Su Chan stared longingly out the window, hoping to detect even a slightest hint of white paper amidst the green mountains. Two days. Birdie had been gone for two days. Birdie, who was carrying her carefully constructed message to Yundong.
"Grr… Where on earth are you, birdie?" Su Chan muttered as she pushed herself away from the windowsill. "Why aren't you back yet?"
Su Chan paced around the room anxiously, pausing once every few steps to look out the window. She honestly didn't know why she even bothered. There weren't any signs of the paper crane every time she looked. Birdie had most likely gotten lost. Maybe that useless thing had malfunctioned halfway—like maybe it ran out of spiritual energy or something.
Regardless, this was terrible.
Master didn't believe her. And now she had no way to communicate with the one person whom she knew would believe her.
Su Chan wanted to cry.
Su Chan stopped pacing and glanced at the closed door of her bedroom. Su Chan hadn't spoken with Master ever since their argument regarding Mo-shibo's treachery and Gu-shibo's murder. Master had sealed the door of her bedroom. The only times Su Chan even saw Master was when she came into the room to deliver Su Chan's meals. Even then, they never spoke to each other.
Master wouldn't even look at her.
Chan'er is telling the truth, Master... Why won't you believe me?
Right. Silly, Chan'er. Because Gu-shibo, whom Su Chan had claimed to be dead, showed up at their quarters very much alive right after Su Chan made the claim.
Su Chan sighed and padded towards the window once again. Resting her elbows on the windowsill, she stared out into the sky. Was there a way to convince Master that she was telling the truth? Su Chan scoffed at the thought. How was she ever going to convince someone else when she herself wasn't sure what was going on? Did what she see take place at all? Su Chan sighed and stretched her arm forward. Her hand crossed the windowsill without encountering any resistance at all.
Master hadn't sealed the window.
Maybe she should sneak out and start searching the compound for birdie. If it fell off somewhere, she might be able to find it. Don't be a fool, Chan'er. Finding a tiny paper crane in the huge Mount Tianlong. Fat chance of that happening. Looking for her phone was out of the question either. Heavens knew where Master had hidden it.
Su Chan retracted her hand and slumped over the windowsill. Maybe she should just leave Mount Tianlong altogether. And then she could borrow some mortal's phone and call Yundong with it.
But still… It didn't feel right to just leave without telling Master anything.
The sound of her door knob turning nearly made Su Chan jump out of her skin. She whirled around from the window and dove straight onto her bed, pulling the blanket over her head. Lying completely still under the blanket, Su Chan listen with bated breath for any sounds inside her room. Was it time for her meal already? No. Su Chan was pretty sure it wasn't. For once in her life, the prospect of food failed to excite Su Chan.
After waiting in silence for about a minute, Su Chan slowly lowered the blanket and took a peek over the top of the blanket.
She squeaked loudly when she saw Master standing beside her bed, staring down at her. There was a stern look on Master's beautiful face. She wasn't even smirking or laughing at Su Chan's silly reaction.
Su Chan clutched the blanket tighter and struggled not to squirm under the Great Ao Wushuang's intimidating gaze.
The air was thick and heavy with tension, and Su Chan thought she was about to die of suffocation. After what felt like forever, Master's features softened. The bed dipped when Master sat down on its edge. A series of soft pats drew Su Chan's attention away from Master's form onto a spot on the bed where Master was patting with her left hand.
Su Chan kicked the blanket away and crawled over obediently. Once she got settled beside Master, Su Chan reached out a tentative hand to grab Master's arm.
"You said you saw your Mo-shibo and Gu-shibo sleeping together?"
There was a tight frown formed on Master's face, like it physically hurt her to say those words.
"Yes, Master!" Su Chan grabbed Master's arm and bobbed her head up and down. "I saw it happen with my own eyes! I swear!"
Master regarded her silently for a few seconds. "And then your Mo-shibo killed Gu-shibo afterwards?"
Hope kindled inside Su Chan. Was Master finally starting to believe her?
"Mmm!" Su Chan nodded earnestly. "Mo-shibo pulled out her hairpin and then went for Gu-shibo's Huagai." Su Chan leaned closer and let her voice drop to a whisper. "She drained everything from him, Master. Gu..." Su Chan shuddered at the memory. "I saw Gu-shibo turn into a bag of dry corpse before I got scared and ran away."
Master spent a long while in silent contemplation, which put Su Chan on edge. After another while, Master bent forward and massaged her forehead.
"You still don't believe me, do you, Master?"
Master's shoulders stiffened. Moments later, Master sighed. "It's not that I don't want to believe you, Chan'er. It's just the evidence."
