Bed. Pillow. Ceiling. Hello Kitty piggy bank. Home. A soft sigh made its way past Li Yundong's smiling lips as he drifted into wakefulness.
I made it, Chan'er. I kept my promise to you…
Grinning, Li Yundong got out of bed and stretched his arms above his head. The piggy bank clinked as it rolled on the mattress. Affection bloomed inside Li Yundong's chest. Lowering his arms, he picked up the piggy bank and studied its shiny surface, wondering how Su Chan would react if he brought the piggy bank along to their long-awaited reunion. What was it that Su Chan had always called the piggy bank again?
Li Yundong brought the piggy bank towards his desk and set it down. Then, he walked out of his bedroom feeling more light-hearted than ever. At the living room, he stopped beside the couch, glancing around until he located the Fan of Seven Treasures lying on the coffee table. Sunlight trickled in from the balcony, showering the apartment with warmth. Scattered across the floor were the remnants of his (and Zi Yuan's) last-ditch effort from the previous night. He had come so close, in both sense of the word: so close to succeeding; and so close to dying.
A wave of sadness crept into his chest.
The woman had saved his ass again. And in doing so, she had lost not only the jade plate, but another one of her magical object as well—some kind of strange mirror whose function he knew nothing about. Zi Yuan had told him repeatedly not to worry about her sacrifices and to respect the choice that she had willingly made. He did respect her choice, and he sincerely appreciated her sacrifices.
Li Yundong shook off his negativity and forced himself to focus on the good that resulted from this whole ordeal: friendship; loyalty; trust; personal growth; and respect.
Indeed, Zi Yuan had now become a valued friend and a trusted ally.
And he would repay her. So help him God he would repay her. And thanks to Zi Yuan finally opening up to him about the reason she was helping him, he now knew how he could do that: he would take Wang Yuanshan's word for it and do everything in his power to help Zi Yuan achieve transcendence.
A loud buzzing made him look down. His phone was vibrating against the coffee table. Zi Yuan must've left it there when she brought him back last night. The caller ID surprised him a little. Bending down, he picked up the phone and answered the call.
"Good morning, Zhou Qin. How are you?"
For a few seconds, the sounds of breathing was all he could hear.
"Hello?" Li Yundong frowned. "Zhou Qin? Are you there—"
"Can we meet?"
Li Yundong's eyes narrowed. Why did she sound so breathless?
"Uh, sure," he said carefully. "Campus?"
"Y-Yeah, okay…" There was a pause. "Campus… Campus sounds fine."
"Hey, Zhou Qin… Are you alright? You sound a little—"
The call ended with a loud click.
Li Yundong lowered the phone and stared at the screen for a moment. She just hung up on him. What the hell was that?
He tried calling again, but Zhou Qin had shut off her phone.
Seriously, what the hell?
Li Yundong sighed and pocketed his phone. For a moment, he considered calling Feng Na or Cheng Cheng to check her, but then thought better of it.
It was obvious that something was wrong, and at the moment, Li Yundong could only come up with three possibilities. One, her legs were acting up again. Two, perhaps she had a fight with Uncle Zhou and needed some advice, though he didn't understand why she couldn't just tell him over the phone. The third possibility was decidedly the worst: the Hé family was giving her trouble again.
Li Yundong grabbed his backpack from the couch, then moved towards the coffee table to grab the Fan of Seven Treasures. Once the fan was secured inside his backpack, he left the apartment in a hurry.
He would have to get in touch with Zi Yuan later to find out where the Fox Zen School was. But he had to make sure that Zhou Qin was alright first.
The journey to campus took him twenty minutes, since he couldn't fly during the day. As he walked past the gates, he called Zhou Qin's phone again. Alas, her phone was still turned off, so he had no idea where they should meet.
Li Yundong went to the cafeteria first, since it was the most logical place to have a social meeting.
Zhou Qin wasn't there.
Geez. Couldn't she at least set a meeting place before hanging up?
With a sigh, he pulled out his phone to check for any text messages. Perhaps she had decided to text him the meeting place.
No new messages.
Frowning, he pulled up his contact lists and scrolled through it, wondering whom he should call. His fingers paused when he saw Ding Nan's name.
They had another falling out the other night. Why would she know where Zhou Qin was?
In the end, Li Yundong decided to call Feng Na. Needless to say, Feng Na was her usual bubbly self.
"Yo, Li Yundong! I haven't seen you in almost a week! Where the heck have you been?"
"Morning, Prez. Hey, um… Have you seen Zhou Qin today?"
"Err… No. No, I haven't," Feng Na said. "Not today… Oh, guess what! She's been back for a week, you know? And she's moving without the wheelchair! Isn't that great?"
