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When Yu Hao left the village, he was extremely surprised to see a shepherd by the road. The shepherd shot him a suspicious look, and Yu Hao turned around to look at him as well.
The shepherd pa.s.sed right by him.
"They are the NPC residents in your dreamscape." General said, "Don't greet them right now."
After they left the village, the sound of an elephant's call from the vast prairie startled Yu Hao. There was a lake within the prairie not too far away them, and an elephant was drinking water from it.
"Why?" Yu Hao faced General and asked.
General answered, "Every time someone dreams, their dream will take place in this huge world. It's like a jigsaw puzzle that has a new piece fitted onto it — a new section will be added to the puzzle with each piece. For example, if you dream of lying in a plain today, then that plain will become part of your newborn dream. Whenever you dream of someone, that person will be added to your dream as a NPC, and these NPCs are permanent — they are the impressions you have of the people in the outside world. If you talk to them now, we might run into some trouble."
"What trouble?" Yu Hao said, "Why would there be trouble?"
General suddenly stopped walking and said, "Did you hear that?"
Yu Hao didn't hear anything. General stood in front of him in a protective stance, his palm flipped over as he reached behind his back and pulled out a broad sword. Yu Hao noticed that his sword was much bigger than when they first met.
"Somebody's here to capture us."
He hadn't finished speaking when the sound of hooves striking the earth could be heard in the distance. A contingent of soldiers were rushing towards the village.
"There! Found them!" A familiar voice roared.
Soon after, hundreds of people were rushing towards the village. General made a prompt decision and shouted, "Run!"
Yu Hao was bewildered1. This place was an open plain, they would be discovered no matter where they escaped to. But in the next instant, a sharp arrow flew towards him and grazed the side of his face! General quickly turned around and pushed Yu Hao onto the floor to protect him with his back. Arrows rained down on them like a torrential downpour and made a bunch of clanging sounds as they landed on General's armour; this rain of arrows had created numerous dents in his armour.
When this wave of arrows ended, General shouted, "Go to the lake! Hide!"
In the next moment, soldiers who rode war horses2 rushed towards them. When Yu Hao fled, he took a quick glance and saw that more and more cavalry were closing in on them from all sides. All of them were covered in black leather armour from head to toe while their bodies emitted pitch black fumes, and the one leading them was actually……
"Go!!" General shouted, then immediately swung his broad sword ruthlessly at the one who was leading the group!
Both the leader and his horse were thrown off their feet, General swept away all the weapons in his way and actually single-handedly went head to head with hundreds of cavalry!
Yu Hao fled to the lake where there was a forest nearby. General had asked him to "hide", but he looked around nervously as he kept feeling like he should try to help in some way. The elephant who had been drinking water from the lake heard the commotion, so it turned around and looked at him.
More and more cavalry were appearing on the plain. General wanted to retreat while he fought off the cavalry in front of him, but it was to no avail as hook ropes suddenly shot towards him from all sides and wound around his wrists, then dragged him onto the floor. The cavalry steered their war horses to step all over him viciously, General forcefully grabbed one of the horse's legs and overturned the war horse.
Then, with a single whistle, the earth shook.
An elephant came rushing through the plain with the force of a thunderbolt as it headed towards the cavalry. Everything in this world appeared to vibrate with each step the elephant took, and Yu Hao was riding on its back.
"Get out of the way!" Yu Hao shouted.
That elephant's cry sounded like the blow of a bugle used to signal an a.s.sault, and with just one b.u.mp, the cavalry was instantly defeated as they scattered in all directions! General rolled sideways on the ground to avoid its huge leg that was as thick as a pillar and roared, "You almost trampled me to death!"
Yu Hao shouted, "Come up!"
General seized a lone war horse, jumped onto its back and rushed out of the encirclement. The elephant stomped about wreaking havoc which caused the cavalry to fall off their horses and flee. All of them held a halberd in their hands, but just as they were about to fight again, the elephant turned around and rushed towards their leader.
Their leader was in a terrible state as he shouted, "Yu Hao! You thief!"
Yu Hao, "……"
General shouted, "Who's that?! Get rid of him!
Yu Hao, "That's our grade's counsellor!"
The helmet of the cavalry's leader slipped off and revealed his face — it was Yu Hao's counsellor, Xue Long……
"Who cares about him!" General rode his horse and broke through the periphery. He used both his legs to control his horse, then lifted his broad sword and rushed in again as he shouted, "Stomp him to death!"
Yu Hao, "……"
The elephant didn't wait for Yu Hao's command. After it let out a prolonged cry, it stepped on Xue Long. Xue Long screamed, and the cavalry instantly cried out in panic as they fled helter-skelter.
"Go!" General cut down a few more soldiers as he urged.
