Spring Festival came early this year. The Chinese New Year's Eve fell on a day at the end of January 1 .
Like always, most people passed the period by counting down the day till their annual bonus was given out and the holiday season started, then going back to their hometown to attend a family reunion and the intolerable company of idiotic relatives until the holiday was over and they resumed their work.
To a smaller proportion of people, however, the Spring Festival this year was exceptionally meaningful. As the saying went, new year, new beginning. Nevertheless, this new beginning... turned out to be too "new".
Morning, at the foot of Phoenix Mountain.
A white van was bumping its way along a rough and uneven dirt road before it came to a stop by the roadside. To the east was a stretch of field and wild lands, while the mountains lay in the west. Partially hidden among the withered woods was a winding wild path.
Two men sat in the van, a driver 2 and Yuan Peiji.
The latter looked up and checked the mountains; nothing seemed out of the ordinary. He then lit a cigarette. The thin smoke filled the air in the narrow space inside the van, which turned a bit irritating to the nose.
He lowered the window slightly, letting in some cold air, which met and stirred the warm air inside. The mixed flow of air fluttered against his cheeks.
The fact that this grandson of some high-ranking military officer would show up in this remote countryside for no obvious reason and that he was escorting the vehicle in person was amazement itself. Yuan appeared to be rather patient. He lit one cigarette after another, showing not a trace of irritation.
About half an hour later, there finally came the footsteps. His clothes damp with morning dew, Gu Yu was briskly walking down the mountain.
Yuan Peiji got off the van and ran towards him. He was about to call him "Mr. Gu", but the form of address somehow changed before it left the tip of his tongue.
Gu Yu did not mind the vague attempt to show intimacy and was only surprised with their early arrival. "When did you get here? I thought we said ten o'clock?"
"We've just arrived ourselves. I was afraid something might hold us up, so I set off a bit early."
"Haha, thank you for the hard work, then."
Gu Yu himself had in fact arrived ten minutes ago, which he did not point out, but only smiled, "Let me see the herbs first."
"Sure, they're all here!"
Yuan Peiji walked to the back of the van, pulled open the doors himself, and lifted two semi-closed, strange-looking cases out of the container. Through the glass tops, one could see crude medicine herb plants inside, which still had dirt on their roots.
"The humidity and temperature of these cases are adjustable. They can even mimic the sunlight. The roots are all intact and they are ready for being transplanted in your place," explained Yuan.
Gu Yu opened the cases and examined the contents. There were eighteen plants in total, all precious medicinal herbs such as ginseng, glossy ganoderma, fleece-flower roots, and dendrobes. All plants looked thriving and in perfect condition. The only thing was that they were a bit small in size—but how big could wild plants be?
"They're excellent. Thank you for taking the trouble to come in person."
"You're very welcome. It's not like I have much else to do."
Yuan Peiji's manner had taken a 180-degree turn. Unlike his previous frankness and flamboyance, he was reverent and respectful towards Gu Yu now. He then added, "By the way, sir, we'll leave some men behind in Bai Town, just around Phoenix Mountain area, in case you need anything in the future."
"Yes. The Lei and Zeng families are all involved. But don't worry, they don't know all that much."
"I see. Thank you for everything."
"It's our pleasure. Shall I carry these up for you?"
"That's ok, I can manage."
Yuan Peiji did not insist. He watched Gu Yu as the latter carried off the cases without the slightest difficulty, ascended quickly into the mountain, and soon disappeared out of his sight.
Longing and admiration flickered in his eyes. Returning to the van, he asked the driver to set off for their return journey. Comparing to the seven-to-eight-hour round trip, they had only stayed here for twenty minutes, but Yuan did not feel the job tiring at all.
It was just before Spring Festival when Gu Yu called, explaining to them about building lodgings and collecting herbs. The two unimportant requests had excited the old grandfather of the Yuan family.
The old man held a remarkably high position in the northeastern military region and was even backed by a certain boss in the central government, who had given the old man some information on the issue. In other words, after the "signing of peace treaty" between Gu Yu and the authorities, the government showed no intention of covering up and did not interfere with the spread of certain information (while inhibiting the rest).
The "informed" group included all official members of the BIMAUP and de facto bosses of all factions—such as high-level provincial and municipal officials, high-ranking officers of all military regions, etc.
Some marginal groups also got wind of the change; the majority of such groups were business tycoons closely connected to the political circles. Needless to say, these people were not as "qualified" for the precise information. They only had some vague idea.
