215 Nie Zun's Ability
Nie Zun's abilities were still as sharp even when he had lost his memories. He turned around as he sensed an incoming attack from behind, and I definitely had to make use of this opportunity.
I raised my hand and released rays of light with Scorpion Ray. Chou Yu was wary of Nie Zun because of what I had said, and he thought Nie Zun was about to attack Yuan Qian at this point. Because of that, he was ready to counter it.
Chou Yu's fists were powerful, and since he was closer to Nie Zun, Nie Zun turned to parry Chou Yu's attack first. As he turned, Feng, Huo and Lei's attack hit him in the back.
I pulled Chou Yu away as I grabbed Nie Zun's left hand. I knew his MF was focused mostly on his hands, even though he might have forgotten about his past at this point.
Initially, I thought of breaking his wrists to activate Huai Du's consciousness in that very moment, but nothing ever goes according to plan.
When I grabbed his left hand, I felt that ring on it.
He never took off that ring. I've always found it familiar, but I just can't seem to recall anything that had to do with that skull ring.
A ray of black and red light shot out from that ring. My MF seemed to be attracted to that light, as if they were two pieces of magnets. This confused me for a moment. This feeling… It felt rather familiar…
When I looked up at Nie Zun again, his eyes looked a little teary and confused. But that lasted for only a second.
He smiled in an evil manner after that. "I have a new mission." He slapped my hand away and headed for the carpark's exit without any heed to the injuries on his back.
I looked at Feng, Huo and Lei, and they rushed forward after exchanging gazes with one another.
Gritting my teeth, I turned to Yuan Qian. "I'll give you an explanation about your brother. Since you're able to track me down with that pill, come look for me a few days later. I'm a little tied up now. Chou Yu, protect her."
Before I left, I was reminded of something else. I turned to the both of them again. "If you really have her interests at heart, please don't follow us. Please."
I then turned to chase after Nie Zun, leaving the both of them with confused looks.
Nie Zun was fast and agile. He had probably gotten the order to look for Li Qing at the demon river.
Feng, Huo and Lei were able to control the natural elements, so it was easy for them to run at high speeds for long distances, but it wasn't the case for me. I haven't rested in days, and I've been using my MF too frequently. It was difficult for me to catch up with them in my exhausted state.
With Nie Zun's speed, Huai Du seemed to have given him an urgent mission. This showed how much Huai Du cared about Li Qing.
We were met with countless stares as we passed through the crowds.
What attracted their attention was probably not because there were four individuals chasing a single figure, but probably because among the four, there were three in bamboo hats, while the last one was in a tattered red dress.
I might have been too tired, or it might just have been very far away, but I felt like it was forever before we arrived at that forest.
Though I wanted nothing more but to take a nap when we reached the river, I knew I didn't have the luxury of time. We were so far from even catching a glimpse of that hourglass and the tablet, and I don't know what Nie Zun might become. I did not have any time to waste.
Nie Zun looked around as he stood at the riverbank. He turned back and smiled condescendingly at Feng, Huo and Lei. "Where's Li Qing?"
Huo answered calmly, "You'll have to beat us if you want to find her."
The three of them took off their bamboo hats one by one before they got into position, each of them raising a hand towards Nie Zun.
I was screaming silently. They were really pulling out all stops in order to force Nie Zun into the demon cave.
From the air, one would be able to see that the three of them had formed a triangle in their positions. If I remember right, this was called the tri-point position.
With this triangular position, they were able to cover one another from all angles. Furthermore, the combination of the three natural elements made a powerful attack.
I don't remember seeing them in this position often. The damage would be great, and it was not only because they could control the elements. They were a team of triplets, and they were able to work together seamlessly because of that. They had also been working together for years, and they'd definitely be at least six times stronger than if they were fighting alone.
But I didn't understand why they had to start so strongly. Did they think Nie Zun was so powerful that they had to go against him like this right at the beginning?
After some thought, I realized it was a logical choice. We had the same goal now, that is, to force Nie Zun into that demon cave. They might have already thought about the most efficient way to go about this, and the most efficient method might simply be to force him into the cave quickly by going all-out against him.
Nie Zun gave a dashing smile. "So it's to fight me. The outside world is just no fun, everyone wants to pick a fight with me."
I lit up at this. "How about you go back to your demon cave then?"
Nie Zun waved a hand in mock earnesty. "No no. It's way too boring in there. I'd rather have fights outside than go back there."
Alright, I guess a fight is inevitable then.
Feng, Huo and Lei produced three different types of attacks in the very next second.
There was a fireball, a blade of air, and a ray of lightning. The three forces combined into one before charging at Nie Zun.
Nie Zun was leaning on one feet with his head slightly tilted. He had a casual smile on him as he made a weird gesture with his hands in front of his chest.
Feng, Huo and Lei's attack combined into a ball of whirling air. Smoke and dust rose around it, and I could hear the wind roaring in my ears.
With Nie Zun's weird gesture, black fog started to close in on us. It spread out and enclosed Feng, Huo and Lei within. I could not really keep tabs on the entire situation from where I was.
The three natural elements were easily parried by Nie Zun as that back fog surrounding his hands seemed to have the ability of canceling MF.
Nie Zun's eyes were shining now. I knew that he could use his pupils, but I haven't seen him use that ability ever since he had lost his memories.
Feng, Huo and Lei did not seem to be getting the upper hand in this even though they were in the tri-point position. From what I could see, it served only the purpose of defense. They might have been wary that Nie Zun might go all-out against them.
Their attacks did not work on Nie Zun so far.
This was a waste of time. It'd be better not to have this fight at all.
I lifted my left wrist slowly, wondering if I should attack. The demon cave was still some distance away. Why were they fighting here?
Very quickly, I was given the answer as Li Qing appeared on the other side of the river.
Nie Zun's eyes shone upon seeing her. He leapt away from the battle and walked over to her.
"There's someone who wants to see you, and that someone wants me to take you somewhere," Nie Zun said as he smiled at Li Qing.
Li Qing gave a charming smile. "Too bad. I don't want to see that person."
Nie Zun lifted a hand shrouded in black mist as he walked towards her. "Then I'll just have to use force."
Li Qing glanced at me. She then squinted as she raised her arms, placing her palms together.
A gully suddenly appeared between Li Qing and Nie Zun. The ground shook violently, and the water in the river crashed and roared loudly as it flowed into the gully.
Nie Zun stared at Li Qing as he narrowed his eyes.
An external force seemed to be controlling the water. It looked like transparent silk as it rippled in the air.
Li Qing smiled as she released her palms. The water splashed everywhere, and beads of water shot right at Nie Zun like bullets.
Nie Zun's pupils widened as black light shone in his eyes.
The beads of water stopped right in front of him.
Those beads were tiny to begin with, and they turned into mist as they disintegrated.
Nie Zun lifted a hand to grab the air suddenly.
The black fog surrounded the mist in the air, turning them into black blades that flew towards Li Qing. It was so quick that I could only see their tails even when I focused MF on my vision.
Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.
Fire spouted from the gully as Huo shouted. The temperature rose instantly, almost suffocating me. It felt as if all the water had evaporated in an instant.
The black blades under Nie Zun's control had all evaporated since they were made of water.
Li Qing looked careful now, as if still wary of Nie Zun's earlier attack.
I saw a light shine in her eyes as she muttered something I wasn't able to hear.
White light encased her before turning into that silvery-white armor she used to have.
Her sword had also appeared on her back.
216 Returning to the Demon Cave
This was the real Li Qing.
Seeing her whip out the big guns, I stepped forward, ready to join the fight if it turned ugly.
To my surprise, Li Qing turned and headed somewhere else. She had no intention of fighting at all.
A hint of doubt appeared in Nie Zun's eyes. He probably wondered why Li Qing wanted to avoid a fight even with those abilities. He leapt into the air immediately, chasing after her at the speed of light. Feng, Huo and Lei followed after him closely.
I said to myself with gritted teeth, "Do they think this is some competition of sorts? Everyone is running so quickly."
I had no choice but to focus my MF on my feet and run after them.
The wind roared past my ears at the speed I was going and it felt as if everything on my face was being distorted. Even so, I was still quite a distance away from the rest.
Pain shot through my chest just as I attempted to quicken my pace.
Was this caused by my lack of rest and frequent use of MF?
This pain felt like it came from the depths of my soul, and it seemed to emanate from my heart.
With no time to think about what was happening, I continued running. The top priority now is to help Nie Zun regain his memories.
I realized what Li Qing was trying to do when the giant mushroom in front of the demon cave appeared before me. She was trying to lure him here, and all we had to do now was to enter the cave.
Li Qing had already drawn her sword when I finally caught up with them at the cave's entrance.
Nie Zun squinted at the entrance. Even when faced with four enemies right in front of him, he was still able to ask me in a casual manner, "This is where I came out from, right?"
I shook my head vigorously. "I don't know. How would I know when there are so many caves around?"
Nie Zun scratched his head in confusion, as if he was in some sort of dilemma.
Li Qing did not give him much time to continue being confused. With a tap of her feet, she raised her sword and charged at Nie Zun.
