Meiduo stared at the shoes in her hands. Everyone was now back at the camp, sitting around, resting and chatting. After Brother Li's hurried departure, Changbagela had decided to postpone their journey for another day, which meant they would set off tomorrow morning instead of today as planned. Changbagela wanted to wait for Brother Li to return first before they set off again. Nobody had outright admitted it, but everyone felt much safer with Brother Li there to guard them from the wolves. Even more so after everyone saw Brother Li effortlessly lift a jeep out of a deep mud hole a few hours ago.
That feat had cemented everyone's believe that Brother Li was indeed Mahakala's reincarnation sent to protect their people. Now, even some of the men (who'd initially been skeptical about Brother Li's abilities) couldn't help but be in awe with Brother Li's strength. Meiduo herself was sold on the idea ever since she saw Brother Li put a dent in a rock from 10 meters away. And she was pretty sure that Changbagela was the same. But of course, it was Changbagela who suggested the idea of Brother Li being the living reincarnation of Mahakala in the first place.
Meiduo sighed and lowered the shoes onto the wagon's surface. About time too, since she'd been staring at them for the past few hours since Brother Li left. It was now noon with the sun hanging high in the sky.
Still, there were no signs of Brother Li.
His backpack was gone too.
Maybe he left them already.
The wagon swayed a little when someone took a seat beside her. Her heart hit her stomach when she turned and saw that it was only Changbagela.
Meiduo scooted the side for make room for Changbagela. Then she pulled up her feet and hugged her knees to her chest.
They sat there quietly for a while, watching the other pilgrims bustled around with various chores.
"Maybe we should just be on our way…" Meiduo said, hoping that Changbagela couldn't detect the sadness and dejection in her tone.
When Changbagela didn't answer right away, Meiduo turned her head to look at him. Changbagela was turning those colored prayer beads in his hands. He seemed distracted.
Changbagela shook his head a few times and put the prayer beads away. "Sorry," he said, then gave her a smile. "You said something, Meiduo?"
Meiduo hugged her knees tighter. "I said maybe we should continue our journey on our own…" Those words left a bad taste to her mouth. "He's probably on his way already. His things are already gone."
Brother Li didn't even take the Mahamudra Tantra with him.
A small part of Meiduo hoped that Brother Li would return for the book, though she knew that it wasn't likely. After all, he did say that he had memorized the whole book.
Still, the book was rather thick…
"It's already noon," Changbagela said, bringing Meiduo out of her reverie. He raised a hand to shield his eyes from the glaring sun. "It's pointless to set off now, since we won't be able to go far before we have to stop for the night. We might as well just wait until tomorrow."
Meiduo heaved a small sigh of relief. She didn't want to just leave Brother Li behind. Well, she didn't want to be separated from Brother Li, period. And deep down, she knew the real reason she wanted him to stay, and it had nothing to do with wolves. When Brother Li hugged her this morning…
She felt so warm and safe inside his arms.
She wanted to experience it again.
Maybe Brother Li felt something for her too. Why would he hug her out of the blue if he didn't at least have some feelings for her? Maybe there was a chance they could…
Meiduo turned her face away from Changbagela to hide her blush.
"Besides, some of the others are still exhausted from yesterday's journey," Changbagela continued. "And the climb will be even more difficult past this point. It might be a good idea to rest for an extra day so that we can regain our strength for the journey ahead."
Silence passed between them.
After a while, Meiduo began to play with the shoes she'd made for Brother Li.
"Do you think he left already?" Meiduo asked carefully, half-afraid to hear Changbagela's answer. Changbagela always had a knack for reading people and their behaviors. He was also a great judge of character. That was how he had garnered so much respect from the lamas and even the guardian sentinels. He could smell evil and sin from miles away.
"I don't know," Changbagela said. "But I don't think he'd leave without at least saying goodbye." Changbagela laughed. "He's too honorable, Meiduo."
