After walking along the street for some time, the two of them chose a small but clean restaurant. They were dressed in their best clothes which were coarse and not the best quality but they looked neat and clean. Their speech was polite so the people at the restaurant were courteous and attentive to them.
The two of them sat near the door and ordered two bowls of noodles and four more dishes. Since there weren’t a lot of customers, the food arrived quickly. The food tasted alright. Cheng Nuo was already accustomed to sending food to Liu Guang and smiled while watching him eat. Liu Guang’s speech was somewhat unclear because his cheeks were bulging with food: “Stop watching me eat…”
While he was enjoying himself, Cheng Nuo sensed that someone was looking at him. Looking around, he saw that it was a 12 or 13-year-old boy who looked as though he was carved from jade. The boy was standing just outside the door looking at Cheng Nuo. He seemed to be in a daze.
The youth was wearing a plain gown made of good material. The lower garment was a layered skirt, therefore Cheng Nuo guessed that he was probably a female of this world. However, his seaweed-like curly hair was loosely flowing down to his shoulders, unlike the style of the other females that Cheng Nuo had seen. His hair made him seem quite handsome, with fair skin and red lips like cherries.
In fact, if Cheng Nuo didn’t know that there were no girls in this world, Cheng Nuo might have mistaken him for a girl since his face was extremely beautiful but, after all, Cheng Nuo didn’t know this person and he was here to eat so he lowered his head to continue eating.
As expected, the boy quickly entered the restaurant, sat down on the table next to them and ordered a plain bowl of noodles. He ate in a refined manner, without making any noise.
Liu Guang quickly finished eating his bowl of noodles. Cheng Nuo smiled and ordered another bowl for him. When they had almost finished eating, he asked the waiter for some millet pancakes they could eat on the road. They were halfway to their destination now. Cheng Nuo was ready to take a break then start traveling again tomorrow morning.
When they finished and paid for their food, the boy also stood up and casually walked away. The person in charge of the restaurant smiled and quickly stepped forward to stop him: “Dear customer, you haven’t paid yet.”
The youth said softly, “I have no money.”
The waiter looked at the delicate storage bag at the youth’s waist and said with a smile, “Sir, please don’t play a joke on this waiter. A bowl of noodles costs five coins.”
The youth, who had a pair of bright, innocent-looking purple eyes, repeated it slowly and unhurriedly: “I have no money.”
The waiter, a young man who seemed to be in his twenties, dared not look on the youth’s face directly. After a while, he stammered out: “Forget it, five, five coins isn’t a big deal. Young sir can pay it next time.”
When Cheng Nuo saw what had happened, his mouth twitched. What a ****ing world! If a man wants to eat but has no money, can he just put on a skirt and pretend to be female? Can he make Liu Guang put on a skirt to try out its effects?
Remembering his first encounter with Liu Guang, Cheng Nuo wanted to know this world’s aesthetic standards. What kind of male appearance was considered good-looking female in this world? Bah, in truth, there’s no difference in appearance!
When they had left the restaurant, Cheng Nuo smiled and asked Liu Guang: “You saw that boy? Do you think he looks good?”
Liu Guang reluctantly said: “Not good.” But, in fact, when that boy came in he noticed a cold and dangerous aura that made him feel very uncomfortable. He had kept a close watch on the boy’s movements and didn’t take much notice of his appearance.
Cheng Nuo was shocked. From his point of view, that boy was as slender and beautiful as though he had stepped out from a comic book. Does this world think that plump people are more beautiful? Thinking of some middle-aged uncle with an exaggerated rotund figure as the standard of beauty in this world, Cheng Nuo found it hard to accept.
He looked at his wrist. Because it was a bit darker than it used to be in his previous life and because he was in a growth spurt, it looked thinner and weaker than before. He moved closer to Liu Guang and stared at him, smiling as he asked: “Then what do you think of me?”
Liu Guang’s face felt hot and he turned his head to one side, uncomfortable at being asked this question. “Why are you asking that? Females… what a bother!” He thought Cheng looks quite good, better than everyone he had ever seen, but he certainly wouldn’t say that.
