"I'm okay now, Yundong... Really."
Li Yundong put the glass of water on the floor and looked at Su Chan worriedly.
"Are you sure? Coz... Fifteen minutes ago, you really looked like you were about to die." Li Yundong's heart clenched at the memory.
Su Chan stood up and started jumping up and down. "Hehehe... See! I'm fine... Woohoo! Weee—"
Li Yundong pulled her into a crushing hug. "I'm so sorry... Su Chan... This is all my fault. God damn it. I should've come home as soon as I left the company. I should've been here! I shouldn't... I shouldn't have let you go through all that alone..."
A moment later, Li Yundong felt the light strokes of Su Chan's finger on his scalp. He closed his eyes to savor the feeling. He could've lost her tonight, but he didn't. She was still here, alive. And that was all that mattered.
"It's okay, Yundong... You came back in time. You saved me. I'm alright now. See?" Su Chan pulled away. And good God, that smile could light up his whole world.
Li Yundong lifted his hand and let his fingers trailed along the planes of her cheek. "Are you really okay? I don't know what the hell she did, but she hurt you really bad. I've never seen you so…" So lifeless. So debilitated. "I mean, that was the worst shape I've ever seen you in."
Su Chan shook her head gently. "The damage isn't physical. It's..."
Li Yundong jerked back in surprise. "What? What do you mean it's not physical? Are you hurt elsewhere?" He scanned Su Chan's body up and down.
Su Chan looked away. "It's the aura. I was incapacitated because I was exposed to its aura." Su Chan pointed at the red damask lying on the floor.
Li Yundong stared at the damask while secretly entertaining thoughts about burning the damn thing to ashes.
"Don't bother. You can't destroy it," Su Chan said as if reading his thoughts.
Li Yundong shot her a worried glance. "But... Is it... Is it still affecting you?"
Su Chan shook her head. "No. The magic is gone."
Li Yundong lowered his head with a sigh. Moments later, he glanced at Su Chan again. "How are you feeling?"
"Tired..." Su Chan said. "But I'm fine. You mobilized my Qi when you gave me the massage. The movement of my Qi helped expel the aura from my body."
Li Yundong huffed, then ran a hand through his hair. "This is all on me. I should've done something." He paced back and forth in the living room. "I should've told you something about the noise instead of just dismissing it." He stopped pacing and stared at Su Chan. "Remember that day when Ruan Hongling visited us?"
Su Chan nodded meekly.
Li Yundong shook his head in disgust. "Yeah. That's the first time I heard the swishing noise. Heard it after Ruan Hongling left. It sounded like someone waving a flag. Now we know what was causing it." He glared at the red damask.
Su Chan sighed. "It doesn't matter Yundong. It has a stealth mode where it turns invisible."
"So she's been spying on us... since...?"
Su Chan shrugged. "My guess? Since the day she knocked on our door."
"Right... Wait. Is that why you hid inside your room that day? Not because..." Not because we made out like a bunch of horny teenagers and you got scared, he added silently.
"Yeah... But I was listening to your conversation..."
Li Yundong frowned. Something felt off. "Those guys have been hunting you since you stole the..." Li Yundong pointed at his chest.
Su Chan smiled wryly. "You can say it, Yundong. It doesn't matter anymore."
Right. Their cover was blown anyway. Li Yundong cleared his throat. "When Ruan Hongling came by the other day, it didn't seem like she knew you were here. She kept introducing herself to me. Then she asked me about my school and who my master is." Come to think of it, Lin Youfa kept asking him the same thing as well. Maybe it was a Cultivator thing.
Su Chan toyed with her sleeves. "That's because she really didn't know that day. I hid my aura well." Su Chan looked him in the eye. "I think she came that day because she was curious about you."
"Me? But how could she possibly..." Li Yundong sighed and let his chin drop to his chest. "Right. Because I roared in the middle of the night like some nutcase."
