Chapter 17: WHAT

What.

Lian Zhidiao stared at the words. 

System Ready.
>

He looked down at the cat under his hands. Orange seemed perfectly content to lay on its side, letting him ‘type’ on its flank. Keeping an eye on the words, he tapped a finger. 

>f

WHAT? 

His muscle memory knew where the backspace key was; he pressed it. 

The f disappeared. 

WHAT??

Why was a System here? Supreme Warlord of the Beast World wasn’t a System novel. Yue Fengjian had been born and raised here, and never transmigrated. There was no reason for a System to exist. Unless… the System was here for him, in Lian Zhidiao’s body? Had the System been running this entire time, laughing at his ineptitude, stacking up piles of snarky jokes and withering observations, just waiting for him to find a way to turn it on?

Orange purred steadily. Lian Zhidiao gently scritched the cat’s side and then smoothed down its fur. To test something, he picked his hands up off the cat and wiggled his fingers in the air. 

The words disappeared. 

Don’t tell me… the cat is the emergency terminal? 

He put his hands back down on the purring cat’s side. The System display reappeared. 

Of course! The Cat Emperor strikes again!

Pursing his lips, he tried a command. 

>hello
Unknown command. Type ‘help’ for more information. 

Lian Zhidiao creased his lower lip with his teeth. This kind of command-line interface wasn’t what he’d been prepared to deal with when he first woke up in this world. All the different books and animated shows he’d watched led him to believe that System would at least have a display, or a voice, or some kind of attitude.

>help 

Commands, with arguments: couple, find, help, info, key, mode, pcu, profile, reset, status, summary, support, td, weather

System is currently running in Emergency Mode, with limited functionality.

Okay, Lian Zhidiao thought. I could probably guess that much. He decided to try something else. 

                    __                  
.-----.--.--.-----.|  |_.-----.--------.
|__ --|  |  |__ --||   _|  -__|        |
|_____|___  |_____||____|_____|__|__|__|
      |_____|                           
Version 1.1

This program administers overworld functions. It can provide a summary of any tile on the map, change tile outputs, modify weather presets, and more. It can be used with any narrative system and any user. Campaign completion conditions can be added in ad-hoc and are not supported.

Program? So it’s not a game? 

The listed commands weren’t particularly descriptive. He might be able to guess what ‘weather’ did, and messing with the weather seemed like a bad idea. But other commands were more obscure. Couple? Find? Status? 

>status

Invalid argument. Please enter a tile to obtain its status. 

>status fenfang

… Running.

Fenfang City is the sect capital of the Lin sect.
Jade Beast: none
Great Jade Beast: Qinghu, (+13, +20, Demon Resistance)

…That’s it? That’s all you get for a status inquiry? Lian Zhidiao shot a disparaging look at the orange cat, still laying on its side and purring. It seemed that as long as it was being used as a terminal, the cat was pretty content. He probably didn’t have to worry about it running off in the middle of this. 

Lian Zhidiao sat back, looking at the ‘screen’. So far the System seemed pretty limited in its helpfulness—at least, to him. 

>support

This will turn on the automated support wizard. Standard commands will not work until the wizard is turned off. The automated support wizard may be turned off by typing ‘off’. Proceed?

Lian Zhidiao almost rolled his eyes. What kind of a question is that? You bet I wish to proceed. 

>y

Welcome to System Automated Support. This automated wizard can handle most inquiries. Try asking it a question! 

Lian Zhidiao might normally have been able to come up with any number of incisive questions for the automated wizard. But the huangjiu was still high in his blood, and the evening was getting a bit full of surprises for his taste. Getting direct information out of drunken, indirect thoughts was going to be a challenge. 

>Do I have to take the cat with me everywhere to access the System?

The Emergency Terminal is designed for single-use. It will stop functioning after 24 hours.

Wait. 

>Are you going to kill the cat?

No. The Emergency Terminal will revert to its previous function. 

