"Senior Brother Lu!"
"Senior Brother Lu!"
The pair leapt to their feet instantly and turned their heads in unison. There was a hint of hesitation in their expectant tone.
Lu Yuanqing had a blue cotton robe on and wore his hair in a top bun in the Taoist style. His expression was peaceful and mild, as if nothing had changed. Seeing the two in the courtyard, he cupped his hands slightly and smiled. "I see I have troubled two Junior Brothers with the job."
"Not at all, not at all. It's our pleasure."
The one from the Nangong Sect paused a little and swallowed despite himself. "Senior Brother, did, did you…"
"It was only by sheer luck," he replied tactfully.
The succinct answer resonated in their ears like a solemn announcement, so loud that it could make the deaf ear hear and the dim-sighted see.
The one from the Changchun Sect was thrown out of balance by the words and could not hold back his excitement. He said repeatedly, "I knew it! I knew it! Congratulations, Senior Brother, for reaching the innate state… oh, right, I'll go tell everyone now!"
With that, he scuttled off in a hurry.
Lu Yuanqing smiled and did not stop him. The disciple of the Nangong Sect was a little flurried at being left behind and asked, "Senior Brother, may I be of service to you?"
"I'm fine. You don't have to wait up on me now."
The disciple was about to leave, but thought better of it and stayed in the courtyard despite himself, and stood aside attentively.
Lu Yuanqing paid him no attention. He simply sat down on the stone bench in the courtyard, taking in the clouds and trees in turn, while closing his eyes in contemplation every now and then. After achieving the innte state, he was most impressed by the nuances he was able to sense now. Everywhere he looked, the world seemed to have been upgraded from low pixel to an HD screen, and he was feeling a much tighter bond between himself and nature.
The beauty of the sensation was beyond any words.
Shortly after the disciple of Laoshan Sect took off, distant toll came from the direction of the great hall. One, two, three… it rang for as many as twelve times in total. The lingering sound resonated in the empty mountains.
After the bell, his fellow Taoist disciples arrived first.
"Congratulations, Senior Brother!"
"You're ahead of us, Junior Brother Lu. We'll have to work harder now!"
Needless to say, those from Quanzhen were delighted. The success of Lu Yuanqing had provided them with new prospects, as well as boosted the morale greatly. While they were offering their congratulations, they couldn't help but secretly indulge in their own daydreams of how they themselves would rise in the future.
Zhang Shouyang and the others stood at the back, the look on their faces rather depressed. After their thousand-year strife, they never expected to see Quanzhen taking the lead in the modern times while the great opportunity was upon them all.
Chao Kongtu observed the scene with squinting eyes for a while and suddenly moved into action. He called out loudly, "We don't yet know if it's true or not. I think you're celebrating too early!"
The atmosphere froze at his words. Shi Yunlai frowned slightly. Although he disapproved of that Lu boy, he had to defend the latter under situation like this. He was about to retort when Lu Yuanqing walked out of the crowd and smiled. "Junior Brother Chao, are you implying that you want to try me out?"
"Certainly, or how else would I be able to know?"
Lu Yuanqing strode out one right foot to one side and stood firmly at where he was without a word. He only stared at his opponent—his message was clearer than spoken words. 'Bring it on!'
Seeing this, the crowd stopped their persuasion and shuffled around to make room for the two. One was the acknowledged alpha of the pack, while the other was the abbot's personal disciple from the the Laoshan Sect with inexhaustible tricks. Despite their frequent conflicts, the two had never had a real fight. How powerful was the innate state? How far were they themselves behind this man… everyone was curious.
Chao Kongtu might seem arrogant, but he was in fact as bold as he was careful. By this active move of probing the man, he was not afraid of humiliation, but would be frightened if he could not detect the capability of the latter.
"Here we go!"
With a soft cry, he waved his right hand and there was a yellow talisman between his fingers. He then shook the paper.
The talisman burst into flame without being ignited, which was giving off a dark, strange glow.
