CHAPTER 1: FULL RECOVERY
A young man currently occupied a fourth-grade chamber in the cultivation pavilion. The dull glow of his Green Leaf jade was shining softly on the outside of the chamber, both locking the door and indicating that he should not be disturbed.
It had been a full week since Cha Ming returned from the spirit woods, and the fatigue accumulated during the journey had long since faded away, leaving him with a healthy complexion. Huxian was also in the chamber. Regrettably, he couldn’t do much in these cramped conditions. The practice dummies were far too fragile, and they had already gotten three replaced. The latest replacement was accompanied with a firm warning, threatening to ban them from the cultivation pavilion if it happened again.
As a result, all Huxian could do was lounge, sleep, and eat. He showed no interest in reading, leaving only one other activity available: bothering Cha Ming. Unfortunately, Cha Ming was hard at work and couldn’t be disturbed. Sighing, the small fox withdrew a large haunch of roasted meat from his collar. In addition to concealing his identity, the collar conveniently included a hundred-cubic-meter storage space.
Huxian’s storage space also contained a useful feature: a large refrigerator that encompassed half the space. Any food preserved in the refrigerator would maintain its freshness for ten times as long as storage in a normal refrigerator. Huxian speculated that the powerful Mr. Mao Mao also had a ravenous appetite and carried all sorts of delicacies with him whenever he traveled.
After finishing his delicious supper, Huxian decided to eat another one of the tasty ore rocks, the ones containing the interesting crunchy gray chunks. Whenever he ate one, he would always fall fast asleep for at least a day. With every one he ate, he felt his beast crystal growing steadily. The rapid growth would always be followed by a cycle of compression, increasing the density of his beast crystal.
The small crunchy chunks were very delicious, like a dessert at the end of a large meal. He always needed to chew them down to a sandy grit, lest he be left with a stomachache that lasted for days. In addition to the taste, he always felt his fur grow smoother and his skin grow tougher. Lady foxes liked smooth fur and thick skin, right?
Meanwhile, Cha Ming was carefully drawing out a new talisman. This talisman was a defensive talisman called Iron Skin. After using the talisman, the user’s defense would increase drastically, as though he were wearing iron armor on his whole body. Surprisingly, this did not come with any weight impediments and lasted one minute per level of qi condensation of the maker.
To draw the talisman, he was using the Clear Sky Brush. He was also utilizing a higher quality parchment paper, which was waterproof and fireproof and increased the lifespan of the talisman significantly. He intended to sell a good portion of these if he was successful, and there was no poorer marketing strategy than making a product with an inferior appearance. The paper he used was thick and tinged with yellow, like the material used to print hardcover books.
The ink he was using this time was much different from before. The liquid silver ink was heavy like mercury, and it was an all-purpose ink used for pure metal element talismans. The ink was called liquified metal essence. Cha Ming’s talisman crafting skills had reached a point where he could use this kind of high-quality ink freely. In addition, his Clear Sky Brush would never waste any ink, making this slightly more expensive crafting medium a hassle-free choice.
Elemental essence could be obtained at half the price of liquified elemental essence. Besides, he didn’t want to use the liquified elemental essence stored in the Clear Sky Brush. He didn’t even know how much elemental essence he had left, or if there would be any surplus. This essence was crucial in Painting the Skies, an essential component to the Seventy-Two Earthly Transformations Technique.
A large amount of sweat was beading on Cha Ming’s forehead, proving that the complexity of this talisman was much greater than the others he had tried previously. Of course, this didn’t include painting the three-dimensional wood-element rune. After a few more breaths, he finally completed the final stroke of the Iron Skin talisman, after which he collapsed with a smile on his face in exhaustion. The experiment was a success!
Iron Skin was a fifth-grade talisman, a mid-grade talisman one level higher than his current cultivation base. He had previously been unsure if it was possible to complete this grade of talisman, but after departing the forest, he noticed that his level of crafting had once again improved. He had evaluated his level of crafting, using success rates for the various grades of talismans as a benchmark.
