Vol. 1: chapter twelve – followed

They stayed to watch the auction, but after getting the cauldron, there was only one other item which managed to catch Li Xinwen’s attention – one of the other jian he had eyed before the auction began. The bid price of the jian went as high as six million before Xue Rui outbid every other bidder. Having spent sixteen million in total, Li Xinwen decided that it was time for them to go. After all, the auction was already ending and they were now on the last item, which did not interest him even in the slightest.

“Let’s go. It’s already close to six… Dinner is at seven,” Li Xinwen said as he stood up. “Where do we pick up the items we purchased?”

“We can get them from the same room as earlier. Here, let me support you,” Xue Rui replied as he too stood up and then, almost naturally, snaked his arm around Li Xinwen’s waist and pulled him closer. Of course, Li Xinwen gently pushed Xue Rui’s arm away.

“Rui-ge, I am already well enough to walk by myself, you don’t have to worry about me ‘falling’,” Li Xinwen said with a smile on his face, hinting at Xue Rui that he did not want to be ‘supported’ at all. Xue Rui wanted to say something but Li Xinwen had already started walking out of the room. When Li Xinwen reached the door, he turned around and saw that Xue Rui was still standing on the same spot. “Are you going to stay there?” Li Xinwen asked.

Xue Rui, who was feeling hurt that his subtle approach was rejected, suddenly perked up.

“Of course not,” he answered Li Xinwen, even though he felt as if his heart was being gripped tighter. “Let’s go and get your items now,” he continued with a smile as he took the first step towards the exit.

‘My heart hurts…’ Xue Rui thought, and with every step he took towards the exit, he felt a stab at his heart. He fixed his eyes on Li Xinwen as the latter turned to leave.

‘His back is broad; he’s perfect… but why is it like this? Is it so hard for him to give me a chance?’ Xue Rui thought as he started to reach for Li Xinwen’s hand. He stopped himself halfway, his index finger lightly brushing the side of Li Xinwen’s palm and causing the other to turn around.

A little worried, Li Xinwen asked, “Are you alright Rui-ge? You look like you’re about to cry. Is there something wrong?” He noticed that Xue Rui’s arm was extended in front of him. His eyes met Xue Rui’s.

Li Xinwen’s question was like a splash of cold water, waking Xue Rui up to the present. He retracted his hand and clenched it inside his pants’ front pocket.

“Ah, sorry Ah‘Wen, I suddenly thought of something. You go on ahead, I just need to use the toilet for a bit,” he said as he turned and disappeared around the corner at the end of the hallway.

‘What’s gotten into him?’ Li Xinwen asked himself, raising an eyebrow at Xue Rui’s leaving figure, feeling confused.

Meanwhile, Xue Rui quickly found the washroom and headed over to the faucet. He stared at his reflection in the mirror and saw that his own eyes had turned slightly red. “What’s wrong with you Rui! Argh!” he reprimanded himself. “Snap out of it!”

He turned the faucet and splashed cold water on his face. Looking at his reflection in the mirror again he snorted at himself, saying, “You’re pathetic Xue Rui. A lovelorn fool… haha… ha…” and a helpless laugh escaped his lips as he shook his head at his own reflection. He wiped his face with a paper towel, straightened himself up and made his way back.

‘I shouldn’t make Li Xinwen wait or we’ll be late for dinner,’ he thought as he neared the corner to the hallway. As he turned the corner, he was met with a pleasant surprise. ‘He waited for me?’ he thought, and his heart started to beat faster.

Li Xinwen was leaning against the wall a little way from the entrance to their box. His hands were in his pocket and he had one leg bent with his foot resting against the wall, as if contemplating, all the while looking like a model posing for a photo shoot. The sight made Xue Rui stop walking, his heart skipped a beat at the sight that was before him. He savored the image and cherished the idea that Li Xinwen was waiting for him.

“Rui-ge, you’re back. All good?” Li Xinwen asked as he stood straight.

“Yes Ah‘Wen,” Xue Rui responded as he walked to catch up to Li Xinwen who started walking ahead of him.

‘Ah, Xinwen… why do you do this to me? Don’t make me misunderstand your small gestures.’ he thought, smiling to himself.

“Rui-ge… earlier, did you want to hold my hand?” Li Xinwen asked out of the blue.

“Huh?” Xue Rui reacted in surprise as he looked up to find Li Xinwen examining him intently. He couldn’t describe Li Xinwen’s facial expression or the lack thereof.

“So, did you?” Li Xinwen probed.

“Haha… Xinwen are you teasing me?” Xue Rui asked with a smile, but when he saw Li Xinwen’s unchanged expression, he quickly cleared his throat, feeling a bit shy. “Yes, actually I did,” Xue Rui responded after recovering from his momentary fluster. “Will you allow me to hold your hand Ah‘Wen?”

