This time, Shen Jiu did not kill the Qius, not needing the trouble that came with it the first time around. Instead, he faked his own death -- not that hard to do in general, especially with the experience and knowledge he now possessed -- and left the city.
There was a modest tea house situated just outside the busiest part of a city near the Luo river. While it could not be compared to the more affluent and beautiful tea houses, there was something appealing about its modesty. The simple walls and elegant decor made most feel welcome and something about the tea house -- perhaps the way it was made? -- made it so that sound did not travel far and hence the tea house itself was peaceful and quiet.
A large majority of the staff of the tea house were slaves bought and liberated by the ever-elusive owner of the tea house. They had stayed, of their own free will, and dedicated themselves to the owner of the tea house, whoever they might be.
Then, there were the private rooms situated on the second floor.
The private rooms were not open to the public. Instead, one had to make a booking in advance. The private rooms themselves were aptly named. Whatever that was said inside would never leak out be it by thin walls -- the walls were very thick and reinforced with seals, thank you -- or by staff with loose lips. As such, the tea house became an unofficial meeting place for people looking to trade information or wanting to have secret, clandestine meetings.
Many of those people were cultivators.
Just because Shen Jiu did not want to join any cultivation sects did not mean that he was not going to cultivate. Being who he was, he had long realized that only people with might were allowed to have a say in anything at all in this world, and hence he had to be one of them.
With the experience he had gained from the last life, Shen Jiu did not need a teacher -- and certainly not a scummy scammy one like the one he had in his previous life -- to guide him along. The only thing that might happen would be him falling prey to a qi deviation and, well, that was nothing new.
And so he cultivated on his own. Cultivated in his free time. Cultivated in his breaks. Cultivated while he worked to make his tea house. Cultivated as his employees worked to serve guests.
Perhaps it was because he managed to start at a younger age or perhaps it was because he didn’t have much roadblocks -- cough Wu Yanzi cough -- hindering him, but Shen Jiu could have sworn that he was a lot stronger than he had been in the last life at this age. And that strength came to good use when putting stupid, entitled customers in their place.
Patrons usually never saw the mysterious and elusive owner of Ning Jing Tea House. If it weren’t for the occasional mention of Teacher Shen’ from the staff, they would think that the owner simply did not exist.
However, there was one occasion in which the patrons did see the owner.
It was near the evening period, where business was winding down, where there was a loud ‘thud’ and furious yelling.
An elegant man held the wrist of a yowling customer in his hand as he quickly strode down the stairs, uncaring to the fact that he was basically dragging his customer behind him.
“How dare you?!” the customer had yelled until his face turned red.
“Ning Jing Tea House would like you to respect our staff,” when the man spoke, it was with controlled calm laced with an iciness that would cow even the most indignant of men. As it were, the customer’s face drained of blood for a moment, before he started kicking up a fuss once again.
“Respect? I’ve seen that girl on the street. She’s just a slave! What’s wrong with me taking what I want from her? Why should I respect a slave, huh?”
The elegant man simply glanced at him with a gaze sharp enough to slice steel.
“You have proven yourself unable to respect our staff. As such, you have been banned from Ning Jing Tea House.”
Without further ado, the man was flung out of the front doors, rolling across the street and crashing into the wall right opposite the tea house.
“HOW DARE YOU TREAT ME LIKE THIS, YOU DO NOT KNOW WHO--”
The mysterious man shut the door and the noise was immediately cut off.
“Ning Jing Tea House apologizes for allowing our treasured patrons witness such a disruptive scene,” the man said. “As such, your current meal here will be free of charge. A-Hui, please reimburse the ones who have paid.”
“Yes, Teacher Shen!” one of the Head Staff saluted and immediately carried out his orders.
With that, the mysterious man walked up the stairs and disappeared from sight.
It wasn’t until later that they realized that the mysterious man was the owner of the tea house.
Handsome! Graceful! Chivalrous! Righteous!
They could not help but be charmed by him and start spreading word of him.
Above the tea house, in his private room, Shen Jiu sneezed multiple times. Hadn’t he already reached later-tier core formation stage? He should be immune to the common cold by now! Cultivation truly was a scam!
Look, Shen Jiu did not ask to be the teacher of a bunch of former slaves. He hired them because, as a former slave himself, he knew that their work ethic would be good. He let the ones unwilling to do the job go free because who would want an unmotivated worker?