I became rather emotional as I saw her like this. It was two years since I've seen her fight, and I've been missing her for as long as I could remember. At that time, I felt contented and happy knowing that she'll always behind me to protect me. I even thought that I would be able to survive here in the Split Zone forever as long as she was around.
It could've been because I hadn't seen her in a long time, or it might've been because I thought she was dead. The image of her with shut eyes and a pale face reappeared in my mind. I teared at the thought.
She exuded a kind of resilience as she carried that sword with her. She was made for battle. In my eyes, not even Hua Mulan or Fan Lihua can hold a candle against her. (T/n: Historical figures, Hua Mulan and Fan Lihua were famous female warriors.)
Even though she was excellent in battle, she did not carelessly engage in fights. I don't remember ever seeing her fight to protect herself. She had always fought for others, or to protect somebody else.
Li Qing was someone who did not know how to 'love herself'.
I was of that opinion up until now, when she reappeared before me, when Feng, Huo and Lei looked at me with those unfamiliar gazes. I was confused. Had I been wrong about her all this time?
Was Li Qing not like what I thought she was?
The fight was already underway as I got lost in my own thoughts.
Li Qing's sword slashed through the air. Every move of hers was fast and furious, and she moved quickly and confidently without the slightest hint of hesitation.
As for Nie Zun, his reflexes were quick and he was extremely agile. He used his pupils to control the air around him as he avoided Li Qing's attacks.
Feng, Huo and Lei were standing at the sidelines, looking like they were ready to attack anytime.
"Hey, aren't you going to help me out?" Nie Zun could even chide me in the middle of his fight.
I looked at him. "I can't win them. How about we just run?"
Nie Zun smirked. "Where to?"
I pointed at the demon cave behind him. "Let's go in and have a look. It was empty when you came out of there, but it'd be interesting now."
Feng, Huo and Lei attacked at this very moment when Nie Zun was in a dilemma on whether he should enter. It was a powerful attack.
The ground started quaking and the air rippled to the point that it blurred my vision. Bubbles started coming out from the ground, as if the ground was boiling liquid. This was bad. Focusing MF on my feet, I leapt into the air.
Just as I leapt, sparks started shooting up from the ground. Countless red sparks appeared, and they burnt fierce and bright.
Nie Zun narrowed his eyes, as if he was thinking of a counterattack. The blue sky then turned dark in an instant.
I looked up to see a dark shadow above.
Not good, it was Lei.
Lei had not really launched any attack up until now. He was good in controlling electrons, and I remembered him literally being as fast as lightning.
Li Qing smiled as she raised her sword again.
All four of them were about to go against him now.
Nie Zun sensed it too, that he was already being surrounded and that the only escape was the cave behind him.
I looked around us before I made a decision. Spreading my MF throughout my body, I rushed into the middle of the fight.
It felt as if something was automatically put into motion the moment I entered the fight. I thought I could counter the force, but I only felt my MF continually weaken as the flames from the ground licked my skin.
Li Qing charged towards Nie Zun and I with her sword as a bolt of lightning appeared with a thunderous clap.
I pushed Nie Zun into the cave behind him and a loud explosion sounded behind us as we fell forward.
As we struggled to get up, I saw a stone door seal the entrance to the cave behind us. There was probably a mechanism already in place.
But, Li Qing didn't tell me what to do next from here. And has she already disabled Huai Du's consciousness in Nie Zun?
Nie Zun stood up, frowning. "What's happening?" Okay, this was an idiot right here.
"You're going to look for whoever Huai Du wants you to look for? I don't think you've lost your memories, I think you've been brainwashed instead." I stared at him as I spoke.
Nie Zun shrugged. "I keep hearing his voice in my head, and that happens at least once a day. There didn't seem to be anything wrong if I listened to him, and I'd be able to regain those lost memories as well."
I was so frustrated that I wanted to scream at him. All the memories you've lost had to do with me. But that would sound like I was getting at something else if I said it. I guess I should leave it until he regains his memories then.
Because of this, I was even more anxious in getting his memories back.
"No use wasting time here. Since we won't be able to get out from that door anyway, let's just go further in and find another exit." I looked at my watch. It's been an hour since Huai Du's consciousness awoke in him. I had to find his blood within the next 23 hours.
In fact, I had to find that tablet within the next 23 hours. I didn't know how much sand had already flowed to the bottom half of that hourglass, and I didn't know what to do to change his blood either. Li Qing didn't tell me how to go about any of these.
"Why can't we exit from that door?" Nie Zun asked as he pointed to where we came from.
I answered in a frustrated manner. "From what I know, all the stones in this cave absorb MF. No matter how much MF you use, it'll end up being absorbed in the end. How can we open it in this case? Or do you think you can use mere strength to open that stone door without using your MF?"
Nie Zun smirked as if that would be an easy task for him. He strolled over to the door with hands in his pockets.
As if avoiding the uneven areas, he placed his palms carefully against the door.
He turned back after one try, flashing me a brilliant smile. His eyes were clear like spring water and his confidence did not seem to have buckled at all. "It really doesn't work."
When I walked over and screamed at the door, Nie Zun had already made his way into the cave. There was no answer from outside the stone door either.
I said to myself in frustration, "Not telling me what to do. Do I really need to sacrifice myself for this? Just how should I get his blood back?"
This was mission impossible, but I followed Nie Zun into the cave quickly.
He was already disappearing into the darkness. Visibility had reduced to a radius of ten meters in the cave.
I felt something following behind as I quickened my steps, but there seemed to be nothing there when I turned around to look.
"Hey, slow down." I tapped him on the shoulder as I finally caught up with him. He was rather fast, though he looked like he was just taking a nice evening stroll.
As Nie Zun turned around, his starry eyes and handsome features were gone.
The individual who turned around did not have a face.
His face was as white as paper and there was nothing on it.
217 Faceless Creatures
If this happened in the real world, I would have screamed my lungs out before throwing punches and kicks at him.
Don't call me violent. This is simply the logical reaction of a weak girl. However, I can no longer be considered a 'weak girl' after arriving here in the Split Zone.
I kept my eyes on the creature. "Who are you?"
A hole began to appear on the creature's white face. It appeared somewhere where the mouth should have been.
As that hole slowly opened to form a mouth, I saw nothing but rows of teeth against a bloody red background. There were hundreds of teeth in that mouth.
Goosebumps appeared all over me.
I think I might have trypophobia.
Stepping backwards, I frowned as I asked, "What exactly are you?" I readied my left hand, preparing to counter with Scorpion Ray at a moment's notice.
That scary mouth moved as it spoke in a villainous voice, "So yummy."
I swear I wanted to take a shower immediately after hearing this.
It was darkness all around me, and the stone walls had disappeared. There were two possibilities here. The first was that the cave was extremely wide, and it had a width of more than 20 meters across. If so, I wouldn't be able to see any of the walls since they were more than 10 meters away from me.
The second possibility was that something else was obscuring my vision.
When I was thinking about the more likely scenario, that disgusting creature in front of me reached out with a hand.
I used Scorpion Ray to cut his hand off immediately.
The creature didn't seem to be in pain from my attack, or rather, I wouldn't be able to tell even if it was, since he did not have a face.
It started walking towards me with a single arm, like a zombie. Grossed out by the creature, I retreated a few steps, planning to use Scorpion Ray's circular bow to turn him into mincemeat.
However, things did not go as planned. I bumped into someone else as I walked backwards.
As I turned to look, I realized it was the same faceless creature. But this time, it seemed to be a woman instead of a man.
How should I describe her? She was floating in mid-air and she had a full head of hair. There were no features on her face at all. Her head was just like a furry round ball that was full of hair.
Her hair circled around my neck the moment I turned back. It was so sharp it pricked my flesh. This was uncomfortable.
Just as I wanted to attack, I saw a pale and slender hand grab her head from the back, as if it was holding a baby. That hand then made two quick turns, left and right.
The hair around my neck loosened immediately as the head dropped to the ground.
I then saw Nie Zun's face.
Before I could say a thing, he reached out to grab the creature behind me, destroying it easily.
"Where did you go earlier?" I asked softly. I don't know if it was because of the darkness or because I had just seen two faceless creatures, but at this point, there was an evil aura about Nie Zun's face.
His lips turned up at an angle. "I've always been here. I thought these things were quite interesting, and I wanted to see if you'd be frightened, so I hid myself."
Upon another look, I found this face way too thin and too full of malice. What an ugly man.
I pulled him with me in annoyance. I had to admit, I really didn't want to face those weird creatures on my own again.
As we continued, he said suddenly, "Actually, there's someone else following behind us."
He was not whispering. If there really was anyone behind us now, they would definitely be able to hear him.
I didn't know how to answer him like this.
"Hmm, aren't you curious about what's following us?" Nie Zun asked with interest.
I frowned. I wouldn't be curious if you asked it like this.
Because you asked if I was curious about what was following, instead of who was following. This confirmed that it was some kind of creature.
But the feeling of being followed and not taking a look made me feel frustrated as well. So, I grabbed Nie Zun's hand tightly as I turned back very slowly.
There was nothing but complete darkness.
"Hahahahaha you actually believed me?" Nie Zun started laughing.
I took a deep breath. I could stand it no more. Focusing my MF on my feet, I stepped on him with all my might.
