In a barbecue stall by the road, two shabbily dressed men sat around a table. A tattered plastic knit bag was under the feet of one while the other stepped on a stack of cardboard. Both had smiles on their swarthy faces as they ate cheap barbecue and drank equally cheap beer. Their voices added to the deafening noise of the city street at night as they exchanged stories, each one more exaggerated than the last.
The man on the cardboard was visibly drunk. He stammered when he spoke, punctuating each pause with a slap on the shoulders of his friend. The noise prompted the owner of the barbecue stall to peek out.‘I wonder what kind of grudge is big enough for them to do this…?’
“Don’t you think my nephew is foolish? Who would quit being a manager and apply to be a civil servant? Look at what happened! Lost his job for nothing! Now, all he does is stay home and wallow in his remorse. What an eyesore!”
“Ohhh, is that so…?” The man on the receiving end of the blows smiled and listened on quietly. He even filled up the cup of his companion again.
Suddenly, the man stiffened and raised his head in confusion toward the Polaris star.
“Watcha looking at? Did something happen?” His drunk friend leaned forward and followed his glance.
“Nothing. People who don’t know when to give up.” The man turned around with a resigned grimace and continued to pour beer.
“I know, right! If my dumb nephew was still a manager, I’d never need to stoop to gathering scrap. I was once a vice-captain of the security team with three subordinates! How glorious those times were…” As the man slowly drawled and broke off, the drunken haze in his eyes thickened. He would have fallen off his chair if not for the quick reflexes of his drinking companion.
“Owner, can I have the bill please.” The man asked with a big smile, supporting his drunk friend.
“Seventy-seven and fifty cents, but seventy is fine.” The owner looked at the receipt and made a generous offer.
“Sure. Thanks a bunch.” The man took out the bills and laid them out on the table.
The owner looked at the bills and looked as if he wanted to say something.
“What is it?” The man noticed the hesitation.
“Alcohol’s bad for your health. You should drink less.” The owner replied hesitantly after a quick glance at the knit bag and the cardboard.
“I don’t drink normally. I’m just happy to meet someone who’s here to steal my job!” The man replied while pointing at his companion.
The owner shook his head with a smile. He knew the heavy drinker, who had been around for a long time, asking for alcohol to everyone he met. He pitied his companion, who was cheated out of a meal despite not being particularly wealthy himself.
The man slung his knit bag on his shoulders, grabbing the cardboard with one hand and dragging his friend with the other. He turned at the next intersection and soon vanished from sight.
* * *
Li Yiming put down the tablet and rubbed his bloodshot eyes. Even with level three stamina, he could not come out of eleven sleepless nights unscathed.
After quickly refreshing himself in the bathroom, Li Yiming wandered toward the balcony, knocking over a bowl of instant noodles on his way. A deep drag from a cigarette he had kept in his bracelet reminded him of the figure with big shorts and a knit bag on his shoulder.
“Do you think this is real?” Li Yiming asked with a voice that had gone dry from a long silence.
‘I’m… I’m not sure…’ Bai Ze answered melancholically.
“Adventure to the East”, Fu Bo’s first novel. It was a parody of the classic “Journey to the West”. The theme was traditional and cliched, but its presentation was fresh and unique. Although the setting was exactly the same as “Journey to the West”, the development was its drastic opposite.
The story began with the four characters of Journey to the West. Only this time, they were traveling eastward, aiming to spread the teachings of Buddhism with the eight volumes of scriptures they had obtained. On their way back, they fought demons and monsters, but soon discovered that their enemies had backers that prevented them from being punished regardless of the crimes they had committed.
Ba Jie and Sha Seng were furious at the unfairness of it all but were powerless. Both of them soon abandoned the quest and returned home.
Only Sun Wukong, with his immovable dedication to upholding justice, persisted in escorting his master to the East. He continued to rid the mortal plane of beasts and demons. However, these beasts escaped from the Celestial court, and the demons came from the Buddhist sanctuary. In doing so, Wukong had angered both parties. Eventually, a pact was signed; the monk San Zang would reach the East safely, but the monkey had to die.
In the end, Wukong fell to a planned ambush and was sealed under a mountain. Meanwhile, Bai Long, the loyal steed of San Zang, fell into an abyss after being grievously injured. San Zang abandoned his disciple and proceeded to the East alone, eventually succeeding in spreading the teachings of Buddha. For his efforts, he received a royal title and enjoyed a long life full of privileges.
Five hundred years went by and Wukong managed to escape from his prison. His wrath brought him to the Celestial Court, and he turned it upside down by himself. In the end, the Court resigned to offer him the title of a sage. However, unbeknownst to him, the Court secretly approached Ba Jie and Sha Seng, and offered them a deal; both would be returned to their former titles and glory, on the condition that they help slay Wukong. Heartbroken by the betrayal of his dear friends, Wukong lost his will to fight. He sought out his old master for a path forward, eventually sealing his own powers and returning his staff into the Eastern Sea, where it became the pillar of the sea and forever ensured that no more disasters would be brought by the waves. Wukong returned to the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit, his birthplace, and lived the rest of his days with the other monkeys and turned into a giant stone when his life came to an end.
This was the “Adventure to the East”, a parody with interesting ideas. However, Li Yiming and Bai Ze realized that there was more to it than just a story; this was a novel full of tales from secret domains and struggles of guardians.
