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19 Chapter Nineteen - An Afternoon of Cultivation

    The youth with large eyes like blue gems walked along the grassy paths in between plots with various plants both familiar and unusual, holding a pot in one hand and a trough in the other.  Behind him trailed a young girl, no older than perhaps three years old, with doe brown eyes and a mess of blond hair.  Her thumb was in her mouth and she toddled no more than half a foot from the boy, but following close behind her was a humongous black hound.  The beast never left the child's side.

    The boy paused at a freshly dug plot and so did the child and so did the dog.  The boy knelt, the child sidled a little closer, just enough to clutch his shirt, while the hound sat down and waited patiently for the boy to finish what he was doing.  He dug a hole, gently eased the growing plant from the plastic pot confining it, teased the white roots loose a little before placing it into the hole and carefully covering it.  He then cupped his hands and water filled them, before spilling onto the freshly planted sprout.  In a couple of months, this plant would spread like a vine across the ground.  It would produce large, yellow flowers, which would later turn into large, orange pumpkins.

    The child watched him with wide eyes and cupped her hands together, but no water filled them.  Her small brow furrowed due to her inability to copy the big brother and in the end, she gave up and stuck her thumb back into her mouth.

    The boy then rose to his feet and began to walk back the way he came, the little girl followed and both were followed by the large dog.

    This was a scene that Ren Zexian had come to observe frequently over the last couple of days, ever since both child and dog had escaped them in the village, only to settle in Nathan's garden.  It seemed that Nathan had given them water and had been the first to share food with them and now they had become somewhat attached to the oblivious youth.

    No one could say how the child had come to be likely the only living inhabitant in the village, with, of course the exception of Nathan.  It was a miracle that she was alive at all.  The men could produce a few theories such as that the child had either been abandoned as a burden or perhaps her parents had succumbed to the virus and turned.  The dog had probably been a family pet or something and made it its duty to protect the child as if it was its own, mutating and awakening its abilities as it did.  They probably scavenged for water and food, which is why the squad could find little more than bent tins and smashed packages and the dog's ability to turn itself and the toddler into fog had been the key to them escaping zombie jaws.

    Ren Zexian thought it was a pitiful thing, but the child did represent hope that others survived.  They had not yet explored the large mansions upon the outskirts of the isolated village as yet.

    The ancient Cultivator heard a groan beside him and the stocky man, Dexter stretched upwards, causing a cracking sound within his spine.  It was mid afternoon and the sun was strong in the sky, filling the air with Yang energy, a good time for cultivation.  Thus while this was true, Ren Zexian had encouraged these with awakened roots to do so.  Tyler had scorned him, the man considered cultivating a futile exercise, a pity when considering that he had the strongest gift of them all; a single, major root.  Nathan did not understand what it was Ren Zexian wished to teach him and after five minutes had simple stood up and walked away.

    Dexter was a reluctant Cultivator, but as he made progress, he seemed to take more time out of his day and night to practice.  On the other hand, Ren Zexian had to stem Patrick's enthusiasm, less his wilfulness cause a deviation.  Unless the sunny nature's man was eating or scavenging or sleeping, he was cultivating.  He had meditated for nearly fourteen hours the day following his roots awakening.  While it was true that this was just a breath of a moment for a high level Cultivator, a man within the primary stage should not do so much.  His meridians could be overtaxed, his body weakened from hunger and lack of sleep.  Ren Zexian had made him stop, telling him little and often was better than this lengthy period for him.  Even now, he had to watch the man or he would not cease his practice.

    Ren Zexian moved across the flat roof to do so now, taking advantage as he did to test the man's progress.  Fortunately, his cultivation remained steady, despite his overzealousness.  This might have been helped by the fact that his energies had to be tempered through two roots and not one.

    The grounding root, or what Dexter had labelled as Gravity root, was much stronger than the ancient Cultivator had imagined.  While it could certainly stop a man in his tracks, making him feel the weight of the world, it happened that it could also allow objects to float!  This concept had not occurred to his own people, it seemed that although this people lived on a world in the lower realms, they still had great strength of knowledge and ingenuity.  Patrick's control and ability was weak at this time, Ren Zexian looked forward to what he would accomplish in the future.

    The boy, Nathan, had returned to the patch of garden he was working on, his entourage in tow.  As usual, Ren Zexian felt his eyes fall upon the boy and was unable to tear them away.  Nathan had roots of water and either wood or the lesser plant, Ren Zexian could not be sure, but he felt that this was true as his garden was lush with life and even the dangerous, mutated plants behaved in his presence.  Ren Zexian would have liked to know for definite, however Nathan did not like to be touched.  Admittedly, Nathan had said that he wouldn't mind, if it was Ren Zexian, but the older man felt he should respect the youth's boundaries, even when he itched to get closer.

    With a half-smile of self ridicule, he shook away his thoughts and turned to follow Dexter and Patrick off of the rooftop.  What was he thinking, a 10,000 year old man such as himself seeking out a boy just stepping into adulthood?  He had thought himself past such worldly notions, he had not thought of such things in nearly 8,000 years since his brother left him for the higher plane... but perhaps his recent fall from the heights of cultivation was causing more than just a need to sate hunger and quench thirst.

    As he had turned away, he did not notice the large sapphire eyes stare up at him from the garden, watching until he was out of sight.
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