"She must have traced your roar to this area," Su Chan said pensively. "Only a Cultivator can roar that loudly and for such a long period of—"
Li Yundong groaned and slapped his forehead. "Damn it, I'm such an idiot..."
Li Yundong stared at Su Chan. "She didn't have to trace the roar here. She lives in this area. I actually saw her the first day we moved here."
Su Chan frowned. "What? Where?"
Li Yundong sighed. "At the gazebo near the gates. I didn't tell you back then because I didn't think it was significant. She lives in the block just opposite ours. Remember that morning when I first experienced Xianjue? She's the one I saw on the balcony!" Li Yundong sighed again. "After that I guess it just slipped my mind, what with all the crazy shit happening around us. Zhao Yujian, Lin Youfa, and all that crap..."
Su Chan sat there quietly with a thoughtful look on her face. Moments later, she closed her eyes and pounded her head with her fist. "Of course... Of course she would be living here..."
Li Yundong grabbed her fist and ended her bout of self-harm. "What?"
"Don't you see? She's a Cultivator! Of course she would pick this place as her home. This is the ideal place for a Cultivator to stay!"
All those strange criteria Su Chan had when they were apartment hunting suddenly made a lot of sense.
Su Chan chuckled. "Ruan Hongling and I were both thinking like Cultivators. So it's no surprise that we end up staying in the same area."
Li Yundong shook his head wryly. "I guess it's just shit luck then..."
Su Chan snorted. "She must have felt dissatisfied after her first visit." Su Chan stared at Li Yundong. "You practically dismissed her."
Li Yundong rolled his eyes. "I thought she was nuts. Can you blame me though? None of the stuff she said made any sense. I even did a search on the internet afterwards."
Su Chan look adorably puzzled. Silence spread between them, and the look of puzzlement on Su Chan's face deepened.
"What?" Li Yundong asked.
"But we didn't have fish that day... or the day after."
Now it was Li Yundong's turn to look confused. "What? Fish?"
"You said you searched in a net. I thought..." Su Chan blushed. "I thought that's... that's what they use to c- catch fish..."
Li Yundong's laughter expelled every ounce of tension in his body. "Oh, God... Seriously, Su Chan. I adore you to death... Hahaha... You really are something else, you know that?"
Li Yundong reached over and ruffled her hair. "Don't be sorry. I like this innocent side of you." He sighed. "It's so tiring to deal with schemes and ulterior motives all the time. Being with a girl like you makes life better."
"E- Even though I'm a troublemaker?"
Li Yundong chuckled. "Yes. Even though you're a troublemaking chipmunk."
Su Chan pouted and swiped at him.
Li Yundong caught her hand and held it firmly in his palm. "Which means she found you when she was trying to spy on me…"
Su Chan's expression turned grim. "That's partly my fault I guess..."
Li Yundong gave her a funny look. "What? Why is it your fault?"
"I got careless. Didn't conceal my aura well enough... And you weren't here."
"Your presence alone can act as a smoke screen," Su Chan explained. "Remember when I told you about the night we first met? I hid the Jindan in your mouth and stayed close to you. Your Yang Qi can mask auras."
"Is that why you insist on tagging along wherever I go?"
Su Chan nodded. "But that was before."
Li Yundong's expression softened. "And now?"
"Now it's because I can't imagine my life without you."
"I think we're all set," Li Yundong said, zipping up the suitcase. "Anything else you wanna bring, princess?"
Li Yundong heaved the suitcase off the bed and placed it on the floor. "Princess?" he said, turning around. Su Chan was sitting on her bed, staring off into space. She was hugging her pillow to her chest.
Something tugged inside Li Yundong's heart. "Do you want to take that pillow with you?" he said, keeping his tone light.
Su Chan's lips quivered. Moments later, she sniffed. Dark spots formed on the pillowcase. Li Yundong walked over and sat down on the bed. "What's the matter, princess? Are you sure you're not hurt anywhere else?"
