The team continued down the steep path until reaching the ninth lantern. As always, everything seemed quiet, and there was nothing out of the ordinary with the stone structure, only that the road was suddenly cut short by a lake. Its azure surface sat perfectly still, producing such a perfect reflection of the stars in the sky that Li Yiming could have thought them to have fallen to the ground.
“There’s nothing about this lake on the maps.” Eyeglasses looked at his tablet.
“Look!” Liu Meng suddenly pointed at the other end of the lake.
The lake that laid in front of them was crescent-shaped and wrapped around the small stream that Li Yiming and his teammates had followed, making them barely a hundred meters away from the opposite shore. The tenth lantern which Liu Meng pointed at could be clearly seen standing across from this very lake.
“Are we going around this?” Liu Lin gazed at the lake. There was something discomfiting about the perfect stillness of the water.
“The fog…” Chen Quan suddenly squinted. A pale, white mist was climbing up the shores.
Li Yiming picked up a small pebble and threw it into the lake.
The canvas on which the stars were painted was broken for a short moment. Li Yiming extended his senses into the water. ‘Nothing… No shrimps, no crabs, no fish…’
“We’re going into the lake,” Li Yiming said with determination. The shape of the lake made it impossible to estimate how long it would take to take a detour around it, and the fog gave them little time to think.
“Are you sure?” Shen Jianming looked at the misty film that was growing thicker by the second.
“We won’t be able to go across once the fog settles in.” Chen Quan was quick to decide. He made sure that his bag was tightly sealed and put his dagger between his teeth.
Chen Quan dove into the lake with a loud splash, and his head quickly resurfaced shortly after. Despite the weight of his bag, he swam forward speedily, not even bothering to look back once.
“Let’s go.” Eyeglasses glanced at Li Yiming and jumped ahead.
“Stay close to me.” Li Yiming held Liu Meng’s hand as they both leaped into the water.
Lin Lu looked back at Shen Jianmin, put the M4 on his back and followed suit.
The team of six swam steadily toward the opposite shore. One could have believed this to be a relaxing journey if they ignored the bone-chilling events that happened beforehand, with the beautiful landscape around the lake and the sea of light illuminating the sky. However, every single person had their full attention ready for any kind of unexpected danger. As for Li Yiming, he spent most of his time staring at Liu Meng. After a quick glance ahead of, he noticed that the shore was hardly visible anymore.
“We have to hurry,” Li Yiming urged.
“Wait!” Chen Quan, who led the way, suddenly stopped and looked around in bafflement.
“The water’s moving!” Eyeglasses shouted.
Just as Eyeglasses finished his sentence, the water below suddenly began to form into a whirlpool.
“We have to get out!” Li Yiming shouted, but the vortex had already grown too much in size and was swallowing up the entire lake.
‘I guess I can’t hide it anymore.’ Frustrated, Li Yiming finally decided to use Thunderflash to save himself and the rest of the team.
“What?” Li Yiming’s eyes widened.
“Liu Meng!” Li Yiming panicked and instinctively extended his hand toward Liu Meng. He felt more reassured when their fingers locked together, but this comfort was short-lived. The vortex quickly dragged them down, and they were already more than a hundred meters apart from Chen Quan, who was still floating at the edge of the whirlpool.
‘How deep is this lake?’
This was Li Yiming’s last thoughts before he was pulled to the bottom.
Instead of being pulled from all directions, as Li Yiming had expected, the flow of water actually carried them to the center of the lake. He could barely see the surroundings; the water not only blocked the light, but it also prevented him from extending his senses. Fortunately, both Li Yiming and Liu Meng were a long way from suffocating, owing to their superior stamina. Before long, the currents finally settled down, and Li Yiming knew right away that it was the right time to make for the surface.
“Ugh…” Li Yiming gasped for air as his head made it out of the water, and he quickly pulled Liu Meng up, who was also gasping for air, her wet hair covering her entire face.
Li Yiming was relieved as seeing Liu Meng unharmed, and he finally had the attention to spare for what was happening around him. ‘The same forest, the same lanterns… are we still in the same lake?’ Li Yiming hurriedly pulled Liu Meng toward the shore.
“Where are the others?” Once at the shore, Liu Meng brushed her hair to the side and turned back to look at the water.
