Silence pervaded the air, which was fraught with tension and danger. The members of the Great Six had long since stopped chanting their commander's name. Instead, they were all just watching, no doubt wondering about the outcome of the impending battle. Li Yundong knew then that the young commander was now carrying the hopes of his entire army—whatever that was left of it anyway. He also knew that his defeat of Zhang Tianhé was probably the only way to end this meaningless battle.
Zhang Tianhé came to a halt in front of the line Li Yundong had carved on the ground.
Li Yundong observed the man with utmost vigilance. Zhang Tianhé's demeanor seemed calm and composed. Those calculating eyes bespoke confidence, as though he knew he had the power to bring instant defeat to anyone who stood in his way.
Zhang Tianhé raised the Sword of Seven Stars to his chest and ran his palm along the blade's glowing surface. His movements were slow and deliberate, elegant; and they caused the jade rings adorning Zhang Tianhé's fingers to clink loudly against the blade's surface. "This would be over quickly," he said, looking past the blade towards Li Yundong. "Last chance to back out, Li zhenren."
Li Yundong narrowed his eyes but said nothing. A gentle breeze caressed his cheeks as the Fan of Seven Treasures circled around him, stalwart and ready to receive his command. Admittedly, the fan's presence reassured him.
The fan twirled as though it had read his thoughts.
There was a humorless chuckle. The Sword of Seven Stars rose from Zhang Tianhé's hand and hovered above his head.
"So you have chosen death," Zhang Tianhé said wryly. "What a pity."
Zhang Tianhé's chest expanded as he pulled in a deep breath.
Wariness crept into Li Yundong. What's this? Another fire spell? He'd seen Dang Qiang doing something similar earlier.
Instead of spitting out massive fireballs, Zhang Tianhé brought his arms together slowly, forming a closed loop by bending them at the elbows. Zhang Tianhé's arms continued to rise until they were level with his chest. It was as though he was hugging an invisible boulder to his chest. Now Li Yundong almost wished that it was a fire spell; that way he would at least know what to expect.
What the heck is he doing?
Zi Yuan hadn't said anything to him either.
Zhang Tianhé's arms finally moved past his chest, stopping as soon as his hands were slightly above his head. The Sword of Seven Stars continued to circle around the man, dissuading Li Yundong from making the first attack.
Zhang Tianhé flung his arms downwards and he released the breath he'd been holding in his lungs. His robe fluttered, and there was a loud snap, like two pieces of wooden planks slapped together with considerable strength. Li Yundong heard Zi Yuan's gasp, but her voice was soon drowned out by a powerful gust of wind gushing out from Zhang Tianhé's body.
"…the Yin-Yang Embrace." Zi Yuan's voice sounded amidst the wind's howling.
Li Yundong lowered his hands from his face and looked towards Zhang Tianhé.
Zhang Tianhé's body seemed to be drawing in some kind of blue aura from his surroundings.
"That was the Yin-Yang Embrace, Li Yundong," Zi Yuan said. The apprehension in her voice did absolutely nothing to reassure Li Yundong. "He's absorbing the spiritual energy of Heaven and Earth, and then combining it with his own." There was a pause. "I don't know what it is just yet, but his next attack is probably going to involve some kind of powerful spell."
Li Yundong bridged his Three Gates and punched the air in front of him. The shockwave hurtled towards Zhang Tianhé, but the Sword of Seven Stars was there to defend its master, cleaving the shockwave into two halves.
The shockwave parted to two sides, leaving Zhang Tianhé completely untouched.
"Move in," Li Yundong commanded the Fan of Seven Treasures. "Distract the sword."
Attack, attack, and attack. That was the game plan. If he could land a successful hit on Zhang Tianhé, then he might be able to interrupt the Yin-Yang whatever process and prevent Zhang Tianhé from absorbing too much of the Heavens' spiritual energy.
The Fan of Seven Treasures and the Sword of Seven Stars clashed somewhere on his left. Li Yundong moved his arms through the air in a series of slashing motion, sending blades of shockwaves towards Zhang Tianhé's glowing figure.
The shockwaves couldn't even make it past the blue aura surrounding Zhang Tianhé's body.
Li Yundong formed a mudra with his hands.
"Shīdì! Watch out!"
Zhang Tianhé's eyes shot open.
"Om mani padme hum!"
A golden apparition of the Intelligent Fist Mudra flew towards Zhang Tianhé.
Somebody screamed. "Ah!! Shīdì!"
Zhang Tianhé's body moved in a flash, evading the mudra completely.
Li Yundong cursed under his breath. As powerful and destructive as the mudras were, they lacked speed, at least in this case.
But if I close the distance…
Li Yundong pounced forward. "Om mani padme hum!"
Zhang Tianhé's body blurred as it shifted sideways.
Damn it! Still not fast enough…
"Nice try, Li zhenren," Zhang Tianhé said. "But your path ends tonight!"
All of a sudden, Zhang Tianhé bent over at his waist.
"Oh, no, no, no…" Zi Yuan whispered. "I can't believe he knows that spell!"
Before Li Yundong could work out what Zi Yuan meant, Zhang Tianhé's body began to move in a strange pattern. It was like some kind of shamanistic dance, with his torso undulating back and forth and his arms stretching behind his back as they moved along to match the rhythm of his torso.
"Li Yundong!" Zi Yuan hissed. "Attack him! Quickly!"
Li Yundong didn't have to be told twice. He brought his hands to the front of his chest and touched his index fingers together.
Acalanatha's 8th Mudra: The Pouncing Lion!
"Namah samanta vajranam ham!"
A deafening roar echoed through the night: a golden apparition of a lion sprang out from Li Yundong's hands and hurtled towards Zhang Tianhé. The Pouncing Lion was the fastest among all of Acalanatha's mudras.
