"We're both here now, so let's get to know each other a little better," said Xuan Ji as he placed two hot drinks on the table at the airport café and handed one to Gu Yuexi.
He then proceeded to add sugar to his own drink. Lately, he had trouble sleeping and always felt cold. He craved warmth and high-calorie foods.
"I'm heading to Yuyang, and it seems like you are too. This flight is my only stop."
Gu Yuexi remained silent. Her nose was slender, and her lips were tightly pursed.
Her natural expression was cold, and when she was silent, it seemed like she was guarding against something.
Xuan Ji continued, "In the forest park, there was an untraceable phone call that almost released the captive demon; Director Xiao's hair still hasn't grown back; the Yue De Sect has a new mithril cannon that hasn't been publicly announced by the Research Institute; and in Dongchuan's black market, a suspect who was already caught self-destructed right under our noses. There must be a mole among us. To be honest, Second Team Leader, I also suspect you..."
At that moment, Gu Yuexi spoke up almost simultaneously.
"He has nothing to do with this," Gu Yuexi said.
"So, you're investigating me too...eh?" Xuan Ji trailed off.
The two of them looked at each other in confusion for a few seconds.
"I'm investigating you?" Gu Yuexi asked.
"So, you're not investigating my sword spirit?" Xuan Ji clarified.
Gu Yuexi did see that Wang Ze had posted a short video in the group, but she didn't click on it and didn't know what it was about. Later, she probably found it annoying that Old Wang was jumping up and down for red envelopes, so she just blocked the group.
After hearing Xuan Ji's words, she was confused: "I'm investigating your sword spirit?"
At this moment, Gu Yuexi's phone rang, and it was Wang Ze calling.
Wang Ze spoke seriously on the phone: "Yuexi, if you hear anything when you return to headquarters these two days, stay calm..."
"Mr. Wang, I just submitted a leave request."
"Oh, leave... that's good..." Something seemed to be happening on Wang Ze's end, as there was a lot of background noise and people running around him, shouting something. "I didn't see it, that thing, I'll approve your request, rest well..."
Gu Yuexi furrowed her brows, "What happened? You just said 'if you hear something', what did you hear?"
Xuan Ji had sharp ears and heard the noise on Wang Ze's end of the phone.
Without hesitation, he sent a message to Xiao Zheng, who had been busy on another call, "Nothing happened at headquarters, right?"
Wang Ze hesitated for a moment before finally blurting out something to Gu Yuexi, who had noticed that something was off and kept pressing him for an answer.
Meanwhile, Xiao Zheng replied to the message, "Someone stole the remaining fragment of the Zhi Chun sword."
Gu Yuexi stood up abruptly, almost knocking over her drink.
"Director Xiao, the fragment was stolen during a power outage and the surveillance cameras didn't capture anything."
Xiao Zheng let out a frustrated sigh, feeling like he had misplaced his trust in modern technology.
"We regularly reinforce and update the restrictions in all areas except for Zone W, especially near the mutated Mirror Flower Water Moon Butterfly," the administrator explained weakly. "But this thief was careful to avoid the other areas. I think they're quite familiar with our internal management."
A sword spirit may resemble a human, but it is not one. The blade is the life force of the spirit, and if the blade shatters, the spirit is destroyed.
The remains of a destroyed sword are like a box of ashes - just because a person has been dismembered doesn't mean they can be sewn back together and come back to life. Even the most skilled surgeon or seamstress couldn't do it.
Xiao Zheng couldn't imagine what use there could be for the stolen fragments of Zhi Chun. Beforehand, they familiarized themselves with the situation of the 60 underground levels, cut off the power, and timed their entry... all just to steal a broken sword?
If this thief wasn't just fooling around, then...
Xiao Zheng glanced up at Wang Ze and signaled him to follow. It wasn't until they reached a deserted area that Xiao Zheng lowered his voice and asked, "Do you have any news on Yan Qiushan from the Wind Gods?"
Wang Ze stopped smiling.
Impatiently, Xiao Zheng let out a sigh, "I don't mean anything else..."
Wang Ze asked, "Then what do you mean?"
Xiao Zheng remained silent, staring at Wang Ze intently. He knew Wang Ze was hot-headed on the outside but cold on the inside, and was so lazy it was shocking. Once he knows that the theft occurred in an unimportant area like the W district, he would definitely just yawn and turn around.
Xiao Zheng knew him well, so it was suspicious that he hurried over now.
