Li Yundong felt as though he was having some kind of weird dream. First, he summoned a bolt of lightning from the sky and basically barbequed a terrible man to death with it. And then his little chipmunk's infamous master appeared literally out of nowhere.
Welcome to the proverbial twilight zone.
"Oh, so you still remember that you have a master, hmm?" said the woman standing on the hilt of the sword.
Li Yundong didn't like her tone. She sounded way too caustic and so unlike the loving master that Su Chan had so often boasted about.
"M-Master... I... I…" Su Chan had, apparently, gotten the message that her master wasn't here for a hearty reunion. She had stopped her advance towards the beautiful woman on the sword and was now backing away in fear.
"Tell me something, Chan'er. How much havoc were you planning to cause before you finally stop your nonsense?!"
Su Chan flinched.
"Y- Y- You are the great seven-tailed fox spirit of the Fox Zen School, Ao Wushuang!" Ruan Hongling's voice sounded behind him. "How could... B- But I thought you were dead! And how come you're wielding Bahuang?!"
Li Yundong turned around sharply to look at Ruan Hongling. The girl's face was now as white as a sheet. Beside Ruan Hongling, Zi Yuan was the very picture of composure and stoicism, though her slightly-parted lips gave Li Yundong the impression that Ao Wushuang's arrival had surprised her as well.
Li Yundong returned his gaze towards Ao Wushuang, the woman who was Su Chan's master. His eyes darted briefly to the sword under the Ao Wushuang's feet before returning to the woman's face.
Li Yundong had expected Ao Wushuang to answer Ruan Hongling's question, but Ao Wushuang didn't even spare Ruan Hongling a single glance. Instead, Ao Wushuang had kept her eyes on Su Chan the whole time.
"Answer me, Chan'er!"
Su Chan flinched again, then lowered her head.
Li Yundong clenched his jaw. Enough was enough. With a soft groan, he pushed himself up from the ground and began walking towards Su Chan. As he walked, his joints cracked and his steps felt wobbly.
That f*cking spell had taken a real toll on his body.
When he reached Su Chan, he grabbed Su Chan's arm and turned her around to face him.
"That's your master?" Li Yundong asked without taking his eyes off Ao Wushuang.
"Mmm! And... And…"
Li Yundong glanced down at Su Chan, who was busy sneaking fearful glances at Ao Wushuang. "And?" he prompted.
Su Chan stared up at him with piteous eyes. "And I think she's mad at me..."
That was probably an understatement. A severe understatement. Li Yundong looked over to Ao Wushuang, then gave Su Chan a reassuring look.
Squaring his shoulders, Li Yundong took a step in front of Su Chan and met Ao Wushuang cold stare with as much bravado he could muster. "Su Chan has nothing to do with everything that's happened tonight," he said. "I'm the only one responsible."
"So?" Ao Wushuang arched a brow. "Your mess-ups? Her mess-ups? Same difference. You're both responsible."
Suddenly, Su Chan poked her head out from his shoulder. "M- Master... It's not like that! This really has nothing to do with Yundong... Everything is my fault!"
"Hush!" Li Yundong turned around and shot Su Chan a glare.
Ao Wushuang snorted. "Yeah... Keep arguing whose fault it is. I'm sure that's a good way to solve all your problems."
Li Yundong stared at Su Chan with wide eyes as the implication of Ao Wushuang's words washed over him like a cold shower on a hot day.
"Master... Are you saying...?" Su Chan's face lit up like a bright star. Before Li Yundong could react, Su Chan jumped up in joy and then ran out from behind his back. "Master, Master, Master! You know a way to help Yundong survive the Heavenly Thunder, don't you? You do, don't you!" Suddenly, Su Chan turned around and beamed at Li Yundong. "See, see, see? I told you my master is the greatest and smartest ever!"
Then, Su Chan was running towards the sword.
When she reached the sword, Su Chan grabbed the hem of Ao Wushuang's dress. "Please help Yundong, Master! Please! I... I'll let you accept any punishment you give me! I promise! Just please... help Yundong survive the Heavenly Thunder!"
Silence ensued as Ao Wushuang regarded Su Chan from the top of the sword.
Su Chan tried again. "I mean... You do know a way to help Yundong, right?"
A moment later, Ao Wushuang smirked. "Why, yes. As a matter of fact, I do know of a way."
