"Behold, the overseas returnee Celestial Master versus the local Celestial Master is now open for betting!"
"Inside story of Longhu Mountain never disclosed before: the conflict of a nephew and his maternal uncle has just turned into another nephew with his paternal uncle—what a family drama!"
"Two Celestial Masters challenging each other over the 'real' title, the date is not set yet. The audience simply CANNOT wait."
Inside a house in the capital city, Zhang Ziliang skipped through the news and frowned. "Who is the leak?"
"We have no idea. The news was suddenly all over the internet. They named nothing specific, but from what it implied, the information was from an insider," a disciple replied, then asked, "Uncle Master, should we notify the authorities to quiet them down a little?"
"That won't be necessary. I'm afraid the authorities are exactly the ones behind all this."
Zhang Ziliang sneered. Arrogant and cynical as he might be, he was not stupid. He could see through the government's plan right away—all they were trying to do was to make this challenge into a media hype and attract the attention of the general public. In that way, no matter who won in the end, the Taoist community became the winner.
"Work with them whenever you can. They want the attention, they'll have it. It is even better like this. I will take back Celestial Master Temple fair and square in front of everyone!"
Zhang Ziliang waved his hand and instructed, "Let the media know I will be visiting Longhu Mountain on 20th of October. Now leave!"
"Yes!" the disciple replied solemnly and left the room with a bow.
Of course, he knew his uncle master was referring to the 20th day of the 10th month on a lunar calendar, which was the birthday of the 30th generation Celestial Master, Zhang Jixian. Longhu Mountain would hold a worship ceremony every year on that day to pay their respect.
Zhang Jixian was a man of the Song Dynasty and was greatly respected by Emperor Hui of Song. He was granted an alternative name Master Xujing and was a leading figure of the Taoist community.
Not only was he an expert in talismans, he was practicing Thunder Technique of Qingwei Sect at the same time as well. It was a time when the Thunder Technique was massively popular, and Zhang Jixian, Lin Lingsu and Wang Wenqing of Shenxiao Sect, as well as Perfected Man Chen Nan of the Southern School were all representative figures of that time.
Zhang Jixian was a living proof of what one would call "a born genius". He became the head of Longhu Mountain at the age of nine and achieved the Great Dao and became immortal at 36. Not much of his teachings was left, but no one could deny his achievements in cultivation.
It was early October at the moment and that day would fall on 13th, Nov. Zhang Ziliang had chosen that day for the challenge was a demonstration of how public he wanted this event to get.
"Are you gonna be all right by yourself?"
"Gosh, stop nagging! It'll be only three to four days. Any bastard getting in my way will get a lightning strike!"
In the big courtyard of the Tao Family, Xiaojin was impatiently bidding Gu Yu farewell. She hopped into the truck's cabin and stuck out her head. "Brother-in-law, I'll see you back home. Take your time here. I'll say nice things about you to Sister. Bye!"
The two heavy-load trucks slowly pulled out and drove out of the courtyard. After a right turn, they disappeared into the street corner. Gu Yu waved after them, feeling a little frustrated. 'That kid has no conscience whatsoever. I was the dear nanny when she needed me and I'm back to brother-in-law when she doesn't. How ungrateful!'
They left Phoenix Mountain almost two weeks ago and Gu Yu now had his own affairs to take care of, while Xiaojin was eager to get back to refine her instrument and had no interest in his business. Hence, they went their separate ways.
To be honest, he wasn't exactly worried about her journey home. Both the trucks and the drivers belonged to the Tao Family and posed no potential threat. That little brat was burning with impatience to get back and wouldn't have time to make any trouble.
"Master, now that Miss Jin is going back to Phoenix Mountain, where do you want to go next?" asked Tao Yu.
"Please book a bus ticket for me. Anything heading for the direction of Longhu Mountain will do. I'll get to the destination myself later while enjoying the view along the way."
"I'll see to it right away. Anything else?"
"Keep an eye on the mine and let me know immediately if anything goes wrong. Oh, and there's this…"
Gu Yu took out a jade plate.
