Chapter 11: It’s Embarrassing To Wheedle, Sansheng
My nape burned once again after the Black and White Guards of Impermanence escorted me back to the underworld. It was then that I realized Moxi and I only had one lifetime left.
This time, I didn’t intend to wait for Moxi in the underworld anymore. I didn’t want him to give me another 100 or 1000-year seal the next time we met. At the same time, I couldn’t reincarnate too soon either, lest I give the people of Liubo a scare when I popped out in front of them just as Moxi had buried me.
I went to Yanwang’s palace to ask him when Moxi would be arriving so that I could time my departure.
Before I could utter a word, Yanwang circled me twice, clucking all the while: “Tsk tsk, our Sansheng is quite capable!” Because he was too short, he could only pat my thigh in delight. “You’ve helped His Lordship pass his trial twice. Moreover, you’ve seduced him so successfully each time. The day our underworld sees the light of day is just around the corner! Ahahaha!”
I slapped away his wandering hand that was slowly creeping to my behind and asked, “When will Moxi come down here? I can’t run into him this time.”
Yanwang jumped onto his desk and flipped through the chaos of books on it. “Ah here it is, here it is. This is it.” Yanwang squinted his eyes to read for a second and then continued: “In Siming Xingjun’s Book of Fate, it is written that Liubo’s strength will greatly decline after Hu’yi rebels against them. In less than two years, Zhonghua will be murdered and will pass away in his bedchamber.”
I was stunned. “Who’s going to kill him?!”
“His junior, Qingling.”
“That priestess?” I rubbed my chin. “Her watery eyes are filled with the tragic love-hate of a spurned admirer. How can she kill Moxi?”
“Perhaps love bears hatred, and she destroys what she cannot have. Look, it says right here that after his master’s soul is freed by Hu’yi, Zhonghua drinks himself to distraction. Qingling confesses to him but gets rejected. She then resents him for it, kills him, and then commits suicide.”
I asked him in seriousness after pondering for a moment: “Yanwang, don’t tell me you were the one who came up with this soapy rubbish?”
Yanwang said in equal seriousness: “Lord Moxi’s fates are all personally written by Siming Xingjun, you know.”
I was made even more curious as to how sick that Siming Xingjun’s head was.
I went back to be a stone by the Wangchuan River. These two years quickly flew by. When Jia and Yi left to the human world to escort spirits, I asked them to help me look out for news on Moxi. When they came back, they told me that it was true Liubo’s strength had greatly declined, it was true that Venerable Zhonghua drank every day, and it was also true the priestess named Qingling had turned love into hate. The Book of Fate, however, had failed to include the small detail that he was spending his drunken days in the snowy plum forest and that he had driven Liubo’s heirloom sword into a nameless grave like a piece of scrap metal.
Sealing his sword away and retreating to seclusion.
After listening to everything, I looked heavenward and burst out laughing in front of Jia’s and Yi’s aghast eyes.
“Sansheng, shouldn’t you be pained for him right now?” Jia asked.
I patted Jia’s shoulder. “No matter how he reincarnated, no matter what tribulation it was, Moxi still got seduced by me. I’m so proud of myself. It’s enough for Moxi to be pained alone. All I need to do is put on a grin and wait to seduce him in his next life.”
Yi turned to the side and clasped his palms together in prayers. “Amitabha. Good luck, Your Lordship.”
In a chipper mood, I went back to the stone and sat around for a few days. When I reckoned time was nearing, I dusted my butt and coolly went off to the human world.
After arriving in the human world, there were several times when I couldn’t help myself from wanting to go see him at Liubo, but I was able to barely restrain myself in the end. Then one day, I went to sit on the second floor of a restaurant to read. In the story, the gentleman was reaching his hand under the lady’s dress, at which time the lady delicately cried: “Don’t,” and soon stripped off her own clothes, saying: “Let’s do this one step at a time.” I raised an eyebrow at how bold this lady was. At this time, I suddenly heard a man exclaiming downstairs: “That can’t be true!”
