QZ Chapter 20
First Published on Ainushi.
A soft knock sounded on the principal’s office door, and from its other side came a crisp, juvenile-like voice.
“Come in, please.”
The door opened, and Yao Tai walked in. She was always full of confidence, but at this moment, she appeared to be a little hesitant.
The principal was writing with a very traditional dip pen. Around a hundred year back, retro style was once a popular trend. The Nestlings in those days thought emails didn’t carry enough individuality, and insisted on writing by hand. The principal was one of them, and he kept this habit even till today.
Yao Tai waited for him to finish the entire sentence before opening her mouth, “Principal, the Center for Disease Control called…”
His hand trembled as he heard the sentence. A large drop of ink dripped down, its splash creating a huge smudge on the paper.
This half-finished letter had now turned into a pile of waste paper. The principal sighed. Maybe, he really should try changing his habit and using emails instead.
He put the pen down. “Is there no room left for maneuvering?”
Yao Tai’s face seemed very serious, “Even after all our attempts during this period of time, we truly don’t have the ability to cure him. CDC has been closely monitoring the data on our side. His psychological evaluation had already exceeded the alert level twice. I did my best to try to put it off, but CDC’s opinion is to let him receive professional treatment as soon as possible.”
The principal walked to the window with mixed feelings. “I’ve stayed in CDC myself, and I know better than anyone else what it’s like inside. Every year, more than a hundred Qizi walk in there, all of whom have just turned into Adults, yet only few are able to come out again. As the principal of this Institute, and a former patient in the Center myself, I really don’t want to see any of my students having anything to do with these words.”
Yao Tai never experienced it herself, but she could understand the feeling he was talking about. “I am the person most responsible for this incident. It’s all because of my delinquency in surveillance…”
“It’s not your problem.” The principal denied her statements, “Even if you could watch over him for one day, you can’t hold him down forever… If a person is determined to end his own life from the bottom of his heart, that obsession can be very scary. I have experienced what he is now going through. I know what kind of feeling it is. No one can take responsibility for such things, because no one can afford to do so. This is the fate of every Tianxiu person.”
He looked up at the sky, “If we have to find something to blame, we should blame our genes. Why do we have this kind of instinct inside us? Why do people who love each other have to fight for life or death? Why do the ones who lose have to be traumatized?”
He threw out these questions which had been puzzling him for the past many years. Unfortunately, whether the clouds far in the sky or Yao Tai right in front of his eyes, neither of them could answer any of his questions.
After a period of silence, the principal seemed to have calmed down a little. “Did CDC say when they would come to pick him up?”
Yao Tai responded in a whisper, “Tonight.”
The principal was taken aback, “So quick.”
“Their people have already departed. They’re on their way here now.”
The principal knew this was inevitable. No one could change it, so all he could do was to tell Yao Tai, “If he still has any unfulfilled wishes in Bikong, you can help him finish them. Once he is out of this school, I’m afraid the next time he comes back might be a long way off.”
Ling Xiao rushed out of his dorm like a blast of wind, almost bumping into his classmate who just came out next door.
“Ling Xiao, where are you going in such a hurry?” His classmates asked in astonishment.
Ling Xiao answered without stopping, in fact, he didn’t even turn back his head: “I made an appointment with Ying Feng to train together!”
By the time the last word came across, Ling Xiao was already gone, leaving only his classmates perplexed on the spot. Weren’t these two people not getting along with each other? Since when did they become so close? And they even made an appointment to train together?
When Ling Xiao arrived at the training hall, it had already past their appointment time. But Ying Feng still hadn’t shown up yet, so Ling Xiao had to start warming up by himself.
At this time, Ying Feng was actually in Yao Tai’s infirmary. He had been visiting the infirmary quite often recently, and the reason for his visits was exactly the same as when he came last time.
At first, he thought it would be finished soon with a quick injection, but Yao Tai wasn’t here when he came. He had to wait for a while before she came back. After hearing Ying Feng’s words, Yao Tai forced him to have another physical examination, and that was why he was delayed till now.
Yao Tai waited for the result of the examination to come out and finally believed what Ying Feng said was true. According to the data, Ying Feng’s hormone level had obviously exceeded the standard of someone who had already received suppressant injection, and it had been only a few days since the last time she gave him an injection. This was simply unbelievable.
“Are you sure you didn’t have close contacts with anyone who’s already awakened?”
Ever since the last time Yao Tai warned him about it, Ying Feng had kept a great distance from Zhu Yue. Therefore he replied as a matter of course, “I’m sure.”
