"Me?" The little girl asked with disbelief, pointing to herself. She shook her hand hurriedly, saying, "No... I cannot..." She looked to Xiao Chen beside her and said, "Why not you, Senior Brother Xiao? I don't know how. Neither can I use psychokinesis nor do I know how to manipulate Energies..."
However, Xiao Chen only smiled gently to her and said, "Have no fear. Go ahead."
With no other choice left, the girl walked reluctantly up the hall, her head hanging from her shoulders but still, she dared not look down. Elder Liu giggled gently, "There is no need for such tenseness. I have some Fire Manipulation Talismans. You will not have to use any Energy." He flicked his wrist and conjured a stack of red talisman strips in his hand.
"Oh... Okay..." The girl kept her head down as she observed the heaps of items clumped together, feeling nauseous and dizzy for not knowing how to proceed.
"Four grams of mica, two grams of sulfur, two grams of liquefied mithril..." Xiao Chen recited the names of the materials that he recognized and their quantities. Both Elders Song and Liu raised their head and stared at him.
By his instructions, the little girl placed the items one by one into the cauldron. She then slapped a Fire Manipulation Talisman unto the surface of the cauldron. It burst into flames swiftly and a fire began burning underneath.
All seemed well at first until crackling sounds rose from in the cauldron. The girl started to fidget fearfully, afraid that the cauldron might explode. She started to creep farther and farther away from it.
"Calm yourself. Lower the three-tenths of the flames and add two grams of Flame-dousing Ore with four grams of silver flakes," said Xiao Chen from below.
The girl immediately did as she was told and deposited the items into the cauldron. However, in her rushed hastiness, she made a mistake. Xiao Chen calmly commanded, "Add another eight grams of Eriocaulon Herb and four grams of quartz."
The little girl tried her best to follow his instructions. Within seconds, the cauldron returned to normal. But in her panic, she made even more mistakes and wrongly pasted the talismans. Xiao Chen shook his head and said, "It is ruined. There is no need to carry on anymore."
"Ah..." The girl dejectedly placed down a talisman in her hand.
With his psychokinesis ability, Elder Liu lifted the lid of the cauldron. Ribbons of jet-black fumes escaped from the cauldron. A robust and putrid stench began to fill the entire hall, making many to avert themselves away with their noses pinched.
The girl peered into the cauldron and found only blackened soot in its bottom. On the verge of tears, she mumbled, "I-I am sorry, Elders... I'm too stupid for this..."
Elder Liu placed a hand on her shoulder and smiled at her, saying, "It is all right. I'm sure you've done the best you could. Down you go." He gave Xiao Chen a fleeting glance.
The young girl returned to her seat, her eyes moist and red. She looked at Xiao Chen and muttered, "Thank you, Senior Brother Xiao. My name is Wang Yue. I saw you during the test..."
Xiao Chen nodded and smiled encouragingly to her although he did not say anything.
Elder Liu then instructed two acolytes to clear the table. He then spoke to those below, "One must never be hasty when it comes to refining elixirs. Do you have any questions?"
The students looked at each other. Not knowing what had happened at all, none knew enough to ask any questions.
Xiao Chen's voice broke the silence, "I have one, Elder."
"You have a question?" Elder Liu asked with some surprise. He remained calm again and coughed once, saying, "Ask away then. May your question be instructive and informative to everyone."
Xiao Chen asked, "I would like to know, Elder, from where did you conjure the items?"
Curious prattles and whisper rose from the crowd. The way that the Elder had conjured the items out of thin air was astounding indeed; a quaint method used without the help of any magical artifacts or tools.
Elder Liu smiled pleasantly and replied, "I see. Very well. This was supposed to be tomorrow's subject. But since you've asked, I suppose I can tell you a little about it. Cultivators can create a pocket dimension within their bodies. It is called the Divine Vessel."
He fell into another two hour-long oratories about the complexities of the technique. By the time he ended, it was already afternoon, and everyone was still bewildered and befuddled by his explanation.
All in all, the Divine Vessel was a dimensional space created by Cultivators in their own bodies to store items. The technique was slightly different to the Violet Manor Nascent Soul, where living organisms could also be stored within.
Storage of items within one's Divine Vessel would also continually consume one's True Qi. With more things one stored within himself, the higher the strain he would bear. Hence, Cultivators would sometimes toss pieces of things away when they were running for their lives from enemies. This was to reduce the stress on his True Qi so that he could concentrate his powers on fleeing.
Xiao Chen had been listening closely, nodding as he reflected upon the intrinsic differences of cultivation methods after more than thousands of years since his past incarnation. The technique of the Divine Vessel was unheard of in those days. Cultivators of that age had to painstakingly reach the Nascent Soul Realm to attain the ability to store items at will; otherwise, they would have to depend on magical artifacts or tools.
