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Jiang Xiaozhai pushed back her chair and got up, pouring herself a glass of water.

Hearing the noise, the green snake opened its eyes at once and glanced curiously at its master, who had walked to the window and sat down on the protruding area by the bay window. Leaning on the ivory panel, she turned her head casually and just happened to look into those vertical pupils. She could not help smiling, "Come up here!"

"Sizz!"

The green snake slid down the wooden table and slithered towards her, leaping up when it came to the window and coiling up in her arms. Xiaozhai held it in a way one would cuddle a cat and asked, "You've been here for a couple of days by now, have you gotten used to this place yet?"



"Hiss!"

"Hehe, I see you've been quite at home. Good girl."

She patted it on its head. Yep, you've heard it right, the green snake was female.

After playing with it for a while, Xiaozhai turned to look out of the window, her countenance growing serene. On the window glass was the reflection of herself and the warm lamp light, accompanied by the cool and refreshing moon overhead. Leaning on the window, Xiaozhai appeared as though she was traversing back and forth between two worlds.

One meter away from the window was that wide desk, on which were the scattered pile of manuscripts and the four sets of files she separated out, each compiled into a thick stack and marked by a red pen. The first said "2200", the second "1794", the third "1056" and the fourth "589".

The numbers represented the years. [1]

As a large amount of Taoist scriptures and books was lost throughout various dynasties, the remaining records were extremely scattered and unsystematic. She had been copying and making extracts from various texts, and by optimizing the information she managed to get hold of, she finally sorted out a thread of ideas that was clear enough to follow.

Contained in the files were historical data, legends, folklore, as well as her own deductions—notably the newly founded ones after contacting Gu Yu.

She was going to bring the manuscripts to Bai Town and study them with that guy. It wouldn't involve any Taoist skills in particular, but was only to verify and make some supplements to the evolution of the Taoist community.

All those thoughts went through Xiaozhai's head as she sipped her glass of water, which was soon finished. She turned to one side and grabbed her mobile with a sweep of her long arm. She then sent out a message, "How's everything over there?"

A couple of minutes later, she got a short reply, "Mountain still closed."

"..."

She blinked and asked, "You with a friend now?"

Another several minutes passed before he replied, "Em, in a party right now, so many people are here."

Seeing that, she decided to let him be and only sent an "OK!" back.

After the brief chat, Xiaozhai saw the time and put down the green snake, ready to wash up and go to bed. It was nine o'clock at the moment, an hour neither too early nor particularly late. For many female city slickers, the night had just started.

Xiaozhai, nevertheless, was not one of them. She was actually rather monotonous, not in terms of her lifestyle, but in the sense of spiritual integration and enjoyment.

She had a colorful life—going to the cinema, listening to music, following the newest comic release, playing billiard, growing flowers, shopping, fishing… you name it. However, that was as far as her devotion went. She would not invest much energy into any of those activities, let alone being infatuated with them.

It was just as that time when she ran back to the park in the rain to pick the osmanthus flowers, which spoke volumes about her principles: go with the flow and follow her own heart.

"Splash!"

Time came to 9:40 p.m. when the sound of the splattering water stopped and the bathroom door opened. The green snake, who had been wandering outside the door curled up immediately. Xiaozhai came out with her hair hanging loosely on her back. She casually picked the snake up by its tail and carried it all the way to the bedroom like this.

As soon as the snake was back on the floor, it slithered onto the windowsill. Moonlight shone onto its emerald skin, creating an eerie yet beautiful image. Xiaozhai did not reach for her cell phone again, but slumped into her king-size bed right away and said into the darkness, "Good night!"

"Hiss!"

The party in the Zeng manor started at dusk and did not finish until well past ten o'clock at night. The attendants would stay in Bai Town for the night and go back to Shengtian the following day.

Driving Gu Yu back home after the party, Lei Ziming expressed adequate surprise at Phoenix Fair. As forthright as he might appear to be, Lei Ziming was in fact remarkably shrewd. In general, he was a person worth befriending.

