Li Yundong could feel Zi Yuan's wary gaze on him the moment he asked the question. His scalp tingled. Had he said the wrong thing? Should he not have asked the question? He cleared his throat. "I mean, that way I wouldn't have to constantly worry about the fan getting taken away from me, right?"
After a moment of silence, Zi Yuan smiled. Li Yundong heaved a small sigh of relief.
"There are many ways to do it," she said. "You already know one of them." Zi Yuan waved the ribbon a few times for emphasis. "You inscribe runes directly onto the weapon. But doing that requires certain skills that you do not yet possess." Zi Yuan put the ribbon away. "The easiest way is to fortify your weapon with another magical object. Ideally, one that possesses elemental attributes that are different from yours. The best way to understand this is through an analogy. Think about the food you consume and the way it helps nourish your body. When you consume food, your body breaks it down and absorb the nutrients it contains. The fortification of magical weapons is similar, at least conceptually. You break down another weapon and then have your own weapon absorb its essence."
"Okay…" Li Yundong leaned forward in the armchair. "How?"
Zi Yuan shrugged nonchalantly. "I'm sure you're already familiar with my coaching style by now." A smirk played on her lips. "If you expect me to tell you everything, then you have another think coming."
Li Yundong stared at her for a moment.
The smirk remained on Zi Yuan's lips.
Moments later, Li Yundong burst into chuckles. "Okay. Fair enough."
Zi Yuan smiled. "You'll have time to experiment with weapon fortification after you survive your divine punishment."
Li Yundong grunted. "Let's just hope that I don't run into any more robbers until then." Li Yundong paused, then shot Zi Yuan a wary look. "Was there something wrong with my question though?"
Li Yundong kept his eyes on her. "It's just... You seemed a little worried just now." Li Yundong gestured at his own face. "You had this strange look after I asked that question." He lowered his hand from his face. "Did... Did my question upset you?"
Zi Yuan sighed. "No, it isn't that. I was just a bit concerned about your understanding of magical warfare."
Li Yundong frowned. "I don't follow."
Zi Yuan stared at him intently. "You seem to assume that Cultivators will always try to steal your magical weapon during combat situations." Zi Yuan nodded. "Which is understandable considering your prior experiences. However..." Zi Yuan gave him a serious look again. "I should warn you that you should never try to claim another Cultivator's magical weapon unless you are absolutely certain of your success."
Li Yundong had more questions, but he held his tongue and waited for her to continue.
"Why do you think Lyu Fengping and Wu Hao were bold enough to attempt to take the Fan of Seven Treasures from you by force?"
"Uh... I don't know, maybe because they were both legitimate assholes?"
Zi Yuan shot him a withering look.
Li Yundong held up his palms in surrender. "I'm not sure."
"My guess? It's probably because they knew you had only just passed the Zhuji phase back then." Zi Yuan gave him a pointed look. "And also the fact that they had the numbers advantage." Zi Yuan chuckled humorlessly. "I mean, there they were, two Cultivators at the sixth phase against one newbie who had just passed the Zhuji phase. Sounds like a no-brainer, right?"
Li Yundong nodded. Those two did seem awfully confident back then.
A look of cold disdain spread across Zi Yuan's features.
"Well, they were both fools," she said, her voice laced with contempt. "They weren't thorough enough in their assessment of your strength and ended up misjudging the whole situation. They were so blinded by greed that they didn't even stop to consider one painfully simple question." Zi Yuan paused to look at him. "If you were truly that weak, then how did you end up possessing such a powerful weapon in the first place?"
Li Yundong pondered Zi Yuan's words in silence. Indeed, she had a point. It was true that the Fan of Seven Treasures was given to him by Su Chan and Ao Wushuang as a gift. But Wu Hao and Lyu Fengping couldn't possibly be aware of that fact back then. And yet neither of them had stopped to consider the possibility that he had actually taken the fan from its past owner by force.
Zi Yuan was right. That was pretty sloppy thinking right there.
"Having a slight numbers advantage or the fact that your CQ is higher than your opponent aren't nearly enough to justify an attempt to steal your opponent's magical weapon. In fact, a numbers advantage means nothing if your opponent is capable of highly destructive spells that can affect a large area." Zi Yuan paused to let her words sink in. "Why would it even matter that you are facing a hundred, or even a thousand, opponents if you could take them out all at once with one of the mudras, for instance?" Zi Yuan held his gaze. "I was watching the battle that day, you know? But I didn't step in to help you."
Something clicked inside Li Yundong's mind.
"You said you knew I could handle them."
Zi Yuan nodded. "I had more data. I knew what you were capable of." Zi Yuan shook her head in distaste. "And those fools would, too, if they actually took the time to observe you before they acted." Zi Yuan raised her brow pointedly. "And the same goes for you. Never ever attempt to claim your opponent's magical weapon during a battle unless you have absolutely no choice like with Liuhe and Hongling's damask."
