The world was a wh*re who only showed her beauty to those who could afford the price.
2015, July. Gujiao City, Mine Province.
The sun was scorching hot, and the city felt as stuffy as a steamer.
Arms bare and tongue out, Wang Yan was lying on a rattan chair in the shade of a tree in his yard.
His stomach was still aching, no doubt a residual effect from having puked twice the day before. Despite being a little hungry, there was no way his stomach was going to hold down any food. What torture...
Next to him, his cell phone suddenly rang. Wang Yan picked up the call lifelessly.
"Wang-er! He Meng's graduation party has been scheduled on the 2nd. You're going for sure, right?"
Wang Yonglei's raspy voice came from the phone's speaker, barely containing his excitement. It sounded like he was getting high.
Wang Yan could understand why Wang Yonglei was so excited.
He Meng was one of the prettiest girls in Shi Yan High School, even among the belles of their class. Snatched waist, legs for days, a fair countenance—she was practically a goddess in the eyes of many boys.
As Wang Yan recalled how He Meng had dressed the day before, as well as her feminine charm, some emotion stirred within him.
His reply, however, was in stark contrast to what he was feeling inside.
"I'm not going!"
"Huh?" Wang Yonglei was a little taken aback at his response. "Are you kidding me? It's a beautiful woman we're talking about. What are you thinking?!"
"Well, it's not like we have anything in common, so why would I want to go?"
"Ha… My dear Wang-er… were you antagonized at Liu Weilong's graduation party yesterday? C'mon, man. Don't be petty. That was no big deal…"
No big deal?!
'That's easy for you to say. You weren't the one who had to put up with it. Of course it wouldn't be a big deal to you!' Wang Yan thought angrily.
Wang Yan hadn't planned on attending Liu Weilong's graduation party the day before.
Although they were classmates, they belonged to different cliques in their class, so there had been minimal interaction between the two of them.
The clique to which Liu Weilong and He Meng belonged was full of rich kids. In comparison, Wang Yan was merely a poor peasant. Besides, he was never one to fawn or grovel. Since they were unlikely to get along, he might as well keep his distance from them.
But since Liu Weilong had already extended an invitation, and Wang Yonglei had kept urging him to attend, Wang Yan eventually decided to attend the graduation party, hoping that it would mean having to attend fewer events of this nature in the future.
It didn't work out well.
Wang Yan had given a cash gift of 200 yuan, which was what someone from an average family would typically give as a present. While 200 yuan wasn't much, it also meant that the other party wouldn't have to give any more when it was their turn to give a gift. After all, it was simply an exchange of courtesies, as it was courteous to give red packets at functions like this.
Despite his thoughtful intentions, he was given a good ribbing by his fellow attendees and forced to drink so much that he ended up puking.
Even now, Wang Yan was still furious at the thought of having been ridiculed by these money-minded people.
"Da Long booked a five-star hotel! Even excluding beverages and service charges, just the dishes alone must have cost more than 2,000 yuan a table, and you thought a gift of 200 yuan would suffice? What a joke!" mocked one of them.
"Yeah, man. You're just here for a good meal, aren't you?" chimed in another.
"That 200 yuan isn't going to make a difference to Da Long anyway. C'mon, drink up! Even if you don't have money, you ought to at least offer some sincere greetings!"
Youngsters these days were prideful. Not having much of a choice, and refusing to lose face in front of his peers, Wang Yan complied. However, he was no fool. As soon as he reached home, he vowed not to attend any graduation parties organized by this bunch ever again!
Who did they think they were?
Boasting about making it into a good college, bragging about having a pretty girlfriend, now even sh*tting on him when he had already done what he could regarding the cash gift?
They must have had nothing better to do!
This was especially true for Liu Weilong, who said to him, "Actually, you did the right thing by applying to Xingcheng Normal University. Although it isn't exactly prestigious, at least they have more girls than guys there! You won't have to worry about staying single. Anyone would be able to get a girlfriend there!" Wang Yan really felt like slapping him.
'So what if your family's rich? If I had that much money, I would have He Meng by now!' he thought.
'You don't even know what to do with all that money!'
After his unpleasant experience from the day before, Wang Yan was determined not to attend He Meng's graduation party. He didn't want to subject himself to such an uncomfortable situation ever again.
It wasn't that he feared them; he just didn't want to have anything to do with this group of people who clearly thought they were superior.
As for He Meng, she would just remain the distant dream of a high schooler...
Although he felt a little sad about the end of a crush that had lasted for three years, he understood that it was necessary.
Not wanting to waste any more time shooting the breeze with Wang Yonglei, he cut him off, saying, "That's enough. I'll go to yours if you invite me, but forget about He Meng and the rest. I'm not good enough for them. Bye!"
After ending the call, Wang Yan threw his cell phone to the side and shook his head with a smirk on his face.
'You have no freaking idea, do you?'
