‘Money makes the world go round.’ Li Yiming realized this when the troublesome procedures and formalities of ownership transfer were settled in less than three days after adding an extra one thousand yuan to the agent fee. After hiring a housekeeping company to tidy up his apartment, Li Yiming finally moved in on the fourth day with a newly-bought double-sized bed.
Two days have passed since then. During those two days, the only thing Li Yiming has focused on doing one thing, and one thing only; he sat in the study and stared at the walls with a bowl of cup noodles.
‘It’s here… It’s half an hour later than last night.’ Li Yiming put the bowl down on the floor and approached the wall, carefully placing one hand on it.
‘As expected, any business that has to do with Mr.Kong is no simple matter. Things are becoming more troublesome…’ Bai Ze’s sounded a little nervous.
‘What do you think I’ll find beyond this wall?’ Li Yiming asked as he slowly slid his hand across the wall, feeling every inch of it.
‘Regardless of what you’ll find, I still suggest that you avoid it and move away from it. I have a terrible feeling about this,’ Bai Ze said.
‘Hey, do you think it’s a sage? When they create a Boundary, they split reality, right?’ Li Yiming recalled Li Huaibei’s boundary.
‘Bullshit. You think a sage can just create a Boundary without drawing any attention from Heaven’s Laws? Look outside the window, if it wasn’t because I can’t see the people down the in the streets, I wouldn’t even have noticed anything. Also, haven’t you noticed? The barrier, or whatever it is, prevents you from seeing other living beings beyond it. Do you know what this means?’
‘This means that it’s barely big enough to cover the whole study, and the reason why I can even enter inside is because I’m a bug in the system.’ Li Yiming answered with a grave voice; he had the same concerns as Bai Ze.
‘Yiming, this… this isn’t a boundary. Try and remember this feeling. This is a secret domain.’ Bai Ze voice trembled as she explains the situation to Li Yiming.
‘What kind of secret domain starts and ends seemingly on a whim and only covers two rooms? My study and the room beyond this wall…’
‘I want to go over and take a look. Get to know my neighbor a bit.’ Li Yiming said with a look of curiosity.
‘Did you not hear a single word of I just said? This is a secret domain and most likely, a man-made one. Do you know what it means to create a secret domain? It means that your neighbor might very well be able to bend Heaven’s Laws!’ Bai Ze’s roared in frustration. After two days worth of observations, Bai Ze was almost certain that the person responsible for this, unlike Li Yiming, was not only beyond Heaven’s Laws, but was also powerful enough to bend them to his or her will. This knowledge unsettled Bai Ze, and it brought out the instinctive fear for Heaven’s Laws her mythical blood commanded in her.
‘Mr. Kong isn’t someone who would do pointless things. If he wanted to harm me, he could have just done it himself, no need for such a roundabout way. Aren’t you curious at all?‘ Li Yiming replied calmly.
‘Our mission is only to locate a person. That’s all we need to do!’ Bai Ze roared in anger as she was frustrated with Li Yiming’s decision to court death and tempt fate.
“I have a feeling that the person we’re looking for is just beyond this wall.” Li Yiming rubbed his sore neck and began to walk toward the door.
* * *
Inside the basement of one of the villas at the heart of Hangzhou laid a naked man on a uniquely designed stone platform. The man’s eyes were shut, but his tightly knitted brows suggested that he was experiencing an unspeakable pain in his sleep. A mysterious, golden glyph shone and dimmed on his skin, and, as it did so, the veins on the man’s body throbbed visibly and faint pulses of light ran beneath his skin. If Li Yiming was there, he would have recognized the man instantly: it was Guo Xiang.
Three figures, two men, and one woman surrounded the stone platform. Two were standing while one knelt down to check on Guo Xiang.
“Any progress?” The middle-aged man who stood at the edge of the stone platform asked with a stone-cold voice. The snow-white Chinese tunic suit he wore and his mannerism gave off a dominating aura that reminded anyone he met that he was the authoritative figure in the room.
“Look, Bing Shuai, the rune glyphs are flowing normally. Looks like we had the right idea. Well, even so, progress is still slow.” The woman who stood on the side answered Bing Shuai’s question carefully. Upon receiving no response from Bing Shuai, she continued,“We’ve been planning this before this kid was even born. The ritual has to gather Heavenly Karma into his body has been completed a few months ago. He has already gone through three secret domains and has been affected by all of them. But, even so, it’s barely at three percent of our target. At this rate, it would take him a least two more years to be able to climb the Stage of Ascension.”
“Two years, huh….” Bing Shuai muttered as he squinted his eyes in contemplation.
“Compared to the decades we spent preparing for this, two years is nothing. It’s just that I’m worried about…” The woman replied hesitantly, seemingly unwilling to finish this particular train of thought.
“You think Tian Yan’s can’t take it?” Bing Shuai’s gaze shifted to the long-haired girl who knelt in front of Guo Xiang and he was briefly overtaken by something that resembled pity.
“To gather Heavenly Karma and forcefully change people’s destinies is to cheat Heaven’s Laws. Even with the aid of the runic formation, being the one command of it, her burden is still immense. If we were just gathering Heavenly Karma for this kid alone, she might still be able to pull through. But, our plan is much bigger than that…”
“Cheating the Heavens…” Bing Shuai once again muttered to himself as he stared vacantly at the corner of the room, still sunken in darkness.
