"The mortal world may be chaotic, but it's the best place to experience life and train oneself. Without knowing the secular world, how could one strengthen the heart of Dao?"
"My heart is the heart of Dao, which is firm in itself. Why should it be certified by all those feckless things? Cultivators ought to sever themselves from worldly matters. By attuning themselves to the rest of the world, wouldn't they be tainted?"
"Severing from worldly matters comes after one obtains the Great Dao. If all abandon the mortal world before achieving Dao, how is the world to be made up? How are life and death be decided?"
"The world runs on itself, and life and death happen when they happen. What do all mortal beings have to do about them?"
Gu Yu chuckled and did not lead on the debate after the initial probing questions. "Well, let's not dwell on that. To tell you the truth, we've intruded on you like this because there is a favor we need to ask from you."
"Well, what's the rush? Guests have arrived from afar and surely I have to show my hospitality."
Sima Che interrupted him and smiled, "This might seem an impoverished place, but it actually provides me with everything I need. You guys just wait here."
With that, he got up and went to the kitchen. Gu Yu and Xiaozhai tried to offer some help, which Sima denied persistently. The two had to go back waiting in the back room.
Before long, a few simple dishes were on the table. He had raised just about everything in this valley, from vegetables to cattle. The grains were especially delicious. Irrigated by the melted spring water from the snow mountains, they tasted chewy and sweet.
Sima Che appeared to be very hospitable. Maybe it was the result of having lived in solitude for so long, but he gave the impression of wanting to discuss all sorts of philosophical questions with them, to the point of abandoning sleep and rest.
"After my master passed away, I lived here alone for twenty-five years. I would go down the mountain often in the first five years to observe the outside world and the people living in it. After that, I decided to put all my heart into cultivation. So I sealed off the exit and finally, I made some minor achievement. Oh, do you know about the skills of Tianshan Sect?"
"Not really. We only know that they came from Immortals Sa and Yang," replied Xiaozhai.
"That's right. Patriarch Sa had Shenxiao Technique and Patriarch Yang had techniques of Neidan and Waidan. During the eight hundred years my sect was passed down, it was able to learn widely from the strength of others. Unfortunately, by the time my grandmaster inherited the sect, little was left of the skills. As for the one I have been cultivating with, it's called 'Heel-pressing Technique'."
"This technique nurtures mind while enhancing one's physical body. The physical strength helps to nourish the mental power. The profound knowledge e
ventually integrates men with nature…"
Sima Che went on to explain some of the manuals and theories which the two had never heard of before, making them click their tongues in wonder.
Yin Qiao Mai [TL/N: Yin Heel Vessel] was the general hub between Ren Mai [TL/N: Conception Vessel] and Du Mai [TL/N: Governing Vessel]. Yin Qiao was linked to the brain on one end and Yong Quan [TL/N: meaning "Gushing Spring", an acupoint at the bottom of one's feet] on the other. Both the gathering and dispersing of one's vital Qi had to go through this orifice. When the acupoints of the upper body were successfully linked to the bottom ones, the harmonious Qi would naturally ascend, promoting the positive energy while eliminating the negative. Water would materialize from fire and flower blossom in the snow. As the saying went, "When Qi circulates freely between Ren Mai and Du mai, the body is full of vitality". [TL/N: Niwan, or mud ball, is a Taoist term for the brain.]
All in all, when Yin Qiao Mai was unobstructed, all vessels were clear as open roads, which would unburden one's body and mind, as well as carrying forward and moralizing one's inner self. As for the specific manual to carry out the technique, he mentioned none of it, for it was the secret knowledge of the sect.
"Your respectable sect is indeed rich and long in its culture. It was a great eye-opener for both of us," praised Gu Yu.
"Fellow Daoist is too modest. You've reached the innate state and I'm still a step away from it. I'm the one who should be impressed."
The atmosphere turned rigid at those words. Gu Yu was not surprised to see Sima Che point out the fact bluntly, nor was Xiaozhai stirred.
That was right! The two men had sounded each other out the minute they set eyes on each other.
In spite of his young age, Sima Che was more advanced than old Priest Mo in his cultivation level, almost as close to reaching the innate state as one could get. That was why he abandoned his arrogance when he saw Gu Yu and started treating them politely.
To reach the innate state was not exactly a matter of difficulty. After practicing the Neidan Technique for his whole life, old Priest Mo still had a long way to go from it. Without the Essence-consuming Method and at his old age, Tan Chongdai had little hope in achieving it with the remaining of his days. Li Suchun was backed up by the authorities, whose possible patronage would promise him a bright future.
