Crossover Fan Fiction ❯ The Apothecary's Other Diary ❯ Chemistry ( Chapter 6 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]




The arrival of the new concubine, Loulan, was a great ceremony with paced marching, flute and drum music, and her arrival in the Garnet Palace drew much attention. Considerable work is done to assist her placement, and she brought various gifts and packages. A less welcome arrival was her father the Prime Minister, a suspicious man that raised my hackles, compared to the largely blank expression of the concubine herself, whom acted aloof and reserved. She appeared to be my age. I wonder if I will see her around the grounds or if she’ll prefer to remain in her chambers. She had many robes and costumes, and a large number of servants.

I heard, late that night, an explosion in the warehouse district, just beyond the walls of the outer palace. It isn’t exactly my business, but I rushed over to see. The guards were examining the damage and I saw a stretcher bearing away a wounded guard for treatment. A burned potato, a fancy silver and bone pipe, probably worth a bit of money to someone, and a number of sacks of food. Strange. I yawned and returned to the outer palace, Jinshi’s office and personal home where I returned to bed for a nap.

After morning chores with Suiren and my brief report on both the new Courtesan and the warehouse he directed me to get more details. I returned to the damaged area and found Lihaku there.

“Is it true that one of the high courtesans of Verdigris House has been bought out?” he asked, anxious.

“Yes. It isn’t Pairin. Don’t worry. Jinshi asked me to investigate this warehouse explosion,” I said, noting his tension eased with my words and he was able to turn to official business. Even though he acts a bit like a happy dog, I resist the mental impulse to compare him to one. It isn’t fair. Pairin neesan is very beautiful to any man, and she’d clearly ensnared this fool with her attentions months ago. The hag would milk this man dry.

We examined the area and I mentioned the pipe, showing it to Lihaku. In the light of day it was carved and valuable. And sacks of flour gave me an idea of what happened.

“I need some materials and I can show you,” I explained, then used them to invert a box over a cup of flour I spilled roughly inside, then a small candle.

“Get ready to run,” I warned.

“I’m a soldier of the imperial army,” he insisted. “I fear nothing!”

“I mean it. Run!” I said, dropping the candle and dashing away as fast as I could go. Just this once, I recall an American TV show where technicians wore shirts with a message on the back: “If you see me running try to catch up.” There was a pop and the box blew to pieces, sending out wood shrapnel and fire, which ignited Lihaku’s clothes and eyebrows. I grabbed the bucket and threw the water on him.

“What was that?” he sputtered when our ears stopped ringing.

“Many powders will burn when mixed with air. The powders in this case were the bags of flour in the warehouse. The guard probably came out of the wind to enjoy his new pipe with a nice smoke and blew himself up. It’s simple when you realize how it happened. Strange that the pipe is so ornate. You might ask him about it.”

I returned to Jinshi to give my report, then to my duties. After delivering some documents I found a small hill with a bunch of medicinal herbs growing on it. This was unusual because there were a lot more herbs in the inner palace, almost certainly planted by my Uncle when he was physician there. Close examination found a number of plants, including some too young to harvest.

“What are you doing here?” asked a cold voice. I turned to regard a haughty woman with a sickle glaring down at me. She was beautiful, as many of the inner palace courtesans were, but here in the outer palace she was probably a court lady. Then I recognized her from the flock that had harassed me shortly after my assignment here to serve Jinshi.

“Examining the herbs. I haven’t picked any. It is too early to harvest them,” I answered carefully. Her grip on the sickle, which could so easily cut my throat, tightened.

“See that you don’t. I have permission to plant here,” she said and glared until I left.

Arriving at the office, Gaoshun and Jinshi explained a strange death and occurred and might be poisoning. They asked me to investigate and offered an officer to escort me. Poison? Do tell. A walk outside the gates to a restaurant in the city, not in the pleasure district but the market instead, lead to a housekeeper who opened the doors for us on order of my guard, a Basen. Ten years ago there had been a case of a customer poisoned by puffer fish at this restaurant, so I spoke to the chefs. The puffer fish had been prepared correctly and they showed me the guts and skin, which were untouched and thus not possible to have gotten into the food. I asked more questions and found that there was a strange ingredient, seaweed, pickled with salt and vinegar, which had been served out of season. And it was imported from the South rather than locally gathered from the shore down near the river mouth, some distance East.

I say some because I’ve never been there. Ojisan can’t walk, we never made enough money to take a trip, and all our problems are here, so here we toil. In short, most of what I know about the sea is what I’ve been told and the seafoods that turn up. Still, this was odd.