Lian Zhidiao let out a long, slow breath. At least this System didn’t seem needlessly cruel. He reached out to scratch Orange’s ears, and the cat leaned its head into his hand. It would have been too much to know that this little guy would die just because he wanted to ask a question. But he should have trusted that the Cat Emperor wouldn’t sentence one of his own to die in such a cavalier fashion.

But the fact that the ‘emergency terminal’ was only active for 24 hours was an issue. He certainly wasn’t in any state to make good use of it now, even with its limited modes. 

>Can I use the System after the Emergency Terminal stops working?

A user profile has been generated. You are the authorized user of this System. However, the System is in Emergency Mode, with limited functionality.

>How do I restore functionality? 

Accessing either the Main Terminal or the Auxiliary Terminal will allow full functionality while at those terminals. For mobile functionality, the Personal Companion Unit needs to be coupled with the user.

The Personal Companion Unit? Lian Zhidiao stared hard at the words. Well, this was a harem novel, so maybe the Personal Companion Unit was a wife? Like the true route? His heart fluttered unexpectedly. Was he going to get married in this life? 

But ‘Personal Companion Unit’ sounds like something out of Ch*bits, doesn’t it… 

It certainly didn’t seem like a proper name for a wife or husband. Perhaps it was something like a remote control. But ‘coupling’ also didn’t sound right. It might well have been a description for pairing two things together, like your smartphone with your tablet. But there were reasons it had other meanings, too! Reasons like this, or like that… 

With a grimace on his face, he typed out a question.

>How do I win this game? 

This is not a game.

Lian Zhidiao clicked his tongue. On second thought, this System did have the deadpan delivery he’d expected. 

>How do I win this campaign? 

This System has a user-generated module which is not supported. However, a campaign completion condition has been specified.

>What is the campaign completion condition? 

Completion of the closing chapter, ‘The Red Emperor’s Wedding’, will conclude the campaign and enter sandbox mode. 

Lian Zhidiao’s heart stumbled. The last chapter of Supreme Warlord of the Beast World, which he had never published, had been titled ‘The Red Emperor’s Wedding’. After letting out a long breath, he wrapped his wine-muddied head around this newest piece of information. This meant that he was going to have to ‘play through’ the events of the novel he could barely remember, AND make it to the end alive, as a cannon fodder character. After that, he could have access to ‘sandbox mode’, which he could only assume meant free exploration or side quests or lots of crafting of rare and precious items for completion’s sake. Well, if the campaign completion condition was to get to Yue Fengjian’s wedding, then that was just what he had to do. 

>If I die, do I die in real life? 

This is real life.

Tch. Definitely like every other System. 

Lian Zhidiao crossed his arms over his chest. What was he missing that he needed to know? The discussion about food earlier came back to him; knowing more about the Wa sect he was purportedly from would be really helpful. 

>Can you give me a detailed summary of the Wa sect? 

The Xideng Wa sect is located to the north, bounded by the Caifeng River on its southern border. The sect is lead by Wa Zhuangzhou, the head of the Wa family. Major vassal families are Zhao and Lian (extant), and Jiang (extinct). Minor vassal families include Wei, Huo, and Li (extant). The Wa sect holds few tournaments and avoids public recognition of sect members. Individual prestige is achieved through calligraphy, archery, poetry, and fashion.

Disciples are divided between outer and inner circles. Outer disciples include non-sect members and members who have not yet mastered higher than third-level spells and techniques. Disciples who achieve third level or higher are inner disciples. The sect uses classroom methods to teach cultivation and lower-level magic. However, once a disciple has demonstrated capability, a master is chosen to help further their studies. The master is the sole judge of the disciple’s advancement. Studies are continued in private, one-on-one, without outside supervision. Many techniques are secret even from other masters in the Xideng Wa sect. 

Lian Zhidiao held his chin in his hand as he read. Archery made sense, as did calligraphy, but poetry and fashion? He looked down at his own robes, which were plain and serviceable. That Lian Zhidiao only carried two relatively shabby sets of robes with him lent an aura of truth to his letter about being kicked out of his sect. Taking a large wardrobe just wasn’t possible. 

