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At long last, they were leaving Beishan.
Well, perhaps not that long of a last. Travel time included, the visit had been maybe fifteen days, at most, considering they had set out at the middle of the month. It had simply felt like forever from how busy they had been in this place. They had come for a simple information exchange, and ended up with family drama, an unearthed past, some trinkets, one future job offer, a strange-looking commemorative cane, and an extra urn filled with ashes.
Chu Ran had stated that he held no interest in hearing his deceased teacher’s bones rattle in their luggage for six days straight, which wasn’t really something anyone could reasonably object to without insisting that he should be okay with listening to them. Thus, the Hans had cremated what little remained of her, then placed the cremains into a very pricey urn as both a sign of goodwill to its ally, and out of respect for an older-generation friend.
All of their luggage and supplies, having been gathered and replenished as needed, was piled into the carriages. At this moment, the returning party had its horses fully saddled and humans done up in tight-fitting travel clothes, and were just on the cusp of departing the Blue Orchid Sect from its main gate.
The overwhelming majority of their entourage was already mounted, their goodbyes and gratitudes having been said. Zhu Li alone remained off of Guhui, standing before Ren Zhuizhun, Han Xingyu, and Han Taisha, the last one standing more behind the other two, removed from the ongoing conversation.
The ongoing, almost one-sided conversation of elders gushing over their junior.
“With your permission, I would like to write you sometimes, Doctor Zhu. Our time here was too brief and filled with business talks for a proper first meeting of family, so I hope that keeping in touch will make up for this,” Ren Zhuizhun told him, smiling warmly.
Zhu Li nodded once.
“You must remember to tell me if you need or want anything, even beyond the case’s investigation. I am not saying that Sect Head Chu’s care is inadequate in any way, of course, but Beishan is home to many unique plants and materials that Zhongling does not have. I can send you a list at a later date, if you like, and you can see if you’d like anything.”
Zhu Li nodded twice.
“Speaking of which, now that your butt is planted in Zhongling and my butt is planted in Beishan for the foreseeable future, we can finally send regular letters, you and I,” said Han Xingyu. The relatively short woman was looking up at him with a smug grin, much resembling a little brat that wanted to kick his shins.
Zhu Li nodded thrice, keeping his smart comments to himself due to being in the presence of others.
“Are you breaking open garlic with your head, Jasmine? Did you go mute?”
Zhu Li did not nod a fourth time, raising a single brow at her. “It’s generally good manners to not interrupt when elders are talking.”
“Oh, right, how could I forget. Getting old means that everyone too much younger than me can no longer speak to me, ever.” Han Xingyu’s treacherous hand began to rise up towards his face. “Come on, you. You’re such a Buddhist idol, with that wooden face of yours.”
He blocked her encroaching fingers from pinching his cheek with two of his own, pushing them away with as much politeness as he could muster. “I can’t be made of both stone and wood at the same time, Elder Han.”
“Sure you can. We can even throw sand into the mix, since you’re dryer than a desert.”
“Xingyu,” Ren Zhuizhun warned with a sigh.
“Pah, I’ve known this kid for years. It’s fine.”
Twenty-five years old, and still he suffered the label of ‘kid’. Elders were respectable, knowledgeable, deserving of reverence, and frustrating in every regard, sometimes.
“By the way… I’ll be on the lookout for an opportunity, Mister Ren,” he told the one in question, some guilt lightly weighing on his mind.
Ren Zhuizhun nodded at him in understanding, still smiling.
Why was guilt on his mind? Because he had promised to make the Miasma Caves talk to Ren Zhuizhun when they came over, yet they had failed to show. Whatever they had been in a rush to speak to him about, it clearly hadn’t been that urgent.
Not too many words of farewell needed to be said here, and absolutely zero teary hugs needed to be exchanged, as this wasn’t an eternal parting of bone-deep friends or anything similar. Zhu Li got on Guhui, rode up next to Chu Ran, and initiated their trip therein.
The process of them leaving was no different from when they had arrived, except for some added stares due to where they were coming from. Unfortunately for the onlookers, there was not much to see, as convoys consisting mostly of blind folk (who didn’t care for opulence) and horses (who just didn’t care) were never set up to be visually interesting.
