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The meeting of the Just Alliance disbanded soon after. Before anyone else could say anything, Chu Ran declared that he was ‘taking custody’ of Zhu Li, then whisked him away to a carriage that was swarmed with guards. The Chu family had no uniform nor signature colors, leaving Zhu Li unable to tell whose side they were on.
“Look for the earrings,” Chu Ran explained on the road, after noticing that Zhu Li looked uncomfortable sitting next to an armed guard. “Those specifically on my side have ruby earrings.”
“Why rubies?” Zhu Li wondered.
“My teacher was quite fond of them, and we were quite fond of her. It is a remembrance.”
Zhu Li peered curiously at the earrings on the guard next to him. “And what’s stopping random people from making similar earrings to blend in with you?”
Chu Ran chuckled at his question, tilting his head to side. “Here’s a different question: why would a bunch of blind people choose such a visual symbol?”
The other blinked at the rebuff, then observed the earrings closer. Actually, now that he was paying attention, he could vaguely feel qi emanating off of them…
“Enchantments?” he guessed. It would make sense, for people with no sight to rely on sensing qi, sounds, and other such things.
“Very good. They’re internal to the earrings, too. If one doesn’t have the original blueprint, they’ll find it quite difficult to replicate the exact feel. Plus, if they’re broken, the internal channels will erase themselves, leaving anyone with ill intentions a hard road ahead.”
Zhu Li’s eyes turned back to meet Chu Ran’s blindfold. “Why are you telling me this?”
“You’re going to be in unfamiliar territory for a long, long time,” the other answered, his tone eerie and floaty. “Don’t you wish to know who’s a friend, and who’s a foe?”
too Zhu Li kept to himself. It was best not to be rude to one’s savior, as odd and off-putting as they were.
“Suspicious, are you?” Chu Ran added, smiling lightly. “There is no need to be, really. You saved my life. Everything I have today can be owed to your outstanding grace.”
“You’ve exaggerated,” Zhu Li countered, waving his hand in embarrassment. “I’m merely a doctor. Helping people is my job that I’m paid for.”
“The wisdom and skills of a doctor must not be taken for granted. Just because you have helped people a lot does not mean your work should be devalued for being your ‘job’, and because you can take payment for it.” Chu Ran crossed his legs, his figure jolting along with the carriage’s bumps. “And yet, so many in that crowd had received your care before, but were silent as night itself. Ungrateful, are they not?”
Zhu Li’s mood that had been rising from the compliments sank right back down. Ungrateful… yes, that was a word for them, but it was more complicated than that. “You should be well aware that the Chu and Han families are powerful enough to intimidate. Chu’s in particular have a reputation of bringing calamity upon anyone that dares to speak up against them, as well as the power and backing to do so and get away with it without consequence.”
Chu Ran laughed again, though it was much more icy. “You are correct, good doctor. I have witnessed such things myself. Revenge runs in my family’s blood, it appears.”
“The same goes for you, I’m guessing?” Zhu Li’s eyes went to the scenery passing by outside. They had long since left the Just Alliance’s countryside headquarters to enter Zhongling, capital of Fan, one of the several countries the Just Alliance reached. This city in particular was the Chu’s hometown. “You seemed to be ecstatic to embarrass your own father and brothers, back there.”
“Did I? My mistake.” Chu Ran grinned wider, bowing his head. “I should have been more subtle about it.”
What a weird guy. Still, Zhu Li decided to drop this line of conversation, lest the other decided that he was too nosy, or knew too much.
A short silence stretched out. “Not that I have a choice in the matter, but what are your plans for me?” he asked, resting his chin in his hand.
“My plans? Well, first off, you look dreadful, and I’m sure you feel dreadful, too. The jailers certainly weren’t easy on you. You’re getting immediate bedrest and medical attention.”
His wrists and ankles were still bruised and swollen from the ropes that had bound him, he was covered in bruises and wounds, some festering, his limbs had a constant numbness to them that was worrying, all of his joints ached, his head was foggy, his ears were ringing, he was definitely dehydrated and malnourished, and for some reason, he couldn’t smell a thing, even though he was certain that his own stink could not be pleasant. ‘Dreadful’ was a vast understatement to describe Zhu Li’s current condition.
“I’m surprised you’re letting me sit in this nice carriage, with how filthy I am right now,” he mumbled bitterly, reminiscing over his unjust treatment.
