The servants stopped what they were doing to greet Jiang Chen. They had been told by their superiors that Jiang Chen was a surveying expert, here to canvass Cloud Camel Mountain. He had free access to the elder’s manor. Someone like him naturally warranted their respect.
Once inside, Jiang Chen asked, “Is the elder here today?”
“Yes, he hasn’t left the manor.”
“Welcome back, sir.”
Jiang Chen nodded and made his way to Yan Wanjun’s residence. With the pass and the elder’s explicit order, the servants let Jiang Chen enter without a word and nodded at him in a slightly fawning manner.
Jiang Chen observed them discreetly and relaxed a little when he noted nothing unusual about their expressions.
Unlike Yan Wanjun, he wasn’t as optimistic that House Yan wouldn’t target the elder. Yan Wanjun’s actions must have angered the patriarch. No patriarch could stand having a venerated elder steal his thunder and disobey him in public.
The patriarch may have refrained from making a move against Yan Wanjun before to avoid disrupting the order of the family, to refrain from disappointing the others, but here in Cloud Camel Mountain, the patriarch could make House Feng his scapegoat. Not only would Yan Wanjun’s death not disrupt the family, it’d drive the family forward and give them something to band together behind.
That was merely speculation for the time being, but Jiang Chen believed that they couldn’t let their guard down.
Even if House Yan didn’t make a move, House Xiahou wouldn’t be able to resist retaliation. It was against their nature to take the public humiliation from Yan Wanjun without doing anything.
Jiang Chen had also hinted at the possibility before. With doubt in his mind, he entered Yan Wanjun’s residence. The elder was in the garden tending to some herbs and seemed to be in a good mood.
He’d cultivated the herbs personally. It was evident that he’d put in a lot of care into the garden. He smiled as soon as he saw Jiang Chen. “You’re back, young man.”
“Elder Wanjun.” Jiang Chen nodded as he approached the elder, his nose twitching subconsciously and his gaze sweeping over the garden.
Yan Wanjun was puzzled by his unusual behavior. “What are you looking for, young man?”
Jiang Chen frowned slightly. “Did you plant all of these yourself, Elder Wanjun?”
“I did,” Yan Wanjun responded with a laugh. “But it’s probably undeserving of your attention.”
Jiang Chen’s talent in pill dao surpassed even that of Master Shi Xun. Yan Wanjun would never question his expertise.
The youth’s gaze settled on one of the herbs. He considered it carefully with a thoughtful expression. “Elder Wanjun, did you plant the Blackjade Coralplum yourself as well?”
Yan Wanjun chuckled. “You have keen eyes, young man. How did you know that I didn’t plant it?”
“Every spirit alchemist has their own signature method and style. The Coralplum clearly stands out from the other herbs. It’s not that difficult to tell.”
“You’re incredible,” praised Yan Wanjun. “How can you tell such nuanced differences? Personal signature? Is it really that obvious?”
He found it hard to believe. In his eyes, the Coralplum looked just like any of the herbs he’d planted. Could a master really tell the differences in a plant’s energy?
Instead of boasting about his ability, Jiang Chen considered the plant carefully with his brows furrowed before looking around the garden. After a good while, he asked quietly, “Elder Wanjun, may I ask you where the Coralplum comes from?”
Yan Wanjun hadn’t realized the gravity of the issue yet. He smiled. “Let me ask you a question, young man. How would you describe the style in which the herb was cultivated?”
“It’s difficult to describe in a few words,” Jiang Chen said faintly. “But it’s different from your method.”
The fact that the Coralplum was cultivated by someone much more skilled than Yan Wanjun was left unspoken. That wasn’t Jiang Chen’s focus, anyways.
Yan Wanjun laughed in delight. “You’ve finally made a mistake, young man!”
“How so?” Jiang Chen didn’t look even slightly surprised. He knew he couldn’t have made a mistake. That wasn’t in the realm of possibility.
