Chapter 203 Recognition
When Li Yundong opened his eyes again, the smooth, fair skin of Zi Yuan's cheeks was the first thing he saw. Her eyes were closed, and she had a serene expression on her face. And judging from her posture and the way she was sitting, she was meditating.
He raised his hands above his head and stretched. Zi Yuan's blinked open as soon as he moved.
"Oh. You're up."
Li Yundong released a long sigh. "What time is it?"
"It's been nearly three hours since you began your first Qi Transmutation cycle."
Three hours? Time sure flies.
"How do you feel?"
Li Yundong chuckled and lowered his arms back down. "Not too bad I suppose. But... I don't feel extra powerful or anything. Um... Actually, I feel just the same. No difference."
The whole thing honestly felt like a long nap.
Zi Yuan was looking past his shoulders. He turned his head and saw the Fan of the Seven Treasures that he'd leaned against the side of the couch when he walked in earlier.
"Why don't you try channeling your Zhenqi into the Fan of Seven Treasures and see what happens?"
Li Yundong swiveled his head around and found Zi Yuan smirking at him.
Indeed, the significance of what Zi Yuan was asking him to do wasn't lost on him at all. All this while, his usage of the Fan of Seven Treasures didn't involve any magic or spiritual energy. Even then, the Fan had proven itself to be capable of terrifying feats of power.
What would happen if he juiced it up with magic?
Li Yundong reached behind him and pulled the Fan of Seven Treasure from the couch towards him. He lay the bulky object down on the floor in front of him, then stared at it warily.
So help him God if he ended up destroying the whole apartment after this training session...
"Go on." Zi Yuan's voice jolted him out of his musings. "What are you waiting for?"
Li Yundong stole a fearful glance at Zi Yuan. Suddenly, this whole thing felt like a terrible idea. Shouldn't they take this somewhere outside the apartment?
"O- Okay." He cleared his throat and sat up straighter. Then, he took a deep breath and ran his fingers along the fan's metallic surface.
He should probably start with just a little bit of Zhenqi.
Baby steps, right?
"Just use the same Qi control techniques, right?" he asked tentatively. "Like the ones I practiced during the Lianqi phase?"
Alright then... He focused his mind on the Zhenqi circling around the surface layer of his Vital Orb.
Here we go…
He mobilized a small portion of Zhenqi and guided it along the Hand's Major Yin Lung Meridian. A moment later, he felt his Zhenqi leave the surface of his palm.
Shit... What's with this weird—
His Zhenqi was met with a resistance the moment it entered the fan, almost as though the fan had some kind of inner defense mechanism. The resistance grew stronger as it tried to push his Zhenqi back into his body. He kept pushing back against the resistance and, with some effort, managed to keep his Zhenqi inside the fan. Seconds later, he felt something else: his Zhenqi had lost some of its vitality; like the fan had extracted something from his Zhenqi.
He slowly guided his Zhenqi back into his body. When he felt the last of his Zhenqi entering his meridian, he cracked open an eye to take a peek at the fan.
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
The fan lay as still as a dead fish.
He opened both eyes and looked towards Zi Yuan. "Um..."
Amusement shone through Zi Yuan's eyes as she studied him. Somehow, she managed to make him feel about as helpless as a three-year-old kid trying to drive a truck.
"Well? What did I do wrong?"
Zi Yuan smiled. "Technically, you didn't do anything wrong."
"But..." Li Yundong's eyes went to the fan again. "It didn't even react. It's like nothing happened."
"Nothing? Are you sure about that?"
Li Yundong's gaze went from the fan to Zi Yuan's face. One of her brows was arched.
Then, he spent a while recalling every sensation he'd felt during the process.
"My Zhenqi was met with some kind of resistance," he said.
"Uh-huh… What else?"
"After that it was like... like something was drawn out of my Zhenqi?" Li Yundong paused to take a look at Zi Yuan. Something clicked inside his mind. "It was my spiritual energy, wasn't it? The fan consumed my spiritual energy."
"Okay..." Li Yundong frowned. "So did it even work?" He gestured at the fan. "It didn't react at all."
He didn't expect the fan to suddenly explode or anything, but he figured it would at least glow.
Zi Yuan shook her head like she would at a child who'd just told her something utterly nonsensical.
"What?" he asked.
