Chapter 8 – First Contac
The man who walked toward them was dressed in a cook’s uniform and wore a chef hat. His sleeves were rolled up and his apron was stained with oil and grease. It seemed like he had just walked out of the kitchen, which was nothing unusual. However, what made Li Yiming wary were his eyes, the vacant stare full of frenzied rage that reminded him of the Dragondogs. As he came closer and closer, Li Yiming saw the object that he held. ‘A knife!’
Just as Li Yiming made his shocking discovery, the odd-looking cook bumped into a man. With a swift swinging of his knife, the man fell onto the floor, writhing as he yelled out in pain. Cries of panic and fear were heard throughout the restaurant, along with the noise of chairs and tables bumping against each other and the shattering of glassware. The cook continued to march toward Li Yiming’s table without minding his victim.
Fang Shui’er and her group stayed still around their table, but looked at the man with serious countenances. Qing Qiaoqiao was about to stand up, but her sister pushed her back down. The cook had now reached Li Yiming’s table.
Guo Xiang, upon hearing the screams of pain, turned his head around in bafflement, only to see a man with a crazed expression walking toward him with a kitchen knife. His eyes went from the blood that dripped from the tip of the blade to the man squirming in pain on the floor. Guo Xiang stood up, terrified, and turned around to escape. In his panic, he reached out to the closest person and shoved the first thing he grasped in the direction of the incoming madman. That person turned out to be Ji Xiaoqin.
When Ji Xiaoqin saw the cook approach him, the first thought she had was to seek her boyfriend for protection. However, Guo Xiang actually offered her to the oncoming assailant.
Li Yiming had been keeping a close eye on the cook and readied himself for any move the cook would make. When he saw that the other guardians all stayed seated, he also did not dare to risk a move himself. However, when Guo Xiang pushed Ji Xiaoqin toward the cook, Li Yiming panicked. He had enough confidence in himself to handle the man with the knife without too much of a problem, especially since he could also pull his pistol out of his bracelet as a backup plan. As the cook swung down his knife, Li Yiming’s mind went blank. Despite having fought through Heaven’s punishment and being stronger than even some guardians, he lacked actual combat experience. Throughout the two previous domains, he never had to fight, not even once, so he did not possess the judgment required to handle even a small altercation like this one.
“Xiaoqin!” Li Yiming cried out in shock and leaped toward her. He managed to grab one of the arms she waved hysterically and pulled her into his arms. He turned around and shielded her body with his own.
The sound of a sharp blade cutting through fabric and flesh was heard. A splash of blood and Li Yiming rolled onto the ground with Ji Xiaoqin.
“Yiming?” Liu Meng yelled. She picked up a glass of water from her table and hurled it towards the cook’s head. The latter bent his neck and dodged the projectile, and ignored her completely, instead resuming his march toward Fang Shui’er’s table.
The bearded man stood up expressionlessly. As the cook brought his knife down on him, he reached out for the hand wielding the weapon and nailed it in place while he punched him in the stomach with his other hand. The cook’s pupils dilated as he collapsed to the ground, and the bearded man brought his fists back.
“Yiming, are you okay?” Liu Meng rushed toward him and helped him stand up. A bloody bruise traversed his back, and blood slowly seeped out of it, staining his vest. However, a closer look and one would notice that the bleeding was minor.
“Sis?” Qing Qiaoqiao turned her head and looked at Qing Linglong, wondering why she had stopped her from intervening earlier despite having said that she wanted to stay on good terms with Li Yiming.
“Haven’t you noticed the cook’s unusual behavior?” Qing Linglong said in a grave voice. Her eyes remained fixated on Li Yiming.
“That cook?” Qing Qiaoqiao tried to recall.
“Odd behavior, vacant stare and inexplicably violent conduct,” Grandma Wang hinted.
“He’s being influenced.” Qing Qiaoqiao knew right away, since she herself was an expert at it.
“Exactly. He was used to probe us, you could say.”
“That Li Yiming is indeed not simple…” Grandma Wang pulled down her scarf and said with a sigh.
Right after the bearded man knocked down the insane cook, he guided his own team away from the scene. Someone had already called the ambulance and the police, and the staff of the restaurant was busy establishing a perimeter around the scene of the incident.
“By the looks of it, he has at least two levels in speed, or perhaps even three. With that, it wouldn’t be hard at all for him to take down the cook, but he chose to take the blow with his back?” The eye-patch man played around with his dining knife and whispered his thoughts to his friends.
