The valley, under the old tree.
Gu Yu and Xiaozhai each held a cup of spiritual tea and sipped slowly. Both were slouching in their chairs, half sitting and half lying down. After shutting themselves up in the room for fifteen days, they had pretty much exhausted all there was to exhaust. Now that they were finally able to relax, they felt they had been pumped completely empty and were too lazy to even utter a word.
The tea plantation on Phoenix Mountain was partially complete and the tea trees mainly grew on the back mountain.
The spiritual essence of this node was of Wood and Earth properties, ideal for growing plants. After the tea trees were planted, the tea growers expected to pick the leaves the following spring, but their first harvest came unexpected this winter.
In general, tea picked between February and April was known as spring tea and the growth cycle of tea trees more or less finished in May.
The new cycle started from June. Tea leaves picked between June and July were called summer tea, those of August were the hot summer tea, September and October produced autumn tea, and anything later than November were called winter tea.
And winter tea was what they were drinking at the moment.
Gu Yu put the empty cup on the stone table, picked up the kettle and poured the second round of water onto the tea leaves, then raised his head and looked across the table.
Long Qiu and Xiaojin sat on the opposite side, both having their eyes closed and not saying a word, as if their minds had gone off to some other universe. Seven jade slips were set in a neat line in front of them.
Xiaozhai made five slips from the green jade stone and Gu Yu kept the two jade ones for his own use after wiping them clean of the original contents. As it turned out, they just happened to sort everything into seven categories. There wasn't much, but it was valuable enough in such a time when Taoist skills were on the verge of distinction.
The family of Phoenix Mountain had since had its seven chapters on cultivation.
Section One contained the Method of Consuming Six Essences, which taught one the way to consume the glory of dawn, the midday sunbeam, the cliffside spring where the sun set, the midnight mist, the black sky, and the yellow earth (the last two had yet to recover), while refining one's vital essence. The speed of cultivation and the amount of energy one could accumulate through this method was matched by no other skill. Through practicing it, one could reach the state of Human Immortals, Immortals, and then Earthly Immortals.
Also recorded in the same slip was the Boundless State Conjuring Technique, which used opponents' emotions as the inducer, dragging them into an illusion. Whether one would live or die depended on whether they could stay alive in the illusion. The illusions were inescapable unless one could see through the illusion themselves or the caster lifted the spell.
The Shadow-switching Technique, which could switch back and forth between the physical form and virtual image, was recorded on the the same slip as well. One's movement would be impossible to trace and the possibility of changes was endless.
Section Two contained "Shenxiao's Tinkling Jade Book of Great Thunder", which taught one Five Thunders and to think like a dragon. It possessed the most formidable killing power of all Taoist skills, but the cultivation process was very slow. Its overwhelming force was derived from Heaven itself, which was a natural suppressor of sinister and evil creatures. The practitioner would be able to reach as high as the Earthly Immortal state as well.
Section three contained three transportation skills.
Void-arranging Technique: it allowed one to be lifted off the ground and walk as if being carried by wind. The skill was suitable for long-range raids and travelling wide and far.
Small Moving Technique: it could move physical objects from one place to another. It could not be used on oneself and the object could not be too big.
Water-walking Technique: a minor Taoist skill found in the two jade slips. It allow one to walk on water as if on level ground.
Section four had eight basic skills.
Small Confining Technique: confining a space; could be used on both objects and human beings; worked as a shield and defense, screening out any external spying.
Storage Technique: recording information into a jade slip; withdrawing info with one's mental power and only accessible by those who reached the innate state.
Flying Talisman Message Technique: also a minor Taoist skill found in the two jade slips, allowing one to make a flying talisman to send messages up to thousands of miles away.
Mental Force Refinement Technique: recorded in the Seal of Patriarch Sa; a method of refining instruments.
Swordcraft: a skill passed down from Xiaozhai's own sect; the skill of wielding a tangible sword and could be used as an introduction skill to train the physical body.
Forty-Eight Hand Movements: a skill passed down from Xiaozhai's own sect; a fine and ingenious skill could be used as an introduction skill.
