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Since his last promotion, Father Jiang had become one of the most highly ranking officials in Shengtian, rendering him one of the moguls. Correspondingly, his clearance level was raised, giving him access to certain top-secret inside information.

Hence, he was well aware of many of the events in recent years. The question of his daughter did not upset him to the least. Instead, he only asked in return, "Is the situation that bad already?"

"The situation you perceived is probably different from that of mine. I'd like to hear your version," said Xiaozhai.

"Sure. I guess it's time for us to talk about it." Father Jiang arranged his thoughts and said, "As far as I know, ten mu of spiritual farmland has been put into use in Tianzhu Mountain, which was its maximum capacity. With an average yield per mu of 108 kg and two seasons of rice yearly, the annual yield is over 2000 kg in total. The reserve of the spiritual stone is 25.4 thousand tons, of which 800 thousand kg has been burnished and shaped, which was made into 3.2 million pieces in total, each weighing 250 g. These spiritual stones are stored in Tianzhu Mountain and the capital city. Because they are still too few in numbers, the government is not going to make the stones into a currency yet. Decisions have just arrived, though. The bosses are going to give them out to certain groups as incentive rewards."

"You mean, people like Lu Yuanqing?" asked Xiaozhai.

"No, the entire Taoist system is included. Now that they have finished 'cleansing' the temples and palaces, there are 22890 remaining registered Taoist priests. The next step is the extensive recruitment of pupils on a large scale. Anyone who is talented and performs exceptionally will have a chance to be rewarded with the spiritual stones."

Father Jiang rested a little before continuing, "The Taoist community is not the only group involved. It affects the political and business circles greatly as well. The conservative parties are still on the fence, but the more resolute ones have made up their minds and sent their next generations off to Taoist temples. The state is having a 'don't ask, don't tell' stand on that."


Xiaozhai fell silent at that. The authorities' monopolization and planning of the resources had surpassed her expectation.

The number of cultivators now was still too few to make an impact on the demand of resources. As the number grew, however, the implication would reveal itself.

The government did not have to control every single individual. All it needed was to gain monopoly on resources supply, which in turn would enable it to take control of the cultivation community. The spiritual stones, for example, meant nothing even if some individual happened to find a mineral vein. Technology and capital aside, how could one make sure they would not get busted by the authorities for unauthorized exploitation?

Plus, there was that reward mechanism. At least at this early stage, cultivators had no choice but be the lambs and go wherever the scepter pointed.

As for the recruitment of disciples, it was an even more remarkable move, for a cultivator raised from the commoners was no match in their influence comparing to one from the dignitaries. The two would differ in every aspect in their foundations, connections, resources supplies...

A dignitary turned cultivator remained a member of the dignitaries. Once succeessful, they would return the favor their families had given them and promote their own kinsmen. Because of their vested interest, it was only natural that they would support a stable social strata, as opposed to naively fancying "everybody living like kings".

Rich and powerful families remained rich and powerful regardless of the era because of two factors: the most efficient information channel and the simplest way to gain benefits.

The latter was especially important. For as long as anyone cared to remember, the bosses always got the meat and the underlings ate the soup. As for the rest of the population, they were left to the hand of fate.

What Father Jiang said next proved that point further.

"52 mu of spiritual farmland had been put into use so far in Emei and the annual yield of the two harvests will reach 15 thousand kg in total. The amount of the spiritual rice an ordinary person can intake is almost negligible that this amount would be enough to cover the middle- and upper-classes with plenty surplus. The authorities are going to use the spiritual rice as rewards as well. Moreover, the research base is experimenting on a diversified agricultural structure, trying to develop more products."

"What is your quota?" Xiaozhai asked.

"Well, 10 kg per season," answered Father Jiang somewhat awkwardly.

"Ok, thanks for telling me all that. Is there any plan on moving against Shamanism?" she then asked.

"Nothing that I know of. I don't have that much access to the information yet," replied Father Jiang.


She nodded. "Then let me tell you the situation as I see it. The recovery of the spiritual essence has reached a stage that almost the entire country is covered. Abnormalities are breaking out frequently, they are mostly found in uninhabited areas, followed by residential areas in villages and towns, and the least around cities. We cannot say for sure about the harmfulness or harmlessness of the mutated creatures—let's say it's a fifty-fifty. The future population will be centered around large and mega cities and the medium and small cities became nodes, which the transportation network will be constructed around. As for the wildlands and small towns and villages, they will probably all become restricted areas. Especially geographical abnormalities like Huo Zhou, such areas could be completely deserted for hundreds of kilometers on end.

This is not going to be a slowly developing phenomenon, but will take place in a few years from now. In that case, all the dignitaries will amass to the central cities. I don't think you'll need me to draw you the picture then. I don't want you, as an administrator, to be trapped in a political environment like that."


Father Jiang was about to speak when his daughter interrupted him, "Of course, Shamanism is the main reason behind my suggestion. The Northeast is one of their parishes and the level of infiltration into the government here is far more severe than anywhere else in the country. Shengtian must be crawling with their men. The grudge between us and them has reached a point that I cannot guarantee that they won't harm you and mum, or even Xiaojin's parents."

His daughter could not have made it more explicit: quit your job, come with me to Phoenix Mountain where you can drink tea, fish, and live to a hundred years old—can life be more satisfying than that?


Father Jiang also fell silent for a while before he spoke again, "Xiaozhai, has it ever occurred to you why was I given this position?"

