SnCr 45

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Everyone he was traveling with was a baby. They came in different sizes and varieties of baby, but they were still babies.

The Xin members tasked with clearing the way of snow would verbally whine about how cold it was when they thought no one was listening—he’d counted about seventeen instances between them so far. Xin Junyan had complained about the cold eight times the whole trip. Chu Mei was allowed to complain because she wasn’t a cold-resistant cultivator, but her complaints were still numbering in the double digits. Chu Ran eclipsed them all at twenty-eight.

It was day two out of a twelve-ish day journey.

They were all doomed.

“Really, now, was Heaven being sadistic when it decided winter was a grand idea?” came a voice from the carriage.


Even though traveling to Beishan had been a six-ish-day affair and the Caves were as roughly equidistant from Zhongling as it was, this one had the sad detail of being timed at winter’s beginning. The snow, less travel-stamped roads, ice, infrequent settlements, and an ungodly amount of slush was going to drag their time out significantly. Clearing out insurmountable snowdrifts by melting them with qi, then blowing the moisture out with more qi so that the carriage’s wheels and horses’ hooves wouldn’t get stuck in the mud, took a significant amount of time.

Hence was why this grunt work had been delegated to the Xin Sect. Each of its escorting members had been armed with no less than fifty qistones to use for the task, should they run out of qi both within themselves and the environment without.

Zhu Li was riding outside of the carriage. His years of traveling in even worse weather than this had long desensitized him to it. Guhui’s odd love for snow had helped, too.

“Isn’t this cabin supposedly insulated and sealed? Why is it still so bloody cold?”


This was going to be a long, long trip.

At least it was ‘socially acceptable’ out here to have his hair out of its bun. The cold wind felt nice on his scalp.

That same night, after they’d set up camp due to a lack of civilization, he listened to Chu Ran complain about how ‘confoundingly frigid’ it was for the thirty-fifth time.

“How are you so cold? You’re a cultivator,” Zhu Li pointed out.

“A resistance to the cold is not an immunity to it, good Doctor,” Chu Ran argued from beside him. He was visibly shuddering beneath his double layers of fur, somehow.

“Sure, but your resistance shouldn’t be this bad. We’re even sitting next to a fire.”

They were. There were three total; two for the Xin Sect members, a third for the four of them. Chu Mei—who was, again, a tiny girl and not a cultivator—was wearing one less layer and seemed to be quite fine with the fire’s heat.

“Yes, well. I can’t be blamed for being particular,” Chu Ran semi-grumbled.

Zhu Li just shook his head at that.

On day four and the forty-eighth complaint, however, he’d decided that he’d had enough.

They were currently stopped at a town that was sizable and flourishing due to nearby mines. Their carriages and horses lined the road while the Xin Sect members double-checked their supplies. Xin Junyan and Chu Mei left to explore as a way to pass the time, which left Zhu Li hanging around outside the carriage Chu Ran remained holed up in.

“Are you out there still, Doctor?” said that very man, his voice slightly muffled by the cabin’s walls. “How are you not freezing to death? I—“

Zhu Li slammed the carriage door open, evoking a startled and unbefitting caw from Lord Whines-for-Days, then quickly shut the door and put the seals in place to avoid comment. As comfortable as the carriage was, he still needed to stoop to stand.

Chu Ran was seated on the left-hand side, draped in a wolf-fur cloak, fur hat, and whatever else could be under both of those. Against all odds, his nose was red with cold, and there were dark bags beneath his eyes.

“Scoot over,” Zhu Li ordered him.

Big-eyed, Chu Ran obeyed, and Zhu Li made his way to sit right next to him.

This was unmistakably a winter carriage. On the outside, the wheels were heavier and reinforced with metal studs, there were no windows to speak of, the doors contained cloth seals to keep out air, and the walls were insulated. Inside, there were shelves with extra blankets, wool-coated cushions, a few gas lamps to make up for there being no windows, and a brazier in the middle fitted with a heating array and qistones in lieu of a fire. It must have cost a fortune to rent.

It also was lukewarm in temperature. Not cold at all, really. More early-spring-like, if anything.

Zhu Li looked at him funny. “Are you actually cold? In here? With your layers of fur?”

“Yes,” Chu Ran emphasized. “I have a high distaste for this season. Who ever wants to be cold?”

