During the ninety years this modern state was established for, the government had always considered maintaining the stability its top priority. 
The total population of the five provinces in southwest China amounted to over four hundred million people and Shu Zhou took up only a tiny portion of it. To the outsiders, despite being widespread over the internet, the cases were regarded as common homicides. Not a hint of the heart-digging and scratch marks were mentioned.
Internally however, the authorities were taking the cases very seriously, for something very special had been extracted from the victims' blood and flesh samples they tested—a poison.
Let's now turn our attention to Bai Town for a change.
Before anybody realized, it was the end of October, when late autumn brought with it the cool breeze. The impact of the snake-biting incident had died down completely and the mountain had seen a recent surge of tourists which only subsided some days ago.
It had been a while since Old Priest Mo returned to Lotus Mountain. He had indeed showed his sincerity by staying here for over a month. However, he was on the wrong side, which made him an antagonist from the very beginning. Moreover, he was a Neidan practitioner. Having accepted the logic of the Taoist history Xiaozhai proposed, Neidan was but heresy to Gu Yu!
Thus, there was nothing left to talk about between them. It was just as the saying went, birds of a feather flocked together.
Fang Qing had started high school and seemed to have turned much more mature overnight. Her grades were still mediocre, but at least she was willing to put some effort into them now. High school graduates were almost guaranteed to get into a college nowadays. Even if it was a third-rate one, she would still come out with an undergraduate degree.
Uncle and Aunt Fang were breaking their backs in their work. Fang Qing's growing up would be accompanied by a long string of expenses from the tuition fee and job-hunting to buying house and getting married—all expensive activities.
Gu Yu, on the other hand, had sold a few batches of incense these days, making a profit worth tens of thousands of yuan. Besides, because he and Lei Ziming were closer as friends now, the unabashed Old Man Lei started to press him for his incense almost on a daily basis. In the end, he had to make some Bili Incense for him.
Its recipe was created by alchemists of the Southern Dynasties. The incense was of the medicinal type and did not have any special fragrance, but was characterized by its ability to expel any unpleasant energy. When Old Man Lei received the incense and burnt it, he was not all that satisfied with it in the beginning. However, one week into it, he could feel that a lightness filled his body, as though all burdens had been lifted.
It was only by then that the fellow came to realize the benefit of Bili Incense.
Back then when Granny Zeng asked for incense from Gu Yu, she thanked him with a jade incense holder in the shape of a gourd, which was worth ten thousand yuan. Being a practical man, the old man told Lei Ziming to transfer 50,000 yuan to Gu Yu's account directly.
Even that amount did not feel adequate to Old Lei. After all, no amount of money was large enough to exchange for one's health.
Gu Yu accepted the money nevertheless, for family members of Zeng, Lei and Yuan were people he tried to make friends with. Moreover, he was in need of some extra cash right now. This was not a time to play pretentious.
Adding to the money he earned from previous orders, he now had over 100,000 yuan in his bank account. He withdrew 20,000 yuan and gave it to Uncle Fang, then stopped accepting orders from individual customers.
In the secluded valley, under the old tree.
The autumn air felt especially cold on the mountain. However, the valley was as warm as always. The foliage and branches of the old tree remained luxuriant without the slightest sign of withering. Comparing to the decadent and bleak view in the surrounding area, this place felt like a neverland unknown to the outside world.
Gu Yu was sitting under the tree now, practicing the essence-consuming method with his swallowing and spitting motions.
Ever since he obtained the method, he had been practicing incessantly on refining his form and concentrating his mind. The refinement had seen some significant improvement, but nothing much had come out of the concentration-of-mind practice. As long as five months had passed and yesterday, he finally detected a slight bounce of his mental force.
He felt it in his head immediately: 'I will surely achieve something today.'
He swallowed and spat, taking in the dense spiritual essence, slowly refining his physical and mental forms in the process. Circulating the energy inside his body in this way, when his usual finishing time came, he did not stop his exercise, but tried to activate his mental force and turned his sight inwards.
His mental force, which usually would only give the slightest vibration, had altered its behavior today, reluctantly becoming active. Immediately after that, he felt as if a magnifying glass had emerged in his mind, moving closer and closer.
Behind the lens was a universe which was being enlarged as the blurred image became vivid.
To put it plainly, mental force enabled one to see and control with their minds. As for now, Gu Yu had for the first time "seen" the interior of his body, which he thought would be dripping with blood, but turned out to be a place filled with resplendent colors instead.
