"Dead?" Jack pushed Ruben aside and lowered himself to the snow-covered ground to check on the guy himself.
The guy wasn't breathing. And Jack couldn't feel the man's pulse. His lips were blue and chapped, and his skin was cold. Jack brought his nose closer to the man's body and sniffed a few times. No pungent smell, which meant the guy hadn't been dead for long.
Jack sighed and stood up.
"What do you think he died of?" Ruben asked.
Jack shook his head. "Dunno."
The three of them stared wordlessly at the corpse.
"I reckon it's exhaustion," Ruben said after a while.
Jack raised a brow at Ruben.
Ruben shrugged. "Dude turned us down when we offered to give him a ride. Must've ran all the way here. Jesus.... Was he a masochist or something? He ran for like hundreds of miles and then decided to, what, climb the Himalayas?"
Jack rolled his eyes. "That shit doesn't even make sense, Ruben."
Maybe Ruben's brain wasn't functioning at full capacity because of the blood rush to his nether regions. Not that Jack would blame the guy. The chick they'd run into earlier was a total bombshell.
"Okay, fine. What other explanation is there?"
"Check his feet, Ruben."
Ruben crouched down and studied the corpse's feet. Seconds later, he stood back up again. "So?"
Jack glared at Ruben. "Dude. He's barefoot. Wouldn't his feet be covered in, gee I don't know, some goddamn blisters if he ran all the way here?"
Ruben suddenly looked sheepish. "Oh."
Jack ignored him and reached into the crack on the rock's surface. He pulled out a large backpack. The guy didn't carry much with him. Just some clothes, toiletries, a large stick—which looked like a Bo staff—wrapped in a bunch of blankets, and a large water bottle.
"Damn… This guy is nuts," Jack said. "Nobody can survive out here with so little supplies." Jack shook his head. "He didn't even have stuff to help keep himself warm."
"So, you're saying, what, that the guy starved to death?" Ruben asked.
"Or died of thirst," Jack said, then shrugged. "Or hypothermia."
Jack slipped the backpack into the crack and stood up.
"What do we do, guys?" Miss Liu Xia asked. "It's not like we can drag a corpse around with us."
"I say we put him back inside the rock," Jack said, "then call the police once we get back to base camp."
Miss Liu Xia grimaced as though she didn't like the idea, though she didn't argue.
"Maybe this was a planned death," Ruben said. "Like maybe he came all the way up here to die. Or…" Ruben raised a finger. "He could be a murder victim."
"Who knows, bro," Jack said. "It isn't our place to speculate. Let's just put him back and get outta here."
When the three of them were making their way back to the mountain trail, Ruben sidled up to Jack.
"Hey, Jack," Ruben whispered.
Jack looked towards his friend.
Ruben seemed to be thinking hard about something.
"What's eating at you?"
The two of them walked on for a while. Miss Liu Xia was following them a few feet behind.
"I don't know, man." Ruben shook his head. "Something doesn't add up." Ruben pulled Jack to a stop.
Jack turned and raised his brows at his friend.
"Think about it." Ruben jerked his thumb towards the rock. "Dude could bring a dead man back to life. You'd think he's able to revive himself."
Admittedly, Ruben did make a good point. This whole sequence of events was just bizarre. First, there were those mysterious clouds. And then, there was that red flash, which seemed to have come out of nowhere.
Jack shook his head and looked towards the rock again. Miss Liu Xia was still trying to catch up to them. The woman kept sneaking glances at the rock once every few steps. The woman probably felt bad about leaving the poor guy there in the rock.
"You thinking what I'm thinking, Jack?"
Jack turned around to face his friend. He didn't like Ruben's tone. And there was that familiar glint in Ruben's eyes.
"Oh, Jesus Christ." Jack huffed out in frustration. "If you say the word alien or UFO, then I swear to God I'd—"
"Look. Just think about it, bro," Ruben said, eyeing him seriously. "The strange behavior of the clouds? Strange lights? It all fits!"
Jack groaned. "For once in your life, man... Just quit it with the Area 51 crap already... Jesus..."
Ruben opened his mouth to speak, but was immediately cut off by Miss Liu Xia's scream of horror.
Jack swiveled around just in time to see Miss Liu Xia falling flat on her butt. The woman was pointing a shaky finger at something.
A split second later, Ruben screamed as well.
Jack raised his gaze and followed Miss Liu Xia's finger.
B- But how...? How's that even...
The vagabond dude, who was supposed to be dead, was now climbing out through the crack in the rock.
Jack shared a glance with Ruben.
"Hey, don't look at me," Ruben said. "You checked his vitals as well!"