Seeing that noon had passed, Elder Song raised a hand and announced, "So ends the morning session today. You will attend the evening session after your meal at the mess hall. The evening session will begin after an hour. Do not be late."
"An hour is hardly enough for me... I want to go back to have a nap..." Prince Zhao grumbled.
Elder Song scowled at him, "It is always you and your petty businesses!"
Prince Zhao waved a hand dismissively, "All right... All right..."
Xiao Chen gazed up into the sky. There was not enough time for him to return from his courtyard. He could only proceed straight to the mess hall. He thought of the deep-fried loquats they had yesterday, feeling a sudden dread.
"Come on, Senior Brother Xiao. I guess the deep-fried loquats are ready by now," said Prince Zhao who came to him.
Xiao Chen's head sank. "From where did they find so many loquats in this time of the season?"
Just then, a bright and soft voice came from outside the window, "Heh heh! Here I am, Young Master!"
Xiao Chen turned his head. It was Lil Ruo. She had come, wearing a bright emerald-green dress and holding a purple food carrier.
"Wow! What a pretty little girl!" A few of the other disciples who had not left could not help exclaiming.
Unlike most other servant girls in the Xiao Family, Lil Ruo had never been charged to menial housekeeping duties. Her smooth little hands, her clean and gorgeous clothing with jewelry, and her beautiful appearance made her no different to a doted daughter of a wealthy and prosperous family.
"How kind of you, Sister Lil Ruo, to have come with food for us." Seeing that she came with a food carrier, the three princes rushed forward.
Lil Ruo quickly put herself in front of the food carrier and said, "This is for my Young Master..."
"Ah... So be it then, let us go. I guess the deep-fried loquats are ready now..." Prince Zhao waved a hand and left for the mess hall with his two companions.
Xiao Chen walked out and smiled at her, "Why are you here?"
"I know that you must be busy with your studies, seeing as you have not returned. Heh heh heh."
As they spoke, they slowly moved toward a tree and sat under the cooling shade of its thick boughs. Lil Ruo opened the food carrier and the aroma of delicious food wafted into the air. There were fish, chicken, and duck. Not far away, a few other disciples looked on enviously as they nibbled at their baked buns which have already shriveled and dried, saying, "I too should have brought my servant girl here..."
Xiao Chen asked incredulously, "Where did you find so many ingredients for all this?"
"Heh heh... I asked Elder Wu's disciple to help me get them from the town nearby."
"I see. But are you not eating?" Xiao Chen asked as he lifted his chopsticks.
"I have already eaten, Young Master. Please eat on. You have been so tired lately. You'll need all the nourishment."
As he ate, Xiao Chen asked, "How much money do we still have, Lil Ruo?"
"Ah... We still have a hundred taels of silver left, I guess..." Lil Ruo replied meekly.
"I see..." Xiao Chen replaced the drumstick in his hand back into the food carrier.
"Why, Young Master? Why are you not eating? Have I cooked the food poorly?"
Xiao Chen laughed lightly, "Nothing. I'm full." With only a hundred taels of silver left and the expensive cost of items from Lingtai Town, they would run out of money in a month...
Lil Ruo smiled, "Money is hardly a problem, Young Master. I will write a letter next month. Uncle Yifan will send someone here with the money."
"I see..." Xiao Chen nodded and smiled. But he was already 16, hardly the age where dependence on his family for money seemed appropriate. He would need ways to make money on his own...
"Young one, your name is Xiao Chen, is it not?" Elder Liu came suddenly to him.
Xiao Chen quickly wiped his hands clean and rushed to his feet with a smile, "Indeed I am, Elder. How can I help you?"
Elder Liu smiled in return and spoke cheerfully, "Nothing. I am merely curious. Have you studied elixir refining before?"
"Ah... Actually..." But he had barely managed to answer, when Lil Ruo rose to her feet, giggling, "Of course! There is nothing that my Young Master does not know..."
Xiao Chen nodded sheepishly, still smiling, saying, "A little. There were a few books in the library of my family that I have read before."
"I see," said Elder Liu who nodded. He smiled again and said, "I will not disturb you then."
"With your leave, Elder." Xiao Chen smiled back to him respectfully.
All around him, the other disciples began to talk and blab about what happened, "Did you see that? The Elder went over to speak to him? Do they know each other? Surely they are not relatives, are they?"
The three princes then came back for the evening classes. Each of them was full, slowly chanting, "Deep-fried loquats with noodles; an insanely delicious caboodle..."