"News update of Feb. 28th: a training course for young and middle-aged cadres in the central and local governments is held recently in the capital city, engaging them in two-way post-exchanging activities, which indicated that a new cycle of cadre exchange has begun.
The two-way exchange of posts not only is an objective demand to strengthen local governance and promote local development, but, more importantly, meets the long-term need to train talented cadres.
By reaching out to the people, young and middle-aged cadres will be able to combine theory with practice at the grassroots level and assist local development while continuously improving their working ability in practice.
It is understood that a total of 66 young and middle-aged cadres of departmental directorship have be selected for the course and the less developed provinces such as Wula, Qingning, and Xichui will be participating in the exchange. Once the training course is completed, the cadres will begin to assume their new offices…"
Yan Han finished watching the evening news while cleaning his teeth with his tongue. His heart palpitated in excitement. The innocent audience would probably forget about that piece of news as soon as they heard it, but not him. As the a member of the "foreign service" of Phoenix Mountain, he knew perfectly well what was going on.
"Sigh, why am I hearing the grinding sound of the giant wheel of the history? It sounds ominous!"
He heaved a feigned sigh, picked up a rag at random, and began to wipe the racks, which were already shiny clean (and empty).
It was almost March and the temperature was rising. Spring was coming.
At half past seven, it had gone completely dark outside. The shop didn't really have regular business hours—it opened and closed as Yan Han saw fit. Yesterday, it closed at six o'clock. But it would not do for today, for a customer was coming.
Yan Han cleaned the room, then sat back at his desk and started another round of computer game, where he had become very good at hindering his teammates.
Come to think about it, what had happened so far was rather spectacular. Zhang Qianqiu used to be the most promising one, but had been cast out to the manor as a mere helper for Boss Shui. The masters up the mountain were obviously never going to raise him to any important position. The guy would be gone as soon as his contract expired.
As for Li Dong, the guy had shown promise. He was the "intelligence-disguised-by-dullness" type. However, so far he had demonstrated no special talent and was still living his idle days in the back mountain.
Whereas Yan Han himself, who had been the first to be excluded from the mountain, turned out to be given the most important task among the three. He knew perfectly well of his own cowardice, his indecisive personality, and his clinging to the mortal world, which was in fact why he was better suited for this job.
Before he knew it, the antique table clock—which he had chosen deliberately for the shop—reminded him of the time. It was eight o'clock now. At that same time, there came a clunking noise from outside, accompanied by shuffling footsteps.
Two separate groups had arrived together by coincidence; both sides were surprised and fell silent.
"Why, you are here together! What are the odds!"
Yan Han rose to his feet and greeted the incoming customers, skillfully easing the awkwardness. He smiled at them all. "Here, please sit down."
One of the two groups consisted of three young men all dressed in expensive outdoor sportswear, looking somewhat travel-worn and weary. The other was a team of four fellows with a rather unique feeling about them. All four stood there ramrod straight, as unbent as four wooden clubs.
"Here, please have some tea."
Yan Han did not waste time on the small talk and only offered the minimal amount of hospitality. "Let's examine the goods, shall we? These gentlemen walked in first, so let's start with yours. I'm afraid you'll have to wait a moment."
"Ok!" replied one of the clubs.
After that, Yan Han led the three young men to the warehouse in the backyard, where one of team tossed a plastic woven bag he was carrying on the the table. There was a little smirk in his voice. "See it for yourself. It's alive!"
Yan Han blinked. He then put on his gloves and opened the bag. Coiling up in it was a black-finned yellow tail eel about two meters long, which was bound up with tough ropes from head to tail. He could see closely packed fine teeth in its open mouth, which was stuffed with a cork.
The cork was probably soaked with strong anaesthetic, giving the eel a dazed and dreamy look.
"Awesome! How did you catch it?"
"Haha, never mind that. Would you give us a price now?" The guy grinned.
"The price we agreed on before was 40,000. This one is way fresher then we expected, though. I won't take advantage of you. How about 60,000?"
"Money transfer or cash?"
"Can we exchange?"
