Yuyang City is the capital of Yuzhou Island Province, located in a subtropical region. While Yong'an has already entered winter, it is still a bright and sunny summer here.
A coffee chain in the Yuyang New District has become a new internet sensation these days. On weekends, idle young people line up outside for "brunch". The owner happily acts as a human queue machine at the door, glancing at their "store's treasure".
A few days ago, a long-haired man came to the shop and stared at the figurine inside the shop. The figurine was of a chubby bird chasing a butterfly, and he stared through the glass window for a long time. The owner unintentionally looked up and met his gaze, forgetting to breathe for a moment.
It took a while for him to come back to his senses and hurriedly went out to ask the customer if he wanted to come in and sit down. The man spoke up and admitted that he had no money and no phone, but he needed to stay in Yuyang for a while and asked if he could stay at the shop and help out.
He said it with ease, as if not having money for food was a funny thing and not embarrassing at all.
Normally, someone like this would either be a scammer or mentally ill, but the boss observed that he spoke with a standard broadcasting accent and had a striking appearance, especially with his long hair. The boss ruled out the impossible and came to the conclusion that he had encountered someone filming a reality show.
Free advertising! If it became popular, the whole country would see it. Where else could they find such a good opportunity?
So the boss agreed happily and too quickly, which surprised the man who had come to stay. He never expected the local people to be so kind and hospitable.
After a week, the boss still hadn't found out where this person's filming team was, which was a bit strange. But he didn't regret it, because this guest was really helpful.
On the first morning, before the shop even opened, the guest found a dusty clay xun in his house. He cleaned it up and sat at the door to try it out, playing a little tune.
Whether it was a coincidence or he had some kind of bird-attracting magic, soon the streets and rooftops were filled with birds listening to him play the xun.
These little listeners were even more well-behaved than the people in the movie theater. They lined up in an orderly fashion, waiting their turn without a single chatter or shout. As they listened intently, they even swayed their heads and bodies, attracting countless camera lenses.
That day, the coffee shop's sales doubled, and this "Little Gege playing the Ocarina in Yuyang" became an internet sensation without spending a single penny. The coffee shop became a popular spot for social media check-ins, and the owner was overjoyed.
Two days later, the mysterious customer stopped playing the xun and instead brought a small carving knife to the shop. They began carving small animals for the customers who placed orders, occasionally cracking jokes with the young people that were not even remotely funny, such as:
"Hey, young man, I want a Labrador."
"What kind of strange creature is a 'Labrador'?"
These were the kind of words that made others feel like they were "probably a fool" after hearing them. But this man had a pair of particularly affectionate eyes.
When he looked at someone with those eyes, the other person would feel that no matter what nonsense he talked about, it was because he liked them and awkwardly wanted to talk to them more. They were already so infatuated that they didn't care about the content of the conversation.
The boss was very clever. Seeing how easy it was to deceive these fools, he quickly put up a sign at the door that read, 'Spend over 200, collect 30 likes on your social media, and get a free handmade wooden carving with any theme.'
Suddenly, more people lined up.
"Hey young man, can you carve a person like yourself? Look here...look at the camera, smile. Oh my, you don't even need to edit your photos - can you carve me?"
The mysterious customer kindly smiled at her camera and politely declined, "Portraits have souls, it's best not to play around with them. Do you want anything else?"
"I can't think of anything in particular that I want," the young girl focused on finding the right angle to take a photo of the "artistic film" with his face and hands, and casually said, "Why don't you just carve something random, as long as it looks good."
The mysterious guest took matters into his own hands. He swiftly began carving without hesitation, and in no time at all, a wooden butterfly that seemed to be ready to take flight had taken shape - he usually carves butterflies if the customer doesn't have a preference.
When carving other things, he often has to stop and think, but with butterflies, it's as if he has been honing his skills for years, and he can easily create one that looks just like the small butterflies on display in the shop.
Inspired by this, someone asked if he could also carve a bird chasing a butterfly. It looked plump and festive, but he refused and didn't explain why, only smiling and saying that he didn't know how to carve birds. The boss added a note to the "any subject" sign on the billboard: except for people and birds.
The line of people waiting outside the door grew longer and longer.
A SUV with a license plate from another province was stuck in the growing traffic. The driver looked out the window and said to the man in the passenger seat, "We're stuck, Mr. Nian. Should we take a detour?"
