#NEW# Recommendations-Raising a Fox Spirit in My Home

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  • Yundong stilled her hand. She looked up from her pad.

    Yundong wrote something down on his own pad: Jindan improved senses?

    Su Chan nodded: Hearing + eyesight.

    Yundong had a contemplative look: Makes sense. Eyes. Ears. All made up of cells. Cells enhanced = Organs enhanced.

    Su Chan wrote something down: Not only that. Biggest reason = blood enhanced. Better nourishment for cells.

    "What else?"

    Su Chan flipped to a blank page: Super endurance. Super stamina. Resistant to extreme weather. You'll never get sick.

    "Wow…"

    Yes. Wow. That was why the Renyuan Jindan was sought after by so many Cultivators.

    Yundong wrote something down again: Renyuan. Come from where? How made?

    Su Chan wrote: Made by Wan Zhenyuan, Head of Gezao Sect. Dunno how made. Need special magical object I think. Not sure details.

    Yundong's intense gaze made her stop writing.

    "Wh- what?"

    He wrote something down: Gezao Sect = where you from? Wan Zhenyuan your master?

    It took everything in Su Chan's power not to panic. She shook her head and exhaled shakily. "My Master is a woman, remember?" At least her voice hadn't wavered when she said that.

    "Right," Yundong said, then paused for a moment. He smiled. "Still don't believe she's prettier than you though."

    Su Chan couldn't find it in herself to smile back. Please don't ask about my origins. Please, please, please…

    Yundong's hand moved across the pad: Which sect you from?

    Su Chan's heart sank. Should she mention the Fox Zen School? What were the odds that he was able to make the connection between fox spirits and the Fox Zen School? Don't be stupid, Chan'er. Of course he would be able to make the connection.

    No. Telling him that she was a fox spirit would definitely be a bad idea, at least for now. If he kicked her out because he was disgusted by who she was, then he wouldn't have anybody to guide him through the Zhuji phase.

    Once he passed the Zhuji phase, her presence in his life wouldn't matter anymore—he would be strong enough to defend himself with or without her by his side. She would reveal her true identity then and let him decide whether he still wanted her in his life. If he couldn't accept having a fox spirit as his lover after she told him, she would leave.

    "Su Chan?" Yundong nudged her.

    "Hmm?"

    Yundong wave the pad in front of her face. Which sect you from? A simple four-word question, yet impossibly difficult to answer.

    Su Chan's hand shook a little when she wrote: Zen School…

    "Oh…"

    Su Chan wrote again: It's a small school. Not much influence.

    That part wasn't a lie. Even before it was ostracized, before it became an object of hatred, the Fox Zen School was just a small organization. Small though it might be, its reputation used to be stellar. That was until the Mystical Silver Fox took over as the fourth Head of the Fox Zen School. She was an extremist, a radical, albeit a very powerful one; she had attained the full nine-tailed fox form, the highest physical form attainable by any fox spirit. Her extremism and radicalism, however, had led to the Fox Zen School's downfall. Her policies and actions had incited the hatred of every Cultivation Sect and School in existence.

    Yundong waved the pad in front of her face again: How did you end up with the Renyuan Jindan?

    "I… I stole it," Su Chan whispered.

    Yundong laughed incredulously. "Just like that? If it's such a big deal, then why wasn't it locked up in a vault? Or be placed in a dungeon that is guarded by twenty dragons?"

    Su Chan giggled. Well. I've had help…   

    Su Chan waved her hand and then wrote something down: Doesn't matter. I stole.

    Yundong raised a brow. "Now here's another question."

    He reached for his pad without taking her eyes off her: Why give to me?

    Su Chan blushed. "It… It was an accident…"

    "An acci—" Yundong gaped at her for a moment.

    He shook his head and wrote something down: You meet me how?

    "Um… How much…" Su Chan looked up at him from under her lashes. "How much do you remember?"

    Yundong stared up at the ceiling for a moment. Then he chuckled. "I remember getting my ass drunk at some street side stall after I got rejected by Zhou Qin. I don't even remember walking home… But I do remember getting into the…?" Yundong suddenly looked at her and gestured with his hand.

    "Oh, the metal box—" Su Chan's mouth snapped shut when she noticed Yundong's raised brows. She blushed. "The Ail… vator?"

    Yundong laughed and ruffled her head. "No, silly. The elevator."

    "Oh."

    Yundong frowned. "Everything's still a blur. It's strange, to be honest… I don't remember walking home… But I remember stumbling out of the elevator? Then I think I dropped my keys? And there was some kind of animal lying on my doorstep… "

    Su Chan froze. Oh, no… he knows… He knows!

    "A dog, I think? Yeah, it was a dog. An injured dog. I think I picked it up."

    "A- And then?"

    "And then that's it. Don't remember anything else after that. I don't even remember getting into the apartment."

    Su Chan sighed inwardly. Okay… so he doesn't know…

    "Well? How did we meet? Did any of the stuff I described actually happen? Or was that the alcohol messing with me head?" Yundong was now looking at her pointedly.

    "Um… I'm not so sure about the dog…"

    Because it's me you picked up. Me in my fox form, not a dog. Not that she could tell him that.

    "Just start from the beginning," Yundong said.

  • Su Chan picked up her pad and started writing: Stole Jindan. Ran for days. Came to city. People hunt me. Went into your building to hide.

    Su Chan hesitated for a moment.

    This was the part where she had to lie: You unconscious outside your door. I walked over. Saw keys on floor. Picked it up. Used it to open your door. Dragged you inside.

    Yundong frowned slightly: After that you fed me the pill?

    Su Chan shook her head and kept writing: People hunting me. Skilled trackers. Tracked Jindan's aura to your building. Appeared on balcony.

    Yundong's eyes widened slightly. "What? How many of them?"

    Su Chan nodded and held up two fingers. She wrote again: Both from Zhengyi Taoist School. You spoke to one of them yesterday.

    "You mean that crazy girl who…"

    Su Chan nodded grimly.

    "So that's why you shut yourself inside your room."

    "Yes…"

    "I thought you were mad at me…" Yundong shook his head, then gestured at her pad.

    Su Chan picked it up and wrote: When they appeared on balcony. I panicked. Hid the Jindan in your mouth. Use your Adolescent Yang Qi to mask its aura.

    Yundong stared at her for several moments, then frowned. "That makes no sense…"

    Su Chan shot him a questioning look.

    Yundong flipped to a new page: Those two. Why they didn't just come in and take Jindan by force? They outside balcony = already know Jindan inside my apartment. Even if you masked aura, why they didn't come in to check.

    Su Chan wrote: Zhengyi School has strict rule. Not allowed to interfere with lives of normal people. If they use force, they would have to use magic.

    Yundong nodded pensively, then wrote: Let me guess. I swallowed it by accident?

    Su Chan nodded.

    Yundong chuckled. "So it was dumb luck after all…"

    After a moment, Yundong wrote: Possible to remove it?

    Su Chan wrote: Jindan became part of you once your body absorbed it.

    Su Chan hesitated. Should she tell him about Yang feeding? Would that scare him away?

    In the end, Su Chan decided to go with: But yes. There is a way to extract its power from your body.

    Yundong didn't say or write anything, but the intensity of his gaze took her breath away.

    "Wh- What?"

    Yundong kept staring at her. The silence was excruciating. Moments later, Yundong shook his head and said, "It's nothing."

    "And that's pretty much everything…" Su Chan said. She cleared her throat and quashed the twinge of guilt in her heart. "Um… Do you have any more questions?"

    Yundong raised his gaze. "Shenxians… Tell me more about Shenxians."

    Su Chan sighed. "Well… Once a person unites with the Tao and attains spiritual transcendence, they become a Shenxian. Basically, a Shenxian is the transcended version of a human being. Once you become a Shenxian, you would have unlocked the full potential of your existence."

    "They won't age or die, right?"

    Su Chan nodded. "Most of them possess magical powers and can alter their physical form according to their will. The specific magical powers vary from Shenxian to Shenxian, of course. But in general, they're immortal beings."

    "Unite with the Tao…" Yundong sat up straighter, his eyes sparkling with interest.

    "Mm-hmm!"

    Yundong chuckled. "How do people even know this stuff in the first place?"

    Good question…

    "Do you know Ge Hong?"

    "Err… He was an alchemist, right? Oh! And a healer!"

    Su Chan nodded. "And also a Shenxian."

    Yundong seemed surprised. "Ge Hong is a Shenxian? Wow. I've never heard of that."

    "He also wrote a book called Baopuzi. Have you read it before?"

    Yundong snorted. "Please. I could barely get through the first page of my history textbook without falling asleep."

    "Well, in Baopuzi, Ge Hong wrote extensively on the subject of Shenxians and how to become one."

    "Have you read it?"

    "Mm-hmm! It's a must-read for any Cultivator!"

    "Which school or sect does Ge Hong belong to?"

    "Oh… The Danding Sect. It is founded by the infamous Zuo Ci."

    "Wait a minute… the Zuo Ci? As in the Zuo Ci from the Three Kingdoms?"

    "Yep… Why is that so surprising?"

    Yundong scratched his head. "It's nothing. It's just… I've always been a fan of the Three Kingdoms. I've read the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, watched all the TV shows and all that. There was a passage in the Records of the Three Kingdoms stating that Zuo Ci became a Shenxian… But I thought that was just a myth."

    Su Chan smiled. "No. It's not just a myth. Zuo Ci founded the Danding Sect, then passed on his knowledge to Ge Xuan, who then passed it on to Ge Hong. After that, Ge Hong wrote Baopuzi. That book was a hit after it was published. The Danding Sect became a household name in the Cultivation world due to Ge Hong's work."

    "And what about you? Are you…" Yundong hesitated for a moment.

    Then he picked up his pad: Are you a Shenxian? You can fly. And you have powers.

    Su Chan shook her head. "Nope! I'm just a wandering Cultivator."

    "Do you want to become one?"

    "Of course! Becoming a Shenxian is the ultimate goal of Cultivation."

    Yundong scribbled on the pad again: Is that why you stole Jindan?

    Not exactly. She stole the Jindan so that she could transform from a three-tailed fox spirit to a six-tailed fox spirit. But, of course, she couldn't tell him that just yet.

    Su Chan shook her head.

    Yundong wrote: Why steal it?

    Su Chan picked her words carefully. "To become stronger…"

    Technically, that wasn't a lie. It just wasn't the whole truth. There it was again, that intense look in Yundong's eyes, like they were trying to suck the truth out of her.

    Yundong raised the pad again: Why didn't you take it back?

    Su Chan stared at those words.

    Yundong lowered the pad and started writing again: You said there's a way to extract its power from my body. You risked life to steal = must be important to you.

    Su Chan stared down at her lap. "That… That was my plan at first. To take it back…"

    The pad hit the table with a smack; the pen rolled to the floor.

    Su Chan raised her gaze and saw the hurt look on Yundong's face.

    He released a sad chuckle. "I knew it. I knew there has to be a special reason for a pretty girl like you to stick around a loser like me."

    Su Chan couldn't take it anymore. She leaped over the table and threw herself at him. Yundong fell back with a loud "oof."

    Su Chan straddled his hips, shaking her head desperately. "It's not like that anymore! I changed my mind! Please believe me? Please?"

    Darks spots formed on Yundong's shirt as her tears slid past her jawline.

    Yundong wrapped his arms around her waist and sat up. "What changed?"

    Su Chan sniffed and dried her tears. Yundong picked up his pen from the floor and handed the pad to her.

    She took it and wrote: I want you to have the Jindan. I've decided to help you become a great Cultivator.

    Yundong frowned. "But why? It's clearly important to you."

    Su Chan tossed the pen and pad aside and cupped Yundong's cheeks with her hands.

    "But you're more important to me," she whispered.

    Yundong stared at her. "Y- You mean that?"

    Su Chan nodded and let her hands drop to his chest. Yundong's heartbeat drummed beneath her palm, emboldening her for what she was about to say.

    "Yes… I- I care about you. A lot. And I…" Su Chan peered up at him through her lashes. "I love you."

    Yundong stroke her cheek. "F- For real? Not because of that… thing?"

    Su Chan nodded. She wondered if Yundong could feel the heat on her cheek.

    A slow smile formed on Yundong's face, and Su Chan knew then that everything would be okay. At least for now.

    Yundong's breath tickled her face as he leaned in. She didn't try to stop him this time; she wanted it too.

    KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!

    They sprang apart.

    Su Chan instantly went on high alert—Qi to Shenting and hands reaching for her needles.

    "Damn it! Who the hell is it this time," Yundong growled.

    Su Chan grabbed Yundong's arm before he could reach for the door. Several more knocks sounded. Yundong shot her a questioning look.

    "Could it be Lin Youfa?" Su Chan whispered.

    Yundong stood up straighter. "Only one way to find out," he said.

    They both glanced towards the door.

    KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!

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  • Chapter 100 Fragile Goods!

     

    Li Yundong opened the door to find Zhou Qin standing there with one knuckle raised.

    "Uh… Zhou Qin? What are you doing here?"

    Zhou Qin lowered her hand and smiled at him.

    "Why? Is it strange that I'm here?"

    Li Yundong chuckled and shook himself out of his stupor. "No. Not at all. You're the only one who knows where I live after all." A smirk formed on his lips. "You're not here with a subpoena, are you? What am I charged with? And when is the hearing?"

    Zhou Qin smiled. "No, you goof. I was just…" She cleared her throat. "I was worried about you two. You never came back after you took off. And…" Zhou Qin reached behind and pulled out his black backpack. "Here. I brought your things. You left them in class."

    "Thank you." Li Yundong took the backpack and stepped aside. "Um… Do you want to come in?"

    Zhou Qin shook her head. "Oh, no, no."

    Okay. That deny came rather quickly. Not that he could blame her. She must be terrified of him after seeing what he did earlier.

    Zhou Qin seemed to have realized as well how her words might sound like. She cleared her throat. "What I mean is… I'd love to, but I can't. I've got urgent matters to take care of."

    Li Yundong rubbed the back of his neck. "Oh. Okay then. Thanks again for bringing my stuff."

    Zhou Qin smiled. "No problem."

    Zhou Qin turned around and walked away from his door.

    Seconds later, Li Yundong caved. "Zhou Qin!"

    Zhou Qin stopped walking and turned around. "Yes?"

    "Aren't you going to ask? I mean about today."

    "I'm not blind, Li Yundong. And I'm not stupid."

    Li Yundong tensed up. What was that supposed to mean?

    "I know you'll tell me when you're ready." Zhou Qin regarded him for a moment, then gave him a wave. "I'll be going now, then."

    Li Yundong stood at the door and watched her leave.

    Zhou Qin turned around again after she had pressed the elevator call button.

    "Don't worry," Zhou Qin said, looking at him pointedly. "Nobody will bother you about what happened today."

    Li Yundong would be lying if he said that he wasn't concerned about the consequences of today's incident. What happened today basically put him in a lot of people's shit list: members of the university council; Liu Chuan; Liu Chuan's father; He Shao; and maybe even the parents of the students who got injured.

    The last thing he wanted was to face charges for violent conduct. He had neither the time nor money to deal with the possible legal consequences of his actions. Also, he was already on the verge of expulsion. Today's incident would just provide ammunition to Director Qian and Professor Liu in their crusade to get him expelled.

    "Thank you." Li Yundong rubbed the back of his neck. "And I'm so sorry you have to clean up my mess again."

    Zhou Qin waved him off. "That's what friends are for."

    Li Yundong snorted. "Then I must be a shitty friend for troubling you all the time."

    "Sure. You're a bad friend who nearly broke his arms saving my life," Zhou Qin deadpanned. "You're a terrible human being. You should be ashamed of yourself."

    Li Yundong burst into laughter. "Fair enough. I does sound kinda silly when you put it that way."

    "One more thing," Zhou Qin said. "Why is your phone always turned off?"

    "A result of my own stupidity." Li Yundong gave her a wry smile. "Well, you know what happens when you post your number on the forum."

    Zhou Qin giggled into her hand.

    "No, I'm serious," Li Yundong said. "It's been ringing non-stop ever since I made that stupid post."

    "Looks like you need to change your number soon."

    A loud ding signaled the elevator's arrival.

    "Well. See you around, then." Zhou Qin gave him a wave before stepping into the elevator.

    Li Yundong shut the door with a heavy sigh.

    When he turned around, Su Chan was standing there, staring at him.  

    Li Yundong sighed again. "Looks like I owe her another favor."

    "Yundong…"

    Su Chan's eyes were wide, and her face looked strangely pale.

    "You okay, princess?"

    "Are you… are you interested in her?"

    Li Yundong frowned. "Who? Zhou Qin?"

    Su Chan nodded. "Will you choose her and then… toss me aside?"

    Li Yundong closed the distance between them and then pulled her into his arms. "Tsk. Don't be silly. She's just a friend, that's all. I'm not interested in her that way. And I'll never toss you aside."

    "You already did," Su Chan mumbled. "Literally."

    Li Yundong pulled back slightly. "Yeah… I'm sorry about that, princess. I couldn't think of another way to get you away from the fight." Li Yundong chuckled, then pinched her nose. "I'm glad you came back for me though."

    Su Chan leaned backwards and swatted his hand away.

    "Did you manage to land properly?" Li Yundong said. "After I threw you, I mean."

    "Of course! I can…" Su Chan flapped her arms like a pair of wings. "Remember?"

    "Right." Li Yundong smiled and ruffled her hair. "My princess is the best."

    "You really won't leave me for Zhou Qin?"

    "No. Of course not. You're stuck with me, princess."

    Su Chan threw her arms around his neck. "You're mine! I don't care! I won't let anyone else have you!"

    A surge of affection coursed through him.

    Li Yundong patted Su Chan's head a few times. "Yes, yes. I'm yours and yours alone."

    I've been yours since you came into my life.

    They stayed in the hug for a while until Li Yundong remembered something.

    "Hey, wanna check out what's on Feng Na's secret DVD?"

    Su Chan looked adorably confused.

    "I mean that thing Feng Na passed to me this morning."

    "Oh." Su Chan looked even more confused now. "But it's just a round, flat object. What's so interesting about it? It doesn't even move."

    Li Yundong chuckled. "No. We have to put it into a device and watch it on the TV. Come on, I'll show you."

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  • ***

    "Seriously?"

    Li Yundong stared at the TV screen, where an episode of "Cohabitation with A Flight Attendant" was playing.

    "Hmm? Yundong? What's wrong?"

    Li Yundong shook his head. "Nothing. I just didn't expect Feng Na and Cheng Cheng to get so worked up over a soap opera. I thought it would be a scandalous video clip or something."

    All of a sudden, Su Chan got up from the couch and walked over to the TV.

    "Hey, hey, hey. What are you doing? Don't punch the TV again, okay? We can't afford a new one. We're broke, remember?"

    Su Chan leaned forward until her nose was almost touching the TV screen.

    Li Yundong struggled between wanting to laugh and to drag her back to the couch. Laughter won out in the end. "What are you doing, princess?"

    Su Chan turned away from the TV.

    "Oh. I was just looking for soaps."

    "What?" Li Yundong chuckled. "Why?"

    "You said it's a soap opera, right?" Su Chan scratched her head. "I just thought that maybe it is about soaps…"

    Li Yundong guffawed, then patted the seat on the couch beside his. "Come here."

    Su Chan shuffled over obediently and sat down.

