Chapter 9 – Sudden Crisis
A small upheaval occurred in the audience when Fang Shui’er and Bai Ze climbed the stairs to the scene. After all, most of the extras showed up for the former. Screams of joys came from the villagers, and it took extensive efforts from the manager to subdue them. Fortunately for him, this remained a private session, since the commotion would have undoubtedly been ten times worse had Fang Shui’er’s fans been present.
During breaktime, Li Yiming finally met the person he wanted to avoid the most, but also somehow wanted to see: Guo Xiang. The latter came to him alone, and he found Li Yiming crouched on the ground with a lit cigarette between his lips. Guo Xiang lit one of his own and approached him like an old friend who had not been in contact for a long while, without any sense of guilt or awkwardness about what he had done. “Not bad I see. You’ve gotten a position working with Fang Shui’er?” Guo Xiang exhaled a ring of smoke and bumped his shoulder against Li Yiming’s.
“Barely making a living. Can’t compare to you.” Li Yiming felt the tinge of bitterness as he licked his lips; some things could not be forgotten simply because one wished to. What had happened in the domain resurfaced in his mind.
“I heard you became a teacher? Is this some kind of part-time job?” Guo Xiang searched for anything to say that could allow him to further his stay within the filming crew, since it would also allow him to stay near Fang Shui’er.
“What are you doing here?” An angry scolding voice sounded from behind, and they saw Liu Meng come close with a frown.
“Oh, Meng Meng, you are here too? I saw you earlier. Beautiful as always.” Guo Xiang squinted his eyes. ‘What a waste. Such a body with this kind of character. Do women not know how to take care of themselves nowadays?’
“Meng Meng is not a name for you to call. What are you here for?” Liu Meng interposed herself between Guo Xiang and Li Yiming, pulling the latter behind her like a lion protecting its cub.
“What a question. This is my resort, why wouldn’t I be here?” Guo Xiang crushed his cigarette with his shoe sole and stretched himself. He cast down a look of complacent authority on the village, as if he was an emperor and the villagers, his subjects.
“Your resort?” Li Yiming was surprised. ‘Perhaps this is the key.’
“Of course, I’m planning to build a vacation resort. Look over there, and here, and at that forest. I’ll be building my resort there. This land will all belong to me.” Guo Xiang pointed at the lush mountains and at the rivers with pride. ‘Don’t regret your decision now, little Meng Meng.’
“Brother,” a child’s voice was heard from behind. Bai Ze came to see Li Yiming with her lips pursed. Fang Shui’er was following her close behind.
Guo Xiang’s eyes lit up. “This guy is really my fortune star! Exactly when I wanted it. Is she that loser’s sister? I’ll make good use of this opportunity, and the next to come.’
“She wanted to see her brother, and since I was on a break, I offered to come with her.” Fang Shui’er greeted the three with an uncondescending smile.
“Thank you, Teacher Fang.” Li Yiming said while pulling Bai Ze to his side.
“You’re here as well, Mr. Guo?” Fang Shui’er shifted her attention.
“Oh, we were schoolmates, and I just wanted to chat with him for a bit after seeing him here. It’s a small world. To think that I’d be able to meet an old friend here.” Guo Xiang removed his sunglasses and answered in an affable voice.
“Oh? That’s indeed a coincidence.” Fang Shui’er looked at the two with surprise. Her eyes paused briefly on the storage bracelet Li Yiming wore and strayed away inconspicuously. “I heard from Qian Qian that Mr. Guo is planning to build a resort here?”
“Yes, the plans have already been made. It’s going to be over there!” Guo Xiang said in a spurt of enthusiasm.
“It’s beautiful here. I think it’s love at first sight. I really hope that I can live here in the future.” Fang Shui’er said in a wishful voice as she admired the landscape in the distance.
“Oh, that’s a very simple thing. Once the resort is built, I’ll have a custom-designed suite built for you, and it’ll be kept for your usage whenever you feel the desire to visit.” Guo Xiang burst with joy. ‘What luck today!’ He concocted an answer that would not offend Fang Shui’er’s pride by giving her the impression that he was giving her a gift, since she was completely unlike the fameless models he had talked to before.
“Oh?” Fang Shui’er was delighted. “Thank you, Mr. Guo.” The smile alone was enough to make Guo Xiang shudder from head to toe.
“Ah, it’s nothing, it’s all within my duty. I’d like to thank Shui’er on the behalf of the people at Ning Village for you contributions to the booming tourism industry here, after all.” Guo Xiang had his ways of manipulating words.
“But I heard that the project has encountered some difficulties?” Shui’er furrowed her brows.
“It’s a small thing. Nothing to be worried about. It’s just that the acquisition contracts has yet to be signed with a few families. It’ll take no more than a few days.” Guo Xiang patted his own chest and boasted.
“That’s good then, I’ll give Mr. Guo my best wishes. Please continue your talk, I’ll leave for a quick brush up of my make-up right before my segment.” Fang Shui’er smiled sweetly and turned away, leaving behind the echoes of a nascent love.
“Pah! What an animal. I feel bad for Xiaoqin.” Liu Meng despised, but turned around the next moment to look at Li Yiming after realizing what she had just said. When she saw that Li Yiming was sunken deep in his own thoughts, she grimaced with guilt.
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Inside Fang Shui’er’s room, Zeng Qian was putting the finishing touches of make-up on her face with a powder puff. She sat on her chair with eyes closed and said without much emotion. “We can be fairly sure that Guo Xiang is our clue.”
“A vacation resort… It’ll have something to do with the land then.” Zeng Qian voiced her thoughts as she continued her work.
