Zhou Qin's jaw clenched when she saw her fathe—ahem—Zhou Keqiang walking in. That mental slip made her want to slap herself. She didn't have a father anymore. Why was he here anyway? Why did he even care? Surely, he had dozens of career-saving phone calls to make? Why on earth was he wasting his time on her? She was a cripple now. A burden. A liability. Wasn't it better for him to abandon her and go do his own thing?
"Leaving already?" Zhou Keqiang said, stopping beside the bed. "So soon?"
"Yeah." Li Yundong gave her a smile. "I think she's tired."
A horde of butterflies spawned inside Zhou Qin's stomach. Her heart fluttered in response.
The fluttering stopped the moment she noticed Zhou Keqiang's eyes on her. Zhou Qin turned her head away to look out of the window instead. She didn't want to look at Zhou Keqiang. She didn't even want him here.
The room plunged into an awkward silence. Despite her mask of aloofness and her determination to avoid Zhou Keqiang's eyes at all cost, Zhou Qin couldn't help but sneak a few glances at Li Yundong.
Finally, after what felt like forever, Li Yundong broke the silence.
"Well then!" he said almost too cheerily. "I really should go. I'll be back again tomorrow, Uncle Zhou."
"Ah, yes. Right..." Zhou Keqiang said, though his tone sounded a little weird.
Zhou Qin turned away from the window to look at Zhou Keqiang, her eyes narrowing slightly. Zhou Qin didn't like the way Zhou Keqiang was looking at Li Yundong. Not one bit.
"So you'll be back tomorrow?" Zhou Keqiang asked hopefully.
Li Yundong looked from Zhou Keqiang to Zhou Qin, then back to Zhou Keqiang again. "If you guys don't mind, of course."
Zhou Qin opened her mouth to speak, but Zhou Keqiang beat her to it.
"Of course we don't mind," Zhou Keqiang said. "In fact, I think it's a great idea. I think… I think you should come visit Qinqin more often. After all…" Zhou Keqiang suddenly trailed off.
Zhou Qin's eyes narrowed even further. Oh no, you don't...
"Yes, Uncle Zhou?"
Zhou Keqiang cleared his throat. "After all, Qinqin—"
"You don't have to be here tomorrow, Li Yundong," Zhou Qin said quickly, glaring at Zhou Keqiang. "I'm fine."
Li Yundong, who was already at the door, smiled at her.
Zhou Qin's heart did that fluttering thing again.
"Nah. It's fine. I've got no plans tomorrow anyway. Rest well, Zhou Qin." Then, Li Yundong looked towards Zhou Keqiang and smiled. "Until tomorrow, Uncle Zhou."
Zhou Keqiang answered with a nod.
Zhou Qin watched the door close behind Li Yundong.
After a while, she heard Zhou Keqiang's loud sigh.
"Don't you think you should let him know how you feel?"
Zhou Qin tore her gaze away from the door.
"What I do is none of your business," she said coldly.
"Qinqin... Sometimes being stubborn isn't going to get you what you want."
Zhou Qin ignored her fath—ugh, dammit! Ex-father.
"Try telling him tomorrow," Zhou Keqiang said. "Maybe he—"
"And what would be the point in that," Zhou Qin cut him off sharply. "He's already..."
In love with someone else.
And worse, her love rival was a woman who Zhou Qin cared about and had no desire to hurt.
"Besides..." Zhou Qin continued. "I'm pretty sure he already knows how I feel..."
"Even so," Zhou Keqiang argued, "you should make your feelings clear to him. Lay all your cards on the table."
And then what? Scare him away? Or be rejected right in the face? No thanks.
"Don't you see? Now is the perfect time for you to capture his heart," Zhou Keqiang continued. "Right now, he feels indebted to you. If you tell him how you feel, then maybe he—"
"He's already in a relationship," Zhou Qin snarled. "I'm not going to ruin his relationship by guilt-tripping him into being with me. That's just..."
Selfish. Not to mention utterly and disgustingly pathetic.