Meiduo pondered Changbagela's words for a moment.
"Amitabha… A man like him, a man of honor, is in short supply these days. Sad." Changbagela paused. "But true."
"An honorable man..." Meiduo said wistfully.
"Indeed he is…" Changbagela shifted slightly on the wagon. "He brought me back to life. He rejected my offer to repay him several times now." Changbagela chuckled. "And did you see the way he tried to return the Mahamudra Tantra earlier? A lesser man would've taken the text and then resold it back to the temple at a high price!"
Changbagela made a good point.
"There's something special about him, Meiduo. I'm certain of it," Changbagela said. "I just don't know what it is."
Meiduo had to agree. She was certain that Changbagela was gone before Brother Li brought him back to life. At first she thought that perhaps Brother Li was a worshipper of the Healing Buddha. In Tibetan Buddhism practices, worshippers of the Healing Buddha perform healing rituals by chanting the healing mantra 108 times: Tadyatha Om Bhekhaze Bhekhaze Maha Bhekhaze Bhekhaze Radza Samungate Swaha. But when Brother Li revived Changbagela, she could've sworn that he didn't make a sound.
A group of men were walking towards the wagon.
Meiduo stole a glance at the men and shifted in her seat. "The others said that they felt safer with Brother Li travelling with us."
Changbagela nodded. "I'm aware of that. But let's not forget that the whole point of a pilgrimage is to show our devotion to Buddha. A pilgrimage is not meant to be easy. Whatever that may come our way, we must face them, with or without his help."
Meiduo kept quiet. The men stopped in front of wagon. One of them, a senior member of their group and one of Changbagela's trusted disciples, greeted Changbagela with a bow.
Changbagela pressed his palms together and nodded.
"The foreigners have requested to join our camp for the night," said the man.
"Then we shall open our camps to them and see to their needs," Changbagela replied in a heartbeat.
Two men left the group, most likely to carry out Changbagela's orders.
"You know, Meiduo…"
Meiduo looked up from the shoes and found the man staring at back at her.
"There might be a way to keep him," said the man.
"Nobody is keeping anyone," Changbagela said sternly. "Whether he stays with us is entirely up to him. We cannot, and will not, force him to stay. "
"My apologies, Changbagela," said the man. "Perhaps I should've phrased my suggestion better. I don't mean forcing him to stay with us. I am merely suggesting that we give him a reason to stay…"
The man shot a pointed look at Meiduo.
Meiduo blushed and looked towards Changbagela.
Changbagela's eyes were now closed, and there was a peaceful look on his face. Meiduo would be lying if she said she hadn't been entertaining that thought herself. Would Brother Li stay for her sake? This morning, he had looked at her with eyes filled with desire. Maybe there was a chance if she offered herself to him…
Changbagela sighed. "As long as nobody is forcing anybody to do something against their will…"
Meiduo construed that as Changbagela's approval.
The question was, would Brother Li accept her?
Li Yundong gripped his hair with both hands and paced around the large rock he'd been sitting on for the past few hours. He had tried everything he could think of, but nothing worked.
He tried converging his Five Qis first before performing the hand sign. When that didn't work, he thought maybe he got the order wrong, so he did it in reverse—performing the hand sign first before converging his Five Qis.
After that, he began messing around with the order in which he channeled the Qis of his Five Zangs into his upper Dantian.
The mantra went like this: om mani padme hum.
And based on Changbagela's explanation, it was obvious that each syllable of the mantra was associated with a colored bead; Changbagela mentioned that the color blue corresponded to the syllable pad in padme.
It made sense to assume that the rest of the syllables were color-coded as well. In that case, if his interpretation of the mantra's coded message was correct, then it follows that each syllable of the mantra—other than pad—would correspond to a Zang. And since the syllables were to be uttered in a certain order (as defined by the mantra), then perhaps the Qis of the Five Zangs should be channeled into the upper Dantian in that specific order as well. But he didn't know which color corresponded to which syllable other than the fact that pad corresponded to blue, so he ended up trying out all 120 different permutations of sequencing the Qis of his Five Zangs, which took him hours to complete. Fruitless hours, since he literally got nothing out of his efforts.
