Youngsters were always easily taken by their rosy, bubbly, fluffy fantasies.
They came in all shapes and sizes, but in most of the cases, such a fantasy involved cliches such as surviving a major disaster before running into some fair maiden—or obtaining some magical ability, if maidens were not available.
The owner of such fantasies usually shared the same name: the male protagonist.
Chased by the ghostly thing, Yan Han had run his guts out before he arrived at this spot. The moment he laid eyes on Xiaozhai, he was overwhelmed by this feeling that he was infused by the souls of all the heroes there were of all known fictions.
'Awesome! Don't speak a word, I know my part! Damn it, I'm freaking amazing!'
Unfortunately, such feeling only lasted for two mere seconds before he started shaking, too afraid to even looking up. He had seen her eyes. The cold, solemn killing look in them were apparent and undisguised.
Right then, Xiaojin caught up with them in a hurry and was also terrified by the scene. Xiaozhai ignored Yan Han and only asked her sister, "What's all this?"
"Someone broke in. This one got here before I noticed."
"Before you noticed?"
Xiaozhai knew her only too well. The girl must have been having so much fun that she became careless. She then asked, "How many were there?"
"Where are the other two?"
"Passed out over there in the front area."
"Take them to the cottage."
Xiaojin dared not utter an extra word and went back carrying Yan Han in her hand. After knocking Zhang Qianqiu and Li Dong awake, she removed the makeup, washed her face, and changed her clothes before returning to the Cottage of Pure Mind in dejection.
It was silent, embarrassingly silent.
The three fellows crouched in a line along the wall, as quiet as scared chickens.
Xiaozhai sat opposite them, not uttering a single word. She was in fact adjusting her spiritual essence that'd almost gone chaotic because of the incident earlier. The girl stood beside her, alternating between darting her sister a look and grimacing at the three—she was a fierce kitty all right.
After a while, Zhang Qianqiu pursed his lips and could not hold back any more. "Honorable Immortal, we've told you everything we can tell. It was our fault to break into the mountain, but these two were encouraged by me, so I'm the only one to be punished should there be any punishment."
"Why, you're a rather responsible man." Blinking, Xiaojin deliberately intimidated them. "Too bad you're too naive. You've discovered the secret of this mountain, do you think you can still leave here alive?"
"Honorable Immortals, have, have mercy!" Yan Han broke down at the words and begged for his life. Li Dong, on the other hand, remained motionless as he crumpled up on the ground, as if he had been scared stiff.
"Aren't you, aren't you afraid of the government's punishment for killing innocent people?" Zhang Qianqiu was no less scared, but he would not let it show. Instead, he opened his eyes widely and shouted out a question.
Xiaozhai was somewhat surprised. "You can wait here and see if you want. I'll kill them first and leave you here on the mountain. They can come, if they've got the balls."
Zhang Qianqiu's heart lurched, but he dared not retort. As little as he knew about the cultivation world, from Yan Han's description along, he knew that streak of golden purple divine thunder could not be summoned by just anybody.
How helpless they must've felt!
They had just come out of the novice village... scratch that, they had not yet left the novice village when they stumbled into this hell mode dungeon. The result: annihilation.
"Ok, here are the two choices for you," Xiaozhai cut to the chase, "One is to stay here and work for us. Take care of fruit trees, tea trees, and the crops. The other option is to work for us outside. Be our eyes of the outside world. Of course, to make sure you do not spill the secret, we'll plant some sort of inhibitor on you."
The three exchanged a look, all bearing different thoughts. Yan Han was genuinely frightened and said hastily, "I, I'm going out!"
"Ok." Xiaozhai nodded.
Zhang Qianqiu gave it a moment before he gritted his teeth and said, "I'm staying!"
"That'll do as well."
Xiaozhai turned to Li Dong. "And you?"
"I, I want to stay here, too," stuttered Li Dong.
What? That answer was completely out of Zhang Qianqiu's expectation. Yan Han was the one ranting about searching for immortals and the Great Dao all the time, but flinched when things got real. Li Dong had always been resistant about the idea, but was determined at the critical time… one had to admit, human nature was a wonderful thing.
