Chapter 29 – Illusion
“It’s Guo Xiang?” Qing Linglong was visibly surprised.
Li Yiming did not answer her. He nodded and pondered the reason behind Guo Xiang’s repeated appearances.
“You know him?” Fang Shui’er was dumbfounded.
“He showed up in the previous domain, a key figure,” Qing Linglong equivocated.
“What? It was the same for us…” Fang Shui’er was astonished by the revelation. She stared at Li Yiming, who was the only common denominator in both “coincidences”.
“It’s the third time.” Li Yiming knew exactly why Fang Shui’er was looking at him. He himself was just wondering whether it was due to him or due to something in particular with Guo Xiang himself.
“This is no trivial matter. It’s definitely not normal that someone with seemingly little to no relevance somehow manages to fulfill a pivotal role two times in a row.” Qing Linglong made a mental note to herself and for the sake of the team.
“Let’s focus on what’s ahead of us. We’ll think about this later.” Li Yiming was overwhelmed by the quick succession of events unfolding around him and found it hard to settle down and consider the whole issue meticulously.
“Turn left at the next intersection and go below the bridge. You’ll find Big Beard there,” Zeng Qian pointed ahead. Qing Linglong turned toward a narrow entrance on the other side of the road, and the car made its way down a poorly paved road.
Hengjiang Bridge was a bridge connecting the newer and the older neighborhoods of Shangbei. It was built along the East-West axis, and the bridge itself was quite aged. Due to a new bridge built at Shangyou, the traffic on this bridge had declined. The outgrowths of weed and other undesirable vegetation, which were especially prominent under the structure itself, were the only forms of life still present in a desolate nook forgotten by all within the bustling metropolis.
“Over there.” Zeng Qian pointed in a direction after getting out of the car and led the way. A few bugs could be seen flying around her body.
“Careful.” Li Yiming reminded her and followed.
After a fair bit of walking, they arrived at where Zeng Qian wanted to bring them to. They found there a white dome of light, only about ten meters in radius, right next to a concrete pillar. They kept their distances and made sure to hide.
“He’s inside, but my bugs can’t penetrate the barrier,” Zeng Qian remarked.
“How do you know?” Qing Linglong could not understand where Zeng Qian got the confidence to make the assertion.
“Look over there.” Zeng Qian pointed at a rudimentary marking carved onto the pillar right next to the dome of light. “That’s what we agreed on being the S.O.S. signal. With his character, I wouldn’t think that he would call for help so easily. I initially thought that it was Liu Meng when I discovered the dome of light, but I found out about the marking when I made my insects circle around the dome, since they couldn’t enter inside.”
“Well, it seems like he didn’t betray us. Rather, he was stuck here the whole time,” Fang Shui’er sighed. Somehow, the discovery had brought a sense of relief to her and lessened her sense of guilt.
“Is this a Combat Boundary?” Qing Linglong’s apprehension was growing. ‘This does fit the description. But if it’s the real thing, then isn’t it suicide for us to be here?’
“This is just an Illusion Boundary. It’s slightly different from a combat one. If I tried my hardest, I could probably achieve the thing, but it would be really small and it wouldn’t last very long.” Qing Qiaoqiao, who was the expert on focus-based techniques, reassured her sister after a careful observation.
“How many days has it been since you’ve lost contact with them? If we base our assessment on the area and the duration of this boundary, our enemy would be very strong.” Qing Linglong analyzed the situation.
“The beast should be close by. If the fight is still ongoing and we can somehow slay it, then surely this barrier will also disappear.” Fang Shui’er looked at around. Since she now knew that Big Beard had not betrayed her, she could not simply leave him to die; after all, they were a team.
“It’s pointless to look around. The beast must be within the dome. It’s the safest place,” Qing Qiaoqiao said.
“Well, it’s true that it would be great if we could somehow get their help after we rescue the three of them.” Qing Linglong made a fair assessment of the gains and losses of the situation.
“There’s only Big Beard left. That person with one eye and the fat guy are dead,” Li Yiming suddenly said something that shocked his teammates. He could see Big Beard on his knees, visibly tired out, with both of his hands in front of him as he fought a bitter struggle for his own life. Two lifeless bodies were on the ground, one of them skinny and the other plumpy, but both had a hideous expression of someone having died painfully, with their tongues sticking out their mouth and only the white of their eyes visible.
“You can see what’s going on inside?” Qing Qiaoqiao was impressed. Although she herself, through the similarity of her talent to the technique used to build the dome of light, could sense vaguely what was happening inside, she could say nothing about the details. It was even worse for the others, who could see nothing but a huge ball of light.
Li Yiming nodded without explaining the reason behind his ability to see through the dome of light. ‘Is this what Li Huaibei meant when he said that I was ‘special’?’
“One-eye and Meat Mountain are dead?” Fang Shui’er’s mood sank when she heard the dreadful news.
“What now?” Qing Linglong looked at Li Yiming and awaited the decision from the captain of the team.
“I’ll go have a look. I think I can get inside.” Li Yiming hesitated, but became a little more confident when he thought about the bronze coin he had. There was also a secret desire within him to try out the skills he had learned from Li Huaibei. Moreover, with Fang Shui’er and her sister now being on his team, he felt compelled to help them.
“Are you sure? This beast is no trivial enemy.” Qing Linglong seemed worried. Qing Qiaoqiao wanted to stop Li Yiming from taking the risk, but she found it hard to intervene when she saw Fang Shui’er look at him with anticipation. Unlike the Qing sisters, the Fang sister held a blind belief in Li Yiming’s capabilities.
