Chapter 1 – The Starting Poin
Li Yiming sat down before the tea table at Pure Water Herb Hall and sipped the tea infused by Qing Qiaoqiao herself. He swept his eyes across the chairs around him and felt as if he had begun a new life.
“I was really lucky this time…” Eyeglasses slid his hand across his broken limb and sighed emotionally. He had begun his retreat the moment the man in black noticed him and successfully avoided the center of the explosion. Nonetheless, he lost a leg in the process. As for the others, they quickly came back to their senses once they were transported to the hospital and walked out of it on the same day after taking Grandma Wang’s potion.
“That domain…” sighed Qing Qiaoqiao.
“Qiaoqiao,” scolded Qing Linglong, “Did you forget what I told you? What happens in domains stay in domains, and we don’t talk about them afterwards. These are the rules, you better forget about all that happened.”
“Yes, and, to say the least, our efforts bore fruit.” Grandma Wang was once again wearing a green scarf around her head, and she threw a deep look at Li Yiming.
“Speaking of fruits…’ said Qing Linglong with a smile as she drew out an elegantly decorated chest. “We haven’t split the rewards yet…
“One Dragonsnake fruit, two accessories for increasing focus, one intermediate movement technique tome, and a storage bracelet. I think that the unexpected changes were worth it… How should we split it?” asked Qing Linglong as she opened the container.
An apple, a necklace, a jade pendant, a book and a bracelet.
“Give me the Dragonsnake fruit, it’s useless for you anyways,” said Grandma Wang first.
“I want the necklace…”
“I want the pendant…”
Qing Qiaoqiao and Eyeglasses voiced their desires simultaneously.
“What about Mr. Li?” Qing Linglong did not answer them, and instead sought Li Yiming’s decision.
The item Qing Linglong craved was the movement technique tome, since it would suit her talent the most. From a value perspective, the least valuable item was the storage bracelet. These were plentiful in domains, and almost every guardian could get their hands on one, the only difference being the amount of storage space available. Since Qing Qiaoqiao had indicated her preference first, Qing Linglong, despite being the interim leader of the group, needed to wait until the end.
“Then give me the bracelet.” Li Yiming knew what he wanted: what use would he have for a tome he cannot learn anything from? However, with that bracelet… Li Yiming was somewhat eager to possess an item like that.
“Then I’ll have the technique tome.” Qing Linglong looked at Li Yiming with gratitude and split the items accordingly.
Grandma Wang waved her hand and the apple disappeared from sight. Eyeglasses and Qing Qiaoqiao put on their accessories immediately, while Li Yiming fastened the bracelet around his left wrist; it was a trinket of atavistic design, not made of metal nor of wood, but Li Yiming knew that it was not the right moment to scrutinize it.
“So…As promised,” Qing Linglong pulled out three small boxes and gave one to each person.
“Thank you,” said Eyeglasses. Grandma Wang did not say anything, but nodded at her with a smile.
Li Yiming received the box without looking at it and stuffed it into his pocket.
Suddenly, an invitation appeared in front of each person; they were all the same as the one given by Big Bro in shorts. They burned slowly in the air until nothing, not even ashes, remained.
“To a fruitful cooperation,” Qing Linglong said with a smile as she stood up.
Li Yiming walked out of Pure Water Herb Hall. He felt as if he had come back to a different life when he gazed at the bustling entrance of the Second Provincial Hospital from the crossroads he had traversed many times before. The afternoon sun in August was one that burned the skin, but Li Yiming enjoyed its warmth. The crowded street, the clamor of the passers-by. ‘It’s good to be normal.’ thought Li Yiming as he reached for his left ear, only to remember that he had already given his transmitter back to Eyeglasses. To the surprise of the other pedestrians, his lazy stretch came to a halt halfway through its completion when a sudden thought occurred to him.
‘Everything from the domain was fake. Then, Ji Xiaoqin… No. The domain started at 10:30 on the morning of August 15th, but I arrived in Hangzhou on the evening of the 14th…’ Li Yiming’s heart was assailed by a renewed despair.
