After leaving the Tree for so many years,
I had gained many beautiful memories as well as painful ones.
But, the memory that ceaselessly resounds in my mind, is still that single, most painful moment.
“Yin Qie Zi? Yin Qie Zi?”
He slowly opened his eyes, but still couldn’t completely focus. A blurry image of a person. The person calling him is, is… Owen.
Zhan•Owen•Paladin, the only son of Warlord Paladin. He had displayed tremendous talent in martial arts as a child, defeating adults at age twelve and soon becoming Zhan Yan’s most famous spiritmancer. That was why, at just seventeen, he was given the title of “Warrior”.
The Country of Zhan Yan canonizes its people with the titles Lord, Marshal, Glaive, Warrior, and Soldier. Although Warrior was only the second rank from the bottom, the youth of Owen’s age and the lack of war in recent times had made the achievement of this title rather remarkable.
Owen was soon reaching eighteen this year. Warlord Paladin had been busying about trying to get his most beloved child to be titled War-Glaive before his birthday.
“Yin Qie Zi?” Owen waved his hand in front of Yin Qie Zi.
Yin Qie Zi finally snapped out of his daze and shoved away Owen’s hand, coldly saying, “It’s all your fault.”
Owen widened his eyes into a glare. Right when his bullheaded temper was about to act up, Yin Qie Zi pulled out a clear bottle and swirled the maroon liquid in front of him.
Taken aback at first, Owen then appeared ecstatic. He screamed and yelled, “You were able to do it? You really made it? My god… I can finally report back!”
He swiped the bottle and stared at the maroon liquid; the more he looked, the more he couldn’t let go. He couldn’t help but hail, “This color is brilliant! Brilliant!”
“It took me an entire night.” Yin Qie Zi snappily responded, “If you forget this until the day before the deadline again, I am definitely not going to help you!”
“Don’t say that. You’re like my best friend!” Owen chuckled a couple “hehe’s”, and said understandingly, “No wonder you were slumped over the table in deep sleep. I’ve never even seen you sleep before…”
Seeing Yin Qie Zi glare at him, Owen knew he had said something wrong again. He hastily changed the topic, “What can I say, women are just so troublesome. I mean, the Queen’s brown hair isn’t bad at all! Why must she dye her hair? And it had to be the color of orchid flowers too, forcing the entire nation’s spirit binders to scramble around like chickens just to make a bottle of hair dye.”
“Not everyone has a face as beautiful as your sister’s,” Yin Qie Zi dully replied, “It’s not a sin to want to look prettier.”
“I honestly don’t find the color of orchids all that beautiful… My sister’s golden hair and your silver-purple hair look way better.”
As he talked, Owen unconsciously started reaching out to touch Yin Qie Zi’s neatly plaited braid. The other person caught his wandering hand with a furious expression.
Owen was shocked, then finally recalled how much Yin Qie Zi loathed other people touching his hair. He quickly apologized, “Sorry! I honestly forgot! I’m so sorry!”
Yin Qie Zi glowered, warning viciously, “Don’t do it again!”
“Okay!” Owen smiled, but still didn’t stop himself from mumbling, “I just don’t get it. It’s just hair, why are you overreacting… Alright! Alright! I won’t do it again!”
“You’ve said this many times already!” Yin Qie Zi icily added before reaching out his hand, “I’ve given the thing to you already. Now pay up!”
Owen grumbled, “You’re a bit too practical, aren’t you? I just got here! Haven’t even gotten to say a few words, and you’re asking me for money. Aren’t you going to even serve me a cup of water?”
“I’m a Spirit Binder. I make my dinners from selling elixirs and medicine. If you want my elixirs, then you have to pay.” Yin Qie Zi explained bluntly, “This was an urgent job. The difficulty is extremely high, and the price was supposed to have been raised multi-fold, but seeing as you’re a regular customer of mine, I’ll just take a hundred gold from you!”
