114 Pre-emptive Strike
"No matter what happens, I'll try my best to make up for being such an irresponsible district commander in the past." I adjusted my dress, hung Piercer back onto my waist, and got up from the bed.
"We'll need to split into three different teams from here. You lead a team to continue with the investigation on the experiment, and try to find Laurel as soon as possible. The second team should look for a method to save Old Man Fan and also find Zou An in order to get to the bottom of Piercer's mystery. Thirdly, I'll meet with Jiao S to discuss the next steps and design a plan before we head for the Northern District to uncover the secret behind the Split Zone."
Jie Pa nodded in agreement.
"I'll get started then. Don't worry about the residents, Miss Ah Shen. The floor managers have passed your message to the residents. However, if you're planning to go to the Northern District, I think you should bring some capable individuals along with you. The intelligence network put together by Nie Zun and I is great at collecting information, but they're not that good at other things."
I pondered for a moment. "You're right. Old Man Fan is not around now, and You Ji turned her back on us. Even Song Lu and Yu Liang are not here… If I were to go to the Northern District, I'll definitely need more help. Would you happen to have any ideas?"
I scratched my head in slight embarrassment. "Well, you know that I'm not very familiar with the people of the Western District…"
Jie Pa laughed. "It's alright. I can give you a suggestion. Miss Ah Shen, Miss Jiao S has her S Clan and the Southern District's Mr Si Luo has three capable subordinates. You need people like that too, but looking at the situation in the Western District now, there isn't many who're capable enough. Even if we could find such individuals, they might not be loyal to you at all because of your previous indifference towards district matters. Though you've made your stance clear now - that you'll work to get everyone out of the Split Zone, you haven't yet done anything which can let these people fully put their trust in you, right?"
I nodded with guilt.
Jie Pa continued, "I can recommend two individuals, and I'd suggest that together with Jiao S, you bring them with you to the Southern District. I don't think Du Yue will turn back on her word yet, so we can attack with a pre-emptive strike in the Southern District to retrieve Yu Liang, and also to get a clear picture of the Southern District Commander, Si Luo's stance towards all this, before we decide on further steps. Whatever happens in the Southern District will directly affect our plans in the Northern District. If we're able to get Si Luo's support, Rong Jin will naturally align with him, and Du Yue's chances of a victory will thus be lowered."
"But looking at Rong Jin's actions thus far, it seems as if he'd stubbornly go ahead with this experiment even if Si Luo objected to it," I said with a frown.
"That's true. However, it isn't beneficial to us if we aren't sure of Si Luo's stance on this, and furthermore, we haven't even seen him before. Though we need to settle the matters of the Western District and take time to recuperate, we don't want to end up a sitting duck either."
Nie Zun poured himself a glass of water, and I was momentarily distracted by the sound.
I looked towards Nie Zun, seeing him calmly pick up the glass.
"We kept talking and I forgot about you. You, you're alright…?" I asked with slight guilt as I thought about what he did for me, looking at the traces of smeared blood at the corner of his lips.
Nie Zun laughed, saying, "What could possibly happen to someone with an MF of 67?"
Getting cocky again…
I knew I shouldn't have asked…
"That reminds me." Nie Zun took a sip of water, before placing the glass back onto the desk.
"All these plans are good, but I have a question. Jie, I'm afraid the trip to the Southern District would turn out much deadlier now that she can't use Piercer so freely. Furthermore, you'll definitely have to stay here. I just can't be at ease knowing that you'll be alone, and if something happens with Piercer when we're in the Eastern or Southern District, who should we turn to?"
Jie Pa adjusted his glass and addressed Nie Zun's concerns gravely, "Nie Zun, even if I'm right beside Miss Ah Shen, I can't help much with Piercer. This type of seal wouldn't work a second time, and what I can do now is to locate Zou An as soon as I can. There's no need to worry about me either. You know Chou Yu too, and I'm sure I'll be safe with him in the Western District. When the both of you meet Miss Jiao S in the Eastern District, make sure to form a strong working partnership as well. This is so she'll send some people to protect the Western District."
I nodded in agreement. "Apart from ourselves, Jiao S is the only other person I trust the most right now."
It seems so ironic that I used to treat her with so much suspicion, but she turned out to be the only one I can trust.
