Just Inches Away From Over
Dee sat on the carriage feeling bored, and a slight bit tired. He has been reading the book for a long period of time just today alone. He decided to give his brain a small break. He reached inside his pocket, pulling out the talisman. Dee hasn’t paid lots of attention or even looked at the talisman after receiving it.
Dee took a close look at the talisman. This talisman is just an oval-shaped wooden block, seems nothing special. Both sides of the talisman are decorated finely. One side has a beautiful flower engraved on it. While the other one has some weird color wave on it. At first glance, the talisman seems like a useless piece of woodblock. However, after giving it a closer look, Dee found something unordinary.
The weird color wave on one side of the talisman looked just like a mask. Very similar to the mask worn by the suspicious masked people. It might be just a coincidence, however, this could be also a connection to these potential killers. Dee observed the talisman and different angles. After looking at it more, Dee felt he has definitely seen another similar thing to this. To make sure he is right, Dee decided to check if the two things are indeed the same.
Dee told Rui and Shun to meet up with the others, while he will come later. Dee’s going to his basement, where much precious knowledge is stored. After dropping Rui and Shun, Dee went straight to his home, into the basement.
On one of the basement tables lies a sheepskin map. This is what Dee is here for. The map is from about fifteen years ago, it’s old and a bit dirty. Dee blew the dust off. This is a map of the Great Tang dynasty, located about the center is Chang’an city. Dee scanned around Chang’an. Just a tad bit north of Chang’an, Dee found a symbol. Exactly the same as the weird colorway of the talisman. This is a crucial finding, as both the symbol and the talisman can be heavily connected to the masked people. Finding these masked people could lead to the solving of the two cases.
Dee will definitely visit where the symbol is located on the map. Before when looking at the map, he never knew what the symbol really is or meant. But it’s got to be on the map for a reason.
Dee folded the map carefully, putting it in his pocket. He hopped the carriage, meeting up with the other members. Dee planned, after lunch, the crew will be going to where the symbol is located, there could be valuable information they don’t want to miss.
“Could I see the talisman?” Yuchi asked Dee after he shared his most recent finding. At this point, the crew has gained the full trust of Dee. After the fight, Dee truly feels all of his members have the same goal in mind. Dee no longer feels there are any spies within the group, completely opening his heart to them. Dee gladly showed Yuchi the talisman. “Where did you get this, Master Dee?”
“A kind grandpa gave it to us,” Rui answered for Dee.
“Yesterday in Zundian, a friend gave it to me,” Dee added.
“What is this flower thing?” Rui wondered, seeing the other side of the talisman.
“Probably just some random wildflower,” Yuchi said.
“Nevertheless, we are getting more and more closer to the truth.” Rui cheered. “We have basically figured out the first case. The second case is still a mystery.”
“Everybody,” Dee enjoined. “Keep an alert at all times. There may be dangers at our destination.”
“Keep an eye on our surroundings,” Yuchi said. “We don’t want to get unexpectedly jumped on again.”
Everyone nodded. The crew is definitely not fully in form, as some injuries were left after the last fight. Mainly, Shun and Yuchi were damaged the most by the last fight. Without them at their full strength, the crew could easily lose a fight. Going to a completely unknown place is a bold, risky move made by Dee.
The crew finished their lunch, now on the way to where the symbol is located. It would take them about two hours to arrive. Dee plans to finish investigating the place before nighttime, staying for too long can be dangerous.
The carriage would be on a flat road for a while, before turning onto a rocky pathway. The coachman does not know where the place is, he is just following the approximate route on the map that would lead them near the destination. Hopefully, the place does exist. They would be on this rocky pathway for a while. Looking out the window, Dee could not see any signs of human existence near this place. They did not pass a tavern, or any restaurant while on this pathway. There are only tall bushes and trees. At least, on the way to Zundian, there are some buildings on the side of the road. Their destination seemed a place of total nonexistence of human activity.
The bumps on this pathway got Dee pretty uncomfortable and annoyed. Dee could not properly concentrate on reading his book in a situation like this. Rui felt uncomfortable as well, telling Dee he wanted to take a dump. Dee peeked out, ordering the coachman to stop the carriage for now. The other carriage behind them stopped as well, imitating their action. Dee planned to rest for about ten minutes. He rested in the carriage, while Rui went defecating.
“Where are we approximately at?” Dee asked the coachman, who is feeding its horse.
“We are about here, Master Dee.” The young coachman pointed on the map. It appears they are under a tall mountain. If the coachman is correct, they should be very close to the place, just a few miles forward.
Dee went back to meditating, keeping his mind fresh. After about ten minutes, Rui still hadn’t come back. He could be still doing his business, so Dee decided to wait a bit more.
