this problem, and chose to compromise in the end. 

Shi Jin’s heart swelled close to bursting—this man was so earnest and considerate

“You shouldn’t waste your talents taking care of me—doing chores like that will only wear you down and consume your spirit.
That’s not what I want to see.”  Lian Jun seemed to notice the storm in his heart; in a second, his expression had softened, and he leaned over to kiss his eyes.
“Shi Jin, hurry up and grow into yourself—I’m waiting for the day that you and I can stand side by side.”

Shi Jin couldn’t stop himself from squeezing Lian Jun tight, rubbing his cheek against his chest.
“I’ll learn as fast as I can… Wait for me.” I’ll become my own person soon and help you share the burden you have to bear.

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Lian Jun smiled and stroked his hair.
“Alright, I’m waiting for you.”

After his conversation with Lian Jun, Old Ghost really ignored Zuo Yang’s attempts to negotiate and began to crush Nine Eagles’ industries at an even faster pace, tearing Nine Eagles’ Southeastern business net almost to shreds.

Zuo Yang all but went mad with fury.
After finding out that another of Nine Eagles’ outposts had been destroyed, he smashed the receiver down and screamed, “Fucking Ghost, is he crazy?! Just for a few subordinates, he gave up all of his businesses in the Southeast! Does he want us to go down together?!”

“Let’s just give Old Ghost’s people back to him, Boss,” his deputy suggested again.
“Not only did we fail to kill Lian Jun last time, but we pissed off the officials too, so they’re suppressing our businesses in China.
If things here in the Southeast get any worse, our whole network could completely collapse.” 

“You think I don’t fucking want to give them back?! Gunfire keeps fucking playing with me, I can’t do anything!” Zuo Yang was fuming with rage.

The deputy hesitated for a moment.
“Maybe we should change sides? Phantom only dares to fight like this because it has Annihilation’s support.
If we compromise and cooperate with Annihilation to help Old Ghost get his people back from Gunfire, we’ll be able to settle things,  wouldn’t we?”

“Are you an idiot?!” Zuo Yang grabbed him by the collar.
“If we betray Gunfire at this point, Gunfire will find and kill every single member of Nine Eagles.
Stop being such a chicken, Annihilation isn’t that frightening!”

In the face of his anger, the deputy shut up, not daring to refute.
Inwardly he grumbled, If it isn’t, then how come everyone always gets beaten like dogs?

Zuo Yang released his collar and pushed him away, beginning to pace around the room.
All at once, he calmed down again, strode to the desk, and dialed a number on the landline.
“I need you to keep an eye on someone—the new Gua Four Lian Jun brought to the conference this year… Yes.
I heard them call him Shi Jin, it should be his real name… Ok, I’ll send you a photo later.” Then he hung up.

“That kid? Why are you interested in him, Boss?” the deputy asked, puzzled.
“He seemed to be newly promoted; no one’s seen him do anything on behalf of Lian Jun.
He should be just a rookie.”

“‘Just a rookie’? For Lian Jun, this ‘rookie’ is more important than even Gua One! And since he’s still inexperienced, he’ll be much easier to handle than one of the other Guas.
Use your brain sometimes, will you?” Zuo Yang sneered in reply.
He recalled Lian Jun’s interactions with Shi Jin, and thought he’d finally be able to vent all his resentment somewhere.
He growled under his breath, “You think you’ve got me at gunpoint? We’ll see!” 

“Achoo!” Shi Jin rubbed his nose, wondering, “Is someone talking about me?”

Gua Two knocked on the table.
“Don’t get distracted.
Have you memorized what I just said? Armed conflict is different from covert missions—what’s important is decisiveness and knowing the overall situation at all times.
You need to get rid of this habit of letting your thoughts wander.”

Shi Jin let his hand drop and replied, “I didn’t get distracted and I’ve heard and remembered everything you said.
By the way, have you discussed who I’m going to follow first, and what my first assignment will be?” 

“Yeah, it’s settled, you’re going to come with me and Gua Three.
As for the mission objective—here, it’s this.
Are you satisfied, dear customer?” Gua Two pulled out a file and handed it to Shi Jin, gesturing for him to see for himself.

Shi Jin took it and scanned through the information inside.
Seeing the name of their destination, he was taken aback.
“Lishui? Isn’t that the hospital where Long Shi was holed up all that time?” 

“It is.
I know you’ve always been concerned about this, so I discussed it with Gua One, and we’ve decided to let you go there first,” Gua Two answered.
He reached out and clapped him on the shoulder.
“Organizing the personnel won’t take longer than one day.
We will leave for the hospital tomorrow morning, so you should hurry up and familiarize yourself with the details of the information.” 

Shi Jin threw him a nod to show it wouldn’t be a problem, thanked him, and plunged himself  into reading through the documents. 

Gua Two was somewhat amused seeing him in such a hurry, but then remembered the reason why he was so anxious, and another emotion appeared in his eyes.
He poured a glass of water, put it within Shi Jin’s reach, and quietly stepped out of the temporary classroom.  

Translator’s Notes:

“Saving a life is beneficial in boundless ways” –  idiom 救人一命勝造七級浮屠, literally “saving a life is more meritorious than building a seven-floor pagoda.”

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