“Are you a robber?” Owen almost jumped. He cried, “An elixir for dyeing hair costs a hundred gold pieces?”
Yin Qie Zi rolled his eyes, “Do you think this is a regular bottle of hair dye? Why don’t you try and ask other spirit binders to make it the color of orchids? And let them know the deadline is tomorrow! If you don’t want it, then give it back to me!”
Owen quickly hid the bottle in his bosom. “I want it. Of course I want it! Just write it down for now! And while I’m here, give me fifty bottles of pills for healing, and twenty bottles each for increasing speed, strength, and defense. I’ll count it all up at the end of the month.”
Yin Qie Zi furrowed his brow and said, “I can muster fifty healing pills for you, but I can’t make so many of the other ones. The most is ten each. If you wait until the first of next month, I can meet those numbers.”
“Okay, just give me whatever you have for now!” Owen answered generously, “I’ll get someone to pay beforehand at the end of the month. Just take your time making the rest.”
Yin Qie Zi felt something was odd and inspected Owen up and down, questioning doubtfully, “Why are you getting me to make normal medicine like that? Weren’t you always complaining about how expensive I was charging, and would only come to me for elixirs other people can’t make?”
“I really can’t hide anything from you!” Owen laughed, but Yin Qie Zi didn’t plan to say anything back, so Owen awkwardly stopped his chuckling and began to explain, “The quality of elixirs recently has gotten quite messy. Even some guys who’ve not passed the Spirit Binder exam are making them on the go. Though their quality isn’t as good, the price is really appealing, so many stores still import from them.”
“That’s not anything new,” Yin Qie Zi said bleakly, “I’ve already told you a long time ago. My medicine is expensive because my quality is definitely better than the others.”
Owen scratched his face and admitted, “That’s true. But before, I could buy pretty nice medicine from other stores that were only slightly more expensive. Their quality was about the same as yours. But now, the situation’s changed. The pills are obnoxiously uneven in quality, and overall, everyone’s quality just keeps dropping. Even if I were willing to pay a high price, there might still not be anything good around.
“The truly good medicine can’t be sold, so even qualified spirit binders are starting to care only about quantity, not quality. This is a vicious cycle, I’ve already told you.”
“Yes, you’ve told me before.” Hearing Yin Qie Zi’s words, Owen felt slightly downcast. “It seems my dad is also frustrated about this situation lately.”
Hearing this, Yin Qie Zi dully responded, “This shouldn’t be one of the things Warlord Paladin should be worrying about, isn’t it?”
“What are you saying!” Owen bellowed, “The army is a huge buyer of healing and assist medicine! But now, while the ones coming are cheap, their quality is terrible! They can only heal minor scratches! Because of this, my dad almost beheaded some of his subordinates… If I hadn’t told him about how it’s impossible to buy good potions now, he really would have sent them to die.”
“I see.” Yin Qie Zi nodded. He understood Warlord Paladin’s headache now. If this problem persists, then the elixirs will then all become ineffective, which will in turn affect battles in war greatly as well.
Owen suddenly turned to Yin Qie Zi, beaming a wishful look at him, “Yin Qie Zi, could you maybe make more…”
“Don’t count on me!” Yin Qie Zi knew what Owen wanted to say and immediately cut him off, rejecting him, “I’m only one person. I can’t provide them to you in big batches. Plus you already know, making normal medicines are like a side job to me. My interests lie in the specialized medicines.”
“I know.” Owen nodded his head, “That’s why my dad sent me to buy as much as possible from you. At least then, the soldiers responsible for ordering the pills can tell the good from bad.”
Yin Qie Zi gave a laugh, and said, “You trust me that much? Aren’t you scared my medicine’s no good either?”
“Of course not,” Owen answered sincerely, “Don’t think I’m blind. I’ve eaten your medicine before, and the effects were unbelievable. If I were to go into battle, I definitely wouldn’t choose anyone’s but yours! But… there are no wars lately. I’m only dueling within the city, and your medicine’s honestly too expensive. My heart already hurts from buying those small amounts I’m saving for the more important fights.”
