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Remaining neutral in expression, Chu Ran nodded, then gestured for the concerned servant to continue leading them along. Once they were seated next to each other in their room, secured it, and Faux Fox had wisely made herself scarce, he leaned his ear in near him again. “Do elaborate, but be as quiet as you can. We are not in the safest of territories.”
Zhu Li nodded, also leaning in as near as he dared. “Zhu Qiongqi is her name. She’s a cousin of my mother and a known gossip, though unintentionally.”
“Unintentionally? How are you an unintentional gossip?” Chu Ran echoed skeptically.
Zhu Li hesitated. This was somewhat sensitive family information that didn’t seem quite right to speak about, but… well. An ironic concern, considering who the subject matter was.
“It’s a long story. She used to be a high-ranking elder that had access to a lot of classified information, but received a severe head injury in a yao attack. My mother described her as having been cautious and reserved before, impulsive and with no filter after she recovered. Even though she was still powerful and intelligent, her inability to keep secrets or make rational decisions lost her her former occupation due to security concerns. She’s still an elder, just not one with actual power.”
“Interesting. And she’s here? With which family?”
“The Yins. She’s wearing their uniform and hanging off of a man I don’t know.”
Chu Ran hummed. “Marriage seems more likely than her going turncoat. Although, depending on who you ask, the distinction between the two is fuzzy.”
“That’s what I was thinking. But that doesn’t explain how they came to meet in the first place.”
“Did you not say that elders are allowed out for business to Dongqiu? Perhaps she went there on one, met the Yins, and the rest is history?”
“That would make sense. I don’t think she was allowed to go on those expeditions, though.”
“Then perhaps she just left, like you. We will never know for certain unless we ask her directly, I believe, and if what you’ve said is true, she may readily tell us?”
Zhu Li frowned, the crease between his brows deep. “Right.”
He didn’t need to be told what was going on here to know.
While Zhu Qiongqi’s intel was old, it didn’t need to be new. She had somehow come to marry into the Yin family, which had been followed by her eventually blabbing about things from the past to her husband, her in-laws, or just the wrong ears in general. The act had been done thoughtlessly, not in malice. Perhaps it was just fate for this to happen.
“If the Yins are in cahoots with Masked Wasp, and Zhu Qiongqi knew that Ru Yeying was my mother…”
The words flowed out of his mouth in a steady, unstoppable current. Corking them wouldn’t be worth the effort. “I was wondering how he could have possibly known I was related to Ru Yeying. I guess I know now.”
“Information is one of the most valuable commodities in jianghu, if not the most. Everything gets out into the air eventually,” Chu Ran breezily commented. He leaned back and away from him, his shoulders resting on the day bed’s wall. “How silly it is that her information is likely forty years out of date, yet exactly relevant to today.”
Faux Fox quickly opened the door and poked her head into the room. “Hey, you two. I found Yin Ru. Yin Li is nowhere. It seems too weird that he would disguise himself if he didn’t know we were coming, so he might just not be around.”
A hand waved through the air, belonging to the resident habitual hand-waver. “That’s fine. One is all we really need. Doctor, do you mind going out and seeing which one Yin Ru is, before we run out of time?”
Zhu Li nodded, getting up and following Faux Fox out without a word.
They were in one of the many hallways lining the Hall’s perimeter. In the middle of the building, surrounded by three floors of banisters, was the main meeting room, which bore several small-ish tables conducive to discussion. A sea of gold and blue uniforms could be seen; gold tended to clump with gold, and blue with blue.
They came out from the hallway, where Faux Fox randomly grabbed his arm. “I see him,” she said, staring off to her left. “Stand right here. Face away. Act like you’re not paying attention. When he comes over, make sure you get a good look at his expression. And keep your core steady.”
He looked at her like she had grown six arms. “What?”
“Just do it,” she said, annoyed, and disappeared into the crowd with zero explanation.
Grumpy as the blunt orders from a stranger made him, he obeyed. A faraway plant was his choice of target for temporarily staring at, his body angled away from where she had gone to, tensed so that he was as unmovable as a mountain.
A few uneventful minutes passed. He noticed glances shot his way — those by the Dongs curious, those by the Yins narrowed — but no one approached him.
Slow minutes passed. The exact moment he started to suspect she had just ditched him here and run off, a burst of noise that sounded conspicuously like a man shouting in shock came from behind him, after which something heavy bore down upon his shoulder in a heavy hit. Faux Fox’s previous order was all that prevented him from being barreled over by the sudden weight, though he still stumbled a little.
