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51 Chapter Fifty One - A Third Roo

    "Hey, I haven't seen Nathan around the garden all morning," Harry commented, after being summoned into the kitchen by the delectable scents of pumpkin stew drifting through the lower rooms of the mansion.  Actually, there was often delicious smells emanating from the kitchen in these past few days, especially as Autumn began to brew vinegars and yeasts, boiled fruits with sugar to make jams and slowly dried herbs, tomatoes and chillis in the remaining heat of the sun.  Not to mention the meals she dished out for them.  They did not know how long these good days might last, but they, for the most part, were exceedingly grateful to have them.

    Tyler was cleaning Tupperware in soapy water and lifted his head to glance out of the window, before frowning.  Not seeing Nathan pottering around the garden was unusual.  "Maybe he is in the greenhouse?"

    "All morning?" Harry asked, lifting up the balanced lid of the large stew pot before receiving a tap on the hand by the current queen of the kitchen.  He sheepishly replaced it.

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    "Nathan is with Master," a helpful voice chimed as Chang Min too could not help but follow his nose and approach the kitchen.  He'd never smelled such tempting dishes as what Autumn provided.  In Eld Dein, he had lived on whatever food he could harvest or forage and often he had suffered hunger.  He'd also never managed to raise his cultivation level above the body tempering stages of quaternary to senary (4 to 6) thus he still required sustenance even after awakening in this world.  The army base had provided food, but it was usually along the lines of one bowl of staple rice, pasta or potato and one bowl of boiled or stir fried vegetables or a soup.  "They are on the roof," he added as his eyes followed the steaming bread rolls being removed from the oven along with toasted pumpkin seeds.

    "...is Nathan trying to cultivate?" Tyler asked after a moments pause.  Ren Zexian had originally attempted to teach all of those with abilities to cultivate, however he'd been admittedly stubborn and Nathan... well.. if it didn't involve plants...

    "En," Chang Min replied with a bright smile, oblivious to the exchange in glances between Harry and Tyler over this fact.

    "What's cultivating?" Autumn asked as she placed numerous bowls upon the table.  It was a mixed collection of porcelain that had been gathered from the village, along with plates, cups and cutlery.  They didn't expect to grow in numbers too soon, but they still prepared for it.

    "Gathering the energies of the world to strengthen one's self," Chang Min replied, simply.  "As we cultivate, we strengthen our bodies, our minds and our souls."  Autumn sent a look of confusion towards the two other men in her kitchen.

    Tyler was kind enough to translate; "Ren taught us these meditation techniques and I'm not sure how it works but our abilities have become stronger.  Like, I used to only be able to make water, but now I can also make ice."  As if to prove this point, he produced several misshapen ice cubes in his hand before sliding them into a glass.

    "How nice for you," a voice called out, not quite able to hide her resentment.  Jonah patted the arm curled about his own with gentle affection, trying to soothe his woman as they entered the kitchen together, closely followed by several others.  Arthur's stomach rumbled loudly.  Tyler turned away, grabbing a tea-towel as an excuse to hide the obvious disdain on his face.  It seemed Brooke was still unhappy that Ren Zexian couldn't teach her to create water from thin air.

    "Lunch will be just a few minutes longer," Autumn mentioned, trying to ease the atmosphere.  "Would someone be able to go and find Lucy?"

    "No need," Dexter smiled as a swirl of black smoke formed and grew in the kitchen, quickly morphing into the shape of a hound and his small rider.  A heartbeat later, a roll vanished from the tray as did the smoke leaving nothing but a cheeky giggle and indulgent smiles.

    *****

    Beneath a silky mane of sunkissed, chestnut bangs, a curve of thick lashes framed two closed eyes.  Flickering movement  could be seen beneath the pale skin of those eye lids, just a bit before both opened and revealed two eager and trusting eyes.  Ren Zexian smiled, but there was a tinge of perplexity within that smile.

    The pair had been upon the roof for the better part of an hour; one listening, one instructing, but he who listened couldn't quite process the information he'd been told and therefore the one who spoke realised his words had been in vain.  Nathan had attempted to sit, close his eyes in mock meditation, as he had seen Ren Zexian and the others do on many occasions, but what he could not see, he could not comprehend and his attempts came to nought.  But still, he seemed so eager to learn, unlike previous times that Ren Zexian had failed to teach him, the older man was even more enthused.

