“Happiness, even just a brief moment of it, I wish I could recall…” ─Yue Tui
Even on New Year’s Eve, there were still trials being convened to tie any loose ends on any remaining legal cases from the past year. Most people were fed up with this routine, but they were required to attend. About two out of every five people attending today’s trials felt this way.
This was equivalent to working overtime every New Year’s. Empress Xi Ying’s expression was still as cold as ever, Luo Shi’s expression wasn’t good, Ling Shi looked indifferent, and Yin Shi seemed extremely bored as he watched Wei Shi’s performance.
Looking at the list of criminals being investigated today, it was comprised entirely of New Residents again and most of today would probably just be declaring “death penalty” over and over again. Although it was clearly the same result each time, Wei Shi somehow managed to say different things for each one, as if he had thoroughly investigated the case before deciding that the death penalty was the best punishment. It was to the point where one couldn’t tell if he was seriously hardworking, or if he was just being fastidious. Regardless, this didn’t really improve his reputation among the people.
However, a bit of a unique situation came up today.
Firstly, when they’d reached the ninth criminal or so, just as Wei Shi was still grandiloquently announcing the death sentence:
“Aside from the aforementioned points it’s clear to see from this criminal’s psyche that this was a deliberate crime that he has no regrets about. This means that there is absolutely no chance that this criminal will have a useful future in Eastern City, so I believe that he should be sentenced with the death──”
Before Wei Shi managed to say the last word, his voice suddenly cut off unnaturally.
Everyone turned to look at him in confusion. While they were still trying to figure out what had happened, a light meow reached their ears. It turned out that a cat was currently rubbing against his foot.
Wei Shi had an extremely stiff expression, as if he were struggling to maintain his calm and respond appropriately. At this moment Xi Ying spoke.
“Why is there a cat? Where did it come from?”
“I don’t know how it could have ran in… Or, was it here originally?”
Luo Shi checked the boundary to the area but there were no problems with it. In that case, the cat had most likely been in there since the beginning.
Since Empress Xi Ying’s tone was somewhat unpleased, Wei Shi’s expression paled. The cat, which didn’t know that every person here was a potential threat to its life, was still affectionately rubbing itself against Wei Shi’s foot as if it was trying to win his favor.
“Don’t let the cat interrupt the trial, Wei Shi, and…”
“Your Majesty! I sincerely apologize! My stomach suddenly hurts, so please excuse me leaving for a brief moment!”
Before Xi Ying had even finished her sentence, Wei Shi fervently interrupted her and to everyone’s surprise, immediately ran out of the area in large strides.
“Ah, where did the cat go?” Yin Shi looked left and right but both the cat and Wei Shi were nowhere to be seen.
At the same time, Ling Shi turned around with his hand covering his mouth, seemingly making a supreme effort to keep himself from laughing. Ying Shi and Luo Shi hadn’t comprehended the situation yet while Xi Ying was also clueless.
Of course, the four of them couldn’t possibly wait for a single person, so the trials continued after Wei Shi left. With one less advocate for capital punishment, two of the criminals actually managed to escape the death sentence.
After the kitten disturbance, Wei Shi returned wearing glasses, back to his previous, shrewd appearance and calm demeanor. Thus, he continued to give out his ‘wise’ opinions on the criminals’ sentences, sending each convict to their death to prevent those ill-reputed New Residents from taking up space in the city.
But just when the trials were reaching their end another astonishing situation arose.
The current case was, like the previous ones, regarding a New Resident. However, this time the subject was a child who had just turned eight years old this year. He hadn’t been in Eastern City for very long before he was discovered stealing food, and recklessly attacked and injured several people in a panicked attempt to flee. Thus, he’d been seized and brought to trial.
Although this wasn’t a very serious crime, this kind of case wasn’t uncommon and Wei Shi had always concluded it with a death sentence, so it would be expected for this child to meet a bad end too. Luo Shi bit his lip and looked as if he wanted to speak up and Yin Shi seemed to be having a hard time as well. Both were waiting for Wei Shi to speak and preparing to refute his suggestion. But to their surprise, after Xi Ying asked for everyone’s opinions, Wei Shi remained silent for a long while, unlike his immediate, self-righteous responses of ‘death penalty’ from before.
This was already strange enough, but what followed was even stranger.
After a long while of internal struggle, his words were:
“Since the perpetrator is still young and his living needs hadn’t quite been met, I ask for Your Majesty to administer the punishment for this one under a more merciful light. A lighter sentence such as forced labor or prison time, perhaps.”
The fact that the words “lighter sentence” had come from Wei Shi’s mouth in regard to a New Resident was enough to make Yin Shi and the others gape in astonishment. The sentences that he had suggested were extremely lenient, to the point where it was unimaginable.
“Wei Shi, have you finally seen the light? Have you realized that the death penalty isn’t that great after all?”
Yin Shi couldn’t resist asking this question. This entire situation was just too strange, completely different from Wei Shi’s normal behavior.
