Nightfall - Chapter 154

Published at 27th of April 2018 06:30:05 AM

Chapter 154: A Sheet of Paper, A Scroll of Calligraphy, Two Cra

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Thousands years before the Tang kingdom was established, seventeen kingdoms were united and tried to annihilate Tang, while Haotian Taoism had been secretely watching this happening. Nevertheless, the attempt failed disastrously. Since the sweeping defeat, the Tang kingdom had established its dominant and monarchy status, and even Haotian Taoism, the representative of divine salvation illuminating every corner of the world, had to turn a blind eye at this and bitterly swallow the reality.

Up to date, Haotian Taoism was still popular and widespread in Tang, yet it didn't mean that West-Hill Divine Temple was as of holy and uttermost importance in Tang as it was in other kingdoms. In the eyes of Tang people, the South School of Haotian Taoism was the solely recognized religious institution that was entitled to preach and convey divine will, which was yet a deformed product born from the thousands-years-ago war.

Nominally, the South School of Haotian Taoism of Tang was one of the subordinate sect of Haotian Taoism, and was governed directly by West-Hill Divine Temple. From Divine Priests who governed the South School to high-ranking Taoists, all practiced and cultivated Haotian Taoism. Their instructors and professors were originated from southwest sect. As a matter of fact, the South School of Haotian Taoism was more considered as part of Tang kingdom, and proved itself by being consistently in line with Tang, in terms of either emotional support or political stance. Should any disagreement between Tang and the Divine Temple occured, theTaoists of South School would have always taken a firm stand with Tang kingdom.

Based on such reason, some old conservative Taoists in West-Hill Divine Temple persistently argued that those form the South School were unforgivable traitors and were worse than the Devil's Doctrine; And out of the same reason, Tang remained its steadfast trust in the South School of Haotian Taoism.

Li Qingshan, the present Divine Priest of South School, was officially nominated by His Highness as the Master of Nation while governing Devine Pivot Department at the same time. The Devine Pivot Department was a place where all cultivators in Tang and related issues were governed and handled. Hence, Li Qingshan's duties revealed the real relationship between Tang and the South School.

The headquarter of the South School of Haotian Taoism was at the southern gate instead of the Vermilion Bird South Gate of Chang'an, and right outside of the southern gate of the Royal Palace.

The black and white main Taoist temple was set off by lines of emerald green trees, looking faraway at the Royal Palace, which constituted a picturesque view. Compared with the Royal Palace, the temple was appearing tranquil and unassuming, less an air of solemn and gravity.

In a side room deep down the temple, two Taoists were sitting on the far end of a dark wood floor, among whom one was clad in a somber Taoist frock, girdled with a yellow waistband awarded by His Majesty. The man, looking like someone important, was the Master of Nation, Li Qingshan.

Sitting opposite of him was a gangly and elderly man, clad in scruffy clothes with a pair of greasy sleeves which complemented well his two narrow beady eyes. In front of the respectable Master of Nation, the old priest was gazing at somewhere else, sitting cross-legged, and little respect could be felt from him.

Li Qingshan looked reflectively at a teacup on table, and said, "The Second Floor of the Academy is opening today."

"Hm." replied the old priest casually.

Sensing something unusual, Li Qingshan lifted his head up, and saw that the old priest was ogling at an attractive middle-aged woman who was standing at the outside hallway and returning back a sheepish smile.

Beholding this scene by his very eyes, Li Qingshan grimaced bitterly, and said "Older brother, you made an oath when you entered into talisman declaring you would pursue the cause of pure Yang and restrain yourself from sex scandals. Why bother lingering in brothels every night, and pretending you are some hooligan?"

This ogling old Taoist, Yan Se, was the sole Divine Talisman Master of South School of Haotian Taoism, shook his head disapprovingly upon hearing what Li Qingshan said, and refuted sincerely while stroking his wisps of his goatee. "What you said was not quite correct. When I was young I had sworn that extreme oath in order to enter the Talisman Taoism, and I have regretted it for half of my life. Although I don't dare to break my oath to have some romantic affairs, I suppose some ogling look would do little harm to my Taoism?"

