Li Yundong left the old lama's quarters after apologizing profusely for all the trouble that he had caused. At one point, he had even offered to go into the mountain to track down the two serpents. The old lama denied the offer, saying that Li Yundong had more important things to focus on. When he asked the lama what those "important things" entailed, a cryptic smile was all he got in return.
Somehow, he had a feeling that the lama wasn't referring to his search for Su Chan.
Li Yundong arrived at the edge of the forest after a long walk. Surprisingly, the stretch of land in front of the pagoda was relatively undamaged even though it had been engulfed in Acalanatha's flames earlier. There were no signs of the giant arhat. Heck, there weren't even signs that a battle had recently taken place.
Weird. But he chalked it up to some super Buddhist magic.
A minute or two after he entered the forest, Li Yundong heard something: whispers coming from a thick undergrowth nearby.
Li Yundong frowned and crept towards the hedge.
Two loud shrieks sounded when he yanked the leaves apart. The frightened faces of two women stared back at him.
"Hey, it's you…" Li Yundong whispered.
Lanlan was there, but she wasn't the source of his surprise. The other woman was Liu Xia, the female tour guide whose life he had saved from the avalanche during his pilgrimage to Tibet.
Xiaxia. Liu Xia. Right.
"Wait a minute… Li Yundong narrowed his eyes at the two women. "You two..."
Guess he now knew who his mysterious "accomplices" were.
Liu Xia and Lanlan shared a glance with each other.
"You two were following me."
His statement seemed to have jolted Liu Xia and Lanlan out of their stupor as they suddenly screamed and took off into the woods.
Li Yundong stared after the two women.
Go back where you came from…
With a sigh, Li Yundong took off into the night sky and flew in the direction of Xiyuan temple. He had a riddle to solve and a girlfriend to find.
The last time she had one of these, she nearly broke a tooth. Okay. That was an exaggeration. Master's cold shaobings weren't that bad. They were just… well, cold. And maybe a bit mediocre in the taste department. They were average. They weren't bad at all.
Su Chan had teased Master mercilessly the other day when Master snatched the bag of shaobing out of Su Chan's hands after she had compared them to Yundong's cooking. Then again, Master stopped calling Su Chan an ingrate after she herself had taken a bite of the shaobing. After that, the bag mysteriously disappeared, and Su Chan went back to teasing Master mercilessly.
That was then.
Now what she wouldn't give for a chance to taste Master's shaobing again, preferably fresh from the oven.
"Hey, young lady. Are you going to keep staring, or are you going to order something?"
Su Chan glanced up and saw the stall owner—an old man—staring at her strangely. It was almost midnight now; it surprised her that the old man was still out on the streets, bustling about. It was like he had consumed an elixir of youth or something.
"You've been staring at my stall for the past thirty minutes, you know?" The old man's face crinkled when he smiled. "Would you like to order something?"
Yeah. I would love to order something. Just that you would call me a thief afterwards and probably try to send me to those men with sticks. Why? Because the few miserable coins in my wallet says so.
Su Chan returned the old man's smile with a charming smile of her own.
Maybe she should just go. She shouldn't even have come out for supper. What was she even thinking?
"Look at these!"
The old man pulled out a tray of freshly baked shaobing. As if her stomach wasn't torturing her enough already.
"Crispy and tasty!"
"Oh." Su Chan mumbled.
Okay. Time to go—
"Give her your best shaobing, sir," a voice sounded beside her. "Put it on my tab."
Su Chan whipped her head around and saw a handsome man grinning at her.
Anger rose inside Su Chan. "You again…" she growled. "Why are you here?!"
This annoying man had been pestering her for days!
The man shrugged. "Treating you to shaobing, apparently."
"No thanks!" Su Chan stormed off.
"Whoa, whoa! Young lady!" the stall owner shouted. "Do you still want your shaobing or not?!"
Su Chan ignored the stall owner and kept walking.
"Hey, wait up!" the young man yelled behind her.
Su Chan ignored the annoying man even though he had just offered to treat her to a bunch of freshly-baked shaobings (which practically had her name written all over them), and that was saying something.
"Go away!" Su Chan yelled over her shoulder. "And leave me alone!"
