SnCr 23

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What the impromptu investigation had discovered was quite eye-opening.

First, there had been a search of the infirmary. Two other books with drying lady-in-a-bath were discovered shoved into random, hard-to-find spots, and the Xin Sect’s qi sense allowed them to easily pick up on several tiny hidden compartments scattered about the place, each hiding a moderate amount of money that added up into a significant sum. Not only there, but similar compartments were located in the four disciples’ quarters. All four of them, in fact, as they shared a general area.

As could be guessed, none of this money had been reported on the ledgers, making it automatically illegal to possess within the sect, the true date and source of them irrelevant. As could similarly be guessed, all of the disciples claimed ignorance as to what their teacher had been doing, as well as to the compartments’ existence.

In idealistic theory, being filial to their teacher would include sharing their tribulations, whether they deserved their fate or not. In realistic practice, filial piety could really only make the most devout of students cling to a heinously criminal teacher. Even though all of them kowtowed and declared that they should each be punished for their neglect in noticing the problem or advising their teacher otherwise, not a one offered to take the punishment coming to him, nor join him in it.

(This was likely because he was going to be executed for his gall, a war on his dying, impoverished sect soon to commence. Who wanted to get mixed up in that? Chao Su’s family was close by and could be implicated. Biebie’s was far away, yet still reachable. Zhong Hua and Shu Lao, two orphans, had nothing to rely on other than the sect that housed them.)

Biebie, the lone non-Jin foreigner, had caved rather easily under questioning. She insisted that she had no idea those compartments were there, nor where the money had come from, but she might have unintentionally given the killer information about the Avici radishes. Long ago, she had told her fellow disciples, Shu Lao and Zhong Hua, of them as nothing more than an interesting story from her homeland; she had never imagined that it would come back to bite her.

Her confession — as well as Han Taisha’s threat that their lives were in limbo unless they came clean — had compelled Zhong Hua into a panic. She professed her innocence in everything, but did point fingers at Shu Lao and Chao Su, stating that she knew that they would meet up with their mentor outside of the infirmary at regular intervals. Biebie and her had never been summoned for that.

Chao Su, red with offense, had countered that Doctor San would typically need them to run an errand during the infirmary’s off-times, and he had never summoned his female disciples for it out of old-fashioned consideration. It had never been anything odd, just the fetching of something from a shop or the deliverance of a letter.

In contrast, Shu Lao had further muddied the waters by accusing all of his fellows of misdeeds. Biebie stole food from the kitchens, failed to adhere to conventional politeness, and never participated in ancestral worship; Zhong Hua would take medicine out of the supply then never report that, sneak out of the sect at night, and drink far above the recommended daily intake of alcohol; Chao Su wrote garbage novels to sell them for extra spending money, visited brothels under the guise of running sect errands, and contacted dark cultivators. He thereafter held the honor of World’s Fastest at Getting People Who Used to Like Him to Hate His Guts.

His betrayal completely eroded their camaraderie as sectmates, and they quickly began to sling dirt onto each other, over half of which was of dubious credibility.

Concerning Doctor San himself, he had already admitted that he knew that one of his disciples had participated in Han Wenkang’s murder, though not exactly which. He had meddled in the investigation for the sake of hiding his own misdeeds, only to fail, and fall even further into the wrong.

No matter what he did now, his fate was sealed. Chronically poisoning a member of the sect that graciously harbored him — to the point where he might have permanently caused damage, no less — was a grave offense, with no one to speak up for him were he to meet his demise. What he could still do was cooperate with the main Han branch in order to spare his home sect possible retaliation.

While he could do little, he was still able to debunk a lot of his disciples’ more wild claims, as well as some of their more plausible ones. He also confirmed that what Chao Su claimed about Shu Lao and he doing errands.

After the dust settled, everyone agreed that the hidden money might very well have come from the deed of poisoning Han Wenkang, since it was a huge sum, and trying it on a jianghu elite was so risky, it’d be suicide if it failed. Han Taisha had set up questioning and registry investigations to narrow in on what all the disciples had done the week before Han Wenkang’s death.

