Annoyance coursed through Ao Wushuang when Chan'er suddenly sprang up from her meditation cushion and ran out of the room.
"Oh, for Heavens' sake, Chan'er!" Ao Wushuang growled. "What is it this time?!" Ao Wushuang got up and followed Chan'er out of the room.
Can't she focus for once?
Chan'er had run to the other end of the apartment and was now opening the window.
The window creaked open, and Chan'er poked her head out, looking from left to right.
"What on earth are you doing, Chan'er?" Ao Wushuang stopped near the window's ledge.
"I think I heard Yundong shout my name..." Chan'er said.
The silly girl was now standing on the tip of her toes as though it would help her see further. Ao Wushuang sighed and massaged her temple.
"Yundong called out my name... He called my name…" Chan'er mumbled. "Yundong..."
Chan'er poked her head out again.
"Enough!" Ao Wushuang yanked Chan'er back inside by the collar. "You think I wouldn't know about it if the Heir is really here?"
Chan'er pouted and adjusted her collar. Ao Wushuang stepped towards the ledge and closed the window, but not before she had taken a good look of the view outside.
A few pedestrians dressed in modern clothes strolled along quaint, limestone pavements. Elegant buildings stood on both sides of the avenue with their white walls and dark roof tiles. There were no signs of the Heir.
"But I could've sworn I heard him," Chan'er mumbled.
Ao Wushuang turned around and glared at Chan'er. "Have you forgotten the promise you made me that night you ran away, hmm? You said you would start taking your training seriously once we got back!" Ao Wushuang shook her head. "The Heir had made so much progress in just two months, but look at you! You've made no progress at all. You should be ashamed of yourself, Chan'er."
"Hehehe... But what's there to be ashamed of, Master?" Instead of looking contrite, Chan'er was actually grinning. "The stronger he becomes, the happier I am!"
Why you little… Ao Wushuang pointed at the bedroom. "Get back in there and focus!"
Chan'er lowered her gaze and slowly shuffled towards the room. "I wasn't lying," she mumbled. "I really did hear his voice..."
"Look at where we are. We're in Dongwu City, for Heavens' sake! You think his voice can travel across thousands of miles?"
Chan'er stopped and turned back around. "Hmph! Maybe we are telepathically linked!"
Ao Wushuang scowled. "You—" Suddenly, she frowned and moved away from the window.
Chan'er approached her tentatively.
"Shh," Ao Wushuang said, pressing a finger to her lips.
Chan'er clamped up instantly.
Bahuang materialized inside Ao Wushuang's free hand. "Get behind me," she said without taking her eyes off the front door.
The door unlocked itself and swung open. A thin, dwarfish old man with a fully-wrinkled face stepped into the apartment.
Ao Wushuang sighed. A moment later, Bahuang vanished from Ao Wushuang's hand.
Liu Ye… What on earth is he doing here?
"G- Grandmaster?!" Chan'er poked her head out from behind Ao Wushuang's arm.
Head Liu moved away from the door and began making his way towards them. He walked in a slow and relaxed pace, which gave Ao Wushuang the opportunity to study the old man as he moved. His hands were hidden inside the sleeves of his long, grey robe. His eyelids were hung so low that it looked like he was walking with his eyes closed. It was a surprise that he didn't trip and fall over at some point.
Head Liu stopped a few feet from them.
A pair of green cloth shoes peeked out from under his robe.
Wariness crept into Ao Wushuang. "Head Liu." Ao Wushuang greeted the old man with a slight nod. "To what do we owe the pleasure?"
Instead of answering, the head of the Fox Zen School began glancing around the apartment. Ao Wushuang hadn't splurged when she rented the apartment. The place was rather spartan with the only furniture being a square table and the two stools that came with it.
Head Liu released a sigh, which sounded a bit wistful to Ao Wushuang's ears.
"Wushuang... How is it that there are only two chairs in the whole apartment?" He shook his head. "Look at this place. A square table and two stools? That's it? How are you supposed to receive guests if that's all you have?"
Ao Wushuang smiled mockingly. "Me? Receiving guests?" She chuckled. "Surely you're joking, Head Liu. People usually run for the hills the moment they see me, not come knocking on my door."
Except you, apparently.
Head Liu sighed and took a seat in one of the stools beside the square table. Once he got settled, he reached into the chest pocket of his robe and fished out a purple bag. Plastered on the bag's surface was an embroidery of a goldfish. From the bag, he pulled out a delicate opium pipe, which he then filled up with tobacco leaves from the same purple bag. Instead of lightning up the pipe, he brought the pipe to his lips and took two long drags. The end of the pipe lit up on its own.
"It's been ten years already, Wushuang. You still haven't let that incident go?" A large ring of smoke emerged from Head Liu's lips. The ring rose higher and dispersed when it reached the ceiling. "You really need to let bygones be bygones, Wushuang. The affairs of the world are like a puff of smoke. You can't hold on to it forever. Given enough time, it will go away."
Ao Wushuang shot Head Liu an icy look. "Knowing you, I don't think you're here just to share pearls of wisdom with me, Head Liu."
