It was a truth universally acknowledged that Dragon City was the most prominent and famous city in all Haixing. In fact, its importance was so great that many Haixingren lived their lives without having heard about any other cities in Haixing, actually.
Then again, only Dragon City possessed two secret portals to Dixing, so it made sense that it was the only city worth anyone's attention. It was also the capital after all: housing the Xingdu Bureau and the Ministry, it was also the home of the only Special Investigation Department in Haixing.
Despite its greatness, Dragon City was not a heartless metropolis, no. Instead, it was designed so that all the streets looked familiar, making the citizens feel they were always at home. Or just permanently stuck in a labyrinth of four alleys that refused to let them leave.
A true source of pride for the Dragon City was its park. It was big, easy to find and access from all four alleys, and excelled at multitasking - it had a lake that was perfect to jog around in the morning, a nice centre that would be ideal for dancing classes, if it wasn't permanently occupied by two cultists in black robes (one of which insisted on carrying an outdated weapon with them). There was also a traditional village somewhere, filled with people who really liked snake metaphors, and, of course like all self-respecting parks - the Dragon City park had a graveyard.
Despite its multi-purpose architecture, the park was, admittedly, not frequently visited by the average inhabitants of the Dragon City - the two black cultists aside, the park was also very often populated by people in suits and black glasses. They liked to hide in the bushes, and there were usually other people tailing the people in suits, hiding in the bushes right behind them. If the bushes were unoccupied, then a dead body or two could be found.
Sometimes, when some brave soul decided to make an attempt at jogging, despite their family's insistence not to do that, they could observe strange things - people changing into water, the SID's red jeep doing rounds on the only available alley, or a strange guy in a purple wig, talking to himself and laughing maniacally. Usually, the poor jogger abandoned their idea after the first lap and returned home traumatized, sharing their story with other, equally traumatized citizens online.
The guy in the wig was one of Dragon city's most recent oddities. Though he was to the citizens' best knowledge, a wanted criminal, he wasn't exactly doing anything to hide his presence. Whenever he wasn't holed up in his warehouse located right next to Main Alley #3, with its door open for anyone to come through, he could be seen either in the park or on various rooftops, monologuing into the distance and interrupting his own speech with bouts of laughter. Those who saw him the least were a bit concerned. Those who had the dubious pleasure of seeing him on their roof more often started to regard him as an overgrown pigeon.
"He usually goes away when you shout at him from the window," the elder citizens claimed, shaking their heads.
Those who encountered the purple menace in the park usually just gave him a wide berth - not that anyone went to the park willingly at this point, but those brave few that did and were very intent on their continued survival and avoided the wig guy as well as they could. They sometimes speculated if he was in any way connected to the black-robed figures that haunted the centre of the park, but no one really wanted to find out.
At some point the wig guy started to be seen in the secret fight club everyone knew about and that made the citizens calm down a little – if he was a gangster, then he probably wasn’t a cultist, which was a far more terrifying prospect in the long run . After all, there were claims that black-robed cultists had infiltrated even the SID.
Aside from the park, Dragon City had other things to be deeply proud of, such as its university.
Dragon City University has been a proud establishment of education for generations. It was the Alma mater of numerous, if not two, brilliant scientists whose research had influenced Haixing immensely. Probably. Not that anyone could attest to that claim, but the Dean's annual inaugural address informed freshly admitted students that the DCU had produced remarkable alumni in the past and was determined to continue to do so in the future.
Being the best, mostly by the merit of being also the only university Dragon City had to offer, DCU could be as eccentric as it wanted.
A murder was a bit too much, though. The students of this distinguished school could deal with random audits, unclear number of faculties and a lot of coincidences that lead to all of said faculties having classes in the main building, but a dead body lying in the middle of the grass, that was something Dragon City University was not yet prepared for.
But the dead body of Lu Ruomei was a fact and DCU had to deal with this new madness with dignity and tact, which in this case meant calling the police department. It was an interesting experience for the dean's secretary, mostly because the policemen came, put the tapes around the victim, handed the case to the SID and then disappeared, never to be seen again.
"I cannot reach the number now," said the poor woman to the dean after she had tried, unsuccessfully, to call the police department again after the attack on the students from Zhang Ruonan's class. The dean gave her a perplexed look.
"What number? The SID? Why would you call them, they are already on the premises, escorted by the university guards."
No amount of explanation made any difference - the dean simply couldn’t be convinced that Dragon City had a police department in the first place. In fact, when she thought about it, the secretary herself couldn't recall ever seeing a police station anywhere. There was only the SID.
