Chapter 42 – Epidemic
“Who were they?” Liu Meng asked after the trio left.
“I’ll explain to you later, it’s kind of complicated.” Li Yiming shook his head. He remembered the bodhi leaf in his storage space. ‘A Fate Pill…’
“AHHH—!” A high-pitched screeched pierced through the ceiling of the first floor. Li Yiming and Liu Meng exchanged a glanced and rushed upstairs.
When they opened the door to the bedroom, they bumped into the butler. The latter had one hand against the wall to stop himself from falling over. A man who looked like a doctor was collapsed on the ground, with pale lips and his hand on one of the table legs. A nurse was right next to him, and from her pale countenance, it seemed like she had just witnessed the most terrifying thing in the world. All three quivered with terror.
“Where’s Mr. Ye?” Li Yiming asked. He looked around; it seemed deputy-director Ye had been conducting his physical examination in this room. The folds on the bed sheets suggesting that someone was laying there just a moment ago. ‘Where is he? There’s nowhere for him to hide… Did I get tricked by those three? How did they do it?’
“Master Ye… Master Ye… the butler pointed with a trembling finger at the bed. There was nothing on it, except for a brown pajama robe. Beneath was the jade bracelet with its golden joinings still glowing weakly.
Li Yiming walked forward and picked up the bracelet. ‘This is the bracelet, but where is the deputy director?’
“I can feel that there was a fire here. A very pure, refined fire.” Liu Meng frowned when she noticed what was wrong with the room.
“A fire?” Li Yiming was confused by Liu Meng’s suggestion. He looked around, and all he could see was the baffled faces of the people who were inside the room when he arrived.
“Master Ye… Master Ye…” The butler repeated, but his voice died out, as if someone suddenly choked him.
“What happened to the deputy-director?” Li Yiming asked. He used his aura to intimidate the butler into producing a response.
“Mr. Ye suddenly caught fire… and then he was gone.” The doctor, who was still down the ground, recovered some of his composure after being urged by Li Yiming. He tried to crawl up, but instead, he knocked over a small metal stand that contained some medical instruments.
“Caught fire?” Li Yiming glanced at the doctor and then back at Liu Meng.
“Yes. He was on the bed, and then he suddenly caught fire. There was fire all over his body. And then… he was gone.” The doctor was already at the door.
‘It’s the Heart Fire punishment’ Li Yiming heard Bai Ze’s interpretation.
“Could you all go outside for a moment? Don’t come in until I tell you to,” Li Yiming said calmly as he turned his head toward the undamaged bed.
The doctor, the nurse, and the butler left as soon as Li Yiming ordered them to. They were itching to leave such a terrifying place. The butler, on his way out, shut the door: he was afraid of a monster coming out of the room.
‘Can you explain what happened?’
“It’s Heart Fire, one of Heaven’s Punishments. There’s no mistake, Heaven’s Laws has intervened.” Bai Ze appeared after a flash of white light. She grazed the top of the bed sheets with the tip of her finger and said in a grave voice.
“You’re awake!” Liu Meng was happy to see Bai Ze again. She had a new understanding of the nature of Bai Ze’s existence after sealing her own contract with Bi Fang.
“Yes, I’ve been awake for a while. Liu Meng, what can you feel?”
“Fire. A very high-level fire. At least compared to mine. It’s gentle but scary. Strange… It’s the first time I’ve been scared of fire ever since awakening.” Liu Meng knew that it was not the appropriate time for chit-chatting, so she left her questions for Bai Ze to later.
“Heart Fire?” Li Yiming remembered the lightning that fell down on Bai Ze and himself a while ago.
“I think I know what happened,” Bai Ze’s started to reconstruct the scene with her intelligent deductions. “The deputy-director is a normal person, but he recovered from his disease thanks to your gift. But, as I’ve said, Heaven’s Laws will not allow for such an intervention, so…”
“So it befell its punishment and killed Mr. Ye?” Li Yiming stared at Bai Ze. ‘So I’m the one who killed him?’
“There are intolerable consequences for normal people who use guardian equipment. That is the bottom line for Heaven’s Laws.”
“He had terminal cancer. Don’t overthink it.” Liu Meng knew that Li Yiming felt some guilt for accelerating the deputy-director’s death.
“So you’re saying that we use our abilities on normal people?” It was a hard reality for Li Yiming to accept.
“Not exactly. If you did use your talent on a normal person, whether it’s to attack them or to help them, you would be the one shouldering the responsibility from the Heavens. But if you give them a piece of equipment, then it would be their burden to bear, and it’s a burden that they cannot tolerate,” Bai Ze explained patiently. She was relieved by the fact that Li Yiming could not simply confer the ability to use guardian equipments to any ordinary person, because with a bug in the system that big would undoubtedly come terrible consequences for the stability of Heaven’s Laws.
“What if we use our talents to alter a normal person?” Li Yiming asked. He thought about the vampire virus that could be administered.
“I see what you mean. But that’ll only end up in the same way as you see here. You can go search online; this deputy director is certainly not the first person to have suddenly died from self-combustion. Heaven’s Laws will not tolerate the artificial creation of guardians or people with supernatural abilities. That would damage its foundations.”
“What about me?” Li Yiming suddenly raised his voice.