I gazed down to see an old priest clutching a letter while trembling as though he was suffering epilepsy.
He broke out crying: “His Most Reverend has passed away! Liubo is dead! Our faith is dead!” His mournful cries gave people shivers. If I hadn’t known Zhonghua, I would have thought that they were involved in some unforgettable affair.
Zhonghua had finally left. I was determined to watch him grow up this time. I wasn’t going to let him have an unhappy childhood, nor would I let him have a chance to fall for other girls. I smiled wickedly. I was going to wrap him around my finger for sure this time.
At present, his trial was ‘seeking what he shall not have’.
Seeking what he shall not have?
With me here, what couldn’t Moxi possibly seek?
That night, my acquaintances came to find me. Black Impermanence shuddered the moment he saw me. “Sansheng, I’m afraid you’ll need to be more careful the next time you return to the underworld.”
Black Impermanence shuddered again. “You didn’t see the anger on the God of War’s face. Knowing you had gone one step ahead, he looked as though Yanwang had stolen his woman away from him. Poor Yanwang is still wetting his pants right now.”
“Was he very angry?”
Black Impermanence shuddered nonstop. I moved my gaze to White Impermanence who said to me: “Remember the Fengzhen granite tiles in Yangwang’s palace? Crushed to powder in three steps.”
I stopped in my tracks. I had forgotten that despite being much stronger than he was in his three lifetimes, I still had to return to the underworld and he’d also finish his trial in the end. By then, he’d be the God of War and I’d be the little Sansheng Stone again.
What’s more, that Fengzhen granite was a hundred times harder than me…
I grabbed Black Impermanence’s arm, eyes streaming in tears. “Brother Bai, when that day comes, you’ll have to save me!” White Impermanence stared at me for a moment, deadpanned and said, “It’s embarrassing to wheedle, Sansheng.”
I casually dabbed my tears. “It worked on Moxi.”
Black Impermanence tugged White Impermanence away and said, “I can’t talk with you anymore. We have to go first. It’s best if you fend for yourself. That’s right, he is reborn into a farmer’s home on the foothill of Yangshan Mountain this time. If you wish to seduce him, then you had better leave soon.”
Did I need any reminders? That very night, I rushed to the foothill of Yangshan Mountain, perked my ears up and circled the mountain village round ‘n round, waiting for the cries of a newborn.
Aside from a few households that stayed lit through the night, however, I didn’t hear any sound that would indicate child birth from a home despite having waited till the stars nearly disappeared beyond the horizon.
I stood dejectedly on a farmer’s roof. The Black and White Guards of Impermanence had for certain escorted Moxi into reincarnation. The information they gave me couldn’t have been wrong. Where did Moxi reborn to, anyway?
At this moment, I suddenly noticed a man slipping out from a cottage with something in his arms.
The seal on my wrist burned. Worried, I quickly followed him. The man walked to the river outside the village and stopped there. He looked around for a while, then suddenly threw the bundle in his arms into the water. The swaddling cloth opened – a baby’s face suddenly caught my eyes.
I dashed out in outrage, stretched my hand and slapped the man senseless. Then I glided on the water surface and fished Moxi out.
After I found my footing, I took a look at the little livid face.
His mouth opened and closed but did not emit any sound.
I froze. Moxi… was mute in this life!
Muteness was believed to be ominous.
That was why his father threw him away when he didn’t produce any sound after he was born. That was why… even if there were Sansheng, Moxi was destined to never find what he sought.
Given that Moxi had a disability in this lifetime, I first thought that it was best if we lived in isolation. This way, we could save ourselves from the trouble of earthly gossips. But then I thought that he should have a say in how to live own life. He still needed to cross his trial. If I blindly protected him, I’d cause him to fail his trial… Heavenly law would not spare me.
