Chapter 1: I’m Going To The Human World To Seduce Him
From a time unknown, people passing by the River of Oblivion began to call me the Stone of Three Lifetimes . Thereafter, some people spurned me, some came hand-in-hand and carved on me their romances from lifetimes past, and there were even those who stood bawling in front of me.
And yet, I was just a stone by the Wangchuan riverside. I neither had joy nor did I have sorrow.
I sat faithfully that way by the Wangchuan for one thousand years until I finally formed a soul one day.
All living things were to be subjected to trials of fate, but I continued to sit there harmlessly for over another century until…
My love trial came.
Reading my fortune was a white-bearded priest passing by the Wangchuan. He prophesied my coming trial to the knowing nodding of his head.
I thought he was just making up hogwash.
I was a spirit born from the Sansheng Stone; my soul was that of a stone and my heart was that of a stone. My heart had long been forged into coldness by the perennial darkness along the Wanchuan River.
There was no pain where there was no love. If my heart hadn’t ever stirred, then where would this love trial be coming from?
Or so I thought.
But everything always had its surprises.
On a gloomy afternoon in the underworld, I returned to the eternally unchanging Wangchuan from my walk as usual. I looked up. In that coincidental moment, as if sunlight from the land of the living had broken through the thick layers of fog, the cluster amaryllises lining the Yellow Springs suddenly glistened radiantly.
A man gracefully came forth.
I suddenly recalled the words a human woman passing by me had once whispered many, many years ago: “What a scholarly gentleman, so polished, so refined.”
After a thousand years, my stony heart made a rare subtle tremble.
He slowly approached, of course not to see me, but rather because behind me was the Naihe Bridge one must cross in order to enter the underworld. It wasn’t easy to run into such a beautiful person, so I thought I should have a beautiful meeting with him.
I stepped forward and softly called out to him: “Sir.” I thought to curtsy to him like the well-bred ladies did in human books. But the books only said ‘curtsy’. They never described to me what specific postures and movements were entailed.
I pondered for a moment, then mimicked the ghosts bemoaning to Yanwang (ruler of the underworld) and dropped to my knees with a thud, banged my head on the ground in three kowtows, and said to him, “What is thy fair name, sir?”
The imps nearby sucked in two deep breaths of cold air. He stood there blankly with some surprise in his eyes. For the time being, he did not answer me.
Any endeavor must be approached with sincerity, for the Black and White Guards of Impermanence’s favorite saying was: “Sincerity equals success.” This was how they had always been able to lure the mortal souls to docilely follow them back.
Hearing no response from him, I briefly wondered that perhaps I hadn’t knocked my head loudly enough and therefore hadn’t shown enough sincerity. I crawled forward on my knees and, not sparing any effort this time, fiercely knocked my head onto the ground three more times. It seemed I kowtowed so hard that I sent three waves of shock through the ground. The imps nearby wheezed in evident fright.
I raised my head and looked up at him with a bloody face. “What is thy fair name, sir?”
Perhaps the wretchedness of my bloody face had scared him stiff. He remained silent.
I hastily wiped my face, and in the process discovered both of my hands were damp! I hadn’t known I was bleeding this much. I suddenly realized why he was in such a stupor.
I panicked. While rushing to rub myself, I ended up smudging my entire body with blood.
I looked up to him quite helplessly.
In his pretty eyes was the imprint of my reflection. Then, his eyes curved into a dazzling smile.
Even though I didn’t know what he was delighted with, seeing him happy, I, too, offered him a friendly smile complete with two rows of sparkling white teeth, not realizing doing so was adding to the terrifying look of a bloody person.
The imp beside me, Jia, leaned in nervously and pulled me up. I wouldn’t rise. He caught his breath and whispered to me, “My dear Madam Sansheng! Who are you trying to scare with that frightening face?! Do you know who he is?”
Among the spiritual beings in the underworld, my magic wasn’t particularly profound. But due to seniority, all of the imps were respectful to me. They seldom spoke to me in such a tone. I frowned and said quizzically, “Of course I don’t know who he is. I’m asking him, aren’t I?”
Little Yi looked as though he was going to sputter up blood any moment now. “My dear madam! This is Heaven’s…” He hadn’t finished when a gentle voice interrupted him.
“My name is Moxi.”
He extended his hand where I readily placed mine inside. He flipped his hand and clasped my wrist.
My wrist was my vital portal. At this moment, he only needed the slightest exertion to send me to a very horrible death. Little Jia’s and Little Yi’s unsightly faces were becoming even ghastlier than they originally were. Jia quickly pleaded, “M’lord! M’lord! Miss Sansheng has lived here by the Wangchuan River all her life. The underworld is but a humble place; the young lady does not know her etiquettes. I beg you to forgive her.”
“Sansheng? That’s a strange name, albeit somewhat interesting.”
I was still looking at him. I did not feel afraid since there was no murderous intent in his eyes.
He carefully studied me for a while, let go of my wrist, and instead pulled me up by my arm. “How remarkable for a stone from the underworld to have developed a soul. You didn’t know who I was, yet why did you give me such a great obeisance?”
I suddenly understood. It turned out it wasn’t that my sincerity was lacking, but that it was too profuse. I honestly told him, “You’re so handsome that I wanted to…” Untimely, my vocabulary failed me. In my panic, I randomly grasped for a word that I didn’t know since when had dropped into my brain: “I wanted to seduce you.”
Little Jia gave me a ‘you’re hopeless’ look.
He chuckled. “What a straightforward creature.”
I was thrilled, thinking it was a compliment. “Then, can I seduce you?” I hastily asked him.
He said in some deliberation, “I’ve come for my trial, so I won’t be staying in the underworld.”
What he meant was ‘no’. I lowered my gaze, a little disappointed. “Have you always sat by the Wangchuan riverbank?” he suddenly asked.
“Would you like to go outside for a look?”
My eyes lit up; I nodded vigorously.
He faintly smiled and patted my head. “Considering that I’ve received several bloody kowtows from you, I can’t have you kowtow in vain. Since you want to leave the underworld, I will promise you three lifetimes of freedom. The three lifetimes I go through my trial are also the three lifetimes you get to have your freedom. After I return from my trial, you will also obediently come back to the Wangchuan bank, how does that sound?”
There was nothing disadvantageous about his proposal. I nodded yes. He cast a golden seal on my wrist. “As a spiritual being, you need to learn to be smarter. Hereafter, take care to protect your vital portal.” He added, “Those who are stronger won’t always be as kind as I am.”
The two imps, Jia and Yi, contorted their faces as they escorted him away. I touched the golden seal on my wrist.
“Moxi,” I called out to him.
Standing in front of the Naihe Bridge, he held the waters of oblivion in his hand and turned to face me.
“Can I come to the human world to seduce you?”
My question was so earnest that it prompted a burst of eerie laughter from Old Meng who was ladling her amnesic soup.
His lips were also upturning into a smile. “If you can find me, then go ahead.” At his last word, he drank down the soup in one gulp.
Without turning around, he entered deep into the underworld. I kept watching him leave, and remained unwilling to divert my eyes even after he disappeared from sight. Little Yi came back from the Naihe Bridge and waved his cadaverous hands in front of me, calling: “Miss Sansheng!”
“Miss Sansheng, could you have developed some feelings for him?”
I finally turned to look at Yi and asked in seriousness, “What does it mean to develop feelings?”
Yi tilted his head in thought. “However the men and women are described in those books you always read is however ‘developing feelings’ should be.”
I pondered for a moment. In those books I frequently read, the gentleman would meet the lady, the lady then curtsied, the two next conversed in a word or two, and then they would begin to do a number of ooh ooh ah ah actions they couldn’t help themselves from. I never thought to ooh ooh ah ah with Moxi, so I really didn’t think I was developing feelings for him.
I firmly shook my head. “I haven’t developed any feelings.”
Yi gave a long sigh and muttered to himself, “That’s true, how can a stone develop feelings? I’ve thought too much.” Almost instantly, he stared at me and said, “The point is, it’s best as long as you don’t develop feelings for him! In this world, there is nothing more agonizing than the word ‘love’. This is not to say Miss Sansheng can never like somebody. It’s only because Lord Moxi is really someone no lady should ever fall for.”
“Why is that? He’s the best-looking and gentlemanly person I’ve ever met.” I paused, then added, “And he has the most pleasing voice to the ears.”
“Precisely because everything about him is so perfect that you should never ever fall for him! Lord Moxi is the God of War from Heaven. Although nothing is impossible in this world, he only cares for the world’s welfare. If his heart is occupied by the common people, will there be any space for love?”
Whether Moxi had any place for love in his heart didn’t matter much to me, but the first half of Yi’s remark gave me pause. “How can he take on something as savage as the God of War post? He’s obviously a very kind person.”
Yi almost sputtered a mouthful of blood. “Kind? But you don’t really believe that… do you?”
When he saw my nod, Yi shook his head and said in helplessness, “When the Demon clan attacked Heaven with an army of 100,000 strong, Lord Moxi led 30,000 heavenly soldiers and wiped them clean. Afterward, he led his army down to the Demon capital and massacred the entire Demon clan; blood flowed like water then. In the past decade, there has been no sound uttered by the demons. That’s because any demon three years and older has been exterminated.”
I had some impression of this event. During that time, the underworld became incredibly overcrowded. The wailing almost ripped Yanwang’s palace apart; the Naihe Bridge almost collapsed from being trampled on. Although these demons were said to have been killed by Moxi, war was in fact a matter of killing and surviving. Moxi as the God of War had the duty of resorting to force in order to suppress the rebels. His loyalties lay with his own clan. Decisive ruthlessness was only natural in battle.
I patted Yi’s shoulder. “Thank you for telling me these things.
I’m heading back to the stone to do some packing now.”
Yi was confused. “Miss, where are you going?”
I grinned. “I’m going to the human world to seduce him.”
The River of Oblivion is called the Wangchuan in Chinese mythology. It is similar to the Lethe in Greek mythology.
She is called the Sansheng Stone where Sansheng means ‘three lifetimes’. ‘Three lifetimes’ in Buddhist context also means the past life, the present life, and the future life.
a saying that means a gentleman’s cultivation of character is like the refinement of jade, taken from The Book of Songs, Odes of Wei.
she’s asking for his ‘fair name’ as a man might ask a woman
Chapter 2: Let Me Hear You Call Me ‘Darling’
After I finished tying up various loose ends in the underworld, Yanwang personally placed three seals on the back of my neck, each representing one lifetime in the human world. Once the three seals disappeared, I must return to the underworld and stand guard by the Wangchuan again.
In the envious eyes of other spiritual beings, I donned a white cotton dress and left to the human world.
The human world previously known through books was much livelier than I had imagined it to be, and also more interesting, and also… more dangerous.
On my third day on Earth, on the way looking for Moxi, I passed by a temple and discovered that it was dedicated to the Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva. I piously went in, thinking to offer my worship. I had only dropped to my knees, yet to finish bowing, when an old yet nimble monk suddenly stepped forth with a razor in hand. He smiled amiably at me: “Amitabha. Benefactor, knowing to mend your wrongs by seeking the Buddha is doing the world a good deed.”
Huh? I hadn’t had time to ponder over the meaning behind his words when his razor had headed straight for my hair.
I was a stone – the Sansheng Stone. From head to toe, the most difficult for me to grow was hair. I had stared at it for a thousand years before it finally made a little improvement, yet this old bald donkey had the nerve to shave me! I huffed and kicked him away. Unexpectedly, this monk was actually a martial artist. He easily escaped from my kick.
He withdrew the genial smile from his face. “What are you intending to do?”
“Baldy, I should ask you the same question,” I replied dubiously.
He sneered. “Demon, I thought you had wanted to follow the Buddha’s way to atone for your sins. It turns out you had come here to stir trouble!”
“Demon? You’re mistaken, I’m not…”
“Hmph, I’ve detected the mustiness of darkness lurking in you from three miles away. Don’t try to slink your way out of this!”
I sniffed left and right, but couldn’t really sense any mustiness on my body. The fish in the Wangchuan were much mustier than I was! This monk did not listen to my explanation. His razor came at me again. My desire to kill began to rise, but Yanwang’s endless reminders that I must never harm anyone suddenly came to mind.
I withdrew my attack, turned, and made a run for it.
The monk kept chasing after me ’round the entire mountain, forcing me to run till I was out of breath. I just wanted to give the bald donkey a punch and send him to an eternal sleep.
All of a sudden, a burst of fragrance drifted to my nose. I had never smelled such a wonderful fragrance in the underworld. My attention was instantly lured away. As I drew near, a red sea of flowers came into sight.
The humans called this season ‘winter’, and they called that glistening substance covering the red petals ‘snow’. But I didn’t yet know the name of these red flowers. After I passed through the sea of scented boughs, I discovered a small courtyard quietly standing on the other side.
Curious, I opened the gate and went inside. After barely stepping into the courtyard, the golden seal Moxi left on my wrist suddenly glowed. My heart drummed as I approached the main house inside the yard. Suddenly, I heard a gentle female voice: “Hush-a-by baby, on the tree top, when the wind blows, the cradle will rock.”
I gently pushed the door ajar and quietly peered inside. A young woman was sitting in bed with a baby in her arms. Upon a closer look, I smiled. That face, that nose, and those lips, wasn’t this a meatball version of Moxi?!
I hadn’t needed to expend any effort at all!
But he was only a meatball at present. He had forgotten his past life and could not yet recognize others. How was I going to seduce him? Or, should I stay by his side and be his guardian until he grew up? I definitely could not let other women, or men for that matter, to take advantage of him while he was still young.
A bellowing shout behind me abruptly disrupted my train of thought: “Heathen, where are you trying to run?!”
Startled, I swiftly dodged to the left, banged open a door, and lunged into the house. His razor flashed by as I saw a handful of black hair falling down in front of my forehead.
I woefully sprawled out on the floor, vacantly staring at that handful of dark hair fluttering down.
The woman’s scream sounded so faraway to my ears, and Yanwang’s reminder was drifting even farther like puffs of clouds in the sky. I jumped up, gathered my spiritual forces to my palm, and with Wangchuan’s one thousand years’ worth of darkness, I aimed a strike at the old monk. This strike would’ve crushed his brain, but my sanity was suddenly awakened by the crying of the baby.
My palm-strike veered to the side and struck the beam over the door, giving the entire hut three waves of tremor. I somersaulted out of the house. It seemed as though my strike had affrighted the old donkey senseless. It took him a second before he eventually collected himself. He looked at me, then looked at the meatball version of Moxi and suddenly faced the horrified woman and told her: “The red mole on your son’s forehead portends ominous things to come. He is already attracting such evil though he is only a newborn. He will surely be a curse to all those around him!”
The woman was scared livid at these words. She held onto her child, not knowing what to do.