He speculated that the increase in skill had something to do with experiencing various lifetimes in his game with Huxian’s mother. The experience had strengthened his soul by a full level, which now exceeded his qi condensation level. He also speculated that the wood body-refining talisman was in essence a fifth-grade talisman as well.
After recovering for some time, Cha Ming exhaled a breath of turbid air. He was now fully recovered, thanks to his strenuous efforts in talisman crafting over the past week. All that remained now was breaking through to the next level.
Cha Ming quickly entered a meditative state, entering his sea of consciousness while observing his dantian from afar. His dantian contained five small lakes of qi, each constrained by thin, invisible membranes. This membrane was a natural restriction that prevented the lake from expanding past its pre-defined borders. A cultivator would need to break past it to increase his level of qi condensation.
Connecting the different lakes together in a circle was a narrow white river. It flowed in a clockwise motion, maintaining the balance between the five lakes. Conversely, five interconnecting black rivers linked the five small lakes from the center. Oddly enough, one of the five rivers was always dry, as though they were taking turns.
Taking a deep breath, he pulled out the crystal essence conversion formation he had bought from Wang Jun, in which he placed a refined crystal essence gem. The gem contained far greater and far purer energy than even mid-grade spirit stones could provide. He drew energy through the formation, which suddenly flooded his dantian with newly created qi. The qi divided itself naturally into five different streams and jointly impacted against the invisible membranes in all five lakes. They did not budge, not even a little.
He wasn’t dejected and continued the process, impacting the five membranes over and over. He knew this restriction was due to his poor talent. Each subsequent breakthrough required more and more effort to materialize. This restriction would continue past qi condensation—establishing his foundation would be a monumental undertaking, and he would have no choice other than to resort to pills to aid him in the future.
Cha Ming continued this process for a full week, finally succeeding on the seventh day. As soon as the five membranes were breached, the room available to fill each lake doubled. They didn’t instantly fill up—that would take some time. Cha Ming also noticed that the room available in both the black and white rivers also doubled, steadily growing along with the five qi pools in his dantian.
Elated with his success, Cha Ming stood up and exhaled a turbid breath full of impurities. He then proceeded to find a new cultivation room, since he had finally reached the fifth level of qi condensation. The living and cultivation conditions in each chamber were not substantially different. However, there were vast differences in the durability of training mannequins. In addition, the cultivation rooms at the fifth level had a strength-recording pillar, which the students could use to test their improvement in the techniques they trained.
Cha Ming spent the remainder of the day testing various techniques on the mannequin to stabilize his cultivation. If he neglected this, his body may not grow fully used to his increase in cultivation, causing infrequently used meridians to get damaged with the sudden introduction of vigorous qi.
Finally, after he was satisfied with the results, he continued practicing fifth-grade talismans for a week and proceeded to sixth-level talismans. All this practice was in preparation for his next goal, the second part of the Seventy-Two Earthly Transformations Technique: Fire Body Refining!
Hong Xin was in a very good mood. Tonight, she was going to see a famous play with Elder Brother Jun, The Prince’s Shadow. The play had been around for two weeks and had received rave reviews. Normally such a play was reserved for the nobility. She had just mentioned the play yesterday in a casual conversation, but the next thing she knew, Elder Brother Jun had procured a pair of tickets!
As such, it was only natural that she spend a whole half day getting ready for their date. She took a scented bath around noon to give enough time for her long black hair to dry. While she could easily dry it with flames, she had heard somewhere that this could damage her hair in the long term. Women valued their appearance immensely, and so she didn’t want to take a chance.
After taking her bath, she went through her dresses and tried to pick something suitable for the occasion. She only had a half dozen pretty dresses, and she was afraid of making Elder Brother Jun lose face. Finally, she settled on a slim green dress covered in vines and beautiful mauve blossoms. The dress was soon matched with a mauve hair clip and earrings.
Naturally, Hong Xin lost track of time. She didn’t notice the soft knocking from downstairs signifying Wang Jun’s arrival.
