The long-awaited reveal is here! How close were your theories? :P
Translated by: TaffyGirl13
Chapter 9: Zhu Nan’s Self-Recount
I clearly remember that summer morning eight years ago. My little sister, Xiao Qian, was wearing a floral-printed dress and a white woollen hat. Holding my hand, she serenely walked by my side.
She was an introverted and shy girl, just like me. Maybe it was passed down from our parents’ genes; the Zhu family’s children were cowardly and timid from birth, never daring to loudly declare anything in front of others. We always hid in a corner alone, silent and low-key.
The golden sun slowly rose. I gripped Xiao Qian’s slightly icy hand and brought her to the wharf at the arranged time. However, I saw that everyone had already arrived and were waiting for us.
Ouyang Shuo, Wei Jin Ping, Hua Xia, Xu Yi Feng, and Qin Ni. These were all the elites from the department with outstanding academic performance. To me, they were a bit too dazzling.
“Zhu Nan, you still came [in the end].”
Professor Yu looked at me, then at Xiao Qian before nodding in satisfaction.
I bit my lip and did not speak. I just happened to glimpse Qin Ni from the corner of my eye, and she smiled at me. I hurriedly lowered my head, feeling my face heat up a bit.
Suddenly, a fist struck down on top of my head.
“Damn brat! Don’t try to punch above your weight.”
Qin Ni’s boyfriend, Wei Jin Ping, shot me a sideways look.
I chewed on my lip and dropped my head even lower.
Yes, that’s right. I liked Qin Ni. She was a beautiful girl. However, I also knew that I could never match up to her. This was a [sense of] self-awareness.
I tightened my hold on Xiao Qian’s hand, and she looked up at me in astonishment. I bitterly smiled – I was just that type of timid and useless older brother. This was precisely the reason I had brought my little sister with me today to join the others on the trip at sea.
About a month ago, Professor Yu had suddenly come looking for me. While in his office, the professor had poured me a cup of tea, then intimately inquired me about how my studies had been doing recently. I had been overwhelmed by the favour, replying to each of the professor’s questions modestly and cautiously. Finally, the professor asked me, “Zhu Nan, I heard that you have a younger sister with leukaemia?”
I was taken aback by this and nodded.
“How is the current condition of your younger sister’s illness?”
I tugged at my sleeve. “Not the best.”
Actually, “not the best” was already an overly beautified description. The main doctor had tactfully stated that Xiao Qian’s illness might never be cured – that she might only have two years at most.
“Oh, is that so. That’s truly a shame. She’s still so young yet she’s gotten such a severe illness.” Professor Yu sighed, then casually commented, “But I know of a medicine that might be able to cure your younger sister’s illness.”
My eyes lit up and I hurriedly asked, “Oh? Is there really a miraculous medicine like that?”
The professor smiled and replied, “I don’t know if it’s miraculous or not, but this type of medicine is extremely rare.”
“Is it very expensive? Where is it?”
“Slow down first. It’s possible that only I can find that place.” The professor pushed his glasses up and said, “But at the moment, no one has tested that medicine yet. If you want, perhaps you can let your younger sister try it out.”
No one…has tested it yet?
I was dumbstruck for a second. Then I stared at the professor and murmured, “Professor, you…want to have my little sister act as a test subject?”
He couldn’t help but laugh as he took a sip of his tea and replied, “Hey, hey, what do you mean by test subject? It sounds so bad.”
I silently lowered my head and did not respond. I had heard that Professor Yu was a famous research maniac in the biology world, sending many new drugs onto the market every year. However, what he wanted to research the very most was a panacea that led to immortality.
Many people laughed at him, saying he was beyond insane. However, there were quite a few students that strongly supported him too.
They believed that even if immortality wasn’t possible, a medicine that could successfully cure certain terminal illnesses would undoubtedly be a source of easy money. It was human nature to cherish life and be greedy for money.
The professor patted my shoulder and said, “Zhu Nan, I won’t force you. But I know that your family situation doesn’t seem to be very good, having to support your sister’s medical fees and carrying the burden of your university expenses. Your parents must have it very hard at home, right?”
These words made my heart ache.
Yes, there was not much money left at home to provide for me to attend school. I would possibly have to give up on school next semester to find a temporary job, though this university had been something I had yearned in my dreams and had finally managed to test into after much hardship.
“Zhu Nan, how would you feel if I was willing to pay your tuition for four years of university?” Professor indifferently asked.
I jerked my head up to stare at him in astonishment.
“Consider it carefully. You might be able to cure your younger sister’s illness, and you’d also be able to continue your studies. It would be killing two birds with one stone, so why not?”
The professor smiled very warmly, but I clearly knew in my heart that this was a term of exchange. As long as I was willing to hand my little sister over to him for conducting experiments, I could continue attending my university. Actually, this wasn’t necessarily an impossible decision. After all, Xiao Qian’s life was originally at a dead end anyways. Plus, the professor’s medicine might really be effective. What if it really could cure her illness?
