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The religious bureau of Dakang was in the west side of the city, its lack of lucre suggested by the scanty appearance—the buildings were lower, the entrance was a barred iron gate instead of an electronic sliding door, and even the location was some scruffy alley, unlike the spacious courtyards on main streets the other institutions had.

Even the old janitor here felt inferior to others in the line of his job—the salary was so small.

It was just past eight o'clock in the evening and Old Man Zhang was making his rounds upstairs as usual. After making sure the doors and windows were all securely locked, he went back to the first floor. The janitor's room was lit by a dim lamp. A pot of liquor, two bags of pickles, and a time-worn radio were all the company he had to pass the long, lonely night with.

Little did he know, right behind the building, two dark shadows were sneaking closer.



"Will that camera pick us up?" Xiaozhai pointed at a streetlight by the road.

"Maybe on that side. Let's go up from here, then."

"You go open the window first. Here!"

She magically produced two pieces of black cloth and Gu Yu tied one around his face reluctantly. Voila! He was like Don Juan himself—the 'flower thief' version, though. [1]

Moving back a couple of steps, he shrank himself into a small shadow, then eyeing the smooth, even wall, he swung himself up. That single jump brought him halfway up the wall. He then used what Xiaozhai taught him, spreading his fingers out and sticking his palms to the wall like sucking discs.

The friction created at that instance gave him the momentum to charge out another few meters upwards.

Stretching out his left hand, he grabbed the window sill and pushed against the window with his right hand. "Clatter!"

The bolt on the window slid open.

Xiaozhai then followed suit and climbed swiftly up in the same way. The two snuck into the room silently like two nimble black cats.

It was the only way. They could apply for a library card to borrow materials, but the files of the religious bureau were not accessible. In order to find a possible lead, they had to play the cat-burglars tonight.

With their faces covered, our two fellows flashed back and forth with their little flashlights and soon found the archive on the third floor. They shook the lock loose in the same way as before and entered the room, then started searching.

Dakang was a city with a long history, with records of a temple as early as a thousand years ago. Taoism used to prosper here, but was later eradicated. There were currently two considerably large temples in the city, both located in Tianchi [TL/N: meaning "heavenly lake"] scenic area.

One was called Iron-tiled Temple of Happiness and Longevity. Chen Xinrong was the current abbot, who was the twenty-six generation of disciple of Longmen Sect of Quanzhen School. He had moved out here and settled down. The first patriarch of Longmen [TL/N: meaning "dragon gate"] was none other than the prominent Immortal Changchun [TL/N: meaning "forever young"], Qiu Chuji himself.

The other one was a Temple of the Queen Mother, where a figure of the Queen Mother of the West was worshiped, a complete commercial gimmick.

There were other smaller temples in the area, but Tianshan Sect was not mentioned anywhere.

They did not give up and checked each record in turn in a chronological order. Finally, they found something relevant.

Yang Jiye, the famous general in the Northern Song Dynasty, had a descendant called Yang Yiming, who was taken in by Wang Shiguang, a follower of Ge Hong's teachings, as a pupil. Later, Yang Yiming traveled far to the Western Regions and lived a secluded life there, devoting himself to meditation and comprehension of philosophical concepts.

Yang Yiming had a son called Yang Yantian and when the latter came of age, Sa Shoujian happened to be travelling in the region, then joined Yang Yantian in his seclusion and meditation. Together, they established the sect and set up rules, giving it the name "Tianshan Sect".

Ge Hong, the renowned expert in cultivation, had dabbled in a wide range of theories and his works covered aspects from essence-consuming and Bigu [TL/N: Taoist fasting technique] to Waidan and Neidan [TL/N: "external alchemy" and "internal alchemy"], etc. His most prominent writings, nonetheless, were studies in Waidan.

As a result, the inheritance of Tianshan mainly consisted of two types of skills, namely the Shenxiao Technique from Sa Shoujian and the Dan Technique of Yang Yantian.

The first generation of disciples was none other than the female Taoist priest Immortal Duyan [TL/N: meaning "through the smoke"], who was the daughter of Yang Yantian and Sa Shoujian's pupil.

The second generation was Duyan's pupil, Priest Iron Shoulder.

The third generation was a man named Zhang Zhiping, a former pupil of Hao Datong. He later converted to Tianshan and took the title of Priest Danfeng [TL/N: meaning "carrying the wind"; Hao Datong was a famous Taoist priest and the pupil of Wang Chongyang, the founder of Quanzhen School.

