Li Yundong felt as though he had the wind knocked out of him right then. He stared at Uncle Zhou, almost hoping that none of this was real, that he hadn't actually passed the Zhuji phase yet, that all of this was just a sick, f*cked up illusion that his personal god had concocted to torture him.
"Yes, boy," Uncle Zhou said. "She tried to take her own life." Their eye contact ended when Uncle Zhou turned away to stare out at the lawn. "She would rather die than become a tool to be used against you, it seems."
Li Yundong stared down at his own hands, the hands that he had used to kill He Shao, thinking that he would be protecting his friends in doing so. And yet...
The truth of it hit him square in the face: his punishment had already begun.
This. This crushing guilt. This was part of his retribution. It was the karmic consequence that he must suffer for ending He Shao's life.
He had overcome his fear of the Heavenly Thunder, so the Heavens found another way to punish him.
"I should've believed it back then..." Uncle Zhou's voice pulled Li Yundong out of his morbid thoughts.
Li Yundong looked up from his hands and saw the regret etched on the older man's face.
"Why didn't I believe it back then? Why?" Uncle Zhou shook his head while staring out into the lawn.
"Believe what?" Li Yundong asked.
Uncle Zhou raised his gaze and stared up into the sky. "When Qinqin was born..." A look of reminiscence spread over Uncle Zhou's face. "My younger brother, he..." Uncle Zhou cleared his throat. "I couldn't decide on a name for her, so my brother hired a Feng Shui master to point me in the right direction. According to the Feng Shui master, Zhou Qin temperament was affiliated to Gold among the other five elements." Uncle Zhou chuckled. "I still remember his exact words. He said that he could see a killer aura in Qinqin's eyes, said that she would grow up to become a tenacious and headstrong woman. He then advised me to give her a softer name to counterbalance this inherent tenacity." Uncle Zhou held Li Yundong's gaze for a moment. "He recommended that I go with the Chinese character, Qin, as in piano." Uncle Zhou laughed. "Piano... I didn't like it back then because I thought it was too soft. And besides, I was an atheist back then, so I didn't buy all that Feng Shui nonsense." He smiled wryly. "You could say that I was young and arrogant. I wanted my daughter to be powerful and dominating like I was. In the end, I picked another Chinese character with the same pronunciation."
Realization washed over Li Yundong.
"You went with Qin, as in Qin Shi Huang..." Li Yundong remarked.
Uncle Zhou nodded gravely.
"The leader of the Qin dynasty. The first emperor to unify China. Impressive, right?" Uncle Zhou chuckled. "I wanted her to be a conqueror, to be dominating."
Li Yundong sighed and said nothing. A small part of him could understand Uncle Zhou's motivation for putting all his hopes on Zhou Qin. After all, the Zhou family had a prominent status to protect.
But was everything worth it?
"It's all my fault that she ended up like this," Uncle Zhou said. "The high hopes I had for her have ruined her, and I realize that now. For years she has shouldered all my wishes and expectations on her own. I was blinded by power. I wanted her to follow my footsteps and become my successor. I... I never even asked for her opinion, never asked her what she wanted in life. At first... At first she was compliant. Did everything I asked without any complaints. Until..."
Li Yundong could feel Uncle Zhou's eyes on him.
"Until he met you..." Uncle Zhou sighed. "That was when everything changed. She... She became rebellious. No, I guess I should say that she finally knew what she wanted in life." There was a long pause. "She wanted freedom. The freedom to make her own choices and... And the freedom to love whom she chooses to love."
"Then you must hate me," Li Yundong stated blandly. "Your family and daughter are ruined because of me."
"I won't lie." Uncle Zhou leveled a piercing gaze at him. "I wanted to put a bullet through your skull, especially during the first few days of Qinqin's hospitalization." Uncle Zhou sighed. "But once the dust settled, I started to let things go." Uncle Zhou chuckled sadly. "What is it that they say? That there are ups and downs in life? Right now, my focus is to help Qinqin stand up again. I'll bring her overseas after this and—"
"Tell me about her injury," Li Yundong cut him off. "Why can't she stand up?"
Uncle Zhou lowered his gaze. "Spinal damage. She's... paralyzed from the waist down, but the doctors said that she was lucky, that it could've been much, much worse." Uncle Zhou looked up at him sadly. "I don't think Qinqin saw it as luck at all."
"Spinal injury..." Li Yundong said, narrowing his eyes. "Can you be a little bit more specific?"
"There's a blood clot between the 10th and 11th vertebrae of her spine."
