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    Asianovel

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    Chapter 71

    Wei Xi was half-asleep when he sensed someone whispering ill of him behind his back. Before he could open his eyes, he felt someone gently patting him through the blankets. He fell back into a deep sleep.

    When he woke up the next morning, his disciple was already awake and on the phone, his voice low but controlled: "... Check the hotel registration records in the North City district..."

    Wei Xi woke up feeling hungry. He lifted his gaze as he caught the faint scent of yang energy. His second disciple was leaning against the headboard in a white T-shirt, his gaze fixed on a tree outside the window. Sensing Wei Xi's stare, he looked down at him.

    Their eyes met, and the disciple's gaze softened slightly. He switched the phone to his other hand, extending his arm to comb through Wei Xi's disheveled hair. "You're awake?"

    Lately, Wei Xi had been coming to his disciple's place frequently to feed on yang energy. Sometimes, after satisfying his hunger, he would be too tired to return to his own room and simply sleep here. Fortunately, the second disciple didn't seem to mind and never chased him away. It might have just been his imagination, but the bed here always seemed softer and more fragrant, making him feel drowsy. Wei Xi acknowledged with a hum. The slight tickling sensation of fingers running through his hair made him close his eyes for a moment. On the other end of the call, he heard someone ask, "What? I'm still awake. Who were you talking to?"

    The second disciple paused before replying, "... An ID card from Xin Nan Province. Once you find it, compile the information and call me back if there's nothing."

    Wei Xi asked, "Who was that?"

    Before the call ended, a roar came from the other side. The disciple hung up, slid back under the covers, and turned to look at Wei Xi. "Someone unimportant."

    Bathed in the morning sunlight, Wei Xi couldn't help but lean over and nip at the corner of his disciple's mouth. After getting out of bed, he realized he had forgotten to absorb yang energy while he had the chance.

    ******

    In the hallway, Unity Yi was startled to see them: "Master, you just came out of Junior Brother's room?"

    The junior brother remained silent as usual, but the master answered candidly, "Yes."

    Seeing his natural demeanor, Unity Yi quickly dismissed any suspicions and inwardly scolded himself for having a dirty mind. He then said, "Oh, right, Master, the owner of the Buddha statue shop delivered the statues that our Celestial Venerated has finished burning."

    ******

    After the statues arrived at the temple, they needed to be consecrated before use. This was the main difference between the randomly sold divine statues and those specifically requested from temples and shrines, a process known in the industry as "passing through the bright path" – indicating that the deity in your home is genuine. Different gods and buddhas had different temperaments. Some were quite benevolent and might solve your troubles even if you didn't worship them, simply because they happened to pass by. Others were more concerned about authenticity and market rules, only bestowing blessings on their true believers. Then there were a few exceptions with higher standards, like the one in Kuang Zhiming's temple. Kuang Zhiming once mentioned an incident where a new statue entered Liandu Temple. Without any apparent reason, it cracked soon after its arrival, causing great alarm among the temple's residents who feared they had offended their founding ancestor. Eventually, they discovered that the factory had been careless in crafting the statue, painting one eye larger than the other. This had infuriated their ancestor, who broke the uneven eyes.

    At first, many Taoist priests found the situation amusing, but then they understood. Even ordinary people would edit their photos to look like celestial beings; it was understandable for a public figure like their ancestor to have high image standards.

    Wei Dedao's batch of statues perfectly matched Wei Xi's requirements, exuding an ethereal and kind aura, with closed eyes that still captured the essence of Wei Dedao's character. As the consecration ritual took place, Wei Xi felt the warmth of the jade pendant around his neck intensify.

    Unity Yi noticed that the incense on the altar burned unusually fast. After devoutly paying respects, he felt an even greater sense of reverence. Gazing at the appearance of their Celestial Venerated, he compared it to the statues he'd seen outside and couldn't help but remark, "Master, our Celestial Venerated looks so extraordinary. He could easily debut as the lead among all the deities, right?"

    Wei Xi felt the temperature of the jade pendant against his chest become increasingly pleasant. "Is that so?"

    "Certainly," Unity Righteousness agreed. "Polished and refined, with an air of elegance – such a persona would be highly sought after in the entertainment industry. The female devotees will surely find him attractive."

    The jade pendant seemed to warm into a gentle spring.

