Project Beat the Heavens: Day 4, 5:49AM; Apartment 20A, New Hongsheng District, Tiannan City.
The glimmer of sunrise coruscated from the eastern horizon, painting the dark sky with a tinge of blue. The first light had arrived, yet hope eluded them still.
With a heavy sigh, Zi Yuan scratched the last two items off the list in her hand. Two more had bitten the dust. How many more would it take before they finally got it right?
The paper rustled when a morning zephyr blew across the railing she was leaning against. When the breeze tickled her cheeks, Zi Yuan had to fight the sudden impulse to tear the paper to shreds before tossing the pieces off the balcony.
She folded the paper and faced away from the railing, then peered into the living room through the glass of the sliding door.
The living room was currently unoccupied, and had been so ever since Zi Yuan forced the Heir to get some much-needed rest in his bedroom half an hour ago. As soon as the Heir's bedroom door closed, Zi Yuan herself had left the living room and moved towards the balcony.
Heavens knew she needed to clear her head, which, admittedly, was starting to doubt the feasibility of their quest.
Last night, the Heir had come up with two more ideas, both of which were rather ingenious. The first idea involved the use of basic Qi Kinesis to "push back" and "slow down" the Heavenly Thunder, which would give the Heir a larger time window to dodge the strike. That idea didn't out pan out. The mental focus required to slow down lightning with Qi Kinesis was too great; so great, in fact, that it affected the Heir's motor coordination, thus reducing his chances of making a successful dodge. Clearly, that solution wasn't ideal. It depended too much on external variables, on things that they might not have control over. What they needed was a clean, foolproof solution with minimal chances of error.
They needed something robust.
The second idea turned out slightly better. The Heir had tried to apply the principles of Qi-Kinetic flight to give his movement speed an extra boost (on top of the boost resulting from the Jindan's Aura). With the second method, the Heir managed to slightly offset his Vital Orb's position from the lightning's path. Alas, the amount of offset was far too insignificant to make a clean dodge possible. Although it fared slightly better than the first method, the second method yielded the same result as its predecessor: the Heir failed at the first bolt.
A wave of queasiness rose inside Zi Yuan, causing her stomach to clench. Was Wushuang-qianbei wrong after all? Maybe the Heavenly Thunder wasn't meant to be dodged. Perhaps it really was physically impossible.
What other options did they have?
No Cultivator could withstand a direct hit from the Heavenly Thunder unless they had already reached the Jinshen phase.
Not for the first time, Wushuang-qianbei's parting words on the balcony invaded Zi Yuan's thoughts.
Then I guess it depends on how much you're willing to sacrifice…
Project Beat the Heavens: Day 4, 9:11AM; Dongwu City
The mortals called them trains. To Su Chan, they were just long cuboids with tiny wheels. Bendable and flexible cuboids equipped with the ability to roll along curvy tracks thanks to said wheels.
Those things were essentially grounded roller coasters.
Or was it the other way around? Were roller coasters really just trains with elevated and spiraling tracks?
Su Chan had more important things to worry about than the nuances of mortal nomenclature.
Su Chan strolled past a group of giggling mortals, making sure to keep her face hidden under the hat she was wearing. Yes. The hat. What a strange article of clothing indeed, the hat. It was shaped like one of those round Chinese caps from the Qing Dynasty. The only difference was that this one had a cute little visor in front. Yundong had taught her how to use one of these caps for disguise after he had convinced her that paper bags with holes weren't the way to go. So she went and bought one from the clothing store near Master's corn-door.
A lady's voice rang out. Apparently, it was some kind of announcement: the train to bla bla bla will be leaving in... bla bla bla minutes.
Just another normal day here, she supposed.
Indeed, Su Chan had been here before, this place with a bunch of platforms where mortals lingered about, waiting for their respective trains to roll in—those trains were surprisingly coordinated, like they knew when it was their turn to roll towards the platforms.
Mortals and their clever (but puzzling) tricks.
Su Chan had taken to a new routine ever since her arrival at Dongwu City two days ago. The routine wasn't all that complicated. Basically, she would spend her nights at Master's corn-door and then come here (to the train station) during daytime. As to why she chose to be here instead of holing herself up at the corn-door? Well, there were several reasons, actually.
One, she didn't want to spend too much time at the corn-door lest its location got compromised. Like, sure, Su Chan could easily give those mindless harpies the slip if they ever found her, but it was still a terrible idea to get caught at the corn-door. Where was Su Chan supposed to spend her nights if the corn-door's location got compromised?! Master had kept the location of the corn-door under wraps. If Su Chan were to venture a guess, the only person who knew that Master owned a corn-door was Grandmaster Liu Ye. Like, duh. The man had visited them a while back, and the lack of furniture at the corn-door suggested that Master didn't entertain guests.
Now, for the silver lining: Grandmaster Liu Ye wasn't part of the whole treachery; Su Chan was sure about that now.
She had come to that conclusion based on the fact that none of those treacherous harpies had shown up at the corn-door to look for her yet.
The second reason was more of a precautionary measure. Staking out at the train station would allow her to watch and monitor anyone arriving and leaving Dongwu City. The trains generally didn't run during the night, so if anyone were to arrive at Dongwu City by train, it could only happen during the day. She had even used a few clones (in different disguises, of course) so that she could watch multiple platforms at the same time. So far, she hadn't encountered those people who were hunting her, but it was probably best to keep a close watch. She was on her own now with nobody watching her back. She couldn't afford to slack off.
But of course, people-watching wasn't the only thing Su Chan did during her daily excursions; she'd been keeping a close eye on the sky as well.
