SnCr 17

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The infirmary was big, and did not look much different than the buildings or landscaping surrounding it. It looked like how a typical standalone, single-building hospital would look, really.

The leading disciple knocked on the door, someone answered by opening it, and then he explained the situation to the answerer. They were all allowed in, while someone that was clearly an attendant scurried off to find Doctor San.

Zhu Li took a cursory look over the lobby; waiting chairs, payment collector, diagnosing desk. No apothecary shelves, but they must surely be elsewhere, quite different from his own little apothecary. Then again, he had never been set up for more than one transient patient, while this place was certainly used to treat mass non-lethal casualties in a fighting-intensive sect.

Meanwhile, Chu Ran had broken off from him to keep close to the walls, standing still every few seconds before continuing, walking in a big circle. What was he doing?

“My qi sense goes beyond thinner barriers, such as these walls,” Chu Ran explained. “Nothing is off here. That is about all I can discern, however.”

Huh. Beyond barriers? That was interesting to note. “Since we have tokens, we can just go in. I give them two minutes before we go searching around,” Zhu Li pointed out.

The other hummed in response, smiling deviously. “I have heard that people who are important will make guests wait in order to portray that their own time is more valuable, and that they’re the ones in charge. People who only think they’re important will do the same. Why even wait those two minutes, Doctor? I bet money that they’ll try to turn those into twenty.”

“For bare-minimum courtesy. We have a witness, anyways.”

“Oh, yes. Young man, come here,” Chu Ran said, beckoning the not-yet-departed disciple over with a wave of his hand.

The teen nervously came closer, eyes shifting between the two of them. Who knew what he was thinking, when two strangers had lifted him from his proper duties, forced him to come to here, and were now considering just walking around like they owned the place?

Chu Ran brought his token of permission out of his sleeve, raising it up to be face-height. “Do you know what this is, lad?”

Eyes wide, the kid nodded his head.

“This was given to us by your Sect Head. It grants us full permission to go looking around the infirmary for clues, as its residents are quite stubborn. She has also entrusted us with a special mission. Could you do us a favor and wait here while we go on ahead? When Doctor San or whoever comes in, tell them that we preemptively went searching around. We would still love to speak with them all eventually, of course.”

The disciple looked a bit starry-eyed at the prospect of helping his Sect Head’s ‘special’ mission, nodding vigorously again. He obediently took a chair, beginning to meditate in preparation for his wait; the fact that he was doing so at all spoke volumes of Doctor San’s possible reputation.

“That’s squared away. It’s been two minutes, yes? Shall we go on, Doctor?” Chu Ran said cheerily, putting the token away.

Zhu Li nodded. Genuinely, he was worried that Doctor San’s bunch would try to hide or destroy evidence if they had too much warning, so he had no complaints against expediting things.

It did not take long for them to find the supply room, the prickle of its access array giving it away. They opened it; one wall was full of the same supply drawers that Zhu Li had back in his own apothecary, and the other wall to his right had shelves filled with medical stuff, like acupuncture needles, scraping stones, incense, oils, cups, and ear candles. Zhu Li mentally frowned at many of them, but now was not the time for that discussion.

Sights aside, the second thing that hit him was the smell. All sorts of dried herbs caused earthy, grassy, and sweet floral scents to intertwine. It was a familiar aroma to him. (The stink of hemp was conspicuously missing, however. A true oversight.)

Even if he was unsure of what could be uncovered here that hadn’t been already, it was worth a look.

“I’ll go through the herbs to see if anything’s wrong with them,” he told Chu Ran. The other nodded, going forth to do his dowsing thing on the rest of the room.

Starting at the top shelf, he individually went through the drawers. The majority of them held components he approved of — rhubarb, ginseng, ginger, fuling, monkey’s head fungi — while the rest held things he absolutely did not. Anyone that still thought dried geckos and pangolin scales did anything other than taste horrible was very mistaken.

Unfortunately, or perhaps not unfortunately, his search turned up nothing unusual with the supplies. He would have been able to detect if anything was contaminated with poisons, as those had particular feelings that were a bit difficult to explain in words; small, unpleasant discrepancies that shouldn’t be there, similar to bits of unidentified crunch felt while chewing soft rice noodles. Uncooked rice? Sand? Rocks? Bug shells? Whatever was wrong with the contaminated product, it would have an indisputable feel.

