Volume 1, Epilogue: The Eunuch and the Courtesan

“You have work. Go.”

Maomao was ushered by the madam into a considerably splendid carriage.
It seems her work tonight will be a banquet for a certain noble.

Maomao sighed. She was being taken to a large estate in the north of the capital.
Her older sisters and several others – everyone was clad in beautiful clothes and bewitching make-up. Considering how she was also just like that, she felt a little uncomfortable.

They traversed the long hallway, climbed the spiral staircase, and were shown into a spacious room.

Lanterns hung down from the ceiling, red tassels swinging.
Today’s guests were sitting on the red carpet that had been laid out on the floor, heaped with furs.
The five who were sitting side by side were younger than she had expected.

Pairin-neechan licked her lips when she saw the young men who were illuminated by the wavering flames. Joga-neechan poked her side beside her.

(Hurry up and introduce us.)

She was told they were high officials who work in the imperial court.
It seems the referrer was Rihaku.

Maomao’s debt should also decrease a little if she has an affinity with Rihaku.

Well, since her severance payment was more than she had expected, it was good that she could work part-time like so without needing to go as far as to sell her body, but–

(The hag clicked her tongue.)

It seems the madam really wanted Maomao to become a courtesan.
Her actions have been obvious these couple of years.
She told Maomao many times to stop playing pharmacist, but that was impossible. She was interested in pharmacy, so there was nothing for song and dance.

(At any rate, they’re filthy rich.)

It cost more to summon courtesans to your residence than to hold a banquet in the brothel. Moreover, they had summoned the popular courtesans who exhaust a year of silver in a single night of wine pouring.
To think that they had summoned the Three Princesses of the Rokushoukan – Meimei, Pairin, Joga – altogether.

Maomao was one of the several people who had come along to support the Three Princesses.
She had taken most of the training, but she couldn’t recite poetry, couldn’t play the erhu, and dancing was out of the question.

She could only keep a close eye making sure the cups of the guests don’t empty.

Pasting on a smile, she slowly poured wine into the empty cup.
Everyone was transfixed to her older sisters’ poetry and dancing – she was at ease since no one was looking at her.

(Oh? Is he bored?)

Even though everyone was smiling, drunk with wine, and enjoying the performance, there was only one person who was depressed.

The young man, who was clad in a first-class silk robe, was on one knee, pouring wine for himself.
It was only there where the air was saturated in grey.

(Did he lose his job?)

Maomao, who was strangely sincere, took a full bottle of wine and sat next to the gloomy man.

His glossy bangs concealed the upper half of his face.

“Leave me alone.”

(?)

Well. It sounded like a voice she heard before.
Her hands moved the same time she thought.
Rudeness was gone from her mind.

Taking care to not touch the man’s brows, she gently lifted his bangs.

A lovely face was revealed.
His expression of irritation instantly changed into surprise.

“Jinshi-sama?”

Although there was no dazzling smile, nor was his voice sweet like honey, this was no doubt the eunuch she was familiar with.

Jinshi blinked several times. She couldn’t settle down from being stared at.

“Who the hell are you?”

“I get told that often.”

“Don’t tell me you’re disguised with make-up?”

“I get told that often.”

She had a feeling that she had a similar conversation some time ago.
She replaced his bangs back to their original position.

When she did so, Jinshi reached out and tried to grasp Maomao’s hand.

“Why did you run away?” He looked at her with a sulky face.

“Please don’t touch the courtesan.”

Those were the rules. She couldn’t do anything about it. It will cost extra fees.

“Before that, what’s with your get up?”

“I’m in the middle of my part-time job.”

“At the brothel? …you don’t mean, you?”

Understanding what Jinshi wanted to say, Maomao scowled at him with her eyes narrowed.
It was simply his character to suspect people’s sense of virtue, apparently.

“Not really. I haven’t snagged a customer. Not yet.”

“Not yet….”

“….”

She couldn’t answer back. Before repaying her remaining debt, there certainly was a chance of the madam forcing her to take in guests.
With her dad and her older sisters’ keeping that at bay, that was not an issue at present.