    **********

    When Old Lady Wang occasionally brought friends to have statues crafted for deities, she also noticed that the one she was about to take home was unexpectedly appealing: "Little Wei, this Celestial Lord statue is truly exquisite."

    It might have been her imagination, but when she and her friend first appeared, the incense burning at the entrance seemed somewhat dim. Upon hearing her compliment, it promptly regained its usual radiance. Old Lady Wang didn't think much of it and asked Wei Xi as she received the statue, "Little Wei, what offerings should we provide in the future?"

    Her question indicated that she had done some research. True believers were meticulous about the offerings they presented after bringing a deity's statue home.

    Surprisingly, after a moment's thought, Wei Xi replied, "You could offer more braised pork."

    Wei Dedao had always enjoyed braised pork when he lived in the mountains. On the day of his death, he had still been yearning for it, but alas, he never got to taste it.

    Old Lady Wang was taken aback. She had consulted many knowledgeable people and vaguely recalled that, apart from daily incense, other families offered fresh fruits like melons, peaches, or plums.

    Hesitation made the statue in her hand seem heavier, as if it was becoming cumbersome. Noticing her confusion, Wei Xi asked, "Is there a problem?"

    Mrs. Wang regained her composure and quickly nodded at her friend. "Of course! Of course!"

    In this day and age, who couldn't afford meat? Braised pork was not hard to come by, and providing a bowl from time to time was actually more convenient and cost-effective than constantly buying fresh fruit.

    Strangely, after she agreed, the heavy statue in her hand suddenly felt lighter, no longer as burdensome as before.

    Logically, things should become heavier the longer they were held. How could it suddenly become lighter?

    Holding the statue, an odd thought crept into her mind. It seemed that the Celestial Venerated wasn't initially keen on accompanying her back home. But upon observing her competent behavior, he reluctantly consented to being worshiped by her.

    Mrs. Wang's speculation left her feeling uncertain. She exchanged glances with her friend, sensing that the other woman shared the same unease. Their demeanor became even more cautious, and they dared not speak too much. This Celestial Venerated of Taicang Sect truly was efficacious!

    Fortunately, the sound from the television interrupted their silence. It was a local news broadcast from a major TV station in the capital city, quite popular among viewers. The presenter delivered recent significant news solemnly. First up was the flooding incident involving Qiu Xian recently—

    "... The government is taking this very seriously, and rescue teams are already stationed in the disaster area, aiding trapped residents..."

    Mrs. Wang sighed when she heard this. "Natural disasters have been increasing these past few years. I remember an earthquake happening somewhere a few weeks ago. So far this year, typhoons, torrential rain, droughts, floods, and earthquakes have been non-stop. Thanks to the heavens and the government's efforts, countless lives have been spared."

    Her friend replied, "It's not just our country; the world is also in turmoil. Did you forget the massive tsunami in Country X last month? That was truly tragic. Homes were swept away, entire cities displaced, lives lost and injured. When I saw photos of the victims, I was so saddened that I couldn't eat for a whole day."

    Mrs. Wang said, "But you know what? My granddaughter told me that some locals in Qiu Xian posted online saying they saw a dragon in their city's river before the flood! They even took pictures! Many people are saying the flood was caused by the dragon!"

    The TV news anchor was discussing the same topic: "…This flood was a result of sudden heavy rainfall and the collapse of a dam upstream due to the intense downpour. We've received reports of numerous manipulated photos appearing on various forums after the disaster. Our station would like to remind all concerned citizens not to believe or spread rumors, to avoid falling victim to deception."

    As the anchor spoke, an image slowly emerged on the screen. It was a picture taken from the riverbank, with the image slightly blurred, but one could clearly make out a long shadow in the water.

    Mrs. Wang exclaimed, "This is it! So many people claimed it was a dragon swimming in the river!"

    Her friend chuckled. "The host just said it's a Photoshopped rumor. Besides, aren't dragons supposed to protect the nation and bring prosperity? How could they cause a flood, don't you think, Daoist Priest?"

    Wei Xi, engrossed in the television, didn't turn around. The old lady then turned her gaze to his two disciples.

    Shuo Zong looked away from the screen and replied, "Dragons wouldn't, but flood dragons might."

    Mrs. Wang asked, "Flood dragons?"

    Shuo Zong explained, "A python transforms into a flood dragon after five hundred years, and a flood dragon into a true dragon after a thousand years. Those with horns are dragons; those without are flood dragons."