I was furious. “Hey baldy, stop it with your nonsense!” All humans believed in the prophecies of these priests and monks. He was going to ruin Moxi’s entire life with his words. “Hmph! Heathen, you ambushed me while I was unprepared.
I will let you learn a lesson this time!”
The razor in his hand flashed a golden light as it turned into a Buddhist staff and headed straight for me. This monk did not have a high cultivation, but the Buddha nimbus on his staff prevented me from looking straight ahead. What we feared most in the underworld was the Buddha nimbus of the Western Heavens. Overwhelmed, I was forced to retreat.
I didn’t think that the fight between the monk and me would last very long. I was a stone – patience was my best virtue. I had believed that after our fight tired him out, he would eventually back off. By that time, I would come back to stay with Moxi until he grew up. I didn’t expect the human monk to be more stubborn than I thought him to be. Demon slaying was his lifelong mission, and perhaps I was the most powerful ‘monster’ he encountered in his life, he ended up considering killing me as the ultimate mission of his life.
Our battle transpired for nine full years in the human world.
In the end, it wasn’t that he gave up on killing me, but that my old acquaintances, the two brothers of Black and White Guards of Impermanence came to beckon his soul away…
I was hiding so wretchedly in the mountains at the time I chanced upon my acquaintances again. When I saw them drag the bald donkey’s soul away, I hugged their long hanging tongues and wept in joy. At the same time, I made sure to tell them to ask Old Meng to give this monk some extra soup so that he would become a half-wit in his next incarnation and live a life of misery.
After finishing off the monk, I primmed and preened my looks that hadn’t been primmed and preened over the last nine years. Then, crossing thousands of miles through mountains and streams, I found the small courtyard I had met Moxi in the past.
After nine years of living in the human world, I finally learned that the red fragrant flowers were called plum blossoms.
Even so, I had no idea the timespan of nine years could turn such a beautiful plum forest into this withering state.
I slowly neared the small courtyard as the golden seal on my wrist flickered again. I hadn’t stepped past the gate when I saw a dirty child holding a much taller broom sweeping the barren yard. The rustling sounded so dreadfully bleak.
The child seemed to have realized someone was entering. He suddenly turned around.
What I saw were a pair of clear eyes and a red mole between his eyebrows. My heart clenched up, my hands trembled, and the candies I bought for Moxi fell to the ground.
“Who are you?” He walked up to me.
I squatted down to be at his eye level and saw my own reflection in his clear eyes. I rubbed the dirt off of his face with my sleeve and told him, “My name is Sansheng. I’ve come to seduce you.”
He stared at me without saying a word, letting me use my sleeve to wipe his face. I took notice of his raggedy clothes and the bruises on his hands and neck. I seemed to recall his mother wasn’t an impoverished person nine years prior. How did she let Moxi become this way?
“Where’s your mother?” I asked him.
His direct answer surprised me. Hadn’t mortals always cared a great deal about life and death? He… maybe he was still too young to understand life and death. That was the only explanation I could come up with.
“Since your mother has passed away, everything is up to you now. Remember, as of today, I have successfully seduced you.”
He remained silent as he watched me. I scratched my head; talking to a child was proving to be a very difficult task. Moreover, the child in question was somewhat reticent and withdrawn to begin with. I decided to use a simpler language to explain to him.
“In other words, I am your wife from now on. In accordance with the rules of the mortals, I am your child bride. But this isn’t important. What’s important is that no one can ever bully you again now that I’m here.” His eyes lit up. I patted his head: “Let me hear you call me ‘darling’.”
He was silent for a moment. “Sansheng,” he repeated my name.
“…Fine,” I gave up, “call me Sansheng then.”
I would come to remember the way he called my name again and again that day, calling me until I answered him. Much later, I learned there had also been a time when he called his mother over and over again to no avail.
Moxi was originally the God of War from Heaven. Although he was only in the mortal realm for his tribulation, he should still be a cultured and civilized man, and so I thought to send him to school.
Not far from where we lived was a small town. There was only one academy in this town. The teachers at this academy knew of the old monk’s prophecy that Moxi would grow up to be a curse to all those around him, and so they were reluctant to welcome him into their school.
I told Moxi to carry a pot of gold coins and circle around the academy. Eventually, the teachers accepted him. I helped him tie his hair on the first day to school. He looked at me through the reflection in the bronze mirror; in his eyes was a flicker of apprehension. I gently said to him, “You’ll be living here in the mortal world for some decades more. It’s not a very long time; I’ll make sure peace follows you in life. But I hope that you’ll become a responsible person and lead a brilliant life through these decades. Literacy is a must. Listen to your teacher while you’re at school. Although I wouldn’t call them sages, they will still conduct themselves with propriety in front of their students. Study hard!”
When he came back in the evening, there were some injuries on his face. A red mark here, a blue mark there. “Did you get bullied?” I asked.
“Did you fight back?”
He shook his head.
I dressed his wounds and asked, “Where does he live, the one who bullied you?”
Fatty Wang was the son of a landowner in town. His family was so wealthy that even their backyard was enormous. I looked on in total glee. After I lit a fire in his family’s woodshed, a southerly wind timely blew by and flamed it into a big fire. Half of the sky blazed red.
Feeling that the scene was rather spectacular to behold, I led Moxi to a good viewing place and pointed to the towering flames from Fatty Wang’s house as I told him, “Laugh all you want.”
Moxi looked at me thoughtfully. “Sansheng, my teacher said we should return misdeed with virtue.”
“Moxi, you should learn to differentiate. Your teacher was obviously lying to you. It’s okay to listen, but don’t take everything to heart.”
Moxi listened to my words, then slowly issued a ‘hahaha’ sound.
Life in the human world flew by in the blink of an eye. Moxi was fast approaching his coming-of-age at twenty years old.
Under my very careful education, it was no great surprise Moxi grew up to be a gentleman as gentle as jade. His face and figure did not differ too greatly from the time I met him in the underworld. Because his godlike bearing was uncommon in the human world, and combined with his extraordinarily intelligence, he soon became well-known in this small town.
However, “fame kills people, blubber kills pigs.” There had to be a reason why this saying stayed in circulation for as long as it did.
It was a sunny and balmy morning when I was reclining on the divan to read a newly released novel. It was a love story about a couple who had made it through the rough of times and it came with detailed ooh ooh ah ah passages. I was right at the climax of the story when Moxi stepped in from outside. He picked up the cloak and robe I had casually tossed on the ground and put them away, gave me a cup of water, then said, “It’s not good to lie around all day. You should also go outside for some sun, Sansheng.”
I took the cup from him. My eyes did not leave the book as I perfunctorily said, “Sunlight is like poison to me. It offers me no benefit.”
But he wouldn’t take my words. “It snowed this morning. The plum blossoms in our compound are blooming very beautifully. Let’s take a walk to look at them.” I looked at him and saw a shiny ray of hope in his eyes. I placed the book that was getting to the ooh ooh ah ah part down: “All right, I’ll come with you for a walk.”
Happy, he softly smiled.
We held hands and took a stroll around the plum forest. He didn’t lie to me. The plums were blossoming quite beautifully today.
“Moxi, you know I love the view of these red plum blossoms and their fragrance in the glistening snow, but do you know why?”
He thought for a while. “It’s probably because your temper is very similar to this plum.” I paused amid walking and looked into his eyes as I shook my head, smiling wordlessly.
He didn’t really get it, but he left me to my perusal of his face. Gradually, a hint of a smile appeared: “Sansheng, do you like looking at me?”
“Yes.” I used my hand to measure the distance between his head and mine. He was now a full head taller than I was. I tilted my head in thought: “Moxi, let me hear you call me ‘darling’.”
His ears suddenly reddened.
“You’re fast approaching your coming-of-age,” I said. “I think this child bride should finally be promoted after so many years. Just choose a date and marry me, won’t you?”
Ruddiness spread from his ears down to his cheeks, his Adam’s apple slightly undulating. After a long while, a dash of chagrin emerged in his eyes. “Sansheng, you’re, you’re always…” He did not yet finish his sentence when I suddenly heard someone’s voices from beyond the plum forest.
Ever since Moxi acquired a little fame, there was always someone coming to look for him. I’d never said a thing, but they interrupted our marriage conversation today. My face deflated. I was quite unhappy.
The voices of those who came were becoming louder and louder. Moxi had also faintly caught onto them. “Sansheng, it seems someone came to visit, let’s go back to the house.”
I hummed an answer and went back into my room, continuing to read my book. Moxi went out to the guest hall to receive his guest.
Approaching noon, Moxi saw the guest out and then came into my room. He sat down without speaking. I reclined against my chair and also did not speak; my patience had always been great. He finally couldn’t win against me.
“It was the governor who came by today.”
“He… he told me to go the capital to become an official.”
Perhaps my indifference was making Moxi a little lost. He carefully studied my face. Seeming to have made up his determination, he said, “I want to go.”
I quietly turned to the last page of my book. The love story had a happy ending. I then turned around to look at Moxi. He was intently watching me. I sighed, “A man should have ambitions. It’s an official that you aspire to be, not a thief… albeit fundamentally, there’s not much difference between the two. But I will admit that the Imperial Court is one of the places to chase your ambitions. I’ve always hoped that you can be triumphant in life. Now that you are in possession of both talent and opportunity, you should be brave and go. Why are you looking at me?”
Moxi shook his head. “I’m not becoming an official for any ambition…” His cheeks flushed ruddy. “As you said, I’m almost twenty. I’ve, I’ve always thought to have a talk with you about our marriage one day.”
I held the cup, frozen on the spot.
His smile was utterly helpless. “But Sansheng, you are always a step ahead of me.” He added, “I want to have a family with you, but as a man, I cannot let you take care of me for the rest of my life. I want to bring you happiness using my own ability.”
“Sansheng, will you wait two years for me? After I succeed, I will come back to marry you.”
I couldn’t say ‘no’.
At that moment, I wished I was an ordinary girl. I wished I was waiting for him to come home and call “Sansheng” to me from the door.
However, he wanted me to wait two years. I was originally a very patient rock, but I just couldn’t bear it this time. After a night of tossing and turning, I suddenly sat up in bed.
I knew he wasn’t there, but I still wanted to call his name, as though he would appear in front of me if I’d only call out to him.
I called to him thusly three times, but I received no other answer besides the rustling wind outside. I could not fall asleep again, so I simply rolled out of bed, and without packing anything, I left the house in only a white robe straight to the capital to find my husband.
Chapter 3: Sansheng Is The Only One For Me
I was no stranger to the capital.
Having once been chased around the city by the old monk for more than three months, I’d gone to all the places I needed to go and been to all the places I needed to be; there wasn’t a thing left for me to be curious about.
I was anxious to find Moxi, but since I didn’t want him to know I was so attached to him, I didn’t dare to look for him in the open. It hadn’t been long since he was recommended to be an official. As it was still the beginning, he must be having a hard time with little fame to speak of. I took to the streets to ask around, but no one had any information to offer. There were times when I thought to go to the palace to find him, but the imperial family was surrounded by such resplendent royal air that it suffocated me, and so I could only give up the idea in the end.
After debating back and forth, I decided that during the day I would wait for luck to smile on me, and then at night, go to high-ranking officials’ homes to search for Moxi’s whereabouts.
I had thought at first that looking for Moxi in person would yield better odds than trying to wait around for luck, but my luck ended up surprising me with its remarkable felicity.
That day, the capital was filled with sunshine. I was idly walking down the streets as I tapped a stalk of scallion onto my romance novel. Suddenly, I heard a commotion ahead where groups of people were beginning to amass. In a moment of curiosity, I stuffed the book away, flung the scallion to the side, and walked over to catch the show.
This show turned out to be a rather interesting one. It was a very dramatic “the water flows on with no regards for the flower’s feelings” story that was unfolding.
The ‘indifferent water’ was precisely my husband Moxi, and the ‘falling flower’, if I wasn’t wrong, should be the general’s beloved daughter, Shi Qianqian.
How did I know? Well, largely because her boudoir ornaments weren’t too shabby. I’d been selling a lot of jewelry these days, and hers fetched in the most money.
Shi Qianqian was lying dejectedly on the ground. Her ankle seemed to be hurt. She was looking at Moxi with a pair of peach eyes streaming in tears, but Moxi’s gaze just indifferently swept past her before he turned away. Then, Shi Qianqian rushed forward to catch his hem. Unfortunately, Moxi avoided her quick as a flash, landing her on the ground and causing her face to be smeared in dirt.
The crowd of onlookers sighed pityingly at Shi Qianqian who lay sprawling on the ground in embarrassment, stubbornly biting her lips with reddened eyes. She looked so fragile that it made me feel sorry for her.
Yet Moxi was altogether unmoving. Without giving her one single glance out of the corner of his eyes, he quickly walked away.
Hmm, I rubbed my chin thinking. Moxi had never given me such a look since the day I fostered him since he was nine. I hadn’t thought he’d be such a cold-hearted man away from home. The young lady was very stubborn. After Moxi left, the others tried to help her but she would not let them, instead choosing to stand up herself. Thinking that she who liked Moxi must certainly be a good-hearted girl who knew right from wrong, I conjured a small spell and treated her injured ankle. Paying little attention to the surprise on her face, I turned around and chased after my Moxi.
Moxi was entering a small tavern. I stopped under a weeping willow next to the building, unable to take another step for the tavern had become different today. It was exuding the same intense royal air as did the imperial palace. I stared up to the second floor where a man dressed in blue was leaning against the window and drinking by himself.
The emperor of this particular world was a fairly wise ruler. Peace and prosperity reigned the land in this good era. Unfortunately, his general wielded so much power that the young emperor was having sleepless nights, and was now thinking of ways to strip the general of his military control.
It hadn’t been long since Moxi arrived in the capital yet he could already meet the emperor in private. It seemed he must’ve thought of an excellent way to help the monarch eliminate his major concern.
While I was appreciating how smart Moxi was, a man dressed in Daoist robes suddenly emerged from the alley next to the tavern.
The Imperial Reverend. This was the most powerful priest in the world, and I instantly recognized him. In the past, the old monk who hunted me down had also entreated this man to help him catch me.
I could already foresee another struggle seeing that I was running into him again. As I was lamenting how shitty life was, he unexpectedly shot me a look, then turned around and left. While I was left in puzzlement, I suddenly heard a soft voice calling from the second floor of the tavern: “Sansheng!”
It was Moxi who saw me from the window.
Having nowhere to hide, I smiled at him in answer. “I’ve come because I miss you every second of the day and the nights are far too long without you. Let’s haste our wedding along, Moxi.”
As soon as I finished, the streets went dead silent for a long stretch of time. Moxi blushed at this long silence.
“Hahaha.” Behind him came the emperor’s hearty laughter. “What a bold beauty. Moxi, you have quite the luck!”
