81 A Lesson in Combat
Just like that, I woke up.
In the trance of my waking, I could barely make out the pale, sharp chin of Nie Zun. In a flash of movement, I pulled myself up and stared wide-eyed at him before panning to our surrounding.
We are still in the same stone room.
Clutching at his hand, the words rushed out, “Where did you go? I've been held captive in here for several days without a single soul around.”
Nie Zun let out a mischievous laugh before pointing overhead.
“Oh?” Following the movement of his finger, I glanced up towards the ceiling.
In that instant, I reached an epiphany!
Damn it! Even if the four walls couldn't be shifted, there was still the ceiling! How did I not think of that?!
"We entered this space from the room above. There's a mechanism in place that sent you straight down.” Unhurriedly, he explained.
“Why the hell did he have to throw me in here?” I raged.
“This is to train you.” Ta Lai’s voice travelled from the space behind me, leaning elegantly against the corner of the room when I snapped my head back.
“Y–y–you…” Stuttering from shock was a reflexive tendency of mine—when did he get down here?!
Ta Lai rotated the jade ring on his finger. “In this underground space, I have the ability of manipulating all senses; it’s only normal that you couldn't feel yourself falling from the level above. I know you have a lot of questions right now, so I’m going to explain them to you.”
Before that though, he scratched his head bashfully and flashed a cheeky smile. “Actually, there's really nothing to explain; they should all be pretty clear, but Nie Zun told me that you have low intelligence to the point where it's almost worrying. Which is why, after consideration, I decided it'll be better if I explained it.”
I have low intelligence?!?
Huffing in anger, I glared at Nie Zun who held his palms up with a look of faux innocence.
“First, let me declare my identity.” Ta Lai slowly pushed himself off the wall. His tall and slender stature looked even more dashing right now.
“I'm a soul splitter, Ta Lai.”
There were many possibilities that ran through my mind before—in fact, I had even once wondered if he was a spy who was sent here by Mr Blond. Never in my wildest dreams had I thought that that would be his true identity!
I met Nie Zun's eyes but both of us chose to keep mum.
On the other hand, Ta Lai was calm. “I understand that you don't have much exposure to soul splitters, and have next to zero knowledge about the split zone. This is why I'm here today—to shed some light on the affairs of split zone.”
Even though I can't place my full trust in the person in front of us, I could still sense the gravity of the information he was about to give. I could feel myself holding my breath in anticipation.
Ta Lai’s eyes glistened in an elegant radiance. “The secret to the split zone is that… anyone who attempts to unveil it, is bound to face death sooner or later.”
What a redundant statement.
I rolled my eyes before I could stop myself.
Ta Lai paid no mind to it. “Li Shen, you've always kept a look of nonchalance but I am most aware of such a character like yourself; if you ever decide to pursue this earnestly, you'd undoubtedly give us a run for our money. I have no desire to make an enemy out of you, nor do I deem that necessary.
“All I can say is, I'll be able to assist you, whether it's to save your friends or to protect Western District. However, if unravelling the secret to split zone is your goal, if you plan on instigating an uprising and make a mass escape, I suggest you give up on those ideas now.”
I scoffed. “Why? Just because you're a soul splitter, you're worried that we'd uncover the identities of all soul splitters eventually? Our consciousness are stuck here and we'd like to return to our previous lives—what’s so wrong about that?”
“Are you sure you want to return?” Ta Lai shot a faint smile.
“I…” I was rendered speechless by that question.
“I suppose you had a similar discussion over this with Li Qing, right? Why did she entrust the role of Western District’s Commander to you?”
Was he referring to what Li Qing brought up before? When she said, “To choose the next commander, we have to first consider those who have the least desire to leave the split zone.”
Could it be that a majority of the reason why Li Qing trusted me enough to be a district commander, was because of my lack of desire to leave?
“I can tell you're confused. How about this, face up to yourself and answer my question honestly.
“Li Shen, do you wish to leave the split zone, and return to your previous life?” The same smile was still hanging on Ta Lai’s face.
It was a question that everyone seemed to have asked me at some point in private, but had never surfaced in this manner. I turned my head towards Nie Zun and saw the look of anticipation in his eyes while he watched me.
“I believe Li Qing chose you because she was sure that you'd stay.” Ta Lai continued, “Therefore, if you stuck to your original intentions, if you choose to stay in the split zone and spend these endless days here, I can help you achieve whatever you wanted. Regardless of whether it's to save your friends, or to reclaim Western District.
