78 The Loophole
If it is necessary to question the purpose of my existence in this split zone, then I suppose I’m still as clueless I was in the past. But I do understand a little more now—I want to save everyone who has ever been by my side in this alternate dimension.
Because… I’ve always been alone. Now that I finally have people I could call friends, how can I simply stay a spectator to their persecution?
“Do you have any desire to leave the split zone?” For some reason, a question Li Qing had once posed surfaced in my mind.
Do I want to leave…
I’m sure my parents are waiting for me, right…?
But what would happen once I leave this place…?
I’ll still be that mentally ill girl everyone ostracized and detested. I’ll still have no friends and if… If I do return, I’d have to face the reality of murdering my most beloved Senior Gao Qi…
I’m nothing but a criminal. What right do I have to possess the desire for return?
To be honest, I don’t mind wherever as long as I’m not alone. I’ll be fine as long as I’m not lonely anymore…
Speaking of loneliness, I wonder if the other ‘her’ who was in me might have been lonely too…
I hated you for so long. You distanced me from society, you made me kill the one person I loved and you practically ruined my entire life. Even so, you were the only one who stayed by my side through everything. You were the only one who did…
But… Where are you now? Have you really fused with Nie Zun? Were you the reason he remained by my side through days and nights?
You… Could you give me an answer…?
Did Nie Zun really resonate with you?
At the thought of Nie Zun, I leapt to my feet. With the Piercer in my hand and the bow on my back, I circled the stone room again.
Knock, knock, knock!
I thumped against the walls.
Despite the space looking just like a normal stone room that had been dug from the ground, I was sure that there were mechanisms in place; how else could I have ended up here?
Winding the Piercer around my waist, I manipulated and focused my MF towards both my hands and attempted to push against each of the four walls.
My effort was futile.
I rested against the wall again. It seemed I’d have to take some time to reflect about Ta Lai, properly and in detail.
From the depths of my memory, Ta Lai was low profile and his existence wasn’t something that many would notice. Why, then, did he decide to appear at such a time? He was helping me… But why?
And why did he have the habit of rotating his ring, the one embellished with a jade stone?
Li Qing had never mentioned anyone like him while she was around, so how was it that he seemed to know so much about the lessons she taught me? What was his motive for bringing me here?
After contemplating extensively, not knowing how much time had passed, I stood up and swept my gaze around my current confinement again.
“Ta Lai, what’s your motive? Why have you locked me up?!” I roared. Anyone would grow irritable from being trapped in a confined space for an elongated period of time—I was no exception.
Despite this, there was no answer apart from my own voice; there wasn’t a slightest bit of noise here.
Could it be that he wanted to test my ability to escape this room? But it didn’t look like there’s any sort of threat in here…
Lifting the Piercer, I utilized my MF and lashed it with great force towards the wall opposite me.
A dull sound emitted from the collision of my whip against its target but there wasn’t even the slightest hint of a scar on that stone wall.
All of a sudden, I realized just how peculiar this room was.
After infusing my MF into the Piercer, the damage inflicted by its Violet Blade should have been massive; if this was a regular, underground stone room, the whip would have been more than enough to break it apart.
“What exactly… is this place?” I muttered under my breath. While my eyes darted around, I was trying to find a loophole. My mind flashed back to the moment we stepped into the darkness before I was mysteriously transported into this soulless stone room.
An illusion…? No, that can’t be it. If it was indeed an illusion, then Nie Zun should be in the same plight as me right now and would have been able to see through the gimmick and found me by now. Even though I have never seen it in action, nor had any idea how his eye technique worked, I had once overheard Jie Pa talking about it—Nie Zun had the ability to see through illusions.
Of course! Was this why he could get along so well with Guan Nie? Was it because Guan Nie knew from the get-go that his illusions would have no effect on Nie Zun, yet didn’t do him any harm? If that’s the case, then was it Nie Zun who broke the Huan Qing’s illusion back in the Southern District’s boundary forest? When I thought of Pomelo and Gao Qi?
In that split second, the particular memory rushed to mind.
“Couldn’t find him. He comes without a shadow and leaves without a trail. But on the subject of illusions, ugly girl Li Shen, I already broke the spell, so why didn’t you wake up?” Guan Nie joked as he looked at me.
As my strength came back to me, I rolled my eyes at him. “Ugly girl? And haven’t I woken up now?”
Guan Nie sneered. “Woke up? It was Nie Zun—”
Did Nie Zun use his powers to enter the illusion and forcefully yank me back to reality?
Then… Then the person who called out “Shen’er”… was him?
From that point on, was he also the one who called out “Shen’er” numerous times since, saving me from falling into enchantment and captivation of others?
Could that be true… Is he that gentle…?
With those thoughts swarming my mind, I was caught in a mixture of emotions. Being trapped within these four walls without a single other soul did not help my annoyance either.
