"Good evening, young man!"
The shadow in the corner corrugated, resembling a rippling effect, and a Caucasian old man revealed himself; a full beard covered the lower half of his face. He was none other than that old man from earlier.
He spoke perfect Gaulish. After greeting Gu Yu, he turned to Andrea with a smile. "And good evening to you too, beautiful young lady."
"Enchantée, Your Excellency!"
It turned out that Andrea was fluent in the same language—she even waved at the old man.
"Excuse me, over here?" interjected Gu Yu a little helplessly.
The bearded man chuckled and produced a magical staff, then pointed at Gu Yu chanting a spell.
A strange yet harmless fluctuation rushed towards Gu Yu, who sensed it but did not resist. As the magical staff pointed at him, Gu Yu instantly felt a subtle connection created between him and the old man.
"Please allow me to apologize first. You are correct by saying that I was following you. On the other hand, you were such a pleasant surprise for me as well."
That got Old Gu greatly intrigued, for the old man was still speaking Gaulish but he could understand what he was saying now as if an automatic translation plug-in had been added. He couldn't help but ask, "What magic art is this?"
"Just a petty trick to make communication more efficient. It's not worth mentioning." The old man stroked his beard and smiled. "Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Ernese Maximilian."
He offered a name that Old Gu had never heard before.
"Oh my god, you're Mage Ernese? I can't believe this! Oh, I'm Andrea. I am the member of a coven of Wicca." Andrea, on the other hand, opened her eyes widely in surprise and sounded excited.
"Wicca? Hm, not bad."
The old man nodded out of politeness; he apparently did not think much of her group. He then said to Gu Yu, "To tell you the truth, young man, I am holding a private gathering tonight and I was considering inviting you… after that battle, haha, you are definitely qualified."
Gu Yu was secretly pursing his lips, finding the condescending gesture ridiculous. With his infinite proximity to the Human Immortal state, he was in complete control of how much capability he wanted to demonstrate. No one but those of an equal cultivation level were able to see through it.
He had purposefully pretended to be someone lesser than he really was, and since he was going to nose around, he asked, "May I ask what kind of gathering it is?"
"Don't worry. It's just me and a few other elderly fellows. It's purely academic."
"Well, sure. It'll be rude not to do as you asked." Seeing that Andrea was listening in eagerly on the side, he chuckled. "This young lady is my friend. Since she's already here, can I bring her along?"
"Haha, all right, you can both come." Ernese darted a look at the girl and granted Gu Yu's request.
Hence, the three left the alley with the old man in the lead. They stopped at a street corner after a short while, where the old man tapped a street lamp three times with his magical staff and chanted some strange words.
Before long, there came the clip clop of hooves and a retro-styled medieval carriage emerged from the darkness of the night. It was drawn by two tall and robust black horses with beautiful muscle tones. However, their eyes were too dull to be alive.
"Magical puppets," Ernese offered a succinct explanation. "All aboard, please."
The three then got into the carriage and the hoof sounds rang out again, taking them right to a village in the suburbs.
It was less than two hours since Gu Yu left the hotel, yet he had seen plenty of strange mysterious powers in such a short time. He was all the more intrigued. The occidental scene was more diverse and scattered with more fractions than its oriental counterpart, but their overall inheritance seemed to be more intact than that back home.
Since the trip would take a little while, the three struck up a conversation and he took the opportunity to learn about the identities of the other two.
Let's talk about Andrea first.
Wicca was established three hundred years ago. Based on the concept of ancient Indian "energy" and primitive witchcraft, it had created unique practices to expand one's physical and mental states.
It was rather popular in Uncle Sam and recognized as a legitimate religious sect by the authorities. The organization structure consisted of a priestess at the top, followed by supreme, level III, level II, and level I witches.
Those reaching the level of a supreme witch could operate independently and form their own organization of witches known as covens—meaning an assembly of witches.
The theology of Wicca was quite a positive one, centering around eight virtues of mirth, reverence, honor, humility, strength, beauty, power, and compassion. "Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill—an it harm none, do what ye will."
Hence was Wicca's tolerant attitude towards many groups. For instance, they were very LGBT-friendly.
The coven Andrea belonged to was called Lakeside Dawn, which consisted of thirteen members and had a supreme witch as their leader. Andrea was sent to Bonn for information-gathering and recruiting new believers while she was at it.
