The wind whipped at his face. He knew he was shouting and screaming, but he couldn't hear his own voice due to the howling of the wind. Aside from the tiny dots of light spinning around him, it was dark everywhere. Just how high above the city was he? And why the hell couldn't he stop himself from hurtling around like a pinball.
Calm down first, Li Yundong. You gotta calm the f*ck down.
The flow of his Zhenqi was probably out of whack, that must be why he was spinning around so much, but then he couldn't just stop the flow of his Zhenqi; if he did, he would fall straight down.
Levitation, Li Yundong.
He had to work on stopping the propulsion force and just levitate until Zi Yuan came to get him. But f*ck! How was he even supposed to do that when his mental focus was so goddamned messed up?
Fear lanced through him. He could feel the flow of his Zhenqi becoming even more turbulent as the panic inside him grew.
Do something dammit! I've gotta f*cking do something!
The Lingtai. Su Chan said that the Lingtai was the key to calmness.
With that, he mustered every ounce of mental concentration he had left and moved a small amount of his Zhenqi to his Lingtai.
The calmness came almost instantly.
God he was such a f*cking idiot. Why didn't he do this from the start, before he even attempted to fly?
Seconds later, he could feel his body losing its earlier impetus, which meant that he had managed to stop the random bursts of propulsion force.
Now he had to stop his body from spinning around.
Come on, Li Yundong. You can do it... Concentrate...
Eventually, the spinning turned into a mild wobble.
Wait a minute.
The meditative posture... That's it!
A person's Qi flow is the smoothest when they're in a meditative posture. That was what Zi Yuan said.
Without ado, he tucked his legs under him and crossed them. After several tries, he managed to regain his balance, sighing in relief once he did.
His relief, however, was short-lived. Little dots of lights could be seen scattered beneath him, which wasn't a reassuring sight if he considered its implication. He shouldn't be up here, so high above the ground.
He wasn't ready yet.
He had to go. Now.
He unleashed his spiritual energy, not caring that it might turn him into a malfunctioning pinball again.
There was a lurch, and his world started spinning around again. F*ck! Why was it so damn hard to control the release of his spiritual energy!
Endless flurries of strong wind blustered his face, making his eyes water. Where the hell am I? Was he even in the city's airspace?
All of a sudden, the spinning stopped.
He could feel a familiar equilibrium in the way he was floating, but he knew that it wasn't his own doing. In fact, he'd felt this sensation before, on the night he killed He Shao.
A burst of green light appeared beside him, and he felt a strong grip on his arm.
Relief coursed through him at the sound of that voice.
His surroundings morphed into a dark blur as he felt a sharp downward dip.
When they landed, Li Yundong realized that they were at some abandoned playground near New Hongsheng District. He lowered himself to the ground and lay down on his back. He just... needed a minute.
The stars winked down at him as he tried to catch his breath. His cheeks still felt a little numb due to the wind. When the pounding in his ears subsided minutes later, he heard footsteps. He sighed and slowly got into a sitting position. Zi Yuan was pacing back and forth.
And she was fuming.
The pacing stopped the moment she noticed him looking at her. She stormed over and poked him in the chest, hard.
"Are you out of your mind?!" she shouted. "Have you forgotten about Wushuang-qianbei's warning?!"
Li Yundong stared at the woman in front of him, too stunned by her outburst to speak. He'd never seen Zi Yuan so riled up before.
"I told you to go slow... And what did you end up doing?" she growled, and then let out an angry huff. "You could've gotten both of us killed!"
"I don't know what happened, okay?" Li Yundong said tiredly. "You said to only use a little bit of spiritual energy, and that's what I did. I—"
"You shot out of the balcony in your first try!" she snapped. "You call that a little bit?"
"Look I don't know, okay!" he fired back. "It just happened!" He sighed heavily and climbed to his feet. "You know what? It was all my fault, and I'm sorry. I didn't know what I was doing." He turned around and walked back towards the apartment.
