Chapter 134 (1): This Year
On the summit of Horizontal Mountain was a small temple with no plaque hanging over the entrance. Outside the temple was a massive and lush cypress tree that seemed to have been there since ancient times.
The area outside the temple was brightly lit by a series of lanterns, and there were around a dozen men and women who appeared to be servants gathered outside the temple in small groups, chatting quietly with one another.
Inside the temple were five or six men of ages ranging from 20 to 40 who were drinking with one another. Their faces were flushed red with the alcohol that they consumed, and peals of laughter were ringing out incessantly, while a series of opened wine jugs were strewn all over the ground.
These men appeared to have come from noble backgrounds, as evidenced by their speech and mannerisms, and they were discussing all types of topics, including politics and recent events.
In a drunken state, one of the men stripped down to expose his upper body, then raised his wine cup up high as he turned to the statue of the Azure Maiden and chortled, "I don't care if you're a god or a spirit, I'm not afraid! If you dare to reveal yourself, then I have the courage to invite you to drink with us!
“Azure Maiden, if you're willing to step down from your pedestal tonight, then that would be sure to make for a fantastic story, and you'll be revered for generations to come! To you, Azure Maiden!”
The drunken man was stumbling around unsteadily as he threw his head back to consume his cup of wine, but most of it spilled onto his body and the ground.
His friends were constantly throwing jibes at him, and one of them was emboldened by the alcohol, declaring that he was going to carry the Azure Maiden statue down from the pedestal and sleep with it that night.
In doing so, he would be sleeping with a goddess, and that was a story that he would've been able to tell for a very long time. His blasphemous words drew an even louder chorus of laughter from the group of men, but at the same time, an inaudible sigh rang out within the temple.
A gentle breeze blew past, and the group of men continued to drink, with none of them sensing anything amiss.
Halfway up the mountain, Chen Ping'an was in the midst of his standing meditation when his attention was suddenly drawn to something, and he looked down to find Xie Xie approaching him on the ground below with a branch in her hand.
Chen Ping'an was just about to get down from the branch that he was standing on when Xie Xie raised her head to look up at him with a smile, and she waved her branch around as she said in her naturally seductive voice, "There's no need for you to come down, we can have a chat up there."
As soon as her voice trailed off, she began to rush forward in an agile manner before springing up and treading onto a large tree. Using the tree as a launching pad, she sprang toward another tree, and by repeating this process, she was able to quickly rise up through the air. After just a few steps, she had already arrived on a branch near the one that Chen Ping'an was perched on, and it was clear that she was not just some ordinary, untrained girl.
Xie Xie turned to the side as she sat down onto the branch, swinging her feet back and forth as she said with a smile, "You're a martial artist, while I'm a cultivator, so we're not quite the same. In the eyes of the arrogant cultivators, martial artists are just people with no aptitude for cultivation, so they were forced to settle for something inferior and turn to martial arts instead.
“That's why the nine tiers of martial arts are denounced as the nine lowly tiers. Essentially, cultivators are like formal officials of the imperial court, while martial artists can be likened to lowly informal officials, and the former looks down on the latter, ultimately resulting in mutual hostility and resentment."𝘣𝘦𝘥𝘯𝑜𝘷𝘦𝘭.𝑐𝑜𝑚
"Why are you telling me all of this?" Chen Ping'an asked.
Xie Xie set the branch in her hand horizontally down across her legs, then replied in a direct and straightforward manner, "It seems like Cui Dongshan has truly run out of options, and he's desperately trying to explore any option that he can. He approached me in private and told me that if I can put in a good word for him with you, even if you continue to refuse to accept him as your student, he'll still give me a treasure.
“Of course, I wanted that ownerless flying sword of his, but he refused to give it to me. Instead, he was only willing to promise me a bamboo flute after I did his bidding. He showed me the flute, and it was a genuine Fish Bug Flute, which was once part of the Lu Empire's secret imperial collection.
“It was one of the tokens that represented the alliance forged between a sect and the Lu Empire's first-ever emperor, and as a woman, I'm naturally fond of all of the beautiful things in this world, so that's why I came to find you."
Seeing as he had company, Chen Ping'an ceased his standing meditation and also sat down onto his branch with an upright posture, looking directly at Xie Xie as he prompted, "I'm listening, please continue."