“As if! It’s just because the child is very cu–….Children are the country’s assets, its future pillars, and they must be looked after! They can’t just be killed at will!”
But if they’re discovered to have gone astray after having grown up, they must be killed as quickly as possible? Really?
Did Wei Shi even realize that a New Resident’s child wouldn’t ever grow up properly…
In short, even after all the trials ended and Yin Shi left, he still found the entire situation strange.
“Wei Shi, is that guy really Wei Shi? Is this some kind of prank, and it’s actually someone else pretending to be him?”
“Who would do that? Hui Shi?”
Ling Shi retorted with a tactless joke.
“But he was nothing like Wei Shi! In what way was that person like Wei Shi?”
“His naivete, and the way he executes things.”
Ling Shi calmly replied, having clearly not found anything odd about Wei Shi’s actions today.
“Ah, old man, I bet it’s just that your eyes are completely different from mine, right? And your ears? Are we hearing completely different things?”
“No, you just don’t have eyes or ears.”
“What! I clearly have eyes and ears! Ask Xiao Luo Shi and Ying, they can back me up!”
“I definitely know that they will confirm your lack of eyes and ears. The only one who would be able to unconditionally verify your words is Xiao Rou.”
“What! Why are you so horrid you old fart!”
Ling Shi was clearly very used to hearing Yin Shi’s disagreeability, so he obviously didn’t respond to these words either.
“We’re going to get together with the others tonight, have you prepared your dish?”
From the sound of his exclamation, he seemed to have forgotten about this.
“I’m doomed! I haven’t even bought any cooking utensils yet! Ling Shi, can a sword be used to cook a dish? Can it?”
“Even if it could, you wouldn’t be able to do so.”
Besides, couldn’t things like cooking utensils easily be found and borrowed from Shen Wang Dian?
“Exactly what dish do you want to make?”
“Oh, I found a pretty cool one from the cookbook I got last time called ‘Baked Pepper Asparagus Seafood Steak Salad with Lemon Vinegar Salmon Sauce’. What do you think?”
“…What kind of alien cookbook did you get that from? If you can really make that, I’ll address you as ‘The Great Yin Shi’ from now on.”
In terms of naivete, Yin Shi was on par with Wei Shi.
Compared to Shen Wang Dian where borrowing cooking utensils was easy, Fan Tong and Yue Tui had a lot more difficulty trying to borrow the kitchen utensils at the student dorms. Although the dorms did have a kitchen that students could use, it required them to line up, and they had limited time for using it. By the time they’d finally gotten their turn after lining up for an entire morning, they only had half an hour to use it. In addition, by the time their time was up, their final product was an appalling sight as well.
There were things like burnt egg, meat that was charcoal black on the surface but not even cooked in the middle, and some very wrongly seasoned noodles.
Putting aside the horrible product, the kitchen was beyond recognition as well. So, after their time was up, they were forced to clean the entire kitchen before being allowed to leave as punishment.
“What to do?”
“What do we do…”
The two of them looked at each other in dismay with the feeling of facing a hopeless end.
“We can’t present any dishes…”
That’s right… If we can’t provide any presentable dishes ourselves, then how can we ridicule others when they bring out strange dishes…
“If we don’t present any decent dishes or gifts, we’ll be empty-handed on both fronts. Great.”
I’m definitely not trying to sound so sour on purpose! I meant to say that since we don’t have a dish, we still have the afternoon to prepare gifts so that we won’t lose too much face.
“No, it would be too tragic if the situation developed to that point. Let’s go choose some gifts first, and I’ll think some more about what to do for the dish…”
Yue Tui took out the wages they’d gotten from working today, and split it evenly with Fan Tong before they each went their own ways to find gifts. After all, presents should have a certain level of mysteriousness, and if they went together, they’d know what each other had chosen. Thus, they split ways.
Fan Tong found himself wandering randomly back and forth on the streets since he hadn’t quite decided what he wanted to buy. Presents were equivalent to breaking one’s own bank to give money to others. Buying anything too expensive was painful, but buying anything too cheap made one seem petty. In addition, since the gift exchange was lottery-based, there was no way of knowing who would get what. Without knowing who the receiver would be, choosing a present became much harder, and he found the task extremely difficult.
Why celebrate New Year’s like this? It’s so troublesome.
“Are you planning on buying this or not? If you’re not, don’t just stand there, you’re blocking other people’s views.”
Perhaps because he looked so shabby, the salesperson grew impatient with him and tried to kick him out when they saw him looking left and right, clearly short on money and very hesitant.
How do you even run your business! Haven’t you ever heard that amiability makes you rich! Even if I originally wanted to buy something, I won’t anymore!
Whenever Fan Tong encountered this kind of store, he’d simply switch to another one. However, even after searching around for a while, he hadn’t found anything satisfactory. Not only did his cooking have no sincerity, he lacked the genuineness to give others gifts as well. Really, he was just going through the motions that he was being forced to do.
