Long Qiu—the left-behind child—rose to her feet, shook the dirt off her small shovel, and let out a faint, sulky hum.
She had just planted a tuber fleeceflower, which had auburn tuberous roots, solid skin, and a satisfactory weight—in a word, top-grade. Counterfeit tuber fleeceflower flooded the market these days and everywhere one was offered human-shaped or thousand-year-old ones, which were nothing but a load of shit.
This one was only several decades old, but was already as rare a plant as one could find.
She left the herb garden, ran to the river to wash the shovel clean before drying it carefully with a cloth, then raised her head and looked around.
Winter was followed by spring and after a few months' growth, the medicinal plant seeds sowed earlier had taken roots and sprouted, covering the slopes of the hills. The peach trees also prospered. Exuberant branches were dotted with numerous buds, nodding and swaying in the wind.
A large area of the bushes on the south bank had been cleared out, making room for a few more mu of flat land. One of the plots had rice growing in it, which was yet to sprout. Some of the seedlings had just broken through the soil, their fresh green color a demonstration of the vigorous life within.
Everything was just perfect, only that it was a bit lonely here...
"The spring sowing is starting and brother and sister are still not back."
Muttering, Long Qiu put the shovel back into the warehouses and sat on the stone stairs outside the cottage.
She had lived alone back in the Miao village and did not find such life unbearable. She had her minor complaints nonetheless. She had never hoped badly as she did now that they would bring some more pupils here, so that she would be rid of all these tasks.
That was how things were these days. Spring sowing alone would involve a series of tasks from sprouting to the growing and transplanting of seedlings. It would not be an easy job, even with the Golden Silkworm's help.
"Brother said he had kept a piece of jade stone for me. What magical instrument should I refine?"
Resting her chin on her left hand, she stretched out her right hand and a little snake materialized out of thin air, waggling on her palm. Seconds later, the snake turned into a frog, pouting its cheeks without making a sound.
In the end, the Golden Silkworm took its chubby kid form and leapt down, sitting beside its master eating fruit. Its short legs dangled, reminding one of stout turnips.
"You can attack from the air, and so can the Needle and Mosquito Undead Insects…" Xiao Qiu rubbed its head and muttered to herself. "So, so I think I'll refine something for close combat. Why, how about a sword? Sister just happened to teach me some sword movements…"
The Golden Silkworm might understand what she was saying, but it couldn't speak. It only rubbed against the back of her hand like a good puppy.
Speaking of the Golden Silkworm, it did not act out at the end of last year. Xiao Qiu was able to have it subjugated solely with her own power now. Most Grass Ghost Women had a short life span largely because the undead insects had sucked them dry of their vital essence, or even died from their undead insects turning on them.
Taken in by her brother and sister, Xiao Qiu was one of the luckier ones. Through nourishing and training it with the spiritual essence on a daily basis, the Golden Silkworm was raised into a Spiritual Undead Insect, which was not only able to understand human feelings, but was also more lethal with a significant increase in its potentialities.
"Sigh. Whatever, I'll take a walk outside."
Long Qiu sat there for a while longer and seeing that it was about time, she rose to her feet and headed out the valley.
Descending the mountain along the newly-paved stone steps, she walked all the way to the buildings at the foot of the mountain. Yuan Peiji had been very efficient. The buildings were expanded from the original ones and consisted now of dozens of houses that took up an area as large as over a thousand m^2. It was a manor.
The revamp did not stop there. Even the roads were smooth and neat now. The area looked like a development zone.
She was here today at Shengtian BIMAUP's invitation, saying that they needed to discuss something. It wasn't a decent move. They had picked a time when both 'parents' were absent and targeted the left-behind child alone. They were obviously taking advantage of her inexperience.
Despite her first time playing a leading role, the girl appeared cool-headed and composed. She walked leisurely into the manor.
Jiang Chaofan had been waiting for a while. He greeted her with a smile. "Nice to meet you, Miss Long. I am Jiang, the head of Investigation Department of the sub-bureau."
"Hello. I have heard about you." Long Qiu nodded. Still standing there, she asked directly, "What do you need me for?"
"Well, please take a seat and have some tea…" Jiang Chaofan had his sweat breaking out at her directness. Serving her a cup of tea himself, he went on, "We have been working with the Taoist community, carrying out a crackdown campaign. Ziyang Temple is among the targets."
"And?" Xiao Qiu blinked.
"Uh, the procedure requires the abbot Chen Qiulin to take two exams. He will retain his position if he passes them and will have to stay in Shengtian to study if he does not."
"Oh…" Xiao Qiu gave it a thought and asked, "What else?"
There was no normal person on Phoenix Mountain! The common logic did not apply to them in conversations.
