71 District Commander, I’ll Await Your Return
“What should we do now?” I tried my best to soothe my nerves.
Jie Pa looked solemn. “I had a group of residents who acted as my informants. While they might not be able to help every single time, I still had faith in their loyalty. During the time while we were gone, I had been worried that You Ji might have figured them out and inflicted harm on them as a result, but now it seems that the issue isn’t restricted to just a few people.”
Nie Zun swept his gaze around before eventually speaking up. “Right now, we can be almost certain that this isn’t an illusion, nor was it possible to send a large group of people away just like that. After all, Western District is the dead end to the split zone, and Eastern District bordered the other side. I don’t suppose there’s an ability in existence that could allow undetected transportation of a few thousands of people all at once?
“Which means to say, we can be sure that the cause of this must be something we are clueless about, something that’s beyond even our wildest imagination.”
Listening to Nie Zun’s conclusion, a thought sprung to mind. “Does this have to do with Ta Lai and Zou An? Didn’t we meet them in the boundary forest earlier? They left in the direction of Western District, so where are they now?”
The answered was revealed right as I asked.
As though they were returning to match our speed, Ta Lai and Zou An approached, still perched atop the two giants’ shoulders.
“Ta Lai, is this your doing?” Without waiting for them to reach us, I shouted towards them with a finger pointing at the barren land.
On top of the slowly approaching giant, Ta Lai’s face was unexpectedly grim, and his voice held a hint of dejection, “We were only a step ahead of you, and had similarly just returned to the Western District. We have already surveyed the entire district; this is all that we could see.”
A retort was at the tip of my tongue when Nie Zun gestured for me to keep my cool, before stepping up himself. “You mean, you haven’t been camping out in the boundary forest in waiting of our return?”
Ta Lai leapt from the giant’s shoulder, “That’s right. When you departed from Western District, Zou An sought me out and we left together. We’ve never returned here all this while and had only been a step quicker than you today. We were just more well informed than you were; we knew about You Ji’s intention a long time ago but had never expected Western District to be reduced to such state.”
“Why should I believe you? You claimed that you left after we did, but You Ji brought up the deaths of 7 floor managers and the betrayal of 20. Why didn’t she mention anything about a missing manager?” I asked coldly.
Ta Lai rotated the ring on his hand calmly, “It’s up to you whether you want to believe it or not. After you left, the floor managers did betray you, but your understanding of You Ji was practically at zero. Once her split symbol is activated, she will have the ability of duplication; within a small period of time, she can replicate the ability of another person, as long as it didn’t exceed her MF. Did you ever know about this?”
I was speechless.
My understanding… of You Ji?
Was that why she was able to use Jiao S’s air manipulation? Did that mean to say, when she had purposefully framed Nie Zun, the ability that she claimed he had was actually her own? In that case, what was she trying to tell me?
“Regardless of You Ji’s ability, her decisiveness or viciousness in executing her plans, it was true that she was a thousand times stronger than you were. When you left, there were many who didn’t wish to betray you, but within the split zone, who wouldn’t prioritize their own survival when the situation has taken a turn for the worse? Li Shen, District Commanders aren’t Kings in the split zone. What’s the purpose of a District Commander, why did Mr Blond appoint them—Have you ever truly pondered over this?”
As before, I remained speechless.
Ta Lai’s voice remained calm throughout, speaking without a change in dynamics of his speech, “I reckon that perhaps too much time had gone by since Li Qing’s departure, perhaps during this time you had forgotten about everything you ever promised her. You were never able to trust in yourself, never able to comprehend the reason behind Mr Blond and Li Qing’s appointment. Even so, there were ways to attempt understanding even when you can’t comprehend, but you didn’t. All you did was evade, you chose to remain oblivious. It was only natural that You Ji would hate you. And Zou An? Zou An’s hatred towards you was just as it should be.”
His forlorn eyes were locked onto me, not granting any opportunity to escape, “If one failed the people who had unwaveringly committed their faith in them, then, that in itself is a sin.”
“It’s true that I’m not qualified to be the Western District Commander.” I said, dejected.
“If you don’t have faith in yourself despite the trust others have placed in you, then that’s even more unforgivable.” Ta Lai’s words were like needles, drawing blood with every prick.
Despite this, I knew that the words he was speaking—someone whom I used to be complete strangers with before this day—was nothing less than fitting for me.
This is exactly who I am.
“That is why, what I think you really need is someone to lend you a helping hand. Someone to remind you why you were made the Western District’s Commander, and what that title really meant!”
His last sentence was forceful, and his gaze on me was penetrating and sharp.