Whatever. Time to get their asses out of there. Preferably now. Jack ran towards Miss Liu Xia and pulled her to her feet.
"Come on, let's—"
Jack thought his ears were going to bleed the moment he heard it: a loud, earth-shaking roar, which sounded as though someone had shouted into a thousand megaphones simultaneously.
His knees hit the ground and his hands rose instinctively to cover his ears. A few feet away, Ruben started cursing and screaming. Jack scrambled to his feet and grabbed Miss Liu Xia's arm. "Come on!"
They started crawling towards Ruben, who looked like he was actually enjoying himself.
Ruben was actually grinning by the time they reached him.
"Hah! See! Told you not to be too quick to dismiss the alien theory!" Ruben yelled over the loud roar.
Jack glanced towards the rock, in front of which vagabond dude stood roaring at the sky.
Jesus... How the hell is that guy still yelling? It's been minutes already!
Then, the roaring stopped.
Jack shared a glance with Ruben as the residual sound diminished into distant echoes. Lying beside him, Miss Liu Xia let out a whimper. The poor woman seemed utterly shaken.
"You know what? This has got to be the weirdest trip ever..." Ruben groaned. "Ugh! I think my ears are still ringing... F*cking hell—"
"Shh!" Jack held up a finger. "You hear that?"
Ruben stared back at him with wide eyes.
There was a loud whump somewhere above them, like some kind of powdered substance being compressed.
Seconds later, the rumbling began.
Horror coursed through Jack. "Oh, shit..."
Ruben was already on his feet, pulling Miss Liu Xia towards the main trail.
"Ruben!!!" Jack screamed. "We're not gonna f*cking make it if we run! We gotta find cover!!"
"Christ! Look around you!!! There's no f*cking cover, Jack!"
Jack stopped running and turned around until he was facing the direction uphill. He realized then just how royally screwed they were when the entire slope before them was obscured by thick, roiling white clouds of pure snow.
It was without a doubt the most devastating avalanche Jack had ever seen.
"Oh, son of a bitch..."
When Li Yundong heard the rumbling sound, he was certain that the time of his divine punishment had come. But when he set his gaze towards the summit, what he saw was a different kind of storm. It wasn't lightning that he saw, but an endless barrage of snow in the form of turbulent, white clouds, pouring down the Himalayan slope.
Had his roar triggered an avalanche?
All of a sudden, Li Yundong froze. He remembered passing by a bunch of camps and lodgings on the way up here. Those places had to be evacuated. The people staying at the camps had to be warned.
There was a scream. No. Not just a scream; there were three screams.
The voices came from the trail. He turned and saw three people scrambling downhill in fright. Li Yundong pushed his Qi to his legs and dashed towards trail. Those people would never make it. The snow was coming down too rapidly. Hell, he could even feel the ground shaking under his feet.
"Hey!!!" Li Yundong yelled at the three strangers. "Stop! Stop! Come back here!"
Those people were screwed if they kept running; the avalanche would catch up to them in minutes and they'd end up buried under a ton of snow. None of them would survive. Not unless Li Yundong was close enough to protect them. "Stop running, dammit!"
The ground quivered under his feet. Suddenly, one of the three people—a large, burly man with a snow cap—came to a halt and turned around. Through his telescopic vision, Li Yundong recognize the man as Jack, the foreigner he'd encountered twice already—the first time at the foot of Mount Duonian, and the second time when he helped free their jeep.
No wonder Jack didn't stop no matter how much he yelled. The guy couldn't understand Mandarin.
Wait, wasn't there a tour guide with them?
Li Yundong zoomed until he could see past Jack's shoulders. The tour guide and one Jack's companion were running far ahead of Jack.
Li Yundong pumped his legs harder and ran past Jack.
"Hey, Miss Tour Guide! Stop! Hey! Stop! It's too late to run! Stop running! Get over here! I can protect you!"
The tour guide stopped. So did the other foreigner whose name Li Yundong didn't know. The foreigner yelled something at the tour guide in English. The tour guide pointed a finger at Li Yundong and yelled something back at the foreigner.
A moment later, the tour guide gazed at Li Yundong with fearful eyes. "H- How are you gonna protect us?! There's an avalanche coming, for God's sake!"
"Listen… We don't have time for an argument!" Li Yundong growled, pointing at the incoming avalanche. "Just do as I say!"
After that, Li Yundong turned around and began dragging Jack towards their group. Li Yundong pointed at the tour guide. "Tell your friends to stay behind me!"
The tour guide stared blankly Li Yundong as though she hadn't heard him.
The tour guide snapped out of it and relayed Li Yundong's order to her friends. At least that was what Li Yundong hoped she was saying.
