The girl's announcement shocked them all. Gu Yu and Xiaozhai frowned: who let out the news? Yet at a second thought, they realized something was not right. No fifth person knew about the spiritual ginseng, Shui Yao and the research team included.
"Where did you hear about that?" asked Gu Yu.
"It's all over the town. I don't know who started it. I woke up this morning and everyone was talking about it."
The girl was exhilarated, in a way that was silently saying, "It's so rare that something like this is happening around me. I'm happy enough to spread the gossip alone even if it has nothing to do with me whatsoever."
"Any rumors on the internet?" Xiaozhai asked.
"I read a few here and there on weibo, but they disappeared almost right away."
The girl seemed to be pretty sure of what she heard and went on, "Everyone is saying that that's evidence enough! If it's fake news, the authorities would have denied it, or at least they wouldn't have monitored the internet and deleted the posts. So it's almost certain. They're all heading for the mountain to search for the spiritual ginseng. Hey, brother, isn't Grandpa Shui the old chief? That's great. We can use his help."
"The hell with giving you help. Watch that tongue of yours! Go away. Go back to the front and look after the guests. Enough with the gossip."
Shui Yao was a perceptive guy. He was acutely aware of something fishy was going on. After sending the girl away, he asked, "Younger Brother-in-law, what's that all about?"
Gu Yu hesitated a little and decided to tell the truth. "We have indeed found a spiritual ginseng following those mallet birds."
Even Shui Yao's eyebrows bristled at those words. His thick-muscled face puckered up, giving him a ferocious yet adorkable look. Before he had a chance to speak, however, Gu Yu stopped him. "But we five were the only people knew about this. I don't understand, how did the news get out?"
"That sable!" Xiaozhai interjected all of a sudden. "If they could control a sable, they could control any other animals. Maybe we've overlooked it."
"We might've. Anyhow, they might not know exactly what has happened. It could be their speculation only."
Gu Yu and Xiaozhai remained level-headed. They skipped the cause and the full course of the event, jumping right to the purpose of such act. Whatever move the other party took, their purpose was clear: to muddle the waters.
While they were analyzing the situation methodically, Shui Yao grew anxious on the side. "So, what's the deal with that spiritual ginseng? What does it do? Does it look like a human already?"
"Not yet, but it's very useful. Eat a little bit and all your diseases are cured and you get to live very long," teased Gu Yu.
"Damn! What're we waiting for, then? Stop playing already! Let's move!"
Shui Yao was annoyed by their reaction and dragged the pair out of the hostel, where they hopped onto his shabby pick-up truck and headed for Changqing Village.
The moment they were on the street, they were fully aware of the strange atmosphere surrounding them, as if the entire town was under a tacit agreement and the residents did not even have to speak when meeting one another. One look and the message was delivered.
"Hey, you heard about it?"
Yeah, just like that.
On their way, they saw many people who had nothing better to do riding motorcycles, electric bikes, bicycles, etc., travelling casually towards Changqing Village as well.
Not all of these people believed in the rumors, but thought them more as an after-dinner anecdote and something colorful to rescue them from their daily boredom. The general public loved playing the onlookers, for it costed them nothing.
When they arrived at the village, Shui Rong's courtyard was crowded with neighbors. The old man held his long-stemmed pipe and said warily, "It's impossible to find a ginseng in the winter. It's not time to search the mountain yet. It must be a cooked-up story. You can go up there all you want. I want no part of it!"
"Dear old man, you haven't been searching the mountain for so many years, what do you care if it's real news or not? Just have a walk around."
"Exactly. What if you run into it. You'd be rich!"
"That's right. You can have the big chunk. We're happily enough with the leftovers."
Everyone was talking at the same time and the old man was utterly annoyed.
Gu Yu and Xiaozhai jumped out of the truck. They did not enter the courtyard, but only told Shui Yao, "Old Shui, stay with your old man for a few days. Make sure he stays safe. When Xiao Qiu and Xiaojin come back, tell them to go up the mountain."
"Then what are you going to do now?"
Shui Yao knew himself well enough to beg for an opportunity to go with the two.
"Guard our property, obviously. That spiritual ginseng belongs to Phoenix Mountain."
"Old Guan! What have you done?"
Inside the sub-bureau of the BIMAUP, Wang Xuqiao shoved a door open violently and questioned Guan Pan to his face. "How could you make the report without my permission?"
"Why, I disagree with that. You are the director all right, but it says explicitly in the regulation that as the deputy director, I have the authority to make a report directly in case of an emergency."
Guan Pan turned this way and that with his chair, apparently couldn't care less about the accusation.
"Emergency? You call such a trivial matter emergency? Do you even have any respect for me, your director?"
"Ha! The way I see it, it's not that trivial at all." Guan Pan looked into his eyes and remarked casually, "I presume you know what a ginseng can do, don't you? It can keep someone in critical condition alive. If there really was a spiritual ginseng, have you ever considered how effective it could be? So what if there is no such thing. There is nothing wrong with being responsible and reporting to our superiors."
