48 Final Defense
When we walked into the border forest, it felt like the ground was turning beneath me. I looked up to discover that my three companions had disappeared.
"Shit, is this another illusion?" I muttered as I put my hands on my waist. The bow on my right shoulder swayed slightly with the motion.
Then, I heard Gaoqin Jiuye's chilly voice fall from the sky.
"This is a space shifting illusion that Huan Qing set up as a final defense. It makes you feel like you're walking on a puzzle piece that's constantly being moved, but it's just an illusion. However, it was meant as a final defense, which means something happened to Huan Qing. We can't escape from the current situation, so each of us should search for traces of Huan Qing where we are.
"Hey, hey, that's all you have to say? We came to find Laurel, not that illusionist in a white suit!" I shouted angrily towards the sky.
Was he kidding? Find him? Shifting puzzle pieces? Nie Zun always leads the way because I already get lost on land that doesn't move!
After my shouting, I waited a bit, but no reply ever came.
Huh. I was left speechless as I cursed inwardly.
And then suddenly, I felt my body being dragged to the right. My body wasn't actually moving. It just felt like there was some kind of large magnet pulling me to the side.
As my body shifted involuntarily, I stood still. Then I quickly realized that this meant that Nie Zun was 500 meters away to my right! His body was moving to the right, and beause we had to remain 500 meters from each other, I was being forcefully pulled along!
I felt like a crab being picked by some kind of shapeless hand, flying through the air, unable to move my limbs. I really wanted to just turn and run after Nie Zun instead. But then another thought came to mind. Why bother using up my mental force when I could just sleep here and get pulled along?
If you were there, you'd have seen a faceless woman in a red dress flying past you. Faceless, beacuse my hair had been blown over my face by the fast speed.
I rolled my eyes as I was dragged along. Nie Zun seemed to be running, for some reason. I couldn't see anything but trees as I was pulled. I didn't see an end, and of course, I didn't see Nie Zun.
I felt myself moving faster and faster, and then I couldn't help turning and running along, lest I end up running straight into a tree!
"Nie Zun, where the hell are you running to?!" As I was muttering my grievances, I suddenly realized that the scene around me didn't feel quite right.
It looked like two portions of forest were overlapping. The images in front of me were distant, fuzzy, like a mirage. Slowly, my eyes widened.
The forest seemed to be turning! The scene spun, like a bagua trigram array. . As the forest spun clockwise, everything blurred, and I was pulled forward.
"Is Nie Zun not the one running?! What the hell is happening?!" I shouted as I watched myself being pulled towards the spinning forest that couldn't possibly be real, while I remained completely unable to stop myself.
"I'm dizzy!" I cried out helplessly, trying to adjust to the situation.
With a face full of misery and grief, I headed into the spinning forest. Then, suddenly, the magnetic-like pull disappeared. My head was filled with conjectures and complaints, so I forgot to pull the brakes with my mental force. Without the force pulling at me, I fell forward to the ground in my red dress.
With a crash, I felt my chin smash into the rock-hard ground of the Split Zone.
I think I broke it.
Lying on the ground, I reached to touch my teeth. It hurt a bit, but this kind of pain was more like an itch than anything else. I waited for my teeth and face to heal. My limbs were a bit sore from the fall, and since I couldn't be bothered to move, I just lied there, sprawled out.
As my skin was healing, I heard that familiar carefree drawl float down from above, "What are you getting at, kissing the ground in such an ecstatic posture?"
I lifted my head slightly, to see an amused expression on Nie Zun's face as he looked down at me. I immediately jumped up, somewhat embarrassed.
"Were you running just now?" I asked as I pat the dust of my body.
Nie Zun nodded. "I heard Gaoqin Jiuye's announcement, and I figured that this final defense illusion must be breakable. Ordinarily, each person will be placed into their own illusory space, and these spaces can't be intruded. Those without a strong will won't be able to escape them either. So, I decided to make use of the bond between us instead. I kept running in one direction, forcing you to break through your illusory space into mine."
I exclaimed, "What if you failed?! What if the two illusions met and then I ended up twisted to shreds?"
Nie Zun pouted and smiled like a little boy. "Well, then you'd be in pieces now."
"Wow, wow, wow, you're truly a demon, Nie Zun," I remarked casually, no heart to mock him further.