I shook Moxi’s tiny fists. While he still hadn’t completely opened his palm, I stuffed a coin into his hand and said, “Moxi, if it’s face, we’re going to lie low in the city. If it’s tail, we’re going to lie low in the countryside. Give it a toss.”
He flipped his hand and slapped the coin in my face. I scowled, not knowing whether I should cry or not.
I sincerely felt that Old Meng’s soup hadn’t taken its effect. Otherwise, how could he have had the heart to raise his hand at such a beautiful face like mine?
I glanced at the coin on the ground, saying, “You say so yourself. Lying low in the city it is.” Moxi sucked on his fist, licking it without a care for anything else. Since he was busy drooling all over his chin, he had no extra time to spare me any of his attention.
The dashing God of War from Heaven had become so tragically ugly after reincarnation…
If I were to sketch his appearance right now and let him take a look at it later, I bet his face was going to be priceless.
Since Moxi had chosen to lie low in the city, I picked a big city to make sure I gave him exactly what he wanted. After much deliberation, I concluded that the capital was the most suitable. That very night, we rode on clouds and arrived in the capital the next day.
Considering that I was going to raise Moxi until he reached his adulthood, I couldn’t let myself be the reason for him to spend his childhood moving around from place to place with no stable home. I gathered the forces of darkness inside of me to put away and decided that from here on out, I wouldn’t be using magic again unless it was absolutely necessary.
I rented a cottage and furnished it. Afterwards, I watched Moxi as I very seriously thought about the lives we’d live without magic.
I poked his nose: “And what will you do for a living?”
Perhaps he felt that my tone was too disdainful of him, for he expressed dissatisfaction by drooling onto my hand. I quietly turned my hand and wiped the saliva back onto his hair.
He opened his mouth soundlessly, pushing me away with his tiny fists. “Now is the only time I can pick on you. When you’re back to being the God of War, I’ve no idea how you’re going to get back at me. I can’t afford to suffer a lost.” Like that, I wiped my saliva-stained hand onto him even harder.
I was still thinking about our livelihoods into the next day.
It wasn’t difficult to make money from magic. The difficulty lay in how to divert the neighbors’ suspicion from my making money by just sitting around at home all day. I sat in the doorway cradling Moxi. In this exact moment of headache, a drunkard wobbily passed by our house. I stared at his back for a second before turning to ask Moxi: “How do you feel about booze?”
He was sucking on his finger, fast asleep.
Seven years later. There stood a tavern on the east side of the capital.
I knocked on the counter. Behind it, the shopkeeper who was settling accounts raised his eyes to look up. When he saw me, he smiled and said, “Miss Sansheng, why are you visiting the tavern today?”
“I couldn’t find Moxi at home. I thought he might have come here so I came to take a look.” I looked around but didn’t find Moxi. “How is business lately?” I asked.
“Business is very good recently. Would you like to check the books?” Accountant Liu was an honest, good-natured elderly man. I had always trusted him. Besides, this pub was just a front. When I really needed money, all I had to do was flip my hand and make a turn. I waved my hand telling him there was no need.
Upstairs, a small figure flashed by the corner of my eyes. I looked up to find that it was Moxi. I smiled and waved to him: “Moxi! Time to go home for dinner.”
When he saw me, Moxi beamed and made a dash down the stairs.
Some of the guests who came to drink couldn’t help themselves from clucking curiously. Accountant Liu couldn’t help shaking his head. “You’re still young, Miss. People are bound to misunderstand if you keep sticking by the young master’s side this way. Over time, I fear you will ruin your future prospects!”
I told everyone that Moxi was a child I had adopted – a little brother I was raising. Toward this ‘noble’ action of mine, those who knew me always responded with a rueful look.
Moxi ran to my side. Hearing this, he looked quizzically at Accountant Liu and then turned around to look at me. I crouched down to wipe the dirt from Moxi’s face before replying with little concern: “Then let them misunderstand. It’s not as if I want anything from them. For me, all I need in this life is Moxi.”