To a population base of two billion, the amount of people who belonged to such a group was trivial, but their absolute number was nonetheless not negligible.
Therefore, when Gu Yu initiated the communication, the Yuan family acted as if enemies had arrived at their doorstep. These two were under the spotlight on a state level. Making unauthorized contact in private could well bring the family to its doom.
The old man reported to his patron right away, and the latter replied by saying that any reasonable request from the two could be granted. With that permission, the Yuan family was then able to continue their tentative contact.
The presence of an external conflict would ensure the authority to react in unison. However, when that source of conflict was resolved temporarily with every side living peacefully, the strife between fractions would reemerge.
One example would be when Gu Yu wanted to build his lodgings—the results would turn out quite differently depending on whom among Zhang Hongru, the BIMAUP, and the Yuan family he decided to talk to—despite that the three were all government-backed.
In choosing the Yuan family, Gu Yu was, among other things, trying to obstruct the work of his opponent, so as to buy some extra time for his own development.
In the valley, by the river.
On the south bank of the small river, a courtyard had been built. It was of a plain and simple style in general—encircled by a bamboo fence, ground paved with granite slabstones, wooden cabins, etc.
The three meditation rooms were built with some distance between one another. The kitchen, living room, and bathroom were there as planned. They had also built one extra room, which was to be their warehouse.
Across the gate of the small courtyard was a plaque, which had "Cottage of Pure Mind" written across it.
They did not need a fancy name, nor did "temple" sound appropriate, for it was only suitable for Taoist buildings. Since they weren't going to worship any immortals or saints here, after a brief discussion, they felt the word "cottage" sounded just about right.
It was very quiet in the courtyard. Xiaozhai and Long Qiu were each meditating in their own rooms. Long Qiu was not yet officially introduced to the cultivation world, but was still making early-stage adjustments. Only after her body and mind were in satisfactory condition would Gu Yu help her and enlighten her spirituality.
As for Xiaozhai, she had devoted all her time to that "Shenxiao's Tinkling Book of Great Thunder" after they got back. She barely came out of her room apart from eating three meals every day.
The thunder book was a complete system teaching one how to clear their mind, guide their Qi, perform inward contemplation, put their magical ability to use, etc. It covered a lot of subjects.
Right now, Xiaozhai was sitting cross-legged, practicing the coordination of mental activities and breathing. Soon, she was in a state of looking into her own mind.
The method of the coordination of mental activities and breathing was a superior mind-clearing manual of Taoism. The method was all about "The breathing and the mind should be active, pause, circulate, and stop at the same time. By doing so, everything would become tranquil and all unnecessary thoughts eliminated."
After that, she followed the instructions of the jade book, starting the inward contemplation on thunder and inducing the sensation of Qi.
Wood Thunder of the East located in the liver palace, Fire Thunder of the South located in the heart palace, Metal Thunder of the West located in the lung palace, Water Thunder of the North located in the kidney palace, and Earth Thunder of the Center located in the spleen palace.
The cultivation sequence of five thunders was irrelevant. The inward contemplation was the only thing one could depend on.
As said before, the spirit of thunder was a spirit within oneself. The Qi was in harmony with the spirit and everything went back to where they started. Whether one was walking, standing, sitting or lying down, the Qi moved around in an unbroken manner. In that way, it would be nourished and become magnificent enough to cast spells. With the vital Qi of oneself combined with the creation of heaven and earth, one could summon clouds, rain, and thunder at one's will.
After about two weeks of cultivation, she could faintly sense Qi. A lump of white vapor seemed to have formed inside her, but was barely visible, its structure tenuous and chaotic, as if it could dissipate at any moment.
This lump of white vapor was Metal Thunder of the five thunders itself. Right now, it was only making its initial appearance. By the time it was stable and enhanced and achieve its original pure state, it would be able to cleanse and purify and reach
and reach the passionless state, which marked the successful cultivation of Metal Thunder.
Of the five elements, Metal represented war and punishment.
Being the pivot of nature, thunder held the greatest power between heaven and earth. It was also the first and foremost killing technique of the Taoist world.
And we do remember Xiaozhai's temperament, don't we?
Those with a Yin quality such as Water Thunder were instantly ignored. Her first cultivation choice was Metal Thunder!