But his expression darkened briefly. Just as I was about to fall for it, his eyes lit up again as he said, "But if I have to become a demon to protect you, I'd gladly do so."
Hearing those words in such a magnetic voice, I felt myself stagger.
With an unruly expression and a wanton smile, he said, "I was just kidding. Did you think I was being serious?"
I immediately rolled my eyes in annoyance. "But how was Gaoqin Jiuye's voice coming down from the sky?" I asked.
"It must have something to do with his persuasion ability," Nie Zun replied casually.
I looked around us. We were still in the border forest, the same place I was at previously. "So, he wanted us to find Huan Qing, but Huan Qing might not be in this illusory space, right?"
Nie Zun also took a look around. "This isn't exactly an illusory space. Reality's just been warped somewhat. He must be somewhere. We can't escape, but if he's here, we just need to find him."
I frowned. "Where do we look for him?"
Nie Zun considered it for a moment. "See if you can smell which direction Laurel is."
I turned and sniffed around us. "Yes, that way." I pointed.
"Let's check that way then and see if we can find another distorted space," Nie Zun suggested.
After the two of us walked a bit, I discovered a figure lying beneath a nearby tree. "Nie Zun, look. Is there someone lying there?" I pointed towards the tree.
Nie Zun squinted. "Let's check it out."
And so, we quickly walked over to the person at the tree. As we approached, I looked at the person lying on the ground. A bit startled, I asked, "Isn't that Huan Qing? What happened to him?"
The person lying on the ground was indeed Huan Qing. But his spotless, white suit was now stained and bloodied. His handsome face was covered in scars, and although he looked to be healing, it was happening very slowly. His maroon hair was plastered down with blood, his eyes were tightly closed, and his lips were pressed flat.
Without a word, Nie Zun crouched down to inspect him.
Then, he said, "Turn around. I'll have to remove his clothes to find his split symbol and verify my suspicions."
With a disgruntled expression, I replied, "Do you think he's worried about that now? He's passed out. Just do it."
But the look in my eyes and the drool at my mouth gave away my true intentions: Hurry and take the clothes off this handsome man!
Nie Zun helplessly rolled his eyes, and then he started searching for Huan Qing's split symbol. Unexpectedly, he quickly found Huan Qing's split symbol on his forearm, in what appeared to be a fox tail shape.
Nie Zun placed his hand over the split symbol to try to get a read on Huan Qing's mental force.
"What is it?" I asked curiously, but I couldn't help muttering inwardly that of all places, his split symbol was in such an easily discoverable spot.
Nie Zun seemed wary. Then he checked the splitting key that still hung around Huan Qing's neck.
Our splitting keys are hung around our necks with our mental force. Each person's key is only useful to themselves. To others, it's simply a useless piece of metal. Moreover, a person can't take someone else's splitting key, for it's linked to the owner's split symbol; the key will simply return to their owner. We can remove our splitting keys without worry of losing them, for they always reappear around our necks.
After a long examination, Nie Zun finally said, "As I expected. His body no longer holds any mental force."
"What? None at all? How can that be?" I asked with susprise.
Nie Zun nodded. "Did you forget? Jiao S mentioned it before. After unlocking your split symbol with your own key, your mental force will disappear for an entire month. In order to create an illusion that can cover the entire border forest, he presumably unlocked his split symbol. At some point though, he must have been attacked and had his key removed."
I flinched. "Who could it be? If it's someone from Laurel's side, at least, we can be sure that Li Wen's not there. If she were, then he wouldn't even be alive now. If it's not Li Wen, then maybe they took away his ability to use his mental force because they were unable to take his life another way."
A dim light passed over Nie Zun's eyes. "That's not the important part. What's important is that, as far as we know, Huan Qing and the soul snatcher Rong Jin, and also Gaoqin Jiuye, are the most powerful people in the Southern District. With Huan Qing, though he may not have a high attack power, his defensive abilities are surely enough to allow him to escape.
"This distorted space is his final defense. That means that, even if he's lost consciousness, his illusion will not be easily undone. It will continue to conceal him."
My heart sunk as I took in his meaning.
Nie Zun finished by saying, "So, the most important question is, who in the Split Zone would be able to injure him to this extent, that he would put up his final defense."
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