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Zhu Li’s mind was an utterly blank dimension of black, with the sole exception of a single solitary word: What?
He, a doctor, had to fight her, the Sect Head of a renowned bunch of fighters? Right now? Right this very second?
Could he refuse on the basis of not being bloody suicidal?
While on the cusp of opening his mouth to say that he would just shack up in a damned inn, he was cut off by Chu Ran. “Ah, Sect Head Han, I am unsure of the purpose of such an act? The good Doctor is hardly a fighter.”
“And that is why we have to fight,” Han Taisha emphasized, never breaking eye contact with Zhu Li. “My mother was a better and more experienced fighter than I, while Zhu Li is not a fighter at all. Even with the element of surprise, and even though he is presumably not defenseless, his chances of winning against her should have been zero. She was killed at night, in a confined, lit room. The twilight and smaller fighting area simulates this without the need to be further within the sect. If he cannot even beat me like this, then there would be little doubt as to his inability to have killed my mother.”
…Was she speaking more formally than before? Maybe his memory was messing with him.
“Ah. I suppose I understand, in that case,” Chu Ran answered, though he seemed a bit unamused. “One moment then, please; I would like to speak to the Doctor a bit.”
With that, he stepped over to Zhu Li’s side, then leaned in close to his ear, quieting his voice so that only they could hear. “I did inform her of the situation, but for obvious reasons, I could obviously never send her physical proof, only circumstantial. She is a reasonable person, if young and inexpert — the Sect Head position was not moved to her purely due to her being Han Wenkang’s eldest, really — and it’s hardly surprising that her elders have other ideas. Who knows; they may be running her through the mill, as the old are wont to do the young. Just go with it.”
Turning slightly towards him, Zhu Li asked back, “Do you have any other suggestions? She’s right. I’m really not a fighter, and I don’t fight the most… honorably, if it gets down to it. These people seem like they value honor.”
“Don’t you worry about that. The entire point of this is to gauge your skill level; holding back or hesitating in any capacity will instead work against you and portray that you might be trying to hide your abilities on purpose, even if that could not be further from the truth. In my opinion, it would appropriate for you to go all out. Use every trick you have, and act like she legitimately wants your life.”
“Does she want my life?”
“Of course not. Murdering or maiming you in cold blood at this point would be abysmally stupid, for multiple reasons. You are likely to get nicked once or thrice, however.”
What a joy this was going to be.
Zhu Li let out a resigned sigh through his nose. “Got it. I’ll do what I can.”
Reluctance cast aside, he walked forth, took his position an appropriate distance away, then unhitched Dusha from his hip, sheath and all.
He looked down at it hesitantly. Should he unsheathe it? His typical fighting style against humans was to leave it sheathed, and disarm or incapacitate his opponents using blunt force. Even bandits were people he never sought to kill them; not so much because he had a lot of empathy for people attacking him, but due to blood debts being liable to turn messy quickly.
For yao, on the other hand, he had learned to be vicious. Humans would generally stay down when bested for the sake of keeping their lives, and regular animals would generally flee at the mere prospect of a fight, yet violent yao, warped by qi overdose, rarely embraced any sense of self-preservation, attacking until their very last breath.
Therein laid the question: Would he fight her like he did a bandit, or a yao?
Staring at Dusha’s black scabbard for a few seconds, he sighed, then drew it. There wasn’t a whole lot of adaptation needed between a sheathed and unsheathed sword, with his style, and he knew how to block with the sheath. Since he was going to fare horribly regardless, he might as well do this.
“I accept. I apologize in advance for what’s going to be a poor performance; I was never taught to fight honorably,” he conceded. A warning should suffice to not make them all mad, if he had to make use of needles.
“Our sect is taught that fights outside of these walls will have no rules, and that not everyone has the privilege of, or interest in, duels we view as honorable. Fight as you will,” Han Taisha answered, having since lowered her blade during his talk with Chu Ran.
How magnanimous of her.
