19 Difficult Punishment to Bear
We punctually arrived at the district line as the sky started to light. I immediately spotted Jiao S and the loathesome white robed Guan Nie. Guan Nie's eyes lit up when he saw Nie Zun and he quickly scuttled over. "I only agreed to join because I'd heard you'd be going." Nie Zun fluttered his eyelashes and returned a bright smile. I rolled my eyes, a look of futility crossing my face.
Jiao S looked over at me. Not wanting to mince words, she said, "The Southern District is different from both your and my districts. I want to make some things clear before we cross over." Everyone else remained silent as they listened intently.
She looked around first. Then she said, "Because the Southern District is filled with deficient people, the district commander, Si Luo, set up an impenetrable defense system. However, while we're heading into foreign territory, we needn't worry for our safety as assassins don't seem to appear in the Southern District."
"What do you mean?" Jie Pa suddenly asked.
"From what I know, within the Southern Forest is hidden the Split Zone's top illusionist. Once you step across the district line, you will immediately enter a dream-like state that reflects what you hold deep in your heart. If you carry a murderous intent, the illusion will cause you to retreat out of the forest of your own volition."
With a frown, I asked, "How have you all mastered such superhuman abilities?"
The white robed Guan Nie smirked. He looked at me with disdain as he responded, "Looks like the rumors were true. The Western Commander really is a good for nothing who hasn't even been able to master anything beyond the basics." My face twitched. Hell.
Jiao S aso looked at me with a twinge of surprise. "No one in your Western District has these abilities?"
Nie Zun laughed. "Even the commander doesn't, so how could anyone else have them?" I broke out in a cold sweat. Th-this...
Song Lu and Yu Liang both lowered their heads, unable to refute. The white robed Guan Nie shook his head, a grudging expression on his face. "Since I'm worried you'll slow my extraordinary self down, I'll put up with having to teach you."
He took a few steps forward and turned around. Lifting his white hair from the ground, he exposed the sun symbol on the back of his neck. I suddenly felt my heart drop. I quickly looked over at Nie Zun. A moon, a sun... And in the exact same spot. Did that mean anything?
Nie Zun remained calm though. With a light smile, he looked at the back of Guan Nie's neck. It was then that I realized that there was a key inserted into Guan Nie's split symbol!
"What's going on?" Jie Pa asked with great surprise.
"This is my own splitting key," Guan Nie responded lazily. He turned back and shot a flirtatious look at Nie Zun. Gag... As he tenderly looked at Nie Zun, he started to give an explanation that seemed like it was directed solely at Nie Zun. "Our own splitting keys cannot kill us. If we insert them into our split symbol, we gain unrestricted control over our mental force."
Hearing this, Nie Zun's eyes lit up. "To what extent?" he asked.
"It's limitless in the sense that you can use any type of skills. Heh. But as mental force has its limits, most people will only be able to develop a single skill." So it was like that. Things like invisibility and creating illusions, and the like, could be explained this way.
"However, many people are unable to use this technique," Jiao S supplemented.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
Jiao S stared at me. "After you insert the key, you will receive a punishment. As long as the key remains inside your split symbol, the punishment will continue. Each person's punishment may be different. Some cannot bear the punishment, so they would rather not use this technique. I suppose this is the reason that Li Qing was unwilling to let anyone in the Western District use it. So, no one ever taught you guys." She looked over at Song Lu and the rest of the group.
A surprised expression appeared on Song Lu's face. "Master Li Qing could use this technique?"
"Of course," Jiao S said with a nod.
Guan Nie suddenly covered his mouth and laughed. "As an example, for the duration that my split key is inside my split symbol, my entire body will feel a constant pain that is 100 times more painful than an ordinary person could endure."
Nie Zun's brow raised. "How do you endure it then?"
Guan Nie's smile deepened. "It's nothing much. At first, the pain was indeed difficult to bear, but I've grown used to it now."
A gust of wind blew by. I already felt the cold sweat pouring out of me. Being able to adapt to a constant pain that most couldn't handle, living every day with such a pain—what did that feel like. I figure I would never feel that kind of pain.
Jiao S looked back at me. "This technique requires that your split symbol be unlocked. While using the technique, your strength will not decrease as you use your mental force. For example, if you want to use 30 MF to create an illusion, once the illusion ends, you will regain your 30 MF, but you won't lose 1 MF for activating your mental force. However, this will take a toll on you once you remove your splitting key. When you return to your ordinary state, your mental force will decrease according to your usage. In this case, your mental force will drop 30 levels, and remain as such for a month before it's recovered."
I became apprehensive. If that's the case, then this technique costs a lot of mental force. Afterwards, you'd be left very weak, essentially living like a cripple for a month. And you would be in danger during that time.
"While our own splitting key is inserted in our split symbols, can others still kill us?" Jie Pa asked a key question, trying to analyze this information.
Jiao S explained, "Of course. Others can still kill you the same as before. Additionally, while your key is in use, you naturally cannot kill another. When you remove your key, your mental force will have decreased dramatically, so you'll still unlikely be able to kill another. This technique can only be used for combat, and it does not allow for killing."
"Since the assassin who attacked me would have been using a stealth ability, meaning his splitting key was unavailable, why was he still trying to kill me?" I didn't understand.
"I would guess that he wasn't trying to kill you, but I don't know what his motive could have been." Jiao S appeared to be deep in thought. I couldn't help but furrow my brows also. Things were getting more and more complicated.
Jiao S suddenly gave a sinister laugh. "But no matter. Whatever his motive may have been, my death squad is sure to make him spit it out." I looked at her savage, smiling face and a chill ran down my spine.
