Falling Dreams of Fang Hua Chapter 61-65 (End)

Chapter 61

Only after we were parted did I understand the pieces of Shao that was Shao Hua.

In an instance of spring, the trees bloomed with youth. Yet while Shao Hua remained the same, Fang Hua was already…


The Memories of Fang Hua

Shao’er, from the first time you called me master, I learned how to care about humans. You were very noisy and clingy so that I never had free time. Whenever I tried to paint, you’d get ink everywhere before standing there, all dirty and guileless, wearing a foolish smile. Once when I was playing the qin, you actually made no fuss. Instead, you carried over a basin of water to wash your hair by my side. I was astonished and ended up looking only at you. My hands brushed tunelessly against the strings without forming a song at all. I was thinking then, how my Shao’er had grown up and matured. And yet the next thing you did was fling back your wet hair to splash me all over. As a result, I broke the strings of the qin, but all you did was look at me innocently.

Sometimes I couldn’t help but think that you deserved a beating[1]. But I’ve never hit you before. In the end, I grew to like it when you occasionally came to sprawl lazily over my knees. Shao’er, you should know that I was never lonely when I lived by myself. But after you left, I’d lean against the yellow grave mound and watch the sun while time passed…

Han Zichuan said I shouldn’t keep you tied to such a little house, but let you live normally. I didn’t understand how normal people lived because I’d isolated myself from them for too long. My memories of that world was of a lively, prosperous place, filled with all sorts of emotions and desires, permeated with hurt and betrayal. I didn’t want you to get even a little hurt, but to stay with me instead…

Every time I saw you squatting on the ground, hugging your knees as you propped up your chin with one hand. You’d listen with wide eyes as Han Zichuan talked of the bustling marketplace with its acrobat shows, candied hawthorn skewers and the free and unbridled spirit of the jianghu, all with a yearning expression on your face. I’d been stunned. Maybe what he said was right. He understood you better than I did because I was just a Beast, an animal that didn’t understand emotions or desires.

The first time you requested to go down the mountain, I consented with a smile. I dug around my robes before giving you the copper coins I’d gotten for selling my medicines. When you left, I sat idly in the house all night until next morning, when you returned with Han Zichuan. You were in high spirits as you told me about the Lantern Festival,tangyuan, lanterns, and answering riddles…I only listened quietly with a slight smile. In the morning, I made your favorite lean meat porridge and specially delivered it over. At the breakfast table, you nearly buried your head in the giant bowl to slurp it all up like a little pig. Your eyes then were curved like crescent moons, filled with merriment. Later on, they grew gloomy.

You dawdled for a while before saying sorry, because there were only two pennies left after buying candied hawthorn skewers with my copper coins. Then you dug out the coins from your pouch, still warm, and placed them in my palm. My heart trembled as I took them back. Sorry…your first time going out, master should have been there to let you eat tangyuan, buy lanterns, and get anything else you wanted. Yet I couldn’t give you any more…

It was my first time feeling powerless.

Seeing Han Zichuan messing up your hair, you grinned foolishly before starting a fight with him. I felt that t

You should know, I wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. But there was bound to be a day that you’d tire of this life and think of how exciting and lively crowds of people could be. I feared that you’d lose yourself in that sea of people so I could never find you again. Already, I had been moved by sentiment, so what was I to do…?

Han Zichuan could read my heart. He said it was morally wrong for a master and disciple to marry. I didn’t care about secular customs, but he said I had to think of you. Shao’er…did you love me? I am just a Beast, an animal that took on human form and had my first taste of romantic love.

There were three people in our house.

I, Han Zichuan, and the very beautiful Shao’er after casting off her old self. Ever since you washed off the poison in the pond, Han Zichuan would give you increasingly hot gazes. Could you sense my unease? I felt very restless… Finally, he brought up the topic of marriage. He closed the doors to tell me that he was the crown prince and wanted to marry you…Shao’er.

I said no. He only laughed, holding a struggling oriole in his hands. He said that he heard a Fang Hua Beast could cure 10,000 different poisons. The warmth on his face faded to a foul, ruthless satisfaction. I was very surprised. He said that as long as I went along with him to save his father, he’d let you go. Though he was smiling when he spoke, he fixed an icy glare on the bird in his hands. If he squeezed any tighter, it’d probably die. How could I refuse? In his eyes, you were just like that bird. My Shao’er was just outside, sitting in a courtyard full of Han Zichuan’s men. I might be able to beat them back and protect you…but if you were hurt even slightly, I’d regret it for the rest of my life. It wasn’t hard to save a person…as long as he did as he promised. Shao’er, didn’t you always wanted to go where people were lively? Master will let you wander the jianghu to make a living, so please don’t follow me anymore…

Master just wants you to live well.

You’ve always been both clever and foolish, foolish to the point of cute.

I saw you sneak into the palace and pour tea for me right beneath my eyes, wash me and dress me, busying yourself here and there. It delighted me that I meant something more in your heart beyond a master or your foster family…

At night, I tossed and turned in bed as I heard you puffing and stamping your feet outside. It made my heart ache and reluctant to go to sleep. It was very quiet that night, so when you finally snuck in, I was just lying motionless on the bed listening to you. You actually went to look at the things I purposely left on the table, right? Did you like them? A canister of rouge, a jade ring, a butterfly hairpin and snacks. I couldn’t bear to eat the lotus flower you brought me so I wrapped it up in the bag, as well as…the gold powder I’d managed to scrape off the walls. I heard gold powder was very valuable, so the powder from the palace must be worth even more. This way I could buy you all the things you wanted to eat or play with. Wouldn’t that be great?

I was already making plans for our future.

The wine you brewed was delicious, so I drank a lot. My mind was a bit hazy when I touched your face, tipsily asking you not to leave…I still remember the words you said then were soft and warm. You said, I won’t, I’m not going anywhere. You promised me you wouldn’t go. I only fell asleep for awhile that night before I was startled awake. A chilly moon hung in the night sky as I heard the indistinct sounds of you talking with Han Zichuan. When I pushed open the door, I saw him pull off your face mask and gather you into his arms. In that moment, everything felt like a dream…perhaps you always liked him better than me. He was the reigning emperor and could give you all sorts of things. As long as you liked it, he’d get it for you. I was just a Beast who had his first taste of love, my chest filled with sudden pain. You called out my name with a panicked expression that wasn’t cute at all.

My chest ached as my heart hurt. I could forgive anything you did, as long as you stayed with me. Was I not good enough? Why else would you turn away so abruptly? I didn’t know how to call people. Every time I secretly dug out one of your hidden wine jugs in the courtyard, I’d finish it in one gulp. You’d always catch me, and I’d always wear a stiff expression in exchange. Then your face would fall and you’d walk docilely over to tug on my sleeve, pleading for me to forgive you.

I thought it’d be the same this time, too. I steeled my heart and told you not to come back if you left. You were so determined to leave that you really didn’t return. When I left the palace to go home, all I did was wait for you. Do you remember? When I followed Han Zichuan back to the palace, I said I’d come back after curing his father’s illness. You half turned away while staring at me and said, Shao’er…will wait here for you.

Shao’er, I remember everything you’ve ever said, but you never fulfilled that promise. It was the same both in and out of the palace…

Many days passed, but you still didn’t come back. Without you in the house, I felt helpless. Even a person used to solitude could get lonely. I began to shuttle back and forth in the bamboo grove and think over the past. Eventually, I captured a parrot and taught it to talk like you. See how similar it sounds when it says ‘Master?’

During those five years, I went searching for you and discovered that you had a new household. I saw you sitting intimately beneath the willow tree with another youth. The jianghu had rumors that you’d taken in seven princes, so I thought you found the life you wanted to live. I could only go back to the house. Before I left, I’d used bamboo to carve out various items–tables, chairs, cups and your bed…but you would never use them again. I squandered my remaining days in loneliness like some form of torture. Whenever I thought of the past, my whole body would hurt as if countless needles were stabbing me. It was enough for me to wish I was dead. I learned how to listen to the speech of the bamboo and the sound of the wind.

Actually, my life wasn’t too bad. As long as I felt no hope, I didn’t suffer…

One day, Han Zichuan suddenly appeared with news of you. He said you were called the Carefree Idler in the jianghu,with the courtesy name of Zang and the given name of Hua, and that you had taken in seven princes.

I only smiled. My body was getting worse and worse, and I feared that I wouldn’t be able to see you one last time before I died. But Han Zichuan said he could fulfill my wishes and send you here as long as I left him the Fang Hua wood after I died. Why should I refuse? I couldn’t beg you to come back yourself. If he could help me, then I’d wholeheartedly agree to his terms. With this likelihood, my forsaken heart suddenly came back to life…

Every day passed very slowly. When I picked you up from the bamboo forest, I was very happy. You must have suffered a lot on the road. I carried you into my room and took your pulse. It was erratic and wild, as if you’d incurred heavy internal injuries. But none of this mattered because you had Fang Hua…and yet I saw faint red marks on your body like signs of some forceful struggle.

Had Han Zichuan mistreated you? My Shao’er, there was nothing to fear…I’d double my efforts to treat you even better, doting and spoiling you to smooth the misery in your heart. It was fine that you’d forgotten me. I only smiled when you shared the outrageous rumors of Han Zichuan and me in the palace. Even if you thought of him as your husband, things were still all right. Being able to see you was enough for me.

We played the qin and painted; I took you to see flowers on the mountains. When the wind blew the plum blossoms all around us, I smiled and looked at you, but couldn’t see through your heart…

What was love? Did you love him already?

With my limited time, I was satisfied with holding you close, but your eyes still looked so lonely as if you’d be happier in another’s embrace. Should I let you go….? Yet I couldn’t bear to. I saw you busily hurrying up and down to feed me my medicine. It probably wasn’t worth mentioning in other people’s eyes, but it was one of my greatest joys. Shao’er, you should know that those princes were searching for you the whole time. Paper cranes kept flying into the bamboo grove, sometimes landing inside the house. I used all sorts of methods to block them so I could stay with you a bit longer. Besides, you needed me since you were still sick.

I really didn’t want to frighten you. If I had some way, I wouldn’t have let you see my scars. The bowls and bowls of medicine concocted from my flesh must have terrified you, or else why would you look at me with such alarm? You even decided to run away and disappear from my sight.

Is it because you felt distressed over me?

…I’m a fool, aren’t I.

You’d definitely say that Master is the world’s wisest, most all-knowing person, but I knew nothing about sentiment. Neither did I understand you. When I saw the faces of those princes, I realized I really was very stupid. Though my expression was calm, there was no way to stop the fluctuations of my heart. They were all so similar to me. Shao’er, you loved me. You always did, yet I only found out too late.

If I could really be reborn, it’d be wonderful…I want to take your hand and never let go. Shao’er, you should know that I’ve used all my strength in this lifetime to love you. Forgive me…

When I hugged you and heard you calling me master over and over again, my heart broke into pieces. But I also grew more determined to do one thing.

Don’t resent me for hiding my love when you recovered your memories. I have no way to take care of you anymore. Without my youth, I was slowly aging. All the emotions I’d experienced this life had hurt me deeply. If I were to revive again, I’d definitely drink up all your blood and take your life. It was already hard for me to bear this pain. If I came back again only to see your corpse, I’d rather have you live on by yourself instead.

Shao’er, just listen to me one more time.

If you die to bring me back to life, forcing me to live on this earth alone, I’d only suffer from our separation and waste your blood. If our love was never meant to bear fruit, then I’d rather set you free. I’d rather you never remember me for the rest of your life.

Shao’er, you’re so good. So good. There will definitely be someone else to take care of you in my place. Maybe you’ll gradually forget about me, but I’ll always be watching you from the Heavens. When you hear the sound of flowers blooming, carried along by the wind, that will be the sound of my heart beating for you.

Shao’er…remember this.

In an instance of spring, the trees bloomed with youth.

“Master, why do you always call me Shao’er?” “Did you have a name before?” “No.” They called me little ragamuffin, beggar, and urchin, but those didn’t count as names…

“Then it’s correct. When you comb your hair up, the back of it looks like a spoon handle[2]. Don’t you think this name is pretty good?”

When he said these words, his face seemed to glow with light. His smile was very warm. Still, hearing them only made me depressed. He suddenly laughed and gathered me into a hug.

“Your name is Shao Hua.”

A long time passed before I understood that Shao Hua was Shao Hua[3]. In an instance of spring, the trees bloomed with youth.
For an instance of Shao Hua, a tree full of Fang Hua bloomed. Shao Hua remained the same, but Fang Hua was already dead…

The skies glowed with the rays of the setting sun, tranquil and calm. Fang Hua stood before the tomb in his white robes, his dim image being swept away in pieces by the wind. His head was lowered to look at me quietly, and a calm smile was on his face. I raised my face while holding back the dreary grief in my heart, opening my eyes as wide as I could to take the sight of him in…

Even though we were only a step apart, it was like the difference between Heaven and Earth. We stared at each other with all the weight of our love. I bore my pain as best as I could, groping with a hand to try and touch his flickering form.

“Fang Hua, I was wrong.” I’ll treat you better so you’re never sad again…

He only gave me a pitying smile and kept staring, as if trying to see if I was telling the truth. A sleeve rose as he reached a hand towards me. We were only a hair’s width apart, yet I couldn’t even touch his fingers. I only grabbed air before slipping right through that hand.

“I’m begging you, please don’t go.”

With no other choice, he kept smiling. I desperately tried to hold onto him, but grasped nothing. His indistinct image stood beneath the boundless horizon, disappearing after the next gust of wind. His sorrowful eyes lingered the longest before everything vanished. Nongyu was stunned. I lost all my strength and sank to the ground. Before I could react, the Fang Hua wood began to glow. I wiped my eyes on my sleeves, my mind completely blank.

The red Fang Hua wood contained the spirit of his soul and shone with dazzling light that lit up the whole sky. The setting sun gradually faded in brilliance to a warm glow. In that moment, another mirage appeared with various scenes of the past, some strange and unfamiliar as they flitted past my eyes. It was only a brief flash, but I saw all the memories buried within Fang Hua’s body. They were carved into his bones, these memories of his past life, etched so deeply that it made me ache with pain.

The clouds in the sky reflected the sunset, showing the form of a white- robed man before the burial mound. He blocked the sun with his hands as his alluring lips drew into a beautiful smile. Abruptly, he lowered his head and dug out the bit of red wood in the dirt. There was warmth in his hands as he used a small knife to whittle the branch into the shape of a hairpin.

Within a house, a white-robed man was squatting in front of the stove, carefully feeding wood into the fire. In one hand, he awkwardly held a fan to fan the flames. Suddenly, the flames leapt up from the stove, scattering sparks everywhere. Frightened, the man fell to the ground, clapping his hands as he went to fumble for water in a large crock. It took awhile before he ladled a dipper-full straight atop the cooking range. The fire went out and the man stared at the aftermath, not knowing where he’d gone wrong. Smoke had dyed his white robes gray, and his filthy face was covered in soot, except for a bright red mole at the corner of one eye. He looked adorable.

Numerous scenes like these floated past the clouds, shifting and changing as they sucked in the person’s soul. All of them flickered past my eyes…

A common-looking court lady snuck into one of the palace rooms under cover of moonlight. She stealthily leaned against a table before rifling through the bag left on its surface. The man was lying on his side on the bed, watching her work with a broad smile. When the girl turned back, he immediately shut his eyes before slowly opening them again to see her.

The court lady took out all the items in the bag. She couldn’t help but tug on her wrinkling face mask from time to time, unable to hide her surprise and delight. In the dark, he kept watching her with a face filled with warmth. The moonlight was like water, quietly illuminating the secret hearts of these two people.