Su Chan shook her head and rubbed her eyes. "I... I'm gonna miss our home..."
Li Yundong's features softened. Su Chan had insisted that they stay somewhere else tonight lest Ruan Hongling returned with more reinforcements. Apparently, Su Chan thought they didn't stand a chance against the Zhengyi School, not even with the Jindan. Li Yundong pulled her into his arms. "It's gonna be alright," he said, stroking her hair. "Whatever happens, it's gonna be alright."
They left the apartment with two suitcases in tow. Li Yundong decided to keep the lease of their apartment until they sorted this mess out, though to be honest, he hadn't a single clue what "sorting things out" would entail. Was the Zhengyi School open to negotiations? Would they leave Su Chan alone if he allowed them to remove the Jindan from his body?
They took a cab to town and wandered around for a bit. Two hours later, they walked into a dingy motel, deciding that it was going to be their place of stay for the time being. They walked up to the reception and booked a single room. With the last of Li Yundong's savings, it was all they could afford.
Li Yundong sat down on the bed with a sigh and pulled Su Chan into his arms. "Looks like it‘s us against the world again."
Su Chan wrapped her arms around his waist and snuggled into his chest. "I'm sorry..."
Li Yundong stroked her head. "Don't be silly. You've got nothing to be sorry for."
"You got into this mess because I came into your life," Su Chan said.
Li Yundong chuckled wryly. "My life was a mess before you came into my life. A meaningless mess." Li Yundong held her gaze and cupped her cheek. "At least now I've got you."
Su Chan closed her eyes as though she was feeling his touch. Suddenly, she opened her eyes and pulled his hand away from her face. "You're hurt!"
When Li Yundong followed her gaze, his eyes landed on the circular wound at the center of his palm. The wound had stopped bleeding. It didn't even hurt anymore.
Li Yundong gave her a reassuring smile. "Nah. Don't worry about it. It's just a scratch."
Su Chan looked at him like it was nuts. "It's not nothing. You were injured by a magical object."
Li Yundong pulled out the red damask from his pocket and held it out in front of them. "I wonder how this thing works. I mean, right now, it looks just like an ordinary piece of cloth."
Su Chan took the damask and stared at it in awe. "This thing is made from the Rainbow Cirrus."
Li Yundong shook his head. "The rainbow what?"
"The Rainbow Cirrus. It's a magical substance found in the Heavenly Lake."
"The Heavenly Lake. So, what, is that like Cultivators' favorite fishing spot or something?" Li Yundong joked.
Su Chan giggled and smacked his arm. "No, dummy."
Li Yundong smiled. He loved making Su Chan happy. "This Rainbow Cirrus thing… What does it look like?"
"Well... It's a thin, fog-like substance. Just like a thin cloud—a cirrus, basically. And it's colorful. If I'm not mistaken, the former Head of the Zhengyi School had extracted the Rainbow Cirrus from the lake and then made this." Su Chan handed the damask back to him.
Li Yundong took it and waved it in the air a few times. "What is this thing capable of? I mean other than invisibility and drilling holes into flesh."
"Well, it's basically indestructible. It is resistant to physical damage. Fire. Wear and tear. All that stuff. And it'll never get dirty."
Li Yundong stared at her with raised brows.
Su Chan pointed at the nightstand.
Li Yundong reached over and grabbed the half-empty can of coke.
Su Chan took the can. "Hold it away from the bed."
Li Yundong moved the damask to the side and hold it up beside the nightstand. Su Chan crawled to the edge of the bed. "Now watch."
Su Chan splashed the coke on to the cloth. The liquid flowed down the length of the damask without wetting it, like one of those hydrophobic materials.
Li Yundong whistled.
Su Chan placed the empty can on the nightstand and crawled back into his arms. "You can try pouring other substances on it. Dirt. Mud. Oil. It will never get stained. Not even corrosive substances can damage it."
