Li Yundong stormed into apartment. Seconds later, he stopped in front of the dining table and crossed his arms in front of his chest.
"You picked up my phone, didn't you?" Li Yundong said, glaring at Ruan Hongling.
Ruan Hongling slapped the table defiantly. "Fine! Yes! It was me! So what?"
Li Yundong gave Ruan Hongling an incredulous look. "My phone is private! You have no right to go through it!"
A loud clack sounded when Ruan Hongling stood up from her chair abruptly. "I did it for your own good!"
"For my own—" Li Yundong's mouth snapped shut. Shaking his head, he stared down at Ruan Hongling in incredulity. For his own good? How could any person be this self-righteous?
"Yeah! That's right! For your own good!" Ruan Hongling yelled, gesturing wildly with her arms. "I didn't want you to be associated with those degenerate fox spirits and—"
"Shut up!" Li Yundong roared, then took a deep, calming breath. Li Yundong pointed a finger at Ruan Hongling's face, which had a stunned expression. "You have no right to call her that. And whom I choose to be with is none of your goddamn business. It's my love life. Mine! So stay out of it!"
"Fine! You think I care!" Ruan Hongling screamed. "I wouldn't even be here helping you out if Elder Sister Zi Yuan hadn't asked me." Then, Ruan Hongling pushed away from the stable and stormed off. Seconds later, he heard the loud slam of the sliding door. The balcony lit up in green, and Ruan Hongling was gone.
Zi Yuan sighed. "I really don't understand this air of hostility between you two. I honestly thought that things would be better once you returned the damask. Looks like I was wrong."
"I've been tolerant with her," Li Yundong growled. "Forget that she nearly killed Su Chan. Now she's going through my stuff?" He shook his head in disgust. "Who does she think she is? Didn't her parents teach her any manners at all?"
"Hongling's parents died when she was very young." Zi Yuan sighed. "I'm the one who raised her. So you can blame me if you want."
Li Yundong glanced at Zi Yuan and noted the sad look on the woman's face. He sighed and decided to let it drop. "Earlier, you said you had something to discuss," he said. "What is it?"
Zi Yuan looked up from the table and stared at him.
Li Yundong raised his brows. "Well?"
Zi Yuan averted her gaze. "Pack your things. You'll be going on a trip."
Li Yundong frowned. "A trip? Where to?"
Zi Yuan looked straight into his eyes. "Tibet."
This was perhaps the most ridiculous thing Li Yundong had ever heard. Which was saying something considering he'd spent—what, a few months?—with Su Chan, who had basically turned "saying random, silly stuff" into an art form.
"Tibet?! What the heck am I supposed to do all the way up at Tibet?"
"To train, what else," Zi Yuan said sternly.
"Can't I do that here?" Li Yundong spread his arms wide. "I was doing fine, wasn't I?"
Perhaps he should show Zi Yuan all those fancy moves he came up with one more time. Surely that counted as progress?
"Cultivators usually prefer to be on a mountain when attempting to pass the Zhuji phase," Zi Yuan said. "Do you know why?"
Li Yundong give Zi Yuan a helpless shrug.
Duh. Would he have reacted this way if he knew?
"The mountain air is fresh and unpolluted," Zi Yuan explained. "Besides, the mountains are where Nature's Qi is most concentrated. You'll be able to feel Nature's power when you're on a mountain. The higher the mountain the better, of course."
"Would that..." Li Yundong shot Zi Yuan a wary look. "Would that help increase my chances of success?"
Zi Yuan nodded. "Of course. That's the whole point." She sighed. "The world has changed. Human activities have damaged and contaminated a lot of the world's mountains and forests. Fortunately, the mountains in Tibet are still very well-preserved. So I think it's best if you train there."
Li Yundong pondered Zi Yuan's words for a moment. Well, if there was a way to improve his chances, he didn't see why not.
Then reality hit him. He suddenly remembered something that would put a damper on this let's-pack-up-and-go-to-Tibet plan.
Li Yundong sighed. "Look, this sounds like a good plan and all. But we have a huge problem."
Zi Yuan arched a brow. "Which is?"
Li Yundong gave her a helpless look. "I'm broke. I can't afford a trip to Tibet."
Zi Yuan stared at him for a moment. "Are you serious right now?"
Li Yundong sighed and lowered his gaze. "Unfortunately, yes." Then, he looked up sharply. "Unless you're planning to sponsor my trip." He deflated and let his head drop. "Which would put me in your debt again..."
"Who says you need to pay for anything at all?" Zi Yuan asked.
