Chapter 34: Marionette
Wu Yun’s ears rang, but before he could gather his thoughts, Toby slammed his head down again. Wu Yun finally passed out and lay sprawled over the steering wheel.
Toby laughed, appearing sinister and deranged.
He got out of the car and the silver spider crawled into his collar again. He dragged Wu Yun out and threw him onto the back seat, then sat in the driver’s seat and drove away, the vehicle bumping along all the way through the dense forest.
They passed the delivery truck, but Toby acted like he hadn’t seen it and rolled over the cocoon-wrapped corpses of his companions. He came to a stop before a towering ancient tree wrapped in numerous vines.
There were hundreds of thousands of vines, entwined and sustaining each other up, while the ancient tree stood staunchly like a pillar reaching for the sky. Under the tangle of vines, it formed a large tree-castle, even detailing the shape of several windows lattices. The vines were interwoven into elaborate waves and curls like classic Rococo-style buildings. It had an air of elegance and mystery to it.
Toby dragged Wu Yun out of the car and hauled Zhou Yu over his shoulder.
Light fell through the gaps between the vines of the castle like a small trickling brook.
Silver-white transparent butterflies danced among the glowing beams, like strings of crystal lights.
Toby dragged Wu Yun to a tunnel entrance at the front of the tree-castle and pushed him in, then threw Zhou Yu down after him.
The silver spider crawled out from underneath Toby’s collar and leaped towards a descending vine. The silk thread connecting it to Toby broke and Toby suddenly lost consciousness. His eyes closed as he crumpled to the ground, just in time to fall into the hole.
They slid down the cave and fell into a dark, spacious underground chamber beneath the ancient tree.
Meanwhile, Zhou Qing picked open a pine nut and sent it to Mo Ye’s mouth: “Mo Ye, do you want to eat pine nuts?”
Mo Ye was curled up in a ball and huddled on the chair beside him. Occasionally, he would stretch his leg out and push out to make the chair turn. It seemed like he was entertaining himself.
His ears were drooping and his eyes were closed. It wasn’t clear what he had on his mind.
Zhou Qing crooked his head to the side and said, “Pine nuts… Zhou Yu liked to eat them when he was a child. There were a lot of them in his pocket! Would you like to try it?”
When he mentioned Zhou Yu, Mo Ye suddenly opened his eyes, and a touch of gold flashed through his amber irides. Zhou Qing paused, thinking that he had imagined it. Just as he was about to rub his eyes, Mo Ye suddenly straightened up his back and jumped down from the chair.
“Mo Ye! Where are you going?”
Mo Ye went to the door and hit it hard. The door did not open. He turned back to look at Zhou Qing, a determined look in his eyes.
“You want to go out? Why? Is staying with me too boring?”
Just then, a researcher came in. The moment the door opened, Mo Ye rushed out.
Zhou Qing hurried to chase after him.
“Mo Ye! Where are you going?! Come back!”
Still, Mo Ye rushed out of the room without a second glance and started sprinting through the corridor. At the same time, a field worker was passing through the exit gate. The moment the gate was about to close, Mo Ye rushed out from under his feet, leaving Zhou Qing behind.
“Goodness! What was that about?” The field worker asked, confused.
“Professor Zhou! Shouldn’t you notify control center as soon as possible?” Zhou Qing’s assistant came to ask Zhou Qing.
Zhou Qing remained standing where he was. He had a feeling that the reason why Mo Ye had reacted like that was because Zhou Yu’s life was in danger. If so, he would let Mo Ye leave instead of locking him up in here.
He pretended to be slow to react and stood there for more than a dozen seconds until Mo Ye passed through the inner core of the base and into its outer wing.
News eventually reached Song Zhi and he sent out an order to the system control center of the base to trap Mo Ye inside.
Nobody knew how Mo Ye did it. He seemed to know exactly which channels would open in the labyrinth of the base and exactly when someone would pass through.
At the most critical junction, he passed through a closed gate when a truck that was returning from the outside was about to enter the base. The moment the gate was opened, Song Zhi ordered, “Close all nodes! No one is allowed in or out! Stop him! We must stop him!”
The staff of the system control center had cold sweat down their backs. Their brain processing speed and the rate at which their fingers could type out code were far slower than Mo Ye. Something that looked like black lightning streaked through the monitors, breaking through the limits of vision and thought.
Mo Ye’s speed gave him the illusion of a comet piercing through the night sky, shooting out from a nearly closed gap in between the gates. He leaped on top of the hood of the Hummer in front of him. With a loud bang, the hood crumpled flat and even the front tire was blown.