Xie Xie smiled as she replied, "That's all I had to say. I only brought up the differences between martial artists and cultivators as an ice-breaker to kick off the conversation. To tell you the truth, it's been very cathartic for me to see Cui Dongshan being turned away by you over and over again, but now that I've been tasked with putting in a good word for him, I have no idea what to do.
“I'm worried that you'll turn me down without even hearing what I have to say. If that happens, then that Fish Bug Flute that I've been promised will slip through my hands."
Chen Ping'an nodded as he said, "If Cui Dongshan asks, then I'll tell him that you've already put in a good word for him. If possible, would you be able to tell me more about matters related to martial arts?"
Xie Xie's examined Chen Ping'an's face through narrowed eyes, as if she were trying to see right through him, and she replied in a gentle voice, "When it comes to matters related to martial arts, everything that I know is just hearsay anyway, so there's no reason why I can't share this information with you.
“The reason I know about some of these basic concepts is because for cultivators, the Lower Five Tiers concern the refinement of the body, so there's a lot of overlap with martial arts training, and that's also why they're referred to as the Lower Five Tiers."
She extended a finger and pointed at a few parts of Chen Ping'an's body as she continued, "There are over 300 acupoints in the human body, and they're all interconnected, like a winding mountain range.
“For martial artists, the first tier is the Clay Embryo Tier, and at that tier, one needs to find the qi within, then help it locate the most suitable acupoint for it to dwell in. This is where the disparity in aptitude between martial arts practitioners is reflected. Surely someone has told you about this before, right?"
Chen Ping'an was listening attentively to Xie Xie's description, and upon hearing her question, he replied, "I have heard about this in the past, but I don't mind listening to it a few more times, so please continue, and there's no need to consider whether I've already heard something before."
Xie Xie was unconsciously patting the branch sitting on her lap as she raised her chin slightly and cast her gaze toward an even higher spot than the branch that Chen Ping'an was situated on. "The so-called martial arts prodigies are those who can find that burst of qi at a very young age, and select an important acupoint for that burst of qi to reside in, rather than some insignificant acupoint in an obscure part of the body.
“In fulfilling these two prerequisites, one will have an inherent advantage over others. It would be like someone taking over a small hill in the wilderness, or an unfrequented graveyard, while someone else has taken over a prosperous town like Red Candle Town, and there's even someone who's taken over the capital city of the Great Li Empire. Those three are naturally in completely different positions.
“The third deciding factor on whether one is a martial arts prodigy or not is the thickness, density, and length of that burst of qi in their body. Even if your acupoint is the equivalent of the Great Li Empire's capital, if you don't have the ability to tap into your potential, then it will all have been for naught. Does that make sense to you?"
"It does," Chen Ping'an replied.
"The bonded flying sword that Cui Dongshan had been referring to is a flying sword that is nurtured within the bonded acupoint of a swordsman. Such a flying sword is fused as one with the soul of the swordsman, and when it flies out of the swordsman's acupoint to cut down an enemy, it will take on a substantial form, but upon returning to the acupoint, it will revert back to an intangible form, so it's quite a profound object.
“My master once told me that the acupoints in the human body can be likened to small worlds in that they possess properties similar to pocket treasures. If one can fully harness their bonded acupoint through cultivation, then they'll be able to fit anything in the acupoint, regardless of whether that be a flying sword, or even a treasure as massive as a mountain.
“For martial artists, the key to reaching the second tier is to expand the pathways in one's body with the bonded acupoint as the starting point, expanding and smoothing out the narrow and rugged meridians into official roads. Why is it that there are so many types of martial arts in the world? The reason for this lies in the different paths that one can take.
“One's starting point, the paths that they take, the shortcuts that they follow... Each type of martial art has its own secret method that cannot be passed on to outsiders. For example, the meridians opened up by martial arts who practice fist techniques will be completely different from the ones opened up by those who specialize in using different types of weapons.
“Chen Ping'an, I can tell that you're currently establishing a foundation in the second tier, and that's why you're working so tirelessly in your walking meditation, standing meditation, and fist technique practice. At your rate of progression, I'm sure you'll be able to reach the third tier very soon. By the way, can you tell me where your bonded acupoint is?"
"No," Chen Ping'an refused with a shake of his head.
"Why so stingy?" Xie Xie grumbled with a scornful look on her face.
However, she then thought of the predicament that Cui Chan was in, and she immediately felt like it was only normal for Chen Ping'an to turn down her request, given his personality. To put it in rather unflattering terms, Chen Ping'an's personality was like a rock in a latrine, and it was as stinky as it was unyielding. On the flip side, one could also say that he possessed a resolute personality and unshakeable resolve.
