Despite having wiped down her entire body, Maomao still felt gross.
She had been drenched in blood. However, the amount of blood wasn’t as much as it looked.
She looked at the man who had fainted frothing in his mouth. The blood on him wasn’t just Maomao’s.
She had made use of the red lacquer paint in the room as blood. The mixture of paint and oil yielded a brilliant red paint. The blood had accomplished its job perfectly in a room with a single flickering light source. The rash on the other man was also from this paint.
It was a relief that it turned out well.
Maomao had half-spoken in jest about the poison maiden thing, but as if that kind of fairy-tale-like thing exists. If you were to just eat poison continuously, you’ll quickly die.
The fortress, maybe because the airtightness was high, was comparatively warmer than the snowy exterior. People’s bodies will go out of whack without them knowing if they suddenly get hit by the cold wind after breaking the windows.
Not just goosebumps, they could get rashes as well.
On top of that, there was one other thing.
The time the man entered the room, he had said “She’s broken out in rashes,” when he saw Maomao. Her whole body was certainly broken in rashes, but seeing how he declared that with certainty, she thought that, perhaps, he must have seen something similar.
Also, as soon as he touched the table in the room, he reacted with surprise and distanced himself.
The table was painted with lacquer, but as long as it was dried, you rarely get skin irritation. People who had a reaction once would end up excessively avoiding that feeling.
Sometimes, they could develop a rash on their body just by thinking that they touched it.
That was why she used the lacquer as blood. In actuality, it will take time for them to be affected by rashes, but people who are weak against it would be more mentally insecure. Even if she didn’t understand the said person, they will recall the time they got a reaction from the scent.
If she were to speak honestly, it happened that half of them came in even if they were to harass her afterward*.
Maomao made use of that, and acted as a poison maiden.
When the man sat down, there was also a reason why he couldn’t stand up.
When you sit on a chair, human bodies were made so that you can’t stand up when your foreheads are held. When you first get up, your head moves forward. If you are unable to do that first motion, the other parts of you cannot move.
Even so, there might be other ways of moving, but the confused man reacted in the way Maomao had said.
It was a godsend that he moved too compliantly. If this man didn’t leave his seat originally, about this time, she would have become the victim of another person.
She was grateful for that point.
And so, after hearing what she asked, she only stepped on him without crushing them.
As soon as she left the room, she passed by the men who turned up to swap over. They went past Maomao, not paying attention to her as if they saw her as an apprentice.
The lock on the room was closed just in case, but there was no time left.
(This isn’t a joke.)
Maomao clicked her tongue as she ran down the corridor. She had deceived them by wearing the outer garment she had plundered from the man just then, and had her ear wrapped in a cloth.
Hearing that they were manufacturing gunpowder, Maomao had imagined hand cannons* or fire lances at first. Both were tools that were used in wars since olden times.
However, the man said cannon.
*(T/N: 飛発, feifa. I only found this term in Japanese sources, and it stated that this contraption was the precursor to fire lances (火槍, which was invented during the Song Dynasty.) that was invented during the Tang Dynasty of China by some nameless person. If anyone knows the English equivalent name for it or something, that would be super helpful. The author calls it ‘gun’ as the modern equivalent – should I just with this? Hand cannons came a little after fire lances so it’s not quite the right term.)
Cannon. A weapon shaped like a gigantic tube that shoots out projectiles. Cannons were wooden or bronze weapons that had been around since olden times.
He said that they were making a thing that shoots iron bullets.
As far as Maomao knew, rocks were typically used as projectiles. What would become of it if they made it from iron?
Maomao didn’t know about weapons in that much detail. However, she understood that using uniformly shaped metal bullets had more destructive power than irregularly shaped rocks. It might be artillery that used the latest technology.
But, it was still too reckless.
She only knew about the scale of it from the number of people in this fortress.
Suppose there were co-operators that endorsed the Shi Clan, it might be a different story. However, their scheme should have already been exposed. How many people will support the Shi Clan now with the risk?
And yet, they were still trying to raise this thing.
Do they know what will happen from here on?
Maomao continued underground, descending the stairs step by step. She could feel the rumbles of production inside from along the cold stone wall.
Maomao quietly looked inside.
There were dozens of slightly dirty men working topless. A characteristic scent reached her nose. Rather than the smell of burning sulfur, it was the smell of fermenting manure.
She could see a huge mound of black clumps.
No, it was too small for that. It seems to be droppings from small animals like mice. She heard that animal droppings are among the ingredients used for saltpetre.
That must be used as an ingredient.
The underground was warmer than she imagined. The room temperature must have been raised to dry the completed gunpowder. Thus, it was terrifying.
The brazier was kept at a distance just in case and was wrapped around with a curtain so the sparks don’t catch. Still, if the fire spreads, what would happen?
Do they know that danger, being in this environment?
Generally, if you are always in a place with such bad air, you would eventually breathe in too much of it, and get poisoning symptoms.
You can say the environment was poor.
The completed gunpowder was transported out via a different exit. If she were to chase after that, would she get to the armoury?
But how will she go there?
As she thought that, she heard footsteps behind her.