Li Yundong ran his hand over the red cloth. "How does it work though?"
"In its natural state, the damask has thin layer of protective aura surrounding it. The aura repels physical objects. That's why no substance can stain or damage it."
Li Yundong frowned. "But how come I can still hold it?" He patted the damask for emphasis.
"Take a closer look at where you're touching it."
Li Yundong brought the damask closer to his face. "Hey... that's..." Li Yundong's gaze snapped towards Su Chan, who nodded.
"You're not actually touching it. Your skin is actually hovering slightly above it." Su Chan shrugged. "Maybe a quarter of an inch or so, I guess? But with magic, the protective aura can be enhanced. That's why Cultivators use it as a protective shield against physical attacks and spells."
Li Yundong nodded. He remembered trying to punch the damask earlier, but none of his punches got through.
Su Chan shook her head. "This is one of Zhengyi School's best magical artifacts. A lot of Cultivators would kill for something like this..." Su Chan turned around and stared at him in disbelief. "And yet you grabbed it out of the air just like that. That's amazing…"
Li Yundong chuckled and rubbed the back of his neck. "I don't even know what the hell I did, you know? I think it's because of the Jindan."
Su Chan nodded. "The wound. The Jindan's protective mechanism was activated the moment the damask pierced your hand. You were able to grab the thing after the Jindan's aura was unleashed." Su Chan looked at him. "When activated using magic, the damask's protective aura is strong. But it's still no match for the Jindan's aura. But that's wasn't all you did. You managed to deactivate the damask."
"Because of the Jindan's aura?"
"No. That was because your Spirit is much stronger than Ruan Hongling's Spirit."
Su Chan nodded. "Ruan Hongling's Spirit was connected to the damask. That's how she was able to control it. But the connection between her Spirit and the damask was severed the moment your Spirit overwhelmed hers." Su Chan suddenly turned around to face him. "You saw Ruan Hongling with your Xianjue that morning, right? It makes sense now. Your Spirit is stronger than hers. That's why your Xianjue worked."
Li Yundong folded the damask into a neat square. "There," he said, presenting the folded damask to Su Chan.
Su Chan stared at him blankly. "What?"
Li Yundong smiled. "It's yours."
"Wha...? Are you giving it to me?"
Li Yundong chuckled. "Of course!"
"B- But it's yours! You took it!"
"What's mine is yours too, isn't it?"
"But..." Su Chan stared at him with tears swimming in her eyes.
All of a sudden, Su Chan started to sob. Li Yundong placed the damask on the nightstand. "Hey... What's wrong? Why are you crying all of a sudden?"
Su Chan wrapped her arms around his neck and buried her face against his chest. "Don't leave… Don't leave me… You can't ever abandon me Yundong! You're stuck with me forever!"
Warmth bloomed inside Li Yundong's heart. "I'm happy to be stuck with you. You're the best thing that's ever happened to me."
Li Yundong dropped a kiss to her forehead. "Yeah. You are the cutest, the prettiest, and the most adorable......"
Su Chan was looking at him expectantly, her eyes sparkling with hope.
"... Chipmunk that I've ever met."
Su Chan's face fell. "Y- You..." She gaped like a fish. "Meanie! Meanie! Meanie!" She smacked his chest. "I'm not a cheap monk!"
Li Yundong burst into laughter, then pulled her into his arms. "It's gonna be okay, Su Chan. I've got a job now. We'll work it out."
Su Chan tensed up the moment he mentioned his job. He wondered why. "Are you sure you're okay?" he asked. "How are you feeling?"
"A little sore."
Li Yundong frowned. "Where?"
"My foot, I guess?"
"What? Did you sprain it?"
"I don't think I did. But I might not have landed right when I crashed into the wall."
Li Yundong's eyes glinted with delight.
"Aha! How about I give you a foot rub?"