“If this tale is true…” Li Yiming lit another cigarette and stared at the flickering embers at its tip. His thoughts became even more confused.
‘The rumor of Eden has always circulated among guardians, yet no one could tell for sure whether it’s real or not. You’ve been there. You know that it’s more than just a legend.’ Bai Ze said with a very serious tone.
‘What are you trying to say?’
‘There have been rumors of mysterious domains since long ago.’
‘And?’ Li Yiming asked impatiently. He tousled his hair in frustration, trying to clear away the chaos within his mind.
‘It’s related. That other domain was called Mountain of Flowers and Fruit.’
‘You mean…’ Li Yiming’s heart skipped a beat.
‘Eden turned out to be more than fiction. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same was true for this mountain as well then.’
‘If the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit exists, then “Adventure to the East” is…’
‘I finally understand why Mr. Kong asked you to come and protect Fu Bo. If he’s able to produce such a novel, then he must be…’
“I must go and see him now.” Li Yiming turned on his phone to check the date: eleven days had passed since he last saw Fu Bo. He grabbed his jacket and rushed through the front door, not even bothering to make himself presentable. Unfortunately, when Li Yiming arrived at Fu Bo’s apartment, his knocking at the door remained unanswered.
‘It’s two in the morning. Where could he possibly be?’ Li Yiming thought of the worse, but then recalled Fu Bo’s prowess at picking up girls and smiled. It was difficult for him to associate the weak, lonely-looking Fu Bo with the actions of a freedom-loving playboy, despite all of the other mysteries surrounding him. Li Yiming returned to his apartment, took a shower, and decided to postpone his visit to the next day. Right now, he urgently needed to rest: eleven sleepless night had taken its toll.
The next day, Li Yiming went back to Fu Bo’s door, but again, no one answered him. Just as the thought of Fu Bo’s having yet to return from his one-night-stand occurred to him, a deliveryman for a milk company arrived.
“Hi. Are you a friend or a relative of the person living here?” The milkman wore a red cap with the company’s logo embroidered on it.
“I live upstairs. You’re delivering milk here?” Li Yiming was intrigued at learning Fu Bo’s habit of drinking fresh milk.
“Yeah. Hey, I have a question. Did the owner go out of town? The bottles I delivered have all been left untouched. Our company has a refund policy for those that notice us ahead of time. I’m just thinking that it’s a shame to see such an old customer throw away his money,” the milkman answered as he opened the delivery box. He took out a bottle that was still full and put a new one in.
“He hasn’t been taking his milk?” Li Yiming asked, confused by the remark.
“It has been about seven or eight days, I would say? Such a waste. I come back to pick up the milk that has turned bad every single day.” The milkman took out a small notebook and ticked off a box.
“Has this ever happened before?”
“A few times, for a day or two, but I’ve never seen something like that in the years I’ve spent delivering for this address.”
“I’ll call him. Thanks.” Li Yiming bade the milkman farewell and took out his phone. ‘What? He has been missing for over a week already? Where could he be?’
“Sorry, the person you are trying to reach is currently unavailable. Please try again later.” Li Yiming returned home with furrowed brows after a disappointed attempt at reaching Fu Bo. Suddenly, his phone rang. He looked at the screen: a number that he had never seen before.
“Hello? Who is this?” Li Yiming picked up the phone.
“Hello, sir. Am I speaking to Mr. Li?” It was a woman who seemed to be excited.
“Yes. May I know…?” Li Yiming knew that he had heard this voice before, but he could not remember where exactly.
“Oh, it’s so great to finally be able to reach you. You made an order at our store a while ago, but our delivery team was unable to get into contact with you…”
“Oh. I recently went out of town. Sorry about that,” Li Yiming crafted an excuse. ‘They were supposed to deliver the next day, but I left my phone in my bracelet… no signal there, I suppose.’
“Are you free? We can send our team over now.”
“Sure, when will they arrive? I’m going out for breakfast soon.”
“Would nine o’clock be fine?”
“Sure, I’ll wait for them.” Li Yiming checked the time. He had more than enough time to eat breakfast, and it would be quite a waste for something to happen to the furniture he had spent so much money on.
“Ah, by the way, Mr. Li, about Ms. Ji, your neighbor… Did she go out of town with you?”
“Ms. Ji?” Li Yiming asked bemusedly. ‘Are they allowed to ask questions like this?”
“The lady who purchased the sofa set with you that day. I noticed from the delivery ticket that you’re neighbors. We haven’t been able to contact her either.” The saleswoman noticed Li Yiming’s change of tone and quickly explained.
“You can’t reach her?” The revelation caught Li Yiming’s attention.
“Yes. I saw you together that day. Since you’re neighbors, I assumed…”
“She’s not with me. Why don’t you try to contact her again?” Li Yiming answered truthfully. By now, the doubt in Li Yiming’s heart began to grow.
Li Yiming ended the call and went to Ji Xiaoqin’s door. After a moment of hesitation, he rang the doorbell; it was just as the saleswoman said, Ji Xiaoqin was absent.
‘Ji Xiaoqin’s also gone?’
Li Yiming no longer had the appetite for breakfast. He returned to his room and started pondering about the connection between the two events.
Please have a read at the note about Journey to the West vs Adventure to the East for a better understanding of what the heck is going on.
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