Shockingly, nothing of what Shu Lao had said had been a lie. Zhong Hua did indeed sneak out of the sect and drink too much, a costly affair that prompted her to steal supplies to sell. In the five days before the murder, she had snuck out no less than three times, giving her both a means and a motive to murder Han Wenkang for money. She had never been stopped and searched for these outings, on account of them being so common, and the Han sect being a veritable mess of infighting in general.

Chao Su’s writing of books for money was due to his family’s own financial problems added onto his poor sect salary, giving him an incentive to do the deed. He did indeed visit brothels in his spare time — a frowned-upon endeavor in jianghu, to say the least — and was indeed in contact with dark cultivators… who happened to be from the Miasma Caves.

This highly displeased Zhu Li. He was already leery about the unclear Ru Yeying debacle; further connections to his sect were not making him happy. No wonder Chu Ran had asked him to come along.

Granted, all Chao Su had been doing (allegedly) was buying treatment recipes off of them. It still didn’t sit well with him.

Shu Lao had not escaped the wrath of his sectmates unscathed. They dredged up three bad points about him, as well: he used to be a beggar that swindled his way into getting accepted by Doctor San, he was generally disagreeable, and he was addicted to opium. These facts had been provided by Zhong Hua, Chao Su, and Biebie, respectively, one for each.

While a lack of hygiene wasn’t exactly a crime, it was still a sign of being irresponsible, according to societal standards. Needless to say, having been a beggar also wasn’t a crime, it merely meant that he was ‘low-born’, according to some people, and thus had bad moral fiber.

Jianghu was separated from conventional society, for both good or worse, but that didn’t mean that society’s values didn’t leak in from time to time, nor that jianghu’s didn’t leak out. Chao Su’s family was not generationally jianghu-based, making his prejudice in bringing the matter up in the first place unsurprisingly.

What was of concern was the opium. Addictive, unhealthy, expensive; it was common for people to be prescribed opium for pain of some sort, then never wean off of it. Zhu Li had never been in close quarters with Shu Lao prior to this, but even when he approached him to verify that there was opium in his system, he caught a whiff of a faint, sweet stink similar to Du Lin’s coming off of him.

The salaries of disciples were low in general, both in order to teach them the value of money, and because their basic needs were already covered. Opium was not only not a basic need, but about three taels per quarter-catty for bottom-tier quality; the disciples’ monthly spending money of eight taels would be insufficient to buy enough of any opium for a proper addiction.

And yet, he had purportedly bought more catties of the stuff than his salary would allow. None of his sectmates could pinpoint how exactly he earned the money for it, as he was never seen to leave the sect. Even Doctor San was clueless, as he never paid his disciples for anything.

Unfortunately for him, this made him the most suspicious of them all, even though he still didn’t quite fit the mold. This didn’t ease suspicion off of the others any.

When it came to Biebie… well, to put it bluntly, she was a foreigner. What wasn’t rude to her was rude in Jin. Zhu Li had a good amount of knowledge of the Na; their matrilocality had historically been mimicked by sects in the past, and also leant them to a more communal, enmeshed society. She wouldn’t have perceived herself as ‘stealing’ food, just that it was food available to use. Food was not very valuable in and of itself, so her doing it for money was a dumb idea. As for the other two points, they would be considered a big deal to certain groups of people, yet were ultimately irrelevant, making her the least suspicious.

But was she actually free of suspicion? It was hard to tell.

At this moment, the four disciples were locked up in separate rooms, each laced with muffling arrays. They had been arrested by surprise, and the Han family wanted to prevent them from scheming together. Whenever a disciple had made claims, the others were individually informed, their reactions noted thereafter.

What a mess this was.

After brushing away Biebie’s supposed shortcomings, then confirming Shu Lao’s addiction and Zhong Hua’s alcoholism, Zhu Li was personally interested on questioning Chao Su about his interaction with the Miasma Caves. Any link regarding him had to be clarified first; he wasn’t sure what other use he would be to these questionings, anyways.

Han Taisha had already gotten what she could out of the four, even with threats. The real traitor — perhaps traitors, plural — were tight-lipped, which did not help them find the reason behind and source of the Avici radishes. Since her results had been a bleeding mess, she had handed temporary authority over to Chu Ran, her technical partner-in-investigating.