It was a magnificent palace filled with misty visions, to which Dantian was the throne. Spiritual essence consisted of mingled Yin and Yang energy twirling around inside the palace, which was connected to meridians all over the body.
Under the throne were five lumps of energy in five different colors, representing the five internal organs of human body.
Records in a Taoist scripture said, "Through the inward contemplation, one could see the five internal organs as if they were musical instruments. Their five colors would be very distinguishable."
Another one said, "When one looks inward at one's heart, they would find the heart incomprehensible; when one looks outward at one's physical form, they would find it merely a shell; when one looks further into the world to observe other things, they would find them mere objects of our own creation."
The five elements existed inside human bodies: red represented fire, which was the heart; yellow represented earth, which was the spleen; white represented gold, which was the lung; black represented water, which was the kidney; green represented wood, which was the liver.
And Dantian was where Yin and Yang blended together. The whole setup had indeed created a small universe inside one's body.
It seemed forever before Gu Yu opened his eyes, yet he remained silent.
The introspection he carried out just then had brought him some new thoughts.
The five elements existed in all things on earth and the spiritual essence consisted of Yin and Yang energy; the human body had five internal organs and Dantian blended Yin and Yang energy together. The world at large and human body corresponded with each other. The so-called Human Immortals could channel the "Great Universe" with the individual one, by which the internal energy could be purified and elevated so that a higher level of life could be achieved.
Cultivation was the process of promoting the level of life.
In the dining room of Jiang manor, Xiaozhai was having her monthly family reunion dinner with her parents. On the table were a braised eggplant in clay pot, a ribs and lotus root soup and two other vegetable dishes.
All three had very elegant table manners, especially the parents, who were eating in an almost demure and courteous way. Father and Mother Jiang were in charge of culture and education departments respectively, both holding senior positions.
One would expect to hear chatter and laughter over normal family dinners, but not this one. The three of them ate in silence, as though there was nothing for them to talk about.
It was not surprising, actually. The daughter was living somewhere else for seven or eight years while she was little. By the time they got her back, she was old enough to go to middle school. After that came the university entrance examinations and they feared that communication would distract her. When finally it was time for her to go to college, she would live neither on campus nor at home, but rented a place and lived on her own.
Therefore, the daughter had spent only a handful of years around her parents even if reckoning in all the scraps of time. Not only that, to her parents, Xiaozhai was never a sharp-minded girl. They could not pinpoint exactly what it was about her, but she simply was not the same as other children.
As a result, her parents still felt her distant and unfamiliar, or even mysterious.
The three went on eating like this. Unable to withstand the awkwardness, Mother Jiang tried to start a conversation. "Xiaozhai, did you work overtime again yesterday?"
"En, it was after nine o'clock when I got home."
"What is your company busy with these days? Why are you always working overtime?"
"We are working on a project and there are not enough people, so there's a lot of workload."
"Oh, in that case, you can relax a bit after it's completed?"
"Well…" Xiaozhai blinked. As carefree as she was, she could not help hesitating when facing her parents. "I was about to talk to you on that. I'm quitting my job."
Mother Jiang's chopsticks froze in mid-air. "Have you found a new one yet?"
"I'm not switching my job. I just got tired of it and want to go out for a while."
Father Jiang was not happy with what he heard. Mother Jiang gave him a kick under the table and smiled, "That sounds nice. You can take the time to relax. Find a new job when you come back, or don't if you don't want to. It's not like you'll live on your salary."
Father Jiang snorted and did not press on. "Where are you planning to go?"
"I'll go to Jiang Zhou first. It'll be a long trip. There is a lot of places I need to visit," replied Xiaozhai.
"Jiang Zhou?" Mother Jiang gave it a thought and asked suddenly, "Hey, isn't Little Xiaojin attending a university there?"
"Yes, she should be in her second year now." Father Jiang nodded and instructed, "In that case, go pay her a visit on your way. You two haven't seen each other for quite some time."
Xiaozhai answered reluctantly with a grimace.
Jiang Xiaojin was the daughter of her second uncle. At 19 years old, the cute, gentle, and adorable girl was exactly what one would expect from a super duper pretty (devilish) teenager (brat)! 
 TL/N: The dates, time, and names of cities and provinces in this novel are part-factual, part-fictitious—such as the ninety years here.
 ED/N: Yep, the author inserted () there like that.