Chapter : 48 lower district
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[Empire]

[Lower districts of capital]

In the lower section districts of the empire’s capital, a vibrant community distinct from the rest of the city’s citizens can be seen. 

Navigating through the narrow alleys packed with stalls and shops, one can encounter a completely different atmosphere, with people of varied characters, each embodying a unique aspect of this bustling area.

The aroma of freshly cooked dumplings and exotic fruits fills the air as people pass by bustling food stalls. Vendors in simple attire, wearing worn-out aprons and comfortable shoes, eagerly promote their goods. 

Paper Lanterns of different colours along with other gold coloured decorations were hanging on the rooftops adding to different cultural influences in this part of the capital.

(just think of the traditional Chinese theme market in your mind if you are having some problem visualising it.)

Shopkeepers, dressed in neat button-up shirts and traditional trousers, skillfully negotiate prices with customers. 

In stark contrast, poor children, dressed in torn clothing and gaunt figures, loiter nearby, their eyes glinting with the readiness to steal despite the harsh consequences if caught.

Most of them were either orphans or their parents were beggars or labourers unable to provide even a single meal for them, so they had never any choice from the start.

This could be easily verified as some distance away near the luxurious-looking shops labourers clad in rugged coveralls and work boots unload goods from vehicles. 

Their complexions are darkened from hours under the merciless sun while they were covered in dirt and sweat, yet they continue to toil to provide two meals a day for their families despite getting lashes from their employers if they stopped to rest even for a second.

Amidst this gritty reality, a large crowd gathered at a distance at the crossroad of the market, forming a circle.

People of all ages, from young to old, and of all genders, dressed in various clothing ranging from luxurious silk garments to cheap, common attire, stood together. 

Their clothing reflected their financial status in society, yet despite these differences, they all endured the hot sun to witness the spectacle before them.

In the centre of the large circle, two enchanting figures captivated the audience. Their faces were veiled, revealing only their mesmerising eyes, which added an air of mystery and allure to the scene.

The first beauty, petite and delicate, stood gracefully in her sleek black qipao (traditional Chinese dress) that hugged her slender figure. 

Her porcelain-skinned pale hands contrasted elegantly against the dark fabric, drawing attention to her radiant aquamarine eyes that sparkled with depth and allure in the broad daylight.

As she began to sing, her voice was a melodious enchantment, resonating through the air and drawing the very souls of those listening.

“Beautiful jasmine flower

Beautiful jasmine flower

Sweet-smelling, beautiful stems full of buds

Fragrant and white, everyone praises

Let me pluck you down to give to someone

Jasmine flower, jasmine flower.” 

(Song Name - jasmine flower, it is a famous Chinese song said to show the purity of love between young people by highlighting the beauty of jasmine flowers.)

Each note she sang wove a spell of beauty and longing, her mesmerising voice captivating every person in the audience, holding them in rapt attention.

As she sang, the second figure, a mature-looking woman, performed an exquisite traditional dance in accordance with her song. 

Her fans moved as if they were caressing the wind and, in contrast to the black-dressed beauty, she had a curvaceous body draped in a richly embroidered qipao in vibrant hues of red. 

Her veiled face hinted at a mysterious allure, leaving her deep purple eyes to captivate onlookers with their enigmatic charm. 

‘I am willing to give my soul if I can even spend one night with either one of them.’ Was the thought every man had as they gawked at the two beauties that were drawing them with endless allure.

The curves of her dress accentuated her graceful movements, each step and gesture flowing with elegance and precision.

Her poised demeanour and fluid dance steps commanded admiration, as she told a story with her body, creating an enchanting visual symphony. 

As she held her delicate fans with gold embroidery while dancing, it added a touch of traditional elegance to her attire, and with a last stroke of her fan, she finished the performance.

“WOAHHHH!!”

CALP! CLAP!

As the wondrous display of entertainment came to an end, both the performers came together side to side, bowed their heads towards the audience, and a thunderous amount of cheers and applause ensued.

while some even blew loud whistles in order to show their appreciation of their performance.

“Wonderful, Beautiful display!!” 

“Please marry me!!, I will give you my everything!” a skinny man shouted from the crowd.

