"These are for you." Zi Yuan pointed at the coffee table where the plastic bag sat. "You should eat. You haven't eaten in two days."
Li Yundong smiled. "Nah. I'm good. I think I'm just gonna keep reading."
"Hey! I took all the trouble to buy your food," Ruan Hongling snapped, "and you're not even gonna eat it?"
"Hongling..." Zi Yuan glared at Ruan Hongling, then looked back towards him. She sighed. "Looks like the Canon's true meaning eludes you." She shook her head. "You still don't understand what Cultivation truly entails."
Li Yundong frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Okay, fine. He might have sounded a bit defensive, but come on! He'd just spent two days poring over the Canon!
"Fine. Tell me what is Cultivation? How do you Cultivate?" Zi Yuan paused for a moment, then smirked. "Sitting in a meditative posture and practice Qi control? Breathing?"
"Umm... You mean it's not?"
Zi Yuan kept smirking at him.
"Wearing the crown of three flowers and the Convergence of five Qis!" Li Yundong gestured his hands wildly. "These processes enable the Cultivator to convert their Essence, Qi, and blood into Spirit? I thought that's what Cultivation is all about!"
Zi Yuan shook her head and reached for the plastic bag. "That's just a superficial understanding of Cultivation, I'm afraid." Zi Yuan began to pull out takeout boxes and containers from the plastic bag.
Li Yundong sighed. "Enlighten me, then."
Zi Yuan opened one of the takeout boxes.
Li Yundong took a peek. Stir-fried lotus. Yum.
"Generally speaking, Cultivation is the process of acquiring the skills and abilities to go against the natural order of the universe. However, to acquire such skills, you must first experience the workings of the natural order. You must first live it." Zi Yuan stared pointedly at Li Yundong. "In a sense, this is like resistance training. Why do people lift weights? They lift weights to develop the strength and ability to lift heavier weights." Zi Yuan looked away and began laying out the chopsticks. "Living in accordance to the natural order involves going with the flow. Doing something when it's the right time to do something. Eating when you're hungry. Sleeping when it's time to sleep."
Li Yundong sighed. "Right." He got up from the floor and took a seat on the couch. Minutes later, he was wolfing down the food with a speed that would make Su Chan proud.
Li Yundong looked up from his container when Zi Yuan tapped the table with her knuckles. "What?"
"You should slow down," Zi Yuan said. "Chew your food properly before you swallow. Otherwise, your stomach would have to expend more energy and blood to digest it. That extra energy could've been used for other activities."
Now that he thought about it, the Canon of the Yellow Thearch did have a section on that. Damn. Reading about it was one thing, but to put it into practice was another thing altogether.
The next twenty minutes went by rather awkwardly, mostly because Zi Yuan was watching him eat as though he was some kind of lab rat. For once, Ruan Hongling was sitting quietly in the corner instead of constantly getting on his case.
While clearing up the empty takeout boxes and wiping down the coffee table, Li Yundong suddenly remembered something. "Um... Can you guys give me a ride to the motel? I need to get some stuff."
"What stuff?" Zi Yuan asked.
"Oh. Well, some of my things—and Su Chan's—are still in the motel room. We stayed there when we were hiding from you two."
Zi Yuan thought for a moment, then nodded. "Sure. No problem. Taking a walk after a meal is good for you."
Li Yundong finished clearing the table and went inside his room. When he came out, he walked up to Zi Yuan. "Here. I'm returning this to you."
Zi Yuan smiled and took the damask from him. "Why the sudden change of heart?"
Li Yundong returned her smile. "You're basically teaching me for free. This is the least I can do." Li Yundong turned to Ruan Hongling. "There. I've returned the damask. Can we call a truce now?"
Implied meaning: You can stop annoying me now, thanks.
Ruan Hongling grinned, then gave Li Yundong a casual wave.
After that, Li Yundong left the apartment on his own using the front door—like a normal person—whereas Zi Yuan and Ruan Hongling flew away from his balcony. Inside the elevator, he began reminiscing about his time with Su Chan: Su Chan liked to poke around the elevator panel; Su Chan liked to jump up and down whenever the elevator was moving; Su Chan would do this; Su Chan would do that.
By the time Li Yundong reached the ground floor, he was nearly in tears. He missed his little chipmunk. Dearly.
He hurried out of his apartment block and walked towards the gates of New Hongsheng District. Near the gates, he saw a small crowd gathered at the gazebo. All of a sudden, terrible thoughts began to creep into his mind, most of which had a recurring theme: did someone jump off the building again?
He soon realized, however, that the crowd was gathered there for less morbid reasons. Once he got close enough to the gazebo, he noticed everyone in the crowd staring at the stone table Zi Yuan had used—when did she even return it?—for the demo the day before yesterday.
"Good God! How did the palm print even get there?!"
"This table was gone for a day, and then reappeared with a perfect palm print on it. So weird..."
Li Yundong shook his head in amusement and moved away from the gazebo.
A dark sedan—Hongqi—was parked just outside the gates. The car's engine was already running, and through the windshield, Li Yundong saw Ruan Hongling sitting behind the wheel. Li Yundong climbed into the backseat and told Zi Yuan the name of the motel. Seconds later, they were off.