Yan Han darted them a look: the word got around fast. "Sure, follow me."
He led the three back to the shop and pointed at the racks. "10,000 yuan a box for the incense and 100,000 yuan for 50 g of the tea, maximum 150 g each. What would you like to exchange?"
The man exchanged a look with his companions and answered without hesitation. "450 g of that tea. We'll pay the price difference!"
"I'm sorry, but you can only have 150 g."
"Didn't you say maximum 150 g each customer?" asked the man in vexation.
"No, no. That's 'per batch', or group, team, pick your terminology. Be it a one-man batch or a ten-man one, the limit is 150 g."
"I've never heard of such rules!" roared the guy angrily.
"Well, the boss set the rules like so. You're always free to leave."
Yan Han sat there looking reassured and emboldened, but was in fact sweating into his palms. 'God help me. This is my first time playing the tough guy. Be supportive!'
His left hand landed on his chest and rubbed it lightly, looking all casual—two layers of clothes beneath, there was a turtle shell pendant, which Boss Shui had delivered specially for him, saying it was for his self-protection.
The guy glared at him for a couple of more seconds and decided he was not bold enough to challenge the rule. "Fine, 150 g it is."
That was close!
Yan Han sighed a secret sigh of relief, left the chair, and weighed 150 g tea for them. The money was transferred and the account settled. He saw the team off, then turned to the other one. "Sorry for keeping you waiting. This way, please."
The four fellows were exceptionally silent the entire time and followed him to the warehouse, where they opened the bag.
Wow! Inside were two blood-stained red feather vultures. These men obviously took care when killing them. Only the heads were shot through, leaving the feathers on the back and the belly relatively intact.
"That's great. I'll take them. 100,000 yuan a bird."
"We'd like 150 g of tea as well."
"Oh, no problem."
Despite their odd appearance, the four fellows behaved themselves. They left promptly after getting the tea. In an instant, the bustling shop a moment ago was quiet and deserted again.
"Gosh! This job is so demanding!"
Yan Han wiped away his sweat, he almost thought he was going to collapse. He was just a rich-ish city dweller who had never experienced any real hardships in life. Now that he had opened this shop under Their Majesties' decree, he was nervous and agitated on a daily basis. But at the same time, his life had never been as exciting as this.
"Xiao Yan, got a job for you!" he shouted. His cousin ran down the stairs, then swiftly loaded the goods onto the truck and headed for Bai Town right away, completely unaware of what time it was.
As for Yan Han, after informing Shui Yao about the delivery, he opened the app and checked the forum.
The ones that received the most replies were none other than the three posts by Green River Water seeking to purchase the big-toed thickshell turtle, the black-fin yellowtail eel, and the red feather vulture.
The posts of the first two had been edited: goods received, no further demand for the moment, no pm please.
He refreshed the page several times and as expected, the third post was edited as well: red feather vulture received, no further demand, no pm please.
He was not at all surprised by the pages of convivial replies.
"I wonder which boss is behind this ID? Will I have the honor to hear the name so that I could go visit and show my respect?"
"Aren't those delivering the goods the actual bosses? The red feather vulture is a hell of a fighter and they have somehow nailed it!"
"This place is indeed full of hidden masters. It seems I should conceal my identity no further. Tomorrow I will be crossing a heavenly tribulation on Mount Hua. Everyone is invited as witnesses."
Yan Han shook his head and chuckled. There was a time when he was among those replying under the posts, but now, a month later, he was a man of another world.
With the three requests posted, Pavilion of Gems became the spotlight of the forum right away. Many had come out here just to have a peek of the place.
They were men of all occupations and social status. Some he could guess, while others remained a mystery. Those four, for instance—he could smell military from a mile away. It made sense. Apart from them, any ordinary man would not know where to begin to tackle a red feather vulture.
Yan Han went to the door and pressed the button. The shutter clanked and rolled down, shutting out the vast picture of the night outside.
Who gave a damn who those men were? I have Phoenix Mountain at my back! Bring it on!
