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The pungent scent of sandalwood and opium shrouded their partitioned table, so cloyingly sweet and heavy, it was practically visible to the naked eye. Plumes swirled around the place from top to bottom, front to back.
Whoever had lit up the incense here was either attempting to cover up a stink, didn’t have working nostrils, was incompetent at their job, or simply felt like doing a bit of mischief against all of the patrons today.
Due to the prostitution ban, brothels that didn’t want to be underground could not legally be genuine brothels, but places of entertainment and chaste female company. Women would sing, dance, play instruments, recite poetry, play go or xiangqi, and chat with their clients, all intimate touches banned. If a courtesan were to engage in an intimate relationship with a man anyways, she would lose ‘value’, so to speak.
Even with the ban, there was no lack of sleazier brothels that operated precariously on the business model of: “Don’t tell anyone, or you’ll ruin it for everyone.” Worst of all, it could be hard to tell which ones were the extra-sleazy ones, as the state of business and decor were non-indicative of further wrongdoings.
A brothel with jianghu ties was somewhat of an oxymoron, as anyone concerned about Dao backlash would stay far away from them due to their association. They had to have some kind of strict adherence to the ban, but… if Masked Wasp’s cronies were around, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that he held some ownership of the place, perhaps total. He wasn’t exactly an upstanding man, so who knew how the place was run?
Zhu Li had never been in houses of ill repute like this. He knew that they could occasionally be information hotspots, sourced from either gossip or the words of drunk and/or enchanted men, but in his life prior to all of this, he hadn’t much cared about jianghu’s endless drama. No other aspects of these syphilis cesspits had ever appealed to him, either.
Ladies dressed up in delicately-embroidered, autumn-appropriate clothes floated to and fro, speaking with or cuddling up to clients, pouring wine. From their gait, they weren’t footbound, which was at least… something? Looking for good intentions in this place was like looking for jasper in a pigpen.
With only slight curiosity, he noticed some female clients and male courtesans. They were outnumbered by their respective opposites, sure, but they weren’t oddities. Due to how typical brothels were, they weren’t appealing to jianghu women. A jianghu-run brothel, however…
“There’s so many pretty girls here!”
He slowly turned to glare at Xin Junyan. She quickly stopped looking at the makeupped, decked-out courtesans to look back at him, then wilted in shame.
“Similar in fashion to the way I won’t allow you to bring back one of those noisy, smelly mutts, you are not allowed to bring any random people you take a fancy to back home. I have to vet them,” Chu Ran grumpily jeered at her, a hand to his forehead.
One of the perks of coming here was the schadenfreude of seeing Chu Ran, the instigator himself, be the one least having a good time. He had been complaining about the smell the second they stepped into this place, and had looked like he had a headache since, not once in the mood to taste the flowery wine poured for them. His blindfold, donned for the occasion, did not cover up an uncharacteristic grimace, the slouch of his shoulders, or the way he rested on his elbows against the table.
That schadenfreude was quickly wearing off, though. The more time stretched on and the less Chu Ran appeared to get used to the stink, the more compassion — and exasperation — Zhu Li felt for him. Curse his doctorly heart, he supposed. As gruff or blunt or humorless as he might self-admittedly be, none of that meant that he didn’t care about belligerent boys and disquieting characters alike.
The three were seated at a round table, partially separated from the other patrons via permanent screens. A vase of moonroses sat in the middle of the dark pearwood, accompanying the wine bottle; it gave him a bit of an idea.
He prodded Chu Ran’s shoulder, and the other turned to look at him. “Put your blindfold over your mouth. It’ll help with the stink.”
“It’s a blindfold, not a mutefold, Doctor,” the other answered powerlessly.
Zhu Li rolled his eyes. “Put your back to me, I’ll do it for you.”
Chu Ran did as he was told, twisting around in his chair so that the trailing tails of that red blindfold were facing him. In the meantime, Zhu Li plucked a few petals off of the roses, then passed them to him. “Rub the juice from these under your nose. It won’t block all of the smell, but it’ll help.”
After taking a cautious sniff, Chu Ran slowly nodded. “Roses… I missed their scent under all this ghastliness. A good idea.”