"Black Emperor of the north, Defenders of the Supreme Court, and Blood-eating soldiers with red scales, charge!"
At Chao Kongtu's chanting, the talisman burst into a lump of dark light, which condensed rapidly and in the end transformed into an odd-looking weapon resembling a long saber. Wrapped in a dark glow, flying out with a shrill sound and emanating a bloody, ferocious aura, it slit across the air.
"The Black Killing Spell!"
Lu Yuanqing was taken by surprise. After all the conflicts the two sides had all these years, they were acquaintances as much as they were rivals. He never expected Chao Kongtu would use such a killing move, let alone throwing it right at him straight away.
Talismans were categorized into five grades and the real Black Killing Talisman was considered invincible. This one was only an imitation, but it was still the most damaging one of the fifth grade!
Lu Yuanqing had only just reached the innate state and dared not take such tour de force lightly. Waving both arms at once, his wide sleeves spread out into two circles.
Activating the Small Universe Technique frantically, he dumped out every last bit of the little amount of innate energy he had just managed to gather.
The unexpected power clashed with the energy and dissipated into thin air after warding it off for a brief moment. Once his spell was broken, Chao Kongtu spurted out a mouthful of blood and backed away rapidly.
Lu Yuanqing was not much better off. He swayed around and barely managed to steady himself.
"The innate state is indeed worthy of its name. You have my respect!"
Chao Kongtu cupped his hands and fell back to stand beside Zhang Shouyang. Before this, Lu Yuanqing was a more capable man then himself, but not by too much.
Now that the man had reached the innate state, his power had taken a qualitative leap. Fighting against him was like sending a child against a full-grown adult; it was a joke.
"You're too humble, Junior Brother!"
Lu Yuanqing cupped his hands back at Chao Kongtu, a thought also going through his mind. Chao Kongtu was indeed one of the top three cultivators of Zhengyi, his capability could not be overlooked. Had he not been able to advance into the next level, he might not have the courage to fight him head-on.
"Oh my, Priest Lu, congratulations!"
"We're late! We're late!"
As if they were waiting for this moment, as soon as the competition was over, people from the government showed up, swarming towards him and surrounding him in the middle like stars gathering around the moon.
Lu Yuanqing was just out of his seclusion, which was followed by a fight, and now had to deal with these fellows. After a lengthy exchange of unnecessary pleasantries, one of them finally explained why they were here: their boss sent his invitation.
Lu Yuanqing obviously could not say no to that. He had to leave his fellow disciples behind for the time being and rushed down the mountain as if on a mission.
They couldn't help it, for the government was pushing it, and very urgently at that.
Lu Yuanqing was brought to the research base in the mountains, where a test was waiting. It was similar to the one earlier, only that there were two more long tables this time. Thirty potential spiritual stones were set upon three tables.
Qiu Guan and other specialists, as well as representatives of the authorities and the military, were all present, keeping a close eye on one another.
To be honest, what Lu Yuanqing needed the most at the moment was rest, but he knew better of the importance of this moment and held on no matter what. He strolled past the tables unhurriedly and only picked up a stone until he reached the third table.
He then strode up to Qiu Guan and grinned. "This is the only one."
All heads turned towards Qiu Guan, who pursed his lips and gave a slow affirmative nod.
"I knew it! I knew it would work!"
"Haha, that's great! Now we can do anything!"
Instantly, the room was filled with an ecstacy. The great pressure of the past year was finally vented out. Qiu Guan's smile was buried in his wrinkles as he said repeatedly, "Finally, a talented man of our own! Finally!"
Confined by power of others as they previously were, the status had always made them restless. Innate or not, they only cared about the ability to sense the spiritual essence and nothing more.
Lu Yuanqing, on the other hand, finally got his rest after passing the test.
This entire time, as if taking it for granted, these men had treated him as a subordinate of the government and someone to do their bidding without consulting him.
He went along with the authoritative attitude and confidence with a calm face and steadfast mind.
Before he knew it, it was nighttime and he was shown into another room, where the military old man had been waiting.