He bowed his head once in a nod, took his stance, and waited for her to strike first.
Defend, evade, disarm, run — that was the entire basis behind his martial arts. Combined with his own pacifistic personality, he had little knowledge in how to do something as basic as a starting attack. Countering and parrying an attack would jog something in his head; attacking of his own volition was not. Whether his opponent was human or yao, he was trained only to get rid of them, which had sometimes resulted in him straight-up picking them up and chucking them over the nearest precipice.
…It was good that no cliffs were around here.
His opponent also observed him for a short time, curiously, and then — she lunged.
The first jab came to his left side, aimed for his ribs, and was swiftly blocked by the scabbard he held in his left hand. She drew back, darted more to the left, and stabbed for his middle again, while he twisted away in the same direction so that he remained facing her. In the brief span of time her sword arm remained suspended in the air, he swiped upwards with the scabbard in his backhand, aiming to strike her wrist, while she jumped back to avoid it.
Thus went their exchange; she struck, he blocked or dodged, then parried. Occasionally, he would try to go for a hit at her elbow or slice across her arm to weaken her hold on the sword, only to be thwarted every time. Every once in a while, too, she would infuse her sword with more qi to slice towards him with, forcing him to deflect it back to her with his own.
Blows became a rhythm, movements, a dance. The clang of metal against metal turned into a song. His prior apprehensions faded away as he focused in on his actions, mentally returning to his training days at the Caves, where he and all of his sisters had worked until their elders had been satisfied with their skills.
Dodge, shift, jab, miss, sidestep, parry, repeat. No hits from Han Taisha were landing on him. No hits from him were landing on her, either. Each quick, precise, and random stab to a vital deciding part would be knocked aside or avoided, just as he did to her broad swipes.
Inside the peace of the flow, he realized that he wasn’t losing as immediately as he thought he would have. She was definitely going easy on him.
But, alas, that tie soon came to a close, as he steadily found himself lagging behind in speed, her attacks coming ever-so-slightly quicker than his blocks could catch up with. It wasn’t that he was slowing down, but that she was quickening her pace, likely communicating to him that he should hurry up and change tactics.
So, having a good enough idea of how she fought by now, he obliged.
Infusing his scabbard with qi, he swept its tip quickly against the ground, kicking up a sizable cloud of dirt.
Even caught off guard, Han Taisha reacted deftly, but the time it took her to release a burst of dust-dispersing qi cost her — while her left hand was raised to cast the qi, Zhu Li sent one of his half-shaft needles into her right shoulder, and it sank below her clothes and under the surface of her skin, jamming into the meridian point there.
Meridians allowed for the expansion and control of qi flow, absent in all non-cultivators. Temporarily jamming a meridian’s flow would essentially render the affected areas normal. It didn’t prevent movement, but it did make one weaker, feeling much akin to uncomfortable pins and needles.
Also, there was a needle in her skin, so that probably wasn’t fun, either.
As acupuncture only worked for people with meridians, Zhu Li always kept a selection of silver needles on hand; for centuries at this point, qi therapy had been accepted as much more effective at completing any positive outcomes acupuncture might have, but when it came to physically blocking problematic meridians, needles still could not be beaten.
Especially when the meridians in question were problematic because they belonged to someone who was attacking him.
His half-shaft needles were half the length of typical needles, analogous to small, elongated barbs. Unlike full needles, their purpose was to be thrown with such force, they would bury beneath the surface skin of an opponent, therefore becoming impossible to extract with fingers alone as they wreaked havoc on meridian flow.
Han Taisha was learning that lesson, since her sword slipped from her fingers not long after the needle made the meridians of her arm numb. At least, to her credit, she didn’t let that slow her down, grabbing the sword’s hilt with her left hand, then holding it up level, fully prepared to go on fighting.
