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The canteen erupted at the announcement. Everyone's expressions changed. One after another, they put down their bowls and chopsticks, rushing out of the door.

The group gathered outside Lu Yuanqing's courtyard, where a disciple from Laoshan Sect of Quanzhen was keeping guard. He saluted the crowd. "Good morning, Senior Brothers."

"What's the situation?" Shi Yunlai asked.

"Early this morning, Junior Brother Zhang and I went to the canteen together and walked past Senior Brother Lu's courtyard on our way. We saw him standing in the yard alone, which got us wondering, so we went up to him and inquired about it. Senior Brother Lu kept his silence at first, then entered his room and closed the door behind him. From inside the room, he informed us that he was sensing something in his mind and was going into seclusion to try to break through to the innate state. We dared not take the matter lightly and delivered the news to Senior Brothers at once."

Despite the irritable look, the young man was slow and articulate in his narration.


Those gathered around all reacted differently at the news. Priests from Quanzhen was surprised at first, but soon went wild with joy. Those from Zhengyi, on the other hand, were anxiety-ridden and pale-faced.

Time seemed to have frozen for a second before old Priest Mo said, "The most important thing now is to inform the authorities, then take turns to guard the door. Each shift will consist of two people and we can volunteer—"

Before he could finish the sentence, the disciple from Laoshan said, "Naturally, Junior Brother Zhang and I take the first shift."

"I'll be the second!" a disciple from Jinhui Sect said.

"I'll be the third!" said a disciple from Haiyun Sect.

The twenty Quanzhen disciples might have their conflicts on normal days, but at this critical moment, they shared the glory of their fellow disciple and fell over one another to make their share of contribution. The sixteen Zhengyi disciples could only stand aside and watch in silence.

Soon, the ten-shift guarding schedule was set up and the government had received the news. The time of seclusion varied from a couple of days to three or five years. Food and water needed to be sent in every day and there were other matters to take care of from time to time, all of which required men at hand.

"He is worthy of the name of the abbot's personal pupil of Baiyun Temple. It has taken him such a short time to reach the innate state."

"That's too early to say. I wonder if he will make it."

"He was bold enough to go into seclusion, he must be very confident about the outcome. Let's just wait patiently."

While they were still discussing, the sound of many voices came from afar. Another bunch of people knocked the mountain gate open and ran hurriedly in. There were about seven or eight of them and the one in the front was an old man in military suit—the general superintendent of Tianzhu Mountain.

He approached them in quick steps and was about to enter the courtyard straight away when he halted abruptly, suspending his foot in mid-air for a few seconds before putting it down. Eyeing the closed door, he fought back the tumult of emotions inside, turned to the other direction and asked, "How are things looking?"

Shi Yunlai went up to him and replied, "He has only just started his seclusion. We can't tell yet."

"How long will it take?"

"It's very hard to say. All we can do is wait."


The old man stared at him for quite a while, then clasped his hands behind his back and paced up and down a few rounds before asking, "Priest Shi, Priest Mo, what do you think?"

The two exchanged a look and gave similar answers. "Junior Brother Lu is extremely talented and has been cultivating Dan methods of the highest grade. Adding to the fact that he has received the nourishment of spiritual rice, it is looking very promising."

They kept their answer ambiguous without any substantial promise. The old man, however, seemed to sigh with relief and said repeatedly, "Good, that's good."

While they were expecting the result eagerly, those of Zhengyi left the scene unnoticed.

Zhang Shouyang, Chao Kongtu, and Zhong Lingyu got together in the living quarters. The atmosphere was exceptionally grave. Even the most unbridled Chao Kongtu was frowning as he said, "Lu Yuanqing must have been quite certain of his success to announce his seclusion. We need to come up with a countermeasure."

"How? With Zhengyi's skills all gone, are you suggesting we should turn to follow Quanzhen instead?" Zhong Lingyu's tone was helpless.

The words were unintentional, but Zhang Shouyang shuddered at them. He said gravely, "While we respect the Taoist orthodox, the government does not. The achievement of Quanzhen will certainly win its full support. I know Lu Yuanqing too well. He will grab this opportunity and turn things against us."

"How dare he?"

"Does he think he can change the Taoist orthodox of the past thousand years like that?"

The other two were taken by surprise and their face darkened with concern. The unyielding protests sounded more like self-consolation.

"Sigh, the government values the outcome. In order to survive, we need to work on that aspect.

Being the abbot's personal pupil of Ways of Celestial Masters, Zhang Shouyang was the most accessible to insider information and the most insightful one. He only shook his head and sighed sadly.

Inside the meditation room.

