“No one will help you, no one will save you. No one in this world is on your side.”
“You were born a monster.”
Rotten flesh, poisonous insects, dead branches swaying in the wind, and gruesome sharp teeth… the undead traipsed the vast mountains and plains, casting their shadows in an endless nightmare. Young Si Nan looked back in a panic. In his dream, a lone cross stood tall in the distance, a church collapsing soundlessly into black flames, and a priest’s voice echoing throughout the skies.
“An immortal warrior, the future of the dark age…”
“Rise from the grave and enjoy eternal life.”
The child’s amber pupils constricted reflexively. He wanted to run but there was nowhere to hide, and his entire consciousness was shrouded by a familiar and icy voice.
“Virtual scenario E7364.1.0: establishing Stress-Response-Sequence, kill-speed of less than 2 per second. In event of failure, implement electroshock.”
“Start the timer.”
Despairing, Yan Hao roared, “—Si Nan!”
Before the echo could fade, Si Nan sent Yan Hao flying with a back-kick to the chest, he collided heavily against the wall!
The forceful impact caused Yan Hao’s body to rebound off the wall. Caught off guard, he spat out a mouthful of blood. In the next second, fingers tightly wrapped around his neck, aggressively throwing him back against the wall. With no control over his own body, Yan Hao was lifted off his feet.
“…” His eyes widening, Yan Hao struggled to no avail as he felt his feet leave the ground.
“Si… Nan…” He managed to squeeze out two words from between his teeth.
Si Nan remained impassive. Like a cold and vicious war machine, he had no thoughts nor semblance of humanity. His fingers, locked firmly around Yan Hao’s throat, were like steel, solid and unmoving.
But his eyes were half-lidded, eyelashes obscuring all expression to the point where one could not even see the focus of his vision.
Yan Hao’s complexion reddened rapidly and then turned pale. The hand that was not dislocated, trembled as he grasped Si Nan’s wrist. With the rapid deprivation of oxygen, his struggles amounted to nothing, and he was unable to loosen Si Nan’s fingers even a little bit.
…Why… He thought in pain.
Wake up… Please, Si Nan, wake up…
His inner prayers were doomed to be futile.
Yan Hao only heard the creaking sounds coming from the bones of his throat, that were caving under the intense pressure, then his vision blurred and faded to black, where even the pain of his dislocated wrist faded away. But in the split second before he fell into the abyss, he saw Si Nan raise his hand, where fingers as sharp as knives suddenly started digging into his own eyeballs.
Who am I?
How was I born?
Millions and billions of countless lives, in sickness and in health, in life and in death, in joy and in sorrow. Time gathered into history that left no stone on earth unturned, and yet, why was it that “I” appeared?
“What did you turn me into? What did you turn him into?!”
The sixteen year old boy stood in the fields, pointing at a steel-grey tombstone covered in moss behind him, his voice echoing through the cemetery, “Did you ever ask for our opinions? Do you know that this was never something he would have wanted? Why must you insist on forcefully keeping someone who is already gone? Let him go! Let the dead rest—!”
The woman’s expensive black dress spread out on the dirt as she wept bitterly.
“You’ve turned us all into monsters, knowing no passage of time nor life or death, you’ve turned the people you love into monsters…”
The boy staggered backwards. He looked at the woman, tears finally overflowing and sliding down his pallid face.
“Father wasn’t sick, he… he’s already dead…”
“…He’s no longer here.”
The first flash of lightning finally lit up the sky above the manor as thunder rumbled across the horizon.
The boy ran up the stairs and rushed into the hall, pushing open the heavy mahogany door at the end of the corridor.
The wind blew into the hall, the burning candle fell onto the silver plate with a clatter. The boy stopped in his footsteps, a pair of feet suspended in mid-air reflected in his eyes.
He slowly lifted his gaze, and looked into the eyes of the woman with dishevelled hair and paused. Bit by bit, his knees gave out and he fell to a kneel on the ground.
“Noah.” A voice came from the other end of the corridor.
The hand-woven carpet was shredded into pieces beneath his trembling fingers. After some time, the boy stood up and staggered across the corridor, passing by the person without even an inch of wavering in his gaze.
“Noah!” That person grabbed his hand.
