Chapter 23 – Who Am I?
“The four beasts hiding the sky?” Eyeglasses had never heard of something of the sort before.
“Yes. The messenger had originally intended to use the Azure Dragon, the Vermilion Bird, the White Tiger, and the Black Tortoise at first, but, you know, it’s quite hard to find those divine creatures, so he settled for the Black Snake, the Thunder Eagle, the Black Turtle and Bai Ze. 1
‘Well, the elements certainly match…’ Eyeglasses pondered. ‘A snake for the Azure Dragon, an eagle for the Vermilion Bird, a turtle for the Black Tortoise and Bai Ze for the White Tiger…’
“What are the effects of that formation then?” Sai Gao asked.
“To protect our city and ensure its fortune, of course,” You Fang explained, surprised at the question’s even being asked.
‘The fortune of the city?’ Li Yiming exchanged a glance with Eyeglasses. ‘Doesn’t seem like we’re getting the whole picture here…’
“What about that golden wok right outside of the Eastern Gate?” Sai Gao pressed on.
“Oh, that golden wok? Well… rumor has it that…” You Fang was still savoring the pleasure of being able to tell his “tales”, in spite of Eyeglasses’ interruption, and Sai Gao’s question added fuel to his fiery enthusiasm.
As a result, Li Yiming and his friends had to endure another thirty minutes of irrelevant mystic tales and legends.
“That wok is a divine instrument, I’m telling you.” You Fang finally stopped, content with his speech.
“Why do you say so?” Eyeglasses realized that nothing that just came out You Fang’s mouth was pertinent.
“Well, I don’t know. There’s nothing on the books about that, but that’s what I’ve heard. When you think about, doesn’t it make sense? After all, it takes something to be held to the same level as the four guardians of the city.” You Fang picked up his ruler, tapped the table with it, and concluded his lecture.
“That’s it? Nothing more?” After a solid five minutes of silence, Sai Gao finally could not bear it anymore and tried pushing You Fang once more.
“That’s it for the protective formation and the legendary wok. If you want to hear more, I’ve got…”
“Haha, I… I think that we’ll pass for today. Thank you for your lesson, sir, it was truly enlightening. We will make sure to come to you again for any other questions. It’s getting late today, unfortunately, and we need to leave.” Li Yiming saw that You Fang was about to go for another round of nonsense and jumped on the opportunity to drag Sai Gao and Eyeglasses out of the classroom.
“So… what was that all about? Anything ring a bell?” Eyeglasses glanced at You Fang and whispered to Li Yiming.
“We need to leave.” Li Yiming turned his back toward the classroom, still slightly traumatized from the experience, and fastened his pace.
* * *
Liu Meng led Lin Lu back to the house where they had found Han Tianyi. The two climbed up a tree nearby and remained perched on one of the main branches, under the cover of the darkness.
“Two pretty girls? They came in while you were taking a bath, hit you and then took your clothes?”
Liu Meng and Lin Lu found Han Tianyi in the yard, his hands covering his face and with several other men around him. One of them, who had a goatee, was visibly doubting the story he had just heard.
“Yes. I’m not sure what’s going on right now.” Han Tianyi rubbed his cheek, which was still somewhat numb; Lin Lu did not hold back at all.
“I think you’re going crazy from not having a girlfriend.” Another man scooped a spoonful of water from the well and poured it down his throat.
“Why would I lie to you about this? Look at my face.” Han Tianyi moved his hands away from his swollen cheeks.
“It does seem quite strange, though. Why would there be girls that would climb over our wall…” The man with the goatee seemed more concerned by the mysterious visitors rather than Han Tianyi’s injury.
“Hey, Lao Yu, could it be that one of these girls have fallen in love with Tianyi, and…” One of the men asked with a lewd stare.
“You know what, that might be possible. Do you know about Guo Que on the Southern Street? Well, he ‘lost’ his ox recently, and it took him three days to find it. Guess what? It turns out that the owner of the tea shop’s daughter hid his ox so that she could have a chance to look at him while he searched for it.” Lao Yu touched his beard with a smile.
“Oh really?” The man who asked the question had his interested piqued.
“Well, the two families are talking about marriage right now.”
“Really? Wow, lucky him. I know her. She’s beautiful.”
“You know about the Xu sisters to the north of the city? Well they’ve also brought a man home. I saw him the other day, a pretty muscular man. He was pushing the wooden cart as well as a donkey.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the daughter from the medicine shop. Maybe she’s waiting for you to go buy something?” Lao Yu laughed and tapped Han Tianyi’s cheeks.
