“Chen Quan, did you find something?” Lin Lu caught Chen Quan’s derision for You Fang. She found Chen Quan to be more trustworthy than You Fang, who seemed to always be talking about stars and other mysticalities. ‘A single mistake as a gravedigger and one can lose their life. If Chen Quan has survived long enough to make such a ruckus in the country, then he must at least be competent.’
“Can’t tell if it’s a finding or not, but there doesn’t seem to be anything abnormal here.” Chen Quan put his compass back into his pocket and picked up the short shovel he had on his back.
“Nothing?” You Fang frowned. “There’s not a single thing alive here. And the Heavenly Branches…”
“Stop it. I’m not interested in hearing your stories about the stars. You can keep on looking at the stars. I’ll just dig my hole.” Chen Quan interrupted him and started to dig with his shovel.
Lin Lu stayed silent but walked toward Chen Quan. Her actions spoke for themselves; she was not a big fan of You Fang’s convoluted explanations neither.
Chen Quan dug for a while and searched around in the dirt, He even took a handful and put a bit in his mouth.
“Not only are there no bugs above the ground, but there are none in it either. There’s plenty of oxygen in the earth through, and there’s nothing poisonous that would make this place uninhabitable, at least if I look at the plants.” Chen Quan paused and looked at You Fang.
“Well, according to Fengshui, this place is quite prosperous, actually. Look at the mountains and the rivers here…” 1
“Well, would you care to explain what’s going on here then?” You Fang was irritated at being insulted publicly. He had noticed the Fengshui elements Chen Quan spoke about, but he could not connect that finding with the absence of life, so he hoped to intimidate Lin Lu into calling the excursion off, but he did not expect Chen Quan to be somewhat knowledgeable in the subject as well and call out his bluff.
“That’s not the goal of our trip here,” Lin Lu answered coldly and walked to the side.
“Maybe one extreme turns into another one?” Eyeglasses whispered to Li Yiming.
“That’s not what I meant…” Li Yiming shook his head and gazed at the sky once more.
“The sun…” Liu Meng stared at the sun, which projected down its glaring rays even through the shadows of the leaves.
“The sun? The sun!” Eyeglasses finally understood the message. He raised his arm and stared at the multi-function watch around his wrist.
Eyeglasses’ cry was a wake-up call to the entire party; they had left Xianyun Abbey at noon. After six hours of hiking, it should have been around dusk already, especially in the mountains. However, the sun still hung right in the middle of the sky and cast down a baking heat. Due to the distraction caused by the absence of life, they somehow managed to ignore the biggest abnormality.
“The clock isn’t ticking. It’s stopped at 4:11.” Eyeglasses shook his arm and walked toward the spider bot.
“Mine has also stopped…” Lin Lu looked at her watch.
“The time on my cell phone stopped. There’s no signal either.” Liu Meng looked at her cellphone.
“It’s no use. I’ve tried earlier. There’s some kind of magnetic field here I suppose. Even my compass has stopped working.” Chen Quan instead glanced at Li Yiming, interested by the latter had to add reaction.
“All of our equipment has stopped working. GPS, compass, timer… Well, I suppose that it would make sense for animals and insects to avoid this area if such a strong field was present.” Eyeglasses tried his luck with the equipment he had brought.
“What about those?” Li Yiming pointed at the spider bots right by Eyeglasses.
“These robots are equipped with anti-jammers, but if it’s a field this strong…” Lin Lu said with a severe countenance. ‘There’s no reason why these robots should be spared, and yet…’
“Give me the remote.” Eyeglasses took the remote controller for the robots from Shen Jianming and tried the different commands. The robots moved, stopped, turned around, and even jumped in place without a problem.
“Do you know what’s happening here?” Liu Meng looked at Li Yiming.
Li Yiming shook his head and looked at the sky once more. He had his guesses, but he hesitated to say it in front of the rest of the squad. ‘The robots are working normally, but the communication equipment were made useless. No… this isn’t just an electromagnetic field. Time itself has stopped here.’
Li Yiming also had a watch, and it was a mechanical one.
“Zhang Shanjun, go find water and a place to set up camp. We must stop for the night.” Lin Lu knew that without a way to check their own position, they would simply end up being lost in the forest. ‘Is this what happened to the previous teams?’
