Urumqi, the first snow.
Being a city in a remote province, Urumqi had always been a place easily ignored and seldom included in anything. It had been ages since the city last held a high-profile conference—the level of the "profile" depended on the participants. Naturally, the higher the titles, the more important the conference.
Today, however, Urumqi was probably seeing its biggest event since the city was founded. A third of the roads in the city had been closed off and the streets were lined with police officers, men of special forces, and plainclothes; everyone stood ready for any possible challenge that might arise.
It was a cold day. The first snow of this winter swirled and drifted, covering the streets and curbs with a thin layer of whiteness.
The conference room inside a government building was warm like in spring. There weren't that many attendants. Thirty-seven seats had been laid out for the chiefs and twenty-four for the deputies, yet the room still looked half empty.
Most attendants had taken their seats. The names on plates were loud enough to blow one's mind. All major players of the thirty-six provinces of the country were here, together with several representatives from the military.
Fighting back their doubts and curiosity, they tried their best to keep their voices low. The room was filled with a strange tension and fluster.
"Tack, tack, tack!"
Before long, they heard forceful and rapid footsteps outside and immediately after that, a man in his sixties entered the room. He wore black-framed glasses and had a solemn look on his face.
All sounds died down instantaneously.
The man took the top seat. His eyes ran down the room and he said, "I assume everyone is here. Let's get started."
Without either the drawls and slowness or the parallel sentences and odd modal particles usually found in speeches given by officials, this man was straightforward. "You are all aware of the situation of Huo Zhou. According to our experts' deduction, the abnormality in Flaming Mountain is affected by seasons. It eases in winter and returns in spring, with summer and autumn as its peak seasons. It's November 20th today and based on the nearest calculation of the cycle, it will return next April, which gives us a little over four months to get prepared. That's probably the best we can get out of this worst scenario.
I will hereby announce some decisions the central government has made… no need to take notes, just listen. I'll talk to you individually after the meeting…"
He made a pressing gesture with his hands to calm the restless audience and went on.
"First of all, a Steering Group on the Huo Zhou Abnormality is to be set up as of today, taking up full responsibility of the monitoring, researching, coordinating, and problem-solving on matters related to Flaming Mountain. I myself will act as the deputy group leader.
Secondly, twelve observation stations are to be installed within a 50-km radius around Flaming Mountain and twenty-four within a 130-km radius. Changes in the climate and environment will be monitored and analyzed within the radii. The data will be shared among us and a classified information of the top level.
Thirdly, since we are not sure of the spread range, we need to prepare for the worst. We have come up with a relatively thorough plan on migration. Because of its length, I am not going to announce it here. We will hold a separate meeting later.
Here is the general plan. To start with, state of emergency will be announced in Huo Zhou and the resettlement will begin immediately following the coordinated arrangement. Other cities of Xichui 1 Province need to be prepared as well—they must be able to evacuate the cities as soon as the order is given.
Of the four provinces next to Xichui, apart from the provinces of Qingning and Tanggute, Longxi and Mobei 2 both need to be prepared to receive immigrants. Cities in the center of Central Plains should not neglect their responsibilities, for you are the main force in this task. Be prepared to receive immigrants at as the occasion demands.
Fourthly, starting from today, each province should set up their own environment monitoring group, which is to be under the jurisdiction of the BIMAUP. The groups are to be in charge of monitoring and sending early warning on mountains and rivers in their regions, especially those with special landforms such as deserts, karst caves, underground caves, glaciers, sinkholes, etc.
Abnormalities have appeared on Phoenix Mountain and Tianshan already, as well as on Mount Emei and Tianzhu Mountain, which makes them the priority among priorities.
Fifthly, public sentiment-wise, the guiding work needs to follow up accordingly. Propaganda departments of all provinces need to set up specialized public-opinion-guidance groups. Pay special attention to the internet; take precaution against the few who use the internet to spread rumors and terrorizing speeches even to the point of disturbing social order.
