A series of bone crunching and gurgles began as soon as the mantra ended. Li Yundong's mind instantly conjured up images of an old man transforming into a hulking figure over two meters tall.
The Heavenly Marshal of the North.
That's Zhu Bajie...
Great. Now he had to find a way to sneak past a demigod.
Li Yundong's Eryue buzzed again. He focused harder and heard Lin Youfa panting for breath. Seconds later, those pants turned into a series of low chuckles. Another few seconds later, the sound of feet shuffling could be heard over those chuckles.
"What do we do now, shījiě? Are we gonna fight him?" whispered a man from the patrol unit. "It's your call."
Li Yundong parted the twigs in front of his face and tried to peek through the thick foliage. He saw the woman first. Two men flanked the woman on both sides while another man stood somewhere behind the woman, who was clearly the leader of the squad.
A four-man squad? Or are there more of them?
Li Yundong couldn't see Lin Youfa from his position on the tree. Not that he had to see Lin Youfa to have a rough idea of where the man was: Lin Youfa was most likely standing somewhere along the woman's line of sight.
Li Yundong scanned the area surrounding the woman, paying attention to the direction that the woman was facing. Alas, much of his view was obscured by the thick canopy of foliage hanging above the area.
He had to find a new spot to hide, at least one that would give him a good view of the path leading up the trail.
"What's the matter, you cowards?" Lin Youfa taunted as Li Yundong began searching for a new hiding place. "Are you frightened of me?" There was a laugh. "Come on, then! Let's end this!"
Li Yundong half-expected the fighting to begin right then, but surprisingly, it didn't.
"The art of Shenda, I see," said the woman. A hint of wariness colored her tone. "So you're from the Divine Fist School..."
"Oh? You've heard of my school?" Lin Youfa cackled. "You? Someone from the Great Six? What a surprise!"
Li Yundong spotted another tree—a shorter one—nearby. However, just when he was about to start moving, he hesitated. He lowered his gaze to the ground and scanned the area once again.
He had to be extremely careful here, since Tall Dude and Short Dude were nowhere in sight.
Those two must still be hiding somewhere in the area.
Li Yundong turned his head and glanced at his backpack.
Hey buddy, Li Yundong said through the telepathic connection he shared with Fan of Seven Treasures. No matter what happens later, don't show yourself, okay? I can handle this.
His backpack vibrated a second later.
Good. It was best if he kept the Fan of Seven Treasures hidden unless he had no choice.
"The Divine Fist School is not part of the Great Six's assault force," said the woman, her voice eerily calm. "Leave. This is your final warning."
Li Yundong got out of his hiding place and floated quietly towards the other tree. He heard another noise: the popping of joints and the cracking of knuckles.
"Hah! Are you all here to fight?" said Lin Youfa. "Or are you just going to keep yapping?"
Li Yundong suppressed a snort. Couldn't the guy see that they were just stalling to let the effects of Shenda wear off? Lin Youfa. What a fool.
Li Yundong made it to the tree without being discovered.
He got quickly got settled on a thick branch and returned to watching the scene. Indeed, he had picked the right hiding place this time. He could see the whole area now, and he quickly noted that he'd been right in his guess about Lin Youfa's position.
Lin Youfa's Hulk-like figure stood directly in the woman's line of sight.
There was loud roar.
Lin Youfa suddenly barreled towards the woman.
Swords were drawn in an instant. The woman and her three subordinates leaped out of Lin Youfa's way. Li Yundong found himself watching Lin Youfa's movements closely, looking for potential weaknesses that he could exploit just in case he had no choice but to confront Lin Youfa later.
It didn't take long for Li Yundong to find one. Although Shenda had given Lin Youfa a massive boost in raw strength, it also made his movements slower. A agile fighter could easily avoid those heavy blows and wait around until Lin Youfa could no longer maintain Shenda's effect.
A new voice sounded amidst the scuffle.
"Fear not, my fellow comrades from the Jinshan Sect, for I, a member of the Quanzhen Dragon Sect, have come to your aid!"
Li Yundong glanced down and saw Short Dude stepping out from behind a bush. The guy was now wielding a fly-whisk in his hand. Li Yundong found himself genuinely baffled as to how that little thing could be used as a weapon.
Another figure emerged from behind the same bush.
"So have I, a member of the Donghua Sect!" said Tall Dude as he drew his long sword from its scabbard.
Li Yundong could see the confidence returning to the woman's body language at the arrival of her allies.
