Li Jinghua opened her eyes. The air was stale, and the dust particles could be seen floating in the air, following the beams of sunlight that penetrated the holes of the glass ceiling outside. Immediately, Li Xinwen noticed that they were not at their home.
‘Did we have to leave our home?’ He thought back to the warm home and couldn’t help but sigh. ‘Maybe there was some unavoidable reason. Something must have happened…’
Li Jinghua sat up from the makeshift bed on the floor. It seemed that she had not slept well through the night and perhaps she had not had a good rest for several nights as evidenced by the bags under her eyes. She combed her fingers through her hair and heaved a sigh as if she bore a heavy weight on her shoulders. She walked to the makeshift lavatory and washed her face. She looked at her reflection in the mirror; her eyes looked lifeless and sad. She shook her head and wiped her face.
She changed into a pair of jeans and a sleeveless top and put a jacket over it. She put on a pair of heavy-duty leather boots, already distressed, with a color faded from wear. From her point of view, Li Xinwen saw the state of the place. It was a shopping mall, one of the military operated bases during the apocalypse. People used the second floor as their living quarters and the first floor belonged to the management of the base while the ground floor served as a quarantine area. All of this was information that Li Xinwen got from Li Jinghua’s memories.
Aside from that, Li Xinwen also found out that this memory was from the seventh month of the apocalypse. Ability users had started to surface but at the same time, zombies were also evolving and becoming more ferocious. In fact, zombies were evolving at a rate that was even faster than ability users. The highest ranked zombies known were already at level four and yet, ability users had only reached the peak of level 2.
As an observer only his consciousness was present; Li Xinwen was not there physically and was unable to control his body. He merely floated where Li Jinghua went. He was only able to see what Li Jinghua saw, hear what she heard and go where she went.
Before leaving her quarters, Li Jinghua seemed to have been deep in thought. Pacing back and forth, it was as if she was debating whether to push through with whatever plan she had in mind.
‘I wonder what’s bothering her…’
As if she had come to a decision, steeling her resolve and preparing herself for something she was certain was only going to bring her pain, Li Jinghua took a deep breath and straightened herself. She left her quarters and walked a few doors down towards the north side of the complex. A bad feeling suddenly filled Li Xinwen when he saw that Li Jinghua had stopped in front of a door. Although he had no physical body, he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. Obscene moans and groans were coming from the other side of the door if one listened closely enough. But it seemed that Li Jinghua did not pay attention to the obscene sounds, these merely fortified the suspicions she had been mulling over for a while.
‘The room isn’t soundproofed, and yet they still dare to do it? In these conditions? I guess even in the apocalypse these mortals still have a need to satisfy their desires…’ Li Xinwen thought as he shook his head. Li Jinghua’s hand trembled as it hovered over the door handle, hesitating whether to open it and interrupt the tryst that was unfolding within the room. Suddenly a voice was heard from the other side, it was faint, as if the person was exhausted and spent.
“Nngh… no more… Rui-ge… please…”
The voice sounded familiar and Li Xinwen recognized it right away ‘Oh no… this is not going to end well. I should have expected this, Xue Rui and Li Xinwen. I guess this was when she first found out about the relationship between the two, but that might not be the case. Perhaps this was what was bothering Li Jinghua earlier when she awoke? I have a bad feeling about this encounter. Heavens above, spare me, ah…’ Li Xinwen felt awkward when he heard the original’s voice speaking in such a salacious manner. Not to mention, it was the exact same voice that he had. He wished he could go inside and cover the original’s mouth so he wouldn’t have to hear it. Unfortunately, he was stuck there with Li Jinghua, who was currently hesitating in front of the door.
Li Xinwen found it unfortunate that he was unable to find out Li Jinghua’s exact feelings at that moment, but he felt it was safe to assume that she was deeply hurt just by looking at her red eyes brimming with tears. She looked around to make sure that no one was present, and only then did she slowly turn the door handle and pushed the door open.
The scene which greeted them was more than steamy with Xue Rui pressing down Li Xinwen on the bed.
Li Jinghua walked closer, each step silent, yet heavy. Xue Rui’s gaze moved from the person underneath him towards Li Jinghua, and for a split second, even though the room was dark, Li Xinwen could have sworn that Xue Rui had a smile on his lips. But as Li Jinghua came closer, Li Xinwen saw that Xue Rui’s gaze was a piercing stare. His eyes were laced with a ruthlessness – a complete indifference – and consumed by animalistic desire, as if telling Li Jinghua that this is who he was.
‘Who is this person?’ Li Xinwen asked himself after noticing something different in Xue Rui. ‘This is not the Xue Rui that I know at all… what happened to him?’ If Li Xinwen had been physically present, he would have been able to figure out by the spiritual signature but unfortunately, this was only a world of memories.
Li Jinghua gasped and covered her mouth, stifling her urge to shout and scream at the individuals in front of her. She bit her lip and lowered her hands. Clenching them into fists, she dug her nails into her palms.
“This needs to end…” Li Jinghua whispered.
