Chapter 21 – Liu Meng’s Disappearance
The volume of the television was turned to a loud volume, but the incessant noises from a group of musicians dancing on stage did not prove to be enough to distract Liu Meng. She stared blankly at the emergency escape route map next to the wooden door of the hotel as she remembered something far, far away that evoked a mixture of nervousness, shyness, and anticipation. She had put on a white one-piece, and black laced underwear underneath. She had no time to do her makeup properly, but at least enough time to put some perfume.
Liu Meng thought about the first time she met Li Yiming, four years ago, about that crazy night two years ago, about the silent wishes for bliss during these past two years, and finally for what had unfolded just recently. She was suddenly very grateful for it all, grateful for what Heaven’s Laws bestowed upon her. If it were not for her becoming a guardian, her secret might have been buried forever. However, today she would have a chance to dig up those words hidden for so long, and to shed light on a secret she had decided to never think about again.
Before she could get to the end of her thoughts, she was suddenly pulled back to reality by the loud noise of the window’s shattering. A small, red bird, about the size of her hand, came flying in through the breach. It had a white beak, a long neck, a single leg and blue specks on its feathers.
“Can you save me? There’s someone coming after me,” the bird said.
“You’re a beast?” Liu Meng looked at the little animal and at the sparks of fire that flew off from its feathers. Oddly, instead of being scared, she felt an urge to approach and help.
“Yes, I’m Bi Fang.”
“Bi Fang? Someone’s after you?”
“Yes.” Bi Fang had just barely escaped Li Huaibei’s attack. According to the legends, he was to be on the same level as other mythical birds, such as Zhu Que, or Qing Luan. His natural pride and ferociousness prompted him to fight to the death rather than submit to Li Huaibei. Now grievously wounded, he knew that it would not be long before Li Huaibei came for him again, and, during his search for a hiding place, he bumped into Liu Meng. ‘What? A human with a body of fire purity? And this scent, the phoenix?’ he thought, very surprised by his discovery. 1
“How can I help you? I’m just a newcomer, and I’m powerless.” Liu Meng felt a natural and inexplicable urge to help Bi Fang, but she also knew her limits very well in the present circumstances.
“Let’s form a pact. From now on, I’ll live inside your body.” Bi Fang knew that it would be very difficult to escape Li Huaibei, and, he would rather risk it all with Liu Meng than become his sword spirit.
“A pact?” Liu Meng suddenly remembered the monkey earlier who feigned submission and became more suspicious of Bi Fang’s intentions.
“We’ll have a master-servant pact. You’ll be the master and I’ll be the servant. Your talent is fire, and I’m a high-level fire beast, everything is in your favor.” Bi Fang turned to stare at the window, a little impatient when he saw Liu Meng hesitate: he knew that it would not be long before Li Huaibei tracked him down. Little did he know that Li Huaibei was being distracted by Li Yiming, at least for the moment.
“Alright.” Liu Meng decided. The nature of such a pact had been taught to her by the Stage of Ascension, and although she was not completely sure yet of the benefits, she knew that she could suffer no loss.
A beam of red light rippled across Bi Fang’s body. He spat out a small flame that traveled slowly toward Liu Meng. A paragraph of brazen runic glyphs suddenly appeared inside Liu Meng’s mind. The characters were completely unknown to Liu Meng, but somehow she could understand its meaning: it was about accepting Bi Fang as her combat summon. She accepted and the small flame melted into her forehead. The next moment, Bi Fang disappeared with a flash of red light.
“That’s it?” Liu Meng blinked and focused her attention on what was going on inside her body. She could not feel anything being different.
“High-level beast subdued, Bi Fang. Path progression awarded: 50 points.”
“High-level battle pet acquired. Talent upgraded.”
A familiar voice was heard in her head.
“Upgraded talent?” Liu Meng was bewildered. Unlike the heavenly vein, the opportunities for upgrading one’s talent were mostly dependent on one’s perception, and, most importantly, luck. It was a true feat for Liu Meng to be able to upgrade her talent in her first domain.
Liu Meng “saw” a new frame appear near where the details regarding her own status were. “Bi Fang (hibernating)”. Also, an addition was made to her talent. “Fire control II”. ‘Fire control II? What does that mean? So everyone is ‘I’ by default, and you only get to see the number behind it once it levels up?’ Liu Meng closed her eyes and tried her best to feel the improvement that her upgraded talent had brought about.
Another loud noise came from the window’s direction. This time, the window in its entirety, along with the frame, was shattered. A man wearing a grey sleeveless jacket with the zipper open appeared on the sill in a crouched down stance. The muscles around his abdomen were clearly defined, and, with the tight bell bottom pants, and his white pointy leather shoes decorated on the rear by metallic cogs, he seemed like someone straight out of a fashion magazine. His brows were narrow, just like his eyes, below which one could find a high nose bridge and scarlet lips. There was an odd feminine charm to his features and his stylized short-cut hair. Liu Meng would surely have mistaken him for a woman if it were not for his bare chest.
“Who are you?” Liu Meng sat up from the bed with a red spark between her fingers. The man’s appearance was abrupt, and, most importantly, unlike Bi Fang, he conveyed a feeling of ominousness and ill-intent.
“You took him?” The man jumped down from the sill and brought his hand to his chin in a pondering stance.
“You’re a guardian?” Liu Meng was surprised by her own lack of reaction at the evident mismatch between the body and the features of the man.
The man stayed silent and shook his head, seemingly amused by Liu Meng’s question.
“You’re a beast?” Liu Meng asked. ‘I don’t think that humans would look this way…’
The stranger still kept silent and shook his head.
