The big thick door was pushed open and a team of six entered the guest house of the town government. Almost instantly, they attracted the attention of all.
The one leading the team was of medium built and had an air of slyness about him. One could tell right away that he was capable of dealing with every kind of men. He was the most common one, though, for the five walking behind him were much less "conventional".
They all arranged their hair into Taoist buns and wore loose robes with wide sleeves. Despite the thinness of the clothes, they did not seem to be affected by the coldness at all. Each man had a cloth bundle over his shoulder and wore a pair of traditional Taoist shoes of ten directions. Some of the bundles even had a hilt protruding from them.
Moving their eyes upward, one would see five individuals with an extraordinarily graceful bearing that was of an elegance rarely seen in this mortal world.
As a well-travelled tourism destination, all sorts of symposiums and conferences were held in Songjiang River throughout the year. The guest house was therefore rather plushly equipped. The service staff had seen their fair share of big shots, but they were getting all jittery at the presence of these five.
However big them shots were, they were but mortal men. These priests, however, looked like immortals descending on earth.
They went up in the elevator and settled down in their rooms. The host soon bid his farewell, while Lu Yuanqing, Shi Yunlai, Zhang Shouyang, Chao Kongtu, and Zhong Lingyu gathered into one room.
They were all disciples of abbots and had spent their days cultivating industriously in their temples since childhood with little opportunity to travel in the outside world. This "boss team" was quite a novelty to them all.
"This little town of the north has a charm in its own way—quite different from what we have in the south," said Zhang Shouyang.
"Sigh, we've been shutting ourselves in the temples for so long, closing our ears from the outside world. Now that we're out here, I'm afraid we're falling behind the modern society," said Shi Yunlai.
"Enough with all the sighing. I've heard about the wonders of Changbai Mountain for so long. Since we've finally got the opportunity to come here, why don't we go up the mountain and have a look?" Chao Kongtu had the most lively character and was about to jump to his feet right away.
"Be patient! We have arrived and people from the government should be at our heels. Just wait a moment." Despite being a year younger, Zhong Lingyu was much more prudent and always kept a solemn look on his face.
After some small talk, Zhang Shouyang asked, "Junior Brother, you have dealt with Phoenix Mountain before. Exactly how capable are they?"
"I won't rush to irresponsible conclusions, but they are well beyond my reach." Lu Yuanqing held nothing back.
"Both of them?"
"Both of them."
"Then what's your plan? Are we really going to fight them?" Shi Yuanlai joined in.
"Humph! We are not that kind of diligent goon squad. We are here and that's all we are here for," sneered Chao Kongtu.
"That won't do. The government is not stupid. They'd see right through that," Zhang Shouyang refuted right away. "We are eating off the authorities' palms now, relying on them to provide all resources. We cannot break free of that relationship. Not only will we make an effort, we will also have to make all our effort. It will at least do us good in the future."
Lu Yuanqing said, "I agree. We don't have much say over the decisions at the moment, so our attitude matters a great deal. Winning the battle or not, we must do our best, not to mention…"
"Not to mention what?" asked Chao Kongtu.
"Have you ever wondered about how did those to become so powerful all of a sudden at such a young age? Phoenix Mountain was never an important Taoist establishment." He paused a little and went on, "When Wang Qi asked about the method they followed, that Mr. Gu's answer was Dan method. Ha, all the sects of Quanzhen put together have barely managed to save the Neidan practice method over the past thousand years and there were more forefathers who had spend their entire life on cultivation to no avail than we can count. We were only able to break into the innate state because of the coincidence set by fate. Let me ask you this: what Dan method were they cultivating with?"
"Are you suggesting…" The expression on Zhang Shouyang's face changed. "What they were using was not Dan method, but possibly a method of the ancient immortals?"
The words astonished the other three, especially Chao Kongtu and Zhong Lingyu. Zhengyi's orthodox teaching was derived from none other than the ancient method of essence-consuming. Now that the name was mentioned, what else could they feel but exhilaration?
Being a disciple of the Longmen Sect, although Shi Yunlai considered the essence-consuming method of Quanzhen heretical and would in theory suppress it whenever he got the chance, they were no longer in the ancient times. Taoism was on the wane and they had to work together as a team.
He realized what Lu Yuanqing was getting at. "Essentially, the government is still very conservative. They couldn't care less about the cultivation methods. Are you trying to gain their awareness through this?"
"It's not only that. How would the authorities handle it once they know about it? We could well use the opportunity, and…"
"Knock knock knock!"
Before Lu Yuanqing could finish his sentence, someone was at the door. The five fell silent at once. Zhong Lingyu went to answer the door and found the two deputies, Mu Kun and Zhang Juan, outside.
"Thank you all for coming all the way here!"
"Nice to meet you, deputies!"
The two parties exchanged greetings. Mu Kun was rather kind, but Zhang Juan's annoyance and contempt was undisguised. He was the old-school type of military man who could not stomach such superstition.
"All major sites from Songjiang River to the mountain foot had been stationed with our men. We've searched the mountain as well, but have so far found no such spiritual ginseng. But judging from Gu Yu's moves, the possibility of its existence is very high."
Mu Kun briefly talked them through the current situation. Lu Yuanqing then asked, "Where is Mr. Gu at the moment?"
