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Chapter 58 - The Faces Inside the Monochrome Photograph

Plague Doctor
     Chapter 58: The Faces Inside the Monochrome Photograph

    The sunset colored the sky red, as though an eerie sea of blood spread across the atmosphere.

    The Surgical Building completed the operations with an 82% success rate for all 624 patients of this group of patients with Banyan Malformation Disease. The medical staff who had been fighting on the frontlines for the past three days were dismissed to rest. Gu Jun, Wang Ruoxiang, and the other interns could also head back to the dormitory to rest.

    This was the first time they had stepped out of the surgical building in three days. Everyone was exhausted, but compared to the years of studying medicine, their experiences over the past few days have shaped them far better.

    Cai Zixuan had already whipped up a gorgeous and fragrant pot of porridge with minced pork and lush green vegetables in the dormitory to comfort their mouths and stomachs. After eating the porridge, the tired people left to rest, reluctant to talk about their experiences over the last few days.

    Gu Jun went to take a shower first and headed to his bedroom. He laid down on the bed and wanted to go to sleep before anything else.

    However, as soon as he closed his eyes, the scenes of the past few days resurfaced in his mind.

    The death of the old lady, the death throes of the young boy, those weird and twisted limbs, the abruptly winding blood vessels, skin with black substance flowing underneath…

    "Huff… huff…" Gu Jun opened his eyes and looked at the pristine white ceiling. The emptiness was indeed an ephemeral beauty sometimes.

    

    "After staying in the Phecda Department for so long, don't tell me I've gone crazy?"

    He murmured to himself. The rate of improvement he experienced here was several-fold faster than if he was learning in medical schools and general hospitals, but the challenges he faced were an entirely different ballgame as well.

    He consciously felt like he had gone through quite some experience. Even though he thought that his life had many ups and downs, he was now determined and clear-headed. But he was still unable to control the influences on his heart, and the unconscious changes happening in the subconscious. He couldn't feel these changes, but they were definitely shaping his unconscious mind.

    Now he better understood what Brother Qiang said, "The more people expand their internal cognition, the heavier the inner shackles weighing down their heart."

    After looking at the ceiling for a while longer, Gu Jun gathered his energy to manage the tasks relating to the system.

    Twenty operations in three days. There were many successes and failures, and the proficiency of the Hands of Dexterity achieved the second tier 20,000 / 30000. The proficiency increased by a total of 13,000, and his surgical contribution was getting higher and higher. However, the proficiency remained as such. It rose quickly initially but became incomparably challenging to progress during the latter part.

    He still currently lacked 10,000 proficiency to achieve the third tier. He believed that if he continued the current tempo, it would not take long.

    Having seen the Hands of Dexterity, Gu Jun then opened the surgical job list and closed it again. These were all valuable surgical experiences, but he didn't want to look back at them now.

    He opened the mission log again. In these three days, he completed a NORMAL mission and the rewards were not received yet.

    At the moment, Gu Jun pulled the quilt over and covered himself. He first accepted the box of "human anti-inflammatory drugs" which was similar to tumour-targeting drugs. There was nothing special about it. The packaging was still made of the same materials, but the tablets came in 10 instead. There was no instructional manual, and he was unable to understand the foreign language written on it. He placed the box of medicine in his pocket first and carried it close to him.

    Then his mind looked at the HIDDEN mission.

    [ Mission rewards are waiting to be collected: 1 blurred and dilapidated photograph.

    Click to receive your reward!]

    Gu Jun nodded with his thoughts, and suddenly there was a fierce and chaotic fusion of light and shadow that came from some unknown area flooding his mind. Although he had been mentally prepared, the intensity was unprecedented. He could not help but press both his hands against his head, which felt like it was about to split apart, and bitterly groan in pain.

    Above his sea of knowledge, the light and shadow gradually condensed and became a picture-like object.

    "Ahh…" Gu Jun endured the pain and needed to slow down for a while. This was the reward which consumed most of his mental energy when receiving it.

    He hasn't clicked and looked carefully, but he could tell from afar that it was a monochromatic photo. The back of the photo was yellow with age with mottled spots and blurred areas and was frazzled around the edge. It seemed that this photo came from an ancient era. In the picture, there were dozens of people arranged in four or five rows, sitting or standing, and all facing the camera in a row. This was a group photo.

    The clothes they wore looked like the long-style gowns, fashioned in the similar Republic of China-style as the worshippers in the vision of the banyan tree.

    Was this a group photo of that organisation? When was this taken? Who are these people?

