43 What You See May Not Be the Truth
I trusted in Jie Pa’s reasoning skills. He’d always been logical and collected.
I decided to speak up, “Since the culprit remains hidden, we should first stay calm. Since those who have died may have been infected with blood like Song Lu’s, let’s have Jie Pa collect their blood to examine it. If you’re bothered by it, Gaoqin Jiuye, you can go along with him. And since the deaths are your Southern District’s residents, and Si Luo won’t make an appearance, you ought to calm the residents’ wary hearts. Nie Zun, Jiao S, and I will go search around the area where the supposed culprit disappeared.”
Gaoqin Jiuye glanced at me, and then agreed with my suggestion.
I motioned for Jiao S to follow me. With a jolt of mental force for speed, I started running for the woods around the school building, Jiao S and Nie Zun on my heels.
After getting into the woods a bit, looking back, the school was no longer visible. All I could see was layer upon layer of trees under the darkened night sky. I stopped walking.
Jiao S looked a bit cautious. With large, flitting eyes, she looked at me. Nie Zun also stopped, a distance away, unsure of what I intended.
I turned back and looked at Jiao S. “Now that there’s only you, me, and Nie Zun, I have something I want to say to you.”
Standing still, Jiao S fixed her gaze onto me and said, “Go ahead.”
Standing just as still, I returned her gaze. “Guess who I saw when we were chasing the perpetrator.”
Jiao S rolled her eyes. “Don’t keep me hanging.”
Making sure to enunciate each word, I said, “I saw Li Wen.”
Surprised, she asked, “Li Wen?”
I scoffed, “Yes, the very one whom you injured and shamed in front of the Western residents, Li Qing’s beloved disciple, Li Wen.”
Jiao S shook her head. “That can’t be. She disappeared before Li Qing died. And for the past year, I haven’t heard of anyone spotting her in the Split Zone. I figured that she must have disappeared from the Split Zone, the same as Li Qing.”
At her words, I couldn’t help thinking of Li Qing’s death.
Li Qing’s death had been very different to everyone else’s. She seemed to have known her death was coming, long before it arrived, even making arrangements for it. That day, on the roof of the Western residence, after entrusting everything to me, she suddenly closed her eyes and fell over.
After Jie Pa examined her, we found that Li Qing had indeed died. Her consciousness was gone, but her body hadn’t turned to ash and smoke, and her split symbol was fully intact. We temporarily kept her seemingly comatose, unbreathing body. That is, until one day, when her corpse just vanished.
We had a very strict watch on her, which meant that it was impossible for someone to have snuck her body out, and so, Jie Pa and a few other medical persons suspected that her physical body may have finally died. Instead of turning to ashes and disappearing as smoke, she had instead slowly evaporated. But no one had seen the event unfold, and so no one truly knew what happened.
The blond man hadn’t mentioned a single word about the incident. He simply promoted me to Western Commander, and never spoke of the situation again.
I’d been devastated at the time, but Li Qing had in fact told me about her leaving ahead of time. She said that she would die, and that everyone in the Split Zone would eventually die too. When she’d first brought it up, I hadn’t really understood what she was talking about, but in the end, I had to accept that she was gone.
But it was Li Wen’s death that came strangely. One day, she just suddenly disappeared from the Split Zone, without a trace. I had suspected Jiao S, but the blond man had a lot of informers spread about the place. He told me that Jiao S wasn’t involved and to stop investigating it.
I have to admit that, at the time, I was quite the wretch. What, with Li Qing’s death and Li Wen’s disappearance, as well as the dejection I’d been feeling since my arrival in the Split Zone, I grew very accustomed to letting things happen without getting involved. I didn’t think too much about anything, and just lied around all day, eating and drinking.
But I couldn’t act that way anymore. Laurel’s treatment at such a young age, turning into some strange monster. Song Lu, who always protected me, always thought of me first, the person I thought of as my real sister, she’d turned into something strange. Song Lu and Yu Liang, who had always been happy together, were now split apart. One’s whereabouts were unknown, and the other had become some kind of science experiment. I couldn’t act the same anymore.
When I thought of all that, my glare intensified. “Jiao S, tell me. Why did do that to Li Wen, back then?”
Jiao S was quiet a moment. “Do you really want to know?”
Jiao S exhaled, a trace of helplessness slipping over her eyes for the first time. “I did it for Li Qing.”
I was shocked, but I didn’t cut in.
And she continued, “You know, Li Qing was always an unwavering and capable woman. Though her mental force wasn’t extremely high, she always trained. In order to protect the Western residents, she really sacrificed a lot. Not long after I became the Eastern Commander, she visited me, wanting to befriend me. At first, I simply thought that she wanted to maintain peaceful relations between the districts, but later, I realized that she was really a very charismatic and charming woman.