    "These shows aren't about soaps, my dear princess."

    "So why are they called soap operas then?"

    Li Yundong stroked her hair a few times. "In the past, these shows were produced by people who manufacture soaps. That's how the name came about."

    "Oh."

    "You like soap operas, don't you."

    Su Chan bobbed her head with zest. "Mmm!"

    Li Yundong smiled. "Good. Which means you can keep yourself occupied for a while…"­ I should go check out the forums. And then get dinner started. He stood up from the couch.

    Su Chan threw her arms around his waist and made a whiny noise. "Where are you going? Don't leave… Let's watch the soap show together."

    Li Yundong groaned. "Seriously? You want me to spend a few hours watching a soap opera? You might as well kill me now."

    Su Chan's cheeks puffed out adorably. Her arms tightened around his waist.

    Moments later, Li Yundong sighed. "You're not going to let me go, aren't you?"

    Su Chan shook her head.

    Alright. Time to bring out the big guns.

    Li Yundong cleared his throat. "Actually… I was about to go cook our dinner. You're hungry, right?"

    Su Chan nodded and released him.

    Food. It worked on Su Chan every damn time.

    ***

    After dinner, Li Yundong returned to his room and logged on to the university's forum site. As expected, the forum was going nuts over this afternoon's incident.

    Li Yundong clicked on the hottest thread: Hero of Tiannan University vs Cloaked Old Man (full play by play).

    The page took nearly ten seconds to load due to the sheer number of comments posted. When Li Yundong read the description, he found that the OP wasn't kidding about the "play by play" part; the whole incident was described from start to end in vivid detail. Someone even counted the number of times Liu Chuan had cried for the demise of his father's car—apparently, it was enough to put a baby to shame.

    Li Yundong scrolled down the page, skimming through the comments as he did. Moments later, he saw something that made him stop scrolling. Someone had uploaded a video clip of the fight in one of the comments.

    "Great. More proof. Just what I needed," he grumbled, clicking on the video's play button.

     A few seconds into the video, Li Yundong realized that he really had nothing to worry about. The video's quality was so shitty that you wouldn't be able to tell a cat from a dog if it were in it. He paused the video and scrolled down further. The video had gotten quite a lot of replies, and a few of them actually made him chuckle.

    Critical_Mass: What's this? An earthquake?  

    Trololololol: Why is it shaking so much? It's like the phone was attached to a vibrator or something.

    Li Yundong spent another minute browsing through the forum. Based on what he'd read, most people were skeptical about those supernatural claims, choosing instead to attribute those claims to sensationalism. Li Yundong saw that as a good thing, since he really didn't feel like explaining anything to anyone. What the public believed was none of his concern. He just wanted everyone to leave him in peace.

    Li Yundong powered down his laptop and went into the living room.

    He paused a few feet away from the couch.

    "You're still watching the show, princess? But it's been hours."

    Su Chan turned away from the TV. "This show is fun…"

    Li Yundong chuckled. "Looks like someone has found a new addiction."

    Su Chan made her face at him and turned back to the screen.

    Li Yundong walked over and flicked her forehead.

    "Do you mind if I use the living room? I haven't done any Qi-control training today."

    Su Chan rubbed her forehead. "But I'm still watching the soap show…"

    Li Yundong grabbed the remote and pressed the stop button. He walked over to the DVD player and removed the disc from the tray.

    "Why don't you watch the rest in my room?" He handed the DVD to Su Chan. "There's a TV and a DVD player."

    Su Chan took the DVD. "Oh."

    "Do you know how to set it up?" Li Yundong raised a brow.

    Su Chan pouted. "Hmph! Of course I know! You've shown it to me earlier!"

    Su Chan stormed off and went inside his room.

    "Don't break the DVD, okay?" Li Yundong yelled. "Feng Na would have my head if you do!"

    Seconds later, Su Chan poked her head out from his room and made a face at him.

    Li Yundong chuckled and lowered himself to the floor.

    Despite his ordeal and near-death experience, he wouldn't trade this day for the world. Not when he'd finally heard three precious words from Su Chan.

    He closed his eyes and allowed himself to drift into a meditative state.


  • ***

    The first light of dawn alerted Su Chan to the fact that she had spent the whole night watching the soap show. The show was fun to watch as it reminded her of her own cohabitation with Yundong. But if she was honest, that wasn't the only reason she was so engrossed in it. The show was a distraction from her worries.

    Would Lin Youfa bother Yundong again? Would Ruan Hongling be keeping a close eye on their place from now on? Should they move to a new place? But Su Chan didn't want to move! She liked this place; it was the perfect place for Cultivation. Besides, she had gotten rather attached to this place already…

    Su Chan sighed and got up from Yundong's bed. She picked up a black, rectangular device and pressed a button on the top left corner. A flat platform—it looked like a tray—poked out like a tongue from the box which sat beside the TV. Su Chan walked over and removed the round disc from the tray. She studied the disc for a moment. Hmm… Its two faces look different, like a coin… But why is the bottom face so sparkly?

    Speaking of two faces…

    Su Chan was being two-faced as well.

    A fox spirit masquerading as a normal human.

    Yundong will hate me when he finds out…

    Su Chan padded over to the bed and slumped face first onto the mattress. The round disc rolled out of her hand onto the bed.

    Maybe Yundong was different others? Maybe he would find having a fox spirit as a partner acceptable… ish?

    But everyone hates fox spirits!

    A whine escaped Su Chan's throat as she rolled around on the bed.

    She froze when she heard a sharp crack. She rolled to her back and sat up.

    Oh no…

    The round disc had snapped in half.

    Panicking, Su Chan picked up the two broken pieces and stared at them. "B- But how? How could this thing be so fragile?"

    Stupid, stupid, stupid! Not even soap breaks that easily!

    She glanced at the door, which was shut—thank goodness.

    "Oh no, oh no… What should I do?"

    She had just given Yundong another reason to hate her!

    Su Chan picked up the broken pieces and held them under the light. Aha! Maybe I can… Su Chan aligned the two pieces together along the crack.

    The two pieces fit together perfectly. Even the crack had vanished.

    Yessss! Yessss! I've fixed it! I've fixed it! Hehehe—

    One of the pieces fell off the moment she let go of her hand.

    Su Chan wanted to cry.

    Su Chan dumped the other piece onto the bed. Maybe she could use a spell? Su Chan stared hard at the two pieces for a moment or two. When she couldn't come up with any spells, she went into panic mode again.

    Su Chan picked up the two pieces and kept bumping them together, hoping that the pieces would magically join together. "Join, join, join… Please, please, please?" she whispered.

    Would it work if she summoned fire with a spell and then weld the pieces together? No! What if she ended up melting the whole thing? If this thing was so brittle that it would break—

    KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!

    "Wake up, princess! Time for breakfast!"

    The broken pieces flew out of Su Chan's hands when she jumped. She scrambled for the pieces before either one of them could roll off the bed.

    "I'm in trouble, I'm in trouble…"

    Su Chan shoved the broken pieces under the blanket when the door suddenly opened.

    Yundong's poked his head in through the gap.

    "Morning, princess—" His eyes narrowed. "What's up with your hair? Wait… Don't tell me you didn't get any sleep last night…"

    "O- Of course I slept. Hehehehehehe… M-My hair is messy because I just woke up."

    Not because I've been rolling around trying to fix your stupid soap show thingy. Which I accidentally broke

    Thankfully, Yundong didn't press on. His head disappeared through the gap.

    "Hurry up and get ready! We're almost late for class!"

    Su Chan climbed out of bed dejectedly. Then, she took the broken pieces from under the covers and glanced around the room. Hide it! Hide it! I have to hide it!

    That shelf!

    Su Chan ran, but her feet got tangled up in the blanket. She reached out and grabbed the shelf to steady herself, but ended up knocking the shelf slightly. A few books tumbled off the shelf.

    A round object rolled out from between the pages of one book. 

    Hey… Isn't that the same…?

    Su Chan crouched down and picked up a round disc which looked similar to the one she had broken earlier.

    She aligned the broken disc and then placed it side by side with the other disc. Relief coursed through her. The two discs were identical.

    "Did you go back to sleep again, princess!"

    Su Chan's gaze snapped to the door.

    "Alright! I'm coming out now!"

    Su Chan shoved the broken pieces under Yundong's bed and then picked up the other disc.

    Nobody would know.

    Nobody.

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  • Chapter 101 The Boss

     

    "Great... The government big wigs are here again," Li Yundong mumbled as he stared out of the cab's window. Their cab hadn't moved an inch for fifteen minutes now and there were traffic police everywhere.

    The cabbie turned around from the driver's seat. "Oh? So you're aware of that as well? I heard it's a leader from the provincial level this time."

    Just one day after their battle with Lin Youfa? Could this be a coincidence? Or had the bureaucrats caught wind of what happened? Li Yundong sighed. No point worrying about it now... He would just have to cross that bridge when he got to it.

    "When will the roadblock be removed?"

    The cabbie chuckled. "Who knows."

    The roadblock lasted for half an hour.

    When Li Yundong and Su Chan arrived outside the academic building, they saw Feng Na standing in front of the entrance. Feng Na smiled the moment she saw them. "Hah! There you are, O Hero of Tiannan University. Now. Return my DVD." Feng Na held out her hand.

    "I don't get you at all," Li Yundong said. "What's with that cloak and dagger act yesterday? It's just a soap opera."

    Feng Na snorted. "What I do with my stuff is none of your business. Besides, that's a newly released DVD. It hasn't even hit the market yet!"

    Li Yundong snickered. "Bullshit. I own a copy of Cohabitation with A Flight Attendant at home too. I've had it for a long time."

    Feng Na's eyes were a mixture of surprise and disbelief. "That's impossible! My friend had to pull a lot of strings to get me that DVD."

    An evil smirk formed on Li Yundong's lips. "You don't believe me? Okay. How about I lend it to you some day?"

    Feng Na eyed Li Yundong warily. "Nah... I don't trust that look on your face. It's probably just something dirty."

    Li Yundong widened his grin for effect.

    Feng Na rolled her eyes. "Stop dallying! Return my DVD! I have to get back to class."

    Li Yundong laughed. "Oh? You still remember you have your own classes to attend, do you? I mean, you've been coming to our classes so often that you might as well repeat your second year and join our class!"

    Feng Na looked affronted. "As if! I'll have you know that I'm a good student! In fact, I'm a proud scholarship holder." A teasing glint formed in Feng Na's eyes. "Unlike some people who skipped classes and got into fights all the time."

    "Hey!" Now it was Li Yundong's turn to look affronted. "I've been coming to classes these days, you know. I even had to take a cab ride every morning!"

    Feng Na smiled. "Serves you right!"

    Li Yundong frowned. "Excuse me? Serves me right? What did I do?"

    "You could've stayed at the dorms. But no, the dorms aren't good enough for the mighty Hero of Tiannan University. He had to stay at his own place with his beautiful girlfriend."

    The bitterness in Feng Na's tone made Li Yundong pause. "Whoa there... I didn't know you have a problem with my living arrangements."

    Feng Na shook her head. "Did you bring the DVD or not?"

    Li Yundong glanced at Su Chan with a raised brow.

    Su Chan nodded and began rummaging through Li Yundong's backpack. Seconds later, she pulled out a DVD and handed it to Feng Na.

    Feng Na smiled the moment she saw the DVD. "Thanks!" Feng Na grabbed the DVD and put it into her handbag.

    Li Yundong chuckled at Feng Na's enthusiasm. "Seriously. It's just a soap opera..."

    Feng Na rolled her eyes. "You're a guy. I don't expect you to understand."

    Li Yundong smiled. "You're right. I don't. But for what it's worth, the show's pretty good."

    Feng Na had a look of surprise. "You actually watched it? The whole thing?"

    Li Yundong laughed. "No. But this one did." He pointed at Su Chan. "In fact, I think she got a little addicted to it."

    Feng Na studied Su Chan for a moment. "At least she's got good tastes." Feng Na gave Li Yundong a sidelong glance. "Unlike somebody."

    Li Yundong raised his palms. "Alright, alright. You can stop mocking me now. I bow to your superior cinematic tastes..."

    Feng Na laughed. "Alright. I'm gonna go. Oh, wait. One more thing. Come back to the Taekwondo Club if you have time, would you? We need a new president."

    Li Yundong narrowed his eyes. "No thanks. You're just gonna get me into trouble again."

    Silence fell between them. Feng Na's expression no longer held amusement. Instead, she was scrutinizing him intently as though he was a puzzle she was trying to figure out.

    Moments later, Li Yundong could take it anymore. "What?"

    "Sometimes I wonder if you're even human." Feng Na shook her head. "All that stuff you did..."

    Yeah... Join the club...

    All of a sudden, Feng Na looked at him sharply, her eyes slightly narrowed. "You're not some kind of superhero who leads a double life, are you? Or some kind of legendary martial arts master?"

    Li Yundong shared a glance with Su Chan. Subtle though it might be, Su Chan's headshake was unmistakable. This was one of those times where he had to lie and deflect to keep his consumption of the Renyuan Jindan a secret. Li Yundong cleared his throat and feigned a look of exasperation. "Argh. Damn it." He slapped his thigh, then allowed his shoulders to sag. "Looks like I've been discovered after all."

    Feng Na seemed to believe that he had something to hide—well, he did—as she perked up instantly. "Ooh... So there is a story there."

    Li Yundong released a dramatic sigh. "Actually... My name is Li-El, and I'm from the planet Krypton. I was sent to Earth 500 years ago to serve as its savior and protector. My goal has always been the same. To fight for world peace!" He had surprised even himself when he managed to say all that with a straight face.

    There was a moment of silence.

    Then, Feng Na slapped a hand to her mouth and started giggling. "Superman? That's the best you can come up with?"

    Li Yundong shrugged. Feng Na stopped giggling and cleared her throat. "Guess you should start wearing your underwear outside then."

    Li Yundong wagged his finger in front of Feng Na's face. "Tsk, tsk! Insolent earthling! I'll have you know that we Kryptonians have a wonderful fashion sense!"

    Feng Na burst into laughter. "Whatever you say, pal. Whatever you say." She gave him a wave. "See you, then."

    After Feng Na disappeared into the academic building, Li Yundong sighed. "Well. That was close."

    There was a tug on his sleeve. "Yundong... Who is this Superman? Is he really formidable?"

    Li Yundong smiled, took Su Chan's hand, and made their way into the academic building. "He is pretty tough."

    "How do we defeat him?"

    "Well, you see... There's this green rock..."

  • ***

    Five minutes later, the pair walked into the lecture hall. The immediate silence following their arrival had long since become a norm now: strange looks; the relentless stares. Yeah. What else is new?

    Li Yundong pulled Su Chan to the back of the lecture hall and took their seats in the last row. The gazes of his fellow classmates had followed them all the way to the back of the room, and Li Yundong was really starting to feel a little fed up with their behavior.

    "Yundong... Can't you switch schools? You're drawing a lot of attention here."

    Switch schools. What difference would that make anyway? Trouble seemed to follow him everywhere. "I'd rather not go to school if I have the choice." Li Yundong sighed. "But I can't. I'll stop receiving money from my parents if I drop out. Besides, I'll probably need a university degree to get a job in the future. I still have to feed you and your ridiculously huge appetite."

    Su Chan released a heavy sigh. "Money is such a pain..."

    Li Yundong pulled out his textbook.

    "Yundong... Why don't you ask Zhou Qin for help?"

    Li Yundong raised his brows. "Excuse me?"

    Su Chan lowered her voice. "You can't really focus on your training if you have money troubles."

    Li Yundong poked Su Chan's head. "Tsk! That's not nice, you know? You can't just ask people for money just because they are rich."

    Li Yundong felt like pinching Su Chan's adorable pout. Or kiss it.

    Su Chan rubbed her head. "M- Maybe you can... take her as your disciple?"

    Li Yundong thought he'd misheard her. He leaned in and whispered, "What? I thought you're the one who wanted me to keep a low profile."

    Su Chan twiddled her fingers. "B- But we don't have a choice now, do we? We need more money..."

    Li Yundong leaned back with a sigh. He wished the professor would come to class already so he could be spared from this uncomfortable conversation. "Don't worry, princess. I'll find a way." Li Yundong looked at Su Chan pointedly. "It's best to lay low for now. We don't want another Lin Youfa incident."

    "Maybe... Maybe we can ask Zhou Qin to keep it a secret?"

    Zhou Qin entered the lecture hall before Li Yundong could reply.

    Zhou Qin scanned the room, stopping only when her eyes had landed on him. She smiled at him and walked down the long aisle towards him.

    "Yes? What can I do for you, Li Yundong?"

    Li Yundong cleared his throat. "Nothing."

    Zhou Qin eyed him skeptically. "You were staring."

    Yeah... Because you were walking towards me and I was balls deep in trying to prevent you from becoming my disciple.

    Li Yundong cleared his throat again. "Where else was I supposed to look? I'm sitting in the last row and you were walking towards me from the front, so…" Li Yundong shrugged, and then winced when he replayed his own words.

    Lame. So lame.

    "No. I don't think that's the case at all." Zhou Qin studied him for a few seconds. "Come on. What is it? You can tell me."

    Su Chan suddenly leaned over. "Oh. Actually, we were just thinking of taking you as—Mmph!" Li Yundong muffled the rest of her sentence with a hand against Su Chan's mouth.

    "Shush!" He glared at Su Chan.

    "Mmph! Mmph! Mmph!" Su Chan struggled against his hand.

    Li Yundong gave Zhou Qin a smile. "It's nothing. It's really nothing."

    Zhou Qin still seemed skeptical, but she didn't push. "Okay then..." She pulled something out from her handbag. It was a phone. "Here."

    Li Yundong took the phone and immediately recognized the model from a TV commercial. And no, it wasn't a cheap model. Li Yundong frowned. "What's this for?"

    Zhou Qin gave him a strange look. "You needed a new number, right?" Zhou Qin pointed at the phone. "There's a new SIM card in it."

    You could've just given me the SIM card. "No." Li Yundong shook his head. "This is too much." He looked Zhou Qin in the eye and handed the phone back to her. "I can't accept this. It ain't right."

    Zhou Qin sighed. "Listen. You saved my life. Will you please just let me repay you?" Zhou Qin looked at him earnestly. "Please?"

    Li Yundong shook his head again. "You've done more than enough for me already, Zhou Qin. I'm not stupid you know. That Mercedes Benz limo I ruined yesterday..." Li Yundong shot her a pointed look. "I know you paid for the damage. That was the 'urgent business' you had to take care of yesterday, wasn't it?"

    Zhou Qin looked away.

    "I'm grateful for what you did. But I can't accept anything more from you. It wouldn't be right." Li Yundong sighed. "How about this. Either I just take the SIM card from this phone, or I get a new number myself this afternoon."

    Zhou Qin sighed. "Fine. Yes, I paid for the car."

    Li Yundong chuckled bitterly. "I doubt money is all they want."

    "You don't have to worry about Liu Changhe. He knows you're friends with me, and he knows that I'm involved in the incident as well. He won't trouble you."

    Li Yundong patted his chest. "Good to know."

    Zhou Qin chuckled. "Seriously? You could dodge bullets and you're worried about Liu Changhe?"

    Li Yundong snorted. "It's not him I'm worried about. It's money. I'm a debtor now." Li Yundong held up his hand and gave Zhou Qin a pointed stare. "And no. Don't even think about it. You've done more than enough for me."

