83 You’re Not to Blame
Did Ta Lai have someone he loved deeply too…?
“I’m curious about your symbols. Will soul splitters suffer from punishment upon the sealing of it as well?” Nie Zun asked.
“We do, just as you would. This is something that was set in stone from the very start. A split symbol is a form of contract—this was the price to pay for capturing your souls. This contract had likewise given us abilities. It’s only a matter of perspective if you see the ability as a gift or the punishment as a curse.”
“Why did you people capture us?” I asked furiously.
“There are some things that are beyond our control. Despite bringing you here, we still can’t recognize the soul we captured among the sea of people.” Ta Lai replied.
“Resignation happens to any living person; soul splitters are no different.” He laughed self-deprecatingly. “Soul splitters aren’t divine beings, just resigned humans.”
I followed with a cold reply, “How great you are at concocting excuses. There are many things in the world that are aggravating, but to harm and ruin another’s life is a sin no matter how you try to explain it.”
Ta Lai reciprocated with a calm smile. “Alright, alright. I’m not here to discuss the right or wrong, the sin or redemption. I’m here to teach you a lesson on combat, so let’s stop here with the discussion about life. For now, let’s teach you proper combat.”
My eyes stared fixated on him. “I won’t be grateful.”
He met my gaze, “I know. Let’s just treat this as a trade-off. This way, no one will be stuck in a difficult position. You’ll only have to remember what you promised.”
“Aren’t you afraid I would regret it?”
His smile widened. “You won’t and even if you did, I’d have a way of making sure you can’t.”
The words put me at great unease but I didn’t have any other option either. I am keenly aware of my own abilities; forget Du Yue, I am a far cry from even Jiao S.
“Fine, come on then. I’ll grant you an opportunity to be a teacher.” I waved my hand, donning a facade of resolution as though I’m ready to risk everything.
“Even though you’ve both leveraged on your sense of touch to combat earlier, the method of usage could still be improved on. I hope you’ll be able to create the perfect combat tactic by combining both your techniques. I have to take a trip into Western District today; the obscured reason behind its decapitated state baffled me too. I hope you’ll be prepared by the time I get back; I’ll distort your senses once more and release my children again.”
Laughing gleefully, he continued, “The children I’m unleashing will no longer be a child’s play, which is why I’m giving you time to think through your strategy.
“Oh, and you can use this time to talk things out as well; I’m sure there are a lot of things on your mind after our earlier conversation.”
Once he was done, he rotated the jade ring in his finger in the direction of the ceiling. It opened with a swoosh from that small gesture.
I looked up to witness infinite darkness
The tip of his feet lightly touched the ground and he dived into the darkness. With his departure, the ceiling began to close up once more.
Nie Zun and I were the only ones left in the enclosed stone room.
I tilted my head towards him; with both hands stuck into his pocket, he headed straight for the corner of the room, returning to his favorite posture––leaning against the wall with a slight slouch.
The torch near him flickered quietly, lighting up just half of his face.
I opened my mouth to ask the innumerable questions echoing in my head, but couldn’t find the words to start. Through the torch, I watched him in silence.
Slowly, his indifferent gaze met mine without a word. In depths of his eyes, the flame danced and rippled. Just like this, the two of watched each other in stillness.
Eventually, I was the one to break the silence, “You… Can you tell me the cause of your arrival into the split zone?”
A slight smile graced his features; so faint that one would miss it without careful observation. “I thought you’d ask about this hand of mine first.” At that, he raised his left hand.
I pursed my lips into a tight smile but didn’t reply.
Unhurriedly, Nie Zun pulled out his right hand and tugged at the glove on his left. His slender, pale hand stretched towards me. As though attracted by an enchantment, his hand lured me a step closer, and then another.
I met his eyes for a split second when I arrived before him, before dropping it towards his outstretched hand. The palm of his hand which had been facing the ground turned upwards lightly.
There was no palm prints on them.
Through the days and nights I had spent with him, even though I rarely saw him without his gloves but it wasn’t the first time witnessing it either. Still, I’ve never taken particular note about them until today. When he flipped his hand over, revealing his palm without reservations, I could clearly see his loneliness.
With the amount of supernatural books I’ve read, I didn’t need any explanation from him. I knew… that anyone without palms prints was said to have a cursed life. Likewise, without need his illustration of his back-story, I could already imagine the difficulties and agony he had been through in his previous life.
It wasn’t the ‘cursed life’ that had made him suffered, but the rumors. Spirits and ghosts were never the scariest entities in this world; beyond those, there were humans who were immensely more vicious.
