Shi Mu was now sitting on his stone bed, meditating in silence.
He had gained five million silver[A] - a real fortune - from the competition, and he, undeniably, needed the money. But, on the other hand, the cost of his training had always been prohibitive, with the expenditure exponentially increasing as he progressed. Therefore, it would not be wrong to say that this reward was as inadequate a cup of water before a burning bale of hay. With this in mind, it seemed to be high time for Shi Mu to make good use of the arts that he received from the General Sutra House.
Having made this decision, Shi Mu took out some jade slips, containing the art of charms, and put them against his forehead. Numerous characters filled his mind. He read through them, word by word, and did not finish until an hour later. Letting out a long breath, he put down the slips and rubbed his sore eyes. This was a great deal of information, which made his head heavy. After a short break, he went onto the other silver slips, the copy of The Elementary Formula Art.
After over half a day, Shi Mu finally finished browsing through the two records, and then he was fully convinced that Uncle Ju was right: the formula art and charm art were closely related, and a comprehensive study of the two would bring a much more complete mastery of the magic arts. It would be safe to say that charm magic was a simplified version of the formula art, with the former more practical whereas the latter more theoretical. It is generally accepted that a simplified version is less difficult to learn, though less powerful than the full version. Paper charms, once made beforehand, are convenient to carry about, and the spirit power instilled in them can easily be unleashed. But this is easier said than done. The process of making a powerful paper charm requires a scholar to practice that charm hundreds of times before he can truly make the charm. In other words, the making of a paper charm is an exacting art.
Discovering the two’s intimate relation seemed to melt a block in Shi Mu’s mind, sending him deep into thought.
Indeed, the formula art shares a lot of common knowledge with the charm art, but the latter is relatively easier. Therefore, the formula art can wait until he himself has achieved some degree of proficiency in the charm art. Then the training of the formula art will be less taxing.
Having decided this, his initial confusion, in front of so many arts, was cleared. Shi Mu put away the slips of the formula art and turned to thoroughly study the Great Sutra of Magical Charms. According to this ancient book, every magic character is charged with the energy of heaven and earth, which is then transformed into spirit power, by an Adept. From simple patterns to convoluted magic seals, magic characters pervade as the very basic foundation of all charm arts. Therefore, in order to make a paper charm, a comprehension of the most commonly used magic characters is needed. These characters share the same origin - the characters of the five elements, which serve as the basic building blocks to construct different styles of charms, based on all kinds of designs. This would seem to be a vivid and straightforward process for Shi Mu, but, strangely, the comprehension of magic characters has proved to be extremely difficult, if not insurmountable. Otherwise, there would not have been so many scholars whose dream of being a charm Adept fell to pieces after spending several fruitless years learning the magic characters. Among these failed scholars, some failed to even draw a single character of the five elements.
This did not seem to be a cheerful prospect for Shi Mu. He sank into a gloomy mood, thinking about this less visited path he had chosen. But to quit midway was never his way of doing things. A sparkle of stubbornness appeared in his eyes. He re-crossed his legs, sat on his rock-hard bed, and began to slowly adjust his breathing. His mind emptied, his breath slowed down, he felt a coolness winding its way into his head, and the stress, stirred by his earlier apprehension, gradually faded. He carefully lifted the slips again to his eyes, his face solemn, and began to study the first character of the five elements.
There are a few hundred of basic characters recorded in the Great Sutra of Magical Charms. As a beginner, Shi Mu choose the simplest one, with the least strokes, a character of the fire element.
Three days slid by, as he immersed himself in the deep ocean of magic characters. One would be startled to find Shi Mu in the same posture he made three days ago: legs crossed, upper body straightened, totally motionless. His eyes were tightly shut as if he would fail if he opened them even slightly. Deep in his mind, some red beams were condensing into a blurred ball, then began a constant, random metamorphosis, stretching out. Bit by bit, the upper part of the blur gradually took the shape of a weird-looking sign while the lower part was still in the process of stretching and changing constantly as if it was having trouble.