    Zhou Qin regarded him silently and then smiled. "Here's an idea. The summer holidays will be here soon. How about getting a summer job?"

    Li Yundong gave her a wry smile. "That's pretty much a given considering my current financial state."

  • Zhou Qin's smile widened. "Good."

    Li Yundong's eyes narrowed. "You're up to something…"

    Zhou Qin kept smiling and took the phone from Li Yundong's hand. Then, she passed the phone to Su Chan.

    "Su Chan, Li Yundong refused to accept this phone, so I'm giving it to you instead."

    In a feat of strength that surprised Li Yundong, Su Chan unclamped his hand from her mouth. "Really?" His princess's eyes were practically sparkling right now.

    Zhou Qin nodded. "Yes. Really. It's yours."

    Su Chan accepted the phone gratefully and began turning it around in her hand.

    Li Yundong glared at Su Chan. "Tsk! Have you no shame? You can't just accept lavish gifts like that, you know."

    Su Chan made a face at him and went back to fiddling with the phone. Clearly, somebody had just found her new toy. Not that she knew how to use it.

    Li Yundong sighed and flicked Su Chan's forehead. "Where are your manners? Aren't you going to thank her?"

    Su Chan raised her head, her smile lighting up the room. "Hehehe... Thank you so much, Elder Sister Zhou Qin!"

    "You're welcome, Su Chan." Zhou Qin smiled. "My number is in there. Please call me if you need anything, okay?"

    "Mmm!" Su Chan bobbed her head.

    Li Yundong suppressed a laugh. She'd more likely crack the screen than make a successful call.

    The professor arrived, putting their conversation to an end. Zhou Qin took the empty seat beside Li Yundong.

    Minutes later, the professor's voice filled the lecture hall, marking the beginning of several hours of boredom. It was a revision lecture, where the professor would go over previous lecture materials based on the tips he'd given a few days ago. If it wasn't for the attendance, Li Yundong wouldn't even attend the lecture. After Su Chan told him about his super memory, Li Yundong had memorized the textbook based on the tips, so he was pretty sure he could pass—if not excel—the exams just fine. Instead of listening to the professor's droning, Li Yundong amused himself by watching Su Chan figure out how to operate her new toy.

    Near the end of the lecture, the monotony was broken by a commotion outside the lecture hall. Li Yundong went on high alert in an instant. Could it be Lin Youfa again?

    He moved his Qi to his Shenting and watched the door closely. Seconds later, the door opened. But instead of Lin Youfa, a middle-aged man with a square-shaped face walked in surrounded by the members of the university council.

    Beside him, Zhou Qin gasped.

    Li Yundong turned and studied Zhou Qin curiously. "What's wrong? Do you know him?"

    "What's my father doing here?"

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  • Chapter 102 The Lure of Wealth

     

    "What? Your father?"

    Zhou Qin could hear the surprise in Li Yundong's tone. She turned her head slightly and gave him a grim nod. This was a bad sign. Her father showing up at the university just one day after the incident yesterday? This couldn't be a coincidence.

    Zhou Qin observed her father from the last row, taking in his grey Mao suit and his commanding presence. He stood a few feet away from the lectern, letting his gaze roam across the lecture hall as he studied every student present. Was he looking for her?

    Her thoughts were interrupted by Vice-chancellor Ke, who had taken his spot on the lectern and was now addressing the students.

    "Ladies and gentlemen, it is our honor to welcome our extinguished guest, the Deputy Governor of our province, Mr. Zhou Keqiang! Let us all stand and welcome our extinguished guests with a round of applause!"

    Students rose from their seats as the lecture hall filled with the sound of applause. Zhou Qin didn't stand up. Zhou Keqiang had lost her respect and affection a long time ago.

    The clapping subsided and the students sat back down. That was when she noticed that her father's eyes were on her. Zhou Qin met her father's stare with cold intensity. Why are you here, father?

    Then, Zhou Qin noticed her father's frown. At first, she thought he was frowning at her. But when she looked closer, she realized that her father wasn't even looking at her now; he was staring at Li Yundong, who was sitting beside her. The lightbulbs in Zhou Qin's head lit up at the same time her hackles rose. He Shao...

    That idiotic scoundrel must have told her father something.

    Was that it? Was her father here to bully or threaten Li Yundong? Zhou Qin bit the inside of her cheeks. Over my dead body!

    "Hey... What's the matter?"

    She turned at the sound of Li Yundong's voice. Li Yundong was giving her a look of concern.

    Zhou Qin forced out a smile. "Oh, it's nothing."

    Li Yundong raised his brow, clearly not buying any of it. "Yeah? I bet your textbook would disagree."

    What? She glanced down and realized that she had crumpled an open page of her textbook.

    "You alright?" Li Yundong asked again.

    Zhou Qin unclenched her hand and smoothed out the page. "Yeah. I'm fine," she said lamely. Or at least I will be once I sort out this mess.

    Her father was already moving towards the lectern, no doubt ready to recite some hackneyed speech that somebody else had written for him.

    "Not a big fan of your old man, I take it?"

    Li Yundong was now smiling at her wryly. Instead of answering, Zhou Qin redirected her gaze towards the lectern. Can you love a father who sees his only daughter as a mere tool to gain political advantage? Who values status and power more than their own daughter's happiness?

    Another round of applause signaled the end of her father's speech. Zhou Qin didn't hear a single thing her father said. The clapping lasted until her father and his entourage left the lecture hall. On the bright side, nobody—other than Li Yundong and Su Chan—seemed to know that Deputy Governor Zhou was actually her father, though she figured it wouldn't be long until somebody made the connection. Either way, she had to put an end to her father's nonsense before things came to that.

  • ***

    "Qinqin! Over here!"

    Zhou Qin stopped outside the lecture hall and turned to her right. A young man dressed in a suit was waving at her at the end of the corridor.

    Zhou Qin walked over. "Secretary Liu," she said, trying her hardest to sound polite. "Where is my father?"

    "He's waiting for you in the car."

    Zhou Qin nodded. "Lead the way."

    Let's get this over with.

    Secretary Liu led her out of the academic building and straight towards the campus gates. Past the gates, she saw an Audi A6 parked beside the curb. Pieces of broken glass crunched under her feet as she traversed the curb towards the Audi. The tire marks on the ground were still there, reminding her of yesterday's extraordinary events. Not that she needed any extra reminder. Ever since Li Yundong's episode inside the men's room weeks ago, Zhou Qin had long since come to the conclusion that both Su Chan and Li Yundong were extraordinary individuals.

    Zhou Qin slid into the Audi's backseat. For a moment, neither she nor her father spoke. Zhou Qin didn't even know how to begin. She was still so mad at the fact that her father had come running just because He Shao had whined a little.

    It was only minutes later when Zhou Qin fired the first salvo. "Well, well, well. How nice of the great Deputy Governor Zhou Keqiang to grace Tiannan University with his presence." Zhou Qin snorted. "I'm surprised they didn't bring out the red carpet."

    "Qinqin..." Zhou Keqiang sighed. "I'm your father, not your enemy. What's with the attitude?"

    A father? Zhou Qin snorted. You stopped being my father the moment you traded my happiness for power! Zhou Qin crossed her arms in front of her chest. "Why are you here?" she snapped. "What, did He Shao go home crying to his father after I told him off and humiliated him in public?"

    Anger flared inside Zhou Qin.

    He Shao. That repulsive, off-putting, obnoxious, depraved, and vile man. Man? No. He wasn't even a man; he was a barbaric creature without a single ounce of virtue in him. A loveless marriage with a decent man Zhou Qin could live with. But this? This stupid arranged marriage with He Shao would utterly ruin her chances of happiness and perhaps even her whole life. How on earth was she supposed to spend the rest of her life with that shallow and despicable creature who spent more time in the casino and brothel than anywhere else?

    Regardless, arguing with her father was an exercise in futility. She knew that because she had already tried. A hundred times, perhaps more. But every time she did, her father's answer was always the same: "People can change, Qinqin. Which man doesn't have such indulgences? He'll slowly change after you get married. You'll see."

    Her father was a fool. He was too blinded by power to see that being associated with He Shao would only damage the Zhou family's reputation in the long run. Sooner or later, He Shao would do something scandalous, and the Zhou family would be dragged down by it.

    "You're just like your mother, Qinqin. Just like your mother."

    A surge of anger coursed through Zhou Qin's veins. How dare he? How dare he mention mom...

    "Oh? So you still remember what mother was like? What a surprise," Zhou Qin said, the acid rolling off her tongue. "She's been dead for ten years. I thought you have forgotten all about her already!"

    "Don't use that tone with me, child!"

    Zhou Qin snorted. Anyone else would've at least flinched at her father's outburst. But Zhou Qin had long since passed the point of caring. "Oh? What kind of tone shall I use then? The servile kind? The same kind your subordinates use with you?" Zhou Qin chuckled humorlessly. "I suppose you'd want that. Having people fawning over you, crawling at your feet, feeding your delusions of grandeur and sense of superiority. Isn't that what you live for, father?"

    "You—"

    "What, don't tell me you want me to speak to you like a daughter does?"

    "Of course I do. You're my—"

    "You have no right!" Zhou Qin seethed. "No right!"

    Zhou Keqiang stared at Zhou Qin, too stunned to say anything.

    Zhou Qin took a deep breath. "You don't get to demand me to act like a daughter. Not when you yourself don't even treat me like one."

    "What are you even talking about?"

    "Did you come to my birthday party, father? Did you?" Zhou Qin sneered. "No you didn't. It was your only daughter's birthday party, yet you didn't even show."

    "I came home that night!"

    "Oh, yeah you did. How loving of you to clear a slot in your busy schedule to come home for your daughter's birthday, in the middle of the night when the party was long over." Zhou Qin snorted. "Tell me, Deputy Governor Zhou. How many meetings did you have to reschedule just to come here today, hmm? Five? Ten? You're a busy man after all."

    Her father didn't answer, so Zhou Qin kept going. "And yet here you are. You cleared your busy schedule and came running here like a lapdog just because He Shao whined a little. You'd do that for He Shao, an outsider, but not your daughter?"

    Tears stung Zhou Qin's eyes.

    "Qinqin..."

    Zhou Qin turned away to face the window. Don't cry, damn it. Don't cry. You don't care about that man. You don't.

    Silence permeated the car until Zhou Qin heard the flicking sound of a lighter. Zhou Qin tamped down the urge to tell Zhou Keqiang not to smoke, hating herself that she still cared.

    "Get out if you want to smoke," Zhou Qin said. "Or maybe I'll just go."

    Zhou Keqiang tossed the lighter away. "What has gotten into you these days, Qinqin? Why are you acting like this?"

    Zhou Qin turned around. "Me? Oh, I assure you I'm not the problem. The problem lies with you! Your obsession with power has made you blind to everything else!"


  • "What is it that you want!"

    You know what I want, father. You know. You've just chosen to ignore it. You've ignored it for years.

    "I want my own life," Zhou Qin said coldly, "not the life of a puppet."

    Silence fell in the car. Zhou Keqiang had a pensive look on his face. Seconds later, Zhou Keqiang laughed. "It's because of that Li Yundong, isn't it?"

    Zhou Qin frowned. "This has nothing to do with him. Don't you dare drag him into this!"

    Zhou Keqiang shook his head and sighed. "I thought you were smarter than this, Qinqin. A woman of your status should always seek to secure your position. Otherwise you'll be destroyed! You know that!"

    Zhou Qin chuckled. "Really? Scare tactics? Is that the best you've got?" Zhou Qin glared at her father. "I'm going to say this one last time. I will not marry He Shao. I'd rather die than marry that brute."

    Zhou Qin reached for the door.

    "Aren't you forgetting something, young lady? You're a Zhou! You're my daughter! Everything you have came from me! Which means you have a duty to this family! To me!"

    Zhou Qin stilled her hand and turned in her seat to regard her father coldly. "Is that a threat, Deputy Governor Zhou? That you'll take everything away from me if I stop playing the role as your little pawn?"

    "Watch what you're saying..." Zhou Keqiang growled.

    "Or else what? You're going to disown me?" Zhou Qin laughed derisively. "Go ahead then! Disown me! Take everything away! Believe or not, I can do without your name and all the luxury associated with it! At least I get to live a life of a human being, not a puppet!"

    Zhou Qin reached for the door again.

    "Wait..." Zhou Keqiang's voice made her stop. She didn't like that tone; it sounded too smug.

    "I want you to listen to something before you go."

    Zhou Qin lowered her hand from the door and then eyed Zhou Keqiang suspiciously. Seconds later, Zhou Keqiang tossed a phone at Zhou Qin.

    Zhou Qin glanced at the screen and saw that there was an ongoing call to Secretary Liu's phone. The loudspeaker was turned on.

    Seconds later, Secretary Liu's voice sounded from the speaker. "Are you Li Yundong?"

    "Yes, I am. Can I help you?"

    "I'm Deputy Governor Zhou's secretary. Can I speak to you in private? It won't take long."

    Zhou Qin glared at Zhou Keqiang. "You're shameless!"

    Zhou Keqiang sneered. "Shameless? Don't tell me you aren't the slightest bit curious regarding Li Yundong's true nature?" Zhou Keqiang smirked. "Hang up the phone if you don't want to know."

    Zhou Qin stared at the phone in her hand. She didn't end the call.

    ***

    Li Yundong stopped short the moment he exited the academic building. Someone was watching him. Li Yundong turned and saw a man wearing a pristine suit and a pair of gold wire glasses approaching him from his right. Moments later, the man stopped in front of Li Yundong, his leather briefcase brushing against Li Yundong's left knee. This was one of those men who came into the lecture hall with Zhou Qin's father earlier.

    "Are you Li Yundong?" the man asked.

    Li Yundong's eyes narrowed slightly. What does he want from me? Suddenly, Li Yundong had a bad feeling about this. "Yes, I am. Can I help you?"

    "I'm Deputy Governor Zhou's secretary. Can I speak to you in private? It won't take long."

    Had Zhou Qin gotten into trouble with her dad because she tried to clean up Li Yundong's mess? Or was this He Shao's doing? Only one way to find out.

    "Sure," Li Yundong said, his eyes never leaving the secretary. Then, Li Yundong turned to Su Chan. "Wait here for me, okay? Don't run off on your own."

    Su Chan nodded obediently.

    Li Yundong turned to the secretary again. "After you, sir."

    The secretary led Li Yundong to the gazebo beyond the copse of trees, which didn't surprise Li Yundong at all; it was the only place on campus without a lot of students wandering about. Li Yundong chose to stand at the edge of the gazebo's deck, leaning his hips against the baluster with his arms crossed in front of his chest. The secretary stood in the center of the deck, surveying the gazebo's architecture.

    "Ah... Tiannan University do have nice facilities despite not being a popular university."

    Li Yundong narrowed his eyes. Just get to the point already...

    "So. I take it you're well-acquainted with Zhou Qin?"

    Li Yundong nodded. "We're friends."

    The secretary nodded a few times, then resumed his perusal of the gazebo. "Nice view out here, don't you think? Reminds me of my own campus life..."

    "With all due respect, sir," Li Yundong said sharply. "I'd prefer it if you stop beating around the bush."

    The secretary paused in his perusal and turned around. "Tsk, tsk, tsk. Young people these days... So impatient."

    Li Yundong pushed himself away from the baluster. "One would think a respectable career man such as yourself would know the value of time, sir."

    Li Yundong suppressed a smirk when he saw the look of surprise on the secretary's face. I bet not many people dare to speak to him this way, let alone a mere student.

    The secretary cleared his throat. "Fine, then. I'll get right to the point." The secretary adjusted his glasses. "How much?"

    What the hell? Li Yundong frowned. "Excuse me?"

    The secretary opened his briefcase and pulled out a checkbook. "You heard me the first time. How much money for you to leave Zhou Qin?" He then took out a pen from his pocket and clicked it.

    Li Yundong laughed. "Leave her? We were never together in the first place!"

    "100 thousand?"

    Li Yundong stopped laughing and leveled a cold stare at the man. "I've already told you that we aren't together, sir. So keep your money."

    The secretary smirked, then nodded a few times. "200 thousand then?"

    "Enough!" Li Yundong snapped. "I have no mood for your games."

    Li Yundong turned around and stormed away from the gazebo.

    "Hey! Come back here, young man! Are you sure you're going to turn away free money like that?"

    Li Yundong ignored his voice and kept walking.

    "Fine, then. 1 million!!"


  • ***

    Inside the Audi A6, Zhou Qin stared at the phone, her hand trembling with trepidation. This was what her father was best at—using money to get whatever he wanted.

    Zhou Qin glanced up from the phone and saw her father looking at her smugly.

    "Soon you will see that this Li Yundong is just like any other man. A slave to wealth."

    Zhou Qin gritted her teeth.

    "You think he's special, don't you? Isn't that why you fancy him in the first place? Because you think he sees past your wealth and status?"

    Her father reached over to pull the phone out of her hand. Zhou Qin let him.

    "This is going to prove you wrong once and for all." Her father chuckled, then waved the phone in front of her face. "I'm going to prove to you that all men are the same. And if all men are the same, then you might as well be with someone with a strong social background."

    "Fine, then. 1 million!"

    Zhou Qin's breath caught in her throat. The ensuing silence seemed to stretch on forever.

    "Ah... Now you're ready to talk, young man..."

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  • Chapter 103 A Man of Honor

     

    Li Yundong stalked into the gazebo once again, his gaze fixed upon Secretary Liu.

    "Ah... Now you're ready to talk, young man..." Secretary Liu crossed his arms in front of his chest, then walked towards a granite table near the corner of the gazebo.

    "This is an insult, sir," Li Yundong said, stopping beside the granite table. Secretary Liu placed his leather briefcase on the granite and begun signing the check.

    "An insult?" Secretary Liu said, slipping his pen into his pocket. He smirked. "I'm sure you'll change your mind once you get your hands on this." He waved the check in front of Li Yundong's face. Li Yundong took the check and studied it for a moment.

    "Don't worry," Secretary Liu said. "The money is clean. Take it and go on your merry way. Leave, and stay out of Zhou Qin's life. That's the deal."

    Li Yundong raised his gaze from the check, which fluttered slightly in the afternoon breeze. All of a sudden, Li Yundong began chuckling.

    Secretary Liu's expression darkened. "What's so funny, young man?"

    Li Yundong took a deep breath and stifled the last of his laughter. Li Yundong waved his hand nonchalantly. "It's nothing. I just realized a few things, that's all."

    A frown marred Secretary Liu's features. "What things?"

    Li Yundong stared at Secretary Liu with contempt. "That there are really two kinds of rich people in this world."

    "What's your point, young man?" There was an impatient edge to Secretary Liu's voice.

    Li Yundong folded the check in half. "The first kind put their money and resources to good use. They are humble and respectful. Instead of flaunting their wealth, they prefer to lead low-key lifestyles. Instead of spending their resources mindlessly, they rather build and expand their resources. And in case you're wondering, your boss's daughter has the potential to be the first type." Li Yundong folded the check again. "Then comes the second type, who think they can rule over the world just because they're rich. They try to buy their way out of everything, putting a price tag on anything they could think of, including things that cannot be measure by monetary means. They stomp on the poor and treat people like trash. And they use their wealth to manipulate people like puppets."

