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Ruolian’s face instantly turned a shade of deep red, much like a ripe apple, as she quickly covered her face with both hands.
“No, I mean… Could you help Liu Mengqi? She’s feverish and has been sweating heavily. I really need your help on this matter,” he said, anxiously rubbing his hands together and gazing at Ruolian.
“Oh, that’s all? It’s a minor issue. Even if you hadn’t mentioned it, as Mengqi’s close friend, I would’ve stepped in. It’s strange though. I would’ve done it already, if our classmates weren’t so overly cautious, not letting me see Mengqi.”
“Yes, initially, everyone was quite wary of the mutants. The day you were unconscious, a boy tried speaking to Tan Xin and was immediately punched by Zhang Yicheng. Honestly, without your assistance in crafting weapons and securing the floors, this wariness would have sparked a full-blown conflict by now,” Ruolian elaborated, glancing towards a boy playing cards next to Zhu Hanfang, a punch mark evident on his face.
From the looks of things, Zhu Hanfang had gained himself a little underling from that altercation.
Her gaze then shifted to Tan Xin. As expected, besides Zhang Yicheng, no one seemed keen to approach her. It was a lonely sight watching her sit there isolated from people she had once called friends.
However, Lin Feng wasn’t keen on getting involved in these interpersonal dramas. With Liu Mengqi’s situation weighing on him, he could only hope Mr. Liu and Yan Aoxue would manage the group efficiently and that Zhu Hanfang would minimize his antics, ensuring everyone’s safety.
“How is Chen De faring?” He cast a concerned glance towards Chen De, who was resting, and turned to Ruolian for an update.
“He’s recovering well. Thankfully, his arm shows no signs of infection or zombification.”
“I appreciate your assistance.”
Lately, Lin Feng had noticed Ruolian’s unwavering commitment, always tending to everyone.
“Not at all. Being relied upon is… a nice feeling,” shared Ruolian, who often felt overshadowed in class. She remembered a time when even the teacher missed her name during attendance, forcing her to remind him afterward just to prevent being marked absent.
Liu Mengqi, while predominantly surrounded by male friends, stood out from the crowd, thanks to her distinctive looks. Unlike Ruolian who often went unnoticed, Liu Mengqi commanded attention. Yet, both felt a sense of otherness, which likely forged their bond.
After Ruolian tended to Liu Mengqi, Lin Feng made his way upstairs to join them. He persuaded Mengqi to nibble on some food, then started a card game with Song Zhe. Mid-game, Yan Aoxue popped in for a quick conversation, soon announcing that dinner was served.
“Cookies sautéed with yogurt?”
Lin Feng regarded the unusual dish skeptically. Had he not had some experience with Yan Aoxue’s quirky cooking before in the form of that aloe vera drink, he would have given her weird cookie creation an extra-wide berth. Just looking at her eyes glowing with anticipation, she was every bit that girlfriend-who-cooks-like-a-chef-from-Hell trope.
“It’s a new recipe I’m trying. I once sampled something akin to it at a diner. Quite the unique blend.”
“And this passes as dinner?”
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Balancing intrigue and caution, Lin Feng ventured a taste.
“It’s… unexpectedly delightful,” he admitted, the dessert’s sweet undertones catching him off guard.
“I remembered your mild distaste for sugary treats, Lin Feng. So, I thought this blend might strike a balance. Among all the snacks you shared, this was the only one I could envision transforming into an entree,” Yan Aoxue explained, her cheeks tinted with a blush as she watched Lin Feng’s tail sway in amusement.
Suddenly, an indignant shout interrupted their chat. “You, the ‘Kissing Bandit’! How dare you step foot here!” A girl from the female dormitory aimed her finger accusingly at Lin Feng, her outcry attracting attention from the nearby students having their dinner.
Taken aback, Lin Feng set aside his bowl and locked eyes with the enraged girl, his chin lifted defiantly.
“Ah, the spirited young miss! Are you here to express gratitude for the rescue? You can spare the theatrics,” Lin Feng replied, a cheeky smile replacing his earlier calm. Rising from his seat, his unexpected reaction caught the audience off-guard. With an air of playful arrogance, he ruffled the girl’s hair.
She was the same girl he had unintentionally bumped into in the restroom. Their accidental embrace had led to an unplanned kiss, which, while startling, left him with an odd fondness for the fiery girl. Their chance encounter had been strangely invigorating, so he was willing to forgive this little transgression.
Being vertically challenged offered its own set of perks, Lin Feng reflected. Having assumed Liu Mengqi’s appearance, he had lost a few inches of his original height. Both Yan Aoxue and Liu Mengqi now stood almost eye-to-eye with him. Even more unsettling was the fact that some of the boys now towered over him. For someone like Lin Feng, who was used to a bird’s-eye perspective, it was a fresh and somewhat humbling twist.
The young girl he had come to the aid of was relatively petite, standing around 1.5 meters tall. In contrast, his lifelong friend was of more average stature for a female, hovering around the mid-1.6-meter mark. That small height discrepancy invoked Lin Feng’s once dominant sense of being taller.
Without warning, a stinging slap whisked Lin Feng’s hand back to his side.
“Stay away! You, with your peculiar fascination for girls,” she admonished with fervor.
