Ye Fashan came from a famous family originated in Nanyang and he himself was a resident of Mao 1 Mountain Songyang. Reportedly, he was born during the reign of the Emperor Yang of the Sui Dynasty, in year 12 of Daye 2 and passed away without suffering from any diseases in the 10th year of Kaiyuan of Emperor Ming of the Tang Dynasty. He was said to have ascended to heaven and become an Immortal.
His past four generations of ancestors had all been Taoist priests and he had surpassed all his forefathers in his talent, attaining distinction and eminence. During the reigning periods of Emperors Gaozong and Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty, he became such an exceptional figure he was made the chief minister of the court for state ceremonial events and granted the title the Duke of Yue. He was recognized as the Taoist leader of his time.
Ye Fashan belonged to no sect. He had learned Taoist techniques from several sects including Lingbao, Dongyuan, Jingming, etc., and established his own teachings by learning widely from others. He was followed by numerous disciples and had passed down another line of legacy through his biological family. The descendants of the Ye Family had settled down later both in Nanyang and Songyang.
There were two famous stories about him.
The first one took place when Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty was admiring the lanterns at the night of the Lanterns Day. The city of Chang'an was so lit up by all the lumination that the night was almost turned into day. The emperor summoned Ye Fashan, who commented, "In terms of the splendor of lanterns, Chang'an is the most resplendent and Liang Zhou the second."
Xuanzong was intrigued and wanted to see it with his own eyes. The Celestial Master asked him to close his eyes and took him flying into the clouds. Moments later, they landed on solid land and the emperor saw lanterns and candles stretched out for miles on end. The streets were filled with precious horses and fragrant carriages; streams of people came and went busily—he was standing right in the night fair of Liang Zhou 3 .
The other story, which told about the Celestial Master taking Xuanzong up to the palace of the moon and enjoying the music of the immortals there, was more famous. Xuanzong managed to learn the tune by heart so that he could bring the music back, which was where the Melody of Rainbow and Feather Garment came from.
Ye Fashan and Lin Lingsu of the Shenxiao Sect were rare examples of Taoist priests getting involved in politics. Ye also proposed the marginalization of Buddhism, but his actions were not as extreme as Lin Lingsu's. He mainly competed against the Buddhist community with his talent and kept fighting on...
All in all, his status was as high as that of Sa Shoujian and was indeed the Celestial Master of his time.
As for Yue Zhenzi, the disciple of Ye's disciple might have been out here to see the world or for any other random reason. Whatever that might be, the fact was that he had broken through this Shamanic altar with an eminent monk and died an honorable death in this underground cavern.
A thousand years later, the jade plate fell into Gu Yu's hands. Life worked wonders, after all.
The content of the "Book on the State of Mind of Black Bead" was extensive and profound, covering all aspects. It not only recorded Yue Zhenzi's thoughts in his own cultivation, but also mentioned a lot of secret history of the Taoist community, as well as some Taoist teachings, skills, and anecdotes.
It was impossible for Gu Yu to sort it out in one night. He had to put it aside and wait until he went back home, where he could study it together with Xiaozhai in bed.
Right after that, he picked up the last two objects—the jade slips. From their style, it appeared that they were recording media widely used by cultivators of the ancient times.
He was pleasantly surprised again. In them were several simple yet practical Taoist skills.
These five objects were unexpected gains on this trip. Gu Yu carefully put them away and was about to check up on his girlfriend when Xiaozhai's call came in.
"The middle section was too complicated and I didn't read much of it. I have translated the beginning and the newly added part at the end. I'll run it through briefly…" Xiaozhai skipped the small talk and cut to the chase. "Shamanism collapsed at the end of the Qing Dynasty and has been hiding among the common folk for the past decades. When our modern country was established, someone gathered all those still hanging on to the belief and officially set up the religion. There are four branches at the moment—northeast, northwest, north of Gobi, and south of Gobi. Each branch is led by an archmage, who is followed by four levels of members, namely mages, principals, common followers, and the peripheral personnel. It is a close-knit organization that has infiltrated the society from multiple aspects—political, economical, cultural... you name it. They have managed to seize some considerable authoritative power.
