Chapter 1117: A riddle to test one’s brains

Drilling Earth Breeze?

What a strange name for a medicine.

While Long Feiye was still talking to himself, Gu Qishao spoke up. “Gu Beiyue, if this prescription didn’t use Drilling Earth Breeze, what would be used in its place?”

As a genius pharmacist himself, Gu Qishao could come up with plenty of ingredients himself to match the item, but this was a prescription for a pregnant mother, so he needed Gu Beiyue’s insight. Gu Beiyue fell into a brown study as he stared at “Drilling Earth Breeze” with furrowed brows. 

“Qishao, you mean to say that the answer isn’t ‘Drilling Earth Breeze’ but the true ingredients it took the place of?” Tang Li asked hastily.

Gu Qishao was quite good at solving riddles! In a rare moment of solemnity, he replied, “Judging from the prescription alone, there are multiple possiblities that’d fit. There’s the commonly-seen milk vetch root, atractylode rhizome, blood-nurturing earth, nakai, cushaw stalks or sepals, ramie root; or maybe the less common stamen and pistils, black spirit skin, Buddha’s jade, skyleaf, Mahasattva root, nightdew.”[1]

Hearing Gu Qishao rattle off all those names made Tang Li’s head swell, and he looked to Gu Beiyue for help. With so many replacements for Drilling Earth Breeze, just which ones should they focus on? Gu Beiyue would have to figure that out, especially since Fourth Young Miss Ren was his student. He should be most familiar with her prescription writing habits.

Still, even if Gu Beiyue could pinpoint the right ingredient, they still had to puzzle out the rest! What could a bunch of medicine names tell them? Gu Beiyue studied the prescription again and finally spoke up after a long while. “Judging from this prescription, Fourth Young Miss Ren might be aiming for one of four other ingredients: nightdew, skyleaf, atractylode rhizome, and black spirit skin.”

“Nightdew, skyleaf, atractylode rhizome, and black spirit skin?” Gu Qishao echoed thoughtfully.

On the surface, these words didn’t hold much meaning at all. Tang Li brought over some paper and brushes and wrote them down. There were ten characters in all, but none of them could combine to make the name of a location. Gu Beiyue felt that something was off, but couldn’t figure out what. Riddles with Chinese characters could be solved in multiple ways, but he wasn’t sure which method was correct. All he could do was try Gu Qishao’s suggestion first.

Everyone stared at nightdew (夜露), skyleaf (天叶子), atractylode rhizome (白术), and black spirit skin (黑灵皮) on the paper for ages without any progress. Abruptly, Long Feiye opened his mouth and declared, “Tang Li, go find the names of all locations within Medical City. Don’t leave out a single one!”

If this was his Han Yunxi, she’d be trying to give them the name of her location! That was the more direct route to rescue. It was impossible to figure out anything from the ingredient names alone. To avoid missing any details, they needed a full list of all location names to compare with the list of ingreidents, picking out any that seemed suspicious for further thought.

“Yes!” Tang Li left to do as bidden, having long changed his grief to stregnth. Although he couldn’t bear to leave little Tang Tang alone, nothing could stop his efforts to save Ning Jing and his sister-in-law. Once he left, Long Feiye found space on a fresh sheet of paper and wrote down “Drilling Earth Breeze” (钻地风). This was their direct line of communication, so they couldn’t leave it out, either! Perhaps Han Yunxi and Fourth Young Miss Ren wanted to spread the intel in these words, too. 

By now, Long Feiye’s heart had already grown solemn, restoring his former calm and cool. He wouldn’t leave out any possibilities. After writing the characters, he looked to Gu Beiyue and asked, “Are you sure those four ingredients are the only replacements?”

At last, Gu Beiyue figured out the discrepancy he’d been feeling. They had to figure out what the princess was trying to tell them before trying to solve the riddle itself, or else they’d have no goal.

“I’m certain. The quantities and combination of ingredients in this prescription requires one of the four items I named to be up to Fourth Young Miss Ren’s usual level of skill.”

“Is there no ingredient that stands out amongst the four as best pick?” Long Feiye asked next.

“The four are all equal without fail,” Gu Beiyue replied.

Staring at the now thirteen Chinese characters before them, the three men grew serious and stern. If this was any other day, Gu Qishao would have said he gave up and gone to take a nap already. He hated word games, but this concerned Poison lass’s safety, so he’d dig out all his brains if he had to to figure it out.

“There are two possiblitie. One is a random gathering of words,” Long Feiye explained. “It’s possible they’ll only send out one relevant word with each prescription, meaning we should pick out any suspicious characters.”

Seeing no objections from Gu Beiyue or Gu Qishao, Long Feiye continued to speak. “The second method is hiding the words themselves. We might end up fixating on the wrong characters. The words they hid might be a modifier within one of the characters, rather than the character itself. Or it could be the ‘meaning’ of a word and what it represents.”

Gu Qishao was in a rare state of docility as he gave Long Feiye a big thumbs up while keeping quiet. Gu Beiyue had already begin to think along both possibilities. 

“Drilling Earth Breeze, nightdew, skyleaf, atractylode rhizome, black spirit skin” could be broken up into “metal (金), dirt (土), also (也), human (人), rain (雨), road (路), big (大), opening (口), ten (十), day (日), wood (木), and fire (火).”[2] Gu Beiyue wrote all of these characters down, then combine them into new words based on compability of characters.

Very soon, they had filled up an entire sheet with characters. Still, these were simply raw words with no meaning. As Gu Beiyue began to puzzle over the potential meaning of the words and what they could signify, Long Feiye stopped him. “It shouldn’t be that deep. She wouldn’t have had enough time.”

To hide words like this took time and effort as well as ink. It was hard enough thinking them up in your head without testing out combinations first. Han Yunxi and the rest were prisoners under watch, so it was impossible for her to plan anything too complicated. 

