The meditation room, past noontime.
On a low wooden table in the room, an Essence-gathering Incense was burning. The curling smoke had condensed in mid-air, lingering there like layers of rolling clouds, from which a thin streak had separated itself out and slowly drifted towards Xiaozhai.
With her eyes closed, Xiaozhai focused her mind and activated the Thunder Technique. A streak of perfect white energy rose out of her Lung Palace, circulated in her five organs, and passed through all her meridians before reaching her right palm.
She held her palm out flat and saw electric arcs flickering upon it. The ceaselessly changing pattern reminded her of a little universe being born and dying out constantly, all within that palm of hers.
She enjoyed this experience; it gave her the feeling that everything was under control of her own sweet will.
Her Metal Thunder energy had doubled in power now. Although she could not yet release it on external targets, it was effective enough. As for the two fruits, after Gu Yu ate one, she ate the other. Being a sensible girl, Xiao Qiu had given up the fruit to her sister, which Xiaozhai accepted without any pretentious attempts to decline. There was much difficulty in the cultivation of Thunder Technique and she could use the extra help.
As for the kernels, they had been planted right next to the fence. If they managed to grow into trees, they would be just opposite Gu Yu and Xiaozhai's houses.
The law of nature did not apply to the fruit. With its eighteen-month cycle, the harvest could come at any season. All they could depend on was the "unnatural law" of the node.
Six months into her cultivation and Xiaozhai found that the further she studied into Thunder Technique, the more acutely she was aware of its peerless power.
The one passed down in her sect was called "Dragon-snatching Internal Technique of Five Thunders", which Immortal Sa improved and gave it the name "Shenxiao's Tinkling Jade Book of Great Thunder". The two were essentially the same. The latter was an inheritance and development following the same sequence of ideas.
Thunder Technique emphasized on the training of both the body and the spirit, which came with its own form of inward contemplation. In Human Immortal state, the contemplation was on Five Thunders, where as in Immortal state, it was to think like a dragon.
The dragon was both an imagery and a specific figure.
A dragon could control its size and could choose to rise or conceal itself. When it assumed a large form, it could create clouds and spit fog; turning small, it could become undetectable. Rising high, it could soar above all universe; staying concealed, it would hide itself among the rolling waves. A dragon would change when the right time came, in the same way that a man moved about the world freely after achieving his ambition...
One would choose their cultivation method as their temperament saw fit.
As a fierce and overbearing technique, Thunder Technique was the most effective offensive method and fit Xiaozhai's temper perfectly. Therefore, she could exert its maximum power. Whereas if a gentle, timid, and hesitant person were to learn the Thunder Technique, he would not be able to put it to good use even if he managed to master it.
The lightning flickered in her palm shortly and disappeared. Her hand returned to its fair and smooth state.
Finishing up her practice, Xiaozhai walked out of the room. One glance across the yard and she spotted her boyfriend.
Gu Yu had just finished the daily cultivation himself and was crouching down in the herb garden, collecting herbs. With a small shovel in one hand and a bamboo basket by his feet, a flip of his wrist and a mint plant was scooped up out of the ground, its roots all intact and still wrapped in soil.
Shaking off the dirt, Gu Yu carefully put the plant into the basket. His mouth then curled into an unexpected smile, for a breeze had just swept across his back and something warm stuck to his back. Two fair arms were thrown around his neck, brushing his cheeks lightly.
"Why so gentle?" He found it somewhat strange.
"I'm in a good mood!" Xiaozhai chuckled.
"Aren't you supposed to fight me when you're in a good mood?" He found the answer even stranger.
"Nope, that's when I'm having a really good mood. Now it's just plain good."
"In that case, I'd rather you stay plain everyday."
Gu Yu sighed affectedly, picked up the basket, and rose to his feet. Once inside, he removed the leaves from the stems and concocted them briefly, then stored them in airtight containers. Having been around him all this time, Xiaozhai had learned enough of his work and was helping him with nimble movements.
About an hour later, they finished the job and went to sit down under the old tree. They sipped their tea while watching the sun slowly sinking towards the horizon.
