"Beloved!" Chan'er's singsong voice drifted into the kitchen, where Li Yundong was drying the last of the dishes. "Your phone box just vibrated a little!"
Li Yundong bit back a smile. "Alright! I'll be right out!" he yelled, hanging the dish towel near the sink.
They had finished dinner fifteen minutes ago and he was now cleaning up the kitchen. After learning of Liuhe's disappearance, Li Yundong had decided that he had had enough of all the negativity, so he had offered to take Chan'er out for some fun. Chan'er was still in the doldrums when he made the offer, but she agreed nonetheless—though he suspected that she'd done that to ease his worry.
Regardless, they ended up spending the whole afternoon at the amusement park. The trip was okay, he supposed. Chan'er did have fun on the roller coaster and the Space Shuttle rides. But then something was still missing. Chan'er's cheeriness, her larger-than-life attitude, was gone. She no longer swatted at balloons within reach, or pointed at random food stalls.
She was subdued.
The most painful part was that she had tried to hide her sadness from him: smiling whenever their eyes met; cheering whenever he drew her attention to something he thought she might find interesting, but then staying completely silent any other time.
When it got too painful to watch, Li Yundong took her hand and led her out of the amusement park. After that, they took a cab back to New Hongsheng District, but stopped by a grocery store to buy ingredients for dinner.
Chan'er had cheered up a little after dinner, thank Acalanatha for that. Although he suspected that the Beer Duck Stew he'd made for dinner might have played a role in her improved mood…
Still, this was good progress.
So. What's next on the menu? McDonalds? Fried dumplings? He'd buy her anything if it meant cheering her up.
With one last glance at the sink, Li Yundong padded out of the kitchen and made a beeline towards the living room. The TV was on, and Chan'er was watching soap operas with her feet propped up on the coffee table.
He stopped behind the couch and patted Chan'er's head. "Having fun?"
Chan'er bobbed her head without taking her eyes off the TV screen. "Mm-hmm!"
Li Yundong's heart warmed.
He spotted his phone on the coffee table and launched his Zhenqi at it. It took the device three seconds to float from the table to his hand.
It was a text from Zi Yuan:
Meet up tomorrow. Still being watched, but can find a way to get to your apartment undetected. Hongling will be joining. What time suits?
Li Yundong stared at the screen for a moment. Chan'er giggled at something on the TV.
He typed out a reply:
Come around noon. Will cook lunch.
Chan'er giggled again, which made him smile. Then, Chan'er squeaked when Li Yundong leaped over the back of the couch and landed beside her.
"Whatcha watching, hmm?" Li Yundong tickled Chan'er's waist.
"Kyaa!" Chan'er twisted away from his hands. "Soap shows! Soap shows!"
Li Yundong smiled. "You never get tired of those shows, do you?"
Chan'er bobbed her head. "I kinda missed it." A yearning look spread across her face. "I mean, when we were…"
Li Yundong ruffled her head. "I know."
His phone buzzed again. He unlocked the screen and pulled up another text from Zi Yuan:
Should we bring anything?
Li Yundong smiled and typed out a quick reply:
Yes. Your appetites.
The phone floated back towards the coffee table. "Chan'er."
"Zi Yuan and Ruan Hongling will be coming over for lunch tomorrow."
Chan'er turned away from the TV screen. "Oh."
Li Yundong smiled. "Do you want to try Zi Yuan's cooking?"
Chan'er's eyes sparkled a little. "Can I?"
Li Yundong pinched her cheek. "I'm sure she won't mind whipping up a dish or two." Li Yundong let go of Chan'er's cheek. "But it's up to her though."
The light in Chan'er's eyes dimmed a little. "Um… will we…" She stole a glance at Li Yundong. "Will we be discussing Master's rescue?"
"Yeah." Li Yundong sighed. "We definitely need to come up with a good, solid plan." Li Yundong held Chan'er's gaze. "We can't afford any mistakes." He shook his head. "Yan Fang is too cunning. Too devious."
Chan'er looked down and fiddled with her sleeve.
"But something tells me that Yan Fang won't harm your master just yet."
Chan'er's gaze snapped up. Li Yundong could hear the gears turning in her pretty little head. "Bahuang…"
Li Yundong nodded. "When I was fighting the Great Six's army, Zi Yuan sent Ruan Hongling to look for you and your master's sword." Li Yundong leaned towards Chan'er. "But here's the thing. Ruan Hongling couldn't find the sword." Li Yundong paused for a few seconds. "So either Yan Fang already has it, or…"
Chan'er's eyes gleamed. "Or Master had hidden Bahuang somewhere."
Li Yundong smiled. "Yeah."