Before she could answer, he said, "While I am your father, to those above, that makes no difference—the distribution of the spiritual rice and information accessibility included. It goes without saying that they know we will talk to each other. Then why aren't they keeping things from me? I can only come to the conclusion that regardless of the confrontation in Songjiang River, in general, those above still mean well. Put it another way: I am the benchmark. As long as I'm still in my post, you're not the real enemy. Accordingly, I am secretly protected by those above.

I admit that Shamanism poses a threat, but I… well, I have come this far from the village boy I used to be. Laugh at me all you want, but I will not be reconciled to retire like this. I, too, want to achieve something, be it as a government official or as your father."


At that speech, Xiaozhai heaved a silent sigh and gave up the persuasion.

"We'll have it your way, then! I don't have any protective instrument ready now, but I will come back with some in a few days. Be sure to wear them all the time. And, if you find anything out of the place, let me know right away!"

"Haha, sure. We know what we're doing."

Father Jiang was surprised by this. The girl had been very independent since she was little and there had always been this veil between them. Now that she was showing concern over their well-being, he found that comforting. After all, she was their daughter.

Phoenix Fair, the Fang Family.

"Cheers!" the five people sitting around a round table—that was, Uncle Fang, Aunt Fang, Fang Qing, Gu Yu, and Long Qiu—laughed.


The cups touched and bottoms were up.

Long Qiu did not handle alcohol well. But it was New Year's Eve and she was happy, so she drained her cup like everybody else. She liked it here: the tiny rooms, the heated kang, the familiar northeastern accent coming out of the TV, the crackling firecrackers outside, and the kids running around outside with sparklers in hand—the air was filled with happy noises.

That was how Spring Festival should be!

"Xiao Yu, you're so busy now. It's been a year since you last came back."

Uncle Fang was apparently very happy and had been drinking a lot. Thick-tongued, he said, "You have no idea what those bastards are saying about you… they all said you had become rich and forgotten about your folks. I told them 'shut your goddamn mouths! The boy made his living all by himself and he's not eating off your table or asking you for money.' Shame on them."

"I have eaten off your table, so here I am. I'll never forget you." Gu Yu chuckled.

"You don't say! We're more than family! But even if you're not successful, I'm still your uncle and she your aunt!"

With the help of the liquor in his stomach, he began his piffling. "The money you sent, we've saved it all. It'll pay for Qing Qing's university tuition. That jar of liquor you sent, oh my, you can only drink so much… You're a good lad, by all means. There's just one thing: don't you think it's time for you to settle down? No more fooling around. Find the one. That last girl you brought back was very nice, how come you're with another already… why, Xiao Qiu, I'm not saying you're not nice…"


Aunt Fang raised her palm and smacked the back of his head, while scolding, "Enough bullshitting already! Go away! Leave us! Go back to your room and sleep it off!"

She then turned to Long Qiu apologetically, "That's just the way he is. Don't take him seriously."

Long Qiu waved her hand denyingly and explained, "That's ok. Really, I'm his sister, not his girlfriend." 

"Yeah, my brother is old-school like that. I understand."

Fang Qing had stuffed herself full and threw out a sarcastic remark while playing with her tablet.

Gu Yu had given up trying already. Nobody in the right mind would buy that—he had brought back a girl on New Year's Eve! He didn't have much of a choice, though. It was not like he could leave Xiao Qiu behind in the mountain all alone.

As the saying went, one man became immortal and even his chickens and dogs were raised to heaven. Families and close neighbors would only do better than that.

He had been helping out the Fang Family over the past years and had made his observations. The old couple aside, Fang Qing alone was a girl of little talent. Basically, her hope of ever touching the cultivation world was next to nothing.

Therefore, all he could do was to keep the family safe and happy.

Gu Yu and Xiao Qiu bid their farewell around ten o'clock and returned to Gu Yu's Old home. Everything was the same: the furniture, the TV, the stove, the utensils… They all remained exactly where they were.

Gu Yu looked around for a bit and asked, "Shall we go back to Phoenix Mountain or stay here?"

"Wherever you say." Long Qiu was as good-tempered as ever.

"We'll stay the night, then. Tomorrow morning, we'll say goodbye to Uncle Fang and leave. Oh, you can sleep here. I'll go to the other room."

With that, he went to the west room, where the work desk still stood, along with a few bottles and pots.

He sat down on a praying mat and was about to start practicing the essence-consuming method when his phone rang. Taking it out, he saw that it was a message from Xiaozhai with the data on the three mutated aquatic species and a question. "Is it possible to refine this turtle shell into a defensive instrument?"

Gu Yu did not have time to read the app. He read the data in the message carefully and called her back. "Theoretically, yes. Are you going to catch a few?"

"Why bother? The app has announced an update after the holiday. The forum is opening up for communication."

"Already? So are you going to look for a seller?" He was amazed.

"Of course! Do you think anyone would accept an exchange with a signed photo of yours?"


Gu Yu rolled his eyes on that. "Let's just stick with price negotiable in person. No, it won't do. Meeting in person will not be as attractive an offer, for we're only known by internet names so far. They don't have a clear idea of the value of cultivation objects at the moment. We're just going to buy with money."

"Sure. In that case, I'll put up an inquiry for some Red Feather Vultures as well. Their feathers are worth a bit."

He hung up after a brief conversation, then closed his eyes and started cultivating. Xiaozhai apparently was not worried about them at all. She never even mentioned Long Qiu.

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