Li Yundong stared coldly at the woman hovering twenty feet above him. Dark phantoms and wraiths surrounded him, bathing him in darkness, taunting him with their creepy voices. Nevertheless, Li Yundong remained completely unfazed.
I fear no evil.
Li Yundong's right hand rose slightly. The wraiths slithered away as if the mere presence of Acalanatha's 14th mudra terrified them.
"Who sent you after me?" Even Li Yundong himself was a little surprised by how calm and cold his voice sounded right then. He didn't think he had ever felt this confident before. Not in real life, and certainly not while standing amidst dozens of dark, ghost-like creatures who looked like they were about to swallow him alive.
"I'll tell you who sent me..." Lyu Fengping laughed hysterically, then stopped to give him a snide look. "Your mom!"
"You think this is funny?" Li Yundong's cold gaze locked onto Lyu Fengping's face. The woman's smug expression faltered a little. "Give me a name!"
A crazed and deranged look spread across Lyu Fengping's face. "I have nothing to say to you!!" Then, she released a shriek worthy of a thousand banshees. The wraiths' voices became louder and—if it was even possible—creepier.
"Fine…" Li Yundong said. "You leave me no choice."
"That fan is mine!" Lyu Fengping yelled, her expression twisting into something barely recognizable. It didn't even look human.
"Be gone, evil…" Li Yundong whispered. "Suffer the Hand of Purification."
Lyu Fengping flew down towards him just as the wraiths began to close in on him from every direction.
"Namah samanta vajranam ham!"
The moment Li Yundong bridged his Three Gates, he thought he'd turned into the Human Torch—flames erupted from his skin, engulfing him from head to toe. The next thing he knew, he was at the center of a bright, golden blaze.
Golden rays shot out from his body like spears, ripping through the dark aura surrounding him. The wraiths evaporated, their wails turning into diminishing echoes. Behind him, Li Yundong heard an endless string Amitabhas before those chants were blocked out by a long, screeching voice coming from above.
Like those wraiths, Lyu Fengping's body was slowly evaporating, almost as if those golden rays were eating up her physical form starting from her arms, moving rapidly towards her torso.
Then, something caught Li Yundong's eyes. Something flew out of Lyu Fengping's torso seconds before her torso evaporated completely. Despite the dazzling golden rays, Li Yundong could tell that the object was green in color.
It was an apparition of Lyu Fengping's physical form.
He had seen something like this before. When Ruan Hongling ambushed them at their apartment, a green apparition of her had floated out of her damask as well.
The golden rays dissolved the last remnants of Lyu Fengping's contorted face and then vanished in a bright flash. The darkness was gone, and everything seemed to be back to normal except for the green apparition hovering in mid-air.
"Y- You destroyed my body..."
Li Yundong lowered his right hand, then picked up the Fan of Seven Treasures from the ground. Then, he glared up at the apparition. "A name... Give me a name…"
The apparition screamed and flew several feet backwards.
"Tell me..." He rested the tessen across his shoulders and took a step forward. "Did the head of the Yin Yang Sect put you two up to this?" He took another step forward.
The apparition shrunk back in fear.
Li Yundong raised a brow. "Still not talking?" He raised his hands and positioned his fingers into Acalanatha's 13th mudra—the Divine Lasso.
But before he had time to chant the mantra, the apparition screamed and slipped through the surface of a large crag.
It was gone.
Li Yundong walked back towards the lama after the interrogation, which was, admittedly, a total failure. Stopping in front of the lama, Li Yundong slammed the rivet of the Fan of Seven Treasures—now in the form of a Bo staff—into the ground. Cracks spread out from the hole in the ice where the rivet was lodged into.
"Now you listen up, lama," Li Yundong said. "I did not steal anything. This weapon"—He tapped the tessen's surface—"was entrusted to me by its owner. And before I have the chance to return it to its rightful place, I'll guard this thing with my life, do you understand? Those two are the ones who tried to rob me, not the other way around. I was only defending myself!" Li Yundong glared at the lama. "Also, I don't know what the hell your superiors told you, but I didn't steal the Mahamudra Tantra either. Changbagela gave it to me as a gift and told me to put it to good use! For God's sake, why can't people just do a fact-check first before they start throwing wild accusations?!"