Li Qingshan smiled helplessly, thinking there was no way he could help this brother who though ranked high in Taoism yet preferred to hang out with women and stay in bustling life. Then he adopted a rather stern tone, and continued "After being enrolled in the Second Floor, Prince Long Qing will fall into the scope of responsibility of back mountain of the Academy, which means less duty for us then."

Hearing the words, Yan Se finally became serious, perused a moment and replied, "Though he was young, the lad now was the No.2 in Judicial Department. I bet he had a few strings to pull in the Divine Palace, so we'd better stay out of this."

The status of South School of Haotian Taoism was a bit vague and complex, as it ought to put interests of Tang first, and yet was traditionally a sub-sect from West-Hill, meantime inherited some historical grievances. With regard to Prince Long Qing who was generally considered as their key God's son of West-Hill, it was tricky to attend to even for Li Qingshan, if he shed the sacred amour of Master of Nation.

Being the leader and Minister of Offerings of South School, they were perfectly aware of the unfathomable depth of the main altar of South School, therefore it had never occurred to them that Prince Long Qing could not enter the Second Floor.

"In comparison with West-Hill that had owned thousands years of accumulation, our South School was terribly weak. To my knowledge, their strength was bottomless, and any junior could cause a trouble for us ... "

Li Qingshan looked at Yan Se with a grave countenance, and said, "Brother Gong Sun has been practicing hard the union of talisman and array, and his energy and health are overly consumed. No one knows when he would restore to his normal state. Now the South School has merely one Divine Talisman Master, which is you, and yet you own none apprentice . I have absolutely no idea how we should tackle future problems."

Cultivators who entered the Knowing Destiny State were generally called the Grand Cultivator, and talisman masters who entered the upper Knowing Destiny State were known as the Divine Talisman Master, which indicated that they possessed the power as mighty as God.

In a common battle, talisman masters were no better than Grand Cultivators in terms of means, yet they were conducive to practicing cultivation, fortifying troops, arranging arrays and ranks, even making clouds and bringing down rain.

However, the talisman was the most obscure discipline of all cultivations, and was extremely particular about aptitude and insight of one. This aptitude and insight was elusive and hard to be explained in language, and only could be comprehended through natural sensitivity to the talisman. Therefore, this was more like an innate talent, which could not be learned and practiced by sheer efforts.

Rumor had it that Liu Bai, the Sage of Sword of South Jin kingdom, had once tempted to cultivate talisman, and yet even a well-known talented man like him could not make a progress on it.

As a result, for all schools and kingdoms, there's no doubt that talisman masters were of uttermost important and valuable. It went even further that kingdoms and schools deprived of talisman masters were said small and unrecognized.

There were no more than ten talisman masters in Tang kingdom, and most of them were immersed in letters and calligraphy, and lived a retired life, while no more than three travelled around the world. West-Hill Divine Palace claimed to possess the largest number of high-ranking cultivators, yet a few talisman masters could be found.

Yan Se in the South School of Haotian Taoism was one of a few talisman masters. Yan Se felt quite melancholy to think that there would be no talisman master in South School once he died, and swigged all the tea on table.

Putting down the teacup, he raised his eyes up to sky, sighed, "The Academy appeared not to be involved with world affairs, yet functioned as a counterbalance to everything in the world. You got to respect them for their confidence. To my knowledge, there were three old pals in it."

Old pals, in his words, referred to those respectable talisman masters.

Li Qingshan frowned and said, "I heard that one talisman master was in charge of the opening Second Floor today. Have you found out who is it?"

"Should be Huang He."

Yan Se replied, "These years of retirement in the Academy didn't seem to help him dispense with his restless heart."

"I heard that Prince Long Qing got defeated in Victory House a few day ago."

Li Qingshan suddenly changed the subject, and said plainly, "We belonged to one school, and he was their key student. As the Priest of the South Gate, I know i shouldn't gloat about it, and yet I just couldn't refrain my joys, and it was not easy to hold it every time upon the mention of this incident."

