Thick smoke slowly rose from the valley where Allen fell. Dong Zheng was the first to notice it. He stopped and looked at the distant site. The rising smoke was blown by the wind and peppered by snowfall.
Something seemed to be burning.
Cui Zuojing quietly waited for him. Dong Zheng took a deep breath, looked at Cui Zuojing, and said in a low voice, “Let’s go.”
They walked the path for about 1.5 hours and finally reached the end. They stood on the mountainside and looked at the strange-looking structure in the valley below.
The entire Institute of Biochemistry was built underground, just like the military base. Before the advent of the ice age, there was an entrance on the surface, but after 3000 years of snow, the building’s entrance was frozen over and layered with a thick ice cap that rose about least 50 meters up into the sky.
The heavy pressure had also collapsed the entrance by half a meter. The building materials in the year 2472 were very strong and had not deformed, but the foundation underneath could not withstand the weight.
They went down to the center of the valley and cleared away just enough snow to allow them to pass through the gate into the institute.
The explosion-proof door was completely sealed, making it difficult to crack using external force. Fortunately, Dong Zheng had the relevant authority, which allowed them to directly avoid the cumbersome issue of identity authentication. He could directly open the door with the chip on his wristband.
Wang Que stood silently in the middle of the team. When Dong Zheng opened the door, she noticed the familiar fluctuations coming from underground. Frowning, she softly said, “There are a lot of insects down there.”
Dong Zheng hummed in agreement and said, “The reason there were so many giant insects was probably due to biochemical exposure. This research institute is probably the most difficult part of this entire box.”
He turned his head and his gaze swept over everyone’s faces. He asked, “Are you ready?”
Dong Linhai picked up his flamethrower, responding with action.
They inspected each other and confirmed that there was no problem with their protective suit. Dong Zheng swiped his access chip. They heard a beep and that door sealed by ice and snow for 3000 years slowly opened.
Many black beetles the size of thumb nails emerged from the cracks in the door. They scattered out in two black streams and soon burrowed themselves under the white snow.
An unbearable stench rushed toward their face. Fortunately, everyone was wearing a helmet and a face shield. Their oxygen supply was still sufficient so their nose didn’t have to suffer.
They turned on their headlights and carefully walked in through the door, each holding tightly to their own weapon.
Cui Zuojing glanced at the data on the gas detection panel, which displayed that the oxygen content had begun to rapidly drop the moment they entered, until it approached 1%.
There must be a lot of oxygen-consuming organisms inside the building. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be as high as it was now.
The light from their headlight illuminated the floor and walls. There were many insect corpses on them, stuck in place by some substance that had formed around the husk. With every step, they were trampling on dried husks and each footsteps was inevitably accompanied by a sharp and crisp crunch.
There weren’t a large number of lived insects in the upper ground level of the research institute. The surface level, which was like a hub that connected the underground sections, wasn’t too large so it didn’t take them long to completely explore it.
They stood in front of the elevator and waited for Wang Que to send out her perception.
In her darkened world, dots of lights were shining. She could sense every bit of lights that represented a life. Every place under their feet had spots of lights that were either dim or bright, but only the area below the elevator was enveloped in total darkness.
“It looks like a safe house below,” Wang Que said once she re-checked her assessment. “The size is about 10×10, and it’s quite far from the ground. But, I can only check for insects, and I don’t know if there are other things inside.”
“That’s good enough,” Dong Zheng carried a submachine gun with a laser magazine. He made a forward tactical gesture, and the five people entered the elevator together.
Cui Zuojing followed behind him, still holding on to his favorite cold weapon. His Tang Sword had a chip on it, which was made when he’d cut off the spider silk stuck on Allen’s finger.
The numbers on their screen that represented the depths of the underground level grew larger and larger. Dong Zheng closed his eyes and waited for the elevator to stop, using this moment as a kind of respite.
Cui Zuojing studied the instructions on the elevator. He was quite curious about the technological advances of the year 2472. Unfortunately, aside from the weapons, he hadn’t been able to see much.
The elevator stopped at 97 meters underground.
The indicator light at the top turned green. Everyone immediately took up their weapons and aimed at the door.
The elevator door opened slowly, and their headlights illuminated what appeared to be a disinfectant room.
Everyone, no matter who they were, must undergo a rigorous, multi-layered disinfectant before entering the main research institute.
However, the disinfectant room had already stopped working. Everyone tacitly spread out, and after inspecting that room that wasn’t much larger than 100 square meters, they found that this was indeed a safe house.
They all finally relaxed.
Currently, they had about 48 hours before the box closed. This amounted to two full days, and they had just arrived at their final destination. During this time, as long as they could find a place to transmit the signal, they could end the mission.
Time was no longer the most pressing problem, and now they could finally take a good rest.
The number on the dashboard that represented the oxygen content returned to normal, and they all finally took off their helmets.
Dong Zheng sat on the ground and leaned against the wall. He let out a long sigh of relief and allowed his body to relax. The exhaustion that had accumulated in the previous 26 hours leaked out, making it difficult for him to contain.
It’d been a long time since he’d rested, and he’d experienced so many things. His spirit was stretched taut like a string, so tight that it felt as if it was on the brink of snapping.
