After lunch, Li Yundong left the canteen and went to an empty classroom, where he spent the entire afternoon going through Treatise on Cold Damage Diseases and the Compendium on Elixir-Based Resurrection. Before he left the campus in the evening, he went to the library again to borrow two more books. The poor librarian was so overwhelmed by incredulity that he ended up spending half an hour grilling Li Yundong about the contents of both books. But of course, Li Yundong aced the old man's tests and left the library with two new books.
When Zhou Qin still didn't show up for class the following day, Li Yundong decided to seek out Sun Li and the teacher in charge to ask them if they knew anything about Zhou Qin's absence.
Both of them gave him the same answer: no idea.
The bad feeling inside his stomach had intensified to the point of queasiness by then. Playing truant wasn't Zhou Qin's style at all. Unlike, Li Yundong himself, Zhou Qin wouldn't go AWOL for days on end. If there was a good reason for her absence, the class rep and the teacher in charge would know about it. The fact that neither of them had a clue implied one thing: Zhou Qin's absence wasn't by choice; something was preventing her from attending class.
In other words, something must have happened to her.
Li Yundong left the campus, hailed a cab, and then told the driver to take him to the nearest branch of his bank: he had to get a new phone.
After that, he would import his contact list from his old SIM card to get Zhou Qin's number since Ding Nan had outright refused to give him her number and Feng Na, Sun Li, and the teacher in charge didn't know Zhou Qin's new number.
When he arrived at the bank, he received yet another surprise: his bank overdraft had been covered; not only that, but he now had a ten thousand yuan surplus in his bank account.
When he returned to his apartment, Zi Yuan was there, sitting on the floor at the center of the living room. She appeared to be meditating: the back of her hands were resting against her inner thighs; the tips of her thumbs and index fingers were touching, forming a loop on each hand. Having read the Mahamudra Tantra, Li Yundong recognized those hand gesture as the Jnana Mudra—the wisdom seal.
Zi Yuan opened her eyes slowly when he approached.
"Did you pay off my bank debts?" Li Yundong waved the bank card a few times.
Zi Yuan's expression remained peaceful. "Yes." She closed her eyes again.
"Why'd you do that?"
"You're a Cultivator," she said without opening her eyes. "You need money."
Li Yundong stared at her wordlessly.
Seconds later, Zi Yuan continued, "You can't focus on your training if you're constantly worrying about financial problems."
What Zi Yuan said made sense, but it also filled Li Yundong with guilt and dissatisfaction. How much longer was he going to keep relying on the kindness of others to get by? First Zhou Qin, and now Zi Yuan?
And worst, Zhou Qin had even gotten into trouble because of him.
Enough was enough. This had got to stop. He had to get his act together. He had to find a way to be self-sufficient, not mooching off others. He had to build a life, not just in Cultivation, but also in his career as well.
"Thank you," Li Yundong said after a while. "I'll pay you back as soon as possible."
Zi Yuan smiled without saying a word. She didn't open her eyes either.
Li Yundong didn't want to disturb Zi Yuan's meditation, so he left the apartment after that.
He made another trip to the bank, but this time to make a withdrawal. After that, he went to the nearest mall to buy a new phone. Instead of importing his contacts list straightaway after inserting his old SIM card into his new phone, Li Yundong dialed Su Chan's number, which he knew by heart.
"We're sorry. The number you have dialed is outside our service area. Please try again later."
Li Yundong stared at his new phone for a second or two. Had Ao Wushuang taken Su Chan back to the mountains?
Li Yundong swiped across the screen and pulled up the messaging app, then typed out a text: "Princess, I saw the note you left me. I miss you very much. I've already passed the Zhuji phase. I'll come fetch you home after I survive the divine punishment. Where are you right now?"
He tapped "send" and then began importing his contacts from his SIM card. Seconds later, he found Zhou Qin's number.
"Sorry. The number you have dialed is unavailable. Please leave a message after the tone..."
There was a beep. Li Yundong ended the call and stared at the screen for a moment.
Zhou Qin's phone was turned off.
What should he do now? Send her an email?
But he didn't even have her email address.
He had officially run out of options to get in touch with her.
Never in her life had Zhou Qin experienced such treatment. Never. The room was dark and stuffy with thick curtains obscuring any light from the outside. The only source of light in the room was the table lamp aimed directly at her face, blinding her every time she stared at it. The air was fraught with a stifling and oppressive aura. She could barely breathe. Truth be told, she didn't have the energy to do even that; she hadn't eaten since she'd been brought to the military facility three days ago, and the fact that she hadn't slept for two nights straight only made it so much worse.
She wasn't alone in the room.
A man in a grey Mao suit sat across from her in front of the tiny desk. Beside the man was a woman in a skirt suit. The woman was writing furiously on her notepad.
SMACK! The table lamp shook when the man slammed his palm on the tabletop. Zhou Qin didn't flinch.
"You and I both know that Li Yundong murdered He Shao, Miss Zhou," said the man. "You are a key witness of the murder. All you need to do is testify against him in court."
Zhou Qin chuckled breathless.
God, she sounded so weak.
She wondered how much longer she could hold on.
Of course the He family would get the military involved. Of course. He Shao's father was a military commander in charge of an entire province. The fact that his son had gone missing for over two months had taken Tiannan City by storm. In hindsight, Zhou Qin should've seen this coming. Then again, even if she had, what else could she do? Run?
"I must remind you again, Miss Zhou Qin, that as a key witness of the murder, you are obliged by the law to appear in court to give your testimony," said the man in the grey Mao suit. "Failure to do so will be treated as treason! By protecting a criminal, you are betraying this country and the Communist Party! Know that there will be terrible consequences awaiting you if you refuse to cooperate."
