The monastery, meditation room.
The hubbub and bustle from earlier had come to an end. The rest of the celebrating crowd had left, leaving the two behind in the room to talk privately. One could tell that Shi Yuanlai had yet to recover from his excitement—the man was still savoring the sensation of breaking to the innate state.
Watching him, Lu Yuanqing smiled despite himself. "Senior Brother, how do you feel now?"
"I have been a cultivator for thirty years and the scriptures and true Great Dao only start to make real sense now. This is spectacular!"
Shi Yunlai sighed with emotion, then turned to look at Lu Yuanqing. "I can still recall that day when you walked out of your seclusion. You were all casual and calm, unlike me. I am carried away with my own importance. That is a sign of my lack of self-restraint, I feel abashed."
"The Great Dao emphasizes tranquility and letting things take their own course, whereas humans are affected by every emotion. We might be fortunate enough to be the torchbearers, but it does not change the fact that we are still mortal men. We rejoice from time to time out of satisfaction. It's inevitable."
"The Abbot spoke with reason. Thank you for dispelling my doubts."
Shi Yunlai was an experienced cultivator himself and soon adjusted his emotions.
He had only just stepped into the innate state and there was much for him to learn, so he started discussing with Lu Yuanqing right away. The two were disciples of the Baiyun Temple and the Longmen Sect respectively, who shared a common patriarch Qiu Chuji, they thus had a lot in common in their teachings.
The Dan method of Quanzhen, in plain language, consisted of four steps: refining one's body to construct the foundation of practice, refining essences into Qi, Qi into spirit, and uniting the spirit with the great void.
Successfully constructing the foundation was roughly equivalent to reaching the innate state. Refining essences into Qi was the Human Immortal state and Qi into spirit the Immortal state. Further than that, one would enter a different cultivation system.
The so-called Dan was the combination of vital essence, body, and soul. The state of returning to the origin was called Jindan (golden elixir), or Huandan (cyclical elixir).
Huandan was in big, small, golden liquid, and jade liquid forms. During the period of constructing the foundation, Qi was transferred from kidney to liver, liver to spleen, spleen to lung, lung to heart, heart to spleen, and spleen to kidney. This process of energy circulating the five internal organs was called "Small Huandan", or "Jade Liquid Huandan".
When one reached the step of refining essences into Qi, this process was known as "Big Huandan", or "Golden Liquid Huandan".
From then on, the process of accumulation would be repeated over and over again until one could unite the spirit with the great void.
The primordial spirit was of Yin property. Eliminate all Yin-property waste and one would have a primordial spirit of pure Yang, which was the Yang spirit. This spirit could exist independently of the physical body and was beyond the measure of life and death. It was the most unrestrained immortal between heaven and earth.
As for the system of essence-consuming method, the Human Immortal state was followed by Immortal state, when the primordial spirit was completed and a remarkable ability obtained. In reaching the Earthly Immortal state, the duration of life became irrelevant; one would live a long life with good eyes and ears. The Heavenly Immortals established themselves for eternity, witnessing the establishment and destruction of all universe.
If one had to compare, the Yang spirit was slightly inferior to the Earthly Immortal, for Yang spirit had broken free from the physical form and got rid of the mortal body, rendering any further progress impossible for as long as one lived.
The teaching of Dan method in Quanzhen was more intact, enabling one to cultivate all the way to the Yang spirit. Lu Yuanqing and Shi Yuanlai had a long discussion and both felt benefited from the talk.
Before they knew it, it was dark outside. The two looked into the night sky outside and suddenly fell into silence. A while later, Lu Yuanqing spoke, "Senior Brother, how are things in the scripture hall?"
Shi Yunlai knew what he meant. "Apart from Junior Brothers Zhang Shouyang, Chao Kongtu, and Zhong Lingyu, all are studying Dan method now."
"Oh? That is great news!"
