Su Xiao’s Independence. Eloping Birds.
“An inn? Why an inn?” Emperor Yuansheng questioned.
“Master, you must bear in mind that we are only roughly fifteen days away from the commencement of Refining Divine Convention. It is a daunting task to highlight ourselves for an invitation in the short time remaining. On top of that, we have to search for Vice-Captain Shen, which requires trustworthy intelligence now more than ever.”
First of all, His Majesty wouldn’t permit imperial troops and scouts looking into Boss’ whereabouts. Second, it would be more challenging to investigate from the shadows than to openly investigate.
I didn’t mention I ran into Green Prince as I didn’t know what sort of terms His Majesty and His Highness were on. I didn’t stand to gain anything if I offended either of them, so I intended to let them sort it out with themselves; it was only a matter of time before they crossed paths.
“As the owner of the inn, we can advance or retreat at will. I hired some skilled artisans to renovate and decorate the place. We will be ready to open for business in less than a day. As we cannot afford to hire outsiders, we will have to handle all of the jobs ourselves. Fortunately, we have a number of elites who can easily tackle the duties of running an inn.”
I elaborated on the other benefits, mainly covering things that would help us move our plans forward. No matter high tight lipped they might be, something, such as how to obtain an invitation, would leak.
“That is a brilliant plan. Proceeding without having to run into personnel from the imperial court is the best outcome. You live up to… to… your status as Yuhua of the World’s disciple. I have nothing to fear when I have Mount Daluo’s successor as my strategist, hahaha.”
If I’m your strategist, how about showing some respect worthy of my status and paying me back? I’ll get three hundred thousand out of you the moment we find Boss. Hell no am I playing hide and seek with Black and White Reflection’s personnel!
“Umm…” Su Xiao showed up and gestured for me to come over urgently. “Big Brother Ming… Come here.”
Please don’t tell me you lot have come up with another absurd idea…
I hurried over to ask, “What’s the matter?”
“Umm… Are you hungry?”
“Yeah. If you’re still not done, I’ll be hungry enough to eat eight of you.”
With an ashen countenance, Su Xiao leaned onto the wall: “Ar-are you starving that bad? Luckily for you, I made a small dish that I’ll bring up in a tick, hehehe.”
Spacing out at the sight of Su Xiao’s beam, I absentmindedly replied, “Oh… Thank y-, ahem, what happened? What happened to the dishes?”
Su Xiao’s world collapsed in his head upon hearing his alternative plan fall through: “Um… We’ve… only just started cooking the rice. We… haven’t started on anything else. You might have to wait for another two hours.”
“Say what?! You just started cooking the rice? What have you been doing all this time?!”
Are you cooking dinner or midnight snakes? Wait, that’s not even New Year’s Eve dinner anymore!
“Ye Luo and Miss Lyu not know how to cook and slow you down? We can swap them out with some skilled warriors. It’s a punishment for them to ask them to cook.”
“No, no, they’re doing quite well,” meekly replied Su Xiao, face flush.
“Why the delay, then?”
“Well” – Su Xiao grabbed his robe and twisted his torso back and forth – “the pot blew up.”
Are my ears screwing with me?
“How does a pot blow up?!”
“I don’t know. The pot I was working on started rumbling, and it was in fragments by the time I knew it. They must’ve been using bootleg goods here.”
“I’d be more convinced if you told me we’re standing upside down right now. This is the number one restaurant in the town! They’re dishes are excellent. You blew up the pot, didn’t you?!”
You came here because you blew it up, I bet! This is what happens when you act competent at something you’re not!
I pressed a hand to my forehead: “What in His Majesty’s name did you do when you cooked the rice?”
“I… I tossed some seasoning in, did some dicing and then started a fire.”
I don’t know what to blast first here. Threw in? Dicing ingredients in a pot? Start a fire? Which of those actions take place in a kitchen?
“Wait, what happened to the rice?”
Su Xiao wrinkled his nose: “What does rice have to do with cooking rice?”
“Xiao… h-how did you make me porridge last time?”
“Add water and rice into a pot then bring to a boil. Simple. Cooking rice and cooking porridge aren’t the same.”
“Hold up.” I hammered my forehead as I asked, “Didn’t the imperial chef go to the kitchen with you?”
“Yeah, there are two of them. As soon as they entered, they began working on the prepared ingredients and whipped up over forty dishes!”
That’s what I wanted to hear. Let them work their magic.
“Since they looked busy, I was afraid they’d starve, so I made a small dish to keep their stomachs happy. After they ate it, though, they stopped speaking.”
