Xue Jun entered his car after leaving the Li household. Since Xue Rui and Xue Liang occupied the backseat, he could only ride shotgun alongside the driver. The driver tacitly understood to drive towards the Xue family ancestral home.
Xue Jun glanced at Xue Rui and Xue Liang through the rearview mirror and when he saw Xue Liang’s state, he let out a heavy sigh. ‘Maybe I was too harsh…’ he thought to himself as he took out his phone and called for the family doctor. Xue Jun didn’t waste time explaining and told the doctor to come over to his place as soon as possible.
Xue Liang snorted, breaking the silence, before his voice sounded out, “Feeling guilty?”
“The one who should feel guilty is you. Capitalizing on Xiao Rui’s foolishness to take advantage of another person. Have you no shame?” Xue Jun asked.
“Shame? Why would I need to feel shame? Someone who lives in the light wouldn’t understand how I’ve lived these past few years! Compared to the things I’ve done in the past, this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Xue Liang told Xue Jun. “Grandfather never cared about what I did as long as he reaped the benefits. What makes you think he’ll care now?”
“Because I said so,” Xue Jun replied.
Xue Liang scoffed at Xue Jun’s reply. “You’re saying grandfather listens to you now?”
“Jun-ge, your confidence baffles me. Are you telling me you’ve already seized the Xue family’s power from grandfather?”
Hearing this, Xue Rui eyed his eldest brother worriedly. He had stayed silent all this time because he didn’t want to agitate his two brothers even further. Somehow, he felt that not only would Xue Liang get in trouble the moment they reached home, but he himself would also be implicated.
“From an outsider’s point of view, it would seem that grandfather still holds the power of the Xue family. But a year ago, I completely seized it without his knowledge. By the time he found out, it was already too late,” Xue Jun answered. “Did it ever occur to you why your recent movements have been going smoothly, without a hitch? It’s because I’ve been helping you cover your tracks… but it seems that helping you was a big mistake on my part,” Xue Jun said, not bothering to hide the disappointment in his tone.
“You helped me cover my tracks? Don’t lie! If you did, then why are you acting against me now?” Xue Liang asked. “What I’ve done isn’t in conflict with your interes-… wait… Ge, could it be, I’ve touched a sensitive spot? Your bottom line?” Xue Liang asked.
Xue Jun only glared at Xue Liang through the mirror and Xue Liang understood. Xue Liang laughed. His shoulders shook as laughter escaped his lips. “Indeed! We are all from the same egg after all. Falling for the same person… this must be fate playing with all three of us! At the very least, in this race I’m currently ahead of you. After all, I’ve already tasted the meat while the two of you haven’t!”
“Xue Liang, I suggest you shut your mouth until we arrive home. Lest I do something we all end up regretting,” Xue Jun warned his brother in a dangerous, cold tone. Both of his hands were clenched into fists with his nails digging into his palm, drawing blood.
Sensing that his brother was seriously angry, Xue Liang didn’t say anything more. He felt that if he did, Xue Jun would truly do something dangerous. ‘I’m not strong enough yet…’ Xue Liang thought as he remembered how his brother landed a series of punches on him. ‘Just how did he grow so strong this fast anyway?!’ Xue Liang glared at Xue Jun, dissatisfaction clear in his eyes, as if the whole world was unfair to him.
The rest of the ride to the Xue ancestral home was quiet and the innocent driver felt increasingly uncomfortable with how tense the atmosphere became.
Li Xinwen returned to the living room after sending Xue Jun off. Li Jinghua patiently waited for him inside and Lhe simply went over and sat down beside her. “Hua-jie, I don’t want to beat around the bush so I’ll ask this straight away. Is Xue Jun someone important in the future?”
Hearing his brother’s question, Li Jinghua only nodded her head. “At the beginning of the apocalypse, everyone depended on the military for protection. Major General Xue was responsible for rescuing and evacuating civilians. He was well known and always succeeded. Whenever he went on his missions, his casualty rate was always the lowest. And… he did it with Min Xiaoyu by his side. He was supposed to come and rescue us in this residential district next but something seemed to have come up because just when we thought we were out of danger, the military suddenly pulled back. They only took those whom they had managed to save previously.”
When Li Xinwen heard this, he couldn’t help but frown. “How far into the apocalypse was this?”
“Two weeks into the apocalypse. Since they pulled out, we could only stay here and try to survive on our own…” Li Jinghua replied. As she remembered her past, she felt sorrowful.