“However,” Ta Lai’s smile faded ever so slightly, “if you choose to unravel the secrets to the split zone and return to your previous lives with anyone whom you deem worthy, then I'm afraid I will not be of much help. On the contrary, I might even be the reason for your demise. So, what do you choose?”
Do I have to make a decision? The split zone has never given me a choice…
Leave the split zone? I guess I've never really thought that possibility through properly. While I acknowledge that escaping in this manner isn't filial of me, would the reality of my previous life be any better? I was a murderer who killed my own crush, a demon with a killer lurking inside me. I was alone, useless and pathetic.
Did I really want to return to that life?
Even so, just because I don't, it didn't mean that others wouldn't want it either…
Still, despite our desire to return, there's no one who could truly comprehend the existence of soul splitters, and there isn't a way to be near them. What do we have to rely on then, if we wanted to return?
“I promise that I'll not hold any desire to return. I want you to help me in saving my friends, and take back my Western District.” I declared somberly, as if I finally came to a decision.
At the moment the words escaped, I could feel Nie Zun's clear eyes on me; his gaze held an element of loneliness that seemed impossible to dissolve. They searched mine wordlessly, as though asking, “Do you really… have no desire to return?”
Do I really…?
In spite of the flaws that world had, no matter how cruel it was to me, did I really have nothing I held on to? Do I really have no desire to return…?
“Alright. Remember what you've promised and listen well to what I have to say next. They are all critical details that will help in saving your friends.” Ta Lai nodded in satisfaction.
The choice to doubt my own decision was gone, all I can do now is nod in acceptance.
“For a start, from what I've gathered, your friends, Song Lu, Yu Liang and Laurel should have been turned into some form of experimental subjects by now. If you wish to save them, you'll have to go against the mastermind of these experiments—Du Yue.
“Given that you're still alive, I believe you've heard of her but had yet met her.”
What a chilling statement…
My existence right now is proof enough that I've not met her? How terrifying must that woman be…
“Like me, Du Yue is a soul splitter. Evidently, just as none of you know who your split symbol corresponds with in this dimension, neither do we; we do not have the information and with the amount of people in split zone, we don't have much interest in seeking out who could pose as a threat to us either.
“In any case, I won't divulge any information about soul splitters or the secret to split zone, so don't even bother asking about them.”
“I didn't plan to.” I sneered.
“Anyway, as soul splitters, both Du Yue and I have an immense amount of MF. However, the objective of the experiments wasn't as you've deduced—soul splitters have no desire in killing any of you. If we did, we could have just used a splitting key.
“We have no interest in eliminating any of you because your insertion of splitting key into our split symbol doesn't equate to our perishment; it just means you’ve managed to return.”
“What? You won't die from an insertion of splitting key?”
“Well, actually, that's not all that accurate either. We will still disappear in that moment but…” As though he had realized his own oversharing, Ta Lai swiftly returned back to the topic. “Anyway, that's not the point. All you need to know, is that she isn't doing these experiments to target the average resident like you, who had arrived from your previous life and are trapped here.”
“What's her motive then?” I frowned.
Ta Lai stopped speaking, his gaze seemed distant as it flickered. Just as soon, he broke into a radiant smile. “I suppose she's doing it to get rid of soul splitters like me.”
Ta Lai had always been elegant and calm, but why did his smile look so sorrowful now? Are my eyes playing tricks on me?
When Du Yue’s name came up previously, didn't Gaoqin Jiuye wear the same melancholic expression?
What kind of woman was she? The question bubbled curiously in my heart.
“All that aside, there's no way the experiment will be completed that soon. From what I know, there hasn't been a case of success with their experiments thus far, and what you need to do before then is to master the control over your MF.
“Whatever comes next, be it saving your friends or reclaiming Western District, will naturally be possible once you've grown capable. That's what I'm going to do now: to give you a lesson in combat.”
A lesson in combat?
“I’m aware about the 500 meters restriction between you and Nie Zun, as well as the fact that your split symbol is unsealed. Which is why, I'm going to be teaching you how to fight with an unsealed symbol.” Ta Lai smiled.
How… did he know about that?
“This stone room is where I train. I have the ability of manipulating senses within a restricted area of enclosed space—this includes the four of them: your hearing, sight, smell and taste.
“The darkness you witnessed when you arrived was the effect of my distortion. I am unable to affect your sense of touch which is coincidentally the aspect I planned to train you both. In an actual combat, losing all of those four senses will be a common occurrence; I will first teach you how to continue fighting when the senses you had relied on a daily basis disappears.”
From the sound of that, it seems like this training would be pretty tough…
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