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Why is such a thing, Maomao thought.
She was pretty sure that Shishou’s fortress had been sealed up after that. It was strange to have something from that place here. Even if the things in the fortress had been moved, to have it appear on the market in the city meant that it had been smuggled in.
If it’s like that.
Maomao had an idea too.
The perpetrator was soon found in two days.
Speaking of how he was found, it was easy.
“Don’t just go right ahead and call me for this sort of thing, lass.”
It was Rihaku who was speaking with annoyance. While he was saying that, he was restlessly looking inside the Rokushoukan.
They were inside the pharmacy that Maomao operated. He had to shrink down his large body to get into the confined shop.
“I don’t have the free time to go after a sneak thief either, you know.”
While he was saying that, he glanced up the ceiling of the stairwell and searched for the face of the flower on the upper floor.
Rihaku, a military officer she is acquainted with, had fallen for Pairin, one of the Three Princess of this Rokushoukan. However, even visiting the brothel required money. And so, if it was Maomao’s favour, who is on good terms with Pairin, he would be accommodating to whatever she tells him.
She wanted to him to stand watch since the stolen goods – the archive ransacked – might appear in town.
That was what she requested.
Speaking of unusual stolen goods like illustrated books, it can be easily traced from the point of sale. Just in case, as there was also the possibility of them being disposed in shops aside from that bookstore, she left it to Rihaku just like so.
“Fufu, be grateful that I have been keeping watch since morning.”
“So you didn’t call your subordinates.”
Did he want to show his extremely good side? It seems he worked hard himself. To be on a lookout in the still cold season, that was appreciative of his efforts.
Rihaku passed the package in his hands to Maomao. It looks to be a gift of dango. Then he glanced at the stairwell again.
Drink tea with everyone, then call for Pairin to come, could that be what he means?
However, there was one thing to do before that.
“So, what about the criminal?”
“If it’s about him, he’s outside. I got your place’s manservants to look after him for us.”
“Is that so?”
Maomao looked out the window.
There was a skinny, seedy looking man being surrounded by two manservants. Rashes on his face, a man certainly with that appearance.
Ignoring Rihaku’s voice, Maomao put on her shoes. She headed for the manservants.
The criminal that was being surrounded by the two brawny manservants appeared smaller than he looked.
“It ain’t safe. Don’t come any closer.”
The senior manservant said, grabbing Maomao by her collar.
It was unpleasant to be being treated like a cat, but there was nothing she could do since that was how it was ever since she was young. Maomao regarded the criminal in that posture.
The criminal and her eyes met.
She had thought it was rashes, but it looked like he got an irritation from something. Though mostly healed, it was still conspicuous.
The criminal stared at Maomao’s face. And then he paled.
And then, considering what he was going to say….
Spittle flying, he said.
Maomao narrowed her eyes. The two manservants looked at one another and burst into laughter.
(This guy is…)
On top of not remembering people’s faces well, she wasn’t sure with his face covered in rashes, but if she remembered properly, this man was the man from the fortress. The man who Maomao had smeared lacquer on his face, who fainted when his crotch got stomped on.
So it’s something like that, Maomao realised.
This means that he is one of the people who escaped from that fortress during the confusion.
Maomao crossed her arms and thought for a short while.
“What’s wrong, lass?”
Rihaku showed up and glared at the criminal.
The criminal blatantly shuddered.
I can use this, Maomao thought.
“My apologies. I know this guy.”
Maomao declared it indifferently, then grinned at the criminal.
Rihaku looked like he thought that Maomao’s behaviour was slightly strange, but the moment Maomao carried tea snacks and called Pairin, he left with his tail wagging.
And so now in Maomao’s pharmacy was Maomao, the criminal in question, and….
“Old man, it’s fine to not watch.”
Maomao looked at the senior manservant in annoyance. As everyone was in the middle of starting tea, it was only this man who went to Maomao. Shrewdly, he was holding dango in his hands.
“That can’t do. The Fox-dono and the Mask-dono will get angry if there are strange bugs.”