As for Voodoo, or Vodun, it originated from West Africa and was a primitive religion with mixed elements of ancestor worship, animism, spiritualism, etc. It shared some similarity with Shamanism in a way.
A large number of African people were taken to Haiti and sold as slaves in the 16th century; they also brought their primitive religion with them. It then took root in Haiti and gradually evolved into the Voodoo as we saw today.
They were mostly famous for their walking corpses, which were moving bodies that stuck between life and death. That dwarf was a member of Voodoo fighting Wicca on the American continent.
Then we had Ernese.
Despite his mild look, the old man was slicker than you could expect. He revealed very little about himself and all Gu Yu learnt was that he was one of the leaders of a Gaulish magic society who enjoyed a high social status. He was in charge of the security work of this conference.
The gathering tonight was organized by him and his friends—to be exact, four, himself included.
After about half an hour, the carriage turned into a small village and stopped outside a cottage. The three got out; Ernese patted the horse's head, and the puppets turned around, disappearing into the dark night with that same rhythmic footsteps.
"They won't get lost, will they?" asked Andrea.
"Haha, young lady, do you know why Bonn was chosen to hold the conference? A very old person lives here, and has set up many magical stations in this city, which can work in ways you can't possibly imagine… come, I'll bring you to him."
With that, Ernese tapped the door with his staff and the door opened itself with a creek.
On entering, Gu Yu scanned the room. The interior was plainly decorated and piled with a multitude of things. It reminded him of salons popular in Europe over a century ago, where one would find warm fireplaces and soft chaises longues.
Two men and a woman were already sitting on the settees, all three very old. Gu Yu got the feeling that the white-beard man on the left who had a blanket over his laps held the highest status. It was he that called out, "Ernese, you're late!"
"Sorry, I had to pick up two young friends." Ernese took off his coat and introduced them to one another. "This is Erhard, this is Marianne, and this is Cohen."
The three pairs of eyes skipped Andrea and landed right on Gu Yu. There was a moment of silence, then the white-beard man—a.k.a Erhard—gave a slight nod. "Welcome to this gathering. I hope you won't be bored by all the old people here."
"I'm very lucky to be here. Nice to meet you all," said Gu Yu, cupping his hands.
Actually, he recognized two of them the moment he walked in—Erhard was the guardian mage of the dignitaries of the host country and Marianne was that of Viking of North Europe—although it never occurred to him that they were friends. As for that Cohen, Gu Yu had never seen him before.
The brief conversation between Erhard and Gu Yu surprised the others.
It was especially the case with Ernese, for all he could sense so far was that this young man was extraordinary in a way, but nothing specific. Erhard, on the other hand, was recognized as one of the mightiest in Europe. Now that he was talking to Gu Yu like equals, did it mean...
Ernest's stomach lurched a little.
Before long, all six took their seats, with a delicious cup of hot beverage made of unknown ingredients in their hands.
Erhard said, "Since we have new friends among us today, let me reiterate this: although we're all from different countries, political stand is irrelevant here. All that takes place is academic communication. We four have been the only ones participating so far and it is becoming somewhat repetitive. Since you're from the orient, we'd like to hear about your thoughts."
It finally dawned on Gu Yu that these four were acquaintances since before the recovery of the spiritual essence; they kept their old habits of regular meeting after that.
Obviously, this one they were holding now was something different, for in one way or another, it reflected the attitude of the countries they represented. At least, it seemed Germani, Gaul, and Viking had reached some friendly treaty by now.
The fact that Ernese had invited Gu Yu out of the blue was proof of their initial exploratory attempt.
The timing was perfect, for he himself had a lot of questions he wanted to ask. Gu Yu organized his thoughts and said, "I am only the newcomer here, and I don't want to mislead anyone with wild talk. The orient and the occident probably knew very little of each other in this aspect, and since I am a cultivator of the Great Dao, I will start from Dao itself.
"As we are taught back in my country, 'Dao begets One, One begets Two, Two begets Three, and Three begets all things.'
"What exactly is Dao? Our understanding is that it is the path of the existence and movement of everything. In a word: Nature.
"The sun and moon rise and set; animals live and multiply; wind blows and water flows without a generator; trees and grass grow without artificial sowing; we breathe and our hearts beat without anyone telling them to do so...
"Everything is following its own path just like that. It cannot be created or destroyed; it is intangible and formless; it has no start or end; it includes everything… that is Dao.
