Chapter 4: Talking About Herbs

The bonfire blazed brightly, the aroma of wine and meat wafted through the air, and the sounds of people chatting were overwhelming. The light from the fire created a stark contrast with the dark forest surrounding them, as if they were in two different worlds.

Yu Ci took the wine gourd from a nearby herb gatherer and took a big swig without any hesitation. This was homemade liquor, spicy as it went down his throat, yet carrying a medicinal fragrance, quite unique.

Lu Bing’s judgement was indeed reliable. The people he had introduced were mostly native herb gatherers from Juebi City. Over the past ten years, they had made numerous trips between Tianlie Valley and Juebi City, becoming experts in harvesting Shrimp Beard Grass. They also had some knowledge about the origins of Bai Ri Mansion.

Such a group of people was unlikely to commit any acts of robbery or murder, ensuring safety.

After a simple dinner, the group of over twenty people began to chat aimlessly. Out of some consideration, both sides intentionally avoided discussing their respective harvests, but it was impossible to completely ignore it. Eventually, after several twists and turns, the people from Juebi City began sharing mysterious and amusing stories about Bai Ri Mansion, laughing and chatting, making the evening lively.

The conversation eventually returned to the topic of Shrimp Beard Grass, specifically its medicinal value.

Most of the people present were professional herb gatherers and knew something about its properties. Even those who didn’t know much could make wild guesses. People started sharing their formulas and pills, splitting into several factions. The discussion gradually turned into debates and then arguments, heating up the atmosphere.

Amidst the heated arguments, someone suddenly shouted, “That’s all nonsense! It’s not that simple!”

Everyone turned to look. The shout came from someone from Juebi City, seemingly named Li Hong, who appeared to be drunk. His face was flushed red, and he probably didn’t even know what he had just said.

A companion nearby, seeing that he was clearly drunk, nudged him to sober up. But Li Hong, wanting to save face and still very drunk, found himself more talkative. He seized the opportunity to spill a big secret he had heard:

“Don’t laugh! Shrimp Beard Grass may just be used in some common remedies for headaches and fevers, but for Bai Ri Mansion, this stuff is as common as roadside weeds. Why would they go to great lengths to hire us to harvest it?

“The truth is, in our hands, it’s just a herb used in folk remedies. But in Bai Ri Mansion, it can turn stone into gold…”

At this crucial point, he deliberately paused, pretending to be mysterious. This attitude was only irritating, but what could be done with a drunkard?

The herb gatherer sharing the wine gourd with Yu Ci chuckled and said, “Li Lao Si has a sister who married a servant in Bai Ri Mansion. He always hears such rumors…”

Yu Ci found it interesting and wanted to know more. Li Hong, enjoying the suspense he created, finally relented under everyone’s urging and laughed, saying:

“Actually, Bai Ri Mansion buys Shrimp Beard Grass because they can make a potion with it. By soaking a large amount of Shrimp Beard Grass in the potion for some time, the best-preserved stalk will absorb the medicinal properties of the others and come to life…”

At this, seven or eight people questioned, “Come to life?”

“I don’t know if it really comes to life,” Li Hong continued, “but my brother-in-law said that the best stalk will absorb the medicinal properties of the others. If the medicinal power is enough, it will undergo a transformation, like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, becoming a new kind of herb. Then, it won’t be called Shrimp Beard Grass anymore, but Fish Dragon Grass!”

“Fish Dragon Grass?”

There was a moment of silence around the bonfire before everyone started talking again. People began asking Li Hong about the uses of Fish Dragon Grass, but by then, Li Hong had shared most of what he knew and started giving incoherent answers. Nonetheless, the atmosphere had already heated up, and without concrete answers, people began to indulge in their imaginations, assigning all sorts of miraculous properties to Fish Dragon Grass and fantasizing about the benefits of acquiring such a treasure.

At this point, Yu Ci’s drinking buddy passed the gourd again, inviting him to drink while jokingly asking, “What would you trade for this immortal herb?”

Yu Ci, noticing his friend’s pained expression as he gulped down the last of the strong homemade liquor, felt a sudden surge of enthusiasm and laughed loudly:

“I want immortality! Who can trade for it?”

A sudden hush fell over the crowd around the fire, followed by an uproar of laughter and teasing shouts. Nine out of ten people thought Yu Ci was joking. Despite not having known each other long, Yu Ci’s handsome looks, strong skills, and genial nature had left a favorable impression on everyone. They responded with good-natured laughter, pushing the atmosphere to a new peak.

However, some could sense Yu Ci’s true intentions, or at least understood that his aspirations were extraordinary. Lu Bing, from across the fire, raised his gourd in acknowledgment, to which Yu Ci responded with a smile, everything understood without words.

As the lively atmosphere continued, Yu Ci detached himself, staring at the flickering flames, slightly lost in thought. Speaking the truth so easily, was it because he was drunk?

Or perhaps his desire had reached such an extent?

In his youth, Yu Ci didn’t understand the true meaning of “immortality,” but he knew the cost clearly—the countless bones beneath the Twin Immortal Palace were the best explanation.

