"Y- You finished them both already?!" said the old librarian. "But it's only yesterday that you borrowed them..."
Li Yundong smiled and slid the Surangama Sutra and Records of the Pure Heart across the counter.
The old librarian didn't reach out to take the books.
"Yeah. Finished them both. Cover to cover." Li Yundong smiled. "Actually, I'm here for two new books."
The old librarian shook his head slightly.
Li Yundong laughed. Poor guy. He probably hadn't seen a lot of avid readers around here.
"Anyway. Return these two for me, please?" Li Yundong tapped the cover of the Surangama Sutra. "I'll get those two books on my own."
After that, he left the slack-jawed old man at the counter and headed over towards the shelves.
He found Zhang Zhongjing's Treatise on Cold Damage Diseases in no time. The second book, Compendium on Elixir-Based Resurrection, was a collection of articles on the subject of internal alchemy. This one took a bit longer to find, but he found it eventually. After that, he brought both books back to the counter.
"You really don't specialize at all, do you?" The old librarian stared at the two books that Li Yundong had just placed on the counter. "These aren't even Buddhist texts. This one is... what the hell is this...? This one's a Taoist medical text! And another book on internal alchemy?" The old librarian looked up from the counter. "What else do you know, eh, kid?"
Li Yundong smiled. "A little bit of this and that." Li Yundong shrugged. "I might not be able to understand all of them at the moment. But with time, I might be able to grasp all of the contents."
The old librarian chuckled and shook his head. "You remind me of someone."
Okay. That was interesting.
The old librarian looked up from the books.
"Why, the great poet, Tao Yuanming, of course!"
Li Yundong had no idea who that was other than that he was a poet.
Li Yundong left the library with both books and made his way to the academic building. A lively atmosphere permeated the campus' compound. Li Yundong didn't think he had ever seen so much activity on campus before. Freshmen wandered about in large groups, infusing the air with their seemingly endless enthusiasm. The seniors could also be seen milling about the compound. Most of them were busy checking out the freshmen, making frivolous remarks about their appearance.
"Ooh, that guy looks cute."
"Dude, that new chick is a total bombshell."
Sometimes, Li Yundong wished the Jindan hadn't enhanced his normal hearing. He would've invested in a pair of good quality earbuds if he weren't so damn broke.
A sudden thought made him stop right in the middle of the compound.
It was a realization: months ago, he was just the same as these people.
That thought filled his heart with pang of yearning. If Su Chan hadn't flitted into his life like a colorful butterfly and changed the course of his fate, he'd still be that fat, mediocre, and inconsequential homebody. It disgusted him how lazy he'd been back then. No wonder those 21 girls rejected him. What did even have to give them? He was just some useless guy wasting away his youth, doing nothing of consequence.
It wasn't until now that he realized just how much of life he'd missed out on. Those moments he'd spent with Su Chan were ones that he would cherish for the rest of his life. Even the harsh journey to Tibet had brought him more satisfaction than his comfortable but meaningless old life.
Li Yundong was greeted with silence when he stepped into the academic building's ground floor. He strode on, ignoring the strange looks that he was receiving from everyone. Even though the academic building was crowded, Li Yundong didn't find it difficult to navigate through the crowd—most guys gave him a wide berth the moment they saw him.
Past the crowd, he slowly made his way towards the staircase.
That was when the whispers began.
"Who's that dude? Why did everyone become quiet the moment he entered? Is he a mob boss or a super crime lord or something?"
Li Yundong smirked. That one must be a freshman.
"A mob boss?" said another guy in a derisive tone. "You think everyone will stoop to your level?"
That guy sounded more experienced. Probably a sophomore...
"Who is he then?" challenged the freshman. "And how can anyone be more badass than a mob boss?"
"Tsk, tsk. You really need keep yourself up to date, pal," said the sophomore. "That guy, is a legend around here."
"Just go check the old forum posts, man."
Li Yundong shook his head and quickly climbed up the staircase. In the past, hearing nonsense like that would've made his ego swell to the size of an elephant. But right now, he felt nothing.
None of that stuff mattered anymore.
Li Yundong saw Sun Li the moment he entered the lecture hall. He smiled and gave her a nod. After that, he kept scanning the lecture hall until a sinking sensation formed at the pit of his stomach: there were still no signs of Zhou Qin.
Li Yundong took his usual seat at the back of the lecture hall and waited for the lecture to begin.
When the lecture ended, Li Yundong sought out the one person he knew might be able to help him track down Zhou Qin.
Relief coursed through Li Yundong when Ding Nan stopped at the first row of the lecture hall at the sound of his voice.
Slowly, Ding Nan turned around.
It surprised him a little how much Ding Nan had changed over the past two months. Gone were the fashionable and revealing clothes. Today, she was wearing a pale-green casual dress. The dress seemed plain and a total opposite of flashy. With her hair down and minimal makeup, Ding Nan looked just like a normal student.
Ding Nan smiled when she saw him. "Li Yundong? Oh, wow! It's been two months since I last saw you! And you're..." Ding Nan paused as if to gather her thoughts. "Wow… You look even more handsome now."
Li Yundong acknowledged the compliment with a smile. "Thank you. You look great too, by the way. Actually, I was wondering if you've seen Zhou Qin lately."