On reflex, he elbowed the object that had fallen on him, knocking it away from him. For some reason, it gave a very clear grunt of pain.
Once he stood proper and turned around right-quick, he discovered that the ‘thing’ that had run into him was a Yin man. And a very, very angry one.
The man corrected his posture, standing tall and full as he whirled around to see who had pushed him. Unfortunately for him, the culprit had disappeared in the sea of people, so he decided to swirl back around to Zhu Li with a swing of his robes. “You—!”
Whatever was supposed to follow that word died in his throat, leaving him wide-eyed and agape when he faced him, much like a gasping fish.
That was not the reaction of someone who had just met him for the first time. It was the reaction of someone who knew who he was, yet didn’t know what he was doing here.
Zhu Li met his gaze across, nonplussed by contrast. His eyes, purposefully caustic and narrowed, took in the general body shape of his opponent.
They were the same height and same general physique. The bone structure of their faces was also generally similar, as were some other minor things, like their black hair color, black eye color, and warm-undertoned skin. This man, who was probably Yin Ru, was more slender in build, but that wouldn’t be anything hard to overcome for a professional disguiser.
No one would ever mistake them for each other in their natural states, of course, but he had personally witnessed the older Faux Fox turn into a much younger woman like it was nothing. This guy’s job — if he had even done it, mind — would have been a lot easier.
He leaned in closer, slowly, to glare into Yin Ru’s eyes. The purpose of the action was to make him squirm with discomfort, with a guilty conscience, with the fear of being caught.
While it wasn’t clear which of those motives rang true, the glare worked.
In due course, the man staggered under the weight of his inspection. He schooled his expression, bowed at him, threw out a quick apology for having bumped into him, then scurried away as quickly as was still polite, leaving Zhu Li to continue glaring in his direction.
The people surrounding them turned away afterwards, if they had even noticed the exchange at all.
Zhu Li collected himself just in time for Faux Fox to slink up next to him out of nowhere. “That’s a nasty glare you have there, Doctor Zhu,” she whispered to him. “If looks could scratch, he’d be mauled.”
“I’ve found that glaring hard makes people I don’t want to talk to go away quicker,” he quipped back in a monotone.
“A good skill to have. You saw his reaction, right?”
“He recognized me when he shouldn’t have, yeah.”
She chuckled. Her altered voice faltered in making the noise, turning deeper than Xin Junyan’s own laugh would be. “Yin Ru was always phenomenal at covering up his face and voice. A terrible actor, though.”
“You think he did it?”
“What was described to me was at least one person who didn’t know how you sounded or acted, just looked. A person with a grating voice, as well. I don’t know if you were paying attention when he spoke, but he was never known for sounding pleasant.—Let’s go back before our wandering is questioned.”
Was your bright idea really to shove him into me? Zhu Li wondered to himself. Were his daily allotted quota of ‘small talk with strangers’ not about used up (it was never a very big allotment to begin with), he would have asked for real.
Nothing of note happened between them slinking back to their guest room and Dong Yongming summoning them, which was a meeting of quite some note. Mostly because it started off with her bowing a bit too deeply towards Zhu Li.
After recovering from his shock, he quickly stepped forwards to help her straighten back out, his movements stiff and awkward. “There’s really no need for this, Sect Head Dong.”
“But there is,” the older woman said. “You have done so much for my family, and yet we were unavailable when you needed us most. We’ve acted disgracefully.”
“I wasn’t expecting you to do anything. It’s no problem.”
She looked sadder. “And isn’t that an issue, in and of itself?”
The statement confused him, but she didn’t elaborate, going to sit down with a swing of her sleeves. She then gestured at the three seats across from her, smiling. “Come, the three of you. Sit.”
They did. Zhu Li’s two companions seemed to be rather stiff as they took seats to either side of them.
Dong Yongming casually took a sip of her pre-poured tea, her eyes lidded. She looked up with a deceptive smile.
“Xin Yingliu and Xin Junyan, members of the elusive Xin Sect…” she said carefully, eyeing both Faux Fox and Chu Ran. “What a rare opportunity this is. How is the Sect Head doing these days?”
“All is going well with this one, Matriarch Dong,” Chu Ran answered, a placid smile on his face.
Unpredictably, this just made Dong Yongming frown. “You are the Sect Head, now?”
“My teacher was murdered several years ago while on her way to visit Han Wenkang and her body was buried in a shallow grave. Furthermore, I believe her murderer was also Han Wenkang’s murderer. This is why I am the Sect Head.”