“Guhui does.”

The other’s face scrunched up at that answer. “She happens to be a horse, and an odd one, at that. Creatures with built-in fur coats don’t count in this scenario.”

Zhu Li hummed in acknowledgement. He allowed for a few moments of peace before going in for the kill.

He turned and leaned in, both arms slowly outstretching to come at Chu Ran from both sides. The other seemed confused by the action and turned his head more towards him. “Doctor Zhu, what—“

He didn’t get to finish, because the arms suddenly constricted around him, wrapping him in yet another layer of warmth. Whatever was on the man’s tongue evidently died there on account of this anomalous event spontaneously befalling him.

Zhu Li, for his part, felt slightly awkward, as well as slightly relieved that he’d had the foresight to finally wear the qi-blocking pendant. Now his awkwardness would be safely tucked away from his blind fellow and would only be for himself to feel bad about.

“What… are you doing?” Chu Ran asked, tense beneath his arms.

“I’m helping warm you up,” was Zhu Li’s flat and stilted answer.


Maybe this was a bad idea, Zhu Li thought to himself. Maybe I should’ve asked first. He doesn’t ask before he dumps his life stories on me, though… maybe this isn’t the same thing as that.

The distinct sound of a laugh escaping pursed lips hit his ears.

That little pfft turned into a full-blown laugh, Chu Ran’s tension turning into a full-body shake as the action wracked him. He leaned his shoulder into Zhu Li, his weight comfortably settling against his chest.

“You’re funny, Doctor,” he said once his fit was done, his voice still colored with mirth. “You’re also very correct. This is a warmer.”

From this close angle, Zhu Li could yet see the pink tint and shy smile on Chu Ran’s face.

He deemed this a success.

Some unknown amount of time later, the carriage door opened abruptly, startling Zhu Li out of his impromptu meditation. The reason for his semi-state of unawareness was that Chu Ran had fallen asleep, then more or less slid down into a laying position across Zhu Li’s lap before the latter could formulate an appropriate reaction to that development. The newly-assigned pillow had decided that moving him was a crime and they would just deal with the embarrassment-laden fallout of this later.

Which was now. The ‘later’ was now. And only for one of them.

A light tap was heard as a booted foot entered the cabin, and then someone ascended, turned to her left to see them, and froze, wide-eyed.

Xin Junyan looked first at Zhu Li, who was not supposed to be in here. Her eyes then fell to Chu Ran, who was not supposed to be asleep. They went back to Zhu Li, who should have probably not allowed this. Then they went back to Chu Ran, who should have gotten a real pillow.

She decided to say, “Good job.”

He gave her a blank stare.

“You don’t get any private romance time, though. There aren’t any spare carriages around.”

“…Wasn’t planning on it,” he gave as a blank answer.


She ascended properly, helped Chu Mei into the cabin, and took her seat. Chu Mei also took her seat, her wide eyes never leaving the prone form of her eldest brother as she did so.

In fact, they didn’t leave him up until their convoy had to stop to clear the road some quarter-shichen later. It was kind of disconcerting.

Almost as disconcerting as how Chu Ran had not roused from his dead sleep in spite of the noise and bumpiness. Had Zhu Li not been a big strong cultivator man with superior blood circulation or whatnot, his legs would be entirely stiff and needly by now.

Instead, they were only partially stiff and needly. Being a pillow wasn’t that fun when forced to be awake for it.

Now that the sound of wheels on rocks and hooves on rocks was settled, Chu Mei said, “Brother looks so peaceful.”

Xin Junyan, who had been reading some book, looked up at that. “Hm. He does,” she commented quietly. “And he’s nice and quiet. For now, at least.”

“I think he wasn’t sleeping well,” Chu Mei added on. “Those bags under his eyes were getting really dark. It’s good that he’s napping.”

“Who could have expected that all he needed was a heated pillow?”

The heated pillow in question gave her the side-eye.

Chu Mei continued to stare silently at her sleeping brother. She wasn’t giving any indication that she was going to stop, either. Was him being asleep really that fascinating?

“What is it, Mei’r?” Zhu Li asked.

She startled out of her reverie and looked up at him, eyes shining. “Nothing,” she answered, “I just… kind of want to pet him on the head.”