Eventually, a brilliant idea came to him. He suddenly realized that he could give away something he was expert at making as a gift; after all, using the local specialty of one’s hometown was always a good choice for a present. He couldn’t possibly obtain the technology and goods here that he’d used to use, but fortune-telling goods weren’t hard to make on the spot.
Thus, he bought a small wooden plaque, borrowed a brush and some ink, and wrote some peace charms. After he finished, he began to walk back home while marveling at his own elegant calligraphy, before suddenly facepalming.
Ah! What’s wrong with me! I could’ve just written the calligraphy on paper and used that as my gift! To think I even went and specially bought a wooden plaque! Such a waste──
The sight of a full-grown man suddenly clutching his head in frustration in the middle of the street was enough to make others whisper amongst themselves as they passed, not daring to approach him. At this point, Fan Tong had finally realized how strange his actions were as well, and he lowered his head and walked away in embarrassment.
The only good thing about buying the wooden plaque was that they’d given him a small box for free as a bonus, which saved him the trouble of wrapping the gift. But when he thought about it again, he decided that he’d rather wrap it with string, so he walked to a nearby store to get some.
This shop’s owner was pretty nice, and was willing to lend the string to him. As the owner went to retrieve the string, Fan Tong took a casual look at the things being sold there. Just then, his eyes caught something on one of the displays and his heart skipped a beat.
Ah, this is…
By the time Fan Tong returned to the dorm, Yue Tui was already there waiting. He’s bought his gift incredibly fast, making Fan Tong feel inferior.
Zhu Sha was taking a nap, so Yue Tui greeted Fan Tong in a hushed voice so as not to disturb him.
“Yue Tui, the food…”
“Ah, don’t worry, I asked Bi Rou to help me buy new ingredients and finished preparing the dish already. Just tell them we made it together.”
How could you be so fast? We even spent the entire morning distressed without a clue on what to do about this, didn’t we?
“Where… is it?”
“I put it in there.”
Yue Tui pointed at a basket covered by a cloth near his foot. Fan Tong couldn’t help but bend down to uncover it in curiosity, only to stiffen, goosebumps forming all over his body.
Holy crap! What is that! Actually, should I be saying as expected of Yue Tui, creating something only he could ever make? If we said we made it together, who would believe me! Exactly which part of that did I make?!
Fan Tong silently covered it with the cloth again. Actually, it wasn’t a bad dish, he was just slightly shocked. However, at this point he didn’t really care anymore. As long as they could say they had tried, anything was fine.
“Fan Tong, what do you think?”
Yue Tui looked somewhat uncertain and wanted an evaluation from the person before him.
“It’s, it’s very normal. I think anyone would be able to recognize it.”
No, no, no! I was saying that it was amazing and that only you could make something like that!
Upon seeing Yue Tui’s dejected or disappointed expression, Fan Tong hurriedly added another question to shift Yue Tui’s attention.
“Did Zhu Sha see it? What did he say?”
“Yes. He said… why waste my time and do all this to some food…”
Yue Tui let out a dispirited sigh after accepting these two reviews.
That’s… what terrible luck… can’t someone please console him? I actually think it’s amazing, but this mouth of mine is just impossible──
“Yue Tui, did you finish buying your gift?”
“Mhm, I didn’t know what to get so I just chose randomly. Anyways, I guess we’ll just wait until it’s time to meet up with the others.”
It sounds like everything is prepared, not bad at all.
When night fell, Bi Rou came to notify them of the gathering location and all three went together. Since the weather was nice and they’d heard that there would be shooting stars tonight, they decided to have a picnic at a nice grassy place nearby. Neither Fan Tong nor Yue Tui had any objections; having a picnic on the grass seemed to be much better than going to Shen Wang Dian.
Surprisingly, Yin Shi and Ling Shi were already there in addition to a third person who originally said he wasn’t coming.
Yue Tui shot an astonished look at Luo Shi sitting next to Yin Shi and Ling Shi, pleasantly surprised by his presence.
“Didn’t you say you couldn’t come because you were busy?”
“Some space suddenly opened up!”
Luo Shi was very thin-skinned and couldn’t even properly reply.
“Ah, I brought him with us because I thought Xiao Luo Shi looked as if he really wanted to come.”
Yin Shi nonchalantly said, causing Luo Shi to immediately retort.
“As if I wanted to come! I just didn’t have anything to do!”
“But you said you bought your gift ages ago…”
“No way! I bought it just today!”
Lord Yin Shi, please stop trying to expose him, it’s unfair. Just empathize a bit with his thin skin.
“It’s really great that you were able to come.”
Yue Tui looked extremely delighted. Indeed, the more the merrier when friends gather.
By now, the sky had begun to darken. After the last traces of the sun’s presence had faded, the moon rose into the heavens illuminating the evening sky.
Everyone sat down on the grass. The comfortable breeze and fresh air created a nice ambiance. Since even the moon had come out by now, it was naturally already dinnertime. Under Bi Rou’s lead, everyone started to reveal the dishes they’d prepared and braced for inspection.