Zhu Li’s mind wandered as they trotted through semi-familiar streets, entering a near trance-like state as they all went along. He absent-mindedly took in the streets of Beishan, which were no less busy than typical Zhongling days, yet paved with different local stones. The buildings here were more spaced out and shorter than the center lands, the broad valley here demanding free room for rocks and unpalatable terrain. Everything was made with different materials, from the wood to the minerals, a common trait that he had never thought of prior to his travels. It was silly to think about in retrospect, but if one never knew any better, they would find it odd that not everything was made of the pine that was in abundance outside their childhood home.
The Miasma Caves were in a mountain valley, so all of their buildings had been constructed from pine with dark lacquer, the dark red rocks surrounding them, and red clay. Never had he seen a composition as dark as that since, even in other mountain communities. All this consistently lighter-hued architecture drenched his memories in a somewhat gloomy tint, by comparison.
On that same note, even the smells and sounds of other places were nothing like Miasma Valley. The birds never had the same songs, the local wildlife never had the same howls, the rivers never babbled the same way, the plants never had the same scents, and not even the food had the same aroma. A difference in spices paired with the unpredictable difference in how flours smelled when baked, that last one was.
It was midday, right at lunch time. The streets swarmed with hungry people thronging to food stalls, most of which smelled heavily of meat, barley, and garlic. Back in the Caves, there would be heat in the air from chilis at all times, as the valley grew full with a particular type of pepper. Spiciness of that caliber was not something any other pepper had been able to replicate, in his experience.
They were barely a fourth of the way through the city when he heard a familiar voice calling out to him, scratching against his patience.
Think of the Caves, and the Caves would come, apparently.
He turned towards the source of the noise. Lo and behold, it was Zhu Yaodong, running at him all harried yet again.
Of course it would only be after he was out of the big bad Blue Orchid Sect that this guy decided to show up again. He tugged on Guhui’s reins to get her to stop; the rest of the convoy couldn’t follow suit lest they receive a complaint about blocking traffic, so Xin Junyan shouted to him that she would have them all stop at the next square to wait for him.
“Fourth Lord!” the other cried out, huffing and puffing when his run ended few chi away from Guhui’s side. He bowed, his hands held out before him. “This one… hah… needs to speak to you still, I apologize for the inconvenience.“
Zhu Li looked coldly down upon him from his vantage point, back straight and eyes narrowed. He stared silently until Zhu Yaodong was visibly uncomfortable, fidgeting.
“You’re right, cousin. This is pretty inconvenient,” he stated, his tone dry to the point of chafing the ears. “I told you to come talk to me in the Blue Orchid Sect, which was when I had free time. I’m obviously in the middle of something right now. Be quick with what you want.”
Zhu Yaodong looked awkward at being spoken to so rudely, yet it wasn’t really his place to complain, was it? “My Lord, uh… we would not be allowed into the Sect, I’m afraid…”
“Yes you would‘ve. I told them to expect you, which you would have known if you ever tried the door.”
“That isn’t quite what I mean, ah… the elders would not be pleased with us interacting with unapproved parties, you know how they are…”
“They also wouldn’t be happy with you interacting with me, since I’m not a member anymore. You can quit calling me ‘Lord’ now.”
Zhu Yaodong wilted a little. “Well, yes, there is the rule, but… you were never officially excommunicated, so I don’t think that applies to you?”
Zhu Li felt his own face pulling downwards into a faint scowl. “Was that out of benevolence, or a lack of care to do the paperwork?”
“My Lord, please, there is no need to be angry,” the other practically begged, an imploring look on his face. “The rules are the rules, but the Eldest Lady may overturn them soon, regardless…”
“I know about the rules. It’s why I haven’t heard from any of you until a few days ago.”
Zhu Yaodong opened his mouth and inhaled to speak, yet stopped, the air getting caught in his throat. He looked confused, above all else. “A few days ago?”
“Yes. It was you.”
That confused look turned worried. “Zhu Airong never spoke to you?”
Zhu Airong? Zhu Heng?