“Then there’s only one possibility left,” Yao Tai stated her guess, “it might be because your body has a very high drug resistance, so suppressants don’t work well for you.”
This hypothesis made her feel a little uneasy. “Field practice will start soon, and a special case like you… I would suggest that you don’t participate in it.”
“I want to attend.” Ying Feng rejected right away.
“Actually, it’s not a big problem even if you don’t receive suppressant injection during your awakening phase. But it is a much more complicated situation with field practices. Sudden danger could occur. What if you run into an accident at that time by any chance?”
“I can control myself,” said Ying Feng. “If you just give me one more shot.”
Yao Tai knew she wasn’t able to talk him out of it. These Nestlings had always been strictly protected and kept inside the Institution, therefore they especially valued any opportunity to be away from school, let alone the annual field practice. Many couples even postponed their Adult Ceremony in order to take part in it.
Yao Tai injected suppressant for him once again and gave him a spray.
“This is an emergency suppressant spray. Use it when necessary, and keep it on you just in case.”
Ying Feng took it and put it in his pocket. “Thank you, Dr. Yao.”
“That Ling Xiao in your class, how’s he doing lately?”
Ying Feng wanted to say that Ling Xiao was still alive, and had been jumping around like a monkey, but he changed his words at the last second, “He’s fine, as usual.”
“That’s good. I was worried what happened to his friends would make him overly negative and pessimistic. He hasn’t come to me yet. It looks like he still hasn’t awakened. People who have yet to awaken may experience false-awakening at any moment. It can be a small or a serious hidden danger in the field. Not to mention, his temperament also makes people worry. Can I ask you to look after him during the field practice, please?”
Ying Feng answered with a mumble. It was hard to tell whether he took her words to his heart. Yao Tai knew he didn’t like to be connected with other people. Not to mention, one of these two people was extremely outgoing while the other one extremely reserved. There was no way for them to get along with each other, so she just waved her hand and let him leave.
When Ying Feng arrived at the training hall, as soon as he walked in, he sensed a stream of air coming at his face. He reacted quickly by lifting his arm, blocking three consecutive attacks from the other party. Timing his movements, he even managed a counterattack. The shadow which had just sneak attacked him immediately leaped backwards and landed gracefully on the ground.
“You’re late.” Ling Xiao shouted as soon as he steadied his steps. Ying Feng saw that he seemed to have finished all the preparatory activities already: his forehead was covered with a thin layer of sweat, an indication that his body was at its best state.
“Come on.” He threw his jacket to the side and posed in preparation for the fight. After several days of practices, they were already familiar enough with each other’s routines that there was no need to exchange extra nonsense.
“Don’t you need to warm up first?” Ling Xiao didn’t want to take advantage of him.
“Fighting with you is a warm-up itself.”
“F*ck,” Ling Xiao felt a need to fix up this arrogant person. He rushed up at once, and the two people once again dragged each other into an intensive fight.
After some observations, Ling Xiao found out that Ying Feng was especially concerned with defending his left chest. It was true that the heart was a crucial part for every person, but Ying Feng seemed to be overly conservative. Some of Ling Xiao’s attacks were obviously fake moves, yet he still chose to defend, not risking it the least bit. It made people wonder if he had been seriously injured in that place before and was extra cautious because of it.
Upon realizing this, the range of Ling Xiao’s attacks suddenly had focus. There were many times that Ying Feng switched to defense during the middle of a very threatening attack simply because of Ling Xiao’s movements. It resulted in him repeatedly missing good opportunities. Taking advantage of this, Ling Xiao strengthened his offensive and slowly forced Ying Feng into a corner.
Ying Feng’s heel bumped into some obstacles, and it slowed him down for an instant, revealing a tiny crack in his impenetrable defense. But it was enough for Ling Xiao to firmly seize the opportunity.
‘Let’s see what you’ll do this time.’ He felt proud within and concentrated all of his strength onto his fist. Despite himself being wide open for attacks, he aimed and attacked directly at the other person’s weak points.
However, this time, Ying Feng didn’t step back and defend as Ling Xiao had expected. He threw a punch even faster than Ling Xiao and hit him right at the belly. Ling Xiao took several steps backward. He was utterly confident that the other person would not attack, therefore he had revealed his own weak points as well. While in the end, he tumbled exactly on his own self-approbation.
“You,” Ling Xiao painfully covered his belly with his hand, “How come you stopped defending?”
“Is there a rule that I must defend?” Ying Feng answered calmly.
“You were obviously nervous about that place,” Feeling himself being tricked, Ling Xiao became a little grumpy.
