#145 – Hide And Seek
“Nope,” Chang said, even though he felt a tingling sensation in his back. He raised his hands over his head.
“Oh well, you don’t really have a choice right now.” The cold muzzle dug into Chang’s waist. “What you just told me sounds critical to our survival. We have to verify the authenticity of your information. So it’s not a threat, but you have to come with us.”
“Bro, listen. If you’re smart enough to believe me, you should understand that neither of us has time to waste. Though that Willow is resting temporarily, the migrating animals are right behind our backs. Time doesn’t permit me to provide an explanation,” Chang said, hands still raised high above his head. “Is that how you treat a benefactor who just offered life-saving information to you?”
“It’s not up to me to decide how to treat you, we just need to verify…” The bald man insisted, but he couldn’t finish his sentence. The next moment the pitch of his voice, as he said the word ‘verify’, quickly rose to that of a shriek.
The cracking of the thigh bone preceded his scream. His knee snapped and bent backward at the most impossible angle, and he pulled the trigger in reflex.
The bullet flashed above Chang’s waist, as he bent forward due to the kicking momentum. The bullet even ripped a thin piece of skin off the back of his head before rushing into the void of the red fog.
Chang regained his balance before anyone had time to react. He straightened from his bent position, and with a scalpel in his right hand sliced open the other soldiers’ windpipes – before they could pull the triggers.
Problems were resolved, nice and clean. Chang shook his head, flicking a few drop of blood away. He took the backpack with the supplies he just asked for and prepared to leave the store. It’d be hard for him to leave if he delayed, the guards ought to have started gathering right after the gunshot.
Just as how he predicted, while he was securing the strap on his backpack, a small troop emerged. They didn’t even care to investigate if their allies were in the store; they chose the most destructive method of eliminating enemies – by indiscriminate shooting.
“Are they even the military anymore? I’d say they’ve become thugs already.” Chang sneaked another piece of hardtack in his pocket, then broke a window on the other side of the store and disappeared within the thick fog.
Some individual from the special force noticed his figure and chased after it. At the same time, the warning signal started howling at the roof of the store.
‘Once each city formed its state, the military has become much more efficient, and their sense of danger improved. They’re less humane as well, they no longer need to worry about any political consequences for killing the wrong target.’
There were many thoughts in Chang’s head as he dashed away from the store. The amount of guards grew significantly, like someone had spilled some beans. The warning signal also disturbed the birds circling in the sky, their flight patterns broke apart as they impatiently ascended and descended.
At the suburbs of He Bi, Chang’s group was waiting for him with the massive centipede.
Chang galloped along its side, from its tail to the head. He shouted at his friends, “Go!Go! Go! I caused some trouble in there!”
“What trouble?” Qing patted the centipede, which wriggled around and then ducked into the forest.
“Words I said caused a riot.” Chang sighed. “I thought I was doing a favor by telling the military the truth, but they insisted on verifying the information. I had no other choice but to kill them and flee.”
“That sounds like something you would do.” Shui giggled.
“Indeed, always pays for his own unnecessary kindness,” Shui Qing added.
“I assume no one is after us, right?” Zhizhi sniffed the air, worrying.
“No. Who could spot me in this void anyways,” Chang said. “I’m not bragging about anything, but who could match my tracking and anti-tracking abilities?”
“I get it, of course. We shall resume our journey to the north.” Zhizhi almost rolled her eyes.
“Yep, to the north.” Chang then added in a murmur, “Those migrating animals will eventually scatter, they’ll find comfortable spots and stay there until they feel the threat coming again. The further north we get, the less dangerous it’s going to be. I’d say when we pass the border of He Nan and get to He Bei province, we should start thinking about slowing down in a relatively bigger city.”
“I agree with you,” Qing said, but his eyes lingered on the birds. “Look at the f*cking flocks here… How scary…”
A gigantic bird descended towards Qing, its mouthpiece was wide open, ready to pick him up. However, he dodged in time to avoid the huge animal.
“Wait, why are you using foul language already?” Chang was perplexed by Qing’s words. “How could you say it in such a natural way? Qing Shui never cursed.”
“Qing Shui is Qing Shui, and I am me,” Qing emphasized. “I know, I know. Even if we have the same cells, my mind is different from his, completely. I think I need to repeat it though, I have my own personality, and it is independent of his.”
“Exactly, we are even different from each other.” Shui curved his mouth into a smile. “Don’t treat us like somebody’s copies. We have our own emotions and thoughts.”
Shui Qing affirmed their statements by nodding. “Among us, Qing is most prudent while I am more adventurous. Do you see it? We are different.”
“Alright, alright. Keep going with what you said before.” Chang pressed his fingers to his temples.
“Right, I was going to say that I agree with your thinking about the Willow. Without its intimidation, the migrating animals will soon disperse. The weather up north will be more extreme, as it gets colder and colder. After all, they aren’t us, they don’t have a long-term goal of escaping from the Willow once and for all. They will stop somewhere, eventually.”
Qing waved off a few insects away, as he spoke.
“We’re going to get to He Bei province soon enough. And the next mega city is Shi Jia Zhuang. We’ll see what we can do there,” Chang said reluctantly. “After all, we’re all exiles now.”
“We don’t have a choice in that.”
Before the group could enter He Bei province, they had to pass through An Yang. There they heard some terrifying news.
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“There is a jungle between He Nan and He Bei provinces. Nobody ever gets through it.” This was a kind advice that Chang received in exchange for a piece of hardtack.
“It’s a vast jungle. The diversity of species there is unimaginably rich. Most of them are experts in camouflaging as well. They’re so good that even if you stand in front of them, you won’t be able to tell. A lot of people from He Nan died in that jungle when they fled to He Bei, from which we barely hear anything. I advise you to just stay here instead of taking the risk.”
The advice rang an alarm bell in Chang’s head but he didn’t slow down even a bit.
Traveling with the centipede accelerated their pace, and soon, they arrived at the intersection between the two provinces, and a pink jungle was right ahead of them.
“This must be the jungle that person in An Yang talked about. He said it will be a hide and seek game in there all the time.” Chang stood upon the head of the centipede, worriedly looking at the pink horizon. “Everything there has the same color, pink. Even I won’t be able to tell the direction in such a monochrome space.”
The jungle gave a weird sensation to Chang, as if he was suffering from the snow blindness. The color pink tinted every scenery. He felt nauseous and dizzy after just a moment of staring.
“This is gross… The pink doesn’t even have values; the edges of everything melt together, I can’t even see the trees! It hurts my eyes more than redness and darkness.” Chang jumped off the centipede, taking a step into the pink world. “I can’t see.”
“This is… something we never saw too.” The clones slid down from the head of the centipede. “Monochrome basically equals blindness to us. The creatures there are competing homogeneously.”
“What do you mean?” Chang was puzzled.
“Essentially, when all species are evolving towards one direction in a certain ecological circle—for example, an island—they choose one trait, like poisonousness. Then there, if anything is not poisonous, they won’t be able to survive.” Qing gazed at the pink world ahead. “And this jungle that is playing hide and seek with us, it’s a world of camouflage; nothing can survive if they stand out from the surroundings.”
Qing pulled up a strand of grass when he spoke. He rolled it between his fingers.
“Just like this grass, it looks like it is grass. But in fact…”
Qing flicked at the stalk’s pointy tip, and the grass convulsed as if it felt pain. It started twisting and rolled out its leaves into wings, turning into a moth-like insect that fluttered its wings and flew away.
The kid lost sight of the moth before even realizing that it was gone. He then finished the sentence that he had left open previously.
“…It’s an insect.”