281 Still There

    There was a city connected to the western part of Kaar by the name of Vornai, it was one of the major cities in the Northern Continent. The new channel the Zoogs discovered was near Vornai's border. It was already collapsing when it was discovered so they had to depart immediately. Gu Jun understood how rare this opportunity was. These channels did not appear often. Even if they were lucky, they might not encounter another one for the next year. During this past week, none of Gu Jun's team showed any sign of sickness so the chance of them carrying any contagion was low. The Elder Zoog explained that as a result of the House of Worm banning the humans from receiving its blessing. Pestilence and illness might be harmful to humanity but these bacteria and viruses were the treasures of the house, since the house had closed its doors to humanity, therefore, they would not get any 'treasures' from it. That was naturally good news, Gu Jun did not want anything to do with this House of Worm anymore.

    It would take at least two days to travel from the lake to Vornai, by the time they arrived, the channel might have collapsed already. Therefore, they hurried and packed up. Before they departed, Gu Jun had another discussion with the Elder Zoog. Even though the Zoogs were naturally greedy, like humans, they were kind in their hearts. This time the Zoogs had lent tremendous help to humanity, Gu Jun's promise of a luxurious gift was not just an empty one, he really hoped everyone could gain from it. Therefore, he hoped to build a long-term cooperative relationship with the various Zoog tribes across the Dreamlands.

    "Sir, to put it simply, you only need to provide us with information like updates on the House of Worm as well as the appearance of other dreaming channels to us. And I can guarantee you an immense supply of fowls and hens in your future. In fact we will try to fulfil any request that you may have." The Elder Zoog was interested but this involved too many tribes, it was beyond his decision, he stated that he needed to inform the Tribe Elder at the Enchanted Forest first. But even so, there was another hurdle... He tapped his stomach and sighed, "Mr. Nightmare Man, I'll be honest with you, we Zoogs have limited power when it comes to bigger events involving the tribes. We have to get approval from the cats at Ulthar but they most likely will not agree to this. It is why we have never had extended interaction with any civilization before." Gu Jun understood how complicated the Dreamlands was. Certain things could not be pushed so he said, "Sir, regardless, we will wait for your reply after you've notified your elder."

    Gu Jun did retain a secret weapon, which was the sweet dream that he formed with the Elder Zoog in his mind. As long as the bubble did not burst, he could maintain contact with the Zoogs. He had named the Zoog 'Lucky' because the Elder Zoog's name was unpronounceable by human beings. This was because their name was made from tapping rhythm, it was not something that could be replicated through the human vocal cord. Lucky liked his new name because who wouldn't want more good fortune in their life?

    Admittedly, Gu Jun had already formed a friendship of sorts with the Zoogs. Whether the cooperation ended up following through or not, Gu Jun would not deprive them of his promise. "You might as well start to think about what you want now, we can make a statue for you if you want."

    "A statue?" The Elder Zoog was clearly not interested. "Regarding the request, I'll discuss it further with the tribe leader." Lucky knew he had limited intelligence. With the promise of such a huge reward, he better left it with the tribe elder to decide how to derive the most from it.

    Gu Jun requested two young golden aloe stalks from the Elder Zoog as well as some raw materials from the aloe. Like all plants, the golden aloe had its growth cycle. The leaves that fell became the main ingredient for the local Zoog wine. The Zoogs allowed Gu Jun's team to take away 10 kg of such materials. Furthermore, the Zoogs gifted them several urns of aloe wine. But with regards to the young golden aloe stalks, the Elder Zoog realized this was room for more negotiation. "Mr. Nightmare Man, don't say I didn't warn you but the plants will not survive after it leaves this place. As long as you can accept that, we can allow you to take 2 stalks with you." The golden aloe had no seed, they seemed to propagate through runners. As precious as the young stalks were, the Zoogs could part with 2.

    "I still wish to give it a try." Gu Jun smiled. He was more negotiable without the pressure of his teammate's lives on his shoulders. "Sir, I am also just trying to do the best by my people, I am sure you can understand that. I won't give up unless I try it myself."

