It started from the story from a certain guest.
“It’s no wonder that I thought there are fewer guests lately.”
Meimei-neechan was lying down slovenly as she was setting up stones on the Go board. Her kamuro was looking over that, placing down stones as she agonised over it. They were playing the zhenlong(珍瓏. A Go problem. From the Wuxia novel 天龍八部 “Demi-gods and Semi-devils”, where it’s a formation that even masters of the game were unable to solve, until the monk Xuzhu (one of the three protagonists) does it serendipitously 30 years later).
“The very important ministers like unusual things after all.”
The one who said that, while puffing out smoke, was Joga.
Maomao had prepared for moxibustion by her sisters’ asking. As the two’s womanly paths were heavy, sometimes they relieved themselves by stimulating their pressure points like this.
She was told that was what Meimei ‘s Go opponent had told her yesterday. That there was a fairy-like maiden who was more unusual than the Three Princesses of the Rokushoukan.
“We are at the age where they would be getting sick and tired of us. Even though we were treated like jewels of admiration in times past.”
Keh, Joga spat. “Yeah sure,” Maomao make sounds of listening, making Joga lie down and lit the moxa she placed on the woman’s skin. Hearing the sexy “Haaaaah~” and the curling of toes, she wanted to say that there’s still a while to go.
“Somehow, according to him, she has pure white hair. If it’s just that, he should have just said that she has normal white hair then.”
Also, it seems her eyes are red, Meimei added.
(White hair and red eyes.)
That is unusual, Maomao nodded. She prepared Meimei’s moxibustion after Joga’s.
Meimei stretched a slender leg out from her clothes. Maomao carefully rolled her dress up so it wouldn’t get burnt, and place the moxa on her leg and lit it.
“Hair aside, her eyes are also red huh. Would that make her an albino then?”
“That seems to be the case.”
Her older sisters hummed in agreement. The kamuro who was holding the Go stone didn’t understand at all; she tugged at Maomao’s sleeves. It was the girl who had shrieked when she saw Jinshi eating the locusts the other day. If Maomao remembered correctly, the girl’s name is Zuurin(梓琳, Zi Lin).
Maomao squinted in annoyance, but when she saw Zuurin act scared, she reluctantly opened her mouth.
“It’s rare for humans, but children can be born with no colour. Their hair and skin are both white, and their eyes looked red as the blood inside are transparent. Those are called albino.”
It also exists in animals. White snakes and foxes are revered as auspicious gods, but what about humans? She was told that distant foreign countries – believing that white skinned children are a panacea – have a custom of eating them. However, that story is false. Though their hair and skin are white, that is just a difference in colour, and their insides are no different, is what Maomao was taught by her dad Ruomen.
Maomao had caught a white snake once, but she had really thought that was a mysterious creature.
It seems that, this time, the albino was being worshipped as a curious fairy.
“Even though the big-shots will get tired of her sooner or later.”
Meimei said as she stretched out her other leg.
“The story is that she actually uses sage arts.”
At those words, Maomao’s brows twitched.
She was told that the fairy used the power to read minds and to create gold.
It’s a story that made one want to smear spit on their brows(To be wary of trickery. Something you do to not be bewitched by a fox or tanuki), but it was what whimsical people took strong interests in. In the beginning, it was said the fairy had performed in a small exhibition hut, but she was now renting the theatre of the capital.
Since the exhibition that gathered the wealthy opened once per night, the grumbling of the courtesans of the pleasure district would also have to be unreasonable.
Considering that the wealthy guests had shown up after a long time, it was unamusing because they were praising the inhuman appearance of the fairy and admiring her ability.
At the twenty percent decrease in profits than the usual, even the madam was hurling down the pipe. The guests coming in for the middle-ranked courtesans stayed the same, but the Rokushoukan is a high-class brothel. With the upper guests hardly coming in, the proceeds changed greatly.
“It’s an exhibition. Seeing it once should be good enough.”
“It’s nothing like that.”
