Three Act Play
The lock hanging on the door was suddenly unlocked.
The door was opened from the outside. The village chief led a group of people, standing at the doorway and saying, “Ning Yu Ren, quickly pack up and come with us.”
Ning Yu Ren—who seemed to have been sitting idly for the entire night—got up, her face was a little pale and haggard, her heart was in a flurry. They didn’t lock her up for no reason, so they wouldn’t have released her for no reason.
“What happened to Ning Ning?” She asked as she shivered.
The village chief looked at her with an extremely weird expression. “Did you…teach her the Nuo dance?”
Ning Yu Ren, “I didn’t.”
The village chief looked towards Cui Hong Mei who was on the bed. “How about you?”
The only thing that answered him were snores.
The village chief shot a look at the two people behind him, they rushed up to Cui Hong Mei and shook her awake.
“Who is it? Who are you people, causing a din early in the morning…? Ah, Village Chief.” Although Cui Hong Mei was usually unreasonable, but whenever she saw the village chief, she would act like a mouse that had seen a cat. She tumbled off the bed. Hearing him repeat his question, she smiled embarrassingly. “I…I wanted to teach her, but I need to have known it first.”
She was usually lazy, she had already forgotten how to perform the Nuo dance of her family, how could she remember how to perform the Nuo dance of another family?
After getting the answer, the village chief’s expression became even weirder.
“Village Chief, what exactly happened?” Ning Yu Ren’s heart was full of uneasiness. “Did something go wrong when Ning Ning was performing?”
“Go wrong…” The village chief huffed and puffed. “She poured a bowl of wine on the face of a dancer.”
Ning Yu Ren turned pale with fright, she said with anger and worries, “…I’ve been doting on her too much. She’s out of control, completely out of control. Village Chief, let me meet her, I will definitely have to give her a scolding, then have her apologise to all the uncles and aunties.”
The village chief stared at her for half an instant before he sighed. “Sure enough, you have forgotten as well.”
Ning Yu Ren was stunned.
“Actually, it’s not just you. I have forgotten as well… It has been a long while after all.” The village chief said slowly, “Yu Ren, <<Life Opera House>> is a three-act play, do still you remember what the first act is about?”
“I remember.” Ning Yu Ren recalled for a moment. “The first act is <<Meeting God>>. The villagers begged for their lives from Heaven, seeked mercy from Earth, but neither Heaven nor Earth answered them, the people could only bring their children and flee. They finished all their food and water, they were at the end of their road when they saw an opera house. A young man was sitting on top of it, looking down at them, then…”
“Then, that young man tilted the wine cup down, he poured wine at the hungry and thirsty refugees at the foot of the opera house.” The village chief continued for her, saying in a deep voice, “So, Ning Ning did not do anything wrong. The first act did have this segment: Pouring Wine to Quench Thirst.”
“But…how did she know?” Ning Yu Ren murmured.
“That’s right, how did she know?” The village chief stared at her. “Ever since your father died, no one performed the role of the owner for several decades. After that much time has passed, there are many things—many details—that have been forgotten by everyone. Yet, the things that everyone has forgotten, you and me have forgotten, how could she have known?”
Ning Yu Ren had no words.
She indistinctly had an answer, but did not intend to tell him.
There was no need to tell him either, because the village chief had a guess of his own. Otherwise, his expression would not have been this pale, his hands would not have been trembling so much.
“…Let’s go.” The village chief paused before he told Ning Yu Ren, “Come to the ancestral hall with me, you will perform in her stead.”
A line of people walked in a flurry towards the ancestral hall. Along the way, the sound of the drum got closer, louder—with every beat of the drum, the look on the village chief’s face got worse.
“Then?” Ning Yu Ren walked along his side, she asked as she sized up his expression. “What did Ning Ning do during the second act?”
His expression turned even worse as expected.
“…She ran up to the stage,” the village chief’s cheek twitched, “and chased everyone off it.”
“She didn’t leave a single one?”
“She didn’t leave a single one.”
“Even the sacrificial offerings were chased off the stage?”
“Even the sacrificial offerings were chased off the stage.”
Ning Yu Ren started laughing. “No wonder you frantically came looking for me. If even the sacrificial offerings for the owner were chased off the stage, how would they continue with <<Human Sacrifice>>?”
The second act, <<Human Sacrifice>>.
The villagers took out everything they had and wanted to give it to the god in front of them—but the god did not want any of those grass, tree branches, leather, vegetables or leaves they wanted to give him at all. Or it could have been that he thought it was too troublesome, he didn’t want to be burdened with such stuff, so he threw all of the offerings away impolitely.
The villagers felt disheartened. In the end, they thought over it and offered up another sacrifice on the next day.
This time they offered the healthiest and most beautiful teenager.
It was…a human sacrifice.
God was moved by this person, thus he agreed to bring this group of villagers to flee with him, to look for a new utopia with him. While they were fleeing, he showed a magical ability—he had a tiny box, there was a model of an opera house inside, it could change its size, it could let people go back to the past, it could change their lives. The people called it ‘Life Opera House’, they addressed the god as ‘Owner’.
