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The next morning, Zhu Li checked in on how Chu Ran was sleeping, hoping that the extra dose of sleep aids and last night’s grumbling about being ‘betrayed’ had tired him out enough.
Thankfully, it appeared to have worked — Chu Ran had evidently tossed and turned some in bed, but he was still on it without having accrued any property damage in the night. Zhu Li wondered if Chu Ran’s sleep problems were physiological, or psychological, either some imbalance of the body or the mind.
(It was probably the mind.)
Once they were both awake and about, Han Qi popped up again to lead them back to Han Shiduo’s. What an… odd coincidence, that it was him again.
Zhu Li side-eyed the boy, yet didn’t verbally comment on it.
Han Shiduo’s courtyard was no different from the day before, aside from a second Blue Orchid Sect disciple, Xin Junyan, and Han Shiduo herself standing outside. The latter did not look happy at all.
With everyone joined back up, Xin Junyan promptly came over to Chu Ran, leaned in close to his ear, and whispered something too quiet for even Zhu Li to hear. Chu Ran gave no reaction, and she leaned away afterwards, falling into place at his side.
Han Qi announced their presence for them, explained what was happening aloud, deliberately brought out the Sect Head’s name, went through the proper miscellaneous motions for any bystanders watching to see, then stepped out of the way.
“Greetings again, Elder Shiduo. I take it that your son is feeling better right now? Nice, awake, and informed?” Chu Ran asked, his smile and friendly tone fake as all get out.
She gave a short answer. Despite her reluctance, she couldn’t continue to refuse them, so she led them through the home and into a room, where a small, thin boy was reclined against the wall of his bed. He looked awfully pale, underweight, exhausted, altogether awful… and puzzlingly hostile, his face set in a weak glower.
“Dao’r, this is Doctor Zhu and his companions. He’s here to diagnose you,” Han Shiduo shortly introduced, gesturing to Zhu Li, then withdrew to one side.
“I don’t want another doctor,” Han Dao protested, glaring at the man. Zhu Li was not intimidated, surprisingly enough.
“It won’t take long. A minute or two,” Zhu Li tried to reassure. He wasn’t the best with kids, honestly.
“I don’t care! I don’t want anymore medicine!”
The boy’s tiny hands bunched up in his blanket. Tears threatened at the corners of his eyes, his glare remaining fixated on Zhu Li.
A hand gently touched Zhu Li’s arm before he could say anything else. Chu Ran whispered into his ear soon after, quiet as the breeze itself, “No matter what you find, give no sign that you did.”
Zhu Li gave no visible reaction.
“Now, now, young lad. If the Doctor is snubbed yet again, the Sect Head will surely not be pleased,” Chu Ran said, turning away from Zhu Li for Han Dao. “I would suggest just letting him see what’s going on with you, so that we can leave as soon as possible.”
Hm. Chu Ran wasn’t the best with kids, either. Shocking.
Han Shiduo said something short to her son about playing along, and he looked at her in momentary confusion. Suspicious.
No further fanfare was given for Zhu Li taking Han Dao’s now-offered wrist. As his qi probed through the boy’s weak body and dry meridians, he fought as hard as he could to keep his brows from knotting together in consternation.
Han Dao’s state was awful: strong signs of undernourishment, dehydration, overexertion, a weakened throat, muscle atrophy. Foreign substances were in him, as well, the combination of which was so bizarre, Zhu Li was unsure of what it could be treating. Cannabis, the effects of tea, a mix of roots… the list of strong substances of contradictory effects went on. Ginger warmed, mint cooled — who in their right mind would mix them?
What was more concerning was a substance that Zhu Li could not immediately identify. If he couldn’t identify it within one second, that meant that it wasn’t a typical medicine, and he would need to think a little bit harder…
The instant he identified the familiar material, his heart went cold, and then his stomach went warm with rage.
He still controlled his physical reactions, revealing nothing wrong as he quickly thought up some scenario to cover it up. “What physical ailment did Doctor San say that your son had, Elder Shiduo?”