Lu Yuanqing was rather glad to hear that. "Don't worry. After all, those three are direct disciples of abbots from great sects and it is only natural that they should have their concerns. What we have now has surpassed my expectation. All senior and junior brothers here are exceptionally gifted men. In a couple of years, they will doubtlessly all reach the innate state."
Shi Yunlai nodded, then asked, "Junior Brother, how did it go in Emei?"
"It was most rewarding. Emei is rich in resources and especially suitable for planting the spiritual rice. Dozens of mu of rice had been planted by the time I left. The yield should be more than enough for all parties. Other than that, a lot of land is ready to use. We will probably see a variety of produce next year… oh, and I stumbled upon a spiritual pet."
With that, he flipped over his wide sleeve, revealing a little white monkey on his palm. The monkey was an animal after all. After months of being taken care of, it was now very close to Lu Yuanqing.
"It is indeed very spiritual!" Shi Yunlai was a little envious.
"Haha, now that Senior Brother has reached the innate state, you will have plenty of opportunities to travel in the future." Lu Yuanqing paused a little, then added, "Oh, by the way, I've brought back some materials. If you would please gather some men and hand them out to each individual."
After that, he took out two chests, which were filled to the brim with raw materials found in the node of Emei. From the fluctuations of the spiritual essence alone, Shi Yunlai knew they were no ordinary things. He immediately rose to his feet. "Sure, I'll tend to it right now!"
"Thank you, Senior Brother."
Lu Yuanqing went to see him off at the door, then stood for a little while in the room before retreating to his bedroom.
Shengtian, Taiqing Temple.
Quite a few people were standing in a circle on the small square in front of the temple. In the middle was a man and a woman. The man was a teenager. Right now, he was kneeling down with a ramrod straight back, while the elderly woman cried and wailed.
"I have worked so hard to raise you and all of a sudden you're telling me you're going to become a priest! You haven't even finished high school! Who am I supposed to depend on for the rest half of my life!? Your dad has died young. With you becoming a priest, our Li Family will have no one to bear the surname!"
"Mom, I'm becoming a Taoist priest, not a monk! They've said in the TV, some sects allow their people to marry!" The teenager was a little embarrassed by the scene caused and shouted back, "I'm doing terribly at school and I will never get into a university. The temples give out allowance and I get to learn things. It's much better than doing some job! Stop getting into my way!"
"I'm your mother! Who else is supposed to stop you? I'll ask you again: are you going back with me or not?"
"I'm not going back!"
Both became irritated as they bickered on. The mother tugged at her son, trying to pull him up to his feet, while the son was half sitting down, struggling to remain in his position. The onlookers were also bustling and shoving. It was a mess.
Just then, there came a loud clank—the temple gate opened, out came a middle-aged priest.
He walked up to the teenager, his face unmoved and his tone flat. "Young layman, please go back. We are not going to take you in here."
"Why not? Didn't you say you were going to recruit pupils up and down the country?" The teenager asked heatedly.
"To become a member of the Taoist community, one must have the parental consent. Since your mother would not allow it, I have no reason to keep you here. Moreover, the School of Zhengyi permits their priests to marry, but Taiqing Palace is a sect of Quanzhen. We give no such permission. Now, please leave!"
With that, the priest flipped his wide sleeves and went back in promptly.
"Young man, they won't let you marry here. Go home."
"That's right. At least get the facts straight if you really want a master!"
"Gosh, those crap TV dramas, it's all their fault. Just look at the poor bloke. He's made a fool out of himself!"
The crowd erupted into laughter. Various shades of red crept up the teenager's face and he blurted out, "No matter! I can find another temple all the same! Just wait and see! I'll learn my stuff and come back here. You will know then not to look down upon a young… ah, that hurts, mom!"
Before he could finish his threats, the boy was dragged away by his dear old mother. One could foresee a good spanking back at home.
