B City's business district was bustling with the lunchtime crowd. Yan Zheyun stepped out of the revolving doors of Yan Technology's skyscraper and headed towards the busy road junction. Along the way, he bumped into some of his new employees, and all of them greeted him with polite variations of 'Good afternoon, CEO Yan' or 'Please enjoy your meal, CEO Yan'.
CEO. Not Little CEO, which was what his father's subordinates liked to teasingly call him whenever he dropped by the main office to shadow his father and learn the ropes. No, Yan Zheyun had used his savings and investments to turn his modest tech startup into a multinational public-listed company, and all at the modest age of 25. And while he did have the advantage of having one of the wealthiest parents in the country, he hadn't really relied on them either, except for one or two helpful contacts.
Who could fault him for utilising all the resources he had at hand?
Despite that little head start, there was no doubt that Yan Zheyun's success was the result of his hard work. He had slogged away day and night to build the foundations of Yan Tech from the ground up, juggling this with the demanding coursework of his programming degree and the rigorous internship his father had put him through. But everything had paid off eventually and Yan Zheyun had graduated as valedictorian and earned his father's pride. And on top of that, with his dream company up and ready to go.
Technically, as the founder and head of the company, Yan Zheyun had already been making all the executive decisions from day one. But today was the day he officially granted himself the title of CEO and moved into the shiny office right at the top, with its ceiling-to-floor windows and panoramic view. His parents had insisted on furnishing it for him too, as a congratulatory present, and had chosen his favourite style of modern chic.
From now onwards, he was going to sit in there every day and work even harder to fulfil his ambitions.
Yan Zheyun was in such an amazing mood that he didn't even mind having to come out and fetch his own coffee, because his poor harried secretary and personal assistant just had no time. They were buried in so much nitty-gritty logistics on launch day that they seemed stuck in a permanent loop between his desk, their desk, and the photocopier room. In fact, he was feeling so charitable that he decided to treat them to lunch as thanks for the effort they have put into supporting his endeavours.
The pedestrian signal at the junction turned green. Yan Zheyun was so preoccupied with trying to decide whether to takeaway food from the coffee shop itself or go a bit further to the row of restaurants down the road, that he failed to notice the people around him vanishing one by one like he had walked into a different dimension.
It was only when a mechanical buzzing crackled in his ears that he realised he was standing alone in the middle of the road and that there was no one else in his surrounding vicinity. The thronging crowds of office workers had mysteriously disappeared, along with all other noise in the background except for the strange static. It felt like Yan Zheyun was suddenly the only person in the world.
A looming sensation of dread crept up on him but he willed himself to stay calm. There had to be some rational explanation for this. Yan Zheyun didn't believe in the supernatural and was confident that this was just another problem to be solved, albeit the most bizarre he had ever encountered—
This certainty was quickly shaken when a robotic voice boomed through the air, its weird hollow quality echoing throughout the narrow spaces between the buildings like a dystopic public service announcement.
[BUG REPORT #193842347: OTHERWORLD SOUL DETECTED. INITIATING DEPORTATION SEQUENCE.]
Bug report? Otherworld what?
But Yan Zheyun was given no time to ponder. The next thing he heard was a blare of car horns and a bloodcurdling screech of tires. Pain exploded throughout his body and he lost consciousness.
It was a struggle to open his eyes. It was a struggle to do anything come to think of it. Even twitching his fingers felt like a task for a better man.
What had happened to him? The details of the incident were fuzzy around the edges, but bit by bit, as the thick fog in Yan Zheyun's brain cleared up, he managed to piece the puzzle together and came to the conclusion that he must have used up all his luck in his first 25 years because nothing else could explain getting run over by a car on the best day of his life.
That had been the world's most expensive cup of coffee and he hadn't even gotten around to ordering it.
[…the heavens are jealous of heroic genius.] But at least he was still alive enough to be quoting idioms wryly to himself.
Was he at a hospital now? The sensation was slowly returning to his limbs, and he could feel a silky fabric beneath his fingertips that he guessed were the sheets of the bed he was lying on. He was probably in a VIP ward then. He couldn't think of any other scenario in which a hospital would give him silk sheets. Maybe his family had insisted.
Oh god. His family. His mother would be inconsolable, not to mention his clingy little brother and sister, both of whom had university exams coming up and didn't need him to be a distraction.
The urge to get up became stronger. He needed to reassure everyone that he was fine and monitor the company. If the media caught on to the news of his accident, share values would definitely plummet.