For him to be the owner of this cursed palm, I’m sure he must have suffered great discrimination growing up, especially if unfortunate events had coincidentally occurred in his family.
The animated discussion from an innumerable crowd of people sounded in my mind once more.
“She’s a freak!”
“Stay away from her!”
My heart felt like it was drowning from a sudden surge of tide, and my eyes welled up. Before I could even stop myself, I reached out my own hand, laying it above his palm.
I watched the flicker in Nie Zun’s eyes for a moment. In that second, he looked like a helpless, frightened, child. With my palm against his own, my hand atop of Nie Zun’s, the chill of his hand pulsed into mine.
His body had always been this cold.
A prickling sensation of pain began to extend through our contact; though he hadn’t fused his MF into his palm, after those days of soaking them in chemicals, they were no longer soft to touch.
I didn’t mind, though. Just like that, I met his eyes with my palm on his. Still, there was a nagging feeling that I’ve missed something.
What was it…?
That’s right, the ring!
I lowered my head in haste, removing my hand and flipping his hand over once more. My eyes dropped towards the skull ring on his pinky finger.
I’ve seen it before, but hadn’t felt the same peculiar sensation I did today.
As I stared at the lacquered black, exquisitely carved skull ring, I couldn’t help muttering under my breath, “This ring… Why does it look so familiar? Why… can’t I remember?”
I felt a sudden squeeze on my left shoulder; clasping his glove on his right hand, Nie Zun held it against my shoulder.
Lifting my head, I met his gaze again in unintentional intimate distance. My mind was once again captured by the waves behind his eyes.
A glint of glee flickered across his eyes, the corners of his lips arched upwards. “Tsk, tsk. You can’t cast your greedy eyes upon other people’s gem.”
Hearing his teasing tone, I grew furious from embarrassment and took a step back immediately, letting go of his hand in the process. “Who would even care about it.”
Despite those words, only I knew that my action came from the desire to distance myself from him; perhaps it was the powers behind his eyes, but I found myself being pulled into his gaze every time our eyes meet, and I’m unable to turn away.
… Ah, it’s probably because of the powers in his eyes!
As expected, he was just like a demon; his entire being was the epitome of mystifying danger!
Nie Zun was laughing to his heart’s content. “Aren’t you going to ask about my printless palm?”
I swept a glance at him. “So what if you have no palm prints? According to speculations, didn’t that just mean you have a cursed life? Did you really expect me to believe in those?”
The smile was still hanging on his lips, but a glint of misery flickered momentarily in the depths of his eyes. “I didn’t believe it before either, but… what if I said I have begun to? I really do feel like I have a cursed life; I’ve always brought misfortune upon the people around me…”
Nie Zun looked over at me with a self-deprecating smile. “Who knows, maybe you were cursed by me too. Haven’t you always condemned the fusion between your second personality and I? Who knows, maybe it was this cursed palm at work.”
He lifted said hand and gave it a short wave.
I stared straight back at him. “I’ll admit, Nie Zun, that I am still brooding over the fact that my second personality had resonated with you. I knew none of this was your fault but I was still stubborn in growing my hatred towards you. That has nothing to do with you, you haven’t done anything wrong. The reason behind all that was only because I didn’t think I could persevere if I didn’t at least hate you a little.
“Perhaps I wouldn’t be able to stop this hatred despite all the days we had spent together, with you protecting me by my side. Even so, I knew very clearly that you’re not at fault. Whatever cursed life you think you have, I’ll neither sympathize with you nor blame you for it. I’m here because of the karma I’ve incurred from killing another; you don’t have to carry this sin for me.”
His eyes softened drastically; maybe it was the flicker of lit torches that was playing tricks on my eyes. “If this cursed life of mine has the right of carrying your sin on your behalf, I’ll be more than willing.”
I raised a brow. “When did you get so kind?”
Nie Zun laughed and his pale left hand touched his nose. “It’s a cursed life anyway; there isn’t much use for it. Since it’s cursed, I’m sure it could at least deflect against minor mishaps.”
I fixed my gaze right into his. “It’s not a cursed life. You might have face unfortunate events in your life—perhaps those were the work of fate or mere coincidences—but they were definitely not your fault.”
“I can’t even be sure that they were not my fault, how can you be this decisive about it?” His voice reverberated clearly in this stone room.
I tilted my head with a slight smile. “Because I’m Li Shen.”
The flame hanging along the stone wall quivered abruptly, as did the glow reflected against Nie Zun’s face.