When Li Xinwen expressed his interest on the second item, Xue Rui raised his eyebrows; he looked at Li Xinwen and then directed his gaze towards the stage. The item was still covered and yet it looked as if Li Xinwen already knew what it was.
He let out a small laugh and decided to tease Li Xinwen. “What’s this Xinwen, do you have a sixth sense or something? Do you already know what the item is that you are willing to bid ten million for it?”
Realizing his misstep, Li Xinwen decided to tease Xue Rui back “Haha… Rui-ge, you never know,” he teased back before saying, “It’s only because my intuition tells me that this next item is something precious.”
“Touché Xinwen,” Xue Rui replied with a small laugh before continuing, “Considering that it’s just the second item on the list, the price won’t reach over ten million and its quality may not be as good, unless interested parties actually bid against each other until it reaches that amount.”
“Ah… is that so? But I really must have it,” Li Xinwen expressed as a matter of fact, as he turned to look at Xue Rui.
For a moment as Li Xinwen turned towards him Xue Rui thought he saw a different aura surrounding him. There was a glint of determination in Li Xinwen’s gaze and Xue Rui had to blink to make sure he was not seeing things.
“Right… of course, Xinwen…” was all he managed to say.
The cloth, finally removed, revealed a cauldron, which to a mortal’s eye, was made of bronze. But to a cultivator such as himself, Li Xinwen knew that it was only the outer appearance. From his perspective the cauldron was surrounded with magical energy, and he was certain that it was one of the legendary, twelve celestial cauldrons that had disappeared from Long Xing a long time ago.
‘I knew it… If such an item was able to make its way to the mortal realm, then there is also a way for me to return to Long Xing,’ Li Xinwen thought, trying hard not to let his eagerness overflow.
The auctioneer’s voice suddenly filled the hall as he provided a brief historical account of the second item.
“This cauldron dates all the way back to the Shen Dynasty. According to the historian who studied the archive found in QuanNi valley, an ancient shaman used the cauldron to create various poisons during that time, and one of his concoctions ended the Shen Dynasty’s rule! This in turn led to the rise of the Min Dynasty. After close examination by experts, this cauldron has no other use except as a decorative item. The starting bid is…” Before the auctioneer could even finish his sentence, someone spoke out from the crowd on the ground level of the auction hall.
“I would like to buy it out!”
Li Xinwen rose from his seat when he heard the offer put forth by someone from the participants on the lower level of the auction hall. He narrowed his eyes and searched for the individual as he leaned forward against the balustrade of their box.
‘Who dares to steal my treasure!? Such audacity!’ he thought, as he clenched the surface of the balustrade.
Similarly, all eyes focused on the young man who stood in the middle of the seated participants on the ground level. He was dressed in a dark, navy suit and his stance showed such strong presence and confidence it was almost arrogant. Judging from his stature and facial features, he was only slightly older than Xue Rui. The man was well-built as could be seen from how the dark navy suit hugged the contours of his body.
The auctioneer was so taken by surprise that it took him a while to respond to the young man’s offer. Upon regaining his composure, he addressed the man, “I’m sorry sir, I’m not sure if I heard you correctly.”
‘This young master must be out of his mind! Perhaps he is not aware of how the auction works,’ the auctioneer thought.
“I would like to buy out the item.” the young man repeated without hesitation.
“My apologies, young master, however, this is an absolute auction. As such, items in our repertoire will go to the highest bidder,” the auctioneer explained.
“Then I bid five million for the item!” the man offered and the hall was filled with whispers and murmurs from the participants.
“My my! For this item to snag a price of five million, the commission I’ll get for this sale will be my biggest yet!” the auctioneer thought greedily.
“Five million from the young master!” the auctioneer acknowledged as he tapped the gavel on the sound block. “Does anyone else want to bid against five million?”
Li Xinwen stood on edge in their second level box as he listened to the exchange between the auctioneer and the man who offered a bid of five million.
‘Five million is half of what the original Li Xinwen has in his accounts. That’s half!’ he thought as he calculated Li Xinwen’s accounts and balances. ‘Is the cauldron worth that much? Do I need the cauldron? Of course I need it… no I must have it!’ he continued debating in his thoughts. Finally, he heaved a deep sigh, clenched his fists and gritted his teeth. ‘I’m sorry Li Xinwen but I must have that cauldron,’ he said to himself. He closed his eyes and stretched his right arm as if to cast a spell and in a deep voice he announced “Six million!”