The man you took out was called Rusul, the archmage of the northwestern branch. This division believed in stuff like spirits of death and evil spirits. They have quite a lot of occult skills on exploiting human bodies. That drawing of the human body is a refinement method of some sort.
The four branches work differently and so do their occult skills, but the scroll did not go into details on that. The diagram of mountains should be a map of some sort. Fatso Wang was right. Their ancestors have raised a Ghostly Bug on Flaming Mountain and that thing is at least an Immortal-state creature. It is born with some remarkable ability and will cause a great drought if it were to be released. Thank god you've sabotaged their action, or the world would face calamities… that's what I've got so far. I'll look more into it later."
Immortal… that thing was as incredible as that?
Gu Yu was greatly shaken by that. He had not even reached the Human Immortal state yet, so that meant the Ghostly Bug was at least two great states more advanced than he was?
He calmed himself before asking, "Was there a detailed description on that summoner?"
"What about the general layout of the four branches?"
"The answer's no again…" Xiaozhai paused a little and said, "I can only deduce from what's between the lines. The northwestern branch should include Xichui Province, Qingning Province, and Longxi Province—possibly Tanggute as well. I'm not sure about the branches north and south of Gobi. As for the northeast, Wula Province must be part of it."
"How could you be so sure?"
"Because my master has fought these men before," replied Xiaozhai.
Gu Yu fell silent. No wonder she had always held an enmity against Shamanism and had worked hard to study their ancient language.
Wula Province was next to Liaodong Province and the two were both part of the four provinces outside Shanhai Pass where Changbai Mountain lay. Something must have happened to her sect, but she had kept it to herself this entire time and mentioned nothing about her master.
Gu Yu himself held no grudge against Shamanism at first, but a feud was started after Zhang Wei made his appearance. Now that he had stumbled upon them and took out the northwestern branch in the process, they were officially archenemies now.
The two talked a bit longer before Gu Yu hung up.
He sat at the table, deep in thoughts. Then, all of a sudden, he picked up a pen and jotted down a few paragraphs on a piece of paper. Looking out of the window, he realized that the sun was rising.
He decided to skip sleep and sat quietly on the bed, ready to consume the essence of the early morning.
"Mr. Gu, did you sleep well?"
"Yes, it was very quiet."
"Haha, my troops have high standards of discipline. We've been stationed here for months and received zero complaints from the local folks."
The following morning, the senior colonel came to pick them up in person and accompanied them to the canteen for breakfast. They were guarding the front line here and the nearest city was Gulmud, which was over 400 km away, yet both cities were within Xihai Prefecture territory. Someone of the Central Plains could never comprehend the scale of distance out here.
Luckily, the logistic service was excellent, which could be seen from the food. For breakfast, there were noodles with shredded meat, eggs, a variety of salted vegetables—the menu covered pretty much everything.
"Mr. Gu, are you going back today?" the senior colonel asked.
"Yes, I'll be on my way."
"In that case, let me arrange your transportation. We'll drive you directly to Xiping Airport. It'll be faster that way."
"Thank you. That's very considerate of you."
Gu Yu did not turn down the offer. He had a few sips of the porridge, then took up his own solid food, nipped off some, and passed it to the senior colonel. "Try this."
The senior colonel looked closely at it. He was from a peasant family himself and had had his fair share of starving days. This food was no stranger to him—it was a chaff pancake. He hesitated a little, but still took it in his hand and gave it a nibble.
The chaff pancake had a roughish texture, but turned sweet as rice would once mixed with the saliva and melt in the mouth. The pleasant sweetness seemed to contain a miraculous energy that was fuelling his body rapidly.