Yin Qie Zi snapped back, “Medicine isn’t meant for you all to eat like candy in the first place! If you like to duel, then you need to face the consequences. Just lie in bed a few days and you’ll be fine. What are you eating medicine for!”
“Heheh,” Owen chortled before hurriedly saying, “Let’s not talk about dueling! Let’s talk about business! Supply me with fifty bottles of healing pills, and twenty each of speed, strength, and defense every month.”
“I can’t.” Yin Qie Zi refused right away, “Healing pills are one of the bestsellers. It’s only because I’ve saved some up back then that I can provide you with fifty now. I can’t do that anymore after this!”
Owen scratched his head, and asked, “Then how many can you?”
Yin Qie Zi thought for a moment, “Fifteen bottles of healing pills, five bottles for the rest.”
“That’s too little!” Owen protested. “Hah,” Yin Qie Zi laughed, “And I’m going to raise the price. Let’s double it!”
Owen’s mouth gaped open, “You, you…”. He kept saying “you” for the longest time and still couldn’t draft a complete sentence.
“That’s what you get for ignoring me when I warned you back then,” Yin Qie Zi said coolly, “Now I’m the only one with a quality guarantee. You don’t have the right to bargain with me.”
Owen had his mouth open wanting to argue, but he had to admit, Yin Qie Zi had already warned him a long time ago. He then thought about it for some time before grudgingly pulling the friendship card, “We’ve known each other for so many years already. You don’t have to be so cruel, do you?”
“Or more accurately, we’ve almost met for one year,” Yin Qie Zi said with a bit of impatience, “Do you want it or not? There are quite a number of stores waiting for my response about whether I’m selling to them!”
Owen’s eyes widened, and whispered with disbelief, “Quite a number? Where’d they come from?”
Yin Qie Zi darted a look at him and sneered, “You didn’t think you were my only customer, did you? All the apothecaries in Chifung City know about me. They’ve bought quite a few healing pills from me. I’m just not sure if they went and sold them, or if they kept it for themselves.”
Owen was stunned. Before he could ask, Yin Qie Zi already started explaining, “Those vendors have sold medicine for so many years. They’re well aware of a medicine’s quality. They might not be selling my work, but they’d at least buy some for the house, especially the healing medicine.”
Owen thought for a moment and understood. He nodded, “The price of your medicine is really high, so reselling them would make no profit. However, there’s no saying about the quality. That’s why they buy it and keep it for themselves for emergencies! There’s no such thing as a waste of money when you’re using it on yourself, isn’t it?”
Hearing Owen’s interpretation, Yin Qie Zi gave him a rare smile of approval.
“Even if the price’s doubled, they’re still willing to buy it?” Recalling the price raise, his heart started aching again.
“They only pay 50% more.”
Owen screamed “Why!” once he heard this.
“Because I didn’t warn them, but I warned you.” Yin Qie Zi responded coldly, “I warned you, and yet you still didn’t buy more for backup. You disregarded my words completely, so you deserve this! So tell me, are you buying or not? Stop wasting my time!”
“I’m buying,” Owen surrendered.
After departing from Yin Qie Zi’s storefront, Owen turned around after walking for a few steps. Yin Qie Zi was leaning beside the door, and nonchalantly waved his hand when he saw Owen turn around. His entire person looked really lazy, as if he didn’t care much about anything.
Other than him, there were many other pedestrians who’ve taken notice of Yin Qie Zi. The man’s appearance was very eye-catching. Not that he was overly handsome or ugly, but because he had a head of silver-purple hair. Humans don’t have that hair color, so Yin Qie Zi really stood out.
That’s why Owen couldn’t avert his eyes when he first met Yin Qie Zi… To be honest, no one on the entire street could stop themselves from looking at Yin Qie Zi’s hair.