Like a little grown-up, Moxi smiled and brushed aside the messy bangs on my forehead for me.
Accountant Liu sighed again. “Miss Sansheng, you’re still too young after all.” I held Moxi’s hand as I said to Accountant Liu in all seriousness: “I’m not young. My skin just doesn’t wrinkle and my hair doesn’t gray, that’s all.” It was difficult enough for a rock to grow hair, let alone wrinkles and creases.
Accountant Liu continued to think I was just joking. Not wanting to explain anymore, I took a hold of Moxi’s hand and slowly made our way home.
While we were having dinner, Moxi suddenly and very anxiously gestured something to me. I watched for a time before I realized that he was asking me if I would be leaving with someone else.
Cool as a cucumber, I gave him a drumstick. “Do you want me to leave with someone else?”
Holding his bowl, he shook his head somewhat dolefully. After half a day of gestures, he essentially told me that Xiao Ding’s older sister next-door had gone away with someone else and wouldn’t be coming back to see Xiao Ding anymore. He was afraid I’d go away just like Xiao Ding’s sister. I had never hid his origins from him, and in the past, he had never felt there to be anything amiss. But since the year before last, after starting school, he was beginning to realize that there was something different between himself and the others. Perhaps people had said something to make him afraid that even I did not want him anymore. He did everything by himself and became so well-behaved that he wasn’t nearly as troublesome as other children.
His mindfulness broke my heart.
Had I known this, I would’ve taken him to the mountains where he could live more freely and I could be a more comfortable guardian.
I patted his head, warmly saying: “Sansheng won’t go anywhere. Wherever you are is wherever I’ll be.” I came here to seduce him, so how could I ever have the heart to leave?
His eyes gleamed upon hearing this. He let me play with his soft hair as he finished his plate. In the evening, I had just sent Moxi to bed when I heard a small sound in the yard.
I furrowed my brow in thought, wondering which idiot had picked my yard to steal from. I was slightly startled when I opened the door. It wasn’t a burglar but a large man in night- traveling clothes. At this moment, he was clutching the wound at his waist and leaning against the wall as he hid himself in the shadows of the night.
He had no idea that I could still see everything even if I were blindfolded.
Pursing my lips, I pretended not to have seen him and went to the far corner of the yard to bring a bucket of water back to the house.
The capital was placed under curfew that night. Outside, the entire sky was lit by bright torches. I hugged Moxi and fell to a peaceful sleep. But before I fell asleep, I faintly wondered if perhaps Moxi’s tribulation had begun or if this was merely a coincidence. Whatever it may be, it was going to be a pain in the neck. If I still found him here tomorrow…
I’d have to knock him out and throw him into the street.
Chapter 12: Blame it on fate…
He was still there the next day.
Nonetheless, I couldn’t toss him out according to last night’s plan… because…
Moxi was tugging the sleeve of the unconscious black-clothed man and innocently looking up at me, anxiously hoping I would come over and help him.
I sighed. Would I be a little too cruel if I were to throw this man out right now? The thing I couldn’t bear the most was also having Moxi looking at me with those eyes. I quickly nodded, dragged the man inside the house, stripped him of his clothes and cleansed the wound at his waist before dressing it with some medicine.
His breathing slowly evened and some color was finally restored on Moxi’s little face. If he had been the God of War Moxi, then I was certain he wouldn’t even give this injury a glance. But this was only a seven-year-old Mo Xi who was still so young and innocent.
After I washed my hands, I looked at Moxi and told him quite seriously: “Saving him might bring us a lot of trouble. But since you asked me to save him, don’t go telling me you regret it in the future.”
Moxi nodded albeit with some perplexity.
Watching his big watery eyes blinking up at me, fright not yet gone from his face, my heart softened into a puddle. Unable to help myself, I smacked my lips onto his soft white cheek.
His eyes grew even rounder.
“Does it feel good?” I lifted his chin and asked him like a rogue.
