"So I just punch it here?" Li Yundong tapped the smooth surface of the marble block.
Zi Yuan nodded. "Yes."
Okay then… Li Yundong raised his fist and—
"On second thought, no."
Li Yundong lowered his fist and shot Zi Yuan a questioning glance.
Zi Yuan waved her hand at him. "Take three steps backwards," she said. "And use your Qi."
Li Yundong frowned and looked towards the marble block again. But it's just a marble block… He could definitely crack it without getting his Qi involved.
"Don't worry," Zi Yuan said. "At your current level of Qi control? I doubt you'll even be able to cause a crack."
Li Yundong whipped his head around so quickly that he nearly cricked his neck. He didn't like Zi Yuan's disparaging tone any more than he liked the smug look on her face.
I'll show you...
Li Yundong gritted his teeth and backed away three steps. Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath and lowered his stance. When he felt the familiar ball of heat at his lower Dantian, he moved his Qi to his right palm, and then curled his fingers to form a fist.
The marble block trembled as marble chips scattered across the floor. Li Yundong yanked his fist out of the hole he'd just created on the marble surface.
"How about that?" Li Yundong asked, turning around to face the two women. Seconds later, he decided that he liked Ruan Hongling's reaction better. The girl was practically gaping as she inspected the damage he'd done on the marble slab. Not a crack my ass. He hadn't even used the Qi of his five Zangs yet.
Zi Yuan, on the other hand, looked amused, like she was studying a child's drawing while trying to come up with something nice to say.
"Hongling," Zi Yuan said after a while. "Flip it over."
Ruan Hongling rose to her feet and flipped the thick marble over and set it back down.
Zi Yuan gave Li Yundong a pointed look, then took a step forward. "Now watch."
Zi Yuan raised her right palm and lightly tapped the marble block's smooth surface. There was a muffled thud, after which the marble block trembled and—
"Holy shit…" Li Yundong whispered, stepping towards the marble block to take a closer look.
Zi Yuan's palm had sunk right into the block's surface without even cracking it, almost like she was pressing down on a fluffy pillow. And when Zi Yuan pulled out her palm, there was perfect palm print right at the center of the block. Li Yundong lifted the block and inspected the palm print. Indeed, there wasn't a single crack surrounding the palm print. And when he ran a finger through the indentation of the palm print, it felt smooth, as though the palm print was carved out.
Li Yundong set the marble block back down. "How on earth did you do that?"
Zi Yuan smiled. "Come. Let's talk inside." She turned and walked back into the apartment.
Li Yundong picked up the marble block and studied the palm print again. He couldn't deny it. This was some pretty amazing shit.
"Yeah. Keep staring at it. Maybe you'll be able to improve your skills if you stare at it for twenty years."
Li Yundong glared at Ruan Hongling, who was standing in front of the sliding door, smirking at him. The girl looked way too smug for his liking. Li Yundong dropped the marble block and stormed past Ruan Hongling into the living room.
When he entered, Zi Yuan was already sitting on the couch, waiting for him.
Li Yundong took a seat on the floor. "How?" Li Yundong pointed towards the balcony. "How did you do it?"
Ruan Hongling had stepped into the apartment as well and was now closing the sliding door.
"Qi is in a lot of ways similar to water," Zi Yuan said, looking at Li Yundong. "Water is one of the most powerful forces of nature. I'm sure you know what water is capable of."
Images of strong waves and tsunamis came to mind.
"Water is a versatile substance, you see," Zi Yuan said. "It can slip through cracks. It can take any form or any shape. It can nourish and heal. But, it can also be highly destructive. Even so, there are two ways in which water can be destructive, as illustrated by what you and I both did to the marble block just now."
Zi Yuan paused, probably to make sure that she had Li Yundong's full attention. Li Yundong sat up straighter and looked into her eyes.
"The key difference lies in how our Qis behaved when we struck the marble block," Zi Yuan continued. "Yours is like a tidal wave, smashing through things and causing mass destruction. Mine, on the other hand, is like a concentrated but powerful jet capable of causing localized damage." Zi Yuan raised a brow. "But of course, the destructive nature of your Qi is partly due to the Jindan's effect. Like I said earlier, the Jindan has enhanced the strength of your Qi to tremendous levels. In a way, it also made the destructive nature of your Qi more pronounced. However..." Zi Yuan paused again. "With the right training, you can alter the behavior of your Qi easily."
Li Yundong couldn't shake the feeling that he was still missing an important piece of the puzzle. He frowned, "There has to be some way to explain..." He gestured with his hands. "I mean some kind of... of... concept behind how Qi behaves."
Zi Yuan chuckled. "Very inquisitive. I like that."
"You mentioned something about the strength of Qi," Li Yundong said, stroking his chin. "I suppose that's a property of Qi, but I doubt that's the answer I'm looking for."
"Your Qi's strength does play a role, yes," Zi Yuan said. "But you're right, its role is rather minor in this case. The key here is lies in the concentration of your Qi."
Li Yundong looked towards Zi Yuan. "Concentration as in..."
"As in the amount of Qi occupying per unit volume of space inside your meridians."
"Think back to the water analogy. Like I said, your Qi behaves like a tidal wave. And I'm sure you know what a tidal wave does. It crashes and sweeps away anything in its path. Very destructive. But, don't forget that it also occupies a lot of space."
Understanding washed over Li Yundong. "But if I can take the same amount of water and change its form... Like a steady stream of water... A beam..."
"Exactly. The behavior of your Qi—whether it crashes or flows—will influence the overall effect it produces." Zi Yuan smirked. "Before you punch the marble block just now. I deliberately provoked you." Her smirk grew wider. "I got a rise out of you with that remark about you being unable to smash the block. And it worked. Your Qi responded to the state of your emotions by being turbulent instead of concentrated."