Understanding and relief flooded Chan'er's eyes. "I see…" She sagged against the back of the couch. "Heavens, you're right, Yundong… Yan Fang kept screaming at Master to give her the sword… So Master… She knew…" Chan'er shot him a hopeful glance. "She suspected…"
Li Yundong smiled pulled her into his arms. "Your master is a clever woman, Chan'er. I think she managed to figure out that the sword was what Yan Fang was after. I don't know how, but she must've hidden Bahuang after she got ambushed so that Yan Fang had no access to it."
"So that Yan Fang would have a reason to keep her alive," Chan'er whispered.
Li Yundong nodded. "I think that was her plan." Li Yundong chuckled. "And it worked."
Chan'er buried her face against his chest. "Oh, thank Heavens."
Li Yundong planted a kiss on her hair. "She's going to be alright. Have more faith in your master, okay? She's strong."
Chan'er nodded. "Mmm!"
They stayed like that for a while, seeking comfort in each other's presence. Suddenly, Chan'er pulled away.
Li Yundong smiled. "Yes?"
"Do you think there's some kind of special reason why Yan Fang wanted Bahuang?" Chan'er was frowning. "She's got so many magical objects already. Mo-shībó's hairpin. That strange box she used to trap Master…" Chan'er stared at him for a moment. "Do you think she's some kind of collector?"
Well, technically, the hairpin was now in the hands of that Zheng Yuan dude, but Chan'er didn't know that. Li Yundong pondered her words for a moment. "I'm not sure about her being a collector, but Zi Yuan did mention something interesting the other day."
Chan'er slid closer to him.
"She said that Liuhe…" Li Yundong glanced at Chan'er. "That's another sword, by the way. Yan Fang used to own it." When Chan'er nodded, he continued, "Zi Yuan said that Liuhe and Bahuang can combine to form another powerful sword."
"Another powerful sword?" Chan'er stared back at him, stunned.
Li Yundong nodded.
Chan'er suddenly grabbed his arm. "What sword? What's it capable of?"
"I don't know, Chan'er." Li Yundong shook his head. "I don't even know the sword's name." He smiled and padded Chan'er's head. "We're gonna have to ask Zi Yuan tomorrow, I'm afraid—"
His phone rang.
"Um… Yundong… Your phone box has Zhou Qin jiějie's name on it."
As the phone floated towards him from the coffee table, Chan'er reached for the remote and turned off the TV.
He picked up the call and put it on loudspeaker.
"Hello," he said, giving Chan'er a smile.
Chan'er smiled back.
"H- Hi… Master?"
Chan'er's looked adorably puzzled. Li Yundong watched the quick transition of emotions on her pretty face: puzzlement; realization; understanding; surprise; then finally, joy.
"Yundong! Y- You…" She gaped. "You've taken a disciple?!"
"Um… Wait… Is that… S- Su Chan?"
"Yes, Zhou Qin. You're on loudspeaker, by the way," Li Yundong said, smiling at Chan'er.
Zhou Qin cleared her throat. "Good evening, Master, Mistress."
Chan'er stared at him with disbelief. Mistress? she mouthed the words to Li Yundong.
Li Yundong shrugged. "Good evening, Zhou Qin. How are you?"
"No, Master. How are you?" Zhou Qin said incredulously. "You've been absent from the university for days."
Li Yundong sighed. "First of all. Please drop the Master, okay? Just use my name. Please."
"As you wish, Ma— I mean, Li Yundong."
"Thank you," Li Yundong said, rubbing his temples.
"Are you returning to school any time soon?" Zhou Qin asked. "Feng Na xuejie has been asking me for your whereabouts."
Li Yundong shared a glance with Chan'er, then sighed. "I'm sorry, Zhou Qin. But I can't right now."
"Oh. Um…" Zhou Qin hesitated for a moment. "Can I ask why?"
"I've got things I need to take care of." He looked towards Chan'er. "Important things that cannot be delayed."
"Anything I can do to help?"
"Well…" Li Yundong glanced at Chan'er.
It's your call, Chan'er mouthed to him.
"Yes?" Zhou Qin asked.
Chan'er moved her lips again: I don't mind.
Li Yundong stared at her.
Chan'er shrugged, then mouthed more words to him: She's your disciple now.
Li Yundong nodded. "Actually, yeah. It would be nice if you can help."
"Really?" Zhou Qin sounded thrilled.
"Okay. What should I do?"
Li Yundong shared a glance with Chan'er. "Come by my apartment around noon tomorrow." He smiled at Chan'er. "And make sure you show up with a healthy appetite. I'll be making lunch."
"Um… Okay. That's… That sounds great." Zhou Qin paused. "I'll… See you tomorrow?"
Li Yundong nodded. "See you tomorrow."
"Right. Good night, Ma—" Zhou Qin cleared her throat. "Good night, Li Yundong."
"Good night, Zhou Qin jiějie!" Chan'er yelled at the phone. "Nice hearing from you again!"
Zhou Qin laughed. "Likewise, Su Chan. Good night to you both."
The call ended with a click.