Moxi bowed to the emperor and made a rush downstairs. I beamed at him. Moxi walked over, looking as though he was doing everything he could to rein back his joy. He knitted his brow and asked, “Why have you come to find me so soon? I had thought I’d have to wait another six months. Since you came all alone, did you have a hard journey? Did you encounter any trouble on the way? Are you hungry? Do you want to rest?”
I just looked at him with a smile.
Moxi gave me a good look and said, “I’ve worried for nothing. Sansheng would never let herself suffer. How did you find me?”
“I saw you on the street just now.”
Moxi’s smiling face slightly stiffened. He hurried to explain: “Sansheng, that’s…”
“I know, the girl who likes you.”
He carefully observed my face. “Her looks aren’t bad,” I said, “but she’s a bit short, so she’s not the one for you.”
“But of course,” Moxi laughed at my words. “Sansheng’s the only one for me.”
I patted his shoulder in high spirits. “I’m glad you know.”
“I’ll go say goodbye to His Majesty, and then I’ll take you back to rest.” “Alright.”
It turned out Moxi did not live in the palace, nor did he lodge at some minister’s home. Instead, he bought a quiet cabin, the layout of which was very similar to the plum compound he and I had lived in.
After supper, I pulled Moxi out for a walk in the small garden.
“The capital is very different from the small town we used to live in. You must not have been accustomed to living here by yourself?”
“There’s not really much I have to get used to. But there were mornings when I got up and didn’t see the dishes you laid out for me, or the evenings when I came home and didn’t see the candle light you left on for me. When I thought of your being all alone at home, I wasn’t sure how you would be able to take care of yourself, and it had made me feel a little rueful.”
I giggled as my heart burst in joy. I held his hand and gazed to the stars over our heads, swinging leisurely as we walked. “Moxi.”
“What is it?”
“I just want to call your name,” I said. “Every time I call your name, I get to hear your reply. I suddenly feel that this sort of happiness isn’t very easy to have.”
Moxi lightly smiled. I continued: “It must be hard to come to the capital and be an official?” Moxi was silent for a while before saying: “Being able to use my power to help people in need, being able to rely on my own hands to fulfill my compassion so that there’d be people who would become happy as a result of my actions. Even if palace intrigues are rather troublesome, if these powers I achieve can be used for the people… Sansheng, do you understand this sort of satisfaction?”
I could not help but shiver as I looked up at him. In his eyes was unmistakably a gleam I had never seen before.
At this moment, I seemed to see once more the Heavenly God of War who had come to the underworld accompanied by the radiance of light.
This was the true Moxi. I all of a sudden recalled the words Jia had said to me many moons ago: “Lord Moxi is the God of War from Heaven. Although nothing is impossible in this world, he only cares for the world’s welfare. If his heart is occupied by the common people, will there be any space for love?”
I had thought little of these words at first, but when I saw the expression in Moxi’s eyes today, I came to realize Jia was actually a rather perceptive prophet.
Moxi truly had a heart for the common people, no matter what form he took…
The next day, Moxi went to the palace; and as usual, I stayed home and read my books.
I hadn’t yet turned to the second page when I suddenly heard light, steady footsteps from the courtyard. Soldiers? Ever since I gained spiritual cognizance, I had been a behaving spirit. All right, so I’d been held captive by a ghost, scolded by Yanwang, hunted by a monk, and attacked by a priest, but I had yet to be apprehended by the hooligan authorities.
Since this was to be my first experience, I was tingly with excitement.
I was looking forward to their rushing in and accosting me, wanting to see what sort of offensive they were organizing. But after waiting forever long, there only came a neat series of knocks rapping at the door. I was quite disappointed. I had no choice but to answer the door as was required by proper etiquette.
The soldiers were probably in hiding somewhere, for only a handsome girl stood by the doorway. I looked at her for a long time before some recognition came over me. Why, wasn’t this the girl Moxi had tossed away on the street just yesterday – Shi Qianqian?!
When she saw me open the door, she suddenly looked as if she was struck by lightning. “There really is a woman,” she muttered to herself. “He had really brought a woman home.”
Liking a man was one thing, making a ruckus in someone’s home was another. Thinking to myself I couldn’t let this girl’s feelings get ahead of themselves, I crossed my arms in front of my chest, leaned against the door and said, “That’s right, I am his woman. I’ve shared a bed with him among other things since we were children. Is there something you would like to say?”
The young ignorant girl was shocked by my words. She stumbled two steps backward and almost fell to the ground. I raised an eyebrow at her, feeling slightly cruel, but at the same time, vindicated. At this point, a middle-aged woman suddenly jumped out from the side, pointed at me, and began her condemnation: “Don’t you dare harass our young lady! Don’t let your obscenities soil her ears!”
I was utterly innocent. “I answered because she asked. Every word I said is true. Why would any of it be obscene?”
Shi Qianqian’s face went even whiter. The woman railed at me: “Brazen harlot! How dare you be insolent to our young lady! Men, take her away!”
I rubbed my forehead in frustration. She was clearly the vexatious one. As I was about to reason with her, a group of blue-uniformed soldiers suddenly sprang out.
“Oh!” My eyes lit up as I gasped in excitement. The woman shouted, “She’s about to release her hidden projectiles! Protect the young lady!”
The sharp sounds of swords leaving their sheaths raised the hair on my arms.
I opened my mouth, but the phrase “let’s keep the peace” hadn’t sounded when a large blade had swung straight down my head. Through the tempering of the human world, my temper was now much more restrained compared to when I first came here. Nevertheless, I couldn’t let people bully me like this. My expression at once frosted up as I fiercely glared at the first soldiers to rush toward me.
Mortals who had never practiced sorcery would immediately become petrified by one icy stare of mine. They would plop to their knees in a desperate kowtow.
But the people in the back did not learn their lesson, still flying at me like a swarm.
I recited an incantation, gently waved my arm, and the soldiers who came to siege me all flew away. I sighed: “If we’re going to live as humans, then let’s learn to observe and assess the situation at hand, shall we?”
Shi Qianqian and the other woman were both swept off their feet by the forces of darkness and fell to the floor. They looked at me in stupefaction. I stepped forward and offered my hand to pull the woman up, but she screamed “monster” and scrambled away. I had no choice but to turn and help Shi Qianqian.
By contrast, she docilely let me help her up. I wiped the dust from her face for her and said, “No matter how much you like someone, you should still have some self-respect. Don’t come to others’ homes and make a ruckus anymore. Not only will it belittle your status, it is also of little use. Oh, Moxi’s three lifetimes have also been destined for me. If you really want to seduce him, then come back in another three lifetimes.”
Everything I said was the truth; I didn’t think her ears would actually process it to be something different. Her eyes were red as she turned and ran in tears.
I gave the house a good sweep, then tranquilly returned to my book again. I remembered I had left off at the couple’s first meeting where the girl gave the hero a kiss. In my opinion, the scene could bear to be a bit more tasteful.
Chapter 4: Moxi, May Peace Follow You In Life
Moxi hasted home in the evening.
I was leaning against the divan as I gave him a glance and continued to read my book. He stood in the doorway for a moment before cautiously coming in. He sat down on the edge of the divan, deliberated, and then said, “I heard soldiers came today.”
I threw the book to the side, sat up, and looked him square in the eyes. “What do you want to ask me?”
He opened his mouth but did not manage any word. “It was I who beat those soldiers off,” I told him. “Shi Qianqian was also chased away by me.”
He looked at me for a moment, and then actually smiled a rather helpless smile.
I raised an eyebrow and said, “What? So you want to marry the general’s daughter? Oh, I was wrong then; I’ve ruined your marriage. If it makes you this sad, I’ll go look for the girl and bring her back. She seems smitten with you.” I walked out the moment I finished speaking.
He pulled me back, his face slightly blushing. “Sansheng, you know that wasn’t what I meant. I’m actually very happy that you… that you would be so jealous because of me. It’s just that…”
“It’s just what?”
“The soldiers said that you’re a demon. They intend to invite the Imperial Reverend here to exorcise evil tomorrow.” “The Imperial Reverend?” I recalled seeing that stern face yesterday in the alley.
Moxi frowningly nodded. “Sansheng, do you need to hide?”
“Hide?” I asked quizzically. “Why should I hide? I’m not a demon.” But seeing Moxi’s worried expression, I suddenly understood. “Moxi, have you always thought of me as a demon? Do you want me to hide because you’re afraid that the Imperial Reverend would uncover my ‘demonic’ identity?”
I nodded my head and muttered to myself: “I guess it’s to be expected. I’ve lived with you for so many years yet my appearance hasn’t changed a whit. When I wanted fire, I would make fire; when I wanted wind, I would make wind. It makes sense that you’d think of me as a demon. Right now, you must be afraid of me?”
After listening to my words, a sudden change came over Moxi’s face: a rare trace of anger. “Why should I be afraid of you?! So what if you’re a demon? I only know that my Sansheng has never harmed me. I’m not a heartless person. I know exactly how each person in this world treats me! Not to mention, you’re not an evil demon at all, and even if you are, I’ve already loved you and will love you for the rest of my life!”
The word ‘love’ made me happy inside. My mouth could not help curling into a smile.
Moxi had always been mild-tempered. Needless to say, he was especially gentle toward me. I rarely saw him so riled up that I found his present display rather strange. “Then what are you afraid of?”
His face stiffened. My laying bare his thoughts had slightly discomfited him. He was silent for a moment, and then he sighed. “Sansheng, I’m afraid you’ll be harassed.”
I was amused after I heard him. “Do you remember Fatty Wang’s backyard?”
He glanced at me: “Not even a blade of grass was left.”
I nodded in satisfaction. “It’s fine to be bullied as long as I can bully them back. Your wife can swallow anything except for abuse. You have nothing to worry about.”
Cheered up by my quip, Moxi did not say anything more.
In the evening when we went to wash up, I saw a small hole in his sleeve. I asked in surprise, “What happened?”
Moxi hid his sleeve away. “It’s nothing. I just had a quarrel with some soldiers today and my shirt got caught on their armor, that’s all.”
I reached my hand out: “Give the robe to me. I’ll help you patch it up.”
Under the candlelight, I patched the hole stitch by stitch. Moxi sat next to me, tilting his head to watch me help him mend his clothes. A smile lingered on his lips as though he found bliss in this little thing.
“All done.” I handed him the robe. Seeing the contentment on his face, I out of nowhere asked him, “Is the current emperor a good ruler?”
Moxi received his robe and replied, “He is a very wise sovereign.”
I nodded. “Then that great general who holds all the military power in his hands – is he also a good general?”
Moxi frowned. “If we speak of commanding troops in combat, he is undoubtedly talented. However, we do not need his kind of blood-thirst to keep the country in peace.”
I nodded again. “If he is rid of, will the people’s livelihood be better?”
“Without the general’s control, the emperor will be able to freely pass down reforms, and the people’s livelihood will naturally improve.” Moxi looked at me strangely. “Sansheng, when have you become interested in these things?”
“If there’s a way to get rid of the general for the sake of the people, will you be happy?”
Moxi’s eyes lit up, but he instantly lowered his gaze to hide that glimmer in his eyes. “Of course I would be happy.”
I nodded again. “It’s getting late. You have things to do tomorrow, go to bed.”
After the candle went out in Moxi’s room, I remained sitting in bed, eyes wide open looking out to the moonlight beyond the windowpanes.
Why would Moxi quarrel with other people for no reason? I strung along everything that had happened today and came to understand. He must’ve heard someone calling me a demon, and when he next heard the Imperial Reverend would be coming here tomorrow to ‘exorcise’ me, he momentarily could not hold back his temper and engaged in a confrontation with the others. Moxi had always been a tolerant person, and he hadn’t been an official for long. Despite favoring him, the emperor didn’t even bestow on him an estate. Apparently, Moxi was in a very difficult position at court.
By sparring with the people from the general’s household today, I had pushed Moxi into the storm.
It was true I wasn’t anything like other people. Tomorrow when the Imperial Reverend arrived, if he were to say things such as “darkness lurks in thee” or “thou art not a life-form of this world”, then Moxi could just kiss his ideals and struggles goodbye…
No matter what I chose to do, I must not implicate him.
I thought of the gleam in Moxi’s eyes when he spoke of his ideals. I used an invisible spell and went into Moxi’s room. “It was you who gave me my three lives,” I said as I watched his sleeping face, “so it hardly matters if I must use my life to help you intercept your tribulation. And since I am your wife in this existence, I’ll have to offer my full support for whatever it is my husband wants.”
I sat by his bedside, leaned over, and softly placed a kiss on his lips. “Moxi, may peace follow you in life.”
Early next morning, a decree urgently summoned Moxi into the palace. He repeatedly reminded me before leaving that if the Imperial Reverend were to come, I must stick it out until he came back. I readily promised him.
Shortly after he left, a priest glowing with sublime aura came to the house. This Imperial Reverend looked very young from all outer appearances.
“You are bold to actually dare come to the capital after killing Abbot Kongchen.”
The first thing the Imperial Reverend said to me was this. I dazed out for a good long while before I remembered the Abbot Kongchen he spoke of was the monk who had tried to hunt me down throughout those nine years. “That’s not true. He died of old age; it didn’t have anything to do with me. I’m not a demon, and I can’t kill people.”
The Imperial Reverend scoffed. “Darkness lurks in thee. If you’re not a demon, then tell me, what are you?”
If I said I was the spirit of a stone on the Wangchuan bank, I was pretty sure he would insist I was a ghost. I pondered for a moment and asked, “Why are you so sure I am a demon?”
“We’ll know whether you are or not once I use my Samādhi Fire to verify the truth.”
I thought for a while and then nodded in agreement. “Alright, but you must do it in a crowded place and burn me on a scaffold. Let the people see it. If I am burned in the end, it proves that I am not a demon, and you must use your honor as the Imperial Reverend to proclaim to the world that you have killed the wrong person.”
He was flabbergasted by my words. At length, he said, “There better not be some tricks up your sleeve!”
“Hey, you’re a man of religion, how can you have such impure thoughts? All right, all right, I’m in a hurry. Please quickly drag me away to burn.”
I briskly walked out the door. On the other hand, he remained rooted inside the house. I frowned questioningly, went back, and pulled his arm: “Why are you being such a woman? You weren’t this hesitant when you last tried to help the old monk kill me.”
When we reached the market’s entrance, soldiers were already there to set up the scaffold. These few soldiers looked very familiar to me; I presumed they were also people from the general’s household. They became briefly stupefied when they saw that I wasn’t harmed in the least, but that I was even dragging the Imperial Reverend here. I turned around and leapt onto the scaffold, with elegance and grace, of course, sending the onlookers aflutter with wonderment.
I tied a rope haphazardly around me, waved to the reverend beneath and called out, “Hey, it’s done!”
