Chapter 63: A+A (XI)
The next day, Rhine’s body temperature was far too hot and his consciousness fuzzy. The poison from the Scarlet Bone Fish had flared up and with his constitution, although it would not be life-threatening, it would further delay his recovery.
Shang Ke climbed down the tree and stripped off his shirt and scrubbing it clean before climbing back up the tree to help wipe down Rhine’s body. Observing his current condition, it would be far too dangerous they could hurry back. It was wisest to remain where they were and wait for support. They were somewhere in the arthropod’s territory, well past the defensive line. They were at risk of being found at any moment and could presently only rely on the pine valley tree to hide them.
Shang Ke felt around his body and found a signal mirror. Although it could not directly send a signal to the base, it could absorb solar energy and reflect red light. As long as a unit was passing by, they would be found. But shining it at night was too conspicuous, easily drawing the attention of the arthropods, so Shang Ke had not used it.
Shang Ke fed Rhine half of a tube of nutrient fluid and once again used tree’s vines to keep him stable in the tree fork lest he falls. After that, he climbed down to check their surroundings and hopefully find something edible to bring back with him.
In the arthropod’s domain, edible plant life was basically extinct and the only thing he could catch were a few aquatic animals and common insects. Finding wild beasts was not something he would think about right now; he had neither the time or strength to catch one. Any beast that could survive in the arthropod’s territory was no doubt beyond tough and likely very aggressive.
Shang Ke stabbed and caught two fish in the river, dug up several scallops and after cleaning them a bit, returned to the pine valley tree.
Rhine suddenly opened his eyes, but seeing that Shang Ke was back, his gloomy expression relaxed somewhat.
“I caught two fish! We’re eating sashimi today.” Shang Ke raised the fishes and scallops that were wrapped in leaves.
Rhine silently gazed at his smiling face with gentleness and single-minded devotion.
Shang Ke sat perched the tree fork and an adjacent branch, took out his dagger, and sliced the meat with practiced ease on the carefully arranged leaves. Following that, he picked up the scallop, and a fishy smell hit Rhine straight in the face, causing him to wrinkle his nose and frown.
Shang Ke noticed his reaction and laughed, “Not used to this smell?”
“That’s fine, try it after it’s roasted.”
“Roast?” Rhine did not know how Shang Ke was planning to roast anything—this place was clearly unsuitable for making a fire.
“Watch me.” Shang Ke found a couple of tree branches that were still full of moisture and would be hard to burn and nimbly set up a small grill atop the fork. He placed the cleaned scallops on the frame and poured a couple drops of nutrient fluids on each. After that, he sparked a small fire and started to roast them.
Rhine watched, stunned. He really didn’t expect that Shang Ke could still roast food in this kind of situation where they were faced with the barest of supplies.
“Here, eat some sashimi to pad your stomach first.” Shang Ke dangled a piece of fish over Rhine’s mouth with his fingers.
Rhine silently ate it, his hair drooping over his forehead. His gaze when watching Shang Ke resembled that of a large dog waiting for his master to feed him.
While Shang Ke was tranquil on the surface, he was gloating in his heart: See little guy, you also have such a day! So what if you act all high and mighty and wild! So what if you abuse your authority! After you’re injured, you still have to rely on this lord to take care of you. Ha, ha, ha.
After the sashimi was devoured, the scallops had finished cooking. After he uncovered the leaf, a rich fragrance hit their senses. Although it did not have any seasoning, the pure and natural flavor of zero pollution was still a fresh and enjoyable delicacy.
Shang Ke used his knife to dig out the piping hot scallop meat and blew on it to cool it, before feeding it carefully to Rhine.
Rhine did not fear burning himself, so he ate it in a couple of bites. He had assumed that these few days would be hard to endure, but someone just had to have the skills that, even under such conditions, they were able to live a free and easy life. The thought that this man was his own brought him endless delight.
Disregarding his identity and position, relinquishing his might, he was only interacting with Shang Ke in a simple way, and yet it brought him such pleasure and joy.
Rhine unconsciously curbed the aura that surrounded his body, so that he could be closer to the man before him.
A day later, support still had not arrived. Shang Ke expanded his activity range and left marks at different places to signal relatively safe areas, while also returning back to Rhine bearing all sorts of crazy things to eat. He also took the chance to show off just how magical his cooking abilities were. Rhine found himself endlessly amazed at how he could turn something unappetizing into something delicious. Together, they forced what should have been a harsh and difficult time surviving off the land, into something comparable to a landlord vacationing at a villa somewhere expensive.