In an empty house amongst the bamboo, a lifeless man walked through room after room before coming to a stop. A parrot flew onto his shoulder. He played with the bird a bit before finally showing a smile. His mouth opened and closed, as if he was teaching it how to speak. After a long while, the parrot stuck out a claw to clean its feathers.

He stopped smiling, but stood there quietly, hand slowly stroking a set of robes on a bed. He seemed reluctant to part with it before picking up a wooden comb resting on a dressing table. Fingers gripped around it so tight that they began to bleed, and yet he only lowered his head to smell the scent of the comb, eyebrows furrowing with grief. Again and again, he called that person’s name in sorrow.

— The colors of the memories were much brighter now. The reflection of the setting sun brought us back to a kitchen, where a man was sitting dejectedly on the floor. He wrinkled his brows as he chewed on his sleeve, faint sweat gathering on his face. Despite his pain, he was smiling in satisfaction. Pieces of his flesh mixed with other ingredients to cook slowly over the fire. His sleeve grew damp as he carefully carried a small cup of medicine into the girl’s rooms. After a while, he remembered something and went back to wrap up some candied fruit from the kitchens. Returning to the girl’s room, he prepared to knock on the door–but saw that she had dumped out all his medicine. Stunned, he leaned against the wall, eyes closed in a helpless smile, before turning to walk away.

A strong gust of wind swept away the remaining clouds to reveal clear skies. The images grew fainter and fainter until only one remained.

The mole at the corner of the man’s eye was already dark red. A girl slept soundly beneath the covers as he watched from the foot of her bed. Outside the window, apricot blossoms fell like rain beneath the pleasant sunshine. He kept his quiet vigil, a few rays of sunlight hitting his form to give a golden sheen to his white robes. As he watched her face, he called her name over and over again, as if afraid of missing even one more second by her side.

And then, he drew closer with eyes shut to give her a kiss.

The girl simply rolled over in response. He remaining kneeling by the bed, staring at her back but not daring to touch her, face choked with soundless sobs.

The red wood faded as the mirage disappeared, leaving the skies empty. I stared upwards, my hands clenched as my heart shook. My body had long soaked up the love from all these years until it was engraved into my heart, carved into my bones, and buried deep in my marrow. It would follow me forever into eternity. Fang Hua…thank you for loving me.


[1] deserved a beating (⽋打) – qianda, basically meaning deserved to be taught a lesson, to be disciplined, etc.

[2] spoon handle – once again, the ‘shao’ in Shao’er is the same as the ‘shao’ for ‘spoon’.

[3] Shao Hua was Shao Hua ( 勺 嬅 是 韶 华 ) − shaohua shi shaohua, Shao’er’s full name Shao Hua (or “pretty spoon”) sounds the same as Shao Hua (or “beautiful springtime”) despite being written with different characters.


And yet, why were things so sorrowful? Because love was demanding.

After that day, I fell ill for a month. Luckily, Nongyu’s medical skills were brilliant enough to snatch back my life. Under his care, my broken body became as doughty as a dragon and lively as a tiger[1]. Because of urgent matters, Little Li had to return to the palace, but it was for the best. If he could convince the expectant Han Zichuan to give up on me, it’d be even better. The sentiment-injured Fang Hua wood was now red and would take human form soon, so Han Zichuan would never get his poison resistant wood again.

As we entered winter, the first snow fell. When my sickness was just about gone, Nongyu became absent-minded. He never fully recovered from the shock of seeing the spirit of Fang Hua that day. When I urged him to leave the mountain, he obediently agreed. The day he left, he left me many, many different medicines. That mess of bottles and containers of pills were both strange and familiar…many of the most precious pills I recognized as works by Second and Third. Who knew how they were doing now…but those things had nothing to do with me. Without a good-for-nothing master like me, who didn’t know how to do anything, their lives would probably be much better.

After Nongyu left the mountain, I sealed up all paths leading in. There were too many people in the world who’d want to peek at the Fang Hua wood. I just wanted to use my remaining time to stay by his side and live together. —

Today was very warm. I bent over the bed to slip on my shoes, open the doors, and bathed my body under the winter sunshine, feeling strange. Much of the snow outside seemed to have thawed. I gave a lazy stretch and warmed myself up before setting to work.

Beneath the Wutong tree in the courtyard was buried the wine Fang Hua and I made together last time. He loved to drink when he was alive. With winter so cold, it must be unbearable for him, so I should bring some to satisfy his craving. Otherwise he’d get mad at me again. My lips curled into a smile. “Shào’er, do you know where we put the shovel?”

As soon as I spoke, I fell in a daze.

Around me, all was still beyond the glittering snow. It was awhile before I recovered my senses. The parrot had disappeared after telling me Fang Hua was buried at the yellow earth hill. I squatted on the ground, burying my head in my knees, and gave a quiet, helpless smile. So living by yourself really could get lonely. It was already hard for me to get used to one day, so how did Fang Hua survive for five years? The cold wind made me sneeze, so I rose to my feet to rub my face with my sleeves. I puffed a breath into my hands before rubbing them together.

“That’s enough of that. Time to find the shovel before Fang Hua gets anxious from waiting.”

I stopped outside one of the rooms on the west side, spotting a lock on the door. I scratched my head before circulatingqi in my abdominal region and striking out with my hand. Dust splattered all over my face, but the force from my palm smashed the lock into countless tiny pieces until it ceased to exist. A breeze slipped out between the door cracks before it creaked open. I walked ignorantly, trying to feel my way about. Before my eyes, there was a scroll after scroll of high quality xuan[2] paper hanging from the rafters. A few rays of sunlight shone down…illuminating floating dust motes in the air…

I raised my head. All of the hanging papers followed the same pattern, with the same person painted on each one. As the wind swayed the paintings, the person on the paper seemed to waver between crying and smiling. Unabashedly clever and good-looking, a little sham

Fang Hua, you always manage to touch my feelings when I’m loneliest. But that only made me more morose. I spent a long time in that room before I collected my emotions, found the shovel, and went off to see Fang Hua with wine jug in tow.

The grave mound was nearly buried beneath the snow. On the other side of the grave, the snow was scattered with signs of melting. Somewhere within that snowdrift was a small Fang Hua wood. Whenever the wind blew, its distinctive fragrance filled my whole body, as if that person was still by my side. He’d say, Shao’er…the wine you brew was the best I ever drank. I don’t know if this time next year, I can taste it again.

My eyes were growing a little hot…

Master, Shao’er’s already remembered all the secrets to brewing wine, but there’s no one left to drink it with me anymore.

I lifted the wine jug and took a long drink, its pungent flavor making me choke and cough…I clumsily wiped my face with my hands and started to cry soundlessly. During the month I was sick, I never forgot to bother Nongyu to take my blood to Fang Hua. Even when I was only half- conscious, I’d clamor and make a racket until I felt the familiar pain in my wrists. Every time, Nongyu would feel both angry and distressed.

It didn’t matter what he felt. As long as Fang Hua had enough blood to feed him so he could grow up strong and sturdy…

I poured the jug of wine onto the greedy yellow earth, who drank in the rich and mellow liquid. It washed away the melting snow but didn’t reveal the familiar red Fang Hua wood. Squatting on the ground, I stared at the snow before pawing through with my hands…and was greeted with a surprise. A single dead branch stood in the snowfield, but the red Fang Hua wood had faded in color to sprout four limbs. They had the quality of jade but were even whiter than snow.

Fang Hua, you’re finally coming back…

For a moment, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I was too busy to worry about the cold and sat straight in the snow, covering my eyes with my sleeves. Despite this, the tears still soaked through my clothes. Everything felt like a dream. When I recovered enough to look again, the warm sunlight almost made me dizzy. I leaned against the grave mound to sit by his side and couldn’t help but touch him with my fingers. The tiny hand on the hand slowly moved in response, and my gaze softened. Only then did I stop worrying and slowly grasp the hand.

Fang Hua, your hands are very cold. I’ll keep you warm. Fang Hua, when are you going to grow bigger?
Don’t be afraid, I’m your Shao Hua.

Three months later.

Ever since Fang Hua first showed signs of life, I wanted to wrap myself in bedcovers and camp out by the grave on my bamboo mat so we could spend more time together. Though the weather was gradually getting warmer, my body wasn’t as good as it used to be. My hands would always shake. Fortunately, my vast reserves of internal energy and Nongyu’s stores of pills meant I was still holding it together. Maybe it was due to my lack of vitality, but I’d stopped getting my period ages ago. That was fine, though.

The Fang Hua wood in the earth had already grown a face along with its hands and feet. Its entire body was white and soft to the touch. Of course, I didn’t take too many liberties, afraid that it’d scare him. The grass by the yellow earth hill had started to sprout, spreading the its soft fragrance with every burst of wind. I leaned against the tomb to watch him, loving him more and more with each glance. I didn’t bother with anything else. Sitting by him eventually changed to lying by him, where I’d scoot close to watch. These days, the contours of the little fellow’s face was slowly growing clearer. He had a beautiful, exquisite face, almost exactly the same as Fang Hua’s…

No…to be more accurate, he was much younger than Fang Hua, but his forehead resembled him so much. With his eyes closed, he really looked like he was fast asleep. I lightly touched his cheek, and his tiny eyebrows scrunched up as if I was disturbing him. My hand lifted anxiously, but it was just a false alarm. His eyebrows slowly smoothed out again. What I’d felt beneath my fingers was unexpectedly soft, giving me a mixture of sweetness and sadness. For a moment, it was almost too much to bear. He really was alive and would grow into human form soon. I took a deep breath and knelt on a ground in a trance, before raising my eyebrows into a smile.

“You must be hungry. Just wait…Shao’er will give you something tasty to eat.”

I bit around a mouthful of my sleeve as I took a small dagger from my waist, slicing a cut on my wrist. Blood gurgled out to splash by the dirt at his feet, filling the air with a raw smell. I gritted my teeth as I squeezed out more blood, body leaning against the tomb as I tipped my hand to better allow the bleeding. My other sleeve rose up to cover my face as I turned away, too scared to look.

It’d been this long…but I was still a little afraid to see such fresh red stuff.

My head was so dizzy.

Everyone else slit their wrists to commit suicide, yet I was basically killing myself once a day.

The wind was very gentle. My hand drooped listlessly by Fang Hua’s side, the fingertips a little chilly. The temperature in my body flowed away with the blood… I heard a small breathing noise that turned my mind blank. Astonished, I raised my head and saw that little fellow still sniffing about with eyes closed before he found my wrist and started to suck. At the same time I felt something warm, he began to greedily drink, his head swaying back and forth in a daze. I could only stare in a trance.

The warm feeding noises brought a numb limpness to my wound that spread outwards. Some sort of qi flowed between the place where we touched, filling my heart with a strange sensation. My vision turned blurry as more images appeared before my mind’s eye in a chaotic mess…

Were these Fang Hua’s memories from a past life? My mind blank, I fell into a faint and had a dream.

Springtime in March, the willow catkins floated through the air as the water rippled.

There was a youth of about seventeen to eighteen years old sitting on a stone seat, a sleeve drenched in the water as he released a white lotus lantern into the pond. This youth had his eyebrows knitted over a young and tender face and was unmistakably a young Fang Hua. Behind him stood a man dressed in white robes, the face obscured by willow branches as he spoke in a soft, pleading voice.

“Lord Hua, please help me treat my husband.”

Though the figure was dressed as a man, the voice made me realize it was a woman–one with exceptional heroic bearing. Fang Hua ignored her to stare off into the distance. The spring waters seem to ripple with anxiety. That woman stood for a long time before a little child’s cry rose from her chest. She helplessly tried to comfort the child, before speaking in a low voice.

“Even if I’ve wronged you, don’t drag others into it.”

Fang Hua suddenly turned around, raising his voice. “Even if your husband only has one breath left, so what? Even if I can cure hundreds of different illnesses, I won’t cure his.” So speaking, he turned away again. For such a mild-mannered person, his face could still turn red when he was exasperated.

She heaved a sigh by his side. Perhaps the noise was too harsh, because her frightened child immediately stopped crying. The little face turned sullen as the child grabbed at the woman’s jacket, but there was no energy to form it into a fist. Slowly, the sounds of the child grew weaker…

“What’s wrong with her?” Fang Hua’s vision gradually landed on the small baby.

“The little one’s been constantly crying, but I don’t know why,” said the woman, busying comforting her child. Fang Hua took the child from her arms and spoke lightly.

“This fellow’s to be pitied as well. I suspect your husband passed on the poison in his body to her as well. I’ll save the child but nothing else. You can find another person for that.” Turning around, Fang Hua stiffly carried the tired girl away, not even a bit reluctant. The woman stared blankly after his retreating form.
In the pond…the lotus flower lantern had already floated far away. Beneath the shade of a tree, Fang Hua sat with his eyebrows still knitted.
He looked reluctantly at the child in his arms before he slowly smiled–an unsightly expression that looked worse than someone crying. I could understand that kind of inner sorrow.

He said, I’m only saving this child…because she’s yours.

Inside the house.

“You’re not a bit like your father or mother…” Fang Hua lay on the bed, poking the little fellow’s cheek with his finger. The child spread her limbs, wide eyes staring at him as she babbled nonsense, before finding his finger and sucking on it.

“Drink it slowly. Are you taking this for milk? My blood is very precious.”

The little child seemed to have understood as she closed her eyes. Under the hazy lamplight, Fang Hua rested his head in his hands, a warm expression on his face. He stared at the little fellow as if recalling something before his expression fell into shadow. The dark red mole at the corner of his eye was startling in its hue.

Thick fog rolled across the scene, boundless and white. When it dissipated, everything cleared up a bit better. Another scene of the house appeared. The inside was the same as before, but the little child had grown up. She wore a cap on her head and a long jacket that dragged almost to the ground. Her feet were bare as she staggered around the house.

The door opened.

Fang Hua came in with a jug of wine, looking sick as heart as he raised his head to down the alcohol. A sleeve rose to wipe his face before he looked at the toddler flitting about. He smiled as if laughing at himself, seemingly desolate. After walking a few steps, he bent down and grabbed the girl by her clothes. The child stared fixedly at him, cramping her brows as if angry. He wrapped around her in an embrace and patted her softly.

“Your father finally died…do you know?”

The little child seemed uninterested in his words. She used a chubby finger to wind his black hair around and around her hand before shutting it in her fist with a closed-eye smile.

“Should I return you to her…?” Fang Hua bent over, poking her cheek softly as he spoke to himself. “I won’t live for much longer, so if I keep you…”

The child stared at Fang Hua’s sleeve before grabbing it to nibble. “Eh?” Fang Hua crouched down, prying her off. “You’re teething.” Seeing that she couldn’t gnaw on the sleeve, the child crinkled her brows before setting to work on his finger. When Fang Hua withdrew it with a yelp, it was already covered in saliva.

“Speaking of that,” Fang Hua looked around, wiping his hand on his robes. “If I keep you, she’ll find me sooner or later. Every time, it’s alway me waiting for her. I want her to wait for me once. Don’t you think that’s right…?” He laughed, and the child laughed with him. Who knew what amused them both, but it probably wasn’t the same thing.

“What’s it like, being loved…?” Fang Hua’s smile faded. His eyes grew dark as he took out the waist sash from her gnawing mouth and gave a sigh. He slowly straightened and poured himself a cup of tea, taking a book along the way to read. Though his eyes were on the words, his heart wasn’t in it.