Their first visit was to Chao Su. The inoffensive-looking man was less harried than he had been just a few days ago, rather appearing to be resigned.

“Hello again, Disciple Chao,” Chu Ran greeted rather cheerfully, flashing that grin of his. “I assume you’re less than thrilled?”

Chao Su looked at them both miserably. “This one had no idea that any of this was going on, fellow cultivators. I… I don’t know what to think.”

“You had no idea that your teacher was a degenerate, with how combative you were with the head of the sect that houses you?”

The other looked taken aback at that bluntness. “I-I assumed… I assumed that it was just infighting, as per usual. Every time a space opens up, the Hans fight. They’re a bunch of brutes that believe might presides over—… ah, don’t tell them I said that.”

“Fearful of them, are you?”

“They are intimidating. Elder Wagu said not to fear the main branch, though, because it was going to be usurped… it appears that she didn’t think things through…?”

“It appears not. Now, nevermind that; tell us what you think of Zhong Hua. Be quick, and leave no details out.”

“Um—? Okay… although she’s abrasive and usually smells of alcohol, she’s a good medic, very empathetic and bright. I just wish she would obey the rules, or at least take care of herself. I’ve caught her sneaking out before where I’ve had to drag her back, but she just sneaks out again later. She doesn’t listen to me, I can’t watch her all the time, and the Doctor felt that other things were of priority.”

“Alright. Where does she go to get that alcohol?”

“There are two places. A jianghu bar called Green Sprouts, and a brothel called… Eternal Spring,” Chao Su answered, blushing at the name.

“Oh? Is it the same brothel that you supposedly visit, in the name of doing errands?”

That blush became much more severe. “I-I…! It’s only to listen to music! Prostitution is illegal in Beishan!”

“Murder is also illegal, yet look where we are now. Why are you not honest about your visits, if there is nothing to hide?”

“But… that… I…”

The man looked conflicted.

Zhu Li could care less about whatever he was thinking right now, though, more concerned about something else. “What do you go to the dark cultivators for?”

Chao Su blinked, his flush receding, and nervously took Zhu Li in for a moment. Who knew what thoughts were turning in his head. “Ah… just to buy their goods, and whatever recipes they’re willing to part with.”

“Anything else?”

“No… no.”

Zhu Li stared at him, eyes narrowed.

It didn’t take too many seconds for Chao Su to get uncomfortable, then fold. “I went th-there a few days ago, to get more supplies, um… nothing bad, just things like golden-bell and Azure Dragon powder. The cultivators asked about you, Cultivator Zhu, but I just said that we weren’t close. The Doctor forbade us from speaking to you, in any case…”

“…What did they ask about?”

“If you were really in the Han sect, and if I could pass a message on to you. They don’t seem to want to interact with the Blue Orchid Sect directly? Dark cultivators aren’t exactly looked fondly upon…”

Creasing his brow in thought, Zhu Li asked nothing else.

“You only go to the brothels for music and a show, yes? We can quote you on that?” Chu Ran picked up.

“There’s no show… but yes.”

“Indeed? Do you go there for inspiration for your little novels, then?”

Chao Su blushed furiously in humiliating, offended by Chu Ran’s mockery. Unfortunately for him, the other simply didn’t care about his feelings. “How about Biebie and Shu Lao, then? Any thoughts?”

“Sister Biebie is quiet and keeps to herself. Brother Shu is… hard to get along with, and unpleasant to be around. He does hold some expertise of unique Dongqiu practices, which is why the Doctor took him in, I believe.”

“Which practices?”

“Cinnabar mixtures and chenxue.”

Chenxue was a method of acupuncture that involved divining the Heavens and some such. Cinnabar was a known poison in jianghu, popular ‘medicine’ in many other parts of the world. San Wan was such a hack, to eat this stuff up.

“How curious, for a master to take knowledge from a disciple. Shu Lao is an orphan, yes? Do you know how they came to meet?”

“Shu Lao’s original teacher was a friend of the Doctor’s, in Dongqiu. After he died, the Doctor took in Shu Lao.”