No signs of the Heavenly Thunder so far, which meant that Yundong's divine punishment hadn't arrived yet. Then again, she might not be able to tell for sure since they were in different cities...
Was Yundong training hard right now? Had he been eating and sleeping well?
The ceiling went ding-dong again.
Su Chan recognized that sound: the mortals were about to make another announcement.
"Attention all passengers. The train to..."
Su Chan didn't catch the rest of the announcement because her mind was suddenly sent reeling by a sensation of shock. Su Chan sprang up from the bench and began making her way towards the nearest bathroom.
One of her clones had seen something.
Inside the bathroom, Su Chan hurried into the stall and linked her Spirit to her clone.
"Ruan Hongling?" Su Chan whispered. "What on earth is she doing here?"
Project Beat the Heavens: Day 4, 10:11AM; Apartment 20A, New Hongsheng District, Tiannan City.
Li Yundong woke up in a start. Feeling utterly discombobulated, he let out a groan and groped around until his hand touched something solid. He opened his eyes and saw the Hello Kitty piggy bank lying beside his pillow. For a brief moment, Li Yundong allowed himself the simple joy of smiling, of thinking about his beloved.
Then, reality settled in, and the warm feelings inside his chest were doused by a sea of despair.
He sighed and turned away from the piggy bank, focusing his gaze at the ceiling.
Four days. Zero progress.
This was bad.
He closed his eyes and replayed his previous two attempts. If there was one thing he learned from all his failed attempts, it was the fact that it was pointless to impede (stop, slow down, delay, hold back, etc.) the Heavenly Thunder. He had tried Qi Kinesis, but that didn't work at all. Not even the most powerful tool he had in his arsenal—the mudra—could hold it back. The Heavenly Thunder was, for the lack of a better term, unstoppable. In other words, fighting force with force was definitely a no go.
But then herein lay the problem: avoiding the force seemed pretty damned impossible either. He just couldn't generate enough speed to do that.
So he couldn't fight the force head on, but he couldn't avoid it either?
What the f*ck was he supposed to do? It wasn't like there was a third op— (T/N: Recommended soundtrack for the following scenes is up on Google Drive; see track label 246_p3_t1)
Li Yundong sat bolt upright.
"Oh my God..." he whispered.
Seconds later, he was scurrying out of bed and bolting out of his bedroom.
"Morning, Li Yundong," Zi Yuan said from the kitchen. "Brunch will be ready in..."
Li Yundong tuned out her voice and dashed past the kitchen; his mind was still reeling from his sudden revelation.
Once he reached the living room, Li Yundong grabbed the stack of papers from the coffee table and then spread them all out on the floor.
Come on, come on... Where is it...?
He kept rummaging through the sheets until he found the paper he was looking for. It was the sketch he'd drawn yesterday, the one illustrating the design of his Qi Probe. With trembling hands, Li Yundong picked up the paper from the floor and began scanning over the sketch: a stick figure at the bottom of the page (the ground) with a sphere drawn at its midsection to represent the Vital Orb; a tapering, rod-like structure which extended from the stick figure's head and stretched towards the sky; a bunch of tiny annotations that Zi Yuan had made all over a paper.
Where's that thing she wrote?
He was looking for one particular annotation, something about spiritual energy.
Five simple words stared back at him from the top edge of the paper, right beside the tip of the rod-like structure: spiritual energy spike starts here.
"Holy shit..." he whispered.
The paper rustled when he let his arms dropped limply to his sides. A light touch on his shoulder made him turn around.
Zi Yuan was standing beside him, apron in hand, staring back at him with concerned eyes.
Li Yundong raised the paper and shook it a few times.
"I think I've got it, Zi Yuan," he whispered. "I've figured it out…"
Zi Yuan's eyes went round in an instant. "Are... Are you sure?"
Li Yundong flipped the paper around and showed her the sketch.
"Take a look at this..." he said, pointing at the Qi probe on the sketch.
Zi Yuan took the paper from him and gave it a quick glance.
"But we tried that yesterday," she said with a frown, giving him a puzzled look. "It didn't work."
Excitement surged inside him, and an unbidden laugh burst through his lips.
"Don't you see? It didn't work because I used the wrong approach!" Li Yundong took a step closer and pointed his finger at the sketch. "When we tried this yesterday, the idea was to use the Qi Probe for sensory purposes, right?"
Zi Yuan nodded. "The… um…" Her brows furrowed and she tilted her head slightly. "The early spike in spiritual energy will let you know in advance that the next bolt is about to hit. But…" She frowned and shook her head. "Even with the extra time window you still have to be fast enough to—"
"No..." Li Yundong took the paper from Zi Yuan's hand. "Incomplete." He wagged his index finger a few times. "That approach is incomplete. That's why it failed. We didn't take it one step further!"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa… Hold on a second here." Zi Yuan raised a palm. "One step further? What are you talking about?"
Li Yundong looked deep into Zi Yuan's eyes. "I can't fight force with force. And I don't have the speed to avoid the force, either." He paused pointedly. "So what do I do?"
Zi Yuan frowned and shook her head a few times.
"Simple, isn't it?" Li Yundong smirked. "I borrow power from the force I'm fighting against, and then use that power to my advantage."
"Wait a minute…" Zi Yuan whispered, blinking a few times. "Are you're saying..."
"Yes." Li Yundong nodded. "That's exactly what I'm saying." Li Yundong shook the paper in his hand as his smirk grew wider. "I'm going to use the Heavens' power against it."