Something strange flashed and settled into Han Shiduo’s eyes. “He said that it was some sort of congenital birth defect, a natural weakness of the body, perhaps from the hard birth that my boy put us both through. Dao’r’s treatments have been focused on revitalizing the many aspects that his illness deprives of him.”
Liar. “There’s magnolia bark included. That’s pretty rare.”
“Oh, yes. Doctor San works hard to take care of my Dao’r. It’s a hard job, locating the medicine for him. Finding people or providers always takes a huge amount of money and time. We are eternally grateful that the Doctor does all he can for us.”
“He’s been needing these treatments since birth?”
“Yes, and daily. Even though the medicine keeps his sickness at bay, it also makes him nauseous. He has to eat food in the rare intervals he wakes in his rest, else he empties his stomach all over the place. That takes a lot of time to clean.”
Little Han Dao was mortified, looking down and away, his pale face flushed.
“…That must be hard on you.”
“This is all nothing more than a personal sacrifice any mother would make. I would never dare to call it hard,” she seemed to preen.
“Are there any other complications?”
“Of course, of course. His lessons have been going poorly because he can barely stay awake, his cultivation is low for the same reason, and I fear that our branch of the family is going to be cut off, or I will see my little boy die of old age before my own time comes!”
“…I see.” That wasn’t what he’d asked at all.
Her excitement dulled down due to his lackluster reaction.
Right… excitement. He now noticed in hindsight that the more they spoke, the more he sensed excited energy coming off of her.
“I have some suggestions for how to… clean up his prescription. I’ll be in contact with Doctor San,” he straight-up fibbed.
Looking somewhat put out, Han Shiduo nodded. She prepared to see them right out.
Zhu Li spared a glance at Han Dao. The expression on the boy’s face pricked him with surprise — it was almost frantically desperate, like a cornered animal’s.
On someone that pale, that thin, that young… it was out of place.
While the three left and walked away, Zhu Li was quiet, his blank face a contrast to his stewing emotions. No one disturbed him until they were back at their own courtyard, isolated from everyone else.
“What did you find, Doctor?” Chu Ran asked, stepping in a bit closer. Zhu Li watched as he raised his hand, reached towards him, stopped, then let his hand drop.
He took in a breath to start explaining. All of a sudden, however, the anger he had set aside previously bubbled up again, shooting straight up to his head, automatically making him bare his teeth, clench his jaw, darken his brows, and glare at the floor, attempting to reign his emotions back in.
It was hard, though. It was hard to not be angry when he had detected what he had. It was hard to learn of that abominable amalgamation of medicine sloshing around in a little boy’s already-frail body — nullifying and exacerbating and altering proper effects, violating contraindications, having no rhyme or reason to them — all garnished with a readily-available poison that he had been seeing since day one of reaching Jin’s northern area.
Ever-present composure crumbled to dust. Before he could register what he was doing, his fists clenched hard, and then he slammed one onto the hall’s table, the force of the impact shattering it into huge, jagged chunks. Whatever was on it flew off into the opposite direction.
The fury left him in a flash, leaving him mortified at the realization that he had just destroyed his host’s property for no good reason.
One porcelain pillow, one table. It was now Xin Junyan’s turn to break something; a shame she was too busy slowly backing out of the hall to do such a thing.
“Oh,” Chu Ran calmly uttered in answer to the furniture’s destruction. “Junyan, if you would be so kind as to inform the disciples out front that we need a new table?”
“On it,” she answered, slinking straight out the door, staring at the splinter pile.
Zhu Li’s head was spinning. When was the last time he had lost it like that? It had been years. Not even those small-fry bandits had garnered more than an eyeroll; not even when he had been thrown in prison had he been this burning with anger.
He opened his mouth, and nothing really came out.
Chu Ran’s face was turned towards him. The fact that Zhu Li didn’t have to verbally convey his emotions was a reassuring one, right now.