Minutes later, still no signs of Rui coming back. Dee got out of the carriage and approached Yuchi, who’s sitting on the side of the pathway. “Where did Rui go?”
Yuchi pointed to the pathway behind them. “Rui went in the bushes, probably still there. It’s been a while though, should I go find him?”
Just as Dee was about to answer, he heard Rui’s voice. He glanced over, Rui urgently running out the bushes, like some monster is behind him. “I found something,” Rui yelled loudly from far away, gasping out of breath.
“What’s the deal Rui?” Dee calmly asked. Rui always acted like this, impatient, always rushing. He is very energetic at all times, but not steady enough, sometimes could act out of hand.
“What did you find?” Yuchi said. Despite basically being the same age as Rui, Yuchi is way more mature. He can always stay calm in tough situations, finding the best solution in an instant to overcome problems. This is why he has such a high position in Dali.
“I found the place,” Rui proudly said.
“Our destination?” Yuchi asked. “How do you know it’s the place?”
“It’s a huge village,” Dee described. “It’s behind us, we ran too far.”
“Behind us,” Dee repeated. “We must’ve taken the wrong route.”
“Then should we head there right now?” Yuchi asked Dee.
“It’s a cliff,” Rui claimed. “We are on a cliff, the village is below. We have to ride backward and find the correct route.”
“We are on a cliff?” Yuchi felt confused. “I didn’t feel like we were going uphill.”
“The route we are on leads toward The Ascendants Peak,” Dee told the two. “I’ve come here before, and recognize this route. But I never knew there was a village here.”
“It’s blocked by these tall trees.” Rui pointed out. “That’s why nobody knows.”
“Lead me there, let me take a peak,” Dee said. Dee and Yuchi, led by Rui, made their way into the tall bushes. While the others stayed in place.
“Weren’t you taking a dump? How come you found the village?” Yuchi asked Rui.
“After I finished,” Rui said. “I heard a few loud bird chirps, so I followed the sound. Ended up going near the cliff.”
“That sounds like a thing you would do.” Yuchi laughed. Considering Rui’s playful personality, this is really in his character.
Dee stepped carefully on the fallen leaves, trying not to make too much voice. He is scanning the surroundings, alerting to possible unknown dangers. The three are in a mini forest, with tall trees and bushes around. Drops of water dripped down from the branches, the leaves on the ground are watery. It appears to have rained previously.
The cliff is not too far away from the pathway. Dee looked down, indeed there is a massive human village. The cliff is pretty high, no way can they possibly jump down. Dee couldn’t tell if there were any people in the village. This village is probably the location of the symbol on the map, no matter if it indeed is, Dee’s got to check out this village.
The three of them headed back after taking a quick peek at the village, reuniting with the crew. They turned backward, attempting to find the correct route that leads to the village. They would eventually find the way, It’s an extremely narrow path.
Dee can now see the village at a close distance. From the looks of it, the village is an abandoned one. There are no shades of lights or even fire lighten, on the ground lots of dead fallen leaves. The houses here are made up of wood, its roof and floor made up of hay. These houses are very simply built on both the outside and the inside. The village is right below a tall mountain, there is a route to go uphill. Many of the houses are shabby, spider webs filling up the corners. Lots and lots of long stripes of ivy climbing up the houses. Broken fences, burnt houses, fallen walls, it looks to be the village went through the war. Dee is certain no one would in a place like this, it’s even poorer than Zundian.
Dee and the crew wandered around the shabby village, trying to determine what the village represents. The symbol on the map is probably just the symbol for the village. It definitely looks like that this village has been abandoned for over five-plus years. So it would be hard to know who lived here before. The masked people could be originally living in this village, as the mask looks so similar to the village symbol. Figuring out who these masked people are can greatly contribute to solving the case. But now no one lives here anymore, and not much is left in this abandoned village.
There seem to be no names or anything of identity for the village. If Dee can know the name of the village, or who were originally living here, there is a good chance Dee can finally tell who those masked people are. Dee wandered into the biggest house within the village. Inside are ordinary furniture like tables, chairs, and beds. Dee randomly opened a drawer, inside there are pages of writing. Dee read the pages, however, it appears to be written in a foreign language. Dee took some of the pages and put them gently in his pockets. No one lives here so taking a few pages wouldn’t hurt anyone. Maybe Dee could identify this particular language at a later time.
Dee kept searching, houses after houses. Dee and Rui both walked into a small cottage. The crew has split up, maximizing the efficiency of the search.
“Did you find anything Rui?” Dee asked.
“Nothing.” Rui sighed. “I feel like this village doesn’t have anything of significance.”
