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A certain man was flapping all about the street in front of the Pavilion of Quiet, excitedly tittering to his sectmates about this and that, or alternately fussing over what had been packed for the trip. Zhu Li was watching the whole fiasco with some distant amusement, keeping the antsy Guhui calm as she impatiently paced in place.
Word had come from the Blue Orchid Sect a few days ago that they were ready for Chu Ran’s visit, five days after the Lotus’s last flare-up. Under a spell of excitement, he had admitted to Zhu Li that he had never actually been outside of Zhongling. The Sun Alliance’s conference hall-slash-holding cells sat outside of Zhongling, due to its obvious central status and generally jianghu-tolerant environment, and that had apparently been as far as he had ever gone.
While only Chu Ran and his sect members of choice had been explicitly invited, he had insisted upon bringing Zhu Li with on the trip. Chu Mei would be left alone at the apothecary with her maids — as well as copious numbers of Xin members for safety, of course — so Zhu Li left her with only two responsibilities: putting together prescriptions, and tending to his plants. The former consisted of only fetching the ingredients from the drawers, weighing them, packing them, then calculating the charge, while the latter had been made easier by the complex artificial environments Zhu Li had set up long ago using talismans and arrays, which kept cold and pests at bay, or upkept the very specific parameters certain plants demanded, lest they rebel by refusing to remain alive. He had left her specific instructions, just in case, as well as directives for how to order more supplies, if the need arose.
(In his traveling days, he would often set such gardens up in people’s lots for them in exchange for some of the yield whenever he stopped by; now, he was finally using it for himself, because gardening was kind of a pain. The most useful of plants tended to be the least hardy, dropping dead in a heartbeat due to the soil being too wet, or too dry, or too brown, or whatever excuses they could come up with in their finicky little roots.)
While he had consented to the trip, as it made far less sense for the one implicated in this whole thing to not be present in the discussions bound to happen, Zhu Li was not exceptionally thrilled about it. Staying at the home of people that thought he had killed their mother as well as being uncomfortably close to his family’s usual haunts were both things that he would prefer not to happen. Too bad fate itself had spat upon him like this.
Jin was a mercifully small country, making a trip to Beishan only a few days out by horseback, at most. Food for people, food for horses, extra blankets and coats due to the incoming winter, plenty of funds, gifts for the Han family that Chu Ran had insisted upon, books to pass the time… even for such a short commute that would end with them being hosted by a rather rich family, they sure had to bring a lot of stuff.
“Now, now, it never hurts to double- or triple-check. The last thing I would ever want to do is leave Zhongling, set up camp for the night, then discover that we forgot to pack toothbrushes, or tooth powder, or potable water, or some such. While we will hopefully always be lodging in hotels for the nights, if we happen to not, there will be no going to bed with a grimy mouth for me.”
Chu Ran was now speaking with Xin Junyan, holding a register and going over whether they had everything. She held a patient smile on her face, but even at this distance, Zhu Li could see one of her eyebrows twitching in annoyance.
“Ran, there’s really no need for this. There are enough towns with inns along the way for us to never need to camp. Even if you do miss something, you’re bringing along enough money to buy replacements for it in octuplicate. It’ll be fine.”
“It will not. You never know what you need until you don’t have it and cannot replace it. Let us go over it a third time…”
“Yingliu,” Zhu Li suddenly called out.
“What is it?” Chu Ran said back, tilting his head in his direction.
“If we don’t get going soon, your favorite bun stall is going to close.”
“Ah?… Oh, you’re right!”
Successfully diverted, Chu Ran went to put the register away. Their near-daily interactions, combined with this man’s paradoxically open personality, had led Zhu Li to learn that the other was quite fond of food. Chu Ran himself had claimed that since he couldn’t understand things like visual art and writing, he had fixated on music and food for entertainment, which didn’t not make sense, but it wasn’t like sighted people didn’t have fixations on music and food, as well. Personally, Zhu Li would argue that the association was merely incidental than causative, but… well, that was an argument for another time, and with someone not Chu Ran.
In any case, Chu Ran loved food, especially good breakfasts, which room-temperature drygoods were decidedly not. The pull of fresh-fried youtiao had been a common interference in morning outings, the one today being no different, just with filled buns that he had previously announced his hankering for.
Xin Junyan, tiredly grateful-looking, nodded at him for his help.
After acquiring breakfast, Chu Ran was appeased, and they set off for Beishan.
