Just like when he was caught in Fu Zhe’s illusion many times before, after a journey of darkness, Dong Zheng’s vision swam. When it became clear again, he was already standing on the dark green information highway.
The firewall was broken by a large gap. The protective dome overhead was also cracked, allowing black, illegal data to spill in. The security bacteriophages were flying in all directions toward the gap, trying to repair it at the fastest speed.
[Service Access Protocol…Repair completed.]
[Verification Utility….Repair completed.]
Dong Zheng turned his head and looked in that direction, then withdrew his gaze. In these days of training, he’d discovered that the self-repairing functions on the firewall in his program kernel was growing increasingly more powerful. If it wasn’t a large-scale breach, he wouldn’t need to participate in the repair process.
Of course, such a large-scale breach had yet to occur.
The data on the highway moved quickly, automatically bypassing his figure in the middle of the road and flying far away along an unknown established track.
The moment Dong Zheng turned his eyes, he glimpsed from the edge of his vision what appeared to be a long and thin figure standing on the other side of the road, quietly watching him.
[You see it.]
Dong Zheng immediately looked over but found nothing there.
Dong Zheng: …………………………
“When turning their heads or passing through windows, mirrors, or opened doors, the victims will suddenly catch a glimpse of an anomalous creature. They will be stalked and then attacked by this creature once they’d fallen asleep…” Cui Zuojing’s voice seemed to echo in his ears. Dong Zheng took a deep breath and realized that this was probably Fu Zhe’s test.
Being able to plant such a complete illusion in his program kernel and in the world that he dominates, this clearly showed that Fu Zhe’s control of his abilities was truly unfathomable.
Dong Zheng closed his eyes and calmed down his breathing and heartbeat. The surrounding data, the security bacteriophages, and the web crawlers, every single one of them was under his perception.
After being like this for a long time, it seemed as if he had fallen asleep. Suddenly, Dong Zheng opened his eyes.
The lanky humanoid creature was standing less than a meter in front of him, reaching out with an oversized hand to touch him. The long fingers had almost reached Dong Zheng’s throat when he abruptly opened his eyes.
It had white eyes and a mouth sewn with needles and threads.
Realizing that Dong Zheng had discovered it, the humanoid creature’s light-brown face became panicked. It quickly withdrew its hand, turned, and fled at a very fast speed.
Dong Zheng immediately stepped forward to catch up, but the humanoid creature ran too fast, similar to when it’d disappeared instantly the moment Dong Zheng turned his head to look. It seemed as if he could lose track of it in the blink of an eye.
In a hurry, Dong Zheng grabbed the foot of the crawler next to him and sent it a thought.
The crawler turned around and followed Dong Zheng in chasing the slender humanoid creature. Dong Zheng jumped on its broad back and rode it like a horse, his gaze fixed on the creature in front of him.
The crawler was fast and soon caught up to the humanoid creature. The thing looked back and saw that Dong Zheng was about to catch up to it. It suddenly stopped, gave up running, and turned around. It stretched out a broad hand.
[It touched you.]
The instant its hand touched the crawler, everything, including time and space, became still. The humanoid creature displayed an unknown smile and vanished right before his eyes.
The crawler under Dong Zheng also disappeared.
[Packet Filtering…Repair completed.]
Dong Zheng fell to the ground. When he got up and looked around, he realized that he’d reached a completely strange place.
The web-like, interweaving highways had shifted into a single path. The sky was no longer a myriad of colors full of strange, floating things, but was now the same pure white as the ground underneath his feet.
A clean, pure white.
He felt the wind blowing against his cheeks, but the firewall stood firmly in the distance, silently guarding this world.
This was his kernel world, or perhaps more accurately, the innermost core of his kernel.
And, in the middle of this pure, white space was a shockingly bright speck of green.
Dong Zheng walked over and squatted down next to it.
It was a small, green plant, with delicate emerald green stem growing from a rosette-like base leaf. There were clusters of white flowers the size of rice grains blooming at the top, with each small flower covered with yellow-green stamens.
