Up to now, the spiritual stone was the medium carrying the purest and most easily absorbed spiritual essence.
Phoenix Mountain only had 20,000 in total, which they had been stashing away in the warehouse, finding them too precious to be put into use. With what was going on at the moment, however, they had to turn to the stones, or they would be wasting away the ingredients.
They came here well prepared—around fifty stones had been brought along in case anything like this should happen.
The third experiment started without them taking a break. Xiaozhai still took the first shift, followed by Gu Yu. As soon as Xiaozhai took over again, Gu Yu clutched a spiritual stone in his hand, sat down in meditation, and began recovering.
It made a great difference. The purest spiritual essence was released from the stone, restoring Gu Yu's energy gently yet swiftly. It was even more effective than the spiritual liquor.
Soon, the glow of the stone dimmed until it was completely gone. By then, the stone had turned dead white in color and had also lost much weight.
Gu Yu was struggling inside. He could still use a little more push. Should he consume another stone, or should he just recover on his own? After a brief pondering, he took out another stone without hesitation.
The hell with it. He was using it already, he might as well run the full course.
With that in mind, he drained another stone and felt fully recharged. Seeing Xiaozhai was shaking slightly already, he immediately took over. "My turn!"
Xiaozhai was relieved and carefully handed over the task.
Gu Yu reached out with his mental force, which wrapped around the paste of roughcast and went on kneading. This procedure somehow felt familiar, for it was not much different from kneading an incense stick. A couple of moves and he had already got the gist of it. He could faintly sense how long it would take for the roughcast to take shape.
Before they knew it, half an hour had passed.
As if something had suddenly dawned on him, Gu Yu was no longer holding back, but exerted his mental force in full scale—it enveloped the roughcast like a transparent case made of air.
The roughcast that had been refined repeatedly was finally going into an intriguing transformation. Green fog filled the cauldron and they could not make out what was going on inside. Then, there came a "bang!"
It was as if the great chaos had cracked open and there was life for the first time.
The divine furnace quivered slightly and a refreshing, sweet, and cool fragrance gradually flowed out of the opening on the furnace wall. Meanwhile, they could hear something rolling around inside, making a crisp and pleasant noise.
Xiaozhai had finished adjusting her breath and went up to the furnace right away. She screwed down the pagoda top and removed the water sea; what she saw brought delight to her face. Piled neatly inside the suspending cauldron were a dozen green pills the shape of pearls.
She tended to them right away. After taking out a small gourd, her alter ego of an actress resurfaced and she shouted, "In!"
The pills disappeared right away, while the gourd became a little heavier than before. She sealed the gourd and let the pills precipitate for an hour before tentatively pouring one out.
It was emerald green in color and slightly smaller than a longan fruit. Glittering and translucent, it reminded one of a semi-transparent green crystal.
"Twelve pills in one round. That's quite impressive." Gu Yu also moved closer and said happily, "The Evil-dispelling Dan is a two-transformation Dan. Rumors are that it is extremely effective. But we'd have to try it first to confirm that."
"Half a month and we get twelve most basic ones." Xiaozhai was fully aware of her position and put away the small gourd in a manner not unlike that of confiscating a bank card of a husband's salary account. "The end of the world would probably come sooner than we finish with a nine-transformation Dan."
"Those that can make a multiple transformation Dan must have a cultivation level high enough to see the age of the earth as a mere blink of an eye." Gu Yu chuckled.
The grade of Dan was determined by the round of transformations it went through. Ingredients of Dan would change from solid state to liquid, from liquid to gas, then from gas to whatever other miraculous state out there… each change of state was known as a transformation.
Nine-transformation Dan was generally considered that of the highest grade, which was known as the "Nine-transformation Golden Dan". Consuming it would let one become immortal instantly. However, there were sporadic records in certain classics claiming a type of Dan called "Sixteen-transformation Qi-sensing Golden Dan".
Sixteen transformations, OMG. It was said to be able to raise one into the Heavenly Immortal state.
