8 Body Double
I shot a charming smile at the muscular man. I stepped forward and raised my right hand to touch his toned right arm. His left hand was still holding down the elevator button. When he saw me move, the mummy pulled back his left leg and turned slightly, to face me. At the same time, Nie Zun's left foot moved forward.
Muscle Man didn't move, so I gave his arm a gentle rub. "Since you know that I rarely pay visits, the fact that I'm here today means that there's a reason that I must see your commander. Even if you won't let me see her, I can't just let things slide like this. So, how about this? You tell me a way to meet your commander that doesn't put you in a tight spot. It's better than us resorting to violence, isn't it? After all, if we were to really fight, are you sure that you would win?" I tilted my head and gave another pretty smile as I pulled back my hand.
Muscle Man was silent a moment, and then he looked to me with bright eyes. "Ms Li Shen, let's do it this way. You and Mr Nie Zun return to the 26th floor and wait. I'll report to the commander and have her make a decision. What do you think?"
I felt somewhat unhappy at this. We were both district commanders, so what was up with the air of arrogance? Fine, I'll be tolerant this time. We're on their turf after all.
Sigh. I truly lacked the air of a commander. I always mixed with the other residents on the 13th floor. I spent half my day lying in bed like a paraplegic. It was no wonder that Mr Blond was angry with me.
As I thought about this, Nie Zun and I were escorted out of the elevator. We stood in front of the elevator doors on the 26th floor, waiting for Muscle Man's return. After the elevator doors closed, I turned to look at Nie Zun. His carefree appearance seemed to have hit a limit. Perhaps he was tired because it was night, for he swayed slightly as he stood, as if he might fall asleep at any moment. I was about to scold him for being so leisurely while we were in enemy territory, when he suddenly laughed at something behind me. "What is it?"
I started. Was there someone behind me? Even though my mental force wasn't very high, I was still pretty sensitive to my surroundings. Who could have gotten this close to me without my taking notice? I hated feeling weak and feeble. Face taut, I stubbornly refused to turn around.
"'There's something I must report to you, but it didn't seem safe to do so in the confines of the Western District, so I followed you and the commander here. I was more than half an hour behind, and only made it past the district line at the last minute, so I was only able to find you now."
This voice sounded very familiar, so I immediately turned around. It was Jie Pa. Jie Pa was still dressed in a suit. He stood behind me, looking ever like a perfect gentleman. His black-rimmed glasses didn't block the way as he looked respectfully towards Nie Zun.
A bit surprised, I said, "Jie Pa?"
"It's me, Commander." As always, Jie Pa gave a bow to me.
"What are you doing here?" I asked.
Then I turned to Nie Zun, who didn't look at all surprised. Rather, he nodded to Jie Pa. "Continue speaking. We're waiting for someone now, so it might not be convenient to talk later."
Jie Pa understood. He got to his point and said, "I suspect that Ms Laurel didn't really die."
My eyes widened. "What do you mean?"
Jie Pa looked at me as he said, "As you're aware, Commander, after a person dies, a marketplace worker is assigned to transport the body to the graves beside the border forest. Then, in the real world, that person's heart will stop beating. Only after their body grows cold in that world, will their corpse in this world then disappear."
He paused and adjusted his glasses. "Before that happens though, after a splitting key is inserted into someone's split symbol, they will die in this world, but their appearance remains unchanged. It's in the final moments before their consciousness truly disappears from here that they return to their original form. I was suspicious, so I went to the graves to find Ms Laurel's body, and I watched it until it disappeared. However, in the final moments, her body didn't look like Ms Laurel's, but rather some other 20 something year old girl's."
Jie Pa continued, "There are three possibilities. One, Ms Laurel had been maintaining her appearance with her mental force. Two, someone used their mental force to make themselves look like Ms Laurel, and it was during that time that they were killed."
I frowned. The first scenario was impossible. Because Laurel had been young and her condition had been particular when she died in the real world, Mr Blond directly entrusted her to me; she hadn't chosen to come to the Western District on her own. Logically speaking, she couldn't have already familiarized herself with mental force before we met, to create a new appearance.
The second scenario wasn't very likely either though. While it was very easy to disguise yourself as someone else, you couldn't fake a split symbol. Everyone's split symbol gives off a faint light, a glow that we're unable to replicate. If the dead Laurel was a fake, how could we explain the butterfly symbol on her neck? I'd seen her split symbol before, and it was indeed a butterfly.
When he saw the doubts on my face, Jie Pa continued, "Commander, split symbols come in a large number of forms. Everyone's is different, and no symbol is repeated. However, that doesn't preclude the idea that many split symbols may look alike. Even if the symbol on that girl's neck was a butterfly, it may have been a different butterfly to Ms Laurel's. Try to recall it."
At Jie Pa's words, I suddenly felt that something wasn't quite right. Because I'd been so enraged by Laurel's death, I hadn't considered the possibility that someone had disguised themselves as Laurel. I didn't really think much about it at all. But with Jie Pa's words now, I tried to recall the symbol I saw on the corpse's neck. I have a strong memory, and it really did seem that the butterfly on the corpse wasn't exactly the same as Laurel's butterfly. They looked similar, yes, but they were two different kinds of butterflies.