He stopped walking when he felt a gentle but firm grip on his arm.
He turned around and saw Zi Yuan looking back at him guiltily.
"I apologize," Zi Yuan said. "I shouldn't have yelled at you."
Li Yundong shook his head. "It wasn't your fault," he said, lowering his gaze to the ground. "I really don't know what happened back there. Either way, I know I screwed up. I'm sorry."
"Don't be too hard on yourself," Zi Yuan said. "You've made more progress than in months than literally every single Cultivator I know."
Li Yundong raised his gaze.
Zi Yuan was smiling at him.
He could tell that she was trying to make him feel better, but her attempt fell flat; it only made him feel worse, like he was a disappointment.
Yeah. Who was he even kidding. He was a disappointment. Maybe not to her, but definitely to himself. He was so disappointed in himself right now.
Still, he appreciated Zi Yuan's efforts, so he gave her a nod.
Zi Yuan sighed. "You know what? I think you're right. Let's just head back and call it a night."
Li Yundong couldn't agree more. He had a lot of thinking to do. Not to mention a lot practicing. He'd be damned if he didn't teach himself how to fly properly before dawn.
When Zi Yuan stepped into Hongling's apartment, her protégé was sitting on the couch, clearly waiting for her return.
"Elder Sister Zi Yuan..." Hongling said, rising from the couch anxiously. "What was that just now? I could've sworn I sensed the power of the Heavens amassing in the sky just now. It was... terrifying."
Zi Yuan sighed and shut the sliding door quietly.
"Well, you're not wrong," Zi Yuan said wryly as she padded towards the living room. "The drill was a disaster." She shook her head, disgusted at her own negligence and carelessness. "The Heir lost control, and I didn't have a contingency prepared."
"W- What? Lost control? What do you mean?" Hongling hurried over to her side and took her arm. "Are you hurt, Elder Sister Zi Yuan? Did he hurt you?"
Zi Yuan smiled and patted her protégé's hand. "I'm okay, Hongling, don't worry."
Still, Hongling pulled her towards the couch and sat her down.
When Hongling sat down beside her, she was looking expectantly at Zi Yuan, no doubt waiting for an explanation.
Zi Yuan raised a brow at her protégé. "You didn't see anything from here?"
Hongling shook her head. "I was... I was in my room." Hongling blushed. "I was... a little angry."
Zi Yuan sighed. "Hongling... I..."
"Wait…" Hongling turned around on the couch until she was fully facing Zi Yuan. Hongling's eyes grew wide with shock. "He… That idiot took off to the sky, didn't he?"
Zi Yuan studied her protégé for a few seconds. "Yeah, he did. But he didn't do it on purpose." Zi Yuan rubbed her forehead, then dropped her hand back onto her lap. "I guess I underestimated the strength of his spiritual energy..." Zi Yuan shook her head slightly and gave her protégé a wry smile. "I asked him to try flying around with only a little bit of spiritual energy."
A look of understanding formed on her protégé's face, though Zi Yuan thought she saw a hint of mirth in her eyes.
"But it was still too strong, and it blew him straight out of the building?"
Zi Yuan nodded.
A giggle escaped Hongling's lips, but then she quickly stopped herself. "S- Sorry, Elder Sister."
Zi Yuan waved off the apology. It was a little funny to be honest, if the situation weren't so dire, that is.
The two of them sat in silence for a minute or so.
"God, Hongling..." Zi Yuan sighed. "The balcony... Why did I ask him to fly towards the balcony?" Zi Yuan hooked a strand of hair behind her ear. "And then the sliding door... Why did I leave it open? I should have closed it."
"Please don't blame yourself Elder Sister Zi Yuan..." Hongling said gently. "And I doubt a glass door could stop the Heir's spiritual energy..."
Zi Yuan held her protégé's gaze, grateful for this small moment of comfort.
A teasing glint formed in Hongling's eyes. "And I'm sure he wouldn't want a human-shaped hole in the wall of his apartment," she joked.
