302 Lydia

    Deng Ximei told Gu Jun many things, most of them 'taught to her by her parents'. Probably due to her refreshment, her retelling was not as traumatic as last time. But due to Afterlife Cult's cautious attitude around Spirit Children, she had limited knowledge of the organization. For example, she knew nothing of the group's internal structure and main members. The information that she could offer was mostly about poems and stories from the foreign world. She also gave the names of a few other Spirit Children but she had not seen them since she was a child.

    However, she knew that they were still attached to Afterlife Cult because she chanced an encounter with them during a big ceremony that occurred 5 years ago. They were not allowed interaction so she merely looked at them from afar. This meant that she had no idea with regards to their current conditions and allegiance. The ceremony was held around a large banyan tree, she remembered it clearly because such a huge gathering was not an often occurrence within the organization. She saw many people that day, including those with wilted faces.

    Gu Jun was instantly reminded of the ritual meant to summon the Malformed Banyan Disease and to connect the channel between both worlds. According to Deng Ximei, the Spirit Children attended the ceremony in the capacity of their foreign world's identities...

    It was not easy for her to go through these details. She stopped intermittently before she could continue. "Lydia," that was her identity in the foreign world, she was not a Carlot Doctor, in fact she did not even know much about the Carlot Academy. Lydia was a young and pretty woman, she had long luscious hair and onyx-colored eyes. She was well-read and was a literary talent. However, perhaps God envied her talent because she died from a heavy illness at the prime of her age. Her last project for the world was a poem entitled The Conqueror Worm. Deng Ximei recited the whole poem for Gu Jun. The poem described a tragedy by the name of Man, it also matched the content of that uploaded video: A bunch of clowns play-acting as Gods chasing after an unknown shadowy illusion before they were swallowed up by a giant blood red worm that suddenly appeared. Lydia might not have intended it but the poem also happened to possess ritualistic energy.

    Gu Jun detected the heavy hint of bleakness in the poem, it was like a lone traveler trudging through darkness but the break of the new dawn refused to come. Perhaps that was what Lydia felt at her deathbed. Humanity was like these clowns, chasing after illusory hedonism and godliness. They thought they had a claim over their own destiny but at the end of the day, no common human could ever come near to the ultimate truth for a sudden tragedy or pestilence could wipe everything away. Famed billionaires, superstars, politicians that the world mourned over, they were nothing but sub characters in the tragedy, propping up the main character who was the conqueror worm. However, death allowed the common man a glimpse into the truth: Death can end commonality, for it is an ascendancy.

    "One must not misconstrue commonality as banality." Gu Jun corrected sternly. He was reminded of Deng Ximei's comment that she could always escape via death. That reflected the pessimism in her heart. He said encouragingly, "What's wrong with being common? At the very least, a common man can expect a good meal like this at the end of every day."

    "Perhaps Lydia still yearned for life and the poem is a manifestation of her unwillingness to part with it." Deng Ximei sighed with a glow in her eyes. Gu Jun did not want to push too far into dismantling her life philosophy, these things took time so he astutely changed the subject. He asked her about the poem's ceremonial property.

    "I believe the Conqueror Worm is a native creature of the foreign world, Lydia merely borrows its name for her poem but somehow, the poem was imbued with the energy to summon its namesake. The poem is always accompanied by a haze of death." Gu Jun showed her the video taken outside Li Qi Zai. Deng Ximei shook her head. That was not a Conqueror Worm, probably just its young.

    "In the illusions that I saw..." Deng Ximei would be visited by occasional illusions too. "Conqueror Worm is as tall as a mountain. It starts its life as a young worm but can be fed and reared into maturity. The way to do that is to put on the tragedy of Man, to permeate this belief among humanity: life is meaningless, human consciousness has no value, death is the only real truth."

    Gu Jun frowned, the statement verified his suspicion. Despite the heavy blows, Afterlife Cult showed no sign of receding, instead it attempted to create chaos to regain its footing.

    "To put on the tragedy of Man?" He asked. "What do you mean by that? Is it by uploading the video that I've shown you earlier? Or to summon the worms for them to feed on actual humans?"

    "Neither." Deng Ximei pressed on her lips. "The passing of a great literary giant like Lydia was a big loss for her admirers and the world at large. People would feel sorry regarding her death, right? But would it not also make them reflect on the transience of their lives as well? If death could claim someone as great as Lydia, what about nobody like themselves?"

    "You mean..." A scary thought bubbled up in Gu Jun's mind. "Lai Sheng Company would go after public figures?" A person's death might not attract any attention but if that person was a celebrity, especially one who had many supporters... To make the thought more worrying, what if the death did not stop with one celebrity but continued to claim more than a handful of them?

    "There is such a possibility." Deng Ximei nodded. "The actors on stage are often the people among us who shine the brightest."

    Indeed, something like that would dent the public's confidence... Gu Jun considered other problems. 'What kind of method would they use? An illness? But how would that be connected to the summoning ceremony? How would it feed the young worms?' Deng Ximei could not provide him with the answers, she knew the poem but not the mechanism behind it. Gu Jun did not fault her for it, after all, he too had limited knowledge of the foreign culture, Landon and the Son of Misfortune.

    Noting the paleness of Deng Ximei's face and the dimness in her eyes, Gu Jun knew it was time to end the interview. Of course, the spirit barrier technique, the information about the other Spirit Children, the literature from the foreign culture were all very important but Gu Jun knew he had to take things slow. She needed time to recover or else they'd get nothing from a madwoman. Furthermore, the information given by Deng Ximei so far was enough to keep Phecda busy for a while already.

    After supper, Deng Ximei was brought back to her cell by the guards while Gu Jun returned to the admin building to make his latest report. Gu Jun offered his own version of the story to Phecda. To make his story sound more valid, he added, "The great Atal has prophesied this. To quote, 'Roses might be thorny but they are still valued for their fragrance.' I didn't understand it before but I do now."

    "Kid." When they were in private, Elder Tong grabbed Gu Jun to ask, "Just how many things did this Atal tell you?"

    "Quite a lot but I must have lost memory of some of them when I travelled through the worlds. Or perhaps they were magically sealed in my mind by Atal. Only time will tell."

    When everything was said and done, it was already midnight. The sky was a swathe of blackness, but the base still had plenty of lights. Gu Jun walked back to the hostel alone but he did not feel any drowsiness. He looked up into the inky blackness, perhaps... The universe is indeed controlled by an inexplicable force of darkness and humanity is puny in comparison but at least humanity also has the ability to appreciate such night sky. The view from where he stood was absolutely gorgeous.

    But Gu Jun could not help but wonder just how many such peaceful nights he had left...


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