Tao Yu took it and saw that the character "Tao" was carved on one side and a few abstract strokes on the other, which reminded one of rolling mountains.
"It's got one of my little tricks and can save you in critical moments. From now on, this is the ID card of the Tao Family. Please don't lose it."
"Thank you, Master!"
The service area of an expressway.
It was on the route from Spring City to Qujing and traffic was quite heavy on this section. The service area was crowded with people all year round. A long-distance bus slowly drove off the expressway and parked on a vacant spot. The driver shouted, "Anyone needs to use the toilet, you've got ten minutes! Ten minutes!"
The door of the bus opened and passengers of all shapes and sizes flushed out, rushing towards the toilet to get an unoccupied cube.
Gu Yu stretched himself and also strolled out of the bus. Outside, the sunlight was warm and pleasant—something one could not find in the Northeast at this time of the year.
From Diannan to Longhu Mountain, he would go through the three provinces of Guizhou, Guangxi, and Hunan. He planned to cover the journey by bus. There was no special reason behind that—he simply wanted to see the changes in the southern provinces.
He walked around briefly and returned to his seat. Seeing that most of the passengers were not back yet, he took out his phone and opened that app, which he hadn't checked for a while.
The page refreshed and the current number of users made Gu Yu jump: 103 278 users! Good God! It was only in the thousands a little while ago. The number was growing exponentially.
He then checked the content. The general categories remained the same, which read: Animal (272), Plant (494), Geography (2), and Meteorology (0).
He skipped Animal and Plant and tapped open Geography curiously. There was a new entry apart from the Peach Blossom Miasma of Grass River Mouth.
The place was in the middle of the Bohai Sea, to the northwest of Dongyun. On a 4.8-km^2 island whose closest distance to the land was nine nautical miles was a volcano named Old Iron Mountain. It stood 376.9 m above sea level, had a lot of sheer precipices and overhanging rocks, and a single pebble shoal on the southeast corner.
The entire island was covered by a luxuriant plantation and was home to about 27 000 Shedao 1 pit vipers!
Shedao pit vipers grew to about a meter in length, hunted at night, and were extremely venomous. Their mouths could open to as wide as 120 degrees and they could swallow food bigger than the diameter of their heads. They were also ferocious and very good at resisting hunger; a handful solid meals a year were enough to keep them going.
The island was a way station for migrant birds. Tens of thousands of birds stopped there for rest during the journey, making them a main food source for the pit vipers.
A while ago, however, a strange fragrance suddenly filled the air of the snake island which seemed to be a hallucinogen. All living creatures—humans and birds and the likes—would be lured into the island as soon as they got close enough.
There used to be a scientific research institute on the island, but the staff had all been killed.
Gu Yu couldn't help but feel sorry for the people of his hometown after reading through it. As if they hadn't suffered enough with Phoenix Mountain and the Peach Blossom Miasma, now there was a freaky snake island? Someone up there had to hate the province of Liaodong!
Shaking his head, he put it aside for the time being and turned to check the animals and plants.
Holy smoke! All 36 provinces now had their own unusual creatures and they came in all species and kingdoms: toads the sizes of a marmite, white deers with horns, 180-cm geoducks (as if their original form was not a reminder enough of certain male body parts)... the world was a very strange place now.
He then checked the sections of the app, which made him snicker.
The app was designed in a way to fit the habits of modern internet users and had developed into a combination of forum and online community. After the long foreshadowing period, quite a few famous IDs had stood out, all of which with high points and having offered quite a few leads.
They were the "authenticated users", if you like.
Old Shui's "Green River Water" was among them, for whatever strange creatures the family of four stumbled upon while travelling around, they would send it to Old Shui, who would then submit to the app—that boar, for instance.
The forum was Gu Yu's last stop. His attention was immediately caught by a sticky post, which read: map of mutated creatures and traffic safety reminder (regularly updated).
"Based on the information provided by our fellow users, I have briefly sorted out the data. It is by no means a complete version, please use it for reference only.
Xing'an Ridge area: verified to have mutated plants (azalea, acanthopanax, gentiana, etc.) and animals (red deer, elk, black bear, roe deer, etc.). Species posing obvious danger: bear, boar, hen harrier, Central Asian pit viper.
