Stratholme.GoStop, that was his game ID. In the real world, he lived at the Ordnance Factory 404.
The sun began to soften, and the heatwave gradually dissipated. The cicadas chirping during the lunch break died down. The popsicles and iced orange sodas in the welfare zone of the factory slowly disappeared.
A noisy and dirty internet bar was in the night market, with a useless air conditioner and shaking ceiling fans. AK-47 and M4A1 were throbbing, shout and curse, mixed with choking smoke and various odours.
The closest CRT monitor to the door was covered in black cloth and served only as a local network server. A primary school student came in, looking at the room in the smoke of the punks. Afraid of asking the boss of the internet bar, he only dared to sit in the doorway, uncovered that black cloth, and began playing. The local server for ten punks battle suddenly got disconnected. After that, there was a frightful beating, and the student was kicked out.
In the meantime, the new expansion pack of another immortal cultivation game had been published.
Every day, after cleaning the classroom, I crossed the stadium, bypassed other busybody classmates, walked through a narrow, dirt path along the moat.
I had to dodge the crawfish-fishing punks, the hipsters at the arcade, and the cops who would show up now and then to check my ID.
With a fellow student and my master, GoStop, we carried heavy school bags running to the internet bar. Playing for an hour and a half and going home for dinner and homework was our routine.
I pulled out crumpled 3 yuan to the lame boss of the internet bar, who had been laid off from the factory and sit in front of a greasy CRT monitor.
I put on the cheap headphones, changed the hotkeys and set up a room. I was ready to start.
"The usual. First-round for warm-up, then two out of three, and the loser paying for tomorrow's hot pot skewers after school."
"No problem," I said.
On a greasy soot-stained table, the mouse and keyboard duo dazzled the lame boss. In his eyes, we were not regular gamers from junior high school but the sophisticated technical workers from workshop unit 24.
At the beginning of the game, I paid attention to the foundation establishment; in the middle, the core formation; at the end, the immortal ascension.
Once again, I was defeated. It was the 12th time in a week I had been forced to type GG!
"I feel like I'm improving too slowly..."
The master pulled back his long hair, adjusted his glasses, and said, "Esports, noob is a sin!"
"I've been imitating your style of play!"
The master smiled and patted me: "No worries, just keep practising."
"The most luxurious internet bar, called M9, is going to hold a tournament soon. All the top players from different ordnance factories in the county will come. I'll take you to sign up."
"OK!" I backed to the virtual world and continued to fight.
Before I started learning how to play this game, I thought he was just a weird, troubled kid born in the 1990s. Long shaggy hair, unshaven beard, perpetually wearing a school uniform and grey shirt inside. He looked like one of the Korean Undead Kings, so I called him GoStop.
GoStop was usually quiet at school. He always sat alone on the old concrete rostrum beside the football pitch during PE class.
GoStop's results of every exam were tragedies.
On the evening of the day, when he knew he had to repeat the year, GoStop went to the internet bar for a progression raiding with the guild. The final boss dropped an orange (legendary) weapon! He had enough DKP (Dragon Kill Points), so it was his.
On the same server, a rich player from another province wanted to buy it. The following day, he took a flight, then transferred to a coach and finally took a bus to our ordnance factory welfare zone. They exchanged face-to-face, and GoStop got 20,000 yuan for that weapon. That evening, he became a legend in the internet bar.
The teacher often called his grandma into the office. That day, I was just passing by when cleaning the mop, so I peeked outside.
Zhuang, the headteacher, did not beat GoStop as usual and shouted out:
"Is it a big deal to play a game well?"
"Do you want the school to give you an award?"
"Can you earn money by playing games?"
GoStop mumbled: "Yes."
His grandma rapidly grabbed his ear and apologised to Zhuang.
It was another thing to let me become a student of GoStop.
One Sunday morning, golden lights diffused on the potholed road, and I couldn't stop thinking about the World Cyber Arena China vs Korea on TV last night. I decided not to have spicy soup and the meat sandwich. I bypassed the Western Farmers Market's breakfast stall and walked out of the welfare zone west gate, which the soviet-style workers' canteen was next to the road. I was going to have a morning internet bar session instead.