“I did what you told me. I tested him, and we should able to see the results of it soon. The main concern is that we don’t know whether the key lies in Jing Prefecture or in Ning Village, but…” Fang Shui’er gestured to stop Zeng Qian from applying make-up. “You’ve guessed right about that Li Yiming, he really is a guardian.”
“Are you sure?” Zeng Qian asked with a grave countenance.
“Fairly. That bracelet is a storage bracelet, and it’s not a low-grade item either. Is there another group of people in this domain?” said Fang Shui’er as she reached habitually for the pendant which hung from her neck.
“I wouldn’t think so, and even if there was, we would know about it. This is an intermediate-level domain after all, perhaps Heaven’s Laws have another purpose.”
“Heaven’s Laws… Let’s keep our guard up.” Fang Shui’er shut her eyes again.
“Yes, I’ve told Zhi Wen to follow that Guo Xiang.” Zeng Qian pulled out lipgloss from the kit and carefully traced on Fang Shui’er’s lips. As she studied the latter’s dainty beauty, her own lips curled up into a bizarre smile which worked a sinister air into her expression.
* * *
“The clue is Guo Xiang.” Li Yiming stared at Bai Ze with a deep frown. ‘I only have her with me now. I wish Qing Linglong and Eyeglasses were here. They would come up with an interpretation right away, now I need to do all the thinking myself.’
“Guo Xiang and the vacation resort are both very important clues.” Bai Ze, for once, paused her game on the cell phone. “Also, I’ve ascertained my guess about Fang Shui’er.”
“What do you mean?”
“She was the one who wanted to come here.” Bai Ze glanced at Fang Shui’er’s room. “I was playing my game, when she suddenly proposed a walk and brought me here.”
“She’s coming for me? No, she’s here for Guo Xiang. They’re already on the trail,” Li Yiming came to a sudden realization.
“Right. Haven’t you noticed her over-eagerness for Guo Xiang?” asked Bai Ze.
“Yes. Someone as famous as her should be used to dealing with rich princelings like Guo Xiang. She’s had no scandals ever since her rise to fame, I wouldn’t think that she’d be interested in someone like Guo Xiang.”
“Then we’re sure. You need to be careful, she’s noticed you.” Bai Ze warned him in a low voice.
“Yes, your bracelet.”
* * *
Guo Xiang enjoyed a cigarette on the passenger seat of his car while Lei San’er waited for him dutifully outside. ‘Seems like that girl is interested in the resort. Great. I was just getting worried that she wouldn’t like it. Pfft, she’s nothing more than an actress after all. But I need to get my hands on the land first. How am I to talk to her without it?’
He flicked the cigarette butt out of the window and pulled a briefcase out from under the seat. He beckoned to Lei San’er, who approached with a obsequious smile. Thack- Lei San’er was struck dumb by the content of the case, and he held his breath as he looked at the piles of bills within it: probably over a million, more than he could ever dream about.
“Tomorrow. Show me your results tomorrow at the latest, and this will be yours.” Guo Xiang threw two stacks out of the window. The notes were cleanly lined up and still bound by the paper strip from the bank: twenty thousand yuan.
“This is for me?” Lei San’er quickly picked up the money from the ground and asked in an euphoric voice.
“Everything I have shown to you, if you succeed, it’ll all be yours.” Guo Xiang said slowly as he stared at Lei San’er. He enjoyed this feeling of power very much.
‘All… All mine… This much…’ Lei San’er held a gasp. “Yes, yes, yes. Absolutely. Tomorrow, no, tonight, I’ll give you an answer, young Master Guo.”
A confident smile hung on Guo Xiang’s lips as the car departed with a hand signal. ‘There are no problems in this world that can’t be solved with money. If it doesn’t work the first time, then try again with more money.’
Lei San’er did not care about the filming anymore. He returned to his home and circled around in his room just like a wolf at the zoo waiting to be fed. He clasped the two stacks of bills with reddened eyes: the only thing on his mind was the suitcase of bank notes. ‘If this works out, the money will all be mine. All mine. That whole suitcase! That much money!’ His breathing quickened and the flush on his face spread to his neck.
‘One day, how can I do it in one day? To convince those old fossils to sell their land? It’s going to be the fall harvest soon, and of course these peasants wouldn’t agree to sell their land once they reap the reward of their labor for the year. The harvest…’ Lei San’er suddenly conceived a daring plan.
* * *
Xiao Hei kept his eyes on the monitor. He rejoiced even more in his decision of letting Bai Ze join the filming. Bai Ze was simply too photogenic. If Fang Shui’er’s performance could be rated as an eighty, then Bai Ze’s would receive a ninety from Xiao Hei. It was as if she was born for the camera. ‘And she’s only eight, on top of that… After this, we only need to wait for the dance choreography during the night. The dancers are also very competent, so there shouldn’t be any problems. My task is complete, A few more scenes tomorrow for a perfect conclusion, and then…’ Xiao Hei let out a sigh of relief.
He raised his head and exchanged a glance with Zeng Qian, who looked at him from far away. He then went back to stare at Li Yiming, who stood on the stage, with an impassive expression.
“Fire—!” A piercing scream that resounded throughout the village was suddenly heard.
My friend pointed out to me that unless the place is in California, (which it isn’t, and rather it’s a wet Southern province), forest fires shouldn’t spread this quickly and burn that many crops. I think that he has a point, especially since the location for Ning Village is set in Jiangsu, a place with 19/30 days of rainfall in September (155 mm of rainfall compared to Sacramento, CA with nearly 0 rainfall during the same period), 76% relative humidity and less than desirable winds of about 10 km/h that do not favor the spread of the fire at all.
Oh well, mythical beasts and guardians. Perhaps I should just shut up and go to sleep.