Su Chan's eyes sparkled. "Then will you help Yundong? Please? Please?"
Ao Wushuang leveled a gaze on Li Yundong, then looked down at Su Chan again. "Fine," she said with a tone of amusement, then shrugged. "I'll help him. Sure thing."
"Yay!!! Yay!!!" Su Chan started jumping up and down. Then, she stopped jumping and ran back towards Li Yundong. "You see? You see? Hah! I told you my master is a genius! I knew she'd know a way!" Su Chan looked towards Ao Wushuang. "When can we start, Master? And what should we do? Tell us! Tell us!"
"Nope. That was just a lie. Your lover is beyond saving."
"What—" Su Chan gaped like a fish, and Li Yundong would've found the look on her face hilarious if it weren't for the severity of the situation.
"B- But Master!"
Ao Wushuang rolled her eyes. "Who do you think I am, child? A Shenxian?" Ao Wushuang glared at Su Chan. "How can you believe anything people tell you without thinking it through first?" Ao Wushuang snorted. "Looks like your time spent in the mortal world hasn't cured you of your naivety!"
Ao Wushuang pointed a finger at Li Yundong. "What if this man turns out to be a liar and a scum? Would you believe everything he tells you without question?"
Su Chan snapped out of her stupor. "No, no, no... Yundong isn't like that at all! Yundong is nice.... and he... he..." Suddenly, Su Chan took an unconscious step back.
Lifting his gaze, Li Yundong managed to figure out the source of her discomfort—the dark scowl slowly forming on Ao Wushuang's face.
"Stay where you are, child!" Ao Wushuang pointed a finger at Su Chan.
Su Chan gasped and suddenly stopped moving.
Upon closer look, Li Yundong realized with horror that it wasn't that Su Chan didn't want to move, just that she couldn't move. Her back was ramrod straight. Her arms were trapped against her sides, and her legs appeared to be trembling. It was as though she was paralyzed.
Li Yundong's hackles rose. "What did you do to her!" he yelled, pushing off his feet and charging towards Ao Wushuang.
However, Ao Wushuang pointed her finger at him before he could take more than three steps. And when she did, it was like the force of gravity had suddenly become a hundred times stronger. His body felt immensely heavy, and soon, he was brought to his knees.
"What... the... h- hell..." Li Yundong said through gritted teeth.
"Master!!! No!!! Please don't hurt him! Punish me!" Su Chan yelled. "Punish me instead!"
Li Yundong raised his gaze. Ao Wushuang had leaped down from the sword and was now gliding towards him. Her movements were light and gentle, a complete contrast to what Li Yundong was feeling right then: like he was carrying a frigging Boeing 737 on his back.
It's a spell... It's got to be a spell.
"Let Su Chan go!" Li Yundong yelled. "Punish me instead! I can take whatever you dish out!"
I hope, he added mentally.
Ao Wushuang stopped a few feet in front of Li Yundong. "Is that so? You can take any punishment I give? Anything?" she said snidely. "But what can a weakling like you do?"
"Go ahead, then." Li Yundong glared up at Ao Wushuang. "Try me."
All of a sudden, Ao Wushuang performed a strange hand sign with her right hand, and the beautiful sword behind her began to emit some kind of strange buzzing sound.
"Bahuang!!" Ao Wushuang shouted.
There was a white flash, and the next thing Li Yundong knew, the sword was floating in front of Ao Wushuang. The sword was vibrating and pulsating like it was going to explode any second.
"Let's see if you can handle this!!" Ao Wushuang pointed a finger at Li Yundong.
There was an ear-piercing noise—like hundreds of metallic objects being grated. Another blinding flash followed suit. Li Yundong grunted and closed his eyes. When he opened his eyes seconds later, he was surrounded by dozens of identical swords.
The sound of clinking metal rang inside his ears as the swords closed him on him from all sides. Shit, shit, shit. How was he supposed to defend himself if he couldn't even f*cking move! He wondered if the Jindan's Aura thingy would appear and save his ass again, preferably right about now. Yeah. Fat chance of that happening considering he couldn't even walk properly minutes ago.
Li Yundong's eyes darted around frantically. The swords continued to swirl around him. He would definitely be shredded if the swords reached him.
Damn. What a spell...
Suddenly, the swords stilled in the air. Slowly, the clones moved in towards the real sword in front of Ao Wushuang. Once all the clones had merged with the real sword, the sword stabbed itself into the ground.