Li Yundong stopped pacing and leaned his back against a rock. He'd found this place after a fifteen-minute trek from the camp. It was far away enough from the camp to provide him with the privacy he needed as well as to ensure the pilgrims' safety from whatever he was doing. He had brought his backpack along too. He didn't want to leave the Fan of Seven Treasures out of his sight.
Li Yundong pushed away from the rock and huffed out in frustration. "I'm missing something…"
Was it the code?
Had he interpreted the code wrongly?
No. His interpretation fit the code too perfectly to be wrong. What if there was another piece of code that he had yet to crack? That was certainly a reasonable assumption. As far as he could tell, the Buddhists loved to speak in code. What if every single aspect of the technique contained a hidden code, like some kind of cipher?
Li Yundong jumped onto the rock and got into a meditative posture, ready to explore his newfound insight. Okay. Think. What are all the elements that make up the technique? First, there was the mantra. Then, there were the colors corresponding to each of the Five Zangs. And…
The hand sign!
Perhaps the hand sign itself contained the final piece of the puzzle.
Feeling a surge of excitement, Li Yundong performed the Intelligent Fist hand sign as shown in the Mahamudra Tantra, making sure to go through each step slowly this time. He held out his left hand and pointed the index finger upwards at the sky. Then, he wrapped all five fingers of his right hand around the top half of the left index finger, ensuring that the tips of his two index fingers touched each other.
Li Yundong froze.
Something clicked inside his mind.
What if the five fingers of the right hand represent the Qis of the Five Zangs, and the fact that they are wrapped around the tip of the left index finger represents the Convergence of Five Qis? Which means…
The tip of the left index finger must represent the upper Dantian.
Li Yundong unwrapped the fingers of his right hand from his left index finger, then brought his left index finger to his eye level. He studied his finger for a moment, taking note of its features. Two lines cut across the length of the finger, dividing it into three sections.
Wait. Three sections…
"Oh my God…" he whispered, and slowly let his hand drop.
The three Dantians. Each of the three sections represents a Dantian!
He raised his index finger again and stared hard at it. When all three sections were connected together, they formed the entire length of the index finger. So using the same analogy, if he connected his three Dantians together...
The Bridging of the Three Gates. That had to be the missing element. He had to perform the hand sign, converge his Five Qis, and then connect his three Dantians together using his Qi.
Li Yundong exhaled slowly. Time to test it all out. He rose to his feet so that he was standing on the tall rock. Then, he turned away from the direction of the camp to face the woods, where clumps of tall trees stretched far beyond where he stood. The sun had set an hour ago, so the sky was dark.
He performed the Intelligent Fist hand sign, and then guided the Qis of his five Zangs into his upper Dantian. He hesitated at the final step. The Mahamudra Tantra didn't mention the effects of the technique, so he didn't know what to expect.
Maybe I'll try with a little bit of Qi first and see what happens.
He gathered a tiny portion of his Qi at his lower Dantian.
Right. Here goes… He held the hand sign away from his chest, just in case. At least it wouldn't be too close to his heart when things went to shit—like when his hands blow up or something.
He exhaled and bridged the Three Gates.
His hands exploded in a flash of gold the moment his Qi passed his upper Dantian to reach his Baihui. The next thing he knew, a golden apparition of the hand sign flew out from his hands and barreled towards the trees. He was so surprised that he lost his footing and fell off the rock with a loud yelp.
There was a strange roar, which lasted for seconds on end until all he could hear was the splitting of wood and the rustling of leaves.
When things quieted down, he climbed to his feet and peeked out from behind the rock.
"Holy shit…" he whispered.
He had just cleared an entire path through the forest.