"You're really violent. Luckily I don't really feel any pain," Nie Zun said as he looked at his foot.
This man was crazy. I continued dragging him further into the cave as I wondered about what might await us. How had the demon cave changed? How long is it till we find that tablet? Can we even manage to find it?
Weird sounds started coming from both sides in the darkness and the sounds were getting louder and louder as we walked further in.
I felt goosebumps. It was eerie and it sounded like the nails of a woman scratching on glass.
I grabbed Nie Zun tightly in fear.
"Oh, so you're actually scared? I thought you weren't afraid of anything." Nie Zun was teasing me casually, as if he hadn't heard the sound.
I stared at him angrily.
Nie Zun then snapped his fingers.
With that, our surroundings lit up immediately.
This was a tunnel of stone, and it was very wide. There were torches on both walls, except that they weren't lit before this. The path before us seemed to go on forever.
The source of the sounds was revealed as well.
Behind us were things that looked to be human beings. They were crawling on the ground and also on both walls.
That's right, they merely looked to be human beings.
These things had human torsos and a head of long hair, but they did not have faces. They simply had mouths, similar to those faceless creatures we met earlier. The bottom half of their bodies were lizard parts and they stuck to the walls and to the ground.
Their fingers were transparent and sharp, looking exactly like fingernails.
Those hands were scratching against the surface continuously, making that sound.
There were at least five or six of them behind us crawling on the ground now. They were not far from us, and there were three or four of them on both sides of the walls as well.
The only clear path was forward.
"What are these?" I felt my hairs stand.
Nie Zun shrugged. "I don't know."
I wanted to give that annoying face a slap. Fine, but does this mean we have to fight these things?
I looked at the creatures. There was nothing but a mouth filled with teeth on their white faces. They had no eyes, and I couldn't tell what they could possibly be thinking.
I didn't know if I could communicate with them either, nor did I want to find out.
These things were just crawling on the wall and on the ground. They did not seem to have the intention of doing anything else.
I pulled Nie Zun with me and took a few steps forward.
Something interesting then happened. These things moved only when we moved, and they stopped when we stopped. They did not seem to be approaching us, nor did they seem to have the intention of retreating.
"What's this?" I muttered.
Nie Zun answered, "Just grab one of them and ask."
"How about you do it huh?"
Nie Zun smirked. He then grabbed me and pushed me to the side.
I didn't expect him to do that, and I almost slammed into the wall.
Luckily, the path was wide and I could stop myself before it happened.
The first thing I did was not to look at the creatures on the wall, but to turn and scold Nie Zun.
"Do you have a death wish, Nie Zun…!" I almost roared at him.
Nie Zun pretended to look all innocent as he pouted his lips. "I just asked you to take a look at these things."
I turned back slowly to face those creatures. "Hi, can you speak human?"
This question seemed a little…
The creature's mouth opened as it answered, "So yummy."
My lips twitched in annoyance. "What are you? What are you planning to do?" Better to be direct about this.
The creature did not move as it continued, "So yummy."
I took a deep breath and walked back to Nie Zun with a glum expression. "You asked me to take a look right? I've seen them. They're just big eaters."
I ignored him and continued into the tunnel.
Nie Zun caught up quickly, laughing. "They're still following us."
My hairs stood up. "I know. Let them."
Even though I said that, I kept my eyes on both walls, keeping track of their every move as they continued following us.
218 Call Me Shen'er
After some walking, we finally reached some sort of checkpoint.
There was heavy white fog in front of us.
Nie Zun and I looked at each other before walking towards the fog.
I realized the creatures had stopped. They seemed to be avoiding the fog.
As we closed in, we realized that the fog had obscured the path forward. To continue, we had to go through the fog. However, it looked like our vision would be obscured once we walked into it.
"Should we go through?" I asked, unsure.
Nie Zun answered without hesitation, "Why not?"
I looked back at those creatures. They were still now, none of them moving an inch.
There's nowhere else to go but forward then.
"Let's go." I pulled Nie Zun along.
Ever since he had lost his memories, I've always wanted to hold his hand every time he's beside me, afraid that I'll lose him again. I'm willing to do this even though he treats me like a stranger, or even if he doesn't care about what I do.
I wanted him to remember me, but there would be times when I hoped this could last forever.
Nothing could be seen around us as we walked into the fog.
A pain shot through my wrist as I tried to hold his hand tight, and his hand just slipped away like this.
I looked around the whiteness as I called out, "Nie Zun."
I flailed my arms about as I tried searching for him, but there was nothing around me.
Stay calm, Li Shen, stay calm.
I looked around me again. Everything was white fog, including the ground.
I was sure this was an illusion.
Though the demon cave was an unpredictable place, there was something else going on right here. It might be the work of a powerful illusionist.
I suddenly thought of Guan Nie, who had been missing in the Gate of Ghost for quite a while now. Would he be in here?
"Where are you, Nie Zun?" No one answered when I tried calling out again.
I took baby steps forward as I spread my MF all around me, trying to get a better sense of my surroundings.
Surprisingly, I couldn't sense a thing.
While I was at a loss of what to do, the white fog right in front of me seemed to dissipate slightly.
I walked up quickly to the empty space that appeared.
That space was surrounded by white fog, as if it was right under a huge spotlight.
Why did this feel so familiar?
This was the scene when Si Luo stuck his hand into my heart the last time.
Was this an illusion created by MF?
I hesitated a little before deciding to walk over to that bright, empty spot.
I heard my name just as I stepped into the space.
I looked around me. It can't be… Will the same thing happen again?
I smiled bitterly to myself as I saw him emerge from the fog. I guess the same thing will happen again.
But it was Gaoqin Jiuye the last time. Who was it this time?
I asked slowly, "You're Gaoqin Jiuye? Or Gao Qi?"
He was dressed exactly like Gaoqin Jiuye, but he had a rather expressionless face.
He looked at me with a deep gaze. "You can't tell me apart from him now, can you?"
This… What did that mean?
I looked down at his waist as he moved closer to me. Shen Qi… wasn't there.
I felt his cold breath on my face as he said, "He had always wanted to take you away from me, always. I tried ways and means to prevent him from doing so, but you? You still left with him in the end."
What is he saying?
I looked up at him in confusion. "Are you Gao Qi? Gao Qi, what're you talking about?"
Gao Qi laughed. "That's right, I'm Gao Qi. I'm here to visit you in the Split Zone, I'm here to bring you back."
My heart seemed to explode at this with a force that could destroy an entire city, the shrapnel cutting me right through the bones.
Something seemed to be reemerging from within my memories. Did he say something like this to me before?
Yes, I remember seeing him in Huan Qing's illusion at the time when I just arrived in the Southern District.
Pomelo was present too.
He told me to leave with him at that time, that he was here to pick me up from the Split Zone.
But, in the end?
Nie Zun's 'Shen'er' brought me back to reality. Gao Qi and Pomelo were both gone. I was still in the Split Zone, and no one could bring me back.
I smiled bitterly. "You're an illusion, right? Great. It just so happens that there's something I want to say."
I moved in closer and caressed his face. I've fallen head over heels for that face once, but it felt a little foreign now that I looked at it again. "I've always wanted to say sorry, that I've killed you. I know you're a nightmare living in my heart, and I know that I've lost most of the memories we had together. But I know that you're still here in my heart. Please forgive me."
I felt warm skin under my fingers. This felt extremely realistic.
His eyes looked like they were sighing. "Why don't you believe me? Yes, it was me who had hurt you so badly in the past, and that had caused you to forget me. You're still wary of me and you refuse to believe me now… It's all my fault…"
"What are you… talking about?" I asked in confusion.
Gao Qi looked me in the eye, entrapping me with that gaze. "You've always been in love with Gaoqin Jiuye, not me. And I've always been jealous of him. Because of that, I was afraid that he'll take you away from me, and that was why I did it. I should be the one saying sorry. I should be the one who should have left. But, not only did I fail in doing that and returning you a peaceful life, I've pulled you in here instead."
My heart felt like it twisted into a knot. I didn't understand him at all. This was all nonsense to me.
Wasn't I living in the real world before?
Wasn't it Gao Qi I fell in love with? My senior, Gao Qi? Even if I killed him with my own two hands, even if I've forgotten most of what happened between us, I was very sure of whatever I could remember. I knew who it was that I loved. Why was he saying this?
Unease crept up on me. If this was an illusion, it would have to be based on whatever was deep inside my heart. No matter how unpredictable this demon cave was, the illusion had to come from somewhere.
Why did the Gao Qi in front of me say things like this? I felt extremely uneasy.
There was nothing but doubt and tons of questions in my mind right now. I could only clarify them one by one.
"Why are you saying that Gaoqin Jiuye was the one I fell in love with, not you? I didn't know him before I arrived here in the Split Zone." I tried to calm myself down, but I could hear my voice trembling.
Gao Qi's eyes suddenly turned gentle. His gentle gaze melted me every time, but this time, when I was met with that gaze again, all I could think of was… Nie Zun.
I was distracted momentarily.
I looked away quickly, embarrassed to meet his eyes.
Gao Qi answered in that enchanting and mesmerizing voice of his, "He's the one you love. You'll know everything if you uncover the secret of the Split Zone…"
"Enough," I said loudly. I was getting a little emotional now.