Just then, the man sitting at the door of the shop, who had been carving wood with great concentration, looked up. His gaze pierced through the crowd and landed on the SUV, with a smile that was not quite a smile.
Mr. Nian, who had been resting with his eyes closed, suddenly felt a chill run down his neck. He opened his eyes and scanned the outside with a sharp gaze, like a knife.
Bathed in the brilliant sunset of Yuyang City, the streets were filled with noisy teenagers. This group of boys and girls crowded around the entrance of a popular internet-famous store, all heading in the same fashionable direction.
It was unclear whether they hadn't worn enough of their school uniforms or if they had graduated years ago and spontaneously bought matching "trendy" clothes, shoes, and jewelry. They even seemed to want to have the same hairstyle.
At first glance, the crowd looked like they were all born from the same heroic mother.
"What's going on?" someone in the back seat asked.
This was a five-seater off-road vehicle, with the driver and Yan Qiushan sitting in the front, and three people squeezed into the back seat, two men and one woman. The woman was the puppet servant girl by Old Lady Yu's side. In broad daylight, the connecting lines on her face were even more apparent, so she had to wear a thick veil to cover up as much as possible.
She was flanked by two men, one on the left and one on the right. The man on the left was middle-aged and blind, with cloudy white cataracts covering his open eyes. The man on the right had a scarred face, with raised skin resembling three-quarters cooked slices of grilled meat.
Their appearances were too unpleasant to look at closely. When the driver heard their conversation, he accidentally glanced back and got goosebumps all over his body, feeling like he wanted to cover up the rearview mirror.
"It's nothing," Yan Qiushan took off his sunglasses from his forehead. "How much further?"
"Just up ahead," the driver quickly replied. "Everything has been arranged. We're the only guests these two days, and the boss is one of our own. He won't spill any secrets."
As they spoke, the driver struggled to navigate past the trendy store and finally arrived at a small hotel 300 meters away. He honked the horn and the gate opened, allowing them to drive straight in. A waiter then cautiously peeked out, looked around, and quickly hung a wooden sign that read "full house" at the entrance before retreating back inside like a thief.
"Let me help with your luggage..." the waiter offered.
"No need," Yan Qiushan pushed the waiter aside. "I'll handle it myself. Snake Skin, come and give me a hand."
The scar-faced man nodded and, together with Yan Qiushan, pulled out several large suitcases from the trunk. The service staff, who was standing by with hands tied, couldn't help but take a closer look. He wondered what was inside those heavy boxes. Suddenly, he felt something and turned around to meet the blind man's white eyes...staring right at him.
The service staff shuddered, his hair standing on end.
"Didn't your parents teach you when you were young," the blind man chuckled, lowering his voice. "Don't look at things you shouldn't."
Before the words had even finished, the blind man's figure flashed and he perched in front of the service staff. The poor guy's legs went weak and he almost fell to the ground.
Yan Qiushan coldly warned, "Silver Shadow."
The blind man took a step back and smiled mysteriously, reaching out to help the waiter steady himself. "Stand firm," he said.
The waiter listened and, afraid of losing his balance, used all four limbs to scurry away.
Several strange guests carried their luggage into Yan Qiushan's room and closed the door sneakily. The scar-faced Snake Skin opened the suitcases to inspect the contents, and the room suddenly lit up with the sight of various jewels stuffed into the large boxes.
When he unzipped one of them, several coral bead necklaces spilled out. Snake Skin's throat rolled as he carefully stuffed the necklaces back in, quickly retracting his hand as if to avoid suspicion.
He silently recited, 'These are all things from the dead. Amitabha, I will not be greedy.'
These things are called 'Yin Treasure' and were dug out from a grave. In the past, when wealthy families buried their deceased, if the coffin lid was not nailed properly, it would be targeted by tomb robbers. Jewelry and jade that had been buried for a while would absorb the corpse's energy and become excellent offerings.
The last suitcase, however, was filled with shock-absorbing materials. Inside were several large glass bottles filled with dark red blood, all of which were infant blood.
According to internal records of the True Nature Sect, it is said that the Mountain people were a slave society before they were wiped out. These slave owners and nobles were extravagant and greedy, practicing evil arts and drinking infant blood because they believed it would keep them forever young.
The Yin Treasure and infant blood were obviously prepared as offerings to cater to their preferences.
