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A bamboo thicket in the winter thrives on spite alone

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A-Qing knew from the first moment she stole from a kind women that fed, and clothed her, that she was a horrible person. She isn’t good by any means, but she wasn’t the worst. She knew that for a fact because she met Xue Yang.

 

She was not white, she was not black, but she certainly wasn’t a light gray color either. The amount of bad she’s down outweighed the amount of good. But she did try, but being good didn’t mean the world would be kind of you. You could give, give, and give all you wanted, but the world would only hurt you, and crush you under its heel. Just like it did with daozhang.

 

He wouldn’t be coming back to her, or anyone else.

 

Xiao XingChen was gone, and it was all because of Xue Yang.

 

She couldn’t do good in her past life, so all she could do was good in her afterlife. Cursed to roam the city that mocked her every corner she turned, false hopeful memories sprung to life everywhere she went. She spent the rest of her life condemned in this personal hell of hers, helping wandering lost travellers out of the city before Xue Yang could get ahold of them.

 

She hid them, she hid herself, all she could do was run, and hide now. Just like she did for days before her inevitable death.

 

But, she got to do more than that, she got to be more than that. She helped a group of cultivators take down the bastard that ruined her life with daozhang. She was their distraction while they fought off daozhang Song ZiChen, and the imposter Xue Yang.

 

She took his attention off the man in white, and each time he tried to cull her again, she was gone. Until the end, she was confident she would never be hit. Even as a blind ghost, she did not forget the swift paces around Yi City from her past. She remembered each street, every alley, every single crack and corner.

 

But fate had other plans for her.

 

In the beginning, the imposter moved through the thick mist swiftly like a panther, able to hide and sneakily ambush it’s prey. But now with A-Qing revealing his location every step of the way, he had to focus on two things at once. He cursed, and fumbled around his belt to grab a talisman. It was quickly thrown behind him without a second glance— following his action an ear piercing screech echoed through the abandoned  streets of the city. And Bichen, struck the bastard through his chest, piercing his vital organs.

 

The cultivator in black threw a spirit-catching pouch, hoping it would absorb A-Qing’s ghost. But it didn’t, he missed and her spirit disappeared like incense smoke. He  fruitlessly grasped the air around him, as if it would catch A-Qing's soul. She slipped between his fingers, and was gone with the wind. The spectral maiden was no more.

 

Bichen struck Xue Yang again, and the world seemed to slow down. In the blink of an eye, a mysterious silhouette disappeared with the imposter’s corpse. The two cultivators were left with an empty pouch, a right hand, and the deafening silence of Yi City.  

 

The cultivator in black cursed in a frenzied state, lowly muttering to himself as he bought the pouch to his chest.

 

“No, no, no, no—! Fuck!” He fell to his knees, and helplessly looked over to his partner. Not a single word exchanged, none were needed. At that moment, everyone already knew.

 

A-Qing was gone, forever.  

 

“Wei Ying.”

 

He stopped the other man’s hand from touching his shoulder, and just sighed.

 

“I know Lan Zhan, I know. Let’s… Let’s focus on the important task at hand, we have more pressing matters at the moment right?”

 

“...Mm”  

 

_____

 

She felt cold.

 

Cold? What a strange feeling, she hasn't felt anything for the past decade.

 

A-Qing winced at the harsh light that shined in her eyes. Her eyes? Light? She could see again! Her happiness was short lived as her newly attained eyes adjusted to the bright light.

 

She scrambled back as she saw the blurry figure of two high class men standing in front of her. The tip of her fingers were numb, the frost bit her unprotected palms. She was so cold, her body ached.

 

Everything was too much, pain, hunger, light, the world spun. She couldn't even pay attention to what the young boy in front of her was saying. He held a lantern in one hand, his other hand was outstretched towards her.

 

What was he saying.

 

Please speak up.

 

Go away.

 

Where is she.

 

She's so scared, where is her daozhang?

 

Everything at once crashed down upon her, and she could no longer hold in her tears. A-Qing let out a heart wrenching scream. She shook her head as the boy flinched and moved back.

 

She doesn't want to look at that pitying look on his face.

 

Go away.

 

She wants to go home.

 

Her knees were brought to her chest, her arms shakily moved up to cover her head. She pulled at her hair, further messing up her bird-nest hair.

 

The larger man behind the boy (his father? Uncle? Brother?) pulled him back. He didn't even spare A-Qing a glance. The boy pulled away from his grip and turned back to her.

