Gu Yu had been bursting with energy lately—well, for some obvious reason that could not be named.
His main focus was on planting gourds ever since he got back. He had circled out a plot and chose three types of gourds to plant in it—namely, the Japanese giant gourd, the big narrow-waist, and the giant ladle. All three could produce gourds of over 80 cm, even as long as one to two meters.
The one he planted before was small-to-medium narrow-waisted gourd and could only fit in so much. Now that he needed to stuff more in, the little container was stretching its limits. The fire spiritual essence, for instance, was the reason he needed to go to Huo Zhou for every now and then, so that he could refine his Flaming Cloud Needles.
He still had 57 to go through. How many round trips would that incur?
With a bigger gourd, however, things would be much easier. He could collect much more each time and use it for a longer period of time. It would also save him much time.
Frankly, it was nothing fancy. Bigger gourds could be stored in his mental space, but its volume would not be altered. To be able to suck a lake dry with a single tiny gourd required the skills of an immortal. One had to either engrave the gourd with a magical formation, or learn a remarkable ability such as universe-in-sleeve, which could fit a world into a tiny space.
The valley, west bank.
It was the upstream of the river—about 40 minutes' drive from the old tree—where an open space sparsely dotted with trees lay. The place had been cleared out and was now specifically used as their training field.
It was half the size of a football court, with a homemade set of table and chairs on the side; the material they were made of was gathered on the spot, then chopped and turned into the most crudely made furniture. Right now, Gu Yu and Xiaojin were sitting on the chairs, watching the combat in the field.
Long Qiu was neatly dressed and held a shiny green longsword in her right hand. Her little face was solemn and eyes focused as she searched cautiously for a weak point.
Xiaozhai stood casually on the other side. Her posture might seem sluggish, but it was in fact an unhindered and natural way. No matter which way Long Qiu chose to attack from, Xiaozhai would be able to react to it instantly.
They were deadlocked like so for a couple of seconds and Long Qiu decided to abandon her previous plan. Thrusting her foot against the ground, she swung out her right arm.
A flash of light bounced off the sword and the cold green tip ripped through the air with a shrill like a shooting star, thrusting straight at her opponent.
Seeing the longsword coming, Xiaozhai pivoted on her left feet while striding out her right foot, turning her body around at an impossible angle.
Long Qiu reacted even faster. Her wrist turned and the sword had changed its course before Xiaozhai finished her turning. The tip of the sword trembled continuously, sending out multiple streaks of energy, wrapping around Xiaozhai, which looked like clusters of green flowers.
"Hm?" Xiaozhai let out a soft cry. This sword movement was the essence of the sword technique of her sect and the young girl had already mastered it, which demonstrated how hard she had been practicing. Xiaozhai herself was not a fan of swordsmanship and only learned it because it was part of her inheritance. Seeing Long Qiu's diligent work, she was as gratified as she was relieved.
Immediately, she stepped on the ground and, still in her half-turned position, she skimmed over to the side, graceful like a bird spreading out its wings. The longsword was at her heel and the green flowers enlarged rapidly, wrapping around her again.
It seemed that there was nowhere else she could run to when Xiaozhai activated her mental force and a strange-looking short weapon appeared in her hand. She sliced it upwards.
The blades collided into each other, spurting out a strong blast, sending dust flying all over the place.
"Thump! Thump! Thump!"
Long Qiu stumbled back for a couple of steps, her eyes frightfully shining. The battle had exhilarated her. She straightened herself up and charged out again.
It had been two months since they returned and Xiaozhai and Xiao Qiu had each refined their own instrument.
Long Qiu was wielding a sword a little under a meter long. The sword was narrow and jade-green in color. It was extremely suitable for stabbing and slicing. The green jade stone was remarkably hard. At the current stage, it was safe to say that the stone was the most ideal material to refine an assault instrument.
The girl could hardly bear to put the sword down ever since she got it. She used it mostly for close quarter combats, but it could do ranged attack as well, only that it would not be as fast and it would be quite mental-force-consuming.
As for Xiaozhai, she had designed a piece herself. It was somewhere between a saber and a dagger.
The weapon was about half a meter long and double-bladed, with a thicker ridge and thinner edges. The curve ran as fluid as a willow leaf. It was rather curvy and the sharp edges met in a relatively broad tip. It worked well for slashing, stabbing, upward swinging, hitching, pointing, blocking, or even the tangling motion of saber movements.
She thought little of the aesthetic aspects and cared about practicability only. The weapon was designed so that her confrontational skill could be brought into play to the full.
Of course, the name was plain as ever: Green Leaf...
Gu Yu would not talk to her for half a day because of the lousy name. Xiaozhai couldn't care less about the name. In her own words, it was no divine weapon, why bother giving it a pretty name?
Such a waste!
The two figure in the field leapt and flew around, joined by two streaks of cold green light, which collided and parted, exerting spectacular energy. They had exchanged dozens of blows in a split second and neither side had the better of the other.
Before those two could comment, Xiaojin, who was unhappy, shouted, "Sister, don't you make it easy for her! I'm your own blood and she's the adopted one! Adopted!"
Blushing, Long Qiu yelled back, "Jin Jin, shut up!"
"Sister, didn't you say you were going to use your killing move? Use it! Xiao Qiu, your MP is running out, just surrender! Your cuteness won't save you!"
The girl was lashing out her taunt on both sides while hopping around. Ok, ok, she was jealous. Blame the older sister—she had obviously made it easy for Long Qiu.