As Snake Skin checked the glass bottle for any damage, he chattered on, "Mr. Nian, your ancestors were quite backward in terms of social ideology... Hmm, what's in here?"
He found a small pottery box in the box where they stored infant blood. Perhaps due to the bumpy road, the seal was a bit loose, and as soon as Snake Skin picked it up, he broke the seal.
"The seal is broken, is that okay?" he asked.
"Don't touch it, that's..." Yan Qiushan didn't finish his sentence before Snake Skin let out a miserable scream.
He wasn't someone who was easily scared, but before Yan Qiushan could finish his sentence, Snake Skin had already opened the pottery box, and several fine red powders floated out - the powder seemed alive, and as soon as it touched human skin, it immediately began to burrow into it.
Starting from his fingers, Snake Skin's skin turned pink like peach blossoms.
"That's a mermaid's venom, you fool!" Yan Qiushan stopped the blind man from approaching to inspect, "Don't touch him, or you'll end up the same! Give me the lighter."
The scars on Snake Skin were clearly from burns or scalds. As soon as he saw the flame, he reflexively recoiled, but Yan Qiushan grabbed his wrist and sternly said, "Don't want your hand anymore?"
As he spoke, he forcibly held down Snake Skin and used the small flame from the lighter to singe the powder on its pink skin. The powder that was trying to burrow into his flesh seemed to be afraid of the fire and immediately recoiled from the flame, not knowing whether it was afraid of being burned or in pain.
Snake Skin struggled miserably, but Yan Qiushan's hand was like an iron hoop, unmoving. The flame in his hand was extremely stable and precise, neither burning Snake Skin nor leaving any red marks on his hand.
Snake Skin let out a loud cry, and a dark red powder sprayed from his fingertips. The wooden puppet girl acted quickly and grabbed a glass to trap the powder.
Snake Skin was still in shock, backing away and muttering, "It's alive, it's alive!"
"You're right," said the wooden puppet girl, carefully collecting the dark red powder and pouring it back into the ceramic box. Her tone of voice was like a recording on a telephone answering machine.
"In ancient times, the Mountain people would take the blood of live mermaids, hang them upside down by their heads, and cut a small opening in their necks to let the blood flow until they died. When the mermaids were in extreme fear, their poisonous organs would dissolve and flow out with the blood, staining the mermaid blood a uniform dark red color. When mixed with mermaid oil, cinnabar, and other ingredients, it could be made into a special pigment called 'poison'... Mr. Nian is indeed knowledgeable. He even prepared this. Of course, if the great master Tian'er didn't have this, even he wouldn't be able to repair the sword. You really thought of everything."
Yan Qiushan made no effort to hide his difficult personality. He was arrogant and thought himself above everyone else. Even when facing the likes of the powerful Old Lady Yu, he only showed a slight bit of courtesy. He didn't even give face to her attendant and ignored her completely, treating the puppet girl's statements as if they were nothing.
The puppet girl was taken aback and her face fell. Luckily, Silver Shadow interjected, "What's the use of this?"
"They're talking about refining weapons. There are rumors that it's a kind of evil magic, and that the 'weapon spirits' are actually living creatures that have been refined. When they sacrifice living creatures to the furnace, the protective array on the furnace is written with 'poison'. They trap the weapon spirits in the weapon body forever, never allowing them to be free," the puppet girl said meaningfully, staring at Yan Qiushan and lowering her voice.
But Yan Qiushan remained unmoved, as if he were deaf to her words. Snake Skin didn't sense anything wrong with the atmosphere.
He wiped his sweat and asked, panting, "We've been wandering in the sea since we were young, and we've heard of the merfolk, but no one has ever seen them. Are they real or fake?"
The puppet girl withdrew her gaze from Yan Qiushan and replied, "They are real, but they have long been extinct. The merfolk only look like humans, but they are essentially fish with low intelligence and are easily hunted. During the Great War, the Mountain people, in order to protect themselves, produced a large number of weapons and overfished, leading to the extinction of the merfolk."
Snake Skin was quite enlightened and had a strong sense of environmental protection. He lamented, "Why didn't the Mountain people know about sustainable development? They used so much oil and blood, why didn't they farm them instead?"
"They couldn't be farmed," the wooden puppet girl replied calmly. "Mermaids can't survive in the inland enclosed waters. The Mountain clan has tried many methods, even bringing in seawater from afar, but it didn't work. It is said that only one mermaid survived, and the king of the Mountain clan sent someone to ask the owner for advice on how to keep it alive. The fish keeper said that mermaids have delicate emotions and need to be carefully comforted every day. You have to establish a relationship with it and make it feel like the inland waters are its home."
