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As the days went on, Chu Mei not only displayed competence at retaining Zhu Li’s lectures and lessons, but also became less reserved around him. It had taken a little longer for her to stop being fearful of the unfamiliar patients that came and went. He had never asked her about why she had been so skittish, nor why she had needed to leave the Chu Estate almost immediately, and he likely never would, as a feeling in his gut told him that it was something she would have to speak about of her own volition.
The terrible act of locking women up in the house had a good effect this time around, at least, as not even the higher echelons of people that came to get treated recognized her. Just as Zhu Li had planned, they also harmlessly spread around that he had a new boy apprentice, whose name was ‘Chen Mai’, a random one he had come up with that was easy for Chu Mei to respond to due to the similar phonetics. Those curiouser were told the lie that ‘Chen Mai’ was the son of a small-town merchant family who had traveled to Zhongling for an apprenticeship; it explained away Chu Mei’s pale has-never-seen-fieldwork-in-its-life skin, as well as gave just enough information to be plausible, completely uninteresting, and conveniently unverifiable.
A male doctor having a male apprentice raised no eyebrows and sent no mouths flapping. Aggravating as reality was, this was what they had to work with.
“What kind of doctor are you, not doing acupuncture? I waited in line all that time just for you to tell me you won’t treat me?!”
Speaking of an aggravating reality, this ‘patient’ was not letting up. Who pissed in his tea?
“I can treat you, just not with acupuncture. It’s been debunked in medical texts for hundreds of years, as has moxibustion. If you can describe to me your symptoms that led you to believe you needed acupuncture, I can prescribe you herbs that can help, or attempt qi therapy.”
“I don’t want any of that! I can’t believe you don’t do acupuncture! I’ll be letting people know about your quackery!”
“Go ahead. The sign in front of the door says that I don’t do acupuncture. The guards up front tell every customer what I offer, too. Anyone that has been here knows what the rules are. If you want to tell the entire city about how you can’t read or listen very well, you can do that.”
The patient, an older man with gray streaking every patch of hair he had and rich-looking clothes, turned as red as raw beef. Chu Mei, out of the man’s sight behind him, turned away, her shoulders shaking in a clear-as-day attempt to not laugh.
“How dare you!” the man spluttered, his beard puffing out much like how a cat’s fur would. “I’ve never heard of such a rude doctor!”
“Not many doctors would be friendly to someone barging into their practice and calling them a quack for not performing a procedure that was proven to do nothing for non-cultivators hundreds of years ago. If you want acupuncture, go to an acupuncturist. If you want me to treat you, I can still do that.”
The man grew impossibly redder. “Why would I want treatment from here, after the way you’ve spoken to me?!”
Zhu Li shrugged indifferently. “You’re free to find another doctor to treat you.”
“I will!” the tomato-incarnate, would-be patient shot back, storming out.
Chu Mei curiously watched him leave. Zhu Li had noticed her becoming nervous at the man’s raised voice earlier, but that had dissipated after his timely mockery, thankfully. “It’s a bit weird of him to demand a certain treatment,” she said softly.
“Mn. When it fails to work, he’ll either learn better, or die from his stubbornness. You can’t treat people that refuse it.”
She nodded, thoughtful. “He should be careful. There are still so few doctors, that getting blacklisted from even one might mean he can get blacklisted from others.”
Zhu Li hummed in agreement. During all of his travels, he had noticed that doctors were generally lacking in terms of doctor-to-populace ratio. The only exceptions to this had been non-Reng populations not under Jin’s jurisdiction, which had always struck him as strange. As he had never found any laws limiting the amount of doctors or anything, he had also never found the cause of the shortage. It did explain why he had been so swamped with patients since opening up, and — now that he thought about it — why so many people had come to him during his travels. Never had he not been sought out for medicine, and since he had no other frame of reference, it had never occurred to him that his busyness might not be typical.
Or, perhaps it was. Again: no other frame of reference.
“That was, um… why I decided to be a doctor,” she continued, turning back to look at him. “Ever since the mass execution of doctors, Jin never recovered its number of physicians. That’s what my tutor said, at least…”
Mass execution of doctors? What. “Why were doctors executed?… And when?”