Their convoy consisted of Zhu Li, Chu Ran, Xin Junyan, and six Xin sect members. As had been described, the rest of the Xin members were staying at the Pavilion to protect both it and the young Miss Chu. Chu Ran was expecting trouble to come from his father any day now, once the old fogey realized where Chu Mei had gone, and he would probably do so while Chu Ran was away. While there was no telling whether Chu Haoyu had any idea, what with Chu Mei’s boy alias, Chu Ran had quite understandably decided to not take any chances with his family’s craziness.
Zhu Li himself had mercifully not had any further interactions with the Chu family during his stay at the Pavilion, nor had he or the Pavilion even been threatened with an attack. According to Chu Ran’s sources, Masked Wasp had heavily cut down on communications with the family, sticking purely to their qistone business. Without them, the Chu’s had virtually no fighting power aside from Chu Fu and maybe some miscellaneous branch members, who were no match for even one Xin member. Chu Ran’s words, not his.
The Chu’s had many branches, a good portion of which had left Zhongling for the other four major cities. Beishan itself had two, responsible for either manufacturing qistones or importing them for the area, as their qistone production was the lowest of the five cities. All the cities were far inferior to production than Zhongling, in fact, but Beishan’s was the worst; the cause of both facts was unknown, and Chu Ran had been evasive about it. As per usual.
He had revealed that Xiyuan had the second-highest production, Dongqiu was midline, and Nan’an had the second-lowest, in comparison. An odd bit of information to carefully release to him, for sure, and the man’s motive for doing so, as per usual, was a mystery.
Once out on the road, Zhongling’s walls and outskirts becoming distant lines, Zhu Li temporarily let go of Guhui’s reins to reach up and undo his topknot. Allowed down from its tight confines, he felt his hair cascade smoothly against itself to spill across his shoulders, that familiar and satisfying ache rippling through his relieved scalp.
This was a habit learned from his countless previous stretches of being alone on the road. Back in the Miasma Caves, as long as one never cut their hair beyond a trim and knew how to be practical with their styling when appropriate, little comment had ever been given towards how one wore their hair; so, as could be imagined, Zhu Li had been greatly shocked to receive a comment back in his early days of traveling that his loosely-bound hair was ‘wildly inappropriate, and unbecoming of a man his age.’
To make a very long story short, civilian Jin society dictated that once men came of age at twenty, their hair could never be down in public again, its styles forever limited to a few variations of the tightly-bound topknot that might or might not be graced with a pin-crown, or a lower-sitting bun in practical environments. A man letting his hair down anyways would portray him as immature at best, a mannerless, barbaric idiot at worst. To be quite honest, more than one person had reacted to his unbound hair like he was running around half-naked; a non-universal reaction, thankfully, yet still one that baffled him to this day.
Jianghu always operated by different rules, and then the individual sects operated by further different rules. He had seen plenty of jianghu men with completely unbound hair, bald heads that didn’t denote monkhood, and short-cropped hair, which was always the most shocking to him, personally. Had he only ever interacted with jianghu folk, this would be a non-issue, but since he frequently interacted with civilians, he needed to conform to standards.
As an act that could be described as him taking back agency over his own hair, whenever he was out traveling by himself on the road, he would set it free, as opposed to keeping it up in a headache-causing hold at times it didn’t matter. It was practically a ritual for him, a signal to himself that he was free from the stressors and constraints of civilization, if only for a small while.
With the breeze threading across his scalp, he shut his eyes, reverting to the state of meditation he invariably entered on trips that lasted a length of several shichens, quieting his mind so that the idle time passed faster…
“What are you doing, Doctor?”
Xin Junyan’s voice cut through his thoughts. He turned left to look at her; she was seated upon her own steed, and looking at him like he had just grown an extra head.
… Right. He was, uh, not alone this time.
Somehow, someway, he had completely forgotten that bit for a minute, unconsciously spiting the extra noise carriages, more horses, and more people brought. Was Xin Junyan going to be weirded out by the hair thing? Was she already?
“I’m meditating,” he answered, well aware that that wasn’t what she was asking at all.
“You take your hair down to meditate?”
She narrowed her eyes at him. Following a slightly awkward few-second-long staring match, she said, to his complete surprise, “You have to let me do your hair when we’re about to get back into town.”
He blinked a bit in surprise. “Sure?”
Smiling triumphantly, she paid him and his hair no more mind, which heralded that the subject was being dropped. Alright, then.