It was the head manservant, Ukyou, who responded to Maomao’s monologue. This man, who is before his forties, must be having it rough from taking care of Chou’u and Sazen recently. It seems he finally got the break before he raised the lanterns of the night shop. He was eating a large steamed meat bun.
Maomao took the opportunity to give him insipid tea. “’scuse me,” Ukyou said, taking the teacup and pouring tea into it.
“You know about alchemy(錬丹術, more specifically Chinese alchemy, literally “the art of transmuting cinnabar”), right?”
“Why this so suddenly?”
Alchemy. The art of creating medicine that turns one into an unageing, undying immortal. Having heard such a thing from her dad, there would be no way Maomao’s eyes wouldn’t shine. And then, she immediately remembered getting stabbed with nails.
“Don’t copy that.”
Ruomen had said.
In other words, it was that kind of immensely suspicious art.
“Is this a story of wanting to share the luck of the power of immortality?”
“Who knows. It goes without saying that there’s her unusual appearance, but I heard that she could read people’s minds.”
The big shots who turned up with spit on their brows, what would they think of having their minds seen through? From undermining their feelings by playing them as fools, she might become a figure of worship.
And they might think the thing called the elixir of life is real.
(As if such an idiotic thing exists.)
Maomao knew about the person who created the medicine of resurrection on the eve of his research on immortality medicine. Even though he was an outstanding as a medical officer, from the side effect, there was no shadow of what he was left now.
Maomao clenched her fist. She understood that lamenting that if she had his knowledge, they could create a proper counterplan against the locust plague, was something that couldn’t be helped.
The disaster was still on its way. That might change depending on what they will do from now on.
Even though Jinshi’s people were puzzling over the countermeasures for the disaster that will possibly occur hereafter, she sighed at the other big shots who were relaxing too much.
Though, Maomao got interested in that art.
“Is it that in other words? That fairy, is she gathering her audience with the elixir of life as the pull?
“I don’t know that much. I only heard it from the officials’ followers.”
In saying that, Ukyou threw the steamed bun into his mouth and washed it down with the rest of the tea.
It was time to light the lanterns.
“If you’re interested, how about you go see it?”
“I can’t pay for such an expensive show.”
“Then, why don’t you earnestly ask somebody?”
Ukyou said, skilfully winked his right eye, and hurried away.
(Who could I ask?)
Maomao spat out a keh as one face occurred to her, as a matter of course.
Even though it would be easier if he said that it was impossible since he’s busy.
When she tried voicing it out a little, he became exaggeratedly eager. Far from that, it seems the exhibition had already reached Jinshi’s ears, so he was interested.
She was told to quickly prepare to leave.
Maomao thought that as she put on her outer garment. It was given by the clothing shop, a first-class padded garment. The colours were a little flashy, but it was a waste to take what she was given and set it aside. And it was a waste to not use it.
She dressed warmly and went out. A horse-drawn carriage awaited.
It was already dark out. Wet snow was falling from the sky. When she informed Chou’u, he got noisy about bringing him along, so she had Ukyou make him eat dinner.
“Shall we head off?”
Gaoshun said. When she went inside, there was Jinshi wearing a mask.
Maomao slowly lowered her head, and sat on the seat by his signal to sit.
“Jinshi-sama, will you be going with a mask?”
Maomao made a dubious expression.
In response to that, Jinshi’s expression was calm.
“It’s fine. It shouldn’t be a problem.”
He said and the carriage moved.
The theatre with the fairy was said to be a little to the east of the middle of the capital. It was in the location that prospered the most in the capital, which had rows of shops, so it was close to the exclusive residential district.
This place was normally the centre of where the plays are performed, so it was mysterious to have it hold the fairy’s solo performance.
(What a mundane fairy.)
The fairy, from her appearance, is called Lady Pai(白娘々, Pai-nyan’nyan, Bai-niangniang in Chinese. The White Lady. 娘々: nyan’nyan [niangniang in Chinese] is a title of reverence for females, normally used for goddesses, empresses and consorts, meaning ‘mother’).