"Look who's here! Our allies from the Great Six!" said the woman smugly. "Come join us, my friends!" The woman looked towards Lin Youfa. "Together, we shall get rid of this foul creature!"
The rest of the patrol squad cheered.
"Very well!" Tall Dude yelled.
A second later, Short Dude and Tall Dude leaped forward and landed somewhere behind Lin Youfa. Meanwhile, the rest of the patrol squad began to spread out their formation.
In a matter of seconds, Lin Youfa was surrounded by six opponents.
Li Yundong turned away from the scene and looked towards the open trail. He didn't give a flying damn about the fight. He just had to get past these people and be on his way.
Unfortunately, there was no clear path leading from his hiding place to the trail. He was stuck on this tree for now.
Lin Youfa's roaring laughter drifted from below. Li Yundong looked towards the combatants again. The woman and her five comrades were inching slowly towards Lin Youfa, who was still laughing his head off. Despite their number's advantage (and their relentless yapping about how insignificant the Divine Fist School was), the members of the patrol unit seemed a little frightened of Lin Youfa.
All of a sudden, Lin Youfa stopped laughing and dropped into a low crouch.
His six opponents froze instantly.
"There are six of you, yet you're all acting like a bunch of scaredy-cats!" Lin Youfa released a mocking laugh. "Cowards! You're all just cowards!" Lin Youfa swung his right arm in a full circle.
His six opponents leaped away in fright.
Li Yundong took a deep breath and analyzed his current situation. The members of the patrol squad were clearly fighting smart—they kept their distance instead of charging straight in.
At this rate, this might turn into a long, drawn-out battle, and Li Yundong didn't have time to wait around.
No. Waiting for the battle to end was definitely a no go.
In that case, he was left with two options: 1) move in and take them all out himself; 2) sneak away when everyone was too distracted by the battle.
The first option was definitely the most practical. It also jibed with Zi Yuan's advice to take out as many enemies as he could. The only problem with that was that he hadn't made it into the Fox Zen School yet.
Those six Cultivators were all agents of the Great Six. It was true that Tall Dude and Short Dude didn't recognize him, but what if one of the members of the patrol squad did? What if one of them sent a signal to their superiors the moment he attacked? The Great Six would then be aware of his presence; he would lose the element of surprise.
Grunts and shouts rang out below as the battle continued. The combatants were too dispersed, so Li Yundong couldn't find clear path to move towards the trail. The tree shook as Lin Youfa's fist slammed into the ground. One of the woman's subordinate was sent flying. The man crashed into the ground and then rolled into a crouch.
"Is that all you've got?" Lin Youfa taunted. "Since when did the Great Six allow such weaklings to join their ranks?"
"Watch your mouth!" the woman snarled and sprang forward, thrusting her sword. "Who are you calling weak?!"
The sword pierced through Lin Youfa's right forearm instead of his throat—no doubt the thrust's intended target.
The woman gasped the hilt and tried to yank the sword back, but for some reason, the sword remained stuck inside Lin Youfa's forearm.
"Hyah!!" Lin Youfa's left fist flew towards the woman's face.
The woman screamed and leaped backwards, abandoning her sword altogether.
Short Dude moved in swiftly with his fly-whisk, aiming for Lin Youfa's lower torso.
"Pathetic!" Lin Youfa send Short Dude away with a powerful roundhouse kick. Short Dude crashed into the floor and rolled around a few times.
Tall Dude leaped into the air, swinging his long sword downwards. Lin Youfa pulled the woman's sword from his forearm and swung it upwards to meet the blow. An ear-piercing ring sounded when the two swords clashed. Li Yundong winced and had to readjust his Eryue lest his eardrums start to bleed.
Tall Dude was flung away after the clash and ended up crashing into a tree trunk. The other three men from the patrol squad started backing away in fear.
Lin Youfa raised the woman sword and studied it for a moment. "What a low-grade sword," he said in a sneering tone. "Not even worth using."
He snapped the blade in half and tossed the pieces aside.
The woman shrieked. "My sword! How dare you!"
The woman charged straight at Lin Youfa.
Li Yundong knew right then that she was about to meet her end.
Li Yundong winced when Lin Youfa's palm slammed onto the woman's skull. The blow packed so much strength that it nearly bashed the woman's head straight into her thoracic cavity.
The woman's lifeless body swayed to the side before crumpling to the ground, her "head" lolling about as though it was attached to her shoulders by a mere thread.