“Oh dear. It seems you woke up the beast,” Chu Ran piped up from behind them, purposefully projecting his voice across the distance. He had decided to sit next to the driver of the carriage instead of ride a horse like they were. “I predict that in the near future, you will be strong-armed into letting her design your clothes, pick out your outfits, and dictate your hairstyles forevermore, just as she’s done to me.”
“Ran, I design and pick out your outfits because you can’t tell red from blue,” Xin Junyan peacefully retorted, her smile serene.
“Ah, yes, of course. Many thanks for the reminder that I’m blind, I very nearly forgot. Say, my eyes may not work, but my hands sure do, so I must ask; what was going on in your head when you purchased that bolt of rough cotton? We have plenty of money for you to get cotton of value.”
“I’m afraid that isn’t only thing you forgot. Winter is coming, isn’t it? The cotton is for insulating layers. If you ever made clothes in your life before, you would know that sewing one layer in is never enough.”
“Surely, you could just use wool instead of over-complicating it, sister dear. Moreover, I have indeed made clothes, and I’ll trouble you to remember that.”
This (only semi-)formal battle of words was a common occurrence between the two; happy smiles, mild tones, a lack of genuine anger, and contradictorily anger-inducing phrases were par for the course for what Zhu Li could only loosely describe as ‘friendly bickering’. Sect siblings through and through, he supposed. He low-key wished that the other Xin members would speak to him, so that he would have some sort of comparison — Chu Ran had openly told him that he looked up to her as a teacher, which had merely pushed along Zhu Li’s suspicion that Chu Ran’s strangeness had been learned from somewhere.
The first day of travel ended uneventfully, as did the next day, and the day after that. On the fourth day, long after the relatively flat land of Zhongling had transformed into gently sloping hills dusted with increasingly tougher vegetation, Zhu Li gazed out from an open second-floor balcony, over to the mountains they would be passing tomorrow. The scenery was bathed in scarlets, oranges, and purples from the setting sun’s rays, while the clouds above reflected crimson hues, giving it all a faded, yet comforting atmosphere.
Their entourage had taken up two inns in the town. The commercial path between Zhongling and the mine-centric land of Beishan was hundreds of years old, established back in the Pu Dynasty, when the two cities had decided to merge into one country without any need for alliances that might falter or invasions. As such, any area along the road that was settleable had been settled upon, and the high traffic on the road lent prosperity by tourism to the towns. Hence was why they had never gone a night without an inn, as well as why this relatively tiny town had more than one built.
This was something he had read of in a history book following his departure from the Miasma Caves five years ago. The sect had only ever taught cultivation world and sect-related history, neglecting the civilian side in its entirety, so he had taken it upon himself to at least learn the general gist of Jin history in order to not look like a completely uneducated twit, should the topic of local history ever come up in his conversations.
Then again, he had been so focused on reading history books, he had forgotten to stay at least somewhat in the present, leading to his relative ignorance of current events. Being more informed and better-connected might have exempted him from this predicament.
It also might not have. The ways of the world were fickle, ever-changing, and ever-messing with any human it got its grimy fingers on.
Sighing, he pulled away from the balcony. Work typically diverted his mind from thinking too deeply, or about things that were difficult and that he didn’t wish to. Meditation forced him to confront those uncertainties in his life, his mental hang-ups, because with them in the way, one could not truly blank their mind.
(Meditation had helped him get through the anguish of knowing that he would never be welcome home. The thought of them would always hurt, but never debilitate him again.)
This time around, his meditation had brought him back to an old friend: Han Xingyu.
There was always a chance that he was just being paranoid on account of everything that had happened to him recently. For the sake of being completely sure of his suspicion, or even completely nixing it, he had decided to talk it over with someone he knew was more informed.
Arriving quickly at a room door on the same floor, he knocked on it with moderate strength, and footsteps followed by the door opening came soon after.
Chu Ran’s unobstructed, smiling face appeared in the thrown-open door. His hair was undone, and he was in only his first later of clothes; clearly, he had been prepping for bed already.
“Hello, Doctor Zhu! What is it?” he asked cheerfully.
“I need to talk to you about something.”
“You have impeccable timing, then; I just had the inn send in some local sweet soup. Barley is a rarity in Zhongling, and I’m awfully curious as to how they made it sweet. Do you want to try any?”
“I’m not hungry. And it’s probably rare because it’s a rougher version of rice.”