It wasn’t until he moved into the building he lives in now and hung his signboard saying “Spirit Binder” that everyone calmed down.
It’s not surprising for spirit binders to have any kind of hair color, since they’re the ones who make the hair dyes.
It’s just, Owen still found it really weird.
There wasn’t any other reason. It’s just that his mom was a spirit binder too when she was alive, and his little sister later studied up on this, so he knew some basic knowledge on spirit binding as well. Silver-purple isn’t a color any regular spirit binder can come up with.
After his interest was perked, Owen used the simplest method. He walked into Yin Qie Zi’s shop and ordered for a silver-purple hair dye.
Yin Qie Zi looked at him, and responded plainly that the color was created by accident. He can’t make it anymore.
There was no way Owen believed that. To create a relationship with the guy, he even resisted the pain and bought a few bottles of medicine… When he first heard the price, he almost thought Yin Qie Zi was making it difficult for him on purpose.
But after he used it, Owen couldn’t believe how incredible the results were. That was that, but after he had his sister inspect it, she actually told him to get entangled with him… His sister was the type to live like a hermit, and almost had no interest in other human beings! Of course, those weren’t her original words. She simply asked him to get in touch with the other person more.
Since his little sister summoned it, Owen worked hard in forming that relationship. He had to pester Yin Qie Zi for half a year before he agreed to talk about his hair color.
Apparently, some of his ancestors were from the leaf tribe, so he was born with that hair color. The reason why he could make medicine of such high-quality at a young age was also because of his bloodline… The Leaves always had good spirit vision.
Of course, that’s according to legend. The Leaf Tribe had left the continent of Sisha for over twenty years. No one could confirm with them now.
“Yin Qie Zi!” Owen yelled.
Yin Qie Zi glanced lazily at him as a form of reply. He didn’t even bother asking, “What is it?” which made Owen quite mad. He had lost count of how many times Yin Qie Zi’s nonchalant attitude had infuriated him this past year.
“It’s my little sister Mila’s birthday party in three days. Are you interested in attending?”
Yin Qie Zi raised an eyebrow. Owen instantly knew the other man had no interest whatsoever, so he quickly added, “I know you’re not fond of noise, but my sister really wants to meet you. And you know her, she can’t really step out of the house…”
Yin Qie Zi became silent. He asked, “Why does she want to meet me?”
Owen hurriedly started saying his prepared speech, “My mom was a spirit binder when she was alive, so she taught my sister a lot about spirit binding. She’s always admired your medicine, and so she wants to meet you.”
Yin Qie Zi monotonously replied, “I don’t have any formal attire.”
Owen said almost immediately, “I already prepared one for you!”
Yin Qie Zi rolled his eyes, and said sarcastically, “I thought I had the right to refuse!”
“Of course you do!” Owen responded with justice, but also put on an imploring expression, “But my sister really really wants to see you. She’s just turning eighteen this year, and I’m eighteen now, so can’t you meet her for my sake? Just treat it as your birthday present for me…”
Yin Qie Zi irritably cut him off, “Okay, okay! Whatever, as long as you shut that mouth of yours!”
“Thanks!” Owen was thrilled, “I’ll have someone send the outfit to you in two days. On the day of the banquet, a carriage will come pick you up. Remember to bring a birthday present for Mila…”
Owen only walked a few steps when a black carriage stopped in front of him. The doors opened, and inside sat a person of around thirty to forty years old, both meticulously groomed and dressed.
“Hi, Yehv,” Owen greeted as he climbed onto the car.
Yehv smiled, “Young master Owen. Looking from your expression, it seems the matter’s been dealt with successfully.”
“Hah! Of course.” Owen untied the scabbard from his waist, placing it atop the chair beside him. While doing so, he continued with a smile, “Dad finally let Yin Qie Zi meet with Mila, and Yin Qie Zi also agreed to go.”
“Miss Mila will be very happy to hear that.”