As a matter of fact, Wang Xuqiao could accuse the man of nothing. Guan Pan had only done what he was supposed to do and had done it by the book. Wang Xuqiao could only put this matter aside and say, "Fine, let's talk about something else. EVERYONE in Songjiang River is talking about a spiritual ginseng on the mountain now. How did that happen?"
"Oh?" Guan Pan gave him a surprised look. "Why are you asking me? How am I supposed to know that? Could it be that Shui person? He seemed to be on good terms with Mr. Gu."
"Not likely. He has no motive to do such things." Wang Xuqiao was agitated and said anxiously, "Anyway, we have to send someone down to Songjiang River right away. We can't afford a riot there."
"Yes. Stop the rumor from spreading, that's our priority."
Guan Pan smiled as he watched the director leave.
The capital city, HQ of the BIMAUP.
A few high-ranking officials sat around the table in a meeting, each with a file in front of them. It was none other than the report sent from Xidu.
The director looked around the table. "What do you think?"
"It is plausible. The numbers of mutated creatures are only growing larger and no one can say for sure that a spiritual ginseng is simply a product of someone's imagination. My personal opinion is that we should give it a go," replied one man.
"But we don't have any image. It's rather rash to act on speculation alone," Mu Kun spoke his objection. He did not want to go to war against Phoenix Mountain for some imaginary spiritual ginseng.
"Actually, what we think counts for nothing. It all depends on what they think upstairs."
Another official joined in and asked, "Director, have we received any instruction from above yet?"
"I made the report after receiving the file. I was told they would make the decision ASAP."
The director also found the situation rather troublesome. "The 'friendly neighbor' and the 'iron fist' are divided on the matter. I think the bosses are probably wrestling over it as we speak."
Only his trusted subordinates were present and the director felt he could speak his mind freely. He himself belonged to a fraction as well, one that sat in the middle, which was why he was able to get his current post.
They exchanged some more small talk before there came a knock at the door. The director's private secretary entered. "Sir, we have received the instruction from the central government!"
"One, special police force of Xidu is to be put on standby and stationed around the Songjing River-Changqing Village-mountain foot area, preventing the general public from carelessly entering the mountain.
Two, the HQ will allocate relevant personnel to help the sub-bureau with handling the coordination and operations.
Three, if running into Phoenix Mountain, unless out of options, no unauthorized fighting is allowed.
Four, call in the people of Qiyun."
All four instructions sounded rather informal, which indicated how urgently they had been written down. They were implicit at the same time, which was common in bureaucratic wordings. They never put anything direct and clear, but had to keep others guessing. Of course, those present here were all experienced enough with such style and got the gist right away.
Mu Kun was secretly relieved. Only the special police force was required and the army was not mentioned, which meant the general scheme was of a mild manner. They were only probing, trying to find out if they could push Phoenix Mountain further. People of Qiyun would play the leading roles and the rest was only there to facilitate.
He felt wary at the same time, for it was somewhat within his expectation. The temptation of a spiritual ginseng was not something one could overlook. After all, certain bosses were not getting any younger.
Tianzhu Mountain, Qiyun Taoist Monastery.
Lu Yuanqing summoned his people to discuss the matter as well. The moment he announced the instructions, indignant voices rose around him.
Zhang Shouyang frowned and spoke first, "They are sending us to fight against Phoenix Mountain over some spiritual ginseng that might not even exist in the first place?"
He couldn't help it. The authorities' deliberations of using them as goon squad were apparent.
"Humph! They have planned it all out. They are to be the friendly party and we the evil men," sneered Chao Kongtu.
"We've benefited from their resources and it's only natural that we should repay them, but to engage in a groundless conflict is rather impetuous," said Shi Yunlai.
For a moment there, everyone was expressing their opinions, all disgruntled in one way or another. Meanwhile, it was becoming clearer than ever that the monastery as a whole wished to be free of the government's control.
"I heard you all. Fighting aside, the trip alone will be a rare opportunity for us."
Lu Yuanqing silenced the arguing voices and turned to either side. "Senior Brother Shi, Senior Brother Zhang, I'd like to have you to coming with me."
"That is what we would have proposed." The two stood up in unison.
"Junior Brother Chao and Junior Brother Zhong, you two are also welcome to join us," he added.
Chao Kongtu and Zhong Lingyu were noticeably surprised by the announcement, but replied nonetheless, "Yes!"
"Senior Brother Mo, I'll have to trouble you with running the affairs of the monastery while we're away."
"With pleasure." Old Priest Mo nodded.
"Despite our absence, Fellow Taoists should remain industrious in their learning. Cultivation is like rowing against the tide, slackness will only result in falling behind. Please remember that."
Lu Yuanqing rose to his feet and bowed.
"Dear passengers, the 16:30 high-speed train D12 from Shengtian to Bing 1 Town is ready for departure. Please proceed to entrance A3 for ticket-checking. Please stay in line…"
Inside the waiting hall, passengers on either side of the seats moved into action at the broadcast, thronged forward, and gathered at the ticket barrier. The crowd then slowly squirmed backwards and finally formed two files.
