77 Straighten Out Your Thoughts
Innumerable blades from all directions began making their marks against my skin!
Fresh blood spurted, but my skin began to mend just as soon.
Another blade tore open yet another gaping wound into my skin!
I heaved, recklessly brandishing my Piercer in the dark—at times, the whip in my hand would hook onto something, only for me to promptly yank it away. Most of the time, however, my effort was futile. Unable to injure anyone, I was nothing but a prey, a pig waiting for slaughter—No… I was basically a pig getting slaughtered right now…
“Can you both use your brains a little?” Ta Lai spoke casually.
Use my brains…
Hang on—in this abyss of darkness, the senses of smell, sight and hearing are distorted… but what about touch?
Just as I reached that epiphany, Nie Zun broke his silence, “Li Shen, your sense of touch.”
Exactly! Our touch!
“That’s right!” I concurred immediately, before adjusting my mind and body.
Retracting the MF I had deposited in my ears, nose and eyes, I redirected them towards my skin and speed. I won’t look if I’m blind, won’t listen if I’m deaf and won’t smell if I can’t!
Shutting down all my other senses, I awaited my enemy’s next move.
As the tip of another knife grazed the surface of my skin, I pushed all the MF I could muster in that instant and dodged.
The effect was akin to teleportation; seizing the opening from my maneuver, I sidestepped in the opposite direction before whipping my Piercer at the assailant.
In a smooth movement—swoosh!
I could feel the Piercer as it sliced into the offender.
Just as I was about to gloat on my success, however, another chill of blade neared my skin once again.
And the Piercer tore at them successfully.
As I prepared to channel all my MF into defense, a stinging pain stabbed at my eyes. In a subconscious reflex, I shut them immediately. It was then, when I gradually reopened them, that I realized I had completely regained my sight.
With the return of my sight, I instantly cast my eyes about my surroundings.
I found myself standing in a stone-walled room, similar to one we’ve been in back at the Southern District. The only difference was the torches lining the walls, and the area was spacious and bright.
Lowering my gaze to my body, I saw blood drenched through my clothes and wounds that had yet to heal. However, apart from my blood which stained the ground beneath, there was nothing else to be seen.
That was when I realized that I was completely alone.
“Nie Zun!” I yelled frantically.
Hastily, I ran across to one of the walls and gave a few knocks, a few pushes. It certainly felt like a stone wall.
Sprinting to the next three slabs of wall, I knocked against each one in a panic, but they were the exact same.
I’m trapped in a sealed-off stone room!
The huge door behind me from which I entered was gone. All that was left was this cavernous stone room, with torches ominously lining the walls. Apart from me, it was void of anything else.
“Nie Zun! Nie Zun!” I called out again but there was no response.
“Ta Lai?” I tried crying out for the other instead.
What… is this situation? There’s no response at all… What the hell is going on?!
I checked through the orphaned room again and reaffirmed my suspicions once more—there was no one here but me.
Eventually, I slid weakly against the wall and onto the ground.
I glanced at my injuries again; they seemed to have healed. My bow was still on my back, and the Piercer was still in the tight grip of my left hand.
Lifting my gaze, I observed this tranquil stone room with its twinkling flames.
Alright, if there are no enemies around, then perhaps it wouldn’t be too bad to stay here in this stillness for a while.
I have been too tired recently. I am really… exhausted…
“Ta Lai… Nie Zun…” I tried again to no avail and so, I rested my head against the wall behind me and closed my eyes.
I needed to think; needed to work through all the stuff that had happened—I can’t allow myself to be taken in by anyone’s tricks and schemes any more. Ever since I’ve arrived at the Split Zone, there was always someone by my side. Even if they had all left one after another, I still had Nie Zun—I always did. It was his reassuring, dependable presence that I had forgone my own ability of analysis.
I did have the capacity to protect myself.
Just let me quiet down for a moment, let me think it through a bit more. I just need some time.
This all started with Laurel’s fake death, followed by the man who fell from the building—a failed experimental subject. Thereafter, there was the little boy who assassinated Ah Wen. Following these three incidents, I headed off to the Eastern District to gather any information I could but was met with another assassination, and then became acquainted with Jiao S and her comrades.
However, it was during this period that Song Lu and Yu Liang went missing, and suspicions about the Southern District rose accordingly. Charging into the Southern District, we met Ku Fei. We offended Huan Qing and Mi Fu in order to protect Ku Fei, and eventually found Laurel and Song Lu who had both been turned into experimental subjects themselves.
Lastly, I found out about You Ji’s betrayal in the Southern District, as well as the perpetrators of these experiments—Du Yue, the broken-armed woman, and Rong Jin, the soul snatcher. You Ji was in on it too.