Dong Yongming was, quite understandably, taken aback by that sudden information dump.
After being given ample time to recover, she said, “The same murderer… hm.”
“Oh, yes. We believe it may have something to do with Dong Wanqiu and Ji Misheng’s deaths, too.”
He took a sip of his tea. His smile was pleasant, as if he was talking about something as banal as the weather. “Were you close to Dong Wanqiu, Matriarch Dong?”
The temperature in the room cooled. Zhu Li couldn’t help but look at Chu Ran like he was insane. Was he trying to provoke her? Was he that tactless?
Dong Yongming’s eyebrows raised a bit. She otherwise remained largely unaffected by the words. “Are you accusing our sect of something?” she calmly countered.
“Not at all. However, the Three Spirits disbanded shortly after the incident, and now two of the three are dead in the exact same manner, with Masked Wasp trying all he can to lure the last out. If you possess any information regarding who might hold a grudge, we would be very grateful.”
She observed him quietly, just for a moment. Then, she sighed. “Although I will admit I am not too fond of the way your question is worded, I can understand your fears. Please let it be known that everyone in the Dong family is well aware that the two’s deaths were simply a very unfortunate set of circumstances.”
She seemed momentarily content to leave that there. Zhu Li spared a glance at Chu Ran; the other looked quite unimpressed at the lack of information.
Noticing the expectation of more information in the air, Dong Yongming sighed again. “I am being completely sincere, Sect Head Xin. No one in the Dong family blames the Three Spirits for their deed. In all honesty, we were prepared to allow Ji Misheng to die with dignity far before they acted, and were only thwarted by the couple fleeing before the euthanization. No one here can hold a grudge against the Spirits for doing what we were going to do in the first place.”
Devilization: an infamous cultivator-only malady that had evaded cure for centuries. In exchange for being elevated above common mortals and worldly diseases, cultivators gained their own set of worries in the form of qi deviations. At best, the deviations would make one more irritable, tired, or liable to pass out. At their semi-worst, they would be driven mad in some regard. At the very, very worst, one’s qi would distort their body and mind against their will, transforming them into a hideous, mindless devil that attacked without discrimination.
The most daunting part about it was that the devil in question could have been a perfectly benevolent person before their transformation, and might not have even had any demons of the heart to trip them up in their cultivation. They would simply make one mistake in their cultivation—one that anyone else could have made without any consequence—and it would all be over.
The singular comfort about the ailment was that it was so incredibly rare, it was not a typical concern for anyone. Depending on the cultivators’ population size in a given area, their occurrence was either as common as once every century, once every five centuries, to ostensibly never.
And yet, that rarity also led to the ailment being poorly understood and researched. There was no known cure or reversal process for devilization once it started. The cultivation world at large had long decided that the only ‘treatment’ for it was to allow the afflicted a quick death, thus preserving their dignity and preventing them from hurting those around them unintentionally. Devils were capable of too much destruction to be left to their own devices.
This was the cause of many things. It was why Ji Misheng had needed to die quickly, why the Dong family couldn’t hold it against the Three Spirits, and why the Great Dao hadn’t counted it as a cold-blooded murder and sent the Spirits’ own qi into disarray for their audacity.
“That does not answer my question, I’m afraid,” Chu Ran continued, snapping Zhu Li out of his thoughts. “I understand why Ji Misheng’s death is not something to hold a grudge against, but I asked about Dong Wanqiu. Do forgive my bluntness, but I was wondering if someone might have a grudge about her manner of death.”
Dong Yongming studied him again. Instead of getting mad, she smiled slightly, sadly. “What have you heard about it?”
“The Poison Spirit robbed her of the use of her legs after she attacked them, so she killed herself sometime later. Did I get anything wrong? It was quite the unhappy way to die.”
The smile fell off of Dong Yongming’s face. “That is… a gross simplification, I would say.”
She sighed wistfully yet again. Her gaze moved to look out the window, out at the garden laying beyond the walls. “The Poison Spirit paralyzed her, yes, but it was by and large unintentional. She used concentrated larkspur after having endured Wanqiu’s continued ambushes for months. However, she had used it with the expectation that Wanqiu would circulate qi to get it out of her system quickly—little did she know that Wanqiu had worn herself thin from the constant pursuit, thereby not possessing enough qi to be rid of the poison in time. On top of that, the needle Ru Yeying used had hit Wanqiu right in the spine… I’m sure you can guess the rest of why she lost the use of her legs.