Some time later, Fang Hua’s eyes drooped as he dropped into a doze. Just then, a bright sound rang out. When he turned to look, he couldn’t help but laugh. The little child had been drenched through with something, her hand holding on with a death grip to a piece of tablecloth as she stood bow- legged on the ground. A giant wooden basin was overturned on the ground, soaking a large portion of the floor. She stared dumbly at Fang Hua with a terrified expression, as if trying not to cry. The skin that was once as clear as white tofu wavered between turning red and turning black, looking extremely livid.

Only then did Fang Hua calm down and walk over. He glanced at the overturned tub, gave her a sniff, and hurriedly put her under his arm before running outside to toss her into the pond. He had no time to undress but strode in right afterwards, rolling up his sleeves to wash her off.

“Look at you. Of all the things to play with, you chose my half-finished pill formula. Now see, you’re all dirty…how am I supposed to get all this black stuff off your body?”

Neither scrubbing nor washing worked. Her whole body was completely dark, dying the pretty girl into a shade of charcoal. Fang Hua gave a long exhale and said, “I doubt that even your own mother could recognize you now.” Then he fell into thought. Perhaps it’d be better if she didn’t.

It seemed like the Heavens were helping him. This little fellow had recognized him as family in the end. If someone really took her away, it’d be more painful than cutting off his own flesh. Within the pond, one big person and one little person stared at each other. Suddenly the smaller figure trembled and turned around to dog paddle away.

“What’s that, what’re you doing?” Fang Hua stared after her trailing shirt collar. She was still treading water, swimming earnestly. When he finally picked up her dripping form from the pond, there was an extra red lotus in her hand.

“Is this for me?” Fang Hua said happily, drawing her over and grasping her hand. As soon as he went to grab the flower, the little child withdrew her hand. When he tried again, she felt even more wronged and withdrew it again.

“So…it’s not for me after all,” Fang Hua had a rare moment of disappointment on his face. Suddenly, the little child felt herself being lowered back down again. Inches away from the water, a chubby hand stuck out the red lotus in offering again.

“I was just saying,” Fang Hua smiled. “You must have gotten this red lotus for me.” He let go as she fell in with a splash, stirring up all the other flowers in the pool.

The streets were noisy and bustling, filled with people. Fang Hua led the little child along as he wandered aimlessly through the town. She gave intense stares to the hawkers peddling their various colorful wares. Fang Hua looked at her quietly before digging into his robes with his hands. He only found a few copper coins and ended up leading her away.

Inside the house, Fang Hua sat in the courtyard, paring away at some wood as he sat deep in thought. Eventually, he began to carve… The   little   child   squatted   on   the   ground,   holding    a    newly- made diabolo and rattle drum as she played with them in delight. Fang Hua lifted his head and watched her have fun, unaware of the growing smile on his face. Time slowly passed for them both.

One snowy day, a coughing Fang Hua took unsteady steps as he led along a small, well-dressed girl. The wind was fierce as it blew across their footsteps, one big, one small. He was wearing a white fox-fur overcoat that hid most of his face except the pitch-black mole by his eye. His eyes were laden with grief as he reluctantly touched the little child chewing on her candy.

With a soft smile, he handed over the child to an old beggar in a dilapidated temple. Then he reached into his sleeves and took out all the silver he had, placing them in the old beggar’s hands. When all was done, he remembered one more thing and draped the fox fur overcoat over the little child’s head, cocooning her in warmth. He knelt down and held her in his embrace, wanting to say something amidst his uncontrollable coughs.

Wait for me, I’ll come back for you.

Then he slowly turned around and disappeared into the snow.

Dark clouds covered the skies as a thinly-dressed Fang Hua staggered before the yellow earth grave mound. He collapsed onto the ground, swallowed up in a sea of flames until he transformed into a branch of dead wood. The moment that raging fire consumed his being, I finally understood his sorrow. He wasn’t resigned to such an end…for the sake of a person he couldn’t love, he filled up that lonely house with many beautiful scenes. He was always waiting and hoping while giving up pieces of his own life.

Finally, he gave that person’s child away to another person, hiding her in a place only he would know. On the day before he died, he put stakes in a gamble he was guaranteed to win, a stake that would prove that he had once lived this life. If that person loved him, she’d come back to to grieve for him, perhaps giving him a chance to reclaim his soul.

If that person didn’t love him, then…for the sake of her only child, she’d use her own blood to revive him. Only then could the reborn Fang Hua remember the memories of his past life and recall where he’d left her daughter. It was a gamble where he could already see the ending, where he didn’t have to wait silently or bide his time…

And yet, why was he so sorrowful? Perhaps because this love was forced.


[1] doughty as a dragon and lively as a tiger ( ⽣⻰活虎) – shenglong huohu, to be brimming/bursting with energy, to be full of vigour. Healthy.

[2] xuan ( 宣 ) – a type of high quality paper traditionally made in Xuancheng (Xuan City) of Anhui Provine, especially good for traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy.

[3] Shao Ye ( 勺 烨 ) – the character for Shao is the same as Shao’er’s. Ye means “firelight”, “sunlight”, or “bright”. Most interestingly, Ye also contains the radical for Hua ( 华), which sounds like
the hua in Shao Hua ( 韶华 ), “springtime” or Shao Hua ( 勺嬅 ), our protagonist.


Day after day, month after month, until ten months had passed, I kept using my blood to feed Fang Hua. He’d consumed much of my essence until I was at my breaking point. A human life had countless memorable springs and autumns over the course of their life, but these ten months were forever engraved with gratitude into my bones and heart.

I think, I was already getting old…

I could remember when it was a simple thing to scale up the sides of cliffs. At that time, my body was strong and powerful. There wasn’t even a need to climb them. With one push off the ground, I could leap high into the air and fly to the top of the cliff where the best medicines and grasses grew.

But now there was no way for me to reach those cliffs. Ever since the last time I tried and nearly fell off, I never went again. Though I had a safety tie around me to prevent myself from careening off the cliffside, I just had no more strength for climbing. I could only plant a few grasses and seedlings in the courtyard of the house instead. Sometimes I couldn’t help but think that I wouldn’t last until the day Fang Hua recovered his human body. In the past, I believed that no amount of flowers or morning dew could compare with my blood, and that I’d always be around…to feed Fang Hua until he was full.

Fang Hua, I’ve nearly given you all my blood. But why won’t you wake up?

A bitter smile rose on my lips. I wiped away my sweat with my sleeves to look up at the sky, where the strong sunlight forced me to shade my eyes. Perhaps I was too tired, but all I could feel was my head turning numb and my feet getting unsteady. The warm sun was welcoming, but I still couldn’t help but feel cold. A sudden unease rose in my heart–a strong feeling that filled up my entire body–as if something had happened without me there. I shut my eyes, resting a hand against my knees as I pushed myself. I plucked off a medicinal plant and tossed it into the basket on my back, leaning against my walking stick as I hurried towards the mountain path…

Panting and gasping for breath, I made it to the yellow earth grave mound where I stood in shock. There was only a broken branch where the Fang Hua wood used to be, but the little Fang Hua that had formed was nowhere to be seen. Ignorant and confused, I couldn’t help but look around as I called out.

“Fang Hua, Fang Hua where are you?”

An endless field of grass surrounded me on all sides, waving gently in the wind. My heart seized up as my breath caught, a hand raising to cover my mouth with an involuntary cry. A raw taste filled my mouth as something seeped past my fingers and stained my palm. When I removed my hand again, all I saw was blood. I couldn’t help but force a smile, carelessly wiping the mess away with a white handkerchief.

The smell of blood filled the air.

Suddenly, something moved in the thick cover of grass. It wasn’t the wind, but the strands had trembled anyways. I was lost for a minute before slowly raising my mouth into a genuine smile. Holding back my rising happiness, I went to brush aside the mess of weeds and branches. There was a pair of bright, limpid eyes looking at me from the grass, measuring me up with his gaze. For a long time, my heart had felt like someone was squeezing it in a vise-like grip. Today, some of that pressure finally relaxed, and now it was only beating in joy. There was deep pain as well, with a sharp and stabbing edge.

It made me recall a scene long in the past, when Fang Hua met the younger me for the first time. Back then, he had looked at me in the same way, except he’d been smiling and at peace. This little fellow seemed to be hiding in the grass, looking both curious

“Fang Hua…”

Though I’d said his name many times before in my heart, this was the first time I was speaking it to him. My words sounded both hoarse and pained. I knelt down, slowly extending my hand towards him. The little fellow seemed to be frightened, and gave me another nervous look. His entire naked form was hidden in the grass like a small and startled animal.

Little one, what made you so uneasy? Did you forget about me? I’ve been guarding you for 10 months, waiting for us to meet. Why are you afraid of me…?

My heart was full of anguish, but I still managed to smile at him. I wiped my face with my hands and dug out something from my basket. “That’s right, I brought some red lotus with me today. This used to be one of your favorites.”

He neither took the the flower nor paid me any attention. My hand hung limply in mid-air. He was looking at me as one would look at a stranger, before pulling out a handful of grass by his side to munch on. I stared at him blankly with a bitter heart, and yet still I smiled. He gave me an odd look as my tears kept flowing without stop.

I hadn’t lost my wits. I really was happy. He was alive: his eyes weren’t closed, he wasn’t silent, he could move around and reject me and think about things. My Fang Hua had finally been reborn, even if he’d forgotten me, to live his next life. I viciously rubbed my face with my sleeves, the tears dampening the bloodstains that had dried on my palms. He suddenly froze in place, tilting his head to sniff the air before walking towards me and sitting at my feet. His persistent gaze peered at my hand with a determined look.

“Do you want to eat?” I asked him in surprise. He didn’t answer. I squatted down, wiping my hands on my robes before offering him another fistful of flowers. He scooted over, breaths tickling the palm of my hand as he leaned down. Something warm and wet hit me before I realized…he was licking my hand…

Stunned, I wanted to withdraw, but he dragged me back until I tumbled to the ground to stare at him. He looked as me as his eyes formed into smiling crescents, before grabbing my robes and encircling me in a hug. I was motionless. His embrace was very affectionate, and his face rubbed against the bloodstains on my robes as he nuzzled close to croon, “Mother…”

I think my expression at that moment was very complicated. He was acting so out of character with this docile hug. That delicate, pretty face was filled with trust as he gently sniffed out the blood on my body…as if he was smelling some rare and precious flower. How could I forget that my blood flowed in his body as well? He probably loved this flavor because it was familiar. I reached out a hand to touch his head, and his body trembled. Yet he didn’t leave, preferring to looking at me as contentedly as before. I smiled, enjoying how familiar he was with me.

But why did he have to call me his mother?

I went back to my memory of Fang Hua. Back at the house, hadn’t I called him ‘mother’ as well? Were his feelings then the same as mine now? My lips grew stiff as I looked at the little fellow, quietly pressing him close to my chest as I softly stroked his head.

Fang Hua…you should know, I want you to grow up healthy.

Maybe it’s for the best if you forget me and your past life. The Fang Hua Beast was a creature of sentiment. Being affected by sentiment would only hurt you and make you reincarnate again.

“You’re wearing nothing on you body, aren’t you cold?”

He raised his head to look at me, staring and staring with those wide eyes. I shifted my hand to my waist, taking off my outer robe to wrap around him. He was overcome with joy, blinking as he stuck his hands inside the sleeves. Smart and obedient, he could also imitate actions very well…

A newborn Beast shouldn’t know how to speak. But as soon as this little fellow grew into his form and took his first tottering steps, he could both walk and talk.

He’s very much like you, Fang Hua…

A slow breeze fluttered past the courtyard. I rested against a bamboo bench beneath the eaves, my expression serene and composed. Time had passed very quickly. After ten days, Fang Hua had taken on the appearance of a young child. Right now he could fit in my old clothes, though he still disliked speaking.

All day long, he’d kneel in a pile of grass or play with children’s toys like the diabolo, which he was clutching now in one hand. He squinted as he looked at the sun, looking both serious and sedate. I called out to him softly, but he didn’t answer. My smile faded, and I closed my eyes.

I don’t know if other dying people felt as I did, so leisurely and carefree. Though I was always tired, I spent most of my days reminiscing on the past. As the wind blew past, it lightly caressed my cheeks, making me sleepy. The rustling leaves of the Wutong tree sounded just like the one in my memories…

A dozen or more years ago.

The sad sound of water carried over from the courtyard, along with someone smacking their lips. Beneath the Wutong tree, a girl of twelve to thirteen years old pulled up her trouser legs as she splashed about in a basin filled with white robes, trampling them beyond recognition. “Shao’er,” a voice called from the house. The girl hastily scooped up an inner robe from the ground and began to scrub it diligently.

“So this is where you were. Why didn’t you answer?” that person walked to the girl’s side, voice softening.

“What is it?”

“You’re washing the clothes?”

“Un.” She lifted her eyes to look at the man, as if to say, If you already know, then why are you asking?

“Did you wash this robe of mine, too?”

“Master, all the clothes in the house were washed by me.”

“But then, why are yours so neat and tidy, while mine…” He looked around, finally pointing at himself. “…look like this?” His robes were full of wrinkles. The girl slowly opened her eyes, still carefully scrubbing the clothes in her hands.

“I don’t know.”

“Aren’t your feet standing on my robes right now?” he reminded her helpfully.


“Why are you using your feet to wash them?” he tilted his head to study the squashed clothing.

She blinked at him, saying in an obvious tone, “Because my hands are already washing some other clothes, so I only have my feet left.” So speaking, she gave him an earnest glance and stomped even harder on the robes underfoot.

His expression flickered briefly. It was a long time before he recovered enough to speak. “Then…how about I wash the clothes you’re trying to scrub with your feet?”

“How could I let you do that?” she said, refusing on purpose.

“I’ll do it, I’ll do it.”

The girl gave a pout as she reluctantly climbed out of the basin. That immortal-like man bent down in her place, rolling up his sleeves as he got to work.

“Master, you need to use strength when you’re washing.” “Un.”
“There’s still a spot on the sleeve over there.” “Un.”
“Over here, this section too.” “Un.”
In the end, the girl shook her head and looked at the skies, kicking her feet a few times before suddenly stuffing all her clothes into his pile. She grinned secretly as she watched the celestial-like figure wash them.

From then on, both members of the house had clean and neat clothes.

My lips quirked into a smile.

“Mother…” “Mother, wake up.”
Someone nudged me a few times, shaking me from my wonderful dream. I opened my eyes to see the little Fang Hua climbing on the bed, his beautiful face close to mine.

“What was mother smiling about?”

“I dreamed about the past, so it made me very happy.”

He gave me a timid glance before reaching out his little arm to wave a bunch of papers in front of my face. It seemed that he was eager to learn. “What are these?”

I took them in my hands to read through the contents. The paper was very thin, so old that it had begun to turn yellow. Despite this, the words written on the surface were very clear, as ugly as the characters looked: Today master secretly dug out the cabbage plants and replaced them with chrysanthemums so I replaced his calming incense with poop.

I hurriedly flipped to another page, only to read: I found out that master squats to relieve himself too, that’s so weird.

Little Fang Hua’s face drew closer. I gave a cough and hastily cleaned up the papers, my heart and face calm as I spoke. “These were my old calligraphy practice sheets.”

His eyes were shining. “I want to learn, I want to learn”

I nodded with a smile, hugging him on the bed for awhile. My mood was finally better. Taking his hand, I led him to a low couch and sat him down, before spreading out some paper and ink to teach him stroke by stroke. Still, he didn’t have his heart in it.