The research institute wasn’t too cold. Victor came out of the summoning beast space to take care of Dong Linhai and Wang Que, both of whom were exhausted. Seeing Lin Hangzhi silently rubbing his calf, as if he had muscle cramps, Victor ran over to purify him.
Cui Zuojing unpacked a package of self-heating hotpot. This was the only thing he’d brought out from the military base that could be warmed enough to eat. Once he opened and boiled it, the scent spread out, attracting everyone’s attention.
The amount of hotpot wasn’t large and it only came with a pair of chopsticks. After Cui Zuojing cooked it, he first passed the chopsticks to Wang Que. Wang Que took a bite of the noodles, chewed slowly, and gave the chopsticks to Dong Linhai.
Dong Linhai took a bite of the ham and passed the chopsticks to Dong Zheng, and Dong Zheng to Cui Zuojing, and Cui Zuojing to Lin Hangzhi, and Lin Hangzhi gave the chopsticks to Wang Que.
Victor didn’t have to worry about eating and drinking in the summoning beast space, so he squatted and watched quietly. Everyone took turns eating the hotpot empty. Dong Linhai, who had a big appetite, even drank the hot soup. He wanted to share with Wang Que, but Wang Que thought it was too salty, so she only tasted a little bit.
It was very comfortable to eat something warm to warm up the stomach.
After that, everyone ate some compressed biscuits. After they were full, their sleepiness grew.
Dong Zheng leaned against the wall and closed his eyes. Because of his helmet, his neck felt uncomfortable. Cui Zuojing was originally next to him, but he moved closer when he saw this. He leaned against Dong Zheng and patted his own shoulder. “Go to sleep, I’ll let you lean on me for a while.”
Dong Zheng didn’t refuse. It seemed that since Dusk Island, Cui Zuojing’s attitude towards him had become exceptionally good. Sometimes, these actions made Dong Zheng feel apprehensive. He knew that, to Cui Zuojing, these words and actions were just common courtesy, but he feared that each action would only make him sink deeper.
He leaned on the young man’s shoulder. After Cui Zuojing’s first seal was lifted, he grew taller and his shoulders became a bit more wider. Leaning on it made Dong Zheng feel less guilty.
He closed his eyes and, just as he was about to fall into a deep sleep, he suddenly thought of something.
“The power of Chang Hui left in my body reappeared,” Dong Zheng said softly. “When my emotions were about to collapse, it helped me suppress my emotions and impulses. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to sensibly drag Linhai and Wang Que away in time.”
“She helped you?” Cui Zuojing frowned. He remembered that when he and Fu Zhe checked Dong Zheng’s body, he didn’t feel any malice coming from the energy.
Why did Chang Hui help Dong Zheng?
Dong Zheng was also aware of this oddity. “You said that the girl named Chang Hui is one of the five heirs. Since J and Kether both want my life, why would she save me?”
“I don’t know,” Cui Zuojing answered honestly, “She… always feels strange to me. Although she is the queen’s heir, she does things more for herself.”
“For herself,” Dong Zheng murmured. “Then, how can saving me benefit her?”
Cui Zuojing didn’t know, Dong Zheng’s mother had a deal with Chang Hui. Could it be that Chang Hui was looking at it from this perspective and that was why she helped Dong Zheng?
But she has already passed the black-gold card to Dong Zheng. It stood to reason that the transaction had already been completed, allowing Chang Hui to obtain the agreed upon payment. Therefore, it didn’t make sense for her to extend additional efforts to help him.
Cui Zuojing couldn’t provide Dong Zheng with an answer. He was also very tired. He leaned his head on Dong Zheng’s head. In this way, they pillowed against each other, so that they both could sleep comfortably.
“I’m so uncomfortable,” Dong Zheng mumbled, half-asleep. It was unknown if he was talking about the extreme exhaustion of his body or the lingering sadness in his heart due to Allen’s departure.
Cui Zuojing hummed in agreement, then he reached out and gently pressed Dong Zheng’s head on his shoulder. He closed his eyes and said softly, “I know. Go to sleep.”
Cui Zuojing slept very deeply. He didn’t need to worry about anything in the safe house. The rules of the box were determined by the laws of the Pure White Realm. Even Kether, the creator of these instances, could not play tricks in a safe house.
The laws were something no one could violate, not even the Queen.
He didn’t know when the two of them changed position to Dong Zheng leaning on the wall alone and Cui Zuojing lying on Dong Zheng’s lap. When Cui Zuojing opened his eyes, everyone else was still asleep. Victor was snuggled up under Wang Que’s right arm, using his warm, furry body to comfort the girl who hadn’t yet to come out of her self-blame and grief.
Dong Linhai and Lin Hangzhi laid together haphazardly, both sleeping without any self-consciousness.
Cui Zuojing sat up and took a sip of ice water. He looked at Dong Zheng, who seemed to be completely unaware. He hesitated and decided not to lie back down on him.
Thinking that not much time had passed, Cui Zuojing yawned. He saw that Dong Zheng seemed to have dreamed of something upsetting. His brows were gathered together, the middle turning into a 川 character, so he kindly reached out and helped him smooth it.
Dong Linhai mumbled vaguely, seeming to be arguing with an invisible person. Cui Zuojing glanced at him, decided to ignore him, leaned against Dong Zheng, and fell asleep again.
In this frozen world, these people leaned on each other, drawing warmth from each other.