Ding Nan's face fell.
"I knew there has to be a reason you're initiating a conversation with me. I knew it." Ding Nan's eyes flashed angrily. "So this is about her again, huh? The great Zhou Qin." Ding Nan snorted derisively. "Seems like I've flattered myself."
Li Yundong could feel his own smile faltering.
"Wait... I thought... I thought you guys have made up," he said. "I mean, I saw you talking to each other that night at Shengyuan Hotel..."
Li Yundong regarded Ding Nan for a moment. Ding Nan's expression seemed conflicted, like she was struggling with something.
Li Yundong cleared his throat. "Anyway. I... uh... I just found it a little strange that she isn't here with you today, since you've made up and all that—"
"Whatever," Ding Nan snarled and stormed off.
"Hey, wait up—"
Ding Nan stopped at the door and shot him a scathing look. "You have her number, don't you? Why don't you just call her yourself?!"
The door closed with a loud bang.
Li Yundong glanced around at the empty lecture hall, then lowered his gaze to the floor.
A phone call. If only it were that easy. He'd already sold off his phone during his journey to Tibet. And why didn't he at least try to memorize Zhou Qin's phone number before he sold off his phone? Stupid.
With a heavy sigh, he picked up his backpack and left the lecture hall.
Just when Li Yundong was about to make a turn towards the stairway, his senses tingled again: someone was trying to grab him from behind.
He leaped to the side and turned around, fully expecting to see another attempt to steal the Fan of Seven Treasures. Instead, he heard a feminine yelp. Feng Na was stumbling forward after her hand had missed his back.
Li Yundong grabbed her arm just in time to prevent the poor girl from tumbling down the whole flight of stairs.
"Be careful," Li Yundong said. "Geez…"
Feng Na stared up at him with glassy eyes. "Thanks. I thought I saw you yesterday outside the girls' dorms, but I couldn't really tell if it was you."
Li Yundong chuckled. "I haven't changed that much, have I?"
Stupid question. Of course he'd changed. He'd just returned from a long hike to frigging Tibet. Plus, his hair was a bit longer now, and his skin tone a bit darker. Not to mention he was much leaner now.
"Um... You... Um..." Feng Na kept stammering and fumbling with her words.
Then, someone giggled loudly.
Li Yundong looked past Feng Na's shoulders and saw Cheng Cheng walking towards them.
"God, look how much you've changed..." Feng Na had apparently recovered enough from her shock to form coherent words. "What on earth happened to you?" She reached out as if she wanted to touch his face, but then quickly let her hand drop when she realized what she was about to do.
Li Yundong smiled. "Well. Let's just say that I had a productive summer."
Cheng Cheng stopped beside Feng Na. "Tsk, tsk. What have you been up to during the summer holidays, Li Yundong? It's like you're a changed man."
Li Yundong smirked. You wouldn't believe it even if I tell you.
Li Yundong kept that thought to himself.
"Something significant must have happened..." Feng Na said all of a sudden. "Something happened during the summer holidays."
Li Yundong tensed up slightly. Women and their sixth sense...
Li Yundong covered up his reaction with a friendly smile.
Then, from the corner of his eyes, he saw Cheng Cheng nudging Feng Na with her elbow.
"Oh! Um..." Feng Na said. "Why don't we... Why don't we have lunch together? My treat!"
Li Yundong laughed. "Seriously?"
"Of course I'm serious."
Li Yundong chuckled. "You're letting me take advantage of you on the first day of the semester? How generous."
Cheng Cheng suddenly giggled. "Here's the thing, Li Yundong. Nana over here…" She started nudging Feng Na with her elbow again. "…is actually dying to let you take advantage of her." Cheng Cheng wiggled her eyebrows. "Dying."
Li Yundong glanced at Feng Na whose face was now as red as a tomato.
Cheng Cheng yelped when Feng Na suddenly pinched Cheng Cheng's waist.
"Shut up, you bitch!" Feng Na began slapping Cheng Cheng's arm. "Shut! Up! Ugh! Who gave you permission to talk?!"
Li Yundong watched in amusement as the two girls tried to overpower each other.
At one point, Feng Na stopped her various attempts to inflict bodily harm on Cheng Cheng and gave him a sheepish look.
Feng Na cleared her throat. "S- Sorry you had to see that."
Li Yundong shrugged it off. "It's fine. So. Where are we having lunch?"
"Hey, Nana. Didn't you say you wanted to check out that restaurant the other day? But then President Cao showed up and the plan got cancelled… Why don't we just go there today?"
Feng Na smiled. "Great idea..." Feng Na suddenly frowned and looked past Li Yundong's shoulders. "Um... Where's Su Chan? Why isn't she with you today? You guys are usually joined at the hips..."
Li Yundong tensed up again, then quickly covered up his reaction with a smile. "She's with her teacher now... So..."
"Oh... Um… When is she coming back?"
"I'm not sure," Li Yundong said. "But I'll go look for her in two months."
Nothing else was said as the three of them made their way down the staircase. Li Yundong was grateful for the silence. He didn't want to think about where Su Chan might be right now, or about the uncertainties that lay ahead of them.
Nevertheless, he was grateful because he still had two things that connected him to Su Chan: the long, bulky object behind his back; and the organ beating against his ribcage.