Hushitai was the pronunciation of Mongolian words meaning "a place flourishing with reeds". The area used to be a stud-farm in the Qing Dynasty and was set up as a town after the modern state was established. It was now an economic development zone.
There was plenty of land and a population disproportionate to the size of the town. Residential areas and business quarters gathered up here and there in lumps, leaving out vacant factory buildings and idle farmlands for miles on end.
The shutter door rolled up and a yawning Yan Han walked out. He looked this way and that at the door and shuddered at a chilly gust of wind. Here began another boring, uneventful day.
He strolled into the shop and beckoned at a young man to join him for breakfast. That was his cousin, Yan Yan, whom he had hired as an assistant. The young man had no special skills other than being an excellent driver. Oh, and he was also very good at keeping secrets.
The two finished their breakfast, then Yan Yan went upstairs to mind his own business, leaving Yan Han sitting alone in the shop, playing a computer game in utter boredom.
It had been over two weeks since he opened up this shop as told and sold nothing so far. It wasn't his fault. The two-story shop came with a backyard and he had even prepared a pick-up truck. Everything necessary to keep a business running was there, only that he had nothing to sell.
God would weep on his misery! If only someone out there had heard his sad story: sitting behind that desk like a proper shop owner with the squeaky clean floor tiles and shelves and welcoming one batch of customers after another, but ending up getting stared at!
Fortunately, some guy named Shui Yao finally delivered their first batch of goods last night. It wasn't much—only about 1/30 of the shelf was filled—but it was better than nothing.
Yan Han yawned again, which did not go as well as the first one. He squeezed in his belly and accentuated the ending sound, but was interrupted by the noise of the opening door and his sound ended up resembling the snoring of a pig.
He eyed the incoming customers unhappily, which turned out to be a young couple. The yellow-haired guy was wrapped up in a leather jacket and the girl had a short cotton-padded jacket on. Both wore leggings on the bottom.
Hushitai was swarmed with vocational schools, which were without a doubt where these two had come from.
The couple looked around casually, both finding the place rather odd. The girl asked, "Is this some sort of shop? Is it even open for business yet?"
"Dunno. Hey, man, what do you sell here?" shouted the boy.
Yan Han pointed to the sidewalls, not bothering to reply. These hillbillies who did not even know about the app! They were not worth talking to!
The couple followed his finger and saw a few objects displayed neatly on a shelf: three boxes of incense sticks, three boxes of incense pellets, and a small jar of tea.
"What sort of shop is this?" The boy was amazed.
The girl knew a little bit better than him; she took up the pellets and sniffed, then asked excitedly, "Hey, how much is this?"
" Ten thousand yuan a box 1 ."
Both choked on their spit. "How much?"
"Ten thousand a box!"
"What about the tea?" The boy burst into an irritated laughter.
"A hundred thousand per 50 g."
"F**k, what do you think you're selling? Da Hong Pao?" The boy laughed with his irritated laughter again.
Tea was something that had a price ranging from next to nothing to, well, as high as a seller wanted to label it. The Superior Royal Eighteen Pre-Qingming Longjing Tea 2 was sold at a market price of 4000 yuan per 50 g, the unwrapped red-stamp raw Pu'er had a price tag of over 80000 yuan per 312 g, not to mention the hundred-year-old disc-shaped Pu'er manufactured by Qianlizhen Songpin Firm, which was worth a million yuan per disc.
However, even an idiot would find it ridiculous to sell a tea at such a price in a place like this.
"Aiya, stop fooling around with us, man. I really like it. A hundred yuan and I'm taking it, okay?" The girl would not give up.
"That's the price I'm selling and no less. Or you can exchange it with other stuff, but of course, the value will be decided by us," explained Yan Han despite his growing impatience.
"You're out of you f**king mind!"
"Forget about it. Let's go."
The boy was about to play the tough guy when the girl dragged him out of the door. Once outside, he felt he had been utterly humiliated. Darting his eyes around, an idea suddenly came to him. "Hoho, I don't have to do it myself. I'll just file a complaint. With that price, he will be taken down in no time."
With that, he dialed the number of the Administration of Industry and Commerce. "Hello? Oh, hi, I'd like to report on a shop… yes, they're selling this tea at 100,000 yuan per 50 g. It must be a scam, so I thought I should let you know… oh, the address is No. 27 Hushitai and the name is Pavilion… hey, watch your language, I…"
They hung up on him.
"I will not have this!"
The boy got all hot-headed and made another series of calls: the pricing bureau, the consumer's association, the TV station, the press… he was turned down by every single one of them.
Holy sh*t! Even someone as slow as these two had realized something by that point. The couple glanced at the small shop again, somehow finding fear creeping up inside them. They left quietly right after that.
