Su Chan was on tenterhooks. Over fifteen minutes had passed since Li Yundong began the exercise, yet he wasn't showing any reactions at all. That was not a good sign. Not at all.
Guanxiang is an exercise that involves visualization and imagination. It is essentially Qi sculpting, where one shapes their Qi using their Spirit. The very nature of the exercise itself pretty much guarantees some kind of visceral reaction to the products of the visualization: disgust; amusement; joy; anger; sadness. There had to be something. So why wasn't Li Yundong reacting? Unless...
Oh, no... what if he couldn't visualize a single thing? Wouldn't the Jindan be wasted on him if it turned out that he didn't have an aptitude in Cultivation?
It would indeed.
In the world of Cultivation, talent was an important factor for reaching the top. As such, pretty much all the legendary Cultivators out there were prodigies: Zhenren Bai He from the Zhengyi Taoist School; Tianzun Wu Shang of the Danyang Sect; Master Yuan Kong of the Zen Sect.
Speaking of prodigies...
She even knew of one back home. Indeed, the Mystical Silver Fox from the Fox Zen School was a rare talent, one that would only appear once every few centuries.
Could Li Yundong stand shoulder to shoulder with these legends?
But these were all incredibly gifted individuals with nearly insurmountable talent! What if... What if Li Yundong just didn't have it. And dammit, why was he still not showing any reactions? Had it really been twenty minutes since he began the exercise? Maybe he wasn't focusing? She stole a glance at Li Yundong and examined his Qi. Everything seemed to be working fine. He was in a deep meditative state. There was no mistake in that. Wait... what if he couldn't even perform Guanxiang??
Then there was no way he could—
No, she mustn't think that. He was so smart. And he had a pretty intuitive grasp of everything I taught him so far…
He had to be able to visualize something...
Argh! Su Chan gripped her hair. But what if he came up with some lame object? There was no way he could become a legendary Cultivator by visualizing spheres, pyramids, or Tao forbid, cubes. Maybe he really was completely inept—
Faith, Chan'er, Su Chan chastised herself. Faith! This was ridiculous. She was ridiculous. Twenty minutes ago, she was so sure that he would become a great Cultivator. Now look at her! What would Master say if she saw her like this?
Su Chan let go of her hair and stared at Li Yundong's face.
Okay, fine. He didn't really have to become a legendary Shenxian. He could just be... hmm... maybe a wandering Cultivator? Wasn't that good? They could both live freely and roam the world for the rest of their lives. Yep. Becoming a Shenxian was overrated. Totally overrated.
But wait… I promised myself that I'd turn him into a great Cultivator! I can't go back on that promise... Su Chan pounded her head with both fists and mewled.
She stopped doing a number on her skull when several more horrifying thoughts crossed her mind. What if he couldn't even pass the Zhuji phase? What if he didn't even have what it takes to become a wandering Cultivator?
Su Chan nearly burst into tears at those thoughts.
A minute later, Su Chan regained her composure and made her resolve. She wouldn't give up no matter what. If it turned out that he really didn't have the aptitude to be a great Cultivator, then she would take him back to the Fox Zen School, and then... and then beg her master to unlock Li Yundong's Third Eye! Yes, that's what she would do. Even if she had to be severely punished for such a request.
Li Yundong was having the time of his life.
Mountains, rivers, the sky, the earth, the moon, and even the stars! Never before had he seen all these things so vividly and so up close! It was as though he could realign the galaxies with just his thoughts alone! Was this what being an omnipotent creator felt like?
Hmm... I wonder if it's possible to visualize the great Buddha...
Li Yundong willed the clouds, which he eventually understood to be the visual representation of his Qi, to form the shape of the great Buddha. The clouds rumbled and roiled before they shot upwards. All of a sudden, Li Yundong felt as though his head was about to blow apart; like the top of his head was the cover of a pressure cooker.
The clouds ceased roiling the moment he stopped.
Perhaps it was a bad idea to visualize the Buddha? Whoops?
But why not? Was it blasphemous to do so?
Well. What a bummer. He'd always wanted to meet the great Buddha. Oh well. Maybe he could go for the next best thing — the Buddha's lotus throne.
The clouds started to shift again. They moved in a somewhat arbitrary and chaotic manner. Slowly, they formed a clump. That definitely did not look like a lotus throne. Then he lost control over the clouds; the clump disintegrated as the clouds drifted apart.
Weird, he thought. That didn't happen with the other objects. None of this added up. He was able to shape the clouds into a galaxy and then hold the shape for a long time. But when he tried to visualize the lotus throne earlier, the shape wouldn't hold as though the clouds had turned into repelling magnets.
Maybe he lost his touch?