“You were quite angry before. Bottling up emotions comes back to bite us all, no matter what the reason we did it for in the first place. Better a table than someone’s face, as at least the former has no pain to feel,” the other said, waving the thought of the broken table away like it was an insignificant gnat. “I take it that your discoveries were unpleasant?”
“Yes. There… there were so many things going on, I don’t know where to start.”
Even the thought of what he had found was making him mad again.
“We were given writing supplies in our rooms, yes? Why not write them down? You’ll have to dictate it all to me, I’m afraid.”
Zhu Li nodded slowly. “I can do that.”
And do that, he did. He wrote down every single material that he had picked up in his diagnosis — all twenty-six of them.
The most complex of medicinal brews that he knew of topped out at fifteen. None of the brews he knew of held that poison, either.
“Lilac daphne, kudzu, mint, rhubarb, dangshen, cardamom, ginger, matcha, seahorse, talc, coix seed, rose, ginseng, magnolia bark, fern rhizome, milkvetch, jujube, deer antler, reishi, borax, gingko, thunder god vine, hawthorn, tea leaves, cannabis. Those are all the medical things I sensed.”
“Mm… I know little of medicine, Doctor. What does, ah, dried seahorse do?”
“It’s a debunked material, along with deer antler. They do nothing. No animal product does, except venom. Talc and borax are actively dangerous in larger amounts, though they’re still accepted by quacks. The rest have contradictory effects; hawthorn heats, ginseng soothes. This isn’t a prescription for anything. It’s like someone dumped as many random things into a decoction as possible and fed it to him. That isn’t even including the lady-in-a-bath, which has never been considered medicine.”
“The petals drying in that book, hidden away behind an exclusive door. It seems we know why they were there, now.”
“I knew that as soon as I sensed it. Han Shiduo tips for the daily medicine; if Han Dao got better, those tips would stop. Doctor San’s home sect is in financial trouble, so he sends the extra money he gets along. He’s violating the very principle of being a caretaker for money.”
Zhu Li couldn’t help but practically hiss out that last sentence. A bastard, through and through.
However, Chu Ran’s laugh echoing throughout the room prompted him to turn and observe. The other was smiling per usual, but it was a noticeably warmer smile.
“Oh, nothing. I just think I’ve never known you to be this angry, is all. You must take medicine seriously?”
“Of course I do. It involves life and death. Messing with someone’s life in a negative way is unconscionable, and goes against what all medical philosophy states: to have the care for a patient that a parent would their child. No one needs to be altruistic about it, but they still should never bring harm.”
“You’re a kind man, Doctor. It’s very sad that not everyone thinks like you do, not even parents.”
Zhu Li had nothing to say to that.
“Regardless, as a trusted, longtime doctor, no one says anything to Doctor San. As a child, Han Dao would hardly know anything was wrong, that his mother would allow harm to come to him.” Chu Ran narrowed his eyes. “His mother… hm. There’s something else I must tell you, Doctor.”
“Is it more bad news?”
“It’s certainly ironic. Last night, a sectmate of mine was listening in on Han Shiduo’s residence when the woman herself left it at midnight, snuck over to the infirmary, then snuck back. Unfortunately for her, she had no idea that she was being monitored.”
The other let that register for some seconds.
“All of that medicine was freshly ingested,” Zhu Li cautiously started. “It wasn’t leftover from yesterday, or anything similar. Did she go looking for Doctor San in the middle of the night? Because she knew we were coming?”
There was no answer.
“All of those random medicines were strong. The poison was more faded, which means that it was taken much earlier…”
Heart suddenly jumping, he looked up at Chu Ran.
“The medicine was supposed to be a distraction from the poison. Han Dao is awake in the morning, takes the medicine at noon, then spends the rest of the day asleep. He’s nauseous and fatigued, which are symptoms of lady-in-a-bath poisoning. Alone, it isn’t that big of a deal, but constantly being poisoned with it will wreak permanent havoc on his health… Doctor San was being difficult because he didn’t want us to find out, because he can’t wield seniority with outsiders. Han Shiduo was insistent upon not letting us in, too. Is she an unwitting party, or does she know?”
