It would appear that those endless rounds of lightning dodgeball had benefits that went beyond improving his survivability against the Heavenly Thunder. Now, for instance, they granted him the reflexes required to dodge a fast-moving mudra fired at him from practically point-blank range.
The mudra sailed over his head a split second after he ducked.
No mantras, he thought as he leaped away from the lama to create space. So this was one of the combative mudras, the same ones used by Dorjee Tenzin.
Li Yundong landed in a crouch, but he was forced to move again when a few more palm prints flew towards him.
"Oh, come on! I've got her picture right here!" He waved his phone at the lama. "I just want to confirm—"
"SILENCE!" The lama flicked the sleeves of his robe, his eyes glinting threateningly. "Where are your two accomplices hiding?"
Li Yundong frowned.
Accomplices? What the heck was the guy even talking about? Was he referring to the chakram and the fan of seven treasures?
"I came here alone, sir," Li Yundong said carefully.
"You're lying," the lama growled. "Two others entered the woods ten minutes after you did!"
Li Yundong tensed up. What? Two people had been following him around for the past thirty minutes and he didn't even notice their presence? Either his pursuers were highly skilled ninjas, or the spell protecting this forest had affected his senses more than he thought.
Two pursuers. Who could they be?
The first two names that came to mind were Zi Yuan and Ruan Hongling. But then he quickly dismissed that notion as absurd. Why wouldn't Zi Yuan and Ruan Hongling show themselves if they were really here? What would be the point in sneaking around?
Besides, both of them were busy; Ruan Hongling had left to retrieve Liuhe while Zi Yuan was tending to her injuries.
No. It couldn't have been Zi Yuan and Ruan Hongling.
Had Cao Yi and another member of the Fox Zen School followed him here? The members of the Fox Zen School were good in stealth after all. Maybe that was why he couldn't detect their presence.
"I'm going to ask you again, young man." The lama took a step forward. "Where are they?"
"There are no accomplices." Li Yundong rose to his feet slowly. "Like I said, I came into the woods alone."
Without taking his eyes off the lama, Li Yundong slid the phone back into his pocket—no need to ruin the device now.
His mind flashed once, then twice.
"…doesn't matter where they are hiding," the lama said. "I won't allow anyone to interfere with the ritual."
Li Yundong smirked, knowing that the lama was about to unleash another mudra in a few seconds.
Well, he's good… But I'm better!
"Om mani padme hum!"
The Intelligent Fist Mudra hurtled forth, colliding head-on with the red, palm-shaped aura flying towards him. Lights flared, and darkness gave way to a dichromatic display—gold on one side and red on the other, each fighting for dominance.
The result of the clash, however, had long since been decided; Mahavairocana's power would not be denied its victory. The red palm sundered into tiny embers; and the Intelligent Fist Mudra continued its path, illuminating the lama's frightened expression with its omnipotent glow.
The lama dodged the mudra and rolled into a crouch.
"You..." Surprisingly, there wasn't a single ounce of fear in the lama's voice. If anything, his voice sounded even more acerbic. "What is someone from the Esoteric Sect doing here?"
Li Yundong lowered his hands and looked towards the huge pagoda that lay ahead. According to the lama, the ritual had already begun, so there wasn't much time to lose.
"You're from the Esoteric Sect! You should've known better than to let yourself fall prey to the likes of an animal spirit!"
Li Yundong looked from the pagoda towards the lama. He didn't really have to defeat the lama; he just had to get past the lama and then to the pagoda as quickly as possible. The only talismans he saw in the area were the ones hanging on the crisscrossing metal wires above. He still had no idea what those talismans were capable of, so it was probably safer to approach the pagoda from the ground.
"I suggest you repent, young man," the lama yelled, "before you fall deeper into this abyss!"
Li Yundong followed the lama's movements with his eyes. The lama was now making a hasty retreat towards the temple. This lama was definitely no fool; he had already figured out the best approach to deal with the Intelligent Fist Mudra after seeing it just once.
The Intelligent Fist Mudra was incredibly destructive, but it lacked speed. In other words, distance was the key to avoid getting hit by the Intelligent Fist Mudra. Due to its lack of speed, someone further away would have a higher chance of dodging it because they could see it coming from afar.