    Gu Jun looked at the blurred faces of the dozens of people and felt a nervous tension creeping over him. Will there be figures of his father and mother in the group photo?

    He paid more attention to the background in the next photo. It seemed to be in front of a giant tree on the coast. The sea surface was very murky. The tree was intertwined, and the branches of varying sizes were twisted and distorted. It was another banyan tree.

    He paused for a while, but he still clicked on the photo with his will. The monochromatic photo was opened and enlarged.

    Gu Jun glanced at it, and it was like a peal of lightning struck his heart. His eyes widened in disbelief.

    The dozens of people in the photo, whether tall or short, muscular or thin, old or young, all had the same face; the face of the old and withered man.

    Although their face shapes were slightly different, they were merely minute variations with the same set of facial features. The faces looked dehydrated. Their cheeks were sunken, and some of the people were so thin that they looked like they were about to sink into their eye sockets, just like skeletons. They are all the same faces!

    "…" Gu Jun looked at this picture in silence. This situation was utterly beyond his previous assumptions.

    Why was this happening? Was this a digitally-modified photo from a computer? No, he has an indescribable manic feeling telling him that it was not.

    A mask? That was clearly too realistic to be a mask. Surgery? Another wild thought popped up in his mind. "Could these people have undergone facial cosmetic surgery to make themselves look like this?" He took a look at the photograph again, but didn't feel like that was the case. These faces seemed to look natural. All were emitting an eerie chill, and there were no signs of deformity.

    Why? He looked at them and got an uneasy feeling that these dozens of people were also looking back at him. He counted the number of people in the photograph, fifty-two.

    Gu Jun recognised the man in red from the vision of the sacrifice to the banyan tree. He had the same proportion of facial features, whereas, the other fifty-one people may be the ones who knelt around the banyan tree.

    Which was to say that the "receptionist" was not the man in red, nor was he anyone in the photo. He was an entirely different person.

    Gu Jun thought about it. The twisted grin and eerie words that the "receptionist" spoke resurfaced in his mind. "I'm an unimportant person; someone easy to deal with. Someone that you can still see. Not like those that are unseen." Now that he thought back about it, the tone that the man used was spoken cheekily and even contained mockery.

    Now he realised that it was because even if he saw them, he would not be able to distinguish them.

    He had many vague impressions of seeing the man over the years. Were the men with the withered frame in his hazy memories really the same person?

    "Lai Sheng Company, Lai Sheng…" Gu Jun murmured several times. "What is the meaning behind this name?"

    This question had circulated in his mind many times, but he was still unsure. Lai was a plant, a wild vegetable that was often eaten by the poor in ancient times. This was the dictionary meaning behind the word.

    Looking at this photo, Gu Jun felt a vague notion gradually forming in his mind, "What if "Lai Sheng" was merely a homonym? What if it actually meant "Afterlife1″?"

    This life, the next life, the next next life… every life of man was one of their reincarnations.

    Everyone was the same person, just like how the banyan tree would merge all people and all living beings into a single entity.

    "Lai Sheng… Afterlife… Afterlife Cult?" Gu Jun suddenly murmured the name, and the crazed realisation in his heart grew more and more violent. Something buried in his deep subconscious was struggling to wake itself.

    These people from the Afterlife Cult sought strength from underneath the sea and summoned the unknown from the banyan tree, but what were they pursuing? Immortality?

    Gu Jun felt that he was a lonely boat on the vast sea trying to find the coast, and could finally see a dim light from a lighthouse in the distance. He seemed to have found the right direction, but when he steered his boat over, all that faced him was a dense fog which encompassed everything.

    He looked at this photo for a long time, and it took a long time before he closed it. His eyes retained a determined glint.

    "I have to find a way to trigger the illusion of this photo. I must understand what the truth is."

    After Gu Jun set down his resolution in his mind, he then decided to close his eyes and go to sleep. He had to rejuvenate his spirit to deal with the unknown. Gu Jun adjusted his breathing and abandoned his distracting thoughts to fall asleep. Only a blanket of silence filled the bedroom. Who knew how long after that, but he seemed to have fallen into a dream-like state, as though…

    He heard a mysterious whisper, which was difficult to understand. It sometimes speaks in a high pitch, but also incomparably low. He seemed to be walking on a muddy road towards an enormous banyan tree.

    The whisper rang louder and louder in his ears, and he could suddenly understand those words.

    "Thy is the Son of Misfortune. In thine eyes, Ye are a filthy, foolish, and despicably pathetic creature."

    Rebirth is also pronounced as ‘Lai Sheng' in Mandarin.