If what Xiaozhai deduced was correct, then countless predecessors had been searching up and down since the Ancient Immortals period, struggling to find a way out for the later cultivators so that the cultivation community would have a chance of survival.
Unfortunately, in spite of all the efforts they put in, Heaven's mandate and the general trend of world events were factors too powerful for them to fight against. Taoist practices had declined to such an extent that cultivators had to go through the acquired state to return to the innate one and were dependent on the aid of external forces, but as soon as the spiritual essence dried up, nothing could save them from extinction.
To the later generations, all the magnificence and historical vicissitude might fill their hearts with emotions, but that was as far as they would be affected. To them, those ancient events might as well have taken place in another universe; so what if such spectacular people used to walk the earth?
Therefore, the recovery of the spiritual essence would be the most practical concern. Had the deduction been true, they would have something to look forward to in the near future.
The sweet-talking of old Priest Mo had made Gu Yu assume that the essence-consuming method could be traced to the Southern Sect. Now that he came to think of it… holy crap! He was cultivating with a method originating from none other than the Ancient Immortals period!
Xiaozhai's question just now reminded him immediately of her words, "We are making history, obviously!"
The claim sounded childish and smug when he first heard it , but now...
He felt as though a little flame had burst to life in the deepest corner of his heart. Burning as feebly as it might seem, it radiated with all the determination he could muster. Turning his eyes towards Xiaozhai, he was looking at her from an entirely different perspective now. She was his teacher as much as she was a friend.
Gu Yu remained quiet for some time and stood up all of a sudden, bearing a very solemn countenance.
"What are you doing?" The girl was startled by his behavior.
"I'll cut to the chase. I've got nothing to thank you with apart from the essence-consuming method. If you don't mind, I…"
"Stop right there!" Xiaozhai waved him off with a laughter. "I have my own inherited methods to follow. Are you trying to get me to betray my sect by learning yours?"
"But that 'Dragon-snatching Internal Technique of Five Thunders' has been long lost. You cannot guarantee that it will turn up any time soon and you may miss the opportunity of ever getting into the cultivation world," he tried his best to persuade her.
"A heart of Dao is one of the most important things for a cultivator. Taking an easy way out will definitely shake my foundation and something will go wrong sooner or later."
"My suggestion is not a shortcut. Fate has thrown the method on my lap and I'm giving it to you as a gift now, which makes it a lucky coincidence for you."
"Tsk, that's pure sophistry!"
Of the two fellows here, one wholeheartedly wanted the best for the other, while the latter was acting the most obstinately. After going back and forth with this seesaw struggle for a while, Xiaozhai lost her patience and had to conclude the debate by saying, "Hear me out here. I'm traveling to the south some time later. Since you're so eager to express your gratitude, how about coming together with me?"
"No problem, any time." He nodded right away, then asked, "Why are you going there?"
"I was going through Taoist scriptures recently and according to them, the thunder techniques originated from Northern Song Dynasty, created by Wang Wenqing, the first patriarch of Shenxiao Sect. Wang crossed a large river and was wading through wild marshes when he ran into a person of extraordinary talents who taught Wang 'The Technique of Paying Respect to the Emperor with Flying Memorials and the Book of Commanding Winds and Thunders with Whistles'." [ED/N: Yep, a title this long.]
Xiaozhai sipped at her water and went on. "However, Shenxiao Sect had a deputy sect leader called Lin Lingsu, who was also recorded in the scriptures. It was said that when he was traveling along the western Luo River, he met a Taoist priest who had become Lin's fellow traveller for the next couple of years. One day, the priest passed away; in the sack he left behind, there were three books called 'Jade Books of Five Thunders'."
"'Jade Books of Five Thunders'? Did they have anything to do with the 'Dragon-snatching Internal Technique of Five Thunders'?" Gu Yu asked.
"I can't say for sure that they are related. All I know is that Taoist skills of a particular sect are usually passed down in a consistent manner. Even if improvements are made throughout history, the principle should remain the same. For a situation like in Shenxiao where the sect leader and his deputy obtained their individual thunder techniques and started off with two separate systems... it was simply too strange. According to my master, my sect originated from the early Tang Dynasty and the Taoist skills were lost during the Song era, which was about the same time as when Shenxiao obtained theirs. Therefore, I want to go there and have a look. The sect of Shenxiao has declined severely, though. They do not even have a sect altar now. We would have some hard time locating it."
"I see." Hearing that, Gu Yu smiled. "I was thinking of going out somewhere myself and have not been able to make some time. Now it just seems the right opportunity."
The two of them decided on the time of departure right away. As soon as the winter came and the snow started falling, they would set off to the south.
They talked deep into the night, supplied by an endless stream of topics. The speculation on the recovery of spiritual essence could not be confirmed just yet. After all, they had only seen it at Phoenix Mountain.
After some discussion, they agreed that they would pay more attention to news around the country, especially those involving unexpected incidents of animals attacking humans, hoping to learn a thing or two through them.
Gu Yu did not leave until well past 11:00 p.m.