Making an interested noise, Chu Ran stepped out of the way to let him in. “Have you read up on it before?”
“The Bohd people of the east eat a lot of it,” Zhu Li answered, walking past him. Chu Ran’s room was identical to his own; small and humbly decorated, with the enclosed bed built into its surroundings and set up against a window, allowing a guest to see the outside view before or after their rest. Chu Ran had moved the provided small table onto it, a bowl arranged on its surface.
On his own initiative, he sat on the side of the table that had no obvious imprints of having been sat on before. There was a desk in the room, but it had only one chair to it, which Chu Ran had casually tossed his cotton travel robes over and therefore made unsuitable for sitting on at all.
“Bohd? Those Buddhists up in the mountains?” Chu Ran asked, shutting the door, then gracefully taking his place on the other side of the bed.
“…Not all of them are Buddhist, but yes. They aren’t nomadic, but not much likes growing in the sparse bits of land on and in between mountains. Barley is a hardy crop with a lot of nutrients. It’s as essential to them as rice is to us Reng.”
Chu Ran made yet another interested noise. “What do they make with it?”
“They turn it into roasted barley flour, which they call tsampa. Then they turn it into noodles, buns, and so on, like we do with rice. The most common thing they do is mix the flour with butter tea, then eat the dough, paired with more butter yea.”
“Ah… butter tea? They put butter in the tea?”
“Yes. And salt.”
He sounded categorically scandalized, horror all over his face. Zhu Li smiled lightly at the sight. “It’s an acquired taste. They love it over there.”
“I… have you had it before? How is it?”
“Filling and warming. It’s perfect for how cold it always is up in the mountains. You definitely need to get used to it, though.”
Chu Ran looked laughably conflicted. “I’m somewhat morbidly curious, now.”
“It’s easy to make. Beishan probably has the ingredients for it and tsampa, or at least equivalents. I can make some for you later.”
“Oh, would you? It seems interesting. Even if I don’t come to like it, I can at least tell a good story of how I drank salted, buttered tea, of all things… ah, I almost forgot, what did you come here for? I got sidetracked, forgive me.”
“It’s fine. I…” Zhu Li frowned, brows creasing just a bit. “I was thinking about it, and Han Xingyu might be a bit suspicious.”
“Your senior friend? Why do you say that, all of a sudden?”
“I don’t want to suspect her, but I’m just now realizing how weird she acts. She found me pretty soon after I left the Miasma Caves, then introduced me to the man that gifted me Guhui for helping him. After that, she always popped up at random times, hung out with me for a few shichens to a few days, then disappeared for a month or two. It didn’t matter where I was. Xiyuan, Nan’an, Zhongling, the open southwestern plains, random villages, or on the road; she would ‘inexplicably’ end up finding me, usually for minor ailments or cuts that were more excuses than anything serious.
“I suspected something was up early on. The reason why I never pursued it or cut her off was because she was always nice to me, I had no possible enemies, and there has never been much on me worth stealing. Back then, I couldn’t conceive of anything bad that she could possibly be wanting, thinking that she was just a strange and lonely old jianghu hat out on the road, but… with all this going on, I’m not sure anymore. I also don’t actually know if she does anything for a living, or why she disappears for long stretches of time. What if her random appearances weren’t so random? And what if she was less so checking up on me, and more so keeping tabs on me? What if her sudden absences are because she’s part of some low-key organization, like Masked Wasp’s troupe?
“But if that’s the case, I still don’t understand why. When I first met her, I was wearing my sect uniform, but I gave her a pseudonym. Was she observing me because I’m from the Caves? If so, was it because of its reputation as poison-makers? Why didn’t she stop once she saw I never make or use poison? If she works for Masked Wasp and he hates my sect, she could have killed me right then and there. Why keep up the sporadic monitoring for years? And why bother to seek me out again after my imprisonment?
“The more I think about her, the more suspicious she seems, yet at the same time, I can’t think of one good reason why she would act like this. We were strangers when we first met. We still aren’t horribly close. Why do any of this?”
He hadn’t been able to keep his voice flat and monotone, a slight hint of hystericality having edged into his words all throughout. Alas, meditation, supposed to be soothing, had brought to light how horrifically his trust in those he thought he knew had been damaged. First, his family, then, Zheng Tonghao, and now, Han Xingyu. If Guhui turned out to be a spy horse, he was going to qi deviate and go live in the mountains where not a single soul would bother him ever again.
