"... Ding …"
"... Ding …"
"... Ding …"
"... DINGGG …"
"Huh? What the…"
A disoriented man blinked open his eyes as a jarring dinging noise reverberated through the small apartment room. Swiftly, he located the origin of the sound and tapped the touch screen to silence it. Still groggy from inadequate sleep, his eyes stung as though he had spent the entire previous day glued to a screen.
"Wait... what was I doing... I'm certain we were headed to the center of the universe... huh?"
He attempted to recollect the past events, but everything seemed shrouded in a haze. Gradually, he came to the realization that he was likely caught in a very vivid dream. Memories surfaced of being a god-like entity or a heroic figure, commanding armies, battling monsters, and confronting various challenges, akin to protagonists in fantasy tales. Yet, the more he tried to grasp those memories, the hazier they became, eventually slipping beyond his recall.
"I need to get up, or I might be late…"
Once his mind cleared, the man rolled out of bed and surveyed his small apartment, consisting of just two rooms. The sleeping area seamlessly connected to a cramped kitchen space, with the only separate room being the bathroom. In this confined space, a modest shower nestled between a toilet and a budget washing machine. He soon found himself in the bathroom, relieving himself while studying his reflection in the mirror. Staring back at him was a man in his early thirties, grappling with a slightly receding hairline - a point of personal contention that he found challenging to embrace.
"Should I shave? ... Nah, it's not that bad yet…"
As he pondered this trivial decision, the man couldn't shake off the residual feelings from his dream. There was an inexplicable sense of loss and a lingering curiosity about the world he had just left behind. The dream was so vivid that it felt more like a distant memory than a mere figment of imagination.
Dressed in casual attire, the man navigated through the cramped space of his apartment to the small kitchen. The aroma of leftover takeout containers hinted at a lifestyle of convenience and solitude. A glance at the calendar on the wall reminded him that today was just another typical workday.
Having brewed himself some coffee and whipped up stir-fried eggs for breakfast, he settled in front of his gaming PC. Amidst the poorly maintained apartment, the gaming rig stood out as the most valuable possession, though it was enveloped in a layer of dust that he failed to clean. Once again, his eyes became fixated on the screen, dismissing the lingering stinging sensation. Gradually consuming his meal while indulging in videos from his favorite content creator, he eventually prepared to venture outside.
As he stepped out of his apartment and into the bustling city, the dream began to fade further into the recesses of his mind. The concrete jungle with its towering buildings, honking cars, and hurried pedestrians replaced the mystical landscapes of his dream. He arrived at the parking lot, where his aging car patiently awaited him. Ignoring the clutter within and the persistent rust gnawing at the chassis, he opened the door and settled into the driver's seat. Gradually, he joined the stream of fellow drivers, only to find himself trapped in traffic for half an hour before finally reaching his workplace. Luckily he always made some time for such an occasion which allowed him to arrive ten minutes early.
"Hey, Matt. Good Morning."
Upon arrival, a coworker, a woman five years his senior, greeted him. Their interaction was limited to brief exchanges of greetings before they both entered the nondescript, gray building where they toiled. The day unfolded in a routine manner - mundane tasks, polite exchanges with colleagues, and the constant hum of fluorescent lights overhead. Yet, a subtle restlessness lingered within him, a longing for something he couldn't quite define.
During his lunch break, he found himself sitting on a chair in an empty room. It was meant for the janitor but he liked using it as a hiding spot from his co-workers. He was never good at making small talk and just being there while others talked was rather jarring. There was a small window there through which he could see the cityscape. Questions surfaced about the nature of reality, the purpose of existence, and the significance of the dream that felt more like a journey than a mere product of his subconscious. Lost in thought he barely noticed that he was out of time and that his break had passed, something that he usually was good at remembering.
Upon returning to his work computer, his boss shot him a series of disapproving glances. His usual instinct was to lower his head and offer an apology, but to his surprise, a strange force held him back. Deep within his being, there was a resistance to adopting a submissive stance. It was as if the intimidating manager was deemed unworthy of his respect.
'I've been feeling weird since morning, did I eat something bad?'
