“Search. Maybe we can find some clues,” Dong Zheng suggested. “This is too strange. We need to figure out what happened.”
Ren Heming sighed and said, “I think so too. Maybe we’ll discover what harmed the entire convoy. Come, let’s take a look at the situation first.”
Dong Zheng opened the curtain of the carriage and entered. There was a cloying scent that was unprecedentedly strong. Many goods from Dashi were scattered inside, but aside from the messiness, there was no damage. A tea cup had fallen to the ground with tea splashed all over the carpet. Dong Zheng reached out and touched the carpet; it was still wet.
There was a middle-aged man crumpled on the floor with obvious Persian features. Almost all of his bare skin had festered, revealing indistinct flesh. Water had completely saturated his clothes, and Dong Zheng could smell a scent wafting from his body.
Dong Zheng immediately covered his mouth and nose. He ignored the corpse, exited the carriage, and shouted to Ren Heming, “Senior Brother! I found a corpse here, and it seems to have been rotted by the plague!”
When Ren Heming heard this, he cursed. He had his back to Dong Zheng and was staring at the man in front of him. Stepping back, he said, “I found it here too!”
They opened the curtains of all the carriages with the fastest speed. Nearly all of the corpses were festering.
The strange smell from the corpses seemed to have changed into poisonous gas that could kill people anytime and anywhere. Dong Zheng and Ren Heming tried to hold their breath as they quickly mounted their horses and left the area at the fastest speed.
They travelled two miles before gradually slowing down. Dong Zheng looked back at the road. It stood that reason that they should set a fire to burn these plague-stricken bodies, but now they were deep in the mountains with ancient forests all around them. A small spark may cause a wildfire. Aftering weighing the pros and cons, it was better not to act too rashly.
“The plague,” Ren Heming muttered. “There must be an outbreak in a place they passed by, and that was why everyone was infected.”
“How could there be such a severe outbreak of plague?” Dong Zheng asked. “These people seemed to have gotten sick at the same time. Even if they died of the plague, how did it explain the horses?”
“The horses were probably scared to death.”
Dong Zheng said, “Are you talking about the evil spirit?”
Ren Heming nodded. “Although the talisman hadn’t detected it, this is the only explanation we have at the moment. Otherwise, they couldn’t have been killed so suddenly as they were running away.”
Dong Zheng wrinkled his brows thoughtfully and said nothing.
“The nearest village is on the border of Dashi. We need to speed up and avoid that location. If we ended up getting sick, it’ll really be over.” Ren Heming lit the tracking talisman and said, “Let’s go, Lao Qi. After a bit of hard work, I have a hunch that tomorrow at most, this will be over.”
They continued along the official road. The convoy back down the road made their moods particularly heavy. As the sun gradually slanted westward, the horses under them slowed down a lot due to exhaustion. Therefore, Dong Zheng and Ren Heming dismounted to allow them to rest and also to eat something to replenish their stamina.
Apart from walking on the road, they spent the majority of the time on horseback. The monotonous forest scene on both sides could be described as rough and boring. Fortunately, Dong Zheng had a calm personality and could endure hardship. But he still inevitably thought of Cui Zuojing. What was the young man doing right now?
Since the moment he’d entered the test, he hadn’t felt the existence of Cui Zuojing. The blood bond between them was connected by only a weak thread, as if to prevent him from receiving foreign aid.
They sat silently on the side of the road and ate dry food. At this moment, Dong Zheng heard a scream from a distance.
He raised his head and looked vigilantly in the direction of the sound. Ren Heming asked, “What’s the matter?”
Dong Zheng gestured for him to be quiet. A few seconds later, another scream came, but this time, it was much clearer.
It sounded like a young girl.
Ren Heming’s expression became grave. He stuffed the remaining dry food into the bag and immediately got up. “Let’s take a look.”
They quickly followed the sound through the forest, getting closer and closer to the screams. Dong Zheng brushed aside the branches and leaves in front of him and rushed out. He saw a girl cornered on a cliff by a bear.
She wore a red robe much too large for her, and her bare feet were covered with scars. She shrank and trembled, while the brown bear stared at her, pacing back and forth,
There was a beast in front of her and a cliff behind her. If no one helped her, the girl would probably die here.
But the eyesight strengthened by his kernel allowed Dong Zheng to see the festering flesh on the girl’s arm.
It was exactly the same as that on the merchants’ corpses.
At this critical moment, Dong Zheng decided to: