After the holiday, Halfway Pavilion.
The pavilion was built with the purpose of receiving VIPs at the first place from the beginning. The two wooden houses straddled across the creek, joined together by a bamboo bridge, giving it a traditional and graceful look. Guests could take a break there while resting and getting fed.
Phoenix Mountain was now differentiating among its buildings. The importance of the guests entertained in Halfway Pavilion definitely surpassed those received in the manor down the mountain. Of course, this was the first time the pavilion was put into use since its completion.
The steam rose and a slender hand reached out, removing the kettle from a red-clay stove. Two cups of tea were then made. As the boiling water poured into the cups, the bright green tea leaves twirled, releasing an exotic fragrance into the air.
"Very nice tea!"
Wang Qi took a deep breath, let the tea cool down a bit, and drained the cup in one gulp. Instantly, a heat wave filled his stomach as if the accumulated internal coldness over the years had been dispelled all together. The next moment, he felt his bones were rinsed clean and even his hair was sighing with comfort.
"Our tea plantation in Emei is still under planning. It seems you've beaten us to it."
Looking out of the window, he took in the distant mountain and its rows upon rows of trees and smiled a purposeful smile. "It is indeed as the old saying goes: the first in one, the first in everything."
"We were lucky, that's all. With a remarkable environment like this, it's only natural that we should make a matching effort." Gu Yu finished his cup and went on, "We've been expecting you. It was very considerate of you to let me have my Spring Festival holiday first."
"It's not like it's anything urgent. Plus, after a hell of a busy year, I needed a break as well."
Wang Qi was as easy-going as always. There was some more small talk before he suddenly cut to the chase. "That Guan Pan was indeed a mole of Shamanism. We swept the area around Songjiang River after you left, but unfortunately, the search came back empty. Those people are very good at hiding. I think you've scared them.
Sigh, it was the result of our negligence! The government has cleaned up the cults once around the time when the modern state was established and eliminated most of them. Who could have thought a thousand-year-old primitive worship would grow into a gigantic, compact modern organization like this?"
"I did not expect that, either," replied Gu Yu.
Wang Qi then shifted the topic. "However, be it as it may that death alone would not have been a sufficient punishment for him, he was a government official after all. Even if he were to be tried, there are legal proceedings that we need to follow. But you just snapped the guy's head off in broad daylight and right at the entrance of the compound. We will need to address that."
"Address?" Gu Yu shook his head. "We've had several conversations so far and there's no need to beat around the bush. Just say what you're here to say."
"In that case, I have some questions to ask." Wang Qi straightened up and stared into his eyes. "I'm puzzled by a few things. First of all, exactly what is the Taoist skill you're practicing?"
The question had come up once before in a casual way during their negotiation in Urumqi. His tone was in stark contrast with that one this time and his face was kept very serious. Gu Yu considered it for a moment and gave the same answer, "Like I told you last time, I'm not at liberty to reveal that. Order from my master."
"Humph! We've learning everything about your entire family from your grandfather down. Since when did you have a master?"
"Haha, that's why I said I was lucky." Gu Yu paused a little and decided to give the man a hint. "More capable men have lived and died in this ancient land during the past several thousand of years. Even the spiritual essence got to recover, how do you know there wasn't any remaining legacy of the past sages?"
Wang Qi got the hint right away; he even knew the answers to the following questions he was about to ask. As it turned out, the answers had been lying in the government's blind spot this entire time. Well, it was not really a blind spot. They were only considering things at a different strategic level, making them more likely to overlook certain basic factors.
To the state as a whole, the priority lay in monopolizing the resources, maintaining stability, and keeping the development in order. Had it not been for this confrontation, they would never begin to pay attention to cultivators' individual attributes and the various basic rules of the cultivation world.
With the hint, Wang Qi sorted the idea out in his head and everything was crystal clear. But that was about as far as he could get. It was not like he could force the answer out of Gu Yu.
"Gosh, Xiao Gu. You really have, well, set us up good!"
"It was nothing like that. All Xiaozhai and I did from the beginning until now was merely for self-preservation." Gu Yu poured another round of water into the tea and gestured. "After you!"
Wang Qi downed the tea all at once and seemed to have lost the interest in talking. "We will be carrying out some major operation this year and there might be some upheaval. We're happy with where Phoenix Mountain stands so far and hopefully that's how you will remain. That's it. Time for me to go. We'll talk some other time."
With that, he put on his coat and walked to the door, where he appeared to have remembered something and turned around. "By the way, other countries aren't looking very safe and sound, either. If there came a day… well, don't let us down."
Yueyang, the town of Helong 1 Lake.
The town stood on the southern shore of Dongting Lake and got its name from a big lake under its jurisdiction. Helong Lake was part of the Dongting water system and had an area of over 10000 mu 2 . The lake abounded in aquatic products such as hairy crabs, mandarin fish, catfish, etc., which had established the town's fame. Adding to that was the development of a tourism industry, which together made the town pretty well-off.
The Dai Family had one of the largest fish-breeding businesses in the town. Their main products were fish, crabs, and soft-shelled turtles. The only son of the family was Dai Han, who had just graduated from a university.
The guy was on the short side, fair-skinned, and chubby. Squinting up his little eyes, he had a perfect resemblance to a big white steamed bun, tempting just about everyone to squeeze those cheeks. He had managed to find a job, but quitted it two months in. Since then, he had been staying at home and ate happily off the family's table.
His parents couldn't care less. With the scale of their family business, their son could be as idle as he wanted.
Spring Festival used to be the busiest season for the Dai Family, for freshwater products were to be provided in large quantities at this time of the year. This year, however, the situation was frustrating beyond description.
Soft-shelled turtles should hibernate in the winter, but they simply decided to stop doing that this year and instead grew very active—so much so that they had broken into other aquaculture areas, almost wiping out the fish and crabs there. That was not the worst yet. One night, they even crawled out ashore to look for food. Luckily, they were discovered in time not to cause any damage.
The folks panicked at this and everyone was talking.
Dai Han knew better—he was your typical delusional adolescent type of guy. After downloading the app at a friend's recommendation, he uploaded the turtle's information right away. That same day, some men arrived from the city to verify the information, which was approved the following day; he became an honorable member of the 10-point club.
After looking into the problem, those people offered two solutions.
The turtles were gluttons. Hence, they would have to purchase a great amount of fries to feed them while, in the meantime, set up wired fences around the pond to keep everyone safe. The other option was to have the government buy it off. The authorities were offering a reasonable price to purchase their entire cultivation area.
It was a very big decision, which his parents could not make up their mind about. They were now spending their entire days sulking.
It did not bother Dai Han the least. Right now, he was lying down in his bedroom and waiting with his phone in hand—today was the day of the first update of "New Classics of Mountains and Rivers".
Voices came from the yard downstairs, where his parents and relatives were discussing, which annoyed him. He then put on his earphones.
It seemed forever before a reminder popped onto the screen: new version of "New Classics of Mountains and Rivers" available, update now?
Why would they even bother to ask?
The update was not a massive one and was installed in no time. He eagerly tapped open the app, realizing that configuration of images were much higher, making the pages much more pleasant visually. A couple of new functions had been added, such as instant inquiry service, communication forum, adding friends, pm, etc.
Thirty years after the internet was invented, such functions were ancient by now. However, it excited him a little, seeing them in this app.
Dai Han tapped into the forum and was welcomed by a reminder: you have not reached the 30-point minimum and cannot put up new posts or reply the existing ones, but you are qualified to add friends and send pm.
What the hell!
That was undisguised discrimination! Fighting back his urge to spit out some sarcastic remarks, he went on checking out the forum. The page resembled that of a bbs, which was now completely blank. No one had posted anything yet.
On the top of the page was the number of the users: 3764 members, 3520 online.
Dai Han refreshed the page repeatedly. About three minutes passed when the first post showed up, which said, "Damn it, enough with the waiting! Am I really the first?"
He tapped into it and saw others had replied right away.
"I'll give it to you, bro! I got all jittery and could not bring myself to write one!"
"Fireworks! Congratulations on being the first!"
"Oh my god, this is my first time replying here and I'm so nervous! How do I pretend I'm doing this all the time?"
That was about it. It seemed there were only a handful of 30-point bosses out there.
The users took the app quite seriously. Despite their internet-style conversation, no one actually made fun of anything substantial and everyone seemed very cautious.
Dai Han watched all this, wanting to join in more than anything else. Unfortunately, he couldn't.
"Innocent rookie here. Anyone cares to explain what is going on with the country now?"
"Can it be more obvious? The world is getting an upgrade."
"How do you know we're not getting an apocalypse?"
"I'm with the upstairs. Haven't you read any doomsday fictions? They all began with mutated creatures."
"I say it's more like the superpower-themed fictions. You get creatures from a higher dimension dropping down their insane technology, helping us earthlings to upgrade our civilisation. It won't be long before I can make fireballs with my bare hands."
"I say it's neither of those. This government-issued app is evidence enough of their intention—they're wavering between going public and sounding out our reactions. Obviously they don't know everything yet. Maybe it's a mixture of good news and bad news and they have to educate the people bit by bit."
Someone was able to think straight. This reply was the mostly agreed with one.
Dai Han refreshed a couple of more times and his pupils contracted: there was a new post.
"Good money in return for big-toed thickshell turtles. Reward available without fail for any provider—discoverer and onlookers alike. Living turtles preferably, but will make do with dead ones provided that the shell is intact. Contact via pm.
Poster: Green River Water."
The forum erupted.
"Wow! Finally! A big shot!"
"Boss please take my imaginary soft-shelled turtle!"
"Boss please take my imaginary female character costume!"
"Boss please take my imaginary soft-shelled turtle in female character costume!"
Dai Han felt his heart thumping. The curiosity, the unknown, the thrill… a thousand emotions rolled into a bundle and finally turned into an excitement he had never experienced before.
He sent the pm right away. "Hello, you want the big-toed thickshell turtle?"
The reply was instant and straightforward. "Pavilion of Gems, No. 27 Hushitai District, Shengtian. 20000 yuan a turtle. No delivery service accepted."
Dai Han hesitated a little at this and only replied after a while. "When are you available?"
"I'll let you know before I arrive."
After sending out that last message, he rolled off his bed and under the surprised stares of his parents, dashed out of the yard with a speed not proportional to his weight.
He ran all the way to the feeding quarter, where he picked up two sturdy cages. He then wrapped some pig liver and bean paste soaked with chicken blood in some gauze, and hung the bundles in the cages.
He tossed the cages into the water and waited. A couple of minutes later, one of the cages suddenly sank.
"Here we go!"
Dai Han grabbed the rope; muscles bulged into round meatballs on his plump arms as he pulled with all his strength. Although he had seen the creature before, the look of it still made him jump. Inside the cage was none other than a big-toed thickshell turtle!
As gigantic as this one was, it was actually one of the smaller ones. The turtle was about 80 cm long and lay flat on its belly staring at the food in the front, ignoring everything else around it.
The triangular head, which was bigger than a grown man's fist, charged out and the bundle of food was swallowed whole, the gauze included.
It had the tiniest eyes and big nostrils. Odd patterns covered its head, which twisted with its chewing motion, reminding one of thick wriggling snakes.
The moment of hot-headedness had passed and fear was gradually taking over Dai Han's head. Men were easily frightened by unknown beings, even when they were capable of killing the latter.
He had nerves strong enough and walked slowly towards it holding a pair of shears.
Of course he was not doing it for the money. He just wanted to see the place.TL/N: meaning "crane and dragon" TL/N: roughly 40 km^2