Maomao hid behind a nearby shelf.
Her heart pounded loudly.
Maomao looked at the person who showed up, worried if the people around her would notice that sound.
“….” Maomao was dumbfounded. She looked at the person who walked past.
Walking with a meek expression, was Rouran. Rouran, who was wearing an extravagant outfit like her mother, looked out of place in the dim underground that stunk like manure.
“Roura…” Maomao tried to call out to her.
However, the girl didn’t hear her. She kept walking on to the centre of the basement, with something strong contained within her eyes.
The men who were working around Rouran noticed her and started to be noisy.
One of the men nervously came before her. He seems to be the man who manages this place. “Young la…”
“Please leave here right away.” Her dignified voice echoed all throughout the underground.
The men looked at one another, not understanding what was up.
“This fortress is going to fall soon. Before that happens, I want you people to quickly get away from here.” Rouran took out a large bag from her bosom and threw it aside. Silvers spilled out from it. The men, dazzled by the sight of it, started to scramble forward to gather them up.
After affirming that they were almost finished with picking them up, Rouran held up the light in her hands and flung it away with all her might.
The light drew a parabola and fell into the dried gunpowder.
“Try your best to get away.” Rouran wore her previous innocent smile.
Maomao covered her ears without a moment’s delay and crouched down on the spot.
The roar passed through her palms, reverberating into her eardrums. The men who were escaping in haste kicked and stepped on Maomao many times.
The explosion rapidly expanded, spreading to the charcoal and droppings.
(I have to get away now.)
As she did so, someone fell down beside her ceremoniously.
The beautiful fabric had been dirtied from being trampled on many times. Maomao pulled up the hands of its owner who had fallen over.
“Huh? Why is Maomao here?” Rouran, her hair dishevelled, made a blank face.
“That’s what I want to ask you though,” Maomao said with a shocked expression.
Rouran brushed Maomao’s cheek, and reached for her right ear. “Blood. Does that mean I was too late?”
Speaking of what she had been late for, it must be that. It seems the reason Rouran came to such a place and suddenly blew it up was to save Maomao.
“…quickly, go.” Maomao covered her mouth with Rouran’s sleeve, and somehow crawled out of the basement. We need to get out of here now, she tugged Rouran to go outside.
However, Rouran went to the steps and ascended the stairs.
“The fire is spreading,” Maomao said.
“It’s fine. I have to go up.” Rouran went up the stairs, dragging her tattered skirt along.
The smoke was quickly rising. Her eyes stung with the stench that made her nose feel strange. Even if the fire didn’t spread, she might end up dying from smoke inhalation.
“Are you coming along?” Rouran asked.
“I guess so.” If it’s this situation, it would be easy for Maomao to run away. The men who had escaped earlier on had scrambled towards the fortress’ exit. Would they break into the stables or whatever, and escape from here?
“It’ll be scary if Mother knew. Since it’s about that person, even if they stay, they would be pressed to take responsibility for what happened. It’s better to end it with whipping.” At the speech about her own mother, Rouran cast down her eyes.
Rouran stopped before the room on the second storey(or Third story/floor depending on where you live.).
Maomao grasped the papers in her chest. She didn’t even take one of the books that were in the room. She had only taken the papers that had been hidden under the bed.
If she were to separate from Rouran right now, it will end with her not knowing her goal.
She wanted to make sure of that.
“Hey…” Maomao stopped momentarily and wavered on what she was going to say. Rouran was no longer a consort. It would somehow be a bad fit to suddenly call her Rouran.
And so, she decided to call her this name. “Shisui.”
“What is it?” Her hands on the doorknob, Rouran, no, Shisui smiled.
“The abortion drug ingredients that appeared in the inner palace, was something that Shisui arranged, right?” Maomao asked.
It was likely that she used Suirei who was outside the inner palace, or another person.
Shisui continued to smile. “It was for me to use.”
Shisui’s expression was unchanged. Still smiling, she opened the door. “Maomao really is sharp. It’s worth calling you,” she said.
The insect that has a call that sounds like a bell, eats the male in order to beget offspring.
The insects she received from Shisui, had eaten themselves in the cage without even eating the vegetables she gave them. Maomao released the surviving insect in the garden. The surviving one must have been female. She will lay her eggs on the ground, and then she will cease to breathe as well.
The description was in the books in the paulownia box.
Maomao understood now. Shisui was calling herself an insect.
Once she begets a child, she will eat her father.
The insect cage signified the inner palace. The male and female insects denoted the emperor and the consorts.
She also understood the reason why Shisui often appeared in places with insects. She might have been taking the opportunity to harvest other things while she was collecting insects.
Ground cherry to white-powder flower. The ingredients that can become abortion drugs are also in the inner palace.
There was a large bed inside the room. There were five children sleeping there in a row.
The voices of the children she heard a couple of days ago must be them.
Shisui continued to open the doors from the guardrail. The curtains fluttered as snowy wind rushed into the room.
“We have to get the children outside,” Maomao said.
“There’s no meaning even if they go out.” Shisui, no, it was Rouran’s voice who said it this time.
Rouran looked outside with a smile.
