87 Ta Lai’s Nightmare
His lingering warmth spread across my lips and my eyes trembled in the dark. Loosening my grip on his head, I pushed him off before sitting up—like a panicked hare, the series of my action happened in mere seconds.
After getting up from my position, I stared at the darkness ahead without being able to see him.
In that same darkness, I could hear his panting breaths.
"Ah…. Accident, it was an accident." Lifting an arm, I scratched the back of my head awkwardly.
Before Nie Zun could even respond, I felt a tremor beneath my feet and light filled my eyes once more.
Rubbing my eyes from the sudden intrusion, I could make out the clean and lit stone room when my sight cleared. Nie Zun got up slowly from opposite me and I followed suit. Behind us, Ta Lai's voice bounced off the walls. "Well done. You did better than I expected; I had thought you would at least get torn to shreds before making it out of there."
As expected, you were planning to torment us!
"Since time is scarce, let's continue onto our next segment. The previous exercise displayed your perfect understanding and coordination with each other. By logic, the two of you aren't able to separate from the other, but what if you did? I hope you'll be able to figure out what to do if you had been in that same situation on your own."
I met Nie Zun's eyes but neither of us spoke. For some reason, gazing into his eyes reminded me of his lips. My mind was stuck in a trance and I shook my head vigorously in attempt to return to reality.
"You'll be training alone for the next segment." Ta Lai began strolling around the stone room leisurely while rotating his jade ring. "Li Shen, since you have no desire to seal your split symbol, I wouldn't force it either. However, this means that you'll have to go through an even tougher training; you'll need to reach a level where unleashing normal physical attacks wouldn't require MF.
"As for Nie Zun, I don't know how far ahead you've mastered your vision techniques and it doesn't look like you plan on revealing to me too. Either way, you'll need a weapon, so I'll choose one for you."
Nie Zun smiled drily. "Thank you for your good intentions, but I don't fancy using weapons."
Ta Lai reciprocated with a smile of his own. "Trust me; you'll be satisfied with my choice."
Nie Zun spoke no more.
"Hey, hey, hey. Shouldn't you let us rest before the next training? I'm exhausted. You don't seriously expect us to train without pause, do you?" I yawned.
Ta Lai smiled. "You're right. After all, the both of you haven't had a peaceful rest since your arrival. Alright, let's take a break then. Don't worry; no enemies will be able to intrude this space."
Aren't you the enemy? What other enemies do we need intruding if you're already here? The thought filled my head before I could stop myself.
When I lifted my gaze, Ta Lai was already lying on the floor… asleep.
What the hell?
I rubbed my eyes and widened them again—is he for real? He really did fall asleep??
With his back against the ground, Ta Lai laid down with his eyes shut. His blue jacket was neatly arranged and both his hands were interlaced atop his stomach.
How… casual of him…
"Look at him, falling asleep just like this. Is he for real? There's not a single bed in this stone room so he decided to just doze off on the ground like that?" Circling my gaze around the spacious stone room, I turned back to Nie Zun only to notice he was gone.
I was about to speak again when my lowered gaze spotted Nie Zun by my feet. He was already lying down! In my figment of imagination, a bunch of crows yakked its way across the top of my head…
I was frozen to the spot for a long while, watching as the two men slept as soundly as a corpse on the floor without any intention of waking. Growing bored, I rearranged my scarlet dress and began lying down as well.
I'm so exhausted…
With a yawn, I was ready to take a rest too. Despite my fatigue, however, I couldn't fall asleep. Tilting my head towards Nie Zun, my eyes followed the soft movements of his chest as he breathed, then drifted to the strands of black hair which fluttered down the side of his face, taking in the stark contrast against his pale skin.
Without conscious awareness, the corner of my lips lifted into a slight arc. I have no idea when it started, but I seemed to have grown accustomed to his presence by my side. Now that I think about it, he had been quiet and reclusive during our first month in the split zone. Even now, I seemed to be one of the few he held a conversation with; he really didn't seem to care about anyone else.
But… Did he care about me? Am I being too narcissistic?
"Bian Ying…" In the midst of my wandering thoughts, I heard a name slipped from Ta Lai's lips.
I frowned slightly and sat up immediately. Following my movement, Nie Zun—whom I had thought was deep in slumber—shot up as well.
Supporting my weight with both palms against the ground, I shifted in the direction of Ta Lai with my perky butt. (Passerby B spoke up, "Perky butt… You're really too much…")
As I neared Ta Lai, Nie Zun stood up and settled in a squatting position on the other side of him. His eyes seemed to be measuring up Ta Lai's sleeping form.
