They checked the boat and confirmed that there were no major leaks and that the two oars were still usable, though barely.
Cui Zuojing and Dong Zheng boarded the small wooden boat, sitting face to face. After carrying their weight, the boat ended up taking some water, which was a bit worrisome. But fortunately, if they didn’t make any fierce movements, the boat wouldn’t tip over.
Dong Zheng began with rowing from left to right, trying to paddle a long distance at a time. The boat slowly drifted toward the depths of the swamp and into the damp and cold nest of mangrove trees.
Cui Zuojing looked into the water and saw nothing but darkness. There may be many animals hiding in the mud, looking up at the reed boat above their heads and thinking about whether they should make a tentative attack.
The little bear poked its head out of Dong Zheng’s shirt and looked around curiously. It noticed the unpleasant atmosphere and hurriedly retracted.
The waterfowls that inhabited the swamp plants were startled by the water ripples that resulted from the boat gliding through water. They flew up, and their silhouettes quickly disappeared into the forest.
Cui Zuojing gripped his sword. He felt somewhat cold. The humidity in the swamp was heavy, and the water vapor was so thick that it was almost suffocating. There was also a stench, like the smell of rotting corpses.
As if, some creatures on the island had passed through the swamp, only to realize too late after they were already caught in it and were unable to break free. They could only helplessly sink little by little into the sludge, to die in despair and become a part of it.
The boat moved slowly. There were many plants growing wildly in the waterways, and they needed to be careful navigating around them. They faced each other in silence, with Cui Zuojing carefully watching their surroundings to prevent unexpected accidents.
Watching the thick and pervasive shadows.
No long after, they reached the central part of the swamp. It was unknown whether it was due to the wee hours of the morning, but they didn’t encounter an attack the entire way.
Something was wrong.
The more peaceful and calm everything seemed, the more disturbed they became. This was a box. How could there be any good things in a box?
Dong Zheng couldn’t help speeding up his rowing. The branches and leaves of the mangrove trees on both sides blocked nearly all the moonlight, leaving only a meager light reflected on the water’s surface. He once again enhanced his vision and barely managed to identify the path ahead.
As the boat moved forward, they glided into a fog. Cui Zuojing instinctively held his breath, but Dong Zheng breathed it in and suddenly felt a slight tremor in the protective shield of his kernel.
Was the fog poisonous?
The tremor was very slight. If Dong Zheng hadn’t been paying attention at all times, he might not have noticed it. His face became apprehensive, and he decided to tell Cui Zuojing.
Just as he was about to speak, the youth abruptly stood up and firmly yanked him aside. Using all of his strength, he practically threw Dong Zheng out. “Watch out!”
Cui Zuojing flung Dong Zheng to the nearest shore, and Dong Zheng instinctively grabbed onto the roots of a mangrove tree exposed above water. His left foot landed first and immediately sank into the muddy sludge. Meanwhile, a huge snake head shot out of the water where the boat was, sending it flying.
After flinging Dong Zheng off, Cui Zuojing had jumped away from the boat and landed on a tree in the middle of the waterway.
Another snake head emerged from the sludge at the bottom of the swamp. Following Cui Zuojing’s movements, it wrapped around the tree trunk, it’s massive maw opened wide to reveal sharp fangs, looking as if it would swallow him whole at any moment.
It was at this time that Dong Zheng finally saw what exactly had attacked them,
He saw what kind of creature the heads belonged to.
Its huge body emerged from the swamp. It’s back was covered with a thick layer of sludge that couldn’t hide the line of sharp spikes that ran down its spine. Countless snake heads over ten meters long grew from its neck, and each head was like a python, hissing ferociously.
Dong Zheng was astonished, but before he could snap out of it, a snake head saw him. It flicked out a forked tongue and rushed toward him!
Dong Zheng grabbed the mangrove tree and hurriedly pulled his left foot out. The moment his foot came out, he plunged into the mangrove trees.