Nothing here did, though. Aside from the drawer filled with cinnabar. They should use that for something not involved in consumption or skin contact, like more modern jianghu doctors did.

Suspicion sprung up in his mind. All these archaic practices — ear candles had long been replaced with ear flushing, scraping with press-knead massages, cups with anything else — combined with the archaic medicines painted a none-too-flattering picture of Doctor San. Was he a quack that didn’t know better, or one that did? Had he swindled the Han family, or did they believe in the same things? Perhaps they simply deferred to him out of a lack of personal knowledge?

It could be argued that the doctor massacre had affected this, yet Zhu Li had been finding recently-written texts all throughout his time outside. Any antiquated practices were not excusable, in his eyes, especially in regards to known toxins. That was something he would have to inform Han Taisha about.

Mostly fruitless, he turned to Chu Ran, who was standing beside a section of storage. “Did you find anything?”

“Perhaps. There’s something a bit odd on top of some shelves, here. And I do mean on top of the shelves, not on the top shelf. It appears to be a book.”

Zhu Li furrowed his brow. Upon walking over, he looked up at the shelf; its height prevented even the tallest of people from seeing its crown. He reached up, felt about said crown, then touched upon a book, which he gingerly slid back and brought down.

Its title was… oh, Meridians of the Body. He knew this one. It was literally just diagrams, lists of acupoints, and what effects each do; ancient, yet still relevant.

There was no reason to hide a book like this, which only served to make this all the weirder.

He opened it, then thumbed through the pages. Nothing seemed to be amiss, until he flipped open to a certain page in the back, whereupon several dried, distinct-looking flowers revealed themselves, some sliding downwards.

Speedily, he tilted the book back so that it wouldn’t spill the petals.

Chu Ran made an interested noise beside him. “Those smell lovely! Petal-pressing in a book, hm? But why hide it up there? All medical supplies are dried, else they wilt, yes?”

Zhu Li continued to frown at the petals. Pink, beige, uniquely-shaped — he recognized this flower all too well.

“These aren’t medical flowers,” he started quietly. “They’re poisonous.”

“Ah! Do you believe the killer is going to strike again?”

“No. They’re only mildly poisonous; enough to cause illness, not enough to kill. I can’t think of a good reason anyone would prepare them, though.”

“They smell very nice, very sweet. Perhaps whoever did it simply wanted to use them to perfume their room?”

“In that case, they would dry it out in the open in their room, not in a restricted area, hidden on top of a shelf. Hiding it is practically admitting guilt.”

“I agree. I’ll hold it, Doctor— it’s suspicious enough to warrant some looking into, so we should keep it, but your hands will be more useful here than mine will.”

Zhu Li passed it over, asking, “Was there anything else you found?”

“No, sadly. Everything else is mundane. There was some blood residue on a lot of that equipment, but I’m unsure if it was normal.”

“Which equipment?”

“The needles and cups.”

“Yeah, that’s normal. If I’m not wrong, records will be on the second floor, and we might find something there, too. But first, I’m going to get that prescription ready for you.”

As soon as Zhu Li put enough of every previously-asked-for medicine into individual wax paper bags and stowed them away in his pockets, they left, still unhindered. Upon locating the stairs, they ascended them to the next floor, which was indeed the records room — secluded from the rest of the infirmary and a fourth of the ground floor’s size, it surely contained patient, travel, prescription, expenditure, and income records. All for accountability reasons, naturally.

Avici radishes were only in a select few spots within the Western mountains. What concerned Zhu Li the most was two possibilities: one of the medics traveling in that direction to fetch them themself, or paying someone to do so.

Radishes did not keep for long — one or two weeks for healthy ones, even less for the sickly Avici ones — so the journey or purchase had to have happened a week prior to Han Wenkang’s poisoning over three-and-a-half months ago. Since she had died at the end of the Goat’s month, that put the time period squarely within the Horse’s month.

Therefore, what he needed to do was locate the travel and expenditure records for that specific month, then get to reading. Any suspiciously long absence or large payment was to be noted; the Western mountains were far and the murder of a Sect Head was a huge crime, so anyone hired would have to have been paid enough for the act to be worth it.

