"Come on... It's not the end of the world. Just ask one of your classmates for the tips!" Feng Na said once she and Cheng Cheng were done laughing at his expense.
Most of the students were filing out of the lecture hall while Li Yundong stared broodingly at the chalkboard. Sun Li was nowhere to be seen in the lecture hall. Pretty sure she was the first one to leave, probably to head to the library or wherever it was that she spent her time polishing her super shiny egghead. Great. Now he had to call her and beg for the tips, assuming that she would even pick up his calls. Thank the Universe for small favors, truly.
"Yeah! I'm sure your fellow classmates are all eager to lend the Hero of Tiannan University a helping hand," Cheng Cheng said.
Yeah, and in return, they were probably going to ask him to take them on as his disciples, which was a big no-no. Su Chan had already warned him about the risks this morning.
"Why don't you just ask... ask... Zhou Qin," Feng Na said. "Or... or Ding Nan."
Li Yundong thought Feng Na's tone sounded a little odd, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it.
"Oh, that's right! You saved both of their lives yesterday, didn't you?" Cheng Cheng said. "I think they owe you that much."
Li Yundong snorted. "Thanks, but it ain't the tips that I'm worried about. It's this." He waved the thick textbook in the air, then slammed it down on the table.
"Look on the bright side," Feng Na said. Li Yundong shot her a glare. Feng Na was grinning at him.
"I mean, you still have two weeks to study," Feng Na said. "And unlike your fellow classmates, you only have one subject to study for. The others have seven more!"
Li Yundong rolled his eyes. "Yeah, thanks for reminding me that I won't be getting any credits for the other seven papers. That makes me feel so much better."
Cheng Cheng chuckled. "Two weeks to prepare for one subject? What a luxury!"
Li Yundong gaped at her, then picked up the textbook again. "Hello? Can't you see how frigging thick this is? Might as well ask me to memorize a dictionary!"
Feng Na waved her hand. "But you've got tips. Just focus on the important chapters that the professor highlighted."
"Right. Tips," Li Yundong flipped to the table of contents. "Chapter 3, page 56 to 80? That's 24 pages already! 24! And that's only from one chapter! Wait, what font size is this?" Li Yundong flipped to a random page. "Oh, f*ck me. Look at these tiny things! They're like Times Roman 12 points or something!"
Feng Na and Cheng Cheng looked at each other for a moment, then burst into laughter.
"So what do you say, Nana? How about we get out of here and get a head start on that foundation, eh? The poor guy seems pretty helpless."
"Good idea. We can form a committee first. Then come up with a strategy to raise funds."
Cheng Cheng suddenly turned to him and winked. "Hey, Li Yundong! What's your bank account number? I'll make sure that 5% of the funds goes to you so that you don't starve and end up on the streets."
Li Yundong raised the textbook and tried to smack Cheng Cheng with it. He missed by an inch as Cheng Cheng dodged away, giggling as she did.
Then, he felt a tug on his shirt. He turned and came face to face with Su Chan's puzzled expression. A confused Su Chan was adorable.
"What's so funny? What are they laughing about?" she asked.
Li Yundong cracked a smile. "Nah, it's nothing. They're just, you know..." Li Yundong raised his finger and drew imaginary circles beside his head. "Something's not right with their minds."
Su Chan, bless the girl, seemed even more puzzled than before, which nearly made Li Yundong laugh.
"Alright, alright, geez. We're done messing with you," Feng Na said, standing up. Cheng Cheng was already packing her things into her backpack.
"We're gonna leave you to your studying now," Feng Na said. "Good luck, okay? Two weeks is still a lot of time, so work hard!" Feng Na gave him a little wave, then left the lecture hall with Cheng Cheng.
With a loud groan, Li Yundong dropped the textbook on the table, then slouched in his seat. Here comes two weeks of hell...
Two tugs on his arm made him turn to his left. Su Chan's round eyes blinked back at him.
"What's the matter, Yundong?"
Li Yundong held her gaze for a moment or two before groaning into his palms.
He tapped a finger on the textbook. "This is the matter, princess..." he said.
"Um... But... It's just a book?"
"A very thick book, whose contents I have to memorize in two weeks if I wanna avoid getting my ass expelled..." And he would bet his soon-to-be-expelled ass that this was Professor Liu's doing. Wait a minute... Pushing forward the exam dates? Wasn't that part of Director Qian's job description? Oh, hell. Those two were in cahoots!
Su Chan picked up the book from the table and flipped through a couple pages. Then, she gave him a dismissive wave. "This isn't difficult at all."
