Tianzhu Mountain, Tianmen Town.
As many as tens of thousands of residents lived in the town. Thanks to the flourishing tourism industry, the service sector was also prosperous. For the past three decades, the residents had lived off this mountain. They didn't exactly live like royalty, but they had enough money to spare and life was stable.
Unfortunately, such life was in the past. The government announced the closing-off of the mountain in the beginning of this year, denying any access to unauthorized personnel. Even the monks were chased out of their temples.
The townspeople's income took an immediate dive following the change and the hotels and restaurants were among the first to be affected. The blow was too hard to bear and the folks elected some representatives to petition to the town government, which was brooding over its own worries. The order came from above and a mere town's mayor had no say in the matter.
Luckily, words came from above that a research base was to be set up and around a thousand staff were to be stationed here year round, whose daily necessities would all be purchased in town. It sounded like a sweet deal, but how much could a thousand people spend? How would it ever comparable to over a million tourists every year?
Yet that was their only option. The " redhead document 1 " had already been issued and they were obliged to follow it through. As a result, the townspeople shifted their priorities, pulling as many strings as they were able to find so as to get a business certificate.
Old Liu was among the luckier ones. He exhausted his connections and managed to obtain a channel—delivering groceries for those on the mountain. The delivery was scheduled once every three days and the bills were paid monthly. He had ran the business for a month now.
It was a delivery day today. Stuffing his small van with groceries, he set off from town and headed for the south mountain entrance.
The entrance was no longer what it used to be, and was now guarded by an entire team of soldiers with roadblocks the size of a fortress. The van stopped obediently when it was close enough. The soldiers would check the vehicle and the permit first, then verify the driver. The clearance was only given after everything was checked out.
Old Liu dared not make any unnecessary conversation and drove on along the winding mountain road, then turned northward. About twenty minutes later, when the main road was completely out of sight, the van finally stopped.
Several people were waiting ahead, who greeted him, "Hello, a bit later than usual today, isn't it?"
"It took me a while to find all the groceries. Sorry about that. Sorry."
Old Liu apologized in a hurry, then passed around some cigarettes. Smiling obsequiously, he explained, "I'm not a farmer myself and with such a large amount, I had to go to the countryside to get everything."
"Hm, be more careful next time…"
Those men replied noncommittally and casually refused the cigarettes.
The van was mostly filled with vegetables including turnips, Chinese cabbages, potatoes, spinach, etc. There were even two boards of freshly made tofu and a very small amount of meat.
The men unloaded the van of the baskets swiftly and carried everything up the mountain with shoulder poles. From here upwards, they had to climb up along the black stone stairs. Above, partially covered by the dense woods, was a complex of buildings.
As a local man, Old Liu naturally knew the place. It was called Zhu Ridge, and up on the ridge was a Qiyun Taoist Monastery. Established in Ming Dynasty, the monastery had once attracted many worshippers. Later, when the Taoist culture waned, the place was taken over by Buddhist practitioners. With the changes of the time, Qiyun eventually became a temple of Taoist and Buddhist beliefs combined together, worshipping immortals and Bodhisattva alike, such as the Jade Emperor, the Buddha, Guanyin, etc.
The temple used to be ran by a group of fake monks, but word had it that those people had been driven away already. The townspeople had no idea who was living in it at the moment.
Old Liu was very curious, but the best quality of the man was that he knew there were questions he was not supposed to ask. Presently, he finished handing over the load and left promptly for his journey home.
The other men carried the groceries up the mountain and into the monastery.
Once inside the gate, the main hall was right in the front, flanked by side halls. Behind the halls were doors and passageways leading to a dozen dwellings all built from bricks and stocks, which formed into a small courtyard.
Life inside the monastery was rather quiet. Men in robes walked about every now and then, all looking aloof from things of the world. They spoke softly and talked about profound theories, giving the place an otherworldly feeling.
Those men went straight to the kitchen to wash the vegetables, cut the meat, start the fire, and prepare a meal.
The food comprised lightly seasoned vegetarian dishes, all excellently cooked. There was a little bit of meat—mainly chicken, supplemented by pork and lamb.