In the past, Fang Hua had mastered the qin, chess, books and painting. His medical skills were exquisite and his martial arts skills top-notch, but now he had to start all over again. They said a Fang Hua fed by the blood of the person he loved would rebirth his soul and recover his memories, but this little fellow had a completely different personality from my Fang Hua. Perhaps I could only save his life without ever recovering the Fang Hua of the past. I lowered my head to quietly stroke his hand. It was better if he forgot if he could live happily. It didn’t take long before he grew restless, eyes roving around as his head bobbed back and forth. Finally he tossed aside the brush and went to play in a corner.

If this was the past, I’d never have expected Fang Hua to have this cute and mischievious side to him Sometimes I’d think it wasn’t worth forcing him to learn things. In the future, it’d just be him living in this bamboo house, so I’d rather he have a smooth and happy life. I remembered what Fang Hua told Han Zichuan before.

“Shao’er’s innate talents are excellent, but her personality is indolent and careless. If she wants to learn, I’ll teach her. If she doesn’t, she can do as she pleases. A person only has one life. To live a day happily is a worthy day.”

I used to think he didn’t care for me, but…he thought the same way I did. As long as we could be with the person we wanted to, then our hearts would be content. Such a simple reasoning, such a deep and hidden love, yet I’d overlooked it completely before. Affections in the world took on all sorts of flavors before one understood them. Fang Hua didn’t compete with Han Zichuan. He didn’t know how to spoil a person, nor did he intentionally betray his feelings. When I finally understand, it was too late…and when I thought of that, my heart would suddenly hurt again.

Suddenly, someone grabbed the robes around my knees. A sweaty little Fang Hua asked me, “Mother, are you feeling unwell?” Surprised, I lifted my eyes to peer at him. He was looking at me with his body by my side, an anxious expression on his face.

I laughed in spite of myself and touched his hair, saying lightly, “It’s fine, I’ll be okay after I rest for awhile.” He didn’t think so, but grabbed me tightly with both hands as if I’d disappear if he let go. Silly child…with you here, how could I bear to leave? Nothing could distract me from you.

“What kind of person was father?”

Father… I lowered my head to look at him. His eyes were very big, as bright and clear as spring water. Those pupils had no knowledge of the world’s kindness or cruelty. I was the only thing in his eyes as I sat on the bench, but I’d never realized who he’d looked at with such an intent gaze.

“Mother.” He called out timidly.

“Your father spoke very little and liked to drink my wine.” Originally, I thought this child didn’t understand the differences between men and women, but later on I found out he was just teasing me.

“His medical skills were excellent, but he didn’t like to help others.” And yet he’d gone to the palace for my sake without sending me a single message afterwards. “Your father…”

I looked at his delicate features, that familiar crease in the forehead, and felt my words grow stiff. “He was a temperate man with the grace of an immortal, skill in both the arts and physical abilities.” And yet he’d hidden his feelings for me for ten whole years, languishing in lovesickness by himself.

I used to think he loved eating red lotuses, but you told me they were bitter and astringent. Only then did I realize he liked more to watch me collect flowers from the pond for him. He enjoyed spending long and quiet evenings by himself, tasting just such a bitterness.

“Mother, did father not treat you well?”

“He did,” I lightly caressed his face, feeling my eyes grow hot. If he hadn’t treated me well, then there wouldn’t be you. He squatted on his feet, little fingers brushing against my eyes.

“Mother, why are you crying…?”

I couldn’t stop my tears from flowing because of the grief in my heart. The crushing depression made my cover my mouth in a coughing fit, wracking my body with pain. “Mother.”

Exhausted, I opened my eyes again.

“I’ll definitely be like father. I’ll learn all sorts of skills and medical arts to heal you,” he sprawled over my knees, gripping my hands tightly as he knelt on the ground with a taut expression.

I smiled, exerting my energy to touch the teardrop-shaped mole by his eye, fingers trembling slightly. He had the exact same face as Fang Hua with that mole. It was a delicate and charming shade of red.

“Child, don’t copy your father.”

Fang Hua, I can’t live for much longer. I just want you to have a good life.

Five months later.

“Mother, these robes are too big. I can’t fit in them.”

Fang Hua resembled a seventeen-year-old youth now, graceful in bearing and gait.

“Nonsense. You can age a year in ten days. There’s no telling if these robes will be too short by tomorrow,” I only smiled and kept my head bowed, sewing more clothes.

“So troublesome,” he suddenly looked at me with a brilliant smile. “Maybe it’s better if I wear nothing at all. It’ll save you from mending and patching all day.”

I was speechless.

He sure was something, saying such words. I didn’t believe for a moment that a big boy like him would dare to walk around naked. If this was the Fang Hua of the past, he’d rather die instead. Laughing softly, I kept my hands busy tying a knot before biting off the ends with my teeth. Then I grabbed another shoe-pad and closed my eyes to catch my breath.

Day after day, I continued to drag out my existence despite my previous loss of blood and vitality. I was now like a flickering flame in the wind, uncertain of when it’d go out. As a result, I prepared all sorts of shoes, waist sashes, and robes in various sizes–for a seventeen-year-old, nineteen- year-old, twenty-year-old… My heart suddenly ached involuntarily. A hand rested atop mine as he knelt on the ground to peer at me.

“Look at how tired you are. Quickly, lie down and rest a bit.”

I really wanted to prepare everything in case he grew up overnight. Counting the days that’d passed by so far, it wouldn’t be long before he became an adult. He looked at me with a quiet smile, rising to drape a robe over his shoulders as he tied it in place. His figure looked just like…

“It’s so late, where are you going?”

The warm lamp light shone on his face as he turned to face me. “I’ve been studying father’s medical books these past few days. I suddenly found one with a formula for something that might cure your illness, so I want to look for the proper plants.”

“Then come back after a few days. Don’t stay away for too long.”

He responded in agreement before happily setting out the door. I watched his retreating form in a daze, thinking that they really did look identical. In reality…where could there be a pill formula to save me? I’d already treated myself multiple times. Only if Fang Hua revived completely, then maybe he could think of a method on his own.

Forget it. It was good for him to have experience. When I was gone, he’d be the only one left, so he should get used to being lonely. Tired, I leaned against the bench and fell into exhaustion. Lately I’d been thinking back to the peaceful days I’d lived with Fang Hua. The memories would always make me smile. Raising my head, I brushed my hands against a robe laid out on the side, feeling a knife in my heart. Only after all this time had passed did I understand Fang Hua’s feelings.

When the young Fang Hua left, it was to disappear for multiple days. A bird flew into the courtyard today, though it wasn’t the parrot from before. I’d occasionally remember events from the past and think they happened a long time ago. The princes, Nongyu, the emperor…these people all seemed very far from me now. My reflection in the mirror looked noticeably weary, the face extremely skinny and ashen white…

Actually, I was still young. It was just my heart that had aged.

I roused myself with effort and used the walls for support as I walked to the courtyard, hearing the sound of the bamboo. Wrapping my robes tightly around myself, I slowly sank onto the bamboo bench. Recently, I’d get sleepy as soon as I lied down. It really seemed that I wouldn’t live for much longer.

I calculated on my fingers that Fang Hua should reach adulthood today. After physically turning eighteen, he’d be no different from mortal humans. As long as he wasn’t hurt by sentiment, he could live for a long time. When I’d met Fang Hua at the dilapidated temple, he must have just come of age as well. I used to wonder why the little Fang Hua couldn’t remember me, but I didn’t think about that anymore. I accepted him calling me mother. As long as the rest of his days were carefree, then it was fine.

After sitting briefly, my body couldn’t hold out anymore, so I lied down on the bench instead. I was falling asleep when my eyes suddenly opened to the sound of rustling leaves in the wind. I felt satisfied and content, as if I had returned to the past.

“Shao’er, it should be seven parts Stomach-Cutting Grass and three parts Five Stone Dispersions.” “I want to try a four parts to six formula.” “Then why are you doing half-half right now?” —

“Master, you’re smelling the Drunken Dream of Lovemaking right now.” “…. ….” “Master, does your body feel hot?” “… ” “Do you feel
anything strange anywhere on your body? Master, why is your face turning red?”

“Your disciple was wrong. Won’t you say something?” “If you don’t say anything…Shao’er will get bored.” “Master, look at this bird. The marketplace said there’s a type of bird called a parrot that knows how to say lots of things. How come you don’t say words for days on end?” “Shao’er, is it boring staying here with me?” “…a little bit. Master never answers me or spoils me.” “Silly, why wouldn’t I spoil you? When you turn fifteen, I’ll give you the very best. I think if I can find you a companion, you won’t be lonely anymore.”

“Master, what do you think of Zichuan?” “He’s very close and knows things I don’t know.”

— “Master…I’m hungry, I want to eat meat.” “Save some for Zichuan, don’t finish everything by yourself.” “Zichuan looks more haughty and aristocratic than Master.” “Un.” “Zichuan can get twice as many things as Master at the market with the same amount of money.” “Un, he’s very good. Are you saying he’s better than me?” “Un.” “Master, why did you kick the table? It took me so much work to wipe it clean.”

— “Shao’er, have you ever thought of…living the rest of your life together with someone you love?” “Nope.” “I want to live the rest of my life with that person, never parting from them.” “If you loved him so much, why did you distance yourself back then?” “Many things you can’t just judge from the surface. Just like here. It used to be a wasteland, but now it’s filled with beauty that few places in the world can compare to. Life is but a moment. Fang Hua will only bloom in a brief instant in one lifetime, and for one person.” —

Shao’er, you should know that Fang Hua only opens for a single person.

My lips curved into a smile as I slowly closed my eyes. It was enough to have lived this long…when it was the time to die, I’d be less reluctant to leave. It was a pity that there was no one here to record our story.

Fang Hua, you should know. Our time together in the bamboo forest was the happiest time in my life. I have no regrets…it was Shao’er’s luck to be able to live two lifetimes with you. Everyone says that three lifetimes is enough to bring two lovers together, but I want to live with you in every lifetime. In our next life, let me be the one to look for you, all right?

Wait for me in this bamboo grove…

There was a sudden sound of a kick from outside, though it might have been me hearing things. With a pow, the door suddenly flew open and someone stepped inside. I opened my eyes, dazzled by the pleasantly warm sunshine. I saw a set of white robes that seemed both real and imaginary. That person stood looking at me quietly from the door as time seemed to stop. His face was full of affection, and it was evident that the clothes on his body were a little bit stretched. Such a complicated expression made him look as if he had 10,000 things to say.

Was Fang Hua…finally here to pick me up?

The pear blossoms had bloomed, scattering the air with a rain of flowers.
He only said one thing.


Surprised, I raised a sleeve to cover my mouth, helpless as tears flowed down my face.

In an instance of spring, the trees bloomed with youth. For an instance of Shao Hua, a tree full of Fang Hua bloomed. If this was all a dream, then I would rather keep sleeping and never wake up…


Before I followed Master, my name was Hong Jin. Later on I became Sixth.

My father was once a brave and skillful general, grand and impressive beyond measure. But when I was young, he hid his identity and led me from place to place, living a vagabond life. My body had always been weak and I was unsuited for combat. Yet night after night of sneak attacks by endless assassins trained me   to   develop   excellent   lightness techniques. What would you call this…something like practice makes perfect?

Speaking of these assassins, they really were strange. Some were sent by the palace by the dozens to live in our tiny thatched cottage. Others were forced to stand guard outside. As to this…I was always embarrassed, and wished we could make our cottage a little bigger.

Oh, but I’m getting off-topic…

Everything they said was official jargon before they took out their giant swords. They always waited for the leader to shout ‘Go’ before rushing us all at once. In eight to nine cases out of them, they’d aim for me first, so I had no choice but to break out of the house and escape, leaving my father leisurely inside. Usually, after I’d gone out long enough to buy some candied hawthorn, roast duck, and a jug of wine back, I’d find father waiting for me outside our dilapidated cottage. Mysteriously enough, all the assassins would be missing, so I’d happily pour wine for father instead. The people from the imperial palace were always very polite. They give us warning when they appeared and leave very quickly. But there were other assassins, masked ones, that were harder to predict. They used strange movements and techniques. Some preferred long, thin swords while others preferred giant ones. Last year there was even one that used two iron balls fixed on a chain. Their identities ranged from male and female, young and old, with dialects ranging from the north to the south. There were all types of them. Once we met an assassin who spoke the Hmong language. I thought he was a woman, but he was just a delicately pretty man. When he chased me, he used poisonous powders as well–really ruthless!

Although we had assassins of all types, some of whom we couldn’t even understand, eventually we grew familiar with their speech. The most common terms were “rare books” or “treasure map”, etc. If the imperial palace sent out large teams of people, then these rogue assassins could be said to form loose alliances of their own. If only one person showed up, they use a paralysis agent to toss my father and me about before revealing themselves. If two or three showed up, one would block the door, one would attack my father, and the last would end up chasing me…in these situations, I’d use extra time to buy candied hawthorn since it was so hard to shake my stalker off my tail. Although our life was hard, it had its share of joys as well.

Until one day, I used five times as much time to get roast duck and wine before returning home. Father wasn’t in his usual place, so I looked all over before finding him in the forest on the verge of death. He told me to live a good life on my own from then on.

He told me that someone had entrusted me into his arms on the battlefield. At that time, he’d promised that person to raise me up well. Originally, he thought all he had to do was to claim me as his flesh and blood and settle with the people who knew the truth to throw off attention. But who knew that the court would issue his arrest warrant the very next day, claiming that he had illicit relationships with the enemy to hide their own blood heir? In the jianghu, rumors spread that this heir’s body hide various treasure maps and secret mart Before he died, my father gripped my hand and told me to protect the secrets etched on my body without telling anyone else. He must have started to go senile, or else how would he have forgotten that I was a mute?

How could a mute talk?

After burying father, I burned down the cottage and set out on my own. I didn’t know where to go by myself, nor when the assassins would attack again. Neither did I have much silver. Nobody would want to hire a mute, anyways. At an inn, I watched streams of people go by while smelling the scent of wine and meat in the air. I was very hungry, but all I could do was sit blankly on the stone steps. Suddenly, someone sat next to me. When I looked over, all I saw was a veil hiding his face[1] and a set of white robes. I was curious. Why would such a spotless and elegant-looking figure sit on the cold stone steps? He didn’t speak, but adjusted the qin in his arms before beginning to play a poignant and beautiful melody. Those fingers were long and nimble like a woman’s, but he wore the clothes of a man.

Many people surrounded us to look, a few throwing copper coins at him. I swallowed back my   saliva…   Looking   at   the   coins,   I   thought of mantou, but hearing his music reminded me of my dead father. For a moment, I couldn’t help but feel like crying. His hand suddenly moved past the qin to grip mine. I heard him say, “Do you want to come home with me?”

I only sat there stupidly, unable to withdraw my hand in time. Beneath the frivolous veil was a slight smile. He seemed to be staring intently at me, his voice soft like a woman’s. He didn’t seem to be an assassin, because any assassin who managed to grab me would try to take off my robes first, not hold my hand like this…

Thus, I was brought back to his house along with another man with eyebrows as sharp as swords. He seemed to be someone exceptionally skilled in martial arts. He always tagged after the veiled man, who always ignored him with a smile. When the three of us arrived at his home, there were already people there. They were all pretty and charming prince types, and one of them came forward to take off his veil to reveal a figure of matchless beauty. As it turned out, this he was a she.

She told me her name was Shao’er, but the people outside called her the Carefree Idler. She said I could treat this place as my home and relax. I could also call her whatever I wished. But I never called her anything because I couldn’t speak. There were a total of six princes in that house and I was named Sixth, while the man that came with me became First. Actually, I should have protested back then…but there was no way for me to make a sound, so I only glared at him before dropping the matter.

