Part of a Peony’s Tavern translation project at fruitydeer.com.
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Source: 芍藥客棧 by Yi Mei Tong Qian // Translated By: Xin (fruitydeer)
Happy Lunar New Year! It’s the year of the ox and oxen are known for being dependable, diligent, and strong. Hopefully that’s a good omen for this year. For those who enjoy astrology, have you heard about primal signs? Primal astrology takes into account both the eastern zodiac and western astrology, giving you an animal that represents your character. Does anyone’s primal sign match their personality? Mine feels pretty spot on…
We’re nearing the end of Yun Chang’s arc. I feel like Shao Zi is that kid on the playground who prances around like she’s a baddie in a gang, but when the real bullies come, you realize that the gang she’s in charge of is called Sesame Street and they’re actually just soft and cuddly creatures.
Cypress Tree ge nodded: “She really did “tch~~~” just now. Plus, her attitude was most unbridled and her tone very contemptuous.”
Pa Pa made a fist, childlike in both tone and fury: “Lao da, beat her up!”
Shao Zi raised her fist. Even though it looked like these two had several hundred years worth of cultivation, especially the moneymaking tree, a strong dragon cannot repress a local snake.1 She also had some good helpers by her side. It was important to teach them a lesson first. Thinking it through, Shao Zi threw out a fist and was about to rush forward when she saw the moneymaking tree and chrysanthemum return to their own spots with a “si-si.”2 The demons fell into a flurry, one by one jumping back into the flowerbed.
“Shao Zi.” The scholar raised the curtain and entered, not seeming to care about her strange posture as she stood there. He came over and tugged her away by the sleeve. “The guests have left, why are you still standing here? Hurry and go wipe down the table.”
Pa Pa and Azalea were originally playing rock-paper-leaves. Seeing the two leave, they yawned and were just about to step out of the gate, but a demonic energy coagulated in the yard. When they turned their heads, there was a ferocious-looking wild board spirit with a bloody mouth wide open like a sacrificial bowl3 rushing towards Shao Zi’s backside.
Shao Zi was just about to turn around when the scholar reached out and blocked her, covering her line of sight. He gently raised his left hand and his wide sleeves emitted a powerful gust of wind, instantly beating the wild boar spirit into the sky. The audience of demons was dumbfounded.
Shao Zi had no idea. The scholar turned slightly, gently raising a finger to his lips towards the yard of flowers and plants, covertly emitting a “shh” sound. Clearly, he was smiling, but the smile left a chill down their backs.
After the two left, the moneymaking tree swallowed: “No wonder this bugger was able to dig us out from the mountain. This must be an immortal being traversing the Mortal Realm.”
The fat bottle gourd and Lady Xin hugged each other, trembling: “What about lao da? She won’t get eaten by him, will she? Didn’t she say she was going to test him out? Is this an omen of getting captured and eaten?”
Magnolia said: “It shouldn’t get that far, otherwise he would have already eaten her just now.”
Everyone was consoled that nothing would happen to lao da and that there was no need for them to go to her rescue. Then they quietly thought, should they go, they would definitely be like that boar demon and get kicked into the sky, becoming meteors…
And so…lao da, take care!
Shao Zi followed him into the front hall and the scholar went to the abacus even though there wasn’t anything to calculate…She took a cleaning rag and wiped all around. When she got to the till, her head tilted as she looked closely at him. No matter how she looked, he was an ordinary person. There was no immortal energy or demon energy. As she kept her eyes pinned, she saw the scholar’s fair face overflow with a soft flush. She came closer to look, and the scholar suddenly took the abacus and turned around, his back facing her.
Then he raised his right hand and fixed it on his face. Shao Zi’s face twitched. He couldn’t be having another nosebleed, right? How replenishing was this tonic!
Shao Zi did not eat the scholar, nor did the scholar eat her. In the morning, many guests came one after the other, this business making Shao Zi extremely happy. As the scholar collected money and ran the abacus, he peered at the charming and joyful commoner woman, then touched his nose. Mn, no problems. Seeing that it was noon, he called her over and poured her a cup of tea.
Shao Zi gulped. How was this any different than watering her at high noon? She said righteously: “I’m not thirsty.”
The scholar looked at her lips. Indeed, they were still rosy, pure and tender like soft pink petals. Covering his nose, he pushed the cup over: “Drink it.”
She drank it indignantly. Like drinking a cup of wine, her stomach filled with boiling hot water. Her face instantly reddened. She was burning to death! Suddenly remembering: “It’s time to eat the noon meal. Innkeeper, I’ll simmer the great replenishing tonic for you.”