The Imperial Reverend made no movement besides looking at me with a scowl. I also just watched him back.
Suddenly, a woman came out from the side. It was the same woman who had accompanied Shi Qianqian the other day to stir trouble in our home.
She yelled once she saw me: “It’s her! She’s a demon! She has bewitched the Chancellor and even hurt our young lady. It was so terrible that our young lady has yet to wake. Your Eminence, you must help us eliminate this monster. We must stamp out the seed of evil!” She pulled on the Imperial Reverend’s sleeve while she cried, weeping so much that the audience had to shed tears along with her. If the person she was pointing at and castigating weren’t me, I fear I would also share the same hatred with her.
The Imperial Reverend’s eyes frosted up as he brushed her off of him and coldly asked me, “Do you have anything to say in your defense?”
“I’m really not a demon,” I sighed.
An egg came hurling at my dress. A little kid in expensive- looking clothes made his way out of the crowd as he threw another egg at me. “You bullied my sister! You’re a bad person! You even stole my sister’s love from her! Brother Moxi clearly likes my sister. It’s all because of you!”
My brow unconsciously furrowed while looking at the two smashed eggs on my dress. But what had provoked me more was the words he said. I smirked and wiggled a finger, lifting the little brat into the air. “Kiddo, your sister likes him, but the one he likes is me.”
He thrashed about in the air. The middle-aged woman’s wailing was now trumpeting even more loudly as she kept on yelling: “Vixen, don’t you dare harm our young master!” The surrounding crowd was also starting to buzz.
“Don’t harm others!” The Imperial Reverend icily shouted. The rope bounding me tightened, strength left my finger, and the little brat was released from the air, caught by the woman.
Forthwith, a burning sensation climbed over me as a fire ignited at the soles of my feet. The Samādhi Fire.
This mortal had really practiced the Samādhi Fire. A difficult feat, that.
In truth, I was afraid of fire. There were few spiritual beings in the underworld who weren’t afraid of fire. If one needed to differentiate a demon from a spiritual being, using fire would indeed be a good method. A demon would leave behind an orb after incineration, but spirits and humans would leave nothing behind.
I was not afraid of death, because from every point of view, I had never lived. My hometown was at the River of Oblivion in the netherworld. I was, in fact, born in the land of death itself.
The scorching fire stung me painfully. In my trance, I saw my old acquaintances. They floated in the air as they watched me being licked by the flames. I wanted to say hello to them, but I was in so much pain I could scarcely do a thing.
I didn’t know how much time had passed. As the burning sensation on my body gradually receded, the Black and White Guards of Impermanence waved their hands and called me to their sides. I hadn’t felt this light and airy in a very long time.
“Haha!” Black Impermanence guffawed as he patted me on the shoulder. “I’ve seen so many types of death, but the way you looked bathed in fire gave us several rounds of shock.”
His face was filled with such delight that I didn’t know what to say. I just placed my palms together to greet them and said a few courteous words then turned around and looked to the ground. The crowd and the woman were ecstatically cheering the Imperial Reverend’s name. As for the reverend, he was now ascending the tall scaffold alone, his eyes searching in the pile of ashes while his face gradually paled.
“Let’s go, come with your big brothers and tell us how your life has been.”
“Hold on, wait here for me just a second. I… I have something unfinished I need to do.” They glanced at each other. White Impermanence asked, “The God of War?”
“Come back quickly.”
The imperial family’s royal aura was still as overwhelming as ever. Luckily, I had now become a spiritual entity, and it was much easier for me to enter the palace.
When I detected Moxi, he was standing opposite the emperor’s desk.
“I hope Your Majesty can protect my wife and see to her safety,” he was saying with a bow.
The emperor took a sip of tea before answering him: “A woman will always be just that.” “Your Majesty, Sansheng is my heart and soul, and life itself.”
Warmth filled my heart. I landed near him and hugged him from behind. “Moxi, I was fortunate to have met you.”
Moxi slightly tensed. He sharply turned around, his gaze passing through me and landing on a place I knew not where.
As if he had sensed something, Moxi suddenly rushed outside.
“Insolence!” The eunuch by the emperor’s side shouted. His Majesty waved his hand to stop the eunuch as Moxi left the hall running along the palace road.
I followed him the entire way.
He first returned home. When he saw the house empty with no one in sight, his face blanched white like a sheet of parchment. He stood frozen for a moment, then ran out again. After stopping and asking everyone on the street, he finally staggered to the marketplace.
At this time, the Imperial Reverend was standing atop the high scaffold, holding a handful of ashes as he solemnly stated, “Upon my honor as the Imperial Reverend, I declare that the woman named Sansheng was not, in fact, a demon.”
The clamor by my ears all seemed to have faded away. All I saw was the emptiness in Moxi’s eyes as he reeled two steps backward.
I lurched forward to hold him, but my hands passed right through his body.
“Sansheng…” he whispered my name with a grief beyond words.
“Yes,” I answered, but I suddenly remembered he could neither hear my voice nor see me anymore. “Sansheng.”
But I was not; I was no longer in his eyes.
Just as Sansheng was no longer in Moxi’s life.
Chapter 5: He’s Protecting You, My Dear
My nape slightly burned the moment I stepped into the underworld. Of the three seals Yanwang gave me, one had disappeared. This meant that one of the three lifetimes Moxi promised me had also come to an end.
After returning to the underworld, I did not like walking alone along the Wangchuan anymore. What was the point, when I would be by myself anyway? Each day, I leaned against the stone while waiting for Moxi to come once more through the door of reincarnation so that I could leave with him to earth.
Time tended to fly in the underworld. It only occurred to me that four decades had passed by on earth when I by chance met someone whom I considered somewhat of an acquaintance again.
I grinned at him. He, too, recognized me and was stunned for some time. It took him quite a while to recollect himself. “You?”
“Reverend, it’s been a while. You haven’t aged at all.”
He took little notice of my teasing and frowned. “Why haven’t you reincarnated?”
“I’m waiting for someone.”
I said what I said very casually, but it took him by surprise. He sighed after a period of silence: “It was I who caused you two to be worlds apart…”
I waved my hands and was about to say that it had all been the work of fate when he went on: “You’ve spent your whole life waiting in hell for him while he’s spent his entire life mourning for you on earth. I was wrong to have robbed the two of you of your happiness.” He paused, as if he was thinking of something, and then firmly declared: “What goes around comes around. Since I owe the two of you in this lifetime, I shall without fail repay you in the next.”
“There’s no need, really,” I swiftly told him. “This is between Moxi and me, and we wouldn’t want to drag outsiders into it.” He flapped his sleeves, shook his head sighingly, and went on his way.
I believed it was unavoidable for those who lived too long to have the bad habit of using their own viewpoint to try and speculate or determine someone else’s mind.
No matter how accomplished he was as a priest in this life, one bowl of Old Meng’s soup, one step across the Naihe Bridge, and one jump down the reincarnation well would completely wipe his past existence clean.
The next life would never make up for the last’s mistakes.
After the Imperial Reverend reincarnated, I wondered if perhaps Moxi was also coming to the underworld. Each day, I gazed into the Wangchuan and groomed myself until I was so clean that I almost seemed out of place in the dreary underworld. In my free time, I sat by the stone to learn the humans’ ways. I picked up a stick and traced some circles on the ground, whispering: “Moxi, come down quickly, come down quickly.” My sincerity must’ve finally moved the heavens. That day as I finished dressing myself and struck a pose on the stone, I saw Moxi stomping on the amaryllises along the Yellow Springs as he made his way to me, looking rather furious.
Oh, he was furious all right.
I was still rather confused by the time a ball of searing flame hit my feet. Startled, I quickly hopped away to dodge it.
The surrounding imps and spirits that had been watching immediately scuttled away at the sight of fire.
Not knowing what was going on, I looked over to Moxi. He was looking just as he did the first time I saw him – his presence ever heavenly.
But this heavenly creature was fuming for no reason, and it was giving me quite a befuddlement.
I felt a little aggrieved. I’d waited so long for him to come. We’d only met and hadn’t even said a thing before he already started to attack me. I was really hurt by this!
He neared and reached for my wrist. I protected my vital portal and ducked to the side, barely avoiding his clutch.
He scoffed: “So you’ve learned how to dodge and how to be afraid now. Why aren’t you letting me catch you? Why aren’t you letting me burn you? Have you realized that your life doesn’t come so easily and now you cannot bear to lose it?”
I pondered over the meaning behind his words. “Moxi, are you mad at me?”
“Mad?” He scoffed. “Why would I be? You protected me, sacrificed your life to shield me, and intercepted my tribulation for me. I can never thank you enough, how would I dare to be mad at you?”
I opened my mouth to say I didn’t know why he was so angry, and then to poke at his facade that his words and deeds did not line up. But seeing the fury scowling between his eyebrows, I shut up and swallowed it down, the feeling of grievance rising higher.
Seeing my aggrieved look and misty eyes, his face hardened as he rigidly said, “You’re not allowed to cry.”
I kept looking at him with those same watery eyes.
The veins on his forehead twitched. In the end, he let out a heavy sigh. “Never mind.” His eyes softened, and then he patted my head and gave me a helpless smile. “I was really the one at fault.” Almost instantly, his expression darkened again. “Why has the scent of darkness in you gotten so much stronger?”
I hid my face sheepishly. “Since I thought you would soon be here, I’d been using the water in the stream to wash myself every day. Do you like the way I look?”
Moxi fell silent for a long while.
“I tidy things up every day,” I said, “while waiting for you to come down here. Moxi, when will you reincarnate so I can go with you?”
He frowned. “Go with me?”
He flipped his wrist as a golden seal struck me. “You are not allowed to leave the underworld for fifty years.”
Dismayed, I asked, “Why?! Didn’t you say you would promise me three lifetimes in the human world?”
“Yes. All I’m asking is that you come in another fifty years.”
“But you also promised to let me seduce you.”
“You can come seduce me in fifty years.” “But you’ll be a dying old man by then. By the time I find you, we won’t have much time left to spend together!”
“Don’t come to look for me, then.”
When he finished his words, he strode to the Naihe Bridge. I was so angry that I grabbed a handful of mud and slung it straight at the back of his head.
He stood with his back against me, hence I didn’t know what kind of expression was on his face. I only saw Old Meng suddenly kneeling down and kowtowing deeply as she pleaded: “Have mercy, M’lord.”
Only then did I remember that the soil in the underworld had been trampled on by innumerable ghosts and spirits. It was the filthiest thing in the three realms. My slinging mud at his head, for a god from Heaven, was a grave insult.
He glanced sideway, his voice a little stoic: “I don’t want you to become my tribulation again.” What a strange thing to say. For a moment, I did not understand. I only watched him drink Old Meng’s soup without once looking back. Then he entered reincarnation and was gone.
He must’ve thought I was too meddlesome and thus did not want me to go with him. This thought made me so sad that I rammed headlong into the stone crying my eyes out.
If it were someone else who had bullied me, I would’ve returned the favor tenfold. But it was Moxi who had bullied me… it was Moxi so I could only let myself be bullied. I not only couldn’t win against him, I couldn’t even let him go.
I didn’t know how long I had cried by the time someone called out to me from outside the stone: “Miss Sansheng. Oh no, my dear Madam Sansheng, don’t cry, don’t cry anymore.”
I poked my head out from the stone and looked at my visitor with swollen eyes. “Jia, what is it?”
Jia rubbed his temple, then shook his head and said, “For the past few days, the tears pouring from your stone has made the water in the Wangchuan rise a few meters higher. It’s astonishing for a stone to be weeping this much. The souls crossing the Naihe Bridge have all been scared away. Yanwang especially bid me to come by your place so we can help you think things through.”
I nodded, then followed Jia to Yanwang’s palace in utter anguish.
Despite looking lean, the incumbent Yanwang was quite a glutton. When I saw him, he was in fact gnawing happily on a trotter.
I nodded a hello to him: “Yanwang.”
“Oh, Sansheng’s here.” He waved his hand. At once, the imp by his side brought a ham hock over to me. It was so greasy that I felt nauseated. I waved my hand and let the imp step down.
Yanwang took a look at me and said, “I heard that you’ve been nursing a heartbreak over Lord Moxi these past few days.”
Upon hearing Moxi’s name, my nose stung and my eyes began to well up again.
“No, no, don’t!” he sputtered in an effort to stop me. “Today I’ve called for you so that we can solve this knot of yours. If you keep on crying, I’m afraid the Wangchuan is going to flood.”
“Sansheng,” he was saying as he wiped his mouth, “do you know which three tribulations Lord Moxi is to undergo in the lower realm?”
I shook my head.
“To part though he is in love, to meet though there is enmity, and to seek what he cannot have. These are three of the eight tribulations in Buddhism. In his last lifetime, he had had to separate from his love. In Siming Xingjun’s Book of Fate, it is written that Lord Moxi and the general’s daughter, Shi Qianqian, were to have affections for each other but would come to live their entire lives apart due to their being on opposition sides. Such was to be the pain of parting with the person he loved. However, his fate was spoiled by your appearance. He was originally to lead a lonely life, but because he met you, he eventually developed feelings after all the years you spent together. You wanted to help him avoid his fate, so you died to pave a smoother path for him. Well, spending a lifetime separated from you was also ‘parting with the person he loved’. You have more or less fulfilled his trial, albeit unwittingly so.”
Yanwang paused and then sighed. “You haven’t seen the way Lord Moxi had looked in the human world. Tsk tsk, he was originally such an amiable person, but for you, he had ruthlessly forced the emperor to persecute the general’s entire clan. He must’ve loved you very deeply, for he never married in his entire life. Then after returning to the underworld, he began to recall things from the past. One might think that as a celestial deity, he would be an abstemious person who does not cling to the past. And yet he is still behaving this way in front of you. Well… it’s obvious he hasn’t stopped having feelings for you. His Lordship is confining you in the underworld for fifty years simply because he wants to stagger his and your time on earth. He doesn’t want you to become his tribulation again.”
“He’s protecting you, my dear,” he was now saying to me.
I froze at his words.
“Those in Heaven look down on those of us in the underworld. Sansheng, do your best to seduce Lord Moxi. Only then would our underworld… Ahahaha, you know what I mean, don’t you?”
Yanwang’s hysteric laughter faded far, far away. Only one sentence drifted back and forth in my head.
“He’s protecting you, my dear.”
Chapter 6: The Venerable Zhonghua
I never knew there could be fifty years so torturous.
After I waited out my sentence, I bid Yanwang goodbye and entered reincarnation.
If I didn’t go to look for Moxi in this life, what if he gave me another fifty-year seal the next time he returned to the underworld? For this reason, I did just as he asked. I only went to seduce him when he was already feeble and old. I heard that men were most easily corrupted at this age. They had their careers, they had their families, they had already enjoyed everything that needed to be enjoyed, but life at this point was lacking a little excitement for them.
