The corner of Mu Kun's mouth twitched. "You made it sound worse than it is. The bosses are divided, each supporting a different side. I am just the footsoldier without a free will."
"Without a free will. Yeah, right." Gu Yu sipped his tea. "Both sides had a dead disciple after the two rounds this morning—both were outstanding pupils. I know they can't blame anyone but their inferiority in skills, but you people of the government started it all. Just out of curiosity, why are you so sure that you can control the Taoist community?"
"We might have started it, but they are the reason anything could be started at all. If it were not for their hope of reuniting the orthodoxy and Longhu Mountain, the contest would never have taken place."
At this point, Mu Kun simply sat across the table, poured a cup of tea for himself, and chatted on.
"You were talking about 'controlling', but that was a bit exaggerated. I would rather like to call it 'managing'. Our relationship with the Taoist community is established on the basis of our strength, the resources, the big picture, and more importantly, the will of the people."
"The will of the people? How so?" asked Gu Yu.
"Let me ask you two questions. Number one: we're fully aware of the fact that the monastery has been trying to break away from the government, but even if they get the 'independence' they want, will they actually turn against the government?"
Gu Yu gave it a thought and replied, "No, they won't. On the contrary, they will help you with maintaining the stability."
"Haha, that's correct. Lu Yuanqing and the rest are all smart people. Cultivation is indeed hard work, but is running a country an easy job? It is the same analogy between achieving immortality and providing food, accommodation, and social stability for a population of 2 billion. Without a government, who will do all of those things? I don't think anybody in this country wants to see the nation disrupted and taken over by upheavals when all factions care only about their own interest and the country as a whole loses all its international prestige.
"Cults are a different matter; those people count on troubled times, when they can fill their own pockets and usurp the power. The monastery has their thousand-year-old belief, which would steer them clear of that direction." Mu Kun paused a little and went on. "Number two: whom do you think the common people would prefer to depend on? Them or us?"
"I see where you're going with this. Of all the people in this world, one in a million is probably qualified enough to become a cultivator. The common people will always be the greatest proportion of the population, and cultivation can't solve practical problems," said Gu Yu.
"Exactly. We have known each other for years and I would like to think we're friends. Since we're on this subject, I'm going to be completely honest with you."
Mu Kun rose to his feet and paced around in the room, sighing. "Frankly, if it weren't for the international front, we would rather kill all cultivators than to leave any potential threats behind. But the great change is happening all over the world and we can't afford to lose the extraodinary power when everyone else has it.
"Therefore, the government and the cultivation community were never archenemies, but more like a symbiotic coexistence where both parties need the other side.
"What worries us the most now is the possibility that they will form a society of their own, one that is lawless and chaotic, where people kill freely to compete for resources.
"The last thing we want is a polarized society. That is why the cultivation community must be able to mingle with the ordinary one.
"To us, cultivators are really a type of scarce talent, whom we will train and manage at the early stage… as for the later stage, well, who knows will happen then?"
Mu Kun talked for a long time and the expression on his face changed with his various emotions.
"But the social classes are bound to change." Gu Yu took up his remark.
"Naturally. Inevitably, cultivators will rise to the superior order of the society. The bosses might even make the exception and secure a few official positions for them."
"Bureaucrats? That's a bit far-fetched. A priest with an office is saying goodbye to the Great Dao." Gu Yu shook his head.
They discussed many things in depth, but Gu Yu knew that Mu Kun had at least kept one important thing from him.
They couldn't be naively leaving social stability to the goodwill of cultivators alone; there had to be a specialized law enforcement agency. He had not seen anything like that so far, but he believed these people must have prepared for that.
"Speaking of which, we are very fortunate that it is Phoenix Mountain in this position now instead of Shamanism." That was as far as Mu Kun would go into on that topic. He then changed the subject to something less sensitive.
"Haha, we have always been focused on immortality alone, but something different has come up… there!"