Night had fallen by the time the party arrived at the campsite. There was no dusk, no gradual setting of the sun. Rather, the sun had simply vanished, as if someone had turned a switch off, and the entire mountain was plunged into complete darkness. It arrived so suddenly that if Li Yiming had not wrapped his arm around Liu Meng’s shoulder, she would have had to use her fire for light.
“Turn on the lights!” Lin Lu shouted. She opened the flashlight on her M4 and directed its ray of light around.
A few other rays of light were seen, and Shen Jianming threw a few flares onto the ground around the camp. The green light, along with thick smoke, slowly surrounded the area.
“Everything’s normal here!”
“Everything’s normal here!”
Lin Lu’s two subordinates remained crouched and reported to their captain. Li Yiming, along with Liu Meng, extended their senses to their surroundings, but the one who was the fastest to adapt was Eyeglasses, who could see very well in the darkness due to vampiric mutation.
As for Chen Quan, he lit up a candle, which came to a surprise. You Fang let out a shriek and crouched down right next to the spider bot, aiming to seek some psychological comfort from modern technology.
“Everything’s normal…” Li Yiming added. He could say that with confidence mainly due to being able to rely on Bai Ze.
“We’ll stick to our plan then. Zhan Shanjun, you take care of guarding duties. Shen Jianming, help set up camp with the rest of the team. Li Yiming, you and I are going to get water.” Lin Lu remained calm despite the supernatural events and showed why she was an ace in the military.
“Stay with Eyeglasses, okay?” Li Yiming said to Liu Meng as he picked up the water bottles and walked toward Lin Lu.
The camp had been set in a small valley, and right next to it was a small stream. After directing her flashlight at the riverbed, Lin Lu took out two light sticks and threw them into the stream. They revealed a portion of the stream which was devoid of any kind of fish or shrimp.
“You fill the bottles.” Lin Lu ordered in a cold tone while keeping guard.
Li Yiming knelt down without saying a word. It did not take long before he finished filling all of the water bottles.
“Wait.” Lin Lu took out a metallic tube and inserted it into one of the containers.
“Nothing wrong with the water.” Instead of stopping at one bottle, Lin Lu actually took the trouble to test every single one of them. It seemed like even she was on edge due to the abnormal circumstances.
“You’ve noticed something, didn’t you?” Lin Lu put away the metallic probe and sent an intense stare into Li Yiming’s eyes.
“Why are you saying that?” Li Yiming met Lin Lu’s stare calmly and asked in a surprised tone.
“My instincts are telling me that.”
“My instincts tell me that your instincts are wrong…” Li Yiming shrugged his shoulders and walked toward the camp. ‘This woman… she shouldn’t be taken lightly.’
When Li Yiming and Lin Lu arrived back at camp, they found a campfire already set-up, along with a foldable pan above it. Shen Jianming was trying to start the fire, but it seemed like the wood’s humidity prevented it from burning continuously. Liu Meng seemed eager to help with her own “means” and took more interest in making sure that this “field trip” was a success rather than worrying about the dangers around them. After all, this could not be more dangerous than a Secret Domain.
“Use this instead.” Chen Quan unpacked a parcel of waxed paper from his backpack and added some of the black powder from it onto the mossy firewood.
The black powder burned intensely as soon as it was set ablaze, and soon a healthily burning campfire was produced.
“What is this?” Liu Meng asked curiously.
“It’s a secret passed down by my teacher. You’ll forgive me for not answering your question.” Chen Quan said rather courteously; it seemed like Liu Meng’s demonstration of force back in the training facility has had its effect.
When the campfire was finally set alit, it brought light and a sense of security to the entire team. You Fang let out a sigh of relief and sat down right next to the fire with his wizened shirt.
‘Wait, this light… it’s not just the fire.’ Li Yiming turned his head toward the sky. Suddenly, the moon and a sea of stars appeared in the tenebrous canvas above their heads. The light of the stars connected and formed an ethereal belt of light, splitting the sky into two halves.
1. Fengshui is the controversial traditional Chinese art of “fortune of houses”. Some say it’s a pseudoscience, while others claim it’s not a science at all. But there are people who are making a living off of it.
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