More pursuers could be seen in the distance, but they didn't know who their leader was this time. Yu Hao patted the elephant's head, and without waiting for his instructions, the elephant turned around and sprinted away. General chased after them on his horse and their mounts ended up running side by side, then he flipped his hand and returned his sword to its hilt on his back. Yu Hao stretched his hand towards General, but General abruptly leaped onto the back of the elephant instead.
The war horses fled. General sat securely behind Yu Hao with both his arms around Yu Hao's waist.
The elephant had left their pursuers in the dust, but Yu Hao never looked back. Both of them heaved a sigh of relief.
General said, "The totem's owner has discovered us. The moment it's alerted, more and more pursuers will chase us."
"And who's the owner of the totem?"
"You'll have to answer that yourself." General answered, "But I don't think you know either."
Yu Hao said, "I don't know why this elephant was willing to help me. When I reached the lake, it appeared to know that I was in danger so it knelt down and let me ride on it…….."
"Everything appears in your dream for a reason." General said, "Along the way, try your best not to talk to the NPCs in your dream, or else you'll alarm the totem's owner."
Yu Hao asked again, "Why do you know all these? General, are you human?"
General didn't answer.
Yu Hao recalled how General said before "I'm not part of your consciousness", that is to say, General came from outside his dream.
"Why did you come into my dream?" Yu Hao relentlessly pursued, "Why did you save me?"
General answered, "I don't want to see you die."
"Are you human or a……"
"Ghost?" General was quite self-aware.
Yu Hao placed one hand on his forehead. He felt like he was asking too many questions which might be a little annoying, but General had always been very patient with him.
General finally said, "Don't ask anymore. The more you know, the more easily it would influence your dreamscape in a complicated way, and it won't be anything good."
Yu Hao nodded, then suppressed his curiosity and didn't ask any more questions.
At the end of the road, a magnificent mountain had blocked their way, so they walked along the mountain road instead. A gust of wind blew and the sky began to darken. Their elephant mount started to become restless, the rugged mountain road was difficult to traverse as it was filled with thistles and thorns. Yet, the elephant kept moving forward steadfastly until they reached the mountainside where a thoroughfare came into sight.
Yu Hao and General dismounted their elephant and faced the narrow path. It had steep cliffs on one side of it, and a bottomless abyss on the other. General said, "I'm heavy, I'll carry you across."
Yu Hao let him carry him. General turned around with his back to the cliff as he faced the abyss, then stretched both his hands out and moved along the path carefully step by step.
He really wanted to know what General looked like. Judging by his tone, General shouldn't be very old. He would occasionally act cute like a youngster, but he was trying to make himself sound more mature.
Yu Hao suddenly asked, "General, can I see what you look like?"
"No." General answered without thinking.
Yu Hao could only give up. General continued, "If you succeed in seizing the totem, I'll take off my helmet once."
When Yu Hao heard the word "seize", he vaguely felt like they would be facing a challenge soon. According to what General said, the totem's current owner wields a lot of power and had even dispatched pursuers to kill him, as if it didn't want him to return to his original position.
"What should I do?" Yu Hao said, "Is our opponent very difficult to handle?"
"You'll know when we get there." General still said the same thing. He carefully crossed the narrow path and let Yu Hao down. Night as near at hand, they reached the edge of the cliff and Yu Hao couldn't help but let out an alarmed cry.
On the plain below the mountain, a huge city surrounded by a moat came into sight. And in the middle of this city stood a grand palace that towered over everything else! The palace's lights were brilliant and resplendent with variegated colours, its upturned eaves3 that were concealed in the night had an indistinct outline, and there was a huge, black dragon flying about in the skies above it!
"This……" Yu Hao couldn't believe what he was seeing at all.
General adjusted his helmet and metal gloves, then casually said, "Next, I'll have to escort you into the palace to make you the master of this world. But the palace has already been occupied, so we have to be very careful."
"What about our reinforcements last time?" Yu Hao asked, "Can we call them for help?"
"We can't, they're guarding the Great Wall to protect you." General answered.
Yu Hao thought of the a.s.sault they had endured along the way and said, "I can't do anything."
General said, "Your strength will return bit by bit. When you reach the totem, you will become omnipotent."
Yu Hao said, "But how are we going to get in? Can I do anything? Like use magic or something?"
"What are your strengths…or interests?" General brought him near the walls of the city to look for a way in, then asked after he had hesitated for a moment.
Yu Hao, "English."
Yu Hao, "Ok then, does chess count?"
General, "Anything else?"
Yu Hao, "Singing……my singing's not bad."
General, "Don't you have any talent in sports or the like?"
Yu Hao felt helpless.
The lofty city wall towered over them. Some voices came from the other side of the wall, then the city gate opened in an instant and thousands of soldiers and horses flooded out as they scattered onto the plain.