Gu Yu tossed him the plate, which Mu Kun caught in his hand and examined. After a moment of consideration, he said, "I think this is the symbol of an organization in Britannia."
"That's right. It's called A∴A∴, a branch of the order of Thelema, which I couldn't care less about. What I'm interested in are the more ancient things, such as the origin of magic, and the tree of life of Kabbalah. It is said that if you can decipher that diagram, you will solve the most profound mystery of the universe.
"That is a very interesting theory. The description of universe and Nature in Taoism is too abstract, and the western theories are more figurative and pragmatic in that aspect. They were also looking into a lot of areas. I'd like to search for some answers there," said Gu Yu.
"I see. Mysterious forces are rising in Britannia, Gaul, Germani, and Sicily—and such power is the strongest in these countries. Witchcraft is spotted in the continents of America and Africa as well. The West is in upheaval at the moment. Cultivators of a small country even worked with a political party and took control of the government. We only learnt that a short while ago."
"How about Uncle Sam?" asked Gu Yu curiously.
"Ha, they nearly annihilated the native Americans when they took over the land back then, how much power do you think they can gather now?" sneered Mu Kun.
From his attitude, Gu Yu realized the bosses must have planned this all out. God knows how many secret blows would the two superpowers exchange under the table from now on.
He checked the time and said, "Well, I'll let you go back to your sleep. I'll walk around somewhere else."
With that, he shifted a little and was out of the room without making a sound. Mu Kun shook his head and went back to bed.
The wind was blowing gently at this late hour of the night.
Gu Yu wandered around the Celestial Master Temple aimlessly, passing one guest room after another. Some occupants did not realize his presence at all, while some reached out with their mental force which shrank back as soon as it reached him. In a word, no one disturbed him.
He walked all the way to the inner hall, where he found Zhang Jintong still awake, sitting there looking haunted.
"Celestial Master, how have you been?"
"Layman Gu!" Seeing him entering, Zhang Jintong jumped a little and hurried to his side right away. "You're finally here. It is so good to see you!"
"I see you're still awake. Worried about the duel tomorrow, I presume?" Gu Yu chuckled.
"I am… that Zhang Ziliang is a very cunning man with various talismans. I'm worried that Shouyang won't be his match."
The old priest invited Gu Yu to sit down and expressed his worries outright. He might as well say it out loud that 'If you're not in a hurry, please lend us a hand.'
"Celestial Master, I owe you a big one. So as long as you ask, even if this is a family matter, I will help you no matter what even if it means my reputation will be tramped." Gu Yu blinked and grinned. "But I have to make it clear. I can crush that Zhang Ziliang like a pottery chicken, but all cultivators have their own pride. With me meddling with the duel, if Zhang Shouyang ends up with an unsettled mind that will affect his future cultivation, that's too big a responsibility for me to take."
Zhang Jintong broke into sweat. With the doubt in his nephew's winning, he was clutching at all straws coming his way. If Gu Yu did not show up, he was going to turn to Lu Yuanqing for help.
What Gu Yu said was very reasonable. To his nephew, a friendly interference would certainly be an insult.
"There, there. Don't worry too much. I will take care of it if things are really going south for us."
Gu Yu was only here to reassure the old man. Seeing how distraught Zhang Jintong was, he put away the teasing tone and comforted him, "Please take a good rest tonight. I'll see you tomorrow!"
With that, he flipped his sleeves and began to dissolve into the air. The next moment, he was a cloud of mist, which then disappeared without a trace.
Early next morning.
It was still a little dim outside when a team of enthusiastic audience rushed to Shangqing Palace eagerly, trying to take a good spot. What they saw baffled them: the gate of the palace was tightly shut; it was not open for audience today.
They simply would not have that. The bunch of people shouted and yelled, asking for an explanation, but were completely ignored. Some bolder ones climbed onto the wall and tried to get in from there. As it turned out, special police force was guarding the wall from inside.
