45 Target of Criticisms
Nie Zun seemed to have gleaned my inner thoughts, but he simply glanced over me. He continued with his analysis, "I know that Jie Pa has been carrying on his own investigation. Jiao S, you should know that Jie Pa's intel has always reached far and is trustworthy. At the time, we didn't know there were such experiments going on, or that the insects on the dead man's body were a failed experiment. That's why Jie Pa's investigation hadn't yielded any results, that is, until we came to the Southern District, where everthing seems to have become clear. Now I have a question for you. How exactly did the five B-rank members of your clan die?"
A deep pain flashed across Jiao S' eyes. It disappeared quickly, but I know I saw it.
"The first four died at the same time that you first came to see me. And the fifth, you were witness to his death yourselves. The deaths of the first four were all the same. Their bodies were chopped to pieces and arranged into the word 'death'."
When I recalled that someone had died just upon my arrival to the Eastern District, I felt my mouth twitch. Since she suddenly brought that up, Jiao S didn't mean to point her sword at me and ask for recompense now, right?
Nie Zun nodded. "If I'm not recalling wrong, you'd sent three people to find Gaoqin Jiuye, but they were unsuccessful. Then, one of them died the day we checked into the Eastern dorms. Correct?"
Jiao S nodded solemnly.
Nie Zun narrowed his eyes a bit. "On that subject, I have to bring up a few things. I hope that, in the future, both of you commanders will listen well."
After seeing Nie Zun's expression, I exchanged a glance with Jiao S. Then both of us waited for his next words.
His carefree nature seemed to have made a partial return. "Among the people we've met so far, there are a few we must be vigilant towards. You cannot forget this."
A radiance suddenly flashed in his eyes. "First, there's Gaoqin Jiuye. Jiao S, although the two of you seem to use a very similar, if not the same, air control technique, I don't plan on investigating that further. That said, I'm sure you know that Gaoqin Jiuye isn't someone benevolent. The black sword at his waist is a weapon I've never seen before in the Split Zone. And though I've never seen him use it, I would wager it's not to be treated as a plaything. The way Gaoqin Jiuye manipulates his mental force, in addition to his persuasion ability, means that he won't have any troubles in any situation or battle. A person like that is someone we cannot not fear."
Jiao S looked around.
Nie Zun's lips curved into a smile. "Then, there's the illusionist, Huan Qing. He clearly gets along with the people of the Southen District. From what you've said, he guards the border forest between the Southern and Eastern Districts. But for that girl, Mi Fu, he left the forest. Why would that be? And if his illusions were truly perfect, how could there be so many strange creatures in the Southern District now? He holds secrets that we don't know about. As for the girl, Mi Fu, I've never heard that the Southern District had a goddess or anything like that."
I found myself getting a bit lost. I've never known Nie Zun to take anything seriously, let alone analyze anything so seriously. He passed his days in the Split Zone by chasing after me as I ran, lazing about in the day, and occasionally having a drink with Jie Pa. I'd never seen him take anything to heart or mind like this before. So, I listened intently.
Nie Zun suddenly yawned. "Actually, a lot of things seem to be pointing towards the as of yet unseen spirit snatcher, Rong Jin. But instead of suspecting someone I've never seen, I prefer to look at those around me.
"Last, there's Guan Nie, whom you brought along. When you had us meet on the 30th floor to talk, you weren't guarding against the blond man, but rather Guan Nie, right? From what I've seen, Guan Nie's sorcery wouldn't lose out to Huan Qing's. But the question is, why would you fear him? You said that Guan Nie is trustworthy, aside from his dispute with Gaoqin Jiuye. And I believe that. But have you considered, if the two settle their differences, then the problem lies with Gaoqin Jiuye. How will you deal with that? You keep Guan Nie under your service because of his animosity with Gaoqin Jiuye. From what I've seen, his hate for Gaoqin Jiuye stems from past feelings. If they resolve their problems, what will you do?"
I felt my heart chill. Although I've long noticed the messy relationships between everone, I've never analyzed them or laid out their pros and cons. Nie Zun... I couldn't help lifting my head and looking over at his easygoing expression.
Nie Zun, have I been mistaken in thinking I understood you?
Then I turned back to Jiao S. She rarely had such an uncertain expression. The light flickered in her eyes as she looked at Nie Zun and asked, "Why are you saying all these things to me?"
Nie Zun gave an honorable smile, like an immortal who was above eating mortals' food. "It's nothing, just a certain feeling I had. You're rather quite dependable, compared to the two of them.
"I'm bringing this up today because I want to make sure you're thinking over things carefully. You have to be careful with these people. The reason you kept those three protectors, who pledged themselves to you, was because you didn't trust others, wasn't it? I hope that you'll think this over clearly. Li Shen and you are in the same positions now, and only if you two work together, without any suspicions for each other, will we be able to change the tide. And you know about the people in the Southern District. You can't trust even the best of them. Just like your feelings for Si Luo—if you cannot restrain them, you're very likely to fall into a trap."