Yes, that was great. Super great. And it would be even better if she wasn't acting so weird.
"Can you help me ask around? See if any of your friends have seen her today?" Li Yundong shook his head. "This is urgent."
There was a long pause.
"Hey… Is something the matter?"
"I just…" Li Yundong sighed. "She called just now and asked me to meet her in campus, but she didn't say where."
"Hmm… That's a little odd," said Feng Na.
"Yeah? Tell me about it," he muttered under his breath.
"Well, I did see her yesterday," Feng Na said. "She was… I don't know, she seemed a little down, I guess? Cheng Cheng and I asked her to join us for lunch, but she declined." There was a pause. "I think she left the campus after that."
"She seemed down, you say?" Li Yundong frowned.
"Did she seem… stressed out?"
"Err… I wouldn't say stressed out?" Feng Na paused. "More like depressed."
"Did any—" Li Yundong checked himself, wondering how much he should reveal to Feng Na about the Hé family.
"Hey, what is it?"
Li Yundong cleared his throat. "Did anyone come to talk to her recently?"
"You mean other students? Well, we don't attend the same lectures, so I don't really know. But she's popular, right? I'm sure she's talked to a lot of students since her return—"
"No. I don't mean other students."
He could tell that Feng Na was confused.
Li Yundong sighed. "Damn. How should I even put this? Um… Did anyone from outside the campus come to see her? Like… Men in suits?"
"Men in suits?"
"Like powerful people, you mean?"
"Hmm…" Feng Na grew quiet for a few seconds. "The only person that fit the men-in-suits criteria is her dad." There was another pause. "On the first day of her return, Cheng Cheng and I walked her out after class. Her dad was there to pick her up."
"And that's it?"
"Yeah." Feng Na paused. "Why are you asking all this? Is everything alright?"
"Oh, no. Everything's fine," Li Yundong said in a faux cheery tone, which probably wasn't fooling Feng Na at all. "Just… Just give me a call if you see her, okay?"
"Um… Okay, sure. I'll ask Cheng Cheng and my other friends if they've seen her."
"Thanks, Prez! I owe you one."
He hung up and made his way towards the cafeteria's exit. On the way towards the academic building, he took a detour and headed towards the copse of trees near the academic building. It was worth a try considering he once had a private meeting with Zhou Qin inside the gazebo.
The gazebo was empty when he arrived.
"Damn it." Li Yundong glanced up at the sky. "She isn't here."
He pulled out his phone and checked for any new messages. There was only one message, but it was from Feng Na, not Zhou Qin:
Asked Cheng Cheng. Didn't see her today either. Still waiting for my other friends to reply. Good luck in your search.
Li Yundong flicked a quick thank-you text and pocketed his phone again.
At the ground floor of the academic building, he ran into a guy from his class.
"Yo! Li Yundong! Haven't seen you in a week, man! How have you been? Oh, and nice performance the other—"
"Listen, have you seen Zhou Qin?"
The guy beamed. "Oh yeah, I did! Saw her when she came back last week! She—"
"No." Li Yundong raised of his hand to silence the guy. "I mean today. Have you seen her today?"
The guy shook his head. "Er… No. I haven't seen her today."
Li Yundong's heart sank.
"But a buddy of mine did."
Li Yundong's gaze snapped up. "Where?"
"My buddy ran into her at the staircase leading to the rooftop," said the guy. "My buddy was coming down from the stairs, but she was walking up. So I'm guessing she's at the rooftop?"
Li Yundong's blood ran cold. He stepped forward and grabbed the guy's shoulder. "When was this?"
"Um…" The guy frowned. "A while ago? Sorry, man. I can't really tell you the exact time."
Li Yundong released the poor guy's shoulder and moved away. "Thanks."
"Err… You're welcome?"
Li Yundong ran up the staircase as fast as he could. The door leading to the rooftop was closed. Li Yundong ran up the remaining flight of stairs and reached for the door knob.
During his cab ride to campus, he had assumed that the first thing he would feel when he saw Zhou Qin was relief. As it turned out, he was wrong. Dead wrong.
Because the moment he pushed open the door, he saw Zhou Qin standing right on top of the rooftop's ledge.
Li Yundong did the first thing that came to mind: he sprang forward and launched his Zhenqi towards Zhou Qin's figure.
When he heard Zhou Qin's loud yelp, he knew that his Qi Kinesis had found its target. He pulled his Zhenqi towards his body and pumped his legs harder. A second later, Zhou Qin's figure crashed into his chest.
Li Yundong lowered his stance to steady them both.
"What the hell is the matter with you?!" Li Yundong yelled. "Are you out of your damn mind?!"
Zhou Qin stared up at him with glassy eyes, her lips trembling.