"If Yan Qiushan wants to do something, he wouldn't wait until now!" Wang Ze's voice lowered, as if forced out from his throat. "Director Xiao, we treat you like a brother, what do you treat us as?"
Xiao Zheng replied, "If it was Yan Qiushan who wants to take back the remaining pieces of Zhi Chun, I'll take the blame for him today. I'll explain to Chief Huang. Worst case scenario, I'll resign and go home to inherit my family business! But what if it wasn't him?"
Wang Ze gritted his teeth fiercely, his face, which always had a hint of playfulness, darkened for no reason, with a touch of gangsterism.
"If it wasn't him stealing Zhi Chun, it would only be someone targeting Old Yan. What are you getting angry at me for?" Xiao Zheng glared at him, took out his personal phone, dialed a number, and unsurprisingly, a mechanical male voice came from the other end, "The number you dialed is invalid..."
When Yan Qiushan went missing, the bureau did look for him, but not with much effort. After all, coming to work was a personal choice and Yan Qiushan had not committed any crimes. Being absent without reason would at most result in his salary being deducted or being fired from his job. There was no reason to send people to search for him as if he were a criminal. Besides, for the former head of the Wind God team, hiding his whereabouts was too easy. For three years, Yan Qiushan had left no trace and there was no news of him.
Xiao Zheng scrolled through his WeChat and saw that Yan Qiushan's profile picture was his work ID photo and his name was his real name, without any fancy embellishments.
He rarely posts on his WeChat Moments, only occasionally sharing official notices from work. The rest of his posts are about his life with Zhi Chun. The last photo he posted on his Moments was a silhouette of a tall, thin man standing by a window, looking outwards.
Chains hung from his long limbs, and his shirt hung loosely on his body. His hair was long enough to cover his eyes, revealing only a sharp jawline with a downturned mouth that hinted at a hint of melancholy.
The photo was accompanied by a rare caption: "The young master wants to eat spicy hotpot, but I don't know how to make it. Can my nearby brothers recommend a delivery place? [laughing and crying emoji] I think he's doing better today."
The private correspondence between Xiao Zheng and Yan Qiushan had stopped three years ago. The last dozen or so messages were all from Xiao Zheng, asking Yan Qiushan where he was, but the messages went unanswered.
Xiao Zheng composed a message and sent it off: "The remaining pieces of Zhi Chun have been stolen. No matter what you hear, do not act rashly. Take care of yourself! Reply as soon as you receive this!"
However, the message seemed to disappear into the void once again, without any response.
"Whoever stole the fragment must have left some traces. Contact all local units and departments, closely monitor the abnormal energy monitoring network, and focus on transportation hubs and public places with high traffic." Xiao Zheng calmly put his phone back in his pocket and pushed open the door for Wang Ze.
He instructed his subordinates, "Also, post a notice on the internal network to search for Yan Qiushan..."
Someone whispered, "Director, is it a wanted notice?"
Xiao Zheng's voice rose eight octaves as he angrily retorted, "Wanted? My foot!"
The outspoken field agent immediately shrunk into a quail, not daring to breathe.
Xiao Zheng glared at him with contempt, exhaled a breath of air, and coldly asked, "In the name of urgent witness protection- Wang Ze, where are you going off to?"
Earlier, while Xiao Zheng was assigning tasks, Wang Ze made a few phone calls and gave some simple instructions to a few key members of the Wind God team who had close ties with Yan Qiushan. When he called Gu Yuexi, they only exchanged a few words before his face suddenly changed.
Without even saying goodbye to Xiao Zheng, he hurriedly left. That night, Xuan Ji and Gu Yuexi, who had taken different paths, ended up on the same flight. Wang Ze immediately gathered a team of trusted Wind God members and urgently applied for a flight route. They also flew off to Yuyang in a Wind God plane.
Just past midnight, Yan Qiushan and his gang drove their off-road vehicle out of the backyard of a small hotel, with a trunk full of offerings, heading towards the sea.
An hour later, they arrived at the seaside, where a fishing boat was already waiting for them. A sparrow hopped onto the rocks, with its fluffy little belly sticking out, curiously watching the sneaky people.
"Don't worry, it's a licensed fishing boat," said the blind man Silver Shadow. "We guarantee that there won't be any problems with the supplies on board. If we're a bit careful, staying underwater for ten days or half a month won't be a problem."
"According to the tomb map from the Qingping Division, we have found the right spot, so we won't have to stay underwater for too long," the wooden puppet girl hesitated for a moment, moving her painted wooden arm. "But I'm not sure about if I can dive."