“My word, Doctor Zhu. What would I have done instead? Made you ride a horse, in your condition? Made you walk? Dragged you along by a rope in back? Don’t be silly. My family provided the jailers in the Just Alliance, so we will be fully subsidizing your comfort and healing from them, of course.” At this point, Chu Ran leaned conspiratorially forward. “Besides, this isn’t my carriage. I borrowed it from my dear brother, Chu Fu. He loves incense and things that smell nice, so please, do him a favor by making his fanciest carriage smell as fancy as it deserves.”
Zhu Li huffed out a surprised laugh. Petty revenge ran in the family too, apparently.
“Thankfully, they didn’t damage you enough to require more than a week’s worth of recovery. After the doctor gives you a good enough bill of health to be able to work again, we can talk more. I’ll have a little surprise for you, even.”
“I’m not quite sure I like surprises anymore. The last one led to me getting framed,” Zhu Li replied, pointed.
“I can assure you that it will be a pleasant surprise, this time,” Chu Ran comforted, beaming as ever. “It is my hope that you’ll come to trust me enough to work with me on clearing your name, too. Two heads are better than one.”
Zhu Li looked down towards the road outside, not answering.
The other spoke like him trusting him was something to be earned in the future, rather than something he had already obtained back in the jail due to Zhu Li’s own lack of choice. If he didn’t trust Chu Ran, who was he going to trust?
His family, that he’d had no contact with since he left? His patients, who were impotent in the face of the Chu family’s power? His so-called ‘sweetheart’, who had abandoned him the second he’d been detained?
No. Zhu Li had had all day to think, and he knew that Chu Ran was his only option. It didn’t matter if the man was odd, nor to what degree. The only possible other choice he had had was to simply be framed and died, and that was not much of one.
In any case, it was too late for regrets, now. The Twelve-Petaled Lotus tied their lives and deaths together. Why would Chu Ran allow him to run around by himself when people wanted him dead, thereby putting his own life at risk?
He trusted Chu Ran with his life already. He had to.
Trusting him with anything else, though? He would have to think about that.
His five days in recovery passed with merciful blandness. He had high suspicions that the doctor the Chu family had hired was purposefully making the medicine put on his wounds sting more and the medicine he took orally more bitter, but there were no other adverse effects.
On one hand, the doctor may have been pressured to adhere to the Chu’s brand of pettiness by making him more uncomfortable. On the other, he was probably too afraid of Chu Ran’s sectmates that were always standing around to actually do anything of harm.
Conversely, the doctor could be completely innocent, and just preferred using particularly bitter and painful materials by happenstance. As a fellow doctor, it wasn’t like Zhu Li couldn’t recognize the substances by taste, and know their effects. It also wasn’t an impossibility that there could be particularly bitter strains of already-bitter medicines. Off-beat sources would yield off-beat medicines, after all.
On the final day, when he was considered well enough to resume normal life, Zhu Li quickly wrote down recommendations for better sources, emphasizing that patients would flock more to doctors that used higher-quality plants, and ended his note with a quote from Doctrine of the Doctor’s Heart: ’The care of a doctor is akin to the care of good parents; unbiased, protective, and done with all one’s heart, immune to the temptation of those with ill intent.’
The purpose of the quote was quite simple. First of all, doctors quoting scriptures at each other was nothing new or egregious, so it wouldn’t be out of place. Second of all, the context changed depending on the reader’s psyche; for an innocent doctor, the quote would simply be a warning that they might be acquiring subpar materials from a dishonest source, but for a guilty doctor, the quote was a jab at turning one’s back on doctorly conduct, which was to be neutral and above petty materialism.
After writing his note, Zhu Li didn’t purposefully stick around to see the doctor’s reaction, as Chu Ran had come to personally lead him out of his temporary guest quarters to whatever ‘surprise’ he had planned.
They walked a short distance across the Chu family’s obnoxiously sprawling complex. The amount of buildings the place had could rival those of smaller sect’s, and the degree of extravagance could make the richest merchants cry out of envy.
Zhu Li had been a wandering doctor for years, and his sect of origin was certainly not rich by any stretch of imagination. Over all his years of lodging, traveling, and seeing various sights therein, he had never personally witnessed such lavishness.