“Yeah!” Owen said helplessly, “Having a sister with no desires… it’s hard for a big brother to give her a good present.”
Yehv teased, “But for Miss Mila, it’s not hard for her to find something you’d like.”
“That’s true,” Owen agreed, “She hates people fighting and killing each other, yet her brother, me, is a spiritmancer who specializes in doing just that. Yehv, do you think Mila would be giving me a weapon this time or a batch of medicine?”
Yehv chuckled, “Young master Owen, to tell you the truth, I indeed know the answer to this question. However, I’m not going to tell you.”
“Ah! As my butler, you have things hiding from me?”
“Ah…” Yehv assumed a sympathetic expression, saying, “Young master, I truly do not wish to hide anything from you, but Master and Madam had told me, Miss Mila’s orders supersedes yours. As Miss Mila had forbidden me from telling, then I can only do so.”
Owen rolled his eyes, complaining, “You heartless thing… And here I am, not forgetting to give you some of Yin Qie Zi’s medicine each time. Next time, I’m definitely telling Fanny about your evil crimes!”
Hearing his wife’s name, Yehv laughed out loud. He joked, “But, Fanny listens to Miss Mila more than I do! If you’re to tell on me, I’d still rather listen to Miss Mila’s orders. Fanny might even give you a good lesson on how to obey Miss Mila’s orders.”
Hearing this, Owen grumbled again, “Everyone dotes on Mila. Even my butler listens to her. What is this!”
“Young master, don’t you dote on Miss Mila yourself?”
“…That is true.”
Owen sent the outfit over really early, but Yin Qie Zi didn’t bother opening the box until right before the banquet. He could feel the garb’s smooth texture and soft luster once he lifted it. This outfit’s made of silk, and not to mention the ornate pattern on it. It was apparel truly fit for nobles.
Yin Qie Zi looked in the mirror, picked up a brush, and started combing his hair. As usual, he spun it into a neat, tight braid. He knew, as long as he kept his hair this neat, others wouldn’t casually touch it out of curiosity… with Owen as the only exception.
Yin Qie Zi tossed his comb away, and moved his hand to his waist, wherein concealed a blade as long as his palm.
Owen rushed in, screaming loud and about at the same time, “Yin Qie Zi… Wow! Clothes really do make the man. You look more like a prince than first prince Edward himself!
“Owen?” Yin Qie Zi dropped his hand, and asked perplexed, “Isn’t it your sister’s birthday today? Why do you still have time to run here?”
“Ah… to pick up my good friend!” Honestly, he was afraid this good friend of his would just ditch him. If that were the case, then that meant his present would have flung out the window. However, Owen didn’t dare to tell Yin Qie Zi the rest of his reasons.
Yin Qie Zi scanned him suspiciously, but ended up noticing Owen’s own outfit instead. His formal attire was a navy military-styled suit. The fabric appeared well-made and durable, but lacked a shine to it. It looked like his usual wear, simple and poised.
Owen’s outfit rendered Yin Qie Zi a bit speechless. He lowered his head to look at his own extravagant outfit, then looked at Owen’s simple attire. He asked in confusion, “Why do my clothes look more expensive than yours?”
Owen froze for a second, then hurriedly replied, “How expensive it is doesn’t matter. The important thing is that it suits you!”
“So you’re saying, I suit silk and lace?” Yin Qie Zi laughed scornfully, and purposely adjusted the lace under his collar before picking up his comb again to brush his hair.
Of course the present has to be covered in pretty giftwrap. “You suit detailed clothing.” Owen somehow managed to come up with a sensible reason.
Yin Qie Zi didn’t care for that barely acceptable explanation and instead asked, “Are there any taboos?”
“Taboos of the royalty!” Yin Qie Zi finally finished tidying his hair and turned around to continue his question, “As in, who can’t I be near? Who shouldn’t I talk to? Manners when eating? Is there…”
Owen quickly shouted, “No, nothing! My family’s from the military, not like those genteel aristocrats from the central. If it’s anyone else, then there might be some things to look out for, but you look more like royalty than I do, so there’s nothing you need to do.”
