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75 But, No One Knew

    "Was there anyone else that knew about your dealings with Ma Wei?" Servant Zhao asked.

    "No one." Madam Lu answered.

    "That is good, but we still can't be sure that he has yet to tell someone else about you. We will wait until some clues surface, and maybe you should find out if there has been anyone suspicious that has come to the town recently."

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    "Of course." Madam Lu replied. She would use all under her power to find out if Ma Wei had told anyone else about her, and make sure they never saw the light of day again...

    ~

    Xue'er opened her eyes to the next day. The same sounds of rain flooded her senses.

    She goes downstairs to see owner Chao as usual, always having already prepared her a meal. Sometimes, she wonders why she eats here anyway, perhaps it was the taste of the food or the warmth owner Chao gives as he prepared it.

    This day, she did not have to go to the embroidery shop to work, so this day would belong to herself, not that there was much on her list of things, one would have to see how things go first.

    She held an oil paper umbrella over her head as she walked down a street of the border town. It seems as though she has decided not to use her skills to keep her body dry, as her cloth shoes have already been soaked with water, giving her feet a tingly cool sensation, and she did not mind.

    Her eyes wandered observantly to the many people who were walking back and forth at a quick pace, her face in a confused expression.

    [There's no need to run, the stores will still be open.]

    It was as though she was the only one taking a slow stroll down the streets, while those around her were rushing to and forth, hoping to get out of the rain as quickly as possible.

    The roads were full of people who were in the middle of preparing for the festivities that would come in twelve days, the new year. It seemed that this holiday was entirely worth it to brave the rain. As Xue'er observed the stores that were open, there was a lot of red. Red papers, banners, and bundles of red cloth, ready to be sold.

    There was a sweet scent of sweet sugar lingering in the air, the melted sugar that was used to coat many of the sweet cakes or candies that were commonly eaten to welcome in the new.

    In the very back of some stores, there were strings of firecrackers that had to be kept dry, hanging there. It was doubted that anyone would be willing to buy anything that had to be kept dry in this weather, but it was a hope, as no new year would be complete without the explosive sounds of firecrackers to scare the fabled creature away.

    A wagon, pulled by weary oxen passed by, the contents, covered by an oiled cloth, yet Xue'er's sensitive nose picked up the smell of tangerines, and fresh fruit which would never grow in this cold weather. Most likely imported from the southern regions, no wonder those oxen seemed so weary.

    Xue'er's gaze brightened, as she looked towards the entrance of the magistrates' courthouse, which was currently being made up to look as festive as possible. The constables were out there putting up decorations, despite the fact that the rain could render all attempts futile.

    As she walked closer, she realized that the laughter of children could no longer be heard. She could only assume that they were not present this day. But, where could they be?

    [Perhaps the market place?] A thought arose as she quickened the pace to get there.

    It did not take long to arrive there, though, at this point, the entire world seemed to have revolved around again and again.

    She hoped that Xiao Ya would find her, just like the previous two times, though that seemed unlikely. Perhaps this time, it was her turn to find Xiao Ya. To such games of hide and seek, she looked forward to very much.

    The marketplace on this particular day was as messy as always, there was the particular addition of an oil clothed tarp that covered the tops of the stalls, yet managed to get filled up with water, causing a bulge, the water would be removed with long wooden sticks, causing a spill similar to that of pouring water.

    The tarps closely intertwined with each other, making another sky, far away from the real one, with occasional streams of water flowing down. Xue'er was amazed by how good the construction of such tarps was, that they were able to make it seem like another world.

    Her umbrella closed as there was a covering above her head. The smell here was much worse, with the stench of rotting blood all kept in place by the covering tarp. Yet everyone didn't seem to mind as they went on to buy the goods for the upcoming festivities.

    Xue'er decided to look around the market place for any signs of people living there long term, to see if she could find Xiao Ya hanging around this place.

    Her eyes wandered around until she spotted a few children running around as though playing. One of them tripped, causing the rest to swarm around him. In such a crowded area, many people had been pushed or jolted.

    The children quickly got up and scurried off as quickly as they had come. Though, no one noticed, Xue'er had caught on the nimble little fingers that had wrapped around the money pouches from onlookers and ran away.

    Such an action cause Xue'er to wonder who they might be working for. Such a skill seemed to be prevalent among children like Xiao Ya, perhaps following them would lead her closer.

    Her steps silently followed behind the children who were running, and slowly, the market place became less dense with people, but also the tarps that were overhead had become old and worn, riddled with holes.

    She had followed the children to a worn down abode on an isolated street. Standing outside, she could hear the sounds of the market place, the sounds of bickering and bantering, yet there were no noises here.

    There were children of her own age here, yet she could not bring herself to walk in and join them.

    Everything became so foreign here.

    She was unable to fulfill the conditions Gan Tian Chi had stated, for her to be among children her age. It seems that those old and ancient books, sitting in the cottage, just weren't meant for her.

    As she prepared to leave, she caught the ragged patched up clothing of a certain someone.
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