This kind of roadside weed could be seen everywhere, blooming unremarkably and quietly.
Dong Zheng stretched out his hand and brushed his fingertips against its downy leaves. The weed shook and the leaves embraced his fingers affectionately.
The feeling that connected him and Cui Zuojing due to the blood contract reappeared with unprecedented intensity and clarity.
At this moment, though, he felt the youth’s panic and repressed emotions. Sometime seemed to be stuck in Cui Zuojing’s chest, blocking all the feelings that were surging to the point of eruption.
Dong Zheng thought of Cui Zuojing’s eyes as cold as embers.
So it turns out that he could feel panic too?
He hesitated, and then gently touched the leaves, in the same manner as one would touch a small animal or the top of a child’s hair.
The panic in Cui Zuojing was almost immediately soothed. Unlike Cui Zuojing, who could see the outside world through his eyes and ears when he was in the prisoner space, Dong Zheng couldn’t see what was happening on Cui Zuojing’s end.
But, at this time, shouldn’t Cui Zuojing be waiting for him to wake up? Or, it not, then he must be with the other people in the castle? Why was he feeling such strong negative emotions?
Dong Zheng didn’t know.
But he still wanted to use his own methods to try to alleviate these emotions as much as possible. The Arabidopsis leaves clung tightly to his fingers, as if wanting to find support in a precarious world full of wind and rain.
Dong Zheng sat beside the little weed for a long time, staring at the only color in this pure, white world. Suddenly, he stretched out his hand and grabbed the void.
A small water can appeared in his hand out of thin air, and Dong Zheng began to water the small plant.
He waited patiently and felt that negative emotions from Cui Zuojing began to ease.
If he guessed correctly, this Arabidopsis was a reflection of Cui Zuojing’s spiritual world under the blood contract. The state of the grass should reflect Cui Zuojing’s spiritual and emotional state. If he could take good care of it, then perhaps he might be able to improve Cui Zuojing’s physical and mental condition.
The grass received enough water and released Dong Zheng’s fingers.
At this time, the sensation of being watched appeared once again.
Dong Zheng’s relaxed eyebrows became solemn again. He put down the watering can and stood up. The moment he turned his head, he caught a glimpse of a thin and long figure flitting by.
Dong Zheng chased it.
It seemed that Fu Zhe’s test was far from over.
Cui Zuojing hurriedly turned into the alley, carrying a black schoolbag and walking toward home as he’d done many times before.
Today was his 16th birthday, and his parents specifically told him to go home early so they could all celebrate his birthday.
So, he took a leave of absence from self-study. As the teacher’s most beloved student, the leave request was naturally approved without any hiccups.
The street lights in the alley were probably broken. They flickered continuously, alternating between dark and light.
Cui Zuojing was a little scared. He quickened his pace and planned to pass this section of the alley at the fastest speed.
The light flickered twice, and then dimmed again. At the end of the alley, a long and thin figure was staring silently at him.
Cui Zuojing: ?!?!?!
The instant Cui Zuojing saw it, the figure turned around and quickly ran away.
He stiffly came to a halt. He was absolutely certain that he’d just seen a strange figure suddenly appear at the end of the alley and was looking at him!
It was quiet all around him. The sounds of cars on the main road was distant and indistinct. Meanwhile, fear was fermenting and spreading through him, causing Cui Zuojing to breathe uncontrollably.
Don’t be afraid. You may have just seen wrong. How could there be people who look like that in this world?
He tried his best to persuade himself and force his mind. Thinking of his family’s instructions before he’d left for school this morning, he took another step.
The moment his footstep fell, a pair of hands suddenly stretched out from behind him. One hand pressed tightly over his mouth and nose, while the other hand plunged a blade into his body. Sharp pain screamed across his back and shot along his nerves all the way to his brain. The panic in his heart accelerated to the extreme.
The knife was mercilessly pulled out, causing a large amount of blood to gush out. Then, the knife stabbed in again.
Only then did Cui Zuojing fully understand what true agony was; it was so powerful that he could hardly make a sound.