The crowd scattered once all the fun was gone. Most of them saw it as another after-dinner anecdote and did not think much of it. One of them, however, left the scene with an apprehensive look. It was none other than Yan Han.
He was out having dinner when he ran into the scene. While the others thought it was nothing but a joke, he could no longer do that. That pain he hid deep down instantly emerged and he went back home with a gloomy face.
As soon as he got home, he took out his phone and lay down on the sofa. After much hesitation, he clicked into that chat group.
It was his first time logging into the group since he came back from Phoenix Mountain, which was almost a month ago. The group was as lively as ever. A member named "Layman Sunny Heart" had just posted a picture with a caption.
"Fellow Taoists, I have finally found myself a master. I am now an intern disciple of Xiangu 1 Cave on Yandang Mountain. The internship lasts for three years and only with the abbot's permission will I be officially given the headdress after that. Starting from tomorrow, I will be attending morning and evening classes and taking care of the cleaning of the temple. I will not have time to chat in the group, so I'm here to say my farewell…"
The picture was a handsome-ish young man dressed in a Taoist robe.
"I wish the layman have a smooth cultivation path and find the Great Dao soon!"
"I wish the layman rise quickly and high, until he is among the immortals!"
"I wish the layman could overcome all difficulties and find his Taoist companion."
Words of congratulations flooded the screen. Pursing his lips, Yan Han was taken by the impulse and sent out a line. "I wish the layman will have all his dreams coming true."
His words immediately attracted the attention of the entire group.
"Why, Headmaster's here!"
"It's been a month! We've been waiting for you. How did it go?"
"That's right. You never told us! That was not very brotherly!"
Yan Han smiled bitterly. He would love to tell them everything, only that he dared not. A moment or two later, he replied, "I'd rather not. The first quest turned out to be a failure and we're still searching."
He tossed the phone aside after sending that line and closed his eyes, sighing.
He was angry at his own cowardice and his holding onto the secular world—apparently he was not as steadfast as he'd thought. At the same time, he was envious about Zhang Qianqiu and Li Dong's luck. The three had run into the real immortals together, why did those two dare to stay?
As the emotions took over him, he'd felt never as frustrated as now.
It was a while until Yan Han reopened the chat group. He was greeted by pages of words of comfort, which he did not know how to reply to. They rambled on for a little bit longer, then a line of blue texts appeared on the screen, sent by a member called "Perfected Man Starry Sky".
"Fellow Taoist, I found an app. It's rather interesting."
"New Classics of Mountains and Rivers."
"Forget it. It's one of those money-scamming, crappy homemade mobile games, right? Nope, thanks!"
"Is your account stolen or what? You're making sponsored ads all of a sudden?"
"A fellow as honest-looking as you has betrayed the Taoist morals as well?"
Perfected Man Starry Sky was a little vexed and explained, "This app doesn't allow screen capture, or I would have posted the photo. It's a recommendation from Mr. Natural Science and it took me forever to finally get this invitation code."
Mr. Natural Science was the name of the official weibo account of National Geographic magazine of this country and had quite a few followers. Web users would often snap a shot of some animal or plant they did not recognize and post the photos tagging Mr. Natural Science, which the latter would answer 2 .
"I opened it and one look was enough to convince me that this stuff is legit. It's a little gadget the government designed, calling on the public to offer information on living creatures. I have created a post myself," explained Starry Sky.
A few members of action started to swamp the screen as soon as Starry Sky finished typing.
Yan Han downloaded one himself. It was a rather simple program with no advertisements or introduction of any sort. He tapped it open and there was a login page. In order to register, one had to enter a line of invitation code.
He returned to the chat group and saw that everyone was already competing over it.
Starry Sky said, "Each user can give out three invitation codes. Let's not ruin our friendship over that. We'll use the most scientific way: let's roll the dice. I'll give a number and those have rolled to a number bigger than that can continue…"
That was neat! Dozens of people participated and half was eliminated in the first round. The lucky three were chosen after another two rounds; Yan Han was one of them.