"Goddamn it, Zhou Qin!" Li Yundong ran a hand through his hair. "After everything you've been through, you still want to throw your life away?!" Li Yundong swung his arm in a wide arc. "Open your eyes and look at yourself! You've recovered! You're standing and walking again! You're healed! Don't you know how lucky you are?"
"Y- You thought I was going to jump…" Zhou Qin whispered.
Li Yundong stared at the girl. Is she for real? Seriously?
"What the hell was I supposed to think?!" Li Yundong pointed a finger towards the ledge. "You were depressed. And you were standing right there, looking like you were about to jump!"
A smile pulled across Zhou Qin's lips. "Y- You were worried about me?"
Li Yundong felt a sudden urge to reach over and shake some sense into the girl.
"Of course I was worried! This is the seventh floor! What happens if your head hits the ground first—"
"Do you love me?"
"I said…" Zhou Qin sighed and rose to her feet. Once she was up, she walked over until she was standing directly in front of him. Then, she bit her lip and glanced up at him from under her lashes. "Do you love me?"
So it was finally here, the inevitable talk.
Li Yundong sighed. "Look, Zhou Qin…"
"Please just…" Zhou Qin grabbed his hand. "Please just tell me the truth." She raised her head and looked straight into his eyes. "Do you love me?"
Li Yundong shook his head. "No."
He could see the look of resignation gathering in Zhou Qin's eyes right then, along with the tears that she had no doubt been holding back.
A drop of tear slid down Zhou Qin's cheek, and she sniffed.
"Zhou Qin… Look, I'm sorry, okay? I just—"
Zhou Qin clamped her hand over his mouth.
"Please, don’t." Tears swam in Zhou Qin's pleading eyes. "Please don't say anything."
Resigned, Li Yundong nodded, and Zhou Qin removed her hand from his lips then. Moments passed in silence. From the corner of his eye, he saw Zhou Qin drying her tears and taking in deep breaths.
A minute or so passed before Zhou Qin returned to stand in front of him. She had stopped crying now, and she seemed calm.
"I… I know you love Su Chan." Zhou Qin gave him a sad smile. "I can see it. I can see how much you love her. And I…" Zhou Qin cleared her throat. "I have no intention of coming between the two of you." Zhou Qin held his gaze. "Truly, I don't. You two are happy together, and I can see that."
Li Yundong continued to stare at Zhou Qin without saying a single word. He had no idea that his skepticism had shown on his face until he heard Zhou Qin's next words.
"I care about her too, you know?" Zhou Qin gave him another sad smile. "Su Chan. I care about her too. And… And I know how much she loves you. So no, I won't try to ruin things between you two."
This sucked. This legitimately sucked.
Li Yundong sighed. "Zhou Qin…"
"Shh!" Zhou Qin raised her finger. "Just… I need to say this."
Li Yundong nodded for her to go on.
"I only have one request."
"Name it," Li Yundong said.
"Don't cut me out of your life."
"What?" Li Yundong frowned. "Of course I'm not going to cut you out of my life. You're my friend—"
"I don't want to be just your friend," Zhou Qin said.
Li Yundong stared at her for a few seconds, then shook his head tiredly. "Then what are you saying?"
"Take me as your disciple."
Li Yundong's head shot up. Zhou Qin's expression was dead serious. Not that the idea hadn't crossed his mind before. He'd already decided to teach Zhou Qin the basics of Cultivation one way or another. He just didn't expect Zhou Qin to be the one to bring it up.
Zhou Qin sighed. "After witnessing what happened at the performance, the things you did…" She stole a glance at his face, then sighed again. "I spent some time researching you."
Li Yundong raised a brow. "Research?"
Zhou Qin nodded. "Like… The terminologies that you and Zi Yuan often used. All that Qi-control things that you talked about back at the hospital. I researched them all."
Zhou Qin sighed and began moving towards the edge of the rooftop. Alarmed, Li Yundong reached out and seized her arm.
Zhou Qin turned his head and smiled at him. "Relax. I'm not going to jump."
Li Yundong eyed her suspiciously until Zhou Qin rolled her eyes and turned back around.
"I know that you and Zi Yuan have powers," Zhou Qin said when she was standing in front of him again. "Well. That much is obvious. What I'm saying is that I know that you're Cultivators."
Li Yundong gave her a resigned smile.
"Will you accept me as your disciple?" Zhou Qin gazed at him hopefully.
"Sure." Li Yundong gave her a stern look. "But on one condition."
Zhou Qin kept staring at him, clearly waiting for him to state his condition.
"You never ever try to kill yourself again," Li Yundong said firmly. "Ever. Do you understand?"
Zhou Qin nodded.