Maybe she was misremembering the event, then. Maybe she only dreamt that she had called the police during Lu Ruomei's case?
She didn't know.
SID was the only police force they had in the Dragon City, after all.
Another thing the students were definitely not prepared for, was the Special Investigation Department and its members running around the campus. Everyone had heard of the SID at some point, especially since the Lu Ruomei’s case. Adding to that the online speculation about SID being a front for a new cult, every student of the DCU kept their eye out for the SID officers and their strange, fat cat.
Admittedly, it wasn’t hard to spot them – the campus quickly got used to Chief Zhao following professor Shen around and frankly, nobody could blame him. In fact, some students started to wonder if they should apply for an internship at the SID, so that they could also have a legitimate reason to pester professor Shen.
To be fair, the professor seemed to like being pestered by Chief Zhao specifically, because some people have witnessed him smiling upon seeing the man. There were even rumours that there was some cake-sharing between the two, which sounded like a pure fantasy, but in a city that had its own meeting spot for dark-hooded figures, it was a heart-warming one and the DCU students latched onto it eagerly.
Only to get their collective hearts broken when the news about Chief Zhao’s new beau started to circle around the university forums.
Some of the students who were still brave enough to walk around the Dragon City at night spotted the black cultist with a blade accompanying Chief Zhao on more than one occasion. No wonder Professor Shen got weird, heartbreak would do that to a person, the students decided.
At least Professor Shen had mild ways of dealing with stress – some people forgot to bathe, others threw angry tantrums at couples and tried to make everyone’s lives a living hell so that they would not be alone in their misery. But Professor Shen was above it all and didn’t lose any elegance or class.
Even if he had lost a bit of his sanity, because he could be seen talking to the winter jasmine most of the evenings.
All things considered, he was taking it remarkably well.
Anyone who claimed that Professor Shen had moved his residence in the teacher’s dorms to live in the same building as Chief Zhao was obviously wrong. Professor Shen was not a stalker and he would never follow anyone around, especially if they were already taken.
Sure, there were some very convincing posts written by people living in the same apartment complex that claimed to have seen Professor Shen leave the gates every morning, but this was far from conclusive evidence. And even if, then he was probably trying to help Chief Zhao – dating a cultist was undoubtedly dangerous. If anything, Professor Shen was gracious in his unrequited love and surely was simply visiting Chief Zhao to provide him with support.
Or seduce him away from the ancient armed cultist.
The change came unexpectedly.
The whole university, or maybe ten people who could be seen attending it, begged Jia Jia for details of the famed trip to the mountains. It sounded like a plot of a romantic comedy – spurned by his love, Professor Shen left the city and then, out of the blue, ran into the very same man. Did Chief Zhao follow him, having realized that the cultist couldn’t compare to professor Shen? Or was it just fate that brought them together? Unfortunately, no one knew, because Jia Jia had somehow slept through the whole trip – the only thing she could recall clearly was the creepy story of the anaemic lady and the fact that Professor Shen received a windbreaker from Chief Zhao. One of these was significantly more interesting to the general populace than the other. Unfortunately, Jia Jia had nothing more to add, to the widespread disappointment of all the students congregating in Professor Shen’s classroom to watch the man teach.
For some time, Dragon City continued like this – the wig guy carried on with his monologues, the park was still full of suspicious people, and Professor Shen shared his woes with a bush. The four alleys still made their best impression of being a whole city, and the police department still very firmly didn’t exist, when finally, finally, something moved.
Chief Zhao changed his hairdo.
Also, quite a lot of people died, which should have been more of a deal considering the meagre populace of the city that was about sixty people at its most attended events, but somehow the change to Zhao Yunlan’s bangs garnered more attention, because one question remained unanswered – which one did he marry? The cultist? Professor Shen?
What was more, the winter jasmine disappeared one day. No one really assumed that it got up and left, fed up with all the students emulating Professor Shen and sharing their daily troubles with the plant, but the fact was – the jasmine was gone. Some optimists decided to view it as the sign that in the end, Chief Zhao realized that Professor Shen was the one for him and the bush’s support was no longer needed so it returned to wherever love-aiding bushes came from.
This belief was further reinforced by the absence of black cultists in the park. The ancient cultist was probably rejected and skipped the city. Evil was defeated, Professor Shen got his man and all was well in the world.
Instead of the black cultists, apparently there was now a single one, this time in white.
But Dragon City would deal with that too.
It was, after all, the greatest city in all Haixing.
Or maybe the only one.