The orange glow of dusk spread across the sky of Tiannan City . Zi Yuan lowered herself onto the balcony of Hongling's apartment . Her feet felt slightly wobbly, so she reached out with a hand and grabbed the railing for support . A three-hour flight from Tibet to Tiannan City without stops was draining even for a Cultivator at her level . The observer cloud that she'd deployed to follow Li Yundong around had dispersed two days ago, so she had to fly back to Tibet to recast the spell . It took her a day and a half to track him down, and then another hour to form the observer cloud . No wonder she felt drained; she'd probably expended too much of her magical powers . It wasn't a major problem, of course . An hour of Da Zhoutian would make her feel refresh again .
Zi Yuan pushed away from the railing and opened the sliding door . Then, she padded into the kitchen to grab a glass of cold water .
"You look tired . "
Zi Yuan turned around so quickly that the glass slipped from her hand . She found herself face to face with none other than Ao Wushuang .
Zi Yuan heaved a sigh of relief . "Good evening, Senior Wushuang . When did you . . . " Zi Yuan swallowed the rest of her words when she realized just how silly they would sound . Those from the Fox Zen School were masters of the stealth arts, and Ao Wushuang was the greatest of the Fox Zen School .
Case in point: not many people could sneak up on Zi Yuan like that .
"My apologies," Senior Wushuang said . "I didn't mean to startle you . "
Senior Wushuang drew a tiny loop with her finger . The glass hovered in the air for a few seconds before it landed back in Zi Yuan's hand . Not a single drop of the water had spilled from the glass .
Zi Yuan set the glass on the counter . "You're here to deliver good news, I hope?"
"I'm here . . . " Senior Wushuang leaned her hip against the counter and gave Zi Yuan a pointed look . " . . . to get an update . Because according to you, the Heir should have passed the Zhuji phase by now . " Senior Wushuang arched a brow . "I trust that you've performed the spell successfully? I didn't detect signs of the Heavenly Thunder earlier today, so your timing must've been impeccable . "
Zi Yuan smiled wryly . "No, Senior Wushuang . " Zi Yuan shook her head . "The spell has not yet been cast . "
There was moment of silence .
"But how could—" Senior Wushuang slowly narrowed her eyes . "That's not possible . "
Zi Yuan raised a palm . "There wasn't a need to . "
Another stretch of silence .
Suddenly, Senior Wushuang's eyes widened in alarm . "Oh, dear Heavens . You can't possibly mean that the Heir has failed the Zhuji phase yet again?"
Zi Yuan's gaze snapped up from the counter . "Oh, no, no . That's not it at all . I meant he hasn't made his attempt yet . There has been a . . . " Zi Yuan sighed, then shook her head . "He was sidetracked . "
"What do you mean sidetracked?" Senior Wushuang scowled . "If you tell me that he got sidetracked because of some… some"—Senior Wushuang's face twisted in disgust—"woman other than my disciple, then by Heaven's name I am going to castrate him . "
Zi Yuan had to bite her lip to stifle a laugh . "No, senior . He got mixed up with a group of pilgrims and ended up having to change courses . "
"Change courses? So he's not climbing Mount Duonian anymore?"
Zi Yuan shook her head . "He's headed for the Himalayas now . It's what I suggested to him in the first place . "
"Good call . " Senior Wushuang nodded approvingly at Zi Yuan . "Secluded place, which means he is unlikely to be disturbed there . Besides, there'll be less chance of collateral damage if the Heavenly Thunder strikes . "
Zi Yuan nodded . "Indeed . But it's probably going to take another week for him to get there . "
Senior Wushuang waved her off . "That's fine," she mumbled . "If nothing else, he just bought me more time to come up with a solution to deal with his little conundrum . "
Zi Yuan's back stiffened . "How far are you from a workable solution, senior?"
Senior Wushuang shrugged and said nothing .