"Ah. So I was right, then?" A subtle smile graced Head Liu's lips. "You are still mad at me for kicking you out of the school."
"Mad at you, the great seer and the great flying fox?" Ao Wushuang laughed humorlessly. "I'm afraid you're gravely mistaken, Head Liu. Why would I make an enemy of the current Head of the Fox Zen School, the leader of my own kind? I'm already a lone wolf, an outcast." Ao Wushuang sneered. "Nothing but death awaits me if my own people turn against me too."
Head Liu started laughing. The act caused the wrinkles on his face to deepen. He tapped his finger on the pipe's chamber. "Oh, you're most definitely still mad." He chuckled again. "I can hear it in your tone."
Ao Wushuang said nothing. Chan'er shifted behind her. When Ao Wushuang glanced down, she saw Chan'er looking up at her curiously. The poor girl looked like she was having a rather difficult time holding back the barrage of questions she had for Ao Wushuang.
Ao Wushuang suppressed a groan. Heavens save my soul...
"I kicked you out of the school in order to protect you," Head Liu said. "You're a smart woman, Wushuang. I'm sure you can understand."
Waves of conflicting emotions coursed through Ao Wushuang. Moments later, she sighed. "I understand your reasons, that's true." Ao Wushuang chuckled darkly. "But whether I can forgive you for what you did is a totally different matter. Now." Ao Wushuang took a deep breath and stepped forward. "Why don't you cut to the chase and tell me why you're really here, Head Liu?"
Head Liu sighed. "I'm just here to tell you that you should return to the school for a visit."
Ao Wushuang could feel her own brows rising to her hairline.
Head Liu smiled wryly. "While you still have a school to return to, that is."
She could feel Chan'er tensing up behind her.
Ao Wushuang frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Head Liu took a few more drags from the pipe, then stood up from the stool and headed for the door. Ao Wushuang followed the old man's movements with her eyes, watching him slip his pipe back into his robe. Head Liu stopped in front of the door and turned back around to face them.
"The leaders of the Great Six have come to a consensus that we, the Fox Zen School, have stolen the Renyuan Jindan for ourselves."
Ao Wushuang stared at the old man, waiting for him to continue.
Head Liu opened the door. "Six of the world's largest Cultivation organizations will attack us in two months. Six, if we're really lucky. And you are the most powerful Cultivator of the Fox Zen School. I'm sure you can put two and two together."
Nobody spoke for a while. Head Liu was still standing at the door.
"Whether you return or not is up to you."
Head Liu stepped out of the apartment.
"Why didn't you just tell them that I'm the one who stole it?!" Ao Wushuang yelled at the door.
Head Liu halted his steps and turned around slowly. A sardonic smile spread across his face. "What good will that do? To them, we're just a bunch of demons. Lowly creatures of evil." Head Liu released a dark chuckle. "The Great Six. They're always the ones calling the shots, aren’t they?" Head Liu gave Ao Wushuang a pointed look. "You think they'll give a damn that you're no longer part of the school?" Head Liu snickered. "Don't kid yourself, Wushuang. You could turn into a pile of ashes right now and they'll still regard you as part of us. You can alter your form or your appearance all you like, Wushuang, but none of that changes the fact that you're a seven-tailed fox spirit. You're forever tied to the Fox Zen School!"
"There's no way our defenses can hold if all members of The Great Six attack us at once," Ao Wushuang said. She gave Head Liu a sharp look. "With or without me."
Head Liu shook his head sadly. "What would you have me do, Wushuang…"
Seconds passed in silence.
"Go into hiding. Take everyone with you," Ao Wushuang said.
"Hide?" Head Liu released a scornful laugh. "Ever since Grandmaster Pan Shi founded our school back in the Tang Dynasty, there have been more organizations who tried to destroy us than there are fish in the river! And yet here we stand, a great school with more than 1200 years of history!" Head Liu snorted. "You mark my words, Wushuang. Even though our strength has waned and our powers dwindled, we'll still stand and fight."
Ao Wushuang stared at Head Liu in disbelief.
"Oh, yes. We will stand and fight," Head Liu said.
"This is folly, Head Liu," Ao Wushuang growled. "The Fox Zen School doesn't stand a chance in an open warfare with The Great Six! This will be the end of the Fox Zen School as we know it!"
"Fine. Say we go into hiding. What then? What happens if they attack us next time? Are we going to hide again?" Head Liu laughed snidely. "No, Wushuang. We can't hide forever and you know it. We'll eventually run out of hiding places."
The door closed with a loud click.
"You have two months to think it over!" Head Liu's voice sounded from outside seconds later.
Ao Wushuang turned around and found Chan'er looking at her fearfully.
Ao Wushuang strode past Chan'er and made a beeline to the bedroom.
Chan'er scurried after her, but Ao Wushuang came to a halt and turned around. Chan'er gasped when she nearly bumped into Ao Wushuang.
"Master? What is it?"
"Stay here, Chan'er," Ao Wushuang said. "I need to go somewhere. I won't be long."