Li Yundong raised his glowing arms and pushed back against the flames before they could engulf his body. The flames shot into the living room as though they were repelled by some kind of invisible force. He glanced down at his body. The sleeves of his shirt were charred, but his arms, coated by a thin golden glow, remained completely unharmed.
The Jindan's Aura had protected him.
The flames crackled and flew towards him once again.
SNAP! CLANG! THUD!
A powerful heat wave smacked him in the face, though strangely enough, he wasn't burned. The Fan of Seven Treasures was now standing directly in front of him with its leaves spread out like an impenetrable metal wall. The flames thrashed against the fan, sending waves of heat through the gaps between the leaves. The entire living room was now bathed in a reddish orange glow.
Crap. The apartment is going to burn down if I don't—
All of a sudden, the Fan of Seven Treasures folded itself into some kind of ring-shaped wall, trapping the flames with its leaves. Some of the flames tried to escape the metallic ring through the gaps between the leaves, but they were quickly thwarted when the leaves started spinning rapidly.
As soon as the leaves started rotating, the symbols from the Diamond Sutra flew out from the fan's surface and began circling the fan.
Li Yundong heaved a sigh of relief when he saw that nothing in the apartment was burned. Now I just have to take bring the fan to the balcony and deal with the fire—
Before Li Yundong could even complete that thought, the ring-shaped Fan of Seven Treasures floated out of the sliding door, bringing all the flames with it. Seconds later, the fan stopped moving, hovering slightly above the balcony's floor.
Wait a minute... Did it just read my thoughts?
He suddenly remembered the paper crane he used to communicate with Su Chan a few days ago. That paper crane was some kind of magical object too, and it could definitely understand him when he tried to talk to it.
Maybe the same principle applied here as well?
Besides, he was pretty sure that it had already happened just now. The fan had automatically altered its structure to contain the flames the moment he internally expressed his concerns about the apartment burning down.
What if I try talking to it?
Li Yundong stared at the ring-like fan. The golden symbols from the Diamond Sutra had now arranged themselves into a spinning sphere around the fan. The flames were still thrashing against the fan's leaves. Some of them had even managed to escape the ring-shaped wall, but they couldn't make it past the sphere formed by the symbols.
Can you understand me? he asked the fan internally.
The fan jiggled inside the sphere.
Move up and down if you can understand me.
The fan shot upwards, then quickly dipped down to its original spot. The flames remained securely contained within the sphere.
Move up and down for yes, he added in his mind a second later. Move left and right for no. Do you copy?
The fan moved up and down twice.
Huh. That went well.
Alright. So we're gonna have to work as a team here, buddy, he said to the fan. I need you to give me an opening so I can destroy the flames, can you do that?
The fan repeated the up-and-down motion.
Okay. So far so good.
Li Yundong studied the flames for a moment. The Intelligent Fist Mudra should take care of those flames.
On the count of three? Li Yundong stared at the fan and waited for its confirmation, which it did two seconds later.
Li Yundong arranged his fingers into the Intelligent Fist Mudra.
Whoa… Hold on a second...
He lowered his hands and studied at the fan and the roaring flames. Why destroy the flames at all? What not ask the Fan of Seven Treasures to absorb the bead's magic on its own and then fortify itself with it?
Li Yundong himself didn't know how to do it, true. But what if the fan knew?
Hey, buddy. Do you think you can fortify yourself by absorbing the flames and the bead?
The fan moved up and down.
Excitement coursed through Li Yundong.
What about those dark phantoms? Are they evil spirits?
The fan affirmed.
You have to destroy the evil spirits first before you absorb the beads, right?
He received yet another affirmation.
I knew it!
His suspicions had been confirmed: those dark wraiths were there to protect the beads and prevent other people from claiming them.
Can you destroy the evil spirits then?
Again, the fan affirmed.
Do it, Li Yundong told the fan. Absorb the bead.
The symbols stopped orbiting the fan and froze in space the moment he gave the order. The blades on the fan's leaves had stopped spinning as well. Everything stopped moving, and the fan hovered in mid-air like some kind of ring-shaped sculpture—static and lifeless. A burst of green light lit up the left corner of the balcony. Li Yundong turned and saw Zi Yuan storming towards him from the railing.
