Maybe in a few years, the expressions "flowers are blossoming in a rush with the coming of spring" and "the crisp air of an invigorating autumn" would fade away from the Chinese language, replaced by "sh*t, it's so hot!" and "damn, it's freezing!"
As the spiritual essence gradually spread to the entire country, the density was also becoming more even. With that, the four seasons of a year were converging into two. Before, it was the heat of the summer that stood out, but from this year, the cold of the winter was catching up. October had just begun, but the first snow had already arrived at the four northeastern provinces, the capital city, Mobei, and Monan.
In contrast to that was the south of the Five Ridges, Fujian, and the southeastern coastal provinces, where the temperature remained as high as thirty degrees.
Such unpredictable and insane climate was making the life of the people of the North miserable. Those who had a boyfriend/girlfriend huddled together with their partners for warmth; those without hugged themselves tightly and shivered.
Xiaojin was the lucky one—she had just got back to Phoenix Mountain, where the temperature remained constant at a pleasant level throughout the year.
"Qiu Qiu! I missed you so much!"
In the manor at the foot of the mountain, Little Soap was hanging herself around Long Qiu's neck, rubbing her head all over the latter's chest. Long Qiu was delighted to see her as well and chuckled, "You were gone for such a long time—over twenty days! How was it? Was Myan fun?"
"Nah, that's a nasty neighborhood. Everything was so primitive!" Xiaojin put on her exaggerated face and cried out, "There was no one tall and pretty there! And there was an old woman playing with ghosts! I had to fight her… Sister!"
She suddenly let go of Xiao Qiu and ran happily towards the courtyard, from where Xiaozhai was coming out with Old Shui. Her elder sister ignored her and fixed her gaze on the two trucks. The sideboards were all lowered, revealing the two giant rocks tied up tightly onto the flatbeds.
"So this is Hollow Stone."
Xiaozhai examined them for a while, and with a wave of her hand, she moved one down to the ground. She then flipped her fingers, sending in a dark purple streak of lightning.
Nothing changed on the surface of the stone. Water Thunder ran amuck in the countless tiny holes inside the stone, stirring up the spiritual essence until it was ready to explode. She sensed the building up of the tension and suddenly shouted, "Move away!"
Good Lord! Old Shui dodged in haste when, with a loud bang, that streak of Water Thunder energy brushed past the tip of his nose like a cannonball, landing in the field and blasting the soil into every direction.
"Not bad. It even increased the strength of the Thunder Technique." Xiaozhai was satisfied with the result. She then turned to her sister. "This should be the most helpful material so far. Refine it with care. Don't bring disgrace to it."
"Tsk, where did that disgrace come from? This is my stone! My most precious thing!"
"Who says it's all yours?"
Xiaozhai knew all about Xiaojin little "accident" in Myan and had not given the younger sister a single smile so far. She took out Green Leaf and sliced down.
The blade bit into the stone and took down one-tenth of it.
"Hollow Stone is beneficial for all refined instruments and can be fused into the already refined ones. I'll take this. Xiao Qiu, your sword could use an upgrade as well."
"Yes!" Long Qiu nodded happily.
Xiaojin let out a long cry, followed by the righteous indignation, crying her eyes out, and the expression of wishing she were dead (not). But her sister's voice rang out again. "Give me the drawing."
Pouting, Little Soap tossed her the drawing like a lamb. It was not she that was being stingy, that slash simply came too suddenly! Gosh! Her old sister might as well hack at her own heart!
Xiaojin unfolded the drawing of the four-sided and eight-armed evil buddha in which was the livid-faced statue of the evil buddha with its long fangs. An intense smell of blood was emanating from it.
The drawing was like a famous sword that had to taste blood whenever it was out of its sheath. Now that it was opened up, the evil spirit inside was itching for a venture outside. There was a violent fluctuation as it tried to devour some blood.
"Sit your a*s back down!"
Xiaozhai gave the drawing a casual smack and smoke rose up with a sizzling sound. The evil spirit did not make a sound after that.
It was indeed a sensitive object. They could neither return it to Myan nor give it to their own government. Something as evil as this was bound to be sought after by some ambitious idiot who did not have the ability to handle it.
"Put it in the library and keep an eye on it." She tossed the drawing to Long Qiu and went on, "It's been cold lately and food is hard to come by. There has been a few cases of vicious beasts attacking people. Quite a few villages were closed off because of that. Since you're back, don't just sit around. Go down the mountain and look around with Xiao Qiu. Give the people some help if you can."
"We're vigilantes now? Shall I go around with a flag saying 'Enforce justice on behalf of Heaven'?"
Seeing that her sister's fist was halfway in the air, Xiaojin changed the subject right away. "At least give us a more specific range! We can't just go everywhere with an accident."
"I don't care about anywhere else, but no accident is allowed within a 250 km radius of Shengtian!"
With the ear-splitting noise, smoke filled the air as a dozen green combat vehicles entered the town in a single file. They then split into four divisions at a road crossing, each heading for one corner of the county of Zhijin.
They were of the latest model of the armored vehicles of the national army. The 2060-mm wide and 1915-mm high vehicles immediately took up the entire width of the roads.
Each vehicle had five gunports, brackets for Type 81 assault rifles and sniper rifles, as well as two nine-barrel launcher with could launch eighteen tear-gas shells in one go.
They had rushed here from the army base in Liupanshui, which was quite fast for them considering the distance. As soon as they entered the town, they began the slaughter like a tiger unleashed into a flock of sheep.