    Since there were no horn shapes visible in the photo's shadow, it was at least still a flood dragon when the picture was taken.

    United Righteousness had recently read many leisure books and finally caught on. "Oh right, according to legend, when a flood dragon leads the water, wherever it appears, there will be massive floods that wash away bridges and houses. That's why many bridge pillars are carved with dragon images to scare them away. Hahaha, wouldn't this become their embarrassing teenage phase after they transform into dragons?"

    Her friend silently pondered how these two Daoist priests were actually seriously discussing such legends, and the content of their discussion seemed rather odd...

    At that moment, Wei Xi, who had been silently staring at the television screen, turned his head back and asked with focused eyes,

    "Are flood dragons protected animals?"

    Shuo Zong: "..."

    United Righteousness: "..."

    The old ladies: "..."

    He sounded very serious. After being confused for a while, Elder Wang actually began to ponder, "Hmm, I don't think so... It shouldn't be, right..."

    Dragons and flood dragons weren't just mythical creatures, right? Although they were well-known as the country's symbol, cultural preservation was one thing, but it didn't seem logical to go to the extreme of classifying them as protected animals...

    Wei Xi let out an enigmatic "Oh," saying, "I see."

    United Right looked at his junior in confusion, "So... what does that mean?"

    Shuo Zong: "..."

    It's better if you don't understand.

    *********

    Fortunately, the news segment ended quickly, and the television station began airing commercials. It was an advertisement for a clothing brand, with excellent production quality. Accompanied by upbeat music, several stylish young people stepped onto the screen. Wei Xi was momentarily stunned when he recognized their faces, while Unity Right also identified the dark-skinned young man in the lead, "Hey? Isn't that Brother Boar?"

    Sure enough, at the forefront of the screen was the Boar Demon, dressed in a bright down jacket. He approached the camera with a cold expression, exuding a certain presence. His easily recognizable features and demeanor made him stand out. Behind them, Grandma Wang's voice echoed, "Oh, stop it. His name is Zhu Ye. It's quite a nice name."

    Indeed, there was a row of small text beside the commercial, introducing each actor as they appeared. When the Boar Demon's turn came, the caption read, "Zhu Ye."

    Unity Right chuckled, "What a fitting name."

    However, seeing Grandma Wang's familiarity with the Boar Demon left him astonished. Hadn't he not debuted yet? Could it be that he had already gained fame?

    He asked Grandma Wang, "Do you know him?"

    Mrs. Wang chuckled. "It was my granddaughter. She insisted on showing me a video yesterday. These young ones are so into their idols. She told me he's a new artist promoted by some company. I must say, he does have a strong masculine charm, so his name stuck in my mind."

    Upon her mention, Wei Xi did recall that Qiu Guokai had indeed praised the Boar Demon over the phone not long ago. He'd mentioned that ever since the team-building event ended and the Boar Demon returned to the company, there had been a remarkable transformation in him.

    Qiu Guokai had previously mentioned the issue with this group of supernatural creatures. Perhaps due to their different lifespans and species, they were inherently disinclined to integrate into human society after descending from the mountains, as if they instinctively looked down on humans. They usually didn't cooperate with his assigned tasks and showed great disdain for money. Among them, the Boar Spirit, as the leader of the spirits, was undoubtedly the most troublesome thorn in his side.

    Truly, it was a marvel. Ever since the expansion concluded, the wild boar spirit had transformed—quite literally—into a new creature. Not only did he lead his gang of underlings in earnest study, staying up through the nights to recite from their New Concept textbooks, but he also shed his former attitude of complacency and disdain for mortal mundanity. On several occasions, he took the initiative to express to Qiu Guokai his fervent desire to earn money. He even went so far as to declare that he would not be picky about how hard, tiring, or numerous the tasks were, as long as they brought in income.

    Considering Qiu Guokai's previous behavior, he initially had little faith in its request. However, to his surprise, when he tentatively assigned it a flat lay photography task, it executed the job exceptionally well. Not only did it demonstrate high levels of cooperation during the shoot, but it also remained patient when minor disruptions occurred on set. Instead of showing impatience, it led the other supernatural creatures in resolving the issues, earning praise from the entire photography team. Upon receiving its payment, all signs of fatigue vanished from its face, replaced by a contented smile.

    Qiu Guokai had sighed with Wei Xi back then, remarking on how challenging human society truly was. How long had it been since they left the mountains? An innocent wild boar had already learned to value money above all else.

