Chapter 23 – Analysis
“What do you think?” Bing Shuai switched off the monitor and turned toward Ying Mei.
“It’s a warning. A deliberate show of strength to warn us to back off.” Ying Mei shut her eyes and recalled the brief encounter.
“I agree. I didn’t expect this much patience… We’ve underestimated him. He put up a perfect show. To be able to hide his motives so well… Looks like we have to reconsider our approach.” Bing Shuai offered his own analysis with furrowed brows and an apparent worry.
“Perhaps the problem lies with Guo Tai. He was outmatched. He would’ve failed us if not for Man Dao.” Ying Mei was irritated by Guo Tai’s incompetence.
“It is his first encounter with a guardian. Understandable. We gave him too much pressure. It’s not his fault.” Bing Shuai defended Guo Tai.
“So, what next?”
“Hard to say… We’re on our back foot. Our enemies hide in the shadows while we lay exposed. We must find a way to regain the initiative. Did you catch Li Yiming’s parting phrase?”
“You mean when he said that he was not in a hurry?”
“Yes. That was a reminder.” Bing Shuai closed his eyes and leaned back slightly in his seat. ‘Ji Xiaoqin is one test subject. She’s replaceable if they have mastered the production method. On the other hand, my losses are …’
“Perhaps Li Yiming is their weakness?” Ying Mei hesitated; Li Yiming was prudent and intelligent, and therefore not an easy target.
“Both of them are replaceable. It would be a nuisance for them at best, but our trump card…” Bing Shuai’s looked downward.
* * *
Li Yiming began his analysis of his meeting with Guo Tai during his ride home on a rented bicycle. ‘That assistant is a guardian, I’m sure. The calluses on his hand and his aura… he’s no ordinary secretary. Come to think of it, why would the director of a company worth millions welcome me warmly?’ Li Yiming was expecting to have the door shut in on his face. It was surprising that Guo Tai agreed to meet him, and even more so that he welcome him warmly.
‘He seemed surprised when I asked about Guo Tai, but why? What else would I possibly ask about?’
‘The guardian… Guo Tai… Guo Xiang… Ji Xiaoqin… Fu Bo…’
Li Yiming parked the bicycle at the roadside and sat on the pavement. He listed out the key names in his mind, but failed find the connection between them. Everything remained shrouded in mystery, but he was at least sure of one thing — The Guo Family was behind the disappearance of Ji Xiaoqin. ‘But what about Fu Bo?’
* * *
“You lived like that for the last few years?” Tian Yan was shocked. She could hardly imagine a life completely detached from society, with nothing but loneliness as one’s companion. She had lost her sight, but at least she had everything else she needed: bodyguards, maids, uncle Bing, sister Ying…
“What else can I do? Besides, life’s not that bad. Being forgotten by everyone is rather liberating.” Fu Bo shrugged his shoulders. This was the second time he retold his life story, and it brought him some relief.
“Is it true that everyone forgets about you the next day?” Tian Yan was still fascinated by what she heard, despite being a guardian.
“Not everyone… Just recently, I met someone who could remember. And now, you…” Fu Bo suddenly paused and stared at Tian Yan with a dazed smile. His thoughts began to wander. ‘Lady Luck is smiling upon me. First, my friendship with Li Yiming, and now, a chance at true love…’
Although Tian Yan could not see Fu Bo’s passionate gaze, she shivered at its intensity. She looked down and played around with her hair to hide her embarrassment. For a brief moment, the basement lapsed into a silence in which love and warmth reverberated quietly.
“Miss Tian?” A middle-aged woman suddenly came down to the basement.
Tian Yan leaped up from her seat like a startled rabbit. Fu Bo himself blushed like someone who had never experienced romance.
“So this is where you have been? Miss Ying is looking for you.” The woman looked at Fu Bo and seemed confused by the presence of a stranger in the basement. The woman’s name was Xue Mei, and she was simultaneously Tian Yan’s bodyguard and caretaker ever since Tian Yan’s childhood.
“Oh. I will go immediately.” Tian Yan wrung her hands like a child who had made a mistake. She promptly left with Xue Mei’s help, not even bothering to bid farewell to Fu Bo. Before walking out of the room, Xue Mei glanced one last time at Fu Bo.
“Who is he?” Xue Mei asked.
“I’m not sure… I passed by and saw him there, so I chatted with him for a bit.” Tian Yan’s heart pounded. The story Fu Bo told her gave her the courage to lie.
