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Past noon time. In the park.

Probably because of the overcast sky, the elderly people dancing and singing in the park had scattered a bit by now. The park was rather heavily vegetated and small animals could often be spotted here and there, and magpies would sweep across the branches from time to time and soon disappear into the woods with a fluttering sound.

Gu Yu and Jiang Xiaozhai walked for a short distance and saw two girls turn onto their way from another path. Recognizing them, Xiaozhai waved and called out, "Wukong, Liu Nai!" [1]



The two girls hurried near and sized Gu Yu up with a pretended picky look as they commented in an exaggerated tone, "Wow, Xiaozhai, is this your boyfriend? Quite cute!"

"Exactly, introduce us! Shall we have dinner together later?"

"Well, where have you been?" She neither admitted nor denied, but only smiled back.

Other people could not tell from her response, but these two knew her too well. They immediately got the hint—nope, not her boyfriend.

The two lost interest in the guy at once and one of them shook the plastic bag in her hand. "We just got back from the supermarket and bought some snacks… Well, we’ll leave you here. The meeting’s in the afternoon, don’t be late."

The two girl came and went like a passing tornado, soon disappearing into the distance. Xiaozhai then explained to Gu Yu, "Those were my colleagues. We’re quite close."

"Do all your colleagues have unique names like those?" Gu Yu hadn’t said a word until now and was still somewhat distracted.

"Use your head. Those were nicknames."

"Right. Do you have one, then?"

"Take a wild guess!"

That was the most pain-in-the-neck answer he could get. Seeing the helpless look on Gu Yu’s face, she laughed and asked, "Are you going to the medicine material market this afternoon?"

"Yes. I need some osmanthus."

"Osmanthus? Well, there they are."

She pointed to a lawn ahead of them to the right, where several osmanthus trees were planted.

The osmanthus plants had several variations, including golden osmanthus, silver osmanthus, reddish osmanthus, and monthly blooming osmanthus. The first three bloomed in autumn, while the last one would bloom all year round. Those on the lawn were the ones blooming monthly, which were growing really well. Their branches were clad with strings of little flowers as they swayed lightly in the breeze. [2]

"What I need is the silver osmanthus. Those won’t work for me," Gu Yu glanced at her expression and explained, "Recently, I received an order from an elder to make some incense for her. The golden and reddish ones have too strong a scent to use as ingredients. Fragrance of the silver osmanthus fits my recipe the best.

The monthly ones could also work though, especially these that are only half-blooming. Pick some and mix them evenly with honey, then seal them in a porcelain jar and cellar for a month. When you use them, put the flowers on a fire insulation board and hang them above a small flame. The osmanthus would then give off their fragrance slowly as they bloom further. When they were fully open, the fragrance would… Hey, what are you doing?"

Before he finished his lecture, Jiang Xiaozhai was striding straight into the lawn with her exceptionally long legs. She answered him without turning her head. "I’m going to pick some flowers!"

"Huh?"

"Don’t ‘huh’ me. Come and help."

"Why, don’t you have a meeting to go to? You’ll be late."

"Forget it. Come over here! Quickly!" She was already under the trees and beckoned him over.

"..."

Gu Yu had confusion written all over his face. This girl was unbelievable. You could never predict her next move. He had no choice but to dawdle towards her.

"I’ll keep watch. You pick the flowers," She was very concise.

"Are there any aunts with red armbands around here? I’m feeling a bit guilty at the moment," he looked around, finding his own appearance quite nasty. [3]

"You’re on the lookout, then. I’ll pick the flowers!"

Osmanthus trees were not very tall and Xiaozhai was not a short girl herself. She could almost reach the flowers standing on her toes. She browsed through the branches and picked out one dragged down by a heavy string of flowers, then stretched out her arm towards it.

Gu Yu watched her fingers lift higher and higher. She was almost there when a loud voice suddenly came from behind them, "Hey! What do you think you’re doing? Don’t you know picking flowers is forbidden here?"

Well, it just so happened that one of those "aunts" was on the patrol. She stood on by the path and scolded loudly at them, "Where do you work? With that bad manner, I need to have a word with your supervisors…"

"Run!" Jiang Xiaozhai was quick to react. She grabbed Gu Yu and started running right away.

"Hey! How dare you run away! Stop right there!"