"What in Heavens' name—"
Zi Yuan was cut off by a flash of golden light. Li Yundong tore his gaze away from Zi Yuan and looked towards the source of the light.
Something was emerging from the Fan of Seven Treasures.
It was some kind of golden apparition, though its shape was too vague and formless for him to guess what it was.
The blades on the fan's leaves started spinning again. The sliding doors rattled against their fixtures as the wind picked up speed. A strange whining sound permeated the balcony as the symbols turned murky. In a matter of seconds, the symbols rose from the sphere's surface and transformed into dozens and dozens of arhats.
Then the chanting began.
The arhats were chanting some sort of mantra in Sanskrit. Even though Li Yundong couldn't understand a single word the arhats were saying, he could still feel the power behind those foreign syllables.
As soon as the mantra sounded, the dark wraiths inside the flames started going crazy. They screamed, howled, and thrashed against the fan as though they were in the throes of agony; it was like they were being tortured by the sounds of the mantra.
The wraiths tried to move outwards to no avail; the wraiths were trapped within a shrinking sphere of fire as the flames were compressed inwards by the fan's blades.
Li Yundong stared at the wraiths, aghast at the eerie and ghoulish expressions that appeared inside the ball of flames every few seconds or so. When the flaming ball shrunk to the size of a human fist, each of the arhats surrounding the fan unleashed a blinding glow.
Li Yundong flinched and covered his eyes with his hands, but then lowered his hands instantly when he heard Zi Yuan's gasp.
"What the…" Li Yundong whispered.
The arhats were all moving towards the sphere. After crossing the sphere's surface, they merged with the golden apparition he'd seen earlier.
There was another bright flash, though this time Li Yundong couldn't even bring himself to look away. Right before his eyes was perhaps the most fascinating thing he'd ever seen: the converging arhats morphed into a magnificent figure with six arms and three faces.
Suddenly, the space behind the figure went ablaze. Billows of brilliant and varicolored flames radiated from behind the figure like a bright halo. Li Yundong allowed his eyes to drift downwards as he took in the figure's muscular torso. From the waist down, the figure was wearing a golden kasaya. When his gaze reached the figure's bare feet, Li Yundong received yet another surprise: the figure was standing on a bunch of colorful clouds.
His eyes snapped upwards to the figure's head.
He nearly flinched when he saw one of the faces—the one with the angry expression—glaring at him.
This couldn't possibly be a coincidence.
The figure looked way too similar to the deity he'd seen during Ishvara.
"M- My Lord Acala," Zi Yuan said in surprised tone.
The angry face slowly turned away to glare at Zi Yuan.
A soft rustle sounded beside Li Yundong. A soft thud followed suit.
Li Yundong turned his head and saw Zi Yuan on her knees, prostrating herself until her forehead was touching the floor.
Li Yundong whipped his head to the front.
Just when he was about to lower himself to the ground and copy Zi Yuan's movements, those angry eyes were on him again. Once again, the sheer force behind those eyes knocked the wind out of him. Before he could recover himself from the effects of that piercing glare, the figure unleashed a loud roar, the magnitude of which caused the sliding doors and railing to tremble. There was so much power behind that voice that it startled Li Yundong, throwing him into a daze.
The next thing he knew, the figure was speaking to him.
Alas, despite its voice being loud and clear, Li Yundong couldn't understand a damn word since they were all uttered in Sanskrit. Li Yundong automatically turned towards Zi Yuan for help, but the woman was still down on the floor, fully prostrated.
Moments later, Li Yundong heard something that he did recognize: "Namah samanta vajranam ham."
The figure stopped speaking after that and continued to glare at Li Yundong. Behind the deity, the ring of fire blazed ferociously, dazzling his eyes for a moment. Li Yundong tamped down his fear and forced himself to speak. "Please... I don't understand... What does that mean?"
The deity didn't answer.
Li Yundong took a deep breath and mustered his courage.
"Please help me understand... What were you trying to tell me? What is your message?"
There was another bright flash.
By the time he could see again, the deity was gone.
The ball of flames was crushed into oblivion by the snapping motion of the Fan of Seven Treasures.
The fan—now in the shape of a Bo staff—landed on the floor with a loud thud and stood erect on the floor. Tiny puffs of green smoke swirled around the spot where the ball of flames had occupied before it got crushed. The smoke morphed into dozens and dozens of tiny demonic faces before it drifted beyond the railing and away into the night sky.
