76 To Protect You
All this reflecting on our past ceased abruptly when I pictured that melancholic face Nie Zun used to wear.
My mind returned to the darkness in front of us.
In the darkness, I was still panting slightly. Blindly grasping at my arm, I could feel that it had grown by almost half the length. I’m no longer the newcomer who would lose her responsiveness simply from the pain of losing an arm.
I manipulated MF into my eyes, nose and ears once more, increasing sensitivity to my surrounding in this pitch-black darkness, seeking out the slightest hint of light. Even the ability to locate Nie Zun would be a satisfactory option at this point
Still, why did Ta Lai do this?
According to him, he wanted me to recall everything Li Qing taught—did he yank my arm off just to provoke that memory? Was he trying to warn me against trusting others?
No… I don’t think that’s the case. It can’t be that.
Or rather… it can’t be just that.
Besides, how would he know about my past?
The calculations in my mind shifted at a rapid speed, going through all the possible scenarios. Eventually, testing the waters, I spoke up, “Nie Zun, my arm was pulled off by a mysterious hand in the dark.”
In the blindness, I was greeted by Nie Zun’s silence. He spoke up after a minute. “And you thought back to when Li Qing sliced your arm off?”
I nodded before realizing he couldn’t see me. Even so, I knew he would have guessed that I was nodding despite not being able to witness it.
With all Li Qing had taught me before, I couldn’t be sure if that memory was what Ta Lai wanted me to remember. Even if it was, I was still at a loss as to what he was trying to convey—did he want me to maintain my wariness towards others?
What I did gather from the memory though, was that I had indeed forgotten a good chunk of what Li Qing taught me. It was in that moment when I realized that I had grown into the person I am today because of Li Qing’s care and guidance. Even though it wasn’t enough to be a qualified commander, I wasn’t the Li Shen I had been before.
I was always evading, wallowing in self-deprecation and lived idly. Yet, I’ve never been so conscious about the fact Li Qing that had already taught me how to face these trials and tribulations, the dangers of which I didn’t know before.
It wasn’t because I’ve never been taught, nor was it because I have yet to master them, but because of the simple fact that I allowed myself to erase these from memory. Not because I’ve forgotten; but because I’ve allowed myself to forget.
That was why, no matter Ta Lai’s intention, no matter if he was good or evil, I was still grateful. Even though I haven’t yet found the path I’m supposed to take, at least I know that I should start moving forward—I can’t stay rooted to the ground forever, much less retreat.
On top of them all, I recalled just another tiny detail.
Contrary to the sight of pure darkness ahead of me, a glimmer of light flickered in my heart.
I had always ostracized and detested him because of my alternate personality, to the extent where I wanted nothing more than to abandon or kill him, right? But Li Shen, he has never done a single thing to hurt you. In fact, hasn’t he always been focused on helping you?
In a manner much like telepathy, his melodious and apathetic voice sounded at the very moment my thoughts turned to him, like a shining light in the midst of darkness.
“Actually, Li Qing was wrong about that time.”
“Hm?” I was taken aback and couldn’t comprehend the meaning behind his words.
Though it was impossible to see him in the depths of darkness, Nie Zun’s voice was clear as day. “She said my reflexes were quick enough and that I had a decent sense of danger. In actual fact, I didn’t rely on those at all when I escaped with you in my arms as quickly as I did.”
I couldn’t fathom what he wanted to say next but my heart began pounding nonetheless. It was as though I had predicted them deep down in my heart. Yet, at the same time, it felt like an unknown premonition bubbling up to the surface.
“My subconscious urged me into a series of reflexes and reactions when I saw you hurt. That didn’t have anything to do my sensitivity to danger, nor was it due to my composure in moments of crisis. Everything I did, I did merely because I saw you were hurt. Everything I did, I did because I wanted to protect you, to take you away.”
Those words of his were like a heavy bomb to my heart, shattering it into smithereens. I knew there was no way of mending it back; not even in the split zone.
A shot of pain surged through my heart.
“What a sentimental conversation.” Without giving me more time to dwell on my whirling thoughts, Ta Lai’s voice rang out once more. “While I’m not interested in your history, I am intrigued by this: in a place where you can’t even get to her, can you still protect her? Can you still take her away?”
It was then that I realized he was directing the question at Nie Zun.
It was true; darkness had the ability to distort your senses and all capacity of judgement. This might be why humans had an innate fear for darkness.
“I can.” Nie Zun was unconstrained; his simple words succinctly expressed his thoughts.
“Ehehe, then can you protect yourself?”
With that, I heard two swooshing sounds and Nie Zun’s faint, short wheezing.
I panicked. “Nie Zun? Are you alright?”