The aunt got angry and hobbled along after them. There was no way she could catch up to the two, though. Just look at those two pairs of long legs! Their footsteps scrunched along the gravel road and the two were soon out of her sight.

They ran past the lawn, the resting pavilions, the little bridge, and the spring pond. They did not stop until they reached the exit.

They weren’t exactly out of breath from the running, but only a bit flustered. After checking behind, they were relieved to find that aunt did not have the ability to teleport. The two looked at each other without the cliche understanding smile. Only that the girl noticed her hair had gone loose and she tied it back again.

"..."

After a few seconds of silence, Xiaozhai half turned to the other side and gestured, "My company is just across the road."

The exit was right beside the road, across which stood the red building. Gu Yu was reluctant to say goodbye but did not let it show. "Well, thanks a lot for today."

"For what?"

"Just being polite."

"..."

Jiang Xiaozhai rolled her eyes and gave him a wave. "Bye bye!"

"Bye bye!"

Gu Yu watched her cross the road without looking back at him. The white shirt disappeared at the corner of the road.

***

Afternoon. The Pine Park.

The Pine Park was in the southern suburb of the city. It used to be a small village as well, but was later incorporated into the city. This area was rather far from the city center and did not have much developmental advantage. The only aspect worth mentioning was the largest traditional medicine wholesale market in the province.

After a bumpy bus ride, Gu Yu finally made it to the market. The sky remained dim and cloudy without any rain, not even a shower. It seemed that a heavy rain was brewing.

He was a little concerned, for the weather forecast said a moderate rain would turn heavy later today. By the look of it, a heavy rain was to be expected. He involuntarily quickened his pace and walked into the medicine material trading center.

The interior was similar to a farm produce market with stalls aligned closely to one another and bags filled with raw or semi-processed medicine materials piled up on the ground. The place was neither empty nor packed, for the demand for the traditional medicines was not small and relatively stable.

Gu Yu browsed through a few stalls and stopped at one of them. It was quite a big one, with a lot of bags, mainly dealing in herbal and floral materials.

"Any silver osmanthus?"

"Do you need dry flowers or powder?"

"Dry flowers."

The stall owner picked up a small sack with air-dried silver osmanthus in it. Gu Yu felt the flowers between his fingers and sniffed them, finding the fragrance rather pure and the flowers flawless and intact. He then asked, "How much for half a kilo?" [4]

"That one’s 246. I also have some at 180 yuan."

"I’ll have 200g of this kind, please."

"Sure!"

The stall owner could spot an expert right away and did not try any tricks. He measured out 200g of silver osmanthus flowers for Gu Yu immediately. Seeing that the materials here were of rather high quality, Gu Yu then also bought some borneol and mint.

While the stall owner was busy with Gu Yu, his eyes suddenly flickered, for he recognized an acquaintance within the crowd. He then called out, "Oi, Old Li, you are here again today?"

"I have to. I’ve used up the stuff from last time."

"Have you figured it out, then?"

"Not yet. I’ve even invited some experts over. They said because of the excessive rain this year, the bees were cranky. Hell, I’ve been a beekeeper for twenty years and things have never been so frustrating."

The old man was in his fifties and had a distressed look. He wasn’t in the mood to talk and left soon after that.

Their conversation seemed to remind Gu Yu of something. He asked casually, "What was that about, boss?"

"That old man is a beekeeper and his bees keep coming out and stinging people these days. He then had to treat those people, which costed him quite a lot money, but the bees would still sting others. He heard that the traditional medicine might work for him, so he would come around from time to time…"

The owner was obviously a gossip type and gave out all he knew within no time.

Gu Yu took the materials he bought and put them carefully into his backpack. There was a thoughtful expression on his face.

[1] TL/N: Wukong as in the name of the Monkey King, Liu Nai as in "flowing milk".

[2] TL/N: In order, they are: thunbergii, latifolius, aurantiacus, and semperflorens.

[3] TL/N: Spontaneous or semi-official security management organizations are commonly found in residential areas in Chinese cities. They usually do not have uniforms and their members are mainly retired elderly people. The red armbands are used to differentiate those members from civilians.

[4] ED/N: The Chinese buy and sell in jin, which is half a kilo, not in whole kilograms. Since we’re using metric units, we’re going to use kilograms, but stick to counting things per 500g for flavor.

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