17 District Negotiations
"Must you act so mysteriously and suspiciously?" I really disliked that someone would cause more worry in this kind of situation. I glared angrily at Jiao S who was now standing in front of me.
"Sorry, this is a place that can't be monitored, so everything is taken care of with caution. Your vision will only be as good as it is during the night." Jiao S actually used her scratchy voice to apologize!
I looked at her with some confusion. This person was truly too difficult to understand!
She was dressed in a school uniform, cheeks rosy, eyes unquivering. "Li Shen, I want to know whether your group was the one who killed my subordinates." Jiao S looked at me.
"No," I responded without the slightest hesitation.
She slowly nodded her head. "I figured it wouldn't have been you. You're not yet equipped with that kind of ability." Huh? Was that a compliment or...?
Her eyes moved ever so slightly. "As far as I know, there was a young girl who recently died in the Western District, correct?"
I immediately recognized that she was speaking of Laurel and my expression grew grave. "Yes."
She nodded again. "Aside from the five B-rank officers who were assassinated in the past few days, the Eastern District also lost a young boy. However, from my investigations, that child's body had been substituted with another's. So, to be more precise, the boy has gone missing."
I quickly agreed. "It's the same for us. It's unlikely that she died. Instead, her body had been substituted."
"What clues have you discovered?"
Just as I opened my mouth, Nie Zun suddenly spoke up. "Why should we trust you and share this with you? We've yet to completely rule out that you were involved in this matter." I turned my head to look at him, but I didn't say anything.
Jiao S stretched her neck stiffly. Her actions always made others think they were looking at a lifeless doll, for how unnaturally she moved. Her eyes shifted slowly. "You don't have to trust me, but not trusting me won't get any of us closer to leaving the Split Zone. Since our goal is the same, why not work together?"
I stared at her as I said, "If you're talking about working together, I have a question I'd like to ask first."
She turned to look at me. "Ask away."
"The Western Commander before me, Li Qing... Did you kill her?" My eyes were glued to her, not wanting to miss a single change of expression.
But even after hearing this question, she remained quite emotionless. "No."
"Then why didn't you ever consider working with her while she was alive?"
"Because I didn't understand the secrets of the Split Zone back then." Jiao S suddenly gave an eerie smile.
"What secrets?" I quickly asked.
She took a long hard look at me. "If you're willing to work with me to uncover the whereabouts of the two missing children, proving that we are of the same kind, then I will consider telling you about it."
"Seems that the child you've lost is very important to you." Nie Zun's eyebrow raised slightly.
"Indeed." Jiao S nodded without hesitating.
Nie Zun turned to me and nodded lightly. So, I said, "Okay, we'll work together with you. Then, what should we do now?"
Perhaps Jiao S hadn't expected my agreement to come so quickly. She took a moment to think. "Your current plans are to travel to the Northern District?" She rotated her stiff neck once more.
Jiao S' next words were something I hadn't expected to hear. "I'll go along with you."
The bandaged man, Mu Li, suddenly spoke. "Commander, you cannot. You cannot leave the Eastern District on a whim. Another B-rank officer was just killed, so there are many things waiting for you to take care of. Moreover, you cannot just trust their words that they weren't involved in the members' deaths."
"Are you suspecting my judgement now?" Jiao S asked coldly.
Mu Li immediately lowered his head. "I wouldn't dare."
Tao Lie also stepped forward. "Commander, what Mu Li said isn't without reason. Even if you don't suspect Ms Li Shen, you cannot just leave the Eastern District. You cannot go to the Northern District. You—"
"I've already made my decision," Jiao S cut him off.
Tao Lie was silent for a moment. Then he said, "If you must go to the Northern District, please take along the three masters." The cogs in my head started turning. Three masters? He must be speaking of those three white robed men. Of course she would bring them along. Wasn't it so that they never left her side?
Unexpectedly, Jiao S shook her head. "I have something else I need them to do. I can't bring them along this time."
An alarmed Tao Lie spoke up, "You want to travel to the Northern District on your own? We can't allow that."
Jiao S seemed a bit uncertain at first, but then her expression turned resolute. Determined, she responded, "I'll bring Guan Nie along."
Tao Lie and Mu Li were both visibly surprised. They cried out at the same time, "That's even worse!" Jiao S stiffly raised one arm and waved it, dismissing their concerns. Her expression remained unchanged.
My lip twitched. Guan Nie? If I wasn't remembering wrong, that was the perverted and submissive man. He was going to travel with us? I was worried that I'd die from disgust before ever reaching the Northern District.
"Only with Guan Nie will we be able to remain undiscovered by Mr Blond." After saying this, Jiao S appeared to think of something. She turned to me and asked me, "Surely Mr Blond would be aware of your traveling to the Eastern District? Don't you know he has informants in all the districts?"
