Chapter 3: Thunderstorms gather
Dian Mu adjusted the sleeves of the skin-tight sheathe under her banxiu, the clashing of raiments centuries apart offsetting her unmarked skin, the deep blue undertones contrasting with the crackling yellow of her eyes, the spangles in her short, spiked and subtly hued hair. She walked into the siheyuan, then smirked imperceptibly at Lei Gong’s very perceptible flinch.
She was well rested again, refreshed by a long sleep after a 36-hour session toying with electronic control systems on the other side of the world, with banking records in Borneo and with the records of certain key containers at half-a-dozen transshipment ports. All in all, a profitable and enjoyable day-and-a-half, one which would pay off handsomely for her ventures for the next year.
Dian Mu walked without haste across the siheyuan to the low table Lei Gong was already seated at, his chauffeur and aide A Xiang standing silently nearby as always. She seated herself, placed her iPhone on the table, murmured ni hao and poured herself a tiny cup of fragrant pu-erh tea.
Their chef hastened out after her first sip, his features suffused as always with the steam of the kitchen and his love of the food he had to offer, and bent in a kau tau of respect.
“What do you have for us tonight, chúshī?”
“You will be delighted, diànxià. A lovely freshwater eel in háoyóu, char siu, làyā with càigān and a pot of dàyímā jiànǚ.”
“Excellent. Please proceed.”
Their chúshī once more bent in a kau tau, then angled back toward the building containing the realm where he ruled.
Dian Mu suppressed a sigh. This opening frequently indicated that her meal would be ruined.
“Why are you wearing that disgusting garment? Do you wish to put me off my food? To shame me?”
“Cut the claptrap, Lei Gong, it’s the 21st century, not the 5th. And we’ve had this conversation literally ten thousand times. I know, I built an app just to estimate it and keep track whenever it comes up. Shall I show you?”
“I don’t care that you have become some sort of common electrician, Wife, or about the things that slab of porcelain can do. I saith, as your husband, that you must show modesty.”
“Must we go through this drama again? And really, ‘saith’ hasn’t been used since A Xiang was your muleteer.”
“Charioteer. Charioteer.” Unsurprisingly, the sky was darkening as Xei Gong’s temper rose, and his skin taking on a tinge of blue.
“And now he chauffeurs your Bentley. Or actually, my Bentley, as I paid for it, wheels to seat belts.”
“A ruinous ransom for a simple car. The steeds and wheels I used to have were much less expensive.”
“You are a just a sentimental fool adrift in time, clutching at nostalgia. Incapable of taking care of yourself or me.” A familiar thought, usually not expressed.
The serving man appeared at the door, halted as he saw the rising winds, the forming clouds, the looks on their faces. Dian Mu waved him forward. He bent in a kau tau, then placed the steaming gourd and noodles dish on the table in front of them. A rook watched intently from a nearby roof.
“You are my wife and will show respect.” His beak was starting to show and rumbling could be heard in the distance.
Dian Mu plucked a piece of gourd out of the noodles and smelled it reverently, then closed her eyes and chewed slowly. Chúshī was the best, and if this meal were to be ruined, she wanted at least one taste. She tapped her iPhone and slid her compact open.
She opened her eyes. “You would do this while Odin’s bird of memory watches? While our food loses its savour?”
“When else, Wife? You treat me as if I am something you’ve left in storage except at the necessary meals.”
The wind pushed A Xiang into a corner of the siheyuan, threw the raven off of the roof, but the table and the couple were in the eye of the storm. A Xiang ducked under the veranda to last out the wind and coming rain.
“Input. Output.” Dian Mu tapped an icon on her phone, and lightning sizzled between it and her mirror, then blasted Xei Gong off of his chair and into the wind. She watched impassively, sipping her tea as he was thrown around the court yard, having lost the shelter of the eye. She considered what she was involved in, and wondered if they were short-handed for it.