Li Yundong unleashed another blast of shockwave, sending heaps of snow into the air. He had managed to avoid being buried alive thanks to the Intelligent Fist mudra, which had blasted the snow away moments after he released the barrier.
Most of it anyway. Now he still had to wade through quite a bit of snow to get to his backpack, which was—hopefully—still inside that rock. Li Yundong sliced his palm through the air. A thin blade of shockwave moved across the terrain, sweeping a decent amount of snow to the side. Li Yundong dragged his legs through the snow and slogged forward. After a few steps, he stopped to look up at the sky, fearing what he might see there. The sky was clear with no signs of any storm clouds, which was a good thing.
Or maybe not.
None of this made sense. Zi Yuan said that his divine punishment would come the moment he passed the Zhuji phase. But he hadn't seen signs of the Heavenly Thunder since he stepped out of the rock. Nor did he see any signs of Zi Yuan. A horrifying thought formed in his mind, turning his blood into ice.
What if he was still inside his Spirit Space? What if this was all just an illusion, an imaginary world that his personal god had created for him. Shit. It was like he couldn't even tell what was real anymore.
Calm down, Li Yundong... Look at the facts.
He pulled in a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. Okay. First of all, he had woken up inside the same rock he'd climbed into before he went into a meditative. He was still barefoot and wearing the same clothes as before. He also wasn't experiencing the feeling of omnipotence like he did last time. Nor did he have the same appearance as his personal god. Pretty sure those foreigners would totally freak out if he did. Not that erecting a supernatural barrier to ward off an avalanche wasn't freakish, but he figured that having six arms and three faces would fall on the extreme end of the "weird" spectrum.
But still, were all those good enough reasons to believe that none of these were illusions? Well, if this was an illusion, then it could mean one of two things: one, he hadn't passed the Zhuji phase yet; two, he had failed the Zhuji phase and would forever be trapped inside his Spirit Space, living out illusion after illusion.
Was there a way to tell for sure that he had passed the Zhuji phase?
His body did feel a lot different now. He could feel the presence of... of... something, inside his lower Dantian, like there was this extra life force inside him. Was that because he had a Vital Orb now? Or was that just another illusion that his personal god had conjured up in order to deceive him?
There was no way to tell unless the Heavenly Thunder struck or Zi Yuan suddenly showed up, the very things that made him doubt everything in the first place.
This was seriously f*cked up.
Li Yundong sent more snow flying with another shockwave. He could now see the tip of the rock jutting out from the mountain of snow in front of him.
Hooray. Small victories.
Li Yundong punched the air again and again and until the entire rock was revealed. He looked up at the sky. Still no Heavenly Thunder. After a while, he chuckled to himself. As f*cked up as this whole situation was, he couldn't help but find the irony of it a tad amusing. Days ago, he was dreading the coming of the Heavenly Thunder. And now, he was desperately hoping for it to appear.
Li Yundong lowered his gaze from the sky and sighed. He wished Zi Yuan would just show up already.
Li Yundong made his way down the mountains once he had retrieved his backpack and checked that the Fan of Seven Treasures was still safely stored inside. He'd decided to stop moping around and start getting shit done. If Zi Yuan didn't show up as promised, then fine. He would go to her. Hell, he'd run all the way back to Tiannan City if he had to.
He followed the mountain trail and ran downhill without stopping. When he reached Everest Base Camp 2, he noted with no small amount of relief that the avalanche hadn't done too much damage to the camps. Workers and travelers bustled about with huge shovels to clear the snow off the trails. Under normal circumstances, Li Yundong would've stayed and lent those poor folks a hand. But right now, his circumstances were far from normal. He had to get to lower ground as soon as possible lest the Heavenly Thunder suddenly decided it was time to grace him with its presence.
It did occur to him that he should ask around at the camps for anyone matching Zi Yuan's physical description, but he doubted that it would be much help. A six-kilometer hike from Base Camp 2 brought him to yet another base camp—Everest Base Camp 1. Again, he didn't stop and kept walking. Thirty minutes, later he arrived at a temple, which looked more like another camp than a temple if he was being honest. For one, there wasn't actually a temple, just a few shrines and tents that were enclosed by wires covered in small, triangular flags. The only reason he even called it as a temple was because... well, the signboard said so.
Li Yundong stopped beside one of the shrines and took out his map and compass. He had just come down from Mount Everest, which was on the east. Using the compass, he reoriented himself until he was facing west, where he was granted a clear view of Mount Pumori's snowy peak. There was a hotel and restaurant about half a kilometer from the shrines, but he didn't have the time or cash to stop by it.
Li Yundong studied the map again.
To get to the nearest highway, he had to pass by Tingri, a small town approximately 70 kilometers northwest from his current location. If he jogged at his usual pace, he would reach Tingri in about 6 hours. It was noon now, so it would be sunset by the time he reached the town, which was perfect.
The sound of crunching gravel made Li Yundong turn his head. A Land Rover pulled up beside one of the tents. Li Yundong frowned. Was it another group of tourists looking to climb Mount Everest?
