Li Yundong wasn't surprised to see Ruan Hongling here, but Zi Yuan? What on earth was Zi Yuan doing here?
"Why? Am I not allowed here?"
Zi Yuan's voice brought Li Yundong out of his momentary daze.
Li Yundong smiled. "I didn't say that," he said, then chuckled. "I was just surprised to see you here, that's all." He paused and studied the two living goddesses standing before him. "You two cleaned up nice."
And they did. Zi Yuan had her hair done in some kind of sophisticated updo whose name Li Yundong was sure he'd never even heard of. The updo suited her though. It left the column of her flawless neck exposed, not to mention complemented the long, flowing white gown she was wearing.
Ruan Hongling, on the other hand, wore her hair in a ponytail. Unlike Zi Yuan, Ruan Hongling wasn't dressed to the nines. Rather, she wore a sailor outfit, like one of those Japanese school girl uniforms.
"Thank you," Zi Yuan said with a regal nod.
"So you're not here to keep an eye on me then," Li Yundong deadpanned.
There was a loud snort. "Oh, get over yourself!" Ruan Hongling said, rolling her eyes. "Elder Sister Zi Yuan's presence here has nothing to do with you. She's here to watch my performance!"
Li Yundong's brows rose to his hairline. "Really now?" He cast a glance towards Feng Na, who appeared to be staring at Zi Yuan in awe. Not that he was surprised; Zi Yuan did have that kind of effect on people.
"You sound surprised," Ruan Hongling said smugly. "Somebody, it seems, has underestimated my artistic talents."
Li Yundong chuckled. "Underestimate you? I wouldn't dare." Then, he gave her a sidelong glance. "Although there is some level of concern about you getting stage fright." He smirked. "Make sure you don't embarrass Zi Yuan later by crying onstage."
Ruan Hongling's smug expression turned into a scowl. "You—"
"Oh, I remember now!" Feng Na exclaimed, snapping her fingers. "You must be Miss Calligraphy! Everyone's been talking about the pretty freshman who'll be giving the calligraphy performance. That's you, isn't it?"
"Yes. That's me," Ruan Hongling said with a confident grin. And of course, she didn't forget to throw a smug look Li Yundong's way while she said that.
Li Yundong chuckled and shook his head. Show off...
"Hey. Come to think of it..." Li Yundong shot Ruan Hongling a curious look. "I don't even know which department you're in."
"I'm with the Department of History," Ruan Hongling said, her eyes darting briefly to his face. "Not that it's any of your business."
"Oh? A historian, huh." Li Yundong sighed dramatically. "Oh well. Send your course mates my condolences then." He gave Ruan Hongling a teasing look. "I'm sure they'll be having it tough this semester."
"And what is that supposed to mean?" Ruan Hongling growled.
Li Yundong shrugged. "Nothing in particular. Just a—"
"Will you two stop bickering already?" Zi Yuan cut in. "We're in public. So behave yourselves."
Thankfully, Feng Na decided to step in and diffuse the situation.
"What say we all head to the backstage, huh? All the performers are probably gathered there already. Ah. Which reminds me." She suddenly gave Li Yundong a stern look. "You should do a last-minute rehearsal."
"Is that really necessary?" Li Yundong said, rolling his eyes. "I'm not even one of the main actors."
Feng Na glared at him. "That doesn't matter."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah... Whatever." Li Yundong waved his hand noncommittally, then leaned down to whisper into Zhou Qin's ear. "Hey. Do you prefer watching the performance from the backstage, or would you like to join the rest of the audience?"
Zhou Qin smiled at him. "I think it'd be better if I join the audience."
"As you wish." Li Yundong straightened and turned to face Feng Na. "Shall we?"
When they reached the backstage, Li Yundong immediately sensed that something was wrong. The performers involved in the play had formed a crowd around a guy who had a phone pressed to his ear.
Apparently, Feng Na had noticed that something was amiss to as she hurried towards the group.
"Hey, what's going on here? Why aren't you guys rehearsing?" Feng Na said.
One of the performers, a girl dressed in some traditional Chinese costume, suddenly turned around, clearly relieved to see Feng Na there.
"Oh, thank God you're here, Feng Na," said the girl. "It's Liu Ling. She isn't here yet."