As for teaching them how to read and write and basic arithmetic… well, there were times where he had nothing to do! And if they knew these skills, they would be able to better manage the tea house and give him more time to cultivate. There really was nothing more to it! He wasn’t even mistreating them this time around! Why were you so concerned with his matters, huh?!
As things stood, it seemed like Shen Jiu would have to train his staff in the act of self defense as well. His work would never be done.
Did he owe Liu Qingge in his previous life or something?!
With the tip of his shoe, Shen Jiu nudged the unconscious body in front of him. Shen Jiu had just wanted to take a quick stroll through the back alleys of the city -- one could find a lot of… interesting information there -- when he came across a familiar figure clothed in familiar white robes, lying face down on the ground. He didn’t seem to be badly injured but he didn’t seem too well off either.
For a full minute, Shen Jiu actually contemplated leaving the man there on the ground to the mercy of the elements and the people, but then decided against it. After all, he probably killed the man in a past life, if what everyone said was true, and so, technically , he owed him.
God, Shen Jiu really hated owing people.
The first thing Liu Qingge did when he woke up was to grab the sword that Shen Jiu had oh-so-nicely laid out beside him and try to attack Shen Jiu. Fuck! That brute’s tendency to repay good with bad still hadn’t changed! Shen Jiu was never going to help that bastard ever again! If he was dying in front of Shen Jiu, Shen Jiu would just point and laugh!
“Where am I?” Liu Qingge snarled, sword pointed at Shen Jiu’s throat. Shen Jiu was calm. Shen Jiu could answer this with poise and grace. He was the owner of Ning Jing Tea House. Liu Qingge had no reason to look down on him. Shen Jiu mustn’t give him one.
“Where are you?” Shen Jiu snapped. “You’re in a private room of my tea house, you ungrateful brute! I should have just left you outside to die!”
“You--” Liu Qingge began furiously and then, to Shen Jiu’s surprise, he stopped. He looked around. He looked down at himself. And, lastly, he looked at Shen Jiu.
“I?” Shen Jiu prompted, not wanting to face that strange and unfamiliar look Liu Qingge was giving him any longer.
“You saved my life.” Liu Qingge put down his sword. He bowed. Shen Jiu only barely managed to keep himself from reeling back in shock. “I now owe you a great debt.”
“...” Shen Jiu said. “Your debt is 10 silver taels. Now get out.”
There was a very strange expression on Liu Qingge’s face. It reminded Shen Jiu of the times in his previous life where he managed to offend Liu Qingge so much that his brain stopped working, not that it ever really was working in the first place, and all he could do was splutter.
“My life is only worth 10 silver taels?” Liu Qingge managed to choke out. Shen Jiu fought the urge to roll his eyes. It was very hard.
“No, that’s the price of the room you’re currently staying in. Usually you have to reserve it, but I’m making an exception just for you,” Shen Jiu said. The last bit was coated in poisonous honey.
Another expression settled onto Liu Qingge’s face. Shen Jiu didn’t like that he couldn’t read it. It meant that Liu Qingge was more capable of sentient thought then Shen Jiu had estimated.
“I understand,” Liu Qingge said. “But my honor will not allow me to leave this debt unpaid.”
Then just give me the fucking taels! Or did he not have money on him? Had he been mugged? That was a funny thought, Liu Qingge getting mugged. Also very impossible.
Shen Jiu held out his hand. Liu Qingge stared at it.
“Taels,” Shen Jiu said. Liu Qingge obediently looked into his qiankun pouch -- Shen Jiu really needed to look into getting one of those -- and handed over the taels. “Okay get out.”
“Is there truly nothing else that you need?” Liu Qingge asked.
Yes. I need you to get out of my sight before I start foaming at the mouth.
“No. Get out.”
“I understand that you have a noble heart that refuses paym--”
“I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.” Every word that came out of Liu Qingge’s mouth was more and more incomprehensible. In order to prevent his headache from getting worse, Shen Jiu grabbed his arm, opened the nearest window, and then threw him out. Spotting the sword on the bed, Shen Jiu chucked it out as well.
He hoped the sword hit the brute on the head on its way down.
Liu Qingge came back the next day. He muscled his way past all the serving staff and right into Shen Jiu’s private room. Faced with no other solutions at hand -- for despite all the things Shen Jiu did right this time around, Liu Qingge was still stronger than him and that fact nearly drove him mad every time he thought about it -- Shen Jiu ignored him, continuing with his paperwork.
The first day consisted of Liu Qingge standing in the corner of his room and staring at him, as though he was a guard, while Shen Jiu did paperwork.