"Good." Li Yundong sighed. "Life is precious, okay? Don't throw your life away. Just don't."
He knew just how precious life was. He nearly lost his last night despite how hard he had fought. So he knew.
"I swear I will never try to take my own life again," Zhou Qin said.
Li Yundong nodded. "Then, yes. I accept you as my disciple."
"Thank you, Master."
Li Yundong flopped onto the couch unceremoniously, not caring at all that his backpack was slipping off the edge of the cushion. A soft thud sounded a second later. His backpack had fallen off.
While the apartment was silent, Li Yundong's mind was far from silent. No matter what he did, his mind kept replaying his conversation with Zhou Qin on the rooftop. To be honest, he still didn't know what to feel about everything. All he knew was that he needed to maintain some sort of distance between them starting from now.
A strange, yet oddly familiar noise broke the silence. Li Yundong sat up on the couch and looked towards the balcony. He squinted.
Hey… Isn't that…
Li Yundong sprang to his feet and pushed away from the couch. Before he could even reach the sliding door, a paper crane flew into the living room. He halted his steps, and watched the paper crane circle above his head.
As he held out his hand, there was only one thought going through his mind. A name.
Chan'er, Chan'er, Chan'er…
The paper crane landed on his palm and began unfolding itself. Seconds later, Li Yundong found himself staring at a large piece of paper containing an all too familiar cursive.
Fox Zen School under siege. Come at once.
The Great Six looking to wipe out the Fox Zen School. Su Chan in danger.
Fox Zen School located somewhere inside Mount Tianlong. Precise location unknown. Might have to find the entrance on your own. Look for Taoist temple halfway to the summit.
Hongling and I are with the Great Six. Undercover. Will pretend to join the assault to gather intel from the inside.
Remember: We are on your side.
Ao Wushuang and Su Chan both missing—exact status unknown.
The Great Six has spies inside the Fox Zen School—Mo Ahshi is one of them.
Enemy is not in possession of Bahuang. The sword is still missing.
Mo Ahshi thinks you are Ao Wushuang's ally but has yet to reveal that information to the members of the Great Six.
Mo Ahshi is unaware that I was the one defending you that night when she attacked you.
Exact time of assault still undecided at the time of writing—most likely this evening.
Number of Cultivators joining the assault equivalent to a small army.
Our prelim investigation suggests:
Ao Wushuang most likely got captured.
Su Chan most likely alive and in hiding. Because enemy doesn't have Bahuang yet—we think Su Chan might've escaped with the sword when Ao Wushuang was captured.
Su Chan could still be hiding inside (or somewhere near) Mount Tianlong.
No evidence that she was captured, but still a possibility. Therefore, start search from Mount Tianlong. See where the clues lead you to.
Head of Fox Zen School most likely aware of the assault. That’s why you can't find entrance—concealment spell was activated. The Great Six's assault force will rely on Mo Ahshi's tip to locate the entrance.
Head of Fox Zen School ignorant of Mo Ahshi's betrayal.
Mo Ahshi has her own agendas—she has withheld important information from the Great Six. Exact agendas unknown, but stealing Bahuang is definitely one of them.
The Great Six's objective is to destroy the Fox Zen School. Exact motive unknown. But we suspect it has something to do with the Renyuan Jindan.
Things to beware of:
Mobilize Adolescent Yang Qi to Vital Orb: Mask Jindan's Aura at all times.
No flying. Traps in the sky + they might detect you. You have the element of surprise on your side; use it to your advantage.
Do not try to communicate with Hongling and I. Might break our cover. Not safe.
Don't bother with phones. Mountain = No signal. Your Eryue far more powerful compared to others. Keep it activated at all times. We will find ways to pass intel to you.
Top priority = rescue Su Chan. But if possible, take out as many enemies as you can. Less enemies, higher chance for Su Chan to survive.
Word regarding the assault has spread to Cultivation world. A lot of Cultivators from other schools outside the Great Six might show up. These are lowly Cultivators intent on pillage—Fox Zen School has lots of magical weapons and treasures hidden inside their vaults. Stay sharp, and trust no one other than me and Hongling. Keep a close eye on the Fan of Seven Treasures.
This is of the utmost importance. You must put everything else on hold and come at once. Hongling and I will be there, but we both need to maintain our covers. Our hands are tied, so you have to be the one to rescue Su Chan.
You will be walking into a warzone, so stay sharp. And remember, trust no one.
Once you've finished reading this message, channel your Zhenqi into the paper.
Good luck, and stay positive.
The paper burst into flames the moment Li Yundong's Zhenqi made contact with it. Li Yundong glared at the dancing ashes in front of his eyes.
Not my Chan'er, you brutes. Not my Chan'er.