Chu Ran’s lips turned upwards into a frosty smile. It had been a good while since Zhu Li had seen one of those. “Perhaps she gets something out of this arrangement, as well.”
“What could she?
“Never attempt to comprehend the mind of villains, Doctor. On that note, I had you keep this discovery quiet to not alert her; did you notice her and the boy’s reactions?”
Of course. How could he have not? “She was excited to talk. He acted kind of… desperate.”
“Correct. Han Dao was unhappy with us coming there, yet even more unhappy when we left; a discrepant pair of feelings, surely. Han Shiduo was much harder to read, as adults are wont to do. I believe I know what’s going on with her, however.”
“It’s a vague feeling, nothing concrete; she simply gets enjoyment speaking about herself. I will tell you for sure once more evidence is gathered. Speaking of which, if you would write down all of what you just told me on top of the ingredient list, I could give the paper to Han Taisha. She would be most pleased to pluck out a thorn in her eye.”
Zhu Li nodded, sighing woefully as he put brush to paper. “When we agreed to help find who laced Han Wenkang’s food, I wasn’t expecting to find whatever this is, instead.”
“Conspiracies involving the poisoning of children for profit are generally not fathomed by the sane populace, no. In a more positive take, this will make investigating that much, much easier.”
To say that Han Taisha took the news poorly would be a deep minimization of reality.
Within the second of being informed by Chu Ran of the deception, Han Taisha had immediately gone on a rampage, arresting all five members of the infirmary plus Han Shiduo herself, ordering for both the infirmary and her residence be overturned, and taking Han Dao into the main branch’s custody.
The six people had been dragged and forced to kneel in the sect’s biggest open area, the yard before the main meeting hall. For the second time in two days, Han Taisha was ablaze with rage, more or less cursing each of them up and down for being criminal pains in her neck. Aided by Chu Ran’s testimony and evidence, she had also gotten Doctor San to confess his crimes in public, as well as Han Shiduo’s own role in the chronic poisoning of her own son.
The full story went as such: As a baby, Han Dao had contracted a severe illness, receiving treatment from Doctor San, whose financial woes had already begun. Han Shiduo, loving the sympathy and attention she had received from this event, had approached Doctor San with a plan as to how she might get to keep that attention on her, with monetary compensation from her included. He had quickly thought to use the extremely common and non-lethal lady-in-a-bath flower for the deed. What came next spoke for itself.
This story was further endorsed by personal accounts from her friends. She had loved to garner condolences in every conversation she was in, and loved to talk about how hard her son’s artificial illness was on her, not him. People had always found the way she had worded things odd, yet had thought nothing of it until now.
Why would she be that desperate for attention? What thought processes had led her to take such a drastic action in the first place? Why hadn’t Doctor San simply asked the Han family for money?
Well, who cared?
What was done was done. No matter what sob story either of them had, it would do nothing to lessen the severity of their crime. Han Shiduo was swiftly ordered into confinement by reason of insanity, her cultivation sealed and release date unknown, while Doctor San was dragged off to jail. As for his disciples, they were put away into jail to await questioning.
Out of cards to pull out, they would need to cooperate now, or die.
In any case, being a mere doctor that had already done his part, Zhu Li had not participated in any of those event. He didn’t particularly have a stake in these goings on, moreover — this was a Han problem, and ’Han’ was a surname he lacked, blood be damned — aside from the wellbeing of innocent Han Dao, whose safety had already been assured.
He had heard this news in pieces over the course of the day. His primary messenger was one Han Qi, the boy continuing to pop up over and over again.
(Although Zhu Li suspected that he was rushing to grab these petty tasks and specially trying to curry favor, he wasn’t going to call him out.)
Subsequent to this latest visit at nighttime, Xin Junyan groaned beside him. “I kind of like gossiping, but gossip like this is too depressing.”
“You shouldn’t be blabbing about other peoples’ business to begin with,” Zhu Li said beside her.