“And that friend’s name was?”

“I don’t know his given, but his family name was Yin.”

“The same Yin family I’m thinking of?”

“I think so.”

Zhu Li felt some surprise. Another Dongqiu Yin?

“That is a very interesting little piece of information, Disciple Chao. Now, how did you come to be in Doctor San’s tutelage?”

“My father requested it when I was little, since I had some talent in medicine.”

Nothing was really wrong with that statement. Following some more perfunctory words, Chu Ran and Zhu Li let him be.

Their second stop was Zhong Hua. She was a taller woman in typical Blue Orchid dress standards, and appeared to be nothing short of pissed-off.

“You need to interrogate me? You want my opinion? You want to know all about my background? Here, let’s cut this short: Chao Su is a lecher, Shu Lao is a dirty little rat, and Biebie is an unenlightened barbarian! Yes, I sneak out of the sect at least once every three days! Yes, I steal stuff from the infirmary and sell it for drinking money! Yes, I drink a lot! None of this is news, everyone knows it!

“Quit focusing on me and focus on Chao Su and Shu Lao! The first one loves to dress himself up as a do-gooder, but he goes to brothels to visit some songgirl he won’t stop talking about! There’s ten reasons why no one good in jianghu goes to them! And Shu Lao is shady and shifty and everything bad! He doesn’t even work or learn well! I don’t know what the point of him is! I don’t know why the Doctor picked him up!

“As for me, my family died of some plague, Doctor San failed to heal them, he took me in, and the rest is history! What else do you have to ask?!”

Chu Ran had only just taken a few step into the room. Zhu Li was still paused over the threshold. The door wasn’t closed yet. They hadn’t had the time to ask a single question, or even introduce themselves.

“Many thanks for saving us time, Disciple Zhong,” Chu Ran said, a slightly sarcastic tone behind his smile. “What was that about Disciple Chao’s… lady? And how do you know about her?”

“Eternal Spring has jianghu ties, so it gets better liquor every once in a while. That Chao always makes eyes at this one girl, Qi’r.”

“Oh? Jianghu ties?”

“Yeah. They skulk around the place all the time. No Hans or Blue Orchids, just outsiders.”

“Would Masked Wasp’s troops happen to be mixed amongst those?”

She looked somewhat shocked for a split second. “Huh, yeah. How did you know?”

“Well, he has his hands in everything, does he not?”

“He does. His subordinates are always rowdy and handsy, running all around the place. They keep mistaking me for a songgirl, keep mistaking songgirls for prostitutes, keep putting their hands on every woman in sight! I can’t stand them!”

“Truly? Do you know those subordinates’ names? Descriptions?”

“Of course I do! This one guy goes by Rabid Bear, but he’s weak as—“

Zhong Hua proceeded to list five different masked frequenters of the brothel, each with their own personality defects. Zhu Li’s fingers itched for his left-behind journal; in the meantime, he wrote everything she said down on loose leaf.

They stopped third at Biebie’s holding room. She looked like she hadn’t gotten much sleep last night, and was nervously fiddling with her fingers as she looked down, kneeling before them as they stood.

In only slightly-clumsy, accented words, she readily admitted to very probably being the source of inspiration for the Avici radishes. Shu Lao and Zhong Hua had asked her for legends of creepy things from her home — the ‘hidden-leaf snake’ and jyola monster were also mentioned — and since Jin people loved stories, she hadn’t thought much of it. She did note that she had never given locations for the radishes, as she herself didn’t have that information.

However, while she didn’t know, she knew that gatherers from her home clan would, because they would need to avoid the areas tainted plants grew in. And, by a nice coincidence, they came to trade with Beishan monthly, the trip for which would only take about three to five days. Someone in the trade convoy was more or less guaranteed to have found and delivered them.

She had sent a message via falcon (a very typical mountain-folk thing), yet her family back home had not helped. Chu Ran and Zhu Li helpfully drafted her a letter for them that would help convince them to find the culprit on their end, not forgetting to mention that her life was currently hanging in the balance. Maybe that would spur them on.