    Li Yundong's eyes flashed defiantly. He took a step forward and waved the folded check in front of Secretary Liu's face. Then, he tore up check and flung the pieces at Secretary Liu's face. "Guess what? I don't want your stupid money."

    "Y- You foolish and insolent..." Secretary Liu sputtered.

    Li Yundong took a step forward, forcing Secretary Liu to step back. "I'm going to say this one last time, Mr. Secretary. Zhou Qin and I are friends. Friends. Nothing more, nothing less. There is only one woman that I'm interested in, and her name is Su Chan. I suggest you remember that. Also, Zhou Qin is a person with thoughts and feelings, not just some puppet or pawn you can toss around at your whim. She has every right to choose her own romantic partner or pursue anyone she's interested in, and there is nothing you, I, or anyone else can say about it! This little game you're playing here?" Li Yundong poked his finger into Secretary Liu's chest, causing the latter to stumble back a step. "This is a violation of her rights, not to mention a complete insult!" Li Yundong glared at Secretary Liu. "You've disrespected me. You've disrespected Zhou Qin. And you've disrespected my girlfriend, Su Chan!"

    Secretary Liu studied Li Yundong for a long while, then he burst into laughter. "Oh, I see! This is an act! This is all just an act to gain Zhou Qin's trust!"

    Li Yundong's eyes flashed in anger. "Do I look like I'm acting!"

    Secretary Liu flinched at Li Yundong's sharp tone. He averted his gaze; those eyes were far too intense. It felt like his insides would be ripped apart if he held Li Yundong's gaze for even a second longer.

    "A man who refuses to fight for Zhou Qin?" Secretary Liu snorted. "I must say you're the first one." Secretary Liu regarded Li Yundong curiously. "I wonder what your type is."

    Li Yundong sneered. "Snobs like you wouldn't understand even if I tell you."

    Secretary Liu laughed. "I doubt there is a woman in this city who's better than Zhou Qin in terms of—"

    "Not everything is about status, you mindless retard!" Li Yundong said sharply. "My type of girl has to be willing to stick with me through thick and thin!" Li Yundong softened his tone. "When everyone else saw me as a pathetic loser, Su Chan was the only person who saw value in me. When times were tough, she stuck by my side and never abandoned me." Li Yundong's sharp gaze pierced through Secretary Liu. "Hell would freeze over first before I give her up for someone else!"

    Secretary Liu stared at Li Yundong in shock. After a while, he recovered. "I see... So you're a romantic, then."

    Li Yundong snorted. "Say whatever you want, I don't care. I just want to prove that she'd made the right choice in me."

    Secretary Liu smoothed out his suit jacket, satisfied with the discussion. "Alright then. I suppose we have an understanding." Secretary Liu offered a handshake, which Li Yundong blatantly ignored. Secretary Liu lowered his hand back down and cleared his throat. "Well, since you won't take the money, then how about this. I'll arrange for you to be transferred to a new university. A much better one, of course—"

    Li Yundong bristled. "I'm sorry? A transfer?"

    "And when you graduate, I'll make sure that you get a well-paid job. You can settle down with your girlfriend and then have kids. Well, basically the whole white picket fence thing, you know what I mean. How about that, eh? Now just tell me when would be a convenient time for you to leave, and I'll make the necessary arrangements right away—"

    Li Yundong burst into laughter, which lasted for a full minute. When he finally stopped laughing, Li Yundong looked at Secretary Liu coolly. "Sorry to burst your bubble or step on your moment, but I never agreed to leave."

    Secretary Liu flushed red. "That won't do! Either you take the money and leave, or you go with the latter option. Either way, you have to leave and stay out of Zhou Qin's life."

    Li Yundong chuckled darkly. "You people don't get it do you..." Li Yundong eyes flashed in anger. "Stop trying to control other people's lives by throwing your money around, damn it!" Li Yundong took a deep breath. "Look. I'm staying here. And that's final. I'm not going anywhere just because you tell me to."


  • Secretary Liu was seething at that point. "I'm warning you, boy... Don't force us to take things to the next level."

    Li Yundong stepped into Secretary Liu's personal space, forcing Secretary Liu to back away until his legs hit the granite table. "Is that a threat? Are you threatening me?"

    Secretary Liu tried to maintain his bravado, though his efforts were failing. "Y- You leave us no ch- choice..."

    "You're messing with the wrong guy, pal."

    Secretary Liu's fear instantly turned into anger. "You insolent brat! You're the one doesn't know who you're dealing with! Do you know who Deputy Governor Zhou is? You're out of your depth, kid!"

    The granite table shattered into pieces when Li Yundong's palm connected with its surface. Secretary Liu jumped back in fright.

    "My name is Li Yundong and I'm not afraid of you," Li Yundong said coldly.

    Secretary Liu scrambled back a few steps, his lips trembling in fear as he stared down at the ruined granite table.

    "Look at me when I'm talking to you!"

    Secretary Liu's gaze snapped up and met Li Yundong's glare. Secretary Liu gulped.

    Li Yundong began advancing towards Secretary Liu. "I want you give your boss a message. Stay the hell away from my life! And if I find out after this that you threatened my friends or the people I care about?" Li Yundong glanced down pointedly at the granite pieces. "Consider this my warning."

    Secretary Liu followed Li Yundong's gaze and he had to suppress a shiver at what he saw.

    Li Yundong backed away a step, then turned around. He didn't move. When Li Yundong spoke seconds later, his back was still turned to Secretary Liu. "You think money can buy everything." Li Yundong laughed derisively. "But you're wrong." Li Yundong turned around to face Secretary Liu. "Inner peace. Wisdom. Strength of character. Virtue. Respect." There was a pregnant pause. "Honor. Those are the things you can't buy."

    Secretary Liu snorted. "Those are just pretty words without practical value." He smirked. "Money itself isn't the issue. The amount is."

    Li Yundong studied Secretary Liu for a moment. Every second passed bolstered Secretary Liu's confidence, making him think that he had won the argument. Suddenly, Li Yundong kicked up a piece of granite from the deck. When the granite landed in his palm, he squeezed it with all his strength, crushing it into tiny rubbles. When Li Yundong opened his palm, the rubbles trickled onto the deck.

    Li Yundong regarded Secretary Liu coldly. "Use your stupid money and put that piece of rock back together. I'd love to see you try."

    Li Yundong walked away from the gazebo, leaving a speechless Secretary Liu behind.


  • ***

    "Is this your so-called proof, father?" Zhou Qin smirked.

    Zhou Keqiang slid the phone back into his pocket and shrugged. "Well, I suppose things didn't turn out that badly."

    Zhou Qin frowned. "Even when you've just been proven wrong?"

    "So? I still manage to discover some good news. The man clearly isn't interested in you beyond friendship. In fact, he's head over heels for someone else! I suggest you stop throwing yourself at him and focus on your own engagement."

    Zhou Qin stared at her father. For the first time in her life, she pitied the man that was Zhou Keqiang, the man who had led such a miserable and shallow existence. Zhou Qin shook her head. "You really don't get it do you, father? You really are incapable of seeing the value in people other than their social status and wealth." Her father didn't answer, so Zhou Qin kept talking. "I'm not going to lie. I have feelings for Li Yundong. Because he has qualities that no other man possesses."

    Zhou Keqiang sneered. "And what's that? The ability to brag and spout useless threats? Oh, and what else? Anger issues?" Zhou Keqiang snorted. "What a joke." Zhou Keqiang glanced at her. "And you're naive to fall for his charms."

    Zhou Qin shook her head and sighed. What a blind and pitiful man you are, father... Nobody other than yourself can save you from your fruitless obsession with power. "You're the one who's naive, father. You think you can control everything. You think you can rule over the world. But you're wrong. Don't you see how futile your efforts are? How many government officials are there with higher ranks than you? More than you can count! Do you really think you can climb your way to the top? Even if you did, what then? You're still just a human. A mortal. No matter how much power you have, you can never surpass God." Zhou Qin snorted. "You might scorn or mock Li Yundong for being a romantic or a sap, but his faithfulness and loyalty to Su Chan is exactly what I like about him. For years, I've been sought after by philanderers, by womanizers who saw women as nothing more than trophies." Zhou Qin stared intently at her father. "Not him, father. Not him. I've been watching him. I won't lie… I had my doubts about him before, but now I'm absolutely sure that Li Yundong is an honorable man. And I want an honorable man in my life! Can't you see that, father? Shouldn't you be happy for me that I've finally met a good man? That I'm willing to give my heart to an honorable man?"

    Her father was looking at anywhere but her. Zhou Qin suppressed the disappointment she felt in her stomach and forced herself to keep talking. If there was a chance she could convince her father to set her free, it would be now.

    Zhou Qin took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. "If I marry He Shao... I know I'd be miserable for the rest of my life." Zhou Qin shook her head. "Fine. Forget about my happiness for a moment. Even if our families are related by marriage, so what? Without genuine affection and respect between two families, the marriage means nothing. At the end of the day, we're still just using each other! In moments of trouble, do you really think the He family would remain as our ally? Because of what? A meaningless marriage certificate? Don't be naive, father. When push comes to shove, they'll just throw us under the bus to save their own skin!"

    When her father remained silent, Zhou Qin suppressed a sigh of frustration. What she really wanted was to shake her father's shoulders until he could finally see the obvious truth, Ice Queen aloofness be damned.

    "Besides, how do you know that Li Yundong won't be successful in the future? He Shao is just a good-for-nothing lowlife who does nothing other than waste his family's wealth. Li Yundong is a smart, honorable, and loyal man who is willing to work hard. But here's the most important thing. He is selfless. He puts other people's needs above his own. I've seen him do it over and over again, father. I've seen it with my own eyes. He nearly broke his arms when he rescued me. Don't you see? A man like that is an asset. Loyalty is hard to come by. You know that." Zhou Qin stared at her father. "You might think that you can buy loyalty, but that kind of loyalty is fickle. What if others offer a higher price than ours? What then?" Zhou Qin shook her head. "An honorable man like Li Yundong, one who knows true loyalty, would never betray us no matter how much money is offered to him." Warm feelings flooded Zhou Qin's chest at the memory of Li Yundong tearing up the check Secretary Liu had offered him. Li Yundong's words—I don't want your stupid money—echoed in her mind like a soothing chime. Zhou Qin cleared her throat. "He has a lot of potential, father. I believe he would be a better choice than He Shao in the long run."

    Zhou Keqiang shifted in his seat. "So what if he has potential. He Shao has a better starting point."

    Not if we support him, father. Zhou Qin bit back the comment. She doubt her father was ready to hear that.

    "Even if we give him a chance," Zhou Keqiang went on, "will he be willing to go through the system and enter the political circle? Fine. Let's say he's willing to do it. But even then, I doubt he would last a year! His character isn't made for politics. He's too honest. He has no guile."

    Zhou Qin studied her father for a moment. Did she imagine it? Or had her father's attitude towards Li Yundong changed? Zhou Qin sighed. "You've never interacted with this man before, so I don't expect you to understand, father."

    "What else is there to see other than a hot-blooded young man who thinks he can take on the world?"

    Zhou Qin shook her head, then gazed into her father's eyes. "You haven't seen the things he did... The things he's capable of. But I have. I've seen him in action with my own eyes, and all I can say is this. He has powers, father. Otherworldly powers. Powers that go beyond status and wealth."

    Instead of commenting, Zhou Keqiang lit up another cigarette. Zhou Qin sat in a car for a few more minutes before deciding that it was time for her to leave. Besides, Zhou Qin knew she had said more than enough already; she had made her case. "If there's nothing else," Zhou Qin said, opening the car door, "I'll be going now."

    Zhou Keqiang sighed. "He's clearly in a stable and loving relationship with someone else. Do you really think it's wise for you to get involved? Won't you end up getting..." Zhou Keqiang cleared his throat. "Tired?"

    Zhou Qin had to do a double take. Did her father just... express concern? Was he worried about her getting her heart broken? You're getting ahead of yourself, Zhou Qin.

    "Even so, it's my choice," Zhou Qin said, "not someone else's will imposed on me. I won't regret my choice no matter how much difficulties I'll run into."

    Zhou Qin shut the door and walked away from the Audi.

  • ***

    Secretary Liu slid into the Audi moments after Zhou Qin left.

    Zhou Keqiang and Secretary Liu scowled at each other without saying a word. After a while, Zhou Keqiang tossed Secretary Liu a packet of cigarette. "Help yourself."

    Secretary Liu removed a cigarette from the pack and lit it. He took a long drag, then blew out the smoke. Zhou Keqiang studied his trusted secretary for a moment. Suddenly, he smirked. "So. How does it feel like to be threatened?"

    Zhou Keqiang watched in amusement as Secretary Liu shuddered.

    "Scary," Secretary Liu said. "It was terrifying as hell, sir!"

    Zhou Keqiang's eyebrows rose in surprise. Secretary Liu was no coward, yet a young brat managed to make him this terrified?

    "Oh?" Zhou Keqiang studied his secretary carefully. "Scary? How scary? Why don't you describe it."

    Secretary Liu took another pull from his cigarette and chuckled. "It felt like my life was completely in his hands, sir. Like he has the final say in whether I live or die."

    Zhou Keqiang kept his eyes on his secretary. Secretary Liu shook the cigarette in his hand. Seconds later, Zhou Keqiang realized that the trembling wasn't deliberate.

    Suddenly, Secretary Liu pressed the butt of his cigarette against the ashtray and leaned closer to Zhou Keqiang. "Sir, you heard everything over the phone just now, right?"

    Zhou Keqiang nodded. "There was some kind of noise, like a bunch of stuff being dropped." Zhou Keqiang raised a brow. "Why, did that barbarian snatch your briefcase and empty its contents to the floor? Tsk! Don't tell me you got scared out of your wits just because of that?"

    Secretary Liu shook his head grimly. "No, you don't understand, sir. He smashed a granite table into pieces with one hand."

    Zhou Keqiang's eyes widened. "What?"

    Secretary Liu nodded. There was a huge granite table where our conversation took place. And he slapped it with one hand and the whole thing just crumbled." Secretary Liu took something out from his briefcase. "Here. I took a sample of the pieces. As you can see, it's genuine granite."

    Zhou Keqiang handed the rock back to his secretary. "So he knows a bit of Karate. That doesn't mean he's anything special. You could probably find hundreds of Karate masters who can do the same."

    Secretary Liu shook his head grimly. "Smashing concrete slabs, maybe. But crushing a piece of granite with their grip strength alone? I doubt it, sir."

    "What? What did you say?"

    Secretary Liu rummaged through his briefcase again. "Before he left, he picked up a piece of granite from the debris." Secretary Liu pulled out a plastic bag. "The piece was about palm-sized. And he crushed it in his grip." Secretary Liu opened the plastic bag. "I've collected the remains."

    Zhou Keqiang peered into the bag and saw a bunch of tiny rubbles. He raised his head and saw Secretary Liu's grim expression.

    "Those rubbles came from a palm-sized piece of granite, sir."

    "Th- that's... incredible..."

    Secretary Liu nodded and put the bag away. "I gotta admit, sir. I nearly wet my pants when he did that. My God. It was a piece of granite. Granite! Can you imagine it if it was someone else's throat?"

    Zhou Keqiang glanced out of the car's window. "Looks like things aren't as simple as I thought."

    "What's our next step, sir?"

    Zhou Keqiang took a deep breath. "Change of plans. Leave the guy alone for the time being. I want to see what's he's capable of."

    "And then what?"

    Zhou Keqiang raised his head and sighed. "And then we'll see."

    "Understood, sir."

    "An honorable man, huh?" Zhou Keqiang said. "A man who couldn't be swayed by wealth and power. Can such a man truly exist?"


  • edited January 12

    ***

    Zhou Qin sat on the bench near the academic building and watched the trees sway in the gentle breeze. Despite her initial shock, she was glad that her father had come today. Thanks to her father, Zhou Qin had obtained yet another piece of evidence which proved Li Yundong's worthiness. Familiar voices drifted from her right. She turned on the bench and saw Li Yundong and Su Chan walking away from the academic building.

    "What took you so long!! Were you trying to starve me again?"

    Li Yundong's laughter rang out. "Sorry, princess. Guess the conversation wasn't as simple as I thought." \\\"What were you talking about?"

    "Oh. It's nothing. Just a casual conversation I guess. Hey. What say I make lunch for you back home? What do you say?"

    "Yayyyyyy!!! I want the duck beer... beer duck!"

    Li Yundong unleashed another round of laughter. "Again? But you had that yesterday!"

    "But it tastes so gooood!"

    "Alright then—"

    Li Yundong had stopped talking and was looking right at her. Zhou Qin stood up from the bench and smiled at him. Li Yundong took Su Chan's hand and walked over.

    "Everything alright with your father?" Li Yundong asked. His tone sounded careful. Guarded.

    Zhou Qin smiled. "Yes. Everything's fine." All thanks to you...

    Silence passed between them. Zhou Qin was just about to excuse herself when Li Yundong suddenly spoke.

    "You know, Zhou Qin. Whatever happens, we've got your back." Li Yundong lifted Su Chan's hand. "Both of us. We're your friends."

    Su Chan bobbed her head excitedly. "Mmm! You can tell me when someone tries to bully you, Elder Sister Zhou Qin! I'll kick them in the gonads!" Su Chan swung her free hand wildly.

    Li Yundong smacked Su Chan's forehead. "Tsk! You can't just go around and kick people in the nuts, God damn it!"

    "Oww... I was just trying to help..." Su Chan mumbled.

    Warmth bloomed in Zhou Qin's chest as she stared at the couple in disbelief. You two are really... How could they be so…?

    Oh God. She thought she was going to cry.

    Li Yundong was staring at her again. "The point is... you're not alone. Not anymore. You have friends now, okay?" Li Yundong gave her a nod, then pulled Su Chan. Moments later, they were both walking away.

    Su Chan waved at her a few times. "Bye, Elder Sister Zhou Qin! Have a good day!"

    Zhou Qin waved back and tried to smile, but she couldn't. The tears in her eyes stung too much.

    Zhou Qin watched as Li Yundong and Su Chan headed towards the gates, chatting happily with each other as though they didn't have a care in the world. The afternoon sun bathed over the beautiful couple and, for a moment there, Zhou Qin thought their bodies were glowing. A drop of tear escaped Zhou Qin's eyes. I'm not alone... Not anymore. At long last, Zhou Qin had found people in her life worth knowing, people worth fighting for. At long last, Zhou Qin had found true friends.

    At long last.

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  • Chapter 104 The Most Powerful Magic in Existence!

     

    When Su Chan noticed Yundong's frown for the 50th time since they came home, she couldn't take it anymore.

    "Yundong... What's wrong?"

    Yundong looked away from the TV and gave her a smile. The frown was still there. "Nothing's wrong," he said.

    Liar... Su Chan shook her head. "You've been acting strange since you went away to talk to that guy..."

    Yundong looked away. Su Chan shifted herself on the couch until their shoulders were touching, then turned his head so that he was looking at her. Su Chan ran her thumb across Yundong's forehead as though to smooth away the frown. "That man said something to upset you, didn't he?"

    Yundong sighed and attempted another reassuring smile, which failed miserably. "It was nothing, Chan'er. Really. So don't worry about it, okay?"