“After that, Wanqiu did not allow herself to rest properly. A demon of the mind had possessed her, turning her desire for revenge into an obsession. Day in and day out, she would research how to get her legs back into working order, how to get vengeance on the Spirits quickly, how to get stronger, up until she collapsed at her desk for the last time. She killed herself not out of grief, but exhaustion, orphaning her children in her pursuit of a worthless revenge.
“If anyone is to blame for her death in particular, it would be us elders, who overindulged her in her delusion and did not intervene enough when she had gone rogue.”
“And yet the Dong’s elders are not the ones being slaughtered,” Chu Ran continued, his voice lacking any tinge of sympathy. “Is that not quite odd?”
Dong Yongming closed her eyes. “It is.”
“Well, then. While the Dong family may not have the face to hold a grudge against the Three Spirits, what of the Ji family? What was their reaction?”
“Sadness, of course. If you are suspect of them, there’s no need. Ji Misheng’s aged parents were all that remained of the family, and they were not cultivators, nor rich; they died over ten years ago.”
“And the two children?”
“You know of them? Little Yaoyi inherited her mother’s stubborn streak. She ran from us when she was fifteen, her little brother in tow. We kept tabs on them, of course, but they eventually up and vanished into thin air. Then, Yaoyi reappeared some years later during her marriage to Zheng Enyuan, and the only news she had to give about Ji Zhan was that he had died of an illness and been buried in the Ji family’s ancestral tombs.”
“Oh? And was that verified to be him?”
She leveled him a look. “We confirmed that there was a child’s skeleton in the coffin.”
But not exactly Ji Zhan’s.
Dong Yongming looked over at Zhu Li then, her eyes appearing to be hinting at him to pay attention. (It was a look his own mother used to give him.)
“What an unfilial act, for her to cut off contact with her family of origin,” Chu Ran commented. “If she disliked you all so much, she ought to plot revenge against you, not give you the cold shoulder.”
Zhu Li reached beneath the table and pinched Chu Ran on the thigh. Not everyone is like you, he mentally scolded.
Chu Ran jumped slightly in pain, though he kept it off his face. Too bad he couldn’t actually read his mind so that he could hear his insults.
When Dong Yongming narrowed her eyes at Chu Ran, Zhu Li thanked whatever powers that be that she was over a century old and had the patience of a saint.
“These are sordid affairs of the past that I would prefer to keep there, Sect Head Xin. Even though I speak of them now out of courtesy for the good Doctor, I would appreciate it if you did not prod old scars,” she warned, sounding much like an elder admonishing a misbehaving junior. She was doing that, in a sense, they just didn’t belong to the same sect.
“Oh, I apologize. I had no intention to prod. Ji Yaoyi’s behavior is simply quite odd. Who doesn’t inform their family of their marriage and their brother’s death until far too long after those facts? It strikes me as the behavior of one who either hates their family of origin, or has something horrible to hide. Personally, I despise my original family and would happily watch the empire they’ve built for themselves burn to the ground, so I could understand her sentiment if that was the case.”
“Yingliu,” Zhu Li finally opened his mouth to warn.
“Hm?” Chu Ran gave him a bright smile. “What is it, Doctor? Do you think she has something she wants to hide? It would make sense, given the lack of anger. Perhaps she blames the Dong sect for something, yet not enough to do anything beyond ignoring them. Or perhaps she wishes to not drag them into what is going on with her. What do you think, Matriarch?”
This man clearly cared nothing for his kind warning.
He looked towards Dong Yongming. She was the most angry he had ever seen her, which was… not really a statement that meant much, because she had never been angry. But her brows were furrowed and her lips were turned downwards, so that had to mean something.
“Yaoyi is indeed suspicious,” she started. “If you wish to investigate her, we will not get in your way. Is that what you came here to hear?”
“Somewhat. I do regret to inform you that a few members of your family have already gotten in our way, technically. In fact, so have your dear family friends that have gathered here.”
That frown of hers worsened in severity at the words. “What do you mean?”
“What I mean is that your family contains master blacksmiths capable of creating the finest of weapons, one of your juniors is friends with my brother Chu Yan, and one of the Yins here impersonated the good Doctor. Could we receive your assistance in helping us acquire these pieces of evidence?”
She stared hard at him. Accusations towards one’s family members aiding with a murder was not something anyone wanted to hear. “Do you have proof of these claims?”
“Of course. A confession from Dong Hairong’s friend, Yin Dun, and a testimony from Faux Fox herself about Dong Puxiu and Yin Ru. I would never accuse the innocent.”
