Town of Magic
In the blink of an eye, it’s now nighttime. The eight people separate into fours, comfortably sleeping inside their carriage. Well, only some are. Dee just could not overcome the sound the wheels made. Awake also, is Shun.
Dee hasn’t told the crew where they are headed yet. The crew only knows that they are seeing a friend of Dee. Dee decided not to tell anyone, even Rui. Because the place they are heading is a secret place that not many know. He fears giving away the location might disturb the peace of the area.
Dee peeked outside through the window, it’s already pitch dark out there. Dee knows their destination is far away, but he’s not sure how long until they arrive. He looked around, seeing Yuchi and Rui had already fallen asleep. Dee is also overwhelmingly tired, he can barely open his eyes.
“Master Shun? Are you not tired?” Dee whispered to Shun who sat beside him.
“You should rest and save energy, who knows when we are going to encounter danger.”
Shun slowly closed his eyes, Dee did as well. As annoying as the sound of a carriage is, it still could not compare with how drowsy Dee is. It’s just a matter of time before he falls asleep.
“Master Dee.” A voice woke Dee up. He opened his eyes and saw the young coachman.
“We have arrived,” The coachman said.
The others were also woken up by the coachman. However, many are still yawning as they did not get nearly enough sleep on the bumpy road.
“Are we there yet?” Rui asked, taking a deep yawn.
“I think we are,” Dee replied.
Dee hopped out of the carriage. The city sky is still dark as the sunrise has not arrived quite yet. In front of Dee and the rest is a huge archway leading towards a lighted area. The arch has lanterns on it, gleaming in the dark. Perfectly outlining the curls and shapes of the arch.
“This is Zundian,” Dee introduced. “Also known as the slum of Chang’an.”
“This is still Chang’an?” Yuchi questioned. “But it’s so far away.”
“Technically it is a part of Chang’an,” Dee explained. “The whole of Chang’an is way bigger than the city itself. It extends way farther in all directions. Zundian is located at the border of Chang’an. If we head more south we will arrive at Liang city.”
Dee walked through the archway, followed by the rest. As soon as they entered the main town, everyone was presently surprised at how beautiful this place is. It’s not comparable to Chang’an at its norms. But it has its own sense of beauty, a different kind of one than Chang’an. It sort of reminded Dee of night markets, plain yet also bustling.
There seem to be no buildings in this area, instead, everyone lives in tents that are decorated beautifully. Neon lights, as well as, Small lamps lit up the street at night time, the light sources are not strong but just enough for people to see. People here don’t wear fancy clothes, they wear the most ordinary ones. One could tell this place is far from being wealthy. However, many would be impressed at how crowded, lively, dazzling this place is. If you would compare today’s Chang’an with Zundian to a newcomer, then in no way will he think that Zundian is the poorest part near the area. The main city right now is in lockdown mode, with everyone panicking. Rarely you see a soul on the streets. Lights are shut off, the night completely dark. On the other hand, somehow Zundian looks in a better state.
“This place is amazing.” Yuchi is shocked. “I never knew there was a place like this.”
“I have been here a few times with Master Dee,” Rui said. “The people here are really nice too.”
“Zundian is also known as the place of magic,” Dee introduced. “Twenty years ago, Emperor Wu took over. She wanted to rebuild some parts of the city, making Chang’an more appealing and fascinating for others to visit. Attracting more and more visitors, it got a whole lot more expensive to live in Chang’an than before. Many poor had to find other places to live.”
Dee glanced around, people of Chang’an do look nicer and cleaner than the people here do. In Chang’an the smell of flowers, and delicious delicacies are common. In Zundian, it’s the smell of burning coal, garbage, overall it feels way grimier. However, the smell could not overshadow how amazing the place actually feels. Everyone they’ve met so far has a bright smile on their face.
“In the process of rebuilding the city, the emperor also had to destroy the cottages of the magicians. These people usually live in smaller areas that are quieter, the rebuilding of the city took it away.” Dee continued the storytelling. “So the poor people along with the magicians discovered a wasted land in Zundian and built an area designated for themselves.”
“How come I’ve never heard of this place,” Yuchi asked.
“Even though Zundian is a part of Chang’an. The people here negotiated with the emperor to let them run their own town. The emperor pleasantly agreed,” Dee explained. “Because this place is built for themselves, they also didn’t want people to just come to the area. So the emperor fulfilled their wishes, erasing the place out of the map. Only officials of high authority have chances to learn about this place.”
“That’s a very cool story,” Yuchi exclaimed.
“This is why younger people like you have rarely seen real wizards in Chang’an,” Dee added on.
The others generated a lot of curiosity about this place after the storytelling. Dee sees them walking near the tents, peeking their heads around exploring the place. On the side road, there are mini taverns, blacksmiths, divination places, and lots more. Despite the sun still sleeping, some have already woken up and started their day. One person caught the crew’s attention. It was an old, short woman, dressed like some sort of wizard. She was holding a crystal ball, mumbling some random words, eyes closed. Dee couldn’t understand her, but he would guess it’s some sort of incantation. She seems to not realize that the crew was staring at her, as she continued her mumbling. Just as the crew was about to move away, the old lady called on them.