And so it went on for the next eight hundred years or so. The last disciple who made a public appearance was Priest Sima, and that was over thirty years ago. After that, none had been heard from the sect.

That was everything they had on Tianshan Sect.

The two of them learned next to nothing on their night out and returned to the hotel in resignation. By the time they got back, our little Long Qiu was sound asleep, knowing nothing about their nocturnal activities.

The next morning, they went to the library to examine the local chronicles, which were actually revamped a couple of years ago, covering areas including local history, geography, customs, culture, etc.

After taking forever to slog through the pages, they finally picked up a paragraph among the densely packed timelines, which was jotted down as some sort of folklore.

It talked about an event taking place in a small village. A female herdsman went into labor on a pasture and a young man who happened to pass by helped deliver the baby. The young man had some medical skill and managed to keep both the mother and the child alive.

Afterwards, someone teased him, saying "How could a man get himself involved in such foul energy?"

He replied, "A kind heart has its own virtue. I'm a Taoist priest."

The man's surname was Sima and this incident occurred twelve years ago.

"The geographic environment of Dakang can be divided into three sections. The mountainous region is in the south, where vast areas of fine meadows are. They are the most important pastures in the summer. In the middle is plain country, which is where we are right now. It's the main producing region of grains and cooking oils. In the north is the desert. The region is sparsely populated and the supplementary winter pasture."

Inside a room, a map was spread out across the table and Gu Yu was giving a detailed analysis with a pen in his hand. "According to the records, it was summertime, so the village should be within the summer pastures. There are three towns with sixteen villages in the south. There are over 20,000 inhabitants and we need to examine them all.

It might seem very general, but it's actually more specific than you think. This Sima guy had stayed for a while in the village, so he must have left some traces behind."

Gu Yu drew a circle on the map and went on, "By the way, Xiao Qiu, stay behind in the city. You don't have to come this time."

"I am going with you!" The girl protested with vexation.

"Be reasonable. You're still too weak. If anything goes wrong, you'll be holding us back."

Xiaozhai dissuaded her with intentionally harsh words. The girl resisted with silence at first, then seeing this was to no avail, she pursed her lips and accepted the arrangement reluctantly.

The two then busied themselves with preparations. Long Qiu watched it on the side, suddenly feeling herself utterly useless. She was a tough girl, though, and readjusted herself quickly. She then came up to them, trying to make herself useful.

"Man, you're finally back!"

"Haha, you voracious creature! Here, I bought a full bag of these just for that stomach of yours."

"Wow! Very generous!"

In a residential building across the street from the hotel, the room was packed with a bunch of people, who emptied the bag in a series of crunching sounds, revealing a dozen cup noodles. They were starving and could not wait for the noodles to be properly soaked, but dived at them almost as soon as they poured in the hot water.

One of the fellows kept his eyes on the hotel entrance while holding the cup noodles and said, "I'm gonna be honest with you. I've been doing this for over ten years and have never seen someone so freaking acute. I used to keep a distance of five, ten, or twenty meters tops when I followed people before, but not this one. I went after him for a few steps this morning and that guy turned around and gave me a look. I broke into sweat. I was lucky to not blow my cover."

"You're great at this. That's why you're needed here. Otherwise why did they make you the team leader?"

"I'd rather they didn't. This team leader is worse than being a bureau director. Have you forgotten what they taught us in classes? The sense of duty!"

"Haha, exactly, the sense of duty!"

Meanwhile, in another office somewhere else, a different group of people were amazed.

"Are they batman or what? No camera caught them!"

"The doors and windows are all intact and the locks were not tampered with. Oh, they even watered the flower in passing."

"If our equipment was not advanced enough, I'd think the house was haunted."

"Cut the crap. Are the test results back yet?"

"Yes. Based on the files and books they examined, the fingerprints and the press marks on the pages, they should be looking for a place called Tianshan Sect, located somewhere among the towns in the south and central regions."

"Good. Make the report, saying that it is highly likely that they will be taking action soon."

"Yes!"

These two groups of people consisted of men of various ages with all sorts of accents.

They only got to know each other a few days ago, when they were transferred here from all over the country, each with a skill set of their own. Their task here was to keep surveillance and follow those three fellows.

They now belonged to a single workplace with a rather new title: Second Department of BIMAUP, Beijing HQ!

[1] ED/N: Flower thief is a figurative expression for a rapist. Dunno if it's supposed to accentuate the "womanizer" part of Don Juan or some new dirty joke.
TL/N: The term "flower thief" has a slight euphemistic tone to it, indicating the culprit's certain "taste" in women. At the end of day, they are nothing but rapists, though.

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