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117 With Company and Plums

    Ah Yu stood in front of the Hundred Flower Hall. Only today, she wasn't dressed in her normal floral patterned robes that gave off the feeling of a country girl. Today, she was dressed in dark green men's robes which had been altered to fit her better, along with simple cloth boots covered in mud. Her hair was combed into a simple bun with a sheep horn hairpin that had been taken from senior Pei. Paired with her pale skin and pallid lips, she looked a worn-out merchant who had recently arrived at the border town.

    As she entered the Hundred Flower Hall, she could feel predatory gazes seizing her up. The way she was dressed did not give away if she had gained a profit or incurred a loss in the ever perpetuating game of trading. But since the merchant decided to stop by the Hundred Flower Hall, there must have been a profit.

    A servant of the establishment immediately came up to the merchant, bringing her to a seat. The table which she was lead to was a small table, closer to the walls. It was neither too close, which showed importance, nor was it far away which would show neglect. To her, it was the perfect place, as being in the center of the room would make it too hard for her to observe.

    She did not show the slightest bit of dissatisfaction, which made the servant thankful, hurrying off to attend to other matters. In a place like this, seating arrangements were always the most important matters since it dictated how close they were, therefore a few arguments over seating arrangements would happen often. Though no one dared to actually cause trouble within the Hundred Flower Hall, the servant could still be scolded severely.

    Sitting down, she began to survey the area around her. Perhaps it was out of habit that had long been engrained into her bones. The poorly lit room with lights that danced off the walls made it so that no one had sharp enough eyesight to see what she was doing. She scanned the surroundings. Darting from the plain walls to the chandeliers that hung on the ceiling and the round stage in the middle. The auditorium was windowless, save for the front and back entrance, beneath the stage was perhaps a contraption that allowed for some of the stage dancers to enter and exit discreetly as to not spoil the mood.

    Very soon, the auditorium was packed comfortably. They did not allow for the overcrowding of this auditorium, and guests who were too late to get a seat within the auditorium would be permitted to go to the rooms in the back, and they didn't have to pay extra to see the performance. Yet the guests seemed to enjoy the performances more than the actual time spent in the back. Perhaps it was the mere exhilaration of seeing a performance or being amongst other, equally lecherous men.

    The lights dimmed and all eyes were focused on the stage. Very soon, a faint white mist emitted from the stage, giving off the illusion of clouds. This mist was slightly chilly, and from within the mist emerged a few delicate figures. Confirming that beneath the stage, there was indeed a contraption. The music started to play. The figures danced. At first, it was a slow sound of soft drums and simple pluckings of a string instrument, but once the figures paused, the music shifted to a faster beat.

    They say that the girls from the Hundred Flower Hall were unrefined and untalented, but now that this dance had been seen in the public's eyes. Those claims could now only be classified as rumors.

    Ah Yu's expression became that of a person caught in a deep ponder as she watched the performance.

    ~

    Xue'er closed the last book that could be found within the mountainous cavern. She was simply unable to help herself after finding so many books and made the sporadic decision of reading them before checking back on the man.

    "Hmm... " Her nose twitched as she looked towards the door. On the stone floor, without a speckle of dirt was a single plum that was placed upright.

    It had not been there when she entered, so it must have been placed there while she was reading. This was not strange, as when she was in her focused state, anything could happen without her knowledge.

    Though she could not really taste anything, since it smelled good, she gave it a try. She took a bite before finishing it off. It was rather soft, with a thin layer of skin holding in all the juicy flesh, and the smell, it was absolutely heavenly.

    She was not one to dwell on who it was that placed a plum at the opening of the door as she had vaguely sensed that man was not the only living being in this mountain.

    She made her way down to the small chamber once again, greeting him with a smile.

    "You've come back." He said wearily.

    "Of course, why wouldn't I come back?" Her head slightly tilted to the side as she observed him closely.

    "I thought you were... " He started. His speech was slow and hoarse from his dry throat.

    "Were what?" She asked curiously.

    "Not amongst the living." He finished before swallowing some saliva.

    "What do you mean? There is nothing that would think of killing a helpless child like me." Xue'er

    "You are not." The man stated plainly. He then slightly moved his head upwards Xue'er felt that he had used all of his remaining strength to make that small movement. It was a blunt statement, but she felt as though he had seen through her clearly. The truth that came from his withered lips was more painful than the times she she whispered them to herself.

    "I'm a child." Xue'er said seriousness, a tone that mirrored his plain and blunt statement.

    "No, you are not!"

    Xue'er laughed and asked, "Then in your mind, what do you think I am."
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