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  • Chapter 54 Hand in Hand, Now and Always

    Rong Guofa's hubris had angered a lot of the people who were watching his interaction with Su Chan. His humiliation was, therefore, a great source of entertainment for the onlookers.

    "Millions of dollars go through his capable hands, he said? Yet he's here at an amusement park, in the afternoon no less!"

    "He's probably here to make an investment. His company is, what, an international investment company? Where do you think the stalls and shops around here got their capital from?"

    "A big company pouring funds into small businesses with so little returns? Yeah right."

    "Tsk! Didn't you hear what the girl said? He's the greatest shopkeeper in history! He handles everything!"

    "Hey... maybe he's running a sham company?"

    Rong Guofa glared at the group of onlookers who had been making fun of him. When the jeers and jibes finally stopped, Rong Guofa turned back to Su Chan. "Pardon me, miss. May I know your name?"

    "Her name is Su Chan, and she's my girlfriend." Li Yundong stopped beside them with two ice cream cones in hand. Adorning the corners of his lips was a hint of a smile. "To what do we owe the pleasure, sir?"

    Rong Guofa turned his head to the side and saw a young man standing beside him. The young man was dressed plainly, though his eyes were anything but plain; they were bright, sharp, and so penetrating that it was as though they could see to the end of the universe. When their eyes met, Rong Guofa couldn't help but feel a sense of inferiority creeping into his psyche.

    "Y- you're his boyfriend?" Rong Guofa stammered. Awkwardness filled his expression, and he quickly turned away from Li Yundong to face Su Chan. "Is he your boyfriend?"

    Su Chan took the ice cream cone from Li Yundong and licked near the rim of the cone. Then she grinned at Li Yundong and said, "Nope!"

    Li Yundong's face fell slightly while Rong Guofa burst into laughter. Rong Guofa's expression was practically dripping smugness when he said, "I knew it! I knew that a woman as beautiful as you are would never fall for a poor guy like him!"

    Feeling slightly annoyed, Su Chan gave Rong Guofa a sidelong glance, then raised her ice cream cone to Li Yundong's lips. "He is my..." Su Chan beamed. "Beloved!" Su Chan jiggled her ice cream cone a few times. "Have some ice cream, my dear beloved!"

    Li Yundong's scowl morphed into a grin. "Oh, okay! Since my girl's treating me to her ice cream, I shall happily comply!" The grin on his lips turned sly. "I'll take a bite!"

    Li Yundong took a bite. Literally. Half of Su Chan's ice cream cone was now gone. Li Yundong burst into laughter.

    "Meanie! Meanie!" Su Chan smacked Li Yundong's chest. "What am I supposed to eat now!" Then Su Chan snatched Li Yundong's cone from him and took a bite.

    Su Chan's mouth was, unfortunately, too small to fit Li Yundong's ice cream like she had hoped. She ended up with ice cream all over the bottom half of her face: the area surrounding her lips; her chin; even the tip of her nose!

    Li Yundong pointed at Su Chan's face and started laughing, which caused him to accidentally swallow the entire mouthful of ice cream in his mouth. He grimaced at the sudden coldness he felt in his chest, then began pounding his chest to soothe it.

    Su Chan began to laugh at Li Yundong's expense. However, her laughter turned into pants and deep breathes due to the freezing ice cream inside her mouth. But, not even the biting coldness inside her mouth was enough to stop her from poking fun at Li Yundong: "Ha! Ha! Serves you right! You had it coming!"

    Li Yundong rolled his eyes without replying. Not that he could, since the inside of his chest felt like it was a freaking tundra.

    Poor Rong Guofa could only watch the playful couple with a constipated look on his face.

    Any other man would've bowed out gracefully at this point and left the couple alone. But Rong Guofa wasn't just any man. He was a proud man with an ego the size of the universe.

    Rong Guofa wasn't even here to visit the amusement park. He owned a luxury home in a residential area nearby, and he was actually on the way home when he passed by the amusement park. When he saw Su Chan standing in front of the amusement park's entrance, he couldn't resist the lure of her beauty, so he'd decided to flirt with her in the hopes of getting her number.

    However, when Li Yundong showed up, he was overwhelmed by a sense of inferiority and inadequacy. All of a sudden, he had an ax to grind, like he had something to prove to everyone here.

    Rong Guofa knew that his days of youthful glory had passed. In terms of appearance, Rong Guofa knew that he was no match for the young man in front of him who was good-looking, energetic, and basically at the height of youth. But that didn't mean Rong Guofa had nothing to fall back on; he had his wealth and credentials to flaunt!

    In Rong Guofa's experience, there isn't a single woman in this world that is free from the clutches of vanity. Hence, there isn't a single woman who could resist the lure of wealth!

    Rong Guofa sneered. "How much do you want?" he asked Su Chan, pulling out a check book from the inner pocket of his suit jacket.

    Su Chan, who had been fanning her mouth with her hands when Rong Guofa spoke, forcibly swallowed the entire mouthful of ice cream. When the freezing sensation hit, Su Chan grimaced and began jumping around. "What? What did you say?" Su Chan asked in a strained voice.

    In the past, Rong Guofa had dated a lot of women, but not a single one was as innocent and beautiful as Su Chan. The more he looked at Su Chan, the more he wanted her. He just couldn't help himself. He pulled out a pen from his pocket. "I said how much money do you want? How much money do I have to give to convince you to leave this guy?" He looked at Li Yundong at the end.

    Su Chan's brows rose to her hairline. "Are you very rich?" she asked coldly.

    "Of course!" Rong Guofa said proudly. "It's all about business. That's how the world works. That's how people work." He paused, staring at Su Chan. "You can do business with anyone. It's just a matter of price."

    "So what if you're rich! There are still things in this world that money can't buy!" yelled an angry onlooker.

    The intimate bond between Su Chan and Li Yundong had sparked the admiration of the onlookers. Needless to say, they were enraged when they saw someone trying to come between the two lovers whose feelings for each other were clearly genuine. A love as pure as that was in short supply these days. They would not sit by and allow it to be tainted by a shameless, rich man who was incapable of loving anything other than that fat check book of his.

    Apparently, Rong Guofa's check book wasn't the only thing that was thick. His skin was pretty damn thick as well. Ignoring the voices of angry onlookers, he looked Li Yundong right in the eye. "What about you? " he said. "How much will it take for you to leave her?"

    Li Yundong lowered his ice cream cone from his lips, which were pressed into a tight line. With a low growl, he stepped forward, then raised his fist.

    Su Chan pulled Li Yundong's arm back down before he could punch the other man in the face. When Li Yundong gave her a puzzled expression, she shook her head slightly. Su Chan was fully aware of Li Yundong's susceptibility to emotional outbursts, which would very likely lead to physical confrontations. This was inevitable due to the Renyuan Jindan's Qi coursing through his meridians. Before Li Yundong learned how to be the master of his own emotions, he would be highly susceptible to angry outbursts.

    Su Chan had seen such outbursts over and over again: the first time in the market; during his fight with the gangsters; during his argument with the landlady when he'd nearly thrown the fat woman off the building; even just now when he'd yelled at his professor for denying her entrance into campus.

    This time, however, Su Chan had been ready for it and thus managed to stop him in time. She didn't want Li Yundong to run into any trouble. Trouble meant distractions, and distractions would be a hindrance to his Cultivation.

    Su Chan pulled Li Yundong back, then leveled a cold look at Rong Guofa. "How many mouths do you have?" Su Chan asked.

    For a moment, Rong Guofa seemed to be in a daze, as though he was trying to figure out if Su Chan's question was a trick question. "One," he said. "Why?"

    "How many pairs of legs do you have then?" Su Chan asked.

    Rong Guofa frowned. "One pair. Is there a point to these questions?"

    "How many bodies do you have?"

    "That's a silly question," Rong Guofa huffed impatiently. "Of course I only have one body!"

    Su Chan's smile right then was the very embodiment of contempt. "Well. You're clearly aware that you, just like everyone else, have only one mouth, one pair of legs, and one body. No matter how rich you are, you can only eat one meal at a time, wear one pair of shoes, and put on one set of clothes. And guess what? That's just what everyone else does."

    The sword of humiliation sliced through Rong Guofa's ego. Blood gushed out of his wounded pride straight into his cheeks. "B- but even if they are the same items, they still have different grades and standards!" Rong Guofa argued, his face so red that he might start bleeding from the pores of his skin. "Look at my clothes and my watch! These are all luxury brands!" Then he pointed at Li Yundong. "His cheap clothes look like they were purchased from the night market at a discount!"

    Su Chan laughed snidely. "So? Other than it's fancy name, does your shirt have an extra sleeve? Or a few more extra buttons?" Su Chan paused for a few seconds for effect, then snorted. "I guess not then. You see? Your so-called luxury clothes are no different than Yundong's cheap clothes." Su Chan glared at Rong Guofa, her eyes glinting menacingly. "Let me tell you something, you fool. Nothing in this world can be graded. Only a fool would judge something's worth by its name alone. What, did you really think that something could be more valuable just because of the user's wealth or status? Wrong! A thing's value can only be judged by two attributes. Virtue, and beauty! Everything is either good or bad, beautiful or ugly! It doesn't matter what its name or brand is!"

    A round of applause exploded among the crowd.

    "Yeah!!! That's right!!"

    "Well said! Well said!"

    "You go, girl!"

    "Now that is what I call wisdom!"

    "Girl, that was absolutely brilliant!"

    While the younger men were clapping and staring at Su Chan admiringly, an elderly man among the crowd released a wistful sigh. Not only is she good-looking, but her soul is also pure and untainted by this corrupted society. What a morally upright and virtuous young lady! I would gladly trade twenty years of my life to have a woman like that as a life partner...  

    At that moment, Rong Guofa felt as though his entire worldview was on the brink of collapse, and all because of an innocent woman's provocations! He jumped as though he were a cat whose tail had just been stepped on. "Those are just pretty words without any practical usage! Wake up, girl! This is the real world where your idealism doesn't apply! Tell me this then. What can those words give you, huh? Nice food? Good clothes? Can they help you pay your rent? All I have to do is make a simple phone call to alter the economy of the entire Southeast Asian region! What can this penniless guy do!"

    Su Chan burst into laughter as though she had just been told the funniest joke in history. As a Cultivator, Su Chan couldn't care less about those material and worldly things. Attaining oneness with the Tao was all that mattered.

    Status? Power? Money? None of those things could escape the eventuality of death!

    For all their great accomplishments, what do emperors, conquerors, and all the great heroes of antiquity become after their death? A pile of dust and ashes. No different than criminals, the poor, and the people they had oppressed.

    No amount of wealth and power could last beyond one's mortality. Wealth and power are too weak, too fragile, too mortal.

    However, by attaining oneness with the Tao, a Cultivator transcends everything, including mortality! To Cultivators, wealth and power are nothing compared to becoming a Shenxian!

    As Su Chan's laughter gradually subsided, Su Chan suddenly remembered a statement that her master had written on the Obelisk of Fengchen: "Throughout the dynasties and generations hitherto, so many people had the power and influence to alter the world trend; so many had the wealth to topple nations. Yet, how many of them could live forever?"

    Su Chan stopped laughing and looked at Rong Guofa sternly. Then she pointed at Li Yundong. "This man is Li Yundong, and he's my life partner. Remember his name even though he is just a nobody now, because I promise you that in less than two years, his name and greatness will shake the whole world to its core! And by then, he will be able to do the things that you do without breaking a sweat while you will never, ever, be able to accomplish the things that he can, not even in a million years!"

    Su Chan's firm and powerful statement reverberated through the crowd, echoing and resonating despite the fact that they were in an open area. Every onlooker was stunned by the sheer conviction behind her statement. For the life of them, they couldn't figure out the reason behind her confidence and faith in Li Yundong.

    Su Chan's dignified expression made Rong Guofa swallow the snide retorts that had been at the tip of his tongue. Still, he refused to back down. "Him? What makes you think that he will achieve such greatness?" he challenged.

    Su Chan turned away from Rong Guofa, then closed the distance between herself and Li Yundong. Before she spoke, she gave Li Yundong the tiniest of smiles.

    "Because I'll be by his side every step along his journey to greatness!"

    A swell of emotion rose in Li Yundong's heart. All of a sudden, he found himself incapable of breathing. His emotions crashed and roiled inside his chest like a tsunami. And boy if he wasn't close to tears. At that moment, he knew he had found the source of his courage. With a woman like Su Chan at his side, he felt as though he could support the weight of the sky even if it crashed down!

    Li Yundong returned Su Chan's smile and slipped his right hand into Su Chan's left, then laced their fingers together. At that moment, as their fingers intertwined, so did their hearts. They were one, mind, body, and soul. They brushed past the dazed Rong Guofa and walked away from the crowd without so much as a backward glance. Shoulder to shoulder they marched away from the amusement park towards their bright future, towards greatness.

     

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  • Chapter 55 Soooo Hairy!

    The pair walked hand in hand until the sound of the amusement park was nothing but a distant echo. Li Yundong suddenly pulled them to a halt. He sniffed and wiped the corner of his eyes, then cleared his throat. "Say, Su Chan," he said. "The stuff you said earlier nearly made me cry in public you know. Dang, you really have a knack for tear-jerking speeches!"

    Su Chan giggled. "Do I?"

    Li Yundong smiled. "Hell yeah!" Suddenly, Li Yundong looked away sheepishly. "Um... Do you think I'm pathetic? I mean, I'm a man, yet I'm standing here about to cry..."

    Su Chan giggled, then jumped onto Li Yundong's back. "No way! If you are pathetic, then everyone else in the world is worse than manure!"

    Sounds of mirth burst through Li Yundong's lips. "Want me to carry you? Very well, milady! Your wish is my command! Besides, you've stood up for my honor today. I'll reward you by carrying you all the way home!"

    Su Chan rested her chin on Li Yundong's broad shoulder, then burst into giggles. "Is that a promise?"

    Li Yundong chuckled. "It's not like I have a choice now. You're already on top of me!" Li Yundong shifted Su Chan higher up his back. "Now! Enough chatter! Time to go home and have some lunch!"

    "Yaayyyy!"

    ***

    "Where the hell is Li Yundong!" Feng Na growled, practically tearing the backstage apart in search of the star of her show. "We need him to be ready in an hour! Why the hell hasn't he shown up yet?"

    Feng Na glanced around a few more times, then she saw Sun Li at the far end of the backstage, helping one of the performing students put on make-up. Feng Na rushed over and grabbed Sun Li by the shoulder. "Where's Li Yundong!" she yelled, shaking Sun Li slightly.

    "Wait, he isn't here yet?" Sun Li asked.

    "You're his class rep, and you're asking me that?!" Feng Na yelled hysterically.

    "But I did call him earlier! And he told me he'd be here!" Sun Li said, raising her voice as well.

    The mere thought of Li Yundong's penchant for causing trouble drove Sun Li mad. Sun Li stopped one of their female classmates who was passing by. "Hey, have you seen Li Yundong?"

    The girl shook her head. "No idea. Isn't that what he does? Disappear from lectures and such?"

    Sun Li moved on and asked a few more of her classmates, all of whom answered her inquiries with headshakes. Sun Li stomped her foot in anger. "Damn it! How could this bastard go AWOL on such an important day! Where is his sense of responsibility!" she yelled.

    "Wait, are you guys talking about Li Yundong?" said a girl who had just entered the backstage.

    "Yes!" Sun Li said, turning towards the girl anxiously. "Have you seen him?"

    "Yeah! This morning!"

    "Where?!" Sun Li and Feng Na said at the same time.

    "In front of the campus gates," said the girl. "He was there with his girlfriend. He was in a pretty heated exchange with a professor though..."

    "And then what? Where did he go after that?" Sun Li asked.

    The girl shrugged. "No idea. Probably left after the confrontation with the professor."

    Feng Na did a facepalm.

    "This guy..." Feng Na said, releasing a heavy sigh. "What was he even thinking?"

    "Thinking?" Sun Li snorted. "We wouldn't even be in this situation if he was thinking!"

    Feng Na glanced at Sun Li. "Call him again?"

    Sun Li glared at Feng Na.

    "This is your responsibility," Sun Li said, holding out her phone to Feng Na. "Why don't you call him yourself?"

    Feng Na smiled at Sun Li. "Oh, come on. You're his classmate! You know him better than I do!" Feng Na pushed the phone back towards Sun Li. "Come on, come on! Hurry up and call him. He might make it in time if he comes now!"

    Sun Li huffed, then dialed Li Yundong's number, but nobody picked up. Feng Na urged Sun Li to try again, which she did. When her sixth call attempt went unanswered, Sun Li nearly smashed her phone to the ground. "Ugh! This good-for-nothing bastard!" Sun Li growled. "Why won't he pick up his damn phone?!"

    Feng Na covered her face and groaned loudly. "Argh! What am I gonna do this time. I'm screwed. I'm so screwed..."

    "Hey! What are you two still doing here! Aren't you supposed to be getting ready?"

    "AHHH!!!" A chorus of screams shook the backstage as the girls scrambled around to cover themselves.

    "Professor Liu, this is the backstage and the girls' changing area! What are you doing in here?" Feng Na said, giving Professor Liu a wide-eyed stare.

    "Old pervert..." one of the girls mumbled.

    Professor Liu kept his expression neutral, though he kept sneaking glances to one of the girls who was still scrambling to make herself decent. He cleared his throat. "I was just here to see if you girls are done getting ready," he said. "Also, you mentioned Li Yundong just now. What did he do again?"

    Feng Na looked at Professor Liu warily. "Li Yundong didn't do anything, professor," she said, choosing her words carefully. "Why? Did he offend you in some way?"

    Professor Liu's face twisted in anger. "That guy has no respect for us professors at all!" he said. "Not to mention his complete disregard for university regulations! How dare he bring random people onto campus grounds and then walk around as though he owns the place! He even raised his voice against me! Me! A professor and his superior! I have no choice but to kick him out today!"

    "Huh?!" Feng Na nearly fell flat on her butt.

    Feng Na glared at Professor Liu as though he was the most obnoxious creature in existence. If looks could kill, Professor Liu would be dead several times over by now.

    Feng Na couldn't believe that everything she'd done in preparation for today's performance was about to go up in flames. Convincing Li Yundong to take Zhao Yujian's place was already hard enough, not to mention she nearly had to sleep with that slimeball Director Qian to prevent him from expelling Li Yundong! And now everything was about to be ruined just because this idiotic pervert of a professor had decided, on a whim, that it was a good idea to kick Li Yundong out of the campus on the day of the frigging exchange visit when the guy was supposed to be onstage kicking boards!

    Oh, how she wanted to castrate that pervert, gouge his eyes out, and then shove his balls into his eye sockets.

    When Feng Na stepped forward, she felt firm grip on her arm.

    "Professor Liu," Sun Li said, clutching Feng Na's arm tightly. "Li Yundong is the star of the Taekwondo Club's performance tonight. The performance can't go on without him!"

    Professor Liu visibly blanched. "What do you mean the performance can't go on without him. Why can't you all just get someone else to replace him! Having a student like him on stage was a bad idea in the first place! He would just ruin the university's image!"

    "Professor Liu..." Feng Na growled. "Do you have any idea how much time and effort I've invested to set everything up perfectly tonight! Do you know that the vice-chancellor himself had given us the green light to let Li Yundong perform on stage! And do you know that the Deputy Mayor himself had mentioned that he is looking forward to our performance? Do you!" Feng Na paused, glaring at Professor Liu. "Despite his flaws, the fact remains that we need Li Yundong tonight! Our club's performance would have to be called off if he doesn't show! The entire exchange visit will be ruined! When that happens, it will be on you!" Feng Na roared, jabbing a finger at Professor Liu. "And how could you? How could you say such baseless things about your own student! Yet you call yourself a professor!"

    Professor Liu's lips trembled slightly, his face as white as a sheet. After that, he turned around with an abrupt flick of his sleeve, then stormed off.

    "This is outrageous!" Professor Liu grumbled as he walked. "Absurd! Absurd is what it is! I can't believe students nowadays—"

    "Waaahhh!!"

    THUD! THUD! THUD!

    CLANG!

    CRASH!

    There was a whimper, then silence.

    The girls in the backstage looked at each other.

    "PFFT... HAHAHAHAHAHA!"

    "This is what I call karma! He had it coming!"

    "I hope he falls to his death, then goes directly to hell, that stupid old pervert! He'd been staring at my boobs non-stop since the moment he came in!"

    Sun Li sighed and looked at Feng Na. "I hope you have a back-up plan, Senior Feng Na. Otherwise, you're done for," Sun Li said. "Li Yundong is still a no-show, and now you've just disrespected a professor..."

    Admittedly, Feng Na was starting to regret her earlier outburst. Still, she decided to act tough. "Hmph! What can he do to me? Expel me?" Feng Na said. "Sun Li, just keep calling Li Yundong! Wait! Isn't he staying at the dorms?"

    "Nah. He's not," Sun Li said, scrolling through her contact list again. "Besides, with a girlfriend that pretty, staying at the dorms is probably the last thing he would want."

    "Then do you know where he lives?" Feng Na tried again.

    Sun Li put the phone to her ear, then shook her head. "The guy has always been a loner. He never really hangs out with other people from class, and nobody knows where he lives. Argh, this is such a pain—" Sun Li's eyes went wide. "Wait! He picked up!"

    "Hello? Hello?! Li Yundong?!" Sun Li yelled at the phone.

    However, instead of Li Yundong's voice, Sun Li heard a sweet, feminine voice: "Yundong! I think there's a person hiding inside this thing! And she seems to be speaking to me!"

    Seconds later, Sun Li heard Li Yundong's voice, which sounded soft, as though Li Yundong was far away from the phone: "Ask her who she is!"

    "Yundong wants me to ask you who you are?"

    Sun Li tamped down her anger. "I'm his classmate," Sun Li said patiently. "My name is Sun Li. Can you hand the phone to him, please?"

    "Oh..."

    The line was silent except for the patter of footsteps in the background. Sun Li shared a glance with Feng Na.

    "Put it on loudspeaker," Feng Na said. "I wanna hear the conversation."

    Sun Li put the call on loudspeaker. The clear sound of running water filled the backstage. Seconds later, Li Yundong's voice blared through the speaker: "Hey! Hey! I'm taking a shower! What the heck are you doin' in here! Put that thing away, you idiot! The phone isn't waterproof!"

    Feng Na and Sun Li forgot their anger and burst into laughter right then and there. The other girls in the backstage formed a circle around the pair, each of them wearing an excited look on their face.

    "Your classmate wants to speak with you..." Su Chan's melodious voice filled the backstage. "And you think I wanted to come in here and watch you perform your ablution? Pooh! As if! So ugly! Look at you, soooo hairy!"

    Perform your ablution?! Hairy?!

    "HAHAHAHAHAHA!"

    "Hey... What's that I'm hearing from the phone? Is that... Hey! Why are so many people laughing over the phone! Argh! Fine! Fine! You win! You win! Now hurry up and go outside so I can finish up in here... Hey, hey, leave the phone, silly!"

    Feng Na and Sun Li kept laughing their heads off until Li Yundong's voice sounded from the speakers: "Hello? Hello?"

    Sun Li stifled her laughter. Barely.

    "Hello, Li Yundong!" Sun Li said.

    There was a dejected groan.

    "You again, Madam Class Rep?"

    "What do you mean by me again? Have you forgotten all about tonight's event?"

    "No, I haven't," Li Yundong said with a sigh. "It's some exchange visit performance night whatchamacallit... With the foreign students from the University of Penny.... something."

    "Oh... so you do remember!" Feng Na yelled. "Then get your ass over here, dammit!"

    "Ha. You see, I wanted to. In fact, I already went this morning," Li Yundong said nonchalantly. "Apparently, a certain someone thinks I don't have the right to attend."

    "Shut up, you asshole. Do you know what I just did? I had an argument with that idiot Professor Liu just now!" Feng Na yelled. "If you don't want me to have another argument with you, then you better get your ass over here! Now!"

    The line was silent for several moments.

    "You had an argument with Professor Liu?" Li Yundong asked quizzically. "Why?"

    "Because of you, you idiot," Sun Li snapped.

    "Huh? Because of me?"

    Sun Li sighed. "Feng Na found out that it was Professor Liu who kicked you out. So she stood up for you!"

    "O my great heroine Feng Na! I thank you from the bottom of my heart!" Li Yundong said. "Give me a moment! I'll be there after I finish my shower!"

    Feng Na felt a little bit better after Li Yundong's words of assurance. "Finish your shower? Don't bother. Get over here now!"

    "Oh, come on! At least let me rinse off these soap suds!" Li Yundong yelled.

    Feng Na guffawed. A teasing grin slowly took form on her lips as she shared a glance with Sun Li.

    "I don't know, pal. It might be a good idea to keep the suds," Feng Na said. "Might help cover up your hairiness!"

    "HAHAHAHAHAHA...."

    "What? What hairiness? What the— Yo! You guys overheard... The heck? How did you guys hear my conversation with Su Chan? Hello? Hello? Anyone there?! The f*ck? Why are there so many people laughing... Hello! Hey! Say something will'ya? How the f*ck did they... Wait a minu... Loudspeaker?! Holy shit! You were on loudspeaker this whole time? What the! Argh! I can't believe this shit! Girls these days! This is sexual harassment! I could sue you girls you know! Say something!!!!!"


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  • Chapter 57 Airborne!

    The cheers and claps petered out, and the beautifully-dressed MC took the stage again.

    "Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, now the time has come for tonight's grand finale!" The MC paused to allow another wave of cheers and whistles to pass. "Let us welcome Huang Yifei, a member of Tiannan University's Wushu Club, as well as Li Yundong, a member of Tiannan University's Taekwondo Club, to give us a live sparring demonstration!"

    "Woooohooo!!!!"

    "Holy shit! Live sparring?! This is gonna be fun!"

    Backstage, Professor Ma was secretly delighting in her last-minute decision to give the final slot to the Taekwondo Club. Those Dancing with the Stars wannabes couldn't hold a candle to the spectacle that the Taekwondo had just given, and was about to give again.

    As for Zhuang Hui, although she wasn't happy about having the opportunity to become the star of the show stolen away from her, she had to admit that Li Yundong's performance was far more suited to be the event's grand finale. Not to mention the little crush she was harboring for the guy...

    Needless to say, Zhuang Hui was practically swooning by the end of Li Yundong's performance.

    And when the MC announced the live sparring demonstration that Li Yundong was about to give, Zhuang Hui's reaction was: "Kyaaa!! You're so cool, Li Yundong! I'm rooting for you!"

    She was even on her feet and clapping.

    Her dance partners merely rolled their eyes.

    "Dick-whipped," one of Zhuang Hui's female dance partners muttered, loud enough for everyone to hear.

    Zhuang Hui would've heard it too if she wasn't so... well, dick-whipped.

    Huang Yifei walked towards the stage once his name was announced by the MC. When he reached the edge of the stage, he leaped onto the stage, whose surface was raised more than a meter above the floor.

    A round of whistles sounded courtesy of the foreigners who had always been fascinated by Chinese martial arts.

    "Yo, Kris," said a blonde guy as he clapped his hands. "Didn't you say you know a lot about China? Which martial art is that guy a practitioner of?"

    Kris was a beautiful woman with long, wavy blonde hair. Her face was small and delicate with sharp and distinctive features. The most striking aspect of Kris' appearance was perhaps her straight and sharp nose as well as her fair complexion. Her beauty had caught the eyes of a lot of men from the moment she arrived at the hall.

    "Please. You're the martial artist here, John, not me," Kris said, clapping her hands along with the others. "Why are you even asking me?" Then she stopped clapping and looked at John through narrowed eyes. "Is this a test?" She snorted. "In that case, I'll pass with flying colors." She turned back to the stage. "Look at those iron bracelets on the guy's forearms. What do you make of them?"

    "Yeah, I see them," John said, squinting at the stage. "What about them?"

    "It means the guy is a practitioner of the Iron Wire Fist!"

    "Iron Wire Fist?" John said. "Never heard of it!"

    Kris chuckled. "And you call yourself a martial arts junkie?" she teased. "I think it's time you pass the Penn State UFC title belt to someone else, John. Clearly, you don't know as much about martial arts as you think."

    John snorted and said, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever. You gonna tell me or not?"

    "The Iron Wire Fist is a popular Cantonese fighting style. Have you heard of Hung Ga or Hung Kuen?"

    "What! Hung Ga? You mean the martial arts taught by Master Chiu Chi-Ling?" John exclaimed. "My God. I should be the one onstage sparring with that guy!"

     

    Kris smiled and shook her head. She knew how passionate John was about martial arts. It didn't matter to him which style of martial arts it was, or which country it originated from. He loved them all.

    Of course, to John , nothing could be more enjoyable than sparring with practitioners from different styles of martial arts.

    Kris knew that John's name wasn't included in the original list of students to represent the University of Pennsylvania for this year's student exchange visit. However, once he heard that the destination was China, John literally went berserk and did everything he could to get his name onto the list. "I wanna experience Chinese Kung Fu first-hand," he had told her.

    "You? Sparring with that guy?" Kris said with a skeptical tone. "Forget it, pal. There are four empty-handed routines taught in Hung Ga, and the Iron Wire Fist is the most advanced of the four. The other three are the Taming the Tiger Fist, the Tiger Crane Paired Form Fist, and the Five Animal Five Element Fist." Kris paused and gave John a sidelong glance. "You might not be a match for him."

    John gave her a nonchalant shrug.

    "That's not necessarily true," John said. "By the way, Kris. You really know a lot about China, huh? Can't believe you know so many details about Chinese martial arts. Ah, how nice to have a Chinese grandmother!"

    Kris didn't respond to John's remark but looked towards the stage instead.

    "So. You're a fighter, John," she said. "Who do you think will win?"

    "Iron Wire Fist guy, of course!"

    Kris smirked. At least she and John were on the same page with regards to the outcome of the spar.

    "Why?" she asked.

    "Just look at the dude!" John said. "Look at his delts! And those arms! Christ! All lean muscle and so little body fat! I bet he can generate a lot of explosive power with a physique like that..." John paused. "You know Bruce Lee had that kind of build as well, and look how fast and powerful he was! The guy's a legend! Besides, iron guy also has those bracelets. That, plus his explosiveness?" John snorted. "Guy's gonna pack a wallop, you'll see!"

    "Taekwondo guy, on the other hand..." John said, jerking his thumb surreptitiously at Li Yundong. "All those fancy kicks earlier looked nice, sure. But they're hard to execute in an actual fight. Well, except for that last kick, of course. That one was pretty badass. Anyway, Taekwondo guy doesn't have that... look, you know?"

    Kris looked at John questioningly.

    "I guess you could say the killer look?" John said. "I don't think the guy has been in a real right before. Pfft. Yeah. He's totally gonna lose."

    Deep down, Kris agreed with John's assessment. However, she didn't want to give John the satisfaction of knowing that she shared his opinion. She smiled and said, "Maybe it's all staged. Maybe they've already decided the outcome beforehand. Whatever. Let's just enjoy the show and stop making wild guesses."

    "You're the one who asked me in the first place, and now you're basically telling me to shut up about it?" John muttered under his breath. "Why do we have to suffer your whims just because you're the student council president..."

    Shaking her head, Kris chuckled and returned her eyes to the stage.

    ***

    On the stage, Huang Yifei stood facing Li Yundong with both hands behind his back. The two fighters faced each other until the audience's cheers and claps subsided. All of a sudden, Huang Yifei bent his right leg at the knee, raising the heel of his left foot at the same time. Then, he positioned his hands in front on the right side of his chest, slightly below his armpits. He held that position for a second, then extended his arms, locking them out at the elbows. In the end posture, Huang Yifei's right hand was in a closed first, while his left hand had a "number four" gesture with the palm facing Li Yundong.

    That was the first form of Hung Ga's Iron Wire Fist, "Bai Ye Qiao Shou." On the surface, the form looked like some kind of greeting, or a gesture of courtesy and respect, but in actuality, it was a stance from which attacks and defense can be executed.

    Unaware of the significance of Huang Yifei's stance, Li Yundong assumed that Huang Yifei was showing him respect, so he bowed to him as well.

    However, bowing would require Li Yundong to take his eyes off his opponent, leaving him in a vulnerable position.

    THUD!

    Huang Yifei slammed his right foot firmly on the stage floor.

    SWISH!

    Huang Yifei left leg lashed out like a whip towards Li Yundong's body, which was still bent at the waist at a thirty-degree angle. The kick was aimed at Li Yundong's head.

    Li Yundong's enhanced senses allowed him to detect the change in the airflow around him as well as hear the sound of the kick.

    WHOOSH! THUD!

    Li Yundong leaped backwards just in time; Huang Yifei's left foot missed his head by an inch.

    The audience erupted in cheers and whistles.

    Huang Yifei pulled back his hands abruptly, then deliver two punches simultaneously — one aimed at Li Yundong's chest while the other was aimed at his head.

    "HAH!!!!"

    The iron bracelets on Huang Yifei's arms clinked loudly the moment Huang Yifei's arms were fully extended.

    The punches missed. Li Yundong had dodged them by taking a huge leap backwards, which created quite a bit of distance between himself and Huang Yifei.

    At that moment, Li Yundong realized that this fight was on an entirely different level than the one involving those pipe-wielding thugs. Hell, this guy even made Zhao Yujian seem like a kitten!

    The murderous aura he'd detected from Huang Yifei was unmistakable. This guy was fighting to kill!

    Before Li Yundong had time to figure out his next move, Huang Yifei closed the distance between them with a giant leap.

    Huang Yifei's fists were now secured on both sides of his waist. Li Yundong knew the next attack was coming, he just didn't know what it was going to look like, or when it was coming.

    The two fighters stared at each other, like a hungry tiger and its wary prey. Li Yundong held his breath and watched his opponent's every move. Huang Yifei's fists moved upwards from his hips along the two sides of his torso, stopping only when they were slightly above nipple level. Then, Huang Yifei uncurled his fingers to form two open palms. Li Yundong had no idea how his opponent was going to strike him next. He just knew that he might end up crippled if he didn't find a way to avoid it.

    All of a sudden, Huang Yifei burst forward.

    "HUHHH!!!!"

    Like two blades, Huang Yifei's open palms sliced through the air in a swift downward motion. These two knife-hand strikes were aimed at Li Yundong's deltoids.

    SWISH! THUD!

    Li Yundong straightened out the lapels of his Taekwondo uniform which had been tugged out of place when Huang Yifei's hands grazed along its sleeves a moment ago. Once again, Li Yundong had narrowly avoided what seemed to be two deadly strikes. Li Yundong already knew that what Zhou Yu had told the vice-chancellor during the rehearsals about pulling punches was complete BS. He just didn't expect it to be this bad.

    What the hell am I supposed to do now?

    ***

    The crowd was roaring despite the fact that both of Huang Yifei's attacks had missed. John, who was a trained martial artist himself, was able to fully appreciate the complexity of the two techniques that Huang Yifei had just unleashed. He sprang to his feet and started cheering like some kind of crazed football fan: "Yeaaahhhh!!!!! Did you see that!!! Did you see that!!!"

    Meanwhile, Zhou Qin, Feng Na, Zhuang Hui, and pretty much all the women who were infatuated with Li Yundong, were sitting in their seats with their stomachs in knots and their fists clenched. When Huang Yifei started attacking again, they winced and hid their faces behind their hands, praying that Li Yundong would be able to avoid those vicious blows.

    Even Su Chan, whose attitude had been nothing but nonchalant since the start of the demo, was now observing the fight carefully. Her vigilant eyes followed Huang Yifei's every move, hoping to find a weakness or an opening that Li Yundong could exploit. Indeed, she had assumed that Li Yundong could take out his opponent with ease. Admittedly, after observing Huang Yifei's moves, she realized that her assumptions were wrong.

    Huang Yifei was dangerous. His punches and kicks were all meant to cause internal damage to his opponent. Unless a Cultivator had gotten past the Jinshen phase, a master martial artist could still damage their body, or in some cases, even kill them. If Li Yundong got hit by one of those blows, it would damage not just his internal organs, but his meridians as well. Damaging a Cultivator's meridians was like breaking a master sculptor's fingers. Su Chan couldn't allow that to happen, not after Li Yundong had made so much progress, not to mention the matter of wasting the Renyuan Jindan!

    When Li Yundong was slowly forced towards the back of the stage by a flurry of Huang Yifei's attacks, Su Chan couldn't take it anymore. She had to do something.

    "Yundong! Fight back!"

    ***

    Li Yundong was scrambling to avoid Huang Yifei's attacks when he heard Su Chan's voice. He had made the mistake of dodging in the wrong direction earlier. As a result, he was now slowly being forced to the back of the stage. Soon, he would be cornered and there would be nowhere for him to run. Damn it!

    "But how?" he said, hoping Su Chan could hear him.

    How indeed.

    He could barely do anything other than fend off Huang Yifei's attacks.

    Su Chan's angelic voice drifted to his ears: "You don't even have to touch him. Just use your Qi! The three gates, remember?"

    All of a sudden, Li Yundong felt as though a million light bulbs had gone off in his head. That's it! he thought. The bridging of the three gates! Why didn't I think of that earlier!

    Before, when Li Yundong was taking Qi control lessons from Su Chan, she taught him how to accumulate Qi inside his lower Dantian and then send his Qi along his meridians to connect his middle and upper Dantians. Even now, he still remembered the sensation of having his three Dantians linked together by his Qi.

    While Li Yundong was having an epiphany, Huang Yifei was panicking. He had unleashed a lot of his moves earlier, all of which were meant to cause internal injuries, yet none of them connected. Li Yundong had dodged all of them by backing away.

    When Huang Yifei managed to corner Li Yundong to the back of the stage, he thought he had finally regained the upperhand, but then he heard a girl's voice. The girl mentioned something about Qi, which threw Huang Yifei into a panic again.

    Don't tell me this guy knows Qigong? Huang Yifei thought.

    Moments after the girl spoke, Li Yundong suddenly stopped moving, and Huang Yifei knew that his opportunity had come. It was time for him to end this fight.

    ***

    Below the stage, Kris was on her feet as well. What a spectacular fight, she thought. But it's probably going to be over soon.   

    Taekwondo guy had been forced to back of the stage. He was trapped. There was no way he could avoid iron guy's next strike. All of a sudden, Kris frowned in confusion. Taekwondo guy had suddenly stopped moving; he was standing still, and he wasn't even in a fighting stance. Has he given up? Kris thought. She squinted at Taekwondo guy and saw that he was taking deep breaths as though he was meditating. However, her attention was quickly drawn towards the iron guy, who suddenly lowered his stance into a half-squat. Both of his hands were beside his ears with palms facing the ceiling. I know that move! Kris thought.

    "That's Huxiao Longyin! The 17th form of the Hung Ga Iron Wire Fist!" Kris yelled, pointing at the stage.

    "HAAAAAHHH!!!"

    As iron guy threw out a punch, the clinking sound of his bracelets rang out across the entire hall.

    However, Taekwondo guy leaped sideways, and landed about a meter to the right of iron guy! From a meter away, Taekwondo guy cocked his right fist back, then—

    WHOOOOSH!

    Iron guy raised both of his arms to shield his face even though he was clearly outside of Taekwondo guy's striking range!

    A split second later, iron guy was airborne. Not only was he airborne, he looked like a rag doll that had been thrown away.

    CRASH!!!

    The entire hall plunged into silence.

     

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  • Chapter 56 Showtime!

    Once Li Yundong got out of the shower, he and Su Chan rushed out of the apartment and took a cab to Tiannan University. They didn't even eat.

    Alas, their cab's movement was anything but fast. They were either forced to stop at a red light, or slowed down by traffic. It was like the Universe had a vendetta against Li Yundong.

    Meanwhile, Feng Na and Sun Li were like cats on a hot tin roof. They paced around the backstage, alternating between holding their foreheads and pulling their hair.

    "Omigod, omigod! We're up next, and he isn't here yet!" Feng Na said, rubbing her sweaty palms against the stage curtain. Then, she pulled the curtain slightly and peeked at the audience. Heads were all she saw. The entire grand hall was filled with students. Sitting in the front row, with much grandeur and pomp, were the university's leaders and the representatives from the city council.

    Feng Na pushed away from the curtains and approached Sun Li. "Call him again!" she said anxiously.

    "I called like three minutes ago," Sun Li said, her voice trembling in panic. "He said he's stuck in traffic!"

    Feng Na pulled her hair. "Oh, my Gawdd!!! You have gotta be shitting me!"

    "Hey, Nana, calm down, alright?" Cheng Cheng said. "He'll be here soon, you'll see!" Cheng Cheng had left her seat among the audience and sneaked backstage earlier.

    "You guys from the Taekwondo Club, get ready! You're up next!" A female professor, who was the event's planner and coordinator, entered the backstage.

    Feng Na shared a few glances with Sun Li and Cheng Cheng. Seconds later, she decided to just bite the bullet. She took a deep breath, then exhaled. "Professor Ma," Feng Na said carefully, "one of our performers isn't here yet."

    "What?!" Professor Ma's eyes widened in panic. "Good Lord! Do you understand what you're saying? You have two more minutes, then you're up! And now you're saying that one of your performers is still missing? Are you joking with me right now? What's this person's name? Which department is he from? This is absurd!"

    "Professor Ma, he's on the way," Sun Li hurried out an explanation, "but he's stuck in traffic!"

    "Stuck in traffic? You call that an excuse? Today is such an important event for the university! Yet he's running around playing hide and seek instead of being here early to get ready for his performance?" Professor Ma scoffed. "This is just ridiculous! Now, I'm going to ask you again. What. Is. His. Name!"

    Feng Na knew that the odds were stacked against her at this point, so she had to do something fast. Feng Na did a quick scan of the backstage. Suddenly, she noticed Zhuang Hui, who was standing nearby and looking at them gloatingly. A light bulb went off inside Feng Na's head. "Professor Ma, I assure you that our performer would be here shortly. Might I suggest that you move Zhuang Hui's performance ahead of ours? That should buy enough time for him to get here."

    The professor knew that her top priority was to find a solution to this crisis. Arguing with her students further wasn't the solution. She looked towards Zhuang Hui and said, "Zhuang Hui, your performance will be pushed forward. Prepare to go onstage!"

    "B- but professor!" Zhuang Hui spluttered. "Our club's performance was supposed to be the grand finale!"

    "Finale? There won't be any finale if the entire event is ruined! Enough chatter, gather your performers. Now!"

    Zhuang Hui glared daggers at Feng Na, who just pretended that she didn't notice.

    Zhuang Hui threw her cosmetic case to the floor and yelled at her dancers: "Get ready!"

    Professor Ma followed Zhuang Hui and the other dancers with her eyes until they reached the right wing of the stage to speak to the MC. Moments later, the stage began to dim until, eventually, it was engulfed by total darkness.

    "That star performer of yours better make it time, or else..." Professor Ma said threateningly, then stormed off.

    Sun Li and Feng Na shared another glance.

    "Arrrgggh! What am I gonna do now?" Feng Na said.

    Sun Li balled her fist, then stomped her foot. "Li Yundong! You're such an asshole!" she growled.

    "Wow... " A loud and clear voice drifted through the darkness of the backstage. "Is this how you repay a guy who is kind enough to rush here just because you asked? By mocking him behind his back?"

    Sun Li and Feng Na turned their heads towards the entrance of the backstage. Relief coursed through them when they saw Li Yundong standing there. They both rushed over, then started smacking and kicking at him.

    "Li Yundong! You ass! Do you know how close I was to freaking out?" Feng Na hissed.

    Li Yundong entered the backstage.   

    A chorus of cheers sounded. Apparently, the entire Taekwondo Club was glad to see Li Yundong's arrival. Yes, even those senior members who disliked Li Yundong.

    Feng Na scrambled towards a table and grabbed a neatly-folded Taekwondo uniform. She hurried back towards Li Yundong. "Hurry up and get changed!" she said, tossing the uniform at Li Yundong.

    Li Yundong caught the uniform and hurried towards the changing area. When he stepped out of the changing area, he looked at Feng Na strangely. "Black belt?" he asked as he adjusted the collar of his uniform.

    "Oh, it's Zhao Yujian's. I'm just borrowing it, " Feng Na said in an offhand tone.

    Li Yundong chuckled. "He'd probably be pissed off to death if he ever finds out."

    "Yeah? I know you nearly made us die from anxiety earlier," Sun Li muttered.

    "Well, I'm here now, aren't I?" Li Yundong said, smiling at his class rep.

    Li Yundong turned to Su Chan and pointed to a few empty chairs that were pushed up against a corner of the backstage.

    Su Chan flashed a grin at him, then shuffled towards one of the chairs and sat down.

    Knowing that Li Yundong was here, Feng Na and the others were finally at ease. Everyone sat backstage, waiting for the Taekwondo club's performance to begin. Zhuang Hui's dancers flitted and skipped about on the stage, drawing the attention of the audience. For the girls backstage, however, Li Yundong's presence was much better entertainment than whatever was happening on the stage. The Taekwondo uniform, which accentuated Li Yundong's sunny appearance, made him look more handsome than ever. Then the whispers began...

    "Hey, you wanna know what I heard?"

    "What?"

    "I heard that guys who are hairy down there are good at... you know."

    "Good at what?"

    "Tsk! Don't play coy now."

    "Hehehe... You don't really have to count the number of hairs he has down there to know that he's good. Just look at him! Those eye brows, and those eyes, gawwd! I wonder if his girlfriend can handle his... oomph?"

    "Haha, you slut. You're feeling horny aren't you? Why, are you gonna step up to the plate and offer your honeypot to him when his girlfriend is indisposed?"

    "Shut up! I bet you're the one who wants to do that."

    "You know what? I actually do!"

    A round of muffled giggles sounded.

    Little did these girls know that Li Yundong could hear their whispers. Yep. Every single word. The Renyuan Jindan had enhanced Li Yundong's senses, not to mention he had made significant progress in his Qi control which heightened his senses further.

    Li Yundong blushed at how open these girls were. My girl and I haven't even gone further than a kiss! he thought, his cheeks burning.

    However, Li Yundong didn't have time to think about he and Su Chan's lack of nocturnal activities as Feng Na nudged him from behind.

    "Hey, you're up," Feng Na said in a low voice.

    Li Yundong's heart paused for a moment. Fear and excitement coursed through his body.

    "Now, the next performance has more... action in it," said the MC.

    "Woohoo!" someone among the audience cheered.

    "Are you guys ready for some action!" said the MC.

    "YES!"

    "Bring it!"

    "Let's go! Let's go!"

    A round of whistles sounded.

    "Then let us welcome the members of Tiannan University's Taekwondo Club as they give their action-packed performance!!"

    It was showtime.

    ***

    The grand hall exploded in cheers, applause, and whistles as Li Yundong made his way onto the stage. The stage lights came to life, flickering and flashing, bathing Li Yundong in a myriad of colors as he jogged. By the time he got to the center of the stage, Li Yundong could barely open his eyes.

    Moments later, Li Yundong's eyes adapted to the light, and he slowly opened his eyes. Unlike the stage, which was dazzlingly bright, the audience's area was engulfed in darkness. Through the darkness, Li Yundong discerned movements: gesturing fingers; nodding heads; waving hands. The front row was occupied by ten or so foreigners. Even though it was dark, Li Yundong could tell that they were blonde and that they had green eyes. Some of the foreigners were young while others were much older. Clearly, they were the visiting students and professors from the University of Pennsylvania.

    Li Yundong's heart pounded against his ribcage, his own heartbeat thrumming in his ears. Somehow, Li Yundong had this vague feeling that the old him, the useless homebody, would go weak in the knees if placed in the same situation. That said, he was different now. Su Chan had changed him, and it was time to make her proud.

    Li Yundong took a deep breath, all the while picturing Su Chan watching him from the backstage. Then he exhaled, feeling so much better. It was as though he had breathed in confidence and exhaled his doubts out of his system. He stepped forward and positioned himself in front of the other performers from the Taekwondo Club. Facing the audience, he bowed.

    ***

    Below the stage, everyone was studying the handsome young man that was currently onstage. The man's sunny and charismatic appearance drew everyone in, even the foreigners.

    The moment the young man straightened himself after his bow, another performer swung a wooden stick at him from behind. The blow was aimed at his head.

    "Whoa!"

    "Yo! Watch out!"

    "Oh, no, no..."

    The young man crouched down and twisted his body, thrusting his elbow backwards at the same time. The elbow strike found its target in the attacker's waist. The young man had just avoided his attacker's strike while retaliating at the same time.

    "Whoa!!"

    "That's amazing..."

    "So badass..."

    The audience was just about to applaud when they saw the rest of the performers approaching the young man with sticks.

    The air surrounding the audience was thick with tension. No one in the audience could imagine how the young man could possibly dodge his attackers' strikes if all of them attacked at the same time.

