Goat City, the airport.
A flight from Siam had just landed. Before long, a group of passengers filed out of the airport.
During the past six to seven years, Siam had successfully replaced Nippon and Koryo 1 as the most popular tourist destination among the neighboring countries. This bunch of returning tourists was the most typical kind: men and women of all age groups had spent the holiday there with their families and returned with bags filled with souvenirs of all sizes and Buddha amulets dangling from their necks. All were in high spirits and could not shut up about the fun they had.
One man stood out from the rest of the group.
The man was thickset, swarthy, and had big and protruding eyes. An oval red birthmark covered then entire area of the left side of his forehead and his left eye. He wore a mandarin jacket with a stand-up collar on the top and a monk-style wrap skirt on the bottom, with a wide golden belt around his waist.
On his bare feet was a pair of wooden sandals.
His clothes alone suggested an impoverished fellow from some remote mountainous region. However, the aura emanating from him would scare off just about anyone—especially that birthmark, which looked like some sort of mark left by a devil and even tinted his left eye blood red.
"Why, that's a traditional outfit!"
He had just walked out of the airport and stopped by the side of the road when there came a soft cry from someone nearby. He turned to look and saw a young man eyeing him curiously. He had begun to take photos with his phone.
Seeing him turning, the fellow greeted in English, "Hello, my friend. You're from Siam, right? You don't mind me taking some pictures, do you?"
The man, however, glowered, apparently infuriated and greatly offended by this conduct. He pointed at the fellow with a finger and began to chant some spell in an incomprehensible language. Then there came the cry. "Ah! What's this? It's so itchy! Gosh, it's so itchy! Aaaaah!"
The fellow twitched suddenly and twisted into a strange posture. He then began to scratch his face, neck, chest, and back with both hands.
The itching was very intense; with the thin clothes of the summer, his scratching—which was growing more forcible—led to red marks showing on his skin, some of which even had streaks of blood seeping out.
It frightened the onlookers, who thought the fellow was coming down with some acute disease.
"Oh my, Mr. Yaaga! Sorry for keep you waiting! We were caught in the traffic!"
Just then, a few people hurried near. One of them took the man's hand and greeted him in Mandarin, which was then translated to him.
"Humph! Is this how you treat your guest?" Yaaga appeared to be a man with a bad temper and sneered at the apology.
"We're truly sorry. There simply are too many people and too much traffic in Goat City."
The man went on apologizing halfheartedly when he looked sideways and saw the scratching fellow. "What's happened to this man?"
"He was rude to me. I gave him a little punishment."
"Haha, I'm sure he did not mean it. Do forgive him, will you?"
Yaaga gave him a look. After all, this was not his own territory and he did not want to make too big a scene, so he deactivated the spell with a wave of his hand.
"Haha, I admire the generosity of a capable man. If you would come this way, please."
With that, the group got into a luxurious commercial vehicle, which slowly drove out of the airport.
The scratching fellow was now back to normal and felt as if he had just escaped death. With burning pain all over his body, he found his arms covered with bloody scratches. The fellow was called Cui Zhanbo, who was a celebrity blogger on wechat with a couple of hundred of thousand followers.
He was taking photos of Yaaga out of occupational habit and never thought it would bring him such suffering. Being a resolute man himself, he would never let go of it easily. He got into his own car right away and drove away following that commercial vehicle.
In the ancient times, people of Siam had given names only but no family names.
It was not until the year 1912 when the sixth emperor of the current dynasty issued Personal Name Act, which granted 6432 family names to the common people. Their custom was to have their family names following the given ones, hence Yaaga's full name was Yaaga Shinawatra.
The Shinawatra Clan was a bold and unreserved family in Siam, quite influential in both the business and the political field. Their ancestors, though, were from Goat City—their original Chinese surname was Qiu. They immigrated to Siam at the end of the Qing Dynasty.
Yaaga was from a collateral branch of the clan and a master in the practice of Gong Tau (or "Tame Head") 2 .
He was invited this time into the country by a certain institute to help with dispelling the ghosts. The original plan was to fly him directly to the capital city, but the guy suddenly expressed his wish to see the land of his ancestors, hence the Goat City trip.