If I were to go give him some excitement now, this whole seduction thing would be as easy as pie.
It had seemed so simple in my mind, but life is always full of surprises. The time I spent waiting in the underworld totaled about a hundred years. The darkness in me wasn’t any lighter compared to the first time I went to the human world. I’d also just left, which meant the mustiness of darkness was still fresh on me. It didn’t take long before I attracted a group of little priests like a piece of rotting meat attracting flies.
This era was a little too enthusiastic about slaying demons and sorcery had advanced so much. The group of little priests would still be a few years younger than I was even if their ages were combined and multiplied by ten. And yet they were so composed that they seemed to carry in them profound cultivation…
I wasn’t good at dealing with such serious children, so I used Yanwang’s tone to threaten them: “Scram, or I’ll throw you in a stew and eat you!”
“Arrogant, blustering fool!” The leading child raised his sword at me. “I shall exterminate you today!” he howled.
I raised my brow watching this kid, so savage for a young’un. It was apparent from his behavior that he had not been taught properly. I shook my head and blamed his teacher. As I was trying to figure out a way to escape, a woman’s shout suddenly came from the distance: “Changwu, get back this instant.” She was dressed in white, her ribbons fluttering as she flew to us like a fairy descending from the sky.
I watched her in wonderment. I would’ve never expected there to be such an ethereal person in this earthly world. But I had yet to finish admiring her when her hand all of a sudden released a white ribbon that shot out with the wind and tightly bound me.
After struggling awhile, I discovered that this thing was made from a very strange material.
The children prostrated to the woman, calling her ‘grandmaster’.
She gently nodded, told them to rise, and then stepped forward and studied me for some time. “So it’s a beautiful demon.”
I laughed. “You are also a beautiful nun.”
She coldly smirked. “Though I cannot see your origin, once you are bound by my silk tie, you won’t be able to escape no matter how skilled you are.”
I secretly wrestled with her freaky silk tie and began to feel that I actually wasn’t skilled at all. This thing was indeed a very effective rope. But if I were to be reckless, it wouldn’t be enough to keep me bound. The young lady had been too ignorant for her own good.
“Bring her back to Mount Liubo so that His Most Reverend Eminence can deal with her.” Like this, she bid the children. “Although I’ve tied the demon up, I cannot fathom her powers. You’ll need to stay vigilant. Don’t let her find a way to escape. I have an urgent matter to attend to, so I won’t be coming back with you.”
The children respectfully accepted her bidding in unison. I’d only recently come to this world. Even if I wanted to find Moxi, I’d have no idea where to begin. It was therefore better to go with them. Not only would there be less harassment from other religious folks, I could also take this opportunity to catch Moxi’s news.
The pint-sized adults solemnly ‘escorted’ me away. Watching them made me miss the old Moxi so much. Among these children, there was only one who still had some semblance of ordinary humans left. His Daoist name was Chang’an – a mild- mannered child who was shy and reticent.
He reminded me of little Moxi in the last lifetime.
I loved watching him, but every time I peered at him, he always blanched in fright. Confused, I listened around and learned that this kid was afraid I would one day break the shackles and abduct him to pluck his yang in order to nourish my yin (1).
I suddenly felt mortified. Not only was I a spiritual being who did not need to do such embarrassing things, what yang could such a child have for me to even pluck? If I were to pluck someone’s… I must first pluck Moxi’s.
Thereafter, I had to restrain myself from using those hungry eyes to look at him.
On the way, I overheard from the little priests that the reigning emperor was quite religious. Folk Daoism was flourishing among the commoners and many dignitaries were sending their children to monasteries. Additionally, Mount Liubo where they were heading to was much more prestigious than other ordinary temples.
What they strove for was divinity.
When the children said this, their faces were filled with pride, as if being a Liubo disciple was a blessing they had had to garner for hundreds of years. On the other hand, I coolly thought that although there had been mortals ascending to the sky, only one or two had succeeded every few thousand years. The rate of success was pitifully low.
These little munchkins walked very fast. We reached Mount Liubo in only a few days.
I didn’t hear any news on Moxi along the way and got quite disappointed. As I was trying find a way to tear the silk tie before they entered the mountain, I saw the golden seal on my wrist reacting again.
I made a cry at the burning sensation only to feel a powerful energy sweeping above our heads and ruffling my hair messily.
After I brushed aside the flying hair from my face, I saw the group of little priests kneeling down toward one direction and shouting in unison: “Your Eminence!”
Ooh, so this was Liubo’s boss.
I took a closer look and instantly jumped for joy. This was what they called “wearing out your shoes” something or other but “it came without any effort” something or other.
Why, wasn’t this Moxi?! At this time, however, he was looking at most to be in his twenties or thirties. He wasn’t old or decrepit in the slightest, and didn’t appear at all like someone who had lived in the human world for fifty years. But then it occurred to me that he was seeking divinity in this life, and he was therefore practicing magic of the immortals. Even if he couldn’t yet become a fairy, he could easily retain his youth.
I died laughing inside. Moxi, Moxi, you tried to hide from me but the heavens were cleverer than you. Let’s see how you’d be hiding from me this time.
While I was busy grinning, three swords made a “whoosh” in my direction, their murderous intent giving me chills. I stopped grinning and looked to Moxi in bewilderment.
The three blades weren’t his, but of the three white-browed, long-bearded priests behind him. They scowled, staring at me quite seriously.
Moxi coldly spoke: “What is this thing that it reeks of darkness?” I stared at him dumbly. The look in his eyes… the look in his eyes… these were the same eyes he had used to look at Shi Qianqian in the last lifetime.
I didn’t know why but I suddenly felt fearful. I had never liked to explain myself, but I was explaining myself now: “Though darkness is thick in me, I’m really not a demon. I am the spirit of a stone. My name is Sansheng.”
The three white-bearded priests looked at each other in apparent perplexity, then turned to look at Moxi.
“If you are not our kind, then you are different. You must be rid off.” Moxi coldly announced.
His words were so decisive that I was made both sad and angry. I didn’t understand why Moxi had reincarnated into such a blockhead this time. Before I had time to say anything, flashes of swords had started to surge ahead, the white ribbon binding me also tightening.
My heart swelled with anger. Throughout the one thousand years I’d lived, except for those few times I abused myself to vent, no one had yet dared do this to me. I instantly transported my spiritual forces so I could contest with him.
If he were still the God of War, then I my only option would be to await my death. But he was at present just a human seeking divinity. He hadn’t more than forty years of magic in him. Even if his practice was more profound, he couldn’t win going heads-on with me no matter how gifted he was.
We hadn’t confronted for half an hour but Moxi’s face was already growing pale. I wondered if I should take advantage of my one thousand years in age to bully a deity who was undergoing his trial. I was going to stop when Moxi suddenly coughed out a mouthful of black blood.
Shocked, I quickly withdrew my spiritual forces.
Was my power so strong that I couldn’t control it?
I was stunned. The three white-bearded priests exclaimed: “Venerable Zhonghua!” and rushed to support Moxi and check his pulse. The Liubo students also clamored around him.
I wasn’t worried that he would die (even if he did, I still wouldn’t worry that much). The way things were going, his ‘meet though in enmity’ fate was not yet over. If he hadn’t gone through his trial, he wouldn’t be able to reenter reincarnation.
The children worriedly surrounded him for a time before one of them suddenly stood up. I recognized him as the vicious kid named Changwu. Sure enough, he pulled his sword from its scabbard and pointed at me, saying hatefully: “Demoness, you even struck His Most Reverend while he was severely injured! You deserve to die!”
The moment he roared, the masses at once erupted in fury. The little priests pulled out their swords and angrily pointed them at me. Even the most timid of them, Chang’an, was red with anger. They simultaneously growled that they must kill me to purge evil and protect the sacred.
I hated having kids surrounding me whining for candies, and although this situation was very different from whining for candies, it was really all the same to me.
I immediately surrendered: “All right, all right! Do what you will, do what you will!”
The group of children looked left and right, none dared to make a decision. Finally, an old priest took the chance and shouted: “Lock her up in the Pagoda of a Thousand Locks under the Enchanted Lake!”
There was a deep lake on Mount Liubo that wasn’t very large but was terribly deep. It was engulfed in supernatural forces, and thus the Liubo students called it the Enchanted Lake. The priests here had spent several hundred years to build the Pagoda of a Thousand Locks under the bottom of the lake that was specially used to trap dangerous demons.
I stood on the lakeside looking down to the pagoda that loomed underneath the rippling water. I rubbed my chin in thought. This thing was certainly a good place to imprison demons. Firstly, it was overflowing with spiritual forces, so it could suppress and purify a demon’s miasma. Secondly, it was underwater! If he couldn’t breathe, then no matter how powerful a demon was, he’d only wash up as a floating corpse after getting trapped for a century or two.
Nevertheless, it was different for me and other spiritual beings. The pure essence from Heaven and Earth was exactly conducive to my body and mind; it was the perfect place to facilitate my spiritual cultivation. I didn’t bother struggling and let the children put heavy stone anklets on me before using a water suspending spell to take me to the lake’s bottom.
The lake scenery wasn’t too bad, I thought to myself.
After I was thrown into the Thousand-Lock Pagoda, the children began shouting to me across the iron gate. There were talismans inside, they told me. Or if I forcibly tried to break out, I’d die an ugly death. Not giving a fart, I tore a piece of talisman off of the pillar and played with it.
This was a prison for demons; everything about it was structured to deal with demons. I’d already said a thousand times I wasn’t a demon. Stupid, prejudiced humans!
Even Moxi was the same…
When I thought of this, I felt so wronged that my nose stung for a while before I was able to calm myself down.
I circled the bottom of the pagoda and found an entrance staircase. There, a night pearl shone all the way to the top. There seemed to be something up that way – too far away under the too-dim glow that I couldn’t see very clearly. I became curious. Thinking there was nothing to do anyway, I slowly made my way up the stairs.
By the time I got a better look at the thing on top of the pagoda… hah, I have to say that I suddenly wanted to laugh when I saw who was being kept inside that thing. Siming Xianjun (the God of Fate) really loved her soapy angst, didn’t she? Wasn’t this the Imperial Reverend from the last lifetime?!
Although his eyes were now green – emitting a faint coldness, although his hair was now white – giving off bizarre vibes, no matter how I looked at him, he still struck me as a dangerous monster. His hands and feet were chained in iron, his body stretched and hung in the air. A solid metal cage covered in talismans enclosed around him. This was one heck of a secure imprisonment.
He must’ve been downright scary at the time he was arrested.
A demon hunter in his past life, now a demon. This was what I’d call a karmic arrangement.
“Hey! Long time no see!” I waved at him to say hello.
“Who are you?” He stiffly spat each word out in a raspy voice.
It seemed he had been locked in here for a long time.
I smiled. “I’m Sansheng.”
He knitted his brow. “Did we know each other?”
I rubbed my forehead in thought. “Well, not quite.”
No one said anything afterwards. I was dying a death of silence. I looked up to the top of the Thousand-Lock Pagoda where it was much brighter than below, the reason being that there was a hole in the ceiling.
I found it strange that here he was, chained up so securely, yet there was a wide-open hole in front of him. Weren’t they afraid he’d find a chance to run away? Or were the Liubo priests so confident in the Thousand-Lock Pagoda’s ability to imprison all demons that they gave him a window so he would yearn for the outside world and die of despair?
I’ll be damned. These priests were beyond ruthless!
I hadn’t finished fantasizing when I heard him quietly say: “Back away.”
For the time being, I didn’t know what he meant, but I obediently listened to him and retreated into the dark.
Soon, I saw the lake changing into a beautiful shimmer. Then, a beam of sunlight shot through the hole in the ceiling and hit him square in the face, his terrifying ghastliness now outlined by the the strong, bright light.
A trace of pain slowly emerged in his dull, green eyes.
I watched in horror as his skin slowly swelled up. While the sunlight became more intense, the swellings on his skin also began to blister, some even breaking open and oozing pus.
His expression only betrayed pain at the start, however. Now, he was even more still.
I’d seen so many punishments but this scene still made my stomach churn. Unable to stand it any longer, I took off my outer robe and threw it over the hole in the ceiling. Blocked by the fabric, the sunlight considerably weakened.
It took more than half an hour before the sun slowly moved away from the pagoda.
It suddenly occurred to me that it was high noon just now. Did that mean this man was burned day after day in the sun? “Mind your own business.” He offered what he thought of my action.
I graciously did not argue with him. “How long have you been kept here?”
He said nothing for a second, and then coldly laughed. “Maybe ten years, maybe twenty. Who knows?”
I sighed, feeling very sorry for him. Nonetheless, I was also awfully curious about his fate in this lifetime. “Why were you sent here? Who locked you in this place?”
He fell silent and did not talk to me again. Thinking that every creature inevitably had some broken things in his heart he did not want to share, I did not press him any further, instead changing the subject and asked, “Do you want to get out of here?”
“What does it matter what I want? It’ll just be a delusion.” I smugly smiled. “What if I have a way to get you out?”
He looked up at me; a glimmer abruptly sparked in his dull, green eyes.
“Well, you don’t seem like a bad person to me. At least you were nice enough to tell me to avoid the sunlight. I don’t know why you are trapped here, but you’ve been here for so long that I reckon whatever punishment it was, it should be enough by now. Since you and I could be considered to be acquaintances, I’ll be nice and save you this once, but I won’t do it for free. Since you owe me today, you’ll have to return the favor in the future.”
“And what do you want in return?”
“Recently there are some brats that really get on my nerves, but since I’m a nice girl, I don’t want to lay a hand on them. After you are freed from here, you have to give them a good spanking for me. Doesn’t have to be much, just enough so that they won’t be able to climb down from bed for a month.” I mulled awhile. “Right, there’s one that you must give special treatment to so that he won’t be able to climb down from bed for at least three months. I’ll give you the details later…” The darkness that Sansheng keeps referring to is this yin, where yin is the force of darkness while yang is the force of light. But yin-yang is also the duality of male-female, and although they are indeed talking about sex in this case, they are talking about it with a specific Daoist context where it was believed that sexual intercourse would keep the two forces in balance and lead to a healthy life, not merely as a euphemism.
She’s trying to say the Chinese proverb 踏破铁鞋无觅处，得来全不费功夫. Your iron shoes get worn out but you still can’t find the thing you’re looking for. Then when you’re not looking, it comes to you on its own.
Chapter 7: The Thousand-Lock Pagoda Has Been Destroyed
In this incarnation, the Imperial Reverend was a wolf demon named Hu’yi.
Jumping up and down, I tore the talismans off of him while he looked at me with increasingly amazed eyes that at length betrayed a trace of apprehension.
“How is this humanly possible?” he asked.
