July, Phoenix Mountain.
In his decade-long incense-making life, Gu Yu had never been as fidgety and expectant as today.
Early this morning, he went into the backyard of the Cottage of Pure Mind, jumped into the incense cellar, and came back up with two trays of incense sticks—one tray of Peach-blossom Incense and Essence-gathering Incense each. After half a month of cellaring, all excess of energy had dissipated and the medicinal properties mellowed, rendering the former all the more flamboyant and seductive, while the latter more profound and composed.
Returning to his room of meditation, he ignited an Essence-gathering incense stick and sat down uprightly, meditating.
The tip of the stick sparkled, slowly releasing a streak of white fume which rose and froze in midair. Instead of dissipating, it aggregated, gradually gathering into a lump of fog.
The fog was of a rather peculiar consistency, which was half-gaseous and half-liquid. It seemed to have stuck to the empty air, forming a pattern that reminded one of rolling mountains.
Following that, as if being drawn away by something, a thin thread of fog suddenly peeled itself away from the lump and slowly drifted towards Gu Yu, which then twirled around him, as though trying to wrap him up.
Gu Yu sensed it attentively. Apart from the familiar spiritual essence, there was an additional faint aura, which was mild, affable, and seeped into his body in an inoffensive manner before fusing into his Qihai.
It was about an hour later when he opened his eyes again. The incense stick was almost burnt up, with only half a centimeter left.
"I've made it!"
Gu Yu was filled with joy, for the amount of essence he took in had increased by 10% comparing to his usual practice, with no abnormal side-effects. This increase might seem insignificant, but one had to realize that this incense was a sustainable source made from relatively common ingredients.
That was to say, if one were to cultivate around the clock, they could simply ignite twenty-four incense sticks one at a time. The accumulated increment would be a very considerable amount over time.
He had already tried cultivating with the spiritual stones, which had given him an extra 1/9 to ⅛ of essence consumption. Therefore, he had reached his conclusion: the Essence-gathering incense was almost a perfect substitution of the stones!
"Haha, finally, I've got us some guarantee…"
Gu Yu was most satisfied with himself. He carefully put away the Essence-gathering Incense, then lit a Peach-blossom one.
This incense stick gave off a light-pink smoke, which had a cooling sensation and smelled faintly sweet. Once he inhaled the smoke, Gu Yu turned his mental force inwards and scanned his body's interior. He could distinctively make out a streak of pink aura attaching to his internal organs and slowly penetrating them.
He watched this for a while before circulating his spiritual essence, instantaneously eliminating the smoke. Meanwhile, he also felt the faintest agitation rising inside him.
Apparently, the Peach-blossom incense had two effects—it worked both as a chronic poison and an aphrodisiac.
However, the most remarkable characteristic of this incense was that despite being able to make people aroused and in high spirits, its toxicity was completely concealed by the resulting exhilaration. That was extraordinary, for those under its influence would only think it a natural, pollution-free version of little blue pills, whose toxicity would never show up in test results!
Gu Yu praised his own talent, but did not let it show. Without intending to, he had created something incredible. The incense was a dagger hidden in a smile, perfect for setting people up.
The three on Phoenix Mountain were completely in the dark of what had been going on in Longhu Mountain. The little family of three spent their days farming, ploughing, and bantering. Life couldn't have been better.
The valley had gone through some dramatic changes. The Cottage of Pure Mind was still on the south bank with its seven well-arranged houses. On the east side of the yard were the rows of gourds, sowed in March. It was July now and they were ready to be harvested.
They had chosen two breeds. One was the large bottle gourd, which was of a height between fifty and eighty cm, and the other was the medium bottle gourd, which was about fifteen to thirty cm in height.
The large ones were of nearly frightening sizes, dangling along the vines as if they had all gone spiritual and were ready to produce the Bottle Gourd Brothers 1 at any minute. The medium ones matured faster, and Gu Yu picked out three of the best ones among them. The trio then each took one and pinned it on their belts so that the gourds could be nourished by spiritual essence and tempered by their mental force at all times.
The bottle gourds were of an ordinary breed, but the soil itself was spiritual. Therefore, the gourds could be refined as magical instruments.
Further away from the gourds was the herb garden. A few more herbs had been moved in and the garden finally looked exuberant. A large area to the west of the courtyard had been zoned for farming, and the seedlings of the late rice had just been transplanted there.
In a corner of the north bank stood the ten grafted peach trees, which had yet to see some growth.
To any outsider, such a view would doubtlessly give the impression of an idyllic life… well, that is, if these two fellows were excluded from the picture.
Under the old tree, Xiaozhai shouted, then dashed forward and went on training Long Qiu. Pursing her lips, Long Qiu was fighting back the grievance (or delight, from Xiaozhai's point of view) from Xiaozhai's guidance. It was a sweet yet agonizing torture.