Both Zhu Li and Xin Junyan looked at her funny. She flushed bright red.

“He’s not a cat, Meimei,” Xin Junyan stated quite simply. “He’s also over twice your age. You can’t headpat someone older than you. I’m pretty sure that’s against seniority rules.”

Chu Mei blinked at her innocently. “Brother Fu told me about seniority rules, but the Doctor also told me that everything Brother Fu said was a lie that I shouldn’t listen to.”

Xin Junyan stared at Chu Mei for a few seconds. She then quickly turned to Zhu Li.

He calmly stared back. “I meant what I said.”

She put her hand on her forehead. “Okay, well… you still need to respect your elders, and Ran is your elder. Don’t pat his head and wake him up.”

“You can pat his head when he’s awake to be embarrassed by it,” Zhu Li helpfully added.

Chu Mei giggled, while Xin Junyan just made a weird face.

Later on, Chu Ran woke up, realized what position he was in, and was indeed very, very mortified. He spent the rest of that day’s ride in silence.

No more whining. Another success.

Zhu Li also got to witness the man’s complete confusion when, while they were seated around the fire, Chu Mei randomly patted his head. He blushed slightly at the attention.

Angled away from anyone that could see, Zhu Li allowed a slight smile to grace his lips.

A triple success. This was a very productive day.

Time passed like so. Chu Ran had quickly gotten the hint that if he voiced the slightest complaint about the cold, he would suffer the Python Coil Technique; there were times he welcomed it, and times he would be too thin-skinned to accept Xin Junyan’s ribbing about it. Either way, the trip was a lot quieter.

When the mountain range that housed the Miasma Caves came more and more prominently into view, Zhu Li grew more and more quiet, too. When they reached the base of the mountain in the middle of the day

He didn’t even notice until one of his zone-out sessions, where he was staring up at the mountains from its base during their second-to-last stop, was interrupted by a hand on his arm.

He jolted slightly, turning towards the offender.

Chu Ran’s lightly-smiling face greeted him. “How are you feeling, Doctor?” he asked.

“Fine,” Zhu Li answered shortly. Because he was fine. Really.

The other man hummed slightly. His skepticism was plain as day with how it twisted his smile into an odd quirk of the lips.

“I am fine,” he insisted.

The skepticism upped a few notches. “Do forgive me for doubting you somewhat, Doctor Zhu, but while you are essentially a moving statue to me while you wear that necklace, I grow a little concerned when the ‘moving’ part ceases to be a factor. You haven’t moved from that spot for quite a while. I think I sense some snow built up on you.”

Zhu Li blinked, then looked down at himself. He’d been leaning back on the carriage—arms crossed, one foot propped against—for what he had thought hadn’t been too long, but… there were mini-banks of snow built up in the crooks of his arms, and his one foot was steadily becoming buried in the new flakes falling down from the sky.

He immediately moved out of his position, thus dislodging all of the frost on him so that it went cascading down. The hand on his arm also moved away from him.

Chu Ran hummed again. “Were you perhaps lost in thought, Doctor? We are quite close to the Caves. And you do seem to be facing the direction we’re heading as you think…”

Zhu Li shook his head. “I wasn’t. I’m fine,” he stressed.

“As you’ve stated thrice, now. You know, Doctor, I believe it to be a generally-known rule that if one has to repeat something several times, it’s less a truth and more a mantra to convince oneself. It is perfectly human to be nervous.”

“I’m not nervous.”

Chu Ran blinked a few times in surprise at that answer. A few beats later, he let out a light chuckle, then moved to gently take Zhu Li’s elbow and tug. “Of course, of course. How about you come inside the carriage? It’s awful cold out here.”

Narrowing his eyes at him, Zhu Li thought, He doesn’t believe me at all.

Still, he silently acquiesced by climbing aboard the carriage with him, shutting the door firmly behind him, and sitting beside him.

“I’m surprised you left the carriage at all,” he commented, his eyes randomly drawn to the ever-glowing, false qistone ‘fire’ in the center of the carriage.

“I wouldn’t have, had I not been concerned that you’d frozen to death out there,” Chu Ran said. Since both of the girls had left to stretch their legs, he predictably leaned into Zhu Li’s side. “Though I am fairly cold now, hm?”

