Midnight Song (1)

Publication
Chinese Title 夜半歌(一) (Yèbàn gē (yī))
Original Publication Date February 9, 20213
Revision Publication Date April 26, 20211
Chapter Number 1
Story Arc Midnight Song
Next Chapter Midnight Song (2)

Midnight Song (1) is the first chapter of Tai Sui by Priest.

Author's Summary

His name was Xi Ping. It was said that in all of Jinping City, among the myriad wastrels, none could surpass him.1,2

Synopsis

In the lead-up to the Grand Selection in Taiming 28, the courtesan Jiangli wins the Flower Viewing Festival at the House of Overflowing Splendor. Her win is helped by accompaniment from Viscount Xi Shiyong, who plays the qin for her while disguised as another courtesan. He almost gets away with this, but is recognized by his father, the Marquis of Yongning, just as he's about to leave the brothel. He takes off running, chased across Jinping by his father's servants.

While running, he encounters Wang Baochang, an enemy of his, and shoves past him to run through an alley after trying to scare him. He continues across the city to the home of his cousin, Prince Zhuang, while his father's servants catch up to Wang Baochang and watch the man collapse in the street, apparently long-dead.

Characters

In order of appearance. * indicates a character who is discussed or depicted but does not appear physically, and (1) indicates a character's first appearance in the series.

Locations

In order of appearance. * indicates a location that is discussed but does not appear physically, and (1) indicates a location's first appearance in the series.

Plot

In the late spring of the twenty-eighth year of the Taiming era, a thick fog lingers over Jinping, the capital city of Southern Wan. This fog is steam generated by the city's many great factories, as well as the Cloud Soaring Flood Dragons (trains) that transport its goods, all of which are powered by steam engines made from Moon Plated Gold. This Moon Plated Gold is the product of the immortal master Lin Chi's Gold Imitation Technique, and the machinery it makes possible has brought a great era of prosperity to Jinping.

The great bustle of the city brings great crowds of new workers every year, filling the city as rents soar skyward, and a whole town's worth of workers have begun to live in shacks and shanties tucked amongst the factories that lay beyond the city's southern walls.

In this particular spring, the city is busier than ever, as it is the year that Xuanyin, the state cultivation sect, will be selecting new disciples. This Grand Selection draws hopeful potential disciples from all across the country's noble class, and the rest of the population joins in on the excitement with exams, festivals, and opportunities of their own. The selection is supposed to bring bustle, prosperity, and hope to all it touches.

One of these many festivities is the Queen of Flowers competition put on by the House of Overflowing Splendor, a pleasure house. Patrons there can vote to crown a top courtesan as the women all make musical performances.

This year, the Queen of Flowers competition is attended by The Marquis of Yongning, dragged along by his friends, and he watches as a relatively unassuming woman called Jiangli performs and wins the coveted camilia crown. Jiangli's performance is simple, a refreshing change from the gaudy revelry of her peers, and her voice is matched by a talented single musician that plays the qin behind a cotton screen.

In fact, Jiangli's accompanying musician is so talented and so mysterious that, as Jiangli finishes making rounds of the audience in thanks for her win, they begin to insist on seeing the musician again. Jiangli tries to refuse, telling the patrons that, due to her regular musician suffering an injury, she had to bring in an outside accompanist for whom it would be inappropriate to be seen at the House of Overflowing Splendor. The crowd, mostly rich men and nobles used to getting their way, refuse to accept this answer.

In the midst of this struggle, Jiangli's musician descends the stairs to appear again of her own accord. The person that appears is tall and broad, strong enough to carry her qin over her shoulder. Her voice is an obviously deep voice pitched as high as it will go, and her face is both caked in white makeup and covered with a half-sheer veil. The musician grins at the audience, exposing messy lip rouge that has smeared onto her teeth, and invites people to look if they dare.

As the musician makes her own rounds of the audience, the Marquis of Yongning begins to make his exit.

As handsome as he was in his youth, the Marquis has seen countless great beauties in his time, and he finds nothing noteworthy in the faces and arts on display at the Overflowing Splendor. Feeling he's fulfilled his social obligations for the night, he unobtrusively tries to slip away.