"What makes you think that I should be able to reach the third tier very soon?" Chen Ping'an suddenly asked.
Xie Xie replied, "Martial artists rely solely on that burst of qi within their bodies. Essentially, a martial artist attains destructive power at the cost of harming their own body. If a martial artist wants to extend their lifespan, then they have to reach the sixth tier as soon as possible. Once they get there, they'll be able to nurture their soul every day in order to reciprocate their body.
“If a martial artist remains at the second or third tier for too long, then that innate burst of qi will become more and more depleted. Each time they engage in battle against someone and sustain severe injuries, some more of that qi would seep away. Hence, there are countless idiots who have killed themselves through their martial arts training.
“For martial artists from wealthy clans, they're able to treat their injuries by bathing in water infused with precious medicinal ingredients, but that doesn't address the root of the problem, and they're unable to truly nurture their souls through such means.
“Even though it's impossible to attain immortality through the pursuit of martial arts, once you get to the pinnacle of martial arts, reaching the ninth tier or even the legendary 10th tier, you'll be able to easily live for a century or two."
"I don't think that's entirely correct," Chen Ping'an countered. "Martial arts practitioners who possess outstanding aptitude can seek to climb up the ranks quickly, but for someone like me with mediocre aptitude, the more I hurry, the more prone I am to making mistakes, so it's better for me to be slow and steady with each step that I take.
“As long as I don't make any mistakes, I'll be heading in the right direction. Besides, I'm not practicing training martial arts to pursue those lofty tiers. I'm merely doing this to... strengthen my own body."
At the end, Chen Ping'an decided to go with a more euphemistic explanation rather than telling the truth, which was that he was practicing martial arts for the sake of survival.
After what Cai Jinjian had done to him, not only had he been deprived of any chance to pursue the path of cultivation, his body was left in terrible condition as well. During the battle on Go Table Mountain, the injuries that he had suffered had resulted in the complete eradication of the lifespan that he had painstakingly accumulated.
Thankfully, throughout the rest of the southbound journey, Chen Ping'an had managed to establish a foundation once again through extensive daily walking and standing meditation, and he could clearly sense an improvement in his physical condition. His body was like a dilapidated old house that was leaking wind everywhere, but it wasn't a completely lost cause, and its condition could still be improved through some crude repair jobs.
Xie Xie smiled as she said, "Everyone experiences a different rate of progression in martial arts. If you feel like it's better to take the slow and steady route, then I'm sure that's fine."
As a cultivator, Xie Xie didn't know much about martial arts training to begin with, and she often habitually applied cultivation concepts to martial arts training. Even though she had seen and experienced more than Zhu He, she was definitely not as familiar with the fine nuances of martial arts training as a fifth tier martial artist like Zhu He.
Furthermore, the patriarch of the Li Clan on Fortune Street had personally praised Zhu He as a brilliant martial arts teacher, and that was sufficient testament to how outstanding Zhu He was at instructing others in martial arts training.
However, Zhu He was limited by the fact that he had lived in the small town his entire life, so just like the vast majority of martial artists in the world, he firmly believed that the ninth tier was already the very pinnacle for martial artists, and that was why he referred to the ninth tier as the End Tier.
In reality, there was still a 10th tier above the ninth tier. The two tiers were separated by only a single number, but the disparity between the two was massive, even more so than the gulf between the sixth tier and the ninth tier.
Martial arts training was completely unrelated to the pursuit of the Great Dao, so even if a martial artist were to attain a body that was even more resolute than the indestructible vajra body of Buddhism, it would still be quite difficult for them to accomplish much. Setting aside everything else, their short lifespan was a massive obstacle that stood in their way.
A curious look appeared on Chen Ping'an's face as he said, "I've always thought that cultivators like yourself were transcendent and carefree beings who stand above all of us ordinary people, yet you just mentioned that even cultivators have to engage in refinement of the body. Why is that?"
Back in the town, Ning Yao had once warned him that even though people like Cai Jinjian of Dawn Cloud Mountain and Fu Nanhua of Old Dragon City were bound by the restrictions of the town, their physical bodies were still far superior to those of the average person, and either of them would've been able to easily kill him with a single punch. In contrast, it would be very difficult for Chen Ping'an to kill a cultivator like them unless he struck them in a vital region.