“I made sandwiches! This is a light and convenient food in Western City; I’m sure none of you have eaten these before, right?”
The first one to show off food for everyone to see was Bi Rou who had made normal-looking sandwiches that seemed perfectly harmless. When Fan Tong saw this, he immediately felt remorse for not having thought of that himself.
Sandwiches! Sandwiches, such simple things! All you have to do is stack all the ingredients on top of one another and there’s no issue of it tasting good or bad, plus anyone can make them. Why did we give ourselves headaches by spending so much time cooking food?!
“Ah, I have indeed never seen them before. Xiao Rou, you really are so perfect.”
Simply being able to make sandwiches means they are perfect? Lord Yin Shi, I think your standards are way too low.
“Really? Am I ready to marry now?”
Being able to make sandwiches means you’re ready to marry? Do you think being a housewife is that easy?
“Ah, of course you can! Xiao Rou, do you want to marry someone? If you want to marry, I’ll take you as my wife.”
Someone help and please drag them away, preferable to the ends of the earth where they can disappear forever and not discuss marriage here!
“Oh? I’m so happy! But, but…”
The strange thing was that Bi Rou didn’t seem to immediately reply in joy, and instead began to hesitate after an initial brief flash of delight.
“You’re not the one she wants to marry.”
Ling Shi coldly stated while drinking some tea that he had brought for everyone.
“Huh! What! Xiao Rou, don’t you like me?”
Lalala~ Just please break up──stop blinding us with your lovey-dovey acts──
Fan Tong felt like his own jerk side was indeed very hard to deal with since saying anything unpleasant could result in him being called lowly. However, as he was the type who would never get a chance to date, he felt that feeling disdain upon seeing a sight like this was inevitable.
“I like you! But, but…”
But what? Could it be that you’re a guy as well?
Fan Tong made some conjectures on his own. After witnessing the strange situation with Zhu Sha, he felt that even if Bi Rou did suddenly say she wasn’t a girl, he wouldn’t be surprised.
However, a long while passed and Bi Rou was still unable to explain. Yin Shi seemed somewhat hurt, and turned around to start drawing circles in a corner. Everyone quickly began to continue displaying their dishes so that the atmosphere wouldn’t die.
The next person to go was Luo Shi. Although he insisted that he had only decided to come last minute and had been dragged by Yin Shi, he had still prepared a dish. In addition, it seemed like he’d put in a lot of effort in making tofu, which made it even harder for anyone to believe his claims.
“So Xiao Luo Shi also knows how to cook? It looks pretty good.”
In reality, rich people like them could actually just buy pre-made food or ask someone else to prepare it for them, it wasn’t like anyone would be able to tell. However, Fan Tong was sure that Luo Shi had made it personally since Luo Shi was a very hard-working person, and wouldn’t choose any lazy alternatives.
“This tofu looks like it would take quite a bit of time to make, definitely at least two hours.”
Ling Shi judged with experienced eyes.
Oh, Luo Shi, just confess that you decided to come ages ago. Perhaps you even started making it yesterday and failed several times before producing something you were satisfied with…
“At the very least, I’ve tried it and it should be ok, so just eat it.”
Luo Shi modestly said. Although he feigned an air of indifference, his face still failed him and reddened a bit.
Your skin really is so very thin…
Yin Shi’s turn was next. When he took out his dish, nearly everyone’s eyes popped out.
“What… what is that…”
Fan Tong couldn’t help but utter these words, unable to restrain his panic.
“Ah, this? Mm… I guess it’s a failure because I didn’t have enough ingredients. I wasn’t able to make what I really wanted to, but it’s something like gratin.”
What do you mean you guess you failed! Did you even try to make this properly? Not enough ingredients? If there aren’t enough ingredients, you can’t use that as replacement can you? Why is there the base of a goblet poking out? And that’s clearly some pieces of porcelain on the surface! What exactly are you trying to make us eat, is that even edible? Gratin? Porcelain gratin? Glass shard gratin?
Please try eating it yourself first…
“Yin, do you really know what food is?”
Ling Shi asked Yin Shi with a smile, but while that smile was extremely beautiful it also had a harshness behind it.
“Huh? Are you talking about the goblet, bell, pearls, ring, porcelain fragments, and glass powder? Those are just ornaments. Don’t think that the shiny glass pieces look pretty on top?”
…So there were actually so many terrifying things in it. And there’s just enough for each person to get some? You’re really too considerate.
Fan Tong firmly agreed with the impression that “Lord Yin Shi really is an idiot.”
“Can you tell me what else you put in there aside from those ‘ornaments’?”
Lord Ling Shi’s smile is turning more and more scary. You should really give at least one answer that will satisfy him.
“Ah, actually I wasn’t really able to stuff anything else in after putting all those ornaments, so I just covered the mix and baked it.”
You’re doomed, Lord Yin Shi.
“…I demand you to eat that entire thing by yourself right now.”
“Ah! Why! Is there something wrong with it? I think it’s pretty cool! Xiao Rou, do you think this would taste bad?”
