Chapter 42: City-Wide

It took twenty minutes to get from the entrance of the city to the heart of the downtown district. There was no interruption at all!

It was a familiar-looking city, filled with familiar-looking people, and covered by an all-too-familiar sky.

Yet as a result of the rows of LED displays lining the streets, the entire place no longer felt the same as it used to be.

“This is…” Wang Chenghao drew a breath of cold air, “This… must be traces of activity from ‘those things’, isn’t it…”

“It’s definitely not a military exercise! That’s nothing more than a cover up!”

In fact, if one looked closely, the entire City of Salvation appeared to be covered by a thin red layer just above the towering screens!

There were even three locations where the red hue was so thick that they appeared to be crimson as blood!

Qin Ye shifted his gaze, “Drive.”

There was no meaning in making wild conjectures. Zhang Baoguo must know far more about such details. They had already agreed on a place to meet. The car zoomed along the road, yet none of them had the heart to enjoy the sights and sounds around then. After following their GPS’ instructions for over twenty minutes, they finally arrived in front of a well-decorated teahouse.

“Sir, may I know if you’ve got a prior reservation?” An attendant immediately welcomed them upon arrival and asked with a chirpy smile on her face.

“Under Mr Zhang’s name.”

“Please enter. He’s in room 204.”

Qin Ye quickly walked up to the second floor and made his way to room 204. Yet just as he placed his hand onto the door, he paused.

“What’s the matter?” Wang Chenghao asked curiously.

“... Say, if you become an old man with a head full of white hair, yet a contemporary of yours shows up with a youthful, radiant face, what would you do?”

“Death by a thousand cuts!!”

Qin Ye glared at him again - Unimaginative and plain. Weak!

He gently opened the door and stepped onto the deep blue rug in the room. A one-and-a-half meter long wooden tea table with carvings of peaches and cranes was set right in the middle of the room. Two large palatial chairs were placed on either side of it. A delightful brush made of the wood of a peony tree hung from an easel on the side. Coupled with the intricate carvings on the antique, palatial lamps, it had to be said that the display of Chinese extravagance in the room was far more exquisite and luxurious than that in the Fenglai Hotel.

A white-haired old man sat on one of the palatial chairs. Another young man who was wearing a thin sweater immediately stood up as soon as he saw the door open.

Surprisingly, nobody said a single word.

Click… The door closed gently. Qin Ye sized up the old man at the other side of the room. Even though his hair was already white, the man’s spirit was still hale and hearty. The strapping old man stood at approximately 1.8 meters tall. There weren’t too many wrinkles considering his age, yet each of them were ostensibly marks left by the vicissitudes of life.

The young man and the old man resembled each other. Both sported a square, chiseled face, buzz-cuts and thick eyebrows. Both of them appeared spirited and sharp.

“After twenty long years, you’ve finally aged.” Qin Ye was the first one to speak as he made his way over towards the table with a faint smile on his face.

Zhang Baoguo’s body had already begun to tremble from the first moment he saw Qin Ye. His eyes were filled with a deep, profound complexity. It was as though he saw his own past and his own youth in Qin Ye’s eyes. Finally, he sighed, “Yet despite twenty long years, you haven’t changed a single bit.”

Thud. The two men gave each other a tight hug. Even Qin Ye was experiencing a motley of emotions right now. On the other hand, Zhang Baoguo could no longer contain the tears in his eyes, and teardrops rolled off his face as he hugged Qin Ye tightly, patting Qin Ye’s back, “It’s been too long. Have you been well?”

“Same old, same old. You’ve been good too, haven’t you? Promoted again?”

After three or four minutes, Qin Ye finally sat back down on the chair with a rueful sigh.

“Mr Qin.” Zhang Baoguo didn’t sit. Instead, he bowed deeply and sincerely to Qin Ye, “About what happened back then… I truly and sincerely thank you.”

The young man who was holding his teacup while sizing up the interaction between the two suddenly trembled. He stared at his father with an incredulous expression.

Mr… Qin?

Did… did I hear wrongly?

His father had specifically instructed him to be here today. He had even rescheduled his college student union’s debate session today just because of this. His father’s exact words had then been - By hook or by crook, you have to be here today!

So, here he was.

However--

He had thought that his father had instructed him to attend the meeting today in order to pave the way for his future. He had expected his father to be meeting with a high-ranking official or someone similar. Then, as soon as the door opened earlier, he was somewhat taken by surprise. Nevertheless, he subconsciously gave things the benefit of the doubt and came up with the possibility that the guest today might be a second or third generation successor from Kyoto.

Yet as soon as his father addressed the guest, all possible explanations flew out of the window, and he was left completely flabbergasted.

Mr Qin?

He had never heard his father address anyone else like this!

Not even the secretariat or the mayor!