I knew that my way of thinking was despicable, but in the end, I still agreed. Thus, the professor gave me a location and time, telling me to bring my little sister to meet with him there when the time came. In addition, he repeatedly warned me that this matter needed to be kept a secret.
So early that summer morning when the sun was still rising accompanied with a light breeze, I held Xiao Qian’s hand as I stepped onto that white yacht peacefully resting next to the shore. I did not know where it would lead us to.
Along the journey, Xiao Qian was very quiet. The two of us stayed in one room. She would sometimes quietly ask me, “Gēge, where are we going to play?”
I would smile at her and reply, “You’ll know once we get there.”
However, the yacht did not stop after sailing for an entire day and night. Every person on the boat acted mysterious, and there were moments when I could not make any sense of their conversations.
I asked the professor, “When will we reach shore? Where exactly is that medicine?”
He smiled as though it was an important matter that had to be kept secret and gave me the same response, “You’ll know once we get there.”
I figured that they were definitely hiding something from me.
I gloomily walked up to the deck alone and accidentally heard Qin Ni talking with Hua Xia.
Hua Xia said, “Xiao Ni, do you really believe in that kind of thing?”
Qin Ni chuckled. “Who knows? But since Professor said he’s seen it before, I think it probably does exist.”
“It’s really hard to believe. Who would’ve thought that Professor has been researching that all these years?”
“Haha, does it sound a bit ridiculous? I felt that way at first too.”
“But if this really does succeed, we’ll never have to worry about food or clothing for the rest of our lives.”
“I actually don’t care about money…”
“Then what do you care about?”
“I care about…” Qin Ni giggled. “I care about whether it really is as miraculous as Professor claims it is, able to grant eternal youth and immortality.”
“Just forget immortality. I don’t believe in it – it’s not like we’re in a fairytale.” Hua Xia narrowed his eyes and added, “As for whether it can cure every illness, we’ll know once we test it out on Zhu Nan’s little sister.”
“What exactly are you guys talking about?” I couldn’t help but walk over.
Hua Xia looked at me with a start. Then he laughed and replied, “Oh, it’s getting late. I’m going back to my room to rest.”
With this, he turned to leave, as if intentionally running away from me.
Qin Ni remained where she was, leaning against the railings. The sea wind blew her long black hair, the strands floating about in the air.
When I approached her, some of the hair blew into my face – it carried a faint fragrance. She was as beautiful as a goddess with the setting sun on her, the sea behind her and the breeze against her.
My heart immediately skipped a beat.
I lowered my head to avoid those strands of hair that were causing my heart to itch and quietly muttered, “You-you guys are keeping something from me, aren’t you?”
Qin Ni smiled at me and teasingly asked back, “You want to know?”
I flushed and emotionally answered, “Of course. In any case, I’m also someone on this boat. I should at least know where we’re heading and what we’re going to do!”
Qin Ni thought to herself for a moment before replying, “Actually, there’s no harm in telling you either. You’ve already boarded this pirate ship anyways.”
Then she chuckled and waved her finger at me.
“Come here, I’ll secretly tell you. But don’t tell them that I was the one who told you.”
“Mn, I won’t say.” I nodded hard.
Qin Ni neared me and quietly asked, “Do you believe in mermaids?”
“Mermaids?” I furrowed my brows in astonishment, not understanding what she was trying to say.
Qin Ni tilted her head to the side as she stated, “I’m not talking about the mermaid princesses from fairytales! I mean, do you believe that life forms such as mermaids truly exist in this world?”
I still did not comprehend her meaning and could only blink at her.
Qin Ni took a deep breath and gazed out at the distant sea as she slowly commented, “There might really be many life forms existing in this world that are beyond our imagination. Whether its legends, myths, or impossible and baseless claims, someone must have seen another human or creature and then spread the word. After a very long time, it became the common stories that people nowadays tell. What do you think?”
I was stunned by her words. I opened my mouth and finally asked, “I…don’t get what you’re talking about.”
Qin Ni smiled sweetly, her slender second finger resting against her lip as she said, “Shhh—I’m telling you that we came here this time to capture a mermaid.”
“Capture a mermaid?!” I accidently shouted out.
Qin Ni hurriedly covered my mouth and scolded, “Be quieter, Professor doesn’t want you to know.”
I made a few muffled sounds against her slim, jade-like palm and nodded.
Qin Ni let go, and after I took a few deep breaths, I forcibly lowered my voice to ask, “You’re not mistaken, are you? Coming out to sea in search of a mermaid based solely on folktales?”
Qin Ni blinked her large eyes and answered, “Professor said he’s seen one before.”
“He’s seen one before?” I loudly blurted out once again.
“Oi, can you not be so loud? Or else I won’t say anything more.”