"We don't need regular diving equipment, we'll use 'fish gills'," Snake Skin replied. "They're the gills taken from the body of an ancient Kun fish, also known as 'water pearls' in the black market. This thing can submerge an entire small cruise ship or turn a fishing boat into a submarine. It can dive as deep as we want, and even if a fish/sea monster attacks, it won't break. I'm not exaggerating."
The wooden puppet girl had never heard of such a thing and murmured in disbelief, "Kun fish have gills?"
According to the records in "Zhuangzi", the Kun fish in the North Sea can transform into a Peng bird with just one leap, making it a "triple creature" that can live on land, in water, and in the air, resembling both a bird and a mammal.
"I guarantee there won't be any problems," Snake Skin confidently boasted, "Even if we haven't left the continental shelf yet, as long as we have the 'water pearl', I can take you to the Mariana Trench."
The sparrows on the rocks stared at them, their eyes like a pair of small black beans. At that moment, Yan Qiushan, who was walking at the back, turned his head sensitively.
The metal fragments on his neck glinted in the moonlight, and his vigilant gaze swept over the small sparrows on the rocks with suspicion, before searching around but finding nothing.
"What's wrong, Mr. Yan?"
Yan Qiushan furrowed his brow and replied, "Just now...I don't know, I just suddenly felt like someone was staring at me."
The puppet girl had her doubts, "Old Lady Yu gave you the map and sent me to lead the way. We didn't even catch our breath before setting off and rushing to Yuyang. We haven't given the address of the prince's tomb to anyone else except for you, Mr. Nian. Do you really not trust Old Lady Yu?"
Upon hearing the puppet girl's suspicion, the blind man smoothly interjected, "Miss, don't overthink it. Our Mr. Nian didn't mean anything by it. And who knows, maybe Snake Skin and I are the ones they're after, after all, we both have been on the wanted list before."
Snake Skin nonchalantly added, "Who hasn't been on the wanted list a few times? It's been years and they still haven't caught us!"
Yan Qiushan was too lazy to engage in meaningless arguments, so he didn't bother to respond. After making sure that there was no abnormality around him, he took the lead and boarded the old fishing boat.
Several people worked together to lift several large boxes onto the fishing boat and set sail towards the South China Sea.
Suddenly, the sparrows on the big rocks took off and black smoke appeared in their eyes.
At the same time, everything they "saw" and "heard" was transmitted to Sheng Lingyuan.
This was a simplified version of "puppetry".
The most exquisite puppetry could control puppets so well that even the closest people couldn't tell the difference between real and fake. It could even simulate the smallest habits and the most subtle thoughts with great precision. It was a miraculous skill, but it had been lost completely after Dan Li's death.
Sheng Lingyuan slowly walked up the reef and reached out his hand, allowing the sparrow to land in his palm. He gently rubbed the bird's head, released the spell, and let the bird go, unable to help but sigh.
He had only learned the basics of "puppetry" - he could only temporarily use animals without intelligence as his eyes and ears, and he himself could not stray too far away.
People always said he was cunning, but compared to that person, he was probably only fit to be a thug with a sword. However...
Sheng Lingyuan couldn't help but think helplessly, "When did the Kun have such things as those... 'fish gills'?"
Among these people, the blind man had the strongest demonic energy, with a scent of "You You".
The "You You" is occasionally listed as a "ferocious beast", but it actually has no sharp claws and is just not very auspicious. Its appearance is just a bad omen and it's really just disgusting, with a true form similar to a dog.
As for the rest of them - the one who boasted about being able to freely come and go in the deep sea is a mixed breed eel, whose ancestors probably never left the pond and didn't know to fear the strong winds. The woman is a puppet manipulated by someone behind the scenes, poorly made and simplified with a version of the Heart-Piercing Grass spell.
A dog, an eel, and a puppet... and yet Yan Qiushan thought they could venture into the tomb of the Mountain prince? He was thinking too arrogantly.
Sheng Lingyuan almost felt pity for them - after all, the Mountain prince's tomb was personally sealed by the emperor before his death.
It was five-thirty in the morning.
Since they were on a private plane, Wang Ze and his team arrived a little earlier than Xuan Ji and his team who took a commercial flight. The two groups bumped into each other in front of the popular shop where Sheng Lingyuan had previously visited.
"Nothing." Gu Yuexi put down her binoculars across the street. "The hotel room is empty, and the SUV is not there. Xuan Ji, I didn't see your sword spirit."