The good thing was that these would include the medics’ personal spending, which would be stupid to fabricate due to the money being kept track of by the third-party accounts office, and recording such things was both local and jianghu law precisely because of past cases similar to this one.

After telling Chu Ran of his plan, the man answered, “I will be absolutely useless in this regard, I’m afraid. Flat surfaces are my nemesis. I can certainly play pack mule, watchman, and bodyguard, however.”

“Be my guest,” Zhu Li said dryly. The fact that Doctor Sun and company hadn’t come to confront them yet was both sad and hilarious.

Even with that being the case, he wasn’t about to push his luck. Using his past knowledge from working in the Miasma Caves’ infirmary, he quite rapidly located the proper travel and expenditure records, for both the medics and the infirmary itself after which he added them on to Chu Ran’s book pile. Following some more thought, he also fetched and added in the two same expenditure records from the previous Horse’s month.

If there was any oddity to be found, comparing the two would bring the most light upon that secret. A heavy payment to something in the most recent month that was conspicuously absent in last year’s month would set off a big warning bell.

And, right on cue, a commotion started going off downstairs.

What a pity. He hadn’t gotten to start reading anything.

“A half-shichen later is when they decide to show up?” Chu Ran asked, smiling in amusement. “They really think too much of themselves, to believe we would ever have waited that long. What a rude awakening they must be having.”

“They don’t even know we’re up here. You weren’t specific on our location.”

“Serves them right for taking so long. Had they cut down their response time by half, we would have had a jolly meeting in the cramped little space that was the supply room. Alas, we are now even harder to find, on a different floor completely.”

“Mn. Do you want to go down and greet them, or do you want to just go out a window and bypass them?”

“Why not both? We can jump out the window, where I will hurry back to our quarters to drop these very important books off while you act like we went for a walk because we were bored of waiting. They failed to notice us snooping around this whole time; I deeply doubt they would notice our getaway now.”

“You already told them that we went searching around. I don’t know if that’ll work.”

“That’s so ambiguous, we can just say that we went searching outside the infirmary. If they have no proof of us being around, it’s anecdotal. If they even try to complain, then they’ll need to explain why they made guests wait so long in the first place — a bad look.”

Zhu Li shrugged, quietly opened the nearest window, and let Chu Ran out. He watched as the man deftly leapt off the tiled roof’s edge, landed upon the top of the courtyard wall below, then quickly slipped out of sight on the other side.

He himself carefully climbed out as well, closing the window flawlessly behind him, and imitating Chu Ran’s actions. Once down on the ground, he peered about; no one appeared to be around, which was not too shocking. Who would hang around the back alleys of an infirmary?

Selecting a random direction, he began to walk around idly, until a convincing few minutes had passed. At that point, he made his way back to the infirmary’s front, walking through the front gate, and then the front door.

What greeted him was a harried older teen speaking to the previous disciple. Upon his entry, they both turned to look at him; the disciple looked a bit relieved, while the man appeared to be frantically surprised.

“You’re that Zhu Li… Doctor Zhu? Where did you go? You were outside? Where’s Sect Head Chu?” the man asked in rapid-fire shots, stepping around the disciple to come closer.

“You all took so long, we went for a walk. Yingliu’s finding the latrine right now,” Zhu Li drolly lied. “Who even are you?”

“I’m Chao Su, eldest disciple of Doctor San. My fellows are searching the rest of the infirmary, and the Doctor went to go get Han Wagu… oh, no, what a mess…”

The fancier? What a riot. “He went to go get help when nothing even happened?”

“Ah, well, he assumed that you had gone into the infirmary without permission, because this disciple said that you went looking around… that appears to not have been the case…?”

“No. We went looking around the outside, since we’ve never been here before. I assume your Doctor doesn’t want to speak of my missing order?”

“…What?” Chao Su stuttered, blinking in confusion. “Order?”

“I sent an order for medicine several periods ago. This disciple can attest to that; who did you tell my order to, and when?”

“Doctor San and Medic Zhong, right at breakfast. They were speaking in the courtyard at the time,” the disciple answered back.

“Mn. Was your infirmary busy today?”

“Uh, n-no? Not really?” Chao Su stammered.

“I thought it was because of the time, so I offered to just come and get my supplies, being another Doctor. It seems your head medic is pretty inhospitable, though, if he’s already run off to get a protector, for some reason.”

