Chapter 40: Him Alone
In Xia Zi’s view, what happened last year October is a small little prick buried inside her heart. She doesn’t think about it often, but whenever the name “Gu Ran” comes across her mind occasionally, she feels guilty and afraid. Of course, she also feels a certain kind of excitement and thrill from hiding a big secret.
She remembers clearly that it was on October 11 of last year, the third day of the second annual ultimate CS wild combat and survival game in Province K. She and Zhang Mu Han, Gu Ran, and Professor Sun were members of the fourth team. Ke Fan, Fang Xu, Yan Er and Li Ming Yue were main players of another team.
Despite every team had a different route and mission, there were many participants at the time. But Gu Ran, this beautiful girl, had attracted many gazes of the male players on the first day of the competition. Xia Zi remembers that in the first two nights, every time they completed their missions, there would be male players coming and trying to converse with Gu Ran. But Gu Ran was…how should she say it? She always had a sweet smile on her face as if she was a bit shy, but the way she talked and moved made her seem easy going as if she could have a chat with anyone.
With her combo of looks and personality, she was the perfect goddess in all men’s eyes. But Xia Zi, who shared a tent with her, thought that she was fake and wanted the attention. Even whenever Zhang Mu Han came over to look for Xia Zi and saw Gu Ran, he would be mesmerized by Gu Ran’s beauty. When the three of them chatted, he would be unlike his usual self; he would proactively make conversations as if he wanted to show off himself.
As a result, Xia Zi despised Gu Ran. She wanted to find a way to make Gu Ran fall. But Gu Ran was very considerate, so it was hard to find mistakes. Sometimes, Xia Zi would make sarcastic comments or say provocative things, but Gu Ran would just smile and shrug it off. This made Xia Zi feel even more resentful.
Later on, she finally found an opportunity.
In the morning that day, she deliberately took Gu Ran’s compass and map from her backpack. The mountain area was complicated, so without these tools, it was impossible to walk back outside. She just wanted Gu Ran to suffer some hardships like tripping over, starving for a few hours, or getting bitten by a snake. But who knew that at nighttime, when everyone had returned, she never came back.
Zhang Mu Han and the other guys in the team were feeling anxious, “The area is complicated, and there are mud slides on the mountain too. I heard that someone fell into the river and died last year. If Gu Ran is lost, she’ll be in great danger.”
It was then that Xia Zi started to panic, but she didn’t dare to tell anyone that she had stolen Gu Ran’s compass and map. She followed everyone and searched for Gu Ran all night long. Due to the guiltiness she felt in her heart, she spent the most effort in searching for Gu Ran, traversing farther into the mountain area than anyone else.
It was at a very isolated area with dense trees that she and Zhang Mu Han spotted Ke Fan, Yan Er, and Fang Xu gang raping Gu Ran.
The moon was very bright that day, with stars blanketing the sky. The shiny stars reflecting on the river’s surface look like pieces of jade floating in the water. Shining on her fair white and fragile body, it reflected a kind of bright yet dim shimmer.
Zhang Mu Han and Xia Zi were flabbergasted. They felt as if their hearts were pounding so hard that they would jump out of their chests any minute; they didn’t know if it was because they were nervous, scared, or too anxious.
Ke Fan was raping her at the moment. He had her pressed against a tree, lifting both of her legs up with his arms. Fang Xu and Yan Er were standing on each side, holding her arms, preventing her from breaking free.
Gu Ran had been stripped naked. Ke Fan had lowered his pants down to his knees only as he thrust himself into her violently. Fang Xu’s and Yan Er’s faces and eyes were dark while they touched Gu Ran’s body with their hands. And she kept crying, crying softly.
After Fang Xu took his turn, it was Yan Er’s. Zhang Mu Han, who had been hiding in the bushes, pulled Xia Zi’s arm and said in a low voice, “Let’s go.” Xia Zi didn’t dare to make a sound. They bent down as they walked away, but Xia Zi accidentally stepped on a piece of wood, making a cracking sound.
They were both in shock. Zhang Mu Han turned around and saw the three of them stop and raise their heads to look at them. He immediately pulled Xia Zi and ran out of the forest.
When they returned to their tents and lied down, they were panting and their hearts were beating fast. They were also lost without words.
It was Xia Zi who later asked, “How could they do that?”
Zhang Mu Han answered without feeling bothered, “You didn’t know this, but I’ve heard that they often play with women. Ke Fan’s dad is a government official, Fang Xu comes from a rich family and Yan Er is a gang member who knows people from all trades. There are also a lot of girls who like to play with them. Gu Ran might have been playing with them willingly.”