Chu Mei turned to him. Upon seeing his confused expression, she blinked a bit, then let out a little oh. “That’s right, you were raised in a sect… um. Over forty years ago, a former Emperor framed and executed a lot of doctors, and a lot of medical texts were seized and burnt. Most surviving doctors destroyed their own stuff and stopped practicing, or moved out of Jin permanently. So did jianghu doctors. The reason why he did it was a little confusing to me; there was a drought back then that wouldn’t end, so he consulted a celestial diviner, who said that the Heavens were enraged by the lack of filial piety on the Earth. Surgery was first considered a violation of one’s ancestors, as it changed the body given by one’s parents, but it ended up extending to the rest of medicine.”
She nodded lightly. “I wanted to become a doctor when I read of it. Father didn’t like for me to know of too much outside news, but Ah-Tao would ask around for me. A lot of people go untreated due to there being no doctors, and… and a lot of them aren’t quality. Although jianghu doctors weren’t executed, they still withdrew from public life in response, making them even harder for civilians to get to. People shouldn’t have to suffer from having no one to care for them. That’s what I think.”
Zhu Li nodded, thoughtful. “Are there still laws against doctors? I haven’t run in to any, and I’ve read up on Jin law.”
“No. They were all reversed when that Emperor’s son ascended to the throne, after he and many of his brothers died of, um… sickness. The old Emperor had closed down the imperial hospital beforehand. The new Emperor ended up dying of illness eventually, too, and his son has been ruling ever since, with the same values.”
Sickness, huh. That was irony at its finest. There was no real guarantee that medicine would have been able to do much, depending on what illness it had been, yet he hadn’t even given it a chance.
Of course, ‘sickness’ could also be a codeword for ‘poisoned because he made many people very angry’. It was hard to tell with historical records sometimes, especially in regards to imperial matters.
“That explains why so many patients come here, at least,” he answered, peering outside. No one new was coming in; perhaps the doorguards were having to deal with that angry man, or simply had no one else to send it for the time being. “I had been wondering. The apothecary back in my sect had five doctors in it, and there were enough people around that it was always busy, but it was never like this.”
Chu Mei got a curious look on her face. She appeared to want to ask something for a few seconds, only to ultimately purse her lips and say nothing.
“What is it?” he prompted.
“Um…” She still looked hesitant, like she wasn’t sure if they should ask. “Are the Miasma Caves really big, if they have so many people? How do you light them up all the time?”
Oh, was that it? He smiled slightly in amusement. “We don’t actually live in the cave part. It’s more like we live along the sides of a valley. Due to the lack of ventilation, caves are unsuitable for day-to-day life.”
She made an awkward little noise of acknowledgement, turning red and bowing her head. “I-I… I guess that was really obvious…”
“With a name like Miasma Caves, not really. Miasma Valley would be more apt.”
“Um… are the caves important, since they’re part of the name?”
“Yes. It’s typically where they keep the snakes, frogs, and other animals for research. That’s their main source of income.”
Chu Mei looked back up, seeming uncertain. “You, um… you sold poison?”
“No. They find or manufacture poisons, then discover their antidotes or effective treatments and sell those. Poisons stopped being sold generations ago, when it was getting the sect into trouble.”
“Oh, okay.” She seemed to like that answer better. “Why do you, um, keep referring to them as ‘they’? Aren’t you a part of the Caves?”
His smile fell back into a flat line. After a few moments of silence, he said, “Not anymore.”
There was more silence. He looked over at her; she had her head cocked to the side in an inquiring look, but was clearly faltering over whether to ask again.
He deigned to offer the information up on his own. “Some sects willingly mingle with civilians, like Blue Orchid. Some only interact with jianghu, like Jade Feather. Others completely isolate themselves, like the Caves. Other than for trading or communication, which is done by Elders, it’s forbidden for anyone in the Caves to leave them, or for anyone other than new spouses to enter. It used to be less strict, but ever since my mother came into power, it’s been like that.
“I left the sect. I’m never allowed back. That’s about it.”
Her brows scrunched up in confusion. “But… why did you leave?”
Why had he left? There were so many reasons, and they all linked back to one person, more or less.
“The sect is located in the northeast mountain ranges, meaning it only trades with Beishan and Dongqiu. When I was young, I determined that our medicine would reach more people if we went to different places, or at least got it to Zhongling. That was… not approved by my seniors. Eventually, I decided to become a traveling doctor, and left home.”
That was far from the full story. He didn’t want to say the full story. She didn’t need to know the full story, either.
…Neither did a certain somebody right about now.