The offer drew gasps from the crowd on the ground level of the auction hall and everyone directed their gaze to the second level box.
“Six million from the gentleman on the second level box number 3!” the auctioneer announced.
‘This may be the most profitable auction yet! What is with this cauldron that these gentlemen are willing to spend their millions on a decorative item! Ah! Rich people are so unpredictable sometimes,’ the auctioneer thought. ‘But of course I am more than happy to have them bid against each other as my commission depends on the total sales.’
“6.5 million!” the man countered, his expression strained. It seemed that 6.5 million was the highest amount he could bid for the item.
Li Xinwen was not about to be intimidated by such an amount now that he was all fired up. ‘Do not underestimate me. I will not give up such treasure easily,’ he thought as he announced a counteroffer of seven million.
“Seven million!” the auctioneer acknowledged.
The excitement and tension that filled the auction hall was palpable and some participants had taken out their handkerchiefs to wipe the sweat on their forehead. Several of them sat on the edge of their seats, and with bated breath they waited as to who would win in the ongoing bidding war between the two fine looking gentlemen.
“Does anyone want to offer a bid higher than seven million?” the auctioneer asked, smiling and full of excitement while he scanned the crowd.
The man in the dark navy suit was disconcerted and looked flustered after hearing the seven million bid. He closed his eyes as if in resignation and sighed heavily as he shook his head. He took out a handkerchief from his inside coat pocket and wiped the sweat on his upper lip as he took his seat, a dismal expression on his face. The old gentleman seated to his left felt his disappointment and offered reassurance by patting his back gently as if to say that he fought well. The dejected man smiled out of courtesy and nodded his head.
Xue Rui who had been observing Li Xinwen go through the bidding war sat amused the entire time.
‘This is the first time I’ve seen Li Xinwen so passionate in something other than acting! If only he would direct that same passion towards me, life would be perfect,’ he thought, as he let out an amused chuckle.
Li Xinwen stood restless as he anxiously waited for a counter to his seven million offer, at the same time hoping that no one else would join the bidding.
“Seven million! Anyone? Then seven million is the highest bid for this cauldron,” the auctioneer said as he gestured to the item.
Upon hearing the auctioneer, Li Xinwen stood up straight and heaved a sigh of relief. He smoothed out his coat and smiled, feeling victorious.
“Seven million going once! Going twice! And sold!” The auctioneer raised the gavel and was about to strike the block when out of nowhere someone shouted a counteroffer that shocked every individual in the crowd, including the auctioneer and Li Xinwen himself.
“Your mother! Who dares to outbid this Laozi?!!!” Li Xinwen exclaimed. His victorious smile was suddenly replaced with confused anger and agitation. In his agitation, he tried to look for the source of the counteroffer from the ground level of the auction hall. Suspecting the one he outbid earlier, Li Xinwen searched for the man in the dark navy suit. But the moment he found the man, Li Xinwen saw that the man was just as surprised as everyone else in the hall.
‘It wasn’t him! Who dares…’ Li Xinwen wondered as he clenched his fists tighter.
The auctioneer gasped but recovered instantaneously. ‘I shouldn’t let this good fortune slip from my fingers! Oh, just imagine the commission!’ he thought before acknowledging the latest bid.
“Ten million from the gentleman on the second level box number 3! Does anyone else wish to bid against this offer?” he asked, itching to strike the gavel against the block. He waited for a couple of minutes to observe proper decorum then proceeded to close the sale.
“Ten million going once! Ten million going twice! Sold for ten million yuan!” and the auctioneer struck the gavel twice on the sound block, and looked up as if to thank the heavens.
Li Xinwen, still distraught over the loss of the cauldron, suddenly heard a chuckle. He turned to face the source and realized that Xue Rui was now standing beside him, arms crossed looking amused. Xue Rui faced him, smiling, and at the same time his gaze was piercing and laced with seduction.
“I can’t let you have all the fun Xinwen,” he teased as he moved to close the remaining distance between them and continued, “Xinwen, when I told you not to hold back, I didn’t mean for you to spend your own money. You should have just told me – I will make sure that you get whatever items you want from the auction. You won’t be able to outbid me, so, even if you try again, all I have to do is just raise the amount. So don’t bother trying,” he said as he caressed Li Xinwen’s cheek.