Li Xinwen watched as Li Jinghua raised both hands and clapped. It was painful to watch. The expression on Li Jinghua’s face was indescribable. Her smile twisted and trembled, and her eyes reflected her raging heart. The sound of clapping hands startled the original Li Xinwen – realizing that there was someone else in the room he turned his head towards the direction of the sound. His eyes widened when he recognized that it was his sister.
He struggled to push Xue Rui, but Xue Rui held him down, looking straight at him with an unrelenting gaze.
“Rui-ge… please… I’m begging you…” the original Li Xinwen whispered, almost whimpering. The panic in his voice seemed to have brought Xue Rui back to his senses. His glance went from Li Jinghua back to Li Xinwen, underneath him, before he pulled himself out and got off Li Xinwen. Xue Rui’s expression was one of indifference, unperturbed by Li Jinghua’s presence or by the fact that he was caught by his fiancé in an unspeakable act. He nonchalantly walked towards the chair in the corner and started to dress himself. The original Li Xinwen quickly grabbed the blanket and covered himself as he struggled to stand up.
“Hua-jie…” he called out, his voice shaky and his eyes filled with fear and panic. “Hua-jie, I… I can explain…”
“Explain what Xinwen?” she asked, suppressing the anger that was slowly spreading through her whole being. “I believe I’ve already seen everything. What else is there to explain?” Tears slowly flowed down Li Jinghua’s cheeks.
“Ah‘Wen… even though I didn’t know of your sexuality before this, I would’ve still accepted you,” Li Jinghua’s voice was calm, but the expression on her face and her cold, piercing gaze contradicted her voice. It was worse than being screamed at in anger. The disappointment in Li Jinghua’s voice made Li Xinwen crumble.
“Hua-jie… it’s not what you think… please, please hear me out–“
Li Jinghua cut him off, “Even though it’s the apocalypse… Xinwen, there are still so many other men out there. Why? Why did it have to be Xue Rui? You of all people know that he and I are engaged. You just had to snatch your own sister’s fiancé? How could you? How could you betray me like this?”
“Hua-jie, let me explain–“
“Enough Xinwen… I don’t want to hear any lies!… Enough…” Li Jinghua’s voice was pained and quaking, as her tears continued to flow. She turned to Xue Rui, who sat on the chair, in the corner, eyes downcast, his demeanor indifferent as if the concept of guilt was something foreign to him.
“Our engagement is over Xue Rui…” Li Jinghua declared through her tears, her heart aching and her throat constricting. Her hand shook as she struggled to take off the diamond ring she had cherished ever since Xue Rui’s proposal.
“I feel like I’ve been made a fool of by both of you… you make me sick…” Li Jinghua said as she threw the ring at Xue Rui, who did not even flinch when it hit him on the chest. The original Li Xinwen was beside himself as the repercussions of his betrayal unfolded in front of him.
“No… Hua-jie… please…”
“Being the third wheel in a loving relationship makes me sick and I want no part of it.”
The last sentence that Li Jinghua said seems to have been aimed directly at the original Li Xinwen, but before anything else happened, she left the room, slamming the door shut in anger.
Li Xinwen, whose consciousness was directly connected to Li Jinghua, naturally left the room along with her even though he wanted to stay and observe the original some more. ‘I wonder if that is the reason why Li Jinghua feels guilty… did he commit suicide sometime afterwards?’ he wondered.
As the memories played on, he had his answer when the original didn’t die even after three months. Because they were registered in the same team, they had to do the base tasks together. Unfortunately, the rift between Li Jinghua and her brother only seemed to widen. Whenever her brother tried to explain, Li Jinghua would treat him like air and ignored him. After several failed attempts, the original Li Xinwen seemed to have given up.
Everything remained the same, until the day they were sent on a mission where things had gone wrong.
Li Xinwen skipped a lot of memories to reach this point. It was a year after the apocalypse started and Xue Rui had just reached the fifth level for his lightning ability. When the base found out about this, they gave Xue Rui’s team a dangerous mission to eliminate a level four zombie leader. It seemed that when a zombie reached level four, their level of intelligence also increased, and they became able to develop tactical strategies for ambushing and escaping. It caused the base a big headache, and the leader of the base wanted the zombie leader gone.
The base sent out six teams, comprising 54 people in total. Xue Rui was elected as leader of the operation due to his high level, and naturally his small team of four took the lead. Their target was known to be hiding at the nearby food factory. They had wanted to collect the food from the factory before but because of the high-level zombie, they had to retreat. Now, the base’s food was running out and there was nowhere else to source food from, other than the factory. The base leader planned to move everyone out of the base once they had enough provisions to survive the journey.
The six teams went out in modified off-road cars. The journey to the factory took less than two hours. They had already scouted the area before, so they knew the structure and the layout of the factory. From outside they could hear the groans of the undead. For reasons unknown to them, the zombies had been gathering at this location.
“As planned, we should avoid the entrance. That level four zombie was last reported seen at the underground basement of the factory. The closest route to the basement is through the side so we’ll climb up the wall,” Xue Rui quickly briefed the team before they all moved out. The 54 people worked together almost seamlessly. They sneaked into the factory while avoiding the zombies loitering outside as much as possible. There were only a few of them, so they should be able to finish their mission without getting distracted. As for cleaning up, they left that to the base, to send more people to do so.
