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143 A Long Conversation With the Artis

    Yujia didn't immediately jump into working on creating her study-sketches. She had a meeting with Bo Zhizhong to deal with first, scheduled for around this time in the afternoon. Thus, once she set everything down in her room, she put on her veil and headed out.

    The good thing was that Three Inks was right outside Lingxin. She barely had to walk until she arrived. Surprisingly, instead of being greeted by the face of Gao Yi that she expected right when she usually arrived at the opened front doors of the shop, she was greeted with closed doors.

    This was a strange sight. It was right in the middle of the day, right at the peak of business, so why was the shop closed? She looked down and saw that there was even a lock around the middle of the doors. Yujia stared at this lock for a few seconds, remembering that Zhizhong gave her a key for a door in the shop. She pulled this key out from her pocket- the good thing was that she carried it with her- then stuffed it into the lock.

    It didn't fit.

    Yujia spent a solid few minutes trying to figure out why this key that was supposed to open the lock was completely unable to fit in more than two notches into the lock. After those minutes passed, she suddenly recalled that there was a back door to Three Inks too. There was a possibility that the key he gave her was the one to open that one, since he never specified which door the key was supposed to open.

    Still, before Yujia walked to the back of the shop, she knocked on the door a couple times just in case there was someone inside. In return, she was greeted with silence.

    It seemed like there was no one in the shop, then. She would have to hope that the key worked with the back door.

    To Yujia's delight, the key did work. She unlocked and set the lock on the side while pushing the door open. As she walked from the storage room to the main section of the shop, she found the quiet stillness of the shop a little bit unfamiliar. She was so used to seeing customers coming in and out and Gao Yi working behind the counter.

    Her gaze first went to look at the rows of pencils in the shop. It seemed like Zhizhong hadn't arrived yet, so she had to find something to do to keep herself occupied during this time. When he arrived, Yujia also made a mental note to ask him why the shop was closed- there were surely some reasons for that.

    Except, when her gaze slid to the counter, she flinched a bit with surprise by someone there who she completely missed the first time she looked around the shop.

    Zhizhong was at a chair behind the counter, sleeping with his head cushioned by his arms, which rested on top of the counter. He was fast asleep next to a scroll of paper and ink, and he had been so quiet and unresponsive that Yujia hadn't even noticed him until now. So, she admitted that she was a bit startled to suddenly notice that he had been her this entire time.

    Seems like, yet again, Zhizhong arrived before her. He was early like that, and this time was no exception.

    Yujia walked over to the counter with quiet footsteps, taking off her veil as she did so. She picked up the paper that was next to him, reading what seemed like a couple of messy calculations. She couldn't particularly comprehend what these calculations were for- the mathematics of ancient times were too different from modern mathematics- so after a few seconds of deciphering, she placed the paper back down and looked over at Zhizhong.

    Even now, when she was standing right next to him, Zhizhong was still sound asleep. He had faint dark circles under his eyes, but other than that, his face looked perfectly peaceful as he slept quietly. The way he slept was completely tranquil- the kind where he almost looked dead if it weren't for the subtle rise and fall of his chest.

    As Yujia observed his sleeping face, a bit unwilling to wake him since he looked like he was taking a good nap, she realized how young Zhizhong was. With all the business and co-ownership deals that she worked on with him, Yujia developed a fair impression that Zhizhong was more mature than some of the people of the same age as him in the modern world. She also never truly stared at his face for long periods of time. That would've been rude.

    Yet now, since he was sleeping, Yujia took in his soft features and skin, finally connecting his physical appearance with the age that he told her. Despite all the grown-up things that he did, Yujia realized that he was, in the end, still an eighteen year old boy. Based on her actual mental age, Yujia could practically be his older sister if she had a younger brother like him.

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    Ah. People were forced to grow up too fast in ancient times. Or... was it the other way around? Perhaps people in the modern times were just too sheltered throughout their teenage years?

    Whichever way it was, Yujia rested her head on one of her hands and smiled a little. Regardless of what Zhizhong was in terms of maturity, he still had a bit of a childish side to him that Yujia was used to seeing in eighteen year olds. She recalled some of the things that happened in their first two meetings, especially when he pulled her into the water of the spring. This brought another smile to her lips, yet the smile quickly vanished.

