Mo Xiuxiu recalled that on that day, it was the young man who took the initiative to come to her class to find her.
He appeared tall and handsome, with attractive facial features. Except for a red birthmark on his forehead, there was hardly any flaw to be found.
That birthmark made him look not ugly but rather added some uniqueness, making him easily recognizable.
He could say her name and claimed that he had been paying attention to her for a long time.
Mo Xiuxiu had also seen him in school debates and recitation events. She remembered the way this young man confidently expressed his thoughts in front of everyone. His broad perspective and knowledge made her feel that he shouldn’t be confined to just this corner of the city.
She asked him why he came to find her, but he refused to say, only arranging to meet her outside the Rainbow Ice Mountain shop near the school after class.
While classmates cheered, Mo Xiuxiu hesitated a bit. She could sense that the reason he sought her had nothing to do with love.
When the young man looked at her, his eyes were clear, without any ulterior motives. It was completely different from the greedy gazes of those men who looked at her.
After school, inexplicably, she still went.
The two sat outside the smoothie shop, and the young man bought her a cheap smoothie. As they ate and watched the people coming and going on the roadside, the young man suddenly said these words.
“Let’s do something shocking and outrageous together.”
At that time, Mo Xiuxiu didn’t realize that this sentence would change her life.
She only remembered that when the young man said those words, there was a glimmer in his eyes, something she had been searching for.
Mo Xiuxiu’s heart thumped, and she curiously asked, “What shocking and outrageous thing?”
“Before I explain it to you in detail, I want to communicate with you. At least we need to have some shared beliefs to become comrades and go forward together.”
The young man continued with a faint smile, “I believe that our lives are miserable right now. Bad people don’t receive appropriate punishment, good people don’t receive deserved rewards, the legal system has loopholes, wealth inequality is growing, people’s lives are busy and hopeless. Everyone’s hard-earned money is harvested by housing, and we are becoming increasingly powerless to change our living conditions… Everyone is struggling, too preoccupied to care about people like us who live in Wanhucheng.”
“Do you know the environment we live in? Housing and living, these two words crush us completely… It’s like running a 1,000-meter race with others, but others are naturally starting 500 meters ahead of us. We are exhausted and can never be the first to reach the finish line.”
“We just want to live like everyone else, to have a stable home, but with our own strength, we can’t achieve it…”
At this point, the young man asked her, “Your family is currently living in an unfinished building, right?”
Mo Xiuxiu looked at him, nodded her head, and felt a slight sourness in her eyes. These words struck a chord in her heart. How should she put it? She was extremely disappointed with her own life.
Since childhood, it took her a long time to accept one thing.
People are born unequal.
Some people are born living in big houses, taken care of by their loved ones, while she lived in a cramped shack. She didn’t have a sturdy raincoat, only a cheap umbrella that would flip inside out when it rained, providing no shelter from the wind and rain. She held that umbrella, feeling helpless.
And her life was a mess, just like that umbrella that could easily be blown away by the wind. There was no happiness, only misery.
She didn’t have enough clothes and often wore semi-dry underwear to school. Some people could sit in cake shops and eat delicious food, while she could only afford to eat this cheap sugary shaved ice.
The reason for all of this wasn’t that she was unlovable, ugly, or lazy. It was simply because she wasn’t born into a normal family, her family was poor and had no money.
Her father had a disability in his legs and had no education, only doing odd jobs. Her mother was frequently ill, had a low IQ, and occasionally worked as a cleaner.
Not to mention making money, their home was like a bottomless pit, always patching up one hole and tearing down another, living a tight and difficult life.
Even so, when Mo Xiuxiu graduated from primary school at the age of twelve, her parents actually wanted to have another child.
Mo Xiuxiu had a big argument with her parents about this. Where would they live if they had another child? Would the whole family go hungry?
Her mother optimistically comforted her, “We can squeeze a little, a child doesn’t take up much space. Besides, you can help us take care of the child.”
Her father also said, “With a boy in the family, he can support this household in the future, and we will have new hope.”
Mo Xiuxiu, with anger in her eyes, smiled and said, “Me taking care of your child? Little children are so fragile, like a soft bundle. They’re easy to drop, choke while eating, and a slight force could hurt them. I’m not even an adult yet, you want me to take care of a child? Can you really trust me?”
After hearing these words, her parents showed a horrified expression, as if they didn’t expect such malicious words to come out of a young child.
Then she comforted them, “You don’t need to pin your hopes on an unborn child. When I grow up, I will support this family.”
Mo Xiuxiu later burst into tears. She didn’t want to say such things to her parents, feeling like she had become one of those wicked sisters in fairy tales. She hated her own ugliness.
