Chapter 8 - Trial
By the time Mrs. Qiang was brought out of the room on a stretcher, her clothes were stained by foul liquids and the loud noises were still being produced. The vice-captain looked at her miserable state, visibly terrified, and gossips soon began to spread on the ship after a sailor unwittingly revealed what he saw.
Li Yiming stared into the foams and froths in silence as he pondered over what had just happened.
He had tried every single telephone number he could think of: Qing Linglong, Qing Qiaoqiao, Eyeglasses, Big Beard, and Liu Meng, but not a single one of them could be reached. The only possibility he could think of was that they entered the very domain that would decide their fate. Li Yiming was fully aware that it would serve to nothing to go back now.
The only thing that slightly calmed his worries was that when he called Liu Meng’s home, Liu Meng’s mother told her in an irritated voice that Liu Meng had departed with Li Huaibei.
“Don’t disappoint me…” Li Yiming whispered to himself. By now, he had witnessed the powers of all four sages he had met, and he knew that unlike him, Li Huaibei was a full-fledged sage whose powers largely surpassed his own.
“Deep in your own thoughts?” A pleasant voice was heard. Li Yiming took a deep breath upon hearing the voice —dealing with this guest was going to take more energy than he would have liked.
“The stunt with Mrs. Qiang… did you do it?” The newcomer reached his sides.
“My friend.” Li Yiming turned back and answered calmly.
Fang Shui’er wore a golden dress with braces. Her voluptuous hair touched her shoulders and billowed in the wind. As another gust approached, the dress was pushed tightly against her body, revealing near-perfect curves.
Li Yiming examined Fang Shui’er silently. From appearances alone, Fang Shui’er was truly splendid; she possessed Liu Meng’s sensuality, Qing Linglong’s air of maturity, and even Qing Qiaoqiao’s innocence. Li Yiming struggled to grasp how all of these different traits somehow blended into a perfect mixture embodied by Fang Shui’er.
“Chen Quan? He’s a…”
“He’s not one of us. He knows a few things.” Li Yiming took a step forward to block some of the wind for Fang Shui’er.
“I’m here to relax a bit. The captain is an old friend of mine.”
“You’ve heard of what happened in Tianshan, haven’t you?” Fang Shui’er tone suddenly changed; her temperament turned from that of a mighty empress into that of an ordinary girl complaining about something mundane. Li Yiming was certain that this was Fang Shui’er’s true self.
Li Yiming did not answer Fang Shui’er’s question. ‘Tianshan? But I thought all of the guardians were dead…’
“So you’ve heard of it. Of course you have. Three hundred… twelve guardians, and not a single survivor.” Fang Shui’er stared into Li Yiming’s eyes, and despite his decision to stay silent, she obtained the answer she sought.
‘So it did spread out…’ Li Yiming did not think that his silence could actually fool Fang Shui’er in the first place, who was a master of cunning and reading people’s expressions.
“A lot of us think of them as insignificant insects, but our lives are even more fragile than theirs… It is thin ice we tread every day.” Fang Shui’er raised her hand to cover her mouth, her eyes filling up with tears.
“I’m sorry…” Li Yiming could not help but utter an apology. He understood that Fang Shui’er was not the actress who could enchant all, nor the goddess adorned in her Starfall armor, but simply a sister who had just lost her sibling.
“It’s not your fault. It’s where her destiny led her. None of us can escape.” Fang Shui’er took a deep breath and bit her lips.
“You don’t hate me?” Li Yiming hesitated.
“I do. But I hate it even more…” Fang Shui’er raised her head and could barely contain the rage that boiled within her.
Li Yiming turned his head away; this was not a conversation he wanted to continue.
“So, tell me, why are you really here. I’ve investigated Chen Quan. He’s not so… ordinary, as you’ve said.” Fang Shui’er closed eyes before reopening them, returning to her an ever-charming beauty.
“I’m here to buy something.” Li Yiming answered with a smile. ‘I prefer Liu Meng much more…’ He thought as he looked at Fang Shui’er, whose countenance changed faster than the sea breeze.
“Oh? You’re into artifact collecting?” Fang Shui’er was surprised, exuding the air of a young teenage girl.