In the jianghu, rumors said that the Carefree Idler was extremely bright, graceful, and lofty. He was a master of the six scholarly arts of rites, music, archery, charioteering, reading and writing, and arithmetic and possessed extraordinary martial arts skills. He was also exceptionally handsome.

Actually, this was all wrong.

First, she was female. Secondly, she wasn’t very bright, even though her brow held a heroic and lofty air. Her face was attractive and held one’s attention. When she furrowed her brows, it gave people the impression that she was thinking of something, thus making her look intelligent. Actually, she was…never mind. One shouldn’t talk about embarrassing things outside one’s family to strangers.

“Sixth, rub my shoulders for me.”

“Sixth, you smell nice. If I hug you while I sleep, I’ll definitely be nice and warm.”

“Aiya, why do you keep pulling me along?”

That’s not true. I’m not pulling, but pushing. Pushing, don’t you know…

“So you’re that eager to go to bed? Good! Come, come, warm up my bed for me.”

I cry… Who said she was graceful and lofty, a figure of unsurpassed elegance above all others? I. In the outside world she could wear her veil and pose silently to be considered an immortal, but she was a clingy Master at home. This Master of mine also loved to drink; more than that, she always imbibed the Scattering of Forgotten Sorrows with her wine. Every time she drank, she’d fall silent with an expression of grief on her face. Once, she actually spoke a sentence to me.

“Sixth,” she said, “From the first time I laid eyes on you, I knew that you were like me–someone without a home. You can take this place as your own and live boldly without worries. No one in the jianghu dares to try anything against you.”

Later on I learned that a group of high ranked martial arts circles had tried to charge their way in, but she caught them all, destroyed their cultivation bases, and tossed them out the door after sealing their acupoints.

In truth, Master was actually a very pitiful figure…

She took so many Scattering of Forgotten Sorrows pills that she began to forget things left and right. Despite this, she still wouldn’t quit. In this world, there was no one who treated me better than Master besides my father. So I secretly closed the door to my room one day, brought out a
mirror, and copied down the cultivation diagrams of the 《 Carefree Recollection》from the reflection of my back with brush and ink. Yet these incantations gave me some trouble…
…not only was the handwriting tiny, it was impossible to read them from the mirror. As a result, I draped my robes over my body and went to knock on my Master’s door.

“What is it?” Master looked like she just woke up when she opened the doors. I shut the doors and began to take off my clothes. Astonished, she held out her hands to stop me. “That…I was just teasing you before, there’s really no need for you to come warm my bed.” I ignored her and continued.

A giant quilt descended to wrap around me, nearly suffocating me in the heat. I blocked the door as my hands thrashed around, wondering where she found such a thing when it was so hot. After I worked myself free, I raised my head to see her preparing to slip out the window. Livid, I dragged her back down. She looked at me with a miserable expression until I had no choice but to write out my thoughts on paper: I have secret martial arts manuals on my back, so learn them for me.

She was shocked for a bit, before grabbing the brush and writing her reply: Only if you beg me to.

No one had ever refused me. It was as if someone had splashed cold water over my heart, shaming me into anger. I wrote out a few strokes: I’m begging you to learn them…

Not gonna.

Mad with anger, I kicked the table with my foot until it hurt. After hopping around for a bit, my mind cleared up considerably and I grabbed the brush again: If you cultivate, you won’t have to eat those lousy pills. Are you learning or not? And why are you stealing my brush from me?

She gave me a benevolent look before saying faintly, “Since you’re writing, shouldn’t I keep you company by writing as well?”

I endured.

The next second she had me in her embrace, patting my head like one would a dog. “Sixth, I’ll protect you like my own family. You don’t have to feel indebted to me or use these methods to pledge your loyalty.”

When she was finished, she pushed me outside and closed the door. I stood stunned outdoors for a long while before recovering my senses. This person hadn’t taken my words seriously at all! I really did have coveted secret martial arts manuals etched on my back. I opened my mouth, but no sounds came out… Who made me into a mute?

I really took offense at not being able to speak. But not long afterwards, Master spoke a few words to me. I dimly remembered that she was drunk that night. The candlelight shone on her face and made it especially beautiful in its desolation. With drunken eyes, her soft voice dropped to a volume that I could barely hear.

She said, “Sixth, even though you can’t speak, you’re the happiest person in the world. Because you can keep secrets forever, while I have to rely on the Scattering of Forgotten Sorrows to forget the secrets in my heart…I’m always afraid that one day I won’t be able to bear it anymore, and tell everything. And then I’ll tell him that I love him.”

Him? Who was ‘him’…?

Master must really like this ‘him’ to the point that she had to use the Scattering of Forgotten Sorrows. I was sure I’d never eat something like that my entire life. It was so bitter, not even as 1/10,000th as tasty as candied fruits. That’s right, speaking of candied fruit, Master had promised to buy some with me today.

Second was helping her with her veil inside the house. I gave her a glance before running to open the doors, letting in a refreshing breeze. Suddenly, I noticed someone standing beneath the willow tree outside, dressed in white robes that looked even more refined than Master’s. He was looking at us from a distance, as if trying to decide whether to approach us.

“Sixth, you greedy fellow. As soon as you hear there’s food you’re faster than anyone else.” A pair of hands pinched my face as she raised the veil to smile at me. My eyes grew wide as my mouth opened, unable to speak. I really wanted to tell her that the man beneath the willow tree was really handsome. The teardrop-shaped mole by the corner of his eye was even more elegant that Fourth’s.

“What are you trying to say?” she shook her head. “You want a veil? You want the sesame seed cake baked by pockmark Wang Er next door?” Even more excited, I gestured with my hands as I pulled her towards the willow tree. She was confused, and yet I accidentally tripped and fell forward…not on the ground, because Master caught me. She then proceeded to mess up my hair with a grin.

“Look at you…always so careless,” she said with a muffled laugh.

I did my best to turn around and look for that other person, but he’d already vanished like a ghost, his white robes disappearing beneath the willow. His figure more or less resembled First.

“That’s right, I’ll buy you two big bags of candied fruit to make up for your fall,” she said as she stroked me.

I smiled.

“What were you gesticulating about just then?”

I looked towards the place where the man had vanished, shaking my head in disappointment. When I saw that man again, many years had passed. It turned out that he was the man Master could never forget, and had reached the end of his days. That person had a very pleasant-sounding name called Fang Hua…


My name is Mo’er. After Master rescued me, it was changed to Second. I was a disciple of the Pill King. All the people spread rumors that he’d soaked me in medicinal baths since I was young so that my body was immune to hundreds of poisons and my blood was as precious as gold for medical ingredients.

Actually, that was all hearsay. Pah…
Master forbid me from speaking obscenities, so I won’t. The Pill King had many young disciples, so much that even he probably couldn’t keep track of them all. I was the only surviving one. Rumors had it that hundreds of years ago, one of my forefathers had a lover’s fate with a Fang Hua Beast, but nothing like that remained in our bodies by the time my grandfather’s generation rolled around.

Ever since I was young, my health was excellent. The Pill King discovered that my blood could even treat poisons, so the old geezer would toss me in a tub every three to five days to soak in medicine before taking my blood to drink himself. The Pill King didn’t die suddenly. I was the one who killed him. I thought to myself that being chased around the jianghuby people who wanted my life was better than being locked away and ill- treated by that geezer. The day I met Master, I’d been surrounded by my pursuers in a sea of flame. She was the one who saved me…

She wasn’t like other people who wanted to drink my blood. Instead, she gave me new clothes, a new house, and a new name. She never asked about my past, but taught me how to make medicine and pills…even though the Pill King had taught me these things in the past, I still pretended I knew nothing and studied diligently, because I liked to hear her talk. Every time she drew closer to talk about the uses of this or that ingredient, her voice was exceptionally soft and there would be a smile in her eyes. This made me feel at peace and very comfortable. Master said, I moved with a similar grace to a certain person. She’d sigh with emotion when she spoke, and her face would turn lonely. I think that person was probably very important to her.

Later on, I met the person Master could never forget. He was Lord Hua, also known as the true Fang Hua Beast. The happy days didn’t last for long before Master told me to look after Lord Hua and left for the palace to look for his “ungrateful love” instead.

What was left in the house was one human, one bird, and one Beast.

Lord Hua was severely ill and wouldn’t last much longer. His temper was very strange. Whenever Master asked after his health, he’d never reply, but talk about Han Zichuan over and over again. When Master left, he changed completely. All day long he’d sit at the window in a trance. I used to think he was waiting for Han Zichuan, but…I discovered that wasn’t the case. He’d have the sudden impulse to stroke Master’s robes and hold them for a long time. When he was feeling a little better, he’d let me talk about Master–such as what time she usually got out of bed, what did she like to do, etc. He never got tired of hearing about her no matter how many times I talked. Every time, he’d listen until he fell asleep with a tired, but warm, smile on his face.

From that moment, I began to suspect that his “ungrateful love” wasn’t the reigning emperor, but my Master.

The day Fang Hua died in a sea of fire, there was a large rainstorm. Still, he was smiling as he walked step by step to the yellow grave mound. He said he saw Shao’er coming back, so he was going to meet her. By the time I hurried over…there was only a piece of wood stuck in the dirt all by itself, and a pile of burning clothes beside it. He’d told a monstrous lie.

Using his own life as the sacrifice, he’d concealed everything from Master, including his love.

I might’ve told the truth. I was probably the only person who could tell people the whole story, but I decided to keep quiet. Through my veins also flowed a fraction of a Fang Hua Beast’s blood, so no one else could understand him better than I. This Beast had been heavily injured by sentiment until his whole body was black. Don’t mention his soul. Even if he wanted to revive again in human form, it’d probably take all the blood and vitality from the person he loved. He couldn’t bear to hurt his Shao’er and neither could I harm my Master.

If I were to stay…I probably wouldn’t be able to keep this secret.

I’d already taught the parrot everything I wanted him to say. He would tell Master that Fang Hua was at the yellow earth hill. I thought she should see him one last time because this was what he wanted. It was also all I could do. If Master ever found out the truth one day, she might hate me for it. It’s fine if she hated me as long as she kept living…that was both Lord Hua’s wish and mine.

Once a person fell in love, they’d turn into a fool. Lord Hua was like this, and so was Master. News of Master kept coming down from the mountain at a steady pace. Han Zichuan’s blood was useless so he went back to the palace. Master was now using her own blood to save the dead Lord Hua.

Day after day.

I don’t know how many days passed before I met the Lord Nongyu who was preparing to climb the mountain. I gave him many pills and asked him to leave them with Master. He smiled as he agreed, and I finally felt at peace.

Master, please take these pills.

These were made with Second’s own life and blood. I too, carried a bit of the Fang Hua Beast’s blood within me, so it should be useful to some extent. You wanted to save him and I wanted to save you. If you insist on recovering Lord Hua, then I’d use my life to save yours. It’s only that I’m not skilled enough to keep you healthy, but I can definitely allow Master to survive until Fang Hua revives again.

Master, please live well.


My surname is Xiao and my given name is He. Some called me Young Hero Xiao, Noble Hero Xiao, or Leader Xiao, but there was one person who called me First. Ever since then, more and more people started calling me Manager Xiao instead…and my identity underwent a great change from thereon. The one who changed me was, of all people, a woman.

I met her during a very cold year. At that time, I wasn’t leader of all the martial arts circles yet, but a youth who had been sent off his mountain by his master. I wandered wildly through the jianghu until someone set me up and left ten daggers in my body, poisoning me heavily. The doctor said only an immortal could save me now, and yet that’s exactly who I met while I was in my wounded stupor.

She cared for me for half a month, rarely speaking as she helped me take my medicine. Afterwards, she sit on the bed while hugging her legs and staring at me. It made me rather uncomfortable. This woman seemed to be seventeen or eighteen years old and looked very ordinary. But her medical skills were exceptional and she had a pair of exquisite-looking eyes. Besides making medicine, she didn’t seem to do anything else. A whole day would be spent staring at the fire or the clothes hanging up to dry, before she turned to stare at me. Every time she came back from outside, it was either to bring me fragrant mantou with big slices of beef, or quietly handing over a single red lotus.

For awhile, I thought she liked me…otherwise, why would she save a stranger unless she had the heart of a Bodhisattva? And why else would she sleep in the same bed as me? It was true, there was only one bed in this house so perhaps she had no choice, but why would she spend entire nights just staring at me? I was a man who valued morals, and she was my lifesaver. So I decided that I’d promise to marry…no, that I’d take her as my wife.

When I got better, I began to help her with various tasks: collecting firewood, starting the fire, and cooking. She ended up at a loss for what to do, staring at me foolishly while I worked. The warm sunshine shone inside the house. I suddenly realized that while the jianghu was a good place, it wasn’t bad to spend my days with another person, either. One day I went out to buy a jug of wine and some stewed meat before cooking a few dishes. I was preparing to officially ask for her hand in marriage, but felt too shy to broach the subject. When I finally met her eye, she’d already finished off the alcohol by herself and sprawled drunkenly across the table. Her mouth was mumbling something.

I leaned over to listen, catching a strange detail by her temples. I’d been in the jianghu for quite awhile so of course I knew about face-changing techniques. Reaching out a hand, I felt about her face before easily pulling off her mask. It was hard to describe my feelings upon seeing her true face. I’d lived for so long without seeing a woman more beautiful than my mother, but she easily eclipsed my mother’s looks by about 10,000 times.

That night, my body shook with fear as I decided to sleep beneath the bed. When I woke up the second day, she was nowhere to be seen. From then on, many years passed before I saw her again. By then I’d become leader    of    all    the    martial     arts     circles     while     she     was the jianghu’s famous Carefree Idler. When we met again, she was taking liberties with a pretty and charming young man who was mute. I don’t know when her personality changed so quickly. As a result, I turned up without being invited at her estate and settled in with her five other princes. She always asked me why I gave up my life of renown and fame as the leader of the martial arts circles. Actually, I didn’t understand it either. It was just that every time I saw those people laughing or cursing merrily in the room, she’d smile quietly too, and it was a beautiful sight. Such a free and unfettered household was like a refuge or sanctuary. The princes within it all had their own unspeakable pasts. She never asked them anything, but did her best to protect them from harm. As for me, I made sure no angry people in the jianghu ever hurt her. Outsiders only said that the Carefree Idler liked to collect pretty men, but I thought differently. She was just collecting all sorts of different wounds and pains.

The expenses of the Carefree Household were all paid through profits from her medicine. This distressed me, so I gave up martial arts to go into business. I opened one inn, then two, then three…expanding my properties until I couldn’t keep track of them all. She became more idle and fell into the habit of looking for oddities. Once she hired someone to get a piece of fine jade and break it into two pieces for her and me both. Using who knows what, she managed to carve a single word in the corner that could be
stamped onto paper with cinnabar ink. Mine was Xiao (萧) for my surname, while hers was Xiao (逍) for ‘carefree.’ She said we could use these things to withdraw as much money as we wanted from the money exchange centers, before looking at me earnestly as if afraid I’d disagree.

Of course she could take as much as she wanted. Whatever was mine belonged to her as well, while whatever was hers was still hers.

Xiao ( 萧) and Xiao ( 逍) were pronounced the same way. It made me think we were brother and sister. I knew she already had someone in her thoughts, someone very similar to myself…no, similar to all the other princes.