Li Yundong looked towards the pagoda, which stood roughly 200 meters away. If he flew at top speed, he could probably reach it in 5 or 6 seconds give or take. But then those damned talismans were such a pain, since they prevented him from just flying over the lama's head to get to the pagoda. Li Yundong looked towards the lama, who had stopped retreating and was now standing somewhere between Li Yundong and the pagoda.
That guy is in the way…
He had to find a way to keep the lama occupied first. Who knows what other tricks the man had up his sleeves. Li Yundong took a deep breath and pulled out the Omnivacant Spirit Pouch from his pocket. Keeping the pouch hidden inside his palm, he began walking towards the lama in slow, purposeful steps.
I have to take him by surprise…
After a few steps, Li Yundong suddenly took off into the air, making sure to stay below the metal wires lest he trigger the talismans. Surprisingly, the lama wasn't perturbed at all by the sight of him flying. The lama stood his ground, eyeing Li Yundong with calculating eyes.
Li Yundong opened the pouch and reached in.
White light flared.
The Fan of Seven Treasures spread apart and shot towards the lama.
The lama struck the air with both palms: a huge arhat materialized in the air.
The sudden appearance of the arhat caused Li Yundong to falter mid-flight. He'd never seen that technique before.
The arhat took off into the air to engage the Fan of Seven Treasures. Random bursts of light lit up his peripheral vision as the fan and the arhat battled each other. Having decided that the fan could handle itself, Li Yundong flew past the fan and arhat and headed straight for the pagoda. Halfway towards the pagoda, he was forced to fly in a zig-zag pattern to avoid the flurry of red, palm-shaped auras that the lama had so kindly sent his way.
His original game plan was to use the fan to distract the lama, but the lama had apparently seen through the plan and summoned that arhat so that it was two against two.
It seemed like he would have to improvise.
Another red palm print flew at him.
Li Yundong dipped down and landed on the ground in a crouch. Judging from the look on the lama's face, the man clearly hadn't expected Li Yundong to drop to the ground again.
Now's my chance!
Li Yundong sprinted left, travelling in a path that would evade the lama but still lead him to the base of the pagoda.
Come on, come on, come on…
When the lama followed him to the same side, he knew that the man had taken the bait. Li Yundong slowed his pace some more and watched the smug look on the lama's face grew.
"You're too slow, kid!"
Oh, yes, he was definitely too slow. The lama just didn't know that it was by design.
Moments later, the lama planted himself right in front of Li Yundong's path.
"Forget it, kid!" The lama spread his arms out wide. "You're not getting past me!"
Li Yundong barreled forward, weaving his body to the left. The lama took the bait and slipped to the same side. Li Yundong slammed his left foot onto the ground and kicked himself to his right side.
"Is that all you've got? A lousy feint?!"
He could still see the lama on his left peripheral vision, so he knew that the lama was keeping up with him.
No. That isn't all I've got.
Li Yundong moved his hands quickly.
Acalanatha's 10th Mudra: Almighty Push!
"Namah samanta vajranam ham!"
"Argh!!!!" The lama was flung away by an omnidirectional repulsive force, though the lama was actually the least of Li Yundong's concerns right now.
His glanced up at the talismans above him.
None of them were triggered.
"You insolent little…!"
Li Yundong lowered his gaze to his left. The lama's lips were moving quickly as he spun a circular string of prayer beads with his right hand.
Li Yundong ignored the lama and sprinted towards the pagoda.
He zoomed in on the pagoda.
Which floor, which floor, which floor…
Then he saw it: wisps of smoke emerging from a barred window on the sixth floor.
Hang on, Chan'er!
He mobilized his Zhenqi and took off—
His body stopped midair, and not by choice. He glanced down and immediately realized what was hindering him: the arhat's thick fingers wrapped around his ankle like a golden shackle.
Then the next thing he knew, his world was spinning around.
The arhat swung him over its head before slamming him into the ground.
His skull cracked, and his ears rang.
Li Yundong quickly wrapped his legs around the arhat's elbow joint to perform a maneuver from Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, but then the arhat slammed its heel into his chest before he could complete the move. Pain ripped through the center of his chest, spreading all the way towards his ribs. Li Yundong growled and stared at the arhat's menacing scowl. The arhat increased the pressure on his chest when he wrapped his arms around the arhat's leg. Sharp pain coursed through him once again.