Her background was unremarkable, as was her story for being accepted by Doctor San. She had accompanied a trading convoy once, then earned a spot as his disciple in exchange for rare civet jerky. (Zhu Li mentally dissed him for it.)

There was also mention of her reticence being due to the fact that she was a stranger in Jin, citing Zhong Hua’s rudeness as a main contributor. She had been wanting to leave the Blue Orchid Sect to head for home for years, yet Doctor San had guilted her into staying, stating that such feelings were rude.

Had she been allowed to leave at that time, she would have never brought the Avici radishes up, and none of this would have gone down the way it had. Ironic.

They left her, too. Back in the bleak, undecorated hallways, all the doors shut, Chu Ran said, “What do you think of all that, Doctor Zhu?”

“I think this is a mess,” Zhu Li answered, because that was the truth. While his own family and sect had their issues, they had never been this nonfunctioning.

“Indeed. At this point, I don’t believe we will be able to get all of the specific details, but they likely don’t matter. What we do need to figure out is how to weasel evidence against Shu Lao out of his accomplice.”

“…Was that what we were doing? You forgot to tell me.”

“Did I? Apologies. To be brief, during all that investigation yesterday, it became known that Shu Lao was behind the act. A cook that had been on duty the day of Han Wenkang’s poisoning was finally brought out due to all this familial chaos, then confessed that Shu Lao had paid her off to slip the radishes in. Questioning him further will be of no use, as I already tried, and he has been dreadfully unhelpful. The current problem is that he has never left sect grounds in the right timeframe, yet the money and radishes had to have gotten to him somehow; they couldn’t very well have walked themselves in here. A zhenren may be able to do that, but they’re all up much more North, I’m afraid.”

“You think one of the other three disciples did it?”

“More like one of the other two. As Biebie said, she never left enough to play the part of messenger. If she played a part at all, then it wasn’t a very prominent, or witting, one. Zhong Hua leaves the sect at night, Chao Su leaves it multiple times during the day; it has to be one of them.”

“Couldn’t it be some other disciple or servant?”

“Highly unlikely, if not impossible. The connected infirmary disciples’ quarters are locked with the same array as that supply room was. Not even Doctor San has the power to lift or interfere with it. There is the possibility that a token could be passed off to another, but that complicates matters beyond what the culprits would have liked. Being caught with the wrong token elicits heavy punishments and draws more attention, hm? It’s more likely that someone already hard-up for money agreed to this.”

Zhu Li nodded. After thinking about what little he knew about the details, he felt significantly stupider than he had before he had used his brain, though he still managed to grasp one point. “Is the woman Chao Su’s interested in relevant?”

“She must be, yes? He never brought her up. Ah, I can imagine why; although his family is currently in financial trouble, no self-respecting one wishes to be associated with those lowly women. Alas, the heart wants what it wants, and perhaps he was influenced by the open nature of jianghu… romantic, isn’t it?”

“Sure, why not.”

Chu Ran pouted at his lukewarm response. He was free to go gossip about romance or whatever with someone else.

“Regardless, I have a bit of an idea, a little technique that I am quite well-acquainted with. Perhaps we can play them off of each other until one lets slip more information. People will always throw others under the carriage to save their own skin, after all.”

Thus, a string of interrogations commenced between two rooms.

Chao Su: Expressed disbelief at Zhong Hua selling him out. Admitted to the fact, as well as the reasoning that Chu Ran had previously deduced. However, he pointed out that Zhong Hua sold the medical supplies she stole to those jianghu folk in Eternal Spring.

Zhong Hua: Called Chao Su many expletives. Also pointed out that he hadn’t said anything despite knowing she was stealing, thus making him an accomplice.

Chao Su: Claimed that he had only been doing so out of courtesy for her not telling others about Qi’r, on top of that Zhong Hua interacted more with the jianghu folk than she let on. Sometimes, she wouldn’t have anything to sell, but they would talk to and give her money anyways.

At that point, Chu Ran asked if they had ever seen their counterpart take anything other than money and booze out of Eternal Spring, even if it was something inconspicuous.

Chao Su: Clammed up again and denied everything.

