When Li Yundong opened his eyes again, the smooth, fair skin of Zi Yuan's cheeks was the first thing he saw. Her eyes were closed, and she had a serene expression on her face. And judging from her posture and the way she was sitting, she was meditating.
He raised his hands above his head and stretched. Zi Yuan's blinked open as soon as he moved.
"Oh. You're up."
Li Yundong released a long sigh. "What time is it?"
"It's been nearly three hours since you began your first Qi Transmutation cycle."
Three hours? Time sure flies.
"How do you feel?"
Li Yundong chuckled and lowered his arms back down. "Not too bad I suppose. But... I don't feel extra powerful or anything. Um... Actually, I feel just the same. No difference."
The whole thing honestly felt like a long nap.
Zi Yuan was looking past his shoulders. He turned his head and saw the Fan of the Seven Treasures that he'd leaned against the side of the couch when he walked in earlier.
"Why don't you try channeling your Zhenqi into the Fan of Seven Treasures and see what happens?"
Li Yundong swiveled his head around and found Zi Yuan smirking at him.
Indeed, the significance of what Zi Yuan was asking him to do wasn't lost on him at all. All this while, his usage of the Fan of Seven Treasures didn't involve any magic or spiritual energy. Even then, the Fan had proven itself to be capable of terrifying feats of power.
What would happen if he juiced it up with magic?
Li Yundong reached behind him and pulled the Fan of Seven Treasure from the couch towards him. He lay the bulky object down on the floor in front of him, then stared at it warily.
So help him God if he ended up destroying the whole apartment after this training session...
"Go on." Zi Yuan's voice jolted him out of his musings. "What are you waiting for?"
Li Yundong stole a fearful glance at Zi Yuan. Suddenly, this whole thing felt like a terrible idea. Shouldn't they take this somewhere outside the apartment?
"O- Okay." He cleared his throat and sat up straighter. Then, he took a deep breath and ran his fingers along the fan's metallic surface.
He should probably start with just a little bit of Zhenqi.
Baby steps, right?
"Just use the same Qi control techniques, right?" he asked tentatively. "Like the ones I practiced during the Lianqi phase?"
Alright then... He focused his mind on the Zhenqi circling around the surface layer of his Vital Orb.
Here we go…
He mobilized a small portion of Zhenqi and guided it along the Hand's Major Yin Lung Meridian. A moment later, he felt his Zhenqi leave the surface of his palm.
Shit... What's with this weird—
His Zhenqi was met with a resistance the moment it entered the fan, almost as though the fan had some kind of inner defense mechanism. The resistance grew stronger as it tried to push his Zhenqi back into his body. He kept pushing back against the resistance and, with some effort, managed to keep his Zhenqi inside the fan. Seconds later, he felt something else: his Zhenqi had lost some of its vitality; like the fan had extracted something from his Zhenqi.
He slowly guided his Zhenqi back into his body. When he felt the last of his Zhenqi entering his meridian, he cracked open an eye to take a peek at the fan.
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
The fan lay as still as a dead fish.
He opened both eyes and looked towards Zi Yuan. "Um..."
Amusement shone through Zi Yuan's eyes as she studied him. Somehow, she managed to make him feel about as helpless as a three-year-old kid trying to drive a truck.
"Well? What did I do wrong?"
Zi Yuan smiled. "Technically, you didn't do anything wrong."
"But..." Li Yundong's eyes went to the fan again. "It didn't even react. It's like nothing happened."
"Nothing? Are you sure about that?"
Li Yundong's gaze went from the fan to Zi Yuan's face. One of her brows was arched.
Then, he spent a while recalling every sensation he'd felt during the process.
"My Zhenqi was met with some kind of resistance," he said.
"Uh-huh… What else?"
"After that it was like... like something was drawn out of my Zhenqi?" Li Yundong paused to take a look at Zi Yuan. Something clicked inside his mind. "It was my spiritual energy, wasn't it? The fan consumed my spiritual energy."
"Okay..." Li Yundong frowned. "So did it even work?" He gestured at the fan. "It didn't react at all."
He didn't expect the fan to suddenly explode or anything, but he figured it would at least glow.
Zi Yuan shook her head like she would at a child who'd just told her something utterly nonsensical.
"What?" he asked.
"Suppose that an item costs a million yuan," she said with a quirk of a brow. "Do you expect to buy it for ten yuan?"
Oh. So he had to channel more spiritual energy into the fan was what she was saying.
Right. Stupid. He cleared his throat, suddenly feeling as though his cheeks were on fire.
"More spiritual energy. Got it."
"If this were a thousand years ago, the fan wouldn't respond to you even if you spend the next two years channeling your Zhenqi into it."
Li Yundong stared at Zi Yuan for a moment, unable to believe what he'd just heard. "T-Two years?"
"At your current level, yes." Zi Yuan's eyes darted to his face. "Not even a single budge after two years."
Two frigging years. You've gotta be shitting me.
"Hold on. You said a thousand years ago. How is the fan different now compared to a thousand years ago?"
"Grandmaster Pan Shi was still wielding it at that time," Zi Yuan answered. "Unlike now, the Great Fox Elder's spiritual signature inside the fan was still thriving..."
"A spiritual signature is exactly as its name implies. It is a mark indicative of the presence of spiritual energy."
That sounded a bit similar to DNA…
"Remember..." Zi Yuan's expression turned serious. "The magical object chooses its master." She pointed at the Fan of Seven Treasures. "And that is exactly what you need to do in order to pass the second dan of the Shentong phase. You need to get the Fan of Seven Treasures to choose you as its new master." Zi Yuan placed her hand back onto her lap. "The most basic way to use your spiritual energy isn't to cast spells, but to use it to gain the allegiance of a magical object." Zi Yuan's expression softened. "That resistance you felt earlier is due to the spiritual energy of its current owner trying to expel yours." Zi Yuan shot him a pointed look. "And yes, until you can get the fan to recognize you, Grandmaster Pan Shi is still its owner."
