Phoenix Mountain, the northern slope.
It used to be a deserted area with a barren look. Phoenix Fair was a distance away and barely anyone was living here. However, a brand-new courtyard was here now, as if appearing out of the empty air. It almost seemed not to belong here.
The tiled houses had light gray roofs, black bricks, and white walls. Through the black iron gates, one could make out the concrete ground of the yard inside. The residence also came with a garage, which just looked like every other common arriviste household in the countryside.
It went without saying that the courtyard was a joint contribution of the Yuan, Lei, and Zeng families, which was used as their station here.
Gu Yu was cultivating on the mountain and the agreement was to have him coming down here once a month to collect the plants—that was also the only time they would meet him. As it turned out, today was his monthly visitation day.
Representatives of the three families had been waiting long in the living room. They looked ill at ease, for two other men were also in the room—Zhang Hongru and Jiang Chaofan.
These five people indicated the participation of four social strata.
Zhang Hongru represented the will of the government, while Jiang Chaofan was the voice of the BIMAUP. The Yuan Family was bolstered by the fraction holding real power locally and behind the families of Lei and Zeng were the dependent business leaders.
Being the one with the most prominent status here, Zhang Hongru was completely at ease, sitting there in serenity. Jiang Chaofan’s status was somewhere in the middle, a somewhat awkward one. Worried that the strife between those higher up on the food chain would affect them, the Yuan Family was feeling fidgety. As for the Lei and Zeng families, they were subject to the will of the others and their existence was negligible.
Not a single word was exchanged among the five people as they each sat on their spot. There was a delicate repression about the atmosphere.
They waited on. When the clock struck ten, Gu Yu showed up right on time. He was slightly surprised with the little crowd. "You people are... together in this?"
The one from the Yuan Family stole a glance at Zhang Hongru. Seeing that the latter remained in his seat sipping his tea, he gathered his courage and walked up to Gu Yu with a smile. "Mr. Gu, here are the new plants. Please have a look."
The ones from Lei and Zeng families also moved closer. "Mr. Gu, we’ve also contributed a little bit with it. We hope it could help you in some way."
These two were the key members and authorized representatives of their companies. Zeng Yuewei and Lei Ziming did not show up. The Yuan Family was whom Gu Yu sought after. If the two had decided to pester him, using the friendship they had with Gu Yu,
the latter would have definitely thought little of them.
The sense of propriety was very important.
Gu Yu had not met the two representatives before, but it was not hard to guess the reasoning behind this arrangement. He smiled back. "Thank you for taking the trouble. How is Granny Zeng?"
"The old lady is doing great. She also invited you to her place when you are not busy," replied the Zeng person immediately.
"Sure. I’ll go visit her when I’m free."
He nodded, then squatted down to check the plants. There were three cases in total, all carefully prepared. They were immaculate. He was not taking it for free, but had paid with his own money. Although it was not the money that the families were after, such transaction procedure was necessary.
"Thanks. I’ll take them all."
"Good, glad you like them."
The three men were relieved. They made no further attempt of sweet-talking, but automatically moved away, leaving room for the other two men.
It was not until then that Zhang Hongru put down his cup and came over to greet Gu Yu. "Mr. Gu, long time no see."
"Haha, it was a long time indeed. So, how have you been? Settling down nicely in Bai Town?"
"You could say that. Big cities have their exciting moments, but small towns have their leisurely life. I rather like it here."
After exchanging some pleasantries, Zhang Hongru said, "The project starts on the 15th next month. I’ll come to pick you up."
"Where are we going?"
"Why not Mount Emei first?"
Gu Yu found it strange. In terms of both the density of the spiritual essence and the abundance of resources, Mount Emei ranked the first among the three, with Tianzhu in the middle and Phoenix Mountain the lowest—the chaotic Tianshan was not to be considered at the moment.
"I have no idea. Maybe the higher-ups have their own consideration."
"I see. I’ll see you then."
Finishing his talk, Zhang Hongru did not leave, but returned to his seat and went on sipping his tea.
Then it was Jiang Chaofan’s turn, who darted a look at Zhang Hongru, a bit vexed at the latter’s presence. He walked up Gu Yu all the same. "Mr. Gu, I’m from Shengtian sub-bureau of BIMAUP and my surname is Jiang."
Gu Yu would talk to the man just for the sake of that surname alone. He chuckled. "Anything I can help you with?"
"Well, yes. We’ve ran into this case recently and it’s very weird…"
Jiang Chaofan told Gu Yu about the mass poisoning symptoms of the tour group, which the latter listened to with growing concern. Zhang Hongru had stopped sipping from the cup in his hand a long time ago, his attention apparently drawn to the case as well.
"That is to say, you’ve come straight here without any investigation?" Gu Yu asked.
"I think you know better than anybody else that with non-scientific incidents like this, there’s not much we can do there. So, we’d rather come to you." Jiang Chaofan was very frank.