    She used to think back to that memory fondly- it was actually a bit hilarious when she thought back to the words she exchanged with Zhizhong at that time. But after everything she experienced with the riverbanks and nearly drowning, the idea of getting pulled into water wasn't such a warm memory after all. Just the thought of falling into any body of water remotely deep made her hands begin to tremble.

    Yujia squeezed her eyes shut to prevent the rise of panic in her heart from going any further. That was when she heard a voice call out her name.

    "Is something wrong, Miss Yang?"

    Opening her eyes, Yujia saw that Zhizhong's eyes were open as well. He blinked a couple of times to blink the lethargy away from his gaze.

    "Nothing." She forced a grin on her face, then glanced down. "I saw that you were sleeping, and didn't want to wake you."

    He rose up, stretching his arms in front of him, his mouth drawn out into a yawn. "I... was a bit busy last night with work over milit- I mean, merchant stuff. There are bandit uprisings in the north that's disrupting trade routes. Had to sort some of the details out; ended up spending all night working on it. That's why I'm so tired now."

    "I see. You didn't have to come then."

    "It's okay. We promised a meeting today, right?" Zhizhong smiled brightly. "It would be bad if I missed today without giving you any heads up. Plus, Gao Yi isn't here either. He asked me to take a break off in the morning and early noon to take care of some family matters. Without him here, I didn't want to leave you here alone to speculate where everyone went, or want to run the shop alone. I'm not sure I know how to," he laughed.

    Yujia let out a brief laugh as well. "That's all okay." She turned her head to the paper of calculations he had. "I wanted to see the record books. You definitely heard about the... the Emperor's decree from Gao Yi, right? I figured that it would be a good idea to see some of the transactions in the shop first before going on in developing according to the Emperor's orders."

    "That's a good idea." Zhizhong nodded and ducked his head down on the other side of the counter, looking through the built in shelves for the record book.

    While he did so, Yujia continued, "Don't you find it strange that the Emperor suddenly noticed our shop? And so fast, as well? I didn't expect any of it, honestly."

    Zhizhong paused. He looked back up, then countered, "What about your marriage deal? It definitely got cancelled- otherwise you wouldn't be standing here right now."

    "Actually..." Yujia laughed awkwardly. "It wasn't cancelled. I... somewhat ran away."

    "Oh?" Her words took a few seconds to register in Zhizhong's thoughts. That was when the expression on his face shifted from dull surprise to absolute worry. "Wait, did you just say that you ran away? How- I thought you retrieved five hundred taels? There's no way- why would you have a need to run away- are you okay?"

    Yujia made a face and waved her hand. "I'm fine, alive, and unmarried now, am I not? Go look for that record book. The events that happened with my engagement is a long story. I'll tell you later."

    "Fine." Zhizhong huffed, then went back to look for the record book. A few moments later, he looked back up, shaking his head. "I don't see it. I think Gao Yi may have either taken it with him or stored it somewhere different instead of behind this counter."

    "Is that so?" Yujia's eyebrows went up. She made motions to walk around the counter to look for it herself, and a few moments later, she came to the same conclusion that Zhizhong did.

    There was no sign of any record book in the area of the front counter.

    "The Emperor wanted a large supply of pencils created, did he not? If we cannot look at the record books, then how do we know some of the exact logistics?" Yujia pointed out. She really wanted to see some of the overall stats involving her pencil production and sales before she made any major decisions with Zhizhong about how they were going to supply the palace.

    "Well, Gao Yi only took a morning break. He should be coming back within an hour since he's been gone all morning. When he does, we can ask him for it then," Zhizhong assured.

    "Ah, who doesn't keep their records under the counter?" Yujia frowned, pulling a chair over and sitting down on the other side of the counter. It was time to wait, she supposed.

    Along with some small talk and explanation of her marriage situation with Zhizhong, another hour or so passed. Yet still, the clerk, Gao Yi, showed no signs of appearing anytime soon.

    By this time, Yujia was wondering if she was just wasting her time here. The conversation between her and Zhizhong also died down- by this point, she really just wanted to get to have a good meeting with Zhizhong about the business, but she couldn't talk about anything too much without getting to see the records to increase her limited understanding of her own business.

    When Zhizhong said one last phrase in their conversation and a long moment of silence passed, Yujia finally proposed, "I'm bored. Let's play a game."
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