The fox would be the monocle tactician, and the mask would have to be Jinshi. The man still has plenty of value despite his face being damaged goods. On top of his mere appearance being eye-catching enough as it is, it must be all the more considering his position.
It shouldn’t be good for that which is the imperial brother to loiter in the pleasure district. However, he is a whimsical who comes here every ten days.
“Whaaaat, I’m keeping silent and eating dango only. I won’t hear anyyyything.”
said he, leaning against the wall.
He is reaching his forties and had been here before Maomao was born.
His name is Ukyou(右叫, You Jiao), a man who handled anything flawlessly. In any case, the madam must have told him. He said he won’t hear, but it is a given that he will tell if the madam asks of it.
If it comes to that, she could only talk to the part where she wouldn’t be troubled even if the madam asks of it.
(No problems even if it’s leaked huh.)
Maomao thought as she watched the man sitting before her. There were two volumes set out on the wooden floor. It is what Maomao had found in the bookstore and what this man came to sell today.
“What happened to the other books?”
At Maomao’s question, the man turned his face away in a huff. It is a somewhat understandable reaction, but honestly, he didn’t have that liberty.
If he sold it elsewhere, there is the possibility that it will be bought by another person.
Maomao slapped the floor.
“The military officer over there, he is related to the suppression of that fortress. Will you be okay with me telling him that you were in that place?”
Maomao said slowly in a low voice.
The man’s complexion got worse. Seeing that his face rashes were still pitiful, Maomao felt a little guilty, but she didn’t really regret it since there was no way for her to make an allowance for the other person who escaped from that place.
Ukyou mindlessly stuffed his cheeks with dango and chewed slowly.
The man bent his lips and lowered his head in resignation.
“I still have three volumes on hand. I sold two volumes in another district, I didn’t bring the rest with me.”
If the fire didn’t spread to that room from the gunpowder explosion, the rest of the books might be retrieved.
In that case, the issue is the remaining two volumes that were sold.
The bird and fish illustrated books were in her hands.
“Did you sell the insect illustrated book?”
“No, I have one volume on hand.”
Hm, Maomao twisted her neck. There were numbers allocated to the bird illustrated book. If there was one labelled “One”, there would be bound to be a “Two”.
“Can you bring that illustrated book as soon as possible?”
“Can you promise me that you won’t turn me over?”
“That will depend on your attitude.”
In response to Maomao who spoke overbearingly, Ukyou, who had been standing on the side the whole time, sighed deeply.
“Oi oi, Maomao. That’ll make it not much different to a threat.”
After he said that, Ukyou sat down on the wooden floors of the cramped pharmacy, and slapped the man’s shoulders.
“Hey, you hungry? There seems to be some reason, so you should relax a little.”
The man said nothing, but Ukyou went silent and left the pharmacy. Soon after he returned with a tray with a bowl full of rice and side dish.
The side dish was nothing other than the remainders of the simmered locust, but when the man was presented with chopsticks from Ukyou, he devoured the bowl with no hesitation.
Maomao was shocked by his vigour.
“You still have a way to go.”
Ukyou slapped Maomao’s shoulders. The man who was busy eating took no notice of them.
Uykou said in a whisper.
“Seeing the state of him, various things must have happened before he came to the capital? Even if he said that he sold the books, it couldn’t be helped to lose the means to make his livelihood surely. He handled the actual books carefully. So I don’t think he’s a bad person.”
“Is that so.”
Maomao’s first impression of him was that so she couldn’t say anything.
“You have to master the carrot and stick well.”
If the madam is the stick of the Rokushoukan, the head manservant would have to be the carrot. The old man wasn’t tall nor was his face good, but him being popular with the courtesans must be from this.
“Mm? What is it?”
The unkempt man who was eating ravenously, his hand had stopped. Ukyou looked with his head tilted.
“You hate locust?”
“This ain’t locust.”
The man said as he picked up a locust with his chopsticks.
“Ain’t that locust?”
“These guys may be if you put them together, but the farmers call them differently.”