“Ok, ok, ok, I’ll be quieter. Continue on.” After some thought, I added, “Temporarily putting aside the discussion of whether Professor’s words are true or not, what relation does this mermaid have with my little sister?”
“Oh, that’s because—”
Qin Ni suddenly stopped midway. She glanced behind me and smiled awkwardly.
I whipped my head around to see Wei Jin Ping glaring at me an ashen complexion.
“Time to eat, you two are the only ones missing.” He dully stated then turned to leave.
“Alright, coming!” Qin Ni quickly ran to chase after her boyfriend. When she was midway, she glanced back at me to signal with her hands to keep the secret. I nodded.
After eating a simple dinner, everyone returned to their own rooms to rest.
This yacht was not that large. The professor had rented it, and it had a total of four rooms. Xiao Qian and I shared one, Qin Ni and Wei Jin Ping shared one, Hua Xia and Xu Yi Feng shared one, Ouyang Shuo and the professor shared one. It was a perfect division of eight people.
The yacht had an automatic navigation system, so no one was particularly worried about the route. Moreover, it was said that the professor had frequently gone out to sea by himself when he was young, so he understood weather and sailing conditions like the back of his hand.
However, thinking of this, I couldn’t help but recall what Qin Ni had just mentioned to me—that the professor had once seen a mermaid.
Could it be that this entire time, Professor was frequently going out to sea for the sake of finding the mermaid of legends?
I only laughed at that as I shook my head and muttered to myself, “What mermaid, it’s all nonsense.”
“Gēge, what are you talking about?”
Xiao Qian sat at the edge of the bed, curiously staring at me. She had already removed her woollen hat to reveal her bald head that did not have a single strand of hair. She would only be unbothered in front of family; usually, she would always wear her hat no matter how hot the weather was. Sigh, she’s a girl, after all. How could she not want to be pretty?
I pulled out various sized bottles of medicine from my bag and poured out a few capsules according to the different prescribed dosages. Then I poured out a cup of hot water and passed it all to Xiao Qian. “Here, eat the medicine.”
Xiao Qian pursed her laps and reluctantly accepted the pills as she said, “Gēge, you told me before that as long as I came to play with you out here, my illness could be cured. Is that true?”
I hesitated for a moment before nodding. “Mhm, it’s true. As long as you listen well.”
After hearing my promise, Xiao Qian finally cheered up a bit and obediently took all her medicine.
For some reason, waves suddenly violently surged up when night fell, nowhere near as calm as it had been during the day.
I held Xiao Qian on the bed, feeling the entire room sway non-stop, to the point where I was starting to feel dizzy. Xiao Qian even felt so terrible that she threw up. I gazed out from the tightly shut porthole. Under the curtain of the night, the vast sea was like an endless, black abyss. It felt as though we might end up being swallowed if we slipped up.
The rocking of the boat intensified, nearly in danger of capsizing at any moment. I settled Xiao Qian down and walked out by myself. The instant I stepped out onto the deck, I saw that excluding Qin Ni, all the men were there. Every person was busy doing their own work, whether it was moving things or nailing planks.
“What are you guys doing?” I held onto the railings, trying my best to keep my balance.
“Oh, Zhu Nan, you came at a perfect time. Quick! Come help us! The storm’s about to hit!”
The professor stood in the command room, shouting at me loudly through the window.
He appeared to be very excited, nothing like the anxiety or panic of facing imminent disaster.
I blankly stood in place and was knocked in the head.
Wei Jin Ping shoved something into my hands and maliciously spat out, “Go, nail this to the left railings of the ship. Remember, fasten it firmly, or else you’ll be the one being asked when the ship flips over! Hear me? What are you still spacing out for, hurry up and go!”
He pushed my back, causing me to stumble. With the item in hand, I shakily walked over to the railings.
As expected, it was not long before the storm arrived.
This was my first time in my life experiencing a storm on a boat. It was simply too terrifying and too risky. I did not even have the time to run back into the room, tightly hugging the railing for my life in the strong winds and heavy rain. Despite this, my body slid back and forth as the boat rocked. Ice-cold rain quickly soaked me through, making me look like a drowned rat. I gritted my teeth, doing everything I could to endure.
However, amidst the roar of the rain, I heard crazed laughter nearby. The voice was extremely excited, extremely high-pitched. I couldn’t tell if it was really laughter or if it was crazed shrieks. It seemed to be cheering on the thunder and lightning of the storm.
I slightly opened my tightly shut eyes and through my blurry vision, saw a familiar back standing at the bow. Both arms were stretched upwards through the storm as the person laughed and shouted himself hoarse.
I recognised the person. It was Professor Yu.
I did not understand why a storm would make him so ecstatic.
And when everything calmed down once again, we were all dumbstruck, deeply shocked by the paradise-like seascape in front of us.
I swear, it was the most beautiful sea that I had ever seen.
A clear and boundless sky, a blue ocean that reached the sky. I simply did not dare to believe my own eyes, paralysed as I dumbly stood there until someone cried out in praise, “Wow, so beautiful!”
