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Xiaozhai preferred vegetarian dishes—a little bit of meat was all right, but lavish food was definitely a no-no.

Cooking was a hobby of Gu Yu's and he would often keep all kinds of ingredients around. Today he made braised eggplant, lightly spiced tofu, fried asparagus and a bowl of lotus root soup.

Dusk during summer time was still imbued with daylight. One could only detect the slightly dimmed sunlight through a glass window from inside. Gu Yu did not lay the dishes on the round table today, but set up the brick bed table, which had not been put in use for quite some years, instead.

It was his grandfather who had the table made; it was rectangular in shape and had four short legs. The board was made from old elm wood, its patterns already blackened. The two young fellows in their early twenties crossed their long legs and sat there eating on a brick bed. A snake reposed itself beside the girl, sticking out its two-pronged tongue every now and then.



It was the most peculiar scene one could imagine.

"Are you all going back tomorrow?" Gu Yu inquired.

"Sister He might stay behind."

"Is Tang Shuo's incident sorted out alright?"

"It'll depend on the company's approach. Anything will be fine as long as there is enough money."

Xiaozhai sipped her soup and grinned, "How about you people? Still catching snakes?"

"It'll be a few days before things quiet down. They'll need to make sure that the mountain is completely safe…"

With that, he was about to say something else but hesitated. He pondered before saying, "Well, I'm rather curious about that flute of yours. May I have a look?"

"There you go!"

Xiaozhai took it out of her backpack and tossed it over.

Gu Yu promptly caught it with his hands and looked closely. The flute was quite a thin and short one. Its style was rather bizarre with a couple of knuckle-like bumps. It was of a grayish white in color and was made from a special material, very smooth to the touch.

"Is it made from bones?" He was not so sure.

"Uh huh, from the wing bone of accipiters."

"What are accipiters?"

"It's a general term for birds such as black eagles or crested goshawks. You've got to use a super-duper ferocious bird." [1]

"Super-duper ferocious?"

He could not help laughing, finding the description somewhat adorable.

Gu Yu gave it back after playing with it for a while. He was aware that the flute was only an instrument and the key lay in the way she played it and that black pill. However, those were secrets of her sect and it would be inappropriate to ask any further.

Their feelings towards one another were rather tricky to describe at the moment. On top of their mundane friendship, they had found a commonality of both being Taoist followers, which on one hand had brought them closer, while on the other hand made both hold back, feeling it not yet the appropriate time to open up their hearts.

In general though, Gu Yu trusted Xiaozhai.

Xiaozhai put away the bone flute. She almost finished eating and asked casually, "What's your plan next?"

"Plan? I haven't actually given it much thought." He shook his head and sighed, "I obtained the Taoist technique by sheer accident and have since then been shown a world beyond imagination. All I can think of now is to learn more and enjoy the splendor to a fuller extent.

For a place as remote as Phoenix Mountain, we could find spiritual creatures like the squirrel and the green snake; imagine the countless mountains out there all over the country—the Eastern Mountain [TL/N: another name for Mount Tai, or 泰山.], Mount Emei, Mount Qingcheng, Luofu Mountain—what marvelous view would I find there? And what inheritance do the sixty-two Taoist sects and all those secluded ones have? Oh my, I do want to see them all."

"Then hit the road!" Xiaozhai interjected teasingly.

"Do I look like a hotheaded teenager to you? To set off in a whim?" Gu Yu retorted in a vexed tone.

He put away the dishes and went on babbling. "To be honest, with my daily cultivation exercise, the more effort I put in, the more uneasy I become. Once you enter this world, it's hardly possible to turn back. But if I'm stuck in this state for the rest of my life, how regretful would that be? I'm not willing to, for I'd regret it too much.

It is said that cultivators are beyond this world, but the way I see it, cultivation is as down-to-earth as anything else. The common folks care about basic necessities of life such as clothing, food, shelter and means of traveling, while we cultivators are concerned with money, companion, method, and location—all bi- or multilateral factors. As long as you need resources and communication, you will have to stay in touch with this society. Take my wish to travel as an example. How could I do that if I have neither the spare time nor the money for the travel expenses? I cannot fly."

"..."

The girl listened in silence, for she knew that she was the only person he could talk to about these things.

Gu Yu had been brooding over such thoughts and was finally able to express his feelings. He went on gabbing and blabbering, not realizing his verbosity until quite some time later. He stopped talking with embarrassment.

"Hehe…"

Xiaozhai chuckled. Unknowingly, she was getting to know him better now.