 

“Little miss, are you okay?”

 

Finally, she clearly heard his voice clearly. Soft, quiet, curious, almost like her daozhang’s. But Xiao XingChen's voice was kinder, melodious in a way, and much less high pitched. Then again, this was a mere child, Xiao XingChen was a grown man when she met him.

 

He's worried, this stranger is worried about her? How peculiar, not even her daozhang was exactly worried about her to this extent when they first met. It was only after she forced herself onto his journey did he begin to look after her.

 

A-Qing warily stared at the offered hand, and takes it. She's pulled up from the snowy ground, the falling snowflakes brushed off her hair and shoulders. Her bamboo cane became a crutch to support her wobbling legs. She was like a newly born foal that could barely stand.

 

(Pathetic.)

 

She forgets how to speak. It's been so long. She opened her mouth, trying to form words. She could feel her tongue at the roof of her mouth, she had a tongue.

 

Her tears would not dry, even at this point she wanted to stop crying. But she couldn't.

 

Even as she tried to communicate with the young master, only soft hoarse squeaks and squawks could be heard.

 

She covered her mouth in embarrassment, and looked away. The boy only smiled, and gently pushed back her bangs. He takes a pin from his sleeves, and quickly placed her hair into a simple bun that stayed up with a jade pin. Something awfully expensive, unfitting for someone like her.

 

“Da-ge, can we take her back with us?” The boy pleaded with the bigger figure behind him. His hands tightly clutched A-Qing’s. He pulled her in front of his brother, and eagerly awaited his response.

 

She shook, not from fear from the looming giant in front of her. But instead from the cold. She wore little to nothing just two thin ratty layers that provided no warmth at all. She just wanted to get something warm. Leave her to die or actually let her onto the carriage. She could feel the meager heat just from standing a few meters away.

 

The elder brother’s stare made A-Qing vibrate anxiously. She never felt shameless for being judged before, but this man was absolutely terrifying when you look at him in the eye.

 

He responded with a grunt, and stepped back into the cart. The young master cried in delight, and pulled the confused girl onto the back of the carriage with him.

 

She was sat across from him, warmth enveloped her from all sides. She never felt this warm before, not like this.

 

“My name is Nie HuaiSang. You can call me HuaiSang though, since we'll be good friends soon!”

 

Bold of you to assume she would even stay that long. No one wanted her before, what makes this child think he would be able to handle a girl like her?

 

(She realizes in the light, that he looked a lot more mature than she initially thought. Abort, this was not a child.)

 

A-Qing was rude by all means, but she wasn't going to dumb and not introduce herself. She had to crush all possibilities of this guy from giving her a dumb nickname.

 

She couldn't speak, but at least she could make noise. Which was good enough to say the first part of her name.

 

“Ah..ah, ah” she pointed at herself and then at her cane. This should be easy right? She can only hope this guy is good at those word riddles.

 

“Zhu? [1]

 

“Aaah…” She repeated herself insistently, hitting the floor with her cane and pointing at herself.

 

“A...A-Zhu?”

 

She face palmed, close enough. She tilted her palms back and forth: not quite there but it was good enough. Looks like she would be called bamboo until she could speak again. She couldn't write her own name sadly, living on the streets meant only being somewhat literate. So she could only wait.

 

The more she thought about it the further she dreaded the name. A-Zhu… what kind of fucking name was that?!

 

“It’s not it, is it?” Nie HuaiSang dejectedly stated, a downcast expression. She pitied him as much as she pitied herself. “Can you write it out?”

 

She shook her head. You dumbass, use that head of yours she's what? Like 10 at the moment? You think a 10 year old street rat knows how to write?? Plus, she was pretending to be blind still, can a blind write?

 

This da-ge sure is slow!

 

“Well, this is going to be hard.” He sighed, rubbing the back of his head. “We can call you meimei [2] for now then? A-Zhu is kind of a strange name isn't it?”

 

She completely agrees.

 

“Meimei, do you know who we are?” He pointed to himself with his fan, and vaguely motioned toward the other man in the front.

 

Fuck no, who does she look like? Someone who keeps up with the fat pigs of society? She's busy trying to find something to even eat!

 

She shook her head.

 

“Ah well, you know the major cultivator sects right?”

 

Fuck. No.

 

Nie HuaiSang looked like he wanted to keel over and cry.

