Dark clouds gathered overhead. After a soft thunder, the sky that had been parched for months finally softened at the long-awaited moisture. Fine raindrops drizzled down, scattering into all corners and covering the entire Phoenix Mountain in a mist.
It was the first rain since this April—it was already mid-August at the moment. Light as it might be, it at least offered some comfort to the people who had been suffering from droughts and the high temperature.
Meteorological services were all rushing around spreading the good news, for the entire North would be experiencing a minor drop in temperature in the coming few days and some areas might be expecting intermittent showers. This indicated that the intense heat of summer brought by the abnormality was finally coming to an end this year. The South might have to wait a few more days, but it would not be later than September.
Right now, several people were strolling down the long stone steps of Phoenix Mountain holding umbrellas.
"Very good timing. You get to see the mountain in the rain when you leave." Gu Yu chuckled.
"Haha, I really would like to stay, but the order came from my master and I cannot disobey. Thank you for all the excellent hospitality these past few days!" said Chao Kongtu.
"You're welcome. The mountain is always open to you whenever you want to visit us again," Xiaozhai also chimed in. While listening to the exchange of the pleasantries on the side, Long Qiu blinked and suddenly offered her unskillful gossipy remark, "Why, Jin Jin, aren't you going to show some hospitality?"
"Why would I care if he comes again or not? What does my hospitality have to do with anything?" With what went through her head on a daily basis, Xiaojin instantly realized where the subject was heading and retorted with her eyes wide open, "Excuse me? Exactly where did you get that idea from? Do you have no better things to do than coupling me up with this fellow? He's not even reached the innate state! Come on!"
Long Qiu turned scarlet at Xiaojin's tongue-lashing and quietly hid behind Xiaozhai as if she was no longer there, whereas Chao Kongtu felt his knees giving up a little at the undeniable accusation.
After receiving a message from his master, he was heading directly for Tangshan Hospital in the capital city, where he would be taking charge of saving the patients (from ghosts) and training the others.
His less than a week long stay in Phoenix Mountain was an eye-opening experience—what amazed him was obviously not the spiritual rice, tea, or fruit wine, but the Taoist skills the four casually used.
Although he did not get to see the essence-consuming method and Thunder Technique, the Void-arranging, Small Confining, and Small Moving Techniques alone were enough to win his great admiration.
It was especially the case with the Small Moving Technique, which made him jump in the beginning, thinking it was some sort of magic that could create objects out of thin air. It later occurred to him that it was a type of spatial switching skill… He then recalled Layman Gu's deeds when he stood at the entrance of Xidu municipal government and twisted the Shamanist's head off his living body—it was probably an application of this skill.
As a member of Qiyun, Chao Kongtu could not help but begin to compare it with Phoenix Mountain.
The monastery had plenty of Taoist skills from numerous and jumbled systems, but none of those were of a very high level. Even with the discovery of the inheritance of White Crane, he did not think they would be able to surpass Phoenix Mountain. However, there were three underground levels in the palace and something more advanced could still show up.
The monastery followed a set of established rules and regulations with distinguished status and clear-cut job descriptions somewhat resembling the structure of a corporation. The relationships in Phoenix Mountain were much more personal and casual; the force that bound the people together reminded one of a big family.
It was still too early to tell which one would have the advantage.
Before long, they reached the foot of the mountain, where Chao Kongtu stopped, turned to face the family of four, and bowed solemnly. "I hereby bid you farewell. We'll meet again when fate sees fit!"
After that, he got on the vehicle Old Shui arranged and drove off into the misty rain.
The four stood there for a little while and headed back up the mountain.
Xiaozhai put her umbrella away after a short distance and let the rain fall on her without blocking it with her spiritual essence. Her face looked more refreshing than ever with the moisture. She asked suddenly, "So, what do you think?"
