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    Chapter 108 - Close Friends

    Wang Pan offered Shen Yuan the Orphan Spring Wine.

    As Shen Yuan drank, he gradually became tipsy, his face flushed as he clung to Wang Pan, murmuring, "Let's chat like old friends until we're drunk, my friend."

    Wang Pan had never left the island, and there was no alcohol on Penglai. He had no idea about his tolerance, but he assumed it wasn't that low. Chu Yun once made sweet rice wine, and after drinking a whole bowl, he only felt slightly dizzy.

    However, the rice wine was delightfully sweet, making him assume that all wines in the world tasted similar. Hence, without hesitation, he took the Orphan Spring Wine from Shen Yuan.

    Upon bringing it to his lips, he detected a strong and sour smell, unlike the sweet and inviting aroma of rice wine.

    He frowned slightly, hesitating.

    Seeing this, Shen Yuan leaned closer, pressing his lips against Wang Pan's ear, whispering, "Young Island Master isn't drinking? Are you trying to spoil my fun?... Or perhaps, Young Island Master doesn't even consider me worthy, not wanting to engage in a deep conversation until we're both drunk?..." His words were slurred from intoxication, sounding like a toddler who had just learned to speak.

    Shen Yuan's breath brushed against the strands of hair near Wang Pan's ear.

    The scent of Orphan Spring Wine filled the room, causing Wang Pan's head to spin even before taking a sip. He turned his head, locking eyes with Shen Yuan, who was leaning on his shoulder.

    At that moment, they were very close, able to sense the exchange of their breaths.

    Wang Pan softly spoke, "No—"

    Intoxicated, Shen Yuan's almond-shaped eyes were half-lidded, appearing somewhat dazed. "Hm?... What is it?..."

    "I think..." Wang Pan hesitated, his words trailing off. He turned his head, closing his eyes as he downed the remaining Yizichun in one gulp.

    Upon seeing this, Shen Yuan immediately straightened up from leaning on his shoulder, his eyes instantly clearing up.

    He secretly chuckled to himself, remembering how back then, after Chu Yun's class, He Mengfang had rushed to find him, exclaiming, "Wang Pan actually got drunk from rice wine! He was swaying while walking!"

    For quite some time, Shen Yuan couldn't help but cover his mouth and giggle whenever he saw Wang Pan.

    Now, with just one cup of Yizichun, Wang Pan would undoubtedly be tipsy. This was genuine liquor, after all.

    Sure enough, Wang Pan's brows knitted together instantly, his lips puffing up as he tried to hold back the drink from going down. His head swayed left and right, searching for something to support himself as he prepared to spit it out.

    "Doesn't it burn your throat?" Shen Yuan patted Wang Pan's mouth, helping him swallow the Yizichun down smoothly.

    With a snap, Wang Pan set down his glass, his head tilting down as his body swayed precariously, on the verge of collapsing.

    Shen Yuan stood nearby with his arms crossed, observing silently. Just as Wang Pan's forehead was about to touch the table, he suddenly straightened up. He turned to face Shen Yuan and asked, "Why do you like this awful-tasting stuff?"

    His voice remained unchanged, calm and deep, and his phoenix-like eyes were still stern. If not for the flush on his cheeks, Shen Yuan would have thought he wasn't drunk at all.

    Shen Yuan reached out and gently brushed Wang Pan's cheek. Leaning in close to his ear, he whispered, "I'll tell you why later."

    He had underestimated Wang Pan; he was no one-shot wonder. This level of intoxication was far from enough.

    Straightening his back, Shen Yuan picked up another cup of Yi Zi Chun and lifted Wang Pan's chin, bringing the glass to his lips.

    Wang Pan frowned slightly. "No."

    "Be a good boy—" Shen Yuan stroked his lower lip, feeling its cold and soft texture as he spoke softly.

    ...

    Before leaving, Shen Yuan glanced at Wang Pan, making sure he was securely tied to the bed before departing.