“Please have a seat.” She used her rather weak and husky voice.
“Who?” Rui asked.
“The one with the mustache.” She pointed right at Dee, her eyes never opened.
Dee didn’t say anything and sat in the chair just facing the old lady. As Dee sat down, the old lady started mumbling those words again. Her hand rubbed the crystal ball. Dee was very curious about what’s going to happen, he looked around, the crew also showed curiosity about the next step.
Moments after, the mumbling stopped. The old lady opened his wrinkled eyes and stared right into Dee’s soul. For a split second, Dee got chills just looking at the lady’s eyes. Her eyes are different colours, one black, the other teal. Dee has never recalled seeing a teal-eyed person, ever.
“You guys are from Chang’an,” She said.
“Yes, indeed,” Dee replied. Before the trip, Dee told the crew to change their uniforms to more ordinary clothes. As he doesn’t want to stand out and cause problems while being in Zundian. He gave all the uniforms to Ruyi. Even though she showed unwillingness to help the crew store their clothes, at last, she still decided to help. But, for some reason, this old lady knows where they are from, and Dee knows none of them have met her before.
“Stone hearts will break to pieces,” The old lady said. “There will always be pain along the journey.”
Dee and the others did not really understand what the old lady meant. Or if it really meant anything at all.
“What does it mean?” Rui couldn’t resist his curiosity.
The old lady did not answer Rui’s question. Instead, she started the mumbling of the words again, seemingly ignoring them.
Dee saw the lady not wanting to answer, so he decided to leave. “Thank you.” He still thanked the lady before walking away.
“What does it mean?” Rui chased Dee down, eager to know.
“We don’t really know,” Dee answered. “Let’s just keep walking.”
The crew, led by Dee, walked along the dirt-made street, before stopping at a two-story building. This is the only building they have seen so far along the way. The building has similar features to the one in Chang’an. In a place like this, the building stands out amongst the rest. Everyone enters the building, the inside is very oddly golden and luxurious. You would think in a slum there wouldn’t be anything like this.
Dee approached the front desk. “Here to see wizard Tianlan.”
“Ok,” The front desk replied. “Let me ask if she is available.”
The front desk man closed his eyes, after a few moments he said. “Master Tinlan said you are welcome to see her.”
“Thank you,” Dee replied.
The front desk snapped his fingers, a portion of the wall magically disappeared, revealing a hidden room. Inside there it’s a room. Dee along with the others went in, there is a staircase down to the basement.
“Is that magic?” Rui asked.
“Yes,” Dee said. “The wizards gather here, down in the basement. The front desk we just met is just the most ordinary one. Wizard Tianlan, the person we are meeting is one the best wizards ever.”
Dee can see in Rui’s eyes that he is really excited, his eyes sparked excitement.
The basement or the underground part of Zundian has a different feel. As soon as they entered, all of them sensed the mysterious atmosphere. A feeling of uncertainty struck all of them, except Dee, as he has already experienced this before.
“Wow,” Rui exclaimed. “It’s so cold in here.”
Much of the basement looks similar to upstairs in Zundian, but the atmosphere feels completely different. There is a strong suffocating feeling down here.
“You guys might feel a bit uncomfortable,” Dee explained. “This is because your body is not used to contacting the wizardry of magic.”
The basement is actually quite a big place, the tents that people living in scattered around with patterns. Almost like forming an underground maze. Dee had to bring out a map of the basement in order to find wizard Tianlan’s place. Her place was far away from the entrance. Two beautiful curtains represented the doors.
“You are here, my darling.” A loud voice appeared as the crew entered what it seems to be Wizard Tianlan’s little hunt. The voice is from a woman, her voice loud and forceful. She is brown skin, skinny and tall. Red hot lips with green eyes, she looks like a mysterious foreign flower.
“Good morning, Master Tianlan,” Dee greeted. “This is my crew, they help me with the solving of the case.”
“Good morning, Master Tianlan,” The others greeted as well.
On the table in front of them are eight cups of tea. Somehow, Tianlan knew Dee would bring seven other people.
“Please have a seat.” The whole crew seated in the chairs in front of them.
“On the table is a special medicine I brewed,” Tianlan said. “Please try it.”
Dee and the others all tried the mysterious medicine. The hot liquid went down Dee’s throat and stopped there. It’s like a flaming fireball stuck in his throat, really uncomfortable. Dee wanted to cough, but could not. The feeling got even stronger as he could barely open his eyes. Dee fought back the choking discomforts barely opening one eye. Others seemed to have the same reaction to the medicine. Dee could hear the groans of others, it is very painful.
Minutes after, everyone felt a lot better. The flaming feeling has died down, and now they could talk again. Even though the process was painful, Dee felt his body was much lighter, and his tiredness from all those years suddenly disappeared. He felt younger than ever.
“What is this?” Rui still hasn’t fully gotten his voice back.
“Did you not feel better?” Tianlan questioned.
“Emm, the process was painful,” Rui said. “But I guess, I do feel a bit better now.”