The next night, heavy rain fell. After the heavy rain, Rhine’s condition took a turn for the worse and he sank back into a murky state of half-consciousness. What was even worse was that the heavy rain had washed away the scent of the tree. Typically, the two were unlucky enough to be found by a group of passing arthropods.
Shang Ke took out his dagger and rushed into the group, starting a bloody battle. The battle went on so silently that it actually did not disturb Rhine’s unconscious state.
By the time Shang Ke dealt with all the bugs, an hour had passed. His upper body was naked but for a couple of strips of cloth hanging from his waist and flapping with the movement of the wind. His body was riddled with injuries and blood flowed down slowly from several cuts, following the lines of his muscles. His arms hung powerlessly, shuddering without end as his back leaned against the tree and he gasped violently for breath. The view before him gradually started to become fuzzy like fog was obstructing his sight.
He looked down at the corpses of bugs littered around him and mentally acknowledged that they could not stay here any longer. But he really didn’t have the strength to do anything else. In his current state, he couldn’t take Rhine far.
Weighing the pros and cons, Shang Ke chose to stay in place for the time being. He rested a bit then started to clear up the corpses.
A couple of hours later, a new group of arthropods followed the trail of blood and quickly arrived at the location of Shang Ke and Rhine and surrounded them.
Shang Ke stood under the tree and faced the hundreds of bugs, once more raising the dagger in his hand…
Rhine woke up to the smell of blood, and through the cracks of the tree leaves, saw the countless bug corpses and the thick mottled bloodstains.
“Filmore!” Rhine got up abruptly and quickly scanned the area below.
Shang Ke sat by the tree, his head drooping and his back arched. One hand lay horizontally on his knee while the other held the dagger, still stabbed into another bug.
The red blood and green mucus stained his body, so much so that his original skin color could barely be seen. He sat there motionless, almost like he was dead.
“Filmore!” Rhine’s heart nearly stopped beating. He placed both hands on the trunk in preparation to jump down, but the man below suddenly moved and made a great effort to pull out the dagger stabbed into the bug and wipe it on his trousers.
Right at this moment, another group of arthropods appeared from afar, like a black wave rolling towards them.
Rhine pursed his lips and spoke to Shang Ke, “Filmore, leave.”
Shang Ke stood up waveringly, his gaze turbid as he looked forward and did not reply. Blood obstructed his mouth.
“Filmore, I order you, leave this place immediately!” Rhine shouted angrily.
A shallow smile made its way to Shang Ke’s lips, as he silently replied in his heart: Even if he wanted to leave, he couldn’t. His legs had already stiffened.
Tightening his grip on the dagger, it was once again time for him to test the limits of humanity. He really wished that the cursed halo would give him another berserk state. Even if he turns into a fully handicapped man, it was better than being eaten alive by those bugs.
Rhine looked at Shang Ke’s straight form as he stood there, his weak back looked exceptional and firm in that moment. Spending life and death together, never leaving each other. This phrase suddenly flashed through his mind, like a contract, deeply ingrained into his soul.
“Don’t come down. You would only become my burden.” Shang Ke raised the dagger and pointed toward where Rhine was situated.
Being treated as a burden for the first time, Rhine’s face turned gloomy, his fingers almost digging into the tree. But he understood that, with one of his legs broken, he would not be of help down there. This kind of powerless state left him with a feeling of shame and embarrassment, of sadness and anger. He wished he could tear apart every one of those bugs then fall asleep for a week next to his love.
The arthropods grew closer and closer, completely taking over the landscape and transforming it into a black wave. The isolated and unsupported Shang Ke appeared as if he would be swallowed by them within seconds.
Rhine’s eyes were opened wide and an intense pheromone bubbled forth. Such a boundless killing intent stopped the bugs, who then acted as if they lost all sense of direction and fell into disarray.
But this kind of chaos did not last long. Rhine felt a sudden dizzy spell and his pheromone disappeared. His vision became hazy and all he could see were the rolling waves of black and the dauntless figure charging into the group…
Rhine woke up in a brightly lit room, the injuries on his body already dealt with. He turned his head and looked over to find a familiar figure by his bedside, smiling at him.