Later on, I finally met that person. He was a sick and exhausted man, but still more beautiful than any mortal. The two of them looked like a heaven-made match when they stood side-by-side. That immortal-like being looked at me with a pure and clear gaze, yet it was one filled with unspeakable sorrow. It made me almost too ashamed to show my face. His illness was unclear, but it aged him day by day until his hair began to turn silver. She cared for him attentively, enough for me to realize there was no room for anyone else between them. Even if I was unwilling to admit it, I couldn’t help but accept it. In the past, I could pretend I didn’t notice, but now I could only leave them in low spirits.

I left behind Second, who understood medical arts, and brought the rest of the people down the mountain. Occasionally I’d send someone up to deliver some basic necessities. Not too long later, I received a letter
stamped withXiao (逍) from one of the money exchange centers. This was the only thing she ever wrote me in all these years. She only told me to prepare a good carriage on the day of the emperor’s wedding, along with some rations and a dependable person to wait for her in the capital. I don’t know what she was planning, but I had a premonition…that this would be my only chance to see her. It might even be my last chance.

I had Second help me change my appearance and prepared everything behind the scenes.

When I saw her again, she didn’t recognize me. Of course…maybe because I was disguised as an old man. Seeing her carrying out the unconscious emperor, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. This woman really dared to do anything. As the dawn slowly broke, I saw her figure grow farther and farther away until it disappeared. I only wore a quiet smile, filled with ten thousand regrets as I told her, “Safe travels.”

You probably all want to know if I ever saw her again. When the emperor left the bamboo house where she lived with that man, I began to busy myself. Busy myself with what? I feared that the emperor would break his promise and send armed forces to retrieve her or the Fang Hua wood, so I was very preoccupied. Actually, I just wanted to see her one more time, but Second suddenly contracted a serious illness that nearly left him dead. In addition, the paths up the mountain had all been sealed off for some time, so none of my scouts couldn’t find her location until many years passed…

Nobody knew where she was, or whether she was living well with that immortal-like man. Some people said she disappeared. Others said that a new couple had emerged in the jianghu that were heads and shoulders above anyone else in the medical arts. They really were a celestial pair, beautiful beyond compare. The man had a teardrop-shaped mole at the corner of one eye, with a bearing as noble as jade. He was in the prime of his youth. The female had a frail body and always seemed tired, but was an exceptional beauty. She looked almost exactly like the Carefree Idler of bygone years.

This couple was deeply in love with each other. The husband was often seen flying through the snowy mountains, collecting fresh snow from the plum blossoms to brew tea. He truly adored his wife.

All of this, however, were passing rumors…


[1] veiling hiding his face (⾯纱) – mian sha, or “face veil”. Considering this is the jianghu, it’s very likely that Shao’er’s wearing a hat with a veil that goes all around her head, like the one in this link.

Chapter 65 : Bonus Epilogue

Auspicious clouds bore down on three grand palaces that glowed in the skies above. I think the memories that I lost from that time were thoroughly erased, so I spent many years in complete darkness.

Back then, humans didn’t call upon celestial phoenixes. Not that it was very hard to call for one, but with their paltry cultivation states, they could only manage to call out a single phoenix with difficulty using two people. The one that came would have to be a bird that took pity on the humans and had the compassion to help them. If it was this hard for two people to summon a live phoenix, imagine how much harder it’d be for a single person to create one successfully.

Birthing a Fang Hua Beast from a piece of wood was similar to reviving a phoenix from nie wood[1]--two different approaches that produced equally satisfactory results. All across the Heavens, it was only the Nine Spirits Sovereign Goddess who could manage such artful magic. She was also the only one who could bring forth a live phoenix from nie wood.

I was none other than that Nine Spirits Sovereign Goddess. Even the esteemed High Immortal Zhao of Omens had to respectfully refer to me as ‘auntie.’ From seas to mulberry fields and back again[2] was just a blink of the eye for me.

I sprawled on the ground by the Immortal’s Pool, peering at my reflection in the water. The face I wore now only resembled my original one slightly.

“The Jade Emperor said it was about time you woke up,” the Immortal of Fates laughed as he stood to one side. “I calculated with my fingers. When I saw that they were preparing to burn your body, I brought your spirit here.”

The High Immortal Zhao of Omens wiped a forehead full of sweat. “Auntie, I didn’t know it was you. I’d rather burn myself than scorch a hair on your head.”

To be honest, I didn’t know I had the chance to find back my immortal roots, either. I didn’t blame High Immortal Zhao for not recognizing me, especially when this body barely resembled my old looks. The rest of it was extremely pretty.


I remembered when I slept as the Nine Spirits Sovereign Goddess in a cave for tens of thousands of years during the era of Chaos. When I woke up, I had thoroughly understood the universe’s mysteries and had climbed onto the path of immortal cultivation. Stretching lazily, my eyes blinked away tens of thousands of years’ worth of gunk and I made my earth-shaking way to the Heavens.

At that time, things weren’t as lively as they were now. A few ancient immortals always said it was rare to see Great Immortals in the courtyard, so there were no amusements. They spent their days staring at the clouds and wishing for another celestial being to appear and be their friend. It was nothing like now, where cultivation had to meet with a few strikes of tribulation lightning to continue.

Speaking of this heavenly lightning, I couldn’t help but lodge a complaint. High Immortal Zhao was such a handsome youth before he became an immortal. Because of those three strikes of lightning, his looks were ruined in the time it took for me to open and close my eyes. Now he looked both hoary and old.

I’m getting off-topic…

Speaking of looks, I was more sloppy than others. My clansmen had naturally androgynous physiques, but I spent tens of thousands of years as a woman who couldn’t stand those blushing and shy immortal types. Still, I was unmistakably female, down to my very bones. I didn’t realize that the strange immortals who gathered to see me by the Southern Heavenly Gates would respectfully call me a sovereign instead. So it seems, that even a person born female could be made into a male sovereign god. You should see how refined I looked in the mirror, like a jade tree facing against the wind.

Remembering up to this point, my body couldn’t help but shift as I gathered some pond water and cupped it in my hands like a mirror. My actions surprised the Immortal of Fates so much that he dropped his chin to stare at me with wide eyes. High Immortal Zhao had to deeply reconsider for awhile. My face turned red as I coughed and drew my hand back. “I’ve looked at this face for so long that I’ve grown used to it.”

“You’ve been suffering for someone else’s sake these past few years. I didn’t expect you to meet with multiple disasters in the human world and suffer through multiple reincarnations. You’ve been completely reborn each time.” the Immortal of Fates nodded his head righteously. “No wonder Zhao of Omens didn’t recognize you.”

For the bold and upfront me to be reincarnated into such a delicate, fragile body was something neither them nor I could foresee. What a sad story it was…

“Speaking of which, it was the Immortal of Fates that gave me such good lives.”

He only smiled back. “This is old news, why bring it up? I don’t know if the Sovereign Goddess still remembers that Fang Hua Beast?”

“How could I forget?” I said with a long sigh.

The Immortal of Fates seemed to have brought up my heartache for no reason. After I achieved immortality as the Nine Spirits Sovereign Goddess, I wasn’t used to the cold and cheerless heavenly palace. Everyday I loafed about and made a mess of disturbances around the place. For thousands of ten-thousands of years, not one as strange as me had been born. All of the ancient immortals said I was young and inexperienced as they refused to argue with me. Actually, I thought I was genuinely steady and seasoned. Despite this, even an experienced person like myself had a serious stumble over the issue of ‘sentiment,’ enough to let me live through various emotional lives on earth.

Over 10,000 Years Ago

The Fang Hua Beast that the Immortal of Fates had mentioned was the cause of all these emotional lives. Back then I wasn’t steady enough for the Jade Emperor, who didn’t grant me any titles or offer me a post in any office. I lived my carefree days in leisure, frequently paying visits to the other immortals in hopes of making friends and confidants. But as time passed, I became aware of something wrong.

Besides the Moon Goddess Chang’e calling me her sister in our conversations, the Celestial General’s celestial grandchildren considered me their brother, one calling me Brother Spirit Sovereign, the other Nine Spirits Little Sovereign Brother.

I was very disconsolate.

They couldn’t even tell whether I was male or female, so this wasn’t a deep friendship at all. Slowly, I re-focused my warm hearted zeal on raising mythical beasts instead. On a typical day, I’d take care of the Most Exalted Lord Lao’s ox to the daoist deities’ flaming qilin… Not one of them escaped my attentions, until it got to the point that the Dragon King’s third crown prince would detour out of the way when he spotted me. The Immortal of Fates would often sigh, “Loving beasts to your extent is a rare sight to see.”

“That’s not true, it’s just my weakness for animals. You’re praising me overmuch, really.” I cupped my hands before my chest in obeisance. At that time, the Immortal of Fates had just been conferred the title of one who manages destinies. He used to be a bit stiff before, but now he loved to walk around my estate and play with the mythical beasts I raised. Oftentimes he’d talk to me about those furballs with a yearning look. As for me, I loved raising animals and had plenty of four-footed beasts and birds in my domain. But I didn’t love those with fur. So when he started rambling, I never paid much attention but answered him carelessly.

“None of the animals you’re raising now are rare,” the Immortal of Fates said after a pause. “I heard that after the Goddess Nüwa went through her disasters on earth, something stuck to her skirt on her way back. She was about to throw it away when I recovered it for you.”

“Was it a mythical beast? I don’t want it if it has fur.”

“If it was a furball, I’d raise it myself,” the Immortal of Fates laughed lightly. “Of all the furless beasts I know, he’s the rarest and cutest one.” He sneakily brought out a tree branch from his sleeve and offered it to me.

“You’re not trying to fool me, are you?” I knitted my brows, staring blankly.

“You’ve known me for so long. When have I ever tricked you?” the Immortal of Fates said, rolling the round, chubby stick in his hands a few times before it rolled before my feet. “Take a closer look.”

That branch was mellow and full, red with spots of black in the wood. Pinching it between my fingers, I could sense a thin strand of spiritual essence emanating from within. But after being stuck to Goddess Nüwa’s skirt and spending time with the Immortal of Fates, having some lingering essence was natural.

“There’s a Beast who can take on human form with pale white skin that emanates a fragrant scent. He also has a teardrop-shaped cinnabar mole by the corner of one eye. When the Beast dies, it burns itself out in a sea of flames and turns back into dead wood. With these details, you should know what I’m talking about, right?” the Immortal of Fates gave me a significant look.

I figured out what he meant and lowered my head with sparkling eyes. “Do you mean the fabled Fang Hua Beast?”

“Good eyes. This very object contains the soul of a Fang Hua Beast. They say it’s capable of distilling tens of thousands of worldly poisons.”

“It’s a shame that’s it’s already died and turned back to wood.”

“That’s not necessarily the end. If you plant the wood in soil and feed it a mixture of crushed medicinal plants and flowers with morning dew, you might be able to grow another exceptional Fang Hua.” There was an expression of fascination on the Immortal of Fates’s face before he looked my way. “Where are you going?”

“I’m going to find some soil and raise him.” I replied simply.

“It was just a legend. You’re really going to try?”

“Didn’t you bring him here just so I could?”


One month later, I stood in my courtyard watching the Fang Hua Beast flourish in the dirt. I couldn’t help but feel happy enough to open my doors and dragged every friend I knew into the yard to praise the Fang Hua wood.

“Look at how bright it is after growing in the dirt! Isn’t it even redder than the eyes of your furball back in the Moon Palace?”

“He’s not my furball, but my Jade Rabbit,” Chang’e replied with tears in her eyes.


Two months passed.

“Immortal of Fates, look at how cute this little fellow is. The wood’s sprouted four limbs.” I crouched on the ground, pulling him down to showcase my treasure. “Take a closer look, these four lumps look like arms and legs.”

The Immortal of Fates grew thoughtful for a while before pointing at a different place. “But what’s that tiny lump down there, half buried in the dirt?”

“I think it might be a tail,” I said hesitantly.

“Fang Hua Beasts don’t have tails.”

“Well, they’re male animals, right? Then maybe that spot is his…”


My face turned red. The two of us suddenly fell silent and stopped talking.


Three more months passed.

Under the bright sunlight, the heat inside the courtyard was intense. My armadillos and qilin led a group of mythical beasts to rest by the well, dozing with their eyes shut. Still, not one of them dared to approach it. Beneath the shade of a tree by the ancient well was a strange, nameless wood that differed from all the other trees in the courtyard. It didn’t have delicious celestial fruits or even any branches, but bore a white and delicate baby. When a breeze blew through the courtyard, it ruffled the hairs of the child, whose chubby hand twitched before he inserted a finger into his mouth. He was like a beautiful little prince.

Another mythical beast with the form of a four-winged singing snake stared at him as if enthralled, circling around him before suddenly swooping towards the branch. Before he could even get close to that child, a barrier flung him back with his feet in the air. Of course, a snake didn’t have feet, so he just rolled around a few times before flying towards the Fang Hua Beast again. Once more, he was flung away to roll about the ground. An armadillo cracked open an eye at the strange sight, before tucking its head beneath its front claw and going back to sleep.

The four-winged singing snake tried less than ten times before the shining photosphere above the child pelted him to the ground. Finally, he climbed shakily onto the floating sphere, his dirty belly hanging above the little child’s head, and contentedly rubbed against the ball of light.

A passing immortal child observed, “This snake probably thinks the the Fang Hua Beast is the Sovereign Goddess.”

A fellow immortal friend had a different idea. “With the Sovereign Goddess watching after the Fang Hua Beast day and night, it’s normal for the Fang Hua Beast to carry some of her immortal qi as well. If you look closely, you’ll see that this child’s face is fine and delicate, especially with that bright red mole at the corner of one eye. It’s an excellent detail.”

Another immortal friend mused, “Day after day, he grows more and more handsome. This Fang Hua Beast really looks quite celestial.”

And then a crowd of immortals assembled by the well to study him for awhile, filling the courtyard with their divine light and celestial auras. I couldn’t help be feel gratified watching the scene.


Four more months passed.

By now, the Fang Hua Beast had completed transformed into the shape of a young child. He had a soft, thick head of hair and fine, unwrinkled skin as fair as white jade. Across all of Heaven, there was no other child as cute as he. I sat on a mat of woven cattails with my chin on my hands, observing his face as I mused, ‘I’m already considered attractive and charming, yet you’ve eclipsed my beauty. How irksome.’

A qilin that I’d been ignoring recently anxiously took my robes in his mouth and tugged. In an instant, a part of the robes were scorched black. I kept my careful gaze on Fang Hua as I spaced out, reaching out to pat the young qilin’s head. Instead, I petted the armadillo instead. The qilin was used to people holding his head in their heads, and balked at such ill-neglect. He couldn’t help but fly into a rage from shame and spurt out a mouthful of feeble flame. The fires stopped just outside the spherical barrier surrounded the little Fang Hua, but gave the sleepy four-winged singing sleeping on its surface a nasty fright. His tail wrapped around the barrier as his body slithered down in a panic, completely forgetting the fact that he had four wings as well.

Before my eyes, my singing snake was on the verge of turning into a singed snake.

I clapped the qilin’s head and hastily covered his fire-spewing mouth. The startled snake gave out a cry and stiffened its body as it hurried down. Even a simple cry like his carried a bright and sonorous tone. Fang Hua was obviously frightened by this sudden strange noise, his body shaking in response. When I looked back at him, he’d fallen straight onto the ground.

The little Fang Hua opened his eyes for the first time and peered at me with round, bright, panic-stricken pupils. His mouth curled up as if nursing a huge grievance. Before he could start crying, I quickly picked him up and coddled him into my arms. The little fellow’s tiny fists gripped my clothes tightly. After all that fuss, he didn’t cry, but buried his face inside my robes. The bright red mole by his eye was tender and lovable. I suddenly had a feeling of satisfaction. From planting the wood to raising it successfully, a full 10 months had passed.