“Ah,” Ying Feng didn’t deny it, “That’s just my habit.”
“Were you beaten by someone before? Like, once bitten, twice shy? ” Ling Xiao couldn’t hold back his curiosity.
Ying Feng walked over and picked up his uniform jacket. He took out the peach-pit from its left pocket to show it to Ling Xiao, “Because I usually carry this with me. Since I don’t have it on me right now, of course, it doesn’t matter.”
Ling Xiao felt a little vexed, “If your little lover from your previous life is so delicate and precious that you’re afraid it will break, then just don’t take it with you all the time!”
Ying Feng ignored him. He put the peach-pit back in his pocket and took out an IC card from the other one.
For the convenience of the students, there were vending machines right inside the training hall. Ying Feng swiped his card before the scanning section, and the machine dispensed a bottle of cold energy drink at once.
Ling Xiao too was dripping with sweat from the fight. His mouth was dry. When he saw Ying Feng drinking water in a head-back position, his eyes couldn’t help but focus on the other person’s adam’s apple. The skin there was glistening with a faint glow from the sweat, and occasionally, a drop of sweat bead would slide down along the curve and hide behind the V-shape left by the two unbuttoned buttons of the shirt.
The cold bottle was soon covered with mist after being exposed to the warm air, appearing to be particularly tasty and refreshing. Ling Xiao subconsciously made a swallow.
Ying Feng felt the stare coming straight at him from the side. He glanced at Ling Xiao from the corner of his eyes, and what he saw was exactly that slightly ridiculous scene. He found it funny, so he swiped his card for another bottle and threw the drink which just fell out to Ling Xiao.
Ling Xiao was still staring absent-mindedly when an item suddenly flew toward him. He caught it out of reflex, and the freezing coldness in his palm made him quiver.
He paused for a second, then realized that Ying Feng had bought it for him. Thinking back at how he had been gazing at the other person a moment ago, he started to feel embarrassed even himself.
“I… Cold water is enough for me…” He replied awkwardly.
This was the first time that Ying Feng had seen someone pretending to be cocky when he didn’t even have enough money on his card for a bottle of water. His tone turned a bit sarcastic, “Just drink it. Take it to replenish your energy. You are so weak during these two days of fighting together. It’s like you didn’t eat.”
Ling Xiao refused to give in, “Who said I didn’t eat? I’ve been eating bread, okay?”
“You’ve been exercising a lot recently. You should have finished the bread already?”
“Of course I haven’t!” What Ling Xiao said was true, but the cruel fact was that he was indeed eating much more than before. Originally, the amount was enough to last till the end of the month, but now it was about to run out in a few days.
Ying Feng could tell what was going on from his expression alone. “If you have finished them, then just say it. I don’t mind buying some more for you. You can’t find another person to bum off anyway, right?”
The minute he finished, he saw Ling Xiao’s expression dimmed at once. Staring at the ground, for the first time ever, the other person didn’t refute Ying Feng’s ridicule.
Just when Ying Feng realized he probably said something he shouldn’t have said, Ling Xiao passed by him in silence. The frustration on his face made him appear like an entirely different person.
“This,” he turned back his head at the gate and raised the drink in his hand, “Thanks.”
For ten years, this was the first thanks he got from Ling Xiao. But it didn’t bring him any satisfaction. In fact, he felt rather bad.
By the time Ying Feng returned to the dorm building, Ling Xiao was already gone. Standing at the top of a flight of stairs while looking at the direction where Ling Xiao’s dorm was, Ying Feng hesitated whether he should go over.
He thought of that time when Ling Xiao came to his dorm looking for him and how the person was too embarrassed and awkward to make an apology. He started to understand a little Ling Xiao’s feeling at that time.
Ling Xiao was sitting on the edge of the bed, staring blankly at the photo in his hand. That was the group photo of him together with Lan Sheng and Ping Zong during the field training last year.
He was so naive and ignorant at that time that he didn’t even know about his best friends dating each other. When the photo was taken, he was still cramming in between those two, foolishly sticking there as the third wheel.
The three people in the photo had injuries on their faces and were covered in mud from the field training, but their smiles were so bright. It had been only a year, yet he was already the only one left. If carefree meant childish, and one had to pay a price in order to grow up, then Ling Xiao would rather stay childish like an idiot in exchange for the time when the three of them were together.
The door was knocked three times rhythmically. No one in Ling Xiao’s memory would knock in such a polite way.
“Who is it?”
He asked aloud, but no one answered.
Ling Xiao put the picture back on the nightstand. He got up and opened the door. Outside the door was someone he didn’t expect.