And it was obvious that he was being so respectful to someone ostensibly younger than him - who was possibly even at the same age he was!

Qin Ye hardly paid any attention to the expression on the young man’s face. Instead, he simply nodded naturally, “It was all in a day’s work back then. It’s nothing much. If you hadn’t displayed such integrity and upstanding morals, I would never have acted on your behalf in any event.”

“But… you’d also broadened my horizons and allowed me to see a whole different world out there!” Zhang Baoguo’s voice was filled with agitation once more, “I know that… it’s difficult for people like you to remain hidden within society. Especially a free-spirited person like you who’s unwilling to join hands with the government. Yet despite the risks of being exposed, you’d still extended a lifeline to me… I…”

Zhang Baoguo lowered his head. He began to choke up as he wiped the tears away from the corner of his eyes.

The young man handed his father a silken handkerchief. The expectancy in his eyes had vanished by now.

So it's a benefactor…

Does Father want me to repay this man for what he had done?

“It’s all in the past now. Old Zhang, you shouldn’t address me as Mr Qin, Mr Qin all the time either. You’re making me feel old.” Qin Ye casually poured himself a cup of tea and drank it all in one gulp, “You can just call me Old Qin next time.”

“How is this…”

“It’s settled.” Qin Ye smiled, “Deputy director of the municipal supervisory bureau? You’ve got some power in your grasp. I’m sure all of the big bosses in the city are all lining up to curry favor with you.”

Zhang Baoguo smiled helplessly and shook his head as he quickly glanced at the young man beside him, “Zhang Linhua, what are you waiting for? Why haven’t you paid your respects to your godfather yet?”

What?!

Zhang Linhua was dumbfounded.

Godfather?

Godfather?!

Since when have I accepted him to be a godfather?!

Riding on his father’s coattails, he had already grown used to the life of strutting around the city as though it were his own. Yet now, a man who was ostensibly the same age as himself purported to be his godfather?!

“What are you still looking at?!” Zhang Baoguo hardly minced his words as he glared at his son, “Are you blind? Haven’t you already noticed that your godfather’s teacup is already empty?”

“I…” Zhang Linhua’s heart was simply overwhelmed with shame and anger. He opened his mouth several times, thinking to speak, yet no words came out at all.

“Forget it, Old Zhang.” Qin Ye poured himself another cup of tea, “I do appear somewhat young after all.”

What do you mean ‘appear’?!

I’ll be damned if you’re more than 20 years of age!!

The veins on Zhang Linhua’s temples throbbed as he slumped back down onto his own chair.

Zhang Baoguo gave him one last, stern glare, before smiling faintly at Wang Chenghao, “This young friend… is he also the same as you?”

His question was laden with heavy implications. Qin Ye smiled and glanced at Zhang Linhua. Zhang Baoguo sighed wistfully in his heart. Since his attempt at making Qin Ye the godfather of his son had failed, Zhang Linhua was simply unqualified to remain around for the latter part of their conversation.

“Leave us. Wait for us downstairs.”

Suppressing the indignation in his heart, Zhang Linhua left the room. Several seconds later, after the room had quietened down once more, Qin Ye finally responded, “Do you know about the Special Investigations Department?”

“I know about them. In fact, I’d known of their existence from about a year ago. I’d even heard that the new establishment is filled with people with special abilities like you.” Zhang Baoguo continued after some deliberation, “Their authority began to expand greatly since approximately four months ago. Right now, they don’t even need authorization to move the military.”

Qin Ye grew sullen, “They’ve already taken control over regional defense?”

Zhang Baoguo glanced about at his surroundings before responding with a hushed tone of voice, “It’s not just the regional defenses… Old Qin, I know that there are some things in this world that can’t be explained by science. Rather, perhaps science simply hasn’t developed enough to explain these phenomena. Think about it, what aspects of life are influenced by these supernatural incidents?”

“Medicine, citizenry, engineering… You can say that the supernatural is practically a pervasive, all-encompassing force. As soon as the Special Investigations Department is involved, all of the other governmental departments and agencies have to give way, without question!”

“Even you?”

“Even us!” Zhang Baoguo replied affirmatively, “They’re even exempted and detached from all supervisory bodies. If we had to employ an analogy… Do you remember the imperial guard from the Ming Dynasty?”

They answered only to the heavens!

So that’s how it is… Qin Ye held onto his cup of tea, and his eyes quivered slightly. The Special Investigations Department ran deep, had a complex organizational structure, and possessed incredibly extensive authority. The Clear Creek County branch that Qin Ye had a brush with was merely the tip of the iceberg.

Secondly, the Special Investigations Department was most certainly not an entity that was simply scrambled together overnight. In all likelihood, the nation might well have been making preparations for this day for a long time now.

