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What kind of trick was that!

What started as a realistic urban life novel had now changed with a snap of a finger.

Gu Yu had no idea about the critical condition he was in just now. All he could think of was the unstoppable surge of sarcasm, accompanied by some jitter and excitement. One could not blame him, though. The world view built during the 21 years of his life was now in the trash can, and a promising young man who had always believed in scientific development was suddenly thrown into the spiritual world.



‘Calm down! Calm down, myself!’

He grabbed the folding stool and forced himself to sit down on it, trying his best to recall the experience from a moment before.

After he ate the red fruit, it turned into a cooling sensation and wandered around inside his body. He seemed to have lost consciousness, but could still sense it a little bit despite that. The cooling sensation should have sunk into his Dantian and became a small lump of, well, unusual substance.

He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but only felt it vaguely.

"I need to think it through. Normally when things like this happen, I should firstly…"

He muttered a few words and rolled up his sleeve, revealing a section of his arm that looked quite fair. He then rubbed the skin, but neither did dead skin come off nor was there any foul smell.

"Well, like I said, a squirrel was so low-end! Others can have their body cleansed and skin beautified. Why didn’t that happen to me?"

Gu Yu curled his lips. Seeing that no tourists were going to come anytime soon, he sat on the grass in a cross-legged position and closed his eyes. He was not someone who would refuse to face reality. Of all the ideas that thronged his mind, this one seemed to be most reliable.

That’s right, he chose the nigh universal method, which was meditation.

Generally speaking, common folks would need some practice to achieve the meditating state. However, Gu Yu was not a common man. He had been making incense since he was little and the decade-long practice had already tempered his mind well enough. Within a few breaths, he had put his sarcasm aside and became calm and serene again.

Breathe in…

Breathe out...

He breathed deeply in a constant rhythm, keeping his mind clear and his consciousness pure. At first, nothing seemed to have changed. Gradually, though, a faint fluctuation similar to air flow started to emerge and float around in a slow motion, twining and winding.

This faint fluctuation felt similar to the strange lump inside his Dantian.

Gu Yu continued with his meditation and felt the fluctuation getting stronger, but it would not approach him, nor would it enter his body. After a while, he opened his eyes, feeling delighted and regretful at the same time.

He was delighted because, if he deduced it right, the fluctuation and the lump inside his Dantian were spiritual essence of heaven and earth.

What he felt regretful about was that although the red fruit helped him greatly in detecting the spiritual essence, it did not enable him to learn any cultivation method and he could not make use of the essence.

That feeling sucked!

It was like going through untold hardships to learn the Dead-body-herding Technique only to find out that, all of a sudden, sea burials were all the rage now. Or, like working yourself to death to master tomb raiding and having to turn whatever you obtained over to the authorities. Or maybe like becoming the struggling hero of a novel, winning all European film festival awards, marrying a plain chubby girl and the author decided to finish the book right there.

"Well…"

Gu Yu half smiled and half sighed. They were right. Life usually did not work out as you would like it to.

He was a gentle person, not quite prone to complaints. Seeing that the squirrel had been crouching beside him all this time, he couldn’t help but ask it, "For a creature as spiritual as you are, you must have eaten plenty of precious materials of heaven and earth. Where did you get this fruit? Is there anything else there? ...Stop staring. Do you know that you are not following the basic rules?"

As he grumbled on, the squirrel only tilted its head and showed no sign of understanding his words.

"Well, whatever…"

Gu Yu stood upright and bowed solemnly facing the squirrel. "Brother Fatty, that was such a valuable gift and I am the one in debt now. Thank you so much!"

Fatty my ass! Your whole family is the fattest of fatties!

Luckily the squirrel could not understand his words, or it would take him by the throat right there. It only knew the human being had bowed to it, which made it squeak happily and jump all over the place.

Gu Yu smiled at it. Seeing that it was getting late, he told the squirrel, "Well, I have to go now. I don’t have anything for you today. Tomorrow I’ll bring you some food."

Having said that, he put his hands to his mouth and made a gesture of eating peanuts. Strangely enough, the squirrel understood him this time and swayed back and forth like a big-tailed wolf again.

Gu Yu quickly put his things together and loaded them onto his shoulder. He was instantly surprised. The heavy load now felt incredibly light and he lifted it without breaking sweat.

He knew very well that it must’ve been because of the spiritual essence and waved at the squirrel, "Bye bye, Brother Fatty!"

"Squeak!"

The squirrel waved back with its paw and they went their separate ways.

***

Gu Yu walked down the mountain as if he grew wings. He did not feel hungry when he got back home.

However, after a second thought, he still cooked himself a simple meal, which consisted of fried bean sprouts with meat and spinach soup. He had lived alone with his grandfather since he was little and the two had always depended on each other. He grew to be excellent at household chores and had even mastered sewing.

When the meal was ready, he took a bite gingerly and tasted it carefully. He then said to himself, "The taste is still the same and I have no problem eating it. Not bad!"

He couldn’t help it. He was afraid that he would lose interest in all mortal food. If that was the case, he might as well turn into a muscular Aniki. [1]

While he was having dinner, little Fang Qing sneaked in to use the internet again. Her spirit soared when sitting in front a computer. Seeing this, Gu Yu frowned. He wanted to talk to her about it, but feared that it would turn into a lecture. He picked his words carefully and said, "Qing Qing, how is your revision going?"

