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    Chapter 105: Inquiry About the Illness (Part Four)

    Wang Pan carried Shen Yuan all the way, walking under the moonlight.

    Aside from the usual scattering of stars in the sky, there was also a fleeting "shooting star" that blinked across the firmament.

    In just a blink or two, Wang Pan arrived at the inn where He Mengfang had found.

    With both hands occupied, he kicked open the door with his foot.

    "Woah!..." Wang Pan was startled when he saw inside the inn.

    He had expected Xun Wu to be a ghost town, with all its inhabitants having fled. However, the inn was filled with young men and women.

    Just as Wang Pan was still trying to make sense of the situation, He Mengfang suddenly emerged from the crowd. "I had the same expression when I saw so many people here. The Xun Wu main street was deserted; I thought there were no more healthy individuals left. Hmm?"

    Seeing Shen Yuan unconscious with his eyes closed, He Mengfang hurriedly stopped talking and led Wang Pan to a room.

    After Wang Pan placed Shen Yuan on the bed and covered him with a blanket, He Mengfang finally asked, "What happened to him?"

    Wang Pan shakes his head. "I don't know."

    "Is there something seriously wrong?"

    "No," Shen Yuan replies.

    He Mengfang is unconvinced by Wang Pan's assessment and decides to examine Shen Yuan himself. "Strange... He seems perfectly fine. Why can't he wake up?"

    The lack of any issues only deepens the mystery.

    With a loud yawn, Shen Yuan opens his eyes to see He Mengfang hovering over him. "Oh! You're awake!"

    "Weren't you supposed to be dead if you never woke up from sleeping?" Shen Yuan says as he sits up and surveys his surroundings.

    In the spacious and well-lit room, Wang Pan sits at a table with alternating shades of pale green and white on his face.

    He asks, puzzled, "An inn?"

    "Yes," He Mengfang adds. "We initially thought that everyone in Xun Wu was inflicted with the plague, but it turns out that most of them are unharmed. A small portion of the survivors have gathered here at this inn, according to them. There are seven more inns like this, they say."

    Wang Pan's voice was low and deliberate as he asked, "If there's an epidemic, wouldn't gathering in one place increase the risk of infection?"

    "Infection!... I can't be here, can't be here..." Shen Yuan tried to leave, but He Mengfang stopped him. "Where are you going?"

    Shen Yuan replied, "We just came back from Xun Wu Street. What if we brought the illness with us and infected these healthy civilians?"

    "Why are you listening to Wang Pan..." He Mengfang shook his head and said gravely, "This plague seems to have eyes for those forty years old and above."

    "Is that so... Then how did I manage to return to the inn?" Shen Yuan asked.

    He Mengfang glanced at Wang Pan.

    Receiving the unspoken cue, Shen Yuan chuckled and expressed his gratitude to Wang Pan.

    But Wang Pan huffed in annoyance, "Hmph! Careless!"

    It was clear that he wasn't pleased.

    Shen Yuan was unaware of the situation at the time, believing that his brief discomfort was due to the scare from the centipede. He thought he only needed a short nap, not knowing that he would wake up to a scolding.

    He couldn't endure it anymore. "I already thanked you. Why are you still scolding me? How am I being lazy again? I didn't deceive you nor beg you to bring me back! Oh, should I kneel down and thank you?"

    "Wordless, formless."

    "You! ... You're so petty!"

    "Lazy and wayward."

    "You won't let go even when you're in the right!"

    "Alright, alright, the two of you are acting like you're singing folk songs, exchanging verses," He Mengfang intervened, attempting to divert their attention. She turned to Shen Yuan and asked, "Didn't you say you wanted to chat with a beauty for a while? How did you end up fainting during the conversation?"

    Although Shen Yuan was displeased, he didn't want his emotions to hinder the matter at hand. He spoke earnestly, "Let's start from the beginning. Just as I stepped into Xun Wu, a woman in red suddenly appeared, trying to attack me."

    "How do all these romantic encounters happen to you? We need some too!" He Mengfang exclaimed enviously.

    Wang Pan glanced at Shen Yuan and said coldly, "I don't need any."

    "Could you even handle it if I gave it to you?" Shen Yuan said indifferently, "That woman held a dark blade, exuding immense malevolence. It's likely not used by butchers but by executioners. Judging from the thickness of the malice on the blade, there must have been at least a thousand souls bound to it."

    He Mengfang exclaimed, "Thousand?! Can an ordinary person kill so many? Did they inherit a family heirloom knife?"

    Shen Yuan agreed, "That's what I was thinking too. Ordinary people have limited lifespans, so it would be difficult for one person alone to accumulate such a strong aura of malevolence on the blade over their lifetime. If the knife has been passed down through generations, it might make more sense."