The guy with the phone sighed. "Voicemail again." He shot Feng Na a helpless look. "I've tried calling her so many times already, but she never picked up."
The guy was clearly involved in the play as well, judging from his attire—a green robe, and a green headscarf.
"Voicemail?" Feng Na asked with a deep frown. "Every single time?"
All eyes turned to the guy with the phone.
"Yeah," said the guy.
"Damn it," Feng Na said, rubbing her forehead.
"Hey… Do you guys think something happened to her?" asked the guy. "Maybe she got into an accident or something?"
An uproar erupted among the performers.
"Don't say that!"
"Yeah! It's bad luck to stay stuff like that!"
The uproar continued until Feng Na decided to step in.
"Guys!" Feng Na shouted over the commotion. "Enough! Now's not the time to quarrel."
Feng Na started pacing around the backstage.
Li Yundong walked over and grabbed Feng Na's arm to stop her movements.
"Missing performer?" he asked.
Feng Na gave him a shaky nod. "Damn it. Why does this have to happen every time?"
Feng Na was hanging in there, but Li Yundong could tell that she was panicking inside.
"Is her role important?" Li Yundong asked. "If it isn't, then why not just find someone else to replace her?"
"That's the problem pal." Feng Na sighed heavily. "She's playing Zhao Ling'er..."
Li Yundong stared at Feng Na for a moment. "Well. Shit."
Zhao Ling'er was one of the main characters of the play.
Still, Li Yundong would try to be the voice of optimism here. He cleared his throat. "It's still early though. Right now, it's only..." Li Yundong glanced over at the clock. "A little past five." He looked away from the clock and gave Feng Na a reassuring smile. "Maybe she'll be here soon."
Feng Na gave him a grateful smile. "I sure hope so." Suddenly, Feng Na turned around to address the rest of the performers. "Ah. Guys! Meet our guest star today, Li Yundong! He'll be playing the master swordsman later."
A round of cheers and applause filled the backstage.
Li Yundong shot Feng Na a withering look. "Is that really necessary?"
Feng Na gave him a cheeky smile, then shrugged.
Li Yundong waited until the cheers and applause died down before addressing everyone.
"Um… Just do your thing, guys. Don't mind me."
One of the girls was about to say something but then she was cut off when Feng Na pulled her towards Li Yundong.
"This is Yu Le," said Feng Na. "She'll be playing Ling Yueru."
Apparently, Feng Na hadn't gotten the memo that he wasn't in the mood to socialize.
Li Yundong gave the girl a polite smile. "Hello."
"Hi," Yu Le said, holding out her hand.
Li Yundong took her hand and gave it a firm shake.
Yu Le suddenly chuckled. "Please don't kill me for real later, okay? Master swordsman?"
"Kill you?" Li Yundong waved his hand and feigned a wistful expression. "No, no, no... I'm afraid there isn't a single person in this world whom I deem worthy enough to die by my swordsmanship..."
Chuckles filled the backstage.
"Swordsmanship my ass," Ruan Hongling jeered. "He's never even touched a sword before."
Li Yundong shot Ruan Hongling a playful glare.
Ruan Hongling stuck out her tongue at him.
Li Yundong rolled her eyes and looked away when Feng Na introduced him to the rest of the performers.
The guy with the green headscarf was Zhong Xiuguo, a handsome dude who looked a bit like the Chinese actor, Hugh Hu. It turned out that he was the one playing Li Xiaoyao.
The next introduction took Li Yundong by surprise.
Jiang Xiuxiu, the airhead who had thought that it was "impossible" for him to be Li Yundong, was also involved in the play! She would be playing Gai Luojiao.
Li Yundong nearly laughed when Jiang Xiuxiu suddenly mumbled some lame excuse to leave the conversation, something about touching up on her makeup or costume. The poor girl was probably still mortified after Feng Na's little prank the other day.
"Gai Luojiao is a pretty important character, right?" Li Yundong looked towards Feng Na.
Feng Na smiled. "Yeah, why?"
Li Yundong jerked his chin in the direction that Jiang Xiuxiu had just run off to. "Can Jiang Xiuxiu really handle such an important role?"