Li Xinwen smiled and narrowed his eyes. He let out a small chuckle and extended his hand towards Xue Rui. This action made Xue Rui’s eyes go wide and his heart beat faster, but Li Xinwen’s next sentence was like throwing a bucket of ice-cold water onto his warm heart. “Don’t misunderstand Rui-ge… today is an exception. Consider this as me thanking you for the cauldron and the jian. Nothing more.”

So easy to read… I am not someone who is ungrateful. Since you spent so much today, I’ll let you hold this hand…‘ Li Xinwen thought, and he waited for Xue Rui to take his hand.

Li Xinwen’s statement sent a wave of surprise which hit Xue Rui like a ton of bricks, crashing in an instant. The words were cold and void of any sort of feeling. This was not what Xue Rui had hoped for when Li Xinwen extended his hand to him.

‘I should be happy right? That he’d allow me to hold his hand? But why? Why does my heart hurt even more?’ Xue Rui’s thoughts were suffocating him, causing his eyes to feel warm. Forcing himself to remain calm, he bit back his tears as he prepared himself to reply to Li Xinwen.

“It’s okay Xinwen…” he said with a smile that was brighter than a 50,000-watt bulb, enough to turn anyone blind. Xue Rui tried to divert the topic. “Shall we go and retrieve the items we purchased?”

“Are you sure Rui-ge? I won’t make another offer like this again.”

“I’m sure Xinwen…” Xue Rui responded, his voice about to crack.

Li Xinwen retracted his hand but continued to stare at Xue Rui, gauging his reaction. ‘I thought he’d take the offer. Well, I guess this is good too,’ Li Xinwen thought, but an uneasy feeling suddenly enveloped his heart. ‘Was I too harsh?’ he asked himself, almost feeling guilty. ‘Almost’, being the operative word, because Li Xinwen brushed it off the next moment.

Xue Rui and Li Xinwen walked side by side in silence. A bright smile was plastered on Xue Rui’s face, but his cheeks and his heart were aching.

When they reached the lower level of the auction hall, Li Xinwen saw the young man whom he had bid against for the cauldron. For some reason, he suddenly had a bad feeling about the situation. Beside the young man was a member of the auction staff, and the two were in a heated discussion – or maybe ‘an argument’ would be a more precise description of the unfolding scene. It looked as if the young man was pressing against the poor staff person.

“Can’t you just tell me who it was that bid ten million?! I really have to get that cauldron! It is something my great grandfather left to our family before some bastard stole it from us!” he begged. With one glance at the staff member Li Xinwen knew that he was irritated.

“Look, sir. This is an auction! We cannot simply disclose the information you want… Especially when the customer is from the VIP room…”

“But I really need to have it!! You guys don’t know what that thing can do! My family has been Taoist for generations, so I would know how to use that cauldron better than anyone!”

“Sir, regardless whether the bidder knows what to do with the cauldron or not is no longer a concern of yours. Let me remind you once again that this is an auction, and the item belongs to the individual who bid the highest. Now, if you’ll excuse me,” the employee responded, annoyed.

The man could not refute what the staff member said; it was an auction and the cauldron had obviously been won by the highest bidder. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes as if trying to calm himself down, but after a while, he let out an angry roar as he swung his fists.

“Damn it!” he cursed, and he banged the wall with his fist, causing a small web-like crack and startling the auction employee, who stood just inches from where the man’s fist landed. After venting his frustration on the wall, he once again closed his eyes and took a deep breath as if resigned to the situation.

“You’re Taoist?” Li Xinwen was astonished when he heard this. His eyes narrowed at the man, trying to sense whether or not he possessed spiritual energy. Sure enough, though faint, this man did have spiritual energy in him. ‘So it wasn’t just my imagination. That punch earlier did contain a bit of spiritual energy,’ Li Xinwen thought as he looked over at the wall that was damaged. ‘A bit more and that wall would’ve been completely destroyed…’

‘That voice!’ the other man thought. He turned to face the direction where it came from and saw two men standing side by side. To say that they looked like models fresh out of a magazine would have been an understatement.

“You’re the bastard who tried to outbid me for the cauldron!” the man declared, pointing at Li Xinwen. Eyes narrowing, fists clenched, he approached Li Xinwen as if ready to start a fight.

Xue Rui noticed the man’s behavior and quickly stepped in front of Li Xinwen before the man came within reach. “What do you think you’re trying to do?” Xue Rui asked in a very imposing tone. The young man’s eyes widened, and at first, Li Xinwen thought it was because the young man was afraid of Xue Rui. But the next sentence that came from the young man’s lips proved him wrong.

“You’re that bastard who bid ten million!!”