And Zhang Tianhé dodged it.
The lion had missed Zhang Tianhé by at least a few feet.
"Come on… Keep attacking him," Zi Yuan said urgently. "Right now he's mobilizing his Zhenqi into the atmosphere. He'll be able to summon lightning once he releases enough spiritual energy into the sky!"
Summon lightning? Was this the infamous Five Thunders Spell?
"Om mani padme hum!"
Five golden hand signs scattered across the terrain, drawing screams and shouts from the crowd. Zhang Tianhé's body zipped back and forth, dodging each and every one of the hand signs.
Restrain him. I've gotta restrain him somehow.
"Keep attacking," Zi Yuan said in a calmer tone. "There's still time. The spell requires quite a bit of channeling time."
Li Yundong gritted his teeth. "Om mani padme hum!" Five hand signs flew out once again. This time, however, Li Yundong didn't wait around to see if any of the hand signs had found their target.
Acalanatha's 13th Mudra: Divine Lasso!
"Namah samanta vajranam ham!"
"Shīdì! Look out!!!"
A golden loop snaked around Zhang Tianhé's glowing figure.
The plan had worked. Li Yundong had managed to restrain Zhang Tianhé with the Divine Lasso while the guy was busy dodging the Intelligent Fists.
"Damn you, Li zhenren!" Zhang Tianhé growled.
Li Yundong smirked, feeling his confidence returning. That is until Zi Yuan's voice shattered it once again.
"Incoming! Behind you!"
Li Yundong wheeled around.
Li Yundong ducked under the blade, which had been about to slice his head off his shoulders. The sword flicked downwards; and Li Yundong pulled his hands away to avoid the vicious slash on his wrists. The sword jerked sideways and rammed its pommel into Li Yundong's elbow, forcing him to release the mudra.
Li Yundong leaped away to put some distance between himself and the Sword of Seven Stars. The Divine Lasso had been released, and Zhang Tianhé's was starting to move again.
A chilling sensation coursed through Li Yundong's spine.
What the hell? I thought…
He turned to his left and saw the Fan of Seven Treasures battling with the Sword of Seven Stars.
But how could…
He frowned and turned to the front again. The sword hovering in front of him was also the Sword of Seven Stars.
A loud rumble sounded above. Looking up, he saw storm clouds drifting in from all directions and gathering above Zhang Tianhé.
The Fan of Seven Treasures landed beside Li Yundong. Further ahead, the two copies of the Sword of Seven Stars drifted towards each other before merging back into a single sword.
Zhang Tianhé was now levitating off the ground. Shit. Had he completed the channeling process? Was it too late to stop the spell now?
Li Yundong looked up at the clouds. Well. He could always just dodge them. After all, he'd done it countless times already.
"Argh!" Something flashed inside his mind; it was those colorful flames again.
Li Yundong felt his knees hit the ground. "W-What?"
"Learn… the spell…" A pause. "You… are faster… stronger… Learn the spell… You will defeat him…"
"But how?" he growled.
I've never even seen the spell before, for Acalanatha's sake!
"Use… the Elixir…"
Li Yundong gripped his hair harder as the flames grew even more intense inside his head.
"Come on, Li Yundong! What are you doing!" Zi Yuan hissed. "There's still time! Don't give up now! Get up and attack!"
"Transcend… Do not… disappoint me!!!"
The flames burst apart, and Li Yundong's eyes shot open.
Zhang Tianhé was still dancing like a maniac, though the storm clouds seemed to have grown thicker.
Something clicked inside Li Yundong's mind. "Transcend," he whispered. "Transcend… That's what he said. Transcend…"
Li Yundong climbed to his feet and pressed his palms together. When he was making his way out of the vault, Li Yundong had activated the Elixir of Transcendence to see what kind of effects it had. However, he was surprised to learn that it did absolutely nothing; it was the only elixir out of all nine that didn't have an immediate effect upon activation.
But now perhaps…
Something flared inside his upper Dantian, and all of a sudden, he could see everything: the flow of spiritual energy in and out of Zhang Tianhé's body; the movement patterns of his spiritual energy and its interaction with the spiritual energy of the Heavens.
No wonder he didn't experience the effects of the Elixir of Transcendence directly when he activated it for the first time back at the vault. There was nothing to see back there.
So that's how he does it… I see…
Li Yundong bent at his waist and began copying Zhang Tianhe's movements.
"Oh my God… Zi Yuan jiějie… What's he doing?!"
The uproar from the crowd drowned out Zi Yuan's response.
"What! He knows the Dance of Storms too?!"
"B- But… h- how! I… I thought that's the Zhengyi School's secret spell?"
Li Yundong's body began to levitate on its own.
"Holy sh*t! I think his version required even less channeling time!"
Li Yundong tuned out those voices.
"Impossible…" Zi Yuan whispered. "That's just impossible…"
Going to Tibet on foot was impossible. Figuring out the Mahamudra Tantra's secret was impossible. Dodging the Heavenly Thunder was impossible.
Li Yundong thrived on the impossible.
And he would prove himself again this time.
Li Yundong stopped his version of the dance just as Zhang Tianhé completed his. Floating under two swirling vortices, the two men stared at each other across the electrified air.
I'm stronger than him… faster than him…
Electricity cackled along Li Yundong's right arm.
"Heavenly Thunder!" Zhang Tianhé pointed his arm at Li Yundong. "I command you…"
The voice hissed again. "Whatever… you do… I will… be watching… Do not… disappoint me…"
"Slay that man!" Zhang Tianhé yelled.
Li Yundong thrust out his right arm. For Chan'er! Electricity shot out of his palm.
There was a bright flash. A surge of heat struck him in the face before his whole world turned white.