Although Bao Gu was thirsty, she knew that drinking raw water could easily cause stomach troubles and illness. She went to the kitchen and saw that the stone water tank was empty, with a thick layer of dust accumulated inside. Next to the water tank was a large wooden barrel, also covered in dust. The kitchen stove was huge, and the large pot in the middle of the stove was big enough for her to soak in while boiling water and taking a bath. The thought made Bao Gu purse her lips; if she lay in it, she would truly become a boiled “Bao Gu.”
She didn’t understand why Yu Mi would need such a large pot when she only cooked for herself, her father, and a few hired hands at home. Fortunately, the pot was not damaged and had not even rusted. Not only the pot, but all the hoes, hammers, axes, and other tools that Yu Mi left in the house were in good condition, with the hoes and axes still sharp, much better to use than the ones at home.
What delighted Bao Gu the most was the neatly stacked piles of chopped firewood near the stove. The firewood, all split from whole logs, was uniform in size and length, and most importantly, very dry, making it perfect for starting a fire for cooking.
Bao Gu happily carried a bucket to the upstream of the small creek outside the courtyard to fetch water. She made countless trips back and forth, finally cleaning the stone tank and the large pot, and filling the tank with water. She found some still usable flint and some easily flammable dry grass above the ash heap on the stove, quickly started a fire to boil water, and cleaned all the bowls, ladles, and pots in the kitchen. During the process of cleaning the kitchen utensils, she also discovered a large jar full of salt.
Bao Gu boiled the water and added a small amount of salt to replenish the salt content.
Originally, Bao Gu had planned to go outside to pick some wild vegetables and fruits to cook for dinner, but seeing that it was completely dark outside, she was afraid of encountering wild beasts and did not dare to go out. Moreover, she wasn’t feeling hungry, so she dismissed the idea of going out with an oil lamp to pick fruits and vegetables. She took water from the tank to wash the bamboo mat on the bed outside, spread it out next to the Zhu Ming fruit tree, and waited for the night breeze to dry the mat. After hanging the mat, she closed and bolted the courtyard gate, then returned to the house with a basin of water, tore off a corner of her skirt to use as a rag, and wiped the dust inside the house.
Bao Gu had been without a mother since she was young, and her father had always been preoccupied with the memory of her mother, fearing that she would be mistreated by a stepmother, so he never remarried. Her father almost always took her with him wherever he went, and she learned a lot from him.
At the age of three, she began to learn how to use an abacus, and by the age of six, she could help her father with the accounts. Her family owned more than thirty acres of land in the countryside, usually employing two people to look after it, and hiring temporary workers during the busy farming season to harvest the crops. Her father would take her to oversee the work personally, and during the harvest season, they would also collect the crops locally, with her helping her father both inside and outside the house. In her spare time, her father would also take her to trap hares and catch pheasants, and even taught her to shoot pheasants with arrows, but she was too weak to shoot with any force and never hit her target.
In the first year of the drought, she had just turned ten. Auntie Fan, who had always helped with the household chores, fell and injured her back while fetching water at the well and could no longer work. Her father compensated with silver and grain, and Auntie Fan’s son took her away. During the drought, her family also tightened their spending and didn’t hire anyone else. She was already a grown-up, so she took over the household affairs. She managed the food for herself, her father, and the five hired hands, as well as the clothing and other expenses for her and her father. Sometimes, when her father was out selling or buying grain in bulk, she would take care of the family shop.
After Bao Gu had wiped the dust from the house, the bamboo mat in the yard had also been dried by the night wind. She spread the mat on the bed, boiled a bucket of water, and washed her sweaty, muddy body clean before climbing into bed, almost falling asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow.
Bao Gu wasn’t worried about mosquitoes; the house had been abandoned and was full of dust. With all the windows open, there wasn’t even a single spider or ant to be seen, and she hadn’t noticed any mosquitoes flying in after staying in the house for half the night.
Bao Gu, smelling the fragrance of grass and trees and listening to the birds, slept comfortably and even dreamed that she was floating in the clouds. Suddenly, she felt light as a feather, followed by a heavy fall to the ground that woke her up. She groaned, opened her sleepy eyes to check the bed beside her, then climbed back into bed and fell asleep. Just as she lay down, she found herself mysteriously rising into the air and gradually moving out of the bed. Bao Gu was so frightened that she instantly woke up and screamed in terror, “A ghost—!” followed by a loud “bang” as she fell heavily back onto the bed.
