When Su Chan noticed Yundong's frown for the 50th time since they came home, she couldn't take it anymore .
"Yundong . . . What's wrong?"
Yundong looked away from the TV and gave her a smile . The frown was still there . "Nothing's wrong," he said .
Liar . . . Su Chan shook her head . "You've been acting strange since you went away to talk to that guy . . . "
Yundong looked away . Su Chan shifted herself on the couch until their shoulders were touching, then turned his head so that he was looking at her . Su Chan ran her thumb across Yundong's forehead as though to smooth away the frown . "That man said something to upset you, didn't he?"
Yundong sighed and attempted another reassuring smile, which failed miserably . "It was nothing, Chan'er . Really . So don't worry about it, okay?"
Su Chan held Yundong's gaze for a moment . Not buying it, beloved . I'm not buying it . . . She looked down, then took Yundong's hand, intertwining their fingers together . She raised their joined hands to his eye-level . She gave Yundong a few moments to stare at their hands .
"Yundong . . . " Su Chan lowered their hands so that they were resting on her thigh . "Right now, you are my training partner and lover . I trust you with my life . So I hope you can trust me with yours too . And I hope . . . "
When she didn't continue her sentence after a few seconds, Yundong turned in his seat to stare at her . Su Chan looked up and met his gentle gaze . "I want to share your burdens in the future, okay?"
The warmth of Yundong's hand caressed her cheek . "Aww . . . Looks like our chipmunk isn't as obtuse as she seemed . So you have a sensitive side after all!"
Su Chan gaped at Yundong . Obtuse? How dare he! Su Chan smacked his hand away . "Who are you calling obtuse! And I'm not a cheap monk! Hmph!"
Li Yundong burst into laughter . Seconds later, his expression turned sober . "I guess I was wondering if I've made a mistake . "
A mistake? What was he talking about? "What mistake, beloved?" Su Chan waited patiently for Yundong to answer . It took about a minute or so before Yundong finally opened his mouth . "I basically told a powerful government official to shove it . " Yundong looked at her worriedly . "I doubt he would take it well…"
Oh . So he was worried about that trivial thing . Su Chan chuckled in amusement . "I thought it was something serious . "
Li Yundong stared at her as though she had suddenly become bald . "I've pissed off the frigging deputy governor! You don't think that's a serious matter?"
Su Chan smiled . "Yundong . . . You're now a trainee Cultivator . And once you passed the Zhuji phase, you'll become a true Cultivator . You have nothing to fear, Yundong . Normal people will revere you!"
Li Yundong pondered her words for a moment . "The Zhuji phase, huh?"
Su Chan nodded . "The fourth phase of Cultivation . It's the first step to become a true Cultivator . "
Li Yundong nodded . "And once you pass all phases of Cultivation, you become a Shenxian, right?"
Su Chan gave him a nod . "That's right . " Then she paused to look at him . "But Cultivation is only one of the ways to become a Shenxian . "
Yundong's head whipped to the side . When Su Chan met his gaze, he seemed surprised .
"What? You mean there are other ways to become a Shenxian?"
Su Chan smiled at him . "Many ways, in fact . Okay . So tell me . What is a Shenxian? I've told you this before . "
Yundong stared at the ceiling or a moment . "Um . . . A Shenxian is someone who is immortal?"
"True," Su Chan said . "Well, technically speaking, a Shenxian is someone who has achieved spiritual transcendence . "
Yundong snapped his fingers . "By becoming one with the Tao . "
Su Chan nodded and snuggled closer to Yundong . "When someone becomes one with the Tao, their existence transcends mortality . " Su Chan paused to let Yundong process her words . Moments later, she continued, "What is the Tao? The Tao is the natural order that governs the Universe . But the Universe is so big and complicated . It has many, many aspects . "
"I see . " Yundong lowered his gaze from the ceiling to look at her . "So that's why there are many paths towards transcendence . Because the Tao manifests itself in different forms . "
Su Chan smiled . "Take the King of Medicine, Sun Simiao, for example . He achieved transcendence through his mastery of the art of healing . "
Yundong chuckled . "Yeah . You told me before that Sun Simiao is a Shenxian . " He shook his head . "I just didn't believe you back then . "
Su Chan looked at Yundong . "But now you do?"
Yundong nodded . "Now I do . "
Good . Yundong had to start getting use to these things now . Once he passed the Zhuji phase, he would be capable of even more extraordinary feats . And by the time he reached the Shentong phase, he would be able to fly and use magic . Su Chan trailed her fingers down Yundong's forearm . This strong arm had saved many lives already despite Yundong's lack of training . There were times when Su Chan found herself wondering whether Yundong's consumption of the Renyuan Jindan was really just happenstance . After all, despite its power, the Renyuan Jindan couldn't change a person's aptitude in Cultivation . Yet, through an unlikely chain of events, the Renyuan Jindan somehow ended up inside the body of a man who could visualize nine lotus thrones in a row . All of it screamed the work of a higher power . Still, Su Chan couldn't prove it . It was merely conjecture at this point .
