Playing against him was one of his father's, Duke Xing's, guests on retainer. The guest noticed Li Yao beaming after reading the message and knowing Li Yao's plan; he asked sharply, "How fares the investigation on the incident at the Tai Xuan Summit?"
Li Yao gently placed down the jade strip that bore the message. Filled with exhilaration, he could concentrate on the game no more even as his attempts to hide his emotions miserably. "Li Ye has arrived at the Taixuan Monastery and would be starting to study the text left by Celestial Master Yuan. He would have no idea of the fate that awaits him. I have ordered that a magical trap, the Xiaoxuan Formation (literally the Little Mystic Formation), to be placed outside the main hall of the monastery. He will be greatly injured when the trap is sprung."
Hearing this, a satisfied smile lined across the guest's face. "The Xiaoxuan Formation is known to be extremely powerful. Anyone within the circle of the magical formation will hardly be able to escape unscathed. The people of the Taixuan Monastery will be able to slip away with the jade medallion during the commotion."
Confidently, Li Yao said, "There is hardly anyone around who does not covet the jade medallion, the fabled bequest of Prince An. I cannot suffer being implicated in the theft of the medallion. But who would have expected that I had bribed the Taoists priests that walk the halls of the Taixuan Monastery? They would easily slip past suspicion like fish through broken nets. In fact, everyone would believe that the brazen and intrusive Li Ye had suffered the comeuppance of being wounded by one of Celestial Master Yuan's traps. Nobody will think of blaming me for his misfortunes."
The guest could only nod with admiration at Li Yao's elaborate scheme and said, "Li Ye is nothing but a worthless fool. For all his attempts to procure ways to learn and achieve immortality, he would even lose the jade medallion of Prince An. The string of misfortunes that continue to shroud over him like dark clouds will forever keep any supporters or sympathizers at arm's length. The prospects certainly look optimistic for you, Young Master!"
Li Yao sniggered vilely and replied, "Li Ye's succession of the peerage mattered not to me at first, whether he remains a worthless fool or not. But he has only his mother to blame for that. As a noble of the Guanxi area, I cannot allow that offspring of common blood to succeed the name of Prince An! His rise will only bring shame to the imperial clan!"
The guest listened, choosing to remain silent, his head bowing slightly. This was too grave an assertion for him to judge.
The Li Clan was one of the noble families who hailed from the vicinity of He Long (present-day Gansu) in the Guanxi areas (areas west of the Four Ancient Passes of China), one of the Guanxi clans which have been instrumental in helping the Tang Empire to solidify their rule across the entire country. Hence the imperial court had bestowed the Guanxi aristocrats power and influence that eclipsed over the newer noble families of Guandong (areas within the Four Ancient Passes).
Li Ye reached before the stone steps leading into the main hall of the monastery. He marched forward and was about to rise up the flight of old and rough stairs.
Watching him closely were Shangguan Qingcheng and the four guards that followed behind, the two young Taoist priests standing near the buildings flanking the hall and another middle-aged priest. Everyone observed him with unnerving angst and apprehension, their breaths held as if a strong, vice-like grip had clutched at their throats tightly, suffocating them. Only the middle-aged priest remained calm and indifferent, his eyes closed as if meditating serenely.
Li Ye stood reverently with his hands behind his back as he gazed up at the great hall, standing in its shadow while being shrouded by the overwhelming presence of the sanctum that paid homage to Zhenwu Dadi (literally the Prime Celestial Ruler Zhenwu).
Legends had it that brilliant and beautiful shafts of sunlight adorned the speckled clouds in the skies and immortal acolytes and mythical dragons descended from Heaven to receive and welcome him when he had finally attained immortality long ago at Mount Wudang. He became the patron deity of many Taoist monasteries and shrines in the Tang Empire, and according to myths, he was charged with the duty of watching over humanity, protecting them against demons and evil while serving justice and peace. Said to be a deity with tremendous authority and power, he had no lack of worshippers paying respects to him.
"In my previous life, I had fallen into a trap, the Xiaoxuan Formation, that was set here triggered when I stepped upon the stone stairs. Shangguan Qingcheng and the rest of my men were also injured that they too fainted. When we woke up, we discovered that the jade medallion was no more... I had been too foolish and simple in my previous life to believe that it was a means of retribution left by Celestial Master Yuan. I had been hoodwinked into believing that I was not destined to achieve immortality and by trying too hard, I had angered the Heavens and hence I was condemned to suffer judgment from Heaven and the jade medallion was destroyed. To think that the silly me before had not been suspicious of any devious schemes."