Chao Su was sweating beads beneath the heavy implication of his words. “Um… I-I can fill your order for you. What is it?”

“No need to trouble yourself. I’ll simply ask the Sect Head for what I need so that I can get it some time today.”

That sweat turned into pearls, making Chao Su a far cry from when he had matched his teacher’s ugly expression the day before. Why he was so nervous now, Zhu Li had an unconfirmed suspicion.

Not waiting for him to say anything further, Zhu Li motioned for the disciple to follow him, and went back outside. If Han Wagu was who he thought she was, he wanted to witness it in an open setting.

When he had walked some distance away, he was unsurprised to hear someone call out from behind him, “Zhu Li, stop right there!”

Zhu Li did obediently stop right there, but only after he had looked over his shoulder at who it was. The old man he had spotted amongst the medics yesterday was approaching, angry-looking, tailed by a slightly younger, equally angry woman.

Cultivation had a nonlinear affect on aging bodies. Civilian elderly were much frailer than their younger counterparts, but the same was not true of jianghu elders; lifetimes spent cultivating hardened one’s bones, strengthened one’s muscles, bolstered one’s constitution, and expanded one’s qi reserves, even as their skin wrinkled and hair grayed.

In other words, visible age was not a factor in determining how powerful someone was.

Chao Su was seen to run out of the infirmary, looking the same as before. He was quickly followed by three other people, also recognized by Zhu Li from yesterday, and they did not appear to be feeling much better.

“Master, wait, he said—“

“Quiet!” Doctor San shouted, cutting Chao Su off. He was glaring at Zhu Li like he had set fire to his crops and now his family was going to starve. “Zhu Li, you sure were bold, to intrude upon my infirmary like you own it!”

Zhu Li raised a single brow. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t you play dumb! You do have an idea!”

Doctor San’s loud voice was attracting a deluge of curious ducks to the vicinity, their heads poking out from various windows, corners, and pathways. If it was an audience he had wanted, it was one he was getting, though Zhu Li questioned his choice. He doubted it was going to go great for him.

“I really don’t. Care to explain?” he answered, unbothered.

The other’s fury elevated even more. “You know what you did. I don’t need to waste my breath explaining anything!”

“You do, actually. I can’t magically read your mind just because you say I should.”

Doctor San turned redder. The woman finally stepped up, enraged. “You impetuous boy! How dare you speak so disrespectfully to an elder!”

“An elder that wants respect should be respectable. Talking in riddles isn’t it.”

She looked even angrier. Before she could say anything, however, a familiar person popped up beside Zhu Li all of a sudden, smiling, his blindfold now missing.

“Doctor Zhu, why am I hearing shouts? There’s no reason for that on such a pleasantly cool day, is it?” Chu Ran asked him cheerily, ignoring everyone else.

“San Wan here is yelling about us doing something, and won’t say what it is.”

“Oh, Doctor San, at long last? We became quite weary of waiting in the lobby, thus we came out here to sightsee as we walked. Neither of us have been here before, you must know. This is all very new, especially to me, as never have I stepped foot out of Zhongling… goodness, why are you all so angry? Are walks against the rules here? Admittedly, we had no guide, but we wished to talk alone, too. It is quite a different atmosphere with a third wheel, so to speak—”

“Liar!” Doctor San interrupted, gnashing his teeth. “You went snooping around my infirmary without authorization! You can’t just walk around like you own the place! I have been here for decades — all of you young folk cannot simply walk all over seniority!”

Little did he know. Also, what an over-defensive idiot.

In response, Chu Ran looked quite put-off. “My, how rude. I wasn’t quite done speaking. Age does not always beget wisdom and manners, it seems. Why do you think that, by the way? Is the main lobby off-limits? The courtyard? Those were all the places we were. Doctor Zhu, are those restricted areas in other infirmaries?”

“No.”

“Don’t you change the subject! That disciple you left behind said you went looking around!” Doctor San answered, fuming.

“Yes. Looking around outside,” Zhu Li answered dryly, after which he turned to the young disciple. “Did you ever claim that we were looking around inside or anything similar?”

“No! I only told them what you told me to say, that you went looking around! I can also attest that I saw you leave out the front gate for your walk, after we were left waiting for a quarter of a shichen!” the teen called out, his voice crisp and somewhat loud, purposefully projected for everyone around to hear. What a smart kid, adding that one bit on.

