Tan Chongdai did not make it through this winter.
It was two days ago when it struck him that his life was coming to an end. Without any fear or grief, he calmly left Zhu Ridge and ascended Yiyun 1 Peak 5 km away alone.
The top of the peak was a peculiar geological structure, which consisted of countless natural grottoes with depths ranging from just over a meter to hundreds of meters. Tan Chongdai walked into one and never came out.
Lu Yuanqing himself waited outside the grotto Tan Chongdai entered for two whole days, sensing the energy of the latter growing weaker. Finally, early in the morning of the third day, he could no longer detect anything.
He knew at that moment that the old priest was gone.
Three years ago, fate brought the thirty-six members of Qiyun to Tianzhu Mountain, where they set up the monastery, full of ambition and swearing an oath to bring prosperity to the Taoist community. Three years later, they lost their first companion in the quest for immortality. There were thirty-five of them left now.
Although the Taoist community had been declining for many generations before this new era, during the modern times, there were extremely famous Taoist priests who might or might not be worthy of their fame.
After such priests died, scratch that, after they "ascended into the immortal world", spectacular ceremonies were held to perform prayer rituals. There were even anniversary ceremonies to commemorate the "ascension". Some regions would have legends about certain figure's body staying uncorrupted after death, followed by turning the body into a statue, which was worshipped in temples.
This somehow seemed to become an accepted custom for the general population, so much that after Tan Chongdai passed away, the authorities offered to hold a prayer ritual in his name and store his body in a pagoda as a gesture of mourning.
They meant well, but Lu Yuanqing lost his temper over the suggestion, which was very rare for him.
He announced that same day that since the old priest had chosen Yiyun Peak as his final resting place, from now on, that peak would be the place everyone in the monastery went to for their last moment on earth.
They were all on this never-ending path and no one knew who would be the next to depart, to see through nature's mystery, or to idle away the rest of their life… no matter what future fate bestowed upon them, those still alive would march on carrying the hope of those no longer with them. They were all in this together!
Maybe because of the talk with Tan Chongdai earlier, Gu Yu was neither shocked nor sad when he heard the news. Naturally, he set up an altar in Phoenix Mountain, where he burnt the incense sticks and bowed towards the direction of Qiyun.
The old priest asked for a favor when he came to Gu Yu that day: if you achieved the Great Dao one day and met part of my wandering soul, please help me to move on.
Gu Yu agreed then, which was a very big deal. It was a promise witnessed by his belief in the Great Dao. Nothing would happen if he never met Tan Chongdai's soul, but if he did and failed to keep his promise, it would shatter his Taoist belief.
Night, the meditation room.
Xiaozhai sat on the rush mat, poured a Mind-enhancing Dan out of the gourd, and swallowed it.
The success rate of the Dan refinement was not high to begin with, and after all this time, that was the last one left. Gu Yu was going abroad soon, but luckily, Xiao Qiu could fill the blank with some maneuvering. Xiaozhai was going to take her to Celestial Master Temple soon to borrow the furnace to refine some more.
As soon as she swallowed the pill, she began to circulate her inner Qi immediately to digest the energy.
The flaming red and glistening pill melted in her mouth right away, its energy turning into streaks of red current flowing into her body.
Xiaozhai's vital essence surged as red light of various intensity erupted. Moving inside that glow were three streaks of golden purple, black purple, and blue purple light, which looked like three soaring dragons among the crackling sounds her meridians were making.
It seemed forever before the red glow finally dimmed and disappeared.
Opening her eyes, Xiaozhai felt that her Wood Thunder energy had improved again. At this speed, it would take her about a year to complete a type of Thunder Technique, which meant she would achieve perfection in all five Thunders in three years' time.
Conventional theory dictated that there were mutual promotion and restraint between the five elements.
For instance, she began with Metal Thunder first, and metal promoted water; she then moved on to Water Thunder, and water promoted wood. She was now on Wood Thunder, but metal restrained wood, hence the two should be incompatible.
However, that was why Shenxiao's Tinkling Jade Book of Great Thunder was remarkable: the five types of Thunder energy were well balanced. Metal restrained wood, but water promoted wood. The two effects cancelled each other out, making everything harmonious.
She'd finished meditating and was about to take a walk outside when there was a knock at the door and someone walked in.
"Finished your exercise for the day?" asked Gu Yu.
"Yes. The pills have run out. I'll take Xiao Qiu to Celestial Master Temple in a few days." Xiaozhai was halfway rising to her feet when she sat back down. "What's happening?"
"Nothing, just want to talk to you."
Gu Yu sat down facing her and habitually reached out and held her hand. Caressing the smooth and flawless skin on the back of her hand, he said, "I'm having this very strange feeling lately, which I have never experienced before, but ever since that talk with Priest Tan, I felt depressed for no reason. Then I went to see Fang Qing and it got even more intense."
He paused a little and went on. "It almost feels like I'm being sentimental—like in the romance novels. At first, I thought it was because of what Priest Tan said, but on a second thought, I don't think that's the reason. This feeling is uncontrollable, almost as if I am bound to go through it."
"What is this feeling? Be specific." Xiaozhai was greatly intrigued.
"I can't. But if I have to describe it…" Gu Yu searched for the right word. A moment later, he said, "Farewell, it's like bidding someone farewell."
"Not abandoning?" asked Xiaozhai.
"No, no. Abandoning is too harsh and cold. This thing, though, feels like something unseen is guiding me to bid farewell to some people, some things, and some memories."
"..." Xiaozhai was silent for a while before asking abruptly, "Have you heard about the term 'expel the Three Corpses'?"
"Haha, I used to read about it all the time." Gu Yu saw what she was getting at and chuckled. "Expel good and evil, expel oneself, and one gets to become immortal. That theory aside, I think I'm experiencing the similar thing at the moment.
"Cultivation is the process of transcendence. By moving to the next state, one is not only transcending to the next level of vital essence or Taoist skills, but also changing their mortal heart as well. Cut the connection from the mortal world, bid the past life farewell, and you're becoming an immortal."
"Well, the logic is correct. Maybe that's the road all has to pass in order to reach the Human Immortal state. What you're going through is a very precious experience. You'd better come up with some more, so that the future cultivators could learn from it."
"I agree. I also feel that the time has not come yet, for despite this urge inside, I still lack that final little push. I'm in no rush, though. Maybe I'll learn something during this trip abroad…"
"Hey, wait a minute!" Xiaozhai interrupted him.
"What's wrong?" He was surprised.
"You're saying goodbye to your past, so what about me?" Xiaozhai blinked in a half teasing, half flirting way, and chuckled. "Are you saying when you're a Human Immortal, I'm automatically receiving an 'ex' for my title?"
"OF COURSE NOT!"
Having narrowly escaped death for countless occasions in this aspect, Gu Yu was always ready for sudden attacks like this. He grinned. "Buddhism is all about this noble ambition, and one would not be enlightened unless that ambition is fulfilled. If there really is such a thing, then you're my noble ambition. Without you, there is no Great Dao for me… mhm!"
He barely finished that sentence when he was stopped by something soft on his lips; it tasted like the juicy, sweet pulp of the red fruit. Right after that, he was pressed down backwards and lay flat on the ground.
"100 points for House Gu!"
After a nightlong passionate activity, November 14th arrived with snowfall.
Fine white powder sifted down from the dim sky, covering everything. Wang Qi finally arrived at Phoenix Mountain on this chilly morning—it was about time for the conference, and Master Gu was invited.TL/N: meaning "leaning on clouds"