It was dark by the time Li Yundong arrived at the fork of Country Road 218. He stood at the fork, glancing around for a road sign that would point him towards the town of Tingri. There were none.
Sighing, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his map.
It was too dark to read, so he gathered his Lung's Qi to his left hand while unfolding the map with his right. A white glow emanated from the tip of his index finger, which he used as a torch light of some kind to read the map.
The left fork would take him north towards G318, the highway he was trying to get to (T/N: map is included; see end notes). The other fork led to Gangga village, beyond which the town of Tingri lay. He folded the map and slipped it back into his pocket. After a quick check of his surroundings, he took the fork on his right.
Country Road 220 was just like all the other roads he had taken in the Tibetan outskirts—idle and deserted, almost to the point of being godforsaken. Thanks to his Qi shoes, he was able to move swiftly but quietly down the road. He also made sure to stick to the right-hand side of the road where he could use the trees as cover from anyone spying on him from the sky. He hadn't had any hostile encounters after he parted ways with Dorjee Tenzin, but he didn't want to take any chances. Which was why he had kept his Eryue activated the whole time.
God forbid Lyu Fengping returned with more reinforcements.
After walking for about ten meters, he came to a sudden halt. He heard something through the hush of the night, some kind of trickling sound.
There was a water source nearby.
He got off the road, then slowly made his way towards the woods on his right. Seconds later, he was walking in the woods, using the light from his index finger to guide him. He stopped near the edge of a downward slope. Not too steep—about 30 to 45 degrees slant angle. A small stream lay at the bottom of the slope.
He sighed and lowered his finger. That should take care of his water source until he got far away enough from this area to replenish his supplies. He could've gotten supplies from the village or Tingri of course, but he didn't want to leave too many bread crumbs for his enemies to follow.
On second thought, it might be a better idea to spend the night here rather than in Tingri or Gangga village. By now, the person who sent Wu Hao and Lyu Fengping had probably begun to wonder where those two were. For all he knew, they might've sent another team to check out the base camps. Was Wu Hao's land rover equipped with a GPS device? It probably was. Shit.
Well, on the plus side, nobody other than Dorjee Tenzin had seen Li Yundong come this way. And Dorjee Tenzin himself had vowed to help Li Yundong draw away any Cultivators who came looking for him.
Dorjee Tenzin's help should buy him a little time.
Li Yundong leaped off the edge and landed at the bottom of the slope. He approached the stream and lowered his backpack to the ground.
The stream water felt cool in his hands. He stared at the water and allowed himself a moment of peace. A sense of tranquility washed over him. That is until he began to notice strange ripples in the water.
Somebody was here.
He sneaked a glance at his backpack, which was leaning against a rock a several feet away. The Fan of Seven Treasures was still there.
A breeze tickled his skin. Wisps of white fog danced around his face, confirming his suspicion that something strange was happening.
He twisted his torso sideways, then did an abrupt shoulder roll, putting him in a kneeling position in front of his backpack. His fingers moved into Acalanatha's 2nd mudra—the Immovable Mountain of Treasure.
"Namah samanta vajranam ham!"
A golden barrier spread out in front of him.
For a moment or two, he couldn't see anything other than the thick fog surrounding the area. Then, the sound of sloshing water drew his eyes towards the stream. Light shone through the fog, like the parting of a curtain leading into a bright room.
The light was so dazzling that he had to struggle to keep his eyes open.
Seconds later, the fog parted to two sides, revealing an elegant figure in a long, purple gown. A tulle veil fell around the woman's shoulders. The whole scene was surreal in an ethereal sort of way. He felt like he was in paradise; he couldn't even tell where the woman's veil ended and where the fog began.
Li Yundong sighed and lowered his hands. The golden barrier faded.
"About time you showed up."
The woman advanced towards him. The fog shifted again, this time forming two condensed clump. Each clump then drifted towards each of the woman's hands.
"I've known for many years that the Mahamudra Tantra held great secrets. I just didn't expect I'd get a chance to see them in play on multiple occasions. I guess I should be glad that you didn't take my advice to mind your own business."
Li Yundong frowned. "Wait… Multiple occasions? But I've only shown you…"
Zi Yuan was now close enough that Li Yundong could see her smirk.
The penny dropped. "You've been watching me this whole time, haven't you?"
"Of course." Zi Yuan stopped in front of him. "Why do you think you're still alive?"
Li Yundong failed to stifle a snort. "Is that a joke? Where were you when I was attacked by those two robbers?"
Zi Yuan waved him off. "Just a bunch of low level thugs. I knew you could handle them."
Yeah, well it certainly didn't feel like it.
Li Yundong sighed and lowered himself to the ground. "I killed one of them by accident." He shook his head. "The other one got away."
"Technically, you killed both of them."
Li Yundong's head shot up. "But the woman got away." He frowned. "She turned into this… I don't know, transparent figure, and then disappeared."
Zi Yuan stared at him strangely.
"What is it?" Li Yundong narrowed his eyes. "You're creeping me out a little."
Seconds later, a look of recognition formed on her face. "Ah. I see." She chuckled. "I guess this is what happens when you rely on the Jindan to pass the Sutai phase."
"I don't follow."
"What you saw was the woman's soul. She managed to remove her soul from her body before her body got destroyed. That's why I said you technically killed her." Zi Yuan stared at him. "Right now, she doesn't have a physical body unless her soul enters another person's body and gains control of that person's Spirit Space."
"Okay… But what does that have to do with the Sutai phase?"
"The 7th dan of the Sutai phase is all about gaining the ability to allow your soul to roam freely outside your body. We call it the Wandering Soul."
"Like an out-of-body experience?"
"But I've already passed the Sutai phase. How come I can't do it?"
Zi Yuan smiled. "You can. You just haven't been taught how."
"Your body is already capable of the Wandering Soul—among other things—thanks to the Jindan. But you have to be taught the specifics before you can do it properly."
"Well." Li Yundong spread his arms. "I'm all ears."
"Not now." Zi Yuan shook her head. "Right now we have bigger things to worry about."
You're damn right about that.
Li Yundong stood up from the ground. "I think those two were sent by someone."
Zi Yuan had a pensive look on her face, though she was quiet.
"There's something fishy going on here." Li Yundong shook his head. "How come they knew I have the fan? I never showed it to anyone, I swear."
"I know. I was watching you."
Li Yundong narrowed his eyes at Zi Yuan. "For how long?"
"From the moment you left New Hongsheng District, of course."
Great. She must've had quite a few laughs at his expense considering all the stupid things he had done.
"So, by watching, you mean you were following me around?"
Zi Yuan smirked. "Not exactly."
"What? Then how did…" It clicked. He clapped his hands together. "I knew there was something strange about that cloud."
"A simple but useful spell from the Water element." Zi Yuan smiled. "Very handy for long-range surveillance."
Li Yundong opened his mouth to speak, but Zi Yuan silenced him with a hand.
"I know you have questions," she said. "But let's talk over dinner."
Li Yundong had to do a double take when he heard the word dinner.
Zi Yuan chuckled. "Yes, an actual dinner. I also booked two rooms at a backpackers lodge in Tingri. A car will come pick us up tomorrow."
He wanted to ask where they were going tomorrow, but right now he was honestly too hungry to care. He turned around, lifted his backpack off the ground, and then started walking away from the stream towards the slope.
Zi Yuan floated along beside him.
When they were back on the road again, Li Yundong stopped walking and turned towards Zi Yuan.
"You said backpackers lodge just now…"
Zi Yuan raised a brow. "Yeah. Why?"
"Do they by any chance have shampoo?"