"All I know came from my father, who learned from my grandfather. It was a time when wars were raging everywhere. My grandfather was leading a vagrant life and begged for a living when he ran into a person of unusual abilities, from whom he learned, and then became a very capable man. Later, when our modern state was established, our line of work was harshly repressed and reprimanded for being feudal superstitions. Even legitimate religions such as Buddhism and Taoism were secluding themselves in the mountains; being a common craftsman, my grandfather had to keep his profile even lower."
The following day, Xue Zhao was sitting on a somewhat shabby sofa in the old residential building, listening to Li Daoyu's narration.
"That unusual man should have had a sect of his own, but by the time his teachings were passed on to me after so many years, many things have been lost already—that was why I called it a 'family tradition'. He had taught my grandfather a great deal back then. Apart from face-reading, I also know a few things about scriptures, talismans, Qi-nourishing, occult science, etc. To be honest, I'm quite ashamed of myself. I have learned so little of what I should know and am barely keeping the legacy from going extinct."
"You are too modest. The way I see it, you are a master hidden beyond the mundane world," Xue Zhao interjected in a hurry and added, "All these amazing things you could do, are you going to pass them to your descendant?"
"Sigh. I was married once, but my wife passed away before we had a chance to have any children. Now that I'm this old and not exactly well-off, I've long given up any hope of having a child of my own."
"How about taking in a pupil?"
"I won't say that my skills are as superb as those of the members of the famous sects, but they are effective, in one way or another. If by any chance I picked someone with evil intentions, wouldn't that make me an accomplice? Sigh, I guess I'll wait and see."
"Moral character is the key. I completely agree with you."
Xue Zhao nodded, agreeing with Li Daoyu. He then casually reached into his pocket and produced a bank card. "I mean no disrespect by this, but please take it."
With that, he roamed the room with his eyes and added, "I will find you a bigger place in a few days. This apartment is way too old for your status."
"Oh my, what's this all about?"
Li Daoyu rose to his feet hastily, trying to decline, "I won't accept this! Absolutely not!"
"It's just a little compliment and I do hope you could keep it. It's also to celebrate my lucky meeting with a master like you. I'll be back tomorrow…"
Xue Zhao left the card on the table and left promptly.
Li Daoyu went out to see him off all the way to the landing. However, on returning to his room, the look on his face changed abruptly, the previous placidness and kindness all gone.
The pin code was left attached to the card. He checked the account first, in which he found 200,000 yuan 1 . The amount was nothing to Xue Zhao, but was a considerable sum to any commoner.
"So, that's how rich people do things. Very generous indeed."
Putting away the card, he was rather excited himself. He then rushed into his bedroom and opened that case again.
He took out the shrine first and set it up properly before fumbling out a cloth bundle, which he unwrapped one layer after another. In it was a 15-cm tall statue of some god, who had an old face with long eyebrows and a long beard, wore a loosely fitted robe, and held a jade ruyi in his left hand and a round plate with Yin-Yang diagram on his right open palm.
Li Daoyu set the statue into the shrine, ignited three incense sticks with full courtesy, and kowtowed nine times, banging his head loudly on the floor. Only after the incense had completely burnt out did he carefully stash away the items again.
What he told Xue Zhao was true—apart from the history of his previous masters and the origin of his skills. He was well aware of the details of his "tradition".
This inheritance of his originated from Ming Dynasty; the founder was called Han Gaozhao, who went by the alternative name "Old Patriarch Piaogao 2 ". Han lived an impoverished life as a child and made his living through begging. By chance, he met a master later in his life, whom he pleaded for three months before being accepted as a pupil. Han then sat meditating for three years in Caoxi Cave, where he eventually attained the enlightenment and became a perfected practitioner.
After achieving the Great Dao, Han Gaozhao borrowed from the doctrines of White Lotus 3 and set up a civil organization known as "Three Yang Sect".
The so-called "three Yang" was to divide the secular world into three stages, namely the Green Yang, the Red Yang, and the White Yang, which represented the past, the present, and the future, respectively. The three stages were each administered by a Buddha, among which the Maitreya was the most revered.
The purpose of the sect was to peddle doomsday propaganda, which claimed that the Red Yang stage was coming to its end and the world was going to descend into chaos. At the end of the Red Yang disaster, the heyday of White Yang would arrive. Therefore, the only way to escape from this mortal world of woes and find salvation was to convert to Three Yang Sect.
The organization itself was bullshit through and through. With his newly gained ability, Han Gaozhao had concocted a story by crudely mixing Buddhist and Taoist theories and conjured up one of his own.
Despite its lack of recognition from the royal court, the sect had attracted countless disciples and had a broad impact. There were quite a few local activities even around time when the modern state was founded. Later, the sect was eliminated and suppressed, during which nearly all its records and secret manuals were destroyed.