With an emphatic toss of her ponytail, she briskly retreated to her dormitory, apparently too riled up to partake in dinner.
“What’s the story between you and Anna?” Yan Aoxue asked, her expression a blend of intrigue and bewilderment, her eyes tracking Anna’s retreating form.
“Anna, is it? Just a minor incident. She’s not from around here, is she?”
“Right. She’s a distinguished exchange student. Her heritage is a mix of our northern neighbors and our own land.”
“Ah, where they grapple bears?” Lin Feng mused. It was only then that Anna’s distinct features made sense to him, indicative of her blended heritage. However, wasn’t same-sex allure more widely embraced in many overseas cultures?
“Minor incident, huh? Did something… happen between the two of you?” Yan Aoxue probed, a mischievous glint in her eyes.
“Well… not quite,” Lin Feng retorted, polishing off a biscuit. A moment of clarity struck, and he shot Yan Aoxue a somewhat awkward smile.
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“Ah! Liu Mengqi must be expecting her food. I better head out,” he declared, pushing his bowl away and dashing up the stairs, leaping two steps at once, en route to the 7th floor.
Not long after he disappeared from sight, a door from the female dormitory quietly opened. Making sure Lin Feng was well out of the way, Anna approached Yan Aoxue.
“Sis Aoxue, now that she’s left… may I have something to eat? I’m starving.”
Anna’s current demeanor was strikingly different from the boldness she’d displayed in Lin Feng’s presence. She exuded an almost childlike vulnerability.
“Of course, Anna,” Yan Aoxue replied with a gentle tone, dishing out a bowl of food for the ravenous girl.
“Thank you, Sis Aoxue. Blessings upon you,” Anna murmured gratefully, digging into her meal with gusto.
“Anna,” Yan Aoxue began, her voice laden with curiosity, “Why do you seem so wary of the young… lady we encountered earlier?”
The nearby students, seeking a distraction in the absence of schoolwork or the internet, listened keenly to their conversation. Lately, the two most talked-about individuals seemed to be Lin Feng and Zhu Hanfang.
“Don’t be fooled by her guise, Aoxue. She’s a pervert,” Anna cautioned, subtly glancing towards the stairs to ensure their conversation remained private.
“A pervert?” Yan Aoxue questioned, her eyebrow arching in surprise. Her encounters with Lin Feng had always left her with an impression of reliability. Sure, Lin Feng had a playful side, but he also knew when to step up. Much of their current stability could be attributed to Lin Feng’s tireless efforts.
“Anna, could there possibly be some confusion? I’ve always found Lin Feng to be trustworthy.”
“Sis Aoxue, you’ve let her comely appearance blind you. The ordeal she put me through in that restroom,” Anna shuddered, her voice quaking.
Regaining his composure, Lin Feng looked at the beef jerky he held, contemplating the increasing need for warmer attire. The cool days were swiftly evolving into bone-chilling cold, even when rain wasn’t a factor. However, more pressing was the need to secure medicinal supplies that very night. In this post-apocalyptic reality, alcohol and anti-inflammatories would be priceless.
With the collapse of societal systems, consumption had begun to eclipse production. While food could be cultivated through farming, acquiring medicines posed a much greater challenge. The handful of experienced doctors who had survived would be essential pillars when the time came to reconstruct society.
Determination coursed through Lin Feng. Tonight, he couldn’t afford any slip-ups. The thoughts of decreasing food stocks were gnawing at him, especially as he cast a concerned glance towards Liu Mengqi.
“How should we tackle this, Liu Mengqi?”
“You know, I’m still part of the team,” chimed in Song Zhe, leaning nonchalantly against the doorway, a smirk on his face.
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“We’re in this together, Lin Feng. I’ve got your back tonight.”
Lin Feng heaved a sigh. “It’s dangerous out there, Song Zhe.”
“Hey, don’t forget I’ve mutated as well. Besides, if you venture out alone, you might just leave my razor behind.”
“Have you figured out what abilities your mutation has bestowed upon you?” Lin Feng inquired.
Song Zhe pondered for a moment. “Other than an unnaturally fast-growing beard, which I suspect might be a hormonal change, I’ve noticed little difference. Though, my reflexes seem sharper, and my night vision might have improved.”
“That’s interesting,” Lin Feng observed, eyeing Song Zhe’s now bushy beard. “Our mutations seem to share some similarities.”
Lin Feng’s thoughts momentarily strayed. Had their mutations varied individually? Why did he have cat-like ears while Song Zhe seemed unaffected in that respect?
He beckoned Song Zhe closer. “Come in. Let’s test something.”
Lin Feng proceeded to darken the room completely. Adjusting to the dim environment, with his enhanced vision, he turned to study a squinting Song Zhe.
“Can you make out anything in here?”
“I can see your outline, more or less,” Song Zhe admitted.
“Do you think you can reach out and snatch this biscuit away from me?”
“Biscuit? Probably, it’s right in your hands.”
Nodding, Lin Feng drew back the curtains, letting light flood the room. He reached into his bag and with much difficulty and dripping saliva, he pulled out a fish snack.
“How about this? Tempting?”
Song Zhe waved his hands in exaggerated disgust, “That pungent snack? I’ll pass!”