The owner's reaction rather confused them. The group left the country villa following the owner, walked along a narrow path, then arrived outside a patch of peach trees.
Gu Yu looked up into the distance and was surprised by what he saw. The endless stretch of peach tree woods seemed to have joined up into one single mass and he could not make out any individuals trees or blossoms. All that was there was a peachy fog enveloping the entire area. The enshrouding mist rose into the air in rolling stretches, thick and continuous, as if colorful clouds had erupted out of this land.
"Where's the dog?" Jiang Chaofan was also looking around, fighting back the astonishment rising inside.
"It's just over there, right ahead!"
The owner's face twisted indescribably because of something extremely disgusting one saw. He slowly lead the team in and cried out suddenly, "The fog is spreading out again? It did not reach here yesterday!"
"How far was it yesterday?" Gu Yu asked.
"Just, just there!"
The owner picked up a stone and threw it to a spot about two meters in front of them. His voice was shaky, "Right there. And the dog's in there, too."
"Arf… nnn… arf! Arf!"
The dog seemed to have registered their voices, for barks were suddenly coming out of the thick mist. It sounded shrilling, hoarse, but strangely spirited at the same time, as if the dog was in an unbearable state of pain and excitement.
The team panicked a little. The peachy plumes seemed static at first, but after a closer look, they realized that the cloyingly pretty mist was rolling constantly and appeared to be expanding slowly.
"Mr. Gu, what do you think?" Zhang Hongru frowned.
"I don't know what to think just yet. Let's get the dog out first."
Gu Yu scanned the area with his mental force and detected the dog about three meters away. His face became strained at what he saw.
"Ok, I'll have them get us some long hooks and ropes-"
Zhang Hongru was about to give the order when Gu Yu stopped him with a wave of his hand. The next second, Zhang Hongru realized the man who stood in front of him disappeared. Gu Yu had turned into a flash and dived into the fog.
The rest of the team was terrified by his move and broke into shouts and yells. Before they had a chance to finish, however, the figure slid back with a thing in his hand.
He tossed it on the ground and the crowd gathered around to look.
A younger member of the team started throwing up after a single look at the thing. The owner of the country villa even moved several paces back, refusing to look at it. As experienced as Zhang Hongru and Jiang Chaofan were with their fair share of seeing perverted scenes, those two almost could not stand it either.
It was a big yellow dog, as common as one could find everywhere—only that its skin was missing… well, not all of it. A little bit of skin was still visible, which looked like a piece of rubber sizzled over a stove, shrivelled, darkened, and then stuck to the flesh like a pulp of sticky substance.
The flesh itself was even worse. Blood vessels, nerves, bones, muscles, etc., all had the look of being corroded and destroyed by something. The head was relatively intact: one eye was a bloody hole now and an eyeball was dangling out of the other eye socket and swaying a little.
But the most unbearable part was the fact that the dog was still alive!
It was still breathing and excited in a creepy way. Certain body part between its hind legs, despite being half rotten, was still demonstrating its presence by "holding its position", standing ramrod straight.
A frantic lust was running wild in its body, which urged it to try to stand up and "poke" everything
that could be "poked", like those lively poodles did all the time.
Seriously, it was gross beyond description!
"It was lying there yesterday when we found it. None of us was bold enough to touch or kill it. We have been waiting for you people to deal with it. Is it some virus that has made the dog like this? Is it contagious?" The owner's face was turning green as he gathered his strength to explain.
It was understandable. With the abundant information in the modern society, everyone became over-imaginative. Such a scene would naturally lead to some ridiculous, apocalyptic thoughts.
"Don't jump to groundless speculations and no rumor-spreading! You should trust your country!"
Jiang Chaofan warned the man immediately. He waved his hand. "Get this thing back to the lab! Be careful, don't make direct contact!"
Right away, several men fetched some tools and took extra precaution in loading the yellow dog into a case, then carried it to the vehicle.
Seeing that Gu Yu was silent the entire time, Zhang Hongru moved closer to him and asked, "Mr. Gu, are you all right?"
"Oh, I'm fine…"
He came to himself. "I think this fog is highly erosive and can interfere with the mind. The effect even resembles that of the analeptics. It is indeed quite something."
"And it's expanding, which is the most dangerous part. What do you think we should do?"
Zhang Hongru looked grave. Without proper handling, it would mean calamitous destruction to local residents and the ecological environment.
"We still know so little of it. I'll go in and have a look first," said Gu Yu.
"You shouldn't do that! None of us can take the responsibility if anything happens to you." Jiang Chaofan advised against it right away.
Gu Yu might not be on their side, but there was no doubt about his importance to the government. The man was the key to many unanswered questions. No one could afford the loss if anything goes wrong.
"Haha, don't worry. I tried it just then. The fog is intense, but it can't hurt me with just a brief exposure."
The persuasion from the team was to no avail and they had no other choice but watch Gu Yu amble in.
The pretty pink color was everywhere in the mist.
Gu Yu dived head on into the peach flower fog. A few paces in, he felt a prick on his skin, as if it was burnt by fire or corroded by a strong acid. Someone as physically strong as him could feel the sting—one could imagine how potent the toxin was.