Li Yundong shifted the clouds again. Su Chan's beautiful figure came into view. Well, no problems there. Right. So he hadn't lost his touch. But what's up with the lotus throne then? Why couldn’t he hold its shape? Was it because it was related to the Buddha? Was it blasphemous to visualize the lotus throne as well?
Li Yundong tried again. This time, instead of a clump, he got something that was maybe... 70% similar to a lotus throne? Still, he struggled to hold its shape. Seconds later, the clouds flew apart again. But there was no rumbling thunder or roiling clouds like when he tried to visualize the Buddha.
Maybe I just need to focus more… What did Bruce Lee say again? That one should empty one's mind? Okay... phew. Focus, focus, focus! A while later, the clouds morphed into a pretty decent replica of a lotus throne. Pieces of lotus leaves and petals crept out from the edge of the shape. Surprisingly, he had figured out the trick to hold the lotus throne's shape in place — complete immersion and concentration. In other words, the mind had to be empty before he even began. Thanks, master Bruce Lee. You deserved to be called a legend.
He couldn't help but feel as though the lotus throne was lacking something; it was too empty on top.
He could embellish it with lotus seeds! He bet that would be pretty cool. The great Buddha might appreciate it too.
Tiny dots of bright light burst out from the dark, lotus-throne-shaped cloud. The dots dimmed slightly but not completely, after which they glowed steadily with no signs of waning.
It didn't take Li Yundong long to realize that the bright dots were precisely the lotus seeds he wished. He laughed, then stared at his own handiwork.
I wonder what it feels like to touch—
The lotus throne closed up before he even completed the thought; it was as though the lotus throne could read his mind.
Okay, this is definitely weird. It didn’t escape him that the lotus throne behaved differently from the other objects and things that he'd visualized. He had a vague feeling that this was because the lotus throne had something to do with the Buddha.
Fine, I won't touch it—
Again, the strangest thing happen; the lotus bud opened to reveal the lotus throne. These clouds are linked to my mind somehow.
Well, at least he got the memo now — the lotus throne didn't like to be touched.
So. What was he supposed to do now then?
He stared at the lotus throne. Holding its shape felt pretty much effortless now. Still, a bit more practice couldn't hurt. With that, Li Yundong dismissed the lotus throne and allowed the clouds to fly apart. Then, he visualized the lotus throne again, trying to form the shape quicker this time.
Practice makes perfect, right?
Some time around Su Chan's 500th "what if he's really inept" and maybe her 1000th "faith, Chan'er", she saw Li Yundong's body go taut. A second later, his eyes shot open and he began gasping for dear life. His eyes were glassy as though he couldn't come to terms with whatever he'd just experienced.
Depending on the exact circumstances, that could be a good or bad sign.
Su Chan scrambled towards him.
"What is it, Yundong?" Su Chan said in a hurry. "What did you see?"
Li Yundong didn't answer her right away. More like he couldn't; he seemed to be in great shock, like he was traumatized, or scared.
Surely that was a good sign?
A cube couldn't be that scary.
Li Yundong recovered after a while, then gave her a strange look, though he didn’t say anything.
The suspense was driving her nuts.
"Tell me, tell me!" Su Chan said anxiously.
"I saw..." His eyes seemed to glaze over again. "I saw a lot of things..."
Su Chan's heart sank to the pit of her stomach. Oh, no... This couldn't possibly be good. Visualizing a complex object during Guanxiang would take a toll on the mind. It was quality and complexity that mattered, not quantity.
"What things? What did you see?"
"Birds... animals... Uh... insects..." Li Yundong said. "Then I saw mountains, rivers, the moon, stars, galaxies... Well, pretty much everything we see in life, I guess."
Su Chan's heart sank further. Sure, these things weren't spheres or cubes, but they were still relatively straightforward to visualize. Although mountains and rivers are large objects, they are inanimate. Birds, insects, and other animals are animate, but they have no soul. For a Cultivator's aptitude to be truly tested, the attempt at Guanxiang needs to involve objects that are complex in both a physical and spiritual sense. A living person would be—
"And I saw you too!"
Wait, what? He saw me? He saw me!!!
Su Chan grabbed Li Yundong's arm.
"Really, really, really? What did I look like? Did it look like me?"
Li Yundong's grin filled Su Chan heart with relief.
"Of course! The girl I saw there looked exactly like you!" Li Yundong chuckled. "What, did you think I'd forget what you look like that easily? No way!"
Oh, Tao! She could really, really, kiss him right now. Oh, screw it. Su Chan threw her arms around his neck and kissed him passionately.
When the kiss ended, Su Chan stared at Li Yundong.
"Oh, Yundong! You have no idea how happy that makes me!"
