Celestial Master Temple, night.
The wind blew across the chilly courtyard and the moon shone coldly above. Zhang Jintong stood at the front gate with his aging body, his shoulders slightly hunched. He was straining his neck to look into the street outside.
A lantern hung over either side over the temple gate. They were bright but not dazzling, just enough to lit up the streets at this late hour.
A vehicle slowly drove near from afar and stopped on the square. The door opened and out came Zhang Shouyang and Lu Yuanqing. Seeing that the old priest was already standing there waiting, they hurried near.
Zhang Jintong cupped his hands. "Welcome, Priest Lu. Thank you for coming all this way in person."
"I am utterly embarrassed by this undeserved praise, Celestial Master. Let's talk inside."
While the two exchanged their pleasantries, Zhang Shouyang remained silent and only nodded at his granduncle.
The three entered the inner hall and dismissed the disciples waiting on them before Zhang Shouyang finally spoke. "We have received the news of Zhang Ziliang's three contests. I will accept the challenge as he asked. I only have one question: when they took refuge abroad back in the days, how many treasures did they take with them to give him such confidence now?"
"Sigh, there is no way to find out. After all, Taoism was greatly suppressed when the modern state was newly established, leaving behind a blank history for us for decades. When I took charge of Celestial Master Temple, there was not a single piece of information on that." Zhang Jintong heaved a sigh. "The only thing we can be sure of is that Celestial Master Seal was definitely among those they took."
The other two's faces turned livid at this, and a hush fell over the room.
When Zhang Daoling achieved the Great Dao, he had four great refined weapons with him. Evil-slaying Twin Swords, Dugong Seal of Yangping Zhi, talismans—including 36 heavenly general talismans of body-shielding, devil-suppressing, house-guarding, etc., and various sealed scriptures—and treasured objects including Tianpeng Ruler, jade tablet, jade headpiece, ghost-interrogating peachwood staff, token, etc.
During the past thousand years, all those treasures were gradually lost until there was barely anything left. That seal was the only thing they managed to hold onto no matter what and was passed down from one generation to the next.
Of the Dugong Seal of Yangping Zhi, Yangping referred to Yangping Mountain in Qinglin County of Sichuan, the head of the Taoist management center—the 24-zhi system. "Zhi" meant a location where rituals were performed and "Dugong" was a position in a zhi, or a Taoist leader.
The seal was used in all kinds of ritualistic practices: setting up altars for prayers, ghost-dispelling and devil-suppressing, praying for sun or rain, disaster-repelling and peace-blessing, etc. Like golden talismans, some rituals could only work their wonders with the help of this seal.
Later on, Longhu Mountain had received many awards throughout the dynasties, which included quite a few seals, such as the bronze seal "Shenxiao Jade Pattern Signet" in the period of Xuanhe of the Song Dynasty, or a silver version of the Dugong Seal of Yangping Zhi in the period of Jiangjing of the Ming Dynasty.
All of those seals were known as Celestial Master Seals, but the most legitimate one for that title was the one and only seal passed down by Zhang Daoling himself.
To some extent, that seal represented Celestial Master Temple, which made the domestic Celestial Master Temple rather embarrassed. The foreign one had the seal and they had no equivalent certificate here, which was also why Celestial Master Temple was not as "high-end" as Maoshan Sect. Issues left over from history could be such a pain in the a*s!
Seeing that the mood was turning gloomy, Lu Yuanqing spoke in a comforting tone, "Celestial Master, please do not worry. Even if that Zhang Ziliang has the seal, with his capability, he wouldn't be able to release its full power. After Senior Brother Zhang defeats the enemy, that seal will naturally be returned to its rightful place."
"Haha, thank you for your kind words." Zhang Jingtong let out a little laugh in his hoarse voice and asked, "Shouyang, that man must have some talisman skills we do not know of. Be honest with me, how confident are you in winning the contest?"
"..." Zhang Shouyang paused a little before saying, "From the video of him catching the ghost, I can see that he has not reached the innate state, either. He had a diversified range of talisman skills to work with, but was a little insufficient in his energy's amount. As long as he does not have some unfathomable refined weapon, I think I have a 60% chance of defeating him."
"60% is enough." Zhang Jintong nodded. "We should not seek perfection in everything. We do our duty and leave the rest to destiny."
"Granduncle, there is one thing I do not yet know. Exactly what is the stake of this contest?" asked Zhang Shouyang.
"Stake?" Zhang Jintong sneered. "That's not for us to decide. If he wins, he will doubtlessly get the government's support and become the head of Celestial Master Temple. If we win, our authority will be secured and we'll bring glory to the Taoist community."
