Chen Quan picked up the opened bag of chips just like Li Yiming did a few hours ago. After so many years spent negotiating with buyers and estimating their bottom lines, he was confident that he had just made an offer Li Yiming could not refuse.
Li Yiming put down the piece of paper, his mind working out the implications of Chen Quan’s proposal as quickly as he could. It was going to be some kind of auction party for artifacts. ‘Well, if one thing’s for sure, it’s that this event is reserved for the privileged few…’
“I trust what I remember.”
“Curiosity can lead you down a dangerous path.”
“Do you want to know what I dream of in life?” Chen Quan suddenly interrupted Li Yiming and started a long narration. “My grandfather was a gravedigger, just like me. He was caught red-handed and sent to the firing squads when I was still a child. But that wasn’t before he instilled in me a great interest for history and archeology. I wanted to be an archeologist when I was in junior high school, and I told my entire class about it. Want to know what my teacher said? He laughed out loud and told me that ‘with how short you are, you should probably just stick to stealing things from people's’ graves like your grandfather.’”
“I quit school on the second day and searched for the crate my grandpa left us, the crate that my dad always forbid me from touching. In the end, my teacher was right, and I will be the one to unveil the hidden truths of history with my own hands.”
“I’ve dug up treasures, skeletons, and opened coffins to find ancient artifacts. I love these moment of clarity, of finding out hidden truths more than anything…”
“I didn't really pay attention to the wok cap when I found it. But now… after Tianshan… I’ll live a life in vain if I don’t find out the truth behind what happened.” Chen Quan’s eyes remained fixated on Li Yiming after he finished speaking.
“The time, and the place.” Li Yiming was not quite sure how much of Chen Quan’s words could be trusted, but he was moved by the sincerity in his eyes. Moreover, he knew that Chen Quan would never give him the information he wanted if he did not agree.
“Tomorrow at three o’clock, Donghai…”
* * *
“How’s Li Huaibei?” Stargaze was in her bed, still weakened by the incidents in Lianyun City. By her bed, someone that looked like a reflection of herself was attending to her.
“He woke up during the night yesterday and left.” Qianmian looked at Stargaze worriedly. He had just received the news; out of the three hundred guardians who attacked Lianyun City, most of them perished. The events that transpired that resulted in injuring two sages were unbeknownst to him, but he knew that the rules did not allow for Stargaze to tell him the tale of the domain.
“Let him go…” Stargaze sighed and remembered the person she saw just before fainting. ‘Mr. Kong…’
“I’ll have to trouble you with more work for a while. You should rest. I have some things to discuss with the little girl.” Stargaze turned toward the corner of the room. On the sofa sat a young girl, who was silent and still as a statue. She wore a long skirt, and her face was mostly hidden by her long, tenebrous locks of hair. She threw an empty stare into the floor in front of her through her transparent irises.
“Take good care of yourself.” Qianmian urged before closing the door slowly.
“Do you know Li Yiming?” Stargaze examined Tianyan’s delicate features and asked her first question.
“I’ve met him, but I couldn’t see him.” Tian Yan answered in an impassive voice. Tianyan seemed even more detached than back in Hangzhou.
“You can’t see him?
“I can’t,” Tianyan repeated her answer with conviction.
“A hidden fate?”
“Do you remember Ji Xiaoqin?” Tianyan dodged Stargaze’s question and asked one of her own instead.
“Li Yiming’s ex-girlfriend, the one who possessed a changing karma until it went away right before she became a guardian?”
“Yes… back in Hangzhou, when Li Yiming was on the brink of dying, Ji Xiaoqin awakened as a guardian. However, her karma vanished the next instant, and Li Yiming woke up with newfound strength…”
“What are you suggesting?”
“The two events were no coincidence. I remember the threads of fate which linked Ji Xiaoqin to Li Yiming, and what disappeared from one appeared on the other.”
“What?” Stargaze sat up from her bed, despite her weakness.
“Uncle Bing paid close attention to the changes which occurred to Ji Xiaoqin. At first, we thought that there was another group of guardians that had similar plans of producing guardians. However, that conjecture turned out to be a mistake. Still, it doesn’t explain how Heavenly Karma accumulated on Ji Xiaoqin’s body and suddenly vanished as it reached its peak.” Tianyan continued to speak, without minding Stargaze’s reaction.
“Well, I think you have an idea of where I’m getting at, don’t you? I’ve been thinking about it over the last few days…”
‘Li Yiming… he has been using Ji Xiaoqin’s body to cultivate his own Dao? Is this how he became a sage at level six?’ To Stargaze’s shock, this was the only theory that could explain what happened to Ji Xiaoqin. To use someone else’s body for one’s own Dao was a simple concept, but immensely difficult to execute. It involved blending Heavenly Karma with the fate of another person, and extracting the Karma as it matured. This was not changing one’s destiny; it was stealing from Heaven’s Laws.
“Qianmian, I need your help. Can you find out where Li Yiming is right now?” Stargaze laid back down and picked up the transmitter at the head of her bed.
