"Just relax," Zi Yuan said while she placed the tablecloth on Li Yundong's shoulders once again . "I told you before that I practically raised Hongling . Who do you think is the one who cut her hair all these years?"
"You should be honored," Hongling chimed in from the couch . "Elder Sister Zi Yuan is very skilled . "
Li Yundong visibly relaxed . "Oh . Great . I thought you were just trying to experiment with my hair . "
Zi Yuan chuckled . "With your hair looking like a chicken's nest, I bet nothing I do could make it any worse . "
Li Yundong laughed out loud . "Fine . Fine . Do your thing, then . Just don't ruin my hair . " Suddenly, he paused . "Or give me a bald patch . " He shuddered . "God . Please don't give me a bald patch . "
Zi Yuan stifled a smile . "I won't," she said reassuringly, then got to work .
The first ten minutes went by with Li Yundong constantly asking her whether his hair was still fine . But then he eventually grew so quiet that Zi Yuan was starting to wonder if he had fallen asleep .
Zi Yuan leaned forward slightly to check his face .
He was still awake, but staring off into space .
"What's on your mind?" Zi Yuan asked, combing her fingers through his sideburns .
Right . That totally sounded like nothing right there .
"You're thinking about her," Zi Yuan said . She hadn't phrased that as a question . She had stated that as a fact .
For the next few seconds, the only audible sound were the snipping of scissors .
Then, Li Yundong sighed . "Yeah . I am . I miss her . "
Zi Yuan didn't miss the slight tremble in his voice .
"Do you know why your hair had grown so long in just two months?" Zi Yuan asked, steering the conversation away from any emotionally-loaded topic . She might not be able to do anything to alleviate the lovesickness he was feeling, but she could at least attempt to distract him .
"Hey… now that you mention it, you're right," Li Yundong said . "I've gone for longer without a haircut, but my hair never got this long . Geez . Look at all this hair . It even got past my shoulders!"
Zi Yuan shifted her position so that she was standing behind him .
SNIP! SNIP! SNIP!
"And do you know why?"
There was a moment of silence .
"No," he said . "Why?"
"Oh, come on . " Zi Yuan sighed . "You've already read the Canon of the Yellow Thearch, haven't you? The answer is all there . "
Li Yundong went silent in thought again . A moment later, he slapped his thigh . "It's got something to do with my Qi and blood, right? They've become more vigorous over the course of my training . "
Zi Yuan nodded . "Which helps boost cellular processes . "
"Right . That's why my beard and hair grew faster . "
"I've said this before . The art of Cultivation involves more than just Qi-control training or learning how to cast spells . It also involves comprehension and research . It's an ongoing process of acquiring knowledge, you see? You have to keep asking why . Only then can all the knowledge you've acquired be applied . "
"Gee . You make Cultivation sound so… I don't know, scientific?" Li Yundong chuckled . "Months ago, I would've scoffed at the idea that magic and Cultivation are in any way related to science . But now I think I know what you mean . "
"Here . Let me ask you a question . How do you think computers work?" Zi Yuan paused for a second . "A silicon chip placed on a motherboard along with other components, all functioning together to perform complex computations . " Zi Yuan paused again to let her words sink in . "How do you think that's possible?"
Li Yundong grew silent .
"These things work because they obey certain laws and principles," Zi Yuan explained . "Cultivation, too, has its own principles . These principles have to be fully understood before the art of Cultivation itself can be mastered . " Another pause . "Computers work because the people who designed them understood their working principles . "
"Right . I understand now . "
Zi Yuan sighed . "You've already read the Canon of the Yellow Thearch, yet you're still clueless when I asked you basic questions about Cultivation . "
"I'm sorry," Li Yundong said . "I know I should've done better . "
"You need to get into the habit of constantly asking questions . Learn more . Research more . Otherwise, the truth will elude you forever . "
"Okay . " Li Yundong nodded, then paused for a few seconds like he was thinking about something . "I'll head down to Xin Hua bookstore tomorrow . "
Zi Yuan's hands stilled . She lowered the scissors and stared at Li Yundong . "Why?"
Li Yundong gave her a puzzled look . "Um… To buy more books? You said to do more research, right?"
Zi Yuan chuckled . "Or you can just try the library in your university . "
"The Tiannan University library?" Li Yundong said in a skeptical tone . "Is that a joke?"
Zi Yuan smiled and raised the scissors again . "Tiannan University might be a"—Zi Yuan's eyes darted to Li Yundong's face—"third-rate university, as you so often put it, but its library is rather complete . You can find a lot of books there . "
Li Yundong stared at her blankly, then nodded . "That's actually not a bad idea . It could even save me some money . " Suddenly, Li Yundong sat up straighter, like he'd just thought of something . "The new semester will begin in two days… Have you… Have you heard from Zhou Qin yet?"
Zi Yuan's hands stilled again . "No . I haven't . "
Truth be told, Zi Yuan was starting to feel a bit concerned about this as well . Zhou Qin had gone completely radio silent ever since they parted ways the night He Shao died . She was aware that Zhou Qin had been called into interrogation some time ago, but she hadn't made any further inquiries into the matter; Zi Yuan had spent most of her waking hours watching over Li Yundong, as per Senior Wushuang's instructions .
"Nobody tried to detain me when we entered the country," Li Yundong said . "That made no sense to me . I was there at the scene of He Shao's death . The police would've at least tried to bring me in for an interrogation . " Li Yundong sighed . "That night, you asked Zhou Qin to handle the police . I think she did it . But now, I'm worried that she herself has gotten into trouble because of that incident . "
Zi Yuan lowered the scissors in her hand and studied Li Yundong's face . This man was about to face his own demise in the form of the divine punishment, yet here he was, worrying about someone else .
