54 The Heart in Chaos
“Cut it out, Li Shen,” Nie Zun interjected, “There’s no way we’ll be able to find them. Besides, I’m worried about Jie Pa and Song Lu. We should go back. We can’t just keep Huan Qing out of sight, out of mind either—we’ll need to get him out of the airflow.”
What Nie Zun said was true, but I was still reluctant to leave matters as they were. Stuck in a dilemma, I looked towards Jiao S.
“Nie Zun is right.” Jiao S conceded, unexpectedly calm. “We should head back first. Under such circumstances, not only should we return to Jie Pa, we’ll also need to get back to our respective districts soon. We can’t even be sure if our districts are in jeopardy as it is, rushing in blindly will only get us killed.”
Retreat back to the Western District? That’s right. I wonder how Old Man Fan and the others are doing… but what about Laurel? And Yu Liang…?
I clenched my teeth. Just imagining the countless sorts of peril the Western District could be in had me nodding my head in agreement. Retreat was the only option.
They weren’t under any sort of attack during the time we were gone. Everything was as per normal when we got to the academy’s lab, with the obvious exception of Song Lu’s state of unconsciousness. Hence, I had no other choice but to convey everything that happened to Jie Pa and Guan Nie.
Guan Nie was the first to speak up and for the first time, I noticed a glint of harshness in his almond-shaped eyes. “So you’re saying that Gaoqin Jiuye returned to Si Luo’s side just like that?”
Guan Nie burst out laughing with a hand over his mouth, as if I’d just told the funniest joke of all time but the mirth did not reach his eyes. “Gaoqin Jiuye… Hahahaha, truly splendid! You really would do anything for Si Luo.”
“Ms Ah Shen,” Jie Pa spoke up, pushing up his glasses. “If the situation is as you described, then I suggest we leave Southern District for now. Since the last time Old Man Fan had reported to me on his suspicions about Ms You Ji, Nie Zun and I have not been able to get in contact with him.
“Moreover, we don’t know what is going on there. In my opinion, returning to our own districts should be the main priority. I’m worried about Song Lu’s condition too. We don’t have much MF left for combat; it certainly would not be enough to fight against those people you just mentioned.”
I pursed my lips tightly together, repressing the reluctance in my heart.
Jiao S exhaled a long sigh. “I know the idea of turning back after coming this far is hard to swallow, but we may lose our lives if we don’t. Most importantly, even Mr Blond is unreachable now. Who knows what kind of conspiracy lurks behind all these incidents?”
Before she could go on, Nie Zun turned to her and interrupted, “Regardless, it’s as I’ve said before. You and Li Shen should at least trust and cooperate with each other.”
I exchanged eye contact with Jiao S. Somehow, the demon I had once feared and hated was now my only trustworthy ally.
“Let’s start planning the journey back to our districts then,” I directed my words at Jiao S. “We’ll settle matters at our own districts and decide who to bring along the next time we return. We’ll get to the bottom of this.”
Jiao S rolled her eyes, but eventually gave a nod. She handed me something that looked akin to amber, its core wrapped around what seemed to be a drop of blood.
“This Scarlet Compass was made from my own blood,” Jiao S explained in her usual hoarse voice, “I don’t have a phone or anything like that, but I'll be able to sense it if you break the compass during the most critical moment. Through my subordinate's Scarlet Compass Formation, I can get to you within ten minutes.
“However, these things are difficult to craft—there are only three in existence as of now. Use it only when absolutely necessary; otherwise, it would be best if you can come find me personally or have Nie Zun contact Tao Lie.”
Sharply dipping my head in acknowledgement, I took the amber from her and placed it securely behind the waistband of my red skirt.
“In that case,” Nie Zun started, “let’s head towards the border before dark.”
With those words, Song Lu instantly came to mind. I turned to Jie Pa. “Will you be able to estimate when she’ll wake?”
Jie Pa shook his head. “Song Lu is badly injured. We can’t wake her up by force—all we can do is wait. For now, I can’t do anything about the insect either; I’ll need to return to the Western District and enquire about them with those who possessed the necessary competency.”
A wave of helplessness crashed in my heart but I still managed a nod.
Without warning, Jiao S widened her eyes. “There’s someone we’ve forgotten—Huan Qing!”
“You’re right! Quick, let him out.” My hand smacked against my forehead.
Following the motion of her left hand, the whirlwind began to appear beside Jiao S. With a whoosh, she dragged Huan Qing out the airstream and flung him to the ground.
She just... flung him… to the ground.
I was speechless. Huan Qing had already been reduced to such sorry state, yet it seems that Jiao S still didn’t spare the slightest bit of sympathy.
Jie Pa looked down at Huan Qing’s motionless and haggard body. “Is this what happens when you’ve completely exhausted your MF?”
Jie Pa crouched beside Huan Qing, wrapping a white handkerchief around his hand before checking up on the unconscious man.
“Jie Pa, you seemed to have a slight obsession with cleanliness as well, just like that perverted Nie Zun.” I asked with interest.
Jie Pa adjusted his glasses and flashed a small smile. “Indeed, just a little.”
“How is he?” I pointed at Huan Qing who was still on the floor.