They descended from the carriage. It already had lines of many people. The reception man accepted the money, and briskly led them inside.
(I see huh.)
“There isn’t a problem, right?”
Maomao understood that Jinshi was making a triumphant expression even under a mask. Half the audience around them were wearing masks or veils. Even Maomao was wearing a veil on her head – Gaoshun had brought it, putting where he got it from aside.
If it was the case that the wealthy big shots enjoy seeing this sort of thing, it could be seen as that they were making a bit too much merry. Otherwise, this could be something like an amusement festival. She felt like she was drowning in that questionable atmosphere.
There was a stage inside the theatre and several tens of tables before it. The ceiling was open so you can watch from the second floor. You can put in more than a hundred people in one go.
The building in the inner palace was a construction that was a lot larger, but the design here allowed everyone to see the theatre. That being the case, the design carved into the pillars and beams were detailed and beautiful.
A large lantern dangled down from the ceiling. They walked in relying on its dim lighting.
The place Jinshi sat, was the seat on the second row of the left side from the stage. Directly in front of them and right in the middle, was a well-built man and a young maiden who were sitting and being waited upon.
“Sorry. I couldn’t get the seats in the middle.”
The one who said it regretfully, was the young man who had joined up with them before she realised. From his voice, even with his mask on, she knew it to be Basen.
The table was for four. Including Gaoshun, it was just enough.
“No, rather, it would be better if it was further back.”
It was Gaoshun who said that. Certainly, no matter if you wore a mask, if you take up the good seats, it is easy to imagine the extent of the person’s power and fortune.
Judging from appearances, the man in the middle seat could only look like the nouveau rich who had money in excess. If she was not mistaken, wasn’t the trade dealer who’s swaggering around in the pleasure district recently that kind of man?
As soon as they sat down, female servants who were smiling showed up carrying sake cups.
Maomao sniffed it.
“It’s wine. You’re not drinking?”
She liked wine. However, she wanted to look at the Lady Pai or whoever with sober eyes.
“I’ll partake it later. So do you want me to food taste?”
“No, it’s fine.”
Jinshi also put the cup on the table like he was copying her. If he did so, Gaoshun and Basen had no choice but to do the same. As far as she saw from those around her, the wine in the cups seemed very delicious. While thinking pitifully that she should drink it, Maomao eyed the stage.
The dim interior was cloaked in white mist. And, along with the crash of the gong, the star of the stage appeared from the inside like she was releasing light.
It was a maiden with white clothes and white skin. Her white hair was untied, trailing behind her. Amid the pure white colouring, her red dyed lips and her pair of eyes were the only things that stood out.
As the gong reverberated, Lady Pai stood at the centre of the stage. There was a single beautiful table prepared on it.
The maiden went to it. She displayed the paper that has been prepared on the table beforehand. Drawn there was the current arrangement of the tables and the stage.
When she did so, a man clad in white appeared on the platform. His hair was black, but aside from that, from his appearance that matched with Lady Pai, Maomao understood that he was the maiden’s follower.
The man received that arrangement diagram from the maiden and pasted it on the wall on the platform. And then he threw something towards it.
Could it be a type of throwing weapon? The long and narrow thing went through the paper and was embedded into the wall. As the wall was papier mache that had been prepared beforehand, it was immediately pierced through.
“Well then, the guest sitting on this seat is-”
A hole was opened in the paper.
It was right exactly on the left side, the seats on the second row from the front.
“It’s here yeah.”
“It’s here yes.”
In other words, the seats Maomao and the others were sitting on.
“What do we do?”
“Even you ask what do we do.”
Jinshi didn’t seem to want to stand out.
Gaoshun also wasn’t at the age to be in high spirits from that.
Speaking of Basen….
He was slightly fidgety. I want to go out for a bit, but suggesting myself is also that, that kind of expression. Just as much as he is too serious, he can’t be honest about that kind of thing, it seems.
However, at this rate, if no one is going, then it can’t be helped—
Jinshi said. He was pointing at Maomao.