The boy didn’t break free from the hold, but said indifferently, “Are you happy now?”
Words yet to leave the mouth were forced back down the throat. The person snorted after a brief pause, their face growing ever so slightly twisted. “Yes, of course I’m happy, do you still remember how you…”
Before he finished speaking, the boy broke free of the hold on his hand. Step by step, he made his way out of the large luxurious hall. Following along the path that had become particularly verdant and ominous right before the rainy season; he walked out of the manor.
The rain fell like countless lines that connected the sky and earth, turning all that the eyes could see into a world of white. His every step sludged through the mud heavily, as if both feet were entangled in countless inescapable, invisible chains that stretched out towards the endless horizon of a nightmare.
Dead, they were all dead.
Then why were these chains still here?
He clearly had nothing to do with the world anymore, and yet, why did the ache, the pain, and the restraints still exist so vividly, deep in his bones and unable to be erased out of existence no matter what?
His panting breaths amidst the torrential rain were like the cries of a wailing beast. The boy’s footsteps gradually sped up, overwhelmed with anxiety, it became a frantic and relentless run.
There was no other way… he thought.
Just like the countless electric shocks that had been imprinted into the depths of his soul, all of fate and destiny had already dictated the final outcome. Other than endless slaughter, there would be no other way.
Yan Hao felt the unyielding grip loosen, fresh air rushed into his lungs and choked him into a violent cough— he didn’t even realise that he had fallen to the ground. It took a few seconds before the stars in his eyes began fading away, and in a daze, he heard Zhou Rong roar, “Careful!”
Yan Hao tumbled on the spot, the army knife brushed right past his body and plunged into the concrete floor. Just as Si Nan was about to pull out the knife, Zhou Rong’s leg flew up and kicked the dagger, sending it flying far away. He then twisted Si Nan’s whole body and pressed him onto the ground with a close-combat technique, the two were tangled together and rolled several meters away, crashing into countless wooden beams and stone slabs along the way.
Yan Hao had no time to think about the throbbing pain in his throat, and with a crack, he snapped his wrist back into place. Using his other uninjured hand, he picked up a dagger and stabbed it upwards into the jaw of a zombie behind him, forcing it straight through the zombie’s skull!
The zombies on the construction site were nearly swept clean by Zhou Rong, only a few zombies with broken limbs were left groaning in place. Yan Hao stumbled around and found his gun, then cleared out the rest of the zombies with a few clicks. Hearing loud crashing noises behind him, he turned to look, Si Nan had grabbed Zhou Rong by the neck and forced him up the cement wall!
But Zhou Rong wasn’t Yan Hao. Curling up his body and tucking in his knees the moment his feet left the ground, he kicked Si Nan in the chest with both feet and sent him falling into a pile of gravel several meters away!
Zhou Rong swiftly came forward and helped Si Nan up from the gravel pile with a pull. First massaging Si Nan’s chest, he then sat on top of his body without a word, using the strength of his knees to hold down Si Nan’s elbows to keep him from moving. He pinched Si Nan hard in a death-grip, “Si Nan! Wake up, look at me!”
Look at me…
Si Nan’s unfocused eyes wavered, dazedly staring at Zhou Rong.
“Look at me! How many fingers is this?” Zhou Rong gripped Si Nan’s chin and forced him to look at his pointer finger. He patted Si Nan’s face hard, “You don’t recognise me anymore? I’m Zhou Rong! Your Rong-ge! Damn it, you dare to forget me?!”
Si Nan shut his eyes and opened them again, just like the mentally-ill succumbing to their chaotic nightmares, fear and hatred flashed beneath his eyes.
This was clearly a symptom of hallucinations borne from severe trauma to the brain, an inability to distinguish between illusions and reality. Zhou Rong’s heart sank, pinching the back of Si Nan’s neck like one would to subdue a feline, he forced Si Nan to look closely into his eyes, “Look at me, Si Nan. I’m Zhou Rong, We escaped T city together, and we escaped the factory together. Rong-ge has always liked you, you like Rong-ge too, right?”
“You know Rong-ge would never hurt you, and would always protect you. You’re willing to come with me, right?”
Si Nan, “…”
Zhou Rong’s rich and domineering voice flowed straight into his ears, entering his dream world like a lullaby. It became the one distant halo of light in a world awashed with thunderstorms.