Zhou Qin sighed. "His faithfulness is why I fell for him in the first place. If... If he's the type who's willing to abandon his lover, or the type who gives in to temptation easily, then I might end up despising him."
"Good God, Qinqin. What are you even saying?" Zhou Keqiang said exasperatedly. "So you're just going to keep torturing yourself by watching him from afar? By watching him love someone else? Are you a masochist?"
Zhou Qin kept staring out the window. She didn't even know what she was looking at. She was just... looking.
"I don't have to be with him..."
"I'm happy if he's willing to spend time with me and just be my friend... Maybe chat with me. Cook me a meal once in a while..."
"Qinqin... You... You've really lost your mind!" Zhou Keqiang yelled.
Zhou Qin smiled wryly. Maybe she had. She didn't care anymore.
"Look..." Zhou Keqiang sighed. "You said that your feelings for him might disappear if he turns out to be the unfaithful type, right? That's what you said."
Zhou Qin bristled at those words. She had a pretty good idea what Zhou Keqiang was suggesting, but she said nothing.
"I say you do it," Zhou Keqiang continued. "Tempt him. Confess to him. Do everything you can to win him over. What do you have to lose anyway? The way I see it? There can only be two outcomes if he leaves his girlfriend and chooses to be with you. One, your feelings for him remain, in which case you can be with him and be happy. Two, his infidelity disgusts you and you end up hating him, which is still better because then you won't have to suffer the pain of watching the man you love be with another woman."
Zhou Qin turned away from the window and glared at Zhou Keqiang.
"It's the most logical choice, Qinqin," Zhou Keqiang said tiredly. "I don't want you to get hurt—"
"Out!!!" Zhou Qin pointed at the door. "I don't need your concern! Get out!!"
"I said, OUT!" Zhou Qin grabbed any object within reach and hurled it at Zhou Keqiang. "Out! Get out of my sight!!"
The TV was turned on when Li Yundong stepped into his apartment. Ruan Hongling was lounging on his couch, totally making herself at home. There were also noises coming from the kitchen. Someone, who could only be Zi Yuan, was chopping vegetables inside the kitchen.
Li Yundong's backpack bounced a few times when he dumped it onto the couch.
"What are you doing here?" Li Yundong chuckled and stared at Ruan Hongling. "You don't have a TV back at your own place?"
Ruan Hongling turned away from the TV and gave him a dirty look. "Oh. So we're unwelcome at your home, is that it? Despite everything Elder Sister Zi Yuan has done for you?" Ruan Hongling rolled her eyes and stood up from the couch. "Fine then! I'll leave!"
Then, before Li Yundong could even get another word out, Ruan Hongling turned to face the kitchen and yelled, "Elder Sister Zi Yuan! I think we should go! Somebody here doesn't like the fact that we're here and wants to kick us out!"
"Hey! When did I say—" Li Yundong closed his eyes and sighed. "It was a joke, okay? A joke."
Ruan Hongling eyed him tauntingly. "A joke?" She smirked. "Oh, alright." Ruan Hongling plopped down on the couch and put her feet up on the coffee table. "Then I'm sure you won't mind if I make myself at home."
"Hey!" Li Yundong glared at her angrily. "Feet off the table!"
Ruan Hongling stuck her tongue out. "Make me."
"Tsk! You little—" Li Yundong pointed at the coffee table. "Feet off! Now!"
Li Yundong's harsh tone must have worked because Ruan Hongling suddenly flinched and let her feet drop from the table.
Then, as though embarrassed for allowing herself to be intimidated by Li Yundong, Ruan Hongling sprang to her feet. "Look at him, Elder Sister Zi Yuan! He's bullying me again!"
"Will you two stop bickering like a bunch of three-year-olds?" Zi Yuan walked out of the kitchen carrying a bowl of something. "I swear to God you two belong in a kindergarten."
"But he's (she's) the one who started it!" Li Yundong and Ruan Hongling shouted at the same time.
Li Yundong froze, then whipped his head around to stare at Ruan Hongling, who was also staring back at him.
"Why are you copying me?" they both asked at the same time.
Zi Yuan set the bowl on the dining table.
