Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu raised her head and there were brights stars scattered across the heavens above. Every star in the sky was clear and incomparable.
A radiant meteor streaked across the sky, then vanished at the edge of the horizon. Beautiful as a fairy tale she had read as a child.
It was a pity Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu wasn't in the frame of mind to appreciate this kind of beauty, her entire heart still stunned to the core.
There was no transition whatsoever between day and night, the sky turned black abruptly.
Could it be that there was no sunset here? No dusk?
There was not enough time to ponder these questions, Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu forced her shock down to the bottom of her heart. Borrowing the sparse starlight from overhead, she found a large tree that wasn't short or thin.
Groping about for half the day, Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu removed a carabiner and climbing rope from her backpack. This ought to be the belongings of Sports Committe member, Chén Bīn. Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu remembered that he had traveled before and said he used to go mountain climbing. Now that they had appeared in her bag, Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu owned Chén Bīn the five flavors.
Because, thanks to these two things, Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu could climb the tree smoothly and spend the night safe and sound.
The temperature was somewhat lower at night, but luckily Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu's space contained both a blanket and a sleeping bag.
Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu deliberately set her alarm clock to 5:30 A.M. because she wanted to confirm that yesterday evening was not an illusion.
There was no sunset, would there be a sunrise?
With eyes wide, she waited until 5:59 but everything before her was still pitch black. However, when the minute and second hands struck 6, it were as though large hands tore open a heavy curtain. There wasn't the slightest sign of dawn.
Sunlight suddenly leaked through the thick leaves and sprinkled over Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu's head.
Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu sat stunned on the tree branch, her eyes narrowing into a squint at the piercing pain of adapting to the sudden light
Opening her eyes again to gaze at the sun-illuminated forest, Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu turned this mystery over for a very long time.
This place really was baffling, from yesterday to now, she still had several doubts. Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu tried to compel herself to think deeply, but with this scene before her, how could she tell herself to be calm?
Where on the Earth was there a place without dusk or dawn?
Where does the day and night alternate as distinctly as the Jīng River?
Was she ignorant, or had she come to another world?
This idea flashed through her mind and Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu's body stiffened.
An early morning breeze danced along the treetops and rose goose bumps along her arms.
If that were true. . .
No, no, she will certainly go back! Yesterday she had simply not found a suitable path, so long as she found the way out of the forest today, she would be able to reach the top of the hill to join her classmates and teacher.
Her mom and dad were still waiting for her to report back to them that she was in a safe place. She could not remain trapped here.
Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu straightened out her sleeping gear and returned them to the space then used the climbing rope to slide down to the ground.
There was a stream nearby with cool, clear water, and limestone at the bottom. Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu walked over to wash her face and felt startlingly refreshed.
A small face with innate beauty was reflected on the water surface, her lips red and features exquisite.
The young girl looked good, even with a faint knit in her brow, for it made her appear pitiful.*
*A sentence that can also be interpreted as: A girl seldom looked good with a faint frown because it made one look pathetic.
Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu did not take notice because just then, she felt pain in the sole of her foot.
She removed her shoes and bowed her head to look at the bottom of her foot, finding two transparent blisters.
Yesterday, she had traveled four or five hours along the rough forest floor, and now she felt the pain for it.
Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu sniffled a little, feeling wronged.
Jǐ-fù (formal father) and Jǐ-mù (formal mother) had only one son and only her as a daughter. She held them tightly in her heart and loved them dearly, but now she was alone in some desolate mountain range, suffering in injury, and god knows with what else.
Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu was sad for a while, then she mentally hit herself to be strong. She hastily dealt with the blisters on her feet and overturned her space to find a pair of white sneakers. She did not know which classmate had brought these, but when she tried them out, they were just the right size. They were also the perfect thing to continue her journey.
Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu had not gone far when she accidentally bowed her head and saw mottled bloodstains amidst the grass.
The blood had dried into an ocher red color.
The surroundings were becoming familiar to her, and she was beginning to feel a bad premonition. Sure enough, just ahead was a familiar tree with four digits engraved upon it. Beneath the tree, a small figure with roundish stripes quietly lay. Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu could hear her heartbeat in her head.
She had circled back to this place again.
In the darkness of last night, Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu was unable to see her surroundings and trees there were unfamiliar, so she thought she had walked quite a distance.
Scarcely did she know, then, that the tree she had spent the night in and this one marked with 1002 were only separated by a few dozen meters.
Why did she always return to this place? Why couldn't she leave? Along with her panic, Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu felt even more puzzled.
The ancient TV dramas frequently showed an identical environment, but the matter of choosing the wrong path was made right away, and every step out concealed in mystery.
Was it possible that she was now also in some sort of maze?
"Wululu," a small voice whimpered and grumbled, pulling Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu back to consciousness.
Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu followed the sound and found him buried under the leaves, lying motionless on the ground, and on his last gasp.
From the depths of his throat, a moan spilled over his vocal cords.
Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu walked over to him and slowly pushed the leaves from the leopard's body to see the condition of the injury.
Yesterday, she had peered from a distance away and now she could see the flesh around the would was festering with pus, and the blood was congealing in the leopard's fur. There were even bugs crawling around inside.
Wasn't this little one still able to walk yesterday? How did he become like this today?
When Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu accidentally touched the wound, a deep rumble emerged from the cub's throat, and he lifted his eyelids to stare fixedly at her with deep blue eyes.
His gaze could not be considered friendly, most likely the instinctual suspicion and guard of a dying animal .
If he was not so seriously injured, Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu was convinced he would pounce up to claw at her face.
Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu was powerless to defend herself this time, and she had originally not wanted to save him. God knows where his parents were, why or how he had gotten injured, and how he had appeared here. How much trouble would this implicate her with in the future? But, she hugged the leopard's small body to her chest, and she changed her mind again.