"Suppose that an item costs a million yuan," she said with a quirk of a brow. "Do you expect to buy it for ten yuan?"
Oh. So he had to channel more spiritual energy into the fan was what she was saying.
Right. Stupid. He cleared his throat, suddenly feeling as though his cheeks were on fire.
"More spiritual energy. Got it."
"If this were a thousand years ago, the fan wouldn't respond to you even if you spend the next two years channeling your Zhenqi into it."
Li Yundong stared at Zi Yuan for a moment, unable to believe what he'd just heard. "T-Two years?"
"At your current level, yes." Zi Yuan's eyes darted to his face. "Not even a single budge after two years."
Two frigging years. You've gotta be shitting me.
"Hold on. You said a thousand years ago. How is the fan different now compared to a thousand years ago?"
"Grandmaster Pan Shi was still wielding it at that time," Zi Yuan answered. "Unlike now, the Great Fox Elder's spiritual signature inside the fan was still thriving..."
"A spiritual signature is exactly as its name implies. It is a mark indicative of the presence of spiritual energy."
That sounded a bit similar to DNA…
"Remember..." Zi Yuan's expression turned serious. "The magical object chooses its master." She pointed at the Fan of Seven Treasures. "And that is exactly what you need to do in order to pass the second dan of the Shentong phase. You need to get the Fan of Seven Treasures to choose you as its new master." Zi Yuan placed her hand back onto her lap. "The most basic way to use your spiritual energy isn't to cast spells, but to use it to gain the allegiance of a magical object." Zi Yuan's expression softened. "That resistance you felt earlier is due to the spiritual energy of its current owner trying to expel yours." Zi Yuan shot him a pointed look. "And yes, until you can get the fan to recognize you, Grandmaster Pan Shi is still its owner."
Li Yundong stared wordlessly at the Fan of Seven Treasures.
Suddenly, Zi Yuan chuckled. "It's amazing how Grandmaster Pan Shi's spiritual signature remains inside the fan even after a thousand years."
Zi Yuan shook her head in awe. "It proves just how powerful his spiritual energy was when he was at his prime."
"Spiritual signatures weaken with time?"
"Without constant exposure to the owners' Qi, then yes, they do."
Li Yundong nodded and stared at the fan again. That must be why Zi Yuan had asked him to keep it beside him at all times.
After a while, Li Yundong chuckled and shook his head.
"What's so funny?" Zi Yuan asked.
"How does it even work?" he asked, glancing over at Zi Yuan.
"It's not that complicated. Just keep channeling your Zhenqi into the fan and try to fight against its resistance," Zi Yuan explained. "Your spiritual energy will do the rest by slowly erasing Grandmaster Pan Shi's spiritual signature from the fan." There was a pause. "The task might take a while, but it should be possible even for someone at your level. It's been a thousand years since Grandmaster Pan Shi last wielded it after all..."
Li Yundong wanted to ask how long "a while" was, but he held his tongue in the end. He figured it wouldn't be as long as that trip to Tibet. At least that was what he hoped.
"Okay. What actually happens when the fan acknowledges me as its owner?"
Would it involve some kind of ritual?
"Several things," Zi Yuan said. "At the exact moment a magical object acknowledges you as its owner, a connection will be formed between your Spirit and the magical object's Spirit."
Li Yundong glanced down at the fan, then looked back up at Zi Yuan. "Magical objects have Spirits?"
"Of course." Zi Yuan smiled, then nodded at the Fan of Seven Treasures. "You'll soon see that it has a will of its own."
"Now pay attention. This is very important," Zi Yuan said sternly. "That connection between your Spirit and the object's Spirit is a sign of ownership. You understand?" There was a pause. "Do you know how you managed to take the damask from Hongling back then?"
Li Yundong shook his head. He just remembered telling himself to do everything in his power to stop that f*cking thing from hurting Su Chan. He didn't recall doing anything special.
"Your Spirit severed the connection between Hongling's Spirit and the damask's Spirit. That's how you took it from her," Zi Yuan said wryly. "The damask no longer recognized Hongling as its owner after you grabbed it from thin air."
Li Yundong could feel his own eyes going wide. "Wait. You mean I became the owner of the damask after I took it?"