The senior colonel was no fool. He turned his gaze upon Gu Yu involuntarily, trying to express his gratitude but knowing not what to say. He finally decided to say nothing, but took a few large bites instead.
Gu Yu never liked the government officials, but was quite fond of the army men. After the senior colonel finished the pancake, Gu Yu handed him a piece of paper. "I know who your superior is. You'd better give it to him yourself."
"What is it?"
The senior colonel took a look and his face turned white. On it was the origin of Shamanism, its general organizational structure, as well as a description of its characteristics and a brief introduction of the skills and methods.
Being in the army made the man all the more sensitive to such information. Because of certain domestic policies on the ethnic groups, many places were… well, there's no need to go into details.
"I mentioned it to Mu Qun last time, but he said too much would be at stake and dared not make any reckless moves. I couldn't care less about politics, but I hate to see the environment go haywire. If you ask me, you guys should crush them with a decisive iron fist and show no mercy."
"I will deliver the message myself! You have my word!"
The senior colonel nodded eagerly. He then folded the paper several times before putting it into an inside pocket.
Gu Yu's unspoken words couldn't be more obvious: if you guys would do nothing and those people brought their bullshit to Shengtian, then I would no longer be this considerate—I'd kill anyone I see fit.
Before long, they finished their breakfast and left the canteen. They were just out of the door when someone approached them, all bubbly and buoyant. It was none other than Yang Di, who had been waiting there for long.
"Old Immortal, you can't leave me like this!" He wrapped himself tightly around Gu Yu's lap, his howling ear-splitting. "I have worked my a*s off in bringing you here and I did everything you asked without a word of complaint! I even waited for you in this lousy place, never ever thinking about leaving! You have to take me in as your pupil! You have to! Or I'll smash my head in right here in front of you!"
Gu Yu felt the corner of his mouth twitching. "You'd better stay here in Xihai and live your decent live. If destiny would allow it, we will meet again."
"You can't leave me behind, hey— ah!"
Yang Di was about to lunge at Gu Yu again but was fixed on the spot by a gentle force, unable to even move a finger. He could only watch as Gu Yu and Xiao Qiu got on an army vehicle and left promptly.
The fellow was indeed a remarkable figure. He lowered his eyes and burst into tears.
The senior colonel watched him from aside and remained untouched—he even had an impulse to laugh.
He patted Yang Di on the shoulder. "There, be content. You have spent time with Mr. Gu, which is a great more than a lot of people could hope for. You're much more privileged in that sense."
Hearing that, the man turned the idea in his head and his tears dried up right away. "You're right! He's testing me! Han Zhongli tested Lü Dongbin ten times before accepting him and Immortal Gu will do the same to Yang Di now! Hahaha! I mustn't give up!"
The senior colonel looked at the man as if he was looking at an idiot. He shook his head and left.
"The liquor's ready!"
At Gao Mingde's call, Guo Fei, Li Dong, and Zhang Qianqiu pushed upwards together with their arms.
The lid of the steamer bucket was jammed open, spewing out the hot steam inside, which mixed into the vapid already filling the room, raising the temperature even higher. The four men's faces were dripping despite only wearing a thin sleeveless top each. Their faces were full of excitement.
Especially Li Dong and Zhang Qianqiu, who were newer to the job and only seeing the liquor for the first time. They were especially struck by the intense aroma of the liquor, so much so that one felt intoxicated by the smell alone. Gao Mingde scooped a little out with a gourd ladle and tasted it. Smacking his lips, the old man seemed very satisfied.
Now that the late-sowed rice of Phoenix Mountain had been harvested, their estimated yield turned out to be pretty accurate. They had about 1100 kg more rice now, which would give them another 100 kg of chaff.
15 kg of liquor could be made for every 50 kg of chaff, which was not very high a usage rate. But there were only so few people on Phoenix Mountain and with what they had already brewed, there was now over 150 kg, which could probably last the four for the next decade.
"Oh my, the liquor this time smells amazing! Uncle Gao, you're getting really good at this."
