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    Chapter 101 - Inquiry of Illness, Part Five

    By the time He Mengfang returned to the tavern, the sun had already set.

    He hadn't expected Shen Yuan and Wang Pan to wait for him, but he still found himself ascending to the second floor as if possessed.

    Peering at their usual spot, strangers indeed occupied it now.

    Though he had anticipated this, a twinge of emptiness still lingered in his heart.

    Lowering his head, he descended the stairs. As he stepped onto the first one, a sharp "snap" echoed, plunging the entire tavern into a dim light, yet flickering candle flames still illuminated the space with a dull yellow glow.

    Following that came a murmur of astonishment.

    Curious about what was happening, He Mengfang looked around and noticed that all the patrons, who were previously scattered throughout the establishment, had gathered in the center of the ground floor.

    There was a table in the middle, and beside it stood an elderly man.

    From every angle on the second floor, the old man could be seen clearly.

    Another clap echoed as the elder struck the tabletop.

    "Twenty years ago, strange phenomena emerged in Yu Yuan, which connected to the Ghost Realm. A colossal tree sprouted from the ground, and an Azure Dragon coiled at the bottom of the abyss. The depths of Yu Yuan were dark and ominous, shrouded in a suffocating stench of dread..."

    The elder's voice boomed throughout the tavern, capturing everyone's attention.

    "He's a storyteller," He Mengfang realized.

    "Not just any storyteller," the tavern servant whispered excitedly by his side. "Twenty years ago, when the Fiendish God suddenly revealed itself in Yu Yuan, the people were gripped with terror. Before they could appeal to Lady Jiaomiao in Jade Mountain Hall, Empress He Huangdian led a team into Yu Yuan. But everyone who entered was devoured by the demonic god! Only one person managed to escape with their life."

    The servant pointed at the elderly man, "He is the last one they're referring to."

    How come I've never heard of this group?

    Human tales have exaggerated Yu Yuan's perilous reputation; it's merely an ordinary cliff, one that mortals could never descend.

    The depths of Yu Yuan are unfathomable, beyond the reach of mortal capabilities. It would be implausible for anyone to descend. Moreover, divine beings still roam this world. Instead of seeking their aid for such a perilous task as eliminating the anomalies in Yu Yuan, they resort to involving mere mortals. Truly, they are choosing the more difficult path over the easier one.

    Noticing that the servant boy held a tray of peanuts untouched, presumably meant for the patrons, He Mengfang casually grabbed a handful as he spoke to the old man, "This elder must be at least in his late sixties or early seventies, right?"

    The servant gestured a number with his hands, "He just turned seventy this year."

    The peanut that He Mengfang had just lifted to his lips slipped from his grasp and fell. He exclaimed in astonishment, "Seventy years old! That would make him fifty two decades ago!"

    "Sir, what do you mean by that? A man is at his prime at forty, like a blossoming flower!"

    "He Mengfang remarked, 'Fifty years old, well past the prime of youthful vigor. He speaks grandly without a second thought. If it's about storytelling, I'd be more suited for the job.'"

    The servant sized up He Mengfang, "You want to speak? Judging by your age, you're barely in your twenties, still a fledgling! Twenty years ago, you probably didn't even know where you were!"

    He Mengfang debated with the young servant, "Being young doesn't mean I know less. Perhaps my understanding is more grounded in reality."

    "People come here for stories, something entertaining and novel. If you want realism, read history books! You're crazy!" The servant flung his sleeve and left.

    He Mengfang didn't bother arguing further and let him go. He shook his head, chuckling. "Those outside an event take jokes as truth, believe in gossip, and ignore facts right before their eyes."

    "Should the Demon God dare to reveal himself again, may he be reduced to ashes!" A voice filled with indignation rose from among the patrons during the height of the tale.

    "Reduced to ashes!" echoed the servant upstairs.

    "Annihilation in Dust and Smoke!!!" The tavern erupted into chaos.