    The audience soon got their answer — he didn't dodge. Instead, he unleashed a flurry of kicks on his attackers before their strikes could land. With his legs slicing through the air like battle axes, he performed one deadly kick after the other from Taekwondo's arsenal: the scissor kick; the hook kick; the spinning hook kick; the side kick; the back kick; the roundhouse kick; the push kick; and the jump spin hook kick.

    CRACK! CRACK! CRACK! CRACK! One after another, the sticks broke.

    When the last attacker tried to bludgeon him with the stick, he performed a crescent kick which landed on the attacker's wrist; the stick spun up into the air. The audience waited with bated breath for what they knew was coming next.

    ***

    CRACK!

    Both Zhou Yu and Huang Yifei nearly jumped out of their seats in shock when they saw Li Yundong jump into the air and then break the stick with a single kick. He just broke a wooden stick in midair! And without anyone holding it!

    The audience erupted in cheers and shouts while Zhou Yu and Huang Yifei just gaped at the stage.

    If an object is supported on its ends, or even just one of its ends, breaking it would be much easier because the energy applied to the object won't contribute to its motion or kinetic energy (since it's held in a fixed position), but would all go towards overcoming the bonds between particles instead. On the other hand, if the object isn't held in a fixed position, most of the strike's energy would go into the object's motion — the object would likely fly away upon impact instead of snapping.

    The only way to break an object in midair is by generating so much momentum with the strike that it creates enough pressure to crack the object's surface upon impact! This is why a ruler will eventually break even if it is bent slowly. Striking the ruler in midair, however, will only damage it when the strike has enough speed. Even if the ruler is damaged by the impact, it might just be a simple crack, or a chip on its surface!

    Yet Li Yundong just snapped a thick wooden stick in half!

    Just how much speed and momentum did Li Yundong generate with that kick?

    Zhou Yu and Huang Yifei stared at each other in horror.

    "This is impossible!" Zhou Yu yelled, then paused in thought. "He couldn't have done it for real! This is a trick! It has to be! They must have broken the stick beforehand, and then glued it together to be used on stage! Not even Master could do what he did!"

    Huang Yifei turned away from Zhou Yu.

    "I don't think it's that simple," said Huang Yifei, shaking his head slowly. "Did you hear the clear sound of the stick snapping just now? I don't think it's fake."

    "Then... isn't it better for us to withdraw from the challenge?" Zhou Yu said, looking at Huang Yifei worriedly.

    Huang Yifei chuckled darkly.

    "So what if he's strong?" Huang Yifei sneered, stroking the gold-plated iron bracelets on his forearm. "A bull is much stronger than a wolf, yet it is still devoured by the wolf in the end." Huang Yifei turned and gave Zhou Yu a confident look. "Just sit tight and wait. I'll give him an internal injury that will turn him into a cripple in three years!"

    Relief coursed through Zhou Yu as he turned back to the stage where Li Yundong was standing like a superstar.

    Cheers, whistles, and endless rounds of applause filled the hall. The foreigners even gave Li Yundong a standing ovation.

    Li Yundong stood on the stage, bathed in the colors of the flashing stage lights and drowned by the cheers of the audience. At that moment, there wasn't a single doubt in everyone's mind whom the star of the night was. To think that this was the same person who was known as the King of Love Confessions just a few weeks ago!

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  • Chapter 58 Trouble

    Huang Yifei staggered to his feet, his arms hanging limply at his sides as he trembled. The clinks of his iron bracelet pierced through the silence as he stood near the edge of the stage, staring at Li Yundong with wide eyes and quivering lips. He and his dimwit of a fellow apprentice had messed with the wrong guy. The fact that he couldn't feel his arms at that moment was clearly proof of that. Huang Yifei sucked in a deep breath, then exhaled, his lips tremoring uncontrollably. He gave Li Yundong the briefest of bows, then leaped off the stage. The moment his feet touched the floor, Huang Yifei turned around and headed towards the exit.

    "Senior! What the hell are you doing?!" Zhou Yu hissed after he'd caught up with Huang Yifei.

    "Shut up!" Huang Yifei said in a shaky voice. "We're in way over our heads— Tsk! Don't look back, you fool! Let's get out of here, now!"

    Zhou Yu picked up his pace and caught up to Huang Yifei again. The two of them scurried towards the exit and left the hall.

    Once they were outside the hall, Zhou Yu pulled Huang Yifei's arm to stop him. "Senior? What do you mean we're in way over our heads? What are you talking about? I don't understand! How did he punch you into the air like that? Was it some kind of trick?"

    Huang Yifei turned around and grabbed Zhou Yu's collar. Zhou Yu shuddered at the look of menace in his senior's eyes. "I told you to shut the hell up!" Huang Yifei snarled. "Stop asking so many questions! We need to get out of here first!"

    After that, Huang Yifei practically dragged Zhou Yu away from the grand hall towards the campus gates. Once they were inside their car, Huang Yifei heaved a sigh of relief. He glared at Zhou Yu, who was sitting in the passenger seat.

    "How the hell did you manage to piss off a Cultivator, you fool!" Huang Yifei barked. "And you had to drag me into your shit!"

    Zhou Yu gave his senior a befuddled look and said, "What Cultivator? What are you even talking about? You aren't making any sense! What's the matter with you today?"

    Huang Yifei eyed Zhou Yu steadily, trying to figure if Zhou Yu was lying to him. About a minute later, when he couldn't detect any signs of deception from Zhou Yu's body language, Huang Yifei averted his gaze and leaned back in his seat with a sigh.

    Zhou Yu watched his senior quietly from the passenger seat. A moment later, his senior broke the silence. "So you really didn't know?" Huang Yifei asked, staring out of the windshield.

    "Know what?" Zhou Yu said, his voice teetering on the edge of his patience.

    "Good," Huang Yifei muttered, removing the iron bracelets on his forearms. "Maybe you're better off not knowing."

    "For f*ck's sake!" Zhou Yu threw up his hands in frustration. "Just explain to me what the hell's goin—"

    Zhou Yu gasped when he saw the state of Huang Yifei's forearms, which were covered in green and purple patches. Zhou Yu knew how much time and effort his senior had spent on conditioning his arms to allow them to withstand harsh blows. With those iron bracelets on, nobody could bruise Huang Yifei's arms, not even if they smashed his arms with a giant mallet! Yet these contusions were caused by a single punch!

    Huang Yifei's snort jolted Zhou Yu out of his stupor. It was as though his senior knew what he was thinking.

    "All you need to know is that you're out of your depth," Huang Yifei said in a bone-chilling tone. "That guy isn't someone you can afford to mess with. In fact, if you value your life, I suggest you stay the hell away from him."

    Huang Yifei started the engine, then raised his arms to grab the steering wheel. However, he winced and lowered his arms back down. He glanced at the bruises covering his forearm, then shook his head at Zhou Yu. "You're gonna have to drive," he said.

    After they swapped seats, Zhou Yu drove off. They drove in silence for a while until Zhou Yu slammed his hands on the steering wheel and muttered a curse.

    "Are we really gonna walk away just like that, senior?" Zhou Yu said in a tone of dissatisfaction. "We've just ruined Master's reputation by losing a challenge in front of so many people!"

    "Just shut up and drive, dammit!" Huang Yifei snapped, causing Zhou Yu to flinch.

    "Just think for a second, you fool. Think," Huang Yifei said coldly. "What good would it do if we stayed and fought? It was the right move to retreat before we get our asses kicked in public and ruin Master's good name even further!" Huang Yifei took a deep breath. "Listen, there'll be a rematch eventually, but not with us. This guy is way beyond what either of us can handle. Master has to take a trip to Canton to seek the help of another master!"

    "Which master? You mean a master from another martial arts style?" Zhou Yu asked.

    Instead of answering, Huang Yifei turned to the side and looked out of the window. Martial arts? Huang Yifei thought. No. Martial arts alone isn't enough to take down that guy. We need a Cultivator! An expert in the art of Shenda!

    ***

    The grand hall went into an uproar after Zhou Yu and Huang Yifei scrambled away with their tails between their legs.

    One voice below the stage was particularly loud: "Booooo!!!!! What a bunch of fakers! This isn't real sparring! This is a sham!"

    The voice continued: "This is ridiculous!!! You Chinese are just a bunch of frauds!"

    Good thing the voice spoke in English, otherwise it was doubtful that the dude could walk away from the hall with his limbs intact.

    Kris, who was sitting beside the owner of the voice, yanked him back down.

    "John! We're in China, you idiot!" Kris hissed. "Watch your tone!"

    "I thought I could watch real Kung Fu in action during this trip," John scoffed. "Those fools are acting, not fighting. What a complete disgrace!"

    Then, without waiting for Kris to reply, John charged towards the stage and leaped up onto it.

    "John!!! What are you doing up there?! Get back down here!" yelled the teacher who was in charge of overseeing their trip.

    Kris covered her face and moaned into her hands.

    "Oh, God... Who even agreed to let this idiot come on this trip?"

    ***

    Li Yundong turned to face the audience when he heard the boos and hisses.

    THUD!

    A tall, blonde man leaped onto the stage, confusing Li Yundong even further.

    "Another one?" Li Yundong said with a frown, looking towards the MC.

    The MC didn't even notice Li Yundong looking at her, since she was busy staring at the six-foot-one blonde man, who was bouncing on his feet as he moved agilely around the stage. Her jaw dropped when the blonde man removed his jacket and shirt to reveal a bodybuilder's physique.

    John tossed his shirt and jacket down from the stage towards the front row, then snapped his fingers at the beautiful MC. When the MC was brought out of her daze, he curled a finger at her. When the MC approached him tentatively, John took the mic from her and started rambling in English.

    ***

    Never had Li Yundong regretted not paying attention during high-school English class more than he did now.

    What the heck is he saying? Li Yundong thought. Dude even took his shirt off! Is this another challenge? The American rambled on while Li Yundong stared helplessly at the MC. Suddenly, the boos and hisses turned into cheers. The Americans in the front row got up to their feet and began clapping and whistling. Li Yundong retreated a few steps and glanced towards the right wing. I'm gonna kill her if this is one of her pranks, Li Yundong thought as his eyes landed on Feng Na, who was standing beside Su Chan and Chengcheng. Feng Na shook her head helplessly at him. Okay, this isn't her doing, Li Yundong thought, turning back towards the MC. Now what?  

    The American stopped talking and passed the mic back to the MC. About damn time, Li Yundong thought. The MC looked at Li Yundong briefly, then turned away to stare at somebody below the stage. Li Yundong walked towards the MC, then followed her line of sight. The MC was staring at the professors, who were all busy pretending not to notice the MC's deer in headlights expression.

    The MC sighed and gave Li Yundong a look of resignation.

    "He said his name is John Schelter, and he's a big fan of combat and martial arts," the MC spoke into the mic. "He wants to have a friendly spar with you."

    "A friendly spar," Li Yundong repeated wryly. Not that he hadn't guessed as much.

    "Hey, Chinese," John taunted. "Beating someone in a play-fight doesn't prove anything! Take me down if you want to prove yourself! Prove to me that Chinese martial arts aren't just for show!"

    Li Yundong frowned at John in confusion, then turned to the beautiful MC. The MC leaned towards Li Yundong and whispered into his ear: "He's mocking you and Chinese martial arts in general. He is implying that Chinese martial arts are all just for show."

    Before Li Yundong could say anything, the MC pushed away from Li Yundong and headed over to the edge of the stage, where she crouched down to speak to a professor.

    Moments later, the MC stood up straight and walked back towards Li Yundong.

    "Guess what," the MC said with a low chuckle. "It's time for you to play the diplomat. The professor said you're allowed to accept the challenge on the condition that you don't humiliate the challenger, or injure him."

    "So you're saying that everything's fine and dandy if he injures me, but I'll be in deep shit if I do the same to him?" Li Yundong growled. "That's bullshit!"

    The MC gave him a helpless shrug without saying anything.

    F*cking suck ups, Li Yundong thought. Fine if you wanna play it that way! I'm going to kick this arrogant foreigner's ass and humiliate him in front of the audience. Let those suck ups clean up the mess.

    Li Yundong gave the MC a nod. "I got it," he said.

    "Give it your best shot, okay?" the MC whispered. "I'm rooting for you!"

    Li Yundong gave the MC a brief smile, then turned his eyes towards the challenger.

    Bring it on.

    ***

    John nodded at the MC after she told him that Li Yundong had accepted his challenge. John approached Li Yundong, stopping when they were about three feet apart. Then, John held out his fist for a fist bump as a show of sportsmanship.

    Hmph... I can't wait to beat your ass to the ground, John thought as Li Yundong’s fist touched his.

    After the fist bump, the two fighters backed away from each other until they reached the side of the stage. John was on the left side of the stage. 

    Roars and cheers shook the hall. Most students there were patriots, so they were all shouting and screaming Li Yundong's name. There were, of course, a few who believed that Li Yundong's earlier performance was just a choreographed fight sequence. The latter bunch wanted John to expose Li Yundong's deception. However, none of the professors shared the students' excitement. To the professors, this "friendly spar" shouldn't have happened in the first place. Nothing good would come out of it, especially if either one of the fighters got injured during the fight.

    John bounced on the balls of his feet a few times, then studied Li Yundong's stance. This guy clearly hasn't been in a real fight before, he thought. Don't close your eyes, moron. Keep your eyes on your opponent. And what's with that loose stance? Heh! He's leaving himself wide open for attack!

    John laughed mockingly. "Let me show you what real combat is," he muttered under his breath. You're gonna pay for leaving yourself wide open like that, John thought, getting into his fighting stance. This is going to be over in seconds...  

    John released a loud roar, then charged towards Li Yundong.

    THUD!

    John leaped into the air and executed an advanced Muay Thai technique — the flying knee strike!

    ***

    Li Yundong's eyes shot open the moment he heard his opponent's footsteps. His Qi surged from his lower Dantian straight towards his upper Dantian, causing his eyes to flash like lightning. John leaped into the air to launch his attack, but Li Yundong wasn't worried at all. He did the same thing he did earlier to defeat Huang Yifei — throw a straight punch.

    WHOOSH!

    The shockwave generated by Li Yundong's fist crashed into John's chest. John, whose feet had already left the ground when Li Yundong threw the punch, flew across the length of the stage. A moment later, a loud thud sounded as John’s body crashed into the stage floor and slid through the side curtain of the stage into the left side wing.

    The audience was thrown into an uproar.

    Everyone saw it clearly this time. John's feet had already left the floor when he leaped up to execute the flying knee. In other words, it was impossible for John to "fake" being blown away by throwing himself backwards. Nobody could change the direction of their body's trajectory in midair!

    What did this mean then?

    Did it mean that Li Yundong was a Qigong practitioner?!

    Everyone below the stage looked as though they had just seen a ghost.

    ***

    Su Chan burst into laughter, then quickly slapped a hand over her mouth. She was standing in the stage’s right side wing (directly behind Li Yundong), so the people below the stage might hear her if she laughed too loudly. The last thing she wanted was to cause more trouble for Li Yundong.

    Su Chan backed away from the curtain and crossed the length of the backstage towards the left side wing. She stopped beside John's body and began studying the blonde man curiously. The guy appeared to be unconsci—

    All of a sudden, Su Chan froze. Dropping to her knees, she flipped John over so that he was lying on his back, and then felt his pulse.

    All the blood drained from Su Chan's face when she realized that there was none.

    He... He's dead... Yundong killed him with a punch! Su Chan thought.

    Fear and panic wreaked havoc inside Su Chan's chest. She couldn't imagine the consequences that would follow Li Yundong's killing of this man, even if it was an accident.

    Will Yundong be taken away? Su Chan thought. What about me? What about our life together?

    No! I must save this man, Su Chan thought.

    A spell.

    She needed to cast a spell to save this man's life, then everything would be alright.

    ***

    Li Yundong tried not to smirk as he watched his opponent fly across the stage. Take that, you arrogant prick, Li Yundong thought. The crowd was in an uproar again, but Li Yundong didn't care. He just wanted this to be over so that they could go home. Then, he heard Su Chan's brief laugh, which turned his insides into a warm gooey pile of mush. However, when he turned around, Su Chan was no longer behind him. Moments later, he saw Su Chan appearing in the side wing opposite him. She stood beside John, staring down at the guy with a smile.

    All of a sudden, Su Chan got to her knees, then flipped John's body over.

    Wait... Is he unconscious? Li Yundong thought.

    Something was wrong. He could feel it in his bones. Su Chan was no longer smiling, but was moving her fingers as though she was making a bunch of weird hand signs. At the same time, her lips were moving rapidly as though she was chanting something.

    Li Yundong began to make his way towards Su Chan but stopped short when a shadow charged past him.

    It was one of the Americans, a blonde woman.

    The blonde woman reached the left side wing in record time, pushed the curtains further apart, and then shoved Su Chan aside.

    When the blonde woman knelt down and put her fingers on John's neck, Li Yundong began to feel a twinge of fear. He snapped out of his stupor and began moving towards John.

    However, the blonde woman's next words stopped him in his track.

    "He's dead! You killed him!" the blonde woman yelled in Chinese. Her accent was slightly unnatural, though her words were clear. The guy was dead.

    Li Yundong sprinted towards John and put his finger to the guy's nose.

    Not breathing... Li Yundong thought, his face paling.

    "Oh my God... Did I kill him?"


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  • Chapter 59 Sheep Poo

    Li Yundong watched in horror as the blonde woman started performing CPR on John. With both palms placed over the center of John's chest and her elbows locked out, the blonde woman pressed down using the entire weight of her upper body, her lips moving as she did a count. At the count of thirty, she paused, then palmed John's forehead and gently tilted his head back. With her other hand, she lowered John's jaw, then breathed into John's mouth twice. Panicked whispers and frantic footsteps engulfed them as the students in the backstage gathered in the left side wing and formed a circle around them.

    About a minute later, the blonde woman had repeated the compressing-airway-breathing cycle two times already, yet John wasn't breathing at all. That was when Li Yundong began to panic.

    Suddenly, Li Yundong felt a warm palm sliding into his right hand.

    "Yundong... The Three-Pronged Flower Gathering. Hurry up. Go!" Su Chan whispered into his ear.

    Su Chan was like a vessel of equanimity and their joined hands like two interconnecting pipes through which calmness was pumped from Su Chan straight into Li Yundong's body. Somehow, he felt as though he could conquer anything as long as Su Chan was by his side.

    Li Yundong turned away from John and slouched slightly to whisper into Su Chan's ear: "Will it work?"

    "Yes," Su Chan said, nodding confidently. "Just do it! I'll be watching from the side. Don't worry."

    Li Yundong breathed in deep, then exhaled lengthily, wallowing in the calmness resulting from Su Chan's words of encouragement. He released Su Chan's hand and approached the blonde woman who was still desperately trying to resuscitate John. The poor girl was panicking and sweating all over.

    "Allow me," Li Yundong said in a deep voice.

    The blonde woman's head snapped up.

    "What else do you want to do, you murderer!" she yelled back in mandarin.

    "Listen to me! I can save him!" Li Yundong said, pointing at John.

    "He's already stopped breathing!" the blonde woman yelled. "What else can you do to save him other than what I just did!"

    Li Yundong looked steadily into the blonde woman's eyes.

    "I know what I'm doing!" Li Yundong stated firmly. "Now step aside before it's too late!"

    The blonde woman hesitated for a moment or two, then moved away.

    Li Yundong crouched down and positioned John in a meditative posture.

    Then, he turned to the blonde woman.

    "Support his weight. Keep his body upright," he ordered.

    The blonde complied.

    Thank f*ck.

    While the blonde held up John's body from the front, Li Yundong stepped around so that he was standing behind John's back. After that, he placed his fingers onto John's Baihui, Shenting, and Taiyang.

    Su Chan had taught him the Three-Pronged Flower Gathering technique once, so he more or less knew what to do. Once his fingers were in position, Li Yundong closed his eyes and began putting all those Qi-control training sessions into practice. He mobilized his Qi and channeled it to his fingertips via his meridians.

    Come on, man. Wake up!

    ***

    One of the dancers pointed at Li Yundong when she noticed the steam rising from the top of Li Yundong's head. Before she could scream, however, one of her friends cover her mouth with his palm, then shook his head slightly. "Shh, let him work first. Don't disturb him," the guy whispered.

    Kris was too busy watching for any signs of life in John to notice anything weird about Li Yundong. She was kneeling in front of John, holding both his shoulders to keep him upright like Li Yundong had asked her to.

    The shockwave produced by Li Yundong's punch could generate enough force to cause severe damage to Huang Yifei's arms even when a portion of that force was absorbed by Huang Yifei's iron bracelets. But for John's case, the shockwave impacted his chest directly over his heart since he had left his torso exposed when he was executing the flying knee. The force of the impact instantly caused John to go into cardiac arrest.

    In Western medicine, death declarations are made based on a person's pulmonary, heart, and brain activities. As such, there are two kinds of deaths defined in Western medicine: cardiopulmonary death, in which the afflicted experiences an irreversible cessation of breathing and heartbeat; and brain death, in which there is a permanent loss in the afflicted's brain functions.

    In Traditional Chinese Medicine, however, as long as the afflicted's physical body is whole and undamaged, death declarations are made based upon the presence of Qi inside the body. The key is that, once sufficiently mobilized, Qi can essentially "perform" the heart's duty — getting blood to flow. In fact, if the mobilized Qi is powerful enough, it can even generate enough blood pressure to jump-start a heart that has already stopped beating; the rush of blood into the heart will cause the heart to expand and then contract once the blood leaves via the aorta.

    By performing the Three-Pronged Flower Gathering technique on John, Li Yundong was essentially mobilizing John's Qi.

    ***

    John's eyes shot open. He breathed in deep, then broke into a coughing fit.

    The backstage erupted in cheers and sighs.

    "He's alive!"

    "Oh, thank God!"

    Relief washed over Su Chan's countenance as she patted her chest.

    As for Feng Na, she wiped the sweat off her forehead and glanced at Li Yundong in admiration.

    Kris sighed in relief and released John's shoulders. Then, she did the sign of the cross and muttered a quick prayer under her breath.

    "Ugh! What is wrong with you, you idiot!" Kris yelled, smacking John's shoulder. Seeing that John was still coughing, Kris began patting his back and said, "How are you feeling?"

    John clutched the spot on his chest where the shockwave hit him earlier. "Ugh... Kris... What happened?" he asked in a strained voice.

    "You were punched off the floor, you dumbass," Kris said incredulously. "Jesus, your heart stopped." Then, Kris pointed at Li Yundong. "But this guy brought you back..."

    For a while, John just stared at Li Yundong in confusion.

    Then, he turned back to Kris and shook his head vehemently. "That's bullshit! I wasn't even in his striking range! How is it possible that he punched me away!"

    Kris didn't answer John right away. She stole a glance at Li Yundong instead, her heart filled with awe. "He took you out after you jumped into the air," Kris said, dropping her voice into a whisper. "What I mean is... his punch never actually connected. Heck, you never even got close. You were in the midair... I'd say about a meter from him, when he blasted you away."

    John's eyes widened in fear.

    "But how!" John said, shaking his head. "How is that even f*cking possible?"

    "My grandmother used to say that there are a lot of amazing people in China," Kris said, then glared at John. "Oh, for Christ's sake. Stop being stubborn and just accept what happened! Everyone here saw it! Unless you want to go another round with him?"

    John winced and immediately shook his head. He knew it would be foolish to go up against a man who could cause him to go into cardiac arrest without even touching him. Even though John was still unclear on the mechanics of what happened, he had to accept the reality that it did happen.

    For a long while, John sat on the floor in a stupor, his mind racing as he replayed all the Wuxia films he'd watched as a kid. All of a sudden, his eyes widened and he crawled on his knees towards Li Yundong.

    "Sheep poo!" John yelled, grasping the leg of Li Yundong's Taekwondo uniform.

    Li Yundong looked at Kris like a deer in headlights.

    Kris chuckled and explained, "I think he meant sifu. He wants you to teach him!"

    Li Yundong's jaw dropped open, then he stared down at John in incredulity.

    A moment later, Li Yundong waved his hands and tried to pull his leg free.

    "Hell no. Come on, man! That's just ridiculous. I'm too young to be anyone's master! Also, it's si-fu, not sheep-poo." Li Yundong stopped talking, then gave John a look of amusement. "How about you learn how to speak proper Mandarin first, then we'll talk!"

    Although, he didn't have a clue what Li Yundong was telling him, John's eyes practically lit up in joy when he heard Li Yundong mention the word "sifu."

    John let go of Li Yundong's pants and threw his arms around Li Yundong's legs instead. "Cheap poo! Cheap poo!" he yelled, nodding enthusiastically.

    Roars of laughter filled the stage.

    "What's going on! Is he alright?" A voice interrupted the laughter.

    Vice-chancellor Ke stood below the stage with a scowl that was clearly meant for Li Yundong. However, before he could start giving Li Yundong a piece of his mind, Kris turned around and smiled at him. "John's alright, sir. He just wants your student to take him as a disciple."

    Vice-chancellor Ke sighed in relief. That was close... he thought. I thought we were in big trouble for sure. Thank God no one got hurt... Suddenly, he gave Li Yundong a look of approval. This brat though... Can't believe he's done such a good job! He has made the university look good!

    One would think he had multiple personality disorder for him to change his attitude that fast.

    "Why is your friend still on his knees then?" Vice-chancellor Ke asked Kris.

    "Oh," Kris said. "That's because your student hasn't agreed yet."

    The corner of Vice-chancellor Ke's eyes twitched slightly.

    "Say, kid," Vice-chancellor Ke said, looking at Li Yundong. "Why not just take the American as your disciple? I'm sure that will make Tiannan University a major talking point."

    "Yeah, that's right!"

    "Come on, kid. Just agree!"

    "Yeah! What's the harm? It's just like getting to know a new friend, right?"

    Clearly, most of the professors agreed with the vice-chancellor.

    Meanwhile, Li Yundong looked as though he'd just been forced to choose between keeping his left or right testicle. Taking John as a disciple would be a terrible idea mainly because the curriculum of this so-called discipleship would comprise of... well, nothing. What was he even supposed to teach the guy? How to get rejected by girls 21 times in a row? Even if he had mastered Qi-control thanks to Su Chan, he had no idea how to teach it to someone else!

    But still, these professors were incredibly hard to say no to...

    "Yundong... don't do it," Su Chan suddenly whispered into Li Yundong's ear.

    "Why not?" Li Yundong asked, keeping his voice low.

    Su Chan looked at him sternly. "Are you joking? He tried to hurt you just now! That's like handing over your best weapon to your enemy!"

    Li Yundong pondered Su Chan's words for a moment. His mastery of Qi control was the only reason he could beat John earlier. What if he taught it to John, and John decided to use it against him later on for revenge? Yep, he would be totally screwed. A trained martial artist who also knew Qi control was definitely too much for him to handle.

    Li Yundong decided that he needed to decline John's request with tact. A lot of tact, considering the hopeful looks that the professors were all giving him from below the stage. Li Yundong cleared his throat and looked towards the vice-chancellor. "Well, sir, I'm afraid I can't just take a disciple on a whim. That would be a major disrespect to my own master."

    "Who's your master then?" Vice-chancellor Ke asked.

    Li Yundong feigned a conflicted look that said: I'm not allowed to tell you...  

    A look of understanding formed on Vice-chancellor Ke expression and he decided not to push Li Yundong further. Turning to Kris, he said, "Well, you heard the man. I certainly agree with my student that this is a highly sensitive matter. There are indeed certain codes and rules within our traditional martial art systems that their practitioners must obey. For a student to take on his or her own disciple is no joking matter."

    Kris nodded, then began helping John to his feet. "Come on, pal," she said to John in English. "Just forget it, okay? He doesn't want you as a disciple because your Mandarin sucks!"

    "What!" John sprang to his feet. "Is that it? Well, that's not gonna be a problem! I can learn Mandarin! I'll work really hard!" All of a sudden, John turned around to face Li Yundong. "Sheep poo! No, no, no! Sheep foo! Hah! How about that?"

    Unfortunately, the only answer John received was laughter from everyone.

    ***

    Admittedly, Li Yundong had changed his opinion of this John guy. At first, he thought John was just some arrogant prick who had a thing against the Chinese, or Asians in general, for that matter. However, now it became clear to Li Yundong that John was just a straight-shooter; the guy often opened his mouth without thinking.

    Li Yundong chuckled.

    "Well, I'll accept you once you're fluent in Mandarin," Li Yundong said, giving John a dismissive wave.

    That should be enough to discourage him, Li Yundong thought. As if anyone would be willing to spend hours and hours learning the pronunciation for thousands of Chinese characters just so they could have him, Li Yundong, as a master. Why would anyone go through that much for a no-name like him?

    Suddenly, Li Yundong detected movement beside him. He turned and saw the blonde woman, Kris, winking at him.

    "Well, I can speak Mandarin," Kris said. "Does that mean you'll accept me as your disciple?"

    Li Yundong winced slightly. Crap, he thought. He had just dug himself into a hole, and this blonde chick knew it!

    "That's what you said earlier," Kris continued in a flippant tone. "You said you'll accept as long as the person is fluent in Mandarin. And my Mandarin is pretty fluent, don't you think?" Kris gave Li Yundong a smug look. "Sifu?"

    Li Yundong studied Kris's face for a moment. She's isn't even sincere, he thought. This is all just a joke to her.

    Although Li Yundong wasn't into martial arts in the past, he knew his own culture very well. In Chinese culture, acknowledging another person as one's master is a major life decision. At least John was sincere when he said he wanted Li Yundong as a master. Kris, on the other hand, was acting as though she was trying to hire some random tutor!

    Kris flippant attitude annoyed Li Yundong to no end. "Well, that's because I haven't told you all my rules yet," Li Yundong said. "I only accept male disciples."

    An angry flush crept up Kris' neck onto her face. "B- but that's sexist!"

     

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  • Chapter 60 Ni-hao, Da-sha-bi!

    Li Yundong chuckled when he heard Kris' accusation.

    "Well, what can I say?" Li Yundong shrugged. "It's part of our tradition. It sounds sexist, true. But it's also true that a huge part of the curriculum wasn't designed for women and might even be dangerous for a woman to go through."

    The smug look vanished from Kris's face. For a moment there, Li Yundong thought he was about to have a third sparring match.

    Li Yundong met Kris's heated glare head on. The poor girl looked utterly affronted, like Li Yundong had just slapped her in the face. From that alone, Li Yundong could tell that she was unaccustomed to having her requests flat out denied, especially by guys. Hardly a surprise. Which straight guy could say no to a leggy blonde who looked like she had just walked off the stage of Miss World 201X?

    From her clothes and the way she carried herself, Li Yundong was pretty sure she was born with a silver spoon in her mouth. On second thought, make it two silver spoons. She honestly looked like she'd been living in a palace all her life.

    After a while, Kris huffed and stormed away.

    "Hey, Li."

    Li Yundong turned away from Kris at the sound of Vice-chancellor Ke's voice.

    Vice-chancellor Ke walked past Kris and approached Li Yundong.

    "You'll be asked to come onstage later to greet Mayor Luo," Vice-chancellor Ke continued in a friendly tone. "Try not to embarrass the university, okay?"

    As if Li Yundong gave a rat's ass about the reputation of a university who wouldn't hesitate to throw him under the bus in order to preserve their reputation. Even so, Li Yundong nodded politely. He'd had enough fights and quarrels for one night, thank you very much.

    Vice-chancellor Ke and the professors left the backstage with satisfied looks on their faces.

    John, much to Li Yundong's annoyance, was still following Li Yundong around like a love-sick puppy.

    "Sheep-foo! Sheep-foo!" John yelled, then went on to spout a bunch of words in English.

    Li Yundong thought he'd have better luck understanding a dog's woofs than all that gobbledygook.

    Then, Li Yundong heard a chuckle beside him. He turned to see Feng Na leaning in to whisper to him: "He's asking you... err... well, begging you to be exact, to teach him Mandarin first before officially accepting him as a disciple."

    Li Yundong laughed.

    "Damn, this guy's rather persistent isn't he?" Li Yundong paused in thought. "Well, tell him that he won't be able to learn much since he'll be leaving soon."

    Feng Na giggled, then began translating Li Yundong's words for John.

    John, much to Li Yundong's amusement, looked so happy that it was as though he could kiss Feng Na for being his translator. John, reached out and held both of Feng Na's hands in his, then opened his mouth. Blah, blah, blah. More gobbledygook.

    Feng Na pulled her hands away awkwardly and took a step back. She cleared her throat and said, "He said he doesn't mind as long as he can learn even a little bit of Mandarin from you. Said that he would still work hard."

    Li Yundong burst into laughter.

    "Nobody learns Mandarin that way," Li Yundong said. "Besides, he'll return to the States in two days. Hell, he might even forget all about this discipleship thing once he's back home. My art can't be picked up in just a few days. He has to spend at least a few years to master it."

    John's eyes went wide after Feng Na had translated for him. A moment later, he began yelling a bunch of gibberish in English again.

    Li Yundong shot Feng Na a questioning look.

    Feng Na smiled at Li Yundong and said, "He said he'll apply for an international student exchange program once he returns. He's willing to study in Tiannan University as long as you promise to take him as your disciple!"

    Li Yundong gaped at Feng Na. Seriously? he thought. This guy would go that far?

    Feng Na laughed at Li Yundong's gobsmacked expression, then patted his shoulder. "Look at you, huh? You've even got a foreign fan now! I knew it was the right call to make you my idol! From now on, I'll become the leader of your fan club!"

    "The handsome and charismatic head of a martial arts school," Cheng Cheng piped up, "and the gorgeous leader of his fan club. A match made in heaven!"

    Feng Na blushed instantly. "Stop talking nonsense!" she said, glaring at Cheng Cheng.

    Li Yundong studied Feng Na's face and noted how gorgeous she was. At that moment, the rosy tint on her cheeks only increased her allure, making her look like a beautiful teenage girl.

    Even so, Li Yundong didn't let his gaze linger for long. Yes, he acknowledged that Feng Na was gorgeous, but that didn't mean that he was moved by her beauty. Well, to be fair, he couldn't be moved.

    He only had eyes for Su Chan.

    ***

    Despite her embarrassment, Feng Na had been studying Li Yundong's expression furtively after Cheng Cheng made that remark about her and Li Yundong as a couple. Unfortunately, what she saw filled her heart with disappointment. Li Yundong's eyes were clear and innocent; there was neither lust nor passion in them when he looked at her. What hurt the most, however, was the fact that he didn't even let his eyes linger, like it was just a passing glance.

    The sound of Li Yundong's laughter pulled Feng Na out of her depressing thoughts. "Tell John that I'll consider taking him as my disciple once he's fluent in Mandarin."

    Feng Na forced herself to smile, then began translating Li Yundong's words for John.

    ***

    When John claimed that he would apply for a student exchange program to study here at Tiannan University, Li Yundong assumed that the guy was just saying that on a whim. After all, nobody in their right mind would leave the University of Pennsylvania to study in a garbage university like Tiannan University. No frigging way.

    That was why Li Yundong told Feng Na that he'd consider this discipleship as long as John became fluent in Mandarin. Even if leaving the University of Pennsylvania wasn't enough to discourage the guy, surely leaving the University of Pennsylvania and having to master a foreign language would do the trick.

    However, it soon became apparent to Li Yundong that he had overestimated John's sanity. After Feng Na had translated his message for John, John began to beg Li Yundong to teach him a Mandarin phrase.

    Annoyed by John's endless pestering, Li Yundong decided to mess with John a little. A slow smirk formed on his lips, and he waved John over. John complied and practically trotted towards him like an obedient puppy.

    Beside him, Li Yundong could feel Feng Na, Cheng Cheng, and Su Chan watching him curiously. You know what, scratch that. Everyone in the backstage was watching him, no doubt curious to find out what he was planning to do.

    Li Yundong cleared his throat, then held up a finger.

    "Ni-hao..." Li Yundong said, trailing off. (T/N: Ni-hao means "hello")

    "Boo..."

    "So lame..."

    "Yeah! At least be more creative!"

    Li Yundong ignored the students' protests.

    He smirked. "Ni-hao, da-sha-bi!" (T/N: da-sha-bi means "big fool")

    "PFFT!! HAHAHAHAHA!!"

    For a moment there, Li Yundong almost thought the laughter in the backstage would clue John in and ruin his prank. Moments later, Li Yundong realized that he had absolutely nothing to worry about; John was an eager student.

    "Neee-how, taa-shaar-pee?" John said.

    "Tsk, tsk, tsk, no, no, no," Li Yundong said, shaking his head, then held up his finger again. Once he was sure that he had John's rapt attention, Li Yundong said, "Ni-hao, da-sha-bi!"

    "Nee-how, dar-shaar-bee?"

    "PFFT... HAHAHAH!" Su Chan burst into laughter. Then, she hid herself in a corner of the backstage, smacking her chest as she laughed her head off.

    Li Yundong smirked, then nodded slightly at John. Then, he gestured at John to continue practicing the Mandarin phrase.

    "Nee-how, da-shar-bee!"

    There was a shuffling of feet and the sound of footsteps followed by more two rounds of laughter. Li Yundong turned and saw Feng Na and Cheng Cheng joining Su Chan at the corner, laughing their heads off.

    "A-HA!" John said, snapping his fingers. "Neee-hao, daa-sha-bee!"

    Li Yundong nearly started laughing as well when he heard that. Good thing he hadn't, otherwise the whole prank would be ruined.

    All of a sudden, the backstage's door burst open. Li Yundong quickly held a finger to his lips and signaled John to be quiet.

    A professor stepped into the backstage, then paused when he saw that the students were laughing their heads off.

    "What are you guys still doing here! Get onstage! The mayor's waiting!" the professor said, then stormed off.

    "Nee-hao, da-sha-bee!" John said once the door was closed.

    Li Yundong smiled and nodded at him. "Ni-hao, da-sha-bi."

    With that, Li Yundong and the students involved in the performance left the backstage, leaving roars of laughter in their wake.

    ***

    Feng Na's eyes followed Li Yundong as he led the students onto the stage. Somehow, she couldn't take her eyes off him. What the hell is wrong with me, she thought.

    Hell if she knew.

    Then, she felt someone poking her side.

    "Just tell him if you’re attracted to him," Cheng Cheng said.

    "Me? Attracted to him? Please," Feng Na scoffed, blushing heavily. "I like guys who are older and more mature than me!"

    "Yeah, keep telling yourself that," Cheng Cheng said with a smirk.

    Feng Na glared at her bestie. It probably would've worked if she hadn't been blushing like a schoolgirl.

    Cheng Cheng went on, "You know you can't fool me, Nana. I saw the way you were looking at him just now, like he was the world's tastiest dessert."

    Feng Na laughed and shoved Cheng Cheng playfully. "You're just making that up!"

    Feng Na sighed wistfully. "Besides, it's not like I stand a chance," she said with a wry smile. "He already has such a beautiful girlfriend."

    "So. Not even someone as beautiful and outstanding as you is confident in winning his heart, huh?" Cheng Cheng said with a disappointed sigh. "Then I guess an ordinary girl like me wouldn't stand a chance."

    Feng Na gave her bestie a curious glance. "You're interested in him too?"

    "Of course I am," Cheng Cheng said. "A guy like him is so hard to come by after all... To be honest, I didn't really find him that attractive when he was kicking ass onstage earlier. But the way he saved John's life just now... that calmness, and that confidence, my God. At that moment, I really thought he was super attractive. I would've fought tooth and nail for him if he was still single..."

    Feng Na poked Cheng Cheng playfully. "Oh, you slut! You're the one who's interested in him, yet you're trying to goad me!"

    Cheng Cheng twisted away from Feng Na's hand. "And you think you are any better?" Cheng Cheng said, sticking out her tongue. "You're attracted to him, but you won't even admit it. Coward!"

    Feng Na and Cheng Cheng kept teasing and goading each other until Feng Na caught a glimpse of Zhuang Hui leaving the backstage area. Zhuang Hui had just finished reapplying her make-up and was now heading back onto the stage.

    Feng Na let out a dejected sigh.

    "Enough, okay?" Feng Na said wryly. "Even if Li Yundong was still single, it would be a pretty tough fight. There are already so many competitors. Did you see Zhuang Hui checking him out just now? And if I'm not mistaken, Zhou Qin is also interested in him."

    Cheng Cheng nodded. "Ugh, why is it so hard to meet a decent man?" Cheng Cheng let out a huff of frustration, then looked up at the ceiling, crossing her hands in prayer. "God, please give me a good man. I promise I'll be loyal to him. I'll wash his underwear and clean his socks and—"

    Feng Na rolled her eyes and gave Cheng Cheng a shove. "Stop being a drama queen! Now, come on, we're needed onstage."

    ***

    It didn't take long for the stage to become jam-packed with students and professors. John stood in front of the crowd, smiling with the intensity of a hundred suns. Thanks to his near-death experience earlier, John became the star of the event. Well, second to Li Yundong, of course.

    When the mayor came onto the stage and asked (there was a translator with the mayor) John how he was doing and if he was alright, John nearly leaped up in joy. He leaned in and whispered something into the translator's ear.

    The translator gave John a look of surprise before turning back to the mayor. "Mayor Luo, Mr. John said that he'd just picked up a Mandarin greeting phrase earlier. He also said that he would like to greet you with the phrase."

    "Oh? Is that so?" Mayor Luo said, putting his hands behind his back to exude an air of authority. "By all means, let him try! It is refreshing indeed to see so many foreigners learning our language. It implies that our country has established a strong foothold in the international arena, wouldn't you say! Go ahead, young man, show us what you've got!"

    John didn't understand a thing the mayor had just said, so he stared at the translator expectantly. When the translator gave him a nod, he nearly did a fist pump right then and there.

    John stood up straighter and squared his shoulders, then cleared his throat.

    "Nee-hao, da-sha-bee!"

    An instant change went across the expressions of Mayor Luo and the rest of his entourage.

    The entire hall plunged into silence...


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  • Chapter 61 Ambush

    Mayor Luo's smile froze. The only movement on his face was the uncontrollable twitching at the corners of his eyes. The university leaders and other members of the mayor's entourage managed to keep their expressions neutral and dignified. Then again, one might think that they were all having epileptic seizures considering how hard their facial muscles were spasming around their lips.

    John glanced around the stage when he heard the giggles and muffled chortles of the students onstage.

    "What is it? Did I pronounce it wrongly?" John cleared his throat. "Nee-hao, da-sha-bi!"

    More laughter and giggles ensued.

    Mayor Luo was the first among the white-collars to recover. He shook John's hand a few times, then turned to Vice-chancellor Ke.

    "See? This is why they say that the bad words and phrases are the easiest to pick up when learning a new language," Mayor Luo said, patting John's shoulder a few times. "Not bad, young man! Not bad at all!"

    Then, Mayor Luo burst into laughter.

    He should consider going into acting if he ever got tired of politics.

    The mayor's answer brought instant relief to the vice-chancellor and the other university leaders, who soon joined the mayor in laughter.

    The event concluded after the leaders left. When Li Yundong was about to leave the grand hall, he saw Kris storming towards him while dragging John by the arm.

    Li Yundong took Su Chan's hand and said, "Come on, we gotta run! The Americans are coming!"

    Su Chan, who was still laughing at John's epic greeting, straightened herself.

    "Oh," she said, wiping her tears.

    Together, Li Yundong and Su Chan made a beeline towards the hall's exit. Once they made it outside, Li Yundong took Su Chan's hand and broke off into a sprint.

    Kris's voice rang out from behind them: "Hold it right there! Li Yundong! You and I are going to have a few words!"

    Li Yundong turned his head around but kept running. He laughed and said, "No... You hold it right there! Whatever you have to say to me can wait until tomorrow!"

    "Dammit!" Kris yelled, then turned around towards John. "Move it already, John. We gotta catch up to them!"

    Poor John seemed nothing but confused.

    "Why? Why are we going after them?"

    "Ugh! You idiot! Haven't you realized by now that Li Yundong pranked you earlier?"

    "What? What prank?"

    "Arggh! You—" Kris kicked John's butt harshly. "The phrase he taught you wasn't even a polite phrase! 'Sha-bi' is used to insult people, you dumbass!"

    "Oh, no… Which means..." John whispered, then groaned loudly and pulled his hair. "Oh God... I just insulted the mayor... Shit, will I end up in jail?"

    Kris stared at John, her jaw dropping in incredulity.

    "Good Lord..." Kris said in a half-amused tone. "You really are all brawn and no brains..." Kris smacked John upside his head. "Hurry up! We need to catch up to him, then force him to apologize to the mayor!"

    John nodded with zest.

    However, a few seconds later, his face fell.

    "What's the point?" John said dejectedly. "How are we supposed to force him anyway. It's not like I could threaten to beat him up if he doesn't agree..."

    "Is settling everything with your knuckles all you know?" Kris rolled her eyes. "What era do you think we're in? The Middle Ages?"

    "You know what? If you don't wanna come along, suit yourself," Kris said, then ran after Li Yundong.

    John sighed dejectedly and hurried after Kris.

     

    ***

     

    When Li Yundong and Su Chan made it past the campus gates, they stopped to catch their breath. Their shortness of breath had nothing to do with physical exertion, but everything to do with the fact that they had been laughing their heads off as they ran.

    "Where to now?" Su Chan asked once she had stopped laughing.

    Li Yundong glanced around the street they were on. It was already late, so the street was pretty quiet and the pedestrians were scarce. Some guy in a hoodie and with both hands in his pockets was hurrying in their direction. Other than that, there were no signs of activity on the street.

    Li Yundong pointed towards the main road. "Over ther—"

    Hoodie guy removed his hands from his pockets and flung some kind of powdery substance at Li Yundong's face.

    "Argh!!!" Li Yundong screamed and quickly closed his eyes, but it was too late. He could already feel the sting in his eyes. Son of a bitch! he thought, pressing the heel of his palm into his eyes. This is a f*cking ambush!

    Oh, no! Su Chan! Li Yundong began groping around with his free hand to feel where Su Chan was.

    A moment later, his hand found her, and he shoved her away from him.

    "Su Chan! Run! Now! Leave me!"

     

    ***

     

    Run? Not a chance in hell!

    Su Chan glanced at Li Yundong who was now on his knees, covering his eyes with both hands.

    He was completely vulnerable.

    "Move in, boys!!" yelled the guy who threw the powder.

    Then, Su Chan saw the guy pulling out a knife before charging towards Li Yundong.

    Over my dead body! Su Chan moved with lightning speed and cut off the guy's path before he could reach Li Yundong. The guy's eyes widened in surprise and he swung his knife at Su Chan instinctively.

    SMACK!

    Su Chan delivered a palm strike to the guy's chest, causing him to fall limply to the ground, where he lay twitching and convulsing.

    There was a scuffing sound up ahead.

    Footsteps, Su Chan thought, raising her head.

    A bunch of knife-wielding men were charging towards them. It was clear from the looks in their eyes that these guys were out for blood.

    Without further ado, Su Chan turned around and ran back to Li Yundong and went on her knees. She could take out all those thugs on her own, but she didn't want to risk any of them landing a lucky shot on Li Yundong. Besides, these thugs were clearly targetting Li Yundong.

    Su Chan pried Li Yundong's hands away from his eyes.

    "Wha— Who? Su Chan? Is that you? Shit! What are you still doing here! I told you to leave me!"

    Su Chan stumbled a few steps after Li Yundong shoved her away again.

    Damned Jindan's super strength.

    "Shh..." Su Chan scurried back towards Li Yundong and kneeled beside him. "There's not enough time now. Just don't move."

    Then, Su Chan muttered an incantation for a spell. She was pretty sure the powder was a mixture of sand and ground-up pebbles. A simple extraction spell should do the trick.

    As soon as the incantation was completed, Su Chan's right palm glowed with a mild green light.

    "Don't move, okay?" Su Chan said, bringing her right palm over his eyes. Then, with her left hand, she pushed Li Yundong's eyelids open.

     

    ***

     

    Li Yundong's eyes stung like hell the moment Su Chan pried his eyelids opened with her fingers. Other than some kind of blinding light, he couldn't see a thing.

    "S- Su Chan, what's going on?" he asked.

    "Shh... Almost done now," Su Chan said.

    Was this another one of her medical skills? What was it? Some kind of super potion? Whatever it was, it was definitely working. The stinging sensation was starting to ease.

    All of a sudden, the pressure on his eyelids disappeared; his vision became dark again.

    "Okay! You can open your eyes now!" Su Chan said.

    "Harrgghhh!!! You're dead meat, bastard!!!!" some guy yelled, throwing Li Yundong into a panic.

    However, he heard a loud crunch a second later followed by a blood-curdling scream.