The two found the claim very suspicious. Something as unbelievable as that could only be a creation of a Heavenly Immortal. It would be highly implausible that a Heavenly Immortal would make some Dan to enable someone to reach to their own state instantly.
Anyhow, their success was a confidence booster and they decided to carry on while the memory was still fresh.
Each furnace of Evil-dispelling Dan would cost them at least five days and they had four portions of the ingredients left. It was indeed as the saying went: one could not feel the passing of days deep inside a mountain. Before they knew it, twenty days had passed.
The fourth round gave them eleven pills, the fifth nine pills, the sixth was a failure, and the seventh turned out pretty good—it gave them thirteen.
Nine spiritual stones were consumed and they had made 45 pills in total, which was just enough to fill a gourd.
Morning, the Celestial Master Temple.
After breakfast, Zhang Jintong strolled out of the temple gate, got on his official car, and set out for Longhu Mountain. It had become his habit these days. He had been visiting the cave every day despite the fact that he never saw anybody there.
In fact, he was not lying around doing nothing in the temple, either. Gu Yu had left him with the Flying Message Technique before they left, which the old priest had been studying.
This technique required talisman to carry out and was obviously up the alley of Zhengyi. The talisman was a blue level one and super awesome: it had a "built-in GPRS", could reach the exact location, and was free from any jamming or interference.
Of course, a mental force imprint had to be left on it so that the message would be received the moment it was sent. The distance the message could travel depended on one's cultivation level.
Sweet mother of Jesus! Zhang Jintong was greatly tempted as he studied the technique. In the ancient times, this would probably the most basic skill for household use. Nowadays, however, it was close to a miracle.
Before long, the car drove into the small square outside Zhengyi Temple and stopped. The old priest got off and went up the mountain following the unmarked track. When he reached the cave, he was surprised to find the couple dining inside their tent.
"Morning, Celestial Master!" Xiaozhai caught sight of Zhang Jintong and waved at him.
"Hoho, I see you are not busy today. The refinement turned out to be fruitful, I presume?" Zhang Jintong asked with a smile.
"Thanks for asking. We have succeeded indeed. We have completed our quota for one recipe, there's one more to go. We'll have to reorganize ourselves first."
Gu Yu grabbed a campstool and casually invited him to sit down.
The corner of Zhang Jintong's eyes twitched as he lifted the lower hem of his robe and sat down on the stool awkwardly, which was quite a funny picture. After a moment of hesitation, he asked, "Layman Gu, I wonder if I could have a look at your Dan?"
"There you go!"
Xiaozhai tossed him the gourd without the slightest hesitation, which rather frighted the old priest. He held the gourd between his arms as if holding a priceless treasure, then got one out with shaking hands.
"...Spiritual Dan, this is what spiritual Dan looks like…"
Holding a pill on his palm, a mixture of emotions from obsession to resignation and regret flashed across his face, which gave him a rather distorted look. As he mumbled on, the green pill was reflected in his pupils, giving his bleared and fatigued eyes a livelier feel.
After much savoring, he finally put it back into the gourd and handed it over. "Thank you for letting me witness such wonder before my days are over."
His hand holding the gourd halted in mid-air, for Xiaozhai did not reach out to meet it. She asked abruptly, "Celestial Master, I see you are suffering from some health problem?"
"Well, that is correct." Zhang Jintong was taken by surprise. "Despite the Qi-nourishing method I practice, this position I am in, well… I am burdened by various secular affairs and could not break free. The euphemism is 'break down from constant overwork', but whom am I deceiving? I am unwilling to part from power, which has hindered my cultivation."
Out of nowhere, he blurted out some self-mockery, apparently greatly affected by the critique and calumny.
"Well, fate has brought us together and we have been taking great advantage of you ever since, giving you nothing in return but an empty promise. I simply cannot live with that."
Gu Yu pushed the gourd back to Zhang Jintong. "How about this? We'd like you to keep a pill. It will dispel the evil spirit and cure maladies. We hope it will be able to help you."
It was so out of the blue that refusing was Zhang Jintong's first reaction. However, he could not resist the temptation. In the end, he only said, "In that case, please accept my gratitude."
