Cold wind whipped about like blades, and snow flew around, falling to the ground.
Lu Sheng opened his eyes and found himself seated in a dull-yellow horse carriage, which shook left and right. He could hear a young girl speak in a soft and gentle voice beside him.
Outside the carriage was a sea of buzz and commotion. Hawkers were trying to sell their goods, people were yelling and others exclaiming. Children were making a din.
Lu Sheng heaved a deep sigh.
He knew he could no longer go back. He was originally a seasoned player in a state-owned enterprise. However, he’d gotten drunk, and when he woke up from his stupor, he found himself in this present world.
It had been five days since then.
He sniffed at the air, smelling a wafting aroma of wine, mixed with the fragrance of pies and fried nuts.
"Sigh… The Osmanthus Winery’s white osmanthus wine is getting more and more fragrant," the personal servant girl in the carriage, Little Qiao, whispered in a childish voice.
Little Qiao was only twelve this year, but with her natural dollish features and petite figure, she looked no different from a ten-year-old.
Her small, chubby face carried a natural blush. She donned a small green cotton skirt and her hands were now rubbing a hair tie she was preparing to tie up Lu Sheng’s hair with when they alighted.
This kind of hair tie was made of the expensive bark of a species of rubber tree which emanated a light fragrance. The only bad thing about it was that it stiffened when the weather got cold and needed to be warmed and softened by rubbing it with warm hands.
Lu Sheng laughed and kept silent. Meanwhile, the carriage quickly came to a stop.
He pulled back the carriage’s veil and alighted, stepping onto the greyish white street covered with bluestone tiles, each as big as a face basin.
On the street, carriages and horses led by people travelled in either direction. Hawkers chatted with ladies who were out on a stroll, and wives appeared in public and laughed without care or restraint, peals of laughter resounding incessantly on the street.
Lu Sheng raised his head and saw the winery ahead. On a white rectangular signboard, three giant words danced – The Osmanthus Winery.
"Young Master Lu, you’re here! Come in, please! Room A has been reserved for you!" A servant greeted them with a welcoming smile.
Lu Sheng nodded. From Little Qiao’s hands, he received a silver-bordered white paper fan and shook it open like a rich young master. A scenery of mountains and a river intertwined with each other was painted onto the fan, and a poem had been written on the side. It was clearly the work of a great literati.
He followed the servant into the familiar winery.
It was divided into two stories. The hall on the first story was presently filled with many of those who were listening to song performances.
A young lady dressed in green stood in the middle of the empty space, her clear voice twisting and turning melodiously. Beside her, a middle-aged woman was playing a lute.
The song being performed was called Three Meetings, a tragic love story about a general on a mission of conquest and a fox lady in the mountain wilderness.
But it was a shame that those present were a boorish bunch, and only few somewhat cultured ones among them were barely able to understand the song. The rest of them treated the two ladies like thin air.
Those who tipped were even fewer.
Lu Sheng paused. Seeing how lively it was, he sat down on an empty seat on the first story.
"Who picked Three Meetings?" He asked the servant casually.
He held an uncommon status here in The Osmanthus Winery. Had it been an upscale place of entertainment on Earth, he would have been a VVIP guest: a patron whose annual spending was at least in five digits.
In a small northern city like this Nine Links City, such spending was enough to make one a VVIP customer.
"It’s Young Master Zhou. Young Master Zhou Que," the servant replied softly.
Not intending to make things difficult for him, Lu Sheng dismissed him with a wave of his hand.
After pulling Little Qiao down onto a seat, his gaze swept the crowd on the first story and quickly landed on a pale and frail gentleman clad in white robes. He was fanning himself lightly with an ugly gold fan he held in his hand.
"I bet he’s targeting that young girl who’s singing," Lu Sheng shook his head.
"Young Master just warned him last time. That lad’s really a rotten egg!" Little Qiao pouted angrily. 
Lu Sheng smiled and no longer said anything. He started listening to the song quietly.
Dishes soon filled the top of the mahogany table. Lu Sheng grabbed some stir-fried meat slices with lettuce and started eating.
He also drank a mouthful of white osmanthus wine, drinking it as if it were a normal beverage. The faint and sweet floral fragrance mixed up in it made it taste like fruit juice.
‘Food and clothing fit for royalty, without any lack or want, and I’ve even got a pretty servant girl to warm my bed… this lifestyle is way too decadent,’ sometimes, Lu Sheng would think about simply living the rest of his life this way. The pursuit of his previous life was to eat, drink and laze around anyway.
He ate another mouthful of dishes, and drank another mouthful of wine. Then, he opened his mouth so Little Qiao could put in a salted ice prawn she had just shelled.
Those ice prawns were the local specialty of this snowy northern city. Just a casual scoop in a thick ice hole would draw up a large amount of translucent prawns.
