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59 Concentric Circles 2

 Gu Nianzhi's gaze swept across the concentric circles, taking them all in; she did not venture any further.

While she was doing this, the Dufeng Mountain Resort Villa usher led Little Temptress out from the main building, and handed her a list of names. "This is the guest list for your class. Please take a look and confirm that everything is in order. As you can see from the list, we have already assigned the rooms."

Little Temptress accepted the list, smiling as she said, "Not my job, actually, but I'll hand this to our class rep for you."

"Thank you." The usher smiled courteously, before leading the two of them outside.

Gu Nianzhi fell behind. She continued to look around as she walked.

She was now actively looking for the dark green concentric circles, the fluorescent ◎ symbols.

This time, she did not find the concentric circles; instead, there were other markings.

For example, she saw faint scratches, made by bayonets, on the bamboo trees along the road. They appeared to be depictions of arrows.

Some of the arrows were pointed forwards, while others were pointed backwards; some were pointing up, others were pointing down. They looked like messy, random graffiti, the work of a naughty child.

Even so, Gu Nianzhi slowly but surely discovered an underlying pattern.

It was like working out one of those questions in a mathematics competition, the kind where you had to work out an underlying pattern from a group of seemingly random numbers.

Gu Nianzhi remembered being really good at this, back when she was 12.

Chen Lie had given her similar math problems to solve, as part of his psychotherapy sessions with her...

Before she knew it, she had broken away from the usher and Little Temptress and wandered off on her own.

She looked inquisitively about, acting the part of a curious child who had gotten lost; in actual fact, she was deliberately walking the perimeter of Mingyue Court.

There was a covered passageway, decorated with red hanging lanterns. She walked along it and made her way to Little Mirror Lake, behind Mingyue Court. She had just reached the lake when she saw, out of the corner of her eye, a figure zip past her quickly before silently diving into the water.

The man's movements had been as quick and precise as a professional diver's.

Gu Nianzhi knew he was a good diver because he had made only the barest splash when he jumped into the lake. The water surface had quickly become still and tranquil again; she could have imagined the whole thing.

But Gu Nianzhi had the eyes of an eagle. Most people would not have seen the figure jump from the passageway into the lake - but she had, and she was sure of it.

Gu Nianzhi pretended not to have noticed anything. She picked up a small stone and threw it into Little Mirror Lake. She watched the resulting splash, then smiled beatifically as she turned to walk away.

The sky gradually darkened. The moon was obscured by a cloud. Misty moonlight leaked feebly from the edges of the cloud, up above in the sky and down below, reflected on the surface of the lake.

Little Mirror Lake sparkled with moonlight, quiet and peaceful. Every once and a while, there was the sound of fish breaching the water for some fresh air.

Gu Nianzhi wiped her brow, and her hand came away sticky. She had been sweating profusely, and she hadn't even realized it.

It was getting warmer.

The cool breeze had vanished. The bamboo forest was now completely still. The bamboo stood motionless, like a gathering of stakes in the quiet night.

After Gu Nianzhi had gone, a man in a black wetsuit poked his head out from the lake. He gave Gu Nianzhi's retreating back the middle finger, and cursed her under his breath before sinking back into the water and swimming away.

Gu Nianzhi hurried back to the main road; there, she found Little Temptress and the usher, looking around anxiously.

When she saw Gu Nianzhi walk out from the depths of the bamboo forest, Little Temptress immediately pounced on her; she patted her on the back, and said in a low voice, "Where did you go? I almost had a heart attack wondering what happened to you!"

"Little Temptress, my dear sister, I simply couldn't resist looking around, it's just so beautiful in here. I forgot to keep up with you, and almost got lost in the bamboo forest just now. It's a good thing I've got a good memory - I retraced my steps, and voila! Here I am," said Gu Nianzhi lightly. She gave a laugh, and squeezed Little Temptress's hand.

