Long Qiu slowly opened her eyes and was dazzled by the pleasantly warm sunlight.
She saw dark window curtains, one half of which was drawn close and the other half open. Sunlight beamed in through the opening, seemingly real yet illusory at the same time.
She moved her body slightly; the pain had been greatly eased. She then took in her surroundings: a small room with small tables, a time-worn mirror, and a TV set. Everything felt simple and peaceful.
By the TV set was a narrow door, which had been kept shut. She could hear an indistinct sound of conversation coming from behind it. The speakers seemed to have noticed her waking up and the voice stopped. The door was then pushed open.
"You've been sleeping for two days, you're finally awake. How are you feeling now?" Gu Yu smiled.
"Two days? You, you…"
Long Qiu took a moment to collect her thoughts before recalling who these two people were. She then asked, "How did I get here?"
"Basically, they were going to whip you and throw you out of the mountains, so we brought you back here," replied Xiaozhai.
"They were going to drive me away from the mountains?"
Long Qiu's face saddened. As reluctant as she was, she could only believe what they said for she knew too well what her clansmen were capable of. She asked, "How did you get me out?"
"We took you by force."
"They…" She went on hastily.
"Don't worry, they'll live."
Xiaozhai frowned slightly, wishing Long Qiu did not show concern for those people, but she chose not say anything.
Gu Yu sat on the other bed opposite of Long Qiu and said, "Let me introduce ourselves. I'm Gu Yu and this is Jiang Xiaozhai. We're Long Tang's friends. I've managed to suppress the Golden Silkworm inside you for the time being. Check your left wrist."
Long Qiu was surprised and felt incredulous. The Golden Silkworm was so powerful, how could this man speak of suppressing it? She raised her left hand with uncertainty. On the fair skin of her wrist, there was indeed an insect-shaped red mark that had not been there before.
"I know little of the undead insect practice and dared not do anything reckless. I wanted to ask you, is the Golden Silkworm removable?" He asked.
"That's impossible. Once the Golden Silkworm is inside me, I live, it lives, and I die, it dies with me," slowly, she shook her head.
An awkward look crossed Gu Yu's face. After pondering for a minute or so, he said, "Our original plan was to nurse you back to health and try our best to get rid of your Golden Silkworm. After that, if you want to see the outside world, we'll give you some money and bid you farewell. But with what you've just told us… I'm sorry, but if you still cherish your life, then you'll be stuck with us—I have to reinforce that seal every couple of days, or it will break out again."
Everything was happening so fast and a tangle of matters was pounding Liu Qiu's head. She did not know what to say and fell silent.
"We'll give you some time to sort things through. We'll be outside."
Xiaozhai sighed and dragged Gu Yu out of the room.
Instantly, silence filled the room. Long Qiu remained seated alone on her bed.
Despite her frail appearance, she was a tough girl inside, or she wouldn't have withstood the pain for three years and even discover a way to ease it. However, what was going on right now seemed so miraculous that she had a hard time believing it.
She sat in a daze for a long time, reorganizing her thoughts.
They were in a suite of a hotel in Shimen. Both bedrooms contained two beds.
Gu Yu and Xiaozhai were sitting quietly in the outer room right now, one reading a book and the other playing with the phone. Suddenly, the door to the inner room was pushed open and Long Qiu walked out.
"Straightened out your thoughts yet?" Gu Yu asked.
She still felt a bit weak when she wobbled near and sat down on the sofa. In a low voice, she said, "But I have a few questions to ask."
"Sure, shoot away," replied Xiaozhai.
She paused for a second or two and asked the first question, "Who, who on earth are you?"
They both chuckled. Gu Yu did not answer, but swept Long Qiu from head to toe with his mental power. Long Qiu shuddered, feeling she had been seen through from inside out.
Xiaozhai waved her hand and Xiao Qing swooshed out, then threw itself on Long Qiu's lap, frisking joyously.
Her eyes were wide open as she exclaimed, "You're cultivators my master used to talk about!"
"Your master has seen cultivators before?" Gu Yu was surprised.
"No, she read about them from some ancient text."
Their willingness to reveal their true identity was evidence enough of their sincerity and Long Qiu did not pursue that matter further. "My second question is, what are you trying to do?"
"It's complicated. I'll try to be thorough…"
Gu Yu then explained everything with words as concise as possible. The girl was brought up in the mountains and had never set foot to places beyond Shimen. She knew next to nothing about the outside world, let alone secret like this.
She marveled at what she was told without realizing that her eyes were getting brighter and brighter as the narration went on. She couldn't help it. No one could. The attraction of that mysterious world was irresistible.
About a quarter of an hour later, Gu Yu finally finished his monologue.