Back to the lobby, the service on night shift watched him sympathetically. Those checked in to get intimate would have finished what they were here to do and left a long time ago; those who were here to spend the night should be enjoying the post-coitus relaxation in their rooms now.
For someone to turn up downstairs at this hour, there was only one explanation: they had ran out of condoms!
The small courtyard, a bright moon overhead.
The weather still felt a bit hot and the bedroom windows were left open to let the cool night breeze in. Insect-repelling incense was burning inside the room. Blue smoke coiled up in the air, then fanned out and faded into the air outside.
Lying in bed, Gu Yu was wide awake as he gazed at the moon, lost in thought.
After lying sleepless for a while, he thought he might as well get up. Switching on the lamp, he went to the west wing and took out his study notes, then sat down at the desk with a pen in hand.
As incredible as the impact this night had brought him, a few new ideas also came into his head.
With the fading of the Taoist skills, the inheritance of all sects was on the decline, which was a most grievous trend. On the other hand, spiritual essence might reemerge in the mortal world, promising prosperity. With such a sharp contrast, it did not take a genius to recognize the looming storm.
He himself, nonetheless, had taken a great stride forward long before any of the phenomena mentioned above took place.
A lot of things felt ambiguous to him previously. However, after their conversation, many of his doubts were clarified. The essence-consuming method, for instance—he had always thought it a very basic stuff and was expecting to go through Base-building, Golden Elixir, Yang Spirit, etc., as his cultivation level advanced… he couldn't help it—the side-effect of too much daydreaming.
As it turned out, those were all theories of Neidan practice, the "transforming the essence into Qi and Qi into spirit" stuff included, which were all nonsense in the eyes of cultivators of Ancient and Ancient Immortals periods, as the latter would use one skill throughout the entire time, directly achieving the Great Dao.
Therefore, simple as the essence-consuming method might seem to be, the implications it held were extremely profound.
Gu Yu lacked the basic knowledge and understood little of systematic theories. However, now that he was the only person in the whole wide world who knew something about the essence-consuming method, nothing would be a problem for him: 'I am the system. What I say is the theory!'
Under the lamp light, in a quiet room.
Gu Yu was scribbling rapidly with his pen, already producing a voluminous page with an impressive title "A Discussion on Consuming Six Essences and the Classification of Levels".
Based on Xiaozhai's manuscripts and his own experience, he also managed to come up with a set of theories. First of all was the classification of the cultivation levels in general, which he did not change and kept at five levels, namely Heaven, Earth, Deity, Human and Ghost.
The Heavenly Immortals established themselves for eternity, witnessing the establishment and destruction of the whole universe.
The Earthly Immortals were as resplendent as the sun and the moon. They were not concerned with anything and their magical power and remarkable ability could shake heaven and earth.
The Immortals were remarkable in both physical and spiritual forms. They could live for hundreds, or even thousands of years.
The Human Immortals could nourish their appearance and health, which enabled them to live as long as the human body allowed. The limit of their lifespan, according to Gu Yu's speculation, was somewhere around two to three hundred years.
The Ghostly Immortals had no tangible bodies and could not launch physical attacks; neither could they raise their cultivation level.
After that came the cultivation process and secondary levels of Human Immortals.
The first step was as recorded in the fishbone, which was the awakening of the spirit. However, he added a few lines of explanation: before the actual awakening took place, one had to stabilize and nourish their Qi and blood, as well as learn to calm one's mind through meditation. After that, when the vital essence was vigorous enough, infuse a streak of spiritual essence into one's body to open up the innate abstruse. Once this procedure was successfully performed, Qi was obtained.
After obtaining Qi, the second step was to temper one's body and spirit.
With the swallow-and-spit method, one had to strengthen their blood, flesh, muscle and vessel little by little, tempering their mental faculties at the same time; it had to carry on until the entire body became a great abstruse which could produce the innate Qi, by which time only could one's body be considered a thoroughly innate one.
The third step was to reach the perfection of the innate body, namely the Taoist body of a Human Immortal.
Gu Yu had not yet achieved the level of an innate body, which meant that when his spiritual essence ran out, he had to supplement it from an external source. Once he reached the innate level, his spiritual essence would recover by itself as he moved around.
The essence-consuming method emphasized on the coordination between physical and spiritual forms, both of which were meticulous processes in themselves. Cultivation of the physical aspect was relatively easy. Cultivation of mental faculties, on the other hand, was an extremely time-consuming process. He could barely draw on his mental power right now, let alone turn his vision inwards or use that power to inflict physical injury on others.
The relationship between Qi and spirit was, well, comparable to the one between the government and the Party committee. Take operating a magical instrument as an example. The amount of Qi would determine how long one could operate while the spirit would determine the manner of one's attack.
After sorting out those, Gu Yu came up with five shoddy secondary levels based on his cultivation and deduction.
Enlightenment of the mind (introducing Qi into the body);
Refinement of the form (tempering the physical body; opening up extra-meridians and apertures);
Concentration of the spirit (using mental force externally; using it to control objects to launch attacks);
Spiritualization of the body (full-version innate body);