“I just spoke to Medic Chao, too. Doctor San went running for Han Wagu as soon as hearing that we were ‘searching’, while the rest of his disciples went searching the infirmary themselves. I’m assuming that nothing came of that search.”

All eyes slid to Chao Su, Doctor San’s particularly scathing. The former sheepishly cowered down, stammering out, “I-I did say that, and we didn’t find anything.”

Those eyes now slid to Doctor San.

Chu Ran gave a loud sigh out of the blue, attracting. “All this hubbub, no actual evidence? Why would you even think we were snooping in your infirmary, Doctor San? The reason we came here was simply to see what was going on with with our sleep-aid order from, oh, this morning. It’s far after the noon at this very moment. Were you terribly held up in your infirmary? After our lunch with Han Taisha, the order still failed to turn up at our quarters, so Doctor Zhu here kindly thought to come and make it up himself. He believed you were busy, but now it appears that you were busy, em… making up a scenario in your head?”

He ended it with a cheeky smile, further angering Doctor San. It was a tragic, mourn-worthy shame that he had dropped a rock on his own foot here; Zhu Li had accurately predicted that he would try making them wait to try and tint himself as more important than he really was (it was irritatingly common occurrence, in Zhu Li’s own experience dealing with the stubborn, childish, and arrogant), and because he had done so, it had cost him any chance to witness them in the act.

This was never going to go in his favor anyways, naturally. Had he not been stubborn and actually had confronted them inside the infirmary, he wouldn’t have been able to stop them from doing anything. He would simply have looked a tiny bit less stupid.

“Silence!” the one woman shouted, stepping forward with both hands on her sword’s hilt. “How dare you!”

“How dare I what? Speak the truth? Is that rude to do?” Chu Ran retorted, frowning. “Who are you, by the way?”

“My name is Han Wagu, you little whelp,” she hissed, “and I will make both of you regret your tones!”

“Heavens above… we, as guests, were the ones horribly slighted with a lack of timely accommodation, a further unreasonable wait, and an untrue, unverifiable accusation, yet you’re upset because we are, by rights, none too pleased?” he countered, getting incrementally more exasperated with every word. “Enlighten me, Lady Cultivator — what are we even fighting about, here? Your own lack of manners?”

That exasperated tone further upset Han Wagu. “You two have fooled that brat Taisha, but you don’t fool me. I believe nothing you say! You were certainly up to no good!” she responded, raising her voice.

“Doing what, pray tell? Being vague and gesturing wildly does not actually make a good argument. You say we were snooping, but what could we have possibly been snooping for? You say we were up to something, but where is your proof besides your own paranoia? Had we known getting some lavender and whatnot would be such a world-overturning hassle, we would never have bothered with all of this headache.”

The sounds of giggles, which had been slowly growing in volume this entire time, arose from the onlookers. Only now did Doctor San and Han Wagu pay them any attention, faces clouding over. Making a scene had indeed not gone the way they had hoped; all they had done was make themselves look like fools.

“Well, actually, now that I think about it, why are you so defensive?” Chu Ran continued to ponder aloud, disallowing either of his opponents from think up any sort of answer in time. “Why did you immediately assume things of us, then run off to get protection from not the Sect Head, but an elder known to be much too partial to you? Is it possible that you have an outright guilty conscience? Are you genuinely hiding something, Doctor San? Is it so bad, so incriminating, that you panicked, accidentally revealing yourself?”

Doctor San stammered, perhaps finally feeling trace amounts of shame, while the incline Han Wagu’s furrowed brow deepened in severity. “Enough,” she shouted, “draw your sword. Here in the Blue Orchid Sect, we solve our disputes by fighting!”

“That seems dreadfully inefficient. And fake. Say, Wagu — are those the characters from a baby’s wailing and old aunt, or am I mistaken?”

Zhu Li managed to keep down his laughter. The people circling around them did not.

Veins popping from rage and humiliation, Han Wagu opened her mouth to snipe back, only to shut it, widen her eyes, and unsheathe her sword to meet a blow coming at her side. Rather than words, the clang of swords colliding rang out, immediately muting the laughter.

