The residences that New Hale City prepared for them were hotel rooms reserved for the military, located right next to their central base. It was apparent just what kind of importance they placed on the group that had just arrived from the First Academy of Cultivators. After all, the hotel was practically filled to the brim at all times, and it most certainly wasn’t easy to secure a series of rooms for them.
To that end, both Qin Ye and Li Jixi had even been allocated single rooms.
“Excellent…” Qin Ye immediately switched off the lights as soon as he entered his room. Then, he drew the curtains and gazed into the distant reaches of New Hale City, where the boundaries of the brightly lit area met with the encroaching darkness in the surroundings, “This saves us some trouble…”
The three eastern provinces were too close for comfort.
It was just an arbitrary line that demarcated both regions.
The daolord might not have known of his arrival, and he still had the shard of King Yanluo’s Seal at his disposal. However, it would still be prudent to be guarded against all exigencies.
Yoke of Five Ghosts. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have the five ghosts at the ready within a radius of five hundred meters from himself.
However, such an orthodox Hell’s Art could never be used in front of others around them. Thus, Qin Ye had already planned to bide his time until everyone was asleep, before finally heading out to go about his business. But now, given that he had been assigned a single room, it would make moving about far more convenient than before.
11.00 p.m. It was lights-out across the entire military garrison. The holy beacon of light finally plunged into darkness. That said, there were still dazzling spotlights perched atop the walls around them scanning the region for intruders at all times.
Qin Ye lay silently on his bed, biding his time. The lights had just gone out, and the best time to head out would naturally be some hours later, ideally between 2.00 a.m. to 4.00 a.m. Qin Ye was waiting.
Naturally, he didn’t realize that Li Jixi, separated only by a single thin wall, was still awake.
He made a cup of coffee and likewise switched off his lights. Then, he set up a black device on the door and the wall separating his room and Qin Ye’s.
It was a listening device.
It picked up every slightest bit of sound from Qin Ye’s room and fed it straight into his wireless earpiece. Li Jixi was like a seasoned hunter, waiting patiently in the deep darkness of his room.
Tick, tock, tick, tock… Time trickled by slowly. Despite being separated by a wall, both men undertook the exact same course of action by pretending to fall asleep in their own rooms. Their eyelids were closed, but both men were ready to leap right out of bed at the slightest notice of intrusion.
Things went on just like a stalemate, until it was finally 2.00 a.m.
Qin Ye opened his eyes, got out of bed, and put on his shoes.
Simultaneously, Li Jixi also opened his eyes and licked his lips greedily.
If anyone else had been around, they would immediately have noticed that Li Jixi neither breathed nor had any pulse altogether. This was none other than the long lost Turtle Breathing Art. It wasn’t as impressive as the legends told of, but it still enabled him to suppress his breaths and heartbeat to a minimum across a period of ten minutes.
He had done this because he didn’t want any sound to distract him from the sounds that he was picking up.
He could hear the sounds of washing up, putting on shoes, and then… the door opening…
Yet, he remained still, no different from a corpse that was lying on the bed. He waited patiently, until he heard the listening device at his door pick up the soft shuffle of footsteps moving past his door.
Five minutes… ten minutes… Fifteen minutes later, he suddenly leapt out of bed like a carp out of water. The 1.7m tall man landed on the ground soundlessly, almost as though there were paddings on his feet.
“Fifteen minutes, and you’re not back yet. Where could you have gone at such a time at night?” He muttered softly in front of his room door, before quietly opening it.
But, just then, he noticed that a card slid down as soon as he opened his door.
His eyes flickered, and he promptly caught it before it hit the ground. Upon closer inspection, he noticed that it was a card that was commonly seen everywhere small hotels like these. There was a portrait of a fine-looking lady right on the front of the card, while a telephone number was printed on the back of the card.
He held it silently and pondered for a moment. Then, he tossed the card to the ground and made his way towards Qin Ye’s room.
There was also a small card placed right on the handle of the door to Qin Ye’s room.
And what was more coincidental was the fact that their room doors were the only ones along the entire corridor with such cards on them.