 

“I-I see. Well, my brother and I are a part of the Qinghe Nie sect. In fact, my brother is sect leader.”

 

Is she supposed to be impressed? So what your brother is sect leader he probably had nothing on her daozhang!

 

“This is even harder than talking to Lan WangJi.” Nie HuaiSang rubbed his temples. “And um, we're heading back to the Unclean Realm right now. We can get you cleaned up there, get you new clothes, and even let you meet other disciples!” His eyes lit up with an excited twinkle. She didn't like that look.

 

A-Qing then silently vowed to curse Nie HuaiSang the moment she was able to properly speak again. Did he really take her so she would become apart of his sect?? She isn't even sure she has a golden core, in fact she knew jackshit about cultivation in general! She only had a grain of cultivation knowledge from what little Xiao XingChen told her.

 

She thinks about the pros and cons.

 

If she really could cultivate, then perhaps she could crush Xue Yang before he got to Xiao XingChen. She could find him easily joining the cultivation world right? She could find Xiao XingChen easily as well! She actually saw no cons in joining these two brothers. They seemed to be important people with all these luxuries around them. Being close to them would only mean good things on her end!

 

A-Qing hit the jackpot in this life!

 

She was snapped out of her daze of  thoughts by a hand running through her hair. When the hell did he pull the jade pin out? Nie HuaiSang flinched as A-Qing glowered at him.

 

He pulled his hand back, awkwardly sitting back. She didn't mind people doing her hair, but at least ask . This guy was a young master right? Where the fuck did this dude’s manners go.

 

She huffed and grabbed his hand, and pointed at her rat nest of a hair. Fix it.

 

“Huh.”

 

The jade pin was thrusted back into his hand. He stated at her with owlish eyes, blinking. Then it clicked.

 

“Oh! Oh, oh uh okay! Sorry I thought you didn't like me touching your hair and all.” He returned to combing portions of hair with his fingers. That wasn't it at all… just ask first when you touch a stranger you just met.

 

He pulled up her hair into a simple bun, but quickly undid it with a frown. He tried to put her hair into two loops, but realized he had nothing to keep them up. Nie HuaiSang turned to the front, and tapped his brother's shoulder.

 

“Do you think meimei would look better in her twin buns, or just a ponytail? Or should I leave her hair down for now, we’re going to have her wash it either way right—”

 

“Leave it down, do not waste your time doing her hair.”

 

Nie HuaiSang pouted, but complied to his brother’s words. But this didn’t bother him too much, instead he started to ask what kind of clothes A-Qing would like. He asked, knowing he wouldn’t get an actual answer. She couldn’t understand this man, not at all.

 

He talked vividly about the kind of clothes in his wardrobes, and the exquisite materials they were woven from. Nie HuaiSang spoke highly of a woman that worked as a tailor, and rambled about what kind of dress he would get for A-Qing. A-Qing was excited, she had always envied the wealthy woman that walked the streets with their intricate garments. Soon she would be able to be like those ladies, strutting the streets in beautiful dresses.

 

(Do most female cultivators wear dresses? How would they properly fight with dresses? A-Qing decided she would want pants, like she did now. It was easy to walk in them, and probably less embarrassing if the winds ever picked up during a battle!)  

 

“Ah, how old is meimei now? You can’t me much older than 13.”

 

A-Qing froze up, she actually didn’t know exactly how old she was. She only guessed she was around 10 because she didn’t have her fox-head hairpin. She glanced down at her bamboo pole, fingers skimmed through the rough texture. She smiled as she felt the carvings on the other side. A-Qing turned the pole the other way around, and laid it flat on her lap. She pretended to feel each stroke to count how many were made.

 

Every year, when she guessed it was the day of her birth, she placed one stroke for each year. Five years completed a single character, 正— there were two completed characters, and one stroke. She’s 11 right now.

 

A-Qing crossed her fingers together, making the character for ‘ten’. Then held out her index finger horizontally, making the character for ‘one’. Together, the words made ‘Eleven’. She hoped Nie HuaiSang could at least catch on with symbols.

 

“11? You’re younger than I thought.” Nie HuaiSang nodded, as if contemplating something. “I’m six years older than you, while my brother would be 12 years older than you.”

 

Useless information to her, but thanks anyways. She nodded, and played along as if she was actually interested anyways. A-Qing is thankfully saved from any more conversation, as the carriage stopped.