Li Yundong stared wordlessly at the Fan of Seven Treasures.
Suddenly, Zi Yuan chuckled. "It's amazing how Grandmaster Pan Shi's spiritual signature remains inside the fan even after a thousand years."
Zi Yuan shook her head in awe. "It proves just how powerful his spiritual energy was when he was at his prime."
"Spiritual signatures weaken with time?"
"Without constant exposure to the owners' Qi, then yes, they do."
Li Yundong nodded and stared at the fan again. That must be why Zi Yuan had asked him to keep it beside him at all times.
After a while, Li Yundong chuckled and shook his head.
"What's so funny?" Zi Yuan asked.
"How does it even work?" he asked, glancing over at Zi Yuan.
"It's not that complicated. Just keep channeling your Zhenqi into the fan and try to fight against its resistance," Zi Yuan explained. "Your spiritual energy will do the rest by slowly erasing Grandmaster Pan Shi's spiritual signature from the fan." There was a pause. "The task might take a while, but it should be possible even for someone at your level. It's been a thousand years since Grandmaster Pan Shi last wielded it after all..."
Li Yundong wanted to ask how long "a while" was, but he held his tongue in the end. He figured it wouldn't be as long as that trip to Tibet. At least that was what he hoped.
"Okay. What actually happens when the fan acknowledges me as its owner?"
Would it involve some kind of ritual?
"Several things," Zi Yuan said. "At the exact moment a magical object acknowledges you as its owner, a connection will be formed between your Spirit and the magical object's Spirit."
Li Yundong glanced down at the fan, then looked back up at Zi Yuan. "Magical objects have Spirits?"
"Of course." Zi Yuan smiled, then nodded at the Fan of Seven Treasures. "You'll soon see that it has a will of its own."
"Now pay attention. This is very important," Zi Yuan said sternly. "That connection between your Spirit and the object's Spirit is a sign of ownership. You understand?" There was a pause. "Do you know how you managed to take the damask from Hongling back then?"
Li Yundong shook his head. He just remembered telling himself to do everything in his power to stop that f*cking thing from hurting Su Chan. He didn't recall doing anything special.
"Your Spirit severed the connection between Hongling's Spirit and the damask's Spirit. That's how you took it from her," Zi Yuan said wryly. "The damask no longer recognized Hongling as its owner after you grabbed it from thin air."
Li Yundong could feel his own eyes going wide. "Wait. You mean I became the owner of the damask after I took it?"
Zi Yuan shook her head. "I don't think so." She quirked a brow. "You didn't even have a Vital Orb back then. There was no way you could've claimed ownership without exposing it to your Zhenqi."
Hold on. Something didn't add up.
"Then how did I steal it in the first place?" Li Yundong frowned. "You said it yourself. I didn't even have a Vital Orb..." He glanced down at the Fan of Seven Treasures on the floor. "And I had to send my Zhenqi into the damask for it to recognize me, right? Like I'm trying to do with the fan?"
Zi Yuan shook her head. "You couldn't establish ownership, that's true. But that doesn't mean you couldn't break the existing connection between the object and its current wielder." Zi Yuan raised a finger. "And you're forgetting something else."
Li Yundong sat there and waited for her to carry on her explanation.
"Again, what is Zhenqi?" Zi Yuan prompted. "We discussed this earlier."
"A condensed form of Qi that's been fortified by the Spirit."
"Precisely. The Jindan's Aura is itself a highly condensed form of Qi, you see? And during the battle, your Spirit must've been strong enough to fortify the Aura to convert it into a powerful form of Zhenqi..." She paused and studied him for a moment or two. "Did you feel any resistance when you grabbed the damask back then?"
Li Yundong nodded.
"Er… There was some kind of red aura pushing back against my hand."
Zi Yuan nodded. "That was Hongling trying to fight back. But her Spirit is weaker than yours." Zi Yuan chuckled wryly. "Her spiritual signature got erased by the Jindan's Aura the moment your hand touched the damask's surface."
Li Yundong cleared his throat. "Will she still be able to use it after this?"
"Of course." Zi Yuan shrugged. "She just has to do what you're trying to do now." Zi Yuan nodded at the Fan of Seven Treasures. "She has to expend her spiritual energy to regain ownership of the damask."
"Look…" Li Yundong raised his hands defensively. "I had no choice, okay? She tried to kill—"
Zi Yuan silenced him with a palm. "I'm not blaming you. I already told the girl not to act rashly, but she didn't listen. So she paid the price..." Zi Yuan shook her head slightly. "Anyway. We've digressed. Where were we...? Ah. Right. Like I said, the formation of Spiritual connection will be the first thing that happens during the recognition. After that comes the awakening."
"The moment the magical object… comes to life, so to speak." Zi Yuan flicked a glance at him. "This is when you'll see the magical object act as though it has its own free will."
"Wait… You mean it'll start moving around on its own?"
"It'll do more than that, actually." Zi Yuan chuckled. "It'll use its owner's spiritual signature as a guide and start seeking out the owner's Zhenqi."
Li Yundong glanced at the fan again. She made it sound as though magical objects could act like pets.
Li Yundong looked up to find Zi Yuan giving him an encouraging nod. "Work on it until you succeed."
Li Yundong took a deep breath and sat up straighter. "How long do you think it'll take?"
"It doesn't matter how long it takes," Zi Yuan said in a tone of finality. "You'll keep trying until the fan recognizes you as its true owner."
With that, Zi Yuan closed her eyes and went back to her meditation.