Chapter 244 Into the Fray
Mo Ahshi strode towards the large box hovering above the living room. Seconds later, Mo Ahshi stopped in front of the box and began stroking its surface with her hand. "Hah! I never thought I'd live to see this day!" Mo Ahshi unleashed a peal of mirthless laughter. "The great Ao Wushuang, completely at my mercy!!" Mo Ahshi removed her hand from the box's surface. "Oh... Don't you worry, Ao Wushuang. I won't kill you just yet. I want you to see with your own eyes how I destroy everything you hold dear!" Mo Ahshi's eyes glinted murderously. "I will kill every single person you know, starting with that disciple of yours!" Mo Ahshi unleashed another round laughter. "And then? Heh. And then I will tear the Fox Zen School apart, brick by brick. And you're going to watch, Ao Wushuang. You're going to watch as I take everything away from you. Everything, you hear me?" Mo Ahshi tapped the surface of the box with a finger. "Everything!!!"
Mo Ahshi lowered her finger and flipped over her hand; the box shrank and transformed back to a clock before landing on Mo Ahshi's waiting palm. Then, with a quick flicked of her wrist, the clock slid back into Mo Ahshi's sleeve. An eerie silence swathed the living room, which was now bereft of Ao Wushuang's existence.
Mo Ahshi stood at the center of the living room, her eyes scanning all over the place. Finally, her eyes settled on one of the bedrooms whose door was closed.
A smirk tugged at the corners of Mo Ahshi's lips.
"Come out now, you foolish child!" Mo Ahshi said loudly. "I know you're here!"
Mo Ahshi rotated her wrist so that her right palm was facing the ceiling. Wisps of green mist rose from the surface of Mo Ahshi's palm, forming a swirling ball.
"I managed to seal your master away," Mo Ahshi said loudly. "Do you actually think you stand a chance against me?"
Seconds passed in silence.
Mo Ahshi floated across the living room towards the bedroom, and then hovered just in front of the closed door. Above her palm, the green ball of mist continued to swirl.
"You know I have ways to flush you out," Mo Ahshi drawled. "So why don't you make things easier for the both of us and come out willingly. I don't want to have to use my spells on you..."
A smug look spread across Mo Ahshi's face. A bunch of scare tactics should work on that timid child, Mo Ahshi thought.
A minute later, the smug look on Mo Ahshi's face turned into a scowl.
"Still not coming out, huh?" Mo Ahshi released a low growl. "You forced my hand, then!"
The green ball of mist shot out of Mo Ahshi's palm and spread out to all corners of the room like tendrils.
"Hah!" The bedroom door split asunder the moment Mo Ahshi's flung her arm upwards.
"Final warning," Mo Ahshi growled. "Step out of the room. Now!"
Seconds later, Su Chan's head poked out from behind the door jamb.
Overwhelmed by a sense of smug satisfaction, Mo Ahshi withdrew the green mists and lowered her hand. Mo Ahshi stepped towards the door, reveling in the way in which Su Chan lips were trembling in fear.
"Now, now..." Mo Ahshi drawled. "Don't be afraid, dear child. I still have some use for you!"
"Ahhhh!" Su Chan screamed when Mo Ahshi burst forward with astounding speed.
However, instead of striking the acupoint she'd been aiming for, Mo Ahshi's fingers went through Su Chan's body. A split second later, Su Chan's body flickered a few times before vanishing entirely.
A talisman fluttered in front of Mo Ahshi's face.
Mo Ahshi's angry scream shook the entire room. She snatched the talisman from the air and crumpled it into a ball.
The ball burst into flames a second later.
"Gu Feng!!!" Mo Ahshi shouted at the front door. "Get your lazy ass in here!"
The front door creaked open, and Gu Feng stepped in.
"Find the girl and bring her to me!" Mo Ahshi snarled. "She most likely has the sword."