"West-Hill Divine Palace had suggested Prince Long Qing should take the throne of Yan kingdom. That day when princess saw off the Yan prince was the opportunity that both Priest Moli and Prince Long Qing would not like to miss. They availed themselves of it, and let alone Zeng Jing was one of the company."

He turned to Yan Se, saying, "Only to find he got defeated on rhetoric which he was most skilled at."

Yan Se took a mental notice of Zeng Jing, sighed and continued, "The Empress and princess were really incompatible like fire and water, weren't they? His Majesty was at his prime time, wouldn't it be too early for them to snatch the throne?"

"The analogy of fire and water was a bit exaggerated. Since the Imperial Astronomer incident, I found that Her Majesty kept silent, while princess was too young to behave with discretion." Li Qingshan shook his head and continued, "but this had nothing to do with us."

"They were all adored by His Majesty. Her Majesty got prince and Xia Hou at her back, while princess, Li Yu, was spoken highly among younger generation. Even though Li Yi was skilled at singing and dancing, her entourage was rather young and inexperienced, lacking certain gravity."

Nodding slightly, Li Qingshan said, "You are right. I heard that the student who defeated Prince Long Qing at Victory House was an acquaintance of princess. However, rumor had it that he was not qualified of cultivating."

On hearing Ning Que, Yan Se frowned slightly, holding an empty cup aloft for a moment, then said softly, "I've heard him, even run a check on him. He doesn't possess the potential to cultivate, otherwise I'd choose him as my apprentice."

Li Qingshan's countenance turned stern and grave all at once.

As the leader of the South School of Haotian Taoism, he was fully aware of the difficulty of picking out an apprentice for talisman master, and his old brother was considerably cautious about his apprentice.

Sensing a look of survey, Yan Se knew what was going on in his younger brother's head, then sighed and fetched a wad of paper and unfolded it on the table. It was from the account book of House of Red Sleeves, and was full of creases. Yan Se valued it very much, as he carried it for months, yet no damage could be seen.

"This was a note he scribbled down after drunk, without any rules of calligraphy, like a pile of branches, yet showing an immense strength, casual yet infusing his intent on very character, beyond the bounds of calligraphy. And I've never seen such a handwriting."

A pause followed, Yan Se continued, "It's a shame that not an inkling of primordial Qi could be felt."

"Now we are living in a dilemma, and much more strength is required. You and I are the only cultivators from South School, meantime had some weights in Divine Palace. If you mean what you said and have considered Ning Que as your apprentice, then you know how it was crucial for us and for the South School."

The master of nation Li Qingshan looked at Yan Se gravely, said in a low voice, "You've got to make sure again whether he could cultivate or not."

Yan Se gazed outside at azure sky and fluffy clouds, and shook his head slowly, "No need for another check. The lad was qualified bodily for talisman though, he couldn't cultivate. A shame indeed."

Frowning, Li Qingshan said, "This was a quite serious matter, and one more check is a must."

"The military checked, Xiao Lv did, the instructors in Academy did, your apprentice did too, all were in agreement that he was not capable of cultivating."

Perusing at him, Yan Se paused and said, "In fact, I was not resigned to accepting this, and went and checked myself. The result was the same."

No one knew that the simple explanation revealed how much remorse the old Taoist had.

A good moment passed before Li Qingshan giving a flick of his sleeves, saying, "One more last check, please."

A young Taoist, with a yellow oil-paper umbrella under his armpit, knelt down submissively, put aside the umbrella, and pulled out a volume of files from Imperial Center Administration, lowered his head and reported in a calm voice, "Last summer a report suggested there was a cultivator in a gamble house, and investigation showed it was Ning Que."

A dead silence filled the room. Yan Se's goatee twitched fervently, and he smacked a table hard like a mad tiger, growled, "I commanded you to confirm that night, and what did you say then?"

"Master uncle…"

The young man responded confoundedly, "The investigation made that night suggested that Ning Que was indeed incapable of cultivating, with none Qi orifices getting through."

"Since your master uncle had asked for this matter, and latter reports had been written in Imperial Center Administration. Why didn't you tell your master uncle?"

