"Are you kidding me right now?" Li Yundong stared at the book in Zi Yuan's hand. They were now inside Xin Hua Bookstore at the medical section, where stacks of medical texts—ancient and modern—filled a shelf that was twice as tall as he was. Apparently, the Canon of the Yellow Thearch was the only book he needed to learn the basics of Cultivation. Nope. Not Kama Sutra. Dang.
Zi Yuan smirked. "Why are you so surprised?"
"It's a medical text!" And an ancient one at that.
Okay, well, the text had its merits, he supposed. In fact, he was pretty convinced that the Canon was an effective cure for a chronic illness that had plagued mankind for generations—insomnia.
Please. Nobody could go one minute into the book without being lulled into sleep.
But still. The Canon of the Yellow Thearch? Seriously?
The Yellow Emperor wasn't even a Cultivator! How could he possibly write a book that held all the secrets to Cultivation?
"It is a medical text, sure," Zi Yuan said casually. "But it also covers all the basic concepts in Cultivation Theory. Things like the Yin-Yang Principle, the five elements, pulse reading, Nutrition Theory, the anatomical properties of your meridians, even the theory behind Qi control. It's all in there."
Li Yundong took the book from Zi Yuan's hand and stared at it for a moment. "Fine," he said with a sigh. "I'll go through it carefully."
He'd do anything to become stronger.
"You are no doubt surprised that the tenets of Cultivation can be found in an ancient medical text?" Zi Yuan asked, sounding amused.
Li Yundong looked up from the book. "Well. I just find it a bit hard to reconcile with real-world facts, you see?"
There was a loud snort, which sounded totally derisive and bitchy. Li Yundong glanced to his side just in time to see Ruan Hongling rolling her eyes at him.
"Many practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine have read this book," Li Yundong said, glaring at Ruan Hongling. "Yet none of them became badass Cultivators. That doesn't make sense to me."
Zi Yuan laughed out loud. Li Yundong's gaze snapped to her. Did she just... Did she just laugh?
"Critical thinking and observation are important skills for Cultivators to have," Zi Yuan said, nodding approvingly. "Keep up the inquisitiveness."
Li Yundong shrugged casually.
"And to answer your question," Zi Yuan said, taking the book from him. She spent the next few seconds flipping through the book until she stopped at one page. "Take a look at this."
Li Yundong took the book again. There was a long passage on the open page. Wait, on second thought... It wasn't even a passage. It was a poem. "What's in here?"
"Most readers would just skim through this part, thinking that the author was just waxing poetic. But that poem actually contains a deep principle in Cultivation." Zi Yuan tapped a finger on the open page. "This is only one of the many, many examples of things like that." Zi Yuan removed her finger from the page. "The point is, yes, this book is accessible to the public. A lot of people have it on their shelves, that's true. But not many comprehend its true depths."
Li Yundong closed the book and nodded. Bring it on, then…
"How much do you know about the history of our school?" Zi Yuan asked. "The Zhengyi School."
Li Yundong was surprised by the question, but he didn't let it show. "Not much." Well, he did try to research it when Ruan Hongling came knocking on their door the other day, but he didn't learn much from his searches.
"Some time during the transition between the Spring and Autumn period and the Warring State period, Lao Tzu authored and published his famous work, Tao Te Ching."
"Aha. That I do know," Li Yundong said.
Guess those boring lectures in the History of Chinese Literature hadn't been a total waste after all. Hooray.
Zi Yuan nodded. "Then you must know that the contents in Tao Te Ching eventually inspired a religious movement called Taoism. Zhang Daoling, a brilliant scholar, read and understood Tao Te Ching during his early teens. When he grew up, he decided to start a school to spread the teachings of Lao Tzu."
Li Yundong slapped his thigh. "I know this one! It's called the Way of the Five Pecks of Rice!"
He read about that during one of his internet searches.
"That's right. Our school has a lot of names. The Way of the Five Pecks of Rice. The Way of the Celestial Master. But we generally go by the Zhengyi School these days," Zi Yuan said. "Ours is the first ever Taoist school to exist. A lot of other Cultivation schools came into existence after ours did."
"Do you know how Zhang Daoling managed to gain so many followers and worshippers?"
A light bulb went off inside his head. "A healer. He was a healer, wasn't he?"