The scholar’s face paled: “Shao…Zi…”
When she entered the kitchen, Azalea slipped in and refused to let her leave: “Shao Zi, that scholar isn’t so simple! Don’t knock down his plans, otherwise you’ll be beat into the sky to see the celestial lords!”
The corner of Shao Zi’s mouth twitched: “I know he’s not simple, but I’m not so weak that I would be thrown into the sky with just one punch from him, am I?”
Azalea laughed dryly: “Did you know that the wild boar spirit came by this morning? It wanted to attack you from behind, but we ended up seeing it getting flicked into the sky by the scholar with our own eyes. He didn’t expend even a little bit of energy.”
Shao Zi froze, slightly bewildered. She had also met that boar demon before. Its strength was similar to hers, but the scholar used a mere finger to to flick it away.
Hold on. If the scholar is this powerful, then she’ll always be oppressed. Then, at high noon, won’t she always be forcefully subjected to drinking tea? Shao Zi unwittingly rubbed her stomach in grievance, casting the matter of the boar demon to the back of her mind.
After closing at night, Shao Zi returned to the flowerbed. As she prepared to get comfortable, she finally remembered that she needed to lay things out in the open with the scholar. Regardless of whether he was a powerful person or not, she at least wanted to find out what his motive was. Why would someone with such high spiritual powers come here to run a tavern, ya. After thinking, Shao Zi rose and shook her body, rushing to the scholar’s room and crawling in through the window.
The room was clouded with fog like a misty immortal land and a dense energy hung in the air. Shao Zi’s eyes flashed with light; this scholar was indeed not so simple. He must be a traveling immortal, here to cultivate in the human realm. A wave of “hua-la” water sounds entered her ears. She scratched her head. Something must be wrong. Seeing the fog gather in the area behind the screen, she jumped over violently lest he escape!
When his face was revealed, she nearly slipped and fell. How was this an immortal land? It was obviously just the scholar bathing in the room, okay!
The scholar sat in the bath, looking upwards. His face was covered with a towel emitting hot steam. Shao Zi circled the wooden tub twice and could not resist poking his exposed arms with a finger. This fair and delicate student, ah. His yang was so pure, even she couldn’t resist wanting to swallow it to replenish her demon energy.
“Wei, Scholar, you can see me, no? You can feel it when I poke you, right?” Seeing his lack of response, Shao Zi straightened up and put her hands on her hips. “Azalea told me they saw you drive away the boar demon. Say it, what did you come to the tavern for?”
The scholar seemed to not hear anything at all. Shao Zi was so anxious that she became restless, nearly pouncing over and dragging him out of the water for three hundred rounds of battle: “If you don’t speak, I won’t leave, la!”
After a silence, Shao Zi’s nose twitched. Tilting her head and sniffing towards the outside, she hurriedly got up and opened the door, leaving.
The scholar sighed softly, removing the facial towel and muttering to himself: “Do flower demons have no awareness that men and women should not be so intimate…”
Shao Zi left the room and, sure enough, saw Black and White Imperminance4 floating outside the tavern. The two ghosts saw her and said sternly: “Little monster, quickly move the inescapable net.”
Yun Chang’s door was also open. She rushed to Shao Zi’s side and said anxiously: “They’re going to take me to reincarnate. I can’t go right now, I want to get the Daoist priest’s soul back for him.”
“Wait.” Shao Zi held her back. “If you miss the timeframe for reincarnation, there won’t be any more chances. Also, if you were able to defeat that boar demon, you would have done it long ago and wouldn’t need to drag it out until now. Are you seeking death?”
Yun Chang was so anxious that her beautiful eyes were dripping with tears: “If I leave, no one will be there to help retain his soul. The wild boar will soon take away the last remaining wisp of it. I can’t leave, I’m going to help the priest get it back.”
Shao Zi hesitated for a moment. Black and White Impermanence were already breaking down her spell and on the second floor of Jin Xiu Tavern across the street, the faint silhouette of the Daoist priest appeared. His hand held the peach wood sword. It seemed that if the female ghost didn’t obediently go off to reincarnate, he would treat her as a wandering ghost and capture her. Shao Zi quickly sounded off, “Pa Pa, help me set up a formation!” In an instant, a sky full of Japanese creepers swarmed up from all four directions, spreading from the tavern’s rooftop all the way to the bluestones up front, wrapping everything tightly. Shao Zi stood in the corridor. Everything was sheeted in dark green.