Li Xinwen had wanted to experience more, but he suddenly noticed a slight interference. ‘Oh! It’s almost morning in the real world! Seems like Li Jinghua is slowly waking up! I need to hurry!’
As soon as he realized that, he decided not to waste any more time. He immediately skipped through the battle until the part where they had almost killed the level four zombie. The zombie escaped. letting out a loud scream, which called the rest of the zombies to rush towards the team. It was like Li Xinwen was watching a movie in fast forward. He saw the members of the team running to escape while being pursued by the undead. They were all climbing the walls that surrounded the factory and then, he finally saw the scene that made Li Jinghua feel guilty.
Li Jinghua was climbing the ladder when it suddenly broke and she fell. The zombies were approaching, and most of the team had already gone, leaving only herself, her two brothers and Xue Rui. The original Li Xinwen had told Li Jinghua to jump as he reached out his hand, but Li Jinghua was still unable to reach it. Li Jinghua saw the helplessness and desperation of her own brother and finally understood how much he cared for her. She was just about to tell them to leave her behind, but Li Xinwen jumped down and Xue Rui was too late to stop him.
Xue Rui’s expression immediately turned ugly. But he could not stop the original Li Xinwen. The zombies were getting closer and Xue Rui, who had been continuously using his abilities to slow down the zombies, was now running out of energy.
“Jinghua, Xinwen, hurry up! I’ll try to slow down the zombies as much as I can so both of you can climb up the wall,” Xue Rui advised, trying to keep his voice calm so as not to add panic to the siblings who were struggling to climb up.
“Sun Xiao has exhausted himself and can no longer use his abilities to aid me at slowing down the approaching zombies, so both of you should hurry up. Xinwen… stay calm, you can do it. I believe in you…” Xue Rui said with as much gentleness as he could muster even as his heart raced and his mind went on to imagine the worst possible scenario.
“Hua-jie, I’ll support you,” Li Xinwen positioned himself by the wall and interlaced his fingers, creating a step for Li Jinghua to go up. From his position, he could see the zombies behind Li Jinghua, and he had to admit that he felt scared. “Now, Hua-jie, you will have to sprint to me from a distance and step on my hands, I’ll act as your springboard so you can jump, okay? Now hurry!” Li Xinwen said with a smile, as if to reassure Li Jinghua that everything was going to be alright.
Li Jinghua listened to her brother and she did a short run before stepping on Li Xinwen’s interlaced fingers as she jumped. The original Li Xinwen exerted more force and threw her up. Sun Xiao had been waiting and quickly grabbed Li Jinghua’s hand, immediately pulling her up. He then reached down again, preparing to pull Li Xinwen up.
The original Li Xinwen noticed that Xue Rui was nearing his limit, so he didn’t waste any more time as he rushed up to the wall and jumped. Unfortunately, the level four zombie that made its escape earlier chose this exact time to reappear. Li Xinwen’s hand had almost reached Sun Xiao’s when the level four zombie pounced on him.
Both Li Jinghua and Xue Rui called out to him. As a non-ability user, Li Xinwen could not even fight a level one zombie let alone a level four, and after being hit just once, he was already heavily injured. Xue Rui had already exhausted his ability, and Sun Xiao was just about to jump down to save him.
“Don’t come!!” Li Xinwen quickly yelled out to them. He wanted to get up, but the zombie didn’t even give him a chance. Its sharp nails pierced through Li Xinwen’s abdomen, and he let out a loud, pained scream. Then, it opened its mouth wide, attempting to bite Li Xinwen down. But before the zombie’s teeth reached him, Li Xinwen placed a grenade in its mouth.
It was Li Xinwen’s last attempt at killing the level four zombie. Li Jinghua knew what her brother was thinking. Now that there are only four of them, the level four zombie could easily kill them, and her brother decided to sacrifice himself to make sure the level four zombie wouldn’t be able to harm them.
“Rui-ge… take Hua-jie and Ah‘Xiao and run…” Li Xinwen said as he looked up weakly, blood pouring out of his mouth. “Hua-jie… please forgive Ah‘Wen… Rui-ge… don’t forget your promise…”
Li Jinghua then saw the original Li Xinwen pull out the pin, then an explosion followed before everything went dark.
Li Xinwen’s consciousness returned to his own body in the real world. He opened his eyes and saw that it was close to dawn. He then looked down and touched his abdomen. He was silent for a few moments, as if to recollect himself from what he had seen and experienced. As a cultivator he had mastered the art of remaining calm amidst any type of chaos. But the experience that Li Jinghua had gone through was something he had to process and analyze.
“What a painful way to die…” Li Xinwen murmured in a soft voice, as if whispering a prayer for the original’s death. “But… I commend you, Xinwen… for protecting your family. Your will to protect them, I have received them well. You can rest easy…”
But as soon as the sentence left his lips, Li Xinwen suddenly felt a splitting headache. He clutched his head in pain and just as he was about to circulate his spiritual energy, he suddenly heard a voice within his head.
“Remember your promise. In return for giving you my body, you must protect my family. Especially Hua-jie whom I’ve wronged in my past life…”