Chu Mei nodded regardless, satisfied with the answer. Apparently done with the conversation, she proceeded to ask him some other medicine-related questions, and when no patients popped in, she headed outside to brush Guhui of her own will. The mare had mercifully warmed up to her with some cajoling pieces of candy, pets, and Zhu Li’s encouragement; while she wasn’t allowed to play with her due to her being a tiny girl and Guhui being an eight-hundred-catty horse, brushing her constantly-tangled mane or cleaning her eternally dirt-covered body was not out of the question.
With her gone, Zhu Li shot a glare at the curtained doorway. “Come out,” he flatly ordered.
Not missing a beat, Chu Ran sidled out from behind them, smiling candidly, his blindfold in place. He held not one speck of shame anywhere on him from having been caught eavesdropping — and, to be honest, he had probably allowed himself to be caught, for some unknown reason that was probably weird, since Chu Ran himself was nothing but weird.
Zhu Li continued to glare at him, daring him to explain himself.
“No need to be mad, Doctor. Eavesdropping is only a crime if anything not already known is said,” Chu Ran answered nonchalantly. Today, despite the fact that it was a cool autumn, he held a plain folding fan in hand, and was actively fanning himself with it.
“You’re warm? In this weather?” Zhu Li strategically asked. This guy had doubtlessly been hoping to hear something new, so that line of conversation was now over.
“I was working. You happen to be pretty good with Mei’r; do you have prior experience being a big brother, by any chance?”
Zhu Li’s brow twitched, hands automatically clenching into fists. He had gotten it straight on the mark. Had that just been a lucky guess, or a creepily accurate observation? Or… did he know something?
“No need to go on guard. You told me you have three older sisters, so I found it not out of the realm of possibility that you might have younger siblings. No one knows how to interact with children without experience doing so, furthermore. I doubt you have children of your own… hm, actually… do you have any illegitimate children out there, Doctor?”
Who— who just asks questions like that? Out of nowhere?!
“No need to be… ah, what sort of emotion is that? I cannot tell, but I must say that there’s no real shame in having had a lover or two before Zheng Tong—“
“Stop talking,” Zhu Li forcefully cut him off, his stomach twisting in the familiar feeling of being insulted. He did not yell, but his voice was terse and angry, coming out between clenched teeth. “Stop talking right now.”
To his credit, Chu Ran did indeed stop talking.
For all of a few seconds.
“My apologies, for making you so angry. Is men having random children not commonplace, however? I have this, ah, ‘friend’ who seems to have possible illegitimate children pop up every week. Some women in jianghu or other cultures are too independent to care about having the father around, too, right?”
Zhu Li’s rising anger abated somewhat at those random tidbits, and now he just felt like putting his head in his hands. “Do you have illegitimate children, then?” he sniped back.
“Don’t be silly, Doctor,” Chu Ran answered immediately, waving his fan out in a dismissive gesture before shutting it with a flick of his wrist. “This is an interesting line of thought, actually. Did you have any lovers Masked Wasp might have wanted? Maybe Zheng Tonghao, even? Jealous men are like cockroaches, they never seem to go—“
“No,” Zhu Li interrupted again, wearier this time, if still concretely enraged. “Just stop.”
Things fell quiet again. This time, Chu Ran did not pipe back up, waiting for Zhu Li to calm down somewhat, and he did so; slowly unclenching and clenching his fists, regulating his breathing, and keeping his eyes shut. A few minutes of listening to nothing but his own breaths alongside the faint sound of people talking beyond the outer walls managed to calm him enough to where he could look at Chu Ran without glaring heat.
“I’ll be blunt,” he started, controlling his voice. At the same time, he noticed that the other man was standing stock-still, a downward curve to his mouth. “Everything you just said to me was a grave insult.”
Seeing that Chu Ran wasn’t going to interject with anything, he continued. “Different sects have different cultures and values. Mine views siring children with women one isn’t pledged to, then never taking responsibility for them, a heavy moral failing, enough to be expelled from the sect. If I did have children, I would be morally bound to either bring them and their mother with me wherever I went, or stay with the mother in her homeland. Your suggestion that I would have abandoned possibly multiple children also implies that I could be such a complete unfilial failure of a man, who turned my back on everything my ancestors taught me.”
He allowed for those words to sink in a moment. As they did, Chu Ran’s head bowed a bit. The blindfold, again, made his expression impossible to read, but the way his fingers fiddled with the fan he held betrayed some of his discomfort.