    Wei Xi agreed in his heart. Indeed, he too had been greatly troubled by the concept of money after descending the mountain. With such a vast sect, where wasn't there a need for spending to grow and prosper?

    However, the transformation of the creatures clearly benefited the sect, as the commissions Qiu Guokai had earned from sponsorships were quite substantial.

    But it was only now that he learned these commissions came from advertising revenue. The six-figure sum was comparable to what he earned from conducting a single ritual. He couldn't help but marvel at the wonders beyond the mountains: "Just shooting an advertisement can earn so much? What use could such a thing possibly have?"

    Madame Wang, a retired business elite, would not stand for such ignorance: "Little Wei, you're mistaken. How can advertisements be useless? They serve a huge purpose. Don't talk about other places; let's just take our local TV station in the capital. Its ratings may be average, right? But when our company launched a new drink that wasn't selling well, we simply aired a branded ad during a prime-time variety show. Well, wouldn't you know it, the impact was incredible. It instantly became the best-selling series in the company, almost selling out!"

    Wei Xi remarked in surprise, "Really?"

    Wang Lao displayed a seasoned demeanor, "Nowadays, when people encounter unfamiliar things, they learn about them through the internet and advertisements. It's no longer an era where good wine needs no publicity."

    *****

    Wang Lao left with the revered Celestial Deity statue held respectfully in his arms. After he was gone, Wei Xi sat contemplatively on a sofa within his own sect.

    ...advertisements...

    Suddenly, he recalled that when their sect first opened, Unity Yi indeed mentioned promoting the sect online, even organizing various retweeting and lottery activities for the sect's official Weibo account. The Taicang Sect had indeed gained increasing recognition under his efforts, so much so that it recently surpassed three hundred thousand followers on Weibo. What did three hundred thousand followers mean? Rounding up, that was equivalent to having three hundred thousand disciples.

    A sect with disciples all around the world was precisely what Wei Dedao had envisioned as a prosperous sect. In Wei Xi's estimation, thirty thousand disciples were quite a substantial number. Initially, he was quite pleased, but when he scrolled through the trending topics, he realized that almost every account had more followers than the Taicang Sect.

    This couldn't continue.

    It was the day for regular health checks, and after finishing the morning meeting at the company, Wei Tianyi returned home to pack. Each time he passed by, he caught a glimpse of his eldest son sitting motionless in deep thought. His gaze was fixed on an indistinct spot, his curly hair tousled as he nestled in the large, fluffy sofa. He didn't appear aggressive at all; instead, he seemed serene, composed, and even slightly melancholic.

    Wei Tianyi was astonished. Heaven only knew how long it had been since his eldest son had been this tranquil!

    During this period, he had been trying to employ his old tactics, hoping that his cold-shouldered eldest son would revert to his former timid self. Thus, not only did he cancel Wei Xi's credit card, he hadn't spoken to the young man in a long while. Of course, Wei Xi was oblivious to this silent treatment – he never used the little unlucky fellow's credit card anyway, let alone engage in conversation with Wei Tianyi for no reason.

    Shu Wanrong was also scheduled for a medical checkup and was holding onto Wei Tianyi's belongings, ready to leave with her husband. Hearing his cold snort, she paused.

    She looked at him and asked, "What's wrong?"

    Wei Tianyi scoffed, gesturing for her to look at Wei Xi. "I think he's finally realized his mistake."

    Shu Wanrong wasn't too optimistic. "…I think you're overthinking it."

    "Hmph." With inexplicable confidence, Wei Tianyi left her behind and walked over to Wei Xi, asking coldly, "Do you have anything to say now?"

    Wei Xi pondered before responding, "…I think Tai Cang Sect can't continue like this."

    Wei Tianyi was taken aback. His gaze swept across the bizarre array of divine statues, incense burners, stone tablets, and lush vegetation outside their door, along with the believers offering incense –

    Oh my god!! He's finally going to shut down this ridiculous, embarrassing company??

    Wei Tianyi stared at him in disbelief, as if the sound of a 2000-shot salute, fireworks, and crackers filled his chest.

    In the next second, Wei Xi continued his analysis, "It's progressing too slowly. Ta Cang Sect might need a television advertisement."

    The celebratory firecrackers instantly fell silent.

    Shu Wanrong, carrying her small purse, looked at her husband with a complicated expression as he returned in a daze, "I told you, you were overthinking it."

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