The rescue team from the Bikong Institute arrived less than fifteen minutes after Fu Yao’s troop went in, led by its current principal. Two of the most influential figures in the history of Bikong showed up at the same time, but the situation remained grim.
“People from the Military Ministry were here.” The doctor reported to the principal in a whisper, trying not to stir up panic among the students, “They said that abnormal energy waves were detected around here, and they suspected the appearance of rare, highly dangerous creatures.”
The principal knew what that meant. He had noticed the military’s flying device as soon as he arrived, and the emblem on it was one that he was very familiar with. “Where are they now?”
“They already went in.”
“How many of our people are still in there?”
“About a dozen or so students, and an instructor.”
“I see.” The principal rolled up his sleeves. “You stay here in case of emergency. Let the others arrange the evacuation of the students. Be sure to send everyone back to school safely.”
“What about you?”
There were now three crystal-like items between the principal’s right hand fingers. “I’m going in, of course. My students are still inside. I can’t just leave them there.”
The doctor watched anxiously as the principal disappeared into the cave entrance. A collapsed mine was the most dangerous of all places, not to mention that this one also had unknown beasts inside. All these people joined the rescue attempt with the thought of never returning. Now, the only thing he could do was to pray wholeheartedly that the students trapped inside could come out unharmed.
The paths inside the cave were covered with the giant tailed lizards’ dead bodies. It was the work of the army. For those well-trained soldiers, Level A creatures were just beasts they could take down in one hit, and their real enemy still had not appeared yet.
The principal followed the dead bodies and found Fu Yao deep inside the mine. He was in the middle of giving orders to his subordinates, charging them with sending two students they had just rescued out of the cave. They also ran into the instructor not long ago, and the three parties finally gathered together.
“I’m sorry.” The instructor apologized as soon as he saw the principal, “I didn’t protect them well.”
The principal patted him on the shoulder. The action seemed a bit awkward since the other man was taller than him by about a head’s length despite the principal being much older in age. “It was an accident. The priority right now is to rescue the students. We can talk about other things later.”
Just then, Fu Yao’s voice suddenly cut in, “Senior, long time no see.”
The instructor knew that they both graduated from Bikong, but he didn’t know they had studied in Bikong at the same time. However, Fu Yao didn’t sound as friendly as a person should have been when seeing their old schoolmate.
“I knew it was you.” The principal replied in the same manner, “Or should I address you as Major General now? Congratulations.”
“I didn’t think that you and I would meet again under these circumstances. You haven’t grown any taller.”
“And you’re a lot taller than before, but sadly, still so short.”
It left the instructor slightly stunned. The principal’s lack of second stage development was a clear fact, and Fu Yao’s height was a widely-known taboo. Was it really okay for former schoolmates to hit each other where it hurts like this immediately after their reunion?
The lieutenent, being the only person present who happened to know both of them, held his forehead helplessly. These two people’s auras contradicted each other’s to the extreme. Back then in school, they already had a lot of conflicts. Even after so many years, they still couldn’t handle each other.
The principal knew what the lieutenant was thinking about the moment he saw that gesture. He patted the lieutenant heavily on the arm and received a nod in return. The friendship between them allowed them to exchange greetings with such simple actions even after not seeing each other for many years.
“So, where are we right now?” The principal turned around and asked the instructor leading the field training team. It was not a good time to bicker with Fu Yao.
The instructor briefly reported the progress, “Most of the students have been rescued successfully. Luckily, there are only minor injuries. Two of the students have not moved at all since the accident happened. I guess they are trapped in that spot. Major General Fu Yao has already sent people to search for them.”
After he finished reporting the good news, he went on to the bad ones, “Three students are reported missing. One is Zhu Yue, and he was last spotted here.” The instructor pointed at a black dot on the tablet that had already been extinguished. “As for the other two, one is called Ling Xiao. He was the first one to go missing among all of the students. The other one is Ying Feng. We lost connection with him shortly after the alarm went off. I suspect that their location is where the danger originated.”
The principal didn’t want to ask Fu Yao, so he turned to the lieutenant, “What information do you have?”
“The satellite detected an abnormal energy source around here, in the same direction as the missing students. But the signal is very unstable. Many passages are blocked due to the cave-in, and we’re still trying to approach that area.”
“Do you know what we expect to see at the source of that energy?”
The lieutenant answered after a moment of silence, “Only energy radiated by the soulstones of rare creatures of Level SS and above could have alarmed the satellite monitoring system.”
The principal had already prepared for the worst, but he still frowned when he heard it. “Is there anyway to handle it from the outside?”
“We can’t. Forcibly cutting through the wall can easily lead to mine collapses. If that happens, those who remain inside will be in danger.”
“As long as there’s hope, we cannot give up.” Fu Yao interrupted them, “The only way we have left is to aim at the direction where the signal was last detected and manually open a path. We need to move fast, but quietly, taking the survival of students as our highest priority. We absolutely cannot afford another cave-in.”
“Yes, Sir!” The soldiers tacitly lowered their voices and replied in unison.