    "Su Chan! What the hell’s going on! Are you alright?!" Li Yundong yelled, blinking his eyes open.

    There was no answer.

    His vision was still a blur, so he kept blinking and blinking to clear his vision. More screams of pain sounded followed by loud clanging sounds. It was as though a bunch of metallic objects had fallen to the ground.

    Knives... Li Yundong thought, the hair on the back of his neck raising on end.

    Su Chan was fighting a bunch of knife-wielding guys.

    Alone.

    Li Yundong sprang to his feet despite his blurry vision. He took a few steps forward and nearly fell over when his leg got caught up in some soft object. He kicked the object a few times and realized that it was a person's body. A convulsing and quivering body.

    Li Yundong raised his hands and rubbed his eyes harshly. "Dammit! Why am I so f*cking useless when I'm needed the most!"

     

    ***

     

    "Jesus Christ..." John whispered in awe.

    Beside him, Kris said nothing. Mouth agape, Kris watched in awe as Li Yundong's young girlfriend deliver a groin kick to a guy who was just about to swing a knife at her.

    When they saw the girl perform a move akin to a Judo hip throw on a guy who was more than twice her size, John couldn't take it anymore.

    "Holy mother of God! Did you see that!" John exclaimed. "Th- this chick is f*cking badass!"

    Still, Kris didn't say anything.

    She was too stunned to speak.

    "Look at the way she moves!" John went on. "So fluid... This is exactly what Bruce Lee means when he said continuity of motion! It was like those guys are fighting a phantom! She's untouchable!"

    John knew that this fight wasn't staged at all. Those knives seemed pretty damn real, and judging from the fact that Li Yundong was rubbing his eyes as though he couldn't see, this was an ambush. These guys had clearly done something to blind Li Yundong first before they launched their attack on him. For a moment there, John was considering if he should go over there and help the chick out, but then it seemed like his help wasn't even necessary. The chick could clearly handle herself. Those thugs knew it too, as they were all slowly backing away from her.

    John turned towards Kris.

    "Hey, Kris, you alright?"

    Kris stared back at him with wide eyes, then nodded slightly.

    It was like she hadn't fully processed what she'd just seen.

    Yeah... join the club, John thought, returning his eyes to the fight.

     

    ***

     

    When he finally regained his vision, Li Yundong saw Su Chan standing tall and strong about ten feet away with six thugs lying at her feet. The rest of the thugs were backing away from her fearfully.

    She was amazing.

    Before he could shout at Su Chan, Li Yundong detected movement behind him; he whirled around to his four o'clock and caught the blade of the knife between his fingers. Then, out of nowhere, Li Yundong heard a loud curse in English. He did a quick scan with his eyes and caught a glimpse of Kris and John gaping at them from twenty, or maybe thirty, meters away.

    The blade trembled slightly between Li Yundong's fingers.

    He flicked his eyes back towards the thug, who was trying in vain to yank the knife away.

    Li Yundong growled and pinched the blade hard.

    CRACK!

    CLANG!

    The blade broke into two halves.

    "A- a- arrggghh!!! Arrgghh!!! Waahhhh!!! D- d- don’t! Don’t!!" The thug scrambled backwards in fear.

    Li Yundong burst forward and caught the thug by his front collar.

    "Who sent you!!!" Li Yundong roared, hoisting the thug up with one arm.

    The thug began kicking out his legs in fear. "X- Xi- Xie F- Fei!"

    Li Yundong released a loud and menacing sneer.

    "Oh! So he still wants revenge, is that it!" Li Yundong tightened his grip on the thug's shirt and yanked the thug forward so that their faces were less than an inch apart. "Listen to me well, you f*cker. You're gonna go back to him and then tell him that if he wants an all-out war with me, then he f*cking got one! Tell him that if he ever shows his face in Tiannan University again, I'll throw him off the academic building!" Li Yundong bared his teeth. "I'm a man of my word!"

    Li Yundong cocked his left hand back.

    SMACK!

    "ARRGGGH!!!"

    A blood splatter formed on the asphalt. Two broken teeth rolled amidst the crimson mess until they stopped a few feet away.

    Li Yundong tossed the thug through the air. The thug crashed into the ground with a loud thud, then scrambled to his feet and ran for his life.

    Li Yundong turned back to Su Chan and saw that she had already taken care of the rest of the thugs. He rushed towards her, then grabbed her shoulders, turning her around to face him.

    "Are you okay?" Li Yundong asked, looking Su Chan over from head to toe.

    "Hehe..." Su Chan smiled and waved at the litter of fallen thugs, who were wailing and moaning on the ground.

    "Holy shit... What the heck did you do to them?" Li Yundong whispered breathlessly.

    "Oh, nothing too impressive..." Su Chan waved her hand casually. "Just some basic soft techniques to damage their internal organs. They'll start showing symptoms of internal injuries in a year or so. They won't be able to bully others ever again."

    "Damn..." Li Yundong said, looking at Su Chan in awe. She looked totally fine too. Not even a single hair out of place. F*ck!

    "Hehehe... See? I told you I'm good!" Su Chan said with pride.

    Li Yundong chuckled and shook his head. All of a sudden, he stopped laughing and wore a stern expression.

    "Don't ever get into fights again. You hear me?" Li Yundong said unyieldingly.

    "Hmph!" Su Chan pouted. "You won't even praise me a little! Meanie!"

    Li Yundong pinched Su Chan's beautiful nose.

    "Listen..." he said. "It doesn't matter if you can go up against a hundred guys and still kick ass, okay? I'll always worry." Li Yundong took Su Chan's hand and placed it over his heart. "It hurts in here, and I can't help it. So don't get into fights unless you have no choice, okay? Leave the fighting to me..."

    Li Yundong let Su Chan's hand drop and stared into her eyes. Her pout became smaller as a rosy tint crept onto her cheeks. Moments later, her face broke into a wide grin.

    All of a sudden, Su Chan reached up and swipe her fingers over his eyelids. "Hehe! Now you're a panda!" she said.

    Li Yundong wiped his face with his sleeve and noticed the dark smudges it left on his shirt.

    "Those f*ckers!" he said, then looked at Su Chan warmly. "You saved my life... I would've ended up as dice meat if you weren't here with me tonight."

    All of a sudden, Li Yundong froze as though he just remembered something.

    Then, he turned around.

     

    ***

     

    "Hey! You two!"

    Both Kris and John jumped when they heard Li Yundong calling out to them. They look at each other briefly, their minds wondering the same thing: How did he know we're here?

    "You two saw everything right?" Li Yundong went on. "We were ambushed! These thugs attacked us first! Su Chan and I acted purely in self-defense!"

    Still very much in a stupor, Kris and John nodded blankly.

    John shook out of his stupor when Li Yundong and Su Chan drove off in a cab.

    "I've made my decision!" John exclaimed, his eyes glinting in excitement. "I must become his disciple! Damn! Did you notice his reflexes just now? He caught the fast-moving blade between his fingers! Christ!"

    Kris glared at John in annoyance.

    "That lying bastard!" she said, stomping her foot in anger. "Didn't he say that he only takes men as his disciples? In that case, why is that girl so good at fighting?"

    Little did they know that it wasn't Li Yundong who'd taught Su Chan how to fight, but the other way around. Nor did they know that had it not been the commandment in the Cultivation world which prohibited Cultivators from killing mortals with their magic, Kris and John wouldn't be witnessing a streetfight that night, but a massacre instead.


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  • Chapter 62 The Biggest Name on Campus

    Later that night, the leaders and higher-ups of the university had a debriefing session to assess the success of the performance night.

    "That kid has to be expelled!" Director Qian slapped the conference table, his comb-over sliding down from the top of his head until it covered half of his eyes. "He's a ticking time bomb and trouble waiting to happen!"

    For a brief moment, the conference room was silent except for Director Qian's heavy breathing.

    "Just look at what happened tonight!" Director Qian went on. "He nearly killed one of our foreign visitors! And teaching the foreigner an insulting phrase? This is just too much!"

    "I agree with Director Qian," said Professor Liu. "If we keep a student like him around, it's just a matter of time before he does something to damage the university's reputation permanently. Just look at his behavior over the past two weeks!"

    The chancellor was currently away from the country on a business trip, so Vice-chancellor Ke was the one entrusted to handle all university matters.

    Vice-chancellor Ke adjusted his reading glasses with a finger, then cleared his throat. "But we cannot deny that he left a good impression amongst the students from the University of Pennsylvania," he said, glancing at Director Qian. "Every one of our foreign visitors is currently singing his praises."

    "But he nearly killed John Schelter with a punch, vice-chancellor!" Director Qian protested. "And he even taught him an impolite phrase afterwards! How on earth can that kind of behavior leave a good impression? Wouldn't people start to question our competence if we keep a student like him around? Worse, what if they think that all of our students are like that!"

    Silence fell upon the conference room as Vice-chancellor Ke pondered Director Qian's words.

    After a while, Vice-chancellor Ke sat up straighter and addressed the rest of his staff with finality: "Regardless, we cannot, in good conscience, deny that the boy had put in a lot of effort to make the event work. Not only that, but he was also the star of the show. Expelling him now would just raise all kinds of questions, questions that we cannot provide satisfactory answers to."

    The way Vice-chancellor Ke saw it, this event would've been a disaster had it not been for Li Yundong's efforts. In other words, he had started to take a bit of a liking to Li Yundong.

    Director Qian snorted and said nothing else. Deep down, however, he was highly troubled. If Li Yundong had won the vice-chancellor's support, Director Qian knew that expelling him would be difficult if not impossible.

    Vice-chancellor Ke glanced at Director Qian, then said, "Now, let's move on to the next item on the agenda..."

     

    ***

     

    After the meeting, Director Qian was stopped by Professor Liu when he was about to leave the conference room.

    "One moment, Director Qian," said Professor Liu.

    Director Qian came to a halt and glanced at Professor Liu with a raised brow.

    "Getting rid of that troublemaker isn't difficult at all, Director."

    A look of surprise formed on Director Qian's face. "Oh?"

    Professor Liu smiled. "The semester's final exams are nearing, you see," Professor Liu said. "And I've already checked his credits for this semester. So far, he has skipped more than forty classes. That alone has cost him a lot of his semester credits. Also, he isn't allowed to sit for the final exams for four of his papers. The two papers which he is allowed to sit for the exams on, are both compulsory papers. So, as long as he fails to accumulate enough credits on those two papers..."

    Director Qian smiled in understanding. "We would have a legitimate excuse to kick him out..."

    "Exactly," Professor Liu said.

    The two "educators" smiled at each other, reveling in their new-found evil scheme.

     

    ***

     

    That night, the university's servers were swamped with web traffic as all students logged on to the forum.

    Inside the female dorms, Cheng Cheng was staring at the screen of her laptop. She'd been scrolling through the university forum ever since she stepped out from the shower earlier. The moment she logged into her account, she saw that the forum was already swamped with posts about the performance night. Most of the post contained video clips from the event. When Cheng Cheng sorted the forum threads by popularity, she wasn't surprised to see the thread featuring Li Yundong's performance sitting right on top.

    Cheng Cheng jumped up from the bed, then ran towards the bathroom.

    "Nana!" Cheng Cheng hollered outside the bathroom. "Quick! Come check this out!"

    Cheng Cheng hurried back towards her bed and picked up her laptop, then clicked into the thread and played the video.

    When Feng Na strode out of the bathroom a while later, all their roommates were standing beside Cheng Cheng's bed, staring at something playing on Cheng Cheng's laptop. Feng Na ran a small towel through her wet hair and strutted towards Cheng Cheng's bed. As she walked, her long and pale legs swung alluringly under the bath towel wrapped around her body.

    "What are you girls looking at? You're acting like you're high on drugs or something," Feng Na said, peeking at the screen.

    Feng Na laughed when she saw the video clip featuring Li Yundong's performance.

    "Seriously? This video is what got y'all so excited?" Feng Na said, chuckling. "Come on, we've seen the whole thing live! And this video isn't even in HD!"

    Cheng Cheng glanced at Feng Na and chuckled. "Who cares! Li Yundong looked so hot from this angle too!"

    "Of course!" Feng Na said, her face beaming with pride. "Why else do you think I picked a junior as my idol?"

    Their roommates burst into giggles.

    One of them even decided to tease Feng Na a little.

    "So... Tell us, Nana. Which base have you gotten to with him, hmm?"

    Feng Na felt an instant tug inside her chest when she heard her roommate's ribbing. All of a sudden, Feng Na's eyes turned slightly glassy.

    Having noticed the sudden shift in Feng Na's mood, Cheng Cheng decided to change the subject. "Hey, girls! Check out these funny comments!" Cheng Cheng said.

    Once again, the girls formed a circle around Cheng Cheng's laptop and stared into the screen. One of the girls read the comments out loud.

    Nantian451: Holy cow! I didn't even know such a badass exists in Tiannan University! Chuck Norris ain't got nothing on this guy!

    Niu_B66: @Nantian451 This is what I call hidden talent, people! Hidden talent! It just goes to show that it's always possible to extract high-quality fertilizer from a shitty place :-)

    Nantian451: @Niu_B66 LOL. But seriously, I feel kinda proud to be a student of Tiannan University right now.

    MasterTao2: A true Zhenren would never reveal this true self! (T/N: Zhenren is a title in Toaism given to those who had obtained spiritual transcendence)

    NOOB: @MasterTao2 Are you implying that Li Yundong can never be a Zhenren because he revealed himself today?

    Troll_55: @MasterTao2 @NOOB Tsk, tsk! What are you both talking about? He can still become a Zhenren... as long as he hasn't shown his d*ck...

    Niu_B66: @Troll_55 HAHAHAHA!

    Nantian451: @Troll_55 LOL. *thumbs up*

    MasterTao2: Yep. According to @Troll_55's logic, Li Yundong can still become a Zhenren.

    Shaolin18: Ahoy, citizens of the world! Rest assured that five hundred years from now, Li Yundong from Tiannan University will rise to become the modern day Zhenren! Amitabha, Amitabha! The ocean of bitterness is vast and boundless. Repent, however, and the shore is at hand! The great Buddha beckons, people! Repent now! Repent before it is too late! Take the first step in your repentance by becoming an almsgiver to the great Zhenren Li. To make a donation, please call 134***54657 and speak to Zhenren Li's disciple! If you prefer to talk face to face, please come to Tiannan University's men's dorms, Room 406. Amitabha...

    MasterTao2: @Shaolin18 What are you even talking about, you f**king retard! What does Zhenren have to do with Buddhism? Zhenren is a Toaist term, dumbass!

    YinYangTao: You're all a bunch of charlatans! Listen up, people! I now speak on behalf of Zhenren Li himself since I'm his 49th successor! To those of you who wish to be one with the Tao, come to Room 108 of Tiannan University's male dormitories! Stand at the door, and yell, "Long live our Lord, Zhenren Li," and your call shall be answered!

    MasterTao2: @YinYangTao 49th successor of Zhenren Li? More like the 49th successor of a cuckoo! Zhenren Li isn't even 20 yet, and you're already his 49th successor?

    Cheng Cheng was laughing so hard that she was practically in tears.

    Cheng Cheng's body shook in laughter as it fell sideways until she was lying in Feng Na's lap.

    "Damn, these people are hilarious!" Feng Na said, wiping her tears away.

    "Oh... yeah," Cheng Cheng said. "I have a feeling that tonight's gonna be a long and fun night."

     

    ***

     

    In just one short hour, the thread had over 2000 comments!

    Cheng Cheng went back to the forum's home page and sorted the threads by popularity. Unsurprisingly, the thread featuring Li Yundong was still sitting right on top. Minutes later, when Cheng Cheng clicked "sort by date," a thread caught her eye: The Most Popular Tiannan University Male Student of All Time!

    Piqued, Cheng Cheng clicked into the thread.

    The OP had created a poll with a list of all the good-looking and popular male students in the past. Cheng Cheng scrolled down and realized that the thread already had 1000 comments. Li Yundong was leading the poll with 95% of the votes going to him. Zhao Yujian's name never even made it onto the list.

    Ten minutes later, an idea struck Cheng Cheng. She went back to the forum's homepage and started a new thread: Who Is Your Ideal Male Partner?

    "Ooh, a new thread, Cheng Cheng?" one of their roommates said.

    "Yep! What are you girls waiting for," Cheng Cheng said, her fingers flying over the keyboard. "Start voting!"

    When Cheng Cheng closed the poll twenty minutes later, Li Yundong was once again the winner with 97% of the votes going to him.

    Feeling as though she was on a roll, Cheng Cheng started another thread: Who Do You Think Is the Perfect Female Partner?

    "Another one, Cheng Cheng?" said one of their roommates. "You sure are having fun tonight!"

    "Mm-hmm!" Cheng Cheng said. "Now hurry up, girls. Let's all cast our votes! Nana all the way!"

    As Feng Na's bestie, it was pretty much Cheng Cheng's sworn duty to give Feng Na her full support.

    However, Cheng Cheng's eyes nearly popped out of their sockets when she saw the result of the poll twenty minutes later. Feng Na didn't win, not even close. Neither did Tiannan University's beauty queen, Zhou Qin.

    The winner was "Li Yundong's Mysterious Girlfriend."

    "This can't be right! It can't be!" Cheng Cheng said in annoyance. Then, a sudden thought came to her. "This has got to be the guys' doing! They are getting back at us because we all voted for Li Yundong as the ideal male partner!"

    "Sisters! We have to fight back!" Cheng Cheng said. "How can we allow the most handsome and popular male student in Tiannan University to be taken away by some woman with an unknown background?"

    The keyboard warriors of Tiannan University had taken up arms.

    So began a long and grueling debate that would take the entire forum of Tiannan University by storm.

  • Chapter 64 We Will Become Your Disciples!

    When Li Yundong and Su Chan arrived at the campus the following day, Li Yundong wasn't surprised at all to find that they attracted stares and whispers everywhere they went.

    For all the whispers and voices they attracted, the entire lecture hall fell silent the moment they walked in.

    All eyes were now on Li Yundong.

    Sun Li was the first one to break the silence.

    "Haha! Look who's here! The superstar!" she yelled, pointing her finger at Li Yundong.

    The next thing that happened made Li Yundong wish he'd skipped today's class altogether.

    Semester credits be damned.

    Books and stationery were knocked to the floor as a throng of students moved towards Li Yundong and Su Chan in a wild stampede.

    "Please give me an autograph!"

    "Zhenren Li! Zhenren Li! Please accept me as your disciple! Oh, before that, I want an autograph!"

    Li Yundong gaped at the students who were looking at him like a bunch of puppies.

    What the f*ck is the matter with these people... geez!

    More jostling and yelling ensued as his classmates tried to elbow their way to the front of the crowd.

    Li Yundong sighed and waved his hand dismissively.

    "Listen, guys," he said. "This is too much. Can we just skip the drama and get on with class please?"

    "Ooh... look at him, pretending to be humble," Sun Li said teasingly. "So, fellow classmates. What should we do with him, eh?"

    "Take off his clothes!" some dimwit yelled.

    "Yeah! Strip him!"

    "Good idea! He'll never be a Zhenren the moment he shows his, ahem, remember? He can be humble all he wants once he's no longer a Zhenren!"

    Li Yundong grabbed Su Chan's hand and began backing away towards the lecture hall's exit. At the door, he turned around to get out, but then stopped short when he noticed Kris, John, and the other foreign visitors heading towards the lecture hall.

    Oh man... give me a break... Li Yundong thought. They're probably here to settle the score because of the prank I pulled on John yesterday...  

    Li Yundong would rather deal with his classmates than those foreigners. Not that he actually could, since he wouldn't be able to understand a single thing other than "cheap poo," "sheep poo," or whatever. Well, he could communicate with that blonde chick, Kris, but she looked like she hated his guts, so it was probably a bad idea too.

    Time for a change of tactics.

    Li Yundong turned around to face his classmates then held out both hands in front of him to quiet the students.

    When the uproar died down, Li Yundong cleared his throat and began to speak. "Listen, my dear friends..." he said. "I'll sign autographs or do whatever you want. Just not now, okay?" He dropped his voice into a whisper. "I pissed off the Americans, and they're now heading over. Please hide me and don't tell them I'm here. After that, I'll give you guys an autograph each, deal?"

    Li Yundong looked at his classmates hopefully.

    Moments later, a girl who was standing in front of the crowd gave Li Yundong a once-over and said, "Sure! Make way for our Zhenren, guys!"

    Once the crowd dispersed, Li Yundong led Su Chan to their seats. When they both sat down, Li Yundong exhaled lengthily.

    "Yundong..."

    "Yes, my dear little princess?"

    "What's an otto-gaff?"

    Li Yundong chuckled.

    "An autograph," he said, giving Su Chan a funny look. "Well, it's nothing special. It's just a signature, that's all."

    "Oh..." Su Chan said. "But why did they want your signature?"

    Li Yundong contemplated on how best to answer Su Chan's question. "Well, people usually ask for another person's signature if that person is famous, or has the potential to be famous. I guess there are two reasons people do that. The first, they can show off to their friends and family. And the second, they can sell the autograph for a good price."

    Su Chan's eyes sparkled. "You can sell signatures?"

    "Sure. If the person whom that signature belongs to becomes famous, then it can be sold at a high price."

    "Hehe..." Su Chan grinned. "Then... I want your signature too!"

    Li Yundong chuckled. "What do you need my signature for anyway?"

    "I want to collect hundreds of your signatures," Su Chan said, gesturing with her arms. "After that I'll be rich!"

    Li Yundong burst into laughter, then ruffled Su Chan's hair. "The signatures will lose their worth if there's too many of them, silly!" he said, staring at Su Chan adoringly. "Besides, it's not like my signature is worth shit."

    Su Chan's face fell. "Oh..." she said, pouting.

    Seeing Su Chan's adorable expression, Li Yundong couldn't resist teasing her a little. "Well, if you want my signature that badly, I can sign it just for you," he said in a low voice. "That way, your copy of my signature would be worth a good price."

    Su Chan's face lit up. "Really?" she asked.

    It took every bit of Li Yundong's willpower not to laugh right then. "Yep! Honest!" he said. "But... you need a pen and a notebook. Do you have them?"

    Su Chan's shoulders sagged.

    "No, I don't," she said. "What should I do?"

    Li Yundong allowed a tiny smirk to form on his lips.

    "Well... there is a way..." he said cryptically.

    "What? What?" Su Chan blinked at him innocently.

    Li Yundong leaned forward and brought his lips to her ears.

    "I can sign my name on your body," he whispered.

    Su Chan pulled away and started giggling.

    "Meanie! That tickles," she said, shoving Li Yundong gently. "And you're so shameless!" She made a face at Li Yundong.

    Before Li Yundong could tease Su Chan further, someone took the seat beside his. He turned, then flinched when he saw Kris sitting there, glaring daggers at him.

    What the... I thought we had a deal! I told those guys to—

    A head appeared from the row behind before Li Yundong could even finish that thought.

    "Cheap poo!!"

    Li Yundong shook his head.

    "Damn, you two sure are persistent," he said, leaning back in his seat with a sigh. "Listen, you're returning to the States in two days. What's the point of this? Why not enjoy the rest of your stay here? Go check out the campus sights or something." Li Yundong turned around and looked at John. "OK?"

    "OK! OK!" John bobbed his head up and down.

    Li Yundong burst into laughter. Somehow, he doubted that John understood a single thing he'd told him. Well, other than the "OK."

    Kris turned her head abruptly and yelled something at John in English, which made Li Yundong laugh even harder.

     

    ***

     

    "SHUT! UP!" Kris yelled at John, causing him to flinch.

    "Oh, come on Kris! What did I do to piss you off this time?"

    "He's trying to get rid of us," Kris said, glaring at Li Yundong who was still laughing his head off at their expense. "He thinks we're unworthy of becoming his disciples."

    "How could you think that, Cheap Poo! Oh! How you've hurt my feelings! I'm serious about becoming your disciple, okay?"

    Kris rolled her eyes at John's antics.

    "Such a drama queen," Kris muttered under her breath.

    "What did he say?"

    Kris turned and saw Li Yundong looking at her expectantly. She huffed and relayed John's words in Mandarin.

    "Well, since your friend is so serious about becoming my disciple, why don't you ask him to prove it to me by learning how to speak Mandarin?" Li Yundong said. "Oh, and also, he needs to get a PR here in China, otherwise I won't teach him."

    Kris gave Li Yundong an affronted look.

    This... this... how dare he! she thought.

    Admittedly, when Kris found out that she and her classmates had a chance to attend a lecture in Tiannan University, she thought that her opportunity to settle her score with Li Yundong had finally come. The bastard had lied straight to her face about not taking female disciples and then pulled that stupid prank on John! She wouldn't be able to return to the States in peace if she didn't at least try to give the guy a piece of her mind. So, she did some digging and asked around for Li Yundong's schedule to find out which lecture Li Yundong would be attending today. After that, she told her professors that she and her classmates had chosen that particular lecture to attend. John had been exhilarated with her choice, going on and on about finally convincing Li Yundong to take him as a disciple.

    To Kris, however, discipleship came second.

    Today was about settling their score!

    "How can you say that!" Kris said to Li Yundong, totally forgetting about the fact that she had yet to translate Li Yundong's words for John.

    "We just told you that we're sincere about learning from you, yet here you are, dismissing us without even giving us a chance. You're the one who's insincere! This is outrageous! You're ruining the relationship between our nations!"

    "Hey, hey, watch your tone," Li Yundong sneered. "You wanna ask me to take you as disciples? Fine. Go ahead. That's your business, and I don't have the right to stop you. But don't forget that it's my business whether I want to take you on as my disciples. I have the right to choose whom I accept as my disciples. And what's this nonsense about ruining the relationship between our nations, huh? Seriously? You're dragging International Relations into this? What does that have to do with anything? This is basic human rights!"

    "You—"

    "Yo, just give it a rest, Kris," one of her classmates interrupted her. "You know you can't force others to do your bidding. Maybe they really are bound by rules."

    "Yeah, Kris. I read somewhere that the Chinese people take matters like discipleship very seriously."

    Her classmates' dissuasion made Kris pause to reconsider her actions. They were right about everything. Heck, she knew they were right, since she was known as the Chinese expert back in her university. Well, she wasn't called "the perfect amalgamation of Venus and Minerva" for nothing. She was known by everyone in her university to be a girl with both looks and brains, beauty and wisdom, seductive allure and knowledge.

    At this point Kris could at least admit to herself that she was going about this the wrong way. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath and allowed her anger to subside.

    When her eyes re-opened, they were filled with determination and resolve. She stared at Li Yundong intently.

    "I won't give up. One of these days, I'll convince you to take me as your disciple! And him too, of course." Kris jerked her thumb at John who was sitting one row behind.

     

    ***

     

    Damn, this girl sure is feisty! Li Yundong thought. Kinda reminds me of the people from Hunan.

    Li Yundong smiled at Kris.

    "Fine. Let's just see how it goes then," he said casually. "To be honest, I'm rather curious how you two plan to convince me as well."

    For the life of him, Li Yundong couldn't figure out why Kris even wanted to become his disciple. For John, it was understandable, since he was passionate about martial arts. But Kris? What could she possibly hope to learn from him? Maybe it was a joke? But Li Yundong couldn't deny that this "joke" of hers was starting to feel a little too serious.

    After that, Li Yundong ignored the foreigners and glanced around the rest of the lecture hall. His eyes paused at the door when he saw it open. The lecture hall once again fell silent when Ding Nan and Zhou Qin entered.

     

    ***

     

    Ding Nan elbowed Zhou Qin's side gently when she caught a glimpse of Li Yundong sitting among the foreigners. When Zhou Qin looked at her quizzically, Ding Nan jerked her chin in Li Yundong's direction.

    A look of tenderness formed in Zhou Qin's eyes the moment she saw Li Yundong. She gave Li Yundong a brief nod in greeting.

    That little nod was such an ordinary action for most people, yet when used by Zhou Qin, the ice queen of Tiannan University, it was downright earth-shattering.

    Some of the girls who knew the ice queen well found their jaws dropping to the floor.

    "My God, did you see that? Since when did Zhou Qin take the initiative to greet others?"

    "Could it be that she's interested in Li Yundong as well?"

    "She's throwing a birthday party tonight, right? Did she invite you?"

    "Nope. But Sun Li, our class rep got invited. I heard that the attendees are all beautiful women and handsome men."

    "Ah, dang. I really wonder what it's gonna be like to attend the ice queen's birthday party..."

    The whispers and chatters in the lecture hall petered out when the professor arrived.

    So began several hours of boredom and ennui.

     

    ***

     

    The lecture ended around noon. By some miracle, Li Yundong managed to survive through hours of the professor's droning. The moment the professor dismissed the class, he shot up from his seat and pulled Su Chan out of the lecture hall. However, they didn't go home because he had afternoon classes to attend, so Li Yundong decided to bring Su Chan to the university's cafeteria to grab lunch.

    Li Yundong felt a gentle tug on his sleeve when they were queuing up to get their food.

    "Yundong... Why is everyone staring at me?" Su Chan asked curiously.

    "They're staring because they can't help it," Li Yundong said. "You're too beautiful."

    Su Chan's face lit up. "Really?"

    "Nope. Just kidding."

    Su Chan's face fell. "Meanie!"

    Li Yundong chuckled and pinched Su Chan's nose.

    Once they had bought lunch, they walked towards an unoccupied table with their trays. The table was long, so they both sat down side by side on the front end of the table.

    Halfway through lunch, Li Yundong noticed something strange. Their long table was still empty despite the cafeteria being crowded.

    "So this is what it feels like to be famous, huh..."

    The moment he said it, he heard a girlish laugh beside him.

    "Your skin's getting pretty thick now, huh, Li Yundong!"


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  • Chapter 65 Can You Even Afford Them?

     

    Li Yundong turned at the voice, then froze when he saw Feng Na standing next to his table with a lunchbox in her hand, smiling sweetly at him. Dressed in a white, short-sleeved blouse and a pair of skinny jeans which made her legs go on forever, Feng Na looked absolutely stunning and vivacious.

    "Yo! What's up!" he greeted.

    "So. I heard you've been putting on airs after becoming famous," Feng Na teased, her sweet smile turning into a smirk.

    "Tsk, tsk, tsk! Putting on airs already?" Cheng Cheng walked over with a tray and stopped beside Feng Na. "Dang! Couldn't you at least wait until you've given us your autograph before doing that?"

    "Hardy har har. Now you're just making fun of me," Li Yundong said. Then, he waved along the length of his mostly-unoccupied table. "Come on, quit standing around and take a seat before someone calls the police and has them arrest me for hogging government property."

    Feng Na chuckled and took the seat across from Li Yundong while Cheng Cheng slid into the seat next to hers.

    "By the way," Feng Na said after she'd opened her lunchbox, "that FearlessOtaku on the forum last night, was that really you?"

    Li Yundong snorted. The mere mention of last night pissed him off. How dare they make lewd comments about his girlfriend? On the university forum no less!

    "Yes," Li Yundong growled. "It was me."

    Feng Na and Cheng Cheng burst into laughter.

    "Oh, boy..." Feng Na said, giggling into her hands. "That phone number as well?"

    Li Yundong tossed his spoon onto the tray.

    "No shit," he said, suddenly losing his appetite.

    "You must be out of your mind!" Feng Na said. "What made you think that posting your phone number onto the forum would be a good idea?"

    Li Yundong glared at Feng Na for a second. Then, with a snort, he picked up his spoon and returned to his lunch.

    "Pfft... haha. You're totally screwed, pal," Feng Na went on. "You might need to change your phone number soon. Do you know how many girls are composing love letters as we speak? Some have even booked a room in a love hotel—"

    "PFFT!" A grain of rice shot out from Li Yundong's nose after it went into the wrong hole, reducing him to a series of coughs. Beside him, Su Chan patted his back.

    Once the coughing subsided, Li Yundong shot Su Chan a grateful look before glancing at Feng Na in shock.

    "You're shitting me right? Love hotel? F*ck! Are girls these days so open about this type of thing?"

    Feng Na smiled without commenting.

    "Well, just turn on your phone if you don't believe us," Cheng Cheng piped in. "Check your voicemails and text messages!"

    Li Yundong eyed Cheng Cheng warily. Seconds later, however, he succumbed to his own curiosity. He pulled out his phone and switched it on.

    After a while, Li Yundong got a taste of what "one text message per second" really meant.

    "Damn, you're like a celebrity now," Feng Na said.

    "Yeah... I feel kinda envious right now..." Cheng Cheng concurred.

    Li Yundong pulled out his phone battery in a fit of anger.

    "You're envious of this bullshit?" Li Yundong said, tossing his phone and the battery onto the table. "Then you must be f*cking nuts! This is harassment!"

    Feng Na winked at Li Yundong, then wiggled her brows.

    "So, what do you think about your meteoric rise to stardom?" Feng Na said. "How does it feel to have people worshipping the ground you walk on?"

    "Well, harassed," Li Yundong muttered under his breath, then shot Feng Na a fleeting glance. "It's pretty simple if you really wanna know. You can try it for yourself. Just become famous."

    Feng Na sighed wistfully, her face adorned with an expression of self-pity. "It's not like I don't want to," Feng Na said. "I just don't have what it takes to be famous, that’s all."

    Suddenly, Feng Na smiled at Su Chan.

    "I'm not like little Su Chan over here, turning heads wherever she goes."

    Su Chan suddenly abandoned her spoon, her whole face lighting up.

    "Are they complimenting me? Are they complimenting me?" Su Chan said, tugging Li Yundong's arm excitedly. Then, she smiled at Feng Na and Cheng Cheng. "Keep going! Keep going! I love hearing compliments!"

    Feng Na and Cheng Cheng looked at each other for a moment before bursting into a round of cackles and giggles.

    Li Yundong chuckled and tapped Su Chan's nose with his chopsticks. "How vain!"

    Su Chan stuck out her tongue and made a face at Li Yundong.

    "Isn't everyone vain to some degree?" Feng Na said with a shrug.

    "And that's where you're wrong," Li Yundong said, tapping his own nose with his chopsticks. "I don’t have a vain bone in me!"

    "As if!" Feng Na said with an eyeroll. "No person alive can be completely free of vanity." Feng Na snorted loudly. "Sorry, but I just don't buy that crap!" Feng Na's steady gaze fell upon Li Yundong. "Don't tell me it didn't feel good to have so many people looking up to you, hell, having crushes on you. When a girl suddenly climbs to the top of the academic building and yells, 'Li Yundong, I'm in love with you,' you won't feel pleased? Not even a little?"

    Li Yundong pondered Feng Na's words for a moment.

    "Okay, fine, I admit that it does feel good inside knowing that so many people look up to me. I mean, hey,"—Li Yundong shrugged and gave Feng Na a sad smile— "at least they're no longer cursing at me or calling me names. As for the second scenario... Well, if a girl confesses to me, I might feel a bit pleased too. But I'm sure it wouldn't be as dramatic as you imagined."

    Li Yundong turned towards Su Chan and pinched her earlobe.

    "Because I’ve already found my best girl, and she's sitting right here!" Li Yundong turned back to Feng Na and gave her another shrug. "What can I say? I'm the faithful type."

    Li Yundong brushed Su Chan's neck with his fingers.

    Su Chan giggled and leaned away from Li Yundong's hand. Then, she raised her chopsticks as though she wanted to hit him with them.

    "That tickled, you meanie!"

    Feng Na and Cheng Cheng shared another glance, each wearing a yearning expression.

    Feng Na suddenly cleared her throat and put on a fake smile. "Well, you're such a scrooge, Li Yundong. You like a girl that much, yet you're letting her wear men's clothing? Don't think I haven't noticed that she'd been wearing the same clothes for the past few days."

    Li Yundong gaped at Feng Na, stunned by the revelation. Damn... she's right... he thought. He'd never been one to pay much attention to things like clothing, so it never occurred to him to take Su Chan shopping for clothes. But more importantly...

    Li Yundong glanced at Su Chan. She never asked me for new clothes... I wonder why…  

    Li Yundong's eyes traveled up and down Su Chan's body. At the moment, she was wearing one of his old overalls plus his old T-shirt. The clothes didn't fit her at all; their looseness made her look too skinny.

    "What?" Su Chan's spoon hovered in front of her lips as she met his gaze, her eyes blinking with confusion. But hey, at least she still remembered that her world didn't consist of just red braised pork.

    Li Yundong smiled at her and said, "Let's get you some new clothes today."

    "Why? We already have so many clothes at home," Su Chan said.

    Li Yundong chuckled.

    "But those are my clothes," he said. "I mean, it's not like you can keep wearing my clothes forever, right?"

    CLANK!

    Su Chan's spoon hit her tray. "Have you grown tired of me already? You won't even allow me to wear your clothes?"

    F*ck, were those tears in her eyes?

    Li Yundong laughed out loud and pinched Su Chan's cheek.

    "No, silly! You're a girl! How can a girl run around the place dressed in men's clothes?"

    Su Chan slapped Li Yundong's hands away, then made a face at him.

    "Why not?" she said. "Also, the food here sucks compared to your cooking!"

    "Of course," Li Yundong said with a chuckle. "This is like mess hall food. Egalitarianism is all that matters, not taste. It can never top good old home cooking."

    "Wait a minute, you cook?"

    Li Yundong flicked a glance at Feng Na, who was now staring at him in surprise.

    "Yep!" he said proudly, then turned back to Su Chan. "Isn't that right, my dear little princess?"

    Su Chan grimaced, causing a few adorable wrinkles to appear on her nose.

    "Bleurgh! Your cooking sucks!"

    Feng Na and Cheng Cheng burst into laughter, slapping the tabletop repeatedly.

    "Pfft... Hahaha... Look at the poor fool," Feng Na said, wiping her tears. "That's what I call burned!"

    "Hey! How could you—" Li Yundong gaped at Su Chan, looking utterly affronted. "You little minx!" Li Yundong jabbed a finger at Su Chan. "You were the one who hogged the entire bowl of duck meat the other day! I only got two miserable pieces!"

    Su Chan puffed out her cheeks in a huge pout. "I would have more competition if I admitted that your cooking tastes good... Our food is barely enough for two people, let alone four!"

    Li Yundong threw back his head in laughter. Oh, how he adored this girl!

    "Then I'll just make a larger portion, silly!" he said.

    "Pff..." Su Chan's puffed out face deflated when Li Yundong's pinched one of her cheeks forcefully.

    "Kyaa!!!"

    Su Chan leaned away from the table to avoid Li Yundong's hand.

    "Arrgh!!"

    CLANG!

    Li Yundong turned and saw two women standing behind Su Chan with slack-jawed expressions. The one holding the tray was Zhuang Hui, whose clothes were slightly stained with soup. The woman beside Zhuang Hui fared worse; her tray had been knocked to the floor by Su Chan, and the front of her skirt was now completely soaked with what appeared to be a mixture of soup and fruit juice.

    "Dammit! Are you blind!" the girl yelled.

    Su Chan flinched. "I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't see you..."

    Feng Na kicked Li Yundong under the table. He turned and saw Feng Na rummaging through her handbag. A moment later, she jerked her chin towards the soup stains on Su Chan's clothes and passed a pack of wet wipes to him. Li Yundong took it gratefully and began cleaning the soup stains on Su Chan's arm and shirt.

    "Our apologies, miss. I assure you it wasn't deliberate."

    Zhuang Hui gasped. "Li Yundong!"

     

    ***

     

    Zhuang Hui's friend felt her anger dissipating at the mention of Li Yundong's name. She pulled out her hanky and worked on cleaning off the food stains on her clothes. As she did, she studied Li Yundong furtively.

    "So. You're the infamous Li Yundong?"

    Li Yundong nodded and said, "Yes I am. We're terribly sorry for dirtying your clothes."

    Instead of answering Li Yundong, the girl leaned towards Zhuang Hui. "So she's your love rival?" she whispered to Zhuang Hui while eyeing Su Chan. "Hmph. Don't worry. Just sit back and watch me teach this girl a lesson today."

    Zhuang Hui had intended to dissuade the other girl from picking a fight, but she changed her mind when she saw the innocent look on Su Chan's face.

    Rage filled Zhuang Hui's heart.

    How dare she play the victim when she is clearly in the wrong! Zhuang Hui thought. I won't allow Li Yundong to be fooled by this girl's innocent act!

    While Zhuang Hui was entertaining hateful thoughts, her companion fired the first salvo.

    "Do you have any idea how expensive these clothes are!"

     

    ***

     

    Li Yundong could tell at a glance that this woman was from the Art Department. In terms of physical appearance, she was definitely good-looking, and she had a nice figure as well. Her tongue, on the other hand...

    This chick could probably give Ding Nan a run for her money.

    Li Yundong stood up and shielded Su Chan with his body. "Miss, we've already apologized for the accident just now. We really didn't mean it, and we don't want any trouble," he said with a deep frown.

    Su Chan poked her head out from behind Li Yundong's back. "I... I'm sorry. I really didn't do it on purpose," she said meekly. "Um... If you want, I can clean your clothes for you..."

    The girl released a derisive laugh.

    "Clean them? Is that a joke?" she sneered. "These are Christian Dior clothes, not the cheap hand-me-downs you're wearing!"

    Li Yundong took a breath to suppress the surge of anger he felt.

    "Dee-oh?" Su Chan said in a tone of confusion. "How much do they cost then? I'll pay you back!"

    Another derisive laugh sounded.

    "Pay? Don't joke around. You can't afford these clothes. Those rags you're wearing cost less than a single thread on my clothes!"

    Su Chan's face flushed in mortification.

    Li Yundong's eyes flashed like lightning, his brows rising to his hairline.

    "What did you just say?"

    "Enough, enough," Zhuang Hui said, tugging her companion's arm. "Just let it go."

    After that, Zhuang Hui and the girl left their table with the latter desperately cleaning the stains with her handkerchief. The sound of her cursing was still audible even after the pair had gone some distance away.

     

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  • Chapter 66 Snobs

     

    The fact that a food hog like Su Chan was sitting there quietly with the rest of her food untouched was telltale sign that the mood for lunch was ruined. Li Yundong and Su Chan's appetites had, apparently, departed together with the two obnoxious women who had just left.

    "Come on, guys. Just ignore them. Why bother with women like them? They're clearly a bunch of money-worshipping snobs," Feng Na said, trying to lighten the mood.

    When she got no response, Feng Na shared a glance with Cheng Cheng, then continued, "I mean, take the woman just now for example. She had luxury brands all over her. Dior clothes, LV bags, Uniqlo shoes, CK cologne... Need I go on?"

    Li Yundong suddenly raised his head, thus ending his staring contest with his tray. He eyed Feng Na suspiciously for a moment, then said, "You just recited the names of those brands... I mean, you barely glanced at her just now..."

    Mild awkwardness crept into Feng Na's smile. She didn't comment, but averted her gaze instead. Please don't put me in the same category as those bitches... please...

    Cheng Cheng caught on to the insinuation behind Li Yundong's question.

    "Come on, Li Yundong. Every woman likes to doll herself up, even those who aren't snobs or who aren't vain. There isn't a single woman out there who doesn't like luxury clothes or fancy jewelry, I assure you."

    Cheng Cheng's words struck a chord with Li Yundong. He sneaked a glanced at Su Chan, and instantly felt a stab of guilt in his heart.

    Moments later, he shook his head.

    "Never mind," he said, standing up. "I'm heading back to class."

    He pulled Su Chan to her feet, then led her away from the table.

    A few steps away from the table, Li Yundong halted and turned back around.

    "Where will Zhou Qin's party be held?" he asked.

    "Shengyuan Hotel, seven-thirty," Feng Na said.

    Li Yundong nodded, then left the cafeteria with Su Chan.

     

    ***

     

    Li Yundong and Su Chan arrived at the lecture hall and realized that they were the first ones there, which made sense since they came early. They walked past the lectern and moved to the back of the lecture hall, then took their seats in the last row.

    Li Yundong had picked the last row because it was the perfect spot to doze off during the lecture without getting caught by the professor. It was definitely the right choice considering he would be having an English lecture next. He supposed the only plus of having an English lecture next was that Kris and their other American friends wouldn't be joining them.

    Good. He'd had enough sheep poos or cheap poos for one day.

    Su Chan and Li Yundong sat there, staring off into space. Neither of them spoke.

    Cheng Cheng's words echoed inside Li Yundong's mind. All women loved pretty clothes and fancy jewelry.

    After a while, Li Yundong realized that it made sense. Those things do make women happy whether they are snobs or not. Snobbishness, in this case, is merely a question of whether they judge others using these material things as a standard.

    Su Chan's loud yawn pulled Li Yundong out of his musings.

    Then, he felt the weight of Su Chan's head on this shoulder.

    "Su Chan..." Li Yundong said all of a sudden.

    "Hmm?" Su Chan slurred.

    "Let me take you to the mall after class, okay? I want to get you some new clothes."

    Su Chan ducked her head under Li Yundong's arm, then snuggled against his chest.

    "No... I don't wanna," Su Chan mumbled, rubbing her face against his chest. "I just wanna sleep... Let me sleep..."

    Li Yundong glanced down at Su Chan, unsure of whether she really meant it. Beyond the basics such as not being an asshole and always being a respectful gentleman, he had no idea what "treating a girl right" entailed. If his 21 rejected love confessions in the past were any indication, he definitely needed a little Dating 101. Preferably right about now.

    Surely, buying clothes for one's significant other was a key ingredient in a healthy relationship?

    Li Yundong cleared his throat, then nudged Su Chan a few times. "Come on, just let me buy a nice dress for you," he said. "Just one piece. What do you say?"

    "Mmmmmm," Su Chan whined, curling up like a kitten. "Don't wanna. The clothes I'm currently wearing are good enough. They're comfortable." Su Chan rubbed herself against him a few times, then fell silent.

    Hey... Wait a minute, Li Yundong thought. What happened to the red traditional dress she wore when we first met?

    Had she stashed it away?

    He didn't recall seeing it among their suitcases when they unpacked the other day.

    Weird.

    Is that dress suitable for the party though? Li Yundong mused. I bet she'll drop a lot of jaws if she shows up in that dress. Let those f*cking snobs have a taste of what true beauty means...  

    Memories of the morning they first met flooded Li Yundong's mind. His lips curved into a subtle smile when he remembered the way Su Chan had cast a spell on the students by showing up on campus in that beautiful dress.

    He dropped his gaze and looked at Su Chan, who was already fast asleep against him. Gently, he shifted into a comfortable posture, then sat there, waiting for class to start. He didn't move an inch lest he disturb Su Chan and wake her from her beauty sleep.

    As the start of the lecture drew near, students began filing into the lecture hall. Eventually, the chatter became loud enough to rouse Su Chan from her peaceful slumber. She shifted against him, then sat up, rubbing her eyes groggily. The sound of the door opening drew Li Yundong's attention to the entrance at the front of lecture hall.

    He was granted the rare sight of Zhou Qin sauntering into the room, alone.

    No Ding Nan? Li Yundong thought. Huh. Interesting.

    Zhou Qin froze the moment she saw him. Even though he was sitting at the back of the lecture hall, Li Yundong could detect the hesitance in her eyes. What was that about? Before he could delve deeper into that thought, Zhou Qin was making her way towards his seat.

    Zhou Qin gave Su Chan a courteous nod when she stopped at his row. After that, she looked at Li Yundong.

    "Don't forget it's seven-thirty tonight, okay?" Zhou Qin said, adding a wink and a smile at the end.

    Okay... what? Li Yundong thought, stunned by Zhou Qin's out-of-character behavior.

    Zhou Qin wasn't known as the ice queen for nothing. Cold and aloof was her schtick, not winking and smiling and... God, he didn't even know what that was.

    Was she flirting?

    Nah, that couldn't be right. She'd rejected him before.

    But if it wasn't flirting, then what was it?

    Why was the ice queen of Tiannan University acting like a playful teenage girl all of a sudden?

    One undeniable fact was that Zhou Qin was gorgeous. She was practically perfect: bright and sparkly eyes; face shaped like melon seed; thick and dark brows; lashes so long and thick that he really wondered if she could even see through them.

    Her long navy blue shirt accentuated her pale complexion, not to mention the plaid miniskirt she wore which revealed a pair of long, toned legs. She was beauty, elegance, and sexiness in one package.

    Li Yundong had to physically shake himself out of his stupor. As expected from an upper-class beauty queen.

    Her looks could literally kill.

    Li Yundong nodded in greeting.

    "Seven-thirty? Won't your guests starve to death by then?" Li Yundong said jokingly. "You'll be serving food, right?"

    A brief moment passed with Zhou Qin looking at him as though she hadn't understood what he said. Then, she smiled.

    "Come earlier," Zhou Qin said. "Food will be served."

    "Sure," Li Yundong said, chuckling. "Who am I to turn away free food, right?"

