"Um... Hi, Li Yundong. C- Can we... Can we join you guys?" said the girl with the red headband. "The other tables are occupied... So…"
Li Yundong looked towards the others. "You guys don't mind, right?"
When he received a bunch of nods, he smiled at the girl. "Please," he said, gesturing at the empty seats beside President Cao.
A look of relief formed on the girl's face. She turned to her twin sister. "See? I told you he wouldn't mind, sis!"
Li Yundong smiled at the girl with the blue headband, who looked away shyly.
"Wait... Let me see if I can tell you two apart." Li Yundong studied both girls for a moment, then pointed a finger at the girl with the red headband. "You're Deng Yu, am I correct?"
A look of surprise formed on Deng Yu's face. "That's the second time you're able to tell us apart!"
Li Yundong shrugged, then pointed at the empty seats. "Why don't you two sit down first?"
The two girls walked around to the other side of the table and sat down beside President Cao. Li Yundong smirked when Deng Yu did a double take when she caught a glimpse of Su Chan's tray. He schooled his features and cleared his throat. "Guys, these are Deng Yu and Deng Jiao." Li Yundong turned to the twins. "And this is Miss Cao Kefei, my boss and the president of Huasheng Studios."
The twins stared at President Cao in awe. "Hello..." Deng Jiao mumbled.
"Nice to meet you, Miss Cao," said Deng Yu.
President Cao smiled. "Hello. You two are pretty. Let me know if you're interested in joining the showbiz."
Li Yundong smiled and moved on with the introductions. "This is my course mate, Zhou Qin. And these are my seniors, Feng Na and Cheng Cheng."
More pleasantries were exchanged before everyone dug into their meal. Fifteen minutes later, everyone was pretty much done with their meals, except for—duh—Princess Chipmunk.
Deng Yu pushed her tray away and reached for a napkin. "I'm really surprised that you still remember us, you know?" She turned towards Deng Jiao. "Sis thought you wouldn't remember..."
Deng Jiao blushed.
Li Yundong chuckled and set down his cup. "Of course I'd remember you two." He reached over and pinched Su Chan's cheek. Su Chan looked like she was about to spit out her soup. Li Yundong smiled and turned to Deng Yu again. "After all, my dear Su Chan nearly ruined your face the other day."
Su Chan suddenly dropped her spoon and smacked Li Yundong's hand away. "Ugh! Stop bringing that up, you meanie! I told you I didn't do it on purpose."
Li Yundong laughed, then patted Su Chan's head. A cute blush colored Su Chan's cheeks as she turned away to give Deng Yu a contrite look. "I- I'm sorry. I just… I got startled... I really didn't mean to hit you..." Su Chan said.
Deng Yu smiled. "Oh, it's totally fine. But, um... actually..." Deng Yu pulled out a notebook from her handbag, then handed it to Li Yundong. "Can I have your autograph?" she asked, her eyes brimming with hope.
Li Yundong gave Deng Yu a strange look, but he took the notebook anyway. "But I thought I gave you an autograph last time."
Deng Yu grinned, then stole a glance at Deng Jiao. "Actually... this time, it's for my sister..."
"Deng Yu!" Deng Jiao hissed. "Shush! You—" She looked at Li Yundong shyly.
"Aww, c'mon sis," Deng Yu said. "You're not the only Li Yundong fangirl around here, you know..."
Deng Jiao's cheeks turned scarlet. "You—" She stood up abruptly. "I'm leaving!" Deng Jiao stormed away from their table.
Li Yundong scrawled his signature onto the first page of the notebook, then passed it back to Deng Yu. "Do you always bully your sister like that?"
Deng Yu laughed. "I'm doing her a favor, trust me. She's just shy, but I bet deep down she's happy to finally have your autograph." Deng Yu glanced at her watch. "Anyway, thanks for the autograph. I gotta go to work now!"
Li Yundong looked up in surprise. "McDonald's again?"
Deng Yu gave him a casual wave. "Nah..."
Li Yundong laughed. "So you finally quit your job at McD?"
