At the moment the gunshot sounded, Victor was turning around the corner of the church and he couldn’t help but let out a few coughs.
Dong Zheng stopped and looked at Victor in surprise. “Uncle?”
Victor waved his hand. His expression was grave as he whispered, “It’s not a virus.”
If it truly was a virus, Victor, as the master of body, would never get infected. It hadn’t yet been two hours since they entered the box, and though Dong Zheng managed to find Dong Linhai, who was ill, and Victor, who had symptoms, and came into close contact with both of them, he hadn’t still contracted it yet.
With the power of body, Victor’s condition shouldn’t turn for the worse even if he was exhibiting symptoms. Dong Zheng thought about what else could be infectious, invisible, and capable of harming the human body besides diseases.
Suddenly, Dong Zheng realized a possibility.
“Memes,” Dong Zheng murmured. “Yes, it might be memes!”
“Normal memes cannot be equated with mental hazards. At most, they functioned as a kind of mental infection, but there is a type of meme that, so long as the relevant data is received, it will produce a related impact on the recipient’s body. My kernel once housed Murphy, who is a powerful meme, so this might be why I haven’t been infected.” Dong Zheng slammed his fist into the palm of his other hand. “Yes, this is the only possibility!”
Victor said, “If it really is a meme, then I can’t stop the infection. We can only continue to repair the damaged body to fight against the destruction of the meme, and bide for as much time as possible.”
Dong Zheng said, “But we still don’t know what this anomalous, infectious meme is.”
Victor said, “If it’s something in this church, then it’s estimated that anyone who has been here would have seen it already. At present, the most important thing is to find the others. As long as they’re with me, their life won’t be threatened by this.”
Dong Zheng recalled everything he’d seen along the way, trying to determine what the source of the pollution was. With his kernel, his memory was quite clear, just like watching a video.
But there were so many things in the church that he couldn’t pinpoint what the source of the pollution was.
“Ah’Zuo has been here.”
Victor found traces of Cui Zuojing’s marks in the hallway. Since they couldn’t find anything from Dong Linhai, they could only try to locate Cui Zuojing first.
The giant armor had been doggedly chasing him. No matter how much he hid, Cui Zuojing could not get rid of it. But he didn’t know why the armor suddenly turned around and dragged its sword to leave.
Cui Zuojing suspiciously climbed down from the high dome. Now that the child was fed, he was sleeping peacefully in his arms. Cui Zuojing sighed in relief. He was really afraid that the child would suddenly wake up and start to cry, turning them both into living targets.
Maybe someone else had also committed a crime and attracted the attention of the armor. Cui Zuojing’s arms were tired and sore, and so he changed his position of holding the child.
Suddenly, he realized that he couldn’t remember the last time the child had opened his eyes. Cui Zuojing knew a little bit about babies and knew that they would sleep for a long time. Take his sister, for example. She slept so much that it became one of his parents favorite dinner topics.
He re-wrapped the child, and when he touched the doughy body, he felt an unusual temperature.
Was the child burning with fever? Cui Zuojing hurriedly touched the baby’s forehead and confirmed that his body temperature hadn’t changed much. He clicked his tongue, feeling worried.
Was he cold? Cui Zuojing thought about it, and suddenly his throat felt itchy. He cleared his throat, but didn’t care too much about it. Instead, he finished bundling up the child, remembering that he seemed to have passed a lounge, which should have a closet with clothes in it.
The child woke up from his sleep and began to cry. Cui Zuojing shook him, trying to coax him, as he ran upstairs.
Lin Hangzhi hid in the secret tunnel and dared not try to escape. A dozen people dressed in black robes with hoods covered their heads and faces walked silently and swiftly past him. They didn’t walk far, seeming to be searching for something. Lin Hangzhi could only curl back as much as possible so that the dark and shallow tombstones could hide his figure.
Fortunately, those people didn’t find anything and their chaotic footsteps drifted away, leaving him alone.
Lin Hangzhi quietly waited, and didn’t get up until he confirmed that the danger had passed. In front of him, more than ten meters away, was a high wall nearly 20 meters in length. It was lined with countless deep and shallow holes, which looked like they were made by someone taking a machine gun and shooting at the wall for ten full minutes. Each hole was filled with darkness, and burning candles illuminated the surrounding area.
Lin Hangzhi had awakened in a coffin in the rose field. On his way to explore the church, he came across an entrance to a secret tunnel among the large swatch of roses. He struggled indecisively for a few seconds before deciding to go down and take a look.
The secret tunnel was hidden really well, and he was afraid that he might not be able to find it again once he was done exploring the church.
He ended up entering a cellar with an inverted cross, walked down a stairs of about ten meters long, traversed a narrow passage, and suddenly a huge cavity full of candlelight opened up in front of him. There were many tents erected on the high hall, and next to them were a forest of tombstones with small inverted crosses on top of them.
This cavity was almost the size of a football field, and seemed to be just below the church. Lin Hangzhi waited for ten minutes so that the people coming and going wouldn’t see him. He was keenly aware that this place was unusual. After swallowing nervously, he crept closer.
What happened after that was obvious. He explored the underground camp, and hurriedly hid behind the tombstones when he heard the sound of someone coming, carefully hiding his traces.
Were they looking for someone? Lin Hangzhi thought as he slipped behind a wall. When he got to the front, he discovered that those cavities on the wall actually weren’t as small as he thought. There was just enough space for a person to squat down and hide.