I turned my head around to see Qin Ni walk out to the deck with Xiao Qian behind her as well.
“Professor, where is this? There are no buoy markers on the navigation apparatus.”
Senior Ouyang’s words drew everyone’s attention. We focused our gazes onto Professor Yu.
The professor still seemed to be immersed in his euphoria just now and had not yet returned to his senses. He stared up at the ocean surface in the distance and quietly muttered as if speaking to himself, “This time, I’ll definitely capture you!”
“Capture who?” I couldn’t help but blurt out.
The professor turned his eyes towards me an unexpectedly let out a deep and long laugh without saying a word.
I looked around once more. Everyone wore different expressions, but each one was abstruse. Qin Ni threw a wink at me.
Suddenly realisation dawned. Could it be that the professor is saying he’ll capture a mermaid?
While this was ridiculously absurd, I was currently more concerned about where the alleged miraculous medicine was. Moreover, without any buoy markers, how would we return to where we came from?
Everyone grew anxious. After all, no matter how pleasing the seascape was, one would tire of the aesthetics after a while. Plus, our boat had not stopped going in circles the entire time. No matter where it travelled, it could not escape this mist-filled human paradise.
“Professor, what exactly are we to do now?” Xu Yi Feng scratched his face in frustration.
The professor remained unaffected as he indifferently chuckled and evenly answered, “No rush, just wait, just wait.”
Thus, we waited – waited for another two days and two nights. As everyone saw that the last of the food was about to be eaten, they began to complain. Only the professor remained as collected as before.
That evening, I stood out on the deck alone, staring up at the silver full moon in the night sky, and let out a slow sigh of admiration. Qin Ni walked over to stand next to me and let out an identical sigh. I turned my head to look at her, smiling when our eyes met. The nightscape was intoxicating, and in front of a beautiful woman, I couldn’t help but flush as my heart raced. I dropped my head, somewhat at a loss.
However, we did not speak. Qin Ni seemed to have something on her mind, leaning on the railings as she blankly stared out at round moon. I did not dare to disturb her, so I restrained my rough breathing by focusing on holding it in. It was precisely at this moment when I seemed to hear sharp screams. They were faint, as though they were coming from the ocean waters in the distance.
I stood on tiptoe, my eyes wandering. However, there was nothing to be seen on the empty surface of the ocean aside from the dense night fog spreading outwards layer upon layer. I couldn’t help but feel suspicious; after quietly waiting for a moment, that ear-piercing scream seemed to be getting closer and closer, clearer and clearer.
Qin Ni let out a loud shout. “Oh no, someone’s fallen into the water!”
I looked in the direction she was pointing at. Indeed, there seemed to be a silhouette struggling to stay afloat in the foggy waters. Judging by the sound, it seemed to be a woman. As she flailed about, she frantically waved at us to beg for rescue. However, I couldn’t swim at all, and there was no way I could have a girl like Qin Ni jump into the ocean by herself to save the person, right?
While trapped in this dilemma, the professor suddenly rushed out with someone behind him.
“Is there someone in the water?”
He anxiously threw himself against the railings, squinting hard to try and peer into the distance. Before I could reply, I saw the professor pull out a long rope from who knew where.
The rope was very thick and looked exceptionally sturdy. It appeared to have been prepared long ago. He waved behind him and commanded without any room for argument, “Ouyang, Jin Ping, you two swim over from the front and think of a way to attract her attention. Remember, don’t get too close; keep your distance. Yi Feng, you circle around from the back with me. On my count to three, we’ll wrap the rope around her in one go. No matter how much she struggles, we must drag her back! Everyone understand?”
The three men being called out exchanged glances with each other with complicated expressions. However, they did not hesitate for very long. Taking off their jackets and shoes, they jumped into the ocean one after another with a series of splashes.
Qin Ni, Hua Xia, and I stood at the side of the boat, eyes fixed unmovingly on the four people in the water to watch them split off two ways.
I was a bit doubtful. Is rescuing a woman from the water that troublesome?
In the blink of an eye, Wei Jin Ping and Senior Ouyang had already swum to their target location. Then, I saw them seemingly freeze in place, as though they had instantly turned into stone. They stiffly stayed in the ice-cold waters for a long time without moving.
Then, the professor and Xu Yi Feng quietly snuck over from behind. The professor let out a loud shout and quickly tossed the rope out to wrap it around the fallen woman’s neck. Then he gave it a hard yank. The woman seemed to be in pain from the pull, letting out strange, shrill shriek that startled the rest of us standing on the deck.
The woman fought back with all her strength, her wriggling in the water splashing up ocean spray. However, the professor never let go. Together with Xu Yi Feng, the two combined their strength to tighten the rope further. Then the four of them dragged her back over through the water with much difficulty.