When Gu Yu was leaving the party, the four elders all implied tactfully that they wished to have a set of incense made by him, which he found hard to refuse. He attempted to evade the request by saying he was rather busy lately and might not be able to produce the incense anytime soon.

The four behaved in the most thoughtful manner and replied that they were not in a hurry at all.

They were all extremely slick people and Gu Yu could not tell what effect would their being low profile produce. What he could think of for now were things like being gradually introduced into their circle or his incense becoming more renowned...

If the Zeng, Lei, Xiao, Zhang and Sun families could maintain this amicable and appropriate attitude, he did not mind deepening his contacts with them. After all, what he needed were the resources and possible assistance this group could bring him. Of course, the benefit would be reciprocal.

To put it plainly, his incense was treated as something to be worshiped by the families.

A few days after the party, the tension in Bai Town was gradually eased.

The municipal government finally held a press conference the other day, briefing the public on the progress of snake-catching in the closed-down mountain area, as well as how the five injured were compensated. Because of the publicity of this incident, the conference had attracted much media coverage and even the provincial TV station sent people to attend.

The government obviously attached much significance to this event. The scale of the conference was self-explanatory considering the name tag set on the table, which belonged to the deputy mayor himself; he showed up later and started to read off a script after a brief greeting.

"After the incident of snake-biting on Phoenix Mountain, the municipal government of Bai Town, the tourism bureau and the scenic area management office proactively addressed the issue… after a ten-day period of closure, the inspection of the mountain has produced significant results. With zero casualty of the personage involved, they finally captured the culprit behind the accidents. Please take a look…"

With that, a photo showed up on the large screen, displaying a scene of a snake beaten to death.

"..."

Numerous reporters at the conference stared at the picture with heads filled with roaring protests, yet their faces were all covered by a forced smile.

The previous picture of the snake had vividly showed an exquisite emerald creature. This one, on the other hand, was almost mangled beyond recognition, not to mention that it was half-buried in the grass. One could barely make it out as a green snake.

The truth did not matter. They would report whatever the authority said. After all, their travel expenses had been well covered.

In fact, the government officials did not have much choice either. The ten-day search around the mountain brought no results and they had to consult the specialists before coming to a possible conclusion, which was that, realizing the situation was turning against it, the snake might have, well, moved away...

What the government needed was to calm down the public; the truth was irrelevant. Vouched for by the specialists, they lifted the ban on Phoenix Mountain and reopened the scenic area.

Obviously, in order to highlight their achievement, a copycat green snake was presented to the press.

"After coordinating and communicating with the three wounded tourists, we've reached an agreement of compensating each victim with 100,000 yuan. Regarding the two police officers, because their injuries were incurred while on duty, they would each be compensated with an on-off consolation payment…"

The deputy mayor then announced the handling of the five wounded, who had received very different treatments.

Throughout the entire conference, the authorities and the press were well aware of each other's objectives and both parties acted with tacit understanding. Little time was left for Q&A and the conference was over after another few lines from the officials.

This public announcement had undoubtedly led to another wave of discussion, with a lot of questions raised on the internet, suspecting the authenticity of that snake, but it was all futile. Both the government and the media had confirmed it, end of the story.

Not to mention that after Phoenix Mountain was reopened to the tourists, no further accidents had occurred, which seemed to confirm the official version regarding the snake's demise.

However, to Gu Yu, everything seemed to have just started. He called up Jiang Xiaozhai and the two of them decided to search for the truth in the mountain's most remote depths this weekend.

[1] ED/N: There's actually another calendar used by the Chinese, in which the 1st year of the era isn't the one 2017 years ago, but over 4000 years ago. There are apparently 3 versions, so "normal" year 2015 is actually 4712, 4713, or 4652 in that Chinese calendar. I'm not sure about the specifics, but it seems to be somehow related to Chinese New Year and Chinese Lunar Calendar; just look up Chinese New Year on wikipedia and you'll find it there. Anyway, not sure if those numbers she wrote are years in this Chinese calendar, or if the author simply didn't bother/forgot to mention BC/AD stuff. The numbers may have not referred to dates, but age of the materials in years as well.

TL/N: the meaning of the numbers will be explained in the following chapters, so wait and see.

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