Li Yundong whirled around and saw a woman in an elegant white dress. A feminine fragrance assaulted his nose. Only then did Li Yundong realize that the woman was already standing a few feet away. The scent reminded him of flowers. Roses, to be exact.
Wariness crept in. Li Yundong clenched his jaw and took a step back, shielding Su Chan with his body. The banquet hall had grown quiet, and everyone's attention seemed to be focused on them. Li Yundong scanned for possible escape routes. They had to get out of here fast. If Ruan Hongling was nothing compared to this woman, then they had to get the f*ck out of here and run as though their lives depended on it. Heck, for all he knew, their lives literally depended on it.
"At ease..." That voice sounded again. Li Yundong stopped his survey of the room and glanced at the woman.
"You are Li Yundong?"
Li Yundong tensed up slightly. "Yes. And you are?"
"Zi Yuan," the woman answered casually.
"Zi Yuan..." Su Chan whispered softly so that only Li Yundong could hear her. "Zhenren Zi Yuan from the Zhengyi School's Linggong Sect... Oh, God..."
Li Yundong subtly pinched Su Chan leg to get her to stay quiet.
"The prodigy who reached the Huaying phase at just twenty years old..." Su Chan kept whispering.
"Hello, Miss Zi Yuan," Li Yundong said, pinching Su Chan again. "How can I help you?"
"Like I said, at ease… I'm not here to fight you." Zi Yuan smirked. "You and Su Chan would be long dead by now if I really wanted to attack you."
Chills travelled down Li Yundong's spine. He steeled his mind and met Zi Yuan's gaze steadily. "You'll have to go over my dead body if you want to get to Su Chan."
Li Yundong felt movement behind his back. Before he knew it, Su Chan poked her head out from his shoulder. "I stole the Renyuan Jindan... P- Please let... let Yundong go!"
Li Yundong turned around and glared at Su Chan. "Shush!"
Su Chan removed herself from Li Yundong's grip and stepped around his body to face Zi Yuan once more.
"It... It's the truth," Su Chan said, jutting her chin out. "I own up to my actions." Su Chan met Zi Yuan's gaze, though Li Yundong could see that his little chipmunk was shaking all over. "Isn't that why you've been looking for me? Because of the Renyuan Jindan?"
Silence spread between them. Then, Zi Yuan smiled. "Do you actually think you could hide from me if I really wanted to capture you, Su Chan?"
Su Chan turned her head abruptly towards Li Yundong.
"Also," Zi Yuan continued, "you never would've gotten away with the Renyuan Jindan if it wasn't for your master."
Su Chan's face went pale.
Zi Yuan smirked. "Still think I'm here to harm you?"
Li Yundong had had enough. "Then why are you here?" he said in a sharp tone.
"To confirm something," Zi Yuan answered cryptically.
Li Yundong studied Zi Yuan for a few moments. "And what kind of confirmation are you seeking?"
Zi Yuan didn't answer. She seemed lost in her own thoughts.
Li Yundong frowned. "If there's nothing else important, then we're leaving." He took Su Chan's hand. "Come on, Su Chan—"
"Wait," Zi Yuan said in a tone that bore no room for argument.
Li Yundong stopped and looked at Zi Yuan again.
"Regarding what I wanted to confirm, that's none of your business." Zi Yuan's eyes darted to Su Chan briefly. "Besides, you wouldn't understand even if I tell you."
Li Yundong gave Zi Yuan a cold stare. "So this is about the Jindan, then? You're here to take it back?"
Zi Yuan smiled. "No. I'm not here to reclaim the Jindan. I know you already consumed it. I can't take it back unless..." Zi Yuan let her words hang. "Anyway, reclaiming the Jindan is no longer on the table, so—"
"Then what do you want from us?" Li Yundong cut in sharply.
Zi Yuan glanced around. "Let's talk elsewhere." Zi Yuan gave Li Yundong a pointed look. "Follow me."
Zi Yuan moved towards the exit.
Li Yundong watched her leave for a moment before he moved to follow.
Someone grabbed her sleeves. He turned and saw Su Chan shaking her head at him, pleading with him with her large watery eyes. "Don't... Don't go, Yundong. It's a trap. She just wants to take you to a secluded place to attack you!"
Li Yundong patted Su Chan's head. "We can't avoid this forever, you know?" He sighed. "How about you stay here? I'll go talk to her and see what she wants. Don't worry, I'll make sure there'll be people around where we talk."
"No, no, no..." Su Chan grabbed Li Yundong's arm and shook her head desperately. "Take me with you! You can't abandon me! You promised." Su Chan held up her pinky. "We made a pinky promise, remember?"