Uncover the secret of the Split Zone? I'll know everything once I uncover the secret of the Split Zone?
But I don't know what secrets there are in here!
I've lost too many people because of this secret. My peaceful life from before had been interrupted. The Western District had been destroyed. And you guys are still trying to get me to chase after some secret?
Some tell me that the time isn't right, while others tell me that I'll uncover it someday.
What day is someday?
I couldn't stand this anymore.
"Are you going to tell me? Or not? If you're not going to tell me about it, then please leave." I looked at the person in front of me with slightly teary eyes.
Gao Qi's gaze remained gentle. He did not frown nor did he sound like he blamed me for anything. "I've owed you too much, Ah Shen. The only thing I can do for you now is to take you away. I admit that I have my own selfish reasons for doing so, and I'd rather choose to believe that you still love me, even if it's just a tiny bit. That it isn't Gaoqin Jiuye you love. Come with me, Ah Shen. Return to the real world with me."
Haha. What a great illusion. He could even promise to bring me out of this place.
So leaving the Split Zone was actually such an easy thing to do.
Gao Qi spoke again. "I know you don't believe me. But you can try. I can take you with me as long as you wish for it to be. Try it. You won't be losing anything again…"
You can take me with you as long as I wish for it to be?
What if I don't?
I was surprised by my own thoughts.
But what was it that made me think like that?
Was it because of that particular reason? That I was afraid I'd continue being ostracized in the real world because of my mental disorder?
"Look, Ah Shen, my eyes are no longer like what they were in the past. Have you fallen in love with Gaoqin Jiuye in the time that you hung out with him?" Gao Qi's voice sounded like a steady anchor in all that white fog.
But I suddenly felt lonely.
I missed Nie Zun so much.
No, I can't stay in this illusion forever. I need to wake up soon. I need to get his memories back. I want him to remember me.
I want him to call me Shen'er.
219 The Weirdo, Big Gold Rooster
Once I made my decision, I realized I could look at Gao Qi with clearer eyes.
I said gently, "Sorry. Even if you're telling the truth, this isn't my top priority right now. There're many things I have to do. I need to get somebody's memories back, I need to find myself, and I need to find my friends who've gone missing. There're too many things I still have to do."
I was met with Gao Qi's sorrowful gaze as I finished.
His gaze carried with it a kind of chill, as if it was about to asphyxiate me.
A tear seemed to escape his eyes, but he disappeared right in front of me before I could take a clearer look.
"Gao Qi." I looked around. Only now did I wonder about my actions. What was I doing? What was I saying?
Didn't I love him before?
Why did I become like this…
A flood of emotions overwhelmed me.
"Hey, how could we get separated even while holding hands?" I heard Nie Zun's lazy voice from behind.
I saw those starry eyes and that casual smile as I turned around and took him in a sudden embrace.
"Hey, what are you doing?" He wasn't gentle now, and he wasn't kind either. He did not understand why I did this at all.
I looked up at him happily. "Nothing. Let's go. You'll be back by my side soon."
Nie Zun raised his brows. "You're one weird lady. But, where do we go from here?"
Heavy white fog surrounded us.
"We should've let Feng come in with us. This fog would probably be dissipated easily with wind."
Nie Zun waved a hand. "It wouldn't work since this is an illusion."
"You can tell?" Well, he was good at using his pupils. Then why did he take so long to find me?
"I only realized it moments ago. Let's continue. The illusion might just go away once we pass this layer." Nie Zun put his hands back into his pockets and started walking.
I rushed forward, snatching a hand from out of his pocket. "This place is scary. It's better if I hold your hand." I looked away after I created this bad excuse for myself.
Nie Zun didn't seem to mind. He answered sarcastically, "I knew you were a scaredy-cat."
We finally seemed to have reached the checkpoint after passing through layers and layers of white fog.
Though the path ahead was still covered in fog, I could sense that there was something different in front as I activated my MF.
The white fog suddenly disappeared, and the scene around us changed instantly.
I sighed inwardly as I took in the scene around me.
We were back in that glacial wonderland.
There were glaciers everywhere, and we were stepping on ice. I looked down in defeat as the cold closed in on me.
"Why are we back here?" Nie Zun asked.
I answered gloomily, "Yes. I don't know why. Why are we back here?" And, how do we go to that stone room from here?
It was obvious that we couldn't go into the river judging from the thickness of the ice below us. There was nothing else but glaciers here, so where do I even start looking for that stone room?
I realized I was too naïve this time.
This is our second time here, so how could it be exactly the same as the first?
The ice in front of us cracked suddenly, and an icicle emerged from the ground.
Somebody was standing on that icicle.
The person was balancing with one leg on the tip of that icicle, as if he was doing yoga.
I decided that this was a crazy person from looking at the position he was in.
Yes, he's definitely mad.
The person was a sloppy-looking male with a face full of facial hair. He also had extremely long hair. It looked like it was tied in braids all over his head. He had beady eyes like a thief and he was still in that one-legged position, with both his arms raised high above him.
He was mad, no matter how I look at it.
"I hate couples, especially those who look good with each other, like you guys. I'll carve an ice sculpture out of the both of you today."
He spoke as he saw me staring at him. His voice sounded crisp and it felt like he was just a boring old man who practiced some weird skill.
"Hey big gold rooster, I don't believe you can make an ice sculpture out of me," I challenged. (T/n: The pose where one balances on one leg with raised arms is commonly called Jin Ji Du Li in Chinese, and Jin Ji literally translates to 'golden chicken'.)
"Well, well, well, this lady sure talks big. But who's big gold rooster?" He looked confused, squinting his eyes until they looked like they were about to be squashed together.
He's definitely a lunatic.
"Big gold rooster refers to you, old man. Why are you standing on an icicle? Can't you come down and have a proper conversation? It's weird for me to look at you like that."
Nie Zun spoke before he could answer. "Is that so? I think it's interesting. I even thought about having a go at it myself."
I was rendered momentarily speechless at this.
Big gold rooster looked extremely satisfied with whatever Nie Zun said. He looked at Nie Zun with acknowledgement. "This young man here has good taste, except when choosing a girlfriend. I wouldn't want this lady even if she's dog food."
What, what and what…
What did he just say about me…
I flashed a brilliant smile at him. "Smelly golden rooster, come down and say that again if you dare."
I thought he would come down from that icicle once I challenged him like this, but I didn't expect for him to refuse my challenge. "I'm not going down. It's not fun down there."
He jumped once and the icicle started moving across the ground, like a shark's fin that was moving in the water. Before long, he started moving in circles.
"I'll turn, I'll turn, I'll turn, turn and turn." He started having fun on his own just like this. He was overjoyed at his own little game.
I turned to Nie Zun. "Are you sure you want to be like him? Turn, turn and turn?"
Nie Zun smiled. "That looks pretty interesting. He's more interesting than you."
"I love what that young boy is saying. Come, come on over. Come and turn with me." Big gold rooster appeared right beside me, scaring me with his invitation.
I snapped alert immediately. Anyone who could creep up on me like this must have a very high MF.
"Let's go, young man. I'll take you to have some fun. Let's not care about this old hag."
I, I, I, I'm an old hag?
I was about to blow my top. That big gold rooster stretched out a hand towards Nie Zun, who smiled as he raised a hand, as if he was about accept the invitation.
At that very moment, the hand of that big gold rooster turned into an icicle. I also noticed several transparent spikes on that icicle he was standing on.
It was too late to stop Nie Zun, but he didn't take that hand either.
Nie Zun had quick reflexes and he had realized something was wrong. His hand stopped just two centimeters away from the other hand.
Big gold rooster could have stabbed him at such a distance, but he didn't.
Nie Zun did not avoid the hand. With his reflexes, his hand was already enshrouded in thick, black mist.
I laughed. "So it's somebody who likes to joke around and attack suddenly."
Big gold rooster stared at me. "Says who. I just wanted to let him witness my skills."
"Fine, you'll always have an explanation. I want to know who you are and why you're here now."
Big gold rooster retracted his hand and continued staring at me. "I'm the ice spirit in this glacier."
"Pch." I didn't believe him at all.
Ice spirit? The spirit of this glacier? Or just a random soul in the glacier?
He didn't look like any of those.
He stared at me angrily upon seeing my look of disbelief. "You're really annoying, lady. I'm definitely turning you into an ice sculpture." However, he didn't have any follow-up actions after that.
I found him rather interesting at this point. I leaned in closer and asked, "Are you really the ice spirit of this glacier? Then can you tell me why the first time I came here, there was a river instead of this ice? Do you know why?"
Big gold rooster finally jumped off his icicle. He touched his beard as he answered, "You're referring to a glacier, that's for sure, but it isn't this one. This glacier is huge, and everyone who enters the demon cave will reach a glacier. Why are you looking for that particular place? At least you can still stand here."
Should I tell him that I'm looking for that stone room? Can I trust him?
As I hesitated, big gold rooster asked, "Don't tell me you're looking for that demon palace under that icy river."
Demon palace. That seemed to refer to that stone room.
I smiled at him. "Why? I can't go there?"
He leapt up suddenly, jumping around all over the place as he flailed his arms about. "Mad, mad, mad, mad. Others are running away while you're actually heading for that godforsaken place? You're really mad, mad, mad."
