109 Inescapable Shackles
I could finally take a rest after heading back to my familiar room on the 13th floor.
I lay on my bed after taking a hot shower.
Nie Zun was leaning against the wall, looking sleepy and idle as usual.
I yawned, turned to my side, and tried to fall asleep.
Nie Zun’s voice sounded beside me, “I have a question.”
“Go ahead,” I said in a tired, nasal voice, keeping my weary eyes closed.
“You managed to persuade all of them to rebel and leave Split Zone 13. How about you? Have you decided to return?”
Nie Zun’s voice sounded alluring, and when I opened my eyes, the sky instantly turned dark. It was night again.
I should have been able to answer him right away, but why did I hesitate? I wanted to go back, and I hoped for everyone here to sober up and be able to return as well. But would I really choose to go back if that day arrives?
“You’re not thinking of sacrificing yourself are you, Li Shen?” Nie Zun looked at me as he sat beside me on the bed.
I was speechless. Sacrificing myself… how?
“Never mind that. No matter what you think, we’re still unable to part, and I’ll always know.” Nie Zun’s gaze was gentle, and I kept my eyes on him.
“Why’re you like this today…” I spoke hesitantly.
“There’s something I never told you,” Nie Zun said suddenly.
I was confused. “What?”
“I’ve seen you, before arriving in the Split Zone.” Nie Zun’s voice sounded in my ear.
I opened my eyes wide. “When was that? Where?”
He blinked in slight confusion at my intense expression. “At a salon, you were getting your hair dyed red.”
I frowned. Salon? Dyeing it red?
Oh yes, I did dye my hair red before, during that time…
I could not bear to revisit those memories… But why couldn’t I remember seeing Nie Zun?
“And also, your senior Gao Qi, in the hospital,” Nie Zun added.
I lifted my head at him, not expecting him to say that.
“You…” I said softly.
Nie Zun continued with his gleaming eyes, “There were many people with him at the hospital, and you were following behind.”
I sat up immediately, grabbing his elbow. He looked at my hand, where the knuckles were already turning white, surprised at my reaction.
I kept my gaze on him. “You saw me? When I was still conscious? I can’t remember what happened when I killed Gao Qi, what exactly happened? When I woke up, I was already in the hospital, and after a doctor gave me a shot, I ended up here in the Split Zone!”
Nie Zun moved my hand away gently. Holding my arm, he said, “Calm down, I’ll tell you everything.”
I stared at him, waiting for an answer.
“I think it wasn’t you I saw. Or rather, not the you I’m seeing now,” Nie Zun smiled as he said this.
Cold sweat started forming on my palms, and I felt anxious and insecure, as if I was about to learn of a terrifying secret.
“You mean… You saw, her?” I tried to hide my anxiety with a raised eyebrow.
Nie Zun’s eyes shone. “Yes, that should be her. At that time, you weren’t like this. There was a totally different aura. Maybe it was your second personality.”
“What did she say?! What did she do?!” I became agitated.
Nie Zun answered calmly, “She didn’t do anything. She just followed behind Gao Qi, with blood all over her.”
I slapped his hand away, staring at him. “It’s her! She killed him! Why didn’t you stop her? Why didn’t you stop me if you knew who I was?!”
Nie Zun did not expect me to have such an explosive reaction, and his brows were tightly knitted. “How do I stop you? I didn’t know you. When you arrived there, he was already stabbed.”
My shoulders dropped. I realized he was right. How could I blame him when it was not his fault.
“Did she say anything to you,” I asked with trembling lips.
Although I was not aware of what happened, I knew I was the one who killed him. Even though I knew that, I was not able to revisit those painful memories since I could not remember it.
Until today, when someone told me he’s seen me covered in blood at the hospital.
After a long silence, Nie Zun spoke, “No.”
I collapsed on the bed face up, lying down. Looking at the bunk bed above me, I asked, “Why tell me this now.”
Nie Zun turned, with his back facing me. “No particular reason. Just that, when I saw her, she’s different from how you expected her to be. She doesn’t look like a ruthless devil. You might just be prejudiced against her…”
“Enough!” I sat up again, feeling a little dizzy from the sudden movement.
“Nie Zun, enough! You said you saw her covered in blood! She sent him to the hospital covered in blood?! How can she not be a devil? How can I not be a devil? That’s somebody’s life! Even if you want to console me, there’s no need to say things that betray your conscience.” My voice trembled, and I was gripping the bed sheets tightly.
Nie Zun continued speaking with his back to me, “I did see her covered in blood, but I didn’t see her kill anyone. That horrific past that you’re unable to recall – you can’t remember a thing, and I didn’t see it either.”
I bit my lip. “What’re you trying to say?”
“You still don’t understand? Whatever you thought had happened might not be the truth. You saw it too through Old Man Fan’s technique, Gao Qi is still alive. What if everything was just an accident?”
I laughed bitterly. “That’s my fault. I should’ve told you this. Old Man Fan’s last words were that it wasn’t spacial transference, it was a sealing technique. What I saw might not be the real world, and it might just be what I was wishing for in my heart.”
“Like he said, it might be, so there’s a chance it’s real, right? I heard what Old Man Fan said to you, did you forget my consciousness was in your body at that time? It’s hard to get what he meant, but it’s possible that whatever you wished for is exactly what is happening in the real world, since so many were able to meet their families again through that technique.”
“How about you? Did you see your sister?” Instead of answering, I asked him another question.
Nie Zun stiffened. “My consciousness was in your consciousness, so I wasn’t able to see her.”
Hearing that, my heart hurt a little. Sighing, I said, “Nie Zun, how is your fate linked to her… So much so that you’re so closely tied to me like this… Just what’s the point of all this…”
“Heh, fate? Finally think that she and I aren’t similar?” He turned back, laughing.
His smile looked bitter.
I looked down. “I don’t know if you’re similar to her. Nie Zun, sometimes I feel like I don’t know you at all.”
It was silent for a while, and I tried to steal a glance at him. Nie Zun was looking towards the window. His gaze was unfathomable as usual, and it carried a hint of solitude. I took a breath, and asked, “Nie Zun, you think that the me you saw wouldn’t kill?”
Nodding slightly, Nie Zun continued staring into the distance with that faraway look.
I frowned. “But I know that I killed someone. Although I can’t remember a thing, my body, my brain, my fingers, everything is telling me that I, for sure, have killed someone, and it was someone I loved. You won’t understand that feeling if you haven’t sinned. This is why I’ve never wished for redemption.”
After a pause, I continued, “Or it might be as you said, whatever Old Man Fan showed me, is both a reflection of my heart’s desires and what’s happening in the real world, and maybe Gao Qi isn’t dead. But, so what? It doesn’t change the fact that I attempted to murder him.
“I’m a child who was abandoned in that world, and I’ve become a murderer. Will I be worthy of redemption? You keep asking me if I want to go back. So what if I go back? Even if I want to, I’d still need face my sins, right?”
“So you’re going to stay here and keep running away?” He turned back, staring at me.
I stared back at him. “No, I’ve decided not to run away anymore, and to search for the method to bring everyone back. But I’ll admit, I don’t know if I’m able to go back.”
There was agony in my eyes. “You’ll never understand. I know my parents are waiting for me, and I don’t wish to be in such sorrow either. But I’ve dealt with this pain for too long, I just can’t let go.”
Sorrow flashed past his eyes, and he gave a bitter smile. He showed me his left hand, before pulling the black glove away.
“I don’t understand? Can your solitude match this?” With slender fingers, he pointed at his left hand, which was devoid of palm prints.
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