"Within the ancient city of Jiaohe, relics of 1339 houses are relatively well-preserved, of which fifty-two are temples. It is a demonstration of the prosperity of Buddhism at the time. A large Buddhist temple with an total area of 5192 m^2 can be found in the center of the city. The temple is of a central column structure, which is a characteristic absent in Buddhism of inland China, but was inherited from the ancient Buddhism itself.
The city center is where the government offices used to be. The east side of the city is the densely packed residential area, while in the west side, one could find markets, workshops, and the rough ghetto. The south side of the city is taken up by mansions and grand buildings, where the officials reside. In the north are the temples and cemeteries, where an area is the most mysterious of all…"
The tour guide paused a little and pointed at a site to the north of the government office section. "Please take a look over there. These are hundreds of rectangular graves, which we call 'Babies' Cemetery'. There are no names or epitaphs and it has remained a mystery unsolved."
Frankly speaking, tourists were not all that interested in historical sites like this. Almost none of them was paying attention to the guide and everyone was busy taking pictures. Two people among them stood out, though. Not only were they hanging onto every word, they observed the site even keener.
One of them was Gu Yu, while the other one was the deputy director of the BIMAUP, Mu Kun.
Both kept a solemn face as they scanned the 280 baby graves with their eyes. The graves were arranged neatly, all roughly one meter in length and half a meter in width. They could even distinctively make out the mud seal marking the boundaries between individual graves.
It was only after the tour guide led the group away and no one was around that Mu Kun sighed and asked, "Any thoughts?"
"Still combing through. How about your people?" Gu Yu asked.
"There was an extreme lack of information…" Mu Kun shook his head and went on. "What we can confirm so far is that it is a compact and vast organization which has infiltrated the top-level officials, or they wouldn't have been able to know your whereabouts. What was more, the organization must have been running for years, for the three dead members have obviously been trained since they were little. Plus, they have taken the risk of being exposed in seeking you out, which means the thing on the mountain must be extremely important. Their original plan might have been to subdue you by force and coerce you into going there. Unfortunately, they weren't capable enough."
"Unfortunately? Man, you sure know how to tell a lame joke." Gu Yu grimaced and went on, "If you ask me, the solution is straightforward. All those people had facial features characteristic to a certain ethnic group. Screen your top-level offices with that criterion…"
"My, so many people would be involved this way. Even the top boss himself dares not proceed like that!" Mu Kun interrupted that train of thoughts. "I'd like to hear what you think."
Fine, whatever. Gu Yu could not be bothered with the political crap and asked, "Do you know what Wuxi 1 is?"
"Just think of it as wizards and witches. People of the ancient times worshipped nature itself and these people were responsible for communicating with nature and the gods. The origin of the practice dated way back in history. In the beginning, it was independent of all the religions. After Taoism earned popularity, Wuxi was severely suppressed in the Central Plains and divided into several branches.
One branch moved to the Northeast and Northwest, where they intermarried with the nomads and Shamanism was derived from the integration. One branch became part of the Way of Celestial Masters, making significant contribution to the development of the latter. Another branch reached the area where Sichuan is today and hid among the deep mountains, turning into Undead Insect masters. There are traceable records of these branches, but some small branches were bound to have passed unnoticed with no written word about them."
He rambled on, repeating what his straight-A girlfriend had taught him—pretending to be the expert himself was great fun.
"You suspect that Zhang Wei and his men were descendants of Wuxi?" Mu Kun frowned.
"I can only say that it is the most probable explanation. Actually, I even suspect that this baby cemetery has something to do with their ancestors…" Gu Yu gestured with his hand. "Whatever. That's not the reason I asked you to come over. I wanted to let you know, something is happening on Flaming Mountain."
"Haha…" A faint smile cracked Mu Kun's poker face as he said, "The moment you two are out of Phoenix Mountain, the files flying to my table pile up to 30 cm every day. More than half of the capital city has their eyes on your every move. You two are like the shiniest superstars."
'The hell with superstars. I don't take drugs or sleep with my fans,' Gu Yu mocked inwardly. He then straightened his face and said, "The spiritual essence on Flaming Mountain has mutated into something extremely frightening. It can suck dry any living creature—and even soil and rivers—of its vital essence."
"Soil and rivers?"
Mu Kun's face darkened abruptly at the words. The effect would be devastating on the environment.