Li Yundong snorted. "Sneaky, I'll give you that."
Ruan Hongling sniggered. "Heh! So gullible!"
Li Yundong opened his mouth to argue, but Zi Yuan beat him to it.
"Oh? Is the pot calling the kettle black now?" Zi Yuan said with a raised brow.
Ruan Hongling blushed to the tip of her ears and quickly looked away.
Li Yundong smirked, then looked towards Zi Yuan again. "Why is the concentration of Qi so important? I mean why bother if I can already do a huge amount of damage to my opponent with my Qi."
"For two reasons," Zi Yuan said. "One. Versatility."
Li Yundong stared at Zi Yuan for a moment, then sighed. "Well, I guess that makes sense in the grand scheme of things."
"It isn't hard to see that being versatile is advantageous no matter what situation you're in. After all, why would it be bad if you're able to do more things with your Qi? Don't get me wrong, though. I'm not asking you to change your style." Zi Yuan looked at him pointedly. "Ultimately, you can use your Qi however you want. What I'm asking is for you to learn other ways to use your Qi. That way, you can control the behavior of your Qi and adapt to any situation. If the situation calls for mass destruction, then by all means, make your Qi as turbulent and destructive as possible. But in a situation where finesse—like during a covert operation, for example—is required, knowing how to alter the behavior of your Qi will certainly help you."
Li Yundong nodded. "Fair enough."
"And now the second reason," Zi Yuan said. "Which is far more important than the first."
There was a pregnant pause. Anticipation filled Li Yundong's heart as he waited for Zi Yuan to continue.
"The ability to concentrate your Qi plays a crucial role in the Zhuji phase."
Li Yundong sat up straighter. "How so?"
"It affects the formation of your Vital Orb, you see. In particular, it affects the pureness and structural integrity of your Vital Orb. If your Qi isn't concentrated enough when you try to pass the Zhuji phase, you'll just end up with a Vital Orb that is weak and impure even if you do manage to pass the Zhuji phase. There's actually a term for such Vital Orbs. It's called—"
"Pseudo Vital Orbs," Li Yundong said.
Zi Yuan seemed taken aback. "You know?"
Li Yundong shrugged. Did it count as knowing if the knowledge was only a few hours old? He'd only heard of the term when Su Chan was relaying Ao Wushuang's words to him.
"What do I have to do?" Li Yundong looked at Zi Yuan steadily. "How do I improve my Qi's concentration?"
"You'll have to start from the beginning, of course." Zi Yuan smiled at him.
"From the beginning as in..."
Zi Yuan smirked. "From the ground up. You'll have to learn basic Cultivation Theory."
Theory? Good God. This was like studying for finals all over again. Li Yundong shuddered.
"Why? You scared?" Ruan Hongling taunted.
"No," Li Yundong growled, glaring at Ruan Hongling. Then, he turned to Zi Yuan. "Just wondering if it's really necessary to start from the beginning."
"Unfortunately yes," Zi Yuan said. "The concepts in Cultivation are interrelated. One builds upon the other."
Right. Su Chan had mentioned that too.
"First, I need you to know how everything works. But that’s only possible if you have some basic understanding of Cultivation Theory. After that we can start conditioning your Dantians to perform more advanced Qi-control training. And yes." Zi Yuan looked towards Li Yundong. "Learning how to increase the concentration of your Qi is the highest level of Qi control training, in case you're wondering."
"Before this, you've no doubt only learned how to mobilize your Qi. In other words, you've only learned how to control the movement of your Qi, but not its behavior."
Li Yundong nodded. "Okay. Sounds good." He slapped his thigh and stood up. "When can we start?"
Zi Yuan rose from the couch and, much to his surprise, began walking towards the balcony. "Tomorrow," she said, pausing at the sliding door.
Ruan Hongling brushed past him and stepped onto the balcony.
"Tomorrow?" Li Yundong snorted. "I can start right now."
Zi Yuan turned around to face him. "No. You need to rest tonight."
Li Yundong opened his mouth to ask why, but his mouth clicked shut when he saw Zi Yuan's arched brow.
Right. Because he'd just performed one of the most powerful spells in existence and could barely stand up afterwards. How had he forgotten about that so soon? Oops.
Li Yundong sighed. "Fine. But what will we be doing tomorrow?"
Zi Yuan smiled. "We'll be visiting a bookstore."
Li Yundong gaped at her. "A bookstore?"
"Yes, Xin Hua Bookstore," Zi Yuan answered coolly. "How are you supposed to learn Cultivation Theory if you don't have the right book?"
"A book?" Li Yundong chuckled in disbelief. "And Xin Hua Bookstore? Seriously? I can't believe the secrets to Cultivation can be found in a place we buy crappy comic books!"
Ruan Hongling giggled but then quickly masked her laughter with a cough. Li Yundong shot the girl an amused look and found that she was blushing.
"Why's that so surprising?" Zi Yuan smiled at Li Yundong. "In fact, it's sold everywhere."
Li Yundong felt as though he had to pick up his jaw from the floor. "Okay. Which book are you even talking about?"
If Kama Sutra was part of the book list, then this whole learning-Cultivation-Theory thing might not be as bad as he thought.
Zi Yuan smirked. "You'll know tomorrow. Rest well." Zi Yuan opened the sliding door and stepped onto the balcony. Ruan Hongling followed, and soon, the two women disappeared in two flashes of green light.
Li Yundong stared at the empty balcony and sighed. So it was back to square one, huh? Well, if he was being completely honest, square one was looking an awful lot like square zero at this point.