“It was that disgusting?”
“Why are you so rude, Big Brother Ming?!” Su Xiao folded his arms and gave me his side, sulking, “They never complained it tasted bad! They just stopped speaking and moving!”
“Why are you flipping out on me? I’m analysing the situation for you, aren’t I? Not speaking or eating… Did they also shut their eyes?”
“How did you know? So you do know what happened? Oh, man, I was worried they had some disease or something.”
Stop smiling! I’m starting to freak out!
“They… passed out after eating your dish?”
“Who passes out after eating? They must’ve fell asleep due to exhaustion, hahaha.”
What new skill have you invented now?!
“B-Big Brother Ming?” I suddenly heard from afar.
“Sister Ye,” Su Xiao effused.
“Wh-what’s the matter, Miss Ye?”
Face pale, legs weak, a hand on her belly and leaning on the wall… This looks bad.
Ye Luo grabbed my arm and, in a breathy voice, conveyed, “Big Brother Ming, I have to, have to tell you. Only you can… can… blegh!”
Ye Luo projectile vomited tomato right past me, yet still looked more horrified than when we ran in to Abels.
“What happened, Miss Ye?!”
“I-I had a bite of the tomato.” Ye Luo pointed to Su Xia and, in a raspy voice, shouted, “He… He…”
I saw Ye Luo’s eyes roll back into her head as she collapsed, finger still aimed at Su Xiao.
What the hell happened? Let’s not play this murder game on New Year’s Eve. Is that tomato by your mouth or blood? Are you injured or poison? Wake up!
I transferred true qi from my fingertips to Ye Luo’s wrist using Yijin Jing, my miracle fix for curing illnesses, extracting poison and exorcising evil. Yeah, I had Shifu’s medical knowledge and other styles at my disposal, but Yijin Jing was my foundation for it all, as it should be for anyone else. I gave her potent qi, yet three serves couldn’t even wake her.
What black magic did he feed you?!
“She said she was hungry, so I made her a snack…”
Wait, wait, wait, that’s the snack you also wanted to feed me? Have mercy, you serial murderer! Hold on, why was she stupid enough to eat your snack after the imperial chefs were done in?
“She told me to make the snacks. She said that failure is the mother of success, so true men should not fear failure.” Switching from cute to serious, Su Xiao balled his fists: “That’s why I did my best!”
Hold back, then! That’s three you’ve downed already.
I noticed Ye Luo watching Su Xiao more than in the past ever since he saved her that night and would usually blush. I bet the lass developed a crush on Su Xiao; that’d explain why she’d give him encouragement and praise when he doubted himself. Poor girl burned herself playing with fire.
“We need you to exercise patience now that we’re short on hands. Don’t hold it against us,” Su Xiao asserted, picking up Ye Luo and making his way to the kitchen.
“Wait, wait! I’ll go help. I shouldn’t just wait to eat. I’ll give you a hand,” I offered.
“That’s rare. I’m glad you’re learning to be a better man, though.”
I just don’t want to die tonight!
When I relayed the message to Emperor Yuansheng, he told me, “That’s fine. I’ll go with you. I’ve never been into a kitchen; this is a good chance to take a look, especially since we’re going to open an inn.”
I don’t have a problem with you trying to kill time, but I have a bizarre feeling about this…
Upon seeing us all head to the kitchen, Long Zaitian called Tie Hanyi over to query, “Ol’ Tie, what do you think he’s doing? Why does Master trust him so much?”
Tie Hanyi cracked a smile: “I always knew Brother Ming wasn’t just some side character. Had it not been for his insight and morale boost, we would’ve lost a lot of men against Black Winds Thirteen Wings. That was when I saw him in a different light – a character not to be underestimated. His Majesty must have also noticed.”
“A character not to be underestimated my foot. Tell me more about this Black Winds Thirteen Wings thing.”
“When they started the string of assassinations, they killed several Qilin Guads. Thanks to him warning me to be cautious, we avoided losing more members than we had to.”
“I copped earfuls for letting Qilin Guards die, yet he only gave you a heads up?! After he screws me over, he’s trying to get in His Majesty’s good graces? I’m obligated to depose him!”
Apparently, Long Zaitian forgot about him trying to court Shen Yiren and the times he screwed with Song Ou in those days.
“It’s only right His Majesty hires him as a strategist when he’s proven himself to possess the prudence necessary. What would you and I do?”
Overhearing the conversation, Dugu chimed in: “Though I won’t question his intelligence, he used dubious means to acquire the money and the rights to this restaurant. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a good thing for His Majesty to be around him for too long.”