“How’s the situation in the City of Salvation? What if I were to say that I’d like a list of their operatives, and a detailed map of where the reported supernatural incidents are located, preferably one that even includes the power levels of each of these supernatural incidents. Do you think you could obtain these things for me?”

“What do you want with their list of operatives?” Zhang Baoguo asked in bewilderment.

“For survival.” Qin Ye explained placidly, “I don’t want to start a conflict with them. You know full well that I can’t afford to expose my true identity. Categorically avoiding all of these potential dangers is the only way I can guarantee my survival. Old Zhang, I’m not underestimating your authority here. It’s just that the moment my identity is exposed… I’m afraid even you might not be able to do a thing with your level of authority.”

Zhang Baoguo sighed and shook his head, “Unfortunately, I’m afraid your requests are a little out of reach for me.”

“Let me show you something.” He felt about behind him and brought out a brown leather bag. From there, he pulled out a primly folded, one-square-meter map and a stack of other information. Qin Ye scanned through the items, only to realize it was a map of the City of Salvation.

“The City of Salvation comprises a total of four small districts and six counties. I’ve enumerated them one through four. The other documents here are also enumerated, each of which corresponds to their respective districts and counties.”

Qin Ye opened the documents, and a simple scan of the documents caused his eyes to widen in shock.

14 May. A case pertaining to a series of disappearances in Strong County. Seven days after the Special Investigations Department took over, four bodies were found twisted together in the county’s reservoir. Cause of death - unknown.

20 May. A case pertaining to a bizarre death in Peace County. The deceased’s body dried up and became nothing more than a piece of human skin after just one day. Three days after the Special Investigations Department took over, they uprooted an old acacia tree and dredged up a broken funerary urn. No further supernatural sightings were reported in the area thereafter.

4 June… 12 June… 30 June… 2 July…

The map didn’t initially have any red markings at all. Yet ever since May this year, red marks began to sprout up all over the city, as though it was a plague slowly engulfing the entire City of Salvation!

“2 July. A mass sighting of a supernatural event occurred in the Third Hospital on the outskirts of the city. Everyone claimed to have witnessed something unclean. That very night, two nurses were found to have hung themselves on the roof of the hospital. Four days after the Special Investigations Department took over, the Third Hospital was closed down for good.”

Qin Ye flipped the page, “9 August. A night watchman at the Ten Millennial Public Cemetery located in the suburbs claims to have heard someone performing an opera in the middle of the night. The next day, two corpses that had been turned inside-out were discovered on a top of the hill in the cemetery…”

He closed the file of documents, “It’s been almost five months since 14 May. These are supernatural incidents that had initially started in the suburbs of the counties have slowly encroached upon the heart of the city…”

“Why?”

Put simply, the incidents appeared to be organized and premeditated. It makes sense if one thought about it. If nobody had planned these incidents, the occurrences would have taken place across the city in a haphazard manner, rather than beginning in the outskirts and slowly closing in upon the heart of the city!

Someone-- No, some ghost… was making a move against the City of Salvation!

Qin Ye furrowed his brows - Could… could the mastermind’s domain extend all the way to the City of Salvation?

Is his domain not only restricted to the Westriver Province? Could he also have an influence over the Insignia Province as well?

But, that was not a realistic conjecture.

“It’s still under investigations.” Zhang Baoguo shook his head, “All these things fall within the ambit of the Special Investigations Department’s scope of duty. Everything, including their agents, and the details of their deployment and movements, are top secret. Furthermore, I think it’s safe to say that the more proliferate the outbreak of supernatural occurrences, the more likely their identity and particulars would be kept under wraps. We’re not even talking about people on the level of my authority as the Deputy Attorney General anymore. Even the top provincial level bureaucrats aren’t given access to such information.”

Qin Ye nodded his head. It seemed that he had been putting Zhang Baoguo in a tight spot.

What he was asking for was simply impossible.

Yet Zhang Baoguo looked at Qin Ye’s expressions and suddenly smiled, “That said, my words still carry some weight over here. As long as you restrict your movements within the heart of the City of Salvation and refrain from creating a fiasco, I should be able to do something about it. That’s right. You’ve sent me a message from Clear Creek County several years ago. Why did you have to go so far away?”

“I would’ve liked to stay as well.” Glossing over the somewhat melancholy atmosphere in the room, Qin Ye looked up and smiled faintly, “Old Zhang… let me ask you something - what happens when a husky sneaks into a pack of wolves?”

Without waiting for Zhang Baoguo’s response, Qin Ye continued, “I’m already treading on thin ice by living in the same place for more than five years at a time.”

Zhang Baoguo nodded his head, yet he couldn’t help but feel as though his heart had been pricked.

How did he suddenly come to be described as a pack of wolves here...

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