"Authority and glory…" Zhang Shouyang's tone turned deeper as he said contemptuously, "He gets Zhengyi by winning and we a boost in our vanity. That is such a fair trade!"
He bolted to his feet and walked around the hall for a few rounds. He then exchanged a look with Lu Yuanqing before saying, "We should propose something on our own initiative. If he loses, he can go wherever he wants, but not his Taoist orthodox!"
"Are you saying…"Zhang Jintong could not keep his voice steady.
"Granduncle, Celestial Master Temple has been divided for nearly a century. It's time to end this."
Zhang Shouyang had always been a level-headed man, carrying himself with ease and confidence, but now that the fate of his own sect was hanging in the balance, he had to be decisive. "I will have the foreign branch return to the birthplace of this sect!"
"This city is a dump. The air stinks—you can smell it on the street!"
It was deep into the night when two young men walked along the tile-paved path, one complaining the entire time.
"That nose of yours must have inhaled too much medicine powder. How come I didn't smell anything?" said the other one.
"Haha, you're the prude as always. You remind me of the grandpas in my family… Wait a minute?" The man had been looking around before this and his face suddenly lit up. "A bar? There is a bar in a tiny place like this? I want to check it out."
"And now you don't smell the stink?"
The man obviously knew his companion too well—that womanizer was looking for a hook-up.
"Here's the thing. The women here are pretty nice, especially their skin. The texture is not something we can find back in our land. You wanna come?"
"Don't be such a killjoy. You'll just sit around doing nothing in the hotel. Come, enjoy the night with me!"
The man dragged his companion across the road into that bar named "Modern Times".
Longhu Mountain was in Shangqing Town, about 20 km from here. There were only so much accomodation that town could provide, and the tourists had settled down in Yingtan instead. After all, as a prefecture-level city, it could provide them with plenty of nightlife.
They were engulfed by the ear-thumping, loud music as soon as they set foot inside. The place was filled with hundreds of men and women looking for a good time, especially on the dance floor, where the lights were flashing so frantically as if they were trying to take someone's eyes out.
Generally speaking, two kinds of people enjoyed nightclubs: those that were into the boisterous scene and those looking for an excitement, be it a one night stand, doing drugs, or orgy stuff.
Each circle came with their own set of rules, and they usually did not mingle.
The two turned out to be quite the head-turners as soon as they showed their faces. Beautiful faces like theirs simply could not go unnoticed. One had shoulder-length hair and wore silver ear studs. He had gentle and well-defined features that had an enchanting charm to them.
Such a face tended to give off an effeminate feeling, which he did not have—unlike some men who made one wonder if they jerked off with their pinky raised.
This one looked just right with his androgynous beauty.
The other one was a whole different type. With his short hair, deep-set eyes, and sculpture-like features, he reminded one of that style in trend at the moment: normcore.
Even men found them attractive as hell, let alone the women.
They had just sat down at the bar when two prey offered themselves willingly.
"Hey, hottie. Buy me a drink?" A woman with long, wavy hair leaned herself against the bar counter and twinkled at the alluring one.
"With how normally things go from here, you would order a Martini without ice, but I would prefer you to have a Tequila," said the man with the longer hair.
"Oh? Why Tequila?"
"I don't know. I only said it to make you interested and keep asking." He shrugged.
"Teehee. You're funny. Ok, I'll have a Tequila, then."
The woman snapped her fingers. The bartender made the Tequila swiftly, then served it with some salt. The woman smeared the salt across the back of her hand, licked it with the tip of her tongue, and downed the drink in one go.
The man watched the back of her hand—a thin, lustrous line where her tongue had traced was glistening. The woman did not flinch, but moved a little bit closer… flirting was a delicate business.
On the other side, his companion was fed up with the game. He said to the woman on his side, "I'm not interested. Go to him if you want."
"F**k, are you nuts? I don't do threesome!" The woman cursed with disappointment and left promptly on her heels.
"Shi Shi? Hm, cute name. I'm Tony."
"Why, an English name? You're not one of those fake foreigners, are you? Don't worry. I'm good in bed and I'm not the clingy type. You won't get an unwanted girlfriend afterwards."
The woman was quite experienced in hooking up. Before long, she and the long-haired man were all over each other. The companion grew all the more impatient and frowned. "I'm not wasting my time here. I'm leaving!"
"Hey, wait! Gosh, you're such a spoilsport!"
Tony had no choice but ask the woman, "My buddy wants to go back. Wanna see my private collection?"