Taking advantage of her disadvantage, he focused his increased attacks on her right side while the battle commenced. The previous fighting had taken its toll, however; much like how an unused muscle found it hard to lift significant weight, his qi reserves, accustomed to healing techniques, found aggressive battle usage an unwelcome strain.
His forehead beaded with sweat, he could feel the telltale signs of qi fatigue beginning to weave through his limbs.
Yet another aspect of battles that required consideration was quite simple: stamina.
He could dodge all he wanted, until his energy ran out. Then he was right screwed.
Beyond all that, Han Taisha was unperturbed by having to be left-handed, no less difficult to deal with than before. She wasn’t even breaking a sweat. Had he any illusions about his own fighting capabilities, he might be embarrassed by this, but since he held no delusions of self-grandeur in a field he was unskilled and uninterested in, his only reaction to her superiority could basically be surmised as, ‘Yeah, no shit. What did I say earlier?’
In a last-ditch effort, he focused a huge amount of qi into Dusha, raised it over his head, and swung down with the maximum amount of force he could muster, upon Han Taisha’s head.
Her more useless arm left behind, she raised her sword above her head to block, then grunted loudly upon impact, her arm rattling badly. The qi used in his attack clashed against her own. Most surprisingly, she was sent onto both knees from the strength he used, the power behind the clash disturbing the very earth around them, causing it to raise somewhat off of itself in a twenty-chi radius, then cascade back down.
The amount of power used inevitably had a bad recoil. Han Taisha recovered faster than he did, springing up from her prone position to leap towards him — before he could reconsolidate himself, she accurately angled and rammed the hilt of her sword into the underside of his wrist.
Pain hurtled through his hand and arm, making him involuntarily drop Dusha. A split second later, a heavy push on his chest knocked him right off his feet, gifting him a hard slam onto his back; even though a last-second circulation of his qi for defense prevented any of that from hurting too terribly, it didn’t make any of it more graceful, for sure.
He started to rise slightly on reflex, but paused at the feeling of a cold, sharp edge at the side of his throat. Looking up at the wielder, he was met with Han Taisha’s cold, impassive eyes.
(They seemed to be staring right into him, in a way he couldn’t describe.)
“This match is over,” she announced clearly, for all to hear. She sounded as placid as a lake’s surface, and as unbothered.
With that declaration, and without prompting, she took back her sword, sheathed it one-handedly, then offered her hand for him to take.
Now sitting fully upright, he accepted the hand, then dusted off his clothes once on his feet. As a small thanks, he gently placed two fingers on her shoulder and jolted the area with some qi, causing the half-shaft needle to pop right back out, dropping down onto the ground, unwanted.
While she flexed feeling back into her arm, he retrieved Dusha from the dirt. However, he heard her say behind him, “We are not quite done.”
He looked over his shoulder at her. If he could see his own face, he would probably describe himself as being incredibly confused.
“You cannot beat me like this. However, the circumstances of that night have not been fully replicated,” she continued to explain, gesturing with her now-free right hand.
Zhu Li watched as someone from the Blue Orchid crowd came over carrying an odd collection of items: a plain practice sword, a tiny pouch, and a small bottle. Han Taisha accepted the bottle alone, then said, “My mother’s murderer used a manufactured, non-spiritual sword that was most certainly not at a weight they were familiar with. I will have to ask you to switch out your sword for this more humble practice one.”
Oh. They were going to fight one more time. Fantastic.
Setting his unhappiness to the side for now, he swapped Dusha with the newcomer, and received the plain sword, plus the contents of the mysterious pouch, in return. The helper then trotted back towards the Xin Sect, and handed Dusha over to Chu Ran.
He started to examine what had been placed in his hand: two round pills, green-colored. A compulsive examination said that they weren’t any poison he could identify. Rather, they seemed to just be made of ground-up tea leaves, the indicatory mark of qi-replenishing pills.
She must have predicted that one fight would wear him out. Needing no verbal clarification, he dry-gulped them both down, the sensation unpleasant. They would work through his system by themselves.