Li Xinwen was now genuinely surprised with the young man’s ability to recognize his voice. He had assumed it was because he had spoken three times during the auction, but Xue Rui had only spoken once. ‘So how is it that he can remember?’ Li Xinwen thought to himself, not noticing that the young man started angrily pacing back and forth in the auction hall. It was apparent that the man was agitated, probably because he realized that he could not beat that bid of ten million.

“This guest! Please behave yourself or I will call security to kick you out! There are so many people with similar voices! How can you be sure Young Master Xue was the one who bid that ten million?!” The staff member’s patience was running thin.

“Of course, I am sure that he’s the one! The pitch of his voice when he speaks is exactly the same!!”

Li Xinwen was confused to say the least. He did not understand what the young man meant when he said the pitch of Xue Rui’s voice was the same. ‘Do mortals have ways to recognize someone based on their voice? Similar to how cultivators identify other cultivators by their spiritual energy?’ Li Xinwen wondered. In Long Xing, each cultivator had a different type of spiritual root, or spiritual energy, and a different type of cultivation method. So no two cultivators were the same. It was like a fingerprint, but cultivators referred to it as a spiritual signature.

Xue Rui on the other hand just frowned before taking Li Xinwen away. He had a feeling that dealing with this young man would be very troublesome. In addition, they did not have time to waste. Xue Rui was worried Li Xinwen would start to feel dejected for missing dinner with Madam Li.

“Where do you think you’re going?! We’re not done here yet!” the young man shouted in Xue Rui’s direction. “That cauldron, please sell it to me! I’ll pay by installments and…” the young man said, pleading, his voice filled with desperation.

‘How unbecoming!’ Xue Rui thought when he heard the man shout from the other end of the hall. With cold eyes he turned and faced the man, his annoyance now replaced with extreme displeasure. “No. I have already planned to give it to someone else. Even if you offer ten times the price, I will not sell it to you!” Xue Rui then walked away with Li Xinwen, who glanced back to see the young man rooted in place. The young man’s face showed traces of unwillingness and Li Xinwen knew that he was not going to give up on the cauldron that easily.

‘This feeling is so familiar… the same thing also happened back in Long Xing…’ Li Xinwen couldn’t help but let out a small chuckle at that thought, which did not go unnoticed.

Xue Rui’s forehead creased with curiosity at Li Xinwen’s demeanor. “What are you chuckling for? Did you find something funny?” Xue Rui asked in spite of his heartache. The encounter with the man earlier had somehow lessened the pain in his heart. He decided that he was willing to patiently wait for Li Xinwen to realize that he was sincere in his feelings for him.

‘He might not feel any affection for me right now, but being with him is enough…when he treats me cold heartedly I deserve his utter disregard for how I feel, and I will accept that until he comes to love me… his happiness is enough for me… to see him smile is enough salve for my aching heart,’ Xue Rui thought to himself, determined to win Li Xinwen and his love when the time came.

“Hm? It’s nothing Rui-ge,” Li Xinwen answered. “I was just reminded of something from the past. Anyway, that person won’t give up, judging from his behavior earlier. So let’s just get our items and go straight home. If he tries to stop us later–“

Xue Rui did not let Li Xinwen finish. “If he tries to, I will deal with him.” His face was full of determination as he said those words to Li Xinwen.

‘I won’t allow any harm to come to Li Xinwen…’

“Then I will just leave it all to you Rui-ge,” Li Xinwen said, a smirk adorning his face.

The two of them went to the back room once more and settled all the formalities. Xue Rui didn’t hesitate to pay the 17.4 million yuan which included the processing fee. Li Xinwen held the rusty jian, eyes brimming with excitement and happiness. He could not wait to return home to uncover the jian‘s true form. As for the cauldron, he had a feeling that it would take him a while before he would finally reach the stage where he could use it properly.

The two jians were individually wrapped in a rich crimson velvet fabric and fastened with a leather belt, while the cauldron was placed in a wooden box. As Xue Rui was a VIP customer, three auction staff helped carry the items all the way to the car. It seemed as if the valet attendant had been informed beforehand because as they made their exit by the main entrance, Xue Rui’s beloved silver Maserati was already waiting for them. After placing the items inside the car’s trunk, Xue Rui and Li Xinwen got in.

Surprisingly, they did not see the young man from before and the two set off with easy hearts. Unfortunately, their ease did not last for long.

As they turned the corner not far from the auction house, Xue Rui noticed a black Aston Martin Vantage sports car following them. At the next traffic light, he was able to make out the driver’s silhouette, which closely resembled the man whom they had bid against earlier. He glanced at Li Xinwen, who had his attention on the towering skyscrapers and seemed oblivious to the situation. “Xinwen, I need you to grab on to something.”

“Huh? What do you mean Rui-ge?”