In a split second, and without warning, Chu Ran had drawn his sword and stabbed outwards in one motion, his blade hairs away from cutting her in the ribs. He had moved so quickly and abruptly, anyone that hadn’t been actively watching him would think his sword had materialized out of thin air.

In the next split second, the fight began in proper, and it took another split second for Zhu Li to realized something was very, very wrong.

He had gotten clear out of the way the second he had heard the clang. Watching the fight from a safe distance now, he could see that Han Wagu was falling downwind quickly, but not from Chu Ran being faster, stronger, more dextrous, or anything like that. Instead, her movements were odd, erratic, and wasteful from the get-go, which cost her several hits on herself. With her age, he had assumed that she had been trying some trick, yet that didn’t appear to be the case.

This present turn was good example; Chu Ran aimed for her left thigh, while she blocked her right, only switching to the left at the very last second. Then, he went slightly higher at her abdomen, and she nearly missed that, too, blocking slightly too high, followed by him switching to her shoulder, her making a weird move like she was blocking some invisible blow…

An invisible blow? Hm. Yeah, that was about right, actually.

She continued to misjudge the depth or trajectory of attacks, looked to be defending against strikes that didn’t exist, had her parries fall flat, and could not grasp the attacking hand over him no matter what she did. Was she seeing things that weren’t there?

Zhu Li’s gaze moved from taking in the battle at large to honing in exclusively on Chu Ran’s sword, its name not yet known to him.

The powers of humans were limited, in a sense. Moving qi for physical purposes — enhancing physique, attacking, healing, calming emotions — was something anyone could do. Illusions and visual projections were a completely different story; possible, but they required a complex array of pre-created parts to enact, leaving them with little practical use aside from opera and warding away unintelligent animals. Forcing people to hallucinate was a further impossibility for one person alone to accomplish, as mental manipulations were not something qi could reliably generate.

Therefore, since there could not possibly be any illusions at play, which he himself would have seen, and there was no way Chu Ran himself would have the god-exclusive power of manipulating minds, one possibility remained: his sword.

Jianghu was a strange, unstable, and at times unfair realm. Powerful fighters at the top would still have to worry after weaker fighters at the bottom rungs; strength and speed aside, techniques countered other techniques, poisons could be used at any time, tricks could be up any sleeve, and a mere youth could be bestowed a maddeningly overpowered sword with strange effects. At least the Dao rejected all who violated its philanthropic principles, barring them from proper power; no one would get a powerful sword and keep it if they lacked enough regard for others’ lives.

Perhaps owing to their divinely-granted nature, spiritual swords had individual effects that were frequently impossible to or extremely difficult to replicate in outside circumstances. Even if Dusha’s poison-detecting and -slowing effects were replicable by Zhu Li, he could not do so with more than one person at a time, nor without actively touching a victim, nor at a range, nor hold it up indefinitely, nor be able to tell so prior to an irritant causing visible distress — all things the sword could do automatically. Its extremely fitting nature for his line of work was not lost on him, a beacon that whatever unseen forces judged people and brought matching swords to them was working very well.

A bit ironic that the sword given to a blind man made visual mental hallucinations, though. Those forces had a weird sense of humor.

Whatever the sword was doing, it was causing Han Wagu to lose, and horribly. Unable to judge distance properly, she could never get a good hit on Chu Ran, suffering cut after cut in the same instances. She looked absolutely pissed, which was not without reason; her seniority should have granted her every advantage, yet she was being bested by a lack of immunity to a random sword’s effects that she could not dispel. Anyone, whether an abstruse curmudgeon like her or not, would not be happy at those stacked odds.

Furthermore… Chu Ran had never stopped smiling, all throughout this fight. It was not something Zhu Li loved to see.

Quite quickly, Chu Ran knocked her to the ground, stomped on her wrist so that she released her sword with a pained shout, then kicked it away, pressing the tip of his own sword to her neck.

She glared up at him hatefully, fists clenched, looking miserable with the cuts and bruises all over here. Her hairpin had gone askew, her blue uniform was ragged, and she had been humiliated for all to see, too incompetent to get one over a man about a fourth of her age.

“I concede,” she squeezed out from between grit teeth. Once released, she grabbed her sword and stormed off, giving off sparks of anger.

Doctor San watched her back, dumbfounded, then turned to Chu Ran, who took out a handkerchief, wiped down his sword, and completely ignored him.

