(I feel like I’ve seen this scene from somewhere before)
Maomao watched the two people on the stage who were surrounded by spectators. Jinshi and the monocle bastrd—a Go board in between them.
Previously, Maomao had faced against the weirdo in Shogi. She won the five-bout match against the weirdo by cheating on her end, but—
(Is Jinshi attempting to do the same?)
Is he going to fall for the same trick twice? He may indeed be a weirdo, but he’s unlikely to be fooled. The tactic from before worked solely because it was Maomao herself.
Then, did Jinshi want to play a genuine match of Go against the weirdo?
In that case, it’s probably better to gather money instead.
If it turns out as such, did he want to make it look like a showdown at least?
Up until just now, there were several opponents around the weirdo, but all of them had since vacated their seats, reading the change in atmosphere with Jinshi’s arrival.
This will probably turn out to be the last match of the day.
There seems to be some exchange of words, but Maomao was diligently counting steamed buns at the reception desk. It was already nightfall, so there probably won’t be any more people coming. Let’s bring the remaining snacks back to the medical office and enjoy them as dim sum. It would be a waste to leave leftovers.
Hearing a voice from above, she looked up to see a sharp-eyed woman. A familiar face stood next to her.
Maomao had never seen the woman before. A new face.
“Older sister,” Basen said curtly. The woman pushed down Basen’s head.
“Thank you for looking after my brother. My name is Maamei.”
She was smiling, but Maomao was reminded of a bird of prey. As Basen’s older sister, she had to be Gaoshun’s daughter.
(Is this the rumoured elder sister who treats her father as if he were air?)
She didn’t resemble Basen nor Gaoshun, so she probably takes after her mother.
“I’m here to deliver what the Prince of the Moon left in my care.” Maamei gently passed a cloth pouch to Maomao. A sweet aromatic smell wafted from within.
Jinshi had mentioned it. That a companion will be bringing snacks later.
Maomao looked at Maamei. She is Basen’s older sister, and Basen himself is also present, so there shouldn’t be any concerns. However, due to the nature of her job, she felt uneasy about allowing Jinshi to eat it as it is.
“If you wish to food taste, go ahead. Suiren-sama was the one who came up with them, so its flavour is guaranteed,” Maamei said.
“…excuse me.” Maomao opened the pouch. Each of the baked pastries were around the size of her palm and wrapped in greased paper. She took one out.
The aroma intensified with the removal of the paper wrapping, predominated by the scent of fruit and butter.
The airy dough gave away readily as she sank her teeth into it. Unlike the denseness of mooncakes, its texture remained soft as you chew, an easily digestible snack.
“…fu.” Oh my, Maomao blinked rapidly. She usually preferred savoury foods, but found herself relishing in the sweetness. The gentle flavour was spreading throughout her body with its softness. The use of the tang of the raisin and consistency of walnuts was very effective.
And above all, the elusive flavour worked well.
She found herself reaching for another, and shook her head. “Not good, not good.”
“As expected of Suiren-sama, right? Are there any among the imperial chefs who can do the same, I wonder,” Maamei said.
Even Maomao, who attained the status of gourmet from food tasting at tea parties hosted by consorts, Rokushoukan and the like, moaned in appreciation. It wouldn’t be strange if it were sold elsewhere.
“Yeah, I’ve received some as well. The children will be overjoyed.” Maamei smiled somewhat boastfully.
“It’s certainly delicious, but is it really that good?” Basen asked.
“Those with no sense of taste should shut up,” Maamei retorted.
“It seems Basen-sama’s taste buds are underdeveloped,” Maomao remarked.
After being told so by the two, Basen made a somewhat displeased expression.
“Well then, please bring them to Jinshi-sama,” Maamei said.
If possible, Maomao preferred to maintain some distance from the weirdo, so she tried it pass it off to Maamei, however…
“I’m an outsider, so I can’t go up to the stage. Please, bring them to him.”
“…what about Basen-sama?” Maomao turned to Basen. It shouldn’t be a problem if he’s Jinshi’s aide.
“Then, I shall—“
Basen’s head was pushed down by Maamei again.
“You bring them, please. Jinshi-sama entrusted you with them,” Maamei said.
“…Understood.” Transferring the pastries onto a plate and setting it on a tray, Maomao made her way towards the stage.
Pushing through the crowd, Maomao saw two people other than Jinshi and the old man up on the stage. One was Rahan—who, unlike Maomao, apparently knows Go, was pushing his glasses up his nose as he observed the board. The other was an unknown man, middle-aged and neatly dressed. From his clothes, she knew him to be one of the elite, but he didn’t exude the air of a bureaucrat.