Thirty years ago, he had the bold idea of seeking a way to produce guardians artificially. He and his companions tried everything they could think of but to no avail. As they were about to give up, they found a blind girl who could see people’s destiny and Karmas. She received the name of Tian Yan, Heaven’s Eye, and their plans were rebooted with her at the center.
‘If I could mass produce his own guardians, then I’d be able to replace the Heaven’s Laws and truly control everything.’
“At this point, we must continue regardless of the result. If not, the past thirty years will all be down the drain. We’re already better off than we ever were. Just make sure that Tian Yan takes good care of her health. Ying Mei, it may be hard to do, but you must keep a lookout on the kid. It would foil our plans if anything was to happen to him.” Bing Shuai said to the woman, only this time, he had a voice that was a little gentler than his usual glacial tone.
“As you wish.” Ying Mei bowed her head down, seemingly afraid to meet Bing Shuai’s gaze. However, in her fright, one could also find some trace of happiness.
The silence was suddenly broken by a vibration and a flash of flight from Ying Mei’s cell phone. She retreated to a corner of the room and answered the call. The longer the call went, the more troubled her expression became.
“What is it?” Bing Shuai asked, reading Ying Mei’s mood from her countenance. He wanted to be in control of everything, and the first step to control was knowledge.
“It’s the butler. There is a girl in the villa who has come to look for Guo Xiang. It seems to be his girl.” Ying Me finished her call and answered truthfully.
“This kid is just like his father, a real playboy. Just send her off with an excuse.” Bing Shuai sighed and with a wave of his hand.
“I have already told the butler so.” Ying Mei replied with a smile and put away her phone.
Tian Yan, who had been concentrating on her work, suddenly raised her head and intervened. Her hair fell to the side, revealing a face with delicate features, just like that of a doll. However, a closer look and one would be frightened by the sight of her eyes. These had no pupils, and they shone like small lanterns. Occasionally, a spark of indigo light would traverse its surface.
“What is it?” The two others asked in unison.
“That girl… There is something strange about her…” Tian Yan stared at the ceiling, as if her eyes were able to pierce through the layers of stone and reality itself.
* * *
With the scorching sun high in the sky at high noon, passersby on the street were not keen to remain and walked hastily. No one noticed a carelessly dressed man sitting at the steps that led to the entrance of the shopping mall. Even those who did just looked at him with disdain and hurried away.
He was slightly tanned with unkempt hair. Although he was in fact fairly clean, his unruly appearance made him seem sloppy. He wore an unbuttoned grey shirt that exposed parts of his chest and maroon shorts that left bare a pair of hairy legs. He tapped on the pavement with his plastic slippers, seemingly following some kind of beat.
The man tugged on his worn-out woven bag beneath his feet and took out a wrinkled cigarette. He lit it up, taking his time, and took a deep drag as he looked at the huge advertisement screen across the street. On it, the promotional clip of the newest movie, “Monkey King Subdues White Skeletal Demon”, was being played.
The was a great work of art. The White Skeletal Demon looked seductive and voluptuous while Sun Wukong was heroic and awe-inspiring. The scenes from the age-old classic Journey to the West were perfectly brought to life by modern filmmaking techniques.
The man’s stare slowly grew empty, and he did not notice it even when his cigarette burned all the way up his fingers. The ashes fell onto the pavement and were scattered away by the hurried footsteps of the people who walked hurriedly past him.
“To reign one’s will and to tame one’s heart. Never break the eight precepts, and you shall see the way1. All of this is but an illusion…” The man muttered to himself with a resigned expression. He took out a piece of a paper to wrap up what remained of his cigarettes began cleaning the pavement with a rag.
A young man in a suit hurried past and furrowed his brows when he saw the man. He gulped down his coke and walked toward the dustbin, shaking the can to make sure he drank it all. However, he realized something right before he threw his bottle away. The young man turned around, wiped the exterior of his bottle, tightened the cap, and walked toward what he thought was a beggar. The young man bent down and put his empty bottle into the worn-out woven bag.
The man raised his head in puzzlement and met the young man’s rather shy stare. He nodded his head in gratitude, said a quick thank-you and put the bottle into his bag.
A similar smile also surfaced on the young man’s face, who saluted back and then left in a hurry.
Suddenly, the shadows on the ground moved. A glass advertisement board to one of the buildings fell, reflecting the rays of the sunlight like a giant mirror as it made for the head of the young man. It looked like it was going to slice the young man into two. The passersby behind him had already closed their eyes and was about to emit a piercing scream, but the soon-to-be victim himself still had a shy, oblivious smile on his face.
However, the glass plane suddenly trembled, and it deviated ever so from its original trajectory. Instead of hitting the young man, it grazed past his shoulder and shattered on the pavement with a deafening thud.
Shouts and screams of surprise rang out from the other pedestrians. The young man remained still with his eyes wide open and his muscles cramped up. He knew from seeing the glass fragments that he had just missed a rendezvous with death. He glanced at the derelict frame that held the pane above him, confused, but also incredibly happy for his own good fortune.
The reactions from the other pedestrians were also of all sorts; some took pictures while others informed their friends, and some called the police. Many marveled at how lucky the young man was, but no one noticed the lone figure of a man whose sandals resounded against the pavement slowly leaving the scene. His plastic straw bag swayed back and off as he strolled toward the end of the street.
When it comes to helping others, it is the thought that matters. Kindness, no matter how insignificant it can seem at the moment, can often steer one’s life into another, and usually better direction.
1. The precepts are codes of ethics in Buddism https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Precepts#Other_precepts
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