“I’m fine.” He sounded calm but I could hear the slight tremor to his voice.
“Ta Lai, if you want to fight someone then come at me!” I shouted towards the dark. Reaching to my back, I plucked out my bow and arrows.
Ten arrows, ten different directions. In the dark, I steadily pulled my bow.
“Nie Zun, ten arrows.” I hinted before letting go of the bowstring.
Swoosh, swoosh, swoosh!
“I can’t determine the location.” Nie Zun replied.
I gritted my teeth. Just as I was about to send another arrow flying, I felt a sudden sense of approaching danger.
In a mystifying turn of events, another voice whispered in my heart: “Quick, run.”
But it was because of that voice that I swiftly wore my bow on my back again and wrapped my Piercer around my waist, before taking an experimental step forward.
“The more you fear the dark, the harder it’ll be for you to defeat it.” Ta Lai’s elegant voice chimed from all directions.
Should I dash forward? Should I charge blindly in the dark? This overwhelming unease—who would have the guts to do so?
Even so, as the sense of danger got more potent, like an intense air pressure pressing down from all 360 degrees, it left me almost breathless.
“To hell with it!” I muttered under my breath. In that instant the tip of my right foot made contact with the ground and I lunged forward at full speed.
If I were to collide with a wall, I’m sure I would pass out from the impact alone. Still, if I could estimate the area of this darkness, even the possible location of Nie Zun, then it’s all worth it.
At least, that was what I thought, anyway.
If you were the one who had to recklessly sprint through through pitch-black darkness, unable to see even your own fingers, you would be weak at the knees too.
That was why my ‘wild sprint’ was really just me inching forward step by step.
“Ehehe, in the face of such situation, is this your way of resolving it?” Ta Lai’s voice rang again in the dark.
I finally reached my limit of tolerance.
“Hey, what exactly do you want, huh? Whether it’s to kill or dismember us, can you hurry the hell up?! What’s the whole deal with this hide and seek game?!” I yelled in annoyance with both hands on my hips.
“What’s the hurry? Ladies shouldn’t be so short-tempered.”
… How dare he retain such a carefree mood whilst ridiculing me…
“No, seriously, Ta Lai. What are you playing at?”
“I’m teaching you how to fight.”
“In the dark?”
“This will teach you how to fight without any sense of sight, hearing and smell.”
It was still useful for a woman to lose her temper after all—Ta Lai was finally giving me an explanation on his intentions.
“What has this got to do with what Li Qing taught me?” I was baffled.
“That depends on how much you can remember during this process.” His voice bounced back.
“In any case, in this place of absolute darkness, your sense of sight, hearing and smell will be distorted. You shouldn’t waste any effort trying to locate Nie Zun. It’s impossible for either of you to reach the other.
“Whatever happened before was just a taster. I’ll be releasing my children next. It’s up to your own abilities to defeat them in this space, void of the senses.” Just as he was done, a set of three handclaps followed after.
“Hey, hey! What do you mean, ‘your children’?! Don’t tell me it’s those puppet giants—are you wishing for my demise?! You little—”
This time, there was no response.
All of a sudden, there was a chill on my back and I felt a blade slice down my back.
I turned back at once; my left hand unwound the Piercer and gave it a whip!
Crack! The sound of the Piercer echoed in this darkness as my eyes darted blindly in all directions.
Another cut dragged down my back!
When the sharp warmth of pain surged through my back, the wound, ripped asunder by the blade, began mending itself just as fast.
At the same time, the fragmented sound of brandishing blades echoed from the other side of the void.
Speculating that Nie Zun was likely facing the same crisis, I couldn’t spare a whit of worry for him either. On one hand, I was dodging aimlessly, on the other; I was brainstorming a way out of here.
The blade that sliced at me seemed to be a fine knife; it appeared to have retracted the moment it drew a line down my skin. The location of those slices didn’t seem to have any pattern to them either.
I was basically a mouse in the dark, fleeing in all directions but never able to dodge the fine knife cutting down my back, chest, leg, arm and more.
“Bloody hell!” Another blade snipped at my back. Without caring about the pain I turned back, held the knife in the palm of my hand, and lashed my Piercer towards them with all my might. The hand gripping onto the blade was sticky and thickly coated with fresh blood but the Piercer seemed to have hooked itself onto something. The mysterious creature wailed out.
Biting back my pain, my right hand pulled the knife towards myself and my left hand hooked the Piercer back again before ruthlessly whipping it forward. Just as I was about the tear apart the monster ahead of me, another chill sliced down my back.
The knife inflicted a large gaping wound down my back and I felt the blood as it gushed out in an instant, splattering outwards from the injury.