Su Chan disappeared in a flash of green light, marking the end of their brief reunion. Despite the circumstances, Li Yundong's heart felt lighter after the talk they had. Su Chan's words of reassurance along with all the promises they made to each other had breathed a new life into Li Yundong, filling the void left behind by Su Chan's absence. Now he had something to look forward to. He had a goal—to become stronger.
After staring off into space for God knows how long, Li Yundong finally turned away from the field, where the remnants of his wrath lay scattered. He expected to feel at least a little bit of remorse over He Shao's death, but strangely, the feelings of guilt never came. In fact, the whole experience was rather freeing. At least he could now rest assured that Deng Yu and Deng Jiao didn't die for nothing; their deaths had triggered a chain of events that eventually rid the world of one evil son of a bitch.
Rest in peace, my friends...
Li Yundong made his way back towards the road. Zhou Qin's Audi A6 was parked beside the guard rail, and Zhou Qin herself was leaning against her car, staring at him from the top of the field with a guarded expression.
Li Yundong had no doubt that Zhou Qin had witnessed the whole thunder-summoning shebang from start to finish. What's interesting was that she didn't seem shocked at all. It was like: hey, you just summoned a bolt of lightning from the sky and then barbequed a man alive with it; okay, cool, now let's just chill and act like nothing happened; by the way, can we go now? Coz I'm starving.
Either Zhou Qin had nerves of steel, or she had the best poker face in the history of poker faces.
Hell, it was probably both.
Li Yundong leaped over the guard rail and landed in front of Zhou Qin.
They stared at each other for a moment. Zhou Qin didn't smile at him like she used to when they see each other.
"I'm sorry to drag you into this, Zhou Qin," he said.
Zhou Qin regarded him for a few more seconds, then released a soft sigh. "So what are you gonna do next?"
Good question. What was he going to do? "Becoming stronger" was far too vague to help him come up with an immediate action plan.
"I know I should turn myself in," Li Yundong said, shaking his head. "I killed a man after all." Li Yundong gave Zhou Qin a look. "But I'm not going to do that because Su Chan is still waiting for me."
Zhou Qin laughed as though she'd just been told a funny joke. "Trust me, it's pointless to turn yourself in." Zhou Qin stopped laughing. "The prosecutors won't have enough physical evidence to build a case against you."
Li Yundong stared at Zhou Qin. "Seriously? I mean… hello? I just chased after the guy's car, all the while yelling death threats at him." Li Yundong sighed. "Shit… There're probably traffic cams everywhere. I'm pretty sure at least a few of them caught the chase."
Zhou Qin smiled. "Even so, the case would crumble if that's the only evidence they have against you." Zhou Qin's smile faltered and was replaced by a somber expression. "That is why I tried to stop you earlier. If you killed him with your bare hands, you'd probably be locked up for the rest of your life."
Li Yundong pondered Zhou Qin's words for a moment. "Yeah. He Shao's family is powerful and influential."
Zhou Qin nodded. "Even if you leave the country and hide overseas, they still have the means to hunt you down and put you on murder trial."
"Well... I did beat him up. But that was only after we got here." Li Yundong gestured towards the field below them.
Also, beating him up was definitely an understatement. Li Yundong had pretty much broken that scumbag's body before killing him with the lightning. He had made He Shao's final moments a living hell before sending him straight to hell where he belonged.
He Shao deserved hell for all the atrocious things he'd done.
"Oh, but this is where everything gets interesting." There was a twinkle in Zhou Qin's eyes. "You did beat him up, that's true. But, there is no evidence to prove that you did."
Li Yundong stared at Zhou Qin. Is she just trying to make me feel better?
As though sensing his skepticism, Zhou Qin raised her index finger. "Just hear me out for a second. One, there are no surveillance cameras around this area, which means there are no footages that the prosecutors can use to prove that you've physically assaulted He Shao. And two..." Zhou Qin's expression changed from its usual aloofness to something different. She almost seemed... intrigued. "He Shao's body was destroyed, so no autopsy can be done. And without a full autopsy report, there's no way to prove that he was assaulted before the..." Zhou Qin gestured at the sky. "The... you know."