Sixthly, the security level of Xichui is to be raised as of today, in case any offender attempts to incite the public and cause affrays. Any tendency of such disturbances must be suppressed at the earliest stage…"
After he finished reading the announcement, the man suddenly took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes, as if they were in pain.
The two that sat closest to him looked more closely and realized that the man's eyes were bloodshot and his countenance extremely fatigued—it could be days since he last slept. Five seconds later, he raised his head again and the look on his face solemn as ever as he said, "Everybody, a critical time like this does not allow any crap and I have only one thing to ask from you: make sure the orders are passed on unobstructed and executed orderly. Should any of you play tricks and bend to their selfish motives, once I find out, the person will be punished. There is no jesting in wartime!"
He finished his speech with a fierce smack of the table. The loud bang resonated in the room.
Silence. His words were received by a room of silence.
There was shock, horror, helplessness, deliberation… the one thing not found on anyone was indifference.
The abnormality on Flaming Mountain had turned up too mighty and overbearing a phenomenon. Unlike what happened in Grass River Mouth, which affected a town and tens of thousand people only, with a limited area of expansion, Huo Zhou was a city of over 700,000 residents!
The number alone was negligible comparing to the colossus of the country, but these people had been playing the political game long enough to realize the complications behind this number.
Meanwhile, they were growing more jittery each day. Less than a year had passed since the incident of Tianshan and everything was trailing further and further away from the world they used to know.
Nobody wanted to wake up in a strange city they used to call home.
The attendants scattered after the meeting.
The head of Xichui Province stayed behind. He used to work with the man holding the conference and was on friendly terms with the latter, who had restrained his imposing manner in front of his old friend and let his exhaustion show.
"Take a break. This job cannot be rushed."
"It has to be…" The man waved his hand and sighed. "You may find my words an exaggeration, but things are actually worse than I described. You are on the front line and hold the foremost position; we cannot afford any mistake here. I'm afraid I'll trouble you with the migration job."
"It's my honor to serve our country. There's no trouble in that!" the head declared right away.
"Haha, my mind is at rest with you on the job." The man forced out a laughter and went on. "I'm only glad that we were able to monitor this calamity to some extent, or we wouldn't have known where to begin with."
He was speaking the truth. Although they were not able to find the fire spiritual essence, they could deduce its existence from the state of the surrounding plantation, soil, and even something as simple as the change in the temperature.
With the data and the time of the occurrence of the abnormality, making preparation was possible.
The man took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes again, then asked, "By the way, is that Mr. Gu still here?"
"Yes, he's still staying in Grape Valley. He has visited Tianshan as well—gone off the grid for a few days. He was probably in that node to fetch something. Shall we…"
"Sigh, just leave it be." The man shook his head. "We have indeed neglected them on purpose after the Tianzhu Mountain agreement. And he has volunteered this information. Just see it as a compensation."
"I completely agree with you. Speaking of which, the other one was doing things on her own as well, turning every major temple upside down."
The head chuckled. "I've never met them before, but from what I've heard, I quite like them."
"Haha, these two young friends are indeed an exceptional pair." The man laughed as well. "Let's just hope we won't turn against each other in the future."
Gu Yu visited Tianshan a while ago.
After the refinement of green jade needle with fire spiritual essence turned out feasible, he acted quickly and travelled to Tianshan right away, then made his way to that small valley.
The place was nothing like the first time he was there. The widespread spiritual essence was agitated and completely unabsorbable. As a result, the sky was overcast and the valley looked like a hopeless deadland.
An expanse of white snow still covered the valley and in a corner stood Sima Che's lonely grave. The snow had also cloaked the ridges, making it impossible to tell the directions. It was thanks to the flowing water that he could reach the lake.
He was amazed that there was still water in the lake. It was not frozen up but had turned into a small spring instead, from which water was gurgling out. The water flowed down the slope and formed an alluvial land. When the spiritual essence calmed down and the temperature rose, this place would be a verdant valley once more.