“I’ll try to force the beast to come out. We’ll take it on together if that happens, or, if that doesn’t work, I’ll try to bring Big Beard out.” Li Yiming brought out a sword from his storage bracelet: it was the same splendid-looking decorative sword he had used earlier.
“Put this on, at least it’ll be better than nothing.” Qing Qiaoqiao took out a pendant and put around Li Yiming’s neck. She also removed her hair cord and fixed it around Li Yiming’s wrist with a beautiful butterfly tie. Both of these accessories were guardian equipment for enhancing one’s focus, and although they could mitigate the threat of being charmed to a certain extent, their low level of strength meant that they could not be life-savers.
Li Yiming nodded and carefully trodded toward the dome of light with his teammates watching him nervously. As he had imagined, he traversed it as if it never existed. On the outside, all of Li Yiming’s teammates focused their attention and made ready to intervene.
Beneath the veil of light, an alluring figure raised its head to look at the intruder. She had a pointy chin and beautiful green eyes. She slowly licked one of her fingers, as if she was making ready to feast on another prey. A huge, scaly tail, which, unlike Fang Shui’er had guessed, was not that of a fox, but rather that of a snake, slowly slid across the ground with a rattling sound.
When the light in front of Li Yiming faded away, the first thing he saw was a field track under the warm setting sun. A group of students were busy shedding droplets of sweat and expending their youthful energy in the middle of the field. The girls who were slowly jogging along the tracks had beautiful figures supported by long legs. ‘Is this… a mirage?’ Li Yiming frowned. This place was very familiar to him. He lowered his head to look at himself and saw that the sword he held was gone. He himself was wearing black sweatpants and a T-shirt with a leaping dancer performing a move called the “reverse kick to the golden crown”, as it was called in his school. ‘Wait, this is the practice uniform… I’m back in College?’
“Hey, you’ve been looking at that girl for two minutes already. Is she prettier than me?” When Li Yiming heard the joking voice, it struck him how dearly he missed the one who spoke and just how fond he was of simply being around her.
“Liu Meng?” Li Yiming turned around. Liu Meng was wearing clothes similar to his. Her long hair was tied into a ponytail that wagged left and right tirelessly, which happened to be an accurate reflection of her own personality.
“Why are you looking at me like that? Didn’t you say that you were going to treat me to a meal? I hope you don’t mind that I’m bringing someone else.” Liu Meng smiled sweetly. Her radiant smile, which Li Yiming had not seen for so long, tucked at his heartstrings. Ji Xiaoqin stood behind her, but with her hair loose, covering her shoulders. Her slightly red cheeks suggested at shyness from meeting him.
Li Yiming stayed quiet as the memories flowed back into his mind. This was the first time he would eat with Liu Meng and Ji Xiaoqing, on the third day on his first year.
“Hey, why are you so quiet? You’re not going back on your promise aren’t you?” Liu Meng walked forward and gave Li Yiming a light tap on the shoulder, as a very good friend would do.
“Of course not. Where are we going? Make a choice.” Li Yiming suddenly smiled. It was the most genuine moment of happiness that happened in quite a while. ‘If this is really a dream, then…’
“Haha, that’s the spirit! I’ll give you a lesson your wallet won’t be able to forget!” Liu Meng led Ji Xiaoqin, who was still trailing her shyly. The ponytail behind her back bounced around as she scuttled toward the school’s gate, giving her the air of a playful fairy, which stood in stark contrast with Ji Xiaoqin’s demureness.
‘Wow, I don’t remember Liu Meng being this beautiful with long hair.’
As the three walked on the street, the combined charm of Liu Meng and Ji Xiaoqin were sufficient to turn quite a few heads and elicit the envy of all the other male students. This gave Li Yiming a feeling of nostalgic vanity that he had not felt in a long time. More than that, Li Yiming enjoyed the feeling of freedom and carefreeness of being young. Liu Meng was as candid as he had remembered and Ji Xiaoqin, as shy as he had known her to be. This was his story and his youthful years.
“Hey, how about this one? I asked around, and apparently, this one is the most expensive one.” Liu Meng stopped right in front of a hot pot restaurant and smiled capriciously. Li Yiming’s heart almost melted when he saw that familiar smile again.
“Alright, let’s go!” Li Yiming waved his hand rather proudly; he was a changed man now, someone who could buy a car worth a million and six hundred thousand for four million without even asking for change. He remembered this shop being a reason for quite some embarrassment, since he originally did not have enough money to pay the bill at the end of the meal and required Liu Meng’s help. But this time… Li Yiming smiled confidently and touched the storage bracelet around his wrist. ‘Wait, where did the bracelet go? Crap, no equipment in here? Am I…’ He took out his old wallet. ‘Two hundred fifteen yuan and thirty cents? Oh no, is history going to repeat itself?’
Liu Meng did not see Li Yiming’s panic and pulled Ji Xiaoqin into the shop. Li Yiming followed suit despite dreading what was about to come. However, when he pushed open the door to the shop, what he saw was not its noisy interior, but rather the dance studio he had trained in for so many years. Ji Xiaoqin sat on the ground with dancing shoes and her hair tied up, as quiet as a princess, while Liu Meng was pushing her leg on the practicing bar and staring at him with half-opened eyes from sleepiness. She still had a box of unfinished yogurt from breakfast. The people around them moved around slowly under the rising sun. ‘This is… morning practice.’
Is male vanity proportional to the size of one’s non-existent harem? (:thinkingface)