    The street was straight, with the distant horizon clearly visible. Shen Yuan, gazing at the sky's thin, early March clouds, scratched his nape and softly spoke into the serene Xun Wu Avenue:

    "Really, He Mengfang, he could've just played for a few days on the road. Talking about troubles on the East Sea Five Islands… Ah, it itches so much… I can't wait any longer; I'll have to find a cure myself."

    Initially, Shen Yuan had asked Wang Pan for Orphan Spring purely to soothe his nerves after the centipede scare and to tease her. However, he unexpectedly received a message from He Mengfang.

    He certainly hadn't courted danger by intentionally contracting the illness. He wasn't even aware of when or where he had been infected. Now that it had happened, he might as well own up to it and gain some prestige in the process.

    On Peng Lai Island, only Chu Yun held a special affection for him. Perhaps, because of his illness, Chu Yun would hasten to develop a cure, thus saving the people of Xun Wu.

    It was truly a win-win situation.

    But then He Mengfang suddenly mentioned the crisis on the East Sea Five Islands, and Chu Yun couldn't come. Shen Yuan didn't want to meet an untimely end, so he decided to seek Jiang Yue for a remedy. Although he wasn't certain if Jiang Yue had one, it was too coincidental that he fell ill right after leaving Yuewei Hall.

    ...

    Inside Yuewei Hall, Jiang Yue was already engrossed in her work.

    Shen Yuan observed from afar.

    The aroma of medicinal herbs mingled with the spring breeze.

    Half an hour later, it was Jiang Yue who turned around first, only to discover Shen Yuan. They exchanged a smile and a slight nod before she gracefully approached, asking, "Why didn't Young Master Shen come in?"

    Shen Yuan chuckled. "Perhaps it's because one wishes to be polite in front of someone they admire, or out of consideration not to disturb someone engrossed in their work."

    As Jiang Yue invited Shen Yuan into Yuewei Hall, she commented, "That shows great respect for me."

    "I thought it was just common courtesy."

    "That's not common at all. It's practically nonexistent. They tend to barge in and loudly express their thoughts without considering if I'm willing to listen. It baffles me."

    "Hmm?"

    "Their eyes seem to function just fine, yet they fail to see that I'm busy or that the hall is filled with patients. It's as if their eyes are on top of their heads. Sometimes, while I'm preparing medicine, they'd just grab my hand, spilling the ingredients everywhere."

    Shen Yuan supported his chin in thought for a moment before saying, "Perhaps when love runs deep, its expression can become impulsive and lacking in consideration."

    "It's often said that love is about self-restraint, and I find that very true. When one truly loves another, they would always consider the other person's feelings. What they exhibit isn't deep love but excessive self-love. Narcissism."

    "Hahaha! If loving someone means trapping them, then such love is truly terrifying." Shen Yuan laughed heartily. "Miss Jiang Yue, you seem to be no more than seventeen or eighteen, yet how is it that you see through life with such maturity?"

    "Oh?" Jiang Yue raised her eyes to look at Shen Yuan. "I see that Mister Shen is also not much older than me. How is it that you can see through me, this old hand, so clearly?"

    "One of a kind, one of a kind..."

    Jiang Yue pouted in anger. "Who says we're of the same ilk?!"

    "Alright, alright... Just me, just me..." Shen Yuan continued, "Miss Jiang Yue, I don't see anyone else on Xun Wu Street. For whom are you bustling about like this?"

    "Eh? There are people around—every inn on that street is full."

    "Do they all know you?"

    "I grew up in Xun Wu, so naturally, they all recognize me."

    Shen Yuan muttered under his breath, "Could it be that I really made a mistake?..."

    "What?" Jiang Yue turned to face Shen Yuan.

    Shen Yuan shook his head and chuckled. "I was wondering if Miss Qingyue knows the origin of the plague."