The second day Liu Qingge did the same thing while Shen Jiu mediated.
The third day Liu Qingge continued to stare at him and Shen Jiu couldn’t take it anymore.
“What do you want?” Shen Jiu asked.
“To repay my debt,” Liu Qingge answered.
“It’s been repaid.”
“No it hasn’t.”
“Yes it has.”
“No it hasn’t.”
“Yes it has.”
“No it hasn’t.”
Shen Jiu took in a deep breath.
“I am literally going to kill you where you stand,” he whispered. “And this time I won’t even feel bad about it.”
Liu Qingge looked amused. No doubt the damned brute of a cultivator could hear him. However, before he could answer, one of the few colored bells on the wall next to Shen Jiu’s desk started to ring. Shen Jiu face did not pale, and he walked with controlled, unhurried steps. Anyone who would tell you otherwise would be lying.
He calmly strode through the halls and threw open one of the private tea room doors to see a somewhat familiar man holding onto the wrists of one of the smaller female staff. It made Shen Jiu sick to the core.
With a flick of his hand, the man was sent flying into the wall, freeing the girl from his grasp. The girl took the opportunity to run out of the room, which was an understandable yet foolish decision.
“Follow her,” Shen Jiu said to Liu Qingge. He pulled off the ribbon tying up his hair and threw it at Liu Qingge. “If she doesn’t trust you, show her this. Make sure she is able to enter the breakroom. The more senior staff would know what to do.”
“But…” It was obvious that Liu Qingge did not want to leave him alone with an ‘unknown assailant’.
“You wanted to repay your debt, yes? Then do as I say.” Without sparing Liu Qingge another glance, Shen Jiu turned back to the man. He had already gotten up to his feet.
There was another moment of hesitation but soon enough Shen Jiu heard Liu Qingge’s footsteps leaving the area.
“I really do wonder why you tried the exact same thing a second time. Was one humiliation not enough for you? Do I need to roll you into the center of town?” Shen Jiu asked, stepping towards the man. The fan tied to his waist began to hum, almost inaudibly, with power.
The man did not seem afraid, however, which made Shen Jiu all the more cautious. He probably had some cultivation weapon up his sleeve. Or a poison. Or a spell.
“I’m not afraid of you!” the man said. “I have a weapon!”
And then he pulled out a dagger.
Shen Jiu stared at the dagger. It was a dagger. A plain old dagger. There were no enchantments, no spells, not even the thinnest coating of poison.
Shen Jiu was completely, utterly, offended. He was so offended that he was speechless.
“Hah,” the man sneered. “Scared, aren’t you?”
Did he really think he could kill Shen Jiu, Shen Jiu, with nothing but a cheap little knife?! The absolute gall! If someone wanted to murder him, they should at least put in more effort! Shen Jiu would accept nothing less than a carefully planned assassination!
Actually, Shen Jiu wanted to see the man try and kill him with that flimsy little piece of metal. He wanted to see how that untrained creature would flail about and make an absolute fool of himself before Shen Jiu shredded him into fine little pieces and scattered him throughout town.
However, Shen Jiu never got his wish because of Liu fucking Qingge.
“Watch out!” Liu Qingge stepped in between the two of them and--
Oh. Oh, that poor man.
The tea house had been closed for the day. Liu Qingge and Shen Jiu stood at the entrance of it, Shen Jiu seeing Liu Qingge off, hopefully forever.
“Your debt has been repaid,” Shen Jiu forced out through gritted teeth. “You have saved my life from that… dastardly man.”
“You have to be more aware of yourself,” Liu Qingge said. “I know you care for others but you need to care for yourself too!”
As always, Liu Qingge made absolutely no sense whatsoever.
“Alright let’s never cross paths again.” Shen Jiu stepped back and slammed the door shut.
“Teacher Shen… so you were almost bested by a knife?”
“A-Hui. I am warning you.”
“Or was it the handsome cultivator?”
“A-Hui, ten laps up and down the Luo River.”
“Yes, Teacher Shen!”
ON THE NEXT EPISODE OF... SO YOU THINK YOU CAN cultivate
“Teacher Shen, I have found a young boy willing to fill in the role of kitchen staff!”
“Alright then. Hire him.”
Shen Jiu stared down at the boy, his heart almost leaping out of his throat.
“Shizun!” the boy said with a beatific smile.
“Don’t call me that!”
When he looked at the expression on Shen Jiu’s face, he knew.
Shen Jiu remembered him as well.