Bing Town was in Heishui 2 Province, about 300 km north of Xidu. The city was close to the border and was freezing cold at this season.
It was the largest city in area of the four provinces outside Shanhai Pass. Songjiang River was a stopover of this train and the journey would take about four to five hours.
Long Qiu and Xiaojin stood at the end of the line. The former had a giant backpack on her back, in which was none other than the wooden box they needed.
They had discovered the spiritual ginseng, but did not have the proper equipment to take it away. They thought about having Li Dong deliver the box to them. After all, a single trip would be much faster. In the end, they decided against it, for Li Dong was not capable enough to either make the box or keep it safe.
Hence, Xiaojin volunteered to go back to handle it herself. Gu Yu was doubtful able leaving it all to her alone and had Long Qiu go with her.
Their seats were in Carriage 7, which turned out to be rather crowded. Nearly 90% of the seats were occupied. The box was too big for the luggage rack and they found checking it into the luggage carriage not safe, hence Xiao Qiu sat there holding the box between her arms.
Before long, the train started and pulled out of the station. About twenty minutes into the journey, buildings on either side grew sparse, replaced by vast bare lands of wintertime.
Long Qiu had nothing better to do but sit there, dazed.
Xiaojin, on the other hand, kept her head low and busied herself with a mobile phone game, mumbling as she played on. "Ban Ban, take the HP kit… where are you, Ban Ban… Ban Ban, kill him… Ban Ban, are you drunk or what… Ban Ban, you took my MP kit… Ban Ban, switch on your microphone, I need to curse you…"
Xiao Qiu was curious. "What are you playing?"
"Some dumb game. Don't get into it. It's a waste of time," replied Xiaojin without looking up.
Long Qiu stretched out her neck and took a peek. Hopping up and down on the screen was a short-legged little thing, which would throw something out every now and then. It was dumb!
Xiaojin was still playing when she suddenly cried out, "F**k, internet's gone!"
The train had driven into a signal-less zone and the phone lost connection. Xiaojin was greatly disappointed. Tossing the phone aside, she stretched herself. "Only 40 minutes? It felt like forever. Ugh, I hate travelling by trains… Hey, Qiu Qiu, what did you say sister need that thing for?"
Long Qiu was very cautious. She set up a confinement before leaning closer to Xiaojin's ear. In that way, others would only see two girls whispering to each other and ignore the fact that they could hear nothing.
"The spiritual essence of Phoenix Mountain is of Wood property and so is the spiritual ginseng. Moving it to our mountain would be making the perfection still more perfect. Only good things will come out of it. Plus, Phoenix Mountain is a node and the spiritual essence there is dense. The ginseng will eventually drain all plants around it if we leave it on Changbai Mountain. It can also create a labyrinth and we can use it as our defense formation…"
"Wow, wow, wow!"
Xiaojin was a little jealous of Long Qiu's proud little face. "I see you've learned a lot. That's worthy of your rank—the third of Phoenix Mountain."
"Teehee, put your heart into it and you will… Ouch!"
Long Qiu was still talking when the other little head moved closer and bumped her on the forehead. She cried out in pain. "What was that for?"
"Lecture me all you want, but don't act cute in front of me!"
Xiaojin also found it quite painful, but restrained herself from showing it. She set her mind to look as aloof and nonchalant as a flower on a mountaintop.
The two girls giggled and bantered. Before they realized, the train had left Liaodong Province and drove into Wula Province.
Wula was a less developed province in comparison and had a greater mountainous region. On other side were tall, bleak white mountains dotted with cottages that reminded one of building blocks.
Long Qiu looked out of the window and seemed to recall the place. Up ahead was probably a small station called Huang Village, which the train would not stop at. The next stop after that would be a major one, where the train would stop for three minutes.
From there the train would drive without stopping. Another major station and they would arrive at Songjiang River.
The train drove smoothly on. All of a sudden, the shrill alarm rang out, drowning every other noise in the carriages.
The passengers all winced, completely at loss of what was going on. The attendant showed up in time to calm the crowd. "Don't worry, that was the smoke detector. Probably someone has been smoking. We will come to an emergency stop. Please be patient and wait a moment."
"F**k! Which dumbass was that?"
"I got one on my last trip. Such an idiot. Can't believe I'm running into one again!"
"Son of a b*tch! People like that should get detention for ten days and pay a 10 000 yuan fine. I bet they would ever do it again!"
That was the way it was! The sneaky bastards who would cost a high-speed train an emergency stop with their smoking were hated by all. Everyone was tongue-lashing at the culprit with no mercy at all.
The train gradually came to a stop just outside Huang Village. Meanwhile, the attendants started checking the carriages one by one. As expected, they found a teenage boy in the toilet of Carriage 12 with a cigarette butt between his fingers.
Yet no one had noticed—no one could have noticed, for that matter—that a figure had gone up to the train, tampered with something, then went furtively away.TL/N: as in the anime/manga "Detective Conan" TL/N: meaning "ice" TL/N: meaning "black water"