Reminiscing in his past, Li Ye giggled weakly. He stretched an arm forward and pointed a finger to the front.
Immediately, his finger felt a solid but invisible barrier. The spot where his finger came into contact with the magical formation immediately rippled like fretted water on a lake's surface, and then appeared a gargantuan shimmering screen that enclosed around the main hall, enveloping the massive building in an impregnable fortress of white, translucent glow.
The sudden appearance of the magical barrier filled Shangguang Qingcheng and her guards with amazement and awe that they began looking at each other. The very same thoughts fleeted across their minds, "So there is indeed magical barriers and traps watching this site."
Turning somber suddenly, Shangguan Qingcheng thought quietly. "With such a barrier barring our way, how could the Heir Apparent advance further? He's neither has any powers nor is he a practitioner of mystic arts... Th-this... This could be nothing but a fool's errand..."
Nobody could have been able to conjure such a magical defensive formation but a practitioner of Qi techniques. Not even Warrior Knights, Warrior Masters or Warriors Mentors possessed the requisite skills for such a feat.
Therefore, Shangguang Qingcheng need not suspect the middle-aged Taoist priest to be the conjurer of the magical formation. He had shown himself to possess no mastery of Qi techniques or skills, being at most a person with the capabilities of a Warrior Mentor.
The same could be said for the two younger priests who were standing near the buildings beside the main hall. They were clearly as surprised about the magical formation as the guards, looking up at the curtains of white sheening glow that enshrouded the great structure like a cloak.
They too were astonished to discover the presence of the formation here.
But had Li Ye began climbing up the stairs like how the middle-aged priest had instructed him to, he would have been earlier injured by the magical formation.
Instead, he had stretched his arm and prodded with his finger, causing the Xiaoxuan Formation to appear and show itself.
Even the slightest difference could have caused another outcome far worst and perilous! By prodding gently with his finger, Li Ye had merely caused it to appear; it had not yet been triggered.
But Li Ye's behavior had filled the middle-aged priest with doubts and bewilderment, who blinked with amazement even as he frowned. Wondering quietly to himself, he thought, "What's happening? Why is he not moving up the steps? Did he know about the formation? Impossible! This cannot be!"
But he tried his best to calm himself lest he exposed himself, consoling himself, "Nevertheless, he would still have to rise up the steps and endure the magical powers of the formation before entering the hall to study the texts. Or else, he would have had to abandon his trip."
Encouraged by these thoughts, the middle-aged priest now stopped feigning his meditation and peered at Li Ye, hoping that he would step upon the stairs without delay.
But it was a hope that was never to be.
Standing before the stone steps leading upwards, Li Ye had not the intention of rising yet. He observed the gleaming sheet of white light before him. This was also the reason he had intentionally set off the guard of the magical formation.
He needed to study the properties of the magical formation before undoing its magic.
Swiftly he noticed a green-emerald calabash gourd made of jade sitting on the altar within the keep of the main hall. Green strands of spiritual energies in the form of fumes rose sprouted from the gourd and rose lazily into the air, flowing endlessly towards the formation like never-ending sustenance.
Li Ye thought quietly, "The gourd seems to be the instrument maintaining this Xiaoxuan Formation. It appears to be a useful tool to keep.
"For all his intents and purposes to avoid being implicated into this matter, I would hardly expect Li Yao to have a practitioner of Qi techniques to remain and hold the defenses of the formation. But what should have been a shrewd move on his part had instead become a boon to me."
Then again, Li Yao was confident that Li Ye knew nothing about magical formations; hence he was hardly worried Li Ye destroying the magical formation that now guarded the main hall of the monastery.
And his beliefs were true: Without any practitioners of Qi techniques in service of the late Prince An, Li Ye might have even been wounded by the formation without noticing its presence.
But instead, standing before the steps of the great hall, Li Ye's eyes shone with a strange glitter. "The conjurer of the formation had not included any fortification to strengthen the formation. Destruction of the formation is possible without the presence of anyone maintaining it coupled with the lack of any fortification. Still, I am hardly a Qi techniques practitioner, despite regaining my former strength of a grandmaster. But with the jade medallion Father had left me, the artifact might be of help."
Standing behind Li Ye, Shangguan Qingcheng, who watched Li Ye not moving after some time, began feeling worried for him, fearing that he was at a loss for not knowing what to do.