"I'm from the military and you are a cultivator. I won't beat about the bush." The old man was very direct. "Our country needs the help of men like you right now. I'd like to know your thoughts on that."
"I will do whatever I can. You have my word."
Lu Yuanqing bowed slightly and lowered his eyes. One could not make out what was actually written in them.
"Good! You're indeed as exceptional as your master said you to be!" The old man smacked the table and gave him that comment, which was halfway between a warning and a compliment. He then added, "Don't worry, the country will treat you fairly. Whatever your demand is, name it now and we'll try our best to fulfill it."
Lu Yuanqing was silent for a while before he asked, "About setting up Qiyun Taoist Monastery, I wonder if that's still in the plan?"
"Of course! You're the first one to succeed and naturally you'll be the abbot. You will be the one calling shots on building the monastery. We promise we won't interfere."
"Including the recruitment of pupils?"
"That's an exception. We have plans for that." The old man gave him a look and explained, "We are going to grant the local temples with authority to take in children of the appropriate ages. After they have built up an adequate foundation, the selected ones will be sent to the monastery."
"That is to say, in the future, the monastery will be the upper house and all other sects or temples the lower ones?"
"In a way, yes."
Lu Yuanqing contemplated for quite a while before he nodded and went on, "Another thing is, I want to go to Huo Zhou."
"Oh? May I know why?" The old man did not expect to hear that.
"I did not learn everything I have learned to stay hidden in the mountains and be satisfied with myself."
"Haha, very ambitious! You can go, but not yet. Wait until next spring, when the abnormality breaks out again. Then you can show us what you can do."
Lu Yuanqing responded with more silence. "That is all."
"Ok, you can go back now."
The old man saw him leave and gave the table a few involuntary knocks. That was a remarkable man!
He was sure that Lu Yuanqing would take this opportunity to ask for the government's support for Quanzhen and suppression against Zhengyi, which the government was prepared for. As it turned out, the man did not mention a single word of that.
He was either very sincere and kind, or very good at concealing his thoughts.
Shengtian, the BIMAUP.
After Director Xie Yuenian got the news, he was almost throwing his hat up with jubilation. He laughed as he smacked the table. "This is great! When there's the first, there will be a second, and soon, we'll have a dozen. It won't be long before the bosses start allocating them. With our important location, we must grab someone spectacular."
"Exactly! Phoenix Mountain is right next door and we are threatened around the clock!" Jiang Chaofan immediately chimed in.
"Well, Director, it's not that I want to discourage you, but I just fear that the help might not be able to overthrow that fellow," said another departmental head.
"Tsk! You're so naive!"
Xie Yuenian pointed at him. "That Mr. Gu is of the innate state and so is Priest Lu. They're of the same state, how much difference can there be?"
"Well, you're probably right."
The man scratched his head, somehow finding that deduction a bit off.
The capital city, Baiyun Temple.
Inside the meditation room, Li Qingzhi put down the letter he was reading and walked slowly to the window. It was a cold winter in the north and the capital had just had a heavy snow, covering the streets and buildings with a layer of white.
The Forbidden City along the central axis, the alleys everywhere, as well as the gardens, lords' mansions, and opera stages of the era long past… all modern flavor of the city seemed to have disappeared into the snow. The ancient yet developed modern city was presenting its time-worn side for once.
Baiyun Temple was a particularly old building with overhanging eaves, black bricks and tiles, and red doors.
Li Qingzhi took in the courtyard covered in white and for a moment there, he thought he was in a trancelike state, where history flitted past his eyes like a flowing river. The letter on the table was handwritten by Lu Yuanqing himself, in which he talked about recent events. It was rather brief.
He would not dare to write other things even if he wanted. Everything was monitored.
Yet the master knew his pupil better than anybody else. Quanzhen had produced the first innate-state disciple of the Taoist community, but instead of feeling pleased, Li Qingzhi was overwhelmed with worry.
He heaved a sigh and murmured, "I hope you have chosen the right path."