"It’s going nowhere. I have no issues with the stuff I should know. Those I didn’t understand, I still can’t understand."

"Are you sure of yourself, then?"

"Nope. I know myself. I’m counting on my luck when the actual exams come." She was thoughtless and carefree.

"What if, I’m just saying, what if the exam result turns out not satisfactory? What are you gonna do then?" He added.

"I’ll…"

Fang Qing finally turned to look at him and the expression on her face changed a little. "I’ll go to a technical school, then."

A technical school?

Gu Yu fell silent. Secondary specialized schools, vocational high schools and technical schools were hardly famous for their professional standards and academic atmosphere. The public schools were relatively better, while the private ones were the worst: alcohol abuse, violence, skipping school to visit internet cafes, promiscuous sex... you name it. The most serious problem was that one could learn absolutely nothing in such schools.

He looked at Fang Qing again and did not know what else to say. The girl had neither the will nor the quality to work hard. There was nothing he could do about it.

"Fang Qing! Fang Qing!"

Just then, someone called outside the gate, which startled the young girl. She immediately said, "My mum’s looking for me. I have to go home now, brother!"

She ran out of the door in a scurry. Gu Yu couldn’t help but let out a sigh. It did not feel right to let her use the laptop. However, if he did not allow her to use it here, she would probably sneak into an internet cafe, which would be even worse. He could not quite tell Uncle Fang about it either, since it would definitely result in a domestic disturbance.

All in all, it was a worrisome affair.

After dinner, Gu Yu rested for a short while and walked into his workroom again. He was going to finish the rest of the thirty sticks of Wake-up Incense.

He mixed the mud, laid it on the kneading board and put his finger on it.

The touch had a totally different feeling today.

If felt like the incense mud had stuck to his skin and fused with it. Its density, consistency, texture and even smell were vividly projected in his consciousness. This time, it was no longer an illusionary and imaginary consciousness, but one that was bright and concrete, as if it was alive.

Gu Yu was slightly surprised, but he dismissed the distracting thoughts right away and started kneading, repeating the movements he had done a thousand times before.

The secluded small room was filled with an ancient and mysterious air.

As he kneaded on, the incense slowly extended and thinned under his fingers, which was finally molded into an evenly shaped and gleaming incense stick rich in color. It was a beautifully crafted artwork.

"This… looks amazing..."

Gu Yu put his hand down and looked carefully at the incense stick. He even surprised himself. While he was kneading this stick, he did not feel he was "making" something, but rather "creating" it instead.

After gaining experience for over a decade, he had advanced from focusing on his hand to his heart, from emphasizing on the technique itself to his state of mind, from being a trite crafter to a spiritual artist. It was an advancement in all areas.

He could not force himself to stop such an interesting process of creation and took another pinch of incense mud right away, starting to work on the second stick.

It took him only half the time he needed yesterday to finish the thirty sticks tonight. The sticks lay neatly on the kneading board, looking especially comforting.

Gu Yu did not feel tired. As usual, he covered the sticks with a few pieces of paper and waited for them to dry in the dark. The sticks from yesterday were completely dry now. He put them onto a tray and took it to the yard to lift up a board with the tip of his toe, revealing a small cellar beneath.

That was the good thing about living in a village. You could never find a place to dig a cellar in the city. This one had been here for quite some time now. His grandfather made it in his time. It was a standard incense storage cellar.

He jumped in and placed the tray on a shelf. After half a month, the pungent odor

would disappear and the Wake-up Incense would be ready to use.

It was early summer time and the nights were getting longer.

Night closed in on the entire Phoenix Fair. Stars twinkled as barking of dogs and chirping of bugs filled the air together with the faint sounds of quarreling couples and crying children. Looking to the east would give you a completely different view. Vehicles streamed incessantly on the brilliantly illuminated streets, and shops were still open, welcoming their high-spirited young customers.

One city, two different worlds.

Gu Yu stood in the empty courtyard for a while and did not return to his room until temperature dropped a bit. He fell onto his bed but felt completely awake. He stared at the ceiling in the darkness.

Everyone who had a remarkable encounter would be full of excitement, though they expressed it differently. Gu Yu was an introvert, aka, a surprise package. He did not show his feelings explicitly, but it did not mean he would not become agitated, excited or confused.

Having lived as a physically and mentally healthy straight man for 21 years, he was now led into a mysterious new world by a squirrel. It felt rather odd.

He yearned, and was determined, to push open that door and to see the exciting world on the other side, even if the road leading there was rough, dangerous, and covered with thorns and brambles.

[1] TL/N: This part actually referred to three famous internet novels. The first one I’m not so sure, should be something well-known, though. The tomb-raiding one was 盗墓笔记 (in the adapted film, the story was altered and the main characters were patriots of some sort, retrieving relics for the authorities instead of stealing them), and the third one was 文艺时代 (by the same author, where the plain chubby girl was 范冰冰).

[2] ED/N: Dunno wtf it’s doing here, but I know Japanese enough to confirm it’s indeed Aniki that’s written there… for those unfamiliar with the term, it’s a respectful way to say "older brother"; it’s also used to refer to a gang’s boss by his underlings (if he’s male). Probably some kind of reference.

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