He activated his spiritual essence immediately, which wrapped around his body like a layer of transparent protective film, shielding him from the toxin.
He looked around. Everywhere he turned, there was only the icky pink and sweet-scented fog. He had lost his sense of direction and could hear nothing. His five senses seemed to have been limited significantly. Even his mind was going dumb.
Had it been any other normal people, they would have become confused and lost the ability to think.
As expected, Gu Yu had guessed it right. The fog was not only erosive, but was also able to meddle with one's consciousness… realizing that, Gu Yu simply closed his eyes and used his mental force alone as the guide.
Thus, within a three-meter radius, everything seemed to light up brightly. The miasma was gone, revealing the soil and peach trees on both sides.
The peach trees here were significantly different from those outside. The trees were draped with bright blossoms and the branches were covered with reds and pinks. Various shades of red looked frivolously charming, as if they were creatures with their own lives.
Gu Yu was startled. The idea of being "lively" was too bizarre. For an animal, one could argue that it might be spiritual. For a plant, on the other hand, it was just creepy.
He walked up to a tree and picked a flower. At a closer look, the peach flower looked nothing out of the ordinary and there was only the slightest spiritual essence about it.
He checked several more and they all turned out the same.
Still not convinced, Gu Yu willed his mental force into life and a tiny green blade appeared. It was less than seven cm in length and no wider than seventeen mm, but was sharp beyond comparison. It hovered in midair, its little body shining coldly in the light.
Immediately after that, the green flash flickered and disappeared without a trace. With another flicker, the next moment when it was spotted, it was dozens of meters away. The tremendous speed ripped through the air with a sharp whistle, setting off a gale with it.
It was none other than the green jade needle, which Gu Yu had spent over two months to refine and which was also his first official magical instrument.
Controlling the jade needle, Gu Yu let it run the perimeter, entering the trunks of peach trees from one side and exiting from the other.
"Pop! Pop! Pop!"
The needle had pierced through six to seven trees in a row when Gu Yu realized his mental force was being consumed at a terrifying rate. Hence, he retrieved the instrument and made another round of investigation. Nothing stood out in particular.
Gu Yu sighed with relief. It was not as bad as he imagined. There were no thousand-year-old undead spiritual being or cliched formations that swore to destroy heaven and earth. Damn it, if even plants were turning spiritual in the "novice village stage", would the players have any hope at all?
So, this phenomenon was simply created by peach trees alone. The spiritual essence possessed by one or two trees might not even raise an eyebrow. However, it was over twenty thousand mus 1 of trees we're talking about here!
On average, eighty trees were planted initially per mu, which added up to 1.6 million trees in total across the twenty thousand mus of land.
Packed as closely as these peach flowers were on this island, which was right next to a node, a mutation was likely to have been catalyzed by the dense spiritual essence, giving birth to this miasma of peach flowers.
Miasma was actually an awesome substance. Not only was it capable of AoE 2 attacks, it could also defend an equally large area. It was your "editor's pick" for guarding mountains and homes alike, acting like a show-off, or simply playing me-too.
The only problem was, he did know how to take it away with him!
Gu Yu turned the problem over in his head as he walked. He halted abruptly, for a tickling and irritatingly hot sensation was flowing out of his lower abdomen, which started creeping its way upwards, as if it was trying to sprawl all over him.
His inner Qi jolted at this. Next moment, when he tried to catch that sensation again, the strange tickle was gone.
He shook his head. Since nothing seemed out of the ordinary and his spiritual essence was almost exhausted, he decided to leave right away.
"Mr. Gu is coming out!"
"Mr. Gu, how was is in there?"
The crowd outside had been as restless as ants on a hot pan. Seeing him coming out, they all went up to him in a hurry. Gu Yu replied
Yu replied to none of their questions, but only took Zhang Hongru and Jiang Chaofan aside. In a low voice, he said, "It was all right. I have some idea now."
"What exactly is that fog?" Zhang Hongru asked immediately.
"A poisonous miasma produced by the peach flowers. The peach trees here have turned abnormal and we can't stay here for long."
He paused briefly, then went on. "So far, I can think of two solutions. One is to use some sort of large-scale sealing spell, or we can evacuate the residents, emptying the entire island."
"Isn't there any other way?" Jiang Chaofan found neither of the solution feasible.
"There certainly is. We can set a fire and the problem is solved for good. But are your sure that's what you want?" Gu Yu asked.
The two men winced, but immediately realized what he meant. They smiled wryly.
Even if they had the courage to burn it down, their superiors would probably reject the suggestion. The reason was simple: when there was an abundance of food available to you, you certainly had the freedom to pick among them; however, when you were poverty-stricken and on the edge of starving to death, you would not say no even to half a loaf of a spoiled bread—even if it could give you diarrhea.
Starting from scratch meant they had to build from ground zero. What was wrong with a little poisonous miasma? That was just another type of resource!
After a long silence, Zhang Hongru finally asked, "Even if we evacuate the area, isn't it still expanding?"