Ao Wushuang gave Li Yundong a smug look. "Still think you can survive that?"
"If I say yes, would you let Su Chan go?"
A dark scowl formed on Ao Wushuang's face. "Insolence!" Ao Wushuang raised her hand and then curled her fingers into a closed fist. Suddenly, the ground beneath Li Yundong began to shift. Li Yundong gasped when he felt something on his thighs. Shit!! A bunch of green vines had appeared from the ground and were now crawling up his thighs. The vines started out as thick as a human thumb. However, by the time they reached his torso and shoulders, the vines had grown as thick as a human leg.
Thick vines curled around his neck. Ugh... Can't breathe! He was suffocating, and there wasn't a single shit he could do to save himself.
A moment later, he realized, to his horror, that his windpipe wasn't the only thing being crushed—the vines had engulfed him from head to toe and was now squeezing the hell out of his whole body.
Then, just when he was about to lose hope, the pressure around his throat eased. The vines fell away from his face and—
Li Yundong gasped. Shit… When did I...
He was no longer on the ground. The vines had elevated his body about twenty meters off the ground, like a scene from Jack and the Beanstalk. Ao Wushuang walked towards the vines and stopped when she reached the bottom. Then, Li Yundong thought he saw Ao Wushuang running her palm over the vines' surface, but he couldn't really tell from his position—
Li Yundong hissed in pain. Something was burning his leg. He looked down and, to his absolute horror, realized that the vines had caught fire. The vines scorched his skin, but Li Yundong clenched his jaw and endured the pain. If this was his punishment, then so be it. He wouldn't scream. He wouldn't make a f*cking sound. He didn't want to give Ao Wushuang that satisfaction.
Suddenly, the vines burst asunder, like a glass shattering. Li Yundong fell to the ground amidst pieces of glowing ember. Seconds later, his head and back slammed into the soft ground. Li Yundong groaned and rolled over.
"Ahhhh!!!! No!!! Master, no!!! Please stop!!"
Li Yundong's eyes flew open when he heard Su Chan's scream. Shit!!! A huge boulder was falling rapidly towards him. Li Yundong's eyes fell shut automatically. It was too late to roll himself away so he raised his arms to protect his head.
The blow never came. Instead, he heard the sound of... running water?
Li Yundong lowered his arms. The boulder hovered inches above his body and... No. It wasn't that the boulder was floating, rather it was being held up by a film—a finger's thickness—of running water. Li Yundong traced the water to its source: Ao Wushuang's index finger.
Ao Wushuang smirked and then flicked her index finger. The stream of water undulated in the air and flung the boulder towards the center of the field. THUD! A huge crater appeared on the ground where the boulder had crashed into. A split second later, the boulder disintegrated into a bunch of ashes, which drifted off into the night sky.
Li Yundong stared at Ao Wushuang in awe. This woman was a total badass.
Ao Wushuang glared at Li Yundong. "I know over 300 spells capable of ending your life in a blink of an eye!" She pointed at the huge crater nearby. "And I've just shown you five of them." Ao Wushuang lowered her finger. "Not even I, a master Cultivator who knows pretty much every spell in existence, dare to defy the sacred commandment of the Cultivation world. But you!!!" Ao Wushuang pointed her finger at Li Yundong. "You're nothing but a nameless weakling, yet what did you do? Defying commandments? Challenging the Heavens?! Such arrogance!"
Li Yundong lowered his gaze and stared down at his hands. Su Chan's snivels and pleas sounded nearby.
Was it really wrong of him to use the spell on He Shao? Couldn't anyone else see what a threat He Shao was to the lives of other people? Why did the Heavens even allow He Shao's reign of terror to happen in the first place?
"And worst..." Ao Wushuang's voice dropped into a menacing growl. Li Yundong looked up from his hands and took note of Ao Wushuang's fuming look. "You even dragged my disciple into your mess! My disciple!! The girl I have come to love as my own daughter!! How dare you!!!" The sword swung out in a wide arc, sending pieces of weed and soil into the air. "You think you can play the hero just because you're the Jindan's Heir?" Ao Wushuang snorted derisively. "The truth is that you're nothing but an amateur! A weakling!"
Li Yundong lowered his gaze in shame. Ao Wushuang was right. She was absolutely right about him being a weakling. The Jindan was probably wasted on him. Even now, he was still the same old Li Yundong: the weak, pathetic nobody.