The branches and leaves in a dense woods shook and swayed as out dashed a woman wearing a white veil. Loud thumping sounds followed her as if an earthquake was coming. In a brief moment, a giant of a man leapt out.
"Yu Lanzhu, be a warrior and face your opponent!"
The man was over two meters tall and dressed in strange garments made from animal skin and fur, which left his two knotty muscled arms bare in the air. He pointed ahead and bellowed, "I'm only here because of your title as the Archmage. How dare you humiliate me in front of everyone! I'm going to rip you open!"
"Teehee! Wanyan, you're as stupid as I said you were. I'm only trying to find a quiet spot to have my way with you."
The woman giggled. Behind the veil, her face was as blurred as an autumn moon hidden by the curtains. There was a misty sort of beauty about it. However, the words out of her mouth would make one's hair stand.
"I only gave in time and again for the sake of your old man. Do you really think I'm afraid of you? I know you all refuse to accept me as the archmage. No matter, I'll simply kill you off one by one. Sooner or later, this holy sect will be mine!"
"You're full of shit! Roar!"
The man was infuriated. He suddenly let out a long howling sound and yellowish brown hair started to grow out of his skin. His face was even more hideous and terrifying. He had transformed into some sort of giant beast.
His entire person turned into a streak of flashing light, dashing near her at a tremendous speed. He raised both arms and bang!
Broken pieces of rocks flew everywhere; where the arms landed was now a great pit meters in diameter. The woman, however, was nowhere to be seen. He looked around and suddenly, a sweet, gentle voice complained softly behind him, "You brainless muscle men are the worst! Humph!"
The sneering sound seemed to have magic of its own, which turned the man's head around despite himself. The muscles on his face were all contorted, but he simply could not fight it. Slowly, he looked into another pair of eyes.
Those were beautiful, bright eyes as deep as a whirlpool. He was gradually sinking into them.
The man struggled with all his effort, but to no avail. His eyes grew blank and his mind turned into clouds. Finally, with a thud, he collapsed to the ground.
"You know, you didn't have to go through all that, which would have saved me a lot of effort."
The woman frowned and looked the most aggrieved, as if the man had just committed the most unforgivable crime. She then took out a small white bottle from her chest pocket and sprinkled the powder inside onto the dead body. Before long, there was a sizzling sound and the corpse soon turned into a pool of blood.
Just then, a red sparrow flew out of nowhere, then perched on a branch and chirped at her.
"I see. Wait for me there."
The woman waved her hand, dismissing the sparrow. Then with a few graceful moves, she also disappeared.
About half an hour later, in a secret chamber somewhere in Bing Town.
A few people was waiting in distress. The door suddenly flung open and they rose to their feet in unison. "Archmage!"
"Get to the point. What's so urgent that I had to come this quick?"
The woman went straight into the room and slouched down on the bed in the innermost corner. She looked unhappy, as if she had been disturbed while playing a game.
"Archmage, the government is moving against us."
One of the men tentatively handed her a list, on which were names of cadres. "We have planted 478 informers in the governments of the four provinces of the Northeast. In this single round of selection, 17 of our middle-level cadres were transferred. The low-level ones was damaged even worse—54 were transferred. They will all be sent to the Central Plains, south of the Yangtze River and south of the Five Ridges. We don't have much arranged out there."
"Those got sent here instead will all take the important positions. They are loyal and capable men. It does not look good for us," added another man.
"No need to panic. I'm sure they don't know the specifics individuals. We're too big in number, that's all. Someone's bound to be unlucky." The woman was very relaxed. "There is only so much they can maneuver. Transferring officials around too frequently is bad for the ruling party. Tell the rest of our men there: just keep a lower profile and continue with whatever they were doing."
The men exchanged looks, bowed, and left.
The woman remained lying in bed with her eyes slightly closed. She stretched out her graceful body, but the look on her face was growing colder.
The previous archmage died a sudden death and she had risen to this position by stepping over a mountain of dead bodies. A large proportion of the followers still would not accept her. This event would be a good opportunity for her. She could do a cleanup and consolidate her power.