49 Mysterious Offender
An uneasiness crept over me as Nie Zun spoke.
"Give me one of your arrows," he told me.
Although I wasn't sure what he planned to do, I grabbed an arrow from my back and handed it to him. He took the arrow with his gloved left hand, and then he stabbed it into Huan Qing's arm.
"What are you doing?!" I shouted in alarm. My arrows were coated with a pain amplifier. Most people wouldn't be able to stand the pain, and Huan Qing was already injured!
Nie Zun didn't reply, but Huan Qing suddenly woke up in a bout of pain. Nie Zun pulled out the arrow, leaving the blood to start spilling from Huan Qing's arm. Huan Qing opened his eyes, his amber irises filled with pain.
After tossing aside the arrow, Nie Zun said, "Sorry, I had to get you to wake up, since there are some things I just can't understand. You were unconscious, but fortunately, the lack of mental force in your body meant that you'd feel this pain."
Huan Qing's eyelashes trembled, likely a side effect of the pain amplifier. I nearly couldn't bear it as I recalled his once spotless appearance and his proud, honorable demeanor.
Trembling, he glanced over at Nie Zun. His chapped lips opened to say, "It's fine, fortunate in fact. You have to go get Lady Mi Fu back. You can't let them take her away."
Nie Zun asked, "Who are they?"
Huan Qing's eyes shook. "The soul snatcher Rong Jin and a... A very scary woman."
A bit incredulous, I asked, "How scary is very scary?"
Huan Qing gasped in pain, and Nie Zun quickly pulled out a small vial of what looked to be hemostatic powder. He poured it over Huan Qing's arrow wound.
Huan Qing gasped again, and then slowly said, "I've never seen her before. She had purple hair, and she wore... She wore a fox fur coat. And she only had one arm."
A severed arm? I turned to Huan Qing in surprise. Most wouldn't choose to only give themselves with one arm. Unless perhaps, she'd only had one arm while she was alive?
"Where did they come from?" Nie Zun asked.
Huan Qing shook his head. "I don't know, but they came through from the Eastern District. They must be in the Southern District by now. I don't know why Rong Jin was with her, or why he was in the Eastern District to begin with."
"Has Rong Jin made a move yet?" Nie Zun continued his questioning.
Huan Qing laughed. "You two don't know, do you? No one has ever seen Rong Jin. Anytime he appears before Si Luo, there's just a shadow on the ground and his voice in the air. But no actual person to be seen. Earlier, it was that same familiar shadow as well. He likely hasn't made a move."
I grew more apprehensive. Shadows?
We didn't have shadows in the Split Zone. Sometimes a dark haze would appear when the light was weak, but that was because our visual field made things unclear. Within our sphere of vision though, there wouldn't be shadows at our feet. Because there's no sun in the Split Zone, and the sky is always greyed, and moreover, our bodies are formed by our conscious... Of course there wouldn't be shadows. How could someone have a shadow here?
I looked down at Huan Qing, who still looked to be in great pain, and I could only swallow my doubts.
Huan Qing spoke up, "Logically speaking, Rong Jin wouldn't betray Si Luo, so I don't understand why he would be with that strange woman.
"In any case, please, you must contact Gaoqin Jiuye. You can leave me here, but you must tell him that Mi Fu's been taken. Please, you must do that."
It was the first time I'd seen such a look in the cold and arrogant man's eyes. A kind of desperation. I nodded, agreeing to help.
"Sure, we can do that. Gaoqin Jiuye is here now. You just have to undo your final defense. Right now, we can't escape this distorted space, and we don't know which area Gaoqin Jiuye is in." Nie Zun said.
Huan Qing panted, "No. They must be outside this place right now. The final defense is keeping them from entering here. I came in after I was injured. They seem to be searching for something in this border forest. If I undo it now, everyone will be in danger."
Then he looked at me. "Trust me. You won't be able to beat her."
He was speaking of the one-armed woman. But his words piqued my curiosity. What kind of woman was she that Huan Qing was so sure that we wouldn't be able to beat her? And what would they be searching for in the forest?
It can't be... Nie Zun and I exchanged glances, both of us suddenly thinking of the same thing. "Laurel!"