Snake Skin said, "These mermaid ancestors are difficult to serve, but it's valuable. Precious things that are hard to keep alive are the most profitable."
"You didn't hear the whole story," the wooden puppet girl said. "Later, the Mountain king bought the farmed mermaid at a high price. But when they brought her back to extract her blood using ancient methods, they found that the mermaid's blood was bright red, meaning that there was no essential 'mermaid poison' in her blood. At that time, there was no biochemical dissection technology, and they didn't know the reason why," she chuckled. "But according to records, this mermaid didn't struggle or scream during the blood extraction process. Her emotions remained calm, so some people speculate that she knew she was going to die for her owner and willingly accepted her fate, thus not producing any mermaid poison."
Snake Skin had never heard of such a selfless creature and was shocked. "Her owner sold her, and she willingly accepted it? Is she naive?"
"Everyone says that mermaids are just big fish," the puppet girl replied absentmindedly as she unpacked and checked the other suitcases. "They don't even understand the concept of 'selling'. They're too stupid to do anything but swim around like fish."
But even these foolish creatures can be trapped by love.
Yan Qiushan resisted the urge to touch the metal plate and interrupted sharply, "Enough nonsense. Come over here and check the plan. Snake Skin, seal the doors and windows and put up the soundproofing symbols."
"Got it," Snake Skin obediently followed orders and reluctantly kept the warm coconut breeze outside. He sighed, "Yuyang, oh Yuyang, what a wonderful place it is..."
"Yuyang?" Xuan Ji stared at the screen, his heart pounding for unknown reasons. "What is he doing in Yuyang?"
Yuyang was thousands of miles away from Dongchuan, and the old demon had no interest in traveling the world. He must have had a reason for going so far.
Did the emperor discover something? Could it be related to the Yin Sacrifice ritual?
At the same time, Gu Yuexi in the dormitory also hung up the phone and furrowed her brows. "Yuyang..."
The person wearing the brass compass must have stayed in the vicinity of the Dongchuan black market for a while. Gu Yuexi mobilized all of Wind God's informants in Dongchuan and searched for suspicious people in some irregular business places around Dongchuan vegetable market.
She didn't have high hopes, and after a few days of investigation, she didn't find the brass compass. But unexpectedly, she found a name - Nian Fu - on the registration book of an unlicensed hotel.
Sometimes Wind God needs to carry out special tasks, and every senior member of Wind God has several aliases and fake identities. They usually use common surnames like Zhang, Wang, Li, Zhao, Liu, and common names like Jianqiang, Mei Hui, etc., trying to keep a low profile and not attract attention. Only Yan Qiushan is different, all of his aliases have the surname "Nian".
Because "one year, one cycle, one spring and autumn". The surname itself was already uncommon, and he kept using it while wandering around, which would definitely raise suspicion after a while and almost caused trouble.
From the moment Gu Yuexi saw this name, her adrenaline surged. Near Dongchuan black market, the surname Nian, could it be...?
She immediately followed up on this name and traced the recent rental record of the other party. This car had just been to Yong'an recently! When refueling at a gas station, a profile picture was taken, although not very clear, it was enough for a comrade who had fought side by side before.
It was him!
Gu Yuexi immediately mobilized all her resources to track down this car and the fake identity of "Nian Fu". She found out that they had traveled from the north to the south and arrived in Yuyang.
"Tomorrow is the weekend, and I'm taking off Monday and Tuesday next week. I won't be coming, comrades. If you need anything, give me a call, but I know you're all good and won't need me." Xuan Ji made a quick decision and booked a discounted flight to Yuyang that evening.
He poked his head into the office of the aftermath department to say goodbye.
Meanwhile, Gu Yuexi quickly filled out her annual leave form in the system. She had a month of field leave, and she hadn't used a single day this year. Without waiting for approval, she immediately packed her bags.
Suddenly, a wind rose on the South China Sea, hitting the calm little island.
Tourists on the beach excitedly screamed along with the waves, and the winds and clouds quietly gathered over Yuyang City.
Happy readers make me float like a cloud in the sky. If you enjoy my translations and want to read them more quickly, I'll translate bonus chapters as a thank you for coffee!
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