"Well, well, well. Would you look at that," Zi Yuan said dryly. "So much chemistry between you two."
"C- Chemistry?!" Ruan Hongling gaped for a moment. "With him? Eww!!! Elder Sister! That's just so disgusting. Eugh! Bleh! Bleh! Bleh!"
"As if I care." Li Yundong snorted. "The only person I want to have chemistry with is my princess!"
"Oh. You mean with that demon witch?" Ruan Hongling snorted. "Wow. Great stuff there."
Anger rose inside Li Yundong. "What the hell did you say?!"
Ruan Hongling suddenly ran towards Zi Yuan and hid herself behind the older woman's back. "Look at him, Elder Sister. He's bullying me even though I'm your shimei. You're my shijie. Won't you do something about him?"
Li Yundong glared at Ruan Hongling as Zi Yuan rubbed her temple.
"Just stop talking," Zi Yuan said tiredly. "Both of you."
Li Yundong grabbed his backpack from the couch and walked towards his room without another word. He was so done with this shit. Today was too emotionally taxing, and he needed some space to work through things. It was bad enough that he had to deal with his guilt after finding out about Zhou Qin, not to mention the divine punishment he had to face. And now Ruan Hongling had to start giving him shit in his own f*cking home. He was so f*cking tired.
"Hey, where are you going? Dinner is almost ready." Zi Yuan's voice sounded behind him.
"I'm not hungry," Li Yundong said numbly, then slammed the door shut behind him.
It's all your fault, Li Yundong... It's all your fault...
Li Yundong's legs felt like lead as he padded over to his bed. At the edge of the bed, he lowered his backpack to the floor and pulled out the Fan of Seven Treasures. Do I even deserve this? He chuckled sadly, then lay the fan on top of the mattress. His eyes lingered on the Hello Kitty piggy bank that lay beside his pillow.
With a sigh, he climbed into bed and lay down on his side to stare at the piggy bank.
"I miss you, my princess," he whispered to no one in particular. "I miss you so much..."
Ao Wushuang's patience was wearing thin, mostly because her beloved disciple was about to drive her nuts with her antics—scratching her hair once every few seconds, running circles around the room, poking her head out the window. It had been that way for hours. Hours. Enough was enough.
Ao Wushuang slammed the manuscript she'd been reading down onto the table.
"For Heavens' sake, Chan'er! What on earth is the matter with you?" Ao Wushuang growled. "Why are you acting so antsy?"
Chan'er withdrew her head from the window and turned back around to face Ao Wushuang.
"Come here," Ao Wushuang ordered, her sharp tone causing Chan'er to flinch.
Seconds later, Chan'er shuffled back towards the square table and sat down on the stool.
Honestly, what was the matter with this girl? Ao Wushuang had been super tolerant with her already. Letting her write to her beloved Yundong? Telling her about the progress the Heir had made in his training, or the fact that he had passed the Zhuji phase? What more did Chan'er want?
Why couldn't she just focus on her own training?
Although Chan'er wasn't the most talented Cultivator out there, she still possessed above-average talent. With hard work and persistence, Chan'er had the potential to become a six-tailed fox spirit, and that was exactly what Ao Wushuang wanted to help her achieve. But ever since Chan'er met the Heir, it was like she had lost all interest in Cultivation.
It was frustrating for Ao Wushuang to see that Chan'er had made little to no progress in her training despite the months since Ao Wushuang had separated her from the Heir.
Little to no progress.
How utterly infuriating!
This could not go on.
Ao Wushuang rapped her knuckle against the surface of the table.
"Talk," Ao Wushuang said sharply. "What's going on?"
The way Chan'er had looked up fearfully from under her lashes sent frissons of alarm through Ao Wushuang.
Still, Ao Wushuang waited patiently for Chan'er to open up.
"W- Will you be mad if I tell you?"
Ao Wushuang arched a brow. "And you think I won't be mad if you don't tell me?"
The next few moments passed by in total silence. Chan'er seemed to be pondering Ao Wushuang's words.
Then, a crestfallen look spread across Chan'er's face.