As his vision gradually blurred, the lanky shadow appeared in front of him again. It stood there, making no sound at all, as it watched Cui Zuojing being stabbed again and again.
He tried to put up some resistance, but his body was no longer under his control.
Just when Cui Zuojing thought that he would die like this, all the fear, panic, and deep despair seemed to be suddenly erased by a pair of invisible hands, making him clear-headed again.
He struggled to break away from the man’s imprisonment. With a roar, he turned around just as he was about to be stabbed again. But there was nothing behind him.
There was no murderer with a knife, and the light of the street lamp was bright, with no signs of failure at all. There were also no dozen or more deep wounds on his body, nor was there any signs of blood.
Cui Zuojing panted heavily. He closed his eyes, staggered two steps back and pressed his back against the wall. It seemed to be the only thing that prevented him from falling to the ground.
No matter how much he’d experienced and struggled in the Pure White Realm, what scared him the most was the moment he was killed on the night of his 16th birthday.
Fu Zhe’s bell brought him into the deepest part of his heart, the place where his fear lived.
He leaned quietly against the wall for a while. But, somehow, the negative, chaotic emotions that should have overwhelmed him, did not.
Although he’d left his emotions with the clown, he still had emotions.
That shouldn’t be the case.
Cui Zuojing frowned and looked at the end of the alley, where the lanky figure was unexpectedly standing.
As long as he could catch up with it, he could leave this place, right?
[Application Gateway Repair 98/100…]
[Application Gateway Repair completed.]
The firewall’s last line of defense was finally successfully recovered. Under Dong Zheng’s watchful eye, the lanky, humanoid creature gradually turned into a series of black 0s and 1s, starting from the feet and traveling upward. Finally, the data floated in the air and gradually faded.
Fu Zhe’s illusion was finally cracked under the defense of Dong Zheng’s program kernel.
The dark blue protective force field was as smooth as before, while everything in the inner core resumed running in an orderly fashion, maintaining the rules and balance of this world as if there had never been a disturbance.
But, Dong Zheng knew that, because of this experimentation, he’d found the kernel’s inner core, which was the pure, white space where everything was under his control. And, in the center of that core was the Arabidopsis thaliana that might possibly represent Cui Zuojing.
He stretched out his hand and touched the surface of the firewall, causing a series of data ripples that gradually became translucent, revealing a passageway that only he could safely pass through.
He went out.
Dong Zheng opened his eyes and squinted at the bright light.
His chest felt so heavy that he could hardly breathe. He lowered his head and saw that Cui Zuojing was lying motionless beside him, half of his body on his chest. The earphones had fallen to the side and the bell rested silently on the bed, telling him all he needed to know about what must have happened.
Dong Zheng raised his hand and rubbed his eyebrows. He rested for a while before finally getting up. He wrapped his arms around Cui Zuojing, who was still immersed in his own illusion, and shifted him so that he was lying down on the bed.
Afterward, he put on Cui Zuojing’s headphones, carefully sealed the bell tongue with tape amidst the sound of music blaring in his ears, and placed the bell in the box.
Once done, Dong Zheng took out his phone, sat on the bed, and continued to read Fu Zhe’s information.
The youth’s groan pulled Dong Zheng back from the world of Cthulhu. He turned his head and saw Cui Zuojing staring at his back with squinted eyes. Besides doubts, there seemed to be some indescribable sadness within those depths.
“How long have you been awake?” Cui Zuojing’s voice was very soft.
Dong Zheng glanced at the time. “It’s been almost an hour.”
Cui Zuojing raised his hand to cover his eyes, and sighed with wholehearted sincerity. “As expected of a brain developer. I can’t keep up with your ability to awaken so fast.”
Dong Zheng thought about the emotions that Arabidopsis had conveyed to him in the inner core. A part of him wanted to ask Cui Zuojing what he’d experienced in his illusion, but in the end, he didn’t say anything.
It seemed that the effect of the blood contract was far more than meets the eye.