The branches blocked the blow for him.
Dong Zheng pressed his body as far away as he could into the cluster of mangrove trees. He tried to find something to use as a weapon, but he regretfully couldn’t find anything useful at all.
Up to now, he still hadn’t found a weapon that he could bring into the box. Weapons like Cui Zuojing’s Tang Sword and Domingo’s crossbow and arrows were items obtained in a box, making them eligible to be taken into other boxes. People who weren’t able to obtain their own weapons could only use the resources the box provided.
The snake head couldn’t land a single attack. It twisted around the cluster of trees, staring at Dong Zheng with scarlet eyes. Once it realized that he couldn’t be caught, it chose to temporarily give up and changed its target to Cui Zuojing, who was more exposed.
Cui Zuojing, who was a few meters away from Dong Zheng, was already surrounded.
Snake heads circled around him, their long, thick necks entangled together. They launched attacks one after another, and the wiggling mass of snakes reminded him of the legend of Medusa, the Gorgon.
The environment was too dark, causing the shadows of trees and the water reflections to seriously impede Cui Zuojing’s sight. He squinted his eyes, trying with great effort to see better. But when a snake head tried to attack, it brought with it a fishy stench. It was better than having eyes. Fighting instincts allowed him to dodge reflexively every time.
He moved agilely around the tree. When a snake head tried to follow him from behind, Cui Zuojing cut off the huge head with a wave of his Tang Sword, causing fishy blood to splash on half of his cheek.
All the other snakes hissed and followed as Cui Zuojing jumped from tree to tree. The small boat had splintered into a pile of fragments floating on the water. He stepped on one of them and, though it bobbed slightly, it did not sink altogether.
He didn’t look at the head he’d cut off and was more focused on trying to reach shore.
Dong Zheng saw everything that happened behind Cui Zuojing. From the stump of the neck where Cui Zuojing had cut the head off with a single stroke, flesh and blood quickly squirmed and rippled. Then, at the speed visible to the naked eye, it gave birth to two shoots that rapidly grew into two new snake heads!
The monster’s roar was deafening. It’s huge body stood and the wings that had been stowed in it’s wing membrane suddenly spread out. The bony spurs that protruded from the edges of the wings gleamed coldly, and they instantly cut down a mangrove tree.
The moment he saw the two heads regenerating from the stump where the previous head had been severed, Dong Zheng realized that this monster was the giant water serpent, Hydra, from Greek mythology.
It’s father was said to be Typhon, one of the most powerful gods in Greek mythologies, and it’s mother, Echidna, was part-woman, part-basilisk. It had nine heads, and if one of them was cut off, two would grow from its place. What’s more, there was an immortal head in the middle that was impossible to kill.
Even if Dong Zheng’s knowledge of myths and legends were limited, and he wasn’t like Domingo, who seemed to know everything, he was still able to recognize the monster Hydra, whose legend was simply too well known. When Hercules was battling Hydra, he’d had to cauterize each wound so that no new heads would grow out of it. Finally, he smashed the immortal head with a boulder, successfully killing Hydra.
“That’s Hydra, be careful!”
When he heard Dong Zheng’s shout, Cui Zuojing had already climbed a tree by the waterway. He turned his head and looked. He barely managed to registered an attacking snake head but was able to move back just in time, causing the snake head to brush against the side of his face instead.
“Move to the left!”
Cui Zuojing moved to the left. He moved so agilely that even he surprised himself. However, Hydra was always watching him, and all eleven snake heads with long necks continued to chase him at the fastest speed!
Dong Zheng did his best to open up his vision to the maximum. He hid in the gap between the two trees. To be precise, he was stuck. He carefully watched every movement between Hydra and Cui Zuojing and loudly warned him about every crisis hidden in the darkness.
By adhering to Dong Zheng’s commands, Cui Zuojing felt that it wasn’t too strenuous. However, the vigorous exercise made him breathe quickly, causing him to inhale a lot of turbid mist.