He felt the scowl melt off his face, replaced with neutrality. This was the second time his most difficult sister had been brought up to him recently. “No.”
“She was sent soon after your trial to go speak with you, as ordered by the Eldest— are you positive she never found you?”
“Yes,” Zhu Li answered warily. A bad feeling was brewing in his gut, while Zhu Yaodong’s face grew panicked.
“But she never returned to the Caves. We thought it was odd that she was taking so long, but we assumed she was just staying with you… if she’s not with you, and not with us, where… where is she?”
A good question, indeed.
“I wouldn’t know,” he replied, slightly pensive. “What was she told to do?”
“When we learned of the trial, we also learned where you were, so she was sent to find you under explicit instructions to hide her identity, then come back after she told you what was going on.”
Hide her identity? If that old man they’d encountered once hadn’t been a fluke, she hadn’t hidden her identity at all, instead crowing about her name to random people on the street. It would fit her for two reasons: she hated her cultivation name, and she never bloody listened to instructions others gave her, especially if they didn’t come from their mother herself.
A part of Zhu Li was worried that something had happened to her. Another part of him had a hunch that she had merely sodded off to parts unknown, likely having seized this unheard-of opportunity to be outside amongst foreign plants or whatever went on in her head.
Always preferring to be around plants instead of people. Typical. So very typical of her.
“Why was she asked, out of everyone?” he questioned, annoyance lacing his tone. “You know how she is.”
“Well, the Elders were preoccupied with the game the Eldest is playing against the Sect Head — still are, really — while the other category that is typically allowed to leave, your main branch, was also mostly preoccupied. The Eldest and Second Ladies were dealing with the fallout, the Fifth Lady was forced into seclusion. This made the Third Lady the only one available for the task… and the eldest two were, um, tired of her making a fuss… she wasn’t enthusiastic about them being against the Sect Head…”
That was unsurprising. Zhu Heng had always been the most obedient to their mother, to a very strange degree that he had never understood. That obedience had never culminated into rewards for her, either, adding to the incomprehensibility that was her generally combative behavior, unreliableness, and anger issues.
“She’ll turn up,” Zhu Li concluded, perhaps unhelpfully.
“My Lord, you don’t sound very concerned—”
“There’s no point in being concerned,” he cut Zhu Yaodong off, sneering slightly. “You don’t know where she is, I don’t know where she is, and there isn’t anyone else that knows where she is, because she probably never told anyone where she is. This isn’t the first time she’s done something like this. It probably won’t be the last.”
“But what if it is the last time, and she’s… something’s happened to her?”
“Would you know where her body is, then? Would you be able to find it?”
Zhu Yaodong appeared conflicted, eyes shifting side to side to look at everything else. He was clearly uncomfortable. “N-no, but…”
“Just wait for her, then. She’ll turn up eventually, in some form.”
“My Lord, that’s… if this is because of your past friction, I feel as though you… should…“
Zhu Yaodong trailed off under Zhu Li’s intensifying glare, hiking up his shoulders in an attempt to hide. “W-well, alright, hopefully we’ll see something of her soon. Um, that aside, the other three asked after your whereabouts because they want to set up a correspondence. Will you be staying with that blind Chu for the foreseeable future?”
A twinge of irritation made Zhu Li’s brows automatically scrunch, and he glared at this clumsy-tongued man with new heat. “He has a name. You should know it, if you know of him. Did it leak out of your head, or are you painting the Caves in a bad light on purpose?”
“Ah… well, he is a Chu, and we’ve always known them to be a general bunch of villains—“
There came an abrupt whinny from Guhui, her ears pinned back as she shook his head. She must have picked up on her rider’s swelling anger, which was visually expressed upon him in the form of a prominent glower.
“Last I checked, the Caves still had some propriety in it. I didn’t know it decayed this badly in the years I’ve been away,” Zhu Li began dangerously, dragging his words out like how a serpent would slither through the underbrush. “I’ll remind you of the virtue known as gratitude, Zhu Yaodong; when someone saves your life, or the life of someone you know, you give them every courtesy you know how to give, because you wouldn’t be around to give them otherwise. That includes the bare minimum of naming them properly when you speak of them.”
