Chapter 8.2
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Lu Baiyu blinked a few times before letting out a short, forced laugh. "This old man's memory is getting faulty. Dear me, how could I have forgotten such a thing?"

You didn't forget, you humans just didn't care about us and continued to treat us the same way.

Shu Yue sighed and gave him a kind smile. "It's not your fault that you mistook this demihuman for a slave; the scenario kinda gave that impression, so don't let this concern you too much, Elder Lu."

That drew a smile from Lu Baiyu. "You're such a kind lady. I don't regret coming here at all."

"Now that you mention it, Elder Lu, what brought you here?" Shu Yue asked, and took a sip of her tea.

They've already squandered far too much time. It was time to get down to business.

Lu Baiyu smiled. "I came here to present you with an opportunity."

It was Shu Yue's turn to look surprised. "An opportunity."

"Yes," Lu Baiyu responded. He paused for a moment, giving Xiao Ran a wary look. "But this is a confidential matter, and I'm not sure I want your attendant to hear it."

Shu Yue stared at Lu Baiyu for a moment. Her eyes were gentle and calm, but they were still calculating, assessing, as if trying to see into his soul. Lu Baiyu shifted uneasily under her scrutiny. After what seemed like an eternity, Shu Yue broke her gaze and drank her tea.

"All right," she said and looked at Xiao Ran. "Leave us alone for a moment, Xiao Ran."

With a nod, Xiao Ran stood up and left without another word.

Silence settled over the room after the door closed.

"All right," Shu Yue began. "Let's hear about this opportunity you speak of."

Lu Baiyu cleared his throat. "First, let me ask you a question: do you intend to participate in the upcoming military recruitment?"

Shu Yue blinked. "I do."

The old man's smile turned into a grin. "Of course you are. You're a talented warrior. I was really surprised by the outcome of the sparring. You broke Dishan's winning streak using a what? A bamboo stick? That in itself was impressive. As one of this town's elders, I cannot let such talent go to waste."

"So you're saying?"

Still grinning, Lu Baiyu said, "I can help you get recruited."

Shu Yue frowned, her eyes narrowing to a slit. "How?"

"Simple. Become my disciple, and I will teach you a martial arts technique that rivals that of the twelve Zodiac Clans."

Shu Yue's frown deepened. After taking another sip of her tea, she leaned forward slightly, eager, and her eyes seemed to gleam. But, of course, it was just an act. She was more intrigued and suspicious of the elderly man in front of her than she was excited about his supposedly good news.

"So you're saying you possess a secret manual? And you're willing to teach me?" Shu Yue asked, feigning interest in her voice.

Lu Baiyu laughed at her reaction. He looked pleased, as if everything was going the way he had expected.

"Of course," he said with a nod. "As long as you're willing to admit under my tutelage."

Shu Yue stood up and bowed, a bright smile on her face that seemed so real. "This disciple is willing."

Lu Baiyu nodded and gestured for her to sit. Then his expression turned serious as he stared at her. "But remember, this must be kept confidential," he warned, his gaze sweeping over them, "not a single information, not even you being my disciple, must be disclosed."

Shu Yue frowned thoughtfully. She hesitated for a moment and then said, "Elder Lu, before I make any promises, I have a request to make. I know this is shameless of me after you just said that this must be kept a secret. But I'd like to let one person know. Since this greatly concerns me, I'm afraid I have to inform my attendant about this."

"The fox demihuman?"

Shu Yue nodded. "Yes. His name is Xiao Ran."

Lu Baiyu furrowed his brow and scratched at his chin. "I'm not sure about this."

"I understand your concern, Lu Baiyu, but I assure you that Xiao Ran is trustworthy. He is my attendant, and he answers only to me, no one else. I've known him since I was a child, so I know I can trust him. Don't worry, I won't let him learn your secret martial arts. Demihumans aren't allowed to cultivate advanced techniques, anyway."

Lu Baiyu stared at her, hesitating. After a long moment, he finally nodded. "All right. Since you trust him, I think it's fine. But I hope you won't disappoint me." He gave her a warning look.

Shu Yue kept herself from smiling as she bowed her head "This disciple won't disappoint you, Elder Lu."

Lu Baiyu nodded. "Very well. Starting this afternoon, I will teach you in secret, so please come to my residence."

"I will," Shu Yue said. Then she paused. "Elder Lu, if I may ask, do you have other disciples?"

A slow smile spread over Lu Baiyu's mouth. "I do."

***

"So, what do you think?" Shu Yue asked Xiao Ran and sipped her tea.

Shu Yue had told Xiao Ran everything without leaving a single detail. Lu Baiyu had left not too long ago. Right after his departure, Shu Yue dropped her act. A mischievous expression has taken over her once gentle face.

"Suspicious," Xiao Ran responded. When his gaze met Shu Yue's, his cold expression melted and he became a tamed beast yet again.

"Indeed," Shu Yue agreed. "I don't trust him, but I'm intrigued by this secret manual he mentioned." Her eyes glinted ominously as her mouth curled upward in an evil smirk.

Xiao Ran frowned. "I'm curious, too." Then his mouth twisted into a wicked smile, a glint of amusement in his eyes. "But I'm afraid the old man just stepped on a mine."

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