—XG Island, China. The early morning fog descended between the city's towering buildings. Passing through the shadows, thousands of bodies stumbled through the streets. These clumsy masses were not zombies, but college students. Though they suffered from the endless fatigue of final exams, they all remained diligent in their duties and headed to class. All, except for the six people in Rising Star dormitory's most luxurious room.
Within that room, a young man rested on a plush leather couch. This was Xu Mingling, the most infamous figure through all ten of the universities connected to XG Island. Despite being male, he had a small and delicate figure, and wielded tremendous natural beauty. The more romantic and naive students described him like a woman from a wuxia novel: white jade skin, lustrous black hair, and petal-like lips.
One would expect a man like Xu Mingling to be taken advantage of and bullied.
From those petal-like lips came a whip-like, domineering voice. "Servant #5!"
Liu Tao, known as Servant #5, quickly prostrated on the floor. This muscular student was one of the top athletes in X university.
When he first applied for residence, Liu Tao had been ecstatic to be assigned the best living space in the entire city. He bragged to his friends about the state-of-the-art facilities and the special privileges which came from living amongst the elites.
Full electricity throughout the night!
High speed, unrestricted internet!
Instant hot water baths!
A shared swimming pool with the beautiful university girls in the opposite building!
How could he have suspected that this heaven on earth was actually hell in disguise?
The devil Xu Mingling mercilessly pressed his foot on the prestigious Liu Tao's bowed head. "Massage!" he demanded.
"Right away, Master Xu!"
"Yes, Master Xu!"
Qian Fang, otherwise Servant #2, quickly presented a luxurious platter full of high-quality and elaborate dishes while bowing. Sweating nervously, he said, "This servant has prepared a Western-style breakfast for the honorable Master! The dishes are-"
"Don't care. Servant #3, Servant #4, hurry up and finish cleaning. How can you expect me to wake to such a filthy mess?"
Given how these dorms were meant for the top elites, there were even maids employed to clean and tend to the rich master's needs. Xu Mingling, however, dismissed them and forced the two top academic scholarship students, Hou Min and Li Yan, to be his cleaning machines. Despite his words, the rooms have always been spotless. It's only because Xu Mingling enjoyed their suffering that he forced them to work.
Crying, Li Yan threw himself to the floor in front of Xu Mingling. He was the youngest of them at 19 years old. Even though he was a scholarship student, he had been forced to endlessly serve this tyrant, making his grades slip towards a dangerous red zone. "Master! Please show benevolence to this pitiful slave and allow me to leave for my final examinations!"
Without even thinking about it Xu Mingling said, "Denied," and continued snacking on a flaky fruit-covered pastry.
Li Yan picked himself up and went back to cleaning with tears streaming down his face. He didn't dare argue further.
Xu Mingling tipped back his head and sighed unhappily. "Ahh! I'm so bored!" He kicked Liu Tao in the face to stop the massage and called out, "Servant #1!"
A tall and lanky young man appeared. He had long, unkempt bangs which obscured his face, and dressed messily like he'd just rolled out of bed. This Servant #1 was Zhong Huang, who had accompanied the devil since childhood.
On a certain day twelve years ago, the young master Xu had stealthily wandered away from his bodyguards. The boy escaped from the scene like a master assassin, and arrived at a playground in Zhong Huang's neighborhood. In this poor, low-income area, Xu Mingling's fine clothes and refined demeanor instantly set him apart. The resident bully, who was so insignificant that we will refer to him as Piggy, targeted him immediately.
"Oi, little prince!" Piggy had said, crossing his chubby arms in front of his chest. "You think you can play here? You need to pay the master of the land a fee!"
Xu Mingling, who at that age looked as innocent as an angel, cutely tilted his head. "Master of the land? Who?"
Steaming, Piggy snapped, "Me, of course! I'm the strongest, biggest, and baddest of all the children!"
"You're definitely the biggest," Xu Mingling agreed.
"Exactly! Now pay up!" The stupid Piggy thrust his hand at Xu Mingling's face.
A normal child would definitely be cowed by Piggy's imposing figure. But Xu Mingling fearlessly ordered around bodyguards four times his size. The little devil raised his head and sneered. With a delicate fairy-like voice he said, "A pig like you is so arrogant. Oinker, you don't own a finger's spread, let alone this mu of land. You say the master receives a fee? Then get on your knees and pay me with your life! A pig like you has nothing of worth besides meat and lard!"
In truth, the entire area was indeed owned by Xu Mingling's father.