Liu Meng and Lin Lu exchanged a glance from where they were perched. ‘Are you serious? Are these people… stupid?’
“Yu Guoneng, Wu Xiaoleng, Ye Qiucheng, Su Chang’an, Zhang Xin, Huai Xiangshan, Chen Qincheng… these people are all from the Second Scouting Division…” Lin Lu said in a low voice.
“They’re all from the scouting team?” Liu Meng frowned. “But they seem so… “ Liu Meng was having a hard time believing that the men below were elite soldiers who had spent years training for combat. ‘They look like ordinary farmers! If you told me that they were top class spies, I’d believe it, given the acting and all, but really? Also, how can you possibly reach that kind of conclusion about Han Tianyi?’
“I think it’s because…”
“Who’s there? Come down!” Although Liu Meng and Lin Lu lowered their voices, Wu Xiaoleng, who had been a scout for his squad, still caught onto their voices with sheer reflexes.
“We can just go down. It doesn’t matter.” Liu Meng shrugged her shoulders and said calmly. By now, she had learned to keep her composure, regardless of what happened in the domain.
Liu Meng jumped down into the courtyard, and Lin Lu followed.
“Oh, it’s them…” Han Tianyi took a step back with a shy, yet happy expression.
“Oh?” The men’s eyes lit up when they saw Lin Lu and Liu Meng, and some were already beginning to feel jealous of Han Tianyi’s “good luck”.
“May I ask if your parents own a medicine shop?” Lao Yu said with a smile, visibly satisfied by Lin Lu.
Lin Lu answered with a cough, astounded by the naivety of Lao Yu.
“We’ll answer you later. First of all, when did you come here? What do you do for a living?” Liu Meng interrupted Lin Lu with a smile and asked politely.
An hour later, Lao Yu bid farewell to Lin Lu and Liu Meng, who both walked out of the house with confused looks on their faces. They’ve learned that all forty members of the second recon team were living in the city. It was most likely the case for the first team as well. Moreover, their memories have all been overwritten, and they believed that they had been living in this city ever since birth.
Liu Meng was more concerned with the smiles that they all showed on their faces. It really seemed like they were genuinely happy in their current life.
“They…” Lin Lu was not quite sure what to say.
Liu Meng suddenly stopped and turned back toward Lin Lu with a grave countenance. ‘If the previous teams have become like that, then how long until she…’
“What is it?” Lin Lu asked.
“I need to tell you something very serious. It’s only a matter of time before you become just like them,” Liu Meng said with a grave voice.
“What?” Lin Lu’s eyes widened.
“I don’t know exactly how long you have left, but I can guarantee to you that it will happen very soon.”
“I…” Lin Lu’s heart was grasped by terror. Ever since trekking into the Tianshan Mountains, she had learned to unconditionally trust everything that Li Yiming and Liu Meng told her. And yet, when she remembered the smiles on the faces of her former colleagues, her fear slowly dissipated.
Three thousand years of history,
Nothing but tales of power and lust.
Travel for ten thousand miles,
Only to realize that a quiet home is one’s best harbor.
* * *
At Xianyun Abbey, Qing Feng, who had been living inside for sixty years, finally walked out the stone gates with shaking steps. A skinny man, dressed in simple clothes and wearing a pair of slippers, sat on the stone opposite to the stairs which led to the abbey’s entrance. At his feet was a worn-out knit-bag.
“I’ve been told that you never leave this place.” The man glanced at Qing Feng without turning his head.
“I’ve been wrong about it. How can I possibly see the world from the confinements of this little abbey?” A rare smile appeared on Qing Feng’s face.
“So you know?”
“I see, but I cannot say that I know.”
After a moment of silence, Qing Feng added, “I met you eight years ago…”
“Oh?” The man frowned in surprise.
“As I thought…” Qing Feng suddenly closed his eyes and sat down on the stairs. It was as if the three words had drained him of all of his strength.
“What a shame…” The man puffed out some smoke and put his cigarette into a plastic bottle.
“I met you too late. If only I came to you sixty years ago…”
“Can you tell me your name?”
“My name…” The man mumbled and looked upward, his stare piercing through the clouds above. ‘Yes… who am I?’
1. This is essentially a “downgrade”, see Eyeglasses’ thought below.