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    Chapter 102: The Plague of Hunger

    Why were the citizens of Ang Liu Bay screaming in the early hours of the day?

    The reason was that all the taverns, inns, and even roadside noodle shops in Ang Liu Bay had their granaries emptied. They had been devoured by the starving ghosts.

    To make amends, He Mengfang placed an equivalent amount of silver in each establishment visited by the starving ghosts.

    Shen Yuan, however, before setting off, dragged He Mengfang along to buy over a dozen pounds of roasted chestnuts and several large jars of Yi Zi Chun, storing them all in his Qiankun Bag.

    He Mengfang, while shaking his head, urging Shen Yuan to buy less since all his silver was spent on the establishments frequented by the starving ghosts, obediently took out his Qiankun Bag and helped to load the items inside.

    Upon checkout, they realized that the remaining silver was insufficient.

    They were held back by the shopkeeper until He Mengfang used a voice transmission technique to summon Wang Pan. After Wang Pan paid for their purchases, Shen Yuan and He Mengfang were allowed to leave.

    Then, the trio set off for Xun Wu.

    Wang Pan and Shen Yuan were not proficient in sword flight, but He Mengfang carried them both with ease and speed, ensuring a smooth journey.

    It wasn't that Wang Pan couldn't ride a flying sword, but rather that he was constrained by the limitations of his spiritual tool. Skilled in the use of hidden weapons, he found long swords awkward to wield, thus he didn't typically carry one on him.

    Shen Yuan, on the other hand, had his own reasons. From Island Lord Wang to his parents, they all seemed to intentionally or unintentionally discourage him from learning swordsmanship or any deadly weapons. Everyone on the island carried a sword, yet he was the exception. Without a sword, there was no point in mastering the art of sword flight.

    "Serene mountains and rivers, truly enchanting—" Shen Yuan murmured, basking in the delight it brought him.

    "Don't use the distractions of mortal life as an excuse," He Mengfang chimed in, dousing the mood with a cold bucket of reality. "If trouble were to arise, your leisurely pace might find you arriving mid-resolution."

    He Mengfang, a prince of Heng Yao, would occasionally visit Jiu Li to play with Shen Yuan. Not being overly observant, he was naturally unaware of the reason behind Shen Yuan's inability to fly on a sword.

    In this fleeting world, one comes alone, goes alone, lives alone, and dies alone. One bears one's joys and sorrows alone; no one can take one's place—this is what the Sutra of Immeasurable Life teaches.

    Upon his initial reading, Shen Yuan found this statement profoundly true.

    He chuckled and said, "Isn't it better if I don't need to intervene? It saves me the trouble, doesn't it?"

    He Mengfang posed a hypothetical question, "If something were to happen to Jiu Li and you needed to step in to resolve it, would you still think the same?"

    Shen Yuan pondered for a moment before smiling and responding, "Well, you'd be there, wouldn't you?"

    "Nephew..." He called out to He Mengfang with a jovial smile on his face.

    Shen Yuan usually didn't emphasize their familial relationship and would never address He Mengfang as "nephew." If he did, it was probably because he was hatching some mischievous plan in his mind.

    After a moment of hesitation, He Mengfang replied, "What now?"

    Recalling the past, Shen Yuan sighed, "When we were kids, you'd follow me everywhere like a little puppy. It was so annoying... Back then, you were shorter than me, but now you're half a head taller... And during that Chunji Festival when we were ten, I was serving as a priest alongside Xiang Yan. You were so unhappy about it that you insisted on replacing Xiang Yan with yourself. In the end..."

    Hearing that Shen Yuan was about to reveal his embarrassing past, He Mengfang panicked, especially with Wang Pan still standing behind him. He didn't want anyone else to hear this humiliating story. He hastily shouted, "Hey!... Don't say it!..."

    With that shout, He Mengfang lost his composure, causing his sword to waver.

    Wang Pan, who had been closing his eyes to calm himself, felt the sudden jolt. He opened his eyes just in time to see Shen Yuan swaying. Startled, he reached out to steady him, only to find that the sword had already regained its balance.

