Shengtian, a rainy day.
The pitter-patter rain was not heavy, but felt distinctively cold on the skin, as though reminding one of the approaching winter.
The streets looked bleak and chilly with their rushing pedestrians. Gu Yu was sitting in a taxi. On his left was an enormous backpack, while an elderly driver was babbling in the front.
"Young man, have you just got back from a trip?"
"No, I'm about to leave for one."
"Oh, then you must be heading south. Are you going to Jiao Zhou or Qiong Zhou?"
"Whew, let me tell you something! Jiang Zhou is even colder than here. They have no central heating and the air is so damp. My wife is from the south. Back then when I visited her family, honestly, I almost broke up with her because there was no central heating over there… speaking of which, it's so strange that people from the south always assume us northerners can stand colder weather. They have no idea we depend solely on our well-equipped warm clothes…"
Gu Yu was utterly speechless. The garrulous driver nagged on with no sign of ever stopping. Gu Yu was too polite to give completely no response and could only hope to reach his destination soon.
Both Gu Yu and Xiaozhai were well prepared for this long journey and today was the big day. They were taking an evening train and it was only noon right now, which would give them another four to five hours before setting out.
Such a gloomy and cold day was not fit for strolling outside, so Xiaozhai gave him an address to go to, which was where her home was.
A girl as stunning as Xiaozhai had invited him over and even offered to cook lunch herself. What could it mean?
Although Gu Yu had engaged in bodily-fluids-exchanging activities at his girlfriend's home when he was in a relationship back then, it was not the same thing here. What was between him and Xiaozhai was purely platonic and nothing more. Their thoughts were of the noblest kind and they could open their hearts to each other (although in his mind, it was something else Gu Yu wanted to open).
Traffic was good today. About a quarter of an hour later, the taxi stopped outside a housing estate. Walking after a resident, he entered the estate and found Building No. 5, then went up by the lift.
"Knock knock knock!"
The door opened after several taps, but no one was behind it. He found it rather strange when the head of a snake poked out, sticking out its tongue like a little show-off.
'So it was you!'
At a closer look, Gu Yu saw that the snake had coiled itself around the lock, the door handle entangled by its tail. As it stretched and retracted its tail, the lock was latched and unlatched.
"Xiao Qing, fetch the slippers!"
Right at that moment, a voice came out of the kitchen, which sent the snake slipping down to the floor in a whoosh. It slithered to the shoe rack and picked out a pair of brand new man-style slippers with a swing of its tail.
Gu Yu was dumbstruck. He blurted out as soon as he walked in, "Is your pet a dog or a snake?"
"Dogs are useless. They are noisy and troublesome."
Xiaozhai shuffled out in her slippers, wearing an apron. A dish was in her hand. "Wash your hands there and come back here to eat. Put your bag over there."
This was his first time here and the proper etiquette was essential. He did as he was told.
Entering the main living room, he could not help but look around. The flat was spacious and the interior design had created an impression of space, striking the visitor with a "Wow!" effect, as if one's spirit was lifted and mind enlightened.
When he finished cleaning himself, he returned to the table to find four vegetable dishes already laid out. Xiaozhai asked, "Do you want a drink?"
"All right, but nothing too strong."
"How about some sake?"
She ran to the mini-bar and found a bottle of mild sake, then screwed it open between her fingers.
The two sat facing each other, each holding a small wine cup and giving themselves best wishes with an air of importance.
"Have a nice trip!"
The cups met and the sake was drained. Gu Yu helped himself to a dish and commented, "En, your soy bean paste noodles were delicious, but this is even better."
"That's very nice of you. Have another one!" Xiaozhai poured some more for him.
He laughed in spite of himself and had another round with Xiaozhai. "I've never noticed this hobby of yours before."
"I only like to drink at home," she poured a third cup and grinned. "I like to drink on my own or drink with you."
Our two fellows had only just sat down, but had already downed three rounds of liquor.
It was almost unbelievable. Neither of them felt awkward at either of their homes. Today was no different. They ate, drank, and chatted on. Naturally, the conversation turned to the upcoming trip.
