Zhou Qianlin nodded her head. “I understand. Should I give it a try?”
“Alright, go ahead,” Lan Jue replied.
Three seconds later.
Boom–! A bolt of electricity smashed headlong in to a bush. Two figures clambered from the small crater.
“Why the hell did you go down?” Lan Jue said in irritation.
Qianlin sheepishly stuck her tongue out at him. “I lost control. It was too fast. I was off by just a bit.”
He patted his forehead with a sigh. “I forgot, sorry. Your psychic control isn’t strong enough to meet the amount of power you have all of a sudden. Your perception isn’t trained enough. We need to work on our coordination as well – but practice makes perfect. Let’s keep it up.” Thankfully falling wasn’t much of a concern when in electrical form.
Now that both of them had seen their Disciplines changed, control was paramount – especially for Qianlin. If she were able to learn to use his powers in combat, then they would have two ninth rank seventh level Adepts with the same Discipline – quite a frightening combo.
Qianlin was a smart girl, with uncanny coordination. It took a few painful lessons, but she got the basics of it very fast. She was even able to perform simple jukes and dodges. Lan Jue’s only job was to guide her efforts, and protect her from risk.
Now was certainly not the time for Qianlin to practice movement at light speed. It was far too fast for her to manage currently. It was very unlikely she would use the skill on a planet’s surface, anyway. The strain on the body was too great. It would most likely be put to use while within Thor during battle, where it would have the greatest effect.
They soared through the air until dawn, and as the morning rays peaked over the horizon their first destination came in to view. They ate a simple breakfast, then washed their faces in a nearby stream. Once the day had started, the search for the descendants was on.
“The Wine Master had said he wasn’t able to find anything through satellite,” Qianlin said at one point. “What was he even looking for?”
Lan Jue smiled. “Pretty clever, actually – vineyards! If you want to make wine, you need grapes. Acres and acres of grapes. Contemporary estimates claim your vine should be at least twenty years old before you try to make wine from its grapes. The quality of a wine is, of course, directly correlated to the quality of its grapes. Makers of the best wines are exceedingly picky when choosing the best ones for their creations. Only the best begets the best. You know, some vines can live up to eighty years – and their grapes are the most sought after.”
“Well that makes sense,” she said. “So we just need to find the vineyard then we’ll find out targets, right?”
Lan Jue nodded. “Do you need to rest?”
She shook her head emphatically. “No need, I’m not tired. Let’s go.” She had never been a fragile girl. But beyond that, the Barrows was a gorgeous place. Although they were here on business, it was an enjoyable journey.
This place and Taihua were about as similar as Llamas and stone crabs. The planet itself was smaller than the Eastern tourist spot, but was densely packed with any biome you could fathom; mountain ranges, rivers, lakes, forests, rain forests, even glaciers – all of them were represented somewhere. Each of them were teaming with life, very little of which posed any threat to tourists. They certainly hadn’t encountered anything during their trip here.
It was very much like a vacation. Due to the requirements of their Disciplines, they had to spend most of their time hand in hand. They looked for all the world like a couple.
“When are you going to teach me how to use lightning attacks?” Zhou Qianlin asked.
Lan Jue lazily wandered down the paths as they chatted. “Not here. The environment is so nice, we should avoid damaging it as much as possible. When we get back we’ll use the Wine Master’s Reaper Arena, and I’ll train you there. Ah – but we may not have time. How about this, when we get to the Northern Alliance. In the beginning you don’t need to learn anything complicated anyway, just my most common abilities.”
“We’re going to the Northern Alliance?” This was the first she’d heard of it.
He nodded. “To participate in a competition. We won’t be gone for very long. Do you need to ask permission from your family?”
Qianlin answered with a shake of her head. “I’m an adult. Mom and dad let me do my own thing. Lan Jue, be honest… if not for the connection between our Disciplines, you wouldn’t have brought me along. Right?”
Lan Jue nodded without hesitation. “You’re absolutely right. Both looking for these descendants and the Northern competition involve danger. How could I bring you, considering I’m your bodyguard? What happens if you run in to danger? But with our Discipline as they are now, you’re strong enough to protect yourself very well so long as you’re with me. And I’m here with you, so there’s nothing to worry about.”
Zhou Qianlin rolled her eyes. Did he truly not understand, or was he playing dumb? He must know that wasn’t what she meant. Still, she liked his answer.
The two of them continued to search the large area. If Lan Jue strengthened his perception to its strongest levels, he could still only search about a thousand meters at a time. Their only recourse was to adhere to the map, and wander back and forth until the whole area was covered.
The search continued until nightfall. In the end, there was no trace of their objective. Lan Jue was tired from the effort, so he meditated and recovered some of his energy.