Perhaps they came from the hotel?
Through the Land Rover's windshield, Li Yundong saw the inside of the vehicle. He wished he hadn't. The driver's side was occupied by not one, but two people. A man sat in the driver's seat while a woman straddled his lap. The pair was making out with each other like the world was going to end. The man noticed Li Yundong before he could turn away and patted the woman's arm. A moment later, the woman turned around in the man's lap to look at Li Yundong as well.
The man smirked and whispered something into the woman's ear. The woman smiled, then planted a kiss on the man's cheek. She shifted in her lover's lap, then wrapped her arms around his neck. Seconds later, the door of the driver's side swung open. The man stepped out carrying the woman in his arms.
The man lowered his lover to the ground, then wrapped and arm around her waist. The couple sauntered casually towards Li Yundong. As the couple drew near, Li Yundong noted their appearance. The man was wearing a long-sleeved pink shirt, dress pants, and pair of loafers. His eyes were hidden behind a pair of aviator sunglasses, but Li Yundong knew that he was watching him closely. The woman had long, dark hair, and was dressed seductively in a short mini dress. She was also wearing a pair of sunglasses, but hers had dark-purple lenses.
Li Yundong's scalped tingled.
Something wasn't right.
They were right in the middle of a mountain trail leading up to the summit of Mount Everest, and there was snow everywhere. You'd think the lady would have enough common sense to wear something thicker than a flimsy mini dress. None of them were wearing jackets, coats, or anything to help keep their bodies warm.
Clearly, these people weren't normal.
Li Yundong narrowed his eyes and tightened his grip on the straps of his backpack.
The couple stopped in front of Li Yundong. The man removed his sunglasses and slipped it into the front pocket of his shirt. Then, he smirked and did a Fist and Palm gesture (T/N: Search for 拱手礼).
"Greetings, brother in the Tao," he said.
Li Yundong's back stiffened. These people were Cultivators.
Had Zi Yuan sent them?
"Greetings." Li Yundong returned the greeting with his own Fist and Palm gesture. He didn't ask how they knew he was a Cultivator seeing as it was pretty darn obvious.
The man smiled. "I am Wu Hao, from the Yin Yang Sect based in Mount Wuhua."
The lady beside him giggled. "And I'm Lyu Fengping from the same sect."
"An honor to meet you both," Li Yundong said, keeping his expression neutral. "How may I help you?"
Wu Hao flicked some snow off his hair, then adjusted the collar of his pink shirt. The guy definitely had an air of swag about him, Li Yundong would give him that. He honestly thought the guy looked more like a gangster rather than a Cultivator.
"Well. It seems like congratulations are in order, Zhenren," Wu Hao said with a smirk.
"So you guys heard, huh?"
Wu Hao laughed. "Oh, we sure did."
"Mm-hmm. Just never expected it to trigger an avalanche," said Lyu Fengping.
Yeah well, neither did I…
"We drove up here right after we heard your roar," Wu Hao said. "We're both pretty excited to meet this mysterious Cultivator who's passed the Zhuji phase somewhere in the Himalayas."
Lyu Fengping laughed. "Our timing was impeccable though. We ran into you as soon as we arrived." She smirked. "I guess it's fate."
"I see," Li Yundong said in a neutral tone. "Well. I'm gonna head off." He took a step back. "You guys have a good day."
"Hold up!" Wu Hao said.
Li Yundong turned around and raised a brow at Wu Hao.
"We also..." Lyu Fengping smiled. "Have a proposal to make."
"Not interested," Li Yundong said in a heartbeat.
The corner of Wu Hao's lips twitched. "We haven't even told you what it is..."
Wu Hao didn't sound too friendly now.
"Like I said…" Li Yundong turned away. "Not interested."
"Let's make a trade." Wu Hao grabbed Li Yundong's shoulder before he could walk away. "Five million yuan for that thing inside your backpack. How about that?"
"No deal," Li Yundong said in a low growl. "Now if you'll all excuse me, there's somewhere else I need to be."
Li Yundong removed Wu Hao's hand from his shoulder.
"Fine. Ten million!" Wu Hao yelled.
Anger flared inside Li Yundong.
"I said no deal!" Li Yundong turned around abruptly. "I won't sell it even if you offer fifty billion! Now back off!"
Wu Hao and Lyu Fengping shared a look with each other. A second later, Wu Hao chuckled humorlessly. "You leave us no choice, then."
Wu Hao gave Lyu Fengping a nod.
All of a sudden, Lyu Fengping vanished into thin air.
"And now you have nowhere to run."
Lyu Fengping's voice made Li Yundong look over his shoulder. Somehow, the woman had reappeared a few feet behind him.
Li Yundong returned his gaze to Wu Hao, who now had a smug look on his face. Something slid out from under Wu Hao's right sleeve—a bunch of beads.
There were five beads in total, and each of them appeared to be moving around Wu Hao's right arm in a random pattern.
"That's right, buddy," Wu Hao said. "Hand over the Fan of Seven Treasures." The beads released a crimson glow. "Or suffer the worst kind of death!"