Dagger in hand, Ying Feng lunged at the Kui disregarding his own personal safety, but before he could touch the Kui’s body, a black shadow jumped out from behind him and knocked the Kui back several meters with a single punch.
Ying Feng stopped. He couldn’t believe what he just saw. How could a person possess power so tremendous that they could knock back a creature several times bigger than themself? What was even more frightening was that the black shadow was moving at a speed so fast that Ying Feng could hardly register its appearance at all.
The Kui was gradually losing its ground under the mysterious attacker’s offensive. In the end, it was even kicked into the air. Its gigantic body smashed onto the stone wall of the mine, producing a loud rumbling.
Horrified, Ying Feng suddenly realized that their reckless fight had an extremely high possibility of leading to a more serious cave-in. He turned around and anxiously searched for Ling Xiao, whom he had pushed to the side, but the person was nowhere to be found.
More and more rocks fell down, blocking all possible exists. Only this small, cavernous space remained, in which the black shadow and the Kui were still fighting. The Kui was waving its strong and brawny arms madly in anger, but it couldn’t get a hold of even one of its opponent’s fingers. The shadow was so fast that it practically left afterimages as it moved. It almost seemed like numerous copies were attacking at the same time. Heavy blows landed on Kui’s head, its chest, its back, and on every spot on its body. The beast was snarling in fury, and the echoes filled the entire space.
The black shadow jumped onto the Kui’s back and strangled its neck with all its might. Taking the opportunity, Ying Feng finally saw the face of the shadow —— it was actually Ling Xiao!
His eyes were bloodshot, pupils filled with wild, murderous gleams. Killing his opponent seemed to become his only belief. Everything else ceased to exist in his eyes. Ying Feng firmly believed that if he were to approach right how, Ling Xiao would not hesitate to attack him as well.
Ling Xiao’s fighting strength completely exceeded that of a normal person, and he was even able to gain an overwhelming advantage in battle against a rare creature of the highest danger level. It was absolutely impossible for a Nestling to possess such power.
The Kui jerked powerfully, throwing the rude man off his neck. Ling Xiao jumped to the ceiling of the cave, gently tapped on the wall to turn around, then launched another barrage at the Kui.
His fists and kicks, already too fast to be captured by the naked eye, poured down onto his enemy’s body like torrential rain. He pressed the front of his foot against the Kui’s chest, thrusted one of his hands straight into the creature’s iron skin, which could not be opened even with a dagger, and tore off its entire left arm.
The Kui roared in pain. Blood splashed in all directions, onto the ceiling, the wall, the ground, and all over Ling Xiao. Even in Ying Feng’s eyes, it was such a frightening scene, but Ling Xiao seemed to have felt nothing. He tore off its other arm in the same way, then retreated to the side with a backflip, staring coldly at his masterpiece.
The person Ying Feng saw at that moment was not Ling Xiao, but a mindless, cold-blooded butcher.
After losing both arms, the Kui had already lost the ability to fight. It charged at Ling Xiao with all of its strength, as if it was going to drag the other person to hell with it. But Ling Xiao just stood there, not even blinking his eyes.
“Ling Xiao!” Ying Feng blurted out. Facing such an attack, why is he not dodging? What is he trying to do?
He saw Ling Xiao extend his arm straight out in the direction the Kui was coming from. The Kui threw itself at him, and his arm pierced right through where its heart was.
The Kui bellowed one last time in its life. Ling Xiao turned his arm and clenched his fist, crushing its heart into pieces. He withdrew his bloody arm from the monster’s body. The Kui stumbled a little on the spot.
After delivering the fatal blow, Ling Xiao leaped back briskly and retreated to the safe zone, leaving only a fist-sized hole in the Kui’s chest that spurted out blood constantly.
Little by little, the spirit of life faded from its body. The Kui staggered a few steps. Its grievous howling resounded in each and every corner of the cave. Finally, the king of beasts, who was powerful enough to dominate a region, fell face down onto the ground and raised a cloud of dust.
The dust had settled. The narrow rock cave fell into an absolute silence.
Ying Feng couldn’t believe what he had just seen with his own eyes. He walked a few steps forward before he suddenly realized that he had stepped onto something.
He took a step back to pick it up and barely recognized that it was a portable injection syringe. There was still a small amount of translucent liquid left inside, reflecting a bright orange.
Ying Feng searched hard in his memory and finally remembered where he had seen something that looked exactly like this.
“This is… Embers 2nd? You stole this from the Base?”
Ling Xiao turned his head back. A red color flashed across his eyes, but they soon went back to their normal gray. The traces of blood on his face made him look all the more terrifying. However, his eyes, which had returned to normal, were filled with perplexion.
Ying Feng didn’t know what to say. Ling Xiao’s bold behavior surprised him. But if he hadn’t stolen the medicine from the laboratory at that time, the two of them would probably have died by now.
After the medicine wore off, Ling Xiao fell heavily onto his knees, as if someone had sucked out his energy from within.
Ying Feng spat quietly and threw the syringe to the side. He caught Ling Xiao and propped him up before the other person completely fell to the ground. Ling Xiao’s head hung weakly on his chest. At a glance, he seemed to be completely unconsciousness.
