Ji Zhou, Wangwu Mountain.
Wangwu was to the northwest of Ji Zhou, and was said to be the top of the Ten Great Blessed Spots of Taoism; it had once been the holy land of Quanzhen School. However, somewhere between the dynasties of Ming and Qing, there no longer appeared any records of Taoist priests inhabiting the mountain anymore, and nowadays, the same old cliche where the buildings were revamped and developed for tourism purposes took place again.
The three of them arrived here from Xiang Zhou. As it turned out, being a protagonist did not guarantee good luck. The spiritual essence here was as thin as the previous ones. After wandering around the mountain for a day and a half, they found nothing.
Their speculation of four existing nodes was only half correct—both Pinghu and Wangwu had failed them. With what they had discovered so far, there could be only three spiritual essence nodes in the current world.
Of course, they could exclude those that were yet to be found.
It was noontime now. They had set up a camp in a clearing and finished their lunch. Right now, Xiaozhai was standing on the side, teaching Long Qiu a series of simplified body-refining movements, which were similar to the ones she taught Tan Chongdai, but slightly more profound.
It was something she derived from the forty-eight hand movements of her sect. They were perfect for laying foundation for Long Qiu.
Long Qiu was in extremely poor health. Her forehead was shining from sweat after just a few movements. Born a tenacious girl, she would not yield to the hardship, but kept practicing without muttering a single word of complaint.
Gu Yu was sitting on a black stone not far from them, drawing and writing something.
They had passed around two hundred cities, towns, and villages from Shengtian to Wangwu, which he was summarizing and rearranging right now—not by the administrative areas, but based on the densities of the spiritual essence.
He wrote down numbers 0, 1, 2, 3… all the way up to 6, each taking up an area, which was smeared by a circle of a different color.
Together, these places took up about one fifth of the area of the country and among them, three places stood out, which were Phoenix Mountain (5), Tianzhu Mountain (6), and Mt. Emei (6). Centered around these three, the spiritual essence radiated out to the surrounding areas, giving them relatively higher levels as well.
Bai Town (West)—Yidao River—Erdao River—Sandao River—Sidao River—Wudao River
Bai Town (East)—Grass River Mouth—Dongquan Town—Five Dragons Ridge—Langtou County
Areas to the south and north were omitted.
Tianmen Town (North)—Yuchong Town—Longwan County—the city of Shiqiao
Tianmen Town (South)—Thunder God Ridge—Liangquan County—the city of Changpu
Areas to the east and west were omitted.
The city of Mt. Emei (North)—Jieshan Town—Ganshui County—the city of Yinma
The city of Mt. Emei (South)—Wudu Bridge—Honghua County—Wusi River
Areas to the east and west were omitted.
The radiating radius of Bai Town was around 90 km and 150 km for the other two places. These were systematic, interrelated and resourceful areas.
There were plenty of other sporadic spots scattered among them, with densities of either a 1, or somewhere between a 1 and a 2.
Scanning the diagram, Gu Yu suddenly shuddered with fear.
These might be the only three special regions in the country and one of them was his hometown. With the density of the spiritual essence growing higher, the area radiated by the nodes would also become larger.
After Shengtian, or even the entire Liaodong province was covered, what situation would that bring? With its two billion people and an immense social system, what changes would the country face?
He was sure of two things, if nothing else, which was the redistribution of resources and the reestablishment of rules.
To be more specific, he was thinking about the allocation of resources and rules between cultivators and ordinary people, cultivators and the authorities, cultivators and other cultivators, ordinary people and the authorities, as well as among ordinary people themselves.
It would further involve a series of factors, including economic structure, cultural concepts, the idea of values, etc., all of which he could not detach himself from, for he was part of this society.
After going through all those jumbled ideas in his head, Gu Yu raised his head to examine the position of the sun and called out, "Xiao Qiu, come here. It's time for your exercise."
Long Qiu had only just finished the lesson with Xiaozhai. She ran to Gu Yu at once without taking a break, her forehead covered with sweat.
The sun was high up in the sky. The midday sunbeam was the strongest at this time.