“We all need outlets, don’t we?” Li Yiming was starting to get repulsed by what he was seeing. ‘So many masks, and yet which one is the true her? I guess I’ll never know.’
“Thank you for your time. I feel better now.” Fang Shui’er, who guessed at Li Yiming’s thought, strolled toward the lower deck with a bitter smile.
‘She wants something from you.’ Bai Ze’s voice came as soon as Fang Shui’er left.
‘I know.’ Li Yiming licked his lips and reached for the pack of cigarettes in his pocket. He set his eyes on the horizon as he lit one up and made sure to have his back turned toward the surveillance camera above him.
Li Yiming could already see the entirety of the trip to be much more troublesome than he had wished.
* * *
In the town square of Yunhe Prefecture, Li Huaibei, on whom Li Yiming had placed so much hope, smiled bitterly as he looked at two children playing in the distance. Qing Linglong and the rest stood behind him with severe countenances, and even Stargaze, who was always so confident and sure of herself, was confused.
They had but one single mission: Kill those who deserved it.
“I knew it…” Stargaze forced a smile and retracted her extended senses. After a brief probing, she could tell that the domain itself was small in size, but over two hundred thousand people lived in Yunhe Prefecture.
“Those who deserve it…” Li Huaibei closed his eyes in frustration. He understood the meaning behind the mission as soon as he heard it, just as Stargaze did. After refusing to kill those who did not deserve it in Tianshan, their conviction was put to the test by Heaven’s Laws, who demanded that they themselves decide who was innocent and who was not.
“The census tells me that there’s a hundred sixty-seven thousand four hundred eighty-five people here, plus those who aren’t permanent residents…” Eyeglasses finished his investigation and looked at Li Huaibei.
“Three days… we don’t have much time. No consequences for killing the innocent, but a severe punishment for letting a guilty one escape…” Big Beard inhaled deeply on his cigar to relieve his tension by filling his lungs with smoke.
“Mecha pilot, assassin, hacker… little girl, you can manipulate people’s mind, right?” Stargaze looked at Qing Qiaoqiao.
Qing Qiaoqiao nodded confidently.
“Go to the municipal hall with your sister. We’ll take care of the big targets first. You with the beard, you can go to the police station with the hacker. We’ll see if anyone has escaped justice in the past sixty years. Liu Meng and I will walk around to see if there’s any information circulating amongst the common folks.”
“What about…” Liu Meng turned toward Li Huaibei, who was the only one that had not received an assignment from Stargaze.
After one last glance, Li Huaibei turned around and disappeared in a flash.
“He doesn’t need to follow you around as long as there isn’t any danger.” Stargaze shook her head as she looked in Li Huaibei’s direction. ‘It seems like he’s still not willing to let it go, how long has it been?’
“Any objections?” Big Beard took a deep breath and swept his gaze across the rest of his team. As the captain, he had an idea of Li Huaibei’s motives for joining the team.
“Let’s go…” Qing Linglong sighed and tapped at Qiaoqiao’s shoulder before jumping into the white jeep they drove.
Big Beard stomped on his cigar and dove into the other car with Eyeglasses.
“Trust your intuition.” As the two vehicles left, Stargaze left one last counsel for Liu Meng before vanishing into thin air.
Liu Meng looked around. She had a feeling she had visited the city before, but could not recognize anything meaningful in the distance. A domain without Li Yiming was a first for her, and she was rather distraught due to his absence.
“Are you looking for a taxi?” A green car stopped in front of Liu Meng, and the driver asked her politely.
“Oh, yes! Yes!” Liu Meng hesitated a little before pulling open the door and sitting down on the passenger seat.
“Where are you going?” Just as the driver disengaged the hand brake, he glanced at Liu Meng, his eyes pausing briefly on the attractive curves of her legs wrapped by leather pants.
“It’s my first time visiting his town. Do you mind driving around for a bit?” Liu Meng did not notice the ogle from the driver and looked outside instead. ‘So this time, I have the power to decide between life and death… Is this meant to teach me a lesson for my discontentment with the massacre in Lianyun City? Those who deserve to die… but who exactly?’