"You alright?" Yundong's voice broke her reverie . "You've gone quiet all of a sudden . "
Su Chan cleared her throat . "Where were we?"
"We were talking about transcendence," Yundong said, then shot her a worried look . "You sure you're alright?"
"I'm fine . " Su Chan waved him off . "Anyway . Transcendence, or unity with the Tao, can be achieved through the complete mastery of an art . The art of Cultivation is just one of many . "
"Right . Sun Simiao did it through the art of healing . "
Su Chan nodded . "Some arts are only available to Cultivators though . Like the magical arts, for instance . " Su Chan turned her head slightly to gauge Yundong's reaction .
Yundong was still staring at the ceiling . "Magic, huh?"
"Yes . You've encountered one already . "
Yundong tore his gaze away from the ceiling and looked at her .
Su Chan nodded . "The art of Shenda . "
Yundong sighed . "Oh . That crazy old man . "
"Remember that yellow paper you saw yesterday?"
"Yeah . The old man was burning it before he transformed . "
"Mmm . That was a talisman . Some spells require talismans . "
Suddenly, Yundong clapped his hands together . "Holy shit . . . "
Su Chan sat up straighter . "What?"
Yundong eyed her suspiciously . "Is that why the flames disappeared from the stove? Because you performed some kind of magic on the stove?"
Su Chan's cheeks heated up . "I- I might have used a spell or two . . . "
Yundong laughed . "And then after the kitchen blew up, you mentioned something about the talismans from some whatchamacallit school . I didn't even know what you were talking about back then . "
Su Chan stole a glance at Yundong through her lashes . " Are you still mad at me about that?"
Yundong stared at her for a moment, then laughed . "Nah . I'm over it . " He ruffled her hair . "Besides, I like our new place better . "
Su Chan sighed in relief and leaned against Yundong's chest .
"So what makes Cultivation so special then?" Yundong asked .
Su Chan frowned . "What do you mean?"
"Well . . . I mean, if people can become Shenxians through the mastery of other arts, why bother with Cultivation at all? Cuz' it seems difficult as hell . "
Hmm . That was a very interesting question . Su Chan had to pause for a moment to think of the best explanation . Then again, this was a good sign; it showed that Yundong was on the way to completing the 6th dan of the Ningshen phase . Su Chan took a breath and began her explanation . "In general, the likelihood of transcendence depends on the complexity of the art . The higher the complexity, the more likely it is for one to achieve transcendence . " Su Chan paused to let that sink in .
"Right . That makes sense . There are a lot of brilliant doctors out there, but not many of them became Shenxians . Somehow only Sun Simiao did . . . " Yundong suddenly turned to the side to face her . "Come to think of it . How did Sun Simiao become a Shenxian? Did he, like, suddenly grew wings and rose to the sky or something?"
Su Chan burst into giggles . Yundong and his funny ideas . How cute . "No, I don't think so, beloved . "
"Well, then how?"
Su Chan shook her head a few times . "Only he knows . But according to history, he became a Shenxian after he turned a hundred years old . Anyway . The point is, unlike other arts, once you master the art of Cultivation, you are guaranteed to become a Shenxian . For other arts, it depends on the depth of your understanding . It's just like you said, there are many good doctors out there who didn't become Shenxians . "
Yundong went silent in thought . "Okay . So let's say we compare two people who have achieved transcendence through different arts, one in the art of Cultivation while the other in some other art . Like, sure, they are both Shenxians, but they are still different, right?"
"Of course . Actually, Shenxian is just an umbrella term that refers to immortal, transcendent beings . Their specific abilities are different and depend on the path they have taken towards transcendence . Those who transcended through the art of Cultivation will have magical powers aside from their immortality . " Su Chan chuckled . "By the way, that's also why most Shenxians have magical powers, because most of them used to be Cultivators . Like I said, the art of Cultivation is the surest path to transcendence . It's more difficult to become a Shenxian through the mastery of other arts . "
Silence spread between them . Su Chan stole a glance at Yundong to see if he had fallen asleep . As it turned out, she couldn't have been more wrong . Yundong's eyes were wide open and they were burning with intensity as he stared up at the ceiling .
"So Shenxians . . . " Yundong finally said after a minute or so . "They're basically deities, aren't they?"