    Zhou Qin smiled elegantly. "Alright then. See you there."

    Li Yundong gave Zhou Qin a nod, then watched her walk away. Only when Zhou Qin took a seat in the front row, did he finally tear his gaze away.

    Then, he was hit by a wave of crushing guilt. How could he be staring at Zhou Qin when Su Chan was sitting right next to him!

    Li Yundong shook his head and gathered his thoughts.

    Yes, Zhou Qin was beautiful. But his past experience of being constantly rejected by women had taught him one thing — love and beauty are two different things altogether.

    One wanes with the passage of time while the other has the potential to last throughout eternity.

     

    ***

     

    After the lecture, Li Yundong led Su Chan off-campus, then hailed a cab outside the gates. He told the driver to take them to Shengyuan Hotel.

    When their cab dropped them off at Shengyuan Hotel's grand entrance, they didn't enter right away. No, grand was by no means an understatement. The place was a freaking 58-story monolith and a six-star hotel.

    The fact that this building hadn't been listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World was a... well, wonder, in and of itself, since the architects clearly knew what they were doing when they came up with its design. With it's pointed top, and tapering body, the building looked like a massive crystal prism. Amidst the evening sun, the prism-shaped monolith glowed beautifully with a dark, golden hue.

    The main entrance consisted of four revolving doors. In front of each revolving door was a flower basket, which, Li Yundong noticed, was filled with freshly picked flowers.

    "Holy mother of God on a Pogo stick..." Li Yundong whispered. Then, a wave of doubt crept into his psyche. All of a sudden, he had this irrational idea that his feet might dirty the floor of such a magnificent building. He felt like a bumpkin about to step into a palace.

    Well, at least the bellboy wasn't snobbish; he invited them both into the building courteously. Li Yundong would've given the bellboy a tip if the guy hadn't allowed his gaze to linger on Su Chan when she walked through the revolving door. Besides, he highly doubted that a few measly 100 yuan bills would even count as a tip for a bellboy employed in such a high-class hotel.

    Once again, the architects of the Shengyuan Hotel didn't disappoint. The moment they stepped into the main lobby, Li Yundong realized that the floor was constructed from transparent glass, with colorful pebbles filling the space under the glass. Under the lobby's dim lighting, the pebbles glinted mildly. It was like they were walking on clouds.

    What an awesome building this is... Li Yundong thought, then smiled wryly. If Zhou Qin hadn't invited him to her party, he probably wouldn't have had the chance to set foot in a place like this.

     

    ***

     

    Indeed, a place like this was filled with people from the upper-class. Not a single person there wasn't dressed opulently. Men strode around in tailored suits and perfectly combed hair, while women pranced about in dresses that probably cost more than a second-hand car.

    Most of them were, of course, snobs. However, even snobs recognized beauty when they saw it; when Li Yundong and Su Chan walked across the lobby, not a single one of them didn't stop and stare. Their looks of admiration didn't last long, though. Soon, they were replaced with contempt and disdain, no doubt because they noticed Su Chan and Li Yundong's clothing.

    At the end of the day, snobs were still snobs.

     

    ***

     

    Li Yundong was starting to regret showing up at the venue this early. For one, he didn't have a frigging clue where in this effing monolith of a building the party was supposed to be held. They were here so early that the hotel's event directory hadn't even been updated yet, and there was a super long queue at the reception counter.

    After fumbling around for a while, Li Yundong plucked up his courage and stopped a passing bellboy.

    "Um... Excuse me, can you tell us where Miss Zhou Qin's birthday party will be held?"

    "Miss Zhou Qin..." The bellboy paused in thought. "That name doesn't ring a—"

    "Did you ask about Miss Zhou Qin?" another voice cut in.

    Li Yundong turned and saw a man in a different uniform walking up to them. Lobby manager, Li Yundong thought after he caught a glimpse of the man's name tag.

    "Yes, Miss Zhou Qin. She's hosting a birthday party here," Li Yundong said.

    "Good evening, sir," said the lobby manager. "And may I ask who you are?"

    "I'm her classmate," Li Yundong answered frankly.

    "Ah, I see," said the lobby manager. "Miss Zhou Qin's birthday party will be held on the third floor. Take a right turn after you get off the elevator, and you'll see it."

    "Thank you," Li Yundong said, nodding politely to the lobby manager.

    After they got off the elevator on the third floor, they took a right turn as per the lobby manager's instructions. Indeed, they saw a black signboard with Zhou Qin's name on it.

    Li Yundong smiled at Su Chan.

    "We're at the right place," he said. "But it seems like we're too early. We're the only ones here."

    "Isn't that man here for the party as well?" Su Chan said, pointing somewhere behind him.

    He turned around and saw a man smoking a cigarette.

    Li Yundong smiled at Su Chan. "Well, what say we go greet the guy?"

     

    ***

     

    Li Yundong and Su Chan had no idea that this "greeting" would soon turn into a disaster.

    The smoker was a man dressed in an expensive Armani suit. On the whole, he looked pretty handsome, though in a dark and gloomy sort of way. If this were a funeral, the guy would fit in perfectly. The man's back was to Li Yundong and Su Chan when they approached.

    Once Li Yundong was about a foot away, he said, "Hello, are you here to attend Zhou Qin's birthday party as well?"

    Mr. Armani turned around at the sound of Li Yundong's voice and was instantly stunned by Li Yundong's appearance. Damn... this guy looks so handsome and charismatic! he thought.

    One would think that a handsome man would be more than happy to make another handsome man's acquaintance. Alas, Mr. Armani was the bigoted and narrow-minded type; he couldn't stand it when he saw someone who was better looking than him. Li Yundong was the first in a long time.

    "Who are you supposed to be?" Mr. Armani said in a tone of malice.

    Li Yundong took Mr. Armani's hostility in stride. He didn't want to cause trouble for Zhou Qin. Besides, he had run into enough trouble already over the past week.

    "I'm Zhou Qin's classmate," Li Yundong said courteously. "We’re here at her invitation."

    Surprise and anger coursed through Mr. Armani.

    Zhou Qin had rarely taken the initiative to invite others to her birthday party. It had always been the same all these years — Zhou Qin let her parents decide whom to invite.

    Surprise soon turned into jealousy.

    Mr. Armani's eyes scanned Li Yundong's body from head to toe. Plain. Nothing special about his clothes, he thought. Maybe he's just modest? Some powerful people like to dress modestly. He must have a pretty strong social background if Zhou Qin personally invited him to her party...

    Just then, Li Yundong shifted slightly to the side, revealing Su Chan who had been obscured from Mr. Armani's view during the conversation.

    Mr. Armani's jaw dropped to the floor when he saw Su Chan. Never in his life had he thought that he would one day meet a woman whose beauty surpassed that of Zhou Qin.

    It seemed like he had just been proven wrong today.

     

    ***

     

    Li Yundong did not like the way this douchebag was looking at Su Chan. Not one bit. Why was it that every damn time he brought Su Chan out men would leer at her like she was nothing but a piece of meat?

    Right. Stupid question. Because she was f*cking gorgeous, that was why. Relax, Li Yundong... No more trouble, remember? Instead of ripping out the douchebag's balls, Li Yundong cleared his throat harshly to get his attention.

    Douchebag stopped his ogling and turned back to Li Yundong. Hah. At least the guy knew what was good for his gonads and general well-being.

    For a moment, Li Yundong and Douchebag were locked in a staring contest, until Douchebag began ogling Su Chan again.

    Eyes over here, pal...

    However, upon closer look, Li Yundong realized that Douchebag's expression wasn't filled with lust like before; it was filled with disdain and disgust.

     "You're Zhou Qin's classmate, you said?" Douchebag said, breaking the silence.

    Douchebag gave Li Yundong a sidelong glance, those mocking eyes scanning Li Yundong's body from head to toe.

    F*cking snobs...

    Li Yundong reined in his anger, though his voice was cold when he spoke next.

    "Yes, I am," Li Yundong said. "Call her yourself if you don't believe me."

    Douchebag released a loud sneer.

    "Nope, that's not necessary," he said. "I won't allow you to enter the party even if you really are Zhou Qin's classmate!"

    Douchebag, it seemed, had just been upgraded to Douchebag 2.0.

    "And why's that?" Li Yundong growled.

    Douchebag gestured at Li Yundong's body.

    "Look at what you're wearing?" he said, rolling his eyes. "Where do you think this is? A fish market? This is a formal event, for heaven's sake. At least show the host some courtesy by not showing up dressed like a bumpkin."

    Then, Douchebag pointed a finger at Su Chan without taking his eyes off Li Yundong.

    "And look at your date. Tsk, tsk! You dressed her in such tattered clothes, and then brought her to an upscale event like this? Honestly, I pity the poor girl." Douchebag snorted. "Here's some free advice pal, don't date beautiful women if you're flat broke. A beautiful girl like that doesn't deserve to be dragged into your bumpkin lifestyle. Got it? Now, get out of here. I don't have time to waste my breath on you."

    Li Yundong would've punched a hole in Douchebag's face if Su Chan hadn't pulled him back in time. Before he could say anything else, Su Chan dragged him away with an astonishing amount of strength.

    The last thing Li Yundong saw before he was pulled around the corner towards the elevator, was the look of contempt on the guy's face.

     

    ***

     

    He Shao snorted as he watched Li Yundong's figure vanish around the corner of the corridor.

    The door of the banquet hall opened, and a tall, curvaceous, and fashionably dressed woman stepped out. Ding Nan had been here handling the preparations for Zhou Qin's birthday party since this morning. She had even skipped her classes.

    "He Shao, who were you talking to just now?" Ding Nan asked, staring along the stretch of the corridor.

    He Shao brought his cigarette to his lips, then took a deep pull from it. After that, he blew a smoke ring at Ding Nan and laughed flippantly.

    "Oh, nobody important. Just a couple of beggars," He Shao said. "Don't worry, I sent them away."

    Frowning, Ding Nan waved the smoke away from her face.

    "Tsk, what are you talking about? There's no way a beggar can get in here. Argh, whatever. Just quit slacking off and give me a hand."

     

    ***

     

    "Why did you stop me!" Li Yundong roared. "F*cking son of a bitch! I'm gonna rearrange his face with my fist. Let him spend all his snobbish money on plastic surgery!"

    Li Yundong felt a squeeze in his hand.

    "Beloved..." Su Chan said in a low and guilty voice. "Did my ugliness cause you trouble?"

    Just like that, every ounce of anger left Li Yundong.

    "Nonsense," Li Yundong said, lifting Su Chan's chin. "You're the most beautiful woman in the world. That son of a bitch has shit for eyes, that's all."

    Su Chan smiled weakly. Even a blind fool could see that the smile was forced.

    "Um... Then why don't you go back in there for the party," she said. "I'll wait for you here."

    Li Yundong's heart was reduced into a pile of goo.

    "Stop that kind of talk," Li Yundong said, flicking Su Chan's forehead. "Why won't you come in with me?"

    Su Chan smiled.

    Again, her smile seemed forced.

    "The man said I'm poorly dressed right? So maybe everything will be alright as long as I don't go..."

    Emotions churned inside Li Yundong, tearing his insides apart.

    Li Yundong pulled Su Chan tightly against his side and said, "I have a better idea. I'm gonna turn you into a beautiful princess and let those snobs eat their words!"

     

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  • Chapter 67 Makeover

     

    Determined to give Su Chan a makeover, Li Yundong hailed a cab and ordered the driver to take them to a newly-established commercial area in Tiannan City whose construction had taken two whole years.

    The commercial area was essentially a long and wide avenue lined with luxury stores on both sides. No vehicles were allowed into it, so the cab driver dropped them off at an intersection nearby. Li Yundong paid the cab driver after they got out, then headed towards the avenue, hand-in-hand.

    Music filled their ears the moment they stepped onto the avenue. Dozens of digital advertisement boards stretched along the avenue, one in front of each store. The largest one hovered above their heads, showing a video of a beautiful woman twirling endlessly amidst a flower field. A female voice introduced some perfume brand in a seductive purr.

    Never in his life had Li Yundong seen the logos of so many luxury brands gathered in one place: GUCCI, PRADA, CK, LV, and so forth. Even a dude like Li Yundong found himself swooning a little while standing here surrounded by such poshness; women might need paramedics.

    Su Chan seemed totally fine though. Curious and excited, yes, but definitely not swooning. Then again, she didn't even know what a TV was until recently.

    Su Chan gave Li Yundong's arm a few tugs.

    "Did you bring me here to buy clothes?" she asked, staring up at him with sparkling eyes.

    There it was, the confirmation he needed for Cheng Cheng's words: "There isn't a single woman out there who doesn't like luxury clothes or fancy jewelry!"

    Can I even afford anything here?

    Li Yundong glanced around the avenue, shuddering when he saw a couple of women walking out of a boutique with shopping bags the size of a frigging suitcase. Then, he looked towards Su Chan who was now jumping around, pointing excitedly at some fancy dress on the advertisement board.

    Unbiddenly, the words of Douchebag 2.0 came to mind.

    To hell with it. Li Yundong released a low growl, then threw his hands in the air. "Alright then! Time to splurge! Come along, my dear little princess! Pick whatever you like!"

    "Yayyy!!!!" Su Chan cheered, then charged towards the nearest boutique, leaving Li Yundong alone on the avenue to deal with the stares from the passers-by.

    Li Yundong chuckled, then shook his head.

    He had to admit that acting like a billionaire felt pretty nice, even for someone without delusions of grandeur.

     

    ***

     

    "Hi, welcome to Uniqlo!"

    The staff at the front desk actually bowed when they walked in. Huh, what do you know? People still had manners these days. Then again, it was arguable whether their politeness was aimed at the customers or the credit cards they were holding.

    A saleswoman stepped around the counter and approached them. The woman wouldn't exactly be considered as beautiful, but she still looked good and polished. Mainly, that was because of the elegant bun she was wearing as well as her curvaceous figure, not to mention her fantastic fashion sense.

    "Good evening, sir, miss. How may I assist you today?" the saleslady asked in a gentle voice.

    Hell if he knew.

    The only "shopping" Li Yundong had done in the past consisted of switching tabs on his web browser, and then adding items to carts. Plus, he had practically zero dating experience. The nuances of shopping probably eluded him more than Einstein's field equations did.

    By some miracle, Li Yundong mustered a modicum of confidence.

    "Hi, I'm here to buy some clothes for my girlfriend," Li Yundong said, pointing at Su Chan. "Do you have any recommendations?"

    Well, at least he sounded like he knew what he was doing. Maybe he had a knack for this billionaire thing after all.

    However, when he saw the excited glint in the saleswoman's eyes, Li Yundong realized that he had made a serious mistake. F*ck! The woman looked like she was plotting to squeeze every single penny out of his pocket!

    Would it be so bad though...?

    Li Yundong glanced at Su Chan, who was now standing in front of a rack, checking out a bunch of blazers. He wondered if she knew that those blazers were meant for guys...

    Judging from the way she was holding her arm along the sleeve of the blazer to compare their lengths, probably not.

    Li Yundong looked at the saleswoman, whose grin widened half an inch.

    "You have come to the right place, sir. Uniqlo is well-known for its women's clothing. In fact, most of our customers are women!"

    "Err..."

    What was he supposed to say anyway?

    The saleswoman waved her hand.

    "Oh, don't you worry, sir! I assure you that you're in good hands! Just leave everything to us, and your girlfriend will be all dolled up in no time!" she said enthusiastically, then made a beeline towards Su Chan.

    The saleswoman guided Su Chan towards the women's section and said, "Do you have any preferences, miss?"

    "Anything will do! All the clothes here are so pretty..." Su Chan said with sparkly eyes.

    Li Yundong nearly did a facepalm right then and there. If only she knew that half of the clothes here are for men...  

    The grinning saleswoman bustled about for a moment before she stopped in front of a rack. She removed a hanger from the rack and held out a strawberry-colored dress to Su Chan.

    "Here you go, Miss. This dress is part of Uniqlo's summer collection this year," the saleswoman said as she helped Su Chan removed the dress from the hanger. "The most unique aspect of this dress is its silk-based lace design."

    "If you take a look at its sleeves," the saleswoman went on, glancing towards Li Yundong, "you'll notice the lace's exquisite floral pattern. This is the perfect dress to be worn during summer, since the laced sleeves help keep the wearer comfortable and cool. And, of course, the floral pattern suits your girlfriend's lovely appearance perfectly." The saleswoman held up a finger. "Ah, the lacework was all done by hand, of course. The same goes for the ones on the collar and hemline."

    It was pretty obvious to Li Yundong that the woman's explanation was meant for him as much as it was meant for Su Chan. Smart woman, Li Yundong thought. Why would a man pull out his credit card if he didn't like the look of the dress on his woman?

    "Yundong! Yundong!"

    Li Yundong raised his head to see Su Chan holding the dress in front of her chest and beaming at him.

    "How do I look?" Su Chan said, striking a pose and winking at him.

    Li Yundong sat down on the plush couch beside the fitting rooms, then grinned at Su Chan.

    "Only one way to find out," he said, with a shrug. "Try it on!"

    "Indeed, miss. You can try the dress on first, and see if you like it," the saleswoman said, leading Su Chan into the fitting room. "You can try out other options if you find that you don't like it."

    A while later, Su Chan emerged from the fitting room in the dress.

    Holy moly...

    Li Yundong nearly fell off the edge of the couch.

    Now he knew why women, or men for that matter, were willing to splurge so much on women's clothing. When he first met Su Chan, she gave him the impression of being the epitome of traditional beauty. But in this strawberry-colored dress, she looked like she'd just walked out of the front cover of some fashion magazine. Cute, beautiful, fashionable, chic, voguish, stylish, girl-next-door, drop-dead gorgeous, wet-dream-inducing, and—

    There weren't enough adjectives to describe how absolutely gorgeous she looked right then.

    The strawberry color of the dress matched her milky complexion perfectly. The lace trims on the hemline, around the collars, and the sleeves were just icing on the cake. Li Yundong felt like pulling her into his arms and biting into her skin like she was a juicy and delectable strawberry.

    Li Yundong had to swallow hard before he started salivating all over the plush couch.

    "Be- beautiful!" Li Yundong said, bobbing his head up and down. He already knew that Su Chan would look good in any clothes. Heck, she looked good in his clothes! But to see her dressed in fine, luxury clothes... Wow.

    God bless the fashion industry.

    "Oh my!" the saleswoman exclaimed with a loud clap. "I've been working here for three years, and I have honestly never seen anyone who looked this good in our clothes!"

    The saleswoman waved her finger in a circle.

    Su Chan did a twirl.

    "Miss," the saleswoman went on, "you should really consider a career in modeling. I'm sure you'll make it into the international arena!"

    Li Yundong agreed.

    "Umm... can I try that one?" Su Chan said, pointing towards another rack, her eyes sparkling like crystals.

    Li Yundong followed her gaze.

    It was a white minidress.

    "Oh, of course you can!" the saleswoman said happily, then gestured her colleague to remove the dress from its hanger.

    Su Chan took the dress and headed back into the fitting room.

    "What about the first dress, sir?" the saleswoman asked Li Yundong after Su Chan had entered the fitting room.

    "We'll take it!" Li Yundong answered without hesitating.

    The saleswoman grinned at him as though she'd just been told that she won the lottery.

    Su Chan stepped out five minutes later.

    The saleswoman took the first dress from Su Chan, folded it, then brought it to the payment counter.

    If the strawberry-colored dress gave Su Chan a girl-next-door vibe, the white minidress made her look like a fashionable upper-class woman. It was a slanted-shoulder minidress, which left her left shoulder bare. Under the lights, the glossy white satin fabric of the dress seemed even whiter, almost like it was glowing.

    Su Chan turned her body slightly to the right with the base of her left heel raised off the floor. Then, with her left hand on her hip, Su Chan did a simple hair flip as her right hand slowly traveled up her left arm. Li Yundong's eyes followed her hand until it reached the bare skin of her shoulder. Her hand slipped past her bare shoulder and traveled up her neck. When their eyes met, Su Chan winked at him and blew him a kiss.

    Christ on a bike.

    Li Yundong's heart nearly stopped right then and there. All of a sudden, his throat grew as dry as a dessert. This woman was going to be the death of him, but what a way to go.

    The saleswoman cleared her throat and walked away, muttering something about taking care of the packaging.

    "How do I look?"

    Su Chan's voice brought Li Yundong out of his trance.

    Then, she did several twirls in front of him. The hem of the dress raised slightly as she spun around, revealing her bare thighs.

    Li Yundong gulped and gripped the armrest of the couch. Su Chan stopped twirling and struck a pose like a model.

    "So?" Su Chan said, giving him a questioning look.

    Get a f*cking grip, Li Yundong.

    He nodded, then clapped his hands a few times.

    "Beautiful..." he said.

    The saleswoman was beside him in an instant.

    "This dress as well, sir?" she asked hopefully.

    "Yes, we'll take this one too," Li Yundong said, rising to his feet.

    "Very well, sir!" said the saleswoman with a grin.

    Well! Two dresses! That should do—

    Su Chan dove into his arms before he could finish that thought.

    "Let's stay for a while longer! Just to look around without buying anything!" Su Chan said.

    Looking without buying? That should be fine.

    Right?


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  • Chapter 68 My Woman Is a Hundred Times Prettier Than You

     

    Most of the time, having a lot of options is a good thing. In some situations, however, having too many options can be one's downfall — like when you're a half-broke dude taking your girlfriend out on a shopping trip.

    Uniqlo had options alright. Lots of them.

    It certainly didn't help matters that Su Chan had so kindly decided to capitalize on those options. She practically tore the store apart, eager to try on every single outfit the store had to offer. The saleswoman was, of course, more than happy to indulge her. Once again, Li Yundong took his place on the couch while Su Chan marched in and out of the fitting room, each time appearing in a different outfit: pencil skirts; skirt suits; blouses; summer dresses; jeans; capris; revealing club dresses!

    Su Chan totally killed every single one of those outfits. By the time Li Yundong realized that there were over twenty outfits added to their to-be-purchased pile, he knew that she was about to kill his wallet too. It kind of gave a new meaning to phrases like killer curves or killer good looks.

    Worse, they hadn't even gotten what they came here for — a formal dress to be worn to Zhou Qin's party. By his estimation, the twenty plus outfits would cost him at least several thousand yuan already. Now add in the formal dress, not to mention shoes and other accessories...

    To hell with it.

    He would be damned if he allowed another person to badmouth or slight Su Chan because of her clothes. Su Chan didn't deserve any of that shallow BS, and Li Yundong was going to pull out all the stops to ensure that shit like that never happened again.

    "Do you guys have formal dresses?" Li Yundong asked the saleswoman.

    The saleswoman looked like she was about to do a victory dance right in front of him.

    "May I know the occasion it is for?"

    "It's a birthday party..." Li Yundong said, then paused in thought. "Well, a rather fancy birthday party, I'd say."

    The saleswoman grabbed Su Chan's arm and dragged her towards another section of the store. Li Yundong got up from the couch and followed them.

    The saleswoman stopped in front of a mannequin and pointed at a long, purple dress.

    "What about this one?"

    Even when worn by a lifeless mannequin, the dark purple silk dress took Li Yundong's breath away. The dress was strapless and had a unique design for its hemline — sophisticated folds and layers which looked like overlapping clouds.

    For a moment there, Li Yundong tried to picture Su Chan wearing that dress. She'd look like a princess. No. She'd look like a goddess.

    When he touched the fabric of the dress, the silk felt cool and smooth as it slid along his fingers like some sort of semi-liquid substance. However, the euphoria lasted until he lifted the price tag.

    130 thousand yuan!!!!

    Li Yundong gasped and looked at the saleswoman as though he was a pig about to be carted off into a slaughterhouse.

    The saleswoman chuckled. "This is the best formal dress we have, sir," she said, then gave Li Yundong a hopeful look. "Maybe your partner can try it on first?"

    Li Yundong stared at the saleswoman blankly for a moment or two, then turned to Su Chan who was staring at the dress in awe.

    "Okay. Let her try it on," he said.

    "Really?" Su Chan asked, unbidden excitement glinting in her eyes. "Can I really try it on?"

    Li Yundong smiled and nodded. "Yes, of course!"

    Go big or go home, right?

    The saleswoman removed the dress from the mannequin, then handed it to Su Chan. Su Chan took the dress happily and made a beeline towards the fitting room.

    Li Yundong sat in the couch outside the fitting room and waited for Su Chan to appear in the dress. Somehow, it took longer than the other clothes she'd tried on. He supposed it made sense. It was an elaborate dress after all. At one point, he felt a little thirsty. So he got up and stood in front of the fitting room, then knocked on the door.

    "Hey, Su Chan. Stay here and don't go anywhere, okay? I'm gonna go get us some drinks." he said, then paused "You can try on more clothes if you want."

    "Okay," Su Chan said.

    Li Yundong exited the store and walked along the avenue in search of a cafe or a restaurant. So far, he had no luck. All the stores he'd passed were retail stores for various luxury brands. Just when he was about to change his mind and turn back, he saw a CoCo Fresh Juice & Tea further down the avenue.

    When he got to CoCo, the queue was so long that it went past the door! He didn't have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce that this was probably the only store in the entire avenue that sold drinks.

    In the end, Li Yundong's habitual liking for milk tea won out, and he joined the queue instead of leaving. Forty minutes later, Li Yundong left CoCo with two takeaway cups of pudding milk tea.

    When he got back to Uniqlo, the store was pretty much empty. The cashier gave him a smile, which he politely returned. Without further ado, he walked past the clothes racks and entered the fitting area.

    "Hey, are you done yet? I've got drinks for us!" Li Yundong yelled outside the fitting room.

    Instead of an answer, he heard the sound of rustling fabric from behind the door. He reached up to knock, but when his knuckles brushed against the door, he realized that the door was slightly ajar. Getting changed in public without locking the door? How could she be so careless?

    A small smile played on his lips.

    Time to teach her a lesson.

    He pushed the door open.

    "Surprise!!!"

    However, the joke was on him because he was the one who got surprised in the end; the person inside the fitting room wasn't Su Chan but a young girl with a baby face.

    The girl stared back at him with a blank expression, like her mind hadn't caught on to the fact that some dude had just barged into her fitting room while she was still naked from the waist up.

    Despite her baby face, the girl was tall — slightly above five feet from the looks of it. And her bare breasts certainly gave the word "well-endowed" a whole new meaning.

    Li Yundong tried to look away, but it was too late. When the two pink, rosy buds on the girl's chest caught his eyes, he inadvertently crushed the takeaway cup with his grip. Right. Barging into a fitting room with a half-naked woman inside wasn't embarrassing enough. He had to squirt milk tea all over her tits too.

    Thanks a lot, Universe.

    "S- s- sorry! I'm so sorry!" Li Yundong reached out with his free hand in an attempt to clean the mess on the girl's body with his sleeve.

    "Ahhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!"

    Li Yundong was shoved out of the fitting room.

    SLAM!!

    Moments later, the door reopened and the girl stormed out angrily.

    "You sick pervert!"

    Li Yundong backed away from the girl with his hands raised. "Look, I'm really sorry! I thought it was someone else! I swear!"

    "I call bullshit!"

    Li Yundong flinched at the woman's shrill voice, then sat down when his calves hit the edge of the couch.

    "You planned this from the start, didn't you!"

    "Plan? What are you—"

    "You've been stalking me and lurking around my house, haven't you, you pervert!"

    "Hey, I think you're confusing me with someone else. I never—"

    "Confused? Hah! There's no way I'm mistaken. Just look at that perverted and lewd face of yours! I'd be able to identify you even with my eyes closed!"

    Li Yundong huffed in exasperation.

    "Listen to me, miss," he gritted. "This is a misunderstanding, okay? I went in because I thought my girlfriend was in there!"

    "Girlfriend? You?" A derisive snort made it past the girl's lips. "You think I'm an idiot? No woman would want anything to do with you even if you were the last man on earth!"

    "Hey, watch your mouth, lady. It isn't fair to put all the blame on me," Li Yundong said, his voice sizzling with indignation. "First of all, I'm not lying to you. I really was here with my girlfriend, and she was trying on a dress inside that fitting room when I left the store to buy drinks." Li Yundong raised the takeaway cups for emphasis. "Besides, you're the one who forgot to lock the door! And why didn't you answer me when I was yelling outside the door! This never would have happened if you identified yourself to me before I barged in!"

    "Oh, so now you're blaming me, is that it?" The girl stomped her foot in anger, her melons jiggling in the process. "You said you have a girlfriend? Where is she now?? Who can verify your claim?"

    Li Yundong pointed towards the cashier who was trying her best to hide her giggles. "She can! She was the one who greeted us when we arrived at the store!"

    The cashier schooled her features and opened her mouth. However, the self-proclaimed molest victim interrupted rudely before the cashier could even get a word out. "Hey! Do you know who I am? I suggest you choose your next words very carefully. Otherwise I'll personally ensure that your shop closes down permanently starting tomorrow!"

    A conflicted look flitted across the cashier's composed features. "Miss, this man isn't lying. He really did come in together with his girlfriend," said the cashier with poise. "You're more than welcome to check our security footage and verify it for yourself."

    Li Yundong sighed in relief. Thank f*ck! Can't believe I was this close to facing sexual assault charges...

    "I bet your girlfriend looks like some disgusting crone. Or maybe she's a retard," the girl taunted. "No woman in her right mind would choose to date a man like you!"

    Li Yundong's expression grew dark in an instant. People could curse and yell at him all they wanted, but he would never allow anyone to badmouth his Su Chan. Never.

    He took a deep breath, his eyes flashing like lightning.

    "That's bullshit," he sneered. "My girl is a hundred times prettier than you."

    The girl dissolved into derisive laughs.

    "That's impossible! Go on, then. Bring her out and show me how pretty she is... Hahahaha!" 

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  • Chapter 69 One Diamond, One Bankruptcy.

    Their heated exchange was interrupted by a loud ding.

    Li Yundong turned his head to the side and glanced towards the entrance. The saleswoman stepped into the store, followed by Su Chan who was now wearing the purple formal dress they'd been checking out earlier.

    Li Yundong's feet moved on their own accord. Everything else in the store seemed to fade away. It was like he had some kind of tunnel vision; all he could see was Su Chan.

    Su Chan's sweet scent assaulted his nose the moment he stopped in front of her, and his jaw went slack as he drank in her appearance.

    If he wasn't a half-broke student, he would give the saleswoman a generous tip right about now for her good tastes and her impeccable eye for detail. Because that dress right there? It hugged Su Chan's body in all the right ways, ways that would make even the strongest men go weak at the knees. A good half of Su Chan's chest was left bare due to the dress' strapless design. A diamond necklace hung elegantly from her neck. The necklace pendant rested just below her exposed collarbone, sparkling amidst the backdrop of her white skin. Below the necklace, Su Chan's ample bosom pushed tightly against the dress’ bodice, giving him a generous view of her cleavage. Further down her torso, along her sides, the silk fabric clung to Su Chan like a second skin, accentuating every inch of her hourglass figure. Below the waist, the fluffy folds of the skirt looked like a bunch of overlapping clouds.

    At that moment, Li Yundong thought Su Chan was the closest thing to Aphrodite he had ever seen, and he wanted to drop to his knees and worship her like the goddess she was.

    Heck, she even did her hair, which was now pulled into an elegant French twist.

    "Wow... You look..." Li Yundong trailed off.

    No words could do her beauty justice.

    The saleswoman cleared her throat. "Um... my apologies, sir," she said. "You were gone for too long, so I brought your girlfriend to the shoe store next door..."

    Li Yundong glanced down. A pair of black, open-toe high heels adorned Su Chan's feet. Can't believe I missed those, he thought. Wait a minute, who paid for it?

    Li Yundong's head shot up in alarm as he gave the saleswoman an incredulous look.

    "They just let her walk out of the store with the shoes?"

    The saleswoman smiled at him kindly. "Pretty much," she said. "The owner wants your girlfriend to become their shoe model. So he gave her the shoes as a gift."

    Li Yundong looked at Su Chan in surprise. "And you agreed?"

    Su Chan beamed at him. "Hehe... Nope!"

    Li Yundong's face scrunched up in confusion. "Then how come you still have the shoes?"

    "Well, It's like this, sir," the saleswoman jumped in to explain. "Your girlfriend denied the request, true. But the owner decided to give her the shoes anyway. All he asked for in return is that your girlfriend would recommend his store to her friends..."

    Huh. He supposed it made sense. Su Chan totally rocked those heels, which meant she would draw a lot of attention whenever she wore them. People were definitely going to ask her where she bought them. She was literally a walking billboard for the store.

    "But, of course, the offer to become their shoe model still stands." The saleswoman eyed Su Chan enviously. "She can get any product in the shoe store for free as long as she becomes their shoe model..."

    Li Yundong nodded. "What about the necklace?"

    "Oh, the necklace is ours," the saleswoman said. "It was meant to match the dress, actually. But if you prefer to buy just the dress, that's fine too."

    "Okay... What about the hair? How did that happen?"

    The saleswoman chuckled. "Well, I must say that your girlfriend's beauty had caused quite a ruckus around here. The owner of the salon next door just happened to be inside the shoe store when we were there. She offered to do your girlfriend's hair for free. And... there you have it."

    Li Yundong stared at the elegant French twist on top of Su Chan's head.

    The saleswoman sighed dreamily. "She looks perfect, don’t you think?"

    Li Yundong's eyes traveled down Su Chan's curves. Yeah... Guess that makes two of us.

     

    ***

     

    Shen Hui couldn't believe her eyes when she saw the girl in the purple dress. Never in her life had she met any woman so gorgeous. Never. Shen Hui herself was a rare beauty. She knew that for a fact and had taken pride in it since she was just a little girl. Her good looks had fueled her hubris for years and, in some cases, served as a valuable tool to get what she wanted in life.

    Even so, Shen Hui had to admit that this girl's beauty completely and utterly outclassed her own. With that dress and the diamond necklace, this girl could put international models to shame. What vexed Shen Hui the most, however, wasn't even the fact that her own beauty was overshadowed. It was the fact that this bombshell of a girl was that sick, perverted, sex maniac's girlfriend!

    Impossible! I don't buy it!

    Shen Hui shook her head as though this was some kind of dream that she could just shake off. No way. No way in hell that a girl as beautiful as that would date such a shameless man.

    However, what Shen Hui saw a moment later made her wish she never came to this store today.

     

    ***

     

    The waving of Su Chan's hand in front of his face interrupted Li Yundong's geometrical analysis of Su Chan's cleavage.

    "What's the matter? Can't recognize your own woman anymore?"

    A surge of heat shot through Li Yundong at Su Chan's sultry voice.

    Li Yundong swallowed hard.

    "Y- you look so beautiful..." Li Yundong cleared his throat. "I mean... I- I could barely recognize you."

    "Hehe! I'll always be your woman no matter how beautiful I become!"

    A wave of affection and joy flooded Li Yundong's heart, causing him to chuckle. For the life of him, he couldn't figure out how he got so lucky as to have Su Chan as his girlfriend. Speaking of his girlfriend...

    Li Yundong looked towards the fitting room. The obnoxious woman who had accused him of being a perverted sex maniac earlier was now shaking her head forcefully. Li Yundong smirked and wrapped an arm around Su Chan's waist, pulling her tight against him.

    Li Yundong nearly laughed when he saw the woman reaching for the fitting room's door jamb for support. She looked so pale that it was as though she'd seen a ghost. Moments later, the woman's face flushed with anger.

    "Ahem! Sir?"

    Li Yundong turned away from the fitting room and looked at the saleswoman.

    "Do you want to try something on as well?" the saleswoman asked hopefully. "I mean, your girlfriend is all dolled up and..."

    And I'd just taint her beauty if I stand beside her looking like a beggar? Is that so? he thought, smirking at the saleswoman. More business for you, I suppose.

    "Sure. What do you have for me?" Li Yundong said.

    The saleswoman perked up instantly.

    "Wonderful, sir! The men's section is on the east side of our store..."

    She hesitated for a moment.

    "Or would you like me to pick out a few outfits for you?"

    Hell, yeah. He couldn't even remember the last time he went shopping for clothes, so he had no idea what he was doing. The saleswoman hurried to the men's section after receiving the go-ahead from Li Yundong.

    The saleswoman returned with a black suit a while later.

    Li Yundong took the hangers and stared at the clothes for a moment. Then, he made his way towards the fitting room to get changed.

    Here goes nothing...

    The door of the fitting room slammed shut.

     

    ***

     

    The moment Li Yundong stepped out of the fitting room, he decided that trying on the suit was the right decision. Even if he didn't buy the suit, he got to see the slack-jawed expressions on Su Chan, the saleswoman, the cashier, and yes, even the obnoxious bitch.

    Li Yundong stood in front of the full-length mirror outside the fitting room and studied his own reflection. The suit added a layer of maturity on top of his masculine appearance. For once in his life, Li Yundong could honestly acknowledge that he looked... handsome.

    Then, Su Chan came up to him, leaning into his side with her arm resting on the crook of his shoulder.

    Li Yundong studied their reflections again, noting how matching they were when standing next to each other. His lips curved into a satisfied grin.

    "Well, what do you know. I think we match pretty well, don't you think?"

    "Of course!" Su Chan said, her face lighting up with joy.

    When Li Yundong turned away from the mirror, he found that Su Chan was looking at him as well.

    A second later, sounds of their laughter filled the entire store.

    Oh, yeah. He was definitely buying the suit.

     

    ***

     

    Then came the hard part.

    Li Yundong walked up to the payment counter after the saleswoman had packaged their purchases into bags.

    "How much in total?" Li Yundong said, pulling out his bank card. By his estimation, all this would cost at least... 20 thousand yuan?

    The cashier's fingers flew across her keyboard, before she hit the enter key with a loud tap.

    "Sir, that would be 98,030 yuan."

    Li Yundong nearly dropped his bank card.

    "C- c- come again?"

    "That would be 98,030 yuan in total," said the cashier. "But only 71 thousand yuan after the discount."

    Holy f*cking shit!

    That was all his savings gone in a single day!

    "S- so much?"

    "Of course, you pervert," the Miss Obnoxious said with a smirk. "That diamond necklace alone costs over 40 thousand."

    Li Yundong froze. Maybe we should forget about the necklace—

    "Do yourself a favor and don't shop in a high-end store if you're poor," Miss Obnoxious continued. "People like you should just buy clothes from the night market."

    Redness crept up Li Yundong's neck into his cheeks.

    "Who told you I can't afford it!" Li Yundong slammed his bank card onto the countertop. "Here!"

    When the cashier took the card, Li Yundong felt a gentle tug on his hand.

    "I... I don't want the necklace," Su Chan whispered. "We... we'll be broke, won't we?"

    Li Yundong nearly laughed at Su Chan's not-very-convincing attempt to dissuade him. It might have worked if she wasn't clinging onto the necklace like a lifeline.

    He smiled and said, "We've already bought a horse, so we might as well buy the saddle too. Don't worry, I can afford it!"

    He couldn't afford shit. In fact, he just went bankrupt because of a diamond...

    Good thing his bank account allowed overdrafts. Otherwise...

    Su Chan tugged his hand again.

    "W- we shouldn't," she said, shaking her head, her bottom lip pulled between her teeth adorably. "We'll really end up on the streets..."

    Li Yundong burst into laughter.

    "Don't worry! As a man, it is my responsibility to pleasure... ahem! I mean... Th-the point! The point is... I'll do anything for you."

    By the time he and Su Chan left the store, all the female staff at the store were still giggling because of his Freudian slip.

    So many firsts. First time shopping with his girl. First time wearing a suit. First time facing bankruptcy.

     

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  • Chapter 70 A Spectacular Entrance!

    "New Hongsheng District please," Li Yundong said once they got settled into the cab's backseat with all their shopping bags. Seconds passed with the cab showing no signs of moving. Li Yundong tore his gaze away from the window and looked to the front.

    Instead of doing his damn job and taking them back home, the cabbie was gaping at Su Chan.

    "Is there a problem?" Li Yundong asked with a frown. All of a sudden, he felt an urge to remove his suit jacket and then cover Su Chan's cleavage with it.

    "Damn... is she a movie star or something?"

    "Just drive," Li Yundong growled. "New Hongsheng District."

    The cabbie cleared his throat. "Right, New Hongsheng District, got it!"

    The cabbie shifted in the driver's seat until he was facing the front, then put the car in gear. As they drove off, Li Yundong caught the cabbie sneaking a few glances at Su Chan through the rear-view mirror.

    Li Yundong rolled his eyes, then grabbed a shopping bag beside him and shoved it in front of Su Chan's chest.

    Su Chan turned away from the window and gave Li Yundong a quizzical look.

    "Hold this," Li Yundong said with finality.

    "Oh," Su Chan said obediently, wrapping her arms around the huge bag.

    They drove in silence with Li Yundong constantly checking whether the cabbie was trying to ogle Su Chan. The dude seemed to have gotten the memo and kept his eyes on the road.

    At some point during the drive, it occurred to Li Yundong that Su Chan wasn't bombarding him with all kinds of questions like she used to. Li Yundong glanced sideways and saw that she was staring out the window at the passing scenery. For some reason, she seemed kind of nervous.

    Before he could ask if she was alright, the cab pulled up in front of New Hongsheng District.

    Li Yundong paid the cabbie after they got out and brought their shopping bags into their apartment. After dumping the shopping bags on the couch, they went downstairs and hopped into another cab, this time to Shengyuan Hotel. 

    "Hey, man. Eyes on the road please," Li Yundong growled during the fifth time he'd caught the cabbie stealing glances at Su Chan through the rear-view mirror.

    Su Chan leaned into Li Yundong's side.

    "Mmm... Yundong... I'm so hungry... How I wish to have some snacks right now…"

    And he wished she would stop making erotic sounds like that when they were in frigging public. Li Yundong pulled out his phone and checked the time. It was almost 8, which meant they were already late to the party. Their shopping trip downtown had taken nearly three hours. No wonder she was hungry.

    Li Yundong smiled at Su Chan. "You can eat as much as you like during the party," he said.

    Su Chan's face lit up at the suggestion. "Really, really, really? You won't complain about my huge appetite?"

    Li Yundong released a few chortles. "Of course not," he said. "Eat as much as you like, okay?"

    "Yayy!!!" Su Chan threw herself into his arms.

    He just hoped she didn't drool all over his new suit jacket while fantasizing about the feast that awaited her during the party.

     

    ***

     

    The cab dropped them off in front of the hotel's main entrance. After paying the cab driver, Li Yundong took Su Chan's hand and headed towards the lobby. As they neared the fancy revolving doors, Li Yundong noticed that Su Chan was lagging behind. He turned around and gave Su Chan a look of concern. Su Chan was staring down at the toes of her black heels, gnawing at her bottom lip.

    Li Yundong pulled Su Chan away from the revolving doors.

    "What's wrong?"

    Su Chan squeezed Li Yundong's hand slightly. "W- what if they kick us out again?"

    So that's why she seemed so nervous earlier...

    Li Yundong threw his head back in laughter.

    Then, he hooked his finger under Su Chan's chin and raised her head. Their eyes met in a tender gaze.

    "Trust me, my dear little princess," Li Yundong said. "Nobody is going to kick us out with you looking this gorgeous. Okay?"

    "Mm!!!" Su Chan said, bobbing her head up and down.

    "Now. What say we go inside and show 'em who's boss?" Li Yundong said, offering his arm to Su Chan.

    When Su Chan's hand settled into the crook of his elbow, Li Yundong thought that nothing felt more right.

     

    ***

     

    "He Shao! What on earth were you thinking!" Ding Nan yelled. "What makes you think you can chase away the guests that Zhou Qin personally invited to the party!"

    "What?" He Shao gave Ding Nan an affronted look. "Who are you referring to?"

    "Those two beggars that you chased away earlier are Zhou Qin's friends!" Ding Nan snapped. "I've already confirmed it with the receptionist downstairs!"

    "Those two?" He Shao curled his lips in disdain. "Great. Now she's hanging out with beggars and lowbrows." He snorted. "Looks like Zhou Qin's social circle has just been devalued. And I can't believe she invited him to the party! Isn't she afraid of embarrassing the Zhou family?"

    There was a time where Ding Nan would agree with He Shao in a heartbeat. However, it was clear to Ding Nan that Li Yundong was a different man now. The once dull and ordinary Li Yundong had now become a beacon of charisma and masculinity.

    Now, Ding Nan was more than ready to jump to Li Yundong's defense.

    Ding Nan stomped her foot in anger. "How dare you—"

    "What are you two talking about?" Zhou Qin approached Ding Nan with a smile.

    "Ask him!" Ding Nan said, shooting a murderous glare at He Shao.

    Zhou Qin held He Shao's gaze, the enigmatic smile never leaving her face. Silence stretched between them. Zhou Qin didn't utter a word. She didn't have to; her cold eyes were like icicles that could penetrate one's barriers, and her smile could tease one out of their comfort zone.

    He Shao averted his gaze and cleared his throat. "You look ravishing today, Qinqin."

    Ravishing was probably an understatement. Dressed in a red Cheongsam with a side slit that reached slightly above mid-thigh, Zhou Qin's allure seemed almost otherworldly. Zhou Qin brought her flute to her lips and took a sip of wine.

    Zhou Qin lowered the flute and turned back to Ding Nan. "I think it's best if you tell me," she said, then nodded at a few of her guests.

    While waiting for Ding Nan to answer, Zhou Qin glanced around the banquet hall, seemingly looking for something, or someone.

    Ding Nan snorted. "I know why Li Yundong hasn't shown up yet," she said.

    At the mention of Li Yundong's name, Zhou Qin refocused her attention on Ding Nan. Concern and apprehension pooled in her eyes. "Why?"

    Ding Nan's eyes darted to He Shao. "You sure you want me to tell her?" she asked with a brow raised.

    He Shao snorted. "Zhou Qin, if you want to befriend someone, at least befriend someone with class! You can't just invite people who dress like peasants to a place like this! They don't belong here!"

    Coldness seeped into Zhou Qin's eyes.

    "So you kicked him out, is that it?"

    "Technically, I didn't kick him out," He Shao said. "I merely told him that this isn't a place that someone like him could set foot in."

    Zhou Qin's icy gaze froze the air around them, bringing the conversation to a halt.

    The cold intensity of Zhou Qin's stare gave He Shao goosebumps.

    Beside Zhou Qin, Ding Nan trembled in fear.

    Then, Zhou Qin smiled. She raised her hand and snapped her finger.

    A waiter approached them a moment later.

    "How may I serve you, Miss Zhou?"

    Zhou Qin pointed at He Shao's flute of champagne. "Take this man's flute, and then escort him out."

    "Are you out of your mind, Zhou Qin?" He Shao said, angry and alarmed.

    Ding Nan's eyes widened in panic.

    "Zhou Qin, I don't think you should go that far," Ding Nan said, shaking Zhou Qin's arm a few times. "How are you going to explain this to Mr. He later?"

    Smirking, Zhou Qin glanced at Ding Nan from the corner of her eyes.

    Ding Nan withdrew her hand in fear.

    Zhou Qin's cold gaze refocused on He Shao.

    "Didn't you hear what I said?" Zhou Qin raised her brow threateningly. "Do I need to repeat myself?"

    An angry flush gathered in He Shao's cheeks, purpling them; the champagne flute quivered in his hand.

    A low growl escaped He Shao's lips.

    "If that's how you wanna play it, then fine!" He Shao barked, then paused as if he couldn't believe what just happen. "I can't believe you're going to mistreat me because of some... some"—He Shao's face contorted in disgust— "uncultured gigolo!"

    "You have disrespected me by treating my friends with disdain," Zhou Qin said coldly. "Why should I respect those who don't respect me?"

    Zhou Qin pointed at the exit. "Show yourself out, He Shao! Before I have you removed by force!"

    He Shao raised his champagne flute.

    Zhou Qin's eyes flashed menacingly. "I will end you if you smash anything in my party."

    A shudder coursed through He Shao. He lowered the flute back down slowly.

    "Hey, He Shao, just chill, alright?" Ding Nan said, trying to play the peacemaker. "Zhou Qin is just mad right now. Maybe later, once she's calmed do—"

    "Do you want to go with him too?" Zhou Qin's harsh voice startled Ding Nan.

    Ding Nan shot He Shao a helpless look.

    Fuming, He Shao drained the contents of his flute in a single gulp, then threw it at the waiter who was watching the heated exchange anxiously.

    "I won't forget this, Zhou Qin!" He Shao growled. "Right now, I only have one thing to say to you. No matter how close you are with that lowly bumpkin, he'll never become one of us. Never!"

    A loud crash sounded as soon as he finished.

    Ding Nan jumped slightly. What the heck... Did someone just... smash their glass? she thought.