Why would he bother going?
Being made fun of like a clown in front of these fellas with their misguided sense of superiority, just so he could say a few words to He Meng? Then going home with a whiff of her fragrance just so he could fantasize about her?
Gujiao was a mining city filled with the nouveau riche, a place where the expensive land of the commercial center intersected with urban villages that were seen as blemishes. His family was just one part of the tens of thousands of migrant workers who stayed in low-rise buildings where the sun was barely visible!
In a society governed by money, the gap between him and He Meng wasn't something that could be bridged simply because they were classmates.
When one was poor, even their breathing was wrong.
'You don't understand, but I do.'
There seemed to be a fire burning in Wang Yan's chest. He was feeling angry and upset.
At that moment, a crisp-sounding alert popped up in his mind.
[Ding! Congratulations! You've been selected by the Game of Life Shenhao System!]
[As the host of this system, every breath you take gives you strength.]
[Current system level: Level 1]
[You shall receive a Cash Reward of 5 cents for every breath you take.]
[Note 1: Every yuan you invest, give, or spend will earn you 1 EXP. This is not applicable to loans, repayment, and transfers.]
[Note 2: The withdrawal and transfer of the In-Game Currency are instant, and there are no restrictions on the number of transactions or accounts. All transactions are absolutely safe and secure.]
[More functions will be introduced after the system upgrade.]
The Shenhao System?
Wang Yan was stunned. After checking repeatedly whether he was hallucinating, his face was slowly turning red.
'Every dog has its day! It's now my turn to shine!' he celebrated in his head.
'Am I about to become the coolest person in town and finally reach the peak of my life?'
After he calmed down from the excitement, Wang Yan was starting to come to terms with the luck that had descended upon him. He quickly shifted his focus back to the system.
The Game of Life?
Converting every breath he took into strength?
Staring at the panel, an idea suddenly came to mind. Wang Yan's breathing quickened.
"Huff huff huff huff huff!"
He stuck out his tongue and panted like a dog. Sure enough, the yuan amount displayed in the system panel started increasing.
+5 +5 +5 +5…
It was an average of one cent every second.
When Wang Yan had earned about ten yuan, he collapsed onto the rattan chair with a roll of his eyes. He was so exhausted that he felt practically half-dead.
Damn it. He was literally risking his life. By the time he made his first ten thousand, he might as well prepare for his funeral.
After he had rested enough, Wang Yan tried doing it in a different way. He started keeping track of how many breaths he took in a single minute under normal conditions.
Inhale, exhale. He quietly kept track.
As such, the shortness of breath went away, but the disparity in his breathing patterns made his face flush.
Wang Yan didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
Now that money was involved, even breathing seemed to require skill!
"Take it easy, relax, relax!" Wang Yan muttered as he cheered himself on and tried to motivate himself to make another attempt.
He tried his best to empty his mind and not put his sole focus on breathing. After a few minutes, he finally managed to figure out the average number of breaths he took per minute.
He took about 20 breaths per minute, which was to say that he would be able to earn one yuan every minute.
It might not have seemed like much, but Wang Yan was shocked after a simple calculation.
That was approximately 1,440 yuan a day!
"YES! YES! YES!"
Wang Yan sprang to his feet and did laps around the yard while punching the air. It took him a while to calm down.
He then ran into the kitchen, scooped up some water, and drenched himself with it.
After giving himself a quick wipe down, Wang Yan laid down again. He slowly regained his mental faculties and started brainstorming.
Since the system allowed for upgrades, this meant that the functions were likely to become more and more powerful.
Ten thousand divided by 1,440 was 6.94, so that meant within seven days, he would be able to accumulate enough EXP for an upgrade.
That wouldn't take too long.
Besides, it was obvious from the way that the system had been designed that it didn't matter where the money came from, only how it was spent.
No EXP would be accumulated if there was no spending.
'Does that mean I'm supposed to become a big spender, or what?' he wondered.
'Well, I like the idea!'
On June eighth, Wang Yan was finally done with his high school exams, putting an end to a torturous three years.
On June tenth, Wang Yan received the largest amount of money he had ever received in his entire life: five thousand yuan. Two thousand two hundred was used to sign up for summer driving classes, and 2,800 was set aside to be used for his classmates' graduation party gifts. He now had 1,983 left.
A day ago, he was mocked for preparing a cash gift of 200 yuan and had returned home as drunk as a sailor.
Ten minutes ago, the most expensive luxury item on his wish list was an iPhone.
But now, there was a detached voice telling him that every breath he took would give him strength.
What kind of feeling would that be?
Life was like a box of chocolates with various flavors. No one knew which one tasted like milk and which tasted like sh*t until they were in one's mouth.
There was one thing Wang Yan was certain of, though. From now on, his life was always going to taste like milk!
What kind of milk?
A different brand every day. For every two mouthfuls he took, he would be spitting out one!