He suddenly began to feel dizzy. He shook his head and jumped away, stepping on the surface of the water. When his feet sank into mud, he stabbed the sword into the trunk of a nearby mangrove tree and forcibly pulled himself up.
Was there something wrong with the fog?
As he was thinking this, he heard Dong Zheng’s voice coming from far away, “The fog is dangerous. Be careful!”
“How can I be careful?!” he shouted back. A snake head shot right at him. Since he couldn’t dodge, he could only cut it away. Now, the number of snakes turned into twelve.
If this continued, Cui Zuojing would eventually be defeated. Dong Zheng forced down the worry in his heart and tried hard to squeeze out from the gap between the two trees. He ended up scraping off a layer of skin on his arm before finally succeeding.
They had no fire, and therefore they couldn’t use Hercule’s method to deal with Hydra. They would have to think of another method.
What to do?
“Don’t run far! Come back to my side!” Dong Zheng shouted as he sank into his program kernel. As soon as he stepped onto the information highway, he grabbed the tail of a passing data stream and muttered silently, “Take me to ‘that place.’”
The data stream temporarily changed direction obediently and flowed toward the center of the kernel world according to Dong Zheng’s wishes.
In the blink of an eye, he once again entered the center of his inner core, a place he named “Central.”
In this pure white space, the green weed was still quietly growing. Compared to the last time when he’d seen it, it seemed to have grown taller. The cluster of small, white flower buds on the delicate green stem were bigger now and looked as if they would bloom soon.
Dong Zheng ran to the Arabidopsis thaliana and knelt down. He stretched out his hand and touched the flower buds on top of the weed with his fingertips.
A string of data ran like an electric current through his fingertips and into the Arabidopsis.
Outside the kernel, Dong Zheng opened his eyes.
Cui Zuojing felt a mysterious sensation suddenly appear from the bottom of his heart. It swept through his body in an instant, and his limited vision seemed to have become enchanted. Everything became extremely clear; his vision had improved.
Just like a cat accustomed to walking at night, he suddenly had sensitive vision that could accurately see things in the dark.
There was no longer any need to use instincts to dodge, which would greatly increase Cui Zuojing’s mobility. He avoided the three snake heads that were attacking from his flank at a very tricky angle.
At the same time, he also felt an idea that came from another person in his mind.
—Get on it’s back!
Cui Zuojing yelled his understanding and threw a few sheets of white paper from his pocket. The wrinkled, wet paper became blades under the power of slayer. It cut through the air with a swish and penetrated the intertwined snake heads that were attacking him.
The snake heads subconsciously dodged, and Cui Zuojing took advantage of this momentary inattention to chop off the head closest to him. As soon the fishy blood spurted out, he jumped onto the neck of the snake closest to him and ran along its length toward the back.
The monster’s back was covered in sludge, making it very slippery. Cui Zuojing couldn’t maintain his footing and directly stabbed the monster’s back to stabilize his figure.
As blood spurted out, Hydra screamed in pain and began to struggle frantically. Two huge, thick wings flapped wildly, directly turning the swamp and mangrove trees into a chaotic mess.
Breathing in the poison had already made Cui Zuojing’s hands and feet soft. He wanted to hold his breath, but it was impossible not to breathe while engaging in strenuous exercise. Therefore, the only alternative was to quickly win the battle.
But how best to deal with this monster? Every time a head was cut off, two grew in its place. It was impossible to stab through the scales on its body straight through the heart. In such a short time, he wasn’t able to gauge where Hydra’s weakness was—the “immortal head.”
Then, he’ll just have to try his luck!
Cui Zuojing grabbed the sharp spike on Hydra’s back with one hand to stabilize his body. With his other hand, he yanked out the Tang Sword, and before all 13 heads could attack, he ruthlessly cut off the head in the middle!