"They're searching for our whereabouts." Yu Hao said.
General said, "Think of a way to mix in. See if there are any elements here that can be connected to your reality."
The crease between Yu Hao's eyebrows deepened considerably. He looked at the city gate that had opened and closed, then raised his head to look at the city wall.
Not long after, from the plain outside of the city, Yu Hao gathered a group of elephants. The elephants were stacked atop one another like a circus' human pyramid opening act4.
Yu Hao, "What's wrong? I only know how to command elephants." He realised that the elephants in his dream were particularly obedient, they would do anything he told them to.
General said, "This is possible too?"
Yu Hao said, "You've entered a lot of people's dreams right? Shouldn't you be used to seeing this kind of weird things?"
General, "Not a lot."
Yu Hao really wanted to ask a few more questions, but out of courtesy, he didn't display his curiosity too blatantly. He climbed up an elephant with General. These elephants were like his guardian angels; at a certain point of his life, they must have had something to do with something, or someone who was protecting him.
"Alright." Yu Hao stood on top of the wall and scanned the colourful city in front of him. The community of palaces were located in the middle of this huge city, and its layers were stacked one on top of the other. Its architectural style looked a lot like the high-rise buildings in the Tang dynasty5.
Yu Hao had never expected that his inner world would manifest in such a way. The significance of that dragon, and the question of when it had appeared in his dreamscape puzzled him even more. But when he saw these palace buildings, an idea suddenly popped into his mind forcefully.
This was his kingdom — the structure and pa.s.sages within the palaces suddenly became clear to him in an instant.
"Let's go." Yu Hao said, "I've begun to remember this place."
General answered, "Your strength is gradually awakening."
Yu Hao said, "This was the first building block I a.s.sembled when I was a kid. They were the toys that my father had sent me when he was working outside."
General, "And the dragon?"
Yu Hao shook his head and said, "I don't know. Follow me!"
He walked along the city wall and reached the roofs that belonged to a row of houses, then he jumped onto a roof and ran along it quickly. General followed closely behind. The sound of footsteps could be heard clearly as the two of them leaped from roof to roof. After they traversed more than half of the city, they were nearing the grand palace in the middle.
"There's an entrance below." Yu Hao said.
"We can't go through the main door." General answered.
Yu Hao answered, "The backdoor then."
After they entered the city, Yu Hao took the initiative in leading the way. General stopped expressing his opinions and only followed behind him silently like a loyal guard. Currently, the two of them had stopped on the roof of the last dwelling at the end of the street. The streets were crowded, which obstructed their path.
The NPCs were all emitting faintly discernible black fumes. Yu Hao said, "Walk through them."
"Too dangerous, we should be more cautious. What's that?" General motioned for Yu Hao to look.
In the northeast corner of the city far from the central palace stood a strange temple. Compared to the brilliant lights in the city, the temple appeared much more desolate and lonely. It was like an abrupt addition to its surroundings and thus seemed unreal.
Yu Hao face went blank. He recalled General's explanation and began to learn how to connect his dreamscape and reality.
Everything exists here for a reason, but time didn't accord him enough time to think about it too deeply.
"Let's go and take a look?" Yu Hao asked.
General was hesitant, then said, "It might be one of your safe havens."
Yu Hao was about to ask him what he meant, but suddenly figured it out. It should be like a safe zone within his memories, but his goal now was to reach the deepest part of the palace. He thought about it for awhile before he finally said, "Let's go."
He jumped down first, followed by the General who said, "If it was just you, you wouldn't be discovered too easily. But I'm an outsider, and under these kinds of circ.u.mstances, it would be easy for me to alert our surroundings."
"It's okay." Yu Hao said, "We just need to walk behind them……."
The crowd had gathered in the middle of the streets where an open air movie was playing. Yu Hao heard the voices from the movie — it was his favourite film, w.a.n.g Kar-wai's《Happy Together》6. His face immediately flushed. General turned around and casted him a glance, but didn't say anything.
Of course, he was wearing a helmet, so it's not like Yu Hao could see his expression.
They crept stealthily across the crowd. Yu Hao felt extremely unsettled; the fact that he likes guys is something that he had hidden in the deepest corners of his heart, and it was something he had never mentioned to anyone. But since General came in, it meant that he would have a good view of his inner world. This really was a bit embarra.s.sing.
Opposite the long street stood the grand palace. There was a parapet behind the palace, they became more focused and kept their eyes on the crowd at all times. But up above in the skies behind, the black dragon that was circling in the air suddenly discovered them.
2. War horse:
3. Upturned eaves:
4. Circus human pyramid:
5. High-rise in Tang dynasty:
6. Movie about the love story between two gays↩