Tianlan’s face expressed satisfaction. “This is exactly what it does,” She said. “The pain you feel is just the releasing of the poisons in your body.”
“Are you a real wizard?” Yuchi asked.
“People think that I’m a wizard,” Tianlan answered. “But I like to think that I am a witch instead.”
“Then why not tell everyone you are a witch.” Rui expressed confusion.
“The term witchery was banned a long time ago, as it was seen as spreading evilness,” Tianlan explained. “Plus, I am a very powerful wizard as well. It’s just that I enjoy being a witch more.”
“Master Tianlan,” Dee interrupted. “I have a favor to ask.”
“Oh, I almost forgot about it. Feel free to ask me anything.”
“Recently, Chang’an city has been hit with an obstacle,” Dee started explaining.
“I’ve sensed it,” Tianlan said.
“Many people are infected by the sickness.”
“If that’s what you are asking for, then I could not help,” Tianlan said. “Days ago there have already been people from Chang’an that asked me to help make a cure. However, I am not interested.”
“We are here for a different reason,” Dee quickly added.
“There have been two significant murder cases that happened in Chang’an. Both of which have a correlation to the use of poison,” Dee said. “I know that you are a powerful witch that has great knowledge about poisons. So may we get your help?”
“How exactly?” Tianlan asked.
Dee told Rui to show Tianlan a sample of the white powder they found near General Sha’s death. “Could you identify this powder?” Dee asked.
“Maybe.” Tianlan showed a meaningful smile. “Before I help, could I do something first?”
“Of course.” Dee is completely fine with it.
“You, come on over.” Tianlan pointed at Shun, who was sitting in the corner.
Shun made eye contact with Dee, seeking if he should follow. Dee gave him a little nod, telling Shun he should. Shun unwillingly walked near Tianlan and sat next to her. In the process, he walked past Rui and gave him a bump. Dee is not sure if that is intentional or not. But, Rui is already forming a fist.
Tianlan pulled out a crystal ball, similar to the one they saw with the old lady. However, her crystal ball was coloured violet. She started closely observing Shun, even putting her hand on Shun’s face, in which Shun resisted.
“Japanese,” Tianlan said.
Shun replied with a slight nod.
“I sensed some feelings in you,” She then said. “Put your hand on the crystal ball for me.”
Tianlan used a towel to wipe the crystal ball before offering it to Shun. Shun listened to Tianlan, and put his hand on the surface of the crystal ball.
“Close your eyes and keep your hand on it before finishing,” Tianlan instructed. Tianlan then closed her eyes as well. Before closing, Dee noticed that her eyes magically changed from grey to purple colour. After a moment, the crystal ball changed colours as well. It went from violet to grey. The exact opposite of Tianlan’s eyes. Dee could not tell how Shun was feeling, as he stayed completely still. Tianlan, on the other hand, was rapidly shaking, like experiencing an earthquake. It lasted for a few moments before coming to normal. Dee could see drops of sweat coming down her forehead.
Tianlan opened her eyes. Both her eyes and the crystal ball went back to their original colour. “It’s all over,” She told Shun. Shun looked confused as to what had happened.
“It looks like you’ve got a really painful story,” Tianlan said while wiping her sweats. “My suggestion to you is to forget about it.”
Shun bowed, before returning to his seat.
Years ago, Dee was completing a mission in Zundian. He was asked to see Tianlan. And just like today, Tianlan also did the same thing to Dee. Dee remembered he just closed his eyes and felt nothing had happened. Afterward, Tianlan told him, his story will be very interesting, and if there is anything he needs in the future, Dee can come and find her.
“Now I shall help you.” Tianlan expressed satisfaction.
“Thank you,” Dee thanked her.
Tianlan stood up and walked to a cabinet just beside her. She searched and found a book, then handed it to Dee.
“I can’t tell you what exactly it is.” Tianlan sat back down. “You have to find that yourself.”
The book looks like it has gone through some history. The cover is coated with layers of dust. Dee blew the dust away and opened up the book. Inside, some pages have already turned yellow, some even ripped. The book is quite a thick one, real heavy to even carry around.
The book’s title was covered up, not visible at all. Dee briefly scanned the first few pages. The pages seem to be about medications. It explained what it does when it is used. Dee guessed that the book is recorded information of medical materials.
“This book recorded all the known medications, also including deadly poisons,” Tianlan said. “Maybe, the white powder thing would be in there.”
Dee flipped to the back section of the book, it really did introduce different poisons. But, this book really has lots of pages. He worried that just searching every page would take long periods of time. However, he still really appreciated Tianlan’s help. As the poisons from both cases are by far their best direction to investigate.
“If there is nothing else,” Tianlan added. “You guys should leave. I don’t want any others to follow you into this territory.”
“Very appreciated for your support.” Dee bowed and thanked Tianlan. The others bowed as well.
“No problem.” Tianlan yawned. “Life is so tiring.”
Just as the crew was about to leave, Tianlan stopped them. “Keep in mind, there will always be pain along the journey. Just learn how to cope with it.”