Hua Xia and I hurriedly ran down the steps to help. Under the light shining through the inside of the boat, we could see them gradually swim nearer, then even nearer…until we could get a proper look at the woman they had rescued back. A yelp slipped out from my mouth as I fell backwards onto the floor of the deck.
“Holy-holy shit! What is that!”
I held my head with one hand while I used my other hand to point at the water in horror.
Hua Xia did not utter a sound. However, it was easy to see that he was also very shocked, not moving an inch from where he stood.
It was not long before the professor and the others dragged the “woman” up the steps.
Under the bright lights, I dazedly stared at the “woman” covered in scales. It opened its mouth to let out a startling shriek, revealing its many canines. It seemed to be trying to bite through the ropes around its neck. However, the rope was secured too tightly, already rooted into its flesh. Drops of green fluid dripped down along the rope, slowly sliding down its thick, dark-brown scales.
The professor pulled the rope to slowly bring it up out of the water.
As its lower half gradually broke through the surface, it actually…actually turned out to be an enormous fish tail!
This noun instantly escaped from my mouth. As soon as I said this, I subconsciously covered my lips.
Heavens, there really are mermaids in this world?
Qin Ni next to me took a step back from shock.
Using tremendous strength, the professor and the others finally managed to drag the mermaid up. That huge fish tail was still flapping around everywhere, heavily slapping against the deck with loud smacks, splashing water all over the place.
I caught a whiff of a strong, rotten stench. Qin Ni held her nose too.
At this point, the professor pulled out a needle he had prepared in advance. After finding a crack between the layers of scales on the neck, he stabbed the needle in.
The needle was forcibly pulled out only after the piercing cries gradually ceased, and that thick fish tail eventually stopped wildly flailing about as well. This tranquiliser shot wasn’t enough for it to fall unconscious though; its sunken, turbid eyes were wide open as it fiercely glared at us. However, it no longer had the energy to scream or move.
I dumbly stood there the entire time, completely unable to process everything going in in front of me. I thought I was dreaming. However, the sea breeze that blew past my face so also so cold that it had to be reality.
Xiao Qain hid behind the cabin door to secretly watch me.
I immediately reacted and shouted at her, “Go back! Don’t come out! Hurry back to the room!”
Xiao Qian jumped in fright and hurriedly shut the door.
I patted my numbing face, panting from the lingering trepidation. I forced myself to accept this terrifying reality—Just now, we appeared to have captured…a mermaid?
They moved the unfathomable thing into the room belonging to the professor and Senior Ouyang. I followed inside too.
The professor glanced at me but did not have any intention of chasing me out.
The mermaid laid horizontally on the ground. Its upper half was not that of a beautiful young woman like in fairytales and legends. All I saw was a monster, a monster with half of its body having the silhouette of a human. It was covered in scales from its face to its tail. Its ears on both sides of its face were pointed and it had something like dark-green kelp growing atop its head. If I hadn’t taken a closer look, I would have thought it was hair. The professor said that it was a water plant that had attached itself to its body.
The six of us were there, circling around the mermaid. If our reactions at the first sight counted as horrified and scared, then now that we had stared at its ugly face this entire time, we were more curious.
“There really are mermaids in this world?” We repeatedly asked this question.
The professor smiled and answered, “Mermaids are just one of the names people call them by. They should be categorised as a life form that humankind does not yet know of. It seems to be viviparous. Also, it eats humans.”
Qin Ni opened her mouth in astonishment, subconsciously moving to create more distance between her and the mermaid on the floor.
“Yes. Although it also eats fish and shrimp, its main source of food is humans. Many years ago, my father…was eaten by it.” The professor pushed his glasses up and said, “This was when I saw with my own eyes that such a bizarre and terrifying life form exists. At the time, I was deeply shaken, so I ended up devoting my entire life afterwards to biological research for the sake of diving deeper into investigating this type of unknown creature.
“From my knowledge, it only lives in set areas on the sea, and these areas are very difficult to find because they don’t have coordinates. Whenever a boat appears after accidentally getting lost, it will lock onto the people on the boat. To its eyes, the humans are just food.
“It’s very intelligent and will not immediately spring into action. Instead, it waits several days until the humans on the boat have nearly finished their food and are starved to the point where their fighting strength has dropped. Then it will quietly appear at the surface of the ocean at night, showing only its upper body. Pretending to be a woman fallen in the water, it will flail about in the water while crying out to the boat as if asking for rescue. And when the person that goes to rescue it discovers its true face, it is typically already too late. It will snap the person’s neck in half with a single bite, then drag it under the sea to slowly enjoy.”
The professor said all this in a single breath. We were stunned for a moment, then slowly retreated several steps, not daring to get too close to the frightening creature on the ground.
Then, the professor looked at me and said, “Zhu Nan, your younger sister’s medicine is inside this mermaid’s body.”
I reeled in shock and stammered as I repeated, “In-inside the mermaid’s…body?”
