Chapter 12 - Key
In the eyes of all the onlookers around them, Fang Shui’er was the faithful girlfriend that was willing to do whatever she could to make her man happy. Li Yiming, who previously had to endure the judgemental looks, now looked like an intimidating figure. Some were even starting to search for signs which suggested that there was more to his long, grey hair and plain clothing.
While some of the guests were speculating about Li Yiming’s true identity, others had their attention on the golden wok. For both Yu Runkai and Li Yiming to be so unyielding, the golden wok’s worth must have not been something to scoff at.
* * *
The excitement was slowly building in the audience, and the host, who had retreated to the side, had to try to stop himself from smile; he knew that he had done his job well.
“Mr. Li, you seem to be quite adamant about getting your hands on this artifact…” Yu Ruinkai stood up with a smile instead of pushing the price even higher.
Li Yiming raised his cup in Yu Runkai’s direction; he was no longer thinking about how much he would have to pay to take the wok cap home, but rather about what he would need to do.
“Fifty-one million.” One of the guests could no longer hold it. It was an old man with white hair. His small eyes, hidden behind thick presbyopic lenses, remained inscrutable.
“Fifty-two million. I’ll see what this fuss is all about myself.” One of the middle-aged man said while stroking the thigh of the woman sitting right next to him.
‘How the hell are these people so rich?’ Li Yiming muttered. He had just realized that he had inadvertently convinced the other guests that the golden wok cap was worth a fortune.
However, although some dared to participate in the bidding, others remained conservative. After all, not everyone was ready to risk being ridiculed for buying a worthless piece of counterfeit with a small fortune.
“Fifty million two hundred and ten thousand.” Li Yiming continued to raise the price in the smallest possible increment, which was something that puzzled the other guests.
“One hundred million.” Yu Runkai sat down on his sofa, gave his wine cup to the model who accompanied him and started to massage his own belly.
“One hundred million and ten thousand.”
“Two hundred million.” Yu Runkai said as soon as Li Yiming answered as if he was looking to conclude the deal as quickly as possible.
Two hundred million already becoming imposing enough to convince the other guests to rethink about their decision to interfere.
“Two hundred million and ten thousand.”
Li Yiming’s comical way of following Yu Runkai’s bid was no longer amusing when one considered the number he added ten thousand to. Mrs. Qiang, by now, was completely dumbstruck, her face as red as a ripe apple. She was both embarrassed and ashamed at the futility of her attempt to sabotage Li Yiming’s bid.
“Well, it’s just going to be a waste of time if we keep going like this. I’ll go up to one billion.” Yu Runkai continued staring at the wok cap while moving his hand across his beer belly slowly, as if it was some kind of antique.
“My upper limit is one billion and ten thousand…” Li Yiming answered honestly.
Yu Runkai stood up with a frown when he heard Li Yiming’s answer, persuaded that it was an act of defiance. As he did so, the whole room was suddenly inundated by an explosion of golden light.
As the flash subsided and sight returned to the eyes of the participants of the auction, all discovered to their shock that the golden wok cap had vanished. The host of the auction, especially, stared at the wooden pedestal with his mouth wide open.
“Please remain in your seats. You and you! Go get the surveillance footage.” The head of security immediately responded to the disappearance of the artifact now deemed to be worth a fortune. The guests chattered with each other as each conjectured what could have possibly happened.
A team of well-built rushed into the scene and quickly set up around the exits to prevent anyone from leaving. Yu Runkai stared at Li Yiming coldly, and the two’s gazes collided.
‘It’s not him…’ Li Yiming was confused and instinctively glanced at Fang Shui’er, whose expression mirrored his.
‘You saw what happened?’ Li Yiming asked.
‘Shit…’ Bai Ze said.
‘What’s going on, did someone steal the wok cap?’ Li Yiming pressed on.
‘Don’t you find this scene very familiar?’ Bai Ze said.
‘You mean?! No…’ Li Yiming’s eyes widened.
‘Yes. The wok cap was a key. The door to the domain has been opened…’
* * *
“Eyeglasses, can you check for Li Huaibei’s whereabouts?” Qing Linglong looked at the corpses in the room with a severe countenance.
“Li Huaibei? He’s in a bar…’ Eyeglasses changed the input feed on his monitor. Li Huaibei appeared on his screen, enjoying his drink in a bar cabinet, as if he was not worried in the slightest.