I think you're the one who's mad…
I answered patiently, "I have to go there for something important. Are you able to lead the way to that icy river?"
220 Looking for the Icy River
Big gold rooster looked at me with slight disdain. "Why should I be doing that, you annoying girl? Do you want to become my ice sculpture?"
I rolled my eyes. "Fine. As long as you can take me there, I'll agree to whatever you say once I exit the place."
"Woah, woah, woah." The big gold rooster pointed a condemning finger at me. "You're a sly one. There's no one who can exit that demon palace once they enter. I'll definitely be on the losing end of this deal."
I raised a brow. "Oh, is that so? But I've entered just a few days ago, and I've successfully left it too."
"Crazy, crazy, crazy. You're really mad." Big gold rooster shook his head vigorously.
"Are you guys done chatting? I'm falling asleep here." Nie Zun yawned lazily.
After this, he lay down on the icy ground and closed his eyes, using his hand as a pillow.
Big gold rooster stared at Nie Zun.
Looking at big gold rooster, I waved a hand in front of his face. "Have you fallen in love with him?" I asked.
Though big gold rooster shook his head, he didn't give a definite answer to my question.
"He looks rather familiar…" Big gold rooster scratched his head as he continued observing Nie Zun, as if he was recalling something from the past.
I narrowed my eyes and grabbed his arms. "Have you seen him before, when he first arrived here? Try to recall what happened. Do you know what happened to him then?"
Big gold rooster's eyes shone as he saw me grab his arm.
In the next second, both my arms were frozen.
Crack, crack, crack.
What seemed like pieces of broken ice spread all over my arms, as if it was going to encase me entirely. Even so, I did not avoid it.
And as expected, the ice stopped spreading further after both my arms had been frozen.
"You're pretty gutsy for a lady."
I smirked. "Stop being such a nag. Tell me, have you seen him?" I pointed my chin at Nie Zun, who looked like he was enjoying his sleep.
Big gold rooster said, "You should worry about yourself first. This freezing technique will slowly absorb your MF." I didn't mind it at first, but once he said that, I got reminded of how Huan Qing was stripped of his MF and life force in that glacier.
Did that happen because he was trapped in the glacier, or was it because of this ice and snow here?
I tried moving my arms but I was trapped. I couldn't move them at all.
I looked at big gold rooster as I said, "I guess I shouldn't be hasty since it's such a powerful technique. May I ask how I should go about undoing it?"
He laughed loudly. His smiling expression was completely different from that look he had on his face when he was encasing my arms in ice. "This ice sealing technique uses telepathy, and the MF comes from that. If you want to melt this ice, you'll have to find the man who loves you to do so."
"How do I get him to help me?"
Big gold rooster pondered for a moment before he said, "I guess it can be done with a hug."
My face twitched in annoyance. Why am I wasting time with this guy right here?
Right, talking about time…
I said urgently, "I don't care what you're planning to do with me. Please just tell me the way to that icy ricer. I have to go to that demon palace. This young man whom you like here, he'll die if he doesn't go there." I exaggerated on purpose this time.
Big gold rooster looked a little shaken by this. He's probably someone who's easily convinced.
"Fine, I'll tell you then. But you'll really be my ice sculpture once you come out of there, right?" Big gold rooster asked with a face full of innocent naivety.
I smiled, nodding profusely. "Definitely. You're free to order me around." Yeah right, let's see if you're even able to locate me after that.
"Then I'll bring you guys there. But I can only bring you somewhere close by, since I'm not able to go near that icy river."
"Release my arms first." I signaled to my frozen arms.
Big gold rooster regarded me with a look of disdain. "I'm helping you because of this young man, you annoying girl."
"Okay, okay, okay, big gold… Oh no, big brother. You're the best. Come on, release me." I smiled at him while I stole a glance at that sleeping individual on the ground. Helping me because of this young man? That young man is sleeping like a pig here…
After my arms were released, I walked over and kicked Nie Zun. "Hey, get up. We have to go."
There was no response.
"Hey, get up. Stop playing dead."
I still did not get a response.
I bent down and reached for his waist, looking for Piercer.
As expected, he opened his eyes at the very moment I touched him. "You're molesting me." Why are there so many retards around me today?
I kicked him again. "Do I even have the time to molest you? Get up quickly. We have to go."
"Where to?" Nie Zun yawned.
I rolled my eyes at him as I wondered to myself, where should I say we're going? Would he come with me if I say we were heading for the demon palace? I guess not, since he came out from there originally, and he finds it boring. Thus, I said, "We're going to look for the exit."
Nie Zun finally got up at this, though he still looked as lazy as ever.
Big gold rooster suddenly spoke. "The exit? Then you can't go to that icy ricer. It's really far from the exit."
It's to lure Nie Zun there, okay? I stared at big gold rooster, signaling for him to shut up.
He kept quiet as he saw my expression.
Nie Zun didn't seem to mind what big gold rooster said as he stood up lazily, saying, "Let's go."
Big gold rooster seemed to really like Nie Zun, and he hopped after Nie Zun upon seeing him get up.
He hopped back onto that icicle and went back to that one-legged position. He seemed to wobble quite a bit, but he managed to stay on top.
"Oh, right." Big gold rooster glanced at me. "Did you meet white swallows on your way here?"
"Huh, what are white swallows?" I asked in confusion.
Big gold rooster scratched his head. "They're faceless monsters who only have one mouth and who like to crawl on the floor."
He was referring to those things which followed us all the way before we reached the fog.
I nodded. "Yes, we've seen those things. Why is that?"
Big gold rooster glanced at me. "What a dumb girl. You don't even know that your MF had been absorbed."
"What. What are you talking about?"
Big gold rooster performed a pirouette. "Those monsters are known for sucking up MF in the Split Zone. The best way to counter it is not to talk to them. How many times have you spoken to them?"
I spoke once to the first one, and I spoke twice to the second one. "About three times."
"Then you're finished. They'd have absorbed a lot of your MF," big gold rooster said.
Absorbed my MF?
But I didn't feel my MF being drained even when I tried activating it, and it didn't feel any different even when I touched my split symbol.
This isn't important right now. I looked at big gold rooster. "Leave it, it's not important right now. You'd better bring me and your new friend to that place."
Big gold rooster clapped his hands.
Two icicles rose up from the ground.
"Step on these and come with me." Big gold rooster seemed to float away as he said that.
Can we really step on them?
Well, let's just do it if big gold rooster tells us to…
Nie Zun looked rather excited at this…
I realized it wasn't difficult to balance myself with MF when I stepped on the icicle. It turned out to be pretty fun.
Big gold rooster might have noticed the smile that appeared on my face as he asked, "How is it? It's fun, isn't it? Little girl, you've been here for too long and you've forgotten how to have some fun. You were pulling a long face, looking just like a bittergourd."
Nothing good comes out of that mouth of his.
Following his example of using MF to drive the icicle, we reached another glacier very quickly.
"I'll open the door for you." Big gold rooster jumped off his icicle suddenly.
I was suspicious of this. Open the door? What door?
I realized that there might be a door on the glacier as big gold rooster jumped off and walked over to the foot of the glacier.
I guess anything is possible within the demon cave. The glacier in front of us was just like the one we saw previously. It looked white and translucent, and we couldn't really see what was inside it.
My perspective on glaciers has changed totally. In fact, my perspective towards many other things have changed ever since I've arrived in the Split Zone. Nothing was impossible here in the Split Zone.
Big gold rooster bent down in front of the glacier, placing his palms against the ground as he seemed to chant a series of unintelligible words.
The ground then shook below us.
I immediately felt something amiss, probably because I've been fighting too much lately.
But my intuition proved right when the ice below us collapsed suddenly.
I tried to grab hold of Nie Zun, but there was no way to stop ourselves from falling.
Both of us started falling through the broken ice.
221 The Fear of Loneliness
Why did I keep falling? I seem to be tricked all the time and falling everywhere during battles.
But also because of this, I had a lot of experience in falling.
This time, I controlled my MF well as I fell. Nie Zun and I were able to achieve some sort of balance. Though he had lost his memories, there was still some muscle memory in him, since we did spend every single day and night together.
To prevent crashing into the ground too badly, we tried to keep ourselves from touching the ground.
As we stabilized ourselves, I realized it was that icy river right below us… The sky was above us, and around us… Nothing but glaciers surrounded us.
We returned to those glaciers just like this.
I thought big gold rooster would do something to that glacier as he 'opened the door'. Little did I imagine he meant to drop us right here…
Big gold rooster was nowhere to be seen.
"Where did he go?" Nie Zun looked around.
"I don't know. Anyway, let's jump down. It'll be the demon palace once we pass through the river." I pointed at the icy river. There was a layer of ice on the river, but we might be able to break that.
Nie Zun frowned. "Why do you insist on going back there?"
I glanced at him. "Look around you. Would there be another way out if we don't go back there?"
Nie Zun narrowed his eyes at me, as if he doubted my words. I smiled at him and took his hand in mine as I jumped down.
Both of us dropped into the river.
"Damn, it's still this cold here." I swam towards Nie Zun, hungry for some warmth.
