Li Yundong opened the door and strode into Apartment 20A. At the doorway, he had to stoop slightly to allow the Fan of Seven Treasures' rivet to clear the door frame. A sense of disgruntlement rose to his chest at the thought of his magical sidekick. He'd run into trouble at the university again because of that stupid freshman.
After a brief stop at the shoe rack, he continued along the entryway towards the living room.
His could feel his sweat-stained shirt clinging to his back as he walked. Instead of taking a cab, he had decided to run all the way from campus to the apartment. His journey to Tibet had brought him closer to the true meaning of Cultivation. As a result, he was now able to truly appreciate the value and benefits of activities like walking or running, activities that he used to take completely for granted. He had decided that, from now on, he would rely on his feet to travel within the city unless it was raining. Most people would think he was nuts for his new travel arrangements, but he honestly thought it made total sense considering all the benefits running would grant him: for one, running was basically another form of Qi-control training; save more money by avoiding cab fares; increase his bonding time with the Fan of Seven Treasures; save travel time (he could run pretty damn fast), especially during rush hours.
The Running Man was back.
The tantalizing aroma of stir-fry assaulted his nose the moment he stepped into the living room. He paused beside the couch and glanced at the dining table, on top of which lay two steaming plates of home-cooked dishes.
Li Yundong approached the table and studied the two plates. The first one was a vegetable platter consisting of stir-fried celery, corn kernels, lily bulbs, and asparagus. The stir-fry was expertly done—he couldn't see a single drop of excess oil or moisture. Spread over the top of the vegetables was a thin layer of thickener, which, from the looks of it, was probably cornstarch. The vegetables were also arranged into a beautiful shape of a fan.
Li Yundong chuckled when he realized that it was meant to take the shape of the Fan of Seven Treasures.
This thing looked like something from MasterChef China.
Li Yundong lowered his backpack and leaned against the edge of the dining table.
"What an honor it is to have a respected member of the Zhengyi School's Linggong Sect cook me a meal," he yelled towards the kitchen.
Seconds later, Zi Yuan emerged from the kitchen with an apron tied around her waist. She was carrying a bowl of soup. Based on the soup's aroma, Li Yundong could tell that it was fish soup.
Li Yundong's mouth watered.
Zi Yuan placed the soup bowl beside the vegetable platter.
"This looks and smells amazing," Li Yundong said with a chuckle. "What's the occasion though?"
Zi Yuan gave him a rare smile. "No occasion."
Li Yundong shot her a skeptical look.
Zi Yuan's expression turned serious. "I just think that you should leave these trivial chores to me and focus fully on your training." Zi Yuan gave him a pointed look. "Your divine punishment is nearing."
Yes, he knew. There hadn't been a single moment during the day that he wasn't obsessing about it.
Li Yundong smiled. "Should I be paying you then?" He gestured at the dining table. "For your hard work and effort, I mean."
Zi Yuan removed the apron and then folded it.
"Well. You can if you want to," Zi Yuan said, then gave him a smirk. "Though I doubt you can afford my services."
Li Yundong laughed. However, his laughter stopped when he saw that Zi Yuan was about to move into the kitchen again.
"No, no. Please, sit down," he said, raising his palm. "You've done enough already. Let me do the rest."
Then, he dragged Zi Yuan to the table and pushed her down into a chair before she could even protest.
Zi Yuan glared up at him. "Tsk! I told you that I'd take care of these trivial chores."
"Trivial chores?" Li Yundong said as he made his way towards the kitchen. "Well. I beg to differ, my friend. Food is important, you see?" He stopped at the kitchen doorway and raised a brow at her. "Aren't you the one who told me that I should live according to the natural order of things? Eating is part of the natural order."
Zi Yuan's eyes narrowed. "Sometimes I wonder if you're really a gentleman, or you just like to get on my nerves."
Li Yundong chuckled and continued his way into the kitchen.
"Why can't it be both?"
Minutes later, Li Yundong served up two rice bowls and two sets chopsticks on the table. He smiled at Zi Yuan once he had taken his seat at the table.
"Well! Let's dig in," he said, picking up his rice bowl. "Thanks for the meal, by the way."
While he ate, Li Yundong took the opportunity to observe Zi Yuan. Admittedly, it felt a bit strange to see Zi Yuan engaging in daily human activities such as having a meal. Most of the time, Zi Yuan gave off this "divine" vibe, like she came from a paradisiacal and spiritual world where things like eating and sleeping were considered too earthly, too mundane. She was like a delicate work of art, best admired from a distance so as to avoid tainting it with one's presence.