As soon as I entered, GoStop was in a fierce battle with another top player, a technical worker in our factory, around 30s.
When we understood the game had differences, it was necessary to have a 1v1 battle in public.
I leaned in and said, "Nice!"
The two sides were evenly rivalled on an open area in the map.
The lame boss seemed to be very professional and became a caster in esports.
Finally, GoStop, 3 to 2, was officially "canonised" as the Ordnance Factory 404's best player.
"Thanks, bro, I was fucking lucky; the greater invulnerability potion and tome of experience saved my life."
The worker wiped off sweat: "Luck is also part of the strength. Hot oil noodles for lunch; it's my treat!"
The door of the internet bar was kicked open, two yellow-haired punks with bell-bottoms slowly came in.
One punk was tall, and another was shorter. Both had the dragon, tiger, and leopard tattooed on their arms and Furong Wang cigarettes between their lips. As they scanned the room, the tall punk shouted, "Just give me your fucking money, quickly!"
They sat on the gaming chair, shaking their legs, and the flashy chains on their bell-bottoms stopped me from opening my eyes. Everyone was so freaked out. These punks showed up too early in the morning, and it looked like none of us could beat them.
I had no choice. I gave all I had left in my pocket. In the end, the punks even snatched my Tata bubble gum, matchbox and game time card.
The lame boss hobbled out of the backroom, handed over two Hao Mao cigarettes and added 100 yuan. He cautiously asked: "It is almost lunchtime. I would like to invite both of you for the high-quality crumbled flatbread in mutton soup next door. How about adding a small dish?"
Two punks were playing the game, having a blast.
"We need to borrow 5,000 yuan. If we can't see the money, no one can leave today!"
Everyone was getting nervous.
The boss was frightened: "My boss, you see, this is a shitty internet bar with just a few crap computers..."
"You opened this place for several years; the business is great. if no money, we take all machines!"
Suddenly, a fierce frown, eyes exposed extreme anger, the shorter punk cracked the mouse, he almost collapsed the table.
"Fuck you! Fuck you all!"
He played not well, and Paladin was dead. He was losing.
GoStop leaned over and said, "Build some guard towers here, add a second base there, and then start training knights."
The shorter punk twisted his head with a vicious glimpse. "You only know a fucking piece of shit!"
We were terrified and looked at GoStop.
GoStop smiled, "Can we have a bet? 1v2 battle, and if you both lose, you'll leave immediately without a penny. If I lose, I'll give you 20,000 yuan. Shall we play now?"
"he wants to challenge two? !" I thought.
Two punks sneered, "You fucking noob, now kneel to us and get 20,000 yuan ready! let us teach you how to play!"
GoStop was ready. 1v2 started.
In the beginning, GoStop tried his best to defend multiple turns of insane holy light attacks from the double Paladins. After 20 minutes, crypt fiends were on frost armours, and obsidian statues were finally ready to morph into the destroyers. A full-force counterattack launched, two punks units were torn into pieces. Two Paladins were instantly kicked back to their altars of kings after the divine shields. Punks' time to die.
The tall punk sensed it and started to interrupt GoStop's play, repeatedly pulling his arm and kicking his feet. GoStop stayed undistracted. He slapped GoStop's face so hard that his glasses flew off.
Gostop nearly fainted. The shorter punk pulled out the chain from his bell-bottoms and slung it over GoStop's head; blood spilt on the CRT screen.
"My Culling of Stratholme is an immediate success."
We glowered at the two scumbags but dared not speak, clenched our fists but could not do anything about it. GoStop gritted his teeth in pain. Before losing control and fainting, he finally demolished all the buildings of the two scumbags. They were formally defeated.
"Police! Don't Move!"
GoStop’s grandma tried to take him back to lunch and do his homework. Instantly she called the police when she looked through the window.
Grandma took GoStop to the worker's hospital not far from the road. Luckily, just superficial wounds.
Later, I formally acknowledged GoStop as my master, learning to play the game properly. He didn't accept immediately, I invited him three times for BBQ and hot oil noodles, and he happily agreed.