"Where are the ghosts you want to catch?"
"There's no need to rush. You have come all this way. We have prepared a meal for you, we'll talk after that."
In the dining hall of a hotel, the man in charge, the interpreter, two assistants, and Yaaga himself were about to sit down. The custom of this country was to offer the host seat to the honorable guest, while the host took the next lesser seat.
The man in charge was going to sit down on the chair beside Yaaga when the latter ordered suddenly, "You, go sit there!"
"Hm?" The man did not get the request the first time.
"You, do not sit here!" Yaaga instructed in a rigid tone, then turned to the interpreter on the other side. "You, don't sit here, either."
The man in charge did not even raise an eyebrow, but only smiled. "Oh, sure. I see! Leave the two seats next to Mr. Yaaga empty!"
After much shuffling around, the group of five finally settled down around the table: Yaaga took the seat in the middle with a vacant chair on either side of him and further below sat the others, making it quite a strange picture.
"We didn't know what would suit your appetite, so I ordered a bit of everything. Enjoy!"
Soon, the dishes were served, filling up the table. Yaaga skimmed through the food, apparently not particularly interested in any of them. Instead, he spoke rapidly in his native tongue, poured a cup of tea, and splashed it to his left hand side.
The five men watched with unblinking eyes. The tea was halfway from spilling to the floor when it disappeared into thin air. Not a single drop of water reached the floor.
Immediately after that, he picked up a piece of meat and tossed to the right. Same as before, the meat vanished.
The man in charge felt his heart lurch. "Mr. Yaaga, are these your, the ones that you raised…"
"That is correct!"
"Oh my! That's incredible! I heard that normally, ghost-raising masters can have one natal ghost only. Mr. Yaaga, you have demonstrated great capabilities! Please accept my admiration!"
"Haha! This is just some trivial skill that is not worth mentioning."
Such flatter was right up his alley and Yaaga couldn't help but feel pleased.
Born with a tough mind and ferocious temperament, raising ghosts for "Taming Head" came naturally to him. However difficult the ghosts were, they became docile little lambs in his hands. He was also a renowned figure in this field in his own country.
The group chatted through the meal. Yaaga did not eat much, but spent most of the time feeding his two ghosts.
Halfway through the food, the phone of the man in charge rang. He picked it up, had a brief conversation, and hung up. "Excuse me, another guest has arrived. I'll be right back."
"Oh, that would be Priest Xuankong Zi from the HK Islands—supposed to be a descendant of Maoshan." The man in charge casually let the information slip.
"A descendant of Maoshan?" Frowning, Yaaga's face darkened. "I don't see why you have to go all the way to meet him. How about you ask him to sit with us?"
"That'll be great! It must be my lucky day to sit with both masters at the same table. I'll be right back."
The man in charge left the room happily and returned shortly afterwards with a blue-robed Taoist priest who was in his forties, had a goatee, and a sallow face, which all together gave him a shrewd yet sinister look. The man was none other than Xuankong Zi himself.
The moment the priest entered the dining hall and saw Yaaga's Siam-styled outfit, he said coldly, "A Tame Head master? You brought in a Tame Head master?"
Before the man in charge could answer, Xuankong Zi went up to the table, whereas Yaaga also rose to his feet. The two men's eyes met and one could almost see sparks flying in the air.
Xuankong Zi was a man of Lower Maoshan whose master's master fled from the mainland during the wartime to live in the HK Islands and took some inheritance with him. People of those islands were superstitious and became firm believers of his practice. Adding to the fact that Xuankong Zi was a capable priest himself, he was a duck taken to the water there.
On the other hand, the skills of the sorcerers of Siam—or shall we say the whole southeastern area—originated partially from the witchcraft and Maoshan skills of our 3 country and partially from the aboriginal sorcery of their own countries.
Despite being a man of Lower Maoshan only, Xuankong Zi had always considered himself a representative of the superior Taoist orthodox and despised all those that had "borrowed" from Taoist teachings. Similarly, for some strange psychological reason, these sorcerers of the southeast were also quite hostile towards their Taoist counterparts.
Yaaga did not hesitate for a second and moved into action right away. He pointed with his finger and chanted a spell.