It was an odd view, too, as the place could not exactly be slapped with the labels of gaudy, tasteless, or vulgar. There was nothing plated with gold or inlaid with jade, no intricate statues made of silver set in each corner, no excessive amounts of intricately-carved redwood, no guardian beasts perched upon each and every eave, and no droves of peony bushes lining every hall, yet the whole place gave off an unsettling air of wealth that was hard to ignore.
Their silent walk ended at the gate of a side courtyard, after they had passed multiple other guest courtyards, regular courtyards, servant quarters, tall willows, stone-lined ponds with fish, pavilions, several guardian lions, bridges over an artificial river, and gate after other gate. Aside from the sheer excessive amount of things that were around, Zhu Li noticed that everything was disturbingly clean.
Even the most ritzy of places he had been to would have some element of imperfection to them, be it somewhat lacking in feng shui, having less-than-perfect craftsmanship in decor, being naturally element-worn, having slight overgrowth in their yards, having something under construction or broken for the time being, being a tad too tasteless, having stray clothes or rags about, and other such things. Wealth did not automatically beget perfection, as nothing perfect existed in the world.
And yet, this residence — more like a palace, were that not heresy to say in a monarchy — had achieved its perfection. He couldn’t recall seeing any moss on any rocks, leaves on any paths, dirt on any surfaces, weeds crawling up unwelcome, clothes hanging out to dry, or even any servants tending to anything, which would have at least justified the cleanliness. He hadn’t even seen any other family members at all, and now that he thought about it, he hadn’t heard anyone or anything, either; everything had been silent, aside from the breeze rustling through the leaves.
He glanced up at the roofs and eaves of tall buildings he could sight over the exterior walls. They were still in the middle of the city, and not in an especially unfrequented neighborhood. Their walk may not have been long, but shouldn’t he have been able to hear something of the outside world?
Chu Ran’s voice snapped him out of his musings. He blinked, turning his wandering gaze back to his guide, who was standing with a hand on the gate’s door. “Sorry.”
“You noticed, have you not?” Chu Ran asked out of nowhere, smiling.
Zhu Li narrowed his eyes. “Noticed what?”
“It’s quite beautiful here, isn’t it?” the other gave as a non-answer. “Beautiful and quiet.”
Yeah, too beautiful and too quiet, Zhu Li thought, keeping such to himself. Suspicious as he was, there was no need to insult his host’s eerie house to his face.
“One of my ancestors loved the quiet, and disdained the noise of the rabble.” Chu Ran left his place near the door, taking the few steps he needed to stand next to the distracted Zhu Li. His head was slightly lifted; perhaps he was enjoying the sound of the wind, or the smell of lilies that wafted ever about. “The gate walls keep the sound out.”
Zhu Li’s brow creased. Some sort of array or enchantment, then? To enchant a wall of that magnitude, or set up an array of that size, would have cost a huge amount of money, time, and manpower, which seemed excessive for a want of peace and quiet.
“Picturesque, is what it is. It’s like it all came straight out of a landscape painting,” Chu Ran’s voice continued to ring. “Empty and serene, with nobody around.”
Right. Right, nobody around… why was there nobody around?
As his brows scrunched together, it finally sunk in for him how weird it was that he hadn’t seen anyone on the way over. Sure, he had noticed it before, but now it was dawning on him that that was what had been creeping him out this whole time. Such a huge area, with so many buildings — why was it that he hadn’t seen a soul using it? Why hadn’t he seen a single animal, like a playing rodent or a flying bird? Why hadn’t he seen any insects, even?
The place was beautiful to an unnatural degree, and the quiet came from having not a single thing alive in it to disturb the peace, sans the inert and decorative plants.
Goosebumps spread across his skin. What in the hell was wrong with this place?
When he had left the infirmary, everything had been fine. People, servants, and noisy dogs had buzzed around him during the days of his recovery, giving him sense of reality despite his isolation. At some point during their walk, that liveliness had turned into silence, and he hadn’t even taken notice of the exact point. Perhaps his days of the stifling quiet in the prison cell had warped his perception some.
“The eastern part of the Estate always goes unused. These were all once the courtyards of separate households, but the Chu family bought their properties and combined them.” Chu Ran chuckled eerily. “And yet, they sit unused, cold, and empty… our unique specialties of oaths, arrays, and talismans keep us connected and in-power, don’t they?”