Zi Yuan shook her head. "I don't think so." She quirked a brow. "You didn't even have a Vital Orb back then. There was no way you could've claimed ownership without exposing it to your Zhenqi."
Hold on. Something didn't add up.
"Then how did I steal it in the first place?" Li Yundong frowned. "You said it yourself. I didn't even have a Vital Orb..." He glanced down at the Fan of Seven Treasures on the floor. "And I had to send my Zhenqi into the damask for it to recognize me, right? Like I'm trying to do with the fan?"
Zi Yuan shook her head. "You couldn't establish ownership, that's true. But that doesn't mean you couldn't break the existing connection between the object and its current wielder." Zi Yuan raised a finger. "And you're forgetting something else."
Li Yundong sat there and waited for her to carry on her explanation.
"Again, what is Zhenqi?" Zi Yuan prompted. "We discussed this earlier."
"A condensed form of Qi that's been fortified by the Spirit."
"Precisely. The Jindan's Aura is itself a highly condensed form of Qi, you see? And during the battle, your Spirit must've been strong enough to fortify the Aura to convert it into a powerful form of Zhenqi..." She paused and studied him for a moment or two. "Did you feel any resistance when you grabbed the damask back then?"
Li Yundong nodded.
"Er… There was some kind of red aura pushing back against my hand."
Zi Yuan nodded. "That was Hongling trying to fight back. But her Spirit is weaker than yours." Zi Yuan chuckled wryly. "Her spiritual signature got erased by the Jindan's Aura the moment your hand touched the damask's surface."
Li Yundong cleared his throat. "Will she still be able to use it after this?"
"Of course." Zi Yuan shrugged. "She just has to do what you're trying to do now." Zi Yuan nodded at the Fan of Seven Treasures. "She has to expend her spiritual energy to regain ownership of the damask."
"Look…" Li Yundong raised his hands defensively. "I had no choice, okay? She tried to kill—"
Zi Yuan silenced him with a palm. "I'm not blaming you. I already told the girl not to act rashly, but she didn't listen. So she paid the price..." Zi Yuan shook her head slightly. "Anyway. We've digressed. Where were we...? Ah. Right. Like I said, the formation of Spiritual connection will be the first thing that happens during the recognition. After that comes the awakening."
"The moment the magical object… comes to life, so to speak." Zi Yuan flicked a glance at him. "This is when you'll see the magical object act as though it has its own free will."
"Wait… You mean it'll start moving around on its own?"
"It'll do more than that, actually." Zi Yuan chuckled. "It'll use its owner's spiritual signature as a guide and start seeking out the owner's Zhenqi."
Li Yundong glanced at the fan again. She made it sound as though magical objects could act like pets.
Li Yundong looked up to find Zi Yuan giving him an encouraging nod. "Work on it until you succeed."
Li Yundong took a deep breath and sat up straighter. "How long do you think it'll take?"
"It doesn't matter how long it takes," Zi Yuan said in a tone of finality. "You'll keep trying until the fan recognizes you as its true owner."
With that, Zi Yuan closed her eyes and went back to her meditation.
Five minutes into his training, Li Yundong noticed the first sign of progress. The movement had been subtle and slight (just a tiny jolt), but it was there and he saw it with his own eyes.
Indeed, if the whole thing had taken place before Su Chan came into his life, he would've assumed that his eyes were playing tricks on him. Or, at the very least, he would've ducked under the table for cover because he thought an earthquake had hit Tiannan City.
Now it just filled his heart with joy.
Li Yundong shot a glance at Zi Yuan, wondering if she had noticed the fan's subtle movement as well. Her eyes were still closed, and she still had that serene expression on her face. Clearly, she hadn't noticed it. Or if she did, she had dismissed it as something trivial and totally unworthy of her attention.
Li Yundong closed his eyes and touched his hand to the fan's surface once more. Then, he channeled more Zhenqi into the fan, holding nothing back this time. While he worked, he kept track of the fan's reaction.
The fan didn't move again after that, but he knew he was making progress because the resistance against his Zhenqi was gradually weakening.
He kept working and working until the fan started to move again. However, this time it wasn't just a simple jolt, but a strong and persistent vibration. He opened his eyes and released a long breath; a jet of white gas shot out from between his lips when he exhaled.
The Fan of Seven Treasures was shaking like crazy.
