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The density of the spiritual essence node here in Tianzhu Mountain reached a six, the highest Gu Yu had encountered so far.

Unfortunately, with the abundant water here, the small lake had taken up the entire space, leaving no room for them to stand. If they wanted to observe it closely, they would have to dive into the lake.

At the current temperature and with so many weird fish in the water, it would be suicidal diving in. It also meant that even if they managed to take over this cave in the future, they would need to carry out quite some construction work here before it could be turned into a suitable cultivation site.

They stood some distance away, taking in the surroundings carefully. No abnormality like the red fruit from the old tree could be found save for the fact that the stone wall around the lake was white and shiny, which seemed a bit strange.



Picking up a cobblestone, Gu Yu hurled it at the wall. The sound from the collision was neither a muffled thump nor a feeble clatter.

Instead, it came off as a crisp "clank".

He found it rather unusual and asked, "Shouldn't that sound come when you hit metal?"

"..."

Xiaozhai also picked up a rubble and threw it at the white wall on the other side. The impact produced another "clank". She shook her head. "The internal structure might have changed from the contamination of the spiritual essence. If only we could carve out a piece of it."

That being said, they had neither the means to cross the water nor the proper carving tools. All they could do was take some photos. They had long since lost all signal on their phones and it was thanks to the multiple portable chargers they'd brought that they still managed to use their phones at all.

Before they realized it, the sun was setting when they exited the cave.

Gu Yu fumbled out a notebook, noting down the location of this place. The pages were cramped with text and road maps, almost including all areas of Tianzhu Mountain.

Drawn in it were water sources, areas haunted by beasts of prey, suitable camping sites, dangerous road sections to watch out for… everything that needed paying attention to could be found in the notebook in great abundance.

Apart from those, they had also arrived at two conclusions:

Firstly, they did not know if it was pure coincidence, but the nodes were all found in relatively secluded areas and were guarded by mutated creatures.

Secondly, it was something regarding the earlier speculation on the recovery of the spiritual essence. Well, it was no longer a speculation.

The human civilization had survived until this day largely depending on the wisdom and legacy of the ancestors. Regardless of the form they took—be it passing down with written records, by images, or orally, the very first generation who came up with these ideas was greatly able and virtuous people.

Gu Yu and Xiaozhai were not among the sages, but it went without saying that this notebook was incredibly valuable.

After a four-and-a-half-day trudge, they finally found the node. They took their time moseying back to their camp and spent another day and a half to walk out of the mountain. Together, the search had taken them exactly six days in total.

They returned to Tianmen Town and without resting, they rented a car to Qian Zhou, where they found a small hotel and got a room, ignoring all proprieties. Once inside, they slumped onto their bed and fell asleep.

It was well over ten hours when they finally woke up. By then the hotel owner was panicking and on the verge of banging on their door and calling the police. They only felt "fully recharged" by the following noon.

"You two are unbelievable! I haven't heard from you for almost a week and neither of your phones was working. I nearly called the police!

Time to come clean. Where have you been? Hey, you couldn't have stayed in a hotel this whole time, could you? OMG, you guys are fierce!"

"..."

Xiaozhai held the phone away from her ear and only answered after Xiaojin finished blasting out her exclamations. "Nothing happened. We went into the mountains to look around and only just got out."

"Who in the right mind would stay in the mountain for seven days in a row? Do you think I'm an idiot or have you two become smurfs?" [1]

Xiaojin was furious. Had the mobile signal been a tangible line, she would crawl all the way out here to strangle the two with her own hands.

Xiaozhai was well aware that her reaction stemmed from her anxiety over their well-being. It was rare that she did not try to force Xiaojin to be quiet, but tried to calm her down with gentle words. After quite some time, Xiaojin hung up, still feeling indignant over the two troublesome rogues!

After placating the kid, she turned to ask Gu Yu, "Have you looked it up yet?"

"We'll need to transfer three times to travel from Qian Zhou to Shu Zhou by train. That's just too much fuss. Let's go to Lu Zhou first and take a direct flight from there," replied Gu Yu.

"Ok, let's do that," she nodded.

"Then I'll book the tickets. We'll leave tomorrow."

Qian Zhou was their relay station, where they had stayed for the past two days to rest and reorganize. They couldn't take a shower in the mountains and had to trudge for almost 50 km daily, crossing mountains and rivers in dirty underwear.

The journey had taken them six entire days. One could imagine the situation down there.

Shu Zhou, Luobi County.

There was an ancient town in the county, which was built over 600 years ago. In the town was an ancient street, which ran longer from east to west and shorter from south to north. Looking down from above, the street resembled a unique and peculiar big boat, hence the name "Ship-shaped Street".

A Temple of Spiritual Official stood at the east end of the street and at the west end was a sky lantern pillar. In the middle of the street was an opera tower backed by a memorial archway. On either side of the tower were long rows of tile houses with protruding eaves, commonly known as "cooling rooms".

In spite of the rapid change brought by social development, some from the older generation still preferred to stay here, drinking tea, listening to the opera, picking their ears, smoking tobacco in the cooling rooms… enjoying in peace their last few years in the mortal world.

Today was a big day—at least for the elderly—for both a fair and a drama were taking place. People from all nearby villages would gather here for a lantern drama, which was a favorite of the locals of Shu Zhou.

In the county police station, however, the atmosphere was unusually solemn.

All officers with a higher rank were present. The station heads themselves were taking the lead to hold an emergency conference. One of them said, "We are on a tight schedule here and I'll make it quick. Two things: the first one we all know, which is linked to the fair today. Make sure to keep everything in order and prevent stampede accidents and keep an eye on petty thefts. Secondly…"

He paused and went on, "According to tips we received from the populace, two suspicious characters with secretive behavior are sneaking around recently. It is very likely that they are involved in major cases. These two have been seen roaming around Luobi. Therefore, starting from today, the entire county is going into a state of emergency. Keep all intersections and passageways under guard. Under no circumstances should we allow these two to escape!"

"..."

The others listened to the announcement with blank faces. They were going into war without any substantial evidence. Wasn't that rather hasty?

Right away, someone asked, "Director Chen, what exactly have they done? How far should we go with this? With what approach?"

"Don't ask unnecessary questions!"

The officials themselves were troubled by the task as well. Glowering at the one asking the question, Director Chen said, "The bottom line is, those two have to be brought in unharmed. Figure out the details yourselves."

After that, the conference went on by allocating specific spots to each group and team before concluding. The crowd remained befuddled and went into an animated discussion.

"What's with the funny instructions these days? We've just been told to watch out for suspicious characters and today the order becomes making arrests right away!"

"Exactly. Anyone knows anything about this? What on earth is going on?"

"I heard the orders came from above. Got something to do with that homicide case."

"The homicide case? As in, the one in Tuling County?"

"Even if that's the case, what's with all the secrets? We are given nothing but a bloody snapshot!"

The man speaking smacked a piece of paper onto the table, which was an imitative portrait simulated by computer based on Liu Changhe's description. The man on the paper looked rather young, with a ghostly pale face, narrow eyes, a straight nose, and very thin lips.

Separately, his facial features looked nothing out of the ordinary. However, when brought together, they created a gloomy face that was very disturbing to look at.

"Whatever, stop complaining!"

"Man, the bosses smacked their lips and we are running till we drop. Let's move!"

[1] TL/N: The mention of the smurfs is related to the Chinese theme song of the TV series, which opens with a line roughly translated as "a group of smurfs live in a remote place beyond mountains and seas".

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