Zhu Li frowned at that seemingly random juxtaposition. It implied something vague that he didn’t exactly find auspicious.
“There is no need for your worry, though. While the eastern part is empty, the easternmost point is not. As you can see, the thick outer walls stop here—“ Chu Ran gestured to the side-gate, “—and do not surround the Pavilion of Quiet.”
Zhu Li nodded, then realized that Chu Ran wouldn’t be able to see that. “Got it,” he opted to answer, awkwardly.
The two finally went out the Chu Estate gate, passed through an odd outdoor space that was most definitely the walled-off section of what used to be the alleyway separating two different households, through an unassuming auxiliary door that seemed to have been for servant use back in the day, through a small and barren sectioned-off yard, then through another door that opened to what had to be a typical home’s front courtyard.
Once in the so-called Pavilion of Quiet, the strange, creeping feeling that Zhu Li hadn’t even noticed had snuck up on him instantly vanished into nothing. He resisted the urge to turn back to look in the Chu Estate’s direction, mentally taking a note.
Calling this place a ‘Pavilion’ was grossly underselling it, and calling it ‘Quiet’ was a lie, in comparison to the previous silence. In line with Chu Ran’s previous explanation, this extension of the Estate had clearly once been a regular civilian home bought after the rest of the Estate had been remodeled, after which the alleyway had been sectioned off to add it onto the side.
While the previous once-homes had had their tall walls torn down and replaced with ones appropriate of smaller parts of a whole, this one retained its original walls that screamed ‘keep out’. Furthermore, the place did not give off the unsettling perfection Zhu Li had witnessed in the Estate, but already had a more down-to-earth homeliness that he was used to seeing, and all he was looking at was the front courtyard.
Said courtyard was a bit abnormally shaped; while the south hall would typically be lined up against the same wall as the entrance gate was, and the grassy yard would be past it, this one was the opposite, where the partitioned yards were lined up against the entrance wall, the gate led straight to grass, and the southern hall was lined up against where the doorway to the rest of the house was, effectively turning it into a passage to get into the rest of the house. A bit odd, in both an architectural and feng shui standpoint, but not a violation of anything, as it was still in the southern section of the home.
“Was that passage we just took always there?” Zhu Li asked. Far be it from him to be an expert in homes, but compared to the state of the rest of the home, that passage had looked new and out-of-place.
Chu Ran hummed. “No. It was added later, so that servants could get in easily. That gate we passed through in the main Estate was also created later.”
“Why do the walls not encircle it, then? Was it added after it was built?”
“Yes, though it was added before even I was born. It was once meant to house masses of guests who are…” Chu Ran shot him a look. “Not liked very much.”
Raising a brow, Zhu Li thought of how that was fine by him, because the feeling was mutual.
All of a sudden, a whinnying noise was heard, following which a light-colored head came to rise above from behind a previously-inconspicuous collection of large forsythia bushes that lined the southern wall. In short order, a larger, white-and-gray body charged out of said bushes, sending yellow petals and branches flying as it galloped the short distance over to the two men.
Zhu Li sucked in a breath as the dappled horse, with her distinctive sloped face and short back, drew near, then came to a stop within snuffling distance of him. He raised a hand to affectionately pat her nose, then scratch her under her chin. “Hello, Guhui.”
This was his steed that he had been traveling with for four years, after she had been gifted to him by the nomadic Shiyin people for his services. She had always been a strong and smart horse, being a bit silly, but never being fussy no matter how heavy his supplies got to carry. She must have recognized his voice, to have come running like that.
He had worried about her following his capture, of course, but there had been nothing he could have done, forced to comfort himself with the fact that they wouldn’t kill her; she would simply be sold off or relocated, and he would never see her again.
Maybe it was foolish to be so attached to a horse, but he didn’t care much. His travels meant that he had many that respected him, yet precious few friends and confidantes. After his confinement, he had even less of those than he had realized, even.
“Such a loyal horse. She put up quite the fight when we seized her, nearly kicking one of us death. The only way I got her to calm down enough to be led away was with candy and pets,” Chu Ran said beside him, tilting his head. “I have no stables and pens, unfortunately, so I had to wrong her with putting her in the front courtyard. There’s a space behind those bushes that she’s fond of sneaking behind, at least… did you say her name was Guhui?”
“Yes,” Zhu Li answered, gently picking forsythia petals out of Guhui’s mane. Silly horse.
