When Su Chan woke up the next morning and saw that the other side of the bed was empty, she panicked. Please don't let last night be a dream… Please…
Su Chan padded out of the bedroom, her heart in her throat.
Relief flooded her when the smell of vegetable soup assaulted her nostrils.
"Beloved?" she called out into the empty living room.
A moment later, Yundong emerged from the kitchen with an apron tied to his waist. He was smiling. "Morning, princess! Did you sleep well?"
Su Chan bobbed her head up and down. "Mm!"
She had slept extremely well, like a tiny little fox cub.
Her answer must have pleased Yundong greatly as his smile grew even wider. Su Chan smiled back at him. For the first time in days, she had slept through the night without having a single nightmare. Maybe Yundong had cast a spell on her.
Yundong broke their eye contact with a quick glance to the kitchen. "Breakfast should be done in a jiffy." He looked back towards her. "Why don't you go wash up first?"
Su Chan nodded and padded back into her room to begin her morning routine.
Inside the bathroom, she spent some time to really look at herself in the mirror. Guilt and remorse had taken away her usual cheeriness. Admittedly, she hadn't been taking good care of herself. Right now, she looked presentable, but she wasn't looking her best. She decided that she would spare a few extra minutes for her morning routine today.
True to Yundong's word, breakfast was ready by the time Su Chan walked out. Two steaming bowls of rice sat on the table. A pair of chopsticks laid beside each bowl. At the center of the table was a large bowl of vegetable soup. Yundong was already seated in one of the stools, waiting for her to join him. As she padded towards the table, Su Chan couldn't help but wonder if the soup would taste better today.
"Are we heading back to Tiannan City after this?" Su Chan slurped a spoonful of vegetable soup. She really had no idea what came over her last night—this soup tasted absolutely heavenly.
Yundong chewed his food quietly, then placed his rice bowl on the table. He was still deep in thought by the time he finished chewing.
"Hmm…" Yundong scratched his chin. "I was thinking we should stop by the Fox Zen School first before heading back." He looked towards her. "Are you okay with that?"
Su Chan lowered her own rice bowl.
Right. Yundong had a sect to worry about now. She couldn't help the warm feeling that rose to her chest at the thought. It felt so good to see one of her many fantasies come true. She had always wondered what it would be like if Yundong took over the leadership of the Fox Zen School.
"I think that's a great idea!" Su Chan beamed at Yundong. Plus, it would definitely be a great help if they revisited the school to look for clues that might lead them to Master's location. The Eventide Reaper probably wouldn't be so careless as to leave any breadcrumbs behind, but it wouldn't hurt to try.
Yundong hummed. "I kinda left the school in a hurry after the Great Six's army retreated." Yundong's eyes darted towards her face. "I need to make sure that things at the school are in order first before we head back to Tiannan City."
"Mm!" Su Chan picked up her bowl and began munching on her rice again. Look at him, acting like a decent leader already.
Yundong reached over and began ladling out another bowl of soup for Su Chan.
"I'm glad to see that your appetite has returned," Yundong said, placing her soup bowl in front of her.
Su Chan stared at the soup bowl for a moment, then at her tiny rice bowl.
Gah. Might as well.
Yundong laughed when Su Chan dumped the contents of her rice bowl into her soup bowl. There. Vegetable Soup Rice. Chan'er Style. Yum.
Su Chan grabbed a porcelain spoon and helped herself to her perfect homemade recipe.
After five mouthfuls, she realized that she must've been really out of her mind last night.
The soup tasted heavenly.
Breakfast conversation was interrupted by an insistent banging on their door. The noise nearly caused Su Chan to drop her spoon. She looked towards Yundong, who was already out of his stool, his back straight and his eyes alert.
"Are you expecting anyone?" he asked without taking his eyes off the door.
"No." Su Chan shook her head even though Yundong couldn't possibly see her. "Master never has guests."
The knocks sounded again.
"Hello!!! Anybody home?!"
It was the voice of a lady.
Yundong shot her a questioning look.
Su Chan shook her head again. "I don't recognize the voice."
Three more knocks sounded. "Hello?!"
Yundong gave Su Chan a pointed look. "Stay sharp."
Su Chan nodded and got up from her stool.
They answered the door together. Well, technically Yundong did. Su Chan hid behind his back the whole time.
Their morning visitor was a middle-aged lady whom Su Chan had never met before. Was this one of Master's acquaintances? But how could this be? Master never had guests.
Su Chan poked her head out from behind Yundong to take a closer look at the lady.
Nope. Definitely never seen her before…
"Ah. Good morning," the lady greeted.
"Morning," Yundong answered cordially. "How may I help you, Ma'am?"
"Oh. I'm just looking for Miss Ning Wushuang." The lady's eyes lingered on Su Chan's face for a moment before moving on to glance behind Yundong. "Is she here?"
Yundong's body shifted. Su Chan looked up and saw the questioning look in his eyes.
"Did your master go by an alias?" he whispered.
"Ning Wushuang is my master's birth name," she whispered back.
Yundong nodded and turned back around to face the lady.
"Is Miss Ning in? I have some important matters to discuss with her."
"Miss Ning is currently away," Yundong said. "But I'm her close relative. Whatever you wish to discuss with her, you can discuss it with me."
The lady studied Yundong for a moment or two.
"Very well, then." The lady looked past Yundong's shoulder before returning to his face. "May I come in?"
"Of course, Ma'am." Yundong stepped aside to let the lady through.
"I'll get straight to the point, then," the lady said, then laid her leather satchel on the living room table.
She opened the bag and pulled out several sheets of paper.
The papers, Su Chan noticed, were printed on both sides. And they were held together by a tiny metal fastener—a cute little contraption with two prongs. What Su Chan couldn't figure out was how the lady had managed to insert the fastener into the papers without tearing the papers' edges.
Mortals and their infinite cleverness.
The lady's voice ended Su Chan's reverie.
"Miss Ning's lease for this apartment is up."
Yundong took the papers from the lady's hands and started reading those tiny words.
"So you're the landlady," Yundong said while keeping her eyes glued to the pages.
"That's correct. As you can see in the contract…" The landlady pointed at the papers. "Miss Ning's lease is for two years. And if you take a look at the date on the last page…" The landlady trailed off.
Yundong flipped to the last page and glanced at the bottom of the page. "The lease is up today."
Panic coursed through Su Chan. What did that mean? Was Master about to lose the corn-door?
"Indeed." The landlady sighed. "I've been trying to get in touch with Miss Ning for days, but she isn't picking up my calls. That's why I decided to drop by the place with the contract to see if she wishes to extend her lease."
"I see," Yundong said, handing the papers back to the landlady.
The landlady took the papers and regarded Yundong for a moment. "So. Can you get in touch with Miss Ning for me?" The landlady snapped her satchel shut. "If you can't, then I'm afraid I'll have to terminate her lease."
Yundong nodded. "I understand, Ma'am." Yundong held Su Chan's gaze. "If you don't mind, can you give us both a moment to—"
KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!
Yundong's gaze snapped towards the door. After a moment, he turned back to Su Chan.
Who? he mouthed the word to Su Chan.
No idea, Su Chan mouthed back.
The banging on the door sounded again.
"Hello, pretty girl! Are you in there? Good morning! I brought breakfast for you!"