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)
The last two sections were a bit of an interlude, but now we finally begin getting into the meat of this arc. Some information relevant to this section:
Shao Zi has been referring to the “expert” as 高人 (gao ren), which refers to a talented or able person. I used “expert” in the translation since it seems to read the best within the text, but keep the pinyin form in mind, as it will become relevant.
Shao Zi looked at her fellow demons with a hmph: “Tomorrow, we’ll have a mass cleanup as punishment.”
Wailing noises quickly rang from all over the tavern while the wind blew by, leaving rustling sounds.
Shao Zi turned around to return to her room, then thought of what had just happened: “Do you guys detect a strange energy?”
Pa Pa raised a vine, smiling brightly: “No.”
Everyone immediately leaned towards him, eyes narrowed…
Shao Zi rubbed her chin: “Did I get it wrong? My sense of smell is really getting worse and worse. I should go up to the hot springs in the mountains to clean off the muddy energy of the Mortal Realm.”
Back in the room, Shao Zi opened the door and peered to the scholar’s room on the left. She bent over, sneakily making her way to his door. Blowing at her finger, she cast a spell on the floor. This kind of tracking spell would not be easy to shake off. Should he leave from here and the spell is broken, then she could confirm that his magical powers were above her own. If he cannot break it, then she could still know his whereabouts. Either way, she’ll gain something.
The next day, she saw the scholar come in from outside again. Shao Zi squinted towards his feet, but there was no trace of the tracking spell. She blinked. This doesn’t make sense, ah. As long as a little bit of it touches him, it should be able to bind to him.
The scholar tilted his head and looked at her: “Miss Shao Zi looking downwards like that first thing in the morning is really scary.”
Shao Zi looked at him, unwilling to give up. The flowerbed faces the window, so he couldn’t have crawled out from the window. Unless…from the roof?
At night, the scholar drew a big tub of hot water to bathe in, feeling quite relaxed from the heat. Just as he finished washing a hand towel and was about to drape it over his face, he heard noises from above. He looked upwards and saw Shao Zi squatting on the tiles, clumsily casting a spell for a large net. He contemplated for a moment. It seemed like it was nearly time to reveal his identity. Then, he put the hot towel over his face and covered his eyes.
The following day, Shao Zi hummed a little tune as she opened up the tavern. There, she saw the scholar stroll in from the front doors. She was thoroughly angry, how could this bugger have escaped!
At midnight, the scholar was just about ready to go out. He looked down and, once again, saw Shao Zi casting a net downstairs…
Halfway through reciting her spell, Shao Zi heard a faint shuffling noise from the kitchen and unwittingly exploded. Those guys went to the kitchen to pilfer ingredients meant for tomorrow again! Breaking into a run, she went to the kitchen and drew back the curtain, shouting: “No stealing!”
The breathing from inside came to a stop. Shao Zi blinked and saw a person looking as white as a sheet, holding a steamed bun. Silver hair, white brows. Eyes and face were both white. Even the color on his lips was lacking. They also wore white clothing and white shoes, basically looking like a snowman. Shao Zi gulped. No wonder things felt off these past couple days, it was obviously because another demon made its way into the tavern. But why did half of this faintly pulsating demon energy seem to contain immortal energy? Could this be a little demon that’s been cultivating at the foot of whatever spiritual mountain?
The little white person held the steamed bun, backing up one step. Seeing her eyes pinned over, she snarled: “If you come closer, I’ll eat you.”
Shao Zi raised her hands and gesticulated. Was it really normal that this person who had only half of her demon power could still say such death-seeking words? Seeing that the other party was a cute little maiden, Shao Zi said politely: “The steamed bun is yours, but you’re not allowed to come here anymore. If you come again, I’ll toss you out.”
The little white person hesitated, then shook her head: “I’m not leaving.”
Shao Zi said patiently: “This is a mortal dwelling. If you stay here and steal things, you’ll create a huge inconvenience for other people. Head back to your mountainside, okay?”
The little white person still shook her head: “Not okay.”
Shao Zi snarled, too, furiously coming over to toss her out. What kind of person is this unreasonable? She was already giving away two steamed buns, but they still wouldn’t leave. Just as she strode forward, a harsh white light struck, forcibly blocking her path. Next to the little white person, there was another little black…oh, no, a big black person. From his hair to their clothing, it was all black. If not for the bit of whiteness on his face, his eyes would have been entirely obscured. The two standing together looked like a big and small Black and White Impermanence.1
The little white person grabbed a steamed bun and stood in front of him: “We don’t have any malicious intent. We’re just borrowing this place to live for a while, then we’ll leave.”
After taking a moment to recognize that big black, Shao Zi’s legs nearly went soft: “The dragon Deity!”
Dragon are ancient divine beasts. They’re born with formidable spiritual power. Shao Zi will sometimes see dragons soaring past in the sky, but those were mostly dragons in charge of the wind and rain. But this black dragon was clearly a higher ranked dragon that lived in the Nine Heavens.2 One could tell just by looking at the draconic energy surrounding him. However, why did he look injured right now? And he even had a little white snake demon by his side.
The dragon deity’s voice carried a slight chill: “Since you know, then I can’t let you go outside and run about.”
Shao Zi stiffened. Not out of fear, but because as soon as the last syllable sounded, she became stunned by some foreign aura. She couldn’t move at all and, in a beat, felt like she was experiencing an extreme threat on her life. Even her voice stilted: “You’re a divine beast, but you want to do something like this?”
The dragon deity closed his eyes lightly: “The circumstances forced it. After a few days, I’ll release you.”
Dragon energy struck fiercely, bursting at her heart and nearly causing Shao Zi to choke up blood. Just as she was about to be caught in the dragon hand, a light breeze swept across her ears and the draconic energy swiftly dispersed. Her heartbeat immediately evened back out and there were no remaining sensations of the injury she just suffered.