"He's still in Changqing Village. It seems he has stationed himself there. The other one has gone to Huang Village. We don't know exactly what has happened, but probably something has gone wrong on Long Qiu and Jiang Xiaojin's end." He was obviously concerned by the turn of the events. "Those two are young girls, but they could fight. I'm worried about a possible third party."
"Third, forth, who cares! The entire special force is here. I'd like to see them try!" Zhang Juan bragged, apparently he couldn't care less.
Mu Kun darted him a disgruntled look and fought back his temper. "You have had a tiresome, long trip. I think you should have some rest before we make the visit."
"That's ok. We can leave now."
The suggestion was a polite one, but Lu Yuanqing knew too well to take it. As expected, Mu Kun did not insist.
They went downstairs right away and headed for Changqing Village in SUVs.
The small village was no different from before. It was still covered by the white snow and still looked like a still frame.
The SUVS arrived noisily a the village entrance and Zhang Juan, who had not said a word the entire trip, picked up the intercom and commanded, "Assemble!"
At that, two black bullet-proof troop carriers drove out of two alleys, joined the SUVs, and made their way together towards the Shui Family.
"What are you doing, Old Zhang?" Mu Kun was shocked.
"Nothing. Don't want the soldiers to sit around, that's all. It'd be such a waste," said Zhang Juan.
"Let me remind you. The order is: negotiation first!"
"Ha, let me remind you as well. The order also says: we have the permission to open fire in critical situations!"
"Open fire? Hundreds of villagers live here. You're going to open fire in a residential area?" Mu Kun's tone was harsh.
"Why, don't be so tense. I'm not a homicidal maniac. We can show him some muscles, can't we? What if he is just playing tough? It would be so much easier for us if he decided to bend his knees." Zhang Juan grinned.
Mu Kun was about to retort when the fleet of vehicles stopped. They had arrived at the Shui Family house.
The trunk of the two troop carriers opened and twenty special force police officers filed out.
With its vast territory and the largest national population in the world, the police force of this country had made quite some advancement in the past ninety years or so on all aspects. Armament-wise, they were equipped with just about everything: vehicle station, automatic rifle, light submarine gun, sniper rifle, capture net, EOD robot, laser ranging device, you name it.
Looking around, the five priests saw a demonstration of weapons combined with modern technology. Despite everything else, they were still civilians who would have no idea what state power was until they faced it.
The display made its impact. Even someone like Lu Yuanqing felt ill at ease: would it be possible for the monastery to break free of the government's control after all?
The Shui Family was in a remote corner to begin with. With the site-clearing beforehand, there was an unnatural silence within a 500 m radius.
"Man your posts!"
Captain of the commandos gave it a wave and the team members climbed onto a low wall in unison. The weapons were then set up, holding the house at gunpoint on all angles.
The rest four followed behind the two deputies, keeping guard with gun in hand.
The look on the five priests' face was hard to describe while they kept their silence. Zhang Juan laughed loudly. Scanning their faces deliberately, he said, "Let's go in!"
With that, the team entered the courtyard. They only made a couple of steps in when the wood door opened with a creak.
A tall, lean figure strolled out, wearing only thin clothes. He seemed cold with his hands tucked away in his wide sleeves. His long neck bent forward a little, lowering his head slightly.
He stood quietly there, resembling very much of a red-crowned crane with its feathered wings lowered, indulging itself in self-admiration in the middle of a muddy pond.
He looked up slightly, a vague smile flickering in his eyes. "Priest Lu, I see you've come as well."
"Hello, Mr. Gu!"
Lu Yuanqing bowed, then introduced, "These are my senior and junior brothers."
Mu Kun frowned, sensing something was off. Gu Yu had always appeared affable before, but now, Mu Kun could feel some treacherous torrent behind all the mildness.
He went up to Gu Yu. "Mr. Gu, sorry about the inconvenience. We're here to make some inquiries."
"Come inside, then. It's too cold out here."
"That won't be necessary. Just answer me, do you have the spiritual ginseng or not?" Zhang Juan asked loudly.
Gu Yu glanced at him and smiled. "I do!"
That took everyone by surprise: the man admitted it? Just like that?
Mu Kun was growing more uneasy. "Mr. Gu, that's what brought us here today. The government has proposed that we should work together on this. We can study it together and share the profit."
"Oh? How does the working together work?"
"Well, unlike the spiritual stone and spiritual rice, ginseng has long been used as a medicine. Our country has the world-leading technology in the field of traditional medicine. If the government could take the lead in developing the medicine, more value will come out of it. Of course, you'll be playing an important role as well. After all, you are the one who has discovered it. We still have much to learn from you."
Mu Kun was abashed by his own words. Without saying, it was undisguised robbery and in return, Gu Yu was offered the tiniest reward.
"And the sharing part?" Gu Yu went on asking.
Zhang Juan grew impatient. "Enough! Stop playing dumb! Give it to us and you'll get your reward. It'll be worth much more with us than with one man."
"Hoho, the spiritual ginseng cannot survive anywhere else but on Phoenix Mountain."
Gu Yu was not vexed at all. He crossed his hands behind his back and announced loud and clear, "Plus, I don't want to give it to you."