“Hey you bastard, I was the first one who came here first, so I will get the chance to propose to them first.” A fat merchant retorted, as his fat cheeks wobbled.

“Huh, have you ever even seen your face in the mirror, you pig bastard? Do you think these two even will waste a second to think of accepting a proposal from a fatty like you?” the skinny man shouted back.

Various comments began to ensue among the men wanting to try their luck with the beauties, but they halted their steps as they saw the guards moving towards the performers.

A big, moustachioed man, his guard uniform on full display, identifying him as a person of significant position, approached the two performers with his men behind him. 

He praised, “Wondrous, this was the best performance I have ever seen in my life. You two are truly above any performers that I have ever encountered.”

As the performers heard his praise, they bowed their heads to show their gratitude.

The guard captain smiled at them, internally thanking his lucky stars for stumbling upon these fairies during his patrol.

After seeing the two walking on the streets, he had halted them because they seemed suspicious, having been seen circling the streets several times by his men. 

When questioned, they explained that they were wandering performers who had arrived in the capital two days ago and were on their way to meet an old friend, but had lost their way due to unfamiliarity with the pathways.

Despite their answers, the guard captain still showed his suspicion towards them and asked them to perform in front of him to clear any doubts. However, his main reason for asking this was something else entirely.

The guard captain, despite presenting a dignified front in public, was a lustful man by nature. He could not even think of letting these beauties go. Barely able to contain his lust, his thick moustache twitches violently as a result.

He approached the red-dressed performer and said haughtily, “Your moves were particularly enchanting, my lady.” He flashed a perverted grin that was unbearable to look at.

“So this means we are clear of any suspicions, sir?” the red-dressed performer asked in her soothing voice. She didn’t even respond to the guard captain’s praise.

The guard’s captain’s eyelids twitched for a second because of the lady’s response to his praise, but he controlled his facial expression as he thought of an insidious idea.

“The answer would be yes, but also no, my lady,” the captain replied, shaking his head as he struggled to hold back a grin.

“You see, my lady, you two still haven’t shown me your faces,” he said, pointing at their veils. “I can’t let it slide. So, as the generous man I am, I will let you two show me your faces in private.” This time, he couldn’t hide his lecherous smile.

As the guard captain inhaled the lavender scent wafting from the red-dressed performer, his hand began to reach towards her.

But suddenly, the petite, black-dressed performer swiftly approached, her hand resting on his chest while her delicate, pale white fingers began to caress his moustache.

“I am very interested in you, sir,” she said, her voice even more soothing and melodious than the other lady’s. The captain, already mesmerised by her enchanting song just moments before, felt his heart skip a beat.

The surrounding men’s jaw dropped at such a declaration, and his men watched with wide eyes, stunned by this sudden display of affection but remaining silent.

“Ahem, why are you interested in me, my lady?” the guard captain asked, feeling the petite performer’s soft hand gently caressing his chin.

The black-dressed beauty smiled beneath her veil, her aquamarine eyes shimmering with a mysterious allure. “Because, sir, I admire a man of power and authority,” she whispered, her voice like a sweet, intoxicating melody. “I find it... irresistible.”

The guard captain, overwhelmed by her words and touch, felt his suspicions melting away, replaced by a desire to impress and possess this extraordinary beauty. 

Despite being unable to see the performer’s face, he felt that she was definitely an enchanting beauty with a delicate face.

His men exchanged glances, unsure of what to make of the unfolding scene, but none dared to intervene as their captain fell deeper under the performer’s spell.

Her veiled face moved closer to the guard captain’s ear as she whispered, “So instead of showing you half a show, why don’t you come to watch the full show at ‘Shining Hotel’ tonight, Mr. Handsome?” Her whisper was enchanting, as if it were drawing his very soul.

The guard captain’s mind went blank for a few moments. Then, shaking his head, he said, “Of course, why would I reject such a gracious offer?” The performer nodded and separated from him, moving back toward the red-dressed performer.

“Ahem, let’s go,” the captain ordered his men.

“But captain, we still haven’t seen their faces,” a soldier protested, only to be swiftly slapped by the captain.

“Don’t you dare suggest anything to me again. Do you understand?” the captain asked threateningly. The soldier nodded, holding his cheek.