And then there was also this regal and dignified air that she exuded in spades. This could be seen from the way she had kept her back was straight and her movements precise and elegant throughout the entire meal. By the time Li Yundong was done with his meal, he was convinced that Zi Yuan was a stickler for social decorum, a firm upholder of the proprieties.
Li Yundong rose from the dining table and carried his dishes to the sink. It wasn't until he had taken care of the dishes and was walking out of the kitchen that he heard it: a faint pecking sound coming from the living room.
"Hey... Did you hear that?" Li Yundong asked Zi Yuan, who had just finished her meal.
"Yes," she said. "Looks like you have a message." She tilted her head towards the balcony of the living room.
Li Yundong glanced over and saw some kind of white object bumping against the glass.
"Whoa... Is that...?"
He slowly walked over and opened the sliding door. The paper crane flew in and began circling above his head. He glanced towards Zi Yuan. "Should I just grab it or...?"
"Open your hand," Zi Yuan said. "If it's meant for you, it'd come to you.
When Li Yundong did as told, the crane landed at the center of his palm.
When Li Yundong raised his palm and brought the crane closer to his face, he frowned.
"But there's nothing written on it..."
He glanced over at the dining table, but Zi Yuan was already inside the kitchen.
Then the crane began shaking itself and flapping its wings violently. Li Yundong was instantly reminded of a dog or a cat trying to dry itself after its fur got wet. The crane kept shaking and trembling. Does it feel... cold? Li Yundong studied the crane for a moment. Nah. It's more like it's trying to shake something off its body.
Li Yundong reoriented his palm and studied the crane from various angles. Nothing. There was nothing attached to it.
Li Yundong brought the crane to eye-level. "Where did you come from?"
Amazingly, the crane stopped shaking and raised its head to look at him. Dang. This magical crane understands human language... The crane stared at him for a while. Then, just when he was about to repeat his question, the crane pointed one of its wings towards the sliding door.
Duh. Of course you came from outside. What I wanna know is who sent you.
Perhaps he should phrase his question better.
"Someone sent you here," he said.
The crane nodded.
Li Yundong's heart leaped in joy. "My princess sent you here, didn't she?"
The crane stared at him blankly. It didn't nod or move. Li Yundong frowned. It then occurred to him that the crane probably didn't understand the term "my princess."
Then again, who else could've sent the crane if not Su Chan? Well, it could be Ao Wushuang, since she, Su Chan, Zi Yuan, and Ruan Hongling were the only Cultivators who knew his address.
He would just write a reply and then ask the crane to send it back.
With a grin, Li Yundong carried the crane into his room. Time for some old-school communication.
At his desk, Li Yundong took out a piece of paper and wrote a simple note.
After folding the note, he looked towards the crane.
"Yo, buddy," he said. "Think you can carry this back to the person who sent you?"
On the desk, the crane moved towards him with wobbly strides.
The crane stopped when it was about an inch from his hand, then nodded.
Li Yundong studied the crane for a moment. Okay. Looks like we have another problem.
"Um... Where should I put this on you?" he asked the crane.
The crane suddenly lowered itself and spread its wing. Some kind of groove appeared on its back.
"Right there?" Li Yundong pointed at the groove.
The crane nodded.
"Alright, then..." Li Yundong slid the note into the groove and made sure that it was secure. "Please bring this to the girl who sent you." He tickled the crane's head. "Can you do that?"
The crane nodded.
Li Yundong smiled and stroke the crane's head once again.
The crane took off from the surface of his desk. Li Yundong followed the crane's swift movements across the room and watched it fly out of the balcony, carrying with it all the hopes, feelings, and affection that he held for his dear princess.
Su Chan paced around in her room. What should I do? What should I do?
She hadn't been able to calm down ever since that little mishap with the paper crane half an hour ago. Not even food was able to calm her nerves. Case in point: she only ate two bowls of rice before retreating to her room.
Master had been giving her suspicious looks during the meal, but Su Chan didn't want to read too much into that.
Ugh! This was driving her nuts!
She might've just wasted a paper crane!
Suddenly, Su Chan stopped pacing.
Should I ask Grandmaster Liu for another one?
Yeah, right. As if he will agree.
Indeed, why would Grandmaster Liu give her another one? She'd be lucky if he didn't scold her for wasting his precious paper cranes.
PLOP! Su Chan fell face first onto the mattress. She stayed like that for a while, then rolled over to look out of the window.
Tiannan City was pretty far from Mount Tianlong. I wonder how fast birdie can fly...
Then, she began wondering if Yundong had received her message already, only to realize that there was no message to receive.