(He seems like a cultured person.)
He gave off an air that set him apart from the common people.
Surrounding the stage were off-duty military officials who served as guards, most likely to ensure the players are not disturbed by the audience.
Maomao had them fetch Rahan for her.
“What’s up?” Rahan asked.
“I’ve brought Jinshi-sama’s pastries. By the way, how are things progressing at the moment?” she replied.
It was hard to tell from a distance. Above all, even she could see, she knew nothing about the state of the battlefield on the Go board.
“I can’t comment yet. Jinshi-sama is playing by the book. I wouldn’t say the match is progressing poorly. Moreover, he’s playing without komi with a black stone, so he should have the upper hand, but—“
Those remarks somehow favoured Jinshi.
“Esteemed adoptive father is fearsome from the middle stage onwards. He attacks without warning, and in addition, uses many moves outside of established tactics. Be it without komi or whatever, he can overturn the game in one move.”
She somehow understood. The weirdo tactician was not one to study and follow tactics. Speaking of his playstyle, his moves were based on intuition alone, and inexplicably, they turn out to be the right ones.
“It’s just that…” Rahan tilted his head. “I think his attacks are slower than usual.”
“Hmmm.” Maomao didn’t care who won, but it would be interesting if it were Jinshi. However, it bothered her that the reason behind Jinshi choosing to play the match now of all times remained unclear. “Who is the person over there?”
“That individual is the Grandmaster of Go. He’s also his majesty’s Go instructor.”
If she remembered correctly, he’s currently said to be the only person who is better than the weirdo.
“Anyway, can I come up?” she asked.
“Yeah, set it down wherever there’s space, but not near the Go bowls. They’ll get the stones mixed up with the pastries.”
“Understood.” She ascended the stairs and went up onto the stage.
Everyone’s eyes fell on her, but they recognised she was a mere tea server when they saw the pastries on the tray. However, the weirdo glanced over immediately and flashed her a gross smile, which she ignored.
(Even if you tell me to set it down where there’s space.)
There was no space. Other than the Go board, there was a Go bowl on the side of each player’s dominant hand, Jinshi’s on the right, and the weirdo’s on the left. In theory, she could place the pastries on the opposite side: Jinshi’s left and the weirdo’s right, but—
A large platter of steamed buns and mooncakes took up the remaining space, even the section originally intended for Jinshi to place pastries.
Even if she moved the pile of pastries, there was no opening for her to put down the plate.
Maomao, as a last resort, placed it on the same side as Go bowls. So they don’t mistake it as Go stones, she set it down right at the centre of the empty space, but—
The instant she set it down, a hand reached out. The hand then headed for the mouth of an unshaven face which inhaled it in one go.
“….” She could only be shocked. The weirdo tactician ate Jinshi’s pastry innocently.
He chewed, swallowed, then licked his fingers.
Maomao was troubled by the dissatisfied expression he was regarding her with.
“Maomao.” Jinshi called out.
The weirdo tactician’s face stiffened.
Lately, he finally started calling her by her name.
“Restock the pastries.”
The weirdo would probably just eat it all, so Maomao decided to dump all of it on to plate. She had wanted to eat another if there were leftovers, but it couldn’t be helped. Would Suiren teach her how to make the baked pastries?
Can this match end already, she thought as she descended the stairs.
Before she knew it, participants from the outside had started to mingle inside the theatre.
(There aren’t any more contestants coming.)
With the sun setting, it’ll be getting darker outside soon. Participants were packing away the Go boards and the food stands around them were also closing up.
Still, only the centre of the theatre retained the enthusiasm, moreover, it was only the one-to-one battle between Jinshi and the weirdo.
(Is everyone placing bets?)
If they were, she wanted to place some bets on the dark horse, Jinshi.
The siblings Basen and Maamei were mixed in with the spectators, but the older sister had left early. She had promised to go home at nightfall, and she was currently working—it’s rough to have children; Maomao saw it like it was someone else’s problem.
Yao and En’en seemed to be taking a short break from cleaning up and showed up to watch the game. En’en’s eyes shone.
When everyone is enthusiastic about something you have no interest in, the feeling of alienation is staggering, Maomao felt.
Everyone looked like they were holding their breath, but they suddenly cried out.
(Is the game over?)
If it’s over, then finish up quickly and go home, she thought as she headed to the stage—
The two of them were still seated.
Looking around, she found Yao and En’en, and began to approach them.
“Has the game ended?”
“Not yet,” Yao answered.