    Wang Pan suddenly asked, "Is there any connection between that red-clothed woman and Jiang Yue?"

    Smiling, Shen Yuan replied, "I was about to get to that, but you're impatient, aren't you? Why the rush?"

    Although He Mengfang didn't know who Jiang Yue was, he could infer from the context. He asked, "Is Jiang Yue the woman inside Yuewei Hall?"

    Shen Yuan nodded, "Yes, but she's only seventeen or eighteen, still a young lady. Don't call her 'woman' like that; you're making her sound much older."

    Upon hearing this, He Mengfang became even more curious. He asked, "What does Jiang Yue look like? Is she pretty and charming?"

    Shen Yuan rolled his eyes at him and continued, "Stop asking irrelevant questions. The red-clothed woman told me she was a healer, and so is Jiang Yue. Furthermore, we've already circled around Xun Wu Street, and no shops were open except for Yuewei Hall. Don't you find that too coincidental?"

    Wang Pan nodded, "Indeed."

    "But it's also possible I'm mistaken," Shen Yuan argued with himself. "The red-clothed woman had her face covered, so I don't know what she looks like. I'm only suspecting Yuewei Hall based on her claiming to be a healer. That's quite a leap without evidence. When I entered Yuewei Hall just now, I didn't detect any area with a malevolent aura. Miss Jiang Yue also doesn't resemble the red-clothed woman in either voice or appearance."

    He Mengfang, engrossed in the story, found standing too tiring and decided to sit at the table. He chuckled, "That red-clad woman must have been lying. Which doctor would keep a butcher's knife in their house? Patients would be trembling, wondering if they were being treated by a physician or a butcher!"

    "Perhaps, that red-clad figure wasn't human but a wandering soul," Shen Yuan speculated. "She was a doctor in her past life but was killed by that very knife. Her deep obsession allowed the knife to become her tool, carrying her resentment."

    "How do you deduce that?" Wang Pan asked.

    "Firstly, I didn't recognize her as a ghost initially, mistaking her for a bold woman, indicating she had no ghostly aura. Secondly, she didn't intend to harm me; instead, she warned me about the plague in Xun Wu, albeit crudely. This suggests she hasn't lost her sense of reason due to her obsession, remaining a non-malignant spirit," Shen Yuan continued. "Moreover, for her to manifest physically in this world, her resentment must be profound. The question is: How did she transform from a deeply resentful, revenge-driven spirit back into a benevolent and rational soul?"

    He Mengfang replied, "Isn't it obvious? There's only one possibility – her vendetta was fulfilled."

    Wang Pan countered, "Ghosts arise from intense obsession. If her revenge was exacted, the obsession that sustained her would vanish, and she'd dissipate into the universe. How could she remain as she is now?"

    He Mengfang argued, "Shen Yuan mentioned earlier that the knife is under her control. We can't perceive her resentment, implying she must have stored it within the knife. This explains why the blade is so malevolent while she appears free of resentment."

    Wang Pan challenged He Mengfang, "Resentment can indeed be transferred, but the object cannot be conjured out of thin air. It must exist in reality. How did she acquire that knife?"

    A thin sheen of sweat appeared on He Mengfang's forehead, "She was killed by that knife, so it must belong to her enemy... She must have taken it from her foe..." His words grew weaker as he realized his explanation was circular.

    "Oh," Wang Pan smiled and said, "The knife is described as an ancestral treasure, suggesting it has an owner. As an object with an owner, how could the red-clad woman use it unless her enemy was dead? And if her enemy is dead, her vendetta fulfilled, how does she persist in this world?"

    Stunned into silence, He Mengfang licked his lips — indeed, he was from the Wang family! What was his motive, going through such lengths just to prove that my previous statement was flawed, making me lose face?

    He glanced at Shen Yuan, who was gleefully watching the scene unfold, and said, "Speculating here — perhaps we were mistaken from the start. That woman in red wasn't a ghost at all—"

    "I have evidence," Shen Yuan hastily interjected. "When you two turned back to find me, didn't you not see the woman in red?"

    "Indeed."

    "Yes!"

    Wang Pan and He Mengfang responded in unison.

    Shen Yuan continued, "A second before you found me, I was still talking to her. But the moment I lifted my head to reply to you, she vanished. Tell me, which ordinary living person could disappear into thin air without a sound? And don't tell me the woman in red was a deity; we're all companions of the gods. Which deity do we not know?"

    He Mengfang nodded. "That does seem to be the case."

    Wang Pan insisted, "There must be something wrong with that knife."

    The room fell into a sudden silence.

    He Mengfang broke the silence, asking, "You still haven't explained why you fainted?"