Zhu Li huffed, a bud of fondness sprouting within him as he snaked an arm around the other’s shoulders. This guy sure adapted quickly.

“Perhaps you don’t like to say as much, but it is alright to be apprehensive about visiting them,” Chu Ran persisted, closing his eyes in comfort. “Families do have a tendency to hide secrets within their walls. I wonder which ones we’ll find once we ask?”

Hopefully not bad ones.

Past sundown, they came to Teng Village, which Zhu Li knew as the only extant and constant waypoint between the Miasma Caves and the outside world. Due to the ever-changing nature of the sect’s disorienting array, returning Elders had to wait in this very village for an escort to lead them back. They, too, would be meeting up with one such individual.

Their party had shed the Xin Sect members when they’d been halfway to the village, as the terrain had become impassible for carriages and too large of an entourage. Such a thing had been anticipated long before they had set out; even if they had all managed to reach the village, they still would have parted ways there, for they were not invited. When it came time for the four important people to leave the Caves, they would be escorted back to Zhongling by a band of Elders, instead.

As it was, it was just the four of them, their horses, and light supplies. When they arrived in the village, the locals cast them unsurprised looks. It was pretty much a given that they had already been informed by the Caves that visitors would be stopping by.

While the other three looked about the darkened dwellings curiously, Zhu Li’s eyes were automatically drawn to someone illuminated beneath one of the few lanterns—the man was sitting on a fruit crate with a horse standing beside him, and the brown, scarlet-trimmed uniform he was wearing was unmistakable. His back was to them, but even while sitting, it was clear that he was moderately tall, and his dark hair was allowed loose in the wind.

It had been a very long time since he’d seen someone else wearing those colors.

He guided Guhui over to the man without a word.

The man in question turned and looked up at his approach. As soon as their eyes met, they both froze.

The air went still.

Zhu Li knew this man. He knew him very, very well.

He barely registered Chu Ran riding up alongside him. “What is it, Doctor Zhu? Should we request for a different escort, if this one won’t do?” he asked, his curious tone clashing slightly with his flippant words.

“No… it’s not that,” Zhu Li answered. His own voice was floaty, and his eyes didn’t stray from their target.

After that, his body moved on its own, dismounting from Guhui and walking up to the man, though it stopped just a few steps in front of him. Uncertainty of how he should continue, what he should do now, prevented him from moving, but—

The man suddenly and quickly closed the distance, threw his arms around him, and drew him into a tight hug.

His stomach jumped from nerves and shock. Pain lanced through his heart, only to ebb into a dull, loving ache.

Warmth from the sudden embrace settled something unknown within him.

His arms—already raised on reflex—curved around to hug the man back. He shut his eyes and bowed his head, his lips coming to rest against the man’s shoulder.

This moment felt like it lasted longer than it truly had, yet when they eventually parted, it felt like it hadn’t been long enough at all.

With tears in his eyes, a smile on his lips, and his hands still clutching his arms, his father told him in his signature warm, soothing voice, “It’s good to see you healthy and well, son.”

Zhu Li didn’t trust himself not to choke up on his words like an idiot, so he simply nodded.

Ren Nidan held the same gentle, fatherly presence he had possessed five years ago, his eyes still bright with cunning intellect. Scant few gray strands in his hair and hardly-there lines on his face were all the signs he showed of not being the youngest anymore, though by mortal standards, he looked to be in his late thirties versus his true age of over sixty.

This was the first time they’d spoken in forever. He had been expecting the reunion eventually, of course, just not here and now, nor in front of an audience. It was a little… mentally overwhelming.

Speaking of the audience, Ren Nidan looked past his shoulder to his companions. “Who are your friends, Ah-Li?”

Zhu Li looked behind himself just in time to see each of the three Chu siblings getting off of their horses at the same time, then shuffle across the stomped-flat snow at almost the same pace. Chu Ran had his typical smile, Chu Mei was starry-eyed, and Xin Junyan was clearly scrutinizing his dad for no reason.

They introduced themselves humbly in turn; Chu Ran as the Xin Sect Head (specifically with the name Xin Yingliu), Xin Junyan as his Vice Head (this was news to him), Chu Mei as Zhu Li’s disciple (this was also news), and them all together as siblings (this was not news).

“You took on a disciple, Ah-Li?” his father asked curiously.