Maomao and Ukyou peered at the man. The man picked at the pile of simmered insects, bit at them one by one and sorted them out.
Split into two piles, the ratio would have to be around one to eight.
“This is locust. It is what the farmers simmer and eat. This is grasshopper. They look similar, but this one is disgusting.”
“Are their tastes really that different?”
Honestly, she didn’t know that grasshoppers and locust have that kind of difference. Maomao had put them together without thinking hard on it.
“You’ll know when you eat it. When the legs are chopped up finely and you boil them, you won’t even tell the colouring, so the guys with terrible character sell them to unsuspecting merchants. That’s why you think that locusts are disgusting.”
So that’s how it is. There is no doubt that Okan-san is a good business partner.
Locust one part, grasshopper eight parts. No wonder it was disgusting.
Maomao reached out for the locust and put it in her mouth. Certainly, she felt that this side had meat and was tastier.
The man made a serious look and stared at the grasshoppers.
“If you got something to say, say it.”
Instead of Maomao, Ukyou asked.
“There might be famine this year.”
At those words, Maomao drew close to the man.
“Is that really true?”
“I, I don’t have proof. It’s just that when the numbers of grasshoppers are a lot greater than locusts, the insect damage will be horrible the year after.”
Considering the ratio of grasshoppers and locusts, it should be sufficient.
Maomao stared at the man.
“Speaking of which, do you know much about that? Though it had insects, I thought that most of the other things aside from the books can be sold in that room.”
He might not have emotionally wanted to take the lacquerware, but a normal guy would choose something that would sell easier than books.
The man scratched the back of his head with a little embarrassment.
“…I really didn’t want to sell the illustrated books.”
“Didn’t you tell the bookstore owner that you would come to sell more later?”
“For that, wouldn’t they buy it high for courtesy? Besides, I was going to buy it back when I have the allowance. It’s not like there are people who like illustrated books and would buy it.”
No, let’s not mention that there is one here.
Honestly, the man only had the clothes on his back. It was fine since it was still winter, but she was honestly against him coming into the pharmacy with the grime on his face.
“The elderly man who lived in that room before in that fortress. I was the one who brought in his meals.”
Maomao widened her eyes at the unexpected talk.
“Though he was brought in to make new medicine or whatever it was, he also researched on various other things, you know.”
“That would be, this.”
He indicated the grasshoppers.
“What can we do to prevent the locust plague?”
He studied that, the man said.
And it was the moment she opened her mouth to ask the man.
The door of the pharmacy was opened with a loud bang.
“Freckles! Can I eat your dango!”
Chou’u showed up with dango in both hands.
The man blinked in surprise.
“Huh? Young Mas….”
As he was going to call out to him, the man’s mouth was gapped stupidly. Maomao grabbed some mashed medicinal herbs nearby and crammed it in his mouth.
She was sorry that he was suffering, but he was going to speak of something very ominous, so it can’t be helped.
Since the Shi Clan should have been exterminated in the eyes of society.
Chou’u watched the man who was rolling on the floor in amusement.
“I’ll give you the dango, so don’t come in.”
“What is this, shoo, you say. I’m not a dog or a cat.”
Chou’u didn’t seem to recognise the man. He naturally ignored him.
“Chou’u, shall this old chap give you a piggy back?”
“Eh, can you, old man? Do it, do it—“
While feeling grateful towards Ukyou who skilfully sidestepped the boy’s condition, Maomao bent her fingers and counted.
(I don’t have proof though.)
It was better to get a heads-up just in case.
She counted how many days left until Jinshi comes.
T/N: In this case, Locust refers to locusts in the solitary phase, 蝗(いなご), and Grasshopper the locusts in the gregarious phase, 飛蝗(バッタ). (I know the names are the opposite of how they are referred to in English.) But don’t worry, the novel will later refer to both of them as grasshoppers… They are both locusts, just in different physiological forms.
I’m just taking the lazy route. Otherwise, I would have to introduce that simmered dish as Simmered Grasshopper first, and that sounds off since it’s locust plague, not grasshopper plague…
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.