The next few days passed much the same as the first. Five days later, two of the three areas they had been given were searched and found to be empty. Only the third remained for them to check.
By now both Qianlin and Lan Jue were exhausted. This was especially true of Lan Jue, who had spent most of the last week very carefully examining every inch they came across. But while it was quite tiring, it also served as serviceable exercise.
They searched about a third of the final sector, and still there was no indication that the descendants were anywhere nearby. Neither had he heard anything from the Pauper or Wine Master. Clearly, they hadn’t had any luck either. This was likely their last shot at finding them somewhere on the Barrows.
“It’s looking pretty unlikely we’ll find anything here. They may not be on this planet. Hell, they may not even exist.” Lan Jue sounded a little despondent at the revelation.
He had also genuinely wanted to find these people. If the secrets of those great wines were lost, it would be a great tragedy indeed.
“Ugh, I need a bath.” Zhou Qianlin pointed to the shore of a nearby lake.
Lan Jue gave her a strange look. “What, you want to bathe together?”
“In your dreams.” She replied. A blush crept in to her cheeks.
Adepts of higher levels didn’t have to worry much about washing as often as normal folks. The bacteria that caused unpleasant scent and disease didn’t effect them nearly as much 1. But she was a young woman, and going several days without a shower was unbearable. She’d been struggling with the need for a while, so seeing the opportunity was inspiration enough to take it.
“Of course, I was joking. I want to bathe too, so we’ll separate.” Lan Jue said.
She humphed in suspicion. “Then off with you, I’m going to wash up. It’ll give us a chance to wash our clothes as well.” Although she was not as strong as Lan Jue, her own level of Discipline was enough to dry a set of clothes.
“Then we might as well try joining like before. We haven’t practiced that yet.” He said.
“But my clothes…” She was hesitant. She had only this one pair. There was very little more precious on her person right now.
Lan Jue laughed. “Simple: Find a big tree, get behind it, and take your clothes off. Then just stretch your hand out. Eh… wait, maybe not. Last time we did it, we were…” As he spoke, Lan Jue’s eyes unconsciously wandered to her chest.
Immediately her face went red. “What the hell are you looking at?!”
Lan Jue grinned. “A beautiful woman!”
Zhou Qianlin stepped back a few steps. “I won’t join with you. Go find somewhere else to wash up. I’ll stay here and call you when I’m finished.”
Lan Jue didn’t hang around. With a sheepish laugh, he turned and walked off through the trees.
As she watched his retreating form, Qianlin couldn’t help but grin. “Coward,” she said under her breath.
Lan Jue followed the coast of the small lake for a while. Eventually he came across a clear inlet, where he removed his clothes and jumped in. It was far enough away to protect his companion’s modesty. He was a gentleman, after all – he wouldn’t dare peek.
He was suddenly reminded of an old poem he’d once heard, and loudly called it out to the trees;
“I stand at the head of the River
Whilest my lover resides at its Source.
Though we drink from Identical Waters
Her face is obscured by the Course.”
Qianlin, who had just finished removing her clothes, snorted in laughter. She dipped a toe in to the water. “How about you drink from this water. How’s my foot taste then, huh?” she muttered mirthfully.
Lan Jue was blissfully ignorant of Qianlin’s sinister machinations. Though the water was cold, he sighed in contentment as he was immersed. The pure waters felt as though they were washing his worries away. Laying in the lake’s embrace was more comfortable than Lan Jue could express.
This section of the lake was shallow, and only rose to his waist. The further toward the center he tread, however, the deeper it became. Soon he was submerged up to his chest. Each step he took was clear as a bell, and the perfectly translucent water revealed the stony lake bed beneath his feet. He shut his eyes, and slipped in to a sort of half-meditation. He felt… disconnected, and it seemed immensely satisfying and refreshing.
He wasn’t rushed – women took their time in washing, after all. He lazily floated amidst the spectacular views and let time flow by.
Gradually, in his meditative state, his consciousness slipped in to the ethereal. Psychic energies flowed from between his eyebrows, and fused with the environment around them.
Ever since the strange situation with Qianlin, Lan Jue felt as though he had a deeper connection with his own protogenic powers. It was small, but important – he felt as though it might one day make finding his Path easier.
Interestingly, it is not uncommon for Chinese to shower once every three to four days in the colder and dryer northern climes. In fact, in some places that receive little rainfall, showers are a rare commodity. Thankfully the Chinese diet and anatomical make-up make them considerably less ‘smelly’ than Westerners. In fact, body odor was rarely encountered for me, even in tight places like buses and classrooms. Now booze sweat and unbrushed teeth are a different story.