    "Alright." The Elder Zoog relented but not before saying, "But the 'luxurious gifts' have to be upgraded to 'extremely luxurious gifts' in this case." There were differences between the two, the Elder Zoog stressed. If 10 fowls were luxurious and 1000 fowls would be extremely luxurious.

    "I'm not going to feed you lies." Gu Jun admitted, "I can't do 'extremely luxurious' but will you settle for 'very luxurious?'" And just like that, representing human civilization, Gu Jun exchanged 'very luxurious gifts' for two young golden aloe stalks from the Zoogs. The Elder Zoog claimed that this would lower their brewery production by 10 percent, they would have to ration their drinking, it was quite a huge loss.

    Gu Jun collected not only the stalks but also some soil and water from the lake. He used the empty med kit to culture the young stalks. Why wouldn't the golden aloe grow elsewhere? What was so unique about this place? Was it the soil? Water? Atmosphere? In any case, he tried to maintain the growth environment as much as he could.

    However, the Elder Zoog's warning proved true soon enough. Despite the team's best effort, the two young stalks died when they reached the Vornai countryside. Seeing the lifeless stalks inside the kit, Gu Jun sighed silently.

    "Ah Jun, we've tried our best." Uncle Dan felt the disappointment too, this could be a great breakthrough for humanity but there was nothing they could do. Even so, they would bring the dead plants back for the researchers to study. Regarding this, the Zoogs were naturally worried that the Nightmare Man would get angry but thankfully Gu Jun did not blame them. They did not enter Vornai for 3 reasons, one was the time constraint; two was if anything happened to them in the city, they might be held back; three was Atal's warning, the more one knew about the Dreamlands, the harder it was to leave. The channel was located within a bunch of rocks outside the city. When they arrived, the channel was already glowing weakly.

    "Respected guests, you have to go now." Lucky studied the channel and said, "By the looks of it, this channel can only be used one last time, so hurry."

    "We'll stay in contact." Gu Jun bade farewell to Lucky and the other Zoogs before leading his team into the channel. The teammates tied themselves to each other with a rope around their waists. This time Gu Jun was not visited by any strange images. The strange shadow did not appear but there were plenty of strange illusions. His emotion was as tense as the last time he returned, concerned about the unknown world that they might return to. They had no idea what happened on Earth. It had been 10 days since they defeated the thousand-eyed worm, anything could have happened in that stretch of time. The Problematic Team prepared themselves for the worst. The air on Earth might be poisoned; they might return to a ruined world; even if the world was saved, global politics would have a tectonic shift after the epidemic. If they were dislodged outside of China, they would need to keep their identity a secret.

    "Come on." Holding a syringe, Gu Jun strode powerfully forward into the light.

    Beep Beep... The sound of car horns filtered into his ears... The images of the body cart that he saw inside the House of Worm flashed before his eyes... Gripped by nervousness, Gu Jun walked past the light and felt a heaviness on his body. It was the familiar gravity of Earth. There was no particular stench in the air but the smell of exhaust fumes. Car horns became clearer and so did the vision before him. He looked around him and realized he had just exited a garden. He glanced at the shop signs down the street, they were all written in Chinese... He looked up at the skyscrapers and the pedestrians down the street. Some wore medical masks, some didn't.

    "We've returned..." He mumbled. He could not help the laugh from bubbling up his throat.

    The city street was busy with activity. Cars moved down the streets, the shops were open for business and pedestrians waited for the traffic lights to turn. An auntie frowned when she passed by them. Her expression seemed to say, 'Who are these people? Are they beggars? With that strange clothes and stuff... Tsk, youngsters these days, they should go find work instead of loitering around...'

    "Ha ha!" Uncle Dan glared back at her. Peacock and Ma Feng allowed themselves a small cheer. Lou Xiaoning screamed in joy. "Yay!"

    Everyone knew what this meant. The new strain of legionella pneumophilia did not destroy the world, this beautiful yet troubling world was still there.


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