The slide of ceramic on wood temporarily distracted him. He looked down from where he had been staring hard at Chu Ran’s blank eyes to see that the man had scooted his tea cup over to his side.
“I never drank out of that. It’s chamomile,” came the helpful tip.
Zhu Li grimaced slightly. What had doubtlessly been a bedtime tea was now a subtle hint for him to calm down.
He accepted the warm cup, downed it all thereafter, and set the cup back down with an audible thud.
“If it makes you feel better, the only way Han Xingyu is Masked Wasp’s subordinate is if she has no self-respect, and is also divinely capable of hiding from my information network’s eyes and ears, which I highly doubt.” Chu Ran reached out and placed his hand on Zhu Li’s that still held the cup, in a comforting gesture. “What I instead highly suspect, judging from her behaviors and constant visits to the Han Estate, is that she is a intelligence gatherer for her own family. A much less nefarious job, with a much less nefarious boss. A highly-ranked member of an influential family would not be bored enough to go make trouble with low-brow jianghu criminals like Masked Wasp. He certainly has power, yet not enough to pay off anyone but civilians or the downtrodden to be his lackeys, and not popular enough to earn respect from jianghu factions of any amount of repute. Since the Han family is a genuinely moral bunch of people — and I never say such lightly — there is no way that they would cause trouble for you just for the sake of doing so, and thus, neither would she.
“However, the rest of what you said is indeed weird. Even if it’s not malicious, her tracking you for no logical reason is a cause for concern. Does she have a crush on you, by any chance? A love-at-first-sight sort of thing?”
Zhu Li stopped short of recoiling in terror at the mere thought. “She’s more than twice my age!” he pointed out.
“Throughout all of time, elders have failed to be respectable by coveting what they should never covet. My father is a prime example of that.”
“Fine, but Han Xingyu is not even close to being like your father. That’s definitely not it. Why do you keep coming back to that topic?”
“Back to what topic?”
He glared at Chu Ran. The latter smiled happily at him, daring him to elaborate in the face of his feigned ignorance. What an ass.
“Nevermind,” he gritted out, going to stand. “If Han Xingyu isn’t involved in this, then I can go sleep in peace.”
“Yes, surely. When we get to the Han family, you can ask her to assuage your doubts yourself. If she’s evasive, I have my own ways of getting people to talk.”
Turning to see him anew, Zhu Li narrowed his eyes. “Torture is not allowed and also doesn’t work.”
“Torture? Goodness, Doctor Zhu. I’m no barbarian. I must emphasize that my ways are non-painful, yet very effective.”
He wasn’t about to ask what in the hell that meant. “Speaking of being evasive is rich coming from you.”
Chu Ran blinked and raised his brows, seemingly caught off guard, after which he gave him a sad smile. Some regret at his own blunt wording brewed in Zhu Li’s heart.
“Again, I can assure you that every single thing I still don’t speak with you about is either for your own safety, or your own mental well-being, Doctor. There are some things you will be happier never knowing the details of.” Chu Ran idly picked up his spoon and stirred his forgotten soup, never taking a bite. “There are some things I would have been happier not knowing, yet here I am. The price of knowledge is one hefty payment of blissful ignorance.”
With that, he smiled coldly, purposefully twisting his face around for Zhu Li to see. “No refunds.”
Zhu Li’s budding remorse was quickly replaced by a chilling sensation he couldn’t identify.
“Although I may only be selectively forthcoming, I hope that we can still be friends, Zhu Li.”
Chu Ran’s faintly unnerving smile morphed back into a faintly sad one. A thought hit Zhu Li, then: was he not making those weird smiles on purpose? He couldn’t exactly see them, himself. Were they simply raw emotion that he was unwittingly letting out?
That made things worse, actually.
“I didn’t mean to be harsh. Sorry,” he quietly admitted.
Chu Ran waved him off, picking up his soup bowl with a smile. “Is that your version of being harsh? Please. I can hardly blame you for any frustration you feel. Just remember that, no matter what may go on, I am on your side.”
Ah. Calming, concerning, and now lightly warming. Conversations with Chu Ran were never boring in the emotional department, at least.
Zhu Li nodded, hoping that that conveyed his gratitude.
The next few days of travel were full of nothing but friendly conversations, their only purpose being to bond.
To his mystification, Zhu Li noted that Chu Ran basically never interacted with his sectmates in anything but a professional manner, despite always sharing a carriage with them. He had also noticed said sectmates disapprove of him removing his blindfold, either with scowls, sharp remarks, or by radiating auras of unhappiness, much like how sulking children would.