A wisp of blood suddenly came out of the corner of the dragon deity’s mouth. The little white snake’s expression became alarmed and she reached out to support him, urgently sounding: “Who’s messing around and playing god!”3
The dragon deity clasped her hand tightly and shook his head, signally for her to steady herself. He looked forward towards the shadows and saw nobody there. However, the aura could frighten one down to the soul. He wasn’t even…a worthy opponent of that person. The pace of his speech slowed down: “It’s us that offended, but we don’t have any malicious intent. We’ll just stay for ten days, then leave.”
From where did Shao Zi hear that this dragon deity was such a courteous person? He had just been about to beat her to death with a single palm. Even if he were injured, he’d undoubtedly be able to squeeze her to death with just a single finger. But he was able to give in so easily just now. That wind…it’s the expert! Shao Zi shifted her legs, wanting to rush into the scholar’s room, but her body was held down by the dragon’s energy and she couldn’t move at all.
A calm, masculine voice sounded from behind: “Whether or not you can stay, you must ask Miss Shao Zi.”
“Expert?” Shao Zi was suddenly filled with a feeling of safeness.
Shao Zi was just about to ask where he lived, but that little white snake pounced forward, hugging her waist while crying like a little white flower in the blink of an eye. With unparalleled dreariness, she said: “Jie-jie,4 don’t obliterate us, we’re being hunted down and all we want is to temporarily stay and recuperate. Can you take us in, we definitely won’t cause any problems. We’ll be good.”
Shao Zi wavered. People who are capable of hunting a dragon deity are definitely not ordinary people. What would happen should they chase all the way over here and wreak destruction on the tavern?
Seeing her hesitate, the little snake blinked with tears and asked: “Jie-jie, isn’t this a tavern? Are you not taking people in?”
“…” Shao Zi’s sense of duty rushed into her brain. She nodded, “This is a tavern, of course we’re taking people! I’ll go clean up a room for you right now.”
The expert looked at the starry-eyed look of the little white snake, then looked at the dragon deity. An immortal and a demon. How did they fall into dire straights and get all the way here? And who was hunting them down?
The dragon deity also looked up towards him, full of doubts.
This dweller of the Nine Heavens…what was he doing here in the Mortal Realm? Plus, he was even protecting a little flower demon?
Shao Zi arranged for the dragon deity and little white snake to live in a deluxe room. After laying the bedding and coming back out, she had initially assumed that the expert had left again. Who would’ve thought that he would still be by doors? Leaning against the railing, he looked at her with a faint smile. His smile was capable of seducing one’s soul. Shao Zi turned her head slightly, covering her nose, then finally turned back after stalling for a long moment.
The expert looked at her, unsure of whether the fifth lunar month was approaching. When the season of blossoming for peonies begins, her appearance would become brighter and more splendid, possessing a beauty that ordinary people could not see. He abruptly turned his head and covered his nose. When he straightened again, what he saw was Shao Zi walking closer like a delicate flower. Her eyes were bright and wide open: “Expert, many thanks for your repeated help.”
Doh…He couldn’t maintain composure at all, ah…He turned his head once more, avoiding her soft gaze: “No need to thank me, I was just passing by.”
Shao Zi leaned even closer: “Expert, are you feeling unwell?”
The expert shifted backwards, his waist was pressed against the railing. A slight floral fragrance flooded his nose. The peony flower that was originally capable of calming one’s mind actually teased his mind, making his heart beat erratically. As someone who was known in the heavens for being calm and collected, he couldn’t figure out at all why his ability to stay calm was so terrible beyond comprehension: “I still have something to do…I’ll leave first. When I have time, I’ll come back and see you.”
“Wait,” Shao Zi stopped him. “Expert, what is your family name and where do you live?”
“Last name, Gao. First name, Ren. The four seas are my home.5 Also, Miss, draw this on the rooftop. That way, no one will be able to track them down.”
“…” This was being cursory, he was clearly being cursory, right? Shao Zi received the spell document, her face full of black lines as she watched him jump from the railing and depart into the distance with a clear breeze and the glistening moon as his companions. Once his figure could no longer be seen, she unfurled the scroll in her hand. She looked at this chaotic yet charmingly written sheet that held an enormous spell and her face turned bitter. Gao Ren, could you at least help draw the spell before taking your leave?
Shao Zi paused, then turned around to look at that corner room. She quietly tiptoed over and knocked on the door: “Innkeeper.”
There were no movements.
She knocked again and the door finally opened. The scholar wore a set of inner wear and held a book in his hand: “Miss Shao Zi, is something the matter?”
“There’s two guests staying in the deluxe room.” Shao Zi’s eyes fluctuated and she smiled like a flower. “Tomorrow, I’ll simmer the great replenishment soup for you.”
Translator’s Note: At first, I was confused whether or not Shao Zi was actually calling him by the name “Gao Ren” or just “Expert,” but from later chapters, it seems that she actually believes it or, at the very least, is going along with it. Oof. At least she’s pretty, right?
- Callback to the Black and White Impermanence from Yun Chang’s arc.
- 九重天 // Jiu Chong Tian: Nine Heavens is the immortal realm where the gods reside, commonly referenced in wuxia and xianxia literature.
- 裝神弄鬼 // Zhuang Shen Nong Gui: Idiom. Pretending to be a “god” but engaging in ghostly shenanigans. Another instance of the author’s use of cheeky word play.
- 姐姐 // Jie Jie: Older sister, also used as a respectful form of address for a more senior female.
- 四海為家 // Si Hai Wei Jia: Idiom. Fig. To feel at home anywhere or roam the world as a vagabond.