If a man could shrink in the brine of an abrasive scolding, Zhu Yaodong would be a very shriveled sliver of pickled vegetable. As he should be. “I-I apologize for my words, Fourth Lord. You are correct, I should show respect to a benefactor. It was the history we all heard of and experienced before that colored my judgement…”
“There’s a Chu branch in Beishan. Our encounters with them have been few, but they’re, um…”
Zhu Yaodong cast him a cautious glance, still hunched over. Zhu Li motioned for him to continue with a hand.
“Well, they’re— they’re very odd people. Even though we’ve only seen them in passing, they have an odd aura about them. None of them are cultivators, yet they have this odd aura about them that I can’t describe. Their Estate is the same way, too. What’s really strange is that they never really do anything specifically that’s odd, it’s just the way they act, speak, and even move is… eerie. Between you and I, I’ve been on yao hunts before for major yao, and they give a similar feeling to the yao themselves. That doesn’t make too much sense, though…”
Hm. Zhu Li had always stuck to within Jin’s borders, so his yao experience was limited to minor instances. That might have credibility to it, especially considering how very unsurprising the idea of a Chu being unnervingly weird was — the whole damn family had weirdness in their bloodline. He made a sound of acknowledgement to Zhu Yaodong’s observation, idly petting the still-irritable Guhui’s neck.
“But, again… we’ve also heard stories of the bl— er, Chu Ran’s conduct, and when I met him with you the other day, he gave off a different eerie feeling. I just think you should keep your distance—“
Zhu Yaodong’s jaw shut upwards with an audible snap at the command. He cowered impossibly further, intimidated by Zhu Li’s renewed, biting glare.
Of course he was glaring at him. Who had sent this idiot that couldn’t stop talking to be a messenger? Who had sent Zhu Heng to do anything?
“I just told you to show him respect, yet you keep talking about him when none of you Caves people have any right to, and when he’s done more for me than you all have,” Zhu Li said darkly, tone dripping with an unsaid threat, a dare to say a single word more bad about Chu Ran.
“I-I apologize,” Zhu Yaodong stuttered out, looking at him bug-eyed.
Zhu Li held the glare for but a few seconds more, then let it go. His anger at this cousin of his could only go so far, as he knew better than anyone the distrustful and isolated nature of the Miasma Caves. Zhu Yaodong was just a result of his upbringing.
Plus, he didn’t feel like engaging with him anymore. It was time to fulfill his promise.
“Well, um, if you’re going to be at Chu Ran’s home, I’ll inform the Ladies,” Zhu Yaodong continued, bowing in farewell. “I apologize again for my rudeness, my Lord. Since your residence is confirmed, I will be taking my leave…”
“No, you won’t.”
Zhu Li punctuated his statement by abruptly dismounting, casually turning Guhui’s reins around her head so that he held them still. He stared at Zhu Yaodong as he approached him, step-by-step, until he was a mere chi or two away from him; his pitiful cousin was not nearly as tall as him, clearly cowed by the much taller man and horse, and practically squeaked when his right upper arm was grabbed.
He spluttered. “Zhu Li, what—“
“The father of the Blue Orchid Sect Head wants to get into contact with the Miasma Caves. You’re going to establish that connection for him,” Zhu Li ordered, the tone he used implying that there was no margin for refusal.
He could feel Zhu Yaodong subtly trying to get out of his squeezing grasp. “Wha… what would he wish to speak to us for?”
“There’s no way that you don’t know that his surname is the same as my father’s, so I’m going to ignore that. Come on.”
Tripping over his own feet as he was brusquely dragged in the opposite direction from whence the convoy had come, Zhu Yaodong began to stutter desperately about this not being allowed and some such, but it fell upon deaf ears. He was dragged, all but kicking and screaming, through the streets and straight to the Blue Orchid Sect’s main gate, whereupon he was thrown into the arms of a very confused older disciple.
“Mister Ren is expecting this envoy from the Miasma Caves. I would recommend making sure that he doesn’t run away,” Zhu Li explained briefly, remounting Guhui. “Also, cousin. Ren Zhuizhun is my father’s brother. Be sure to treat him with proper respect.”