You're just like him…
"I'm sorry, who?"
Zi Yuan froze . Had she said that out loud?
She meant Master . Li Yundong was just like Master in this regard: always so selfless and putting other people's needs before his own .
Zi Yuan ignored Li Yundong's question and raised the scissors again .
Li Yundong seemed to have sensed her discomfort and didn’t press her for an answer .
"You know, I don't understand why you asked me to return to the university," he said . "Now that I've reached the Shentong phase, I thought you're gonna confine me at home and teach me a bunch of spells . "
SNIP! SNIP! SNIP!
"There are two types of Cultivators," Zi Yuan said . "There are the reclusive type, those who sequester themselves in the mountains and focus solely on their Cultivation training . And then there are also those who live and train among mortals . "
"Oh . Well, the recluses are preferable, I suppose?"
SNIP! SNIP! SNIP!
Zi Yuan shook her head . "Each has its own advantages and disadvantages . The recluses are powerful because they are so focused on their training . They aren't distracted by worldly affairs . However, all that time spent in isolation will also make them ignorant of the ways of the outside world . It makes them inexperienced . " Zi Yuan gave him a pointed look . "I'm sure I don't have to explain to you why ignorance is a disadvantage . "
"Right . "
"There is one other thing that the recluses tend to miss out on . " SNIP! SNIP! SNIP! "The opportunity to forge and strengthen their will . "
"The mortal world is filled with challenges and tribulations . A Cultivator who is forced to face and deal with these challenges will eventually develop the grit and inner strength that are crucial to their success . It helps build character . " Zi Yuan paused . "I told you this before . There are times when the outcome of a battle depends not on the combatants' skill level, but on their inner toughness . "
"Inner strength, huh?"
"Yes . The ability to stay calm and composed under duress . The ability to handle criticisms . Persistence . Discipline . None of these traits are innate . They are forged from the challenges and tribulations one faces in life . "
"Mm . That's why you asked me to go back to school . You want me to still be a part of the real world even though I have chosen the path of Cultivation . "
Zi Yuan nodded . "The best outcome can be attained by striking a balance between being a recluse and a Cultivator who is world savvy . That way, you get to experience the advantages of both but avoid being bogged down by their disadvantages . "
"That's very wise," Li Yundong remarked .
"Balance is the key," Zi Yuan said . "Although the point of Cultivation is to achieve transcendence, its process doesn't have to involve complete isolation from the real world or worldly affairs . Think of it this way . When you become a Cultivator, you aren't supposed to fly off the face of the Earth and move to another planet . You're just hovering in the sky, looking down at the world from a higher place . You're not completely detached from the world . "
Li Yundong nodded . "Balance . "
"That's right . And an educational institution is the perfect place to find that balance . "
"Imagine if you're out in society… Well, say the corporate world, for instance . You'll be so swarmed with work that it becomes a distraction . You'll also have to deal with people with schemes and agendas . " Zi Yuan chuckled . "You'll never be able to fully focus on your training . There are just too many distractions . "
"Ah . Now I see . . . " Li Yundong chuckled . "But a university is relatively quiet, and there won't be as many distractions . And I'll have freedom of movement, plus a lot of resources that I can utilize, like the library . . . "
Zi Yuan smiled . "Exactly . "
Nothing else was said for the rest of the haircut .
"There . All done," Zi Yuan said as she removed the makeshift barber cape from Li Yundong's shoulders .
Li Yundong turned around on the stool to face Hongling and Zi Yuan . "Well? How do I look?"
Zi Yuan studied her handiwork . Gone were the messy locks, and in their place was a full head of neatly-trimmed hair . She hadn't shortened his hair too much, merely trimmed off the messy bits .
She did a fantastic job, if she dared say so herself .
Right now, he looked handsome .
However, Li Yundong clearly had very little faith in her hairstyling skills—even though he hadn't even looked at her work—judging from the wary expression on his face .
"Why don't you go look at yourself in the mirror then?" Zi Yuan said .
Li Yundong rose from the stool and walked into his bedroom, presumably to do what she had suggested .
Minutes later, Zi Yuan heard a loud cheer, which was immediately followed by the sound of footsteps .
The bedroom door swung open, and Li Yundong came barging out .
"She was here!" Li Yundong stopped in front of Zi Yuan . Spread across his face was a megawatt smile . "She's been here recently! She came back!" He waved a small piece of paper in front of Zi Yuan's face .
Zi Yuan shared a glance with Hongling, who had a puzzled look on her face .
Zi Yuan took the paper from his hand, and then glanced down at it . Only three words were written: I miss you .
"Who was here?" Hongling stood up from the couch .
"My little princess Su Chan, of course!" Li Yundong said, taking the note from Zi Yuan's hands .
"You came to that conclusion just because of a note?" Hongling said snidely, then snorted . "Anyone could've left that note . "
Li Yundong smiled warmly . "I know it was her . I just know it . "
"I don't get it," Zi Yuan said . "It's just three words . You're over the moon because of three simple words?"
Zi Yuan doubted that Li Yundong had even heard her . For a while, he paced around the living room with a silly grin on his face . Then, he opened the sliding door and stepped out into the balcony .
The Jindan's coming ordains thine fate . The sound of the first thunder shalt complete thine soul .
Zi Yuan looked towards the balcony . Li Yundong was still staring at that piece of paper .
That man was without a doubt the most talented Cultivator she had ever seen, a talent that would only appear once every few centuries .
But what did Master's prophecy mean?
In what way would the Jindan's appearance decide her fate? Through its rightful heir? Or was it through some other way?
How could a man so hopelessly and deeply in love with another woman complete her soul?