The arhat was trying to crush his chest.
Li Yundong let go of the arhat's leg to form a mudra, but the arhat slapped his hands away with its own hand.
The pressure on his chest increased again.
The arhat bent down slightly, giving Li Yundong a full view of its murderous visage. One of the arhat's fists rose, and at that moment, there wasn't a single doubt in Li Yundong's mind that the punch was meant to turn his brain into mush.
A howling sounded above.
The Fan of Seven Treasures swooped in from the side and sliced the arhat's fist off its forearm. The arhat turned its head sideways and stared at its severed arm with a puzzled expression.
Li Yundong worked his fingers.
"Namah samanta vajranam ham!"
The pressure on his chest vanished when the arhat was flung away.
Li Yundong got to his feet just in time to see the arhat crashing into the side of the pagoda.
He moved his fingers again.
Acalanatha's 12th Mudra: The Great Sword!
"Namah samanta vajranam ham!"
The golden apparition of a gigantic sword emerged from his hands. The sword swung down swiftly, cleaving the arhat from its head to its groin. The two halves of the arhat's body fell sideways, flopping against the pagoda's wall.
Li Yundong's body shot into the air before coming to an abrupt stop near the pagoda's roof. Smoke was still emerging from the window.
Li Yundong peered into the pagoda's interior through the bars. It was a circular room with a long totem pole set up at its center. Sanskrit symbols filled the pole's surface.
The symbols were glowing.
Li Yundong floated upwards so that he could see the whole room, where hundreds of lamas were gathered in a circle. Li Yundong scanned the room with his eyes, skipping over dozens of bald heads until his eyes landed on the bottom of the pole.
The girl's back was facing him, so he couldn't see her face.
But something about the girl's long, dark tresses evoked a feeling of yearning and dread inside him. The girl writhed and thrashed against the chains used to restrain her against the pole, but the creepiest part of all this was the fact that Li Yundong couldn't hear a single thing. The girl was clearly in pain, but he couldn't hear a single scream coming from the room. It was like watching a silent horror movie.
The girl's back twitched, and her dark tresses parted to reveal the white skin on the back of her neck. Li Yundong felt as though someone had cleaved his heart into two, and his blood-curdling scream tore through the night.
Li Yundong cocked his fist back. Before his fist could smash through the barred window, his vision exploded in flash of gold. The next thing he knew, he was falling; something was pulling him down to the ground.
His vision exploded again when his head smashed into the ground. He sprang to his feet with a growl, then turned so that he was facing the pagoda again. The arhat, whose body he had sliced into two just now, was back to one piece again. And it was now charging towards him like a mad bull.
"Out of my way!" His hands curled into a mudra. "Om mani padme hum!"
The mudra blew the arhat's body into smithereens.
Li Yundong grabbed the Fan of Seven Treasures by its rivet and then took off towards the pagoda.
Li Yundong flung the fan towards the sixth floor. "Tear down that wall!"
The fan charged ahead while Li Yundong flew after it. Once the wall was down, he would charge in and—
The Fan of Seven Treasures was flung away before it could make contact with the pagoda. Li Yundong stopped midflight and followed the fan with his gaze. The fan was thrown towards the woods, but it quickly circled back towards him.
What the heck happened? Why did it fly off like that?
The Fan of Seven Treasures glided through the air, slowing down when it reached him. What he saw next made him blood run cold. His body wobbled in the air a few times before he quickly regained control of the flow of his Zhenqi. The Fan of Seven Treasures dipped down as though it was preparing to catch his fall.
Dozens of smaller arhats were now floating around the pagoda in circles, arranging themselves into some kind of strange formation.
Where the hell did they even come fro—
Li Yundong whipped his head around and looked towards the talismans hanging on the metal wires.
So that's what the talismans are for…
The Fan of Seven Treasures suddenly flew down to the ground.
Li Yundong watched in horror as the fan's blades sliced through the arm of the same arhat whose body he'd blown to pieces with the Intelligent Fist Mudra not thirty seconds ago. His prior efforts were futile.
It dawned on him then just how much the odds were against him.
These arhats weren't just powerful.
They were indestructible.