One day later, in the north of Italy, Bobbio.

Xia Lei felt a sense of deja vu when he arrived in Bobbio. This was not because he had been here before, but because it matched the painting which Ning Jing had painted. What she’d painted was a town in the Middle Ages, and it was a modern town before his eyes now, with the medieval buildings practically gone, but some places matched with the distinctive features of the painting of ancient times.

“This is Bobbio, Boss. Da Vinci lived here, and the background of the Mona Lisa is this place too. I haven’t been here before, but I know the situation in this place.” Alessio made some introductions to Xia Lei in an old pickup truck. He seemed to want to play the role of tour guide.

“I’d like to walk about on my own. You guys just maintain radio contact,” said Xia Lei.

“Sure, no problem.” Alessio smiled and said, “Oh, and Boss? The girls in Italy are quite open-minded. Be careful, or they’ll tie you to a bed.”

Xia Lei gave a laugh and alighted. He walked along a street, moving forward.

The streets of the town were not busy, and there were few people around. The Mona Lisa had been created here, but this was just the birthplace of a painting, and that was not enough to draw the touristy crowds.

Xia Lei walked on, through the street, moving aimlessly. He had a silicone mask on, and no trace of “Xia Lei” could be seen from any angle. He had only a travel backpack on him, and he looked like an asian backpacker.

The Zodiac team did not follow. They spread themselves out throughout the town such that the entire area was under their control.

Xia Lei had his reasons for telling the Zodiac team not to follow him. They would easily draw the attention of others if they moved as a group of eight, especially when the members of the group were so varied in ethnicity.

There was actually another reason, and that was that he was the leader of the Zodiac team, and they were his subordinates. He did not have to tell them everything. He just had to command them, and have them do what he told them to do as he intended them to do.

A river appeared before him when he walked out of the town. This river was not very big, nor very small. Dense forest lined the banks of the river, with a small path going through both sides. Xia Lei walked along the path on the left, and saw a stone bridge after a while.

It was an ancient stone bridge, and the stones of the bridge were covered with moss. Some of the stone was also so mottled it didn’t look like stone any longer. The bridge looked to be several hundred years old at first glance.

Xia Lei’s heart thumped when he saw it. ‘Isn’t this that stone bridge in the Mona Lisa? Seems like I’m nearing my destination.’

A vision popped into Xia Lei’s head when he stepped onto the bridge. A woman wearing a black dress sat with her back to the bridge, facing a painter with a mesmerising smile on her face. The painter was focused on painting, his eyes deep and full of wisdom. His name was Leonardo da Vinci, and the woman before him was the subject of the Mona Lisa, Lisa del Giocondo.

Thinking of da Vinci made Xia Lei think of a new question. When had da Vinci drawn the map and the message in pencil? And why did he hide such an important message in a painting? He could not have known that this painting would be a world-renowned work of art after all.

Xia Lei’s gaze went downriver as he thought, and he spotted an old man fishing. The old man was silver-haired but tall and sturdy. He looked and was built like a typical white person.

The old man also looked over just as Xia Lei spotted him, and he saw him too.

“Hey there, young friend! Are you a tourist?” The old man took the initiative to greet Xia Lei, and he seemed very friendly. He spoke with a very pure Italian accent.

Xia Lei nodded, and said, “Yes. I like this place.”

“You won’t be disappointed. This is the most beautiful place in the whole of Italy. Walk around, my boy. You will surely find something delightful. Good luck!” The old man waved at Xia Lei.

“Good luck to you,” said Xia Lei. He left the stone bridge.

Xia Lei’s words seemed to have worked, for the fishing float suddenly submerged when he stepped off the stone bridge. The old men pulled at the fishing rod in his hand immediately, and a big fish was dragged out of the surface of the water.

‘This old man reacts pretty quickly, huh,’ thought Xia Lei to himself. He looked away, and stepped on the small path between the trees, moving forward.

It was quiet in the forest, with a breeze blowing once in a while, swaying the trees and making them rustle. Small birds flew up occasionally too, chirping and tweeting. There was no shadow of city life here, and it brought one a soothing silence to the soul.

Had Leonardo da Vinci walked this path, all those years ago?