Zhu Yaodong blanched. “Ren Nidan has a brother? What in the… Fourth Lord, wait!”
Zhu Li did not wait at all. He left his cousin to his fate, Guhui happily jaunting down the gray-slabbed road.
He went back down the road, passed the point he had been stopped at earlier, then continued onwards until he found the convoy awaiting him in a square. Upon spotting him, Xin Junyan, dismounted, called out to him when he came close. “You were gone for a while! What happened?”
“I had to dump the interruption off at Blue Orchid.”
She made a knowing sound. “Understandable.”
He scanned the convoy, yet didn’t find who he was looking for. “Where’s Yingliu?”
“He said he was bored and wandered off to the stalls around here. He shouldn’t be far.”
After a nod, he got off Guhui and went to survey the scene. Chu Ran wasn’t hard to find, as he was somewhat predictably perusing a stall peddling steamed buns.
While he was walking up, he noticed Chu Ran overpay for a bun from far away; there was no way one costed more than one coin, yet he had placed three down. The stall owner looked confused at the amount, then conflicted as he looked up. Eventually, he mouthed something to Chu Ran before he walked away with his singular bun.
“…Did I? How kind of you to point out,” Zhu Li heard Chu Ran say in response, once he focused his ears. “You may keep them.”
The owner nodded in confusion, insisted upon giving him at least two more buns, then sent him on his merry way. The interaction was strikingly odd, but Zhu Li chalked it up to Chu Ran’s chronic overspending-to-spite-my-sire habit.
Chu Ran turned to him upon sensing that he was close, smiling mildly. “Oh, hello, Doctor. Has everything been sorted out with your cousin?”
“Ren Zhuizhun is going to sort him out, yeah,” Zhu Li answered, honing in on the three buns held precariously in the other’s hands. “Are you hungry again?”
“I solemnly swear that I only wanted one, yet the shopkeeper insisted upon giving me my money’s worth. I shall have to indulge him lest the food goes to waste, hm? Would you care for one?”
“Sure.” He plucked one out of the bun pile. “Have you heard anything about my sister Zhu Heng recently? Cultivation name Airong? Or maybe just someone running around in the Miasma Caves robes?”
Chu Ran blinked a bit in surprise. “Oh? Hm… other than that old man with the vipers, I can’t say that I have. A Caves member being outside of the usual range would have definitely caused an uproar, all things considered… why do you ask?”
Zhu Li explained what his cousin had told him, as well as his own thoughts on Zhu Heng’s typical behavior. Chu Ran tapped his own chin in thought. “You would be the first told if I knew anything about her or this, Doctor. Trust me on that. When we get back to Zhongling, I will try to shake the vine for any possible information on her.”
Zhu Heng was a grown woman — her own words, not his — that loved to go off on her own in secret, so he could only be so worried about her. That didn’t mean that he wouldn’t at least try to set locating her into motion, in the event that something truly had gone wrong.
He idly looked down at the stuffed bun he held, which let off steam in the semi-cool day. “Zhu Yaodong mentioned the Chu branch that’s here, too.”
Chu Ran raised a brow, in the middle of chewing. He made a grunt of curiosity.
“He said that they gave him a weird and creepy feeling, even though they never spoke to the Miasma Caves, aren’t cultivators, and probably don’t practice enough martial arts to matter.”
The other swallowed his bite before replying quite flatly, “Well, that’s just to be expected. Those more in-tune with the Dao will sense when others are not, regardless of their counterparts’ cultivation status. Evildoers will always give off an aura of wrongness that worsens with each sin. I would argue that those that aren’t cultivators have the same ability; their gut instinct, if you will. The senses passed on from our ancestors give everyone the capability of subconsciously knowing when a dangerous predator is stalking us, or when someone’s act is just that, far before our active mind catches on. Have you not experienced similar, Doctor?”
He had. As a child, Miasma Valley had never given him a good feeling at night, despite having never run into danger, nor finding a source of the problem.
