Heading down there for the first time. After two weeks on the train, she was finally here at last. The city in the north. And one which they were tasked to investigate. About illicit arms trading.
Something that bothered them very much at the very least. Since this was not anything which they could have controlled. Now was just things that they could not have done so. All they had the chance to do so.
All they really wanted. She stepped down, dressed in her robes. A full coat. Winter was much colder up here, even as down in the south, it has ended. With them only experiencing a few weeks. But here, it could begin from late autumn to early spring.
And why they packed it tightly. They would be here for quite some time after all. This was the city which bordered them. And protected the capital from being taken. A couple others, but this was a fort city. And first of its kind. At the very least.
There were many things here. But being heavily fortified was always one of them. Ever the truthful something about them which was the reality here.
She stepped into the snow. Still in the same heeled boots as before. Just as Lèzhì followed her down. To the top where they now took a look at it. It was not a wonder why arms trading flourished here.
This was a place of many wars. The border of two great Empires. The Liang Empire and the Severian Empire. Where many battles were fought. Either for more land, the succession of another. But also the most powerful empires so far to emerge. They dominated, just as there was a third rival.
This time around to the West. And that was Ratlyle. Already conquering a variety of territories and also making their way further up to the west. But there were many which acted as a buffer before them. Smaller states which were neutral and had been so.
With the Empire having an active interest to keep them there. Just in case he needs to fight another war. And if they take over, then they will ensure that Severya would be in the same boat as they were. And turning it into a deadlock.
Once the doors opened to reveal a large city. Much more extensive than what many would expect right now. Much larger than they guessed. Or even more, than they knew.
There were many things. With further fortifications, but mostly building. And became a place where many did. Since the war has not been declared for well over two decades since the last war.
And the current Emperor, always having an active interest in architecture. And saw that his most significant legacy would be so. So far, he was correct. Having poured most of the money into such projects as well as reforming the Empire. So that it would be able to weather the massive changes.
The emergence of Ratlyle was what dominated the minds and also the attention of many kingdoms. Some of which tried to return it back to a status quo often with disastrous consequences. Where they either lost, to the degree that they lost influence. With some of them even losing their own kingdoms.
Some of which were entirely gobbled up and now ended. As such, it was essential to ensure that they are happy. And ensuring that the Empire could survive. And ensuring that such ideas could never really take hold here. Or would be something a little more peaceful than what takes hold there.
A lot of nobles were executed, and so did royals. They were all in danger with almost no one, even managing to get a way out. Eventually, it was the same thing that ended them. It was too harsh, and eventually, after winnings, there was nothing allowing it. With the same man who brought it in, finally also ended it.
And so, why even now the Emperor made a powerful network. To seek dissent, to know the sentiments of the people. And know what must be done. And how the family instead chose to become more popular with the family. Dominating the public space and ensuring that they remained so.
With consorts being important. And cementing a clear alliance that included wedding his son to a daughter of the first Emperor of Ratlyle. And including reform to ensure that his hold was great.
Many knew that he was different from his father. But in this regard, many would say that he was his father’s son. Carefully holding onto it, despite tricking everyone to it that he did not. He had a huge sway in how policies were made. But no way to really ensure that it would pass.
And not the only decision-maker. Many suggested that it was good, but she also understood how difficult it was. If they were a weaker, more indecisive man, it was the end.
And now they were hungry, with newspapers documenting the life of all men here. Satires were written and drawn, most of them mocking them. But they were few and never gained traction.
However, the moment they became incredibly popular, that meant that it was a dangerous situation. But those still required a little more time and mistakes. Which he made neither, or neither which would be so important to them right now. It was never just one.
But often went through a few mediocre, or just one terrible and the other mediocre king. That was all they really needed to really revolt. And how many years. Which was all but less than a century? But it was not an uncommon amount of time to consider right now.
Paper was common, things are common. And led to the imperial family choosing to portray themselves as human too. Or rather the idea of the Emperor. Never one for war, never one for an endless struggle. He was convinced to try and make it a better place.