Yan Wanjun smiled. “I don’t mean to offend you, but this plant wasn’t cultivated by man. It was found deep in the mountain this couple of days by a senior executive stationed here. He knows that I like planting herbs, so he gifted it to me this morning. This Coralplum is a premium specimen. I like it a lot.”
Jiang Chen smiled slightly. “Is Elder Wanjun saying that since the herb’s grown in nature, there isn’t a cultivation process to begin with?”
“That’s right.” Yan Wanjun sighed. “So you’re human after all, young man.”
Jiang Chen shook his head. “I didn’t make the wrong observation. The problem is that you’re too trusting, Elder Wanjun.”
His expression turned grave as he looked at the Coralplum. “Is this really a gift from a senior executive here, Elder Wanjun?”
“It is.” Yan Wanjun chuckled. “I don’t lie.”
“There’s something I’m not sure if I should tell you,” Jiang Chen said calmly.
“There’s no need for formalities between us, young man.” Yan Wanjun chuckled. “I already consider you family.”
“Alright then.” Jiang Chen nodded. “You are Huang’er and Qingsang’s grandfather, Elder Wanjun. I’m not going to hide anything from you. If this is a gift from a senior executive, please have him arrested immediately, no matter who he is.”
Yan Wanjun widened his eyes, his face ashen. “Why?”
“He’s committed an atrocious crime,” said Jiang Chen, his voice steady. “You’re an honest man, Elder Wanjun. You don’t realize how malicious this gift is.”
“What do you mean?” Yan Wanjun was shocked. It was simply a plant. How malicious could it be?
“Whoever gave you this Coralplum has one goal: to take your life.”
“That bad?!” Yan Wanjun couldn’t believe his ears. “I may not be an expert in spirit herbs, but I’m not entirely uninformed. I can confidently say that the Blackjade Coralplum is harmless.”
As a spirit herb hobbyist, he didn’t know much about the Coralplum, but he at least knew if it was poisonous.
Jiang Chen sighed. “That’s the clever part of the plan. Elder Wanjun, there must be someone of great intelligence behind this. The plot couldn’t have been achieved by a mere senior executive in Cloud Camel Mountain.”
“The plan?” Yan Wanjun asked with his mouth agape. “This is getting more and more confusing, young man. What plan are you talking about?”
“You aren’t wrong about the Coralplum, Elder Wanjun. It’s a high-level spirit herb that isn’t poisonous itself. If it’s raised separate from other herbs, it’s an invaluable asset.”
He had nothing against the plant itself.
“What are you referring to by ‘plot’ then?” Yan Wanjun was even more lost.
“Let me make a wild guess, Elder Wanjun. You must have been cultivating these herbs when you were in House Yan’s headquarters, and you started many years ago. There are people who know what herbs you’re cultivating, aren’t there?”
“Who are you referring to?” Yan Wanjun felt as if Jiang Chen was leading him on a merry chase. He had no clue what was happening.
“I mean the other members of your family, or perhaps House Xiahou.”
“No one from House Xiahou cares about my hobby, but there are many people who know about in the family,” admitted Yan Wanjun.
“Does Yan Wanyou know?” suggested Jiang Chen.
“He knows I like cultivating herbs, but we’ve never been on friendly terms. He shouldn’t know what herbs I have.”
“What about the other senior executives? Who would know about the types of herbs you keep?”
“There aren’t many who know the details, but well, the patriarch does know. We talked about it every now and then.”
Jiang Chen’s expression turned grim. He muttered, “Patriarch… Patriarch Yan, is it?”
“Yes. What’s wrong with that?” Yan Wanjun was starting to get anxious upon seeing Jiang Chen’s serious reaction.
“Something’s wrong. Very wrong. I’m not sure if it was the patriarch who gifted you the Coralplum, but I can guarantee that someone did it on purpose. If I were you, Elder Wanjun, I’d have the gift-giver arrested right now.”
“Would you explain to me what’s going on, young man?” Yan Wanjun had thought that he’d finally found something the young man didn’t know, but he wasn’t so sure now after taking in Jiang Chen’s serious expression and words.
The young man was always careful with his words. Things must be as grave as he was saying.