With the moment’s passage, Chu Ran walked over and sat across from Zhu Li at his desk. His free hand reached out, hesitated, then awkwardly patted one of Zhu Li’s hands where it rested on the table’s surface. “I’m sorry. Zhongling’s jianghu scene is all I am used to, so it had not occurred to me that you would think differently of it. I have many colleagues that hail from mother-focused sects; fathers are much less important, and they tend to be quite, ah… free. Yes, free is a good word. Did you not tell me that you have your mother’s surname?”
Ugh, this guy. So many questions…
Zhu Li sighed in some annoyance. “I don’t have my mother’s surname because she’s my mother, I have her surname because she’s the Sect Head, and also because my father is from outside the sect. There’s a big difference.”
“Oh?” Chu Ran placed his arms on the table and leaned forward, smiling eagerly. “Do tell.”
He side-eyed him suspiciously. “What’s there to tell? The spouse with the lower rank marries into the other one’s family. Names are passed from whichever parent has the higher rank or cultivation. Outsiders marrying in rank lowest, though not in the family itself. That’s it.”
“Fascinating. What’s your father’s surname?”
“Ren. Why does that matter?”
“Bear with me on this, Doctor Zhu. Without a motive, I have not even a remote chance of finding out who Masked Wasp is. Simply storming his hideout and beating the truth out of him has crossed my mind more than once, but unfortunately, I cannot pinpoint his exact location. Multiple hideouts and secrecy, you know. In any case, I asked because I wanted to see if your familial connections are the source of the grudge.
“I know that you don’t wish to talk about your family, and that your information would be out-of-date, anyways. I went and asked around about people with your surname, but the only people that have come up are those with the same surname, different family. Not a word about anyone I could trace back to the Miasma Caves. Not a word about your wayward sister, either.”
Chu Ran tilted his head, frowning. “Something is up with your family.”
Zhu Li immediately tensed, going on the defensive. The other yieldingly held up a palm. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Doctor. It’s simply that between the words you’ve said and what little actions I can decipher from the rest of the Zhu’s, some things fail to add up. Just a few.
“Your sister is purportedly out and about from the Miasma Caves, even though you just said that no one except elders are allowed to leave, and only for short times to trade solely with Beishan and Dongqiu. Why would she show up in the very north of Zhongling’s suburbs? That house we went to, with the old gent, was the northmost home; if she had come straight down from Beishan and was unfamiliar with the area, it makes sense that she would have stopped at the first place she saw for directions. We haven’t a clue why, or where she’s gone. I said I would keep her away if she ended up being a problem, but I will tell you in truth that she has never once turned up at the Pavilion.
“If she didn’t come for you, what did she come for? And why is she out and about? Is she at Elder status now? Did the Caves’ restrictions ease? Or was she expelled, too? It’s always possible that this was a different Zhu Heng — it isn’t a terribly rare name, and we never got the characters from the man — but it’s a bit too coincidental, hm.”
“I already thought of all of that. I don’t know what to tell you,” Zhu Li said.
“There’s no need to tell me anything. These are simply my out-loud thoughts. Now, the next oddity; if your sect is so reclusive, how did your mother come to marry an outsider? And which Ren family is he from?”
“They never spoke to me about how they met. Those who do trading sometimes find people. Before my mother came into power, it was more common for people to travel and see others, her included. As for my father, he spoke of Beishan a lot, but I don’t know for sure.”
“Oh? Ren of Beishan, hm?” Chu Ran grinned toothily, greatly resembling a cheeky fox. “What a coincidence. Did you know that Han Wenkang’s husband’s surname is Ren, too?”
Knowing exactly what he was thinking, Zhu Li huffed. “Lots of people share a surname with the Emperor, too. It doesn’t make them imperial relatives. You aren’t the only Chu family in Zhongling, even.”
“Hmph. Not fun at all, are you.” The other quirked his lips in a pout. “Ren from ‘duty’, yes? What’s his first name? His bestowed?”
“Di from ‘enlightenment’. Nidan.”
“Hm. Doesn’t ring a bell… what is your mother’s name?”
“Zhu Longmai. Given is Ya.”
“That doesn’t ring a bell, either. How odd.”
Zhu Li shrugged helplessly. “Mother never allowed questions about her time outside.”
Chu Ran hummed. “Suspicious.”
That earned him another glare from Zhu Li, and he raised his hands placatingly again. “I mean no offense. This is all just very strange and somewhat frustrating, Doctor. How long ago was your mother in jianghu?”
