The plant grew among a low bush, slightly taller than the latter.
It had thick fleshy leaves the shape and size of a grown man's palm. The branches and leaves were in three distinctive layers; a long, straight stalk rose from the middle, with a fist-sized lump of red seeds on the tip of it.
It stood there in this hollow tree, swaying this way and that despite the absense of any wind as if it was nodding at them.
Gu Yu locked onto the target right away. That powerful vitality was coming from none other than this plant. He blinked and repeated what he was told as if it was his own understanding. "This is a ginseng plant, if I'm not mistaken, and a 'lamp stand' for that matter. That Mada Mountain thing is probably its doing."
"Yes, it looks very much like what Grandpa Shui told us. Is it a four-year-old ginseng?" asked Long Qiu.
"Ginseng leaves grow in cycles, from one branch to six, and back to one again. It's called 'reincarnation'." Xiaozhai took a closer look and said, "Judging from what it has done, god knows how many rounds of reincarnation this one had gone through. It could be older than we three put together."
Long Qiu opened her mouth slightly in surprise and watched the ginseng curiously. She then asked, "So what are we going to do now?"
"It seems quite spiritual. Let me try first…"
Gu Yu went up to it and studied it for a while, then stretched out a hand, trying to touch it. The moment his slender finger made contact with the leaf, he shuddered to a halt. A message came to his mind.
It was neither a voice nor words, but more like a confused baby that had yet to learn to speak gesturing a message, which contained one word only.
Gu Yu winced, surprised and amused at the same time. Activating his mental force, he separated out a thin tentacle and probed with it.
From the other end came an undisguised resentment. After a few failed attempts, Gu Yu resolved to turn into a tentacular monster and engulfed his opponent, which barely enabled him to make a connection.
Instantly, he sensed a gentle and innocent mind that was full of spectacular vitality connected with his own.
"Who are you?" he asked through his spiritual force.
There was no reply. The thing on the other side seemed unable to either understand or answer the question.
"Are you this grass? I mean, ginseng?" he asked another question.
Still no answer.
"I'm Gu Yu. How long have you been here?
"Are you a boy or a girl?
"Are those two dumb birds your helpers?"
Our fellow rambled on in his head, ignoring what the other side might feel about this. It seemed forever before a new message came through, one which was a mixture of a million emotions: fear, defensiveness, annoyance… it was very chaotic.
"Brother, what have you found?" Gu Yu had been silent for so long that Long Qiu could not help but ask.
"This is unbelievable!" Shaking his head, he let out a sigh with affected airs. "We were just talking about spiritual mountain creatures and voila! The kiddo here has formed some sort of preliminary consciousness. It doesn't know how to express itself yet, but it's no longer your average treasure."
"You mean, it has a mind?" Long Qiu opened her eyes widely.
Xiao Qiu immediately got excited. Crouching down in a whoosh, she thought about touching the plant, but was a little afraid to do so. She only tilted her head to one side and watched.
Xiao Zhai paid her no attention, thinking aloud instead. "Maybe the mallet birds pooped into this hollow tree and the seeds in the poop took root and sprouted. This most unusual location has prevented it from being discovered the entire time. After god knows how many centuries, it ended up like this."
"There is another possibility. This tree used to be a normal one. The ginseng seed fell on the top and started sucking the vital essence of the tree. As time went by, the tree was sucked hollow," added Gu Yu.
"I was telling a fairy tale and you turned it into a ghost story." Xiaozhai rolled her eyes at him.
They casually chatted on, neither too surprised by the fact that a ginseng had developed its consciousness.
It could not be helped. Ginseng was the sort of a most "unscientific" plant that grew only an itsy bitsy bit in three to five hundred years. One would be lying to themselves if they did not admit that there was something unnatural about it.
It was considered a spiritual being since the ancient times and was divinized (or demonized) among the ginseng bands.
For example, one rule of using ginseng rod was that the search-and-poke rod was to be stuck upright into the ground once a ginseng was found. Two copper coins tied with red strings were than set on the rod so as to stop the ginseng from running away.
Just then, Long Qiu let out a little cry. She finally could not hold back and poked the lump of red seeds with her finger tip, then got a message.
"Brother, Sister, it's laughing! It's laughing!"
"You two are getting along that well already?" Gu Yu felt a little defeated.
"Hehe, it's not afraid of me."
The couple exchanged a look, realizing this might work after all.
Xiao Qiu was what you call a legendary Druid in a western fantasy system—Nature attribute: max; Natural Affinity attribute: max! As long as she was around, any task involving swindling and bluffing, scratch that, any task involving patient guidance would not be a problem at all.
"We want to take it back to Phoenix Mountain. Can you make that happen?" Xiaozhai asked, then added, "We'd love to take it away if it's willing to. If not, we won't force it."
"Well, I can try."
Crinkling up her nose, Long Qiu put a finger on the red seeds, closed her eyes, and started communicating.
The other two waited patiently. Quite a while passed when Long Qiu opened her eyes, took out a gourd all of a sudden, and poured out a little spiritual liquor.
The liquor landed on the leaves and was immediately absorbed. Right after that, despite the absence of any wind, the entire ginseng planted swayed more violently than before.