 

They’ve arrived at the Unclean Realm.

 

Nie HuaiSang’s elder brother got off first, and opened the door for both Nie HuaiSang and A-Qing. He even helped her down! She then remembered, she was pretending to be blind, right. Of course he would be helping her down. He probably thought she was fall flat on her face if he wasn’t guiding her.

 

She accepted his guidance, finding it easier to be pulled along then relying on her own leg strength to walk around. Nie HuaiSang greeted the cultivators at the front gate, who only responded with curt greetings.

 

“Sect leader Nie, young master Nie welcome back.”

 

“YueTing, can you call GuangTang to help clean this girl? Treat her as you treat us, she’s our honored guest.” Nie HuaiSang dragged A-Qing away from his brother, and towards a group of disciples that were walking by them. She was pushed towards an intimidatingly large girl who’s biceps were the size of a cabbage.

 

Holy shit.

 

“I’ll be back later okay meimei? I need to go first, these disciples will treat you well.” Nie HuaiSang patted her on the back, and walked off after his brother. His robes dragged behind him as he chased to catch up to the taller man. It reminded A-Qing of a peacock’s tail. She turned back to the obscenely muscular girl, her grip on the bamboo pole tightened.

 

“You don’t have to be nervous around me, I won’t hurt you.” Funny enough, the girl’s voice was soft and nice to ears. A-Qing could probably fall asleep standing up listening to her. She patted A-Qing on the back, herding her away from her fellow disciples towards a corridor.

 

“Good luck finding GuangTang.” One of them snorted, almost in a taunting manner. A-Qing didn’t understand the exchange, but YueTing got a good laugh out of it.

 

YueTing brought her to a courtyard, where a senior disciple lounged underneath a tree. They played a simple melody on what appeared to be a bawu [3]. When they got closer, the disciple opened one eye, then closed it again with a smile. They place the bawu down on their lap, and feign sleep.

 

“Get up, second master Nie requested you to clean his honored guest.”

 

“Hmm? Why me specifically? Can’t you do it?” The disciple, who A-Qing could only assume to be GuangTang had a strange accent, and spoke in a lazy manner. They spoke slowly, at their own pace.

 

“Because all you ever do is play your instrument, and flirt with the stable workers.”

 

“Young master HuaiSang himself asked specifically for me?” GuangTang completely avoided commenting on YueTing’s earlier statement.

 

“Yes.”

 

“Well, anything for his pretty face! Come on little one, let’s get you cleaned up!”

 

A-Qing held onto YueTing’s sleeves. She couldn’t tell if this disciple was male or female, and no way in hell was she letting a male bathe her. She wouldn’t even let her daozhang clean her! YueTing seemed to understand A-Qing’s wariness, and patted her head in a false sense of affection.

 

“They are neither, it’s very confusing to me as well, but you are in safe hands.”

 

She was not reassured, but as long as this ‘GuangTang’ person was not male.

 

YueTing guided her towards RuoFen’s grasp, and when A-Qing was safely exchanged to GuangTang, she left.

 

“So who are you Little Blind?”

 

She shivered hearing the old nickname. Disgusting. She made a cross face, showing clear displeasure.

 

“Ah, don’t like that name? Hm, well we can call you little princess then eh? How’s that?”

 

Princess, she liked that better.

 

GuangTang was a casual talker, who didn’t pry, or ask where she came from, and how she got the attention of their young master. They just did their job, leading A-Qing into one of the private bathing rooms in the Unclean Realm. The senior disciple assisted A-Qing into the tub, and poured warm water in as she slowly took off her thin garments.

 

They sat the opposite direction of A-Qing, and did not help her clean. Only left her with soap, and a towel on a seat nearby for her convenience. They didn’t do anything unless A-Qing made a distressed sound.

 

“You need...help washing your hair? Seriously? How old are you?”

 

GuangTang awkwardly scratched the back of their neck, staring at the ratty mess that was A-Qing’s hair.

 

A-Qing made the symbols again with her hands, and pressed the bar of soap into GuangTang’s hands. She couldn’t wash her hair thoroughly at all. When she lived in Yi City, Xiao XingChen usually took her down to a washer lady’s home and politely asked her to help him clean A-Qing up. After all it wouldn’t exactly be proper for a monk to be washing a 15 year old girl.