Su Chan chuckled . "That's not entirely accurate . Okay, well, by definition, all deities are Shenxians . However, not all Shenxians are deities . "
Yundong looked at her in confusion . Su Chan smoothed her thumb over the crease in his forehead . "In his book, Baopuzi, Ge Hong wrote an essay on the subject of Shenxians . According to him, humans can become Shenxians by achieving oneness with the Tao . Even so, oneness with the Tao doesn't make them deities . A Shenxian only becomes a deity when mortals willingly worship them . Worship as in they pray, make offerings, and burn incense to the deities . "
Yundong stared at her for a moment . "So, like, the more worshippers they have the more powerful they are?"
Su Chan nodded . "That's why Guan Yu is such a powerful Shenxian—and deity—even though he wasn't a Cultivator . Guan Yu became a Shenxian through the mastery of the art of war and the martial arts . But a lot of people worship him . "
Su Chan raised her head from Yundong's chest when she felt him shudder . "What's wrong?" she asked, failing to keep the worry out of her tone .
"Just thinking back to that fight with Lin Youfa . " Yundong shook his head . "That guy could really hit, princess . It made sense now that you mentioned how powerful Guan Yu is . I got kicked around like a helpless puppy . "
Su Chan snorted . "I'm sorry to tell you this, beloved . But what you saw yesterday doesn't even come close to Guan Yu's true power . " Su Chan laughed when Yundong gaped at her . Su Chan patted Yundong's cheeks a few times . "The art of Shenda allows the user to borrow only a small portion of a deity's power . It's like offering a prayer—or a sacrifice—to a deity in exchange for their help . " Su Chan rolled her eyes and snorted . "Do you really think a deity would grant a Cultivator their full power?"
Yundong cleared his throat . "Fair enough . "
They stayed in each other's arms in comfortable silence . Su Chan's mind began to wander . She began to think about their future—if they had one, that is—together, about the challenges they might have to face . Moments later, something occurred to her .
She sat up and looked at Yundong . "Yundong . . . Do you want to be a Cultivator?"
She realized that she had never really asked Yundong whether Cultivation was a path he wanted to take . The life of a Cultivator wasn't smooth sailing . It was filled with trials and tribulations that would destroy a lesser person .
Yundong's answering nod was resolute . "Of course!"
"Why? Why do you want to be a Cultivator?"
When Yundong opened his mouth, Su Chan's hand shot out and covered it . "Take your time to think about it first before you answer . "
When Yundong nodded, Su Chan lowered her hand . Yundong's gaze was focused on the ceiling again . Su Chan relaxed against his side and listened to his steady heartbeat . This was an important step for him . He needed to find his purpose and reason to pursue the art of Cultivation . When things get tough, it was this purpose that he would fall back on, this purpose that would motivate him to push forward and continue his journey .
"I guess I want to make a difference in the world," Yundong said after a long while .
Su Chan sat up and regarded him curiously, waiting for him to go on .
Their gazes met when Yundong suddenly turned his head . "I want to make the world a better place . "
Su Chan nodded . Yundong's selflessness was one of the first things that Su Chan had noticed about his personality . That, and also his powerful sense of justice .
"There are people out there who are just bullies, you know?" Yundong said, shaking his head . "People like He Shao, Liu Chuan, and Zheng Youming . . . They walked all over others just because they're rich and powerful . I don't like that . " Yundong took a breath . "And then this thing"—Yundong gestured up and down his body—"inside me . " He paused to look at her . Su Chan nodded . He was talking about the Renyuan Jindan . "I want to put it to good use . I want to use it to help others . To protect others from bullies like He Shao . "
Suddenly, Yundong blushed and looked away sheepishly . "I know it all sounds like some lame and clichéd storyline from a superhero movie, but it's true . " Yundong held her gaze again . He was no longer blushing . "I've been bullied and treated like trash all my life, so I know what it feels like to be bullied . That feeling of helplessness and powerlessness . . . " Yundong shook his head . "It's not a good feeling . It puts you in a dark place that sometimes feels inescapable . It's like being sucked into a never-ending, dark tunnel . Sometimes, you feel so worthless that you start to wonder why you even exist . " There was a pregnant pause . "I guess I want to spare someone else from having to live through all that shit . "
Something tugged inside Su Chan's chest . Poor Yundong . It hurt to even consider how the world had treated such a good man . Even though Su Chan was despised—because she was a fox spirit— by a lot of Cultivators from other schools and sects, she still had Master . But Yundong had no one; even his parents had abandoned him . Su Chan clung tighter to his arm . Not anymore . He has me now . For as long as he wants me at least .
