They went into a back room with no windows and piles of sundries scattered all over; it looked like a storage room of some sort.
Gu Yu now saw that Erhard was in a western-style robe. The old man pressed his palm against the wall and the floor split open, revealing a staircase extending downwards.
"This way, please!"
He led the other five down into a much wider space—actually, it was even bigger than the entire cottage. There were tables, chairs, and many wooden cabinets, which were filled with all kinds of containers and laboratory apparatuses.
Erhard took a complicated-looking container out of a cabinet. The main part was a 30 cm flask divided into two layers. A few winding pipes were connected to the flask, all sealed apart from a single opening.
The flask was empty. However, after he dropped in a handful of magic powder, a strange and remarkable object emerged among the sprinkling particles.
To call it an object was not exactly accurate, but Gu Yu did not know how to describe it otherwise.
The outer layer of the flask was filled with a sticky dark brown semi-liquid that was emanating a detectable heat, making the flask rotating slowly.
Inside the sphere of the inner layer of the flask was a naked little person, who was holding its knees between its arms with its eyes shut. There was something weird about its facial expression that Gu Yu could not quite describe.
To be honest, he was seldom disturbed by anything these days, but this thing had disturbed him greatly—no, not that, he was petrified!
He was overwhelmed by the greatest horror, for that little person looked exactly like a normal child with its normal limbs, body, flesh, and hair!
It was not just him, but everyone present was shocked. A hush fell over the room as they eyed it turning slowly inside the sphere; they almost expected it to open its eyes at any moment.
A moment later, Ernese was the first one unable to contain his excitement. His full beard quivered as he shouted out, "Haha, my old friend, you made it! You finally made it!"
"I am far from that. This is only a preliminary replication. I have no idea what form it will evolve into."
With that, Erhard fetched a bag of fresh blood and poured it into the flask through the glass pipe. The dark-red liquid flowed into the flask, but instead of gathering at the bottom, it disappeared rapidly; the thing seemed to have absorb it all.
Its facial expression finally changed a little after the whole big bag of blood was gone. The corners of its mouth turned upwards and it looked happy.
"Is, is it a human being?" Andrea stuttered out a question.
As a religious group of Uncle Sam—which was not the most ideal magical land in this new world—she didn't have much opportunity to witness something this remarkable and was a little abashed with her ignorance.
"You may call it that, or something else. Technically speaking, it is a creation of alchemy." Erhard put away the flask and explained, "The founder of my teacher's faction was fortunate enough to learn from Paracelsus himself. This is the occult knowledge he left behind… haha, all right, let's go back there and talk."
He resealed the laboratory and led the others back to sit by the fireplace. Andrea still looked dazed as she muttered, "Paracelsus, oh my god, this is incredible… I don't know what to say!"
Gu Yu was equally surprised, for he had never expected Erhard to be a descendant of Paracelsus. No wonder the other three held great respect towards the old man.
Paracelsus was a Swiss-born German and an alchemist renowned in medieval Europe.
He had set up a discipline, advocating combining alchemy with medical science for a better service for humanity. Many legends rose around this man, among which was the Homunculus.
It meant "man-made man".
In alchemy, a human being was believed to consist of flesh, soul, and spirit. That was to say, if one could create all three elements, they could create a human being without a womb.
Paracelsus was said to be the only one in European history to have achieved that. He created a miniature human being in a jar, but it died shortly afterwards.
That was insane!
The creation of men was deemed to be the work of God only. If a man could build a man, where did that leave God?
Hence, the concept of Homunculus had always been deemed heretic and was mercilessly suppressed by the Vatican.
Gu Yu was overwhelmed by all kinds of feelings. This trip was so worth it by attending this gathering alone! He could only see so big a world staying back at home, and could really perceive the vastness of this universe by getting in touch with the world outside.
For instance, what were the Taoist approaches of creating human beings?
One option was to turn to vicious, unorthodox methods, using bits and pieces of flesh of different people to put a body together.
Or, a body had to be created out of an existing one, in which case, one was to replicate themselves.
Or, one had to reach a supreme cultivation state, such as Perfected Man Taiyi, who build Nezha 1 with lotus roots.
All those above required very advanced cultivation level—unlike alchemy, which was almost like a discipline devoted to artificial human creation.
Wait a minute! A discipline!
Gu Yu's heart skipped a beat as if a lever was pulled. The idea came so suddenly that his thoughts were all over the place for a while and his mind was in chaos. He was faintly aware of something pivotal and only came to himself after quite a while.