A man with a mustache and terrible attitude burst in to shout at us to leave, but said nothing about the dead man, who had been an apparently serious gourmet and his brother. I grabbed some of the seaweed in a handkerchief and left with Basen.

That evening I demonstrated this version against a similar ingredient for Jinshi, and I was stopped before I could taste its poison. And it was poisoned, probably from the red tides which affect sea life several times a year. These were times when you just couldn’t get safe fish to eat, and ignored it until it was okay again. Merchants knew these secrets and rather than risk killing a customer, they opted to stop carrying bad seafood as required.

Further investigation determined that the angry brother, who stood to inherit the restaurant, had heard about this unsafe food and served it to his brother, paralyzing him and putting him in a coma, which left him as the surviving brother. In my prior life they used to say “Follow the money” and today that was still true.

My main diary has the full details of this event. I wanted to instead comment on the strange aggression of a jealous brother who opted to poison his sibling out of jealousy rather than improve himself or start a competing business where he could excel without oversight. All those years with Hachiman never felt like a competition, though I suppose I was always winning on affection and attention from our parents. So really, maybe Hachiman did? I should ask him next time he turns up.

The poisoner was handled by Basen and the military guards.

Then Jinshi showed up and I was in such a good mood pondering the special fungus insects he’d gifted me for medicine experiments that I smiled. He froze for a moment at my warm greeting, then picked me up off the ground and kissed me full on the lips. I wriggled, but I couldn’t escape so I had to let him have my kiss.

“Your father has been pestering me lately,” he said after putting me down again. No explanation? Sigh.

“He married my mother,” I reminded him.

“It seems that even having a wife hasn’t curbed his tendency to manipulate and meddle. He came to me earlier today, asking for you to investigate a curious case of the final puzzle left to three sons of a metal worker of extraordinary skill. He didn’t name his successor, and all three were apprentices. He said you were likely to have special insight to a solution,” Jinshi said.

“I rarely see my father, though he and mother looked very happy at their wedding party.”

“Didn’t you interrupt to wish them well?” Gaoshun asked.

“They were playing Go and it felt like intruding on their little world. Meimei told me that’s how it had begun, the events that lead to my birth,” I explained. Both Gaoshun and Jinshi looked uncomfortable at the admission. “I expect to get news of a sibling on the way.”

“Isn’t your mother beyond the age of fertility?” Jinshi asked.

“She was healed by the Great Sage. Who is to say she isn’t restored the last seventeen years of lost time in her body, not just her mind?” I responded. “He healed my arm last week.” I showed them the lack of bandages and clear healthy skin.

“Is that important?” Jinshi asked, confused.

“Ah, I forgot that I never showed you my scars. My left arm was scarred by a fungus when I was a child, and I used it for different experiments for healing balms and salves. It looked pretty bad. My… the Great Sage said there was still poison there and he healed it in a few minutes while I was in the bath.”

“A man was in the bath with you?” asked Gaoshun, looking alarmed. I rolled my eyes.

“Have you heard the rumors of the Great Sage? How people sleepwalk and wake in strange places, healed of injuries? That is how he works. He can take the form of a man or woman, and they never remember,” I explained. As Jinshi’s body guard or advisor, he needed to know at least that much. Gaoshun considered.

“So this means he can heal many kinds of injuries?” Jinshi confirmed.

“Yes. It is possible that even those with severe damage to their bodies can make full recovery. Like Lady Ah-Duo.”

“Hmm. Well, please go with Basen to investigate this strange puzzle. I will wait for your report,” Jinshi ordered. I bowed in acceptance and found the officer outside.

We took a carriage to the house and workshop. The inheritance was divided oddly. A chest bolted to a floor. A shack with the big table and chest inside for another son. And finally a glass fishbowl. I asked for details and got begrudging explanations from men raised to despise women, so fairly typical. Their frustration was boiling over.

It took me three minutes longer than it should have for me to see the solution. The fishbowl belonged on a pedestal near the window, and with water added the sun focused a beam of light on the keyhole of the chest. A fizzle sound, some smoke with a strange smell, and the key that didn’t work suddenly did. The drawer opened and revealed a box with another key, still warm. I used that to open the other drawers. Inside I found mineral samples and I suspect the size of the drawers indicates the ratio they should be used to create the alloy used for this solder.

The youngest figured it out next, pleading with his brothers to work with him.

“If you start to feel ill, go visit doctor Luomen for help, in the pleasure district,” I encouraged him.

“So that’s it?” Basen asked me back in the carriage, looking shocked and disgruntled in equal measures.

“Mystery solved,” I answered.

I gave my report to Jinshi and called it an evening.