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    As they spoke, a tinkling laughter like the sound of silver bells echoed from the corridor outside.

    Guo Jiuniang listened for a moment before shaking her head and saying, "Green Melody and the others are all untouched courtesans who sell their art, not their bodies. They're just playful by nature. They must be teasing your guard because he seems honest. Go out there and relieve your guard's predicament."

    Rong Shu, fearing that Lian Yan might be too shy, quickly got up and left. Upon entering the neighboring chamber, she saw Lian Yan surrounded by several beautiful, delicate women, her face flushed red.

    "Miss Lian Yan, look at your hands, they're as rough as old tree bark. Just bear with it a little, my wooden tool is incredibly useful. Let me soften them for you."

    Lian Yan had never been so embarrassed, even when taking lives. These ladies were all fragile, and she was afraid that she might hurt one of them if she exerted too much force, so she didn't dare to pull her hand away.

    As the green-tinted wooden chopper was about to descend on Luo Yan's finger, Rong Shu stepped forward gently and held it, smiling as she said, "My dear sisters, let's spare Sister Luo Yan this time."

    Lu Yun had no choice but to give up, shooting her a glare and pouting. "I was just worried that Miss Luo Yan's hands would become rough from all the fighting she's done."

    Luo Yan secretly exhaled in relief.

    The sight amused Rong Shu.

    Who could have imagined that the stoic and skilled bodyguard of Princess Danzhu, Luo Yan, would become so meek and submissive when faced with Lu Yun and the others?

    "Many thanks to all of you, Sister Lüan. Since it's Sister Lüan's first time in Yangzhou, let me show her around the vicinity."

    Lǜ Yù and the others were reluctant to part, stuffing two boxes of hand cream into Lüan's arms before finally allowing them to leave.

    It wasn't until they stepped out of the Spring Moon Building that Lüan felt like she could breathe again.

    Rong Shu glanced at her, holding back a laugh as she said, "I'll take you to try some delicious pine nut candy to calm your nerves. It's best when it's freshly fried."

    The pair crossed Wu's Brick Bridge and were about to descend when an old Taoist priest with a full head of white hair approached them.

    The old man's two white eyebrows hung down on either side of his face, his eyes bright and alert as he swayed a bamboo fan in his hand.

    The fan had three splits in it, clearly in tatters, yet in the old Taoist's grasp, it seemed to carry an indescribable air of ethereal charm.

    For some reason, Rong Shu felt a sudden jolt of fear upon seeing the fan, her gaze transfixed by it.

    Noticing her stare, the old Taoist looked over. In the next moment, his long eyebrows quivered slightly as he exclaimed, "Odd! Your face, young lady, clearly shows signs of a short lifespan."

    Rong Shu and Lüan naturally heard this remark.

    Just now, Rong Shu was as timid as a cat at the Spring Moon Building, but now she finally showed her fierce side. She glared and said, "Old man, what nonsense are you spouting?"

    The old Taoist smiled and stroked his snowy white beard. "I'm not talking nonsense. This young lady clearly only has two years left to live. However—"

    He shook his head. "Forget it, you wouldn't believe me even if I told you."

    Rong Shu hurriedly asked, "However, what? Master Taoist, please speak frankly."

    When the old Taoist first said that she had a short life expectancy, Rong Shu had thought he was just guessing randomly and got lucky.

    But when he mentioned the specific time frame of two years, it was clear that he wasn't just guessing, but actually knew something.

    Rong Shu had always been puzzled about why she had come back to life and was unsure if she would survive beyond the two-year mark. Now that she had met someone who seemed to know something, she wanted answers.

    The old Taoist, however, refused to say more. He gave Rong Shu a meaningful glance and said, "It cannot be said, it cannot be said. If we are fated to meet again in the future, then I will tell you!"

    With that, he turned to leave.

    "Master Taoist said that my appearance clearly indicates a short life. Did some unforeseen event change my fate, so that now my appearance no longer suggests a short lifespan?" Rong Shu continued. "Otherwise, why would you be so surprised?"

    The old Taoist priest paused in his swaying of the palm-leaf fan upon hearing her words and cast her a glance over his shoulder.

    She was indeed an intelligent young lady.

    Suddenly intrigued, he said, "Our encounter is fate, so I'll answer one of your questions."

    Rong Shu had many more queries, but she knew that reclusive sages like this valued the concept of fate above all else. Today's willingness to answer one question was already a blessing.

    So she didn't push her luck and pondered before asking, "If I survive for two more years, will someone else die in my place?"

    The old Taoist raised an eyebrow. "Karma comes full circle; one action, one consequence – it has always been thus. Others might experience what you ask, but not you, Miss."

    "Why not me?"

    The old priest didn't reply directly. "I'll only answer one question for you today. If we meet again in the future by fate, I'll address this inquiry of yours then."

    No sooner had he finished speaking when the old Taoist's figure vanished entirely from the other end of the bridge.

    Their conversation was truly perplexing beyond measure.

    Lotus Mist didn't quite understand the conversation between the old Taoist and Rong Shu, but she didn't want Rong Shu to overthink, so she said, "Miss, don't take it to heart! Nowadays, there are countless deceitful Taoists who swindle and deceive. Back then, that person trusted an evil Taoist and provoked divine wrath."

    Lotus Mist's "that person" referred to Prince Qiyuan.

    During the years he served as regent, this prince had accomplished many practical matters. However, for some unknown reason, he suddenly became obsessed with alchemy, constructing pill rooms and furnaces, and even reportedly kidnapped many young boys and girls, which aroused public resentment.

    Prince Qiyuan's reputation among the common people was indeed terrible, to the point that when others mentioned him, they would use "that person" instead of his name.

    Rong Shu didn't have a good impression of Prince Qiyuan either, but she wouldn't detest all Taoists because of him.

    There were wicked Taoists in the world, but there were also good ones; one couldn't generalize and condemn them all.

    Suppressing her myriad thoughts, she smiled and said, "I'm fine. Let's go buy pine nut candy."

    The old man selling pine nut candy, seeing her, greeted her cheerfully and asked, "Would you like more pine nuts as before?"

    Rong Shu smiled and agreed.

    The old man scattered two scoops of pine nuts and said, "A few days ago, the young man who was with you last time also came to buy pine nut candy from me."

    Gu Changjin?

    He's here to buy pine nut candy?


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