Li Yundong chuckled wryly. "Sorry you had to see all that."
Zhou Qin shook her head as though she was trying to clear some kind of mental fog.
"How on earth did you pull that off?"
"It's..." Li Yundong raised his hands, then let them drop after a few seconds. "Well, how did I dodge seven bullets in a row? I mean, I can try to explain them, but it'll probably still sound like nonsense to you." Li Yundong huffed out a breath. "Regardless, I don't think they're going to let me off the hook that easily. I'm still linked to He Shao's death whether I like it or not. And I'm sure those sleazy lawyers would find a way to twist everything around to make me look guilty."
Not that he wasn't guilty.
Zhou Qin smirked. "Not when you have this." Zhou Qin pulled out her phone and showed him the screen.
The screen showed He Shao lying on the ground, staring fearfully up the sky. Seconds later, the screen flashed in white and blue as a huge bolt of lightning engulfed He Shao's body. The video ended seconds after the lightning disappeared.
"I'm going to have to confiscate that..." Zi Yuan's cold voice sounded from somewhere. Li Yundong looked away from the phone and saw Zi Yuan standing on the other side of the car, glaring at Zhou Qin. "I've made it clear that I don't want any of this on record."
Zhou Qin put her phone away and turned around to face Zi Yuan. "This footage can be used to Li Yundong's advantage." Zhou Qin squared her shoulders. "If Li Yundong is forced to go to trial, this footage is our best bet to get the judge to absolve him of any foul play." Zhou Qin turned to Li Yundong again. "Don't worry, I'll make sure that things don't come to that."
Zi Yuan didn't seem fully convinced. "And what if people start questioning how anyone can summon lightning from the sky?"
Zhou Qin smirked. "Who says the lightning was summoned by anyone at all?" Zhou Qin shrugged. "For all we know, the Heavens have decided to punish He Shao for all his evil deeds by striking him with a bolt of lightning."
Zi Yuan frowned. "But—"
"I didn't appear in the video," Li Yundong added. "There's no proof that I summoned the lightning."
"Exactly," Zhou Qin said.
Zi Yuan scowled. "That's still not good enough. A Cultivator who sees the footage would recognize the Heavenly Thunder immediately and know that a spell is involved. I can't have that."
Zhou Qin sighed. "Like I said, I'll make sure that things don't come to a point where we have to reveal the footage inside a courtroom."
The staring match between Zi Yuan and Zhou Qin lasted for a long while before Zi Yuan ended it. "Hongling!"
Ruan Hongling stepped up from behind Zi Yuan. "Yes, Elder Sister?"
"We're clear," Ruan Hongling said. "No eye-witnesses spotted when I scouted the area. But I did see police vehicles headed this way."
Zhou Qin nodded as though she'd been expecting it. "I told them to seal off the area for half an hour before coming in."
"You've been extremely helpful," Zi Yuan said, looking at Zhou Qin. "Thank you."
"It's no big deal," said Zhou Qin.
The conversation suddenly died down. Seconds later, Li Yundong realized that everyone was staring at him. He sighed. "What?"
"You should come with me," Zi Yuan said. "It's best to remove you from the scene before the police arrive. A Cultivator should avoid getting on the wrong side of the law. Any involvement with lawsuits and court cases will not be tolerated! That is a cardinal rule that every Cultivator should follow."
Great. More rules. So much fun.
There was a pause. Zi Yuan was no longer looking at him but at Zhou Qin instead. "And I trust you'll find a way to… mitigate things?" Zi Yuan asked.
Mitigate. Li Yundong was pretty sure she meant cover up.
Zhou Qin smirked. "Consider it done."
Li Yundong chuckled. "That's Zhou Qin for you. Confident as always."
Zi Yuan ignored his remark. "Now let's get out of here." Zi Yuan held out her right arm. "Put your hand on my wrist."
Wariness crept in. Li Yundong stared at Zi Yuan hesitantly.
"Hurry up!" Zi Yuan snapped. "We don't have all day."
Why was Zi Yuan even helping him now? Just days ago, the Zhengyi School wanted him dead! Also, why did Ao Wushuang say that Zi Yuan would be his teacher starting from now? What the heck was going on?