    Su Chan held Yundong's gaze for a moment. Not buying it, beloved. I'm not buying it... She looked down, then took Yundong's hand, intertwining their fingers together. She raised their joined hands to his eye-level. She gave Yundong a few moments to stare at their hands.

    "Yundong..." Su Chan lowered their hands so that they were resting on her thigh. "Right now, you are my training partner and lover. I trust you with my life. So I hope you can trust me with yours too. And I hope..."

    When she didn't continue her sentence after a few seconds, Yundong turned in his seat to stare at her. Su Chan looked up and met his gentle gaze. "I want to share your burdens in the future, okay?"

    The warmth of Yundong's hand caressed her cheek. "Aww... Looks like our chipmunk isn't as obtuse as she seemed. So you have a sensitive side after all!"

    Su Chan gaped at Yundong. Obtuse? How dare he! Su Chan smacked his hand away. "Who are you calling obtuse! And I'm not a cheap monk! Hmph!"

    Li Yundong burst into laughter. Seconds later, his expression turned sober. "I guess I was wondering if I've made a mistake."

    A mistake? What was he talking about? "What mistake, beloved?" Su Chan waited patiently for Yundong to answer. It took about a minute or so before Yundong finally opened his mouth. "I basically told a powerful government official to shove it." Yundong looked at her worriedly. "I doubt he would take it well…"

    Oh. So he was worried about that trivial thing. Su Chan chuckled in amusement. "I thought it was something serious."

    Li Yundong stared at her as though she had suddenly become bald. "I've pissed off the frigging deputy governor! You don't think that's a serious matter?"

    Su Chan smiled. "Yundong... You're now a trainee Cultivator. And once you passed the Zhuji phase, you'll become a true Cultivator. You have nothing to fear, Yundong. Normal people will revere you!"

    Li Yundong pondered her words for a moment. "The Zhuji phase, huh?"

    Su Chan nodded. "The fourth phase of Cultivation. It's the first step to become a true Cultivator."

    Li Yundong nodded. "And once you pass all phases of Cultivation, you become a Shenxian, right?"

    Su Chan gave him a nod. "That's right." Then she paused to look at him. "But Cultivation is only one of the ways to become a Shenxian."

    Yundong's head whipped to the side. When Su Chan met his gaze, he seemed surprised.

    "What? You mean there are other ways to become a Shenxian?"

    Su Chan smiled at him. "Many ways, in fact. Okay. So tell me. What is a Shenxian? I've told you this before."

    Yundong stared at the ceiling or a moment. "Um... A Shenxian is someone who is immortal?"

    "True," Su Chan said. "Well, technically speaking, a Shenxian is someone who has achieved spiritual transcendence."

    Yundong snapped his fingers. "By becoming one with the Tao."

    Su Chan nodded and snuggled closer to Yundong. "When someone becomes one with the Tao, their existence transcends mortality." Su Chan paused to let Yundong process her words. Moments later, she continued, "What is the Tao? The Tao is the natural order that governs the Universe. But the Universe is so big and complicated. It has many, many aspects."

    "I see." Yundong lowered his gaze from the ceiling to look at her. "So that's why there are many paths towards transcendence. Because the Tao manifests itself in different forms."

    Su Chan smiled. "Take the King of Medicine, Sun Simiao, for example. He achieved transcendence through his mastery in the art of healing."

    Yundong chuckled. "Yeah. You told me before that Sun Simiao is a Shenxian." He shook his head. "I just didn't believe you back then."

    Su Chan looked at Yundong. "But now you do?"

    Yundong nodded. "Now I do."

    Good. Yundong had to start getting used to these things now. Once he passed the Zhuji phase, he would be capable of even more extraordinary feats. And by the time he reached the Shentong phase, he would be able to fly and use magic. Su Chan trailed her fingers down Yundong's forearm. This strong arm had saved many lives already despite Yundong's lack of training. There were times when Su Chan found herself wondering whether Yundong's consumption of the Renyuan Jindan was really just happenstance. After all, despite its power, the Renyuan Jindan couldn't change a person's aptitude in Cultivation. Yet, through an unlikely chain of events, the Renyuan Jindan somehow ended up inside the body of a man who could visualize nine lotus thrones in a row. All of it screamed the work of a higher power. Still, Su Chan couldn't prove it. It was merely conjecture at this point.

    "You alright?" Yundong's voice broke her reverie. "You've gone quiet all of a sudden."

    Su Chan cleared her throat. "Where were we?"

    "We were talking about transcendence," Yundong said, then shot her a worried look. "You sure you're alright?"

    "I'm fine." Su Chan waved him off. "Anyway. Transcendence, or unity with the Tao, can be achieved through the complete mastery of an art. The art of Cultivation is just one of many."

    "Right. Sun Simiao did it through the art of healing."

    Su Chan nodded. "Some arts are only available to Cultivators though. Like the magical arts, for instance." Su Chan turned her head slightly to gauge Yundong's reaction.

    Yundong was still staring at the ceiling. "Magic, huh?"


  • "Yes. You've encountered one already."

    Yundong tore his gaze away from the ceiling and looked at her.

    Su Chan nodded. "The art of Shenda."

    Yundong sighed. "Oh. That crazy old man."

    "Remember that yellow paper you saw yesterday?"

    "Yeah. The old man was burning it before he transformed."

    "Mmm. That was a talisman. Some spells require talismans."

    Suddenly, Yundong clapped his hands together. "Holy shit..."

    Su Chan sat up straighter. "What?"

    Yundong eyed her suspiciously. "Is that why the flames disappeared from the stove? Because you performed some kind of magic on the stove?"

    Su Chan's cheeks heated up. "I- I might have used a spell or two..."

    Yundong laughed. "And then after the kitchen blew up, you mentioned something about the talismans from some whatchamacallit school. I didn't even know what you were talking about back then."

    Su Chan stole a glance at Yundong through her lashes. "A- Are you still mad at me about that?"

    Yundong stared at her for a moment, then laughed. "Nah. I'm over it." He ruffled her hair. "Besides, I like our new place better."

    Su Chan sighed in relief and leaned against Yundong's chest.

    "So what makes Cultivation so special then?" Yundong asked.

    Su Chan frowned. "What do you mean?"

    "Well... I mean, if people can become Shenxians through the mastery of other arts, why bother with Cultivation at all? Cuz' it seems difficult as hell."

    Hmm. That was a very interesting question. Su Chan had to pause for a moment to think of the best explanation. Then again, this was a good sign; it showed that Yundong was on the way to completing the 6th dan of the Ningshen phase. Su Chan took a breath and began her explanation. "In general, the likelihood of transcendence depends on the complexity of the art. The higher the complexity, the more likely it is for one to achieve transcendence." Su Chan paused to let that sink in.

    "Right. That makes sense. There are a lot of brilliant doctors out there, but not many of them became Shenxians. Somehow only Sun Simiao did..." Yundong suddenly turned to the side to face her. "Come to think of it. How did Sun Simiao become a Shenxian? Did he, like, suddenly grew wings and rose to the sky or something?"

    Su Chan burst into giggles. Yundong and his funny ideas. How cute. "No, I don't think so, beloved."

    "Well, then how?"

    Su Chan shook her head a few times. "Only he knows. But according to history, he became a Shenxian after he turned a hundred years old. Anyway. The point is, unlike other arts, once you master the art of Cultivation, you are guaranteed to become a Shenxian. For other arts, it depends on the depth of your understanding. It's just like you said, there are many good doctors out there who didn't become Shenxians."

    Yundong went silent in thought. "Okay. So let's say we compare two people who have achieved transcendence through different arts, one in the art of Cultivation while the other in some other art. Like, sure, they are both Shenxians, but they are still different, right?"

    "Of course. Actually, Shenxian is just an umbrella term that refers to immortal, transcendent beings. Their specific abilities are different and depend on the path they have taken towards transcendence. Those who transcended through the art of Cultivation will have magical powers aside from their immortality." Su Chan chuckled. "By the way, that's also why most Shenxians have magical powers, because most of them used to be Cultivators. Like I said, the art of Cultivation is the surest path to transcendence. It's more difficult to become a Shenxian through the mastery of other arts."

    Silence spread between them. Su Chan stole a glance at Yundong to see if he had fallen asleep. As it turned out, she couldn't have been more wrong. Yundong's eyes were wide open and they were burning with intensity as he stared up at the ceiling.

    "So Shenxians..." Yundong finally said after a minute or so. "They're basically deities, aren't they?"

    Su Chan chuckled. "That's not entirely accurate. Okay, well, by definition, all deities are Shenxians. However, not all Shenxians are deities."

    Yundong looked at her in confusion. Su Chan smoothed her thumb over the crease in his forehead. "In his book, Baopuzi, Ge Hong wrote an essay on the subject of Shenxians. According to him, humans can become Shenxians by achieving oneness with the Tao. Even so, oneness with the Tao doesn't make them deities. A Shenxian only becomes a deity when mortals willingly worship them. Worship as in they pray, make offerings, and burn incense to the deities."

    Yundong stared at her for a moment. "So, like, the more worshippers they have the more powerful they are?"

    Su Chan nodded. "That's why Guan Yu is such a powerful Shenxian—and deity—even though he wasn't a Cultivator. Guan Yu became a Shenxian through the mastery of the art of war and the martial arts. But a lot of people worship him."

    Su Chan raised her head from Yundong's chest when she felt him shudder. "What's wrong?" she asked, failing to keep the worry out of her tone.

    "Just thinking back to that fight with Lin Youfa." Yundong shook his head. "That guy could really hit, princess. It made sense after you mentioned how powerful Guan Yu is. I got kicked around like a helpless puppy."

    Su Chan snorted. "I'm sorry to tell you this, beloved. But what you saw yesterday doesn't even come close to Guan Yu's true power." Su Chan laughed when Yundong gaped at her. Su Chan patted Yundong's cheeks a few times. "The art of Shenda allows the user to borrow only a small portion of a deity's power. It's like offering a prayer—or a sacrifice—to a deity in exchange for their help." Su Chan rolled her eyes and snorted. "Do you really think a deity would grant a Cultivator their full power?"

    Yundong cleared his throat. "Fair enough."

    They stayed in each other's arms in comfortable silence. Su Chan's mind began to wander. She began to think about their future—if they had one, that is—together, about the challenges they might have to face. Moments later, something occurred to her.

    She sat up and looked at Yundong. "Yundong... Do you want to be a Cultivator?"

    She realized that she had never really asked Yundong whether Cultivation was a path he wanted to take. The life of a Cultivator wasn't smooth sailing. It was filled with trials and tribulations that would destroy a lesser person.

    Yundong's answering nod was resolute. "Of course!"


  • "Why? Why do you want to be a Cultivator?"

    When Yundong opened his mouth, Su Chan's hand shot out and covered it. "Take your time to think about it first before you answer."

    When Yundong nodded, Su Chan lowered her hand. Yundong's gaze was focused on the ceiling again. Su Chan relaxed against his side and listened to his steady heartbeat. This was an important step for him. He needed to find his purpose and reason to pursue the art of Cultivation. When things get tough, it was this purpose that he would fall back on, this purpose that would motivate him to push forward and continue his journey.

    "I guess I want to make a difference in the world," Yundong said after a long while.

    Su Chan sat up and regarded him curiously, waiting for him to go on.

    Their gazes met when Yundong suddenly turned his head. "I want to make the world a better place."

    Su Chan nodded. Yundong's selflessness was one of the first things that Su Chan had noticed about his personality. That, and also his powerful sense of justice.

    "There are people out there who are just bullies, you know?" Yundong said, shaking his head. "People like He Shao, Liu Chuan, and Zheng Youming... They walked all over others just because they're rich and powerful. I don't like that." Yundong took a breath. "And then this thing"—Yundong gestured up and down his body—"inside me." He paused to look at her. Su Chan nodded. He was talking about the Renyuan Jindan. "I want to put it to good use. I want to use it to help others. To protect others from bullies like He Shao."

    Suddenly, Yundong blushed and looked away sheepishly. "I know it all sounds like some lame and clichéd storyline from a superhero movie, but it's true." Yundong held her gaze again. He was no longer blushing. "I've been bullied and treated like trash all my life, so I know what it feels like to be bullied. That feeling of helplessness and powerlessness..." Yundong shook his head. "It's not a good feeling. It puts you in a dark place that sometimes feels inescapable. It's like being sucked into a never-ending, dark tunnel. Sometimes, you feel so worthless that you start to wonder why you even exist." There was a pregnant pause. "I guess I want to spare someone else from having to live through all that shit."

    Something tugged inside Su Chan's chest. Poor Yundong. It hurt to even consider how the world had treated such a good man. Even though Su Chan was despised—because she was a fox spirit— by a lot of Cultivators from other schools and sects, she still had Master. But Yundong had no one; even his parents had abandoned him. Su Chan clung tighter to his arm. Not anymore. He has me now. For as long as he wants me at least.

    Yundong chuckled all of a sudden. "And then you came along."

    Su Chan lifted her head slightly. Yundong reached over and hooked a strand of her hair behind her ear. "You came into my life and gave me a chance to make a difference. And..." Yundong looked away. "You saw something in me. Like I'm someone worth a damn, you know?" He chuckled in disbelief, then looked at her pointedly. "You said it yourself. You could've taken that thing away from me, but you didn't. You changed your mind." Yundong cupped her cheeks. "I want to prove that you've made the right choice. And also... I want to become a man worthy of you, a man who deserves your love."

    Something wet touched her cheeks. Su Chan sniffed. She'd been crying for Tao knows how long, and she didn't even know it. She pulled away and dried her tears with her sleeves.

    "I'm sorry, princess," Yundong said. "I didn't mean to make you cry."

    Su Chan shook her head.

    "Are you alright?"

    Su Chan wiped her cheeks again and smiled at him. "Mmm!"

    Yundong's face broke into a grin. "So the answer is hell yes! I'm going to work hard and become the best Cultivator I can be!" He pumped his fist in the air. The sliding door rattled slightly.

    Su Chan cleared her throat. "Once you pass the Zhuji phase and reach the Shentong phase, you will have to make some choices though..."

    Yundong visibly tensed, out of wariness or excitement she couldn't tell. "Choices? What do you mean?"

    "When you reach the Shentong phase, you can start to use magic. But there are different types of magic out there. You have to pick one to learn first."

    Yundong closed his eyes. When he reopen them seconds later, they were filled with determination. "I want to learn the most powerful type of magic."

    Su Chan regarded Yundong seriously. Should she tell him? Master will probably teach him if I beg her... Fear coursed through Su Chan. But that kind of magic was not only difficult to learn, but dangerous as well. Have faith in him, Chan'er... Nine lotus thrones, remember? Nine!

    Yundong nudged her. "What? What's the matter?"

    Su Chan leaned forward and took his hand. "Of all types of magic known to Cultivators, there is only one that is universally acknowledged as the most powerful magic. The Five Thunders Spell."

    "The Five Thunders Spell?"

    Su Chan nodded. "According to Chinese philosophy, the material world consists of five elements. Gold, wood, water, fire, and earth. The usage of these elements is common and doesn't require any magic at all. You can see the usage of these elements in everyday life. But thunder..." Su Chan looked deep into Yundong's eyes. "There is something sacred about thunder. Of all the forces of nature, thunder is the most fearsome of all. But the problem is, nobody can really harness its true power without the use of magic. And that's what the Five Thunders Spell is all about."

    Yundong sat up straighter. "So it's about controlling and harnessing the force of thunder?"

    Su Chan nodded. "Once you master it, you'll be able to summon thunder, lightning, and even control the weather with a flick of a finger."

    Yundong's eyes went wide. "Good God... That's insane…"

    "It is the prime form of all magical arts known in the Cultivation world. It is also the most difficult type of magic to master. To learn it, you have to first master both Internal and External Alchemy, and believe it or not, that's actually the easy part. The most difficult challenge lies in getting your Spirit to be in complete harmony with Heaven and Earth."

    Su Chan didn't know what to make of the look of excitement on Yundong's face. She liked that he was showing interest in the Five Thunders Spell, but the idea of him dying in the process of mastering it made her sick to her stomach.

    Su Chan got up from the couch and sat down cross-legged on the floor. They were now face to face with the coffee table separating them. Su Chan studied Yundong for a moment, then sighed. "There's something else you need to know..."

    Yundong's butt inched forward until it was at the edge of the couch. "What?"

    "Learning the spell poses great risks. There's a chance you might lose your life..."

    "What risks?"

    "Your Spirit has to be in harmony with Heaven and Earth the whole time you're using the spell. That is actually what allows you to command the power of nature. But the moment you lose focus, the spell will turn on you, and you'll be struck. And if you're struck, not even the King of Medicine, Sun Simiao can save you."

    Yundong stared at her in silence.

    "I want you to think carefully before you make a decision, Yundong. Are you sure you want to learn it?"

    Yundong smirked. "Yes..."

    "B- But it's difficult to master! Thousands of Cultivators have tried to master it, but only a few have succeeded!"

    Yundong shook his head. "I've been a useless nobody all my life, princess. Now that I have a chance to achieve something great, I'll never walk away from it."

    Either he didn't understand how great the risks were, or he was just that brave. Su Chan took a deep breath. "Are you certain, Yundong? Are you absolutely certain?"

    Yundong nodded. "Yes. I'm certain." Then, he looked deep into her eyes. "Teach me."

    Su Chan twiddled her fingers. "I don't know the spell..."

    Yundong's butt slid off the edge of the couch and hit the floor.

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  • edited January 14

    Chapter 105 Abstinence!

     

    Yundong peered at Su Chan over the coffee table. "What do you mean you don't know the spell?"

    Su Chan blushed. "I- I never learned it!"

    Yundong chuckled. "But you sounded like you knew what you were talking about!" Yundong raised his voice an octave higher. "Ooh, you have to master Internal and External Alchemy first... Ooh... your Spirit has to be in harmony with Heaven and Earth—"

    Su Chan kicked him the table, then giggled when Yundong suddenly tickled her foot.

    "So you really don't know?"

    Su Chan pulled back her feet and pouted. "Of course not, dummy. It's a very difficult spell to master…"

    "Oh? So you got me so worked up for nothing, huh?" Yundong climbed over the coffee table. "Payback time!"

    "Kyaa!!!" Su Chan tried to dive away, but it was too late. Her back hit the floor as Yundong's body pressed down on her.

    Su Chan giggled and tried to free herself by twisting her body around. "It's... hahaha... It's not for nothing! I know someone who can teach you, okay?" The tickling stopped instantly. When Su Chan sat up from the floor, Yundong was staring at her expectantly. Once or twice, she caught Yundong's eyes drifting down to her legs. When Su Chan glanced down, she felt her cheeks heat up. She cleared her throat and quickly pulled down her skirt, which had ridden up to mid-thigh some time during their tussle. "My master knows," she said, willing her heart to stop racing. "T-The spell, I mean..."

    Yundong stared at her, his brows raised in surprise. "So not only does she know medicine and all those massage techniques, but she also knows the most powerful spell in all of Cultivation?"

    Su Chan's heart swelled with pride. "Of course! My master is the best! In the Fo— Ahem! I mean, where I came from, she was hailed as a genius! She knows pretty much every spell in existence!"

    "Every spell?" Yundong stared at her in awe. "Damn… Is there anything that your master can't do?"

    Cooking, apparently. She'd pick Yundong's duck beer dish over Master's cooking any day. Forgive Chan'er, Master. You taught me to always be honest... Su Chan suppressed a snort. Says the one who's keeping her origins a secret from Yundong...