The foreigners didn't argue.
Soon, the three tourists were huddled together behind Li Yundong.
"Make sure y'all stay behind me until this is over, you understand?" Li Yundong said to the tour guide. "And do not move no matter what!"
Li Yundong turned to face the incoming snow while the tour guide spoke to the foreigners in English. Gusts of wind hit Li Yundong's face as the avalanche drew closer. Li Yundong closed his eyes and mobilized his Yuanyang, using it to guide the Qis of his Five Zangs towards his upper Dantian.
"Oh my God!" the tour guide shrieked. "Y- Y- Your head! It's c- changing colors!"
Li Yundong exhaled slowly.
"Quiet... I need to focus."
Then, without opening his eyes, Li Yundong clasped his hands together, keeping the fingers of each hand interlocked except for his index fingers, which were pointed straight up towards the sky.
This was Acanalanatha's first mudra—the Heavenly Swords.
The tour guide was sobbing now. "Oh, God... Oh, God... We're all gonna die... We're all gonna be buried alive!"
"Calm down... Just trust me..." Li Yundong said, opening his eyes. Then, he looked straight ahead at the incoming avalanche. "The camps are on the right side of the trail, right?"
Which means he had to sweep all the snow towards the left side of the trail to prevent the people at the camps from being buried alive.
With that in mind, Li Yundong angled his body slightly to the left.
The tour guide whimpered.
When the avalanche was about fifty meters away, Li Yundong bent his knees and lowered his stance. "Namah samanta vajranam ham!" He bridged the Three Gates as soon as he reached the end of the mantra. Two golden blades of light swept across the terrain from right to left after he swung his arms in a wide arc. The front half of the avalanche was swept to the side, while the remaining half kept tumbling down the slope.
That should be enough to save those at the camps.
The tour guide started screaming hysterically. "No!!! You failed! You failed! Now we're really gonna die!"
"Relax… I'm not done yet," Li Yundong said as he rearranged his fingers into another mudra. The fingers of his two hands were clasped while the two thumbs were pressed into the palms.
This was Acalanatha's second mudra—the Immovable Mountain of Treasure.
"Here it comes..." Li Yundong said without taking his eyes off the approaching snow. "Just stay still..." He waited for a while, then chanted Acalanatha's mantra again. "Namah samanta vjranam ham!"
A thin, semi-transparent golden wall appeared in front of Li Yundong, stretching out in both directions. A whump sounded amidst the rumble, and Li Yundong suddenly felt as though there was an invisible weight pulling down on his hands. Li Yundong grunted and struggled to maintain the hand sign. It wasn't explicitly stated in the Mahamudra Tantra that the barrier would disappear once he stopped performing the hand sign, but he didn't want to risk it. More rumbling sounded as snow gushed along the area beyond the barrier's reach. At one point, when pieces of snow pellets and hailstones started falling down around them, Li Yundong looked up at the top of the barrier. Shit. The barrier wasn't tall enough because he didn't use enough Qi when he bridged the Three Gates.
The snow had begun to fall over the brim of the barrier.
Li Yundong looked away from the barrier. "Hey!" he shouted at the tour guide. "You and your friends need to get out of here! Now!"
"Take your friends and run!" Li Yundong shouted. "The barrier is overflowing. Wait longer and you'll all be buried."
More snow pellets fell around them.
The snow around Li Yundong had already reached his mid-shin.
The lady said something to the foreigners, who then sprang to their feet. The weight on Li Yundong's hands were starting to feel heavy. "Run downhill! I'll keep the barrier up until you guys are far enough." Li Yundong said without taking his eyes off the top of the barrier.
When he could no longer hear footsteps behind him, Li Yundong looked over his shoulders. Should be far enough...
He turned to the front. Now he had to find a way to deal with all that snow behind the barrier, which was still falling over the top of the barrier. On his side of the barrier, he himself was already buried in snow from waist down.
Right now, he had two obvious choices. One, release the barrier without doing anything and then pray to dear Buddha that the Jindan's enhancements would allow him to survive being buried under a f*ckton of snow. Two, release the barrier, and then find a way to blow all the snow away before it crashed down on him.
And where the heck was Zi Yuan anyway? Didn't she say that she would come get him the moment he passed the Zhuji phase?
Whatever. Right now, he had to save his own ass.
He exhaled slowly. Alright, here we go... He gathered his Qi at his lower Dantian.
The golden barrier vanished the moment he moved his fingers into Mahavairocana's mudra—the Intelligent Fist. Heaps of snow rumbled above his head. "Om mani padme hum!" He bridged his Three Gates with his Qi and pushed his hands forward.