[Come on Zheyun, this was just one stupid car, a big chunk of metal, surely you can't be as ill as the time you didn't sleep for three days because you were rushing a project deadline and fell headfirst down a whole flight of stairs.]
The self-encouragement seemed to be effective. But along with the return of feeling was the return of pain. Instead of the whole body ache he was anticipating though, there was just a heavy stabbing sensation in his lungs that worsened every time he breathed. It felt a little like he was inhaling knives. Was this because he had fractured his ribs? But only his ribs? That was considerably fortunate for a head-on collision right?
But when he finally managed to force open his eyelids, he realised the full extent of just how unfortunate he was.
[Antique carved canopied bed, antique folding screen, antique circular shelf displaying antique vase.]
He closed his eyes again. Opened them again. Closed them again. Opened them again. Nope. Still the same historical movie film set. Either his mother had gone out of her way to find a hospital with her favourite inner palace dramas as an interior décor theme or something was seriously wrong here.
Before Yan Zheyun could decide which of the above it was, a sharp headache burst behind his eyes. It was so intense that it made the pain in his lungs feel trivial. He couldn't hold back a gasp as foreign images assaulted his mind, snapshots of someone else's life making itself at home in the part of his brain that contained memories. It felt like he was watching a movie of a biography fast-forwarded at 100x speed, but the difference was that he could acutely empathise with the person's emotions.
Innocence. Happiness. Devastation. Grief. Anger.
He squeezed his eyes shut in a desperate attempt to block everything out but to no avail. And when he finally gave up, it was like he had been merged into another person, sharing their same hopes and dreams but still hyper-aware that he was a separate entity.
Yan Yun. This was the name of the boy whose body he was currently inhabiting. And also, Yan Zheyun realised with despair, the name of the protagonist of the ridiculous historical BL novel his sister had complained about the whole of yesterday evening. She was the only person in the family who knew that Yan Zheyun preferred men to women and had stopped hiding her inner fujoshi the second she found out. Quality time with her was often spent on listening to her ranting about the latest scumbag gong or white lotus shou she had read about. But there had been no other novel that had incensed her half as much as 'Hurt Me in a Million Ways'.
And with good reason.
Yan Lixin had decided to read this novel because the shou protagonist, Yan Yun, had a similar name to her beloved big brother. And then after three hundred chapters of Yan Yun getting used and abused and bullied by a whole host of gongs, each one more scumbag than the last, Yan Yun had finally—finally!—grown a spine and stood up for himself. But that hadn't lasted long. And soon he was off on another vicious spiral of 'I-love-you-even-though-I-hurt-you-oh-is-that-so-I-guess-I-forgive-you'...
Despite its generically masochistic harlequin title, 'Hurt Me In A Million Ways' was set in a fictional ancient dynasty. Yan Yun was the son of a noble and wise prime minister, with good morals and a genuine love for the people. It may be hard to believe that it would be so easy to frame such a virtuous man with the crime of high treason and sentence him to death, but the point of this novel was the smut, right? Who cared about being realistic? Being realistic would just make it harder to put the shou protagonist into different compromising situations, each one more tantalising than the last.
So Yan Yun's father had been conveniently executed, along with all the members of the Yan Family that were over the age of 14. Yan Yun was one of two children spared because his 14th birthday had not yet come. But as it'd turned out, the death sentence had been revoked but they still had to face living punishment.
And that was how this dignified prime minister's son became reduced to a slave in the household of his father's close political ally, the Minister of Rites, Wu Shengqi.
The information overload was killing him. Did this mean he was in Wu Shengqi's house now? As a slave?
Yan Zheyun's head spun. Just minutes ago he was standing at the top of the food chain and now he was reduced to the lowest rank of society in a domineering caste system. It was like going from heaven to hell in an instant.
...but wait. Slaves couldn't afford antiques. This couldn't possibly be Yan Yun's bed, so whose room was he in?
He had a bad feeling about this.
As if to answer Yan Zheyun's question, the ornate wooden doors at the end of the room swung open. Because of the stupid folding screen, he couldn't see who had entered but heard a warm, patient voice call out to him in a tone so indulgent he felt goosebumps break out over his skin.
"Yun Er, you're awake? Thank goodness. I was so worried."
Oh. Yan Zheyun knew who this was.
Wu Bin, Yan Yun's childhood friend and—according to his sister's irate bitching—the start of all of Yan Yun's nightmares.
Well then. Fuck.