33 The Tunnel
I was baffled by Gaoqin Jiuye's words.
Was Nie Zun that famous? When we'd met previously, Gaoqin Jiuye clearly hadn't recognized me at all, even though I must have looked smitten. Still, I'm a district commander. He didn't recognize the Western Commander, but he recognized Nie Zun?
It pissed me off. I rolled my eyes at Nie Zun. Tsk, this devil whom I was constantly stuck with, was actually more famous than me?!
Gaoqin Jiuye looked around us. "The one who put up these trees must still be nearby. I'm not the best at locating people, but I don't want you to misunderstand Si Luo. Why don't I accompany you past the trees to search?"
I quickly glared at him. "Why should we believe you?!"
Gaoqin Jiuye shot a bewitching smile at me. That heart-moving smile had me captivated.
He smiled and said, "Do you have any other plans? If what you're saying is true, that the child you're looking for is down there, then it will be easier to save her with my help. I don't want anyone causing trouble in the Southern District—not whoever put up these trees, and not all of you."
I really couldn't stand his haughty and arrogant demeanor. I was about to retort when Nie Zun grabbed me. He shot a charming smile at Gaoqin Jiuye, the brightness nearly blinding my eyes. "Okay, then let's take a look together. But if you're genuine about helping us find the truth, I hope that we can assist each other without harming one another."
After Nie Zun gave such an answer, I closed my mouth and didn't reject the offer.
Gaoqin Jiuye nodded. But he didn't move, and instead continued to look at the trees behind us. His eyes hardened, and then a chilling sound suddenly came from the air. Crackling, snapping. I quickly turned my head and saw the trees snap apart from his condensing the air around them.
My mouth twitched. Shit. I don't match with this Split Zone at all. With just a stare, others can knock down trees. But I'd slashed for ages with Piercer and only left a scratch, like I'd been tickling the tree.
Gaoqin Jiuye stepped forward with his bright yellow sneakers, walking toward me. Then he walked straight past us, up to the gap he'd made in the trees. He took a step with his right foot and then jumped. Like a nimble, young athlete, he leapt stright down into the pit. Just as he jumped off, he added, "Hurry, the trees will tangle together again."
My chest felt stuffed up. We don't even know what's down in that pit, but he just jumped in like that? Even if he wanted to die, I sure didn't.
I crouched down and untied Piercer from my ankle, making sure to re-tie the red ribbon tightly around my split symbol. I coiled the long whip around my waist like a purple belt, leaving the tip of the whip hanging down. After I dealt with the other end, I moved my bow from my back to my shoulder and made sure I had enough arrows.
After I finished my inspection, I looked up to realize that everyone had disappeared. And the trees that Gaoqin Jiuye had cut down were already growing back swiftly.
"Ay! Wait for me!!" I shouted as I quickly charged forward.
Because the trees were weaving back together, I ran very quickly. I didn't jump in with a perfect pose like Gaoqin Jiuye had. My calculation must have been thrown off by how fast the trees grew, because after I jumped into the air, I stumbled over a tree branch before falling down into the pit.
As I dropped down into the pit, I screamed out, "Ahhh!!!" falling head first into the giant hole.
Since my body had flipped upside down, as I fell, I felt the skirt of my dress flip over and cover my face. So, instead of using my mental force to save myself, the only thing on my mind was whether or not they would see my underpants when I fell down!
As the thought spiraled in my mind, I finally landed into a cold embrace. Whomever it was must have used some mental force, because instead of plopping into their arms, I gently landed in them. But this embrace was truly chilling, like a vampire's skin, without a single touch of warmth.
I subconsciously raised my head to see Gaoqin Jiuye's grim and wicked face. I started to struggle against him, my heart flying into a panic. Having the face that I'd so utterly adored, so close before my eyes, the air seemed to stop flowing in my chest. I felt like I was suffocating. I quickly stepped back, a frantic expression in my eyes as I stared at him.
Gaoqin Jiuye continued to look at me as before, expressionless.
As I retreated, I backed into another body. I quickly turned my head and locked eyes with Nie Zun. The light flickered in his eyes, and he helped to support me. I felt a bit uncomfortable, so after I gained my footing, I moved away from him. Then I finally looked around us.
Jie Pa, Nie Zun, and Gaoqin Jiuye stood at the side. And as I'd suspected, the pit wasn't very deep, just a few hundred meters down. When I looked up, I could still see the bright, grey sky above.
There were no beasts in the pit either. In fact, there was nothing there at all. Under our feet was the same stone ground that existed throughout the Split Zone. The pit had a radius of about 100 meters. There was nothing else to be seen though. Even the walls were stone. This was clearly just a large well that had been dug out from the ground, and not some kind of pit hiding strange creatures.
