Not all people were the same.
How would you react to the sudden announcement that the immortals were real after living the past twenty years meaninglessly and aimlessly?
The initial reaction would probably be the same across the board, namely people would feel ridiculed, astonished, dubious, and eventually believe the claim. How one proceeded after this stage would be the most telling about individual disposition and moral character. Some would take their adolescent delusions to extremes, some would come up with detailed planning, while some others would rather stay the greasy otaku they always had been…
As for Jiang Xiaojin, the first thought that came to her after Gu Yu's narration was, "Holy crap, I'm like a super badass from now on, aren't I? My sister and her man are cultivators!"
Gu Yu did not see that coming, for it was way off what he had imagined. He had to ask, "Do you understand what I just told you?"
"Of course! Catfight, isn't it? That's my specialty. You've come to the right person!" Xiaojin offered her firm and solemn promise, apparently extremely proud of herself.
He slapped his own forehead, robbed of all words.
"Hahaha! I know, I know, the world is changing and everyone is turning to their own kin for help. We are all building up strength, preparing for the final battle."
Her irritating manner returned when she asked in that high-spirited tone, "I've got one question, though. Cultivating is pretty tough, right? What made you think I can do it?"
"Because you have the right quality."
With a creak, the door was pushed open and Xiaozhai entered the room. "Your temperament might be a bit erratic, but that can be corrected. The natural endowment, however, is an innate thing, which is only one of the reasons. The other one is…"
She strode in and sat down beside Xiaojin. "Because you're my little sister."
Xiaojin was instantly flustered by that remark. She turned evasive and would not meet Xiaozhai's eyes.
Being three years younger, she barely knew Xiaozhai before middle school. All she heard was that she had an older sister in their hometown, living with her grandfather. It was only after Xiaozhai moved to Shengtian that Xiaojin's long dark years of living under the shadow of her "dominatrix" started.
The competition among kids was usually on aspects such as personality, appearance, talents, academic achievements, etc., which was also the subject of conversations among the parents.
But it was not quite the same between those two, for the older sister never seemed to care about any of those, despite the fact that she excelled in all of them.
To Xiaojin, there was always something mysterious and hard to grasp about her sister, almost as if a gigantic mountain was hanging over her head. Her feelings towards Xiaozhai were a mixture of fear, worship, reverence, rebellion, as well as yearning for recognition.
At this moment, she finally figured out what elicited all those complicated emotions...
"It seems to be a major secret, but judging by how things are going right now, it won't stay that way for very long. You're one of the people closest to me and I need your help."
Looking into Xiaojin's eyes, Xiaozhai asked bluntly, "So, what do you think?"
"Count me in, of course! It'll be so much fun! Hey, what can you guys do?" The little devil was exulted.
Gu Yu chuckled and replied first, "I have an Essence-consuming Method, which can enhance the physical body, and materialize the mental force. It can thoroughly remold a person, helping them to reach an Earthly Immortal cultivation level. Xiao Qiu is sort of my pupil."
"I have Thunder Techniques," was Xiaozhai's four-word answer.
Xiaojin was disgruntled and shouted, "Sis, seriously? Are you aware that you two are competing for a position?"
"Killing power speaks louder!" Xiaozhai gave her another four words.
Gu Yu twitched his mouth, refusing to admit his envy of his girlfriend. Her thing just sounded first-class and there was nothing he could do about it. Had it not been for the fact that it was not compatible with Essence-consuming Method, he would have taken up Thunder Techniques himself.
Presently, the two explained the advantages and disadvantages of both skills and Gu Yu asked, "It's all up to you. Which one do you want to learn?"
Biting her lip, a hesitant look flitted across her face before Xiaojin said firmly, "Thunder Technique."
Both Xiaozhai and Gu Yu were surprised, for they had expected her to choose Essence-consuming Method, which had a more advanced starting point, faster advancing pace, and was easier to practice. It turned out both of them were wrong.
"Are you sure?" Xiaozhai asked as well.
"Yes!" Xiaojin nodded, her face very serious.
Xiaozhai stood up, tousled her hair, and smiled, "We'll start tonight."
"Pay no attention to the changing world and remain in a trance. Keep an uplifted spirit and be tranquil. Do not be tainted by secular affairs and people. The Void is quiet and still, and seamlessly empty. Existence and nonexistence are interrelated, so are difficulty and easiness…"
Inside the meditation room, Xiaozhai struck her sister's hand with a bamboo ruler and scolded, "Focus!"
"I am! I'm meditating… ouch!"
Xiaojin tried to justify herself and got another rap. Her sister said, "Yeah, right! Your eyes are losing their focus as we speak. Again!"