    However, his usual methods of teaching were clearly lost upon the boy and he needed to reevaluate.  Nathan watched as a thoughtful expression came over Ren Zexian.  His eyes wandered, caught by the loose stray hair that blew in the cooling winds at his temple and then drawn into the reflective gaze in Ren Zexian's deep eyes.  Nathan felt his cheeks warm as he reflexively glanced away, before the urge to look again had his eyes lifting once more.

    "Nathan," Ren Zexian said, calmly after a few more minutes silence.  "I have an idea in which I might be able to help you learn, however, I need to know; do you trust me?"

    Nathan met once more those eyes and blinked, before he replied earnestly; "Yes."

    "I will personally guide you as you attempt to cultivate for the first time," Ren Zexian explained.  "In order to do this, I need to align my spirit with yours.  For this we must have complete and mutual trust or it will not work and our souls will reject each other, harming us both.  This is why I ask you if you trust me.  I also must touch you.  Will you allow this?"

    Again, Nathan replied without hesitation; "Yes."

    The temperature of his face rose once more as Ren Zexian moved to kneel before him, placing a hand cautiously over Nathan's.  Seeing as his touch was not rejected, Ren Zexian came closer still, leaning forward until they came to share breath.  Instinct had Nathan move away, however Ren Zexian soothed him with his other hand, brushing his fingers along his face before cupping the back of his head.  The heat of the other's skin felt both burning hot and somehow comfortable and yet also a bit itchy.  But, Nathan really couldn't say he disliked it.

    "Close your eyes," Ren Zexian bid and Nathan did so without questioning him.  He felt the foreign feeling of hard flesh against his forehead, but could not contemplate upon it long as he felt a strange, stuffy feeling in his mind, as if the space behind his eyes was no longer enough.  He began to reject the feeling, however paused as he heard; "Please trust me, Nathan."  He frowned, but no longer tried to push against the cause of discomfort.  "Now, I wish to guide you to your innersea.  To you, it might resemble a place or something tangible, something you can easily envision or perhaps have seen in your dreams.  It will have a connection to your roots, your abilities, so there will be plants and there will be water.  Can you imagine a place like this, Nathan?"

    Nathan did not think that he had dreams or rather, not as others described dreams.  What he saw when he slept was much the same as what he saw when he was awake.  Immediately, an image came to mind and he found himself in his garden.  Ren Zexian was beside him, holding his hand.  He blushed.

    Ren Zexian was smiling, but his lips did not move as he quietly chided him; "Concentrate, Nathan.  This is your innersea.  It looks much like your garden, doesn't it."  The latter words held some amusement in their tone, but Nathan didn't really notice, he was distracted by something that he felt did not belong there.

    "I don't have a large pond in my garden," he pointed to the still water pond in the lawn area in between the vegetable beds and the lush green hedge.  It was quite a calm feeling to see the green of the garden reflected in the mirror like waters.  He thought he would like one in his garden for real.

    "That would represent your water root," Ren Zexian mentioned, "just as the garden represents your plant root."

    Nathan thought over this for a moment.  "Then what about that?"  He pointed to a soft glowing flower that grew at the pond's edge.  The flower was vibrant and quite lovely and the light coming from it was neither bright nor harsh.  The plants growing nearby seemed to lean towards it.

    "That..." Ren Zexian was astonished.  How had he not noticed this before?  He felt the heart of his body increase in speed as an overwhelming sensation rushed through his veins.  He held back his emotions less he lose concentration and be torn away from his vulnerable boy.  After quickly calming himself, he realised that the technique he had planned to teach Nathan likely would not be quite right now.  Better for Nathan to practice a universal technique for now while he contemplate what would be best for Nathan in the end.  Besides, during the initial stages, one's cultivation technique was only so important.  So long as Nathan built a solid foundation in order that his cultivation later did not become unstable, other things could wait.

    However, how ironic that the boy that had caught his heart also suffered the same as him?  Three roots all vying for the spiritual energy he cultivated, three roots that in Eld Dein, would have declared him trash.
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