Other than those, there was that big pot of porridge, which was cooked to a thickish consistency and was now gurgling with steam. The porridge seemed rather precious, for two men were allotted to keep an eye on it. Even before it was out of the pot, an amazing aroma had filled the air.
Before long, the meal was ready.
A man in charge checked the dishes and gave the order, "Ring the bell!"
A man went off to carry out the order. Moments later, distant sound of the bells rang out, trailing all the way up into the white clouds in the sky.
Inside one of the meditation rooms, Tan Chongdai was debating against Wang Ruoxu on talisman skills when the bell rang. Tan Chongdai paused, then said, "We'll take a break. Let's continue when we're back."
"Humph, like I'll be afraid of you after that?" Wang Ruoxu showed no sign of backing off.
Both men were from a sub-sect of Shenxiao, and in this monastery full of intricate relationships, the two became natural allies of sorts. Of course, old Priest Tan knew nothing of Wang's true identity, who was actually working undercover for the BIMAUP.
The two left the room. There were doors to other rooms on both sides. The one on the left remained closed, while the one on the right opened and another man came out. The large and swarthy man was in his forties, with a bit of ferocity and toughness about him. He was none other than Huang Huiguang, the abbot of Linshui Palace of southern Fujian, and the descendent of Lüshan Sect.
"Senior Brother!" Huang ranked slightly junior and bowed at Tan Chongdai.
"Haha, you flatter me. It has been days since we last met, has the Junior Brother learned anything new?" Old Priest Tan asked.
"Nothing worth mentioning. It's just when I think back to the days stuck in southern Fujian, I felt I was unable to see beyond my nose. It was such an eye-opening experience coming here."
After exchanging a few pleasantries, the three headed for the dining hall together.
They were joined by more priests on the way. They were men and women of all ages, who emerged out of various doors and divided into two distinctive groups. It was obvious: one consisted of people of Quanzhen, while the other Zhengyi.
This dated back to a short while ago, when all sects picked out their best pupils and sent them to the capital. Once there, they took some classes first to thoroughly understand the current situation, then were sent here to Tianzhu Mountain and settled down.
According to the statistics this time, of all sixty-two Taoists sects, only forty-seven could be found now.
Basically, each sect had provided one pupil; very few managed to provide two. Those without any pupils had their sect leader coming instead. However, there were quite a few frauds among the candidates, who were eliminated at the capital.
In the end, thirty-six people were left, of which twenty belonged to Quanzhen and sixteen belonged to Zhengyi.
After their competition for the past millennium, the two opponents would not rest until the other was annihilated. However, under the current special circumstances, the two sides had been unprecedentedly eating, sleeping, and living under the same roof. No one found such arrangement comfortable.
Being the elites of each sect, the candidates all considered themselves better than anyone else. Under the control of the authorities, they dared not make too big a noise, but secretly, minor conflicts were happening all the time.
Take the their diet as an example. Quanzhen had specific precepts, stating that their disciples should follow a strict vegetarian diet. It was not the case with Zhengyi. Apart from beef, mullet, swan geese, and dog's meat, they could eat any pork, lamb, chicken, duck, etc., as long as it was not a fast day.
Quanzhen found this despicable.
Like every other day, when the dishes were served today, Quanzhen's plates were filled with greens only, while Zhengyi's tables had meat on them, looking much more sumptuous. The crowd took their seats and were about to eat when a voice came from outside.
"The living creatures coexist with us in this world. As men of belief, we should follow strict precepts. You people just have to eat meat, a food tainted by blood. Not only will it create filth in the body, you're also taking lives for no reason. It's ridiculous."
With that, a man entered the room. In his early twenties, the man had jade-like skin and a noble bearing, and was extremely handsome.
Despite his young age, the crowd of Quanzhen all fixed their eyes upon him, apparently holding much reverence towards the man, for he was Lu Yuanqing, the pupil of Li Qingzhi—the abbot of Baiyun Temple.
And he was the top cultivator among them all.ED/N: I google-imaged the original term (the translation is literal from 红头文件) and it seems like this refers to documents with titles/headers in red ink... just consider it important stuff from the authorities