Nie Zun stretched out a hand to stop me. "Are you going to molest me again?"
I smirked. "Not only do I want to do that, I want you to die with me."
I pulled him into the water after that.
My red hair spread out in the water, but the cold did not make me suffer like before when I could see Nie Zun's bright eyes in the icy river.
I focused my MF on improving my blood circulation as I pulled him deeper into the water.
However, I slowly realized that it wasn't as simple as I thought it would be.
There was no light to be seen even when we've been swimming for quite some time now. It was getting darker and darker, and I felt like I was about to suffocate.
I looked at Nie Zun. He looked like a fish in the water as his hair floated around his face. I couldn't spare any more MF to take a clearer look at him, and my vision was blurring slowly.
This feeling of suffocation brought with it a kind of fear.
It's a reflex that we hold our breath when we enter water. Even though we can't hold our breaths forever, bodies of consciousness in the Split Zone wouldn't die like this. But the process was still a painful one.
Just imagine choking with water. It wouldn't feel great.
Even if one manipulates MF well and obtains the skill of swimming like a fish in the water, the process of doing that would not be easy either.
Just as I was about to suffocate, the water around me disappeared.
I shut my eyes as a bright light flashed in front of me. I was back in that stone room as I opened them.
I looked around. Nie Zun was gone.
"What's happening…" I muttered to myself. It was that stone room for sure, but there was nobody else here.
"Nie Zun." I tried calling out.
There was no response.
I made my way to that room within.
Nie Zun was already standing there when I finally reached the stone platform.
"Hey, you…" I tapped him on the shoulder carefully. This place was full of surprises. I just might see another one of those creatures when he turned around.
Luckily, it was him this time.
Nie Zun turned to me before turning back to look at the tablet. "I think I might have forgotten about some of the things that have happened during my time here."
I smirked. "You've forgotten more than that."
Nie Zun looked at me earnestly for the first time since he had exited the cave. "I really knew you from before?"
I frowned. "You're definitely careful, but I didn't know you were this cautious. You definitely knew me from before. We were together every day for more than two years."
A light flashed past Nie Zun's eyes. "Together every day?"
I blushed. "It's not like what you think. It's because…"
If I told him that it was because we couldn't be more than 500 meters apart, he'll probably not believe it either.
Nobody told me the reason behind it, of why we had to stay so close to each other.
And nobody told me why we can stay apart now.
I used to hate that 500-meter restriction. I had to bring him along for everything, and I could see him everywhere.
I was annoyed, frustrated, and I even hated him for it. But now, I wished so hard for that to happen again.
Because of that, I had no need to fear that he might just disappear suddenly.
He's always being taken away so easily by others now.
I really missed him.
There was nothing more to say to him now if he didn't trust my words nor remember who I was anyway.
I answered, "You won't believe it even if I told you. Think of it however you want to."
Nie Zun laughed. I was a little taken aback at this.
It always looked like he remembered who I was when he laughed like this.
"Since you said you knew me from before, how about you help me get my memories back? I kind of want to know what happened now…" Nie Zun's eyes brushed past that stone tablet as he smiled.
I followed his gaze. It was that exact stone tablet with a human-shaped depression in it on the very same stone platform.
"You might have to pay a price if you want to recall your past."
Nie Zun raised a brow. "Oh? What price?"
…How should I say this.
You'll have to get in bed with me…
You'll have to sleep with me…
There was no way I could say this.
I scratched my head as I said awkwardly, "Let me take a look at this stone tablet first."
"You're referring to this?" Nie Zun pointed at the tablet.
"Yes. Didn't you come out from there? How long do you think you've been there?"
Nie Zun's eyes seemed to lose its focus for a moment. "It seemed to be a very, very long time. All I felt was loneliness. When you woke me up, it felt like I could finally be free of this solitude. All I knew was that I never wanted to come back here ever again."
My heart hurt for him.
Why did I have a nagging feeling that the solitude wasn't brought on by this stone tablet? He had lost his memories because his blood was taken, and whatever was left in his subconscious mind was nothing but solitude and loneliness.
The cause of his solitude was because he had always been lonely before, and the Nie Zun in my mind was exactly like that.
He was always dressed in black from head to toe, and even his hair and eyes were a jet black.
He was always behind me, like a tall shadow.
He gave others the impression that he didn't have a care in the world, and he could also be sarcastic sometimes, but only sometimes. Most of the time, there was a hint of solitude in his eyes.
Even so, instead of distancing me from him, I felt like I had found someone similar to me. It was like something I wanted to approach, but something that I was afraid of at the same time.
Nie Zun had always given me the impression that he was lonely, but it wasn't a loneliness that begged for sympathy.
I realized I was wrong now, and that I might have been wrong from the start.
Nie Zun did not need the sympathy of others, but he definitely needed somebody else's company.
I felt myself tear up as I looked up at those slightly confused eyes of his.
Something between us made it so that I would always know how he felt. It wasn't something as simple as merely understanding him, or knowing him. It was a total empathy for him.
He had always been lonely, and I had always thought he was used to it, that he didn't need any consolation.
But now that he had lost his memories, everything he said came from deep within his heart. He was revealing how he felt in the past two years, or even in all his years of life.
That he was also afraid of being lonely. That he needed the company of others as well.
Why couldn't I see that? Or should I say, why did I keep forgetting that? Why did I keep thinking that he could never be beaten?
I had been making use of him to protect me all this while, and I haven't really given him any consolation. All I did was stay beside him in the past. I didn't try, nor even think about lessening that loneliness he felt.
I was selfish.
That loneliness he felt now and his avoidance towards it wasn't caused by that stone tablet. He felt that way because he had always been like this, except that he had always been suppressing that fear towards solitude.
Just like me.
222 The Taking
Should I help him regain his memories? Though he was a little weird, he could really be himself and be free like this. He was so much happier without those memories about his hands being cursed.
I could see that happiness seep out from within him. It was such freedom when whatever he had been suppressing in the past was no longer being suppressed.
Did I really have the right to decide if he should get his memories back?
"You… Actually, if you don't want to recall whatever you've forgotten, I…" I hesitated.
Nie Zun smiled. "If you can really help me do so, let's just try it. It's kind of boring now anyway, when I can't remember a thing."
Boring… You're really happy right now though…
I suddenly felt that I would be responsible for his happiness if he recalled the past.
I had to be responsible for whether he was happy or upset about it, for his solitude.
"What would you do if recalling the past only gives you pain? That suffering might be even worse than the loneliness you've felt on that stone tablet. It would be a solitude that comes from deep within your heart. Are you afraid of that?"
Nie Zun looked at that tablet for a long while before he spoke. "I really didn't want to return here at first, and I haven't really wondered about what happened in the past either. But now that I'm standing here again, I suddenly feel as if I should try to remember what happened in the past, even if I don't want to. There seems to be something extremely important to me in those lost memories.
"I want to find out exactly what it is." He smiled as he turned to me.
We looked at each other for about a minute. After that, I took a deep breath and walked over to the tablet.
Going to the back, I saw the character for 'demon'. It was a bright red, and it had this mysterious, blood-thirsty aura. I then walked around the platform looking for that hourglass.
In it, only a little bit of sand was left in the top-half. Quickly, I calculated how much time we still had left, looking at my watch to double check.
If I couldn't get his blood back within three hours, he'd never be able to get it back.
As I was about to walk back to where Nie Zun was, I heard a voice in my brain just as I happened to glance at the word 'demon' on the tablet.
"Though there is great power with this demonic energy, its side effects are extreme. He should have died that time, but I found the old man's protection on him. I guess he's trying to go against me now, but in any case, it'll be a bane to Nie Zun if that demonic energy stays with him. Instead of a human, he'll be a demon as long as he doesn't learn how to control that power. He doesn't remember you because his blood had been changed. Now that he's reborn, he'll slowly merge with that demonic energy. You'll be doing him a disfavor if you want to get his blood and his memories back."
For some reason, Huai Du's words echoed in my mind, as if it was suddenly activated.
According to Huai Du, this tablet had not only changed his blood, it had also activated Nie Zun's demonic powers so that he'd be able to merge with it. He might end up being in danger if I forcefully change his blood.
But, Li Qing didn't mention this.
No, Li Qing will never lie to me. This was what my instincts told me. But…
I used to think this way, and she still lied to me in the end.
Would she take a chance on Nie Zun? I don't think so though. Nothing's in it for her even if she did so.
Even so, I didn't know what to do. Li Qing did not tell me how to execute this…
"What are you standing here for? Didn't you say you'll help me get my memories?" Nie Zun appeared beside me.
I looked at him awkwardly. "I don't actually know how to do it. I just know that you'll be able to recall the past when your blood and the blood in that 'demon' character is exchanged."
Nie Zun looked at the character and suddenly jumped onto the stone platform.
I was a little taken aback. Didn't the platform have a protective screen? Was this because Nie Zun wasn't there now?
I leapt up onto the platform.
Nie Zun touched that 'demon' character with those pale and slender fingers of his. It was such a contrast to the bright red.
I felt fear overwhelm me suddenly. I walked up to him quickly, trying to stop him from doing anything else.
But when I reached him, his eyes seemed to have darkened.
Something didn't feel right. "What's wrong?"