He might be the only person in this world with a real understanding of Taoism, yet he was able to maintain such natural state of mind. He looked forward to his future, held reverence towards the Great Tao and was persistent in pursuing it.

The rarest quality of his, though, was that he did not lose that human touch.

As the girl turned these thoughts over in her head, Gu Yu was feeling rather awkward himself. He did not utter a single word as he washed the dishes and cleaned the table. After that, he was suddenly struck by an idea and became serious. "By the way, do you remember the place you caught the snake?"

"Yeah, what about it?"

"Something there struck me as really odd and I want to check that place out. The spiritual essence in the mountain is getting more restless every day and the animals are considerably affected . It was the green snake acting out this time. Who knows what else is brewing in there?"

"Restless?"

Xiaozhai blinked and asked, "Which places have you visited since you could sense the essence?"

"Shengtian has the thinnest spiritual essence, barely detectable. That thing was haunting Wudao River at first, which made the essence rather agitated. After I subdued it, the essence has quieted down."

Gu Yu could see what she was getting at, hence the brief explanation. He added, "Anywhere else, the essence was perfectly normal, therefore the problem must be at this mountain. You've tamed that green snake, which can be a great help for me. Can you come with me?"

"No problem. After the incident this time settles down, you can pick a time," Xiaozhai was quick to promise.

"Ok, I'll be in touch…"

After that, he suddenly waved his hand and lowered his voice, "Someone's coming!"

The girl reacted with lightning speed. As soon as she opened her backpack, the snake swished in. The next second, someone called out from the yard, "Brother!"

"Clank!"

The door was pushed open and in came Fang Qing. She bounced and skipped, acting all innocent. "Why, you've got a guest?"

"..."

Gu Yu was utterly embarrassed by her acting skill. 'You are terrible as a scout.' He introduced them, "This is Sister Xiaozhai. This is Fang Qing, daughter of Uncle Fang."

He stressed each words so that Xiaozhai took his hint immediately that this was the mischievous kid pretending to be Gu Yu online the other day.

Fang Qing had never met Xiaozhai before and was no longer pretending as she exclaimed in an exaggerating voice, "Wow, sister, you're so pretty!"

"Hehe, you're an adorable girl yourself."

The older girl held the younger one by her hand and smiled, "I heard you are about to go to high school?"

"Yeah, the entrance exam has just finished and school starts in September."

"That's great. Here…"

Xiaozhai wiped her hand across her backpack as she spoke and produced a small pendant. She smiled, "This is for you. I wish you every success in your studies and good luck with everything."

"Uh…"

The wooden pendant was exquisite and finely-made. Fang Qing found it very lovely, but she still turned to look at Gu Yu. She only accepted it after seeing Gu Yu's nodding approval. "Thank you, sister!"

Oh my, it only took a couple of minutes for the little girl to fall head over heels for the big sister and start snuggling up to the latter affectionately. Gu Yu watched her in resignation and asked, "Do you need something from me, Qing Qing? If it is the laptop you that you want, you'll have to wait a while."

"Oh, right…"

Fang Qing almost forgot why she had come. She replied hastily, "Mum cooked something nice today and asked you to come over. Sister, why don't you come, too?"

"Smack!"

He buried his face in his hands. Could Uncle and Aunt Fang be more obvious? He sighed, "We've just finished our meal. Say thanks to your mum for me."

"Huh? You've already eaten?"

Fang Qing was disappointed and then made a clumsy effort to remedy it. "In, in that case, how about coming over to my place and have a chat, sister? You've come all the way here."

"Not today, I'm leaving now."

Xiaozhai stood up, squeezed her round face and chuckled, "Say thank you to your mum for me. I'll visit you some other time."

"Okay, then I should be back for dinner…"

Fang Qing pouted and trotted away.

After she left, Xiaozhai swung the backpack over her shoulder and said, "It's getting late. I should get going."

"I'll see you off," Gu Yu hurried to grab his keys.

"Stay put. We'll meet later anyway."

She waved at Gu Yu to stop him and strode out of the door.

[1] ED/N: Wikipedia says that most of those Accipiters (which seems the Latin name of the genus) are sparrowhawks and goshawks, although some of them that are living in America(s?) are just called hawks. Genus is a group of very similar species, btw (to put it simply).

Also, let me drop a sentence of explanation regarding the title. What the author means is that MC didn't grow cold and indifferent towards 'mere' mortals and mundane world despite becoming a cultivator, and isn't trying to separate himself from the mundane.

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