Su Chan would be better off without him.
"Enough of this," Ao Wushuang said sharply. "You've had your chance to say your goodbyes. Now I'm taking my disciple with me."
"No, Master!!!" Su Chan screamed. "No! I don't want to leave! Don't take me away... please... don't take me away... I wanna be with Yundong... I want Yundong..."
"You foolish child!" Ao Wushuang said. "You still want to be around him even after knowing what he's done? Don't you know that when the Heavenly Thunder strikes him, any Cultivator within a ten-mile radius of him will suffer the same fate as him?!"
"Then I shall die with him!" Su Chan cried. "I don't care if I die as long as I can be with Yundong!"
"You—" Ao Wushuang closed her eyes and took in a deep breath. "You've lost your mind, child!"
Su Chan crawled towards Ao Wushuang and then clawed at the hem of her skirt. "Please don't separate us, Master... Please... I beg you—"
"Enough, Su Chan..." Li Yundong said firmly. "Your master is right. You need to go with her."
Su Chan stared back at him in shock. "What! No! Yundong! We agreed..."
"Please... Su Chan..." Li Yundong said, finally allowing his tears to fall. "I want the best for you. And this is the best."
Ao Wushuang snorted. "Looks like you have a heart and some common sense after all." Turning to Su Chan, Ao Wushuang said, "Come, child. Your beloved has agreed. Now let's go."
A weight pushed against Zi Yuan's left side. She turned and saw Hongling leaning against her for support. The poor girl looked like she was about to pass out due to shock. Zi Yuan wrapped her arm around Hongling's shoulders. "You alright there, Hongling?"
When Zi Yuan looked into Hongling's wide eyes, she could see a mixture of fear and awe in them.
Hongling's lips trembled. "S- She can perform spells from all five elements... That's incredible, Elder Sister…"
Zi Yuan looked towards the woman who appeared to be physically dragging Su Chan off the ground. She sighed. "That's Senior Wushuang for you... The most powerful Cultivator of the Fox Zen School."
Even Zi Yuan herself was shocked when Senior Wushuang performed five spells in a row, one from each element: Metal; Wood; Water; Fire; and Earth.
That was the second mind-blowing thing Zi Yuan had witnessed tonight. The first was, of course, the advanced form of the Jindan's Aura. Li Yundong's Qi reserve was without a doubt one of the most impressive things she'd seen.
Zi Yuan patted Hongling's arms a few times. Hongling nodded and let go of Zi Yuan's arms.
"Senior Wushuang..." Zi Yuan said, walking past Li Yundong towards the woman.
Senior Wushuang turned around and gave Zi Yuan a cold look. Well, cold was an apt description, since that look downright sent chills down Zi Yuan's spine. Not many in the Cultivation world could have that kind of effect on Zi Yuan.
Senior Wushuang arched her brow at Zi Yuan. "Why? Is the Zhengyi School looking to interfere with the business of my Fox Zen School?"
Zi Yuan bowed slightly. "We dare not do such thing, Senior Wushuang."
"Then what is it that you want?"
Zi Yuan looked towards the sword whose tip was buried in the ground. Bahuang. Her master's sword.
A white glimmer coated the sword's surface. The sword looked as glorious as Zi Yuan last remembered it.
"This sword... Bahuang..." Zi Yuan held Senior Wushuang's gaze. "It's a treasured artifact of the Linggong Sect. I was wondering if you could return it to us..."
There was a brief moment of silence.
Senior Wushuang's face showed no reaction at all, so Zi Yuan continued, "Also, my master's junior visited the Fox Zen School nine years ago. But unfortunately, no one has seen or heard of her ever since. Do you know of her current whereabouts, Senior Wushuang?"
Senior Wushuang regarded Zi Yuan with a look amusement. After a while, she laughed. "Your master's fellow junior, you say? How should I know where she is? Also..." Senior Wushuang wrapped her fingers around Bahuang's hilt. "I'm not planning to give this sword to anyone anytime soon." She arched a brow. "You'll have to take it from me yourself if you really wanted it."
Su Chan yelped when Senior Wushuang suddenly hoisted her up and gave her a piggyback.
Senior Wushuang and Su Chan vanished in a burst of green light.
Zi Yuan sighed weakly. Well, that was worth a try. Shaking her head, Zi Yuan turned around and walked back towards Hongling.