“That makes sense,” Gu Beiyue came to a realization.

Thus, he refocused his attentions on the original 13 words. Long Feiye took a brush as well and began to combine the individual characters into commonly seen phrases: “heaven and earth” (天地), “night wind” (夜风), “Son of Heaven” (天子), “daylight” (白天), “black night” (黑夜), “ground” (地皮)...

Going any further than that, however, would be pointless without Tang Li’s list of locations. It took him a while, but Tang Li eventually returned with Chu Xifeng, Xu Donglin, and Baili Mingxiang in tow. Medical City was a vast area that numbered in the upper half of cities in terms of scope and scale. To compile all of its location names needed a lot of time! Tang Li had found Deputy Academy Head Shen for two volumes of maps detailing the names of all locations for Medical City.

“Big bro, this is a huge project, so I called these three over. Everyone can work on it together,” Tang Li said.

Long Feiye acknowledged him silently while Gu Beiyue explained to them the plan to crack the code. Tang Li divided up the two books into multiple sections for everyone to study, and they spent the night pouring over its contents. There were just too many names in Medical City so that they’d only gone through about half by the time they sun came up. 

At this time, Han Yunxi and Fourth Young Miss Ren had just woken up. Although there was no concept of day or night in their cell, their biological clocks still worked normally. Su Xiaoyu and Ning Jing had been locked up in separate cells away from them, while Mu Qingwu had never been seen at all. Han Yunxi assumed she’d run into Duanmu Yao too, but Bai Yanqing hadn’t even mentioned the woman since her captivity. Han Yunxi almost wondered if Bai Yanqing had simply killed Duanmu Yao after he finished using the stupid woman. There was no more need for Duanmu Yao after his dangerous kidnapping and concealment plan.

Han Yunxi had recovered quickly under the treatment of Fourth Young Miss Ren’s skilled hands. According to her, it’d be just ten more days before she could get off the bed and walk about. In fact, Han Yunxi didn’t even need to take medicine anymore. Most medicines had an element of toxicity to them, so taking too much would be bad for the infant’s health. Despite this, Fourth Young Miss Ren still boiled decoctions for her daily so they could keep writing out prescriptions.

“Princess, the prescription would’ve reached Academy Head Beiyue by now, but I’m not sure if he’ll be able to figure it out,” Fourth Young Miss Ren was a little worried. Although she had plenty of reasons to send prescriptions outside, she feared the day Bai Yanqing caught on and stopped their communications.

After all, Bai Yanqing’s ultimate goal was for Long Feiye and Han Yunxi’s dual cultivation to fail and pit them against each other as enemies. He didn’t need to risk all this for the sake of a single baby. Thus, Han Yunxi and Fourth Young Miss Ren both felt it was best to send out news quickly within a short time frame. Fourth Young Miss Ren had hidden the address of their location within the words they sent out. At first, she wanted to use “cassia seed” (决明子) and guanfang (关防) as ingredients. The former was used to induce early labor and would stick out like a sore thumb to obstetrics doctors, while the latter was simply shorthand for guanfang root (关防风), which contained the character for wind (风) in its name. 

There were so many types of Chinese medicines that they were countless. If Bai Yanqing saw “guanfang,” he’d only assume it was a medicine he didn’t know, while an obstetrics doctor could catch the clue as soon as he read the shorthand. Once the name reached Academy Head Beiyue’s hands, he’d naturally fill in the missing “wind” (风) character. In this way, a single prescription would be enough to send out the “Clearbreeze”  (风明) characters needed for their Clearbreeze Peak. 

Fourth Young Miss Ren had thought long and hard over her method, but Han Yunxi rejected it in the end because there was a risk involved. As a poisons master, Bai Yanqing knew nothing of medicine, but plenty about pharmacy. As soon as he read “guanfeng,” he had a chance of either being clueless or catching onto their little ploy. If he intercepted their prescription, the plan would fail. Han Yunxi had risked the baby in her womb and lost plenty of blood to buy this chance, so she had to be certain!

After a long period of thought, she had told Fourth Young Miss Ren to gather up all of the medicines used for invigorating the blood and make a list of those with the “wind” character in their names. Like this, they landed on Drilling Earth Breeze. After that, she had Fourth Young Miss Ren repeat a list of ingredients most suitable for use with the prescription, only to get back “nightdew, skyleaf, atractylode rhizome, and black spirit skin.” Delighted by the names, Han Yunxi told her to use “Drilling Earth Breeze” as the clue.

Even if Long Feiye’s group was lacking wits, they’d notice the Drilling Earth Breeze immediately. Next time they’d try to send out “clear” (明)  and “peak” (山) as well. With enough wits, the group outside should be able to find the location with these words! Meanwhile, Bai Yanqing would remain clueless due to his ignorance of obstetrics.

“If they can’t figure it out this time, there’s still next time, no need to worry. We can at least send out one more prescription,” Han Yunxi murmured.

Right now, she was preoccupied wondering whether Long Feiye had found out about her pregnancy yet…

1. Most of these are transliterations; I can’t find equivalents in Chinese medicine in our world…

2. Many Chinese words are made of compound characters, so think of this as akin to breaking down compound words in English. For example, the English word “breakfast” could be split into “break” and “fast.” This is basically what GBY is doing here by breaking down the individual Chinese characters in the ingredient names. Obviously, it doesn’t translate exactly into English, so I’ve kept the original Chinese in parantheses for those who want to try their hand at cracking the code. XD

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Ruyi's Thoughts

Han Yunxi prepared something so simple and yet these poor saps are totally diving into it with the overthinking... xD

I can't tell whether this counts as her underestimating their intelligence, or them overestimating her ploys, hahaha!