Dong Zheng’s mother died at the moment he was about to be born.
The sudden amniotic fluid embolism during childbirth took her life within five minutes. No matter how experienced the doctors were in fighting death, they could only take the baby out of her womb via cesarean section. Then, after removing the oxygen mask, the pulmonary artery catheter, and the dialysis machine, they went out and declared to Dong Yi, who was waiting outside the delivery room, that the rescue had failed.
Amniotic fluid embolism, when the amniotic fluid suddenly entered the mother’s bloodstream during childbirth, leading to acute pulmonary embolism, anaphylactic shock, renal failure, or sudden death. It was the most dangerous complication during childbirth.
It was Dong Zheng who killed her.
For a long time, Dong Yi couldn’t help thinking this every time he saw his young child.
Although he understood that he shouldn’t be angry with a baby who didn’t understand anything, this thought was like a cobweb that couldn’t be broken, entwining him all the time.
The more he struggled, the tighter it got.
Dong Yi hid all the photos of his deceased wife, as if the grief would fade away as long as he stopped seeing that face. So, when Dong Zheng was seven years old, Dong Yi married his secretary, Su Daijun as Dong Zheng’s stepmother. As they were putting the house in order, Dong Zheng pulled out old photos from the storage room, and for the first time, he finally saw what his mother looked like.
He looked so much like his mother.
This woman now appeared in front of him in his dream.
Liu Yueqiang was only 23 years old and was in her best years when she died. She was petite, with exceptionally bright eyes, and the wide jadeite bracelet at her wrists made them appear all the more thin and delicate.
She is wearing a camouflage combat uniform, holding Emei daggers in both hands, and standing under a drizzle. She faced Dong Zheng, her eyes firm and resolute, but her gaze passed through him, as if she didn’t see him at all.
The hands at Dong Zheng’s sides began to tremble uncontrollably. He clenched both hands into fists, trying with all his might to resist the urge to reach out and touch her. He stared deeply at this familiar yet unfamiliar face.
He never thought that such a day would come.
He opened his mouth, and for the first time, he was able to face her and call out what he’d been calling Su Daijun for years.
But Liu Yueqiang couldn’t hear it.
“Have you thought about it?” The girl’s voice came gently into his ears.
Dong Zheng whirled around and noticed that behind him, facing his mother, was a teenage girl with short hair and wearing an Republic of China attire, holding a white varnished paper umbrella.
Dong Zheng immediately remembered what Cui Zuojing had told him. He was almost certain that this girl was the devil who had left something in his body, the rumored devil who followed desire.
Liu Yueqiang’s lips pressed into a firm line, “Mmn, I’ve thought about it.”
“Okay.” Chang Hui’s smile was gentle and pleased. She turned the umbrella handle, and the rain flew in all directions along the umbrella bone, “Then after you die, you won’t become a prisoner and your soul will be used directly by me. Do you agree?”
Dong Zheng was alarmed.
Dong Zheng watched Liu Yueqiang nod her head without hesitation and said, “I agree.”
“Say your wish.”
“I hope that if one day, my child enters here due to an accident, he can have this life-saving card.” Liu Yueqiang took out a black card painted with complicated golden patterns on the sides and along the back of the card.
Dong Zheng was stunned.
This was the black-gold prisoner card he’d used to summon Cui Zuojing.
“Please give this to ‘him’ for me.”
He stretched out his hand in a daze and touched the familiar card. After he’d completed the summoning, the blank card showed a pattern representing Cui Zuojing’s prisoner name “Arabidopsis” and the wheel of fortune, which had now melded into his left hand due to the blood contract.
Dong Zheng’s hand passed through the card and through Liu Yueqiang’s fingertips. Chang Hui took the prisoner card, looked down at it, and said, “This is a rare, top-grade prisoner card. You are about to reach the last step of the pilgrimage. Don’t you want to keep it for yourself?”
Liu Yueqiang smiled, shook her head, and said softly, “I know my level. Instead of wasting such a good resource, I should leave it behind.”
She didn’t even know whether her child was male or female, what the child looked like, or what the child’s name was…
But she still left behind her most precious hope for him.
“Okay, then the deal is done.” Chang Hui stretched out her hand and tapped Liu Yueqiang’s eyebrows with the tip of her index finger. “I’ll give the card to your child using my own method.”