The system control employees were struck dumb with disbelief. “That was way too fast! We had no way of predicting where he went at all, but he knew exactly which gates were being opened!”
Song Zhi’s hands were laid out flat on the table. There was no doubt that Mo Ye possessed senses that were beyond those of human beings.
Through the system surveillance’s video replay, Song Zhi saw Mo Ye’s face. His eyes were firmly looking ahead, as if he would break through any obstacles in front of him.
Cold sweat dripped down from Song Zhi’s forehead.
It could be seen from this that it was completely within Mo Ye’s capabilities to leave the base by himself. The only reason why he had not left was because of Zhou Yu.
At this moment, Zhou Yu’s head was buzzing. He finally found a trace of clarity and sat up slowly.
There was darkness all around him, and in the darkness there were countless silver spots twinkling. He shielded his eyes and finally saw that those luminous dots were actually butterflies with silver wings.
When his eyes fully adapted to the darkness, Zhou Yu could see everything around him more clearly. The spacious cavern he was in was interwoven by various vines. Overhead, he could also see the empty window-like opening with a rectangular shape. It was almost night. Twilight fell in from between the crevices and cast neat rows of shadows on the ground, just like window lattices.
Wu Yun and Toby were lying down beside him. Zhou Yu immediately stretched out his hand and pressed it on Wu Yun’s neck. When he felt a pulse in his carotid artery, Zhou Yu finally let out the breath he had been holding in. Wu Yun was still alive. He checked Toby and found that he was still alive as well, but his hands and feet had been twisted. Zhou Yu realized that some organism must have controlled Toby and attacked him and Wu Yun.
Zhou Yu carefully observed the space around them. It was as if it had been carefully designed by something or someone; it was impossible for it to have occurred naturally from the organisms of Nibelungen.
The walls of the castle before him were actually part of the ancient tree. The silver butterflies fluttered their wings and slowly flew to Zhou Yu’s side, as if they were helping him light up the area to let him see the walls more clearly. There was artwork in the form of carvings on the walls. Zhou Yu touched them with his fingers and found that the carvings were deep and full of meaning. When more specks of light gradually gathered near him, Zhou Yu could see them better. It was a portrait of a woman. She was vivid and lifelike, and the slight curve of her lips were especially tantalizing. Zhou Yu believed that whoever had carved this woman possessed a deep adoration for her.
Zhou Yu took out his recorder and pointed it at the artwork above him. If he could make it back to the base alive, he would hand it all over to Song Zhi. Whether it was the meticulous architecture or the carvings, this place embodied human civilization.
But using the ancient trees as pillars in the castle, weaving vines into the walls in rococo patterns, and manipulating the silver butterflies to act as lights—none of this was something humans could do, and it should at least be what an A-rank organism was capable of.
“Welcome to my world.”
A gentle voice sounded, yet Zhou Yu could not see anyone after looking around.
It suddenly dawned on him that the voice came from his mind, just like Elpis, an organism of A-rank or higher was communicating directly with him through his mind.
“Who are you?” Zhou Yu immediately returned to where Wu Yun and Toby were.
“It doesn’t matter who I am, but I can see many interesting things in your brain. You are a human being, yet Elpis chose you.”
“What do you want to do?” Zhou Yu was tense with caution as he placed his hand on the gun at his waist. It was still there!
“My original purpose was very simple; that is to treat you as food and sustenance. However, it’s a pity that you’ve injected some kind of drug into your bodies so that if I were to eat you, it would be detrimental to my health. I will have to wait until the drug metabolizes.”
“So that’s how it is.”
Zhou Yu knew that no matter what he planned out or how he acted, it will be noticed by the A-level organism. More importantly, the tree-castle was completely under its control. It was impossible for him to leave with Wu Yun, let alone by himself.
“Well, I’m glad you have such an awareness of your situation. The relationship between us is like cats and mice. The longer you spend with me to pass the time, the longer I will keep you alive. But once I find you boring, I’ll open my mouth and eat you all.”
The voice was teasing and playful, it was unclear if it was playing tricks on them or frightening them, but its threats were a little immature.
“And where is your mouth?” Zhou Yu asked coldly.
The voice laughed again, slightly insane.
“My head is on the ceiling, my feet are underneath you, my fingers are around your throat, and as for my mouth… Where is it? You’re already in my stomach.”
Zhou Yu narrowed his eyes: “Why do I think you’re bluffing?”