“That couldn’t possibly be the gu from ‘skeleton’ and the hui from ‘ashes’, could it? I’m assuming the oral word combination is just a coincidence.”
“No, that’s correct.”
At the silence that stretched out, Zhu Li turned to look at Chu Ran. The blindfold made his face hard to read, but he saw the other’s lips purse.
“She’s white like bone, and gray like ash,” he explained. “Bone ash is actually very useful for fertilizer, especially when mixed with finely chopped offal and dried blood flakes. When treated, it can also be used for paint and porcelain. It isn’t ominous at all, but very useful… what’s wrong?”
Chu Ran’s lips were just pursing further. Was his explanation of the benefits of bone ash not good enough? Corpses fertilizing soil was common knowledge, wasn’t it?
“I know little of gardening and agriculture,” the other admitted, “so I will take your word for it. Come, I must show you to rest of the surprise before I leave you to settle in.”
Settle in? Zhu Li raised a brow.
The other led him into the southern hall. The instant Zhu Li’s foot crossed the threshold, he paused, staring in bewilderment at the scene that greeted him.
The southern hall of a household was typically for reception or entertaining temporary guests, though it could also be used for lodging and storage. No matter what, it was supposed to look like a place people lived in or used, not what it currently was, which was most definitely the layout and amenities of a store — and not just any store, but an apothecary.
The north and west walls were lined with shelves, many packed with empty glass vases and porcelain jars, others holding various tools and materials that he recognized the use of. There was a desk with a pulse-taking pillow on it, a counter equipped with scales, scissors, and tongs, and behind the counter, a wall of drawers that were unique to all apothecaries. A door to the left led to an unknown room, and a gateway in the northern wall led to the rest of the home, though it was firmly sectioned off with a screened wall.
And, right in the middle of the floor was a heap of hemp bags and small traveling trunks, which Zhu Li recognized as all of his things that he had been carrying with him before.
“What… an apothecary?” he mumbled out loud. “Why do you have an apothecary in your house?”
“The Twelve-Petaled Lotus decrees that our lives be bound together for a year. Because of that, I’m afraid that I can’t let you too far out of my sight, lest either your enemies or mine take advantage of when you’re alone to do us both in,” Chu Ran stated, turning to him with a friendly smile. “Of course, I would never ask you to be bored in house arrest for an entire year while you await my investigation, and I’m sure your conscience would never allow it. The entire front courtyard rarely sees use since guests never visit me, so it wasn’t a big deal to get it converted into a work area for you. You may not be able to travel like you tend to do anymore, but that doesn’t mean that people won’t flock to the office of the famed Doctor Zhu and his unique expertise.
“Though, I must admit that it was certainly a rushed job. I’m not versed in the specifics of the medical field, nor have I ever run an apothecary before. I received pointers from other doctors, but I fear that I have likely missed a lot of essentials or specialized items you might need, especially when it comes to fertilizer — the two partitioned yards in the courtyard are meant to be gardens for you, by the way. If ever you have a need for something, simply tell me, the servants, or one of my sectmates that are around.
“Apart from that, your bedroom is that room to the left, which is equipped, of course. My sectmates seized all of your assets right after your arrest, so they should be all accounted for, and most importantly untampered with. I do have to keep your Dusha on me for the time being, but it will be returned to you. Do you have any questions?”
After that giant exposition? Several.
However, there was one particular one that was sticking out in Zhu Li’s head: “You knew that I would be arrested before it happened, didn’t you?”
He had not gotten this far in life as a famed doctor by ignoring subtle cues and hints. Back during that sham trial, he had noted how ‘coincidental’ it had been that Chu Ran’s associate happened to have tailed his impostor, and then known to go get all of his assets before the rest of his family did. On top of that, there was no way that he had converted the open-area southern hall into a fully stocked apothecary-plus-bedroom combo in the mere span of five days, as construction times, material sourcing, and shopping around would prohibit such a timeframe. The only explanation to this was that he had constructed the apothecary while Zhu Li had still been imprisoned — perhaps, even, before he had been captured at all.
Chu Ran’s smile grew. “Framing someone is a scheme. To scheme properly, time is needed to deliberate on it, as are accessories to ensure that it’s successful. Unfortunately, the more people and more time spent on these schemes, the more likely it is that someone will notice something wrong.”
