My Hermit Master

MHM Chapter 6: Bandits!

Xie Li stared at the food on the table for a while, then stood up.

“I’m done,” he said, and like an afterthought, gave them a smile. “See you by the wagon later.”

“Eh? But you haven’t eaten anything,” said Auntie Ma, seeing his chopsticks untouched.

“See you, Senior!” said Jianjin out of reflex as he stuffed another meat bun into his mouth.

“Why won’t he eat something?” sighed Auntie Ma. “He’s already skin and bones.”

“He’s so expressionless, I can’t tell what he’s feeling either, it just doesn’t show on his face,” said Old Niu.

“It’s simple,” said Di Mie, picking a duck leg for himself. “There’s too much meat on the table and it’s a hassle to ask which one’s vegetarian, so he left.”

“Oh,” realised Auntie Ma, looking at the hearty dishes they ordered for breakfast. It was indeed hard to tell which ones were meatless. “I’ll go order some vegetarian buns to go.”

“Di…Shixiong,” said Jianjin. “How can you tell what Senior Xie is thinking?”

“Can’t you?” said Di Mie, ordering another jar of wine.

“No, I can’t,” said Jianjin, flatly.

“Hey, looks like someone’s coming our way,” said Old Niu.

Putting down their chopsticks and up their guard, they watched the group of men approach their table.

The eldest of the men stepped forward and clasped his hands together in greeting.

“From your garb, are you disciples from the Border Mountains Sect?” said the man, settling his gaze on Old Niu.

Old Niu scratched his chin and turned to Di Mie.

Di Mie turned to Jianjin.

Jianjin quickly turned to his brother for help.

Jianshi turned to Di Mie, puzzled.

Di Mie looked back at Jianshi and smiled.

Jianshi lost.

He stood up and turned to the men and held up his hands to return the greeting, careful choosing his words.

“I’m Chen Jianshi and this is my brother, Jianjin. We’re junior disciples of the Border Mountains Sect, passing through this village with our companions. Might you have business with the Border Mountains?”

“Junior disciples…” repeated the man, looking a little disappointed, but continued his introduction. “I’m Elder Lu of this village and I’m looking for skilled people to accept a commission to wipe out the bandits that have appeared recently.”

“Bandits?” said Di Mie.

“Yes,” said Elder Lu, glumly. “They came in from the south last month. We sent a request to the Bainiao* Lake City’s Phoenix Manor, but they said they wouldn’t send help unless we paid triple the usual fee.”

*Bainiao = Hundred-Birds

“Eh?” Jianjin whispered in an aside to Di Mie. “Di…Shixiong, have they not heard what recently happened at Phoenix Manor?”

“It’s not public information yet,” whispered Di Mie, pulling Jianjin’s ear.

“Owwww!” whisper-yelled Jianjin.

“So, you wish to request the Border Mountains Sect?” asked Jianshi.

Elder Lu shook his head. “Actually, we are hoping to commission your group, privately.”

“Eh?” said Jianjin. “Why? Are you short of money?”

Elder Lu’s lips curled, annoyed by Jianjin’s impertinent question.

“The bandits have stopped our merchants from trading, so how can we commission a Sect? Still, we’re putting up a pretty bounty fee for freelancers. Bandits should be an easy cleanup for skilled cultivators like yourself, right?”

“I’m afraid this is not really my call,” said Jianshi, holding up his hands in an apology. “If you’d like, I can send your request back to the Border Mountains to my seniors.”

“Don’t be so inflexible,” said Elder Lu. “Say just you and your brother here go take down some bandits, and we pay you five silvers for every head.”

“That’s kinda the market rate,” whispered Jianjin to his brother.

Jianshi frowned.

“How about you?” said Elder Lu, turning his attention to Di Mie, who was also dressed in the black of a Border Mountains disciple. “The three of you can go together and get some fast money.”

“Hey, old man, how much can you afford, really?” drawled Di Mie, twice as impertinent than Jianjin.

Elder Lu’s scowled at Di Mie’s disrespectful tone.

“Look, kid, I’ll pay you a hundred silvers if you wipe them all out,” said Elder Lu, looking peeved. “That’s money you can’t hope to earn in a year as a junior disciple.”

“A hundred silvers?” said Jianjin, puzzled. It was more or less the going rate for bounties in this area. “If you can pay this much, why not just commission our sect directly?”

Elder Lu narrowed his eyes like a fox and gave them a greasy-looking smile.