So that they could very much avoid a civil war. Which was very likely due to trying Ratlyle. After all, long divided must unite, long united must divide. But they were not fully united yet. There was still the Han below them, and they were reduced to just two cities in their control right now. And a few more steps to annihilation.
Even as marriage was certain. Due to Severya having accepted a treaty which brought one of the Emperor’s daughters, the Princess Zhiyang into marriage.
With the first thing, they needed to do was find lodgings. As always. Which was a necessity for them as well? Before they could have tried this at long last. Because well they could.
At one end, when they could find a good hotel or stay at a decent one. She could afford both. But decided to leave it up to him. As he was not keen on the idea of fighting mafia off very very much. Not much else that they could have tried right now at the very least.
No more or less than what they could have tried at the end. Once they were inside the room and closing the door itself while it was possible for them to head anywhere else. A good hotel here. There was a mix of architectural style since a lot of them cross the needed and vice versa. And she rather enjoyed it too. A difference but also familiarity.
“I wonder, did you come from the west?” She looked to the side.
“How can you tell?”
“Body language, you’re a lot more comfortable here than anywhere else. You don’t seem at unease.” Even as there were plenty of large buildings as well. This was a city the size of the capital, Jianning. Although more probable here as it was a more scarcely populated place.
The harsh winter was not one to attract many. And they were a city in the north, just as Changlin was where it all began. While she looked for them. Even as both did have beds.
“And I did want to try out one of those rooms. Where you can have the chance to have a fireplace. I do think that it would be a good time to enjoy it.”
Since there were few other cities, who had them. Most of them bordered other territories. But the capital was away from it. Or in the border between the Han and of course the lines of towns and cities. Where they thought that it was a good idea to rebuild them in a very specific way.
Like a jab against them. And showing just how little they know. In its own way, she knew that the Emperor also liked to remind his enemies that he was fully capable. And liked to screw with them. And mostly used under the excuse of protecting his daughter.
As she learned that most members of the ruling class often liked such gestures. At least when war was not possible, and it wasn’t illegal. Just as she pitied any architect, who was working for him. It was known that when it came to building projects, he had a notoriously high amount of standards and became incredibly difficult.
But anywho met his standards were given full control and allowed to created masterpieces. And a solid pension. It was difficult, but he never ever let them go. So there was not anything else they could have.
Just as they entered one of it. One of the best hotels here. When they had the chance to enter. With a receptionist as they had looked for two rooms. One large room while he was paying for a small one on his own.
Although she was more than happy to help him out. And asked for the largest.
Before finding themselves taking a small apartment at the top of the floor. Or rather one of four. Given how large this was. He opened it, having never seen anything quite like it. And they were literally nothing else when they wanted anything right now.
As she took a seat on the chair. A large wooden table with cushions was laid out for them. Just as he was amazed at this sort of finery.
“How wealthy are you?”
She shrugged. Not even wanting it. “Just make sure to pay me a little. I’m living off what we earn from her. But I would prefer living in a better place. And this has three rooms. So one for each.”
Just as they opened the door. “Or we could just consider renting a house in the near future. Or a small apartment.” But this was also nice and no certainty that there will be a rat infestation of any sort.
She crossed her own leg while waiting for him to settle inside. As just as he chose to think about it while they were here. Even as they both took a chance for them to think about it.
The letter in their hands dictating what was about them what they needed to do. And from it, it was a night market. So he knew full well what was the situation then and there.
What they needed to look. And it started tonight. To begin documenting and gaining valuable information about this. Which took them quite a while of their time entirely. No way for them to even escape if at all.
No more or less than they could have wanted or tried to do so. This was information which they needed to try their best at keeping and organizing as well.
And they should take a break. Since lengthy travel required them to rest before considering it. They started tonight even as they took an express train with almost no stops in between, but all their meals were provided so no worries there.
And they were simply never here for any leisure or sightseeing. This was purely business. And why they had to place it here. Once they had a little time for rest and eating, they could start.