“Before my eldest sister was born, over thirty-five years ago. I don’t know the specific amount.”
The man huffed, dissatisfied. “Jianghu changes constantly, and with how long people live, grudges can last decades. The time alone is not much of a help, unfortunately… I can try to research incidents from forty years ago involving those names, though I feel as if I already did that.”
“Masked Wasp might not have had a reason either of us would understand. I wouldn’t think too hard about it.”
“That’s always a real possibility, it just feels like a waste of time to do nothing. I have plenty of evidence to solidly incriminate him and my accursed family, but there’s little stopping him from being alerted to that fact and subsequently going into hiding forever, or even moving a country over. As long as he has business here, as well as no suspicion that I’m coming after him, he will not be moving from here. If I could just get a motive, I could trace that back and get a name, and he would never be able to escape me.”
Zhu Li looked at him doubtfully. “He could just change his name.”
Chu Ran laughed icily, propping his chin up on one hand. “It will never be that easy for him.”
“Do you… have a grudge against him, too? I thought it was just your family.”
“He aids them in what they do, making him just as guilty. In any case, he cannot be allowed to do to anyone else what he’s done to you.”
That was a little touching.
“Are you sure you never had any lovers with jealous, unsuccessful suitors? Convoluted revenge in response to a slight just seems so obvious.”
…And the feeling was now ruined. Why this again?
Zhu Li put his hand on his forehead. “No. For the same reason, it’s impossible for me to have any kids.”
“But there is Zheng Tonghao still, isn’t there?”
His mood dropped even more, ire making his brow twitch. This guy just had to keep bringing her up, huh.
“We never— it wasn’t like that,” he replied, dropping his hand. “I always told her it was a bad idea because of how often I was away, but she never listened and kept waiting. If anyone else had been wanting her, they would have made a move during those gaps. She would have told me about it afterwards, too. I’m not sure anyone would be that bored, to sit by and watch while I… didn’t try that hard.”
Chu Ran made an interested sound. Belatedly, Zhu Li realized that he should have known this guy was a gossip-lover. “You didn’t?”
“I basically already told you that anyone coming after me over her isn’t likely. Is the rest of it relevant?”
“Somewhat. Well… no. I merely find such things interesting.”
“How about you talk about your own love life, first,” Zhu Li mildly shot back. He wasn’t actually curious at all, he just wanted this guy off his back. Maybe turning the tables would—
“Oh, I haven’t one. Not a single admirer around. No one wants a blind man; it’s the eyes, I believe, since I’ve been informed that they look creepy. This is fine by me, as I have no compulsion to be spoken to or touched by strangers. Your turn is now, isn’t it?” Chu Ran readily answered, smiling slyly.
Expecting a man that had no filter to balk at giving up personal details had been Zhu Li’s fault. Getting a mouthful of vexing words landed right on his lap was now his penance.
He felt like he didn’t deserve this, though. What was he supposed to do now? What was anyone supposed to do in situations like this? What did one do when someone they didn’t know too well dumped something kind of sad or concerning on them, then immediately brushed it off like it was nothing? Ignore it? That didn’t seem right. And even though the other had offered up this information of his own accord, asking after that seemed too nosy.
After a little bit of contemplation, he decided on something neutral: “If someone writes you off based on your eyes, they weren’t worth your time in the first place.”
There. That questioned nothing, took the topic away, and put the onus on people that weren’t here.
“Ah?” Chu Ran lifted his head a bit, seemingly caught off guard.
“You said people think your eyes are creepy. Those people aren’t ones you’d want to associate with, anyways.”
“I suppose you have a point.” The other paused. “Every time I take the blindfold off, I can sense unease coming off of others, however. My teacher gave me this blindfold for precisely that reason, so I’m afraid having it off all the time is naught but a wishful dream.”
“Are any of those people ones whose opinions you care about?”
“Ah… some of them are.”
“Have they explicitly told you that they want you to cover up?”
“Have you ever had the blindfold off in front of them, and know for certain that they would be disturbed by it?”
Chu Ran paused in shocked silence, then grinned. “Why, Doctor Zhu, are you analyzing my mind?”
“If you don’t want me to analyze your mind, don’t say tragic things. A doctor is supposed to look out for a patient’s well-being, be that physical or mental, and you’re far from the first disabled person to hide away their disability.”
