In the midst of the long night, while Lu Ye was busy working tirelessly with a group of troubled young men and women, Qi Yanbai was having a vivid and fantastical dream.
In the dream, he walked along a narrow corridor, where skillfully woven woolen carpets covered the floor, absorbing the sounds of his footsteps and leaving only a soft and ethereal sensation.
The corridor was empty, with countless classical oil paintings hanging on the high walls on both sides.
The signatures in the lower right corners of those paintings were all different, but their styles shared similarities.
The portraits hanging high above blinked their eyes and stared down at the young man passing by in the corridor.
A room deep within the corridor had a partially open door, and the heavy wooden door had a narrow gap.
Warm light spilled out from inside, creating a narrow line in front of the door.
The young man holding a frame stopped at the doorway of the study.
After a moment of hesitation, he raised his hand and lightly knocked on the door.
“Father,” he asked, “Are you there?”
A faint response came from inside the door.
The young man, with a somewhat youthful appearance, lowered his eyes and tightened his grip on the frame he was holding.
Then, he pushed the door open and entered the study.
A middle-aged man of imposing stature stood behind a heavy desk, speaking in French to another person with his side turned.
Fortunately, the man didn’t ignore him for too long.
He soon wrapped up his conversation, turned his head, and gave Qi Yanbai a casual glance before saying, “What are you doing here?”
“The school is having an art exhibition for the first-year students this year,” Qi Yanbai tightened and relaxed his fingers on the frame, finally taking the frame out from his embrace and handing it to the man in front of him.
“So, I wanted to ask you to take a look at my exhibit.”
Qi Yanbai excelled in painting landscapes and architecture, especially natural scenery such as mountains, waters, and forests.
His exhibited work was inspired by the town of Colmar in the eastern Alsace region, where the Ill River flowed gently under a bridge, with the evening sun casting its glow on the snow-covered timber houses.
Not only was the style of the painting delicate and intricate, but the technique was also skillful.
However, the man only took a brief glance at the painting, then frowned impatiently and tossed the frame back to Qi Yanbai.
“There’s no need to show me your works in the future,” the man’s voice was indifferent, even sounding a bit cold.
“You’re simply wasting my time.”
Qi Yanbai’s heart skipped a beat.
He instinctively caught the painting, raised his head in slight anxiety, and looked at the man.
In the dream, the man’s face was just a blurry shadow, yet Qi Yanbai could clearly see through that haze and discern the man’s impatient and disappointed gaze.
That disappointment was like a needle, piercing into Qi Yanbai’s heart sharply.
His heart sank in an instant, feeling as though something had been taken away from him in that moment.
With the man’s words as the final blow, he seemed stripped of everything, standing alone in a desolate wilderness, scattered by the cold wind.
“It’s over,” he thought.
Unable to gain the man’s approval, this painting had already lost its meaning and held no value.
This dream seemed to be reaching its conclusion.
Qi Yanbai could clearly sense his consciousness loosening.
He bent down slightly, intending to pick up the painting and leave the study.
However, without warning, a hand reached out from the side and steadied the frame for him.
“Why don’t you want it?” he heard someone say in his ear.
“Isn’t it good?”
Qi Yanbai was slightly taken aback.
Immediately after, he realized that this dream was collapsing at a visible pace.
The imposing figure of his father and the study filled with paintings were suddenly swept away by the wind, leaving him standing in a vast wilderness.
The cold wind whistled past his ears, but it didn’t pierce his body.
The landscape painting on the ground had inexplicably transformed into a sketch.
Following the source of the voice, Qi Yanbai turned his head and saw a stranger by his side, someone who had never appeared in his dreams before.
The man was tall and handsome, with a hint of a smile at the corners of his lips.
He glanced at Qi Yanbai nonchalantly, then raised an eyebrow slightly and reached for Qi Yanbai’s right hand that was hanging by his side.
“Why so careless?” The man’s voice carried a bewitching ethereal quality.
Qi Yanbai’s heart trembled, and his gaze fell on his own hand.
There was a narrow cut on his index finger, and fresh red blood was slowly oozing from the edges of the wound.
This familiar scene triggered a memory in Qi Yanbai’s subconscious.
Just as he was about to recall who the man in front of him was, the dream version of Lu Ye suddenly smiled without warning.
Then he lowered his head and gently took Qi Yanbai’s fingertip into his mouth, softly sucking on it.
A bright red mark was left on his lips, and soon, more fresh blood dripped from his lips, falling onto the painting on the ground.
In an instant, the painting was splashed with vibrant colors.
A gust of wind suddenly swept through the wilderness, and Qi Yanbai’s mind trembled.
He sat up from his bed with a start, instantly waking up.
His thin pajamas clung to his body from the heat of his sweat.
In the quiet night, Qi Yanbai could hear his heartbeat pounding like a drum.
His hand was trembling slightly.
When he placed his hand over his chest, it felt like he could grasp the rapidly beating heart beneath the thin layer of flesh.
The wind from the wilderness seemed to have crossed over from the dream into reality.
Qi Yanbai was driven by the dream, and he got out of bed as if in a daze.
He stepped barefoot on the icy floor and moved like a wandering spirit to the living room.
The sketch was still clipped onto the drawing board.
In the moonlight, Qi Yanbai stared at the man on the paper for a long time.
Then he lowered his head, tore off the band-aid from his finger.
The long cut on his finger had yet to heal.
When he pressed on it, a tiny blood droplet quivered out from the edge of the wound.
Qi Yanbai extended his hand and placed the droplet below the man’s eyelid in the drawing, leaving behind a vivid bloodstain on the black, white, and gray.
This drop of color seeped into the paper, transforming the gaze of the man in the painting into something sinister.
The moonlight streamed through the French window, casting its glow on the figure’s eyes and brows, making him remarkably similar to the unusual version of Lu Ye from Qi Yanbai’s dream.
“Perfect,” Qi Yanbai whispered in admiration.
What a pity, Qi Yanbai thought.
At the moment Lu Ye turned to leave, he should have asked for Lu Ye’s contact information instead of just his name.
Because he suddenly wasn’t content with a simple and wonderful encounter.
He took the sketch down and placed it neatly in a sketchbook, his interest in Lu Ye transcending the artwork itself.
His heart within his chest continued to race, causing his chest cavity to feel numb.
Blood surged through his veins and limbs.
Qi Yanbai took a deep breath, sensing an indescribable feeling of suffocation.
This sensation left him in a mildly dizzy state of excitement.
Qi Yanbai took a deep breath and a thought emerged in his mind, as if it was the natural course of things.
I should get him and then keep him, Qi Yanbai thought.
This thought made Qi Yanbai instantly feel refreshed throughout his body.
He curved his lips, and under the night sky, he unexpectedly burst into laughter.
He appeared relaxed and delighted, as if the previous oppressive feeling had vanished in an instant.
Even his footsteps became lighter and quicker.
He put away the sketchbook and was about to turn back to the bedroom.
However, as he turned, his eyes fell upon the art knife that he had left on the coffee table in the living room.
The blade was reflecting an eerie light in the moonlight.
Qi Yanbai tilted his head, observing it for a moment, then reached out and slowly pushed the blade back, tossing the knife into the trash can.
He didn’t need that anymore, Qi Yanbai thought, because he had found a better source of pleasure.
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