“Isn’t this a chance to see it up close?”
Basen, who was about stand up beside her, was a little stumped. Right now, Maomao was on the verge of wanting to throw the ball over to him, but she didn’t have that kind of personality either.
“I’ll go then.”
She said, giving a sidelong glance to Basen who dejectedly hung his head, and went up on the platform.
Lady Pai was more dazzling under the flickering lantern light. Her overly white skin exposed her transparent veins. Maomao understood that it was different to just painting your skin white.
“From one to ten, can you pick your favourite number?”
She heard a delicate voice that seemed to vanish. As if to supplement the maiden, the man beside her repeated her words in a loud voice.
“Write it down so I can’t see it. Please also fold it down into a small piece so no one can see it.”
Lady Pai and the man both turned around. That moment, Maomao smoothly wrote the character with the brush that had been handed to her. The brush had been filled with ink beforehand, so it was a little hard to write with. The feel of the brush was also a little bad, so they might have used mediocre ink. There was a mat underneath so she won’t get it on the table.
When she was done with writing down the number, Maomao folded it up.
When she said it, Lady Pai and the man turned around. The man pushed a strange cart over this time. In exchange, the previous table was moved to the back of the stage.
There was a box with the bases of several strange tubes stuck to it. Ten vertical, ten horizontal, a total of a hundred tubes.
“Can you cram that paper into one of them?”
Lady Pai said, then turned around with the man again.
Even if they didn’t specially turn around, the audience wouldn’t be able to see from the stage either.
Maomao scrunched up the paper to an even smaller size and stuffed it into a tube. The paper was soft, but the width of the tube she stuffed it into was narrow, so she had some trouble.
After she was done, she covered it with a thin gauze at the top to obscure it.
When she did so, the man moved that again. The box that packed with tubes was placed on a different table on the side of the stage. As if the gauze was thin and light, it fluttered airily.
Just as she said that, the gong reverberated. Though her eyes widened at the shock, she felt grateful she was wearing a veil.
However, as if Jinshi noticed that somehow, she got that his shoulders were shaking from his faraway seat.
How very irritating.
Lady Pai smiled and presented her hand.
Maomao, as she was told, put out her hand and the maiden’s cold white hand took Maomao’s wrist.
The bell rang this time.
Lady Pai stared at Maomao.
(Ah, this person.)
Her eyes are bad, Maomao thought. Her eyes moved strangely sometimes.
Which reminds her, since there was no pigment in her eyes, compared to others, there must be a lot of aspects she would have to be impaired in.
When she thought that…
“The number written is seven.”
Her red lips curved into a grin. Together with her red eyes, Maomao was reminded of the white snake she caught a long time ago.
When she was going to broil the red eyed and white skinned snake, her dad got angry at her. They are the god’s messengers, so you can’t, she was told, but Maomao knew they aren’t really that kind of creature. Her dad, even though the white skin they possess were unrelated to gods, he occasionally carried out that moral outlook so it was troubling.
She felt like she was getting absorbed into those round red eyes, when the gong sounded again.
Maybe because she was being shrouded by the haze around her, it was strangely warm and her head strangely hurt.
She abruptly felt irritated by the sensation that was like mosquitos buzzing around her ear, and Lady Pai opened her mouth again.
“Third from the top, second from the left.”
“How is it?”
The man grabbed hold of the gauze, so the audience could see the contents of the box. And then from the inside, he took the tube that was third from the top and second from the left, and thrust a thin stick through it.
When he did so.
Paper came out from inside. The man opened up the finely folded paper, there was the number ‘7’ written clearly on it.
It goes without saying that it was what Maomao had written.
T/N: LN version had Rahan and Rikuson (you’ll meet him soon) instead of the Jinshi group.
Synopsis: Somewhere in the universe, there was an altar. On it, laid a bloody eye as big as the sun itself. It burst with light and bathed the entire star system in red.
"The aura of an ancestral artifact!" Someone's voice rose in surprise.
The Great Galactic Era had begun.