Li Yundong flinched when it suddenly spread open to reveal its leaves. But before he even blink, the fan closed up and took the shape of a Bo staff once more.
For minutes on end, Li Yundong just sat there and watched the fan's movements. The fan slid and thrashed violently against the floor, opening and closing on its own once every few seconds or so. The whole display gave him the impression of some kind of giant bug having a seizure on the floor.
It was creepy as hell.
Li Yundong stole a glance at the clock. About an hour had passed since he began channeling his Zhenqi into the fan.
He looked back down at the fan, which was still twitching around.
He hadn't expected to make this much progress in just an hour's time. Well. It seemed like the process might not take long after all.
"No breaks." Zi Yuan's stern voice pulled him out of his thoughts. "Keep going until it acknowledges you."
Li Yundong looked up from the fan. Much to his surprise, Zi Yuan's eyes were still closed.
"Right now it's at its weakest," Zi Yuan continued. "This is the best time to subdue it and secure its allegiance. Don't waste the opportunity."
Li Yundong nodded even though he knew that Zi Yuan couldn't see him with her eyes closed—or maybe she could, who knows.
He took a deep breath and returned his focus to his Vital Orb, where his Zhenqi swirled around with unparalleled vigor. It still amazed him sometimes how far he'd come.
After a while, he was interrupted by Zi Yuan's voice. "Open your eyes and take a look at what's happening."
The fan was no longer moving about; instead, it lay completely still on the floor. If it weren't for the golden glow on the fan's surface, he would've thought that his attempt had failed. Then, upon a closer look, he realized that the golden glow on the fan's surface wasn't uniform at all: it seemed to be following the path of his Zhenqi as it moved around inside the fan.
He shot a questioning glance at Zi Yuan.
"Focus," Zi Yuan snapped. "Eyes on the fan. You're almost there now—"
The Fan of Seven Treasures shot into the air and then spread open like a peacock's tail.
Li Yundong stared at the wonderful sight before him, unable to say a word.
"Come on. Give it more Zhenqi," Zi Yuan said without taking her eyes off the fan. "This is a good sign."
Li Yundong pushed wave after wave of his Zhenqi into the fan. As he did, the golden glow began to spread across its leaves. One thing about the fan did jump out at him: the inscriptions of the Diamond Sutra were glowing the brightest.
Suddenly, the fan emitted a bright flash of golden light. Li Yundong grunted and raised his arms to shield his eyes. Moments later, he heard a strange buzzing sound, which was coming from the fan as well.
Amidst the buzzing, he also heard the shuffling of feet.
Zi Yuan's voice came from somewhere beside him.
Li Yundong lowered his arms and let his eyes adjust to the brightness. The whole living room was now bathed in a golden luminescence, yet nothing he saw could compare to the sight of the Fan of Seven Treasures, which was now hovering slightly below the ceiling.
The word glorious couldn't even do it justice.
The inscriptions of the Diamond Sutra were like glowing embers, outshining the golden light that formed its background.
Li Yundong felt as though his feet were moving on their own when he took a few steps forward. As he got closer to the fan, he eventually realized the cause of that buzzing sound he heard earlier: the leaves of the fan were vibrating at a high frequency.
Once again, Li Yundong's eyes were drawn towards the glowing inscriptions of the Diamond Sutra. Even though he didn't understand any of those symbols, he could still feel the sheer power each of them was emanating. The words drew him in, enticing him, beckoning him forward.
It was like some kind of spell.
He wondered if this was what it felt like to be in the presence of Gautama Buddha.
Li Yundong stopped walking when the Fan of Seven Treasures began to move. It floated down towards the floor, towards him. Then, it spun a few times along its rivet and drifted across the room as though it was inspecting each corner of the apartment. Li Yundong stood there and watched, utterly fascinated.
"The awakening..." Zi Yuan remarked.
Li Yundong had heard her, but he didn't acknowledge her words; he couldn't take his eyes off the fan.
The fan flew into the kitchen, then into the bedroom. A minute later, it returned to the living room and flew circles around Li Yundong.
Suddenly, the fan stopped short and turned sharply towards Zi Yuan. Another burst of golden light filled the room; the fan snapped shut, then spread open again.
The inscriptions on the leaves weren't just glowing now: they were burning.
