Chapter 6 – Mystery Unveiled
Guo Xiang’s eyes trailed the backs of the pair leaving them, and he was struck by a sudden anger. Qing Qiaoqiao’s neglect, exacerbated by Li Yiming, who was nothing more than an indigent, was a novel experience. He looked at Ji Xiaoqin, who stood right beside him, and felt an abrupt tastelessness; he felt like he was putting on someone else’s old shoes. He threw Ji Xiaoqin’s hand coldly and walked away.
The sky in Ji Xiaoqin’s world darkened; she would not have guessed that after so great a sacrifice, she would meet such a clichéd end.
In the elevator, Li Yiming was careful to maintain his distance from Qing Qiaoqiao. He did not dare to let his eyes linger for too long anywhere near her body. This girl was a fairy… Not a sliver of provocativeness, nor suggestiveness, but there was something fatally attractive about her.
“I found something,” Li Yiming heard Grandma Wang’s hoarse voice. “I’m at the scene of the collapse. I can confirm that it’s a quality problem. I don’t see a single steel beam, it’s all bamboo sticks. These rapacious businessmen, they’re no better than murderers.”
“I also have a few results. Yunlong Construction Group just deleted their transaction records for the last three years. I managed to copy it just in time though. I’m analyzing the data as of right now.” Eyeglasses’s voice followed Grandma Wang’s.
“The executives from Yunlong are very prudent today, I didn’t find anything valuable. What about you, Qiaoqiao? Where are you?” Qing Linglong seemed to be back at the main hall, and music was audible in the background while she spoke.
Two strangers entered the elevator. Qing Qiaoqiao stuck her cell phone to her ear and pretended to be calling someone. “I’m with Mr. Li in the elevator. We’re headed for the lobby.” She exchanged a glance with Li Yiming, and, after receiving a nod from him, she added, “Mr. Li wants you to come down too.”
“Alright, I’ll be there right away.”
“I have something, but I don’t know if it’s useful.” As soon as he stepped out of the elevator, Li Yiming searched for an empty corner. “It has to do with what Grandma Wang said earlier. The reason they used bamboo instead of steel rebars is because of a certain Wang Jianjun from the procurement department. He kept two hundred tons of steel for himself, but didn’t tell the engineering department about it, so they had to use bamboo for the last five kilometers.”
“Are you sure?” Eyeglasses was surprised. ‘How quick! Didn’t he arrive late to the gala? Is that why he was so late?
“Where did you get this from?” Qing Linglong’s voice came from behind them. She had the same question as Eyeglasses.
“Well…” Li Yiming hesitated. ‘What am I supposed to say, I heard it while hiding in a closet with my ex-girlfriend?’
“Wang Jianjun, current VP of the procurement department of Yunlong. Fifty one years old. He’s been at Yunlong for twenty three years, and was a senior that had been there since its foundation. According to my sources, a whistle-blower exposed him for fiddling with the company’s money six years ago, but there are no records about what happened after.” Eyeglasses’s professionalism rescued Li Yiming from his predicament.
“This is a very important lead. It seems like Wang Jianjun is most likely the person we’re looking for.” Qing Linglong quickly decided. “We can’t afford to waste time, Eyeglasses, search up Wang Jianjun’s address now. We’ll head there as soon as possible and get him under our control. Then, we’ll leave some time to collect the evidence. Congratulations everyone, this will all be over soon.”
“Found it, his address is…”
“He’s not home right now, but we should be able to find him at his mistress’s house in Jintian district.” Li Yiming interrupted him.
‘Are you kidding me?’ A bead of cold sweat rolled down Eyeglasses’s forehead. Qing Linglong gazed at Li Yiming with severity.
“But I don’t know about the exact address within Jintian,” said Li Yiming with a humble smile as he lowered his head.
“Well, as long as what you said is accurate, I’ll be able to pinpoint the exact location quite easily.”
“Really? You can do that?” Li Yiming was very surprised .
“Elementary. Wherever she lives, Wang Jianjun’s number must belong in the list of incoming calls for the telephone belonging to that address. I’ll simply need to check the records and verify the information with the local bureau. Hmm? I’ve found it. Su Min, thirty four years old, Jintian neighbourhood, building number four, complex A, room 303.” An awaited small victory for Eyeglasses, who finally managed to show off his ability.
“I’m the closest. I’ll head over.” Grandma Wang spat out tersely, per usual.
“Understood. Eyeglasses, continue the search through the accounting records for Yunlong. Let’s try to obtain some hard evidence as quickly as possible. Qiaoqiao, Mr. Li and I will go meet Grandma Wang on the spot.”