He fixed his mind on that thought and pressed on, "What did you make this thing for?"
"Initially, to create the perfect life form. According to Paracelsus, although it was a fraction of the size of a normal human being, it was born a master of various knowledge. It would also have excellent academic ability and enjoy a long and disease-free life.
"It might be just another crazy experiment of his, but when I tried to replicate it, hoho, I was wondering if I could use it on myself." Erhard did not try to conceal anything.
"Does it have a mind and soul of its own?" asked Cohen.
"There is no guarantee of that. After all, no second person has ever succeeded. I don't have much hope for my own experiment, either."
"How long is it until ready?" asked Marianne.
"You're very lucky. It's seven days from now, and right during the conference. I'll invite you over again then." Erhard sipped that unknown drink and turned to look at Gu Yu with a smile. "The oriental Taoist skills had a long history. I'd love to see what you have in this aspect."
"You have been very honest with me and it is only fair that I share something myself. Here we go."
Old Gu meant it—the old man had demonstrated his sincerity by sharing such a big secret on their first meeting. He took out a talisman and grabbed at the thin air. A leaf on the tree outside then appeared in his hand, followed by a whooshing sound.
The talisman burst into flame and white smoke surged up, gradually transforming into a man that was a perfect replica of Gu Yu, only that the look on its face was a little blank.
"Transfiguration!" Cohen let out a soft cry first, then corrected himself, "No, that's not it. That was not transfiguration. To turn a leaf into a man will cost a great amount of magic, but the fluctuation just then was tiny."
"What was the mechanism behind this? Was that a talisman?" Marianne also asked.
"That's correct. It was indeed a talisman. It contains energy and you simply activate it when you want to use it. Of course, you will need some sort of plant, metal, or stone as a medium, as well as a little, um, spiritual imprint from the user themselves. This replica can talk and walk around, but it has no mind or soul. It has a physical body, though, and can remain in this form for three days. It will do this under impact…"
He gave it a pat and Evangelion 2 Gu Yu made a popping sound and disappeared.
"I see, it's like a magic scroll." Marianne understood right away.
"What was that move called, the one you used to pick the leaf? It looked a lot like Mage Hand." Ernese was apparently more interested in that aspect.
"That's Small Moving Technique; it's quite versatile. For example…"
Gu Yu did not move, but Ernese's pipe suddenly disappeared from his hand, and the next moment, it popped up between Cohen's lips. Both old men were taken by surprise and it took Cohen a minute to throw away the pipe and spit repeatedly. "Gosh! That was like kissing that old bat indirectly! Gross!"
"Hahaha!" Erhard broke into a laughter. "The oriental skills are indeed remarkable. You know, the greater the difference between an object and the thing it is transfigured into, the more difficult it is, let alone maintain the form for three days."
"You flatter me. I am only a beginner in this field. Those that reach an advanced cultivation state can replicate themselves out of thin air, turn clay puppets into living men, and make objects out of nothing. Now, that is remarkable," said Gu Yu.
"Turn clay puppets into men and create objects out of nothing…" Erhard repeated those words with a longing in his eyes. After a brief pause, he offered Gu Yu the official invitation as a sign of accepting the latter into the group. "Our gathering will be held regularly throughout the conference. I hope we'll see you again."
The private party did not finish until early the next morning.
Andrea left on her own, while Gu Yu went back to the hotel with Ernese on that carriage. His head was filled with ideas after the night and he couldn't wait to see the old man of their own delegation.
Unfortunately, the delegation had left early this morning. It was the first day of the conference and the leading figures of all 184 countries and regions had to make their appearance.
He had no choice but to stay behind and watch the live broadcast.
All countries had reached the tacit agreement that nothing extraordinary would happen on the conference. The mysterious powers had their own playground. With the delegations of Chine, Uncle Sam, Sicily, Britannia, Oz, Espania, Nippon, etc., showing their faces in turn, one could sense the torrents brewing behind the curtain.
Finally, the afternoon arrived and the first day of the conference was over.
The old man hurried back to the hotel and greeted Gu Yu by asking, "Mr. Gu, you didn't come back last night. Was there a problem?"
"Don't worry, it was nothing like that. I have good news." He told the old man about what had happened and suggested, "I am pretty sure about why they sought me out. Germani, Gaul, and Viking are definitely thinking about collaboration. Maybe you could work on that angle."
"That explains a lot. I felt something was going on during the meeting today… ok, I'll make a note of that. Anything else?"