Snake-controlling Technique: a skill passed down from Xiaozhai's own sect; a bone flute was made from the wing bones of a fierce bird and could command ten thousand snakes.
Wood-appraisal Technique: can distinguish all kinds of wood; the only ordinary technique that did not involve any "super power".
Section Five contained three passages on refining instruments.
Whisk of Tranquility: recorded in the Seal of Patriarch Sa; the whisk can expel evil and defeat demon.
Flaming Cloud Needle: Gu Yu's own instrument.
Thundercloud Grit: Xiaozhai's own instrument; refined from the black grit of Huo Zhou, can only be used by someone using Thunder Technique.
As for Long Qiu's long sword and Xiaozhai's saber Green Leaf, because they did not possess any additional skill and relied mainly on the owner's personal skill, neither was listed on the slip.
The sixth section contained three passages on Dan.
Essence-gathering Dan: recorded in the Seal of Patriarch Sa; could quicken one's cultivation speed; required a very high cultivation level of the user; very difficult to make.
Body-refining and Mind-enhancing Dan: recorded in the "Book on the State of Mind of Black Bead"; a type of Waidan created and refined by Yue Zhenzi himself; can enhance one's body and benefit one's spirit and mind.
Evil-expelling Dan: recorded in the "Book on the State of Mind of Black Bead"; common Waidan used to expel evil energy and cure maladies.
Section Seven contained a book called "Cultivation Anecdotes", which recorded all sorts of tales and legends dating back to the time of the ancient cultivators. More would be added in as they were collected.
The first two sections were the chief skills that could be passed down as legacies and the rest were more of the facilitating type. Some might seem redundant because of their overlapping functions with modern technology, such as the flying talisman for sending messages. It was doubtlessly nowhere near as convenient as a mobile phone, but it could grant one absolute confidentiality and one did not need to worry about their lines being tapped.
Storage Technique, for another example, was no match to a computer, but similarly, it could also guarantee the safety of information.
All in all, that was all the two sorted out for now during the fifteen laborious days. Gu Yu was actually a little disappointed, for there wasn't anything on formations, which he had longed for for quite some time… Oh, that man! Had those men of Qiyun known about this "greed", they would happily strangle our fellow!
It seemed forever before Long Qiu and Xiaojin withdrew their mental force.
Both girl had blushing cheeks from the excitement and almost burst into cheers. Long Qiu managed to keep her composure, while the other one could not care less. She rushed out, trying to dive into her sister's arms, but was stopped by a single look of Xiaozhai's. She turned to her brother-in-law and found that even more wrong. In the end, she twirled around and plunged at Long Qiu as she always did.
"Ah! Let go of me!"
"Ahahaha! Qiu Qiu, you two are amazing! You have brought back so many stuff! We're gonna be rich!"
Her laughter hammered at their eardrums like a pair of dumbbells smashing down. She "fondled" Long Qiu for a good while before rolling back to her feet, covered head to toe by broken grass stems. Xiao Qiu's hair was now all disheveled and she was genuinely getting angry. Raising her hand, she was about to release the Golden Silkworm.
"There, there…" Gu Yu stopped her in time and asked warily, "So, now that you've read it through, any thoughts?"
"Me! Hear me out first! I want to learn the Shadow-switching Technique! That one is super cool!" Xiaojin raised her hand eagerly.
"The others are just all right. Oh, that Void-arranging one sounds okay as well!"
He did not comment on that, but turned to ask, "Xiao Qiu, what about you?"
Long Qiu did not answer his question, but asked instead, "Brother, why did you put Shadow-switching Technique in Section one? Is it not compatible with Thunder Technique?"
Tsk, she was indeed Xiaozhai's pupil. The girl was very level-headed.
Gu Yu explained, "Shadow-switching requires a lot of spiritual essence to reach its full power when activating it. Essence-consuming Method will ensure a sufficient accumulation of energy and the practitioner will have no problem using the technique. Thunder Technique, on the other hand, does not emphasize on that aspect. Those practicing Thunder Technique will probably exhaust their energy with a single round of shadow-switching. Xiaojin can learn it now, if that's what she wants, but she has to be careful, lest she creates an opening for her opponents to take advantage of."
