Two men sat across from each other in the maple woods of Jingshan Park. The flamboyant autumn leaves fluttered in the quiet night, while Bing Shuai and Li Huaibei looked down at the rosewood Go board between them.
“Last time was ten years ago, wasn’t it?” Bing Shuai asked as he caressed the smooth, round Go stone. Contrary to his seemingly relaxed demeanor, he was growing worried. ‘Why is he so calm? What’s giving him the courage to confront me? Unless…’
“You’re the reason I started playing Go, Mr. Yan.” Li Huaibei picked up the black stone and reminisced. His old captain, Ma Dafang, was from Bing Shuai’s generation. Ma Dafang grew up in the military and was as uncultured as one could be. Once, the two teams met in a domain where the final task was to solve a Go puzzle, and Bing Shuai laughed at the latter’s obvious ineptitude. Ever since, Li Huaibei resolved to improve his skills at Go. Ten years after that incident, the two teams met again, only this time, Li Huaibei won, giving the last laugh to Ma Dafang. Before leaving, Li Huaibei left Bing Shuai with a biting remark — “It’s meaningless to compare one’s strength to another’s weakness”, reminding him that he had no right to ridicule Ma Dafang.
“Old Ma is no longer with us…” Bing Shuai knew what Li Huaibei was getting to. Mockery briefly flashed past his features. He would not hold a grudge over a meaningless game of Go, but he wanted to remind Li Huaibei that his team was no longer alive. He also wanted to provoke a reaction in Li Huaibei, so he can obtain a clue or two about the source of his confidence.
“So, we’re not playing today?” Li Huaibei asked.
“There’s no point in playing today… I know how it’s going to end.” Bing Shuai threw his ivory stones on the board and stared straight into Li Huaibei’s eyes. It was obvious that he was referring to something else than Go.
“It seems that you’re as confident as ever. How about a drink then?” Li Huaibei withdrew the board into his storage ring and brought out a wine jug made of jade. On the clay-sealed opening, there was a piece of red paper: Peach Blossom Brew.
‘This is a brew from Eden!’ Bing Shuai’s eyes widened in surprise.
“No need to be so surprised. This is the last one.” Li Huaibei shook the precious jug, but seemed reluctant to open the seal.
“Are you confident that you’ll be able to stall me?” Bing Shuai knew about Li Huaibei’s intentions the moment the latter spread out his aura. ‘But with Stargaze back at the villa, nobody could even pose a threat. Unless he… But then, how can Li Huaibei be so confident then?’
“Can’t say for sure until I’ve tried.”
“Open it then.”
* * *
Li Yiming sighed inwardly and gently put Ji Xiaoqin down. The barrel of the gun followed him as he slowly stood up. Ying Mei’s mocking smirk was met with a serious and cold expression on Li Yiming’s part.
The next instant, the sound of a fired shot resonated within the room and the two jumped into action. The bullet pierced Li Yiming’s after-image, and the latter appeared behind Ying Mei, striking at her with his palm. As Li Yiming’s hand cut through the air, purple streaks of lightning appeared and Ying Mei was cut in two, from the left shoulder to the right ribs.
Despite his seemingly successful attack, Li Yiming leaped backward swiftly. He knew that he did not cut through flesh. As expected, the two broken shards of Ying Mei darkened and squiggled, eventually fusing to form a shadowy silhouette.
“You… You’re not a representative? Lightning… You! You killed Ye Lang!” Ying Mei’s angry voice rang out from within the shadows. ‘If I hadn’t used my talent…!’
Li Yiming stayed silent, instead, looking at the end of the corridor.
“Good! It’s been so long since I’ve fought a guardian in the real world.” A man built like a bear with a deep, gruff voice appeared at the other end of the corridor.
“Don’t underestimate him. He defeated Ye Lang, he must have at least a few tricks up his sleeves.” Another voice came from the stairs. It was Guo Tai’s personal assistant, Man Dao, who descended from the third floor with a wide blade in his hands.
‘I have to fight them head on!” Li Yiming’s fighting will burned. ‘I’m taking Ji Xiaoqin and Fu Bo back with me today! I don’t think Li Huaibei can stall Bing Shuai for much longer, so I need to take care of them quickly.’
Ying Mei’s shadowy silhouette blurred and vanished. The muscular man at the end of the corridor charged towards Li Yiming like an unstoppable tank, while Man Dao leaped deftly from the steps of the stairs and cleaved at Li Yiming.
Li Yiming observed his foes carefully and locked-on onto Man Dao. But, to his surprise, his infallible Thunderflash did not bring him to where he wanted.
Li Yiming looked down and saw a pair of pitch-black hands holding his feet to his own shadow. ‘She…!’
Li Yiming hurriedly gathered lightning in his hands and caught Man Dao’s blade in between his palms. However, before he could catch his breath, the man who looked like a mountain charged in. With both his hands and feet occupied, Li Yiming could not defend himself from the oncoming attack. The blow sent him flying through the walls of the mansion.
‘They have incredible synergy. This is going to be difficult.’ Despite the sharp pain, Li Yiming activated Thunderflash mid-air and teleported to the courtyard below. A split second later, the shadow of a sword flashed past where he was flying to.
“Fast. As expected of someone who killed Ye Lang…” A hoarse voice rasped out from the osmanthus shrub in the courtyard. A man flicked his sword as he leaped down.
“This brat is strong.” With a deafening crash, the man who punched Li Yiming tore through the wall and jumped to the main entrance. Man Dao followed, but landed behind Li Yiming.