I nodded. "I considered that. We let Jie Pa take care of it. The path we're taking is clear of informants. If Jie Pa says that Mr Blond is unaware, then it's likely he's yet to find out."
"Jie Pa? The legendary gentleman with extreme skill in information acquisition?" For the first time, Jiao S' eyes seemed to glimmer with curiosity. But I was taken aback. Was there such a legend? Why hadn't I ever heard of it?
Nie Zun helplessly shook his head. To Jiao S, he said, "No need to ask her. All she knows is her own name. If you have any questions, it's better to ask me." I suddenly choked. He wasn't wrong though. Instead of asking me, it was better to ask him.
Jiao S gave me a hard look. Then she told her two subordinates, "In any case, you both understand the reason why I'm traveling to the Northern District with them. I must bring Guan Nie along."
"Actually, Commander, before we arrived here, Mr Guan seems to have taken the the Western District visitors into his room for a personal visit," Tao Lie said.
"That's right. But that wasn't our only meeting. When we first arrived to your district, the beautiful Guan Nie was already waiting for us in the forest." Nie Zun suddenly gave a smile.
"Oh? That must have just been a coincidence." Jiao S' empty eyes didn't seem as lifeless as before, as if she were considering something unfathomable.
"He's the third A-rank member in your clan?" Nie Zun suddenly asked.
That came as a surprise to me. That weakling was an A-rank officer? How did Nie Zun figure that out? Jiao S was also a bit surprised. "You could tell?"
Nie Zun gave a lazy smile. "It wasn't anything in particular. He just resided on the 29th floor, so he must have been important. I just took a guess."
Jiao S nodded slowly. "He is indeed an A-rank officer, along with Tao Lie and Mu Li." She paused, and then suddenly smiled strangely. "But he's the only subordinate I have whom I cannot control. There are times when he doesn't listen to me. So, if he were to cause you any trouble on the trip, I'm afraid I can't take any responsibility for him."
After I heard her words, I was suddenly uneasy. Recalling the earlier events, I couldn't help feeling a desire to turn down this collaboration opportunity.
How did Jiao S learn of our intentions? And why did she suddenly want to work together with us? All these events seemed to be happening too abruptly. I truly couldn't understand it, so I turned to Nie Zun.
Nie Zun wasn't looking at me. Instead, he nodded to Jiao S. "Okay. You and Guan Nie will come along with us. But we must stay the night in your district. We'll head out tomorrow."
Jiao S nodded. "Okay. You guys can decide where you'd like to stay. I won't arrange anything, as I expect you have your own plans." I nodded. I don't need you to arrange a place to stay. I want to actually have a good rest.
When Nie Zun and I returned to the first floor of the residential building, Song Lu and the rest of the group were anxiously awaiting us. Song Lu saw me and quickly interrogated, "So, what happened?"
I hung my head dejectedly. "Nothing much. Just that Mr Nie Zun here invited Jiao S, as well as that weakling man we met in the forest, to come along with us."
Jie Pa asked curiously, "Weakling? The one in the white robes? Why would we bring him along?"
"He's the last A-rank officer in S clan."
Yu Liang nodded. "I'd already guessed that he wasn't someone ordinary." Well, yes. With such a peculiar appearance and odd behaviour, it would be strange if he were someone ordinary.
Nie Zun looked around us. "We agreed to set off tomorrow. Let's head over to the academy to request some rooms. Remember to lay low."
"They're probably monitoring that place." I pressed my lips together.
Song Lu laughed and kneaded my head. "You have us. What are you afraid of?" I could only nod. True. At least with them by my side, I could rest assured.
When we arrived at the academy, Nie Zun and Jie Pa took care of the formalities. We got two rooms in the dorm. Nie Zun, Jie Pa, and I would share one, and the other was for Song Lu and Yu Liang.
All the rooms in the school dorm were pretty much the same. One bunkbed per room. "Nie Zun, you take the floor. Jie Pa and I will sleep on the bed." I motioned for Jie Pa to take the top bunk.
Jie Pa pushed his glasses up. "No need. Ms Ah Shen and Nie Zun can take the bed. I'll be fine on the floor."
"Hear that?" Nie Zun gave his lazy smile and then climbed onto the top bunk. I glared after him, annoyed that he only moved with such speed in these kinds of situations. Jie Pa slept on the floor in the corner.
Cold and heat didn't greatly affect us in any case, so I closed my eyes to sleep. Although it wasn't yet dark out, resting a bit more is never bad. In the Split Zone, you can sleep as long as you wanted.
As I thought over the recent events, a sleepiness came over me. In my drowsy state, I sensed that Nie Zun was tossing and turning in the bunk above me, but I didn't bother opening my eyes to check. With him and Jie Pa in the room, I didn't have to worry about questions of safety.
After sleeping for some time, a knocking on the door woke me up. Song Lu's anxious cry sounded from outside, "Ah Shen, open up! Something's happened to Yu Liang!"
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