Xia Zi wanted to say that it didn’t seem like so, but she kept it to herself. She knew that Gu Ran was a low-level employee of a private company, and she was not from a wealthy family. Even if she was forced into the situation by them, it would likely be covered up and forgotten by others soon.
“They’ll probably be having fun for a long while,” Zhang Mu Han said, revealing a hint of excitement in his voice, “If I didn’t pull you along with me, you’ll definitely not be able to escape.”
“F–k off!” Xia Zi gave him a push.
“Remember, don’t tell anyone about this.”
They never discussed the topic again after that. It’s just that Xia Zi remembers that that night, Zhang Mu Han made love to her in the tent. He made love to her a few times. He was especially anxious and energetic.
It’s just that what happened next was beyond what they could imagine. At dawn, Ke Fan and the other two had returned. Someone asked them if they had seen Gu Ran. They said no. And then Ke Fan visited Xia Zi and Zhang Mu Han’s tent. He asked them directly with a smile on his face, “Where were you two last night?”
Xia Zi was struck dumb. Zhang Mu Han answered right away, “We didn’t go anywhere! We have been in the tent the whole time.”
Ke Fan patted his shoulder and left.
Gu Ran still didn’t return after days had gone by. It was much later when they found her swelling dead body in the muddy water downstream of the river.
Thinking about what happened in the past, as well as the twisted expressions on Ke Fan’s, Fang Xu’s and Zhang Mu Han’s faces from just now, Xia Zi is only left with the feeling of fear just like how Gu Ran felt.
Darkness is in front of her, while endless footsteps are following behind her. Xia Zi doesn’t dare to look back. She can only run forward with all her might.
“Xia Zi!” she hears someone call her. It’s the quiet and unsocial Xiao You. She knows that Xiao You had followed her out of the house back there, and she knows that he’s also one of Ke Fan’s target to kill.
So she loosens up a bit as she turns her head around. She sees Xiao You and Professor Sun running over to her.
“When we came, I spotted a cave in the front. Let’s go hide in there,” Xiao You says in a low voice. His face is hard to make out in the dark, but his voice is calm and steady like it has always been.
Professor Sun agrees, “Okay. It’s no use to keep running anyway. We’ll have to trouble you to lead the way, Xiao You.” Xia Zi’s mind is completely blank. She nods, supporting the idea, “We’re depending on you, Xiao You.”
Xiao You turns on a dim flashlight to lead the way. The two of them follow.
At the same time, Xia Zi notices that Xiao You, who has never shown much of any expression, curves the corner of his mouth suddenly, revealing a smile.
Xia Zi asks without thinking, “Xiao You, wh-what are you smiling about?”
“Nothing,” he answers in a low voice, “I’m laughing at life. It’s too laughable.”
Han Chen and Jin Xi run for a while, but they see Ke Fan and the other two still chasing after them. It’s pitch black ahead, and they still haven’t spotted Xiao You and the others.
They run over a hill. Han Chen pulls her arm and takes her to hide in the bushy area behind the hill.
They hear footsteps come near, stop, and then continue forward.
Jin Xi lets out a breath of relief. While leaning against him, she suddenly feels dampness and stickiness on his leg.
Jin Xi immediately realizes why and turns her head to look at him in the dark.
His leg is wounded. After running on it, it has obviously ripped open again, bleeding and causing severe pain.
But he has been keeping his pace all this time as if everything is fine.
Jin Xi’s heart softens up. She gives his hand a squeeze, “Is your leg alright?”
“It won’t break,” he responds softly in the dark.
Jin Xi can’t refrain from smiling. She asks further, “Where should we go next……” She suddenly feels a surge of blood rushing up to her chest; the taste of blood has already reached up to her throat. She can’t help herself from gasping for air and spitting out the blood in her mouth.
Something tightens on her waist. Han Chen embraces her while lowering his head. The side of his face is almost touching hers.
Jin Xi’s forehead has been burning and feeling dizzy, and now everything inside her body seems to be hurting as if they’re about to tear themselves apart. She really feels like falling asleep in his embrace like this. But she takes a few deep breaths and suppresses the nausea feeling in her chest. She knows that Han Chen couldn’t see her vomiting blood just now. She answers softly, “I’m fine. It’s probably because I’m having a cold, so I feel nauseated and want to vomit. Let’s continue walking.”
Han Chen keeps quiet for a moment and then stands up holding her hands.
“Follow me. Don’t let go.”
