"Aren't we supposed to leave the windows and curtains open?" Li Yundong asked. Su Chan had been bustling about their motel room, closing windows and drawing the curtains shut. "I mean, that's what we did when we were training at home, right?"
"Not this time," Su Chan answered distractedly. She was now floating in the air a few feet above the floor, checking the ventilator for God knows what. "This time you really can't afford any outside interruptions." Su Chan's body floated towards another corner of the room. "Each person only has two attempts to complete the Zhuji phase."
A sinking feeling formed inside his stomach. "What? Only two?"
Su Chan seemed to have detected the undertone of distress in his voice. She paused what she was doing and floated back to him. "Yeah. That's why I need to do everything I can to increase your chances of success."
Two attempts. Which means he'd never become a true Cultivator if he screwed up both attempts. Damn.
Li Yundong took a deep breath, then nodded resolutely. "Two attempts. Alright. Got it. Tell me what I have to do."
Su Chan opened her mouth, but then closed it a moment later. Before he could ask her what was wrong, she turned around and ran towards the door.
A wave of fear coursed through Li Yundong.
"Hey! Where are you goin—"
Li Yundong was cut off by the sound of the door opening. Li Yundong leaned over the edge of the bed and glanced towards the doorway.
Su Chan was hanging the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door knob.
Li Yundong sighed in relief. Okay. She wasn't running again. Thank f*ck.
Su Chan shut the door and walked back towards him. Outside the bathroom, she suddenly came to a halt, her eyes wide as though she'd just remembered something important. She turned around and went into the bathroom.
Minutes later, she emerged from the bathroom with a wooden stool, which she placed in his hands.
Li Yundong gave her a strange look. "Umm... What's this for?"
Su Chan was busy looking for something in their luggage. "Help me break off one of its legs."
Li Yundong stared down at the stool. "Seriously?"
"Just do it," Su Chan said, zipping up the luggage. In her hand was a booklet whose cover was filled with strange drawings and patterns.
Li Yundong wrapped his fingers around one of the legs of the stool, then gave it a sharp bend, wincing at the loud snap that followed. There goes another few hundred yuan from his miserable—and negative—bank account.
Su Chan took the broken leg from him and then glanced around the room. "Yundong... Did you see the— Oh, there it is."
Following Su Chan's line of sight, Li Yundong realized that she was looking at the nightstand.
"What?" he asked.
Instead of answering, Su Chan padded over to the nightstand and grabbed the ashtray. She then placed the ashtray on the floor and lowered herself into a crouch. After that, she held out her hand with her palm facing the ceiling.
Li Yundong watched with curiosity and awe as Su Chan began muttering a strange incantation under her breath. By the time she was done, the air on top of her palm combusted—holy f*cking shit!—into a tiny ball of flame.
Su Chan brought the wooden piece over the flame. The wood caught fire instantly and, after a minute or so, burned to ashes.
Su Chan collected the ashes and soot in the ashtray and rose to her feet. She then carried the ashtray towards the window and set it down on the ledge. She opened her booklet and flipped through a couple of pages before setting it down on the ledge beside the ashtray. Then, she dipped her index finger into the ashtray and began to draw a bunch of weird symbols on the window pane.
Li Yundong frowned in confusion. "What are you doing?"
"Casting a spell," Su Chan said, moving away from the window towards the door.
"Yeah well, obviously you're casting a spell," he muttered under his breath. What he wanted to know was what the spell was for.
Su Chan opened the door and, again, drew a bunch of symbols on it. After a while, Su Chan closed the door and then placed the ashtray back onto the nightstand. She walked back towards the center of the room where she stood with her eyes closed.
Her lips started to move. Seconds later, there was a blinding flash of green light followed by a deafening silence, which permeated the entire motel room. The sounds from the city... and the rowdy crowd at the bar downstairs… they were all gone. It was as though a mute button had been pressed.
"What in the world…?" Li Yundong whispered in awe.
"That's an isolation spell," Su Chan said. "An invisible barrier that connects the symbols I've just drawn. No sound from outside the barrier can reach the space within the barrier and vice versa."
Li Yundong stared at Su Chan for a few moments, then started to laugh.
"What?" Su Chan asked.
Li Yundong shook his head in amusement. "You know you could've done this a long time ago, right? We didn't even have to use the pen and pad to talk about the Jindan, for God's sake."
A cute blush bloomed on Su Chan's cheeks. "You weren't exposed to magic back then. So I... I didn't want to scare you off."
"How many spells do you know anyway?" Li Yundong said in awe. "Like, you know how to fly, generate fire, form protective spells, and now this thing?" He gestured around the room. "That's a lot of spells."
"Hehehe... Well... That's the thing about us from the Fox Zen School. Most of us know a lot of spells, but only a few of us are true experts in the spells we know."
"The Fox Zen School, huh?" Li Yundong chuckled a few times, then shot Su Chan a playful glare. "The first time you told me about your school, you told me it's called the Zen School."
Su Chan's blush took a deeper shade of red. "S- S- Sorry..."
Li Yundong laughed. "It's okay. So. I'm guessing your master is one of the few who are experts in a lot of spells?"