Li Xinwen noticed this so he quickly pulled Li Jinghua into a hug. “It’s alright, Hua-jie. With you here, we’ll survive,” Li Xinwen comforted the young female. “Anyway, Xue Jun was doing so well but he suddenly retreated. Something must’ve happened. Based on his actions tonight, he appears to be an upright man. Maybe his superiors told him to pull back?”
“Perhaps… Because a few months after, news of the largest military survivor base was released and most people decided to move. We were also supposed to move, but Xue Rui who had disappeared for a while, sent us a message saying to wait until things calmed down before making our move. It was understandable, since the base was located at the former A city, which is far away from our city. If we went, we thought we might end up walking into conflict between survivors, so I agreed with Xue Rui’s suggestion. Then two weeks later, he came to pick us up,” Li Jinghua murmured in a soft voice.
“When was this?”
“The sixth month into the apocalypse…”
“Xue Rui… had he changed by then?” Li Xinwen asked.
Li Jinghua nodded her head. Li Xinwen now had a suspicion in his heart. “What about Xue Jun? After… Xue Rui came to pick us up, was there any news about him?”
At this, Li Jinghua tried to recall her memories before answering. Only then did she realize that after Xue Rui came to pick them up, there was no news of Xue Jun, as if he had suddenly disappeared. Even after Min Xiaoyu created the medicine to fight against the zombie virus, there was no news of Xue Jun at all. ‘Did he die?’ Li Jinghua couldn’t help but wonder.
Meanwhile, Li Xinwen’s suspicions rose even more. He let out a heavy sigh before he turned to Li Jinghua once more. “It’s late Hua-jie. Let’s go and rest. About the matter involving Xue Jun, maybe if we can get close to him, we’ll be able to follow him to the base at a much earlier time.”
“No. We can’t go to that base,” Li Jinghua quickly shook her head. “Because of the large number of survivors who took refuge in the base, it was constantly subjected to a zombie tide every three months and it eventually became unsafe.”
“Then, do you have an alternative plan?” Li Xinwen asked.
“En… I plan to build a base of our own. It might sound crazy now, but I believe that this is the only way we can survive the apocalypse. If we stay under someone else’s banner, we’ll eventually be thrown away when things go bad to ensure their own survival. But if we have our own base, we can have better control of our own lives,” Li Jinghua explained to Li Xinwen.
“Building your own base, huh?” Li Xinwen entered a deep thought. ‘It might not be such a bad idea. I wonder if this is why Li Jinghua needed a huge amount of capital in the first place… because she plans to create her own base.’
“Hua-jie, do you already have a place in mind?” Li Xinwen asked.
“I do. But it is inaccessible at the moment. The place I’m thinking about… can only be accessed in the second year of the apocalypse.”
“Why is that?”
“Because the world will change again in the second year…” Li Jinghua said in an ominous voice.
Several days had passed since the night Xue Liang broke into his room and Li Xinwen was now preparing to go to Min Xiaoyu’s martial arts school. Because he had been looking forward to this day, he was in a very good mood, even humming as he placed his spare clothes in a duffle bag.
There was a gentle knock before he heard the door open. When he glanced over to the door, he saw Sun Xiao’s peeking into his room.
“Xin-gege, are you ready?” he asked. His eyes shone brightly, unable to hide his excitement and impatience.
Li Xinwen knew that Sun Xiao was also looking forward to this day. During the past few days, he had helped Sun Xiao with basic body strengthening training. Of course, since it had only been a few days since Sun Xiao started, the only obvious change was an increase in strength.
“Ready now,” Li Xinwen said as he zipped his duffle bag, slung it over his shoulder and approached the door. The door swung open to reveal Sun Xiao in his sportswear, carrying a heavy looking backpack. Seeing the backpack, Li Xinwen raised an eyebrow. “Ah‘Xiao… what else are you carrying?”
“Oh, umm… books?” Sun Xiao looked up at Li Xinwen, so embarrassed that his face flushed red, all the way to his ears.
“Martial arts books?” Li Xinwen asked.
Sun Xiao nodded shyly before he lowered his head and looked down on the floor.
Seeing this reaction, a helpless smile formed on Li Xinwen’s face. He raised his hand and gently patted Sun Xiao on the head. “Your bag looks too heavy. How many did you bring, hmm? Come on, let’s put some of them into my bag so it won’t be too heavy for you,” Li Xinwen suggested, as he brought Sun Xiao into his room.