The streets were empty of people, but a lot of vehicles were still parked around the town. Right now, property loss was the last thing that concerned them and all guns were blasting at full power. The attack was carried out in successive waves and the flock of birds fell out of the sky like a jigsaw being torn off in chunks, leaving blank spots all over the sky. Their number was decreasing quickly.
"Tear gas ready, release!"
Eighteen shells were launched all at once and the pungent gas filled the streets. The birds quacked frantically, then the machine gun opened fire, taking down the birds without breaking a sweat.
Meanwhile, the loudspeaker was blaring. "Citizens, please stay inside. Don't open the windows and don't go out. You will be informed through broadcast when safety is reestablished…"
That was actually a little redundant—who in the right mind would come out now?
Those in lower buildings dared not even stay close to the window. Those staying higher up barely summoned up the courage to peek out of their balconies. Some more simple-minded ones even had the nerve to livestream the event from their phones, which was rather amusing.
The gunshots gradually died down after quite some time.
The operation leader arrived at the hospital to meet the county officials in turn and apologized, "Sorry for not arriving earlier. You must have had a very difficult time."
"That's all right. We know perfectly how such things work!"
The officials had had a hell of an exciting day.
With its nearly 2 billion population and a land area of over 10 million km^2, the government was having a hard time taking care of everywhere and everyone at the same time. With the limited resources, it was impossible to assign armed forces to every single city and town, not to mention that the mutated creatures were popping out randomly in just about every corner. All they could do was to set up the force around major cities, which then covered the surrounding areas.
The bird disaster in Zhijin, for instance, broke out so suddenly and the little town was so ill-equipped that the army had no choice but to rush all the way here to their rescue.
"All the wounded who could walk have been transferred elsewhere, only the four hundred severely injured remained behind. We're suffering from extreme shortage of medical supplies."
"Don't worry. We've brought with us some specialists and equipment. Let's work from there first. Those that cannot hold up can be sent to the city."
Seeing that the official was faltering, the operation leader asked, "What's wrong?"
"Um, a Priest Bai Yunsheng from Qiyun was here. He was very helpful. And… so was the master of Phoenix Mountain."
The leader almost jumped. He asked immediately, "Why is he in Zhijin?"
"Who knows… maybe he was just sightseeing."
The leader frowned and pondered for a while. "That man's status is quite sensitive, but it has not been our duty to communicate with him. Call the BIMAUP."
Fish Mountain, the east side.
Gu Yu drove the car to the foot of the mountain and parked a long way off. You Yu led the team of four and they almost walked halfway around the mountain until they finally arrived at a place covered with wild-looking grass.
"Tuo Jichan was from Ba County of Sichuan. There was no record of him before coming here, nor was his reason of coming to Fish Mountain ever mentioned. There was nothing but a shabby temple on the mountain back then. All the buildings we see now were built when he was the abbot."
You Le's eyes darted this way and that as if he was occupied by some idea. You Yu was innocent as always and explained as they walked on. "The head of Zhijin County back then was called Wu Shaopo. His youngest son fell ill once and no doctor was able to treat him. Priest Tuo offered his help and cured the boy. Wu Shaopo thanked Tuo Jichan with two hundred silver coins, which Priest Tuo refused. Instead, he suggested that Wu should develop Fish Mountain and help with the prosperity of Taoism, which Tuo Jichan himself would be forever grateful for.
After a few days, Wu Shaopo held a banquet for the squires of the county during which he raised a fund of two thousand silver coins in a single night. Then that green glazed-tile preaching room and the library were built."
"So, that Priest Tuo was an expert in medicine?" asked Gu Yu.
"Well, at least according to my grandpa, the priest made medicine pills, which he would give the poor families for free all the time. He has treated many patients during his decades' long stay in Fish Mountain."
"Anything unusual about him apart from his medical skill?"
"I don't think so. He liked writing poems and painting… Why, we're here!" You Yu trotted off and pointed at a tall growth of grass. "This is Priest Tuo's grave. They said the Red Guards dug it open during the Cultural Revolution, so I'm not sure if this one is the real thing or not."
Gu Yu and Bai Yunsheng stood there and examined the place. A mound hid behind the tall grass which was easy to look past for anyone not searching for it in particular.
The tombstone on the mound was a timeworn wooden plate and the red characters on it were almost peeling beyond recognition. They could barely make out the "Here lies Priest Tuo of Fish Mountain."
Gu Yu stared at the tombstone with a blank face. Sensing his silence, You Le asked gingerly, "Mr., Mr. Gu, what did you find?"
"Oh, nothing, only that this is an empty grave," he replied casually. Before the other three could react to that, he went on, "But there's another one beneath it."
Bai Yunsheng winced. "Do you mean the one on the top is a fake one and the real one is beneath it?"
"Maybe. I want to take it out and have a look, but that feels kind of disrespectful." Gu Yu was struggling a little.
Bai Yunsheng chuckled. He had only heard of this man's deeds from others, but now that he was talking to Gu Yu himself, he found nothing fiendish in this fellow at all—the guy was kind of, well, adorable. Bai Yunsheng decided not to reply, and a few seconds later, Gu Yu said, "Whatever. Let's just take it out."
With that, Gu Yu steadied the top grave with his mental force and activated the Small Moving Technique.
A coffin made off thin planks appeared in front of them. It was not buried that long and the lacquer remained mostly intact. You Le was eager to please his potential masters and rushed to open the lid, shouting, "Gosh, that smell… ah! It's empty! It's empty!"
You Yu and Bai Yunsheng took a look. Apart from dirt, some chaff, and some little bugs, there was nobody inside."
Immediately after that, Gu Yu asked the other three to make some room and swept his both hands in the air.
Another coffin that had been buried deep underground was unearthed.