How could Li Ye destroy the formation without the help of magical power?
"My lord," she screamed, not being able to hold back her apprehension any longer. She drew her sword and threw herself forward, trying to hack at the glowing wall of white sheen blockading the way forward. Despite having only the skills of a Warrior Master, she would gladly sacrifice herself if this would pave the way for her young master's advancement! Steeled with resolve and strength, she cried, "By hook or by crook I will tear down this formation!"
Shocked at Shangguan Qingcheng's sudden outburst that resembled an angered lioness, Li Ye quickly pulled her back, knowing that triggering brashly the wrath of the magical formation would surely incur heavy damage or even the pain of death.
"My lord..." Shangguan Qingcheng gasped as she staggered unsteadily after being pulled back by Li Ye. She looked at him, her eyes filled with disappointment and doubt.
But Li Ye smiled at her and said, "Be calm, General Shangguan. I will make short work of this formation. Watch me."
Shangguang Qingcheng was stunned by his calm words. Her eyes, gleaming with the sheen of a glittering obsidian, widened with amazement and wonder as if conveying the very words. "But how do you expect to destroy the formation?"
Not far away, the middle-aged Taoist priest had also heard Li Ye speaking. He nearly laughed out loud and thought vilely, "The boy has gone mad. He's dreaming of being able to destroy the formation without possessing magical powers!"
But Li Ye paid no heed to him. He left Shangguang Qingcheng at where he had stopped her and marched to the side of the hall where he stopped before a flowerpot.
He was sure that the site of this flowerpot was the eye of the Xiaoxuan Formation; the very point where it was the weakest.
His guards watched him, confused and perplexed, not understanding how their Heir Apparent could have confidence even though he possessed no magical powers.
Li Ye removed the jade medallion from its harness and looked at it before pressing it down at the flowerpot!
But just when the jade medallion was about to hit the flowerpot, it could go no further! There was a brief flash of green light, and a loud screeching noise began to emit from around the flower pot. The white luminous walls that hindered Li Ye's progress into the main hall started to tremor as the surfaces of the wall began stirring violently like thrashing waters on a river surface.
The gleaming walls of the formation shook continuously, showing no signs of crumbling down; instead, it looked as if it was going to explode.
But Li Ye was hardly perturbed amid the thrashing turbulence. Calmly, he guessed the problem. "I still need more power despite using the jade medallion as a tool..."
There was no doubt that a slight misstep now would not only spell grave injuries to himself, but even instantaneous death.
Just then, in that pressing moment of desperation, faint wisps of spiritual energies in the form of golden dragons sprang out from his Elixir Field. The golden silhouettes, as if answering a summons, circled and coiled proudly around him after emitting a raspy roar of thunder.
As they coiled and circled around him, the spiritual energies in the golden form of dragons swirled about, emanating a strong aura with the semblance of powerful currents of air that shone with a golden luster.
The currents of energies curled and slithered around Li Ye before entering his meridian channels from Elixir Field and gathered at his hand before concentrating at the jade medallion he held!
Immediately, there were massive waves of golden brilliance poured forth and blinded everyone. The surge of light had come from the jade medallion that was now imbued with the powers that he needed!
With the jade medallion held over the flowerpot, the pot began shaking wildly and exploded in a powerful blast.
There was a loud groan, and the explosion sent dirt and grime flying about. The flowerpot had been utterly destroyed!
Cracks began to appear upon the convulsing white shimmering barriers like spider webs.
"Shatter!" Li Ye's brows sharpened with ferocity as he cried the incantation of command loudly.
As commanded, the white sheets of light immediately shattered and crumbled from the sky like falling ashes or even snow, its fragments dissipating into nothingness as if they had hardly existed at all.
The enormous white barriers which had earlier shadowed the entire hall instantly disappeared!
The sudden incident caught everyone off guard that everyone was stunned, perplexed with eyes wide with disbelief.
The middle-aged Taoist priest, aghast with fear and incomprehension, sprang to his feet and immediately staggered backward, mumbling, "How is this possible! He had destroyed the formation!"
Shangguan Qingcheng's hand that held the hilt of her saber trembled uncontrollably that she nearly dropped her weapon. She looked at the main hall and Li Ye, could not quite understand and believe what she had just witnessed. Her cheeks were flushed scarlet-red and her mouth agape widely, hardly being able to speak.