“Yes. Have you ever heard the legends about mermaids?” The professor pushed his glasses up. “The legends say that eating mermaid flesh can make you immortal.”
“Ah, I’ve heard that legend before~” Qin Ni commented, “A lot of such folktales are circulated around Japan and Korea, as well as many other places in Asia. It’s just that the version changes.”
The professor nodded and added, “Actually, these legends are incorrect. According to my research, my hypothesis is that these creatures possess miraculous medicinal value. And the source of its value is its heart. If we can utilise and develop this further, perhaps creating a medicine to revive people from the dead or become immortal are not impossible.”
“Re-really?” Hua Xia’s eyes lit up at these words.
Terror struck my heart as I murmured, “Professor, don’t tell me…you want me little sister to eat…this mermaid’s heart?”
The professor looked at me. Without even a second of hesitation, he immediately answered, “That’s right, I want to have your sister test it first and see if it has any effect.”
I was dumbstruck. It turned out that the so-called miraculous medicine was actually a mermaid’s heart!
Thus, after this, they began to work on dissecting. The professor secured the mermaid, who was still awake despite having been injected by a tranquiliser, onto the bed, and he retrieved a surgical blade. Since this was a live dissection, the operation process was extremely cruel. I did not dare to even watch, only shrinking away off to the side.
When the sharp blade cut into the mermaid’s abdomen and sliced open its stomach, it suddenly began to strongly resist in refusal, hoarse screams ripping out from the depths of its throat, frightening both Xu Yi Feng and Hua Xia who were on either side of it.
For some reason, it sounded to me as though the screams carried a feeling of extreme despair and pain.
“This is actually a pregnant mermaid!”
With blade in hand, the professor happily announced this. In surprise, we all flocked over and really did see a faintly trembling fetus inside the cut-up abdomen.
“You’re saying that there’s a tiny mermaid inside it too?” Qin Ni covered her mouth.
“If we can breed it, wouldn’t we hit the jackpot?” Hua Xia licked his lips.
The professor smiled without making a comment. He carefully scooped the fetus out and placed it inside a glass container. While he did this action, I saw that mermaid shoot a furious glare filled with extreme enmity at him. That gaze made me tremble with fear; I lowered my head, not daring or willing to watch on.
However, the most shocking part was that, after completing the removal of the heart, that pitiful yet terrifying unknown creature did not die. It continued to live on with ridiculously tenacious vitality, trying its best to open its eyes to look at it, always looking at us. Finally, Qin Ni quietly said, “Guys, look, its eyes seem to have tears in them.”
As soon as she spoke, a crystalline, transparent fluid slid down from the scale-covered corner of its eye.
Senior Ouyang let out a soft sight and replied, “Why do I keep getting the feeling that it’s very similar to a human.”
“Don’t-don’t joke around. How could a human look like that?” In attempt to reconcile the mood, Xu Yi Feng laughed and replied, “If you have your doubts, why don’t you try asking it if it can understand our words?”
Then after saying this, the mermaid actually…nodded…
For a moment, everyone was stunned. We only felt chills rise up from the bottom of our feat.
Then, none of us spoke another word. Even the professor’s complexion was slightly pale.
This mermaid could actually understand our words? Or did it possess the same cognitive level and IQ as a human? Everything was an unknown.
The atmosphere turned awkward and eerie.
However, the professor did not forget his main objective for this trip out to sea. He quickly and carefully sliced up the large, still beating heart into many pieces, then handed a small chunk to me.
I hesitantly stared at the chunk of flesh in the glass cup that was about a third of one’s palm. It was pitch-black, and a vile, thick green fluid flowed out from it. Every vein and artery that mottled the surface was clearly visible.
The professor patted me and reminded, “This was what we had agreed on long ago.”
I pursed my lips and did not reply.
He chuckled and added, “Don’t worry, even if it isn’t effective, it shouldn’t cause any major harm. Just treat is as swallowing a raw snake gall: close eyes and gulp it down in one go.”
I gritted my teeth and nodded, then called Xiao Qian over. However, I did not let her enter that room; I did not want her to see the mermaid on the bed that had gotten its torso cut open to have its heart and child dug out of it.
The seven of us stood around Xiao Qian in the dim hallway with poor lighting.
Xiao Qian was a bit frightened, constantly clinging onto my back and hiding behind me. I hardened my heart and forcibly pulled her out.
I had originally thought up a bunch of lies to try and deceitfully coax her into eating the piece of mermaid heart. However, beyond my expectations, Xiao Qian did not hesitate in the slightest to swallow it when she heard that this thing could cure her illness.
“How is it, how is it? Do you feel anything?” Xu Yi Feng curiously stared at Xiao Qian.
Xiao Qian shook her head and grimaced. “So bitter.”
“Oi, fatty, don’t just stare at a young girl like that. Even if there was an effect, it wouldn’t be so soon.”
Qin Ni rolled her eyes in exasperation at Xu Yi Feng, causing the latter to smile in embarrassment.