Li Yundong stared after the disappearing smoke.
"What the hell just happened?" he whispered to no one in particular.
He turned when he detected movements beside him.
Zi Yuan had risen to her feet. She walked over, pausing in front of the Fan of Seven Treasures to examine it.
"Heavens above," Zi Yuan said. "You did it... You actually did it. You managed to integrate the Beads of Gore into the Fan of Seven Treasures..."
Li Yundong heaved a sigh. "Yeah... I think so..."
Zi Yuan turned away from the fan and shot him a glare.
"Two near-death experiences in one night?" she chided. "You really have a death wish, Li Yundong."
"Hey..." Li Yundong raised his palms in a gesture of surrender. "I was careful."
Zi Yuan looked at him as though he had grown twenty heads.
"You were careful," she said dryly. "Really now?"
Li Yundong let out a chuckle and then told her about all the precautionary measures he had taken prior to his experimentation: the forks; using Qi Kinesis and his telescopic vision so that he could study the beads from a distance; not touching the beads directly; etc.
"Like I said, I wanted to study the beads. But I didn't want to touch them directly," Li Yundong said, holding Zi Yuan's gaze. "I knew they were dangerous."
The deadpan look on Zi Yuan's face remained.
"Your methods are ingenious, I'll give you that," she said. "But in this case, they fell short."
She stared at him for a moment, then sighed. "My guess? Your Zhenqi is so powerful that it didn't even need to enter the beads to trigger their protective mechanism."
Yeah, well, he'd already figured out that part when he was attempting to subdue the flames. The flames had reacted violently and grown stronger every time he tried to hold them back using Qi Kinesis.
"Remember what I told you the other night about the risks of using Qi Kinesis during combat?" Zi Yuan paused pointedly. "Well, this is one of them."
They stood in silence for a while.
"The deity just now," Li Yundong said. "That was Acalanatha, wasn't it?"
"Yes," Zi Yuan said in a robotic tone. "That's his full name in Sanskrit. The name is usually abbreviated as Acala."
Li Yundong nodded and continued staring at the Fan of Seven Treasures. Namah samanta vajranam ham. He recognized that line because it was the same mantra required to unleash the power of Acalanatha's 14 mudras.
"He is widely known across Buddhist cultures as a prominent dharmaphala," Zi Yuan said. "In Sanskrit, dharmaphala basically means, the protector of the Dharma. He is so widely known, in fact, that he was given different names across different cultures and languages. Acalanatha or Acala in Sanskrit. In Chinese, we call him Budong Mingwang. The Japanese call him Fudo Myo-o. These names might sound different, but they all mean the same thing in their respective languages."
Li Yundong turned his head to the side and met Zi Yuan's intense gaze.
"The Immovable Wisdom King," Zi Yuan said, then turned away to look at the Fan of Seven Treasures. "That's what the name means."
Eventually, Li Yundong found his gaze drifting back towards the fan as well.
"And it would seem that Acalanatha is the Fan of Seven Treasures' guardian deity," Zi Yuan said in a tone of awe.
Li Yundong chewed over her words. He was starting to see a pattern now. Those inscriptions from the Diamond Sutra on the Fan of Seven Treasures' surface most likely had the same purpose as those runes on Zi Yuan's ribbon: they were all gateways to some kind of spiritual power.
While Zi Yuan's ribbon was protected by the strange power granted to it by the runes and the Beads of Gore were protected by those dark wraiths, his Fan of Seven Treasures was protected by a frigging deity.
Li Yundong shook his head in disbelief. A deity. Holy frigging wow.
"What did Acalanatha say just now?" Li Yundong turned towards Zi Yuan. "He was trying to tell me something, but I didn't understand a single word he said."
Zi Yuan remained silent for a long while.
"Zi Yuan?" he prompted.
Finally, Zi Yuan turned away from the fan to meet his gaze.
"Acalanatha's words. Please tell me what they mean," Li Yundong said.
Just then, Zi Yuan opened her mouth and relayed the meaning behind Acalanatha's words:
Those who see my body shall embrace the Bodhicitta;
Those who hear my name shall banish all evil and cultivate goodness;
Those who heed my teachings shall obtain ultimate Wisdom;
Those who understand my will shall attain Buddhahood.