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"Splash!"

The downpour outside did not show any sign of stopping anytime soon, but seemed to have washed away the illusion completely.

Gu Yu’s mind had calmed down, but his body was still not working properly. It was twitching slightly from the hypertension he experienced earlier and it took a while to slowly suppress that motion.



He picked up his phone and opened the chat box, which had an actual content this time. It was a photo from Xiaozhai. A bronze plate in the shape of plum blossom was scattered with fine silver incense ashes, as if a thin layer of snow had fallen on it. It looked incredibly beautiful.

The message was sent at 9:20 and it was 9:30 now, which was to say, for all those weird things he went through, only 10 minutes passed in reality.

"As if a lifetime had passed" was such a cliche expression, but it also was exactly what Gu Yu was feeling right now.

Gu Yu was not in the mood for chatting. He replied with some pleasantries and sat back onto the bed, trying to comb through the incident.

Judging by the time, he was dragged into a vision-like world either when he started meditating or when he heard the tidal sound. Xiaozhai sent the message almost at the same time, which created a loophole in the vision.

From then on, everything that happened to him, from feeling hungry, going out for dinner and meeting Old Li who turned into a monster to running for his life etc., was all false.

It wasn’t until he noticed the loophole, which was the incoming message, that his fear subsided and the illusion was broken.

"Cluck!"

He smacked his lips and found this thing not complicated indeed. A mere message was enough to infiltrate that strange world and make the person trapped inside aware of it. Aside from giving children nightmares, he really couldn’t think of anything else it could achieve.

Well, that was only some flaunting afterthought after a narrow escape. He knew very well that if he failed to notice the abnormality in time and was taken out by that rotten mush, he would very likely be dead by now.

As for the reason behind that vision, it was quite obvious. It must have had something to do with the agitated spiritual essence and the aggressive bees. Therefore, he still had to find Old Li...

"Yuck!"

The idea of seeing the old man gave him a shudder and his body immediately felt stiff again.

He couldn’t help it! That was so gross!

Ever since Gu Yu made friends with that big squirrel, the way he thought about things was becoming more "unscientific" each day. However, that seemingly wild guess of his was actually not far from the truth. [1]

He sat for a bit longer and finally realized he was soaked in sweat, so he took out his toiletries and walked out. The hallway was rather dimly-lit and the walls were all worn out. The sound of TV and people talking could be heard in other rooms from time to time.

Both the washroom and the toilet were at the end of the hallway. He went to the toilet first and then entered the washroom. Another man was already inside, having no shirt on and wearing boxers only. He was humming as he shaved.

He looked at the sweaty Gu Yu and, comparing the latter’s appearance with his own "dress code", could not refrain from asking, "Mate, do you feel warm?"

"Yeah, the rain made it a bit stuffy."

"Take your shirt off, then. It’s much cooler this way!"

The guy patted his chest and swiped his face, then left the room humming. Immediately after that, a woman’s voice was complaining in some room, "Why did it take you so long to shave? Did you drop dead there?"

"I was trying to shave clean, or you’ll complain it’s prickly… come here!"

"Aiya! Lock the door first!" [2]

"Ha…"

Gu Yu chuckled. For the first time in his life, he found humanity so warm and reassuring. After cleaning himself up, he hanged up his vest to let it dry and lay down on the bed, but could not fall asleep even after tumbling around for a long while. He decided to take out his phone and typed a few words, "Asleep yet?"

"Trying."

"Well, I just want to say thank you, that’s all."

"Haven’t you said once this morning?"

"That’s different. Anyway, thank you."

"Sigh. You know what? Guys who keep secrets are so gay."

"Uh…"

She successfully choked him with a single sentence. He was speechless again.

***

The following day, early morning.

The weather turned out to be really nice. The sunlight was pleasant and the air was pure and fresh after the rain. Filthy water covered the ground, making it extremely muddy, but it could not stop the enthusiastic crowd. The only food market in the east side of the town was already packed with people at this early hour. The place was bustling with activity.

Gu Yu found this liveliness rather pleasant. He was going to find a place to eat but could not find a breakfast shop after searching around. He then picked a stall in the market and sat in the open air.

Four deep-fried dough sticks and a large bowl of watery tender bean curd with extra chili made him a very cheerful man, as if the "salty party" had finally taken out all the heretics and the whole world had joined in the jubilation. [3]

He returned to his motel after breakfast. The woman was eating from a bowl by the counter and asked him casually, "Checking out today?"

"Yeah, later."

Gu Yu paused there and asked, "Sister, at what times do buses to Bai Town come?"

"There’s one at 10:30, one at 14:00, and another one later at night."

"I see…"

He pursed his lips and was about to go upstairs. However, his legs would not move and he stopped there, as if struggling to say something.

Seeing that he was not moving, the woman asked in surprise, "Anything else?"