While he did that, Zhu Li set to untying the blindfold and taking the pins out of it, quickly freeing it. Being made out of thinner cotton, he doubted one layer of the cloth would block the smell, so he wrapped it around Chu Ran’s mouth and nose twice, then tied it lower on his head, sliding the pins back through hair and fabric.
Xin Junyan watched the whole scene with narrowed, and very judgemental, eyes. “Wow,” she said, dragging out the sound, “looks like you found yourself yet another person to take care of you, you big baby.”
A muffled tch was heard. “Yet another, you say? When have you ever cared for anything competently, dear sister? Mere plants die under your care, and if I was completely under it, I would have gone down to the Yellow Springs long ago.”
“Oh, drat. I could have had you bothering me less earlier. What a missed opportunity.”
“Silence that crow beak of yours, o speaker of inauspicious words. You would miss me if I was gone… hm,” Chu Ran trailed off as Zhu Li secured the improvised face covering into place. “I feel as though I’ve been muzzled. And this is awfully stuffy.”
“Just what you deserve, mutt,” Xin Junyan sniped.
“How’s the smell?” Zhu Li said, ignoring whatever was going on between them.
“Much better. Many thanks for the quick thinking, Doctor,” Chu Ran answered, turning to be face-to-face with him. Although there was no possible way to see his smile now, the genuine curve of mirth in his eyes was unmistakable. “I decided to wear the blindfold on account of Junyan telling me that I could run an opera alone with all the faces I make. It should have made me more unreadable… ah, well.”
“I can find something else to wrap around your eyes. Maybe Junyan’s hair ribbon.”
The woman in question glared at him. The look read: I didn’t offer that up for sacrifice, friend.
“That simply would not do. My face would be nonexistent, at that point,” Chu Ran replied.
“Sounds good, ugly. Here, take it,” Xin Junyan mocked, exaggeratedly reaching up to take off her ribbon.
His brows wrinkled hard in response. He didn’t grace her with a verbal answer.
Zhu Li scanned the crowd in a want to see their targets, yet failed. “I don’t see Masked Wasp’s cronies anywhere.”
In a completely unhelpful manner, Chu Ran riffed, “Neither do I.”
Xin Junyan groaned in pain. Possessing more self-discipline, Zhu Li schooled his expression; he wasn’t going to give that an encouraging reaction.
“Anywho, at least one will show up eventually. They may even deliver themselves to us of their own accord; word spreads so phenomenally quick in jianghu, they must know that we’ve arrived here.
“In the event that they hide away in their shells, refusing to come out, I certainly won’t fear messing this fine establishment up. Perhaps the potential renovation expenses will inspire cooperation. Were only one of them to show up, that would be perfect.”
It did take a second to process, but Zhu Li soon had an epiphany: Chu Ran was probably planning to kidnap someone again.
Like predators lying in ambush, they waited for someone matching any of the five descriptions to walk in or show up from some other depths. Guests came and went, weak wine was repeatedly downed, and bored sighs came from Xin Junyan for an indeterminable amount of time, until a short and round man came in.
Chu Ran straightened up. “Oh. I believe I know which one he is.”
Masked Wasp’s anonymized name was not a convention limited to him; all of his lackeys were Adjective Nouns, too. When it came to how intimidating, powerful, or stylish those names sounded, that depended on both what the name was, and who it was applied to.
This short, squat, roly-poly man was named Gold Pill.
It was an awful title to begin with, since the name of some legendary immortality granter was not really meant to be applied to a person, but adding that onto how much he was shaped like a pill just seemed like a blatant insult. Did they pick out their own names, or did someone else do it? Maybe he was embracing it.
The three of them watched as the short man took his own seat within view of them, was served wine, and proceeded to flirt with the courtesan who poured it.
Xin Junyan quieted her voice. “How are we going to do this?”
“He first must be gotten alone, and soon, before possible friends show up. Worry not; I have an idea. All we need to do is find the most miserable courtesan here, whereupon the rest will fall into place.”
Zhu Li was quite content to do nothing in the face of this scheming, calmly sipping the wine. He wasn’t normally much of a drinker, and this vinegar water swill was absolutely not convincing him to pick up the habit. The only reason he was drinking it was to blend in better; it would be at least a little suspicious to be present in a place like this without having interest in either the courtesans or the drinks, the latter of which was a lesser of two miseries.