Zou An, who had hopped from his giant’s shoulder, turned quiet at his words.
I didn’t breathe a word, and the same applied to everyone around me.
In the end, it was Zou An who spoke up. As though he was unwilling to even spare me a glance, he turned to Ta Lai, “You’re going to bring her there right now?”
Ta Lai nodded gracefully, his slender fingers turned the ring on his hand twice, “Yes. As you can see, the circumstances have changed.”
Zou An’s face was wiped of emotions, and he stayed quiet for a few moments before walking back towards the Western-Eastern boundary forest. “I know there’s no way you would agree to it if I asked for her life at this moment. I just hope that you won’t forget about your promise. Anything else is up to you. I’ll be heading back. Let’s meet again when you’re done.”
With a nonchalant lift of his right hand and a little wave, the giant followed after Zou An, “Why don’t you let him follow you?”
Zou An didn’t respond but neither did he reject the offer. He leapt onto the giant’s shoulder again and walk past us. Not once had he looked my way.
“Li Shen, leave with me.” Ta Lai flashed a small, elegant smile.
Logically speaking, if a baffling and mysterious character such as Ta Lai asked this of me, I should have rejected without hesitation. However, for some unknown reason, there was something about his speech that made my subconscious tug at me to accept.
But… Can I really believe him?
How should I respond? Where was he planning on taking me?
Noticing my lack of response, the finger that was resting upon his ring jerked, “Allow me to analyze the current situation for you.
“There are two items on your agenda right now. One, to get your friends back, and two, to protect Western District. Observing your current level of strength, you wouldn’t be able to accomplish either. The plight that Western District has found itself in had far exceeded my expectation as well, but you don’t have the right to reject. I must make you remember, exactly why you were appointed commander.”
His words were arrogant, yet, like a deflated ball I had no will left in me to fight back.
“The existence of a choice is for those who are competent, and the incompetent had likewise forfeited their right to choose. You can only go with me.”
Tao Lie seemed to have sensed my desolation when he stepped forward, “Ms Li Shen, do you want us to contact our commander and search for a solution together?”
At the thought of Jiao S, I immediately declined with a wave of my hand. Jiao S still has the burden of Eastern District on her shoulders, how could I continue being this reliant on her?
When we travelled to Southern District, I had relied on her and Gao Qin Jiu Ye, and the result?
I still couldn’t figure out the true meaning of my existence.
This… Could this be why Gao Qin Jiu Ye abandoned me?
Even if I knew that he did it for Si Luo, even though I knew that we had only known each other for a short while, but why can’t I let go?
I want to be like Jiao S, to be that strong and brave in pursuing the person I like…
“Thank you for your good intentions, Tao Lie and Mu Li.” I took a deep breath, turning towards them.
“Not only am I helpless about the plight of Western District, I was in the dark all this while. I’m afraid I’ve let both of you witness myself as an incompetent, joke of a commander.” I laughed bitterly.
Mu Li responded in haste, “That’s not it, Ms Li Shen. I might have developed some prejudice against you before, but we have utmost faith in our commander. If our commander trusts in you, if she’s willing to help you, then that means you have your own set of strengths.”
My eyes wavered. To have people who trusted this much in her, I was suddenly so envious of Jiao S.
Nie Zun’s eyes fleeted swiftly to mine, like he was asking, “Don’t you have them too?”
That’s right, don’t I have them too?
I glanced at Jie Pa, who stood to the side, still as calm and composed as ever. I thought of Song Lu and Yu Liang.
It was true, I did have them.
As if I had made a major decision, I returned my attention to Mu Li and Tao Lie, “I’ve decided to go with him. I know it’s possible that you may not comprehend the rationale behind my conclusion, but this is something I must do, and I’ll need to ask for your help.”
Mu Li had every intention of stopping me but was blocked by Tao Lie’s muscular arms. His spirited eyes shone with a form of trust, and in his usual respectful manner, he said, “Please do tell.”
Pointing at Jie Pa, I inhaled a deep breath, “Please take Jie Pa back to the Eastern District with you and do your best to protect him.”
Jie Pa didn’t seemed surprised at my words. He met Nie Zun’s eyes, then, with his calm gaze, he said to me, “Since Ms Ah Shen has decided, then I’ll return to the Eastern District with Mr Mu Li and Mr Tao Lie. I’ll be able to conduct experiments on the items I’ve collected over the past few days while I’m at it as well.”
Then, with his familiar habit of pushing up his glasses, he flashed a faint smile, “Commander, go on ahead. I’ll await your return.”
In an instant, my eyes reddened.
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