With that, he took one out again. After giving the couple and the pill each another look, he swallowed it with excitement.
Only Dan refined from a divine furnace by a cultivator was qualified to be called a spiritual Dan and only the spiritual Dan could be categorized into grades by numbers of transformation. The Evil-dispeling Dan might be a mere two-transformation Dan, but it was officially a graded one.
Zhang Jintong was well aware of the risk he was taking, which was why he was willing to play the lab rat—he was no fool.
As soon as the pill was in his mouth and before he could try to swallow, it melted away with his saliva like a soft marshmallow. Instantly, a cooling sensation exploded inside him, which was a little more than he could stand.
Seeing the painful look on his face, Gu Yu went up to him and helped him with guiding the energy.
Led by Gu Yu's powerful spiritual essence, the cooling sensation reached into Zhang Jintong's four limbs, all meridians, and various major orifices. The hidden and chronic diseases accumulated over the past years from constant fatigue and the entangled energy caused by all the slanderous gossip... everything was swept away promptly as the medicine flowed around his body.
It was quite a while before Zhang Jintong opened his eyes again. He felt like a new person. His body was completely relieved and filled with vital essence. A tumult of emotions rose inside him as he was overwhelmed by astonishment: this Evil-dispeling Dan was unbelievably effective!
Gu Yu and Xiaozhai were also surprised to see the improvement in his health. So that was what a spiritual Dan was capable of. They had been underestimating it all along.
"Thank you, Layman Gu and Laywoman Jiang!"
Zhang Jintong calmed himself down and solemnly bowed low to the couple.
As the leader of Zhengyi, he was not in the position to make any promises, but subconsciously, he had already deemed Phoenix Mountain a partner they could have a long-term relationship with.
Gu Yu lost control for a split second and the temperature inside went out of balance. The materials blew up and was turned into a mush.
The two exchanged a look, both feeling defeated. It was the fourth portion already and they still hadn't succeeded yet.
They couldn't help it, for the Body-refining and Mind-enhancing Dan was a three-transformation Dan and the increase was not only in the rounds. The difficulty in maneuvering almost doubled, which was close to the limit of their capability.
In short, the refinement method was to turn it from solid to gas, then to liquid, then to solid again.
"Don't give up. Let's try again."
"Yea, I think I've got something. I can definitely push further this time."
Neither of them were the impatient or easily upset type. They encouraged one another, took a short break, then began the fifth round.
Xiaozhai put materials into the cauldron, then moved on to set the soaked charcoal, which was a product of soaking wood charcoal in certain potion to make it more combustible; the instant blaze would be ferocious.
After the charcoal was set, she gestured with her hand and activated her spiritual essence.
Fuelled by the charcoal and the spiritual essence, the flame erupted like an exploding volcano, heating the entire furnace into a red color. The temperature of the area within a meter from the furnace surged, so much so that even the air was contorted.
Seeing this, Gu Yu reached out with his mental force hurriedly and wrapped it around the materials. It worked as a protective film so that the materials could be heated without catching fire.
The process of transforming from solid to gaseous state was called sublimation in physics; in Dan theories, it was known as "flying". They had failed twice in this step alone.
This round was rather smooth so far. Xiaozhai fed the flame while Gu Yu protected the materials. His work was perfect. The materials were shrinking and dehydrating at an observable speed. Their essence vaporized constantly, then gathered up in masses and filled the cauldron.
The steam in the cauldron seemed to be growing heavier and the color also turned muddy.
Finally, when they were about to reach their limit, the materials were completely gone. Xiaozhai moved away from the furnace and said, "Hold on there for a little longer! I'm going to change the charcoal!"
With that, she picked up a pile of green charcoal and dumped it into the Dan stove. The green charcoal was also specially processed, it was extremely durable and could sustain a stable and constant combustion.
Seeing that the flame was growing dimmer and the spiritual essence curled and circled, Gu Yu relaxed despite himself and began to feel drowsy.
Xiaozhai held him up right away. "Are you all right?"
"I, I feel so weak. I need a kiss to go on!"