    Ding Nan followed everyone's gaze towards the source of the commotion. Apparently, a waiter was staring slack-jawed at the entrance of the banquet hall instead of minding the tray he was carrying. The tray tilted further sideways and one by one, the champagne flutes on the tray smashed into the floor. Finally, the tray itself fell with a loud clang.

    Despite the noise, nobody in the banquet hall was staring at the champagne puddle that had formed at the poor waiter's feet.

    When the final echoes of the clinking glass dissipated, a pin-drop silence permeated the banquet hall.

    One door.

    One man.

    One woman.

    Dozens of wide eyes and hanging jaws.

    One spectacular entrance.

     

     

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  • Chapter 71 A Taste of Your Own Medicine

     

    The reactions of Tiannan City's elite upon their arrival were decidedly worth going bankrupt for. Hell, if Li Yundong snapped photos of those gobsmacked expressions and sold them afterwards, he could probably earn back the 70 thousand yuan he'd splurged on clothes.

    The sounds of smashing glass drew Li Yundong's attention towards his right. A poor waiter appeared to be losing his grip on reality as well as the tray he was holding in his right hand. Seconds later, the tray joined the rest of the broken flutes in the puddle of alcohol on the floor.

    Li Yundong gave the hall a quick scan, half-expecting to see the same thing occurring to the other waitstaff in the hall. He didn't see any fallen trays or broken flutes, though he did notice something that came across as amusing. Another waiter with a champagne bottle was refilling a guest's flute. Or at least he would be if the champagne actually went into the flute instead of onto the poor guest's expensive-looking suit. The fact that the guest himself hadn't noticed his own wardrobe disaster spoke volumes regarding the effect a dolled-up Su Chan had on people.

    Good. That'll teach these snobbish socialites to judge a person's worth solely by their clothes.

    Beside him, Su Chan suddenly hid herself behind his back.

    Li Yundong squeezed Su Chan's hand. "What's wrong?"

    "I- I'm scared... They're looking at me like they want to devour me."

    Li Yundong squeezed her hand again.

    "Don't be afraid," Li Yundong said. "I'll be right by your side the whole time."

    "P-promise?"

    "Yep. You're my best girl, after all," Li Yundong said. "Now. What say we go find something to satisfy that appetite of yours, hm?"

    Su Chan's face lit up instantly. "Okay!"

     

    ***

     

    Even I find her adorable let alone these men, Zhou Qin thought, her eyes fixed upon Su Chan.

    "I know right..." Ding Nan answered.

    Zhou Qin looked at Ding Nan in mild surprise. Did I say that out loud?

    Apparently, she did.

    Focus, Zhou Qin!  

    Zhou Qin glanced at He Shao, then smirked when she noticed his state of stupor.

    "He Shao, I'd take my leave now if I were you," Zhou Qin said coldly. "You wouldn't want to stay and be humiliated by an uncultured gigolo, would you now?"

    The flush she saw on He Shao's neck and cheeks brought a sense of satisfaction to Zhou Qin.

    "I doubt a nobody like him would have the guts to mess with me," He Shao said.

    Zhou Qin shook her head and regarded He Shao coldly. Being surrounded by obsequious and unctuous people all his life had no doubt fueled He Shao's delusions of grandeur. While everyone else fawned over the man, Zhou Qin could never bring herself to respect him. So much hubris, all because he had familial connections to a high-ranking bureaucrat.

    Zhou Qin tore her gaze away from He Shao. Not even her aloof demeanor could hold back the contempt she felt for that man.

    All of a sudden, Zhou Qin smirked.

    "No guts, you said?" Zhou Qin said smugly. "Looks like you're about to be proven wrong."

    Across the banquet hall, Li Yundong was storming towards them like a man on a mission.

     

    ***

     

    Holding Su Chan's hand, Li Yundong strode past the stunned socialites with his head held high. He'd spotted Zhou Qin at the far end of the hall. She, Ding Nan, and Mr. Douchebag 2.0 were standing together having a conversation.

    Payback time.  

    Li Yundong greeted Zhou Qin with a smile, then shot Douchebag a glare.

    "You got anything else to say to me now?" Li Yundong said coldly.

    Somehow, the crimson tint he saw on Douchebag's cheeks felt as satisfying as breaking the guy's nose.

    Oh, I'm not done with you yet, you son of a bitch.  

    Li Yundong stepped aside to reveal Su Chan, who'd been hiding behind him during the exchange. Then, he wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her to his side.

    "This is my girlfriend, Su Chan," Li Yundong said, staring straight into Douchebag's eyes, "the woman you have so graciously insulted a few hours ago."

    A silence spread among them until Li Yundong broke it with a derisive sneer.

    "You prance around in your nice clothes, acting all high and mighty when in fact you're just a self-righteous and shallow barbarian who hides behind his status! Normal people like us are uncultured and unsophisticated, you said?" Li Yundong released Su Chan and got up into Douchebag's face. "Well, lemme tell you something, pal. You don't know the first thing about virtue! Cultured? You think yourself above others just because you can afford clothes with a flashier name? Don't make me laugh."

    Li Yundong stepped back, then rested his hand on the small of Su Chan's back. "My Su Chan never dressed stylishly not because she couldn't, but because she didn't want to!" Li Yundong paused and took in the room full of rich socialites, then smirked. "You rich folks should thank her, since it's obviously an act of kindness on her part. If she walks around in stylish dresses every day, I'm pretty sure you people would end up developing an inferiority complex. Especially those of you who judge people based on appearance alone."

    Douchebag's face had turned into a deep shade of scarlet, like the color of a pig's liver.

    Li Yundong's smirk faltered and he shot Zhou Qin an apologetic look.

    "I'm sorry. I wasn't referring to you guys. I'm aware that not all rich people are like that," Li Yundong said. "To be honest, Su Chan and I had been pretty excited about attending your party. We just never expected to be so thoroughly insulted the moment we got here." Li Yundong glared at Douchebag. "I'm not going to lie. The only reason I brought Su Chan back here tonight is because I wanted this snob to eat his words!"

    Douchebag growled. "How dare you—"

    "That's enough, He Shao," Zhou Qin cut him off coldly. "You brought this upon yourself. Leave now before I have you removed."

    He Shao shot a murderous glare at Li Yundong.

    Li Yundong returned the man's glare with twice the ferocity.

    Li Yundong felt a wave of satisfaction when he saw fear flash across He Shao's countenance. Their eye contact ended when He Shao took an abrupt step backwards. Then, He Shao gave Zhou Qin a final look before he stormed off.

    Li Yundong kept his eyes on He Shao until the latter disappeared from the banquet hall entirely. A taste of your own medicine. He snorted, then turned back to Zhou Qin.

    "I'm terribly sorry about all this," Li Yundong said. "I don't think it's right for me to stay at your party after everything that happened. Happy birthday, Zhou Qin. And I hope you enjoy—"

    The slight frown between Zhou Qin's brows stilled his words. She almost looked hurt.

    Li Yundong sighed. "Look, I know this isn't ideal, but—"

    "Hey, Li Yundong, don't you think you're being a little insensitive here?" Ding Nan cut in.

    Li Yundong glanced at Ding Nan, his brows arched high.

    Ding Nan was smiling at him.

    "Seriously, Li Yundong? You're just gonna up and leave after Zhou Qin came to your defense and basically told He Shao to shove it? Real classy of you, buddy. Besides..." Ding Nan paused and tilted her head to side furtively. "I don't think the other guests will be too happy if you leave just like that."

    Li Yundong's eyes scanned across the banquet hall. The young men were all stealing glances at Su Chan, whereas the women and older men were staring at him with interest.

    Li Yundong sighed. "I don't think—"

    "Oh, there you are, Li Yundong! Finally, you're here. We've been looking for you!"

    Li Yundong turned to his ten o'clock and saw Feng Na and Cheng Cheng approaching him.

    Li Yundong chuckled and waved at the two girls. "Good evening, girls. So who else is here?" he asked.

    Feng Na and Zhou Qin exchanged a brief nod.

    "Kris and her friends," Feng Na said, pointing at another corner of the hall.

    The students from the University of Pennsylvania were all gathered there, chatting and laughing happily as though they owned the place. Looks like the Americans are having fun, Li Yundong thought. Well, they probably have a lot of these events back at their country.

    Before Li Yundong could look away, Kris spotted him looking at them. Their eyes met briefly across the room before Kris rolled her eyes and turned away. Chick's out of her damn mind if she thinks she can convince me to accept her as a disciple with that kind of attitude.

    Speaking of disciples...

    Li Yundong spotted John among the group of foreigners. John was smiling back at him with his champagne flute raised.

    Well, at least some people around here knew a thing or two about respect. Even though the person couldn't pronounce sifu worth a shit.

    Li Yundong gave John a nod before turning back to Zhou Qin.

    Zhou Qin's frown was gone, thank God. Instead, she was smiling at him.

    "Enjoy the party, Li Yundong," Zhou Qin said in a voice that was surprisingly warm. "Food's at the head table."

    Zhou Qin left after giving Su Chan a brief nod.

    Something tells me that this woman isn't your average Jane, Li Yundong thought as he watched Zhou Qin flit about the hall with an elegant gait.

    Someone nudged his side.

    Turning to his right, Li Yundong saw Feng Na smirking at him.

    "So. Welcome to high society," Feng Na said.

    Once again, Li Yundong's eyes drifted towards Zhou Qin, who was now conversing with some guy who looked like he wore a lot of polo shirts and had a plethora of golfing buddies. Even from afar, Li Yundong could tell that Zhou Qin was in her element.

    "Who is she really?" he asked.

    "I asked around earlier," Feng Na said in a low voice. "She's the daughter of some deputy governor."

    Deputy gover—

    Li Yundong nearly choked on his own spit.

    "I don't get it. With that kind of background, she could study anywhere," Li Yundong said. "What is she even doing in our university?"

    "Who knows how these powerful people operate," Feng Na said with a shrug. "Maybe she has her own plans."

    Powerful people, huh?

    "Shit. The guy I pissed off earlier... Is he from a powerful family as well?"

    Feng Na laughed gloatingly. "What's the matter, hm?" Feng Na nudged his side with her elbow. "Scared?"

    Li Yundong chuckled instead of answering the question.

    Then, Li Yundong felt a tug on his left sleeve. Su Chan was staring at him like a hurt puppy.

    "Yundong... Have you forgotten how hungry I am... All you care about is chatting..."

    "Crap!" Li Yundong smacked his forehead. "I'm so sorry! I forgot!"

    Then, he flashed Feng Na a smile.

    "Hey, Su Chan and I are gonna grab some food. We haven't had dinner yet. So. Talk to you later!"

    Feng Na smirked. "You skipped dinner on purpose, didn't you? So that you can have an all-you-can-eat buffet here."

    Li Yundong chuckled and gave Feng Na a thumbs up. "You know me so well!"

     

    ***

     

    The head table was rectangular in shape and over ten meters long.

    Li Yundong laughed when he saw the look on Su Chan's face. He had long since deemed it as her I-haven't-eaten-in-centuries look. Li Yundong smacked Su Chan's hand away when she reached out to grab the entire rotisserie chicken.

    "Tsk! Where are your table manners! Grab a plate first, silly," Li Yundong chastised.

    A huge pout formed on Su Chan's lips.

    "B- but you told me earlier that I can eat anything I want..."

    Li Yundong stared at Su Chan, his expression a complex mixture of amusement, exasperation, and adoration.

    "My God, you're so silly," he said, pinching Su Chan's cheek. "You can eat all you want, but you must put it into your own plate first."

    Su Chan's eyes sparkled.

    "Really, really, really? Can I really?"

    Li Yundong lifted a chicken drumstick from his plate and bit into it.

    "Nope," Li Yundong said around a mouthful of chicken. "I lied. All the food here has been poisoned. You should just stand there and watch me eat."

    Su Chan gasped, then stomped her foot.

    "Y-You meanie! You promised me I can eat anything I want! You liar!!!"

     

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  • Chapter 72 Your Smile Doesn't Belong to Me

     

    For once in his life, Li Yundong had beaten Su Chan in her own game. Chuckling, he dodged another one of Su Chan's attempts to steal the drumsticks on his plate.

    "Why won't you let me eat, you meanie!" Su Chan glared at him.

    It might've worked if she didn't look so adorable having her feathers ruffled like that.

    "Geez, just go get your own plate, dummy," Li Yundong said, cackling.

    "No way!" Su Chan protested adorably. "You'd have finished all the food by the time I got a plate!"

    Before Li Yundong could say anything else, Su Chan grabbed the entire rotisserie chicken from the table and took a huge bite into its breast.

    Li Yundong nearly choked on his own chicken.

    "Hey!" Li Yundong hissed, and smacked Su Chan's arm before she could take another bite. "Christ! Where are you manners? I told you to grab a plate first, didn't I?" Li Yundong glanced around briefly. "Everyone's looking at you now. Have you no shame?"

    Su Chan looked around a few times, her cheeks turning into the same color as the rotisserie chicken.

    "Oh," Su Chan said.

    THUD!

    Su Chan dumped the half-eaten rotisserie chicken back onto the plate.

    This time, Li Yundong did choke on his chicken.

    Lord Almighty...

    Li Yundong patted his chest harshly in an attempt to smother his coughs.

    "Oh, come on," he said exasperatedly. "Why'd you put it back? You think it's polite to let someone else have the food that you've already bitten into?"

    Su Chan lowered her gaze and stared at her feet remorsefully. Seconds later, he noticed her sneaking furtive glances at the rotisserie chicken. She looked like she wanted to grab the whole poultry goodness and shove it down her throat, but was too afraid to do so lest he chastised her again.

    Li Yundong stifled a laugh, then removed the chicken from the plate. "Don't worry," he said. "I don't mind the food that you've bitten into."

    They'd already kissed before, for crying out loud.

    Li Yundong placed the chicken on his plate.

    "See?" Li Yundong said, waving his plate in front of Su Chan's face.

    Su Chan looked at Li Yundong as though he was her savior, her eyes sparkling with gratitude. Then...

    Li Yundong turned away with his plate and tore off a drumstick from the chicken.

    He heard Su Chan gasp.

    A moment later, Su Chan pounced.

    "Mmm... You're so mean!" Su Chan whined. "You stole my chicken!"

    Li Yundong laughed and took another bite into the juicy drumstick, sticking his butt out to prevent Su Chan from reaching his plate.

    "How does it feel like to have your food stolen from you, hm?"

    "Meanie, meanie, meanie!!!!"

     

    ***

     

    Feng Na groaned into her palms.

    "Oh, God... Just please don't tell people that we know those two," Feng Na said, then glanced at Cheng Cheng beside her.

    Cheng Cheng's eyes were fixed upon Li Yundong and Su Chan, who were apparently engaged in a bout of intense poultry war. Cheng Cheng's eyes were filled with envy and admiration.

    Feng Na rolled her eyes and smacked Cheng Cheng's arm.

    "Tsk! Stop staring at them, dammit," Feng Na hissed. "You're gonna give us away!"

    Cheng Cheng rubbed her arm a few times, though she didn't look away from the beautiful couple at the head table.

    "Aren't they beautiful? This is what true love looks like," Cheng Cheng said dreamily. "So cute... At least they're cuter than those pretentious couples out there. I'll die a happy girl if I have a boyfriend like that..."

    "Pfft... hahaha!" Feng Na poked Cheng Cheng's head a few times. "You're just saying that because you have a crush on him. When you're infatuated with someone, even their flaws become points of attraction."

    The conversation stalled. Silence hung thick in the air between them.

    Feng Na studied her bestie quietly, not knowing what else to say.

    Suddenly, Cheng Cheng turned and looked at her strangely. "Nana..." she said.

    Feng Na had honestly never seen her bestie looking so pensive.

    "What is it?" Feng Na nudged Cheng Cheng with her elbow.

    Cheng Cheng turned back towards Li Yundong and Su Chan, who were still stealing food off each others' plates.

    "Suppose you had the chance to date a guy like that, and experience happy moments like that..." Cheng Cheng said, trailing off.

    Feng Na waited patiently for Cheng Cheng to continue.

    Cheng Cheng looked at Feng Na again. "You'd still be happy even if the relationship didn't work out, right? I mean, all those little moments you get to spend with him. No matter how childish or how fleeting those moments are, they can still fill your heart with happiness..."

    Feng Na stared at her bestie blankly. She didn't know what to say.

    Cheng Cheng returned her gaze towards the happy couple. "Don't get me wrong. I still don't buy that everlasting happiness BS. To me, the most important thing is the experience of such pure love. No matter how fleeting and fragile it is, I still get to experience it for once in my life."

    Feng Na shook her head and chuckled wryly. "You know that's basically the same mindset that most homewreckers have, right?"

    Cheng Cheng raised her head with faux haughtiness. "Hah. At least I'm not a gold-digger," Cheng Cheng said. "So I can still mock them without sounding like a hypocrite, thank you very much."

    The smile on Feng Na's face faltered before it faded away entirely.

    "You mentioned earlier that what matters is the experience, right?" Feng Na said pensively. "Fine, let's say you found true love but then lost it afterwards. What if you couldn't get over the loss? What if, instead of all the happy memories, all you can think about is the hurt and sadness?"

    Cheng Cheng chuckled. "Nobody in this world is immortal. Nothing lasts forever. Every love story will come to an end. It's inevitable. It's just a matter of time."

    Feng Na gave Cheng Cheng a half-smile. "Look at you. Should I start calling you the Philosopher of Love or something?" she teased.

    Amidst Cheng Cheng's smile was a hint of melancholy and longing.

    "Well, blame those two," Cheng Cheng said with a sigh. "I got all sappy after watching them."

    With that, the two women looked towards Li Yundong and Su Chan.

    Can a love that pure last?

    If it does, will it remain pure?

     

    ***

     

    Li Yundong hadn't been kidding when he said that he was trashing Su Chan in her own game. First, he'd devoured the majority of the rotisserie chicken. Then, he'd managed to get his hands on the roasted duck before Su Chan did.

    Victory was sweet.

    That is until he realized at one point that Su Chan had stopped trying to reach for his plate. But was sitting quietly beside him, staring at the empty plate that had once held the rotisserie chicken. Unshed tears swirled in her eyes, and her pout was so large that it was as though she had grown a snout.

    All of a sudden, victory tasted bitter.

    Li Yundong sighed and set his plate on the table. Then, he reached over and stroked Su Chan's cheek.

    "Don't look so sad, my little princess," Li Yundong coaxed. "There are a lot of foods served here that taste much better than the chicken. See, check out that creamy stuff over there. It's basically the same as the ice cream cone you like so much. And take a look at those cube-like things. Those are cakes, they taste very sweet. Go on, then." Li Yundong gave Su Chan a little nudge. "Grab a plate and eat all you want. I won't try to steal them from you again."

    Su Chan eyed him warily. "Promise?"

    Li Yundong held out his pinky. "Here, let's make a pinky swear."

    Su Chan looked at him as though he had suddenly grown twenty heads. Still, she slowly held out her pinky.

    "What's a pinky swear?"

    Li Yundong chuckled and wrapped his pinky around Su Chan's. Then, he began to chant. "Pinky, pinky, bow-bell. Whoever tells a lie will sink down to the bad place and never rise again!"

    After that, Li Yundong retracted his hand. "Alright, princess. Dinner time!"

    "Yayyyy!"

    Su Chan pounced onto the table.

    Li Yundong shook his head in laughter.

    He must've lost his damn mind in thinking that dressing her up in fancy clothing could conceal her childlike innocence.

     

    ***

     

    "Did you enjoy your meal?"

    Li Yundong placed his napkin beside his plate and turned towards the voice.

    "Yes, I did. Thank you for inviting us," he said, a deep blush adorning his sheepish expression. "Sorry for all the..." Li Yundong gestured at Su Chan. "You know." Li Yundong cleared his throat. "You must think that I've embarrassed you in front of your guests."

    However, Li Yundong did a double-take when he saw that Zhou Qin was looking at him with admiration instead of disdain.

    "Uh... I mean—"

    "Don't sweat it, really," Zhou Qin said with a megawatt smile. "It's rather refreshing to see people being so carefree and honest with their feelings. We don't really have too much of that around here. It's nice."

    Li Yundong stared at Zhou Qin blankly, too stunned by her smile to come up with a response.

    Ever since he got rejected by Zhou Qin, Li Yundong had pretty much assumed that Zhou Qin was an unapproachable and cold-blooded woman who was incapable of any warmth. Tonight, he finally realized how wrong his assumptions were.

    No cold-blooded woman could smile like that.

    "Well!" Zhou Qin said, breaking the comfortable silence between them. "I, for one, think that a real man should be candid and open about his feelings!"

    Then, Zhou Qin looked at him in a way that made him blush.

    "One of the most precious things in the world, to me, is having the chance to meet a kind and virtuous man with a heart of gold." There was a pregnant pause. "A good man," Zhou Qin said after a while, then chuckled. "That's really hard to come by."

    Li Yundong cleared his throat.

    "A real man should be open about his feelings, huh? That's deep," he said jokingly, trying to keep the conversation light.

    Zhou Qin answered with another chuckle.

    Damn, she seems so different today, Li Yundong thought. I don't think I've ever seen her laugh so openly.

    "That's just my honest opinion," Zhou Qin said. "I mean, look at those men who walk around with poker faces all day. I don't find them to be especially masculine to be honest."

    Li Yundong gave Zhou Qin a tiny smile.

    "Then you should take your own advice," he remarked. "You know, you look so much more beautiful when you smile."

    Zhou Qin looked at him in shock, much to Li Yundong's amusement.

    "What? It's an honest opinion," Li Yundong said, throwing her own words back at her.

    "Really?"

    Li Yundong nearly laughed at the blush he detected on Zhou Qin's cheeks. Seriously, was today uncover-Zhou-Qin's-hidden-facets day?

    "Yep," Li Yundong said, his lips curving slowly into a grin. "A real man must be honest with his feelings right?"

    Instead of replying, Zhou Qin glanced around them a few times.

    When Li Yundong did the same, he noticed that they had drawn the attention of a lot of the guests.

    Zhou Qin tucked a loose strand of her hair behind her ear. "Do you mind if we talk over there?"

    Li Yundong's eyes followed the direction of Zhou Qin's finger until he found himself looking at a balcony.

    "Of course," Li Yundong said with a nod.

    The two of them moved towards the balcony where they could converse in private. Zhou Qin moved in a relaxed, almost lazy, gait. When they reached the balcony, the sounds of the party had diminished to a soft echo. Zhou Qin turned around to face him. Again, she was smiling that warm smile.

    "Just now you said of course," Zhou Qin said.

    Li Yundong gave her a funny look.

    "Yeah, I did," he said. "Why?"

    "Just wondering if you meant of course I mind, or of course I don't mind."

    Li Yundong chuckled. "Oh, it's definitely the second one," he said. "Why would I mind the company of a beautiful lady such as yourself?" Then, he gave Zhou Qin a teasing look. "I mean, you do know that most men would kill to have a conversation like this with you, right?"

    Silence filled the balcony.

    Li Yundong could sense that Zhou Qin was scrutinizing him.

    "I don't know," Zhou Qin said after a while. "I didn't expect you to agree to my request since you already have Su Chan as a girlfriend."

    Li Yundong chuckled.

    "Come on, this ain't that," he said. "This is just a conversation between friends, that's all. Besides, it's impossible for me to never look at or talk to a beautiful woman just because I'm dating a girl." Li Yundong shot Zhou Qin a look of mock horror. "What do you want me to do? Walk around with duct tape covering my eyes?"

    Zhou Qin chuckled, then the balcony fell silent again.

    "If... If I accepted your confession the other day... Would you... Would you still be together with Su Chan?"

    Li Yundong stared at Zhou Qin for a moment, his expression serious and somber.

    "Nobody can change the past," he said. "The best thing anyone can do is move forward."

     

    ***

     

    Zhou Qin's hopes shattered into smithereens the moment she heard Li Yundong's words. What they implied was a finality, something as irrevocable as the passage of time itself — it was too late.

    She tried to put on a smile, to wear her usual veil of aloofness, but then realized moments later that it was merely an exercise in futility. Not even her icy facade could conceal the sharp pain she was feeling in her chest and the sheer vulnerability that was associated with it.

    For the first time in the nineteen years of her life, Zhou Qin felt the helpless feeling of wanting something she could never have. She sighed and lowered her gaze to the floor, vanquished.

    "You're a very beautiful woman, Zhou Qin," Li Yundong said. "You're going to meet an amazing man in the future. Someone far better than me."

    Li Yundong was smiling at her. Somehow, that smile made her chest hurt even more.

    "Seriously, though," Li Yundong went on. "You should really ditch the poker face and smile more. You have a beautiful smile."

    When Zhou Qin raised her head, Li Yundong was already leaving the balcony to rejoin the party.

    "What if you're the only person I want to smile for?" she whispered.

    Li Yundong halted his steps as soon as those words left her mouth. Had he heard her? She didn't think he could hear her.

    A moment later, she got her answer.

    Li Yundong turned around to look at her, his eyes filled with pity and compassion.

    "Even so, your smile doesn't belong to me," he said. "I've already found mine." Li Yundong pointed towards the banquet hall.

    Zhou Qin cast a glance in that direction and had to bite her lip to stifle her laugh.

    Zhou Qin allowed her eyes to linger at the head table for several more seconds, but immediately realized that it was a mistake.

    "Pfft...haha!"

    Zhou Qin slapped a hand over mouth and turned away.

     

    ***

     

    "Hey..." Li Yundong swiveled his head and cast a glance towards the banquet hall. "What's so funny—"

    Li Yundong's jaw hung open.

    In front of the head table, Su Chan was walking back and forth carrying a huge plate with both hands while the poor party-goers in her vicinity were practically diving out of her way like she was a carrier of the bubonic plague.

    Not that he could blame them.

    In her quest for food, Su Chan had somehow managed to erect a miniature Mount Everest on the plate. To be fair, it wouldn't be so bad if Mount Everest wasn't: A) so tall that it reached Su Chan's forehead; and B) on the verge of toppling over.

    Su Chan halted her steps, then glanced around a few times. Mount Everest swayed dangerously as though taunting the laws of gravity. By some miracle, it remained upright. Catastrophe was avoided. For now, at least.

    Then the penny dropped. Li Yundong suddenly figured out what his clueless girlfriend was searching for — a dining table. Why didn't he tell her that this was a buffet reception where people are free to sit, or stand, wherever they like while they eat?

    Going bankrupt must've fried a good half of his brain cells.

    Just then, a waiter walked past Su Chan while she was searching for a quiet place where she could finally begin feasting on her Mount Everest of desserts, fish, and cakes. Su Chan's eyes practically gleamed when she saw the two-tier serving cart that the waiter was pushing. The bottom level of the cart was stocked with expensive champagne and wine bottles while the top level was empty except for a few flutes.

    What Li Yundong saw next might very well have fried his remaining brain cells. Su Chan grabbed the cart's handle, then dropped her plate onto the cart with a loud clank.

    "Thanks! I've been trying to find a table for so long! You're a lifesaver!" Su Chan said to the stunned waiter.

    Li Yundong had no idea what shocked him more: Su Chan's utter cluelessness; or the fact that the frigging monstrosity on the plate had remained upright through all that.

    Li Yundong rushed out of the balcony, then made a beeline towards Su Chan. He had to intervene before all the waitstaff here rage-quit their damned jobs.

     

    ***

     

    Back on the balcony, Zhou Qin was trying her best not to laugh as Li Yundong smiled and bowed slightly to the waiter. Then, he pulled Su Chan to one side and began reprimanding the poor girl in a muted tone.

    Zhou Qin bit down on her lip, hard. She kept her eyes on Su Chan, whose head was currently hung so low on her shoulders that it was as though there was a weight attached to her head. Occasionally, the girl would sneak longing glances at the serving cart nearby.

    Zhou Qin couldn't keep her laughter at bay anymore.

    "Pfft... Hahaha.... Good Lord, this girl..." Zhou Qin said, turning away to stare out of the balcony at the beautiful night view.

    After a while, Zhou Qin calmed down.

    Taking a deep breath, she turned back to face the banquet hall. Su Chan was now smiling sweetly at Li Yundong. She had to admit that Su Chan's smile was pure and downright adorable.

    So that was the smile that belonged to Li Yundong.

    A sad smile crept onto Zhou Qin's countenance. It didn't matter how bright her own smile was. She knew that it would never belong to Li Yundong.

     


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  • Chapter 73 The Pinnacle of the Lianqi Phase!

     

    On the balcony adjoining her bedroom, Zhou Qin sat cross-legged in front of her easel, her brows knitted together in concentration as her hand moved deftly across the canvas, tracing out beautiful colors under her paintbrush.

    Her birthday party had ended hours ago. The minute she got home, she'd changed out of her party dress into something more comfortable — a long T-shirt that reached her mid-thigh. She hadn't put on anything underneath since she didn't expect any company tonight.

    Out of her many talents, Zhou Qin enjoyed painting the most. She loved it, being able to create a new world from a blank canvas while the rest of the world fell away. Every time she picked up her paintbrush, it felt cathartic, like she could safely bare her heart and soul and express her emotions while still looking poised.

    Zhou Qin's paintbrush went still, hovering an inch away from the canvas. Just one final stroke and the painting would be completed. But that was exactly the problem. She didn't want it to end; she wanted to keep drawing so that she could forget what had happened during her party.

    The party. Right.

    Admittedly, she'd had high hopes for the party. She'd held expectations, none of which were met. All she got was disappointment and a world of hurt. She wanted to keep drawing. She wanted to forget.

    Zhou Qin made that final stroke anyway, then dropped the paintbrush onto the color palette on her thigh. She sighed and stared at the oil painting she'd just created, willing the emptiness in her heart to go away. At one point, it did go away. The void in her heart was filled, but with disappointment and dejection.

    The butterfly on the center of the canvas stared right back at her. Behind it, two teenagers (a boy and a girl) were chasing after it. But they would never catch the elusive butterfly, just like she would never capture his heart.

    Zhou Qin removed the palette from her lap and dumped it onto the floor beside her thigh. The paintbrush rolled off the wooden slab onto the floor. She bit down hard on her bottom lip and frowned. Why? Why did she have to say all those things to him in the heat of the moment? She'd never acted so out of character before. Why now? Why him?

    Was it because of his outstanding talents? Or was it because he was special?

    None of it made sense.

    She'd known a lot of men who were far more talented than Li Yundong, all of whom she'd never spared a single glance at.

    What was so special about Li Yundong that drove her to behave like some infatuated teenage girl with a crush?

    She shouldn't have said anything to him.

    She should've kept her emotions in check. If she had, she wouldn't have to deal with the pain and humiliation of rejection.

    Zhou Qin's back stiffened.

    Is that it? Is this payback? Because I rejected him the first time?  

    The more she thought about it, the more she found it likely. After all, men are prideful creatures.

    But then why am I so attracted to him?

    Was it hormones? Or was there a deeper reason?

    Zhou Qin released a frustrated sigh and rose to her feet. Whatever the reason was, she'd never be able to figure it out tonight. She turned and walked away from the easel, back into her room.

    Zhou Qin jumped slightly when she realized that she wasn't alone.

    "You're back already?" she squeaked, surprised to see her father back so early. However, a moment later, she was donning her mask of aloofness again.

    "Or should I say, you've finally wrapped things up at work, father?" she said coldly.

    Her father gave her a brief nod before turning away from her towards the balcony. Not even a greeting on your daughter's birthday. Why am I not surprised, she thought bitterly.

    "That’s a beautiful painting."

    Zhou Qin followed her father's gaze and found herself staring right at the easel she'd left on the balcony earlier. All of a sudden, she felt a surge of anger. She was angry at her father for valuing the painting over his own daughter, angry at the damned painting for being higher on her father's list of priorities than its creator. Not even a birthday wish! Zhou Qin grabbed a box cutter from her desk, then pushed past her father towards the balcony.

    She brought the box cutter across the top edge of the canvas in a quick horizontal slice. The canvas paper fell off the easel. She tossed the box cutter onto the floor, right beside her palette and paintbrush, then bent down to pick up the paper.

    She ripped the paper into shreds.

    "Why on earth did you do that? The painting's nice! That butterfly looks so vivid and lifelike. Tsk, what a waste."

    "Vivid?" Zhou Qin said, her tone infused with coldness. "It won't be able to fly off the surface of the canvas no matter how vivid it is."

    Her father chuckled bitterly. She hated that voice. It made her feel as though he didn't care about her at all. These days, she was starting to think that maybe he really didn't.

    "Ah, you're still mad at me, I see?" her father said. "Listen, you know how important this marriage is to our family. Having the He family on our side is highly beneficial. You know that." Her father sighed. "You've always been smart since you were young. You should already know that for people of our background, things like arranged marriages are inevitable. Yet what did you do? You kicked He Shao out of your party. What were you thinking? I thought you were better than that. I never expected to see such childish behavior from you."

    Zhou Qin glanced at her father, who might as well be a stranger. She had no words for him. She was tired, tired of being a pawn in his political games. She turned and walked towards the railing of the balcony. She hurled the torn pieces of paper off the balcony, then watched them fall amidst the dark ambience of the night.

    For all she knew, her future was just the same as the canvas paper — torn into shreds, enshrouded in total darkness, and falling away until its pieces hit rock bottom.

     

    ***

     

    Su Chan winced when Li Yundong slammed the front door shut.

    Stupid, stupid, stupid! Why did I have to screw up again...

    Su Chan forced herself to stand quietly in the living room when what she really wanted was to shut herself inside her room and wallow in her own shame. Please don't abandon me... Pretty please, please...  

    She puffed out her cheeks and lowered her gaze to the floor. An awkward silence stretched between them, and she hated it. She hated the uncertainty between them. He hadn't said a word to her throughout the entire cab ride, and she honestly thought he'd stop being mad once they got home.

    It seemed like she was wrong.

    She risked a glance at him through her lashes.

    He was standing at the doorway with his back facing the door, staring at her with an unreadable expression.

    Su Chan summoned her courage and shuffled tentatively towards him.

    "Okay... I'm sorry... I promise I won't do it again..." Su Chan said, grabbing his arm.

    When he didn't reply, Su Chan rubbed her face against his chest.

    "Served you right for starving me..." she said fawningly.

    Li Yundong pulled away from her and gave her a crestfallen look.

    "I seriously don't get it," he said, shaking his head. "Why'd you have to put so much food onto your plate? You could always go back for seconds! Nobody was gonna steal the food! The food would still be there on the table after you had finished what was on your place, geez!"

    Su Chan shot him an indignant look. "But you stole my food!"

    "Stop talking back to me!"

    Su Chan dropped her gaze in shame when she saw Li Yundong's glare.

    "I was just telling it as it is..." she mumbled.

    Silence filled the space between them. Su Chan fiddled with the cuff of Li Yundong's jacket. Say something, Chan'er! Say something!

    Suddenly, she heard a laugh. Eh? Did he just— Su Chan raised her head and saw that Li Yundong was smiling at her. He laughed! He laughed! Yayyy!

    "Geez. What am I gonna do with you," Li Yundong said. "You're probably gonna be famous among the upper class. I bet the media is having a field day. The Princess of Gluttony making her debut. Ugh."

    "Hmph!" Su Chan raised her chin haughtily. "I don't want to be some lame princess. I wanna be my beloved's woman! Hehehe!"

    Su Chan felt a sharp flick on her nose. "Oww..."

    "Honestly, what am I gonna do with you," Li Yundong said with a heavy sigh. "Just... Don't pull this kind of shit again next time, okay? God, it's so humiliating!"

    Su Chan pushed her nose up with her finger and made a face at him.

    Li Yundong growled. "Why you little… Come here you..."

    "Kyaaa!!!!!"

    Su Chan turned around and ran before she got tickled to death.

     

    ***

     

    Li Yundong took a shower after their tickle war, then changed into his pajamas. For some reason, the shower didn't cool down his body as much as he'd hoped. He sweltered in his pajamas, feeling sweaty and sticky. He didn't see much point in taking another shower, so he went into the living room and opened the sliding doors leading to the two adjoining balconies. The cool night breeze drifted in, tickling his face. Much better, he thought, padding towards the center of the living room.

    He plopped down on the floor, then shifted into a meditative posture. It was starting to become a habit, thanks to Su Chan's constant reminders. Not that it was a bad habit. The posture actually felt natural now that he had gotten the hang of it. Another breeze wafted in from the balconies. In hindsight, Li Yundong was thankful for Su Chan's pedantic nitpicking during their apartment hunting. It was because of Su Chan's fussiness that they stumbled across this place; this huge, spacious, and God-awesome place that they could now call home.

    Li Yundong glanced around, taking in their new living quarters. The entire apartment was basically a square. The living and dining rooms were adjoined, and they occupied one side of the square. The other side of the square was occupied by two bedrooms. Each room had its own balcony, which made four balconies in total. On that note, Su Chan's insistence on picking an apartment with sufficient altitude was pure genius. The apartment was cool and airy as long as they kept the sliding doors leading to the balconies open. This was especially true at night, where cool draughts blew in from both sides of the apartment. They didn't need to turn on the air-conditioner even during summer. Thank f*ck, considering how stinking broke they were.

    Speaking of being broke...

    Guess I'm a debtor now, huh?

    Well. Shit.

    Li Yundong chuckled wryly at the thought of his bank overdraft. Meh. He'd find a way to pay back those debts. He always found a way to handle whatever problem life threw at him. That was how he'd managed to survive all these years after his good-for-nothing parents abandoned him. He'd find a summer job and then work his ass off. But for now...

    Time to perform Xiao Zhoutian. (T/N: Xiao Zhoutian is a Cultivation technique during which the Cultivator circulates their Qi in a closed circuit through the Ren and Du meridians)

    Xiao Zhoutian was another one of those daily habits that Su Chan had drilled into him. At first, she had to keep nagging him to do it. But nowadays, he'd perform it every day without being reminded.

    Li Yundong closed his eyes and allowed his Qi to move in Xiao Zhoutian's circuit.

     

    ***

     

    Su Chan walked into the living room to find Li Yundong fast asleep in a meditative posture. It seemed like he'd picked up the habit of performing Xiao Zhoutian every day. Hehe... Good boy, Su Chan thought as she moved noiselessly towards him. Stopping when she was about a foot away from him, she slowly lowered herself to the floor and studied his peaceful expression. The other day, when she'd activated all his meridians, she had helped Li Yundong master Ziru of the Lianqi phase, which placed his current CQ at 26. He was now ready to begin advanced training in the Lianqi phase, which consisted of the final three dans of the Lianqi phase: Neiguan; Guanxiang; and Liantai. (T/N: CQ stands for Cultivation Quotient, like IQ; a Cultivator with a CQ 26 means that he/she has passed the 2nd phase and 6th dan)

    Guess it's time to teach him Neiguan then, Su Chan thought, crawling forward until she was kneeling beside him. Li Yundong began to stir, so she leaned forward until her lips were right beside his ear.

    "Keep your eyes closed," she whispered. "Keep moving your Qi, but try to feel your Qi flowing through your internal organs. If you do it correctly, the Qi inside your meridians should be able to interact with the Qi inside your internal organs. Kinda like observing the state of your organs with your Qi, if you will."

    Su Chan pulled back slightly and looked at Li Yundong's face to make sure that his eyes were closed. Satisfied that he was doing as she said, Su Chan sat down in front of him to observe him.

    If he did everything correctly, he should be experiencing some pretty strange sensations right now. Su Chan still recalled the first time she did it. The most striking part of the experience was perhaps the void and emptiness she had felt inside, as though her physical body had suddenly ceased to exist.

    When Li Yundong's eyes shot open, Su Chan was thrown into a panic.

    "Whoa! What's up with these strange blobs. And they all have different color—"

    "Are you out of your mind!" Su Chan yelled. "You shouldn't talk in the middle of practice!"

    Li Yundong flinched. "W- what? You mean I shouldn't speak?"

    A wave of guilt crashed into Su Chan. It was her fault. She should've told him to keep his mouth shut before they began. Any forms of interruption during Qi control would greatly endanger the Cultivator. The only reason Li Yundong didn't go into the Zouhuo Rumo state just now was because all his meridians had been activated. (T/N: Zouhuo Rumo is a physical state where a Cultivator's Qi destroys their body from the inside, usually when the Qi runs rampant inside the body due to a mistake in Qi control practice)

    "Sorry," Su Chan said. "That was uncalled for. Just... Just don't do something like this again."

    "But why not? I just spoke a few words. It's not like I was jumping all over the place or anything..."

    Su Chan pointed at Li Yundong's lower belly. "Whenever you mobilize your Qi, most of your Qi will start flowing from your lower Dantian before traveling to the rest of your body through your meridians," she said. "But it is also important to return your Qi back to your lower Dantian before you do anything else!"

    "Oh," Li Yundong said contritely. "Right. I got it. I won't do it again."

    Su Chan smiled. "Good."

    "But it felt so weird just now," Li Yundong said with a frown. "I mean... it's like..." Li Yundong gestured wildly with his hand. "It's like I'm floating in empty space? Then suddenly, it felt like my body was just... gone. It was like I turned into a ghost or something. After that, I saw these weird... blobs of something. I was surrounded by them, and they all have different colors."

    Suddenly, he paused and stared at her.

    "Shit... I haven't gone cuckoo, have I?" he asked.

    The horrified expression on his face made Su Chan laugh.

    "Pfft... Haha. No! No, you haven't gone mad," Su Chan said.

    "So what was that about?"

    "It means you've just mastered Neiguan."

     

    ***

     

    I've just mastered Nei—what?

    Li Yundong chuckled and shook his head. "Sorry, but I don't follow."

    "Neiguan is the Cultivation skill that you must master in order to reach the 7th dan of the Lianqi phase. After this, there are two more skills you must master before you can move past the Lianqi phase."

    "Awesome," Li Yundong said, pausing in thought.

    But still, those sensations just now... They felt so f*cking weird. It was like he had an out-of-body experience or something.

    "Um... Su Chan? What's with that feeling of emptiness I had just now? It was like my body stopped existing. Why is that?"

    "Do you remember what Zhang Sanfeng said?"

    "Er..." Li Yundong chuckled, then grimaced. "I don't even know who that is."

    So this is what it feels like to be clueless...

    Su Chan rolled her eyes. "Come on, Zhang Sanfeng is a famous Taoist! He's the one who invented Tai Chi! Oh, and he's a Shenxian now, by the way." (T/N: A Shenxian is a Cultivator who has united with the Tao; Shenxians have magical powers and are immortal)

    Li Yundong chuckled. "Okay. So what did this famous inventor of Tai Chi say?"

    "He said that the practice of martial arts and the mastering of Qi control involve the same underlying process. In fact, it is a three-step process. The first step involves the conversion of Essence into Qi. After that, Qi is converted into Spirit. And then, we have the final step. Converting one's Spirit into nothingness, or void."

    "Void? Oh! You mean... That empty feeling just now... that was when my Spirit got converted into nothingness?"

    "Yep," Su Chan said with a nod. "All the Qi-control practice you've been doing so far only involved the first two steps. Tonight you managed to complete the final step."

    "Right. So my Spirit got converted into nothingness..." Li Yundong paused for a moment to absorb what he'd just learned.

    "But what is the point of these conversions?"

    Su Chan grinned at him.

    "You see, the end goal of these exercises is to turn your Spirit, that is your consciousness, into nothingness," Su Chan said. "If you think about it, you can see a pattern here. The first two steps must be completed before the third step is even possible. But before I explain further, I need you to understand the nature of these steps first, okay?"

    Su Chan's expression suddenly became so intense that it threw Li Yundong a little off balance.

    "Um... okay," he said.

    "I want you to recall everything you've learned so far," Su Chan said. "What's the first thing I taught you?"

    The first thing...

    "Err... Oh! Qi maneuvering, right? When I offered to give you a massage the other day, you taught me how to move my Qi to my fingertips and stuff."

    "That's correct," Su Chan said. "The first thing I taught you is a process known as Xiao Zhoutian, which is the most basic form of Qi control. Also, remember the first massage I gave you? It was during your class."

    Right. As if he could forget that embarrassing day.

    "Yeah, I remember."

    All of a sudden, Su Chan smiled as though she was recalling a pleasant memory.

    "You didn't know how to mobilize your Qi back then," Su Chan said, her smile fading. "So I had to guide your Qi to flow in a circuit using the Three-Prong Flower Gathering technique. In other words, you were actually undergoing Xiao Zhoutian indirectly."

    "I see. Well, it felt good though."

    Hah. Understatement of the century. It felt downright orgasmic.

    "Okay. I want you to tell me the first thing you felt during the massage."

    Li Yundong didn't even need to think too hard. The sensation was so unique that he didn't think he would ever forget it. "Like there was this ball of heat somewhere below my stomach... No, no. It's actually near my—"

    Well. He didn't want to say manhood.

    "I mean, it was slightly lower than that."

    Su Chan didn't seem to notice his embarrassment. "Below your navel, to be exact," Su Chan said. "That's where your lower Dantian is. Remember I told you last time about the Dantians?”

    “Yep! There are three of them, right? The lower, middle, and upper. The middle is in the chest, and the upper is in the head.”

    Su Chan grinned brightly.

    “Mm-hmm! The three Dantians are like containers. The lower Dantian stores one’s Essence, the middle Dantian stores one’s Qi, and the upper Dantian stores one’s Spirit.”

    “Wow… Okay. Three Dantians. Containers. Got it.” Li Yundong said with a nod.

    Wait a minute. If the lower Dantian stores my Essence, then…      

    “And the heat you felt is due to—"

    "My Qi!" Li Yundong piped up.

    Su Chan smiled. "Yes, beloved. Do you see it now?"

    "Yeah... I think I do... Every time we perform Xiao Zhoutian, we first have to generate our Qi at the lower Dantian before moving it around in a circuit… But you told me just now that the lower Dantian is also container for our Essence. Which means that we are basically generating Qi from our Essence during the start of every Xiao Zhoutian session! That's just the first step in the three-step process! Converting Essence into Qi! Isn’t it?"

    "Very good," Su Chan said with a nod. "Now. Do you remember the massage I gave you when we first moved in here?"

    "You mean when I shouted like some crazy lunatic?" Li Yundong grumbled. "Yeah, I remember..."

    Su Chan chuckled.

    "Well, I activated all the meridians inside your body that night," she explained. "It had to be done so that you can perform Da Zhoutian. And you did, by the way. You went through Da Zhoutian for the first time that night."

    "Activating my meridians, huh? Sounds impressive," Li Yundong said, eyeing Su Chan skeptically. "And you accomplished all that through a simple massage?"

    It couldn't be that simple, could it? Either he was missing something crucial, or Su Chan's massage skills really were that legendary.

    Su Chan waved her hand nonchalantly.

    "That's not important," Su Chan said. "The important thing is what happens every time you go through Da Zhoutian. You see, Xiao Zhoutian and Da Zhoutian are fundamentally similar. They both involve moving Qi through the body in a circuit. The only differences between them are the pathways in which Qi moves. In Xiao Zhoutian, only the Ren and Du meridians are involved, whereas in Da Zhoutian, all the meridians are involved."

    "Ah, that's why you said they must be activated before I can go through Da Zhoutian."

    "Mm-hmm…" Su Chan nodded. "When going through Da Zhoutian, you're circulating your Qi through all parts of your body, through all your meridians. Okay. Now, here is the key. If you keep practicing Da Zhoutian and circulating your Qi through your whole body, you'll eventually reach a point where you can channel your Qi to any part on your body. In other words, you can move your Qi to anywhere on your body through your will and consciousness alone. And what is the thing that governs the human consciousness?"

    Li Yundong slapped his thigh. "The Spirit!"

    The proud smile on Su Chan's face made him warm all over.

    "Correct!" Su Chan said. "See now? Da Zhoutian is exactly the second step! Converting your Qi into Spirit! Why? Because it helps a Cultivator obtain the consciousness, or Spirit, to master one's Qi! In other words, converting Qi into Spirit!"

    "Holy shit... It's all starting to make sense now," Li Yundong whispered.

    "Now comes the third and final step of the process," Su Chan said. "Just now you asked me about the purpose of those steps, correct?"

    "Ah!" Li Yundong lifted his index finger in the air. "The purpose of the first two steps is to make the final step possible."

    Su Chan beamed and clapped her hands a few times. "Aww! My beloved is so clever!"

    His heart leaped as though it was bouncing on a trampoline. F*ck his bachelor's degree. He'd rather gain the acknowledgment of Su Chan than some lame-ass, third-rate university.

    "But I still don't know the point of the third step," he said. "Why convert the Spirit into nothingness?"

    The pregnant pause that followed felt as though she was about to uncover the ultimate secret of the universe. Then again, maybe she was.

    "Potential," Su Chan said.