Su Chan sniffed and felt his hands cupping her cheeks a second later. Then, she felt his warm lips press against her forehead.
"Did I really do well?"
Su Chan bobbed her head up and down. "Yes! Yes, you did great! Much better than I expected!"
Li Yundong chuckled, but then fell silent seconds later. That strange look on his face returned.
"There's something else..." he said.
"What is it?" Su Chan asked warily. She had a feeling she might not like what he was about to say.
"Something weird happened when I tried to visualize the Buddha..."
Su Chan felt all the air leave her lungs in a long and powerful gush. Li Yundong kept on talking, something about rumbling clouds or roaring thunder. She wouldn't know; she was too busy trying not to have a panic attack.
H- he tried to... t- the B- Buddha...
"Hey, Su Chan, you alright? You look a little pale."
"Please tell me you're joking..." Su Chan said, her voice coming out breathless.
"About? Oh! That wasn't a joke. I did try to visualize Buddha," he said, pausing. "Well, try being the operative word here, since I clearly failed. Like I said, things got super weird. Like the clouds suddenly started to move around like there was a hurricane or something. There was thunder everywhere too. Then the clouds shot up higher and higher... Oh! Here's the weirdest part, I felt like my head was about to explode..."
Su Chan couldn't listen to this anymore.
She smacked Li Yundong's arm.
"Visualizing the Buddha?" she yelled. "Are you out of your mind? What were you thinking!"
Li Yundong winced and began rubbing his arm. "Err... What's wrong with that? I mean... is it... blasphemous or something?"
What's wrong with—
Su Chan gaped Li Yundong, who was looking back at her as though all was right in the world, as though his soul hadn't nearly been ripped to shreds.
Oh, for the love of the Tao... He really didn't have a clue, did he?
"Yundong, never ever visualize a deity when performing Guanxiang," Su Chan said sternly.
"Oh, so it is blasphemous, then," Li Yundong said.
"It's not about that," Su Chan said, shaking her head. "When you visualize a deity during Guanxiang, a connection will form between your soul and the deity's power! If you maintain that connection for too long, the deity's power will overwhelm your soul and you'll be wiped out! It would be like you never even existed!" Su Chan took a breath, then exhaled shakily. "I honestly don't know how you even survived it!"
Li Yundong winced and rubbed the back of his neck. "Um... well... I kinda figured it was a terrible idea the moment I started doing in... I mean, after the thunder and everything."
Su Chan's jaw dropped open. This man and his dumb luck!
"Maybe you're so dumb that the universe took pity on you," Su Chan mumbled. "That's why you're always so lucky."
"I heard that," Li Yundong growled. "Don't think I won't spank you if you mock me again..."
The threat might have worked if he wasn't grinning at her.
A giggle burst through Su Chan's lips. She couldn't help it. Being around Li Yundong was always fun.
"Just remember not to visualize a deity again the next time you perform Guanxiang," Su Chan said. "Visualize the lotus throne if you can't find anything else to visualize."
Ha. I bet that would be enough to challenge him for a while.
In fact, that was the final task to complete the Lianqi phase.
Li Yundong laughed. "The lotus throne? Well, been there, done that. Pretty tough at first, I'll give you that," he said. "Clouds keep tryna fly apart. But I got the hang of it. Speaking of... Some weird shit happened when I visualized the lotus throne for the ninth time. The whole thing blew up in my face! Can you believe it? That's why I woke up anyway..."
Su Chan tuned out the rest of his words.
N- nine? Did he say nine times? Oh my God…
Her head was spinning. She had to sit down. No, wait. She was already sitting down.
A hand waved in front of her face.
"Hey, Su Chan... Are you alright?"
Right. She must've been staring off into space.
"I haven't frightened the life out of you, have I?" Li Yundong said.
Su Chan stared at Li Yundong's face, trying to get her hanging jaw to work.
"Y- you visualized the lotus throne. N- nine times?" she asked. All of a sudden, every ounce of shock left her system. She scrambled towards Li Yundong and grabbed his shoulders. "Nine times in a row! Are you absolutely certain? Tell me the truth, okay! Don't lie just to impress me!" Su Chan yelled, shaking him slightly.
This was big, really big, and she had to know. She had to be sure.
A look of displeasure flit across Li Yundong's face. He looked utterly offended. Never had Su Chan imagined that seeing Li Yundong offended would bring her this much pleasure, but it did. It really did, because it meant that he hadn't been lying. This was real.
"Hey! Who’s lying! You don't believe me? How could you!"
Su Chan released his shoulders and sat back down limply. A smile bloomed on her cheeks. It was beyond a shadow of a doubt now.
Li Yundong was a genius in Cultivation.