“Could he be the new test subject?’ It never occurred to Xue Mei that the little girl who been nothing but innocent and honest had learned to deceive.
“New test subject?” Tian Yan came to a sudden stop.
“Yes. Did they not tell you? Miss Ying wanted to test the effects of reversing the ritual formation. Bing Shuai has already given his approval.” Xue Mei continued to guide Tian Yan forward, not noticing the latter’s sudden halt.
‘They’re going to reverse the ritual on him? But if his karma is extracted, then he’ll…’ Tian Yan knew very well what the consequences would be for Fu Bo if such an experiment was to take place, since she was the once who came up with the idea in the first place. ‘But… it would make sense. The slow progress on Guo Xiang calls for special measures…’
Tian Yan began to fear her work for the first time in her life.
* * *
Li Yiming looked at the meat juice that gushed out of his bun after one bite. He watched as the steaming liquid cooled down in his bowl and grew more and more agitated. ‘It’s been a day already, and still nothing. I thought that things would go smoothly after reaching level five. Who would have thought that the first challenge would be this difficult already?’
Li Yiming wolfed down the last bit of his breakfast in frustration and reached out for his drink. His phone rang. ‘A new number? Who could it be?’
“Li Yiming? I need your help.”
“Fu Bo? Where are you?” Li Yiming threw his chopsticks down and grasped his phone.
“I’m at the Starbucks in the Five-O Shopping Mall. I’m calling with a borrowed phone. I need your help.” Fu Bo spoke with a low voice, but it sounded like he was on the verge of panicking.
“Don’t hang up. I’ll be there in five minutes.” Li Yiming slapped a bill onto the table and sprinted out of the restaurant. ‘Three blocks away… five minutes will be more than enough.’
Fu Bo returned the cell phone to its owner, who was starting to regret his generosity. He settled into a corner and waited nervously. Li Yiming did not disappoint his friend; he arrived within four minutes. The first thing he did when he approached Fu Bo was to drink down the cup of hot water on the table, much to the surprise of every other person in the shop.
“Thank you.” Fu Bo was touched when he saw the beads of sweat on Li Yiming’s forehead. This was kind of friendship he had not experienced for a long while.
“It’s nothing. What’s going on?” Li Yiming steadied his breath and stuck out his slightly burned tongue.
“Someone kidnapped me.” Fu Bo looked around and hushed an answer.
Li Yiming nodded and waited for the rest of the tale.
Fu Bo was shocked to see Li Yiming’s lack of surprise. He did not know that Li Yiming had already spent an entire day looking for him.
“Then… Then, I…” Fu Bo knew that it was not the time for stories. He needed Li Yiming’s help right away.
* * *
“The target has appeared. No other suspicious figures in the vicinity.” A cashier at the counter, who was handing coffee to a customer, said in a low voice.
“The street is clear.” In a journal stand across the street, an old man closed the magazine in his hands and sipped his tea.
“The roof’s clear.” This came from a repairman who was busy working on an air conditioning unit at the top of the skyscraper.
“The subway’s clear.” On the underground level, a couple was kissing in public.
“The kitchen’s clear.” A chef put a pastry onto a plate and wiped his hands.
“The back entrance is clear.” A street cleaner emptied the trash bins at the back of coffee shop.
Ying Mei furrowed her brows. ‘Did he really come alone?’
“Continue monitoring. Proceed as planned.” Ying Mei stared at the surveillance feed with anxiety and fidgeted around with her pen.
* * *
“We lost him.” Inside the shop where Li Yiming had his breakfast, a slim man looked around frantically, as if he was looking for his lost child.
“You lost him?” The voice came from a miniature transmitter inside the man’s ear. The phone was simply there to avoid suspicions.
“The kid received a call and took off like a madman.” The man replied.
“Took off?” The woman on the other end was baffled.
“That was probably a hundred kilometer per hour. Level three stamina definitely. Isn’t he worried about the speed limit?” The man complained. He could also reach that speed, but not in such a busy place, and not without arousing Li Yiming’s attention.
“I’ll contact the others. Don’t expose yourself.” The woman picked up her tablet started monitoring a real-time GPS feed instead of blaming the man for his mistake.
“Wait a second. I think the other group of people know. They wouldn’t be so calm otherwise. Let me go have a look.” The man hung up the phone and followed after someone who was dressed-up like a high-schooler.
This is some AAA spy movie level stuff