It was done quickly. With them now in good shape to continue this. Walking down the street and where this was taking place. The main market where they could finally make their choices. Even as she looked around.
It was in the early evening, just shortly after the sunset. Although for certain days there was no sun in sight. If there was at all. This was a certain truth to this at the end of the day.
While they continued to walk down to find it. Someone who can help them. Even as there was nothing out of the ordinary here. Not Much that they could do or even try while they were here at last.
To anyone who can be of use to them while they were here. And asking around. Selling small trinkets.
From what she heard, it seemed like there were no more differences to it if at all. There were passwords, and codes used here. There was just no other way to even think about it. When she had the chance to really consider it at long last.
Just that she needed to ask. Or look for the right person. And there was a small house hidden behind. In which she understood intimately that this was not anything easy for her to find. Or even try and find it at the end of the day. At least while they could.
There wasn’t much else that they could have tried while they were here. Even as she continued to walk to find the perfect place. And knocked on the door. Inside this was a real weapon shop. Just as they were rare to find.
Blacksmiths did exist. And they were rare. Even as she walked inside them. Sitting on the two ends, where one of them could do so while they were here at last.
And inside was a boy. Sitting on the table. Unlike the others, he truly worked with metal and a display of all sorts of items which was noticeable here. Swords were in full display. Whether they are katanas, cutlasses, short swords, daggers, of any style. Rapiers, broadswords. Longswords, the Dadao. They were all on display here.
Even as he folded his arms while meeting them. Just as he took the sword of Lèzhì. Língxūan raised her eye. Even as he also grabbed the trench knives on Zexiang. Who by himself he took.
“This is a mix of a rapier and a cutlass. It’s rather thin and slender. And in some cases are used with another knife. And used for the show. Since it is very light. The next is solid trench knives. I’ll polish them for you for a fee.”
He shrugged. And saw no issue with that. Even as he was gentle. “He did polish it thoroughly. And this is a more permanent sort of fixture. Which means that he probably had the pics as to do several things if it was possible.”
Just as he took the chance to look at a sword. And in just a short moment. He had polished it. “I do admit that this is a really good touch to this.”
Even as he put it back into its scabbard. This was a pure longsword. Not wide and rather thin. Just as she never really wondered why there was more or less.
“I did want to ask you a question.” She looked at him. Even the raised his head.
“Feel free to go ahead?”
“Is this an official shop? Do you have a license?”
“Very much do. Even as it has become rare, but we’re still a necessity. Just as we spend more time acquainting ourselves with newer ways to create as well as faster ways to produce and assemble them.” And understanding designs.
As well as finding ways to increase firepower. “But that is very much a specially made piece. Since it combined two usually distinct details to form one. And it means that you’re skilled.”
He didn’t want to say much. Even as she never really noticed it. “Well, business here has been good but also not really. There are some who won’t say what it’s for. But it was good money.”
“Do you think there might be a black market?”
“Ever since the introduction of the new law. Which restricts us from having too many weapons, it created this market. And to become a blacksmith, the standards are really high.”
Even as she knew that it was so. Better to not let weapons become readily accessible, even as they were a country which preferred to be so. As long as no one was harmed. “But aren’t you a little young?”
“How am I, young? I’m going to turn sixteen.”
“That’s still awfully young.” They all agreed. Seeing as how he was running this shop on his own. “Technically, I run it with my sister. Who is turning eighteen soon? And we mostly work under a master although we recently just left him. To establish ourselves from him. But really it isn’t that big of a deal.”
That made them truly good while they were here at the very least. Even as Lézhì still chose to use the blade. An attempt to still shift from it to another at least at this stage. From what they knew.
Even as he polished it. Liking the immense shine that it gave him. He was good at it. Just as she looked down to his hands. Scarred but gave life to many a sword. Even as he had the chance to really focus on it.
That usually meant the hands. The skin was cracked, with scars all over them. Which was a normal thing? She knew that any who worked with them would have them. Just like how Zéxiāng and Lézhì had them. But not to the degree that he did. Perhaps because he worked with it so much more.