    Relieved, Wang Pan closed his eyes again to focus.

    Still shaken, Shen Yuan regained his balance and said, "Calm down, calm down. I almost fell off."

    He Mengfang shot back coldly, "You'd better keep your mouth shut."

    Shen Yuan was determined not to fall; he echoed with a series of "Yes, yes, yes..." Then, he crossed his legs and sat down.

    He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and felt his hair being brushed in one direction by the gentle breeze that swept across his face, soft and slightly chilly.

    It was an entirely different sensation from strolling leisurely through the world; it was a freedom that even made his hair roots dance in the wind, untethered and unconfined.

    After a while, he opened his eyes and looked down.

    Below his feet, the clouds drifted like gossamer, and snow-capped mountains seemed to float amidst the mist. They soared over the undulating landscape.

    He truly enjoyed flying on a sword.

    ...

    In the midst of his confusion, Wang Pan's thoughts were surprisingly lucid. He clearly heard a voice echoing from the distant darkness, "Keep an eye on him for me!..."

    Suddenly, something cold slithered down the collar of his robe.

    Thump... thump... thump...

    - The rhythmic thudding echoed dull and deep.

    Thump! Thump-thump! ...

    - Its pace grew increasingly rapid.

    Wang Pan's eyes snapped open, clouds swirling before him as he continued to soar on his sword.

    Thump-thump! Thump! Thump! Thump!! Thump!!

    Unconsciously, Wang Pan raised his hand to cover the wildly pounding object in his chest.

    His eyes widened in alarm – what was this sensation?! It felt as if something within him was about to burst out!

    "Where is it? Why can't I find it?"

    A familiar voice rang from his waist, and Wang Pan looked down to see Shen Yuan's hand searching along his hips.

    In an instant, his entire body heated up.

    "What are you doing?!" He grabbed Shen Yuan's wrist and growled softly.

    Shen Yuan acted as if nothing had happened. "I'm looking for the Qiankun Pouch." As he spoke, he reached for Wang Pan's waist.

    Suddenly, a golden glint flashed in Shen Yuan's eyes, and a Spirit Binding Rope appeared on his wrist.

    "Stay still," Wang Pan said quietly.

    "Why are you tying me up again?!" Shen Yuan wondered.

    "You're getting too touchy-feely with me."

    "I was just looking for the Qiankun Pouch. How is that being touchy-feely?! You don't drink, nor do you eat chestnuts..."

    Wang Pan looked at Shen Yuan silently.

    After all, it was Wang Pan who had paid for everything. Shen Yuan felt a bit guilty, and his voice softened as he continued, "Although... you did pay for all of this..."

    Wang Pan sighed. "I'll get it for you."

    Upon hearing this, Shen Yuan suddenly smiled, eagerly watching Wang Pan take out his Qiankun Bag. He requested, "I want Yi Zhi Chun!"

    Wang Pan paused in his actions, furrowing his brow as he said seriously, "What's so good about alcohol?"

    Shen Yuan grinned widely, laughing heartily. "Drinking while facing the wind, isn't that delightful?"

    "He's just trying to fool you. He didn't want to drink earlier or later, but now, just as we're about to reach Xun Wu, he wants it," He Mengfang's voice came with the wind.

    Wang Pan softly acknowledged, "Mm," and slowly put away the Qiankun Bag.

    Seeing this, Shen Yuan panicked. "Wang Pan, don't put it away yet!"

    "He Mengfang says to hold on tight, we're landing soon," He announced.

    Wang Pan reached out to steady Shen Yuan. "Okay."

    After landing, Shen Yuan followed behind Wang Pan, saying, "Wang Pan, why not keep the Qiankun Bag next to me?"

    Shen Yuan's intentions were clear; it was obvious that he asked for the Qiankun Bag, hoping for the sugared chestnuts and Yi Zhi Chun inside.

    "In your presence, or Wang Pan's, it makes no difference." He Mengfang reveled in the drama.