“Are you really an eighteen years old teenager?” Li Jixi glanced at the two cards and took a deep breath. He was willing to bet that this was by no means promoting a service offered by the hotel. Are you kidding? Look at how tense the situation is in New Hale City right now! Do you think there would still be any ladies plying their trade at this time of the night? And even if there were, why weren’t there cards on the other door handles as well?
It was apparent to him that Qin Ye had begun to grow suspicious of him.
Where have I gone wrong? Li Jixi replayed his interaction with Qin Ye in his mind, but he could find nothing amiss with it. In other words, it was a suspicion that was based solely on intuition, much like how his own intuition told him that he was on the right track with his present investigation.
Unfortunately, he needed much more than just what his intuition told him.
The cards were a simple yet effective trick. Li Jixi was almost certain that Qin Ye would absolutely remember the exact manner in which he had left these cards. On the other hand, having been in his own room all this while, he wouldn’t have known how the cards looked before. In other words, as soon as Qin Ye returned, he would immediately learn of the fact that Li Jixi had left his room before.
And if he even shifted the card on Qin Ye’s door, it would be tantamount to telling Qin Ye that not only did he leave his room, he had even entered Qin Ye’s room in his absence.
The card was already sitting on Qin Ye’s door. That said, Li jixi had no intention of entering his room.
He might have set up the position of the card properly, but… given how cautious he is, I dare say that he would most certainly have a second layer of verification within.
“These precautions you’ve taken tell me that you’re better than some of the best agents I know at concealing your secrets…” He kicked the card from his room door far away, just like how a person annoyed to receive such cards would react.
Then, sighing, he walked downstairs and picked up a phone, “Hello, it’s me. Yes… I believe Chief Bai would already have briefed you on the details. I’m taking charge, and I insist on a meeting right away.”
“That’s right. I’m calling you directly precisely because I know you’re the head of the local branch of the Special Investigations Department, so stop dallying any longer. The window we have is a maximum of two hours… Subject is very tricky. He’s no ordinary practitioner, and I haven’t been able to gather the slightest bit of dirt on him.”
Qin Ye might look like a grouse-filled teenager, but only an insider who had dealt with him could fully appreciate just how difficult he was as an opponent. After all, we’re talking about a man who had kept the truth about his identity concealed over the last hundred or so years, without any blemish in his resume or loopholes in his activities. His stealth and life-preservation skill trees were clearly already maxed out.
Li Jixi slowly made his way down the stairs. He passed by the seventh floor, and continued heading down, only to end up… still at the seventh floor.
The windows on this floor were completely covered by light-absorbing paper, and it would be pitch-black within no matter when one looked at it. But notwithstanding the fact that it was 2.00 a.m. right now, the area within was still brightly lit.
There was a man seated at the front desk at the landing to this room. Li Jixi pulled out his identification for verification, only to promptly receive a response from the man, “Mr Guan is already waiting for you in the room furthest in.”
Li Jixi nodded and walked right in along the corridors. A series of plaques identified the contents of each closed door along the corridor - a data room, an operations room, a planning office, a finance office, and so on. The final door on the corridor had a corresponding plaque that had only two words written on it.
It was a conference room.
A man in his thirties dressed in his camouflage uniform sat right in the center of the conference room. He was 1.84m tall, and had a large scar running across his face. Despite his young age, he was already a lieutenant colonel.
“I haven’t seen you for five or six years now, have I?” The man tossed over a cigarette, “I haven’t seen you ever since you joined the Albatross. Those appearances of yours now… is it a mask? Or have you gone under the knife?”
Li Jixi nimbly caught the cigarette and sat down, while the door to the conference room shut on its own. He placed the cigarette into his mouth, “It’s a mask… There aren’t many who know my true appearances. Officially, I’ve already perished in the line of duty. Even my parents have been notified of my ‘death’.”
“I know.” The man waved his hands impatiently, “Do you know how much your mother cried when she learnt of your death? If not for the fact that you’d alerted me beforehand, I might have been one of those crying and bawling over your urn of ashes as well… Speaking of which, I don’t think you were supposed to tell anyone of your posting, were you? Were you punished for it?”