The green jade stone had all been buried and it took him a great effort to chisel out a chunk. He was not greedy and only needed a piece big enough for his family of three—he wouldn't be able to carry too large a piece anyway.
He now realized that the characteristic of each node was actually very obvious.
Take Phoenix Mountain as an example. Its core of the node was the old tree. It was of Earth and Wood in property, hence its fitness for farming. Mount Emei was also characterized for its deep valley and tall trees and he assumed it would be similar to Phoenix Mountain. Tianzhu Mountain was marked by it cave, which was of Metal and Water properties, hence the discovery of mines and fish. Tianshan was pretty much the same, only that he did not know if anything else was here apart from the green jade.
After obtaining the ore, Gu Yu paid no attention to the team tailing him and went back to Huo Zhou with no intention to cover his tracks. He then took out a section to have it sanded into seventy green jade needles. They were still 5 cm in length, a bit thicker than sewing needles and sharpened on both ends.
He had supervised the entire process and retrieved all odd bits, which utterly bewildered the craftsman.
Now, he had seventy-two green jade needles in total, which meant all his spare time was taken by refinement. He could refine five needles at the same time each round, so just do the math.
Grape Valley, evening.
To the east of Grape Valley stood Flaming Mountain, to the west the downtown area, to the south another valley, and only to the north a wilderness.
The remnant of the evening glow fell on the withered yellow grass and the empty field that stretched out endlessly. The only thing stood only was a slanting old tree jabbed into the uncultivated land on its own. A short distance away stood the rustic mountain, upon which the red cloud gathered and rested like a giant snake taking it winter-time nap and waiting to wake up the next year.
Gu Yu stood in the field and watched the old tree in silence from about a hundred steps away.
Adjusting his breath a little, he waited until his state of mind was ready, at which moment he activated his mental force.
With a soft blast, two magnificent and bright dots of red light materialized, as if they were swimming in mid-air. They were none other than the two refined green jade needle from earlier.
With their appearance, the surrounding air stirred instantly, which distorted under the heat.
Immediately after that, he willed with his mind again and the red dots flickered suddenly, then turned into two streamers of light and scuttered towards the old tree; the fiery light looked like two long tails.
The imposing manner was so satisfying! The dazzle rather resembled that of a meteor slitting through the atmosphere, burning brightly as it fell.
In a split second, there were two pops and the red dots pierced through the old tree completely unhindered. They then returned into the air and the old tree stood steadily where it was. Nothing seemed to have changed.
Gu Yu frowned slightly. He was about to doubt himself where there came a "Boom!".
Two dots of crimson fire erupted from inside the trunk and spread onto the entire tree in less than a second. Everything from the branches and leaves to the roots, and even the circle of weeds around the tree, was in flame.
As if being dismembered, the old tree dropped down by bits in a crackling noise until there was nothing but a pile of black charcoal.
Gu Yu blinked. He was surprised by his own work. 'Really? That fierce?'
This burning property alone was beyond awesome, not to mention the slight improvement in the speed and penetrating ability! Just imagine: when facing the enemies in the future, with a single wave of Mr. Gu, the flying needles would fill the entire sky and set everything on fire...
How surprising! How unexpected! How exciting!
All in all, he was very, very happy with the upgraded green jade needle.
With a wave, the two red dots flew back to Gu Yu and landed lightly on his palm. The slight burning sensation stroked his skin, which neither burnt nor hurt, but felt somewhat intimate. That was the connection one would feel with a refined magical instrument.
"The name green jade needle does not seem fit any more…"
Looking at his palm, he gave it a thought and grinned. "You'll be Flaming Cloud Needles from now on…"TL/N: a fictional name, meaning "western border", basically, it's the province of Xinjiang TL/N: all four names are fictional, and are roughly equivalent to the provinces of Qinghai, Tibet, Gansu, and Inner Mongolia.