Puckering, Xiaojin readjusted herself into the cross-legged position and half-closed her eyes.
Xiaozhai started reciting again. "Breathing is the key. The mind follows the breathing. They conform and become an organic whole. When all states of mind are quiet and cleared of all thoughts, one abandons the obsession on themselves and all realities… you're distracted again!"
"Ouch! That hurts!"
Rubbing the crimson back of her hand, tears were welling up her eyes. She felt she was utterly wronged.
She couldn't help it. Those with an active mind were simply distracted more easily and finding it hard to stay focused on a single task. Do we need to remind you of Xiaojin's temperament? It was a wonder that she was not clinically diagnosed as ADHD. To stay motionless while cross-legged for a while was as good as killing her.
Yet walking the road of cultivation was probably tougher than building the Tower of Babel. One should never assume that any random person could do it. Sit still in meditation—the prerequisite of cultivation—itself would eliminate most of the candidates.
As a result, training Xiaojin would be a systematic engineering project. Her habits would need forceful correction at an early stage until she could at least reach a calmed mind.
Xiaozhai indeed showed no mercy. Her ruler would strike down as soon as Xiaojin started drifting off. This was repeated seven or eight times and the girl burst into tears. "Sob… the life of immortals is too tough… sob…
Sob… no one told me that to become immortal, I need to get my palms smacked first… sob…"
She wiped at her semi-real tears, but did not utter angry outbursts like "I quit".
"There, there. That's it for today. Here!"
Xiaozhai did not press on. Taking her little sister's hands between her palms, she started nourishing them with her spiritual essence. "It's called the Mind-breath Coordination Method, a very advanced mind-calming manual. You need to master it first, then I'll teach you a few tricks. You can't rush such things. I'd be very happy if you can get the basics before you finish university."
"Xiao Qiu is a newbie, too. Did she have her palms smacked?" Xiaojin certainly had her priorities well sorted.
"She's doing great! Don't assume everyone is as unreliable as you are," Xiaozhai chided. Seeing that the inflamed hands returned to their natural color and the heated skin cooled down, Xiaozhai blew at them and chuckled. "Okay, the swelling will be gone in a minute, tomorrow you'll be the same pretty girl again."
Feeling the back of her hands, Xiaojin saw that they were indeed not as swollen. She paused all of a sudden, then said, "Sister…"
"Does uncle 1 know about this?" she asked.
The question stunned Xiaozhai, who then replied, "I think they know what's going on."
"Then how, how are you going to face them in the future?"
"I haven't thought about that…"
Xiaozhai fell silent for a moment before saying, "Now that you've mentioned it, I think it's time for me to visit them. Leaving it there, this thing will eventually become a hindrance for me."
"I don't understand." Xiaojin shook her head.
"Ha, you don't have to. Not yet."
Xiaozhai pulled her up to her feet and grinned. "Come, let's go have some fresh air."
Walking out of the meditation room, they felt their eyes adjusting to the natural light outside. Having left the bright-lit room, the white balance of the world seemed to have changed. Everything was a notch dimer now.
Light was pouring out from every room. Together with the big lanterns, the red, the yellow, and the white blended in the darkness outside, forming a tranquil and smooth luminous field.
The field extended all the way to the river, across which was the old tree, where another lattern was dangling. It was complemented by an outdoor lamp.
Under the tree was a table and some chairs, which were occupied at the moment by Gu Yu and Xiao Qiu, apparently engaging in a chess game.
Xiaojin was stretching out her neck, trying to look more closely, when her feet left the ground. Xiaozhai had picked her up and flew effortlessly across the river holding Xiaojin between her arms.
When they went up to the table, the other two had just finished their round. Long Qiu counted the chess pieces and was vexed. "I lost again, by three pieces."
"You're already making great progress." Gu Yu chuckled.
"I know you were going easy on me… Sister, do you want to play?" She was a little dispirited.
With that, Xiaozhai took Long Qiu's place. The green snake was all buttering up to her, resetting the chess pieces, and another round started. It was a fierce game.
Leaning on her sister, Xiaojin, who was never a fan of Wei-chi 2 , was now watching it with much interest. Above them, a cherubic kid in a red dudou was sitting on a branch, its short legs dangling from the tree while issuing soundless laughter time and again.
Not far from it squatted a fat squirrel, gnawing at a nut. Bits of the nut skin were shuffling down as it ate on, which was met by the snake's glare and hissing tongue from time to time...TL/N: i. e. Xiaozhai's father TL/N: or the game of Go, an abstract strategy board game for two players invented in ancient China more than 2,500 years ago