The two were walking down one of the many roads of the Blue Orchid Sect, Guhui happily following behind Zhu Li. Chu Ran was busy with what neither of them were much interested in (politics and schemes and such), so they had both decided to go spend time elsewhere until the dust had settled. It was now nearing sunset, and they had explored everything of note that they were allowed to, apart from their very last destination of the dogpens.
Xin Junyan had been very, very insistent upon saving the best for last.
Dogpens were a typical, yet not universal staple of sects, and did not necessarily have to be pens, nor contain dogs. More often than not, they were simply buildings or holding areas for ‘ascended’ yao, creatures that fell into a niche between the three categories of yao, familiar, and regular animal; they lacked all the crazed violence of yao while keeping their qi-mutated properties, were typically smarter and longer-lived than typical animals, and yet failed to reach the extent of familiars.
Some of the most commonly-known types of these tamed yao were tianma, unusually large winged horses known for their intelligence and qi-assisted flight, and wulang, a breed of dog that… Zhu Li could see currently running rampant in the sect’s dogpen as they approached.
Dozens of smoky puffs were scampering across a large sweep of grass, playing and barking at each other. They truly lived up to the name of wulang, ‘mist wave’, with the way their huge, gray, poofy forms barreled at full speed and barked at full volume wherever they went.
A few trainers were also on-scene, keeping an eye on the living balls of fog, as the dogpen wasn’t a pen, just an open space bordered by an easily-bypassed, knee-high wall. Noticing the two people plus horse walk up, one of the guardians came over to speak to them. “Hello, guests. You must be Lady Xin and Doctor Zhu. How can this one help you?
Zhu Li looked over at Xin Junyan, who was vibrating with excitement, and quite literally. She was too excited to talk, in fact, staring at the dogs unblinking.
“My friend here wants to play with the dogs. Really badly,” he answered, sparing his pal so little face, she stopped being excited to turn to look at him, mouth agape in offense.
The dog trainer chuckled, drawing Xin Junyan’s glare away. “Keeping the dogs entertained would be doing us a favor, since quite a few of us went to attend to the sectwide meeting in a show of support for the Sect Head. It’s five of us with about fifty dogs; they’re well-behaved, but have a lot of energy. Have you played with wulang before, miss?”
“No, just regular dogs.”
“They’re much smarter than regular dogs, with their own individual personalities. If you’ll follow me, I can show you how to play with them.” The trainer looked back at Guhui, who was keeping an eye on the nearest pack of dogs. “Do you want to lodge your horse in the dogpen, Doctor? Is she your familiar?”
“She isn’t my familiar, she just—“
Zhu Li was cut off by a light-colored mass intruding into his peripheral vision, then settling on his right shoulder — it was Guhui’s big head, her chin weighing heavily upon him.
Silly horse, he thought fondly, reaching up to pet her cheek. “…she just follows me everywhere, if she’s allowed.”
The trainer smiled. “The dogs know better than to be aggressive with other animals, so she can come in as well, if you like.”
“I don’t know if she would reciprocate the feeling.”
“That’s fine, I can tell them to keep away. We have some tea in the main pavilion; may I invite you for some?”
Xin Junyan was staring at him. He had been originally planning to dump her here and leave with Guhui, but, hell. He wasn’t doing anything else, and this was a good place to hide in.
“If you don’t mind, could you get someone to inform Ying… Sect Head Chu of where we are?”
The trainer nodded with a smile.
Sunset came. Zhu Li, not having the energy or will to play with a bunch of hyperactive dogs, had instead been watching Xin Junyan do it. While her love of these wolf-faced, blue-tongued, silver-haired smoke plumes was news to him, it was amusing to watch her not care at all as her perfectly-done hair and fashionable clothes had gradually come to ruin beneath the onslaught of slobbery kisses and unconquerable enthusiasm.
Even more entertaining was how Guhui had swiftly warmed up to the dogs; she would chase them around, pretend to eat their ears with her lips, or play-fight with them, needfully aware that she, a giant ten times their size, needed to be gentle with them. Never before had he seen her be nice to anything other than him; perhaps he needed to get her a friend.
