As soon as Zhang Tianhé and his party left Mount Tianlong, the rest of the Great Six's army dispersed . Some had taken off into the night sky while others had left on foot . Li Yundong did a quick visual sweep of his surroundings, sighing in relief after he did . Except for several dead bodies lying around, the area surrounding the temple was pretty much unoccupied .
It was over .
Li Yundong raised his right arm . "Come here, buddy!"
The Fan of Seven Treasures hurtled towards him from the side . He grabbed the fan's rivet and then snapped the fan close . Then, he turned around and flew back towards Cao Yi and the others .
Cao Yi dried her tears and rose to her feet as Li Yundong landed in front of the temple . Li Yundong shifted the fan on his shoulders and joined the fox spirits in their mourning for their fallen grandmaster . None of them said anything as they continued to weep .
It was a wordless lamentation, a requiem of tears .
After a while, Cao Yi sniffed and cleared her throat .
Li Yundong stepped back, wanting to give them a moment . But then Cao Yi suddenly spoke up . "Hail, Li zhǎngmén, the new Head of the Fox Zen School!"
All of a sudden, the other fox spirits filed towards him and dropped to their knees, right beside his feet .
"Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hey, you—" Li Yundong shot Cao Yi a helpless look .
Cao Yi wasn't kneeling, though her body was bent forward in a slight bow . Those who were kneeling, Li Yundong realized, were the younger ones .
"Cao Yi . " Li Yundong sighed . "Let's not stand on ceremony, okay?"
Cao Yi straightened herself, looking utterly puzzled .
Li Yundong gave her a wry smile and waved at the kneeling women before him . "This isn't necessary . "
Cao Yi frowned in puzzlement . "But—"
Li Yundong cut her off by raising his hand . Then, he turned towards the kneeling women .
"Rise," he said to the women .
The women rose . Potion Girl was staring back at him with an expression of awe .
Li Yundong turned to Cao Yi again . "No more of this kneeling stuff, okay? It makes me feel so awkward . And oh, you guys should also drop the zhǎngmén while you're at it . " He smiled . "Just call me Li Yundong . "
Cao Yi suddenly cleared her throat . "I'm afraid we must decline, Liu zhǎngmén . Such formalities must be observed . " Cao Yi bowed slightly . "You are the leader of our school now . You are our direct superior . The formalities are a sign of respect . "
But I want you girls to respect yourselves first, he added silently . These women had already proven themselves to be loyal and courageous . In his book, they shouldn't have to bow to anyone .
"Thank you," Li Yundong said, smiling when an idea occurred to him . "How about this? Let's come up with a compromise . "
Cao Yi straightened herself and eyed him curiously .
"I'll allow the zhǎngmén title," Li Yundong continued, "but I don't want all these kneeling and bowing nonsense . Deal?"
Cao Yi's features twitched as though she'd just tasted something rotten . "That’s… agreeable, I suppose . " All of a sudden, Cao Yi's eyes went round as though she just realized that she had said something impudent . She cleared her throat . "I-I mean… As you wish, Li zhǎngmén . "
"Good . "
Cao Yi took a deep breath, then exhaled .
"Then please allow me to properly introduce myself, Li zhǎngmén," Cao Yi said reverently . "I am Cao Yi, one of the main disciples of the Fox Zen School . Originally, there were eight of us . "
Li Yundong stared at Cao Yi blankly .
"The main disciples of the Fox Zen School, I mean," Cao Yi clarified seconds later at Li Yundong's confusion . "There were eight of us . "
"I see . "
Cao Yi nodded . "In terms of seniority, I'm ranked sixth . "
Li Yundong glanced around a few times . "Where are the others?"
A sad look spread across Cao Yi's face . She pointed at one of the corpses . "That's Mo Ahshi, the most senior disciple among us . " Cao Yi shook her head . "We recently found out that she's been dead for over nine years . "
"Yan Fang," Li Yundong said .
Cao Yi nodded, then pointed at the bag of dry bones and skin on the ground .
"That's Ye Yu, the 7th disciple . " Cao Yi lowered her finger . "What's left of her anyway…"
"Okay… What about the rest? You said there were eight of you . "
"Technically, only seven . " Cao Yi hugged her torso .
Li Yundong frowned . "Technically?"
Cao Yi shifted awkwardly . "Wushuang was the youngest among us . "
Right . And she'd been expelled .
"Not that it mattered . " Cao Yi sighed . "Liu zhǎngmén had always regarded her as one of us . "
"Okay . So there's Mo Ahshi and Ye Yu . " Li Yundong gestured at the corpses . "Where are the other four?"
Cao Yi shook her head tiredly and gestured at another corpse leaning against the wall . "That's Gu Feng's impostor," she said . "The real Gu Feng is dead too . And… And the others are missing . " Tears swam in Cao Yi's eyes when she looked up at him . "I fear that the worst had happened to them, Li zhǎngmén . " She sighed and pointed at Potion Girl . "She didn't see any of them when she went back inside the temple to look for the potions just now . "
"So these are the younger disciples, then?" Li Yundong pointed at the others who were lingering around, whispering to each other .
Cao Yi nodded .
The young fox spirits seemed lost, like they no longer had a purpose in life . Not that he could blame them . Their whole world had just fallen apart within the span of one night .
"They're brave," Li Yundong remarked, glancing at Cao Yi . "They've got guts, those girls . "
The tiniest of smiles graced Cao Yi's lips, but it quickly tuned into a scowl . "Well . Not all of us are . "
Li Yundong turned around to face Cao Yi fully . "What do you mean?"