As for people like Wang Ruoxu and Du Hong, they only had fate to depend on.
According to Gu Yu's classification, there was no such term as an "innate state", but only Enlightenment of the mind—Refinement of the form—Concentration of the spirit—Spiritualization of the body—Human Immortals. When one achieved the Spiritualization of the body, which was a complete version of an innate-state body, they were so close to Human Immortals that other cultivators were not even comparable to them.
With that being said, Sima Che must have possessed excellent natural endowments and was very well accomplished in the Heel-pressing Technique. He was only in his early thirties. Given enough time, he would be out of the novice village for sure.
What did that mean? It meant he would be able to sense the spiritual essence as well… oh, scratch that. It was possible that he was faintly aware of the existence of the spiritual essence already!
Gu Yu's trail of thoughts stopped at the green jade plate Erkin was wearing.
Sitting beside him, Xiaozhai had no idea how many things had passed through his head in merely a few seconds. Sima Che went on, "I have been living alone in the mountains for so long and it's so rare to have a fellow cultivator here. Since I'm lucky enough to have you here today, I hope you don't mind me asking, what method is Fellow Daoist practicing?"
"I'm using the Essence-consuming Method."
"Oh? The Essence-consuming Method of the ancient times?" Sima Che's fingers gave an involuntary jolt at the words.
"Oh my, Fellow Daoist is indeed a very fortunate man. I wonder if the method was inherited from a master, or…"
"I'm sorry, but I'm not at liberty to answer that question."
"Oh, that's all right. I'm the one who's being abrupt."
Sima Che was not at all offended by that reply, but sipped his water and smiled quietly.
He was certain that these two people must need something from him. Unsurprisingly, Xiaozhai was the one to break the ice after a short while. "Senior, we are here this time because there's a question we need to ask you. The Thunder Technique of Shenxiao in your sect, did the disciples of your sect manage to pass it down?"
"We did! Only that it is way too profound and I'm not talented enough to learn it," Sima Che winced slightly, then replied with a smile.
"Well, may we take a look?"
"Well… you do realize that such secret skills are the most precious treasures of a sect. They're not for the eyes of outsiders." Sima Che appeared to be quite embarrassed.
"We understand that. If there are any specified terms, do name them. We'll give them some consideration beforehand," said Gu Yu.
Sima Che's eyes flickered and assumed a posture of thinking the words over, then smiled, "You've come all the way here and it must have been a tough journey. Here's what I can do… my terms are very simple. Let me have a look at the Essence-consuming Method and I'll let you have the Thunder Technique with pleasure."
"That's out of the question!"
Before Gu Yu said a word, Xiaozhai refused the proposal at once. "There's no way we'll agree to that!"
"In that case, I could only say sorry to your request."
"Let's take it slowly. It is a matter of great importance and we all need some time to think it through," Gu Yu said in an appeasing tone.
"Yes, you have a point. Please take some rest here and we'll talk tomorrow morning," smiled Sima Che.
After all the hustling about, the sun had set a long time ago.
Sima Che seemed to have the ability to see things in the darkness, for there were lighting tools in this place. They did not sleep in the room of quietness on the east wing, but insisted on starting a fire on the clearing outside the house and making up a bed with twigs and blankets. Both of them then squeezed onto that tiny bed.
The heat penetrated the twigs and warmed up their backs with the ideal amount of heat. It was very cozy. The valley was indeed a treasured place and even the night here was not very cold. The fact that they were surrounded by stretches of snow mountains at the moment could only make one feel amazed.
Lying by the dancing flame, Gu Yu spoke suddenly, "You know, you didn't have to stop me. It was fair, one of ours in exchange for one of his."
"I can't use your thing-"
Xiaozhai was about to argue when a hand reached over and knocked on the back of hers. She took the hint immediately and seamlessly turned the second half of her sentence towards another direction, "-for the exchange. It won't be fair for you."
"We've known each other too well to talk about fairness, haven't we? The purpose for our trip this time is to open up our eyes and exchange some ideas. It'll be great if we can do the swap. We'll just live with it if we can't."
"Maybe he has some difficulty we can help with?"
"What difficulty can he have here. We'll have no choice but go back empty-handed if this thing doesn't work out…"
While he was saying all this, Gu Yu wrote two words on her palm: spiritual essence.