Jie Pa kept his handkerchief. “It’s nothing serious. Seeing as he had sealed his symbol before, his MF is temporarily depleted. Going by what you’ve mentioned, he maintained a last illusion in this condition, which must mean that he exhausted every last bit of his MF in order to do that. It seems like he will remain in a catatonic state, just like Song Lu. It will probably be a while before he regains consciousness.”
“It’s less than ten hours until nightfall and we’re still in the academy,” Jiao S noted, “Furthermore, we haven’t had much rest over these past few days—at this rate, our MF will be compromised.
“To make matters worse, we now have two comatose casualties on our hands as well as another who absolutely cannot get injured. Venturing out at night in this state isn’t a good idea. I suggest we stay another night before heading out for the boundary lines in the morning.”
I thought over it carefully. She was right, we haven’t slept in days—on top of the extraordinary amount of strength exhausted today, our MF had suffered as a result. Besides, I have not activated unrestricted control over my MF. Under these conditions, an attempt to make it to the border at night would undoubtedly be a terrible idea. With that in mind, I nodded in consent. Noting my agreement, Jie Pa and Nie Zun didn’t voice any objections either.
“Let’s return to our respective rooms and rest for the night then. Jie Pa, I’m afraid we’ll have to trouble you again in taking care of Song Lu and Huan Qing.” I said wearily.
Jie Pa nodded.
Nie Zun turned to Guan Nie. “Since Jie Pa can’t be in harm’s way, and both Song Lu and Huan Qing are in coma, can you stay with them for now and protect them with your illusion?”
As the words tumbled out of Nie Zun’s lips, his eyes gleamed with tenderness. Guan Nie caught his gaze and gave a coquettish grin. “Whatever my pet says, goes. This is a piece of cake, leave it to me.”
Surprisingly, Jiao S was the first to twitch at the scene in front of us. “I’ve never seen you this submissive even towards me, your own district commander.”
Guan Nie pouted and whined. “Ahhh, but this pet is my lover.”
… Someone just kill me now.
Even in the presence of two unconscious bodies and an extremely vulnerable gentleman—piled haphazardly above the mess we recently found ourselves in—my exhaustion triumphed my concerns. I felt the accumulated fatigue from past sleepless nights flood through me at the thought of finally being able to rest.
I took lead in leaving the lab, but not before informing Jie Pa and his companions about taking the room opposite ours, and to notify me immediately should any situation arise. Nie Zun followed quickly after me, as did Jiao S.
“Let’s sleep in the same room tonight.” I turned and posed the suggestion to Jiao S.
Jiao S must not have expected those words to come from me out of the blue; her usual wide, hollow eyes had a fleeting glimmer of something different but it was gone just as soon. She didn’t refuse the offer so the three of us returned to our room on the first level.
“The room is big but every dorm in the split zone is limited to a single bunk bed. One of us will have to make the supreme sacrifice in this case.” With a hand thumping against my chest and an expression of awe-inspiring righteousness, I continued, “Since I’m such a kind-hearted person, I’ll take the lower bunk. Nie Zun, you’ll sleep on the floor.”
I ignored them thereafter and went straight for my bed before shutting my eyes. I could hear the sound of movement once my eyes were closed; perhaps it was the sound of Jiao S clambering up to the top bunk, or maybe it was Nie Zun getting a cup of water. Regardless, I kept my eyes shut. I was too exhausted to care about anything else.
Except… I couldn’t fall asleep.
After all the events from the past few days, my mind was in chaos. It was when I could finally stop the gears in my body from turning, that I finally had the time to digest the imprints left upon them. Even though I’m neither human nor ghost here, but I’m still alive in a sense—and as long as one is alive, they end up pondering. No matter how terrible the situation was, I still needed to calm down and think through everything properly.
The first person who came to mind was Gaoqin Jiuye.
I have no idea why he was the first person I thought of but I did know that there was no stopping this train of thought. In the darkness, I pressed my eyes tightly together, as though I could hide from my own tremors this way. I could still remember his abrupt appearance by my window not that many nights ago, the way he walked straight towards me.
Gaoqin Jiuye, no matter how many times I reminded myself not to expect anything of you, I still can’t help but wonder… Are you really a cruel and ruthless grim reaper? Do you really not care about anyone else besides Si Luo?
And Si Luo… This is the first time I’ve felt such insatiable curiosity towards a person. What kind of person must he be to have people like Gaoqin Jiuye and Jiao S throw all caution to the wind just to chase after him?
Still, Si Luo did not linger long in my cluttered mind. In the end, my thoughts went right back to Gaoqin Jiuye.
Actually… It’s not like we have known each other for a long time either. Why is it that meeting you made me think of Gao Qi less than before? Hadn’t it been your striking resemblance to him and that same charming voice that swayed my emotions each time? With all these similarities between the two of you, exactly why do I find myself forgetting him because of you?
Gaoqin Jiuye, you really do look like him—no, you’re exactly alike, like two peas in a pod.
I have always been aware of my feelings; I have never denied my love for Gao Qi nor my yearning and longing for him. I'm not the kind of girl who would conceal her feelings. I knew clearly throughout my college life that I loved him. Even after arriving at this treacherous place, Gao Qi, there is not a shadow of doubt that I still miss you, that I still love you.
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