"How are the residents of the island?"
"Because everything was happening so suddenly, they are all jittery and panicky at the moment. But according to our colleagues stationed there, no one is actually hurt so far and the residents don’t want to be evacuated," replied Jiang honestly.
Gu Yu gave it a thought and grinned. "Ok, I’ll solve it for you."
"Really? Thank you so much!"
Jiang Chaofan was delighted with this unexpected answer. However, his prudence took over the next second and he probed, "But from what I heard, you have certain principles and I was wondering…"
"Haha, let me figure this thing out first, then we’ll talk." Gu Yu smiled.
At that moment, Zhang Hongru suddenly moved closer. "Hey, Chief Jiang, may I come along? It’ll be an eye-opener for me."
"Well… sure, we can go together."
Jiang Chaofan pondered over the request for a moment and agreed. This man represented the state’s will, which was way beyond that of a sub-bureau. He could not afford to offend him.
"Grass River Mouth?"
Xiaozhai was somewhat surprised. Baffled, she asked, "We were just thinking about looking for thunderstruck wood there and something just happened to go wrong in the same area?"
"Yeah, as coincidental as that. I was wondering about it myself."
Inside the Cottage of Pure Mind, Gu Yu told the other two about the situation and asked, "I’ve agreed with those people to set off tomorrow. Are you coming?"
"I think not. It’s a critical time for me. I can’t afford the distraction…"
Xiaozhai sighed, frustrated over the fact that instead of being a happy onlooker, she had to stay indoor and cultivate. The thought was driving her nuts.
It was not up to her. As overbearing as the thunder technique was, it was not comparable to the fast-track-like essence-consuming method. Her progress was extremely slow. Talented as she was, she had to practice hard for two month before the sense of Qi steadied and the inner Qi of Metal Thunder showed signs of materialization.
The next step was to let the Qi of Metal Thunder communicate with nature so that the spiritual essence could be tempered and the real thunder created.
With Xiaozhai’s giving up, Long Qiu became excited. She was all sprightly. "Brother, I want to go! Take me!"
"You’re staying right here at home. No running around." He lectured.
"It’s ok for me to go out. I’m not cultivating the thunder technique." She would not accept no for an answer.
"Isn’t your Undead Insect of Blood Mosquito coming out in a day or two? Can you be away at this time?"
That question shattered all her hope of fighting side by side with her brother. There was no bad temper from her, however, for she never had one. She obeyed the arrangement without protesting.
In that way, both girls were left behind and Gu Yu had to go alone.
The following day arrived within no time.
Grass River Mouth was not far from Bai Town. The group of people left in the morning and soon arrived at their destination.
Hekou Town was extremely small, with a tiny population. For generations, people there made their living solely from the island and the river. They the river. They entered the town and were struck by its deserted appearance. It was a bleak and desolate view.
The appearance of the town was in stark contrast to the gorgeous pink and peachy colors covering the mountains. Somehow, the view felt almost eerie.
They went to the country villa first. The hapless owner’s hair was turning gray from all the worrying. Seeing them, the owner was excited and complained despite himself, "Good gracious! Thank god you’re finally here!"
From the notice he received earlier, he thought this was a police investigation. He was pouring out his grievance. "You guys have no idea how hard my business was hit! I was completely innocent in this. However, not only did I have to spend my last penny paying for the compensation, but also no customer would come here anymore. I have no other choice but to kill myself in the river!"
"Bro, don’t worry."
Zhang Hongru patted him on his shoulder and comforted him, "We’re here to solve the problem. I’ll be looking into a few things, please take your time in answering me. Has anything like this happened here before?"
"No, never! It’s not only me. Of all seven country villas, no one’s food had ever made a customer sick! I do not deserve this…"
Here we go! He started another round of rambling. The hospital had concluded that it was not food poisoning, which the victims would not take as an explanation. They traced it all the way to where things started and the owner was to take the blame. It was true when he said he did not deserve this.
At this, Gu Yu interjected, "If you are not to be blamed, then who should?"
"The peach flowers!" The owner gave an affirmative answer without hesitation.
"What’s up with the peach flowers?"
"Tsk, I’ve been living here all my life and I know when they should blossom and wither. It was so warm last spring and the flowers still looked shrivelled in March, showing at most some buds. This year? Just take a look yourselves. They are all over the mountains and it’s so frightening. When things do not go as they usually do, something fishy must be going on. I did not have to go to university to know that! Oh, one of the woods is the strangest one. A fog was rising in it yesterday!"
"Exactly. Peachy-pink fog in large plumes. We were all too afraid to go in. That dog of Old Jin’s was let loose and it ran into the fog when no one was looking. And…"
He suddenly stopped talking. Gu Yu prompted, "And what?"
Fear crept up the owner’s face and he seemed too afraid to describe it. With a shaky voice, he said, "Come, come with me…"