A Match Made in Heaven
by Shisi Lang
Before reading on, please be aware that this is part of the 1st chapter series, so there will not be more updates following this chapter. This is only meant as an introduction to the novel to garner interest from readers and translators alike. Since 7 Unfortunate Lifetimes was picked up as a project, maybe someone else will pick this one up as well!
Chapter 01 – The Woman in the Dream
Xin Mei was turning sixteen this May, and with the impending date came her father’s increasing distress. At dinner one night, he suddenly asked her: “Sweetpea, how do you feel about your eldest senior? With his strapping body and honest personality, you’ll never be bullied if you marry him.”
Xin Mei was going for a meatball, which slipped and rolled away. She gave some thought. “… Okay.”
A water basin was heard clattering beyond the door. Through the window, they saw her eldest senior bolting away in horror with his hands over his face.
“What are you doing?” Xin Xiong demanded in perplexity.
Her eldest senior was overcome with tears: “Master, I already have a girlfriend! Please don’t leave little sister in my care!”
Xin Mei was going for another meatball. It slipped again and this time rolled right onto the floor.
Being a kind master, Xin Xiong couldn’t find it in him to force his disciple to marry his daughter.
As he watched May looming closer, Xin Xiong became more and more anxious. During dinner one day, he asked, “Sweetpea, what do you think about your second senior? He has milky skin and a clever mouth. You’ll be happy if you’re with him.”
Xin Mei gave some thought. “… Okay.”
From beyond the door came the sound of a water basin crashing over again. This time, it was her second senior who was covering his face to bolt away.
Xin Xiong had no choice but to give up finding nearby candidates.
Ever since she turned fifteen, Xin Mei’s marriage had been a cause for Xin Xiong’s concern. Xinxie Manor was quite loaded if one wanted to discuss wealth, and fairly well-known if one wanted to discuss fame. They were renowned in the business of breeding magical beasts to sell to major sects. Such a family background coupled with his generosity had led Xin Xiong to assume finding a son-in-law would be a breeze.
However, when Xin Mei was just one month old, Xin Xiong for whatever reason had invited the immortal Yuqing from Mount Sal to come and divine her fate. Yuqing contemplated for an entire day before finally shaking his head: “Your daughter has a very strange fate. Her marriage… will be a bit unusual. Her future groom will be half-human, half-ghoul. It’s her fate to jinx her husband.”
No one knew how this divination got out, but everyone in town caught on to the news that the young lady from Xinxie Manor was to be a curse to her husband. Since then, everyone became wary. None dared to attract Mr. Xin’s attention lest he detain him to be his son-in-law.
Each year Xin Mei grew older was another year Mr. Xin was wrought with worry. She was his only daughter, whose mother had passed away too soon. He himself didn’t intend to remarry, but would he have to let his only daughter also lead an unmarried life?
His mind was so preoccupied these days that he almost did not sleep. Suddenly a light went on in his head. He called for Xin Mei in the evening, smilingly telling her: “Sweetpea, Chongling Valley is ordering a group of magical creatures from us. I haven’t been feeling well recently. You’re grown now; a merchant’s daughter needs not acquire ladylike skills. Make the delivery to Chongling Valley and take it as a chance to see the world.”
Catching the sparks in her father’s eyes, Xin Mei’s lips curved into a smile. She knew where he was heading, so she gave some thought and replied, “Actually, I think I’m still too young to…”
“How are you young anymore?!” Mr. Xin hurriedly exclaimed. “Your mother gave birth to you when she was sixteen years old! A woman might as well be an old maid if she isn’t married by the time she’s sixteen!”
“Then… I’ll spend a couple of days outside and meet some… erm, promising young men from other areas, would that be alright?”
Xin Xiong hastily nodded. “Yes, capital! If you meet someone you like, just write Daddy a letter. There’s no need to come home! We’ll hold the wedding right there!”
Xin Mei thought to bring extra money this time. She’d go to another area and shop for a husband there, then train him very well indeed so that her father would be put at ease. Why, there were many people here in town who left to buy a wife. That meant a husband could also be purchased. Not a problem. She hadn’t much else, but money she’d got lots of.
The next day, she put on civilian clothes and brought Qiuyue out, then herded an enormous group of magical animals and flew away in the direction of Chongling Valley.
Qiuyue was a big, fat pelican. It was a birthday present from her father when she turned ten. It was extremely ugly, so much so that she had had a scare the first time she saw it. Xinxie Manor bred countless creatures, including a graceful crane and a gorgeous bird of paradise. But her father just had to give her an insanely ugly pelican!
Over the years, however, she began to think that it was a rather great choice. No matter what trouble they got in, Qiuyue always stayed calm in the face of danger. It was very low-maintenance, and if there was nothing going on, then it would just quietly doze away. Compared to those other wobbly magical birds, it flew much faster and steadier. Occasionally when they were met with ignorant air pirates, a fan of its wing could bring ten people down.
That was when Xin Mei realized the truth: men were the same. What could good looks do? Usefulness was what mattered! Erm, of course, she still hoped she could pick up a husband who was both good-looking and useful.
Chongling Valley was a long distance away from Xinxie Manor. Along the way they would have to cross the Wanlan Mountains that stretched for thousands of miles. Even though Qiuyue was a fast flier, the herd of magical creatures behind them were too delicate. They weren’t used to hardship and as soon as it got dark would cry for food and sleep.
Xin Mei had to pull into the mountains to find campground. These magical animals had been too spoiled. If the water wasn’t boiled they wouldn’t drink. If it wasn’t magical grains they wouldn’t eat. Fortunately, they at least never escaped from her, being magical creatures. Otherwise she wouldn’t be able to watch over all of them on her own.