“There is also a second factor to account for,” Han Taisha proceeded. With a quick gesture, she uncorked the small bottle, downing whatever was in it prior to speaking again. “You must be aware that my mother died of snake venom in her wound. However, what you might not know is that she had been poisoned many hours before that, with Avici radishes secretly placed into her food.”
Some shock coursed through him.
Avici radishes were a strain of wild mountain daikons found exclusively in a certain small valley near the Bohdans, identified by their small, dark, sickly-looking shapes in comparison to healthier specimens. Being Buddhists, the locals had named the radishes after what translated into Mandarin as ‘endless hell’ — and that was because, once a single radish was eaten, a slow, agonizing, late-onset death was inevitable for the eater. As few plants grew in that same area, many had theorized that there was simply an issue with the soil itself being poison,
While any poison could be forced out of the body with qi, the problem with whatever was in the radishes was that the effects could take anywhere from half a day to a day and a half to manifest, and by that time, it would basically already be too late.
Zhu Li knew of them because poisons were his former Sect’s specialty. They were such a random, niche plant, that it was unsurprising that no one had noticed anything wrong with the food in time, and utterly astonishing that anyone here had known about it to poison Han Wenkang with in the first place.
One mystery went down, yet another immediately cropped up. He had been wondering who would have been able to get one over the head of a warrior sect, and the answer was that she had been poisoned. Even if she had tried to expel the poison by herself once she had noticed something was wrong, it would have taken too long to get it out before her murderer struck… and then the venom had just sealed the deal.
Even so, the timing seemed too weirdly coincidental. Avici radish onset times were random, and cultivators’ different physiques meant that the processing time would have been even slower than for a civilian woman’s. Had someone at Han Wenkang’s side slipped the poison in, waited for it to take full effect, then alerted the killer?
He didn’t receive much more time to mull over that, as a few seconds later, Han Taisha hit him with, “We have no time to wait for an Avici radish to take effect, so I just drank wine mixed with aconite extract.”
Sorry, what? What? She did fucking what?
She drank aconite extract? Extract from the flower that caused one’s heart to stop? The flower that was infamously lethal? The flower that needed to have the hell boiled out of it, and only then was it vaguely usable as a diuretic and diaphoretic, being an extremely lethal chunk of ugly petals otherwise? That aconite?
She had lost her mind and gone nuts, hadn’t she? Was proving a point really important enough to risk poisoning herself lethally?!
To make matters worse, Dusha was now coincidentally too far away for its poison-slowing effect to reach her.
He quickly peered around at the surrounding Blue Orchid crowd. Many of them were exchanging glances, giving him some vindication that he was not too pleased to have. She must not have consulted with anyone preceding this, surely because everyone sane would have told her not to do this and called her a lunatic.
Please, for the love of all that was good, have her be bluffing.
On instinct, he stepped up and grabbed Han Taisha’s wrist, which she passively allowed. Upon probing her meridians with his qi, he felt her own qi already fighting against a substance that was trying to infiltrate the rest of her body; said substance was, indeed, identical to aconite, as he had learned in training back at the Caves.
Oh no. She hadn’t been bluffing at all.
“Are you insane?” he asked, throwing all respect she ought to be shown out the window. It was difficult to not flat-out yell at her, as it was.
“I understand your concern, but this is how to gauge the time it would take for the poison to effect performance. Let us start.”
If he agreed to her ridiculous request right now, he would be a failure of a doctor. “No, we’re not doing that. I have to treat—“
A harsh shove to his chest cut him off, forcing an oof out of him as he stumbled one step backwards, automatically making him release her wrist. He saw her jump backwards and away from him, transferring her sword back to her right hand from her left, and detected the re-crackling of the air as she set qi off once more.
Annoyance and anxiety flared through him at the stubborn action. If he tried to get at her now to force the poison out, she would definitely swipe at him.