"Hmm... Well, yeah... I guess you could say that?"
Li Yundong gave her a look of amusement. "You don't sound sure at all."
"My master is a seven-tailed fox spirit who knows 18 types of major spells and 36 types of minor spells. Although she is considered an expert in all the spells she knows, she often complained to me that she wasn't a true master in all those spells..." Su Chan trailed off with a vacant look on her face. Moments later, the cloud in her eyes cleared and she suddenly gave him a hopeful look. "Yundong... Maybe the Fox Zen School will thrive again under your leadership."
Li Yundong chuckled. "How am I supposed to lead the Fox Zen School if I'm not even a fox spirit? I don't think your people will accept a mere human as their leader."
Su Chan deflated. "Hmm... I guess that's true..." She poked her chin with a finger and thought for a moment. "Maybe you should start your own school..."
Li Yundong smiled and held up his hand. "O...kay. I think we're getting way ahead of ourselves here. I haven't even passed the Zhuji phase yet." He sighed. "Besides, I don't think it's that easy to start my own school."
"Hehehe!" Su Chan threw her arms around his neck. "But I have faith in you!"
Li Yundong wrapped his arms around her waist and studied her face. There, within the depth of his eyes, he saw her conviction behind her words. He nodded. "What do I need to do?"
Li Yundong knew right then and there that this would be the first—of many—pivotal moments in his life. He held Su Chan's gaze as though it was his lifeline. He knew that whatever Su Chan was about to tell him was important, and he didn't want to miss a single word of it.
"The Zhuji phase isn't like the early phases of Cultivation. In the early phases, you can go through each dan separately," Su Chan said.
Li Yundong leaned forward slightly. "Okay?"
Su Chan nodded. "But to pass the Zhuji phase, you need to go through all the stages successively until you complete the final stage. And all that has to be done in a single meditative session without any breaks or interruptions." Su Chan gave him a pointed look. "Everyone is given only two attempts in their lifetime to pass the Zhuji phase."
The room fell silent as they stared at each other. For the first time since his Cultivation journey began, Li Yundong could feel a huge weight resting on his shoulders. He took a deep breath and then released it. "Got it, princess."
"Okay. Now let's go through the theory behind the Zhuji phase." Su Chan got comfortable on the bed. "The whole idea behind the Zhuji phase is to use your body's Essence, Qi, and Spirit to form your Vital Orb."
"The Vital Orb… That's the thing you took out from your body just now, right? The one that made the whole room glow?"
"Yes," Su Chan said with a faraway look in her eyes. "Anyone who passed the Zhuji phase has a Vital Orb." Su Chan's eyes snapped to his. "The Vital Orb is important for two reasons. One, it is the source of your magical power. And two, it helps keep your Qi secured inside your body and prevent other people from stealing it."
Li Yundong nodded a few times. "Okay. Understood."
"Good. Now let me walk you through the steps."
Li Yundong found himself sitting up straighter.
"The first step, obviously, is to go into a meditative state." Su Chan paused for a moment. "Oh, wait. Before you even begin, you need to know a special breathing technique."
There was a moment of pause, as though Su Chan was checking to see if she had Li Yundong's full attention. "Always breathe through your nose," Su Chan continued. "And when you breathe, remember this tip. Blind the eyes, deafen the ears, empty the mind, and be one with your breath."
"Be one with my breath?"
Su Chan nodded. "You need to reach a point where you let your breath take its own course. In other words, you have to be breathing through your nose subconsciously. And, obviously, this breathing technique has to be sustained throughout the entire session. Anyway, once you can perform the breathing technique subconsciously, your Yuanyang will start moving automatically and then flow into your upper Dantian." Su Chan gave him a pointed look. "If you think about it, this is just the—"
"The Convergence of Five Qis," Li Yundong cut in, nodding. "Because the Yuanyang is moving, it draws out the Qis of the five Zangs."
Su Chan smiled. "Yes. And don't forget what happens when your Qi reaches the top of your head—the Baihui."
"I'll be wearing the crown of three flowers." Li Yundong shot a glance at Su Chan. "Just like that time when you gave me the massage."
Su Chan's smile widened. "Exactly. The Zhuji phase involves a lot of things. One, all types of Qis in your body, including those of your five Zangs. Two, your Spirit. And three, your Essence. Which is why you need to converge the Five Qis and wear the crown of three flowers simultaneously and sustain it throughout the process."
"Okay. So what's next?"
"You just have to sustain the whole process until your Vital Orb forms."
"Just like that?"
Su Chan bobbed her head up and down. "Mmm!"
"But..." Li Yundong laughed in disbelief. "But it sounds so easy. It's like I'll just sleeping and waiting for the process to complete."
Su Chan held up her palm. "No beloved. You won't be sleeping during the process." She gave him a pointed look. "You'll be inside your Spirit Space the whole time until your Vital Orb is fully formed."
"So I have to perform Guanxiang again?"
Su Chan gave him a serious look. "You'll have to meet your personal god again."
"You mean the one with three faces and six arms?" Li Yundong frowned slightly. "But I nearly let it consume me last time."
Su Chan nodded grimly. "Yeah. And it's going to be even more dangerous this time..."