Zi Yuan nodded. "Correct. Back in the days, there were two ways to win the respect of the people and make them revere you. The first was through the practice of the healing arts. And the second was—"
Li Yundong snapped his fingers. "Martial arts..."
"Exactly," Zi Yuan said, nodding approvingly. "However, there is a key difference between the two."
"Uh… Hello? They are both completely different arts?" Li Yundong gave Zi Yuan a dry look. "I'm not that stupid, you know."
Zi Yuan chuckled. "No. That's not what I meant. I was referring to the difference in terms of the attention they garner from the people."
Li Yundong frowned. "How so?"
"Well. A great martial artist will be revered and respected, that's true. But…" Zi Yuan raised a finger. "A great healer is more likely to be loved, trusted, and worshipped by people."
Li Yundong shrugged. "That makes sense, I suppose. Martial arts is an art of taking lives, but the art of healing is the art of preserving lives."
Zi Yuan nodded. "Which is why most great Cultivators began their Cultivation journey as healers."
"Which is also why I'm going to absorb everything in this," Li Yundong said, waving the Canon of The Yellow Thearch.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Big deal. I've memorized the whole book since I was seven!" Ruan Hongling piped in. "I can even recite it backwards in my sleep!"
"The point..." Zi Yuan said, glaring pointedly at Ruan Hongling. "Isn't to memorize everything in the text, but to fully comprehend the concepts it expounds." Zi Yuan looked towards Li Yundong. "Once you're able to do that, you'll realize that the concepts are all interconnected."
"Okay. Got it," Li Yundong said, placing the book under his armpit. "Now let's get out of here so I can start studying."
Li Yundong walked away from the shelf but then stopped a few steps later. He turned around sheepishly and rubbed the back of his neck. "Um... I forgot to bring money..."
Ruan Hongling burst into laughter. "No money?! Pfft! Look at him, Elder Sister! So pathetic!"
Anger rose in him. He stepped forward and growled, "I've had enough of your attitude, you little bitc—"
"Cut it out! Both of you!" Zi Yuan hissed. Then, she gave Ruan Hongling a hard stare. "You need to stop making my life so difficult, Hongling."
Ruan Hongling snorted and muttered something under her breath. Something about Jindan's Heir and preferential treatment.
"And you, Li Yundong..."
Li Yundong looked away from Ruan Hongling and found Zi Yuan staring at him pointedly.
"Just focus on your mission and don't worry about anything else. Food. Money. Whatever it is, I'll take care of it for you."
Confusion shot through Li Yundong. None of this made sense. "Why are you helping me?"
Zi Yuan regarded Li Yundong for a moment. The coolness behind her gaze made him squirm. God knew he might turn into a human Popsicle if she kept staring at him like that.
"Like I said, I'm seeking an answer in you. A confirmation."
A tiny smile formed on Zi Yuan's lips, then she started shaking her head. "You wouldn't understand even if I tell you."
"Try me," Li Yundong shot back.
Zi Yuan sighed, then gave him a hard stare. "Stop asking already. Remember that I'm on your side. That's all you need to know."
Easy for you to say. You're not the one whose life is on the line…
Li Yundong regarded Zi Yuan for a moment. He'd be lying if he said that he didn't feel at least a little bit suspicious about Zi Yuan's motivations.
Why were they helping him? Why the sudden change in attitude? Weren't they trying to kill him and Su Chan just days ago?
But still. Su Chan trusted Zi Yuan...
Li Yundong sighed. "Fine. Thank you so much for your help, Miss Zi Yuan. I owe you one." Li Yundong looked Zi Yuan in the eye. "I'll find a way to repay you some day."
Zi Yuan nodded before turning back to Ruan Hongling. "Hongling, go pay for the book, and then let's get out of here."
"Hey! You still alive in there?"
Ruan Hongling's voice made Li Yundong look up from the Canon. Like last time she was here, Ruan Hongling was perched on the balcony's railing. Li Yundong put down the book and did a quick stretch. The living room was dark and... Wait. It was dark already? When did that happen?
Li Yundong looked sharply towards sliding door. Ruan Hongling was stepping into the apartment on her own. Li Yundong snorted. By all means. Please come in. Make yourself at home.
"Why are you here?" he asked sharply.
"To take care of your dead body if you're dead," Ruan Hongling said offhandedly.
A twinge of annoyance coursed through him. Somehow, this girl just rubbed him the wrong way. "What gave you the idea that I might be dead," Li Yundong said, quirking a brow.