Frost's descent, this was supposed to be a happy gaming Friday afternoon. The school would be over only after two classes. However, some cops came to the internet bar to check the ID. We were under 18, and all used faked ID numbers searched from Baidu, no gaming for today. The atmosphere was solemn in overcast weather. My master and I, with a few gamer friends, instead went together for BBQ in an abandoned farmer's cave next to the flood pump station on the North Hill.
A few hundred meters away, the residential buildings in the welfare zone were visible. In the distance were the office buildings, workshop units, smokestacks, railway tracks, and the green frothing moat. To the south, the Zhongnan Mountains were in chaos.
"I heard that there are real orthodox immortal cultivators in it, just like the sleeping druids of Emerald Dream in the game."
"Master, your grandma told us about it when I visited your home last time. I remember!"
The only time I went to his grandma's home was his real home in the Ordnance Factory 404. That was the old, tattered four-story soviet-style residential building less than 300 meters away from my home. The corridor of the building was full of debris and rubbish. In the stairwell, worn askew steps and derelict wooden handrails were quite dangerous for the elders. The glass in the window frames of the stairwell had long gone. Innumerous wires and various plumbing and toilet repair ads jumbled, reminding me of a Hong Kong horror film scene. The dark green paint on the door of the master's apartment had disappeared. But once inside, it was like using a portal spell scroll. There were some old pieces of furniture, and a little copper censer, smoking. I felt like I was in a fog world of Silent Hill with spells whispering in my ear. Master's grandma had a wall of large bookshelves full of thread-binding books. The texts were all written vertically, like different Daoist talismans, as I saw in Vampire vs Vampire. I didn't understand any of them.
"Do you know that Huanghuali bamboo-form corner-leg painting table was my dowry? Alas! What a wicked thing you have done to carve a monster on my table!"
"Grandma, that old thing is too boring! I'm just trying to enchant it! This monster is Arthas Menethil, and the cursed blade in his hand is Frostmourne. You won't understand! Anyway, aren't you talking about Miraculous Traces of Immortals and The Three Sui Quash the Demons' Revolt? Haha!"
"If you don't study hard at school and irritate Zhuang, the headteacher, I'll send you to Zhongnan Mountains, to your cousin for traditional Daoist practices! I'll save you from the unorthodox!"
"Grandma, are we going to Zhongnan Mountains for immortal cultivation? Every time I ask my dad for money, he simply beats the fuck out of me. If my cultivation method can hunt the demons, I'll do it!"
"Your friend is present today. If you, little crazy bastard, dare to speak more, I'll whip your ass!"
"Haha! Grandma, he is my apprentice. Can you show him your peach wood sword? I heard it can catch ghosts!"
"Oh, yes! Mr. Vampire will be broadcasted on Phoenix Movies Channel very soon, and after that, we shall have hot oil noodles, my treat! And then we will go to the internet bar!"
"Ha Ha Ha Ha!"
People talked, laughed, put up a fire and set up grills.
The master kept talking and shaking his head next to the open space beside him.
"Master, are you casting spells again and catching the demons? Hurry up and eat. The lamb skewers will be burnt."
"Do you remember what my grandma said about the traditional Daoist practices in Zhongnan Mountains? I was looking for my hidden game time card the other day, and I came across a stupid comic book. It should be grandma's Investiture of the Gods, in which Nezha, who has become a god, fails to kill his father in revenge. Why human Arthas Menethil, getting Frostmourne and being corrupted, easily killed his father, the last king of Lordaeron?"
"I've been really fucked up lately. I can't get any fucking money from my dad. I am not even allowed to call my mom, fuck..."
"I suddenly remembered a story my grandma told me a long time ago. As if it had happened in Zhongnan Mountains or the hills near here. Grandma and grandpa walked together at night. Under the snow, with extreme wind, but noiseless, they had to trek over another hill to find a doctor for my cousin. Suddenly, a fox on the front trail slowly walked to the nearby mound, eyes flashing green. The fox suddenly stood up, like a man, and then picked up a straw hat and slowly put it on its head. Fox to grandma and grandpa, said the human language, 'WEARING IT?' Grandma was petrified. Grandpa took a step forward, shouted toward the fox, 'Wearing a piece of shit! Fuck off!' Then, poof, the fox was gone."