I ruffled my hair, waved my hand to break the large chains, and then answered with some woe: “Well, I’m not technically human.”
The iron links broke into pieces and fell to the bottom of the Thousand-Lock Pagoda. Hu’yi floated in the air, his white hair drifting and his dull, green eyes now aglow. I had no interest in how much his heart was singing in joy. I snapped my fingers and said to him, “Just help me with this and you’ll be free to go. C’mon!”
But Hu’yi was silent for a time. “One can only enter the Thousand-Lock Pagoda of Liubo; he cannot leave it.”
“Can’t leave?” I looked at him incredulously. “I haven’t spent a lot of time in the human world, but I at least know one cannot be forced into a sale. Only letting in but not letting out is just as ridiculous as a bad return policy. Aren’t the priests of Liubo being a little unreasonable?”
“So what if it’s ridiculous? In this world, the stronger ones get the last word.”
“I like the sound of that.” I laughed. “Alrighty, let’s destroy this pagoda, shall we?”
He looked at me in surprise.
I grinned at him from ear to ear: “The stronger ones have the last word, you say?” Much later, Yanwang was taken over with passion when he talked to me about today’s event. “You really have a stone’s temperament, don’t you? You said you were going to destroy the Enchanted Lake and the Enchanted Pagoda and you really destroyed them just like that, upsetting the lake with darkness as strong as the Wangchuan’s. Do you know how many punishments Lord Moxi had had to secretly bear for you? Because of this, his next life was an ordeal to get through.”
But I had no idea what the future consequences were going to be at this very moment. On my own whims, I waved my hand and brought the lake into chaos.
All of Liubo was shaken that evening as the students were awakened from their sleep. Then… the children of Mount Liubo were beaten to tears all night long.
The crying went on and on.
Out in the front, Hu’yi did the deed while I covered my mouth laughing in the back. When we found Changwu, I patted Huyi’s left shoulder: “Three months! Three!” Hu’yi got my meaning, flew to Changwu, pulled down his pants in front of everyone and gave him two spanks. Changwu’s buttocks got severely swollen. This normally vicious kid was now scared silly. Only until the pain set in did his tears start to gush out along with his loud wails.
I watched in glee but I began to feel a little bad for him. I gave his swollen butt two extra kicks before waving my hand signaling Hu’yi to let him go.
“You’ve just bound him to bed for six months.”
“Oops!” I covered my mouth in surprise: “Did I kick too hard?”
He turned to look at me. “What do you think?”
I scratched my head and laughed wordlessly.
When he spotted the last kid who hadn’t been spanked crouching and crying in the corner, Hu’yi turned around to grab him. I quickly pulled Hu’yi back. “Don’t spank…” this child.
I hadn’t completed my sentence by the time a thunder suddenly rumbled in the sky. Hu’yi and I jumped away, both gazing heavenward.
The warming seal on my wrist was the only thing I needed to sense the newcomer’s arrival.
It was Moxi, or Venerable Zhonghua as he was called in this lifetime.
He frowned when saw the children lying all over the courtyard holding their behinds in tears. His eyes swept to me and then at last fell upon Hu’yi. Chills crept over me while the two exchanged gazes.
Behind Moxi, dozens of shadows quickly rushed forth – the masters and elders of Liubo.
The elders were exceedingly distressed on their disciples’ behalf. Everyone’s expression altered upon hearing the crying sounds. The second they saw me and Hu’yi, their faces went livid. The scene turned a little chaotic momentarily.
They made a commotion while I poked my ears in annoyance. I said to Hu’yi, “I’ll keep my words. Since you’ve helped me vent, I’ll help you regain your freedom. It’s obvious to me you don’t like to stay here. Go, to wherever it is you want.”
Hu’yi hadn’t replied by the time a white-bearded fogy stood up and came out as he pointed at us in condemnation: “Is Liubo somewhere you can come and go as you please?! Demon Hu’yi! His Most Reverend had spared your life in thought of old ties, but why have you done these things to insult Liubo?”
I picked up a few things after mulling over these words. Firstly, Hu’yi had known Moxi in the past; secondly, Hu’yi had perhaps been locked up in the pagoda by Moxi; thirdly… despite hating demons so much, Moxe hadn’t killed Hu’yi. There must be untold matters in all of this!
I crossed my arms in front of my chest and stood on the sidelines watching the play unfold. There was unfortunately no place to sit down, nor food to snack on. It had taken away some of my enjoyment.
Hu’yi sneered: “I’ve never asked your venerable Reverend to let me live while imprisoning me for life. I’d rather die and be reborn again to free myself from this living hell.”
“Ungrateful demon!” Thus spoke, he drew his sword from its scabbard and flew over as if to kill Hu’yi.
I was the one who let Hu’yi go, yet he was still not free. This was the same as not having the goods I had promised my customer. If the goods were missing, then the deal would tank. I’d always been a person of integrity, of course I couldn’t let this happen.
I pulled him behind me and took on the fogy’s attack. It suddenly occurred to me that if he were to continue sticking around, he would only get in my way. I should make him leave as soon as possible. Grabbing Huyi’s collar, I flung him into the air and told him: “Go!”
The forces of darkness struck his back and instantly vaulted him away; I wasn’t sure where to…
There were several powerful-looking people who turned to chase after him. I gathered all my strength and screamed. A wave of violent darkness spread out, forcing them to cover their heads in pain. “If you want to catch him, choose another day,” I said. “I’ve already made a deal with him today and I intend to keep my word. I have to guarantee his safety in order to keep my end of the bargain.”
“Heathen, cease your arrogant bluster!”
I grinned cheerfully at the redundant old fogy. “Whether I’m blustering or not, why don’t you come and try?!”
My attitude made the rigid old man so angry that smoke was coming out of his ears as he rushed to me with his sword. Meanwhile, in the distance suddenly sounded a panicking call: “Master! Master!” A Liubo disciple was hurriedly riding in on the wind.
This disciple barely landed and had yet to find his footing before he rolled several times to finally reach the old man.
“Your Most Reverend Eminence! Master! The Thousand-Lock Pagoda… the Thousand-Lock Pagoda has been destroyed!”
I calmly raised an eyebrow while I watched the whole crowd changing their expressions. At length, their horrified eyes gradually shifted to me.
I blinked a few times, shrugged and said, “I swear I didn’t expect that pagoda to be so flimsy. All I did was give it a few pokes…” Their stares were discomfiting me so much that I finally had to rub my head and give an uneasy laugh: “Haha, and it had turned into a pile of rubbish under the lake, ahaha…”
Chapter 8: Perhaps It Really Was A Tribulation Of Love
I had no intention to flee from Liubo after I destroyed the Thousand-Lock Pagoda. Even if I didn’t like this incarnation of Moxi’s very much, I couldn’t let him fall prey to other people. At the very least, I needed to protect him and his purity through this lifetime.
But the old fogies of Liubo didn’t know what to do with me. Neither could they lock me away nor could they defeat me. That night, they lost a mighty lot of hair in distress.
In the end, it was my Moxi who resolutely said: “Lock her behind my residence. I’ll personally keep an eye on her.”
While the crowd hemmed and hawed, I was the first to nod my head, drawing a glower from Moxi.
Once I thought of our living together in the same compound, I generously let go of any complaints I might have had. Liubo was presently regarded as the Holy Land of the religious community. The Venerable Zhonghua was head of Liubo. By this logic, his residence must not be too shabby.
But by the time I was brought back to his residence, I was almost moved to tears.
A tranquil plum garden that was somewhat incongruent with Liubo emerged behind his majestic residence. It wasn’t yet winter, but the forest was covered in snow. There, red blossoms flowered brilliantly, carrying their fragrance for miles after miles. Everything had apparently been created from magic.
“These… these flowers…” My voice sounded slightly shaky.
Unauthorized individuals were prohibited from entering Zhonghua’s residence, so at this point, there were only the two of us. As he watched the garden filled with plum blossoms, his countenance greatly softened and he answered me in a much better mood: “It’s one of the very few things I like.”
I blinked back the mist in my eyes.
Moxi, Moxi, even though you had drunk Old Meng’s soup, you hadn’t forgotten this muted fragrance and the pureness of snow? You still remembered the quiet plum garden?
The garden was enclosed inside a force field Zhonghua had created to preserve the plum blossoms at its most beautiful on a winter day. Stepping into it was akin to stepping into his enchanted confinement.
I nevertheless gladly let him confine me.
Seeing me walk into his spell, Moxi wasted no word before indifferently turning around to leave. I gazed after his back while gently touching the snow-capped plums. I suddenly returned to a day long, long ago when the white-bearded priest had said to me to the knowing nods of his head: “Love trial.”
Perhaps it really was a tribulation of love.
A stone’s tribulation of love…
Time began to go by in utter ennui after several days of confinement. No matter how beautiful this scenery was, I became sick and tired of looking at it. I thought of asking Moxi to give me a few books so I could keep myself entertained, but I never even saw his shadow after several days of lurking by the force field’s boundary. I was awfully disappointed.
Day after day, I sprawled out by the force field’s boundary to trace circles and call Moxi’s name. Of course, the name I called was Zhonghua.
In spite of my untiring effort, he never once appeared.
But when I finally quit calling him, it only took him a few days to show up.
At that time, I was learning the ancient art of steeping tea using melted snow. Of course, I had no tea, so I cut down a plum bough and used the branch as firewood while cooking the flowers, trying to see whether that many blossoms would yield a pot of porridge.
While I was wondering whether I should cut down another bough, Zhonghua arrived with a forbidding expression on his face.
I waved to him beatifically.
He briskly strode over and glanced at the plum tree I had uprooted, asking: “Are you cooking plum blossoms?”
“Wouldn’t you say this is a lovely activity, Venerable?”
He scoffed: “Is burning the lyre and cooking the crane something delightful in your eyes?”
“Well now,” I began in seriousness, “we still have to see what kind of wood the lyre was made from. Good wood will naturally result in fragrant grilled meat. That crane also can’t be too old. Otherwise, killing it wouldn’t be very kosher.” He took a deep breath and only said after calming down: “You’re not allowed to touch any more of my plums.”
“No can do.” I shook my head with a sense of rightness. Seeing that his face was about to explode, I explained: “It’s boredom that killed your plums. If I weren’t so bored, I wouldn’t have paid attention to them. I stood there yelling by the force field’s wall for days on out but why didn’t you answer me?”
“What is it that you want?”
“Books. The latest ones. As well as melon seeds and green tea.”
“We don’t serve people here in Liubo,” he said while turning away.
“They must not have grown so easily, but I bet these many trees should be enough to last me a few days.” The departing figure slightly paused.
When I woke up the next morning, a heap of books was lying on the ground.
I flipped these books open as I muffled my giggle. Moxi, Moxi, you are so adorably stuffy in this lifetime!
My days went by much better with these books as company. After all, I had spent so many wasteful days in the underworld, I might as well guard Moxi here in the company of red plums and white snow.
One fine day, I was suddenly in the mood for a walk. I took a book with me as I strolled under the shadows of the forest, taking in the the plum fragrance all the while.
I startlingly felt as though I was returning to an existence from a time long past. I had lazily stayed at home all day. Then, Moxi came home from school. He pushed the door open, letting sunlight flood in, and softly called to me: “Sansheng.” Enjoying the residual sound of this precious memory, I closed my eyes imagining the former Moxi right by my side. He matched my stride whenever I took a step, just enough so that I could have a place to lean on whenever I wished to.
I walked and paused, walked and paused, as if Moxi was there to follow my every step. I opened my eyes. Red plums were still standing proudly against the snow before my eyes, but when I looked back, I was startled to find Moxi really standing among the plums, watching me intently since Heaven knows when.
I smiled happily while swallowing back the word “Moxi” on the tip of my tongue in exchange for “Zhonghua.” Ignoring his barely perceptible frown, I cheerfully whirled my way to him with open arms.
He leaned to the side to avoid me. Instead of hugging empty air as I had thought, I felt myself hugging a small, violently trembling figure. I held this little thing out at arm’s length for a look and was quite surprised at my discovery: “Chang’an! What are you doing here?”
This was the little priest who thought I wanted to pluck his yang in order to nourish my yin. He looked so much like the former Moxi that I never could help myself from adoring him.
Unable to do anything but shake, he didn’t offer me an answer.
I gave Moxi a questioning look. He stared at Chang’an before coldly uttering: “Reflect on your wrongdoings,” then waved his sleeves and turned to leave.
When he saw him leaving, Chang’an desperately broke away from me to run after him, sprawling on the ground while crying in snots and tears. “Your Most Reverend! Your Most Reverend! Don’t leave me here by myself! I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die!”
I wiped my sweat. What did I even do to deserve this? When we spanked the little priests last time, didn’t I let only him go? But now the ungrateful kid was this afraid of me?
Moxi waved his sleeve and helped Chang’an up. Scarcely giving me a glance, he said, “One month of self-reflection is already lenient considering you had fought with your fellow classmate to the point of severely injuring him. Stop crying, it’s a disgrace.”
I blinked rapidly, coming to understand Moxi’s intention. Thinking back, my conduct for the past few days must have convinced him that I wasn’t really a murderous demon. This was how he could assuredly throw his errant student here to scare him with my notoriety.
What could I do but bewail my own grievances?
Moxi brushed his robe and easily went away, leaving Chang’an lying on the floor crying till his whole body convulsed.
I gave his head a poke. He looked up to me with swollen eyes. I kindly smiled to him: “Let’s talk?”
After struggling to talk to him for half a day, coaxing and tricking, I finally got why he was sent here. If we were to talk about this, then we’d have to begin from the time I brought the Thousand-Lock Pagoda down to free the wolf demon. I had thought he would know to run far away once I let him go and bury that proverbial hatchet. Who knew that wolf demon would be so stubborn. He not only didn’t hide, he even assembled a group of demons who bore grudges against Liubo to destroy it in one fell swoop.
Once they knew of the wolf demon’s sinister plan, Liubo naturally could not sit still to await its own demise. A decision was thus made to gather the leaders of other major monastic sects to jointly come up with a defensive plan.
It was against this backdrop that Changan’s story began. It was said that when the little priests of Liubo were preparing for tomorrow’s banquet, Changwu who was spanked by me last time was still recuperating in bed. He was so bored that he made a fuss about wanting to eat the fruits reserved for the banquet guests. When he happened to see Chang’an pass by with the fruits, he wanted to ask for one. Chang’an, being an honest child, refused. The back and forth argument eventually turned into a larger fight, and when Chang’an couldn’t hold himself back any longer, he ended up pushing Changwu.
Because Changwu was already injured, his head busted when he got pushed down from bed by Chang’an. This scene was seen by an elder who was passing by. With Changwu crying hysterically, Chang’an had no way to defend himself…
And so here he was.