Li Yundong's head snapped back up. "Wait. You're really sponsoring for the trip? Oh, wow! Thank you! Look, I really can't thank you enough for everything you've done. Rest assured that once all of this is over, I'll—"
Zi Yuan raised her palm. "Hold your horses," she said. "I never said I'll pay for the trip."
Li Yundong frowned. "What? Then how?"
Zi Yuan gave him a cryptic smile. "Nobody has to pay a single cent."
Li Yundong stared at Zi Yuan for a moment. "Oh!" He slapped his forehead. "Right! Of course! You can fly me there with your powers! Silly me!"
"Nope. You're going to Tibet on your own. Without having to pay a single cent."
Li Yundong snorted. "What do you want me to do, run all the way there?"
Silence spread between them. Li Yundong waited for Zi Yuan to say something, but other than that cryptic smile on her face, he got nothing else.
Horror and disbelief spread through him.
"You're shitting me..." Li Yundong whispered. "This is a joke."
Zi Yuan said nothing.
Seconds later, Li Yundong chuckled. "Of course it's a joke. What am I even asking? Nobody can run from Tiannan City all the way to Tibet. I mean, that's nuts, right?" Li Yundong's smile faltered. "Right?"
After what felt like forever, Zi Yuan's smile broadened and she broke her silence. "You know what? I think you should bring the Fan of the Seven Treasures along. The extra weight can definitely make your training much more effective."
Forget about what he said earlier. This, was the most ridiculous thing he'd ever heard.
Running all the way to Tibet. Was this chick nuts?!
"Running is a great way to improve the concentration of your Qi," Zi Yuan continued. "Which, as I recall, is something that you're lacking. I see this as killing three birds with one stone. One, you can travel cost-free. Two, you can increase your Qi's concentration. And three, you'll be going to one of the best places to pass the Zhuji phase. See? Solving three problems at once."
Li Yundong gaped at Zi Yuan. Nuts. This chick was definitely nuts.
Zi Yuan sighed. "What, do you think Cultivation is an easy art to master? Well, it's not. To go against the natural order, you have to first live it. You have to experience and endure a lot of nature's tests." Zi Yuan gave him a pointed look. "At some point, if you feel like you can no longer carry on, I want you to think of Su Chan. Think of the promise you've made to each other."
Li Yundong nodded resolutely. "I understand." He looked into Zi Yuan's eyes. "Where should I go once I reach Tibet?"
Zi Yuan smirked. "To the highest place in Tibet, of course."
Li Yundong stared at Zi Yuan for a moment. Great. This chick wanted him to climb the Himalayas. No. Scratch that. She wanted him to conquer frigging Mount Everest. Right after he ran from Tiannan City to frigging Tibet.
Li Yundong smiled wryly. "You sure I won't freeze to death before I even get to the summit?"
Zi Yuan shook her head. "You don't really have to reach the summit. When you climb to a certain point, your body will tell you when it's time to make your attempt to pass the Zhuji phase."
"What do you mean?"
"Your body will react. You'll start feeling something, and you'll know." Zi Yuan raised her palm. "Don't ask me what kind of sensation you'll be feeling. I can't tell you that. All I can say is that you'll know when the time comes."
Li Yundong took a deep breath before releasing it. "I got it. When do I leave?"
"Tomorrow," Zi Yuan said. "So you better start packing now."
Li Yundong stared at the contents of his backpack: a few bottles of water; a thermos; two sets of travel clothes (Zi Yuan had insisted on a more minimalist's approach to packing); some toiletries; towels; his phone and its charger; the Fan of the Seven Treasures; and some cash.
Li Yundong's eyes lingered on the cash. Worry gnawed his insides. Several hundred yuan was far from enough to sustain the journey.
"Worried about money?"
Li Yundong turned around in surprise. Zi Yuan was floating into his room from the balcony.
He sighed. "Geez. You really need to learn how to use the door. And yes, of course I'm worried about money. I'm broke, in case you haven't noticed."
Zi Yuan landed beside his backpack and studied its contents for a moment. "Hmm. That's good enough. You have nothing to worry about."
Li Yundong stared at the bundle of cash. "Seriously? There's only like, a couple hundred yuan…"
"What, you're not thinking about buying food on the journey or sleeping in an inn, are you?"
Li Yundong's eyes nearly bugged out. "Are you saying that I shouldn't be?"
Again, there was that cryptic smile. This time, it looked more like a smirk.
"Okay, hold on a second now. This is taking things too far! Where am I supposed to sleep? What am I supposed to eat?"
Zi Yuan smirked. "Do you know how it was for me when I first began my training?"