Bao Gu was so scared that she didn’t care about the pain in her body, jumped up, and was about to rush outside when she caught sight of Yu Mi standing in the room. She exclaimed in surprise, “Sister Yu Mi, why is it you?” Then, realizing what had happened, she demanded, “Did you throw me off the bed?” She angrily accused, “I was sleeping soundly, and early in the morning, you start acting so…” The word “crazy” was swallowed back in the face of Yu Mi’s icy stare.
“Early in the morning? You’re not even aware of the time! If you lack talent, you should work harder. Sleeping until the sun is high in the sky and still not getting up!”
Amidst Yu Mi’s scolding, Bao Gu took a hard kick and was kicked against the wall by Yu Mi.
Yu Mi “hmmphed” heavily, turned around, and surveyed the room, surprised to find that the house had been cleaned spotlessly, even the kitchen that she hadn’t used in three and a half years was spotless, and the pots and pans were so clean they reflected light. The large tank, which could hold enough water for her to use for a month, was filled to the brim. She glanced under the stove and found fresh wood ash! Did Bao Gu light a fire and cook something last night?
Yu Mi’s eyes lit up! If Bao Gu failed in her cultivation, it wouldn’t be bad to take her in as a servant or maid, considering her diligence! She remembered that it was already late when she left, so Bao Gu must have cleaned the house overnight, right? Impressive! Cultivators are usually busy with their practice, leading a rough life, and those who enjoy gourmet food and are willing to cook are rare.
She didn’t expect someone even more outrageous than her, like Bao Gu, to appear. Zhu Tou, a master of Xuan Tian Sect and one of the top ten experts, with a Nascent Soul cultivation level, had been sitting in front of his cave dwelling for who knows how many years without moving, not even caring if birds nested and defecated on his head.
Bao Gu’s voice rang out with excitement, “Sister Yu Mi, new clothes?!”
Yu Mi returned to the bedroom and saw Bao Gu holding up two sets of outer sect disciple clothes she had placed at the head of the bed, measuring them against her body with a joyful expression. Yu Mi said, “From now on, you’ll wear these clothes. They are the uniform of the Xuan Tian Sect.”
Bao Gu noticed that the clothes were plain white and didn’t have the exquisite trimmings like Feng Menglong’s sect uniform, nor were they as luxurious as Yu Mi’s flowing fairy dress. She asked, “Why are my clothes different from Brother Menglong’s?” She didn’t mention Yu Mi’s flowing fairy dress because she had heard from Yu Mi that it was a treasure that could provoke others to kill for it, and it certainly wouldn’t be a uniform that everyone had two sets of.
Yu Mi said with amusement, “Feng Menglong is a direct disciple of Master Zhu Tou, so of course your uniforms are different. It would be good enough for you to become an inner sect disciple with hard work, but becoming a direct disciple seems a bit difficult.” She bluntly pointed out to Bao Gu that outer sect disciples didn’t even have the qualifications to be apprenticed and could only learn one or two basic or entry-level techniques of the sect. The sect recruited outer sect disciples mainly for revenue. To enter the sect, outer sect disciples must have a foundation in cultivation, at least at the mid-stage of Qi Refining, and also pay a large amount of spirit stones or equivalent treasures, which is one of the sect’s sources of income.
The recruited outer sect disciples were required to perform menial tasks, such as miscellaneous chores, mining, and guarding the medicinal fields within the sect. If there were some outer sect disciples who, despite lacking innate talent, managed to break through their limitations and achieve some success in cultivation due to fortuitous encounters or diligence, or those who had made contributions to the sect, they could also be accepted as inner sect disciples.
Of course, such individuals are few and far between; not even one in a thousand outer sect disciples might be promoted to the inner sect. Inner sect disciples are taken under the wing of at least a Golden Core stage master, who personally imparts techniques and skills. On the first and fifteenth of each month, they go to the sect’s Transmission Hall where the Transmission Elder personally bestows teachings, and they also receive a fixed quota of elixirs and spirit stones each month. Outer sect disciples, on the other hand, must work to earn their elixirs and spirit stones. Bao Gu, who didn’t even qualify to be an outer sect disciple, was an exception that she had taken in personally.
Yu Mi scolded Bao Gu without mercy, “You still don’t strive to practice and sleep until the sun is high; you’ve already missed the best time for daily Qi cultivation. Aren’t you going to get up?”