“Don’t tell me you don’t want such an easy job. These bandits have been robbing our merchants and kidnapping our women. Take this job and, who knows, maybe the women you save will be grateful and give you some ‘honey’, if you get what I mean…”

“Not interested,” said Di Mie, nonchalantly, waving the Elder and his gang away.

Jianshi took the cue from his Shibo. “I’m sorry, Elder Lu, but we are going to have to decline.”

“Stupid brats,” said Elder Lu, spitting on the ground and walking away, disappointed.

The men who followed Elder Lu stayed behind, looking at each other frantically. One of them stepped forward and fell onto his knees.

The other men behind him followed suit, dropping to their knees.

“I apologise for our village elder’s rudeness. We’re at the end of our wits and he was just trying to help,” pleaded the men.

“By scamming us?” said Di Mie.

“No, no,” said one of the men. “It’s true we’re looking for people to fight bandits. It’s just that—”

”There’s a cultivator among them!” blurted out the younger man behind him.

“What?” gasped Jianjin.

“How many?” said Di Mie.

“Just the leader…I think,” said the man. “The Rong Clan wouldn’t take the job for anything less than three hundred silvers upfront. We’re just small-time merchants. Even if we sold everything we had, we wouldn’t be able to come up with that money in such a short time.”

“Sounds troublesome,” said Di Mie.

“So…” said one of the men, a bit of hope sparkling in his eyes. “Will you do it?”

“Hmm…” said Di Mie. He looked the man in the eye and smiled. “No.”

“If you could just save the women they kidnapped, we’ll still pay you a hundred silvers,” offered the man.

“How many were kidnapped?” asked Di Mie.

The men’s faces brightened up with a sliver of hope.

“Six women,” said the man. “The daughters of the men behind me and my wife.”

“Rescue the women, huh,” said Di Mie. “Do you want us to retrieve your stolen goods too?”

“No, we wouldn’t dare ask that much of you!” said the man, the company behind him nodding fervently. “We just want our family back.”

“Hmm,” said Di Mie. “That’s still too little money for a mission this dangerous.”

The men, still on their knees, looked about to cry.

Di Mie cocked his head towards the wagon and beckoned the others: “Come on, let’s stop wasting our time and get out of this village.”

“Sirs,” begged the men. “We beg you…”

Di Mie waved them away.

Jianshi and Jianjin both looked at Di Mie with pleading looks on their faces.

“Ugh, so troublesome to explain…” muttered Di Mie, rolling his eyes. He coughed, speaking aloud to no one in particular.

“We’ve got a pretty young lady travelling with our wagon. I hear there are bandits in this area. I hope we don’t get attacked, or we’ll have to fight them.”

Getting the hint, the men stood up and bowed deeply, hands clasped in respect.

“Pretty young lady? I’m not sure who you’re talking about,” said Auntie Ma, confused. “Auntie here is twenty years too late to help you here.”

“Oh, we certainly can’t put our Auntie Ma in danger,” said Di Mie. “We’ll just have one of our men do the job.”

“This old man would love to help, but unless these bandits have a taste for slightly rotund and hairy women…” said Old Niu, glumly patting his pot belly and muttering about going on a diet.

Jianjin zipped behind his brother, shaking his head.

“Di Shixiong, no matter how you see it, we won’t be able to pass off as women,” said Jianshi firmly, the crease on his brow deepening.

As if hit with an idea, Jianjin chirped up. “Why don’t you ask senior Xie to help? He’d probably agree if we ask. All we need is to get him a pretty dress, right?”

One of the men, hearing their conversation, sidled over and added, “Ahem, I think I can get you a dress…”

“For free?” said Di Mie.

“Yes, of course!”

“You could add a veil…” added Jianshi, dead serious.

Auntie Ma perked up. “That’s a great idea!”

“Oh? Sounds like we’re doing this,” said Old Niu, excited for an adventure.

*

“I’ll get it dirty,” said Xie Li, looking at the dress after they explained the situation to him.

“Yes, you will,” said Di Mie. “And you should, since you’ll probably have to fight.”

“Hm,” said Xie Li. “It looks difficult to wash.”

“I’ll wash it! Get it as dirty as you want!” volunteered Auntie Ma.

“There’s no one else who can do a better job than you, Senior!” chirped Jianjin.

Jianshi nodded. “We will be sure to back you up, Senior Xie.”

“I’ll ask the inn to let us use a room for changing,” said Auntie Ma.

