85 Let the Training Begin
Nie Zun and I had decided on our combat strategy by the time Ta Lai returned.
"How's the situation?" I asked in haste the moment his stature came into view.
He responded with a shake of his head. "It remains in ruins. I never realized how powerful Old Man Fan was; the state of Western District is a likely a consequence of his doing, but I can't decipher the technique that was used. The fact that everyone in Western District has disappeared is just as baffling to me."
"Old Man Fan? Wasn't he turned to stone?"
"That's right, and it's precisely because of that that I suspect he had used a form of space-time manipulation or cementation technique to transport all of Western District. Even I have no idea where he could possibly relocate these people to."
"But… Why would Old Man Fan do that?" I frowned.
"For you, perhaps. Before your return, You Ji and the Seven Demons called for a change of district commander. It was rumored that their Penetration of Seven was one of the strongest enchantments to exist. I assume they must have been waiting in ambush for your return and Old Man Fan did what he could to protect you."
His words rendered me speechless.
"Regardless of whether the state of Western District was Old Man Fan's doing, the crux of our problem lies in the fact that this has never happened in the history of split zone. With such a peculiar affair, it will naturally attract the attention of others who would come forth to have a look. I can't know if Du Yue would return, but You Ji would surely make her way back soon. What you need to do now, is to increase your combat skills before it happens."
I gritted my teeth. "What great timing if she comes back; I have a bone to pick with her."
Once again, Ta Lai shook his head. "Don't oversimplify the matter; You Ji is joined with Du Yue on her side. The only reason they allowed you to live is because they have their sights set on Southern District's Si Luo right now. You Ji's objective differed from Du Yue's; You Ji wanted the prestige of commanding Western District. This is why she'd definitely return if Western District falls into peril.
"Jiao S might be able to hold her back for some time. Even so, we don't know the state of Southern District nor the result of Du Yue and Si Luo's negotiation. It will be wise to practice caution."
"Negotiations? Why is it that all of these are related to Si Luo?" My frown deepened.
Ta Lai sighed. "After all, Si Luo has the highest MF in split zone. Even if the MF of soul splitters aren't high but with our experience, we're still much stronger in battle. However, Si Luo is an exception; he's someone whom even we don't dare to offend.
"That said, there has always been a rumor floating that he isn't well, that he's about to perish. Regarding the disappearance of a district commander, I'm sure you understand the issues it attracts."
I met Nie Zun's eyes, our eyes flooded with undisguised shock.
Si Luo's about to wither away? How could that be possible?
But… In retrospect, when Jiao S asked Huan Ying if a certain something was true, he nodded his head. Could it be that she was asking about this? If Si Luo was on the edge of disappearance, that must mean he's in dire condition in the real world.
For a body of consciousness, as our flesh body in the real world withers, our body in this dimension would also begin to exhibit various illness. They were an omen signifying that our end was nearing. Despite that, the strength of our MF was still controlled by our minds, and so it wouldn't necessarily be affected by the status of our flesh body. Just like Jiao S' incident previously; our bodies of flesh and consciousness are in sync.
I don't know how long Si Luo has been in the split zone but it was rare for anyone in the split zone to be faced with perishment. The difference of time between the split zone and real world is far too great for it to occur.
If the rumor is true, however, then we can only expect chaos to ensue. The death of Southern District's commander would imply that a successor has to be chosen soon but… the next generation of commander is decided between the current commander and Mr Blond. Mr Blond is missing, and there's practically no one in the split zone who could live up to Si Luo's might. If Si Luo does pass away, who would protect the countless number of vulnerable residents in Southern District?
"Th-that's terrifying, it's unbelievable. But, what has this got to do with soul splitters like you?" Confused, I posed the question to Ta Lai.
Ta Lai's gaze flickered. "As much as I am unwilling to reveal the soul splitter's secrets, there is something that I can assure you—soul splitters can't do as they willed. Even if we're more mysterious than you, we have our own set of rules and regulations. Apart from Northern District, the balance of the other three districts has to be maintained; we have no interests in subjecting you to our persecution.
"You must have developed some misunderstanding towards soul splitters after all this time. Although you can return to reality with the combination of your splitting key and corresponding soul splitters, this didn't mean that soul splitters are your nemesis. To us, you're not our enemies."
I laughed bitterly. "Who knows if that's true? It'll only be conceivable if soul splitters truly won't die from the insertion of a splitting key, but how can we know if you were being honest about that?"