Deng Yu rose from the table. "Nope. I'm still working part-time at McDonalds. But I've got other jobs too." She slung her handbag onto her shoulder. "Anyway. Gotta run now. See ya!"
Li Yundong smiled. "Bye, then. Take care!"
After that, Deng Yu hurried away from their table. "Hey, sis! Wait up!"
Deng Jiao's voice sounded from outside the cafeteria: "Hurry up, you slowpoke!"
Li Yundong shook his head and turned back towards their table. He noticed President Cao studying his face with a look of amusement. Li Yundong cleared his throat. "Umm... Boss. About the assignment tonight..."
President Cao's eyes narrowed. "What, you're not bailing out on me again, are you?"
Li Yundong raised his palm. "No, I didn't say that. I mean I'll do the job." He met President Cao's gaze resolutely. "On one condition."
President Cao's brows rose to her hairline. "Are you kidding me right now?"
Li Yundong stared at President Cao intensely.
Their staring contest lasted for about a minute or so before President Cao relented with a sigh. "Fine. What condition?"
Smirking, Li Yundong slung his arm around Su Chan's shoulders. "I'm taking her with me."
President Cao did a double take. "You're what?"
Li Yundong shrugged casually. "I'm bringing my girlfriend along. I'm not going anywhere without my girlfriend." Li Yundong gave President Cao a challenging look.
"But—" President Cao held her forehead for a moment, then raised her gaze again. "But you'll be too distracted to do your job if your girlfriend is around!" President Cao suddenly gave Su Chan an apologetic look. "No offense, Su Chan."
"Oh, that's not going to be a problem," Li Yundong stated firmly.
President Cao snorted. "Please. You'll be too busy making heart eyes at each other to keep me safe."
Li Yundong smirked. "Okay then. Good luck finding my replacement." He stood up and pulled Su Chan to her feet. "Let's go home, Su Chan."
Su Chan stood up hesitantly, her eyes darting to President Cao. "But..."
Li Yundong gave Su Chan a reassuring smile, then whispered into her ear, "It's okay. I know what I'm doing."
Li Yundong gave the others a wave. "See you guys, then."
"Wait! Fine, fine. Bring your girlfriend along," President Cao grumbled. "Geez. Young men these days… So full of themselves."
Li Yundong gave Su Chan a triumphant smile, then sat back down at the table. "When are we leaving?"
President Cao glanced at her watch. "We can leave after this if you don't mind."
Li Yundong turned to Su Chan, who gave him a nod. He turned back to President Cao. "No problem, boss."
President Cao sighed, then released a chuckle. "God, you two lovebirds..." She shook her head. "Are you guys always joined at the hips like this?"
Li Yundong shrugged casually, though he didn't say anything in response. The last time Li Yundong left Su Chan alone, she was attacked. Worse, she'd been all alone with no backup. And she nearly died, for f*ck's sake. He'd be damned if he let his princess go through that shit again.
Someone's phone rang. Li Yundong looked around the table, pausing when he saw Zhou Qin rummaging through her handbag.
A moment later, Zhou Qin pulled out her phone and smiled at Li Yundong. "Excuse me."
Li Yundong nodded. Zhou Qin's face turned cold the moment she glanced at the screen. She picked up the call and pressed her phone to her ear.
"What do you want?"
By then, everyone at their table was staring at Zhou Qin; the sharpness of Zhou Qin's tone had drawn everyone's attention.
A frown marred Zhou Qin's features. Li Yundong shared a glance with Su Chan, who looked like she had something up her sleeves. Li Yundong grabbed Su Chan's hand under the table, then shook his head subtly. Su Chan looked at him questioningly. Li Yundong pointed at his own ear, then shook his head again: Don't use Eryue. They should respect Zhou Qin's privacy. A look of recognition formed on Su Chan's face, and she nodded.
Minutes later, Zhou Qin hung up the phone and dropped it back into her handbag. She gave Li Yundong another smile, though he could tell that the smile was forced. Zhou Qin glanced around the table. "You'll have to excuse me guys," she said. "There's something I need to take care of."
Zhou Qin stood up and gave President Cao, Feng Na, and Cheng Cheng parting nods before leaving their table in a hurry.