“The good daughter you have taught.” The cheek on the village chief twitched even more. “When I tried to tell her off, she turned on me and reprimanded me, saying that the pretty young man is not pretty enough, she wanted us to pick a new offering for her…”
“Then offer her another one.” If not for the inappropriate setting, Ning Yu Ren would have laughed out loud. She mocked, “Didn’t a lot of people return to the village this time? There are quite a few young and pretty boys right?”
“…We did! She did not pick any of them!” What Ning Yu Ren could think of, the village chief could definitely think of. Not only did he think of it, he had even done it—it was just that the outcome was not as expected. He said with a face full of rage, “In the end, we were forced to…return that man back to her.”
Him using the word ‘return’, Ning Yu Ren could only think of one person.
“Are you talking about Pei Xuan?” She asked.
The village chief looked at her up and down for a moment, then let out a cold laughter. “So he’s called Pei Xuan, you really do know each other.”
After pausing for a moment, he looked at Ning Yu Ren doubtfully. “Don’t tell me that you’re the one who got him to impersonate someone from the Li family and sneak into the village? What else are you hiding from us?”
“Then what else are you people hiding from us?” Ning Yu Ren laughed. “Didn’t you say that he had already left the village and was getting his wounds treated at a hospital?”
They were equally bad, neither were telling the truth, neither were trustworthy.
“…This fellow knows so many secrets of our village, how can we let him go?” The village chief said with apathy, “He should still be of some use, like to appease that obstinate daughter of yours.”
Obstinate, wilful and reckless—what was most unbearable to the village chief was that the ancestor worship ceremony that was supposed to be completely under control, had gradually shifted into the hands of Ning Ning.
That was simply a disgrace.
It reminded him of her equally disobedient grandfather.
Rather than let history repeat itself, he would prefer to give up on Ning Ning. He would pick the more obedient Ning Yu Ren instead.
“…We’ll let her perform up to the second act.” The village chief stopped in his tracks, there was a hubbub of voices in front of him, the stage was right in front. “For the last act, you will perform.”
Ning Yu Ren laughed without saying a word.
She was very clear why the village chief would choose her. It was not because she had better acting skills, it was not because she was more suitable for the role of owner compared to Ning Ning, it was only because she was more obedient.
“…I will perform according to your wishes,” she laughed, “but I have to remind you of something.”
“Remind me of what?”
“If something were to happen to me at the end.” Ning Yu Ren looked at the stage that was not far from her, looking at Ning Ning who was on the stage, smiling gently, “…Then she will be the only remaining member of the Ning family.”
You would have to protect her, you would not be able to hurt her, because if she lived, then you would be able to hold the next ancestor worship ceremony, the next <<Life Opera House>>.
“Substitute!!” The village chief shouted at the stage.
The audience had been waiting for him to say the word for a very long time. They dragged Ning Ning off the stage, a few strong middle-aged woman tore the clothes and accessories off Ning Ning. Ning Ning cut a slightly sorry figure, she looked over with her dishevelled hair.She saw that they had already run over to Mama’s side, putting everything on her in a flurry, the last item being the mask.
Fangs on all sides, ferocious and terrifying.
Ning Yu Ren’s face was covered behind the mask, a pair of gentle eyes quietly looked at her from afar.
“Act three, <<Exorcism>>!”
The village chief shouted out, Ning Yu Ren stepped on stage.
Her gaze shifted from the twelve dancers to the extra person who had shown up.
That person was slender, he was dressed in green with a mask on his face.
Fangs on all sides, ferocious and terrifying.
His face was covered behind the mask, a pair of gentle eyes quietly gazing at her from afar.
“You don’t really trust me,” Ning Qing touched the mask on his face, “because I am a masked person.”
The dancers started to dance, surrounding the two of them.
“I don’t blame you, because most of the masked people are certainly as you imagined. Due to the fact that they had been locked in the movie theater for a very long time, their mindset and methods are all a little twisted—what if I’m like them? What if for the sake of reuniting our family, I trick all of you into entering the movie theater to become masked people?” Ning Qing laughed. He reached his hand out to Ning Yu Ren’s face, but Ning Yu Ren took a step back. His hand froze and was slowly retracted.
Upon seeing this, Ning Yu Ren suddenly felt a little regret.
She indeed did not believe a masked person, because she had seen every masked person getting twisted from their pain. Moreover, Ning Qing had just tricked Ning Ning into a well a few days ago, they had a big fight because of this…
“…If you don’t trust me, at least trust Ning Ning.” Ning Qing looked back in Ning Ning’s direction. “She had finally gotten to this stage, you should let her finish it.”
Ning Yu Ren looked at Ning Ning.
What she did not manage to do, Ning Ning had managed to. Not only had she rescued her, she had even rescued Pei Xuan. What was next? Would she be able to end this Nuo dance, to leave together with them, to go home together?
…But could she take this risk? Could she trust a masked person? There was something fishy with this Nuo dance. No one knew what would happen if they were to finish it, could she let Ning Ning take this risk?
Under the watchful eyes of everyone, Ning Yu Ren closed her eyes. After half an instant, she slowly opened her eyes and finally made her decision, “I…”