He was so small. Not yet even the size of her American short hair.
She could save this little one, right?
Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu carried the cub to the stream and squatted at its edge. Using one hand to hold the leopard's forelimbs in place, and the other cupping a handful of water, she gently washed out the wound.
The wound was deep, unlikely from any trap or weapon, but like the leopard had gotten caught by a beast.
Was it possible that a beast separated the cub from his parents and he escaped on his own?
Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu cleaned the baby leopard's wounds well, then set the cub on clean grass. Digging around in her backpack, she began to take out the medicine kit from her space to treat the leopard's hind leg, but at that moment, the distant howl of a wolf suddenly echoed through the forest.
Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu's every movement stalled.
The leopard opened his eyes, a meaningfully heavy look within them, and soon afterward, his body also quickly stood on guard.
At first, Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu thought she had heard it wrong, but the cry soon sounded again, only this time, it was much closer.
Listening closely, it sounded as if there was more than one wolf.
She had heard that wolves were social animals, and from the rise and fall of the howl, there ought to be a pack of wolves.
Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu snatched her backpack tight and stood up, wanting to run.
Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu had expected to meet a ferocious beast, but she had not expected it to happen so fast. She was still a stranger in a strange land when it came to these woods, and she had no place to hide. Plus, she had been lost in the forest for a while, so she hurriedly pulled at her bag's zipper.
Something fell from her backpack and onto the ground.
She picked it up to take a look, and it was a round compass. The top was marked with the four directions "N, S, W, E", and it was of a superior quality.
Before her departure, Jǐ-fù (formal father) had worried about Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu getting lost in the mountains, so he stuffed this into her bag in case of emergency.
Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu had not taken it to heart then, and afterwards forgot about it altogether.
Now, however, her eyes were shining bright, she needed it more than anything else.
With the compass to set her direction, Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu slung her bag onto her shoulder and looked down at the ground where the tiny leopard still lay on his stomach, both calm and not moving.
He was also looking at her, the pupils of his eye serene and composed, neither hiding or dodging from her gaze.
Deep blue eyes flashed with an obscure light.
Oddly enough, Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu thought to herself, had she actually seen human emotion in the eyes of a leopard?
Had he taken pity on her just now?
The wolf's howl was already close.
Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu ground her teeth, then after not much thought, advanced to hold the little leopard in her embrace as she began to run alongside the stream.
Changing to sneakers sure enough made running so much easier. Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu split her attention between cautiously avoiding the leopard's wound and closely following her compass.
With the compass guiding her way, Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu made it all the way south without a hitch. Not long after, she ran out of the forest and the howling of the wolves behind her slowly faded away. She bowed her head to glance at her watch and found she had unwittingly ran for two hours, much to her surprise.
Now that the danger had passed, she felt extremely tired and gasped for air.
Her legs softened, and she leaned on a tree as she slowly sat on the ground.
Noticing her palms were sticky, Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu spread out her hands to find them covered in blood. With horror in her heart, she hurried to examine the leopard.
She had just ran very quickly, with many obstacles in her path and a very unsteady gait. The leopard's already clotted wound had split open and was bleeding again. She could see the cub's bone. He must have hurt but had unexpectedly remained silent from start to finish.
"Are you going to die?" Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu murmured, extending a finger to gently press the leopard's round ear.
The cub's ear moved, and he slowly opened his tearful blue eyes to meet hers.
Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu originally thought he might get angry and did not expect him to merely look at her for a moment then limply turn away.
The leopard was probably in so much pain that even his strength was all gone, Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu assumed.
As they had escaped danger already, treating the would was the next priority.
Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu turned her body to cover the backpack and removed her medicine kit from the space. She opened the kit to look inside, and saw all the medicine was there. She had alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, antipyretic, hemostyptic, medical gauze and so on.
Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu raised cats at home so attending to them was not strange.
But this was the first time she had to deal with such a deep injury.
She steadied her hands and disinfected a silver knife with alcohol. Gently holding the hind limbs of the leopard, she carefully scraped away the festering, rotting flesh around it. The little leopard cried out in a whisper, and her hand shook. The leopard's eyes flashed coldly and she blurted out, "Sorry, sorry, it was not on purpose."
After she finished speaking, she realized he could not understand her, and she marveled at herself. Why did she apologize? Because his eyes were unhappy?
Disposing of the rotten flesh, Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu used sterile water to disinfect the wound and applied the hemostyptic. Then she picked up the gauze.
She seriously wrapped the gauze around the little leopard's hind leg several times. On the last loop, she tied a beautiful bow knot.
Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu nodded with satisfaction and sighed. The leopard that had been standing steadily, abruptly moved forward and collapsed on the ground.
Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu was gobsmacked, but she quickly picked him up.
Once she touched his body, she noticed his temperature was abnormally high. Cats normally had a higher temperature than humans, roughly around 38 degrees, but it was obvious to the touch that this little leopard was much hotter than 38 degrees.
Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu touched his ears and paws, and they were both very warm. He was already seriously injured yesterday and had spent the entire night in the wild. It was only to be expected that he was feverish.
Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu rummaged through the medicine kit to find a thermometer.
A cat's mouth could not hold the thermometer. Previously, Jǐ Xiǎo Ōu had gauged their temperature by pushing it into the anus.
She took the thermometer and laid the leopard flat on her legs, preparing to follow through.
The thermometer only just touched its sphincter when the leopard cub probably guessed what she was going to do. She did not know where he found the strength to violently struggle in her arms. His fore paw suddenly swung down, and his blue eyes glared ferociously at her, glimmering with anger.