The resulting silence was unbelievably uncomfortable.
Even though I really want to apologize for this guy’s bluntness, I feel like that would just weaken our collective stance, Zhu Li convinced himself, head bowed. Sorry, Matriarch Dong. When this is all over, I’ll send you something in apology.
He shot a peek at Chu Ran’s little smirk. Still, I’m not going to lie… it’s kind of cathartic to have someone else be baffled by him for once.
All of a sudden, Dong Yongming clapped her hands together once, the sharp sound startling Zhu Li slightly. The door of the room quickly opened, and a Dong disciple stepped in. “What are your orders, Matriarch?” they asked, bowing.
“Bring Dong Puxiu and Dong Hairong here,” she ordered. Her tone and expression were both unreadable, and betrayed nothing of what she was thinking.
The disciple left and came back in short order, two men in tow. One was thick-bodied and middle-aged, while the other was younger and plain-faced. The former did not look particularly worried; the latter, however, was nervous beneath his forged serenity.
They both bowed low to Dong Yongming. The older one bowed less severely to the rest of them, and the younger didn’t bow at all. They reported their names in order of seniority.
When the older gentleman, Dong Puxiu, allowed his eyes to wander over the three of them, he visibly stopped on Zhu Li’s face, after which his gaze wandered down to the dual swords at his hip. His bushy brows creased together visibly.
Dong Yongming proceeded to introduce their trio. Dong Hairong conspicuously refused to look up more than was necessary, and Dong Puxiu pretty clearly had no idea who any of them were or what he had been summoned here for.
“Puxiu,” Dong Yongming called out to him, “do you have something to say?”
The man in question looked up unsurely at her, then at them. “Matriarch, I dare not say and will wait for instruction,” he answered diplomatically.
“There is no need to be afraid. The entire point of you being summoned here is for you to speak your mind. Be as open as need be.”
Dong Puxiu gave her a look that said, ‘Are you sure?’ At her hand-wave, he looked towards Zhu Li again, and uttered something completely dumbfounding: “Are you a painting model?”
Zhu Li stared at him, flummoxed. “What.”
“Or perhaps you have a stalker… or a twin brother?”
What? None of those words made sense together.
“Puxiu, do explain what you mean,” Dong Yongming prompted her junior.
“Apologies. I may have gotten it wrong, but… you and that sword look exactly like a painting a young woman named Lan’r used to commission me for a replica sword. But she, um…”
He looked sheepishly at everyone around. “The story she told me was that she wanted a replica to commemorate her dead lover.”
The very-much-not-dead,-very-much-loverless Zhu Li decided not to comment on that mess. In substitute, he drew out the false Dusha and offered it to Dong Puxiu. “Did you make this?”
“Yes,” the man responded without hesitation. “Why do you have it, Sir? Was that woman really a stalker, and you found out about it?”
“Not exactly. Thanks for the confirmation, though. Do you still have the picture?”
“Yes, I do. I forgot to give it to her when she picked up the order. It occurred to me later on that it was weird she had forgotten to ask for it, too. I figured she would come back to pick it up later on, but she never did, so I…”
He trailed off in apparent embarrassment.
“Come now, Puxiu,” Dong Yongming prodded him.
“Well… my daughter likes collecting pictures of handsome men, so I… gave it to her,” he said sheepishly, refusing to meet Zhu Li’s eyes.
Not this shit again.
“…If you could get it back so that we can use it as evidence, that’d be great,” Zhu Li answered, reigning his slightly-flaring temper in.
Dong Puxiu quickly nodded his head like a woodpecker in agreement.
“Is there anything else you would like to add, Puxiu?” Dong Yongming asked calmly.
After some very careful thought, Dong Puxiu delivered another baffling statement: “You look much better with your hair down, Doctor Zhu.”
She dismissed him before Zhu Li could get annoyed.
“Now, Hairong,” she said aloud, narrowing her eyes into slits towards the young one in question. “What do you have to say?”
Dong Hairong wilted under her scathing look. “M-may I ask what you mean, Matriarch?” he stuttered out.
“I suppose so. How is that friend of yours doing? Yin Dun, was it?”
“I-I don’t know who that is.”
Dong Yongming scowled again, a frightening thing. “Do you think I would be unaware of every single interaction that occurs under my watch? Do you really think I don’t already know of your little camaraderie with a Chu and a Yin?”
Dong Hairong’s face lost all color.
It took no time at all for him to blurt out all that had happened between him and the other two. He went into far too much detail, actually, going from how the three of them had met to how they had become friends—it involved a lot of eating—to, finally, about how Chu Yan had asked him to get Yin Dun to do a favor for him involving snake venom.