    "I don't follow."

    "Imagine a glass filled with alcohol," Su Chan said. "Now, suppose you feel like drinking something else, say, milk. But you only have that glass. What would you do?"

    "I'd pour out the—"

    Li Yundong's eyes widened. Oh...

    "Exactly," Su Chan said. "You empty the glass first, because a glass that is full, or partially full, is limited in the number of things that you can do with it. With an empty glass, you are free to pour any liquid into it. The same goes for your mind. When you convert your Spirit into the void, your existence goes into a state of ultimate emptiness. And you will gain unlimited potential."

    Li Yundong nodded, then spent a few moments processing everything he'd just been told.

    It kind of reminded him of something that the legendary Bruce Lee had once said. Empty your mind. Be formless. Shapeless...

    Li Yundong cleared his throat.

    "Wow. Okay... So that explains the feeling of emptiness," Li Yundong said. "But what about those strange blobs?"

    Su Chan beamed at him. "Ah, that's the result of Neiguan! It's a Cultivation skill that allows you to examine the state of your internal organs using your Qi. Those... blobs, as you called them, were the visual representations of the state of your internal organs."

    "Wait... what? B- but they all had different colors! How can any organ be yellow... o- or green!"

    Su Chan giggled.

    "There's nothing wrong with that," Su Chan said. "In his book 'The Essential Prescriptions from the Golden Cabinet,' the great Zhang Zhongjing proposed his Five-Organ Pathological Model. According to that model, each of the Five Zangs has their own Qi. And the Qi's color is different for each Zang. For example, black for the Kidney, red for the Heart, green for the Liver, white for the Lung, and yellow for the Spleen!" (T/N: "Organs" in the TCM has totally different definitions than the organs in Western Medicine; in TCM, "organs" are divided into two types, Zang and Fu; Zang organs are yin in nature while Fu organs are yang in nature; TCM "organs" will be capitalized for the first letter)

    Seriously, was this the same girl who did all that silly stuff back at the party? She must have one hell of a master if she could spout all that gobbledygook off the top of her head...

    Then again, her master clearly thought that knowing the different color codings for internal organs was more important than having some goddamned table manners.

    "Hey... Su Chan..."

    "Hmm?"

    "You know you still haven't told me anything about your past..."

    The conversation halted. The only audible sound was the fluttering of the curtains due to the night breeze.

    "Su Chan?"

    She stopped fiddling with the lint on her sleeve.

    "I'll tell you one day, I promise," Su Chan said. "Just not now, okay?"

    Li Yundong sighed. Why not?

    All he knew was that she came from the mountains. But this mystery surrounding her origins was starting to worry him. He wanted to know more about her. He loved her, for God's sake. Didn't he have the right to know everything about the woman he loved? Then again, what could he even do if she refused to tell him? It wasn't like he could force her to tell him or anything. He didn't have the heart to do something like that.

    Maybe there were rules in place that prohibited her from telling others about her origins? What, like some kind of secret society? Shit, it wouldn't be some kind of occult group, would it? Nah. Occult groups usually had this scary and creepy vibe. Su Chan didn't give out that kind of vibe at all. Religious schools? Maybe a Buddhist temple? A Taoist school?

    Wait a minute...

    What if she was a Buddhist monk, or a Taoist priestess in training?

    Wouldn't she have to take a sworn oath of lifelong celibacy? Which meant that he would be having blue balls for the rest of his life!

    "Crap!!!"

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  • Chapter 74 The Convergence of Five Qis

    Su Chan clamped her hands over her ears. "Why are you shouting?"

    Crap? What crap? After all the explanations she'd given him, the only thing he could come up with was "crap?" And shouldn't he be happy that he'd made progress in his training? What in Tao's name was the matter with him?

    Li Yundong laughed, then suddenly put his palms together.

    "Namaste, Namaste..." he said with his eyes closed.

    Su Chan failed to stifle her giggles. "Why are you talking to me like I'm a Buddhist monk?"

    Li Yundong opened his eyes and grinned. "Isn't that who you are?" he said. "I mean, the other day at the hospital you gave us a lecture on karma, didn't you? You seem to know a lot about all that stuff."

    Hmm... Master did cross paths with the great Buddha...

    Most of the magical spells taught in the Fox Zen School had Buddhist origins. The same goes for their magical items. But no... Master isn't technically a Buddhist, nor is she a Taoist.

    "Well? Aren't you?"

    Su Chan raised her eyes and noticed Li Yundong staring at her, no doubt waiting for her to answer.

    "Nope," Su Chan said, shaking her head.

    Li Yundong seemed genuinely surprised. "Um... Oh! Then... Then you must be a Taoist priestess!"

    Li Yundong closed his eyes again. This time, he even gave her a little bow. "Peace in the Tao... Peace in the Tao."

    Su Chan burst into laughter.

    "You idiot!" Su Chan said. "I'm not a Taoist priestess either!"

    "Oh, thank God... So you're neither a Buddhist monk nor a Taoist priestess, which means I still have a chance to marry you..."

    Su Chan's cheeks grew warm.

    "Eww! Who would want to marry you? Hmph! Hmph!"

    Su Chan turned away to hide her blush.

    Moments later, she heard a laugh then a shuffling sound. A pair of arms snaked around her waist; she could feel Li Yundong's breath tickling her neck.

    A deep, masculine voice sounded beside her ear. "Who do you want to be?"

    She shuddered and leaned backwards until their bodies were touching. The warmth from his chest seeped through her clothes, causing a tingle to shoot down her spine. She chuckled and said, "Chan'er wants... ah... Chan'er wants to be... to be her beloved's... beloved's woman..." Was that really her voice? Why did it sound so husky?

    Li Yundong's arms rose to her shoulders. A moment later, they were facing each other and staring into each other's eyes.

    "How about a kiss?" he said, tapping his cheek with his finger.

    Su Chan held his gaze for a moment. I suppose one kiss wouldn't hurt. She leaned in and planted a quick one on his cheek, then pulled away to look at him.

    Li Yundong eyes held a teasing glint. "Here too," he said, pointing at his lips, then smirked. "I mean, preferential treatment is a terrible offence."

    Heat pooled inside Su Chan's lower belly. All of a sudden, she found it very difficult to breathe. Her body felt warm despite the cool night breeze gushing in from all sides of their new home. Stop this, Chan'er. This couldn't happen, not until he had gotten past the Zhuji phase. He would die if they made love now. Su Chan placed her palms on his chest and pushed him away gently. He looked at her with a frown. (T/N: Zhuji is the fourth phase of Cultivation)

    "Aww, beloved," she said. "Just do as I say for now, okay? I'll give you a reward later if you're a good boy..."

    "A reward, huh?" Li Yundong sat back, seemingly considering his options. But at least he was no longer frowning. The thought of making him unhappy left a bad taste in her mouth.

    Seconds later, he laughed. "Alright, my dear little princess! Your wish is my command," he said. "What are your orders then, your Highness?"

    Su Chan giggled, then rose to her feet. "Sit properly," she commanded.

    Li Yundong obeyed and shifted himself back into a meditative posture.

    "Now close your eyes and perform Neiguan again," Su Chan said. (T/N: Neiguan is a Cultivation skill that a one has to master in order to reach the 7th dan of the Lianqi phase; it involves using one's Qi to observe the state of one's internal organs.)

    "You mean like what I did just now, right?" Li Yundong said. "Mobilize my Qi and then..."

    "And then use it to examine the state of your internal organs, yes," Su Chan said. "Never mind. You'll know what to do once you go into meditative state."

    "Alright, here we go," Li Yundong said, closing his eyes.

    A while later, it didn't seem like Li Yundong was anywhere close to being in a meditative state. Su Chan frowned, but she waited patiently for a few more minutes. That was when she saw the blush on Li Yundong's cheeks. Wait a minute... Is he... Oh my God! He is! He's having fantasies about the two of us...

    Su Chan felt her own cheeks heating up.

    Well, that explained it. Nobody can go into a meditative state when their mind is riddled with sexual thoughts. Su Chan sighed inwardly. Guess I'll have to do something about it... Otherwise, we'll be going nowhere with this.

    Su Chan walked around until she was standing behind Li Yundong's back. Then she bent down and groped around his spine with her fingers.

    "Um... Su Chan? What are you doing?"

    "Shh!" Su Chan kept groping. "Stay focused and keep doing what you were doing."

    Ah, there it is.

    The Lingtai, an acupoint on the human spine which lies between the shoulder blades.

    Her master had once told her that the Lingtai is one of the most vital acupoints on the human body. Massaging —or sometimes striking— the Lingtai can have a calming effect. Massaging the Lingtai can help alleviate negative and tumultuous emotions, which makes it a good remedy for symptoms like irritability, sadness, depression, a constant urge to cry, etc. Sometimes it can even be used to cure insomnia.

    Su Chan pressed her palms together and held them out in front of her chest. Held in this manner, her hands formed a structure similar to that of a chicken's beak — the triangular outline of her index, middle, and ring fingers looked like a beak. Then, she struck Li Yundong's Lingtai with her middle fingers.

    Li Yundong's spine instantly stiffened. A second later, she heard a long sigh, and Li Yundong's body slowly relaxed.

    She'd learned that trick from one of the thick volumes she found in her master's library.

    Su Chan got to her knees, then crawled around so that she was facing Li Yundong. His eyes were closed, and his brows were no longer knitted together. Most importantly, his breathing was deep and even. Those were signs that he had entered a meditative state. Now we're getting somewhere

    Su Chan waited for another minute or so. Okay, he should be performing Neiguan by now. Time for the next step.

    "You should be seeing those colors again," Su Chan said in a soothing voice. "Which means that the Qi inside your meridians is interacting with your internal organs' Qi. Okay. Here's the next thing I want you to do. Draw out the Qi from your five organs into your meridians. After that, guide them along your meridians until they reach your head. Go on, give it a try."

    Su Chan waited for a while until she saw Li Yundong's frown. "Don't try to draw out the Qi through the force of will alone. It doesn't work that way. Remember that you're trying to push the Qi from five organs into your meridians simultaneously. That's too much for the mind to handle alone."

    Li Yundong exhaled and slowly opened his eyes. "But I don't know any other way to do it."

    Su Chan felt a sudden urge to smooth out the frown in his brows with her fingers, but she knew it was a terrible idea. At this stage, too much physical intimacy between them would be dangerous. Breathe, Chan'er. "In Traditional Chinese Medicine, any organ inside the human body is either a Zang, or a Fu. Zangs are organs that are Yin in nature, whereas Fus are organs that are Yang in nature. Are you with me so far?"

    "Right. Two types of organs. Zangs and Fus. Zangs are Yin, Fus are Yang. Got it."

    "Good. Now. There are a total of five Zangs in the human body, the Heart, Liver, Spleen, Lung, and Kidney. The rest are all Fus. As you can see, we're only dealing with the five Zangs in this exercise. Even so, that's a lot of Qi to mobilize, not to mention everything must be done simultaneously. At your current level, you won't be able to do it through your conscious will alone."

    "Right. It's kinda like extreme multitasking, right? The mind can only handle so many tasks at once?"

    "Yep," Su Chan said with a nod. "The best approach is to draw out the Qi from your five Zangs using your Yuanyang. And in case you're wondering, Yuanyang is the most essential component of the body's Yang Qi. Anyway, this approach is just textbook application of the Yin-Yang principle. Like I mentioned earlier, Zangs are organs that are Yin in nature. So Yuanyang works in this case—"

    "Because Yin and Yang attract each other," Li Yundong said, snapping his fingers.

    He picks up really fast. Su Chan's lips curved into a tiny smile. He would become a legendary Cultivator one day. She was sure of it.

    "So the first step is to mobilize my Yuanyang?"

    Instead of replying, Su Chan patted the floor a few times and waited until Li Yundong got into a meditative posture. "Like everything else involved in Qi control, you start at the lower Dantian. Close your eyes and bring your awareness to your lower Dantian. Try to generate your Yuanyang from there," Su Chan said, then gave him a few seconds to do as she said.

    "Done?" she asked.

    "Yep..."

    "Very good," Su Chan said. "Now, again, like I mentioned earlier, everything you do in Qi control begins at the lower Dantian. So once you start moving your Qi, always, always, remember to complete the path of your Qi at the lower Dantian before you do anything else like speaking, standing up or whatever. Okay. Now move your Yuanyang towards the five Zangs. Get it to slowly circle around each of the five Zangs. Do not push your Yuanyang into the organ itself. Remember that our goal is to use your Yuanyang to draw out the Qi of your five Zangs, which means that your Yuanyang needs to be outside the organs not inside. And ince the five Qis are drawn out, move your Yuanyang towards your head. The five Qis will automatically follow the path of your Yuanyang."

    Li Yundong had gone silent.

    Su Chan took that as a sign that he was trying out the tips that she'd given him. She sat back and watched him closely.

    Minutes later, a beautiful glow enshrouded Li Yundong's countenance. It was as though his head was covered in some kind of iridescent soap bubble with a mixture of colors — white, red, black, green, and yellow.

    Su Chan broke into a wide grin. Yayyyyy!!!! He's done it!! He's really done it!!!

    What a productive night indeed. First, she had taught him how to perform Neiguan, and now he was experiencing the Convergence of Five Qis for the very first time! This was tremendous progress!

    I'm really doing it, aren’t I? I'm helping this man in his path towards greatness... Aren't you proud of Chan'er, Master?

    With a dreamy smile, Su Chan sat back and studied Li Yundong's features. The colors on his face continued to morph — red, black, green, then yellow— and she couldn't help but marvel at how far he had come. Cultivators had long since learned that each organ (five Zangs and six Fus) inside the human body can store and generate a large amount of Qi. In fact, the Qis stored within the five Zangs are far more powerful than the Qi coursing through the meridians. Her master had once given her an analogy to illustrate the sheer difference in scale between these two types of Qis: if the Qi flowing through the meridians is a river, then together, the Qis stored in the five Zangs form an ocean.

    Su Chan's smile widened into a grin. If she was in her fox form, her tail would be wagging so hard that she was pretty sure she would start elevating off the floor. The fact that his face was glowing with changing colors was a sign that the Qis of his five Zangs had gathered in his upper Dantian (the head), a physical state known as the Convergence of Five Qis. By coming together as one, the five Qis can strengthen and augment each other. And the best part about it is that this strengthening effect would be carried over to the five organs, because the five Qis would eventually separate and return to the organs.

    Now I just have to wait and see if he can successfully separate the five Qis and guide them back into his organs.

    Su Chan rubbed her hands excitedly.

    If he could do that, he would be able to achieve physical transcendence. In other words, his body would surpass human limitations.

    He would become, as the mortals called it, superhuman.

    Seven cycles already, Su Chan thought. The color changes occurred in a consistent cycle: white, red, black, green, yellow, then repeated. The five Qis should start moving back towards his organs at the ninth cycle. Can he do it? Su Chan was suddenly hit by a wave of anxiety. While wiping her sweaty palms on her shirt, she kept her eyes on Li Yundong's face. Eighth cycle.

    Come on, Yundong... I believe in you...

    When the glow on Li Yundong's face started to fade, Su Chan burst into action and began tracing Li Yundong's Yuanyang. Relief and joy coursed through her when Li Yundong's Yuanyang slowly guided the five Qis back to their respective organs.

    On to the next step!

    Su Chan shifted her position quietly to avoid jarring him. "Good work, Yundong..." she said in a soothing voice. "Now I'll explain your next task, okay? You don't have to answer me, just listen to my voice. What you're about to do next is called Guanxiang. And if you succeed, you'll reach the 8th dan of the Lianqi phase. First, I need you to feel the presence of your Qi. Don't think about anything. Just feel your Qi and hold it in your awareness." Su Chan paused and gave him a few seconds. "The key to Guanxiang lies in visualization. Right now, you're aware of your Qi's presence. You know it's there inside your body, but you don't know what shape or form it takes. And that's how it should be, because right now your Qi is indeed formless. It is up to you to visualize a form for your Qi, and this is precisely what is required for you to perform Guanxiang."

    A wave of nerves and tension hit Su Chan. She exhaled slowly.

    "Go on ahead if you're ready," Su Chan said, her voice miraculously steady. "Open your mind and allow your imagination to fill it."

    Su Chan pulled away, then kneeled down beside him. She didn't want to take her eyes off him for even a second. Just like the Zhuji phase (T/N: 4th phase of Cultivation), this was a pivotal moment in any Cultivator's training. When performing Guanxiang, a Cultivator has to visualize the shape and form of their Qi. In essence, Guanxiang tests a Cultivator's ability to manipulate their Qi according to their will or Spirit. A gifted sculptor can turn a shapeless pile of clay into a complex object. As such, the complexity of the visualized shape is indicative of a person's aptitude in Cultivation — the higher the complexity, the greater the aptitude.

    Back in the mountains, her master had repeatedly emphasized on the importance of Guanxiang (8th dan of the Lianqi phase) and the Zhuji phase. The Zhuji phase is what separates a true Cultivator from mortals and trainee Cultivators. Guanxiang, on the other hand, places all Cultivators into three distinct categories — the gifted, the mediocre, and the inept.

    Minutes went by.

    Not once did Su Chan's eyes leave Li Yundong's face, nor did she try to blink. Suddenly, a deep crease formed between Li Yundong's brows. Beads of sweat peppered his forehead, then his lips began to tremble. His expression seemed genuinely fearful and confused.

    Ah… he must be inside his Spirit Space now…

    "Shh... It's okay, Yundong. Don't be afraid," she said. "You’re now inside what Cultivators called as the Spirit Space. It is a space where your Qi interacts with your Spirit and vice versa. Whatever you visualize during Guanxiang will appear inside that space. It’s going to feel very strange at first. You'll feel like you're floating above layers of clouds. It'll be bright everywhere you look. And if you try to look at your body, you'll see nothing. It'll feel like your body doesn't exist. All of that is normal, so don't worry about those things. Now, visualize. If you can give your Qi a form, what is it going to be?"

    The trembling of Li Yundong's lips stopped.

    It was all up to him now. The Renyuan Jindan's enhancements applied only to the strength and vitality of his Qi, not his natural ability to shape his Qi. The outcome of a Cultivator's Guanxiang depended solely on his or her own aptitude.

    I wonder what the final shape will be... Su Chan thought. Please don't be something like a ball or a sphere...

    Su Chan bit down on her bottom lip and watched him anxiously.

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  • Chapter 75 Genius!

    Su Chan was on tenterhooks. Over fifteen minutes had passed since Li Yundong began the exercise, yet he wasn't showing any reactions at all. That was not a good sign. Not at all.

    Guanxiang is an exercise that involves visualization and imagination. It is essentially Qi sculpting, where one shapes their Qi using their Spirit. The very nature of the exercise itself pretty much guarantees some kind of visceral reaction to the products of the visualization: disgust; amusement; joy; anger; sadness. There had to be something. So why wasn't Li Yundong reacting? Unless...

    Oh, no... what if he couldn't visualize a single thing? Wouldn't the Jindan be wasted on him if it turned out that he didn't have an aptitude in Cultivation?

    It would indeed.

    In the world of Cultivation, talent was an important factor for reaching the top. As such, pretty much all the legendary Cultivators out there were prodigies: Zhenren Bai He from the Zhengyi Taoist School; Tianzun Wu Shang of the Danyang Sect; Master Yuan Kong of the Zen Sect.

    Speaking of prodigies...

    She even knew of one back home. Indeed, the Mystical Silver Fox from the Fox Zen School was a rare talent, one that would only appear once every few centuries.

    Could Li Yundong stand shoulder to shoulder with these legends?

    But these were all incredibly gifted individuals with nearly insurmountable talent! What if... What if Li Yundong just didn't have it. And dammit, why was he still not showing any reactions? Had it really been twenty minutes since he began the exercise? Maybe he wasn't focusing? She stole a glance at Li Yundong and examined his Qi. Everything seemed to be working fine. He was in a deep meditative state. There was no mistake in that. Wait... what if he couldn't even perform Guanxiang??

    Then there was no way he could—

    No, she mustn't think that. He was so smart. And he had a pretty intuitive grasp of everything I taught him so far…

    He had to be able to visualize something...

    He must.

    Argh! Su Chan gripped her hair. But what if he came up with some lame object?  There was no way he could become a legendary Cultivator by visualizing spheres, pyramids, or Tao forbid, cubes. Maybe he really was completely inept—

    Faith, Chan'er, Su Chan chastised herself. Faith! This was ridiculous. She was ridiculous. Twenty minutes ago, she was so sure that he would become a great Cultivator. Now look at her! What would Master say if she saw her like this?

    Su Chan let go of her hair and stared at Li Yundong's face.

    Still nothing.

    Okay, fine. He didn't really have to become a legendary Shenxian. He could just be... hmm... maybe a wandering Cultivator? Wasn't that good? They could both live freely and roam the world for the rest of their lives. Yep. Becoming a Shenxian was overrated. Totally overrated.

    But wait… I promised myself that I'd turn him into a great Cultivator! I can't go back on that promise... Su Chan pounded her head with both fists and mewled.

    She stopped doing a number on her skull when several more horrifying thoughts crossed her mind. What if he couldn't even pass the Zhuji phase? What if he didn't even have what it takes to become a wandering Cultivator?

    Su Chan nearly burst into tears at those thoughts.

    A minute later, Su Chan regained her composure and made her resolve. She wouldn't give up no matter what. If it turned out that he really didn't have the aptitude to be a great Cultivator, then she would take him back to the Fox Zen School, and then... and then beg her master to unlock Li Yundong's Third Eye! Yes, that's what she would do. Even if she had to be severely punished for such a request.

    ***

    Li Yundong was having the time of his life.

    Mountains, rivers, the sky, the earth, the moon, and even the stars! Never before had he seen all these things so vividly and so up close! It was as though he could realign the galaxies with just his thoughts alone! Was this what being an omnipotent creator felt like?

    Hmm... I wonder if it's possible to visualize the great Buddha...

    Li Yundong willed the clouds, which he eventually understood to be the visual representation of his Qi, to form the shape of the great Buddha. The clouds rumbled and roiled before they shot upwards. All of a sudden, Li Yundong felt as though his head was about to blow apart; like the top of his head was the cover of a pressure cooker.

    The clouds ceased roiling the moment he stopped.

    Perhaps it was a bad idea to visualize the Buddha? Whoops?

    But why not? Was it blasphemous to do so?  

    Well. What a bummer. He'd always wanted to meet the great Buddha. Oh well. Maybe he could go for the next best thing — the Buddha's lotus throne.

    The clouds started to shift again. They moved in a somewhat arbitrary and chaotic manner. Slowly, they formed a clump. That definitely did not look like a lotus throne. Then he lost control over the clouds; the clump disintegrated as the clouds drifted apart.

    Weird, he thought. That didn't happen with the other objects. None of this added up. He was able to shape the clouds into a galaxy and then hold the shape for a long time. But when he tried to visualize the lotus throne earlier, the shape wouldn't hold as though the clouds had turned into repelling magnets.

    Maybe he lost his touch?

    Li Yundong shifted the clouds again. Su Chan's beautiful figure came into view. Well, no problems there. Right. So he hadn't lost his touch. But what's up with the lotus throne then? Why couldn’t he hold its shape? Was it because it was related to the Buddha? Was it blasphemous to visualize the lotus throne as well?

    Li Yundong tried again. This time, instead of a clump, he got something that was maybe... 70% similar to a lotus throne? Still, he struggled to hold its shape. Seconds later, the clouds flew apart again. But there was no rumbling thunder or roiling clouds like when he tried to visualize the Buddha.

    Maybe I just need to focus more… What did Bruce Lee say again? That one should empty one's mind? Okay... phew. Focus, focus, focus! A while later, the clouds morphed into a pretty decent replica of a lotus throne. Pieces of lotus leaves and petals crept out from the edge of the shape. Surprisingly, he had figured out the trick to hold the lotus throne's shape in place — complete immersion and concentration. In other words, the mind had to be empty before he even began. Thanks, master Bruce Lee. You deserved to be called a legend.

    Then again...

    He couldn't help but feel as though the lotus throne was lacking something; it was too empty on top.

    Lotus seeds!

    He could embellish it with lotus seeds! He bet that would be pretty cool. The great Buddha might appreciate it too.

    Tiny dots of bright light burst out from the dark, lotus-throne-shaped cloud. The dots dimmed slightly but not completely, after which they glowed steadily with no signs of waning.

    It didn't take Li Yundong long to realize that the bright dots were precisely the lotus seeds he wished. He laughed, then stared at his own handiwork.

    I wonder what it feels like to touch—

    The lotus throne closed up before he even completed the thought; it was as though the lotus throne could read his mind.

    Okay, this is definitely weird. It didn’t escape him that the lotus throne behaved differently from the other objects and things that he'd visualized. He had a vague feeling that this was because the lotus throne had something to do with the Buddha.

    Fine, I won't touch it—

    Again, the strangest thing happen; the lotus bud opened to reveal the lotus throne. These clouds are linked to my mind somehow.

    Well, at least he got the memo now — the lotus throne didn't like to be touched.

    So. What was he supposed to do now then?

    He stared at the lotus throne. Holding its shape felt pretty much effortless now. Still, a bit more practice couldn't hurt. With that, Li Yundong dismissed the lotus throne and allowed the clouds to fly apart. Then, he visualized the lotus throne again, trying to form the shape quicker this time.

    Practice makes perfect, right?

    ***

    Some time around Su Chan's 500th "what if he's really inept" and maybe her 1000th "faith, Chan'er", she saw Li Yundong's body go taut. A second later, his eyes shot open and he began gasping for dear life. His eyes were glassy as though he couldn't come to terms with whatever he'd just experienced.

    Depending on the exact circumstances, that could be a good or bad sign.

    Su Chan scrambled towards him.

    "What is it, Yundong?" Su Chan said in a hurry. "What did you see?"

    Li Yundong didn't answer her right away. More like he couldn't; he seemed to be in great shock, like he was traumatized, or scared.

    Surely that was a good sign?

    A cube couldn't be that scary.

    Li Yundong recovered after a while, then gave her a strange look, though he didn’t say anything.

    The suspense was driving her nuts.

    "Tell me, tell me!" Su Chan said anxiously.

    "I saw..." His eyes seemed to glaze over again. "I saw a lot of things..."

    Su Chan's heart sank to the pit of her stomach. Oh, no... This couldn't possibly be good. Visualizing a complex object during Guanxiang would take a toll on the mind. It was quality and complexity that mattered, not quantity.

    "What things? What did you see?"

    "Birds... animals... Uh... insects..." Li Yundong said. "Then I saw mountains, rivers, the moon, stars, galaxies... Well, pretty much everything we see in life, I guess."

    Su Chan's heart sank further. Sure, these things weren't spheres or cubes, but they were still relatively straightforward to visualize. Although mountains and rivers are large objects, they are inanimate. Birds, insects, and other animals are animate, but they have no soul. For a Cultivator's aptitude to be truly tested, the attempt at Guanxiang needs to involve objects that are complex in both a physical and spiritual sense. A living person would be—

    "And I saw you too!"

    Wait, what? He saw me? He saw me!!!

    Su Chan grabbed Li Yundong's arm.

    "Really, really, really? What did I look like? Did it look like me?"

    Li Yundong's grin filled Su Chan heart with relief.

    "Of course! The girl I saw there looked exactly like you!" Li Yundong chuckled. "What, did you think I'd forget what you look like that easily? No way!"

    Oh, Tao! She could really, really, kiss him right now. Oh, screw it. Su Chan threw her arms around his neck and kissed him passionately.

    When the kiss ended, Su Chan stared at Li Yundong.

    "Oh, Yundong! You have no idea how happy that makes me!"

    Su Chan sniffed and felt his hands cupping her cheeks a second later. Then, she felt his warm lips press against her forehead.

    "Did I really do well?"

    Su Chan bobbed her head up and down. "Yes! Yes, you did great! Much better than I expected!"

    Li Yundong chuckled, but then fell silent seconds later. That strange look on his face returned.

    "There's something else..." he said.

    "What is it?" Su Chan asked warily. She had a feeling she might not like what he was about to say.

    "Something weird happened when I tried to visualize the Buddha..."

    Su Chan felt all the air leave her lungs in a long and powerful gush. Li Yundong kept on talking, something about rumbling clouds or roaring thunder. She wouldn't know; she was too busy trying not to have a panic attack.

    H- he tried to... t- the B- Buddha...

    "Hey, Su Chan, you alright? You look a little pale."

    "Please tell me you're joking..." Su Chan said, her voice coming out breathless.

    "About? Oh! That wasn't a joke. I did try to visualize Buddha," he said, pausing. "Well, try being the operative word here, since I clearly failed. Like I said, things got super weird. Like the clouds suddenly started to move around like there was a hurricane or something. There was thunder everywhere too. Then the clouds shot up higher and higher... Oh! Here's the weirdest part, I felt like my head was about to explode..."

    Su Chan couldn't listen to this anymore.

    SMACK!

    She smacked Li Yundong's arm.

    "Visualizing the Buddha?" she yelled. "Are you out of your mind? What were you thinking!"

    Li Yundong winced and began rubbing his arm. "Err... What's wrong with that? I mean... is it... blasphemous or something?"

    What's wrong with—

    Su Chan gaped Li Yundong, who was looking back at her as though all was right in the world, as though his soul hadn't nearly been ripped to shreds.

    Oh, for the love of the Tao... He really didn't have a clue, did he?

    "Yundong, never ever visualize a deity when performing Guanxiang," Su Chan said sternly.

    "Oh, so it is blasphemous, then," Li Yundong said.

    "It's not about that," Su Chan said, shaking her head. "When you visualize a deity during Guanxiang, a connection will form between your soul and the deity's power! If you maintain that connection for too long, the deity's power will overwhelm your soul and you'll be wiped out! It would be like you never even existed!" Su Chan took a breath, then exhaled shakily. "I honestly don't know how you even survived it!"

    Li Yundong winced and rubbed the back of his neck. "Um... well... I kinda figured it was a terrible idea the moment I started doing in... I mean, after the thunder and everything."

    Su Chan's jaw dropped open. This man and his dumb luck!

    "Maybe you're so dumb that the universe took pity on you," Su Chan mumbled. "That's why you're always so lucky."

    "I heard that," Li Yundong growled. "Don't think I won't spank you if you mock me again..."

    The threat might have worked if he wasn't grinning at her.

    A giggle burst through Su Chan's lips. She couldn't help it. Being around Li Yundong was always fun.

    "Just remember not to visualize a deity again the next time you perform Guanxiang," Su Chan said. "Visualize the lotus throne if you can't find anything else to visualize."

    Ha. I bet that would be enough to challenge him for a while.

    In fact, that was the final task to complete the Lianqi phase.

    Li Yundong laughed. "The lotus throne? Well, been there, done that. Pretty tough at first, I'll give you that," he said. "Clouds keep tryna fly apart. But I got the hang of it. Speaking of... Some weird shit happened when I visualized the lotus throne for the ninth time. The whole thing blew up in my face! Can you believe it? That's why I woke up anyway..."

    Su Chan tuned out the rest of his words.

    N- nine? Did he say nine times? Oh my God…

    Her head was spinning. She had to sit down. No, wait. She was already sitting down.

    Nine.

    Nine times.

    A hand waved in front of her face.

    "Hey, Su Chan... Are you alright?"

    Right. She must've been staring off into space.

    "I haven't frightened the life out of you, have I?" Li Yundong said.

    Su Chan stared at Li Yundong's face, trying to get her hanging jaw to work.

    "Y- you visualized the lotus throne. N- nine times?" she asked. All of a sudden, every ounce of shock left her system. She scrambled towards Li Yundong and grabbed his shoulders. "Nine times in a row! Are you absolutely certain? Tell me the truth, okay! Don't lie just to impress me!" Su Chan yelled, shaking him slightly.

    This was big, really big, and she had to know. She had to be sure.

    A look of displeasure flit across Li Yundong's face. He looked utterly offended. Never had Su Chan imagined that seeing Li Yundong offended would bring her this much pleasure, but it did. It really did, because it meant that he hadn't been lying. This was real.

    "Hey! Who’s lying! You don't believe me? How could you!"

    Su Chan released his shoulders and sat back down limply. A smile bloomed on her cheeks. It was beyond a shadow of a doubt now.

    Li Yundong was a genius in Cultivation.

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  • Chapter 77 Bloodshed

    Too late.

    Zhao Yujian yanked the bouquet away before Ding Nan could reach it, then swung it above his head in a wide arc. Roses fell from the bouquet's wrapping, scattering across the floor, the long table in the front row, and the lectern. The entire lecture hall erupted in screams as soon as the bouquet's wrapping joined the pile of discarded roses.

    The palm-sized, metallic weapon glinted ominously as its wielder brandished it in the air.

    "Shut up! Shut up! All of you!" Zhao Yujian's deranged voice echoed in the lecture hall. "Sit down! Nobody move or I'll shoot! Put your phones on the table! Now!!"

    The students complied, resulting in a series of rustling and clacking.

    "Hands on the table where I can see them!" Zhao Yujian growled. "And if any of you reach for your phone, I swear to God I will blow your head off!!"

    Then, silence fell. A deafening hush. A harbinger of doom.

    The calm before the storm.

    Everyone's eyes were now trained on the Type 54 "Blackstar" handgun whose muzzle was levelled at Ding Nan's head. Darkness spread across Zhao Yujian's countenance, turning his once devilishly handsome features into something devilishly evil.

    Footsteps from the hallway interrupted the silence. Moments later, the door swung open.

    "Morning, class! Now settle down—"

    BANG!!!

    A blood splatter sprayed across the chalkboard, and the professor crumpled to the floor.

    One shot. One death. One bullet hole, right between the eyes.

    Screams of horror shook the hallway and the lecture hall.

    "Shut up!!! I said shut up!!!" Zhao Yujian roared, swinging the gun around like a maniac. The screams petered out, though a few whimpers were still audible.

    Blood was everywhere: on the floor, pouring out from the bullet hole between the professor's lifeless eyes; on the cheeks, hair, and blouse of the poor girl who'd been standing behind the professor when the shot was fired; on the door; on the chalkboard; on the professor's copy of the textbook, which was now a soggy pile of crimson mess.

    So much blood.

    So much gore.

    So much hatred.

    Zhao Yujian released another bestial roar which struck terror into the hearts of every student inside the lecture hall. The roar lasted for a good ten seconds before it dissolved into echoes, leaving frightened whimpers and pounding hearts in its wake. Those girls who used to fawn over Zhao Yujian's good looks were now staring at him with utter disbelief and shock, like they could barely recognize the man. Indeed, gone was the most handsome student in Tiannan University, and in his place was the Devil's spawn — the living embodiment of evil and hatred.

    "Why! Why must you people do this to me?!! Arrgghh!" Zhao Yujian bared his teeth and slammed his fist against the table repeatedly. A harsh swipe of his cane sent books and stationery scattering across the floor. The surface of the long table in front of Zhou Qin was now empty except for a few drops of Zhao Yujian's tears. "How could you be so cold, Zhou Qin. How could you! I gave my heart to you... yet you stomped on it over and over and over again like it was nothing! You wouldn't even give me a chance... not even a f*cking chance..."

    SLAM!

    The table shook again, causing more stationery to clatter onto the floor. Then, Zhao Yujian's hateful gaze zeroed in on Ding Nan. "And you!!!" The barrel of the gun rose sharply; the dark muzzle stared at Ding Nan like the Devil's eye. "You foul and spiteful bitch!!! My pride and dignity was ruined because of you! I'm gonna make you pay for all the terrible things you said to me. Every single word!"

    A round of maniacal laughter ensued, and Zhao Yujian retreated slowly until his back hit the lectern.

    "Oh... I've been dreaming about this! I've been waiting for the moment when I finally put a bullet in your skull and then watch the life drain out of you!!!"

    The barrel trembled slightly.

    "And now I finally have my chance!"

    ***

    "Z- Zh- Zhao..."

    Ding Nan's words failed her right then. She stared at the quivering muzzle, knowing full well that her end was near. That dark, threatening hole on the muzzle... Would the hole on her forehead look the same once he pulled the trigger? Would it be quick and painless? If she died today, would anyone care at all?

    Ding Nan stole a glance at the woman sitting beside her, her so-called "friend." Although calm and composed in appearance, Ding Nan knew that Zhou Qin was rattled as well; Zhou Qin's hands hadn't stopped shaking under the table.

    Would Zhou Qin care?

    No.

    No, she wouldn't.

    Why would the great Zhou Qin care about Ding Nan, the lowly girl from some unknown village out in the sticks? Why would that bitch care about a mere pawn, a tool that she would use and then cast aside when it was no longer useful? From the very start, Ding Nan knew that she was merely Zhou Qin's tool. Wasn't that why she was even allowed to remain by Zhou Qin's side in the first place, so that she could play the role of Zhou Qin's shield? A scapegoat who took all the flak from everyone while Zhou Qin pranced around like a flawless queen? Wasn't that why Zhou Qin brought her along to all those fancy parties in the first place? Oh, no, no, no. Her Highness Zhou Qin would never deign to say the harsh words necessary to reject the advances of those sleazy men, whom she no doubt deemed as annoying insects. Her Highness Zhou Qin should never be the bitch. Leave that task to Ding Nan, the lowly and inconsequential country girl. Ding Nan, the insect repellent. Ding Nan, the viper. Ding Nan, who was now about to eat a bullet because of Zhou Qin.

    Could a cheap canister of insect repellant stop a bullet? Ding Nan dreaded the moment she found out the answer to that.

    Ding Nan turned away from Zhou Qin and, in a fleeting moment of delusion, hoped that the gun would no longer be pointed at her.

    No such luck.

    Zhao Yujian was now limping towards her, looking as menacing as ever despite the whole crippled look he had going.

    Ding Nan's feet trembled, and her manicured fingernails tapped noisily against the tabletop — the rhythm of fear. She tried to get her mouth to start functioning again.

    "Zh- Zh- Zhao... L- lis..."

    Listen to me! I didn't mean any of those things I said to you! It was all Zhou Qin! Zhou Qin made me do it!

    Zhao Yujian's fingers curled around her throat. Next thing she knew, she was yanked to the side by the throat, away from the long table, towards the lectern. Ding Nan whimpered when she felt the cold metal press against her forehead.

    "P- p- please—"

    "What's the matter, huh, bitch?! Has your mouth stopped working! Go on then! Speak! Open that foul mouth of yours! See if your harsh words can save your pathetic life!"

    Ding Nan's teeth clattered in fear as unbidden tears slid down her cheeks. Then, she made the mistake of staring into Zhao Yujian's eyes, where she saw nothing but raw madness. Zhao Yujian had completely lost his mind, and Ding Nan knew that she was about to take the full brunt of his insanity.

    A cold voice sounded.

    "Zhao Yujian, can't we all just sit down and talk things out calmly like proper adults? Is all this drama necessary?"

    A twinge of hope coursed through Ding Nan when she heard Zhou Qin's voice. Maybe Zhao Yujian would finally redirect his hatred towards the right person? Maybe he would—

    A whimper sounded nearby.

    "Who!!! Who made that noise!!" Zhao Yujian roared, his eyes rapidly scanning the first few rows of seats. Seconds later, he pointed the gun at a girl in the third row. "It was you, wasn't it!"

    Another whimper sounded. "Shut up!!! Shut up or I swear to God I'll blow your f*cking brains out!!!"

    The absence of the metallic coldness against her forehead brought Ding Nan a small amount of relief.

    The lecture hall grew quiet after that. Ding Nan held on to the lectern for support as she listened to the sound of her hammering heart. It was all Ding Nan could do not to pass out or hyperventilate right then and there.

    A soft thud sounded, causing Zhao Yujian to whip around and point the gun towards the door. The girl with the bloody face had slid down to the floor, and was now lying unconscious in the pool of the professor's blood.

    All of a sudden, the door burst open.

     

    ***

     

    "This is outrageous! Which one of you delinquents brought firecrackers on campus! This is a classroom environ—"

    Director Qian paused mid-sentence.

    "See, Director? I told you this class is nothing but trouble. I bet it's that Li Yundong again—" Professor Liu crashed into Director Qian at the doorway. "What's wrong?"

    Neither of them were prepared to see the muzzle of a gun pointed right at them.

    "You two! Step inside and shut the f*cking door!"

    Neither of the professors moved.

    The barrel of the gun quivered violently.

    "Don't make me repeat myself!"

    SLAM!

    The lectern trembled after Zhao Yujian kicked it. "Move it! Now!"

    Director Qian and Professor Liu shared a glance.

    "Hey, he's talking to you!" Director Qian hissed.

    "No, he's talking to you!" Professor Liu countered anxiously.

    "I'm the Director of the Office of Academic Affairs, so what I say goes! Now get over there Professor Liu!"

    "That's exactly my point! You're the authority figure here. You need to step up!"

    "That's not how it—"

    BANG!!!

    The bullet whizzed past Director Qian's head and struck the wall beside the door. A few strands of his comb-over fluttered in the air, which was now filled with the scent of gun powder.

    "WAHHHHHHH!!!!!" The two professors screamed in unison. Director Qian's voice actually cracked a little. A moment later, they were both scrambling towards the door.

    Director Qian made it through the door first.

    Professor Liu, on the other hand, tripped on the body of the unconscious girl on his way out, sending him to his knees. On the floor, Professor Liu noticed the pool of blood under his palms, then his dead colleague's lifeless eyes. That was when he totally lost his shit.

    "WAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!"

    Professor Liu didn't even bother climbing to his feet; he literally crawled his way out the door. Throughout the hullabaloo, the unconscious girl's body was kicked and pushed around until her whole body was sprawled across the doorway. The door hinged inward, but stopped short of closing fully when its bottom rail crashed into the poor girl's wrist, which ended up wedged between the door and the doorjamb. The girl didn't stir.

    Behold, the courageous professors of Tiannan University. Those two men deserved an honorary medal of cowardice.

    The students inside the lecture hall watched as their hope for survival crashed and burned in the form of Professor Liu's wimpy departure. Zhao Yujian's maniacal laughter resounded through the lecture hall seconds later, reminding each and every student there that they were now the hostages of a madman.

    The religious ones were praying that the two professors could at least keep their wits about them long enough to call the police. For all they knew, those two cowards could be wetting themselves and drowning in their own piss right about now.

     

    ***

     

    In the last row, Su Chan crawled on the floor past Li Yundong's legs. Argh! Those useless cowards! When the two teachers came in just now, Su Chan was hoping that they could at least distract the bad guy long enough for her to sneak up on him. Who knew they would suddenly bolt out the door like that. Screaming like a bunch of girls no less! Unbelievable! Su Chan stopped crawling when she reached the left end of the long table. Then, she craned her neck and peeked around the table's edge. That Zhao Yujian guy was still laughing with wild abandon, swinging his metallic weapon in the air. What a loony...

    Su Chan pulled back from the edge of the table, then crawled her way back towards Li Yundong.

    "Yundong," she hissed, shaking his leg. "Come on, beloved. Snap out of it."

    No answer.

    He'd been in this state ever since he stood up and yelled at the top of his lungs, something about a gun, which she assumed was what that metallic weapon was called. After that, all hell broke loose and the enemy drew his weapon from inside the bouquet. Su Chan was pretty sure that the enemy had heard Li Yundong's yell. Then again, he wasn't quick enough to pinpoint Yundong's exact position in the room because Su Chan had pulled Yundong back down right after he yelled. That was minutes ago, and now the enemy was threatening everyone with that dangerous weapon of his.

    Admittedly, the sorcery behind the weapon baffled Su Chan. Even though she was a relatively experienced Cultivator, she had never encountered a weapon that could drill a hole into a man's skull in less than a second! Was this what Yundong meant by "shooting a bird" when he teased her mercilessly with that bird joke at Mac Doo Nurls? Was he referring to the same weapon? Sheesh! Back then, she thought he meant shooting with an arrow!

    Wait... what's happening over there?

    Su Chan craned her neck slightly and glanced towards the front of the room. That loony had finally stopped laughing and was now looking at Zhou Qin.

    Zhou Qin, bless the girl, was saying something to him in a muted tone, though Su Chan was too far away to make out what she was saying. Su Chan lowered herself to the floor and hid herself under the table. Then, she closed her eyes and began mobilizing her Qi. The Ningshen phase (T/N: Third phase of Cultivation) definitely had its quirks. One of them was granting a Cultivator the ability to enhance their sensory faculties. Moments later, when Su Chan's Qi reached her Shenting, the surrounding noise became clear. (T/N: Shenting is an acupoint at the center of the hairline)

    Zhou Qin's voice drifted to her ears.

    "......out. Listen to me, you don't want to do this, Zhao Yujian. Let Nannan go. Nobody has to get hurt. Let's sit down and talk things out calmly. Just you and me. On your terms. What do you say?"

    "It's too late now, Zhou Qin. It's too late..."

    "No, it's not..."

    Su Chan tuned out the voices. Good job, ideal dinglu. Keep him distracted until I figure out a way to get us out of this mess. From under the table, Su Chan glanced up at Yundong. His eyes were still glazed over and vacant. Well, that was definitely not a good sign. He was in shock. Whatever he saw in his clairvoyant vision earlier must have spooked him bad. Okay, Chan'er, first things first. Keep him out of the enemy's line of sight.

    Without further ado, Su Chan shifted Yundong's legs forward, causing him to slouch in his seat. Soon, his butt left the edge of his seat and he joined her on the floor.

    Okay. Done. Now she had to figure out what the deal was with that metallic weapon. Wait. Before that...

    Su Chan shook Yundong's shoulders a few times.

    No reaction. Crap.

    Never mind. Back to the weapon first. Hmm... How does it work? Well, she remembered hearing a loud explosion before there was a hole in that poor man's head. And she was pretty sure that something had flown out of it immediately after the explosion, like some kind of pointy object. A small arrow? A dart? Oh, don't be stupid, Chan'er... How could a dart blow a hole through a man's skull!

    Ugh, how she wished she could use her Xianjue to figure out what that loony was about to do next (T/N: Xianjue is a skill that gives a Cultivator clairvoyant abilities; obtained after passing the 3rd dan of the Ningshen phase; details in glossary). But unfortunately, that loony was too far away for her Xianjue to work. Unlike Li Yundong's Xianjue, whose range was absurdly large no doubt due to the Renyuan Jindan and the fact that he was a prodigy, hers only worked when the enemy was in close range. That was actually how she'd managed to prevent Yundong's arm from being chopped off by that buffoon, Er Lu, the first time they had a run-in with those thugs outside the market. Back then, her Xianjue had allowed her to see Er Lu swinging the melon knife at Li Yundong a few seconds before he actually did. She’d immediately reacted by turning around and kicking the guy away. Not that Yundong would ever know.

    SLAM!

    That loony had kicked something again. A table? Maybe a chair? Su Chan took a peek from the tabletop. Mr. Loony was now gesturing wildly at the dead guy on the floor. Su Chan slid back under the table. I have to get Yundong to snap out of it. But first, I need a plan…

    Another loud slam sounded. Ugh! What in Tao's name is this lunatic's problem! Su Chan took another peek. The loony was now pressing the weapon against the temple of that pretty girl with the poisonous tongue. What was her name again? Ding Nan. Right.

    Zhou Qin, bless the girl again, was still talking to the guy, presumably trying to calm him down. Su Chan didn't even bother to eavesdrop on their conversation at this point. It didn't matter what they were saying so long as they kept talking.

    Su Chan took stock of her surroundings. The room had only one exit, which was, unfortunately, too close to the enemy. Nobody could sneak out without that guy noticing. Seated among the rows of seats were students who were all wearing looks of terror. The girls —several guys too— were sobbing quietly in their seats. Poor mortals are probably scared out of their wits...

    Should she just sneak up on him, disarm him, and then take him out? Well, she definitely could. She had pretty much mastered the art of stealth and concealment back in the Fox Zen School. But that would be a terrible idea, wouldn't it? What if that weapon had other magical abilities? Counter-stealth spells? Qi detection? Would it start shooting lightning? What if it suddenly spewed fire like that stove the other day? Worse, what if he tried to attack her, but missed, and then ended up blowing a hole in some other mortal's head? Argh!!! This is such a paaaaiiin!

    No. She couldn't possibly handle this alone. She'd put these mortals' lives at risk if she did something rash. There was too much room for collateral damage.

    A distraction. A distraction was what she needed. A huge distraction. Someone had to distract the bastard completely while she used her stealth to sneak up on him. Although Zhou Qin was trying her best at the moment, her efforts just wouldn't cut it.

    Yundong.

    She and Yundong had to work together as a team. There was no other way. As partners in Cultivation, they would be doing so in the future anyway, so they might as well start now, right? Su Chan removed a strand of her hair, then pushed her Qi into it, causing it to go stiff like a needle. Then, she jabbed the needlelike hair into Li Yundong's Renzhong (T/N: Renzhong is an acupoint between the upper lip and the nose).