‘Should I go see her?’ Li Yiming hesitated as flashbacks of what had happened in the domain unfolded in his mind.
‘The will of that domain was “love”. The invitation from Big Bro in shorts was enough to bring me into the domain with the other guardians. Perhaps it was because of my own emotional state at the time, which matched the will of the domain. Was it intentional from Big Bro, or was it simply a coincidence? My own thoughts fermented into a will, and created that camouflager. His existence was erased by the fake Ji Xiaoqin in the end, which prompted the end of that domain… That’s how it should be… But, how am I going to face the real Ji Xiaoqin?’
Li Yiming’s chaotic thoughts brought him back to his apartment before he could notice it.
‘A maserati?’ Li Yiming immediately noticed the luxury car in its conspicuousness right outside of the apartment. Two silhouettes emerged from the entrance with a smile on their face; Ji Xiaoqin cuddled happily against Guo Xiang.
Li Yiming instinctively retreated behind the green belt on the side. The mirage of the domain had faded, but reality emerged from behind it. Guo Xiang opened the car door with gentleman-like manners, and, after quickly kissing him on the cheek, Ji Xiaoqin dove into the car with alacrity. Tonight was Yunlong Construction Group’s charity gala… The car’s engine roared as the vehicle dashed out of the neighbourhood, trailed by regards of scorn and envy.
“Ugh…” Li Yiming sighed. ‘Just let it go…’ He pulled out his key and opened the door; everything looked the same as before. Li Yiming laid out his travel bag and started to gather the few pieces of clothing he had. Slippers, toothbrush, underwear… At the sight of every item he picked up, one of his heart-string was tugged at. These simple, mundane everyday objects embodied too many memories of his past.
It was not long before Li Yiming was finished, given the few articles he had. He dropped his bag and sat down on the sofa, rummaging through his pockets until he found an opened pack of cigarettes, which, he remembered, was brought out from the domain. Suddenly, he was affected by a strong wish to delay his departure. He lit up a cigarette and turned the television on. A scene of Guo Tai, speaking to a journalist with a smile, appeared on the screen. Li Yiming found it rather uninteresting and switched it off. ‘Let it go…’ Li Yiming crushed the cigarette he had barely begun to smoke, picked up his travel bag and walked toward the door.
Before his hand reached the door knob, the door was opened. Ji Xiaoqin appeared in front of him, completely baffled. “Haven’t you left?” The question slipped out between Li Yiming’s lips.
“I… I forgot my phone…” Ji Xiaoqin seemed utterly dumbstruck.
“I…” Li Yiming waved the hand which held the travel bag, and suddenly smiled in relief. “I’m here to pick up a few things.”
“Don’t say it… I know.” Li Yiming smiled earnestly. “Please.”
“Really, there’s no need to say anything,” said Li Yiming with a gentle, earnest voice. He remembered the Ji Xiaoqin who leaped in front of the camouflager to block the bullet she shot: that was love, and that was enough.
“The cellphone’s on the nightstand. Come on, you should hurry, don’t make him wait for too long,” added Li Yiming as he stared at her with tenderness and moved away so she could pass through.
“Come on, I’ll wait a bit before going down. It wouldn’t be good if he saw me…”
Ji Xiaoqin left with her cellphone. Li Yiming looked at the back of her figure through the slits of the curtain. Beauty, hesitation, allure… Some things can only be understood once experienced. The domain was a fleeting dream, so who could say with certainty that anything that happened within it would be replicated in the real world? Highway 208 sat stably at the center of Hangzhou, and, just as no one knows when it will collapse, no one can be certain of Ji Xiaoqin’s fate from this point onward.