The hole was so deep that the candlelight couldn’t penetrate into it. Lin Hangzhi lowered his head and dived in, intending to explore it. But at this moment, he heard the sound of someone’s footsteps.
Oh no! Lin Hangzhi immediately pulled back and leaned in, holding his breath and pretending he was a mass of air, even as his ears listened attentively to the movements outside.
A black-robed man man was speaking in words that he didn’t understand. His tone of voice was short and hurried, as if there was an emergency. Lin Hangzhi didn’t dare to come out. Seeing that the man seemed to be paying attention to the other side, he cautiously stuck his head out to see what was going on.
He saw a slim figure running hurriedly toward him.
Xia Qiongyun dragged her injured leg, trying hard to avoid attracting the attention of the black-robed people pursuing her. When she staggered past the high wall, a hand suddenly stretched out from the hole next to her and dragged her into it.
Xia Qiongyun’s breathing stopped, and she instinctively tried to fight back. But at this moment, a familiar voice rang out in her ears and warm breath brushed across her temple. Then, a warm hand covered her mouth.
“Don’t be afraid. It’s me.”
Xia Qiongyun’s tensed body gradually relaxed. She silently lowered her head gently, and allowed Lin Hangzhi to drag her into the passage until they were seven or eight meters away from the entrance of the hole and couldn’t be seen by candlelight. They squeezed their two bodies into the hole and watched as, from time to time, figures in black robes passed by the entrance, but none of them looked inside.
Because they were too tense, they didn’t pay attention to this oddity. The people in black robes searched around for Xia Qiongyun in the vicinity before leaving to search other places. A dozen minutes later, it was quiet again, as if everyone had all left.
Only then did Lin Hangzhi realize that his hand was still pressed over Xia Qiongyun’s mouth, and he quickly let go. As they huddled together, neither of them dared to look at the other. Fortunately, it was too dark for them to clearly see each other’s blushing and embarrassed faces.
After a moment of silence, Lin Hangzhi remembered that Xia Qiongyun seemed to have been injured, and he whispered, “What’s the matter with your leg?”
“I was shot by that person’s arrow. There may be poison on it.” Xia Qiongyun tried to move her lower leg. She’d been running for her life just now, despite being wounded. The exercise intensified her blood circulation, accelerating the spread of toxins. Now that she had time to relax, she felt vaguely dizzy.
“I met them in the graveyard behind the church and fled all the way here, only to find that there are even more people here. So, I circled around and ended up at this place.”
They moved toward the bright entrance of the hole’s mouth, and Lin Hangzhi lifted Xia Qiongyun’s pant legs to check the wound on her calf. Fortunately, it only injured the tendon, but because the arrow was poisonous, the location of the wound had turned faintly dark.
“Do you dislike me?” Lin Hangzhi asked, staring at the wound.
“I don’t dislike you.”
Lin Hangzhi didn’t look to see whether Xia Qiongyun was embarrassed. Before she could react, he leaned down and covered the wound with his mouth.
“What are you doing?!” Xia Qiongyun was startled. She froze and immediately stretched out her hand to push Lin Hangzhi’s head away. Lin Hangzhi sucked hard and spit out the dirty blood to the side. Exhaling, he said, “Be good. You don’t know, but I’ve rescued a man like this before. His leg hair was as thick as a black forest, and it poked at my face and covered my mouth full of hair.”
That impromptu joke successfully relieved Xia Qiongyun’s embarrassment. She quietly relaxed. That was right . Lin Hangzhi was a doctor. This was just him trying to save her.
But there were still some inexplicable emotions in her heart.
Lin Hangzhi didn’t stop until the blood he was sucking out turned bright red. By this point, his mouth had become numb. Xia Qiongyun leaned against the wall of the cave, and her pale face was illuminated by candlelight. Looking at her, Lin Hangzhi momentarily felt that she looked unexpectedly gentle and soft.
Lin Hangzhi rubbed his face. He stretched out his head and looked around. Everyone had disappeared. “Okay, they should all be gone. I’ll go to the tent to look for bandages. You wait here for me.”
“Okay.” Xia Qiongyun nodded her head. Even now, she was still calm and cool-headed.
Lin Hangzhi bent down and was about to go out, but he suddenly felt that his wrist was caught.
He turned his head and saw Xia Qiongyun looking at him. Her pale face was illuminated by candlelight, and his figure was reflected in her eyes.
She seemed to perceive her gaffe, because she quickly withdrew her hand, as if holding onto Lin Hangzhi was pure accident. She whispered, “Be careful.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll be back soon.” Lin Hangzhi smiled at her and left the hole.
After watching the man’s slightly slumped back disappear from sight, Xia Qiongyun silently shrank back. Her leg hurted, aggravated by her flight earlier. Now would be a good time to take a short rest.
She leaned on the wall of the hole and looked toward the entrance, waiting for Lin Hangzhi to return.
Her surroundings were so quiet that only her breathing could be heard. Suddenly, a pair of thin hands quietly stretched out from the invisible darkness behind her.
They slowly approached the unsuspecting Xia Qiongyun, and grabbed her like a viper snapping it’s head forward to bite. The hands covered her nose and mouth and dragged her into the depths of the hole.
Xixi: I wonder if the baby is a red herring (a misleading clue) meant to slow them down and whether the pink sky is the source of the mimetic pollution.