The dark red light sank into her skin, and Liu Yueqiang’s brows wrinkled, resisting the discomfort. Dong Zheng gripped one of her hands and could only watch the light disappear, helpless to stop it.
At the same time, a blood-red fingerprint appeared on the inside of Chang Hui’s paper umbrella, joining the other dense blood prints. They converged into an unpleasant and ominous pattern.
“When next we see each other, it’ll be time for me to take your soul.”
The rain stopped.
The image disappeared in a flash, including the figure that Dong Zheng tried his best to keep. He stretched out his hands with all his might but only caught fragments of light.
At this moment, the memories that were deliberately sealed up finally slowly emerged, and he remembered what happened when he first entered the Pure White Realm.
The girl holding an umbrella stood outside the door of a haunted mission, smiling at him, who’d just received the novice box reward. “An old friend asks me to transfer something to you. Why don’t you…just exchange it with the card in your hand?”
He was immersed in a trance and had no control over the hand that stretched out.
A loud noise sounded in his ears, and Dong Zheng’s eyes snapped open.
The thunderstorm seemed to be directly over his head. Dong Zheng let out a trembling sighed. He stared up at the ceiling, watching it reflect the light that flashed through the window from time to time.
That was… his mother.
After dying in childbirth, she’d entered the Pure White Realm and became a powerful pilgrim, managing to travel all the way to the final stage.
But on the eve of taking the final step to leave this place, she’d made a deal with Chang Hui and left behind her life-saving card.
Dong Zheng couldn’t tell what the intense ache in his heart was. At the age of twenty-six, he finally saw his mother with his own eyes for the first time. Even though it was short, lasting only several minutes, he still couldn’t get a call from her or a gentle look.
He knew that she loved him very much, and at the critical moment of life and death, she hadn’t forgotten to protect him. But…but from now on, they would never meet again.
Something seemed to be lodged in his chest, and he could hardly breathe.
After Cui Zuojing woke up and came out of the prisoner’s space, he saw Dong Zheng sitting on the bed in a daze. The man was facing the window, looking at the rain marks on the glass, his dark eyes flashing from time to time, reflecting the bright burst of lightning outside.
He seemed to be on the brink of breaking down, lacking the usual calm and self-control that he’d armored himself with from head to toe.
Cui Zuojing: “?”
He frowned. This was the first time he’d seen Dong Zheng like this. He could even vaguely feel the indescribable sadness that seemed to emerge from deep within Dong Zheng’s heart. He touched his shoulder and asked, “What’s wrong?”
Dong Zheng turned to look at him, the emotions in his eyes unreadable. It made Cui Zuojing couldn’t help but recall the beast shut in a cage inside the clown’s circus, licking its wounds.
Dong Zheng remained silent. Just when Cui Zuojing thought he would not answer, he whispered, “I… dreamed of something.”
“What?” Cui Zuojing sat cross-legged beside him. It was still dark outside and neither of them bothered to turn on the light. In this peaceful darkness, apart from the rain, they could vaguely hear the other person’s breathing.
“Chang Hui gave me the prisoner card that summoned you.”
“Chang Hui gave it to you?” Cui Zuojing was surprised. “Why did she give it to you?”
“My mother was once a pilgrim,” Dong Zheng said with some difficulty. “At the last moment, she used her soul as a bargaining chip and beg Chang Hui that if one day I also came here, for her to give me the black-gold prisoner card as a life-saving card.”
Cui Zuojing was stunned.
He had long thought that there might be a scheme behind the reason why Dong Zheng was able to get the black-gold prisoner card that summoned him, but he never imagined that…it would be like this.
Chang Hui had noticed Dong Zheng from the very beginning, so it was not strange for her to leave her energy on Dong Zheng.
Regarding Hang Hui, Cui Zuojing actually didn’t know very much. He’d speculated that Chang Hui wasn’t from this world. Indeed, Dong Zheng was 26 years old this year. His mother and Chang Hui had made that deal more than 20 years ago. At that time, Chang Hui was already in the Pure White Realm?
For a while, Cui Zuojing didn’t know what to say. He’d never comforted people before. And, although Dong Zheng’s state wasn’t very obvious, the suppressed sadness in his heart had already left an impression on him.
But his emotions were still with the clown; he’d lost all empathy and so he couldn’t empathize with him.