    "Father mentioned it once or twice," Jiang Yue recalled. "Forty years ago, the Plague God reincarnated in Xunwu as a white-haired woman named Fang Han. She infected her father with an illness that took his life right after she was born. Later, at around fourteen or fifteen, her powers emerged. First, she passed it on to her mother, then to everyone in Xunwu. Eventually, a wandering master stumbled upon her, captured her, and threw her into a well. After that, the plague miraculously vanished from those who were infected."

    Shen Yuan frowned. "This... It's full of inconsistencies... If Fang Han is the reincarnation of the Plague God and regained her powers at such a young age, how could a mere wandering master subdue her? What happened to that master later?"

    "He settled down in Xunwu and even had a daughter with someone."

    "That's ridiculous! Be it the Plague God or any deity, they're all creations of heaven and earth. How can an ordinary person slay a god? This wandering master threw a god into a well and didn't face divine retribution? Was he just an ordinary human?"

    "Nothing more than an ordinary human."

    Shen Yuan growled in frustration. "Complete nonsense! Don't let personal biases cloud your judgment!"

    Jiang Yue felt slightly upset. "How would we common folk know about gods? Rumors spread like wildfire, and after passing through so many people, the truth becomes distorted. Good can be portrayed as evil, and vice versa. Recounting events accurately is both fundamental and challenging."

    Realizing his tone was harsh, Shen Yuan quickly apologized. "I'm sorry, Miss Jiang Yue. I wasn't referring to you just now."

    Jiang Yue waved it off. "I understand..." With that, she returned to the herbal cabinet.

    Shen Yuan sat on a chair, his hands supporting his chin as he pondered quietly: Has Wang Pan's intoxication worn off yet? What if he wakes up and discovers that I've taken the Spirit Binding Rope without permission? Will he fly into a rage? But I asked him for it, and he refused, leaving me no choice but to take matters into my own hands. And besides, I'm not using the rope for any evil purpose; I only need it to restrain Jiang Yue in case she's the same as the crimson-robed woman.

    Wang Pan could wake up at any moment, so Shen Yuan had to hurry and find the crimson-robed woman, bind her, and ask about the plague and its cure.

    However, Jiang Yue was petite and dignified, while the crimson-robed woman was tall and enchanting. Like a white rabbit and a fiery fox, from every angle, they didn't seem to be the same person.

    Should he just directly question Jiang Yue?

    That would be somewhat reckless. If not done carefully, it might alert the suspect or put her in harm's way.

    Shen Yuan clicked his tongue—truly, he didn't know how to approach the subject with Jiang Yue.

    Suddenly, he recalled He Mengfang's mention of the temple, and decided to bring it up casually. He asked Jiang Yue, "While traveling near the intersection of Scarlet Water River and the East Sea, I stumbled upon a temple and went in to burn some incense. To my surprise, the floor was littered with chicken feathers. Do you have any idea what happened there?"

    "That temple is where the wandering master, Yun Shi, resides when he's in Xun Wu. The master is actually the abbot of the temple, also named Yun Shi."

    "Oh—" A sudden itch crept up Shen Yuan's neck, making him scratch it. He continued, "Miss Jiang Yue, I don't know what's going on, but ever since yesterday, the back of my neck has been unbearably itchy."

    Jiang Yue set aside the abacus and walked over to him, pulling down the collar of his shirt to examine the area. "Huh? How did you contract this ailment?"

    Shen Yuan pretended ignorance and continued to probe, "Does illness choose its victims based on who they are?"

    "Indeed. This disease only affects those forty years old and above in Xun Wu, and only locals at that. Outsiders of the same age won't contract it."

    "How peculiar."

    "It is quite strange... But Mister Shen, you're neither from Xun Wu nor have you reached the required age. How did you catch it?"

    "I might just be an inherently unlucky person, with bad luck compounding upon itself." With that, Shen Yuan took Jiang Yue's hand and pleaded pitifully, "Can't it be treated? I'm not ready to die yet, Miss Jiang Yue—"

    Jiang Yue let out a light sigh. "My father lived through the epidemic forty years ago. But he had gone to Ang Liu when the outbreak first emerged in Xun Wu. Before he left, however, he left me with a prescription, but I'm unsure if it will work."