Su Chan moved swiftly and soundlessly down the mountain trail. Night had fallen, as evident from the darkness surrounding her. Which meant that she'd been running for at least two hours. On the bright side, she was nearly at the foot of Mount Tianlong. Suddenly, Su Chan froze. A split second later, she gasped and whirled around, though she didn't know why she did it; even without the darkness, she was too far down the mountain to see the Fox Zen School.
Her clone's memories came flooding into her mind, which meant that it had just been destroyed.
Su Chan's knees buckled, and she crumbled to the ground in a sobbing heap. Her clone had heard everything from inside the bedroom.
"No, Master..." Su Chan sobbed. "Please, no..."
Not now, Chan'er. Not here. Hide... Hide... Don't let them find you...
Su Chan crawled along the ground, not knowing at all where she was heading since it was dark and her vision was blurry with tears. She fumbled around in the darkness, ignoring the sting in her knees as they scraped along pebbles and loose twigs. About a minute later, her hands finally touched something solid—some kind of huge rock.
Hide, Chan'er... Hide...
Su Chan scrambled to her feet and moved off the trail. She claimed a spot behind the rock and pressed her back against its hard surface. By then, her sobs had reduced to whimpers and sniffs, though the sharp ache inside her chest persisted. Su Chan had no idea what sort of trickery Mo-shibo had employed, but that evil witch had managed to capture Master. Her clone did hear something about a threaded hairpin and some traversing soul thingy, but Su Chan hadn't a single clue what those terms meant. All she knew was that Mo-shibo was in possession of several magical weapons: that hairpin; that unknown thingy that she used to capture Master; and soon, even Bahuang.
Su Chan had no idea what Master had done with Bahuang, but Mo-shibo couldn't seem to find it back at their quarters. At least that was what Su Chan had assumed, since the evil witch was demanding Master for it.
Maybe Master had hidden it somewhere. Master was a genius after all...
For a fleeting moment, Su Chan allowed herself to believe that perhaps Master could somehow escape from captivity. Master was clever and full of tricks. Maybe Master would escape soon and come find her in Dongwu City?
Alas, the weight of reality crashed down on Su Chan's optimism. There wasn't a single sign of Master when her clone had stepped out of the bedroom earlier. Even Master's scent was gone. It was like Master never even existed.
Su Chan's shoulders trembled once again.
"It's all your fault, Chan'er..." Sobs overwhelmed her for a moment. "I... I shouldn't have run. I should've gone to Master's aid, and then perhaps Master wouldn't be..."
You fool! Su Chan chided herself. Master told you to run, remember? You promised her that you'd listen to everything she says! So suck it up and keep moving!
Su Chan sniffed and ran the back of her hand over her eyes to dry her tears.
What would be the point in revealing her presence? Su Chan stood no chance against Mo-shibo; she'd be dead as soon as she showed herself.
Relief coursed through Su Chan, and she exhaled shakily.
Indeed, Master was wise when she gave Su Chan the cue to run. Su Chan could see it clearly now, Master's game plan. Su Chan's escape was probably Master's only chance of surviving. She was no use to Master dead, after all! Only by escaping could Su Chan seek external help and then come to Master's rescue.
Su Chan gazed upwards at the night sky, wondering when the Heavenly Thunder would come.
Yundong would definitely help her. The Jindan's Heir was a force to be reckoned with. Even Master acknowledged his strength. Plus, there was now an alliance between Yundong and Zi Yuan, so maybe Zi Yuan would lend a hand as well. Oh, and Ruan Hongling!
Let's see here...
The Fan of Seven Treasures should've recognized Yundong as its owner by now, which meant there would be would be at least… three weapons on their side? Yes. Three magical weapons on their side, assuming that Yundong had returned the damask back to Ruan Hongling. Well, Zi Yuan might possess more than one magical weapon, but she was only referring to the bare minimum here.
But first, Su Chan had to get off this mountain and get to some place safe. The whole plan would be foiled if she got caught by Mo-shibo now.
Anger rose inside Su Chan at the thought of Mo-shibo.
"Mo Ahshi..." Su Chan growled, forgoing the honorific.
How dare she. How dare she mess with one of the two people Su Chan ever loved. How dare she!