Cheng Nuo immediately felt pleased. Laughing, he said a few words about how cute Liu Guang was which made Liu Guang squirm with embarrassment and his face turn red.
It was getting dark. Night time in this city was somewhat lacking in entertainment so the number of people in the streets gradually decreased. Cheng Nuo originally wanted to find a small inn where they could wash but they couldn’t find one. The large and medium-sized establishments were too expensive. In the end, he gave up and went to find a corner where he and Liu Guang could sleep for the night.
However, this city had patrols. Vagrants were not supposed to sleep on the street but even so, most of the corners were already occupied by beggars. At last, they were able to find a good corner in an alley. The ground was covered in smooth, flat limestone slabs.
Cheng Nuo took out their clothes from their baggage and laid them out on the stone slabs. Liu Guang looked a bit melancholy. Cheng Nuo knew what this little kid was thinking. In the slums, although they were poor, Liu Guang was lively and could keep his head up compared to the other slum dwellers, but when they left the slums to gain knowledge and experience outside, countless people rolled their eyes at them.
Cheng Nuo lay down on his back and patted the place behind him to urge Liu Guang to lie down. Stroking his hair, Cheng Nuo said, “Are you thinking about Cao Tou and the others?”
Liu Guang tone was sharp: “Who would miss them?”
Cheng Nuo laughed and said, “It’s still too early. Why don’t we play a guessing game?”
The nights were long and boring so Cheng Nuo often liked to play puzzles games by giving Liu Guang some brain teasers and math problems to solve. Right now Liu Guang was on the same level as a sixth grader and, although his writing was awkward, could already write the most commonly used characters. In addition, he was quite good at mental arithmetic. After all, he was still in the developmental stage of physical growth so mentally he should also be developing at a fast rate.
Cheng Nuo gave him a simple math problem about volume. Using only two containers of five liters and three liters, how can you measure one liter of water?
Liu Guang was biting his lower lip and concentrating on finding the solution when he heard soft young teenager’s voice say from around the corner: “Use the three-liter container to pour water into the five-liter container twice. What is left over is one liter.”
Cheng Nuo was surprised. The youth with long seaweed-like hair slowly walked from the darkness towards them. Liu Guang immediately sat up and watched the teenager vigilantly. The youth casually nodded to them then sat down on the corner opposite them, legs crossed under him. It seemed like he had no intention of talking to them.
Cheng Nuo also thought it was very strange. The teenager’s clothes were quite good so it really didn’t look as though he was poor. Having known Chang Chun and Bai Rui, Cheng Nuo couldn’t relax even though the boy seemed harmless. However, they surely they hadn’t done anything to draw attention to themselves? That thought made Cheng Nuo feel a little relieved.
Liu Guang also lay down again but kept an eye on the youth’s movements. Cheng Nuo patted his head and smiled: “Go to sleep early, tomorrow we have to travel early.”
The teenager hummed tunelessly and took out a delicate, exquisitely-shaped doll that was half the height of a person. The sound of his humming was very pleasant. His slender white fingers, holding a beautiful ivory comb, slowly combed the doll’s hair. He looked innocent but Cheng Nuo felt it was a little creepy though he didn’t know why.
The teenager turned the doll around in a circle. Cheng Nuo suddenly shivered all over when he saw the doll’s face. The doll’s body proportion was normal and the face looked lively and delicate but the skin, hair, and eyes were too much like a real human being’s!
“Good Little Nine,” cooed the youth to the doll, “I won’t let you feel lonely. I’ll find a younger brother for you soon.”
The teenager’s thick black curls hung down his face, and in the moonlight, only half of his white, excessively handsome face could be seen. It was really strange beyond words. Cheng Nuo couldn’t help but shiver. He quickly lowered his eyelids to stop peeping at the youth, feeling a little uneasy in his heart.
However, this was a quiet residential area so Cheng Nuo wasn’t too worried. Liu Guang suddenly moved closer to Cheng Nuo and held his hand firmly in his as he whispered into Cheng Nuo’s ear, “Go to sleep. I’ll keep watch during the night.”
