Shengtian, in a hotel.
Xue Zhao only just arrived from the airport and was unpacking in his room. He was accompanied by another man slightly younger, who was giving Xue Zhao a hand while saying, "Brother, I've sorted it all out. The man will be here in a minute."
"You were all hyped up about him over the phone. Exactly how solid is this guy?" he asked.
"Tsk, are you actually doubting me? These things usually annoy me more than anything else, but this man is the real deal. When we met for the first time the other day, before I said anything, the fellow started shooting the breeze all by himself and he was scarily accurate."
"Haha, he has probably ferreted your entire family background out beforehand and was just playing tricks on ya." Laughed Xue Zhao.
"It's nothing like that. I was very fortunate even to meet him in the first place…"
The younger guy was a little vexed as he went on, "Even if he has learned everything about me in advance, he can't do the same thing on you, can he? Wait until you meet him. You'll see if he's the real deal then."
"You've got a point." Xue Zhao nodded.
The guy's name was Chen Yu, a friend of Xue Zhao's—or more precisely, a member of a family enterprise leeching on to the Xue Family. The Chen Family operated in Shengtian and was of similar social status as the Zeng's, only that the former's business scope was of a less popular kind and the paths of the two families seldom crossed.
The Xue Family, on the other hand, was a wealthy and influential clan of the capital city. Such families would always keep a low profile and common people knew very little about them. That was why Chen Yu mentioned those things just then.
Xue Zhao had quite a lot of luggage and it took him a while unpacking. Aside from all the clothes and shoes, he lifted a portable electric rice cooker out of his bag in the end, along with a bag of rice.
Chen Yu almost jumped at these two items. "Brother, have you been learning to cook?"
"Where did you get that idea from? My stomach's been acting out lately and the doctor said I should eat some porridge to nourish it a bit. Anyway, it's not that hard to cook."
Xue Zhao dropped the rice cooker on the table and put away the bag, acting all casually. Inside the bag was none other than the spiritual rice itself, which he had been eating for the past four or five days in a row, one bowl of thin porridge per day.
It was indeed a heaven-sent gift. The change was apparent. He was more energetic, sleeping better, enjoying his morning glories, and with it, having a better mood in general.
Just then, the phone rang and Chen Yu picked it up. He asked, "He's here. Shall I send him up?"
"Let's go downstairs," replied Xue Zhao after giving it some thought.
Chen Yu said a few more words into the speaker before hanging up. The two then left the room.
His room was quite high, up on the 15th floor. During the entire lift ride, the look on Xue Zhao's face had been somewhat hard to describe.
Ever since the news of the existence of spiritual essence spread out inside the dignitary circle, all families and clans had been secretly doing the same thing: employing their manpower and searching up and down the country for masters among the common folks.
There were over fifty thousand registered Taoist priests in the country and the government was keeping a personnel file on every single one of them. Currently, the government was centralizing the resources and carrying out a unified training program, for it was a matter of national strategy. These families were neither bold nor capable enough to go against the state in secret.
As a result, they had to opt for the second best choice and turned to the common people.
There was this everlasting belief that among the common people, there were the undiscovered talented men and abundant masters. Consequently, practices such as physiognomy, fortune-telling, glyphomancy, name-changing, Feng Shui, divination of ill or good luck, etc., had all grown extremely popular.
Ninety-nine out of a hundred times, these people were nothing but frauds. However, even with a mere 1% chance, all those families would fight head over heels to get their hands on it. Not to mentions that Xue Zhao had got wind that a few major dignitary families had actually managed to find such people, who possessed genuine power.
Ground floor of the hotel, the saloon.
Xue Zhao spotted the man as soon as he was downstairs. The man was in his fifties; he wore an ordinary short-sleeved top, flimsy trousers, and a pair of cloth shoes. At the first glance, he reminded one of an old accountant of a factory close to his retirement—despite his commonness, there was a shrewdness about him.
However, when moving on to observe the man's face, one could tell there was something not so common after all, for the space between his brows was wider than usual and his eyes were much further apart. He had a very straight nose and full lips.
Combined, such features struck one as ugly at the first glance, but after watching his face for a while, one would recognize a special quality about him.