Yin Shi, who had just suffered a blow from his companion, turned his hopes onto his lover.
As expected, you can’t answer huh. You need to think carefully; if you say it looks good, then you might have to eat it with him as a lover’s meal. Can true love really endure the test of eating broken glass?
“It… it shouldn’t be that bad…”
Wow, have you mentally prepared yourself to jump into hell and stay there for all eternity?
“That’s right! I feel that way too!”
Yin Shi grabbed a spoon and ate a bit, seemingly unable to sense any abnormality.
“Xiao Rou, do you want to try a mouthful too?”
Yin Shi brought his dish over to Bi Rou. Her face was somewhat ashen, as if she was facing a test of her love, but she still made an effort to pick up the spoon and eat a mouthful.
“How is it? Is it good?”
Bi Rou replied with tear-filled eyes. Those definitely were not tears of delight at its deliciousness.
Ling Shi seemed somewhat unable to continue watching and turned away with a sigh.
You’re really brave. I’ve changed my opinion of you two; you guys should just do whatever you want.
But if you dared to even eat glass for him, why aren’t you willing to marry Yin Shi?
Also, Lord Ling Shi, you’re really heartless to not even try to stop her. Don’t tell me that you also wanted to see how solid Bi Rou’s feelings are, like I did?
I’m really starting to believe that this New Year’s gathering is supposed to be a convention to administer punishment, or some kind of punishment game if we have to eat those kinds of things…
Fan Tong and Yue Tui went next. After Yue Tui stated that they’d prepared the dish together he brought the basket up and took away the cloth on top.
Although everyone didn’t stare blankly at it the same way Fan Tong had, they still froze.
Simply put, it looked like some fruit. However, these were fruit that had been processed.
There were unbelievably thick slices arranged at the bottom. Some of the fruit had been transformed into a beautiful display after the middle had been carved out. In the center of the dish were fruit-carved flowers that could only be achieved by amazing skill with the blade. The entire appearance was extremely pleasing to the eye, but rather than food, it seemed more like an art masterpiece.
“Oh… it’d kind of be a shame to eat this.”
Bi Rou expressed everyone else’s thoughts, excluding Yin Shi. Ling Shi speculated that it was probably because Yin Shi had been born with a lack of appreciation towards beauty, to the point where it was doubtful if he could even distinguish a beautiful woman from an ugly one.
Although this dish was clearly prepared with sincerity, Luo Shi couldn’t help but question:
“Yue Tui, you said you did this with Fan Tong… what exactly did Fan Tong do?”
Very good, you’ve asked the central point.
It’s true that one could tell Yue Tui did it with a single glance. With my clumsiness, how could I ever help…
This lie was one that Yue Tui had to justify. Fan Tong himself had absolutely no idea how to. Yue Tui struggled to smile and replied:
Oh, the platter…brilliant answer! If only your smile was a bit more genuine…
One could tell from Yue Tui’s expression that it wasn’t the truth, but asking any further would just put Yue Tui in a difficult spot. Nobody could bear bullying Yue Tui for being a good kid that was trying to help the shameless Fan Tong cover the reality of him not having a dish prepared, so nobody pursued the topic any further.
The last person remaining was Ling Shi. As the only expert at cooking, the dish he presented obviously smelled, looked, and tasted great. Preparing a dish himself was a piece of cake to him. Plus, he’d anticipated that nobody else would be able to really provide any decent food, so he had specially prepared a bit more. The amount he had was enough to fill everyone’s hunger tonight. When Fan Tong saw Ling Shi pull out different food one after another, he couldn’t help but feel extremely grateful.
It’s really great that we have Lord Ling Shi! As long as we bring him whenever we go out, everything will be okay!
Of course, Yin Shi was the only one who could make Ling Shi go outside. Fan Tong knew this was something he’d never be able to do.
“The dishes are all done, let’s all start eating──”
As long as they ignored Yin Shi’s weird gratin, all the other dishes were generally accepted. Thus, everyone began to move their chopsticks towards the food they wanted.
Most of them went for Ling Shi’s dishes, Luo Shi’s tofu, and Bi Rou’s sandwiches. As for Yue Tui’s dish, that was fruit meant for dessert, so they would naturally eat it later.
Although Fan Tong was indulging himself with the great food, he noticed that Yin Shi, Ling Shi, and Bi Rou didn’t really eat. At a meal like this with everyone gathered together, it was very easy to notice that they didn’t touch the food. Even Luo Shi found this strange.
“Are you guys not eating? There’s enough food.”
“Ah, but, I’m not hungry.”
This was Yin Shi’s reply.
So, Lord Yin Shi, you actually ran off to eat somewhere else before coming here?
“I… just ate Yin Shi’s gratin.”
After Bi Rou gave her explanation, everyone else seemed to empathize with her lack of appetite.
Although it was just a small bite, I’m sure it was an extremely uncomfortable experience, right?
“I don’t have any interest in eating the food I made myself.”