“Could the similarity between the mask and the symbol be just a coincident?” Dee thought. It’s possible that it is, however, Dee doesn’t want to just pass up the chances of it actually being helpful.
Dee continued investigating in this small cottage. Just as he is about to give up and move on, he senses something suspicious on the hay-made floor. He can assure that the last step he took had a different feel to it. He started stepping around in his current position, finding where the suspicious spot is located. The steps Dee took normally felt soft on the hay-made floor. One particular spot felt like stepping on hardwood.
Dee found the off spot, he cleared all the hay laid on top to the side. He was stepping on a wooden trapdoor. It seemed to go down to an underground bunker. Dee called Rui over to go explore this thing together. The two went down the ladder into the hidden bunker.
The bunker is extremely cold. It’s a small area, inside bookshelves, tables, chairs. On the walls hangs banners, with the symbol on them. At least Dee now knows that they did not enter the wrong place. There are a total of three banners, all of which have differences from each other. Dee reached for the talisman, he compared it with the banners. One banner matches exactly with the talisman.
Dee still has no idea what these symbols mean. Dee thinks the villagers who originally lived inside this village, are related, or indeed are these masked people. The people that caused all the drama in Chang’an. Dee needs to find something that can indicate to him who these villagers are.
Dee started examining the bookshelf, the writings all in some foreign language. Rui stood beside Dee, minding his own business. “They don’t speak our language?” Rui said, after grabbing a book out of the shelf.
“This is an unordinary foreign language I’ve never seen or heard in my life.”
“That’s odd.” Rui seemed confused. “This place is so close to Chang’an, but speaks a completely different language.”
The Great Tang Dynasty is very diverse. People with different nationalities scattered around the land. Many languages are spoken here. However, these people usually live on the edges near the border, or away from a city. Places around a big city like Chang’an are heavily influenced by its culture. This village is very near Chang’an, so Dee and Rui were surprised that it’s completely different. The geographic location of this village is under a tall mountain, north of Chang’an, south of the famous yellow river. The mountain is called The Ascendants Peak, on top of the mountain is a holy temple. Rumors of the temple giving people luck have spread all across Chang’an, most people know there is a temple on this mountain. Dee himself has visited this mountain before, but he never knew there was a village right underneath.
Dee didn’t reply back, he checked all spots of the bookshelf to see if there are anything he could understand. For a reason, one thing really caught Dee’s attention, it is a thick and heavy book. Dee wiped away the heavy dust, the book titled “Yuxian sacred manual”, written by WanZe. Dee curiously opened the book, indeed just like Dee has suspected, this book is identical to the one given by Wizard Tianlan. From the thickness and colorway, it is exactly the same, the information inside as well.
Unlike the other book owned by Dee, this one he can actually see the title. Thankfully Dee can understand this book, this might only thing in this village Dee could understand. “YuXian sacred manual” doesn’t really remind Dee of anything, if Dee had to guess, YuXian might just be the name of this village. However, Dee is not completely sure, as it could be some person’s name, or, something that is completely irrelevant.
One thing that sparked some memories in Dee’s head is the name WanZe. If he had remembered correctly, there used to be a doctor in Chang’an named WanZe. He worked for the emperor in the Royal Palace, he is very respected and rumoured to have a really high position in the palace. A lot like Doctor Li, Wanze was talked about as the best doctor in the dynasty. However, he is more elderly. Since about five years ago, Dee hasn’t seen him or heard of a single thing about him. Many people wondered the same, some say WanZe has retired and is living a low-key life. Others say WanZe tragically passed away. WanZe is a very talented doctor, so being the author of this book makes total sense.
“You find anything Rui?” Dee looked beside, at the focused Rui.
“Unfortunately I can’t understand anything.” Rui sighed.
Dee took one last gaze at the bunker, nothing else seems particularly eye-catching to Dee. “Let’s leave this place,” Dee ordered. He doesn’t want to waste more time here, something tells Dee they probably need to make their way back before darkness arrives.
Dee and Rui headed up the ladder back on ground level. Dee looked outside, there is probably an hour left until the sky turns completely dark. Dee decided to group with the others, sharing their findings within this village. But, the others seemed to run into the same problems as Dee. Everything in this village is in foreign language form, there is nothing they can understand. Seeing that people encountered problems, Dee didn’t hesitate. If they could not find anything here, why not just leave instantly.
Dee ordered to head back, the crew walking toward where the two carriages are parked. The nice weather from the morning has taken a turn into a windy evening. Layers of clouds blocking the view of the sun. There are not any light sources in the village, making the village appear extra gloomy and unpleasant. The gushes of wind pass by rapidly, cold and ruthless. It’s almost like a disaster is about to hit this abandoned village. The wind blowing on the houses made some squeaking noise, the crew fastened their steps, this place is getting a bit scary.
