They continued their hike after their brief interlude where Yundong had shown her a couple of those cool mudras. They still had quite some distance to travel before reaching the school, but Su Chan didn't find the journey boring at all. Mostly because Yundong had been regaling her with interesting stories about the things he had experienced during their time apart. But still, she didn't think anything else he told her could top that story about how he had fallen on his gonads. That story was hilarious.
Su Chan giggled again.
Yundong paused in his story about his battle against some bald man who could breathe fire.
A second later, Su Chan felt a light pinch on her waist.
"You were laughing about that again, weren't you?"
Su Chan blinked up at him innocently. "About what?"
Yundong narrowed his eyes at her. "You know what."
"Hehehe…" Su Chan beamed at him. "Did you check if your…" Su Chan let her eyes wander lower before looking back up at his face. "…you know, is okay?"
Yundong shrugged. "Why should I check?" Then, he smirked. "Isn't that your job?"
Blushing, Su Chan gaped at him for a few seconds. "Perv!" She smacked his arm gently. Yundong chuckled and draped his arm around her shoulders before guiding them forward once again.
When Su Chan saw a huge rock perched on the side of the path, she tugged Yundong's sleeve and pulled him to a stop.
"Yundong…" Su Chan pointed at the rock. "Do you know that that rock leads to—"
"The secret vault of the Fox Zen School."
Su Chan whipped her head to the side and gaped at him. Once again, her beloved had surprised her—he had been doing that a lot lately.
Yundong was smiling down at her. "That's actually how I got into the school."
"B- But how did you…" Su Chan placed a finger on her chin. "Did Zi Yuan jiějie tell you?"
"Nah… I don't think she knew about the vault."
Su Chan frowned. "Then how?"
Surely, it couldn't have been dumb luck? Or could it?
Su Chan stole a glance at Yundong.
Yundong chuckled. "You probably won't believe this, but it was actually Lin Youfa who told me about it."
"Lin You—" Su Chan gaped at Yundong. But how on earth could Lin Youfa possibly know about the side trail?
"Hard to believe, I know." A wistful look formed on Yundong's face. "But it's true." He sighed. "He had some kind of map." Yundong shot Su Chan a look. "No idea where he got it from though."
In hindsight, she wasn't surprised that there was a map.
"A lot of people have tried to get into the vault. Some of them might've figured out how to unlock the side trail." Not that it mattered. It was impossible for any of them to enter the vault from the outside unless the Fan of Seven Treasures did it for them.
They moved past the rock and took the main trail.
"He came to steal the treasures from the vault, didn't he?" Su Chan said flatly.
It made sense. He had a map.
"Did he… succeed?" Su Chan glanced sideways at Yundong. "Did he manage to steal anything?"
"No." Yundong's voice sounded a little strange.
"Where is he now? Is he still here?"
"Yes." Yundong glanced at her briefly. "But he's dead."
Su Chan fell behind a step. A second later, she caught up to Yundong again. "What happened?"
Yundong stepped over the trunk of a fallen tree. Su Chan floated over it and stared down at Yundong, awaiting his explanation. She could tell that there was a story there.
"He tried to attack me." Yundong gave her a wry smile. "So the Fan of Seven Treasures took care of him."
Speaking of which…
"Where is the Fan of Seven Treasures?" Su Chan gave him a quick once-over. "Shouldn't you be carrying it around at all times?"
Smiling, Yundong reached into his pocket and pulled out a colorful pouch, which she recognized as a spirit pouch. "It's in here."
Yundong shoved the pouch back into his pocket.
"Did Grandmaster Liu gave that to you?" Su Chan asked, suddenly remembering the kind old man who gave her the paper crane.
"No." Yundong smiled. "Cao Yi did. She—" Yundong suddenly stopped talking, his eyes sharp and alert.
Yundong pointed at something behind Su Chan.
Su Chan twisted her body in midair and followed Yundong's gaze: dead bodies.
Su Chan floated towards the corpses and then hovered above them. Something about those battered faces seemed familiar.
Then it hit her.
"The harpies," she mumbled.
"Do you know these women?" Yundong's voice sounded behind her.
Su Chan nodded. "They were Gu-shībó's disciples."
"I see," Yundong said in knowing tone. "The runaways."
