Guan Chyou walked beside me as the employees of the establishment led us to a private and well appointed room. She was a bit less dressed up than yesterday, but was still wearing one of those fine and colourful silk dresses with long sleeves. Noodle and I had decided to part ways. He was at the room I had been given, going over some scroll on glasswork, and pondering at the rough shitty drawing I had done of the metal bath to float the glass on. I know it needed to be hot, and I think it was either lead or tin that needed to be used. I shook my head, and looked around the restaurant. Well, calling it a restaurant wasn’t really right.
It was basically a housing complex, with giant, disconnected rooms, surrounded by beautiful gardens, and small, koi-filled ponds. Some rooms, I was told, could fit nearly a hundred people. The one we came to was much cozier. It was pretty nice. The sounds of the city were muffled, and it was almost like we were back in the countryside.
“I hope your day was fruitful, Master Jin. Did my brother perform to your standards?” she asked, as we sat down at the table. It was a large piece of solid wood, with a hearth in the middle to warm our tea and broth. She poured me a drink, while the servants set down plate after plate of food, before retreating out of the room. There was a bell we could ring if we wanted them, but this was technically a private meeting, and so the staff would be out of earshot.
“Yeah, it was a good day today. We got everything we needed, including some other bits. It was nice having a guide, so my compliments.”
“I shall inform my superiors of your compliments, Master Jin. Thank you.” She smiled, but it wasn’t flirty like it was yesterday.
“So, what about you?” I asked. “Everything turn out alright? It was kind of an awkward request, when I was a bit drunk. I was expecting you to take longer.”
She shook her head. “Your request was most interesting, Master Jin. I still have several other esteemed gentlemen to meet over the next few days, but I believe that their voices should not add anything noteworthy.”
She handed over the piece of parchment.
“I have grouped the ones similar to each other together, and the ones that came recommended by all are in this section.” I nodded, looking at the spreadsheet that Chyou had given me. Authors that were considered the most respected in their field. Price points. Shops that carried which scrolls, some that could be effectively bulk ordered to save on costs, and ones that were rarer.
“In addition to the medical scrolls, I have also requested the doctors to prepare larger parchments with diagrams of the body, and of energy flows,” she informed me, I glanced up, as she unrolled a larger piece of cloth parchment to reveal a diagram of a body, what looked a bit like a vascular system.
Something somebody could just look up anywhere on the internet in the Before, but here it was handmade and painstakingly labelled. I had seen one kind of like it before in Pop’s house in Hong Yaowu. A treasure of the family, he had called it.
“It would be one hundred and eight detailed drawings and diagrams of organs, limbs, bones, and spiritual energy flows. I additionally have a pending request to Chief Doctor Ganji. One of his fellows is in Grass Sea City, a doctor who was once an apprentice of Spiritual Medicine. His cultivation was completely destroyed, but doctor Ganji is certain he will be able to convince his fellow to part with some of his own knowledge upon Spiritual Medicine. Of course, if you do not require them, and this Chyou has overstepped her bounds, she humbly apologises.”
Her head bowed at this.
I just kept looking over the extensive and detailed list. I really should have thought a bit more on the stuff I needed, but Chyou had covered that. And…well, I had the money, and I’d told Meimei I wanted to learn medicine.
“No, these are all fantastic ideas. I appreciate the initiative, Chyou.”
She got an odd, calculating look in her eyes for a moment, her eyes flicking over my face, before she abruptly relaxed. She raised both of her sleeves to cover her mouth demurely.
“This Guan Chyou thanks you for your praise, Master Jin,” she stated.
“What do you normally do for the company?” I asked after a moment. Chyou glanced up from her food, and gave me a measured look. Like she wasn’t quite prepared for me to ask her what she did.
“Do you truly wish to know Master Jin?”
“I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t interested,” I replied. She nodded.
“Normally I work on logistics, and acquisitions within the city itself,” she started tentatively. “I direct the movements of most of the regular caravans.”
I whistled in appreciation. “Sounds like a big job.”
I certainly couldn’t do it. I was disorganized at the best of times, and planning my own crops was about the limit.
But it was definitely a good topic for conversation.
“So, how does that all work, anyway?” I asked.
Guan Chyou pondered, as her brush moved.
Ever since her grandmother had taken her under her wing, Chyou had been determined to prove her value to her family. To be as great as her grandmother. The woman behind the throne, who had taken the Azure Jade Trading Company to unparalleled heights. Grandmother had forged the company into mere mortals that even the sects would often step lightly around, else their competitors would find themselves with a sudden windfall. It was not perfect protection. But for these Azure Hills, it was enough. Courtly manners. Musical lessons. Logistics.