He finished the registration in haste. A lot of detailed information was required, including mobile phone number, ID card number, and the city of residence.
He then logged in. There were only 238 users and the developer page said: National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Natural Science and Resources, National Geographic Magazine, etc.
The pages were rather plain as well. Everything was crudely divided into four categories: plant, animal, geography, meteorology. Each category was followed by a number, indicating the number of entries recorded.
He randomly picked the category "animal" and tapped in. In it were nine pictures. The first one was a big flaming red bird and the caption read: Red Feather Vulture.
Tapping into the picture, he found the detailed description.
Red Feather Vulture: a bird of prey, with flaming red feathers, around 1.2 m in height, and wings spanning up to around 3 m. It has a hooked beak, powerful eyesight, and talons as sharp as blades. The bird is carnivore and extremely aggressive. Together, they work in teams and are organized in battle. Avoid contact.
Habitat: about 50 km to the southeast of Huagou Town, Xihai Zhou...
Yan Han was instantly alarmed. He soon went through all the entries, all containing similarly strange creatures. The captions were straightforward, roughly dividing them into "hazardous" and "harmless". The tone of caution was apparent.
Immediately after that, he figured out how the membership regulations.
The New Classics of Mountains and Rivers worked on a point-based membership system. Each entry posted would wait for the verification of relevant personnel and points were awarded to the member once the entry was verified. Depending on the value of the entry, each could earn the member 10 to 100 points.
After reaching the 10-point threshold, one was qualified to invite friends and given three registration codes. One would earn no points by merely leaving comments in an entry.
For a few minutes there, Yan Han felt he was in a trance. 'That is as good as going public with the news!'
Although the app was only accessible to a handful of users, with word of mouth, the number of members was bound to increase. And the people were all those sensitive to the recent changes happening around them. Once the government opened the information to general public, these people would be the most adamant supporters.
For some reason, he was suddenly overwhelmed by anxiety and excitement one would feel before a battle started—even his heart was thumping.
Just then, the income message sound rang and Yan Han went back to the chat group. Two lines of boldface texts now occupied the screen.
"I'm no expert, but I was just wondering, with the capability of our country, is it safe to post such information on the app? Can they stop the foreign countries from stealing it?"
After a brief silence, words flooded the screen again.
"I think so. Just trust what the government can do."
"I know nothing on that, either. Isn't there a physical barrier or something?"
"That's talking about LAN, apps are open to all!"
"Don't be misled by films and TV series. The western hackers are not all that awesome, ok?"
In an instant, everyone was arguing with everyone. Yan Han thought for a minute and quickly typed a line. "Has it ever occur to you that the country was never trying to withhold the information?"
"What made you say that?" someone asked.
"Do you know what is going on in other countries now?" he asked a second question.
Everyone was silent again.
The following morning.
Yan Han chatted in the group until well over midnight. He opened his eyes with a muddled head and did not come to himself until quite a while later.
He sat up and was about to get off bed when he let out a scream and fell down. Clasping his chest, he rolled around on he floor.
He could not tell where the pain had come from. The skin, the muscles, even the meridians felt like a ball of unruly yarn, all tangling up into one lump. In mere seconds, Yan Han was covered by sweat, which had soaked through his pajamas.
He gasped for air and waited until the sharp pain gradually ebbed away, his face now white as ashes. With the utter terror and much difficulty, he rose to his feet. He dared not dally, but ran downstairs, started his car, and headed for Bai Town right away.
He should have gone last night, but was delayed by all the chatting and had to postpone it until today. He had never expected the breakout of the controlling mechanism to be so frightening.
He had returned from Phoenix Mountain exactly a month ago. Today was the day for him to get his "antidote"...TL/N: meaning "female immortal" TL/N: Mr. Natural Science (博物君) is a real account on weibo, doing exactly what this description says.