Zeno awakens, the smell of burnt meat overwhelming him immediately. Despite the fact that the food he can smell is burnt, Zeno feels a deep hunger—he has not eaten for a long time. In addition to that, he cannot actually recall the taste of cooked food.
Xi Wei can guarantee that he will not starve to death. Unfortunately, due to their impoverished condition, he cannot afford to eat high-end things like meat or other ingredients requiring cooking.
Zeno is still confused as he opens his eyes. As soon as he realizes he is hearing a stranger’s voice, he is instantly forced wide awake. He wants to stand up, but the end result is that a sudden pain causes him to fall to the ground. Upon closer inspection, the child’s soft skin at the knees and palms is torn up, and some of the wounds are filled with clinging bits of pebbles and soil. His brief flurry of movement reopens the wounds, so at the moment they are slowly oozing blood. The clothes are not completely dry, but rather damp and sticky, and very uncomfortable.
Zeno bares his teeth, then spits out a mouthful of sand. He thinks of the protagonist, hovering between life and death, and his heart fills once again with anxiety; judging by the sky the long night has passed, is Xi Wei okay?
He shakes his head and forces himself to drive out the bad thoughts striving to take root, and begins to ponder how to escape his current situation. No matter how frustrated and contrite he his, it will be useless unless he can find a remedy to his current predicament.
He had fainted the previous night after being forcibly carried away by the drunken man. He looks around and finds 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 sounds loudly outside the house, and Zeno ignores the pain in his body screaming at him to stop in order to slowly move, step-by-step, to the door. He places his ear next to it with the intention of listening in on what is 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 shouts 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 cannot be dissuaded, “If, by any chance, she is a noble, we are done for!”
The drunk is 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 seems to be persuaded into silence. Zeno changes 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 are no longer quarrelling. The air wafting into the house brings only the burning smell of the meat on the barbecue. Waiting for other people to act is not as good as helping yourself, so Zeno begins to think about how to safely escape. Kidnapping cases are quite common in this area. This is his first experience with anything like this, and he lacks the self-confidence to manage it well.
Without giving him much time to consider, the door is opened quickly, and the drunkard from last night walks in while eating a chicken drumstick. Seeing that Zeno is awake apparently leaves him a little surprised, but he quickly rubs his hands, wears a false gentle smile, and whines, “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 raises his face and naively asks, “When will uncle send me home, I want to see my baba.”
The drunkard’s eyes flash with a trace of contempt, and then he feigns 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 lifts 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 to expose his awareness to the drunk, so he continues to calculate behind a harmonious facade.
Since he has probably identified Zeno as a cash cow, drunk Bob even hands Zeno a piece of chicken.
Zeno self-assuredly accepts the food, and musters his most elegant and grateful eating posture. Then, he frowns and slowly attempts to use his tiny white teeth to bite into the stiff chicken.
Drunk Bob’s barbeque skill level is not very high, but Zeno still has to spend great effort restraining his impulse to wolf the food down; picking away at the meal delicately.
Bob looks 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 does not seem to have been raised by regular townspeople.
Zeno continues eating to build the strength to run, feigning ignorance in order to induce the other party to relax their vigilance.
Zeno finishes eating the meat, but also withholds the courtesy of thanks. Bob remembers bits of yesterday’s rainy night, and how this ‘little girl’ still insisted on expressing her gratitude. His heart fills with a chill, but looking at Zeno’s face, he once again pushes down the uneasiness. Sometimes, greed will give even foolish men courage.
Zeno knows that Bob will not leave him alone completely; he just wants him to leave him unattended for a moment, giving him enough time to escape.
Zeno returns to the pile of firewood and closes his eyes, pricking his ears to take note of Bob’s movements. Bob, seemingly satisfied with the child’s good behaviour, walks slowly towards the building’s exit.
Taking into account what he has heard, it seems that Zeno is being held captive by two people. One is that drunk, Bob, and the other is the man the drunk had called ‘Old George’. He is not sure how they work, but if he wants to escape it should be while the men are separated—making things a little easier.
Old George has not appeared, and it is unclear if he is going to contact a buyer.
Bob comes back inside twice to feed Zeno, and both times Zeno silently eats the food while the man waits.
Time passes slowly, but even so night comes again. A familiar voice comes from outside the house that startles Zeno’s spirit—Old George is back.
Bob curses colourfully; the contents of the man’s story are no good. Any interested parties refused to pay the high price he imagines the child should fetch.
Old George is timid, he hesitates, “Let me see the girl, or I cannot be honest in my dealings.” Bob once again despises his partner’s cowardice, and leaves alone to get drunk.
Zeno pretends to be afraid, shrinking into the corner, the second he sees Old George pushing his way into the hut and deliberately says, “Who are you, did baba ask you to pick me up?”
Old George is a skinny, humpbacked old man, his eyes stubbornly refuse to look the same direction—turning on their own rotation, and his unnerving smile reveals sparse, yellow teeth. “Yeah, he’s very busy right now, just let me take you back.”
Zeno immediately jumps up, “Really? Baba is not angry with me?”
Old George is convinced by Zeno’s ‘surprised’ expression. Looking at Zeno’s carved jade face, he understands the price that Bob was demanding, and cannot help but scheme. If he manages to sell the child secretly, and then tells Bob that she was rescued, is it not beautiful for him?
Zeno is betting that these two men are not of one heart1, and suspects that Old George is greedy down to his bones.
So, Zeno grabs Old George’s pant leg and cries with a soft, childish voice, “Hurry and take me to baba!”
Old George nods for selfish reasons. Although Bob declined selling the child off for five silver coins, denouncing it as too little, Old George will not turn down such a sum.