    Li Yundong gasped, then began glancing around in panic. Su Chan stroked his cheek and stared into his eyes.

    "Shh, shh... beloved," Su Chan whispered, placing her index finger against her lips.

    "S- Su Chan? Wh- what happened?"

    "We're under attack, but you had a clairvoyant vision just now and went into shock," Su Chan whispered.

    Note to self: teach Yundong how to properly control his Xianjue and manage his clairvoyant visions.

    "What? Under att—" Li Yundong's eyes widened instantly. "No, no, no.. Ding Nan...The gun... I gotta warn—"

    "Shh..." Su Chan said, looking towards the front of the room. "Right now, the enemy is in front with his weapon. He's got hostages, so he has the upper hand."

    Li Yundong tried to stand up, but Su Chan held him down.

    "But I gotta do something," Li Yundong said, his shoulders trembling violently. "H- He's gonna kill someone... I- I saw... I saw..."

    Damn it, he's panicking...

    "Shh... Shh... Look at me," Su Chan said. "Just look at me for a second, okay?"

    Li Yundong leaned back and held her gaze.

    "Listen to me carefully, beloved. Things are probably gonna go south, so I need you to be ready for a fight. Right now, you're freaking out a little because of that vision you saw, but that's okay. I'm gonna show you a trick that will make you feel much better."

    Li Yundong nodded.

    "It's all about Qi control," Su Chan whispered, then paused when Li Yundong suddenly tensed up again. Su Chan cupped his cheeks. "Hey, hey... Don't worry. You can do this, Yundong. Have faith in yourself. This is just the same thing you've been practicing all this time."

    Li Yundong nodded shakily.

    "Now. Generate your Qi from you lower Dantian. Then move your Qi towards these acupoints. Huiyin, Lingtai, Shenting, and then Baihui! Go on, do it."

    Much to her relief, Li Yundong closed his eyes and did as he was told. This was a textbook battle preparation trick known to almost all learned Cultivators. The moment his Qi reached his Lingtai (T/N: On the middle of the spine between two shoulder blades), Yundong would feel instant calmness; his mind would become clearer, sharper, and more rational. As for moving his Qi towards the Shenting... Well, she'd already told him this morning what that does: give him super eyesight, super hearing, and clairvoyant abilities (T/N: the official names are Mingmu, Eryue, and Xianjue respectively).

    Su Chan checked the flow of Li Yundong's Qi. His Qi had already reached his Shenting and Lingtai. Good... All that remained was for his Qi to reach his Baihui, by which time he would've completed both Xiao Zhoutian and Da Zhoutian.

    Suddenly, Li Yundong's eyes shot open. White steam rose from the top of his head and his eyes flashed like lightning.

    Now that's more like it beloved!

    Then again, Su Chan's plan crumbled the moment Li Yundong sprang to his feet. No, no, no... This isn't part of the plan! Su Chan tried to pull him back down, but it was too late.

    "Yundong," Su Chan hissed. "Sit back down, let's work out a plan first, and then attack him toget—"

    "No," Li Yundong said. "I want you out of the line of fire, you hear me? Hide under the table."

    "What? No! I can help—"

    "No," Li Yundong said sternly, staring down at her with what appeared to be the most intense pair of eyes she had ever seen. "You will do as I say and get under the table. And you will stay down until this is over."

    "But—"

    "No buts!" Li Yundong growled. "I won't be able to live with myself if you get hurt."

    Su Chan shot a panic glance towards the front of the room.

    Oh no...

    The loony's weapon was now pointed straight at Li Yundong.

    "Yundong—"

    "Stay down!"

    Su Chan's head was shoved under the table.

    Li Yundong glanced down and held her gaze. "Be a good girl and stay there while I take care of this."

    "Will you be able to hold him off on your own?" Su Chan asked worriedly.

    Li Yundong gave her a confident smile. "Of course, my dear little princess. Just trust me."

    "O- okay..." Su Chan said.

    Li Yundong nodded, then raised his head and looked towards the front of the room.

    He's gonna be fine, right? H- he has the Renyuan Jindan! And he's a genius...

    Suddenly, Su Chan heard Li Yundong's low voice, but he wasn't talking to her.

    "Listen up, guys." Li Yundong said. "Things are gonna get ugly pretty soon. Whatever happens later, just duck under the table and stay down. Make sure to keep your eyes open. When you see a chance to get out of the room, take it. There has to be someone inside this building who heard the gunshots earlier, so the cops will probably be arriving soon. Just stay out of the line of fire and y'all are gonna be fine."

    "O- o- okay..." someone answered.

    Probably some guy in the row in front of theirs.

    "B- but what about you? What are you gonna do?" another guy asked.

    "Me? I'm gonna end that son of a bitch."

     

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  • Chapter 78 Man vs Gun

    Ten minutes earlier. Another lecture hall inside the academic building...

    Of all things Kris had expected to experience during this trip, hearing a gunshot in the middle of the day definitely wasn't one of them. For one, it didn't make sense at all, since China had one of the strictest gun control regulations in the world.

    "Kris... Was that... was that a gunshot?" John said.

    They were having a lecture. Well, had been having a lecture, since the lecture hall was now eerily silent. All the students were looking at each other in shock, and the professor was frantically searching for his phone. Nope. No lecture going on here.

    "Duh," Kris said while standing up, then shot John a hopeful look. "Can you tell where it came from?"

    "Err... Upstairs I think," John said, pausing for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah, definitely upstairs."

    John might be all brawn and no brains, but Kris had to admit that his combat experience came in handy at times. Kris fumbled around in her backpack for the stuff she knew she'd need: notebook; pen; tape recorder...

    "Hey, wait a minute... Upstairs..." John said, grabbing Kris's arm all of a sudden. "Isn't Sheep Poo having his lecture upstairs?"

    "I think so," Kris said, freeing her arms from John's grasp. I don't have time for this... I can't miss this chance. Kris found her phone, then disconnected it from the power bank. She glanced at the screen. 70% battery. That would do. She stuffed her phone into her back pocket, then made a beeline for the lecture hall's exit with the rest of her items.

    John caught up to her outside the hallway and pulled her to a stop. "Kris, stop! Where the hell are you running off to?"

    "To check out what's going on, duh!" Kris tried to shake off John's grip, but he was too strong.

    "Are you nuts? There's probably a gunman on the loose up there! Or a f*cking terrorist, for Christ's sake! Who do you think you are? Wonder Woman?"

    "No, not Wonder Woman, you dummy. Lois Lane!" Kris said, still trying desperately to free her arm.

    Damn those muscles.

    John looked at her as if he didn't have a clue what she was talking about.

    Kris sighed exasperatedly. "John, have you forgotten that I'm a double major? I'm majoring in Journalism as well as Chinese Literature."

    "But you're gonna get yourself killed!"

    Kris shrugged. "Worth the risk if I can get enough material to write a prize-winning story. Isn't that what the great Robert Capa said? The closer you are to a scene, the closer you will be to a Pulitzer Prize!"

    "That's horseshit!" John yelled. "Capa never said that, you just made that up!"

    "John, let me go," Kris pleaded. "I have to do this. Please."

    John sighed and released her arm. "Fine! But I'm coming with you to make sure you don't do anything stupid," he said sternly.

    "Fine! Tag along if you want," Kris said, already turning towards the stairs. "Now, are you sure that the gunshot came from upstairs?"

    "Nope! I lied. The shot actually came from downstairs, just outside this building," John said with a straight face.

    Kris rolled her eyes and flipped him the bird, then ran towards the staircase.

    "Hey! Wait up!" John yelled behind her.

    "Keep up, slow poke!" Kris yelled back, but kept running.

    They ran up the emergency staircase as quickly as they could. When they reached their intended floor, they realized that there were two hallways on that floor. Each hallway probably had dozens of lecture halls along it. The entire floor was empty; the students had probably fled after they heard the gunshot.

    "John, can you tell which lecture hall the shot came from?"

    John rolled his eyes. "My hearing is good," he said. "But not that good."

    "Well, there are two hallways, right? Guess we'll just have to split up—"

    BANG!!!!

    "WAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!"

    Kris looked at John, whose eyes were now wide with shock.

    Following that blood-curdling scream was the sound of a door opening.

    "Left hallway," John said. "Go."

    Kris broke off into a sprint. John ran along beside her. Instead of charging ahead, John had chosen to match her pace, which Kris appreciated. Despite his earlier attempt to get in her way, Kris was actually glad that John was there to watch her back. A Pulitzer Prize was no use to her if she ended up in a body bag.

    Up ahead, they saw a middle-aged man with a strange comb-over charging towards them in the opposite direction.

    "I think that's one of the staff here," John said.

    "Yeah, I've seen him before during the performance night," Kris said. That comb-over had left quite an impression.

    The man charged past them before Kris could ask him where the gunshot came from. Poor guy looked absolutely terrified.

    They kept running until another scream made them stop short.

    "WAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!"

    The scream was much louder this time.

    Kris shared a look with John.

    "We're near. Left side of the hallway," John said confidently.

    They broke off into a run again.

    Then, they saw a door swing open about twenty feet away. A man whose hands and knees were covered in blood crawled out of the lecture hall, then stood up on wobbly feet. Another professor... Kris rushed ahead, hoping to get some answers.

    The professor jumped in fright when he saw them and would've fallen to the ground if John hadn't been there in time to steady the man. Kris signaled John with her eyes, to which John answered with a nod. When John pulled the professor away from the door, Kris caught a glimpse of the professor's nametage. Liu...

    "Are you okay, Professor Liu?" Kris asked once they were further away from the lecture hall. Clearly, she had to be the one doing all the talking, since John couldn't speak Mandarin worth a damn.

    Professor Liu shook his head. "G- g- gun.... Gun... Student..."

    Kris looked at John. Student with a gun. Yeah, well. No shit.

    John just shrugged.

    "You should go downstairs and get some help, professor," Kris said. "Call the cops."

    Then, Kris stood up and headed back towards the lecture hall.

    "Hey, Kris!" John hissed. "Kris! Wait up, you crazy woman!"

    "No, you keep up, you dumb jock," Kris said. "I have a Pulitzer prize to win. Besides, I was also hoping to see your precious Sheep Poo get his brains blown out."

    Kris nearly laughed when she saw John's horrified expression.

    "I'm kidding," Kris said as they slowly approach the door.

    "Yeah? Not funny," John grumbled.

    Apparently, Professor Liu didn't close the door completely when he crawled out earlier.

    "Jesus Christ..." John whispered as they stopped a few feet away from the lecture hall's entrance. The door was ajar, but even through the small gap they could still see the blood and gore smeared across the door's inner surface. Below, a girl's hand lay across the doorsill, wedged between the door and the doorjamb. They had no idea whether the girl was dead or alive.

    "Christ help us all..." John said again.

    The next thing they heard sent chills down their spines: "HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA..."

    The sound of that laughter made Kris sick to her stomach, but she knew she had to push on. She'd come this far already. She had no right to call herself a journalist if she got creeped out by the mere sound of a man's laughter, even though that laugh would give the Joker's laugh a run for its money.

    Kris crept towards the door, keeping her head low. She stopped just outside the door, then waited for John to settle beside her. A few seconds later, he did.

    "So, what's the play, Lois Lane?" John said. "It's not like we can just walk in."

    Kris pulled out her phone from her back pocket, then opened up the camera app. She switched to video mode, then tapped on the screen to start recording.

    Holding her breath, Kris slid the phone through the gap between the door and the doorjamb...

     

    ***

     

    With great power comes great responsiblity. For once in his life, Li Yundong could fully comprehend the essence of the Peter Parker principle. Knowing what he was now capable of, Li Yundong would not sit around and do nothing while this son of a bitch hurt others for no reason other than a wounded ego and pure selfishness. Li Yundong would put his own life on the line if it meant stopping this madman.

    Li Yundong’s gaze zeroed in on the muzzle, which was now pointed straight at him. Good. Come at me, leave the others alone.

    Li Yundong had no idea why Zhao Yujian wasn't shooting at him yet. He had deliberately made himself an open target by standing up. Then again, it wouldn't matter because Li Yundong knew that Zhao Yujian wouldn't be able to kill him with the gun. He didn't know how he knew, he just knew. In fact, he was hoping that Zhao Yujian would fire at him. He would just dodge every single bullet until the bastard ran out of bullets. And then he would end that pathetic lowlife.

    Maybe he just needs a little more incentive.

    Keeping his eyes on Zhao Yujian, Li Yundong moved along the last row until he reached the aisle at the center of the hall. The muzzle followed his every move, but still, there was no gunshot.

    Li Yundong stepped into the aisle. He and Zhao Yujian were pretty much facing off now, albeit from a long distance away. Li Yundong could feel everyone's eyes on him then, though he kept his gaze focused on Zhao Yujian. The buzzing in his ears was loud, but he had already gotten the hang of working with his super hearing. He could now isolate and choose the sounds to focus on without confusing himself. It was just a matter of practice.

    Li Yundong's eyes narrowed when he heard a familiar voice amidst the buzzing. Su Chan. She was whispering something.

    When Li Yundong focused his mind, Su Chan's melodious whisper filled his ears.

    "... overwhelmed by them. The key lies in your focus. Your Xianjue responds to your Spirit, which means you have to focus your conscious will on the right things. Do that, and you can tune in and tune out your clairvoyant visions without being overwhelmed by them... The key lies in your—"

    "I got it, princess," Li Yundong whispered, knowing that Su Chan could hear him too. "Now you stay put under the table, got it?"

    "I can help, you know..." she whispered back.

    "Please?" Li Yundong whispered.

    "Okay..."

    Zhao Yujian's face was now filled with hatred, but Li Yundong wasn't afraid. Just shoot me already, damn it.

    "Be careful, beloved..."

    Li Yundong had no idea how Su Chan's voice could fill his heart with so much warmth despite the shitty situation, but it did.

    "I will," Li Yundong whispered back, then tuned out Su Chan's voice.

    "You!!!!" Zhao Yujian roared. "This all started because of you!!! You broke my f*cking leg, and then took my place during the performance. You stole all my glory!!!"

    Li Yundong could see Zhao Yujian's spit flying everywhere through a magnified view of the guy's face.

    Suddenly, a look of recognition flitted across Zhao Yujian's countenance.

    "It's because of him, isn't it, Zhou Qin?" Zhao Yujian said. "You're rejecting me now because of him! You were impressed by his performance that night, weren't you? And now you're swooning over him because he was the star of the show... I-it was... It was supposed to be me!!!"

    "Stop this madness now, Zhao Yujian," Li Yundong said in a loud voice.

    "Madness!" Zhao Yujian roared. "I'll show you what madness is when I put several rounds through your head!!!"

    Li Yundong moved along the aisle towards the lectern.

    "Hahahaha! I see! Are you giving up already? Finally accepted your fate? Come closer then! I want to see the look on your face as you die!"

    Li Yundong kept walking with slow and steady gait. As he walked, he made sure to keep both his hands hidden behind his back.

    "Last chance, Zhao Yujian," Li Yundong said, giving a couple of hand signals behind his back.

    The students he'd walked past immediately understood his cue as they all began moving away from the aisle towards the side of the lecture hall.

    "Last chance?" Zhao Yujian said. "Hahahaha! You deluded fool! I'm the one with the gun!!!"

    Then, it happened.

    Bursts of white light filled his mind, and an image took shape inside his mind. In the image, Zhao Yujian's lips were moving. He was saying something. But what was it? Focus your conscious will on the right things... Su Chan's words suddenly came to him. Wait... What if I...

    Li Yundong tried to focus his awareness on slowing down those images inside his head, as though he was reducing the playback speed of a video with his mere thoughts. To his surprise, the vision responded to his thoughts; the movement of Zhao Yujian's lips slowed down. Then, Li Yundong tried the opposite — he sped up the images in his head. The vision fast-forwarded until Li Yundong saw Zhao Yujian firing the gun. Then, Li Yundong slowed down so that the vision played out in slow motion. He didn't need to know all the details. He just had to identify the bullet's trajectory.

    His head.

    The bullet would be flying towards his head.

    Knowing that Zhao Yujian would likely fire more shots, Li Yundong fast-forwarded the vision again, then slowed down when he saw the second shot being fired. The second shot was aimed at his right chest. Okay. Now he just had to get himself out of clairvoyant mode. Once again, he took Su Chan's advice and willed the images to go away. Another burst of white light brought him back to real time.

    "... my woman! You stole everything from me! I'll kill you! I'll f*cking kill you!" Zhao Yujian raised the gun, but it didn't matter. Li Yundong already knew where both bullets would hit. Tilt head to the left in one second. Wait another second, then twist torso clockwise.  

    BANG!! The first bullet grazed Li Yundong's right ear.

    BANG!! The second bullet whizzed past Li Yundong's right shoulder.

    Li Yundong righted himself after dodging the second bullet. Wasting no time, Li Yundong went into clairvoyant mode again. It took less than a second for him to figure out that Zhao Yujian would fire three more shots at him. He switched back to normal mode, then isolated the noise in his ears and focused his hearing on Zhao Yujian.

    Li Yundong stared at Zhao Yujian. Ignoring the look of disbelief in Zhao Yujian's eyes, Li Yundong zoomed in and paid attention to Zhao Yujian's trigger finger. Then he waited. He already knew that the next three rounds would be fired consecutively. All he had to do now was wait for the right time to dodge.

    Not yet... not yet...  

    Two seconds later, Li Yundong's super hearing picked up Zhao Yujian's low growl and the clacking of his teeth. Then, Zhao Yujian's trigger finger moved.

    Now!

    Li Yundong dove to the side.

    BANG! BANG! BANG!

    Li Yundong's knees scraped against the floor as he slid to a stop.

    Blood dripped onto his palm from his right ear, where the first bullet had grazed.

    The gun in Zhao Yujian's right hand trembled. Li Yundong could hear everything: Zhao Yujian's rapid breathing; Zhao Yujian's pounding heart; the way his palm was rubbing against the gun's grip as it shook; the clattering of his teeth.

    "Y- y- you're a monster!!!" Zhao Yujian yelled hysterically.

    Li Yundong wiped his palm on his pants.

    "No, I'm not a monster," Li Yundong said, slowly rising to his feet. "You are."

     

    ***

     

    The phone trembled in Kris's hand. She'd never seen something like that before. Never. Whatever this was, it was supernatural. No human could possibly do what Li Yundong just did.

    "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph..." John whispered beside her. "What the hell was that, Kris?"

    Kris didn't reply. She couldn't reply. Not when she herself could barely process whatever the hell it was that she just witnessed.

    "H- H- he just dodged five bullets in a row..." John went on. "Christ Almighty..." John's butt hit the ground as he sat there in a daze.

    "Y- y- you're a monster!!!" yelled the gunman.

    Kris turned her attention back to her phone's screen.

    Her hands were still shaking a little, and she still had goosebumps all over. Dodging bullets... What the hell am I seeing...

    Then, Kris heard another voice. "No, I'm not a monster..." On the screen, Kris saw Li Yundong rise to his feet. "You are."

    Oh God... Is his hair standing upright? Oh God... What is happening...

    On the screen, Li Yundong took a step forward.

    "S-s-stay back!!!" yelled the gunman.

    Li Yundong kept on walking. "Are you done with this madness now?"

    "I- I- I'm warning you! D- don't come any closer!"

    Li Yundong kept on advancing. "Drop the gun and give up now. Do that and you have a chance to walk away from here alive."

    A chill ran down Kris's spine. On the screen, she saw the gunman backing away from the lectern until his back hit the chalkboard.

    All of a sudden, Kris saw movement in the first row.

    THUD! THUD! THUD! THUD!

    The screen showed the rapidly enlarging figure of a guy. Some idiot was making a run for the door. No, no, no, you fool!

    "No!!! Don't shoot!!!" Li Yundong yelled.

    BANG!!

    A loud crash followed.

    Kris dropped the phone and turned towards John.

    "Hey, hey!" Kris hissed. "John!"

    "Jesus Christ... Five bullets… Jesus Christ... Lord Christ Almighty..." John muttered, still in a daze.

    "John!" Kris slapped his cheek. Finally, John's eyes cleared a little.

    "Wh- what?"

    "Snap out of it!" Kris hissed. "Someone else just got shot. We gotta help them—"

    BANG!! BANG!!

    Both Kris and John jumped in fright.

    "F*ck!" John said.

    "Come on, John," Kris urged. "A guy got shot just now. We gotta drag him out and check his vitals." Then, Kris crept towards the half-open door.

    A strong grip wrapped around her bicep and yanked her back.

    "No, you're not going in there," John said.

    "But—"

    "I'll do it," John said.

    Kris nodded, knowing that they didn't have much time to argue; if they wanted to save someone, they needed to do it soon.

    "Okay. Be careful," she said.

    Kris shifted away from the door and watched John position himself beside it. When John turned around to look at her, Kris gave him an encouraging nod.

    John took a deep breath and gave the door a gentle push. The door opened a tad wider, and John poked his head in. Seconds later, John pulled back and looked at her.

    "What is it? What did you see?"

    "I saw three victims near the door. Two men and one woman. I think the woman's only unconscious, coz I don't see any GSW on her," John said.

    "Can we pull them out without alerting the gunman?"

    "I think we can," John said. "The gunman's holding a girl at gunpoint as we speak, and the girl's body is partially blocking his view of the door. Besides, Sheep Poo's distracting him."

    "Think you can do it?" Kris asked.

    "I'm gonna try anyway," John said. "I'll drag the two men out first."

    "Okay, hurry..." Kris whispered.

    Kris watched with bated breath as John crawled into the lecture hall. Seconds later, he crawled out, dragging a middle-aged man with him. It was a professor. Kris didn't even have to check the man's pulse to know that he was gone; the bullet hole between his eyes pretty much said it all.

    When John crawled out with the second victim, he was grinning at her. "Kris, Kris! This one's still got a pulse!"

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  • Chapter 79 One of You Must Die!

    "I-I-I'm warning you!"

    The cane in Zhao Yujian's left hand tapped against the floor as he slowly backed away from the lectern. Since his right arm was wrapped around Ding Nan's neck, the bastard was dragging Ding Nan along as he moved. Much to Li Yundong's annoyance, Zhao Yujian had positioned himself behind Ding Nan's body, no doubt planning to use Ding Nan as a human shield. F*cking coward.

    "Don't come any closer!"

    Li Yundong kept walking. He was near the end of the long aisle now. He'd just walked past the fifth row.

    "Drop the gun and give up now," Li Yundong said. "Do that and you have a chance to walk out of here alive."

    THUD!

    Zhao Yujian's back hit the chalkboard. Ding Nan whimpered.

    Fourth row... third—

    Some dude in the first row sprang to his feet, then made a dash for the door. No, no, no!!!

    Zhao Yujian unwrapped his right arm from around Ding Nan's neck and straightened out his arm.

    "No! Don't shoot!" Li Yundong yelled.

    BANG!!

    A red spot formed on the student's shirt before he crashed face-first onto the floor a few feet away from the door.

    "Damn it!" Li Yundong smashed his fist onto the third row's table. The sound startled Zhao Yujian, and the next thing Li Yundong knew, the gun's muzzle was levelled at him.

    A burst of white light dazzled his mind's eyes as Xianjue came to life. In an instant, Li Yundong was in clairvoyant mode again. Two consecutive rounds, straight to the chest.

    Another burst of white light brought Li Yundong back to real time.

    BANG!! BANG!!

    Li Yundong dove to the side a split second before the trigger was pulled.

    Both bullets hit the floor somewhere behind him. Li Yundong got up to his feet immediately, then charged forward. Third row... second row... first—

    "Stop!!! Stop!!! Or I swear to God I'll kill her!!"

    Something in Zhao Yujian's voice made Li Yundong halt his steps. Li Yundong zoomed in and got a magnified view of Ding Nan's temple, where the muzzle of the gun was now pressed against. The skin under the muzzle was red and lacerated. The bastard had applied enough pressure to draw blood.

    When Li Yundong focused his hearing, the buzzing cleared almost instantly, and Ding Nan's soft voice floated to his ears.

    "Mmph... P-p-plzz..."

    He also heard Zhao Yujian's heavy breathing and the gentle clicking of the gun as it shook against Ding Nan's temple.

    Li Yundong zoomed out and stared into Ding Nan's eyes, which were now wide and round. The viper was terrified.

    "It's okay..." Li Yundong said, raising his palm a little, giving Ding Nan a reassuring look.

    Li Yundong took a small step forward.

    "I said stop!!! Dammit!! Stop!!"

    Li Yundong stopped beside the first row. Zhou Qin was somewhere to his right a few feet away.

    At this distance, Li Yundong didn't even have to zoom in to see the fear and terror in Zhao Yujian's eyes. Nevertheless, the fact remained that Zhao Yujian still had the upper hand. There was nothing Li Yundong could do at this point without putting Ding Nan at further risk.

    A feminine whisper sounded on his right: "Two bullets. He's got two bullets left."

    Zhou Qin.

    Two more bullets. That wasn't a lot. Did he have extra magazines? Li Yundong zoomed in and tried to check for any bulges near Zhao Yujian's pockets. Unfortunately, he couldn't get a good view because Zhao Yujian's pocket was obscured by Ding Nan's body. He couldn't see Zhao Yujian's back pocket either, since the bastard had his back against the chalkboard. Nah... it won't matter even if he's got extra rounds. At this distance, Li Yundong knew he was fast enough to take the bastard out while he was reloading. Now I just have to get him to waste those two bullets on me.

    "Let her go, Zhao Yujian," Li Yundong said, then spread his arms out wide. "It's me you wanna kill, right? The guy who stole all your glory?"

    Li Yundong could hear the squeezing of Zhao Yujian's muscles as they tensed up.

    "You think I'm a fool?" Zhao Yujian growled. "You just want me to run out of bullets!"

    Damn it!

    Just when Li Yundong was thinking about charging forward and putting an end to this clusterfuck, white light filled his mind's eye once again: him charging forward to grab the gun; Zhao Yujian firing the gun at him; Ding Nan lying in a pool of her own blood; the blood splatter spreading across the chalkboard...

    No! The vision disappeared in a flash, and Li Yundong stepped forward instinctively.

    "Don't move!!!"

    The sheer desperation in Zhao Yujian's voice made Li Yundong go still.

    "Don't you dare make another move, or I swear..."

    "Okay! Okay!" Li Yundong raised his hands up high. "I won't move. See? I'm not moving. Just... Just don't shoot. Don't shoot."

    Damn it. He shouldn’t try to disarm Zhao Yujian. Ding Nan would die if he did.

    Li Yundong zoomed in on Ding Nan's temple and was relieved to find that the pressure of the muzzle had eased slightly. Ding Nan whimpered again. Damn, the girl honestly looked like she was seconds away from passing out.

    "Think about your mother, Zhao Yujian," Li Yundong said, switching tactics. "I don't have to tell you how much your mom loves you, man. I know it, and you know it. So think about her for a second, would you? Who's going to be there for her if you ruin your life like this?"

    Zhao Yujian's features contorted into something Li Yundong couldn't even recognize. Moments later, Zhao Yujian released a series of hysterical laughs, which then turned into violent sobs.

    "And you think there's a way out of this mess! Even if I stop now, I'm still a criminal!" Zhao Yujian yelled with tears streaking down his cheeks. "No. It's all over for me. You might be able to dodge bullets, but you can't bring back the dead!" Zhao Yujian jerked the gun towards the door. Li Yundong glanced towards the door briefly and—

    He nearly jumped out of his skin. What the hell? Where's the professor's body? Then, he realized that the student who got shot in the back earlier was nowhere to be seen as well. However, he didn't have time to ponder on that particular mystery because Zhao Yujian suddenly started bawling like a baby.

    Li Yundong tore his gaze away from the doorway and focused on Zhao Yujian, whose shoulders were quivering as he sobbed. Ding Nan flinched every time the gun pressed too hard against her temple.

    Suddenly, Zhao Yujian raised his head, and Li Yundong honestly thought the guy looked like some kind of wounded beast. Zhao Yujian stared at him for a while before turning his gaze towards Zhou Qin.

    "Why! Why must you force me into doing this! Why!"

    "Zhao Yujian," Zhou Qin said, "nobody is forcing you into anything. You're the one who's forcing yourself."

    The muzzle of the gun left Ding Nan's temple at bullet speed. "Shut up!" Zhao Yujian screamed like a maniac, pointing the gun at Zhou Qin. "Shut up!"

    "Don't," Li Yundong said in a steady tone. "Don't shoot. Just tell us what you want. You're the boss here."

    When Li Yundong stole a glance at Zhou Qin to check on her, he found that the woman wasn't fazed at all. She sat behind the table with her back straight. Her cold gaze was fixed on Zhao Yujian, and her breathing was surprisingly calm and even. It made Li Yundong wonder if she even noticed the gun pointed at her face. Somehow, Li Yundong didn't find any of that surprising. She wasn't known as the Ice Queen for nothing.

    "Stand up," Zhao Yujian said, jerking the gun towards Zhou Qin.

    Moments passed in silence. Still, Zhou Qin made no moves to stand up. Li Yundong zoomed in on Zhao Yujian's trigger finger. What the hell is he planning? What’s his endgame?

    The gun jerked again. "I said, stand! Up!"

    Li Yundong detected movement on his right as Zhou Qin slowly rose to her feet.

    "And you!" The gun turned towards Li Yundong. "Hands in the air where I can see them!"

    Li Yundong complied immediately.

    "Walk out of the room slowly!" Zhao Yujian yelled. "Keep your hands in the air as you walk! And no funny business, or else I'll kill either one of them!"

    Li Yundong stepped forward until he cleared the first row entirely. Then, he crab-walked towards the exit, keeping his eyes focused on Zhao Yujian's trigger finger.

    When he reached the side of the lecture hall, Li Yundong heard a voice that nearly made him jump out of his damn skin.

    "Yundong... You distract him, and I'll attack."

    When did she—

    Li Yundong whipped his head around and saw Su Chan huddled against the side-wall of the lecture hall.

    "What are you doing here!" Li Yundong hissed. "I told you to hide under the table!"

    He would never forgive himself if Su Chan got hurt.

    "I can sneak up—"

    "No! He's got a gun—"

    "What are you whispering about!" Zhao Yujian yelled. "I told you to step outside! Now!"

    "Fine! We're heading out now!" Li Yundong yelled with his hands still raised. "Just don't shoot."

    "Get to the ground floor, then step out of the academic building!" Zhao Yujian shouted. "Stand at a spot where I can see you from the window!"

    "Look man—"

    "Do it!" Zhao Yujian cut him off. "Do it or I'll shoot someone!"

    Li Yundong clenched his jaw and pulled Su Chan towards the door. Sidestepping the professor's blood and the unconscious girl's body, Li Yundong slowly backed away until his back touched the door, which was slightly ajar.

    Outside the lecture hall, Li Yundong stumbled on the solution to the dead professor's missing body. The dead professor's face was covered by what appeared to be John's jacket. Kris, whose torso was bare except for a beige bra, was wrapping a makeshift bandage around the body of the student who'd been shot in the back earlier. John was right beside her, keeping the student's body upright as Kris worked.

    "What are you two doing here?" Li Yundong asked.

    John raised his head, and Li Yundong cringed when he saw the blood covering John's forehead and cheeks. Then, John unleashed some kind of rigmarole in English, which made Li Yundong cringe even harder. The only word he could understand was "Sheep Poo." Not that it was even a word.

    Li Yundong approached the Americans with Su Chan in tow. Kris lay the wounded student on the floor and eyed Li Yundong warily.

    "How did you pull it off?"

    Instead of answering, Li Yundong crouched down and checked the wounded guy's pulse, which, although present, was weak. Probably lost too much blood. Gotta get him some help soon.

    "Answer me," Kris said, nudging him. "How did you dodge the bullets?"

    Li Yundong looked up and saw the curiosity and thrill in Kris's eyes. He smirked. You wouldn't believe me even if I told you. Hell, he could barely believe it himself.

    Li Yundong stood up. "And why are you here dressed like a model in a Playboy magazine cover?" he said, gesturing at the blonde woman's bra-clad torso.

    Kris pointed at the makeshift bandage on the wounded guy's body. "Had to improvise," she said. Li Yundong took a closer look at the bandage and realized that it was actually a woman's blouse.

    "And the bullet's out?" Li Yundong asked.

    Kris nodded.

    John went on another spiel: something, something, Sheep Poo, something, something, Kris, something, something, Sheep Poo...

    "Stop avoiding the question, Li Yundong," Kris growled. "How did you—"

    "I said no funny business, Li Yundong! Move your f*cking ass or I'll shoot someone!"

    Li Yundong glanced towards the door.

    "Crazy son of a bitch..." Li Yundong muttered under his breath, then turned back to Kris. "You heard that?" Li Yundong said, tilting his head towards the door, then gestured at the wounded guy on the floor. "Call an ambulance. Guy's lost too much blood."

    "Already did," Kris said.

    "Good," Li Yundong said. "Now I gotta go. Otherwise, that lunatic is gonna kill someone else."

    "Come on, Su Chan!" Li Yundong said, then broke off into a sprint.

    "Hey! Wait up!" Kris yelled. "I'm coming with you!"

    The last thing Li Yundong heard before he stepped through the emergency exit was, unsurprisingly, a series of Sheep/Cheap Poos.

     

    ***

     

    Zhou Qin followed Zhao Yujian's movements with her eyes even though her mind was still busy processing Li Yundong's bullet-dodging feat earlier. What was it again that she thought last night while she was pouring her sorrows onto her oil painting? That she'd known a lot of men who were far more talented than Li Yundong? Clearly, the universe was keen on proving her wrong. It certainly took more than just talent to dodge five... no, seven, bullets in total. Yes, such a feat required something beyond talent to pull off. It would take... God, she didn't even know what it would take.

    Zhao Yujian's cane knocked against a table as he limped his way towards one of the windows, which was lodged on the wall directly opposite of the door. The tapping of the cane echoed in the lecture hall until he stopped beside the window and pushed it open. Zhao Yujian leaned his hip against the windowsill and glanced out the window while keeping the gun pointed at the door.

    Someone dropped an object.

    "Silence!!" Zhao Yujian yelled.

    Zhou Qin glanced around and noticed their class rep, Sun Li, picking up her textbook from the floor.

    "What's the point of all this, Zhao Yujian?" Zhou Qin said, trying her best to keep her emotions out of her voice. "Can't you see how pointless this is?"

    "My whole life is now pointless," Zhao Yujian gritted.

    "Not if you turn around and give yourself a chance," Zhou Qin said.

    "Enough!" Zhao Yujian's eyes flashed with anger. "It's too late now. It's all over for me." Then, he glared at Zhou Qin in such a way that gave her goosebumps. "And it'll be all over for you too."

    Zhou Qin stiffened. What is he planning? If he wants to kill me, why not just shoot me now?

    Li Yundong's voice pulled her out of her thoughts.

    "Hey! Zhao Yujian! I'm already downstairs! Don't do anything rash!"

    "Show me your hands!" Zhao Yujian shouted through the window. "Hands where I can see them!"

    "Alright! Alright! Here! My hands! Just chill, man..."

    "Stay there! And don't you dare move a f*cking inch if you value the lives of your two fangirls!"

    Zhou Qin bristled at the outright lie that Zhao Yujian had just spouted. Whatever this madman was planning, it definitely wouldn't involve her and Nannan getting out unharmed.

    What the hell am I supposed to do now?

     

    ***

     

    Ding Nan flinched when she felt Zhao Yujian's hands on her throat.

    "Move!"

    Ding Nan stumbled a few steps after she was shoved away from the chalkboard where she'd been leaning against. She caught the edge of the lectern and managed to keep herself upright. Zhao Yujian was behind her before she could do anything else.

    "You too!" Zhao Yujian jerked the gun towards Zhou Qin. "Move!" Zhao Yujian gestured at the door with the gun.

    "Where are we going?" Zhou Qin said. The coldness behind that voice surprised Ding Nan no matter how many times she heard it.

    Ding Nan felt Zhao Yujian's breath tickling her ear. "To the rooftop!" he said.

    Ding Nan stumbled again after Zhao Yujian shoved her from behind.

    "We don't have access to the rooftop anymore," Zhou Qin said with a frown. "The door is locked."

    "You're lying!" Zhao Yujian growled. "That door is never locked!"

    "It is now," Zhou Qin said calmly. "The staff decided to restrict access to the rooftops of all the buildings on campus ever since Li Yundong climbed to the rooftop of the dorms."

    Despite how much she hated the cold-hearted bitch, Ding Nan was grateful that she was stalling for time. Time for what, Ding Nan knew not. She was just glad that she was still alive and breathing instead of bleeding on the floor.

    The sudden coldness she felt on the skin behind her neck made Ding Nan flinch.

    "I don't care if it's locked!" Zhao Yujian growled. "Just move! Now! I'm not going to ask again!"

     

    ***

     

    BANG!!!

    Ding Nan gasped, then shot Zhou Qin a fearful glance.

    "Guess what! Now the door is unlocked!" Zhao Yujian yelled, smacking the ruined door knob away with his cane. "Open the door and walk up the stairs!"

    Ding Nan looked away from Zhou Qin and noticed that Zhao Yujian was looking at her pointedly.

    Ding Nan stepped forward and pushed the door open. Why me? Why does it always have to be me?

    The journey to the rooftop took several minutes. Ding Nan's head was spinning by the time she arrived at the rooftop. She stole a glance at Zhou Qin, who, much to her chagrin, looked as composed as ever. The tapping sound of the cane announced Zhao Yujian's arrival at the rooftop. Ding Nan did a quick scan of the rooftop area. Hopelessness crept into her heart when she realized that there was no way out of this place, no way other than the staircase or over the ledge.

    Zhou Qin's cold voice sounded again. "You only have one bullet left."

    Ding Nan studied Zhao Yujian's face to see how he would react.

    Zhao Yujian's face twitched slightly. Suddenly, the gun's barrel turned from herself to Zhou Qin. Ding Nan secretly heaved a sigh of relief.

    "What's your point?" Zhao Yujian growled.

    "Isn't it obvious?" Zhou Qin said. "There are two of us here, but you have only one bullet remaining."

    Every ounce of relief fled Ding Nan's body. She did not like where this was going.

    Zhao Yujian sneered. "Who do you think I'll shoot then?"

    A shiver ran down Ding Nan's spine. She flicked a glance towards the staircase. If she made a run for it...

    "I have no idea," Zhou Qin said nonchalantly. "But I should let you know that if you kill me today, you're not the only one whose life is gonna end. Your mother, your father, and your entire family will be finished!"

    Ding Nan felt her knees go weak. Th- this bitch is... throwing me under the bus...

    "Y- you cold-hearted bitch!" Zhao Yujian yelled.

    Ding Nan had to agree with Zhao Yujian on that assessment even though he was the enemy.

    "This has nothing to do with me being cold-hearted," Zhou Qin said. "It is nothing but a simple fact."

    Ding Nan eyed Zhao Yujian warily. Oh God, Oh God, Oh God... He's going to kill me... He's going to kill me for sure...

    "The power and influence of my family is far too great," Zhou Qin went on. "That's beyond either of our control. So if you kill me..."

    Zhou Qin didn't even have to complete her sentence to get the point across. The underlying implication was clear: Kill Ding Nan and spare me, otherwise my family will ruin yours.

    A deluge of emotions crashed into Ding Nan: pain; regret; fear; anger; hatred. She hated Zhao Yujian and his obsession with Zhou Qin, hated Zhou Qin and her coldness, but most importantly, she hated herself.

    Why didn't she choose to remain as Ding Nan the village girl? Why did she have to obsess over the LVs, Guccis, and all those fancy parties? Why did she volunteer to become Zhou Qin's scapegoat? Deep down, Ding Nan knew the answer to all those questions — vanity.

    Tears slid down Ding Nan's cheeks, and her knees buckled. She slid to the floor, drowning in an ocean of hopelessness. Her tears flowed silently. She didn't even have the energy to sob.

    "HAHAHAHA..."

    The sound of Zhao Yujian's deranged laughter spread across the rooftop. It was sinister and foreboding, like the voice of the angel of death.

    "Get up! Up on your feet!"

    Ding Nan's body swayed to the left after Zhao Yujian kicked her.

    More tears slid down her cheeks, turning her vision blurry. Ding Nan didn't move. What was the point? She was as good as dead anyway.

    Then, Ding Nan felt a grip on her arm, a feminine touch. Beside her ear, a cold voice sounded, the same cold voice that she hated so much: "Come on. Don't give up."

     

    ***

     

    What the hell is going on up there? Li Yundong paced back and forth on the compound just outside the academic building. Why can't I hear anything?

    Li Yundong had been focusing his hearing on the sounds coming from the lecture hall for the past three minutes or so. His efforts came up empty. He didn't hear anything that would give him a clue as to what was happening.

    Li Yundong stopped pacing and tried again, willing himself to focus more. Chatter. Chatter. More chatter. None of those voices belonged to Zhao Yujian, Ding Nan, or Zhou Qin. Well, at least he didn't hear any gunshots. One thing Li Yundong had noticed about his super hearing was that it was only sensitive for sounds transmitted through open air. At least that was what he inferred from the fact that the voices inside the lecture hall weren't as clear the moment he stepped out of the building. It was either that, or he was losing his super hearing. Nah, the buzzing was still there, so his super hearing must still be working.

    Li Yundong glanced up at the open window of the lecture hall. Zhao Yujian was no longer standing there. Should he sneak back into the lecture hall to check? Nope, bad idea. All hell would break loose if Zhao Yujian suddenly appeared at the window again and saw that he was no longer there. Li Yundong glanced towards Kris and John who were both staring at the screen of a phone. Should he ask one of them to check? Yeah, maybe he should—

    "Yundong!" Su Chan suddenly yelled.

    Li Yundong whipped his head around and saw Su Chan pointing at the sky. No, not the sky. She was pointing towards the academic building's rooftop.

    Li Yundong wanted to smack himself for his own stupidity when he saw two feminine figures inching closer and closer towards the ledge of the rooftop.

    Li Yundong focused his eyes on the ledge, then zoomed in. Indeed, the two women were Ding Nan and Zhou Qin. No wonder he didn't hear their voices when he isolated the sounds from the lecture hall just now. They weren't even in the lecture hall! He'd been focusing on the wrong place!

    You idiot!

    "Oh my God!! Are they jumping?!" Kris yelled, her voice colored with desperation. "Li Yundong! Hurry up and do something, would you!"

    Li Yundong held up a hand to quiet Kris. He backed away a few steps and glanced up at the rooftop. After that, he spent the next thirty seconds listening to the conversation at the rooftop.

    "Shit..." Li Yundong said.

    "What? What did you see?" Kris asked anxiously.

    Beside Kris, John said something in English and made a couple of wild gestures with his hands: Sheep Poo, something, something, something, Sheep Poo!

    Li Yundong shook his head and began glancing around the building. Suddenly, he paused and turned towards Su Chan.

    "Su Chan! Help me find a spot where I can climb up!"

    Su Chan nodded obediently and got to work.

    Li Yundong paced around and studied the building. There's gotta be somewhere I can climb. A wall. A balcony. Something! Dammit!

    Kris caught up to him. "What the hell are you doing! What do you mean by climb up," she yelled. "Why don't you just use the stairs if you wanna get to the rooftop!"

    Li Yundong stopped walking, but he kept glancing around. "No. I won't be able to save them if I use the stairs," he said. "I won't get there in time."

    "What's that supposed to mean?"

    "He's gonna force one of them to jump, Kris," Li Yundong said. "I won't be able to catch them if I take the stairs. But if I climb up from below, I might be able to catch them in midair if one of them jumps."

    "Holy shit... you're nuts..."

    "I dodged like, what, seven bullets?" Li Yundong said. "Yeah, I think nuts pretty much sums it up."

    "Yundong! Over here!" Su Chan yelled. Her voice came from somewhere on his left.

    Li Yundong quickly made his way over towards Su Chan.

    "Wait!" Kris yelled. "How did you even know that he was gonna force one of them to jump?!"

    That question made Li Yundong stop short. Yeah. And how the f*ck did I dodge seven bullets?

    Li Yundong turned around and said, "Deduction!"

    Then, he ran towards Su Chan, leaving a dazed Kris behind. 

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  • Chapter 80 The Jaws of Death

     

    Li Yundong ran alongside Su Chan across the compound. Director Qian, Vice-chancellor Ke, and several other professors had gathered in front of the building's facade. Li Yundong moved past the white-collars without sparing them a glance, but he still managed to pick up snippets of their conversation.

    "Damn it, how am I supposed to report to the mayor if this situation goes south!"

    "God, think about the budget cuts next year. And what about the extra expenses we have to spend on dealing with all the bad PR!"

    "Budget cuts! There wouldn’t even be a Tiannan University's if word about this incident gets out! We'll probably be closed down for good!"

    "You guys are forgetting something else! The Deputy Governor! It's his daughter up there!"

     Unbidden anger coursed through Li Yundong. Two lives are at stake, and all these f*ckers care about is politics? Li Yundong increased his pace and tuned out those obnoxious voices. He didn't have time to deal with these good-for-nothing bureaucrats. Saving the two girls was his top priority.

     Su Chan pulled him to a stop when they reached a corner of the building twenty feet away from the crowd.

     "Yundong! Check out that window!"

     Li Yundong glanced up and saw an open window on the second floor. The window had two exterior ledges, one along its top side and the other one along its bottom side. Both ledges protruded enough from the wall that he could grab onto them. He could definitely use that window to start the climb. That’s one problem solved. Li Yundong shifted his gaze upwards. To his relief, he saw a series of similar windows for every floor until the sixth floor. The rooftop’s ledge was just slightly above the sixth floor.

    Okay. So getting to the rooftop using those windows wouldn't be an issue. But what if one of them fell before he finished the climb?

    Li Yundong glanced up at the rooftop again. The windows formed a vertical column slightly to the left of where the girls were now standing near the ledge. Theoretically speaking, if he hung on to the ledge (of a window) with his left arm and reached across with his right arm, he should be able to catch one of the girls if they fell along a vertical path...

    Whatever. The best-case scenario was that the fall never happened, which meant he had to get up to the rooftop and take Zhao Yujian out before shit hit the fan.

    "Good job, princess," Li Yundong said. “This will work.”

    "Be careful, Yundong."

    "I will," Li Yundong said as he began backing away from the wall. He first had to grab the bottom ledge of the window, which was about five or six meters above the ground floor.

    Suddenly, he halted. "Hey, Su Chan..." he said. "Do you think my body can handle the weight of a falling girl?"

    He didn't want things to lead to that, but he had to prepare for the worst.

    Su Chan eyed the rooftop silently, then shook her head. "Not if you catch the body from here. It would've gained too much speed by the time it reaches ground level. Your shoulder joints probably won't hold."

    Shit...

    "Okay... But what if I catch it from somewhere above ground, like from the third floor or something."

    "Then it shouldn't be a problem."

    "Wait, what if I hang on to the ledge with one arm, then catch them with the other arm?"

    "Shouldn't be a problem too as long as the body isn’t falling too fast," Su Chan said with a confident nod.

    Li Yundong glanced up and studied the bottom ledge of the second-floor window. Six meters up... Could he even reach the window from down here? Maybe he should just run back inside and take the stairs to the second floor. But he didn’t know which lecture hall this window belonged to... He'd just be wasting precious time if he tried to locate it on his own... Maybe if I ask around—

    "Don't worry, beloved. You can reach the second-floor window from here," Su Chan said as if reading his mind. "Your bones and muscles have been strengthened after you passed the Sutai phase. But the most important thing is still your Qi control. Mobilize your Qi to whichever part of your body that needs it, and you'll experience a surge in strength and endurance." (T/N: Sutai is the first phase of Cultivation; Li Yundong passed that phase the moment he consumed the Renyuan Jindan)

    Wait, the Sutai what? That's a training phase? But he couldn't recall undergoing any training other than the Qi control stuff that Su Chan had taught him recently...

    Li Yundong exhaled and decided that now wasn't the right time to be pondering that question.

    "Okay... I can do this," he said, slapping his cheeks a few times. "Let's go!" He rolled his shoulders a few times.  

    "Hey! Li Yundong!"

    "Sheep poo! Sheep foo!"

    Li Yundong turned and saw Kris and John running towards them.

    "Are you sure that catching them mid-fall is the best way to go?" Kris said in an anxious tone. "Why not just set up an air mattress on the ground or something!"

    "No," Li Yundong said, shaking his head gravely. "This is some kind of sick game to him. He'll know something's up the moment he sees the air mattress. He might change his mind and just shoot one of them instead."

    "Fair enough," Kris said, sighing defeatedly. Then, all of a sudden, she looked right into his eyes. "God, I really hope you know what you're doing."