Smelting, crafting, and then tempering. Which could create burns, cuts of all sorts? Just as he put on a new pair of gloves. To cover the prominent scars on his hands. And that they often hurt.
And she walked away. “For a pistol, you can look for my sister. She is often the best at that and recommending it. She also has an imperial stamp of approval.”
“So, I guess that the Prince of Jin was buying from her?” She raised her eyebrow. It was hinted that he bought one from an arm. Just as few did it.
Even as the door opened to reveal imperial guards in that instant. At the center was a boy with dark red hair. His hair was just tied into a bun. With a wide tunic. And they knew that it was time.
There were mentions that he was touring the north. No one doubted the words of that. He had been here and stayed over in the Capital of Severya. And since it was close to the new year, it was time for them to just have him return home. So that he had the chance to interact.
He was also a boy of seventeen. Soon to reach his eighteenth birthday soon enough. As well as there as a form of a representative to his sister’s wedding. And also making someone there.
“Certainly not someone I’m expecting to see here.” She looked from the side into it. Just as the door opened to reveal a woman. She was tall, with her hair into a tight braid by her side. As it seemed. Both of them had Google as on their heads.
Which made sense if they worked with fire. Or anything that could be dangerous. They were normal. And had a license. And if the prince was paying attention to them without the guards having any issue. That meant that he was fine.
And they should focus on the main task on hand. Which was finding illegal trading? Something that the Emperor wanted to stop. But had no one to spare.
And considering that this was minor, even as many would know that having anything like this be considered minor to hand it off to other people meant that there were worse things on hand.
And thus needed them to do this. And suggested that there was more than one on assignment. Just that there wasn’t much progress. She knew that there were much more. A secret organization that the Emperor established and mostly meant for assassinations, espionage. And they itself were in espionage.
And also investigating and putting an end to any crime. Lézhì did not mention any of it. Suggesting that they were assigned here since it required a more specialized set of skills. It required them to dig out all the details.
And also find who is and who wasn’t allowed to hold this as well. And suggesting that they were alone. Which meant that he left this to them first, because it was best served. And also someone whose name was not so well known.
It wasn’t a minor skirmish, but the logical thing to do. Put an end to it if possible but even when without, the information gathered could be used. She understood fully what this was meant to be. This was basically one where it could be used to grade them. To find out and also test them. If it was necessary.
Perhaps for her more so than him. And she wrapped her own arms. Thinking about how she was beginning to look. There were phrases uses in this scenario, after all.
And then she finally made the decision to move to the left. A decision which was made at long last. At least as it had seemed. No more or less than what they saw while they were here. This was a struggle which they had.
She had to look around. And be careful. It was not uncommon for girls to have one on hand. Keeps men away from them, or sometimes with a parasol that could double as a self-defense mechanism. Provided they were strong enough.
Either way, tonight she still wore an extra layer of a dress, over it. Since it was still cold. She walked in the snow in her high heeled boots. An attempt to find one of them. And decided at last to open her parasol.
This was the event of a lifetime. The chance for her to really find an illegal weapons trading market.
“Miss, it certainly is dangerous to find you wandering around here at night?”
“Really?” She gave a wide innocent smile. Suggesting that she had little idea or no idea about what was happening. Even as that could not be further from the truth.
She knew, but she was attracting the right sort of people for this. She was finding herself the right sort of person who could help her.
“Best to get some help? Maybe a personal bodyguard.” And then she gave him a kick in the balls. While she walked away. The first thing that she knew. And the added bonus that she was wearing high heels, which made it even extra painful.
There were other things which they could or would have considered. But in this particular case, she knew better. “Well, I’m not sure that this is the best way to be defending yourself.”
Standing by the side, revealing it to be a young man sitting on the top. He was leaning against it, just as the night was about to begin.
“I can offer you some help. But I need certainty.” A way to not trust. Perhaps to enter.
“Come by here again tomorrow around the same time, and I’ll tell you a little more.” She gave a smile. Which meant that there was a little more to this set of operations. Or perhaps they are cocky.