"I guess I won't tell you then," said Chan'er. "Sorry, Master."
Ao Wushuang could almost feel the veins popping out in her forehead. This was not how she had envisioned this conversation to go.
"Tsk! Enough of that," Ao Wushuang said. "Just tell me."
Su Chan twiddled her fingers on the desk. "D- Do you really want me to tell you?"
Ao Wushuang slammed her palm against the desk. Chan'er flinched.
"You won't tell me? Is that it? Fine! I'm going to kick you out—"
Chan'er was out of the stool before Ao Wushuang could even complete her sentence. The next thing she knew, Chan'er was running towards the front door.
"Hey, where are you going?!" Ao Wushuang yelled, rubbing her temples. "You haven't told me what's wrong yet!"
Ao Wushuang stared at the front door, which was still open. Seconds later, Chan'er's forehead and eyes peeked out from behind the doorjamb.
"B- But you said you'll kick me out, Master..."
"I said... Ugh!" Ao Wushuang took a deep breath, then exhaled. "Fine. Go away. Leave. I don't want to see you walking or crawling back in here until you've decided that you're ready to tell me what's wrong with you."
Ao Wushuang picked up her manuscript and pretended to study it.
"Oh." Chan'er's head disappeared from the doorway for a moment.
Seconds later, Chan'er's figure reappeared at the doorway.
Ao Wushuang smirked. This girl is so easy... Scare her a little and she'll come running back—
Ao Wushuang's jaw dropped open at what she saw next.
Chan'er raised both arms above her head, then lay down on the ground.
"For goodness' sake! What are—"
Chan'er rolled on the floor a few times until her body cleared the door's threshold.
"W- What on earth are you doing?!" Ao Wushuang asked, rising from the stool. "Did you hit your head or something?"
Chan'er got up from the floor, patted her clothes a few times, and then stared back at Ao Wushuang with those wide, innocent eyes of hers.
"Oh... You said I'm not allowed to walk or crawl in if I'm not ready to tell you." Chan'er blinked a few times, then pointed at the doorway. "I rolled in. So technically, I did neither. Hehe... Which means I can be here and still not tell you anything…"
"You—" Ao Wushuang took in a deep breath, then exhaled. Seconds later, Ao Wushuang burst into laughter. "Oh, God. How can I be laughing when I'm so mad at you!"
"Hehehe..." Chan'er shuffled over towards Ao Wushuang and grabbed Ao Wushuang's arm. "Aww... Don't be mad at me, Master... Please...?"
Ao Wushuang stifled the last of her laughter and swiped a stray tear from the corner of her eye. "Tsk! Your cute charms aren't going to work this time." Ao Wushuang glared at the girl. "Explain your behavior just now! Why did you look so nervous? What's worrying you?"
Chan'er regarded Ao Wushuang's face carefully, then broke into a grin. "Well..."
One of Ao Wushuang's brows rose higher.
"IheardYundongcallmynamejustnow!" Chan'er said.
Ao Wushuang stared at Chan'er's face. "Oh. This again."
Chan'er bobbed her head enthusiastically.
Ao Wushuang groaned and rubbed her temples again. Now I regret asking her...
"But you said that to me pretty much every day, Chan'er." Ao Wushuang sighed and lowered her hands. "Yet you didn't seem nervous yesterday, or the day before. Why is today different?"
Chan'er's lips pooched out, forming what appeared to be the largest pout in the history of pouts.
"Because it's true today!"
Ao Wushuang rolled her eyes. "Yeah? You believed it was true yesterday too. And the day before."
"Argh. I don't care." Chan'er grabbed Ao Wushuang's arm tighter. "It has to be true this time... It has to be..."
When Ao Wushuang glanced down, she immediately noticed the faraway look in Chan'er's eyes.
"It has to be true..." Chan'er mumbled. "I can feel it."
Ao Wushuang sighed. "Oh fine. Just do whatever you want. I don't care anymore." Ao Wushuang shook her head. "And I won't force you to keep training. If you want to stay mediocre, then stay mediocre. Just don't come crying to me if your lover gets tired of your ineptitude." Ao Wushuang freed her arms from Chan'er's grasp. "Now get out of here. Go play or whatever."