Li Yundong's jaw dropped open. "What! Are you frigging kiddin— Hey, this isn't like math, you know. This is the History of Ancient Chinese Literature! History! Which means all that stuff needs to be memorized. And look how thick it is!"
Su Chan's nose wrinkled in puzzlement. "I know," she said. "But I'm telling you that it isn't difficult."
Li Yundong paused in thought.
Okay, yeah. In hindsight, it made sense. Su Chan could probably recite a bunch of ancient medical text backwards if she wanted to.
But still, she wasn't the one who was going to sit for the exams.
Suddenly, Su Chan opened the textbook and flipped to a page. Her lips moved slightly as her eyes scanned across the page. Seconds later, she closed the book.
"I've just memorized the first page."
Li Yundong nearly fell off his seat.
Holy shit! Sure, she could recite ancient medical texts backwards and all that, but memorizing one page in a few seconds? Nope. No way anybody could do that. She had to be pulling his leg.
"You're joking," Li Yundong said with a smile.
One of Su Chan's delicate brows arched challengingly. She handed him the book. "Try me."
Li Yundong took the book and flipped to page 1. He read through a few lines, then cast a skeptical glance at Su Chan. Nah... she's messing with me... she has to be...
"Ready?" Su Chan asked.
Li Yundong nodded.
"Writing in China dates back to the hieroglyphs that were used in the Shang Dynasty. Chinese literature is a vast subject that spans thousands of years. One of the interesting things about Chinese literature is that much of the serious literature was composed using a formal written language that is called Classical Chinese..."
By the time Su Chan had recited the entire first page (even the frigging image captions!) without a single error, Li Yundong was on the verge of losing his mind. He suddenly remembered Cheng Cheng's comment the other day when they were on their way to the hospital to visit Zhao Yujian, something about Su Chan being a genius who skipped grades. With a memory like this, he was starting to wonder if it was true...
"Holy shit... You really do have it all, don't you?" Li Yundong stared at Su Chan in awe. "You've got the looks and the brains... The full package... Just... Wow..."
Su Chan blushed, then smiled sweetly at him. And Li Yundong was pretty much a goner the moment he saw that smile. He glanced furtively around the huge lecture hall, then pulled Su Chan towards him until she was straddling his lap, then kissed her right on the lips. Su Chan's lips parted in a gasp. However, before Li Yundong could deepen the kiss, she pulled away sharply. All of a sudden, Li Yundong's lips felt far too cold despite the summer weather.
"We can't, Yundong," she said, panting heavily. "We really can't."
Li Yundong glanced around again. They'd been quiet, so they didn't draw any attention to them. A few students lingered inside the lecture hall, chilling out or doing God knows what, but they were all facing the chalkboard. Ding Nan was sitting in the fourth row, but she, too, was facing the front.
Li Yundong returned his eyes to Su Chan, who was now blushing to the tip of her ears. He cleared his throat and ruffled her hair. "S- sorry," he mumbled. "Guess I got a little carried away."
Su Chan climbed off his lap and took a seat beside him.
Awkwardness spread between them. Say something, you idiot!
Li Yundong cleared his throat again. "W- well, y- you were great," Li Yundong said lamely, then quickly realized how easily his words might have been misconstrued. "I- I mean great as in... as in the way you memorized the textbook! Not the... Ahem! Anyway! I wish I had your memorization skills. That would certainly help—"
"Hey!" Li Yundong slapped his thigh, then turned to Su Chan. "Maybe you can sit somewhere on campus when I'm taking the exam! Then I'll be able to hear you as long as I activate Eryue! You can basically just read everything to me!" (T/N: Eryue gives its user long-range hearing; it's a skill that a Cultivator obtains once they passed the 2nd dan of the Ningshen phase; it works best when the sound travels across open spaces)
Su Chan burst into a round of giggles.
Li Yundong didn't see what was so funny. "What? You don't think it'll work?"
"It will," Su Chan said after the last of her giggles subsided. "I just don't think that's necessary. It's much easier if you memorize the book yourself."
"Yeah, I wish," Li Yundong scoffed. "I'll probably be asleep by the end of the first paragraph. Besides, unlike you, I don't have super memory."
"Oh, but you do."
Li Yundong swiveled his head around so quickly that he thought he might've torn several neck muscles. "What?"
"You can memorize things too," Su Chan said nonchalantly.
Li Yundong stared at her for several seconds, then chuckled. "Nah... I honestly think that it's easier to dodge bullets."
A moment later, Li Yundong saw the textbook being waved in front of his face.
"Why don't you try it?"