“I’ve never agreed with others’ governing practices. You may all see the Eastern Distict as a violent and riotous place, but that’s just a consequence of the weak being prey to the strong. In the East, everyone is forced to become strong enough to protect themselves. Sometimes, having an easy life isn’t really a good thing. I’ve always hoped that my residents would become cruel demons; they just need to protect themselves.”
My heart quivered. Were these her thoughts? Although they were scary, could I say her method was wrong? In a place like the Split Zone, if you didn’t eat others, you’d be the one eaten.
Jiao S paused and then continued, “While I didn’t agree with Li Qing’s governence, the Western District was indeed very comfortable and peaceful. The residents of the West weren’t nearly as perverse or cruel as us, but neither were they as vulnerable as those in the South. Maybe it was Li Qing who was amazing, creating, in some sense, a genuine harmony.”
I felt pained once more. That’s right, Li Qing’s success… I’d nearly destroyed it all in one blow.
Jiao S’ still looked upset, as if recalling a past she didn’t want to remember. “But Li Qing told me that all of that wasn’t what she wanted. What she wanted was to go home. She once asked me why, when everyone came to this place, their panic would slowly turn to suspicion, before finally becoming acceptance. She couldn’t understand it. It was always on her mind that someone was waiting for her to wake up, and she could never rest easy for a single day while she was here. She didn’t know why everyone seemed to give up after they couldn’t find their soul splitters, why they could just accept things and keep living here.”
I bit my lip. “I’m just the kind of person she spoke of. When she handed the commander position to me, she even said that, because I didn’t want to leave, I would make a good commander.”
Jiao S nodded. “That was Li Qing’s conflict. She couldn’t stay and protect everyone’s safety if she wanted to leave at every moment. She didn’t know what the right choice was.”
I laughed bitterly. “What right and wrong is there here in this place? Everything’s topsy turvy here. Lots of people don’t want to return to the real world because life there will never be as good as it is here for them. At least here, there are no pressures. And if you live in a stable district, you’ll be able to live all the more easily. You can enjoy life and do anything you want.”
Jiao S was quiet a moment before she spoke up, “This was the selfish human nature that Li Qing spoke of. Perhaps life here may be better than reality, but isn’t that just an excuse to escape reality? Also, think of the pain you’re inflicting on your family, although some here may not have familes in the real world. But the truth is that death is inevitable. Are you going to stay here and deceive yourself forever?”
My eyes dropped. “That does sound like something Li Qing would say.”
Jiao S’ eyes also fell. “Yes. Though I admired and understood her, and I knew what she said was reasonable, I could never bring myself to be so enlightened. The Split Zone is like a cage, and I’m afraid that I’m like a prisoner who’s very much willing to spend eternity in it.”
Suddenly, her eyes widened and her rough voice came sharply, “But this admirable woman gave up her chance to leave because of that girl!”
I frowned, not understanding.
A murderous aura filled her eyes. “I guess you never considered it. Li Wen was no ordinary person. She was Li Qing’s soul splitter.”
My eyes widened in surprise. Soul splitter? That word that always lingered around us and yet, was ever so distant from us… How could it be used on such a warm and lovely girl?
Jiao S closed her eyes, as if it was difficult to continue. “When I found out, I was also very surprised, but it’s true. When you saw me tearing her apart, I was verifying this matter. I saw it on her lower back, the same exact peach blossom that Li Qing had, in the same exact spot! When I saw it, I was engulfed with anger. Li Qing couldn’t bear to hurt Li Wen. She would rather give up her only chance to return to the real world than hurt Li Wen!”
Jiao S’ eyes widened again. “So, I decided to be the bad guy. I forced Li Wen to go to Li Qing and kill herself instead. But she refused! Li Shen, you know how well Li Qing treated her! But she was the culprit who brought Li Qing to this damned place! She had no appreciation at all!”
I never thought I’d be hearing about Li Qing and Li Wen like this. My body felt like it had turned to ice, cold, frozen.
Jiao S’ eyes were full of hostility. “She refused, so I tortured her. She refused to speak about the soul splitters. She refused to speak, and she refused to die. When Li Qing died, she disappeared. I spent a year searching for her, to no avail. But no one can stop me. When I find her, I’m going to let her know what eternal pain feels like!”
The evening wind flit through Jiao S’ uniform skirt. She looked like a student, but the look in her eyes was cruel, as if she were possessed by a demon. And yet, she didn’t look scary to me at all.
She had only thought of Li Qing as a friend, and for her, she hated someone else to this extent.
Suddenly, I felt such admiration for the Jiao S in front of my eyes.