“You… I don’t know.” A thought seemed to have occurred to Bai Ze, but she looked at Liu Meng and hesitated. A flash of white light later and she was gone. She had her guesses about Li Yiming’s joining of the guardians’ rank, but did not want to share them for the moment.
“What do we do now?” Liu Meng did not completely follow the conversation between Bai Ze and Li Yiming, but she knew that Li Yiming was not feeling very well, so she tried to change the subject of the conversation.
“Let’s go. We got the bracelet.” Li Yiming was starting to grow irritated again from the familiar feeling of powerlessness and knowing absolutely nothing.
“What about Mr. Ye…?”
“Bai Ze said it. He’s not the first one to die from self-combustion. We’ll let the doctor explain what he saw to the police. Let’s leave.”
* * *
“Nothing?” Big Beard was trimming his beard with a pair of miniature scissors. It was his habit to do so everything single time he felt like he needed to calm down and consider things with a cool head.
“Nothing. I’m worried…” Fang Shui’er looked at Big Beard, but hesitated to speak her thoughts.
“You’re worried that she’s gone to seek revenge from Li Yiming?” Big Beard thought of the worst-case scenario.
“She grew up with Xiao Hei. Knowing her, she…” Fang Shui’er was in a state of panic. She hoped for counsel from Big Beard. ‘Li Yiming is too scary of a foe. It would be suicide for Qianqian to go fight him alone.’
“We could go have a look…” Big Beard put his scissors down and examined his face carefully. He had just created a nick in his beard when his hand trembled right before a cut a second earlier.
* * *
“Linglong, come have a look. There’s something wrong.” Eyeglasses was surprised by what he saw on his computer and called Qing Linglong over.
“What is it?” Qing Linglong put down the TV remote and walked to Eyeglasses’ workstation.
“Look at this.” Eyeglasses pulled out one of the windows on his screen. It was a surveillance feed from a camera in an ordinary neighborhood in the city. Everything seemed quiet and still, but in the corner someone was down on the ground, still as a statue. “Look at this. That person just fell down. Also, have a look at the other feed.”
Eyeglasses switched to another camera. The same kind of residential neighborhood, judging by the buildings and the background, but this time, a man and a woman were down on the ground, right in the middle of the screen. “I found this three minutes ago.” Eyeglasses looked at Qing Linglong.
“Is this far from us?” Qing Linglong frowned. ‘It’s not unusual to see one person passed out in the street in the middle of the night. But several? Something’s off.’
“Three street corners.”
“Can you have a look around?” Qing Linglong pulled over a chair.
“This is a 24/7 convenience store nearby.” Eyeglasses changed the input again. This time, a small supermarket was shown. A store employee was playing on his phone, visibly bored, while a shabbily dressed young man who seemed to be falling asleep was waiting for his noodles to heat up in the microwave.”
“Look!” Something strange happened. The young man fell to the ground, limp, as if someone had removed all of the bones in his body. The same thing happened to the cashier. His cell phone fell down to the ground with a “clank” and slid a fair distance. “It’s the same as what I’ve just seen!”
“Look at that!” Qing Linglong pointed at the screen. On the window glass of the store, there was the reflection of a car. Eyeglasses switched the input to a camera on the street and found a red Hyundai — the one they saw an instant before, smoldering in the green belt, while a black BMW rammed into a closed storefront.
“Something’s wrong. We should contact Li Yiming.” Qing Linglong walked to the window with a grim countenance.
“Their transmitters are not open.”
“I’ll call them.” Qing Linglong looked at the pitch-black sky outside. As she stared at the darkness of Shangbei, she had the feeling that she was looking at a monster that was opening its mouth wide to swallow her whole.
Li Yiming picked up his phone after only three rings; even after becoming a guardian. Li Yiming could still not get rid of his habit of never leaving his phone.
“Where are you?” Qing Linglong seemed a little unhappy that Li Yiming abandoned them at a crucial moment.
“We’re on our way back.” Li Yiming’s mood was still affected by what had just happened.
“They’re about to arrive at the scene.” Eyeglasses immediately switched to Li Yiming’s position.
“Turn back right away! Get away from the neighborhood ahead of you!” Qing Linglong yelled through the phone. It was far too dangerous for Li Yiming to enter the neighborhood when they were unaware of the reason behind the strange events.
“Turn back!” Li Yiming relayed the message to Liu Meng without questioning. He knew enough about his teammates to trust them unconditionally.
“What’s wrong?” Liu Meng obeyed and made a U-turn. She looked at Li Yiming and waited for an explanation as the car darted out danger zone.
“There’s something wrong in that neighborhood. People are fainting there for no apparent reason.” Qing Linglong quickly explained what she and Eyeglasses had found.
“Let’s meet up at Shangbei TV station building. It’s pretty far from that neighborhood and at about equal distance from all of us.” Eyeglasses interjected through the microphone he had on his desk: he had already hacked his way into the telephone conversation.
“We’re heading there right away. Liu Meng, Shangbei TV station.” Li Yiming hung up with a frown. ‘Eight days left…’
For those curious https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/china-surveillance-camera-big-brother_us_5a2ff4dfe4b01598ac484acc, here is an interesting article about the surveillance system in China. That’s probably why Eyeglasses seems so useful. The benefit of the system is that it allows for crime prevention (maybe?), but the name of the article essentially shows the negative effects. Do keep in mind, though that the Chinese people have different views about privacy compared to western countries.