Right this moment, without warning, the red blur exploded, with a thunderous crack. Shi Mu let out a muffled groan and simultaneously opened his eyes. His forehead was drenched with sweat, sliding down his pale cheeks, his chest was heaving as he took deep breaths. Suddenly, some strange sensation made him feel his nose. It was blood. Blood was trickling from his nostrils.
Shi Mu paused, surprised for a moment before he released a long sigh and looked for a piece of cloth to wipe the blood. After he finished, he moved to the window, through which the night sky peered, with the dark color taking on an enigmatic quality which took his breath away. For some time, he just stood by the windowsill, staring blankly at the stars.
The sutra did not underwrite the difficulty of understanding the magic characters indeed. For three days, he could not even absorb the meaning of the simplest character of the fire element. Is it because there’s not the slightest talent for magic in me? She Mu muttered to himself, almost giving up. For he had learned from the ancient book that mastering the magic characters was only the first step of making a valid paper charm. Two more steps still await ahead to challenge him and mock his weakness. After comprehending each character successfully, he needed to draw the characters on a magic paper to accomplish a certain magic charm. Every magic art of the five elements has its corresponding formula, even for the simplest fireball. The number of magic characters involved in a paper charm ranges from five or six, on the easier side, to dozens or even hundreds, when the formula is more elaborate. Moreover, a good memory of all the characters is no guarantee for drawing a powerful paper charm. The drawing requires the utmost precision. Even the relative positions of different characters should be paid close attention to. Therefore, behind a degree of natural talent, is years of conscientious practice and a heart of perseverance.
Now that the second step was done, he would have to confront the, relatively, easier third step: the instilling of spirit power into the paper charm, which means to store the spirit power of the Adept in the paper charm. Whenever needed, the paper charm can unleash the power, the way a battery works. But even this simple-looking step has some tricks to it. Generally speaking, most charm Adepts have the ability to sense, at most, two or three elements, which means, when instilling spirit power into the paper charms, he cannot go beyond the elements he is able to sense. If ever the charm were to involve other elements he couldn’t arouse, he could only resort to heavenly stones, which are usually sold at exorbitant prices. Hence, countless scholars have stopped at a dead end, their path obstructed.
“I’ve just started, it’s too early to have nightmares about things in the future.” Shi Mu thought to himself, quelling his fears and doubts. He shook his head vigorously, trying to sway the gloomy thoughts out of his head. One hour had passed, unnoticed, during his trance. Before he realized it, a new moon had risen from the western sky, as chaste as a newborn baby, its silver rays generously embracing the world with a gentle coolness. Shi Mu suddenly thought of his deals with the moon, though totally disregarding her female beauty. These days, large clouds had snatched the beautiful “girl” from him, so he was on the verge of complaining about this issue when the moon finally showed herself tonight.[B]
Calming his mind, he decided to forget all about the charms and stuff, straightened up his room, then quietly walked out of his room. After a quarter of an hour, he, once more, arrived at a clearing in the woods. There, he sat down, legs crossed, his mind purified by the gentle moonlight, and soon he entered his usual dreamland. Turning into the white ape again, he made the posture of the Moon-Swallowing Art, and soon myriad light dots appeared in the night sky, falling toward the ape’s pupils. Shi Mu was quite delighted when he found the accumulating speed of the light dots was undoubtedly increased, which suggested that, with his spirit power was developing, the speed of his absorbing the moonlight’s essence also escalated.
As his mind began to teem with light dots, that soon got absorbed by his mind, a faint, but growing, feeling of coolness began to grow into a trickle, that washed away all the previous anxiety and depression, brought by the magic charms. The thick dots, once they entered his mind, transformed into white fogs that gathered and condensed into the usual white cloud. At this time, he saw something that shocked him! The white cloud in his mind seemed to be extremely similar to the red blur that he created in his mind, earlier when he tried to fathom the first magic character!
Anyway, presuming that Shi Mu spent ~150-160k silver, we are missing 9.8-10.8m silver.
^This is the issue)