That was all but an admission. And since it was… that meant that Chu Ran had built an apothecary for the sole purpose of appeasing him, because he had known in advance that Zhu Li would definitely agree to the Twelve-Petaled Lotus.
And since he did, he had a scary amount of correct intuition.
“I hope you aren’t mad that I left you in there for a month,” the other man said warmly, breaking his contemplation. “There was simply no excuse I could make up to get you out early, and the trial was the best chance to embarrass them publicly, which will quiet them some. The Chu family is powerful, but rumors are poison, and poison—”
“I wouldn’t be stupid enough to be mad at the only one who came to my rescue,” Zhu Li interrupted, emulating their first conversation. He turned away from his observation of what was his new home to look Chu Ran in the face, even if the other man would have no idea that he did. “Excuse me for the bluntness that I’m about to speak. I don’t know what your motives are, nor am I familiar enough with you to trust you completely, but I am no ingrate. You’ve saved me from death, and are helping me heal my injuries. If what you’re saying now is all true, you’ve also safeguarded everything I own from being stolen or destroyed, and are hosting and protecting me for no presented charge.
“The Twelve-Petaled Lotus aside, that life debt alone is enough for me to pledge that whatever you might need me to do, you can ask it, and I will do it to the best of my abilities, given that I’m able. My fighting ability is serviceable at best, I can’t claim total medical knowledge, and all my other skills are lackluster, but I’m capable of a thing or two.”
Judging from Chu Ran’s slightly-open mouth, he had caught him off guard. A few seconds passed, and then the man burst out into a genuine laugh — it was notably different than the cold chuckles and giggles Zhu Li had heard him give before. “Humble yet direct of you, Doctor Zhu!” he answered, mirth about his voice. “You’ll do whatever I ask, will you? That’s a powerful privilege you’ve given me. Are you sure you won’t regret it?”
Zhu Li huffed. “I did say ‘given that I’m able’. If you do something I mentally or morally object to, I’m afraid that’ll count as me being unable, and you’ll be out of luck.”
“Very shrewd, good doctor. I will keep your offer in mind,” Chu Ran tilted his head with a smile again, not offended by his straightforwardness. “Since my surprise has been unveiled, I will leave you to settle in. However, I do have some rules to drop off with you before I go.
“One, do not go past that screened doorway into the rest of the house. Two, you cannot leave the city. Three, you are permitted to go wherever you want within the city, but you must be accompanied by either me or my sectmates, so give notice when you want to go out. Four, do not go into the Chu Estate, especially not at night. This is all I ask of you.”
One was secretive, but that wasn’t any of Zhu Li’s business. Two and three were par for the course, if people were actively trying to kill him. Four was normal for the same reason, but the ‘night’ part, when paired with that weird feeling the Estate had given him, was ominous.
Would he miss the freedom traveling had given him? Yes. But he knew that situations changed, and this was a situation that had changed. Enduring it was key.
He gave Chu Ran a nod, who smiled wider. “You will be given a personal attendant who is allowed to go past the screened wall, so all of your food and requests will go through them. That should round off the rest of your needs.”
“Thank you,” Zhu Li replied, and meant it. Had anyone told him in that prison that he would not only be saved from his intractable plight, but treated well afterwards, he would have considered it a cruel joke. To be able to survive through it at all had already been beyond his imagination.
“A final question, Doctor Zhu. What did you think of the trial?”
Other than that it had been a joke of half-strung lies?
This question was obviously him fishing for if Zhu Li had any additional information to give him, but he wasn’t sure what Chu Ran already knew. It would be best to simply think of the more subtle oddities that he had noticed in that hall.
“Firstly, I never fought with Han Wenkang. I never met her in person, not even once,” he tentatively started out. “Secondly, the coroner allegedly specified the scarlet banded snake as the source of the venom, but that type of venom, which causes death from respiratory issues, is not unique to it; varieties of orange-tailed snake give the same effects, for instance.”
Accusatory, without being direct. All he had stated were facts.
Chu Ran hummed in thought, bowed with his hands out in front, then took his leave, leaving Zhu Li alone in his new temporary residence.
The latter looked about the apothecary front one more time, then at the pile of his belongings that had been helpfully heaped onto the floor, and sighed. He might as well take inventory and start sorting everything out, and worry about the big stuff later.