“Ah, that one right there, with the oddly-shaped hair,” Chu Ran eventually said, gesturing behind him at a certain courtesan that was all alone as she stood to the side, idly retrieving another set of drinkingware for new guests. “Go get her, Doctor Zhu.”
Caught off guard, Zhu Li blinked in surprise, moving to look at Chu Ran’s profile. “Me?”
“Him?” Xin Junyan emphasized, wide-eyed. She caught herself a bit too late, looking repentantly at Zhu Li. “No offense meant, Doctor, it’s just…”
It was just that he was not much of a romantic, nor a flatterer, nor a wordsmith that could weave poems together. This wasn’t an insult, it was a fact, and one that he had long known about himself. Sending him to charm anyone or play diplomat to difficult people was an awful idea.
“Yes, him. Women like handsome men, right? Do attractive people not get a pass in more things than the average person? Given that I go try it, she would likely be put off by the eyes and this mask. The courtesan may not allow women, making Junyan a poor candidate. As soon
Xin Junyan gave a long-suffering sigh. “Ran, you don’t even know if he’s handsome.”
“No? How bizarre. I seem to recall you telling me that he—“
She shot up out of her seat, pushing the chair back with an audible screech, wound quickly around the table, bodily hauled the stunned Zhu Li out of his seat, then gently shoved him in the courtesan’s direction. “Okay, point made! Go invite her over!”
He turned his head back to stare at her incredulously, while she proceeded to not care, planting her rump nonchalantly back down in her seat, smiling shamelessly at him. Back to him, Chu Ran offered no help whatsoever, instead choosing to drink.
Sighing internally, he turned off his ability to care, then approached the courtesan with a swish of his robes. Once he was close enough to cause her to look up, he asked with all the tact of a charging elephant, “Excuse me, Miss. My friend at the table over there wants to speak to you.”
She looked him up and down very, very slowly, gaze meticulously raking down his body to the point that he had to suppress a scowl.
I’m not the courtesan here, yet I’m the one getting ogled, he thought, quite displeased. For the greater good, I guess.
Once done with her evaluation, she had but one question: “Pray tell, Customer, why did he not come over himself?”
He furtively glanced back out of the corner of his eyes. “Shyness.”
The courtesan’s face said “Oh, really?” for a brief second, after which she flashed him a half-hearted, demure smile, and bowed her head once in acquiescence. Not once did she bother glancing back at his two companions, nor looking around for them.
Mission successful, he quietly led her back to the table, then escaped into his own chair, leaving the other two to finish speaking to her. He could see the confusion all over her face from having been summoned by a blind man, and further from the lone woman’s interest in speaking to her. Zhu Li, comparatively, wanted as little to do with this as possible. He had been left out of the loop of Chu Ran’s grand plan (or perhaps grand whim), and the less he stuck out here, the better. Were word to get back to his sisters at home that he had slunk into a brothel of any sort, they would violate their sect’s prohibition to charge out and skin him alive.
Getting skinned for a genuine crime was one thing; getting skinned for a misunderstanding was another.
Anyhow, he watched as Chu Ran motioned for the courtesan — who had introduced herself as Die’r — to lean down, bravely risking the smell of bad incense by lowering his improvised mask. She looked confused, yet did as told, stooping over to place her ear nearer to his mouth. He proceeded to whisper unknown things to her; after not too long, her eyes flashed and widened for but a moment before resuming modest neutrality, whereupon she would whisper some things back. Even though civilians were typically not great at talking in dampened tones, being in a place like this must have given her the skill for it.
Die’r eventually straightened up, gave a slight bow to them, and gracefully glided away to another part of the brothel, vanishing from their limited sight. The drinking set she had been preparing was summarily picked up by some other courtesan.
Chu Ran leaned in closer to Zhu Li, ready to offer up information on his own volition. “I convinced her to get Qi’r alone into a room for use as bait, following which Golden Pill will be lured into the same room. Beauty-loving men, yes? When that time comes, we strike.”
“How did you convince her?” Zhu Li whispered back.