“Does it count as hiding if the blindfold is obvious?” Chu Ran asked, sounding almost wearily sardonic.
“People conceal missing limbs, fake limbs, scars, and so on all the time. It’s meant to make them less shocking to others. If they weren’t shocking, no one would hide them. You can’t see your own eyes — had no one ever said anything to you, would you have ever thought to put on the blindfold?”
Chu Ran said nothing, his silence itself a resounding ‘no’.
“I’m not saying that wearing a blindfold is wrong. Do it if that’s what you want to do. I’m just saying that if you’re doing it purely because other people told you to, they’re exactly the sort you shouldn’t be doing it for.” Zhu Li’s fingers began to move, tidying up his workstation. “Them being uncomfortable with something you can’t help is their problem, not yours.”
The other’s silence continued. With the papers and tools on his desk fully organized, Zhu Li sat there quietly, too, hands resting in his lap.
“You’re a kind man, Zhu Li,” Chu Ran eventually said. His tone was warm, and lightly pleased. “It would be nice if more thought like you did. Here, I have gift for you.”
Without warning, he reached into his sleeve, pulled out a brown clay bottle, then plonked right down in front of Zhu Li. The latter found absolutely nothing remarkable about the object’s outer surface, looking right back at Chu Ran’s blindfolded face in a lack of comprehension.
“It occurred to me that you may not have an emergency weapon. This is what I came here for initially, before we got delightfully sidetracked.”
Some seconds of silence stretched out. No explanation was forthcoming out of Chu Ran’s smiling face.
“Uh… what is it?”
“Poison! Splash it on anyone, and they’ll be dead in seconds. No antidote exists, so be sure not to touch it yourself.”
Okay. That was enough Chu Ran for one day.
It was the fourth of the Dog’s month when the Twelve-Petaled Lotus acted up again, just like it had the previous month. Despite the pain stabbing into his arm being no less sharp, it was far less surprising, in light of the fact that he had sacrificed sleep in order to stay awake for its arrival, rather than allow it to catch him off guard while he snoozed again.
Chu Ran — perhaps out of a sense of guilty, duty, or whatever else was going on in his strange head — was actively accompanying him this time, examining his mark and condition with a concerned look. Following their discussion about his blindness, Chu Ran had foregone the blindfold entirely at home, only putting it on whenever he needed to go outside, a positive side-effect of which was the fact that his facial expressions were much easier to read. It could have been that he had been too used to his blindfold doing the work for him in concealing his emotions, because he was much more animated than Zhu Li had been able to tell before.
Not that he was paying particular attention right now. He wasn’t even paying much attention to the man’s voice as it babbled on in a vain attempt to distract him from the pain; he wouldn’t knock him for trying, but this was the goddamn worst. Why had the creator of this oath made it so that the one that didn’t carve up their skin had to go through with this? Had it been a malicious choice, stupid oversight, or what?
He could feel his forehead and back soak through with sweat. Brows knit hard, he held his free hand over his eyes, hunched and leaned with his elbow resting on his knee, seated cross-legged on the grass outside. The cool autumn breeze was helping more than the warm-yet-stagnant air of the apothecary would have, but not by too much. The vast majority of his concentration was spent on not rolling around the ground and groaning in pain, because — and he could not stress this enough — this fucking sucked.
His unoccupied arm, the one with the actual Lotus on it, was being fussed over by Chu Ran, and no matter what the man tried to do or how much qi he stuck into the affected area, the groundless stabs of the Lotus never ceased.
Slowly, the pain ebbed as the minutes passed, until it was a barely-tolerable ache instead of an all-encompassing burn. At long last, he straightened up from his bowed position, looking over at Chu Ran properly. The other, in his loose-haired, inner-robe-only glory, because why not, appeared to be uncharacteristically distraught.
“It just makes no sense, Doctor. My lack of medical skills makes nothing better, either,” he said to him, sounding as high-strung as Zhu Li felt. “The Lotus is doing nothing to either of us when it does this. It isn’t even draining your qi, nor the ambient qi. It seems like it’s making itself hurt simply because it can. I don’t understand.”
“As long as there’s no other side effects, I couldn’t care less,” Zhu Li tiredly answered. Sleep was sounding really nice at this point. Staring at the ceiling to mentally recover also sounded nice, if sleep was off the table.
“I don’t believe there will be. So odd… the papers never said anything about this, and the water damage was certainly not that bad…”
“What was that?”