Li Yundong fought against the sickness in his stomach. "Can it be removed via surgery?"
"Not without great risks."
"What kind of risks?"
"She... If anything goes wrong with the surgery, she… she might lose all her motor functions. Her whole body would be paralyzed."
Li Yundong couldn't breathe. He rose from the bench so quickly that his movements surprised the older man. "Excuse me, Uncle Zhou... I..." He cleared his throat. "I have to… I have to go see Zhou Qin..."
Li Yundong hurried away from the bench. He had to get out of there. He needed a moment to collect himself.
Li Yundong stared at his own reflection in the mirror, disgusted by what he saw. Thankfully, none of the stalls in the bathroom were occupied. He was pretty much losing his shit here, and he didn't want anyone to be around when he did.
He cupped his hands under the running faucet and splashed more water onto his face.
Zhou Qin could never stand up again let alone walk.
His actions had turned Zhou Qin into a cripple.
Li Yundong gripped the wash basin tighter and clenched his jaw. For a moment there, he wallowed in the feeling of rage boiling inside him, the rage at the He family for ruining so many lives.
Stop it, Li Yundong.
He closed his eyes and tried to calm himself down.
Being angry won't change anything.
Indeed, his old self would've barged straight into He residence and then beat up every single member of that f*cked up family. And considering the power he possessed, he might very well slaughter those animals and send them straight to hell.
But that wasn't him anymore.
He'd been through enough to know that violence wasn't always the best way to deal with problems. A true Cultivator shouldn't be impulsive. If anything, impulsiveness was the exact antithesis of what constitutes good Cultivation—nobody could possibly attain Ishvara without being in the proper state of mind. In fact, his impulsiveness was the thing that had led to this f*cked up situation in the first place.
Li Yundong slowly opened his eyes. Then, he stared at the faucet and watched it close slowly on its own without his hands touching it. While doing so, he imagined the running water being the metaphoric equivalent of his anger, gradually diminishing until it vanished completely, safely held back by a valve.
He sighed and rose to his full height. His reflection stared back at him with newfound resolve.
Fix this, Li Yundong. You've gotta fix this.
Uncle Zhou said that surgery could risk paralyzing Zhou Qin's whole body, but what if there was a way to remove the clot without surgery. There had to be something inside all those medical texts he'd gone through that could help. There had to be. What if Traditional Chinese Medicine had a solution? What if acupuncture or the Three-Prong Flower Gathering could—
Li Yundong froze.
"The Renyuan Jindan..." he whispered.
Yes… The Renyuan Jindan!
Su Chan said something about the Renyuan Jindan having curative properties.
"Maybe... Maybe it would work..." he whispered and started backing away from the mirror.
When Li Yundong returned to room 502, he nearly got the fright of his life: the wheelchair was overturned; and Zhou Qin was down on the floor, crawling towards a cupboard several feet away.
One of her arms was stretched out, and she was staring intently at the glass on the cupboard.
Li Yundong ran over and picked her up in a bridal carry. He heard a surprised gasp from Zhou Qin, but she didn't protest. Li Yundong righted the wheelchair with his foot just as the door opened and Uncle Zhou strode in.
Uncle Zhou stared at the scene for a moment before he had a look on his face which implied that this wasn't the first time this had happened.
"Again, Qinqin?" Uncle Zhou sighed heavily. "Why didn't you ask the nurse for help? Why do you have to be so stubborn?"
Li Yundong sighed inwardly and set Zhou Qin back into the wheelchair.
Zhou Qin was still refusing to meet his eyes, but Li Yundong could make out the redness in her eyes, like she'd been crying before he got here.
Uncle Zhou left the room quickly, probably to look for a nurse, leaving Li Yundong and Zhou Qin alone.
Li Yundong tried to look at Zhou Qin again, but she turned her head away every time he tried.
She doesn't want me here... Li Yundong sighed inwardly. He honestly wouldn't blame her for feeling this way. I should go and give her some space for now.
Li Yundong turned around and walked away. At the door, he suddenly stopped.
"I know you hate me and might not want to see me ever again," Li Yundong said gently. "But I promise you that I'm going to find a way to help you stand up again. Take care of yourself for now and... And don't give up." Li Yundong paused to take a breath. "Because I know I won't."
He opened the door and stepped outside.
"I'll be back tomorrow," he said.
Just as the door was about to close, he heard Zhou Qin's cold voice.
"Go! Go and don't come back! I don't want to see your face ever again!"