50 An Expected Betrayal
My eyes opened wide, unable to believe who I was seeing before me. It wasn't just anyone who'd come, no. There was that head of green hair and swiftly sweeping serpent's tail.
"Y-You Ji, what are you doing here?" I asked with a fright. I couldn't understand why she would be here right now.
You Ji arrived at my side, looking flustered and panicked. She grabbed me and her green hair swished in the air. An aroma wafted up to my nose.
"Ah Shen, I just got here. Something's happened back in the Western District. Seven of the 27 floor managers are dead!" You Ji was very anxious.
"I know." I nodded, unsurprised.
You Ji turned and glared at Nie Zun. Then she turned back to me and said, "It was Nie Zun!"
I immediately shook my head. "That's impossible. You Ji, a lot of things have happened in the Southern District these past few days. I can't explain all of them to you, but trust me, Nie Zun has been with me the whole time. He couldn't have gone back to harm you guys. Someone must have disguised themselves as him."
"N-No. Ah Shen, listen to me," You Ji immediately denied. She pulled me away, putting a distance between us and Nie Zun. "Ah Shen, although I don't know what's happened to you guys here, I have to ask you this first. Where are Yu Liang and Song Lu?"
Recalling the missing Yu Liang and Song Lu, I replied dejectedly, "Yu Liang is missing. And Song Lu..." With a sigh, I said, "She's probably still unconscious."
An expression appeared on You Ji's face that seemed to say, "Then I'm right!" She glared at Nie Zun again and then told me, "Ah Shen, you might not know this, but from the investigations that my 7 subordinates have been conducting, it seems that Nie Zun's hands have a special ability. He can shroud another's mental force for a time. That is to say, he can temporarily seize another person's mental force, as long as the abilities that they wielded!"
I was perplexed. I looked over at Nie Zun, who was calmly listening as You Ji spoke, seemingly having no intention of refuting her claims.
You Ji quickly added, "If Yu Liang's gone missing, maybe Nie Zun shrouded his mental force. You know how what he can do. He can project another instance of himself. Though I don't know how Nie Zun was able to turn Yu Liang's invisible projection into something that could be seen, I'm sure he can do it. In other words, we didn't see someone pretending to be Nie Zun, but rather, Nie Zun split himself in two!"
My eyes widened. Though I couldn't really believe it, the image did appear in my head. When Nie Zun took off his gloves and grabbed onto Mi Fu and that other kid, they'd looked incredulous. And just now, if that were the case, could Nie Zun have taken Huan Qing's mental force when he was examining him? Could he have also used Huan Qing's ability to create the illusion of our conversation?
I was frightened by these sudden thoughts. I quickly turned to Nie Zun.
Jiao S was also frowning. Though she hadn't quite understood, with so many people suspecting Nie Zun, she couldn't help but also turn to Nie Zun with suspecting eyes.
Seeing our suspicious looks, Nie Zun suddenly smiled. His smile was somehow even more beautiful than Guan Nie's. With a dim, grey light in his eyes, he said, "You Ji, you came all this way from the Western District just to say that?"
You Ji immediately stepped forward. Eyes locked on Nie Zun, she said, "Stop pretending! Old Fan has gone missing. Four members of my team have suddenly died for no good reason, and the other three have left me. Your projection is in the Western District right now, lying to the floor managers, trying to recruit them, saying that I killed Ah Shen!"
I frowned. "He said that you killed me?"
You Ji nodded. She grabbed my hand, a sad look in her eyes. "Since he dared to say such a thing, I suspected that he might really try to take the opportunity to kill you over here. Although I don't know how he can kill you and still keep his own life, I was still really scared. I quickly hurried over here, but their people pursued me.
"Jie Pa's workinng together with him. Those people used some kind of medicine on me so that I was unable to fight back. In the end, my last three members disappeared before I got here. I came to tell you that you can't let him succeed. You have to return with me right now, otherwise all those floor managers will be swayed by him!"
My thoughts were flying all over the place. Of course I trusted You Ji. She'd always been my friend, even back when Li Qing was the commander. But Nie Zun... How could it be him?
I turned to Nie Zun when I heard Jiao S laugh. "It's all clear now! Nie Zun knew that if he had you killed by sacrificing another's life, the blond man wouldn't let him off the hook! So he came up with a plan to come find the soul splitter. They would start an experiment to try to kill you, so he could become the Western Commander!"
I listened to her words, but I was watching Nie Zun. He still had that smile on his face. His expression was one of indifference, and he wasn't speaking up for himself at all.