“He probably noticed that it was an attempt to measure his real strength, and he didn’t want to expose himself. Good acting skills, I have to say. If it weren’t for the fact that we knew that he was a guardian from the start, maybe we would’ve been fooled too.” The obese man’s pendulous cheeks shook as he spoke. His friendly expression made him seem very naive, almost childish, but the light of cleverness shone within his eyes.
“Did you see the muscle contractions on his back? Completely avoided the vitals. That’s a natural reaction he couldn’t hide. I’d think that his stamina is also at least level three. You’ve said that you’ve never seen him fight?” The bearded man asked Fang Shui’er.
“Yes.” Zeng Qian nodded. “Not at all. He was very prudent, even within the domain.”
“With level threes in both speed and stamina, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a close-range combater type. His power attribute shouldn’t be lagging too far behind either. Hmm, someone who understands the importance of balance, and he’s this prudent… A hard one to handle. We should be careful around him. Fang Shui’er was right, even without Mr. Kong’s involvement, we should try to stay.” The bearded man reminded his subordinates.
“Another question, who’s behind all of this?” The eye-patched man asked.
Qing Qiaoqiao was also a novice guardian, but she immediately understood the hint that Grandma Wang gave to her. A dim red glow flashed from one corner of her eyes to the other as she looked around. “Whoever it is, it’s gone. The traces left behind are weak, so I don’t really know anything more specific about the technique used.” Qing Qiaoqiao concluded.
“Should be some kind of beast with the ability to influence other people’s minds easily. Guardians wouldn’t make a move on their own this early and camouflagers wouldn’t even bother.”
“Well, we know what our targets are…” Eyeglasses pushed up his glasses.
Li Yiming’s back burned, but after standing up, his first reaction was to see if Ji Xiaoqin was unharmed. She seemed traumatized by the incident, and the only thing she could do was to stare blankly at toward Li Yiming.
“Are you okay?” Liu Meng asked him. She picked up a napkin and tried to do as much as she could to stop the bleeding, but stopped when she realized that the wound was not nearly as severe as she thought it to be. The bleeding was only minor and the cut itself was healing at an almost perceptible speed. This was the power of level four in stamina.
“Let’s get him to the hospital.” Qing Linglong’s voice was heard. She kept her eyes on Li Yiming, but hinted him with an inconspicuous glance at the bearded man’s group, who was leaving through a side entrance.
Li Yiming followed Qing Linglong’s eyes and understood her intimation. He nodded and lifted Ji Xiaoqin from the ground. Guo Xiang was nowhere to be seen. “Xiaoqin, it’s safe here now. Just stay here for the moment, okay? The police will be here soon, and you’ll be alright.” Li Yiming checked her quickly and found her to be unharmed except for a slight mental trauma.
“You…” Ji Xiaoqin looked at the bloodstain on Li Yiming’s back with a shaken heart. The man she had abandoned rushed in to block a knife slash for her, but the one she had chosen actually pushed her into the abyss of danger.
“I’m alright now. A simple bandage in the hospital and I’ll be fine.” Li Yiming moved his arm around. He could already feel the charring sensation in his back recede.
“I…” Ji Xiaoqin wanted to stay with Li Yiming, but a warning glance from Liu Meng silenced her. She then saw Qing Qiaoqiao, that alluring yet young girl on his other side, carefully supporting him, and found no reason, no excuse to further her stay.
“You should stay here, the police will no doubt arrive soon for testimonies.” Qing Linglong noticed her predicament and gave her an easy way out.
“We should leave.” Li Yiming understood the trouble that they would be in if they had to deal with police.
The group left an emotionally stirred Ji Xiaoqin in the restaurant. The other clients, who had witnessed the selfless actions of Li Yiming in protecting her, started clapping as they made for the exit. It started out as nothing more than a few sparse applauses here and there, but it soon spread through the crowd like a roaring thunder. Li Yiming was rather embarrassed by the cheering. ‘I think I would’ve been able to take care of that cook without any trouble, and yet I took a knife to the back. Shameful.’