The enraged Piggy's face blew up red. He had never before been so insulted! "Brothers!" Piggy cried out. "Let's teach this little prince a lesson!" Piggy's gang of misfits raised their fists and roared, ready to beat the tiny Xu Mingling down. But at that moment, an unexpected hero dashed in front.
"Hey, you cowards!" A young boy with bright burning eyes said. "Ganging up on him? How can I let that pass! If you want to hurt this child, you'll have to go through me first!"
That unfortunate soul spewing lines from a weekend superhero show was actually Zhong Huang.
Piggy and his gang mercilessly beat down the hero, yet every time Zhong Huang fell, he rose back up on increasingly shaky legs. "Is... is that all?!" he'd shout, despite bleeding from his nose and mouth and having lost three teeth.
Behind him, a strange sentiment stirred in Xu Mingling's chest.
For this boy to continuously suffer for Xu Mingling's sake...
What a huge masochist.
When Piggy and his gang finally grew tired of fighting they went back home to eat dinner. They left behind the collapsed Zhong Huang, whose entire face had swollen. Xu Mingling stood over him.
"Why did you do that?" he asked, genuinely curious. If not for money, he couldn't fathom why one would risk their livelihood to protect him.
Zhong Huang weakly pulled himself up. Curling his battered hand into a fist, he said, "I saved you because... that's what a hero does!" He looked determinedly into Xu Mingling's eyes.
Seeing Zhong Huang's stupid face, Xu Mingling burst into laughter.
"You're my hero? Ahahaha!"
He grabbed the stunned Zhong Huang's arm.
"Come on," he said. "Since you're my hero, I'll make sure you get to serve faithfully."
Thus, the hero was forced to become the demon king's servant.
"What is it, Master Xu?" the current Zhong Huang dutifully inquired. His once fiery, passionate voice had become lazy and lifeless.
"I'm so bored!" Xu Mingling complained. "What interesting thing is there to do? Tell me, are there any noisy protesters to crush, or greedy old men to kick?"
The four servants began to sweat. This fellow spoke so lightly about how he had obliterated the massive social movement protesting corrupt high-tier businesses, then performed a complete takeover of those same businesses.
Zhong Huang, already inured to Xu Mingling's ways, blandly said, "Recently a revolutionary game is making waves in the news: an MMORPG called Drop of Aether Online. It is set to release in two weeks."
The unimpressed Xu Mingling huffed and kicked at the sofa. "Virtual Reality? You put on a headset and run around while the motion sensor reads your body moves. It's lame!" He slanted his eyes at the messy servant. "Tell me about the revolutionary part."
"Yes." Zhong Huang bowed. "As you said, the current VRMMOs are lacking in physical integration. Drop of Aether will supposedly be the first to free players from their physical limitations and gather all players throughout the world in one server. It uses groundbreaking technology featuring a headset directly connected to one's "neural pathways", or so the press release reported."
"Oh?" Xu Mingling rested his chin on his hand. "That sounds like the result of a dangerous experiment. I'm surprised the ethical committees haven't sunk it... and, that kind of scientific progression would make waves. If it's not a sham, why haven't I heard of it before?" he asked, irritated.
"The company which created this game is called Gateway Media, though it can barely be considered a company. It is a small, specialized group with a core of 10 international members hailing from a variety of disciplines. They are all considered among the tops of their fields. For example, the globally-acknowledged technological genius Sacha Kozakov and the leading linguistics expert Alice Deschamps are among them."
Xu Mingling's dark eyes glittered. "So a bunch of big-name academics gathered to make a game?"
"They are not only academics. A retired war and weapons advisor from the United States joined, and an acclaimed artist as well."
Finally Xu Mingling smiled. "That is interesting. Purchase it. I want to see what the greatest minds of our time have come up with."
Zhong Huang ambled to the computer to place the order. He entered Xu Mingling's name and the delivery address, but when he tried to proceed to payment, a surprising message popped up.
"A set has already been ordered for Xu Mingling, courtesy of Xu Lin Conglomerate."
"Ah..." for the first time in a long while, Zhong Huang was stunned. "Master Xu, it seems your father has already gifted it."
Xu Mingling snorted and got to his feet. "So the old man has some consideration for his son after all. Fine! Then let's leave. I'm feeling generous today; you servants can take the cars to class."
Li Yan and the other three servants cried tears of joy and kowtowed profusely. "Thank you, benevolent master!!"
Without sparing them a glance, Xu Mingling left, trailed by the messy Zhong Huang.