Initially, it was merely fear, but as he grew older and braver, the fear gradually faded, leaving behind a deep imprint in his heart. Additionally, the divine powers of the Twin Immortals, controlling wind and rain, flying through the sky and burrowing through the ground, were like a seed deeply embedded in that imprint. During his long years of wandering, it sprouted, grew, and eventually became a towering tree rooted in his heart.

Unconsciously, “immortality” had merged into his very blood, becoming an instinct. An instinct to pursue, without pondering the so-called “meaning,” because immortality itself was the culmination of all meanings.

This was Yu Ci’s understanding.

The strong liquor stirred his desire, making him yearn to break into that world. His blood boiled, striving to break through an invisible barrier, but it always fell just short—he could almost hear the lid above his head rattling.

Since reaching the upper level of the Mingqiao stage and sensing his own soul, this feeling had grown stronger daily. In Tianlie Valley, it had reached the point where his cauldron was boiling over, ready to burst.

Yu Ci knew this was a sign of a breakthrough, but he lacked a catalyst. Purely relying on his current strength, he was always just a bit short. Fortunately, he had ample patience and resilience, accumulating power at this level until the moment of breakthrough.

While he was lost in thought, the people around the bonfire had moved on from his “immortality joke” and returned to their main concern. Despite their heated discussions, they still couldn’t understand the true purpose of Shrimp Beard Grass or Fish Dragon Grass. As interest waned and the conversation started to die down, someone suddenly sneered:

“Who cares what it’s used for? Knowing its value is what matters.”

This blunt statement caught everyone’s attention. Yu Ci also snapped out of his thoughts, expecting it to be another of Li Hong’s bold remarks. But he quickly realized it wasn’t. This person’s voice was strong and metallic, very different from Li Hong’s slurred tone.

Turning to look, Yu Ci recognized the speaker—it was Daoist Yan.

This man, also part of the Juebi City group, was not a professional herb gatherer but had joined midway, much like Yu Ci. Dressed in Daoist robes, he claimed to be a Daoist, but with a rugged face, a full beard, and piercing eyes, he looked formidable. Yu Ci had previously estimated that among the herb gatherers, only Daoist Yan’s cultivation was the most advanced, likely at the upper level of the Mingqiao stage, far surpassing the others.

Everyone’s eyes were on him. Someone laughed and said, “Can this herb compare to the Sanyang Talisman Sword?”

Earlier, when introducing himself, Daoist Yan had admitted his goal was the Sanyang Talisman Sword, similar to Yu Ci’s, hence the reference.

Daoist Yan grinned and said, “The Sanyang Talisman Sword? That’s hard to measure. I only know that ten Fish Dragon Herbs can be exchanged for one Hanyu Heart Cleansing Pill.”

This statement left everyone puzzled, finding Daoist Yan’s words incomprehensible. Only Li Hong, sobering up slightly, put on a contemplative look, “Hanyu Heart Cleansing Pill, I think I’ve heard of it somewhere?”

“Of course, it’s from Bai Ri Mansion.”

Daoist Yan grinned, “Bai Ri Mansion can produce hundreds or thousands of Sanyang Talisman Swords every year, but the Hanyu Heart Cleansing Pill—only the Mansion Master has a few, carefully stored in a secret chamber, guarded by dedicated personnel to prevent theft… just so you understand.”

“Hiss!”

The collective gasp of over twenty people was quite spectacular, but Yu Ci was somewhat distracted. For some reason, he felt uneasy seeing Daoist Yan’s smile and smelled a peculiar scent. Before he could identify it, Daoist Yan continued:

“However, as good as the Hanyu Heart Cleansing Pill is, it’s unattainable. Unlike the Sanyang Talisman Sword, which can be exchanged for a

 Fish Dragon Herb.”

“You know this too?”

This immediately piqued everyone’s interest. Daoist Yan laughed, “Do I look like I’m lying?”

Everyone laughed together, but it was unclear whether they believed him or were just making light of it. The bonfire’s bright light could only penetrate so far into the forest darkness, making it hard to see far ahead.

Yet, the more they laughed, the more the mysterious tension faded.

Yu Ci was sure something was wrong, but he couldn’t pinpoint what it was. The firelight on Daoist Yan’s face seemed to flicker, creating an eerie and surreal feeling in the dark.

“Watch out!”

Yu Ci’s cry broke the laughter around the bonfire, causing everyone to turn in surprise. Yu Ci’s friend holding the wine gourd almost dropped it, asking in shock, “What’s wrong, Yu Ci?”

Daoist Yan also turned, puzzled, “What did you see?”

Everyone laughed at Yu Ci’s caution, seemingly unimpressed by the abrupt tension. The surrounding laughter was slightly strained, indicating that something indeed felt wrong, though nobody could identify what.

“I…nothing.”

Yu Ci had no evidence or reason to continue his caution, but the sense of dread in his heart wouldn’t subside. He muttered softly, shaking his head and apologizing for his outburst, but his eyes remained locked on Daoist Yan, feeling increasingly uneasy.

Perhaps it was just an illusion?

Yu Ci didn’t think so. Something was definitely wrong, but it wasn’t clear yet. The bonfire still burned brightly, and the night continued on, casting long shadows over everyone present.

No one noticed a pair of eyes gleaming coldly in the dark forest, quietly watching the scene by the fire.

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