The three men jumped on Lin Youfa simultaneously. Blood spurted out when three long swords lodged themselves into Lin Youfa's back. Lin Youfa straightened himself and turned around.
SMASH! SMASH! SMASH!
The three men fell to the ground, their chests completely smashed in.
Short Dude's fly-whisk found its target on Lin Youfa's navel.
Lin Youfa's grunt of pain turned into an angry snarl. "You fools don't give up, do you!" Lin Youfa's monstrously large hand clamped around Short Dude's upper torso.
"Argh!!!" Short Dude screamed as Lin Youfa hoisted him upwards.
"Weakling," Lin Youfa sneered, the muscles of his forearms bulging as he tried to crushed Short Dude's body with his bare hand.
Short Dude screamed and kicked his legs to no avail.
Li Yundong looked past Lin Youfa's shoulders. There was no way he could make it to the trail without breaking his cover. He could try flying over these idiots, but he didn't know how high he could fly without setting off those traps that Zi Yuan had mentioned in her message.
"Let him go!" Tall Dude was on his feet again. "He's a member of the Quanzhen Dragon Sect. You wouldn't dare kill him."
"I wouldn't dare?" Lin Youfa sneered. "Look around you. I just killed four members of the Jinshan Sect. You think I'm afraid of the Quanzhen Dragon Sect? Or your petty little Donghua Sect?" An eerie smirk formed on Lin Youfa's face. "Here. Just to prove my point..."
"N- N- No..." Short Dude whimpered when two of Lin Youfa's thick fingers rose to his head.
Li Yundong wouldn't blame the guy for being scared shitless seeing as the tips of those fingers were as large as a human fist.
Lin Youfa pinched his fingers together, and Short Dude's head burst apart like a watermelon.
Li Yundong felt like throwing up.
This goddamn bastard...
There was a soft clang.
Tall Dude's sword had slipped out of his shaking fingers.
A second later, Tall Dude turned tail and fled downhill.
The battle had ended sooner than Li Yundong expected. Now, Lin Youfa was the only one left standing amidst a litter of dead bodies. Li Yundong stayed hidden in the tree, watching Lin Youfa from above. He smirked. If anything, this outcome only made things easier for him. The conversation between Lin Youfa and the dead woman confirmed that Lin Youfa knew the way to the vault. All Li Yundong had to do now was to let Lin Youfa lead him there. Granted, he didn't know what would happen once he got to the vault. He may or may not have to engage in a battle with Lin Youfa, but that wasn't relevant to his current situation. Right now, his priority was to get to the vault and find that secret passage.
"Weaklings," Lin Youfa mumbled, tossing Short Dude's headless body aside.
Li Yundong held his breath and waited for Lin Youfa to make his next move. And when he did seconds later, Li Yundong's blood ran cold.
"Stop hiding and come out now," Lin Youfa said loudly.
Li Yundong froze. The bastard must have felt his Qi earlier. Damn.
"I don't know who you are," Lin Youfa continued, "but I know you're a lot stronger than those pathetic wimps just now." There was a brief pause. "Show yourself."
Li Yundong sighed inwardly. He would have to deal with Lin Youfa later anyway, so he might as well do it now.
Li Yundong secured his backpack around his shoulders and jumped down from branch.
"L- Li Zhenren?"
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Surprise, surprise. Now can we get a move on? I've got a girlfriend to save, thank you very much.
Li Yundong strode over towards Lin Youfa's hulking figure while the latter stared at him in shock.
"What are you doing here, Li Zhenren?"
Li Yundong stopped a good ten feet away from the man and gave him a cold look. "My reason for being here is none of your business."
Lin Youfa's eyes flashed in anger. "You—"
All of a sudden, Lin Youfa's face twisted into an odd angle. Then, Lin Youfa's body began shrinking until it was back to the size of an old man. The whole process took about a minute.
So his Shenda has reached its limit...
Roughly fifteen minutes had passed since the battle began. Li Yundong filed that information away for future use.
Lin Youfa bent over and grasped his knees, panting and heaving.
"You know the way to the vault," Li Yundong said coldly. "Take me there."
Lin Youfa straightened himself and pulled out the needle from his Baihui. "Heh. You ought to learn some manners, kid." Lin Youfa reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a tiny vial.
"I don't see the point of being nice to someone who tried to kill me twice." Li Yundong paused to glare at the old man. "Stop dallying and take me to the vault."