It was for precisely this reason that he had always found it important to keep up his raw physical strength, in spite of his lack of fighting skill — there was a line between being unable to help someone that was too obstinate to accept it, and needing to pin someone down to force them to accept treatment, lest they killed themselves out of psychosis, pride, or psychotic pride.
Would he be able to pin Han Taisha down, or at least get her into a headlock? Probably, once the aconite wreaked havoc on her system. Legends be damned, cultivators were not fully immune to anything meant to be an antithesis to every living being under the sky.
He drew the plain sword. So be it.
Their dance of swords began again. Even at less qi capacity than the former fight, and with a sword that was little more than a weighty chunk of metal, he felt more motived, invigorated, from the very thought of not allowing this crazy woman to die from casual recklessness. Doctors were to have the hearts of parents; if he had to play the part of tough love to save a life, that was what was going to happen.
A mere few minutes into the match, he noticed that her movements were already slowing, getting heavier in a bad way, and more erratic, all paired with Han Taisha’s face flushing and sweating. He knew for a fact that none of that was from exertion.
Even with this, he was failing to get further ground. Expending qi to fight the aconite also caused it to come out harder in all of her attacks and blocks, their stray sparks buffeting his clothes and face. His plain sword was almost useless, bouncing off of the protective qi defending her skin like a stone skipping off a lake.
And yet, the overuse of qi was gradually dragging on her, causing her to start losing steam in both of her fights — internally, against the aconite, and externally, against him.
Each second stretched on like an eternity. He was sweating again, not because of weariness, but out of nervousness, as he was very aware that the window for treatment could close soon. Aconite was fast-acting, enough of it was fast-killing, and too much of it was a guaranteed death.
Eventually, her qi depleted to the extent that one of his many quick jabs to her side landed, her reaction time having lagged too much to keep up. She hissed at the pain of the stab.
Seeing an opportunity, he used the scabbard to smack her in her right elbow from below, forcing her arm to straighten out, stabbing her sword into the empty air above. Han Taisha’s previously-stoic face was contorted in pain, soaked with sweat, and redder than blood — no matter how great her pain tolerance was, the aconite was doubtlessly scraping her intestines as it went along, and making every muscle it could reach cramp up. She had to be reaching her limit for how much she could keep it at bay.
Zhu Li abandoned his borrowed sword, flashed forward, and crouched so that the outside of her raised elbow was on his left shoulder. He secured her arm in place with his left hand actively pulling downwards, and jabbed the two forefingers of his right hand into her diaphragm, sending a pulse of swirling qi throughout her abdomen.
Keeping his hold on her sword-wielding arm, he twisted around to be behind her as she predictably spat up all that was in her stomach onto the ground in front of her, expelling the majority of the deadly aconite mixture. As for the rest, he quickly started circulating his own qi through her via the point of his grip, systematically either dissolving the deeper-set bits of the toxin, or compelling them to come to the surface.
“Yingliu, come here,” he called out. Without any questioning, Chu Ran jogged over, Dusha held in his arms.
Once the sword’s range hit, purging the poison became a lot easier, the risk of further complication reduced to nothing as the aconite’s attack was forced to slow. Likely noticing something had changed, Han Taisha looked over her shoulder at him with her expression once again tranquil, if red and sweaty.
Unfortunately for her, he wasn’t quite in the mood to explain a single damn thing to her other than how much of a fool she was. “That was stupidly reckless,” he said, voice lowered so that most others would not be able to hear too well. Not like anyone would need to to know such was true.
“The point has been made,” she tiredly said back. “Those too stubborn have now seen for themselves that you do not really have the wherewithal for murder.”
“Is that surprising? I’m a doctor, not much of a fighter.”
“Jianghu people hide their abilities all the time, but it was obvious between your actions that you do not have the mental fortitude for fighting in general. You hesitate too much, and most people would not rush to save someone attacking them.”
“I have an obligation as a doctor. There is no precise antidote for aconite — what were you expecting to happen, here?”
“Our head medic has a neutralizer. He would have brought it at my command.”