Orange light stained the grounds and every creature within it. He sipped his rose tea as he continued to observe the calming scene, thankful for the break from this morning’s upset. Doctor San now getting what he deserved consoled him, at least, and Han Dao was safe from further poisonings. When everything was finally out of the boy’s system, he could give him a prescription for how to fix the damage that had been done.
More time passed. When night menaced at the horizon, Chu Ran showed up, bypassing the dogs to join him in the pavilion. Smiling sarcastically as he planted his rump down in a seat, he asked, “Did you have fun playing with mutts while I was doing hard work, Doctor?”
“No one asked you to do that hard work. And I’m not the one playing with dogs.”
“Yes, I could tell Junyan is amongst that mess… she must be annoyed that I refuse to allow her a dog. They’re so noisy, rambunctious, and foul-smelling, that they have never neglected to overload my senses. She must be in paradise right about now.
Chu Ran wordlessly filled up his own cup of cooling tea, then downed it all without a care. “Ah… what a busy day. Some interesting things were found out about Doctor San’s disciples, both in their quarters and in the infirmary. There was a good lot of sorting through things, having other people read things to me, and keeping Han Taisha from setting everything on fire. I suppose you indisputably are related, if anger-prompted property damage runs in the family.”
Zhu Li sent him an annoyed look. He wasn’t going to grace that with an answer.
“Oh, I hardly blame either of you. I would do and have done much of the same.”
“Mm. Cost my father a great bit of money.” Chu Ran chuckled, as if he had told some joke, and his tone darkened. “With any luck, I will cost him much, much more. Fair is fair, wouldn’t you agree, Doctor?”
Zhu Li nodded absently, as he had learned to do over these few months whenever the other spoke like this.
“Tomorrow, I will tell you all of what we found, and we can interrogate those disciples. Your help will be instrumental, as the only upright doctor in the vicinity, and then we can get some answers… ah, it’s only been a few days, yet this has felt like it’s gone on forever. Beishan is nice and all, but I would like to be out of here before winter comes and turns travel into a miserable, dangerous thing.”
Cocking his head slightly to get a read on Chu Ran’s face, which was tilted downwards, Zhu Li asked, “When were you planning on going to the carriage?”
The man went quiet, furrowing his brows. Right when Zhu Li was thinking that he wouldn’t get an answer, it came in the form of, “If it’s hers, then it has been sitting there for seven years. Another day or two will make no difference to it. I failed to remember to ask for a date with Elder Xingyu — could you do me a favor by asking for me?”
“Sure. You can ask her yourself, though.”
“I could, yes.”
“But you won’t, because you don’t like her.”
“Oh, well, you know… it would be rude to say so outright.”
“That hasn’t stopped you other times.”
“Why, Doctor, I’m appalled. You think that I disrespect people out loud? I would never,” Chu Ran openly lied, beaming at him.
Zhu Li huffed, shaking his head. Sometimes, Chu Ran was inscrutable, and other times, he was all too transparent.
The author says: Imagine a silver-coated, blue-tongued, wolf-faced Pomeranian the size of a mastiff. That’s about what the wulang looks like. They 100% don’t exist.
3 thoughts on “SnCr 22”
I admired you as a translator, now I am a super fan of your personnal writing ! I really like your character building and I am really eager to see what’s coming next ^^
Okay, so, while it was evident that doctor San was hiding something big, I never expected it to be THIS
I kind of “respect”people who are despicable, yet open about it; but I can’t stand those who hide terrible deeds under a mask of kindness, respectability and righteousness…
Thank you for the last scene in the dog pen, it was a good one to shake off the disgust of the characters in the first part 🙂
Thank you for the update ^^
Well that was messed up. Seriously what is in the jianghu water to send filial relationships to hell.
The good Doctor’s beserk button is, of course, malpractice
Puppies! Cloud puppies!
Yes Chu Ran certainly does hope to cost his father a good deal of money indeed…
Thank you for the update!