Zhu Li coughed awkwardly. “Sort of. I’m not a good teacher. I brought her so that she can learn from Doctor Ying instead.”

Ren Nidan chuckled. “I’m sure you’re a fine teacher. Still, that’s a good idea.”

His eyes wandered back over to Chu Ran thoughtfully, though. He suddenly bowed low to him, startling the siblings badly, and Zhu Li, not at all.

“This one is Ren Nidan. I am Ah-Li’s father, and this life debt is one our family will hold forever,” he stated as a fact, and not something up for debate. “Should you need anything of the Miasma Caves, we will do all we can to assist.”

“Ah, is there need for such a formality, Mister Ren?” Chu Ran quickly answered, moving to help him rise. “And while I certainly came here to collaborate, what is this talk of a life debt? I simply did what should have been done. Besides, the good Doctor’s company has been more than enough to repay any ‘debt’ there may have been. Come, please stand.”

Ren Nidan did stand, a grim look on his face. He studied Chu Ran carefully for a few moments, then said, “It’s what should have been done, and yet wasn’t done by our own sect. Your kindness isn’t as commonplace as you may think.”

With those ominous words said, he turned to Zhu Li. “Ah-Li. You must be wondering why I was the one to come and get you, and also why we did nothing when you were in jail.”

There was a heaviness to his tone that Zhu Li didn’t much like. Honestly, the very thought of where this conversation might head scared him, but… he nodded anyways.

All the gentleness swept away from Ren Nidan in one gust. The look in his eyes took on a sharper, almost unfamiliar edge—it was a look Zhu Li had only ever seen when his father had been verbally lashing someone for stepping out of line.

“The details are long, but the answer is short: Several Elders conspired to keep news of your imprisonment from the Caves at large,” he concisely answered. In the middle of his speech, he turned away, abruptly mounted the horse beside him, and looked at the three of them. “We have quite the walk still ahead of us; I’ll fill you all in on what happened as we go.”

And fill them in he did. Conspiracy and low-key sedition had been all the rage these past months.

First and foremost, the Elders that were dispatched to Beishan and Dongqiu for trade were also required to gather jianghu news for the sect in the event it could be relevant. After Zhu Li left, his mother had—somewhat mystifyingly, to him—explicitly mandated that all news about him be reported, and if there was anything urgent regarding him, the outside world, or any of the few former members of the sect, the trade trip was to be cancelled in favor of expediting the news back to the sect.

That procedure not happened for Zhu Li’s imprisonment. It had not happened for many different incidents, in fact.

For all these years—for his entire life, even—Zhu Li had been firmly under the impression that his mother had been the source of a lot of this grief regarding going outside the sect. The longer Ren Nidan spoke, though, the more he realized that he’d been sorely mistaken.

Due to being the only people allowed outside of the sect, the Elders effectively had near-total control of the information flow. Were their interests divided, this wouldn’t be much of an issue, but they all happened to be friends of isolationist thought, and ran like a well-greased clock. If they didn’t want something to reach Zhu Longmai’s ears, they would meet up without her, talk it over, and all agree to coordinate so that she would have no idea. Additionally, by virtue of being older and more numerous than her, their combined influence over the Caves eclipsed her own.

The sealing of the sect, the banning of ‘deserters’, the dislike for the outside—none of those had ever been her idea, but the Elders pressuring her to authorize it. They were even willing to lie to their own leader to ensure that she wouldn’t do something crazy, like send people to rescue her son from prison, or to retrieve the wayward blabbermouth Zhu Qiongqi, who she’d been told was dead.

Deceived at a scale by lies, the sect had been content to sit at peace. That was, until a certain letter had pierced through the veil the Elders had placed.

There was a reason that the Elders could only be said to have near-total control of information, for they’d had no idea that Zhu Longmai, Han Wenkang, and Xin Yinhui had continued to correspond over the years via discreet messengers. Messages had obviously stopped from Xin Yinhui years back due to her death, but when the Han messenger had come bearing news of Han Wenkang’s death and Zhu Li’s imprisonment himself.

It had been a week after Chu Ran had gotten Zhu Li out, and a few weeks after the last trade convoys had returned from abroad. Things spread quickly in jianghu—there was no way that the death of a major family’s leader hadn’t made its way to the traveling Elders’ ears.