The exceptionally quiet night coupled with Qiuyue’s exceptionally warm plumes led Xin Mei into gradual slumber and she soon dozed off on Qiuyue.
At midnight, she sensed that Qiuyue wasn’t behind her anymore. Amid biting cold winds lashing into her face, she shivered and slowly opened her eyes.
All she saw were empty plains. The magical animals and Qiuyue had disappeared like thin air. She was left alone, curled up on the ground. Startled, Xin Mei hastily whistled a dozen times. Normally, Qiuyue would’ve flapped its wings to fly back, but this time there was no response.
Calm down, calm down… she silently told herself. It wasn’t as if this hadn’t happened before. There were many ghosts deep in the forest; presumably those lonely ghosts were playing a prank on her. She took a stack of joss paper and some incense from her sack to burn while silently chanting.
She chanted for a while and couldn’t go on anymore. The dancing flame in front of her had become a green will-o-wisp.
A ghastly wind blew by. In the depths of darkness where one couldn’t see his own fingers came the bitter sigh of a woman, half sounding like weeping half sounding like laughter. Xin Mei stamped out the green light and turned her head as she saw scattered will-o-wisps and a flickering red robe stained in blood. Masses of hair began to grow from the ground, crawling around as if alive.
Needless to say, she had the worst luck.
The masses of hair on the ground began to gather and then finally turned into a woman’s head. It flew to her and grinned – its eyes and mouth nothing but bloody black holes.
Xin Mei considered for a while and at length asked: “… Alright, what would you like? Besides joss paper and incense, I also have blank tablets and an incense burner.”
These were essential things to carry when sleeping away from home. This was what Daddy had taught her. With ordinary ghosts, a few pieces of hell money and three incense sticks would do. With monsters, tablets and incense burners could inhibit them from inflicting damage for at least one night. Unfortunately, she wasn’t sure what it was she had encountered this time. Even her lighter could not be used; all that came out were will-o-wisps.
“Kaka ka…” the head began to chuckle while floating up from the ground. A bloody body gradually took shape under its originally empty neck. It swayed in the air, then flew straight at her.
“Wait!” Xin Mei screamed. The ghost actually paused.
“I also have this.” She offered a smile and took out a golden talisman from her purse. At any rate, she was considered half an immortality seeker. Not carrying any exorcism talisman wouldn’t be in line with her lineage. She bit her fingertip and dropped some blood onto the paper before gently tossing it forward. The talisman, which was made especially for monsters, seemed to have eyes. It made a whoosh and attached itself to the monster’s forehead.
It froze. She froze.
No effect… whatsoever.
Xin Mei froze for a long time, feeling cold sweat dripping down her back. The ghost also froze for a long time, a drop of sweat sliding down its forehead.
The exorcism talisman did not work. Then, that could only mean one thing…
“A patch of skin on your left cheek is peeling,” Xin Mei kindheartedly pointed to its disgusting face.
“Oh, thank you,” the ghost replied by instinct, rubbing the patch of skin away.
Awkward silence pursued between the two… It spoke, and was not afraid of talismans. That could only mean this thing wasn’t a ghost.
“I’ll go then,” it said at length. “Sweet dream. Bye!”
It turned and ran, but was suddenly grabbed from behind. Xin Mei caught its collar and hauled it back again. It faced her with its terrorizing appearance. The pretty girl in front of it stared back for a long time in utter seriousness before concluding: “So you’re not a ghost.”
It struggled. But because the girl was stronger than she looked, it could not break free.
“Pop,” a loud slap brushed across its face.
Xin Mei yelled as she went on with her beating: “If you’re not a ghost then you’re a monster. Stupid monster, give me back my magical creatures or I’ll cook you for dinner!”
Beaten to tears, it suddenly curled into a ball. Then, a puff of smoke drifted across and the bloody long haired monster disappeared. In its place was a little boy about eleven or twelve. The yellow pair of wings behind him made him presumably a bird demon. He had a round face and large eyes. At the moment, they were covered in tears and snots.
“Are you going to talk or not?!” Xin Mei continued to beat him. She then suddenly noticed his wings and said, “I heard grilled chicken wings are pretty tasty.”
The little boy cried even more vehemently, flapping his little wings without being able to break away, trembling.
Xin Mei intended to pull a few feathers from his wings to scare him. However, her fingers had only touched the tip of a soft feather when she suddenly heard an icy yet very pleasing voice from behind: “Close your eyes.”
Momentarily surprised, she wasn’t sure who had told whom to close his eyes. By the time she turned around, her hand was empty and the bird kid had been taken away.
“Hey!” In haste, Xin Mei reached her hand out to snatch him back, but the other person had already floated back a dozen paces.
She could not see what he looked like in the pitch darkness. She could only tell he was a man who was wearing a light-colored robe, with black hair hung to his shoulders. The bird demon in his hand seemed to have fainted. He looked down, paused for a moment, then lifted his heels again. Xin Mei hurriedly called after him: “Wait! What about my magical animals?”
When he turned around, his vague silhouette seemed to her quite handsome, though his eyes were looking quite hostile.
He waved his hand as a cold beam shot out, hitting Xin Mei’s shoulder. She shuddered and jolted awake. Qiuyue was still dozing away behind her, the fire in front of them was still warmly burning, and the animals were also sleeping in place, none missing.
Had all of it been a nightmare?
Xin Mei had just been hit over her shoulder. It didn’t hurt, but the sensation of being hit was still there. Looking through the sack, she was missing a few hell bank notes and three incense sticks; the talisman was also gone from her personal purse.
It hadn’t been a dream, then.