Chapter 1 - Starting Over
In the dead of night. At Green Bamboo upper-class area, Jin Hai City.
Shi Feng held a folder of documents as he sat silently on the leather sofa. Gazing at the pool outside through the French window, Shi Feng was filled with both frustration and unwillingness.
He was the captain of [Shadow], one of Jin Hai City's top four gaming Workshops. He had commanded a guild of tens of thousands of people. Even more, he was Jin Hai City's famous expert; he was the Sword Magician. However, now the only thing he could do was drink away his sorrows inside his home.
Ten years, he had spent in gaming.
Ten years, he had fought in blood-soaked battles.
He experienced countless trials and suffering. Under his leadership, Shadow had successfully established ten City States in <>. They were finally capable of rivaling the First-Rate Guilds. However, before he could enjoy any of that endless glory, a single document had turned everything into passing smoke; once it was gone, it was never coming back.
Shi Feng never thought his ten years of effort would just go to waste. He sacrificed so much just for the game and yet, all he did was pave the way for others to the very end. All of this culminated because he had opposed the decision for Shadow to join the Super-Guild, [World Dominators]. It wasn't even the next day before Lan Hua Financial Group gave him their reply. He had to delete his Level 200 Sword King, the account he had spent ten years of blood and sweat on, and to collect his settlement check from the financial department.
All he received was 5,000,000 Credits and a single mansion. When compared to the established ten City States inside the money generating virtual kingdom, it couldn't even be considered a drop in the ocean.
Shi Feng thought about how much he had contributed to Shadow. He thought about how his efforts had turned Lan Hua Groups into a large financial group. Then, he thought about how they still threw him away, as if he was no different from garbage; Shi Feng swore he would take revenge for their actions.
"I won't just let this go. At worst, I'll just start over."
Shi Feng's eyes flashed with confidence and resolution; his hands tore the termination contract into little pieces. Grabbing the bottle of wine from the tabletop, he gulped down several mouthfuls.
Even if he no longer had his Sword King account, even if he no longer had his team's support, the skills and knowledge he obtained from the game would not betray him. As long as his skills remained, he could still rise once more within God's Domain; he could rebuild a virtual kingdom of his own.
Early morning. The sun had just risen.
Di! Di! Di!
The phone alarm continuously rang.
Shi Feng woke up resentfully. He helplessly reached for his phone by the bedside; the effects from yesterday's drinking still loomed over him.
"Hey, what's up?"
"Brother Feng, it's me, Blackie. You're still asking what's up? Didn't we agree to become professional gamers? Shadow Workshop is recruiting at our school today. Haven't you always wanted to become Shadow's core member?"
Shi Feng was slightly confused.
Lan Hua Financial Group just fired him, so why would he attend Shadow's examination?
"Brother Feng? Brother Feng? Can you hear me? They're testing at ten o'clock. If you don't hurry up, you're not gonna make it!"
"Blackie, stop joking around; I just got fired from Shadow."
"Fired? Brother Feng, how much did you drink yesterday? Even now, you're still not awake? How could you be fired if Shadow hasn't even recruited anybody until now? Alright, just come quickly."
Blackie had cut the call before Shi Feng could respond.
When Shi Feng looked at his phone in a daze, he discovered that this old and broken down iPhone 6 was not his phone. His phone was the latest iPhone 12.
Immediately, Shi Feng inspected his surroundings.
What met his eyes was a messy room, no larger than fifteen square meters. All around, there were books on gaming strategies. At a corner of the room, above the study table, there was an extremely outdated laptop. Within the wardrobe by the wall, there were clothes messily piled together. Inside the wardrobe, there was a mirror; a mirror that currently showed a familiar face.
Shi Feng jumped up in shock when he saw this extremely familiar face.
"How have I become young again?" Shi Feng immediately walked towards the mirror. Only after looking at the mirror, at the reflection shown on it, over and over, did Shi Feng confirm that he had indeed become young again.
He slept in his luxurious and spacious bedroom yesterday but now he was in this broken down place after waking up. Not only that, he also had become young again.
Shi Feng could still recall some memories regarding this place. He had lived here ten years ago. For over six months, Shi Feng rented this place in reluctance, all so that he could play God's Domain while also attending university. Only after he had earned some money in God's Domain had he rented a large condominium.
Shi Feng thought back to those arduous years. His family circumstances at that time weren't in good shape. For Shi Feng to attend university, his parents had racked up some debts. Even so, Shi Feng's parents still made sure to send him sufficient living expenses every month, taking on the suffering, themselves, in return.
Shi Feng wholeheartedly wanted to change his family circumstances. However, finding a well-paying job while the streets were filled with university graduates was tremendously hard; so he thought of the highly profitable Virtual Reality games. Setting professional gamer as his goal, he even bought a Virtual Gaming Helmet, training arduously within the game to improve his skills.