Supporting a half dying person with his arm, Ying Feng walked around the Kui’s corpse and its two broken arms lying on the floor and leaned Ling Xiao against the wall. After settling the person down, he went searching for a way out of this sealed chamber alone.
But he soon found out that his efforts were futile. Both of the passages to the left and the right of the chamber were blocked by falling rocks. He tried to smash those boulders, but it only caused more rocks to fall from the top. It kept him from taking any further risks, fearing that this sole space they had left would collapse as well. In that case, they would once again face the danger of being buried alive after their close call.
He looked down to check his terminal. The screen was broken while he was dodging the attacks. It had been reduced to a piece of trash. There was nothing on Ling Xiao’s wrist either.
The two of them met their second challenge after the Kui’s appearance — being trapped inside a collapsed cave in addition to losing all connection with the outside world.
With the current situation, they had no choice but to wait passively for rescue. Ying Feng had faith that the institute would be anxiously looking for them. He only hoped that support could arrive as quickly as possible.
Ying Feng sat across from Ling Xiao helplessly. After the intensive confrontation and escape, he was also exhausted both mentally and physically. He didn’t know how long they would be trapped in here, so he had to save whatever energy remained and reduce all unnecessary movements.
He was resting quietly with his eyes closed when he suddenly heard a faint groan. In such a quiet environment, it sounded especially clear and distinctive.
He opened his eyes and found out that something was not right with Ling Xiao, who was lying across from him. Ling Xiao was breathing rapidly, his face red — the same kind of symptoms he had seen on Yao Tai before.
“Uh… Mmm…” The moan was louder this time. Under Ying Feng’s gaze, Ling Xiao’s eyes slowly opened at last. His wandering eyes allowed Ying Feng to confirm that those eyes were not focused on him.
“Ling Xiao! Ling Xiao!” Ying Feng waved a few times in front of his eyes. “Can you see?”
After a long time, Ling Xiao slowly let out a groan.
“I don’t feel very well…”
Ying Feng was slightly relieved by the fact that Ling Xiao was still conscious, “That’s for sure. Dr. Yao said that Embers 2nd was still a semi finished product and had very strong side effects, yet you dared to smuggle it out.”
The tone of Ying Feng’s reproach softened unconsciously at the sight of Ling Xiao’s feeble breaths, “Nevermind. After all, we did benefit from our mistakes this time.”
Ling Xiao once again closed his eyes in pain. He leaned back against the wall. His uniform was torn at a few places during the fight, and his body was almost completely covered in the Kui’s blood, making it a rather frightening sight.
The side effect of Embers 2nd was so strong, it seemed to set a fire inside his veins and evaporate his blood over and over again.
Illusions started to form on his retina: Movies he shouldn’t have watched, stories he shouldn’t have fancied — the main character of the story seemed to be right next to him…
It took Ying Feng a while to distinguish and confirm that Ling Xiao was calling his name, but he couldn’t understand what the other person said afterwards.
“What did you say?”
Ling Xiao’s lips moved again, but the sound he made was simply inaudible.
Left with no other choice, Ying Feng moved closer to him. “What did you just say?”
“I’m so hot…”
This time, Ying Feng finally heard him clearly. “Hot?”
He reached out to feel Ling Xiao’s exposed skin and was astounded. It was not hot. It was scorching, as if it was going to burn the person alive until only ashes remain. This was probably the real reason why it was given the name “Embers”.
Ying Feng knew that the side effects of the medicine had already exceeded what Ling Xiao’s body could take, but he could only look on helplessly. There was nothing he could do. The rescue team still hadn’t shown up yet. Could Ling Xiao, who had just survived a Kui, end up dying because of the medicine’s side effect?
Ying Feng’s unconscious caresses brought out another moan from Ling Xiao. It was no longer the painful kind like the one from just now. There was something different hidden behind its rising endnote.
As a Nestling with no related experience, there was no way that Ying Feng could have known what the sound meant. Ling Xiao’s reaction made him a little nervous. They just managed to escape from the Kui’s threat with such difficulty. He didn’t want to see Ling Xiao die from something like this.
But things weren’t going the way he wished. Ling Xiao’s breath grew weaker and weaker, and in the end, it almost stopped completely. He couldn’t feel it even when he put his finger under Ling Xiao’s nose.
“Are you okay?” He held Ling Xiao with both arms and gave him a good shake, trying to wake him up from this dying state.
“Hey, hold on!”
Just as Ying Feng was falling into a complete loss, something that honestly rarely happened to him, the dying man in front of him suddenly opened his eyes. He suddenly came up with strength out of nowhere and pressed Ying Feng down onto the ground, his arms straightened as they supported him at both sides.
Ling Xiao’s eyes flashed a dangerous light in the dark.
“Are you crazy?” Ying Feng didn’t have time to figure out why Ling Xiao’s state had suddenly changed. He simply found the position of being pressed down a little unpleasant.
He was answered by a growl he had never heard before. Looming above him, Ling Xiao opened his mouth and revealed two sharp fangs.
Ying Feng stared at him with wide eyes. What’s this? A vampire?