“With money and a better opportunity, of course. What else could someone that hates their job possibly want?”
A little while later, Die’r reappeared with a flower in hand, unruffled. She calmly went straight for Golden Pill, and was seen to speak to him quietly, handing over the flower. In response, he gained a godawful look on his face, eagerly rising to follow her down the same path she had taken before.
The three waited for a time. Die’r returned once more, came to their table, bowed, and said to them all, “The private room you esteemed guests requested is upstairs. Please, follow me.”
Drinks abandoned, they followed her away and up the stairs to a hallway of rooms. In the middle of them walking down it, she blatantly pointed at a door, then passed it right on by for a different one, which she opened for them. “Here you are.”
“Many thanks to you, Miss,” Chu Ran breezily said. Die’r nodded and walked off to parts unknown, while he went and shut the door without ever stepping a foot inside, quickly turning to lean back in near his companions. “Junyan, you will be dealing with the woman; grab her, jump out, and run back for the sect. No need to worry about us, and the door guards have already been warned to expect something like this. Doctor, you must be good at tying bandages, yes?”
“Is tying rope much different?”
“…Yes.” It’s very different, you weirdo.
“Well, would you be able to tie it?”
Chu Ran chuckled darkly, the muffling making it even more sinister. “Then I’ll have to ask you for your help in this.”
They detoured back to the door that had previously been gestured at, opened it, and charged inside, two aggressive, one hanging back.
A courtesan that had to be Qi’r was grabbed before she could make a peep, her mouth covered with one hand as Xin Junyan’s other arm lifted her like she was nothing but air. These private rooms conveniently had balconies, as most entertainment places worth their salt did, so she kicked open the door, leapt off, and disappeared into the night’s darkness below, not a sound coming up.
Golden Pill, on the other hand, was an actual martial artist-slash-mediocre cultivator, so he managed to react in time with a squawk, dodging Chu Ran’s drawn sword to draw out his own. What he hadn’t been expecting was for someone else to dart behind him and kick the back of his calf, causing his leg to give out, which in turn caused him to stumble.
He rallied himself as well as he could have, given the ambush. His next move was to attempt to yell out for help, only for him to see some phantom that made him dodge away — Shenhuan at work, surely. Following that one move, Zhu Li had mostly backed off to avoid getting in Chu Ran’s way, Dusha drawn. Guarding the balcony so that Golden Pill couldn’t make a clean getaway himself was imperative.
Similar to what had happened with Han Wagu, Chu Ran chased the man all around the admittedly not-very-big room, landing several major slashes to his extremities while dancing away from misaimed shots. Chu Ran would stab, Golden Pill would underdodge and get stabbed. Chu Ran would slash, Golden Pill would move the wrong way and get slashed. Chu Ran would weaponize some burst of qi, Golden Pill would fail to see it entirely, getting a nasty lump for his troubles.
That last piece was particularly interesting. So, it wasn’t just the sword’s movements that were obscured, but all of Chu Ran’s movements made while it was unsheathed. What else was it capable of?
Golden Pill took a rather bad fall, landing so hard on his back, the wind was knocked straight out of him. Not letting that opportunity go to waste, Chu Ran darted over to stomp hard on the man’s neck, eliciting a strangled choking sound from him, as well as the release of his sword, which was quickly kicked away. In advance of him attempting to grab Chu Ran’s offending leg, the latter twirled out of his range.
Quickly rolling to his feet in a squatting position, Golden Pill’s hands dashed into his clothes, pulled some sharp things out, and threw them in random directions by the handfuls, his actions full of rash fury, devoid of any sort of pattern.
Patterns and precision were easy to predict. The lack of structure in randomness was not. The master should always fear a fool’s luck, for it didn’t abide by the rules.
Being a significant distance away, Zhu Li merely blocked the objects — thin daggers, by the looks of them — but Chu Ran was not so fortunate. Although he evaded, blocked, and even reflected the majority of them, Zhu Li could clearly see a few pierce through his clothes.
A major rule of jianghu: The smaller the weapon, the less it could be trusted to not be poisoned. Alarms sounded off in his head.