“You bastard!” Li Xinwen responded. He had to hold himself back from grabbing Xue Rui to wipe the smug expression off his face. He slapped Xue Rui’s hand gently away from his face and looked away.
“How feisty, Xinwen!” Xue Rui teased further, sounding amused.
“The cauldron… will you really give it to me?” Li Xinwen asked, still looking away from Xue Rui.
‘How cute… just like a child. My Xinwen…’ Xue Rui thought as he continued to observe Li Xinwen’s reaction.
“Of course. You know that I’ll give you anything you want,” he said as he reached for Li Xinwen’s face, turning his head so that they faced each other. “After all, that is the sole reason why we are here,” he said gently, as if pacifying a lover’s tantrum. He gazed into Li Xinwen’s eyes and leaned in to plant a soft kiss on Li Xinwen’s lips.
He let out a small chuckle as he saw the surprise in Li Xinwen’s eyes. Amused, he thought, ‘I better step back before Li Xinwen decides to punch the daylights out of me.’
“You are too precious Xinwen… my dearest Xinwen, you make me so happy,” he stated, still chuckling.
Everything seemed to be happening so fast that Li Xinwen was unable to react. His face was a mix of embarrassment, anger and helplessness. Li Xinwen let out a sigh as heavy as Mt. Tai. ‘This bastard! Why does he think he can kiss me every chance he gets!? Precious?! What a load of bull… just you wait Xue Rui… just you wait! For now, I’ll just give you a piece of my mind. Damn it all!” Li Xinwen thought, anger bubbling inside him. He looked down, closed his eyes and composed himself before saying.
“You really are a bastard Rui-ge… but fine… I’ll let you off this time.”
Li Xinwen looked at Xue Rui squarely and said, “Come to think of it I’ve allowed you to have your way with me for a while now. I believe it is about time we put an end to this.” He took a deep breath and shook his head, and then he looked down as if a wave of exhaustion had washed over him.
“I am no longer going to stand for this… After all, you are Hua-jie‘s fiancé. This play has gone on long enough.”
Xue Rui’s eyes widened upon hearing Li Xinwen’s statement. It was as if someone was squeezing his heart and he felt his throat constricting. He realized his eyes were warm and he might tear up any second now.
‘No… no… this can’t be happening. I resorted to blackmail just to have you stay beside me Xinwen, even though I knew it was wrong…that was the only way I could think of. If you only knew…I have been in love with you since the beginning…it has always been you. It is only due to a misunderstanding that we are standing here like this… One day, I’ll make you understand…I’ll make you understand…’ Xue Rui thought to himself. However, instead of coming clean and making a proper confession, his cunning nature took over instead.
Xue Rui took another step towards Li Xinwen, his face wearing a hurt expression and his eyes teary. He placed a hand on Li Xinwen’s chest, leaned in close and whispered into Li Xinwen’s ear. “Please do not forget why you ‘let me have my way with you’.” Xue Rui’s voice broke but he managed to mask the regret that came with his statement.
‘I have no plans of letting you slip by Xinwen… not this time. Oh god, please… I don’t want to lose him,’ Xue Rui thought desperately.
Xue Rui’s statement was enough to push Li Xinwen to the edge. Li Xinwen’s expression turned dark and the anger that had been bubbling inside him overflowed, as if something inside him had snapped. He took a step back and shook his head.
“To what end Xue Rui? Does it make you happy, playing with people’s feelings? All this lying and pretending in front of Jinghua! Until when do you actually plan to drag out this situation for? You really are a bastard!” Li Xinwen said in response as he glared at Xue Rui.
‘I’m sorry Xinwen…oh god why is this happening now!?! This was supposed to be a date. This was supposed to bring us closer, not pull us farther apart!’ Xue Rui thought, as he watched Li Xinwen’s expression – a mix of anger and deep hurt. But more than that, the glare that Xue Rui received from Li Xinwen sent chills down his spine. It was as if Li Xinwen was capable of hurting him at that very moment.
‘No… Please don’t hate me Xinwen… I need to do something… I can’t lose him,’ Xue Rui’s mind raced to come up with something to clear the air and ease the suffocating tension that was building up. As if unable to breathe, Xue Rui loosened his tie and undid the top button of his shirt.