Upon hearing that they were going to leave, Li Yiming ran towards the newspaper stand. After thanking the old shopkeeper, he pulled his bicycle back toward the Qing sisters. Qing Linglong stared at him speechlessly, while Qing Qiaoqiao seemed caught off-guard by the object… Li Yiming returned a timid stare…
“You came on that?”
“Congestion on the road…”
“Are you planning riding your way there?”
“I was just thinking about finding a place to return it…”
After climbing onto the passenger seat of the Land Rover, Li Yiming became even more bashful and reserved. He stayed quiet for the entirety of the trip. As for the Qing sisters, despite their masterful pretension skills, their looks of bemusement could hardly be concealed.
At the entrance to the neighbourhood, they were about to disembark from the car when a loud bang was heard coming from inside. “Crap!” Qing Linglong shouted and flung the car door open. She dashed toward the inside with Qing Qiaoqiao close behind. Li Yiming was a little perplexed, but still followed the two speedily.
Li Yiming stared at the thick black smoke emerging from the windows of unit 303. He noticed, rather unexpectedly, the sparks and the glow of a flame within it.
“Wang Jianjun is dead, let’s leave.” Grandma Wang’s figure emerged from the staircase behind the entrance. She was in a sorry state, with her left hand pressed against the right side of her chest and crimson droplets of blood seeping through her fingers.
“Leave. Now!” Qing Linglong quickly decided.
They took back their seats in the Land Rover in silence. Grandma Wang brought out a vial with some red liquid in it. She drank half of it and poured the other half onto her wound. Qing Qiaoqiao improvised a simple bandage. Li Yiming watched it all quietly; it was an entirely novel thing for him to be on the scene of an explosion. He looked at the bloodstains on Grandma Wang’s body and wondered why they were not heading to a hospital, but he swallowed the question back into his throat.
“A Camouflager!” Grandma Wang’s weak voice finally sprang up after a long silence.
“Are you sure of it?” Qing Linglong asked grimly.
“Yes. When I arrived, Wang Jianjun and that woman were already dead. I barely saw him, and he struck me with Thunder Palm. If I wasn’t quick enough to avoid my vitals getting hit, it would have been the end of me.”
“A camouflager in such a low level domain?” The car swerved, hinting at Qing Linglong’s consternation.
‘Camouflager? Thunder Palm? Domain?’ Li Yiming’s was fully enthralled by these words. ‘What the heck? What about investigative suspense? I thought we were on a taskforce against corruption, and we suddenly swap to sci-fi?”
“Sis, what’s a camouflager?” asked Qing Qiaoqiao, who noticed the sudden gravity of the atmosphere. Li Yiming, upon hearing the question, also paid close attention to whatever answer that would come out.
“Camouflagers are the natural enemies of us Guardians.”
‘Guardians?’ Another keyword for Li Yiming.
“I wanted to wait until the conclusion of this domain to explain it to you, so that you would already have familiarized yourself with the rules and have some first-hand experience. But with what just happened, I need to teach you a few things right now, because of how dangerous camouflagers are.” Qing Linglong collected her thoughts and asked, “The domain that we are in, a Secret Domain to be exact, do you remember what I told you?”
“Yes, you said that domains are created as a result of ‘wills’. Our mission is to purge these wills.”
“All beings in this universe obey their own set of rules, and each of them is bestowed with a ‘will’. Wills are born from the rules, exist within them and disappear into them: they are but a part of them. But some of these wills accumulate with time, some don’t disappear and grow in strength, and some multiply. For all kinds of reasons, they are not cleansed away by the rules when they ought to be, so they eventually merge into what we call ‘Secret Domains’, or ‘Domains’ in short.”
“But what exactly is a ‘will’? Where does it come from?”
‘Brilliant!’ Li Yiming cheered for her curiosity.
“A will is… It would be best explained some kind of ‘thought’. They arise from a human being, an animal, a plant, and even the universe we live in. When the conditions are right, these thoughts grow, and the birth of a will ensues.”
“What about these so-called secret domains? Is the city we’re in right now a mirage then?”
“Yes, it’s just like a dream. The domain we are in is formed from the will of the city.”
“What does this have to do with the real world?”
“Secret domains are created out of the confluence of wills, and wills themselves are born out of reality. But within these domains, things that don’t exist in real life will appear. For example, our talents… How should I put it? It’s akin to an art form.”
“An art form?”
“An art form originates from the world we live in, but elevates itself beyond it. It’s a microcosm of reality. Novels, movies, dramas, dance, and even fine arts could be put into this category.” An answer involuntarily slipped from Li Yiming’s mouth. ‘Art theory classes… Required for dance majors.’
