LOOG – Chapter 32

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Chapter 32: Anything!

A day later, Sunan sat in the main reception hall, chin resting on the palm of his left hand. He sighed.

On his right was Sun Mai, like usual. To the left was someone new to the daily court. Lady Yan. The conversation the previous day had been long and complicated, but in the end Sunan agreed to accept her as an honorary advisor, representing the Demon Emperor in Daolu.

He had been staunchly opposed to the idea at first, but Huang Dayang had made a strong case that, in the end, even Sun Mai agreed with. Lady Yan, who Huang Dayang assured Sunan had extensive political experience, would provide him with advice and help in managing affairs, but would refrain from interfering in anything beyond that. She was being sent as an expression of good faith by the Demon Emperor, who supposedly wasn’t interested in northern expansion, and only wanted to forestall lawlessness and chaos.

Sunan reluctantly agreed.

Now here they were hearing petitions from locals, a task which Sunan loathed to begin with, and felt even more uncomfortable with now that Lady Yan was present to witness his ineptitude.

Thankfully, things had gone well. Lady Yan had even offered a few good pieces of advice that sped the process along. They were finally on to the last petition of the day

A dour and unpleasant looking man strode into the audience chamber, the final petitioner. He wore an eclectic assortment of garments, and had his hair bound up with twigs, making him look like some sort of priest.

After situating himself, the man bowed formally and said, “Greetings Sect Leader Sunan. Greetings… Chief Minister Sun.” His lips twisted when he greeted Sun Mai, and his eyes flickered with displeasure. Looking over at Lady Yan, he hesitated and then said, “Greetings….”

“This is Lady Yan,” Sunan sad.

“Greetings Lady Yan. I am Luo Jiabao, a local geomancer of some note, and a loyal citizen of Daolu.”

“Greetings, Geomancer Shuo.

Sun Mai suddenly snapped. “You’re Smiling Luo!”

Smiling Luo frowned. “Chief… Chief Minister Sun, that is indeed the name many people call me.”

“I remember you! Your shop used to be right across from my stall in the market! Smiling Luo’s Geomancy Services, right?”

“That’s correct.”

“Well… do you remember me? Scholar Sun Mai’s Sundry Services? Calligraphy, letter writing, city guide?”

Smiling Luo snorted coldly. “Counterfeit documents? Illegal forgeries? Yes, I remember.”

Sun Mai cleared his throat. “Well, nobody could ever prove I did anything illegal….”

“I’m very familiar with your… services, Chief Minister Sun. But that’s not why I’m here.” Turning his attention back to Sunan, his frown deepened, and he said, “Sect Leader Sunan, a grave problem has arisen in the city. Demons. I’m aware of at least two pernicious demons that are at large, plaguing the populace. One of them has been seen numerous times around a local establishment called the Heavenly Meat Palace.”

Sun Mai clapped his hands together. “Heavenly Meat Palace! We love that place.”

Smiling Luo glared at Sun Mai. “I’m aware.” He sniffed. “The other demon haunts the Chezou River, and has reportedly taken the lives of at least three or four fishermen.”

“I’ve heard stories of both demons,” Sunan said, “but this is my first time hearing any reports that they are dangerous in any way.”

“Oh they’re dangerous, Sect Leader Sunan. Very dangerous. I’m here to petition that you cleanse Daolu of these demon plagues. Restore peace to the hearts of the people.”

Sunan looked over at Sun Mai, who shrugged.

“Three fishermen were killed?” Sun Mai asked.

Smiling Luo cleared his throat. “Supposedly. Regardless of the actual number, these demons won’t just go away. They will continue to grow stronger, and their appetites will increase. It will only be a matter of time before children are spirited away during the night! When they’re strong enough to fight soldiers, what will you do then? The time to act is now, Sect Leader Sunan. Thankfully, I happen to be very skilled in geomancy, and know a thing or two about the supernatural. I’ve even killed a few demons and ghosts in my time. I would be more than happy to handle this matter for you, for a modest fee of course.”

Lady Yan suddenly chuckled. “Sect Leader Sunan, might I offer an opinion here?”

Sunan nodded.

“I’ve traveled all over the empire, and have seen creatures the likes of which Mr. Luo can’t even dream of. I once saw a Roc kill two armored soldiers with the single sweep of a claw. I once saw a Raksha Demon bite the head off a man and drink his blood. In the far south, I witnessed two fifteen-meter-long Nagas fighting each other. Trees were felled and boulders crushed into dust. Being new to Daolu, I can’t attest to the validity of the demon stories spun by Mr. Luo. But I can tell you that if dangerous demons were here, you would know about it. I suspect Mr. Luo is more interested in earning a few spades than protecting the safety of the citizens here.”

Silence prevailed in the room for a long moment. It was broken by Sun Mai.

“I also have a question. You’re called Smiling Luo, right? How come you never smile? That’s kind of strange, don’t you think?”

Smiling Luo’s eyes widened, and veins bulged out on his neck and forehead. “Why don’t I smile? Why don’t I smile?! How could I smile with a charlatan like you in the room! You con artist! I actually can perform geomancy, and I have actually killed demons! Real demons! But what about you? Back in the market, you cheated your customers constantly and lied about everything. And now you’re basically in charge of the city? Damn you, Sun Mai! I hope that I don’t kill those demons, I hope that I capture them! Then I’ll feed you to them, one bite a time! I’ll start with your feet so you can’t escape! Then your hands, and then–”

“Alright, enough!” barked Sunan. “Men, escort Mr. Luo out please.