Yu Liang stepped forward. "You're telling all of this to us now because you want us to unlock this extraordinary power before we cross districts. You think that we won't be able to pass through the illusion otherwise."
Jiao S savored Yu Liang's reaction and then looked at him with praise in her eyes. "That's right. Though we're not planning on killing anyone, and it's unlikely that any of us carry any kind of murderous desires, that illusion ability isn't something to think lightly of. Even if we don't plan on killing, our motives aren't entirely pure either. I'm worried that traveling through the forest will be time consuming and draining. I hope that you can all activate this technique so that we won't be slowed down."
Did this mean that she wanted us to insert our splitting keys now? But who would reveal their split symbol to others so easily? Not everyone possessed Guan Nie's confidence, so sure that no one could kill him.
Seeming to sense my apprehension, Guan Nie scoffed. "We won't look. Jiao S and I will cross first. As for the rest, you all can determine for yourselves what you'll do. Just know that the Southern District isn't the gentle place that you may think it is."
After he said that, he stepped across the district line without a hint of hesitation, not even giving us a moment to prepare. His body quickly disappeared into the forest on the other side. Then, I suddenly realized that he'd called Jiao S by name and not as Commander. Looks like this Guan Nie character really wasn't someone Jiao S could order around at will.
With a bit of concern still, Jiao S gave me a long hard look, before she turned and crossed the district line as well. These the Easterners were really very firm in their workings...
Nie Zun lazily scratched his head. "So, should we use it or not? Mmh?"
Jie Pa pushed his glasses on his nose. He stepped forward and said, "I'll use it."
We all exchanged glances with each other, and then we nodded to Jie Pa, expressing our agreement. We all turned away as each person inserted their splitting keys. Maybe it was because I had my back to him, but time seemed to be crawling along at a snail's pace.
After a long time, he finally said, "I'm done." His voice trembled ever so slightly.
When I turned to look at him, he was standing in the same spot and it didn't seem that anything had changed. But then I noticed that Jie Pa's ever calm and steady gaze carried a hint of fear and his body seemed to be trembling too.
Nie Zun was the first to notice that something didn't seem quite right. He frowned and put a hand on Jie Pa's shoulder. "What is it?"
Jie Pa's expression slowly turned to one of pain. "I-it's nothing. I'm fine."
Since Jie Pa didn't seem to want to say any more, we didn't probe him further, but Song Lu and Yu Liang exchanged a glance. Yu Liang comforted her, "I'll go first." Song Lu looked at him uneasily.
Once again, we proceeded as before. When we turned back around, I saw that while Yu Liang didn't appear to be in pain, he had a very helpless look about him.
He shook his head. "I'm afraid that the effect of this technique is that you must face the fears you've buried in the depths of your heart."
When I heard his words, a wave of worry rushed over me. I didn't want to use this method. I felt quite certain of that. For some reason, when I felt afraid, my palms would turn cold. Subconsciously, in this time of worry, I turned to look at Nie Zun. He smiled at me and said steadily, "I'll go next."
I wanted to reach out and stop him, but I ended up holding my had out in the air a moment before lowering it.
After some time, we turned around again. I almost couldn't even muster the courage to look at Nie Zun. I calculated the possibilities in my head, but I still didn't dare to look. I was afraid that there would be a never before seen fear in Nie Zun's eyes. But when I gathered my courage and raised my head to look at him, I didn't see any differences in his expression. His eyes still shone with that carefree attitude and his hands were tucked in his pockets as before.
He looked at me calmly and said, "It's enough that we've activated this technique. We can protect you, so you don't have to do it." His tone sounded ordinary, but it carried a kind of irrefutable strength.
Those were his first words after entering this unlocked state that required its user to suffer an unbearable punishment. He said, 'I can protect you. You don't have to do it.' My eyes drooped, and a sliver of warmth penetrated my heart. I nodded. For some reason, and especially after Nie Zun's words, I really didn't want to go through with this technique.
Last was Song Lu. She said evenly, "You don't have to turn around. My split symbol is on my collarbone. Ah Shen and Yu Liang both know this." Yes.
She casually reached into her shirt collar and exposed her clean and pretty collarbone. With her other hand, she inserted her splitting key into her split symbol, and then, there was a flash of light. During the process, her eyes remained calm. But after the key was inserted, she suddenly stopped moving, as if she'd been turned to stone, frozen in place.
A gust of wind blew past, blowing at her soft curls, but her eyes were void of light, as if she were dead. I felt uneasy. I wanted to step forward and hold her, but at the same time, I didn't have the courage to. And so, I stood fearfully still, my fingers rubbing against each other, as I waited to see the outcome.
"Ah!!!" Song Lu suddenly shrieked out. She didn't move, but her eyes showed a kind of fear that I'd never seen before.
Seeing this, I immediately reached to grab her, but Yu Liang stopped me. He looked at Song Lu with pitiful eyes, but he didn't move to hold her.
She continued to scream for some ten seconds, and then it seemed like she'd broken whatever spell was cast upon her. When she regained her ability to move, she gasped for breath and then pulled the key out from below her neck. She shook her head violently, her pupils darting around and trembling. "I-I-I can't use it."
A gleam passed across Yu Liang's eyes. Then he sighed and reached out to steady the shaking Song Lu. "Don't. Don't use it. I'll protect you."
I suddenly recalled Song Lu's story, from her time in the real world. Her psychosis had been triggered by a rape. Is that what she saw? If that were the case, it really would have been too horrific. I had even less desire to use this technique now.
I pushed the inky darkness down and down into the recesses of my heart, keeping it from seeping out, that unerasable fear. I opened my mouth and said, "Okay, let's go."
All together, we crossed the East-South district line. As we stepped across, I touched my chest. A strange feeling seemed to be cross over my flesh.
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