Yun Chang had already flown out. Shao Zi followed from behind. Black and White Impermanence wanted to take chase, but their path was blocked by Japanese creepers. Just as the Daoist priest began to chant a spell, he saw several sprigs of flowers wind up his legs. Lady Xin gently landed in front of him smiling enchantingly: “You just stay here obediently, don’t obstruct our lao da from doing her thing.”
With just herself plus Yun Chang, Shao Zi still had confidence in being able to defeat the boar demon. But after going deep into the mountains, the demon spirit became much denser. What’s more, Yun Chang pressed forward all by herself and couldn’t even be held back.
Shao Zi did not understand. Yun Chang had never spoken a word to that person. A deep friendship with him wasn’t even on the table. So why was she willing to do this much? She thought it over several times, but she just could not figure it out.
Deep in the night, no words were spoken. Surrounding them was the chirping of insects and occasionally, low roars of beasts. Though Shao Zi was a demon, she was different from a beast. They flowers and plants were demons that were partial to yang, not like the beasts who liked to come out in the middle of the night and were heavy with yin energy.5 However, they had walked for some time and she still didn’t feel any coldness on their bodies. On the contrary, her abdomen was still blazing hot, as if she were basking under the sun. Before she could ponder as to why, she saw a swarm of yin energy up front. She hastily tugged at Yun Chang: “The boar demon is inside that cave.”
Yun Chang heard this and her two palms froze into ice, sending a gust of cold energy inside and causing the boar inside to howl from the cold. In a flash, the wild boar spirit rushed out, wearing brown armor. Tusks flew forward, his hand wielding a wolf fang club as he sneered: “I didn’t go and seek you both, yet you’ve personally come to my doorstep instead.”
Shao Zi stood slightly in front of Yun Chang, protecting her. She said coldly: “You’ve stolen another’s soul and your hands are stained with blood. Do you even want to ascend to immortality in the future?”
The boar demon sneered: “I don’t believe that the hands of the immortals in Heaven are so clean that they haven’t killed anyone nor dropped to the level of demons. The powerful rule the world, the weak are stepping stones. That Daoist priest’s yang energy is so pure and I expended so much energy to snatch away over half of his soul. If this ghostess hadn’t thwarted me so many times, I would have gotten it all long ago. Now, it’s all quite perfect. Once I kill you two, I’ll be able to kill the priest with ease.”
After speaking, the the boar demon swooped over in one step with the wolf fang club in hand, traveling tens of zhang6 to reach them. The club’s sharp and long thorns nearly pricked her fair, clear face. Shao Zi turned nimbly, raising her hand and striking his shoulder. Initially, she wanted to break his arm after disarming him first, but who would have thought that her hand would feel a prickling pain. Only then did she see that the pauldron7 was actually covered with with spikes. When she retrieved her palm, there were bloody holes.
The long muslin of Yun Chang’s sleeves came outwards, mixing with frost and cold air, then wrapping around his entire body. The wild boar spirit howled, the sound so piercing that their inner ears ached. At once, the white muslin shattered to pieces.
Gently and on the tips of her toes, Shao Zi retreated three zhang. In a split second, a large peony suddenly blossomed under her bare feet. The soft pink petals were chaotic yet captivating. Layers upon layers dispersed like pink ocean waves, surging out violently. The boar demon soared into the sky with his club. As soon as he entered the flower formation, his hands and feet were seized by rings of shimmering light.
Layer by layer, the parasol of soft petals wrapped itself around the boar demon. The more he struggled, the stronger the petals became. The rings grew even tighter, continuing on until the boar demon had no energy left, having been pressed inwards before getting swallowed away. At the end, the petals took form, landing on the ground as a peony bud that had yet to blossom.
Shao Zi sighed in relief, wiping away the sweat on her forehead and patting that flower bud: “Boar demon, sit well and purify yourself here.”
Yun Chang bounded over with light steps: “Where’s the soul?”
- 強龍不壓地頭蛇: Idiom. Fig. Even those who are capable can’t beat those who are familiar with the local environment.
- 嘶 // Si: Onomatopoeia for a hissing noise.
- 血盆大口: Idiom. Fig. Someone who greedily exploits. Also describes a ferocious mouth of a beast.
- 黑白無常 // Hei Bai Wu Chang: Two deities in Chinese folk religion that work for the judge of the netherworld. In charge of escorting spirits to the netherworld.
- 陰陽 // Yin Yang: Yang energy symbolizes sun and light. Yin energy symbolizes dark and shade. Two complementary parts.
- 丈 // Zhang: Unit of measurement. One zhang is about 3.3 meters or just over 10 feet.
- Plated armor that covers the shoulder.