Li Yundong nodded. "Understood."
"The rationale behind it is quite simple," Zi Yuan continued. "Claiming a weapon in the middle of a battle leaves you highly vulnerable." She paused to look at him. "Take the attempt on your life tonight, for instance. The Hairpin of Traversing Soul could stab you to death while you were busy trying to erase Liuhe's spiritual signature. The only reason you survived is because I was there to fend off the hairpin's attacks."
Zi Yuan stopped talking all of a sudden. She looked like she was thinking hard about something, so Li Yundong kept quiet; he didn't want to interrupt her thoughts.
"You can think of it this way," she said about a minute later. "In a typical magical warfare where two opponents—each with their own magical weapons—go up against each other, there are two common scenarios. One, the magical weapons take on each other and the Cultivators watch their weapons duke it out from the sidelines. Two, the Cultivators duel each other while their weapons are fighting each other. Each of these cases involves a"—Zi Yuan did air quotes—"fair fight, where neither combatants are at a tactical disadvantage. This should be obvious for the first scenario where the outcome will be determined by the respective strengths of the magical weapons as well as the Cultivators' mastery of their own weapons. The second scenario is pretty much the same. In the second scenario, a certain kind of equilibrium exists, you see? When the Cultivators are battling each other, their magical weapons will automatically be fighting each other as well. To be exact, they are actually preventing each other from going to their master's aid. Hence the equilibrium." Zi Yuan glanced at Li Yundong. "What do you think will happen if one of the Cultivators shifts their focus onto their opponent's magical weapon instead of trying to take out their opponent?"
"The equilibrium would be disrupted..." Something clicked inside Li Yundong's mind, and his gaze snapped to Zi Yuan's face. "It could potentially turn into a two-versus-one scenario."
"Think. If you're fighting another Cultivator, and you go for his weapon first?" Zi Yuan arched a brow. "Your opponent can do whatever he wants and you wouldn't even be aware of it because you'll be too busy trying to subdue his magical weapon. For example..." Zi Yuan gestured with a hand. "He could just stand there and do nothing. He would be safe, because he was no longer trying to attack you, which means that your magical weapon will stop trying to attack him as well."
"Right. Because magical weapons will only switch into protective mode when someone is harboring malicious intent towards itself or their master."
Zi Yuan nodded. "So what happens then? Your magical weapon becomes idle because you're no longer under attack. And you yourself would be too occupied with the task of subduing your opponent's weapon to maneuver your own weapon." There was a pointed pause. "You would be vulnerable."
There was a moment of silence where Zi Yuan seemed content to let him stew over her words.
"Why do you think the Fan of Seven Treasures never came to your aid during tonight's attack?" Zi Yuan asked after a while.
Li Yundong glanced up at her. "Because it was too far away."
"Correct." Zi Yuan nodded, then paused for a moment. "Which is a good thing, by the way. We didn't know what was really going on back then, so it was wise move not to show our hands too early. We would have a lot more problems on our hands if it turns out that the Fox Zen School was in fact behind the attack. I don't think they would take it well if they found out that you're in possession of their treasured weapon." A look of pride graced Zi Yuan's features. "Hongling had acted wisely by choosing to wait for my signal instead of throwing the fan onto the stage... Anyway." Zi Yuan cleared her throat and shook her head slightly. "I digressed. My apologies."
Li Yundong waved his hand. "It's okay."
"So. Back to our topic," Zi Yuan said. "There are many ways you can be vulnerable to attack in that kind of scenario. For instance, your opponent could try to exploit your desire to claim his weapon as yours." Zi Yuan paused to look at him. "What if he controls his weapon and then use it to lure you away from your own weapon? In such cases, the battle would indeed turn into a two-versus-one situation like you said earlier."
Li Yundong nodded in agreement.
"The fight is pretty much over if it gets to that point," Zi Yuan said. "Your opponent and his weapon could attack you at the same time, but your magical weapon wouldn't be able to sense his intent because it's too far away. Even if it did sense your opponent's evil intent—"
"It might not be able to reach me in time," Li Yundong cut in.
"Exactly. And if your opponent kills or injures you..." Zi Yuan looked towards him and let out a wry chuckle.
"It would be two versus one again," Li Yundong said. "This time, it would be him and his magical weapon versus my weapon alone. Even if I survived, I would lose my weapon to my enemy."
Zi Yuan nodded. "From a purely tactical point of view, going for the weapon first is almost always a bad idea. It just isn't worth the risk." Zi Yuan paused for a moment, then shook her head. "There are too many uncertainties involved. For instance, you won't know what your opponent's magical weapon is truly capable of until he reveals it to you in combat. What if the weapon has other elemental attributes that you aren't aware of and you're taken by surprise? Worst, you will be expending your Zhenqi to…" Zi Yuan suddenly turned to him. "You already learned this during the second dan of the Shentong phase. To subdue a weapon, you have to erase the weapon's spiritual signature first. And for that, your Zhenqi has to be inside the weapon to do the work, which increases your vulnerability." Zi Yuan shook her head gently. "Again, not worth the risk."