His face was pale and his eyes unfocused. Then, "Hm... hm… that hurts!"
Their lips and tongues met and went all entangled. Gu Yu was soon gasping under Xiaozhai's "oral abuse". Ok, our fellow had forgot about the fact that his girlfriend was not an ordinary human being.
Let's forget about their fooling around (or, showing off to annoy all the single people out there) for now. The ridiculously difficult first step was finally completed. They would then have to guard the furnace for three to four days. They could only move on to the next step when the essence had turned red.
Had it not been for the buffering periods, they would never have been able to come so far.
The next four days passed and the steam inside the cauldron went through its natural transformation. It now floated around like a big lump of bloody fog, which looked rather intimidating.
"Time for Dan-degradation!"
Seeing this, Gu Yu waved his hand and transported water out of the pond into the water sea. The pond was bone-chillingly cold, and as it filled the water sea like being poured out of a liquor jar, the temperature of the cauldron slumped.
"No, that's too cold!"
"I'm working on it!"
Xiaozhai busied herself with adding charcoal and the temperature rose again.
They carried on like so, one working the cooling system with the other working on the heating. Only with a constant well-balanced temperature could they achieve Dan-degradation.
They two were the perfect team. Before long, traces of liquid began to gather in streaks along the inner wall of the cauldron, which became more and more visible until they gathered into drops and rolled around the wall like red beads.
The red beads grew bigger and heavier, and finally could not hold onto the wall. They fell to the bottom of the cauldron in plops. Soon, there was a pool of dark-red liquid.
That was Dan-degradation finished. After all the steam turned into the red liquid, all that was left was the time-consuming task, which, like with the Evil-dispelling Dan, involved slowly drying the liquid up until the roughcast took form.
Neither of the two had the strength to talk at this point. They each sat down in a corner, recovering their spiritual essence with a spiritual stone in hand.
Another three days passed like so.
The roughcast was formed once the red liquid was thick with no excessive water. After two transformations, the Yin and Yang properties of materials had fused perfectly together and the essence was mellow and full. The potency of the medicine could be detected even through the thick furnace wall.
The fragrance drifted out of the cave and floated all the way into the mountain, sending the birds and beasts into a frolic jubilation. Before the Dan was completed, all kinds of chirp, neighs, and snarls came from outside. A group of bewitched scavengers had gathered outside, stopped only by the deep pond and the waterfall.
Both were astonished. So this was what a three-transformation Dan was capable of! No wonder the ancient texts said "when the nine-transformation Dan is completed, thunder tribulation descends from heaven"!
"You collect the pills. I'll go out and have a look."
The frustration of the past few days had filled Xiaozhai will a murderous will, which she had yet find a target to vent to. Green Leaf appeared in her hand and she leapt out of the cave in one stride.
The clearing outside was crammed with snakes, birds, foxes, rodents, and all sorts of other animals of the mountain—some were even natural enemies of one another. Yet now, they had all squeezed into a narrow space that even the tent, cookware, and beddings were trumped into a mess.
The animals were itching to have a go when Xiaozhai walked out.
Animal instincts told them that this was not someone they could afford to cross! Even so, none of them backed off. Instead, all of the animals fixed their stares in the direction of the cave. Yes, they simply stared! It was a yearning and aspiration for power, and for the extending of life.
Looking into the eyes of all shapes and sizes, Xiaozhai could not bring herself to strike out after all. She only brought out a clay jar and sighed. "You poor creatures. Now, go. Don't come any closer!"
She tossed it away casually. The jar flew over the herd's head and was smashed into pieces. Momentarily, the burning scent of the medicine dregs filled the air.
A fox twitched its nose and was the first to turn around for the jar. The snakes were the second to move, followed by the other birds and rodents… they all scrambled for the broken jar.
Xiaozhai shook her head and went back in.
The divine furnace quivered slightly. Stumbling to his feet, Gu Yu removed the pagoda top and the water sea with much difficulty. Inside the suspending cauldron were ten spinning red pills.
The Body-refining and Mind-enhancing Dan!