“See? Every elite can tell he’s a bad influence. What does he do besides drinking, hitting on girls, eating braised pork shoulders and being a bad influence on kids?” concurred Long Zaitian.
“He’s a good guy, though,” opined Bai Laimu. “He taught me how to play dice the day before.”
Long Zaitian raised his chin at the others, gesturing, “Told you he’s a bad influence.”
“We have to do something, or His Majesty will be another victim.”
“Long Zaitian, we may have different allegiances, but we share a common enemy. Use your time for something productive. As one of His Majesty’s aides, I won’t acquiescence to you scheming behind the backs of others,” Tie Hanyi asserted with the approval of Dugu and Bai Laimu.
“Why do you all have tunnel vision? When did I ever say I would set him up? Knowing his nefarious brain and plague trait, he’ll curse me dead before I even set him up. You think I’m stupid? I couldn’t ask to be farther away from him, let alone set him up. I was suggesting that we contribute so that he doesn’t walk away with all of the glory. Even if we don’t tick a box off, we can, at least, cheer His Majesty up tonight,” suggested Long Zaitian, sparking the discussion.
When the floor went down to the first floor, they saw a guzheng, erhu, sanxian and flute next to Tang Ye, who guarded the door.
Since Long Zaitian didn’t have Qilin Guards to back him up, Long Zaitian had no desire to pick fights with Tang Ye, who could give him a run for his money, not to mention Ming Feizhen was around. Over time, he stopped resenting Liu Shan Men so much, even joking around with Liu Shan Men’s trio at times during the journey. Howbeit, recalling the lectures he ate having to do with Ming Feizhen as per the talk with Tie Hanyi, Long Zaitian’s old nature surfaced.
“Liu Shan Men has the sissy Su Xiao, so having a Tang Ye pretend to be a musician certainly is necessary to form a complete couple,” mocked Long Zaitian.
“May I ask who you resemble as our new door guard?” Tang Ye ribbed.
“You want to catch these hands?!”
Dugu persuaded, “Why are you fighting when we’re on the same team?”
Tie Hanyi inquired, “Brother Tang, why do you have instruments with you when you usually don’t even bring baggage?”
“The musicians previously playing here left them behind.”
The instruments inspired Long Zaitian to propose, “Since Master is fond of music, we could cheer him up and add a joyous touch to the atmosphere if we can play a tune.”
“That’s not a bad idea.”
While having musicians perform at parties was a custom in the imperial court, bringing one along on this mission was plain silly. Although the idea was nice, music wasn’t their forte – minus Dugu, who could play the guzheng.
Tang Ye’s closed-arms pose and perceivably derisive visage prompted Long Zaitian to snap, “What, you know how to play music instruments.”
“Like playing drums with broadswords or cudgels? Catch.” Long Zaitian tossed a flute to Tang Ye: “Prove it.”
Tang Ye assumed the ideal posture and played “Autumn Moon Over Han Palace” mesmerizingly from a music and martial arts standpoint. Refusing to lose, Long Zaitian threw Tang Ye a lute that the latter demonstrated he was an adept with, as well. Long Zaitian then threw an erhu over, and Tang Ye played “A Swallow Couple Soaring in the Rain”.
“Wh-wh-what else can you play?” stuttered Long Zaitian, running out of instruments to challenge Tang Ye with.
Tang Ye scoffed through his nose and broke into song: “Upon opening my eyes, all I see is tall buildings and locked doors. I’m sober, but the dark clouds have yet to lift. The resentment I felt last winter has returned to haunt me. The leaves fall alone, while a pair of swallows soars through the drizzle. When I first met Xiaoping, the courtesan stole my breath in her robe with two ‘heart’ characters embellishing it. She conveyed the emotions of yearning through her pipa, stealing my heart. The moonlight that night was mesmerizingly captivating. In the end, she disappeared like the cloud that never came back.”
You’re also a singer now?! Did I just give this guy a job and make a fool out of myself?!
Tang Ye delivered the song in textbook form; however, his voice drew an audience over. Dugu and company applauded, expressing, “We are hoping you could perform for His Majesty later on.”
Tang Ye kept playing as though he didn’t hear them.
“Told you so! Told you he’d still be here!” Behind the chubby man, who began searching high and low upon storming in, were thirty or so men. Upon spotting Tang Ye, he erupted, “Where is Cui Ping?! What did you do with her?”
While Tang Ye was surprised to the extent of hitting a note too high on the erhu, he switched to singing since the song wasn’t complete: “Explore the heavens together…”
“Together?!” thundered Green Prince.