Having stayed in the islands all these years living his days telling fortunes and securing houses, Xuankong Zi had little experience in real combat and was instantly losing out. He felt a sinister cold air wrapping around him; as soon as it touched his skin, it made a pricking sensation as if needles were being drilled in.
"How dare you!"
He had a few things up his sleeves after all and shook a paper packet out of his cloth pouche.
A packet was shaken loose, releasing a plume of scarlet powder which enveloped him entirely. Instantly, crackling noises rang out all over his skin, resembling the faint explosive sound when something was thrown into boiling oil.
Meanwhile, some tiny black creatures began falling down from his body in showers and soon piled up by his feet. The man in charge reached out to see. Gosh! They were all black worms!
Before the pain was completely gone, Xuankong Zi moved into action with both hands, taking out a talisman with his left hand and a small bottle with his right which contained a thick grayish white liquid.
Waving both hands, the talisman turned into a ball of black flame in a whoosh and, the next second, it scattered and became a black rain.
Yaaga's expression changed slightly, apparently recognizing the skill.
It was called Yin-Yang Corpse Poison Method. Once infected, one's flesh and skin would rot rapidly to the bone and would not stop until the afflicted was dead. Yaaga dared not take this lightly. He took out a small leather drum and patted it.
The drum made a strange sound, which was not sonorous, but felt stifled and suppressed as if it was thumping on one's chest. With the tapping of the drum, Yaaga controlled his two ghosts, who flew into the air in their invisible form and, with a tearing howl, devoured all of that black rain.
Once gaining the upper hand, he did not stop there, but kept tapping his drum.
Xuankong Zi was astonished; he had never expected the man's ghosts to be this capable. Panic-stricken, he only had enough time to shake out one talisman and smacked it onto himself.
Almost the next second, two streaks of black air rose out of him, which sent him stumbling backwards and taking a pratfall on the ground.
"Hahaha! So much for the Maoshan Skill!"
Yaaga summoned the ghosts back to his side and guffawed. Seeing that the interpreter sat there dazed, he shouted, "Tell him that! Word for word!"
The interpreter was back to himself and stammered, "H-he said, so much for the Maoshan Skill."
Infuriated, Xuankong Zi smacked his cloth pouch and was going to release his killing move. The man in charge ran to him at this moment and stopped him. "Masters! Masters! Please listen to me!" He acted all earnestly as if he meant any of his words. "You both are invited here by us to help with fighting the monsters, so to some extent, you're colleagues. We're all after the same thing. Exchanging a few friendly blows is fine, but don't let it hurt your feelings. Here, let me show you the place now. Frankly, even if we had more energy than you can spare, we shouldn't be using it on one of our own. Let's save it for the monsters."
Yaaga was not afraid of Xuankong Zi, but he feared the power of the Taoist community of this country as a whole. Since the peacemaker had spoken, he was willing to let it go. Xuankong Zi was the losing side, so he was more than happy to grab the opportunity for a safe exit.
The capital city. The, um, vicinity of Tangshan Hospital.
Inside a big room, Chao Kongtu was standing in front of a bunch of priests of all ages, teaching a crash course on catching ghosts.
"Everyone here is an elite member of their own sect and are more than capable to fight a ghost in its current strength. I won't display my slight skill before the experts—I'm sure you all have an approach you deem fit. There is really one thing only that I will demonstrate: how to force a ghost out of a human body. Once a ghost attaches itself to a human being, it fuses with the living soul. There are three ways to dispel it…"
He paused a little and picked up a paper turtle. "This is the Paper Turtle Ghost-pecking Method. Take a talisman paper and cut it into the shape of a turtle. Set a basin of water and some yellow paper. Burn the yellow paper, let it melt into the water, chant the ghost-dispelling spell, and put the paper turtle into the water. It will then climb onto the person itself and peck out the ghost."
He then took up an oil lamp. "Lamp Ghost-drawing Method. Catch a green snake and soak the lampwick with its blood before drying it in the shade. Light the lamp with this wick and put it around the head of the person. Meanwhile, burn a talisman and the ghost will be drawn into the smoke. Keep in mind that there is a shortcoming to this method: once having the ghost in the smoke, it will be very easy for it to flee or find another body to attach itself to. Therefore, as soon as you see the smoke changing shape, kill the ghost instantly!"
