Ao Jing glanced at his husband and gave a smile. “What? Aren’t you going to introduce me?”
Shangguan Yu gave him an annoyed look. The NPCs in this game had quite the strong learning ability to ensure that the players would be able to enjoy the game as much as possible and feel like this was really a virtual world instead of just a game. Thus, whatever information you gave them would actually be able to be used against you in the future. You really had to make sure that you didn’t say the wrong thing at the wrong time. When things were already looking shady anyway, it might not be a good idea to share their relationship.
“What’s there to introduce?” He turned to the guard and then motioned at his husband. “This person coincidentally came by when I was taking care of the bandits. I hope you don’t mind. He wanted to follow me to the town.”
The guard looked at Ao Jing who was giving a bright smile in return and then just nodded. “Of course. Welcome to Lu Kou town.” He then turned back to Shangguan Yu. “This matter with the bandits has been troubling all of us. Would you mind showing me the proof that you defeated them?”
Shangguan Yu wasn’t quite sure what to think of that. “Will that be alright though? Please don’t take offense but I don’t know you. And the one who hired me to do this is probably waiting for me as well. I think it would be impolite not to go there at the fastest speed possible.”
The guard gave him a further look but still nodded. “Of course. If you insist, then I naturally won’t make things difficult for you. You should hurry and bring the proof back then.”
Shangguan Yu cupped his fists. “Thank you very much. We’ll be on our way then.” He motioned for Ao Jing to follow him and then stepped into the town. He couldn’t shake the feeling that people were watching them though. Something definitely wasn’t right with this quest.
Ao Jing glanced over his shoulder and then leaned closer to Shangguan Yu. “What do you think of what happened back there? I don’t think that’s quite normal, is it?”
Shangguan Yu shook his head. “I don’t think so either. We should see if the quest giver has something more to say about that.”
“Who gave you the mission anyway?”
“Some guy in the merchants’ district. He seems to be a bit wealthier than the other people in this town. I guess the largest share of the reward money should’ve come out of his pocket.”
Ao Jing gave a hum. “Or maybe there’s something shady about him.”
Shangguan Yu gave him a puzzled look, wanting to ask what exactly he meant. Thinking about it for a moment, he figured that he might already understand though. “This … You mean to say that what he told me might not be the truth at all? I mean it would be a possibility. But then again, the guard did know about the task. It shouldn’t be fake.”
“Unless the guard is in this with him. Money is power. That merchant might have bribed him.”
Shangguan Yu nodded but he really couldn’t figure it out without any more clues. And there was nothing he could do, right? He pondered for a moment and then waved for his husband to follow him into one of the alleys.
Leaning against the wall of a house, he took out the portrait that the merchant had given him when he explained the task to him. “He showed me this when he gave me the quest, telling me that it should be easy to recognize the bandit. I asked to take it with me. He didn’t seem happy about it but he complied so I didn’t figure that anything was wrong with that. What do you think? It is somewhat strange to have a painting like this of a bandit, right?”
Ao Jing took the painting from his hands and nodded slowly. The portray was done on a good scroll, and the one who had painted it was obviously a master of their craft. This definitely wasn’t the kind of thing you would do for somebody who was a wanted criminal. The money they would have needed for this would have been spent on enticing somebody to kill the person off instead. “Did he tell you anything about that bandit’s background?”
Shangguan Yu shook his head. “No, he said that the bandits appeared suddenly a few months ago. They tried to negotiate with them but it yielded no results. Even giving them money wasn’t able to drive them away.”
Ao Jing narrowed his eyes and folded the paper scroll up again, handing it back to his husband. “Something is fishy about this. Judging from the painting, this person isn’t somebody I would expect to be a bandit. Actually, from what I’ve seen when you were fighting them, they were also clothed quite well. They might not be what you were told they were after all.”
Shangguan Yu furrowed his brows. “You mean to say that they weren’t bandits at all?” His expression fell when he thought of that. “But I already killed them!”
Ao Jing sighed, reached out, and patted his shoulder. “Nothing you can do about that now. Anyway, I guess we should go and see what that merchant has to say then. Maybe this matter will come to an end with delivering the proof.”
Shangguan Yu nodded but then pulled his husband back by the arm. “Wait. Take a look at this as well!” He took out what seemed to be a simple jade pendant and handed it to Ao Jing. “This is the proof that the merchant wanted me to bring back. What do you think about it?”
Ao Jing turned it over in his hands, looking at it from all sides. “Same as the painting, it doesn’t seem to be something simple. Unfortunately, I haven’t really seen that anywhere before. It’s hard to say what this might be about. I guess we can’t casually ask about it either.”
Shangguan Yu nodded and then put it away with a sigh. “Ah, I really should have waited with accepting and doing that quest until you came back. You might’ve noticed something sooner. Then I wouldn’t have created this mess.”
“Well, you did see that something was strange about it, didn’t you? You just thought that it might be better to do something about this since people were suffering. I don’t think that’s really a bad thing.”
Shangguan Yu rubbed his forehead, groaning to himself. “Yeah, it was stupid though. I mean this might not be the real world and just a game but precisely because of that I should have thought that there might be more to this. This isn’t the first time that a task turns out to not be what we thought it would be at first. Anyway, let’s go back to that merchant and see what he has to say.”
Ao Jing nodded and the two of them went over to the house in the center of the town where Shangguan Yu was supposed to meet with the merchant.