"I agree with Jie Pa's suggestion, no use being a sitting duck. Since everyone is aware of my decision, the Western District residents would be able to protect themselves, and I might not be of much help here either. What I can do now is to go to the Northern District, unravel the mystery behind soul splitters, and bring everyone home."
Nie Zun looked at me. "Okay, your call."
"Jie Pa, as for the two individuals you mentioned, I'll still want to meet them first. I'm not planning to bring them to the Southern District with me though, because I hope they can stay here to protect you," I addressed Jie Pa, speaking with conviction.
Looking at how resolute I was on this, Jie Pa sighed lightly. "Alright, since Miss Ah Shen has decided, I'll bring the two of them to meet you."
"It's the two floor managers?" Nie Zun asked.
Jie Pa nodded. "That's right. From what I know, these floor managers keep a low profile, but they were important figures to Li Qing previously."
I was quite surprised. "You're referring to the Yuan siblings - Yuan Shen and Yuan Qian?"
"That's right, it's them."
I sighed inwardly.
I heard about Yuan Shen and Yuan Qian. They are two individuals who decided to become siblings after meeting in the Split Zone and who christened themselves with their current names. It takes the pronunciation of the Chinese characters for 'fate that is deep and shallow', as if they were trying to bid their pasts goodbye and start new lives here in the Split Zone. (T/n: The Chinese character for 'fate' is pronounced yuan, while that of 'deep' and 'shallow' are pronounced shen and qian respectively.)
Li Qing mentioned that the siblings are strong, just that they might have rather weird personalities. They were both personally selected by Li Qing to be floor managers, and after Li Qing left, I was not involved in the matters of selecting floor managers, leaving it all to You Ji. Some of them did not want to remain as floor managers, while some simply continued in the roles, like Ta Lai and the Yuan siblings, and I just let them decide freely.
The siblings have a unique ability - they are experts in poison.
Although the poisons used in the Split Zone are essentially derived from mental inhibitors, the siblings have continued to develop many new poisons. These poisons cannot be used to kill anyone here, but they are known to cause great pain.
The siblings do not usually attack others with their poisons, nor will they let others use the poisons. They are weird in that they merely continue developing these poisons without using them or allowing others to use them.
Since they abhorred violence, I seldom call for their help even if things do happen in the Western District. I do not ask for more as long as they are able to take care of the floors they are in charge of.
"Miss Ah Shen, the siblings had requested to meet you after seeing you kneel that day. They are well-versed in the use of poisons, no less than I am in fact, but they might not be willing to get involved in this matter. If you are able to convince them to join our fight, I'm sure they will be a great help." Jie Pa adjusted his glasses.
"Alright, I'll go meet them then. Where're they now?"
"I'll get them to come over. They manage the 10th and 11th floors actually, so it's not far from here. I'll be meeting up with Chou Yu to brief him on our plans then."
Jie Pa started to leave.
I called out in haste, "Jie Pa."
Jie Pa turned back, waiting for me to continue with an earnest gaze.
I beamed at him. "Nothing, I just wanted to say thank you. I wasn't close to you before, but you're sparing no effort to help. I'm just really grateful."
Jie Pa smiled gently. "Miss Ah Shen, although you aren't close to many people, you didn't even hesitate when Nie Zun recommended that I take care of the Marketplace. I have reason to believe that you trust me instinctively, and this is also a form of trust towards Nie Zun. Since you trust him, and you trust me, there's really no need to thank me for this."
My heart was flooded with warmth.
"Miss Ah Shen, Nie Zun will never betray you. If Nie Zun doesn't turn his back on you, I won't either."
Jie Pa left after saying all these.
I glanced at Nie Zun. "You two are really close."
Nie Zun laughed. "He's a good guy, and he loved my sister so. It's just tough luck that he met me. To save me, he even ended up here, away from my sister. I owe him a lot."
He looked at me, blinking. "He really wasted a lot of time on this patient cum 'little brother' of his."
I smiled. "That's nice. So why did you come here? Even if you are cursed, you're still surrounded by people who love you and care about you."
I pointed at his left hand.
He looked calm and relaxed as he said, "Everything happens for a reason."
I shrugged. "Stop trying to look brooding, I can't stand it."
"But then again, why did Jie Pa come here together with you?"
Nie Zun's eyes looked unfocused. "Like me, he probably thought my sister died. Or maybe he was sent here to be my savior like a gift from heaven."
Nie Zun smiled, but his eyes looked lonely.
My heart ached at this.