Li Yiming followed Qing Linglong into a black travel trailer parked outside of the restaurant. It was quite commodious, just like the kind that was used for live broadcasting by TV crews, and the inside was full of electronics that belonged to Eyeglasses. ‘Wow, all of this equipment…’ Li Yiming suddenly realized how lucky he was to have not died in the last two domains. Grandma Wang took out a small glass bottle and gave it to Qing Qiaoqiao. The younger Qing sister was quick to remove Li Yiming’s shirt and carefully applied the potion on his wound.
“No big deal, it’ll heal in no time. Grandma Wang’s medicine will guarantee that not a single trace of the scar will remain.” Qing Qiaoqiao kept her eyes on Liu Meng, who held one of Li Yiming’s hand tightly.
“What are your plans Mr. Li?” Qing Linglong gave to Li Yiming and Liu Meng each a bottle of water and sat down in front of them.
“Nothing planned for the moment.” Li Yiming answered truthfully. He could only feel a cool and refreshing tingling sensation on this back now: Grandma Wang’s medicine was very potent.
“We were actually planning on getting our hands on a few items. Want to go together? Eyeglasses found a good place.” Qing Linglong said.
“Is that girl new? Bringing a first-timer to a big-sized domain? You’re pretty daring.” Eyeglasses pulled down the zipper on his pants and adjusted his prosthetic leg. Liu Meng stared at it, baffled.
“I wasn’t careful in the last domain and lost a leg. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him.” Eyeglasses explained to Liu Meng when he noticed her surprise.
‘Oh, so that’s how they became friends.’ This slightly improved Liu Meng’s opinion of Qing Qiaoqiao. She helped Li Yiming dress up with a spare set of clothes he had taken out of his bracelet as Qing Qiaoqiao wiped her hand with a paper towel after she had finished applying the medicine.
“You were saying that you’re going to get Items?” Li Yiming’s first thought was a gun, and then he thought about his plan of robbing a bank.
“From what happened in the restaurant, we can deduce that our targets are beasts. I’m sure that you’ve also figured this out.” Grandma Wang’s hoarse voice made Liu Meng jump with fright.
‘Beasts? Testing us?’ Li Yiming caught the gist of what Grandma Wang said and recalled what had happened. He reminded himself of Qing Qiaoqiao’s talent.
“It’s similar to my talent, but I wasn’t able to retrace them quick enough.” Qing Qiaoqiao explained when Li Yiming looked at her, but she was rather absent-minded. Most of her attention was on Liu Meng. ‘Is this his new girlfriend?’
“What are you planning exactly?” Li Yiming asked. It would be a good idea to cooperate with Qing Lingling’s group again, since he really did not have the confidence to last through thirty days with Liu Meng in this domain, and given their past experience working together.
“The Historical Museum of Shangbei.” Eyeglasses slid open the zipper from the bottom of his pants and moved his robotic leg around. It seemed like he had yet to get used to the metallic substitute for his limb.
“Historical museum?” Li Yiming was surprised. ‘There are weapons there?’
“Yeah, there’s usually a lot of opportunities like this with large domains. We’re guessing that it means that we have to look for precious items ourselves. There are without a doubt many ancient items within that museum, and hidden amongst them could be guardian equipment. We should give it a try,” Qing Linglong explained. She knew that Li Yiming was the silent yet prudent type, so if she did not explain properly, he might have his suspicions about her motives.
‘Oh, so this is what it’s all about.’ Li Yiming’s heart burned with desire as he remembered about the rewards he had received from the first domain.
“Why are you together again? I thought you were cooperating for the first time back in Hangzhou.” Li Yiming asked another question instead of answering Qing Linglong’s proposal. If they had indeed formed a permanent team, then his intrusion would not be so wise. Just as it was the case with Fang Shui’er’s team before, who were willing to risk everything for the sake of one of its member, a team like that was desirable for those who were part of it, but it also meant the exclusion of any newcomer.
“They’re taking care of me.” Eyeglasses said in self-derision.
“We had a great time cooperating last time, so we contacted each other when we sensed the apparition of this domain. I wanted to contact you too, but unfortunately I didn’t have a way to reach you. Lucky that we were able to bump into each other,” Qing Linglong said, friendly as always.
“Alright, let’s go together. But keep in mind that my friend is a first-timer.” Li Yiming pulled on Liu Meng’s hand and made his stance very clear.
“It’s not our first time doing something like that, isn’t it?” Eyeglasses smiled as he glanced at their kneaded hands and walked toward the driver’s seat.
“To a fruitful cooperation.”
“To a fruitful cooperation.”
Autobots, move out! xD