"A wise Cultivator would take out his opponent first, and then claim his weapon. Or, he might force his opponent to use his magical weapon in order to gather data on the weapon, like what kind of abilities it has or the elemental attribute it possesses."
"The most important thing is to keep our weapons near us at all times, right?" Li Yundong asked. "So that we can watch each other's backs and protect each other."
Zi Yuan nodded. "Ideally, yes."
He remembered the way the purple ribbon had slithered out from under Zi Yuan's sleeves during the attack earlier. It surprised him a little that she had been carrying a lethal weapon on her all this while and he wasn't even aware of it.
"Well!" Li Yundong placed his palms on his knees and rose from the armchair. "That was enlightening. But I think I should go now."
Zi Yuan stood up from the couch as well. "It is pretty late," she said after a quick glance at the clock.
Li Yundong picked up his backpack and slung it over his shoulders. "Yep. Thank you so much for the lessons."
Zi Yuan smiled. "Any time."
Li Yundong returned her smile and headed towards the balcony.
"You can start thinking about how you can incorporate other weapons into the Fan of Seven Treasures." Zi Yuan's voice sounded behind him. "Just remember to be careful."
At the balcony, Li Yundong came to a halt and turned around.
"Why didn't your master add runes onto Ruan Hongling's damask?" he asked.
Zi Yuan leaned against the sliding door and stared at him. Moments later, she let out a soft sigh. "To tell you the truth, Hongling is only Master's disciple in name only."
Li Yundong stared at Zi Yuan in surprise. "You mean she has never been taught your master directly?"
You'd think Ruan Hongling had a close bond with Wang Yuanshan considering the way she practically worshipped the ground he walked on.
"She has." A sad smile formed on Zi Yuan's lips. "For a few days. But that's about it."
"A few days?" Li Yundong said, his eyes rounding in sheer incredulity.
Zi Yuan sighed again. "Yes. And he gave Hongling the damask right before he..." Zi Yuan cleared her throat. "He didn't have time to inscribe runes onto the damask."
Li Yundong sighed. "You okay, Zi Yuan?"
"I'm fine." Zi Yuan smiled. "Why wouldn't I be?"
Because you were crying after you finished writing that calligraphy.
Li Yundong kept that thought to himself.
"Alright then. I'm gonna go now, okay?"
Zi Yuan nodded. "Good night."
The Ophidian Whip lay beside Li Yundong's feet in a neat coil. To the left of the whip, sat a wooden box which held two spherical beads. Li Yundong walked over to the coffee table, on top of which the Fan of Seven Treasures lay idly. Reaching down, he picked up the Fan of Seven Treasures and spent a moment just feeling its weight in his arms. He already knew the fan's inherent elemental attribute: Yang. Now he just had to figure out a way to add other attributes to it.
The curtains fluttered when a cool breeze wafted in from the balcony. The living room was dark; he had opted to leave the lights off lest he give his neighbors a fright if they saw anything weird going on inside the apartment. Granted, he could've have closed all the curtains and windows, but doing so would impede the air circulation too much.
Li Yundong picked up the Ophidian Whip and scrutinized it in the darkness. Back at Tingri, Zi Yuan had mentioned something about the whip being a Yin-based weapon capable of magic from the Fire element, so he could probably assume that the Ophidian Whip had the elemental attributes of Yin and Fire.
Multiple elemental attributes...
It felt damn near impossible to claim Zi Yuan's purple ribbon just now. Then again, he was pretty sure that Zi Yuan's ribbon had at least three attributes, not just two. Its primary attribute was Yin, but he thought he felt a bit of Yang along with Metal. But still. It would probably be too much of a challenge to integrate two elemental attributes into the fan at the same time.
The whip joined the other items on the floor.
Li Yundong's hand stilled when it was inches away from the wooden box containing the Beads of Gore. These things nearly burned him alive when he last encountered them. Touching the beads with his bare hands was most definitely a bad idea. He picked up the whole wooden box and brought his face closer to the box's opening. He tilted the box and watched the two beads rolled to a corner of the box. A second later, he hesitated and leaned his face away. Sure, he wanted to take a good look at the beads, but he didn't know if it was a good idea to have his face that close to those freakish things. He was too broke to afford a plastic surgery if his face got barbequed.
With a sigh, he lowered the box to the floor and snapped a few pictures of the beads with his phone. He spent the next ten minutes studying the photos he took, zooming in to take a closer look at the beads surface.