Ling Shi replied, then looked over at the sandwiches Bi Rou had prepared and smiled.
“However, I must try some of what Xiao Rou made to cheer her on.”
Lord Ling Shi, it’s really a shame that you don’t go out and try to catch some girls. One can only say that your appearance is to blame.
“Ah! What! As if I’d let you eat any. All of the remaining sandwiches are mine!”
When Yin Shi heard Ling Shi’s words he grabbed all the sandwiches away before Ling Shi had reached out for one, clearly not letting anyone else touch them.
His jealousy is really a bit overboard.
Or maybe it could be called a desire for exclusive treatment? A common problem among men.
But even if you do that, Bi Rou won’t ever grab your gratin and say “This is mine, nobody else can eat it.”
“Would you not waste food? You can’t even finish them. Hand over the sandwiches.”
In short, the sandwiches were seized by Yin Shi. Who knew if he was planning on bringing them back and offering them as sacrifices or something. Either way, even without the sandwiches, there was still enough food. Thus, everyone just let him be.
After eating, it was time for the next highlight: the gift exchange.
Since everyone had decided to celebrate the New Year the Western way, and the only one that seemed to really know how to do that was Bi Rou, everyone followed her words.
“I’ve prepared lots, everyone draw one!”
Bi Rou had folded some pieces of paper and held them in her hand, waiting for each person to draw. However, Yin Shi didn’t seem to understand the point.
“Ah, Xiao Rou, why are we drawing lots?”
“Huh? To decide who gets whose gift. You have to give your present to the person you draw…”
“What! I thought we were just giving the gift to whoever we wanted!”
At this moment, Yin Shi began to panic.
Can you at least try to think? Did you think that exchanging gifts was like exchanging diaries? If everyone gave gifts to whoever they wanted, wouldn’t it be extremely awkward if someone didn’t get any?
“Nope, we have to follow the rules. In addition, there’s one added rule.”
Bi Rou smiled widely, clearly excited to announce this rule.
“When you give your gift away, you have to hug the one you drew and give them a kiss to express your enthusiasm and good will!”
When Bi Rou announced this, Fan Tong felt his facial expression twist, and his stomach began to churn.
Miss, why do you look so happy about this? Regardless of whether you’re kissing or hugging the other person, if you aren’t doing it to Lord Yin Shi, won’t you be the one to suffer? You’re the only girl, you know.
If I draw Lord Ling Shi, does that mean I should go back and brag to Mi Zhong about it? …No, I’d probably be beaten up to pulp if I did that…
“Since when did such rules exist!”
Yue Tui asked in horror and shock. He probably didn’t really want to get very intimate with another person.
“This is a tradition in Western City”
Bi Rou blinked her eyes as if this was obvious.
Sigh, I feel like drawing lots like this is extremely stressful. If I draw the wrong person, the situation could turn very scary…
“Alright, who wants to go first?”
Yin Shi was still as energetic as before. Perhaps he felt that choosing any remaining lots after someone else had picked meant that his fate was partially decided by someone else. As the proverb said, if one wants to die, they should die by their own hands.
He drew a lot, and everyone else waited for the result. He opened the paper slip and read out the name with slight confusion.
“Fan…Tong? Who’s that?”
Oi! That can’t be!
Not only, not only is there a problem with the fact that you still don’t remember a name as simple as mine, why would I be chosen by you! This joke is too much, isn’t it?
“Ah! It’s you?”
After Yin Shi realized Fan Tong was ‘the mop’s owner’ he seemed unwilling.
“If it were Xiao Luo Shi, it would still be okay! But my arms will not hold a man! Xiao Rou!”
What are you trying to say, do you think I want to be held by a man? Also, it’s okay as long as you don’t recognize Luo Shi as a man?
Luo Shi’s expression turned dark. It looked like this statement had really offended him.
“Yin Shi, you can’t. You have to follow the rules.”
Bi Rou had no intention of being lenient and insisted they both stick to the rules.
“Or how about this, if you don’t like the rule, we can change it to the receiver hugging and giving a kiss to the giver to express their gratitude. I’ll let you choose.”
…Both options sound uncomfortable. In addition, why are you letting him choose? Is my opinion so unimportant that I don’t even have the right to choose?
“Ah! No! It sounds horrible just thinking about it!”
Fan Tong felt like he was being resented, but he clearly didn’t want to accept this situation either.
“Just pretend he’s a woman and it’ll be extremely easy for you, won’t it?”
Ling Shi sarcastically remarked while sipping his tea, adopting an air of indifference.
“But he’s nothing like one!”
“Wait, easy if it’s a woman…?”
Bi Rou’s ears perked and immediately inquired about the keywords she’d caught.
“Those women that always come to Shen Wang Dian to see Yin Shi, obviously…”
“Ah! Ahhhh! No! That’s not true! Those women are there to visit Ling Shi!”
“I’m sorry, but typically speaking the people that come to Shen Wang Dian to see me are men.”