“Then let’s meet tonight, my lady,” the captain said, flashing a smile towards the petite, black-dressed performer.

With that, he and his men departed, and the crowd dispersed, not daring to linger around the women who had caught the guard captain’s interest.

“............”

“I am sorry—ouch,” Sheele said, quickly interrupted as Bane flicked her forehead.

“I am exhausted after that hassle, so let’s eat dumplings. I’ve heard from Geralt that they taste good,” Bane said, retracting his hand.

His current getup was because of Sheele, as she had suggested that he wear this traditional female performer’s dress in order to hide his face, and though he had been initially reluctant, he didn’t have the luxury of time to refuse. So, he donned the dress.

They had wandered the streets for an almost two hours simply because Sheele had forgotten her friend’s address, leading to their encounter with the guards. 

Bane had already gotten a basic understanding of Sheele’s scatterbrained nature yesterday, so he didn’t say anything, though he suspected there was more to her inability to find her friend’s house.

As they made their way to the food stall, Sheele said, “you were really good at acting like a charming woman you know.”

“.............”

‘Is she secretly roasting me?’ He thought, because Sheele’s compliment was more like salt on the wound to him.

Bane questioned, “Should I feel happy after hearing this kind of praise?” 

He had become adept at imitating women due to numerous covert missions where he observed various pub performers doing the same. Earlier, with the guard captain, he simply emulated them.

With his petite frame, delicate hands, and mesmerizing voice, he had already gained a mythical reputation within the revolutionary army as the Immortal Wraith.

Unfortunately, it appeared that even in this new place, the misperception would persist.

“.........”

In order to shift the uncomfortable topic, Sheele asked, “How do you know that traditional song?” she didn't ask about his melodious voice as he had already explained her that it was due to his mutation.

“...My previous squad mate was a man who came from this district of the capital, and I had heard this song from him,” Bane said.

“Is he still in the revolutionary forces?” She asked curiously.

“He’s dead, along with my other previous squadmates,” Bane said bluntly.

“...I am sorry for asking such a question,” Sheele said in a lowered voice.

“There’s no need for you to apologize,” he said, shaking his head. 

“By the way, how were you able to dance like that? You told me you struggle with simple tasks except for killing,” he asked.

Sheele scratched her head with one finger and said, “I was visualizing the fan as knives and imagining cutting the throats of enemies and hitting their vital organs the whole time. That’s why dance is the second thing I’m good at.” She smiled behind her veil.

“...”

‘This is so much like her,’ Bane thought.

“Well, what can I say except, as expected, of the woman who nearly killed me yesterday,” Bane said after hearing Sheele’s explanation, which made her flinch as she recalled yesterday’s incident.

In order to not show her embarrassment, Sheele asked “By the way, what kind of perfume did you use on that guard captain?” recalling seeing him pour something on his hands before approaching the guard captain.

“Hmm, it was a non-lethal poison from a particular danger beast. The poison is colorless and odorless, and it has only one effect: to dull the thinking capacity for a few hours and make the person more susceptible to suggestions. 

Though It wouldn’t affect people with high mental fortitude,” he explained. “I discreetly checked that man’s muscles, and it was clear he wasn’t suitable for battle. That’s why I used the poison; otherwise, I wouldn’t have taken such a risk.”

Bane then looked at her and said, “Though there was also another reason for me to take that measure.”

“What was it?” Sheele asked, tilting her head.

“You were going to cut that man’s hand instinctively, weren’t you?” he said. Sheele flinched, confirming his words. She had indeed been about to cut the man’s hand as it neared her thighs. 

If Bane hadn’t intervened, things would have escalated, and that would have been bad for them.

‘As expected of her.’

He shook his head and said, “Let’s not dwell on it; it didn’t happen, so everything’s fine.” They reached the stall.

At the stall, they ordered pleated, crescent-moon-shaped dumplings filled with finely chopped meat.

After tasting the dumplings, they experienced a harmonious blend of savory and aromatic flavors, enhanced by dipping sauces such as soy vinegar or chili oil.

While they were eating, Bane suddenly asked, “You were actually pretending to forget your friend’s house during this whole time, weren’t you?” as he finished Sheel stopped eating.

7