Gu Yu sat on the black stone swallowing and spitting, consuming essences as usual. Long Qiu sat down next to him. Despite having witnessed it many times, she was still amazed by this practice.
She was not consuming the essence, but kept her back straight and tried her best to clear her mind and get rid of all disturbing thoughts.
Gu Yu and Xiaozhai spared no efforts in training the girl—with one taking care of the external work and the other the internal skills—so as to fortify her vitality energy as quickly as possible.
To be able to consume the essence, one's mind had to be enlightened first. In other words, her spirit needed awakening.
Having been adopted by the previous woman of grass ghost since she was little, Long Qiu had been dealing with various venomous creatures and bullied by her clansmen when growing up. As kind as her nature was, the negative emotions brought by these experience were ingrained in her subconsciousness.
To clear one's mind was to get rid of all unnecessary thoughts. If one's mind wandered off during the awakening of the spirit, their Qi would very likely be deviated, resulting in insanity and madness.
Therefore, Gu Yu had instructed her to practice meditation first, during which process she would learn to understand things of this world. Only after her state of mind was elevated to a certain level would he start teaching her properly. By now, Gu Yu was her friend as much as a teacher to her.
A cool breeze brushed through the woods. The sun was slanting above.
After a long time, they opened their eyes in unison and Gu Yu looked at the girl. "How was it this time?"
"Better than this morning," answered Long Qiu.
"Keep at it. You're a very perceptual person. You need a little bit more self-confidence, that's all."
"Yeah, that's what sister's been telling me, saying I don't trust myself enough."
She blinked, feeling a bit shy. Turning around, she realized that Xiaozhai was no longer in the campsite—she probably wandered off somewhere to have fun. She hesitated but managed to come up with the question, "Brother, why isn't sister learning the essence-consuming method?"
Gu Yu paused for a second, slightly surprised by the question, then smiled, "Because she has too much pride."
"Pride?" The girl was lost.
"She is so proud of her sect, her master, and herself that she would never accept an alien skill. There are people who would take a detour, lean on other people's power, or abandon their principles. But there are those who are not like that. They would chisel their way out through a stone wall if they have to."
"I still don't understand. Hasn't sister accepted your help? Isn't that sort of leaning on you?" The girl was somewhat baffled.
"Haha, that's different."
Gu Yu paused, then revealed his assessment of Xiaozhai in a frank manner for the first time. "Back then when I got the spiritual fruit by accident, I had no idea what proper stuff looked like. She helped me comb through the cultivation system and theories. Without those manuscripts, I'd still be knocking about outside the cultivation world.
For some time, I had the idea that maybe she had found out my secret from the very beginning, but had held back on purpose. If she needed your help, she would repay the favor in advance by ten folds, or even a hundred folds, so that you wouldn't be able to refuse her.
Anyhow, I have my own objective this time; I want to have an idea of the secret skills of various sects. So, it's not really leaning on anybody, but helping each other out. After all, the path of cultivation is too far and too difficult to walk alone."
Long Qiu nodded, probably understanding only half of the words. She was secretly feeling envious, not towards any specific person, but the way these two were around each other.
At that moment, the branches were brushed aside and Xiaozhai emerged from behind the bushes, then tossed two fruits at them. "These taste really good. Try it!"
Long Qiu caught one in her hands. The little fruit was crimson and round with droplets of water trickling down its skin. Sitting in her palm, it looked glittering and translucent. She bit into it. The fruit was sour and sweet with a refreshing taste and felt tender, which made her mouth go watery.
"Very nice. Finish this and we're leaving this mountain." Gu Yu tasted his as well.
"We'd better get to Ji Zhou tonight and spend our night there."
"I've checked. It'll take us over thirty hours to get to Tianshan. Why don't we take a plane?"
"Still… oh, by the way, Xiao Qiu, you haven't been on a plane before, have you?"
"No, no, I haven't."
"Then we'll take a plane! How are you holding up? Can you make it out of the mountain?"
"I can. Don't worry."
Long Qiu's eyes turned from Gu Yu to Xiaozhai and she was suddenly very happy, as if a seed had been waiting to sprout in her and that moment, it blossomed.