“Yeah, but they might be giving up soon.” En’en pointed to the stage wall. There was a large piece of paper stuck to the wall with a grid drawn on it. Rahan stood beside it with a brush in hand, drawing in Go stones.
It must be for those who aren’t able to see from a distance.
“Is it the challenger’s loss?”
“…no, the Prince of the Moon might be winning.” En’en shook her head. The somehow grudging tone was probably because it was Jinshi’s fault that En’en was separated from Yao. She was one who shunned the treasured Jinshi. “I think the move just then was Rakan-sama’s fatal mistake.”
En’en’s tone suggested she couldn’t quite believe it. Maomao endured with hearing the name that hurt her ears.
“Normally, Rakan-sama wouldn’t choose such a dangerous strategy. It’s like taking the shortest route by running along a tightrope, so to speak. So, when he loses, it’s not the usual defeat, but a move where you step off the rope and can’t backtrack,” En’en answered.
“…Maomao, do you understand?” Yao asked.
“Not at all.”
It seems Yao wasn’t really interested in Go either. She did, however, seem to be interested in Jinshi’s face. With a slight flush to her cheeks, she denied, “I can’t. No, no.” Apparently, she wanted to focus on her career for now.
En’en’s expression transformed into one of even stronger disdain for Jinshi. “Anyway, a reversal from this would require an aggressive and risky move, but— Rakan-sama’s physical condition today seems really bad.”
It was as En’en had said. His complexion was bad. Bad, and his eyelids were somewhat heavy.
He must be sleepy.
“Uncharacteristically, he seemed to be working hard at his job lately.”
It was for the sake of opening the Go tournament. It looks like a lot of work from Jinshi had been dumped onto him.
“He’s also been sleeping for fewer hours than usual.”
Despite that, he was still sleeping average hours. Sleep deficiency goes hand in hand with lowered judgement ability. She remembered expressing this to Jinshi, who constantly pulled all-nighters, on many occasions in the past.
“He’s been playing Go non-stop since yesterday.”
Occasionally, he would play with three or four people. The brain becomes fatigued when you overuse it.
And in the end.
“Could those pastries be the cause as well?” Maomao recalled the pastries Maamei brought over. The extremely delicious pastry with flavoursome dried fruit and soft, moist dough.
The reason Maomao, who didn’t like particularly like sweet food, had found it so delicious was…
(Could the elusive flavour be strong distilled liquor?)
The fragrance of alcohol was faintly blended in with the butter. Much of the alcohol content had evaporated during the baking process, but the fruit remained soaked with a small portion of it.
When it comes to the weirdo tactician who was weak to wine, while it won’t make him faint, he might get drunk.
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Did Jinshi base it on what Maomao did before?
Even so, the method was too roundabout.
In that case, a different side emerges.
‘Don’t place it close to the Go bowls.’
Rahan’s words—hadn’t he said so to make sure it would be within the weirdo tactician’s reach? Since it was that man, he would probably snatch it if Maomao was the one to bring the pastries.
Maomao clutched at her forehead. She had been completely used. There was no harm done, but it was somewhat vexing.
He has a nice face, but how wicked is that man’s nature?
(I won’t be able to settle down unless I get a drug from him.)
As she plotted, she once again became bothered about why he had gone to such lengths to prepare beforehand and ensure his victory.
Related to the weirdo tactician—for an instant, she was struck with a terrible premonition.
(Don’t tell me…)
If there was indeed no other reason, isn’t he even dragging other people into it?
While she was in thought, there was the clink of a Go stone being set down from the weirdo tactician.
It was then.
The door of the theatre was violently pushed open. With loud footsteps, an arrogant middle-aged man strode in.
“COURT PHYSICIAN KAN. IS COURT PHYSICIAN KAN HERE?” he yelled with an impolite bearing. Behind the middle-aged man were two people with the same face.
It was the philandering triplets they investigated before.
“What happened?” Dad, who was sitting on a chair beside the stage, stood up. He walked with a cane, but as if saying he was too slow, the middle-aged man pushed through the spectators to stand before Dad.
Maomao was going to go to her dad, but halted when she saw the row of military officials nearby.
“IT’S YOUR FAULT. MY SON, MY SON IS!”
“What on earth happened?”
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Son. If she remembered correctly, he was missing one.
“IT’S THIS!” The middle-aged man placed a cloth pouch on the table. He opened it—
It contained two male fingers.
Screams came from all directions.
“LOOK FOR MY SON! WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN IF MY SON DIES BECAUSE OF YOU!” he commanded Dad with a yell.