I’m exhausted… I guess I’ll take a nap.
When I woke up, there was still no one around.
“F—What the hell is going on?!” Combing my fingers through my hair, I scrunched them up and hopped in fury on my spot.
“Are you holding me captive in here? For the love of God, you could have at least warned me before imprisoning me! Instead, you trapped me in here without the tiniest bit of explanation, are you for real?!”
I cried into the air, but no one responded.
I was absolutely furious by now. I could feel a sense of replenishment in my MF that hinted the passing of an entire day—I have been trapped in this confined space for an entire day.
Like I’d gone berserk from being stuck here, I exerted every single bit of my MF and smashed the walls relentlessly with punches and kicks. I even pulled the bow from my back and began knocking countless arrows towards the wall.
Yet, this horrifying wall seemed to be made out of an indestructible diamond, without a way of penetrating through—there wasn’t a single crack despite my attacks!
“You call this training? Aren’t you just toying with me?!” I exclaimed as I glared at the wall, then to the ceiling above and the ground below.
In spite of it all, no matter how much I entertained myself or how much I wallowed in self pity, no matter how much I yelled in rage… there was no one who cared to hear it. In here, I was on my own… There was no one else but me.
“I honestly can’t stand this anymore. Ahhh—!!” Tugging at my hair, I cried out wildly. Time was going by way too slowly. A niggling feeling of something in my mind told me I would go crazy if I stayed here any longer.
(Passerby A spoke up, “Aren’t you already crazy?”)
“Ahhh—! Ahhhhhh—! I beg you! Please let me go!” I screamed; I couldn’t tolerate the distress of being stuck here alone any longer.
What is going on?!
“Sigh… He’s looking for me…” A voice chimed in my mind out of the blue.
Isn’t this my voice??
Without a clue what just happened or what I just heard, I knelt to the ground in disbelief. My soulless eyes stared straight ahead at the blank wall in front of me.
Who… who was the person I heard earlier?
“Sigh… He’s looking for me…” Such vivid words… Who could be speaking them?
Something in me snapped. I leapt to my feet and shouted out aimlessly into the air. “Who? Who’s here?! Come out!”
“Sigh… He’s looking for me…”
It sounded like a faint voice, laced with sleep-talk or a murmur into the mirror. The sound was clear as a bell and I knew in my mind that it was my own voice. It was a fact I could not ignore.
“Have I… Have I gone mad from being trapped here?” I thought aloud, frantically looking at my surrounding.
“Come out now!” I shouted exasperatedly.
Not knowing when they started, tears slid down my cheeks and splattered onto the lifeless stone floor below, disappearing without a trace.
I could feel my head tightening as though it was about to combust. My mind rattled vigorously, and with the confusion in my consciousness I could feel the MF from my split symbol growing unstable.
“Is it you?” I cried. “Could it really be you? I know it’s you!”
As soon as the words left my lips, however, I found myself asking: Li Shen, what is there to be afraid of? So what if it’s really her?
Wasn’t it thanks to your confinement that you started acting this bizarrely? What are you so afraid of? Are you afraid she’d take over your body once more?
It will be fine. Didn’t Mr Blond explain that? When we arrived at the split zone she resonated with Nie Zun and vanished; all that’s left now is Nie Zun…
She will never appear again. She will never take over your body in order to kill your loved ones. She will never take over your body again, so why are you still so afraid, Li Shen?!
… But it’s true. I’m still really, really scared…
Hugging my knees against my chest, I slid against the stone wall, allowing my tears to fall freely.
Another voice sounded from beside me.
But this time it was Nie Zun’s voice.
I may not know what’s happening with me now, or why I’m being held captive here, but his familiar voice washed a wave of serenity over me. Just like when he called out to me in the illusion, his simple “Shen’er” was enough to calm me down.
Breathe, Li Shen. You have to calm down. Calm down, Li Shen, and think through this carefully. It’s impossible for her to appear and she would never make her appearance in the split zone, much less take over your body. All of this is the work of the stone room.
That’s right. Upon careful contemplation, it was clear that Ta Lai had his reasons for doing this.
… Didn’t he ask about Nie Zun’s eye techniques back at the very beginning…?
… That’s right, he did ask about it! That was how he figured out that if we were in a room where all five senses were fully functional, Nie Zun could save me no matter the circumstances. As such, he must have wanted me to be stranded in a space like this, which was why he triggered a room that could distort our senses. He wanted to distract Nie Zun and I into defending those attacks before spiriting me away into this isolated void during his window of opportunity.
His intention had been to tap into my consciousness!
Yes, that’s it! If that’s the case, I can safely assume that the ability he gained after sealing his split symbol was the manipulation of space—he can create a space and manipulate everything within it to his every desire!