“Is that so? Turn around and see.”
As soon as Zhou Yu turned around, he found that vines were falling from the air and rolling up Wu Yun and Toby. Zhou Yu immediately ran to them while pulling out the gun from his waist. He fired several shots at the vines.
Toby had been completely wrapped away. Wu Yun was still hanging in mid-air and the vines that Zhou Yu shot loosened him. Wu Yun fell and was caught by Zhou Yu.
He looked up and saw that the mass of vines directly above him had withered, indicating that Zhou Yu’s bullets were working.
Without any hesitation, Zhou shot at the area that had not yet withered. Soon, the green vines above him turned yellow-brown.
Wu Yun, who was knocked out, finally regained consciousness. He was shocked by the scene before him. Where he was now was a completely different world from before.
Zhou Yu briskly said, “Pull out your gun!”
Wordlessly, Wu Yun turned over and pointed his gun in the same direction as Zhou Yu, his body tense.
The yellowish-brown vines gradually peeled off from the air like dead snakes. The green vines writhed about in crisscrossing lines, creeping onto each other and tightening up. Even the previous window lattices had been blocked from sight. If it weren’t for the silver butterflies, they would have no light at all.
Although the bullets had been effective, there were just too many vines in there. Even if they used up all the bullets, the castle still would not fall apart.
“You’ve caused me so much trouble that if I stand by and do nothing, it will seem like I did not do my duty as your host. I will have to give you a warning.”
The voice in Zhou Yu’s mind sounded again, and the vines above him began to unfold. Toby, who had been wrapped inside them, suddenly fell from above. Zhou Yu rushed forward to catch him, but was held back by Wu Yun. The silver butterflies flew past, sweeping a chilly breeze over their heads. Their wings seemed to invert, and in a sharp flash of light, it seemed like numerous sharp blades had slashed across Toby’s body.
Scarlet blood splattering everywhere. Zhou Yu could only watch the gruesome scene unfold with his eyes wide open. By the time the silver butterflies left for somewhere else, all that was left of Toby was his pale white bones.
The entire process did not exceed three seconds; Toby didn’t even get the chance to scream.
As if nothing happened, the butterflies languorously and freely fluttered about in the interior of the castle—like stars in the darkness, something one yearned for.
The more beautiful an organism was, the more dangerous it is. Zhou Yu undoubtedly realized it this time.
Wu Yun and Zhou Yu’s backs were already soaked with sweat. Against these organisms, their guns were completely ineffective.
“All right, a new game starts now. Will it be you or your friend who will become the next masterpiece to bloom in scarlet?”
Zhou Yu’s pupils quivered and suddenly cried out, “Wu Yun, the lighter!”
Wu Yun threw the lighter directly at Zhou Yu without asking why.
At this time, the butterflies were gathering together to gain momentum and fly over. They once again drew up their wings, preparing to make mincemeat out of them.
“Wu Yun! Get close to me, right now!”
As soon as Zhou Yu’s spoke, Wu Yun rushed to Zhou Yu’s side and said, “Do I also need to hold you tight?!”
Zhou Yu ignored Wu Yun. He took off his coat and picked up a few of the branches on the ground. The second he lit the lighter, the silver butterflies that had been barreling towards them gave them a wide berth while surrounding them in a circle, hesitating to draw too close to the flame.
“That’s incredible, Zhou Yu, you knew that they’re afraid of fire!”
“Now get your vodka out!”
Wu Yun did not ask Zhou Yu how he knew about his secret stash of vodka. He immediately threw a small metal hip flask to Zhou Yu.
Seeing that the lighter’s flame was dying out, the butterflies regrouped and were about to rush towards them again. Wu Yun could even feel his face being sliced open by their wings, the cuts burning with pain.
The moment Zhou Yu relit the lighter, the silver butterflies suddenly dispersed again. They strayed closer and farther away along with the flickering of the lighter.
Wu Yun helped Zhou Yu pour vodka over his clothes and tie it to a branch. In a sudden burst of fire, the flames leapt up and illuminated the inside of the castle. The butterflies near them were burned by the fire and crackled as they were incinerated while emitting a peculiar odor. It was neither the stench of rotting meat nor a burnt smell, but a light fragrance.
Zhou Yu knew that he could not yet relax. Soon, the flames would burn out and the god of death would pay them a speedy visit.
“Wu Yun, do you have any sedative grenades on you?”
Wu Yun shook his head. “They probably fell out. I’m already very lucky to have kept my gun!”