Flames rose from the surface of the leaves (from the inscriptions) like small tentacles of fire. Those fiery tendrils drifted towards Zi Yuan like they were about to engulf her in flames.
"H- Hey... What's going on?" Li Yundong stammered as horror filled his chest. The Fan of Seven Treasures seemed hostile towards Zi Yuan.
Zi Yuan just stared at the flames, completely unperturbed.
"Oh. It's nothing to worry about," Zi Yuan said. "It's just part of the process."
It was beyond Li Yundong how Zi Yuan could still sound so casual in the face of such threatening presence.
"Remember what I said about the awakening?" Zi Yuan said. "Well. This is it. Right now, it's trying to identify its owner based on the spiritual signature left inside it. While doing so, it will reject and act hostile towards those whose Qis don't match the signature."
"Amazing..." he whispered.
The fan retreated from Zi Yuan and drifted back towards him. Li Yundong reached out with a hand to touch it, but then held back at the last second. He turned his head to look at Zi Yuan. "Um... How do I use it?"
"When a magical object first acknowledges its owner, it will protect its owner on its own," Zi Yuan said without taking her eyes off the fan. "You don't have to try to control it for now."
"What? That doesn't even make sense."
How was he supposed to wield it without having the ability to control its powers?
"The magical object has its own spiritual energy," Zi Yuan explained. "Right now, the fan's spiritual energy is more powerful than yours. You can only start controlling it when your spiritual energy exceed the magical object's spiritual energy in terms of strength."
"But that night on the rooftop, I could—"
"That doesn't count." Zi Yuan glanced at him. "You had the Jindan's help that time."
"Okay. So I just have to keep growing my spiritual energy until I can wield the fan?"
"Yes," Zi Yuan said. "Well, as your spiritual energy grows, you can do more than just wield it. You can even reform or transmute it."
"So what should I do now?" Try as he might, he couldn't keep the excitement out of his voice.
Zi Yuan chuckled. "Isn't it obvious?"
Li Yundong stared at Zi Yuan. "Er... Not to me?"
Zi Yuan smiled at him. "You greet it, of course!"
Li Yundong chuckled. "Geez. You make it sound like I'm meeting a pet for the first time."
Zi Yuan's expression sobered. "There are two things I want you to remember."
"From now on, you need to keep the fan with you at all times, do you understand?"
Li Yundong nodded.
"Good. Now, for the second thing. Do not use the fan lightly, especially when you're facing an opponent whose spiritual energy is more powerful than yours."
Understanding dawned upon him. "Otherwise the fan might choose them as its new owner…"
Zi Yuan nodded. "What you did to Hongling's damask, someone else could do to you." She nodded at the Fan of Seven Treasures. "A Cultivator can easily remove your spiritual signature if their spiritual energy is more powerful than yours." Zi Yuan gave him a pointed look. "When that happens, the fan will abandon you and acknowledge them as their new owner."
Such fickle creatures…
"Understood," Li Yundong said with a grave nod. "I'll watch out."
"Alright then!" Zi Yuan grinned. "Time for you to get acquainted with your first magical object."
Li Yundong turned away from Zi Yuan to face the Fan of Seven Treasures.
The fan snapped shut at the slightest touch of his hand and once again took the form of a Bo staff. Even the golden glow on its surface had vanished. Li Yundong withdrew his hand and glanced sideways at Zi Yuan.
Zi Yuan gave him an encouraging nod.
Li Yundong took a deep breath and stepped forward. The dark Bo staff reoriented itself until it was hovering in the air horizontally. Then, it floated downwards until it was hovering right in front of his chest.
Li Yundong stroke along the fan's rivet, leaving a trail of golden glow on the fan's surface. The glow disappeared once again when he removed his hand. Li Yundong reached out and wrapped both arms around the fan's body. Surprisingly, he could feel the full weight of the fan the moment it fell into his arms—the fan was no longer hovering.
Li Yundong gripped the fan tighter and turned around to face Zi Yuan.
Zi Yuan's eyes had glazed over slightly, and there was an uncharacteristic gentleness in them. She was technically looking at him (or right through him), but he doubted that it was his image that she saw—it was like she was living inside a different world, a world of old memories.
"Congratulations, Li Yundong," Zi Yuan said gently. "You're now the owner of the Fan of Seven Treasures and a true Cultivator. Welcome to the Cultivation world."