Hard as their life had been, they managed to get by.
The only problem was that a housing project was to be carried out in the town these days and the developer had circled out a piece of land which included the area the temple was built on. The old priest had been putting painstaking effort into keeping this temple going for his entire life, there was no way he would agree to move.
After a few rounds of negotiations, which were to no avail, the developer had lost all their patience. The big "Demolish" outside was their ultimatum. It was common knowledge that once the developers had their eyes on a piece of land, they would have their properties built even if God himself was sleeping on it!
Already in poor health, the old priest turned even weaker after the fit of anger. He had to take a long rest in bed before recovering his strength. Beckoning Li Suchun to his side, he sighed, "I'm afraid we'll lose the temple. As your master, I'm such a weak man. I can't even provide you with a roof to live under."
"Sob, sob… please don't say such things. You've raised me single-handedly…"
The young priest was quick-witted and restless, but held great respect towards his master. Hearing the old man's words, tears immediately trickled down his face. "This is a Taoist temple. Can they tear it down that easily?"
"Sigh. Even the cultural relics could not escape such fate, what can a Taoist temple do?"
Falling deeper into dejection, the old priest said, "A friend of mine is in the city. You can transfer to his temple. It'll at least give you a place to stay."
"Aren't you coming with me?"
"I'm too old to move. I don't want to, even if I can."
"You can't stay here alone. What if, what if…"
"Hoho, don't worry." The old priest let out a husky laughter and sat up with difficulty. "Our sect has been declining for generations and by now there are only a handful of talisman skills and occult techniques left. You've learned how to make talismans already. I'm going to teach you the rest of it today."
His tone almost reminded Li Suchun of someone arranging funeral affairs, which made the young pupil cry out. The old priest suddenly put on a serious face and scolded, "Kneel!"
The pupil could not disobey his master and knelt down by the bed.
The sect of Mao Mountain originated from Wei-Jin Period, which belonged to the Transformation period. Disciples of the sect would also consume essences, but apart from using them for their bodies, they would also apply them to objects, namely the talismans, which were numerous in kind, quick to take effect, and very powerful. Because of these characteristics, the use of talismans was very effective in attracting followers.
The application started off with high-end and classy measures, which was the case of advanced talismans such as the Red Cloud, Firmament, and God Destroyer. After the spiritual essence faded, the lower-Mao-Mountain approaches were invented, replacing the spiritual essence with human's essence and blood to activate talismans.
Degraded, what the talismans were capable of was limited to low-end measures such as implementing undead insects, home-guarding and clothes-cleansing.
"Suchun, I'm going to teach you the occult technique of refining corpses. This is the core skill of our sect, so listen carefully!"
The look on the young priest's face was stern and serious.
Substantial content like this was always passed on orally from one generation to the next in the Taoist community and rarely was anything written down. The old priest repeated it several times and asked, "Have you learnt it by heart now?"
"Then repeat it to me."
Li Suchun recited what his master had told him, word for word. Finding no error in his recitation, the old priest nodded. "This technique has been passed down in our sect for several centuries with few examples of success. Nowadays, we can no longer practice it freely… sigh. Leave it at that, then. Anyway, just think it a souvenir. Wherever you might be in the future, don't forget you're from lower Mao Mountain."
Li Suchun banged his forehead loudly on the ground as he bowed down.
At that moment, there came a knock on the door. The pupil went to answer it and as soon as he saw the person outside, hatred and anger took over his face. It was none other than a manager from the development company, who had been here several times before.
The man walked straight in and seeing the old invalid slouching on the bed, he couldn't help but say, "Why are you doing this to yourself? To be completely honest with you, the price we offered was very reasonable indeed. Why don't you take the money and travel around with you pupil, or find another temple to stay? Doesn't that sound nice?"
"Not another word. I'm not leaving."
"You've seen what's written on the wall outside. Aren't you going to even consider it?"
"Do whatever you want with me."
"In that case, I've got nothing else to say. We'll see about it tomorrow."
The man asked a few more questions, then left in a hurry.
Li Suchun was terrified for his master and tried to persuade the old man with all his effort. However, the old priest had made up his mind. He was gravely ill and did not want to go on living like a parasite. As long as his pupil had a place to go, there was nothing else he cared about in this world.
Early next morning, he sent Li Suchun packing and seeking refuge with that friend of his.
"Hey, have you heard? Somebody died in our town—that old priest in the temple."
"What? How come he suddenly died?"
"The demolition deal, of course. They were going to make money and he was in the way. Oh my, they said the huge forklift squashed directly over him. So brutal!"
"Isn't anybody going to say something?"
"Who would? If that pupil of his were still here, he might get some compensation. Now that the pupil has ran away, the money, hehe…"
In a street in the town, two aunties were talking feverishly over the hottest of recent topics. Not far from them, a young man in a casual outfit was shivering slightly.
The man was none other than Li Suchun himself.
He was heading for the city but could not bear to leave his master behind and turned back before he reached the city. By the time he got to the temple, all there was left were rubbles and debris. His master was nowhere to be found.
He knew the chance of finding his master alive was slim, but would rather hang on to the last string of hope—that was until he heard the words from others.
He was overwhelmed by hatred and regret in that instant. He regretted that his cowardice had stopped him from taking his master with him and the target of his hatred was of course those developers.
For a teenager who barely reached his adulthood, he had experienced the unjust death of the person closest to him. An emotional turmoil was unavoidable. He vowed secretly to himself: 'I will avenge my master!'
Midnight, in a graveyard.
In the woods not far from Ge Village, a dozen grave mounds protruded out of the ground, buried under which were those elders who passed away and did not like the idea of cremation.
This creepy and gloomy place was rarely visited even in broad daylight, let alone in the middle of the night. However, right now, Li Suchun was digging hard into a grave with a spade.
Ten minutes or so into the process, he leaned on the spade to take a rest. The soil was almost scraped away, revealing half of the coffin. He dug further for a while and the entire coffin was finally out in the open.
Lifting up the lid peevishly, he found Granny Ge inside. Despite having been buried for several days, she was not giving off any rancid odor.
"This is help from heaven!"
Li Suchun was as terrified as he was delighted. According to the corpse-refining technique, he needed to find a corpse of a person with a Yin birth chart, who had also died in the Yin hours. Because of the ceremony he performed in the Ge family, he happened to know the eight characters of the horoscope of Granny Ge.
After that, if the corpse decayed very quickly, it would not be qualified for the technique. Those that showed no sign of decay after several days would be fit for his purposes.
He dared not linger for long. Taking out a large woven bag, he put the corpse inside, closed up the grave and erased all traces. He then carried the bag to a low adobe which he had rented.
Locking the door behind him, Li Suchun fell to the ground in a thump. The horror of grave-digging and corpse-stealing was only starting to creep up inside him now. It took him a while to recover, after which he stood up and fetched a basin of clean water, then put the corpse down flat on its back.
Watching the corpse now, he could detect a streak of indistinct regret. That was very impetuous of him! He didn't even know how reliable this technique was!
However, the corpse was out of the grave now and it wouldn't do him much good to regret it now. Being someone meant for great things, he miraculously calmed himself down and stripped the corpse of its shroud in utter serenity.
It was the eeriest scene one could image. In a dim-lit shabby room, a young man was holding a piece of soft cloth, meticulously wiping clean the body of an old woman.
Granny Ge had been a tiny woman when she was living and death had shrank her body even further. Her sallow skin wrapped around the bones without a single trace of muscles. With the make-up on, her face had become the most pleasant feature. The corner of her mouth was even slightly lifted, as if a smile was spreading across the face...