Li Yundong took the book, then put it back down on the table with a chuckle. "Trust me, I can't memorize worth a damn," he said, shaking his head. "You should see my high school test scores for History."
"Mmmmm..." Su Chan whined. "Just try it... Please?"
Li Yundong's body swayed after Su Chan gave his arm several tugs.
Then, he made the mistake of staring into Su Chan's huge, puppy dog eyes.
"Please....? For me? Pretty please?"
She's gonna be the death of me one of these days...
Li Yundong chuckled and raised his hands in surrender. "Okay, okay, I'll try it," he said, picking up the textbook. "But trust me, you're gonna be disappointed." He flipped to the first page, then stole a glance at Su Chan when he felt her intense gaze on him.
"Just focus on the words," Su Chan said. "Don't think about anything else."
"Okay..." Li Yundong said, then turned his attention to the page.
After a while, Li Yundong closed the book. "Okay, I've read the first five pages," he said scratching his head. "But I'm not sure if I remember anything I read."
Su Chan took the book from his hand. "You already did," she said. "You just need to recall it."
Li Yundong gave her a puzzled look. "Err...What? Recall? How am I supposed to recall if I don't even remember?"
"Close your eyes..." Su Chan said, her voice low and throaty.
Li Yundong's mouth suddenly went dry. He stared at her blankly. God, she's so hot when she's all serious like this...
"Go on." Su Chan nudged him. "Close your eyes and try to think back to what you've just read," she said. "It'll come back to you. Trust me."
Li Yundong shook his head and swallowed hard. Then, he shut his eyes and focused his mind on the first page. Moments later, he jumped in surprise. "What the—" His eyes snapped open, and he saw Su Chan beaming at him.
"Holy shit..." he whispered. "Did you... did you do something?"
"Nope..." Su Chan said with a shake of her head. "That was all you."
What the hell? Li Yundong shut his eyes again. A vivid image of the first page formed in his mind. It was as though there was a photograph of that exact page inside his head. As long as he focused on holding the image in his mind, he could literally just read the whole page out as though the page was right in front of his eyes.
Li Yundong opened his eyes and gaped at Su Chan.
"See? I told you," she said, grinning from ear to ear.
"B- but how?" he asked, shaking his head. Then, his eyes snapped to hers. "Is this because of the dr—" He stopped himself when he saw the panic in Su Chan's eyes. He'd nearly blurted out drug just now, which, according to Su Chan, would put his life in great danger if some other mutant—
Wait, no. Not mutant. Cultivator. If some other Cultivator found out about this mysterious super drug.
Okay. Maybe Su Chan was right to keep this dangerous secret from him. If he blurted things out like he nearly did just now, he would probably give the whole game away in seconds.
Li Yundong cleared his throat and backtracked. This time, he lowered his voice into a whisper. "How did I...?" Li Yundong's eyes went wide. "Wait, it's got something to do with all the Qi-control practice I did, doesn't it?"
Su Chan leaned back in her seat. The panic he'd seen in her eyes earlier was now gone. "Well, yes, Qi control does play a role in boosting memory. But in this case, it's more of an indirect cause. What you did just now?" Su Chan looked deep into his eyes. "That's a direct result of Guanxiang."
Li Yundong stared at Su Chan wordlessly.
"What's the key to Guanxiang?" Su Chan said. "I told you the other night before you first attempted Guanxiang."
"Visualization," Li Yundong answered in a heartbeat.
Su Chan nodded. "You see, when you visualize something, it's actually your Spirit doing all the work."
"Right. Because the Spirit relates to the mind. The conscious will."
"Exactly. And when performing Guanxiang, you're essentially shaping your Qi with your Spirit. That’s why you need to use your imagination and visualize in order to perform Guanxiang, because the Spirit is doing all the work. Your Qi just responds to your Spirit by taking the shape that your Spirit visualizes." Su Chan raised a finger. "But here's the thing. Guanxiang also trains a Cultivator's Spirit by having your Qi interact with your Spirit."
Seconds passed in silence. Li Yundong was starting to see Su Chan's point.
"Remember that weird place with the clouds and stuff?"
"Yeah," Li Yundong said. "It was like I was still aware that I exist, but I couldn't see my physical body."
"Mm," Su Chan said with a nod. "That's because you were inside your Spirit Space. It's a non-physical entity that only your mind has access to. It's also the space where your Spirit interacts with your Qi."
Li Yundong leaned back in his seat, his gaze boring holes into the front cover of his textbook as he began to put the pieces together. "That's why I ended up there, inside my Spirit Space, the moment I tried to perform Guanxiang." Li Yundong looked towards Su Chan. "Because that's what Guanxiang is all about, isn't it? Getting the Spirit to interact with my Qi."
