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Chapter 41: A Deal’s a Deal

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Mi Dashuai
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Liu Tao, normally an imposing figure, crumpled to the ground with startling ease after a single, effortless swipe from the enigmatic assailant. He clutched his belly in agony, curled up in a fetal position. In nearly the same breath, Chen De was hurled aside as if he were no more than a ragdoll.

The air grew thick with tension as Lin Feng notched and released an arrow, aimed straight at the ghostly figure materializing from the shadows. He waited for the satisfying thud of the arrow finding its mark. Instead, a chilling crack echoed through the air—the arrow had shattered, its mission unfulfilled.

“Everybody run! It’s an infected mutant!” Lin Feng shouted.

The enigmatic figure froze for an instant, visibly thrown off by the arrow. For a suspended moment, Lin Feng found himself locked in a face-to-face encounter with the creature. They both sported feline ears, but the creature’s tail, stripped of any fluff, signaled it as a member of a different, perhaps more dangerous, species. Worse yet, its eyes burned with a malevolent, blood-red glow.

Who—or what—in the world is this? Lin Feng’s thoughts raced at breakneck speed. He remembered Hao Jian talking about encountering only one other mutant—a froggy classmate of his. So who, or what, was standing before him now?

No time to ponder. The white figure renewed its frenzied charge. Lin Feng aimed his bow, letting arrow after arrow fly. The creature dodged most by sheer instinct, and while a couple found their mark, it seemed unfazed and kept rushing toward him.

This thing was fast, crazy fast, like a bolt of lightning—just as ol Froggy had been. Lin Feng dodged a clawed swipe, wincing as he rolled to the side.

“Damn this foot,” he muttered, grimacing at the jolt of pain from his injured leg. If he hadn’t been hurt, he could’ve sidestepped that attack more elegantly.

The creature didn’t give him a breather. It lunged again, its torso contorting unnaturally for another strike. Lin Feng’s spear snapped in two. In a split second, he scooped up his fallen bow and arrows. Right now, that was all he had.

With both of them seemingly blessed with the same feline abilities, a close-combat showdown was a no-go, especially with his leg acting up. How he wished he’d brought his handgun.

Backed into a corner by the creature’s relentless attacks, Lin Feng was eventually kicked off his feet and sent flying. As the creature’s claws descended upon him, he lifted his bow in a futile defensive stance, even though he knew it wouldn’t be enough to fend off the impending doom.

“Give it to me,” murmured the sinister figure shrouded in white, eyes fixated on the bow and arrows that Lin Feng held.

Capitalizing on a moment of distraction, Lin Feng surged toward the staircase. Almost there, just a bit closer to the gun—

Thud. A sound of impact reverberated, followed by a soft splatter.

Lin Feng crumpled to the floor, sliding down the fractured wall. A thin trickle of blood seeped from the corner of his mouth.

Unexpectedly, the white figure refrained from further attack. It approached Lin Feng, collected the bow and arrows from the ground, and seemed lost in a moment of quiet nostalgia before exiting the scene.

“Stay with us, Lin Feng. We’re getting you to the medical office, now,” cried a group rushing from below, their faces twisted with urgent concern at the sight of his blood-soaked form.

As Lin Feng teetered on the edge of consciousness, his thoughts swirled. What was Hao Jian hiding? And who was this enigmatic archer, a woman with feline features, emotionally attached to a bow adorned with a cat’s motif?

Jolting awake, Lin Feng’s eyes snapped open in a fog of disoriented panic. Still jittery from the recent skirmish, he sprung to his feet—only to be greeted by the unforgiving ceiling above.

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“Ouch,” he winced.

Doctor Hu walked over, her voice a blend of amused annoyance. “You certainly have a lot of energy, don’t you?”

“Oh, it’s just you, Doc.” Lin Feng relaxed, recognizing the infirmary. Regardless of who that mysterious cat girl, she was clearly more interested in his bow, seeing as she left after taking it.

“Yes, it’s me. Do you know how disappointed I am right now? I swear… must you always drag yourself before me in such a battered state?” Doctor Hu, impatient but motherly, popped two anti-inflammatory pills into Lin Feng’s mouth and handed him water.

“It’s not like I wanted to.”

“Swallow those before you speak,” Doctor Hu chided.

Obediently, Lin Feng gulped down the pills. His head buzzed, a chaotic mix of pain and bewilderment, with no clarity on whether it was caused by the attack or his own imprudence.

“Remember our prior agreement?” Doctor Hu prompted, visibly relieved as Lin Feng followed her directions.

“Ah, that? Exceptional circumstances, Doc,” Lin Feng quipped, attempting levity.

“Every time, Lin Feng, every time.” Doctor Hu sighed. “This time, you’re under strict medical supervision until fully recovered. Your classmates can handle challenges, too. It’s good for them in these end times.”

Gently massaging Lin Feng’s bruised and swollen ankle, Doctor Hu grimaced – if she didn’t know better, she’d mistook this foot for a zombie’s.