“Filmore.” Surprise and overwhelming relief flitted through Rhine’s eyes as he stared at him, unable to take his eyes away as if he would never see enough of him. “You’re alive. Thank goodness. You’re alive.”
“Of course I’m fine.” Shang Ke gently smiled, “The rescue team arrived in time and brought us back to the capital. You just need to take your time to recover. I will wait for your recovery.”
“Hm.” Rhine tightly held his hand, his mind full of tenderness and gratitude. They were alive. They made it.
“Rhine, I want to say something to you. Although you are overbearing and unreasonable, and your three views are severely flawed, I wish to be together with you, no matter if it’s in life or death.” Shang Ke spoke seriously and asked, “Rhine, what about you? Would you change for me? Respect me, trust me, and cherish me?”
“Yes, I’m would.” Rhine had never been so certain before. This man who appeared before him was his partner. He wanted no other, be it in this life or the next, he wanted this man and no one else. There could be no one else. They would never fit.
An incomparably dazzling smile spread across Shang Ke’s features.
Rhine watched him gently. This man’s smile was always so lively, like the morning light shining down upon a lake, radiant and touching, lending him endless power.
It hit him then, that something was wrong. Shang Ke had fought so bitterly against the arthropods, and for so long. He should be injured all over. Why did he look completely fine now?
Rhine’s breathing suddenly became rushed. Violent agony rushed through his body and everything he saw turned murky and semi-distorted. By his ear, a faint clamor of men and an alarm sounded.
“Hurry, the Brigadier General’s situation isn’t good! Prepare for emergency treatment!”
In the ward, everything was in chaos. Rhine only had enough time to call out ‘Filmore’ before sinking back into the darkness.
Two months later…
“How is his situation?” Rhine stood in front of a glass window, staring at the sleeping man inside and as he asked quietly.
“He is still in a coma. He could wake up at any moment, but he could also worsen at any moment.” The doctor sighed, “He was badly injured in the first place, and the Scarlet Bone Fish’s sound wave attack caused him to relapse. Following that, he had to fight continuously against the arthropods and didn’t use any medicine to treat himself in time. In addition to excessive fatigue and physical overdraft, he was injured from fighting and suffering from blood loss. For him to survive this long… it is already a miracle.”
Not using medicine to treat himself in time? Rhine’s face sunk. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to use medicine, but that Filmore had used the last of his medicine on him.
“Filmore really is such a heroic and loyal soldier.” the doctor spoke again, “By the time our rescue team made it over, he had already lost consciousness but his body was still instinctively fighting. Almost as if he were in a trance, or sleepwalking. He probably knew that you were behind him; if he collapsed, you would not be able to return alive. So even in such a scenario where he lost all conscious thought, he still fought on. Such strong will really makes one want to exclaim their admiration.”
Rhine clenched his fists. A silver light flashed through his eyes and a sour feeling suddenly arose in his chest.
He always considered himself the protector, compelling Shang Ke to stay by his side as if it was a matter of course. But in the end, the one to be protected was him. Filmore never requested much from him, yet he still silently paid him back so much.
The previous him was really too superficial. He believed that he could use his strength to control everything in front of him, yet he forgot that Shang Ke too was an alpha. Brave, determined, strong and a great partner to fight by his side.
Rhine remembered how two months ago, when he was between life and death, he saw Shang Ke. What he thought was reality was just a mirage. However, he later learned that Shang Ke had returned to awareness for a brief period, but completely sunk back into a coma after he confirmed that Rhine was out of danger.
This person gave what might have been his final moments of life and awareness all to him.
He said, “I will wait for your recovery.”
He’s healed, but what about Filmore?
Rhine walked to Shang Ke’s bedside, gently placing the medal that represented “Senior Colonel” by his pillow. This was what he fought for on behalf of Shang Ke, and exactly what Shang Ke deserves.
“Filmore, I wish to be together with you, to respect you, trust you and cherish you, no matter if it is in life or in death.”
However, Rhine would have never expected that the glory he fought and obtained for Shang Ke to fulfill his promise to him, would become the pass that Shang Ke needed to officially leave this world.
The moment the medal was placed down, the instrument issued an ear-piercing alarm. Every single monitor showed that something was wrong, that something was happening to Shang Ke’s bod., The fatigue and injuries that he had accumulated over all the years of service erupted at once, thoroughly crippling his body.
When Shang Ke broke away from this world, all he could hear was Rhine’s tearful and heartbreaking cry for him…