How odd. Was it an identity thing for the Xin sect? If it was, though, why had Chu Ran so easily adopted his suggestion of leaving the blindfold, and not stated that it was important? He had said something about the old leader wearing one; was that related?
In any case, the trip proceeded without incident. They wove through valleys once naturally carved by the forces that be long ago, and trekked along the murky Zi river when they reached it, ever wary of the rocks above. Eventually, the mountains broke, giving way to a long stretch of valley: Beishan’s basin, the center of commerce for the entire mountain region.
By the time they arrived there, the it was the middle of twilight. Xin Junyan took the authoritative lead here, as she was the one that bore the directions, and they continued north until they reached the Han Estate.
They had not exactly received an aerial view of the place on their way in, but judging from Zhu Li’s survey to his left and right, which told him that the outer wall was far, far longer than it had any right to be, the place had to at least be the size of a small village in and of itself.
He knew little of the Han family, other than that it was centuries-established in Beishan, and famed for keeping a notoriously yao-infested area safe. Like any jianghu sect that embroiled itself with the civilian world, it operated on a separate set of rules from the rest of society in exchange for the irreplicable services it offered, and as long as it didn’t meddle too much. Han members were particularly fighting-minded and serious, but that was the extent of his knowledge.
Han Taisha, the last he had seen her or heard of her, had been furious, yet still of enough wits to be reasonable. She had said that she would be connecting with Chu Ran for the investigation; was that limited to meeting up now, or had they spoken of other things? What would her reaction to him be this time?
That question was answered somewhat immediately, when the guards and servants collectively brought them into the Estate for settlement. From the very beginning of this trip, he had held the low hopes that things would start happening the day after their arrival, yet fate had decided to spit on his expectations.
The very second they walked into the main courtyard, after handing their horses and carriages over to the servants for lodging (Chu Ran had instructed, without prompting, that Guhui needed to be either near or inside her owner’s spot of residence, something Zhu Li was grateful for, if confused by), they were greeted by an impressive lineup of spectators illuminated by yellow-lit lanterns, who ringed a large, open space in the middle. Within that space stood Han Taisha, her stance saying that she was about to duel someone.
Even though dusk’s illumination wasn’t as good as sunlight would be, upon drawing closer, Zhu Li saw that she was prominently more exhausted than he had seen her back at the trial, the bags beneath her eyes dark. She, similar to everyone in the crowd, was dressed in plain white mourning clothes, and adorned simply otherwise.
Was this some sort of peculiar greeting ceremony? This couldn’t have waited until morning? Cultivators being more resilient had nothing on the fact that travel wore down the spirits more than anything, and he honestly just wanted to relax for the evening, not to whatever this was. Ah, well…
Once they were close enough, bows were exchanged in greeting. Chu Ran bowed first, hands held in front, followed by the rest of their side, then Han Taisha bowed in the same way, the rest of her side mimicking it.
“Our sect welcomes you, members of the Xin Sect, member of the Miasma Caves,” she clearly enunciated, voice raised to reach everyone’s ears.
Zhu Li’s mood automatically dropped. Either she hadn’t meant to be insensitive, or she was rubbing it in his face that he was no longer a member at all.
“We appreciate your help with the investigation of my later mother’s death. There is just one issue that must be resolved as soon as possible — sect rules declare that those suspected of murder, even if they are false accusations, must not be allowed on the premises.”
His brow twitched. Oh, for the love of the gods. If you’re going to kick me out, just say so.
“However, there is a stipulation that if this suspicion can be cleared beyond a shadow of a doubt, the accused may enter, official trials be damned. I have no reason at this time to believe Doctor Zhu is guilty, yet my views are not shared by some elders. To put this matter to an end, I have one idea.”
Zhu Li mentally shut up, because what he thought was happening was apparently not happening, and he had no idea what was actually happening. Wasn’t the purpose of all the evidence to prove him not guilty? What could she possibly have in mind that would be decisive in determining that, if the rest of the evidence was apparently still not enough?
All of a sudden, Han Taisha grabbed the hilt of her sword, unsheathed it from its scabbard that sat on her hip, then pointed its tip at him. The look in her gray eyes was not angry, but determined. When she spoke her next small set of surprising words, her voice was strong and blunt, akin to a smack from a truncheon.
“He has to duel me.”
The author says: Your problem-solving skills might need a little work.