The face was badly mangled. I didn’t know whether the skin had melted to reveal the muscles underneath or whether the blood was oozing from its body to cover its face, but I suddenly felt as if this face looked very familiar. When I took a closer look, I was horrified to find that it was Da Kui. How could such a good person turn into something like this?
The bullet from earlier had sliced away a layer of skin from the left side of his head and exposed his skull, but it appeared his brain hadn’t been injured. I couldn’t help feeling overjoyed when I saw that although he was seriously injured, it didn’t look like he would die. “Come up here quickly,” I said to him. “We might still be able to save you!”
But he didn’t move at all. Instead, he glared at me with hate-filled eyes as if he resented us for abandoning him and making our escape without him. I immediately felt terrified, but before I could do anything, he had already grabbed my hand. That horrible bloodred color covering his body swiftly started to spread to my hand and was quickly followed by a burning itchiness. I’m done for!
Da Kui made an indistinct noise in his throat and then suddenly started pulling me down. I thought of the terrifying sight of his skin melting from his body and couldn’t help but become frantic. I managed to throw his hand off but he just grabbed my foot and opened his big mouth as if he wanted to say that we should be buried together.
“Da Kui, just let me go!” I shouted. “This is how life works! If you want to live, then follow me up! There’s a chance you can still be cured! Otherwise, it’s useless for you to drag me down with you!”
I didn’t know which part got him riled up, but after hearing this, he suddenly leaped towards me like a madman, his eyes full of a fierce light like he had completely lost his mind. Then, he suddenly grabbed my neck and tried to strangle me.
Immediately realizing that only one of us was going to make it out of this alive, I suddenly felt a rush of killing intent surge up in my heart and gave him a fierce kick. When his hand loosened from around my neck, I aimed my gun at his chest and pulled the trigger. The bullets, which were all flat-nosed pistol rounds, had such a powerful impact that he flew into the air in a shower of blood.(1) His hands scrabbled for purchase but came up empty as he fell heavily into the pile of corpse-eaters below.
At this time, the hand he had grabbed was so numb that I couldn’t feel it at all. I couldn’t even tell if I was still holding onto the branch or not. I felt my body start to fall and hurriedly reached out with my other hand to grab a ghost-hand vine that was hanging nearby, but I still had that Tianxin rock powder on my hand so the vine immediately shrank away from me. I cursed as my whole body slipped down and landed on a big branch below.
The branch was covered with corpse-eaters, many of which fell off when I landed. I used my remaining strength to clamp my legs around the branch, barely managing to stop myself from sliding down any further, but a large group of corpse-eaters surrounded me again. I couldn’t help but laugh bitterly. I had so many ways to die now: either fall to my death, get bitten by insects, or be poisoned to death. God truly was very kind to me.
But just as I was feeling depressed, the fat guy suddenly climbed up from below and kicked a few corpse-eaters away. As it turned out, this guy had been climbing a lot slower than me. He immediately started cursing as soon as he saw me, “You still have the fucking mind to lie down here?! Look at all these holes that have been bitten on my ass!”
He started to come over and help me up but I hurriedly shouted, “Don’t touch me! I’ve been poisoned! You go first! You can’t help me!”
The fat guy ignored my warning and lifted me up, “Take a look in the mirror. Your fucking complexion is better than mine. It’s as rosy and shiny as a girl’s. How could you possibly be poisoned?”
Surprised, I looked down and saw that there were a bunch of red rashes all over my hand and arm, as if I had been bitten by thousands of mosquitoes. But the red color stopped at my shoulder and was now slowly fading away. I wondered why the poison didn’t affect me.
The fat guy put me on his back, gritted his teeth, and started climbing up. With me now acting as his human shield, all of those corpse-eaters jumped on my butt and started biting me instead. It hurt so much that I immediately started cursing him, “You damned fatty! I thought you were kind but you just wanted to use me as a fucking shield!”
“What are you talking about?” The fat guy said indignantly. “If you’re not satisfied, then you can carry me instead! Didn’t you see that my ass barely had any flesh left on it?!”
I didn’t want to argue with him. There was a dense cluster of corpses hanging in a circle around the Nine-Headed Snake Cypress’s trunk that the fat guy would bump into from time to time. Fortunately for us, those corpse-eaters did the same thing. Since they couldn’t distinguish between all the moving objects, many of them ended up attacking the mummified corpses that we bumped into instead of us.