With a creak, the wooden door was pushed open and Xiaojin walked into the room. She immediately saw the other two guys and was surprised. "Why are you here?"
"Um, we, we…"
Li Dong panicked right away. He couldn't help it—his past experience with the girl had simply been traumatizing!
"Oh, I asked them to come in for help. They're all good lads." Gao Mingde felt sorry for the jittery young man and tried to mediate.
Xiaojin gave him a half smile and did not press on. She then took out the big gourd, starting to collect the liquor. Li Dong and Zhang Qianqiu held their eyes wide open, staring at the process that went completely against the laws of physics and became all the more reverent.
The gourd was soon filled up.
She did not leave right away, but gave it a little thought and gave the gourd a little pat. A thin streak of liquid flew out of the gourd, flowing into a jar on the table.
Xiaojin filled the jar and smiled. "You've all been working hard lately. This jar is a gift. Don't drink too much. I'm not getting blamed if you get sick."
With that, the four men inside and all the onlooking crowd erupted with joy.
"Thank you, Miss Jin!"
"Thank you, Miss Jin!"
"Wow, we're getting a treat today!"
The crowd rejoiced like blooming flowers. They had always wanted to taste it, but were never qualified apart from Gao Mingde and Guo Fei.
After Xiaojin left, a dozen people rushed in, all talking at the same time.
"Old Man Gao, where's the bowl? Give me a bowl!"
"Don't dillydally! Just pour the liquor!"
"Yeah, pour it already!"
Li Dong and Zhang Qianqiu gave them a sideway look. They wanted to try it as well, but disdained to beg for a petty reward as if they were waiting on an emperor. These two were highly educated men and had never had much in common with the rest on a daily basis. There were also polarized concerns between the two groups.
The fruit and tea growers would work diligently enough so that they themselves and their offsprings would receive the benefits. However, what these two wanted was to rise in their status, make the best use of their capability, become part of the managerial level, and even find a master and become cultivators.
What one could do depended on what sort of people they were. Those more capable would naturally be allotted with more responsibilities.
Meanwhile, Gao Mingde had brought out some small bowls and poured a little liquor into each. Those got the bowl tilted their heads and downed the liquid in no time.
The moment the warm liquor was in their stomach, they all exhaled hot steam. Some broke into a fine sweat, some flushed, while others' eyes went glassy… all in all, everyone looked happy and refreshed.
"Gosh, you losers. You'd get lost in your own woman's bed… Why, what are you waiting for?"
After sneering at the crowd, Gao Mingde realized someone else had been left out and beckoned the two young ones near.
The two went up two him and each drank a bowl. Maybe because they were less fit, the liquor took them harder. Zhang Qianqiu was barely keeping his legs by leaning into a table. Li Dong had always been a chubby otaku and his plump body swayed as he almost passed out.
Gao Mingde held him up right away and scolded, "Go sit down over there. You young fellows are even weaker than an old man like me!"
The pair respected the old man a lot and sat down promptly on the chairs. They were losing control of their own minds, which were taking a rocket as if they were high on drugs.
As they drifted on, they were partially aware of the discussion going on around them.
"Why, Miss Jin looked happy today."
"Yeah, I saw her all smiling this morning. I wonder what's that about."
"You people are as good as deaf. Hear me out: Mr. Gu and Miss Qiu are coming back."
"Oh my, really? With Miss Qiu back, our good old days are back again…"
"Mr. Gu, Miss Qiu…"
The conversation mixed into the euphoric state Li Dong and Zhang Qianqiu were in and for a moment there, those two names, whose owners they had never met before, almost sounded as faraway as from another world.TL/N: it is pronounced as mǎo, not the same one as in the Maoshan, or Mao Mountain Sect, which is máo, TL/N: Daye was the era name of the emperor TL/N: Chang'an is roughly the modern day Xi'an and Liang Zhou roughly the city of Wuwei of Gansu Province. The two places are about 900 km apart.