Ta Lai's brows were tightly knitted together, in a manner which looked as though he was having issues unknotting the troubles in his heart. His thin lips were pursed into an equally tight line; his eyes seemed to be trembling behind closed lids. Between his lips, a continuous call for "Bian Ying" poured.
"Is he dreaming?" I asked Nie Zun.
Nie Zun's gaze was stubbornly fixed on Ta Lai. "Not just any dream. I'm afraid he's dreaming about something that has been haunting him. You understand it too; our dreams in the split zone are mere memories of the past, and nightmares are obstacles that he couldn't get through. Just like that, it traps him within them.
"Those who were more severe in these encounters might never wake up from it."
I couldn't help pursing my lips into a tight line at the sight of Ta Lai's agonized expression. Of course I knew about the dreams in split zone—I was once trapped within the same nightmare for a whole month. If I hadn't diffused it at that time, I might have become one of those comatose bodies of consciousness atop the Academy roof.
When a body of consciousness enters the dreamscape or a coma, waking them up by force isn't an option. Similarly, if their willpower is too weak to wake on their own then they'd fall into an irreversible coma, just like their flesh bodies in real life. That was also known as the Secondary Coma; it was akin to death of their spirit.
It was why we couldn't wake Song Lu up by force when she fell into unconsciousness, and neither would we be able to if we tried. Besides, forcing it would only stir chaos in their memories. On top of the separation between our flesh body and consciousness, if the memories of our consciousness fell into chaos and our MF dipped accordingly, the consequences would be unpredictable.
"Bian Ying… Don't leave me…" Those words were spoken louder than before. I lifted my gaze and witnessed the track of tear as it cascaded from the corner of Ta Lai's eye.
I was momentarily stunned by the scene, before giving Ta Lai a careful once over.
No… I was right, my eyes weren't playing tricks on me; the man lying in front of me was indeed Ta Lai. The graceful, rational, composed Ta Lai. Yet, at this very moment, his hands were tightly interlocked together. For the first time, his left hand wasn't rotating the jade ring on his right, and his elegant face revealed a hint of uncharacteristic sorrow and helplessness.
"Who's Bian Ying? Have you heard of them?" I asked Nie Zun.
Nie Zun shook his head. "Never. From the looks of it, however, I suppose they were his lover."
As though sensitive to the word, Gao Qi's face surfaced from the depths of my mind at once and when he did, so did another.
… What am I thinking about?
In my trance, I lifted my head subconsciously and met Nie Zun's eyes. He didn't blink; his gaze remained fixated on mine. I grew flustered by his stare, and retracted both my arms which had been supporting my weight without knowing where else to place them.
"Why are you staring at me?" Eventually, I settled on smoothing my hair.
Nie Zun responded casually as always, "What are you thinking about?"
"N-nothing." I dropped my gaze then extended a hand towards Ta Lai's forehead despite how naive the action was—illnesses like fever or a cold didn't exist in the world of split zone.
"Gaoqin Jiuye isn't Gao Qi." All of a sudden, Nie Zun spoke up coldly. His gaze left me and began darting around the stone room without focus.
I didn't understand why he brought that up with me or why he thought it necessary. I frowned once more.
In the end, his attention fell back to me. A tinge of frustration flickered in his eyes when he stretched his arm in my direction and squeezed my shoulder. I stared as his lips moved without a sound, waiting for unexpected words to escape them in the heat of the moment.
During the split second when our eyes met, he chose not to say anything at all. Instead, he released his grip on me, his eyes turned vacant. My eyes drooped, finding myself at a sudden loss of what to say.
"Bian Ying!" Ta Lai screamed out abruptly and like his eyes, his hands were beginning to tremble as well.
I reached out my hands and pressed against his shoulders in haste. "What should we do? Will something happen to him with such severe emotional exposure?"
Emotional exposure refers to the moment when troubles we have kept bottled up escape during a dream. They can happen in manners like screaming and shouting, or even sleepwalking.
Nie Zun shook his head. "I can't guarantee that nothing will happen to him, but it is indeed dangerous for him to continue this way."
"Exactly. With such strong emotional exposure, it must mean that he's been tied down by his nightmare. If this dream of his is recurring back-to-back, then it could cause him direct harm. As a soul splitter, could he not escape the manifestation of dreams either? Does that mean no one can escape it in the split zone?"
Nie Zun's eyes gleamed suddenly at that thought. "That's right. Perhaps dreamscape is just another dimension. If that hypothesis holds true, then could the dreamscape in this split zone coincide with that of our flesh body's, providing us with a way to escape from here?"