"Well," Feng Na said, standing up with her tray. "I guess we should get going too. We have another exam to sit for this afternoon."
Feng Na waited for Cheng Cheng to rise, then gave Li Yundong a smile.
Li Yundong waved at Feng Na and Cheng Cheng. "Good luck. And thank you for today."
Li Yundong watched Feng Na and Cheng Cheng put their dirty trays away. When the pair vanished through the cafe's entrance, Li Yundong turned back to President Cao.
"Say, boss... We'll be attending a dinner party tonight, right? I mean for the assignment."
"Okay. Isn't it too early to leave now? It's just a little past noon."
President Cao waved off his concerns. "We still need to get you suited up for the event. That will take some time."
Li Yundong chuckled bitterly. "I actually own a good suit, but it's at my apartment." Li Yundong shook his head. "I don't want to risk going back there though."
President Cao frowned in confusion. "Risk? Does this have to do with that crazy maniac who attacked you at Shengyuan Hotel?"
Li Yundong felt a pinch on his left side. He turned just in time to see Su Chan giving him a warning look. He gave President Cao a casual smile. "It's nothing. Just don't want to run into the landlord, that's all."
To his relief, President Cao let the subject drop. After taking care of their dirty trays, the three of them left the cafeteria and headed towards the carpark, where President Cao's Lamborghini was parked.
"Now, Li Yundong," President Cao said, clicking the Lamborghini's fob. "Ready for some shopping?"
Zi Yuan lowered the Great Mirror after the Lamborghini sped away from the parking lot. With a sigh, she leaned back against the seat of her own car, then handed the mirror to the young girl beside her. Hongling took the mirror and placed it back into the glove compartment.
They sat in silence for a moment until Hongling broke it. "I don't believe this, Elder Sister Zi Yuan... This is just... This... This cannot be real!"
Zi Yuan turned her head and studied her young protégé's face. Hongling looked genuinely puzzled. For once, her protégé was showing emotions other than anger or irritation, which was always the case whenever things involved Li Yundong.
"How's that even possible?" Hongling whispered, then shook her head. "H- Her soul structure is incomplete! Yet she's alive and walking..." Hongling turned in her seat to face Zi Yuan. "What in Tao's name is going on, Elder Sister Zi Yuan?"
Zi Yuan sighed and turned away from her protégé. Zi Yuan stared out of the windshield as she pondered her Hongling's question.
"The Heaven-Soul and Earth-Soul are both missing..." Zi Yuan mumbled. "How strange..."
"And the Qi-Soul, the Strength-Soul, the Essence-Soul, and the Elite-Soul are missing as well... " Hongling said in awe. "Perhaps there was a mistake?"
"The Great Mirror never lies," Zi Yuan snapped, then dropped her voice into a low murmur. "It never lies..."
Still, Zi Yuan couldn't deny that the Great Mirror had shown them something completely anomalous. According to the principles of Taoism, the human soul consists of ten components, three of which (the Heaven-Soul, the Earth-Soul, and the Life-Soul) are transcendent, while the rest are material.
Cao Kefei's soul was incomplete. Some components were either missing or somehow obscured from the Great Mirror.
Hongling's frustrated sigh pulled Zi Yuan out of her thoughts. "Regardless, Elder Sister Zi Yuan... When are we going to make our play? We can't just sit back and watch them forever, you know? The longer we take to reclaim the damask, the more Qi I'll have to expend to win back its allegiance!"
Zi Yuan gave her protégé a sidelong glance. "Didn't you say that you're going to reclaim it on your own?"
The blush dusting Hongling's cheeks nearly made Zi Yuan smile. "H- How am I supposed to reclaim it without... without any help?"
Zi Yuan stared out of the windshield. "Without help? So are you saying that you didn't have any help during your previous failed attempt to reclaim the damask? No help at all?"
There was a moment of silence. Then, the car shook a little when Hongling slammed her head against the headrest.
"So what if I asked for some help? I just wanted to take back what's mine! Is that so wrong?!"