    "Annihilation in Dust and Smoke!!!—" He Mengfang stepped out of the tavern, but still heard the patrons inside chanting loudly, as if their voices would shatter the roof.

    "Some take these tales as truth, either out of foolish credulity or simply following the crowd. Or perhaps they have ulterior motives?" He secretly worried for the fate of the Demon God.

    "He Mengfang!—" Suddenly, Shen Yuan's voice echoed from above.

    He Mengfang looked up to locate the source and saw Shen Yuan descending towards him, illuminated by the moonlight.

    In the blink of an eye, he landed from the roof of the tavern right in front of her, "Wang Pan has been looking for you. Luckily, I had the foresight to return to the tavern first."

    He Mengfang asked, "What does he want with me?"

    Just as Shen Yuan was about to explain, someone else stole his words, "I never would have guessed that a beggar's bundle could hold such treasure!"

    Two or three people passed by them, dressed as ordinary civilians, but one of them held something glistening and golden in their hand.

    Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be a magnificent golden tripod!

    One of them pointed at the golden tripod and exclaimed repeatedly, "Marvelous, truly marvelous – a cure for all ailments."

    "Healing all ailments!" A glimmer of excitement lit up in He Mengfang's eyes.

    Shen Yuan was aware that He Mengfang's father, Emperor He Yu, had been injured during a fox hunt, resulting in a rapid decline in his health and a noticeable weight loss, though the cause remained a mystery.

    Upon entering the Immortal Realm of Penglai, He Mengfang resolved to master both medical arts and sword techniques, not for any other reason but to aid his own father, the emperor.

    Upon hearing of the tripod's capabilities, He Mengfang could hardly contain his excitement. He somersaulted gracefully, landing firmly in front of them, blocking the path of the others. With urgency in his voice, he asked, "Does this tripod truly have the power to cure all ailments?"

    The man holding the tripod, upon witnessing He Mengfang's skill, quickly hid the golden tripod with his sleeve, fearing it might be snatched away. Then, he demanded, "Who are you?!"

    He Mengfang offered a polite bow and introduced himself, his face radiating warmth and amiability.

    "I am He Mengfang! Prince Heng Yao!!" To his surprise, the men's expressions changed drastically upon hearing his name, and they promptly knelt on the ground, "We didn't kill anyone! We didn't! —— We just left him on the beach. When he was found the next day, he had already freed himself from the sack and climbed onto a nearby fishing boat. But somehow, he ended up dead."

    He Mengfang's smile froze on his face – he hadn't expected to uncover a murder case!

    Upon hearing this, Shen Yuan rushed over and pointed at the golden tripod, "This tripod..."

    "This tripod was taken from a beggar."

    "A beggar? A beggar with a golden tripod that cures all illnesses, casually saving lives in exchange for a hundred ounces of gold? Why would he need to be a beggar?" Shen Yuan wondered. "Are you sure he was just a beggar? How did he speak?"

    "Indeed, just a beggar, but his accent didn't sound like someone from Ang Liu Bay," the man replied.

    Still curious, Shen Yuan asked, "What kind of accent was it then?"

    "Definitely not the Ang Liu accent."

    Aside from the Five Great Islands of the East Sea, there were other islands in the mortal world, and Ang Liu Bay was one of them – an inevitable passage to Penglai Island, frequented by travelers from afar, thus it was not unusual to encounter outsiders here.

    Due to its geographical location, Ang Liu Bay was surrounded by the sea on all sides, making it difficult for islanders to venture out. Many spent their entire lives within the bay, their horizons limited; thus, they couldn't provide any further information even if they tried.

    These individuals were likely the ones who had abandoned the person in the sack that night. Wang Pan had already summoned their spirits to inquire about the location of the plague. Shen Yuan sighed, not intending to waste time pursuing the matter further.

    "Killing deserves retribution; it is a natural law," Shen Yuan was about to hand over these individuals for punishment when He Mengfang intervened.