But she couldn’t understand her parents. She had already suffered enough here, so why did they still want to bring a baby into this world against their will, making everyone’s lives even harder and adding more hardship to an already struggling family?
If they really had another child, that child would resent them too when they grew up, right?
After that, her parents never mentioned this matter in front of her again.
Perhaps she should be grateful. Her mother’s health wasn’t good, so even if she wanted to conceive, she couldn’t.
As she grew older, she began to focus on dancing, wanting to change everything…
She was a dance prodigy, with half of her tuition fees waived.
Mo Xiuxiu became more and more concerned about these things: whether she was good-looking, whether her dancing was good.
She wasn’t a smart child, and no matter how hard she studied, her grades were only average. She didn’t believe that knowledge could change her destiny, but she thought maybe her appearance and talent could.
She loved dancing and had been practicing at home since she was young. When she put on those dazzling dance costumes, people would overlook the differences between her and other children.
She worked hard to seize every opportunity to perform.
For those opportunities, she could go without eating, without sleeping, and practice relentlessly.
She had talent in this area, and she had won some awards. Besides subsidizing the family expenses, she bought cheap cosmetics. She felt both inferior and confident at the same time.
Mo Xiuxiu looked at the young man in front of her and said, “I agree with your perspective. I also want to change this kind of life, but how can we achieve that?”
“First, we can try to get everything back on track,” the young man said, squinting his eyes. “We need to find the reasons behind the stagnation and punish those who caused it.”
The Wanhu City project is like a stalled old machine, stuck in several places. He must first identify the small stones jamming the gears, remove the culprits responsible for the halt, and then exert force to start it up again by pressing the restart button.
Mo Xiuxiu was puzzled and blinked her eyes. “Are you planning to expose the situation to the media?”
The young man shook his head. “Exposing it to the media now is like throwing stones into the sea; no one will hear those voices. They might even consider it a waste of their time and effort. We first need to gain attention on the internet.”
Mo Xiuxiu said, “I’ve tried doing live streams and filming some videos, but the clicks weren’t great.”
The young man responded, “That’s because you didn’t utilize your capital properly.”
Mo Xiuxiu looked at him and asked softly, “What capital do I have? Besides dancing, I don’t have anything else.”
The young man said, “In the city, there are too many girls who can dance. Moreover, many girls have more resources and opportunities.” He continued to look at her and said, “You’re beautiful, but that’s far from enough to capture people’s attention. Your efforts are hardly worth mentioning when faced with capital and power.”
Mo Xiuxiu listened to his words and lowered her head. Although she felt a bit resentful, she knew deep down that what he said was true.
Recently, their dance team rehearsed a routine for the leaders. In the last two weeks, she was suddenly moved from the center position.
At first, Mo Xiuxiu couldn’t understand why and cried while asking the teacher…
The teacher only comforted her and promised some compensation.
Later, she learned that the girl who was placed in the center had someone in her family transferred to an important position in the education bureau. By having that girl stand in the middle, the leaders in the audience might give the performance more attention.
At that moment, she realized that no matter how hard she tried or how pretty she was, at her current age, she couldn’t bridge the gap left by her disadvantaged family background.
This incident left her with a deep sense of frustration.
Mo Xiuxiu refused to accept it.
Why should those who worked less and looked worse than her be able to stand in the center of the stage, while she could only be relegated to a corner, a supporting role that no one cared about even if she made a mistake in her movements…
Now it seemed like she had a chance to change everything.
Mo Xiuxiu asked the young man in front of her, “Then… apart from appearance, what other capital do I have that I can utilize?”
Taking a sip of his shaved ice, the young man casually pointed out, “Well, you have things like courage, discontentment, and your life itself…”
Next, the young man narrated a horrifying night to her.
It was audacious, something that no one had ever done or even thought of before.
They would face “death” in front of a massive audience and ultimately reveal the truth.
“We can use various filming techniques, like blood packets or using phosphorus to create magical flames. With your acting skills, we can definitely make it seem real.”
From initial astonishment and shock to eventual silence, Mo Xiuxiu listened attentively.
“Why did you choose me?” Mo Xiuxiu pondered for a moment and asked.
The young man replied, “There’s something unique about you that stands out, something that allows me to see that you and I are of the same kind.”
Finally, the young man reached out his hand to her and said, “So, what do you think? Do you want to join my plan? You will be the deserving protagonist of that night. After this event, you can completely transform your life by capitalizing on people’s attention…”
Mo Xiuxiu was moved by the three words “female protagonist.” She still had some concerns, though. “Isn’t this illegal?”