Half an hour later, Li Yundong returned to his apartment carrying Su Chan's Hello Kitty piggy bank and a bunch of other stuff. This time Zi Yuan and Ruan Hongling followed his example and actually used the front door—thank the Universe for small favors—to enter his apartment.
Li Yundong carried Su Chan's things into her room. Inside her room, he stopped to think of the best place to store her piggy bank. A moment later, he padded towards her wardrobe.
Su Chan's scent assaulted his nostril the moment he opened her wardrobe. He stood there, staring at the wardrobe's contents until he realized that he was acting like a lovesick puppy. He shook his head in disgust and stuffed the piggy bank onto the wardrobe's bottom shelf.
Something caught his eye. A piece of paper—folded in half—sat on top of Su Chan's clothes. He took the paper and realized that it was a page torn out from his notebook.
One side of the paper was filled with strange doodles: MacDonald's symbols; a cute fox; a funny drawing of him (with his hair looking like an onion).
Tears stung his eyes. He sniffed and flipped over the paper.
Su Chan's beautiful cursive stared right back at him.
It was a note. A long one.
Yundong... If you're reading this, then it means you've somehow found out my true identity and have decided that you no longer want me in your life. I just want to say that, although short, the time I spent with you contains the happiest moments in my life. Thank you, Yundong, for all the happy memories you have given me. I will cherish them forever. Below is a list of instructions to pass the Zhuji phase...
Tears blotted the paper's surface. Li Yundong sniffed and dried his tears with the back of his hand. He shifted the paper in his hands and continued to read.
Su Chan had clearly written this letter a long time ago; the carefully-written instructions had all been told to him in person when he tried to pass the Zhuji phase the other night at the motel. She must have written the letter before he found out that she was a fox spirit.
There was another long paragraph after the list of instructions.
I know you must hate me or feel disgusted with me because of who I am. Perhaps even more so after finding out that I've been lying to you this whole time. Yes, I lied to you. But not for the reason you might think. The feelings I have for you is real. That's why I lied. I knew you would find out the truth one day and then come to hate me when you do. Hiding my true identify from you allowed me to stay with you just a bit longer, so I did it. I lied. I know it's selfish of me, and I'm sorry. Maybe it's a good thing that things end between us. You are a talented Cultivator with a lot of great accomplishments awaiting you in the future. Someone like you shouldn't be associated with a fox spirit like me. If you're planning to disregard everything you've read in this letter, that's okay too. But please just follow the instructions to pass the Zhuji phase. It is absolutely vital that you pass the Zhuji phase no matter what. There are people after you, Yundong. After the Jindan inside you. You need to be ready to face them. Thank you, and goodbye.
Love, Su Chan.
Li Yundong bit back a sob and folded the paper carefully. He shut the wardrobe and left Su Chan's room. He entered his own room, placed Su Chan's letter in his drawer, and then sat down on his bed.
The contents of Su Chan's letter had pretty much knocked the wind out of him, figuratively speaking. All these while, Su Chan had assumed that he would come to hate her after finding out who she truly was. All of a sudden, every single aspect of Su Chan's behavior, including her frequent displays of insecurity, made sense.
Li Yundong shook his head and stood up from the bed. He had to get stronger and survive the Heavenly Thunder. That was the only way he and Su Chan could build a future together.
When he left his room, he was surprise to see Zi Yuan and Ruan Hongling still inside his apartment. Zi Yuan was standing at the doorway. Ruan Hongling, on the other hand, was lounging on his couch, clearly making herself at home.
Li Yundong walked past the living room and headed towards the doorway. "Why are you standing at the door?" he asked. "Go sit in the living room or something."
Zi Yuan gave him a strange look. "I can't believe you left the Fox Zen School's treasure beside your door like some kind of trash bag." Zi Yuan pointed at the huge tessen leaning against the wall beside the shoe shelf.
He'd moved the tessen there yesterday so that it didn't draw attention when people looked into his apartment through the balcony. In hindsight, he should've moved it into his room.
Zi Yuan shook her head. "I wonder what the great fox elder Pan Shi would think when he saw his creation treated so carelessly."
Li Yundong picked up the tessen and shook it a few times. It felt rather clumsy and heavy. "I don't get it," he said. "What's so great about this fan? To me it's just a heavy and bulky fan."
There was a loud snort, which sounded totally unladylike.
Li Yundong turned towards the couch and saw Ruan Hongling rolling her eyes.
Zi Yuan just looked amused.
Suddenly, Zi Yuan smirked and pointed at the tessen. "Why don't you try opening it?"
Li Yundong did as he was told. Well, tried to, because the fan wouldn't open. He stared at the tessen in surprise, then decided to try again. This time, he got his Qi involved.
It worked. The tessen slowly slid open.
Once it was fully opened, the tessen looked like a metal folding screen with golden Sanskrit characters printed all over its surface. The Sanskrit characters gleamed and glittered in a way that seemed unearthly.
The words looked beautiful, even though he didn't understand what they meant.
Li Yundong reached out with a hand and began to caress the tessen's shiny surface. As he did, his mind went to Su Chan once again.
"Behold, The Fan of Seven Treasures," Zi Yuan said.
"The Fan of Seven Treasures..." Li Yundong repeated after Zi Yuan.
Zi Yuan's next words nearly made him fall over.
"It is perhaps the most misogynistic magical weapon ever created."