"Yeah." Zi Yuan chuckled. Then, she cleared her throat and sighed. "Yeah, you're right, Hongling. Thank you so much for saying that."
"So um... he..." Hongling shot her a tentative glance. "He didn't get struck, did he?"
Zi Yuan did a double take. Did Hongling just express concern for the Heir's well-being?
Hongling seemed to have realized the implication of her own words as well, judging from the blush coloring her cheeks.
"I... I just… I just didn't want all your hard work to... to go to waste."
Zi Yuan smiled warmly at the younger girl. You keep telling yourself that, Hongling. Perhaps a friendship between those two was possible after all. "The Heir is fine, Hongling." Zi Yuan paused and replayed the Heir's behavior earlier. "He didn't seem too shaken... I think he was more disappointed in himself than traumatized by his near-death experience."
There was a snort. "What's there to be disappointed about?" Hongling mumbled. "Reaching the Shentong phase and learning how to fly in months? That kind of progress is a Cultivator's dream."
Zi Yuan let Hongling's comment pass.
"I seriously don't understand him, Hongling," Zi Yuan mused aloud. "How could he not feel terrified at all? And when he was all but this close to be struck down by the Heavenly Thunder?" Zi Yuan chuckled. "Sometimes I wonder if he really does have nerves of steel."
"Maybe he was just faking it," Hongling grumbled. "Maybe deep down he was actually wetting his pants."
Zi Yuan shook her head. "I doubt it..." She let her voice trail off for a few seconds. "Did you see the look on his face when he was speaking about the Heavenly Thunder just now? He looked like his mind was already made up. Like he really wanted to conquer the most powerful and the most unpredictable force in existence."
For a long while, neither of them spoke.
Then, Zi Yuan heard Hongling's sigh.
"Say... Elder Sister Zi Yuan..."
"Do you think... do you think he can survive?"
"To be honest, I don't know," Zi Yuan said. "Wushuang-qianbei's solution is brilliant, but there's still the risk of him getting hit."
"And if he gets hit? Would he survive?"
"No," Zi Yuan said in a heartbeat. "I don't think he'd survive if he gets hit."
Hongling sighed. "I think... I think he's likely going to become a powerful Cultivator if he can survive..."
Zi Yuan laughed and shook her head a few times.
Her reaction had clearly surprised Hongling; the latter turned around abruptly to face her.
"You don't agree, Elder Sister?"
"Oh, no. I definitely agree with the point you were trying to make." Zi Yuan kept shaking her head. "I just don't agree with your word choice, that's all."
"You said likely, Hongling." Zi Yuan laughed again. "Likely. That's such a travesty."
The look of confusion on Hongling's face didn't disappear.
"Not likely, Hongling," Zi Yuan said. "He will become a great Cultivator. And probably one of the greatest in our generation." Zi Yuan chuckled. "I honestly wouldn't be surprised if he ends up starting his own sect in the future."
"If he survives, that is…" Hongling added.
"I didn't know you look so highly on him, Elder Sister Zi Yuan..." Hongling said. "I mean... starting his own sect? That's like..." Hongling stared at Zi Yuan with wide eyes. "That's... That's in the same league as the greats like Zhang Sanfeng and Wang Yangming!"
Zi Yuan gazed towards the balcony. "You haven't seen all the things he's done, Hongling..." she said distractedly. "Once you've seen them, you'll no doubt agree with me. He has so much potential... Hongling... So much potential."
Once again, Wushuang-qianbei's question rang inside Zi Yuan's mind.
How much? Just how much was she willing to sacrifice to help this man reach his full potential?
Li Yundong waited patiently at the corridor outside the lecture hall. He'd checked inside the lecture hall ten minutes ago, so he knew that Ding Nan wasn't inside. Which was a good thing, because he wanted to interrogate Ding Nan away from prying eyes and ears.
Time to finally get some answers on Zhou Qin's whereabouts.