Su Chan lowered her head dejectedly.
"How am I supposed to believe your story when Gu-shibo had shown himself to be alive and well?" Master paused to look at Su Chan. "I've spoken to him a few times after that day. I couldn't detect anything wrong with him at all. His spiritual signature seemed normal, and there wasn't anything out of ordinary in his behavior as well."
The last of Su Chan's hope fizzled out.
"But I saw..." Su Chan whispered. "I really saw..."
"It could just be an illusion," Master remarked.
Su Chan's gaze snapped upwards.
"It didn't seem like an illusion, Master," Su Chan fired back defiantly.
Master turned around sharply and grabbed Su Chan's shoulder. Su Chan could see the worry and concern etched on Master's beautiful face right then.
"You must tell me everything, Chan'er," said Master. "As many details as you can remember. Leave nothing out."
For a moment or two, Su Chan was taken aback by Master's vehemence.
"Chan'er?" Master prompted.
Su Chan shook herself out of her stupor and began recalling the events that day. "After I left our quarters, I… I went to the backyard... Oh! I brought birdie with me, too!"
Master nodded for her to continue.
"The stupid birdie took off, so I chased it around for a bit. Then I flew past..." Su Chan did the math inside her head. "Ten buildings?"
Master gave her a look of surprise. "You flew that far?"
"Yeah, well, that stupid birdie was fast..." Su Chan mumbled.
"I caught birdie eventually and landed on the roof of a large building," Su Chan said, then paused for a few seconds. "I... I didn't recognize the building or my surroundings. Don't think I've ever been there before."
The frown on Master's face deepened. "A large building you say?"
Su Chan frowned. "I don't understand, Master."
Master sighed. "Which direction did the crane take off in? Relative to the backyard, I mean."
Su Chan thought for a moment. "Um... South."
Master's eyes widened slightly. "South..."
Su Chan nodded.
"Are you absolutely certain?"
Su Chan bobbed her head up and down. "Mmm!"
A long stretched of silence passed. Su Chan didn't dare say make a sound lest she disturb Master's thought process.
"This building..." Master said in a tone so serious that Su Chan found herself sitting up straighter. "It's a three-story building with a lot of rooms?" The intensity in Master's eyes sent chills down Su Chan's spine. "And it's got these large eaves extending from the roof?"
Shock coursed through Su Chan. "Yes, Master! That's right."
It was obvious that Master recognized the building.
Master let out a shaky breath. "Which room did you witness the whole... You know." Master made a random gesture with her hand. When her hand motions stopped, Master was staring at Su Chan again. "Was it a room on the ground floor?"
Su Chan nodded again.
"How did you end up there?" Master asked. "Were you snooping?"
"After I caught birdie, I landed on one of the long eaves to catch my breath—"
Master silenced her with a raised hand.
"Which eave?" Master said. "Front, back, or side?"
"Front," Su Chan answered in a heartbeat.
Master nodded. "Continue."
"I heard..." Su Chan blushed a little. "Voices..." Su Chan cleared her throat. "Well, more like noises..."
"The ground floor..." Master whispered, then went silent. Moments later, Master looked up sharply. "When you were standing on the eave, were you facing away or towards the building?"
"Now. Using that as a reference point," Master said. "Which direction, relative to the eave, was the room in? South, east, or west?"
Master's eyes slid shut. "Mo Ahshi's personal quarters..."
"What did you do next?" Master cut her off abruptly.
"I... I got curious and traced the noises to that room." Su Chan fiddled with her sleeve. "The windows were open, so I... I took a peek..."
Master's eyes snapped open. "Did you run into anybody on the way to the room?"
Su Chan shook her head. "I flew around with Shadow Mist."
A look of relief spread across Master's face.
After a few moments of silence, Master's expression turned serious once again. "You were looking in from the window the whole time?"
"Were you discovered? Did either of them notice your presence?"
Su Chan stiffened a little at the question. "I… I um… I accidentally made a noise when I saw Gu-shibo die..."
Master shot her a withering glare. "And?"
"Mo-shibo did notice something, I think. She asked who was there, but I sneaked away." Su Chan shot Master a tentative glance. "I... don't think I was discovered?"
Su Chan let out a gasp when Master suddenly grabbed her shoulder. "I want you to think carefully, Chan'er. Did you see anything out of the ordinary while you were there? Anything at all?"
"Um... Like what?"
"Were there any talismans lying around?" Master asked.
Su Chan spent a few seconds searching her memory. "No, Master..."
"When you were chasing the crane, did you run into anyone?"
Su Chan shook her head. The stupid birdie was a handful. Su Chan could barely keep up with it let alone stop for a chat.
