Gu Qishao had amazing good news to tell Han Yunxi, but his appearance startled her. She quickly put away Mu Linger’s letter and lost track of everything he was saying in the meantime. Gu Qishao looked curiously behind her, but Han Yunxi only hastened to distract him. “You’ve finally returned. I have something important to tell you as well!”
Gu Qishao ignored that and asked in a doubtful tone, “Poison lass, what are you hiding behind you?”
“Gu Qishao, the Medicine Requesting Cave has a pill refining cave, did you know?” Han Yunxi asked quickly.
Gu Qishao’s eyes flashed with a complicated expression as he stopped interrogating her. He chuckled and said, “It’s not like I’ve ever been there. How would I know?”
Han Yunxi felt that something about him felt off, but she couldn’t place what. Next she asked, “There’s a really strange pill refining furance in there that keeps warm even without any first. Did you know that?”
Gu Qishao narrowly nodded, but reacted quickly enough to say, “Didn’t I just say that I’ve never been there before? How would I know? Are you an idiot?”
“Oh….” Han Yunxi then continued, “There’s an eccentric old man there too with a really strange temper. He’s a little like you.”
“Poison lass, are you comparing your Qi gege to an old man?” Gu Qishao grew incensed.
“He looks a lot like your Pill Fiend disguise. Big black robes and skinny hands---he even laughs weird,” Han Yunxi said seriously. When she saw Gu Qishao’s odd expression, she added, “But there is one thing that’s completely different.”
“What?” Now Gu Qishao was curious.
“That old man is very pitiful, while you’re not pitiful at all. Haha, you’re more detestable in comparison,” Han Yunxi grinned.
Being cursed like that only made Gu Qishao asked, “How is that old man pitiful?”
Is...does he actually care about him?
Han Yunxi could only guess before, but now she was more or less certain that Gu Qishao was the child in the drawing. Because from what she knew, he never cared about anyone unless they were important to him or someone he knew. After being banished from Medical City, he must have sought refuge with the pill furnace cave. Why did that old man beat him? Did he really leave because of that?
Han Yunxi knew that the story had to be a sad one, so it was unlikely Gu Qishao would tell anyone else. That agreement she had was precious, but his privacy was more important. She decided to stop asking after all.
“Because he’s detestable! The three trials at the Medicine Requesting Cave were all really hard. We almost died in there,” Han Yunxi said seriously.
“What does that have to do with being pitiful?” Gu Qishao knit his brows.
“Guess!” Han Yunxi grinned.
Gu Qishao’s brows knitted even further. “What’s the connection?”
“Because detestable people have their pitiful sides to,” Han Yunxi laughed out loud. “Idiot!”
So in the end, she was joking?
“Boring…” Gu Qishao rolled his eyes at her. Han Yunxi exhaled, knowing that he wouldn’t ask any more questions now.
Gu Qishao dropped the subject. It’d startled him so badly that he forgot all about the good news he was going to tell Han Yunxi. After taking a few more sips of tea, he simply turned to walk out the door. Han Yunxi chased after him a few steps, but he was already gone by the time she went out.
Judging from that, I’m ever more certain that old man’s looking for none other than Gu Qishao!
Once Gu Qishao left the courtyard, he traveled an entire day without rest until he reached the medical cottage. He had no idea what he was doing there, because he was never going to step into that pill refining cave another step while he was still alive, much less meet his master again. All he did was linger in the back mountains, sitting in a tall tree while keeping guard over the secret entrance at the back. Three days and three nights passed before the old pill eccentric emerged from the entrance. As soon as that happened, Gu Qishao turned his head and left without another glance.
Like a man possessed, he galloped back in a mad frenzy until he reached Yaoshui Prefecture again. Once the horse stopped, he rolled off its back in exhaustion to collapse on the grass with his back to the ground, his eyes caught in a vicious glare.
The greatest mercy I’ve shown him is not going back to take my revenge already.
He laid there until it grew dark and fell asleep to nothing but nightmares.
When Little Qi left Medical City, he ran to Medicine City just so he could avoid Academy Head Gu’s pursuers. He wasn’t planning to make a livelihood out of the medical arts. But none of the clans in Medicine City was worth his time, and he was fully aware that none of them would dare to accept them into their ranks, either. He did find the medical cottage impressive, because its isolated location meant he could change his name and start anew, far away from the rest of the world. Despite being a child, Little Qi had already considered more aspects of his life than most adults. Would his heart ever tire from such cares?
He even found a perfect way to encounter the Pill King by chance, but by the time he found the cottage in the Medicine Woods, he was already thoroughly exhausted. There wasn’t a speck of grain on his body, so although he hated eating medicine, he did it anyways just to survive. There was a secret patch of medicinal plants he found hidden in the back that he survived on for a few days.
It was only after meeting the old Pill Refining Master that he got hot food again. He never thought he’d have a master one day, much less one who was like an old grandfather. The man cooked and taught him about medicine everyday, and even tutored him in martial arts. He would even find ways to bring in sticks of candied hawthorn from the outside world. At times, he felt as if he was back in his childhood in the Poison Sect’s forbidden grounds, loved and protected while free from all cares.