Jin Xi answers, “Okay.”
She looks up at the sky. The moon and stars are still nowhere to be found. Only thick layers of clouds span across the sky.
It might be difficult for others to try and search for someone on such a big mountain. But for Han Chen, who’s an expert in tracking things down, it is as simple as fetching an item in his pocket.
They started running after them not long later, so Xiao You and the others shouldn’t be too far away. Very quickly, Han Chen finds their footsteps in an area of soft soil. The two of them follow the footsteps, walking deeper into the forest, and higher up the mountain. They have also successfully dodged away from Ke Fan and the others; they haven’t heard any noise from them since.
As they reach to almost the top part, they immediately spot Xiao You and the other two in an open area outside of the forest.
It’s because there’s a fire.
A large, and fierce bonfire.
Heavy smoke rises from the fire towards the sky. The sound of branches cracking from the burning fire scrapes across the air. And the blazing flames light up everywhere around it.
You Chuan; Xiao You.
Or more precisely, T. He’s sitting on a fallen log three to four meters away from the fire. He’s still wearing his camouflage clothes and carrying a long rifle on his back. Both of his hands are on his knees with his head down and not budging.
On each of the two large trees behind him, Xia Zi and Professor Sun are tied up with ropes around them. Both of their heads are bent down and are not moving; it’s hard to tell if they’re dead or alive.
About a hundred meters away, Han Chen and Jin Xi are watching this.
Jin Xi presses her hand against a tree trunk for support. Her head feels heavy, and her footsteps are unsteady. She knows that she is having a high fever. The pain coming from within her chest and stomach seems to be getting worse.
She feels as if she will collapse any minute.
“You stay here,” a low and deep voice like the dark night says. Han Chen turns his head to look at her. The flames of the fire light up half of his face.
Staring at his eyes, Jin Xi feels a slight pain in her heart.
They stare at each other for a few seconds. Han Chen reaches out his hand suddenly and carries her sideways. Jin Xi stares at his fair white face, not knowing what he wants to do.
In the next second, he lifts her whole body up and puts her on top of a large tree branch. He stretches out his arms on each side of her, raises his head and looks at her.
“Can you climb a tree?”
There’s no way for Jin Xi to tell him how much she wants to reach out her arms, wrap them around his neck and hug him tightly. All she can say is, “Of course.”
Han Chen stares at her and actually smiles. He retrieves his arms and takes a step back.
Jin Xi takes a deep breath, turns around, hugs onto the tree trunk and starts climbing.
“Don’t come down,” his voice reaches her ears again, “no matter what happens.”
Jin Xi feels as if something is ripping her heart apart, causing her slide back down. She lowers her head and sees both of her hands grabbing the tree trunk. The tree bark is rough, scraping and hurting her palms.
She doesn’t know what it is that’s prompting her to do this, or maybe she truly desires to do so deep down in her heart. She pulls down the necklace from her neck and turns around.
She doesn’t tell him why. She simply holds it out to him.
Han Chen glances at her and takes it.
He has seen her wear this necklace. It’s a platinum necklace that seems to be a little worn out. The pendant is black and it’s hard to make out its shape; looks a bit strange. When they first met officially at the scene of the sexual assault case, she was touching this necklace while making her inferences.
It’s something that she carries with her and cherishes a lot.
He takes the necklace, stuffs it into his pants’ pocket and looks up at her.
“Mm,” Jin Xi takes a good look at his pair of eyes before turning around and climbing.
That is her lucky necklace. She has never told anyone.
Four years ago after surviving an accident, her life had to start over. Only this necklace is said to have been grasped in her palm tightly when she was unconscious. The doctors couldn’t take it out no matter how hard they tried until she woke up.
She’s letting him carry it now as if she’s entrusting everything in his hands.
Han Chen waits until she climbs up higher to the dense part of the leaves and where he can no longer see her before turning around and walking to where T is.
The flames are becoming brighter, and what’s behind him is moving farther away.
The endless dark night and mountain are in front of him.
T raises his head slowly and looks towards him.
Han Chen stuffs his hand into his pocket, fetches the necklace, holds it up to his lips, kisses it lightly, and then puts it into his chest pocket.
Jin Xi climbs to the very top and sits leaning against the tree while hugging the trunk.
Through the leaves, she can just see Han Chen walking out of the forest and making his way to T and his bonfire.
Jin Xi watches quietly staring at his back view, his short black hair, his fair white neck, and the dark and damp part of his pants that has been stained with blood. Her tears finally flow out of her eyes.
Chapter 40: Him Alone