August 8th, the fifth of the seventh month on the traditional Chinese calendar and the day of Zhong Yuan Festival.
Starting early this morning, men and women of all ages were filing out of the city, heading right for the cemetery on the eastern slope of Phoenix Mountain. Swarming the roads leading from the villages and downtown area to the cemetery were cars, donkey wagons, jeeps, and tricycles of every kind.
The mountain gate several kilometers away was also drowned in a hubbub of human noises—actually, the stream of tourists flowing onto the mountain had not been interrupted since the beginning of this summer.
People were moving up in groups of threes and fives. One group stood out more than anyone else: they were two men, four women, and a little kid, one of whom was in a blue robe and apparently a Taoist priest.
They were none other than Gu Yu and his companions.
After the Yang Qing problem was solved, they went back to Bai Town the following day. Instead of going onto the mountain from the north entrance, they entered through the front gate, which was Chao Kongtu's suggestion.
It was such a rare occasion that he got to travel outside and he thought he should at least get a full view of the mountain. Hence, the others complied, considering it a casual tour of Phoenix Mountain.
"Why, isn't it Xiao Gu?"
"I heard you got rich. When did you come back?"
"Are these your friends? Here, take a few bottles of water. Climbing this mountain is quite tiring."
Quite a few peddlers greeted them enthusiastically on their way up, all of which old "colleagues" of Gu Yu.
Gu Yu responded to all greetings without the slightest embarrassment. It was part of his history. Denying it would be denying his old self and he was not that narrow-minded.
It intrigued Chao Kongtu greatly. "Why didn't you shut the scenic area down? It'd be so much quieter."
"Haha, we're cultivating beside this secular world and we might as well embrace the secular scene a little. Besides, if I do that, how are they going to make their living?"
After those words and before Chao Kongtu could say anything, Mother Zheng interjected, "Mr. Gu, Sir, are you really the owner of this entire mountain?"
Without realizing it, she had "upgraded" the way she was addressing Gu Yu.
"Sort of. It's ours, really." Gu Yu tried to hold his girlfriend's hand, but Xiaozhai reached out and held onto Long Qiu instead, totally ignoring Gu Yu.
"Oh my god, that is awesome, Sir! My Kaixin can definitely be cured!"
Mother Zheng fawned on Gu Yu in a half-exaggerating, half-earnest way. She was not like this before, but used to be a preserved person. But people were easily influenced by their surroundings and it would only take a few days.
Her philistine and deliberate attitude repelled Gu Yu a little, but he found it understandable—all the things one would do for their children.
The group chatted as they climbed on. As the mountain trail grew steeper, the flow of tourists also grew thinner. Phoenix Mountain was quite vast in its area and one could climb up following either the eastern or the western route; they were now taking the latter.
Chao Kongtu halted all of a sudden, pointed at a mountain peak on the south, and complimented, "Why, that peak stood tall quite on its own and looked graceful. With the cooling clouds and mist, it makes a rather heavenly picture!"
"That's Cuanyun 1 Peak. I've been up there. The view is indeed heavenly," Gu Yu commented casually. A little while later, he pointed to the north and said, "That is Jianyan 2 Peak, second only to Cuanyun. Legend has it that Xue Rengui once stood on Dingjun Mountain, set the arrow on his bow, drew it with all his effort, and released. The top of the peak was pierced through, giving Dingjun Mountain the new name Fajian 3 Ridge and this one was called Jianyan Peak since… don't take it seriously—they're nothing but made-up stories from the tourism bureau. Xue Rengui must have had a million better things to do than shooting at Phoenix Mountain."
"Haha, we have a similar one in Tianzhu, only the peak was called Xiaoyue 4 .
Chao Kongtu laughed and turned to look. Jianyan Peak stood tall there like a sword reaching into the sky and near the top was a naturally formed round hole. He couldn't help but remark, "You said it is the second tallest? I don't think Cuanyun surpasses it that much."
Gu Yu winced a little. Cuanyun was 863 m and Jianyan 812 m. The 50-meter difference should be apparent. He had been on the mountain the whole time and failed to notice the change. Chao Kongtu, on the other hand, was a newcomer and noticed.
Now that it was pointed out, the family of four all turned to look.