Zhou Yu caught a glance of some equipment from on top of Toby’s remains. He held up his torch and went to them with Wu Yun. Zhou Yu knelt down to rummage through them as Wu Yun held up his gun to guard their surroundings.
Zhou Yu finally found some sedative grenades. He asked Wu Yun, “How many seconds can you hold your breath?”
“Hey! How can you use seconds to count how long I can hold my breath? At least use minutes! I have no problem with three to five minutes!”
“And I thought you’d be able to hold your breath for 10 minutes and carry me out of here while you’re at it.”
“I was hoping for you to carry me out of here!”
“No problem, you can start fainting away!”
Saying that, Zhou Yu unexpectedly found an oxygen mask from Toby’s stuff!
“Toby, that lucky guy! Both of our things were thrown out, yet he kept his own. How about I start fainting right now?”
Wu Yun knew quite well what Zhou Yu was thinking: when the sedative gas took effect, the vines should open up, otherwise, all the creatures in the enclosed space would fall unconscious. Zhou Yu and Wu Yun will have a few minutes to wipe them out completely. If they didn’t want to be killed, then they would have to let the air clear out. That would mean creating an opening.
At this time, Zhou Yu’s heard the voice of the A-rank organism in his mind again.
“You are so naive, Zhou Yu. Did you think I would let you go? I will suffocate you in here until you can’t bear it anymore and pass out! Then I’ll put you through punishment a hundred times harsher than what you are facing now.”
Zhou Yu ignored its threat. He knew deep in his heart that he had to resist if he wanted to live.
When Zhou Yu was ready and when Wu Yun had taken in a deep breath of air, Zhou Yu hurled the sedative grenade into the air, and the gas quickly diffused. The silver butterflies slowed down the flapping of their wings and dropped to the ground.
Zhou Yu did not hesitate to light the torch to the ground and burn up the butterflies.
As time slowly ticked by, the vines continued to closely guard the space, leaving no gap for Zhou Yu and Wu Yun to escape from.
Soon, the bodies of the butterflies had all been reduced to ash, leaving the torch in Zhou Yu’s hand as the only source of light.
Then, Wu Yun stared at Zhou Yu, as if to remind him of something, but in order to avoid breathing in the sedative gas, Wu Yun could not open his mouth.
Keeping alert, Zhou Yu leaned to the side. He saw a silver spider fall down from above and jump onto his face.
Zhou Yu was startled. He took the dagger from his waist and stabbed it at his face, but the spider had leaped onto his neck and it quickly got into his collar.
Zhou Yu did not say a word and threw the torch to Wu Yun. He was about to take off his oxygen mask and hand it to Wu Yun, but he was a step too late. He felt his vision plunge into darkness. His limbs were moving, but not under his control. He could not hear or see anything.
Zhou Yu realized that the spider must have been hiding in a gap in the vines and had not been exposed to sedative gas. The burning of the silver butterfly had not only consumed the oxygen in the enclosed space, but also the sedative gas. When the concentration of the sedative decreased, the silver spider came out.
The name of this spider was “marionette.” This name was quite fitting. It could invade the muscles and nerves of its host with its silk thread, thus achieving its purpose of controlling their body. But unlike the windtalkers, it did not need to enter the body of its host. The marionette’s threads were not affected by the host’s blood or any drugs in the body’s system.
Zhou Yu shouted loudly, regardless of whether Wu Yun could hear him or not.
“Wu Yun! Don’t worry about me! Take off my mask and either kill me or knock me down! Remember, one of us has to survive! “
Wu Yun raised his gun and pointed it at Zhou Yu. The Zhou Yu before him seemed to have gone mad. He pulled out the Swiss army knife at his thigh and attacked Wu Yun relentlessly. He was quick, decisive, and dangerous, as if he would not rest until he cut Wu Yun into a thousand pieces.
Cold sweat covered Wu Yun’s body. Although he heard Zhou Yu’s shouts loud and clear, how could he shoot Zhou Yu? Once Zhou Yu was shot, he would definitely die.
Wu Yun thought to himself: Fuck it, if we’re going to die, then let’s die together!
Wu Yun stabbed the torch into the ground, its flames reflected on the intertwined vines like a blood-thirsty monster from hell.
Wu Yun also took out the Swiss Army Knife from his waist and crossed blades with Zhou Yu.
Zhou Yu had a strong and solid stance. Wu Yun, though experienced, could only dodge Zhou Yu’s attacks. Their Swiss Army knives collided in the air, throwing off sparks from the friction between their blades.