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64 Protector

 "What do you mean? Think about what we do for a living. If even you can notice us, then we might as well quit." Brother Li laughed good naturedly and passed the black plastic bag to her. "It's dangerous here so put on this bulletproof vest. I have to scope things out and then take you with me. We'll leave here early."

"What's going on?" Gu Nianzhi took the bulletproof vest, her heart sinking. "Why do we need this?"

Brother Li explained quietly. "Do you remember that black SUV? The one that came here last night? It was following your tour bus."

"I think I saw it, but what about it?"

"I checked the cell signal tower on the mountain earlier and found that it had been attacked by someone; crushed in and twisted. It can't be fixed quickly. When I came back, I saw someone carrying a sniper rifle case get in the SUV and head towards that path." Brother Li pointed to Mingyue Court and said with frustration, "You guys are being closely monitored, and I only found out just now!"

Gu Nianzhi shuddered involuntarily. "They're watching us? What are they planning to do? Why? Does Brother Li know?"

"I don't know the details yet, but I can guess." Brother Li paused upon seeing Gu Nianzhi's distress and immediately dispelled her concerns with a wry smile, "You're certainly not the target. You were probably caught in the crossfire. Don't worry. I'll scope things out now, and once I find a cell signal I'll contact the base. These nobodies don't stand a chance against us."

However, the situation was actually far more serious than Brother Li let on. Although he didn't think the criminals were targeting Gu Nianzhi, he knew from their getup that they were out for blood and would allow no survivors. The mountain resort had not only lost cell signal and internet connection, but even the landline was down. It had become an island devoid of contact with the outside world. The criminals had snipers on them and were probably staked out on the path to the villa right now, ready to take out anyone trying to escape. He couldn't rashly take Gu Nianzhi and leave, so he had to find a way to get rid of the snipers first.

"I'll go scope things out and when the path is clear, we'll find a car and drive out." Brother Li pointed to the black plastic bag and lowered his voice. " Remember to put on the bulletproof vest. It will likely come in handy tonight."

Gu Nianzhi clutched the bag and asked worriedly, "What about Brother Li? Do you have one one too?"

If there were truly snipers like Brother Li said, the bulletproof vest was a must. Brother Li glanced at Gu Nianzhi and hesitated. He took out a letter from his undershirt pocket and passed it to her. "If I don't make it back, please give this to Big Xiong."

"What is this letter for?" Gu Nianzhi didn't understand. "Can't you put it in the mailbox and send it back?" People hardly even used email anymore and opted for social media in order to instantly connect. Writing and sending letters was even more outdated.

Brother Li smiled bitterly and shook his head, worried that Gu Nianzhi didn't understand the gravity of the situation. Still, told her anyway. "This is my will. If I don't come back, please give it to Big Xiong and he'll pass it on to my family. If I make it back, give it back to me."

"Will?" Gu Nianzhi's smile froze, she grasped the letter so tightly her knuckles turned white.

"Don't worry, this is customary for the Special Ops Forces. Everyone prepares their will before a big operation and gives it to their superiors for safekeeping. This time I thought I would be on vacation since I was guarding you here at the resort. But now, I have to get you to help." Brother Li watched Gu Nianzhi and smiled wryly again, patting her shoulder. "You have to survive. Find a way to survive. You have protect yourself before our people get here."

Tears brimmed in Gu Nianzhi's eyes as she realized Brother Li must have given her his own bulletproof vest. She hurriedly stuffed the black plastic bag back to him, "Brother Li, you put it on. I don't need it."

"Listen to me! This is an order!" Brother Li's face turned to stone as he pushed the bag back. "Have you forgetten what Mr. Huo has taught you?"

However, Gu Nianzhi only obeyed Huo Shaoheng and did not see a reason to listen to anyone else.

"Brother Li, it's because of Huo Shao that I'm giving the bulletproof vest back to you. Unless you have a spare." Gu Nianzhi held back her tears and cracked a smile as she shoved the bag back to Brother Li. "You also have to scope out the area, so you'll be targeted by those people for sure. Your chance of success increases if you wear this. If you're successful, I'll be more safe." Brother Li realized that he couldn't win against Gu Nianzhi; the girl made perfect sense. He pressed his lips together worriedly and then opened his mouth to try and protest once more, but Gu Nianzhi stopped him. "Don't talk anymore. You need to hurry. The rain is heavy and it's hard to move around."

Brother Li knew that things were dire and that he couldn't afford to waste anymore time by stalling. He stopped resisting and took the plastic bag. He warned her again. "Don't go anywhere and stay put in Qingfeng Garden. Wait for me to come back. If I don't make it back, jump into Little Mirror Lake. I know you're a good swimmer. The lake is big and it's the safest route here."

"Ok. Brother Li, you be careful too. I'll be waiting to give this letter back to you." Gu Nianzhi held Brother Li's will against her heart as she watched him leave. She watched him disappear into the night and turned back to her own room. As soon as she rounded the corner, she saw Mei Xiawen leaning by her room door with his hands in his trouser pockets. He was staring pointedly in her direction and appeared to have been waiting for her.

"Xiawen?" she called out warily, "is everyone here?"

"There are twenty out of the twenty-four here. The remaining four people haven't returned yet from Mingyue Court." Mei Xiawen answered her dryly. He jerked his chin at the place where Brother Li had been. "Who was that? You know him?"

"No, he was mistaken. That thing wasn't mine." Gu Nianzhi didn't explain further. "I'm tired; I'm going to rest for a bit."

Mei Xiawen looked down at the smoking cigarette in his fingers. He asked dejectedly, "Nianzhi, what's going on? Are you not having fun? I chose this place especially for you."

The graduation trip he had painstakingly planned was yet to elicit the happy and thankful reaction he'd been expecting. Mei Xiawen appeared exhausted.

Gu Nianzhi felt pained to see her boyfriend like this. However, she didn't know how to comfort him in this moment; her mind was overrun by the imminent threat at the resort. She rubbed the pillar before her door as she stood in silence. Then she said quietly, "Xiawen, this place is great and I really appreciate all that you've done; I really, really do...but something's not right."

He let out a sarcastic snort.

"What's not right? Not having a cell signal? No internet? No phone access?" Mei Xiawen took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Nianzhi, I thought you of all people would be more accepting of lesser circumstances than most girls are."

Gu Nianzhi didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Just because she was an orphan, she should be able to endure more than a fuerdai,1 whose parents were alive? Huo Shao had never allowed her to suffer in terms of her basic necessities of life just because 'life is cruel'; he hadn't expected her to be more accommodating and accepting, or to keep her pains and worries to herself, because being an orphan meant being more "resilient". He had allowed her to be her own person and experience her life on an equal footing, regardless of her status and background.

Gu Nianzhi didn't get angry at Mei Xiawen. Years of Huo Shao's steady guidances had emboldened her. She didn't have a glass heart that shattered at cruel words or hateful comments.

"Xiawen, that wasn't a joke." Gu Nianzhi gave him a sidelong glance, then looked up to the sky. "The rain is getting heavier so don't let the others go outside, Xiawen. Have them close their doors."