“All right,” said Xie Li. “You can all wait here while I—”

“Shizun, I’ll help you!” said Di Mie, taking his hand and pulling him into the inn.

“For a moment I thought it looked cute, but then I realised that this young man is actually our Shibo in disguise and I am scared,” said Jianjin, rubbing his arms to keep his goosebumps down.

“Ohmmm,” Jianshi meditated, eyes closed.

“It’s pretty amazing that young master Di could get Ah-Li to do this much,” said Auntie Ma. “Ah-Li would never let me help him change.”

“Any man’s bound to be a bit shy around women. Maybe it’s just that,” said Old Niu.

“You’re right,” said Auntie Ma, letting Old Niu’s words console her.

Moments later, Xie Li came out wearing a light-coloured, layered dress. The skirts were padded and fluffed to hide his lack of curves.

“The layers work well,” commented Jianshi.

“Your waist is so skinny, Xie Li. You really need to eat more,” sighed Old Niu, watching the commotion as he worked to get the wagon ready.

“I think you need a touch of makeup,” said Auntie Ma, taking out her kit. She was about to dab some rouge on his face when she saw his eyes narrow and stopped.

“Allow me,” said Di Mie, borrowing her box of rouge. He whipped out a handkerchief and twisted it into a knob, using it to dab the red onto Xie Li’s cheeks and lips.

“Oh, that’s ingenious,” said Auntie Ma.

“That’s because I am my Shizun’s attentive disciple,” smirked Di Mie.

A familiar term flashed through all four of the others’ mind at that moment:

Shizun complex!

“I think the bandits will try to grab this the moment they see it,” said Xie Li, holding up his wrist where an exquisite slender jade bangle rested.

“Can you take it off and give it to one of us for safekeeping?” asked Jianshi.

“It’s pretty tight,” said Xie Li. His wrists were pretty slender, so if he said it was tight, there was probably no way to get it out. Still, Xie Li pursed his lips and stared at his bangle.

“If you’re thinking of dislocating your thumb to take it off, just stop,” said Di Mie.

Xie Li blinked and looked at Di Mie.

“Let’s just hide it. If they find it, we’ll just move onto the next plan,” said Di Mie. He handed Xie Li a silken face veil. “Here, put this on as well.”

“Wow,” said Old Niu. “If I just took a glance at him, I wouldn’t be able to tell at all!”

“I hope this works,” said Xie Li, stuffing cloth to pad his chest. “Given the limited information we have, I can only think of six ways this is going to play out. Making sure the bandit leader doesn’t get away might be, hmm, what you’d call ‘a shot in the dark’.”

“Don’t worry,” smiled Di Mie. “I have excellent night vision.”

“Uh, I think that’s a lot of stuffing,” interrupted Jianjin, after seeing probably an entire bale of cloth disappear under the dress.

“In a past life, he must’ve been a well-endowed lady,” said Old Niu, stroking his chin sagely.

Jianshi clasped his hands together and his brother joined him, thanking Xie Li profusely for his sacrifice.

“Listen up, you lot,” said Di Mie. “Here’s the plan…”

*

It was easy enough to bait the bandits—Jianshi and Jianjin hid under the seats while Old Niu drove the wagon, with Auntie Ma sitting with Xie Li. Together, they looked like a small family.

Like out of script, a rabble of bandits appeared on the road, riding on horses and armed with an assortment of weapons.

Old Niu quickly pulled the wagon to a halt, and the bandits grinned.

“Old man, just give us all your money and we’ll let you go,” said one of the bandits.

“Please don’t hurt us!” Old Niu acted his part well, raising his hands.

Jianshi and Jianjin held their breaths, waiting for the signal.

“Spare us, sirs!” begged Auntie Ma.

“Oh? What have we here?” said the bandit.

“Please, let my daughter go. She’s weak and sick; she won’t be of any use to you,” pleaded Auntie Ma, taking off her jewellery and holding them out. “Here, please take these and spare her!”

“Out of the way,” said the bandit, who grabbed the jewels and shoved Auntie Ma aside. He yanked Xie Li out of the wagon and yelled out to the other men. “Let’s go, men! We’ve got us a beauty!”

Xie Li shook his head, a signal to the two hiding under the seats.

Lay low and wait.

“Be a dead fish,” mumbled Xie Li to himself.

“Be a dead fish,” prayed Jianshi and Jianjin.

“Hm?” said the bandit.

Xie Li coughed.