Cao Yi snorted . "Gu Feng's disciples"—Cao Yi did air quotes—"fled the school just before the assault began . "
Li Yundong glanced around and took stock of his surroundings . The temple didn't sustain a lot of damage during the battle, which was a good thing .
"So what now, Li zhǎngmén?"
Cao Yi's question drew Li Yundong's attention back to her .
"Do you have a plan?" Cao Yi sounded almost tentative .
Yeah… He was still working that, to be honest .
"I'll track down Su Chan first and then bring her back . " Li Yundong stared at Cao Yi . "I hope you understand . "
Li Yundong wanted to smack himself in the head as soon as those words left his mouth . Why the heck was he speaking as though he was asking her for permission? He was the frigging Head of the Fox Zen School now, for Acalanatha's sake .
Guess it might take a while for him to get use to that idea .
"But…" Cao Yi suddenly looked towards the temple . "What if the Great Six attack us again after you leave? Who's…" Cao Yi lowered her gaze . "Who's gonna defend us?" Cao Yi looked up at him with pleading eyes . "Only a few of us in the Fox Zen School are great in combat . And… none of them are here at the moment . " Cao Yi sighed and lowered her head . "Liu zhǎngmén is gone . So are Mo Ahshi, and Ye Yu . Ao Wushuang is the most powerful among us . But then she's been captured…"
Li Yundong clasped Cao Yi's shoulders with both hands to interrupt her rambling . When Cao Yi looked up again, he gave her a smile . "They won't attack again . Trust me . "
Cao Yi didn't look convinced . " Are you sure?"
Li Yundong released Cao Yi's shoulders and nodded . "Yes . " He smiled again . "Besides, none of them has to know about my absence . "
Li Yundong was certain that he had scared the living crap out of those assholes . They wouldn't return if they thought he was still here, guarding the place . And he was fairly certain that Zi Yuan would dissuade those idiots from attacking again .
Cao Yi still didn't look convinced .
Li Yundong chuckled . "You guys are pretty good with illusions, am I right?"
He'd seen Su Chan perform one of those cool illusion spells .
Li Yundong nodded . "Just create an illusion of me standing right there . " Li Yundong pointed at the temple .
Cao Yi's eyes widened slightly . "O- Oh… That's… Actually pretty clever . "
"Which means…" Li Yundong smirked . "I never left the school . " Li Yundong raised a brow . "After all, I am the guardian of the Fox Zen School . "
Cao Yi smiled . "I think you're more than that now, Li zhǎngmén . "
"Anyway . " Li Yundong lowered the Fan of Seven Treasures to the ground . "Here's the plan . "
Cao Yi stood up straighter .
Li Yundong couldn't help but feel amused at her behavior .
"I'll head to Dongwu City to find Su Chan . Meanwhile, you guys should take care of Grandmaster Liu's body . " Li Yundong sighed and glanced towards the old man . "I don't know much about your customs, but for us humans, there's usually some kind of ritual . A proper funeral . "
"As you wish, Li zhǎngmén," Cao Yi said . "I'll handle—"
There was a gasp .
"What's wrong?" Li Yundong looked towards Cao Yi .
Cao Yi was looking past his shoulder, squinting through the dark .
"Who's there?!" Cao Yi suddenly flung a bunch of needles at something behind him .
Li Yundong whirled around and saw a dark, wraith-like creature hovering above Mo Ahshi's corpse . The needles went through the phantom and struck a tree nearby . Then, the phantom shot into the night sky .
Li Yundong turned towards Cao Yi . "Take the girls into the temple . "
Cao Yi nodded .
Li Yundong turned towards the Fan of Seven Treasures . "You stay here and protect them . "
The Fan of Seven Treasures rose from the ground and snapped open .
After that, Li Yundong took off into the night sky .
Even with Xianjue, it was extremely hard to keep up with the dark phantom, especially now when it was completely dark .
Hell . Who was he even kidding . He wasn't even keeping up . The phantom had given him the slip about two minutes ago, and now he had no idea where it was .
Damn it .
Who could that be? Was it Yan Fang? But why would she return?
There you are!
He caught a glimpse of the phantom somewhere below him on his two o'clock . The phantom vanished into the trees .
Li Yundong flew downwards and landed on a tree branch seconds later .
Damn it, where did it go?
Li Yundong closed his eyes . Ningshen: Eryue!
He spent a minute listening to any voices or noises indicating the phantom's presence .
"… Ping'er! Ping'er! Where are you?"
The voice was male . An old man, in fact .
"I'm over here, Master!"
Li Yundong's blood ran cold . What the hell? That voice…
"Where have you been, Master? I've been waiting for you for so long!"
No . This had to be some kind of mistake . It had to be . It wasn't Ding Nan . The old man had called her Ping'er . Maybe it was just someone with a similar voice .
The old man chuckled . "Look what I found, Ping'er…"
"What's that?" Ping'er said .
"This, my dear, is the Fox Zen School's Threaded Hairpin of Traversing Soul!"
Li Yundong located the source of the voices just then . It was quite far away from his current location . Li Yundong took off into the sky, but kept his Eryue activated .
"Is it powerful?"
"Of course it is!” The old man paused . "But first we have to go . Someone's after me . "
No you don't!
"Oh… Okay . As you wish, Master . "
"Hmm . I'll show you how this thing works once we return," the old man said, then chuckled . "Well . I was planning to give it to you anyway . "
Li Yundong increased his speed and activated his telescopic vision .
He saw and old man putting his arm around a young woman's shoulders . Li Yundong bridged his Three Gates and sent a shockwave towards the pair .
Too late .
The pair morphed into a phantom and took off into the sky before the blast could reach them .
Li Yundong landed on the floor, stunned .
There was no mistaking that figure, and that T-shirt .
That woman was Ding Nan .