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"Be at ease… at ease my ass!"

In the lounge of the ground floor, the hotel owner spat at the experts talking in the TV and ranted, "It's November now—WINTER, and the average temperature is still 18 degrees 1 ! Where do you think Huo Zhou is? In the South China Sea? We're not f**king idiots!"

"Shut your big mouth! I see you're giving me a lot of attitudes lately, what do you think you're doing?" his wife scolded him.

"Whatever, I'm so fed up!"

"Then get the sh*t out of here! Go back to the hometown!" the wife chided him again, then put a piece of meat into the bowl of their kid, who was burying his face in his food and eating in silence.

The family was not from around here. They arrived here a few years back as tourists and fell in love with Grape Valley at first sight. After returning home, they sold their properties for ready cash and came back to open this hotel. The money had been good.

The owner was apparently a hen-pecked husband. He mumbled something in returned, but dared not talk back aloud. The landlady finished her meal in a haste and was going to clean up the table when she looked out and smiled. "Hello, Xiao Gu, going out again?"

"Yup, just to have a look around."

Gu Yu came down from the second floor with a backpack and was heading out when he spun around and walked up to the landlady. "The rent I pre-paid is almost used up, right? I'm gonna be here for another month, so let me transfer you some more."

"Oh my, don't worry about it. Just make the payment whenever you see fit."

The landlady beamed at him. Despite the courteous words, she promptly grabbed her phone. Gu Yu scanned the QR code, transferred 2000 yuan to her, then waved his goodbye and left.

The owner followed Gu Yu with his eyes and muttered involuntarily, "The guy's been here for a month all on his own and going to god-knows-where all the time, he's not a terrorist, is he?"

"He's a big-time writer, and he's come all the way here just to search for inspiration, you idiot!" the wife retorted and patted her son. "Finish your food and go do your homework. Be a good student and don't be like your dad. He's such a boor!"

Gu Yu ascended all the way up the mountain after leaving Grape Valley. He did not get in too deep, but stopped somewhere on the perimeter.

Sitting down cross-legged on a big rock, he took out the green gourd, focused his energy onto it, and inhaled. Instantly, the surrounding red cloud erupted into life. Lumps and streaks were pushing their way to squeeze into the gourd.

The gourd was soon filled to the brim. He stopped the manoeuvring and all was quiet again.


He did not get up right away, but closed his eyes and focused his mind, sensing carefully of the fluctuation of Flaming Mountain.

With winter at the doorstep, the expanding of the abnormality had unexpectedly slowed down significantly. He had anticipated a full-on break-out next February when a barren land would stretch out for thousands of kilometers. The way it seemed, with this winter as a buffer, Huo Zhou might be able to hang on for a while longer. 

It was only lingering on its last breath, though. Even if it could make it into the next spring, summer would come again, together with death.


Gu Yu opened his eyes and shook his head. Only then did he rose to his feet with the gourd and returned the way he came.

The gourd could hold as many as four streaks of fire spiritual essence. Because they needed to be separated and tempered one streak at a time, he was making rather slow progress. Of the entire month he had been staying here, he went into the mountains once or twice each week and aside from eating and sleeping, he had spent all his time refining the magical instrument.

The change in the appearance of the green jade needle was obvious. The greenish blue was turning into deep red and while its piercingly cold edges before were proof enough of its sharpness, it was now magnificently bright, as if a layer of flame was flowing through it, making it all the more awe-inspiring.

He was looking forward to seeing the result as well. It seemed he was going to make something spectacular.

He had had serious discussions with Xiaozhai about this magical instrument. Needles might not be the most masculine weapons to fight enemies with, but they were the most practical choice for him.

Common people envied the immortal sword-wielders, which was something he could actually come up with. Build a short sword first and nourish it with refining-by-mental-force method, which would also give him a sword moving freely as if it had its own mind and able to kill an enemy from a hundred steps away.

However, there were two problems. For one, swords were much harder to control and more spiritual-essence-consuming than needles.

For another, it was a flying sword all right—a sword staying in the air, but he would not be an immortal sword-wielder.

The real Immortal Sword-wielder Sect originated in the Ancient Immortal Period and used to be popular around Qingcheng and Emei area, but was now near extinction. It was divided into Tactic Sword and Taoist Sword. The former adopted the actual, tangible swords, while the latter deemed the innate energy as the sword.

The ultimate goal of the sect was to wield the mind, the energy, and even the doctrine as the sword. The will would be so immense and powerful that there was nothing in this wide world that they could not wield. Why then would they need an external media?

The so-called "Sword Immortals" had been depicted as building an invincible flying sword out of some ten-thousand-year-old refined gold. The sword one then rode was as wide as a door plank, and they called that wielding a flying sword...

How cheap was that, huh? How cheap!

Let's turn our attention back to the other half of the couple. Xiaozhai had been away from home this past month as well, running here and there on her own. The phone calls between the two had been sporadic and they had grown used to act alone.

He found it rather nice, actually, for at least no one was stealing his duvet away at night.

Urumqi, the research base.

The place had transformed into a small farm, surrounded by strange-looking scientific instruments for monitoring and fostering, while the ground was covered by hundreds of plants from trees to weeds; there was just about everything.

Outside the glass dome covering the farm, Mu Kun, Director Tong, and the envoy from the capital had gathered here, listening to the introduction from a specialist.

"The one district and two counties under the jurisdiction of Huo Zhou have a total area of 70,000 km^2. We've collected two plants and a soil sample from all 26 towns, 172 villages, and every scenic area, and have spent the past month fostering them with every means. Unfortunately, all results came back unpromising."

With that, the specialist gestured to his assistant, who brought forward two pots of plants and a packet of soil.

In one pot was a plant with bulky stems and thick skin. It was of a yellowish-white color and had round leaves. The one in the other pot had taupe bark, dense branches with ridges but no bristle, and its leaves were spike-shaped.

"This one is called mouse melon and this one bell thorn—both ordinary plants commonly found in the northwest. When we brought them back, they were extremely dehydrated. Theoretically, after being fostered for this long, they should be fully recuperated, but please take a look…"

The specialist pressed a button on the remote control and a picture flickered on the screen, showing what the two plants looked like before. The group turned their heads back and forth between the picture and the plants in front of them and realized that the latter looked almost exactly the same; the improvement was barely detectable.

"We find it very strange, for it defies the rules of biology. We've provided them with all the favorable conditions there are for the growth, but they simply refused to live. I cannot understand this phenomenon. Maybe it is as what that Mr. Gu said: a mutation of the spiritual essence has eroded the inside of the plants. Unless it is removed, there is nothing we can do."

"That is to say, the plants cannot be saved via scientific methods?" Mu Kun asked hastily.

"Exactly! And that's not all. This one is much worse…"

The specialist opened the small packet himself and said in a grave tone, "As you may know, soil contains many nutrients needed by plants, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, iron, etc. Even if they are washed away once in a while, the nutrients can be recovered after periodic modifying treatment. However, this soil has had its internal structure completely destroyed. In other words, it's… dead. Yes, dead is the right term!"


He had only just finished the sentence when the packet of sand sank a little at the opening, as if responding to his words. The withered white substance completely void of any vitality poured out to the ground, making a faint, strange noise.


The group watched it fall. In an instant, it had piled into a little white tower on the ground, reminding one of the vicissitudes of history dried up in the wind and a past annihilated by the endless time—with a whiff, everything was lost in a cloud.

TL/N: 64 degrees fahrenheit

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