“Don’t worry, little lady, I’ll carry you all the way back to our hideout so you don’t have to walk,” said the grinning bandit, hefting Xie Li over his shoulder like a potato sack. Feeling the stuffed bosom against his shoulder, his grin got bigger.

Even though Xie Li was almost as tall as the bandit, it seemed the bandit didn’t notice because the ‘woman’ over his shoulder was limp like a dead fish. Just in case, Xie Li bent his knees behind him so the bandit wouldn’t notice those long legs.

“Let’s hurry up and go back, boys!” yelled another bandit as he sloppily grabbed the jars of wine off the back of the wagon. “We’re going back to party!”

Old Niu played the part of a man stuttering and frozen in shock as the bandits rode off on their horses.

“That went surprisingly according to the ‘Be A Dead Fish’ plan,” said Auntie Ma, dusting off her tunic.

Jianshi and Jianjin crawled out and ran off, tracking the trail once the bandits had ridden out of sight.

“These bandits are sloppy,” said Old Niu, calming the horses. “They didn’t even bother checking me for money. I counted at least five times I could’ve taken them down with my crutches.”

“Well, if the young masters don’t get this settled by dinnertime, I won’t care what the plan is; you and I will just have to go raid those bandits ourselves,” huffed Auntie Ma.

“You betcha.”

*

“Intruders!” yelled a bandit, alerting the others to spread the alarm.

“Drat,” said Jianjin. “Move onto the ‘Whack ‘Em All’ strategy.”

He sent a roaring pulse and knocked the hordes of bandits off their feet while Jianshi made sure the bandits who were knocked down stayed down.

They followed the trail of bandits deeper into the cave, until they came to a large room filled with wooden cages. Seeing the intruders, the prisoners began to call out.

A group of bandits in the room grabbed their spears and swords.

“Tsk,” said Jianjin. “There goes any element of surprise.”

“I wonder where they took Senior Xie,” said Jianshi. “Di Shibo is sealing all the exits from the outside, so Senior should still be around here.”

“Fight first, think later!” said Jianjin, getting into a sword stance.

*

Xie Li was set down roughly onto the floor alongside a few boxes of merchandise, wine and jewellery. He watched as the bandits talked among themselves. A well-dressed man with a spirit sword at his waist seemed to be the leader.

“The pickings are slim these days,” grumbled the bandit boss. “Are you lot skimming off the cream?”

“No, no, we wouldn’t dare since you pay us so well, boss,” said his underling. “This village is running out of money. Should we think of moving up further north?”

“And risk getting the attention of the Border Mountains Sect?” said the bandit boss. “Why do you think we’re here in this backwater place?”

“Umm…because we don’t want to catch the attention of the big clans?” offered the underling.

“You’re damn right,” said the bandit boss, gritting his teeth. “My previous gang made the mistake of robbing someone from the Rong Clan. The nosy Fallen Leaves Valley Leader suddenly came out of nowhere and destroyed our hideout. We weren’t even on Border Mountains turf! I was lucky to get away.”

“Even our boss, who used to be from a prominent clan in Fanhua City, wasn’t his match?” said the underling, shaken.

“No matter,” said the boss. ”Our buyer from the west town is waiting for us to send our merchandise and women. Once we get the money, we’ll get out of here.”

“By the way, Boss, I brought back a woman for you to inspect,” said the underling.

“Let’s see how much money this one can fetch us,” said the boss. He reached out for Xie Li’s veil, grinning. “Come, little lady, let me see that face of yours.”

Xie Li retreated, and the boss leaned further.

The moment he grabbed the veil, he was off-balance and Xie Li went for the pressure point at the base of his neck.
Unable to dodge, the bandit boss reeled back in pain, coughing as he channelled his aura to release the paralysed accupoint.

Xie Li frowned slightly as he got to his feet. Given the strong display of aura, this bandit was no junior cultivator.

“Boss!” yelled the underling, drawing his sword.

Xie Li dodged the underling’s clumsy slash and jabbed his arm to disarm him, then kicked him right in the solar plexus. The underling dropped his sword and Xie Li picked it up with both hands.

“It’s a bit heavy,” muttered Xie Li. It wasn’t ideal but it wasn’t like he could’ve brought Twig along in this situation.

“You damn bitch,” said the bandit boss, his spirit aura now overflowing. “Just because you know some moves doesn’t mean you’re a match for a cultivator.”

The boss was a cautious fighter, testing Xie Li as they traded a few blows with their swords. He could not get an upper hand so he jumped back and shot a talisman.

“Take this!”