At first, Sun Xiao thought that Li Xinwen would tell him to leave the books. He didn’t expect that Li Xinwen would help him carry them instead. His admiration for his brother grew to another level as he happily followed Li Xinwen inside.
After dividing the books, they finally went downstairs to eat breakfast. With how fast Li Xinwen had proven himself to be recovering, he managed to coax mother Li to increase the variety of dishes included in his diet though he had yet to eat any solid food. ‘Not that I am complaining. The food really tastes good in this world,’ Li Xinwen thought to himself as he took his seat.
“Ah‘Wen, are you really sure you want to go and practice at the martial arts school? Can’t you practice here at home just as you have done these past few days?” Mother Li asked when she saw her son. She knew that in a martial arts school, their training would be harder, not to mention there would be sparring sessions. Her son had only just returned from the brink of death and now he was off to do dangerous things again.
“Mom, don’t worry about me too much. You’ve seen how far I’ve recovered. Plus, I know the condition of my body well. Once I feel unwell, I promise that I will stop practicing,” Li Xinwen said, trying to reassure the older lady.
“Hua-er… can you please persuade your brother?” since she couldn’t do it, Mother Li turned to her daughter instead.
“Mom, don’t worry about Ah‘Wen. His condition is better than before since training with Ah‘Xiao these past few days. In fact, I feel like he has become stronger since recovering from the accident.” Li Jinghua, who was the one who had suggested that Li Xinwen practice with Min Xiaoyu, could not help her mother, and she felt guilty about it.
At this, Li Xinwen nodded his head and gave Mother Li a pleading look. In the end, she could only let out a heavy sigh. “Alright. But make sure that you are careful. If this old woman sees even a single bruise on you, you will stop immediately. Got that, young man?”
“Yes, mom!” Li Xinwen replied with a huge smile on his face. “You’re the best!” he added before he continued to eat breakfast.
After breakfast, the two brothers finally left for Min Xiaoyu’s place. Unexpectedly, when they arrived, Xue Rui was already waiting for them by the entrance. Xue Jun was also present. But there was no trace of Xue Liang.
When Xue Rui saw Li Xinwen, his face brightened and he quickly went over to greet him. “Xinwen, good morning! Have you eaten?” Xue Rui asked with a smile on his face.
“En. Where is Xue Liang?” Li Xinwen asked.
Hearing that the first person Li Xinwen asked for was Xue Liang, the expression on both of the Xue brothers changed considerably. Though Xue Jun recovered almost instantly, Xue Rui still sported a dejected look as he answered.
“That night, after being scolded by… grandfather, he ran away again.”
“Ran away?” Li Xinwen was surprised and turned to look at Xue Jun for a clearer answer.
“It’s exactly what Xiao Rui said. That guy ran away. Seriously, he’s already this old and still acts like a rebellious teenager,” Xue Jun grumbled. Just thinking of his second brother was enough to give him a headache. Add to that his third brother’s foolishness; it was a miracle that he hadn’t gone crazy.
“Didn’t you put a tracker on him?” Li Xinwen was surprised that Xue Liang could escape from Xue Jun despite having a tracker planted on him. He remembered that Xue Jun had planted a lot of them.
“All of them were destroyed overnight. We didn’t even get to use any of them.”
Li Xinwen let out a hum in response. ‘A shame. I would’ve loved to teach him a very good lesson.’
Sun Xiao had been staring at Xue Jun and Xue Rui all this time as if trying to find any difference between the two men. His eyes were full of curiosity as he stared at them.
Li Xinwen noticed this and said, “Ah‘Xiao, it’s rude to stare at someone like that,” and he rubbed the younger boy’s head.
“Sorry,” Sun Xiao replied but his eyes were still glued on both Xue Jun and Xue Rui. “They really look alike. Xin-gege, how do you differentiate them?” Sun Xiao asked as he turned to Li Xinwen. When he heard that Xue Rui actually had two identical brothers, he thought that there should still be some difference since Li Xinwen could easily tell them apart. But when he looked at them, they really looked similar. The only difference was their demeanor.
Li Xinwen let out a small chuckle before he leaned down and whispered to Sun Xiao’s ear. “You will also be able to do it easily once you learn martial arts properly. But if you really want to know early then… look at the left side of their necks, just below the ear. Do you see a small scar on one of them?”
Hearing Li Xinwen’s whisper and feeling the other’s breath so close to his ears, Sun Xiao felt his heart race and his face burn up. But Sun Xiao still focused his eyes on the two brothers and noticed that one of them had a very small scar on the spot where Li Xinwen mentioned. “I see it!”