Su Chan rose to her feet and unclenched her fists. She took a deep breath and performed a few hand signs.
The Shadow Cloak.
A spell that would allow Su Chan to conceal her Qi and, quite literally, cloak her presence. Master had taught her that spell years ago.
After taking one last look at the summit of Mount Tianlong, Su Chan turned around and moved stealthily down the mountain path.
Su Chan would obey every single one of Master's orders except for one.
Hang on tight, Master. Chan'er is coming back for you...
Gu Feng strode into Mo Ahshi's quarters.
"Did you find the girl?" Mo Ahshi asked without turning around to face her visitor.
Gu Feng shook his head. "No."
Mo Ahshi spun around abruptly and shot a murderous glare at the man. "What do you mean, no?"
"I've looked everywhere," Gu Feng retorted. "But there aren't any signs of the girl. She's covered her tracks well."
Mo Ahshi's face twisted in disgust.
"Ugh! You useless piece of trash!" Mo Ahshi growled. "You can't even do one thing right!"
Gu Feng's eyes darted to Mo Ahshi's face briefly before he let out a mocking snort.
"Don't think you can start ordering me around," Gu Feng sneered. "Don't forget that I'm from the Wanxiang Sect." Gu Feng glared at Mo Ahshi. "You have no authority over me!"
Mo Ahshi's arm twitched against her side.
Gu Feng failed to notice Mo Ahshi's rising anger as he continued his mockery. "Besides... Weren't you the one who allowed the girl to escape in the first place?" Gu Feng smirked. "Yeah, that's right. She escaped from right under your nose!"
A vicious look spread across Mo Ahshi's face as she glared daggers at Gu Feng. "What did you say?!"
Gu Feng scrambled backwards in fear. "W- Whoa, whoa... W- What do you think you're doing? Y-You wouldn't dare harm a single hair on me!"
Mo Ahshi took a few steps closer despite Gu Feng's warning.
Suddenly, Gu Feng stopped moving backwards and held his ground. "Fine! Come on, then! Kill me! Let's see how you handle it when the Great Seer starts suspecting something fishy."
Mo Ahshi halted her steps and stared at Gu Feng. A smug look began to take shape on Gu Feng's face.
"That's right..." Gu Feng said. "Think about how much your plans would be affected if the Great Seer starts poking his nose around."
Mo Ahshi schooled her features and took a deep breath.
"I'll let you off the hook this time," Mo Ahshi grumbled, then paused to look at Gu Feng. "Alert the Great Six. Tell them that there's been a change of plans. The joint assault on the Fox Zen School will be moved ahead of schedule!"
"Who do you think you are? The head honcho of the Cultivation world?" Gu Feng sneered. "You think you can order the Great Six around and have them do your bidding?" Gu Feng snorted. "You overestimate yourself."
Mo Ahshi burst forward and hoisted Gu Feng upwards by his throat.
Gu Feng gasped and started thrashing against her tight grip. "L- Let... me... go..."
"You fool!" Mo Ahshi snarled. "The Great Six should feel lucky to have me on their side! They couldn't even find the Fox Zen School's location let alone launch an all-out assault on it if I hadn't infiltrated the foul place in advance!" Mo Ahshi tightened her fingers around Gu Feng's neck. The act drew a sharp gasp from Gu Feng. "Who do you take Liu Ye for, huh? You think the Great Seer is a fool like you? I've just sealed Ao Wushuang away, and her annoying disciple is gone without a trace! It's just a matter of time before Liu Ye notices something wrong. We're gonna miss our opening if we don't move the attack ahead of schedule."
Gu Feng gasped for air and kicked out with his legs. "L- Let me go! Y- You... You'll only make things worse if… if you kill me..." Gu Feng gasped again. "How... are you... going... t- to explain it to Liu Ye if... if I go missing too?"
Mo Ahshi released a roar and flung Gu Feng away. A loud crash sounded, followed by a series of coughs.