Lord Yin Si, just a second ago you were struggling to defame your friend’s name to clear your own name, and the next second you’re laughing heartily at your opposing side’s truthful assertion? Is that really okay?
“Whatever, can you just do it? We still have to continue the event.”
“I know, alright.”
Whoa! Wait a minute! Are you really doing it? Seriously?
Fan Tong was a bit scared, and frantically looked left and right. However, there was no way he would be able to run away in this situation. In the end, he could only let Yin Shi reach out to touch his shoulders and then give him a peck on his cheek.
“This counts as hugging and kissing right?”
Bi Rou pouted in slight disappointment.
Oi, what exactly do you want? Did you think that a passionate kiss with tongues intertwining was something two straight men would be able to accept?
It was also a Western City tradition to open the gift on the spot. As soon as Fan Tong unwrapped the present, his face immediately turned dark.
It’s… very adorable, pink woman’s clothing. If a cute girl was to receive this they’d definitely be very happy, but I’m not a cute girl arghhhhh!
“I originally thought we were giving gifts to whoever we wanted, ok? It was for Xiao Rou!”
Then Miss Bi Rou, it’s better for you to just take it. I really don’t want it. Although giving away a received gift is impolite, I’m sure neither of you would mind, right?
“Fan Tong, do you like it?”
Luo Shi took advantage of the situation to interject.
“Of course I like it…. ah!”
Luo Shi! You’re toying with me again!
By the time Fan Tong had realized he’d been tricked, Luo Shi had already hid himself in the back to snicker to himself.
Ahhh! Can you guys not look at me like that! I just misspoke there! Although people normally speak the truth when they misspeak, that’s not applicable to me! Luo Shi, you’d better remember this! I’m going to tell Yue Tui bad things about you!
“The receiver is the next person to draw lots, and this continues until the end.”
That meant it was Fan Tong’s turn to draw. Fan Tong didn’t object, and randomly reached out to grab a paper slip. The instant he unfolded it and read the name written, his face twitched.
Ugh, so I have to hug Luo Shi, give him a kiss, and then give my gift to him?
If it weren’t at this special gathering, there’d be a high chance I would be slapped by him and then called out for harassment, right?
“It’s Luo Shi. Go on, give your present!”
Luo Shi was also given a shock, and his expression turned ugly.
“Tsk, whatever, just come.”
Why must you make it sound like you’re generously offering to be a martyr?
Of course, Fan Tong wouldn’t go overboard. His ‘hug’ was really just the level of touching, and kissing was even less so; whether that touched skin or not was unknown, but it was done in a flash. Who cared about the details.
Luo Shi opened the gift. His expression didn’t particularly show any dislike for the calligraphed wooden plaque, and properly said thank you.
When Luo Shi then drew Yue Tui’s name, his expression completely changed. Fan Tong didn’t know how to even describe the subtle, complex look on Luo Shi’s face, but he was just waiting for an entertaining scene to unfold.
Luo Shi walked up to Yue Tui and seemed unable to act. Perhaps he didn’t even know what to say. It looked as if he was quickly turning into a stiff wooden sculpture. Since it seemed to be going nowhere, Yue Tui just went and hugged Luo Shi himself and pecked his face before thanking him and taking the gift with an overall extremely practiced manner.
Luo Shi’s gift was extremely useful, a pack of high quality Fu Zhou papers. However, Yue Tui excelled at everything but Fu Zhou, so giving it to him was basically a waste.
As for the respected Luo Shi that had turned into a human statue, he seemed to have petrified into stone after receiving Yue Tui’s hug. Who knew when he’d return to a functional state?
You’re clearly very happy, exactly how thin is your skin?
Next, to his unfortunate luck, Yue Tui drew Bi Rou.
Of course, the only one who would know this was unfortunate was Fan Tong, who was always with him. He felt that while Yue Tui had become as rigid as Luo Shi, Bi Rou was very happy.
“Oh, Yue Tui’s gift is for me? So happy~”
Oi, you already have Yin Shi, stop trying to get Yue Tui as well! Have you really not realized he dislikes you?
Because rejecting would make his thoughts too obvious and it was inappropriate for this kind of situation, Yue Tui smiled with great difficulty and gave Bi Rou a hug and a superficial peck. His gift was a small potted plant. Although Bi Rou said she’d take good care of it, Fan Tong felt that Yue Tui’s gaze towards Bi Rou turned colder after their hug.
There were two people left. Technically, there should’ve been a high chance of Bi Rou drawing Yin Shi, but she just had to draw Ling Shi. Although Yin Shi’s eyes grew wide in protest, he couldn’t change the reality.
“Wow, Xiao Rou is giving her gift to me? And she’s even going to hug and kiss me, not bad.”
Ling Shi glanced at Yin Shi, his tone complacent. His gaze seemed to be purposely baiting Yin Shi, and Yin Shi, being very simple-headed, became enraged.
“You old fart! You can’t take advantage of Xiao Rou like that!”