To Zi Yuan's surprise, Hongling was now looking at Li Yundong with eyes full of pity and concern. Not Zi Yuan would blame her. The poor man looked utterly defeated, like he had just lost a piece of his soul. Then again, maybe he did. After everything she'd witnessed tonight, Zi Yuan could tell that Li Yundong and Su Chan loved each other dearly.
There was a sharp tug on Zi Yuan's sleeve. She turned and met Hongling's stare.
"Elder Sister Zi Yuan... He..."
Gosh. Was Hongling about to cry?
Zi Yuan had honestly never seen Hongling look so sad and melancholic.
"There's nothing more we can do to help him, Hongling."
Hongling nodded and released Zi Yuan's sleeve.
Zi Yuan glanced around until she located Zhou Qin beside the guard rail. The woman looked like she wanted to rush over to Li Yundong but was in too much shock to do so.
Alright. Time to clean up the mess…
"Hongling," Zi Yuan said.
"Yes, Elder Sister."
Zi Yuan looked past the guard rail towards the road. "Secure the perimeter. I know I've asked Zhou Qin to seal off the area earlier, but I need you to check nonetheless. I don't want a single word about tonight's incident getting out."
"I'm on it!" Hongling took off into the sky.
When Hongling was gone, Zi Yuan looked towards Li Yundong's dejected form again.
Had the Jindan's Heir reached the end of the line?
Ao Wushuang noticed that something was very wrong once they were about ten miles away from where they'd taken off earlier. Su Chan had gotten too quiet. Her cute disciple was no longer crying, begging, and screaming.
Frowning, Ao Wushuang turned her head to check on Su Chan.
Her blood ran cold. "Foolish child!"
Ao Wushuang quickly scanned the grounds beneath her. Seconds later, she located a secluded lake nearby and flew down towards it. She landed beside the lake and lowered Su Chan onto the ground.
"Wake up, you foolish child!" Ao Wushuang slammed her palm onto Su Chan's back. Blood spilled from Su Chan's lips.
Ao Wushuang's heart clenched at the sight of Su Chan coughing and wheezing on the ground. For years, she had loved and nurtured this girl as though she was her own daughter. But now this foolish child was actually planning to end her life because of some man! How ridiculous!
"You were planning to destroy your meridians from within, weren't you!" Ao Wushuang yelled. "You're out of your mind, child!"
Su Chan's coughs turned into full-blown wails. "I'd rather die than live a life without Yundong!"
Tears stung Ao Wushuang's eyes. No! She would not think about him. Ao Wushuang clenched her jaw. "What's so great about that man anyway? No man is worth dying for."
That's right, Chan'er. I don't want you to go through the same pain I did...
The sound of Su Chan's crying grew even louder. "You don't understand, Master... It hurts... It hurts!!! It hurts so much!!! It hurts right here!!" Su Chan pointed at her chest, then fell onto the ground into a sobbing heap on the ground.
Ao Wushuang felt a drop of her own tears slide down her cheek. Oh, Chan'er... Ao Wushuang reached out a hand to touch Su Chan's hair, but then hesitated at the last moment.
Should I tell her? But won't everything be pointless if I tell her now? Will she be able to resist...? Damn it!
Ao Wushuang pulled her hand away.
"He brought so much joy into my life, Master... He made me so happy..." Su Chan's back quivered. "Without him, life is meaningless..."
Ao Wushuang's resolve crumbled right then and there. She sighed and drew Su Chan into her arms.
"Oh, Chan'er... I told you a long time ago to stay away from love, but you didn't listen. Haven't I told you before that love is the greatest source of pain in this world?" Ao Wushuang sniffed, then patted Su Chan's head. "Now it's too late. Seems like you're already experiencing the same pain I did back then..."
"But to me, it's worth it, Master..." Su Chan said firmly. "No matter how painful it is, it's worth it." Su Chan took Ao Wushuang's hands. "Master, I beg you... Please let me return to Yundong. I can't live without him... I can't..."
Ao Wushuang released a long sigh. I guess I should tell her after all... The whole plan would be even more pointless if this silly girl made another attempt on her own life.
Ao Wushuang dried Su Chan's tears with her sleeve, then stroke Su Chan's head.
Ao Wushuang shook her head and sighed. "I wasn't trying to tear you two apart, you idiot. I'm trying to save you both…"