Cui Zuojing even wanted to go back to the prisoner’s space a little bit, in order to avoid this situation and allow Dong Zheng time to quietly digest his emotions.
In the end, he didn’t do this.
After a while, Cui Zuojing asked softly, “Can you tell me about your mother?”
He didn’t actually think Dong Zheng would answer. After all, Dong Zheng was a very private person. Except for the time when they were playing blackjack and he’d lost, he’d never spoken much about his family. He’d even lied directly when Cui Zuojing asked him about his relationship with Dong Linhai.
Perhaps, it was that his inner depression gave him the need to share with another person. Or perhaps, it was the blood contract that partly connected them emotionally. Or, there might be other deep reasons that Cui Zuojing couldn’t understand. Whatever the case, Dong Zheng was silent for a moment, took a deep breath, and for the first time since they’d known each other, talked freely about his past, “Because of me, my mother had a difficult childbirth and died.”
“Her amniotic fluid embolism was so sudden and so ferocious that there wasn’t enough time to save her. So my father… how to say this, had always deliberately avoided me a little. Plus, he was in the upswing of his career. I was almost always alone when I was young. Or, otherwise with a nanny.”
“When I became a little older, my father gradually came out of his grief. He would take me to the company after school and allow the secretary to accompany me to do my homework in his office. The secretary was a fresh graduate, a girl in her twenties with a good temper and was very patient. She would play with me and go with me to parent-teacher meetings.”
Cui Zuojing heard this and could almost predict the future development.
“I liked her very much, so when my father asked me if I wanted her to be my mother, I agreed.”
“She married my father for less than a year and Linhai was born. Of course, they gave more attention to a newborn child. I was eight years old at the time and, although it was hard, I already knew many things.”
“She was kind to me and always took good care of me. But, of course, the child she loved the most will always be her own. And my father, because I look a lot like my mother, every time he saw me, he would always think of his deceased wife.”
“Because of my childhood, he was never close to me and the way he treated me was never as natural as how he treated Linhai.”
“So, I always felt that I was the extra person in the house.”
His voice gradually fell, and the bedroom became silent once again. Neither of them spoke for a long time.
Sure enough, there was a reason why Dong Zheng’s personality was like this. Cui Zuojing always felt that he was closed off. Unlike Dong Linhai’s innocent thoughtlessness that was written all over his face, and Allen’s casual familiarity, Dong Zheng had always been disguising himself.
There was no doubt that Dong Zheng had the potential to be a great leader, but he’d never taken the initiative to lead. As long as there was someone else to lead the team, even if that person was inferior to him in many ways, Dong Zheng would reduce his sense of existence and silently stay to the side.
When he was in Hamelin, he’d chosen to let the bespectacled man take the lead.
Dong Zheng was the captain of the team, but this seemed to be a responsibility that was left to him. Dong Linhai trusted and relied on him. Allen, who joined later, didn’t care for it. As a recruited team member, Lin Hangzhi couldn’t be the core of leadership.
He was a choice after there was no choice.
It was as if he was acting according to how he should be in other people’s eyes.
A calm, strong, and well-organized team leader who would arrange the next step and coordinate all parties.
No one knew that he would become sweaty with fear when faced with a ghost. And they would think that there was no need to use their brain to worry about the future and instead simply wait for his orders.
Well, except for Cui Zuojing.
Cui Zuojing blinked and saw that Dong Zheng was still facing the window in silence. He hesitated, leaned his face in front of him to look carefully, and tentatively asked, “Are you crying?”
Dong Zheng’s gaze focused on the youth’s face for a moment, before he subconsciously hid himself. “No, why do you think that?”
Cui Zuojing saw that he didn’t have any signs of redness in the corners of his eyes, and his voice was normal. He went back to his original position and touched his nose. “I thought you would be sad.”
Dong Zheng smiled silently and said, “I’m not a kid anymore. Besides, everyone has their own difficulties and misfortunes, so there’s no need to be remorseful. In the real world, things are also very good. It was just that when I saw her today…I felt a little uncomfortable.”
Was he really okay?
Cui Zuojing doubted the authenticity of his words. He thought for a while, snapped his fingers, and said, “Since you’ve told me such a private matter, then, to be fair, I will also tell you something about myself. How about it?”