That was why he dared not tell the truth, but had put up a show of doing his best to make a thorough explanation. He had seen right through Xue Zhao, though. Right now, Li was playing hard to get, followed by going with the flow.
As for the question of why Three Yang Sect was suppressed... after a series of evolutions and degenerations, it had fallen into a rather particular type of cultivation category, which in the whole was known as: cult.
While Li Daoyu was holding back some key information, Xue Zhao did not take his words for granted either.
Once back at the hotel, with his family connections, he had run a thorough background check on the man. The conclusion he reached was that the old man and his father were indeed law-abiding citizens with no criminal history.
Xue Ming also called, reminding his son repeatedly to be extra careful. After all, they were trying to cozy up to an honorable guest.
In the following days, Xue Zhao would visit Li Daoyu every day, bringing with him daily necessities such as rice, flour, cooking oil, and salt, all the while making no mention of his true purpose. Li Daoyu, on the other hand, would accept everything with indifference and ignored the obvious question in the same manner.
This went on until the fifth day. It was a sunny day.
Outside a courtyard in south Shengtian, two vehicles were approaching slowly. Five or six people then got off in file. Walking in the front were none other than Xue Zhao and Li Daoyu.
The group of people entered the courtyard, which was paved with black bricks and decorated by luxuriant, tall green trees. The front and back yards contained eight rooms in total. The principal room in the backyard served as the living room, where they took their seats. Xue Zhao then asked, "Master, are you happy with this place?"
"What is this all about?" Li Daoyu was all innocent about the whole setup.
"Why, like I said the other day, that place of yours was so cramped that I could not bear to see you in there, so I've talked it over with Xiao Chen and got this courtyard for you."
Li Daoyu was about to speak when Xue Zhao interjected again, "Please don't get mad. As a matter of fact, I have a favor to ask."
With the usual arrangement under such circumstances, now was the time to kneel down and kowtow, which would not happen to Xue Zhao. Instead, he stood up, bowed at Li Daoyu, and said sincerely, "I have been admiring the profound knowledge ever since I was little and it was very fortunate of me to meet a capable man like you, so I was hoping you could teach me a thing or two."
"Well… I have my family laws to obey, which forbid me from teaching others without thorough consideration." Li Daoyu appeared to be rather beaten up on by the request.
"Why, rules are made by people and they can be changed. I think you know what a reliable fellow Brother Zhao is. He's as sincere a man as you can get. What's holding you back?"
"Exactly. You don't have any pupil at the moment. It would be such a pity if all your skills were lost forever, wouldn't it?"
The hatchet men egged on, lending their moral support, while Chen Yu was also helping with the persuasion. After much nagging, Li Daoyu finally heaved a sigh. "Gosh, all right! I'll make it clear beforehand, though. We're not going to be master and pupil. You must be from a very influential family and I do not want to get myself into any trouble."
"No problem. As long as you would teach me."
After much affectation and seesawing, the two clicked at this moment. Xue Zhao then served tea for Li Daoyu and their relationship was official.
He then pointed at the other men around and said with a chuckle, "Master, they are all my people and are at your disposal. Just think them your little disciples."
"At your service, Master. Our words still count as something here in Shengtian."
"That's right, please feel free to send us on errands and stuff. We all take orders from Brother Zhao."
These footmen of the Xue Family declared their loyalty in succession before one of them remarked casually, "Master, I always speak my mind... please don't get offended! Today's such a big day and we've got everybody here. Please show us a few tricks of yours. It'll be an eye-opener for us."
"Hey, that's a good idea! We've heard you're as amazing as an old immortal. Let us have a look! Please!"
The rest of the group joined in, booing and hooting. Li Daoyu shook his head, now playing the role of a senior giving in to his younger followers. "Ok, ok. Be quiet now."
Everyone stopped talking right away and five pairs of eyes were now fixed upon the figure in the front, who slowly rose to his feet, swung his arm, and produced a yellow talisman between his fingers. He then made a commanding gesture with his left hand and started incanting.
"The primordial chaos is the most profound and the infinity is the ultimate root. By cultivating through a billion tribulations, my remarkable power is demonstrated. The gold tiger within me will respond to my body… go!"
As soon as his incantation was finished, the talisman in his hand self-combusted without ignition. Immediately, there was a loud bang.
From where Li Daoyu was standing erupted large clouds of white mists, which then spread out rapidly. Almost in the blink of an eye, half of the room was taken over by the mist.
"What's going on? What's happening?"
"Where are you? Where is everybody?"
They were all startled by the whiteness surrounding them. It was like being trapped inside clouds.