“That one is Xue Jun. The one without the scar is Xue Rui,” Li Xinwen told Sun Xiao. He then straightened up his back and smiled at the two brothers. “Anyway, Ah‘Xiao, go and introduce yourself.”
As Li Xinwen said this, his hand lightly gave Sun Xiao a gentle push from behind, causing Sun Xiao to stand before the other two.
Sun Xiao stared at them for a while before he turned to Xue Jun. “Uncle Xue Jun, I’m called Sun Xiao! I will be in your care later,” Sun Xiao said with a small smile on his face. After being told to be confident by Li Xinwen, Sun Xiao had been working very hard to build up his confidence. So now, he wouldn’t act nervous as long as his brother was around.
Xue Rui and Li Xinwen who heard how Sun Xiao addressed Xue Jun suddenly had trouble trying to control their expressions and refrain from laughing out loud.
Xue Jun, who had been called uncle: …
Sun Xiao, noticed that the way he addressed Xue Jun was wrong and quickly apologized. “Ah… you and Rui-gege are the same age… then can I call you Jun-gege?” Sun Xiao asked nervously, hoping that Xue Jun didn’t take offense at his incorrect form of address earlier.
“Just call me big brother,” Xue Jun replied. He felt that being called ‘Jun-gege‘ was too intimate. ‘But if the one who called me that is Xinwen…’ as the thought crossed his mind, his eyes landed on Li Xinwen. But rather than affection, his eyes were only filled with suspicion.
Li Xinwen noticed Xue Jun’s gaze and all its unspoken implications and he smiled knowingly as he approached the latter.
“Shall we go inside?” Li Xiwen suggested, slightly tilting his head up towards Xue Jun. Upon hearing this suggestion, Sun Xiao walked in front, leading the group excitedly while Li Xinwen and Xue Jun walked side by side and Xue Rui lagged a considerable distance behind, a confused look on his face as he observed the backs of the two men in front of him.
“Young master Xue, I don’t quite like the way you’ve been looking at me. As I’ve said before, as long as you ‘impress’ me, I will answer any question you have for me. Until then why don’t you stop looking at me like I am some sort of criminal? I don’t believe you’re actually qualified to judge me in spite of your position. Wouldn’t you agree?” Li Xinwen admonished while keeping his voice only loud enough for Xue Jun to hear.
Xue Jun narrowed his eyes and grinned to himself. As he was almost a head taller than Li Xinwen, he lowered himself slightly so that his lips were in line with Li Xinwen’s ear and responded with a low voice, “You know… taking someone else’s identity is considered a crime. It’s called identity theft. So, although you’re able to fool everyone else, you’re not fooling me. In which case, you are a criminal in my eyes and until you can prove otherwise that’s how I’ll look at you.”
Li Xinwen felt a warmth spread through his ears after Xue Jun whispered his rebuttal and straightened himself again. But Li Xinwen was not provoked by Xue Jun’s words and did not take offence; instead his lips formed a mysterious smile. He looked directly at Xue Jun, then stopped, causing the latter to stop as well. The two men faced each other, one smiling mysteriously with a glint of seduction in his eye and the other sporting a look of restrained surprise and suspicion.
“Right… You are set on your suspicion that I am not who I claim to be. However, young master Xue, you yourself recognize that this body and this face are Li Xinwen’s and are unable to refute this fact. So, allow me to ease your suspicions a little. What I can tell you is that I am indeed called Li Xinwen – that much is true. In that regard, I don’t believe I need to prove my identity to you or anyone else. Since you’re the one with all the suspicions I believe it’s up to you to come up with proof that I am not the person I say I am.” Li Xinwen’s smile became even more seductive and dazzling, and then he walked away.
Xue Rui noticed the short exchange between the two and couldn’t help walking towards his older brother. “Jun-ge, what were you two talking about?” he asked out of curiosity. During the exchange, they were standing very close to each other, and it made Xue Rui feel jealous.
“It is none of your concern, Xiao Rui. He just told me to help him take care of Sun Xiao later when the training starts.”
“Oh, alright. Speaking of which… how did you know this place, Ge? I just told you the name of the school and you already knew the way without consulting the navigator.”
“Of course I would know, this school belongs to my master,” Xue Jun replied.
“…” Xue Rui, who had told Min Xiaoyu that his grandfather was a fraud, could only stay quiet and not say anything more, afraid that he might pick up a stone only to end up dropping it on his own foot.