Li Wen, who had vanished for such a long time, resurfaced once more, dragged into the experiment before stealing away Song Lu after we had gone to such lengths to save her.
There were too many of these incidents to be a coincidence, and I had only just realized that I’ve never thought them through properly until this very moment.
Tilting my head, I glanced around the quiet stone room—there was nothing suspicious to it; seems like a good opportunity to straighten these thoughts out to me.
Firstly, based on what we know so far, the assassination of Ah Wen and the subsequent assassination plot against me, are part of You Ji’s ploy to highlight my incompetence as a district commander. The man who fell from from the roof was a failed experiment subject, and was likely part of the underground experiments that were being conducted by You Ji and that broken-armed woman.
Still, there were certain things that just couldn’t be explained. Did You Ji really betray the Western District because she was jealous of me?
No, I don’t think that’s reason enough.
Then that begged the question—what exactly enticed You Ji into cooperating with the broken-armed woman?
Thinking through it carefully, a light bulb flickered to life in my mind—
… I got it! It’s the experiment!
If what Li Wen said was true, then they didn’t have the perfect body constitution at their disposal right now. This means they won’t be able to complete the experiment all that easily. Perhaps they had been working on this for some time now but the news of it only began to surface recently.
That would be plausible. Maybe we haven’t yet discovered the true motive behind these experiments—maybe we don’t know the true abilities a successful experiment subject would possess.
Yet one thing was evident through it all—they were looking for children.
All of it started with Laurel and ended with her disappearance.
We still have no idea if they managed to find Laurel, but there had been two other kids in that stone-walled room. It was undeniable that those children were a crucial part of the experiment.
Was this why they targeted Mi Fu?
Though, if we were to talk about Mi Fu, then there was another man who had to be brought into this fog of confusion.
At the mention of Si Luo, I recalled the last time we parted with Gaoqin Jiuye, that apathetic expression on his face.
A bitter smile tugged at the corner of my lips. Regardless of where we are in this world, it seems as though the two of us are destined to be in such a distant relationship—unable to be near you, unable to touch you.
While Gaoqin Jiuye wasn’t a saint, I was still stubborn. Maybe it was the remnants of feelings I still held for Gao Qi, but I still believe that he must have his own reasons. Even so, no matter what those reasons were, I can only conclude that whatever was happening had something to do with Si Luo—that fabled, most gorgeous man in the split zone.
With that, my mind drifted to Jiao S.
Through the series of events, it was evident that those who remained wary, those who appeared as though they were a cruel villain, might not be as they seemed. Likewise, those who always greeted you with a welcoming smile may not be your friend either.
Even with the hint of ruthlessness, I was sure Jiao S could be trusted.
At the very least, she was one who had principles and an opinion, and she would never do anything that would defy her morals. In the split zone, those were values that were difficult to retain.
Perhaps that was why, as much as Li Qing had never grown to accept the savageness of Eastern District and the freaks they had there, she tolerated Jiao S. In fact, from what Jiao S had told me, they might have been confidants.
However, for a person with such principles to devote herself in pursuing the truth, I had believed that she must be doing it for her subordinates of Eastern District who had died and the children. Even so, my mind wandered further—if saving a small group of people meant that countless others would be sacrificed, I don’t suppose Jiao S would do it either.
If that’s the case, then there’s only one logical explanation—she was doing this for herself and that personal agenda, is Si Luo.
I had once noticed the way she spoke with others. Even those meaning between the lines had hinted that Si Luo might have been hiding something, or keeping a secret. This experiment might be directly related to Si Luo or maybe they were targeting him.
But… Why would they be targeting him?
Where was this broken-armed woman from? If she was from the Northern District, does that mean that something has gone wrong there?
We had lost all contact with Mr Blond. Perhaps all of it was an omen? Perhaps the unspeakable secret of Northern District was slowly making itself known? What about the three ‘Heaven’, ‘Ghost’, and ‘Exit’ doors that Yu Liang and Song Lu spoke of? What was behind them?
Just as many aspects of this were resolved through my analysis, more questions piled on, drowning me deeper in the confusion.
It was obvious that all the happenings were the fruit of someone’s malicious planning but not only do I not know who they are, I might not have ever met them before either.
Through this conspiracy—of which we couldn’t even be sure about its scale—it gave birth to those cruel experiments and I had yet again, lost another friend.
In the end, when I returned to Western District with full anticipation of witnessing You Ji running the Western District with her most trusted Seven Demons—to separate herself from me and make me lose my authority—what I saw was Western District in ruins instead. Everything was reduced to a wasteland and I grew even more baffled than I was before.
It did make me realize one crucial detail: this mysterious conspiracy that lurks in the shadows had finally opened the curtains to its prelude.