And yet it hadn’t reached Zhu Longmai’s ears until long after the fact. Wasn’t that strange?

Pandemonium had followed that discovery. She had gone on the proverbial warpath, and his sisters had joined in the fracas. To make a very long and complicated story short, they had gotten the truth out of enough Elders to indite them all, stripped every last one of them of their statuses, carved binding oaths into their skin, and replaced them with younger, more loyal counterparts.

In the midst of this, his sisters had inevitably amassed a large following, then (rather forcefully) convinced Zhu Longmai that she should retire from her position.

An entirely new crew was running the Caves, now.

Zhu Li felt… surprisingly neutral about all of this. He’d never been one to overly care about or participate in sect politics—too many fake smiles, liars, and responsibilities. What did sober him up a little was the assurance that his family hadn’t actually left him to rot on purpose.

There were plenty of other things to still be mad at them about, of course. Over five years of total silence and the whole debacle over his cultivational name were two examples he could name.

One thing at a time, he told himself. At least they’re clear of being completely heartless, I guess.

It wasn’t long after Ren Nidan finished his explanation that the snow, rocks, and mountainous forest around them parted to reveal one of many ‘gates’ to the Caves.

The Miasma Caves stretched across an entire valley, which rendered building actual gates with walls infeasible. This was why the disorienting array was put into use instead. Escorts knew of a very specific path to take into the array that would bring them to a purposeful ‘break’ in its design; once this area was reached, escorts would have to wait in a very specific spot for yet another escort to receive the signal, modify the array from the inside, and then close it back up once the returning convoy was in the clear. It was complicated for the express purpose of making sure that even if anyone came across the ‘break’ by sheer dumb luck, they still wouldn’t be able to get in.

(Getting out of the array from the other side was as simple as walking forwards, though. Zhu Li knew that tidbit quite well.)

They continued, their path gradually inclining downwards, until the dark-shrouded outline of the sect presented itself from behind the greenery. It was so late in the night that practically no lanterns were lit—aside from the one building that was expecting guests, that was.

Even though he couldn’t see it with his eyes, the layout of the Caves was clear in his mind. He could picture each building, each tree, each trail, and each cave carved into the mountains, all of them overlapping with the plain darkness. He also thought of where the sect members and his extended family lived, their own schedules, their quirks…

All of a sudden, he felt a wave of both nostalgia and anticipatory exhaustion. To say that he hadn’t missed the sect would be a lie, but he really, really, really, really, really wasn’t looking forward to interacting with its people.

The Zhu Estate was located in the middle of the valley. Wider than it was deep. every courtyard within it was backed up against the Weiyi River, which ran straight through the sect’s territory. As a testament to its pedigree as the founding family, it was a larger plot of land than any other family’s Estate, and its branches reached far beyond its walls to other auxiliary plots of land. Zhu Li had more cousins than he cared to count.

When they reached the outer gates of the Estate, its earthen-toned bricks barely visible in the dull light of two lanterns, Ren Nidan told them to wait there before heading inside by himself.

Meanwhile, Zhu Li’s stomach was cramping and twisting with nerves. His reunion with his father had gone fine, but how would his sisters react? What other changes had gone on in his absence? What, exactly, would he be walking into?

…What would his mother do?

“You all need to know some things for tomorrow,” he suddenly said to his companions, his back straight as a brush as he remained seated upon Guhui.

He waited a few seconds for them to open their ears, though he didn’t turn just yet. His eyes were fixed rigidly fixed upon nothing ahead of him.

“My eldest sister is nice, but she doesn’t deal with nonsense. My second-oldest sister can be kind of loud and overeager. My little sister’ll be excited to show you her collection of snakes, spiders, and wolfdogs if you give her a hint of interest in them. My mother is aloof, but won’t treat guests poorly. You don’t need to worry about them.”

He abruptly turned to look at them all in their faces. “The people you do need to worry about are everyone else in this sect. They’re all gossipy, nosy, pushy, slippery, boundary-stomping, touchy-feely, socially stupid windbags that’ll ambush you and ask a million questions that aren’t any of their business. You have to tell them to back off, because beating them up just makes their gossip worse. Your best bet for being left alone is to just not leave the Estate. Ever.”