They were starting to move around when there came the roar of a beast. An enormous figure then leapt out of the clouds, landing in front of them with a thump.
"Ah!" Chen Yi screamed with fear, pointing at the thing with a shaking hand.
The rest of the group's teeth were even chattering and they went motionless with their limbs rigid. Xue Zhao reacted to it slightly better than the rest, but was also feeling his hair stand up on his back and a coldness creep up his spine.
The thing growled again. The sound shook away the cloud, revealing a giant tiger head from behind. It was none other than the golden tiger itself!
Its tail alone was one-meter long. The golden tiger had eyes like bronze bells and its bloody maw was wide open, revealing four protruding fangs, as if it was going to swallow Chen Yu whole.
"Stay, stay away from me! Help, help…"
Just as Chen Yu's legs were giving out and he was about to crumple to the ground, there came another bang.
Miraculously, the mist disappeared instantaneously, leaving not a single trace behind. Looking up, they saw only Li Daoyu standing by the table with a face paler than before.
They were deadly silent at first, which then turned into astonishment. When they gradually recovered from the shock, they were overwhelmed by intense excitement and admiration. Xue Zhao, who was still trying to sounding out Li Daoyu a moment ago, was worshipping the ground the old man trod on.
Immediately, led by Xue Zhao, the five of them stood before Li Daoyu in a neat line and bowed low at him in unison.
"Haha, please don't do that!"
His eyes flickering, Li Daoyu fought back the chaotic energy inside him and tried his best to raise his hand steadily. At his cultivation level, which was yet to reach the innate state, he was pushing himself to the limit by activating this talisman.
The name of this talisman was Cloud-transforming Talisman, a deceptive trick. Had Wu Songbai been present, he would recognize it at a glance. It was definitely a skill of Mao Mountain, one of the low-grade ones.
This trick could do no damage whatsoever and was only used as a bluff. But all that was needed in preaching was this sort of formalism, or in plain terms, showing off.
Of all the skills he learned from his father, he made no progress in the past few decades. He was agitated and frustrated in the beginning, but had gradually got used to it. By now he considered them a hobby and would play with them from time to time, caring little if he could get anything out of them.
The Cloud-transforming Talisman was drawn by his own essence and blood. Three high-quality incense sticks were to be burnt everyday on the east side at sunrise. The talisman was to be nourished with the spiritual essence and would be ready to use in fifteen days.
He had tried making it a few times before, but to no avail. He tried again the other day and felt something different as soon as he held it in his hand—he had succeeded this time!
After that, it just so happened that Chen Yu called him and introduced him to Xue Zhao.
Attracted by Xue Zhao's background, Li Daoyu made an effort to draw Xue Zhao to him. He had no idea what made the talisman work, but he instinctively knew that his time had come!
Carrying her huge suitcase, Jiang Xiaojin sauntered out of the airport, as if she was walking around her own garden.
At 174 cm, the girl in her T-shirt and hot pants was displaying her conspicuous fair, long legs, turning many heads on the way. As if that was not enough, she seemed to be endowed with a quality that even when doing nothing, she gave off an air of arrogance and unfettered spirit just by standing there.
OMG, one could almost feel the urge of smacking her down and giving her a good kicking around. All in all, the sense of her presence just could not be ignored!
"Sis, would you please hurry up? People are watching."
The driver watched her strutting near as if she was walking a fashion-show; he felt his temples throbbing.
"Like that'll scare me with my good looks? Why are you giving me that wry face? Are you too important to pick me up now?"
Getting into the back seat, Jiang Xiaojin went on bombarding the driver. "Where do you prefer to stay on a hot day like this? To be stuck in the office, or in an air-conditioned car? You know what? Your year-end bonus is gone!"
"There's air-conditioner in the office…"
The driver knew both her and that unforgiving tongue of hers very well, but could not hold back his retort. Xiaojin raised her eyebrows and was about to talk back when her phone rang, saving the driver.
"Hello, Jiao Jiao? Yeah, I've just got off the plane and am heading home… my vacation started late this year. Like I have a say on that?
Oh my, not today, I've got to rest a bit… tomorrow won't do, either. I need to go out… where am I going? Well, none of your business.
How about this? I'll give you a call when I'm free. You just give yourself a good pampering and wait for me… ok, got to go!"
The caller was Chen Jiao, a high school classmate of Xiaojin. Chen had stayed in Shengtian for her university after high school, but the two had remained quite close. They would meet a couple of times each year.
Her family was into trade as well and her old man was semi-retired by now, leaving the running of the business to her older brother.
And her older brother's name was... Chen Yu.TL/N: roughly 31,000 USD TL/N: meaning "floating high" TL/N: an occult religious and political movement that existed for several dynasties in feudal China