Finally, he picked up a clay pot with no lid or bottom. "Divine Pot Ghost-burning Method. Take a red cloth and cover the bottom of the pot with it. Take a few drops of blood of the person and dribble them into the pot. Burn a talisman and begin to pour water in. As the water rises, if the pot begins to burn as if heated and no water is seeping through the cloth, the ghost is in the pot. Otherwise, the ghost has escaped."
After the introduction, Chao Kongtu then said, "I will explain all three methods in details one by one. They all have their advantages and disadvantages and it all depends on how they are used. I myself am most familiar with the paper turtle one, so I'll start with that…"
He indeed held nothing back and instructed the others without any reservation.
In the ancient times, such conduct would be a major crime punishable by banishment from the sect at least and being beaten to death at the most. All priests present were aware of the significance of his teaching and admired him greatly for that.
Soon, Chao Kongtu finished his teaching. "This is my first time meeting you all. We are all from different sects, but most of you have fellow disciples in Qiyun, which makes us all fellow Taoists. With monsters and ghosts walking the earth at the moment, it is time we Taoist priests fulfill our duty to dispel them. I hope we will all work in concert and live up to the hope of a new flourishing age of our Taoist community!"
"Thank you for the reminder!"
The roomful of people bowed solemnly.
Contrary to the respectful atmosphere of the room, a ridicule rang out from outside. The men inside were all displeased but before they had time to react, a man strode in.
He was medium-built and had honest eyes, only that his nose was a little hooked, giving him a malicious look. The man wore a calf-long purple gown with sleeves long enough to reach the lower hem, embroidered on which was an Eight Diagram in golden and silver threads.
Seeing his outfit, Chao Kongtu raised his eyebrow.
In Zhengyi, the high-ranking officials wore yellow gowns and the purple one was only for the abbot of the sects. Therefore, this one was probably, hoho...
"So, you're that disowned dog?" Chao Kongtu cupped his hand, sounding very earnest.
"How dare you!"
The man was enraged at those words and was about to wave his sleeves to cast a spell. However, he froze halfway himself and fought back the urge. "Humph! Save your clever talk. I am Zhang Ziliang, the 65th generation Celestial Master!"
The room erupted into a hubbub at those words.
Ninety years ago, when the modern state was established, descendants of two thousand-year families fled abroad, one of which the Kong Family—descendants of Confucius—and the other the Zhang Family of Longhu Mountain.
Both families chose the Southern Ocean as their destination and took roots there.
We'll forget about the Kong Family for the time being and talk about the Zhang Family now. The leader then was the 63rd generation Celestial Master, who established a new Way of the Celestial Masters in the Southern Ocean. After he passed away, his nephew inherited the title and became the 64th.
Zhang Jintong, on the other hand, was raised by the government and given the title the 65th generation Celestial Master. Hence began the never-ending squabbling of the two sides, both claiming themselves to be the orthodox one. A few years ago, the foreign 64th died and Zhang Ziliang took over the sect.
Seniority-wise, Zhang Ziliang was actually Zhang Shouyang's young uncle.
Young and aggressive, the man found himself in a time of great change, so he set his mind on fighting his way up Longhu Mountain and taking back Celestial Master Temple. He might be a very capable man, but he was no match to Chao Kongtu in terms of competing with words alone.
"The 65th generation? Haha! You and your five disciples in that tiny country! You have always been playing in your own backyard, so I presume that you have finally come around and decided to pay homepage?"
Zhang Ziliang was a man of certain disposition and did not lose his temper over that remark. He only asked, "Who on earth are you?"
"Chao Kongtu of Maoshan Sect."
"Fine! I will not argue with you here. Just wait until I defeat the entire Celestial Master Temple and become the leader of Zhengyi. Let's see how you would address me then."
"You? The leader of Zhengyi?"
Chao Kongtu eyed him in surprise and did not refute right away: the man looked intelligent enough, but who gave him the confidence to make that claim?ED/N: Most likely South Korea. TL/N: a type of voodoo/sorcery said to be practiced in the Southeast of Asia. ED/N: author's