"Well, if you must know, I've just scrapped 23 potential solutions off the list . " Senior Wushuang smiled . "Ten more to go . "
Zi Yuan sighed dejectedly . "I just don't know if . . . "
"Why, you're not giving up already, are you?" Senior Wushuang arched a brow . "You know . . . I don't think your master would be too happy if he sees you giving up so easily . "
Zi Yuan's head snapped up at the mention of her master . For a moment there, she and Senior Wushuang just stared at each other . Obviously, it had been a slip of tongue on Senior Wushuang's part as well . Judging from the woman's surprised expression, she hadn't meant to bring up her master in the conversation .
Senior Wushuang looked away first, then cleared her throat . Zi Yuan had dozens of questions for the woman: how did Senior Wushuang know Master; how come Senior Wushuang was wielding Master's sword . Before she could find her voice, however, Senior Wushuang was already speaking . The moment was gone . Zi Yuan had lost her opening to get some answers .
"So . I guess the Heir climbed half of Mount Duonian for nothing, then . Tsk . Tsk . A waste of time . It took him, what? A few days?"
"I wouldn't call it a complete waste," Zi Yuan said .
Senior Wushuang stared at Zi Yuan for a moment . "Really now . . . "
Zi Yuan nodded . "He picked up several useful skills along the journey . " Including how to disperse the clouds in the sky . Which was also the reason why Zi Yuan had to waste half a day flying over to Tibet to recast the observer cloud . Zi Yuan smirked . "Oh, and guess what? The Mahamudra Tantra is now in his hands . "
"The Mahamudra Ta—" Senior Wushuang's eyes widened comically . A second later, those beautiful eyes flashed in anger . "That idiot! What was he thinking?!" Senior Wushuang's eyes narrowed dangerously . "Did he steal it from the temple?"
"No . " Zi Yuan shook her head . "An old lama gave it to him as a thank-you gift after the Heir saved his life . "
"A thank-you gift . . . " Senior Wushuang snorted . "Look, it doesn't matter . He's in trouble . The Buddhists won't like the fact that one of their sacred texts, one that contains all their secrets, had fallen into the hands of a Cultivator . There's probably a legion of guardian sentinels out there hunting for him as we speak . "
"Don't worry, Senior Wushuang," Zi Yuan said reassuringly . "I'm keeping a close eye on him . " Zi Yuan had made sure to increase the size and breadth of her observer cloud to give her a wider visual field .
Senior Wushuang pushed away from the counter and made her way out of the kitchen . "Just make sure he doesn't lose the Fan of Seven Treasures to some bandit . "
Zi Yuan smirked and followed Senior Wushuang until they both reached the balcony . "I'm sure you can easily take it back if it ever comes to that . "
Senior Wushuang snorted . "Reclaiming it is easy . Tracking it down? Not so much . "
"There hasn't been any attempts to steal the fan so far . He's done a pretty decent job keeping it concealed . Well, I'm pretty sure a few pilgrims caught a glimpse of it, but none of them seemed to recognize it . "
Senior Wushuang paused at the railing and turned around . "How long did you say it'll take him to reach the Himalayas? A week?"
"Ten days to be exact . "
A bright flash lit up the balcony . Bahuang materialized in front of Senior Wushuang . "Get some rest," she said . "I need you to be in top form when you perform the spell . The more magical power you expend on the spell, the more time the spell can buy us . " Senior Wushuang's eyes widened slightly . "Ah . Which reminds me . " Senior Wushuang's expression turned serious . "Last time, I told you that the spell can mask his Vital Orb until he passes the Shentong phase . But that's only the best case scenario . "
Zi Yuan sighed . "I thought you said your calculations are rarely wrong . "
"I can only calculate the upper limit of the spell's effect . " There was a pause . "The truth is, there are a lot more factors at play here . Without more data, it is impossible to account for those factors . "
"Right . The speed at which he advances through the Shentong phase . The strength of his Qi . The size of his Qi reserve . The maximum concentration of his Qi . The amount of time he spent training . "
Senior Wushuang nodded . "Exactly . And let's not forget about the Jindan as well . There is no telling exactly when his Vital Orb will become too strong for the spell to mask . Which is why I need to come up with a solution before he learns how to fly . " Senior Wushuang picked up Bahuang . "You'll need to be on constant alert once he passes the third dan . "
Zi Yuan nodded resolutely . "Understood . "
"Get some rest . " Senior Wushuang turned around . "I have to get back soon . Otherwise that silly disciple of mine might be up to no good again . "
The Himalayas stretched out majestically before Li Yundong's eyes . On one side, the side he was standing on, lay the beautiful Tibetan Plateau . And thanks to geography class back in high school, he knew what lay on the other side: the Indian subcontinent .