She was raised to be the flower of the family. A gift to those they determined could be swayed by a pretty smile and a warm bed. After the initial embarrassment of her grandmother commanding her to be a bedwarmer had passed, she agreed with the decision. It was the right one. Some tried to dress it up, but that is what it was. Sharing a bed to further a deal was no different than bribing a guard to look the other way. Chyou offered a product of value and in return she made sure to gain far more.
They said cultivators were lusty beasts. The three times she had met the Young Masters had proven that right. Their eyes honed in upon her red hair. But with her unavailable, and connected to valuable resources that they needed, most had kept it limited to glances. She was pretty, but not some manner of world-shaking beauty.
Chyou had smiled, and flirted with Master Jin, her interest clear. She had been fully prepared for what was to happen that night. She wasn’t even dreading it. His form was not unappealing.
Then, she was rejected. Politely. Politely, and with another order to allow her and the company to save face.
There had been no lust In Master Jin’s eyes. If anything… he seemed to have some strange sympathy for her.
With the rejection, she had immediately changed tracks. He demanded medical scrolls? He would receive medical scrolls. She visited every doctor who was available. And the ones who weren’t quickly opened their doors to the name Azure Jade Trading Company.
The cultivator, Master Jin, was even impressed.
So impressed he had asked her to explain the logistics of her company to him.
“And then it goes into storage and proceeds to distribution,” Chyou narrated, as she finished drawing another part in the chain.
Why was he getting her to explain mortal supply chains to him?
“It all comes back to this distribution center?” Master Jin asked, scratching at his chin. He considered the paper carefully.
“No, not all of it. We have smaller depots scattered throughout the hills, but these are for common goods and repeat customers,” she said, as she switched to another, rough map of the Azure hills, marking out the various substations they used.
He was listening. Listening intently, and nodding along. She watched his eyes. Her grandmother had taught her how to read people. How to read the minute facial expressions, until she was confident enough that she could deduce what even the Masters of the Azure Hills were thinking.
In this man she saw only genuine interest.
Master Jin spoke the way one would expect of a farmer. Direct, honest.
What did he want?
“Do you enjoy your job?” he asked, as he examined the other diagrams. The question was a surprising one. It was something she rarely thought about.
“Enjoy it? I suppose I do. It is the life I’ve known, though I’ve largely been confined to the capital.” It was a better life than most. She had wealth and power, but… there occasionally felt like something was missing. Her brother was the one who got to go out and tell his tales, while the family’s flower was protected so she didn’t wilt.
It was an intelligent thing to do. She saw Master Jin look at her. A small flash of sympathy formed on his face.
They lapsed into silence, and Chyou wondered how to proceed. If one door was closed, open another.
Bluntness, and honesty?
“Master Jin, I apologise for my bluntness. I desire to be useful to my company and my family. My fate has been thrown in with yours; and so, I would undertake any task you wish for me to do.”
Master Jin’s eyebrows rose in surprise at the bluntness, before a small smile formed on his face. He snorted. “If only everybody would just ask outright sometimes.”
He chewed his lip, as he pondered.
“…You said you were confined to the capital, most of your life?” he asked her, as he took another swig of his drink. “What do you think of travelling?”
“Master Jin… what are you offering?” she asked tentatively.
“Well, Guan Bo did a good job with the stuff I needed, and so did you. You really went above and beyond. So it’s like this, there are some rare mortal fruits that I’m looking into. They’ll probably be down south. I would need somebody to go and check it out. If you’re up for it.”
Chyou kept her face neutral, as she processed the words. The images of far off places flashed in her mind.
“It will be possibly dangerous,” Master Jin said after a moment, warning her. She nodded, but there were already facts and figures whirling in her mind. Ship, supplies, and the need to recruit trustworthy guards.
It appeared bluntness and honesty was the correct choice.
“It would be my honour and privilege to prepare an expedition, Master Jin,” she stated, bowing low. “What would you have me look for?”
The man’s gaze sharpened. He took a piece of paper, and began to sketch his own diagrams. sketching out strange looking fruits, and stanger trees.
“The pods of the Cacao Tree. The beans of the coffee plant.”
She stared at the plants she had never heard of. She memorized the detailed descriptions.
And then she turned to Master Jin. There was a strange thrill, as she raised her cup, and they both drank to a fruitful transaction.
He even escorted her home, as a gentleman should, and gave her a warm smile, as they parted ways.
…It was almost a pity he was uninterested.