The other three seemed a bit taken aback.

“Um…” Xin Junyan started, shooting a look at his hands on his reins. “Are you okay?”


Of course he wasn’t okay. Before he’d had freedom outside, he’d never realized how stressful it was being around a bunch of people that lived too long and were too bored from being cooped up in one place for decades. They had nothing better to do than to start shit, watch the resulting drama unfold, then talk about it until the end of goddamn time.

Looking down at them, he eased his fists out of his death grip on Guhui’s reins. A prickle in his palms told him that he’d accidentally pierced them with his nails.

“I will certainly follow your advice. Be assured that I am quite good telling people off, as you say,” Chu Ran said airily. “Junyan here may need to be worried after, however.”

“Shut up, you,” the insulted party shot back.

Any further possibility for conversation was cut short by the gate’s door opening once more. Ren Nidan’s smiling face popped out of the widening crack between the mahogany slabs.

“This way, children,” he said, shoving the doors fully open. “Everything’s ready for you.”

Zhu Li shot a glance at his companions. Then, he faced forwards again, braced himself, and bumped Guhui’s sides to spur her onwards.

The author says: 叫苦连天大爷…
this is the Hugging Chapter
i honestly wasn’t planning on having Papa Ren make his debut here, but the Generic Caves Dude i was originally planning for gave me 0 inspo. don’t you love when your writing just runs away from you at full speed??

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6 thoughts on “SnCr 45

  1. Hey, I’ve got a question I’ve been wondering about for years, but didn’t know anyone to ask. Since I’m on my second run-through of the story so-far (Yes, I like it hat much), it’s popped out at me again.

    Sometimes, when a character refers to someone in the familiar, they use ‘r and sometimes they use the Ah-. Such as Mei’r or Ah-Li. Is it author preference? Or is there a specific reason behind the usage?


    • In my instance, it’s mostly author preference that’s been shaped from noticing linguistic patterns. The ‘r tends to be used by seniors to juniors (in Mandarin, the ending’s character is synonymous with “son/child”), while Ah- tends to be a more generic diminutive, in my observation. I’m not going to say that no one’s ever used the ‘r for non-juniors in the history of its usage, though.

      There’s also the ‘xiao’ prefix and ‘-zi’ ending; I would use the former for very small children (there are none in this story so far), and the latter… uh, I dunno. I haven’t felt the compulsion to use it yet tbh.

      Glad to hear you enjoy the story so much! You can ask questions on my Discord channel, which is linked at the very top of the post, if you so desire.


  2. Reading this as it snows outside, feeling immersed lol

    Nice chapter, warm fuzzy feelings abound


  3. asdfghjklasdfghjkl;dfghjk <- this is all I can say about the ride to Miasma Caves 😀
    Seriously though, my heart has melted a bit at all the cuddles and affection between everyone ^^

    So… Zhu Li's close family is not as terrible as he was led to believe by their absence during his imprisonment… that's comforting!

    Papa Ren is great, I love him already!

    Poor Zhu Li though…he's definitely not okay 🙂 I hope he survives this homecoming!


  4. Zhu Li: Everyone on this trip is a baby.
    Me: Especially Chu Ran?
    Zhu Li: Especially Chu Ran.

    I love the cuddling solution to the ‘Chu Ran is COLD’ situation and everyone’s reactions to it. 💜😆

    The reunion between Zhu Li and his dad was lovely, and finding out why his sect is so isolated and no-one came to help him when was arrested is INTERESTING. 👀 It makes so much sense but it hadn’t occurred to me that that could be the reason.

    Onward into the Miasma Caves!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. And this is why we don’t travel in winter. (Or at least not with lowland folk it seems)
    Now who’s flirting hm.
    I don’t know about Chu Ran not being a cat, cat logic is otherwise being applied to him. Also Zhu Li reminding us he is the second youngest of five.
    Chu Ran is doing his best on the emotionally supportive front (and has improved)
    Ren Nidan! It’s good to meet him.
    My, the former elders are dreadful. Like yes, this is why only elders allowed out isn’t a great policy, but there’s a line between that and whatever the hell they are conspiring at. Also implications hm…
    The whole clan’s just a pressure cooker of dramatic goths isn’t it.

    Thank you for the update!

    Liked by 2 people

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