Apparently the young man was too dense to take a hint.
"Oh, come on… Wait up!"
The man suddenly grabbed her arm from behind.
Su Chan turned around and shot the man a glare. "Don't. Touch me."
Su Chan fought down the urge to break the man's hand and then punch the smug grin off his face. But no. She shouldn't. She shouldn't get into trouble. Not when she was already in deep trouble.
"Tsk. Tsk. So feisty." The man chuckled and removed his hand from her forearm.
Su Chan turned around and walked away again. Should she fly? Should she use a spell? What if there were Cultivators around?
Argh! This is such a paaaiiiinnn!
"Hey… I said wait!"
The man was suddenly in front of her again, blocking her path.
"Out of my way!" Su Chan shoved the man aside and stormed past him. "I already told you that I have a boyfriend!"
Persistence was probably the man's last name, because he was still following her.
"We should be friends," he said. "There's no harm in being friends, right?"
Su Chan ignored the man and kept walking.
The man matched her pace and kept yapping, blissfully ignorant of the Su Chan's murderous thoughts.
"How about this," said the man when they reached the corner of a street. "Let's exchange QQ addresses."
She didn't even know what the heck QQ addresses were. All she had was a corn-door address. Not that she would tell him that.
"Not even a QQ address?" the man said exasperatedly. "Well. That's a bummer."
God, this annoying pest!
"Ooh! I know. What about MSN? Surely you've got an MSN address, right?"
Su Chan suddenly stopped walking and elbowed the man's ribs. The man stumbled slightly but caught up to her again.
Gah!! Should've elbowed him harder!
"Come on, pretty girl," the man pleaded. "Won't you at least tell me your name?"
That does it!
Su Chan spun around and gave the man a hard shove. The guy stumbled backwards until his back crashed into one of those metal contraptions with rubber wheels. Cars! Damn it! Cars! There! She wasn't completely clueless when it comes to mortal-speak, thank you very much.
"Leave me alone!" Su Chan screamed, then broke off in a sprint.
"Hey! Don't go!"
What an annoying pest.
An annoying pest, who was still chasing after her.
Su Chan slipped into a small alley.
With that, she flew into the night sky, away from the alley.
Su Chan floated around until she spotted a familiar sight: the semi-circular granite bridge near Mount Qili's entrance. She flew down and landed on the end of the bridge, then switched back to her normal form.
For a moment, Su Chan entertained the thought of catching fish in the river under the bridge and then cooking the fish back at the corn-door. But then she remembered the last time she tried to "cook" fish.
She wouldn't have a place to stay if she blew up the corn-door.
She sighed and removed her shoes. Then, she leaped off the bridge and landed on the edge of the river. She sat down and dipped her feet into the water. The water felt cool, refreshing. A small comfort on a tough day.
As Su Chan paddled her feet in the water, her lips began to move. The soft tune of a song filled the dark space under the bridge. Master had taught her that song, saying that she could hum that song whenever she felt lonely, or whenever she missed someone dearly.
Right now, she was missing not one, but two people.
Su Chan paused in her humming and sniffed.
It's going to be okay. I'll figure something out… I'll find a way to help Master. Or at least I'll die trying…
Su Chan paddled her feet through the water and resumed humming.
"You should sing more often," said a voice. "You sing really well."
The voice came from above the bridge.
No… It… It can't be…
Su Chan withdrew her feet from the water and stood up. She turned around and looked up at the bridge.
"B- Beloved…" Su Chan's voice trembled. "Is that really you?"
A loud thud sounded when the man leaped down from the top of the bridge.
The man smiled. "Yes, it's me. Don't you recognize me anymore?"
She might as well be incapable of recognizing him since her vision had long since been blurred by her tears.
Yundong smiled and opened his arms. "Come here, Chan'er…"
Su Chan had never moved so fast in her life. Barely a second later, she found herself crashing into that familiar warmth.
And she didn't say a word.
There would be time for words later.
Right now, she needed this.
This was enough.
"It's okay, my Chan'er… It's okay…" Yundong's soothing voice matched the rhythm of his hands as he stroked her hair. "Everything's going to be alright, Chan'er. I promise. Everything's going to be alright."