Mo Ahshi pointed her finger at the man sprawled on the floor. "I would've ended your pathetic life ages ago if it wasn't for the fact that you're still of some use to me." Mo Ahshi lowered her finger and laughed darkly. "The Wanxiang Sect? You're threatening me with that pathetic little sect of yours? Give me a break!" Mo Ahshi shot the man a menacing look. "Even the Head of your miserable little sect have to bow to me let alone a nobody like you!" Mo Ahshi pointed her finger at Gu Feng. "I've been planning this for nine years. So if you dare do something to jeopardize my plans, if you so much as get in my way? You mark my words, I'll make you suffer a death so slow and painful that you'll be begging me for death!"
Gu Feng recovered from his coughing fit and stood up from the floor with shaky legs. "U- Understood. Destroying the Fox Zen School is the Great Six's common goal. I- I'll notify them right away!"
Mo Ahshi turned around with a flick of her sleeve.
"Two weeks," she said. "Two weeks, and not any longer. With the Great Six attacking it from the outside and me launching an assault from the inside? We can end this foul school once and for all!"
Li Yundong exited the First People's Hospital with Zhou Qin in tow. And yes, Zhou Qin had walked out on her own two feet as though she had never been crippled before.
"How are you gonna get home?" Zhou Qin asked once they had reached the curb.
Li Yundong scanned his surroundings, hoping to spot Zi Yuan's car.
Zi Yuan didn't specify a rendezvous when he called earlier, just that he should look for a red Hongqi once he passed the hospital's front entrance.
Zhou Qin cleared her throat.
"I could ask my father to drive you back if you want."
Ah. There she is...
Li Yundong smiled at Zhou Qin. "Nah, it's alright. I've got my ride." He pointed at the red sedan across the street.
Zhou Qin looked across the street and visibly froze.
Li Yundong frowned at her reaction, though he didn't comment.
The sedan's door swung open, and Zi Yuan stepped out from the driver's side.
"Thanks for the offer though," Li Yundong said.
Silence spread between them as Zhou Qin stared at the sedan across the street with a guarded look on her face.
Zi Yuan had evidently spotted him too as she was staring back at them from across the street. With her lithe figure leaning against the car, Zi Yuan was very much the definition of poise. Pretty much everything about her screamed elegance and class, like she was the product of years of good breeding and stellar upbringing. She stood there quietly, evidently unfazed by the sight of Zhou Qin's recently-acquired ability to stand. A smile tugged at Li Yundong's lips. The level of self-possession that Zi Yuan had never ceased to amaze Li Yundong. Then again, he supposed he should expect nothing less from a living goddess.
Li Yundong turned away from Zi Yuan and the car to face Zhou Qin.
"Well, I'm gonna head home now." His gaze swept from Zhou Qin's head to her toe. "Everything's good with your legs? Do you feel any pain?"
He was pretty sure that her legs were fine, but there was no harm in checking.
Zhou Qin tore her gaze away from the car and gave him a tight smile.
"No pain at all," she said with a quick shake of her head. "My legs feel as good as new."
"Good." Li Yundong tilted his head towards the hospital's entrance. "You should head back in."
Zhou Qin's eyes flicked towards the hospital's entrance before returning to his face.
"I'll see you off," Zhou Qin said rather insistently. Then, she shrugged. "It's the least I could do for the person who healed me."
Li Yundong smiled and decided to let her have her way.
"So I'll see you tomorrow at the campus, then?"
Zhou Qin smiled. "Yeah."
Li Yundong gave Zhou Qin a parting wave, then moved across the street towards Zi Yuan's car.
Li Yundong had opted to take the backseat since there wasn't enough room at the front seat for the bulky Fan of Seven Treasures. Besides, he had to put his backpack at the backseat anyway, so he might as well sit there too.
"Thanks for picking me up," Li Yundong said once he got settled in his seat.
He looked up and immediately saw Zi Yuan's piercing gaze through the rearview mirror.
She didn't start the car's engine.