Yundong chuckled all of a sudden . "And then you came along . "
Su Chan lifted her head slightly . Yundong reached over and hook a strand of her hair behind her ear . "You came into my life and gave me a chance to make a difference . And . . . " Yundong looked away . "You saw something in me . Like I'm someone worth a damn, you know?" He chuckled in disbelief, then looked at her pointedly . "You said it yourself . You could've taken that thing away from me, but you didn't . You changed your mind . " Yundong cupped her cheeks . "I want to prove that you've made the right choice . And also . . . I want to become a man worthy of you, a man who deserves your love . "
Something wet touched her cheeks . Su Chan sniffed . She'd been crying for Tao knows how long, and she didn't even know it . She pulled away and dried her tears with her sleeves .
"I'm sorry, princess," Yundong said . "I didn't mean to make you cry . "
Su Chan shook her head .
"Are you alright?"
Su Chan wiped her cheeks again and smiled at him . "Mmm!"
Yundong's face broke into a grin . "So the answer is hell yes! I'm going to work hard and become the best Cultivator I can be!" He pumped his fist in the air . The sliding door rattled slightly .
Su Chan cleared her throat . "Once you pass the Zhuji phase and reach the Shentong phase, you will have to make some choices though . . . "
Yundong visibly tensed, out of wariness or excitement she couldn't tell . "Choices? What do you mean?"
"When you reach the Shentong phase, you can start to use magic . But there are different types of magic out there . You have to pick one to learn first . "
Yundong closed his eyes . When he reopen them seconds later, they were filled with determination . "I want to learn the most powerful type of magic . "
Su Chan regarded Yundong seriously . Should she tell him? Master will probably teach him if I beg her . . . Fear coursed through Su Chan . But that kind of magic was not only difficult to learn, but dangerous as well . Have faith in him, Chan'er . . . Nine lotus thrones, remember? Nine!
Yundong nudged her . "What? What's the matter?"
Su Chan leaned forward and took his hand . "Of all types of magic known to Cultivators, there is only one that is universally acknowledged as the most powerful magic . The Five Thunders Spell . "
"The Five Thunders Spell?"
Su Chan nodded . "According to Chinese philosophy, the material world consists of five elements . Gold, wood, water, fire, and earth . The usage of these elements is common and doesn't require any magic at all . You can see the usage of these elements in everyday life . But thunder . . . " Su Chan looked deep into Yundong's eyes . "There is something sacred about thunder . Of all the forces of nature, thunder is the most fearsome of all . But the problem is, nobody can really harness its true power without the use of magic . And that's what the Five Thunders Spell is all about . "
Yundong sat up straighter . "So it's about controlling and harnessing the force of thunder?"
Su Chan nodded . "Once you master it, you'll be able to summon thunder, lightning, and even control the weather with a flick of a finger . "
Yundong's eyes went wide . "Good God . . . That's insane…"
"It is the prime form of all magical arts known in the Cultivation world . It is also the most difficult type of magic to master . To learn it, you have to first master both Internal and External Alchemy, and believe it or not, that's actually the easy part . The most difficult challenge lies in getting your Spirit to be in complete harmony with Heaven and Earth . "
Su Chan didn't know what to make of the look of excitement on Yundong's face . She liked that he was showing interest in the Five Thunders Spell, but the idea of him dying in the process of mastering it made her sick to her stomach .
Su Chan got up from the couch and sat down cross-legged on the floor . They were now face to face with the coffee table separating them . Su Chan studied Yundong for a moment, then sighed . "There's something else you need to know . . . "
Yundong's butt inched forward until it was at the edge of the couch . "What?"
"Learning the spell poses great risks . There's a chance you might lose your life . . . "
"Your Spirit has to be in harmony with Heaven and Earth the whole time you're using the spell . That is actually what allows you to command the power of nature . But the moment you lose focus, the spell will turn on you, and you'll be struck . And if you're struck, not even the King of Medicine, Sun Simiao can save you . "
Yundong stared at her in silence .
"I want you to think carefully before you make a decision, Yundong . Are you sure you want to learn it?"
Yundong smirked . "Yes . . . "
"B- But it's difficult to master! Thousands of Cultivators have tried to master it, but only a few have succeeded!"
Yundong shook his head . "I've been a useless nobody all my life, princess . Now that I have a chance to achieve something great, I'll never walk away from it . "
Either he didn't understand how great the risks were, or he was just that brave . Su Chan took a deep breath . "Are you certain, Yundong? Are you absolutely certain?"
Yundong nodded . "Yes . I'm certain . " Then, he looked deep into her eyes . "Teach me . "
Su Chan twiddled her fingers . "I don't know the spell . . . "
Yundong's butt slid off the edge of the couch and hit the floor .