"There's so much more, but I'll have to get to know them better to figure it all out. All I can tell you now is that I will learn so much more than I expected from this trip." He did not go into details and only asked, "How are things on your front?"
"Most countries are still riding the fence. Uncle Sam is not as domineering as usually; it almost seemed they did not have much to fall back onto. The African countries are all on their own. The Latin American countries seemed to have formed an alliance, trying to increase their bargaining power. Oz is looking for friends. Britannia is unexpectedly loud; they proposed setting up a European alliance, developing the mysterious powers with a joint force. The alliance will be run by a committee and they pretty much named themselves for it."
"Uncle Sam has their hands tied with everything going on domestically. They don't have much— wait a minute." Gu Yu blinked and said, "I have an idea, but it is a very rough one."
"That's ok. Do tell," said the old man.
"I learned yesterday that Uncle Sam has over 1200 registered cults. A handful are quite capable, but most of them are just swindlers.
"The Congress is fighting among themselves; some support a full-on suppression, while others suggest a gentler approach. However, there is a great shortage of transcendent powers under the government's control and Voodoo is setting fire in their backyard. It's a circus out there.
"How about this? We will offer them some help in exchange for something to our country's benefit. I can't think of anything specific—I believe that is your expertise. Oh, and there's this…"
He took out a card. "This is the contact information of the Wicca. They have a relatively positive theology and maybe you can reach out to them, see if you can learn something more."
"..." The old man took the card and studied it carefully. "Yes, I believe it is doable. We'll talk about it in detail later."
"Great. By the way, what's the agenda tomorrow?"
"The same old stuff: implication, differentiation, and a lot of wooing. This is a ten-day conference and no one knows how it'll turn out until the last moment."
"I see. That is a lot of hard work. In that case, I'll take care of myself."
"We are in a foreign country after all. So, if it's possible, do keep your, um…" The old man was already worried—this fellow had a habit of switching between the little red riding hood and the big wolf without warning.
"Don't worry. I know when to stop."
Bonn, an ancient castle in the suburbs.
The castle, which could be dated back to almost a thousand years, had now been revamped into a hotel with gardens providing reception service. It was a renowned destination in Europe. Two days before the commencement of the conference, a group of people rented the entire venue; according to the registration information, they were all from Britannia.
Right now, a dozen people were sitting around a long dining table, quietly enjoying their dinner.
They were all properly attired and moved around the table gracefully with perfect manners, every bit the gentlemen they were supposed to be. In the middle of the meal, a man entered the room, walked up to the man in the host's seat, and whispered into his ears.
"I see. You can leave us now." The man put down his cutlery and gave the table a knock with his knuckles. "Gentlemen, the first day of the conference is over. As expected, the proposal of setting up a European alliance was rejected, which marked the commencement of our task.
"Never shall we forget that our country was once the greatest nation of this world, ruling over a quarter of the global population with a territory of 34 million km^2.
"An emerging opportunity is upon us now. Even if the old glory was a past we could not replicate, we will not rest until we rise above all others in this war. Britannia is the land most abundant with modern magic, which is our fate and great fortune. Europe is not a land with plenty resources; Gaul, Germani, Mediterranean, and the Iceberg buccaneers up in the north all have their own organizations. They are all our enemies!
"Gentlemen, while they fight their battles inside the conference room, we will fight ours out here. I don't care what measures you take, the majority of the countries must reach the agreement on passing our proposal."
Those around the table answered his calling and the man went on. "Leave Ernese, Erhard, and the other old ones alone for the time being. Start with the small countries."
"What about the Orient?"
"They have their own problems to deal with and won't be in our way. Nippon is the only one offering secret support, but they cannot be trusted. Keep an eye on them. And there's Chine…" Hatred seeped through his voice as he said, "Two of ours were killed, and I suspect that man is the culprit. Find a way to kill him!"
"This fact that he is with the delegation means he is very powerful. We might not be able to…" said someone anxiously.
"Ha! Don't worry. That one is with us here!"
A mixture of worship, envy, and fear flashed across every face at the table at the mention of that person, as if that one was the answer to all problems.TL/N: Nezha is a deity of Chinese folk religion. According to the Investiture of the Gods, he was the son of a military commander of the Shang Dynasty. In order to protect his people from a Dragon King, he committed suicide. Taiyi, his teacher, later built him a body out of lotus roots for his soul, giving Nezha another life. TL/N: as in the anime EVA