Nobody knew that his heart full of hatred also kept those happy memories in the Poison Sect grounds as he only source of light. Though he didn’t want to admit it, the deepest depths of his heart still longed to returned to those times. Master’s care for him meant that he didn’t have to hurry and grow up just yet. Little Qi had already vowed silently to stay with his master for the rest of his life and never leave the Pill Refining Cave again.
But one day, all the kindness and favor he felt for the man instantly changed into hate and resentment! Like always, Little Qi had spent the day practicing his martial arts by the pill refining furnace. But he accidently kicked the furnace with his foot and collapsed to the ground, clutching it in pain.
Unexpectedly, a ball of flame suddenly hit his back. After that, his master flew over to rage, “Little rascal, you actually mistreated this old man’s precious furnace.”
The ball of flame burned straight through Little Qi’s clothing. Fortunately, he rolled around in time to douse the rest of the fire. Before he could react, his master sent another fireball flying his way. This time, Little Qi grew alarmed. “Master!”
“Stinkin’ brat, this old man picked you up out of my goodwill, but you showed no manners to my precious furnace!” The old man had turned tyrannical in an instant like a monster.
Little Qi hadn’t thought of his father for a long, long time, but this time he saw his face in his master’s expression instead. After all that effort leaving the shadow of Medical City, he had fallen back into his nightmare again. He remained frozen on the ground, trembling as his master came closer. Once again, he found himself back in the secret chamber of Medical City, wanting to escape but unable to move.
As soon as his master drew near, it was to haul him up by the collar and force him to kneel in front of the furnace. “Kneel! Apologize!”
“No!” Little Qi was stubborn. No matter how afraid he felt, he would never lower his head.
“You’re seeking death!” The old man slapped him soundly on the nape of his neck so he would bow. But he used too much strength and sent Little Qi toppling to the ground instead. Despite this, he didn’t give up and insisted on the apology. “Get up and kowtow!”
Little Qi lay listlessly on the ground, both unable and unwilling to get up. But his master simply hauled up upright and dropped him back down the ground again. Little Qi crumpled in a heap as his heart all but shattered. Still, his mind insisted on not bowing!
“Stinkin’ brat, this old man will ask you one last time: are you kowtowing or not? Do you admit your wrongs?” his master fumed.
Little Qi simply laughed instead. “Master, disciple will ask you one last question as well. Who is more important, your disciple or this pill refining furnace?”
His master didn’t hesitate. “Of course it’s the precious furnace! Hurry and say sorry!”
Little Qi was still smiling, but tears were streaming down his face. Without another word, he knelt on the ground and banged his head against the floor. The impact left his forehead bloody. Only then was his master satisfied. “Rascal, remember this for your master. If you dare show any disrespect to this precious furnace again, you can scram! This old man doesn’t need the likes of you!”
When he finished, he staggered back a few steps and nearly toppled over. He had eaten a pill and lost control of his temper temporarily, but unfortunately, Little Qi couldn’t tell the difference. As the old man flew back into the furnace, Little Qi remained kneeling on the ground, his eyes blank and empty. He had finally found a smidgen of hope out of his wretched past, but found out there was no reason to keep going anymore.
He didn’t cry, but he did laugh. He laughed at the fact that he’d been so stupid and greedy, at the fact that he still couldn’t grow up yet. If he couldn’t even rely on his own father, why would he be stupid enough to trust an eccentric old man? That night, the effects of his master’s pill left him thoroughly unconscious. Little Qi seized the chance to steal all of his silver and medicinal plant seeds, then slipped away through the secret passageway…
Gu Qishao woke up from his dreams as soon as the sun shone on his face. He forgot all about them once he was conscious, and only stared at the light with a dazzling smile. Then he flipped off the branch he’d been napping on and headed for Long Feiye’s courtyard. He’d actually forgotten to tell Han Yunxi his good news, so he was in a rush to tell her now.
Han Yunxi herself had just gotten out of bed and was currently drinking tea with Long Feiye and Gu Beiyue outside. After coming back from the medical cottage, they’d been preoccupied with the unrest in the western regions and Empress Xue’s assassination. Ning Cheng had shown himself to invited Duanmu Yao for a personal investigation at the Chu Clan’s military barracks. The Chu Clan themselves expressed agreement with the arrangements. While Han Yunxi and Long Feiye discussed this between themselves, Gu Beiyue listened quietly on the side without interrupting. Although Chu Tianyin had yet to find their side, the doctor was certain that his predictions would come to pass.
“Aiya, so you’re all here! Come, come, come, I’ve got good news!” Gu Qishao said cheerily.
But at the same time, Tang Li suddenly darted out from the side, wearing a face full of fear. “Duke of Qin, it’s awful! Bad news!”
What was all this now?
Han Yunxi’s group first looked towards Gu Qishao, then at Tang Li. They didn’t know which to hear first, the good or the bad news. Instead, Tang Li decided for them by speaking up first.
“Duke of Qin, my father’s coming! So’s Aunt Ru!”
Tang Zijin and Aunt Ru? Why are they coming to Yaoshui at a time like this? Are they here to take Tang Li away?
While Han Yunxi puzzled over that, Long Feiye simply shrugged it off and asked, “Gu Qishao, what’s your good news?”