108 Rising Up in Rebirth!
"All of you have witnessed it. These are the experimental grounds of Du Yue, the soul splitter. She's working together with You Ji, that traitor, and the Southern District's soul snatcher, Rong Jin," I addressed the group behind me as I pointed at the gigantic device.
Remaining silent, they looked at one another, awaiting further instructions.
I looked around me, before finally meeting Nie Zun's eyes.
I kept my eyes on him for a few seconds, and he looked at me with confusion.
Nie Zun, I need to face this.
Facing the group, I slowly bent my knees and knelt on the floor.
The blood on the floor seeped into my red dress, blooming into dark red patches. I looked up at the shocked expressions in front of me before I spoke.
"I know your hearts are still with Li Qing, even though she's gone. After she left, the Western District became a lifeless place. I don't leave my room at all, and I left everything to You Ji. You Ji was like a lunatic, and all of you didn't dare to speak even though you were unhappy with how she was handling things. As District Commander, I wasn't aware of anything.
"I know I let Li Qing down. I'm kneeling in front of everyone today to apologize. I'm not putting on a show here, nor do I wish for forgiveness. Just like how I bowed to the floor managers previously, I know this cannot make up for all the lost lives. But there are some things from the bottom of my heart that I wish to let everyone know."
The smell of blood was dissipating, and the group facing me remained silent, intently listening to what I had to say.
"Firstly, there are three things all of you should know. The first is about me. Everyone here might not understand or know me well, but I'm sure all of you are aware that I was rather favored by Li Qing when she was alive. I've heard people who say they think the one Li Qing favored is a useless idiot, but I didn't give it much thought. I think I played the character of a useless idiot well, not being involved in any Western District matters. But it eventually led to today, You Ji's betrayal, and the death of so many residents.
"I'm not a responsible district commander, and to be honest, I didn't want to take on the role. May I ask everyone what you'd do if you were me? For those who end up in the Split Zone, who wasn't abandoned in the real world? It's already difficult to live in peace here, what more to protect others? I'm an ordinary person, just like everyone else.
"But now, I've already taken on the role of District Commander, and I promised Li Qing that I'll protect this place. I really deserve to die for all this tragedy here today. I've disappointed every one of you."
I started choking on my words, while the group continued remaining silent.
"I know saying sorry doesn't fix things. What I can do now is to help everyone reclaim the peace. This brings me to my second point, your hearts. May I ask everyone here, where your hearts are? Do you wish to peacefully live in the Split Zone, or do you wish to return to the real world? Please give this Li Shen a truthful answer."
There was total silence.
My knees were starting to feel stiff, and finally, Chou Yu, head of the intelligence network, spoke up.
"District Commander, I'm addressing you this way because I'm confident that you can lead us. As you said, if we were in your position, we might not care about the lives of others, since it was already difficult staying alive on our own. I don't blame you for that. According to our investigations, if this experiment succeeds, the peace in the Split Zone will be broken, and this will lead to mass hysteria.
"I don't know how you'll choose to face it, and I'm glad you asked since we're not able to force you into doing things either. I don't know about the others, but I, Chou Yu, wish to go back. Even if life in the Split Zone is good, this is still Split Zone 13, not the real world. I want to go back, to be alive and to live like an ordinary person."
Chou Yu spoke steadily, but I could hear a slight tremor in his voice, as if he was talking about an impossible dream.
"How about the rest?" I asked, looking at the others.
"I… I want to go back too."
"Although I didn't have money or skills, and my life wasn't great before, I thought I was already abandoned by the world. But it was only when I arrived here did I realize that I wasn't really abandoned. It's being here that is equivalent to being abandoned. So, I… I… I want to go back!"
"I want to go back too… In that crack in space, I saw my wife and children waiting by my side."
Everyone spoke, and I could hear a flurry of different voices.
"That's right, everyone wants to go back. This is the last thing I would like to tell all of you - change."
The dried blood on the floor stuck to the ends of my dress, and I heard a tearing sound as I stood up.
I looked at everyone. "I know every District Commander before me was able to provide you with peace, but I've failed. I've brought you disaster instead.
"I've decided to use another method to make up for this.
"Everyone in the Split Zone has given up hope to return, because we weren't able to find our soul splitters. Furthermore, suspicion and distrust led to the propagation of violence, and this is the reason why there are three different districts where the rules are different and where people behave differently.
"Today, I hope to use a different method to lead the residents. Just like you said, once the experiment succeeds, there will be no more peace in Split Zone 13.
"So, I hope to lead all of you in leaving this place."
I said this with commitment. Everyone looked at me with mixed expressions of surprise, suspicion and worry.
"I know this sounds impossible to achieve. Nie Zun said we might be able to gain some things from this experiment, as we were able to find out a lot more about soul splitters. I'll tell all of you now that Mr Blond is missing, and I've been unable to contact him. This means that Split Zone 13 no longer has a leader.
"Why don't we take charge of our own fates? We've always followed the rules and abided by the standards without opposition or suspicion. Put nicely, we're enjoying this eternal life that the Split Zone gives us, but in fact, we're just wasting our time here. Old Man Fan's sacrifice made us realize that our families are still out there waiting for us. What should we do to repay Old Man Fan for his sacrifice?"
I continued without waiting for an answer, "In following the rules, we end up being trapped in this eternal prison where there is pain everywhere. Split Zone 13 is nothing but a jailhouse!"
I pointed at the floor as I articulated every word, "I once promised Li Qing I'd never abandon this place. Now that she's gone, I'll break my promise today. I, Li Shen, am tired of this place. I want to unlock the secret of the Split Zone, and lead all of you in escaping this place."
I believe there had never been someone who acted like me today in the history of Split Zone 13. Everyone who ends up here, whether cruel or cowardly, would eventually be assimilated into this environment - quietly accepting their fate for all eternity.
They might possibly die here, or get plundered.
For me, I am not about to be robbed of anything, nor do I wish to surrender to this fate.
My wish is not to dominate the Western District or the Split Zone, nor do I wish to be the leader of a group. What I want is to be an ordinary person living an ordinary life.
This is why I need them to sober up, and I am going to bring them out of here.
One of the floor managers was tearing up. Choking on her words, she said, "I've never dared to say nor ask this, but I've always wondered why there was never any revolt in the Split Zone? Why did everyone give up hope once they realized they couldn't find any soul splitters? There's now finally someone who put into words what I had only thought of. District Commander, get us out of this place!"
"Yes, get us out of here!"
"We believe in you!"
They looked at me with utmost sincerity, their words wrought with emotion.
I felt an immense pressure, but there is no turning back now that I have said all this. Even if this road ahead is paved with spikes, I, Li Shen, will not regret my decision.
I have made too many mistakes both when I was alive and when I was here. It must be because of my cowardice that I was ostracized and left in solitude.
From today onwards, I will no longer be cowardly, I am going to be strong and I will be reborn.
"I'll need to trouble the floor managers to spread the word to the residents. If everyone agrees, please allow this useless district commander to request for your loyalty. Everyone, I hope that you'll be able to follow in my leadership, destroy this experiment, uncover the mysteries of the Northern District, find the soul splitters and leave the Split Zone!"
I felt warmth in my heart as I looked at the hundreds of faces, resolutely pledging their loyalty.
"Miss Ah Shen, please take a rest. Leave it to us here. I'll look into the experimental grounds, and we'll discuss the next steps after the floor managers finish informing the residents of your decision," Jie Pa spoke with composure.