Li Xinwen shook his head and returned to his seat. The muscles on his face were tense and he struggled to calm himself down. Considering his age as an immortal from Long Xing, Li Xinwen was technically much older than Xue Rui. To have a ‘junior’ three centuries younger than himself play him at the palm of his hand, Li Xinwen felt that he had just lost face.
‘Now I’ve done it! This is all that fool’s fault. I was in the right. It’s time to put an end to all the shenanigans between Xue Rui and Li Xinwen. Right… That’s it,’ Li Xinwen thought, and oddly enough, this actually helped him calm himself. He hunched forward in his seat and rubbed his eyes, then let out a heavy sigh and looked ahead.
Xue Rui followed Li Xinwen and carefully sat beside him. Cautiously, Xue Rui started to say, “If you must know Xinwen…” but Xue Rui did not get to finish his statement when he heard Li Xinwen let out a chuckle.
‘It’s a good thing that we’re on the second level and the box affords us some privacy. The argument we just had would have resulted in a scandal if we were out there with the crowd of regular bidders. I can just imagine the tabloid headlines.’ This last thought made him laugh, and just like that his anger dissipated.
“What are you laughing at Xinwen?” Xue Rui asked, intrigued and confused.
“It’s a good thing we’re at the second level Rui-ge and that we have this private box all to ourselves,” Li Xinwen said, gesturing to the entire box. “Can you imagine? If we were seated with everyone else and they heard our argument, we’d be making headlines by tomorrow. Oh, I guess that’s the price you pay for fame. Show business is an unforgiving industry and the media would have a field day!” he responded. Li Xinwen’s laughter filled their booth and rescued the mood.
“Yes, you’re right about that. I can imagine how the media would pounce at the argument we just had and blow it out of proportion,” Xue Rui agreed and joined in Li Xinwen’s laughter.
‘I want to hold him and let him know just how much I treasure him… Thank you Xinwen for not hating me,’ Xue Rui thought to himself as he took in every bit of that very moment.
The two men spent the next couple of minutes laughing and building scenarios of how the media would create their ‘scandal’. Taking advantage of the lightened atmosphere between them, Xue Rui remarked: “Anyway, since the item we just purchased is already ten million, we just need to purchase one more and we can be on our way. We’ll just pick up the jian you wanted before we leave. Or would you like to stay until the auction ends?”
Li Xinwen glanced at his wristwatch and saw that it was 4:20 in the afternoon.
“We still have time. Let’s see what else they have. Who knows, there might be something else that I might like,” he responded, sounding indifferent.
Li Xinwen’s indifferent response alarmed Xue Rui and prompted him to ask “Xinwen, are you still angry?” he asked.
“Hn. Perhaps. Honestly Rui-ge, I don’t know how I feel right at this moment…” came Li Xinwen’s answer. He didn’t even bother to look at Xue Rui, instead, his eyes remained focused on the auction stage.
Panic crept through the pit of Xue Rui’s stomach. His heart started to race and once again, he felt despair, and what he did next came as a surprise even to himself.
“Xinwen, Ah‘Wen… please forgive me. I know I have gone overboard with all the teasing and stealing kisses. I’ll admit my wrongs…” Xue Rui stopped there and looked down on the carpeted flooring of their second level box. He was afraid of continuing and baring everything. He was afraid that if he admitted to resorting to blackmail, his greatest fear would come to life – that Li Xinwen would hate him even more.
‘I’m sorry Xinwen, but that’s all that I can admit to at this time… allow me to be a coward for the time being – until I have enough courage to come clean and confess to you properly.’
Li Xinwen was surprised by what he had just heard from Xue Rui. Based on the original’s memories, Xue Rui was not the type to apologize or admit to any of his wrongdoings.
‘I wonder what’s changed… this is a first,’ he thought to himself. Li Xinwen turned his head and looked over at Xue Rui to study his expression. Unfortunately, Xue Rui was looking down and Li Xinwen was unable to see his face clearly. Although he did not see Xue Rui’s face, somehow, he felt that the apology was sincere and this made him smile.
‘Maybe I’ll tease him just a little,’ Li Xinwen thought.
“Pfft… Is that really you Xue Rui? I never thought the day would come when I would hear the great young master Xue Rui apologize!” Li Xinwen remarked with a laugh, and that laughter was music to Xue Rui’s ears, and the teasing even tugged at his heart.