 

(In secret, A-Qing just wanted to feel someone’s hands massaging her scalp and running their hands through her hair. She missed the warm sensation, it was purely nostalgia talking.)

 

“Alright, little princess really does fit you. How can you act so pampered yet be this filthy?” The senior disciple shook their head, chuckling in amusement at the bratty child in front of them. They took the bar of soap, lifted the towel onto their lap, and sat on the stool. GuangTang motioned A-Qing to turn around, and then started to detangle the girl’s hair.

Thanks to Nie HuaiSang’s earlier combing, they didn’t have too much of a hard time getting rid of the knots. GuangTang then scrubbed A-Qing’s hair with soap, threw it into the tub, and aggressively scratched her scalp until she felt like it was bleeding. Was this person really washing her hair, or making her head bleed out?

 

A-Qing didn’t get any say in this, as she promptly got head-dunked into the water. Thanks GuangTang, she makes a mental note to beat the shit out of this disciple when she got her hand on a proper weapon.

 

(There was always the chance she would forget though…)

 

She hacked and coughed, spitting out soapy water from her mouth, and rubbing her eyes. GuangTang shoved the fluffy towel into her face, sloppily drying her face.

 

“You’re just like a kitten, so fussy, stay still so I can dry your hair too.” A-Qing crossed her arms, and sunk lower into the water. This disciple was too rough, even Nie HuaiSang had a softer tough, even YueTing was softer! After a quick, and painful drying session, another towel was given to A-Qing so she could dry off her body. GuangTang properly combed her hair, and tied it up with the towel. Then they left, and stood at the edge of the exit.

 

A-Qing really had no idea what to make of that person.

 

“Oh shit! Uh, little princess, stay here for a moment I totally forget to ask for clothes!” GuangTang suddenly spoke up, and left the door unguarded without another word. A-Qing sat back down in the tub, which by now was at lukewarm temperature. She idly sat around, admiring her clean face in the reflection of the water as she waited for the senior disciple to return.

A thin oval face, and large colorless pupils greeted her. She smiled, and the image smiled back at her. She poked the towel on her head, a strand of hair fell out. A-Qing thought back to YueTing, and how strong she looked. She raises her arms up from the water, and twisted her arms around. Weak, thin, malnourished, bony, she probably couldn’t even do a push up, or carry anything her weight.

 

Weak.

 

GuangTang returned shortly, carrying a set of moss green robes. A-Qing stepped into the robes, they fit loosely on her petite frame. She looked like she was being swallowed by seaweed or something!

 

“We didn’t have anything your size.” GuangTang explained, pulling one side of the robe over the other, and tying a belt on A-Qing’s waist so the cloth wouldn’t fall off her body. “We’ll have to ask RuShi to make you something more fitting. You’re abnormally small, you know that?”

 

She’s perfectly tall for an 11 year old girl, everyone else is just stupidly tall here. She tugged at the cloth that pooled at her feet, and held it up so nothing was being dragged around as she walked. However, the fabric was heavy, and she gave up after a few steps. Fuck these clothes, they’d just get dirty, oh well.

 

“Well, my job here is done, so do whatever you want—” GuangTang was pulled back by a small hand. They sheepishly looked back at A-Qing  who’s cheeks were puffed up, and fat crocodile tears at the edge of her eyes. “Really? Come on, I have my own things to do, I can’t be your babysitter….god I can but that doesn’t mean I want to be!”

 

A-Qing huffed, fine if they didn’t want to accompany her then she would go fall in one of the hallways like an old woman. She pointed at her cane which laid forgotten by the tub. RuoFen sighed, and retrieved the bamboo pole for her. A-Qing made a content ‘hmph’ sound, and tapped the floorboards as if testing the cane.

She waved GuangTang away, after all they didn’t want to babysit A-Qing right?

 

The senior disciple made a strange saluting movement with their hand, and walked off just like that with their bawu in hand. What a bitch! Aren’t you going to pity this blind, and mute maiden?? Truly, what a bastard, A-Qing made a comparison to This Bitch and The Bigger Bitch Of The Past. Hm, perhaps they were long lost siblings? She would have to check if GuangTang also had stupid looking fangs.

 

She tapped the cane ever three steps, and aimlessly walked around the courtyard. She found nothing worth admiring, and randomly chose a hallway to walk through. She watched as a figure from the distance was sprinting with an armful of scrolls and brushes. A-Qing would move, but she was frozen in place as her legs suddenly decided now was the best time to give up.