    He Mengfang was still preoccupied with the Golden Cauldron and hastily asked, "Does this cauldron truly cure all illnesses?"

    "Certainly, certainly. Miss Yu Wen was cured by that very tripod."

    A lightbulb moment. He Mengfang hastily inquired, "How did it cure her?"

    "I'll tell you! That beggar is from Xun Wu! That golden tripod is used by Scarlet Water's Water Lord, Yi Shujun, to wash his hands!"

    Upon hearing this, both He Mengfang and Shen Yuan turned their heads, witnessing Wang Pan approaching them steadily.

    "Washing hands with it?!" He Mengfang's eyes widened in astonishment, disappointment filling her gaze.

    Wang Pan explained, "Last year, I accompanied my master to Yi Shujun's residence to learn about medicinal herbs. In his Cloud Terrace Pavilion, there stands a golden tripod filled with water right in the center."

    Hope flickered and then extinguished. He Mengfang's face fell, and she let out a low, disheartened "Oh."

    Shen Yuan observed her distress and felt a pang of sympathy. He gently patted her shoulder, "There must be other ways. I've heard that Lantian Jade can also cure any ailment."

    Disappointed, He Mengfang replied, "Lantian Jade lies buried deep beneath the snow on Jade Mountain, taking a thousand years to form just one piece. How would we find it? Are we to turn over Empress Jiaomiao's Jade Mountain Hall to search for it?"

    Shen Yuan furrowed his brows, left speechless.

    "A lifeless object can heal sickness?" Over there, Wang Pan approached the group and commanded, "Hand it over."

    The individuals hesitated, trying to hide their belongings.

    "Warehouse. Bring it forth." Wang Pan extended his hand and sternly ordered.

    They still showed reluctance.

    "Hungry—" A faint voice echoed from behind.

    "What's that sound?" He Mengfang looked around in curiosity.

    In the direction where Wang Pan had come from, a vague figure could be discerned, walking with an odd gait, swaying from side to side, as if it were translucent.

    Startled, he didn't understand what it was at first. After a moment of realization, he exclaimed, "No wonder Shen Yuan doesn't get along with you. He actually brought you along on this island departure! That's a soul summoning technique!"

    Upon hearing this, Wang Pan slightly knitted his brows and asked Shen Yuan, "Why do you have issues with me?"

    Shen Yuan was taken aback, wondering why the question mattered. To explain why he disliked someone to that person's face was akin to enumerating all their flaws – wouldn't that provoke trouble?

    He fabricated an excuse on the spot. "Because you don't like roasted chestnuts."

    "Woah." Although it sounded like a spur-of-the-moment excuse, Wang Pan accepted it anyway.

    "AHHHHH!!! It's that beggar!!!"

    Suddenly, the group let out shrill screams.

    "He's come for us! He's come for us!!"

    "Ghost! It's a ghost!!! Ghost!!!"

    "We'll return your belongings! Just don't come after us!!"

    Clang! - The group dropped the golden tripod and scrambled away, rolling and crawling.

    As expected, those individuals were indeed the culprits who had abandoned the beggar into the sea, for they were terrified to the point of losing control at the sight of his spirit.

    They claimed that they didn't kill the beggar, and it was true – Shen Yuan had retrieved the beggar's body from the sea after he had already perished. They hadn't physically taken a life.

    But what if the beggar hadn't encountered Shen Yuan and Wang Pan to save him?

    Those few individuals had stuffed him into a sack, tightly knotted it, and thrown him into the East China Sea. There was no way the beggar could have freed himself from within the sack to escape. It was evident that they had harbored malicious intentions, aiming to seize the Golden Cauldron and end the beggar's life.

    Shen Yuan, of course, wouldn't let them off easily. He swiftly caught up to them, bound them securely, and delivered them to the Prefect of Ang Liu Bay.

    The next morning, the residents of Ang Liu Bay awoke to a series of startled cries.

    --------------------

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