"You haven't left your apartment since you returned from the bookstore, doofus," Ruan Hongling said dryly.
"Since I returned from the..." Li Yundong pondered for a moment. "Wait, what day is today?"
"What a loser." Ruan Hongling rolled her eyes. "We went to the bookstore yesterday morning!"
Which meant he'd spent the whole day and night yesterday reading. The whole day today too, since it was already night time. Wow. Li Yundong never knew he had it in him to be so engrossed in a book.
Maybe the Yellow Emperor deserved a Pulitzer Prize.
Li Yundong cleared his throat. "As you can see, I'm alive and well. Thank you for your concern. The door's over there. Please see yourself out. Goodbye." Li Yundong picked up the book again. "Oh, and please don't slam the door on your way out. You've ruined enough things in my apartment already." Including his mood.
"It's not like I want to be here to see your disgusting face," Ruan Hongling grumbled. "I wouldn't even come here if Elder Sister Zi Yuan hadn't ordered me to check on you."
There was a rustling sound followed by a thud. Ruan Hongling had just placed a huge plastic bag on the coffee table.
Li Yundong opened his mouth to speak. "What's—"
A flash of green light drew Li Yundong's attention to the balcony. Li Yundong sighed inwardly when he saw Zi Yuan stepping into the apartment. "People invent front doors for a reason, you know?"
"Honestly, Hongling. How many times do I have to tell you to watch your temper? How are you ever going to become a good Cultivator if you anger that easily?"
Ruan Hongling sneered, then pointed a finger at him. "It's his fault! He provoked me!"
"Yeah? Well you were asking for it," Li Yundong said coolly.
Ruan Hongling stomped her foot. "You see?! You see?! He keeps saying things like that to provoke me, Elder Sister Zi Yuan!"
"Just..." Zi Yuan pinched the bridge of her nose. "Just keep your mouths shut. Both of you!" Zi Yuan looked towards Li Yundong. "So. You've spent two days and one night going through the text. Do you have a better understanding of how things work now?"
Li Yundong smiled. "As a matter of fact, I do."
Zi Yuan returned his smile and walked around the coffee table. "Oh? Let's hear it then," she said, taking a seat on the couch.
"One of the things I found interesting is that there's actually a link between our five senses and our five Zangs," Li Yundong said. "For example, the eyes are linked to the Liver. So when we close our eyes, it's like closing a valve inside our Liver. We'll feel calmer. Our blood pressure, blood flow rate, and even our body metabolism will decrease too. It also helps preserve our energy and strength."
Zi Yuan smiled and nodded. "Go on."
"And then there's the stuff about the five elements, which I found rather interesting."
Zi Yuan nodded. "What are the five elements then?"
Li Yundong started ticking off the list with his fingers. "Metal. Wood. Water. Fire. Earth."
"And why are they significant?"
"Hah!" Li Yundong clapped his hands together. "This is the part I found the most intriguing." He sat up straighter. "The concept of the five elements can be used to model a wide array of phenomena. Cosmic cycles. The interaction between the five Zangs. And even politics!"
Zi Yuan nodded. "Good. What else?"
"And there's an interesting relationship between the five elements. The first is called the Feeding or Generating Cycle where each element feeds or enhances another. Wood feeds Fire. Fire creates Earth. Earth bears Metal. Metal collects Water. And Water nourishes Wood. And there's a backward cycle as well—the Overcoming Cycle. Wood parts Earth, like how the roots of trees can split the soil on the ground. Earth absorbs Water. Water extinguishes Fire. Fire melts Metal. And Metal cuts down Wood!"
Zi Yuan leaned back in the couch. "Very good. And what about concepts of Traditional Chinese Medicine? What have you learned?"
Li Yundong went on to present his newfound understanding about the Three Treasures—Essence, Qi, and Spirit—and how they were related to each other and to the five Zangs. Then, he told Zi Yuan everything he could remember about the function of each Zangs and how each of them utilizes the components of the Three Treasures to function. He even told her about the stuff he'd learned from his discussions with Su Chan, and then moved on to explain how the Sutai, Lianqi, and the Ningshen phases worked. Finally, he grab his notebook and mapped out every single meridian inside the human body.
When he was done, Zi Yuan was smiling and giving him appreciative nods whereas Ruan Hongling was gaping like a fish.
"What? Did I get everything right?"