Up close, Zi Yuan's posture seemed a bit stiff, like something was troubling her. Frissons of fear coursed through Li Yundong. For a fleeting moment, his traitorous mind conjured up dozens upon dozens of horrible scenarios, most of which involved finding Su Chan's dead body amidst the burning ruins of the Fox Zen School.
Had Ruan Hongling reported back to Zi Yuan?
Had he been right all along that the Fox Zen School was facing imminent danger?
"Is everything alright?" Li Yundong asked, his voice sounding surprisingly even despite the fear raging inside him.
Zi Yuan kept staring at him through the mirror.
Several moments passed before she finally answered.
"Yeah. Everything's fine. Why do you ask?"
Relief washed over him, dispelling some of his fears.
Li Yundong shrugged and shifted his backpack towards the other end of the backseat. "Well. No offense, but you looked like you were about to murder someone."
I just hope that it isn't me, he added silently.
"Ugh." Zi Yuan sighed tiredly. There was a soft thud as Zi Yuan rested her head against the steering wheel.
"Don't even ask," she mumbled.
Li Yundong shifted forward in his seat and poked his head between the two front seats. "Something the matter?"
Zi Yuan lifted her head from the steering wheel and shot him a wry look. "It's nothing serious."
Li Yundong raised a skeptical brow.
"It was just Yan Hua." Zi Yuan rolled her eyes. "That boy kept pestering me about Liuhe." Zi Yuan shook her head slightly. "I'm sorry to say this, but I've just returned the sword to the Yan family home." Zi Yuan sighed. "Otherwise that child's tantrums would drive me insane."
Li Yundong chuckled. Now he was starting to wonder how Ruan Hongling had managed to stay sane all these years.
"You have my sympathy."
Zi Yuan gave him another wry look.
Li Yundong chuckled again.
"And you're okay with it?" Zi Yuan raised a brow at him. "Me returning the sword to the Yan family home?"
"Why wouldn't I be?" Li Yundong waved off her concern. "You can do whatever you want with the sword. I don't really need it."
Zi Yuan made a sound of disapproval. "Such a waste though."
"Hey." Li Yundong shrugged. "It might be worth it if it helps get Yan Hua off your back."
Zi Yuan fired up the engine.
"Now I've got a question for you," Li Yundong said.
Zi Yuan raised a questioning brow at him.
"Where's your driver?"
Zi Yuan turned her head around to look at him. "Pardon?"
Li Yundong smiled. "Your driver." He shrugged. "Someone of your status usually has a personal driver, right?"
"Usually Hongling drives me everywhere, but since she's not around..."
Zi Yuan shrugged.
Li Yundong laughed. "So you have condescended to drive yourself around."
"Hey." Zi Yuan shot him a playful glare. "I can drive, you know? Besides, it's not that bad." She adjusted the rearview mirror. "I quite enjoy the task, actually."
As the sedan pulled away from the curb, Li Yundong allowed his mind to wander. Most of his thoughts were centered on Su Chan and the Fox Zen School.
She's gonna be alright. Ao Wushuang can keep her safe.
After a while, his thoughts strayed towards the secret mission that Zi Yuan had sent Ruan Hongling on. Truth be told, he was dying to know what the mission was about, but he (miraculously) refrained himself from asking. It was pointless to ask anyway.
Hell, he could even imagine Zi Yuan's reply if he asked: probably something along the lines of "that's none of your concern," or "you should just focus on your training."
"So you did it."
Li Yundong looked up and met Zi Yuan's eyes through the rearview mirror.
"You healed Zhou Qin," she added a second later.
"Mm," Li Yundong said. "The treatment worked much better than I thought."
Instead of answering, Zi Yuan returned her eyes to the road.
"It's the least I could do, you know?" Li Yundong said, feeling the need to fill the awkward silence in the car. "I mean... after everything she's done for me... It's just..."
Li Yundong sighed and shook his head, not knowing how to finish his sentence.
"And you feel nothing for her?" Zi Yuan said. "Not even a little?"
Zi Yuan's skeptical tone drew Li Yundong's gaze to the front of the car once again.
The sedan pulled to a stop at a junction just as the lights turned red.