Warmth flooded Li Yundong's heart. He reached out and hooked his own pinky around Su Chan's and then pressed their thumbs together. "You silly girl..."
"I'm going with you, I don't care!"
Li Yundong sighed. "Fine. But if things go south, I want you to leave me and run, okay?"
Su Chan looked like she wanted to argue, but he pressed his finger to her lips.
"There's no point in both of us dying," Li Yundong said, then leaned down to whisper into her ear. "You can fly, so you've got a better chance of escaping. If she tries to attack, I'll engage while you fly, okay? Go back to your master. I'm sure she can keep you safe."
Su Chan stared at him as though he had grown a thousand heads, her eyes swimming with unshed tears.
Li Yundong gave her a sad smile, then headed towards the entrance.
When Li Yundong and Su Chan exited the banquet hall, they found Zi Yuan waiting for them beside the door. Zi Yuan led them past the elevators, much to Li Yundong's relief. At least they wouldn't be having this talk in some hotel room where Zi Yuan had every opportunity to kill them both. Soon, they arrived at the hotel's lobby. Zi Yuan walked past the reception and headed straight for the hotel's revolving doors.
"You can both relax, you know," Zi Yuan said once they exited the hotel. "I told you I'm not looking to harm either of you."
"Could've fooled me," Su Chan mumbled behind him.
Li Yundong said nothing but kept walking, all the while keeping an eye out for possible escape routes. They circled the building and ended up on a street behind Shengyuan Hotel. Li Yundong scanned their surroundings and noticed a few passers-by and night strollers ambling around. The street didn't look secluded.
Li Yundong halted his steps. "Alright, that's enough. We won't be going any further," Li Yundong said in a firm tone.
Zi Yuan stopped walking and turned around with a raised brow.
"You wanted to talk," Li Yundong said. "So talk."
Zi Yuan smiled and took a step closer.
"As I understand, you had a run in a while back with my protégé, Ruan Hongling," Zi Yuan said in a gentle voice. "And you took a piece of damask from her, correct?"
Li Yundong stared at Zi Yuan without answering.
"That damask is a highly valuable artifact of the Zhengyi School. I'm asking you to return it to us."
Li Yundong's eyes narrowed. "Give it back to you? How stupid do you think I am?"
Zi Yuan's brows rose slightly. "Pardon me?"
"If I return the damask to you, she'll just use it to attack us again."
Zi Yuan held up her palm. "I personally assure—"
"Your assurance means nothing if you couldn't even keep her in check in the first place," Li Yundong said coldly.
Zi Yuan's eyes widened slightly.
Li Yundong snorted. "Yeah. From your reaction, I'm guessing that Ruan Hongling had attacked us without your consent." Li Yundong glared at Zi Yuan. "She nearly killed Su Chan during the attack!"
Zi Yuan shook her head. "Well, for what it's worth, you nearly killed her too." Zi Yuan's tone was so casual that it was as if she had just stated an obvious truth.
"That's ridiculous!" Li Yundong scoffed. "I didn't even come close to killing her!" In fact, the whole fight was so one-sided that he was almost ashamed to admit it.
Zi Yuan gave him a pointed look. "You nearly shattered her soul."
Li Yundong frowned in confusion. Shattered her soul? What the hell was she talking about?
"And then you even took away her precious damask—"
"Which your apprentice used to attack us!" Li Yundong fired back.
Zi Yuan stared at Li Yundong calmly. Li Yundong tried to get a read on the woman's body language, but other than poise and composure he couldn't detect anything. And those eyes… They were completely unreadable.
In terms of aloofness, this woman could actually give Zhou Qin a run for her money.
"How about this," Zi Yuan said moments later. "Why don't you return the damask to us and we'll call it even. How about it? I promise you that I'll keep her in check. She won't bother you again."
Li Yundong curled his lips. How stupid did she think he was?
"I don't buy it." Li Yundong balled his fists. "When Ruan Hongling attacked us that night, she didn't exactly hide the fact that she hated Su Chan's guts and wanted nothing more than to wipe Su Chan out of existence. Then, she started spouting all this self-righteous crap about how I deserved to die just because I'm with Su Chan." Li Yundong leveled a cold gaze at Zi Yuan. "No offense, but all that sounded like a bunch of indoctrinated crap to me."
Zi Yuan's brows rose to her hairline. "Excuse me? Are you saying that—"
"That your school has brainwashed people to adopt hateful beliefs? Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying." Li Yundong's eyes flashed in anger. "So no. I don't believe a single thing you said since you're from the same school."