Presently, Xiaozhai flipped out three streaks of thunder energy, injectin into their bodies. "It will break out in a month's time. Come to me then and the symptoms will be automatically eased. You can stay overnight in the back mountain tonight. Now go."
After the three had left, she asked again, "What do you think of the three?"
"Li Dong is quite perceptive. He is not much fun, but is rather decisive. Zhang Qianqiu has a tough mind, and is very responsible. Yan Han, well, he's not all that good at all!" Xiaojin's analysis was pretty objective.
"We are still short of real trusted helpers. We'll see about them for the time being." Xiaozhai was noncommittal. She only waved at the girl. "Come here!"
Xiaojin's face puckered up right away. It seemed she could not avoid the punishment after all. She had not choice but to dawdle near.
The vast land of the province was sparsely populated. Less than six million people lived in this land of over 700,000 km^2. Such regions were usually endowed with plenty of original scenic spots and the most renowned one in Qingning was the holy lake of Tso Ngonpo 1 .
The road going around Tso Ngonpo was probably the most cycling-friendly road in the country. Throughout the year, people arrived here to relive their adolescent experience. The entire road was around 360 km in length and would take one about four days to finish an entire round. The tall mountains, the pastures, the thousands of mu of cole flowers, and the countless plump cows and sheeps—the view was heavenly.
The winter scene was less colourful, but with all the magnificence gone, the stillness of the land had different kind of beauty.
Lifting her bottom slightly off the saddle, Wu Yang swayed this way and that rhythmically as she pedalled on. The movement appeared rather professional.
The girl was from south of the Yangtze River. With her last relationship ended, she took a long leave and came traveling alone as a distraction. She had set out from Black Horse River and the first section of the road was 70 km long, which would take her to a famous spot called Bird Island.
This section of the road was said to be the most beautiful. However, she was in no mood to savor the view and was only pedalling fiercely, as if trying to give vent to something.
She had little idea how far she had gone before there came a clank and her wheels stuck. At such a high speed, the sudden stop threw her off balance and she crashed down together with the bike.
Wu Yang did not stand up right away. Instead, she let her emotions run wild as she banged her fist on the bike and shouted. It was quite some time before she calmed down. Only then did she notice that one of the parts was broken and she could not ride on.
Luckily, this section of the road was quite frequently traveled. Lifting the bike up, she stood it by the side of the road, then held up her thumb.
Cycling was quite a popular sports in the country nowadays, so nobody thought her action odd. About twenty minutes into the waiting, a jeep stopped and a fellow stuck out his head. "Where to?"
"The next town. I need to have my bike fixed."
Tying the bike on the roof of the jeep, Wu Yang sat down on the passenger seat. She only noticed then that there was another man on the back seat, who had deep-set eyes and a prominent nose, both features suggesting a man of certain ethnic group.
The man sized her up. There was a hint of strange satisfaction in his eyes.
Wu Yang realized something was wrong. She was about to find an excuse to get off when the driver leaned over all of a sudden, pressing something hard against her nose and mouth.
The girl struggled with all her strength, but that was to no avail. She was soon unconscious.
When she woke up again, she discovered that she was lying in a sizeable stone chamber. The light was dim and the atmosphere was eerie. A few black-robed men with their faces masked stood by her and in the front was a natural stone-surrounded pond.
Something seemed to be boiling inside, which was giving off a dim, greenish glow.
With her hands and feet bound and her mouth gagged, she was completely defenseless. She could only watch as a bald man walked in, chanted some gibberish spell, then waved his hand.
The black-robed men lifted Wu Yang up and threw her in.
With a loud noise of the air flow, a plane landed at the airport of the city of Xiping, the provincial capital of Qingning. With the destruction of Huo Zhou, the previous traffic hub also lay wasted. All traffic had to enter the region from nearby cities.
Gu Yu swiftly got off the plane with Long Qiu.TL/N: the tibetan name of Qinghai Lake