Regardless, he had to admit that staying here wasn't an option. Besides, Su Chan seemed pretty okay with him being under Zi Yuan's tutelage. And since he trusted Su Chan with his life, he decided to roll with it.
Li Yundong took a deep breath and placed his right hand on Zi Yuan's wrist.
Zi Yuan turned her head to look at Zhou Qin. "Do you want to come with us?"
Zhou Qin shook her head. "I'll stay and handle the cops."
Zi Yuan nodded. "Just remember that discretion is key."
Zhou Qin smiled. "I know."
Zi Yuan returned Zhou Qin's smile, and it struck Li Yundong right then how alike Zi Yuan and Zhou Qin were: calm; composed; elegant; dignified; badass chicks who exuded confidence and poise in spades.
If Zhou Qin was the Ice Queen of the mortal world, then Zi Yuan was probably the Ice Queen of the Cultivation world. Those two were two sides of the same coin.
"Zhou Qin," Li Yundong said. "Thank you for everything you've done for me."
Zhou Qin smiled wanly. "You're acting like this is goodbye." She shrugged. "It's not."
Li Yundong gave Zhou Qin a smile, then nodded at Zi Yuan.
"Hongling. Let's go," Zi Yuan said.
"Where to?" Ruan Hongling asked.
Li Yundong was surprised by Zi Yuan's answer.
"New Hongsheng District."
A wave of sadness washed over Li Yundong when he opened the door to his apartment. As expected, the apartment felt totally empty without Su Chan. Zi Yuan and Ruan Hongling had dropped him off in front of his block earlier. Before they parted ways, Ruan Hongling had passed him the tessen Su Chan had given him. He was honestly surprised that Ruan Hongling hadn't at least tried to trade the tessen for the damask. Maybe she took pity on him. Or maybe she wasn't as terrible as he originally thought.
Li Yundong dragged the tessen through the doorway and set it down beside the couch. Darkness permeated the apartment. Somehow, Li Yundong couldn't even summon the strength to switch on the lights. Truth be told, he'd rather not. Seeing everything inside the apartment—the couch, the TV, those cute Hello Kitty slippers—would just remind him of Su Chan's absence.
He walked past the living room and opened the sliding door. He stepped onto the balcony and then walked towards the railing. Tiannan City blinked back at him. When a light breeze tickled his face, Li Yundong decided to stop moping around and start doing something useful. He pushed away from the railing and went back into the apartment, leaving the sliding door open.
After that, he went around the apartment to open the windows and sliding doors, deliberately leaving Su Chan's room until last. Finally, he padded back into the living room and got into a meditative posture.
Seconds after he closed his eyes, he heard a voice.
"What do you think you're doing?"
He opened his eyes and saw Ruan Hongling perched on the balcony's railing with one leg crossed over the other.
Li Yundong shut his eyes again.
"If this is about the damask, then you can have it back." He sighed. "It's there on the coffee table. Take it and leave me alone."
"Are you trying to pass the Zhuji phase? Now?" Ruan Hongling said in a tone of disbelief. "Are you nuts?"
Groaning inwardly, Li Yundong opened his eyes. "Is that a problem?"
Ruan Hongling stared at him like he had suddenly grown ten heads. "Well, duh." Ruan Hongling rolled her eyes. "You'll totally fail if you attempt it in your current state."
Annoyance flared inside Li Yundong. "Why do you care anyway? I thought you'd be happy to see me fail." Li Yundong snorted. "Now please leave and stop bothering me."
"You ungrateful bastard..." Ruan Hongling growled. "I'm warning you out of the kindness of my heart!"
"Kindness?" Li Yundong snarled. "Have you forgotten what you did to Su Chan? You nearly killed her!"
Ruan Hongling's feet landed on the balcony's floor. "You—"
A green flash lit up the balcony. The next thing he knew, Zi Yuan was there with one hand on Ruan Hongling's shoulder. "What is the matter with you two? Geez." Zi Yuan shook her head. "Grow up."
Li Yundong shot Ruan Hongling an apologetic glance, then sighed. "Look, I apologize for my behavior. But now really isn't a good time, okay?"
Zi Yuan stepped into the apartment without waiting for an invitation. Behind her, Ruan Hongling followed with a dark scowl.