"Psst, psst, boss..."
Goddammit, not again…
Li Yundong tamped down a wave of annoyance and tightened his grip on the straps of his backpack. The Fan of Seven Treasures swayed a little when he turned around to face the guy who'd just spoken to him.
"What are you going to be performing?"
Li Yundong stared at the dude without answering.
"Oh, you know, during the dinner party for the freshmen..."
Li Yundong forced out a tight smile. "Just be there and you'll know. No spoilers, right?"
He even threw in a few fake laughs for good measure.
Thankfully, the dude got the hint that he wasn't in the mood to chat, and quickly left him to his brooding.
He felt a bit more tired than usual today, but that was probably because he'd spent hours last night trying to perfect his flying skills. He managed to do it, but it took him the whole night. It was totally worth it though; he really wasn't looking forward to a repeat of last night's disaster.
He didn't run to campus today; he took a cab instead. He wanted to be here as early as possible so that he didn't miss the chance to interrogate Ding Nan. Besides, after last night's harsh training, he figured he would give himself a break. Despite all the sneaking around he'd been doing once he arrived on campus, he still ran into Feng Na earlier. Apparently, Feng Na had been asking around for his whereabouts earlier today, and some dude told her that he'd seen him lurking around near the bathroom inside the academic building.
It turned out that Feng Na just wanted to remind him to be present for the rehearsal this afternoon. He answered her with a big flat no. He figured he would probably be spending his afternoon tracking down Zhou Qin, not flying around with a fake sword and artificial beard.
Li Yundong moved in swiftly as soon as he caught sight of Ding Nan's familiar handbag.
Ding Nan yelped in surprise when he grabbed her arm.
"Come with me," Li Yundong said in a hurried tone. "We need to talk."
After that, he dragged her away from the lecture hall towards a secluded spot in the corridor.
"No more games, Ding Nan," he said sternly. "Tell me where Zhou Qin is."
Ding Nan said nothing, though she seemed to be appraising him with her eyes.
"You said you'll tell me today," he said, raising his voice this time. "So here I am."
Ding Nan snorted.
"Are you sure you want to go see her?" she raised a brow. "Everyone is avoiding her. You know that, right?"
"Yes, I'm sure," Li Yundong growled. "How many times do I have to tell you that I don't give a shit about her status!"
Ding Nan flinched.
Li Yundong sighed and softened his tone. "I'm not gonna abandon my friends just because they lost everything. That's just not honorable, Ding Nan. It's what a coward does."
Ding Nan's eyes flashed angrily. "It's human nature, get it? Human nature! It's our instinct to seek out benefits and steer clear of disadvantages. You're different from other men, so here's some friendly advice. Stay away from her for your own good!"
"No, I won't."
"Fine, I'm naive," Li Yundong said coldly. "If not abandoning my friends when they're in need is a naive thing to do, then I'd rather be naive for the rest of my life."
Ding Nan's eyes grew wide. "Y- You..."
"Aren't you her friend too? Shouldn't you go see her as well?" Li Yundong softened his tone.
The anger returned to Ding Nan's eyes almost instantly.
"Friends?" she snarled. "I was never her friend! She was only using me!"
And I'm not buying your bullshit.
Li Yundong raised a brow. "Aren't you using her as well?"
Ding Nan's mouth clicked shut, and she stared at him with wide eyes. "W- What did she tell you about me? What did she tell you!"
"It doesn't matter what she told me," Li Yundong said. "Just tell me where she is." He paused and gave her a stern look. "I'm going to see her, and that's final. You can come along if you want."
"Go see her yourself!" Ding Nan seethed.
"Fine," Li Yundong said. "Where?"
"The hospital. Room 502."
Ding Nan stormed off.
"Which hospital?" Li Yundong yelled after her.
"The First People's Hospital!" came Ding Nan's angry reply.
Li Yundong stood there and watched Ding Nan walk away as her angry yells echoed in the corridor: "I hate her! I hate her to death!!"