    Yundong cleared his throat. "Is that the plan? You're gonna ask your master to teach me the spell?"

    Su Chan clung to Yundong's arm. "Yep! Which means..." Su Chan leaned her head against his shoulder. "I'm going to be your senior!"

    Yundong's face twisted in disgust. "What! No! I'm your boyfriend, not some..." He gestured wildly with his hand. "Some dude who bows to you at hallways!"

    Su Chan giggled. He clearly had no idea how fellow students act around each other in Cultivation schools. "Well, you don't have a choice. I'm your senior because I became my master's disciple first!"

    Su Chan moaned when Yundong suddenly bit down on her earlobe. Her eyes fluttered close as her back hit the floor once again. Warm breath caressed her neck, and she felt a firm weight pressing down against her breasts. She moaned again. "Yundong... Please..."

    "So you were a disciple first, huh?"

    "I- It's true..." Su Chan arched her back.

    "Can't you make an exception for me, hmm?"

    Su Chan's eyes lashes fluttered as she tried to open her eyes. "Th- That's the rule... I c-can't change th- the… rules…"

    "Rule? I bet none of your other juniors are allowed to do this…"

    Su Chan gasped when Yundong sucked at a sensitive spot on her neck.

    "Yundong... no—" The rest of her words were muffled by the press of Yundong's lips against her mouth. Strong arms gripped her shoulders and hoisted her body upwards. Yundong kept nibbling her lips as he shifted into a new position. Seconds later, her back hit the floor once again. Some strange object was pressing up against her lower back, like an uneven surface on the floor. Eventually, she realized that it was the pen she had discarded earlier. Yundong shifted their positions again. Su Chan's body slid lower, causing the pen to roll upwards along her spine. Su Chan felt a powerful jolt when the pen pressed against a spot between her shoulder blades—her Lingtai.

    Her eyes shot open. She shoved Yundong away and sat up. They stared at each other for a moment, both gasping for air. Su Chan reached up and cupped Yundong's face on both sides. "We can't, beloved. Not yet. We have to wait until you've passed the Zhuji phase first."

    Yundong stared at her for a moment, and then nodded. "Okay. I respect that."

    Su Chan sighed and let her hands slide away from his cheeks. "Thank you."

    Yundong caught her hands and trapped them against his cheeks. His gaze sought out her eyes. "Can I know why? Why do we have to wait until I've passed the Zhuji phase?"

    Su Chan held his gaze intently. "The Essence, Qi, and Spirit, also known as the Three Treasures, are the three most vital components of life. One of the things that the Zhuji phase does is that it allows you to secure those three components inside your body and prevent someone from stealing them from the outside. If... If we..." Su Chan blushed and looked down. "If we make love now, you'll die because I will end up consuming the three vital components of your life in the process."

    Silence fell. Then, Yundong chuckled. "Ah. Now I see. So you're actually a succubus, you little devil!"

    Su Chan flinched at that remark. Her gaze snapped up, and she studied his face. Sure, he had used a joking tone when making that comment, but it still raised a dozen of alarm bells inside Su Chan's head. Had he figured out her identity already? Does he know, or at least suspect, that I'm a fox spirit? Su Chan's heart drummed against her ribcage. Yundong was still smiling at her, so maybe he didn't know yet. Su Chan sighed inwardly.

    Suddenly, Yundong chuckled and hook a finger under her chin. There was a twinkle in his eyes. "Even if I die, it'll be totally worth it." He leaned down and kissed her again.

    Su Chan pushed him away. "Tsk! This isn't a joke!" she said, raising her voice, though it was more because of anxiety than anger. Yundong flinched back in surprise.

    Su Chan took a deep calming breath. "You'll really die if we do it now, okay? Not even..." Su Chan looked at him pointedly until she was sure he understood that she was referring to the Renyuan Jindan. "Not even that thing can protect you."

    Silence spread between them. Yundong stared at her with a guarded expression. A while later, Su Chan couldn't stand the silence anymore. She wrapped her arms around his neck and snuggled against his chest. "Yundong... Just listen to me, please? Once you passed the Zhuji phase... I'll let you do whatever you want."

    Yundong pulled back from their embrace and stared down at her. There was a look of amusement on his face. That familiar twinkle in his eyes was there as well. "Whatever I want?" he said with a quirk of his brows.

    Heat shot through Su Chan's core until it reached her cheeks. She bit her lip and nodded. "Yes... Whatever you want." If you still want me, that is...

    Yundong sighed and patted her head. "Fine. I promise I won't try to touch you again before I pass the Zhuji phase." Yundong pumped his fist in the air. "Abstinence, here I come!"

    Su Chan burst into giggles. "Tell that to your body..." She pointed at the bulge in Yundong's pants.

    Yundong winked. "Well. Dude hasn't gotten the memo yet," he said with a straight face. "Give him a little time. I'm sure he'll come around."

    Su Chan giggled harder, relieved that they'd finally come to an understanding. At least he wouldn't get the wrong idea about the reason she kept rejecting his advances.

    Yundong pinched her cheeks. "Hey. Stop laughing."

    Su Chan cleared her throat and schooled her features.

    "Teach me," Yundong said. "Teach me how to pass the Zhuji phase."

    Su Chan stared at him. After a moment or two, she burst into laughter once again. "Pfft! Hahaha. You pervert!" Su Chan poked Yundong's cheek repeatedly. "You just want to quickly pass the Zhuji phase so that you can touch me! Hahaha!"

    Yundong pulled back with a gasp, and then gave her a look of mock horror. "I said no such thing." He pressed both palms against his chest.

    Su Chan kept poking his cheek. "Then why are you in such a hurry to pass the Zhuji phase, hmm, my dear beloved?"

    Yundong snorted. "Why, I was merely thinking of the little guy of course!" Yundong glanced down at the bulge in his pants. "Tsk, tsk. Must be tough being all stiff and bulked up for so long. I thought I could spare him some pain."

    Su Chan burst into laughter again. "You're a pervert!"

    Yundong suddenly pinch her cheek. "Hey, hey. Stop laughing already. Time to get serious." Yundong's eyes were serious when he looked at her next. "I need to be ready," he said. "If I couldn't even hold my own against Lin Youfa, I doubt I stand a chance against the people after us. I need to become stronger so that I can protect you and our friends, okay?"

    The sudden heaviness in the mood threw Su Chan off a little. Seconds later, she found herself nodding.

    "Okay. The Zhuji phase. Let's start now. Teach me."

    Su Chan held up a finger and cleared her throat. "The first step is..."

  • edited January 14

    ***

    Li Yundong found himself inching closer towards Su Chan. Suddenly, Su Chan's face broke into a grin.

    "To call me your master!"

    Li Yundong stared at Su Chan for a moment. "Why you little!" He pounced.

    "Kyaaa!!! Hahaha!"

    Li Yundong started tickling her. "I was being serious! And you were messing with me!"

    Su Chan's giggles turned into gasps for air. "Okay, okay! I'm sorry!"

    Li Yundong stopped tickling her and pulled her into a sitting position. "Quit messing around and tell me already, alright?"

    Su Chan cleared her throat. "Well, there's nothing to tell because you aren't ready for the Zhuji phase yet."

    Li Yundong frowned. "What? Why?"

    "Because you haven't even passed the Ningshen phase yet, dummy."

    Oh. Guess he got a little overexcited there. "Okay. Fair enough. How about this. Why don't you explain all these phases to me? I honestly still don't have a clue what each phase does or mean."

    Su Chan shifted on the floor until she was sitting cross-legged. "There are nine phases in Cultivation. The Sutai phase, the Lianqi phase, the Ningshen phase, the Zhuji phase, the Shentong phase, the Huaying phase, the Jinsheng phase, the Lightning Retribution phase, and finally, the Transcendental phase! Each of these phases has nine dans—or stages—of their own."

    Li Yundong narrowed his eyes. "Hmm... So I'm at the third phase now." Li Yundong looked at Su Chan. "How far am I from completing the Ningshen phase."

    "You've probably completed the sixth dan of the Ningshen phase already... And to complete the 7th dan, you need to master something called Yinling and then—"

    "Wait. Hold on a second." Li Yundong held up his hand. Su Chan looked at him quizzically. Li Yundong shook his head. "I think I need to understand the previous phases first. I know I've completed the Lianqi phase. But I don't remember completing the Sutai phase." Li Yundong's eyes widened. "Wait… Is it because...?"

    Su Chan nodded, then reached for the pad: Jindan helped. You completed Sutai in three days.

    "You mean the whole time I was sleeping, I was actually...?"

    "Yes," Su Chan said. Then, she wrote something on the pad: Sutai usually takes decades to complete. The reformation of your body and character = what Sutai phase is about. Make you stronger, have greater sense of justice, more charismatic. Things like that.

    "Holy shit..." Li Yundong looked at her in shock. Dumb luck sounded a lot like an understatement now. Li Yundong shook himself out of his stupor moments later. "Sorry. Go on."

    "I've told you before that there are three vital components that constitute life."

    Li Yundong nodded. "The Three Treasures. The Essence, Qi, and Spirit."

    "Mmm. So the first three phases build each of those components separately. The Sutai phase builds the Essence. The Lianqi phase builds the Qi. And the Ningshen phase builds the Spirit. Remember that Cultivation is a step-by-step process. Meaning, each step is dependent on its predecessors."

    Li Yundong sat there in silence as he tried to put the pieces together. "You said the Sutai phase builds the Essence. And then at the beginning of the Lianqi phase, you taught me how to convert my Essence into my Qi at the lower Dantian." Li Yundong looked towards Su Chan for confirmation. When he received a nod, he continued, "Then, near the end of the Lianqi phase—the other night when you taught me how to perform Guanxiang—I converted my Qi into Spirit. Which makes sense, because that's a pre-requisite to enter the Ningshen phase, because in the Ningshen phase, I'm supposed to build my Spirit. So basically, each step uses the results of the previous step and builds on them."

    Su Chan started clapping her hands. "Correct."

    Li Yundong nodded. "Okay. So far so good…" Then, he gave Su Chan a look. "I suppose there is a point in building up our Essence, Qi, and Spirit, right? Perhaps they are required in later phases?"

    The look of pride on Su Chan's face warmed Li Yundong's heart. Focus, Li Yundong! Now isn't the time to feel good about yourself.

    "By the time you complete the Ningshen phase," Su Chan said, "your Essence, Qi, and Spirit will have reached their full potential. The next step will be to learn how to secure the core components of your Essence, Qi, and Spirit inside your body. Meaning that you can seal your Essence, Qi, and Spirit inside your body when somebody tries to steal them. You'll learn that during the Zhuji phase."

    "Right. Because the three components are vital to life. Losing them will lead to death," Li Yundong said.

    "That's right. And after the Zhuji phase comes the Shentong phase, where you'll be able to use your Essence, Qi, and Spirit in tandem. When you can do that, you'll gain magical powers. Once you have magical powers, you'll be able to perform spells."

    Li Yundong nodded. "Okay. So that means I need to get to the Shentong phase first before I can learn the Five Thunders Spells..."

    "That's right..." Su Chan took his hand. "You're getting there, Yundong. I'll help you get there."

    "Thanks, princess."

    Su Chan smiled. "Just three more dans and you'll pass the Ningshen phase."

    "So the Ningshen phase builds my Spirit..."

    Su Chan nodded. "Did you notice something in common between Mingmu, Eryue, and Xianjue?"

    Something in common? Apart from the fact that those skills are frigging badass, you mean? Then, it hit him. "Oh!" He snapped his fingers. "They all respond to my conscious will. My Spirit!"

    "Exactly. Notice that your mind and Spirit have to be focused in order to use those skills. Once you lose focus, they fail." Su Chan reached for the pad on the floor and toyed with a page. "In general, the Ningshen phase is about training your Spirit until it reaches a point where it can process all the stimuli available to you through your senses. Stimuli are basically raw information available to us through our senses. The information is already there, but to use that information, our mind—or rather, our Spirit—has to be able to tap into it, to process it and convert it into something useful. But the problem is that the untrained Spirit can only process a small portion of the information."

    Li Yundong nodded. "And the whole point of the Ningshen phase is to push our Spirit past human limitations."

    "Indeed. In the first dan of the Ningshen phase, you train your Spirit to process all the visual stimuli available to you." Su Chan paused to look at Li Yundong. "That's basically how you got your Mingmu."

    "Right. And the second dan applies to auditory stimuli." Li Yundong gestured at his ears. "With the buzzing and all that." Li Yundong sat up straighter. "Wait, what about Xianjue?"

    Su Chan smiled as though she had been expecting that question. "Mingmu and Eryue merely allow you to process all the visual and auditory stimuli available to you. But Xianjue takes things to a whole new level." Su Chan stared intently at him. "It utilizes the information obtained from all stimuli—sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste—to make predictions."

    "Wow…" Li Yundong whispered.

    "It's about interpreting all the sensory information available to the Cultivator and then make predictions based on it," Su Chan continued. "Remember I told you that when you use Xianjue to predict the effects of someone's actions, those actions have to be somehow related to you?"

    Yeah. She told him that when he was climbing his way up to the rooftop. Back then, he wanted to use Xianjue to predict where Ding Nan would fall, but he couldn't get his Xianjue to work. "Yeah, I remember." That shooting incident was pretty much impossible to forget.

    "Well… actually, that was only the layman explanation." Su Chan stuck out her tongue sheepishly. "When I said, actions must be directed or related to you, I meant you must be there to experience them."

    Understanding dawned on Li Yundong. "Right. Because Xianjue works when the Spirit has access to all sensory information related to the target. Otherwise, the Spirit has no information to base its predictions on."

    "Exactly. Well… I can't fully explain how it works." Su Chan paused for a moment. "The mind is a fascinating thing, after all. But your Xianjue is definitely superior compared to that of other Cultivators." Then, Su Chan raised the pad: Because of Jindan.

    "In what way?"

    Su Chan thought for a moment. "Range. Duration of prediction. And I suspect..." Su Chan wrote something down: Predict speech too?

    Li Yundong thought back to the time during the shooting incident on campus. He was able to predict Ding Nan's exact words before she even said them. Li Yundong tapped on the pad and nodded.

    Su Chan smiled and then shrugged. "As I suspected." Then, she wrote something down again: Stronger Spirit = Stronger Xianjue.

    "But you said it only works against people with lower Cultivation Quotient. Why's that?" That question had been bugging him ever since his Xianjue failed against Lin Youfa. It would feel a little demotivating if he tried to use Xianjue against an opponent and found that it wouldn't work; it implied that his opponent was a stronger Cultivator. 

    Su Chan shook her head. "That's only the rule of thumb, not the whole story. It actually depends on the relative strength between the Spirits of the user and the target. The wider the gap in strength, the greater your Xianjue's effect will be."

    "Hey... Come to think of it..." Li Yundong rubbed his forehead. "I wasn't able to predict Lin Youfa's speech at all! I mean, before Lin Youfa used Shenda, my Xianjue still worked. But even then, I could only read his movements, not his speech. But with Zhao Yujian and Ding Nan, I could read everything."

  • edited January 14

    "Mmm. Like I said, it's the relative strength in Spirits that matters. In this case, Lin Youfa is a Cultivator, so of course his Spirit is stronger. This is also why that rule of thumb exists, by the way. Usually, Cultivators with higher Cultivation Quotient have stronger Spirits. But obviously, your case is special."

    "What is the Shenting's role in the Ningshen phase? Eryue, Mingmu, and Xianjue is only activated when a small part of our Qi is gathered at the Shenting. Why is that?"

    Again, Su Chan beamed with pride as though she'd been expecting the question. "Why don't I give you a clue, and you try to guess it?"

    Li Yundong looked at her strangely. He'd noticed this a long time ago—Su Chan liked to test him when it came to Cultivation stuff. He wondered why. Or maybe she's just a really good teacher? Li Yundong smiled. "Sure, princess. What's the hint?"

    "The clue lies in the name of that acupoint," Su Chan said sagely, then looked at him pointedly. "There's a reason why it's called the Shenting."

    Li Yundong lay down on the floor and stared up at the ceiling. Shenting... Well, obviously, the first step was to break down the term into its two Chinese characters: shen; and ting. Shen wasn't too tough to decipher, since it meant Spirit. But what did Ting represent in this context? Courtyard? Front yard? None of them seemed relevant other than the notion of "front." Then again, the Shenting is located on the forehead—the front of the head. Hmm...

    Suddenly, Li Yundong sat bolt upright. He looked at Su Chan, who was smiling back at him. Home... Ting means home...

    "Figured it out already, beloved?"

    "Home of the Spirit..." Li Yundong whispered.

    Su Chan beamed and threw her arms in the air. "Yayy!"

    Li Yundong chuckled. "Okay. Okay. Settle down. I still wanna hear your explanation."

    "Stimulation of the Shenting with your Qi allows your Spirit to function in its full capacity."

    "So!" Li Yundong clapped and rubbed his hands together. "What's next? Let's get this Ningshen phase over with!"

    Su Chan giggled behind her hands. "Pervert..."

    Li Yundong shot her a glare. "Still making fun of me, eh? Want to be tickled again?" Li Yundong wiggled his fingers.

    "Okay... To complete the Ningshen phase, you have three more tasks to perform. Yinling, which will get you through the 7th dan. Juxian, which will get you through the 8th dan. And finally, to complete the Ningshen phase, you have to achieve a state known as the Ishvara."

    It honestly sounded like a bunch of gobbledygook to him, but okay. It sucked to be an amateur. But hey, everyone has to start somewhere, right?

    "Are they difficult?"

    "Not for you..."

    "Then what are we waiting for—"

    "But…" Su Chan said, holding up a hand. "There's something you should know first. When performing either of those three tasks, there's a chance that your soul will be lost in the process."

    Li Yundong frowned. "What does that mean?"

    "It means your soul has no way of returning into your body. When that happens, your body lives on, but it becomes soulless."

    "Soulless?"

    Su Chan nodded. "You'll lose all sensory perception. You won't be able to see, smell, taste, and hear. You won't even have a conscious will."

    "Shit... That's like being in a vegetative state!"

    Su Chan sighed. "The reward of Cultivation is high, true. But the price and risks that come with it is high too."

    Li Yundong smiled. "I see. Bring it on, then!"

    Su Chan looked at him in shock. "Aren't you scared at all?"

    "I've been a nobody all my life, princess. I was lazy, and I didn't have any goals. And I'm tired of being powerless and helpless." Li Yundong rose to his feet. "This is my chance to be someone of value. So, no. I'm not scared."

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  • edited January 15

    Chapter 106 Ishvara! (Part1)

     

    Li Yundong sat back down and got into a meditative posture. Then, he grinned at Su Chan. "Awaiting your instructions, milady."

    Su Chan held up a hand. "Wait. Before you begin, I need to explain a few concepts to you."

    Li Yundong nodded. "I'm all ears, princess."

    Su Chan set the pad and pen on the coffee table and sat down next to him. "According to the Canon of the Yellow Thearch, there is a god living inside each and everyone one of us."

    "Seriously?"

    Su Chan pointed at his chest. "Yes. And the god's spirit is split into five fragments, and each fragment is stored inside one of your five Zangs."