Li Qingshan stared coldly at his apprentice.

The young man explained in a low voice, "The lad's identity was a bit special, so …"

"What's special about him?"

"Ning Que seemed to be acquainted with Qi IV."


"Qi IV was one of Chao Xiaoshu's men."


"Chao Xiaoshu … was with his majesty."

The young man looked up at his master and master uncle, continued in a low voice, "If Ning Que was his majesty's secret agent, then the Imperial Center Administration must stay silent."

Yan Se seemed unheard of his words, and merely goggled at those files on table. His pale lips were tremulous, murmuring, "That lad now is able to cultivate? How could it be possible? His Qi orifices didn't get through at that time…"

Li Qingshan saw veins were popped out vividly in his older brother's right hand, slightly trembling, bethought that he certainly couldn't restrain his excitement.

"Senior Brother."


The two top shots of the South School of Haotian Taoism stared at one another, seeing determination in each other's eyes, and nodded.

Li Qingshan said in a low voice, "As long as Ning Que was confirmed to be qualified as your apprentice, no matter whether he was a secret agent or secretly served the princess, we will bring him back for you to be your apprentice."

The door of Old Brush Pen Shop at Lin 47th Street was knocked over. The neighbors, who were initially trying to fight against the injustice, subconsciously maintained quiet as they saw the local government runners surrounded the shop and some official with an air of danger.

The Master of Nation Li Qingshan with Yan Se broke into Old Brush Pen Shop, and Ning Que was not in sight. But they noticed a couple of calligraphies hung on the wall, with Ning Que"s name on them.

"Nice calligraphy."

Yan Se commented in a concise manner, looking at Li Qingshan, "If I've got six out of ten's confidence earlier on, now it has increased to eight. And if only I can see his eagerness towards calligraphy, then my confidence will be ten."

Li Qingshan frowned and asked, "What sort of confidence?"

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"If I could see his eager towards calligraphy."

Yan Se stared at his eyes, and said solemnly, "You got to trust him to me. I am confident that in ten years the South School of Haotian Taoism will have one more talisman master."

Before walking out of the door, the respectable talisman master looked around the shabby shop and shoddy goods, asked rhetorically, "Who could have thought that a talented calligrapher hiding in this shabby and remote book shop?"

Upon hearing his words, it occurred to Li Qingshan, and suddenly turned around to peer at the two calligraphies hung on the wall, and his eyebrow frowned further.

Outside of the imperial study of palace, an eunuch called Lu Ji made a bow, said, "Master of Nation, His Majesty and ministers were discussing Yan kingdom affairs. His Majesty bid us before assuming porridge that if Master of Nation would like to appreciate calligraphies, then do so as you wish, only not to mess up bookshelves."

Hearing this, Li Qingshan opened the door of imperial study without a hesitation.

Yan Se gazed at the unfolded calligraphy, and five characters "Bloom in the Opposite World" were written incisively and vividly. His pale face steadily grew delighted and admiring.

Li Qingshan thought his face was stern and asked, "Senior brother, did you see his eagerness?"

"The intent of writing of this was distinctively different from the one hung his shop, but I'm sure they were all from the same person," Yan Se returned with a trembling voice, "as for eagerness … the lad was as greedy as a fox that was staring at a chicken and hadn't had a taste of it for years."

The young Taoist glanced sideways, asked confusedly, "I had seen a copy of this at Old Chancellor's mansion. And Old Chancellor commented that these five characters were filled with vigor and vitality, without the slightest sign of void and lethargy, and hard to be found anywhere else. Then, how could you discern eagerness?"

"You know nothing!" Yan Se said reproachfully, "How could the characters show vigor if he was not eager to write down?"

The young Taoist retreated a few steps back.

Li Qingshan stared at Yan Se's eyes, asked abruptly, "Ten?"

Yan Se evaded his eyes, said forcefully, "Ten!"

Li Qingshan flapped his sleeves, laughed loudly, and then leaves in the imperial garden whirled and fluttered .

Yan Se stroked his goatee, and seemed intoxicated and smiled. Then, papers and brush pens in the imperial study were all trembled.