Confused, Su Chan turned her head to face Yundong. "Runaways?"
Yundong gestured at the dead bodies. "They were the runaways." He lowered his hand, then held Su Chan's gaze. "Cao Yi told me that your Gu shībó's disciples fled the school before the assault began."
Su Chan turned her gaze to the dead bodies. "Must not have run far then."
Su Chan lowered herself to the ground, then bent down to examine the corpse closest to her. These women were practically half-naked—their robes had been ripped apart. Splattered across their bodies were various physical wounds—cuts, bruises, and the like. The corpse Su Chan was examining looked to be in worse shape compared to the others. The poor woman's chest was completely bashed in. It was like her upper torso was flattened by some kind of round object. Su Chan sent a silent prayer to Buddha and straightened herself. She stepped around the corpse and moved towards another corpse, which was lying face down. She crouched down and flipped the corpse over.
"Beloved, look at this."
Yundong shuffled over and crouched down beside her. "What is it?"
"Look at this pattern." Su Chan pointed at the stripes plastered all over woman's torso. "I think it came from a melon hammer."
Yundong suddenly tensed up beside her. After that, she heard a low growl.
She turned her head and immediately noticed the scowl on Yundong's face. "Beloved?"
"Kuang Tianping," he said coldly.
Su Chan frowned. Kuang who?
"The Golden Hammer of the Donghai Sect," Yundong added, disdain coloring his tone.
They shared a brief glance before Yundong continued, "One of the Great Six's Cultivators." There was a pause. "He was there when I was defending the school. He was also the only one I saw wielding a pair of melon hammers." Yundong shook his head. "This is most likely his doing."
"He will pay," Su Chan said without taking her eyes off the corpses.
"He already did."
Su Chan lifted her gaze from the corpses and glanced at Yundong.
"I killed him," Yundong said emotionlessly. "But his Yin Spirit got away before I could destroy it."
Su Chan sighed. Hopefully his Yin Spirit would die out before he managed to possess someone else's body.
Su Chan rose to her feet. "We should bury them." Even though these harpies were rude and crass when alive, even though they had disrespected Master, they still deserved a proper burial. Lives were still lives.
"I agree," Yundong said, rising to his feet as well.
They worked silently together, Yundong digging the earth with Qi Kinesis while Su Chan did the same using a talisman she'd found in Master's drawer. It was a clever Earth spell of Master's invention that would allow its user to carve out a hole on the ground. The shape of the hole could be anything of the caster's choosing. There were five corpses in total, but Su Chan only had one talisman; so she buried one while Yundong took care of the other four.
After saying a few prayers, and adding a few makeshift gravestones, they continued their journey along the main trail.
"I've been meaning to ask…" Yundong shot her a brief glance. "How do talismans work?"
Su Chan stopped floating and stared at him in surprise. "Zi Yuan jiějie hasn't taught you spellcasting yet?"
Yundong shook his head. "There wasn't enough time." He paused and held her gaze for a moment. "I started preparing for my divine punishment as soon as the Fan of Seven Treasures acknowledged me as its owner."
"The Reckoning," Su Chan whispered. All of a sudden, images of a glowing Fan of Treasures dancing around Yundong came to mind.
That must've been a sight to behold. Too bad she couldn't be there to see it for herself.
"And you came straight here after you survived your divine punishment."
"Hmm…" Su Chan floated around in circles. Seconds later, she lowered herself to the ground. "What's your current understanding of spellcasting, beloved?"
A thoughtful look formed on Yundong's face. "Well… I know it's different from the mudras. Buddhist magic is different, right?" Yundong raised his brows.
Su Chan affirmed with several quick nods.
The thoughtful look returned to Yundong's face again. "I think it's got something to do with the flow of spiritual energy."
"Also, I've noticed that some Cultivators have to form a series of hand signs in order to cast spells." Yundong paused to look at her. "That's pretty much all I know."
"Your first hunch is correct, beloved." Su Chan smiled at him. "The key to spellcasting lies in the flow of spiritual energy." Su Chan turned away to face the front, knowing that she was about to repeat the exact words Master had told her all those years ago. "Different flow patterns of spiritual energy will result in different spells. There are other factors involved as well, such as the amount of spiritual energy expended. Even the timing of spiritual energy release matters." Su Chan glanced at Yundong. "That's why there are so many spells out there."