“Shall I buy you?” [T/N: ore again.]

“Hah? Don’t joke–” she stopped mid-sentence as an idea suddenly crossed her. “That might be good.”

“!?” Jinshi gave a shocked expression.

Somehow, he was really expressive since he wasn’t sparkling today. The celestial maiden’s smile was beautiful, but it was an expression that couldn’t be deemed as human.
She even occasionally wondered if he has two souls settled in one spirit(From soul dualism. So in Chinese philosophy, people have two types of souls. One, called Kon (Chinese reading: hun2) is the free soul that leaves the body after death. The other one, called haku (Chinese reading: po4) is the body soul, I’m writing it as spirit to differentiate it from the other one, is the one that remains in the body after death. In this sentence, Maomao is just wondering if he has two personalities in one body).

“It wouldn’t be bad for me to work at the inner palace one more time.”

Jinshi’s shoulders slumped.
What could be wrong?

“Didn’t you quit because you hated that place?”

“When did I say such things?”

Even though she requested to continue working for the sake of repaying her debt, he was the one who had dismissed her.
Although there were a lot of troublesome things, she was in quite favourable terms with Consort Gyokuyou’s maids. It didn’t mean that she was used to thinking of having a rare post like food tasting.

“If there is something that I don’t like, it is that I can’t do my poison experiment”.”

“You should really put a stop to that.” Jinshi placed his chin on his raised knee. He gave a bitter smile. “That’s right. You are that kind of person, huh.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Do people tell you that you don’t say enough?”

“…I get told that often.”

His bitter smile gradually changed into an innocent one.

This time Maomao hung her head in sullenness. There, Jinshi reached out his hand.

“So, why did you run away?” he asked.

“Those were the rules.”

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Even though she said it, Jinshi wasn’t retracting his hand.
He stared at Maomao with teary eyes. “Isn’t it fine if it’s just for a little bit?”

“You can’t.”

“It wouldn’t hurt.”

“It’ll hurt my spirit.”

“Just one hand. It’ll be fine if it’s just fingers.”

“….” Persistent. Come to think of this, this man is sticky.

She closed her eyes in surrender and sighed deeply. “Just your fingers then.”

Something pressed down on her lips.
She opened her eyes. There was red rouge on Jinshi’s long fingers.

As Maomao was caught dumbfounded, Jinshi drew back his fingers. And then, of all things, he gently placed it on his own lips.

(This guy.)

He separated his two fingers, slightly transferring the rouge on his nicely shaped lips.
Jinshi crinkled his eyes, forming an even more innocent smile. His cheeks were a light shade of sakura-colour like they were also covered with rouge.

Maomao’s shoulders shook, but since Jinshi was facing her with his excessively innocent smile, she hung her head and averted her eyes without saying anything.

(Don’t we match.)

Maomao’s mouth was jagged shut(Like this ->(¤﹏¤)). Her cheeks were becoming sakura-coloured. She wasn’t even wearing cheek rouge.

When she thought she could hear giggling, everyone around them was watching her.
Her older sisters were looking her way, grinning.
She feared what will come after.
It was extremely uncomfortable.

Gaoshun, who had appeared unnoticed, folded his arms in relief.
As if to say that one task was finished.

Because she was already somewhat embarrassed about something, she couldn’t really remember what happened after that.
Just that, she remembered that her older sisters’ questioning had been very persistent.

○●○

A few days later, a beautiful nobleman appeared in the capital’s pleasure district.

The man, who carried money that dazzled even the madam, and for some reason, a strange plant that grew from a bug, requested for one girl.

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Inner Palace Arc END


T/N: How was that for an introduction? I think it sets the tone of the story pretty well.

The author left an afterword that went along the lines of her thinking that she wrote the essentials of what she wanted to write, the continuation will be about annihilating raised flags and that although this story was tagged as mystery it’s a little strict, so she’s going to write it as fantasy instead. …I think.

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