"Isn't there a Grape Valley nearby? Go take a look. You'll have an idea after you see the scale of reduction in grape production this year. Oh, it's expanding very fast, so be prepared," Gu Yu reminded him.
"Maybe, maybe it's only your speculation…"
Mu Kun was having a hard time accepting it. Someone with his position was farsighted enough to realize how great a disaster this would lead to.
"Throw away your wishful thinking! This is just like Grass River Mouth. No, it'll be much worse than that!"
Gu Yu disabused him of that naive notion right away. "I have told you this because you people are the only ones who can handle it."
Mu Kun pursed his lips tightly. The mention of Grass River Mouth was a hint obvious enough: Huo Zhou! A city! The evacuation of 700,000 people!
That was not even the worse part. The key issue was that with a migration at such scale, they could not come up with any plausible excuse!
"Is there no other way?" His voice was hoarse.
"If you ask me, the answer is no! Maybe your men can look into it and find an alternative." Gu Yu looked up at the sky and said, "Ok, time for me to leave. See you another time."
With that, he took off briskly. From behind him, he heard a distant calling, "Are you going onto the mountain?"
"That'll be my own business!"
Gu Yu was neither a saint nor a fiend.
Having realized that a calamity was upon Huo Zhou, he notified the government, which was the least he could do. Of course, he had held back certain information from Mu Kun.
One of them was about Buddhism.
Within the thirty-six ancient kingdoms of the Western Region, almost every individual was a Buddhist. The dissemination, root-taking, and prosperity of any given religion was built upon countless strife and struggles.
With its long history, the Western Region was rich in cultural heritage. As many as eight religions had been explicitly documented, not to mention the unrecorded ones.
So what made Buddhism so special that it had risen above all others?
Therefore, he was haunted by this feeling that Wuxi, the Babies' Cemetery, Buddhism, and Flaming Mountain were all somehow linked by an invisible thread and the secret itself lay right on Flaming Mountain.
He simply had to see it for himself.
It had been three days since Gu Yu arrived at Huo Zhou. After he went back to his hotel preparing for the trip onto the mountain, he thought he should check up on his girlfriend. He dialed the number, but her phone was off.
Sigh, there was nothing he could do about that. His girl was vigorously pursuing her target like a ship ripping through waves and a flying horse flitting across the sky.
And he was right about it. Xiaozhai was having a swell time.
Mount Song, Shaolin.
The courtyard permanently open in Shaolin Temple was a massive, majestic building complex comprised of seven tiers. The buildings were arranged along the central axis and starting from the south, they were the Mountain Gate, Heavenly Kings Palace Hall, Mahavira Palace Hall, Scripture Room, Abbot's Room, Dharma Pavilion, and Thousand Buddha Palace Hall.
Apart from those, Forest of Pagodas was in the west of the temple; Bodhidharma Temple, Bodhidharma Cave, and Manna Platform were in the north; Dharma Temple was in the south west and Guanghui Temple in the northeast, etc.
The Buddhist ceremony to pray for blessing and removing ill fortunes was to be held behind the screen wall of Mahavira Palace Hall, in front of the statue of Guanyin.
Led by the abbot Shi Mingzong, two rows of chief monks and numerous of devotees had gathered here, reciting passages from scriptures. The one they were chanting now was "The Universal Door of Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva". By reciting it sincerely, one could be free from ill fortunes and calamities, increasing the chance of being favored by fate.
The hall was way too small for the crowd and the devotees had lined up all the way into the courtyard, where they knelt down on the ground, closely packed together. Among them were also the idle visitors and kids brought along by their parents, who were looking around with boredom. There were also those who understood the words and were reciting along.
"If living beings who have much sexual desire constantly and reverently recite the name of Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva, they will be separated from desire. If those who have much hatred constantly and reverently recite the name of Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva, they will be separated from hatred. If those who are very stupid constantly and reverently recite the name of Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva, they will be separated from stupidity…"
Xiaozhai stood the furthest back—yup, she was the only one standing.
She rolled her eyes at the "much sexual desire" part and could not be bothered to listen any further. Turning around, she took out a piece of black scarf, wrapped it around her face, and started her role-play as a burglar.
Following the slabstone path, she ran noiselessly, as light as a cat and as swift as a soaring bird. Hoisting herself up with one hand propping against the white marble railing, she slipped into the Scripture Room.TL/N: Basically, Wu (巫) means wizard and Xi (觋) means witch, but the term is rather ancient, hence Mu Kun's answer.