Inside, Yan Han's game character had just been killed in a combat thanks to his unreliable game comrades. He heaved a frustrated sigh.
"God damn it! Where the hell is this place?"
Along a wide road, Dai Han was driving back and forth in his parents' SUV, but simply could not find the place.
Never jump too quickly to the conclusion that fat otaku lacked the will of execution. They could be quite persistent once they set their mind on something. After taking out a big-toed thickshell turtle, he told his parents he was going to visit a university classmate in the Northeast by driving himself there.
His dear old parents couldn't care less about his travel plan—anything was better than lying around at home and growing fatter. Hence, Dai Han drove himself all the way to Shengtian, feeling like a rock star—in his delusional adolescent sort of way.
After cursing at himself again, he finally pulled over, fumbled out his phone, opened the app, and send a pm: where on earth is that shop of yours?
"Where are you now?" He got a reply.
"To the south of Jianshe Road. I can see a vocational school."
"Follow the road to the end, turn left, then right, and you'll see it in about three to five hundred meters."
Dai Han put away the phone and drove on. Neither side left the other one their phone number, nor did they exchange any name or identity. Both chose to play it safe.
It did not take him long to find the place. It baffled him a little—the shabby alley was barely populated. Of all the dilapidated-looking bungalows, the shop was the tallest one… that was, if the wire pole was excluded.
He got off the SUV suspiciously, pushed the door open, and made his way in. He found quite a few empty storage racks inside and a man sitting behind a desk, typing noisily.
"Hello, are you the owner?"
"Hi! Hello!" Yan Han rose to his feet in a hurry and shook his hand. "Are you the delivery man, or…"
"I have brought it here myself."
"Oh, thanks for taking the trouble. Where is it?" He cut to the chase.
"In my SUV. I'll show you."
The two walked out to the side of the street and Dai Han opened up the trunk, revealing a big black bag. Despite the multiple layers of wrapping, an intense stench was still coming out of it.
It was extremely heavy. The two men had to work together with much difficulty to carry it into the courtyard.
Yan Han put on some gloves in an affected manner and ripped the bag open. What he saw made him jump. A giant dead soft-shell turtle lay inside; its head seemed to have been cut off—it was the size of a fist and stuffed into the belly like a meatball.
He was nauseated, but managed to fight it back. After a thorough examination, he decided that despite the loss of blood—which was a lot—the flesh was all there, especially the back shell, which was perfectly intact.
It looked identical to the illustration and should be the genuine thing.
Just to be on the safe side, he took out a sharp instrument which resembled an awl from his chest pocket. The sharp tip glinted coldly with a greenish color.
He jabbed it ferociously at the shell, which remained undented—the impact only left a white dot.
"That'll do. I'll take this, then. Let's talk inside."
The two returned inside right away and only then did Yan Han offered him a glass of water. "The animal is dead, but the back shell is intact. So, as we agreed before, 20,000 yuan a piece. Shall I transfer the money or do you prefer cash payment?"
"Well, do you sell anything here?" Dai Han looked around the shop.
"We do, but there isn't much."
"Do you mind if I take a look first?"
"Be my guest."
Dai Han then rose to his feet and walked to the racks. He knew nothing about what he saw and asked, "What does this incense do and how much is it?"
"It improves health and balances the mind. Burning it regularly would also cure unmentionable or chronic diseases. Ten thousand yuan a box."
Cure? That was a bold claim!
He blinked. "What about this tea?"
"Works pretty much the same way as the incense, but is more potent. 100,000 yuan per 50 g and each customer is limited to 150 g," replied Yan Han.
Dai Han frowned. The price did not concern him in the least; he was simply curious. After some pondering, he asked, "In that case, can I exchange the turtle for a box of incense? And I'd like to take 50 g of that tea."
Yan Han was surprised—this guy turned out to be a bloody rich kid. He carefully took down a box of incense stick, then, even more carefully, brought down the jar of tea. With the help of an electronic balance, he weighed 50 g—almost staring his eyeballs out during the process—for Dai Han.
"Remember, do not take more than 5 g each time. Reduce the intake if 5 g still feels too much for you. One brewing should be more than enough to get you through the day. Wait a couple of days before your next drink."
The solemn look on Yan Han's face got Dai Han serious as well. He then transferred 90,000 yuan via his phone to the former, said his goodbye, and left.
Night, the Marriott.
Dai Han walked out of the bathroom naked, the roll of fat armoring his body jiggling with his movement. He was telling the truth when he said he had a university classmate in Shengtian, whom he went to meet after leaving Hushitai. They ate, sang the karaoke, got the massage—the whole shebang—and he returned to his hotel exhausted.
He put on his underpants, sat down on a chair, and lit a cigarette. Regret swept over him as he smoked.