“One week of solitary confinement, and a major demerit against my name.” Li Jixi rested his legs lazily on the round table in the conference room, “Humans… all have their own selfish desires. Otherwise, what makes us any different from the other Yin spirits out there?”
The man grew silent, and he simply tossed a lighter over.
Just like that, the two men finished off their cigarettes in silence, before the man finally spoke up once more, “Let’s get down to business. The fact that you’ve gone out of your way to bring your team here means that there’s something big going down. I’m only a puny Operative-class expert, and I’m not sure I can be of much help to you.”
“You can.” Li Jixi didn’t beat about the bush, and his expression grew serious, “New Hale City… Are there any zones that are classified above the regular hunting zones?”
“No.” The man responded directly, “Hale Province boasts of the lowest rate of supernatural incidents across all of Cathay. Where would we find zones above regular hunting zones?”
Li Jixi nodded thoughtfully, “Zones classified above hunting zones… are occupied by Hellguard-class Yin spirits capable of roaming the lands in the day after all. I guess this was to be expected… Then…”
“I recall that there was a record of a mutated zone, where the danger level was classified just shy of the predatory zone. Wasn’t it… zone C-56?”
The man gazed deeply into Li Jixi’s eyes, “What are you planning to do?”
“Release it.” Li Jixi locked eyes with him, “I want you to release it tomorrow night. Send it towards the D-72 hunting zone. Furthermore, I want you to direct it at a particular student when neither Instructor Qin nor I are around.”
Li Jixi pushed over Wang Chenghao’s picture at the same time.
“Are you crazy?!” The man gasped, “Even though this hunting zone isn’t properly a predatory zone, it’s not something that regular Soul Hunters are able to deal with! Have you read the dossier about the subject? The subject had gotten lost in the grasslands, only to be devoured alive by wolves. Several cars passed him by, but refused to lend him a helping hand. Are you even aware of how grievous this soul must be? Are these students even Hunter-class experts? If not, they wouldn’t even be able to hold out for more than ten minutes on end!”
“He’s not even an Operative-class expert.” Li Jixi responded placidly.
The man snuffed out his cigarette and stared him straight in the eye, “He’s going to die because of this.”
“Don’t worry. I won’t allow him to die… if I can help it.” Li Jixi’s voice was frigid and cold, “Results require sacrifice. I can only reveal that they may be concealing something that might even be of interest to the upper echelons of the Special Investigations Department. And we won’t know until we test them out.”
“And for that conjecture of yours, you’re willing to sacrifice an innocent student?” The man stared at Li Jixi with great disbelief, as though he didn’t know him anymore.
However, Li Jixi didn’t shy away from his gaze at all. After some time, he finally sighed, “Guan Gen, I don’t want to discuss matters of morality with you. Our experiences are different, and so is our worldview. It’s pointless to go on at length about these things. Right or wrong, these are matters for the future generation to determine. I will have no regrets about this.”
“And I’m not negotiating with you right now. I’m ordering you.”
Li Jixi pulled out a document and opened it up, “This is an authorization personally signed by the Special Investigations Department’s second-in-command, Zhou Xianlong. You can take a look at it if you want. He has given his word that should anything happen to Student Wang, his family will be compensated.”
Guan Gen stared at the document with disbelief, and then turned back to Li Jixi. Finally, he shut his eyes in dismay and sighed with great exasperation.
“I understand.” His voice was now somewhat hoarse, “Tomorrow night, at 11.00 p.m. sharp, I’ll unlock the access route to the C-56 mutated hunting zone…”
“Thank you.” Li Jixi picked up the document and stood up, pausing on his way out, “Ah, that’s right. If I end up perishing in the line of duty, please remember to report everything that has happened here. Also, don’t tell my mother about what has happened.”
Guan Gen trembled softly, and nodded only after a long, protracted pause.
After Li Jixi’s departure, he turned to gaze deeply at the dark windows around him, muttering to himself with immense bitterness, “Damn it all… When will all of this madness finally end?”Previous Chapter Next Chapter