“He’s been born, he’s been born! Most Exalted Lord Lao, Immortal of Fates, come look! Though he lacks my heroic spirit, he’s still outstandingly handsome.”

The Most Exalted Lord Lao usually conducted himself uprightly, but even he couldn’t hold onto his dao whisk at this moment. He peered at the naked child in my eyes before he spoke. “I’ve never seen you make a move in all these tens of thousands of years.” Then his eyes shifted to my stomach with a dumbfounded stare. “When was he born?”

“Just now.”

“I haven’t seen the Nine Spirits Sovereign Goddess this happy even when she asked the Jade Emperor for the Grave Guardian Beast. She’s really given too much care into this little Fang Hua,” the Immortal of Fates said, smiling at Most Exalted Lord Lao.

Lord Lao followed with a smile of his own.

The young Fang Hua suckled on my fingers with his mouth, his tongue wrapping around my index finger as he chewed and chewed without teeth. I patted his behind and he burped. Crinkling my eyebrows, I turned to Lord Lao.

“I have a favor to ask of you.”

“Go on and speak, there’s no harm.”

“Thanks to a stroke of luck, this Fang Hua Beast was brought to Heaven. His name hasn’t been recorded in the Book of Celestials yet, so I don’t know if it’d be possible for him to cultivate the Dao from you.”

“That’s easily done. But as the Nine Spirits Sovereign Goddess, your own cultivation base is very high. Why not teach him the path of cultivation yourself?”

“I’m ashamed to say it, but I haven’t studied anything worth remembering. The Heavens were kind enough to let me ascend as an immortal in spite of this. When anyone in the divine realm speaks of the Dao, they all know that Most Exalted Lord Lao is the most erudite speaker. If you can lend a bit of your knowledge to this little one, then it’s definitely fortune cultivated from his previous lives.”

Lord Lao was satisfied with my answer and replied, “I’ll wait for this Beast to grow into human form.” He looked again at the child, who had switched from gnawing on my finger to my waist sash and looked very much like a human. Abruptly, he raised his hand in a rough measurement of height. “When this child is about this tall, bring him to me.”

I gave him no amount of thanks.

The Most Exalted Lord Lao was very pleased as he went back to his home.

“I don’t know who was it that said that old man’s prattling put people to sleep, but I didn’t expect the Nine Spirits Sovereign Goddess to esteem him so much. Your admiration has been hidden deep,” the Immortal of Fates smiled as he raised his tea.

“Truly, what one thinks isn’t what another believes,” I stroked the head of the gnawing Fang Hua, feeling a bit troubled at heart. “This child isn’t like any child of other realms or the mortal world. I really don’t know what to feed him. Originally, I wanted to give him to Lord Lao so he could  raise him for me at his place with elixir pills, but he was too sharp-witted.”

The Immortal of Fates covered his mouth with his hand, suddenly choking as he caught a fit of coughing. With hooded eyes, he replied, “You’re worry too much. This Fang Hua Beast didn’t come from Heaven, so you should be fine feeding it anything. Whether or not he lives will depend on his constitution.”

As it turned out, Fang Hua’s constitution was excellent. His grow was quick and abrupt like nothing I’d ever seen before. I raised him on the fine jade-like wines of the Heavenly Court.

One month later, he had the appearance of a three-year-old child. With a white jade bowl in his hands, he delicately drank the rainwaters and dew. Chang’e couldn’t help but lament over his state, saying that I only let such a tiny child drink fine wine and rainwater, how evil. Afterwards, she commanded her celestial cricket to bring me cassia honey and two peaches of immortality from the Moon Palace with repeated warnings before he left on his cloud. I couldn’t help but drool as I looked at those vivid, juicy peaches. Legends had it that these were gifts from the Queen Mother at her last banquet, but Chang’e had left them as offerings to the altar for many years without bearing to eat them. This was a huge gift. I hugged the peaches and caressed them over and over again. By the time I recovered my senses, there was nothing but two peach pits left in my palm.

“The Nine Spirits Sovereign Goddess ate them all?” Fang Hua stepped on tiptoes to cling to the edge of the bed, shyly looking at me. “Were they tasty?” I suddenly felt as if I’d committed a grave sin.

“They were fine, but not very tasty. They can’t compare to Heaven’s flowers.”

Fang Hua nodded his head as if enlightened. The next day, I saw him lying on a tree branch in the courtyard, earnestly plucking flowers to eat. Seeing me come over, he gracefully wiped his face and adjusted his robes before offering me a commentary.

“They smell nice, but their taste is a little astringent. So peaches of immortality can’t even compare to these, it’s fine that I didn’t eat them.”

I had no words.

Meanwhile, Fang Hua ate flowers day after day until he grew to like the taste, thinking that flowers really were good things. A few months later, he’d eaten all the trees bare and ended up looking like a flower himself. Later generations that wrote on the Fang Hua Beast said that he liked to eat flowers, nectar, and medicinal plants. I think I was more or less to blame for his taste in flower petals.

The young Fang Hua was extremely intelligent and grew a year in the space of ten days. In a flash, he’d become a young man. Everyone in the world of immortals knew how to transform clothes from clouds. Even the dragon kings of the sea used dragon scales for their robes. But Fang Hua had been born naked, and I’d never seen any Fang Hua skin around for him to use in making clothes. I thought he looked very cute that way, too. Still, he grew shy after growing into a young lord’s body and learned how to cover himself, making me very disappointed. Around this time, the Most Exalted Lord Li sent a boy to ask me when Fang Hua could go study the Dao from him. Every time I’d use all sorts of obstructions to block his way.

I suddenly realized that without Fang Hua in this house, there’d be no one to grind ink for me, or play chess with me, or even talk to me. There was no one else who understood me better than him and vice versa. I wouldn’t be used to a place without him. The Immortal of Fates said that this wasn’t a good omen. Thinking back to that point, the Immortal of Fates had already saw some signs and was trying to drop me hints. Yet my heart was too covered in pig’s lard[3] to take them seriously.

In the end, I finally had an accident.

That day, I was just returning from a feast hosted by the Queen Mother of the West on the jade lake[4] of Mt. Kunlun. The Queen Mother’s seventh daughter[5] had told me of her longing for company of the opposite sex, leaving my heart restless. I had drunk a lot of wine as well, so I went home and fell drunkenly on the bed. I slept until midnight until thirst woke me up. Fumbling in the dark, I somehow grasped Fang Hua’s hand. A simple touch made me realize how tender and exquisite his skin was. The memory of this touch was still enough to make me think of past events. When Fang Hua was still a young child, he spoke clearly but rarely and was terrified of strangers. Because he was very attractive but docile, the other immortals couldn’t resist touching him or teasing him in conversations. Yet this little fellow was so chaste that he never took advantage of the situations. Wherever I went, he’d follow along a few meters behind. Even when he slept, it was under the same covers as me after tucking me in and handing me my pillow. He liked to rest his head by my chest before closing his eyes with satisfaction, though the flavor of this changed when he grew up.

Not only was he more respectful, he didn’t even warm my bed when winter came. Now that I was finally touching his warm hand, I couldn’t help but feel melancholy. A warm current rose up to my head as I voiced my complaints in my drunken stupor. I only remember his gentle expression was as calm as water, and very warm. He said, “The Sovereign Goddess should do as she ought.”

I was so drunk that these words didn’t even shock me. I raised my head and peered at him hazily as he smiled, the teardrop-shaped mole looking especially cute. Then I took him into my embrace.

In a moment of indiscretion, I performed dual cultivation with him.

Actually, dual cultivation wasn’t such a big deal. Could you dare say that the Jade Emperor’s mother never dual cultivated before? But even if you did, it was kept under wraps and undisclosed. If you and I both kept quiet, the other immortals would keep one eye open and the other closed. Yet back then I was still young and giddy when I did things. After I woke up and saw Fang Hua’s face look even more agreeable than usual, I decided to give him an official status. The topic that had existed as a pool of stagnant water suddenly exploded into relevance, causing a sensation. Right at that time, the Queen Mother was suffering a headache while dealing with her seventh daughter. Though the girl looked frail, she had a stubborn mouth. When her mother forbid her to see her lover on earth, she began to talk nonsense left and right. If the Sovereign Goddess can practice dual cultivation, then why can’t I? Could a mortal man be any less worthy than a mythical beast? My home became the exact target of her accusations, and the Sovereign Goddess was none other than myself. I was saddened, but the Queen Mother was helpless to do anything. I don’t know what blasphemy was shared with the Jade Emperor, but he decreed that I’d be severely punished. In hindsight, I don’t blame that seventh daughter. I was the one to test the waters in her place--indeed, they were very deep. I hoped she didn’t follow in my footsteps but lived peacefully in the Heavens instead.

My leap off the Immortal Punishment Platform was quick and light.

But I didn’t expect Fang Hua to chase after me as I fell towards the mortal world. This idiot, his name hadn’t even been recorded into the Book of Celestials yet. How could he bear the qi from the Immortal Punishment Platform? With great alarm, I used all of my cultivation base to protect his original body, completely ruining my own immortal body. It would be a big deal for other immortals, but a goddess like me knew multiple arts to protect the soul and wasn’t too concerned with losing my physical form.

To prove that it was abnormal for immortals to long for company of the opposite sex, much less company from different species, the Jade Emperor told the Immortal of Fates to arrange various plays for my criminal self. These were meant to cut the ill-fated bonds between me and the Fang Hua Beast so that I could reach enlightenment and ascend back to the immortal world. The Immortal of Fates had always gotten along with me. He liked to visit my home and flip through books of plays I kept in the house. I always laughed at him because the lives he judged over rarely had any complicated love or hate plots, a critique he took to heart. Now that the Jade Emperor had commanded him to determine my fate, he was eager to display his skills. Despite that, he still took the feelings between us into consideration.

Since Fang Hua could reach adulthood much faster than a regular human could reach an eighteenth birthday, the Immortal of Fates made preparations before my reincarnation to make him fall in love with a mortal woman. Yet since the idea was to prove that love between human and Beast was wrong, this love never reached fruition. That woman not only fell in love with another man, but had a child with him. Not only did she give birth to that child, but she ended up begging Fang Hua to save her dying husband and poisoned baby still wrapped in swaddling clothes. This really was a life full of cannon fodder. Fang Hua held on for a handful of years before flames turned him back into wood, redirecting him onto the path of rebirth.

Meanwhile, my soul wandered here and there, avoiding the pregnant women on Earth as I found their swollen forms distasteful. Instead, I wandered into a dilapidated temple and possessed the body of a little beggar, churning up her insides until I fit right in. I didn’t expect that as soon as I entered, a strand of the beggar girl’s original soul reawakened to struggle for dominance. I was shocked and didn’t know what to do.

Every time my immortal friends gathered together for discussions, I tended to nod off. Still, there was one line that always stuck with me whether or not I was sleeping, and that was: “All the cause and effect in the world comes from kindness or evil. Taking suffering as joy will lead to enlightenment. The ultimate price of evil is bitterness.”

It was something I believed in firmly, that good met with good and evil met with evil. Things didn’t go unpunished--it was only a matter of time. Within the complicated affairs of the world, things were constantly changing. The seeds one planted by accident in the past could grow bigger and bigger before they caught up to the culprit a long time later, seemingly without reason.

In the past, when I first arrived in the Heavens, I wasn’t used to living such a mild life. I loved running about and playing amongst the clouds. Once, I saw two twin baby nine-tailed foxes being chased by a white tiger until they huddled together to cry. Taking pity on them, I placed them into my sleeves and brought them back to the Heavens, where I told two immortal youths to look after them in a house full of mythical beasts. Since I didn’t like furballs very much, I forgot about them after awhile.

One day, one of Fu Xi’s daughters dropped by for a visit. Though the humans knew her as Lady Nüwa in the mortal realm, she was considered wishy-washy by the older immortals. Recently, an ignorant emperor had written a poem about her while burning incense in her temple on her birthday. She thought it was a great delight, and told the story to many of her immortal friends. She was probably worried that she’d missed me and came to see.

As expected, she said she’d read the poem to me as soon as she entered the door.

After hearing it, I nearly choked on my tea. The poem wasn’t too obscene, but as one of the older gods, Nüwa had been listening to prayers for rains, winds, and peace in her temples for ages. A sudden appearance of a poem like this was sure to startle her. I could understand this, but it didn’t mean she had to tell it to everyone she met.

“The raindrops on a pear blossom vie for the same delicate charms, the caged peony adorns itself with charms within the smoke[6]” was suitable praise, in my opinion. The cadence was just a little rough in the reading. This “bring her back to Changle to wait upon the sovereign[7], if it’s supposed to be a joke, went too far,” Nüwa sighed.

“Elder Sister’s[8] celestial form is too honorable and respected. Don’t speak of the emperor, even the Most Exalted Lord Lao wouldn’t dare ask you to carry him a cup of tea,” I said, presenting some tender, aromatic tea leaves.

“Nine Spirits Sovereign Goddess has spoken with reason. This vulgar man from the mortal realm seems like he wants to die.” Nüwa was a little angry when she thought of his philandering, frivolous habits.

From the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of my nine-tailed fox wearing a similar expression of resentment and shame. Surprised, I went over to hold her.

“This fox you’ve raised seemed quite clever,” Nüwa said, affectionately feeling her fine fur. After being touched with immortal qi, the nine-tailed fox suddenly roused itself and took on human form into a particularly seductive woman.

“I am willing to descend into human realm and teach the emperor a lesson for the esteemed goddess,” she said sincerely.


Later on, I realized the resentment glare from the nine-tailed fox came from the fact that she was looking at Nüwa, who was a human with a snake’s body. Just by looking at her snake tail, where was the beauty like raindrops on pear blossoms? The caged peony adorned with charms in the smoke? Whoever wrote the poem really had no taste.

The shame in her face came from understanding the deeper meaning behind the lines, ‘wait upon the sovereign.’

As a result, she left for only a few months before the name of Daji spread far and wide to wreck havoc upon the earth. This wasn’t what Nüwa wanted, especially when she became cursed as someone who instigate an evil scourge upon the populace. The source of her evil scourge came from no less than my own household. Thereafter, a host of immortals came to see all the animals I raised, most of whom sat and stroked the fur of my other nine-tailed fox.

This fox’s name was the Star Heart Fox.

When she grew old enough to understand things, she heard everyone disparaging her twin sister for her deeds. Her eyes would hold both confusion and disappointment. I schemed to admonish her, you have to work hard, don’t learn from your sister who hoodwinked the emperor. You ought to earn some pride for our house and your species of nine-tailed foxes. She seemed to have both understood and not understood. No matter whether she did, these aspirations were smothered to death in the cradle.

When Zhao of Omens had just cultivated to a young immortal, his young immortal servant boy paid a visit to me and gifted me an intelligent cat. Star Heart Fox could never compare to her sister. She was timid and meek from the moment she was born. After meeting the tiger in her youth, her heart was always covered in fear. Then her older sister descended into the human realm and left her behind. She grew even more melancholy and anxious, even fearing the sight of cats. In her view, cats were just like tigers, only a little smaller.

And now Zhao of Omens had gifted me a cat.

After suffering panic attacks from day to night, Star Heart Fox finally ran away. I don’t know how many years passed before I heard someone mention that a female named Wu had ascended the throne as emperor and gave herself the new name of Zhao. This time, I vehemently denied any involvement with the mess.