The grin on Chu Ran’s face was cold, cruel, and nearly sadistic at the news. Zhu Li helpfully leaned in and whispered, “Don’t do that smile. You’ll freak people out.”
“My joy is disturbing?” Chu Ran whispered back.
“A little, yeah.”
The grin turned into a—anyone could have guessed this—pout.
“Hairong, you need a more discerning eye, more trust in your elders, and better friends,” Dong Yongming admonished lightly. “Why would you assist in this? Why would you think this was a good idea?”
“They told me no one would find out,” Dong Hairong sobbed out. He had devolved into tears at some point.
“That was clearly a lie. And now we’re here.” She turned to Chu Ran. “Do you want him for anything, Sect Head Xin? Perhaps for a suitable punishment?”
“No, no. His testimony and your witness have more value than can be imagined. Why would I wish harm upon someone who has given me something so precious?”
Dong Yongming scrutinized Chu Ran for what had to be at least the third time this half-shichen. “As you wish.”
She clapped again. The disciple outside appeared yet again in the doorway. After receiving instructions to lock Dong Hairong up in the temporary hold to await incarceration back home, they dragged him away despite his pleas.
One of Dong Yongming’s hands went to her cup. She swirled the tea inside around, looking into the leaf scum doubtlessly gathered at the bottom of it. “Are your answers found?” she asked calmly, to no one in particular.
“Yes. What remains is the final piece.”
“I have no control over Yin Ru. That would be Yin Wangrui’s purview.” A dangerous smile then graced her lips. “But I will still help you find out.”
Her gaze moved to Faux Fox, who had been completely silent all this while. The woman looked up at last to calmly meet the gaze across from her.
“Take that disguise off and help out, dear. Don’t the Yins receive regular lessons from you?”
That calmness was gone very quickly. So was Zhu Li’s, actually. Faux Fox’s face was kept in a perfectly blank mask, but Zhu Li swore that he could feel shock spike off of her.
“I don’t know what you mean, Matriarch Dong,” she answered before lowering her head back down. It was a remarkable display of restraint and acting, all things considered.
Dong Yongming chuckled. “There’s no need to play dumb, dear. I knew you were in disguise the second you walked through that door. While your technique is flawless, I am much too old to be fooled by such things. I just passed a full century, you know.”
…Had she really? Zhu Li had never actually asked her age before. It’d seemed somewhat irrelevant and mostly rude. Cultivators were supposed to live longer and healthier than most, but actually finding one that had reached a full century without succumbing to either their own inner demons, a yao hunt gone wrong, or some other mishap was considerably rare. His own grandparents and great-grandparents had long been gone, respectively taken by a powerful yao and their own experiments, and there were a scant few even in his mostly-peaceful sect.
Regardless of his thoughts, Faux Fox raised her head to stab Dong Yongming straight in the eyes with her own, issuing a challenge for some unelaborated match.
“There’s also no need to be so tense. It doesn’t matter to me what you typically do with your personal life, only what you do right this moment. Do you need anything to help wash your face off?”
“What are you planning?” Faux Fox quietly demanded.
“A little play to put on while everyone’s watching, one in which all four of us will have a part. It’ll be fairly easy to formulate a plan to make them trip up with this witness—“ here, she gestured to Faux Fox, “—at our disposal.”
The mischievous glint in the old woman’s eyes and the smug tilt of her lips was hard to miss.
“You seem to be quite willing to go above and beyond in helping us with this, Matriarch Dong,” Chu Ran commented, taking a sip of his tea afterwards.
Dong Yongming laughed. “Of course I am. Exposing one of Yin Wangrui’s brood as a murder accomplice will be such a blow to his face, he’ll never show it in public again, which would be enormously advantageous to us in these tiring negotiations. The more we have over them—him in particular—the better.”
“Is that so? Might I ask why you dislike him so much?”
“Yin Wangrui is a man less than half my age with a quarter my brains and talent, yet he has three times the ego and twice the volume to his voice. It is genuinely mystifying how he became the Sect Head, and all the more infuriating that I have the misfortune of needing to interact with him.”
Dong Yongming looked between Zhu Li and Chu Ran slyly. “Have neither of you met him before?”
At their dissent, she smiled. “Then you’ll be in for a great surprise later.”
The author says: unless your surprise is food, i ain’t bloody interested
remember yin dun and dong hairong? from 200k words ago? i’m not even making that number up.