Panic spread throughout the crowd as the sound of gongs alerted the village of the situation. The solidarity of a small community was put on full display as the villagers dropped whatever task they had at hand and rushed towards the scene of the blaze. With the thick smoke that gradually spread into the corners of the village, filming naturally ceased. The crew guarded the equipment in an orderly manner, according to the plans devised during the professional training they had received.
“Could it be that the fire and lightning division…” The floor manager scurried to Xiao Hei with a worried expression: the filming crew had some flammable items used for filming. Xiao Hei shook his head in silence and gazed at the fire in a pondering stance.
Li Yiming did not rush to the site of the incident. Instead, he dragged Bai Ze and Liu Meng to the side, and observed Fang Shui’er together with his summon from a far-away corner.
“Guo Xiang?” Fang Shui’er gulped down a mouthful of water from the bottle given to her by Zeng Qian and asked in a calm voice.
“It’s that Lei San’er” Zeng Qian answered with a smile.
“Daring, to set the mountain ablaze like that.”
“But not unusual. I’d reckon that Guo Xiang has promised him some kind of reward. Money will always bring out the lunatics, especially for these people who have learned to avoid poverty at all costs after struggling with it for so long. Doesn’t surprise me in the slightest,” said Zeng Qian.
“I’d commend him for his initiative. With the forest and the crops gone, the fruits of the villagers’ labor for the year is burnt to the ground as well. How are they going to sustain themselves for the upcoming year? It wouldn’t be so bad if only the crops were burned, but these fruit trees, worked on for many years, will be ruined. Of course the villagers would have to resort to selling their land once they lose the means to feed themselves. But has he thought about how to build a resort on a ravaged wasteland?”
“You’ve given him too much credit for even coming up with the idea, to ask him to think about the consequences?” Zeng Qian had a cold smile.
“Anything from their side?”
“Nothing. We’ve kept an eye on them since the start of the fire.”
“Trouble. We don’t even know if they’re friends or foes,” said Fang Shui’er with her back turned against Li Yiming. She drank another mouthful. “What of Guo Xiang?”
“I’ve yet to hear news of him. I told Zhi Wen to keep an eye on him.”
“Okay, tell Zhi Wu to watch Li Yiming as well.”
The fire spread quickly, despite the efforts of the villagers fighting against it. Fortunately, the leaders of the village had the foresight to order the villagers to cut down a row of trees to contain the conflagration. Five fire trucks carrying what seemed to be the entire department of Jing Prefecture had finally arrived, and teams of firefighters dove into the burning forest with their equipment.
The members of the filming crew were quite distraught by the idea that they might have caused the fire. Some of them joined in helping the efforts of the firefighters after gathering the filming equipment together. Liu Meng had barely taken a step in that direction when Li Yiming pulled her back; he himself would have voluntarily joined the fray, but this was a domain. With Fang Shui’er and her friends watching from the side and the cause of the fire still unknown, Li Yiming did not dare to make a move.
The situation finally returned within the boundaries of control as dusk fell. Desolate hills still smoldering with white smoke replaced the otherwise beautiful landscape. The lush vegetation was gone, and so were the pools of untainted, limpid water. Many of the villagers held themselves together to seek comfort and cried at their misfortune. However, they were at least able to find solace in the constatation that no one had perished from the incident. The results of the investigation of the firefighters came as a quick shock: evidence pointed towards arson. Not only were there remnants of flammable material around where the fire started, the blaze itself was found to have originated from four different locations, so the possibility of it being an accident was minimal.
“Lei San’er, it has to be him. He wants to help that rich guy take all of our land. So he set fire to the forest and the mountains,” an old orchard owner exclaimed.
Some villagers had considered the filming crew to be the culprits, only to find no motives to support such an accusation. But Lei San’er, although his motivation existed, his audacity baffled all villagers: he cut off the only way for the villagers to make a living.
“Lei San’er, it’s him! It has to be. I’ll kill him—” The old man squeezed through the crowd in an untempered rage. Several villagers who still hesitated to believe it followed him. A few firefighters followed the group in a hurry after receiving a signal from their superior; they had called the police already, but they would need to control the situation before the arrival of authority.
“Let’s go. Let’s go have a look too.” Li Yiming picked Bai Ze up and trailed behind them.
Lei San’er’s residence was at the edge of the village. A desolate earthen house with a half-rotten wooden plank serving as its door. It did not look like a place where someone could live at all. The old villager who led the way was very agitated. With a bamboo pole in his hands, he sent the plank flying with a kick. A few uttered curses later, he was inside with a couple of other villagers. Most of those who followed them, however, had to wait outside since there was barely enough room for a few people inside the residence. As the firefighters, who arrived last, pushed through the crowd and made ready to enter the building, the villagers inside dashed out of the building, stricken with an expression aghast from terror. One of them sought the support of the wall and vomited without minding those around him. The old villager who led the way had to be dragged out of the building by someone else. He had quivering lips and a blanched face and his weapon was nowhere to be seen.
The firefighters were surprised and quickly dove into the entrance. However, they also quickly retreated. A few guarded the entrance with a horrific countenance while one went to report to their superior.
“It’s karma… It’s karma…” The old orchard owner uttered as he recovered slightly from his shock. His followers who had also entered the building were whispering to the others. Different reactions were seen, other than the shock common to all; some quickly pulled their relatives away, while others wanted to take a look inside as well. However, with the firefighters posted at the entrance, they could not satisfy their curiosity.
Li Yiming stood far away from them, so he could only hear fragments of what was being said. “Karma”, “gone”, “eaten”.
He looked at Bai Ze, who shook her head. “It smells strongly of blood.” She said after a long silence.
As night slowly fell, the crowd dispersed. Some dared to stay around and await the results, while most of the villagers left hurriedly. A tense atmosphere was slowly creeping into the minds of each and everyone present.