Those were ice prawns.
They were half the length of a normal prawn but were a fresh delicacy. The meat melted instantly in one’s mouth, serving up an indescribable gastronomic pleasure.
Of course, it was extremely pricey.
It was already considered extravagant for an average person to eat it once a month. Who could enjoy it during every meal like him?
Lu Sheng enjoyed the delicacies and wine before him while listening to the song, but his mind was elsewhere.
He had already arrived in this ancient China-like world for so many days. Yet, according to his observations, this world was riddled with many strange happenings.
Initially, he’d thought that he had gone back into the ancient times, but later he discovered otherwise.
The customs, the habits, the weather and the climate here were all vastly different from those during the times of any other dynasty or in any place that he knew of.
As he was thinking of these things, the winery’s main doors opened again.
A group of muscular men dressed in short robes filed in, finding a table near the corner and sitting down immediately.
These muscular men were clearly not locals. Their dressing indicated that they seemed to have come from the Central Plains. Neither their clothing nor bearing were as rough as the northerners.
The leader among them was a bald man with bronze earrings and a fierce-looking face. Yet here he was, sighing.
"The days are getting worse."
"Don’t worry, big brother. If we can’t go past Lee Village, we’ll just take the second route. Skirting around Zhang Village will work, too," another man said with a frown.
"What do you know? I came to meet up with you guys precisely via that route. They’re not much better off than the people at Lee Village… there’s plenty of dead there too," the bald man’s fierce-looking face trembled and turned even more sorrowful.
"What on earth happened? Tell us big brother, so we can learn a thing or two," a man urged.
The bald muscular man sighed again. "I don’t know the specifics either. I just know that quite a few fishing villages by the Sui Yang Lake have been affected. Seems like a water ghost has been haunting them."
"Water ghost!? No way!"
Lu Sheng’s table was not far from them and he could hear their conversation which they made no effort to conceal.
At first, he was simply listening for fun, but little did he expect that those men started chatting about some superstitious things.
The Lu family in his present life was one of the several most wealthy families in this snowy northern city. Saying that they lived high off the hog would be an understatement.
If it was on Earth, they would be at least billionaires.
During those past few days, coming out for a drink, he had heard more than a few rumors about demons, spirits, gods and ghosts in the winery. But they were largely gossip.
This was the first case that involved people who had a personal encounter, so Lu Sheng raised his ears and eavesdropped attentively on their conversation.
It was a good thing that they did not hush it up. They continued chatting loudly about the strange occurrences in the fishing villages.
"That water ghost… I saw it with my own eyes… it was over ten feet tall, with a green face and fangs, covered with lots of seaweed. Oh my goodness, if I, your big brother, didn’t run fast enough, you wouldn’t be able to see me now," the bald man was still having the shivers as he recalled it.
"Big brother, is the water ghost real?" One of them was skeptical.
"Are you sure you didn’t make up this story?" Another of them sneered.
Having heard to this point, Lu Sheng found it funny too. It was probably another boast by some boor from god-knows-where. He had seen many of his kind in this world.
Having eaten something and drunk some wine, he made a servant bring over the singing lady’s song list and casually looked it over.
Three Meetings was not bad, but didn’t suit the atmosphere. He wanted to change it to a more joyous tune.
But, right at that moment, the bald man slapped the table with his palm, his face now red.
"You really think that I, Boss Hu, only knows how to boast!? Look, look at what this is! That’s a piece of bone left behind by the water ghost! I secretly picked it up after the incident!"
He retrieved a piece of jade-like green stone gingerly from his chest and slapped the tabletop with it.
"Isn’t that just a piece of mixed jade?" One of them sneered.
"Mixed jade? This is mixed jade?! Go eat crap!" The bald man’s face was red with rage.
"This brother over here. Can you show me that thing?"
A mild voice rang out from the side suddenly.
Lu Sheng was standing beside their table with a smile on his face. His gaze swept across the green piece of jade on the tabletop.
"This thing… you dare to take it? This was left behind by a water ghost," the bald man remarked in surprise.
He had merely taken it out to show it off for a while and was planning to throw it away a little later.
After all, it was left behind by something inhuman. If it led the water ghost to him, he would really be in deep trouble.
"It’s ok. I just want to take a look," Lu Sheng did not believe in any tale about a water ghost. It just seemed to him that the piece of jade would sell well; it looked different from your average jade.
The average mixed jade could be purchased from shops and stalls everywhere. It was casually polished from jadeite corners and was extremely cheap.
But, for some strange reason, the moment he saw this piece of jade, he knew something was different about it.
The bald Boss Hu glanced at Lu Sheng and saw that he carried an extraordinary aura about him, dressed in clothes worn by the rich.
He wore a green robe and a white fox fur jacket. On his head was a jade officer hat, and on his feet, there were black-soled shoes with cloud patterns embroidered on them with silver threads.