"Who would want to disguise themselves as Laurel to get killed? What's the meaning of that? And where's the real Laurel?" I grew anxious. If what Jie Pa supposed was true, that meant there was a chance that Laurel was still alive.
Jie Pa responded, "I don't know the reasons either, but because many recent events have been out of the ordinary, Nie Zun told me to investigate it secretly. That's when I started to pay more attention to these things."
Nie Zun told him? I turned to glance at him. Of course, he had the same carefree expression as always. And then he even yawned. I couldn't help but deride myself: Looks like I'm the only one who doesn't concern themselves with what's happening.
Ding!, the elevator suddenly sounded. Must be Muscle Man. I glanced back to the elevator to catch the doors opening, but when I looked back, I found that Jie Pa had already disappeared. What agility! I guess Jie Pa was staying hidden from the Eastern residents. I turned back to the elevator and pretended that no one but Nie Zun and I were here.
The unsuspecting Muscle Man stood inside the elevator. To me, he said, "Ms Li Shen, our commander is not currently in. I'm not just saying that, but she's really not in the building right now. I didn't know earlier, as she doesn't usually leave the residence at this time, but she's not one to report her activities to me. So, I must apologize, but I'm afraid that you'll have to leave now."
I thought back to what Jie Pa told us earlier. If what he said was true, it wouldn't be wise to rush in and interrogate Jiao S right now. So, I just laughed. "Alright. Sorry for the troubles. We'll head off then."
"There are still 29 hours before day returns. Why don't I arrange a place for you and Mr Nie Zun to stay?"
"There's no need. When travelers pass through another district, they can stay in the Dorms. At the least, I'm aware of that rule. There's no need for you to inconvenience yourself. You can go. Nie Zun and I will head to the academy."
Muscle Man nodded. "Be careful on your way." As if not wanting to speak with me for an extended time, he pressed the button to close the elevator doors. Since the elevator doors closed, it appeared that the man had no intention of seeing Nie Zun and myself out. My lips twitched.
"Where's Jie Pa?" I asked Nie Zun.
"On the rooftop, probably." He yawed again. I couldn't be bothered to respond to this sluggish character.
Rather than wait for the elevator, I slipped out the 26th floor window and used my mental force to take me to the 30th floor. Nie Zun followed behind and jumped up as well. As he'd said, Jie Pa was indeed standing on the roof, waiting for us.
After he spotted my arrival, Jie Pa immediately proposed, "Commander, I think that it's better if we return to the border forest. Neither you nor Nie Zun are familiar with the way things work here, so I suggest that we wait in the forest. We'll be able to return to the Western District right when day breaks."
"You're really quick, you know." I commended Jie Pa's abilities, and gave no opposition to his suggestion.
Nie Zun suddenly spoke up. "Jie Pa, you should return to the forest and wait for us there. Li Shen and I are going to take a look at the opposite district line. Before the sky lights up, we'll meet back up with you. If we haven't returned by then, you can head back first. Don't wait for us and proceed as usual."
After listening, Jie Pa nodded. Then he turned away and seemed to vanish.
"Wow, he really listens to you well," I couldn't help sighing.
"Who told you to ignore all your duties?" Nie Zun smiled lightly.
"But why are we going to the other district line?" I asked with confusion.
"I suspect that we'll be able to meet Jiao S there."
Nie Zun turned his head to the dark, night sky. It's rare for a commander to be absent from their residence during the night. In such a situation, it was likely that Jiao S wasn't currently in the Eastern District at all. "If she had traveled to the Western District, it's impossible that neither Jie Pa or You Ji noticed. So my guess is that she went to the Southern District. If that's the case, why don't we wait for her at the district line?"
"But if Laurel's not dead, I don't need to find her."
"No. Whether or not Laurel is dead, you still have to meet with her," Nie Zun said.
"Why?" I asked, confused.
"There haven't just been one or two strange occurrences in the Western District. You've simply remained blind to them. The bugs that covered the body that fell from the academy earlier carried a distinct scent. Just now, I just smelled that scent on the bandaged man we met, which means that Jiao S must have had some involvement in the strange things happening in the Western District. Even if you don't plan on interrogating her, you should at least meet with her to see what her reaction is. You must know yourself and your enemy to be victorious in every battle. She's a legendary figure here, and yet, after you became the Western Commander, you never once met with her. Do you think that's alright?"
"I've never met Si Luo either." I didn't sound at all confident in my retort. Nie Zun's senses were stronger than most people's. If he smelled something, then I wasn't going to doubt him.
"Si Luo's an exception. He doesn't like outsiders." Nie Zun suddenly laughed. "What, are you scared of Jiao S?"
"Who's scared? Fine, let's go!" I clenched my teeth. You're a funny guy, huh. Who's scared?!
Oh, the smell of conspiracy! But who's behind it? Is it really Jiao S and her crew? And why doesn't Mr Blond ever step in? Wasn't it previously stated that he didn't stand for people causing trouble in others' districts? Maybe it's something that's out of his hands as well?