“Zhou Rong…” he whispered neurotically, avoiding his gaze.
“It’s me, look at me.” Zhou Rong held his beautifully structured jawline and forced his eyes back onto himself once again, “It’s okay now, I’ve come to get you, you’re safe…be good and listen to me, good boy, look at me.”
Si Nan’s wandering gaze was like a small fish, firmly captured by Zhou Rong and caged in his palms, forced to look him in the eyes.
Within Zhou Rong’s deep gaze seems to exist some sort of invisible power, and Si Nan dazedly relaxed his guard. After a while, a certain sort of violence finally receded from his eyes. He called out softly, voice full of uncertainty.
“… Zhou Rong?”
Zhou Rong leaned over and left kisses on his trembling eyelids, slowly travelling downwards, kissing the tip of his nose, his cheeks, and then his lips.
The contact, warm and gentle like the sun, dispersed the rainstorm, and sent his memory returning to a certain hot summer. In the lush and dense forest, bringing along with it the salty scent of sweat and the fresh fragrance of vegetation, the young man stood up on tiptoes and gave a kiss to the jaw of a ragged-looking special soldier, a glint of slyness flashing in his eyes.
“…Zhou Rong.” Si Nan murmured.
He was only calling out his name ordinarily, but it melted Zhou Rong’s heart. He couldn’t help but hum in response, subconsciously massaging the tender white skin at the back of his neck.
Si Nan quietened.
Zhou Rong could feel the body beneath him beginning to relax, but suddenly a huge boulder landed on the ground, so he released his hold. He signalled for Yan Hao to push the bike over, then casually picked up the submachine gun, tightening the gun straps that were about to slip off his shoulders.
He smoothly stretched out his hand, intending to carry Si Nan in his arms.
But right at this moment, Si Nan caught a glimpse of the sight of him holding the submachine gun.
The reality that was reflected into the back of his retina and sent to his brain had become wildly exaggerated, distorted and enlarged, his neurons firing chaotically had painted a different version of reality: Fully armed soldiers, the wild barking of hunting dogs, and the sparks of light from the barrel of a machine gun firing bullets in the dark…
Run! Run quickly! Someone screamed hysterically amidst the flames.
Hurry up and run! The woman screamed behind her, disregarding everything else.
They’ve come for you, quickly, run—!
“Why did we lose our freedom, and suffer from pillaging and imprisonment?”
The little boy held his mother’s hand, raised his head and asked, “Mama, does God love everyone?”
In the hazy light, his mother lowered her head. Her familiar face gradually grew distorted, decaying black spots climbed up her beautiful face, dirt and maggots covered her amber eyes, the flesh and blood of her fingers fell off, revealing hints of hauntingly white bones, everything was projected into the little boy’s terrified eyes.
Quickly run, Noah.
Don’t get caught by anyone, run quickly.
Zhou Rong stood up immediately, but it was too late. In the thousandth of a second where he let down his guard, Si Nan had shot up like a cannonball and forcefully knocked Yan Hao off!
Yan Hao rolled over and got up, but before he could do anything, Si Nan had mounted the bike. One long leg propped on the ground, he looked at them with panting breaths.
——No, he was not actually looking at anyone at all, his gaze passed right through the space between Zhou Rong and Yan Hao, as if he were looking at something in the empty space that struck incomparable fear and terror into him.
It was a demon buried deep beneath the ground, a nightmare that had never left from this life.
”Come back…” Zhou Rong gently said with a waver in his voice, spreading out his arms, “Come back, Si Xiao-Nan, please come back here to Rong-ge… Si Nan!!”
Zhou Rong sprung forward in the same second the engine ignited, his momentum like that of an arrow leaving the bow, but he only managed to graze a corner of the backseat. Immediately after, as if transforming into flowing flames, the bike rushed towards the street with a roar!
In Zhou Rong and Yan Hao’s stunned gazes, the bike leapt high over the guardrail and landed with a loud thud.
Si Nan no longer hesitated, without even looking back, the bike rumbled and disappeared into the corner of the street like a meteor racing through the sky!
Zhou Rong chased after him for a few steps. He grabbed the submachine gun and violently threw it to the ground, then gave himself a slap to the face.