Then, as he goes downstairs and makes to leave, he runs into the strange musician trying to do the same. Her height forces him to look her in the face when he encounters her, and as the Marquis begins to wonder why this odd person looks so familiar, the musician is struck with a look of sudden alarm. She turns and sprints away, leaving her qin and her too-small shoes behind in her wake, and the Marquis stares after her in confusion.

It is at that moment that the Marquis realizes the musician's true identity. "She" is his son, the Viscount of Yongning, the legendary troublemaker Xi Ping.

The Marquis pales and clutches his chest in horror, alarming his servants, who gather around to support him. He trembles with rage, struggling to get his words out, until he finally shouts for his gathered servants to get him "that fiend"—his son. His shout is heard by the entirety of the Overflowing Splendor, and the men in the audience erupt at the scandalous revelation of the strange musician's true identity, craning their necks to catch a glimpse of the fleeing Xi Ping.

Meanwhile, Xi Ping sprints away from the Overflowing Splendor as his father's people pursue him, heading northwest. He has to tear his narrow skirt up to the knee to run, bare feet exposed as he flees.

He makes it just past the pleasure boat ferry crossing in the middle of the city, but his way is then blocked by Wang Baochang, a rival of his. Wang Baochang is a talentless member of the imperial guard—a large, unintelligent, egotistical man with a reputation for mistreating girls at brothels. He and Xi Ping often quarrel, and though Xi Ping doubts he can possibly recognize him, Wang Baochang makes no move to get out of his way. He simply stands at the mouth of a narrow alley watching Xi Ping blankly, a pale storm lantern in his hand.

To make his way while remaining unrecognized, Xi Ping decides to scare Wang Baochang. As the streetlamp at the mouth of the alley happens to go out, he flicks his long sleeves at the man, imitating a female ghost and demanding Wang Baochang's life for his faithlessness. Wang Baochang doesn't move, and Xi Ping, assuming he's scared him witless, shoulders him aside and continues running down the alley toward Prince Zhuang Manor.

The pursuing servants of the Yongning Marquis Manor hear Xi Ping's "ghostly" cry and follow the sound, coming across the a pale Wang Baochang. Assuming that Xi Ping has worked some mischief, the servants' leader steps up to apoligize on his young master's behalf, but Wang Baochang remains blank and unresponsive. The servant, now concerned, moves closer to Wang Baochang, and the man finally moves. He turns stiffly, his eyes circling and then rolling up into his head.

The servants turn to one another in dismay, wondering if perhaps Wang Baochang is attempting to scare them as vengeance for Xi Ping scaring him.

Xi Ping, unaware of what has held up his father's servants, assumes that, when he can no longer hear his pursuer's footsteps, they've given up because of his intended destination. Prince Zhuang, head of the manor he's running toward, is his paternal cousin and the third prince of Southern Wan—the son of the emperor and his father's younger sister. He and his cousin are close, having been study companions when they were younger, and he always goes running to him when he gets in trouble. He knows his father and his henchmen can't beat down the doors of a prince in the middle of the night.

He looks back when he reaches the end of the alley and confirms he can no longer see them. Satisfied with himself, Xi Ping continues toward Prince Zhuang Manor, humming a tune and trampling on his ruined skirt all the while.

As the industrial city's dust and steam add to the darkness of the moonless night, Wang Baochang begins to wail a Ning'an funeral song in front of the startled gathered servants. He moves jerkily toward the servants as he sings, and on the last word of the song, he freezes standing upright, then collapses onto the ground. A green jade token rolls away from him as he hits the ground.

Wang Baochang doesn't move again, leading a concerned servant to approach, and when he touches the man's shoulder, the servant falls with a scream and backs away frantically. Wang Baochang's body is cold and dead, apparently already stiff with rigor mortis.

References

  1. Tai Sui—JJWXC Series Page
  2. Tai Sui—E. Danglars Translations Page
  3. Priest—JJWXC Author Page

Home | Directory