"Find him."

"He wasn't at home."

"He's a student of the Academy, and he was sure at the Academy since the Second floor opened today."

"He cannot cultivate, and what's the opening of the Second Floor in it for him?"

"The problem is now he can, and we are desperate to look for him now."

"You got a point."

"You or me?"

"If I go, it'll attract too much attention. And it wouldn't be an advantage if the Academy finds out what he's capable of."

"Then I'll go."

The Master of Nation and Minister of Offerings were in height of talking, but the young Taoist was hesitant whether to point out now while the two were so excited. Whether in South School or at Imperial Center Administration, his duty was to play a supplementary role for masters to find out what they miss, so even though he was aware that he had been reprimanded a couple times and that what he was going say would inevitably quench their excitement, he was left no choice but to spit out.

"Master and master uncle, since Ning Que was qualified to cultivate, he would definitely try and enter the Second Floor … what if he was admitted, what shall we do then?"

Li Qingshan and Yan Se stiffened and shudder suddenly, thinking of one thing a moment later, breathed again with lingering fear.

Li Qingshan glare at the young Taoist accusingly, snarled, "You idiot, even if he could cultivate, how could he beat Prince Long Qing? No way he could enter the Second Floor!"

Yan Se shook his head, said, "I was concerned earlier about the troublesome West-Hill God son. Now I should thank him for extinguishing Ning Que's hope to enter the Second Floor."

Li Qingshan produced a token from his yellow waistband, and handed it to Yan Se, said solemnly, "Do not let the Academy find out. Except the Academy, you can do whatever you like and use our South School's prestige if stopped by anyone."

Receiving the token, Yan Se look at him amusingly, "Do whatever I wish?"

"Whatever you wish."

"Including Mo Li and Prince Long Qing?"


Grimacing bitterly, the young Taoist cut in untimely, "Master, Master Uncle, the two were sent to Chang'an from West-Hill Divine Palace. It was already inappropriate for us not to cooperate with them, if go against them, I'm afraid it would go too far."

"Why it would go too far?"

Yan Se shoot him an irritated glance, and snarled with his shattered and smelly robes vehemently shaking, "I've lived 80 years to find an apprentice! I'll see who dare to stop me!"

Li Qingshan said coldly, "Old brother, you've got to bring him back. Our South School of Haotian Taoism's successor all count on him. If anyone should stop you, kill them all."

Outside the imperial study, the eunuch Lu Ji strained his ears to eavesdrop their heated discussion. Put more precisely, it wasn't actually eavesdropping, as for those high-ranking cultivators, any movement couldn't evade them, they just didn't care.

Lu Ji glanced at the closed door of imperial study, then at the direction of Palace of Counsel, and bethought that the lad's identity was about to be disclosed. It was the last straw both for General Xu or himself.

Setting his mind, Lu Ji couldn't care more and tottered on his frail legs towards Palace of Counsel, thinking to himself that he ought to beat master of nation to tell His Majesty. As for how to phrase this in front of His Majesty ...

"Congratulations His Majesty!"

"The calligrapher who wrote Bloom in the Opposite World is finally found out."

"His … his name is Ning Que."

Ning Que was not aware that Master of Nation and a talisman master were crying to make him as their apprentice with an intent to killing whoever stopped them, and saw him as their only hope to solve the dilemma where South School of Haotian Taoism had no successor.

Nor was Ning Que aware that his calligraphy he wrote last year at imperial study was copied many times and hung at many ministers' mansions and was going to surface again. A moment later, His Majesty would likely to hold his hands tightly with tears filled in his sockets, and told him that it took so much efforts to find him, followed by awarding him acres of land and a number of maidservants.

Ning Que had the slightest clue of all these things. He was still struggling to climb the trail of back mountain, and all he knew was that it's getting harder, and that there was a wooden bridge at the end of trail, and that several climbers were awaiting at the other side of the bridge.

The climbers were leaning against either trees or bridge head, all gloomy and weary. One of them looked at the seemingly endless trail, and slowly sat down disappointedly, his face pale and desperate.

He was Xie Chengyun.

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