"I don't get it," Li Yundong said as he stared at Su Chan's delicate and beautiful foot.
Li Yundong chuckled wryly and kneaded the arch of Su Chan's foot. Su Chan let out a breathy moan, causing him to look up. Su Chan stared back at him with glassy eyes, her bottom lip pulled between her teeth. Li Yundong cleared his throat. "I mean I don't get how beautiful girls like you have such nice feet."
Su Chan gasped and withdrew her feet. "What do you mean beautiful girls like me! Whose feet have you touched? Which girl is it?" she growled.
Li Yundong laughed and pulled her foot back. "Just yours milady! Just yours! So don't be jealous."
Li Yundong tickled the base of her foot, causing her to giggle.
"Kyaa!!! S- Stop... Stop it! Kyaaa... hahaha... Please..."
Li Yundong took pity on her and stopped his tickling. "Don't move," he said sternly.
The next few minutes passed in comfortable silence with Li Yundong gently kneading the soft skin of Su Chan's foot and Su Chan letting out a moan or two.
A while later, Li Yundong could feel Su Chan's eyes on him. He looked up from her foot and smiled. "You're staring."
Su Chan smiled back at him sweetly. "You're so nice to me, beloved."
Li Yundong chuckled. "Of course." A teasing glint formed in his eyes. "Like I said, you're the cutest chip—"
Su Chan kicked his chest gently. "Do not say cheap monk!"
Li Yundong laughed and trapped her foot against his chest. Then, he gave her a genuine smile. "Of course I'm nice to you. You're my best girl."
Su Chan blushed and looked away.
Li Yundong went back to rubbing her foot.
A moment later, Su Chan spoke again. "Aren't you curious?"
Li Yundong kept his eyes on her foot. "About what?"
"Ruan Hongling kept calling me a demon witch," she said with childlike tentativeness. "She associated me with the dark side. Aren't you gonna ask what she meant?"
Li Yundong snorted. "Those people from the Zhengyi School... They act all high and mighty, like everything they do is righteous. But the truth is that they are nothing but bigots. Extremists. They would probably label anyone who holds different views as evil."
"B- But... What if... What if one day I turned into a demon... Would you still..."
Li Yundong laughed. "So? I don't give a damn even if you turn into a demon."
"But… why not?"
"Well… Because I know you. I've seen your actions. And based on what I saw, I know you have a good heart."
"Do I?" Su Chan suddenly pulled her foot back and hugged her knees. "All I did was cause trouble for everyone..."
Li Yundong shook his head and climbed onto the bed. "You care, Su Chan," he said, cupping her cheeks. "You care about people, even when you don't realize it. You care about me, about Zhou Qin, and even Feng Na." He paused to let that sink in. "After that DVD incident, you asked me whether Feng Na would get into trouble because you were worried about her." Li Yundong held her gaze. "See? You care. And during the fight with Lin Youfa, when the bastard kicked the car towards me, you were willing to risk your life to help move those injured students away. You even came back for me when you could've left."
Li Yundong pulled her into his arms. "You're a good person, Su Chan. Never doubt that."
Su Chan pulled away, and their gazes met. Su Chan's eyes were filled with unspoken emotions.
"People can call you a demon witch or whatever. I don't give a damn. To me, you'll always be my best girl."
"I love you, Yundong."
Li Yundong smiled. "I love you too."
Su Chan leaned in, and their lips met in a blaze of passion. Su Chan's hands went to his hair, tugging and pulling. Li Yundong responded with equal fervor, pouring every ounce of affection he felt for this woman into the kiss.
Minutes later, they parted for air. "Yundong... We can't continue," she said, panting heavily. "Not yet."
Li Yundong leaned forward until their foreheads touched. "I know. And you didn't take my advice."
Li Yundong chuckled. "I told you, remember? If I ever go too far, just kick me in the nuts."
They stared into each other's eyes, their foreheads still touching. A moment later, they both started laughing.