(T/N: Recommended soundtrack starts playing; see track label 250_t1)
The Heavens raged on, unleashing its power upon the object of its fury. But again and again, the Heir eluded his executioner: evading; sidestepping; dodging; clinging on to the thread of life.
Fifty-one... Fifty-two... Fifty-three...
Up in the sky, the vortex of clouds had acquired a vibrant shade of violet. Blue sparks flashed sporadically at the center of the vortex; the eye of the storm blinked.
It was during the sixtieth bolt that everything went horribly and sickeningly wrong. As the Heir went down on one knee, Zi Yuan's heart leaped up to her throat. She leaned forward on the bough, squinting hard. No matter how much she wanted to, she couldn't just fly over towards the Heir to check on him—that wasn't part of the plan. What on earth happened? He hadn't been hit! Zi Yuan was sure of he hadn't been hit! So why was he down?
Had he given up the fight?
Come on… Come on… What are you doing! Get up! Get up before the next one comes!
The Heir got up, though his movements were slow and sluggish, and he appeared to be holding on to his left side.
He did not move back to the tunnel's opening.
The sixty-first bolt came crashing down from the sky.
For a split second, Zi Yuan thought it was all over, that all her meticulous planning had failed her. But then the Heir relieved her of that alarming thought by morphing into a golden streak. A second crater formed some distance away from the tunnel's opening.
The Heir collapsed.
At that moment, seeing the Heir down on all fours, Zi Yuan resigned herself to the inevitability of the situation. It was as though a blindfold had been removed from her eyes, and everything suddenly became crystal clear. The veil of hope and optimism fell away, revealing the harsh truth: even with all his resourcefulness and cleverness, the Heir could not survive this alone.
The prophecy would not be denied its fulfillment.
The mirror shall sunder, for the mortal hath sinned.
Moving her hands quickly, Zi Yuan performed a hand sign. Seek!
From the edge of the field, the Great Mirror shot out from behind a shrub and hurtled towards the Heir.
It took Zi Yuan merely a split second's time to switch to a new hand sign. Hover!
The Great Mirror stopped moving and hovered directly above the Heir's form.
Teleport! White light flashed before Zi Yuan's eyes the moment she switched to another sign. Zi Yuan dropped down from the mirror's surface and landed right beside the Heir, who was barely conscious.
The Great Mirror repels all forms of spiritual energy...
Zi Yuan really, really hoped that Wushuang-qiánbèi knew what she was talking about.
Somewhere above the Great Mirror, the air exploded in a blaze of violet and blue, but Zi Yuan didn't have the time to care as she busied herself with channeling her spiritual energy into the Purple Gold Jade Plate. A deafening boom sounded above. Much to her horror, the Heir collapsed into a heap beside her, and the golden glow of the Jindan's Aura waned into nothingness.
The jade plate rose upwards, then stopped in midair. A cone of light shot down from the jade plate's bottom surface. Seizing the Heir's arm, Zi Yuan hauled his body along as she moved towards the circle of light on the ground.
"Zi Yuan...? Wha—"
Zi Yuan didn't hear the rest of his sentence as they were both propelled into the jade plate's simulation.
Zi Yuan lowered herself onto the grass with a sigh. For some reason, the strikes seemed to be coming at a slower pace now. Sixty-seven bolts. Fourteen bolts remaining.
Zi Yuan was rather confident that the jade plate could hold back the next thirteen bolts—not without suffering damage, of course. It was the last bolt that she was concerned about. The final bolt might be too much for the jade plate to handle, even more so considering the amount of physical damage that the jade plate would've suffered from the prior thirteen bolts. Which was why the sixth and final stage of the plan had to be perfectly time. That was the only way they could both get out of here alive.
Zi Yuan's hand shot out to steady herself when a huge quake shook the ground. She looked upwards, wondering if the simulated sky would collapse on them.
To her relief, it didn't.
There was a groan. Zi Yuan lowered her gaze and looked to her left. The Heir was slowly coming to.
"Good," Zi Yuan said. "You're awake..."
"What the hell happened?" He slowly sat up, then began glancing around. Then, he froze. His eyes snapped to hers. "T- This is the simulation..."
A loud crash sounded above, and the ground shook once again.
"What happened back there?" Zi Yuan repeated his question. "You were doing so well just now."
"Bad luck, I guess? I don't know..." The Heir shook his head. "I just know that I felt pain right after I dodged the sixtieth bolt. It probably grazed me or something." He touched his left side with his hand. "I think the Jindan's Aura took the brunt of it, but it still hurt like hell." He sighed. "I almost passed out."
Zi Yuan sighed. "Guess it can't be helped, then." She glanced at him briefly. "You did good." She looked towards him again. This time she didn't look away but held his gaze instead. "That strategy would've worked." She smiled. "That tunnel thing, I mean."
