Zeno awakened and the smell of burnt meat overwhelmed him immediately. Despite the fact that the food he could smell was burnt, Zeno felt a deep hunger—he has not eaten for a long time. In addition to that, he could not actually recall the taste of cooked food.
Xi Wei could guarantee that he would not starve to death. Unfortunately, due to their impoverished condition, he could not afford to eat high-end things like meat or other ingredients that required cooking.
Zeno was still confused as he opened his eyes. As soon as he realized he was hearing a stranger’s voice, he was instantly forced wide awake. He wanted to stand up, but the end result was that a sudden pain caused him to fall to the ground. Upon closer inspection, the child’s soft skin at the knees and palms was torn up, and some of the wounds were filled with clinging bits of pebbles and soil. His brief flurry of movement reopened the wounds, so at the moment they were slowly oozing blood. The clothes were not completely dry, but rather damp and sticky, and very uncomfortable.
Zeno bared his teeth, then spits out a mouthful of sand. He thought of the protagonist, hovering between life and death, and his heart filled once again with anxiety. Judging by the sky the long night had passed, was Xi Wei okay?
He shook his head and forced himself to drive out the bad thoughts striving to take root, and began to ponder how to escape his current situation. No matter how frustrated and contrite he was, it would be useless unless he could find a remedy to his current predicament.
He had fainted the previous night after being forcibly carried away by the drunken man. He looked around and found himself in a very broken down house with poorly sealed walls, and many puddles of stagnant water on the floor. Zeno had been thrown on a heap of firewood; the only dry place in the house.
A quarrel sounded loudly outside the house, and Zeno ignored the pain in his body screaming at him to stop in order to slowly move, step-by-step, to the door. He placed his ear next to it with the intention of listening in on what was being said.
“Bob, you’re crazy, she’s dressed so well, her skin is so delicate, she’s definitely from the nobility. You kidnapped a noble!” An old voice anxiously shouted.
Another voice shouted over the one speaking, “Old George, you really are old, no wonder there’s been a recent downturn. Sure, she is wearing a nice dress, but anyone can see that it’s not only old, but also missing both sleeves. Which aristocrat would actually wear such a thing? The clothes have clearly been given away.”
Old George could not be dissuaded, “If, by any chance, she is a noble, we are done for!”
The drunk was impatient, “In what kind of world do you think that the baby of a nobleman is going to be running around Fenhong Street alone, at night, in the rain? %*#$&, My meat!”
Old George seemed to be persuaded into silence. Zeno changed his posture, managing to rap his knee against the door, causing him to grimace in pain.
Outside, the two men seem to reach a consensus and were no longer quarrelling. The air wafting into the house brought only the burning smell of the meat on the barbecue. Waiting for other people to act was not as good as helping yourself, so Zeno began to think about how to safely escape. Kidnapping cases were quite common in this area. This was his first experience with anything like this, and he lacked the self-confidence to manage it well.
Without giving him much time to consider, the door was opened quickly, and the drunkard from last night walked in while eating a chicken drumstick. Seeing that Zeno was awake apparently left him a little surprised, but he quickly rubbed his hands, donned a false gentle smile, and whined, “Little sister, you woke up. There was so much rain yesterday, a person alone outside is unsafe, uncle brought you back, I hope I didn’t scare you?”
Zeno pretentiously raised his face and naively asked, “When will uncle send me home, I want to see my baba.”
The drunkard’s eyes flashed with a trace of contempt, and then he feigned encouragement, “You wait here obediently, my uncle has sent someone to inform your baba, I’m sure he will be here soon to pick you up.”
Zeno lifted the corners of his mouth, stretching his face into a smile in order to keep up the act of a small child. Normally a child of this age would not realize what was happening, and he has no intention of exposing his awareness to the drunk. He continued to calculate behind a harmonious façade.
Since he had probably identified Zeno as a cash cow, drunk Bob even handed Zeno a piece of chicken.
Zeno self-assuredly accepted the food, and mustered his most elegant and grateful eating posture. Then, he frowned and slowly attempted to use his tiny white teeth to bite into the stiff chicken.
Drunk Bob’s barbeque skill level was not very high, but Zeno still had to spend great effort restraining his impulse to wolf the food down; picking away at the meal delicately.
Bob looked at the little one in front of him, his expression a mix of disbelief and hesitation. For a one-year-old child to be so well educated, she really did not seem to have been raised by regular townspeople.