During that time, bread and instant noodles became his daily meals. To save money, he had also avoided participating in social gatherings held by his classmates, causing him to become an invisible existence in his class. The boys would look at him with disdain, while the girls would distance themselves from him. Everytime Shi Feng went shopping for cup noodles, his wallet would have no more than 10 Credits. He did not even dare buy a ham sausage that only cost a single Credit. In pity, the female salesperson there had offered him the ham sausage at a discounted price. However, the feeling of his empty wallet made Shi Feng refuse with great reluctance.
"Is someone playing a prank on me?"
Shi Feng stared at his younger self through the mirror and at the familiar surroundings. Shi Feng couldn't help but shake his head, denying such a conclusion.
Even America, as the world's most developed country, didn't have such rejuvenating technology. Besides, who would play such a joke with a poor old uncle like him?
Shi Feng looked at the time on his phone.
"Don't tell me I have been reincarnated?" Shi Feng's face revealed a bitter smile.
He remembered today was the 5th of August, in the year 2139. It couldn't possibly be April of 2129, the year he was still attending university.
Shi Feng shook his head, trying to wake himself up. Yet, deep down, he still held onto a thread of hope, wishing that he could be reincarnated, returning to the time ten years ago. He walked towards the desk, powering up the laptop.
Even if the time on his phone could be faked, the information on the internet definitely couldn't.
After surfing the web for several minutes...
Shi Feng was utterly devastated. All the information he found on the internet showed that today was 19th of April, 2129. Even the highly anticipated official release date of God's Domain was clearly displayed on its official site, counting down to six days from now, the 25th of April.
"I really have been reincarnated! Did I really come back to ten years ago?" Shi Feng firmly stared at the news report of God's Domain, emotional tears leaking from the corners of his eyes.
Shi Feng's feelings were hard to describe at that moment. He felt both regret, sadness, and joy.
It was as if everything before him was just a dream.
Nonetheless, the chirping of insects and the cold wind blown from the air conditioner told him otherwise, that everything was real.
Looking at his phone, at the family photo he took when he entered university, Shi Feng never realized that his parents had white hair. The corners of his mother's eyes even had wrinkles. They were no longer as lively as before; they were truly old now.
A year and a half had already passed since God's Domain's release when Shi Feng noticed how aged his parents were. The large amounts of debt, excessive laboring, and stress had caused both his parents to fall ill, gravely ill. Curing them required millions of Credits but, during that time, Shi Feng was merely a squad captain in Shadow. The money he earned was far from enough to foot such expensive costs.
Shi Feng tried everything to collect enough money, yet it was still not enough. Even with trying his all, Shi Feng's parents still left him a few months later.
In his previous life, he failed to care for his parents properly. How could he have known of the pain and suffering?
After Shi Feng earned millions of Credits, this pain remained within Shi Feng's heart for forever more.
Never would he have thought fate would play such a joke on him. He unexpectedly returned to the starting point, starting back up from zero.
"Great! This is just too great! Hahaha! Since I have been reincarnated, I have to change everything. I will earn enough money to cure mom and dad and I will let them live a life without worries." Shi Feng silently swore to himself as he wiped away the tears.
Just when Shi Feng was planning for his future, Blackie's call came ringing again, continuously urging Shi Feng to go quickly to the university for the test.
Yet, Shi Feng did not rush. He dressed at a relaxed pace, tidying himself up before heading to Jin Hai University.
He could not be more familiar with Shadow.
Shi Feng still remembered. It was while he was still attending university, Lan Hua Group’s prized son, Lan Hailong, started up Shadow Workshop to enter God's Domain. Lan Hailong also invested considerable funding into the recruitment of the student experts of Jin Hai University. Shi Feng participated in Shadow's examination at the time, successfully becoming a core member of the Workshop; whereas Blackie became an outer member. Shi Feng had been happy for quite some time after that incident.
After three years of being under the leadership of Shi Feng, Shadow Workshop allowed Lan Hua Group to greatly profit from God's Domain, quickly becoming a large financial group. However, Shi Feng would never have thought that Lan Hailong would be the one to fire him, personally.
Since he had been reincarnated, he had an absolute advantage within God's Domain that others did not. Naturally, he would not be joining Shadow to become a tool that profited others. He wanted to walk a different path; a path where he fought not for others, but for himself. He wanted to remove the need for his parents to send him living expenses. He wanted to pay back all the debt they had collected. To do that, he wanted to venture, to start his own Workshop, to start his own company, and to build his own virtual kingdom... all to live a better life.
As soon as Shi Feng arrived at Teaching Block 1, he caught sight of a thin and tall figure in front of the building. The tanned youth was pacing around the hallway in a panic; this person was Blackie.
"Brother Feng, you've finally decided to show up. Fortunately, registration hasn't closed yet, so let's hurry in and sign up." Blackie said anxiously after seeing Shi Feng.