The door was answered by a smiling Madame Xu. While her daughter had never told her anything, she had long since observed her daughter’s strange behavior: her long absences, her increased attention to her looks, and the light blushing every time she lied to her father when asked why she had gotten home so late.
Today Xin Er had locked herself up in her room for a good half day. Was she possibly getting ready for a formal date? Her mother wondered which young man had taken a fancy to her precious daughter. The names of the various sons around the same age flashed through her mind.
Was it perhaps the master tailor’s son, Ling Tai? No, his temperament didn’t suit her; he wasn’t patient enough to handle her moody daughter. Perhaps Cha Ming? No, she had long seen that they only saw each other as brother and sister. One of his friends would be fine, of course. He was a good boy, and she refused to believe that he would tolerate any bad people in his company.
If this boy Xin Er was interested in ended up being a bad egg, perhaps she could ask Cha Ming to scare him off. Hadn’t Xin Er mentioned that he had gotten very strong since his return from their last trip?
She opened the door quickly and found a handsome young man waiting respectfully at the door with a pleasant smile on his face. Unlike most people in Green Leaf City, the young man had long blond hair with a thin streak of white dangling down from his temple. He was dressed in a simple green robe. A foreigner, perhaps?
He also seems modest, she thought.
“Greetings, you must be Xin Er’s mother, Madame Xu,” said Wang Jun, clasping his hands together and bowing lightly in respect. “My name is Wang Jun, and I’m pleased to make your acquaintance. Is Xin Er ready? We’d agreed to head out at this time.”
Madame Xu smiled at the naïve young boy. He would learn in time.
“She isn’t ready yet,” Madame Xu replied sweetly. “Would you like to come in for a cup of tea while you wait?”
“I would be happy to. Thank you for taking care of me,” Wang Jun replied, following her into the house.
Wang Jun was sitting patiently in front of a small table in the living room. Madame Xu, who was currently pouring tea for herself and the young man, began inquiring about his background.
“So, your name is Wang Jun. I can’t recall there being a Wang family in Green Leaf City. Did you come from abroad?”
“Yes,” said Wang Jun, “I was born in Gold Leaf City, but for business and family reasons I needed to move to Green Leaf City. I consider myself very fortunate, since winter in Green Leaf City is ranked as the seventh most beautiful tourist destination by the Jade Bamboo Conglomerate.” He then took a sip of the tea Madame Xu had poured for him.
“Good tea!” Wang Jun said with a surprised and pleased expression. “This is Pu’er tea from the Jade Magnolia Kingdom. From what I know, it is in very short supply in this city. It warms my heart that you’ve picked out such a precious tea just for me.”
Madame Xu, who had been listening to Wang Jun speaking, suddenly blushed at the compliment. “You’re very knowledgeable about such things despite your young age. Does your family deal in tea trade?”
Wang Jun laughed. “You flatter me. Tea is a hobby of mine, and I take it very seriously. But yes, my family does deal in tea trade, among other things.” He didn’t take the initiative to refill their cups, instead waiting for Madame Xu to do so as the host.
Suddenly, loud footsteps could be heard coming from outside the door. The door was flung open unceremoniously, and a large man in full guard uniform entered the house. He rapidly closed the door behind him, preventing the warm air from leaving the fire-warmed living room.
“Husband, you’re early! Why don’t you have a seat while I serve tea? This young man is taking Xin Er out tonight, and he’s waiting for her to get ready.”
A surprised expression flashed across Hong Jin’s face as his gaze focused on the handsome man in green robes. It was then followed by a look of understanding.
“Give me ten minutes. I’ll go change out of this sweaty uniform.” Hong Jin quickly climbed upstairs and returned quickly. He was wearing maroon robes, and his shoulder-length hair had even been washed and dried. Wang Jun took note that he was either a fire- or water-element cultivator. Judging by Xin Er’s proficiencies, he was likely the former.
Wang Jun, who had only been planning on picking up Xin Er to go to a play, was now sitting in front of both her parents and drinking tea with them. Such a cross examination was a nightmare for any man.
“So, you look young,” Hong Jin said a bit aggressively. “Are you a student?”