Nie Zun stared at that 'demon' character. "I seem to have remembered something."
I asked in joyous surprise, "Really? What is it?"
Nie Zun's gaze turned darker and darker as bleak coldness seemed to emanate from his eyes. "I shouldn't touch this. Forget about my memories."
What. Why the sudden change of heart now? I glanced at the hourglass in the corner. Not much time was left.
I grabbed his arm. "No, you can't give up. Since we're already here, I have to help you get your memories back."
Nie Zun lips turned up at a condescending angle. "Do you think you can force me into doing anything I don't wish to?"
I started getting anxious at this.
If he really recalled something he didn't want to remember after looking at that 'demon' character, then I probably couldn't change his mind on this. His abilities were extraordinary now, and he could even fight evenly against Li Qing, Feng, Huo and Lei. How would I be able to force him into doing anything?
He looked like he was about to turn and leave at any moment.
I was at a loss of what to do for a split second.
In my discomposure, I grabbed his other hand and tip-toed towards him.
A flood of emotions overwhelmed me again as I touched those ice-cold lips of his.
This was the first time I realized that I had missed him so badly.
He looked slightly surprised when my lips touched his, but he did not avoid it. I looked at him as I thought about what I should do next.
Taking his neck, I kissed him harder on the lips.
I saw a fire light up in those starry eyes of his. Something changed in that very moment.
Nie Zun grabbed me in an embrace and returned my kiss with fiery passion. Something seemed to explode in my brain, and I wasn't able to remain rational about it.
He entrapped me with those fiery eyes of his, before pushing me back against the stone tablet. Instead of cold stone, I felt a sudden warmth as my back came into contact with the tablet.
As I tried to catch my breath in a tiny break, Nie Zun's lips crashed into mine again. The warmth from behind and the heat on my lips created a deep crevice that I could not get out of.
Nie Zun's eyes looked maddened and bloodthirsty. My head was spinning and my mind was a total blank.
This is what Li Qing described as his deepest wish after he had lost his memories.
He trapped me against the stone tablet and I could feel the engraved character for 'demon' against my back.
The ripping of the fabric behind my back pulled me back to reality. The tablet had affected Nie Zun's mind. He couldn't see me clearly now, and that calmness in him was gone. All that was left was a bloodthirsty madness.
I was suddenly fearful.
Even though I've been fighting in the Split Zone for so long, as a woman, I was still fearful.
I wanted to break free, but I realized that the 'demon' character was a force of its own as it seemed to trap me against that tablet.
I felt something painful on my lips as Nie Zun bit it.
As I looked at him with tearful eyes, he forced my lips open with his tongue, and I felt a softness enter my mouth with the flavor of blood.
At the same time, I felt an eerie cold in the air. My heart felt like it was being continually squeezed by something, and my vision started to blur.
Everything happened so quickly. I saw a tear roll down Nie Zun's cheek.
I was almost immune to pain now, but this pain made my lips quiver. I smiled at those sorrowful eyes of his, and returned his kiss with welcoming lips.
223 You're Not Nie Zun
The pain receded as I slowly accepted it, and I felt his tears fall on my cheeks. I hugged him as we sunk to the floor, taking him in a tight embrace as we both lay on the stone platform.
His lips finally left mine after I opened my eyes to look at his tear-filled ones.
He looked at me as he said, "Shen'er…"
I was stunned. He, he, he, did he remember?
But I didn't do a thing…
I kept my eyes on him. His gaze was cloudy.
Looks like he didn't recall anything, but this looked to be what Li Qing described as when he is at his most vulnerable, when the both of us were at our most vulnerable.
But… Li Qing didn't tell me what to do now, and my second personality did not appear either, so what should I…
Just as my thoughts were all over the place, I heard a soft voice beside me. "Shen'er…"
I looked behind Nie Zun.
She… actually appeared.
She was floating above him now, her red hair brushing past my neck with a prickly kind of cold.
She spoke in an airy voice, "Do you need me, to give you power…"
I bit my lips, wanting to scream for her to leave. But I knew I couldn't do that since I needed her power.
I needed her help to get Nie Zun's blood back.
I pushed Nie Zun away from me. He crashed into that stone tablet even though I didn't use much strength.
A pair of cold hands embraced me as I turned to look at the stone tablet. As she came closer, I felt her cold touch all over my body, and new fabric reappeared where it was originally torn.
Shortly, my red dress was as good as new.
She spoke clearly into my ear, "Come on, accept me. I'm the only one who can help you. Let me tell you everything Li Qing didn't…"
I refused to look back at that face that was identical to mine.
Nie Zun sank to the floor after being pushed against the stone tablet.
I felt unease creep up on me.
I crawled towards him on all fours, tidying his clothes as I reached him. Taking his face in my hands, I realized his eyes were shut.
"What's wrong with him…" I muttered.
A breeze blew past me. "He… It might be too late if you don't save him soon…"
The tablet produced a bright light that was as beautiful as an aurora. The blood-red of that 'demon' character suddenly came alive. The blood was flowing in it like it was in a blood vessel.
I grabbed her cold body. "Tell me what to do. What should I do to save him?"
Her eyes were so identical to mine, but there seemed to be nothing in them. It was empty. There was nobody there, and there were no emotions present.
She spoke softly, "He's already taken in the demonic energy, and he might die if you forcefully change his blood. But if you don't, he might never remember you ever, and if that demonic energy ends up devouring him, he'll end up being the scariest thing in existence here in the Split Zone."
The scariest thing in existence.
How could that be possible.
How could I allow him to turn into what people see as the most terrifying monster again?
I can't let that happen.
"What should I do?" I looked at her, waiting for a response.
She smiled. "You've forgotten me, and you've forgotten so many important things from the past. Do you have the right to help him regain his memories if you can't even remember these things?"
My heart sank. I took one step closer to her as I grabbed her arm tightly. "You're not helping me?"
She leaned in closer. "Li Shen, do you really need my help? Is it me who looks down on you, or is it you who looks down upon yourself? Think about it, why did he come to the Split Zone? Think about it carefully, what have you forgotten?"
My brows furrowed. Why did he come to the Split Zone?
Didn't he end up here because he couldn't accept the fact that he thought he had caused his sister's death?
Yes, soul splitters.
My eyes widened as I wondered who Nie Zun's soul splitter was…
This had never crossed my mind…
And also… Nie Zun's split symbol…
I let go of her arm and went to Nie Zun, reaching for the back of his neck.
If I remember right, nobody else in the Split Zone but Mr Blond and I were aware of the location of his split symbol. Not even Li Qing.
When I pulled that high collar down to reveal a shining splitting key, it was inserted into a split symbol the shape of a crescent moon. My hand went towards it slowly.
A weird feeling overcame me as I reached it.
"Are you sure you want to do this?"
I wasn't sure if this question came from the voice behind me or from deep within my heart.
Just as I pulled his splitting key out, all the blood in the tablet started moving, as if I had just pulled a sort of lever to activate it.
The blood was a bright red.
Nie Zun stood up suddenly, opening his eyes slowly. His eyes were a blood red.
He looked at me with emotionless eyes, glancing at the splitting key in my hand. His eyes narrowed.
I felt a prickly cold before I saw my right hand fall onto the stone platform. Nie Zun then reached out for the splitting key which levitated in the air before him.
I began to fall backwards towards the stone platform. As I looked up, I saw the blood on the tablet snake into Nie Zun's split symbol.
Nie Zun looked at me with emotionless eyes as he held the splitting key in hand.
My lips turned into a smile. I've finally succeeded. He might still be cold now but he'll remember me soon.
It doesn't matter even if I died, as long as he could remember me, as long as he still remembered me.
I heard a sigh behind me. Cold and gentle arms took me in an embrace, slowing my fall.
"You… just refuse to accept me… You refuse to accept me… and you refuse to really be free… How could this power be enough…"
Her crisp voice echoed in my ears as her gentle arms placed me gently on the ground below the stone platform.
I smiled bitterly. "Help me get my arm back. It'll heal very slowly like this."
I was lying on the ground and I could see Nie Zun standing in front of the tablet while she squatted by my side. She stretched out a hand.
With a quick movement of that white and slender hand, my broken hand flew towards her. She caught it and reattached it on me.
I felt the pain of flesh and bone combining on my wrist. "This is worth it. At least I've saved him." I muttered as I looked at my right wrist.
"Hehe…" She laughed softly.
I frowned. "Why are you laughing like this?" Instead of replying, she simply looked at Nie Zun with an icy gaze.
I followed her gaze and realized that the blood in the tablet was almost gone. His eyes were now a demonic red.
A funny feeling overcame me.
I struggled to get up.
When the last drop of blood entered his split symbol, Nie Zun reinserted his splitting key back into the split symbol.
For some reason, I had a feeling that his MF wouldn't be gone for a month even though I've taken it out of his split symbol.
He was unique, just like I was.
I looked at him with anticipation, totally forgetting about the girl beside me.
When Nie Zun looked at me again, his eyes were a pure black. His indifferent gaze had finally returned, and his hands were, as usual, placed within his pockets.
At that moment, he was standing on the stone platform looking like someone who had great might as I looked up at him from the ground.