Ta Lai flashed a graceful smile. "That's up to you to believe. In any case, the residents in these three districts aren't our target. However, peace can only find you if there is balance in the relationship among the districts. Soul splitters have their own set of regulations, and you have your wars—that's what makes the split zone."
Nie Zun spoke up abruptly after a long period of silence, "Soul splitters have engaged in current affairs despite us not being your enemies and on top of it, there's the issue of experiments conducted by Du Yue. It seems as if there’s discord among soul splitters as well?"
Eh? What did Nie Zun mean by that?
Nie Zun turned to me, obvious that his simplified explanation was done for my sake, "Which means to say, just like our three districts—Southern, Western and Eastern—perhaps there are different clans among the ranks of soul splitters as well. Maybe Du Yue's target wasn’t us, but the clan of soul splitters that opposed her."
A faint smile tugged at the corner of Ta Lai's lips. "You live up to your reputation indeed; rumor had it that you have exceptional intelligence with incredible reflex.
"You’re right. I’ve told you before too; Du Yue is targeting me but I can't divulge the details of that. All you have to know is that the common folks of your districts aren’t her objective. Soul splitters have our own rules; apart from Northern District, we would’ve broken the rules just by setting foot in any of the other three districts."
Does that mean they had been living in Northern District all this while? Wouldn’t it mean that Mr Blond had been concealing the truth from us then? They had been in Northern District yet we weren’t allowed there; how else could we have found our soul splitters and return to reality?
"Li Shen, I know you have a lot of questions in your mind. Mr Blond didn’t lie; it is true that we have to visit the three districts in set intervals, it’s a routine.
"In other words, fate would have allowed you to find your corresponding soul splitter if you really wanted to. Whether you would be able to identify each other, that’s your own problem. The secret to the split zone, is that everything has its predestined fate; this has been decided since the start and no one—not even soul splitters—can escape from it."
I’m getting even more confused by the second…
"I’m Du Yue's target but she still has no idea that I’m here. To put it plainly, the purpose of her negotiations with Si Luo is to verify the rumors surrounding his condition. If it is true, then she’d help the soul snatcher, Rong Jin, in becoming the next district commander. This way, she’ll be able to establish her experiment sites as she wished in Southern District.
"You Ji's ambitions aligned well too; if You Ji took over Western District, it would be equivalent to it landing in the grasp of Du Yue."
A surge of rage gushed into my chest. "Did she think that anyone and everyone of us could be her experiment subjects? She was willing to overlook all the innocent lives just for the sake of her conflict with you? The soul splitter's regulations allowed her to do as she pleased too?"
Ta Lai sighed. "Some things can’t be changed; her actions will naturally incur relative repercussions, that’s why I’m here. Dwelling on her cruelty is a useless feat; what you need to do now is to stop her, to stop Rong Jin from being the next commander of Southern District, and stop You Ji from taking over Western District.
"But you’re still too weak."
I grew embarrassed at that. It was true; regardless of their ultimate objective, there was no use feeling enraged when I didn’t possess the ability to stop anyone now.
Did Jiao S know about this though? Could it be that she had known about them from the start? Was protecting Si Luo the reason why she was so determined to visit Southern District?
But how could she remain so calm and composed while fighting alongside me, if she had known about Si Luo's deteriorating condition? If I had known about my lover's approaching demise, I’m afraid I would be even more maniacal than her in wanting to see them.
"There’s no benefit in speaking anymore. Let’s start training the both of you." Ta Lai smiled. A hand slid elegantly behind his back while the other snapped his fingers.
Before I could react, the snap of fingers plunged us into darkness once more.
In the darkness, Ta Lai's voice resounded. "I’ve placed both of you into this space that’s obscured from your four senses again. I’ll release 99 puppet giants—they're same as the 13 giants you’ve met before. Of course, they don’t have much thought nor a splitting key, so they’re not enough to kill you. They’ll only attack you continuously.
"I’ll let you out the moment you defeat all 99 giants."
What the fu—?!
99 of those enormous giants??
Forget our four senses! Even with them, I’m afraid Nie Zun and I would need several days and nights before we could defeat all 99 of those playthings.
Now he wants us to eliminate them while we’re stuck in this space with distorted senses? Wouldn't Nie Zun and I be torn to shreds before we could even kill them?
With such skewed senses, I’m sure we won’t be able to leave this place in just a few days, right?
What's his problem, huh?!