    Shen Yuan suddenly felt an itch at the back of his neck. Scratching it, he said, "At first, I suspected that Jiang Yue was actually the red-clothed woman in disguise, and that her sword was hidden in Yuewei Hall. So, I tested her and took the opportunity to search the hall."

    He Mengfang pursued, "You didn't know Jiang Yue beforehand, and we were deliberately heading towards Xun Wu despite knowing about the plague. She must have been suspicious of our intentions and cautious around us. How did you manage to enter Yuewei Hall?"

    "Wang Pan chanted loudly, "Qingqing..."

    "Ahem!" Shen Yuan coughed loudly, interrupting Wang Pan. He said, "Nephew, I told you that you're a bit slow on the uptake, and it seems I was right. Yuewei Hall is a pharmacy. I pretended to be seeking medical treatment as a way to get inside."

    He Mengfang's face was devoid of any pleasure. It was clear that Shen Yuan and Wang Pan were hiding something from him, keeping him in the dark. He downturned the corners of his mouth. "Uncle, we come from the same roots; if I'm slow-witted, you can't be much smarter."

    Shen Yuan grumbled, "Yeah—I was so stupid that I didn't realize a centipede could be used as medicine, and it scared me silly—"

    "Were you fainted by a centipede? Did it bite you?" Wang Pan asked in surprise.

    He Mengfang recalled, "We went to Penglai when we were ten. Three months before that, it was Shen Yuan and Dian Shan's tenth birthday celebration. That night after the banquet, a seven-inch-long centipede crawled out of Shen Yuan's bedding and bit him straight on. Ever since then, he's been terrified of them."

    Wang Pan turned to ask Shen Yuan, "Aren't you numb to pain?"

    Shen Yuan gazed at Wang Pan, opening his mouth but was interrupted by He Mengfang, "Yes, that's right. I'm also puzzled. Isn't he supposed to be numb to pain... Could it be that he was scolded by Ji Yuanshi during the tenth birthday celebration and is now seeking comfort through this act? But judging from his reaction to the centipede, it doesn't seem like an act..."

    "W-What do you know?!" Shen Yuan bellowed.

    He Mengfang was taken aback by Shen Yuan's outburst. Both he and Wang Pan turned to look at Shen Yuan intently.

    In Shen Yuan's almond-shaped eyes, disappointment intertwined with anger, flickering with a few sparks.

    Soon, he gave a tragic smile, almost crying as he said, "I'm sorry, let's just pretend this never happened. You two carry on—"

    After a long while—

    Wang Pan finally asked, "Do the common folk in the inn have any idea what kind of ailment this is?"

    "They all keep their mouths shut," He Mengfang added after a moment. "I have a hunch that they might know something, but they don't want to talk about it. They're evasive and avoid my questions repeatedly."

    Shen Yuan's sudden and brief appearance had an unspoken impact on Wang Pan and He Mengfang, causing them to adopt a serious tone and demeanor.

    "I can't figure out what illness this could be either," Wang Pan sighed. "It seems like this disease is beyond our capabilities to treat. Perhaps we should summon our Master for help."

    "Very well. I'll inform Master first thing tomorrow morning," He Mengfang agreed readily, as he had encountered the same issue.

    "Were you able to extract any information from that room?" Wang Pan asked again.

    He Mengfang furrowed his brow, recalling how the person had mentioned "He Style Heng Yao changing hands." He grumbled inwardly, "What bad luck!" Then he said, "That person only spoke in riddles."

    Wang Pan replied, "I did manage to get something out of that room—a woman named Fang Han."

    "Fang Han?" He Mengfang repeated.

    Suddenly, Wang Pan felt a violent vibration at his waist. He immediately sensed it was coming from his Qiankun Pouch and reached for it.

    "Let me out—I want to go home—let me out—" came the voice of a famished spirit from within.

    Looking at the Qiankun Pouch, He Mengfang couldn't help but exclaim, "A mere famished spirit can affect the Qiankun Pouch! If I don't send it back home to investigate, I won't be able to sleep tonight!"

    Upon hearing this, Wang Pan, being the helpful person he was, handed the Qiankun Pouch over to him.

    After He Mengfang left, Wang Pan muttered to himself, "Finally, he's gone..."

    Unbeknownst to them, their conversation had stretched well into the night, and Shen Yuan found himself leaning against the intricately carved wooden bed frame, asleep once more.

    This time, Wang Pan reached out to check his temperature — it was normal.

    He lost interest and turned to leave, but then he heard Shen Yuan's voice, laced with sobs, "I won't snatch anymore, never again. It's all Dian Shan's... please, don't let the centipede bite me, okay?..."

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

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