The cost of his entire outfit was enough to pay for a few months’ worth of spending at The Osmanthus Winery... and probably enough to equal an average household’s annual expenditure as well.
"Well, Young Master, if you want it, er… just a talent of silver will do!" The muscular man ventured after some hesitation.
"Deal," Lu Sheng let Little Qiao take out a talent of silver and place it on the table.
"It’s yours now," the bald man took the jade and stuffed it in Lu Sheng’s hands decisively. The few of them exchanged glances with each other, rose from the table and left.
Without another word, Lu Sheng watched them leave. He held up the jade in his hand for a closer examination.
‘A talent of silver. If this was China on Earth, then we’re talking about a thousand Chinese dollars’ worth of purchasing power. Only in this life can I spend so extravagantly,’ he shook his head. A talent of silver meant nothing to him. According to the memories of his present body, his average monthly expenditure was at least above a hundred talents of silver. 
Occasionally, he would even spend up to a thousand talents and more. That equaled millions on today’s Earth!
Thinking of this, he complained in his heart about what a prodigal the previous host of this body had been.
Ignoring the stares of the surrounding onlookers, he held onto the jade, called Little Qiao and left the winery, heading towards the horse carriage waiting outside.
Yet right after stepping out of the winery, before he was even halfway there, he abruptly stood still and placed the jade in the heart of his palm.
There and then, in the middle of his right palm, the jade started melting!
In a matter of seconds, the originally hard rock dissolved into a pool of dark green goo. A faint but terrible scream came out from the goo.
Without warning, the goo exploded into a ball of green smoke and gradually dispersed in front of Lu Sheng.
He stood rooted to the ground in shock. Refocusing his sight, he saw that the jade was still in his palm, but the green sheen within it had vanished silently.
‘Just now that was…’
He stood on the spot blankly, continuously recalling the image he had just seen.
"Young Master? Young Master???" Little Qiao kept calling out beside him.
Lu Sheng snapped out of his reverie and looked at the jade in his hand once again. It was now nothing more than an ordinary cobblestone; not even a vestige of jade remained.
Hair stood on the back of his neck. Imperceptibly, he seemed to understand something.
"Let’s go. Back to the manor!"
Little Qiao blinked and took a while to react. "Okay…"
Both of them boarded the carriage. The driver gave a few whips and two black hairy horses began to advance slowly.
In the carriage, Lu Sheng did not make a sound. He just kept staring at the cobblestone in his palm. At this point, Little Qiao too discovered the change in the stone.
‘We got scammed again!’ She muttered in her heart but did not say much. ‘Young Master’s considered alright this time. The biggest scam he fell for in the past was that supposedly ancient wine flask. It cost over a thousand silver talents and almost drove Old Master to his grave. It’s just a talent of silver this time. Sometimes Young Master’s meal costs more than that.’
The horse carriage headed straight for the manor. As it passed by the city gates, Lu Sheng heard shouts from the outside.
"…I heard a while back that the water ghost has been exorcized! A travelling priest saved the fishing villages from danger!"
"Has the court sent anyone?"
"Yeah, already quite some time ago. I heard even the prefectural yamen’s Chief Constable Ouyang almost lost his life. Good thing he met a travelling priest. According to the news, when the priest attacked, there was a blinding golden flash and the water ghost cried out pathetically before turning into green goo. Afterward, it just exploded into thick smoke and then dispersed." 
"So it wasn’t attacked by the court’s experts?"
"Of course not!"
Lu Sheng could tell that it was the officers on guard duty chit-chatting.
He would often intentionally pass by the gates on this side of the city. The soldiers on guard duty were well-informed of the latest news and loved to brag and bullshit about strange news from all over the region.
‘What a coincidence…’ Lu Sheng’s face betrayed nothing.
Recalling that piece of jade from earlier, his heart sank.
Meanwhile, the horse carriage lumbered on toward Ku Rong Street – the most prosperous part of the city.
 ED/N: Before Lu Sheng was addressed "young master", whereas here the servant girl adds the character for "big", which has a more respectful sound to it. While I’m not a TL so I can’t tell for sure with my much worse Chinese, it seems to mean that he’s the oldest son of his parents (which is a fact) or the oldest youth in his generation in his family (branch families likely do not count). It could also mean that he’s the first in line to inherit the family head’s position. Later on, she’ll also use this form of address (but also at least one more word that also translates to "young master"). There are many ways to say "young master" in Chinese, but we’ll always translate them as "young master" (sometimes we’ll use capital letters to emphasize the instances where it’s a translation of a more respectful Chinese version).
 ED/N: Chinese dollars = Yuan = Renminbi. While only the latter two names are official (as far as I know that is), the first one also be heard from time to time.
 ED/N: "Yamen" is the word for a government office that existed during feudalism in China.