    "Miss Jiang Yue, with so many patients in Xun Wu, have you tried using that prescription on them?"

    Jiang Yue sighed. "Father warned me repeatedly: 'There's always a reason for every injustice; let the epidemic run its course. Under no circumstances should you attempt to save anyone.'"

    Shen Yuan was puzzled. "What logic is that? Are you really going to watch them die without doing anything, Miss Jiang Yue?"

    "Certainly not!" Jiang Yue looked at Shen Yuan with a serious expression. "Father may be gone, but I remain in Xun Wu. If I were to simply watch them die and do nothing, how would I continue living in this town in the future?!"

    "Well then..."

    "Among those ingredients," Jiang Yue interjected, "there's one I absolutely cannot obtain."

    "What ingredient?"

    "The tears of Yi Shujun."

    Shen Yuan was taken aback - ordinary people could enter temples but not divine halls. Besides, he had long heard He Mengfang mention Child's Misfortune, saying that he only wished to be a carefree immortal, living his days joyously.

    With such a carefree nature, there was no way he would cry.

    After a moment of contemplation, Shen Yuan asked softly, "Would Yi Shujun's laughter-induced tears work?"

    "Any tears will do," Jiang Yue replied with a hint of excitement. "Young Master Shen has a plan?"

    An itch crept up the back of Shen Yuan's neck. He twisted his neck and gently brushed it away with the corner of his robe. When the itch subsided slightly, he continued, "For my own sake, I'll seek out Yi Shujun to give it a try." Pausing, he added, "But I have something else I'd like to inquire about from Miss Jiang."

    Jiang Yue nodded in agreement. "Please go ahead."

    "Does Xun Wu have a lady in red with a black saber at her waist?"

    Jiang Yue chuckled. "Is it possible, Mister Shen, that you've come to Xun Wu specifically to admire beautiful women?"

    Shen Yuan slightly furrowed his brow, expressing confusion.

    Jiang Yue explained, "That lady in red is Xun Wu's renowned beauty, named Mu Shi. She's the girl Master Yun Shi took under his wing."

    "But she claimed to be a physician."

    "Yes, that's correct. Master Yun Shi is an exceptional healer, and it was by learning from him that our Yuewei Hall has gained its medical knowledge."

    "Oh—" Shen Yuan nodded, half convinced, half skeptical. He quickly asked, "How are Master Yun Shi and Miss Mu Shi doing lately?"

    Shen Yuan wished to verify whether Mu Shi was now human or a ghost.

    If Jiang Qingyue answered "they're doing well," then the red-clothed woman he had seen, Mu Shi, would be human. Otherwise, she would be a ghost, just as he had suspected.

    Jiang Yue shook her head. "Yi Shujun's temple is quite a distance from Xun Wu's main street. We don't usually make the trip unless there's a special occasion."

    It was uncertain whether they were alive or dead.

    Shen Yuan's question went unanswered.

    "Eh? Young Master Shen," she suddenly called out to him in a sharp tone, "Why are you asking so many questions?"

    Assured that the red-clothed woman was a distinct individual from Jiang Yue, Shen Yuan relaxed around her. He introduced himself honestly, "I am a student from Peng Lai Island, here to treat the plague in Xun Wu. Along the way, I met Mu Shi and became curious – how can someone who claims to be a doctor carry a butcher's knife at their waist?"

    Upon hearing this, Jiang Yue remained completely unperturbed. She spoke with a tone devoid of any emotion, "I was secretly wondering how Young Master Shen knew so much about deities. So it turns out that you're a student from Peng Lai Island, one of the divine race."

    "Ahaha, yes—" Shen Yuan managed a strained smile at Jiang Yue.

    Her calmness made it seem as if she had known his background all along. Shen Yuan couldn't help but feel a twinge of regret for revealing where he came from, a subtle unease and anxiety creeping into his heart...

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

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