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Some people called the ability to erase one’s presence for espionage “Eclipse”. Buddhists refer to it as “Warpcealment”. My shifu’s name for it is self-explaining - “Dirtbag Through the Moss, A Contest to See Who’s Greener”.
Although I didn’t have any internal energy, having reached the peak of martial arts, why would I need it? The principles still held true. Thus, I blended into the street (covered myself behind the foliage and in th-e shadows) to watch Su Xiao and Tang Ye from a corner.
Hmph, you think it’s simple to catch me?
“You buying or not?! You’ve been crouching by my stall all day!” the watermelon stall owner yelled at me.
“If I don’t carefully taste it, how should I know if it’s worth buying or not?” I took two bites out of a juicy watermelon whilst checking to confirm if anyone had seen me.
“It’s fine for you to taste, but you’re about to eat half of my watermelons.”
“You still have half of them, then.”
“Look: if you want trouble, I’m calling the constables.”
“Constables? We can talk this out!”
“Hmph, got a decisive answer for me yet, then?”
“Yes.” I stood up and discarded the rind mindlessly. “Your watermelons aren’t ripe.”
“Hey! I have a dine-and-dasher!”
The man chased me across three streets but still lost me. More importantly, I didn’t see the two kids anymore. Therefore, I sneaked into a secluded alley, where there were two abandoned wooden carts to take a rest.
Life was hard. Very hard. I should’ve been able to enjoy a life of glory upon returning to the capital. I could’ve hid in the academy for three months to recover my powers, then peacefully leeched as Hanlin Academician, touching thighs and wasting time until it was my turn to roll over and die. I never expected one thing to happen after another. Most importantly, I owed anoth-
“I do hope you do remember to repay your debts.”
I looked up as though I needed to evade a projectile to see a squinting, lanky fellow smiling at me as he always did. Sometimes, “they” sported the appearance of an elder. Other times, “they” fashioned a kid’s appearance. On some occasions, “they” even assumed a maiden’s appearance. No matter what appearance “they” adopted, howbeit, “their” smile was “their” signature trait. Because of the corner of “their” upwardly-tugged lips and blinking eyes, “they” appeared witty. Because “they” often surreptitiously clenched “their” fist out of excitement and curved eyes whenever “they” spoke, because of all those micro-habits of “theirs”, it was unbelievable to be lost when trying to read “their” gaze behind their masks. I couldn’t tell if I was always meeting the same person - or if “they” were from the same group. However, every time I met “them”, my gut told me that it was the same soul behind the mask.
I couldn’t determine how skilled he was at throwing hands based on his ability to sneak up on me undetected, but I could say with certainty that the scumbag could rival my hiding skills.
I squinted. “What number are you?”
They held their hands in salute. “Martial world’s mobile treasury codename Seventeen Gangwu. We had a hard time finding you.”
I picked my ear whilst whining, “You have the noses of dogs? How come it seems to me that it takes you no effort to find me every time?”
Seventeen smiled. “It is true that you are capable of the impossible. Having said that, you are actually quite simple to find.”
“I didn’t go off to eat pork shoulders braised in soy sauce!”
“But you just ate watermelons.”
You’re the stall owner? Motherflipper, you’re in the fruit industry, too?
I pretended to stagger back three steps in shock. Alas, he moved to block my escape route.
“Are you ready to repay your debt?”
“It’s not like I’m planning to run away.” I cleared my throat. “So, the creation and erasure of a debt is but a type of currency circulation. It’s the same as any other flow in the universe that can disappear at any moment. Sometimes, a flow is born and sometimes is erased. Sometimes, a debt is formed and sometimes is erased. There is no need to obstinately cling to one. Do you understand?”
“I do. I understand you intend to run again.”
“You got that right. Don’t have enough. Do something about it!” I sat down on the ground. “I don’t have money. Only got this one life. Do what you will with it.”
“Haha, I am glad to hear that. My humble principle is, ‘You can run to the ends of the earth. If you do not pay on time, you will forfeit your life.’ That being the case, we should be able to receive some compensation in exchange for disclosing your secrets.”
You son of a…
“Hang on. I am a loyal member of Black and White Reflection, right? I’ve bought every edition since its inception and supported Pink Reflection quite a lot, as well. Are you not going to show any lenience to a long-time, loyal supporter?!”
“If we did not account of your support, the Western Regions would have already received news that Lord San Shen has lost his powers, and you would have started fighting off your opposition from the Western Regions a while ago.”
“Since you’re going to be lenient, be as lenient as possible, then.”
He shrugged. “Your debt has exceeded the limit, though.”
“How much did I spend?”
“Including interest, 697,054 taels and two coppers. On account of your honoured status, we shall remove one zero, so let us make it seven zero.”
“Here’s a hundred. Don’t forget to refund me thirty.”
He looked at me, then pushed my extended hand back to me and heaved a breath.
“You said seventy, man.”
He shook his head. “That is a hundred fake silver taels. It seems you really do not have any money.”
This is why I hated talking to this group! You couldn’t fool them, and you couldn’t curse them off! They demanded you repay a debt, yet they did it in such a polite way, making it seem as if I was in the wrong for owing money. As a result, I felt bad about not repaying them. What? I was in the wrong? I thought we cleared that up already. Debts were but a way to circulate money.
“This one is aware of your debt status. In your situation, it seems you are unable to pay. Therefore, this one has a suggestion.”
“Let’s hear it.”
“Do you know Canghai survivor Xuanduan Tingshuuo, Huang Yuzao?”
Now, I didn’t expect him to know Uncle Huang.
“Do you know Daren Academy?”
“Then, do you know the academy is about to host an academy idol competition?”
… I have a very, very, very bad feeling about this.
“Should you be able to win first place, we will clear your debt.”
… Why the hell do orthodox and unorthodox groups want me to take part in that damn competition?!
Treasury codename - They used what’s called the complex/formal forms for their numbers. As the name suggests, they’re mainly used in notarised, official documents when writing cheques. Maybe you also know them as anti-fraud numerals or the literal (wrong) translation “capital letter”. As a piece of trivia, some of them can also be used as heteronyms. For the record, this is for Mandarin.
“Including interest, 697,054 taels and two coppers. On account of your honoured status, we shall remove one zero, so let us make it seven zero.” - There’s a bit of mental gymnastics going on here, so you might’ve been confused. 600,000 is read as “sixty ten thousands”, so Seventeen shortened it to “seventy” (he says, “let us make it seventy,” which means “seventy ten thousands”). I wrote it as “seven zero” so that the trick somewhat works in English. In reality, he’s playing Ming Feizhen and demanding 700,000. Ming Feizhen goes along with it, literally, and pays 100 (albeit fake) because “seven zero” is “seventy”, which is what Seventeen actually said.
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