"Wow, it seems it really is taller!" shouted Xiaojin first.
"Yes, yes, I remember that tree…" Long Qiu pointed at a pine tree protruding sideways from the slope and said, "I think it was halfway up the peak before, but now seems lower than that."
"Interesting. Can it be the spiritual ginseng?" said Xiaozhai.
"It's more than that. The spiritual ginseng is not that capable. The node itself is also the cause," said Gu Yu.
The spiritual ginseng had connected with the mountain energy and the two were complementing one another, changing the environment quietly yet constantly around the clock. The property of Phoenix Mountain itself played a more important role, though—one could not find a place with the spiritual essence as dense and active as in a node just anywhere.
"Are you talking about the spiritual ginseng from last time?" Chao Kongtu asked curiously.
"Yup. We'll show you later. That fellow has a thing for the liquor and you have a liquor gourd. You two can make a cute couple!"
Xiaojin patted him on the shoulder in the most natural way. Chao Kongtu was about 178 cm and she 175 cm. Girls usually looked taller than they were, giving the two quite a matching height.
While the others were chatting happily, Zheng Kaixin was exhausted, but dared not mention a word, fearing that the uncles and aunts would tell him off.
Gu Yu had noticed it. He was not in the habit of putting others through suffering to train their minds—the kid was lucky and got pointed in the right direction, but whether or not he would take him in as a pupil was something that would need at least a couple of years' observation to be decided.
"Xiao Qiu, it's getting late. Take Kaixin back with you first and get the dinner ready," said Gu Yu.
"No, no, we're fine. The kid will be ok after a little rest!"
Mother Zheng waved her hand. 'Are you kidding me? It is at the time like this that we should make a show of our good quality.'
Long Qiu ignored the protest. She crouched down and smiled. "Let's go get some rest, shall we? Mum and the others will be back in a moment."
Zheng Kaixin trusted the big sister. He then asked, "How are we going to get back?"
"Flying, of course. Are you afraid of flying?" Long Qiu liked teasing the kid a lot.
The kid was at a loss. Before he could finish the question, he was held up by the big sister, and with a little sway, everything flashed past his eyes with a violent shake. Then there was a "whoosh!"
The gale blew hard against his cheeks and clouds rushed past them.
Mother Zheng was scared out of her wits. She watched as Long Qiu jumped down the cliff holding her son, but the next second, her eyes were wide open. Long Qiu fell rapidly before turning abruptly like a wild goose and stepped on the cliff wall.
With a clank, a small stair suddenly protruded from the stone.
Tapping it lightly with her foot, with the momentum gained, she fell straight down for dozens of meters. Repeating the process along the cliff wall for a couple of times, they were soon less than a hundred meters from the ground below.
"Ah! Sister, Sister, aaaah… I'm flying! I can fly!"
Hearing her son's gibberish came up from below, Mother Zheng swayed—whether for joy or for fear we did not know—and almost collapsed to the ground. Right there and right then, all her little schemes had disappeared, replaced by reverence and loyalty only.
Chao Kongtu was observably surprised. Ever since those fellows of Qiyun got their hands on the heritage of White Crane, they had been gloating like a certain third generation leader with his nuclear warheads, dreaming about nothing but hitting someone with them.
Phoenix Mountain did not seem to be anything inferior!
He did not care if Long Qiu did what she did on purpose. From the Taoist skill and capability she had demonstrated, well, it was safe to say that the "Two Saints of Phoenix Mountain" were not the only two of the mountain!
Before they realized, the sun was slanting towards the horizon.
They had spent most of their day walking around the scenic area and covered two-thirds of the ground. That afternoon, they finally reached the inner mountain.
The view here was completely different. The landscape of the outer mountain was mostly naturally formed, but here, one could see much more artificial planning.
Fruit trees, bamboos, and herb fields were separated into distinct areas, with only occasional mixed fields. They could see bright reds here and verdant deep woods there, with all kinds of herbs growing in between. There were more kinds than one could count.
A few elderly men taking care of the plants were about to greet them when Gu Yu gestured at them to keep at their work.
Chao Kongtu was curious about these people.