The fat guy noticed this and thought that it would help us so he told me to hit the corpses and make them swing back and forth. Although I didn’t want to, I knew that there was no other way considering how my life was at stake.
As we continued climbing, I kicked every single corpse that I saw until every area that we passed by was full of spinning corpses. These bugs definitely didn’t have a comparable IQ to humans because they immediately became confused by the chaos—it was obvious they didn’t know whether to chase after us or bite those spinning corpses instead. Fortunately, this brought their onslaught to a halt and they started turning in confused circles. The fat guy took the opportunity to speed up and suddenly increased our distance until we could finally catch our breath.
After that workout just now, feeling had finally returned to my hands and feet. I couldn’t help thinking that what I had felt when I was poisoned just now seemed to be the exact same feeling Grandpa had described in his notes when he was poisoned. Grandpa didn’t die in the end so did that mean that I had immunity? I couldn’t figure it out even after thinking about it.
I saw that I could move my hands and feet so I asked the fat guy to put me down. When he did, I saw that his face was covered in sweat and he was panting heavily. When we were on the stone platform earlier, I said to myself, I nearly puked up blood trying to carry you. Now we’re even.
At this time, I suddenly saw someone sitting on a branch behind the fat guy, beckoning to me.
I shivered and rubbed my eyes, but the person suddenly disappeared. I thought he was hiding behind the tree, so I hurriedly stuck my head out to look.
“Stop dawdling!” The fat guy shouted. “Let’s go!”
“Wait a minute!” I grabbed him. “Go left, left! I just saw someone waving at me.”
He sighed and followed me over, but as it turned out, no one was there at all. All we could see was a hole in the tree that was barely big enough to accommodate one person. The inside was pitch black so I had no idea what might be in there.
The fat guy pulled out his flashlight and shined it in the hole but leaped back in fright at the sight of a highly decomposed corpse tightly wrapped in a dense cluster of vines. The corpse’s two blue eyes were too murky to see where the pupils were and its mouth was wide open as if it wanted to tell us something. The fat guy looked at me and said, “It’s just a dead man. You must’ve seen a ghost!”
I had encountered too many strange things along the way so I couldn’t discount the possibility that there were ghosts here. And since he had beckoned us over, I figured there must have been some reason for it. When I thought of this, I habitually looked at his mouth but his chin had decomposed so much that most of it had basically fallen off. I kept looking and noticed that he seemed to be clutching something in his hand. When I pried his fingers apart, I found that the object turned out to be a pendant.
The corpse-eaters below began to climb up again while making that “zizi” sound so I didn’t even bother going through the rest of his stuff. I just gave him a salute when I saw that he was wearing camouflage clothes and then continued climbing. The fat guy had climbed so fast before that we actually weren’t that far from the gap in the cave ceiling so we quickly and easily climbed up.
As soon as we made it out, we looked down and saw that the corpse-eaters didn’t seem to be stopping at all. In fact, almost all of them had reached the edge of the crevice.
“There’s no time to rest. Run!” The fat guy shouted.
I had spent so long underground that I couldn’t figure out which direction was which, but at this time, I suddenly saw a man run out of the grass in front of me, carrying something. I couldn’t help but feel overjoyed when I realized that it was Uncle Three.
Uncle Three saw me and shouted, “Run back to camp and bring all the gasoline!”
I ran over to take a look and saw that there was only a short cliff less than ten meters high that was separating the crevice from the place where we had dug our grave robbers’ tunnel before. All of our equipment was still there, and when I saw those barrels of gasoline, I felt as if a fire had been ignited in my heart. Alright, I thought to myself. This time, you guys will be the ones to suffer!
The fat guy and I each grabbed a barrel and ran back to Uncle Three, who had already poured his barrel down into the crevice. The corpse-eaters had almost reached the surface by this point so Uncle Three flicked on his lighter and threw it down. Flames immediately rushed up and a scorching stench filled the air. The tidal wave of insects receded in an instant as the gasoline formed a wall of fire at the crevice. Seeing those bugs screaming and writhing in agony as their insides burned was really satisfying.
When we poured the second and third barrels down to add more fuel to the fire, the flames that suddenly shot out of the crevice were almost taller than two men put together. The ensuing heatwave was so intense that it burned my eyebrows off.
I took a few steps back and looked at the pendant in my hand, which turned out to be a name tag. According to it, that corpse’s name was James. I wiped it off and then put it in my coat pocket while thinking to myself, I’ll return this to your family when I get the chance. You can rest in peace now.