"...in its middle period, the person most worth mentioning in Shenxiao was Sa Shoujian. Rumor had it that this man had studied Taoist skills under Wang Wenqing, Lin Lingsu, and Zhang Jixian (the Celestial Master of Longhu Mountain). What he learned were the Jujube Spell Technique, the Ghost-yielding Fan of Five Lights and the Thunder Technique. Among the three, the Jujube Spell could cure diseases, the Thunder Technique could expel evil spirits, eliminate demons, and manipulate the weather, while the Ghost-yielding Fan could bring people back to life. Sa Shoujian then traveled wide and far to propagate the belief of his sect, which gave birth to the sub-sects of West River and Tian Shan. However, of the lines of inheritance of Wang Wenqing and Lin Lingsu, the only sects left now were Qionglong Mountain and Yuzhen, and I couldn't find anything on the latter.
Therefore, the route we are going to take this time is to go to Qionglong Mountain in Jiang Zhou first, then the sect of West River in Shu Zhou. After that, depending on what we find there, we might go to Tian Shan," Xiaozhai explained her plan briefly.
"Zhang Jixian also put in a lot of effort into establishing Shenxiao and Longhu Mountain, they also have a thunder technique. Shall we have a look there?" Gu Yu asked.
She gave it some thought and said, "Not yet. After all, that's the birthplace of the Way of the Celestial Masters. A lot to deal with if fights break out there."
"You've got a point."
Yup, they both knew it very well that this issue could not be resolved in a peaceful manner.
Aside from those three locations, four other places were listed as primary suspects for the recovery spots of the spiritual essence, which they needed to check out. They were Tianzhu Mountain in Qian Zhou, Emei Mountain in Le Zhou, Huping Mountain in Shimen, and Wangwu Mountain in Ji Zhou.
To sum it up, the journey would take them from south of the Yangtze River to southwest China, then to the northwest before they would be directed to the Central Plains. They would cover a distance of nearly ten thousand kilometers. 
It would be an immense project!
The two dawdled and dallied in finishing their meal, then washed the dishes together. After Xiaozhai showed him around the flat, they sat down chatting in the study. They were in no hurry whatsoever. There were more than three hours to go.
Something suddenly came to Gu Yu and he said, "By the way, I can look inward now."
"How does it feel?" Xiaozhai was very excited at the news.
"When I checked my interior, it turned out to consist of lumps of energy, totally different from what they say in modern medicine. The five internal organs were five energy lumps of five different colors and Yin and Yang energy blended together at my Dantian. The meridians were corridors the Qi and blood circulated in… the body as a whole was like a big factory, each part attending to its own duties. I could finally grasp some of the mysteries in consuming essences."
Xiaozhai seemed to be moved by this description and fell deep in thought for a while. She then asked, "Can you use it externally?"
"I haven't tried."
"Try it now!" She stood up at once.
"You have to move away a bit."
Gu Yu was actually thinking about the same thing when he mentioned it to her. After Xiaozhai walked out of the study, he closed his eyes.
It was even more difficult than looking inward. He could barely activate his mental force to have it make an outward scan. The sensation of it was very strange as well. He felt an extra pair of eyes were suspended above his head, looking around in awkward movements.
However, the field of this vision was extremely small. He could only make out a circular area around him. Other than that, everything was behind a black fog.
"I can't sense you, move closer."
Faint footsteps came from the other side.
"Still not anything. Closer."
Gu Yu's face tickled, making him jump. He could now "see" Xiaozhai right in front of him, lowering her head. The face looked so pure that it was almost transparent. Her breaths were long and slow, with a moist warmth to it.
The expression in her eyes, however, was a mischievous 'Watch here, your big sis is flirting with you'.
"Back off! Back off!"
Gu Yu surrendered at once. After the experiment was over, he said with some vexation in his tone, "I could do it with some struggle, but it was very exhausting for my mind. I could cover an area within three meters from me."
Xiaozhai pondered over it and shook her head. "That's too close. We could make it that far with our senses alone. We won't need this for the time being."
"How did you feel, then?" He was curious as well.
"Like I was being peeped at, from inside out, very vivid, very uncomfortable."
"Can you be more specific?"
"Like during the self-study period, you suddenly find you class teacher looming outside the rear window."
Gu Yu got what she meant right away. To say it was uncomfortable was an understatement. That was f**king frightening!
 ED/N: 10,000 km sounds pretty abstract, so let me give you some numbers: equator is a bit over 40,000 km long, China's sea coastline should be roughly around 12-14,000 km iirc, and Chinese land border is slightly over 22,000 km in total and is the longest land border in the world. For comparison, Russia has a land border of slightly over 20,000 km (Russia's land border is much more straight compared to China's land border, that's why the latter's actually a bit longer). For further comparison, the river of Nile has almost 7,000 km in length and is the longest river in the world (some clamor it's Amazon instead though).