    Li Yundong smiled wryly. "Guess you're about to find out then."

    He turned away from Kris to face Su Chan, then leaned down.

    "Princess, keep an eye on the rooftop for me, okay?" he whispered. "Report whatever you see to me. The plan's gonna be blown if Zhao Yujian notices me climbing up. You don't have to shout. Just whisper. I can hear you if I focus on your voice."

    "Mmm!" Su Chan nodded.

    "Wish me luck?"

    "You won't need it, beloved," Su Chan said.

    There. There it was, that feeling of encouragement which shot his morale into the stratosphere, making him feel like he could achieve anything. All because this girl with a mysterious past had said a few words to him.

    He backed away from the wall until he was a good seven meters away, then stopped to look up at the window on the second floor. Whispers from the crowd drifted to his ears, but he tuned them out. Focus, Li Yundong. Two lives were at stake, and he had a chance to save them both. If he ended up making a fool of himself, then so be it. He didn't give a shit. He was no superhero anyway. He just didn't want to see two women he knew die in the hands of some lunatic with delusions of grandeur. Neither of those girls deserved such an ending.

    Li Yundong closed his eyes as a wave of anxiety crept into his chest.

    Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit...

    Did he really know what he was doing? What if his grip slipped and one of them fell?

    He'd never done something like this before. Not even the parkour stunt, or hell, the bullet-dodging feat he did earlier, could compare to what he was about to do. It was one thing to put his own life on the line, but another to have two lives depending on his strength, quickness, and decisions.

    F*ck...

    A warm palm settled on the small of his back. Then, a melodious voice washed over his soul like the most soothing balm in existence: "Xiao Zhoutian and Da Zhoutian. Qi at your lower Dantian. Huiyin, Lingtai, Shenting, and then Baihui... That's gonna help calm you down. Don't worry. I got your back, beloved. Always."

    Oh, Su Chan...

    Calmness and confidence coursed through every fiber of his being.

    "Just remember that your Qi is your best ally. Move it to wherever your body needs it. Also, remember that your Qi answers to your Spirit. So you need to focus. And focus on the right things..."

    Li Yundong's eyes shot open the moment he felt a wave of heat gushing out from the top of his head. He broke off into a sprint, and f*ck, he didn't think he ever ran this fast before. He pushed his Qi through his meridians and got it to circle around his calves, quadriceps, and hamstrings.

    THUD!

    Li Yundong made a huge leap forward with his right leg. Then, when the wall was within his kicking range, he kicked the wall with his left leg, using the force of the kick to propel himself up the wall.

    Right. Left. Right. Left. Right. Left.

    THUD! THUD! THUD! THUD! THUD! THUD!

    With every kick, his body was propelled a few feet upwards along the wall. He wasn't even fully aware of what he was doing. He was just kicking for dear life, as though his legs were moving by instinct.

    Several more kicks later, Li Yundong could tell that he was losing upward momentum. He knew he was going to fall if he didn't grab onto something. He channeled more Qi to his right calf and performed one final kick.

    THUD!

    He raised his arms above his head and grabbed the window's bottom ledge. He hung on the ledge for a second or two, then perform a perfect muscle-up to raise himself onto the ledge.

    He did it. He f*cking did it. He just ran six meters up the wall, then performed a perfect muscle-up even though he'd never done a single pull-up in his life. The magnitude of what he just did was not lost on him.

    He shoved those thoughts to the back of his mind and focused on the task at hand. There would be time for introspection later. Right now, he had a mission. He looked towards the ground and located Su Chan among the crowd. He zoomed in and saw that Su Chan was already doing what he'd asked her to do. She was staring up at the rooftop with intense focus. He turned away and focused his attention on the top ledge next. He would have to perform a vertical jump and pull himself up onto the top ledge. Okay... Here we go. Just like dunking a basketball...

    He bent both legs at the knees, then pushed his legs against the bottom ledge as hard as he could. When his hands grabbed the top ledge, he performed another muscle-up.

    He'd just cleared the first window.

    One down, four more to go...

    Li Yundong focused his hearing on the crowd, where Su Chan was standing as she stared at the rooftop with rapt attention. However, instead of hearing Su Chan's whispers, he heard the sounds of chatter.

    "What is that boy doing?"

    "He's climbing up the building, duh!"

    "Climbing up the building!" Vice-chancellor Ke screamed. "Who does he think he is? Some kind of superhero!? Someone get him down here! Now!"

    Yeah, announce the plan to the whole world, why don't you? Useless idiots!

    "Su Chan... Tell them to keep their voices down," Li Yundong growled. "Those idiots are going to blow the plan wide open."

    Seconds later, he heard Su Chan's voice: "Shut up, you fools! You're going to clue in the enemy with your yapping!"

    "Y- y- you... How dare you! You insolent—"

    "She's right, sir... I think Li Yundong knows what he's doing..."

    Kris... Guess I owe her one.

    Li Yundong turned away from the crowd and eyed the window on the third floor.

    Showtime...

    ***

    "You heard me! One of you must jump!"

    All it took was one simple statement by Zhao Yujian to turn Zhou Qin into something infinitely more lethal than the gun in Zhao Yujian's hand. Because Ding Nan knew that if she were to die today, it would be by Zhou Qin's next words, not the gun.

    Ding Nan took an unconscious step back from the woman who now held the power over her own life. She couldn't believe this was how her life would end. This wasn't supposed to happen. She was beautiful and smart. She was supposed to have a whole life ahead of her, not fall to her death and become a mere sacrificial lamb just so Zhou Qin could live on. None of this was fair.

    Zhou Qin's figure became a blur in Ding Nan's vision. A strangled sob escaped Ding Nan's lips. Oh God... I'm really gonna die... I'm really gonna die...

    "Hahahahahahaha... How about it bitches? This is my final gift to you both for f*cking up my life!!! This is the perfect way to screw up the both of you at the same time! You two are very close, right? Joined to the hips, like sisters? Hahahahaha... This is perfect! This is absolutely beautiful! Two sisters, forced to kill one another! One falls to her death, while the other one carries the guilt with her for the rest of her life! Hahahahaha..."

    Tears slid down Ding Nan's cheeks. She swiped them away, and Zhou Qin's figure became clear again. Ding Nan didn't even have to hear the words to know what Zhou Qin's decision was; the look in her eyes said it all.

    Pity.

    Zhou Qin was looking at her with pity.

    "Go on, then! Make your choice!" Zhao Yujian yelled.

    Zhou Qin's hand rose slightly as she took a step towards Ding Nan.

    "D- don't come any closer!" Ding Nan yelled, backing away a few more steps.

    "Ding Nan... You're a smart woman. You know how this is gonna end..."

    Ding Nan broke into sobs.

    Not fair... not fair... None of this is fair... It's always me... always me...

    "Do you think my family will actually let you live if I die here today? If I jump, then we both die, that's how it is..."

    "Oh God, no... No!!!" Ding Nan wailed.

    "I promise I'll take care of your family, okay? They'll all live a comfortable life, a life that they'd never dreamt of living. You have my word..."

    Ding Nan stopped sobbing and stared at Zhou Qin. Even now, Zhou Qin's countenance was devoid of any emotion. However, the pity she saw in those eyes was absent. Those eyes now held the intensity of a promise.

    Twenty... I won't even live past twenty...

    For a moment there, Ding Nan considered what would happen if they both jumped together. But then she also knew that it would change nothing. What good would it do if they both jumped? She still wouldn't live past the age of twenty, and her family would be bereft of Zhou Qin's promise of a comfortable life. Was that the answer, then? That Ding Nan the insect repellant should be tossed off the roof?

    Ding Nan burst into tears again. I don't want to die... I don't want to die...

    "Quit stalling, and choose!"

    "Get away from me!" Ding Nan yelled when she saw Zhou Qin stepping towards her.

    "Get away!" Ding Nan took a step back.

    "Get—"

    Ding Nan's world tilted sideways. The blur in her eyes cleared away as she fell, giving her a rapidly diminishing view of Zhou Qin's figure. Was that regret and pain she saw on Zhou Qin's face?

    Ding Nan's hair fluttered around her face, her flailing hands grasped nothing but air. This was it. She was going to die.

    She closed her eyes and allowed the colors of her world to disappear until only darkness remained.

    ***

    Well, this wall-climbing thing was easier than he'd originally thought. Now, he was standing on the bottom ledge of the fourth floor's window, and it had only been about two minutes or so since he got to the first window. Okay... two more windows to go... Then I'll have to climb up the ledge without Zhao Yujian noticing... but first... I gotta get a sitrep from Su Chan.

    He focused his hearing on the ground. All he heard was chatter. He didn't hear Su Chan's voice. Li Yundong glanced upwards, wanting to see what was happening on the rooftop, but unfortunately, his view of the rooftop was blocked by the window's upper ledge. He glanced down again and zoomed in on Su Chan's face. She was still staring at the rooftop but—

    Wait... Her lips are moving... But then why can't I—

    Li Yundong strained his ears again. More chatter. Director Qian yapping about something. Vice-chancellor Ke speaking on the phone... Dammit!

    "Su Chan, you're gonna have to move away from the crowd," Li Yundong said. "Can't hear what you're saying. The chatter's too loud."

    "Shuddup you fools! If you're not being helpful, then at least don't get in the way of those who're trying to help!"

    Li Yundong flinched slightly at Su Chan's shrill voice.

    A split second later, Su Chan's whispers drifted to his ears.

    "I think there's gonna be trouble soon... Things are getting pretty heated up there."

    "What's going on?"

    "Ding Nan is slowly backing away from Zhou Qin. Wait... the bad guy is talking... no wait... he's laughing now... He's saying that... Grrr! This bastard is crazy!"

    "What? What is he saying?"

    Should he switch his hearing's focus to the rooftop? No, but I can't see a damn thing from here! He had to keep his hearing focused on Su Chan because she was now acting as his eyes.

    "Crazy bastard... He's saying that this was his way of punishing the both of them. One dies, while the other one lives with the guilt forever..." Su Chan said.

    Li Yundong clenched his jaw. Son of a bitch…

    "Ding Nan is terrified. She's crying now. Zhou Qin's still keeping it together though. Ding Nan is still backing away from Zhou Qin... But her movements seem more desperate now…"

    Shit, shit, shit... Li Yundong glanced upwards, but all he saw was the concrete of the upper ledge. Should I keep climbing? Or should I be on standby?

    "Uh-oh..." Su Chan's voice drifted in once again. "Ding Nan is panicking. And she's getting nearer to the ledge..."

    Argh! F*ck it! I'm not climbing anymore.

    He had to be on standby. From what he’d heard from Su Chan, it sounded like someone could fall off the ledge anytime. Li Yundong muttered a curse, then took a deep breath. Alright, Li Yundong. Think. Come on… come on… think! What's the best course of action here...

    Li Yundong's eyes widened.

    Xianjue! If he could predict when and where they fell...

    Li Yundong closed his eyes and willed his clairvoyant ability to work. One second. Two second. Three seconds. Nothing. Come on, come on! Work, damn it! Work!

    Another two seconds passed without any bursts of white light. F*ck! Why isn't it working!

    "Su Chan, my Xianjue isn't working! My Qi's already at my Shenting—"

    "Of course it won't, beloved. Xianjue allows you to perceive the effects and consequences of other people’s actions ahead of time. But those actions have to be directed at you, or at least be related to your own actions."

    "Shit... No wonder..." Li Yundong sighed.

    "Uh-oh…"

    Li Yundong didn’t like that tone.

    "What? What is it, princess?"

    "Zhou Qin is telling Ding Nan that she'll take care of Ding Nan's family..."

    "What! Is Ding Nan jumping?"

    "No. It doesn't seem like it yet. Ding Nan is just backing away at the moment... But I don't like it... she's too close to the ledge. Ugh! Unbelievable! How can she be so careless! She keeps stepping backwards even though her back is facing the ledge! She can't even see a thing!"

    "I don't think she's thinking straight at the moment, Su Chan..." The girl's probably scared shitless...

    Li Yundong cursed under his breath.

    "Uh-oh... Yundong... Zhao Yujian is approaching them now... He looks... impatient... He just yelled at them. Zhou Qin got startled and jumped forward... Argh!!! Yundong!!!"

    Li Yundong knew right then that someone had fallen off the ledge. He also knew that he couldn’t afford to second guess himself now. He must act, and act decisively. Without delay, he moved his Qi to his biceps, quads, and deltoids, then got into a crouching position on the window's ledge.

    The moment he saw a dark figure falling past the window where he was standing, he leaped. He didn't even care whose body it was. He just jumped.

    Tendrils of hair tickled Li Yundong's cheeks as he wrapped his arm around a waist that was most definitely feminine. Ding Nan...

    Li Yundong tightened his arms around Ding Nan's waist, then reoriented his body in mid-air until his feet were pointed towards the ground.

    The ground was approaching quickly, and Li Yundong knew he only had a few seconds to mobilize his Qi to his joints. He quickly adjusted Ding Nan's body until he was holding her in a bridal's carry. Then, he closed his eyes and channeled his Qi towards his ankle joints, knee joints, shoulder joints, and spine. One second. Two seconds. Three...

    THUD! Li Yundong bent his knees slightly upon impact.

    A deafening silence spread across the compound. Seconds later, the entire compound erupted in cheers.

    When Li Yundong opened his eyes, he saw Ding Nan's glassy eyes staring up at him.

    "It's okay, Ding Nan," Li Yundong said with a steady voice. "It's okay. It's all over now... You're safe..."

    What happend next took Li Yundong by complete surprise. Ding Nan threw her arms around his neck and bawled like there was no tomorrow. The endless cheers from the crowd and Ding Nan's heart-wrenching sobs made Li Yundong glance around helplessly. Err... What the hell am I supposed to do here? Instinctively, Li Yundong's eyes sought out Su Chan. She stood some distance away from the crowd, and it appeared that she'd been running towards him before something made her stop. A moment later, Li Yundong realized what it was. Su Chan's eyes were focused intently on the rooftop.

    Li Yundong glanced towards the rooftop and zoomed in. Zhao Yujian was holding the gun to Zhou Qin's head and forcing her towards the ledge.

    No. This wasn't over yet.

    ***

    "You really have no heart, do you, Zhou Qin?" Zhao Yujian said. "What are people to you, eh? Toys? Tools? What am I to you? I bet you see me as nothing more than a clown..." Zhao Yujian laughed maniacally for a moment. "But wow... Forcing your best friend to her death without even batting an eye... You're a real piece of work Zhou Qin..."

    Zhou Qin kept her eyes trained on the gun's muzzle as she backed away from Zhao Yujian.

    "She wasn't my friend," she said. "I don't have any friends."

    Her statement made Zhao Yujian halt, but she kept backing away until she was at a safer distance away from him. Zhao Yujian began to wheeze and huff as though he was struggling with his anger. Should I make my move now? He isn't looking at me... If I can just grab the gun and then pull the trigger...

    Too late.

    Zhao Yujian had already recovered from his emotional outburst and was now looking straight at her. Zhou Qin decided that she didn't like the way he was looking at her right then. Those eyes were too frenzied, too desperate, and not at all like the eyes of a man who would just let his victim walk away unharmed. Maybe she should act now. If his plan was to shoot her and then jump off the building, then what did she have to lose?

    Zhao Yujian's lips moved. "Zhou Qin, you—"

    "Zhao Yujian! Calm down! Don't do anything rash!"

    Zhou Qin whipped her head to the side and glanced at the door leading to the rooftop's staircase. Vice-chancellor Ke and several other members of the university's staff were gathered around the door, looking at them anxiously. Zhao Yujian's growl drew her attention back to him. His eyes were no longer on her and the gun was no longer trained on her. Now's my chance!

    The muzzle of the gun jerked in the direction of Vice-chancellor Ke and his staff. "Stand back! Don't come any closer!"

    Zhou Qin inched closer towards Zhao Yujian, her gaze never leaving the gun.

    "Zhao Yujian... Please... You need to calm down," Vice-chancellor Ke pleaded. "Come on... Just please, put the gun down and let's talk, okay? Let's have a proper discussion and come to a peaceful resolution... Nobody else has to get hurt…"

    Zhou Qin inched forward a few more steps, making sure to keep her footsteps light. The gun was now within her reach. A series of scuffles sounded from her right.

    "I- I- I said stop! Stop walking! Don't come any closer!"

    "Come on Zhao Yujian... Don't do this... please... We can still work things out... Tell me what you want, hey? On behalf of the university, I'll try my best to make it happen..."

    Zhou Qin's gaze traveled between the gun and Zhao Yujian's face. Steady... steady... steady...

    "What I want?!" Zhao Yujian sounded far too desperate to her liking. "You can never give me what I want! You fools don't understand!!! It's all over for me! My life is ove—"

    Zhou Qin pounced, grabbing Zhao Yujian's arm with both hands. A struggle broke out with Zhou Qin pushing Zhao Yujian's arm downwards with all her might, throwing her entire bodyweight into it. Fight! I have to fight! Rapid footsteps sounded from her right.

    "No! Miss Zhou! Watch out!!"

    She heard a nasty growl, then felt a sharp pain on her scalp where Zhao Yujian was pulling at her hair. She ignored the pain and pushed down harder on Zhao Yujian's arm, groping and fumbling for the gun's grip. Get to the trigger! I just need to press the trigger! Another growl sounded. Zhao Yujian's hand smacked against her face as he tried to push her face away. Zhou Qin bit down on his hand, hard.

    "Argh!!"

    BANG!

    The final bullet struck the floor a few feet away from them.

    Zhou Qin stumbled to the side as Zhao Yujian flung her away with all his might.

    Zhao Yujian's wretched scream rang out, filling the rooftop with his own sorrow and hopelessness. Seconds later, the scream petered out into echoes. The ordeal was over.

    Zhou Qin rose to her feet and looked to her right. Vice-chancellor Ke and his staff were all down on the ground with their hands covering their heads. Zhou Qin turned away and looked towards Zhao Yujian. He was bent over slightly with his hands on his knees, and he was shaking. The gun lay on the ground a few feet away, abandoned and empty.

    Zhou Qin sneered. "You're out of bullets."

    "Looks like death is my only way out," Zhao Yujian said, then laughed maniacally for a while. Suddenly, the laughter stopped, and Zhou Qin wasn't prepared for the look of sheer menace in his eyes. "And I'm taking you with me!"

    Zhao Yujian was on her before she even had time to blink. The next thing she knew, she was tumbling over the ledge while the jaws of death gaped up at her from the ground.

    ***

    "Hey... Ding Nan... It's alright now... It's alright... You're fine... Now you gotta let me go, okay?" Li Yundong said.

    Li Yundong had been watching the rooftop for the past minute or so, and he didn't like what he saw. Zhao Yujian was forcing Zhou Qin closer and closer to the ledge with the gun. Li Yundong didn't even need his telescopic vision or super hearing to know that Zhao Yujian was going back on his word. Hell, he bet that this was the bastard's plan all along — kill both girls, then kill himself.

    Son of a bitch.

    The crowd's cheers grew more and more raucous by the second. Li Yundong glanced around and was appalled by what he saw. Other than Su Chan, Kris, and John, the rest of the crowd, which consisted of these so-called "educators," were practically useless. Vice-chancellor Ke and Director Qian were gone. For a moment there, he wondered if they had fled the scene to avoid the responsibility of having to deal with this situation.

    "Sheep poo!!!"

    Li Yundong turned to his right.

    Kris and John were both running towards him.

    "Jesus Christ!" Kris yelled. "Li Yundong! Are you alright?"

    "I'm fine..." Li Yundong said.

    Ding Nan was still sobbing and clinging on to his neck.

    Li Yundong shot Kris a helpless look.

    "Is she...?" Kris asked.

    "I don't know," Li Yundong said. "I think she's in shock."

    Kris crouched down and started patting Ding Nan's back.

    "Where are the damn cops?" Li Yundong gritted. "F*ck! Why aren't the cops here yet!"

    "They're on the way," Kris said. "I called them just now, and I think your professors called as well. Ambulance is on the way too."

    Li Yundong flicked his gaze towards Su Chan, who was still staring intently at the rooftop. The grave expression on her face gave Li Yundong a bad feeling.

    Li Yundong glanced towards the rooftop and zoomed in. He had to be ready to prevent the next disaster.

    "Hey, Kris," Li Yundong said, taking his eyes off the rooftop to look at Kris. "Take care of her would you—"

    BANG!!!!

    The crowd's cheers turned into screams of horror.

    Li Yundong froze, but only for a split second before he pried Ding Nan's arms off his neck and sprang to his feet.

    "What the hell happened!" he yelled. I only took my eyes off the rooftop for a second, dammit!

    "Zhou Qin made a grab for the gun, beloved!" Su Chan answered.

    It made sense, since Li Yundong could no longer see Zhao Yujian and Zhou Qin's bodies. They must have tumbled to the ground during the struggle. F*ck, I hope it isn't Zhou Qin that got shot...

    Li Yundong focused his hearing on the rooftop: Zhao Yujian's strangled growls; a fearful whimper... was that... Director Qian?

    Then, Zhou Qin's figure appeared on the rooftop. Still, he didn't see Zhao Yujian. Is Zhao Yujian the one who got shot?

    Zhou Qin's voice cold voice sounded. "You're out of bullets."

    "Looks like my only way out is death..."

    Crap, the guy's still alive...

    Zhao Yujian was now laughing maniacally, but Li Yundong still couldn't see him anywhere on the rooftop. Where is he? Maybe he's lying on the ground?  The laughter stopped.

    "And I'm taking you with me!"

    Li Yundong's blood ran cold. Oh shit...

    "Yundong!!!!!!!"

    The horror in Su Chan's scream matched the horror he was now feeling as he watched the disaster unfold on the rooftop.

    Two bodies had just tumbled off the ledge and were now falling rapidly to the ground. 

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  • Chapter 81 Savior

     

    The moment Li Yundong pushed his feet off the ground, he felt as though he was flying. It was like his body knew that he only had seconds to act. His sneakers pounded against the concrete as he sprinted along the sidewalk. His arms swung wildly at his sides as he stared up into the sky. He zoomed in, then quickly zoomed out again. Right, or left? Him, or her? That was what it all boiled down to in the end. He could only save one, and there was no question in his mind who she was. Left!!

    A sickening crunch sounded the moment Zhou Qin's weight landed in his arms followed by a loud splat a couple of feet away from them. The sharp pain in his shoulders made him lose his footing. He twisted his torso around and somehow managed to keep Zhou Qin’s body above his own just before his back hit the ground. His vision exploded in white, then black, then white again when the back of his head smashed into the concrete. A groan sounded nearby, but he realized a second later that it came from his own mouth. The buzzing in his ears was now gone and was replaced with a loud ringing sound. When he closed his eyes, he realized that he'd lost control of his Qi; he couldn't feel it anywhere inside his meridians. He wasn't even sure if it had returned back to his lower Dantian. His arms and shoulders felt weird, and his head felt as though it was on the brink of exploding.

    Everything hurt like a bitch.

    Su Chan... I just want Su Chan...

    Behind his eyelids, Li Yundong could vaguely make out a bunch of moving shadows.

    "Sheep poo!"

    "My God, Li Yundong... You're crazy, you know that?"

    Kris...

    Suddenly, the weight on his chest lightened. He opened his eyes and saw John pulling Zhou Qin off his chest. Without the extra weight on his chest as a distraction, his mind now turned its full attention to his shoulders, which honestly felt as though the joints had been replaced with a couple of bowling balls.

    Li Yundong sat up and hissed in pain when he tried to lift his arms.

    "Don't move around, you idiot!" Kris yelled. "Your shoulder joints are dislocated. Jesus..."

    Kris was now crouching beside him and looking over his shoulders.

    "Move out of the way!"

    Li Yundong glanced up just in time to see Su Chan smacking Kris's hands away.

    "H- hey... Su Chan... You were right," Li Yundong said, smiling wryly. "My body really can't handle the weight from the ground floor."

    His eyes stung when sweat slid down from his forehead into them. He shook his head, blinked a few times, then chuckled. "My shoulders got totally busted," he said in a light tone, "Guess this is what I get for ignoring my wise princess..."

    Su Chan crouched down beside him and wiped away the sweat on his forehead.

    "You were brave, Yundong," Su Chan said. "You saved her life. There was no other way."

    Li Yundong’s chuckles turned into a sharp hiss when Su Chan raised his right arm until it was parallel to the floor. "Brave? I was terrified," Li Yundong said in a strained voice.

    "Hey, miss," Kris said. "He's hurt pretty bad. I think it's best if you let me take a look at him."

    Su Chan lowered his right arm back down and shot Kris a skeptical look. Li Yundong was about to tell Kris that Su Chan was a skilled healer, but apparently, Su Chan didn't take shit from anyone.

    "You're not qualified to treat him," Su Chan remarked.

    "Wha— I'm not qualified?" Kris said. "Now you listen here, missy. I'll have you know that I'm a trained—"

    The conversation stilled for a moment. Clearly, something happened to make Kris shut up, but Li Yundong was in too much pain to care. When he raised his head, he saw Su Chan glaring at Kris, teeth bared and all. It actually reminded him a little of the look she got during their "food wars." He would've laughed if his shoulders didn't feel like they were sporting a bunch of wrecking balls inside their sockets.

    Li Yundong flinched slightly when Su Chan struck a spot on his chest with her index finger.

    "Don't move, Yundong."

    Sweat was dripping off Li Yundong's forehead again. He nodded at Su Chan and forced out a smile.

    Su Chan began to massage the joints on his shoulders. It didn't feel painful at all, much to his surprise. This girl might score a big fat zero in table manners, but she more than compensated for that particular shortcoming with her legendary massage skills.

    "Feels better," Li Yundong muttered when Su Chan's fingers moved from his shoulder joints to his right shoulder blade. "What did you do?"

    "Getting blood to flow to your rotator cuffs and shoulder joints," Su Chan said. "And now, I'm about to force your shoulder joints back in place."

    That definitely sounded like a lot of fun.

    "This will hurt a little, okay? You're gonna have to bear with the pain, Yundong."

    "I'm good, princess. Do your worst," Li Yundong said through gritted teeth.

    Su Chan's lifted his right arm with one hand holding onto his forearm and the other one wrapped around his biceps. The two ensuing pops sounded every bit as painful as he felt. Then, Su Chan began checking his elbow and wrist.

    "That's amazing... How many times has she done this?" Kris muttered beside him.

    Li Yundong didn't answer her. He wasn't even sure if the question was rhetorical.

    Then he saw John leaning towards Kris and whispering something in English. Surprisingly he was able to understand a few words this time: girl; my (might?); look like; Barbie doll; scary; kill... no, killer.

    Kudos to his high school English teachers, truly.

    Once Su Chan was done with the right arm, she moved on to his left arm and did the exact same thing. Two loud pops later, she was done with his left arm as well. By some miracle, Li Yundong managed to endure the whole process without so much as a whimper. Although he did wonder at one point whether he needed to schedule an appointment with his dentist after this considering the amount of grinding and clenching his poor molars had to suffer through.

    "There, you're all fixed, my darling," Su Chan said, wiping the sweat off his forehead with her palm.

    When he looked up at her, she was smiling at him proudly. He loved that smile, not just because he was happy that someone finally saw value in no-name Li Yundong, but also because of how genuinely happy she seemed whenever she smiled like that. He decided that he wanted to spend the rest of his life making her smile like that. Su Chan stood up, and the next thing he knew, he was pulled to his feet. He rotated his arms, tentatively at first, but in huge swings when he didn't feel any sharp pain. He felt surprisingly okay, considering. His shoulders were a little sore, but that was about it. His knees and legs were fine. His spine, too.

    He stopped moving his arms and pinched Su Chan's cheek. He leaned down beside her ear.

    "Thank you, my princess," he whispered. "I wish I could kiss you right now..."

    Li Yundong pulled back and smiled when he saw the blush on her cheeks. And, apparently, his best girl had a newfound interest in concrete tiles considering how hard she was staring at the ones under her feet.

    Li Yundong patted Su Chan's head.

    "Seriously, Su Chan. Thank you," he said. "You're awesome."

    Su Chan tore her gaze away from the concrete tiles and looked into his eyes. The blush was still there on her cheeks.

    "No beloved," Su Chan said. "You are. You saved a lot of lives today."

    Li Yundong shrugged it off. "Nah... I can't take all the credit. I couldn't have done it without you. And besides..." Li Yundong paused, looking towards the Americans. "Kris and John helped a lot as well. They didn't have to care, but they did. Looks like I have to revise my opinion on them."

    As if they had heard his mention of their names, Kris and John suddenly turned and began moving towards him. The moment John moved away from where he stood, Li Yundong saw Zhou Qin sitting on the ground with a blank expression. He patted John on the shoulder and walked over towards Zhou Qin.

    When he crouched down beside Zhou Qin, her eyes snapped to his. The tears and vulnerability swimming in those eyes reminded Li Yundong that behind that Ice Queen exterior was an actual human being with feelings.

    "Are you okay?" he asked.

    Zhou Qin stared at him without answering.

    Just when Li Yundong was about to stand up, he heard her voice.

    "I- I'm alive?"

    Truth be told, her voice sounded more like a croak.

    Li Yundong stared at her intently.

    "Yes you are," Li Yundong said. "A little shocked and banged up, but otherwise alive and breathing."

    Li Yundong stood up and pressed his palm on Zhou Qin's shoulder. "Just take it easy, okay?"

    When Zhou Qin didn't reply, Li Yundong jogged towards Ding Nan.

    "Ding Nan?" he said, crouching down. "You good?"

    Li Yundong studied Ding Nan's face. She was staring back at him and, like Zhou Qin, her eyes were swimming in tears. Seconds passed without a single word exchanged between them. Li Yundong was honestly a little surprised by how Ding Nan was looking at him right then. He didn't think she had ever looked at him like this before, with gratitude and, dare he say, admiration? Then again, he had never paid much attention to Ding Nan ever since she said those harsh things to him the day after Zhou Qin’s rejection.

    "Um... Ding Nan? You might wanna stop..." Li Yundong pointed at her bottom lip, which was now bleeding because she had been biting down too hard onto it. Ding Nan made no moves to release her lips, nor did she speak. Li Yundong sighed inwardly. She's badly traumatized... Who wouldn't be? Ding Nan might be mean and spiteful, but she still didn't deserve to go through this kind of ordeal. Being forced to choose between jumping or taking a bullet to the head? What a f*cked up situation.

    Li Yundong patted Ding Nan's arm. "You're gonna be alright, okay? Nobody's gonna hurt you anymore." Li Yundong rose to his feet. "Just take care of yourself."

    From the corner of his eyes, he saw Kris, John, and Su Chan walking towards him. Li Yundong had deliberately avoided looking at the mess lying ten feet away from Zhou Qin. Other than blood, gore, and the fruits of evil, what was there to see anyway?

    "H- h- how?! How is this even possible!"

    Li Yundong turned and saw Kris pointing a shaky finger at his shoulder. He moved his arms around several times. Still a little sore, but it felt so much better now. Su Chan had poked a needle into his arms and back after she had put his shoulder joints into place. Was it a needle though? He wasn't paying attention earlier but he thought the needle looked super long and fine, almost like a strand of hair or a piece of thread.

    "B- but your shoulders were swollen like a balloon earlier!" Kris went on. "Now the swelling's all gone! How in the world...?"

    "Hehehe... See? I told you you aren't qualified to treat him..."

    Su Chan was grinning like a Cheshire cat.

    Li Yundong flicked her forehead.

    "Hey, Su Chan... that wasn't nice you know," he said. "They were just trying to help."

    "Oh," Su Chan muttered and stopped grinning.

    "Well?" Li Yundong nudged her. "What are you waiting for? Apologize."

    "Nah, it's alright," Kris said with a quick wave of her hand. She was now looking at Su Chan with an expression of awe. "Her claim wasn't entirely unfounded. She was amazing back there... I mean, I've honestly never seen anything like that... And the swelling. It subsided so quickly... It's like... Gosh..."

    Then, Kris shot Su Chan a hopeful look. "Will you... will you teach me?"

    A desperate voice interrupted their exchange.

    "Out of the way!! Out of the way!!"

    Everyone turned and saw Vice-chancellor Ke, Director Qian, and the entire legion of the university's staff pushing their way through the crowd that had formed around Zhou Qin.

    "Oh! Thank God! Zhou Qin's alright! She's alright! She's still moving! Oh, thank God!" Vice-chancellor Ke screamed. The relief in his voice was almost palpable.

    Then, a couple of professors started hurling out their stomach's content at the side, no doubt after seeing Zhao Yujian's dead body. Li Yundong glanced down at Ding Nan, who was sitting beside his feet in a daze, then looked towards the vice-chancellor and his entourage. The white-collars continued to fuss over Zhou Qin. F*cking assholes. Li Yundong shook his head in disgust. Ding Nan was sitting right here, yet not a single one of them bothered to check on her. Had they forgotten about the dead professor, or the student who got shot in the back? Did they even care? The selfishness he saw in these people left a bad taste in his mouth.

    "Typical bureaucrats," Kris said, moving her phone around.

    Li Yundong realized that she was recording the whole thing on video.

    It just so happened that Director Qian turned his head in their direction at that moment.

    "Hey! You! Who authorized you to film any of this!" Director Qian stormed over.

    Uh-oh...This can't be good.

    Kris froze, then lowered her phone slowly.

    "Ever heard of freedom of the media, sir?" Kris said, her tone loud and bold.

    Kris gasped when Director Qian snatched the phone away from her hand.

    "Freedom of the media?" Director Qian sneered. "You're in China, not the United States."

    Li Yundong frowned and shook his head. This was no doubt another act of self-preservation. Tiannan University's reputation would probably be ruined if Kris's video ever got out.

    Director Qian's hands made a quick work of Kris's phone. Seconds later, the phone's memory card was out. Kris literally pounced on Director Qian when she saw what he did. Good thing John was on her before she did anything stupid, like kicking Director Qian in the nuts for instance (nice kick, Su Chan).

    Director Qian waved the memory card in front of Kris smugly. "Here. You can have your phone back." Director Qian tossed the phone back to Kris, then smirked. "You can have the memory card back too. But only after we have wiped it clean."

    Kris pounced again. Li Yundong and John moved at the same time and grabbed her shoulders on each side.

    "Kris..." Li Yundong said in a warning tone.

    The blonde was too worked up to care.

    Then, John leaned in and whispered something into Kris's ear.

    Suddenly, Kris pointed a finger at Director Qian.

    "I'm gonna sue him!" she yelled.

    Director Qian burst into laughter. Li Yundong saw the redness spread from Kris's cheeks, through her neck, all the way to the top of her bra-clad chest. Director Qian was already walking back to rejoin the other white-collars.

    Director Qian stopped beside Vice-chancellor Ke and whispered something into the latter's ear. Vice-chancellor Ke suddenly looked towards Kris, then patted Director Qian on the shoulder. Li Yundong felt a sudden urge to punch Director Qian's shit-eating grin off his face.

    "Damn it! They're all in on it!" Kris growled.

    "I bet they're just bullying me because I'm not a Chinese," Kris grumbled. "None of these fools know that my grandmother is Chinese!"

    Li Yundong's eyes went wide. He shared a glance with Su Chan.

    "Wait, what? Your grandmother is Chinese?" Li Yundong asked.

    "Yeah," Kris said with a nod. "My grandmother's name is Lin Guoying. She's a Chinese from the Hunan province! Why do you think I can speak Mandarin so well? I picked it all up from her!"

    "Ah... So that explains the Hsiang accent," Li Yundong said with a nod. (T/N: Xiang or Hsiang Chinese, also known as Hunanese, is commonly spoken in the Hunan province)

    Li Yundong's eyes sought out Su Chan. She hadn't said a word ever since Director Qian snatched Kris's phone. As it turned out, Su Chan was preoccupied. She was staring intently at something on the floor, her expression grave and somber. Li Yundong didn't have to follow her gaze to know what she was staring at.

    "How bad is it?" Li Yundong asked.

    Su Chan shook her head. "The head's completely smashed in. His spine is probably fractured in at least six places. And he also had severe internal bleeding in his torso before he died."

    Li Yundong's spine tingled. "He didn't die right away?" he said, turning towards the physical evidence of Zhao Yujian's crimson demise.

    "No..." Su Chan said. "His Qi was still present after the impact. Thirty seconds? Or about a minute? I can't tell."

    How?

    How did things come to this?

    Zhao Yujian was a brilliant and multi-talented student. He was blessed with good looks, which made him very popular among the girls. His only flaw was his narrow-mindedness and his proclivities for extremism, which led him down the path of destruction. None of this would have happened if he could just take Zhou Qin's rejection in stride and move on with his life.

    Li Yundong sighed. "You were right, Su Chan," he said. "Even the most enlightened person should fear the workings of karma..."

    "Yeah..." Su Chan sighed wistfully. "I had a feeling that something terrible would happen to him the moment I saw his mother spoiling him like that."

    While silent melancholy filled the air, a twinge of guilt crept into Li Yundong's heart. If he hadn't broken Zhao Yujian's leg, would today's tragedy still happen? Should he have let himself get beaten up at the dojo that day instead of fighting back? Was he, Li Yundong, one of the cogs turning the wheel of karma which led to Zhao Yujian's tragic demise?

    Someone nudged him.

    "What's with the doldrums, Li Yundong?" Kris said. "Why the long face? You saved the lives of two women today. You're a hero. Shouldn't you be soaking up all the glory and accepting autographs from your fanclub?"

    Nice try, Kris...

    Li Yundong sighed. While he appreciated her efforts in trying to lighten the mood, he just wasn't feeling it at the moment. Everything was still so raw.

    "I'm no hero, Kris," Li Yundong said. "I don't want fame, glory, or any of the shit that gets people ticking these days. If I had a choice, I'd rather none of this happened."

    The distant wail of sirens mirrored the melancholy pervading the compound. It was as though the Heavens were wailing the tragedy that had struck Tiannan University.

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  • Seems I can't go on updating~
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  • edited December 2019

    Chapter 82 The Living Legend

     

    There is perhaps a modicum of truth in a principle that screenwriters worldwide have long since adopted: the cops are almost always late to the scene of any incident. To be fair, such a phenomenon is par for the course, since the cops are usually called during or after the incident. Even so, one has to concede that it would seem rather preposterous if the members of the press arrive on the scene before the cops do, which is exactly what happened after the tragic shooting in Tiannan University. By the time the cops arrived, the place was already crawling with reporters and journalists who were all eager to get their big scoop. The officers practically had to drag a few reporters away from Zhao Yujian's dead body before they cordoned off the academic building with barricade tape.

    While the cops got to work, the vice-chancellor summoned all the members of the university council for an emergency meeting. A general consensus was reached by the end of that meeting: this incident had to be kept under wraps at all cost. The gag order was quickly passed down to all professors in the university, who then summoned their students to warn them not to breathe a single word regarding the shooting to anyone.

    Fortunately, due to his role as the hero of the day, Li Yundong was spared from any censure and criticism from the members of the university's staff—yes, even Director Qian. After all, who in their right mind would criticize the man whose selfless actions had saved the lives of two students? Indeed, Tiannan University's reputation would suffer irreparable damage if it weren't for Li Yundong's act of heroism. Actually, no, that wasn't entirely accurate. The reality was that there wouldn't even be a Tiannan University if it weren't for Li Yundong's actions; Zhou Qin's family would no doubt ensure that Tiannan University's name was wiped from the annals of education if Zhou Qin fell to her death.

    The members of the press were among those who were most vexed by the gag order issued by the university council. Being denied access to the crime scene by the cops was one thing, but having their requests for interviews flat out denied with flippant "no comments" was another thing altogether. At this point, they had nothing to go on: zero access to the crime scene; no information from the official source; even their memory cards were confiscated and wiped clean. The deathblow, however, was dealt when the press received a direct order from the Chinese government's Publicity Department. The reporters were now prohibited by law from providing any news coverage of the incident. So much for freedom of the press.

    There were, of course, a few reporters whose curiosity refused to be quenched; they decided to conduct private interviews with the students. Some were lucky enough to score interviews with the students who were held hostage by Zhao Yujian inside the lecture hall.

    "So let me get this straight... You're saying that this Li Yundong guy dodged bullets at point-blank range?"

    "Oh, hell yeah, man..."

    "Umm... Okay... Do you mind walking me through the whole thing?"

    "Sure. Well, the bad guy was in front with the gun. The guy's got a loose screw I'm telling you. He was screaming at Zhou Qin while kicking chairs and smashing tables like some maniac. Everyone was pretty much shitting their pants at that point, you know. Like, shit, he had a gun! And he seemed to be a f*cking good shot too! He killed a professor with a headshot! Anyway, things were pretty heated in front, but then suddenly, Li Yundong stood up from his seat. He was sitting in the last row, by the way. I know coz I was sitting in the row in front of his. When he stood up, I was like, shit, what the hell is this guy doing? Then, suddenly, the screaming stopped and the gun was pointed at Li Yundong. F*ck, you should've seen the look on the guy's face, man. It was like he wasn't even scared, you know? He just stared at the gun like it was some harmless toy—"

    "Wait, how come Zhao Yujian didn't fire the moment Li Yundong stood up?"

    "Hell if I know. I mean, the guy's a lunatic, right? He ain't right in the head. But I suppose he wasn't confident enough to take a shot from that far away? Like I said, Li Yundong was standing all the way back, and the lecture hall is pretty big."

    "Right. Go on, then."

    "Okay. So Li Yundong was staring straight at the gun. Totally unfazed, like he was John Wick or something. Then, suddenly he was giving us orders you know. He was like, hey, listen up guys. Just stay down and duck under the table. Y'all gonna be fine. And I was like, are you shitting me right now? Zhao Yujian had a gun! What can an unarmed man do against a gun! So I asked him. I said, what about you? What are you gonna do? And you know what he told me?"

    "What?"

    "He said, I'm gonna end that son of a bitch. Yeah. Yeah, I know, right? I had the same reaction. At first, I thought he was bluffing or just trying to act cool. But then he left his seat and started walking to the aisle at the center like he meant business! That wasn't all. It's not like he just stopped there at the aisle. He was walking slowly towards the front! When he passed my row, I saw him making these hand signals behind his back. He was asking us to move away from the aisle and get closer to the side of the room. At that moment, I knew, I just knew what he was up to. He was drawing fire to himself! By then, everyone was like, thanks pal, we’ll all remember you and your sacrifice. But your efforts might be useless because what can your death even accomplish? Zhao Yujian might still shoot at us once he's done with you. But we were wrong. Li Yundong knew exactly what he was doing..."

    "Hey… you alright, man? You look a little pale..."

    "Ahem! Yeah... yeah, I'm fine. I just... I guess I'm still having a little trouble coming to terms with what I saw..."

    "Err... You're gonna need to be more specific..."

    "As I was saying, Li Yundong was walking down the aisle. At one point Zhao Yujian started yelling threats at him. And we all knew that he was gonna start shooting soon. F*ck, I almost wanted to close my eyes, man. I didn't think I could watch. It's the guilt, you know? A guy was about to sacrifice himself for everyone else. Shit... But I didn't even have a chance to close my eyes. It all happened so fast. Bang, bang! I didn't even see how Li Yundong moved. All I know is that after the shots were fired, Li Yundong was standing on the aisle with his torso twisted at an odd angle.”

    “Wait. So two shots were fired. And this Li Yundong guy was fine. Maybe the gunman missed?”


  • “I thought so too at first. But it ain't over yet. Seconds later, bang, bang, bang! Three successive rounds. But this time, I saw him move. I saw him dodging those three bullets like it was nothing, and I’m telling you man, it was f*cking mindblowing. You see, he moved his body just a split second before the shots were fired. I swear to God, man. It was like he knew when and where Zhao Yujian was gonna fire... Anyway, he dove to the floor, and those three shots missed. But here’s the thing. When he stood back up, the hair on his head was upright, like in one of those Super Saiyan transformations—"

    "Pfftt!!!! Hahahahaha....Hahahaha... Ahem. S- sorry, ahem! Continue. Please continue... I just... pfft. Couldn't help myself... haha—"

    "You don't believe anything I said, do you? You think I'm just shitting you..."

    "Believe what? Super Saiyan transformations? Dodging bullets? Come on, man. You have to admit that—"

    "But I'm not lying! I'm telling you the truth! Everyone in the lecture hall can—"

    "Listen, I have a degree in Psychology, okay? What you're experiencing is known as delusional disorder. It’s very common among the victims of trauma. What basically happens is that your mind will add details on top of your traumatizing experience based on your imagination. And make no mistake, it will seem and feel real to you, but that's not your fault. In fact, that's one of the symptoms—"

    "You know what? F*ck you! I'm done with this shit!"

    "Look I'm just telling you what I know from a psychological standpoint—"

    "What you know? Guess what, pal. You don't know shit! I was there, man. Right there when it all happened!" There was a snort. "Delusional disorder, you said? It's all my imagination, you said? Well, good luck using your psychobabble to explain how fifty students could experience the exact same delusion at the same time. Coz if you ask anyone who was there in the lecture hall today, I can guarantee you that they're gonna tell you the same things I just told you."

    The reporter stared at the student in shock.

    "It doesn't matter whether you believe me or not. I swear by what I said. Li Yundong saved my life, and about fifty other lives too. He is a living legend, and nothing you do, say, or publish can change that."

     

    ***

     

    He pushed himself off the ground, seeming to have drawn strength and power from the earth like the mythological giant, Antaeus. Then, he charged towards the building with lightning speed, hoping to prevent yet another tragic death. And he did. He made it. He got there just in time to catch the body of a grown woman that had fallen off the rooftop of a seven-floor building. The ensuing loud crunch struck terror into our hearts. We watched him crash into the floor, shielding the girl from the impact with his own body. The girl lived, and so did her savior. When it was over, all of us were left with feelings of wonder and curiosity. How? How did he do it? How did he come to possess such superhuman abilities?

    How indeed.

    Kris's delicate fingers hovered above the keyboard of her laptop. With a long sigh, she leaned back in her seat, which was far too cramped to be deemed healthy for her legs. The perks of flying economy.

     Sounds of chatter drifted to her ears. Voices blared, and words bounced back and forth across the aisle as her mates regaled each other with tales about the exchange visit. Somehow, Kris didn’t share her friends’ excitement. To her, this trip was an eye-opener, a life-changing experience that challenged the very foundation of her understanding about life and the world. Kris knew in her heart that this trip was one that she would never forget, for it had given her a first taste of the bizarre, the mystic.

    Kris stared at her laptop screen. The dark cursor blinked back at her, reminding her that she was supposed to be a damn journalist, not a wool-gatherer. Indeed, Li Yundong's story wouldn't write itself, and she, the person who was supposed to write it, was drawing a blank.

    So much for being Lois Lane.

    Kris closed her eyes. She couldn't stand the cursor's mockery anymore.

    How was she supposed to write a story about a guy whom she couldn't even understand? And it wasn't just Li Yundong's superhuman abilities that she couldn't wrap her head around, it was his personality too. The guy was a walking contradiction. Behaviorwise, he was showy and ostentatious, yet he claimed that it wasn't fame and glory that he sought. He was honorable enough to risk his own life to save his classmates, yet despicable enough to devise a plot to humiliate John in front of the mayor. What was that guy’s deal? Which one was the real him?

    A voice ended her reverie.

    "Is there anything I can get you, miss?"

    Kris opened her eyes and whipped her head to her right. John was in the aisle, crouching beside her seatmate — Kris was in the window seat.

    Kris blinked a few times but she didn't answer.

    "Why don't we swap seats?" her seatmate asked John.

    Kris rolled her eyes when John gave her seatmate a panty-dropping smile.

    "Aww... You're so sweet, my darling.”

    A bout of harmless flirting ensued before her seatmate vacated the seat beside her and John settled himself in it.

    Kris smiled at John. "A glass of water would do."

    "Right away, miss," John said, reaching above his head to press the attendant call button.

    A flight attendant came by a minute later, and John asked for a glass of water.

    "What are you working on?" John asked, handing her the water.

    Kris took a sip. "Oh, just an article for the Philadelphia Daily."

    John took her laptop from the fold-out table and began reading out loud: "When I was young, my grandmother used to tell me stories about the existence of extraordinary individuals in China. These individuals possess Godlike strength, just like the demigods that appear in western mythology such as Archilles, Antaeus, etc. However, unlike the mythical demigods, these individuals didn't obtain their strength and powers through divine blessing, but through a painstaking process known as Cultivation..."

    "What? Cultivation? What's all this, eh?" John turned away from the screen and eyed her skeptically. "This sounds more like a memoir than an article."

    "Says the one who knows nothing about journalism," Kris said, grabbing her laptop from John.

    John chuckled. "Fair enough."


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