“Well then…” Liu Meng’s alertness grew. ‘Someone who can break through a window on the thirteenth floor, and he’s not a guardian or a beast… then…’
“The only possibility is the right one, isn’t it?” The man’s lips quirked into a smile as he extended his hand toward Liu Meng.
* * *
The green ball of poisonous gas in Zeng Qian’s palm billowed as dark streaks spread out from where she stood into the distance in the sewers. She seemed extremely irritated about something that just happened.
“Still nothing from them?” Fang Shui’er had her back against Zeng Qian, her longbow hanging from one hand. Her clothes were disordered and her eyes let through an unconcealable nervousness.
“I knew we shouldn’t have relied on people we just met. I think they’re just using us as bait for delaying them.” Zeng Qian crouched down and dipped her finger into the sewage water. The green gas slowly spread out into the soiled liquid.
“I wouldn’t think so. I did my research about him. He’s not the kind of person to betray his teammates.” Fang Shui’er pulled her bowstring back and aimed at the darkness in the distance.
“We need to find a way to get out of here. They’re still hesitating because of my poison, but the longer we wait, the more difficult it’ll be to escape.”
“You go first, I’ll cover you.” Fang Shui’er knelt down and kept her arrow directed at where she was looking. Zeng Qian waved her hand and a handful of small bugs disappeared silently into the darkness. Zeng Qian looked at her sister one last time and followed the insects.
* * *
“So this is our target?” Qing Qiaoqiao looked at the old man on the screen. He was down on the ground, wearing a shredded jacket and holding his baseball cap in front of him. At first sight, he looked like nothing more than an old beggar.
“According to the information we have, there’s no doubt it’s him. If I’m not mistaken, he’s already eaten three civilians.” Eyeglasses was wiping his rifle meticulously. It was an NTW-20 with the ability to pierce through barriers, the same made-in-a-domain weapon that was used against the camouflager a while back.
“Any guesses about what his true form might be?” Qing Linglong asked in a very serious tone, with her eyes fixated on the screen.
“Can’t tell, but based on the remains of the three victims and the scene of the crime, it’s possible that it’s a Yayu.” Grandma Wang seemed like she was ready to pounce on the target as she joined her hands and put them in front of her. 2
“Well, if it’s the Yayu, then with the four of us…” Qing Linglong hesitated and looked at her sister.
“Wait, there are other people. Seven of them.” Eyeglasses suddenly retracted his sniper rifle and checked the light indicator right beside the panel. He started typing on the computer. “Yes, seven people, and based on the way they’re positioned, I’d bet that they have the same target.” He turned around to look at Qing Linglong.
“We’re out.” Qing Linglong stayed silent for a while and then decided without hesitating.
“We’re letting them take it again?” Qing Qiaoqiao pursed her lips in discontent.
“Prudence is the only reason why I’m still standing right here.” Grandma Wang pulled her scarf up and leaned back against her seat.
Eyeglasses started the car without speaking, and the vehicle quietly zipped into the distance.
* * *
Li Huaibei was quietly sipping a bottle of Er Guo Tou in a bar right around the street. He had asked the waiter to purchase the bottle of liquor from a supermarket nearby with five bills of one hundred yuan. It was a rare sight to see him without a cigarette, but today was one such day. He stared blankly at the cup he held as he sunk into his memories. 3
“You’re called Li Huaibei? Alright, just stick with me from now on…”
“Xiao Bei, you want to know more about wine? Well, you’ve come to the right guy…”
“Marry me if we get out of here alive.”
For the last eight years, Li Huaibei had lived like that; whenever he would have a brief moment of idleness, his thoughts would inevitably wander to his friends and the time he spent with them. Today, he did what he would not usually dare to do, and he voluntarily sought to think about the events on that fateful day.
‘Just which one of them is Mr. Kong? The same face and the same unfathomable power. Is he the one who murdered all my friends with a giant staff, or the one who saved me from death with a knit bag?”
When he had woken up back in Eden, he found the mountains to be as green as when he first arrived, the river still meandering quietly through the valley, the grass verdant as always and the red flowers blooming beautifully. It was as if nothing had ever happened, with the only exception being that the little village had completely vanished. A man, dressed slovenly, gave him a cigarette and said something about not becoming a father if one does not smoke. Li Huaibei remembered what the man said about Heaven’s Laws. ‘Is what he said really true? But…’
* * *
When Li Yiming pushed open the door to the hotel room, he was almost driven mad by the guilt, shock, and helplessness that struck him. The window had been utterly destroyed, and its distorted frame suggested that an intruder had come from the outside. There was a burning mark left on the bed sheets, and Liu Meng was nowhere to be found.
‘This is a domain, how could I ever leave her alone?’ Li Yiming could not forgive himself for his mistake. He ran into the security office of the hotel in a frenzy and used his agent ID to look at the surveillance footage, but was disappointed when he could not find anything. He tried contacting Eyeglasses, and smashed the transmitter angrily when he did not receive a response. He then wandered the streets of Shangbei frantically in the hopes of finding Liu Meng, and even spent two hundred thousand yuan to buy a minivan that passed by to speed up his search. Despite knowing only the basics about driving, he smashed the gas pedal and the vehicle zipped away into the darkness of the night.
Liu Meng’s monologue at the start made me formulate a hypothesis about the relationship between Liu Meng, Li Yiming, and Ji Xiaoqin that makes me… Uh… want to flip a table. Hopefully, it won’t be right. Also, please read the release post for this chapter, there’s some important information in there!
1. Zhu Que, known as the guardian of the south, or the Vermillion Bird, is a famous legendary beast in Chinese Mythology. Qing Luan, literally meaning Blue Bird, is also related to the phoenix.
2. Yayu, a beast in Chinese mythology known to liking to eat humans.
3. Er Guo To, the equivalent of vodka in China, famously high in alcohol content, up to 56%