Li Yundong got up from the floor and gestured at the couch. "Um... Please, take a seat." He glanced towards the kitchen. "Do you want something to drink... or...?"
"No, thank you," Zi Yuan said, taking a seat on the couch.
Li Yundong turned to Ruan Hongling next. "What about you? Drinks? Ice-cream?"
The thought of ice-creams brought a stab of pain in Li Yundong's heart. Su Chan loved ice-creams. F*ck. Was there anything in the apartment that didn't remind him of his little chipmunk?
Li Yundong kept staring at Ruan Hongling, waiting for her answer. Ruan Hongling's scowl deepened.
Guess that's a no, then.
"I know this is a difficult time for you," Zi Yuan said gently. "You want to pass the Zhuji phase quickly and then survive the Heavenly Thunder so that you can reunite with Su Chan. I get that."
Li Yundong sighed and lowered himself to the floor. "But?"
"But rushing things isn't the right way," Zi Yuan said. "In fact, it'll only make things worse."
Li Yundong stared down at his empty hands. He kept quiet. He didn't know what else to say.
"Hongling was right to say that you'll fail," Zi Yuan continued. "You aren't in the right state of mind to pass the Zhuji phase. Right now you're still struggling with feelings of uncertainty, anger, sadness, and frustration. All these emotions can be used against you when you try to sustain Ishvara. Do you understand?"
Li Yundong sighed. "Yeah..."
"In any endeavor in Cultivation, peace of mind is crucial for success," Zi Yuan said, pausing slightly. "There is a concept in Buddhism called the purification of the six senses. Have you ever heard of that?"
Li Yundong shook his head.
"Well, in simple terms, it means being in a state of mind where you are free from worldly troubles. It is with this state of mind that you'll be most likely to pass the Zhuji phase."
Li Yundong took a deep breath. "So you're saying that I just have to sort out my mind before I try again?"
Zi Yuan shook her head. "I wouldn't even be here if it were that simple."
Li Yundong frowned. "Okay. What else do I have to do?"
"Your Qi reserve is vast." Zi Yuan leaned back in the couch and crossed her legs. "The amount of Qi you have is..." She shared a look with Ruan Hongling. "...phenomenal. Plus, the Jindan has made your Qi much more powerful. Basically, you now possess one of the most powerful types of Qi in the world, and you have it in spades." She looked into Li Yundong's eyes. "I'm starting to see why you are the Jindan's Heir."
"The Jindan's effects depend largely on its bearer. Give it to a weakling, and the effects would be mediocre. With your vast Qi reserve, you can bring out the Jindan's full potential. However..." Zi Yuan gave Li Yundong a pointed look. "You aren't in the optimal state to pass the Zhuji phase. Right now, you have one major problem."
Li Yundong raised a brow. "Other than my state of mind?"
Zi Yuan nodded. "Your Dantians lacks structural integrity. We need to condition your Dantians. Otherwise your Vital Orb would be weak even if you managed to pass the Zhuji phase."
My Dantians? Li Yundong shook his head. "Sorry. But I don't follow."
Zi Yuan rose from the couch and said, "Come with me."
Puzzled, Li Yundong stood up and followed Zi Yuan to the balcony. On the balcony, Zi Yuan did a few hand signs and muttered a brief incantation. Zi Yuan maintained the hand sign until—
Holy f*cking shit! Li Yundong ducked when a large object flew across the railing. There was a soft thud. When Li Yundong took a closer look at the object, he was once again taken by surprise. "Hey... Isn't that—" He quickly moved his Qi to the Shenting and glanced out the railing. He zoomed and zoomed until he located the gazebo near New Hongsheng District's gates. A few marble tables had been set up inside the gazebo, but one of them was missing a table top.
Li Yundong zoomed out and glared at Zi Yuan. "Great. Now I have to worry about vandalism charges," he grumbled. "So much for not getting on the wrong side of the law."
A ghost of a smile flitted across on Zi Yuan's lips.
"Never mind that," she said. "Now. I want you to punch this piece of marble."
Li Yundong eyed the slab carefully, then nodded. "Sure."
It was just a block of marble. How hard could it be?