Sigh, that god damn spree of a moment! What was he thinking traveling half the country out here? And he had paid 100,000 yuan for 50 g of tea! 100,000 yuan! 50 g! That was a rip-off worse than outright blackmail!
It couldn't be helped, for that was how human beings behaved. It was like shopping in tourist destinations: the regret only arrived after you returned home, and the more you thought about it, the worse you felt.
Dai Han ground the cigarette butt and checked the time. It was past midnight.
Should he go to bed? Like he was going to get any sleep now… damn it, he had paid for it and he might as well taste it! He boiled some water swiftly and opened up the package of tea, pinching out a tiny bit. 5 g… how many grams was one liang equal to again 3 ? 30 g?
He paused a little, tossed the tea leaves, which was obviously more than 5 g, into a cup, and poured in the boiled water.
As the water was added in, a dense white mist suddenly rose out of the cup, which made Dai Han jump. He then sniffed. Why, that smelled so nice!
Looking down, he saw the smooth bright-green tea leaves floating around in the cup as if they had lives of their own. There was a peculiar yet refreshing beauty about them.
His expectation was raised. Taking up the cup, he blew at the hot water and took a tiny sip. He smacked his lips and did not find the taste anything special. He took another sip and then, boom!
Two torrents of warm flow washed over him. Instantly, he was short of breath with flushed cheeks. Sweat broke out like flowing rivers and his entire body was soaked.
It was the most uncomfortable feeling, but he could not move even a muscle. All he could do was collapse in the chair, barely conscious. He did not know how much time had passed when his head was clear again and his vision returned.
Dai Han sat there dazed. Little did he know that it was thanks to his extrlarge meridians that he was able to withstand the impact. He grabbed the arm of the chair and shot up. "Squelch!"
There came a strange noise, as if something was being pulled out of a mud pool. He turned back to look. What the hell! The entire chair had changed color, it was now wet and yellow from all the sweat.
"What the f**k is this thing?"
Frightened, he took up the package of tea and was about to throw it away, but halted.
He turned his head this way and that and stretched out his limbs. He felt, well, lighter. The fatigue from earlier was also completely gone.
Dai Han had a quick mind. His first reaction was to put the tea safely away, and then to grab for his phone.
"Hello, Dad! Don't sell that turtle pond! Not for all the money in the world… aiya, just trust me on this. I'm your own son! Why would I lie to you? Oh, and transfer another 200,000 to me. I can't explain this over the phone. I'll tell you more after I go back!"
The city of Mt. Emei, pharmaceutical factory.
The economy of the city mainly depended on tourism and the service industry, while the rest of the industries were rather underdeveloped. There used to be a small pharmaceutical factory, which was barely operating and was on the verge of closing down. Last year, however, one of the top three state-owned companies of the industry suddenly extended its majestic hand and bought the factory in whole.
Hence, Emei Pharmaceutical was fresh out of the oven.
Right now, the senior management team and the research personnel were accompanying a very, very big boss on an inspection of the factory, playing the tour guides. "We are using various herbs as raw materials to manufacture patent medicine of different forms, of which we have accumulated over a thousand years worth of experience in both the theory and clinical practice. We are able to manufacture over forty forms and dosages of medicines including pills, powders, pellets, liquors, films, etc. It is highly unlikely that any of those would turn out problematic."
A researcher led the boss closer and pointed at a plant in the cultivation room. "Please take a look at this plant. It is known as Chinese Angelica and as a drug, its major function is to treat common cold, headache, and rhinitis, among other diseases. It can also be used as a spice. There used to be a patent medicine called 'wind-cold granules', which had Chinese Angelica as the main ingredient. The common cold affected patients differently from one individual to the next. Even treated with the same medicine, some might be cured in two days, while it might take others a week to recover. But, with the potency of the mutated Chinese Angelica, I can promise that once the patent medicine is developed…"
He paused suddenly. When he spoke again, there was an unmatched confidence in his voice. "Anyone who caught a cold, as long as it is not a bad cold and there is no high fever, will achieve a full recovery with a single dosage of this medicine!"
The boss's hand, which was reaching up to adjust his glasses, froze halfway before dropping back down seconds later. "Professor Song, that is not something to be brought up so lightly. Are you willing to put it on paper and accept punishment should your promise fail to deliver?"
"Of course!" The professor's voice was so forceful that it almost clank on the floor.
"Good. That is very good!"
A faint smile swept across the boss's face. "How long before it is fully operational?"
"Anytime. We are the most experienced in patent medicines treating common cold. The medicine had passed the trial on mass population and we can guarantee its safety. The excellent environment of Mt. Emei is very suitable to grow the plant in large scale."
The boss was even more excited, so much that he had stopped talking, but only patted the professor on his shoulder.