The professor handed me a journal and instructed, “Check her body temperature every three hours. For the time being, stop using the medications that the hospital prescribed. If there are any abnormalities, contact me immediately.”
With this, he turned his head to look at everyone else and said, “Alright, no need for everyone to stay crowded around here. All of you, go back to your rooms to rest. If there are any other questions, we can discuss it tomorrow morning.”
“Professor, what should we do?” Senior Ouyang glanced at the room where the mermaid was closed in.
The professor said, “I’m afraid that it would be impossible for anyone to sleep there before it’s cleaned up. We’ll just have to squeeze into Xu Yi Feng’s room for now.”
As a result, everyone dispersed in that way.
I led Xiao Qian back to the room and tried to persuade her to sleep. However, she never fell asleep, constantly asking questions instead.
“Gēge, what is that thing that I ate?”
“Gēge, will that thing really cure my illness?”
“Gēge, what did you guys catch from the ocean? I saw a giant fish tail.”
My thoughts and emotions were in turmoil from her questions. I replied in annoyance, “Don’t ask anymore. I don’t know. I don’t know anything.”
Finally, Xiao Qian went quiet and hid in her blankets to timidly watch me.
I sighed and leaned against the bed to gaze outside the window. The longer I stared, the more exhausted I felt, and my eyelids felt uncontrollably heavier. As my consciousness grew hazy, I seemed to hear Xiao Qian ask:
“Gēge, is the one closed inside that room the mermaid princess?”
However, I no longer had the strength to answer her and unknowingly fell asleep.
I could never have imagined that this sleep would become the start of a nightmare.
Early the next morning, I was woken with a start by a scream. My eyes shot open to discover that Xiao Qian, who should have been sleeping next to me, was gone.
“Xiao Qian? Xiao Qian!”
I thought she had gone to the bathroom, but there was no response after I called out for her twice. I immediately got off my bed and ran out into the hallway just in time to see Qin Ni shoot out from the room across with her hands covering her mouth.
The scream just now had been hers.
“What’s wrong? What happened?”
I suspiciously walked up, only to see the professor and Senior Ouyang walk out from the room as well. Behind them were Xu Yi Feng, Wei Jin Ping, and Hua Xia. I hadn’t thought that everyone would be present. Every one of them wore heavy expressions that I could not quite grasp, as though the sky had just collapsed. Qin Ni hid far away with a robe around her body, her long hair in disarray and face as white as a sheet.
With quivering lips, she said, “Your sister…your sister, she…”
“What happened to Xiao Qian?”
I shoved the crowd apart to charge into the reeking room. The scene before me shocked me so badly that I immediately staggered backwards a few steps until I was back at the doorway, bumping into Xu Yi Feng’s round stomach.
Xiao Qian was serenely lying completely still on the floor of that room, her eyes and mouth wide open. Her throat was already torn open and there was now a gaping hole where thick blood continued to gush out from. The dissected mermaid that had been lying on the adjacent bed was nowhere to be seen, and the ropes that had tied it there had already been ripped apart.
“What-what happened here…” I turned my head around to stare at them with red eyes.
Everyone was completely silent. After a long while, I finally heard the professor slowly say, “Once the tranquiliser’s effects wore off, the mermaid freed itself from the ropes. And your younger sister had just happened to have secretly snuck into this room at the time. The mermaid bit her throat and then fled.”
“Fl-fled? Fled to where?”
“Judging from the wet stains and the green fluid on the ground, it probably escaped back into the ocean.”
“How is that possible? Wasn’t it already cut open and had its heart removed? How could it still have the strength to attack someone and run back into the ocean?”
“That’s…something I don’t know. In any case, that mermaid didn’t die.”
“What about Xiao Qian? What’s Xiao Qian’s condition now?”
The professor did not answer me. However, anyone would know even without asking. How could anyone still survive after having their throat ripped open…I blankly stood there, tears uncontrollably flowing down. No one spoke, perhaps unable to voice any words of comfort. After all, no one was willing to see this kind of ending.
Xiao Qian’s body was kept inside that room. The professor pulled the ceaselessly crying me away.
And the next issue that we had to face was: how were we to return?
According to the professor’s words, the last time he had mistakenly entered this territory, he had fainted from excessive shock after seeing his father be eaten by the mermaid. By the time he had awoken, he had discovered that he was already lying in a hospital. Apparently two fishermen had rescued him at sea.
“In other words, even you don’t know how to leave this place, Professor?” Hua Xia asked in astonishment.
The professor nodded and replied, “I figure that if there is a way to enter, there must be a way to exit too.”
“But we’ve already been trapped here for three whole days!” Xu Yi Feng’s emotions were starting to rise a bit.
“Plus…plus our food and clean water are nearly gone.” Senior Ouyang frowned.
