Just think: The Pauper had been lost in the search for his path for years, without result. The Keeper was an even more extreme example, and if it weren’t for the Keeper’s involvement he’d probably have died unable to break through to Paragon.
In this regard, Lan Jue was very lucky. His grasp of his Ascension abilities helped give him a glimpse in to how his path would look. As time went on, his understanding only deepened.
He did think it was time to visit home, though. He’d been too ashamed to do so in the last few years. Though he’d probably catch a beating, he needed to know how things were going.
A face swam up to him from memory, a craggy and ancient face with a serious scowl. Lan Jue couldn’t remember ever seeing his father smile. It was always seriousness and intensity. That was something Lan Qing had inherited.
“Hm?” Lan Jue stopped in surprise, and focused as a strange sensation tickled at him. There was something in this water, an energy that he could feel flowing through him. It was faint, but he could feel it permeating his body and supporting his energies. It was pure, and clean, and although not strong the nutritive effects felt very comfortable.
A flash of inspiration shot through Lan Jue’s head like a bolt of lightning. It was so intense that he almost leaped out of the water. Disregarding his clothes, he sat himself down cross-legged and began to meditate.
His eyes popped open after only a short moment. A light shimmered within them. “Yes… that’s right!”
Just as he’d discovered the first couple times he’d meditated here on the Barrows, both the air and elemental forces of planet itself were strong. However, it wasn’t stronger than parts of Skyfire, and not as pronounced as when he was in the water. This confirmed that the waters here were unique, and bore its own special energy. If that was the case, then…
All plants needed water and sunshine, and grapes were no exception. If the descendants of the gods of wine knew this, then it was very likely they’d create a vineyard around here. The source would be where this effect was greatest.
Lan Jue hurriedly pulled his clothes on while he thought. Once he finished, he dialed the Wine Master.
“What have you found, Jewelry Master?” Lan Jue could tell from the old man’s tone that he was expecting bad news.
He went on to explain his thoughts.
When the Wine Master responded, he was clearly impressed. “Why didn’t I think of that? You’re absolutely right, the Pauper and I will start examining local bodies of water. If they have the same properties as you’re describing, then we’ll need to adjust our plans. There are countless rivers, streams and lakes on the Barrows, and densely packed as they are it’ll take us forever to thoroughly explore them. Hopefully we can narrow these energies to a single area, that’ll narrow the search.”
Lan Jue immediately launched himself in to the air, with a light that shone bright in his eyes. Again, he spread his perception outward to probe the surroundings. Who knows? If he was lucky, perhaps the descendants were holed up somewhere around this very lake.
And yet the moment he felt his consciousness spread out around him, he felt it improper. He spied suddenly the very fetching woman bathing nearby. At his level of cultivation, every detail was outlined and highlighted, and instantly transcribed to memory even before he knew what was happening.
The sudden not altogether unwelcome shock almost caused him to tumble from the sky. He’d completely forgotten she was even here, with all the excitement of their lead.
He immediately retracted his perceptive field, adhering to the gentleman’s code of ethics.
I didn’t mean to, he kept telling himself. I didn’t mean to.
Only his mind was convinced. The rest of his body reacted as any normal man would to the image of a beautiful woman naked in a crystal clear lake.
He swallowed hard, shook his head, then found a place to settle to ground. He had no alternative but to wait for her to finish. She didn’t make Lan Jue wait long, however. Once her bath was done and her clothes were dry, she called out to him.
As Lan Jue saw her again face to face, it was like watching a lotus on the water. Pure, simple, and beautiful. Qianlin’s beauty didn’t come from cosmetics, but was all natural. Now scrubbed clean, she exuded a natural and comforting aura. She had a spectacular figure, with skin like milk and a face that looked like it was carved from marble. Her cheeks were a vivacious pink, that set off her eyes that were a blue more deep and pure than the lake they stood beside. Then there was her head of luxurious black hair. It was already dry, and swayed like strands of silk with the breeze. She looked like a fairy tale princess.
“There’s been some new information, we should go.” Lan Jue said. He reached out a hand to her.
Zhou Qianlin stretched out her own, and the moment their fingers laced their shared power upsurged. Her hands were cold, perhaps from the lake. Regardless of the reason, however, Lan Jue held her hand tight to confer some of his own warmth to her.