Su Chan wanted to cry. She wanted to—
Birdie! Su Chan sprang out of bed and dove for the window. Despite her clumsy movements, she managed to snatch the crane the moment it flew into her room. She might've crumpled the crane's wings a little, but she didn't care.
There was a note attached to the crane!
She took the note and set the crane down on the table. Then, she eagerly unfolded the note: Princess? That you?
Su Chan clamped her hand over her lips to muffle her squeak.
Kyaaaaa!!! Hahahaha!!! He got it!! He got it!!
Su Chan did a little victory dance around the room.
Once she had calmed down a little, Su Chan tiptoed towards the door and open it slightly.
She peeked out through the crack.
Master was meditating. Her expression was so peaceful that one would think that she was asleep.
Granted, that could just be an illusion that Master had set up, but right now Su Chan was too excited to care. She closed the door gently and tiptoed back towards the square table.
Happiness bloomed inside her chest.
She just got a message from Yundong! Hooray! Hooray!
After giggling and probably grinning like an idiot for a while, Su Chan picked up a pen and wrote down another note: Hi beloved! How smart of you to figure out right away that it was me! I actually forgot to attach my first note onto the crane... Hehehe... Erm... I probably shouldn't have told you that? Please don't tease me for being a silly cheap monk? Oh, by the way, I've returned to the Fox Zen School with Master. I'm totally fine! So don't worry about me. What about you? How have you been?
Su Chan reread her message a few times before she folding the paper. After that, she slid the note into the groove on the crane's back. "Shoo. Shoo. Go along now, birdie."
The crane turned its head away and refused to even look at her.
Su Chan gaped at the crane.
Is it… Is it sulking?
A fawning grin spread across Su Chan's face.
"Hehehe..." Su Chan tickled the crane's head. "Aww... are you mad at me, birdie? I'm so sorry for scolding you before..."
The crane turned its head to look at her.
Su Chan widened her grin until her cheeks hurt.
The crane turned away again.
Su Chan's face fell. How dare you ignore me! Gah!
"Go," Su Chan growled. "Or else I'll tear you to shreds." Su Chan raised her fingers and mimed a tearing motion. Well, she wasn't actually going to tear the crane apart (coz that would be stupid). She was just trying to scare it a little.
Her scare tactics appeared to have worked, because the crane flinched back and quickly took off with the paper.
Half an hour later, the crane returned.
Su Chan squeaked and pounced on it again.
The reply read: Of course I knew it was you! We're telepathically linked, remember? And I've got good news for you! Your beloved has passed the Zhuji phase. I'll come fetch you after I survive my divine punishment and then we can travel the world together! How does that sound?
Su Chan giggled at the note.
Telepathically linked? Heh. Why would they even need to communicate like this if they were telepathically linked? Su Chan pressed a finger to her chin and stared at the note for a moment. Hmm. Seconds later, she broke into a grin. Hehehe... Maybe this is a good opportunity to test it out.
Su Chan grabbed another piece of paper and scrawled a simple note: I tell you what, beloved. If you can guess what's on my mind now as I'm writing this note, then I'll truly believe that we're telepathically linked!
Su Chan folded the paper.
Su Chan clicked her tongue a few times. "Come here, birdie."
The crane seemed more compliant than before as it waddled over.
Su Chan poked the crane's head a few times. "You really need to learn how to walk properly, you know."
Just when she was about to slip the note into the groove, Su Chan stilled her hand. "Hold on a second, birdie..."
Su Chan unfolded the note and read over the note again.
Should I add a few more lines?
Minutes later, Su Chan decided that to just add a smiley face at the end of the note.
Birdie took off once again.
It was already dark when Su Chan saw birdie flying towards her window from afar. Somehow, this trip took much longer than the previous ones. Maybe Yundong had spent a long time writing his reply? The thought sent waves of anticipation coursing through her veins.
Birdie flew in through the bedroom window and headed straight for the square table. Su Chan wanted to scold it for returning much later than usual, but Birdie lay completely still on the table. Su Chan ignored it and went straight for Yundong's reply.
Su Chan unfolded the note: Hmm… I just told you that I passed the Zhuji phase... So I'm guessing that you were thinking about you and me together… on a bed!
Su Chan burst into giggles.
Oh, my dear beloved... You're thinking about touching me even when we're this far apart?
Su Chan's face heated up at the thought of Yundong touching her in an intimate way. Su Chan rolled onto the bed, hugging that tiny piece of paper to her chest. Somehow, that simple line of words penned down by the man she loved could make her feel like she was living in paradise.
At that moment, she was happy.
So very happy.