“What law are we breaking? We’re not of legal age, and no one will actually die,” the young man said with a smile. “We’re just using it as a form of punishment, through a live broadcast, to make people see this society and see themselves.”
He paused for a moment and continued, “Moreover, this is a great sacrifice. This event can even change the entire landscape of Wanhu City and alter the destiny of everyone, giving them a brand new future.”
“You only need to play the role of a victim. Just for one night, after that night, you will make headlines in all the news, your photos will be shared by people, and everyone will pay attention to your beauty. People will dig into your accounts, follow your life, prestigious schools, entertainment companies will extend their olive branches to you. There’s nothing more captivating than a beautiful and innocent girl to attract others’ attention.”
Mo Xiuxiu looked at the young man in front of her, finding it hard to describe the expression in his eyes—justice, resilience, indifference—combined with the smile at the corner of his mouth, it made her forget about all the injustices in the world, making her unable to resist the urge to follow.
What he described was the ideal life she dreamed of.
No, it seemed even better than a dream; she had never dreamt of such things.
She thought of a phrase: “No destruction, no establishment.”
Rather than living like a maggot, she was willing to be a moth that sought the flames, taking a bold gamble.
Punishing the wrongdoers, bringing attention to injustices—this sounded like a good thing.
Perhaps this would shift people’s focus toward this city, which resembled a ruin.
Let Wanhu City continue to be built.
Besides, she wouldn’t really lose anything. She would survive and live a better life; after all, it was just acting in a play.
In that moment, Mo Xiuxiu transformed all her discontent into courage. She felt like a warrior capable of overcoming any obstacles, like a fearless person who could cast aside all worldly matters.
She placed her hand in his palm, feeling the warmth.
She said, “Okay.”
In the hospital, Mo Xiuxiu, who had finished telling the whole story, lowered her head.
After listening to her story, Qiao Ze felt an anger within him. “How could you all do such a thing?!”
Regardless of whether it was real or fake, regardless of the purpose, these students, these children, were using their lives as chips, fooling the public.
This was deception! This was wrong! Regardless of success or failure, it was extremely dangerous and could potentially inspire imitators.
Qiao Ze was furious. He couldn’t understand how these children could have so little self-respect and self-love…
Treating their own lives as child’s play…
But he didn’t know whom to direct his anger towards—was it the girl who nearly lost her life? Was it the manipulative young man? Or was it the person behind the scenes? Or perhaps it was this perpetually unfair world?
Looking at the girl who survived the ordeal with her head lowered, Qiao Ze wanted to say something but couldn’t find the words.
Indignant yet pitying, such things would never happen to children elsewhere, but for these children in Wanhu City, they were capable of such actions.
If there were other options, their young lives wouldn’t be exploited in this way.
Qiao Ze found it hard to imagine the accumulated despair and helplessness that led them to consider using their innocent lives as bargaining chips, to gain something.
Su Hui remained relatively calm. He knew he had to act quickly to save more lives and put an end to this madness. He continued to question Mo Xiuxiu, “Who was the person who approached you initially?”
In her previous account, Mo Xiuxiu had been using “he” to refer to that person.
Mo Xiuxiu took a deep breath and spoke the young man’s name, “That person was Tao Yingxu.”
Indeed, it was Tao Yingxu.
Previously, Tao Yingxu had obtained all the materials from the production team, and now Mo Xiuxiu confirmed his identity. This aligned with Su Hui’s and Lu Junchi’s deductions.
But if he was the instigator, then who was the one who ended up hanging dead from the curtain rod?
Who was the real mastermind behind the scenes, the broadcaster?
Su Hui continued, “Was he also the one who executed you?”
Mo Xiuxiu nodded.
Both Su Hui and Qiao Ze knew this was impossible.
Just moments ago, Lu Junchi had sent a message stating that the forensic examiner had just arrived at Tao Yingxu’s death scene. They had confirmed the body as Tao Yingxu’s, measured the liver temperature, ruled out the cooling effect of air conditioning, and determined that the time of death was at least three hours before the start of the live broadcast.
He couldn’t have been present at the live broadcast scene.
The young man who planned the entire scheme had already died.
Someone else continued to carry out this plan and changed the method. The fake deaths planned originally had become a reality.
Su Hui deduced that Mo Xiuxiu genuinely didn’t know these details; otherwise, she wouldn’t have spoken such easily debunked lies.
Qiao Ze found Tao Yingxu’s identification photo and showed it to Mo Xiuxiu. “Are you sure it’s him?”