“What happened?” Fang Shui’er and her assistant appeared behind Li Yiming. He heard her question, but did not turn his head back to answer it: he had too many reasons to stay on his guard against Fang Shui’er.
Fang Shui’er did not repeat her question; she was as wary as he was. The two groups of people, each with their own consideration, stood side by side without speaking much. Zeng Qian, however, looked at Bai Ze more than a few times, as if she was waiting for something to happen.
The highest-ranked firefighter soon arrived on scene, and he went through the same routine as those before him. He stayed on his phone after a brief visit inside the room, and his subordinates set up a perimeter around the entrance. The officials of Ning Village had also arrived, but instead of entering the room, they worked on those who lingered and attempted to convince them to go home. Li Yiming had the courage to stop a villager after putting Bai Ze under Liu Meng’s supervision. “Hey big bro, do you know what happened here?”
“He’s dead. Lei San’er is dead. Apparently his body has been shredded to pieces. It’s horrible. You should leave as quickly as you can, the police will be here soon. I think that they’ll question everyone. Get ready for it.” a cursory answer, and the villager hurried away: he evidently did not want to discuss the matter, but still slipped a few words since Fang Shui’er was there.
Li Yiming frowned upon hearing the answer. Fang Shui’er and Zeng Qian exchanged a glance. Bai Ze lowered her head in contemplation and Liu Meng paled. “Let’s go back to the filming site.” Fang Shui’er left with Zeng Qian. Li Yiming turned around to look at the entrance to Lei San’er’s home, which was still guarded by the firefighters, and proceeded to lead Bai Ze away.
The filming staff began to gather their equipment; it seemed inevitable that the filming would be delayed, and the sudden turn for the worse took a toll on the moods of everyone present. Xiao Hei sat in a corner by himself, and, when he saw that Fang Shui’er came back, he welcomed her with nothing more than a cold glance. A gasp was heard from the crowd when news about the death of Lei San’er had reached them, and chattering began. The village official who welcomed them scuttled to Xiao Hei and whispered into his ear. Xiao Hei beckoned to the floor manager and he joined the negotiation as well.
“Alright everyone, please calm down. There has been an accident in the village. We’re going to do a headcount now and return to our hotel to await the investigation by the police department. We’d like to ask you for your cooperation. We’ll decide on the filming schedule later,” the manager said through a megaphone. He did not explain the reasons behind his decision and simply exhorted the staff to go back to the buses.
The suddenness of it all left little room for objections. As Li Yiming carried Bai Ze in the middle of the others, Fang Shui’er suddenly proposed. “Yiming, how about you ride in my car?”
This came to the astonishment of the filming crew and roused Li Yiming’s alertness. “With all that’s going on, I’m afraid that it’ll scare Bai Ze. My car is more comfortable,” Fang Shui’er explained gently with her soft voice.
The explanation satisfied the curiosity of many, but Li Yiming became more vigilant than ever. ‘You think that I would dare to get into your car? I’ll be lucky if you dump my corpse into the wilderness.’ He flashed a glance at Liu Meng and declined the invitation. “Thank you for your kindness. We’ll be just fine with everyone else,” said Li Yiming as he mounted the bus without even turning his head. It brought a renewed surprise to those watching: he would have to be mad to refuse an invitation from Fang Shui’er like that. Liu Meng, whose thoughts had run wild from the glance Li Yiming threw at her, was the only exception, and the flush on her cheeks lasted until she took her seat.
“He’s not so friendly.” Fang Shui’er looked at the bus’ departure and sat into her own car.
“We can’t assume that. Maybe he’s thinking the same thing as us, and he’s simply not sure about what’s going on, so it’s normal for him to be cautious. Guardians who aren’t so don’t live very long.” Zeng Qian pulled on the car door and sat facing Fang Shui’er.
“But this prudent?. Is he alone?”
“It would be dangerous for us if that’s the case. Don’t forget that this is an intermediate domain,” said Zeng Qian as she brought down the back of her seat and laid down.
“Troublesome…” Fang Shui’er massaged the corners of her eyes and removed her high-heels. She sat cross-legged on her chair. “What happened to Lei San’er exactly?”
“Zhi Wu went to have a look. His head and half of his calf were left. It looks like he’s been torn apart.”
“Any guesses about how it could have happened?” asked Fang Shui’er.
“Zhi Wu guessed that it could be some kind of wild beast.”
“It would be our luck if it was actually just a wild animal.” Fang Shui’er twisted her body and settled down in a comfortable position. “Tell Zhi Wu to work a little and look around. This is just the beginning, I’ll take a quick nap, tell me when we arrive,” she said as she closed her eyes.
“I’ve already instructed him. Rest assured.” Zeng Qian turned her head to look at the window with a light-hearted expression. Her cryptic stare pierced into the deep mountains hidden by the veil of night.
Each member returned to their room in the hotel. Li Yiming found a discreet corner around the entrance and he crouched down with Bai Ze. “What happened exactly?” Li Yiming asked.
“How would I know?” Bai Ze started playing on the cell phone again, as if it all had little to do with her.
“Don’t you know everything?” Li Yiming was not ready to give up.
“I’m a mythical beast, not some kind of cheat you can type into a game,” Bai Ze answered impatiently, without even moving her eyes away from the screen. “Oh, right.”
“What?” Li Yiming was enthusiastic at the prospect of a breakthrough.
“This guy’s cheating. I’m sure of it. That’s why I can’t win. Damn it, put money into my account. I also want to buy cheats,” Bai Ze yelled as she pointed at the cell phone.
Had something extra about Bai Ze prepared for today, but am too busy to finalize it and release it. Please wait a slight bit for tomorrow!
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