"In a human society, it is demonstrated in a much more observable way. For instance, we talk about the way of conducting oneself, the way of doing business, the relationship between monarchs and their subjects, the path of learning, the way of achieving harmony between husband and wife, etc. All those 'ways', 'paths', or 'methods' are Dao as well.
"According to western religions, God created the world. Then scientists claimed that the universe was created via Big Bang. I myself am too ignorant to offer opinion on either of them.
"We Taoists believe that Dao created the universe and the universe consists of Qi.
"Qi is the ultimate source of this world. There are many types: the energy of black sky and yellow earth, Yin and Yang energy, the energy of Five Elements, inauspicious energy of evil stars, Big Dipper energy of Qian… Qi constitutes all things in this world and it is such energy we use for our cultivation."
"For example?" asked Marianne suddenly.
"For example… this."
Gu Yu opened his palm and released a streak of spiritual essence, which stood vertically in his hand. As the spiritual essence was formless, he manipulated it so that it could vibrate at a high frequency.
Thus, the air above his palm began to contort and the little space warped, emanating energy in circles.
"Oh, it does not consist of elements! And the fluctuation is so clear!" Marianne cried out softly.
"It resembles certain practices of ancient India, but this is of a purer form." Ernese had taken out a pipe from somewhere and was now puffing on it.
"I read an ancient book once—in it was a method of meditation which absorbed this type of energy, but it was extremely difficult and probably not suitable for our occidental races," added Cohen.
"Oh, I do want to experiment with it. Maybe it'll transform into something even more interesting!"
Just like when Gu Yu saw magic for the first time, the other five now were greatly intrigued by the spiritual essence and were discussing excitingly of this strange form of energy.
After some discussion, Erhard said, "All right, we've said enough. Please continue."
Gu Yu put down his hand with a smile and went on, "The sky, the earth, and even humans were transformed from Qi. The aim of our cultivation is therefore to recover our original simplicity and return to our original state. In simple words: to turn people back into Qi again, so that we can live for as long as the world exists.
"That is the belief of cultivators in my country and the path we choose to follow. Since the remote ages tens of thousands years ago, countless people have stepped into this breach as another falls, trying to blaze a way through all manners of obstacles. All we ever cared is that slim line of hope."
He paused a moment, then said, "Therefore, like I just explained, we cultivate to rise beyond this mortal form so as to reach the realm of Great Dao, where we can watch the creation and destruction of universes. If I may ask, what is your ultimate goal of your practices? Also immortality?"
The room fell into silence at the question.
Thanks to that interpretation trick, the others understood him despite his literary-style speech. Being the weakest one here, Andrea knew she was merely a tag-along audience, hence she had been awfully quiet, which was very unlike her.
Quite a while later, Ernese tapped his pipe and said, "If you asked me that question ten years ago, I would answer without a doubt that I hanker for the knowledge and power of magic. However, I have realized by now that in the process of pursuing that, I have paid with my most precious thing."
"Time?" asked Gu Yu.
"Exactly! I deem myself among the most knowledgeable men on magic theories in the whole Europe. However, the more knowledge I accumulated, the more afraid I became." Ernese sighed.
"Haha, me, too. Did you know my first reaction when I realized the elements had reappeared?" Marianne chimed in, then answered the question herself, "I went to Flamel's grave to search for the philosopher's stone."
"Hahaha! I'd never imagined that! You, the one cooler than an iceberg, have actually done that!" Cohen broke into a laughter.
"I was consulting the documents my teacher left the other day. The philosopher's stone should have been successfully created, but not the elixir of life. And for some reason, Flamel has lost the stone and it was nowhere to be found."
Erhard seemed to have an extraordinary inheritance, for the other three looked revered as soon as he mentioned his teacher.
He then chuckled. "The new young friend asked a simple question which we have been avoiding the whole time. When we began our practices, we were probably after wisdom, power, wealth, or influence. But in the end, it all came down to one thing—immortality, or eternal life."
Gu Yu chuckled with him. Indeed, it was the common weak spot of all cultivators in this world: they were all afraid of dying!
"Since we're on that topic, I just happen to have something here to show you all."
"You found something in that research?" asked Ernese curiously.
"I wouldn't call it that. A preliminary restoration, that's all."
Erhard seemed to be not holding anything back from them. He then slowly rose to his feet and led the other five into the back room.