"This place is too damn hot, like summer." Wang Ze stuffed breakfast he bought from the 24-hour store through the car window and handed it to Xuan Ji.
He went around to the other side of the car, took off his coat, and threw it to the back seat. "I brought a psychic brother with me. He just interrogated the service staff in that small hotel."
Gu Yuexi turned her head nervously. "Was it him?"
Wang Ze nodded at her, his face unusually serious. "There were two men and one woman traveling with him. One of the men is blind and goes by the code name 'Silver Shadow.' He's a wanted criminal at the A-level, extremely dangerous, and has taken several lives. The other man has a burned face and goes by the code name 'Snake Skin.' He's slippery and has a water-based ability, making him impossible to catch as long as he's in the water. The woman had her face covered, and the exposed parts didn't look human. If I'm not mistaken, she's one of Old Lady Yu's 'Demon Servants.' I never expected that old hag to be involved as well. And then there's... him. I don't know what they're planning to do or why Mr. Yan is associating with them, but I have a bad feeling about this."
"Where is he now?" Gu Yuexi asked anxiously.
"I heard he went to the seaside, left in the middle of the night. We're a step too late," Wang Ze said. "I'm trying to contact Yuyang's local branch to see if they can find the road network surveillance and track down the car... Why is there still no news? This is too slow."
"If you trust me, you can follow me first," Xuan Ji suddenly spoke up, who had been silent all this time. He quickly finished his coffee and threw the empty cup out of the car window, accurately landing in the roadside trash can. "I don't know where your ex-boss is, but I can feel the presence of my sword spirit."
Gu Yuexi and Wang Ze looked at him together.
"No, what's with that look?" Xuan Ji suddenly became sensitive under the gaze of their four eyes. "I'm not... I don't have any inappropriate relationship with that person!"
Gu Yuexi cleared her throat and looked away.
"I didn't say you had," Wang Ze quickly replied.
"Before this sword spirit woke up, it was my life-bound sword that I kept on me... No, that's not what I meant." Xuan Ji spoke without restraint, digging himself into a deeper hole.
Gu Yuexi looked at him with a hint of sympathy in her eyes.
Wang Ze tried to placate him with a perfunctory response, "We really didn't mean anything else. We just noticed that you didn't look well, probably tired from running around at night."
Out of kindness, Gu Yuexi stumbled over her words, "Yes, Director Xuan rushed over as soon as he received that video, even though he had just finished work. He must be very..."
Uh... that didn't sound right either.
Wang Ze covered his face with his hand.
"Drive," Xuan Ji said weakly, ignoring the topic altogether. "Old Wang, have your people follow us in the southwest direction."
Wang Ze made a motion of pulling a zipper to his mouth. After a moment, he couldn't help but say, "I remember that Big Boss Yan and his wife don't seem to have this kind of connection. What they had between them was more like a subtle telepathy. Big Boss Yan said that couples living together for a long time will be like this..."
Xuan Ji replied coldly, "I haven't lived with him, thank you."
Wang Ze curiously asked, "So what exactly is this connection like? Can you see things that we can't see, like Yuexi? Or is it like a magnet, pulling you in a certain direction..."
This time even Xuan Ji himself thought of something inappropriate and exclaimed, "Enough already!"
"Okay, okay, just share your experience. Really - oh, my friend replied to my message. It's in this direction, how accurate you are, Director Xuan, you're like a human compass..."
Xuan Ji: "..."
It wasn't visual, auditory, or tactile, but rather a certain intuition that couldn't be described. It was like the intense feeling of someone poking the center of his forehead with a pen tip.
That person must be in a certain direction, and when he turned towards that direction, his whole body trembled uncontrollably and his heart felt like it was about to explode.
In addition to intuition, there was also a scent. It was a magnificent palace fragrance that he had smelled on both Sheng Lingyuan and in his dreams at Du Ling Palace. It became increasingly strong and lingered around him.
Sheng Lingyuan wasn't a censer and didn't emit fragrance on its own. Whatever he used to bathe with was the scent on his body - previously it was the smell of a hotel.
But he couldn't describe the fragrance that was in the air. Xuan Ji felt like he didn't smell it through his nose, but rather it went straight into his brain.
Suddenly, the dream of the snowy night in the palace came vividly to Xuan Ji's mind.
His throat went dry instinctively, and he couldn't help but glare fiercely at Wang Ze.
"It's all because of this damn guy's nonsense," he thought to himself.
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