Jiao S was quiet awhile. Suddenly, she sighed and said, "You're indeed Nie Zun."
Her eyes went back and forth between me and Nie Zun. Finally, she looked into my eyes and said, "Li Shen, you're truly very fortunate. There are always so many people around you, willing to protect you."
I glanced over at Nie Zun, and then I lowered my eyes.
A lot of people were willing to protect me? I laughed bitterly inside. Was that the reason I didn't want to leave the Split Zone? Because I was afraid of returning to the real world, where there would be no one to watch over me?
Nie Zun looked at me, and a gentleness seemed to pass over his eyes. Or maybe I was seeing things.
Then, he stuffed his hands back into his pockets and said, "In any case, I hope you two will trust each other wholly. There have been incidents in both the Western and Eastern Districts now, but feeling anxious won't solve any of our problems. Let's first investigate here more. It's night, so we'll rest first. I trust that Gaoqin Jiuye and Jie Pa will resolve things on their end well. When morning comes, we can go after Laurel."
Jiao S nodded. There was a sparkle in her eyes, and then vortexes appeared beside her again. She raised her arm and returned her sword inside.
She waved to me and then turned to go. "Let's get some rest then. I'm sure they're already forming suspicions since we've talked for so long."
After Jiao S walked away, I looked over at Nie Zun.
"Nie Zun, how many secrets have you hidden from me?
Nie Zun laughed. "Regardless of how many secrets I have, haven't I always protected you? What are you afraid of?"
I was a bit taken aback. I'd never heard such words from him before.
He turned, about to return in the same direction of Jiao S. But before he walked away, he turned back to me. In the darkness, a strange, unfathomable warmth enveloped his face. "Let's head back."
I bit my lower lip, and then hurried to catch up.
When Nie Zun and I returned to the school, I saw Gaoqin Jiuye confronting Huan Qing.
"This is how you've protected the Southern District?" Gaoqin Jiuye asked Huan Qing, pointing to the broken glass shards and the blood stains that remained after their clean-up.
Huan Qing's threatening face didn't seem to carry any excessive emotions. "My job is simply to protect Mi Fu and guard the South-East border forest."
"Mi Fu? Ha, then you'd best protect her well. I won't argue with you about all the garbage that's made its way into the Southern District. But Huan Qing, if anything happens to her, even as the number one illusionist, your road will have reached its end." Gaoqin Jiuye was as arrogant and callous as ever.
Huan Qing's amber eyes sparked with a cold light. "Gaoqin Jiuye, don't be so arrogant. There's really no reason for you to treat me in such a hostile manner. I'm not Rong Jin, after all. I have no desire to fight over the commander's position with you."
Huh? What and what now? Gaoqin Jiuye, your enemy really isn't an ordinary person. I savored the moment. But quickly, my face darkened, because after seeing us, this pair didn't seem to acknowledge my or Nie Zun's presence at all.
I stepped forward. Only when I was nearly at his side did Gaoqin Jiuye spare me a glance. As for Huan Qing, he didn't look at me, but he was glaring at Nie Zun.
Nie Zun's lips curved. "We meet again."
"I trust you've been well and have had good fortune since we last met. Lady Mi Fu still doesn't dare to walk around freely." A dark ruthlessness crossed his eyes.
"A lot of people will be happy with her off the streets, unable to harm anyone else." Nie Zun squinted as he smiled. Then he raised an arm to cover his yawn. "And besides, she's your goddess, not mine."
After yawning, he suddenly grabbed onto my shoulders, his actions fast as lightning. I flinched. I turned to look at him, but he seemed to be looking at Huan Qing and Gaoqin Jiuye.
An unignorable smile appeared on his face. "My goddess is right here."
For some reason, my face started to burn a bit. Nie Zun was an apathetic person, though occasionally seemed rather wanton ;it was something I'd long grown used to. He had a double sided personality, like me. But I'd never seen him so nefarious as today.
Gaoqin Jiuye's eyes darted between Nie Zun and me, an inscrutable expression on his face.
I lightly shoved Nie Zun off.
A carefreeness filled his eyes. "Top illusionist of the Southern District, I trust that you'll be able to take care of the aftermath here. How about you let us borrow Gaoqin Jiuye for a few days? We have some things to look into."
The meaning behind his words was: You, Huan Qing, should do well and protect your goddess and the Southern District, and stay out of our affairs.
Huan Qing stood tall, looking like a storybook hero. With a cold expression, he said, "Don't worry. Since we've already agreed not to interfere with each other, I won't go back on my word. Investigate as you please. So long as you stay away from Lady Mi Fu, I will ask no questions of you."
"Well, you ought to ask some questions. At the least, with something like what happened today, we both have a tad bit of responsibility." Gaoqin Jiuye really didn't seem to be friends with anyone.
Huan Qing glanced at him and replied, "Not an easy feat, the word responsibility coming out of your mouth. Investigate your matters as you'd like. I'll finish taking care of things here."
Then he laughed. "We can't compete after all. Si Luo's favorite has always been you."
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