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Staring intently at the severed finger on the desk, a chill coursed through Lin Feng. The cleanly amputated pinky was a visceral reminder of the stakes at hand.
Could he genuinely release someone willing to self-mutilate as a show of commitment? As Zhu Hanfang descended the stairs with his crew, Lin Feng’s finger wavered over the handgun’s trigger. If he pulled the trigger now, it would all be over, but could he really shoot a live person in the head?
As Lin Feng grappled with his thoughts, Zhu Hanfang, ever the sly survivalist, slipped behind his number two, using him as cover, and hastened downstairs.
Swallowing hard, Lin Feng engaged the gun’s safety. Considering his swollen ankle, pursuing them would be a challenge. And whether or not he could even take all of them on was a question in itself.
But before he could decide, an all too familiar necklace swayed into view.
“Lin Feng,” a voice quivered with relief.
“Anna?” Lin Feng’s eyebrows shot up, “Wait, let go of me – the gun’s still loaded, careful.”
Anna’s voice was thick with emotion. “Lin Feng, I can’t believe you’re here. I thought I’d never see you again! Why didn’t you come clean that day?”
“You…” Anna’s laughter suddenly gave way to tears.
Lin Feng gazed at Anna, now sporting a short haircut, and wrapped his arms around her in a comforting embrace.
Just as he was trying to soothe her, another figure hugged him from behind. He instantly recognized the sensation of the two familiar and distinct features pressing against his back.
“Liu Mengqi, I…”
“There’s no need for words. Just knowing you’re alive… it means everything.”
Caught between the two women, Lin Feng felt a bit like the filling in a sandwich. With a slight hint of sheepishness, he scratched his head.
Anna’s tears flowed freely, overwhelmed by emotion. While Liu Mengqi stayed silent, her shaking frame silently told Lin Feng, her longtime friend, just how deeply she was affected.
From a distance, Yan Aoxue watched the poignant reunion, her eyes glistening, emotions swelling.
A somber atmosphere filled the hall. A young girl, vulnerable yet resilient, embraced her tearful friend, seeking solace in their shared trauma.
Above, the distant sobs hung in the air, casting a shadow over the group of young men.
Breaking the silence, one finally admitted, his voice filled with a mix of regret and yearning, “Zhu, I… I want to go home.”
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“Oi! You scumbag, what do ya think you’re saying?” the bald man, known as Zhu Hanfang’s number two, growled, grabbing a student by the collar.
“Easy there,” Zhu Hanfang interjected, signaling his number two to release his grip. His right pinky, wrapped in a bandage, still betrayed signs of bleeding.
“You want out? Then go. Anyone else got cold feet? The exit’s that way,” Zhu Hanfang said, his voice dripping with disdain, but hinting at a weary resignation.
He was keenly aware that his influence over the group was slipping. Keeping unwilling members around would only deplete their supplies. True followers, however, would earn a place beside him and access to his father’s cache of weapons. As for the worthless cowards? They could leave.
As the defiant young man strode away, whispers of unease spread through the ranks. Many were coerced by Zhu Hanfang’s hold over the food supply and subsequently made to commit unspeakable acts against their own female classmates. From that moment on, they were trapped in his palms.
One by one, several decided to break away, leaving just four staunch loyalists: ‘Buzzcut’, the number three of his group, and Baldie, the number two of the gang, and two other male students.
“So, you two decided to stick around, huh?” Zhu Hanfang asked, his tone a mix of amusement and genuine surprise.
“Boss Zhu, we ain’t like those turncoats. We’re with you,” one of them declared with a touch of pride.
“Yeah,” the other chimed in, “Ever since I started rolling with you, those girls who used to mock me? Now they can’t even meet my eyes. Got that swagger all thanks to you, Boss Zhu.”
Zhu Hanfang smirked, “Good on ya.” But as his gaze wandered upstairs, it hardened, hinting at lingering resentment towards Lin Feng.
After comforting both Anna and Liu Mengqi, Lin Feng made his way to the lounge.
Inside, he was greeted by the trusted decision-makers of the group: Yan Aoxue, Old Liu, and Dr. Hu.
“How on earth did you get back? Rumor had it you were cornered by zombies,” Yan Aoxue noted, her gaze flickering to Lin Feng’s noticeable limp.
Lin Feng sank into a chair, the pain in his ankle becoming more pronounced, now that he was no longer in Zhu Hanfang’s threatening presence.
“Let me take a look,” Dr. Hu offered, gently grasping Lin Feng’s foot to inspect the injury.
Lin Feng felt a pang of self-consciousness. Though his new appearance definitely made him look more vulnerable, he wasn’t accustomed to such attention.
“Just relax. I’ve seen it all before, remember? There’s no need for embarrassment.”
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“Lin Feng, you really should care for yourself more. Look at this mess. I swear, your beautiful skin is wasted on you. ” Dr. Hu sighed, focusing on the pronounced swelling. At this current rate, it was only a matter of time before his ankle was permanently damaged.
“Man, it’s been non-stop. I seriously need a break,” Lin Feng said, a hint of exhaustion in his voice. Lin Feng yearned for a peaceful place to heal. But somehow, drama always seemed to chase him down. At least for now, they were well-supplied. Their next move? Shifting everyone to the archery hall.
Yet, Zhu Hanfang’s shadow loomed ominously below. With that unpredictable element at play, Lin Feng doubted a night of uninterrupted sleep was on the horizon.
As he tried to free his foot from Dr. Hu’s grasp, he found it gently yet firmly held. The doctor was meticulously examining Lin Feng’s injured ankle. Caught in the act, Lin Feng cautiously divulged his escape strategy. “We should leave the top floor.”
“Leave?” The idea was met with bewildered glances. They had fought hard against Zhu Hanfang, secured their refuge, and now Lin Feng proposed abandoning their position?
Old Man Liu, unflappable as ever, sipped his tea. “What are you thinking?” he asked, eyebrow raised in intrigue.
Lin Feng was about to lay out his rationale when the lounge door burst open.
“Principal!” Recognition and memories of that haunting day in the principal’s office flickered in Lin Feng’s eyes. Encountering the tied-up zombies there had sown seeds of doubt about the principal’s mental stability.
“Lin Feng,” the principal began, “you saved me that day… I’ve yet to express my gratitude.”
“You don’t have to thank me, Principal. It was the right thing to do,” Lin Feng replied, his eyes cautious as they met the principal’s. His tail’s fur subtly stood on end, and his ears gave an involuntary twitch.
Sensing Lin Feng’s apprehension, the principal responded, “You don’t have to be on guard, Lin Feng. My grief over my family had overwhelmed me.” Sorrow weighed down his voice. “Old Liu, however, has since offered some clarity.” The depth of pain in his eyes was unmistakable.
“Your loss is profound,” Lin Feng responded softly, momentarily reflecting on his own loved ones. He berated himself internally for being so transparent in his wariness.
Breaking the tense moment, Old Man Liu inquired, “Principal, how are the other students faring?”
Having recently comforted a few of the injured, the principal paused before responding, his voice heavy, “The situation is… challenging.”