By now, Phoenix Mountain had been divided into inner and outer sections by a barbed wire fence. Usually one would expect magical formations to do such job and the current setting indeed seemed shoddy, but that was the only thing they could come up with.
The patterns on the Seal of Patriarch Sa were way too profound for them to figure out in such short time.
Leaving Yuan Peiji, Gu Yu went back to the valley with the cases. Sensing that the other two were meditating, he did not disturb them. He took out some tools out of the warehouse, then went to the medicine garden and planted the crude medicinal herbs.
Some plants were already in the garden, which were all common herbs indigenous to Phoenix Mountain.
Having been making incense since childhood, Gu Yu knew incense ingredients very well, which were all essentially plants. Xiaozhai's knowledge in the area was equally ample, if not better, for wood-appraising was part of her inheritance. As a result, they both had pretty good understanding of herbs and Gu Yu had been doing an excellent job taking care of the plants.
It took him quite a while to plant all herbs and when he raised his head again, it was noontime.
Xiaozhai and Long Qiu were both still quiet. He returned to his meditation room, consuming the midday essence. After his vital energy was circulated around for some time, he heard sounds coming from Long Qiu's direction. The girl was going to cook.
Gu Yu remained in his room. He fumbled out those two green jade needles and studied them closely.
He had started the refining process by dropping his blood onto them and carrying them around to nourish them with his own spiritual essence and temper with his mental force. After two weeks or so, he could only observe a minimal effect—the needles shone a bit more clearly and coldly.
He was in no hurry. Instrument-refining was a most tedious work. One had to remold the magical instrument with their mental force and let the instrument connect with them in mind and soul. The instrument would become tangible and intangible at the same time and eventually be concealed in one's house of consciousness, ready to strike out with a turn of one's mind.
He put away the needles and moved on to study the seal, which took him another long while. Before he knew it, the sun was setting.
Long Qiu had switched on the solar lamps. Although they were living a simple life out here, there was no need to be stingy on things like lighting. It would be idiotic to live on candles in a modern society.
The valley was warm with long sunlit hours—just the place for using solar energy.
As the pleasant smell of food filled the air, Gu Yu walked out of his room. With a squeaking sound, Xiaozhai also emerged from her room.
"How are things going?" he asked.
Xiaozhai did not say much. They went into the kitchen where the food was waiting, almost all of which were vegetarian dishes.
Long Qiu aside, ever since Gu Yu and Xiaozhai moved into the valley, they found time was almost skipping past them. They saw each other only rarely every day and the days were simply accelerating forward.
They had never felt such way before, but now they saw what the ancient people meant by "time becomes irrelevant in the mountains".
They ate in silence. All they could think about was to resume their cultivation after dinner.
Long Qiu looked back and forth between Gu Yu and Xiaozhai, her face resembling that of a child trying to mediate in her parent's fight. She grinned suddenly, "Brother, Sister, I'm almost ready. I want to refine the undead insect tomorrow."
Gu Yu pulled himself out of the thoughts on formations and asked, "In that case, do you need to collect poisonous worms?"
"Not really. I saw a lot of venomous mosquitoes in the black thorny forest and those are excellent materials. I can make an Undead Insect of Blood Mosquito out of them."
"What is that?" Xiaozhai joined in.
"Well, it's got great penetrating ability and feeds on blood. Unlike the other undead insects, this one can reproduce. I'll find some human blood first and let it spawn in it, then grow into undead insect offsprings. The original one would be the mother undead insect and can command the others."
The two understood right away. To put it plainly, Xiao Qiu controlled the mother and the mother in turn controlled its children.
The venomous mosquitoes in the black thorny forest were non-spiritual creatures and could only sting around in unorganized swarms, making a mess at most. If they could be made into undead insects, the mosquitoes would become a disciplined army, significantly increasing their power.
"That's a great idea. We have no magical formation to guard the mountain at the moment and a restricted area sounds promising," smiled Gu Yu.
"It's indeed a great idea. Tomorrow, we'll take a break and help you with the refinement," said Xiaozhai.
"Great, I know I can do it!"
Long Qiu's little face looked determined as she nodded affirmatively. She had always liked the "buy one get one free" deals and was thrilled to be able to help out her brother and sister.TL/N: In case anyone's wondering, the date of Chinese New Year—aka Spring Festival—is determined by the lunisolar Chinese calendar and varies from one year to the next on the more commonly used civil calendar. TL/N: "driver" in mandarin is "si ji", which rhymes with "Peiji".