The fat guy, who was sweating from the heat, suddenly turned and asked Uncle Three, “Where are the other two?”
Uncle Three pointed behind him, “Pan Zi isn’t doing too well. He seems to have a fever. As for Little Brother, I haven’t seen him. I thought he was with you guys.”
When I looked at the fat guy, he sighed, “I didn’t see him at all after the explosion. I’m afraid something bad might’ve happened to him.”
Uncle Three shook his head and said, “Not likely. This man comes and goes unpredictably like a ghost. Besides, he was climbing above us the whole time. Even if he got swept away by the shockwave, he probably would’ve continued rushing to the top.”
I saw Uncle Three’s expression and knew that he wasn’t convinced by his own words. Although Poker-Face was powerful, he was just like the rest of us when it came to facing explosions. If he had been thrown out of the tree by the shockwave, he would have most definitely died.
We looked around the area but found nothing. We didn’t even see any signs of anyone leaving. Uncle Three sighed and then gave me a wry smile.
We went back to the camp, packed up our things, lit a campfire, and heated up the canned food we’d left in our bags. I was so hungry that I was willing to eat anything at this point. As we ate, Uncle Three pointed to the low cliff behind us, “You see that? This camp is right next to the crevice. It seems that the demon tree the old man saw is actually the snake cypress. They must have made too much noise when they were celebrating that night, which lured the snake cypress out of the crevice. Fortunately, we didn’t spend the night here and went straight down into the grave robbers’ tunnel. Otherwise, we probably would’ve been dragged away by this snake cypress as well.”
“There’s no telling how long the fire will last,” the fat guy said. “Things will definitely be troublesome if it goes out and those bugs come out again. Now that it’s almost dawn, I say we get out of this forest quickly. We can talk about things later.”
I hurriedly took a few bites and nodded. Then, we set off into the woods, Uncle Three and the fat guy taking turns to carry Pan Zi.
We stayed quiet the whole way. When we first came here, we were talking and singing without a care in the world. But now that we were on our way back, we were staying quiet and keeping our heads down as we hurried along, almost like we were running for our lives.
I hadn’t rested all night, my nerves were strained to the max, and now my physical strength had reached its limit. By the time we were nearing the end of our journey, the only thing keeping me going was sheer willpower. If a bed suddenly appeared right in front of me, I knew that I would fall asleep within two seconds of lying down on it.
We walked all that day and into the next morning before finally making it out of the forest. Then we climbed over the small rock slope formed by the mudslide and finally saw the familiar little village.
But we didn’t dare relax just yet. We sent Pan Zi to the village clinic first. When the barefoot doctor(2) came over to check him out, he frowned and then hurriedly called the nurse to come over and help. I sat down on a nearby stool and fell asleep after listening to them say a few words.
It was the kind of sleep caused by pure exhaustion. I didn’t have any dreams nor did I know how long I slept, but when I woke up, I heard a lot of noise outside. I wasn’t sure what exactly was going on.
<Chapter 27><Table of Contents><Chapter 29>
(1) Fun fact from a few gun blogs: round nose bullets slide through tissue and push organs out of the way so they’re generally a poor choice for anything but shooting through barriers. A flat nose or meplat crushes and tears tissue and creates a larger non-sealing hole through the target. So basically, more damage, bigger hole, greater blood loss, and quicker end to the fight.
(2) The term “barefoot doctor” has some interesting history. They’re healthcare providers who underwent basic medical training and worked in rural villages in China. They included farmers, folk healers, rural healthcare providers, and recent middle or secondary school graduates who received minimal basic medical and paramedical education. The name comes from southern farmers who would often work barefoot in the rice paddies while simultaneously working as medical practitioners. More info here.
I’M SORRY ｡ﾟ･ (>﹏<) ･ﾟ｡ I was hoping to start on “Angry Sea, Hidden Sands” by this point but shit hit the fan at work this week so we still have 1 more chapter to go. But I should hopefully get Chapter 29 out either Saturday or Sunday if I don’t have to do crazy OT tomorrow
2 thoughts on “Chapter 28 Fire”
No worries! You’re doing great! But I love the GIF anyway!!! 😆
Sorry for crazy work! Hope things calm down for you!
Hope everything went well at work.. been there so totally get it.
thank you for the chapter 🙏🏼
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