As such, he nodded at Chu Ran’s inquiry. “If I ask you why they’re evildoers, would you tell me?”
Chu Ran chuckled. It was not too kind of a sound. “If I did tell you, you would likely burn the Beishan Chu Estate down to the ground at once. And I’m afraid that I want a much slower, more thorough demise for them than that.”
Zhu Li frowned, but said nothing. That was around the answer he had expected. The unknown was no less concerning than the truth, unfortunately.
“No need to be so apprehensive, Doctor. You will come to know of their crimes eventually, though you may regret the knowledge. Just as I have.”
Although his words were foreboding, he kept biting away at his meat bun. The thought of the Chu’s had failed to deter his appetite, evidently.
“Speaking of those cretins, the poor part of leaving Beishan is that we will be in their immediate proximity yet again. How unfortunate. It’s the equivalent of living next to a garbage heap, or a communal latrine. I wonder what shenanigans they’ve been futilely attempting to get up to, in the near-month we will gone for?”
“You expect them to have made trouble?”
“But of course. Even without Masked Wasp’s partnership, their lack of brains and aptitude is partially made up for by their aggravating persistence and ill-gained riches. Throw enough money into the void, and some foul abomination will eventually spit something back at you from its depths. There’s certain to be at least a few nobodies that are actively doing their bidding for coin.”
Zhu Li frowned as he thought of something. “Is Chu Mei going to be okay?”
“Oh, yes. My sectmates are a bunch of louts, but they haven’t disappointed me. Yet.”
“…You keep saying things like that. Why don’t you like them?”
“Hah. That’s a long and very inane story, Doctor, but I will sum it up for you; my teacher was not born blind, but blinded, and yet held more promise than her born-blind sectmates. They disliked that, especially when the sect head’s seal was passed on to her. They disliked me receiving the seal upon her disappearance, too, mostly due to my age. Most of them are older, order of seniority and such. They neglect the primary facts that they are less talented than me, because that would ruin their nepotism narrative.
“I any case, I have never been close to any of them, nor do I have much of an interest in heading a gaggle of subversive twits. I thereby proposed a compromise with them: once they have fully aided me without question in locating Xin Yinhui, possibly eliminating her killer, and bringing the Chu’s unstoppable downfall upon them, I will leave the Xin Sect completely, which would free up the seal for them to fight amongst themselves over.”
Gods below. Was there anything good in Chu Ran’s life, except maybe his sisters? Would it be rude to ask?
Unsure of what to say, Zhu Li pat him tentatively on the shoulder.
Chu Ran was briefly taken aback by the motion. After that, he began to laugh, a brighter and brisker sound than that chilled chuckle. “Is this you feeling sorry for me, Doctor? There’s no need. After all, there will be no big losses for me in any of this, only profits.”
“If you say so.”
“I do. Now, I will warn you that after we return, I will be setting up a correspondence with Faux Fox. We may have to visit her in her burrow ourselves, since I’m sure she would want to get a look at you to find an imposter candidate.”
“Right. You got the imposter evidence you need for that?”
“Yes? Did I not tell you this already?”
Zhu Li paused to think, but nothing came up. “I don’t think so.”
Chu Ran dramatically smacked himself on the forehead. “Ah, what a fool I am. It must have slipped my mind. I have Junyan write things down and recite them for me, as regular ink is easier to come by than tactile ink… typically, I have her read lists to me before we retire for the night, but that isn’t possible if we’re not in the same area… anyways, excuses, excuses.
“On that day I helped interrogate the four infirmary disciples, I also had a talk with the infamous Han Yupan, the one that identified you as having fought with his mother, a younger brother of Han Taisha herself. Did you know that she has twelve siblings, by the way? I was aware that she had many, yet I never exactly stopped to inquire after how much. The oldest one is less than twelve years younger than her, too, so the late Han Wenkang was having children less than a year apart before she quit abruptly. That’s quite a lot, is it not? Perhaps too much? Perhaps I shouldn’t judge.”
Zhu Li raised his brows. Thirteen kids was too much. That wasn’t the subject they should be on, though, so he gave Chu Ran a little nudge.