"Employees, of course! And they get paid: year-end bonus, love funds, labor protection, social security, vacations, and other welfare—everything as the labor law says," Xiaojin answered him. She then grabbed onto the thin air and scooped out a giant pomegranate, which she split into halves, revealing the translucent and plump seeds inside, which reminded one of red pearls.
She looked like a fat little hamster that could not restrain itself from eating out of its winter stash. She began to pop the seeds into her mouth as they walked on.
Chao Kongtu watched her in amazement, for all along, this one had given him the expression of a heartless little rouge. It suddenly struck him that she was capable of being cute and adorable.
"Why are you looking at me?" Sensing his gaze, Xiaojin tossed him half of the fruit. "There, it's delicious."
He would not usually eat a pomegranate, but since he was offered one, it would not be polite to refuse. He lowered his head and was going to eat it… what the hell? There was no pomegranate to eat. All he was holding was an empty shell—the red pearls were all gone.
He turned to look at certain fellow, who was holding a handful of red seeds and chewing happily.
"Why are you looking at me again?" Little Soap asked with the most bewildered and straight face.
"I am intrigued, actually. How did you survive to this age?" Chao Kongtu was genuinely confused.
"I'm lucky! People can be good at all kinds of things, but nothing beats good luck… f**k, that's a sour one!"
Wrinkling up her face, Xiaojin turned from a dummy husky to a shar pei in a second. An intense sour taste spread out from the tip of her to tongue and soon took over her entire mouth.
"Gosh! Sour! Too sour!"
Her hands were empty now—what was left of the pomegranate was transferred into Chao Kongtu's hand again. Sticking out her tongue, she hopped around, shouting, "Ssss! Sour food gives you a boy and spicy food gives you a girl. How could anyone stand that! Bah! Bah!"
No one could understand what was going through her head as she gabbled out sarcastic remarks only she herself understood.
Chao Kongtu watched her a while and suddenly snickered. He then picked up a seed and threw into his mouth.
Hm, sour and sweet. It was great!
Cottage of Pure Mind, the living room.
The guest was not here and only Gu Yu and Xiaozhai sat in the host seats, listening to Li Dong's report on the output of the first half of the year.
"We now have 880 fruit trees of various kinds, which have given us a total yield of 36 tons… the early rice is not harvested yet, but we estimated the yield this year should increase… Dear Old Gao has managed to come up with something new—he has tried to make a few types of fruit wine and I have taken three jars… there are 137.5 kg of tea in stock; the herbs are still growing, so there is not yield… the three piglets are growing healthily; they're a size bigger than when they arrived…"
Gu Yu pondered for a moment and said, "Keep the medicinal materials and spiritual rice as they are. The fruit, liquor, tea, and bamboo shoots are for sale. Contact Old Shui for that. I'll leave everything to you."
Li Dong was delighted. After living an idle life for more than half a year, he finally got a proper job. As a matter of fact, he was the only candidate—all the rest on the mountain were "technicians" of sorts.
"Oh, by the way, Brother Shui has registered a company, saying that it will take care of the transportation of all our goods within Shengtian territory. That's the short-term goal. He will expand the business to cover the province—or even the entire Northeast—in the future," added Li Dong.
Wow! Nice job, Old Shui!
Gu Yu chuckled and said, "Ok, I see. You can go back to your work now."
After Li Dong left, Gu Yu presented the ledger to the head of the household and asked, "It's been a couple of days. What do you think of Chao Kongtu?"
"60 out of 100. Still needs further observation," said Xiaozhai.
"Haha, that's what I thought as well. To be honest, with what we saw in the Celestial Master Temple and Maoshan, it's hard not to be biased."
"Whatever. The bottom line is: big no-no for Quanzhen." Xiaozhai said, stretching herself.
Since Wang Qi's visit, the couple had expanded their scope to a global scale.
Yes, the internal strife within this country was inevitable, but with the trend of an international "upgrade", on a macro-scale, the strategy would be to resist the foreign aggression as a unified force. Hence, Phoenix Mountain wanted to make friends with the Taoist community and they had to find a suitable one.
Such as th Maoshan Sect. Such as Chao Kongtu.TL/N: meaning "cloud-gathering" TL/N: meaning "arrow hole" TL/N: meaning "release the arrow" TL/N: meaning "bright moon"]