>Can you tell me about Guizai? 

Guizai is a highly-ranked elder in the Xideng Wa sect. He is one of ten masters who know and can teach the Wa sect-exclusive cultivation technique earth-seeing. He is one of two masters who know and can teach the Wa sect-exclusive cultivation technique Swords of the Myriad Dead. Current status: wounded.

Wounded? 

>Give me more details on Guizai’s wounds. 

Guizai engaged in combat with twelve human assassins and one demon a week ago. All hostiles were killed. Guizai sustained minor lacerations and moderate poisoning. These injuries are not life-threatening.

Twelve? Humans and a demon? Lian Zhidiao blinked in surprise. So not only was Guizai the kind of man that could defeat a demon at the same time as twelve men, but his life wasn’t even at risk. No wonder Yue Fengjian and the Zhou twins had reacted the way they did to finding out that Guizai had been his shifu. He thought back on their meeting at Sancha Town. Yue Fengjian had been surprised about Guizai, but the Zhou twins had clearly already known. In retrospect, that should have tipped him off that they knew too much about him. 

As if Zhou Xianzhi calling me ‘little one’ wasn’t enough of a sign. 

Just thinking about Zhou Xianzhi cooing ‘little one’ into his ear was enough to bring the events of the past hour or so roaring back into the front of his mind. He remembered the way he’d jerked his hand away from Yue Fengjian, and nearly stumbled into Zhou Xianzhi’s arms. In the darkness, a blush colored his face all the way up to his hairline, and even with no one to see, he lifted his sleeve to hide his face.

Lian Zhidiao suddenly had a terrible thought. How many people have I slept with? The keyboard cat was right here; he could ask the System. But his fingers were paralyzed. What if it’s only those two? What if it’s more? After a moment, he groaned, rubbing his face. No, no, I don’t even want to think about it! I’d rather not know! Just concentrate on useful information!

Lian Zhidiao rubbed his face, wishing he hadn’t drunk so much, or that he’d been able to know this was coming. He’d have prepared a list of questions. He stifled a yawn; the alcohol was beginning to make him feel sleepy. But not so sleepy that he didn’t say a small “oh!” out loud when a question struck him that he needed to know. 

>Is there a Protagonist’s Halo?

The Protagonist’s Halo option was not selected at startup.

Lian Zhidiao’s face fell. The Protagonist’s Halo, Plot Armor, Deus Ex Machina, the Author’s Benevolent Hand—it was known by many names, but it referred to the protection given by the author to their favorite to protect them from dismemberment and untimely death. Without it, Yue Fengjian really didn’t have any protection at all. If he got distracted during a fight, or if something in the novel changed… There were already discrepancies between what Lian Zhidiao had written and what he’d taken part in. Anything could happen. His thoughts from when he was cleansing the second jade cow echoed in his head. 

Even actions taken with the best intentions might have unforeseen consequences. 

With his thoughts swirling around how best to protect Yue Fengjian without a Protagonist’s Halo, he typed his next question. 

>Why did Lin Piaozhu call Yue Fengjian unfilial?

Yue Kuangxiang usurped his elder brother’s position and took control of the Yue sect.

Lian Zhidiao stared at the screen in shock. 

Yue Kuangxiang…Yue Fengjian’s father with the unfilial tendencies that Lin Piaozhu mentioned. With a slow exhale of breath, he leaned back from the cat and the screen, supporting himself on his hands. This means that Yue Shipei is the rightful heir to the sect, doesn’t it? But he doesn’t seem to have any animosity toward Yue Fengjian at all. Yue Yaosa neither. Yue Fengjian hasn’t done anything but praise them to others and lead them to victory. They trust him with their lives, and he trusts them with his. 

A stray cloud passed over the unfamiliar moon, draping the garden in darkness. Lian Zhidiao’s arms slid out from under him and he laid down on the cool stone step. The sound of the silkworms chewing through mulberry leaves seemed louder than before. 