The few that Chu Ran had reflected forced Golden Pill to pause in his wanton throws, allowing precious seconds for the other two to subdue him. Swift as a serpent, Zhu Li stepped in to thwack Golden Pill hard against the back of the skull with his hilt — the man realized too late that he had even approached, bearing the full force of the blow, to his great misfortune.
His face was launched forward so hard, both his nose and the tiled floor were heard cracking each other to pieces, accompanied by the appropriate dull sounds. His arms thudded to the ground beside him, floppy and useless the instant the impact was made, and his previous squatting position now put him in a pseudo-kowtow with his big behind up in the air. From the way he had stopped moving, that decisive hit had knocked him clean out.
Or… it had killed him.
Zhu Li calmly checked his pulse. He was alive, which was good, because this entire trip would be rendered moot if he had accidentally killed their information source. Without further fanfare, he brought out the rope, kneeled down, then hogtied him tight.
A cough was issued when he was finished. He stood as he looked up at Chu Ran, who had since sheathed his sword, pulled the mask off of his face so that it hung around his neck, and opened his mouth like he was going to speak in the after-fight pause, yet ended up closing it with a laugh. On the contrary, he walked over to Zhu Li, encircled his right upper arm with his hands, gave it a couple squeezes, and made a drawn-out ooo sound.
What in the hell.
“That seems to be accurate,” Sir Grabbyhands announced out of context.
One by one, Zhu Li coolly pried his hands off of him, leaving them in limbo. “It’d be nice to know what’s going on in your head, sometimes.”
“The inner workings of my mind are of interest to you? Very well; I knew you had to be strong, based on the aura you give off and the stories you tell, I simply wasn’t aware of how. Physical size may not mean too much to cultivators, yet it is still a side effect. That fight with Han Taisha was too out of my range to get a proper feel for it back then… say, did you mean to flatten his face out like this, or did you underestimate your own strength?”
“It’s more like I overestimated his strength. I expected more defense, since he was alright at fighting.”
“Fair enough. Hopefully, his brain hasn’t been scrambled too terribly, and something useful can still be mined out of it.”
Zhu Li made a noise of acknowledgement. “Did his weapons get you?”
“Hm? No, I don’t believe so.”
“Let me make sure. They might have been poisoned.”
Chu Ran didn’t resist the suggestion, offering up his wrist for the examination. Thankfully, Zhu Li found no poisoned wounds, but he did find clear signs of onset qi strain.
Well. That explained the other’s restless nights.
He hadn’t examined Chu Ran before this on account of it not being requested of him, and sleeping problems being common enough to not typically warrant it. Further examinations had not been off the table for the future, he just hadn’t expected this opportunity to come so soon.
“You’re not poisoned, but I do need to talk to you about something,” he concluded, letting go of the other’s wrist.
“How ominous,” Chu Ran commented cheerfully, skillfully moving the room’s luohan to blockade the door. “Good timing, though. I hear a commotion coming our way from the commotion we made. Shall we scoot? Mind the blood and filth as you carry him. He is not exactly a hygienic man.”
Zhu Li raised a brow. “What are you doing, then?”
“Picking up Miss Die’r to bring her with, of course. Courtesans always wield the best gossip, and there’s no better information than that which relates to Masked Wasp. She’s bound to know at least one or two things that can put an irreparable damper on his reputation.”
After hefting Golden Pill over his shoulder like a sack of rice, leaping off the balcony, sneaking through backstreets, then delivering the mangled-face package to the Blue Orchid Sect for them to deal with, Zhu Li returned to their guest courtyard for well-deserved rest time. To be quite honest with himself, he was too introverted for all of this interrogative/kidnapping junk.
His housemate quietly entered after not too long, conveniently timed for when his nightly medicine was nearing completion. The man was humming an unknown tune, pleased as plums.
“Satisfied with something?” Zhu Li commented, not looking up from his work at the stove.
“Beyond! It’s been quite a productive day. Is my nightly bark juice ready?”
“Yeah. Sit down.”
Chu Ran happily obeyed his command, taking a chair at the table, whereupon he went straight to the talking. “The closer we get to putting the pieces together, the closer you get to freedom, and the closer I get to my own goal. It’s all very exciting.”
“Your own goal being the downfall of your own family and everyone associated with it, right.”