Little Temptress held Gu Nianzhi's hand in a firm grip. "Don't go off on your own again, you might not be so lucky next time. You can absolutely get lost in here - this mountain resort is huge."

Gu Nianzhi smiled as she gently rocked Little Temptress's arm. "My dear sister, that was stupid of me, I know. Let's not bring it up again."

"Well, since you're such a good girl, I'll forgive you, just this once." Little Temptress poked Gu Nianzhi's exquisite little nose, and continued, "Let's get out of here and look for our class rep. No way am I giving up Mingyue Court to that Two-faced B*tch from Class Two. I checked Qingfeng Garden out just now - that's the courtyard Class Two reserved, you know - and the rooms there are tiny. Plus, you won't get any peace and quiet there, the doors look out towards the main road. It's not even half as nice as Mingyue Court."

Mingyue Court was spacious and remote. Surrounded by Little Mirror Lake on three sides, it was nice and quiet. The main entrance opened out to a lawn, which was in turn connected to a winding bamboo forest path.

The night view from the rooms in Mingyue Court was breathtaking, the best in the resort. And most importantly - Mingyue Court was 1/3 more expensive than Qingfeng Garden.

The usher politely explained the difference between the two courtyards to Little Temptress and Gu Nianzhi, and summed it up with: "You get what you pay for. That's just how it is."

Gu Nianzhi turned to look at Mingyue Court, hidden in the depths of the bamboo forest. Her eyes flashed; she had already seen, with her mind's eye, what the symbols looked like when connected.

She did not like the picture it presented.

It was as though a spider had spun countless webs around Mingyue Court - and Mingyue Court was its prey, trapped in the middle.

Gu Nianzhi shook her head. The image had popped into her mind out of nowhere, and seemed ridiculous.

Still, there was something particularly ominous about those symbols.

She remembered watching the Special Operations Forces perform their drills; this was when she was 12 and living with Huo Shao in his residence inside the Special Ops base.

Back then, she followed Huo Shaoheng everywhere, like an accessory strapped to his leg. Wherever he went, she followed. They were never apart.

She had seen the Special Ops drills for making what they called a "clean sweep of the enemy." The men would first scout out all possible exits and routes during recon, then mark it with inconspicuous symbols.

Of course, the markings the Special Operations Forces had used were much more subtle and covert than the ones currently on the doors of Mingyue Court. There was simply no comparison; the Special Ops symbols were on an entirely different level.

To use academic qualifications as an analogy: the markings by the Imperial Army's Special Operations Forces were extremely high quality, like the work of someone with a PhD; the markings here, on the other hand, looked like the work of pre-school toddlers.

Gu Nianzhi was therefore unable to say for certain what these markings were supposed to mean. Was she overthinking it?

She was afraid of jumping the gun and making a scene over nothing. The last thing she wanted was to ruin the graduation trip for everyone.

She followed Little Temptress out of the resort's main gate, and saw that her other classmates were now idly chatting in small groups of three or five, their suitcases scattered around them on the ground. The class committees for Class One and Class Two were still discussing how to allocate the rooms.

Song Ruyu was adamant that Mei Xiawen honor the bet he had made with them. Whoever arrived first would have first pick of the courtyards - that had been the bet.

Some of the students from Class Two were aware that Mingyue Court was much more expensive than Qingfeng Garden, and were therefore eager to milk the bet. They, too, began to join in the protest, thinking that it was at least worth a try. Perhaps Mei Xiawen would actually cave and give in to them - who could say?

They were gathered round the entrance of the resort; the noise and general hubbub from the students made the resort villa seem livelier than usual.

Although it was already dark out, there were still many people coming and going. It was clear that the resort was popular with tourists.

A black SUV drove into the resort, made a 3-point turn, and got on the road leading towards the administration building for the resort villa.

Gu Nianzhi walked over to Mei Xiawen. She tugged on his sleeve and said, in a small voice, "Xiawen, let's just take Qingfeng Garden. It's dark, and I'm feeling a little hungry."