"The government has been brewing it for a whole year, propagating and guiding the opinion with its subtle influence. Now that the situation is becoming all the more complicated. Together with the threat from abroad, I think they are pushed into opening the game." Gu Yu gave it a thought and added, "To initiate such world-changing event, apart from a warm-up period, they also need a suitable point of introduction. This invitation of Taoist descendants from abroad to our country is probably the government's attempt to make a fuss about the whole thing and put everything on the table."
"I don't know exactly what the government is going to do, but I know the Taoist community is playing the puppet again—scratch that, Zhengyi is," said Xiaozhai.
"They can't help it. The Taoist community is depending on the government for their resources. It's their duty to play the cannon fodder."
"Tsk, why are we still talking about it? We'll know what they're up to if we go to see it ourselves!" Xiaojin interjected all of a sudden. Her blinking eyes had "Let's go!" written all over them.
"Not yet. Let's wait and see how it goes." Gu Yu turned her down outright. He then asked, "By the way, Xiao Qiu, how's that kid, Zheng Kaixin?"
"Um, he needed some adjusting period when he first got here, but he's letting more of his naughty side show now. His mother is all right. She's helping with harvesting the vegetables and stuff," replied Long Qiu.
"I see. I'll put him into your hands. Don't teach him anything yet. Let him learn how to sit in meditation first. No need for further martial arts movements, either. What he learned from Maoshan should be enough."
"Teehee, no problem."
The natural endowment of Zheng Kaixin was above average but not excellent. However, there was something unique about the boy—that trace of Yin energy fused into his body.
Under normal circumstances, Qi-nourishing techniques had no attributes—the essence-consuming method included. Zheng Kaixin's condition, however, would give him a natural Yin attribute if he could find a suitable technique to train with, which was something worth expecting.
Capital city, an office.
The old man leaned into his chair—his glasses were on the desk—and was listening to his assistant's briefing with closed eyes.
"As of mid-August, 24 provinces have been suffering from various degrees of droughts. Approximately 319 million mu of crops have been affected by droughts, of which 41.39 million mu suffered from total crop failure, resulting in a grain loss of 27.36 billion kg.
The Disaster Reduction Committee and the Ministry of Civil Affairs have launched emergency response. The working groups have rushed to the disaster area to organize the masses to replace the seeds and rush-plant while the soil is damp, regulate water sources to expand irrigation area, make early preparation for autumn film mulching, as well as to settle claims for agricultural insurance on droughts so as to help the farmers with their losses...
Globally, because major wheat producing areas such as the Ossie and Uncle Sam were affected by droughts, the global wheat yield is estimated at 503 million tons, which is a 9% drop from last year's.
Global food prices surged by 10% in the beginning of the month. The prices of corn and wheat have gone up by 25% and soybean prices also rose by 17%.
According to the statistics of the Food Bureau, the year-on-year increase in the price of wheat on the domestic market is 3.3%, the early indica rice 7.6%, the medium indica rice 7.8%, and corn 12.7%—all significantly lower than the international market price increase…"
After the assistant finished reading the report, it was a while before the old man responded with a nod, indicating that he had heard everything.
With the advanced modern agricultural technology, most countries had implemented the grain reserve system to deal with major natural disasters and stabilize the food market price. Therefore the tragedy of mass starvation from a single major drought decades ago was rarely seen nowadays.
It was especially the case with this country, whose government attached great importance to food.
Rumor among the common folk was that the domestic grain reserve was enough to last between 30 to 36 months with a daily ration of half a kilo for every citizen with zero harvest from the entire country during this period.
We are talking about sustaining a population of nearly 2 billion! This figure was so astronomical that netizens often joked about when this country ran out of food, the earth would probably meet its end.
Such data was classified as state secrets, around which the general population would form their imagination, but the old man knew the details like the back of his hand.
Honestly speaking, with the current situation, the country would not be affected much with a substantial reduction in crop yields for one year or two, but three, four, or five years in a row would definitely result in famine!
The state dared not bet it all on this goddamn spiritual essence stabilizing any time soon. There was simply too much on the stake.