Wei Jin Ping paced back and forth and anxiously said, “No, we have to think of a way. Or else even if we don’t get eaten by mermaids, we’ll end up dying here from starvation and thirst.”
“Can you think of any ways?” Qin Ni looked at him.
Wei Jin Ping’s words were stuck in his throat for a second. Then he dejectedly said, “I don’t know either…”
Everyone went quiet with miserable looks on their faces. Meanwhile, I was still curled up in a corner.
Since that day, in order to conserve food, everyone’s rations were halved. Three meals merged to become two, less water was drunk, movement was minimised to reserve strength.
I hid alone in the room, curled up in bed, not uttering a word the entire time.
I had never freed myself from Xiao Qian’s death. I constantly blamed myself, constantly cried. However, it was useless.
On the sixth day, we were basically out of food. We only ate one meal a day and did not drink water unless absolutely necessary. Despite this, I figured that we could not last much longer.
The seventh day, the eighth day, the ninth day…I wasn’t even sure how we had lasted through each day. I was so hungry that my vision was blurry and did not have the strength to even sit up on the bed. My throat burned so much that it was practically smoking.
I don’t know how long I lasted like this. Then one day, Qin Ni suddenly knocked on the door and entered. I saw her holding a single plate in her hands, with something on it. Before I could get a clear look at what exactly it was, I caught a whiff of an aroma that made me drool.
“Great, you still haven’t passed out from starvation.” Qin Ni smiled at me and said, “This is the last of our reserves. Come and have a bite.”
Without even thinking, I immediately lunged over. Forgoing etiquette, I directly grabbed the plate with both hands and wolfed down the barbecued meat. It was a pity that the piece was seriously tiny; I finished it in a mere two or three bites. Still yearning for more, I even licked my oily lips after I finished eating. “I swear, that was the best barbecued meat I have ever eaten in my entire life! Thank you, Xiao Ni.”
Qin Ni smiled but did not speak. She silently turned to leave with the empty plate.
The next day, Qin Ni came again, still with a small piece of meat. I still wolfed it down.
The third day, when Qin Ni dropped by my room again, I couldn’t help but ask doubtfully, “Didn’t you say it was the last of the rations? How is there still so much?”
Qin Ni started, then replied, “Oh, it’s actually not very much. Based on this division, we can probably last a dozen or so more days. Hopefully we can find a way to escape from here within that time.”
“A dozen or so days?” I opened my mouth in astonishment. Something felt strange, but I did not ask further.
It was right at this moment when a burst of angry yells came from outside the door.
“Lunatics! You bunch of lunatics! All of you will receive retribution!” This was the professor’s voice.
I was taken aback. I rarely heard the professor yell at someone like this.
I struggled to get out of bed and pushed open the door to walk out. The professor was being restrained by Xu Yi Feng and Hua Xia on either side. Wei Jin Ping stood across with a piece of barbecued meat in his hands. There was a hint of fury in his voice too.
He said, “Professor, I’m giving this to you out of goodwill, are you really not going to eat? If you don’t eat it, I’ll eat it myself. What an ungrateful response to kindness!”
“You-you…what are you saying?!” The professor was so angry that he couldn’t speak straight. “How could you bunch have the heart to eat that? She-she’s still not dead!”
“Ridiculous. Her throat’s already ripped apart, how could she not be dead!” Wei Jin Ping glared back. Perhaps because of guilt or something, his eyes seemed to flash as he mumbled, “Besides…besides, her breathing and pulse already stopped. It would be weirder if she wasn’t dead!”
“But she still has a heartbeat!” The professor roared back with plenty of power.
Wei Jin Ping retorted, “Tch, you old bastard, cut the righteous act. Do you think I’m oblivious? You just want to bring that child back to do research!”
“What are you guys talking about?” I charged over to stand in between the professor and Wei Jin Ping. “What’s still not dead? What still has a heartbeat? What research? What are you guys talking about!”
Everyone quieted down and each one avoided my eyes.
“It’s your younger sister. Your sister still isn’t dead.” The professor looked at me and said, “Although she no longer breathes or has a pulse, for some reason her heartbeat was suddenly restored roughly a few days ago. And they…they actually cut off her arm to make barbecued meat to eat!”
“What? What did you say? Xiao Qian isn’t dead?”
I stared at him in shocked. In that moment, I instantly recalled that fragrant barbecued meat and immediately felt my vision black out as I felt sick to my stomach.
It was at this point when a very loud sound burst out from above us with a boom, and the entire boat fell into darkness.
What happened? Is it a power outage?
“Not good! Our boat was struck by lightning!” Senior Ouyang raced in from the deck and shouted, “Everyone, start preparing! The storm is about to hit us!”
While everyone was still dumbstruck, the boat was already starting to violently rock, as though an intense earthquake was causing it to shake unstably. Amidst the nauseating jolts, I lost balance and stumbled, falling headfirst. I couldn’t tell what I collided with in the darkness, but I immediately fell unconscious.