I stopped drinking orange soda and was a little confused. Suddenly, I started shivering.
Through master's long hair, a cold, cyan talisman fully covered and heavily armed Death Knight emerged in front of me. The Death Knight and master overlapped, showing off the blue-glowing peach wood sword.
The radiators started to circulate in the residential buildings of the welfare zone. Families were ready to dry their socks and heat potatoes on them.
When the snowstorm covered everything, the master's grandma was unfortunately ill and sent to the worker's hospital. The master seemed to have changed to a different person and was nowhere to be found. One day, suddenly, he reappeared and pined away. Saying he had no more money for the internet bar but refused to go to Zhongnan Mountains with his cousin. He was at home alone examining that peach wood sword.
Zhuang, the headteacher, was busy with the Senior High School Entrance Examination. He just ignored GoStop.
We all went to the M9 internet bar and signed up. It took me days to catch the master. It was a real luxury to ask him for gaming advice.
I was so lucky that day to find the master sitting alone in a corner at the internet bar. I rushed over to watch him play.
"My master! You've finally come out of the Core Formation!"
"Hey! No joking. I am fine, but my grandma is in the hospital. I stole 2,000 yuan while my dad was away. I'm rich now! Don't tell anyone!"
"Shit! Aren't you afraid your dad's gonna kill you?"
"Well, just gonna hang around for a while. After the M9's tournament, I'll go to Hong Kong to find my mom."
"I've been so distracted lately, and I’ve been staring at various hero names of the Death Knights. I think Lord Nightsorrow, Baron Felblade, and Baron Bloodbane suit me. In every gameplay, I was a lord or a Baron of the Ordnance Factory 404, and I had different ways for revenge. I don't know how many Death Knights, at any given moment, were out there in the parallel metaverse, taking their revenge in different factories under different names. I want to get out of 404! Being a Lord Nightsorrow in Causeway Bay at Hong Kong!"
"Master, I heard that there is a King of Human at the Ordnance Factory 518. His strategy of Palladin first is epic! He dyed his long hair silver. His team is called SH518 (Silver Hand 518). Surely he will sign up for M9's tournament!"
"Come on. I think you can simply sweep this King of Human without me!"
I bought a PC and practised every day for the tournament. I was utterly immersed in the virtual world.
That night, only two days to the tournament. There was a knock on the door. The master came to visit me unexpectedly. I welcomed him into my bedroom and made him a cup of hot ginger tea.
On my way home from school, I heard from some senior class guys that two punks had beaten up GoStop and robbed him of around 1,000 yuan.
The left side of his face looked swollen.
"What have you been up to, master? Are you going to visit your cousin?" I asked, looking at his red eyes and scruffy beard.
The master took out two Nissin's Chu Qian Yi Ding sesame instant noodles from the bag: "Oh don't mention it, I've been working on the quest line for ten days, still no hope for the Blade of the Windseeker!"
"Shit! You got a PC? Can I use it for a while? I want to have a QQ video call with my mom. And then we can play the game together!" he said, holding the ginger tea.
"Could you also put me up tonight?"
Master looked at me with a pause and smiled.
"Huh? Great! Yes! ! !"
I let him sit on my gaming chair and made the bed for him. I also found a bottle of red flower oil for him and lay down to listen to the music on my Walkman.
I didn't know how long it took for me to fall asleep.
"Oh, yeah, I was just back from the hospital, and my grandma gave me two talismans... and..."
"Can I meet you in Tin Shui Wai by myself?"