Zhong Hua: Said that she had witnessed him getting presents from Qi’r; typically small favors like handkerchiefs or flowers, but occasionally wrapped-up bundles, too.

Chao Su: Sheepishly confirmed that he did indeed receive gifts from Qi’r, but he would have noticed if there were radishes or coins amongst them.

Zhong Hua: Remembered that in the days before Han Wenkang’s poisoning, Qi’r had gifted Chao Su a case of dried oranges. It had been small, but could have fit money or the radishes into it.

Chao Su: Faltered, admitted that that had happened, then claimed that it had really been only been the oranges, letting it sleep that he actually hated oranges, which Qi’r was aware of. Upon Chu Ran dryly asking if anyone had touched the case, Chao Su admitted that Shu Lao had eaten a good portion of it that very night. In fact, that was not the only case of disliked snacks she had given Chao Su, nor had it been the first time Shu Lao had eaten from them; she had gifted Chao Su no less than five over the four months prior to Han Wenkang’s death.

Qi’r knew he hated oranges, so she got him a case full of it to hide packages for Shu Lao, knowing that Chao Su wouldn’t touch or eat them enough to discover the ploy. Once unattended, Shu Lao would go in, get his prize, claim “Haha, sorry, I was just so hungry!”, then get away with it, because Chao Su was simply not very observant. If he had been observant, or at least hadn’t had his love-blinders on, he would have noticed that metal money was significantly heavier than dried fruit.

That answered the question of how the radishes and most of the money had gotten inside the sect. There was still a second question of how Shu Lao had known to search the cases, which Chu Ran didn’t much care about, and a third, more pertinent question of why it had been Shu Lao in the first place.

The Yin family had been brought up before, with Yin Dun and Chu Ran’s hint. It had manifested once again in Shu Lao’s former mentor. Masked Wasp and Yin Dun had shown up together, and now Masked Wasp’s subordinates had shown up paired with Shu Lao, in a brothel known for ‘jianghu ties’ — whose ties those were went without saying.

“Perhaps Zhong Hua is the one passing messages to Shu Lao, perhaps she is not. I will relay all of what we’ve learned today to Han Taisha; she will be mighty displeased, I reckon,” Chu Ran said as they left the holding cells, beaming wide.

Side-eyeing him, Zhu Li bluntly pointed out a discrepancy: “You didn’t need me for this at all.”

The other made a questioning noise, looking confused, as if he had just said something incomprehensible.

“You said something about wanting my help with interrogating. I didn’t even do anything.”

“What a silly thing to say, Doctor. You absorbed information, did you not? That’s certainly doing something. Besides, this work is so boring if I do it alone.”

“You could have brought Junyan for company, then.”

“She dislikes this stuff. It’s very taxing on her, to engage in such boring things.”

“…And you think I like them?”

“They’re relevant to you, yes? We all must do things that we don’t enjoy. Dear Junyan can be considered a deputy of mine, so she is informed of everything in time, anywho.”

Zhu Li had no rebuff to that. “Fine. If you just want me to tag along to listen in or keep you company, you can just say that from now on. No need to dress it up as me being useful. These three talked about everything but medicine, basically.”

“That is true. I suppose the main problem here is that I cannot predict the future; who knows whether medics would whisk out some terminologies or herbs I have no knowledge of… hmm. You will keep my company if I ask?”

“Mn.” Did he need to ask? They already interacted so much.

A strange, sly look then crossed Chu Ran’s face, giving Zhu Li a bad premonition.

“Our next plan of action is very clear, Doctor Zhu. Since you’ve so graciously offered, will you accompany me to the source of all these problems: the brothel?”


Never before in his life had he so swiftly regretted his words than he did this very moment.

Mercifully, the brothel didn’t open until the nighttime. While Chu Ran left to meet with Han Taisha, bearing what Zhu Li had written down for him, in order to tell her what he had manipulated out, Zhu Li went to visit Han Dao.

The boy was in the vacated infirmary. Despite everything, it was still the best place for treatment — the main Han branch certainly wasn’t going to let Doctor San and his disciples back into it, making it safe from them. When Zhu Li was led inside, he saw an older disciple by Han Dao’s bed, presumably to keep an eye on him for safety reasons.

