Having chased away the exasperating Wei Chang Luo who kept pestering for his promised spiritual treasure of the Spirit Building Realm, Wei Xuan watched the two maidservants prepare the study to rest, before gazing at the floor of the study with an undying interest.
There, a young girl of no more than fourteen years of age dressed in a cotton nightgown sat cross legged on the acacia wood floor, a pile of twenty books of different sizes and thickness scattered all around her.
The girl was picking a random book from the stack, the pair of dull scarlet irises scanning the contents before tossing it back onto the pile with an audible sigh.
Wei Xuan gently spoke from his chair, the book in his hands already folded and laying peacefully on the now replaced drawing table.
“It’s late already, reading for much longer will only harm your eyesight. Go sleep, you can read more tomorrow.”
An Fei looked up towards the smiling minister, before meekly nodding her head and beginning to pick up the books with the assistance of Xiao Wen.
Observing that the maidservants were helping the girl into the bed, Wei Xuan stood from his chair with a sigh, heading towards the door with a light stretch.
“…Father, can you teach me how to cultivate?”
The quiet voice brought the minister to a screeching halt, Wei Xuan looking skyward in thought.
Slowly sliding the door of the study open and quickly excusing his presence, the minister’s voice drifted into the girl’s ears, bringing a satisfied smile to her beautiful countenance.
“…tomorrow! When the sun is up in the sky, Father will teach you how to cultivate.”
The lights within the study grew dark, accompanying the darkness of the winter night in a unified, conjoined enjoyment. Once again, tiny flakes of snow began to descend onto the recently cleared ground, though with the ferocity of a lover’s caress and whispers that wormed into the soul.
A pair of maidservants, a young girl, and a well-experienced minister enjoyed a dreamless, comfortable sleep.
Amongst all of the members residing inside the Wei manor, only a young man lay in bed, his eyes unblinking as they bored holes through the clay rooftop tiles.
Wei Chang Luo had even until now, been unable to catch a glimpse of his Fourth Sister’s appearance.
That dammed veil and pair of servants were far too formidable, ah!
“Alright, we can start today,” Wei Xuan dutifully announced after An Fei had placed down her chopsticks.
While Xiao Ying and Xiao Wen dutifully cleared away the destitute remains of breakfast including several bowls of rice noodles and chicken congee, the minister led the young girl into the recess of the study, having her sit in the middle of the makeshift clearing created the day before.
“…do you have any questions on cultivation before we start?” Wei Xuan sat across from the young girl, his expression tranquil and patient.
An Fei sat in silence for several moments, her mind quickly parsing together the numerous scraps of information she had gleaned from overhearing the maidservants, Wei Xuan, and the scholars at the Pagoda of Sun and Moon.
Ultimately, however, what escaped the young girl’s mouth was still the same question as the first.
“…what is cultivation?”
Fortunately, Wei Xuan understood the underlying intent behind her question, and the minister paused for a moment before gathering a few large sheets of paper and an inkbrush.
Wetting the brush, Wei Xuan carefully thought before setting the brush’s tip onto the paper.
“Cultivation… usually begins with a thought of improving the body and soul of a person,” he spoke whilst drawing a circle on the sheet.
“The first step into the complex process known as cultivation is to temper the body, which we call the Body Tempering Realm.”
“Afterwards, a foundation must be constructed to house the nature’s essence in the body, hence becoming the Realm of Foundation Establishment. This foundation is the enhancement of the body’s meridians and blood vessels, allowing them to sustain greater pressure and tension.”
“Next is the enhancement of the soul, the Realm of Spirit Building.” Wei Xuan filled in the circle with oblique strokes, before drawing a circle adjacent to it.
“At this stage, cultivators would temper their soul in a similar fashion that they enhanced their body.”
A line quickly connected the two circles of ink; however, the unequal state was rather jarring to the eye. One circle was filled while the other was not, making the diagram appear to be unbalanced and not stable.
“The Realm of Core Formation is the process at which the enhanced soul is merged with the body’s reserves of spiritual essence at the dantian. Merging the soul with spiritual essence allows for a great increase in longevity and strength, permitting the body to rapidly absorb the nature’s essence in the atmosphere without much restriction.”
“And finally, the Realm of the Nascent Soul,” Wei Xuan stared into An Fei’s eyes, his gaze unwavering and steady.
“The culmination of Great Yong’s history of cultivation. The merging of the Core formed during the Realm of Core Formation with the body into a single entity, remolding the person into a true child of nature.”
With brisk, stern strokes, the entire diagram was crossed out by the brush, a single dot of ink replacing the unbalanced connected circles.
“Do you understand the basics now?”
An Fei nodded by habit, before shaking her head again after some thought. Though Wei Xuan had answered some of her initial questions, a few important ones had yet to be divulged.
“…how do you absorb in the nature’s essence?” the girl finally asked.
Putting away the brush and papers, the minister swept his hand in a low, gentle arc. His fingers grasped the air in the girl’s perspective, yet Wei Xuan could see the profound secrets within the world.
Finished tinkering around with the invisible strands of spiritual qi within the air, the minister stood and moved behind An Fei, resting his palm against the middle of the girl’s spine.
“Breathe,” Wei Xuan calmly stated, his steady voice nearly lulling An Fei back to sleep.
“In the atmosphere, regardless of the world or environment, exists the essence of nature known as spiritual qi. Think of it as the natural order of all existence, the underlying principle that forms the element of life.”
“Just breathe. Calm your body, let your mind enter into a meditative state. Don’t do anything, simply relax and observe the flow of nature around you.”
Struggling not to fall asleep by the lull of Wei Xuan’s voice and the warm palm pressing against her spine, An Fei heeded the command and began to breathe. Soon, the sounds within the study diminished to a standstill, only the soft rustling of a young girl’s relaxed breath audible.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Close the eyes and relax the body, sustaining each breath for as long as possible before transitioning between cycles.
Breathe, breathe, breathe until even the limbs were numb, a dull warmth resounding throughout the body.
…An Fei was slowly getting frustrated, yet continued to follow Wei Xuan’s order as she continued to breathe deeply without a change in posture or emotion.
A stick of incense’s full length of time had passed, and nothing had happened to her, nor had any of the phenomena Wei Xuan had hinted manifest.
Her body felt rather numb and exhausted, a muted itch gradually beginning to gnaw at her toes.
Without warning, the girl’s body abruptly pitched backwards as it lost strength, the seated posture maintained only due to Wei Xuan’s palm supporting her at the base of the spine.
A seed of horror bloomed within the girl’s heart, germinating and overtaking her mind within seconds upon realizing her plight.
Now, regardless of whether she wanted to cease mindlessly repeating the cycle of breathing until her heart imploded, An Fei could only observe her body lightly convulse with each breath. Every effort she invested in gaining control over her body was completely rebounded, only to experience her vision distort and twist.
Breathe in, breathe out.
A thin stream of cold traveled down her throat to her heart, forcing the girl’s mind to jolt awake and regain control over a portion of her body.
However, another wave of fatigue and pain washed over her soul, making An Fei unable to twitch her finger or blink her eyes.
Before she could open her mouth and call for help, the girl’s consciousness swiftly descended into darkness.
The soft cry was quickly extinguished before it could escape her throat, hence the minister keeping guard did not notice…