As the soldiers grabbed Smiling Luo by the arms, he shouted, “You’re making a mistake! The demons are real! As real as Hen-shi’s hand! They’ll get bigger and cause more problems. I really have killed demons and ghosts! It’s all true….”

His voice slowly faded away into the distance as the soldiers dragged him away.

After another prolonged silence, Sunan rose to his feet. “Thank you, Lady Yan. You saved me the trouble of refusing him directly.”

Lady Yan and Sun Mai also rose.

“There’s no need for thanks,” Lady Yan replied. “Now that court is adjourned, I’ll take my leave.”

Sunan nodded and prepared to head back to his residence to do some training.

Lady Yan glided toward the door, then stopped and looked over her shoulder. “Oh, by the way, Sect Leader Sunan, I was hoping to get your opinion on a certain matter. If you have the time, could I trouble you to stop by my residence later this afternoon or evening? I won’t take too much of your time. We can meet in the open pavilion in the outer courtyard, so there won’t be any breach in decorum.”

Sunan’s eyes narrowed very slightly, but after a moment he nodded. “Of course.”

Lady Yan smiled and left.

“What do you think?” Sunan asked, looking over at Sun Mai.

Sun Mai shrugged. “Who knows. A few demons in the city might be kind of exciting.”

Sunan sighed. “I mean about Lady Yan.”

“Oh. Hmm…. Well, I doubt she’s dangerous. I’m almost completely certain she has no Qi in her.”

Sunan nodded. “I’ve reached the same conclusion.Well, there’s only one way to find out.”

**

Later that afternoon, Sunan found himself sitting in the outer courtyard of Lady Yan’s residence, in a small pavilion which sat at the edge of a fish pond. The courtyard was small but beautiful, complete with a peach tree and the statue of an elephant. Lady Yan was currently pouring boiled water into two porcelain teacups, within which were some whole tea leaves. Sunan struggled to keep his eyes focused on the teacups, and not her jade-like skin or ample chest.

“Sect Leader Sunan, thank you very much for providing such a lovely residence,” she said.

“No need for thanks,” he said, looked into her eyes and nodding. Her eyes were like limpid pools of water that almost seemed to grab him and pull him toward her. With some difficulty, he tore his gaze back to the teacups. “I have to say, I’ve never seen tea prepared this way. Usually it’s ground up, isn’t it?”

She nodded. “This is a way we drink tea back home in… well, where I come from. It’s already starting to become popular down south. People say that the flavor is more pure. Of course, the traditional way is still popular, but I have to admit that despite all of my traveling and experience, I never trained in the proper way to hold the ceremony.” With that, she lifted her teacup up and used the lid to sweep back the tea leaves. After taking a sip, she noded. “Please, have a taste.”

After sampling the tea, his eyes went wide. “Amazing!”

Lady Yan smiled. “It’s a green tea from the Mount Peng region, far to the south. In the local dialect, they call it Swallow-Tail Tea. If you look at the leaves, you’ll notice that they resemble the tails of swallows.”

Sunan peered into the teacup to find that the leaves did look very much like swallowtails. He took another sip. “This is truly wonderful. I’ve never had tea like this before.”

“I imagine there are many things you haven’t experienced. From what I’ve heard, you grew up in Daolu, is that right?”

“No, but close to here.”

“The north is wonderful, but in the south, there is so much to see and taste and smell.” She sighed and took another sip of tea.

The wind blew, rustling the leaves of the peach tree.

Sunan cleared his throat. “Lady Yan, you said you wanted my opinion on something…?”

“Of course. Actually, the truth is a bit more complicated.” She looked down into her tea cup. “Sect Leader Sunan, I’m… I’m afraid.”

Sunan was a bit taken aback. “Afraid?”

“Maybe nervous is a better word. I’m a woman… alone…. I’m surrounded by, perhaps not the enemy but at least… hostile forces. Your soldiers, the way they look at me… it’s disconcerting. Please, don’t misunderstand: I’ve traveled the world and am no stranger to soldiers or to dangerous situations. But usually I’m escorted by soldiers loyal to me. Right now, I have no one to rely on.”

“Lady Yan, I can assure you, you’re perfectly safe.”

“I know, I know. But you have to understand, there are people who hate the King of the Pure Ones with a passion beyond reason. Even in places completely loyal to him, there are some zealots who would go to any lengths to harm someone who serves him. Is there any chance you could spare a man or two to stand guard outside my residence, and escort me through the streets when necessary?”

As soon as the request left her lips, Sunan felt foolish. Even if she wasn’t a servant of the Demon Emperor, she was still a spectacularly beautiful woman, and to ask her to wander the streets of a strange city alone was definitely inappropriate.

“I’ll arrange it immediately, Lady Yan,” he said. “I apologize for not having thought to do so earlier. It’s really a breach of etiquette.”

She smiled. “It’s fine. I could tell right away that you are not a man of the court. It’s only normal for you to overlook such matters.”

Sunan took another sip of tea. “Lady Yan, since we’re on the subject, do you mind me asking a question?”

“Anything!”

He paused for a moment, then said took a deep breath and said, “Why are you really here?”

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4 thoughts on “LOOG – Chapter 32” - NO SPOILERS and NO CURSING

  1. Definitely not used to court if they are discounting her as dangerous merely because of a lack of Qi . . .

    Two chapters this week!
    Thanks for the chapter.

    “nobody could ever provide ” >> ‘ever prove’?

    “Lady Yan glid toward” not sure ‘glid’ is a word (I did find it in one dictionary apparently as a Scottish dialect though) >> glided?

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