“Goodness, Doctor. When you put it like that, I sound like the dastardly one, here.”
Zhu Li wordlessly poured the finished decoction into a bowl, carried it over, and placed it in front of the other man, before taking a seat himself.
“Do you think me unfilial?”
Caught off guard, Zhu Li looked at him in bewilderment. “Where did that come from?”
“It’s simply something I was wondering that you reminded me of. Feel free to be as honest as you like.”
Chu Ran wasn’t smiling, which was an even worse sign than when he was. His head was bowed somewhat, eyes hooded. Zhu Li would have thought that he was staring into his reflection in the bowl, had he not known better.
He thought very, very, very carefully about what he was going to say next, aware of how sour this could go with a single careless word. Being unnecessary in language wasn’t his thing, luckily.
“Respect is earned, not given,” he started off with, cautious. “Filial piety begets mutual feelings. If the parents don’t put effort into raising their children, no one should be surprised when the children don’t effort into caring for their parents. If the parents are actively hostile or neglectful to the child, no one should be surprised at the obvious conclusion of that, either.”
A grin crept onto Chu Ran’s mug. “I may or may not be actively ruining my father’s reputation with the truth, therefore losing face for the whole family. I also may or may not have drawn criticism for doing that in the first place, and might even be receiving judgement, despite being the one to bring all of this to light. One’s rotten, so the rest are spoiled, yes?”
Zhu Li scowled. “Guilt by association. Ignore them.”
“Oh, I will, and have been. I was curious as to what you thought of it.”
“Because of the comment? It was sarcasm.”
“Of course, of course. Now, you said that you wanted to ask me something?”
“Yeah, I found the cause of your night movement. How often do you use your qi sense?”
Chu Ran’s brows raised. “At every waking hour, I estimate? Using it is how I perceive the world.”
At least he was honest. “You’ll have to cut it back from now on. The constant use is straining your meridians in increments and depleting your reserves, which can permanently harm your health over time, as well as disrupt your internal systems. Your poor-quality sleep is just one symptom of many you could have. How is your appetite?”
“Ah… it can be random. Some days I eat too much, other days I eat nothing at all.”
“That’s another symptom. If you keep this up, your cultivation might be affected, your senses might dull, or your meridians might tangle.”
Chu Ran looked surprised. “It’s that serious?”
“It can be, over time. You should get into the habit of setting two shichen aside at the minimum for rest. How long do you usually sleep?”
“Three or four shichens?”
“Cultivators are supposed to sleep more efficiently than that at two or less. That might also be a symptom of the strain, since you’re forcing out the qi that aids with sleep all day. Once you recover some with rest, you’ll sleep less, and better.”
Chu Ran nodded, but looked unsure. “I… don’t know if I would be able to set aside that much time. Every day has been so busy, lately.”
“You need to do everything with your sense up?”
“I need… most things.”
Zhu Li leveled him with a look, causing the other to squirm from the pressure alone. “Be less busy, then. Foist busywork onto Junyan or whoever, schedule less for your day. If you don’t address this immediately, you’re going to regret it.”
“But this medicine helps, right?” Chu Ran asked, gesturing to the bowl still before him.
“It’s only a balm for the wound. If you don’t fix the source, you’ll never be free of it.”
The other looked troubled. “Understood, it’s just—… I don’t know where to begin, with that request. Could I put it off until later?”
A pained sigh was heard, following which Chu Ran picked his bowl up. “Alright.”
Zhu Li observed his expression. The other man was not great at keeping his face blank, which was a nice bit of balance between them, since Chu Ran could sense his with no issue.
“What’s wrong?” he prompted, identifying a vexed look.
“Oh, nothing, nothing much.”
Terrible liar spotted. “It relates to your health, so tell me.”
“It’s really nothing, just… how do I describe it? Saying that I need to turn off my qi sense while I’m still awake is similar to saying that I need to turn my ears off. I can’t conceive of it. With it, I know how others feel, what not to run into, where I’m going. Going without it for two whole shichen is an order perhaps too tall for me to take.”
“You don’t have to take it all at once. Turning it off in shorter breaks would still be resting, though large chunks work better.”
