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Zhang Heng opened his eyes and found that he was back in his bedroom. He was in the same posture as he was before entering the quest, sitting cross-legged on the bed, laptop on his knees. His fingers were in the air, about to click the touchpad. The screen displayed an ‘error 404.’
Zhang Heng took a look at the watch on his wrist. In the previous quest, he was transformed into a LEGO figurine and fortunately, he was back to normal once he left the quest. The time on his watch showed 00:05. Even with the extra 24 hours, only 9 minutes had passed since he started the game. Unlike his previous games, although this one had many battles, the sense of tension was basically nonexistent, and in addition to the LEGO-styled graphics, it was also possible for Zhang Heng to withdraw from the game any time he wished. Hence, it was not so much of an adventure but more of a vacation.
That said, after staying in a world made out of building blocks for a year and a half, Zhang Heng felt an inexplicable urge to dismantle objects around him after exiting the dungeon, one of the side effects of the quest.
It was New Year’s Eve, after all. Although midnight had passed, the street was livelier than usual. Over the years, the city banned people from playing with fireworks, but some still couldn’t help but light them up secretly during the New Year.
It was hard to sleep at this hour, so Zhang Heng opened his door.
Grandpa had returned to his room, but his parents were still wide awake. The TV was turned on, but no one was watching it since the two of them were playing Monopoly on the sofa. Zhang Heng bought this board game box when he was still studying in elementary school, having had to save up for a long time before he had enough money to buy it. However, after graduating, he did not play with it anymore, putting it together with a stack of old clothes. He only found it while doing spring cleaning with his grandpa. Zhang Heng initially planned to donate the set to impoverished children living around the mountainous areas. He did not expect that his parents would play with it.
Mother Zhang cupped her hands and shook the dice in them. To catch the fleeting good luck, she even climbed onto the back of the sofa and let the dice fall from a high spot. As a result, the two were now crawling all over the floor, looking for the ‘lucky’ dice.
“Hey, you’ve come out. Finally… are you done?” Mother Zhang looked at Zhang Heng with a mysterious smile on her face.
“What do you mean by that?”
“It doesn’t matter, I was young once,” Father Zhang said as if he knew very well what his wife just said.
Zhang Heng finally knew what they were talking about. The two obviously misunderstood when he went back to his bedroom alone and locked the door behind him. Rolling his eyes, Zhang Heng did not bother to explain the whole thing to them.
After that, Mother Zhang opened her arms wide, “Come, the first hug of the year. It’s reserved for my most important people. Our family’s tradition should never be broken.”
“Since when did our family practice this tradition? How come I know nothing about it? Besides, the two of you haven’t been back for the past two years. Even if this tradition exists, it should have been broken long ago,” chided Zhang Heng rhetorically.
“Erm… I just thought about it. From this year onwards, this tradition will continue. You can hug grandpa when we are away, and you can hug your girlfriend when you get a girlfriend. Although your relationship with your girlfriend might not last long, she will be your most important person, for that moment at least. Ain’t that right?” Mother Zhang asked.
“Don’t deliberately say something serious and make yourself look cool,” Zhang Heng said.
“Hahaha! See how my son reacts? Do you know what I thought when you looked me in the eye? I had to talk that much just to get you to hug me. Can’t you take the initiative this time?”
Zhang Heng had to walk to his mother after she talked to him.
Just as the two were about to hug each other, Mother Zhang said suddenly, “Well… don’t you need to wash your hands first?”
“I’m just kidding. It’s okay not to wash your hands. I don’t mind. You’re my son, after all.”
Stamping his feet in annoyance, Zhang Heng finally hugged his mother and father.
“Awesome. Now our family has a New Year tradition. You can pass this tradition on to your future sons and daughters. After that, they can pass it on to their sons and daughters. This will pass on from generation to generation, maybe even spreading around the whole world at some point in the future. It’s pretty cool when you think about it… I will be remembered by everyone as the founder of this tradition. Of course, you have to find a girlfriend first to make it possible. You are capable of getting a girlfriend, right?”
“Mind your own business.” Zhang Heng bent over, picked up the dice that his parents were looking for a long time, and threw it on the table.
The dice bounced twice and finally stopped on the table.
“Ah, it’s six! It’s six! This is the number that I needed most. In this case, all the shops on this street are mine,” Mother Zhang exclaimed in excitement.
“This doesn’t count! Hengheng threw it… you’ll have to throw again,” Father Zhang objected.
“No, this is the choice of fate!” Mother Zhang insisted.
If embarrassing herself was a skill, Zhang Heng believed his mother must have probably achieved Level 5.
Then, Mother Zhang turned and said, “Why don’t you come play with us? The more players, the more interesting it gets. Anyway, it’s too noisy outside and I don’t think I can sleep tonight. Let’s just stay awake for the whole night. There is a large bottle of Coke in the refrigerator and we can all play Monopoly while we finish it.”
“I have no problem with that. Can the two of you two stay awake for the whole night?” asked Zhang Heng as he got comfortable on the carpet.
“Psst! My son underestimates me. Back then, when I stayed up late each night to finish my thesis, you were just a cell that my body hadn’t split out. This time, let me show you my skills in this game,” Mother Zhang said proudly.
It wasn’t long before Mother Zhang fell asleep during the second game. She was the one who spoke loudest but fell asleep on the sofa anyhow, pride notwithstanding.
Father Zhang took the dice and a bunch of tightly held game-banknotes from her hand. Seeing his mother fast asleep, Zhang Heng went to the room and brought out a quilt to cover her. After that, the father and son cleaned up the table and divided the Coke between themselves.
“Nothing happened recently, right?” Father Zhang suddenly asked while he cleaned the living room.
“What do you mean by that?”
“I’m talking about your feelings, studies, life, health…” Father Zhang paused, “and you suddenly asked about Greenland and Mr. Time earlier.”
“But, you didn’t seem to want to talk about your Greenland scientific expedition.”
“Yes,” Father Zhang went through his hair, “Because nothing actually happened… You know, there are glaciers everywhere, and the impression I got from that place is coldness.”
“Yes.” Zhang Heng nodded in agreement.
The two stayed silent for a while, unable to land on a topic to talk about.
“I guess… I’m probably not a very good liar, especially to someone,” Father Zhang was a little embarrassed.
“You have never been a good liar.” Zhang Heng said, “But it doesn’t matter. Just leave it be if you don’t wish to talk about it. It doesn’t matter.”
“Maybe next time. Just you and me, father and son. Plan to come to Europe during the summer vacation? I can recommend a few good attractions and bars for you.”
“Sounds good, we’ll talk about it when the time comes,” Zhang Heng said, “I’m heading back to my room to sleep. Want to keep the light on?”
“Just leave it on. I’ll turn it off later. Good night, son.” “Good night, Dad.”
Zhang Heng opened the door…
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