    For a moment, Shen Yuan was left speechless by He Mengfang's words.

    After all the effort to leave Peng Lai Island, how could they not indulge in its offerings?

    J Shen Yuan chuckled. "I'm just avoiding trouble for Young Master... I need to access the Qiankun Bag frequently, and I'm sure he wouldn't want to see me constantly, burdened by my requests..."

    He Mengfang shook his head, thinking to himself: Wang Pan's departure from the island was already unexpected. Before leaving, the Island Lord must have exhorted him to minimize contact with Shen Yuan. With Shen Yuan making such a suggestion, Wang Pan would undoubtedly agree...

    "I don't mind the trouble," Wang Pan said calmly.

    Upon hearing this, He Mengfang's jaw dropped.

    "What?!" Shen Yuan was utterly stunned.

    Frozen on the spot, his mind raced through various scenarios of his encounters with Wang Pan – being chased out, having his weaknesses exploited, and ultimately forced to submit to him...

    By the time he regained his composure, Wang Pan and He Mengfang had long vanished from sight.

    At the entrance of Xunwu Street, Shen Yuan stood firm as a chilling breeze swept past, carrying an indescribable odor, akin to the scent of moldy medicinal residues.

    A string of red lanterns swayed gently on the gateway arch.

    Shen Yuan noticed a wooden plank beneath it, inscribed with vermilion ink: "I-N-S-I-D-E - P-L-E-A-S-E - R-T-R-A-V-E-L - B-A-C-K." He muttered each word slowly and deliberately.

    After finishing, he commented, "These characters are elegantly written." With that, he proceeded towards Xunwu Street.

    As soon as his foot crossed the threshold, rustling sounds emerged from his left. Before he could react, a fleeting crimson figure lunged at him.

    Shen Yuan deftly shifted his shoulder, evading the attack.

    The wind picked up again, now carrying a peculiar fragrance. He smiled faintly, realizing, "So, it's a woman."

    Failing to hit her target, the figure adjusted her stance and attempted another assault.

    Shen Yuan had no intention of engaging in a random fight. He leaped upward, vaulting over her head, and landed atop the gateway, utilizing the wind's momentum.

    Lowering his gaze, he was startled by what he saw.

    The figure held a dark blade, a weapon indeed suitable for combat, yet not one that would typically suit a woman's hand.

    Logically, martial arts training begins from a young age. This blade was too heavy and robust, likely too much for a young girl to wield. Moreover, an elusive aura of black malevolence seemed to linger around it, hinting that it was an inherited "weapon of death."

    The woman was clad in a vibrant red dress, vivid and resplendent, yet not overly ostentatious or coquettish. Her skin appeared as smooth as porcelain, and her figure was graceful, even with a veil of red silk covering her face. It wasn't hard to deduce that she was a beauty.

    "Miss, there's no need for aggression," Shen Yuan said.

    "Best you hurry up and get out!" the woman's voice rang from beneath the veil.

    "All right then." Shen Yuan sat down, swinging his legs casually. "But you forgot to say 'please'."

    "Do as you please..." The woman turned away. "There's a plague here. If you're not afraid of death... feel free to stay..."

    Shen Yuan had intended to observe her reaction further, but she gave up quicker than he expected.

    "Wait a moment..." With a gust of wind beneath his feet, he leaped off the archway, catching up to the woman. "If there's a plague, why haven't you left Xun Wu?"

    "I'm a physician," the woman replied calmly.

    A physician?

    Shen Yuan's gaze fell on the woman's dark blade.

    The woman countered, "And you? Why are you in Xun Wu? Aren't you afraid of death?"

    Unaware of the woman's identity, Shen Yuan was hesitant to reveal his true purpose. He stammered, "I... I... I came, I came to Xun Wu because..."

    "Shen Yuan! What are you dawdling for by yourself?!" He Mengfang suddenly called out to Shen Yuan.

    Alone?!

    Shen Yuan turned his head, looking around.

    The woman in red had vanished in the blink of an eye!

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

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