Lu Yuanqing sat cross-legged with closed eyes. His upper body was kept ramrod straight with his head bending slightly forward. His thumbs linked with his right hand wrapping around his left, two Laogong 1 acupoints facing each other, and ten fingers slightly apart.

His breathing was smooth, long, and almost too quiet to detect. There was an otherworldly feel to his face.

He stimulated the secretion of his saliva, swallowed, and directed the essence into Dantian, where the primordial essence came to life and transformed into Qi, traveling upwards along Du vessel, passing through the three meridians Wei Lü 2 , Jia Ji 3 , and Yu Zhen 4 , the upper, middle, and lower Huang Ting 5 , and the upper and lower Que Qiao 6  before a full cycle was completed, which was also the process of refining the essence of the small universe.

As the saying went, "Moving the essence up Kun Mountain and keeping it undisturbed until reaching Yuguan. Thanks to the eight closely shut doors, Yin and Yang will mingle and form a cycle."

The Small Universe Technique was the most advanced and intact existing Neidan method. It could carry essence upwards to nourish the mind, adjust the level of energy activated, balance Yin and Yang, as well as defeat numerous maladies so as to strengthen the body and prolong the lifespan.

Dan methods of Quanzhen all started from the acquired state and moved into the innate state from there.

One had to reach the innate state to be able to sense the spiritual essence. On the other hand, the spiritual essence was a must-have if one wanted to reach the innate state. The process was comparable to building a bridge between heaven and earth. With the bridge gone, what would one use to connect the two with?

Of the thousands of years of the ancient time, Ming Dynasty was the last era for cultivators. Starting from middle to late Ming, those of high power and great virtue perished rapidly. When Qing Dynasty came along, all that was left were the theories, and the cultivators were gone.

In plain words, the world was "degraded" after the spiritual essence dried up. Even if one could practice Neidan method to perfection, they would be stuck at the pinnacle of the acquired state, unable to move up further.

Now that the spiritual essence had recovered, the world was "upgraded", making it possible for one to move into the innate state from the acquired one.

Lu Yuanqing was an extremely talented man who had mastered the Small Universe Technique better than his own master. All he needed was an opportunity like this. With what he had accumulated in the past twenty years, plus the facilitation of the spiritual rice, he had finally reached the threshold, hence the announcement of seclusion.



Lu Yuanqing's breathing was becoming quieter and his expression all the calmer. He had lost count of time when there was a heating sensation in his kidneys and he seemed to feel a shimmer in his Dantian.

He steadied his mental force, went on following the manual, and would not be disturbed by this change.

A few cycles later, when his vital Qi and primordial essence all gathered at the top of his head, his inner Qi that had been circulating smoothly suddenly jolted, as if it was derailing and escaping out of his body. In that instant, a sensation he had never experienced before washed over his consciousness. The pores of his body opened and his meridians relaxed. For the first time, he seemed to be experiencing the perfect fusion of his vital essence, as if he was communicating with nature itself and let nature took its course.

Immediately after that, this sense of perfection dissipated rapidly and flowed downwards like a pot of warm water pouring down from his head, which gurgled down and flooded into his Dantian. He almost felt half-intoxicated. His body was light and soft; he was treading on air like a fairy.

Two days later, noontime.

The men on shift were disciples from Changchun Sect of Nanzhong and Nangong Sect of Longmen, which shared the same founder, Qiu Chuji, and were closely connected. They had just finished lunch and were sat chatting in the courtyard while darting a look at the main house from time to time.

Inside the door was the main hall and the meditation room was in the east wing. A tray of food and water was placed outside the door of the latter, yet after they had refreshed contents of the tray for several times, the food and water were never touched.

"Do you think Senior Brother Lu will succeed?" the disciple of Nangong Sect asked suddenly.

"Of course!" The one from Changchun Sect seemed to worship Lu Yuanqing. "If Senior Brother can achieve the innate state and take charge of the monastery, I'm going to be the first to offer my support. Now that everything has changed in the world, if Quanzhen still wants to keep the Taoist orthodoxy, someone like Senior Brother must stand out and take command."

"I'm a little concerned. I never seem to understand the man."

"You worry too much. Having Senior Brother as our leader is at least better than having one from Zhengyi."

"You've got a point… hm?"

As the two chatted on, they suddenly felt an indescribable fluctuation coming towards them. Then there came a "creak" and the wooden door was opened.

TL/N: the acupoints roughly in the center of both palms TL/N: meaning "coccygeal end" TL/N: meaning "Spine Ridge TL/N: meaning "jade pillow" TL/N: meaning "yellow court" TL/N: meaning "magpie bridge"

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