‘My Xinwen… my precious Xinwen…’ Xue Rui thought. A great sense of relief washed over Xue Rui and he held his tears and his urge to hold Li Xinwen right at that moment. And as if enlightened by the heavens, Xue Rui mustered the courage to say: “Ah‘Wen, forgive me, ah! I was wrong to use your sister to blackmail you. But I really like you. No…I love you. More than anything or anyone and I want to pursue you. These are my sincerest feelings. Is there really no possibility for you to give me a chance? I know that we started off on the wrong foot but I know it’s not too late for things to change between us – and I am willing to do anything for you if it will allow you to forgive me and give me a chance.”
Li Xinwen’s face turned a pale crimson after hearing Xue Rui’s confession. ‘When is this going to end? Xue Rui is a lovelorn fool through and through! Even saying that he’s willing to do anything! Bah!’ He faced Xue Rui and saw the desperation on his face, but instead of being convinced, it only amused Li Xinwen.
“You know Rui-ge, you might just come to regret ever fancying someone like me,” Li Xinwen said in response.
“It seems that you don’t know me that well Xinwen… and don’t worry, I’ve prepared myself for anything and everything when it comes to you. I have no plans of letting you slip by…” Xue Rui countered.
“Haha… I guess before long we’ll see who gives in,” Li Xinwen responded, and then went on to say, “You said you’d do anything, right Rui-ge?” To which Xue Rui nodded vehemently.
‘He’s like a dog wagging his tail as if being offered a treat,’ Li Xinwen thought before stating,
“Then for starters, no more stealing kisses, no more playing around, and if you ever make Hua-jie cry, you will let me skin you alive. Do you promise?”
Xue Rui paled at the thought of being skinned alive but felt that the proposal sounded fair. If by agreeing to this proposal it meant getting closer to his goal of winning Li Xinwen’s love, then there was no need to think twice about his answer. He nodded his head enthusiastically in agreement.
“Since I’ve agreed, does this mean you’ll give me a chance?” Xue Rui asked.
“Hahaha…Rui-ge it seems that you have misunderstood. I never said I’d give you a chance if you actually agree to my conditions,” Li Xinwen stated, letting out an amused laugh.
“But…” was all Xue Rui managed to say.
“Let me say this Rui-ge. In spite of all the shenanigans that have happened between us, I will never commit myself to someone who is promised to someone else,” Li Xinwen stated.
Though Li Xinwen said this in a firm tone, Xue Rui felt that Li Xinwen’s statement was a hint of some sort. ‘Then, if I break it off with Jinghua, will I have a chance? Well we’ve already agreed to call off the engagement, so in that sense the promise no longer stands,’ Xue Rui thought and immediately felt victorious. A smile spread across Xue Rui’s lips.
Li Xinwen narrowed his eyes at Xue Rui after noticing him smiling. “Don’t you dare Rui-ge! I know exactly what you’re thinking. You promised that if you make Hua-jie cry, you’ll let me skin you alive, remember?” Li Xinwen warned.
“Don’t worry Xinwen, I clearly remember the agreement. I promise I won’t make her cry,” Xue Rui answered in amusement.
“Good.” Li Xinwen heaved a sigh of relief before he returned his focus towards the auction. ‘Dealing with this fool is really tiring… I’d rather face heavenly tribulation every day than have to deal with this on a regular basis.’
Mini Theatre 4:
Young Man: Five Million!! I must have that cauldron!
Li Xinwen: No! That treasure belongs to me! Six Million!
Young Man: 6.5 million!
Li Xinwen: Seven million!! Please don’t outbid me, please don’t outbid me…
Auctioneer: No one? No one? Then seven million, so–“
Li Xinwen smiled brightly when the auctioneer raised the gavel. But his hope was shattered when he heard a voice beside him.
Xue Rui: Ten million. You think I’ll let you spend money on our date?
Li Xinwen: Why must you outbid me?! I want that item!
Xue Rui: It’s alright. I will give it to you.
Li Xinwen: Really?
Xue Rui: Of course! Since I will be marrying into your family, it can be your dowry.
Li Xinwen: Again with the marriage?!
Xue Rui: Until you finally say yes.
Li Xinwen: ^#!$&*#*$^@!
Author’s note: To this day, Li Xinwen is still unable to win an argument with Xue Rui…