Li Yiming had high expectations as he looked at Yun Yiyuan. His heart had just skipped a beat, yet he did not know whether it was due to excitement, stress, or fear. Whatever it was, it was no doubt some kind of emotion.
“What?” Yun Yiyuan had already guessed that Li Yiming’s showing up could only mean trouble, but he did not expect him to challenge him right at the heart of his organization.
“If I win, he’s coming with me. If not, then I’ll stay here. I might’ve used too many tricks to defeat you last time. I want to see how far I am away from the invincible spear now.” Li Yiming said as he looked at the glass roof of the main hall, through which the stars of the night poured down a waterfall of silvery light.
During their previous fight, Li Yiming had won on the back of a suicidal attack. This time around, he was back to being on even footing with Yun Yiyuan, and he was eager to see the difference in strength between them. Most importantly, he had a feeling that if he were to fight him, he would be able to feel something again, and he was not going to give up this opportunity.
The challenge that Li Yiming had declared was certainly abrupt, and all the guardians around the two could not help but feel shocked. What astounded them even more was the fact that Yun Yiyuan did not even deny being defeated by Li Yiming.
“So? What is it going to be? A duel or a group fight? You’ve seen what I’m capable of at the Music Festival. Being outnumbered means nothing to me,” Li Yiming pressed on as his thirst for combat grew.
‘What?! Challenging all of us at once? Did he really defeat the invincible Yun Yiyuan in a duel before?’
The thought ran through the minds of many onlooking guardians. Only a man with absolute confidence in his abilities would challenge Yun Yiyuan himself right at the heart of his base of operations.
Yet Yun Yiyuan, unlike his underlings, was sharp enough to perceive that something had changed in Li Yiming. It was hard to describe, but he emitted an aura unlike any sage he knew — it was different from Stargaze’s detachment, Li Huaibei’s confidence, Wu Yun’s resolution, or Aunt Wu’s mysteriousness. Rather, it was as if a piece of Li Yiming was missing.
‘And yet he dares challenge me? What is he thinking?’ Yun Yiyuan suddenly turned his head toward a deserted corner of the hall. ‘Wu Yun… No wonder he’s so fearless…’
Just as Yun Yiyuan hesitated, Fangs suddenly emitted a savage roar and leaped toward Li Yiming. He transformed midair into a humanoid creature many times his usual size. If Li Yiming could make Yun Yiyuan hesitate on letting him be seized, then his only chance at not being apprehended was to provoke a fight and drag as many people as he could against Li Yiming.
Terror flashed on Lin Lu’s face as she reached for her gun out of habit, only to realize that she did not bring it along.
A purple electric arc ran through the air and wrapped around the monster, pulling it down to the ground like an anchor. The guardians who had made ready to start a fight all froze in place. To be able to subdue one of the strongest fighters in Yun Yiyuan’s gang in one move was an act of intimidation. Most of them did not receive orders from Yun Yiyuan yet, so they stayed put and waited.
“So, what is it going to be? Are we going to fight? Otherwise, I’m going to take him with me,” Li Yiming looked at the limp body on the ground, whose skin was slightly charred.
“The world has changed…” Yun Yiyuan spat out before making for the side door.
‘What? He’s running away?’ None of Yun Yiyuan’s underlings could believe their eyes.
* * *
Lotus Village was a village renowned for its proximity to nature and the organic, stress-free lifestyle its inhabitants adopted. Most of its residents were children and elderly people, as many of the working age adults left the village to seek a better livelihood.
A year ago, a land developer had suddenly arrived and proposed a deal to the villagers: the entire village would be bought off for an astronomical sum of money. After the deal was sealed, construction work began, and it was not long before an Eden on Earth was built in a remote corner of the province.
Although many people and powerful figures in the country had heard of the village and intended on securing themselves a residence in the area, the developer declined all of the invitations. In addition, instead of developing the village as a tourist attraction to make a profit, he welcomed a strange cohort of people as the new residents. There were people from all walks of life. Most of them became small business owners, or even farmers, seemingly embracing the idea of being in proximity to nature.
This made the right to live in the village even more desirable to some, but strangely, no matter what kind of background an outsider had, or what connections they utilized, there was no way for anyone to settle in the village uninvited. As such, the village became a mysterious place in rumors and tales, with many wondering what the true purpose of its existence.
In the middle of the village grew an aged tree, which preceded the existence of the village itself. Due to the lack of maintenance, it had died a long time ago, but its bare trunk was left still standing. Day after day, a man with unkempt hair would come and drink wine from an old, broken gourd, emitting a pungent smell of alcohol.
The man took another long sip. At the pace he was drinking, the gourd would have been empty in a few minutes, but the man had been sitting there for three days already.
“Do you think that he’ll die drinking?” One young man asked with disgust as he peeked at the drunkard from inside his home.
“Keep peeling your corn. The village chief told us to not bother him.” The girl who sat facing him scolded him as both of them worked on the pile of produce.
“I don’t understand. Why is the chief letting him do that? I thought we were…” The young man’s complain was cut short by the girl’s stare.
The young girl sighed, looked around and said in a low voice. “I’m going to tell you a secret that’s been going around. Don’t tell anyone else, but I’ve heard that he’s a sage…”
“What? He’s…!” The young man jumped up.
“Shut up! What did I say?”
“Who told you that?” The young quickly sat back down and asked.
“From Elephant. He got a call from the village chief one day. I don’t know the details.”
“Really? Elephant isn’t the most reliable…”
“Believe it or not. It’s up to you.” The girl pursed her lips in discontent and resumed her work.
“Look! It’s that blind girl again!” The young girl’s attention was once again attracted back to the window. She saw a young woman walking toward the hill where the dead tree was with her eyes closed.
“She’s the only one who talks with that drunkard…”
“Have you ever seen her eyes?” The man asked.
“What is there to see?” The young girl said with a sour voice, as she could detect the fascination and idolatry in the man’s voice.
“You don’t understand…” The man said as he stared at the blind woman.
“Hmmpf!” The girl snorted in discontent and threw the corn onto the ground.
* * *
Tian Yan stood right next to Li Huaibei as the latter continued to gulp down his wine one mouthful at a time.
“He’s awake,” Tian Yan said after a long moment of silence. Her pale skin, under the glow of the setting sun, conferred to her the air of a fairy.
Li Huaibei raised his gourd and drank another mouthful.
“I want to go see him,” Tian Yan said.
“It’s pointless,” Li Huaibei finally said in a parched voice.
“I need to see him.”
“Why come to me then?”
“Qian Mian won’t let me go alone.”
Li Huaibei drank another mouthful and opened his eyes. He stared blankly at the crimson sky and the wilted branches above him.
“Please. You’ve promised…” Tian Yan pleaded.
“Fine.” Li Huaibei said as he stroked his gourd.
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