They were searching for Laurel! That meant that they hadn't found Laurel after the stone room incident. Laurel was an experiment who'd fled, so she was now being hunted down.
But why had Laurel said that night, that this was what she wanted? If she truly wanted it, why was she running away?
I looked at Huan Qing and respectfully said, "Huan Qing, they seem to be searching for the missing girl from our district. Her name is Laurel. Trust me when I say that I want to save her just as much, if not more, as you want to save Mi Fu. So help us figure out a way to get out of this final defense and find Gaoqin Jiuye. It's true that Nie Zun and I aren't enough to fight them, but if we can't find Gaoqin Jiuye and Jiao S, then we an even smaller chance for success."
Huan Qing sighed. His voice was a bit hoarse as he said, "Okay. But I don't have a single ounce of mental force in me right now. I can't use my abilities to help you find them. I can undo the defense system, but once it's undone, there will be nothing protecting this forest anymore. You promise me. If you meet those two first, you must get away and find Gaoqin Jiuye."
"Okay," I promised.
Then, he closed his eyes and recited a string of words that I didn't understand. As he spoke, a sudden wind flew by. Huan Qing's words grew softer, and then, he fainted again.
Nie Zun examined him and then said to me, "His injuries are very serious. And without any mental force, it's unsafe for him to stay here. From the looks of it, he's undone the final defense. But the border forest is enormous. If we don't have a way of finding Gaoqin Jiuye quickly, then we can't bring him along."
Impatiently, I told him, "But we can't just toss him away either. And we can't just sit here and wait to die. We have to find Laurel before they do."
Nie Zun lowered his head as he hesitated. It was clear that he didn't have a plan either.
"What are you two doing here? Was the protection lifted?" Jiao S' rough voice suddenly sounded behind me.
It was the feeling of finding a piece of straw that, although couldn't save your life, was still a pleasant surprise. I immediately turned around. But there was only Jiao S.
I hurriedly walked over to her. "Have you seen Gaoqin Jiuye?"
"No." Jiao S shook her head. Then she looked down at Huan Qing lying on the ground. Her already large eyes widened even more. "What's wrong with him?"
I shook my head. "I'm not even sure how to explain it. But from what he said before he passed out, a one-armed woman crossed the East-South border together with Rong Jin. Huan Qing also said that the woman's abilities are far greater than we can go up against. We suspect that they're here to find their missing experiment, Laurel. They also took away Mi Fu and did this to him."
Jiao S' eyes widened still. It was a bit frightening to see actually. "What? They took away Mi Fu?"
I was a bit surprised that she was most concerned about that issue, but I simply nodded.
"Where are they? We must stop them!"
Because we were in aprecarious situation, I didn't want to overstep and ask too much. As long as we were united in our goals, I didn't care what her motive was. I said, "Huan Qing said it would be best to first find Gaoqin Jiuye. Perhaps we'll have a chance of succeeding if all four of us are together." I paused. "Right now, Huan Qing's mental force has been depleted, but we can't leave him by himself here either. Do you have any ideas?"
Jiao S immediately raised her right hand and a large whirlwind appeared. "We'll put him in here. But this space is currently sealed up by my airflow. If my mental force is depleted, I won't be able to maintain it. If the enemy truly is that strong, we'll have to pray that I'm not beaten."
Then, with her other arm, she swept Huan Qing inside the whirlwind with a blast of air. Before she closed the vortex, she pulled out her sword.
"They're looking for Laurel. We can't find Gaoqin Jiuye right now anyway, so why not search for Laurel? We'll take it one step at a time. If we run into them first, well, what can you do about it," I said.
Jiao S nodded. So, I mobilized my nose and sniffed around for Laurel.
To the right. Sniff. Nothing. To the left. Sniff. Nothing. What was going on?
I frowned. Putting aside the fact that I'd look like a dog, I turned in a circle and started sniffing. But after turning around and around, I felt my heart drop. I looked at Jiao S and Nie Zun with a confused expression. "I can't smell it."
Nie Zun's pretty brows quickly knit together. "How can that be? I'll call Jie Pa to ask him." Nie Zun pulled out his phone, but before he could dial, a figure ran over towards us.
It was a very familiar figure. She ran towards us, crying out loud, "Ah Shen, be careful! Don't trust any of them!"
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