“Yes, I am a student at Green Leaf Academy,” Wang Jun replied dutifully. “I also work part-time at the Jade Bamboo Auction House. However, my focus is still on my cultivation and studies.”
“Oh, the Jade Bamboo Auction House? Our eldest son, Hong Ling, works there. Perhaps you know him?” Hong Jin asked.
He’s likely thinking how he can use his son to get more information about me, Wang Jun thought. Hong Ling was becoming increasingly influential in the auction house. He was currently an assistant to one of the managers and was being groomed to take over his position as manager once his boss was promoted.
“Oh, Hong Ling? Yes, I work with him quite frequently. He’s hardworking and very easy to work with,” Wang Jun replied. Meanwhile, like Hong Jin, he was also formulating a strategy. This is the best news I’ve heard all night! he thought. All I need to do is treat Hong Ling very well, and he’ll naturally put in a good word for me. I just need to make sure I get in touch with him before he gives away my position in the company. It wouldn’t do to show off too much; he needed to be modest and introduce himself a bit at a time.
Madame Xu felt very helpless, as she sensed sparks flying between the two clashing individuals. They continued their discussion in a civil manner while repeatedly probing each other for more information.
Suddenly, the front door opened once more, letting in the subject of their current discussion, Hong Ling. He had a smile plastered on his face, as though an event worthy of celebration had occurred.
As he took off his coat, he noticed an unusual and tense atmosphere in the living room. His father was currently beaming at him, while Young Master Wang was looking at him with a warning gaze. Wait, what was Young Master Wang doing in his house? Panicking, he looked to his mother, who had an imploring look.
After taking off his coat, Hong Ling bowed. “Father, Mother, I’m back from work! Young Ma—Manager, what might you be doing here?” Wang Jun relaxed at the introduction. It looked like his insistence on low-key addresses at work was paying off.
“Manager? Didn’t you say you only worked part-time?” asked Hong Jin, taking the opportunity to dig a little deeper.
“My father is a little influential in the company, and I was given a strict business education in my youth. Therefore, I have been taking on managerial duties for the past two years. My coworkers endearingly call me Young Manager,” Wang Jun said, scrambling to make up an excuse on the spot. This information was mostly correct.
“Young Manager is too humble,” Hong Ling chimed in. “Father, Young Manager is very talented and has been at the forefront of many large business deals.”
“No need to exaggerate,” Wang Jun said humbly. “Most of these decisions come from the upper echelons of the company, and I’m only implementing the decisions.” He shot a warning glance at Hong Ling, who seemed like he was going to spurt blood at his shamelessness. After all, he was technically correct. It was just that as the one representing the upper echelons of the company, he was both making decisions and implementing them. He was confident that Hong Ling knew that saying anything right now would be a career-limiting move.
Just as Hong Jin was about to probe deeper, they all heard frantic steps running down the wooden stairs. Both Wang Jun and the rest of the family almost dropped their teacups as they saw the stunning Hong Xin. Her green dress with mauve flowers was accented by her green slippers, mauve earrings, and the mauve hair clip fastening her lustrous black hair behind her head.
She had put a great deal effort into her makeup; her white skin was highlighted with light rouge on her pretty cheeks, and her phoenix eyes were accented with black paint. She was now the spitting image of a beautiful immortal fairy.
“We’re late, we’re late, let’s go!” She quickly rushed up and pulled Wang Jun toward the door, and he didn’t resist. “Father, Mother, I’ll be back later tonight. I love you both!”
Not giving them a chance to reply, she pulled Elder Brother Jun out the door while blushing furiously.
“I’m sorry about that, Elder Brother Jun. This is the first time I’ve ever brought a man home. They are just curious.” Her face was beet red.
Wang Jun chuckled amicably. “No worries. It went all right. I didn’t know Hong Ling was your brother. Fortunately, he put in a good word for me.”
Hearing Wang Jun’s assurances, Hong Xin sighed with relief. Wang Jun smiled. They could finally focus on enjoying a wonderful evening together.
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