    Li Yundong stared at Su Chan blankly. There is a god living inside everyone. A god. Inside the human body. Wow. That makes... so much sense. So much. Moments later, he shook his head. "You mean there is a god living inside us, and somehow we can't feel its existence at all?"

    "Remember the Spirit Space?" Su Chan asked.

    Li Yundong looked up sharply. "Yeah. That's the weird place with all the clouds."

    Su Chan nodded. "You can only see and interact with the god inside your own Spirit Space."

    Li Yundong frowned. Something didn't add up. "Then how come I didn't see it when I was performing Guanxiang the other night? I was inside my Spirit Space too."

    "You weren't ready back then. There are steps you have to follow before you can see it."

    Li Yundong stroked his chin. "Well, obviously I need to perform Guanxiang first." He looked towards Su Chan. "Coz that's the only way I can be inside my Spirit Space."

    Su Chan shook her head. "No. The Convergence of Five Qis has to happen first." One of Su Chan's eyebrows quirked. "Still remember what that is?"

    Li Yundong thought back to the night when he first saw those colorful blobs. "Yeah. It’s a physical state where the Qis of the five Zangs are gathered at the upper Dantian."

    Su Chan nodded. "Still remember how to do that?"

    Li Yundong answered in a heartbeat. "The five Zangs are all Yin in nature, and Yang attracts Yin according to the Yin-Yang Principle. So I need to first get my Yuanyang to circle just outside of the five Zangs. Once I do that, the Qis of the five Zangs will be drawn out and follow my Yuanyang wherever it goes. Basically, I control the Qis of my five Zangs using my Yuanyang. After that, all I have to do is guide my Yuanyang towards my upper Dantian—the five Qis will follow it automatically." So Li Yundong wanted to impress his girl a little. Sue him.

    "Excellent, Yundong. Excellent." Su Chan seemed more excited than impressed though. She inched closer to him. "Now I want you to think carefully, Yundong. What did you see last time when you were inside your Spirit Space?"

    "Um… I was floating in some kind weird space. And there were a bunch of clouds."

    "What color were they? The clouds."

    "Before I try to shape them, they were white."

    "And after you shaped them?"

    "The clouds transformed into the object I visualized. So the colors changed according to the object I visualized." Suddenly, Li Yundong shot her a worried look. "Is that not supposed to happen?"

    Su Chan waved off his concerns. "That's normal. But before you shaped them, the clouds were white. Why do you think that's the case?"

    Li Yundong stared at Su Chan with narrowed eyes. "You really enjoy testing me, don't you? You know, this will go much quicker if you just tell me the answer."

    Su Chan merely shrugged.

    Li Yundong chuckled. "Ah, I see what you're planning here. You just want to see me act like a clueless idiot, don't you?" He started poking her in the ribs.

    Su Chan twisted her body away. When she looked at him, her face was completely serious. "Comprehension is more important than knowledge, Yundong. Cultivation is a difficult art. Without in-depth understanding of its core principles and concepts, you'll never be able to master it." Su Chan sighed. "Besides, it's going to be a bit different this time, because I won't be able to speak to you and give you direct guidance. You'll have to do everything on your own."

    "Why?"

    "Well. For two reasons. One, I'll be too busy casting a protective spell around you to do anything else. Two, you need to be in total focus during the task, which means no outside interruptions, not even from me."

    "A protective spell?"

    Su Chan shrugged. "Better safe than sorry. We don't want you under attack during the session. Like I said, no interruptions. Alright. So. Back to the clouds. Why do you think they were white?"

    Li Yundong leaned back against the edge of the couch and mulled over the question. Su Chan was right. This wasn't some stupid exam where he could just memorize a bunch of facts and then unload them onto an exam sheet. In this regard, the art of Cultivation is a bit similar to martial arts; it's about understanding the core principles first, and then applying and adapting them to different situations. Su Chan kept asking him why the clouds were white, so obviously the colors mattered in some way. And those clouds represented his Qi, so... Whoa. Hold on a second... Li Yundong turned sharply to face Su Chan. "The other night, you taught me how to perform Neiguan..." Li Yundong began slowly. "That was the first time I saw all those blobs with colors."

    "Go on..."

    "And you told me what the colors mean. Those blobs represent the state of my five Zangs, and the colors correspond to the each Zang's Qi." Li Yundong glanced at Su Chan. "You asked me why the clouds in my Spirit Space were white. I'm guessing it's because those clouds didn't represent the Qis of my five Zangs? If they did, they would have the same colors as my Zangs' Qis, right?"

    "Well, that's correct," Su Chan said with a nod. "But you still haven't answered the question. Why? Why are they white?"

    Li Yundong frowned. "I thought I just did? Because the clouds didn't represent the Qis of my five Zangs."

    Su Chan seemed a bit frustrated. "Yeah. But why? Why didn't the clouds represent the Qis of your five Zangs?"

    "Because..." Li Yundong paused. "Huh. Interesting." Seconds passed in silence.

    "Want a hint?" Su Chan prompted.

    Li Yundong shook his head. "Just gimme a sec..."

    "Take your time. It's important that you understand."

    Cultivation is a step by step process... Each step depends on its predecessors... Li Yundong squeezed his eyes shut and held his forehead. At the beginning of the Lianqi phase, he generated his Qi from his Essence, which is stored at the lower Dantian. That's why all Qi pathways begin and end at the lower Dantian, because that's where Qi is generated and, therefore, where the Qi must return to. Once he got his Qi, he was taught to control it with his Spirit—generating the Spirit from Qi. And that is what mastering Da Zhoutian is all about. Da Zhoutian allows him to move his Qi around his body in a circuit starting from the lower Dantian. And since Da Zhoutian involves all the meridians inside the body, the rationale behind Da Zhoutian was pretty obvious—training the Cultivator to have the ability to mobilize their Qi to any acupoint in the body, hence any part of their body. And then what? What was the next step? Ah. Neiguan, and then Guanxiang. In Neiguan, Su Chan introduced him to the Qis of his five Zangs, which was different from the Qi generated from his Essence. Then, Guanxiang is about getting his Qi to interact with his Spirit inside the Spirit Space...

    Wait a minute. The Shenting. The home of the Spirit... Li Yundong let his hand drop from his forehead and stared at Su Chan for a moment. "The upper Dantian is located in the head, isn't it?"

    A tiny smile played on Su Chan's lips. "That's right."

    But that's also where the Shenting is... Understanding dawned on him in an instant. The Shenting marks the position of the upper Dantian. Simply put, the upper Dantian is the home of the Spirit; the upper Dantian must be where the Spirit is stored. "Only the Qi gathered at the upper Dantian will appear inside my Spirit Space." Li Yundong stared at Su Chan intently. "That's why the clouds were white. Because the Qis of my five Zangs weren't gathered at the upper Dantian when I entered my Spirit Space that night."

    "Bingo!" Su Chan clapped a few times. "That night, I asked you to return the five Qis to your Zangs before you attempted Guanxiang because you weren't ready to handle the five Qis yet. The Qis of the five Zangs are much more powerful than the Qi generated from your Essence. They are much more difficult to shape."

    "But now I'm ready?"

    "Well, it's exactly what you'll be doing for Yinling."

    "But what does that have to do with seeing the god living inside me?" Li Yundong gave her a puzzled look. "Didn't you say that Yinling is about getting the god to show itself?"

    "Each of the five Zangs holds a fragment of the god's spirit, remember?"

    Li Yundong thought for a moment, then closed his eyes when the pieces finally clicked into place. "I see... So that's why you said—" Li Yundong's eyes shot open, and their gazes locked. "You want me to perform Guanxiang on the Qis of the five Zangs. That's why you said the Convergence of Five Qis must occur first before I enter my Spirit Space. Because for me to be able to see the five Qis inside my Spirit Space, I must first gather all of them at my upper Dantian."


  • Su Chan's smile was a sight for sore eyes. "Yes. In other words, Yinling is just the Convergence of Five Qis and Guanxiang performed in tandem."

    "And once I perform Guanxiang on the five Qis, this god will appear?"

    "Not in its full form," Su Chan said. "Completing Yinling will only give you a vague form of the god. An outline. Which is why in the next task, Juxian, you'll work on refining the image until the god fully appears in front of you."

    "What do you think it'll look like? The god, I mean."

    Su Chan shook her head. "It depends on the individual, so it's impossible for me to tell." Su Chan grimaced and then cleared her throat a few times.

    Li Yundong stood up. "Sit tight," he said, then went into the kitchen.

    A minute later, Li Yundong placed a glass of water on the coffee table. Su Chan took the glass gratefully and finished the water in a few gulps.

    "Thanks, beloved."

    "So what does the god's appearance say about me, then?"

    "A lot of things," Su Chan said. "For example, you can tell from the god's color which one of your Zang has the strongest Qi. If, in its full form, the god is green, then it means the Qi of your Liver dominates. Your Liver's Qi is green."

    "Right. That's based on the color coding of the five Zangs." Li Yundong rubbed his hands together. "Okay. So there's one more task after Juxian, right?"

    A worried look flashed across Su Chan's face. "Yes... And… this is the part where it's easy for you to lose your soul and Spirit." She sighed. "You'll have to achieve a spiritual state called Ishvara."

    Li Yundong wanted to pull her into his arms if only to make the frown on her face go away. "Ishvara..."

    "In Sanskrit, Ishvara means the possessor of power. And in Hinduism, the term refers to the Supreme Being, personal god, or special Self." Su Chan looked him in the eye. "Completing Juxian allows you to see the god living inside you. But to achieve Ishvara, you need to become one with it."

    Li Yundong frowned. "Wait. I don't follow. I thought I'm already one with it. I mean, it's already living inside me, right?"

    Su Chan shook her head. "Be one with it spiritually."

    "As in... how?"

    Su Chan took his hand. "By the time you complete Juxian, each fragment of the god's spirit will have joined together—the god's spirit will be whole again. When that happens, the god's spirit will try to take over your Spirit."

    "Okay... So what am I supposed to do?"

    "Your Spirit has to gain control instead of letting itself be controlled. Gain command over the god's spirit. Get it to answer to your Spirit. In other words, become one with the god's spirit. Consume it instead of letting it consume you. That's when you'll achieve Ishvara."

    Silence fell. Li Yundong stared at the floor for a moment. "What happens if I fail?"

    Su Chan released his hand. "Then you'll forever be trapped inside your Spirit Space. Your Spirit will become a slave to the god's spirit."

    "But my body still lives?"

    "Yes."

    "So I'll be in a vegetative state then," Li Yundong whispered.

    Su Chan grabbed his shoulders and shook him a few times. "This is a battle of strength, Yundong. It's the ultimate test of your Spirit's strength. Are you sure you're ready for this?"

    "You don't think I am?" Li Yundong asked warily.

    Su Chan let go of his shoulders and reached for the pad. "It all depends on your own strength." She held his gaze for a moment, then wrote something down: Jindan won't give you much advantage. Jindan made your Spirit strong. But also made the five Zangs strong = god's spirit also strong.

    Su Chan tossed the pad aside. "I'm a bit worried."

    Li Yundong stared at the pad in silence. Was he ready for this? He turned the thought over in his head for a while.

    "I want to try," Li Yundong said minutes later.

    Su Chan's eyes snapped to his. She said nothing, as though waiting for him to change his mind. Li Yundong held her gaze unwaveringly.

    Their staring match lasted for a while until Su Chan finally relented. "Okay..." Then, she rose to her feet and walked away.

    "Where are you going?" Li Yundong asked, staring after her.

    "We need to open all the windows," she yelled from inside her room. "And the sliding doors too."

    Li Yundong burst into action. Minutes later, they returned to the living room, the entire apartment now bright and airy.

    "Sit facing the east," Su Chan ordered.

    Li Yundong complied and got into a meditative posture. "Okay, shall I begin now?"

    "Wait," Su Chan said. "Repeat all the steps."

    Li Yundong opened his eyes. "What?"

    "Repeat everything we've discussed. I need to be sure that you know exactly what you're doing."

    "Okay, then." Li Yundong cleared his throat. "First, the Convergence of Five Qis. After that, I'll enter my Spirit Space and try to perform Guanxiang on the five Qis. That's the first task, Yinling. And then, I have to refine the image until the god's complete form appears. And then finally, I have to gain command over the god's spirit and become one with it."

    Su Chan nodded. "Good."

    "Um... any tips for the last one?"

    Su Chan stared at him intently. "Do not lose track of reality. Do not be blinded by the experience of omnipotence. It isn't real."

    Li Yundong nodded. "Okay, got it, princess."

    Su Chan sat down a few feet behind him. "Ready when you are, Yundong."

    Li Yundong closed his eyes and exhaled. Guess it's show time, then... The last thing he heard before he went into a meditative state were the incantations for Su Chan's protective spell.

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  • Chapter 106 Ishvara! (Part2)

     

    Five clouds—each with their own color—hovered inside Li Yundong's Spirit Space. Su Chan wasn't kidding when she told him that the five Qis are much powerful than the Qi generated from his Essence. Each of the five clouds appeared so much bigger than the white clouds he saw the other night. Not only that, but the five clouds also seemed much more dynamic and energized—constantly vibrating and spinning. Time to get started then... Li Yundong spent a while studying the five clouds until he realized what his first challenge was: Should he shape each cloud separately, or merge them together first and then shape them all at once?

    After a moment of thought, Li Yundong decided to go with the latter. Su Chan did mention something about each of the five Zangs containing a fragment of the god's spirit, so it made sense to combine the fragments to form a whole first before attempting to shape them. Having made his decision, Li Yundong immediately got to work and willed the clouds to move. It took him several attempts, but eventually, the five clouds combined to form a large clump. Then, Li Yundong waited. When the clouds didn't disintegrate or fly apart after a while, Li Yundong decided to move on to the next task: shaping the combined cloud.

    Which, he soon found to be hopelessly difficult. After his thirtieth failed attempt, Li Yundong gave up and studied the huge cloud before him. The five colors were interspersed now, making the cloud look like a huge cotton candy with colorful spots. Still, he couldn't shape the cloud at all. Why? What was different? Well, the obvious difference was that the clouds represent the Qis of his five Zangs.

    Hey... Hold on a sec. Something weird was going on here. When he first merged the five clouds together, the colors on the combined cloud weren't interspersed at all. Each color stayed in its own region in the cloud. But now it's like the colors have rearranged themselves... hmm... It was like the colors had their own will. Yes! That's it! Each of the five Zang holds a fragment of the god's spirit. That must be why the colors could move on their own in the huge cloud: they were responding to the will of the god's—fragmented—spirit.

    The solution seemed obvious now. Li Yundong didn't even have to do anything. He just had to allow the cloud to shape itself. That was it, wasn't it?

    However, after what felt like hours, or maybe days, Li Yundong discovered another problem with his solution. The process was taking too frigging long.

    He stared at the large cloud in front of him. Although the colors seemed more homogeneous now, the cloud's was still shaped like a, well, cloud. Definitely not what a god would look like.

    No. Something wasn't right. For one, he wasn't even doing anything here. He was literally just waiting for the god's outline to appear. Which, in hindsight, didn't make sense. Su Chan mentioned that this task involved Guanxiang. But as far as he could tell, he hadn't done much Guanxiang at all. Okay, well, he did, but none of his attempts worked. Was there something wrong with the way he performed Guanxiang? Well, the key to Guanxiang was imagination and visualization—

    Good God, he'd been such an idiot! He'd been going about it the wrong way and he didn't even realize it. Of course his attempts at "visualizing" the god's shape wouldn't work. Of course. How could he visualize something that he'd never even seen before in his life? That was why all his Guanxiangs didn't work—he'd never seen the god before, so he had nothing to base his visualizations on!

    Well, at least now he knew what to do. He had to use his imagination in a different way. Instead of trying to imagine the cloud morphing into some shape, Li Yundong imagined speeding up the cloud's self-shaping process, as though he was fast-forwarding a video playback.

    It worked. Eventually, the cloud transformed itself into a human-shaped object. Like Su Chan said, the object had no detailed features, only a vague outline. He knew right then that he'd just completed Yinling.

    On to the next task, Juxian.

    Li Yundong studied the human-shaped cloud for a moment. The head seemed disproportionately big, and the figure seemed to have more than two arms. Were those even arms? He supposed he wouldn't know until he found a way to make the form clearer. But how? How could he get the figure to reveal its form in full detail?

    After a moment of thought, the answer seemed obvious to him. He just had to do the same thing he'd done to get the outline in the first place.

    Once again, Li Yundong allowed cloud to shape itself but imagined the process speeding up. This time the process took a very long time, but eventually, the cloud transformed into an iridescent figure with three heads and six arms.

    The three heads were honestly the weirdest things Li Yundong had ever seen, yet they were so fascinating that he couldn't help but stare. Each head had its own face: the first one had an angry face and a glowing third eye on its forehead; the second one had an arrogant expression with its eyes slightly narrowed; the last one looked extremely amiable and approachable, as though its very existence revolved around world peace.

    Upon closer look, Li Yundong realized that all three faces resembled his own. Is this... Is this the god living inside me? He supposed it was. It honestly felt creepy as hell, looking at three version of his own face on the same body. He turned his attention to the six arms. Three pairs of arms. One pair for each head, I guess? He studied the arms for a moment and found that those arms were indeed paired, with each pair positioned slightly below the three heads. The whole sight was the very definition of grotesque.

    Li Yundong studied the two arms under the first head, the one with the angry face. One of the arms was holding a black, metallic war fan—a Tessen. A red, glowing, halo-like structure circled the middle of the fan. Just outside the red halo was yet another ring-like structure. The outer ring was composed of strange symbols, like those found in Buddhist scriptures. The second arm wielded a sword that was three-foot long. The sword was broader near the hilt but tapered to a sharp point near its tip, almost like a narrow and elongated triangle.

    The second head, the one with the arrogant face, carried huge tripod cauldron on one hand and a Bagua mirror on the other. The cauldron was black in color and its body was covered in what appeared to be carvings of ancient hieroglyphs and drawings. A red, mist-like substance rose from the center of the cauldron. In the Bagua mirror, he saw the life and reincarnation of a man replayed over and over again. Even though it wasn't clear who the man in the mirror was, it was still creepy as hell.

    The head with the peaceful face was carrying a thick—as thick as a human thumb—calligraphy brush in one hand and some kind of glass bowl in another. The color of the glass bowl seemed a bit unnatural. It was mostly green, but with a little bit of grey mixed into it, sort of like a piece of jade that had just been removed from a pile of ash.

    Before Li Yundong could peer into the glass bowl to see what it contained, the figure pounced on him. No. Not on him, more like into him. In an instant, he felt an insurmountable surge of power from within, as though he could alter the universe with just a snap of his fingers. At that moment, there was only one word he could use to describe that feeling.

    Omnipotence.

  • edited January 17

    ***

    3.20PM (Ten minutes into training session)

    The protective spell was done. Su Chan crawled forward until she was sitting right in front of Yundong. Yundong had a peaceful look on his face, a sign that he was already in a meditative state.

     

    3.30PM

    Yundong's head was glowing like an iridescent soap bubble. The Convergence of Five Qis had occurred. Right now, Yundong was probably inside his Spirit Space, attempting Guanxiang on the five Qis. Su Chan hadn't told him the trick to shaping the five Qis. It wouldn't be fair if she had. An insightful Cultivator is a strong Cultivator, so Yundong had to learn to figure things out on his own and solve his own problems.