Since he does not want to delay, and Zeno is obedient, leaving becomes a very smooth process.
Zeno, his hands clammy with sweat, follows Old George out walking into the night. While walking, he thinks over how he can escape.
Suddenly, a furious shout comes from behind, and Old George is tossed to the ground, also managing to knock Zeno down.
Filled with rage, Bob lands on Old George’s body, his eyes red, and punches him continuously. Old George is aged and frail; beaten until he cries out, he curls up like a shrimp and keeps begging for mercy.
Zeno sees them start fighting, and does not hesitate to get up, limping off into a laneway.
When the two wrestling men watch their cash cow run away, they scramble up to their feet cursing and begin pursuing.
At this time, the twisted and confusing roadways of this city are to his benefit; Zeno randomly turns at every fork in the road, and the two adults temporarily cannot catch up.
This far into the summer season the wind is not cold, and Zeno is covered in a layer of perspiration from head to toe. Finally he turns into a cul-de-sac dead end with only a dog hole; Zeno does not hesitate to crawl into the hole, only his small bum and chubby legs left to enter.
Unfortunately he is not successful. Before he can go far enough, Bob grabs his ankle, pulls him out, and hangs him upside down, laughing, “So, you ran!”
Being held upside down, Zeno could feel all of his blood rushing down to his head, his face turns more and more red. All the fear he has for Xi Wei, as well as the fear building up from this depressing situation suddenly reach the breaking point. He struggles angrily, shouting, “Let me go!”
What deterrent force can a baby that was just weaned really have? Bob carelessly shakes the baby in his hand a little bit, sneering, “Let you go…or what?”
Zeno glares at this complacent drunk, and his mind suddenly becomes clear. Bob’s lips seem to slow down until they are barely moving, his smiling face is magnified countless times, and then that face suddenly becomes painful and fierce. Thick, red blood slowly begins seeping from the man’s mouth and nose, and his now powerless hands loose their grip.
Zeno falls to the ground again, a needle-like pain in his head, and his nose, mouth and ears overflowing with blood. He sees Bob clutching his own head, banging it against the wall until he faints.
He does not see that the jade pendant on his chest releases a milky glow that wraps around him gently. When the light shines, the image of a beautiful woman appears beside him, bends over, and plants a kiss on his forehead before dispersing.
When the vision of the woman disappears, the jade pendant is broken and disintegrates into powder.
After an unknown passage of time, the disorderly sounds of many footsteps grow as several torch-bearing warriors2 break the silence of the dark alley.
“Come on, there are two people here!”
The warriors notice that among them is the child that their young mistress likes very much. With apprehension, the nearest warrior feels for breath, finding the child is incredibly still alive.
The warriors quickly send out a contact signal, and then discover another man nearby. He looks even worse than Zeno. His entire face lacks a single patch of intact skin, and although the injuries are completely self-inflicted, it’s hard to say what caused him to do it.
Xiao Wu and Xi Wei rush over. Xi Wei takes Zeno from the warrior who had picked him up, a surprisingly cold chill emanating from his small body. Xiao Wu is frightened after seeing the look in his eyes, as if they have encroached on the territory of a wolf.
Although Xiao Wu is afraid of his demeanour, she could not help but advise him, “First we should treat the little guy’s wound.”
Hua Li nods in agreement, going to Zeno’s head; she has recovered some of her power and is able to cure some of the bruises completely. Zeno’s face returns to normal, and because most of his injuries are skin traumas, there is no danger to his life.
Even if he is also injured and weary, Xi Wei is still unwilling to give Zeno over to anyone.
Xiao Wu watches his laborious efforts, and her heart fills with a light bitterness. It is the first time she is feeling such complex emotions, and it seems to be frustration—though she is not quite sure.
Influenced by this heavy atmosphere, everyone is silent until Xi Lun speaks up.
The scar-faced man’s voice sounds 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 looks up, “What do you want?”
The scar-faced man pops Xiao Wu up onto his shoulders, walks along, and answers 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, but then they seemed warmer, and then he woke up.
Xiao Wu is surprised to hear the sounds of stirring, “The little one woke up.”
Zeno feels his line of sight is a bit strange. He closes his eyes and opens them again, but the strange feeling lingers.
As he blinks, rough fingers touched his forehead gently. Zeno cannot help but rub back against that hand; the familiar touch almost causes him to burst into tears. Xi Wei is okay, they are all right, it really is good.
But, he does not even have time for a happy reunion. His protagonist immediately takes out his dagger, and begins to cut his hair!
Zeno shouts out and tries ducking away, but Xi Wei steadfastly continues to cut his hair.
It is not over there. After shearing his hair short, Xi Wei continues on to cut off his skirt hem, leaving only the knee-length shorts and the top of the dress. The end result is a somewhat non-descript, genderless look.
Zeno will not hide; he can understand what the protagonist is thinking. Looking at Xi Wei, still pale faced and not yet healed from his previous wounds, he silently hugs his arm.
Xiao Wu knows that this should be a warm or funny scene, but she cannot laugh when thinking of that rainy moment and Xi Wei’s kneeling figure. She suddenly feels that this small beggar is not quite so annoying.
Then Xiao Wu takes Hua Li away from this small space, the small broken boat left to the two survivors, clinging together.
The already happy Zeno then opens and closes his right eye and then opens and closes his left eye, confirming what he suspects—he can 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.
- In previous chapters I had put samurai warrior, but in the end I think I’ll just stick with warriors. Since he’s a pimp/crime lord dude maybe samurais aren’t the type who would work for him. And some point I’ll maybe go back and edit previous chapters with this.