The army compound, certain research institute.
The soldier on duty pressed a button and with a soft buzz, the seemingly-vulnerable-but-actually-solid gate was opened just a crack.
Long Qiu marched out with her backpack. Having been deprived of sunlight for the past few days, she squinted involuntarily once outside. After the moment of blurry vision passed and her normal eyesight returned, she spotted two familiar figures at once.
Her face lit up immediately as she ran ecstatically towards them. Before she could find the right words to express her exhilaration, however, her heels had left the ground. Someone had lifted her up.
"Sis-Sister, let me down!"
Holding Long Qiu up, Xiaozhai was turning around in circles. Flustered and abashed, Long Qiu was crying out in surprise at a low voice.
"What's the hurry? Upsy-daisy is a must for reunion."
Xiaozhai only carefully put the girl down after two whole turns. Long Qiu was unscathed as promised, just a bit pale.
A staff standing on the side drew their attention with coughs; trying his best to ignore their antics, he asked, "Mr. Gu, what else can we do for you?"
"That's all, thank you."
"Shall I arrange a car to drive you back?"
"It won't be necessary. The hotel is quite close, we can walk there."
"In that case, feel free to contact me should you need anything. I'll leave you here."
The man did not insist, but went back inside the compound promptly.
The family of three had much to talk about after their temporary separation. A short distance away, they saw a small restaurant by the side of the road and decided to take a rest there.
Long Qiu was in rather high spirits. Starting from the day the two left Shuimogou, she recalled her time with Ayhan, her missing them so much, the sneaking-out at the fifth night and leaving the money behind for Ayhan.
She then moved onto her being surrounded by the Second Department and the rampage of the Golden Silkworm.
"It was so painful and all my strength was gone. I passed out. When I woke up again, I was in a small room. Then someone told me that, that I had killed six people… sob…"
She was suddenly agitated, finding the statement rather hard to digest. Xiaozhai reached out and drew Long Qiu into her arms. She comforted her, "The insect just happened to be breaking out at that moment. It was either them or you. That's the way life is. Don't be too hard on yourself. It's all in the past."
"But I killed those people."
"That's OK. Don't think about those things now."
Gu Yu gave her a glass of water and asked, "So, can you control it now?"
"At the moment, yes. I'm just afraid that it'll come out again at the end of this year."
"Don't worry. Everything will be fine once you learn the essence-consuming method and subdue the Golden Silkworm for good."
After much consolation from Gu Yu and Xiaozhai, Long Qiu was finally feeling better. Before long, their dishes were served. Having been confined in a room for days, Long Qiu almost had a feeling of being reborn at the sight of the ordinary food.
"Brother, Sister, how did you get me out?" she asked as she helped herself to the food.
"It's quite complicated. We'll tell you about it when we're back at home," said Gu Yu.
"Home?" she blinked, not quite grasping the meaning of that term.
"Yep, we're taking you back to Shengtian tomorrow," chuckled Xiaozhai.
Long Qiu shuddered instantly; the news made her as nervous as filled with expectation. After all, she was 'scavenged' out of a ditch and the idea of going to their hometown was making her fidgety.
Her reaction amused Xiaozhai, who could not help but start teasing Long Qiu, "Xiao Qiu, there's something you should know. I myself live in the city of Shengtian, while this man lives in a county town…"
"County-level city! It's a county-level city!" A certain fellow tried to correct her.
Xiaozhai ignored him and went on. "We live dozens of kilometers apart and that's very far. So, you have to decide now. Are you going to live with him or with me?"
"Ah? Do I have to make the decision now?" Long Qiu crinkled up her little face, apparently tormented by the request.
"Yes, you have to choose now, because we're going back tomorrow," Gu Yu chimed in.
Long Qiu's eyes darted back and forth between her brother and sister, while the latter two straightened their faces and gave her the looks of recruiting coaches of The Voice. After quite a while, the girl was still unable to make up her mind. She suggested timidly, "Can I take turn to live with both of you?"
