76 Sweet Potatoes and Snow Peaches

    Xue'er looked up, and there Xiao Ya was, standing there, looking directly at her.

    The girl's patched up clothing was all wet, and even dripping in water, yet she did not seem to care a single bit at all. The wet clothes clung to her skin, outlining her thin figure that one could count the ribs on her body that showed through.

    "Xue, you're here, you found me after all!" Xiao Ya's face showed a brilliant smile as her hand grabbed onto Xue'er's free arm, and she was pulled into the worn down abode.

    Perhaps, she should have seen this coming, Xiao Ya was extremely straightforward. Even in such a state, she had managed to muster up such a strength.

    Xue'er was not the least bit angry, as she allowed her eyes to wander around this place. It turns out, she only needed a little push, or in this case, a strong pull to enter.

    The rundown abode seemed to have been an actual house that had been left alone and abandoned after it became old and worn. It was actually not that bad, being able to provide shelter from the rain. It stood up quite well, though there were a few broken jars here and there to help catch the water that was leaking from a broken roof tile.

    She sat herself down on a pile of straw in the corner, after being offered a seat from Xiao Ya. The straw was quite clean and had a fresh grassy scent that was hard to come by these days.

    "So, what are you doing here?" Xiao Ya looked towards Xue'er with a curious look. Those eyes twinkled like bright stars, filled with such innocence but also maturity.

    "Not sure, you said I could find you at the marketplace, so I came." Xue'er replied.

    Xiao Ya thought for a moment before coming to: "Oh yeah, I remember telling you where to find me."

    Xue'er nodded expressionlessly.

    "You should sit by the fire, it's easy to catch a cold in wet clothes." Xiao Ya motions towards the little fire that was in the middle of the room, burning and warming up the small space.

    "What about you?" Xue'er asks, as she eyes Xiao Ya's wet clothes.

    [Strange how she cares about a stranger before thinking of herself.]

    "Don't worry about me, I won't get sick from a little rain." The girl said assuringly.

    Yet Xue'er was not convinced and stayed in her spot. She looked at the fire that was crackling in the middle of the room. The crackling brought along with it, the scent of sweetness. The children were scattered about the room, all huddled together, yet there was no one that really stayed too close to the fire. Perhaps it was because they feared the temptation of the smell, that would make them want to come closer, burning them.

    This scene made her wonder, what type of place was this, that there were so many children gathered here.

    "What is this place?" She looked at Xiao Ya who was sitting there, with a piece of straw between her teeth.

    "Oh, this is the place we come, when the police bureau is not open. We have got to stick together you know, or we'll get kidnapped." Xiao Ya said, twirling pieces of stray straw between her nimble fingers to relieve her boredom.

    [But, isn't it easier to get kidnapped when you're all in the same place?] Xue'er was wondering for a while before she could hear the shuffling of feet.

    She looked up, to see that Xiao Ya had already disappeared from her spot. She looked toward the fire, where Xiao Ya and the children had sticks in their hands, poking and prodding at the earth that was below the fire.

    [It turns out that they had been waiting for something to cook, no wonder no one came near the flames.]

    Xiao Ya soon made her way back, with objects that were too hot to be held in her hand, so she had to use her clothes as a basket.

    Xue'er felt the urge to laugh, but as Xiao Ya returned, she realized that one of the objects was for her. It was a strange elongated object that had a heavy density, and it was really hot. Xue'er noticed that as she held it.

    "This is...?" Xue'er had a confused expression on her face.

    "You've never had a sweet potato before." Xiao Ya asked with her mouth agape. One had to know that this type of sweet potato was a staple when it came to food.

    "I've had potato before, just not sweet potato." Xue'er answered truthfully.

    "Oh, you peel it before you eat. Like this." Xiao Ya said as she demonstrated by breaking the potato in half, removing the outer purplish skin before taking a bite out of it.

    After hearing Xiao Ya's sounds of satisfaction, she decided to try it herself. It was really good indeed, she could not stop herself from finishing the entire sweet potato.

    After she finished, she quietly watched Xiao Ya take small nibbles of her food.

    "You really don't eat much, do you?" Xue'er commented.

    "It's best to eat less, so when there is a period of time you don't get to eat, you will not starve so easily." The girl said between nibbles.

    "Why does it seem like you're preparing for the worst?"

    "We always have to prepare for the unexpected." Xiao Ya said seriously.

    "Just eat your potato." Xue'er helplessly shook her head. She waited for Xiao Ya as she watched all the other children in the room nibble slowly on theirs as well.

    Xue'er laid her head in her on her knees and listened to the pattering of rain in the outside world. How fun it would be to live in a life of the unknown and uncertainty, without knowing what the next meal would be, without knowing what will happen the next day, and without knowing what it would be like in ten years, twenty years.

    Xue'er was pulled out from her daze with a gentle push from Xiao Ya, whose hand was waving in front of her face by the time she opened up her eyes.

    "What's wrong?" Xue'er asked absentmindedly, as though she had just woken up from a long and resting nap. She could no longer hear the sounds of the crackling fires, nor the children's heartbeats.

    "How can you sleep so easily?" What Xiao Ya was referring to was the coldness that seemed to seep into one's very bones, making it very hard to fall asleep.

    "I wasn't sleeping, I was just in deep thought." Xue'er plainly spoke.

    "All right, you were deep in thought for three hours, everybody already left."

    "I know." Xue'er answered.

    "Oh, by the way, do you know who Ma Wei frequently had contact with?" Xiao Ya said all of a sudden.

    Xue'er shook her head, "Who's Ma Wei?" she had only recently come here and didn't know many names of the people who lived here.

    "He's the rice shop merchant of the biggest store around here, a few days ago, he left for a business trip, but madam Lu of the Hundred Flower Hall wanted to look for him to relay an important message, she is asking around to see who is close to him, so she can relay the message." Xiao Ya explained.

    The name, nor the connections did not ring a sounding bell in her mind. But when she heard rice merchant, she immediately thought of the rice mixed with sand outside the abandoned shop.

    [Could he be that man?]

    "It seems madam Lu is really desperate to get a hold of the person who is close to him." Xue'er commented, with a smile.

    "Of course, she is a businesswoman." Xiao Ya said. Such words made Xue'er wonder if Xiao Ya ever thought of opening a small shop and making money.

    It sounded like a good thought, but perhaps it would happen in another realm.

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    "Do you know who is close to that rice merchant?" Xue'er suddenly asked out of curiosity.

    "Well, according to the beggars on that street, he had an assistant named Sun Cheng who oversees his personal matters." Xiao Ya said with a shrug.

    Xue'er nodded and prepared to leave, but Xiao Ya's hand held onto hers, stuffing a wrapped paper ball into her hands.

    As Xue'er prepared to unwrap the object, Xiao Ya spoke, to sum up, what was inside: "They're snow peaches."
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