He looked down upon me as I called out to him softly, "Nie Zun…"
His lips turned up slightly. "Thank you for helping me regain my memories. It's really quite a headache to have forgotten so many things…"
His gaze was unfocused, as if he was organizing those memories. But why did I feel that something was different? What was it…
Her voice sounded in my ear again, "Hehe… Though he remembers you now… He seems to be…"
I shouted, "Enough!"
At this, she disappeared in a flash of light right before me.
My emotions were running amok now, and I felt like I was being ripped apart.
Nie Zun's lips were still upturned. With a light tap of his feet, he landed on the ground below the stone platform and walked towards me. "How long do you plan on sitting there?"
My brows furrowed at this.
There's definitely something wrong here… Just what is wrong here… He was approaching me quickly.
As he reached me, he stretched out an arm. His pale and slender hand had no palm prints on it. "Come on, get up."
I stayed still and stared at him squarely in the eye. He looked at me with those starry eyes of his. "What? Did I tire you out? You were so full of passion. I don't think it's your first time, right? To the point that you can't even get up?"
My heart felt like it was being thrown into an icy lake.
This isn't Nie Zun.
"You, who are you?" My throat felt dry as I asked this question.
There was an evil aura entwined in those indifferent eyes of his. "Of course I'm Nie Zun. Why? Are you afraid that I'm not able to remember you, Li Shen?"
I stood up then.
"You're not Nie Zun, definitely not," I enunciated every word clearly as I stared at him.
224 I Can't Do Without You
Nie Zun narrowed his eyes. "Li Shen, it's been two years and you're still the same. Do you still remember what I said to you when you first arrived?"
He continued. "I said that to you when we were both sent to the Western District by Mr Blond. I said that we'll have to be together forever from then onwards." I looked at him, not moving a muscle.
I didn't know what to do.
He was definitely Nie Zun, or at least, his memories were complete. Because he was the only one who had said something like that to me, and I've remembered it since then.
But why did he look so cold and distant?
Though he was indifferent to many things in the past and acted like he didn't have a care in the world, he was filled with passion when it came to me. He had never treated me like this in the past.
His eyes were never that cold either.
"You…" I didn't know what to say.
His smile faded, replaced by that indifference he always had. Except this time, there was a coldness in that indifference.
"Do you believe I'm Nie Zun now?" He asked as he looked at me.
I maintained eye contact with him. "You've changed. Why is that?"
I noticed that skull ring he wore on his finger as he scratched his nose with his left hand. "Nothing really. Apart from returning me my memories, the tablet had also given me some truths. I now know what a selfish person you are, Li Shen. In the future, you can go on your own path. Let's not have anything to do with each other in future."
My eyes widened at this.
Was this really Nie Zun? The one who said he'll always protect me and stay by my side? The Nie Zun who'll be with me forever? He's saying I'm selfish and that he wants to leave me?
I said softly, "You're still leaving me even when you've recalled everything that happened? Including me?"
Nie Zun's eyes flashed. "That's right, because I've recalled the past. I suddenly find it too tiring to be together with you. You go save your friends and I'll continue living my lazy life. I don't think you'd stick to me forever just because of one night, would you?"
I laughed in self-mockery. "What did you say…"
As I steeled myself for harsher words, I heard a loud splash from behind Nie Zun.
Looking towards the source of the noise, Gaoqin Jiuye emerged dripping wet from one of the water vats.
I was stunned. Why is he here?
The water didn't seem to be boiling this time. Beads of water sprayed everywhere as he shook his head.
Nie Zun did not even bother to look.
I frowned at the fast approaching Gaoqin Jiuye. "What are you doing here?"
Gaoqin Jiuye looked worried, and a little angry. "You have the gall to ask what I'm doing here? What happened to you?"
He brushed past Nie Zun as he spoke. He pulled me up and looked me up and down.
I was confused at this. How did he know what happened here? Didn't we separate at the hotel?
Nie Zun smirked. "Seems like your lover from when you were alive is the one you really love. He can even sense that I've taken your virginity and came all the way here for you."
My heart hurt at what he said. Why did he have to hurt me like this?
Gaoqin Jiuye froze as he looked at me with disbelief. "What did he say… You…"
I was heartbroken. It had never felt so broken before.
I was faced with Nie Zun's chilly gaze and Gaoqin Jiuye's look of surprise.
I closed my eyes. I felt my arms turn numb in Gaoqin Jiuye's grip, and that numbness spread to my entire body, going into my nerves and into all my organs.
I felt like I was being suffocated, as if my heart was being squeezed hard by a giant hand.
"Just why are you here?" I spoke after a while.
Gaoqin Jiuye seemed to be trembling. "Is he telling the truth?"
I met Nie Zun's wintry gaze, but I asked Gaoqin Jiuye again, "Why are you here?"
I could hear the tremble in Gaoqin Jiuye's voice now. "Is he telling the truth?"
I remained silent this time.
He couldn't take it anymore as he grabbed me by the shoulders. "I'm asking you if he's telling the truth… Did you and him really… in here… Is it true? I'm asking you a question."
My head was dizzy as he shook me hard by the shoulders. I saw my own reflection in his eyes. I looked extremely pale, as if some vampire had sucked all the blood out of me.
Nie Zun laughed suddenly. It wasn't a mocking smile nor was it a smirk. Instead, it sounded bitter and sorrowful. "Do you hate me? For saying all this to the one you love the most, huh, Li Shen?"
Finally, I could stand it no more. A beast was about to be unleashed from inside of me.
I pushed Gaoqin Jiuye away as I stared at Nie Zun. "You're the one I love the most. I've fallen in love with you ever since arriving here in the Split Zone. That's right, I've never dared to admit it, I've never wanted to admit that I've fallen in love with you, that I've fallen in love with a devil like you. Not only did I let Gao Qi down, I killed him and I even betrayed him like this."
My hands were trembling and my eyes were wet with tears.
"Nie Zun, I've always wanted to get away from you in the past, I've always wanted to leave… I've always thought that I hated you, that I hated you like I hated her… But I slowly began to realize that it wasn't the case… Slowly, I began to steal glances at those lazy eyes of yours, that indifferent demeanor you had, those wispy bangs that covered a little of your eyes. I looked at how you were always alone at night, I looked at how you were always behind me with those black gloves of yours, I looked at how quiet you were when you leaned against the wall in silence… There were traces of you everywhere in my life, you were everywhere…"
I couldn't stop my tears now. I've never felt like this in the past two years. I've never felt so heartbroken like this.
The cold in Nie Zun's eyes seemed to have crystallized into something undecipherable.
I heard my own voice echoing in this space. "Slowly… I realized I liked you… But how could I? I can't… Shouldn't I be liking Gao Qi, shouldn't I like him forever, love him forever, and pay for my crimes here after killing him? Why did I end up liking you? Why did I have a change of heart? What right did I have to like you?"
I screamed as I forgot about Gaoqin Jiuye who was still beside me. I didn't realize that he too seemed to be trembling with emotion.
My eyes were fixed on Nie Zun, who was now staring at me, unmoving.
My hands were still trembling, and the tears did not stop. "But it's a fact that I like you… You said you'll protect me forever… You said you'll forever be by my side… You promised…"
I sank to the ground slowly, hugging my knees, as if all my energy had been taken away. Not wanting to look at his cold and emotionless face, I buried my face between my knees, looking at the cold, stone ground.
I muttered, "You said you'll be together with me forever… How could you tell me that you want to leave me just when I've finally found the courage to tell you I love you… Nie Zun… Don't you want me anymore…"
I never thought I'd ever end up being this pathetic, but this was too much for me to take.
My heart felt empty ever since he had been taken away by Ta Lai. I looked perfectly fine on the surface, but I'd never be able to continue living if that emptiness wasn't filled up.
That empty hole in my heart seemed to welcome a cold wind that cut me continuously on the inside. I knew there was no way I could survive if I didn't fill this hole, and I thought that I could fill up that hole as long as I found him.
But it was only until I found him that I realized I couldn't fill the hole. Instead, a greater fear seemed to have found its way into that hole, and it brought me nothing but greater anxiety.
This is why I've been grabbing hold of his hand whenever I could, afraid that he would leave me while I wasn't looking.
When he appeared before me without his memories, I thought my heart was already dead.
I realized I was finished when my very first reaction was not one of rejection at the moment I heard Li Qing tell me about the price we had to pay to get his memories back.
I've fallen in love with Nie Zun.
Not only have I fallen in love with him, I've somehow engraved him deep into my heart.
He has conquered my heart and filled my entire brain.
I was willing to lose everything because of him.
But when what's happened has happened and what's been said has been said, he decides to reject me.
He decides to leave me now.
To me, this felt like the end of the world.
I hugged my knees tightly as I cried my eyes out.
I didn't care even if Nie Zun was watching right in front of me, nor did I remember that Gaoqin Jiuye was now a by-stander here.
I've forgotten everything in this very moment. The only thing I know is that the one I loved the most would be leaving me again. He said he was tired of being together with me, he said he was leaving me.
Nothing mattered now. What mattered most was that I could not let Nie Zun leave me. I could not endure a life without Nie Zun.
My hands balled tightly into fists and I felt my fingernails dig deep into my palms. I was still shaking as I saw the blood drip onto the floor from my hands.