Lin Feng gave a reluctant nod, unable to dispute Doctor Hu’s insights. Yet, the unsettling presence of the white figure loomed in his mind, putting a damper on his sense of security for his friends.

“Whoa, Doctor!” Lin Feng blurted out as he found his face the recipient of a brisk, unanticipated rubdown. He shot Doctor Hu a look that mixed disbelief with a dash of annoyance.

“Don’t look so glum, as if the sky’s about to collapse,” Doctor Hu chided. “You’ve still got Principal Liu and your trusty sidekick Song Zhe on your team, haven’t you? How about we lighten the mood with some fish snacks?”

Doctor Hu’s words were punctuated by the rustle of a packet emerging from her pocket—a package labeled ‘non-spicy fish snacks.’

“Quick, give it to me!” Lin Feng’s eyes twinkled like diamonds, and his small paws reached eagerly toward the packet. His blue pupils shimmered with palpable excitement.

With a warm chuckle, Doctor Hu plucked two pieces from the packet and placed them ceremoniously into Lin Feng’s mouth.

Savoring each bite, Lin Feng chewed and swallowed, his eyes lingering on Doctor Hu as he opened his mouth wide in hopeful anticipation.

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“That’s the last of it for you; I claim the rest,” Doctor Hu announced, nonchalantly eating the remaining snacks right before Lin Feng’s wistful eyes.

Few things in life were as exasperating as watching a bag of mouth-watering snacks being consumed in front of you—especially when you’ve been rationed to just a couple of pieces.

“Lin Feng, how are you holding up physically?” The resonant voice of Principal Liu preceded his entrance into the room, filling the space with a sense of gravitas.

“Mr. Liu, Principal, I’m fine for the most part. I did have an unsettling encounter with an infected mutant, but I would have fared better in optimal health.”

“And the whereabouts of this mutant?” Principal Liu, clearly alarmed and recalling the case of Zhang Yicheng’s transformation into a frog, questioned cautiously.

“She left. Perhaps the infection had affected her mentally. She defeated me but saw no need to stick around—likely considering me no longer a threat.”

Lin Feng hesitated, weighing whether to divulge the uncanny link between the white shadow and Hao Jian. The implications could stir panic, possibly deterring people from joining the Archery Club. Yet, the urgency to enhance their collective combat skills loomed large, leaving him in a quandary.

“Is that so?” Principal Liu murmured, stroking his beard in thoughtful reflection. “The actions of these infected mutants are anything but straightforward. Take Zhang Yicheng—his behavior was inexplicably docile, solely focused on guarding his girlfriend Tan Xin.”

“We shouldn’t fret too much,” he continued. “We have both Lin Feng and Song Zhe on our side, along with a handgun for good measure. Should she resurface, we won’t be caught off guard. Besides, now that we know she’s a feline, we can prepare accordingly.”

Principal Liu gave a knowing smile as he prepared to exit the room. If Lin Feng’s run-in with that bowl of hot soup was anything to go by, these mutants were still bound to the natural constraints of their genus. Perhaps if they encountered a rat mutant, or a fish mutant, Lin Feng’s feline nature might just overwhelm them entirely?

After a few more words, the two older men left, allowing the room’s slightly chilly atmosphere to settle again—an absence of warmth that explained why Dr. Hu had swiftly tucked Lin Feng back under his blanket earlier.

Before leaving, the Principal dropped a tidbit that roused Lin Feng’s curiosity. The bow he’d been using apparently belonged to Wan Yun, the soft-spoken Vice President of the Archery Club.

In a moment of recollection, Lin Feng thought back to the elusive white shadow he had encountered. Apart from her intensity, she had an air of gentleness—though he admitted that the exigency of the situation had allowed for only a cursory assessment.

“Alright, now that they’re gone, I hope you haven’t forgotten about our little deal? Time for your medical crash course, young nurse,” announced Dr. Hu, shifting the atmosphere. With a resounding clang, she placed a stack of medical textbooks on the metal rack next to Lin Feng’s folding bed. The frame gave a mournful creak, as if regretting its new burden.

“Are you serious, Doc?” Lin Feng questioned, his eyebrows raised.

“Absolutely,” Dr. Hu affirmed, plucking a textbook on human anatomy from the stack and placing it onto Lin Feng’s lap with a smile. “You never know when a bit of medical knowledge could be life-saving. And while cats are said to have nine lives, let’s not test that theory, shall we?”

Lin Feng looked down at the textbook, his face a blend of reluctance and resignation. It seemed that even in a post-apocalyptic world, he couldn’t escape the plague of homework—this time in the medical field, no less.

His eyes flicked to another intriguing title in the stack—’DNA Fusion: A Thesis For the Future.’

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“That book?” Dr. Hu paused, catching his curiosity. “Ah, it got mixed in. It’s been my pet project, a topic that was quite en vogue last year, actually.” She withdrew the book, its white cover adorned with an illustration of dual intertwined DNA strands below a sparkling crystal.

A whiff of intrigue tingled Lin Feng’s senses. “I’d like to take a look at that one,” he exclaimed, sensing that it might hold clues to deeper mysteries.


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