After exchanging a few more blows, vexed, Long Qiu waved her hand with a whoosh.
The Golden Silkworm shared the body with its host. A stronger master would benefit the insect and when it showed up this time, it immediately charged at Xiaozhai eagerly at a speed much faster than before.
"I was waiting for you!"
Clenching her right fist, Xiaozhai struck out straight away as crackling lightning flickered around her fist.
The Golden Silkworm met the fist and could only withstand the force for no more than a few seconds. It fluctuated in the air, then turned around to flee.
'What the hell? I'm not playing against that!' As a vicious being, the undead insect also considered the Thunder Technique as its nemesis. Anyway, it knew that this person was on the same team and would not harm its master.
Long Qiu scowled at the fleeing insect, but it was already too late to ward Xiaozhai off. She could only watch the fist as it moved closer, then turned into an open palm, landed on her chest, and gave her breast a little pinch.
The girl never knew how to react to Xiaozhai's "cuddling". She threw a glare at the latter, bit her lip, and ran back to the cottage.
"Hey, where are you going?"
Gu Yu was just coming out at that moment and asked in passing. Long Qiu ignored him completely and went straight back to her room.
He was baffled and spoke to Xiaozhai, who was running towards his direction chasing after Long Qiu. "I need to go down the mountain for a bit. That incense is ready to use, you two can try it later. Oh, put the Peach-blossom Incense away. Don't let Xiao Qiu touch it."
Xiaozhai gave a reply before dashing into the room in a frenzy. The training went on.
Gu Yu went down the mountain, only to find Zhang Hongru waiting at the station. Seeing Gu Yu, he hastily went up to him with a bag and said anxiously, "You're finally here. That'll save me the trip from going up again."
Taking over the bag, Gu Yu was visibly surprised as soon as he set his eyes on the contents. "So, you've actually harvested it?"
"We've only just harvested it. Here are ten kilos, brought directly from Tianzhu by air."
In the bag were rice grains as white as polished jade. They were about twice the size of normal rice and were shuttle-shaped, with thinner tips and a thicker midriff.
"Ten kilos? What's your yield per mu?" Gu Yu asked.
Zhang Hongru's face crumpled up as soon as the yield per mu was mentioned. "103 kg."
Gu Yu was astonished. The yield per mu of its original breed was 1500 kg and Qiu Guan had estimated the output to be a third of that... Excuse me, one third? Try one tenth!
"Two out of the five experimental plots were total failures; the seedlings have all died. From the remaining plots, we got 515 kg in total."
"What about the rest? Bean, sweet potatoes, corn…"
"They did not survive either!"
Gu Yu was speechless as well. He was aware of the difficulty involved, but had never imagined it to be this hard.
"I'd prefer if you don't try it back on the mountain. They are eager for a test result over there, so let's just do the tasting here," suggested Zhang Hongru.
"Sure, no problem."
Hence, Gu Yu proceeded to play the cook himself. He carefully spooned out half a bowl of rice, gave it some thought, and poured some back. The amount remaining in the bowl was barely enough to feed a dog.
A bowl of glossy white rice was soon served. All the others were dismissed, leaving Zhang Hongru to watch over Gu Yu alone.
Gu Yu sniffed at it first before taking his bite. The rice was tender, glutinous, and deliciously chewy. After swallowing it, Gu Yu felt a warm sensation surging out of his stomach, which immediately spread out to his limbs and meridians.
He was not sure about what he was feeling and was silent the entire time when he ate on.
"Why, anything wrong?" Zhang Hongru asked hastily.
"No, it's not that. It's out of my expectations, that's all."
Gu Yu chose his words carefully when he explained. "The content of spiritual essence in the rice is higher than that of the fish, about a 1.1. But this one is very mild, so much so that it is completely harmless and extremely suitable for human ingestion. I think you should try it."
"Me?" Zhang Hongru was taken aback.
"You've had some training. Your physical strength is much better than the average person's and I think you'll have no problem withstanding it."
Eyeing the ordinary-looking bowl of rice, Zhang Hongru felt his mouth watering in spite of himself. He declined eventually, "Maybe not. It's beyond my job description."
Gu Yu did not press on, but asked instead, "By the way, if I may ask, how are you going to allot the rice?"
"Sorry, I don't have the answer to that!" Zhang Hongru straightened his face at the question and became rather serious.
"Ok, forget it." Gu Yu shrugged.TL/N: Bottle Gourd Brothers was a very popular Chinese animation TV series in the 80s. The story was about seven brothers transformed from seven bottle gourds that fought against a scorpion spirit and a snake spirit.