"Ah Shen, I know that it's hard to believe. But please forgive me for investigating you—I know that you and Nie Zun must always remain 500 meters from each other. It's because he's trapped to you that he's trying to kill you now, so he can escape! Although I don't know what's happened here, I'm certain that he's the one who plotted it all!" You Ji looked at me, an incomparable worry on her face.
I felt my insides chill.
Nie Zun had a light smile on his face and his eyes sparkled. "Well said."
I walked up to Nie Zun. Standing in front of him, I looked into his eyes that could suddenly light up on any random day. I sighed inwardly.
Nie Zun, I'm really very upset right now, you know? You must understand me.
You must know how much I hate betrayals and how much I hate exposing lies. But what can I do? In this numbing and inhumane Split Zone, what can I do? Sometimes I would rather not know anything. I would rather be lied to, or feign ignorance, so long as I didn't have to make a choice. But can I continue this way, so weakly? Even if I don't face the betrayal, does that mean the betrayer is no longer there beside me?
No, I can't... No, it doesn't.
I raised my head and looked into Nie Zun's eyes. They were bright as stars, and I felt my heart sinking into anocean of sorrow and pain.
Then, mustering up all of my mental force, I quickly grabbed Piercer and slashed at You Ji's eyes. You Ji hadn't expected my attack at all, otherwise she would have certainly been able to avoid it. She was known for her speed after all.
Her eyes widened in surprise. That's why she was hurt even more when Piercer landed its attack. The spines on Piecer's tail pricked her eyes. She cried out in agony as blood gushed forth from them.
Ignoring the wide-eyed, startled Jiao S at the side, I turned to Nie Zun. In a cold voice, I said, "Hurry, trap her!"
As if having understood me, simply from the tone of my voice, Nie Zun grabbed a piece of paper from his pocket and stuck it onto You Ji's face. On the paper was a single word: Sealed.
The paper blocked her face, so I couldn't see her eyes. But the blood gushing from them had already dripped down to her chin. Bright red, conspicuous, clearly seen. Her body had frozen the moment the paper was pressed to her face, and her tail had also stopped slithering.
I scoffed as I looked at her. "You Ji, you must be wondering right now, what's going on."
I slowly put away Piercer, stroking the soft purple leather at my hands. I smiled enchantingly, my eyes shining like a victorious queen. I looked at the motionless and silent You Ji before me. "The day that Nie Zun told me something happened in the Western District, we contacted Old Fan. Did you think you could confuse everybody? Jie Pa has long suspected you, otherwise he wouldn't have followed us to the Eastern District to tell us about Laurel!"
Jiao S looked utterly confused, her eyes flitting back and forth between You Ji and me.
I glanced over at her and signaled for her not to be confused. Just listen.
I smiled. With a final touch, I finally put away my whip. My gaze landed on the statue-like figure in front of me, at the red lines streaming down You Ji's delicate, pale neck.
There was a coldness and a mercilessness in my eyes. "You Ji, I never suspected you. I trusted you all along. I even left the Western District in your hands. Despite Jie Pa and Nie Zun's suspicions towards you after Laurel's disappearance, I told them it wasn't the case. None of this could be related to You Ji.
"In order to find the truth and to prove your innocence, we came to the Southern District. Our original goal was, of course, finding a way out of the Split Zone, but we were also testing you. To see if you would impatiently give yourself away."
I gave a deep sigh. I didn't want to continue, but I had to finish speaking. "You must be feeling very anxious right now. But I'm not going to give you the chance to speak. Before we came here, Jie Pa coated my whip with Song Lu's blood. Your injured eyes may never heal. I don't know what your end goal was, nor do I know if you truly wanted to kill me, but I do know that you're still worried about Mr Blond. You won't kill me, because everyone knows what kind of punishment one gets for killing a district commander."
Jiao S suddenly cut in, "Li Shen, you..." She looked at me, her expression on guard.
I shot her a harmless smile. But I was confirming You Ji's betrayal right now, so the sadness I felt made the smile somewhat unnatural. "Listen to me first," I told her.
Her expression was complicated, but she didn't try to continue.
I turned to You Ji and continued, "You knew that I suspected you. You knew that Nie Zun and Jie Pa's brains would have found a way to stop you. And because you fear Mr Blond, you won't immediately kill me. But you had the confidence to come to me and give all these arguments, to make me suspect Nie Zun. That way, I would reveal to you, how he told me to protect myself, right?"
My expression hardened as I spoke. "You spoke so well, and your method was good. If I were someone else who had known you so long, I might have hesitated between you and Nie Zun. And that hesitation may have been the death of me. It's too bad though, that I'm not someone else. I know a secret that you don't know."
I gave an incomparably emotional smile. A gentle, yet vicious light circled in my eyes.
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