Yundong nodded. "Because these parameters can all be altered to produce variations."
Su Chan bobbed her head up and down. "Mm!"
"Wow. I see."
"Talismans are usually created for complicated spells where a lot of hand signs are required."
"Like the Five Thunders Spell."
Su Chan bobbed her head. "The drawings on talismans basically do the same thing as hand signs."
"They guide the flow of spiritual energy," Yundong said.
"Makes sense." Yundong paused in thought. "A spell can be cast much faster through the use of talismans because the hand signs can be omitted."
Su Chan shook her head. "Some talismans require hand signs too."
Yundong stared at her.
"Some talismans can be activated with Qi alone." Su Chan smiled at Yundong. "Like the one I gave you last time."
Yundong nodded. "The Five Thunders Spell."
"Yep! Those are called Qi-Activated talismans."
"So they are a special kind of talisman then?"
"Yup. And they are very rare too." A sudden tightness formed in Su Chan's chest. She lowered her gaze and stared at the ground for a moment. "Master told me that Qi-Activated talismans are very difficult to draw…" She could feel Yundong's concerned gaze on her right then, so she turned her head and forced out a smile. "Anyway. Like I said, those talismans are special. Normal talismans can only be activated by expending a small amount of the user's spiritual energy and then performing one or two hand signs."
"I see." Recognition shone in Yundong's eyes. "The activation of talismans is itself a spell. That's why it needs its own hand signs."
"So, with talismans, you can replace the long sequence of hand signs needed for the actual spell with one or two simple ones." Yundong chuckled. "Smart."
Su Chan beamed. "First, you take out the talisman. Then, you perform the right hand signs. After that, all you need to do is channel your Zhenqi into the talisman and ta-da! A spell!" Su Chan wiggled her fingers a few times.
Yundong laughed and ruffled her hair.
"Talismans aren't perfect though." Su Chan lowered her hand. "They can only be used once. And obviously, you have to draw them beforehand." Su Chan wrinkled her nose. "Drawing them is no easy task. Even the common ones require a lot of skill to draw." Su Chan shook her head. "One wrong symbol…"
"And the spell wouldn't work."
Su Chan nodded. "Master is very good at it." Su Chan glanced at Yundong. "Talisman Lore."
Yundong smiled. "I don't find that surprising at all. She's a genius after all."
"Mm." Su Chan lowered her gaze to the ground.
"Hey." Yundong nudged her. "We're gonna get her back, okay?"
Su Chan lifted her gaze and gave him a weak smile.
"We're not alone in this." Yundong patted her head. "Zi Yuan and Ruan Hongling are on our side." Yundong smiled. "And we've still got Cao Yi and your other shībó's, haven't we?"
Su Chan's heart lightened a bit.
"Oh, hey. Why don't you tell me more about your mist spell?" Yundong's tone sounded curious. "It's called Shadow Mist, right?"
Su Chan smiled. "Yep!"
"How does it work?"
"It's actually a spell from the Water Element. We first manipulate the water vapor in the air with our spiritual energy to form the mist, and then we integrate our physical bodies into the mist. Our Yin Spirit then can control and shape the mist however we want."
"Yundong, do you know that fox spirits—"
"Are born with Yin Spirits? Yeah, I know."
Su Chan did a double take. Wait, he knew about that. Hmm. Zi Yuan jiějie must have told him that.
They walked for a while in silence until Yundong broke the silence with a long, contented sigh. Piqued, Su Chan looked towards Yundong.
Yundong was smiling. "I've missed this, you know?"
"I mean what we're doing right now." Yundong's smile widened. "I've really missed this."
"Yeah. It reminds me of the time when you first taught me about Cultivation."
"There isn't much I can teach you now, Yundong." Su Chan smiled. "Honestly, you can learn so much more from Zi Yuan jiějie or…"
Yundong patted her head. "Even so, I couldn't have gotten here without your early guidance, Chan'er."
There was a grateful smile on Yundong's face when she turned to look at him.
"So, thank you."
Su Chan smiled and—
She stopped walking and pointed at the temple in front of them.
"Well." Yundong stopped beside her. "Looks like we're here."
Su Chan lowered her hand and sighed. Hopefully, she would receive a warmer welcome this time.