Bao Gu hung her head so low it almost touched her chest.
Yu Mi continued, “Your spiritual root capacity is quite sufficient, but the multitude of your spiritual roots causes them to be mixed, distributing the total capacity you can absorb across five roots, making each individual root pitifully weak. Judging from how you were still bouncing around after eating eight Zhu Ming fruits yesterday, your physical foundation is not bad, and there’s still potential for shaping. Whether you can make something of yourself depends on your willingness to work hard and future opportunities Opportunities won’t just fall from the sky; you have to fight for them. All I can do is lead you through the door. If you’re not willing to put in the effort, you might as well return to Qing Shan County and live as a mortal.”
If it were anyone else, she wouldn’t bother saying so much. But Bao Gu was someone she had brought to Yun City in full view of everyone and taken into the immortal sect. Moreover, her Lingyun Peak lineage was pitifully thin, making it difficult to bury Bao Gu in the crowd and have her forgotten. If she didn’t put in some effort to help Bao Gu break through to the middle or late stages to save some face, she would be too ashamed to show her own face outside. Her expectations for Bao Gu weren’t high; breaking through the rumor that a Five Miscellaneous Roots couldn’t reach the middle stage of Qi cultivation to the middle or late stages would be enough for her!
If she fed Bao Gu a large amount of spirit stones and elixirs, it wouldn’t be impossible for her to reach the Foundation Building stage, but there’s a premise: not just her, but the entire Xuan Tian Sect was poor! With her own Heavenly Spiritual Root talent as a direct disciple, even she had to struggle to earn enough for her own expenses, let alone waste extra on Bao Gu.
The spirit stones and elixirs used to nurture Bao Gu would yield a hundred times more return if used on a disciple with Dual Spiritual Roots, or even Triple Spiritual Roots. Bao Gu wasn’t a direct descendant of a powerful cultivation family or a relative of a Nascent Soul ancestor, so who would waste precious resources on a rootless Five Miscellaneous Roots?
Bao Gu was scolded by Yu Mi until she couldn’t hang her head any lower and didn’t utter a word.
Yu Mi took a deep look at Bao Gu, sighed, and tossed her a bottle of elixirs, saying, “These are Qi Cultivation Pills. Take one each morning before sitting meditation and Qi cultivation; they will aid your practice.” She gritted her teeth and added, “Don’t waste them, these cost twenty low-grade spirit stones per bottle! A typical outer sect disciple has to do a month’s worth of chores for five low-grade spirit stones and work for a year to get an extra elixir. This bottle of Qi Cultivation Pills could hire an outer sect disciple to tend my medicinal fields for a year!”
Bao Gu replied, “Thank you, Senior Sister. I will weed the courtyard and water the spiritual herbs properly.”
Yu Mi leaned forward slightly and looked at Bao Gu, saying, “Haven’t you noticed that I’ve abandoned the medicinal plants in this courtyard? You owe me a year’s worth of chores; pay it back later. Don’t think of these elixirs as a free gift; your senior sister is so poor that even my purse is clinking with emptiness!”
Bao Gu muttered softly, “Clinking still means there are coins to make a sound.”
Yu Mi, with sharp ears, was so angry she gritted her teeth and snapped, “Don’t talk back.”
Bao Gu obediently responded with an “Ok” and said, “Farewell, Senior Sister!” She hurriedly saw her off, planning to thoroughly read the jade slip Yu Mi gave her on identifying spiritual herbs and fruits, and to dig up the “abandoned” spiritual herbs in the courtyard. What a joy to pick up a whole courtyard of spiritual herbs for free!
Yu Mi glanced at Bao Gu and left. She decided to visit Bao Gu less in the future; every time she came here and saw Bao Gu’s pitiful state, she couldn’t help but give away something, even though they were cheap or even things she couldn’t use. But those could be exchanged for spirit stones, and even a low-grade spirit stone was still a spirit stone, and a louse, however small, was still flesh!
Yu Mi stepped out of the bedroom and took another look at the neatly cleaned hall, noticing that the hoes and shovels used by Bao Gu were washed exceptionally clean. She mentally gave Bao Gu a satisfactory evaluation: diligent! Once Bao Gu breaks through to the middle stage of Qi cultivation, she could be put to work as a chore disciple. Not bad!