It was extremely upsetting to see the face that looked so much like Moxi’s from the last lifetime crying in snots and tears. I tried all sorts of ways to pacify him, even vowing to take revenge for him. He finally stopped crying, and after sniffling for a long while, asked me, “You’re… you’re so good to me because you want to wash me clean, then… then pick me, right?”
My mouth twitched. I really wanted to know what kind of ideas his master normally stuffed in his head. I pinched his chubby cheeks, smiling deviously. “Of course. But I just want to pick your venerable Reverend. I want to pick him clean, pick till he’s exhausted to death!”
“His, His Most Reverend…” I placed my hands over my heart and said with all the affection in the world: “That’s right, you’re a quite good- looking chap, though unfortunately still too little. Your Most Reverend, on the other hand, has long taken over my heart. My heart is filled with his presence, my mind is filled with his grace. I think of his voice before going to sleep, I think of his face the moment I rise. I miss him like crazy whenever I don’t get to see him, but when I do see him my heart thrums wild. Heaven knows how long my heart has been his. I’m head over heels in love with him, and I don’t know how to stop. I just want to tell him how I feel…”
“His Most Reverend.” Chang’an pointed behind me.
I looked back, but all I saw was a pure white robe skirting by the plum trees, bringing the snow on a plum bough floating down. He left in such a hurry that I couldn’t even detect his figure.
And then he was gone…
“Was it really your venerable Reverend? The Venerable Zhonghua?”
Chang’an nodded, thought for a moment and then said, “When he left, his face was red.”
Baffled, I sighed softly while muttering: “Moxi, Moxi, how did you become so useless in this lifetime? All I did was confess to you…”
Although the nights were cold here, they weren’t quite freezing. I had always lived by the Wangchuan, so I didn’t fear the cold. But Chang’an was different. No matter how gifted he was, he was still only a human. I laid out a quilt for him in the small cabin, lit the firewood, and then spent the night outside.
Why go outside? Obviously because if that child saw me next to him, he’d never go to sleep!
After all, I was a kind spiritual being.
When I woke up the next morning, I was surprised to see Chang’an holding a quilt over me. Seeing me opening my eyes, he gave a start, shook like a leaf, and kept backing away. He staggered for a few steps before falling over awkwardly. I sat up to help him, but he stumbled and ran away.
My hand suspended in the air as my veins popped blue. I wanted to suppress my irritation down but I just couldn’t. As profanity was about to leave my mouth, he poked his head out and said to me: “Umm… umm, you can sleep inside the house tonight. It’s cold out…”
I stared at him quietly for a moment before sighing: “My name is Sansheng.”
He blinked. Only after a long time did he timidly try to call me: “San… Sansheng.”
Pleased, I nodded and went inside the house to find the book Zhonghua had sent me a few days ago, then leaned against a plum tree to read in comfort. This was a tale of a romantic reunion, of a broken mirror whose pieces eventually rejoined. I was in the exact mood for it, and was therefore very invested in my reading. I ignored Chang’an and he naturally did not dare to disturb me. The day went by very peacefully… if not for tonight’s banquet, that is.
With the wolf demon’s retaliation approaching, Liubo’s banquet to gather the major sects was scheduled for today.
I finished my book by the time night fell. When I looked up, I found Mount Liubo awash in light. It was so bright that even the sky was illuminated.
Zhonghua’s sorcery for making force fields was so good that he had really given me no hole to crawl out from. Besides seducing Moxi, eavesdropping was my second biggest interest. I had so much time on my hand that I was bored enough to take a stroll around the plum forest. But when I detected no loopholes, I gave up and turned around to wash for bed.
Just then, I saw two white figures flashing across the back door of the main hall. Curious, I took a closer look. Hey! Weren’t they Venerable Zhonghua and the nun who was called ‘grandmaster’…? At this point, I saw the nun pulling on Zhonghua’s sleeve. There was an urgency on her countenance but since Zhonghua’s face was hidden in the shadows, I could not see his very clearly. They were making my imagination run wild…
I inwardly gritted my teeth and fisted my hands.
What are you two trying to do?!
an idiom used to mean the desecration of sacred things
Chapter 9: Did We Use To Know Each Other?
Hidden in the shadows of the night, I listened to their conversation while staying crouched behind a plum tree.
“Senior!” the nun was saying with some urgency. “The wolf demon is coming to invade us. Why are you allowing that demoness with unknown origins to remain here? Shouldn’t we exterminate her as soon as possible?”
I sighed. I’d already said this a thousand times. Yes, my origins aren’t clear, but I’m really not a monster! I had even destroyed that Thousand-Lock Pagoda of yours, had I still not proven my identity?! Oh, the stupidity! Humans are such idiots!
Even though I hadn’t finished grumbling, I noticed that Zhonghua was getting fairly affected. “We’ll discuss this another day.” His voice was slightly hoarse and weak, as though he had had too much to drink.
He was drunk.
The nun still wouldn’t let it go. “Senior, don’t tell me you’ve come to care for the demon because of her vulnerable facade.”
Zhonghua was getting angry. He brushed her hand off and snapped: “What nonsense are you uttering?!”
“Let’s hope I’m just uttering nonsense.” She then coldly continued: “Senior, I’m sure you haven’t forgotten. In the beginning, it was precisely because Master was softhearted that she had accepted that low-class wolf demon called Hu’yi. It ultimately led to Liubo’s crisis twenty years ago. Qingling prays that you won’t follow our master’s footsteps.”
After a length of silence, Zhonghua waved his hand and told her: “Go back.”
I pursed my lips in thought. From what the nun had just said, the wolf demon named Hu’yi had perhaps been the disloyal and betraying kind that pays kindness with misdeed. Based on my experience of inspecting countless ghosts by the Wangchuan River, however, that isn’t what he was.
The story twenty years ago apparently had some untold tales.
After the nun named Qingling left, Zhonghua stood by himself in the dark corner for a while before leaning on the wall and slowly finding his way back to his bedchamber.
I heaved a sigh as I watched his forlorn shadow.
In the past, whenever Moxi stumbled and fell, I was always there to protect my baby and feel his pain. I never let him suffer any loneliness or be hurt in any way. Yet now that he had become the high and mighty Venerable Zhonghua, he didn’t have a single helper by his side when he got drunk. He might not even be as comfortable as Chang’an who was sleeping in my room.
“Who’s there?” He sharply turned around.
I blinked a few times, increasingly convinced that he must be living a very tiring life from day to day. If even my soft sigh could catch his attention after he was this drunk, his wariness on a normal basis must be layers thick.
Hearing no answer, Zhonghua straightened up and slowly made his way to this side. I knew I couldn’t hide, so I openly stepped out and greeted him with a smile. “Oh! Good evening!”
When he saw me, his brow severely scrunched up before turning to leave, as though he had seen something extremely revolting. He walked with long strides, no longer staggering drunkenly this time.
I froze for a moment, suddenly becoming furious. Am I so hideous that you have to run away from me like that?
“Stop!” I yelled out.
His pace gained even more speed. It only took two steps before he completely disappeared from sight.
My anger flared up. Hiding from me? I’d like to see how you’ll hide from me!
I rushed back to the dilapidated hut and pulled a soundly sleeping Chang’an out from under the quilt. He blinked blearily at me, disoriented and confused. I gave him a toothy grin. “Chang’an, can you help me with something?”
Only now did he turn to look at me. He froze for a moment, screamed in fright, and then attempted to wrap himself up in a panic so that I wouldn’t see him.
I sternly dragged him out by his collar and brought him to a spot closest to Zhonghua’s bedchamber. Patting his tear-stained face, I told him: “Cry, cry as loud as you can!”
He stared at me blankly.
My lips unturned into a smile that was as radiant as it was lewd. “Although your yang is a bit small, it’s still better than nothing. And though my heart already belongs to your venerable Reverend, it’s a bit difficult to control my desire when I look at a boy as handsome as you. Won’t you indulge me today?”
Chang’an was scared stiff, as if he had been struck by lightning.
I guess that was to be expected. In the middle of the night, an unfamiliar female had broken into his room, abducted him and said she wanted to molest him. Any sane person would be shocked. I very graciously allowed him a second of stupefaction, after which, I satisfyingly heard him give a shrieking scream.
“No!” Petrified, he crawled to the edge of the force field, banging on the force field’s wall screaming: “Save me, Your Most Reverend! Save me! Chang’an is still too young! Chang’an doesn’t want to die!”
He wailed and wailed. His venerable Reverend finally clutched his forehead and came out with an glowering face. He frowningly stared at Chang’an and then growled: “Good for you!”
If you asked me, as a Most Reverend, your running away the moment you saw me wasn’t any better.
I smirked and kicked Chang’an in the butt while he was lying sprawled out on the ground. “Alright, since your venerable Reverend is here to replace you, I’ll let you off the hook this time. Go back to bed.”
Chang’an looked up to Zhonghua, then looked back at me. Seeing tacit acquiescence from the both of us, he quickly scrambled up and ran away without once turning back.
I looked at Zhonghua, smiling smugly. He rubbed his forehead, closed his eyes and did not return my eye contact. “What is it?”
The veins on the back of his hand popped blue. He said nothing more and turned to go.
Before he could leave the force field, I hurried to grab his sleeve. Maybe because he was drunk, his much slower reaction had allowed me to catch him. “Why are you hiding from me? I’m not going to eat you.”
“Why should I be hiding?” he said. “You’re Liubo’s prisoner…”
“Exactly, I’m the one imprisoned. If anyone were to hide, I’d be the one hiding from you. Why are you doing this? Do I have boils or fur growing on my face? Are maggots gonna fester in your eyes if you take one look at me? Are you gonna suffer vomiting and diarrhea? Are you gonna bleed to death? Are you g…”
Before I could finish, he took a deep breath, turned around and looked at me. It was a simple and honest gaze that showed both his obstinacy and a desire to prove himself. But I wasn’t as simple as he was.
I saw in his clear orbs the images of a starry sky, of white snowflakes and fragrant plums, and of myself.
All deeply imprinted in his eyes. It had been so long since I last saw him looking so intently at me this way. I couldn’t help but step forward and lean into him. My hands slid down from his sleeve to take hold of his hand.
I saw myself quietly smiling in his eyes. He didn’t break away from me, his gaze softening. My smile widened.
“With this muted fragrance and pure white snow, and even you, there’s nothing more Sansheng asks for.”
With this muted fragrance and pure white snow, and even Sansheng, there’s nothing more Moxi asks for. They were words Moxi had said to me in the last lifetime.
He was slightly startled upon hearing these words. A frown. Then suddenly looking to have recovered, he abruptly pushed me away and, as a result, landed himself onto the snow due to not having stood firmly. He appeared to be in a slight panic.
I wanted to come over to help him, but he blocked me with his hand. Clutching his head, he sat in the snow silently. “Mo… Zhonghua, you…”
“Did we use to know each other?”
How was I supposed to answer that? Yes, we knew each other. Where? In the underworld, by the Wangchuan River… If I said that, he would only think I was joking.
I scratched my head, saying: “Well, if you think I look familiar, then this must be fate. Yes, fate!”
“Fate?” He sneered ironically. “How does this world have so many fates…?”
Hearing him say a line as though he had seen all there was to see in the ways of the world, I knitted my brow and asked, “And why not? Our meeting each other is fate. To be here chatting is also fate.” For a stone like me to be able to go to the mortal world to seduce you is an even bigger fate. Of course, I swallowed these words back and did not say them to him. He lay in the snow. Under the moonlight, he took a good look at me and, after a long while, lightly uttered two words: “Cursed fate.”
I inwardly nodded. Cursed fates are still fates. These are even more lasting and persistent than ordinary fates. I was delighted, but then I thought, that wasn’t right. From the way he sounded, I needed to react with disdain. I mustn’t smile so that I could make him wait in vain. Moreover… I glanced at his posture lying in the snow.
It was such a convenient posture to jump him!
I pointed at him prettily. “Y… y… you! You are most exasperating!”
He slightly squinted his eyes, his expression becoming indecipherable.
I turned around as if I was leaving in indignation. When I got to him, I yelled out: “Whoa! Why is it so slippery?” I pulled what I thought was a beautiful pose and slipped and fell on top of him. Being a precisely calculated movement, I should’ve fallen onto his chest, enacting the scene of a shy maiden lying in the hero’s embrace.
Little did I know I also slipped the same way Zhonghua did, crashing on top of him in a graceless position and knocking my head onto his. Unfortunately, my lips did not meet his, but smacked right onto his forehead instead.
I only heard the man underneath sounding a grunt and giving no more reaction forthwith.
By the time I clutched my head and clambered to get up, Zhonghua was lying on the ground with both of his eyes closed. There were two bleeding holes my rock-like front teeth had left on his forehead.
“Umm…” I haltingly reached my hand out to touch him. “Hey…” I patted his cheek but he still didn’t respond. I panicked a little. I couldn’t have sent him straight to Yanwang, could I have? But he hadn’t gone through his tribulation in this lifetime yet. There was going to be huge trouble this way.
“Zhonghua! Zhonghua! It can’t be that bad, right?!” I
scratched my head. You are, no matter what, His Most Reverend. If you actually got knocked to death by a woman like me, this, this… if this got out, it’d be really humiliating. I hurried to pinch his Renzhong acupoint while muttering: “Moxi, don’t get me into trouble. I’ll really be condemned by the heavens for knocking a god on his trial dead. Moxi…”
I tearfully called his name for a while. He seemed to understand my dilemma for he soon groaned and then slowly opened his eyes. I elatedly sent my grateful prayers to Yanwang over and over again.
“Master…” he quietly said as he looked at me.
I froze, only now smelling the strong alcohol in his breath. I reckoned alcohol had gone to his head and he had lost his cognizance.
“Master,” he called again, “why…” He spoke so softly that I couldn’t hear him at all. “What is it?” I leaned in and pressed my ear against his lips to listen more carefully. However, my mind was sent whirling from what he said: “Why did you develop those sorts of feelings for Hu’yi?” he asked.
Let’s not discuss what sorts of feelings Zhonghua’s master had developed for Hu’yi for now. I was more curious as to whether Zhonghua’s master was male or female.
“Was your master a man or a woman? Did your master fall in love with Hu’yi? How far did they get? What happened to them? Why was Hu’yi locked up in the pagoda? And where’s your master now?” I asked as subtly as I could, and then blinked while quietly awaiting Zhonghua’s answers.
But his head fell to the side, asleep.
I squeezed my fists.
The feeling of unsatisfied curiosity made me want to poke the two holes on his forehead. But looking at his peaceful sleeping face, I finally sighed and resignedly tore my skirt into strips to bandage his wounds for him.
Since Chang’an was sleeping inside, dragging his revered Reverend in wouldn’t be very prudent. It wouldn’t be very convenient to jump him either.