After some trial and error, they finally figured out the unspoken rule: climb the wall all you want, the yard is off limit.
Hence, the two walls on the west and south sides of the yard were packed with people straddling them, reminding one of dried meat hanging over the eaves. The rest of the crowd could only squeeze themselves outside the wall. The whole scene almost remind one of Beyonce's concert or World Cup games.
The duel still took place in East Yard. The collapsed platform had been cleaned away, but was not set up again. The big square had been left empty. It was understandable: they were afraid of the impact of their killing moves.
Before long, everyone arrived and all took their seats outside the Devil-subduing Hall.
Bai Yu and his buddies were lucky enough to secure a few spots and were now complaining while sitting on the wall. "That guy was so not cool. He just left like that, didn't even say goodbye."
"Exactly. We're lucky that nothing was stolen, or I'd definitely call the police. Don't just bring anyone in from now on."
"Maybe he had an emergency. You're totally over-reacting!" Bai Yu was still putting in a good word for his new friend.
"What sort of emergency could— holy sh*t!"
"Look there! There!"
One of the guys suddenly pointed at the hall and the rest followed his finger. They almost fell off the wall. Right at the end of that line of seats, there was somehow an extra chair. A fellow sat in it as if he completely belonged there. It was none other than Gu Yu (Gu Jiang to them) himself.
They goggled at him. Who the hell was this guy? How did he get to sit among those master priests... although he was sitting in the last seat.
Gu Yu sensed their stares, but now was not a good time to look back. He shifted his attention to Tan Chongdai beside him and chatted on. It had been a while since they last met. Since the old man took up Dan method of Quanzhen, he had been making slow progress only. It could be because of his old age or lack of talent.
He was in poor health to begin with. It was thanks to Gu Yu and Xiaozhai's help that he was able to stretch out his limit for a few more years. Now that his life was really close to its end, his complexion was a mixture of decline and unnatural prosperity, which looked rather strange.
Everyone had just sat down when Zhang Ziliang jumped out with an angrily cry. He then said gloomily, "Our hundred-year-old feud ends today. Come to meet your death!"
"It is time."
Zhang Shouyang walked out from his side and stepped into the fighting ring. He was not good with words and only gave a short reply.
"Good. Let's begin, then!"
With that, the two both stepped back. It was going to be a fight until there was only one standing; they moved into action without another word.
"Stronghold of ten thousand meters, rise without showing yourself… go!"
Shang Shouyang called the first shot. Dark light shot out of his sleeves, splitting into multiple streaks, falling onto Zhang Ziliang like an escape-proof net.
It was Iron Castle Spell, which could trap the enemy tightly inside.
Zhang Ziliang took out an ancient bronze seal, which was none other than the Mountain-dominating and Evil-killing Seal he'd used when catching the ghost. It was one of the lower level seals of the Way of Celestial Masters.
"The primordial heaven and earth and the first ancestral Qi is a power no gods or ghosts shall withstand... Stop!"
He tossed the ancient seal high into the air. It rotated in mid-air so that the bottom was facing downwards, and now seemed to weigh a thousand tons. Despite its small bottom surface, the seal was able to cover a very big area. It then clashed with the dark light with a loud bang.
The dark light disintegrated in a matter of seconds, but the ancient seal did not stop there. It smashed down with a whoosh, carrying its great weigh with it.
Zhang Shouyang had planned to try its power. His fingers moved into a spell-casting gesture and golden light erupted out of him, forming a protective shield. He then gathered his energy on his palms and raised his arms.
The golden light shuddered and held its shape. At the impact of the seal, Zhang Shouyang's energy flow was not disturbed. He had successfully withstood this direct attack.
"The Guarding Spell? Humph, I know that petty stash of Longhu Mountain like the back of my hand!"
Zhang Ziliang was not affected at all. With the seal back in his hand, he sneered, "Be my guest and use whatever you have. I will break every single one of them. You will die admitting my superiority!"