It was a simple gesture, but it touched something in her that was difficult to explain.
They soared through the air, with the lake stretching out beneath them. Together, they began to search the three-thousand meter diameter lake for any signs of their objective. After a circuit revealed nothing, they came to a stop.
If Lan Jue’s hunch was correct, all they had to do was go back over their areas and narrow the search to water. Sadly, nearly all twelve of the suspect areas were densely peppered with various bodies of water. Only a few swaths were absent of it.
One by one, they went over the major lakes and rivers, and each time they left empty handed. In the end their second sweep revealed nothing new. Another conversation with the Wine Master ensued, where they decided that a latch-ditch search of the source waters was their final gambit. If they weren’t there, then they weren’t anywhere.
Lan Jue and Qianlin were tasked with searching their nearest target, an enormous inland lake. It took them half a day to reach its banks. Immediately they saw that this one was not like the rest. It was a stunning cobalt blue that stretched to the horizon without a single ripple.
Lan Jue approached, and crouched to dip his hands in to the lake. There was something, a faint tinge, so he spread his consciousness deeper.
As he’d experienced, the energies of the lake immediately penetrated in to him. It was purer and more abundant, but that may have been a result of the lake’s sheer size. He discovered through his psychic exploration, that the lake got deeper the closer one got to the center. At it’s deepest, it was a hundred meters to the bottom. At least, that was as far as he seemed able to sense. He’d have to dive in to learn if it went deeper than that.
Lan Jue extricated his hands and peered out over the horizon. He silently pondered the situation.
“What’s wrong?” Qianlin asked.
“If you asked me to pick a place for a vineyard,” Lan Jue muttered, peering down the shoreline, “I’d be hard pressed to find a place better than this.”
Qianlin’s face lit up. “So you’re saying it’s likely this is the place we’re looking for?”
He nodded. “Let’s see what we can find.”
They were off again through the skies. The lake – called Soul Mirror Lake – was a massive expanse of water, but with Qianlin and Lan Jue’s speed they completed the search in three hours. Sadly, despite Lan Jue’s hope, they still turned up nothing.
When they got back to their starting point, Lan Jue’s eyes were beginning to betray despair. “Nothing. It looks like the descendants aren’t here after all.”
Their search was nearly concluded with nothing to show for it. Silence from the Wine Master and the Pauper proved their experiences to be much the same. Their chances looked grim.
But then there was obstinance, and it reared it’s head as Lan Jue stubbornly crossed his arms over his chest. “I refuse to accept that they aren’t here. I’m going down to take a look.”
Zhou Qianlin blinked at him. “Down?”
Lan Jue nodded. “My perception can’t reach below a certain depths. These waters, though, are very pure. I don’t know anything about being a vintner, but just look at the vegetation surrounding this place. It’s much thicker and more vibrant than the other ones we’ve visited. That means this lake must be providing all of it with nutrients. So look, you remain here and I’ll go down to take a look. If I’m not back in half an hour, to get the others – it’ll mean there’s something up with this lake.”
“No way.” Qianlin clamped down on Lan Jue’s had as she flat out refused his plan. “When you’re by yourself, you’re much weaker than if we’re together. It’s much safer for both of us to go. We’ll be prepared if we run in to something. If you’re going, so am I.”
Lan Jue opened his mouth to patiently, calmly, and logically explain why that was an unwise course of action. But he shut it again when he saw the look in her eye.
It wasn’t that he was cowed, or afraid. It was the exact same look Hera had given him once.
A sharp pang seized Lan Jue’s heart. He nodded. “Alright, we go together then. I’ll let the Wine Master know.”
After a few sentences with the Paragon Lan Jue hung up and took Qianlin’s hand once again. With a leap, both of them tumbled in to the water.
Once an Adept had cultivated his abilities to about the ninth level, they had a deeper control of their interior environment. Through micromanaging their body’s systems, they could hold their breath for far longer stretches of time. This was also true in airless environments. Here, however, they didn’t have the benefits of cosmic radiation.
Lan Jue pulled Qianlin down behind him, toward the murky depths at the lake’s center.