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83 Not Wearing Red

    Unbeknownst to many, there was a dark shadow, under the cover of night that slipped into one of the homes decorated with freshly painted red vermillion paint and couplets hung on the doors. The couplets seemingly had been put up quite hastily was on the near verge of peeling off fluttered aimlessly in the wind.

    Within the home, there was a fire burning under a stove, cooking was a large pot with the lid closed with only steam coming out, and fanning the flames was a young girl of about six years old, dressed in a pink cotton-padded jacket with fur trimmings around her neck. There was a happy expression on the girl's face as she increased the speed of the straw woven fan, causing the flames to grow larger and larger, nearly consuming the entire pot.

    "Xiao Tao, don't fan too hard, or the water will dry up quickly." A woman's voice called out as she entered the kitchen, lifting up her dress and apron as she stepped over the threshold.

    "Yes, mother." The girl replied as her fanning speed decreased, and so did the flames.

    She seemed to be a caring person, as she lifted up the lid on the pot, to see that the water had nearly dried out, yet the grains of rice had not yet been fully cooked. This could be attributed to her daughter flaming the flames too high, causing the water to evaporate before the rice even had a chance to cook properly. At this rate, she could not help but give a sigh.

    "Xiao Tao, bring me a bowl of water."

    The girl quickly complied as she ran outside and fetched a bowl of water from the rainwater reserves in the backyard.

    "Here mother." The girl said, handing her mother the bowl of water.

    The woman poured the water into the pot without a second thought, stirring it before closing the lid gently. She handed the job of watching over to her daughter who was as enthusiastic as a child could be.

    The door creaked open, and a man who was dressed in dark red robes entered. Following behind him was a boy of about five years old. He had a joyful expression on his face as he ran to the kitchen. In his hands, he held two sticks of candied hawthorn.

    Giving one to his sister, he immediately bit a piece of candied hawthorn and chewed it fervently. The girl did the same, and the pair of siblings chewed, savoring the delicious treat.

    "It's delicious, thank you, little brother." Xiao Tao said with her mouth full, with her cheeks puffed up she looked very adorable. Since the hawthorns were pitted, they did not have to worry about accidentally breaking their teeth biting down on a pebble-like seed. Though it was about the time when their teeth would make way for the adult teeth.

    The little boy nodded fervently as he chewed on his candied hawthorn. The stick was near the last piece of hawthorn, and one could imagine the disappointment the little boy would have on his face once he finished the candy.

    "Once you finish your candied hawthorn, wait for dinner. It will be a lavish meal tonight." The woman seemed to be talking to both her husband and her children who were eating the hawthorn candied. She had a joyful expression on her face as she prepared to continue her cooking.

    Her husband entered the kitchen along with her, there was a worried expression on his face. The woman seemed to have sensed there was something off with her husband and asked: "What's the matter?"

    "Nothing." He answered, but such words were not believed, even when he said it to himself, so how would she believe him.

    The woman seemed to be quite concerned, but since he decided not to tell her then he must have his own reasons, and she was not to pursue him for the answer relentlessly.

    ~

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    The dinner had ended, and Xue'er was on the streets once again, pondering what she would do next.

    While wandering the streets, Xue'er caught the glimpse of a young woman dressed in a floral pattern. She looked slightly out of place. Perhaps it was because this woman was not wearing anything with the slightest air of festivities, her face was solemn as she looked around.

    Xue'er recognized the young woman who had been at the inn a few days ago. Recalled that she had arrived at the inn together with a young man.

    "Elder sister, why are you here?" An immature voice sounded. It did not attract much attention as the crowd was loud, added on the sound of fireworks that drowned out all other noises.

    The young woman turned around to see an adorable young girl dressed in red. Her mind was in confusion, "You are..."

    At her question, Xue'er was surprised. How was she forgotten so easily? Xue'er put on a foolish smile and asked: "At the inn in the alleyway, remember?"

    The young woman thought hard for a while before she somewhat vaguely remembered, "Ah, yes." she nodded her head.

    "That's good." The little girl smiled: "I can spot you from a distance away."

    "Is that so?" The young woman who seemed to be amusing the little girl, couldn't help but question why she could be easily spotted.

    Xue'er giggled a crisp, pleasant sound of water flowing downstream and pointed to the young woman's clothes: "Because you're the only one not wearing red!"

    The young woman looked down at her floral patterned clothing and realized, it was the spring festival, of course, everyone would celebrate by wearing red. Anyone not wearing that color would be spotted immediately.

    "Oh... And him too." Xue'er pointed out in the middle of the crowd, a young man as though she had just spotted him. He was wearing a dark blue robe. The color should have allowed him to blend into the darkness, but among the sea of Vermillion, it was not having the desired effect.

    The young woman's gaze followed to where Xue'er's finger was pointing, it was as if in that instant something clicked and she just came into realization.

    "Thank you!" The young woman said as she patted Xue'er's two buns fixed on each side of her head, before leaving in a hurry.

    Once the young woman was out of sight, Xue'er dropped her facade of the child and watched the spot where the young woman had vanished for a good moment. The young woman was going towards the young man, presumably telling him that they should change clothes to blend into the night.

    This made her wonder who these people were, they came here in a quick manner, coming in the middle of the night when the town shrouded in rain, there was not a single droplet on their bodies as they came in. They seemed weary from travel, yet there seemed to be no hostility as they stayed in this town. Then, there was the murder of that rice merchant, though he did not seem too important, in the end, he was related to quite a lot of lives, then there was the matter of the rice being mixed with sand placed in the vicinity of his tortured corpse. Xue'er put all the observances together like patchwork and was still unable to decide where to go from there.

    She gently rung the string of silver bells that hung at her waist. The bells produced a clear melodic sound that had soothing effects, making her close her eyes and savor in the tune.

    In the end, she suddenly thought of Gan Tian Chi whom she has not seen in a while.

    [Could this be related?]
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