More silence spread between them. Zi Yuan looked surprisingly calm. Su Chan, on the other hand, looked awfully subdued.
"Look, I won't try to justify Hongling's behavior," Zi Yuan said. "I agree that her actions were inappropriate." Then, Zi Yuan's gaze landed on Su Chan. "But still, I get where Hongling is coming from."
Li Yundong shook his head in disgust.
"F*cking bigots…" he muttered under his breath.
Zi Yuan kept talking as though she hadn't heard him.
"Humans and demons can't even co-exist, let alone become lovers. Humans and fox spirits don't belong together. It isn't right. So, as a Cultivator, Hongling was just—"
"Shut the hell up!" Li Yundong roared. "Who are you to decide whether or not two people belong with each other? What gives you people the right to decide that!" Li Yundong wrapped his arm around Su Chan's shoulders. "I care about this girl. And she cares about me. That's all that matters! Our relationship doesn't concern you, so back off!"
Zi Yuan frowned slightly at his outburst, though Li Yundong was too riled up to stop now. "And you better who you're calling demons, lady," Li Yundong growled. "Su Chan never hurt a soul! She's a kind, caring, and compassionate girl! Do you know how many human lives she has saved over the past few weeks? Do you!" Li Yundong snorted. "Demons my ass. If anything, you people are the demons!" Li Yundong slashed his hands in the air. "You barged into our home and attacked us. And guess what else that silly protégé of yours did? She went and hired someone as dangerous as Lin Youfa to pick on me. Do you know how many lives were put at risk the moment Lin Youfa got involved?" Li Yundong laughed humorlessly. "No. I suppose not. You people have no regard for human life at all! So you f*cking tell me who are the real demons here!"
Silence filled the street, which was now completely deserted.
After a while, Zi Yuan sighed. "Fine. I apologize for Hongling's behavior. Just return the damask and we'll call a truce."
Li Yundong regarded Zi Yuan carefully. After a moment, he shook his head and opened his mouth to speak.
"Argh, damn it! I told you, Elder Sister Zi Yuan! I told you it's pointless to negotiate with him!" A loud voice echoed in the street.
Zi Yuan closed her eyes and sighed.
Li Yundong's mouth snapped shut and he turned his head to the side. Sure enough, Ruan Hongling was storming towards them from the other end of the street like a tigress approaching its prey.
"Enough chatter and kick their asses already!" Ruan Hongling pointed at Li Yundong. "And why are you even apologizing to this guy! The Zhengyi School's Linggong Sect will not suffer such a humiliation—"
"Silence!" Zi Yuan's voice rang out with authority. "I told you to stay out of this! How dare you disobey me!"
Ruan Hongling stomped her foot. "But Elder Sister Zi Yuan!"
"I told you to be quiet!"
Defiance flashed across Ruan Hongling's face. "But you're going to ruin the Linggong Sect's reputation!"
"How dare you use that tone with me!"
Ruan Hongling's face paled instantly.
"I was…" Ruan Hongling hesitated for a moment, then raised her chin defiantly. "I was merely stating the truth!"
"You're the one who acted rashly in the first place," Zi Yuan said icily. "You wouldn't have lost the damask if you hadn't gone behind my back and attacked them!"
Ruan Hongling gaped at Zi Yuan as though she couldn't believe what she'd just heard.
Li Yundong tensed up when Zi Yuan suddenly pointed her finger at him.
"Apologize," Zi Yuan said without taking her eyes off Ruan Hongling.
"You heard me. Apologize to the man," Zi Yuan repeated with a firmer tone, then turned to look at Li Yundong. "Will you return the damask to us if she apologizes and admits her mistake?"
Li Yundong stared at Zi Yuan warily.
Seconds later, Li Yundong said, "And you have to give me your word that you and your people will never bother us again."
"Done," Zi Yuan answered in a heartbeat.
"Fine," Li Yundong said, then looked towards Ruan Hongling.
"I don't believe this..." Ruan Hongling whispered, shaking her head gently. "I don't believe this... You've really lost your mind, Elder Sister Zi Yuan..."
"Hongling!" Zi Yuan said in a sharp tone. "Do you want your damask back or not?"
Ruan Hongling stared at Zi Yuan for a few seconds. Then, she shot Li Yundong a glare. "You know what? He can keep the damn thing. I'd rather die than apologize to this vile—"
A loud screech pierced through the night. Seconds later, an Audi A6 pulled up by the curb.
The car's window lowered to reveal Zhou Qin's beautiful face.
"Li Yundong? Su Chan? What are you guys doing here?"