“No wonder you were able to mislead Bing Shuai. You’re skilled indeed.” Ying Mei’s voice echoed in the darkness, but she was nowhere to be seen.
“No matter how skilled he is, he’s not a sage. That caps him at level three. If he really has the guts to use power beyond that, I wouldn’t mind having a first-row seat when Heaven’s punishment rains down on him.” The man with the sword positioned himself to cut Li Yiming retreat path.
Li Yiming furrowed his brows as his gaze shifted to a window at the corner of the first floor. ‘Four here and two more upstairs.’
‘It seems like they’re at most level three, but there’s six of them… The guy with the sword is right, you can only use so much power, and I can’t help you…’ Bai Ze’s worried voice rang out. Her suggestion was clear; Li Yiming should flee and come back later.
However, Li Yiming was too excited to heed Bai Ze’s advice. He clenched both fists, and streaks of lightning coursed through his body. His hunger for battle grew, and even the numbness on his left rib cage gave him a strange feeling of satisfaction.
* * *
Stargaze slowly opened the door to the basement. She saw a frail young man frantically pacing around the room. Upon noticing her presence, the young man raced up to her.
“What have you guys done to Tian Tian?”
“Tian Tian? You mean, the blind child?”
“Yeah. What have you done to her?” Fu Bo shouted with a panicked look on his face. Ever since he had been brought back here, he had not seen a living soul, Tian Yan included.
“She’s fine. I just saw her upstairs.” Stargaze scrutinized Fu Bo. ‘Completely normal. There isn’t a single trace of the influence of guardians on him at all.’
“Really? You guys… You guys didn’t do anything to..” The doubt was apparent in his eyes as he asked hesitantly. To his understanding, Tian Yan should have been punished severely for helping him escape.
“That girl has unique talents. She’s an important asset to them. They won’t harm her,” Stargaze explained with a gentle smile.
“Ah. I’m not with them. I came to visit you. Can we have a chat?” Stargaze pointed at the sofa.
“You came to visit me?” Fu Bo walked towards the sofa and sat down. It was strangely hard to resist Stargaze’s invitation.
As Fu Bo turned around, Stargaze shut her eyes and concentrated on her own thoughts: she could feel the image of Fu Bo slowly disappearing inside her mind. When she opened her eyes, she looked at Fu Bo with utter shock. ‘This is… From Another Life?’
Fu Bo’s thoughts raced as he sat down, trying to piece together what Stargaze just said. ‘Tian Tian is important? What does that mean? Is she their sacred maiden or the daughter of the head of the cult?’ A million thoughts flooded his mind.
Stargaze sat down beside Fu Bo and quietly observed him.
“She… Is she really ok?” Fu Bo asked again.
“You really care about her, don’t you? Who is she to you?” Stargaze asked nonchalantly while keeping eye contact with Fu Bo.
“I only have two friends in my life, and she’s one of them.” Fu Bo’s condition has led him to no longer be wary around strangers. He believed that no matter what he says, they would forget about it the very next day.
“You only have two friends?” Stargaze went with the flow of the conversation, but she retained every bit of information Fu Bo revealed. ‘How can he have friends when he has that permanent technique? Can he control its effects? Or do those two people have some sort of resistance? Besides, two people… What about the rest of his organization? According to Bing Shuai, this kid should be from the same guardian team as Li Yiming… But, with a technique like this, how?’
Fu Bo nodded his head dejectedly but continued speaking. Stargaze’s silent and gentle demeanor made her a natural listener.
“Your other friend… Li Yiming?” Stargaze suddenly asked.
“You know him?” Fu Bo was now the one who was surprised.
“Yeah,” Stargaze nodded with a smile, “He’s outside right now.”
“What? He’s outside now? Here?” Fu Bo leaped up.
“He’s been here for a while. It seems like he’s here to save someone, but he’s trapped.” Stargaze observed Fu Bo closely, trying to spot any kind of subliminal change.
Fu Bo felt touched upon hearing that Li Yiming was risking his life for him. However, guilt consumed him the next second. ‘It’s because of me… I dragged him into this mess.’ Fu Bo quickly snapped out of his guilt, glanced at Stargaze and then at the handprint scanner by the steel door.
“Surely you’re not thinking about using me as a hostage. right?” Stargaze laughed lightly, masking her confusion. ‘ Li Yiming…’
Fu Bo’s eyes darted back and forth between Stargaze and the door. Finally, he heaved a huge sigh and sat down helplessly. ‘Even now, I don’t have the courage…’
“What do you want from me?”
“Nothing. I’m just here to see you.” Stargaze’s gaze remained as soft as water, and her peaceful demeanor remained unaffected.
“What is there to see? I’m just a poor web novelist down on his luck.” Fu Bo replied, self-deprecation apparent in his tone.
“Oh? You write stories online?” Stargaze’s heart skipped a beat; she knew that she just discovered something important.
Fu Bo looked to the side. He was not very interested in the topic when both of his friends were in danger, especially when he was the cause of it.
“Since you can’t go outside, why don’t we talk about your book?” Despite Fu Bo’s apparent disinterest, Stargaze pressed on.
“It’s called “Adventure to the East.” Go look it up online,” Fu Bo answered half-heartedly. He flopped down on the sofa and closed his eyes.
Stargaze took out her smartphone. She found the book with a quick search. After just a few chapters, she was dumbfounded by the content. ‘His… his true identity is…’
Ying Mei = Shikamaru ? 0.0. Oh well her name means “shadowly spectre” I guess…
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