Xiyuan Temple was huge. And unless Li Yundong was very much mistaken, the temple's compound consisted of at least three sections: the public section, where the usual worshipping (offerings, blessings, or other religious rites) took place; the living quarters for the lamas and monks; and the restricted area whose purpose was still unknown to Li Yundong. There might be other sections, but Li Yundong didn't know about them and, quite frankly, he didn't care.
He had been right in his guess that the restricted area was inaccessible from the other sections. Each section was segregated from each other by thick concrete walls. Needless to say, each wall had a bunch of talismans attached to them. If he had a penny for every talisman he had encountered inside the temple so far, he'd be able to pay back the money Zi Yuan had spent on his bank debts.
Sure, there were a lot of talismans lying around, just not that many.
Li Yundong floated towards a couple of large barrels stacked up near the wall. Then, he lowered himself to the ground and hid behind the barrels. He'd taken great care to conceal the Jindan's Aura as well as his Qi. He hadn't encountered any lamas so far, but he didn't want to take any chances.
He peeked out from behind the barrels and looked towards the double doors through which he had entered the temple's restricted area. He had made sure to close the doors after entering. From the outside, nobody could tell that the doors had recently been tampered with. Unless, of course, one considered the two missing talismans.
The double doors was locked from the inside before he came in, so he ended up having to poke around with his Zhenqi until he could feel lock from outside the door and then destroy it with Qi Kinesis. He had hidden the broken pieces of the lock so that nobody inside would notice them.
The lamas had been quiet.
He knew because for the past fifteen minutes, he'd been listening for the typical noises associated with Buddhist rituals. Alas, even with Eryue, he hadn't had any success. There was no chanting of a Buddhist mantras. No percussive tapping of wooden fish. Not even a single mention of Amitabha.
Something's not right…
When he first activated Eryue, he was able to isolate the voice of a woman even though there were twenty floors separating them. How much distance was that? 280 feet?
And now he couldn't hear a loud Buddhist ritual inside a temple even though he was inside said temple?
He leaned his back against the barrels and tried harder.
Again, the chatter of the tourists was the first thing he heard. He tuned them out and focused on other noises: prayers; the crackling from an incense pot; sound of crickets from the woods beside the temple; car tires; noises from the ticket booth…
There was a creak.
Li Yundong froze. He didn't pick that up with Eryue. That noise came from nearby. A loud clack followed suit, followed by another creak. It sounded like someone was opening—
He peeked out from behind the barrel and looked towards the double doors.
One of the double doors was now partially open.
Did another lama just enter?
Damn it, damn it, damn it.
He did a quick scan of the compound. No one was there.
"How on earth did you open that door, Lanlan?"
That voice came from outside the doors.
"I don't know, Xiaxia," Lanlan whispered. "I just gave it a push and it opened."
"That's impossible," Xiaxia hissed. "The Head told us that only authorized personnel is allowed through that door! He even warned us not to bring any tourists to this area. By right, that door should be locked!"
He heard the shuffling of feet next.
The door creaked again.
Li Yundong groaned internally and took another peek at the door. Lanlan, the woman he'd knocked over, was now standing in front of the door. She appeared to be scrutinizing the brass latch for the lock.
Li Yundong cursed under his breath and hid behind the barrel once again.
He couldn't step out of his hiding place; the woman would see him if he tried to leave now.
"Check out this latch, Xiaxia…"
"Gosh… The metal is bent out of shape."
"Hmm. This is so weird…"
"Hey, Xiaxia. Check the ground. Maybe the lock is still around."
More shuffling of feet.
"I don't see anything. What about you, Lanlan?"
"I know, right? The lock is on the inside. So someone must've broken it from the inside."
"Why would anyone do that?" Xiaxia said, then paused. "Do you think someone was trying to escape the place but they didn't have the key? That would explain why they broke the lock."
"I don't know… But I bet that brute earlier was responsible for this."
Well, you're damn right about that, Li Yundong thought wryly.
"What are you even talking about, Lanlan? That doesn't even make sense!" Xiaxia hissed. "The lock was broken by someone from the inside!"
"But I'm positive he came this way!"
Li Yundong peeked out from the side of the barrel once again. Lanlan was still standing at the doorway. Crap.
"But still…" There was a pause. "I think we should go. Nobody is allowed in this area."
Clearly, Xiaxia was the voice of reason here.
"Yeah… Yeah, you're right."
The doors creaked again. A click sounded a second later.
Move, move, move!
Li Yundong stepped out from behind the barrels and floated towards the nearest building in the compound—some kind of shrine with two Buddha statues set up beside its entrance.
The shrine's entrance was locked, and he couldn't detect the smell of burning incense at all. Besides, there were cobwebs everywhere, so it was safe to assume that the shrine hadn't been in use for quite a while.
Past the shrine, there was a cobble path lined with smaller Buddha statues. Tall weeds peeked out from behind the statues. He spotted several flower pots around the statues as well. The pots looked old and were covered in cracks. The plants they once housed had long since wilted.
Whatever reason this place was built for, horticulture definitely wasn't part of it.
A smaller temple lay at the end of the cobble path. The temple was enclosed by a metal fence; and he was fairly certain that beyond the fence lay the forest beside Xiyuan temple. And if he were to venture another guess, that forest probably led to the summit of Mount Qili.
Li Yundong stopped in front of the gate leading into the small temple.
Did the lamas come this way?
Most of what he heard came from the woods: crickets; rustling of foliage by the night breeze. He had to focus harder to hear the tourists' chatter now, which means that this area was further away from the main temple.
He levitated off the ground and circled the temple a few times. Nobody was around. It was just him and those noisy crickets in this godforsaken place. Just when he was about to lower himself to the ground to look for more clues, something caught his eye. There was a smaller gate at the back of the temple where the metal fence terminated.
The gate opened into the forest.
Li Yundong flew towards the gate and landed in front of it. Surprisingly, the gate was unlocked, and there were no talismans lying around.
Li Yundong stared at the gate for a moment, then inspected the area around the gate.
No talismans? Seriously?
Li Yundong narrowed his eyes. What if the talismans were invisible?
Li Yundong formed Acalanatha's 5th Mudra with his hands. Call him paranoid, but he wasn't taking any chances with this. He was the only one who could save Su Chan right now.
"Namah sarva tathagatebhyah sarva mukhebhyah, sarvatha trat canda maha rosana kham khahi khahi sarva vighnam hum trat ham mam…"
No colorful flames appeared.
After repeating the mantra a few times, Li Yundong lowered his hands back down. Okay. So there really are no talismans here.
Right, so the next step was to figure out where the two…no, three, lamas had gone off to. Obviously, they had gone into the forest, but then the forest was so big.
Li Yundong floated over the metal fence and landed on the other side of the fence. The ground sank down slightly when he landed.
Hm. Soft ground…
Footprints. He should start looking for footprints.
He mobilized his Zhenqi and levitated until there was a slight gap between his feet and the ground—no need to leave his own set of footprints for the other lamas to see. After that, he activated the Jindan's Aura at his fingertips, using the golden glow for light.
Five minutes later, he found what he was looking for: three sets of footprints headed northwest.