Traffic reminder: route Shibazhan Forestry Bureau—Tahe is festered by large flocks of goldeneyes; route Amuer Forestry Bureau—Mohe is frequently blocked by large herds of red deers and roe deers, drivers be aware."
Changbai Mountain area: verified to have mutated plants (rhodiola, gastrodia, fritillary bulb, etc.) and animals (sable, golden eagle, imperial eagle, jackal, brown bear, etc.). Species posing obvious danger: well, where do we begin."
Shennongjia area: verified to have mutated plants (crowberry, Phyllitis japonica, Malus komarovii etc.) and animals (golden monkey, leopard, white stork, bustard, etc.).
Vicious animals of Shennongjia are usually marked by albinism, such as white serows, white snakes, or white bears twice the size of their original form."
Gu Yu read a few lines, it was indeed as brief as promised. Most of the contents were summarized in a few words without any details. He scrolled down and tried to read some more, but saw that he had arrived at the end of the post, which had a line of words.
"Any boss interested in the full version of all 36 provinces, please contact by pm. I'm just a nobody who's short on cash lately. I would appreciate if there are a few hot dishes and cold beer on my dinner table!"
He almost choked on his spit. That was a clever man with a quick head knowing which way the tide was going—that was a budding information service.
He made a mental note of the ID: Sunny Lemon Tea… hm, an interesting person.
Just then, the driver honked to hurry the passengers back to their seats. They followed the order and began to check if their neighbors had all come back. A couple of minutes later, everyone was back and the bus hit the road.
They followed the expressway for another forty minutes before getting off at Qujing Exit. Qujing was the last city of Diannan on this route. The next city was Liupanshui of Guizhou Province.
They left the expressway and changed to a provincial road, then a county-level road before finally driving onto a dirty road.
Traffic was quite heavy on this section and all were moving slowly. Another while passed before they suddenly saw a newly set up sign: savage birds ahead; close all windows and doors; drive with caution.
A passenger sat in the front rows jeered, "I get 'savage dog inside' a lot. Which idiot came up with 'savage birds'?"
"Is it your first time taking this route?" asked the driver suddenly.
"So what? There are supposed to be savage birds just because a sign says so? I'm not buying it."
"Buying it or not, you'll know when you… sh*t!"
The driver swerved the steering wheel and there was a series of banging sounds of metal shells bumping into each other. Eight vehicles ahead knocked into a jumble.
Immediately after that, they heard a buzzing sound.
The rumble seemed to be made from countless wings flapping together, then a flock of little white birds flew down. There were so many of them that the sky was blocked. Every vehicle was soon covered by white feathers.
Some passengers began to scream and blather, "Help! Help! What are we gonna do? Call the police…"
"Stop yelling. It's fine!" The driver remained very calm.
He was telling the truth. The little birds pecked at the windows, making a rattling sound like pouring rain. Despite their apparent ferocity, not a single window was broken. Gradually, the frightened passengers calmed down and watched them in amazement.
"What are these birds? I don't think I've seen them when I took this route before!" said an auntie curiously.
"They're white jade birds," replied someone.
"Oh? How do you know that?" asked the auntie.
The person gave her a strange smile and did not answer.
In his window seat, Gu Yu was also watching a little bird curiously. It was 7-8 cm long, had white feathers and little red claws. The feather almost looked transparent and its beak was also red. It was a very pretty bird.
Its claws were rather special, for they could cling to the window glass without slipping. Seeing that Gu Yu was observing it, the bird tilted its head to one side and looked back. It then stuck out its beak and began to move its head back and forth, back and forth...
That looked so wrong! He suddenly did not feel like watching it any more.
Gu Yu could actually sense that these white jade birds meant no harm despite their boisterous activity. People were only intimidated because there were so many of them.
Looking around, he turned a little to block the view of the others and grabbed into the empty air. The next second, that white little bird was in his hand with a dumbstruck face. It was about to chirp when an invisible shield silenced it.
"The journey is kind of boring. You'll keep me company."TL/N: meaning "snake island"