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Chapter 71

The Refinement-of-form state was essentially scouring the human body with spiritual essence of heaven and earth so that the meridians and abstruse would be opened up . As far as martial arts were concerned, secret methods might be used in early days to achieve the same result, but counting on such approach nowadays would be nothing but a fool’s daydream .

With Gu Yu’s help, one of the main abstruse of Yuan Peiji was opened up by external force . Other things aside, his vital energy alone had seen significant improvement in its vigor .

The fellow was greatly thankful and kept his word, fetching the teaching plan for Gu Yu without any delay .

The pages were indeed filled with theoretical knowledge and Gu Yu had to extend his stay for another day to make sense of the principles on muscular strength, control and movement, as well as some practical moves .

In spite of his far-above-average physical fitness, the power he could issue was not limitless . In cases where there were multiple enemies and different complicated situations, he needed to save as much strength as he could .

Yuan Peiji suspected nothing, considering the incident simply as a powerhouse visiting the grass roots, a spree-of-the-moment thing .

Two days later, Gu Yu returned to Bai Town and resumed his cultivating life as before: consuming essence at dawn, noon and dusk, making incense at night, and studying fighting techniques in between .

Based on his own characteristics, he had managed to come up with a set of simpler and more direct techniques . Apart from unarmed combat skills, he was also greatly drawn towards the use of short sticks .

Short sticks were convenient to use and easy to hide—almost as spectacular as the folding stools, the most renowned among the seven famous weapons . [1]

Asking Xiaozhai for help, Gu Yu obtained a piece of wood and trimmed it into a 45-centimeter short stick which could be used for slashing, sweeping, upward flicking, cutting and jabbing .

‘Whatever moves my opponents use and wherever they are positioned, all I need is to touch them with the tip of my stick’, which sounded very much like what Ah Fei would do . [2]

In general, life was peaceful and quiet . The only disturbance came in form of Yuan Peiji, who would show up at Gu Yu’s door every few days, asking for instruction . In the end, Gu Yu had to give the guy’s butt a good kick to have Yuan leave him alone .

As a matter of fact, in the Shengtian-Bai Town territory, those on friendly terms with the families of Zeng, Lei and Yuan were pretty much covered as far as safety was concerned .

However, safety was not what Gu Yu was after . He needed stability .

***

Southwest China, Shu Zhou, Tuling County .

Ge Village, like numerous other villages of its kind in Shu Zhou, had nothing worth mentioning about it . People here had been making their living working in the farmland for generation after generation . The only thing that might make this village stand out was that the population here was much larger than elsewhere nearby—the largest in the county, for that matter .

It was nighttime . Without any street lamps, the place was pitch-black and dead silent . The faintest light could be detected through windows of various houses . However, in the courtyard of Ge Chao, one of the villagers, the lights were blazing, accompanied by the din of beating drums and blowing trumpets .

Ge Chao’s old mother passed away the night before . She had left her testament on her deathbed: she wanted her dead body to remain intact . In layman terms, she did not want to be cremated .

Despite the decades-long promotion on the reform of funeral and interment from the state, burials had not been eradicated . In remote rural regions, burial was still a popular practice .

Needless to say, Ge Chao fulfilled his mother’s last wish and even sent for two Taoist priests to perform the ceremony .

"By the decree from the Supreme Lord, I hereby release your soul from purgatory; all ghosts and spirits, beings born in every means will be indebted to this grace . Hear me out whether you died with or without a head, killed by a spear or by a knife, committing suicide by drowning or hanging . Be it a public or private death, or death incurred by unjust treatment, all creditors, debtors, youths demanding others’ lives…"

Right now, inside the central room, those two priests were chanting "Song of Deliverance and Rebirth" . They were an old priest and a young one . The elder was in his seventies, his whiskers and hair all gone white . The young priest was about seventeen to eighteen of age, wearing an impatient expression as he chanted on .

In front of them was a coffin in which lay an old lady in her shroud, looking serene and peaceful .

It took them quite some time to repeat the song a few times and they finally opened their eyes after they finished . The young priest stuck his head out to take a peek and complained, "That man is such a miser . At least he could offer us something to eat . "

"Maybe he just forgot . Don’t grumble," chided the old priest .

"No he didn’t . I saw it with my own eyes that he was going to have dinner . He’s starving us on purpose!" The young priest protested .

"Sigh…"

The master was about to scold his disciple, but seeing that the latter was indeed hungry, his words eventually turned into a sigh . Standing up, he walked out of the room and happened to run into Ge Chao, who was passing and hurried over to ask, "Priest, everything all right?"

