The two of them had managed to gather some information during their short visit to the teahouse. If they had suspected it right, the culprit behind the homicide case should have fled to Luobi by now.
This could be problematic. Judging from the situation on the streets, the police had obviously made their arrangements, trying to take the man down right here in Luobi. However, Gu Yu and Xiaozhai were simply so interested in this case that they had to verify with their own eyes whether or not it was the deed of a Taoist disciple.
The conflict of the interests would inevitably lead to some collision.
As the saying goes, the swordsmen would violate laws with violence. Actually, this statement could be expanded to include all those who capitalize on their capabilities, using them to challenge social rules.
Back then, when Gu Yu and Xiaozhai were still in Shengtian, they had their respective social identities—him a peddler and her a white collar. The conclusion of the recovering spiritual essence was yet to come and they lived their lives in accordance with their social status.
Now, after quitting her job and abandoning his peddling career, they had spent over twenty carefree days on the road. Bounded by nothing and bringing out their true selves, they were each gradually developing a new state of mind.
As a result, this case was simply another troublesome incident to them. They did not have the slightest inclination to worry or become evasive; fear had left them completely.
When Gu Yu and Xiaozhai left the teahouse, it was still hours away from sunset and they decided to head for the Temple of Spiritual Official right away.
The temple was on the eastern end of the Ship-shaped Street, a rather conspicuous building. The current abbot was called Wang Ruoxu, an alleged direct descendant of Wang Shan. He was quite a renowned figure. Rumor had it that he was an expert in prayer rituals and Feng Shui practice. He had been invited to various places to survey the scenes and had produced nothing but convincing results.
Arriving at the temple, they saw that Celestial Master Sa and Spiritual Official Wang were enshrined in the first main hall, on both sides of which were side halls worshiping the Three Pure Ones, Emperor of Shu Han the Royal Uncle Liu, the God of Wealth Zhao Gongming, and Emperor Wenchang.
Hardly any pilgrims were visiting the halls at the moment and the yard was only watched over by two Taoist priests.
They looked around and found nothing out of the ordinary, then moved on to the backyard, where they were welcomed by a drastic change in setting. To their surprise, worshiped here were the Buddha, the Children-sending Guanyin, the Bodhisattva Manjusri, the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra, and the Eighteen Arhats.
What was more unbelievable, this yard was also managed by two Taoist priests.
That was convenient!
The scene was giving them a headache. This explained the couplets hanging on the columns of the temple gate: Seeking knowledge from Buddhism and Taoism; Delivering all living creatures from torment.
Very equal opportunity indeed…
"Excuse me, are you here to light incense sticks or to have your fortunes told?"
They probably had sauntered for too long, for a chubby priest felt the need to approach them inquiringly.
"Oh, we're here for your abbot, Priest Wang Ruoxu," replied Gu Yu.
"The master has just gone out. May I ask what is this about?"
"We heard that Priest Wang is an expert in Feng Shui. Our boss is going to open a new company and wants to invite Priest Wang over to have a look," he gave his readily made excuse.
Checking them up and down, the chubby priest saw that in spite of their young age, the two looked rather impressive. Smile crept up his face immediately. "The master won't be back for a while. Please come inside and have some tea."
With that, he led the two into the guest room, where they could sit down and discuss the topic in detail. The chubby priest reminded them more of a sly businessman rather than a Taoist disciple. He grinned, "May I ask what line of business are two guests in?"
"We are from the north. Our boss wanted to start up a fur business. As you may know, choosing the right spot is really hard these days. We've had a monk pick a piece of land for us. But we were about to start building when they told us someone had died there. The whole thing was so ridiculous!" Gu Yu said.
"We heard that Priest Wang is very capable with his skills and has never let anybody down in viewing Feng Shui. That's why we've traveled all the way here for his advice," Xiaozhai added after Gu Yu. She then asked, "Are you a pupil of Priest Wang? Do you mind give us a tip or two? Like, how much does Priest Wang charge usually?"
"Well, that's hard to say. The importance of Feng Shui varies from one person to another. You are welcome to pay more if you find it worthwhile, although the master wouldn't mind if you find it trivial either. Early this year, a company from Lu Zhou invited the master over and the director was a very straightforward man. He transferred half a million to our account up front. When the company opened and the business thrived, he wired us another half million. That was karma. Those who show gratitude will be rewarded."