The meaningful look in Zi Yuan's eyes reflected back at him through the rearview mirror. Those profound eyes whose depths Li Yundong couldn't even begin to fathom. Despite everything they'd been through together for the past few months, Zi Yuan was still very much an enigma to him: the mystery surrounding her shibo's disappearance; Wang Yuanshan's mysterious past; and that strange prophecy which became the object of Zi Yuan's obsession.
Every time he thought he had unraveled some truth about Zi Yuan's life, the air of mystery surrounding the woman would thicken.
Eventually, Li Yundong realized that he had failed to observe the most basic rule of social decorum: he had left Zi Yuan's question hanging.
The car had already left the junction, yet Zi Yuan's question remained unanswered.
"No," Li Yundong said, shooting Zi Yuan an apologetic look. "I feel nothing for Zhou Qin beyond friendship."
Zi Yuan drove silently. Even though she didn't acknowledge his answer with any response, he could tell that she was waiting for him to say more.
"If... If I never met Su Chan, then I would probably develop feelings for Zhou Qin." Hell, he had even confessed to her at one point. "But right now?" Li Yundong shrugged. "I really can't feel it. There's no…" Li Yundong paused to search for the right word. "Spark. There's no spark between us, you know?"
"I literally have no idea what that means," Zi Yuan said dryly.
"It's this feeling of... of..." Li Yundong made a few wild gestures with his hand. "Ugh. Well. I guess I can't explain it."
"Sparks, huh?" Zi Yuan mused out loud. "Is that even a thing?"
Li Yundong laughed. "Well. You'll know when you finally meet the man of your dreams."
They drove in silence until the Hongqi pulled into New Hongsheng District ten minutes later. They parted ways at the parking lot, though Zi Yuan did tell him that she would drop by his apartment later. She said she had to stop by Ruan Hongling's apartment first.
When Li Yundong entered his apartment, he was surprised to find Zi Yuan already there. She was standing on his balcony, gazing out into the night sky. One of her arms was stretched beyond the railing, like she was feeling for something in the air. Li Yundong strode into the living room, stopping briefly at the couch to put down his backpack before moving towards the sliding door.
The night breeze skimmed across his cheeks the moment he opened the sliding door.
"It's approaching," Zi Yuan said, lowering her outstretched arm onto the railing.
Li Yundong stepped across the sliding door's threshold onto the balcony. He didn't even have to ask to know what she was referring to. Her dark, ominous tone said it all.
"You can actually feel it?" Li Yundong asked curiously.
Zi Yuan turned and faced away from the railing. One of her brows arched. "Can't you?"
Li Yundong noticed a medium-sized canvas bag leaning against the bottom of the railing, though he didn't ask what it was.
"Not really," Li Yundong said. "I don't feel anything at all."
Zi Yuan turned around with a huff and continued her scrutiny of the night sky. "Well, you would if you were paying enough attention."
Li Yundong sighed.
"I guess so."
He moved forward and took the spot beside Zi Yuan in front of the railing.
The Immovable Wisdom King's cryptic words echoed inside his head. Those who see my body shall embrace the Bodhicitta...
He had already seen Acalanatha's body, up close. And yet he didn't feel anywhere close to enlightenment. Things seemed as bleak as ever, especially in light of recent events.
Movements beside him made him turn. Both of Zi Yuan's arms were now stretched out beyond the railing. Her eyes were closed.
A green glow coated Zi Yuan's body from head to toe like a beautiful veneer.
The Yin Spirit?
"I can feel it," Zi Yuan whispered. "It's in the air. The power of the Heavens, amassing in the sky, growing more potent each day."
Li Yundong pondered her words in silence. He had no idea what kind of sensation Zi Yuan was referring to.
"You've been too distracted by worldly affairs to take notice," she added moments later.
Li Yundong turned away and gazed beyond the railing, trying desperately to catch just a glimpse of what Zi Yuan could evidently see.
A few moments passed before a few whispered words broke through the lull, shattering the companionable quietude between them.