"Well, I was wondering if we could have something to eat . " Being a very bashful man, he found it rather embarrassing to ask .

"Oh, I almost forgot . I’m so sorry!"

As if the idea had only just crossed his mind, Ge Chao led the two into another room in a hurry and offered them coarse vegetarian dishes chiefly consisting of rice, Chinese cabbage, and tofu, which did not spoil the young priest’s good appetite . While he was eating, he asked, "Master, how much can we earn this time?"

The old priest answered by holding up a finger . His pupil frowned and yelled, "So little? Why doesn’t he keep the display for another couple of days?"

"Mind your words . Now eat!"

Fearing that others might hear them, the old priest gave him a smack on the head .

Traditionally, the coffin should be kept in the house for three to seven days before burial . Being well aware of the impropriety of evading cremation, these people had shortened it to one day only .

However, from the priests’ perspective, fewer days meant less money . Those famous schools and sects could not care less over this little amount, but not them .

After dinner, the two returned to the main room and resumed chanting . "Song of Relieving and Reborn" was extremely lengthy and they had to repeat it 49 times . The young priest found the job abhorring and was closing his eyes and dropping his head in a while, as if falling asleep .

The old priest could do nothing but turn his body to cover up his pupil’s act .

After keeping vigil for a whole night, Granny Ge’s coffin was ready to set off for the graveyard the next morning . Large vehicles had lined up outside the house already . The hearse led the way, followed by the rides of the obedient offspring, the band, and funerary human figures and horses, etc . [3]

"Thank you for all the hard work . Please take this as a compliment . "

Ge Chao thrusted a few notes into the old priest’s hand . Smiling wryly to himself, the old priest bowed to thank his hirer, "Thank you, layman . "

When the appropriate time came, the fleet of vehicles set out, throwing joss paper into the air as they drove on, which drifted and swirled in the wind . The two priests, on the other hand, got on a bike and zigzagged towards the opposite direction .

After a 30-minute ride, they reached the outskirts of the town, where a little temple stood .

The courtyard had a single row of rooms, enclosed by walls too mottled to recognize the original color . The wooden gate was as dilapidated, and was held closed by a big padlock . The two got off the bike and the young priest went to unlock the gate when his hand slipped suddenly .

"Clank!"

The bike smashed onto the ground . Shaking with anger, the old priest bent down and coughed till his face turned scarlet .

The reason for their reaction was staring at them from the wall: a circle had been drawn on it and written in the center was a large "Demolish"!

"Master! Master!"

The young priest ran over to help his master by the arm, then opened the temple gate .

The interior was even shabbier . The main hall consisted only of one room where the figures of Taoist patriarchs were worshiped . Wing-rooms were set on both sides . To the right was the bedroom and to the left was the kitchen with a toilet .

The surname of the old priest was Li and he was the abbot of this temple . Despite the poverty-stricken state he was in right now, he actually had a glorious ancestry .

The School of Zhengyi was the chief Taoist establishment in the south . Being a branch of Zhengyi, the sect of Mao Mountain alone had 108 subdivisions, namely the 36 upper Mao Mountain sub-sects and 72 lower ones . Apart from those, there were also other subdivisions such as the Hall of Twenty-four Clarities and the Sect of Three Ghosts, etc .

The sect the old priest belonged to was descended from lower Mao Mountain .

The upper and lower sub-sects of Mao Mountains were not the same thing . The former studied the proper talismans, which could dispatch ghosts and gods alike and bid wind and rain at will . The latter, on the other hand, worked on insidious practices, which were marked by their creepiness and malevolence .

However, by now not much of the legacy of this sect was left . The few remaining talisman skills and occult techniques were kept safely inside the old priest’s head .

He had been the head of this temple in Tuling County for twenty years . Being a quiet and weak-willed man, his only pupil was an orphan he adopted, whom he named Li Suchun . In a dump like this, even the common folk was struggling to make ends meet, let alone his tiny temple .

Worshipers were few and oblations fewer . The master and pupil scrambled along on the government subsidies and the little money they could get on performing ceremonial jobs behind closed doors .

[1] TL/N: The comment on folding stools is taken from the lines of the 1996 comedy "The God of Cookery", or "食神", starring Stephen Chow .

[2] TL/N: Ah Fei, or 阿飞, is a character from Gu Long’s wuxia novels, the Flying Daggers series, who is nicknamed "the flying swordsman" .

[3] TL/N: The funerary human figures and horses are examples of the painted "3-D paper models" to be burnt at the altar or graveyard, so that the dead could enjoy them in the other world .




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