But she knew that they were still cautious. They wanted people. But suggesting that she was curious. And to buy an arm at the cheapest cost her around 200 yuan. Thus she always had to be cautious of the price.
And give her time to gather some cash.
It was just a subtle way to worm into her head. And any head to plant such an idea there. To give them the time and chance to even do so. To think about it.
It works work a fair amount of the time. But the success would not be great. A stronger person would and might turn away. And resist it. But there was always paranoia and fear.
And those were often very good ways to break anyone. The worst thing it took to break anyone was to find the one thing that they could not lose. And then threaten them with it for their freedom. But it just carefully found. If it was a poorly done threat, they would simply laugh it off and stand their ground.
But if it was otherwise, they would sweat, then they would try and turn their attention. However, their fear would not be able to be hidden away from anyone. It would be clear from the very beginning.
And thus this was the difference. She folded her own arms. While she walked away. Clear that it working was not surprising. He was out here for a reason, and to go to people like that. Meant that he knew how to sell. But not necessarily figure out who was friend or foe among those reeled in. But most definitely knew who was interested and who wasn’t, which was all he cared about.
However, she could not let herself slip since he would be able to notice it. He would be able to put in the inconsistencies. And thus the most important part of her entire story was that it had to be reasonable and consistent.
She could never change. Although being heavily educated was not entirely out of character for someone of her particular class. She knew that she had to be careful.
Girls were taught and trained for motherhood. Nothing else. She knew that she did not necessarily feel like it. But someday she would have to think about it. Even as it was not unusual for them to choose something else in life. Or have a career.
It was difficult in terms of the juggle. But it was possible. It was entirely good or nice when they could have done so. When they could have thought about it seriously while they were here at the very least.
But above all, she knew how to make them underestimate her. Her hair itself was loose, and falling down under the back to the end of it. She was not very much down there at the very least.
When she had the chance to really think about it while she was here, nothing else at the very least. There were limits to this as well.
Even as she walked away. She had that cash in her bank. But better to head to one. Or find another where she could be making a choice here.
She did have cash. Just as she looked at her own bank book a week ago. Having done what she deemed and felt was necessary. At the very least. When they could have considered the chances for them to even properly think about this.
Before finding them. Neither of them managing to seem like anything more than unusual people. And Lézhì made the decision to leave his sword back in the room and so did Zéxiāng. Who felt very much that it was a necessity for them.
And they were here. Looking for it. With him even buying a set of paint from them. Raising her own eyes at the recently bought item. This was very much not a choice for them at the very least while they could have done so.
While they still very much needed this at the end of the day. “Not much progress.”
“Well, I kicked someone, mostly because he was about to get handsy.” She shook her head at it. She didn’t know what to think. “And then someone offered to get me a better deal.”
Not anything like the others. Even as he polished the sword. And she kept it away from sight. The best thing to do in such a situation was to really move forward when they needed it right now.
“So, you already have one.”
“But it is tomorrow. Since he is a little hesitant. Slightly hesitant about me. Or he understands that I may not have the cash. Either way, this was a really specific little choice they could have made at this point. When they could, at last, make a choice to really leave.”
“I can see why. If I were running the show, I would not want any random person to be into my circle. I would aim. His timing is correct.”
“But it may not always work. I can get that. He is hooking but in a very specific way, a very difficult way while they were here at the very least. This is not anything but his own specific and careful consideration.” But he was unable to find out more about her.
Just as long as she was and remained consistent. She would be fine and remain fine in such a scenario. When they could have considered and thought about it seriously while they were here. Seriously when they could want it.
“But we have a lead either way. Which means that they should consider having this scenario, or when they could have really thought about it while they were here.” Lézhì was right in terms of how she was going to look up. Of how she could have considered this at the end of the day.
This was something which was very intelligent. Highly intelligent, in fact, when they could have the chance to do so. Thus, she had to dress up. She was planning for this from the very beginning. She had to really seem, and that meant choosing something better to showcase just how she was sheltered and innocent.