"Well…"

He struggled for a moment longer and finally asked, "Do you know a beekeeper called Old Li? I want to buy some raw honey from him."

"Sure. Follow the road directly to the west from here. There is a small house at the end of the road. He lives there."

"All right. Thanks."

Gu Yu went upstairs after getting the address.

He was not actively looking for trouble, but had learned some insights after the weird experience last night—cultivation was like sailing against the current, in which one would seek opportunities and fight against destiny. An idea could lead to many consequences, especially when life and death were involved.

Based on the experiences from Phoenix Mountain, the spiritual essence would never become agitated like that for no reason. Maybe something was interfering with it. This trip to Wudao River could be the opportunity he was looking for.

Twenty minutes later.

Gu Yu came downstairs with his backpack and checked out. He then turned directly west. The road was rather remote. He could see a few shops on roadside at first, but soon there was nothing but a desolate stretch of land.

On either side of the road were only some old brick and tile factories, which were enclosed by balustrades. They all seemed quiet and deserted. Gu Yu could not tell if there was anyone inside.

After walking further west, the ground elevated, revealing a sparse grove. There was a small courtyard by the road and a man was handling beehives in the yard—it was none other than Old Li.

Seeing the surroundings, Gu Yu was even more convinced now. That vision was based on this place and made some contortion for an exaggerated effect so as to terrify people.

However, if that was the case, it seemed like he was led this way on purpose.

For a moment there, he found the will of heaven very unfathomable. It took him quite a while to retrieve his thoughts and call out, "Uncle!"

"Yes?"

The old man raised his head and there was neither wax nor rotten flesh on it. He had the most plain face there was. He asked, "Who are you looking for?"

"I heard that you had excellent honey here and I want to buy some."

"How much do you want?"

"May I have a look?"

"Come inside!"

With that, Gu Yu entered the yard. The old man seemed to be in low spirits and led him slowly into a back room. Pointing at a jar of amber-colored honey, he said, "That’s all I have left, about one kilo."

He picked up the jar affectedly and examined it. "Uncle, your business is going really well. With all those bees, you almost sold out all your honey."

"Sold out? This kilo was the only thing I collected this week. The business is dying," the old man complained.

"How can that be? With so many bees?" He was fishing.

"They are useless. They either go out and sting people, or fly around in that grove… To be honest, I’ve raised bees for 20 years and have never seen things like this."

‘The grove?’

Gu Yu was sensitive enough to catch the key word. "What are they doing in the grove?"

"You got me. I went up there a few days ago to check but found nothing… alas, if they go on like this, I’ll have no bees to keep at all!"

The old man was so frustrated that he would pour out his grievances at every chance he got.

Gu Yu felt pity for the old man. He wasn’t planning to buy any honey before he came here, but now bought a jar instead. He then consoled the old man a bit and left the small courtyard after a while. He took a route where the old man could not see him and sneaked inside the grove from the other side.

As soon as he entered, a swooshing sound erupted from somewhere, which was threatening to pierce through his brain like a sharp, fierce arrow.

"Oh!"

Gu Yu immediately steadied himself and kept his mind alert, fighting back the harassment with all his effort. Fortunately, the piercing sound gradually weakened and turned into a rustling noise, which was exactly the tidal sound from last night.

It was more distinctive and intense than before, as if it was right beside him. The vision did not turn up this time. He tried to sense the direction and vaguely felt it came from the northeast.

The grove was rather small and he could almost take it all in with one glance. He ploughed through the ground twice but found nothing. On his third round, something finally caught his eye.

He hurried up and crouched down. After pushing aside some weeds and rubble, a white crystal in the shape of a fishbone revealed itself.

"Ha…"

Gu Yu picked it up without any difficulty and watched it closely. He couldn’t help but smile, "You are behind all this, aren’t you?"

[1] ED/N: I believe that the Chinese often say "it is not rational!" when they see something that is contrary to common sense (at least in novels with modern setting lol). The same phrase can also literally mean "not scientific" (the one and only right translation as far as any MTL is concerned), which translates to the English "unscientific". Long story short, it’s a wordplay.

[2] ED/N: Some of the readers may be familiar with it, it’s a sort of exclamation expressing wonder, shock or admiration. There are several similar phrases in Chinese (including aiyo or what often appears in translations as "ah" at the end of some sentences--there’s actually no "h" there, it’s there so that those who don’t know Chinese can pronounce it more or less correctly), Korean (aigo etc.) and Japanese (oya, ara, and others).

[3] TL/N: Refers to a pretended hostility between those who think certain types of food are only "proper" when sweetened and those who think the same food only "proper" with a salty flavor. The two groups are respectively called "sweet party" and "salty party". Some typical "controversial" food includes the watery tender bean, traditional Chinese rice-puddings (粽子) and glutinous rice balls (汤圆).

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