“We’re being followed,” Xue Rui responded as he glanced at the rearview, and then at the driver side, mirror. “It’s the man we encountered at the auction house.”

Li Xinwen frowned and quickly turned his head to glance back. True enough he saw another vehicle immediately behind. He squinted his eyes and confirmed that it was indeed the same man from the auction house.

‘Ugh… I knew it, how troublesome,’ Li Xinwen thought. When he saw the focus in Xue Rui’s gaze as he drove, the beginnings of panic started to form in the pit of his stomach. The light was about to turn green. Without warning, Xue Rui stepped on the gas and the . The car lurched forward, startling Li Xinwen who quickly grabbed the roof handle above the passenger door.

The car sped through traffic, weaving between lanes and overtaking cars that were too slow as the car ran at 270km/h. Li Xinwen could only watch and hold his breath. He gripped the roof handle so tightly that his fingers turned white and became numb.

‘What the hell is happening! I don’t want to die again!’ thought Li Xinwen.

They came to an intersection with the traffic light in their direction blinking amber. Xue Rui glanced over at Li Xinwen who, at the same time, was looking at him wide-eyed like a deer in headlights.

“Hold on Xinwen,” Xue Rui said with a mischievous smile across his face and a glint of seduction in his eyes.

Xue Rui stepped on the gas yet again and they ran past the intersection, barely missing the rear of an old Toyota Camry as their car swerved to the left. Li Xinwen felt his knees weaken and his heart drop moments before the car swerved to avoid the other vehicle.

Xue Rui glanced at the rearview mirror and saw that the car following them was unable to avoid the red light in the intersection. He smiled in triumph and continued to speed through traffic. He decided to take a different route to Li Xinwen’s home to lose the pursuing vehicle.

What should have been a leisurely drive home had become a car chase out of a movie. Li Xinwen had never felt that scared before. Even as he faced the lightning tribulation moments before his death back in Long Xing, he had only felt helpless – not scared. But this car chase was more than enough to scare him out of his wits, and he hoped to never experience this again in the future.

Li Xinwen didn’t know how much time passed but when they reached his home, he felt dizzy and sick to his stomach. As soon as the car stopped, he opened the door and threw up on the ground.

Ah‘Wen!” seeing this, Xue Rui quickly got out of the car, rushed over to the passenger side, and checked on Li Xinwen. He gently rubbed Li Xinwen’s back in a soothing manner while the other retched.

“Never… Drive like that again…” Li Xinwen muttered after a while. Xue Rui took out his handkerchief and carefully wiped Li Xinwen’s lips.

“I’m sorry…” Xue Rui looked extremely guilty as he stared at Li Xinwen. “Let me help you into the house… Careful with the vomit,” he said as he offered to support Li Xinwen.

“No need… Let me just rest a bit,” Li Xinwen replied as he took a moment to calm down. After a while, he felt a lot better and finally got out of the car. At the same time, the door to the house opened, revealing Li Jinghua who had a worried expression, but when her eyes landed on Xue Rui, it changed to a frown.

“Why are the two of you taking so long to get inside?” Li Jinghua asked, arms crossed and eyes accusing Xue Rui.

“I got a little sick, Hua-jie, so I had to take a moment to recover,” Li Xinwen answered. “Rui-ge drove like a madman because someone was following us…” he added, as he went to the car’s trunk. “Open up.”

Xue Rui took out his car’s remote control key and pressed the button to open the trunk. The first thing Li Xinwen grabbed was the rusty jian, and then he threw the other one towards Xue Rui. “Catch.”

Xue Rui’s face turned pale when Li Xinwen hurled the expensive jian towards him as if it had cost just a few yuan bills. He caught it and held it very carefully, afraid of damaging it. Meanwhile, Li Jinghua’s curiosity grew and she decided to approach the car.

“What did the two of you get?” Li Jinghua asked as she looked into the car’s trunk and saw another box inside.

“Just a few items,” Li Xinwen answered with a smile. But just as he was about to pick up the box containing the cauldron, a car stopped right in front of their gate. The driver of the car came out and Li Xinwen didn’t need to turn around to know who it was. He already knew, based on the spiritual signature the young man emitted. He just couldn’t help but sigh at his persistence. But he didn’t expect Li Jinghua’s surprise at seeing the young man.

“Why is Min Xiaoyu here?” Li Jinghua asked in surprise.

Jiejie knows him?” Li Xinwen asked and Li Jinghua gave him a complicated look.

Even if Li Jinghua knew Min Xiaoyu, in the current timeline she was not supposed to have met him yet. After all, this young man only became famous after the apocalypse, because of his strength and ability.

“Can you guys let me in? I believe we have yet to finish our discussion from before,” the young man, known as Min Xiaoyu said with a smile as he stood before the gate.

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