Lin Youfa drained the contents of the vial in a single gulp and then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
"Ugh. Much better..." Lin Youfa groaned and straightened himself.
Li Yundong regarded the man and tried hard not to let his surprise show. The old man's wounds were rapidly closing up.
Had to be some kind of healing potion inside that vial.
"The vault, you say?" Lin Youfa cracked his neck, then smirked. "You must be after the Fox Zen School's treasure as well."
Li Yundong resisted a snort.
Unlike you, I'm actually here for honorable reasons...
"I don't care what you think," Li Yundong said coldly, then pointed a finger at the old man's face. "Lead me to the vault. Now."
Lin Youfa laughed snidely. "Who are you to be giving me orders, kid?" Lin Youfa stopped laughing and shot him a slighting look. "Last I checked, you were struggling to hold your own against me."
"You're mistaken if you think I'm still the same as I was a few months ago." Li Yundong paused and sent a glacial look Lin Youfa's way. Satisfaction coursed through him when Lin Youfa's smirk faltered. "Right now, you're no match for me." Li Yundong raised a brow. "With or without Shenda."
Lin Youfa ended their staring match with a chuckle. "I don't buy it." Lin Youfa snorted. "Nobody can improve that much in just a few months."
"Believe whatever you want." Li Yundong smiled humorlessly. "Now let's get going."
Lin Youfa didn't move.
Annoyance flared inside Li Yundong. "What's your problem now?" He raised a challenging brow. "Need another dose of your potion?"
"Why should I help you?" Lin Youfa smirked. "What's in it for me?"
Li Yundong took a step closer. "I don't recall giving you a choice."
All of a sudden, the old man started laughing.
Li Yundong shook his head slightly. He'd had about enough of this.
I don't have time for this bullshit.
Lin Youfa stopped laughing right then. "You're all talk kid—"
Lin Youfa's words stilled the moment Li Yundong unleashed the power of Qi Kinesis on him. Within a split second, Li Yundong's Zhenqi engulfed Lin Youfa's body like a thick bubble.
Lin Youfa's eyes went round.
Ten feet away, Li Yundong stood completely still as he watched Lin Youfa's body float upwards. Li Yundong willed his bubble-like Zhenqi to apply an inward pressure onto Lin Youfa.
Lin Youfa gasped loudly. "W- What the hell d- did you do—"
"I can crush every single bone in your body from where I'm standing, and I won't even break a sweat." Li Yundong increased the pressure of his Zhenqi to prove his point. "We're on totally different levels now, you understand?"
Lin Youfa gurgled a few times. Li Yundong could see the veins popping out on the man's forehead.
"Now you listen to me well, old man," Li Yundong growled while maintaining his death glare on Lin Youfa's purplish face. "I'm in a bit of a hurry here, if you haven't already noticed. I have a very important mission to accomplish, you see. And in order to do that, I have to get into the Fox Zen School. So here's what's gonna happen." Li Yundong took a step closer. "You're gonna lead me to the vault. And then when we get there, you're gonna tell me where to find the secret passage. Is that clear?"
Lin Youfa nodded shakily.
"Good." Li Yundong glared at Lin Youfa for a few moments. "And if I find out that you're jerking me around and wasting my time?" Li Yundong increased the pressure of his Zhenqi. "I'll do the same thing you did to that man's head." Li Yundong jerked his chin towards Short Dude's corpse. "Is that clear?"
Lin Youfa nodded, and Li Yundong withdrew his Zhenqi to his Vital Orb.
Lin Youfa dropped to the floor, coughing and wheezing.
"Get up," Li Yundong said harshly. "Let's get moving."
Lin Youfa stood up on shaky feet and angled his body towards the path.
After taking several steps, the old man paused and turned around to face him.
"Aren't you coming?" Lin Youfa gave him a quizzical look. "Thought you said you're in a hurry."
"You move first, since you'll be walking in front," Li Yundong snapped. Then, he pointed a finger at Lin Youfa. "I don't want you pulling any funny tricks behind my back."
Lin Youfa grunted in response and started walking up the trail again. Li Yundong followed quietly behind him. After about a minute or so, Lin Youfa stopped walking again and turned his head around.
"How do I know you're not trying any funny tricks behind my back?" Lin Youfa asked, his eyes narrowing.
Li Yundong stared at the old man coldly.
"If I really wanted it, you'd be dead already." Li Yundong paused pointedly. "And it won't matter where you are."