"This is Li Daoyu and this is that friend of mine. Please, take a seat."
Without mentioning Xue Zhao's name, Chen Yu invited them both to sit down before ordering some tea and nuts to go with.
Xue Zhao was very interested. He blurted out, "Mr. Li, are you a member of the Taoist community?"
"I have neither a master nor a sect. You could say it's a family tradition." Li Daoyu chuckled.
"Haha, Xiao Chen had been saying some very good things about you. Please forgive my bluntness, but what exactly is it that you do?" Xue Zhao was very straightforward.
"I can do a variety of things. What do you want to see?" the man answered indifferently.
"Is that so? In that case, how about some fortune-telling by reading my face?"
Li Daoyu flicked his eyes up and watched him closely for half a minute before saying, "From what I'm seeing, you have a round head, short neck, and comely eyes. Your brows are wide, long, full on both ends, and positioned high on your forehead. All of these are signs of wealth and rank. You're either a highly-ranked official, or someone of great wealth."
Xue Zhao made no comment, for he was brought here by Chen Yu, who was a tuhao himself. It would not be a long stretch to make the observations above.
However, immediately after that, the man went on by saying, "But you have wavy lines on your forehead and your smile lines have broken gaps, especially the right one. Forgive my impertinence, but is your mother still around?"
Xue Zhao was genuinely astonished. His mother passed away a few years ago and only a handful of people knew about it. This man could actually see that from his face?
Disturbed, he made no response. Li Daoyu, on the other hand, gave him another look and spoke again, "You have a full and round jaw line with a straight line on both cheekbones. It's a sign of gaining popularity and enjoying a great fortune in mid-life. If I guessed it right, something good had happened to you lately."
At these words, Xue Zhao had to hand it to the man.
He stood up in a hurry and poured a cup of tea for Li Daoyu. "Mr. Li is a mater indeed. Sorry about my rudeness."
"Haha, don't worry about it. There are so many frauds these days and it's a good habit to take precautions."
"So, are you stilling working at the moment?" Xue Zhao asked.
"Nothing worth mentioning. I have a little stall selling second-hand books. It's trivial, comparing to what you do."
"With such talent, why don't you use it?"
"Sigh. I've got my family law to abide by and there's no room for disobedience."
Li Daoyu heaved a sigh and went on in a dispirited tone, "Not to mention that nowadays, what I can do is considered feudal superstition. I don't want to get into trouble. Had it not been for the bond between me and Xiao Chen, I wouldn't have agreed to meet you today."
The conversation went on and Chen Yu was pretty much left out. Li Daoyu then checked the time and saw that it was almost six o'clock. "It's getting late. I should be going back."
"Master, I'll be in Shengtian for a few days. I'll visit you again tomorrow!" However exhilarated inside, Xue Zhao did not abandon his sense of propriety.
"Well, ok. Xiao Chen knows where I live."
Li Daoyu behaved as ordinarily as his appeared to be. Turning down Xue Zhao's offer for a ride, he returned home on a bicycle.
It was the evening rush hour and the streets were crowded with vehicles and pedestrians, all bustling and hustling. Threading through the flow of cars on his shabby bike, he gave off a feeling that he was separate from his surroundings and looked rather peculiar and unique.
About half an hour later, Li Daoyu stopped outside an old residential building. It was the dormitory of a certain company built decades ago. Only some old people resided here at the moment.
He rushed upstairs with a hint of eagerness. His small apartment had two bedrooms and a living room; even the balcony was filled with junk.
Running onto the balcony, he dragged a huge case out of a messy pile. The case should be made out of elm many years ago. The paint outside had peeled of and the case was held by a bronze lock.
Once unlocked, the case was opened, revealing a thick layer of red cloth. He removed the cloth and a strange, feverish enthusiasm suddenly flickered in his eyes. Reaching into the case, he took out a wood shrine about thirty cm long.
The shrine was rectangular in shape and in extremely good condition. The blood-red wood was exquisitely carved. On either side of the shrine was a line of gilded inscription, which said, "The Forefather of Infinity, Three Yang and three lifetimes."