"Oh, I see!"
"As long as the master can point out a treasured site for us, money is not an issue at all!"
Our two fellows were enjoying themselves playing the roles they assigned to themselves.
The chubby priest was particularly courteous, for the Feng Shui requests were always brought to them by important clients. Every time the master closed a deal, he was able to scrape off some leftovers, filling up that little coffer of his.
Unfortunately, little did he know that his master was stranded in an office at the moment, trembling with fear.
"Well, dear priest, please take a seat!"
After scanning the priest with his eyes for a considerable moment, the man finally produced a half-smile.
"Oh my, thank you!"
As if being granted a presidential pardon, Wang Ruoxu sat down on the edge of a chair, barely resting his bottom on it.
As the saying went, as vast as the world seemed, the authority of an official was always vaster. Wang might walk around with an enigmatic pretense, acting like a figure of importance. In the presence of people in positions of real power, however, he was no better than an ant.
In fact, he was terrified. He had been summoned to the county government out of the blue and recognized this big shot as soon as he entered the room. Mind you, for most people, this man was a figure only appeared on television.
"Sorry about the impromptu invitation. We are on a rather tight schedule here. I'll apologize first for any inconvenience we might cause you," said the man again.
"That's totally fine, no inconvenience at all."
The man did not comment on that response, but continued by asking, "I heard you are from Xihe Sect and have also studied in Mao Mountain as well?"
"That's right. I used to be a disciple of the School of Shangqing in Mao Mountain."
"You belong to a sect already, why did you turn to another one?"
"Xihe Sect has little inheritance of its left, and I had to, had to…" Wang Ruoxu stammered awkwardly.
The man nodded, as if he had understood. He then asked, "I heard there are some strange magical skills in Mao Mountain, could you tell me more about it?"
"Well, Mao Mountain actually consists of upper and lower sections. The so-called strange magical skills are usually from Lower Mao Mountain, which contains seventy-two branches and their Taoist skills are peculiar and sinister. There are skills such as Ghost Nursing, Nail Cursing, Straw Figure Stabbing, Corpse Refining…"
As he explained, Wang Ruoxu was actually panicking inside. While the government encouraged freedom of religion, they cracked down on feudal superstition at the same time. What he mentioned above just happened to be the targets to be stricken down.
He was utterly confused, not having the slightest clue of what this official's intention could be.
After his introduction, the man fell silent for a while, then asked suddenly, "Did you mention a skill called Corpse Refining?"
"From your point of view, is it possible to find a zombie nowadays?"
That question raised the hair on his back. He did not dare to give an answer.
"Don't be so nervous. We're just talking here," the man appeased him with a smile.
"Well, well… the requirement on refining a corpse is extremely strict and there hasn't been any record of it for hundreds of years. I can only say that it is possible, but I really cannot say for sure," he replied anxiously.
"If they do exist, where usually can we find them?"
"Places where Yin energy converges…"
Wang Ruoxu stopped talking abruptly, realizing in that instant that he was summoned here to help.
Seeing the change in his countenance, the man also straightened his face and said in a solemn tone, "The matter at hand is so vital that we can not afford a third person to know it."
"Yes, yes, I understand," he answered hastily.
"Good. We'll start tomorrow. You can go back and make some preparation."
With that, the man raised his voice and called out, "Xiao Wu!"
"Yes, sir!" A person pushed open the door and came in.
"See that the priest returns safely."
The two left the room right after that, leaving behind the big boss only.
Silence fell again in the room. He lit a cigarette and walked to the window while smoking. Through the large window, he could see the streets and buildings of the new town. The ancient town was further out.
He let out a cloud of smoke, looking apprehensive.
The whole thing was way too strange. Modern technology had been around for hundreds of years, yet a seemingly ordinary homicide case led them to a zombie.
That was just ridiculous!
He himself would not believe it. Those higher up in the command chain were also divided. Half of them found the idea preposterous, while the other half was inclined to support the hypothesis. Orders from above were that they should try their best not to resolve to violence. Wang Ruoxu was also mentioned, saying that he could be of help.
As much as he disliked the old priest, he had to follow orders.