Zhou Qin raised her head tiredly and squinted through the lamp's brightness. The man was glaring right back at her. No doubt he was trying to appear menacing, but she honestly didn't care at this point.
"Just agree to testify..." the man growled. "And I'll make all this go away." He waved an arm across the room.
"Testify?" Zhou Qin rasped, then smiled weakly. "Why is my testimony required when no crime has been committed?"
SLAM! The table and lamp shook violently. "You are playing with fire, Miss Zhou!"
"No… No, I'm not..." A surge of dizziness coursed through her when she tried to shake her head. "The evidence clearly… clearly... shows… that no..." She paused to take a frail breath. "That no crime has been committed."
"This evidence you mean?" A laptop was placed on top of the desk and slid across towards her. The device was then turned so that Zhou Qin could see the screen.
The footage she'd recorded with her phone that night was playing silently on the screen.
Zhou Qin looked away from the screen and stared right into man's eyes. "Yes."
"This is fake!"
"No it isn't," Zhou Qin said. "I saw the whole thing with my own eyes."
SLAM!! The desk rattled again. "You expect me to believe that He Shao was struck down by lightning? On a night where the weather was fine?!" The man stood up from his chair and leaned over the desk. His voice turned into a snarl. "I. Don't. Believe. You."
Hang on, Zhou Qin. Hang on. Be strong. Be tough... Don't let these scumbags win.
"I've already told you everything I know," Zhou Qin said in a mechanical voice "He Shao tried to rape Miss Ding Nan that night. But he didn't get what he wanted because I brought Miss Ding Nan away. So he raped Miss Deng Yu and Miss Deng Jiao instead. Something happened inside that hotel room, something that I'm unaware of even now. Perhaps there was a struggle. I don't know. But the twins fell off the balcony of He Shao's room." Zhou Qin struggled to keep her eyes open. "He Shao fled the scene and drove away from the hotel. Li Yundong got mad and chased after He Shao's car. Don't ask me how he did it, because like I've told you and Detective Wang many times already... I don't know."
The man in the Mao suit stared at Zhou Qin in disbelief.
"Even now you're still sticking with that story?"
Zhou Qin ignored the man and kept talking. She had told the same story so many times that she didn't even need to think about what she said. The words just flowed out mechanically. "In his flight, He Shao killed two more people. He ran over an old lady and then shot her son dead." Zhou Qin coughed. "There was an accident... He Shao's car went off the road. Li Yundong caught up. He tried to convince He Shao to turn himself in. He Shao refused and ran into the woods. But before he could reach the woods, a bolt of—"
"That isn't what happened, and you know it!" the man snarled. "What are you implying?! That this is a punishment sent down from the Heavens? That is absurd!"
Zhou Qin sneered. "Absurd? Are we really going to sit here and pretend that He Shao is a saint?" Zhou Qin chuckled. Weak though her voice might be, the derision in it was pronounced. "Don't make me laugh. You and I both know about all the things he had done, the people he had murdered in cold blood. Two innocent girls. A young man and his mother." Zhou Qin laughed coldly. "If I had the power to summon lightning, I would kill him in a heartbeat!"
"Are you saying that you wished to kill him?"
"Who wouldn't?" Zhou Qin said in a sneering tone. "He was an evil scumbag, a lowlife who deserves to rot in hell! Anyone with a heart would wish him dead!"
She knew she shouldn't have said that, not when this entire interrogation was recorded, but she just didn't care anymore. She was probably going to die here anyway. Nobody was coming to save her.
"Why do you hate him so much?!" the man in the Mao suit yelled.
Anger rose inside Zhou Qin, giving her an ounce of renewed strength.
"How dare you ask me why! Open your eyes, you blind fools! Go take a look at all the things he did!" Zhou Qin yelled. Her outburst had left her heaving and panting.
The man and the note-taking lady stared back at her in shock.
"Do you know what it's like to watch the people you know die in front of you? Do you?" Zhou Qin sneered. "That monster killed them all and then tried to make a run for it! So yes, I hate him. I hate that vile, narcissistic, and evil creature!"
"Do you hate him enough to murder him?"
Zhou Qin laughed darkly, then smirked. "Oh, I assure you that the population in Tiannan City would be substantially reduced if I have the habit of murdering everyone I hate."
"Is this your final decision, then?" The man pointed at the laptop. "You'll refuse to testify against Li Yundong, and insist instead that He Shao died because of a lightning strike?"
"Yes," Zhou Qin said casually.
"Listen very carefully, because this is the only statement that you're going to get out of me." Zhou Qin paused. "He Shao died because he was struck by lightning."
"Why are you so dead set on protecting this Li Yundong?" the man yelled. "What are you really up to, Miss Zhou?"
Zhou Qin sat up straighter and arched a brow. "And what are you up to?" Zhou Qin sneered. "Why is the military wasting its precious resources on a murder case, hmm? Shouldn't cases like this be left to the police?" Zhou Qin smirked. "Even if this is within your jurisdiction and you people have the right to get involved, I don't see a good amount of fair investigation going on around here. You're focusing your investigation solely on He Shao's death and neglecting other aspects of the case." There was a pregnant pause. "What about the twins? Has any one of you bothered to look into their murders?"
The man in the Mao suit stood up in anger. "Zhou Qin! This is your final warning! Agree to testify, or else—"
"Final warning?" Zhou Qin smiled. "I seem to recall hearing the same threat four times already..."
There was a giggle. Zhou Qin turned and saw the woman in the skirt suit hiding a smile behind her hand.
"You're playing with fire, Zhou Qin," said the man. "You have been warned. You're going to get burned."
The man turned around and stormed out of the room.