    Yundong's face continued to glow and change colors. Su Chan found herself incapable of looking away from his face. The changing colors were strangely soothing.

     

    4.55PM

    Nothing had changed. Yundong's head was still glowing like an iridescent soap bubble. Clearly, he hadn't figured out the trick to complete Juxian yet. According to Master, it had taken Su Chan days to figure it out the trick. How long would Yundong take?

     

    7.30PM

    Su Chan's forehead thunked against the floor. Ugh… Still nothing. Hours ago, the changing colors on Yundong's face had a soothing effect. But now it was like a burr up her ass. Her very, very sore ass, which had been pressing against the hard floor for hours. What did you expect, Chan'er? That it'll only take Yundong minutes to figure it out? Please. You yourself had taken days to complete the task. Su Chan sighed. She rose to her feet to give her poor derriere a much needed break. Then she started pacing around, checking the integrity of her protective spell as she did. The spell's effect were slowly fading, so she would have to recast it soon. She stopped pacing and stared down at Yundong's face. C'mon, Yundong… You can do it. Just think outside the box… I'm rooting for you…

    With a huff, Su Chan plopped down on the floor to watch another cycle of "red, black, green, yellow, repeat."

     

    8.57PM

    Paper Yundong had a new hairstyle. And this time, it didn't look like an onion. Woohoo! Su Chan studied the two paper dolls on the floor. Paper Su Chan looked decidedly worse for wear; the scissors were too far away, and she had to stay within range to keep the protective spell alive. At least Paper Yundong looked fairly decent, but that was probably because she had spent at least fifteen agonizing minutes tearing him out from the notepad's page.

    Su Chan picked up Paper Yundong and studied it up close. She had stopped watching Yundong's face a long time ago, opting instead to check on Yundong once every few minutes to see how he was doing. Not because she was lazy or anything, but because the morphing colors would lull her to sleep if she kept staring at them. She supposed it gave the term "soothing" a whole new meaning now.

    Su Chan shook Paper Yundong a little. "Think you can figure it out, beloved?" Paper Yundong didn't answer. Nor did Real Yundong.

    Su Chan's stomach answered with a loud growl.


  • 10.22PM

    Why? Why didn't she eat something before they began the session? Stupid, stupid, Chan'er. Hungry, hungry Chan'er.

    Su Chan's stomach growled again as if to mock her and her own silliness. Paper Yundong stared up at her from the floor. Maybe she should add a worried look on Paper Yundong's face with the pen. She would probably feel better knowing that at least somebody was concerned about her well-being, even if said somebody led a two-dimensional existence.

    The living room was dark except for the colorful glow at its center—red, black, green, yellow…

     When would it end?

     

    12.01AM

    Good morning, world! And finally some progress! The color changes had finally stopped, and the bubble around Yundong's head had turned murky.

    Yundong had just completed Juxian, and Su Chan was still hungry.

     

    2.22AM

    The murkiness had cleared slightly. Soon, Yundong would come face to face with the god living inside him. She wondered what form Yundong's god would take. Hers was a nine-tailed fox.

    She was no longer hungry. In fact, her stomach was now in knots. She tried not to think about the consequences following Yundong's possible failure in achieving Ishvara. She would lose everything: Yundong's soul; the love of her life; her happiness; her partner in Cultivation; the Renyuan Jindan; and possibly her own will to live.

    Too much was at stake. Too much.


  • 3.34AM

    The murkiness had cleared completely. Now, Yundong's face was radiating white light; Yundong's god had revealed itself to him. The final task had begun.

    Su Chan rose to her feet to recast the protective spell. The area had to be completely secure to prevent any possible interruptions or disturbances. She didn't want to take any chances. Yundong's Spirit had to be fully focused and ready to conquer the spirit of the god.

    Su Chan completed the incantation and took a seat in front of Yundong. The radiance of his face seemed to have grown in magnitude. She pleaded and prayed, to whom she knew not. Please let him get through this… Please… Please… I don't want to lose him… I can't lose him… I can't… White light burst from Yundong's face, dazzling her.

    And so it began.

     

    3.50AM

    Horror filled Su Chan's heart. The sight in front of her made her blood run cold. Yundong's expression had lost its meditative tranquility. Yundong was smiling, grinning blissfully as if he was experiencing some kind of euphoria.

    Tears spilled from Su Chan's eyes. She buried her face in her hands and sobbed. What had she done? What had she led him into?

    Please, Yundong… Not like this... Not like this…

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  • Chapter 107 Unconsummated

     

    Someone was sobbing. Sniveling, really, like the person was too afraid to cry loudly even though she was clearly distraught. His eyelids felt heavy, which was strange because just moments ago, he felt as though he had all the power in the world. Darkness greeted him when he opened his eyes. He blinked a few times and wondered what time it was. Light from the city streamed in through the open sliding doors and windows. The light was faint, just enough to cast shadows on the walls and floor.

    Gentle sobs drew his attention to his 2 o'clock. He blinked his eyes rapidly, then squinted through the semi-darkness. He saw Su Chan's prostrated form a few feet away. She was kneeling with both arms on the floor and her face buried in them. Her shoulders trembled as she sobbed into her arms.

    "S- Su Chan?"

    The sobbing stopped and Su Chan's head shot up. Her eyes were wide and they seemed a bit puffy on the edges. Clearly, she had been crying for quite some time. Her cheeks, and nose were red, and her hair was a mess. She was beautiful.

    "Y- Yundong? Is that really you?"

    What? Of course it was him. Did she expect someone else to be here? "Yeah, of course. Why are you cry—"

    His back crashed into the floor, and Su Chan was suddenly on top of him, straddling him. The whole thing would've been erotic if she wasn't sobbing on his chest. Li Yundong's hands rose to pat her back. "Tell me what's wrong?"

    "Idiot, idiot, idiot!" Su Chan emphasized how much of an "idiot" he was by pounding his chest with each mention of the word. "I thought I lost you!"

    What? Lost him? But he was just meditating, wasn't he? She got out a few more garbled words after that before she dissolved into sobs.

    What the heck was going on here? Shouldn't she be happy that he passed the test? Li Yundong stroked her hair gently. "You didn't lose me. See? I'm here now."

    Su Chan didn't answer, though her sobs seemed to have quietened. He wondered what she'd seen to make her cry like this. Did he do something while he was meditating? Did he look like he was dying? He kept comforting her until the sobbing subsided, which took quite a while. Eventually, Li Yundong patted her shoulder a few times and tried to sit up. This time, Su Chan let him. Li Yundong sat up and extended his arms above his head in a long stretch. After that, he looked towards Su Chan, who was drying her tears with her hands. He patted her head. "Ready to tell me what's wrong?"

    Su Chan stared at her lap. "I- I thought you were about to fail the test..."

    Chuckling, he tickled Su Chan's neck. "Tsk, tsk, tsk. So little faith in me. I think you've hurt my feelings..."

    Su Chan pushed his hand away and looked him in the eye. "Your face... It changed completely. It didn't even look like you were in a meditative state anymore. You didn't look peaceful. You looked… You looked like... like some kind of maniac with an addiction. I thought... I thought your Spirit gave in to the god's control."

    Li Yundong rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. "Uh... well..."

    "What happened?" Su Chan asked earnestly.

    Li Yundong sighed. "The god appeared and then..." He shook his head. The whole experience honestly felt so weird that he couldn't even find the words to describe it. "I think the god went inside me? Or was it the other way round... I don't know. All I know is that I'm controlling the god's body. And I felt powerful."

    Su Chan inched closer. "And then?"

    "I did a lot of things. Flew around in the god's body, and I felt so free, you know? Like I can control everything. Like everything answers to only me, and I get to do whatever I want."

    Su Chan sighed. "That's just an illusion, the illusion of ultimate power. The moment you believe that it's real, it's all over for you. The god would've gained control over your Spirit and you'll be trapped inside that illusion forever."

    Li Yundong didn't know what to say. When she put it that way, it sounded like a really close call. When he was flying around inside his Spirit Space, it did feel real. So real, in fact, that he had entertained thoughts about staying there forever.   

    "How did you get out?" Su Chan was staring at him intently. "If you're back, then something must have convinced you that it wasn't real."

    Li Yundong recalled the exact moment he realized that something didn't quite add up.

    "There was a voice calling me." Li Yundong paused and then looked up at Su Chan. "Was it you?"

    Su Chan shook her head. "I didn't dare make a sound. You were in a deep meditative state. There's a good chance you would go into Zouhuo Rumo state if I disturbed you… " Su Chan studied him curiously for a moment. "That voice… What did it say to you?"

    Li Yundong shook his head. "It kept calling my name but that's it. It didn't say anything else. I kept trying to locate the source of the voice, but I just couldn't find it. It was like the voice came from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. That's when I realized that the experience wasn't real. I knew right away that I wasn't omnipotent, that it was all just an illusion. I mean, if I was truly omnipotent, then why couldn't I find the source of the voice?"

    Su Chan sighed in relief. "After that, you came back?"

    Li Yundong nodded. "Yeah. The moment I started to doubt the reality of the experience, everything inside my Spirit Space became darker and darker. The god's form dimmed out as well. A while later, I woke up and heard you crying."

    "Thank God..." Su Chan said, patting her chest. Then she stopped and suddenly looked up at him. "Yundong... What did the god look like?"

    Li Yundong studied her face for a brief moment, then smirked. "You tell me yours, and I'll tell you mine."

    Su Chan made a face at him. "I asked you first!"

    Li Yundong chuckled and raised his palms in surrender. "Alright, alright."

    "So? What did it look like?"

    "It was some strange creature with three heads and six arms." Li Yundong glanced at Su Chan. "It had my face though. Well, three versions of my face to be exact. Each with a different emotion."

    Suddenly, Su Chan leaped up and grabbed his shoulders. Her eyes were wide. "Three heads and six arms?" she said breathlessly.

    Li Yundong frowned. "Uh... Yeah? Something wrong with that?"

    "Tell me everything. Everything you can recall."

    Li Yundong told her about the strange faces and the object each arm was carrying. When he was done talking, Su Chan sat down limply on the floor. She looked like she'd just seen a ghost.

    Minutes later, when Su Chan didn't snap out of her daze, Li Yundong nudged her. "What's the matter?"

    Why was she looking at him like he was some kind weird creature?

    The vacant expression remained on Su Chan's face. Li Yundong waved his hand in front of her face and nudged her again. "Hello? What's the matter?"

    Su Chan gasped, then shook her head. "N- nothing!"

    Nope. Not buying it for a second. Li Yundong narrowed his eyes. "You were looking at me strangely. I don't think that's nothing."

    Su Chan clung to his arm. "Hehehe... I was just relieved that you made it, beloved."

    Li Yundong pulled back slightly and stared at her. "Really? You were relieved? That's all?"

    Su Chan bobbed her head up and down. "Mmm! You've passed the Ningshen phase! I'm so happy!"

    Li Yundong smiled. "Which means I'm now ready for the Zhuji phase. Alright then, what are we waiting for? Let's begin! Chop, chop!"

    Su Chan giggled. "Such a pervert. You're doing it for the wrong reason!"

    "I am not!" He totally was.

    "Liar, liar, liar." Su Chan poked his cheek, then made a face at him.

    Li Yundong caught her hand and trapped it against his cheek. "Do not doubt my reasons, princess," he said with a straight face. "I want to become stronger. That's my reason." Just not the only reason.

    Su Chan gave him a sidelong glance, a smirk playing on her beautiful lips. It was a little hard to believe that this was the same girl who had been devastated by his supposed failure just minutes ago.

    "You cannot pass the Zhuji phase yet," she said out of nowhere.

    "What? Why?"

    Su Chan looked at him as though he had a single-digit IQ. "Because you have to go to school in a few hours?" She pointed at the clock behind him.

    "What the—" Li Yundong turned around to look at the clock. "4.15AM??" His gaze snapped back to hers. "It took me that long?" Then, something else occurred to him. "Shit… You watched over me for the whole night, didn't you… Are you tired?"

    Su Chan yawned as if on cue. "Of course I'm tired! Ugh... I just want to sleep..."

    Li Yundong pulled Su Chan into his lap, then tapped her nose playfully. Su Chan snuggled against his chest.

    "Why don't you stay home today? I'll attend class on my own."

    The front of Li Yundong's shirt bunched up when Su Chan fisted it. "No, no, no... Don't abandon me... You promised!"

    Seriously? This again? Li Yundong chuckled. How many times did he have to tell her that he would never abandon her? "Fine," he said. "Why don't you take a short nap first? I'll wake you up when it's time to leave for class."

    Su Chan nodded. "Okay..."

    Li Yundong smiled and hoisted her up. He carried her into her bedroom, then lay her down on the bed.

    "Stay with me?" she said after he had pulled the blanket over her.

    Li Yundong's eyes went wide. "What?"

    "Stay. Until I fall asleep."

    Li Yundong stared at her in disbelief. She has no idea the effect she has on me, does she? Li Yundong dropped his head with a sigh. Dear God. "Okay... Fine..." He sat down on the floor beside the bed and watched her.

    Seconds later, Su Chan still hadn't closed her eyes. She was staring at him. "What is it? Go to sleep now," he said.

    Su Chan adjusted her head on the pillow, then patted the space beside her. Oh c'mon… Surely you're joking, princess… Li Yundong's throat went dry. He gulped. "Uhh... I don't think that's a good idea, princess..."

    "Mmmm..." Su Chan whined, then gave him a pleading look. "Please?"

    Li Yundong suppressed a groan. Good God, woman... "Alright, alright..." He climbed up the bed and got settled beside her. Su Chan's scent assaulted his nostrils. The air. The sheets. The pillow. Everything smelled like her. God give me strength...

    Su Chan snuggled against his side, then rubbed her face against his arm. "Hehehe... Much better."

    Li Yundong chuckled and patted her head. "Alright. Go to sleep now."

    Li Yundong lay there for God knows how long. When going through basketball stats didn't work, he began picturing Director Qian and his ever-present comb-over.

    A while later, when he noticed that Su Chan's breathing had evened out, he tried to slowly free his arm from her grasp. He needed to get the hell out of the room before his sanity abandoned him for good. However...

    "Mmmm… Why are you leaving?" Su Chan's watery eyes were on him before he could free his arm. "I'm not asleep yet."

    Li Yundong raised his hands in resignation, then sighed. "Sorry. I thought you were asleep. I won't leave."

    "Promise?"

    Li Yundong smiled and stroked her hair. "Promise."

    Su Chan held out her pinkie and stared at him. Li Yundong laughed. So she still remembers... He hooked his own pinkie to hers, then pressed their thumbs together. "There," he said. "Now go to sleep."

    An hour later, Li Yundong was still there, watching her sleep, entranced by her beauty.

    ***

    Li Yundong shook her gently nearly three hours later. "Wake up, princess. Time to go to class."

    Su Chan rolled away from him. "Mmm... So shleebee..." she mumbled.

    "Look. Just stay at home and sleep, okay?" Li Yundong said in a gentle tone. "I'll go to class on my own. You don't have to come with me. I'll be home as soon as class finishes."

    Su Chan sat bolt upright, her arms flailing until they snaked around his waist. "No... You promeeeshht." Her eyes weren't even open.

    Li Yundong didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "How can you go anywhere in this state?"

    Su Chan rubbed her eyes. "Piggy, piggy..."

    Li Yundong laughed. "What?"

    "Piggy, piggy!" she grumbled, sounding totally annoyed.

    Li Yundong smiled. "You want me to give you a piggyback ride?"

    Su Chan nodded, still rubbing her eyes.

    Li Yundong's brows rose to his hairline. "All the way to campus?"

    "Yessshhh..."

    Li Yundong stared up at the ceiling. What had he gotten himself into this time?

    ***

    All eyes were on them the moment Li Yundong stepped into the lecture hall. He ignored the stares and kept walking down the aisle towards the last row. Nothing to see here, folks. Just a guy treating his girl right. Maybe those dudes could take a page out of his book.

    Li Yundong lowered Su Chan onto the seat, which she promptly used as a bed by curling herself like a shrimp and going back to sleep. Li Yundong sat down beside her and began stroking her hair.

    "Yo, yo, yo... Would you look at that... PDA bright and early in the morning?"

    Li Yundong turned his head and saw Feng Na and Cheng Cheng approaching him from the opposite end of the last row. Li Yundong smiled at his two seniors. "Morning."

    The two girls stopped beside him, but neither of them sat down. Feng Na was just stared at him strangely whereas Cheng Cheng greeted him with a quick wave. Suddenly, Feng Na pointed at Su Chan. "Why's she so tired?" Feng Na smirked. "Tsk, tsk, tsk. What were you two up to last night, hmm?"

    Li Yundong's face flamed. "Nothing. What are you two doing here anyway? Ah. Don't tell me you failed some of your papers and have to redo your second year?"

    "Nonsense!" Feng Na yelled.

    Su Chan stirred slightly and rolled over. "Noisshh..."

    Feng Na had the decency to look embarrassed. She lowered her voice. "I need to discuss something with you."

    "What is it?" Li Yundong whispered.

    Feng Na stared at him for a moment.

    Li Yundong raised his brows. "Well?"

    Feng Na cleared her throat, then sighed. "We need a new president for the Taekwondo Club."

    Li Yundong stared at her blankly until the implication of her words hit him. Li Yundong snorted. "No thanks. I won't take over as the club's president."

    Feng Na's expression shifted from hopeful to panic. "Why not? Zhao Yujian's gone, and you have the teachers' and students' support. You're the perfect choice."

    "First of all, I've indirectly caused Zhao Yujian's death—"

    Feng Na opened her mouth to protest, but Li Yundong silenced her with a raise of his hand. "I'm the one who put him in the hospital in the first place," he said. "He wouldn't have planned the assault if he had the chance to perform and show off his skills during the student exchange event. So having me, the person who's partially responsible for his death, replace him as the club's president will be inappropriate, don't you think? Secondly, I'm not a Taekwondo practitioner. I wasn't even formally trained in Taekwondo. Heck, I don't even have belts. I'm not qualified to lead the club."

    Feng Na shook her head. "That's inconsequential. The belts aren't a big issue. You just have to take the exams to get them."

    Li Yundong took a deep breath, then exhaled. "And thirdly..." He gave Feng Na a pointed look. "I'm just not interested in running the club."

    Feng Na's face flushed instantly. "Not interested? Then why'd you enroll in the first place?" she challenged.

    Li Yundong sighed. "Well I was interested before." He held Feng Na's gaze. "But not anymore."

    Feng Na frowned. "Why not? You're so good at it!"

    Li Yundong looked away briefly before returning his gaze to Feng Na. "Too many bad memories, I guess? Besides, I'm too busy these days."

    Feng Na rolled her eyes and snorted. "Yeah. Too busy making babies with your beautiful girlfriend, I bet."

    Li Yundong gaped at Feng Na.

    Redness crept up Feng Na's neck into her cheeks. She raised her chin defiantly. "What? You're going to deny it?"

    "Of course I'm denying it. Su Chan and I... We haven't..." Li Yundong cleared his throat, then shrugged.

    Feng Na and Cheng Cheng exchanged a few glances.

    Then, Feng Na chuckled. "Yeah, right."

    Li Yundong frowned.

    Feng Na gave him a funny look. "No offense, buddy. But you don't seem like the 'no sex-before-marriage' type."

    Li Yundong buried his head in his palms. Could this day get any worse?

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