Yan Hao shook his head in horror, “Why, what happened, this is…”
Zhou Rong’s voice was filled with fury and constraint, “Come back!”
Yan Hao forcefully stopped his feet, and only then did he realise in the far distance of the street, the zombies that had been scattered before had appeared again sometime ago. In twos and threes, they slowly approached the construction site.
—they were still standing on an unbarricaded and unobstructed large street, in the heart of a city filled with millions of zombies. It was far too dangerous.
Yan Hao had grabbed a gun, but suddenly above his head, the roar of a propeller approached rapidly, and the consecutive blasting sound of a machine-gun firing followed, shooting up the zombies on the street until they were sent flying!
The two raised their heads and saw two large dark green helicopters hovering at low altitude. The hatch opened with a bang, and Chun Cao dropped the ladder, “Come on!”
“Where’s Si Nan? What happened?” Ding Shi asked loudly in the raging winds.
Zhou Rong’s face was gloomy, he shook his head and didn’t answer, instead he briefly said, “Switch on the bright lights and search along the city center, hurry!”
The sky darkened rapidly, a black veil fell, and the terrifying night of the apocalypse was almost upon them.
A lone rider on a bike in a delirious mindset with no warm clothing, no food, and no gun, how long could such a person last in the heart of a city infested with millions of zombies? Would he survive to see the daylight of a second day?
Like the dark clouds of the night sky, the answer weighed down heavily on everyone’s hearts.
Both helicopters had turned on their searchlights, the built-in loudspeakers were turned on to the maximum, but all of their calls were like pebbles thrown into a stormy sea, disappearing instantly into the raging wave of zombies.
The helicopters hovered along the large streets and small alleys, flying past every building top at low altitude, but a miracle did not happen.
The slender and lean figure that everyone had grown familiar with, was really gone without a trace, just like that. Just like the way he arrived, he disappeared, as if it was an undeniable destiny that they could do nothing about.
“Rong-ge…” Ding Shi’s voice trembled, “The fuel is limited, we still have to fly to Nanhai, I’m afraid…”
There wasn’t enough fuel.
With everyone’s eyes on him, Zhou Rong sat behind the pilots dashboard. Hidden in the shadows behind the searchlights, from the forehead, nose bridge, down to the tightly pursed thin lips and jawline, the light and the shadows outlined the astonishingly sharp features of the man’s handsome and somber side-profile.
“When I left,” he suddenly spoke without warning.
“I told him, wait for me to come get you.”
——it was spoken in a very calm manner, but Ding Shi had been silenced by a certain terrible pressure from his words.
“He really waited. At the construction site, he smiled the moment he saw me, waving to me from afar.”
“But I was unable to go get him as promised.”
“…Rong-ge,” Ding Shi choked up, “This wasn’t anyone’s fault, this…”
“He wanted to come with me. The moment he got on the bike, he hesitated for a second. He was looking at me, maybe he was giving me one last chance. I shouldn’t have touched the gun. He was so scared at the time, and I had scared him away.”
Zhou Rong closed his eyes. Besides the roar of the helicopter, it was frighteningly quiet in the cabin.
After a while, he removed something silver and shiny tied to a string around his neck, and Ding Shi recognised that it was the chip that held all the virus research data that they had downloaded from the B military base.
Zhou Rong held the chip in his fingers, seemingly mindlessly tapping on the control dashboard. He suddenly pointed downwards, “What’s on that roof? Let’s take a closer look.”
Ding Shi didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary, manoeuvring the helicopter into descent, the searchlights swept across the roof of the large building, “There’s nothing here, the target area is about 200 square meters… Rong-ge?!”
Zhou Rong threw the chip onto the dashboard, unfastening his seat belt, he opened the hatch. The icy cold wind blew violently as he turned back with a smile,
“Wait for us at Nanhai.”
His smile was unrestrained and overflowing with arrogance. Ding Shi reached out to grab him immediately, but Zhou Rong had already leapt out, he had jumped down in the midst of shocked exclamations!
Whizzing down a height of eight to nine meters, Zhou Rong hit the ground in a solid landing, and reached back to retrieve the assault rifle on his back. Despite the chaotic shouts and yells behind him, he left resolutely, disappearing into the dark night of a city lurking with danger.