Long Qiu sat in a daze for a moment, then stuttered, "My last question is, if I join you, am I, am I…"
Xiaozhai moved to her side at once, throwing her arm around Long Qiu's shoulder with a laughter, "You're our teammate, of course! Till death do us apart!"
"Till death do us apart…"
Long Qiu repeated those words and her clansmen returned to her mind again. She was overwhelmed by a mixture of feelings.
As a matter of fact, Gu Yu and Xiaozhai did not whimsically jump the gun with that decision. For one, they were indeed in need of an extra pair of hands. With just the two of them, many things were holding them back. For another, they were impressed by Long Qiu's quality when she demonstrated that she would rather endure the pain herself than hurt others.
Reassured by these two reasons, they had pretty much considered her their new member when they brought her back.
Long Qiu thought the "initiation" was over, but Xiaozhai was only getting started. She grinned, "You finished? Good, it's our turn now."
The girl was a little nervous. "What do you want to know?"
"How old are you?"
"Call me sister!"
A funny look crossed her face, but she obeyed and addressed her, "Sister Xiaozhai."
"Good girl. How tall are you?"
"Now tell me your weight, cup size, waist, and your shoe size. Your Brother Yu is very keen on those numbers…"
"Stop right there!"
Gu Yu shooed Xiaozhai away and said in vexation, "Ignore her! Well, what is happening now is that your Golden Silkworm is locked away and cannot be used. Do you have other undead insects on you?"
"I do. In theory, as long as her body can take it, a woman of grass ghost can take in as many undead insects as she wants. I have another two. One is the Undead Insect of Needles. It can make people feel their hearts being stabbed by ten thousand needles. The other one is, is…"
She suddenly became shy as she mumbled. "...Is an Undead Insect of Love."
"Hey, I've heard about that one! Does it come in pairs? You would keep one and give the other to your lover? The one that betrays the love would die?" That name attracted Xiaozhai's attention, who prompted with great excitement.
"Something like that."
"That's awesome! After we're done here, we'll go back and open a 'Lab of Love'. Girl, we're gonna be RICH!"
'What the hell is she talking about?'
Long Qiu had thought them to be very capable people, but now, she was not sure about their reliability.
"Cut it. Long Qiu, please go on," Gu Yu felt the phantom headache was coming back.
"Well, because the Golden Silkworm was so powerful and also the one linked to my life, the needle one was too afraid to come out. Now that the silkworm is locked away, I can start using the needle one."
"Won't that affect you?"
"Actually, the ordinary undead insects only break out every a couple of years. The cycle of the Undead Insect of Needles is three years and I can take that."
"Is that so…"
Gu Yu was lost in his thoughts after hearing that, as if pondering over some ideas. After a while, he said, "In fact, I have an idea. I'm not sure if it makes any sense, but I'll tell you anyway.
Let's say the energy you have is a 10 and the Golden Silkworm has to consume 2, that would obviously make you miserable. But what if your energy level is 100? Will the Golden Silkworm still have an impact on you?
Let's take it further. Suppose your energy can reach a level high enough, is it possible for you to subdue it for good and stop the backfire forever?"
"Are you saying…" Long Qiu felt her heart skip a beat.
"Exactly. I think you're too weak and it's time to strengthen you up."
"Outrageous! That's outrageous!"
In the temporary control room in Xiang Zhou, a man was roaring in the same angry words as the Kuan Chief before. He was in his forties and had fierce eyes. Pounding hard on the table with his fist, he calmed himself down a little bit before asking, "How are those mountain people now?"
"There are a lot of injuries, but luckily, no fatalities. We've taken samples of the snakes. Most of them are not venomous."
Holding a file in his hands, the assistant went on, "Based on the investigation, that woman was able to control snakes. Judging from how things turned out, she was not totally merciless."
"Ha! Are you saying we should thank her for that?" Anger had brought a sneer out of that man.
"Well…" The assistant did not know how to answer the question and went quiet.
At that moment, another man sitting on the sofa laughed. "Calm down, Old Li! They did it to save a life. The approach might be a bit aggressive, that's all. Don't forget the policy we're told. We're supposed to be amiable."
"Yeah, I heard you, be amiable. Well, I'm not nice like that. It's all yours!"
The hot-headed Old Li walked out on them just like that.
Ever since their superiors showed their interest in the duo, they had been tracking them. It did not take long for them to find a lead and they had been following them all the way to Xiang Zhou. They were still in the early stage now and found it premature and risky to approach the two.
However, no one expected them to be so bold, making such a scene.
The two men in charge each represented a faction, each with its own standpoint—one of which suggested a peaceful resolution while the other thought suppressing the two a good idea. The one that remained in the room arranged some wrapping up work and said, "That's everything. You can leave now and ask him to see me."
The assistant left the room and another man walked in shortly after that.
"There's been a change of plan and you have to make contact earlier than that. Remember, pay extra attention to you manner."