The wind whipped against Zi Yuan's face as her body streaked across the cityscape towards the outskirts of Tiannan City. She was flying at her top speed. She had to, since she had to keep her flying altitude low lest she herself be struck down by the Heavenly Thunder. Hence her haste; the mortals would see her if she went too slowly.
That wasn't the only reason she was in a hurry, and she knew it.
The whole journey took only ten seconds, after which Zi Yuan found herself gliding downwards until her feet touched the firm bough of a tree. The air smelled different tonight. It carried a scent of peril, of danger.
The source of said danger was no mystery. The Heavens were out for blood.
Zi Yuan stood on the bough, looking around until she spotted the unmistakable glow of the Jindan's Aura far ahead.
So, he picked this place after all… Zi Yuan smiled. Smart man.
It had been a bit of a wild guess on Zi Yuan's part, but this was the first place that came to mind when she tried to figure out where the Heir might go. Zi Yuan had no choice but to guess at the Heir's location, since the alternative was to rely on the storm clouds to figure out the Heir's location. The latter option would be too time consuming. For her contingency plans to work, everything had to be set up before it all began.
Glancing ahead, Zi Yuan discerned the Heir's glowing figure. At the moment, he was sitting in a meditative posture, no doubt practicing Qi control. Good… Qi control would freshen him up and prepare him for action.
The Heir had picked the location wisely.
Topographically speaking, the place was ideal and highly suitable for the "activity" that he was about to partake in. The land was wide, flat, and obstacle-free, which would give him enough space to move around freely. The place was also completely deserted since it was located somewhere in the city's outskirts. At least now Zi Yuan didn't have to worry about some innocent bystander getting hurt. Zi Yuan silently thank the deities for making her one of the witnesses of Hé Shao's death; she wouldn't have guessed the place correctly had she not been there to confront the Heir that night.
A loud rumble sounded in the sky. Tree leaves rustled as a strong gale tore through the air. Zi Yuan looked away from the Heir, focusing on the Heir's surroundings instead. She allowed her gaze to linger on a bushy area near the edge of the field.
That should be good enough…
Zi Yuan released the large object in her hands and watch it hover in front of her face. Time to put Wushuang-qiánbèi's genius to the test. Without ado, Zi Yuan launched the object forward, keeping her eyes on it until it had reached its destination at the edge of the field.
More rumbling sounded aloft, forcing Zi Yuan to look up. The night sky condensed, and the air thickened. Monstrous clouds drifted in from all directions like ominous specters, converging towards an imaginary focal point in the sky. Even as they moved, the clouds flashed brightly, ready to strike, ready to kill, ready to punish. The celestial forces were ready. The Heir, on the other hand, was not ready.
So close, yet so far...
Zi Yuan tore her gaze away from the sky, focusing her attention on the Heir instead. Doubts niggled at Zi Yuan's mind as she stood on the bough, watching the Heir from afar. Had she really made the right choice? Was this worth it? Was he worth it? What if Wushuang-qiánbèi was wrong? What if she went through with the plan and he still perished?
Zi Yuan shook her doubts away and forced herself to run through the plan again. The plan, upon successful completion, would consist of six stages, each of which required flawless timing to execute. No room for error, and certainly none for doubt. Indeed, if push comes to shove, Zi Yuan would have to act decisively.
Zi Yuan exhaled and squared her shoulders. The plan would definitely work. Zi Yuan would see that it did.
Enough of that. Now she had another problem to consider.
Zi Yuan studied the large tree she was standing on, gauging the distance between the tree and the Heir. Is this far enough? Indeed, all would be in vain if she herself was struck before she could do anything useful.
(T/N: Recommended soundtrack starts playing here; see track label 249_t1)
A bright flash in the sky ended Zi Yuan's fixation with distance.
Has it begun?
It hadn't. But it was about to.
The Heir knew it too, as he was now slowly rising to his feet.
The ensuing rumble was loud and deep, like the entire sky was quaking. Towering above the lands was a swirling vortex of clouds, a celestial maelstrom.
Zi Yuan held her breath and sent a silent prayer to Acalanatha.
Please watch over him...
Her mind instantly went back to the way in which the Heir had stopped beside the couch and stared at the Fan of Seven Treasures earlier. He had thought about it. Zi Yuan knew he had thought about it. In the end, he had chosen not to, and asked her to return the Fan of Seven Treasures to Wushuang-qiánbèi instead. That alone proved how selfless he truly was. Just like Master.
What Zi Yuan had neglected to mention to him was that it wouldn't have mattered. The Fan of Seven Treasures wouldn't have been able to stop the Heavenly Thunder; it would just be destroyed.
A golden blur streaked across the white blaze of the first bolt.
So it begins…
The Heavens' wrath.
The Heir's retribution.