Zeno continued eating to build up the strength to run, feigning ignorance in order to induce the other party to relax their vigilance.
Zeno finished eating the meat, but also withheld the courtesy of thanks. Bob remembered bits of yesterday’s rainy night, and how this ‘little girl’ still insisted on expressing her gratitude. His heart filled with a chill, but looking at Zeno’s face, he once again pushed down the uneasiness. Sometimes, greed will give even foolish men courage.
Zeno knows that Bob would not leave him alone completely; he just wanted him to leave him unattended for a moment, giving him enough time to escape.
Zeno returned to the pile of firewood and closed his eyes, pricking his ears to take note of Bob’s movements. Bob, seemingly satisfied with the child’s good behaviour, walked slowly towards the building’s exit.
Taking into account what he heard, it seemed that Zeno was being held captive by two people. One was that drunk, Bob, and the other was the man the drunk had called ‘Old George’. He was not sure how they worked, but if he wanted to escape it should be while the men are separated—making things a little easier.
Old George had not appeared, and it was unclear if he was going to contact a buyer.
Bob came back inside twice to feed Zeno, and both times Zeno silently ate the food while the man waited.
Time passed slowly, but even so night came again. A familiar voice came from outside the house that startled Zeno’s spirit—Old George was back.
Bob cursed colourfully; the contents of the man’s story were no good. Any interested parties refused to pay the high price he imagined the child should fetch.
Old George was timid, so he hesitated, “Let me see the girl, or I cannot be honest in my dealings.” Bob once again despised his partner’s cowardice, and left alone to get drunk.
Zeno pretended to be afraid and shrunk into the corner. The second he saw Old George pushing his way into the hut he deliberately said, “Who are you, did baba ask you to pick me up?”
Old George was a skinny, humpbacked old man. His eyes stubbornly refused to look the same direction—turning on their own rotation, and his unnerving smile revealed sparse, yellow teeth. “Yeah, he’s very busy right now, just let me take you back.”
Zeno immediately jumped up, “Really? Baba is not angry with me?”
Old George was convinced by Zeno’s ‘surprised’ expression. Looking at Zeno’s carved jade face, he understood the price that Bob was demanding, and could not help but scheme. If he managed to sell the child secretly, and then told Bob that she was rescued, was that not beautiful for him?
Zeno was betting that these two men were not of one heart1, and suspected that Old George was greedy down to his bones.
So, Zeno grabbed Old George’s pant leg and cried with a soft, childish voice, “Hurry and take me to baba!”
Old George nodded for selfish reasons. Although Bob declined selling the child off for five silver coins, denouncing it as too little, Old George would not turn down such a large sum.
Since he did not want to delay, and Zeno was obedient, leaving was a very smooth process.
Zeno, his hands clammy with sweat, followed Old George out walking into the night. While walking, he thought over how he could escape.
Suddenly, a furious shout comes from behind, and Old George was tossed to the ground, also managing to knock Zeno down.
Filled with rage, Bob landed on Old George’s body, his eyes red, and punched him continuously. Old George was aged and frail; beaten until he cried out, he curled up like a shrimp and kept begging for mercy.
Zeno saw them start fighting, and did not hesitate to get up, limping off into a laneway.
When the two wrestling men watched their cash cow run away, they scrambled up to their feet, cursing, and began pursuing.
In this situation, the twisted and confusing roadways of this city were to his benefit; Zeno randomly turned at every fork in the road, and the two adults temporarily could not catch up.
This far into the summer season the wind was not cold, and Zeno was covered in a layer of perspiration from head to toe. Finally he turned into a cul-de-sac dead end with only a dog hole; Zeno did not hesitate to crawl into the hole and only his small bum and chubby legs were left to enter.
Unfortunately he was not successful. Before he could go far enough, Bob grabbed his ankle, pulled him out, and hung him upside down, laughing, “So, you ran!”
Being held upside down, Zeno could feel all of his blood rushing down to his head and his face turned more and more red. All the fear he had for Xi Wei, as well as the fear building up from this depressing situation suddenly reached the breaking point. He struggled angrily and shouted, “Let me go!”
What deterrent force can a baby that was just weaned really have? Bob carelessly shook the baby in his hand a little bit, sneering, “Let you go…or what?”
Zeno glared at this complacent drunk, and his mind suddenly became clear. Bob’s lips seemed to slow down until they were barely moving. His smiling face was magnified countless times, and then that face suddenly became painful and fierce. Thick, red blood slowly began seeping from the man’s mouth and nose, and his now powerless hands lost their grip.