As the day wore on, he found it increasingly difficult to concentrate on the tasks at hand. His mind raced, oscillating between reflections on the vivid dream he had and the shift in his demeanor. There was something that wasn't adding up but he couldn't put his finger on it. Before long, he caught himself fixated on the rhythmic ticking of the office clock, his gaze lost in space. The only interruptions to the silence were occasional coughs from coworkers similarly ensnared in the monotony of the day.
"Matthew, could you…"
The manager took note of Matthew's peculiar behavior and decided to address it, but he was unprepared for Matthew's sudden reaction. Without warning, Matt leaped from his seat, placing his hands firmly on the manager's shoulders while slumping his head forward.
"It's all wrong…"
"Hey, what are you doing? Are you sick or something?"
Matthew's grip tightened, and he began shaking the manager, who couldn't fathom the unexpected strength possessed by the somber-looking employee.
"Let go of me, are you crazy?"
"THIS IS ALL WRONG!"
Abruptly, Matthew pushed his boss aside and bolted towards the exit, long before the workday had come to its scheduled end. As Matthew burst out into the busy city streets, his breaths came in heavy, erratic gasps. The familiar surroundings felt alien to him, as if he had just stepped into an alternate reality. His feet moved almost involuntarily, driven by an inexplicable force guiding him away from the life he had known.
He wandered through the city, not paying attention to the bewildered gazes of onlookers. The dream, or whatever it was, continued to haunt his thoughts. The mundane existence he had been trapped in for years felt like a mere illusion, a cage suppressing something much more profound. Without realizing it, Matthew found himself on a rooftop overlooking the city. His eyes scanned the horizon, searching for something that eluded him. The chaotic noise of the city below seemed distant, drowned out by the cacophony in his mind.
"I had a family … I had friends and people that depended on me … It all feels so real … "
The old memories of a different world, the battles, the realms, and the strange system he had encountered clashed with the reality of his office job and the mundane tasks that had defined his life. The dissonance was overwhelming, and he couldn't shake the feeling that he was meant for something greater.
"I was doing something… what was I doing, I know it was important but I can't remember…"
He descended to his knees, relentlessly slamming his fists onto the unyielding surface of the rocky building roof. His palms chafed, blood flowed, but he persisted. In the midst of the agony, the only tangible reality was the pain; everything else seemed artificial. With a final, forceful slam, something inexplicable occurred within the confines of this reality. The concrete floor beneath him rippled and shattered under the extraordinary force he exerted. Sensations long forgotten resurfaced, and he realized that his once-bloodied, broken fingers were now miraculously regenerating.
"Yes, I remember… I am Matt but not anymore, I have become Zhang Dong… I came here to confront God…"
The realization struck him like a bolt of lightning, unlocking the memories that had been concealed. Zhang Dong, a being who had transcended realms and navigated through the intricacies of countless universes, was him. The transformation was not merely physical; it extended to the very fabric of his being. He could feel the surge of power coursing through him, a power that defied the laws of this mundane world.
"I remember, we began the plan and I descended towards the center of the universe where prime earth was situated… Then something happened… I began to forget and was turned back into my old form…"
Rising to his feet, the body he inhabited belonged to his former self, a persona he had outgrown. No longer Matthew, but Zhang Dong, he recalled the lessons he had learned, and his body responded. A radiant aura enveloped him, transforming the once unassuming worker named Matt into a noble-looking cultivator with snow-white hair, embodying the profound changes he had undergone.
"I was evidently played for a fool…"
Zhang Dong began to recollect all that he had experienced, and with each memory, his power surged back into his being. Ascending into the sky, he gazed down at the city he had once called home. The surreal feeling of returning, now armed with god-like abilities, washed over him. A single glance allowed him to survey his old apartment and observe his bewildered co-workers, pondering the extraordinary turn of events that had befallen him.
"There you are…"
Expanding his spiritual sense across the planet of his birth, Zhang Dong detected an anomaly - an entity that defied the norm. On this planet, everyone was an ordinary individual without any extraordinary abilities. Yet, there was one exception, someone distinct from the rest. This person was likely responsible for manipulating his memories. Without hesitation, Zhang Dong soared through the sky, determined to confront this mysterious being of power and unravel the truth…