Thick clouds obscured the Himalayan summit . Even with his telescopic vision, he couldn't see the top of Mount Everest . Try as he might, he couldn't help the fear coursing through his veins as he stood before what appeared to be the greatest obstacle he had ever faced in life . He had only one chance left . This was all or nothing . A voice inside his mind kept reminding him that he could always just turn around and walk away . Maybe he should try again next year, or the year after .
Don't be a coward, Li Yundong .
This was what he had run over thousands of miles for . He had to do this . He had to become stronger for Su Chan . He took a deep breath, then slowly exhaled .
Make the climb, Li Yundong . Make the climb . . .
The first step was liberating . The moment he started climbing, it was full steam ahead . Doubts constantly niggled at his mind, but he squashed them down mercilessly, thinking only of Ao Wushuang's taunt a month ago . You are nothing but an amateur! A weakling!
"Just watch me . . . " Li Yundong growled, leaping over a bunch of thick roots . "I'll show you what I'm made of . . . Just you wait . "
For the first time, Li Yundong truly embraced the fact that he was the Jindan's Heir . So help him God he would try everything in his power to ensure that the Jindan was not wasted on him . Or, at the very least, he would die trying .
At the 1000-meter altitude mark, Li Yundong stopped his climb to take a breather . He didn't really need it, but he figured he would stop to admire the view . It was his first time climbing the Himalayas after all . And sadly, it might also be his last . Stretched out beneath him were vast green plains interspersed with winding rivers that sparkled under the morning sunlight . Li Yundong kicked a rock off the cliff and watched it roll soundlessly down towards the boundless plains . Funny enough, he thought his situation was not much different than the rock: falling off a cliff, coasting in the air thousands of feet above the ground with no idea where it will land next; or whether it will even be in one piece when it hit the ground .
Li Yundong turned away from the cliff and continued his climb . Along the way, he watched the grass beneath his feet slowly thin out . Soon, the ground became slippery . Splotches of green algae smeared across the rocks and soil . Where it wasn't green, the ground was white, covered in snow . It was like a different world up here, with beautiful subalpine conifers lining both sides of the path .
Keep climbing . Just keep climbing .
The further up he climbed, he began to notice something strange . There was snow everywhere, so the temperature had to be below 0 degrees Celsius . The winds were pretty darn strong, too . And yet he didn't feel cold at all . Not to mention that he was walking barefoot . At the 2000-meter mark, he stopped his climb again and walked towards the edge of a cliff . Gone were the beautiful plains he saw earlier . In their place were wisps of clouds and fog . Up here, one could easily delude oneself into believing that one was a Shenxian who lived among the clouds .
White steam rose from his skin, but stopped when he consciously shut the pores of his skin .
Zi Yuan was right . The Himalayas really was a good place to pass the Zhuji phase . He climbed on and paid attention to his body . He wondered what the physical cues would be . So far he hadn't felt anything out of the ordinary .
It wasn't until he passed the 4000-meter mark that he felt it . It began as a reinvigorating sensation inside his body, like he was on top of the world—which wasn't that far from the truth . Something was happening to his meridians . There were these strange pulses occurring in various parts of his body . Each pulse felt like a jolt of electricity . All in all, he counted twelve strong pulses followed by eight weaker pulses . He didn't think those numbers were a coincidence, because the Canon of the Yellow Thearch stated that there were 12 major meridians and 8 extraordinary meridians inside the human body . When the pulses ended, a ball of heat gathered in his lower Dantian . Again, he didn't consciously try to convert his Essence to his Qi; it happened on its own . Moments later, his Qi surged to the top of his head . That sensation reminded him of the first massage Su Chan had given him at the lecture hall .
Then his head started to glow in various colors .
The Convergence of Five Qis .
It was time .