Li Yundong shook his head.
"I had to travel for two thousand miles on foot. And I didn't have any food or money with me."
"What! That's—But how did you even survive!"
Zi Yuan shrugged casually. "I pretty much left it to chance, fate, or whatever you wanna call it. When I was hungry, I either asked for food, or looked for food in the mountains. When I was thirsty, I drank from the rivers and streams." Zi Yuan smiled as though she was recalling a pleasant memory. "It took me thirty-five days to reach my destination."
"Wow... That's tough..."
Zi Yuan raised a brow. "You call that tough? The Tibetan Buddhists had it worse, I'm telling you. They have this pilgrimage journey every year, travelling long distances on foot to reach the mountains. And guess what? Unlike you and I, these people are mortal. They are normal humans without powers or any physical enhancements. If they can do it, then so can you." Zi Yuan gave him a pointed look. "You are the Jindan's Heir." She looked away. "If you can't even survive this little journey? You'll never be able to survive the Heavenly Thunder."
Li Yundong pondered Zi Yuan's words in silence.
"Like I said, Cultivation is not easy," Zi Yuan said. "It's not just about gaining magical powers. It's about building a strong will too. Mark my words, Li Yundong. A lot of times, the outcome of a battle is decided by the strength of the combatants' will."
Li Yundong nodded and hoisted his backpack off the floor. "I understand now."
He moved towards the door.
"Wait," Zi Yuan said, making Li Yundong pause.
Li Yundong smiled. "What, you got some more tips for me?"
Zi Yuan pointed at the fan's rivet sticking out from the top of his backpack. "You should keep the Fan of Seven Treasures out of sight at all times," she said sternly. "That's one of the most valuable magical weapons that exists, do you understand? Other Cultivators will try to take it from you if you're not careful."
Li Yundong lowered his backpack to the floor and stared at it. After a while, he ran into his bedroom and pulled out several old blankets. Then, he pulled out the fan and wrapped the blanket around it before stuffing it back into the backpack. "There," he said.
Zi Yuan nodded. "This is important. Keep it out of sight at all times."
"Alright, then. Let me send you off to the gates."
Fifteen minutes later, Li Yundong and Zi Yuan stood inside the gazebo near New Hongsheng District's gates. The backpack sat idly on the stone table—the one with Zi Yuan's palm print—as Li Yundong ran through his minimalist travel checklist for the nth time.
"All set?" Zi Yuan asked.
Li Yundong looked up from the backpack and smiled. "I guess so..." He cleared his throat. "Well, you got any more tips for me?" He sounded nervous. Hell, who was he kidding. He was about to run all the way to frigging Tibet. Of course he was nervous.
Zi Yuan seemed to be deep in thought. Was she having second thoughts too? If she was, then, well, join the club.
"Two things," Zi Yuan said all of a sudden.
Li Yundong squared his shoulders. "I'm listening…"
"First, make sure you mind your own business throughout the journey," Zi Yuan paused for a moment. "Especially after you cross Tibetan borders. Keep to yourself and minimize human contact. More importantly..." Zi Yuan gave him a pointed look. "Do not get into unnecessary fights and arguments. Your top priority is to pass the Zhuji phase. So just focus on that."
Li Yundong nodded. "Right."
"Two. Once you start running, do not stop."
Li Yundong did a double take. "What? You mean like… I can't even stop to take a break?"
Not even to take a leak? What the heck? Should he pack a few diapers?
"No. No stops. Just keep running until your legs can't move anymore."
Why did he get the feeling that his shoes were going to fall off at some point during the journey? You know what? Scratch that. His legs were probably going to fall off. Then again, who was he to argue with the most powerful Cultivator of the younger generation?
Li Yundong sighed. "Right. No stops. Got it."
Zi Yuan nodded. "Good. I'll look for you after you pass the Zhuji phase."
Li Yundong nodded and lifted his backpack off the stone table. "Well... I'll be off then."
Zi Yuan nodded regally. "Good luck."
Li Yundong walked out of the gazebo, then paused after a few steps. He turned around. "Um… Thank you... For everything you've done."
Zi Yuan smiled. "You don't have to thank me. I'm doing this for my own Cultivation training."
Li Yundong frowned. What was that supposed to mean? Before he could ask further, Zi Yuan vanished in a flash of green light. Li Yundong sighed and walked out of the gazebo.
The sun emerged from the eastern horizon, breaking the dawn. The birds soared across the sky, singing to welcome the morning. A new day. A new journey. A new Li Yundong.
Tibet, here I come...