"The Heavenly Eyes have opened."
The ominous undertone of those words made Li Yundong's scalp tingle.
Li Yundong swiveled his head. The green glow on Zi Yuan's body had disappeared.
"The Heavenly Eyes?"
Zi Yuan regarded him silently.
"Have you been inside your Spirit Space recently?"
"No," Li Yundong answered in a heartbeat. Like Zi Yuan said, he'd been too busy with Zhou Qin's treatment.
The tiniest of smiles flitted across Zi Yuan's lips. Her sleeves rustled when she turned her body to lean her hip against the railing.
"Try it now," she said, pointing at the floor.
With a nod, Li Yundong pushed away from the railing and got into a meditative posture on the balcony floor.
"When you reach the point of Guanxiang, reach out with your Zhenqi," Zi Yuan said just as Li Yundong's eyes slid shut. "I bet you've never tried that trick before."
Indeed he hadn't.
It took less than a minute for Li Yundong to complete Xiao Zhoutian and Da Zhoutian; these Qi-control drills felt like child's play now. Next came the Convergence of Five Qis, which took him another minute or so to complete. On the cusp of Guanxiang, he mobilized a portion of his Zhenqi from his Vital Orb, then pushed them out as though he was performing Qi Kinesis. Instead of shaping his Zhenqi into a bubble that enveloped his body, he molded them into tiny tendrils. The sudden appearance of the ocean of white clouds told him that he was now inside his Spirit Space.
Zi Yuan didn't mention anything about completing Guanxiang, so Li Yundong ignored those clouds, focusing instead on stretching the tendrils of his Zhenqi out further into—
A flurry of sensations coursed through him. A sensation of fear, danger, and imminent threat, like he was being watched.
He shifted his focus towards the clouds.
Something was embedded within those clouds...
It was a pair of cold and forbidding eyes.
Li Yundong exited his Spirit Space and withdrew his Zhenqi into his Vital Orb. He stared up at Zi Yuan without getting up from the floor.
"I saw them," he said, suddenly feeling ashamed at how shaky his voice sounded. "Those eyes..."
"The Heavenly Eyes," Zi Yuan said, smiling at him. "Any Cultivator who has passed the Zhuji phase will be able to see them whenever their Spirit is connected to Nature."
Li Yundong blinked a few times, then closed his eyes when realization hit him. "My Zhenqi." He nodded before re-opening his eyes. "My Zhenqi is a condensed form of Qi that has been fortified by the Spirit. So when I send it outside the body..."
"It interacts with Nature," Zi Yuan said, completing his statement.
Li Yundong nodded. "Make sense. It forms a connection between Nature and my Spirit Space."
"Those eyes you saw..." Zi Yuan said, eyeing Li Yundong steadily. "Were they clear? Did they have distinct forms?"
Li Yundong climbed to his feet. "They were clear."
He didn't have to be a genius to know what that implied.
"Usually"—Zi Yuan gave him a brief glance—"for a Cultivator at your current level, the Heavenly Eyes will only appear as vague outlines."
Right. Since he had done the unforgivable, the Heavens now had a vendetta against him.
"Your Vital Orb's strength has grown beyond the spell's ability to mask," Zi Yuan said after a moment of silence. "Wushuang-qianbei's estimate is pretty spot-on..." Zi Yuan let out a sigh. "Come." She turned around and picked up the canvas bag from the floor. "We don't have much time to lose."
Li Yundong followed Zi Yuan through the sliding door, closing it on his way in. Inside the living room, Zi Yuan lowered the canvas bag onto the coffee table and turned around to face him.
She didn't sit down.
Her stiff comportment right then bespoke the gravity of the situation.
It was, after all, a matter of life and death.
"Things will start to heat up from this point onwards," Zi Yuan said. "You're about to enter the fray, so to speak."
Li Yundong held his mentor's gaze unwaveringly.
"Are you ready, Li Yundong?" Zi Yuan's steady voice was the very definition of the calm before the storm.
Li Yundong took a deep breath, then exhaled.