The lama seemed rather taken aback by Li Yundong's outburst. As he should be, because Li Yundong was pretty much seething at this point. He really needed a f*cking break from all this nonsense.
Moments later, the lama sighed and pressed his palms together.
"Amitabha..." he said. "Indeed, it does seem like I have made a grave misjudgment."
Li Yundong snorted. "You don't say."
"And it is my hope that you accept my deepest and sincerest apology." The lama bowed slightly.
Li Yundong eyed the lama skeptically. Just like that?
"Uh-huh… What changed your mind?" Li Yundong scowled. "Minutes ago, you'd rather side with those crooks than listen to my side of the story."
It was like critical thinking has become a lost skill these days.
"Again. My deepest apologies, Zhenren... Umm…" The lama shot him an expectant look.
"Li," Li Yundong said. "Li Yundong."
The lama nodded. "And I am Dorjee Tenzin. The guardian sentinel of Kathok Monastery and one of the Eighteen Sentinels of the Holy Mountain."
"Eighteen Sentinels?" Li Yundong raised a brow. "Wait, you mean you're like one of those eighteen bronze men?"
Dorjee Tenzin gave him a funny look. "Well... Something like that."
"You haven't answered my question." Li Yundong narrowed his eyes. "What made you change your mind about me?"
For all he knew, this Dorjee Tenzin guy could just be putting up an act so that he could steal the Fan of Seven Treasures the moment Li Yundong let his guard down.
Dorjee Tenzin closed his eyes and pressed his palms together. "Amitabha… It is the way you have flawlessly executed the tantric mudras, Zhenren Li," he said. "Those are the secret techniques known only to a selected few in the Esoteric Sect."
"So? That's only because I've read and understood the Mahamudra Tantra," Li Yundong said. "I bet anyone could do it once they read the book. But that doesn't say anything about my character at all. You're gonna based your judgement on that?" Li Yundong rolled his eyes. "Now I totally see why you're gullible enough to be fooled by those two crooks earlier."
"No." Dorjee Tenzin shook his head. "I'm afraid you don't fully understand the significance of this, Zhenren Li." Dorjee Tenzin gave him a reverent look. "Only those with pure intentions can perform those techniques."
Li Yundong stared at Dorjee Tenzin. Huh. Interesting.
The lama smiled. "Those techniques are like bridges connecting the user and the divine, you see."
"Oh." Li Yundong had no idea what to say. So, like, what, he was one of Buddha's buddies now?
"Zhenren Li... If you don't mind me asking… How long did it take you to master the tantric mudras?"
"A couple of hours, I guess?"
Dorjee Tenzin just stared at him.
"Why? Is that too slow? Well. In my defense, I couldn't read Sanskrit and Tibetan, so somebody had to read it out line by line to me. It might actually take a lot less time if—"
Dorjee Tenzin fell flat on his butt.
"Whoa!" Li Yundong was beside the lama's in an instant. "What's the matter, man?"
"A- A few h- hours...?"
Li Yundong sighed. "Like I said—"
"But it took my master two years!" Dorjee Tenzin exclaimed.
Li Yundong stared at the man. "Uh..."
"And then there's me, who couldn't even master a single tantric mudra after three years of training!"
Li Yundong's jaw went slack. "Seriously?" Li Yundong had failed to keep the surprise out of his tone. He half-expected Dorjee Tenzin to take that as an insult, but the guy just sat there with a crestfallen look on his face.
Li Yundong cleared his throat. "Well... I must've gotten lucky, then."
He honestly wouldn't take all the credit. Chances were that most of his accomplishments were only made possible by the Jindan.
"Such talent…" Dorjee Tenzin mumbled to himself. "Such insurmountable talent…" Dorjee Tenzin's eyes glazed over. Poor guy looked like he was about to pass out.
"Hey!" Li Yundong waved a hand in front of Dorjee Tenzin's face and snapped his fingers a few times. "Snap out of it."
Dorjee Tenzin's eyes cleared a little. Li Yundong offered the lama his hand. Dorjee Tenzin took his hand and stood up on wobbly feet.