Perhaps she will be happy, or perhaps she will suffer, but it will be her own life and her own experiences. No one, not even Li Yiming, can make the decisions in her instance. Such… Were the rules, the rules of this world, Heaven’s Laws…
The maturity of a man ought not to come from his own pragmatism, but rather from his ability to accept this trait shown in others. To become gentle, gentle toward others, to let go of grudges and to look at the world with a pair of sympathetic eyes and a compassionate heart. It was not about how many epigrams one could spew out to indicate that they had reached a higher level of wisdom, or about one’s ability to convince others with impressive speech, but rather about the habit of blaming others less and understanding them more. The true sign of maturity was tolerance and the absence of animosity… Those from the top did not compete, whereas those at the bottom fought for every inch. A man of virtue does not show it, whereas those purporting it will flaunt constantly. 1
Li Yiming leaned against the door, lit up and finished another cigarette. He walked out of the apartment. The moment he shut the door, he also shut inside his memories and thoughts belonging to the past.
August was the peak season of tourism, Li Yiming realized, with amused frustration, that the train tickets were sold out for the day. The earliest he would be able to leave for Lishui would be the day after, at six in the morning. ‘I need to find somewhere to stay for the night.’
The room of the little inn right next to the train station was miles behind the suite of the five-star hotel. The carpet was dirtied to the point of making the motif indistinguishable, and the cheap plastic slippers produced a squeaking sound each time a step was taken. The 19 inch television had no sound, and its screen was sprinkled with snowy pixels. Li Yiming took a quick shower and collapsed onto the bed which sheets of a rather odd color. ‘Ah… This is my life…’
‘I wonder what that little fairy is doing?’ Li Yiming thought of Qing Qiaoqiao and suddenly jumped out of his bed. He searched his bag and pulled out a wooden box which was about as big as a ping pong ball. Its design was simple, but a certain elegance was bestowed by the fluidity of the patterns that decorated it. This was Qing Linglong’s “payment”.
Li Yiming opened it with eager curiosity. Inside, he found a lucent leaf, about the size of his thumb, with an emerald glint that reminded observers of its obvious particularity. ‘Made in Domain?’
Li Yiming carefully took the leaf out from its container and scrutinized it. The veins running within it were clear-cut, and the leaf was enveloped by a luster which occasionally sent down a ripple of light through its body. ‘What is this?’ Li Yiming wondered. He pushed the leaf against his own forehead. Nothing happened. ‘Maybe… Oral route?’ Li Yiming shook his head at the idea: he would not dare to try something this dangerous without knowing what he was doing, especially with things that originated from a domain.
Li Yiming put the leaf back into the wooden box in frustration and carefully put the casing away. He then pulled out his bracelet. ‘A storage bracelet!’ Li Yiming’s eyes glittered with anticipation. The body of the bracelet was a dark crimson, and he could not discern the material it was made with. It was not wood nor metal. There was nothing special about the accessory, and it looked like nothing more than just one of those athletic bracelets. Upon closer inspection, Li Yiming noticed specks of silver within the redness, just like one would find in the best kind of red sandalwood.
Li Yiming played around with the item and his anger slowly crept up: he had no idea how to use it. He had already tried rubbing, caressing, tapping, biting, licking… Everything he could think of. ‘There’s no instructions manual? What a rip-off… I’m guessing that I won’t find a how-to guide on the internet either. Unless… Blood? That’s usually how it works in webnovels…’ Li Yiming suddenly came up with another idea.
Li Yiming searched for the sewing kit available in the hotel room, and, after picking up a slightly rusted needle and surmounting his fear of a tetanus infection, he thrust the needle resolutely into his own finger. The abundance of nerves within his finger made Li Yiming sweat with pain, but he ignored it and quickly squeezed his finger to extrude a droplet of blood, which he dripped onto the bracelet. He looked at the bracelet with eagerness. ‘Any time now… The shining lights that will pierce the heavens…’
Ten minutes went by, and Li Yiming started to doubt himself. ‘Maybe there’s not enough blood?’ He clenched his jaw and was about to squeeze his finger another time.
“You might as well slash your wrist and wash the bracelet with your blood!” A voice hinting at utter exasperation came from behind.
A new adventure awaits our protagonist. This time, a first step in his small growth.
1. Passage from Lao Zi’s Dao De Jing, equivalent to the Bible of Taoism.