I mulled for a bit, then dragged him under a plum tree and let him rest on my lap. As for me, I leaned against the tree, caressed his forehead, took his hands in mine, and lastly placed a kiss on his lips, then fell into the most carefree sleep that I’d had in a long while.
The next morning when I woke up, I saw a pair of clear eyes staring at me. I smiled at him and waved hello: “Good morning, Your Most Reverend! You’re still here?”
He shut his eyes and took a deep breath, looking as though he was trying his best to keep calm. At long last, he said to me with some restraint: “Untie me.”
I laughed uneasily, untied the rope that was yoking his neck to my leg, and innocently said, “Can you blame me? I was afraid you’d run away.”
Not waiting for me to completely untie the rope, he struggled to his feet and scowled at me.
I spread my hands in helplessness. “I knew you’d run away after you wake up and then deny the fact that we’ve spent the night together. That’s why I’ve placed more than a dozen spells on the rope. That’s the only way to prove that you have really slept with me last night. By the rules of the humans, take responsibility, Mo… Zhonghua.”
Each time I spit out a word, his face would darken by the second, and then by the end of my speech there was even a rare shade of red in all that blackness: “Sh… sh… shame…”
He couldn’t manage a complete sentence even after trembling for a long time. I helped him out with a sigh: “Shameless.” Being able to make the ice-faced Reverend this angry was an incredibly proud accomplishment. “It’s all the same whether I’m shameless or not. Zhonghua, you still have to marry me.” He looked at me for a moment, seeming to have calmed down. His expression gradually chilled. “Even if I were drunk, I can clearly remember everything I did. You and I are not the same kind. How could I have done that sort of thing with you?”
I asked curiously, “So you can’t do it if you’re not the same kind? Then what about your master and Hu’yi?”
Zhonghua’s expression suddenly iced over. He looked as if he could mince me into pieces. He stormed away. I was a stubborn rock. If I didn’t get a clear answer now, I wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight. I hurriedly caught up to his side and yell out to him: “Hey! What about your master and Hu’yi? What was going on with them? Your master…”
A flash of fury grazed my ears, striking the snow behind me and sending snow dust whirling in the air.
I froze on the spot.
“Hold your tongue.” He icily threw these words at me before turning around to leave.
Moxi had never looked at me that way. Even when he hurled a fireball at my feet when we were last in the underworld, he didn’t have such a chilly expression.
I’d only seen that expression from him once before. It was in the last lifetime when two thugs broke into our house and harassed me that he had put on that face.
He seemed to intensely hate hearing anyone speak of his master and Hu’yi. Perhaps besides physiological discrimination, his hatred for Hu’yi was also emotionally seated. It seemed he cared very much for his master…
His feelings toward his master might have even been a little… not so ordinary.
I thus became ever more curious as to whether his master was a man or a woman.
Chapter 10: You Are Really Unlikeable In This Lifetime
I didn’t see Zhonghua again after that day. He seemed to be really angry with me. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say he had never liked me in this lifetime.
Chang’an was still too young that I couldn’t mine any information from him. Nonetheless, he was able to solve the biggest question in my mind – Zhonghua’s master was a woman.
After hearing this, I suddenly felt as though I had been betrayed. He clearly said he’d only let me seduce him. I had been seducing him so perseveringly, yet he was…
I was so upset that I stopped running to the force field’s boundary and shouting his name.
This went on until the day Liubo’s sky darkened with a miasma so thick that it kept me wide awake. I knew then that Hu’yi was attacking.
Chang’an was as anxious as an ant crawling on charcoals, crying that he would live and die with Liubo. Annoyed with his blabbering, I knocked him unconscious and locked him in the house. Soon after my stroll in the forest, I began to hear the commotion of fighting on the other side.
Le sigh, humans are so strange. If they wanted to kill each other, then they should just do it. Why must they torture my ears with their screams? They acted as if screaming could slay their opponents on the spot.
A loud boom went off at the same time the force field was reduced to ashes after suddenly lighting up. Someone floated in the air – his robe black and his long hair flowing. Hu’yi. He swept his eyes across the plum forest. When he detected me, he landed and said, “I’ve never liked owing anyone anything. You freed me, now I’ll free you. We are even from now on.”
Le sigh X 2. He was the Imperial Reverend’s reincarnation, no question about it. This habit of giving people unsolicited grace was exactly the same.
As I was about to open my mouth to say I wouldn’t go, a cold voice came behind us: “The both of you should give up dreaming about leaving Liubo.”
I turned around. Zhonghua was pointing his sword at Hu’yi, his face frigid: “Twenty years ago I had spared your life, yet how dare you attack Liubo! I shall send you to your end today.”
I watched the expression on his face as the uncomfortable feeling in me escalated. I retreated two steps and hid behind Hu’yi, turning away from him.
Hu’yi stared at Zhonghua with something like a sneer. “I’ve no need for your favors. You can easily kill me now that you have become The Most Reverend. But can those Liubo students of yours withstand the attack of the monsters waiting outside? Is everyone who seeks divinity as powerful as you?”
The murderous look on Zhonghua’s face intensified.
Hu’yi again spoke: “Zhonghua, if you can just promise me one thing, I will in turn assure you of a way for Liubo to repel the demons without hurting one soul. On top of that, my life will be yours to deal as you wish.”
Even I was surprised after listening to him, much less Zhonghua. He spent this much effort to attack Liubo just so he could give himself a bargaining chip against Zhonghua? Suddenly, I became extremely curious about his request.
Zhonghua was silent for a moment. “What is it?”
“Free her so she can be reborn.” There seemed to be suppressed anger and sorrow in Huyi’s strained voice. “She should have been laid to rest a long time ago. Let her go!”
Upon hearing these words, Zhonghua’s face iced up even worse. “That’s out of the question.”
Hu’yi became infuriated. “No matter what, she had once been your master. She had taught and raised you up! You people have imprisoned her for twenty years. If this drags on any longer, she will cease to exist! Zhonghua, have you forged your heart into steel?”
I raised an eyebrow and glanced askance at Zhonghua, but all I saw was an expressionless face. “She fell in love with a demon and betrayed Liubo, leading to our suffering of a calamity. By our rules, she ought to be punished by having her soul locked away.”
Having her soul locked away. That meant her soul was bound so that it could not be taken away by the messenger ghosts, being held in the living world until it depletes to nothing. For souls, being trapped in the human world was an extremely cruel punishment. That was because once the soul evaporated, it would never again enter reincarnation. Nevertheless, this sorcery was as ordinary as ordinary could be in the underworld. That was because everything in the underworld was either a soul or a spirit. The messenger ghosts regularly used this spell on those who had sinned to bring them to trial before Yanwang.
I had assumed this sorcery was unknown in the human world, not expecting it was actually passed down through generations at Liubo.
Twenty years. That was enough to turn a soul to ashes…
Hu’yi gripped his fists.
I wondered for a moment. It was sacrilegious to lock away a living soul. As it was, Zhonghua hated Hu’yi and vice versa. This was likely his ‘meet though in enmity’ tribulation. At this point, if he didn’t let Hu’yi release the soul, when it dissipated in due time, Zhonghua would certainly be struck by 36 bolts of lightning. With his present body made of flesh and blood, I feared he wouldn’t even be able to withstand one strike.
At this thought, I patted Huyi’s shoulder: “What kind of soul is it? Do you know where they’re trapping it?”
Hu’yi turned around to face me. Zhonghua’s eyes were also on me as he said in utter despisal: “I suggest you don’t stick your nose where it doesn’t belong.”
I pursed my lips, thinking to myself that this incarnation of Moxi’s was terribly unpleasant. And yet I couldn’t let him fail his trial just because he wasn’t nice in this lifetime. If he got struck by lightning now, then whom am I going to seduce next time?!
“Where is she?” I asked Hu’yi again.
Huyi’s eyes lit up. He had seen me destroy the entire Thousand-Lock Pagoda with one huff of breath. Too desperate at the moment to doubt me, he pointed to a tall and magnificent tower not too far from here and said, “At the top of the Million- Storey Tower. But she will still need someone to lead the way after breaking free…”
The Thousand-Lock Pagoda, the Million-Storey Tower, were they supposed to never meet in life…? This was a little too cruel. I patted his shoulder telling him to rest assured, but also glanced at Zhonghua’s increasingly murderous intent. “Stall him.” Clashes began to sound behind me. I ignored them, only hoping Hu’yi could buy a little more time.
I was born in the underworld. Even though I wasn’t a messenger ghost, I was born knowing how to escort spirits… maybe just not very professionally.
After climbing to the top of the Million-Storey Tower, I noticed a memorial tablet standing on the incense altar in the middle of an open space. Nothing was written on it, but it was very clean. It was apparent someone often came by to dust it.
I looked around without finding where Zhonghua’s master’s soul was locked. While I was scratching my head, I suddenly caught a tiny glimmer shining down from above. I looked up to the light where I saw a candle fixed on the ceiling beam. Above it was a painting – someone’s portrait, it seemed.
I jumped onto the beam and carefully studied that painting.
It was depicting a woman dressed in white from the back. Her apparel didn’t differ too much from what the priests at Zhonghua’s place were wearing nowadays. She was holding onto a branch of plum blossoms while slightly leaning forward, as if to smell the flowers.
My heart caught.
If I hadn’t seen the inscription beneath, I would’ve thought it was a portrait Moxi had painted for me and which had survived till now from our past life. “Drawn in the 10th year of Zhengwu, at Shili Pavilion in Liubo.”
Linking these matters together, it wasn’t difficult to guess that the person in this painting was Zhonghua’s master.
I couldn’t believe his master resembled me this much… thus that sense of betrayal from before quickly went away.
If the portrait was here, then… I was just about to reach out and touch the painting when a golden light gleamed and pushed me backward.
A force field.
The woman’s soul must have been locked in there. I gathered spiritual forces into my palm and then struck the force field. The golden light flickered twice before it disappeared. I joyfully brought the painting down. As expected, a white mass was found inside.
I’d seen many souls before but I’d never seen one so weak. If I had been a few days late, this thing would’ve completely died out. I recited an incantation that easily released the soul-locking spell. I placed her in my palm and gently breathed into her so that she would not dissipate on her way to the underworld.
Holding her, I jumped to the top of the tall tower and released her to the sky. She did not go, however. She floated in the air as if she was trying to remain at Liubo for as long as she could.
“Go,” I told her. “Everything in this life has become a thing of the past. Even if it’s hard to let go, you cannot return.” I thought some more and said, “The ghosts in the underworld are very nice. Tell them you know Sansheng. They might be able to get you through the back door.”
The spirit hesitated a little, and then slowly drifted down. I stared after her while she floated toward Zhonghua’s residence.
The view was excellent from here. I looked to the distance where Zhonghua’s and Huyi’s fighting figures could be seen. Hu’yi was obviously at a disadvantage, but if he were desperate enough, Zhonghua wouldn’t have it easy either. Appearing to have been riled by the entanglement, Zhonghua drew his sword.
Hu’yi was about to dodge when, all of a sudden, he shook violently and did not avoid Zhonghua’s sword, letting the cold blade drill straight into his heart and through his chest.
I think I knew then what he saw. I also knew he must be smiling.
I waved to the two souls, sending them off to reincarnation. Together, they would see the cluster amaryllises and would perhaps even engrave their names on my stone.
From the Million-Storey Tower, I stood watching them leave. When I turned my gaze, I sensed a savage violence aiming at me. In the distance, Zhonghua was glaring ominouly. I suddenly recalled the first thing he said to me when we met in this lifetime: “If you aren’t our kind, then you are different.”
If I thought about it, my mind was indeed a little ‘different’ from his in this life. First, I had destroyed his Thousand-Lock Pagoda and freed the wolf demon Hu’yi, leading to the attacking of Liubo by the demonic army. Now, I was freeing his master and allowing the master he loved to reincarnate with Hu’yi.
The Venerable Zhonghua must really despise me!
While I gave him a smile, I abruptly caught a glimpse of a snake demon opening the cabin door not far from the plum forest. My heart shook with fear. Chang’an was still inside!
Without any time to think, I leapt and made a dash for the cabin. At the door, I saw Chang’an thrashing around in bed. Poking from his mouth was the tail of a small yellow snake, wagging creepily.
This type of snake demons loved children’s innards. They would shapeshift back to their original forms and crawl into children’s mouths until they had eaten all of their internal organs.
I took two steps forward, held down Chang’an, then grabbed his neck with one hand and the snake’s tail with the other. I struck the snake with forces of darkness and killed it right in Changan’s stomach, then slowly pulled it out from his mouth. Out of the blue, chills ran down my spine as I heard a piercing sound ripping through my flesh.
I looked down at a sword that had impaled my stomach. Pain hadn’t made its way to my brain. Who would want to kill me? I curiously wanted to know.
I turned to look. Zhonghua was staring at me threateningly: “I won’ let you lay a hand on Liubo’s…” Mid-sentence, his pupils narrowed in on the small yellow snake in my hand.
Deadly silence filled the room. Only Changan’s vomiting sounded. He did not take long to vomit before he passed out.
“He looks so much like you did in the past that I didn’t have the heart to…” I began slipping to the floor; in my throat was a taste of pungent sweetness. “I’m not a demon.”
If it had been a mortal sword, then I wouldn’t feel anything even with a few more stabs. Sadly, Zhonghua’s sword was a blade that had been passed down from generation to generation of Liubo sect leaders. For a spiritual being from the underworld like me, it could be said to be my nemesis.
I felt my body slowly giving out and I finally couldn’t stop myself from gripping onto his sleeve. I grinned: “You are so unlikable in this lifetime, you know.”
Frozen, he gave me no reaction.
“But that day… my heart broke for you when you called for your master as you rested on my lap…”
Pain came, not only the pain from my wound, but also the burning sensation caused by the battling forces of darkness inside my body and of light from the sword. I tightly clenched his sleeve. Looking as though he had abruptly awakened from his trance, he picked me up and ran out. “There’s medicine in the main hall.”
It may have been an illusion, but I thought that the person carrying me was staggering in a way that was unlike his usual cold and staid appearance. Why was this man so full of contradictions?
My vision gradually blurred.
After the force field was broken, the snow in the plum forest slowly melted away along with the steadily withering red plums, bringing the courtyard into dreariness.
I squinted at his profile and mustered up a cheerful smile. “Do you know why I like this muted fragrance and pure white snow?” I was murmuring at this point; even I did not hear myself. But he paused and looked down at me, the emotions in his dark eyes rolling.
At that moment, I almost thought he had broken the imprisonment of Old Meng’s soup to remember everything from the past. Then, I lapsed into darkness and saw my old acquaintances again in my trance.
I heard myself saying for the last time: “Will you say my name just once?” He remained unspeaking.
So it turned out he didn’t even know my name in this lifetime…