He looked even worse than he had before, somehow. His eyes were shot red, the bags under them darker, and the instant he caught sight of Zhu Li entering, they glared hatefully.

Han Dao raised one very shaky, thin hand off of the bed to point at him. “This is your fault!”

The nearby disciple reached out and pushed down his hand easily. “Xiao Dao, that isn’t true. And you mustn’t be rude, he’s here to treat you,” the disciple said, thereafter turning to Zhu Li and cupping her hands. “Hello, Doctor Zhu. This one is Han Ziqiu. I believe you’re familiar with my little brother, Han Qi.”

That kid again? Zhu Li thought as he nodded.

“We’ve been giving Xiao Dao soups that are easy on the stomach, as well as some common herbs for nourishing the body. Beyond that, we aren’t sure what to do.”

“I’ll take a look.”

When he went over to Han Dao’s bedside, the other continued with his contentious attitude from the previous time they had met. “Don’t touch me!”

“We’ve been through this before. It goes faster if you get it over with.”


Zhu Li leveled the kid an unimpressed look. He remembered that little Zhu Pao had been hostile whenever it came to medicine, but at least she had waited until the medicine had actually existed. They were only in the diagnosing stage.

“Why don’t you want a diagnosis, Xiao Dao? That’s all he’s doing,” Han Shi spoke.

Han Dao’s lips pursed up tight. He wasn’t about to tell his secrets.

Alas, the boy was not exactly in any condition to refuse, so Zhu Li simply grabbed his wrist, probed his meridians, and ignored his pathetic attempts to fight back.

The mix from yesterday had faded a good amount, yet it should have been gone completely; Zhu Li chalked that up to his weakened body, which appeared to be processing food less efficiently. He could also detect acute weaknesses in the stomach and throat, likely caused by malnutrition and bile going the wrong way, on top of muscle atrophy from being bedridden. His meridians were formed and intact, but emaciated, barely flowing with qi. With sizable luck and a lot of time to recuperate, the boy might not have permanent damage from this.

It was not the mild poison itself that had harmed him, but its untreated side-effects that had been allowed to worsen, dragged out.

He said all of this aloud to Han Ziqiu, who took careful notes down, anger ever growing in his guts. Despicable ‘doctor’, despicable ‘mother’ — neither of them were worthy of the titles. He couldn’t even say that he hadn’t seen this scenario before, where caretakers abused one in their care. An unfortunate consequence of traveling and seeing a lot of the good in the world was having to witness a lot of the bad, too.

“As soon as he’s well enough to stand, he needs to get exercise in to build up his muscle mass,” he dictated to Han Ziqiu, while she wrote furiously. “The majority of what he needs is to heal what was damaged, which his body will do on its own with proper rest and nutrition. I assume his meals were already bland due to his poor health, so keep on that until he’s better, and slowly introduce spices or heavier foods. All I can prescribe are qi-rich roots and mushrooms that can help…”

Zhu Li trailed off at a weird sensation he suddenly felt on his hand. He looked down to see Han Dao ineffectively biting the hand that held his wrist, his weak jaw power not enough to cause pain to resistant cultivator skin.

Han Ziqiu squawked in surprise. “Han Dao, stop that! Are you a dog?! Apologize immediately!”

Unaffected, Zhu Li watched the boy attempt to use his molars, once his foreteeth had failed. They weren’t helping him in his relentless quest to free his arm.

“…improve qi intake and give more energy,” he finished, even though the kid seemed to have plenty of energy now.

“Many apologies, Doctor, I’m so, so sorry— why haven’t you stopped yet?!” Han Ziqiu yelled, punctuating her shout with a light slap against the back of Han Dao’s head.

The boy quit trying to bite, but pitched forward more than the superficial hit should have caused. Zhu Li let go of his wrist and caught him before he faceplanted into the sheets.

“Stop touching me!” Han Dao hollered as he partially leaned on him, wheezing hard, for that had taken all of his strength. “This is all your fault! Mom didn’t do anything!”