Since they were talking about it, he thought he would take the chance to explain further. "It is the same thing with the conjuring skill. But I need to ask you, Xiao Qiu. You've already learned it, why haven't you used it at all?"
"It, it just always slipped my mind."
Long Qiu gave him the most peculiar answer.
Yet Gu Yu understood what she meant. "The conjuring skill uses people's emotions as the inducer and one can only make the most use out of it when they know more or less what's going on in their enemies' heads or know enough about human nature and how things work. Xiaojin is more suitable for the skill in that aspect, but she doesn't have the adequate power. You have ample energy, but do not know how to wield it."
"My sister has enough power, why didn't you teach her?" Pointing with her finger, Xiaojin had "I am not convinced" written all over her face.
"I don't need it…"
Xiaozhai darted her a look and the girl flinched, immediately as quiet as a scared chicken.
"Skills are the same for everyone and the person using them is the key, yet the same skill used by different people will have different effects. That's why skills are forever changing at the same time. As long as your mind changes, the skill changes with it. Nothing is fixed." Gu Yu finally finished his lecture. "Now, for the moment, our goal is to master Void-arranging, Small Moving, Water-walking, Small Confining, Storage, and Flying Talisman Message Techniques. These are all essential once we're out there exploring the world and we cannot afford any mistakes. As for the Shadow-switching Technique, we will look into it together. After all, I have never tried it myself."
"And there are also those Dan recipes. The materials required for Body-refining and Mind-enhancing Dan are not that complicated and we might have a go at it. All we lack now is the Dan furnace. As we don't have the formula to concoct the Six One Mud, we can only try to find a usable furnace instead." Xiaozhai paused a little and added, "Based on the information I have gathered, our best bet is Celestial Master Temple."
Tianzhu Mountain, Qiyun Taoist Monastery.
Lu Yuanqing had stayed in Emei for as long as six months and only got back today. Before he could change into some clean clothes, a junior brother came to fetch him. The two of them trotted along a gravel road, which soon led them to another courtyard.
Two priests on duty rose to their feet to salute, both observably glad to see him. For the past year, Lu Yuanqing had gradually won the recognition and support from all monastery members, accompanied with a growing prestige.
"How is it?" he asked.
"Senior Brother Shi announced his going into seclusion last night; it has been ten hours by now. He has not touched any food or water. We couldn't tell what is going on," replied the priest.
"Thank you for your hard work. You can all go back and rest. I will wait here myself."
"You're just back from a long journey. We should be the ones staying here."
"That's OK. You don't have to stay."
With that said, the two priests could only leave as commanded. Lu Yuanqing sat alone in the courtyard. Despite the bleak and chilly wind flapping at his loose robe and wide sleeves, he could not feel the coldness. On the contrary, he felt a flame rising inside him.
During his half-year stay in Emei, he spared no efforts on his job. Apart from discovering various resources, with his purposeful socializing, he became well-acquainted with quite a few mogul politicians.
At the same time, he was no longer ignorant of the political strifes among various factions. The name Lu Yuanqing now bore quite some significance to officials of Bashu Province.
The work in Emei was fruitful enough, but he was greeted with more good news as soon as he got back: Shi Yunlai had gone into seclusion, ready to break through to the innate state!
He was genuinely excited by the news, without a hint of uneasiness. It meant that Qiyun's status would grow more important and the monastery would have a greater say in the future.
However, he heaved a half-mocking sigh right away. With the colossus of state above them, their way of breaking free would be difficult beyond imagination.
Before they knew it, Lu Yuanqing had been waiting there for two days.
Early afternoon that day, the energy inside the meditation room finally stirred. Lu Yuanqing bolted to his feet. With a creak, the wooden door opened and out came Shi Yunlai, who was surprised first, but walked to Lu Yuanqing right away.
He bowed low, earnestly and wholeheartedly. "Thank you, Junior Brother!"
"Congratulations, Senior Brother!" He returned the bow.
Before long, there came the tolls of the giant bell, the sound resonating on the mountain. The rest of the priests soon arrived, offering their congratulations.
Exactly one year after Lu Yuanqing reached the innate state, Qiyun Taoist Monastery had its second innate state member!