“Your medic approved of you doing this?”
“He had little choice.”
Tch. That ‘neutralizer’ was likely just some borax, an effective treatment for aconite’s heart-stopping properties, but not really the rest of its consequences. That was what most full antidotes were — mitigations of a poison’s total issues until they wore off.
He scanned at the Blue Orchid crowd out of the corners of his eyes, now unharried enough to observe them. There were younger disciples in the front, judging by their clothes, and more senior ones in the back, who all wore hairpins with chains hanging off of them, even the men. However, none of them were stepping forth to help, let alone someone that looked like a doctor.
Displeased, he decided to say bluntly, for all the crowd to hear, “Your medics lack diligence.”
A group of five people on the left side of the crowd suddenly became quite a bit uglier. Unlike the blue and green robes of Zhu Li glared right back at them.
“Their inaction was on my request this time. Thank you for the concern, Doctor,” Han Taisha said mildly. The ‘this time’ did not escape him — drama in the Blue Orchid Sect, perhaps?
The ‘this time’ didn’t escape those assumed medics, either, because their expressions became even more unsightly. Definitely drama.
Next, she straightened back up from the hunched position she had taken — a subconscious act from the previous pain —then turned to face the rest of her Sect behind her, Zhu Li taking back his own qi and letting go in the process. “You all witnessed the battle just now. As we know, mother died from both poison and venom. Cultivator Zhu could not come close to beating me at a normal state, without Tianzai activated and with his own blade. With a non-spiritual sword, he was still not able to even strike me until the poison made it so that I could not circulate my qi. The problem laid within that is that when I found her, my mother was still able circulate her qi to fight two substances. This means that the actual murderer was knowledgable enough, and strong enough, in fighting to stab her with a plain sword anyways. Cultivator Zhu’s suspicion is therefore cleared, leaving him free to enter the premises. If there are any objections, speak them now, or never speak them at all.”
Some of the hairpinned seniors definitely had airs of dissatisfaction that Zhu Li could sense from several chi away, yet no one said anything for the horribly long minutes Han Taisha waited. Once everyone was feeling thoroughly awkward and antsy, she gave one nod. “Good. Night is almost here; everyone is dismissed. Xiao Ai, Xiao Qi, mobilize people to help the guests settle in. Doctor San, you and your disciples with me.”
Oh, they were leaving now? That was abrupt. And… he hadn’t circulated enough qi to get it all out of her system. Dusha was at work, too. The instant she got out of range, the aconite would surely act up again.
“Sect Head Han, wait,” he called before she could start walking away. Gingerly taking Dusha from Chu Ran, he held the sheathed blade out for Han Taisha to take. “Bring this with you.”
One of her eyebrows rose. “Take your sword? Why?”
“Its passive effect is to inhibit poisons. It won’t cure you, but it will make the process less painful.”
Now both of her eyebrows were up. “It inhibits poison? Not promotes it?”
Since he had never shouted to the Heavens what his sword did before, her confusion was not perplexing. “Yes.”
“Its name is ‘Poison Fiend’, yet it has no poison?”
He noticed some blank and/or curious stares looking in their direction from the not-yet-dispersed crowd. “I think it’s meant to be interpreted as a fiend in the perspective of poison itself. I… didn’t name it.”
“Doctor Zhu, you never told me this,” Chu Ran piped up behind him, sounding… pouty?
Zhu Li turned to him. The blindfold was in place, yet the other’s lips were quirked in a way that could certainly be labeled a pout.
A grown-ass man, pouting. He would make fun of him, were they not in public.
“You never asked,” came his flippant answer.
Chu Ran huffed, shook his head, and said nothing else. “Fine, fine. Scoot on with your exchange, then. You must be especially tired, if I’m as tired as I am.”
Zhu Li turned back to Han Taisha, insistently gesturing with the blade. She accepted it with both hands, looking somewhat contemplative with her brows furrowed. “Thank you for the trouble… Doctor Zhu. I will send Dusha back in the morning.”