"No, you can't!"
"Of course not!"
"Then, then can we all live together?" she made another timid suggestion.
"Well, that's a very constructive idea."
Xiaozhai squeezed her cheek and turned to Gu Yu, "What do you think?"
Gu Yu would not even dignify that question with an answer. He made a gesture as he called out, "Excuse me, bill please!"
The unabashed duo had teased the little girl quite a bit while they had nothing better to do and soon forgot all about it. Our poor Long Qiu, on the other hand, was still torn by the question when they walked out of the restaurant—was she going to share a bed with either of them in turn, or were they all going to sleep together?
As for the follow-up of the negotiations last night, Wang Qi had contacted his superiors right away and reported the related issues.
The response came back promptly with a couple of instructions. As long as those instructions were followed, all of Gu Yu's requests could be granted. Thus, the three of them stayed up all night and reached an oral agreement right there in the tea room.
That was the only way. The government would never write such thing down on paper.
The government promised to release Long Qiu immediately and give Phoenix Mountain to Gu Yu and Xiaozhai. They would have the right of possession and usage, as well as claims to profits of all resources on and of the immediate perimeter of the mountain. In plain terms, they became government contractors.
Gu Yu was required to provide a complete map of the spiritual essence and assist the authorities with the development work on the nodes. His service would be remunerated, of course.
Two points were worth ruminating over. First, by giving them Phoenix Mountain, the government did not grant them with a "right of ownership". That was nothing unexpected, for the land was always state-owned, there was no room for alteration there.
Second, no definite time limit was named.
Both sides knew very well that the cooperation was only temporary. The expiration date would change with the shift of power on either side. It could be five years, ten years, or extended infinitely.
So far, only four nodes had been found.
Both Tianzhu Mountain and Mount Emei had a density of 6, while Phoenix Mountain had a 5. The spiritual essence in Tianshan was still chaotic and it would take a few years for it to calm down. Phoenix Mountain might have a low rating, but that was of no concern to Gu Yu and Xiaozhai. Low as it might be, it was a genuine node, and they had it all to themselves.
As a matter of fact, now that the mountain suddenly became theirs, they were somewhat at a loss. Being a scenic area and a popular tourist destination, they needed a plan for Phoenix Mountain… as for the government of Bai Town, it was pissing away its time with no aspirations whatsoever, but these two "majesties" were thrusted into its hands out of the blue… all of these issues would require coordination. They would need some time to think them over.
Before they knew it, it was the following day. The three of them left for the airport early in the morning for an early flight.
In the departure lounge, Gu Yu and Xiaozhai were amazed at the view of the scattered passengers. It was last November when they were here last time and it was already January now. The past two months had left them with a sentiment beyond description.
In these two months, they seemed to have abandoned all previous social relations and burdens in their lives. Life for them had been carefree like never before. The feeling was so wonderful that it was almost like a drug, its wonderfulness engraved into their bones.
Now, they were going back to the city under a gradual change. They had no idea what they would be facing.
Both were deep in thought, but not our innocent Long Qiu, whose fair and smooth cheeks moved as she chewed her gum. She had been looking here and there the whole time.
"Hm?" she suddenly let out a soft cry.
"What is it?" Xiaozhai asked.
"That man, we've met him before."
She pointed with her hand. Not far from them, a young man with a handsome face was standing ramrod straight. They did not recognize him at first, but at a closer look, the face indeed seemed familiar.
Seeing that the three of them had noticed him, the man walked straight up to them and greeted, "Good morning!"
"I don't suppose it's a coincidence this time?" Gu Yu grinned.
"Certainly not. I'm sort of a personal escort."
"What shall we call you? Still Lu Ningning?" Xiaozhai asked.
"Haha, let me introduce myself officially…"
He offered his hand, not a trace of the feminine behavior from earlier left. He smiled, "I'm Zhang Hongru, the full-time liaison officer for you two. I'll be stationed in Bai Town from now on. Please do not hesitate to contact me should you need anything."