Chan'er ran off, then paused at the door. "Master..." Chan'er was grinning from ear to ear. "Yundong is nice to me... He won't get tired of me."
"Just wait and see then."
Chan'er snorted haughtily. "Fine! I'll wait and see!"
After she left their living quarters, Su Chan quickly made her way out of the building. Minutes later, she found herself in a picturesque backyard: beautiful greeneries with thick and lush hedges; large rocks stacked together to form artificial cliffs and mountains; several winding brooks that wreathed around the area with cute little bridges arching over them; elegant gazebos that stood majestically near the brooks.
Su Chan trudged towards a stone bench and sat down on it. Once seated, she glanced to her left, then to her right. She was completely alone.
With a sigh, she reached into her pocket and pulled out the paper crane.
She set the crane down on the stone table in front of her.
The crane flopped lifelessly onto the table's surface the moment she released her fingers.
Su Chan's heart sank to her toes.
Still, she refused to give up.
"Hey, hey..." She poked the crane's body with a finger. "Wake up. I need you to send a message for me."
The crane remained motionless.
Su Chan poked at it again. "Wakey, wakey..."
Is it still running low on spiritual energy? But how can this be? It's been days already!
Disappointment rose inside Su Chan, culminating in a wave of anger. "You useless birdie!" She snatched the crane off the table and then hurled it towards one of the brooks.
Much to her chagrin, the crane flapped its wings in midair and took off towards the sky.
The stupid birdie landed on the rooftop of one of the gazebos.
What the… Grr! It's been playing dead all along!
Su Chan's anger returned in full force. "You! Get down here! Now!" Su Chan pointed at the gazebo.
The paper crane shook its head fervently.
Su Chan rolled up her sleeves. "That does it! I'm gonna get you! And then I will tear you to pieces!"
The crane took off in fear.
"Get back here!" Su Chan took off after the crane.
If Su Chan had been wondering about how fast or agile the crane could be, she definitely had her answer now. This stupid birdie was the most nimble thing Su Chan had ever seen!
"Grr!" Su Chan made another swipe at the crane.
The crane twisted its body sideways and slipped away before her fingers could close around it.
The chase lasted for minutes before Su Chan managed to hoodwink the crane with a clever feint. With a triumphant smile, Su Chan landed on one of the eaves of a large building.
Hehehe... Think you can outrun me? Hmph! Not a chance!
Ignoring birdie's incessant struggles to free itself from her hand, Su Chan glanced around the area. Great. Now she had no idea where she was. By her count, they had flown past about ten buildings or so.
Voices drifted up from below.
Hmm? Su Chan crouched down on the eave and tried to make out the voices.
The paper crane stopped struggling after Su Chan shushed it.
She spent another minute or so on the eave, listening for the voices.
She didn't hear them again.
Had she imagined everything?
As it turned out, she hadn't imagined the voices. The same voices were heard the moment Su Chan activated Eryue. The sound definitely came from the building below her, which was rather large, judging from the length of its roof.
But those voices...
They sounded oddly familiar.
Su Chan lowered herself soundlessly to the ground. After that, she slinked towards the building and leaned her back against the wall.
She uncurled her fingers slightly and stared at birdie. The birdie, it seemed, had also sensed that their little adventure had taken a suspenseful turn. It sat quietly on her palm, staring back at her excitedly.
"Don't fly away, okay?" Su Chan whispered. "And don't make a sound."
Birdie nodded obediently.
Su Chan gently slipped birdie into her pocket, then closed her eyes.
Su Chan's body morphed into thin wisps of green smoke.
After that, she floated around the building for a while until she finally discovered the source of the voices: a room located on the east side of the building.
The window was open, which explained why the voices were audible in the first place. Su Chan's blood ran cold the moment she heard those voices—or should she say, noises.
No. No way.
This cannot be... H- How... How can this be happening?
Overwhelmed by a sense of disbelief, Su Chan slinked over towards the window to take a peek, hoping that her ears were playing tricks on her.