Venting his irritation inside, Jiang Chaofan went on, "If he fails to pass, Ziyang Temple will be sealed off temporarily and only reopen when Priest Chen returns after completing his study. I'm here today to discuss with you about Ziyang Temple…"
Xiao Qiu shook her head. "The mountain is ours. You can't seal it off."
"Miss Long, we're only following the rules here. There's nothing we can do about it."
"No, the mountain is ours and ours alone. You can't do that."
She never mentioned things like "let me think it over and my brother will talk to you when he's back", nor did she resort to playing with words. She only emphasized one thing: we own the mountain and you've got no goddamn rights!
Xiao Qiu had no negotiation skills, but she was not stupid.
For one, Ziyang Temple had quite a lot of worshippers and was an important income source of the scenic area. Mind you, the income was split between them and the government. Phoenix Mountain received hundreds of thousands of tourists each year. With a sixty-yuan admission ticket, that would generate an annual income of over ten million.
They would be significantly worse off with the temple closed off.
For another, this act was a blatant provocation.
As for Jiang Chaofan, he was secretly sneering at these three despite his apparent respect. Many had had a change of heart since Lu Yuanqing reached the innate state and the reverence towards Gu Yu and Xiaozhai was noticeably undermined.
After much discussing, the sub-bureau decided to sound them out.
Jiang Chaofan was stalling. He brought out all sorts of reasons and facts, but would not get to the point. Xiao Qiu found the man utterly annoying and simply said, "You can take the man all you like. The temple stays open. I have nothing more to say to you. I'm leaving."
With that, the girl turned promptly to leave.
"Hey, Miss Long!"
Jiao Chaofan tried to catch up on her. A couple of steps out and there came a wicked gust of wind.
A giant snake head suddenly appeared from behind the girl's head, its blood-red two-pronged tongue sticking out and the vertical pupils shining gloomily and viciously. The snake head pounced at him with a whoosh as if it had wings.
Jiang Chaofan stumbled back in a haste and fell down on his butt with a thump. He closed his eyes involuntarily, abandoning all hope to live.
Two seconds passed and nothing happened. Gathering up his courage, he opened his eyes, only to find a wide-open gate and a pale blue sky outside. The girl was nowhere to be seen.
It seemed forever before the fellow finally came to himself. Damn it, he was not doing this again. It was so dangerous!
Back then under Tianshan Mountain, the sweet girl alone almost annihilated an entire team! None of the three majesties of Phoenix Mountain was someone they could mess around with!
He struggled to his feet and returned to his car, feeling defeated. The director was waiting for his report back in the bureau.
The situation was rather clear now. The abbot Chen Qiulin was a sacrificed piece, abandoned by both the Taoist community and the government. The only reason that he was still around was to maintain the current situation required by all three sides.
It wasn't bad, actually. The muddleheaded Abbot Chen knew nothing of this and was happily preparing for a blessing ceremony of the new spring.
The fools had their own luck.
Bai Town, a newly built residential area.
He He had come home from school and was now watching TV with her grandpa. They had moved into this resettlement building from Hongmei Street. Shabby and unsturdy as it might look, it was better than the makeshift houses where hundreds of people were squeezed into.
The old man's temper was smoothed out a little after moving into the new home. He had no income and was living off the relief money from the government. The authorities were quite tolerant with these migrants. As long as they did not go too far, most of their requests were granted.
They were watching Shentian Channel, which was running the local news. First of all, the municipal officials had their meetings, all policies were doing great. Then came the living conditions of all towns and villages, which were doing even greater. After that were the family gossips: an old man had a son and a daughter, both married, and the son-in-law decided to take off with the daughter-in-law, blah blah blah...
The news usually ended after all these, but not today.
"To build a key demonstration base of religious culture outside Shanhai Pass, and to carry forward and inherit the essence of traditional Taoism, Shengtian municipal government and the municipal Taoist association have announced their joint resolve that a series of promotion and publicity activities are to be carried out centering around Taiqing Palace. Starting from tomorrow, there will be a two-week exhibition on Taoist culture completely free of charge. Everyone is welcome. The venue is: west wing of Taiqing Palace, No. 8 Sanjing Street. For inquiries, please call 135xxxxxx."
The old man found the announcement a nonsense. 'How come that is included in the official news program?'
The little girl beside him was also curious. "Grandpa, what is a demonstration base?"
"Bullsh*t base! Their pockets are empty and they are swindling people in to burn the incense and worship the Buddha—better still if they can take in a few rich kids as pupils."
"Then, then are they taking boys or girls?" The little girl found it hard to understand.
"Whatever. Why are you asking?" The old man gave her head a little knock and chuckled. "Unless you're thinking about after I'm gone. You'll have no one to turn to then and you'd better to find a place that'll take you in."
"Bah! Nonsense! Grandpa will live to a hundred and more!" He He vexed at such words.
"Haha, ok, ok! It's all nonsense!"
The old man held his granddaughter in his arms. Despite the smile on his face, he looked sad.