“I think they’re still in there.” Li Yiming looked at the lake. He suddenly vanished with a flash of purple light and appeared on the other side of Liu Meng.
‘It’s back…’ The fact that he could use Thunderflash brought his confidence back, since it was his go-to technique.
“Look!” Liu Meng could see someone emerge from the water near the middle of the lake.
Li Yiming appeared right above the later the next moment and picked up the unconscious body from the lake. He tossed it toward the shore and appeared there the next instant to catch it. He could teleport himself with Thunderflash, but not carry a person with him as he did.
“It’s Lin Lu! How is she?” Lin Lu recognized the person Li Yiming had just rescued.
‘It’s okay. She’s breathed some water, but we should be able to pull her back.” Li Yiming said after putting his hand on Lin Lu’s neck.
“Let me do it!” Liu Meng suddenly exclaimed. She grabbed Lin Lu’s shoulders from Li Yiming and started to tap gently on her back.
“What do I do now…?” After seeing that Lin Lu was still unconscious, despite spitting out some water, Liu Meng looked at Li Yiming with a guilty conscience.
“You mean you don’t know?” Li Yiming thought Liu Meng knew what she was doing based on how fast she reacted.
“I’ve seen it on television… ventilation…?” Liu Meng bit her lips, her cheeks burning. She was nervous and… a little jealous.
“Well, I don’t know…” Li Yiming was also at a loss for what to do.
Liu Meng put Lin Lu down on the floor. “I know that you have to push on her chest and blow air into her mouth… I think that you also need to do it at the same time.”
“Alright, so I’ll apply pressure here, and you blow the air.” Li Yiming rolled up his sleeves. He was reluctant to give mouth-to-mouth since he had been spending three days in the wilderness without brushing his teeth.
“No no no, I’ll handle the chest. You blow the air.” Liu Meng intervened right as Li Yiming reached out for Lin Lu.
“Huh? Okay…” Li Yiming was starting to understand Liu Meng’s intentions.
Li Yiming lifted Lin Lu’s chin up and made ready to carry out the maneuver. She had droplets of water hanging from her long eyelashes, and her tanned skin seemed spotless under the moonlight. This was the first time Li Yiming observed her this closely, since his attention had been wholly focused on Liu Meng before. ‘Wow… I didn’t think she was this pretty. If she wore something more fashionable instead of a combat outfit, she would look stunning. I should be glad right now, but Liu Meng… Oh well, her life is what matters the most.’
“Wait… how about… you push and I’ll do the breathing…” Liu Meng suddenly stopped Li Yiming as he lowered his head.
“Oh…” Li Yiming almost threw Lin Lu’s head away upon hearing Liu Meng’s call.
“Cough… cough…” Lin Lu began to cough violently and suddenly opened her eyes. Li Yiming and Liu Meng let out a sigh of relief; Lin Lu was a little different from an ordinary person after all, and anyone less rigorously trained could have died already as Li Yiming and Liu Meng wasted their time.
* * *
Eyeglasses dragged Chen Quan by his belt as he made his way out of the water. He looked around until his eyes were fixated on the night sky. ‘The same lake, the same mountain… where are we?’
“I… owe you my life.” Chen Quan suddenly woke up and said with difficulty.
“You could help me out by getting up yourself. I have a really bad feeling about this lake.” Eyeglasses looked at Chen Quan and dropped him down.
“Where are the others?” Chen Quan did not seem to mind the rough treatment at all and even sipped some water to rinse his mouth.
“Don’t know. Seems like we’re split.” Eyeglasses took out his computer and started working. He was not worried about Li Yiming and Liu Meng, since they would have undoubtedly survived if he did. As for the others, he simply did not care.
“That’s a sturdy computer you’ve got right here.” Chen Quan sat down right next to Eyeglasses, still shaking a little.
Eyeglasses ignored Chen Quan’s remark — he had put the computer away into his storage ring before he jumped into the lake. Rather, he focused on the question at hand. ‘Is this really a domain…? I wonder.’
“Look…” Chen Quan pointed at the bottom-right corner of the screen.
‘Four twenty-three… it moved?’ Eyeglasses was concerned by what he was seeing.
The number suddenly jumped to twenty-four.
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