"I... I started from Teldrassil, took the hippogryph from Darnassus to the Darkshore, and then continued down to Ashenvale. Then I found an empty beach, fished for a while, and started swimming, swimming very hard, and Yunzhongzi came out and told me, this is Yunmengze. and I must have drowned in the middle. But after I walked in ghost form back to my corpse, suddenly I was able to swim forward again. Through the loading screen, I was at the Eastern Kingdoms. My god, I've never swum to here before! Then I went ashore! I was so scared! Then I ran as fast as I could, past Saldean's Farm, over the hill again. I must have heard the background music of the Stormwind City! I passed through Goldshire and then through Darkshire. I was soaked by heavy rain and crossed the Swamp of Sorrows into the Fallow Sanctuary. I saw the Dark Portal! I seemed to be blind, but I could still see! I know I have the Frostmourne, and as soon as I entered, I was in the very bottom of Felwood and then to the Shrine of Remulos. It belonged to Mianchi, and there was a well. I jumped into it and reached the Chentangguan. Grandma suddenly told me that my mom fell into the Blackfathom Deeps! Get your Blade of the Windseeker and save her! I looked for her, and I jumped in, I was in Zhongnan Mountains. There was a huge courtyard full of corner-leg tables, daybeds, display cabinets, and compound cabinets. They were all thrown into a gigantic rockery garden pool. My mom was standing in the back, singing The Peony Pavilion in Cantonese. As I swam deeper into the Emerald Dream, two men reached up to my ear, Yunzhongzi and Uther the Lightbringer. They whispered to me. Vengeance cannot be a part of what we must do..."
"My patience has ended... I am darkness..."
The following day, except for the mixed smell of instant noodles and red flower oil in my bedroom, the master was long gone.
The esports tournament was held as scheduled. M9 had upgraded their interior design and PCs. They were at the same level as some internet bars in the provincial capital. Jay Chou's Half-beast Human was looped ear-splittingly.
We checked in, drew lots, the bracket was determined, the master still did not show up.
I was extremely excited and nervous, and the game began. After the first few rounds of battle, most of my gamer friends had been defeated. I became the only hope of the Ordnance Factory 404.
I didn't really get too much pressure from my opponents. In a few months of being excruciated by the master, I was hyper stress-resistant.
The master, GoStop, finally showed up!
"I saw the semi-final. Congratulations on finishing your apprenticeship, but don't get too excited. Your opponent in the grand final is the King of Human from Ordnance Factory 518. He is especially good at the rush. You should prepare your counterattack, be patient and no rash..."
"Thank you, master."
Six minutes after the final, the opponent's tactics were exactly like the master said. I winked at him. The master smiled and nodded.
In the end, I won 2-0 with perfect counterattacks. Crypt fiends, destroyers plus abominations, Death Knight, Lich plus Dark Ranger, it was precisely the Culling of Stratholme.
Jay Chou's Half-beast Human was played again. In the applause, the fat boss of M9, holding a Hao Mao cigarette between his lips, walked up to the stage. He shook hands with me, gave me the prize money and the Champion Trophy. I stood stock-still. Obviously, I was over the moon!
Master lit a cigarette and gave me a thumbs-up.
At this time, the crowd suddenly scattered, came in many cops, went straight to the master, and pulled out handcuffs.
"You are suspected of a criminal offence. Come with us to the police station for investigation!"
I was petrified.
Master looked at me and said, "It's all right... Frostmourne found, vengeance complete."
I stood speechless under the shock.
I never saw GoStop again in my life.
I heard that terrible news suddenly came out of the welfare zone. Countless different versions of GoStop patricide in the real world were circulated. From workshop units' workers, punks from the internet bars, students believed to give statements to the police, to the old ladies who lived nearby, everyone had their narrative.
In short, when GoStop's grandma was in the hospital, GoStop quietly bought industrial salts online, and little by little, he poisoned his dad to death.
When I got home in the evening, I played an RPG map of Arthas campaign in the alternate universe. Arthas didn't massacre Stratholme and go to Northrend for Frostmourne. He didn't kill his father and his master, Uther. Instead, he went to Theramore Isle with his love, Jaina Proudmoore.
"Vengeance cannot be a part of what we must do."
"Hopefully, in the parallel metaverse, GoStop has left the Ordnance Factory 404 and gone to Hong Kong to find his mom. Or, with grandma and cousin, to Zhongnan Mountains."