“He’s been there the whole time? He never came here?”
“Nope. He’s been in that bar the entire time.” Eyeglasses seemed not to have caught Qing Linglong’s trembling tone.
“What is it?” Big Beard put down the paper he was going through and asked, having noticed that something odd was happening.
“There are other guardians in this domain.”
“What? Are you sure?” Eyeglasses froze.
“I’ve just arrived. Six headless corpses, clean kills, all of them…” Qing Linglong glanced at her younger sister, who stood at the door with a pale face.
“You mean at the home of the guy who was embezzling public funds?” Eyeglasses verified the database with his computer once again.
“Yes. Five adults and one child…” Qing Linglong sighed.
“Well, you’ve heard her. We need to be on our guards…” Big Beard looked at Eyeglasses’ screen and said gravely. Normally, he would have been glad to discover that other guardians were participating in the domain, especially when their interests were aligned. However, this time, he knew that this was not good news, and so did every other member of team Dissonance.
Liu Meng looked at the taxi in the distance, and her expression became firmer and the vehicle vanished into the distance.
Stargaze opened her eyes and stared into the river nearby. ‘You’re here too…’ She closed her eyes again.
“Mrs. Fang, could you please come to the center of the room…” Two bodyguards walked up to Li Yiming but addressed Fang Shui’er instead.
“Not a problem.” Li Yiming nodded and called Chen Quan.
‘The boat is changing directions...’ Bai Ze reminded Li Yiming.
As he sat down on the sofa, Li Yiming closed his eyes and extended his senses. He noticed that not only had the boat changed direction, but so did the currents of the sea. The otherwise calm ocean surface was ruptured by violence waves that gathered into a whirlpool in the distance.
“We have given you enough time to check the footage, are you done?” The old man who had attempted to buy off the wok cap before complained. Out of respect for the host, he cooperated with the bodyguards, but the longer the guests stayed still in their seats, the more they felt like prisoners, and this was a humiliation not of them could tolerate.
“My apologies. You may go back to your room…” The bodyguard captain seemed to have received news from the captain and said hesitantly.
“Let’s go to the upper deck... “ Li Yiming looked at Yu Runkai, who seemed to be preoccupied with other things. He pulled Chen Quan toward the exit while avoiding looking at Fang Shui’er.
Li Yiming sighed as he looked at the unnatural turbulences in the water below.
“How much do you remember about Tianshan?” Li Yiming suddenly broke the silence.
“Not much…” Chen Quan’s excitement grew as he knew that he was getting closer to the truth he sought.
“Sorry, I’ve dragged you into this…” Li Yiming sighed. ‘If he can remember something, then that means that there’s no mistake we’re in a domain right now.’
“Is this not the first time something like this had happened to you?” Fang Shui’er’s voice came from behind; she had been trailing Li Yiming the entire time.
“Why do you ask?”
“You certainly seem a lot calmer compared to Yu Runkai and me.” Fang Shui’er frowned. ‘Why? How did this domain open without a key? And why is this boat full of ordinary people dragged into it…’
“Maybe I’m just the type of person who doesn’t worry as much.” Li Yiming improvised a rather poor explanation and glanced at the surveillance camera nearby. He turned his head back toward the sea.
In the span of a few minutes, the azure sky was obscured by a thick layer of tenebrous clouds. There was no lightning or roaring thunder, but it did cast down a repressive, ominous feeling. A dark spot could be seen emerging in the horizon, growing rapidly in size.
“Look, there’s an island over there…” One of the guests suddenly said. Most of the guests were aware that the cruise ship had changed course, and the news that the captain could no longer control the ship almost caused a general panic.
“There’s no such thing on the map. What the hell is going on?” One of the guests struck at the fence in anger.
“Shit, the satellite phones are not working anymore…” Another guest tried frantically to make a call.
The guests who were invited onto the Pandaria were all wealthier than the average person and consequently feared losing everything more as well. Everyone gathered on the deck, with the exception for the sailors who were desperately trying to regain control of the ship, seeking the little comfort to be had in the company of each other.
“We’re going to crash onto the island at this rate…” One of the cruise members said with despair. The cruise ship advanced at full throttle, its speed further propelled by the waves. The island, which had been nothing but a dark speck moments ago, was now fully visible, and the ship showed no signs of slowing down.