"Sure. I hope it's as pretty as your face."
The woman was out for fun and would not say no to that.
The three then left the nightclub, and waited for a taxi by the side of the road a short distance away. She was over the moon, for a handsome man like this one was not easy to come by. She trotted in wobbly steps, as if she was dancing on the street.
A moment later, she cried out, for she accidentally bumped into a passer-by.
"Sorry!" the stranger apologized in a low voice. He darted a look at the woman first, then glanced at the two men. Somehow, he paused a little there. Then without a further word, he went on his way.
The two men also looked back at him. There seemed to be a reserved quality about him, but they couldn't sense anything out of the ordinary and soon forgot about him.
Before long, the three got back to their hotel.
The short-haired man pulled his companion closer and cautioned him in a low voice, "Don't make any trouble. We're here to gather information only."
"Don't worry. I know what to do."
Tony waved him off and went back to his room with the woman in his arm.
The dim overhead light was switched on and the mood was set. Alcohol and hormones rushed through her and the woman was only finding the man more scrumptious. She couldn't help but wrap her arms around his neck and began to attack his lips.
"Haha, I see you're in a hurry!"
Tony moved his hand up and down her body, taking in the soft curves beneath his palms. His eyes, however, remained clear as ever and did not show the least amount of lust.
"Babe, I can't wait. Come to me…"
After a long, wet kiss, the woman fell onto the bed herself and called out eagerly. The man followed her with a strange smile creeping up his face.
The woman responded enthusiastically to his touch. She enjoyed it greatly in the beginning, but all of a sudden, the look on her face changed.
Red light filled the room and a strange pattern resembling a hexagram appeared from beneath her. The red light wrapped around them both, obscuring the scene, and was eerily aphrodisiac at the same time.
The woman was petrified, but her body remained doing what it was doing and she had lost all control over it. The man kept thrusting. In his eyes were the habitual sneer and excitement.
"Aaaah, please… don't, don't…
The woman was crying in the beginning, but gradually went quiet. Her body matched his movement as if she was already a piece of dead meat.
Finally, the man let out a groan. The hexagram glowed brightly with it, then dimmed down and disappeared.
The man exhaled. Watching the woman crumple up on the bed, he shrugged and said, "On you feet. Get dressed."
The woman got out of the bed rigidly and put on her clothes like a puppet.
"Leave the hotel and go back to your own place. You will have a nice, long sleep, and when the sun rises tomorrow, you won't remember anyone or anything."
"Yes!" the woman replied, then walked out with a blank face.
"Sigh! So boring!"
Tony shook his head, lit a cigarette and smoked it in boredom, as if only a scene like what had just happened could make him high.
Just then, the short-haired man smashed the door open, looking angry. "I warned you, no trouble! Are you so bold as to disobey your superior now?"
"Don't make such a fuss. That woman won't die for another seven days. No one would link it to me," said Tony indifferently.
"I will repeat this: we're in a foreign country; we have to be careful!"
"Haha, everyone was talking about how powerful those people are here, but we haven't actually met one, have we? The Elders haven't been out in the world for decades; they could have gone gaga already. Things are different now. The entire world is rebooting, so why do we have to fear this particular country?"
"You fool! How much do you know about— who's there?"
The short-haired man was about to scold him when he suddenly turned towards the balcony. His hand moved faster than his voice. Before he even finished that sentence, green light in the shape of an arrowhead appeared in his palm which shot towards the window.
The green light hit the glass, but instead of breaking it, it went right through. Outside, a ugly dwarfish man with a giant head was crouching on the windowsill a dozen meters above the ground.
He had no time to dodge and was struck by the light. With a loud bang, the man turned into a piece of paper, which was torn to pieces by a gust of wind and shuffled down.
The two men were astonished. They ran to the window and saw that before the paper scraps could reach the ground below, they twirled in the wind and disappeared into thin air.
The short-haired man looked gloomy. "Men of Nippon are here!"
Yingtan, inside a villa area.
A few people sat around the living room; the air felt depressing. Suddenly, one of them waved his hand, retrieving a dot of white light. He said ominously, "We're blown!"
"What have you got?"
"It's not oriental. It looked like something the occult group of Britannia."
"Britannia? Humph, they're here as well." The leader's eyes flickered.
"Sir, what are we going to do now?"
"There is no need to panic. We're only here for some information; the government of this country is probably long aware of our presence. It does not matter that they have spotted us, but keep in mind that we should try our best to avoid any conflict. Alive, we can always turn to diplomatic measures. Dead men, on the other hand, cannot talk."