It was the end of August already.
Xiaojin had been staying at home like a good girl after that "lesson", waiting for the school to start. Growing up with little discipline, she was used to a ruleless life. It was just as she said herself, she loved fun and novel things. As it turned out, cultivation fit her view of the world perfectly.
Hence, she had expressed her firm decision that by the time she graduated next year, she would show them a passable progress on the practice of the Mind-calming Method so as to qualify for a cultivator—a very promising career in her opinion.
Well, her sister and brother-in-law were looking forward to that as well.
They couldn't help it, for they were in desperate need of an extra pair of hands and there were so few people around that possessed the right natural endowments whom they could trust—Xiaojin was the only one fit that criteria. They were acutely aware of the subtle change in the government's attitude. The authorities had to be up to something behind their back and were confident that they could tip the current balance.
It was not Gu Yu and Xiaozhai's intention to oppose the government; everything they did was for self-protection and the pursuit of the Great Dao.
Taking a sip of his tea, Gu Yu exhaled and raised his head to take in the surroundings. His eyes settled upon the paddyfield on the south bank. After gazing it for a while, he suddenly said, "We're harvesting in October. Are we really going to get a butch of machines up here?"
"Or what? There are only three of us. Are you expecting us to process the rice with mortars and pestles?" Xiaozhai retorted.
It would take at least six to seven production processes to turn the unhusked rice into rice ready to eat. With modern mechanization, there were those all-in-one small machines that could unshell and mill the rice all at once; it was quite convenient.
Of course, that was not the problem Gu Yu was concerned with. "It'll always be a problem for us. This is not just for this year only, we'll repeat the process every year from now on. Plus, we're planting more and more stuff now. It just takes too much time doing it all by ourselves."
"Hire someone, then. Post a message online…"
Xiaozhai was suddenly in mood for some sarcastic remarks. Gesturing with her hands, she chuckled as she said, "Due to the production and operation needs, our mountain is opening up for recruitment. The candidate should have over ten years of practice in sowing; both male and female candidates are welcome. Priority will be given to those with excellent skills and who can stand hard word and are not easily scared. Monthly salary is 25 g of spiritual stones and a bag of rice will be given as year-end bonus."
Gu Yu could not be bothered to comment on that. Taking another look around, he suddenly realized something and asked, "Why, where is Xiao Qiu?"
"Not back yet."
"It's almost dark and she's still not back?" He found this rather unusual.
Since they had taken residence on the mountain, all their daily necessities were specially ordered. Although they could leave the task to the Yuan Family, they would still prefer to buy things like clothes and socks on their own.
As a result, they would leave the mountain to go shopping once in a while. The Yuan Family had provided them with a car and a driver specifically for the purpose, which were on call 24/7.
Around noontime today, Long Qiu offered to go shopping and had not showed up again until now.
Reception tower had been set up at the edge of the inner mountain, so Gu Yu picked up his phone right away to call her. She was not answering, which worried them a little. They were about to go out and search for her when Long Qiu returned swiftly; she looked frustrated.
Seeing that she came back empty-handed, Xiaozhai asked in surprise, "Didn't you go downtown?"
Long Qiu shook her head and said, "On my way there, I walked past Hongmei Street. Oh, not the street, but that village. Someone was having a heatstroke there and I went in to help. Then someone else got sick, so I checked upon that one again. After that a little girl gave me some watermelon, so I went to her place and stayed there until just now."
The "parents" exchanged a look, both finding her reaction interesting. Gu Yu then asked, "So why are you unhappy?"
"I, I feel sorry for all those people! The little girl said it was so hot lately that people were fainting every day. But the hospital was full and they could not get in. They just held out by taking those bitter medicine."
Long Qiu paused before asking with a straight face, "Brother, Sister, can we help them?"
"Why do you want to do that?" Xiaozhai smiled.
Long Qiu raised her head slightly and looked into her sister's eyes. "I don't know! You told Xiaojin that cultivation is a training of one's intention. In that case, my intention says I just want to help them."