Chu Ran made a contemplative huh, downed the medicine, then washed the taste away with tea, freshly-poured. “That, I can work with.”
Satisfied with that much, Zhu Li nodded once at him, getting up and going to clean the medicine’s aftermath. When the remnants were dumped in the compost outside and utensils cleaned off, Chu Ran suddenly called for him.
Zhu Li looked over at him while he wiped his wet hands off on a rag.
“Now that I’m thinking about it, I have no despicable schemes for tomorrow.”
“Really,” Zhu Li deadpanned. “You’re not going to kidnap someone else?”
“Not yet,” Chu Ran replied, smiling genuinely, “but I am being serious. The Han family has its answers as to who helped murder the former Sect Head, and Han Taisha will no longer be worried after power grabs, meaning that the Blue Orchid Sect’s full, if begrudging, support is guaranteed. The interrogation of Golden Pill, Qi’r, and Die’r will grant some inevitable dirt on Masked Wasp, which is the sect’s job, not mine — if they can’t do this much without my help, they’d be hopeless. Since we already struck first, time is no longer an issue, so those interrogations can take as long as is needed. For tomorrow, the day after that, and the day after that, I have nothing much to do but loiter around and get fat off the others’ food. As a guest, my voice must not overpower the host’s, hm?… Oh, what’s the apprehension for?”
Zhu Li furrowed his brow in the aforementioned apprehension. “It’s… the carriage?”
The smile vanished. “Ah. The carriage, yet.”
An unspoken question was left to hang in the air. Eventually, Chu Ran merely sighed, rising from his seat.
“The carriage will not exactly be rolling off on its own anytime soon. Besides, I have to think about it. Grandma Han has no clue on if it’s even relevant to my teacher, so… I must consider what to do. Perhaps a search will need to be planned.”
“…Take my advice: Don’t call her Grandma to her face.”
“The idea is tempting. In any case, I have a tiny bit of a proposal for you; how about we go to the market tomorrow?”
Zhu Li raised a brow. “The market?”
“You said that you would make me that odd tea and the… sanba? That isn’t right, is it?”
“Yes, that’s the one.”
“If you want. As long there’s someone peddling barley flour, I can make it.”
He narrowed his eyes at the face-splitting smile Chu Ran put on. Was he that excited over some common mountain food? Or was it something else?
His suspicion grew bigger, germinating, threatening to sprout a root.
The author says: Maybe he just wants to spend time you dude.
Zhu Li is a handsome man. He isn’t fond of that being focused on, which is why I, as his creator, will continue to torment him by constantly forcing the story to point out his looks
3 thoughts on “SnCr 24”
Chu Ran: I have nothing planned for tomorrow, let’s just have a nice day out.
Zhu Li: *instantly suspicious*
And I love how most of the time Chu Ran is just, well, Chu Ran, and Zhu Li is all “you’re weird and frustrating, my dude” and then just rolls with it. 😆
But Chu Ran having to switch off from using his qi sense for chunks of time sounds like it would be horrible for him – that’s how he senses the world! Turning it off would be so unnerving, like sensory deprivation, even if it’s just for a little while, and it must be so automatic for him to use it that not using it sounds like it would be hard to do. On the other hand, at least he has Zhu Li who a) is able to discover the root of the problem and b) cares enough to insist that he look after his long-term health.
So, the brothel plot was a “typical Chu Ran” plot: kidnap first, ask questions later… Haha, it’s so in character for him I don’t know why I was expecting anything else ;D
I loved all the “little” things mentioned in this chapter:
– Zhu Li helping Chu Ran with his sensitivity to smells,
– Chu Ran letting Zhu Li examine his pulse,
– The revelation about the cause of Chu Ran’s sleeping problems. Dude really needs to let it go and relax sometimes ^^
-All the parts when their conversation turns from teasing to serious 🙂
Chu Ran really does enjoy his crime.
Gold Pill sounds amazingly naff as a name wow. Like who thinks that’s an impressive name.
Also good recruiting strategy hope Die’r gets something better out of life.
Well that bit of health information won’t come back to bite anyone ever I’m sure.
Maybe Chu Ran realised you don’t enjoy high octane criminal shenanigans and thought that something more sedate would be nice to do together.