"What's going on? Why isn't there anything here?" I asked in surprise.
Gaoqin Jiuye motioned for me to turn around, and when I did, I saw a large tunnel-like structure on the wall; it looked like a doorway. "Let's go and take a look." After saying that, he headed directly towards the tunnel.
With Gaoqin Jiuye taking the lead, and Nie Zun and Jie Pa following, I joined behind them without any fear. When I arrived at the entrance to the tunnel, I discovered that it was the entrance to a path that headed down beneath this stone well. The path was also paved by stone, looking no different than normal, and it was wide enough to accomodate the four of us walking side by side.
It was dim inside the tunnel, and gradually, our visibility dropped to about ten meters. We couldn't see what surprises lied ahead; in front of us was only darkness.
After walking for roughly ten minutess, we came to the end. I say 'end' because there was no more path to walk on. Instead, there was a closed stone door.
Jie Pa walked up ahead and pressed his ear to the door. He turned to us and said, "The door is very thick and blocks sounds, but I can still hear the mournful cries from beyond it. I'm afriad that what lies beyond this door is something unimaginable. And Ms Laurel's scent is indeed present."
I couldn't help frowning. Who woud dig out this kind of giant well and tunnel to conceal something? And how was it that the people of the Southern District were unaware of it? Unless what we'd seen so far was just an illusion designed to lure us to this place?
"This isn't an illusion, is it?" I finally asked timidly.
Gaoqin Jiuye sneered as he shook his head. "Even Huan Qing's skills cannot affect me, so I really can't think of anyone who could put me under a spell."
My lips twitched.
Gaoqin Jiuye signaled for us to move back, so the three of us retreated a few meters. Then he walked up to the stone door and raised his arms. Startled, I belatedly realized that the air in the tunnel was condensing into rotating balls of air around his hands.
After about half a minute, he suddenly threw the spheres of air at the door. Though we were in the Split Zone, and he was manipulating his mental force to break apart a stone door, his movements still reminded me of Senior Gao Qi.
Senior Gao Qi's back and his back were one and the same. At every school athletics competition, Senior Gao Qi had been the most eye-catching. He, who loved the color yellow, always wore yellow-green athletics clothes.
Every time I saw his warm and cozy smile, every time I heard his enchanting voice, I became intoxicated. For me, he was a perfect and yet distant temptation.
When I got to college, my condition hadn't improve much. Because Pomelo continued to linger around me, my medical history also made rounds, but most of the students were indifferent and uncaring. At the peak of the heat wave, they much preferred gossipping about whose luxury car the school beauty rode that weekend.
Still, in many people's minds, I was the 'mentally ill girl.' My illness wasn't purely a mental disorder though, but also partly a behavorial one. But well, mental disorder, psychosis, psychological perversion—to most people, they were one and the same.
To me at the time, Senior Gao Qi was genuinely like a male god in a girl's comic book. Emphasis on 'god.' A god was perfect, faraway and sacred. I never dared to make our relationship anymore than that of a god and his follower.
That is, until the end of the sports competition that year.
I was picking up the trash by myself, since the other people allocated by our class had already left. I'll never forget how I was crouched on the ground, grabbing at garbage, when a pair of bright yellow sneakers suddenly appeared before my eyes.
When I looked up to see Senior Gao Qi's smiling face, in that moment, the shoes on his feet, the dazzling expression on his face, the faint yellow-orange reflection of the setting sun converged into these things called 'hope' and 'happiness.' They flowed in through my eyes and then finally into my heart.
In his intoxicating and enchanting voice, he said, "You're the girl they talk about, right?"
My heart felt like a 500 kg rock had knocked into my heart. With drooping eyes, I nodded.
He crouched down beside me, one of his legs stretched slightly forward. As he neared, I could smell his unique scent mixed with sweat. He reached out his hand and gently pat my head. "I always see you in the library. I never thought that girls who liked Les Misérables or Faust would have any problems. You know, just like the rumors say, I always see you carrying books about psychological crimes or serial murders in to read at the library. Others say that you like those kinds of things because something's wrong in your head, but I really don't think that's true."
I raised my head and looked at him timidly.
The world's most gentle light radiated from his eyes and his lips curved up in a tender smile. "Because I like those things too. In the same way that beautiful things don't always conceal evil, (liking) sinful things doesn't always mean you wish for them. Like it says in Faust, if the world is a bitter sea, then I believe that you are the only one who will understand me. Right?"
To me, the memory of that moment, that day, has doomed me beyond reprieve.
For some reason, it seemed that when Nie Zun looked into my eyes, my thoughts came back to the present. Nie Zun motioned for me to look ahead, so my eyes wandered over to Gaoqin Jiuye and then the stone door behind him. Gaoqin Jiuye hadn't shattered the door.
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