"No, it isn't. The miasma is created by the peach flowers and cannot be sustained without the latter. It's just a matter of strengthening the defenses and clearing the fields. Cut down all peach trees along the river bank, and that would trap the miasma on the island. On the other hand, you can always plant more trees and link it up into a single stretch."
Both men shuddered. The half-joking yet half-serious tone of Gu Yu was making them uneasy.
That was some bold statement. He was suggesting the large-scale production of biochemical weapons!
"That's it. I'll leave it to you guys to think that through. I need to attend to my own business."
With that, Gu Yu walked to a peach tree nearby and sat down cross-legged. He closed his eyes and concentrated on his own mind. The two disturbed fellows proceeded to report to their respective superiors, omitting not even the tiniest detail. After all, the situation was rather critical.
Before anybody realized, the sun was setting.
Golden waves glistened across the river, which was dotted by a few ducks. It was a most harmonious picture.
After finishing regulating his breathing, Gu Yu found his spiritual essence sufficient again. He stood to his feet, ready to go in a second time. Zhang Hongru was in low spirits, waiting on the other side for the decision from above. Seeing Gu Yu's movement, he said hastily, "Mr. Gu, you are…"
"I have come up with an idea. I'll try to collect some of that miasma… gosh, don't look at me like that. I really can't say for sure if it'll work."
Ignoring those two, he entered the woods again and walked deep into it, following a familiar path. He picked a spot where the miasma was thick enough and stopped.
'Who knows if it will work. Well, I'll give a go…'
Gu Yu took out a small gourd. It was luxuriantly green in color and about five cm in height. It had a top lid with the remains of a curl vine.
The gourd was the one he picked from Granny Zeng's last autumn. It was just for fun at that time and he had been nourishing it with his spiritual essence ever since. Because it was rather ordinary in its quality, he had not thought about refining it into a magical instrument. However, after the tempering for all this time, it was not that ordinary any more.
He sat down under a tree in a cross-legged position and pinched the lid to take it off, revealing the tiny opening on the gourd.
Immediately after that, he activated the manual of essence-consuming method. Being a mutation of the spiritual essence, the poisonous miasma responded to the calling, soon the calling, soon turning into a thin streak of pink thread and running towards his mouth and nostrils.
He then let out his mental force and took hold of the thin thread forcibly. The drifting thread was swaying in all directions and very hard to manipulate. He tried, retried, and tried a third time… it took forever before he barely managed to guide a streak slowly into the gourd.
As soon as that streak was in, Gu Yu closed the lid and sensed the miasma inside. It was well and exceptionally alive without any sign of dissipating.
"Haha, this actually works!" Gu Yu pursed his lips, slightly surprised by this achievement.
The idea he came up with at a whim turned out to be feasible. Having succeeded once, it was much easier to repeat the process. Following the previous example, Gu Yu collected another two streaks of miasma, which filled the tiny gourd to the brim.
"Not much here, but should be enough for a little research."
Standing up, he gave the gourd a shake with satisfaction. He was about to leave when he paused again.
That baffling ticklish sensation and uncomfortable heat was pouring out of his lower abdomen again and this time, it was much more violent. Almost instantaneously, his throat felt dry and he could taste a sweetness at the tip of his tongue. An uncontrollable desire for some passionate activity swept across his body.
His face turned pale with fear, which hardly ever happened to him, for he could not fight off whatever affected him!
He ran at full speed and did not stop until he was out of the miasma. It was only after he recited the mind-clearing manual that the urge slowly subsided.
It was a bright moonlit night.
Three vehicles were on their way back from Grass River Mouth to Bai Town, with Gu Yu, Zhang Hongru, and Jiang Chaofan in the same vehicle. The latter two remained silent the whole time, both very vexed by the turn of events.
Burning it down or not, Hekou Town was no longer a habitable place. The instructions from above were explicit: evacuate the residents first, then we'll discuss the rest.
It was so frustrating!
They were frustrated at themselves for their uselessness. They were frustrated at Gu Yu as well, for with all his capability, the man was not on their side. They were even frustrated at the government: why can't someone hurry things up and train some talented people (or Taoist priests in this case)?
The journey went on in a depressing atmosphere. Everyone was preoccupied by their own trouble.
They were almost at Bai Town when Jiang Chaofan spoke at last. "Mr. Gu, thank you very much this time. Rest assured, you will be remunerated accordingly."
"Well, I didn't exactly help with anything and I can't bring myself to accept the reward for nothing."
Gu Yu waved his hand and added, "The peach flower miasma is incredibly poisonous and the place is not far from Bai Town. I think you should take care of it as soon as possible. If you run into any other problems, feel free to come to me."
Those two read between his lines. It was voluntary collaboration this time, for the sake of everyone's safety.
As they spoke, the vehicles arrived at the foot of Phoenix Mountain and Gu Yu bid them farewell.
The moon was dim now and the darkness was profound. All sounds were hushed. Gu Yu took in the desolate and moonlit mountain, then started ascending. However, even he himself failed to notice that a faint trace of peachy color had just flickered across his eyes.TL/N: roughly 1300 hectares, or 3300 acres ED/N: Area of Effect (attacks that affect an area instead of a specific target)