The Heir wasn't in the mood to revel in his cleverness, if the serious look on his face was any indication. "The jade plate's gonna be destroyed, isn't it?"
Something tugged inside Zi Yuan's chest. The jade plate wasn't the only thing that would be destroyed tonight. Zi Yuan was pretty sure that the Great Mirror had already been destroyed, otherwise the jade plate wouldn't even have been struck.
"Don't worry about it," Zi Yuan said, trying everything not to let her emotions show.
"Again..." The Heir groaned and let his shoulders sagged. "Because of my weakness, you end up losing something precious to you. Again."
Another quake tore through their surroundings.
"It was my choice, Li Yundong," Zi Yuan said in a sharp tone. "If you respect me at all, then please respect my choice."
Another deafening boom sounded. The ground tremored.
The Heir stared wordlessly at the sky.
Zi Yuan sighed inwardly, thankful that he had decided to let the subject drop. She really didn't want to dwell on the impending loss of her magical objects, the two most important items that she had inherited from Master.
The Heir's gaze went from the sky to her face. "So what's the plan?"
"When the last bolt hits, I will sw—" She was interrupted by a loud boom in the sky. Seventy-two. She held the Heir's gaze. "When the last bolt hits, I will switch the jade plate into absorption mode."
Zi Yuan nodded. "The jade plate will start absorbing all spiritual energy it detects in its vicinity." Zi Yuan looked at the Heir pointedly. "The timing has to be perfect. I have to switch the plate into absorption mode before it gets destroyed by the last bolt." She paused. "And I will only transport us back into the real world after the absorption mode has been activated."
Recognition shone in the Heir's wide eyes. "Because that's the only way we can get out safely." The Heir paused to study her face. "You're gonna let the jade plate absorb the follow-up bolts so that we won't get hit once we're out."
A loud blast drew Zi Yuan's gaze to the sky. Their surroundings tremored hard.
Zi Yuan returned her gaze to the Heir's face. "But just to be safe, we'll fly away from the plate as fast as we can the moment we're transported out, is that clear?"
The Heir nodded silently.
"Oh, and another thing." Zi Yuan waited until she had the Heir's attention. "When we're flying away later, we have to cling to each other and then fly with everything we've got."
The Heir frowned. "Cling to each..." Understanding flashed in his eyes. "Right. That way, the propulsion force will come from both of us." He nodded. "It'll increase our speed since our body weights are pretty much negligible."
The Heir smiled and shook his head. "Smart..."
"We also have to agree on the direction we'll both be flying towards." Zi Yuan paused. "I say we just fly forward."
"Agreed." The Heir nodded. "The plan sounds solid."
"Let's just hope that we're both still alive by the end of this," Zi Yuan muttered.
The ground shook again. Seventy-four...
"How many bolts have struck already?" The Heir looked from the sky towards Zi Yuan. "Did you keep count?"
"That last one was the seventy-fourth bo—" Another loud boom sounded. Zi Yuan gave the Heir a wry smile. "Seventy-five."
Nothing else was said until the seventy-ninth bolt had struck.
Zi Yuan rose to full height. "We have to get ready now."
The Heir stood up with a loud groan. Zi Yuan's heart instantly went out to the man. That hit must've done a number to his body even though it was just a graze.
"Hang on to me!" Zi Yuan snapped. "Now!"
The Heir complied and put an arm around her waist.
Zi Yuan performed a quick hand sign, and the jade plate's absorption mode came alive in an instant. She switched to another hand sign and waited.
"You'll experience a feeling of weightlessness when the transportation begins," Zi Yuan said without taking her eyes off the sky. "As soon as that feeling was gone, hang on to me and fly forward as fast as you can. Got it?"
They waited, waited, and waited. Not once did Zi Yuan take her eyes off the sky.
The weightlessness lasted only a split second.
The moment Zi Yuan felt the weight of the Heir against her body, she activated her Yin Spirit and flew as fast as she could. For the following few seconds, Zi Yuan's world consisted only of blue, violet, and white. She didn't care. She kept flying forward and never looked back.
"Slow!" Zi Yuan yelled.
When the wind stopped whipping against her face, Zi Yuan turned her head to look at the Heir.
The Heir gave her a nod, and their bodies drifted apart after that.
"Over here," Zi Yuan said, pointing at the same tree she'd been standing on earlier.
When they reached the tree, the Heir copied Zi Yuan's action and landed atop the largest bough of the tree. Zi Yuan shifted on the bough and angled her body towards the field. There wasn't much destruction to be seen, at least not on the surface. Thanks to the Heir's stellar hoodwinking abilities, most of the damage was subterranean.
Up in the sky, the clouds were beginning to drift apart.
"I- It's... It's over," the Heir whispered beside her.
"Yes..." Zi Yuan sighed. "Yes, it's over."
The mirror shall sunder, for the mortal hath sinned.
The mortal had sinned.
And the mirror had sundered.
It was over.