The group then moved on. Professor Song introduced their research findings in turn. "We have three new kinds of medicine that are ready to go into production and be released into the market in the first half of this year. They are the cold granules, a pain relieving cream, and a mulberry and chrysanthemum drink. Oh, the last one is a powder to be mixed with water. It can relieve the exterior syndrome with drugs pungent in flavor and cool in property, clear away the heat, and open the inhibited lung energy and relieve cough. Four kinds of medicine are still under research, for which we will need to run trials on large sample bases. They are very promising in slowing down the aging process, improving vitality and strengthening the body, as well as treating coronary arteriosclerosis, angina pectoris, and high blood pressure."
"I see. The diseases the three new kinds of medicine target might seem trivial, but there is nothing trivial about their significance. The minor illnesses are what troubles the common people the most… Profess Song, you have done us an outstanding service!"
"I was only doing my job."
Before long, the visit was over. The boss left in his vehicle after some more encouraging words. His next stop would be the monastery, where he was to extend his regard to Lu Yuanqing and the others.
He had barely settled down in his seat when his assistant reported, "The only son of the Dai Family in the town of Helong Lake of Yueyang had arrived at the Pavilion of Gems in Shengtian earlier today. He had probably brought with him the big-toed thickshell turtle. We don't know what he has exchanged it for. Shall we look into it?"
"That won't be necessary." The boss pondered over it and said pensively, "We know all the produce of Phoenix Mountain. They are not going to exchange with the spiritual rice or liquor, so probably the incense, tea, or some fruit or vegetables. It's nothing serious. Just let them be."
"But if their spiritual objects get around, won't that cause disturbance?" The assistant was concerned.
"Disturbance? Hasn't Wang Qi reminded them of the major operations we're carrying out this year… haha, those are two very interesting young friends. They have guessed where we're heading and are now going with the flow." The boss smiled and gave it a wave. "That's it. Now, let's go."
Phoenix Mountain, the training field.
The family of four stood in a line again. Four pairs of eyes fell on the giant turtle, which was 80 cm long and 60 cm wide at least. With such a pile on the ground, they were disgusted, but meanwhile unable to fight back an indescribable appetite.
The odd silence dragged on for a while before Xiaojin finally broke it. Raising her hand, she yelled, "Brother-in-law, I want to eat meat tonight!"
"Sure. We've paid for it and we will eat it. Let me try make a soup with it." Gu Yu chuckled.
"This one is missing a head. I think the soft-shelled turtle soup usually come with a head."
Xiaojin crouched down and picked up the head, which had turned soggy. She waved it around. "It's been cut off. Can we still eat it? Why, Qiu Qiu, have you tried this head before?"
"Ah! You scoundrel 4 !" Long Qiu glared at her.
"You are the scoundrel! Or how could you know what I was talking about? Here, take it! Why, don't run away!"
"Go away! Don't touch me!"
The two girls ran away in a bustle, soon disappeared with all their noises.
Xiaozhai ignored them both. Taking out Green Leaf, she inserted it along the edge of the back shell, swiped the blade this way and that, then flipped it.
An intact shell was removed.
Gu Yu paid no attention to the stench and picked it up. It was oval, dome-shaped, about 65 cm in length, and 40 cm in width. The surface was of a blackish green color with a slight glossy appearance. Reticular patterns covered the shell with a straight line crossing in the middle along the back, dividing the shell into two halves.
He bent his fingers and gave the shell a flip. A crisp "dang!" rang out. "It is hard enough to fend off any common knives or bullets. But it looks hideous. What can we make it into?"
"A shield, of course. Put it over the back when it's not in use. Why, it just happens to be green." Xiaozhai chuckled 5 .
"Sis, this is for your dad. Be a little serious, OK?" Gu Yu felt his temple throbbing.
"I am. Let me think…"
Xiaozhai took over the shell and saw that it was divided evenly into a few smaller sections by the pattern. Her face brightened up. "Old Gu, how about we cut it into pieces and try the Small Confining Technique?"
"You mean the kind that can be triggered?"
Gu Yu got it right away. She was referring to inserting the Small Confining Technique into the shell, which looked nothing special, but once under attack, the technique would be triggered automatically, protecting its master.
"But that means the shell is not put into use. It is our Taoist skill working and the shell is only the medium."
"Can't help. Blame its ugliness. Let's wait until the red feather vulture gets here, then. We'll see if we can make the feathers into clothes or something."TL/N: a little under USD 1500 TL/N: yeah the name is as long as that… TL/N: 1 liang=50 g TL/N: the glans is called Gui Tou in Chinese, which literally means "turtle's head"... TL/N: both the color green and turtle are metaphors for a male being cheated by his wife