Whenever Liu Guang went hunting, he could lie on the grass for an entire night, waiting to ambush his prey, but Cheng Nuo wasn’t willing to let him do this. Pinching his hand in protest and staring discontentedly into his eyes at first, in the end, Cheng Nuo couldn’t help but reach out and hug Liu Guang. Smiling, he said: “It’s okay.”
He pinched Liu Guang’s cheek comfortingly then raised his voice to speak to the youth: “I’m Nuo Cheng and this is my brother Xiao Guang. Meeting each other by chance like this, it seems that our meeting was destined. May I ask your name?” He deliberately reversed his name. The words he spoke sounded awkward because they were something that he remembered from the wuxia TV shows he had watched. He still didn’t fully understand the ways of this ****ing world.
Liu Guang rolled his eyes. Why did Cheng Nuo change his name?
“My name is Li Yue.” Li Yue answered in a quiet voice. The corners of his lips were turned up as though in a smile and his purple eyes were particularly eerie at night. Cheng Nuo hardly dared look at him.
Li Yue’s eyes quickly returned to his doll. The expression on his face was sometimes mature and sometimes like a naive child, very contradictory. He no longer paid attention to Cheng Nuo and continued humming and combing the doll’s hair.
Still feeling uneasy, Cheng Nuo somehow fell asleep. When he woke up, he saw that Liu Guang’s eyes were still wide open while Li Yue was nowhere to be seen.
Looking up at the grayish white color of the sky at dawn, Cheng Nuo felt guilty and wondered: “You haven’t slept all night?”
Liu Guang jumped up and did some exercises. “It doesn’t matter, I’m not tired.”
Now that it was daytime, the feeling of fright he had felt last night disappeared. Cheng Nuo casually stretched his stiff back and said: “Well, when did Li Yue leave?”
“Around 5-7 in the morning, don’t worry about it.” Liu Guang hesitated then swallowed the rest of his words for fear of frightening Cheng Nuo – the eyes of that doll were those of a living person! Moreover, Liu Guang couldn’t quite explain how he had come to that conclusion.
One thing he was sure of was that li Yue had definitely been eyeing them. In any case, he had to protect Cheng Nuo! The expression on Liu Guang’s face became very determined and he secretly touched the machete behind his waist.
Cheng Nuo was afraid that Liu Guang was tired because he hadn’t slept all night and insisted on finding an inn to let him rest before they went on their way.
Liu Guang raised his eyebrows: “What do you mean? It doesn’t matter if I don’t sleep for three days straight! I’m not like that weak Bai kid who has to take refuge in other people’s homes just to sleep.”
Cheng Nuo couldn’t help but laugh. Although Bai Rui has been away for quite a while, Liu Guang’s tone of voice was still resentful. Those two children are just natural enemies.
Since Liu Guang was so stubborn about it, the two of them simply ate some breakfast then continued on their way. There were still many mountains and forests on the way to their destination, and it was inevitable that they will encounter various dangers. There were many people coming and going during the day so it was safer.
- “He asked the waiter for some millet pancakes they could eat on the road” – 饼子 (bǐng zi) maize or millet pancakes.
- “Cheng Nuo found it hard to accept.” – I had to take liberties since the raw literally said “Cheng Nuo’s face was suddenly bloody” (一脸血) which is just way too weird to use.
- “containers of five liters and three liters” – the raws used an ancient unit of measurement 斤 (jīn) which is normally translated as “catty.” This is a weight roughly equal to 0.5 kg.
- “Cheng Nuo felt it was a little creepy” – I interpreted this line. The original said, “In his heart, Cheng Nuo felt somewhat 毛毛 (máo mao).” That word could mean a couple of things like “fluffy” “baby” or even “ugly.”
- “Around 5-7 in the morning” – Back in the day in China they used to divide the day into two hour-segments. In this case, Liu Guang said 卯时 (mǎo shí) which is 5-7 am.
- Machete – 弯刀 (wān dāo) actually means both scimitar and machete. Seeing as Liu Guang is a poor boy from the slums, it’s probably a machete that’s used for cutting wood and such, rather than a scimitar.