About 500 metres later, Xia Lei walked out of the forest. A pile of rocks entered his field of vision, and he was absorbed by them right away. These were not natural rocks, but stones which had been cut by a stonemason, perhaps for construction work or something similar.

Ning Jing’s painting appeared in his head again. A house, and a mountain behind that house, plus the tomb at the foot of that mountain. His eyes left the stone ruins and he looked further behind them. A mountainscape met his eyes — the terrain was exactly the same as what Ning Jing had painted!

“I found it!” Xia Lei’s heart thumped with excitement. He strode over.

He came to the ruins in minutes. Pieces of stone were scattered among the grass. Cracks, moss and missing parts proved the passage of time. They were at least a few hundred years old. Some of the stone looked like pieces of sculptures, with most depicting religious content like the cross and the Virgin Mary.
In Ning Jing’s painting, a jeans-wearing and backpack-toting young man had been looking in the direction of the mountain. Now, Xia Lei was also standing in the same position. He was also wearing jeans, and he carried a backpack, plus he was looking in the direction of the mountain. In that instant, time and space seemed to overlap. It was not clear if he was in the painting, or if he was outside the painting.

‘This house was quite pretty in Ning Jing’s painting. The town she drew was a town from the Middle Ages, and had no trace of the modern world at all. However, she had also drawn a modern person, and he was standing where I am now… She’s definitely never been here but she painted it. If she was painting it from memory, then won’t her memory be…’ At that point, chills ran down Xia Lei’s back.

If Ning Jing had painted from memory, then her memory had been hundreds of years old. But Ning Jing was in her twenties. How could it be possible!

“Oh no, it looks like we’re lost.” A woman’s voice was suddenly heard.

Xia Lei’s thoughts were interrupted, and he looked to the voice. An old man and woman were walking towards him, following the path. They seemed to be a married couple, and were complaining as they walked.

“No, I can’t be wrong. I came here 15 years ago. I remember it clearly,” said the old man.

“But I don’t see any church. Are you sure you remembered right?” The old woman looked like she couldn’t walk any further, and her face was strained.

“Let’s go a little further. I think we’ll be able to see that church soon.” The old man supported the old woman, and they continued forward.

“There’s a young man there. I wonder if he knows about that church.” The old man had seen Xia Lei.

“Hey there, young fella! Where did you come from?” The old man greeted him

Xia Lei hesitated. “Korea. I am korean.”

“Oh, your Italian is quite good.” The old man smiled.

Xia Lei smiled. “I live in Italy.”

“Ah, that really is nice,” said the old man. “Oh, right, do you know if there is a church near here?”

“Church?” Xia Lei looked around, but he did not see any church in his visual field.
“There isn’t?” The old woman looked disappointed. “My husband said he was baptised in that church as a child. He wants to see it before he leaves this world, but it seems we’re lost.”

The painting Ning Jing painted appeared in Xia Lei’s head again. There was a church in her painting. However, that town in the painting was from hundreds of years ago. Those things were now things of the past, and he did not know if that church still existed, or not.

“What does the church you’re looking for look like?” asked Xia Lei.

“Hm, it’s an ancient church. It has a very tall dome, and coloured glass like in the Milan Cathedral. Have you been to the Milan Cathedral?” said the old man.

“Yes, I’ve been there. It’s very pretty.” Xia Lei had never been to the Milan Cathedral. He casually pointed behind the mountain. “The church you’re talking about is over there. Go around the mountain and you’ll see it.”

However, he was not just pointing in a random direction. He had pointed in the direction of the church in Ning Jing’s painting.

“Thank you, young man.” The old woman thanked Xia Lei.

Xia Lei replied politely, “Don’t mention it. I wish you smooth travels.”

The old man smiled at Xia Lei, then said, “See, I was right. How could I remember it wrong when I’ve been there before? Let’s go. We will be there soon.”

The old couple left.

Xia Lei watched them go. He left the ruins only after he couldn’t see them anymore, and went towards the mountain.

There were no paths, and the wild vegetation was thick. He saw no tombstone, but weeds upon weeds.

The grass in front of him suddenly shook.

Xia Lei grew tense right away, and a hand went to his waist. He had a gun hidden at his waist. If anything sudden happened, he would not hesitate to use it.

Rustle, rustle…

Sounds
came from the grass.