Li Yundong patted Dorjee Tenzin's shoulder and motioned for him to wait there. He lifted the Fan of Seven Treasures and walked towards his backpack.
His backpack and the stuff inside it were unharmed. Seriously. Not a single scratch or burn mark. He deposited the backpack beside Dorjee Tenzin's feet, then pulled out the Mahamudra Tantra.
"T- That's…" Dorjee Tenzin stammered.
Li Yundong gave him a stern look. "I will return the book on one condition."
Dorjee Tenzin stared at him blankly.
Li Yundong narrowed his eyes. "You'll have to prove to me that you really are the person you claimed to be, not some impostor looking to steal the book for yourself. Changbagela warned me to not let the book fall into the wrong hands. So." Li Yundong crossed his arms. "Prove it. Prove to me that you really are one of the Eighteen Sentinels or whatever."
Dorjee Tenzin pressed his palms together. "Amitabha. I have no proof to offer other than my word."
Li Yundong narrowed his eyes. "Are you planning to sell the book?"
"Are you planning to use the techniques for nefarious purposes?"
"I am incapable of that even if I want to, Zhenren Li." Dorjee Tenzin smiled wryly. "I have spent three fruitless years training myself in order to master the tantric mudras to no avail. Regardless, the answer is still no. I harbor no intentions to use the mudras for purposes that would defy Buddha's teachings."
"What are your intentions then?"
"Amitabha. To fulfill my duty and return the Mahamudra Tantra to the safety of Kathok Monastery."
"Indeed…" Li Yundong slipped the Mahamudra Tantra back into the backpack. "No lie, no matter how convincing, can deceive the Great Eye." Li Yundong clasped his hands together and pointed his index fingers to the sky to complete Acalanatha's 4th mudra.
Li Yundong closed his eyes. "Namah samanta vajranam ham…" He bridged his Three Gates. "Nor can it remain unperturbed in the presence of the Heart of Virtue." He moved his fingers into Acalanatha's 6th mudra.
"Namah samanta vajranam ham…."
Li Yundong opened his eyes and found Dorjee Tenzin staring back at him in awe. They stared at each other for a while. Had Dorjee Tenzin been lying or harboring any impure intentions, he would start feeling super uncomfortable right about now.
A minute later, Li Yundong smiled and lowered his hands. "Fine. I believe you." He took out the Mahamudra Tantra once more and handed it to Dorjee Tenzin, who took it gratefully.
"Amitabha… On behalf of the Esoteric Sect and Kathok Monastery, I'd like to offer you my sincerest gratitude for returning the book willingly."
Li Yundong shrugged. "I've already learnt everything in the book anyway, so I don't really need it." All thanks to the Lianqi phase, of course. "I only took it with me because Changbagela insisted that I take it."
"Zhenren Li. Might I interest you to join me back at Kathok Monastery? Perhaps we could carry on this conversation over a cup of warm tea and some food?"
Li Yundong glanced in the northwest direction. Tingri was only 70 kilometers away. He could still make it into the town before dark if he set off now. Plus, he still had to find a way to get in touch with Zi Yuan.
Li Yundong shook his head. "Unfortunately, I have to get going. There's somewhere I need to be."
Dorjee Tenzin's face fell. "I understand."
Li Yundong smiled and patted the tall lama's shoulder. "Maybe next time."
Would there be a next time though? He honestly wasn't even sure if he would ever return to Tibet. Hell. He couldn't even be sure if all of this was actual reality, not some illusion conjured by his personal god.
Li Yundong stuffed the Fan of Seven Treasures into the backpack and covered it up with a towel. Then, he secured the straps over his shoulders.
"Well. See you around, big guy."
Dorjee Tenzin closed his eyes and pressed his palms together. "May Buddha guide your journey."
"Thank you." He waved at Dorjee Tenzin and walked away.
"One more thing, Zhenren Li!"
Li Yundong came to a halt and turned around.
"You are blessed with insurmountable talents, Zhenren Li," Dorjee Tenzin said. "Do not waste them. I have no doubt that you'll one day become one of the greatest Grandmasters to ever live."