Shi Feng shook his head, seriously saying, "Blackie, I'm not joining Shadow; I'll be opening my own Workshop. Will you join me?"
Blackie was someone Shi Feng met in another Virtual Reality game and the former had pretty good skills. The two of them had faced many challenges together and they were no different than true brothers at this point. During their time together working in Shadow, Blackie showed great talent in administration, even though he lacked the talent for gaming. He managed the hundred thousand Guild members clearly and orderly. If Shi Feng had Blackie's help this time, his plans would be one step further. Yet, he would respect Blackie's decision regardless. It was because Shi Feng had nothing right now, and Blackie's family circumstances were not that well, either. Blackie had only chosen to become a professional gamer and join Shadow to earn some Credits for living expenses.
Blackie blanked at Shi Feng's words, lowering his head in silence. It was just too sudden. Not only that, the Shi Feng that he saw today felt different. Unlike his usual impatient attitude, Shi Feng currently gave off an unshakable and confident aura.
After a full minute, Blackie raised his head to look at Shi Feng.
"Brother Feng, stop speaking nonsense. Do you know how much a Virtual Gaming Helmet costs? That's 8,000 Credits. You also need at least six people to start up a Workshop. What about the workplace, salary, and everything else? Just the initial startup funds would require seventy to eighty thousand. There are also the follow-up investments. That's a lot of Credits. Do you have that many Credits right now?" Blackie was very aware of Shi Feng's circumstances. He knew Shi Feng's household wasn't well off, so he wanted to persuade Shi Feng away from this sort of crazy thinking.
"You're right. Right now, I don't even have the Credits for a God's Domain Virtual Gaming Helmet." Shi Feng nodded his head in admittance. It was like Blackie said. Even just seventy to eighty thousand was considered a small amount. Shi Feng recalled Lan Hailong had spent over 5,000,000 Credits for the hundred man Workshop he had recruited. He had also spent more in the later stages to upgrade the Workshop's quality and strength.
"Since this is so, rather than take the risk, wouldn't it be safer to join Shadow? At the very least, Shadow can provide us with Virtual Gaming Helmets. Otherwise, forget becoming professional players; we wouldn't even be able to play the game." Seeing that Shi Feng understood the core of the problem, Blackie sighed in relief as he pulled Shi Feng into the teaching block.
Shi Feng shook away Blackie's hand, sternly staring at Blackie before saying in a grave tone, "I still plan on starting my own Workshop. I don't want to be controlled by others. So, Blackie, will you join me?"
Shi Feng would not insist to Blackie since he did not have any guarantees. He also couldn't reveal the secret that he had been reincarnated. He could only hope that Blackie would believe in him.
Seeing Shi Feng's serious expression, Blackie felt Shi Feng was acting weird today. This was madness. Everyone knew you couldn't earn money during the initial periods of virtual games. Did Shi Feng have some way to make money in God's Domain? Even if they did make money, it would be after a few months. They did not have that much time to waste.
After hesitating for quite some time, Blackie reluctantly answered, "I get it. You're the boss. I'll start a Workshop together with you but what about the Virtual Gaming Helmets? We can't play the game without them, right?"
Shi Feng's tightened brows immediately relaxed as he happily clapped Blackie's shoulders, saying, "Now this is my good brother! Don't worry about the gaming helmets. I recall that God's Domain had a trial period available for university students. Every university has a distribution point and, as long as you show them your student identification, then, for ten days, you can obtain a gaming helmet for free. Let's go and take a look."
"What do we do after ten days?" Blackie's tanned face turned ashen, suddenly feeling his future was pitch black. Why did he have to believe Shi Feng? Could it be Shi Feng's confidence and steadiness? There wouldn’t be a problem venturing together with Shi Feng, right?
What could you do with ten days in God's Domain?
They would definitely miss out on the recruitment period of Workshops after ten days. In the end, they still had to buy the gaming helmet but where would the money come from?
Not even a professional gamer with a group would be able to earn 16,000 Credits within ten days of God's Domain's opening.
"Leave the money problem to me."
Shi Feng revealed a confident smile as he clapped Blackie's shoulders.
Earning 16,000 Credits in ten days was indeed a pure fantasy. However, he had his spirit as a reincarnated person. No matter what the challenges were, he would break through them all and the release of God's Domain was the starting point of his rise.
Afterward, Shi Feng brought Blackie to retrieve the virtual gaming helmets. He then used all his money to buy two large boxes of instant noodles, placing them under his desk in his rented house. They were enough to last him for over ten days. After briefing Blackie on some things in God's Domain, Shi Feng quietly waited for God's Domain's opening.
25th of April, 9 pm. Within the dark and silent room, a few glimmers of light flickered alive.
Shi Feng laid on his bed, gently pushing the start button as he closed his eyes.
"God's Domain, here I come."