Li Yundong frowned. He couldn't really work out the beads' attributes. Also, he was pretty sure that there was something inside the beads, something too tiny to be captured with his phone's camera. He sighed and pocketed his phone, then looked towards the wooden box again. Should he use Qi Kinesis and grab one of the beads with his Zhenqi? He dispelled that idea as soon as it came up. It could be risky; he didn't know how the beads would react to his Zhenqi touching it. After all, Liuhe sort of went havoc when he tried to grab it with his Zhenqi earlier.
But what if I... Li Yundong glanced around the room a few times. He paused when his gaze fell on the kitchen. Hmm… I suppose that could work... He strode into the kitchen and yanked open the cutlery drawer, then returned to the living room with two dinner forks.
He spent the following few seconds mobilizing his Zhenqi from his Vital Orb, shaping it into two pairs of tweezers, which he then used to grab the dinner forks.
After that, he released the dinner forks into the air and watched them float down towards the wooden box.
Another thought occurred to Li Yundong.
He made the forks freeze just above the mouth of the box, then glanced towards the balcony. Probably best if I check it out first. He padded towards the sliding door and stepped out onto the balcony. Standing in front of the railing, he glanced around, checking the upper floors of his own block as well as those of the surrounding blocks.
It was pretty late, so most of the tenants in the surrounding blocks had gone to bed already. The lights in Zi Yuan's apartment was still on though. Other than that, the coast was clear.
He turned around and stepped back into the apartment, pausing at the sliding door to open it fully.
The dinner forks reached into the wooden box and clamped one of the beads with their tines. Slow and steady now... Slow and steady...
Seconds later, the bead was out of the box, and the forks slowly drifted towards the balcony, carrying the bead with them.
About a few feet away from the railing, Li Yundong made the forks stop.
Is that far enough?
He held his breath and watched the bead for any reactions. He waited for about a minute before deciding that it was okay to proceed.
Inside the apartment, Li Yundong kept backing away from the sliding door to put more distance between himself and the bead. When he reached the dining table, he moved his Qi to his Shenting and activated his telescopic vision to get a good look at the bead.
Before this, Li Yundong thought that the beads were black in color when deactivated. He was wrong. Upon closer look, the beads were actually red, albeit of a darker shade. The bead was small—slightly smaller than the tip of a human thumb. Its surface was smooth, giving the whole thing a shiny look. The most fascinating feature about the bead was the thing inside it, deep under its surface. Whoa… What the heck is that...? When Li Yundong zoomed in further, he saw tiny red—a brighter shade compared to the surface of the bead—tendrils swirling inside the bead.
Blots of silver-colored substance began to obscure his vision. Wait, what? Where did those silver-colored things come from? He zoomed out slightly and discovered, much to his horror, that the forks were melting.
The next thing he knew, the bead burst into flames.
Li Yundong moved his legs in an instant and charged towards the balcony. Alas, before he could take more than three steps, the ball of flame hurtled towards the sliding door.
Reacting by instinct, Li Yundong shaped his Zhenqi into a rectangular wall and then used it to seal the sliding door. Li Yundong broke out in shudders the moment the flames struck his Zhenqi. Those were flames that he was seeing, and yet their aura felt cold.
What the hell?
The ball of flames was repelled backwards, but it didn't seem to show signs of giving up as it charged at the wall once more.
Li Yundong gasped as another wave of shudders coursed through his body. And to make matters worse, the ball of flames had doubled in size.
Shit. It's reacting to my Zhenqi somehow...
Li Yundong pulled back his Zhenqi and rushed towards the sliding door. Change of plans, then. Li Yundong activated the Jindan's Aura in both arms the moment he saw the ball of flames charging into the living room. The ball flew straight at his head, forcing him to duck. The ball of flames missed his hair and flew over him before circling back to his front. I gotta force it out of the apartment.
Li Yundong threw a punch when the ball charged at him. His punch missed, so he was forced to bob and weave a few times to avoid getting hit by the ball.
All of a sudden, the ball jerked to his left. Oh no you don't!
Li Yundong landed a left hook, forcing the ball back to his front. He immediately followed up with a right cross, which propelled the ball out of the sliding door.
Li Yundong ran after the ball but then came to a halt the moment he crossed the balcony's threshold.
The ball of flames was lengthening and changing its color like it was undergoing some kind of freakish transformation. Dark wraiths with ghoulish faces crept out of the elongated shape.
"Om mani padme hum!"
A golden apparition of Mahavairocana's First Mudra—the Intelligent Fist—flew out of Li Yundong's hands. The dark wraiths evaporated in seconds after they were struck.
Li Yundong lowered his hands and stared at the empty balcony. The bead was gone. The forks were gone too. Through the golden glow from his arms, he discerned splatter of melted stainless steel on the balcony floor.
Something crackled behind him.
When he turned around, another ball of flame was flying straight at his face.