“Did Yiming tell you anything when he left?” Qing Qiaoqiao asked Big Beard as the group waited for the plan in a VIP restroom of Tianshan airport. The latter had lost count of how many times he had been asked the same question.
“You’ll meet him in person soon enough. You can ask him yourself then.” Big Beard was playing around with a cigar, visibly in a foul mood. It was to the point that the staff in the airport glanced at him from time to time, wary of what he could do in an outburst of anger.
Eyeglasses’ eyes trailed at the planes as they took off from the runways, visibly at a loss.
“Yiming’s decision…” Qing Linglong rubbed the corners of her eyes. Li Yiming’s departure seemed to have worried her to the point that even her wrinkles had become more prominent.
“At least we’re alive, and we should thank him for it,” Qing Qiaoqiao said angrily, reminding the group of what they owed to Li Yiming, which was precisely what made them so conflicted about picking a side when Li Yiming had made his stance so clear.
It was a suicidal task to join Li Yiming’s battle against Heaven’s Laws, but they had managed to escape the domain unscathed precisely because they chose to do so. After witnessing Mr. Kong’s massacre of the guardians and Li Huaibei’s decision to betray Heaven’s Laws, some of them were starting to doubt their own conviction.
“We should ask him when we meet him again. As long as he’s alive, I’ll consider him a friend,” Big Beard suddenly crushed the cigar he held and said firmly.
“Is he going to be at the next domain?” Qing Qiaoqiao glanced at Big Beard.
“He doesn’t have a choice.” Qing Linglong picked up the cup of beer in front of her and emptied it cleanly.
* * *
Liu Meng curled into a ball on the sofa, bringing her knees to her chin while she observed her mother, who was busy with house chores. Although Li Yiming was no longer with her, she was enjoying the feeling of staying at home. It somehow became a pleasure to hear the long-winded remarks of her mother, which she used to find annoying. Of course, the only exception was when her mother complained about Li Yiming’s white hair.
The doorbell suddenly rang.
“Mom, there’s someone at the door,” Liu Meng said rather lazily, refusing to bulge from the couch.
“It wouldn’t hurt for you to go answer it, would it?” Liu Meng’s mother came out of the kitchen, and rolled her eyes when she saw Liu Meng on the sofa.
“Yes it would…” Liu Meng smiled.
“Yes?” Liu Meng’s mother seemed to be pleasantly surprised by whomever she saw at the door.
“Excuse me, is this where Liu Meng lives?”
“Yes, and you are…” Liu Meng looked at the handsome and polite man in front of her.
“I’m her friend.”
“It’s for me?” Liu Meng had turned her head toward the door when she recognized the voice of the visitor.
“Li Huaibei?” Liu Meng cried out and jumped up from the sofa
“Please, please, enter.” Liu Meng’s mother gave a warm welcome to Li Huabei after seeing her daughter’s reaction.
“Sorry for disturbing you.” Li Huaibei smiled and entered the living room.
“Why…” Liu Meng was utterly shocked by the fact that Li Huaibei would choose to visit her at home.
“Please have a seat. It’s kind of messy around here. I’ll make some tea, or would you rather have coffee? How about freshly made melon juice? Apple? Pear?” Liu Meng’s mother rubbed her hands overenthusiastically, like someone who worked in a tea shop.
“Mom?” Liu Meng was a little surprised. ‘I don’t remember her being this warm when Yiming came over… Can she see that he’s a sage? But then again, Yiming is one as well…’
“I don’t want to bother you too much. Water is fine.” Li Huaibei kept his rather professional smile and answered politely.
Liu Meng’s mother sighed and walked toward the kitchen without minding her daughter.
“Why are you…” Liu Meng turned toward Li Huaibei. She did not fear Li Huaibei, as Li Yiming had also become a sage. However, she was unsure of what Li Huaibei’s intentions were, since the latter had shown them great benevolence until Lianyun City, when it seemed like he wanted to kill Li Yiming.
“Please, have a drink.” Liu Meng’s mother interrupted her thought. Not only did she bring a refined tea set, but also a plate full of snacks.
“Thank you.” Liu Meng’s mother smiled even more radiantly has Li Huaibei sat up to receive the teacup.
“Could I have your name?” Liu Meng’s mother asked.
“What do you do in life?”
“I’m a lawyer.”
“Lawyer? Li Huaibei?” Liu Meng’s mother eyes lit up as she seemed to remember something. She quickly dug up a pile of old newspapers from beneath the table and searched through an old issue of a law journal.
“You mean this Li Huaibei?” Liu Meng’s mother pointed at an article in the corner of a page.
“Yes, I suppose.” Li Huaibei’s smile was growing unnatural.
“Wow!” Liu Meng’s mother suddenly exclaimed.
“Uhm… So, Huaibei, how old are you?”
“Thirty… Six…” Li Yiming’s soon to be mother-in-law successfully caused the second sage she met to sweat.
“Thirty-six? A dragon? That’s great…” Liu Meng’s mother’s eyes lit up. She glanced at Liu Meng’s who seemed to be dumbstruck by her actions. ‘Nicely done! Handsome, well-mannered, successful, and a great match for the zodiac as well. Isn’t he a hundred times better than that Li Yiming?’
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