While passing by a rather ordinary house Dee heard some unusual sounds nearby. It’s a very light sound Dee barely heard, yet Dee felt something was off. The sound differed from the wind, Dee couldn’t hear clearly what it is. Dee ordered the crew to stop walking forward, alerting them. He focused all his senses on the surrounding.
“Creak.” The sound came from one of the houses in the forward direction. The sound is similar to somebody stepping on a wooden floor, the creaking sound of the wood.
“I wonder what made the sound?” Rui whispered.
“There shouldn’t be anybody but us here.” Yuchi kept his voice low as well. “Could it be the wind or some animals?”
“Not sure,” Dee replied. “But what if it is another group of assassins?”
“We should check it out.” Rui pulled out his sword. All others did as well, ready to fight against incoming danger. From the look on their faces, Dee can see they are all super confident. Unlike the surprise attack last time, the crew has time to prepare. This time, If careful enough, they won’t fall into traps set up anymore. The crew has the full initiative now if they were to fight, as they have sensed danger.
Dee quickly made a decision, he signaled half of the crew, including himself to walk forward near the sound source, the other half away from it. There could be more enemies hidden somewhere near them, if they stand around too much, these enemies might get suspicious of them. Dee tried to act as naturally as possible so that they could surprise attack these potential enemies.
Dee, Shun, and two others walked closer and closer to the sound source. They have put away their swords to make it more natural, however, ready to pull them out any second. Just as they passed the house, multiple assassins hidden in the dark jumped on the short-handed four. There are people hidden everywhere, forward and behind. Some hidden in houses, some hidden on the rooftop. About seven to eight assassins jumped them, Dee suspects there might be more of them hidden elsewhere. From the looks of it, Dee has stepped into a trap. But, what these people don’t know is, Dee has already predicted this and has a plan to combat them.
Almost instantly, Dee and the others pulled out their swords, easily blocking the first strike from the enemy. Another round of attack came right after, one enemy slashing his sword fiercely at Dee. Dee holds his sword in front and across his chest, and the two swords collapse. This powerful force knocked Dee back three steps and onto his knee. Dee scanned the situation, multiple enemies were on the others, and from far away there are more of them coming. Dee knows they need to just hold tight for a few more seconds before the fight turns in their favor.
Dee quickly got on to his feet, as multiple enemies charged towards him in different directions. He tried his best to dodge the attack, jumping into the air. However, one sword slashed right across Dee’s leg. Dee got thrown off-balanced and fell on the ground. The aching pain instantly got to Dee, he hardly bit his tongue trying to ease out the pain. One enemy seeing Dee on the ground instantly took a stab at him. Dee, despite feeling substantial amounts of pain, rolled to the side and dodged the fatal stab. Dee overcame the pain, tried desperately to stand up, but struggled. That foe did not give Dee any time to breathe, piercingly stabbing at Dee for the second time. Dee had nowhere to hide his fear, sweat dripping like waterfalls down his body. He closed his eyes in fear and bit his lips tightly, this is his closest moment to death. However, he never felt the breath-taking stab.
On the other side, Shun ran into some difficult problems as well. Three enemies have pursued behind him. Shun fluidly blocked and dodged all the attacks, however, he was forced into a corner. Shun leaped into the air, onto a rooftop. The enemies followed. These rooftops are shaped like a cone, very hard for people to balance on it. The rooftops are made up of hay, it could break down any day. This is definitely not a good place for fighting, but Shun can make it work. Fighting here gives Shun an advantage, because of his enormous amounts of experience in all circumstances.
As soon as the fighting ground changed, the table turned towards Shun. Shun stood on one sector of the roof, while the three enemies on the other. These enemies were thrown off-balance, shivering while on the roof. The hay-made roof could not hold three people’s weight, parts crumbling down like an old brick wall. One foe fell through the massive hole, falling hard to the ground. The loud sound it made took the other two’s attention, distracted them for a split second. Just as the two looked away, Shun blinked near one, without any hesitation, slashing his sword. When that enemy realized he was in danger, he had already been cut in half.
Shun dashed towards the remaining enemy, who had no one to help him. Although the enemy reacted, he possessed no threat to Shun. Not a lot of people can duel the swordmaster Shun. With a few slick moves, Shun easily finished the job. He looked down at the massive hole on the roof, Shun could not see where that enemy went. He jumped down trying to track down the fleeing enemy, however, he only saw piles and piles of bodies on the ground.