Master was silent for a few seconds. "What about before the chase?" Master stared at her intently. "When you were on the way to the backyard, did anyone speak to you, or touch you?"
"No..." Su Chan frowned and gave Master a strange look. "You think someone cast a spell on me, Master?"
"When you were spying on them through the window..." Master stared at her. "Was there any weird smell?"
"I... I don't think so?"
"Did you see any smoke inside the room? Was there any incense burning?"
Su Chan shook her head and waited for Master to say something.
Just when Su Chan thought she couldn't take the silence anymore, Master rose from the bed. Su Chan followed suit.
Master turned around to face her. "You must leave, Chan'er. It is no longer safe for you to remain here."
"Don't argue with me, Chan'er," said Master sternly. "Not this time."
Su Chan lowered her gaze to the floor.
A second later, Su Chan felt a firm pressure under her chin. The next thing she knew, her head was tilted upwards by Master's fingers.
"From this point onward, I want you to do exactly as I say," Master said with a pause. "To the letter. Is that clear?"
Su Chan nodded weakly.
Master grasped her shoulders tightly, drawing a gasp from her lips.
"Promise," Master growled, shaking her a few times.
Su Chan schooled her features and gave Master a determined look. "Yes, I promise you, Master."
Master sighed and released her shoulders. "Good."
"D- Do I... Do I leave now?" Su Chan asked.
She didn't want to leave to be honest. This didn't feel right. None of this felt right. Something sinister was lurking in this godforsaken place. She could feel it in her bones. Would Master be alright without anyone watching her back? Su Chan scoffed inwardly at the thought. Watching her back? Su Chan would probably just be a burden if she stayed. Maybe that was why Master wanted her to leave.
"No," Master said. "It would be unwise to leave now. You must wait until tonight." Master's eyes darted to Su Chan's face. "After you were properly fed and well-rested."
"And go on foot," Master said, giving Su Chan a pointed look. "No flying."
Su Chan blinked. "F- For the entire journey?"
"Yes," Master said. "We don't want anyone detecting your spiritual signature."
"I... Alright, Master," Su Chan mumbled weakly.
"Still remember that spell I taught you?"
Su Chan looked up sharply. "Yes."
Master nodded. "Use that. Make sure you cover your tracks well." Master gave her a stern look. "Do not let your guard down."
Su Chan lowered her gaze as a sense of déjà vu hit her. This felt a whole lot like the time when she was forced to go on the run after stealing the Jindan.
"And don't come back after you leave," Master said sharply.
Su Chan shot Master a timid glance.
"I mean it, Chan'er," said Master forcefully. "I don't care what you see or hear. Do not come back after you leave, you understand?"
"Stay away no matter what happens," Master paused. "You got that?"
Su Chan nodded weakly.
"Promise me," Master said vehemently.
"I-I promise," Su Chan said.
"Um... Where should I go, Master?"
"Head back to Dongwu City," said Master.
"Alright... But what should I do once I get there?"
"Lay low and wait for my instructions."
Which meant she would be going back to that corn-door building again.
"While you're laying low, pay close attention to the sky. You are to return to the Heir immediately if you don't hear from me after the Heavenly Thunder strikes." Suddenly, Master turned around to look at her with a raised brow. "You sent out the paper crane a few days ago, I presume?"
Su Chan could feel her cheeks heating up as she nodded meekly.
"And it hasn't returned yet?" Master said, glancing at Su Chan. "I didn't sense its return..."
Su Chan shook her head.
"Hmm... I suppose the Heir will be busy preparing for the divine punishment around this time. He probably won't have time to respond to any of your messages..."
Master's words brought Su Chan a small amount of relief. Maybe birdie didn't get lost after all. Good birdie.
"Anyway." Master waved her hand. "Rest up for now—"
Three gentle knocks on the front door stilled their conversation. Su Chan glanced up at Master, who was staring at the door with narrowed eyes.
A second later, Master was moving away from the bed.
"Wait! Master..." Su Chan hissed.
Master turned around and stopped Su Chan in her tracks.
"Stay in here and don't come out," Master whispered. "Everyone in the school knows that I have confined you to your room."
Su Chan stared at Master for a moment. Master's expression was stern and unyielding.
A second later, Su Chan nodded.
Master smiled and patted her head. "Good. And keep the door locked."
Su Chan closed the door and locked it once Master was out. After that, Su Chan pressed her ear against the door and tried to listen to the sounds outside.
Three more knocks sounded. Seconds later, Su Chan heard a click followed by the familiar creak of the front door. There was a brief pause before she heard Master's voice.
"Mo-shijie. What can I do for you today?"