Zhu Li regarded the child’s riled-up state and the flush that dusted his shockingly pale face, leaning him back against the headboard. “Why do you think this is my fault?” he questioned.

“I know you said something, and because you said something, they took her away! You need to go tell them that you were lying! She didn’t do anything!”

Unfiltered denial. It was a shame that Zhu Li did not specialize in being a child or mental doctor; that might have equipped him better for conversations like this.

“Why do you think she didn’t do anything, when both she and San Wan confessed?”

“They had to have forced her to say that! She’s innocent!”

Han Dao was angrily tearing up. With an internal sigh, Zhu Li asked that Han Ziqiu fetch a handkerchief.

“When you took medicine, did you ever notice something odd?” he asked, patiently meeting those vicious eyes. “Like how you would seem to get sicker after you took it, not before?”

That glare faltered.

“Did you notice that before, point it out to your mother, and get ignored or told to be quiet?”

Han Dao bit his lip, gaze shifting away.

“San Wan only would have been able to poison you repeatedly if no one else ever checked your condition. Was that the case? Did you ever catch your mother turning anyone who could away?”

That gaze snapped back to Zhu Li’s face — Han Dao’s eyes were wide. He must have hit something on the head.

They both sat in silence for a few moments. Zhu Li could practically see the horses running amok through the other’s mind.

“Xiao Dao, it’s time to apologize, now,” Han Ziqiu used the lull to chide.

Before Han Dao could rally himself enough to mumble out some apology, Zhu Li waved them both off, moving away from the bed. “Ginseng and lingzhi are common supplements to take,” he said to Han Ziqiu. “I’ll still be in the sect for a while, so I’ll keep checking on his progress to see if anything further is needed. He still has contaminants in his system; if those aren’t gone by tomorrow, I’ll purge them myself.”

He gave an askance glance at the dazed Han Dao, and felt a bout of sympathy.

Mental blockades like Han Dao’s needed time to deal with. Aside from prods in the right direction that others could give them, the one suffering from them would have to overcome them on their own.

It was good, and bad, that he was so young. Maybe he would bounce back quickly from this. Maybe he would carry some scars that would fade, yet never go away.

That feeling of sympathy grew alongside a feeling of helplessness.

“Disciple Han Dao,” he said to him once more. “Think about your answers to my questions, think about how you’re feeling, and think of how to put both into words. If you want, you can tell your cousin here, or me when I come in tomorrow.”

The boy snapped out of his daze, huffed, and turned away.

“I’m sorry, Doctor. Xiao Dao has been very moody and ill-behaved lately. Your aid is greatly appreciated,” Han Ziqiu said.

“I didn’t do much.”

“Don’t be so humble! No one other than those criminals know how to interpret and identify what we find with a qi probe, other than something generically wrong. A good doctor is worth a thousand mediocre ones.”

He gave a blank look at her beaming face that had spilled such toadying words, words of which he wasn’t going to acknowledge. Flattery always made him leery.

Upon bidding them goodbye and leaving the infirmary, he looked up at the sky. He had at least two shichens before he needed to go, so… he might as well mentally prepare.

The author says: With this chapter, SnCr reaches 200 pages and 120k words. Damn.
This is such a technical chapter… not my favorite to write, but if I just went, ’They investigated. They found x x and x. Done,’ it would be a lot lamer.

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3 thoughts on “SnCr 23

  1. This was a great chapter! Lots of interesting things uncovered.

    And poor little Han Dao, finding out that your own mother, whom you love, and who you always thought loved and cherished you, has been keeping you sick on purpose would be so traumatising. That’s a lot for a little kiddo to deal with.


  2. Yay, thank you for the update! ^^
    I liked the interrogation part, it was written in an engaging way! And in the end it made our Doctor make a slightly thoughtless declaration to Chu Ran… I’m excited to see how it goes in the brothel 😀


  3. A conspiracy… Shu Lao really does win at being a very particular kind of unpleasant.
    And then they just continue to attempt to drop each other in it…
    Elder Wagu said that huh.
    Doctor Zhu is a very good doctor. I don’t blame the kid for biting mind, but he was alright nonetheless with the kid.


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