It should have been a pitch black scenery devoid of anything. Maomao had only seen the white plains that extended beyond the outer walls in the daytime at a distance from the grid of the window.
Watchfires were rising. She could see groups that looked like ants coming in while assembled in ranks of troops.
There was a loud bang.
The underground explosion must still be going on.
Maomao rushed over to the bed and looked at the children.
Even with such a loud sound, all the children remained sleeping without a stir of surprise.
Maomao felt one of the children.
His skin was cold. Maomao picked up the child’s hand and felt for a pulse with her finger.
All the children were cold and had no pulses.
There was a pitcher on the side of the bed. There were cups for the number of people here.
Rouran affectionately stroked the brow of one of the children.
“Did you do this?” Maomao asked.
Rouran nodded slowly.
With eyes filled with affection, she stroked the children like they were her own. Whether she was Rouran or Shisui, Maomao no longer knew.
“If we do such a flashy thing, it would be familial extermination. That much is clear,” she answered.
Even if there were young children, they will be included among them. They will go up to the gallows while not knowing the deeds of their parents.
“I made them drink it mixed with sweet juice. It was after everyone happily looked at picture scrolls in a warm room. I suppose there was a grumbling child? He looked like he wanted to sleep with his mother, but it’s unfortunate. Your mother is having fun with my mother.” Rouran displayed a crooked smile with the corner of her mouth.
There was a heavy sound of the onslaught outside, but beyond that, Maomao didn’t take her eyes away from Rouran’s face.
“My nanny said she wasn’t that kind of person in the past, but what of it? She was that kind of woman when I was born. She bullied Elder Sister every time she found her, even bullied the young maids, and taught the female relatives to drink and play with male prostitutes. Father said nothing, he didn’t oppose her, he just waited for Mother to forgive him.”
Her mother, Shenmei, was mad. She had known just by seeing her.
“After she gave birth, she had her husband as food. Just like an insect. It’s much better to be an insect, they do it with their lives connected to their offspring.”
Rouran hated the idea of becoming a mother. To the point of making abortion drugs herself and continuing to drink that.
Maomao felt that she heard her biggest reason.
All the mothers in the world, are not the same as Shenmei. But for Rouran, her mother was just Shenmei.
“About Maomao, I investigated a little. Your personal history is somewhat like Elder Sister.”
About how she was raised by a former court physician. About how her father was a high official.
“I have neither a father nor a mother. I only have an adoptive father,” Maomao answered.
“Fufu, Elder Sister also said something similar. I guess so, I guess so. Elder Sister always said that she wasn’t my Elder Sister. It’s possible. What if, as harassment to Father, a woman from elsewhere might have just forced Elder Sister to say that.” Her tone changed again.
Maomao no longer knew whether this woman was Rouran or Shisui.
However, the girl had something she wanted to tell Maomao.
“That woman, is not my older sister.”
Not my older sister. In other words, Rouran was stating that Suirei wasn’t related to the Shi Clan.
Rouran and Suirei look really similar. In particular, her current expressionless face was truly really similar.
Rouran adored her older sister.
And yet, she called her ‘that woman’.
“If these children are insects, they will overcome the winter,” she said and stroked the children once again.
(If they are insects.)
Maomao realised once again.
Silently, she pulled out the folded sheets of papers from her collar.
One sheet was the devil’s trumpet paper Rouran had left. The rest were the several pages that Maomao had pulled out from the books.
She took out a sheet among those.
There was a fish fin was pasted onto it.
It was Maomao’s favourite food. The wine steeped with the fin was delicious.
Maomao looked at Rouran wordlessly.
Rouran’s eyes were brimming with tears.
When Maomao was going to extend her hand, Rouran shook her head.
(We should run away.)
But she didn’t know what to do afterwards.
Maomao knew nothing about politics. She had no interest in such things. She only wanted to study lots about medicine, research, and make all sorts of medicine.
Just that was fine.
Just that should have been fine.
She didn’t care about other people. The most important person was herself. She wondered what she had been exposed to, by being taken here.
But Maomao reached her hand out.
Rouran refused her. “I have my role. Don’t stop me.”
“…is there some meaning to it?” Maomao didn’t know what is in the place she is heading towards. But, she could easily imagine the ending.
“I guess I can only say it’s obstinance if I say if there’s any meaning to it.”
“Then, wouldn’t it be better to run away?”
At that reply, Rouran gave an impish smile. “Say, Maomao. You have an unknown poison. What would you do if you only have one chance to drink it?”
“I’ll drink it all up,” she replied immediately. It was about what other paths there were.
“Thought so,” Rouran said, standing up with a smile.
She left the room with light steps as if she was going shopping.
“I’ll leave the rest to you.”
The door closed with a click.
Her footsteps quickly faded.
Maomao was facing up before she realised.
The back of her eyes was hot. She desperately held it in.
The brief time she endured, the building shook with the rumble that gradually got louder.
Two drops of water fell, soaking into the pressed devil’s trumpet.
Psst. If you’re lost, and want a blatant hint, you can check out the summary of chapter 13 of Volume 2 of the LN on my blog ;D