“Hm? Oh, I’ve been sidetracked. That one time period that day involved a lot of waiting for others do to some dirty work, so I decided to interrogate Han Yupan. He was in the crowd for your exhibition match with the Sect Head, which means that he got a fresh look at your face, yet he still insisted that your face, stature, and sword are identical to that of the imposter’s. However, when I questioned him on the imposter’s demeanor, he described him as irritable, irrational, unpleasant, and scratchy-voiced.
“Now, the three prior descriptors don’t match you at all, but the fourth one is even more an odd one out. Your voice is not ‘scratchy’ in the least. On the contrary, it harkens to the lower notes on a qin… ahem, anyways. Han Yupan fully admitted that he heard your voice at the trial and knew something had been off then, but the pressure of his family added on with the Chu threat had prevented him from speaking. The lack of consistency in the disguise implies that while the disguiser knew what you looked like, they didn’t know you personally enough to copy your voice and personality.
“Since the disguise was superficially good enough to fool Han Yupan, we can assume that Faux Fox had a hand in making it, either herself or through tutelage. She may also personally know who forged the false Dusha. Masters of disguise need someone to make their toys for them, hm?”
Creepy, Zhu Li thought. Someone watched me enough to memorize my face, or…
“The paintings,” he suddenly thought aloud. “Zheng Tonghao’s paintings of me. Is that how?”
“That is a real possibility, if they used the same means to reproduce your sword.”
But who in the hell would know that she even had those? It had to be her paintings, too, with that conveniently-placed fire ruining the evidence, but as far as he knew, she had never gone around parading them in public.
Someone in the Zheng household must have known about them to have gotten to them. A paid-off servant, or one of the family members themselves.
Maybe Zheng Tonghao herself. But…
“Don’t be confused, Doctor. Things will be elucidated to us both, in time,” Chu Ran spoke up. His mouth had returned to its work on his cooling snack, while it could.
Zhu Li shoved all of his bad feelings aside, then gently led Chu Ran back to the convoy’s gathering. In the brief time his back was turned to him, Chu Ran had somehow inhaled the remaining buns without making unsightly sounds, which resulted in Zhu Li stopped in place, his hand on Guhui’s neck as he stared at him.
“Try not to get a stomachache,” he categorically commented.
Chu Ran mounted his own horse, then beamed at him, ever shameless. “My stomach is as strong as an army’s, Doctor. Now, we ought to be heading off. Snow could catch up to us every hour we delay our leave, and I don’t much care for the stuff.”
The author says: …I’m going to have to double-check the novel’s timeline in post.
3 thoughts on “SnCr 31”
After a hectic month I’m catching up on the chapters! 🙂
It’s great to see Zhu Li being so protective of Chu Ran ^^ His young cousin has indeed much to learn about manners.
So, there seems to be in-fighting going on in practically every sect… No wonder Zhu Heng run away the moment she was able to 🙂 I hope she’s alright though.
Even the branch of the Chu family does what the Chu’s do best: give off creepy vibes 😀 I really wanna know what’s wrong with them ^^
Guhui getting angry at Zhu Yaodong. Zhu Li: ‘oh she’s just responding to my own anger’. Me: *squints at suspiciously intelligent horse who recently befriended Chu Ran* Are you sure that’s it?
I’m kinda worried about Zhu Li’s sister mysteriously disappearing, given the other things we’ve discovered in recent chapters. 😬
I did also enjoy Chu Ran comparing Zhu Li’s voice to qin music and then catching himself.
Yes their time in Beishan has felt full long hasn’t it. Long and rich in happenings.
Han Xingyu does enjoy being a dreadful old woman huh.
The more I hear of the Zhu family nonsense the less I like of it. Seriously, in what world is oh yeah you’re not welcome back but it’s not like we properly disowned you, welcome news? Wow.
Zhu Heng… I mean I can guess at why but it’s still not great…
A gentleman of a serpent’s temper…
Ooh further gothic warnings about the Chu
Well that’s one way of dealing with an issue.
The possibility of (some, further) answers. Also currently eyeing that statement about throwing money into the void. hmm.
Thank you for the chapters!