 

Wo De Tian, she couldn’t speak. This dude’s face is covered from the amount of scrolls he’s carrying— she’s going to get fucking ran over, or probably tripped over actually. But still!!!

 

She braced herself for the incoming pain, but felt nothing impact. She opened up one eye, and witnessed as the fellow dropped a scroll. He bent down as he ran to pick it up, but instead stepped on his own robe. He fell over, and rolled like a stone tumbling down a mountainside into the courtyard. The scrolls scattered across the hallway, a few bumping into A-Qing’s legs.

 

The person in question, groaned in pain. He landed by a tree, with his legs bent, and facing the sky. While his neck held up his lower body. That looked like a painful position to be in. He rolled over, and got up without a problem. As if he didn’t just go speeding from the end of the hallway into a tree at full speed.

 

He brushed himself off, patting the dust off his mellow colored garbs. He turned around to go pick up his scrolls, but stopped when he caught sight of A-Qing sitting on the ground.

 

Silence.

 

“Ah! I’m so sorry miss, I wasn’t looking where I was going, please accept my apology. I was running to see Chifeng-zun for a meeting, are you okay?”

 

Who the hell is Chifeng-zun.

 

She just nodded, grimacing at the groveling man in front of her. What the fuck? She lifted his head up, and frantically motioned for him to stop kneeling. It really didn’t feel right to see someone looking so pitiable in front of her.

 

A-Qing pointed at her legs, and made a few complicated motions with her hands trying to explain that she needed help walking. The young man seemed lost at what A-Qing was trying to tell him.

 

“Should I call a medic?” He seemed to remember that he had a meeting, and started to hastily pick up his scrolls. “I would stay to help, but I really have to get going. I’m so sorry, I’ll be sure to call someone to help you up though. If you need to find me, this one’s name is Meng Yao.” He bowed, dropping another scroll. Meng Yao picked it up before it fell to the ground, and turned around to continue his marathon. He glanced back, and gave A-Qing a tiny wave.

He sure was in a rush.

 

She could only pray he really would call someone to help her, because these halls are as empty as can be right now.

 

(Meng Yao, she stores his name into the back of her head. He seemed important talking about a meeting with this ‘Chifeng-Zun’ person. Whoever they were, they sounded important. And knowing someone, wh— she wasn’t going to finish that sentence. Too much work.)

 

A-Qing felt her brain start to rot just from waiting. Screw this! She would just crawl, and so she did. It was a lot harder gripping onto the smooth wooden boards, the grooves too tiny to hold. But she managed, pulling herself forwards at a snail’s pace.

 

A group of disciples ran into her, and helped her to go to the medic bay. She was swept off her feet, and carried in one of their arm’s like some kind of damsel in distress. A-Qing was dropped off in an empty room full of beds, and miscellaneous items.

 

She saw cabinets with bottles, jars, and boxes full of pills, and unknown liquids all around her. Who knew what does what! She warily caught sight of a bundle of rotting leaves. Hm, not a good sign right?

 

A-Qing found this room awfully boring as well. Where was the medic here?

 

Her question was answered by a knock at the door. A youthful man stood at the edge of the entrance, leaning on the door’s frame. A-Qing was taken back by the different uniform he wore. Instead of green and gold, his robes were white with green trimmings. What made this asshole so special?

 

“Who are you, and what are you doing here.”

 

Cold steely eyes bore into A-Qing’s soul, she felt goosebumps form all over her body. Yikes, this is not the medic A-Qing was hoping for. He looks like a Grade A bitch with that kind of tone! He looked super dead with how pale his skin was...pasty. His eyebags only made him more intimidating.

 

A-Qing patted her legs, and then pointed to her throat. Her thumb and other four fingers move together to mimic speech, and she then make an ‘x’ shape with her fingers. Hopefully she communicated the fact that at the moment, she was crippled and mute.

 

He snorted, and walked towards A-Qing’s bed. He sat down onto the mattress next to hers, and grabbed her cheeks between his hand. He silently adjusted her head, up, down, side to side, was he checking out her face? Big yikes alert!!

 

She slapped his hand away, and moved back.

 

The man sighed, got up, and skimmed through the cabinets. The sound of glass jars hitting each other pierced A-Qing’s ears. Unpleasant.