“That was a bit silly, was it not, Doctor Zhu?” he announced for the still-present spectators, cheery-sounding. “The audacity of these people, accusing us when we have done no wrong in the least. All words, no substance.

“San Wan,” he suddenly switched, “it looks as if you have run out of protectors and embarrassed yourself. Your Sect Head will surely hear of this farce, but we may be able to argue some leniency for you, given that you make no further requests difficult for us again. Any present answer you have is of no importance to me, just keep it in mind. You may just have to earn that Doctor title back.”

Doctor San’s face was murderous. He turned and went back into the infirmary, dragging his disciples back inside, as well.

With this debacle over, Chu Ran strutted right over to Zhu Li, sheathing his sword neatly. “We ought to get going, my good Doctor. The pharmacies will be open for a slight time more, if we hurry.”

“Mn. Just let me grab the money beforehand.”

“Sure, sure. We can invite Junyan for dinner to make a little day of it! Ah, that’s something to look forward to… oh, wait a minute. Young disciple, come here.”

The helpful disciple bounded over at once, looking a bit expectant. Chu Ran smiled wider at his approach. “A bright lad, you are. What is your name?”

“My name is Han Qi, Sect Head!” the teen answered, bowing deeply.

“Many thanks for your help; you are freed from duty. If any grief is given to you over your absence from chores or anything else, defer them to either your Sect Head or us. A good student earns good appraisals, wouldn’t you say?”

Han Qi beamed, bowed over and over again, thanked him over and over again, then sped away to parts unknown before anyone could call out to stop him.

Zhu Li and Chu Ran began to walk away, side-by-side, their job done and the chatter of unheeded gossip fading behind them. No one dared to follow them.

When they were alone enough, Zhu Li leaned in a bit closer to his counterpart to ask, “What’s your sword’s name?”

Chu Ran laughed a little. “You noticed, yes? Shenhuan, from ‘mirage’ and ‘fantasy’.”

“So it does make illusions?”

“Yes. When fighting, I can make my opponents hallucinate nonexistent moves, or fail to perceive real ones. I have been told that this makes me really irritating and frustrating to fight; even if my foe knows what’s happening, the sword will use their awareness against them. Other times, it will make them forever unaware.”

Zhu Li only nodded, a bit perturbed, but unsurprised that Chu Ran had a pretty nasty sword. It was fittingly unfitting.

“Speaking of swords, do you know why Han Taisha is undefeated as of yet? Her sword, Tianzai, lives up to its name, not by causing natural disasters or any such thing, but by turning her into a living disaster. I have only heard stories, myself, but I am quite glad that she deigned to not use it on you, Doctor, else I would no longer have the pleasure of your company.”

“Uh-huh.”

Chu Ran’s brows raised and hand flew to his chest as he gasped dramatically. “Do you not believe me?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You implied it in your tone! You must have faith when I say that I enjoy having you around very much.”

Zhu Li paused imperceptibly in his steps, then resumed, narrowing his eyes to observe the other man’s face. It was the same as always, fixed with a gentle smile that hid disturbing secrets behind it. Still…

“No need to convince me,” he answered, a theory formulating in his mind. “I believe you.”


The author says: What’s up with ya, Doc?
Han Wagu and San Wan may seem like one-dimensional cannon fodder right now, but I don’t write cannon fodder. Everyone has a story, even if they’re shitty people. :))

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2 thoughts on “SnCr 17

  1. I really like the idea of swords having their own unique powers! FirstI though it was only Dusha, but now we’ve met also Shenhuan, which is, frankly, awesome ^^

    Like

  2. More trespassing. This time sanctioned.
    Doctor Zhu you really do lack a single romantic bone in your body don’t you
    Fiscal chicanery! Wait. Doesn’t Doctor San regularly send large amounts of money out of the sect. Which would be off books. Other wise that most traditional art of book cooking is probable. That is if the murder radishes were paid for by a medic, or indeed anyone in the sect for that matter….. (I really love fiscal nonsense as a plot point)
    Play stupid games, earn all due respect (which is none). Chu Ran out here making enemies like a craftsman.
    Of course he has a bastard sword. And not one which can be easily turned against him.
    A theory huh.

    …. I do wonder where Han Wagu and San Wan are hiding and how it ties in with the Han family nonsense

    Liked by 1 person

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