Mo Xiuxiu blinked and said, “I’m sure. He approached me before and talked about wanting to provoke societal reflection through this live broadcast… He said he would take care of everything, design all the details. He asked me to choose a death method I liked, and since I enjoy swimming, I chose drowning. After that, I just had to act wholeheartedly as an actress.”
The method of execution varies because the choice of death is personal for each individual.
The children treated the live broadcast as a performance after filming a documentary.
Mo Xiuxiu continued, “After I left school this afternoon, I waited for him in that building. When it was almost time, he came and blindfolded me, holding my hands…”
Su Hui asked, “Was there anything different about him today?”
Mo Xiuxiu recalled, “He wore a mask today, saying he was afraid of accidentally revealing his face during the live broadcast. He also used a voice changer. But I saw the birthmark he revealed. Oh, right, his voice was hoarse, he said he had a cold.”
It sounded like the killer was a man of similar height and build to Tao Yingxu.
“Was he the only one?” Su Hui remembered the girl reflected in the fish tank.
Mo Xiuxiu said, “There was also a slender girl, his assistant.”
It sounded like the girl was an accomplice who stayed hidden in the corner and didn’t appear on camera, so she might have assisted in the third live broadcast.
“Do you recognize her?” Su Hui asked.
Mo Xiuxiu shook her head. “I haven’t seen her before. Today was the first time I saw her, but I didn’t see her face. She was always hiding in the corner. I only saw her wearing our school uniform, so she might be a first-year student.”
Su Hui cleared his throat and organized his thoughts. He continued questioning Mo Xiuxiu, “Did you rehearse this process beforehand?”
Mo Xiuxiu nodded. “After placing the fish tank, we practiced it twice. It was last Wednesday and Friday night. We timed the water injection, and he told me how to pretend to choke and struggle for a more realistic performance…”
The familiar environment and repeated experiments weakened the children’s sense of fear…
“How were those people chosen? For example, the man you corresponded to, Lian Chengyan.”
“Tao Yingxu chose them. He said he guaranteed that those people were guilty… I don’t know where he found out about their crimes.”
“Do you know how many people participated in tonight’s live broadcast? Who were the other people?”
Mo Xiuxiu looked a bit confused and shook her head. “He didn’t tell me about these things. He always contacted me unilaterally.”
She looked at Su Hui and said, “I’ve confessed everything. I… I’m not the mastermind. Tao Yingxu designed all these things, and I just cooperated in acting. I admit that we shouldn’t have used this method, shouldn’t have played this prank. But our intention was good, to make those bad people face punishment. Isn’t that what should happen?”
Until now, this girl still didn’t know the extent of the terrible impact and consequences of the events.
The room fell silent, and Qiao Ze looked at her with pity in his eyes.
“…Nobody actually died, right?” Mo Xiuxiu forced a smile, her voice trembling, tears welling up in her eyes. “You’re just deceiving me, aren’t you?”
Su Hui cleared his throat. A cold indifference appeared on his handsome face as he said hoarsely, “We don’t have time to deceive you.”
Mo Xiuxiu’s smile gradually faded. It turned out that it wasn’t just a prank or a rehearsal. Everything was not as beautiful as he had promised her at the beginning. She asked with a trembling voice, “Did they really die?”
Su Hui solemnly replied, “Your actions are not innocent. You have disrupted social order and violated the law. Someone died tonight, and Tao Yingxu has
already died too. The person you saw earlier was not him. We are urgently investigating the truth, so you better think about who that person might be.”
Mo Xiuxiu’s gaze went blank, and she burst into tears, unable to stop them from flowing. It was only now that she realized what she had faced tonight.
The deranged killer had been sitting across from her, watching as the water level gradually rose, preparing to drown her. She had narrowly escaped death.
The overwhelming sense of fear devoured her sanity. This genuine fear was more real than any performance.
She had been foolish to agree to such a thing, and now she was filled with waves of regret. Her stomach convulsed, making her feel nauseous.
She had come so close to death, and not only that, if that person had taken advantage of her being bound and blindfolded to do something else… she would have been helpless to stop it, unable to resist.
“Not him? That’s impossible…” Mo Xiuxiu cried, “I… I don’t know. He… he really looked like Tao Yingxu, same height, even the voice was similar… I… I don’t know who that person could be.”
She wiped her tears and said, “I remembered something else. When I was planning all this, I asked Tao Yingxu why he came up with this plan, and he mentioned that he had a friend…”
Certified member of the IIO(International Introverts Organization), PhD holder in Overthinking and Ghosting, Spokesperson for BOBAH(Benefits of Being a Homebody), Founder of SFA(Salted Fish Association), Brand Ambassador for Couch Potato fall line Pajama set.