 

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to do anything,” He took out a jar that contained white round items floating in a brown liquid. A-Qing realized they were eyes, human, or perhaps from another animal. She couldn’t tell the difference, but an eye was held up next to her fact. Disgusting. “You aren’t actually blind are you?”

 

She had all rights to not answer, so of course she didn’t. She would keep up the act as long as possible.

 

“What's wrong with your legs?” The medic popped the eyeball back into it’s jar, screwing the lid shut. “If you can’t say, demonstrate for me.”

 

A-Qing huffed, and pushed herself off the bed. She couldn’t even support her own weight, and just crumpled onto the ground like a rag doll. She winced, feeling her ankle twist as she landed on her backside.

 

“Ah.”

 

Was that really all he had to say? Ah? What the hell was with this sect.

 

“Okay, I got you.” He got up, and pulled two sticks from the back of a drawer, presenting them to A-Qing. She stared up at the medic, looking at him as if he was an idiot. She banged her bamboo pole, and pointed at it. She already had one of those what good does three make??

 

“If you want to keep up that blind act of yours, you shouldn’t look at people in the eye.” He flicked her nose, and pushed the sticks into her lap. A-Qing flinched, and threw her cane at his legs. No affect. “Your stick is useless with those legs of yours, it doesn’t provide enough support compared to the ones I just gave you.”

 

“Yan-gege [5]! Are you in here?” A knock came at the door. A girl no older than 13 poked her head in, holding bundles of leaves in her arms, and sticks on her back. She didn't wear the same greyish-green garbs as the disciples, and instead wore a gaudy pink outer robes, with a pale yellow inner garment tied together with a pink sash. “Oh! Who is this girl? Don’t tell me you found another poor, helpless young lady on the streets! I can’t believe this, is my gege cheating on me for another girl? She doesn’t even look str—”

 

The medic pulled the girl's cheeks, completely interrupting her whining.

 

“One, I don’t know who she is either because she won’t, or can’t speak. Two, I did not find her on the streets. Three, who said anything about cheating you brat? I can get as many helpers as I want, especially if they’re criminals who need to repent.” He pulled her cheeks until the girl’s face had harsh red imprints on both sides. Her herbs are thrown at him, and scattered all around the room. And A-Qing was still on the floor, dumbfounded by the scene in front of her.

 

“Repent?? I did nothing wrong, this mean gege abducted me after a fair trade with Yao-gege!”

 

“You sold him flour with barley saying it was medicine.”

 

“Not my fault he’s as dumb as a rock.”

 

“Pick up what you’ve thrown and I’ll make sure you get dessert tonight FeiFei.” The little girl, FeiFei, lit up and got to work cleaning up her mess. The medic, who’s name hasn’t been entirely revealed yet picked A-Qing up by her robe collar, and placed the crutches between her armpits.

 

“Can you walk?”

 

She still couldn’t feel her legs, but at least she could limp and drag herself around this place. It’d hurt her feet after she regained feeling, but it was better than crawling like a worm. She pulled herself back and forth, finding herself successful in being able to transport herself now. A-Qing nodded, and feebly bowed to the jackass of a doctor. Thanks, you did your job but it was the worst worst experience after getting her eyes gouged out, tongue cut off, and being blown into smithereens by a talisman.

 

“Good, then get out.”

 

Well fuck you too!

“Yan-gege, don’t be so mean to a little girl you don’t even know!” FeiFei chided, throwing her newly stacked bundles of leaves onto the counter. ‘Yan-gege’ snorted and produced a smoking pipe from a pocket.

WAS HE ACTUALLY GOING TO SMOKE? IN THE MEDIC BAY? WHAT KIND OF FUCKED UP METAL GEGE WAS THIS?

 

A-Qing stared at the metal pipe in his hands, and cautiously backed out. Whatever, it wasn’t her business, but god rest the souls who frequented the medical bay.

 

“I was already mean to you when you were even younger, kids these days need to toughen up a bit more. You’re all bark no bite.” He tapped FeiFei’s head with the pipe, before pointing A-Qing out the door again. “Are you also deaf? Scram, go on, I already fixed your problem didn’t I?”

 

A-Qing grew worried about the poor girl, FeiFei’s relation with this weirdo, she sounded like she was some kind of slave or prisoner. But with the medic’s annoying nagging, she was punted out of the room without an answer. FeiFei cooed a goodbye, and A-Qing was left outside with crutched that dug into her armpits whenever she shifted them.

 

What the hell was this place.