"Six... Seven..." Zi Yuan counted under her breath as bright flashes lit up the field ahead. "Eight..."
The Heir's body morphed into a golden streak as he darted around, eluding the Heavens, challenging the Heavens: I will not yield; I will not give in to fear; you might be able to obliterate my body and sunder my soul, but my Spirit shall endure and my courage live; I will face you.
The Heavens unleashed its wrath for the tenth time, splitting the sky with a blinding whip of light. Zi Yuan recoiled against the tree. After a moment, she forced her eyes open. The Jindan's Heir endured. The streak of gold came to a halt and transformed back into a human-shaped beacon.
"Ten..." Zi Yuan found herself whispering.
The training was paying off. The Heir was still clinging to life, but for how long?
Zi Yuan shifted on the bough and leaned forward slightly. Wait... What is he doing? Zi Yuan's scalp tingled as she watched the Heir made two more dodges. Seventeen... Eighteen...
So far, he was doing what she had suggested during the drill: letting his feet float slightly above the ground the whole time to eliminate friction.
But still. Something was different. He kept moving back to the same spot after making each dodge. She had never seen that dodging pattern before. Nineteen... Twenty...
Again, the Heir had moved back to the same spot after he dodged.
Rather than the flat ground, the Heir's figure was now hovering above a mini crater, which appeared to have garnered significant depth due to the Heavenly Thunder's repeated strikes.
The next flash was decidedly more blinding than its predecessors.
Zi Yuan quickly recovered from her momentary corneal reflex and forced her eyes open, sighing in relief as soon as she did. The Heir endured still, his glowing figure hovering above the center of the crater, which had once again grown in depth due to the previous bolt.
"Twenty-one," Zi Yuan whispered, then exhaled shakily.
The Heir's figure blurred into a golden streak. Twenty-two...
Pieces of charred earth flew out from the crater as the force of the Heavens bored through its center yet again. The crater deepened as a result. Zi Yuan thought it didn't even look like a crater anymore. It was more like a deep burrow now, like some kind of tunnel—
A constellation of emotions flared inside Zi Yuan right then: pride; joy; relief; elation; exhilaration; excitement; and some strange concoction of the aforementioned emotions.
"Oh you, clever, clever man..."
Feeling overwhelmed, Zi Yuan had to grip the tree trunk to prevent herself from toppling off the bough. The Heir was using the Heavenly Thunder to dig a tunnel. That was why he kept returning to the same spot after making each dodge—so that the Heavenly Thunder would strike at the same spot again and again until the crater grew into a deep tunnel.
And at that moment, Zi Yuan knew; she knew what the tunnel was for.
It was there to contain the final bolt, the bolt which he had deemed impossible to dodge.
During the simulation, the Heir had observed that the 81st bolt would only transform into an electrified hemisphere after it had struck something solid, like the ground.
With that being said, if there was a tunnel reaching deep into the ground, and if the Heir was hovering right above the tunnel's opening before the 81st bolt struck, he might actually be able to survive! The bolt from the sky would just charge straight into the tunnel after the Heir had moved out of its path! And he could. He had already shown during the simulation that he was quick enough to dodge the bolt from the sky. It was just the follow-up bolts that he couldn't dodge. And this was where the tunnel comes into play. Would there even be a hemispherical formation of follow-up bolts if the tunnel reached deep enough underground?
Even if the tunnel failed to contain the follow-up bolts, there would still be a delay before the bolts emerge from the tunnel since they would have to travel a larger distance to reach the surface of the ground again. Besides, the follow-up bolts would only be appear after the bolt from the sky had struck something solid. This meant that there would be an even greater delay, since the bolt would have to reach all the way down to the end of the tunnel before it grew into follow-up bolts.
In fact, the deeper the tunnel was, the greater the delay!
The Heir had just set a trap for the Heavens. And it was brilliant. It was absolutely, utterly, and irrevocably brilliant. Genius.
Despite the stress of the situation, Zi Yuan found herself chuckling. The Heir had yet to give up hope. Even now, when everything seemed bleak, he was still fighting, still trying to hoodwink the Heavens.
Thirty-one... thirty-two... thirty-three...
Fight. Fight to the last breath.
From afar, Zi Yuan stood on the bough and watched the spectacle unfold. However this turned out, there wasn't a single doubt in Zi Yuan's mind that tonight would go down in the annals of Cultivation as the most epic event to ever take place. An event in which a man tried to outwit the Heavens.
Thirty-eight... Thirty-nine... Forty...
The Heir's floated towards the opening on the ground and then hovered above it, waiting for the next strike. Above, the celestial vortex churned and flashed. The Heir stood firm like a golden beacon amidst a sea of threat and peril.
Would the beacon prevail?
Or would it be quenched by the Heavens' wrath and dim into oblivion?