Zeno fell to the ground again, a needle-like pain in his head, and his nose, mouth and ears overflowed with blood. He saw Bob clutching his own head, banging it against the wall until he fainted.
He did not see that the jade pendant on his chest released a milky glow that wrapped around him gently. When the light shone, the image of a beautiful woman appeared beside him, bent over, and planted a kiss on his forehead before dispersing.
When the image of the woman disappeared, the jade pendant was broken and disintegrated into powder.
After an unknown passage of time, the disorderly sounds of many footsteps grew as several torch-bearing warriors broke the silence of the dark alley.
“Come on, there are two people here!”
The warriors noticed that among them was the child that their young mistress liked very much. With apprehension, the nearest warrior felt for breath, finding the child was incredibly still alive.
The warriors quickly sent out a contact signal, and then discovered another man nearby. He looked even worse than Zeno. His entire face lacked a single patch of intact skin, and although the injuries were completely self-inflicted, it was hard to say what caused him to do it.
Xiao Wu and Xi Wei rush over. Xi Wei took Zeno from the warrior who had picked him up, a surprisingly cold chill emanating from his small body. Xiao Wu was frightened after seeing the look in his eyes, as if they had encroached on the territory of a wolf.
Although Xiao Wu was afraid of his demeanour, she could not help but advise him, “First we should treat the little guy’s wounds.”
Hua Li nodded in agreement, going to Zeno’s head. She had recovered some of her power and was able to cure some of the bruises completely. Zeno’s face returned to normal, and because most of his injuries were merely skin traumas, there was no danger to his life.
Even if he was also injured and weary, Xi Wei was still unwilling to give Zeno over to anyone.
Xiao Wu watched his laborious efforts, and her heart filled with a light bitterness. It was the first time she had felt such complex emotions, and it seemed to be frustration—though she was not quite sure.
Influenced by this heavy atmosphere, everyone was silent until Xi Lun spoke up.
The scar-faced man’s voice sounded mellow and sexy, but unfortunately his words seem hateful, “Boy, although you sought out my daughter, the one helping you was me. How are you going to repay me?”
Xi Wei finally looked up, “What do you want?”
The scar-faced man popped Xiao Wu up onto his shoulders, walked along, and answered back, “So, I want to tell you kid, oh! Xiao Wu, baby girl, don’t pinch!”
Zeno felt like he had been in a lengthy dream, and the contents of the dream seemed scary. Suddenly he felt warmer, then he woke up.
Xiao Wu was surprised to hear the sounds of stirring, “The little one woke up.”
Zeno felt like his line of sight was a bit strange. He closed his eyes and opens them again, but the strange feeling lingered.
As he blinked, rough fingers touched his forehead gently. Zeno could not help but rub back against that hand; the familiar touch almost caused him to burst into tears. Xi Wei was okay, they were all right, it really was good.
But, he did not even have time for a happy reunion. His protagonist immediately pulled out his dagger, and began to cut his hair!
Zeno shouted out and tried ducking away, but Xi Wei steadfastly continued to cut his hair.
It was not over there. After shearing his hair short, Xi Wei continued on to cut off his skirt hem, leaving only the knee-length shorts and the top of the dress. The end result was a somewhat non-descript, genderless look.
Zeno would not hide; he could understand what the protagonist was thinking. Looking at Xi Wei, still pale faced and not yet healed from his previous wounds, he silently hugged his arm.
Xiao Wu knew that this should be a warm or funny scene, but she could not laugh when thinking of that rainy moment and Xi Wei’s kneeling figure. She suddenly felt that this small beggar was not quite so annoying.
Then Xiao Wu took Hua Li away from their small space and the small broken boat was left to the two survivors, clinging together.
The already happy Zeno then opened and closed his right eye and then opened and closed his left eye, confirming what he suspected—he could no longer see from his left eye.
Well, these types of novels tend to lean towards the “cliffhangers” in general, but I think that this one is tamer at least? Unrelated to that, I’ve updated my table of contents section to include all three of my projects. [This one is now approx. 1/6 complete!]
That aside, just how cute are these two!?! And, within reason, I worked hard to get this done quickly for you all. Thank you for reading, and for your feedback, it’s so wonderful! Big shoutout to my discord translator group for their help, as always.
- This just means that they are not working together well. ↩