Feng Na laughed as though he'd just told her a funny joke. "You shouldn't underestimate her, you know. She's majoring in the visual and performing arts, so she knows her way around scripts and stages."
"Ah. I stand corrected then." Li Yundong smiled, then paused in thought. "Here's another question. Where's my prop? You gotta give me some kind of sword if you want me to play the master swordsman, right?" He eyed Feng Na skeptically. "Unless you want me to show up onstage with that wooden stick we used during the rehearsals, which looks rather lame to be honest..."
Feng Na burst into giggles.
"Oh, don't you worry, pal," Feng Na said, patting his shoulder. "I've got that covered!" Suddenly, Feng Na turned her head around to yell at someone at the far end of the backstage. "Hey! Yan Hua! Bring the sword!"
Li Yundong's eyes bugged out when he heard that name.
"You're on speaking terms with the guy now?"
"Tsk. Tsk. Fellow student Li Yundong..." Feng Na smirked. "Looks like you're really out of the loop."
"What, did you guys meet up after the elections and you were charmed by his winning personality?" Li Yundong remarked dryly.
"He's my vice president," said Feng Na. "Of course we have to get along."
Li Yundong stared at her for a moment, then burst into laughter. "Oh...very clever, Feng Na." He shook his head. "Very f*cking clever."
Feng Na shrugged it off like it was nothing, though the smirk on her face told a different story.
Yan Hua didn't seem very happy with Feng Na's victory the other day, so Feng Na had probably selected Yan Hua as the vice president to either: A) keep a closer eye on the guy; or B) dissuade the guy from organizing petty schemes to jeopardize Feng Na's term as the student council president.
Moments later, Yan Hua stormed over carrying a longsword.
"This better be handled with extreme care." Yan Hua's pointed gaze at Li Yundong made it clear whom those words were meant for. "This thing is irreplaceable, I'm telling you."
Yan Hua passed the sword to Feng Na instead of Li Yundong.
Li Yundong shook his head in amusement, wondering if the idiot was aware that it wasn't Feng Na who would be wielding the sword on the stage later.
Feng Na held the sword above her head and studied it. "What, is this like a family heirloom or something?"
Suddenly, there was a loud shriek. Turning his head, Li Yundong saw Ruan Hongling pointing a shaky finger at the sword in Feng Na's hand. Zi Yuan, too, was eyeing the sword carefully. Her wide eyes betrayed her shock.
Ruan Hongling shot a glare at Yan Hua. "Are you nuts, Yan Hua? How could you steal that sword from—"
"Why would it be stealing if it's mine to begin with?" Yan Hua fired back, though no amount of snarky words could cover up the blush on his face.
Ruan Hongling ignored Yan Hua and turned towards Zi Yuan.
"Elder Sister Zi Yuan... That sword... Isn't that..."
Li Yundong frowned when he saw the subtle headshake that Zi Yuan had given Ruan Hongling. Even weirder was the way Ruan Hongling had clammed up instantly after receiving that look. Ruan Hongling being so compliant? Well, that's a first…
Clearly, the sword was some kind of big deal.
Li Yundong ran his eyes over the sword in Feng Na's hand. The only impression it gave him was that it looked like a... well, an antique sword. The blade looked clean and well-polished, but that was about it. Other than those, he didn't see any notable features.
Li Yundong approached Zi Yuan and Ruan Hongling.
"Hey guys," he whispered. "What's going on? What's the deal with that sword?"
Ruan Hongling was looking at Zi Yuan as though asking the latter for permission to speak. Okay. This was starting to creep him out a little.
"Guys?" Li Yundong asked with a frown.
Zi Yuan gave Ruan Hongling a nod.
"That sword belongs to my shibo," Ruan Hongling whispered back. "It's called Liuhe."
Shock coursed through Li Yundong, and he couldn't help the brief glance that he'd just cast at Yan Hua.
"Liuhe and Bahuang can be combined to form another sword," whispered Ruan Hongling.
"You're shitting me..." Li Yundong whispered.
If that guy was in possession of a Cultivators sword, then…
Li Yundong stared at Zi Yuan and Ruan Hongling in shock. "Please don't tell me Yan Hua is a Cultivator…"