Chu Ran paused, face inclined slightly away from Zhu Li as he smile ingratiatingly. “What kind of food do you like, Doctor? I can take you there tomorrow! Price is no object!”
Light annoyance radiated off of him, causing Chu Ran to put his hands up in surrender. Unfortunately, prior to the man being able to stammer out a self-defense, the side gate was heard to clunk open again.
“Oh!” Chu Ran exclaimed, hurrying to pick up the two small packages he had set next to him off the ground, standing as he did so. “She’s early— forgive me for a second, Doctor.”
Zhu Li watched as Chu Ran darted towards the door, willingly distracting himself with the spectacle. Similar to last month, Du Lin had arrived on the day of this annoyance, though she wasn’t able to even get through the door this time for him to see her. He only witnessed a sphere of light, a vague slight figure obscured by Chu Ran’s own, a second heavy clunk as the gate shut again, and Chu Ran scurrying back over, minus the two small bundles.
Speaking of the bundles, one had been a rectangular block shape, and one had been a smaller, asymmetrical sphere shape. He could only guess as to what those could possibly be. As much as he wanted to ask, and as much as he had become more comfortable around Chu Ran, he didn’t want to stick his nose in where it didn’t belong.
Chu Ran came close, knelt down in approximately his former spot, then probed Zhu Li’s meridians with qi. The ruffled look on his face didn’t wane. “Is the pain going down at all?”
“Yet there’s no change to sense… frustrating. I don’t know if I can find a remedy for this, Doctor.”
“You could try knocking me out cold once it starts.”
“Ah. Yes, that is an effective method I could use, if uncouth.”
Turning to cast a look at the now-dark side gate, Zhu Li asked, “Why does she come through at night?”
“It’s the only time she can get away from father without him knowing.”
“You told me never to go in the Chu Estate at night, though.”
“Ah. Lady Du can put up with the scenery well, while no one else can. That’s all. Now, let’s get you to bed. How about I tell you stories to help you fall asleep?”
First of all: scenery?
Second of all: “How about you don’t.”
Chu Ran had the gall to look like a kicked dog at that.
As they got up and headed back inside, Zhu Li’s pain fit now fully subsided, he couldn’t help but stop in his tracks and glance at the side-gate, nearly invisible in the black.
Scenery, at the dead of night, in the strange section of the Estate that had been eerily clean, and completely devoid of life… what could there possibly be to even see?
The author says: Bad things, duh. What? You think there’s sunshine and ponies in there??
1. The former Emperor died of diarrhea, as did his sons. Adding in that their karmic deaths involved preventably shitting themselves to death seemed too crass, though.
2. Sects being mostly matrilineal, or rank-specific like Zhu Li’s, is not a progressive element in this world. In fact, it’s an eight-hundred-year-old element, adopted by an overwhelming majority of sects. But that’s a story for another time.
6 thoughts on “SnCr 13”
I’m in love with the story and the characters more and more with every chapter!
The interaction s between Zhu Li and Chu Ran are so delightful to read ^^ The mystery of the Chu estate and their business keeps me well intrigued. All of it reads like a gothic romance in a wuxia setting and I’m here for this ^^
This just keeps getting more fun and more intriguing with each chapter. I like how they’re slowly becoming friends but still with a healthy dose of ‘dude, WTF?’ from Zhu Li in response to Chu Ran and his mysterious secrets and everyday weirdnesses.
The water damage to the lotus document sounds concerning, was there an error in the spell because of it? And Lady Du’s ‘medicine’ and whatever goes on in the Chu estate at night continue to be mysterious. I’m looking forward to answers eventually being revealed.
I love them. I love this. This story is exactly my tastes, Im so happy its being translated
I’m writing this, love, not translating it. Thank you, though!
The joys of customer service…. And the matter with the doctors just provokes repeated face palming goodness.
As for the rest, guess we know why the Chu’s aren’t jianghu proper huh. And on a related note I do enjoy the mild culture clash as a form of worldbuilding/point of exposition.
These gentlemen out here making me melancholy.
Water-damage. Now why on earth would that have happened…. That being said if I remember correctly the original recipient of this thing was female which may explain the omission.
And here comes the scientist impulse to go and have a look at things (not that I’m not wildly curious but those are some big Bluebeard vibes ok).
Good eye on the Lotus. I’m unsure if I’ll have a chance to explain the background fully in-text, but I will eventually.