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105 Marches Toward the Border Town

    As she entered the shop, the scent from the jerky was even more overtaking. With the shop being encased in a cloud that smelled predominantly of seasoned meat the spices mingled in the air, as the olfactory sense got a whiff and triggered the pooling of saliva within the mouth.

    Though space was not particularly small, it was still quite crowded with the many people waiting around. They stood in their corners, there was not a straight and rigid line, but the workers seemed to know precisely who was up next.

    The shop particularly catered to travelers who were going from the city. As it would not bode well to bring along freshly bloodied meat from a slaughtered animal on one's long journey. Maggots had been known to spontaneously appear and infest the meat, or sickness would soon be brought on once the rotting meat would be ingested.

    "Boss, is the 500 catties of jerky ready?" A man dressed in coarse hemp clothing came in and asked right away.

    His question was so peculiar, prompting Xue'er to keep an ear out for their conversation.

    "Hey, why do you buy so many catties of jerky?" A curious customer looks to the man and asks. It would seem that Xue'er was not the only one curious at the large order.

    "Oh, the soldiers will soon be heading out to the border town, so we gotta bring enough jerky for the journey." The man did not seem to be bothered by the curiosity of a bystander and answered in a straightforward manner.

    "Oh, did something happen?" The customer asked as though expecting an answer that had to do with some secret orders.

    "Nah, this time we were instructed to check the border town for any possible fugitives." The man said with a nonchalant shrug.

    "Sir, your jerky has already been prepared, it's loaded to the cart." A man behind the counter said.

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    "Thanks." The man says with a wave as he goes to the cart that is placed in front. The wooden cart has already been loaded with a few wooden barrels, presumably packed with the promised jerky. Seeing as the man did not even bother to check the weight to see if the vendor had skimmed a few catties, Xue'er deemed the store to be trustworthy.

    "I would like five catties of jerky." The customer went forward and ordered.

    "Three catties of jerky." The next customer said.

    ...

    After all the orders had been placed, it was Xue'er's turn.

    "Three catties, but separate it into two and one please."

    The jerky was wrapped in a layer of oil-paper when Xue'er received them. The two catties were placed into her basket, while she kept the one catty for herself.

    After she was done, she walked back outside onto the bustling streets where there were people walking back and forth going about with their busy lives. It was quite a mesmerizing sight to behold, that they were walking without a care in the world. Though this sight had been seen at the border town it was only on the busiest streets that this was seen. Adding on, the people there were not as carefree as these people who lived in this prosperous city.

    Xue'er walked along the sidelines where it was closest to the walls of various establishments. There were fewer people off towards the sides, and therefore, it was much easier to take a breath while walking and watching the bustling crowds.

    Near the city gates, there was a swarm of people that stood, before a newly posted article. They had pushed and shoved until there was only enough room for each person to stand shoulder to shoulder. The crowd was oddly silent for such a large group of people who decided to pack together densely, like a pack of rodents swarming around food.

    Their eyes focused and ears listening to the voice of a man who was speaking. It was so densely packed that one could not even find the speaker, only hearing the faint sounds of his scholarly voice.

    "Hereby, today there had been word of a strange ailment that has appeared in a small village 90 li north of Lin Zi City. Some locals have been having symptoms of the following: Fever, rash, chills, headache, and lethargy. If you have anything to do outside the city, please refrain from visiting." The anonymous voice concluded.

    [Ailment? 90 li? Small village?] Xue'er's ears perked up as soon as she heard those words. Oddly enough, all the words spoken gave a sense of familiarity. Adding on that it was a small village. All small villages would survive by establishing itself along the main road that was the path between large cities and towns. The main road would also be used as a transport system so that merchants could get their goods from one place to another.

    Once the anonymous voice concluded, the crowd whispered amongst themselves.

    "Is what he says true?"

    "Yes." Said one scholar who was also literate, confirming what was just spoken.

    "What will we do?"

    "Could this be a plague?"

    "Plague?" The crowd mutter to themselves. Most of the crowd began to disperse, with some joining each other for an afternoon tea and gossip to talk amongst themselves.

    After all, since the beginning of time, the plague was considered an incurable illness. Those who were afflicted could only wait upon the arrival of death. Within that time, there would be a possibility of getting burned or buried alive, there were some who were chased out of the village into the harsh weather of the north. Though there was no understanding of how the plagues began, it was mostly associated with monsters and demons. The evil that one would be suggested to keep away from if they wished to live a competent life.

    Hearing this, Xue'er's face turned into that of disappointment. Her first thought was the vinegar that had been left on the side of the road. Could it be possible that after she had taken away those oyster shells, someone from a village came by and decided to take some vinegar back and use it?

    Thinking till here, she supported her head with her hand. Little shadow, seemingly having felt her dismay, poked its head out from the basket. There was a layer of oil and spices around its furry snout as it climbed and clawed at her clothes, making its way towards her neck.

    The pristine white fur wrapping itself around her neck, as a boa constrictor would around its determined meal. The slightly wet nose sniffed around her neck, as though attempting to find her arteries beneath the pale and ghostly skin. Its jaws opened ever so slightly, revealing sharp canine teeth, before immediately closing its mouth and sticking out its tongue.

    What was supposed to be a vicious attack morphed into that of a wet kiss.
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