“What do you mean I look more like royalty than you?” Yin Qie Zi rolled his eyes, “I’m just a simple civilian!”
After seeing Yin Qie Zi all dressed up, and that regal vibe he gave off in it, Owen frankly couldn’t agree with him.
Yin Qie Zi glanced out the window, and pressed, “It’s about time. It’s really rude to be late.”
“That’s why I say you’re like an aristocrat…”
“…a bossy aristocrat!”
“I may be bossy, but I’m not an aristocrat!”
The two continued their pointless dialogue as they stepped out. But at the door, they almost bumped into someone, a person wrapped tightly from head to toe in a black cloak.
Owen knitted his brow when he saw a veil covering the person’s face. It was nearly evening outside, but the black cloak still looked overly thick. It was something people only wore during winters. There was simply something really off about that person. Owen lightly positioned his hand to the sword around his waist.
Just then, Yin Qie Zi voiced unhappily, “Why did it take you so long to get here?”
The person in black kept his head hung low and stood with a humble posture. He still remained silent.
“You know him?” Owen was somewhat surprised.
“Mm,” Yin Qie Zi explained minimally, “My servant Litelli.”
“Servant?” Owen said astounded, “How come I’ve never seen him before?”
“Because I always sent him out to collect special ingredients for my medicine. Owen, get in the carriage first. I still have to give him some instructions.”
Owen nodded casually, then climbed into the carriage.
Yin Qie Zi moved a few steps away. Litelli followed.
Once Yin Qie Zi turned to face Litelli, he directly asked, “Is it dealt with?”
The other person flung his arms open, discarding his respectful stance from earlier, and replied in a cheeky manner, “Of course!”
“Good, then go home.” Once finished, Yin Qie Zi promptly lifted his leg to leave.
“Hey, wait!” Litelli said abruptly, “I have some news for you! My tribesmen told me to make sure it gets to you, or else they’ll lock me up! It seems someone’s been asking around about you in our tribe, but they’re not sure for how long this has been going on. My people are always so slow at doing anything.”
Yin Qie Zi stopped walking, and with a frown on his face, tried to recollect his memories. Though, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t find any connection he had with Litelli’s tribespeople. Who would want to find him?
Litelli dug about his body, and scooped out a piece of paper. Seeing the words on it, he read it outloud as is. Even his tone was like he was reciting a textbook, “It is a man with a scar on his face. He does not look gentle in nature, so please be careful. Sincerely, The Tribe of Servant Spirits.”
A man with a scarred face? Yin Qie Zi grimaced while thinking. Litelli looked up at the carriage, then a shriek channeled out from the cloak, “Oh hey! You really achieved your goal. That must’ve not been easy.”
Hearing him, Yin Qie Zi stopped his thoughts at once and icily voiced, “Quiet down! I told you, if you even have one small possibility of ruining my plans, you’ll have to go back to your tribe!”
Litelli immediately lowered his head and deliberately put on a self-effacing tone, “Don’t drive me away! I promised to serve you, and I’ve been good so far, haven’t I? If you chase me away, then even my tribe wouldn’t want me!”
Although he kept saying “you”, anyone could tell Litelli meant no respect in his words.
Yin Qie Zi stood silent for a second, then voiced dispassionately, “Go inside. Have some healing and assist medicine ready before I’m back.”
“Yes.” Litelli nodded with force, and obediently walked in the house.
Yin Qie Zi watched Litelli go inside and closed the door, but he didn’t get on the carriage right away. He continued to watch the shut door in a daze, deep in thought…
Owen poked his head out a bit impatiently, and yelled, “Yin Qie Zi, are you done yet? We’re almost late!”
Yin Qie Zi recovered, and turned to smile toward the carriage.
“Alright, I’m ready.”
Proofreaders: atroquinineblue, bijunliang