Xiaozhai frowned at her bullsh*t. Activating her thunder energy, she made it frantically flood into the short blade. With a shrill sound that seemed to have ripped the air apart, a purple beam surged out of the tip of the blade and extended out for several meters in an instant.
With a wave of her hand, the purple thunder blade smashed down, powerful enough to shatter heaven and earth.
Xiaojin blanked out completely; even her mind had gone numb. She thought she was going to be blasted into pieces in a second and turn to ashes. However, at that moment, a long, thin crimson thread flew out and clashed into the purple light in midair.
The overwhelming thunder energy and the ferocious Flaming Cloud Needle met head on, instantly sending waves of strong blast, which rapidly ravaged the surrounding area.
Momentarily, sand and stone were in the air and branches and leaves broken. The table and chairs were also overturned with a series of cracking sounds. Xiaojin did not dodge in time and was buried underneath.
"Okay, you really are her biological sister."
By now, Gu Yu had long stood aside and retrieved the needle. The look on his face said "a pain in the neck".
"Wow, Sister, that was amazing! I completely couldn't fend that off!"
Flustered, Long Qiu also scuttled near and marveled at Xiaozhai.
"Jiang Xiaozhai! Are you crazy? You struck me with that, seriously?!" Xiaojin scrambled out from under the table and yapped, "Am I really your younger sister… bah, are you really my older sister? It's murder! You have no sense of propriety…"
Xiaozhai could not be bothered to reply. Looking around, she said, "It's got decent power, but is too essence-consuming. I can summon it about three times in one go."
"That's more than enough. You won't get much chance using it anyway." Gu Yu smiled and went on, "Xiao Qiu is making great progress. Your move has the right posture, but the strikes are still on the soft side. You lack the vigor of an indomitable will."
"I see. I'll work harder!" Long Qiu nodded.
'Damn you all!'
Joy was overflowing in the family of three and Jiang Xiaojin exploded. She ran out of the woods grunting and grumbling, going back on her own.
Gu Yu paid her no attention and only said to Xiaozhai, "That strike of yours got me thinking. Do you think you can refine the black grit with your thunder technique so that they can connect with and respond to one another?"
"I can try." Xiaozhai got the idea right away.
The three briefly rearranged the things before strolling back to the valley.
Gu Yu and Long Qiu went to tend their own business and Xiaozhai returned to her room. Walking in, she saw the girl curling up on the straw mat looking like a sushi roll with closed eyes and not making a sound.
Xiaozhai went to her side. Sitting down next to her, she chuckled. "Scared you back there?"
"You figure?" The girl gave a two-word reply.
"Were you scared of me killing you or him failing to save you?"
Xiaojin opened her eyes—she had never thought it that way. Before she had time to think, her older sister asked another question, "Since I wasn't going to kill you and he would definitely come to your rescue, why should you be afraid?"
She bolted up and found her reasoning in that moment, then yelled back, "Do not play with words! You'd be afraid as well if you see a lightning strike at you!"
"I won't." Xiaozhai shook her head.
The girl wanted to retort but couldn't, for she knew her older sister was telling the truth. She could only grunt and slump back down in a fit of pique.
"Fear is an instinct. It stems from the unknown and one's own weakness. Therefore, to solve it is quite straightforward: have an understanding of everything and strengthen oneself." Xiaozhai lifted her up and held the girl in her arms. "You're clever in trivial matters and know how to go after the benefit while avoiding the harm, using what you have on hand to get to your goal, which isn't exactly a bad thing. But you have a weakness: when something stronger is coming your way, your first reaction is to flinch.
It will hinder your cultivation of Thunder Technique. Remember, you can evade for the time being, but you can never run away. Be it a person, a thing, or the Great Dao, the moment you start fearing it, your Thunder Technique will falter and the foundation will be shaken. Understood?"
Xiaojin was bewildered and replied despite herself, "I-I understand."
"You're cultivating Metal Thunder as well. With your natural endowments, as long as you work hard enough, you'll be able to use your mental force externally in a year's time and maybe get to refine instruments. Another two years and you'll master the skill. And if everything goes as planned, you'd be in Human Immortal state in ten years' time."
"You're talking about natural endowment all the time. Can't that be changed?" The girl found that notion a bit depressing.
"Natural endowment is a preordained thing. Although we can't rule out the existence of a panacea that can change one from inside out into a brand-new person, how many do you think are lucky enough to get it? Get rid of all your unrealistic ideas. Your only right path is through putting down a solid foundation."
Xiaozhai had been talking to Xiaojin about her experience and the current situation every now and then ever since the latter moved in. "Now that the society is on a new page, chaos is already looming in some places. In a few more years, the instability will only increase. The resources are not evenly distributed and there are always people more talented then the rest. Even if everyone has turned into cultivators in the future, there will still be those better-off and those exploited.
Don't think of cultivation as a way to get away from the world. We are rising in the level of life, not detaching ourselves from the social strata. Maintaining your circle is therefore very important. When you go out into the world and run into fellow cultivators, try your best to befriend those that can be your friends and kill those you can kill."
"What's going on with all the forces right now? Where do I rank with my capability?" Xiaojin asked.
"It's still too early to talk about forces at the moment. As for capability… just keep this in mind, you rank the fourth in Phoenix Mountain and that's where you should rank in the whole big world."
Wow! She liked the way that sounded!
A million expressions flashed across Xiaojin's face and she turned to gossip after a pause. "So, you and brother-in-law, who is more fierce?"
"We are equally skillful. I have more explosive strength and he has better stamina."
"Are we talking about the same thing here?" The younger sister did not think it sounded right.
"They work the same way."