A single chat with Nüwa gave birth to a Daji in the human world. Though it was just a casual conversation, news of it reached people’s ears. From Daji to Wuzhao, the female emperor, was a tangled knot that no one could untie. The me who had allowed Nüwa to send the nine-tailed fox to the human realm had been punished in full by the Fang Hua wood that stuck to her skirt and was brought to the Heavens. Even though everything that happened was unintentional, it was still a form of karmic retribution.

The me that had descended to this human realm to seize the beggar girl’s body knew the worth of doing good deeds when I could. Seeing her little soul struggle in her body, I dared not touch it, but went to explore her memories until a Fang Hua with a red teardrop mole appeared, along with images of her trifling mother and sick father.

In a flash, I’d understood everything and cursed the Immortal of Fates in my heart. I was terrified of karmic retribution like a turtledove that didn’t dare to claim a magpie’s nest. I feared that the little beggar wouldn’t be able to handle my divine qi and decided to seal myself away. Unfortunately, she didn’t last very long before a fever took her life away. When I opened my eyes in her place, I thought I’d always been a human. I only knew how to stuff mantou in my mouth in the face of bullies, an ordinary child who didn’t understand anything beyond curling her mouth and trying not to cry. The bruised and beaten me finally met my savior in the form of a white-robed Fang Hua who’d also been reborn anew.

Fang Hua held out his hand to mine. Every time I remembered this moment, I’d always feel a bit of pride. The reborn Fang Hua once again came to search for the orphaned child of his love, perhaps because he still harbored memories of his past life. With the hurt from his last life lingering, there was very little chance for him to fall in love with that woman’s child. The Immortal of Fates had been very meticulous in determining this life. It was too bad that he couldn’t predict that I’d not only sealed away my immortal qi and abilities, but my memories of my past life as well. I completely forgot that I’d fallen to the mortal world because of my crimes. Instead, I fell wholly in love with Fang Hua all over again. It was just like a story in one of those books, an intense love that couldn’t be taken back.

But since the Sovereign Goddess was here to pass a trial of sentiment, all sorts of tragedies befell us. I won’t talk about all the misery in between, but after separating and reuniting from misunderstandings, I met Fang Hua again when he was just a piece of dead wood in the dirt. Overcome with sorrow, I knelt before his grave and used a knife to slice my scars, feeding him blood for a long time until he assumed human form. In this life, I used to call him master, but he called me mother when he was reborn.

After going through all that, I finally reached a true understanding of the Fang Hua Beast. They were doomed to burn and die in a sea of flames if touched by sentiment, confined to the cycle of reincarnation. But I was just an ordinary human by then, with no memories of my life in Heaven. With my beloved by my side, I lived my remaining years very happily in the jianghu. Still, what was the worth of such happiness?

Human lives only lasted around sixty years, and he couldn’t be wounded by sentiment. He underwent rebirth two or three more times. I took great pains each time to revive him again and again, but even if I could hold him in the palm of my hand, the red mole by the corner of his eye would turn darker day by day. He was a creature who couldn’t experience emotions without being hurt. Even if I was made of iron, I couldn’t bear this forever.

The very last time, I held him in my arms in the Yuanjia Cave[9] as he grasped my hand with a very content smile. I kept thinking back then that I’d seen just such a smile a very long time ago. He said, don’t save me anymore. We’ve already spent over half our lives together as an old couple. It’s enough that I can be by your side.

I cried and told him that I refused.

He stroked me with a deep sigh, the mole by his eye pitch-black. He barely had enough breath to speak, yet he cracked a joke anyways. Silly, he said, I called you my mother this time. The next time you save me, I might call you grandmother instead.

My heart at that time could only tremble in pain, but I pretended to be angry. “You’re actually bothered that I’ll be older?”

“I’ve been a burden on you these few dozen years. Your body’s already weak to the breaking point, so how can you have enough blood left to feed me? Supposing that I was reborn, I’d only see you die and leave me. If that’s the case, I’d rather sleep forever. It’s about time our story reached an end. I’ve lived very well with you these past years.”

He said, “I’m content. After I die this time, carve my wood into a hairpin and wear it in your hair.”

Fang Hua looked at me with a faint smile as he stroked my head. I wanted to stay with him forever, even in death. His body grew colder and colder in my arms, and I watched with my own eyes as he burst into flames and changed back into pitch-black wood. My heart had dried up to the point that I could cry no more tears.

At that time, peach blossom petals covered the skies outside the Yuanjia Cave, but Fang Hua wasn’t here. In the west, the sunlight shone for miles, giving me a sudden sense of panicked unease. Beneath the experience of countless tragedies, my original soul finally burst free from its seal, releasing my memories and everything else.

Fortunately, remnants of my cultivation base still remained from my leap from the Immortal Punishment Platform. I used that power to go against Fang Hua’s premature death, breaking his ties to such a mournful fate. The next life--in the next life he wouldn’t be reborn as a Fang Hua Beast. I hoped that he could be reincarnated in a womb and be born as a human, even if it was to the foreign lands in the south, and do whatever he wanted. As long as he wasn’t some human-beast anymore.

“If we happen to meet again, keep this Fang Hua wood hairpin. I’ll definitely recognize you if you find me with it.”

Only, was there another chance?

Perhaps there was none…

I used the rest of my cultivation base to fight against his fate with all my life. When the Immortal of Fates finally arrived on the scene with a host of other deities, my body had already been reduced to smoke. Even so, I managed to give them a carefree smile. The Immortal of Fates had wasted his time flipping through all those books of plays. He might have set up the beginning, but he couldn’t control the end.

As the former Sovereign Goddess, I felt both satisfied and refreshed.


[1] nie wood (涅梁) - nie liang, literally “alunite roof beam”, but most likely a special type of wood here.

[2] seas to mulberry fields and back again (沧海桑田) - canghai sangtian, idiom meaning time bringing great changes to the world.

[3] heart was too covered in pig’s lard (猪油蒙了心) - zhuyou meng le xin, meaning someone who isn’t very bright, who couldn’t get a clue, etc. Thickheaded like pig’s lard.

[4] jade lake (of Mt. Kunlun) (瑶池) - yaochi, a mythical lake by the fabled Mt. Kunlun where the goddess Queen Mother of the West was said to reside.

[5] Queen Mother’s seventh daughter (王母的七女儿) wangmu de qinüer, this is the same daughter that features in the folk tale of The Cowherd & the Weaver Girl.

[6] The raindrops on a pear blossom vie for the same delicate charms, the caged peony adorns itself with charms within the smoke (梨花带雨争娇艳,芍药笼烟骋媚妆) - lihua daiyu zheng jiaoyan, shaoyao longyan cheng meizhuang, lines from a poem that Emperor Zhou allegedly wrote to praise the Goddess Nüwa’s after accidentally seeing her statue’s face in her temple while paying his respects, as detailed in the Chinese classic novel Investiture of the Gods.

[7] Bring her back to Changle to wait upon the sovereign (收回长乐侍君王) - shouhui changle shi junwang, last line of King Zhou’s poem. Changle most likely referred to the name of his court.

[8] Elder Sister (姐姐) - jiejie, in this case, the speaker is not related to Nüwa, but referring to her as an elder sister out of respect.

[9] Yuanjia Cave (缘价洞) - yuanjia dong, literally the “Price of Predestiny” Cave.

Bonus Epilogue 2

“Back then, I decreed that you two would sever your bonds of love in the Yuanjia Cave, though I never wrote out the details. But I didn’t expect the Nine Spirits Sovereign Goddess to take matters into her own hands--and do so well.”

“You jumped off the Immortal Punishment Platform and destroyed your own celestial body, then gave all of your cultivation base to the Fang Hua Beast so he could reincarnate on another path.” The Immortal of Fates sighed with feeling as he looked at me. “If I had written the plot to this story, I wouldn’t have created something so soul-stirring.”

“You’re overpraising me.” I was very modest.

“Actually, there was no need to break off contact with your divine side,” the Immortal of Fates raised his tea and sipped it with his head down. “When I descended to the mortal realm that time, it wasn’t to take you into custody. The original plan was to return you the Heavens after you suffered for your crimes, but I didn’t expect such a fright.”

“Speaking to the end, I still have to thank you for giving me a bit of immortal qi that time. Otherwise, it might have taken tens of thousands of years to recover myself.”

“Your soul hadn’t finished dissolving by then. The immortal qi I gave you was like a stone in the sea. I was convinced that you were going to die,” the Immortal of Fates looked like he didn’t want to bring up the topic again, before giving me a genteel look. “In any case, it was I who carried over the Fang Hua Wood from Nüwa to you. I’ve always felt sorry about that, so at least this counts as paying you back.”

“Immortal of Fates is always clear with your calculations. But I wonder when you’ll return the armadillo and furballs you took from my house?”

“You’re erring on the side of stinginess. Isn’t saving your life worth a furball or few?”

“Now this sounds more like the Immortal of Fates I know.”

“How did you live these past years? No one in all of Heaven could grasp a sliver of your immortal qi. I really thought the Nine Spirits Sovereign Goddess didn’t exist in this world anymore.”

“I reincarnated into a few nameless wombs and attached my soul to them a few times. I don’t remember the rest of the details.” I’d lost about half of my cultivation base when I’d jumped from the Immortal Punishing Platform and used most of the rest to save Fang Hua. Finally there was only a little bit left curled up and asleep within my soul, which kept reincarnating on Earth. It was no wonder he couldn’t find me when I myself had no idea that I was a goddess.

“I discovered something extremely interesting when I came to deliver a body to you today. When you sent off the Fang Hua Beast to the cycle of reincarnation, did you ever wonder where he’d be now? Or what his name is?”

“If the Immortal of Fates is saying this, does this mean you know?” I raised the bowl of tea to warm my hands.

“That’s right,” he smiled.

I looked at him, somewhat surprised.

“The Fang Hua Beast reincarnated as a human child in the southern territories, just like you in your latest life. He’s on Earth right now, and by my calculations, he’s probably that…”

“My lord, you can’t go in.” A clamor rose from outside the doors before they suddenly swung open, sending in a gust of wind. Yu Hua[1] entered wearing snow-white robes, leading along Yu Muqing[2]. Their robes floated in the air with a standalone elegance. As my eyes shifted up, I saw that he was wearing a Fang Hua wood hairpin in his long black hair.

Dead silence fell upon us.

Yu Muqing the furball shyly threw himself on my knees before glancing back at his father. Then, with a very reserved voice, he called me mother. I’d never been a fan of furballs, but couldn’t help widening my eyes at the sign of his fine and furry ears. I touched them, finding them quite soft as they twitched in my hands, before tightening my fingers.

The Immortal of Fates was on this fox-eared Yu Muqing, who was acting like a spoiled child in my lap. “Look at those slender eyes, they’re just like yours. But all his looks, especially his ears, are a hundred times cuter than you.” Praising my son was like praising me. Even if that wasn’t his intention, I still felt fine with it.

“What I just mentioned to you back then,” the Immortal of Fates said, looking at our family of three with a deep sigh, “You can just pretend I said nothing at all.”

“You don’t need to say anything. I’ve known for a while already.”

The Immortal of Fates raised his brows slightly at Yu Hua to laugh before stretching his neck towards me. “Then you should know that the Jade Emperor’s long restored your title and standing? They’re not going to investigate the case of the Fang Hua Beast, so when will you go back with me?” When he mentioned Fang Hua Beast these three words, he intentionally raised his voice.

The High Immortal Zhao of Omens spoke up in support. “This humble immortal shall escort auntie back to the Heavens.”

I looked towards Yu Hua’s dark eyebrows and the faint hint of sorrow on his face. Though his manner was calm and dignified, it didn’t seem he could hold on for much longer. Before he opened his mouth to speak, I replied respectfully to High Immortal Zhao.

“Who says I’m going? The population is thin in the southern territories, making it the perfect place for me to offer my humble efforts. At this moment, growing branches and scattering leaves[3] is more important.”

Little Yu Muqing tightly clutched my robes, rubbing his hand against my palm. My expression was solemn as I spoke. “As far as I can see, no one else’s blood is as pure or potent as mine. The responsibility of saving the southern territories is a duty I cannot shirk without dishonor.”

Yu Hua’s lips seemed to be quirking up into a smile.

“But the Jade Emperor…” High Immortal Zhao of Omens carried misgivings on his face.

“Don’t worry, the Jade Emperor won’t do anything to her. All these years he’s been keeping one eye open with the other closed, so he won’t bother her for something like this,” the Immortal of Fates observed the tender looks between Yu Hua and I before he felt incomparably sour.

“The old Jade Emperor’s seen enough chaos these recent years, it’s about time he gave me peace and quiet. Heaven is a good place, but it doesn’t know warm and cold like the mortal realms. A goddess is just a title, so let it hang where it will. It makes no difference to me either way.”

“You’re still holding a grudge from that time with the rotten millet,” the Immortal of Fates said as he drank his last mouthful of tea.

“Yes. If the Jade Emperor had let me take charge back then, then Heaven and Earth would’ve been very different,” I said in rapt attention.

“Then Heaven would be doomed,” the Immortal of Fates brushed dirt off his robes, slowly rising to his feet. “Since you don’t want to return to the Heavenly Court, I’ll go back to report my mission as finished.”

I smiled. “I’ll send you off.”

The Immortal of Fates looked at me, then at Yu Hua, wearing a significant smile. I’d asked him if the Fang Hua Beast who reincarnated as a human would ever recover his memories like I did. He said no. In the middle of sighing, I’d felt a sense of relief and lingering sorrow.

The Immortal of Fates had only looked at me and said, since you’ve decided on this, then you should live every day happily. Don’t nitpick about the rest.

I thought his reasoning was very sound.[4]


[1] Yu Hua (玉华) - the male protagonist of the author’s other novel, 《Who Was the Secret Substitute for Those Fleeting Years?》Yu means jade, Hua means splendid, magnificent. The human reincarnation of Fang Hua after Shao’er freed his soul.

[2] Yu Muqing (玉慕卿) - Yu Hua’s son, who usually takes on the appearance of a fox.

[3] growing branches and scattering leaves (开枝散叶) - kaizhi sanye, to grow and progress.

[4] The rest of the story talks about the fate of the characters in Who Was the Secret Substitute for Those Fleeting Years. A summary of the story follows below (click on the arrow to see): [expand]

When Shao’er regained her memories as the Nine Spirits Sovereign Goddess, she managed to muster the remnants of her divine powers to free Fang Hua from his fate as the Fang Hua Beast so he could reincarnate as a normal human. It used up nearly all her power and literally tore her soul apart.

Before she disappeared completely, her old friend the Immortal of Fates descended from the Heavens, originally intending to take her back. Unfortunately, she was breaking apart before their eyes, so the most he could do was imbibe her with his immortal qi before she disappeared.

Shao’er/Nine Spirits Sovereign Goddess managed to survive by existing in a half-conscious state while attaching to human babies in the womb. Eventually, she mustered enough consciousness to jump from body to body, though her memories were fainter than ever.

Around the same time she possessed a young girl, Fang Hua’s soul had been reincarnated and reborn into the man who would grow into Yu Hua. Eventually, they fell in love and even had a child. Somewhere down the line, the reincarnated Shao’er fell into a coma because her soul was incomplete--with only two spirits and four souls out of the usual three and seven. A long time passed before Yu Hua could track down the missing fragments of her soul and piece them together.

By the end of this story, the reincarnated Shao’er (also known as Qing’er) goes off to live with the reincarnated Fang Hua (also known as Yu Hua) and their son, Yu Muqing. She promises to teach her son her Soul Arts techniques so his soul won’t be trapped in the body of a fox anymore. The side story has Yu Muqing imagining a future vision where he’s living with a sister and many, many little brothers.

It’s a semi-divine family that finally finds their happy ending.[/expand]
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