Zi Yuan turned in her seat. "The Divine Fist School! You asked someone from the Divine Fist School for help, and to deal with a person who hasn't even passed the Zhuji phase no less! Seriously, Hongling? Are you out of your mind?" Zi Yuan glared at her protégé. "The Linggong Sect's reputation will be ruined if this ever gets out."
Hongling met Zi Yuan's glare with a look of defiance. "Have you forgotten about that demon witch, Elder Sister? I had to deal with two of them! What's wrong with me seeking some outside help? And he is the Jindan's Heir, for Tao's sake! His aptitude far surpasses that of any other Cultivator! Do you know that he nearly killed me with just a roar? Do you?"
Zi Yuan's glare faltered a little. Still, she didn't back down.
"Yeah, that's right, Elder Sister. His Qi was so powerful that he nearly shattered my soul when he roared." Hongling snorted. "Shouldn't you be worried about my safety instead of his?"
There was a brief pause. Zi Yuan shook her head, then sighed.
Hongling kept ranting. "I can't believe you care more about him than me. Me, your sister for over ten years!"
Anger coursed through Zi Yuan. She turned in her seat to glare at Hongling. However, her anger dissipated the moment she noticed the hurt look on Hongling's face.
"You don't know what you're talking about, Hongling." Zi Yuan sighed. "Yes, he's the Jindan's Heir, that's true. But that doesn't mean I care about him. I'm just curious about him, that's all. Although I'm quite disappointed with what I've seen so far, to be honest. He… He seems more interested in romance than Cultivation. Even with the Jindan's help, his future as a Cultivator doesn't look promising..."
"Exactly!" Hongling laughed snidely, then clapped her hands together. "I say we act right this instant, Elder Sister Zi Yuan! We've been watching him for so long already. Haven't you seen enough?"
Zi Yuan arched her brow.
"Seen enough? When you first told about him, the way you described him was like he was some kind of evil creature to be exterminated." Zi Yuan gave her protégé a pointed look. "But why would he save the woman and his son just now if he's truly evil?"
"Oh my God!" Hongling shrieked, throwing her hands in the air. "You're still taking his side!"
"Hongling…" Zi Yuan said warningly. When would this girl ever grow up?
"You're taking his side… That's what it all comes down to at the end of the day, isn't it? I can't believe this..." Hongling said, then huffed out in anger. "What's so great about that man, huh? What's so special about him that drove you into this… this"—Hongling gestured wildly with her hands—"obsession with him?"
Zi Yuan sighed. "I'm wondering the same thing, Hongling. What's so great about him that Master would write that prophecy on the Obelisk of—"
"The prophecy!" The car shook when Hongling yelled. "Again with that damned prophecy! Ever since Master wrote it, you started acting strange. You shut yourself off and refused to deal with anything! Even when other sects of the Zhengyi School tried to mock or bully the Linggong sect, you kept quiet and never tried to defend our sect. It's like you were possessed by an evil spirit or something. God!"
There was another moment of silence.
Hongling laughed snidely. "And yet you rushed off the mountain the moment I told you about the Jindan's Heir…" There was a snort. "Clearly this shows where your true priorities lay, Elder Sister Zi Yuan."
Zi Yuan bent forward and opened the glove compartment. Zi Yuan took out the Great Mirror again.
Hongling huffed out in anger. "And I can't believe you're blatantly ignoring the fact that he had stolen my damask! Not only that, but you even defended him!"
Zi Yuan ran her palm over the Great Mirror's surface. Wisps of mists swirled around inside the mirror surface.
"Don't worry, I'll help you retrieve the damask tonight," Zi Yuan said, stopping Hongling mid-rant.
"R- Really? You'll really do that?" A mixture of joy and surprise colored Hongling's tone.
"Mm-hmm..." Zi Yuan answered distractedly.
"Yes! Finally we're getting somewhere! And while you're at it, please help me beat him up. Time to teach that perverted bastard a lesson!"
Zi Yuan lifted her gaze off the mirror's surface and stared off into space.
"I guess there's no harm in interacting with the Jindan's Heir up close..." Zi Yuan said. "It'll give me a chance to see what kind of person he is..."