So where does that leave me, a Wa magician? I am just a cannon fodder character. My purpose in the book was a plot device, something to be used and forgotten. I might have no effect on this story at all. 

Without a Protagonist’s Halo, Yue Fengjian was in real danger every time he fought. The role of cannon fodder in the story was to die or disappear. Lian Zhidiao’s lips tightened. It’s just a matter of time until I have to exchange my life for his, then. 

This thought would have made anyone morose, but to Lian Zhidiao, it was strangely comforting. Dying in someone’s place didn’t seem like it was something he could get wrong. After all, he’d already died once for a kitten. Doing it for the hero, for Yue Fengjian, would be much easier. 

The cloud slowly pulled away from the moon, and feeling sleep beginning to pull his eyelids down, Lian Zhidiao pushed himself up. He could come find Orange again in the morning if there was something else he remembered and wanted to ask. 

The way back through the garden took him a while, but he remembered some of the braziers, and worked out which way he had to go to get back. The strong moonlight made it easier to see where he was going. 

The pavilion was dark when he arrived, and this made his heart conflicted. On one hand, he was glad that he wouldn’t have to face anyone tonight about his lack of manners while drinking. Even if he’d been shocked, he shouldn’t have just run out and left and made everyone uncomfortable. It was a problem for a future Lian Zhidiao, and present Lian Zhidiao was glad to leave it up to him. 

But on the other hand, it would have been nice to hear that it was all water under the bridge before he tried to sleep. 

Lian Zhidiao sat down on the steps and took off his boots so he could sneak through to his own screened-in partition. But as soon as he opened the door, he found that the pavilion was not as dark as it looked from the outside. 

Yue Shipei was propped up in his bed, a single lamp with a low flame near him. He lifted his head as Lian Zhidiao tiptoed in. 

Caught!

Lian Zhidiao was ready to just run past without stopping, but that was too much to ask. 

“Psst.” 

Lian Zhidiao slowly turned in Yue Shipei’s direction. 

Yue Shipei beckoned him closer. In the silence, he could hear the deep breathing of the rest of the pavilion, already asleep. It was like when a youngest child had been caught getting in after curfew, and the older brother had specifically waited up to make sure the younger knew he’d been caught. Under the weight of Yue Shipei’s gaze, ‘youngest child’ Lian Zhidiao slowly sank to the floor. 

The flame on the lamp flickered. Lian Zhidiao chanced a look into Yue Shipei’s face. Firelight caught his eyes, revealing them as a deep chestnut color, warm and inviting. But the rest of his expression was neutral. In this situation, neutrality wasn’t blistering disapproval, but it was close. Protesting his involvement, his behavior, his emotional state—none of this could be done at this time, with everyone around the two of them asleep. And yet, the longer the silence went on, the more he wanted to say something to defend himself. 

Lian Zhidiao opened his mouth. 

“Lian Zhidiao.” Yue Shipei closed a book that had been open on his lap. “It’s good that you came back.” Gingerly, he lifted himself up on his hands and eased down into bed, lying flat. 

No reprimand? No expectation of a favor? For a moment, the memory of having been in similar situations was so strong that he was confused. But then again, he wasn’t Yue Shipei’s family member. Just a magician from another sect. 

With an uneasy feeling, he extinguished the lamp and got to his feet. Trudging through the pavilion to his bed, he couldn’t escape the feeling of shame that pressed down on his shoulders. He undressed in the dark and crawled into bed. 

Tomorrow would be another day. Yue Fengjian would be meeting with Lin Piaozhu; in the novel, he would be making the case for the Lin sect to help the Yue with their demon problem. Certainly, he wasn’t going to be worrying about a cannon fodder like Lian Zhidiao. He had much bigger concerns. 

Dreamless sleep enfolded Lian Zhidiao, and he slept heavily, not waking until long after the sun was high in the sky. 


Previous Chapter < Chapter 16: Lian Zhidiao Has Two Hands
Next Chapter > Chapter 18: Great Jade Beast Qinghu, the Green Tiger

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