Xie Li cut the talisman into two and gave a little sigh of relief that it was just a standard binding talisman.

“That was too easy for you, wasn’t it?” chuckled the boss. “What about this?

He shot out a series of talismans. Xie Li dodged them easily, the talismans formed an array around his feet.

“Bind!”

The talismans activated, creating an area of movement binding effect.

From his attacks, Xie Li gleaned that this bandit boss was a cautious and shrewd man.

“Come,” whispered Xie Li, holding his sword in a defensive pose.

The bandit boss felt confident since his opponent was on the defence and pressed his attack, striking down heavily with his sword.

Xie Li countered the strike and then suddenly let go of his sword. The bandit boss lost his balance and stumbled into the array.

Xie Li nimbly took another step out of the array while the bandit boss moved as if he was wading through thick mud.

“Why are you able to move?” yelled the bandit boss.

“This level of binding can’t override the one I have,” shrugged Xie Li. As he pondered the best way to take down the bandit, he heard footsteps getting closer.

“Senior Xie!” came the voices of the juniors.

“Senior,” said Jianjin, tossing Twig over to Xie Li and pointing to the array the bandit boss was stuck in. “Did you do this?”

“He did it to himself.”

“You damn rats,” cursed the bandit boss.

His legs were stuck, but he could still move his hands. He shot another talisman at them and Xie Li pinned it to the ground with his sword. His sword couldn’t destroy this talisman without the use of spirit aura.

Like the previous time, the first talisman was a feint.

Three more talismans shot out and Xie Li spun around to create torque for the sword to activate its spirit aura. The first talisman, aimed at him, stuck to his arm. He didn’t let the other two get past him, cutting them both down with a precise swing.

Sparks of spirit aura bound the talisman to him, its magic needles digging through his sleeve and into his arm.

“I was hoping to get all three of you, but no matter,” said the bandit boss.

“What did you do?” yelled Jianjin.

“These are powerful curse talismans,” laughed the bandit boss. “If you want the antidote, you’ll have to do as I say!”

The two boys shuddered at the word ‘curse’.

“I hope that was your last resort,” said Xie Li, tearing off his sleeve and the talisman with it. His arm looked fine.

“How—” said the bandit boss.

Xie Li swung around and brought the sword crashing down onto the bandit before he could finish his question. The swing sparked and cut through the bandit boss’s protective aura.

The bandit held up his sword to defend but Twig was light and fast. Xie Li easily got around his defence and stabbed his meridians.

The bandit yelled in pain and then collapsed to the ground, crippled. Satisfied the bandit would never again be able to hold a sword, Xie Li turned to the juniors.

“That was brutal and precise,” gasped Jianjin. He stepped forward, right onto the curse talisman Xie Li pinned down earlier—

“Ah-Jin!”

Jianshi watched as the talisman sparked and bound itself to his brother’s shoe, sending spirit needles into his foot.

“Oh shit!” said Jianjin, falling over from the pain. He pulled off his shoe, but there were needle marks on his sole, quickly turning his skin dark.

“Antidote!” said Jianshi, running over to the bandit boss.

Xie Li pointed his sword at Jianshi, who stopped in his steps.

“Binding array,” said Xie Li, pointing at the ground. He knelt next to the bandit boss and searched his clothes for an antidote.

“Stupid! That was so careless of me!” said Jianjin, his eyes filling with tears. “I’m so, so sorry!”

Jianshi ran back to Jianjin and tied a strip of cloth around his ankle, but it didn’t seem to slow down the poison’s spread.

“The bandit was bluffing, he doesn’t have the antidote,” said Xie Li, his search coming up empty.

“There’s probably no antidote for curses,” said Jianshi, his heart sinking as he recognised some of the markings on the talisman. Curses were rare, and the cure even more so.

Xie Li looked at Jianjin’s leg. “Once the poison passes his mid-shin, cut his leg off just below the knee.”

They mulled in a grim silence for a moment, watching the poison inch up Jianjin’s leg.

“Bro, I don’t want to cut off my leg,” cried Jianjin.

“Hush, it’ll be fine. Don’t think about it,” said Jianshi, rolling up his brother’s trouser leg and steeling himself.

“Wait. Let me try something,” said Xie Li, taking off his own clothes.

He pulled off the outer dress and his tunic. He quickly shed the bloodied tunic underlayer and looked at it. It was badly smudged.

“This won’t work,” he muttered to himself. He pulled out a length of clean, white linen from the big pile of clothes he shed and cut it to size with his sword.

