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226 Drinking With the Artis

    Staring at Zixu for a few seconds, Yujia considered it. She didn't come here to drink today, but it wasn't like she ever refused good wine. Plus, from what she knew, the body she was in had a very high alcohol tolerance, so it wasn't like a cup or two would be dangerous for her. Also, considering the fact that Yu Zixu drank with her before when she needed someone to talk to, it would only be right for her to return the favor.

    So Yujia nodded. "Sure, if you want."

    Instead of handing her his jug of wine like Yujia expected, Yu Zixu actually drew his hands back. He blinked, then stood up, making his way to the table Yujia saw him sitting at before. He bent down, and when he made his way back, Yujia saw that he now had two jugs of wine.

    Zixu tossed her the unopened jar that he just picked up. "I originally had two jars to drink by myself, but since you're here, it's perfect," he explained.

    Yujia opened it, taking a small sip from the jar and nodding again. "Good wine."

    "Not as good as the plum blossom wine we shared before, but it does the job." Zixu lazily leaned back into the grass.

    "How are you feeling? Are you still sick?" Yujia asked to start the conversation.

    "Better than I was before," Zixu answered vaguely. He didn't bother to continue with any in-depth discussion about his health.

    With a pause, Yujia tilted her head. "So, tell me, why are you drinking?"

    One hand reaching up to nothingness, Zixu slowly traced a finger through the air. He answered this time. "I was writing a poem, and it wasn't good enough. I was answering some questions, and it wasn't good enough. I had studied so, so much, but it was all useless. Nothing is good enough."

    He took the imperial examinations today, Yujia recalled.

    Then, based on his words... he did poorly on the exams? Yet how could that be? The Yu Zixu she knew was always someone who took the spot as first place. Second, third, or anything lower than that just didn't seem like Zixu.

    Unless...

    "The results came out already?" Yujia asked, her voice trailing off with her thoughts.

    "Yes." Zixu's voice was quiet. "But hours before then, I knew what to expect."

    "How so?" She found her voice becoming softer as well.

    Zixu took a sip of wine. "Well, you see, I am just a merchant's son, close to the bottom of society. What can I ever achieve? It's not like I was ever good at anything except for... what, selling spices, salts, and silks?"

    Yujia blinked.

    She couldn't believe that she heard Yu Zixu speak those words that just fell out of his mouth.

    This wasn't the Yu Zixu that she knew at all. She knew a Yu Zixu who was always confident- not someone who would say things to belittle himself.

    "You're amazing at plenty of things," Yujia hastily replied, "like... painting. You're amazing at painting. I can't think of anyone who is better than you. Even Senior Brother Yunhe-"

    "Ye Yunhe?" Zixu scoffed, "Ye Yunhe. Of course. But when people think of talented young painters, who do they think of? Ye Yunhe, Jiang Muyun, Rong Yuan... all those honored sons with honored fathers. Who ever considers a merchant's son? What use is there in being good at something if it doesn't do anything for me?" He sat up, gaze sliding over to Yujia. "And you- Junior Sister. Yang Yujia. Even you are better than me, did you know that?"

    "Me?" Yujia shrunk back.

    She truly didn't think that she was a better artist than Zixu. She had seen him paint before. He was a thousand times more talented and skilled than her- she just took some techniques from her modern day knowledge to make herself seem talented.

    Zixu tapped his fingers on his jar of wine. "Yes, you. In the Lingxin entrance exams, weren't you the one who received first place in the third round with painting, the only round that mattered?"

    He was right- she did somehow make first place in that round. But then again, it was only because she borrowed some techniques from future artists. Actually, in terms of skill in painting in the style that Zixu knew of, Yujia was inferior. She truly was.

    She tried to explain this to him. "You don't understand, it's that-"

    "I don't understand. Indeed, I don't," Zixu interrupted, "But what I do understand is that you were at first place, and I was at second place. And just like what happened before, here I am again at second place."

    "You got second place on the imperial examinations? Second place is not a bad place to be," Yujia quickly pointed out, "You're essentially close to the same level as first place. You're almost first."

    "Almost." Zixu stood up now, drinking from his wine. "Almost first. Do you know how infuriating it is to know that you are only a step away from the first place, yet in the end, you still landed in second?" He scowled, then shook his head. "Besides, it's useless."

    Yujia waited for him to explain, and he did.

    "As the First Young Master of the Yu Family, I am expected to inherit the business. Furthermore, my younger brother is far too sickly to rely on for inheriting anything. Yet I can't see myself going my father's path, to become a merchant and spend my days buying and selling and transferring goods. Thus, I made a bet with my father- if I prove myself capable of going into the government by making a first place, he won't force me to inherit the business. He'll find someone else. Only now..."

    Oh.

    Yujia could see the reason for all his despair now. And the fact that he got second place, just within reach of winning the bet, out of all things...

    "Can't you... talk things out with your father?" Yujia suggested, "Second place is not bad, seriously. If he sees that you're at second place, maybe he'll still... just..."

    "You don't know the type of person that my father is," Zixu replied, a sigh tracing his breath, "When he expects one thing, he won't allow anything else to substitute it. But I could've gotten first place. I know I could've. And that's the knowledge that pains me the most."

    "How? I thought you did your best already."

    Yu Zixu smiled a close-lipped smile. "I made a deal with a noble that if I gave him some information, he would pull some strings for me in the results."

    "What information?" Yujia furrowed her brows but smiled a bit, out of pure curiosity.

    She wasn't all that shocked that Zixu made a deal like this with some noble. It seemed like him to do so. But now, she was curious at exactly what kind of precious information Zixu could provide to get him to second place if he really didn't do that well, like he claimed.

    "Information..." he paused for a second, then continued, "about you."

    The curious smile on Yujia's lips dropped.

    Information about her?
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