“Well explained,” Qing Linglong looked at him approvingly.
“What about camouflagers?”
“The rules which governs our world, our universe’s will, we call it Heaven’s Laws. They govern our world and maintain its balance, similar to the equilibria that govern a natural ecosystem. However, the existence of the secret domains, the existence of the wills beyond these Laws, destroys the balance. Therefore, Heaven’s Laws create new rules, bestow gifts upon a small group of individuals. Thus, we are born: guardians. The camouflagers, however, originates from our will…” Grandma Wang took the initiative. Her voice was weak and revealed a deep frustration.
“From us? You… you’re saying that camouflagers are the result of us… They’re the result of our wills?”
“Yes, all beings in this world possess thoughts, and, these, in turn, become wills. Us guardians are no exception… “
“Why do the camouflagers attack us then?” Qing Qiaoqiao looked at Grandma Wang’s wound. Fortunately, by now, the bleeding had stopped.
“We are called guardians because we are the guardians of Heaven’s Laws, the protectors of the rules of the real world. The purpose of our existence is to ensure the normal functioning of our world. The camouflagers, however, are created from the wills of the secret domains. Our responsibilities arise from the will of our world, by the same token, theirs stem from the domains. We protect our world; they protect domains.”
“So they’re not the bad guys then…” Qing Qiaoqiao asked a rather naive question.
“Yes. There are no differences in our moralities, only disparities in our stances.”
“Why do we have to erase domains in the first place then?” Qing Qiaoqiao’s question threw her sister and Grandma Wang into a deep reflection.
“The first important point is that when a secret domain forms, if it is not erased after a while, it will incorporate itself into reality.” Qing Linglong organized her thoughts and explained patiently.
“What happens when that happens?”
“For us, there’s little change, but for ordinary people… when the rules change… I would not know what would happen exactly, but take West Lake for instance…” Qiang Linglong turned her head towards the car window, “What would happen to it if its ecosystem was to change? Perhaps it will become a forest after many years… Perhaps a swamp… Perhaps a desert… But no matter what, it will surely not be the same West Lake of today.”
Qing Qiaoqiao remained in a pensive silence upon hearing the answer.
“There’s yet another reason we need to erase these Domains.” Qing Linglong suddenly stepped on the brake and parked the car on the side of the road. She turned around with a serious expression and gazed at her sister. “You’ve only climbed the Stage of Ascension last month…” Qing Linglong took a deep breath: it seemed like she did not have the heart to continue the explanation.
“Stage of Ascension? Wow, it really feels like fantasy now, doesn’t it?’ Li Yiming listened on and tried to digest the content of the conversation as thoroughly as he could.
“Qiaoqiao, had I known, I would have stopped you no matter what…”
“Sis…” Qing Linglong’s expression made Qing Qiaoqiao a little nervous: she had never seen her sister like that.
“Climb the stage… Receive Heaven’s blessing…” Grandma Wang uttered in self-derision.
“If you use your inner sight, you can see information about yourself, right?”
“Yes.” Qing Qiaoqiao nodded.
“Do you see a number next to your heart?”
“Yes, I see… twenty.” Qing Qiaoqiao swept around with her head, and only continued prudently after seeing that her sister did not stop her. What one could see with one’s inner vision was the biggest secret of a guardian, so anything she sees was to remain a secret.
“There’s no need to hide. It’s the same for all newcomers, so there’s no need to hide it for now. We call this number our Life Mark.”
“This number is the sole thing we need for survival…” Eyeglasses’ voice was heard from the earphone. It seems like he was also paying attention to the conversation.
“This number is a direct representation of a guardian’s powers. The bigger the number, the stronger you are.”
“What does this have to do with secret domains?”
“The domains are… The only way to increase this number. Such are the rules. Life marks are only awarded to those who complete missions.”
“What if I simply don’t enter any domain? It’s not as if I wanted to rule the world or anything.”
Li Yiming shook his head at the question; he noticed the severity of the three others. There was bound to be some kind of complication.
“Do you remember what I told you? That, unless you have absolutely no other option, you should never use your abilities in the real world?”
Qing Qiaoqiao nodded.
“When you are in a domain, there are no limitations about how many times you can use your abilities. However, every time you call upon your talent in the real world, you need to pay for it with your life marks… How many are consumed depend on the scale of your usage. Also… The life marks will undergo natural decay…”
“…About ten percent per year…”
“What happens when you run out?”
“The Dao fades and the body follows its fate.”