Saying so, she turned and left with the group of five medics, all of whom refused to spare one spiteful glance towards Zhu Li. They were probably mad about him suddenly earning the title of Doctor in her eyes. Which, he realized, meant that she had consciously not been doing so before for some reason… hm.
A light tug suddenly came from his sleeve. He looked at Chu Ran, who smiled under his attention. “Come, Doctor. Leave them to their own problems.”
Nodding, he fell into step alongside him as they followed the other members of their troupe, who had since begun filing through more courtyard to the left. “You noticed, too?” he asked, voice low.
“Her comment made it impossible to ignore,” the man answered as breezily as he walked. “Furthermore, following her promise to help me with the investigation, she shared to me that the coroner had detected an odd element in her mother’s body that they had not been able to identify. Assuming it to be a poison, she launched an internal investigation, and to make a very long story short, she knows that at least one of those five medics are involved, yet has next to no concrete evidence pinning any of them. They have no idea that she suspects them, and she fears that further investigation will strike the bush to alert the snake. She is unhappy with them in general on top of that, which preceded her discovering their guilt; ever since her ascension, they’ve all been thorns in her eye. Arrogance and a lack of cooperation, mostly. Han Wenkang was less involved in their affairs than her daughter.”
“…That’s a lot of stuff.”
“Indeed. We will speak of it more later, with Han Taisha herself.”
The rest of their walk was filled with comfortable silence. The carriages and horses were the first to branch off, being taken into a stable — except Guhui, weirdly, who kept being led along.
Sensing his confusion, Chu Ran answered, “I asked that Guhui share a courtyard with us, since you seem pretty attached to her.”
Oh. That was thoughtful. But… “‘Us’?”
“Ah, yes. I forgot to tell you. I asked if you and I could share a guest courtyard, in my prior contact with the Hans. They only have two nicer guest quarters, while the rest are more mass lodging. Junyan is getting the other courtyard. I didn’t feel it right to ask you to lodge with her, or with the rest of the sect in those inferior rooms. You know how it is.”
There was nothing inherently wrong with that. Probably. Although he would have appreciated a heads up, Chu Ran neglecting to tell him anything he considered unimportant or ‘disheartening’ was a known character trait, at this point. “They have that few for guests?”
“Many of the courtyards once used for guests were converted into ones for family members long ago, leaving only these two. Large families create many problems; overcrowding, noise, chronic drama… a criminal lack of space for guests. I suppose that is just how things go.”
“That’s fine. Just don’t snore.” Traveling had forced him to get used to sharing spaces ages ago. Snoring was one of those eternal work-in-progress things, though.
“While I’m unsure if I do, we won’t even be sharing a room, Doctor.”
“Ran doesn’t snore, but he absolutely does thrash around like a cat caught in a net,” Xin Junyan said suddenly, having purposefully lagged to be directly ahead of them at some unknown point in time. “And loudly. Quite an impressive feat, if I do say so myself.”
The two men looked at her in some surprise, though Chu Ran quickly scowled. “…Thank you for your input, Junyan. Quite insightful.”
“I hear him in the building over all the time. It has become a nighttime lullaby for me.”
“Lying is deplorable, my good sister. You would never be able to hear much with the array up in place.”
“I am no liar, my good brother. You are simply so very skilled, that you overload the array’s capabilities at around midnight. Every midnight.”
“…Alright, alright. That’s quite enough.”
“The truth should not be embarrassing to you, Sect Head. Our differences must be embraced as what makes us unique — and your evening fish flopping is truly unique.”
Rage radiated faintly off of Chu Ran, heralding the arrival of his desire to fight her.
At least the walk there was going to be entertaining.
The author says: stop embarrassing me in front of my friend-slash-future crush 😦
I like combining fantasy with science, since real life is the weirdest fantasy of all. I’ll probably compile all the nitty gritties at the end.