Su Chan nodded. "And the process trains—"
"Ah... I get it now," Li Yundong said, closing his eyes as understanding washed over him like a tsunami. "Qi... It's all in the Qi! That's the secret, isn't it? The Qi enhances everything it interacts with!" Li Yundong opened his eyes and sat up straighter. "Yesterday, before I tried to climb up the windows, you told me to mobilize my Qi to whichever body part, joint or muscle, that required it. You said that doing so would give my joints and muscles a boost in strength and endurance… So when Qi interacts with our muscles or joints, it enhances them. But it works the same for the mind and Spirit too, doesn't it? When Qi interacts with the Spirit, it enhances it too..."
Li Yundong looked at Su Chan. She was beaming at him. Whoa! Were those tears in her eyes? Li Yundong panicked. "Hey, hey, what's wrong?"
Su Chan sniffed, then looked away. "I'm fine, I'm fine," she said. "I just..." She looked straight into his eyes. Despite the tears, the smile in her eyes was unmistakable. "You just made me happy, that's all. So happy..."
Li Yundong chuckled, then reached out to pinch her cheek. "Just because I explained a few things?"
Su Chan cleared her throat, and just like that, their little moment was gone.
"Anyway, you got it right," Su Chan said. "During Guanxiang, your Qi enhances your Spirit through direct interaction between them. Your visual memory will be enhanced, and you'll be able to reconstruct objects from memory in vivid detail."
"Qi control..." Li Yundong said, shaking his head lightly. "Awesome stuff, huh?"
Su Chan cracked a smile. "Of course! Mastering one's Qi has loads of benefits!"
Li Yundong chuckled at Su Chan's sudden enthusiasm. "Such as?"
"Do you know that Peng Zu lived until he was over eight hundred years old?"
"What! You're joking..."
Su Chan shook her head. "When he was about 760 years old, his body was still in good condition with minimal signs of aging. So was his mind. He could still speak coherently and think clearly."
Li Yundong scoffed. "How's that even—"
Memories of his own crazy abilities came to mind. Li Yundong sighed, then dropped his gaze. He honestly wasn't sure anymore. If crazy shit like clairvoyance and telescopic vision were possible, what was so strange about the ability to live for hundreds of years?
Li Yundong raised his head at the voice and pretty much got the shock of his life. Ding Nan was there, standing in front of his table, smiling sweetly at him. Smiling. Not smirking or sneering, but smiling. Ding Nan the viper, who never smiled at anyone other than to mock them, was smiling at him.
Weird is the new normal.
He really should have that slogan printed on T-shirts.
"Something I can do for you?"
Li Yundong hadn't meant for his voice to sound so cold, but he honestly couldn't bring himself to trust Ding Nan, not after all the mean stuff she had said to him.
Ding Nan's smile faltered. She took a breath and began playing with her fingers. She seemed nervous.
Li Yundong arched an eyebrow at her. "What is it?"
More finger twiddling ensued. "Um... I- I was wo- wondering if... if we could talk..." Ding Nan stole a glance at him, then quickly looked away again.
Li Yundong's eyebrow rose higher.
Ding Nan's eyes darted to Su Chan beside him. "A- alone, I mean."
Li Yundong did a quick scan of the lecture hall with his eyes. The hall was now empty except for present company.
"You can speak freely before her," Li Yundong said, pointing at Su Chan.
Holy shit. Was Ding Nan blushing?
"I- I- I just... I just wish to speak to you alone..." Ding Nan gave him a pleading look. "Please?"
Li Yundong wanted to flat-out say no, but then something made him stop. It wouldn't be right to dismiss Ding Nan like that just to get back at her for how she'd treated him in the past. He was better than that.
Li Yundong nodded and stood up. "Su Chan," he said. "Wait here for me, okay?"
"Oh, okay..." Su Chan answered.
Li Yundong led Ding Nan out of the academic building, then made a right turn at the building's entrance. There was a small garden beside the academic building, which was secluded enough to have a private conversation.
Li Yundong stopped under a tree and turned to face Ding Nan. "Okay, nobody’s here," he said, leaning his back against the tree bark. "We’re alone. So. What did you want to talk about?"
Ding Nan was standing a few feet away from him, near the edge of the shade provided by the tree. Seconds went by in silence.
Li Yundong frowned. "Um... Ding Nan? Is something wro—"
"Thank you..." Ding Nan blurted out. "Thank you for... for saving my life."
Li Yundong sighed and shook his head. "You don't have to thank me. Any decent human being would've done something to help."