“Jianshi, come here.”

Xie Li passed Jianshi the piece of cloth and turned around, bunching his hair out of the way to expose his bare back.

Jianshi saw that there were red lines all over Xie Li’s skin, like fresh cuts that have barely healed.

“Try to make a clean print of this. It probably won’t work but let’s give it a try.”

Jianshi swiftly obeyed. It had always been his strength to leave questions for later and get the work done.

He pressed the cloth over Xie Li’s back, and ran his hand over the cloth as if making a rubbing. When he peeled the cloth off, there was an imprint of fine lines of an elaborate seal.

“This part didn’t print out,” said Xie Li. He bit his finger and quickly painted in the unfinished lines with his blood.

Once done, he held it up to inspect, then walked over to Jianjin, wrapping the cloth around his leg and holding it tightly.

“Both of you, try activating this seal and hold it as long as you can,” said Xie Li.

“Yes, Senior,” said Jianjin, sniffling and holding back his tears.

He sat straight in a meditative position and focused. Jianshi knelt beside his brother and held his hands out, covering his hands in spirit aura.

The markings on the cloth activated and Jianjin bit his lip as he felt the lines burning on his skin. He held as long as he could, but his aura suddenly disappeared. He couldn’t feel it.

“Senior, I can’t use my aura,” whispered Jianjin, panicking.

“It’s fine,” said Xie Li, peeling back the cloth a little to take a peek. “Jianshi, keep at it, there’s still a bit more. Careful not to touch it, though.”

“Yes, Senior,” said Jianshi, pouring spirit aura to keep the seal activated even as sweat beaded on his forehead.

The seal took an immense amount of aura to stay activated, and he was the only one out of them who could do it. He held on, breathing hard as he poured in everything he had.

It was a moment that felt like hours.

“You can stop now.”

Jianshi let go with a snap, panting from the exertion.

Xie Li peeled the cloth off completely, examining every inch of the skin to check for any remnants of the curse.

“Is the poison cured?” said Jianjin, hesitantly. “I don’t have to cut my leg off?”

“I didn’t think it would really work,” said Xie Li. “I guess we were lucky you both were able to activate it.”

Both his hands and Jianjin’s leg were scalded red from the heat of the activated makeshift cloth talisman. Xie Li blew at his hands to cool them down.

“Wait,” said Jianjin, realising that Xie Li was hit by one of these talismans too. “What about you? You were hit by the curse talisman too!”

“It doesn’t work on me,” said Xie Li. He held out his arm to show them. It had some red needle-like marks where the talisman activated, but that was it.

Relieved, the two juniors sank to the ground to catch their breath.

“Senior Xie, I owe you my leg, no, my life,” said Jianjin, clambering onto his knees and kowtowing. “I’ll repay you somehow, I swear!”

“I don’t want you to repay me,” said Xie Li, instantly rejecting him.

“Hahaha,” laughed Jianshi. He knelt as well, joining his brother. “If my little brother is not worthy to repay you, let me do it in his stead.”

“Then get rid of all the evidence before Di Mie gets here,” said Xie Li. He sneezed, feeling cold.

He grabbed his clothes from the ground and hastily put them back on.

“Should we get rid of these too?” said Jianshi, pointing to the array.

“Mn,” said Xie Li. “Check carefully before touching them. Ah, and get rid of your boot too, just in case.”

“Yes, sir!” obeyed the two juniors, scrambling to work.

*

Di Mie arrived shortly after.

“Keh,” he coughed, waving at the smoke that filled the room. Three people stood there, fanning away the smoke with pieces of cloth.

There was a big pile of smoldering ashes in the middle of the room.

Xie Li’s clothes were a mess, a sleeve torn and his sash tied completely wrong. Jianjin was missing a boot.

“What on earth are you all doing,” said Di Mie.

“Nothing!” chirped Jianshi and Jianjin. They’d promised Xie Li to keep everything that happened here a secret. They smiled, their lips tightly closed.

Xie Li smiled too.

“Ugh, gross,” said Di Mie.

*

Translator’s Notes

Who knew stuffing your chest with lots of cloth would come in so handy?

A little explanation for some of the terms!

Fanhua City 繁花城 : Plentiful Flowers City

Quick refresher:
Shizun = master
Shibo = senior uncle
Shixiong = senior brother
Shidi = junior brother

If there are any questions or if you’re interested about the Chinese terms used, let me know in the comments and I’ll try my best to reply!

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