Really, Bi Rou, are you seriously going to hug another man in front of your lover? You’re not afraid of causing hostility between friends? The Western City must be very open-minded…
“There’s nothing wrong with her calling me Gege and hugging me, right? Xiao Rou, don’t you agree?”
There’s something very wrong, to the point where it could be called cheating.
“Mm, Yin Shi, don’t be mad, it’s no big deal…”
Bi Rou said before giving Ling Shi a big hug and kissing his face.
No big deal? The fact that you two hugged each other the tightest is no big deal? Lord Ling Shi, you must feel great. Is this what you would call neglecting your friends when in love?
However, Ling Shi quickly stopped smiling, and Yin Shi’s expression changed from green to gloomy; they realized that there was only one slip remaining and Ling Shi had yet to draw. In other words, Ling Shi’s gift was to be given to Yin Shi.
“Ahhh! Old man, get away from me! I don’t want to be hugged by you!”
“As if I want to! Do you think your body armor is soft?”
“Get away, get away, get away! I don’t want your gift! Shoo!”
“I would prefer to give it to the guards in front of Shen Wang Dian over you, but this is a rule that we have to follow, don’t we?”
Yin Shi refused to submit even unto death. When Ling Shi hugged him with an expression of loathing and his lips brushed against Yin Shi’s face, Yin Shi had an expression of extreme disgust. It was an extremely displeasing experience for the both of them…
Ling Shi’s gift was just a different approach to Luo Shi’s. While Luo Shi had given away blank Fu Zhou, Ling Shi had given away already drawn Fu Zhou that could be used immediately. It was a pity that giving it to Yin Shi was just a waste, as he could already draw the charms, rendering the gift useless.
After the gift exchange was completed, everyone sat on the grass and chatted. Occasionally, they’d spot a shooting star and would hurriedly make a wish.
Fan Tong had once heard that any wishes made on a shooting star would come true, so he couldn’t help but get excited by the sight of shooting stars streaking across the sky. Thus, when he caught one from the corner of his eye, he opened his mouth to make a wish.
“I hope that my debt will not disappear! The more the better!”
The shooting star disappeared into the horizon.
Both him and the others that had heard his wish couldn’t bring themselves to speak any further.
Eventually, everyone somewhat dispersed. Yue Tui, who wanted some peace and quiet, went to sit in another corner and would come back to the central area only to retrieve tea once in a while.
“Bi Rou, why don’t you want to marry?”
Because he happened to pass by Bi Rou sitting alone next to the tea, Fan Tong couldn’t help but ask out of curiosity.
“I just feel that if Yin Shi knew my true face, he wouldn’t want me.”
Bi Rou sadly replied. Fan Tong couldn’t figure out why.
“Don’t tell me your true face is extremely beautiful?”
“I was beautiful in the first place… ah, are you being sarcastic and saying that my current appearance isn’t beautiful? How mean.”
No….. just forget it.
Because they couldn’t understand each other, Fan Tong gave up on asking and after filling his cup with tea, turned to walk to where Yue Tui was sitting.
Although Yue Tui probably wanted to enjoy his time quietly alone, Fan Tong still needed to do something, so he walked over and sat next to Yue Tui.
“Yue Tui, this…”
Fan Tong took out a wrapped box. Yue Tui looked at him in confusion.
“….? This is?”
Yue Tui grew even more confused.
“Isn’t the gift exchange… didn’t you draw Luo Shi? Your present… huh?”
You’re so lost. Really, is it that hard to understand?
“I bought this as an additional thing since I wanted to give you a present. I think you’ll like it. Ah, and I hope that you continue to give me advice this year.”
It’s really great that the curse didn’t do anything! Victory!
Yue Tui finally understood. His originally blank expression turned happy, and he immediately opened the present to discover something he’d never seen before.
“This is a Thousand Grass Cylinder. If you look through there and turn it, you’ll see different images.”
Yue Tui immediately looked into the kaleidoscope like Fan Tong instructed and grew amazed. He then excitedly played around with it, seemingly enjoying the gift very much as some energy returned to his gaze. After playing for a bit, he remembered that Fan Tong was still next to him, and felt ashamed for having ignored his presence.
“Fan Tong, thank you for your gift, I really like it.”
You’re welcome, I used the money I borrowed from you to buy it.
“Mm, I’m going to go grab some food, you can keep looking at it.”
After Fan Tong left, Yue Tui looked at the kaleidoscope some more before finally putting it down and shifting his gaze back to the night sky as he had before.
His mood seemed to shift from endless loneliness to one of tranquility.
A distance away, he could hear the chatter of his friends. He could feel the chilly night breeze on his skin. He could smell the scent of fresh grass in the air. And he could see the never-ending night sky and the moon that slowly climbed its way up… nevertheless, he felt disconnected from the world.
He lifted his head to look up and murmured softly to himself:
“The current me can use these eyes and look up at the same starry sky you see…”
With the chattering and laughter in the background, the youth’s quiet words were faint and indistinct.
The name he uttered silently afterwards also vanished from his closed lips.