Ding Nan stepped closer into the shade. Li Yundong studied her face and noted the redness dusting her cheeks. He smirked. Must be killing her pride to say these things to me, someone whom she thought was beneath her.
Ding Nan raised her head and met his gaze. "It's not that simple." She took another step closer. "What you did yesterday... what you did for me..." She bit her lip and shook her head. "It's so much more than helping out a random stranger you see on the streets, or even helping out a friend in need. You... God... You risked your life for me. Me, someone who..." Ding Nan let her words trail off. Not that she had to say the words. He knew exactly what she meant.
Li Yundong pushed himself away from the tree trunk he'd been leaning against. "Well, you're welcome," he said, giving Ding Nan a tight smile. "And I'm glad you're okay."
Then, Li Yundong began to walk away.
"You hate me don't you?"
Ding Nan's voice made him stop. He stood there, but he didn't turn around.
"You think I'm mean and spiteful, that I'm a horrible person," Ding Nan went on. "And you still hate me because I once humiliated you in front of everyone..."
Anger flared through Li Yundong. Seriously? Was she shitting him right now? Did she honestly expect hugs and kisses from him after the way she had treated him in the past?
The grass rustled behind him. Li Yundong could feel Ding Nan's presence behind him. If nothing else, the heavy scent of her perfume gave it away.
"I swear to you... that wasn't who I am... That wasn't the real me... I swear..."
Ding Nan's voice sounded so desperate that it made Li Yundong's anger melt away.
The rustling of tree leaves and the sounds of birds chirping filled the silence between them. Li Yundong turned around slowly and regarded Ding Nan carefully. Her expression was filled with remorse and shame. Li Yundong lowered his gaze and stared at his feet. Forgive and forget... forgive and forget... It’s all water under the bridge… None of those chants made it past his lips. He felt too awkward to say a word. Oh, come on, Li Yundong... Say something! Anything!
"I- I understand... I won't bother you again..."
Li Yundong raised his head and noted the crestfallen look on Ding Nan's face. Before he could say anything, Ding Nan had already moved past him. When their shoulders brushed, Li Yundong caught a whiff of Ding Nan's perfume again.
"Y- your perfume!" Li Yundong said lamely.
Ding Nan stopped, then turned back around to face him. "What?" she said, her eyes brimming with hope.
Yeah. Bring up her perfume. Great idea, genius. Now what?
"Uh... I think it's a little um..."
Great conversationalist Li Yundong was not.
Ding Nan stepped closer. "A little...?"
"Strong! It's strong—"
Li Yundong flinched when Ding Nan suddenly grabbed his hands.
"You don't like my perfume?"
"What? No, no... That's not—"
"Then I won't use it again! If you don't like it, I won't use it!"
What? Why would she stop using it just because he didn't like—
Now he was starting to see what this was all about.
Li Yundong sighed, then gently removed his hands from Ding Nan's grip.
"Listen, Ding Nan. You're a beautiful woman, okay? And you've got loads of personality." Li Yundong paused to look at Ding Nan, then smirked. "And not to mention you're sexy as hell."
He was a little proud that the last comment got a blush out of Ding Nan. A little proud. Just a little.
"Look, my point is," he went on. "You were a bombshell even when you were harsh and mean to everyone. Just imagine for one second what would happen if you start treating everyone nicely. You can bring a lot of guys to their knees without even trying. Just think about that."
Li Yundong patted Ding Nan's shoulder, then started making his way back towards the academic building.
Li Yundong stopped, then turned around again.
"The things you said just now... Why did you tell me those things? What were you really trying to tell me?"
Li Yundong gave Ding Nan a penetrating stare, then smiled. "Nothing much. Just a friendly reminder."
Two more steps later, Li Yundong heard Ding Nan's voice again. "Wait! Does that mean we're friends?"
Li Yundong swiveled his head around, but kept on walking. "Think about what I said, okay?" he said, tossing Ding Nan a smile. "Start being nice to people!"
Ding Nan caught up to him just outside the garden. "Li Yundong, wait! I can explain. I really didn't mean to act like a bitch to everyone. That wasn't the real me—"
"Then why did you?" Li Yundong didn't slow his pace.
"I did it because—"
"Nannan? What are you doing here?"
Both Li Yundong and Ding Nan stopped. Zhou Qin was standing somewhere on their right, smiling at them.
Ding Nan yanked Li Yundong's arm, then leaned into him. "Stay away from that woman," Ding Nan whispered. "She's a serpent."
Li Yundong stared after Ding Nan in shock as she stormed off.