"I don't think I understood what it said, but it should be OK." Long Qiu poured out the rest half gourd of the liquor. "There's no problem as long as we can give it this. It likes it a lot."
"Great!" Both Gu Yu and Xiaozhai were relieved.
The ginseng was endowed with abundant wood spiritual essence and could connect with the earthly energy to create Mada Mountain. It was as unrestrained as paying players. It would be of great use and they could not just take it away by force. It had to come willingly.
However, to move it turned out to be a problem.
Gu Yu had scanned this place with his mental force. The root of this ginseng was enormous, and came with a lot of soil. Theoretically, the Small Moving Technique could do the trick, but Changbai Mountain was almost 500 km away from Phoenix Mountain—where could they find the person with that much spiritual energy?
Therefore, it could only be carried away with a wooden box made from the old tree in the valley—a very, very big wooden box, which they did not have at the moment.
After a brief discussion, they decided to get down the mountain first and think about what to do later.
With that, the three jumped out of the hollow tree. Gu Yu and Xiaozhai each applied their own method, sealing the tree with a double confinement. They then left swiftly, unaware of a strange rat hiding in a burrow some distance away, who was staring in their direction with its beady eyes.
The sky grew lighter and the warm sun shone on the mountain.
A figure as short as a child emerged somewhere in the mountain out of the blue. Short as he might be, he was moving very fast. He dashed all the way up, heading directly for that old tree.
"This should be it."
He halted abruptly, his voice a mixture of the childish innocence and solemnity of an adult, which was the strangest sound. He looked at the old tree. Although he could not feel the powerful vitality within, instinct had drawn out a hunger within him, urging him to devour whatever the thing was.
"I almost got exposed for this. Let me see what nice stuff is in here."
The man moved closet, paused a little, and raised his hand to touch the trunk.
His palm felt as if it had landed on a layer of transparent film, which softly bounced his hand back.
He frowned slightly. Gathering up his strength, he smacked down again.
A golden purple arc of lightning exploded out of the film, slithering all over his body from his palm. Wherever the energy reached, his internal Qi dissipated along with it.
"Sh*t!" he cried out and sat down right away, adjusting his breathing. It took him a long time and much difficulty to finally contain that thunder energy.
"They were indeed as powerful as promised. I didn't expect them to have obtained such a skill." Various colors flashed across his face before the man guffawed. "Hoho, since I can't have it, neither will you."
With that, he turned swiftly and disappeared into the woods.
"Sis! Sister Jiang! My blood! My dear old sister!"
In that poplar grove at the mountain foot, as soon as the research team left, Shui Yao ran to a certain person while howling at the top of his voice. "Where is your conscience, huh? We haven't exactly grown up wearing the same set of clothes, but at least we shared the same kang once, right? You're among the immortals now and me? You dear old brother is still struggling in the mud pit. Won't you feel sorry for me?"
"Nope," answered Xiaozhai.
That was ruthless. Shui Yao choked on his tongue for two seconds like a stuck disc, then went on howling. "Fine! Forget about what we had. Aren't you cultivators all about fate and destiny? We met again and that is fate. Just spare me a little favor, anything!"
"You're too dumb for that." Xiaozhai shook her head.
Shui Yao was a stuck disc again.
"Fine! I see what you've become! You heartless woman!"
Wiping his nose clean, Shui Yao turned abruptly and marched towards Gu Yu. Eyes bulging, he looked like a bear ready to feed on someone. He then, well, plunged again.
"Younger Brother-in-law, I have loads of her dark history and childhood photos, do you want them? I'll give you a discount. Ten pieces for one favor from you. Deal?"
Gu Yu wanted to say "Deal!" so bad, but he dared not.
He cleared his throat and said, "Brother Shui, it's not that we're heartless. This thing really requires some natural talent. You're a bit over the best age and less talented for it…"
"Don't give me that bullshit! Even a toad can dream about tasting the swan one day. Let me ask you this: if you were the one stumbling upon this chance, would you give up just because you're not talented?"
The guy had a point.
Gu Yu darted a look at his girlfriend, who was standing around idly as if she had heard nothing. He immediately got the hint. The childhood playmates were suddenly worlds apart in their abilities; it would be nothing but awkward to teach the serious stuff.
It would not be the same with him—he was not familiar with the guy enough to feel awkward to do this job.
"Hear me out. There are only two things we can do for you. First, talk you through about the current situation and second, there is this set of basic training movements, if you don't mind…"
"Enough with the small talk already. Let's do it!"
So be it!
Right away, Gu Yu taught him the improved set of martial arts they taught Tan Chongdai, then told him about what was going on at the moment.
Shui Yao was stunned by what he had heard. It was quite a while before he spoke again. "Damn! I knew that with our five thousand years of history and all those sages, there must be some good stuff left! Holy crap, maybe those Immortals are hiding in some caves at the moment, waiting for the apocalypse to happen. They would then descend and save the world…"
Utterly embarrassed, Gu Yu interrupted the guy. "Brother Shui, this is very important information. Please don't give it out to just anyone."
"Don't worry, I know that!"
He did understand. Having been hanging around with people from all social strata these years, he understood the emphasis of the sentence did not lie in "don't give it out", but in "not just anyone".