Moxi touched his face and gave my question some serious thought, then solemnly nodded. I grinned smugly. “Even if it does, this is something you can only do to the most important person in your life. You mustn’t do it casually.”
Moxi softly rubbed his cheek, and then cupped his small hands around my face. My reflection was clearly imprinted in his clear eyes at the moment he stood on tiptoe, copied my action, and gave my cheek a sounding peck.
Afterwards, he touched the spot he had just kissed and kept looking at me as if to say: “I’ll only do this to Sansheng.”
For a second, I couldn’t help giving him several more kisses. I kissed him till his face was smeared in saliva. He was hesitant to push me away in his helpless way, only smiling quietly.
“Tell me, Moxi. How am I not supposed to like you?!” I ruffled the soft hair on his forehead, wishing I could carry him in my pocket and keep him safe from the world.
Our lives went on as usual. We just happened to now have a comatose man in the house. The number of soldiers marching to and fro in the capital increased markedly. The tavern had been searched many times, but they had fortunately not come to search the house just yet.
Three days later, I picked up a book to read in my free time after Moxi went to school. I sat on a rocking chair in the courtyard looking to the sky then looking back at my book. I rocked back and forth counting the days till plum blossoms would fill the garden. Out of the blue, illusory footsteps sounded inside the house. I closed my eyes and listened as they slowly made their way out of the room, circled the living room and then the woodshed, and finally to the yard before they halted.
“Miss, who are you?” he asked in a chilly voice. “Why did you save me?”
“Blame it on fate…” And then, I couldn’t help but lament: “I have a soft spot that made me save you. What else could I do?”
The man behind me fell silent for a short while. His voice carried a hint of awkwardness: “I thank you for your kind feelings, but I’m currently not interested in a relationship.” He made me want to laugh. I was referring to Moxi as the one I had a soft spot for, but this man tried to be smart and thought himself a ladies’ man. He had obviously and thoroughly misunderstood. I wasn’t one to explain things, and since this wasn’t anything important, I just let him think what he wanted.
Not hearing me speak again, he asked, “For the past few days, was it you who… erm, dressed my wound for me?”
“Yes,” I said without much concern. “Pooping, peeing, farting, shampooing, sponging, wiping your butt, it was I who served you through it all.” After Moxi went to sleep, I used magic for everything.
I gave some thought and then added: “I’m telling you this for your own good. Your excrement has a heavy odor. Get treatment, you’re sick.”
Not one peep behind me.
This silence persisted until the sun went down. Moxi came back and froze when he opened the door. He ran to me, pulled my hand and pointed to the man. His smile showed that he was pleasantly surprised. At this time, I was carrying a dish of stir-fry vegetables. I nodded as I walked into the house: “Yes, yes, I know, I know.”
The man looked at Moxi, his expression strange for a moment. “He is…”
I gave him a glance. “My little brother.”
Moxi smiled at him. He seemed to have thought of something, for he made a bow to him like a little grown-up. Appearing to have taken interest in Moxi, the man stepped up and circled him a few times, saying: “He has an excellent body for learning martial arts. But, can he not speak?”
“Yes, he was born that way.” He asked very cautiously; on the other hand, I answered very carelessly. Moxi also smiled unconcernedly, attracting his curious glances again and again.
“You’re very open-minded.”
By the time food was laid on the table, like always, I gave some to Moxi while he gestured to me about the interesting things at school. The man couldn’t restrain himself from asking: “He still doesn’t know how to write?”
Moxi’s smile dropped from his face as he lowered his head to eat his food. I placed my chopsticks down. “You got something to say about it?”
“I don’t care even if you do.”
He was silent, and then softly sighed: “Miss, you’ve misunderstood me. I only meant that perhaps the teachers are prejudiced when they see him this way and do not teach him properly. You’ve saved me, but I have nothing to give in return. The only thing I can do is teach him some practical things so that he can provide for himself in the future.”
“You should ask Moxi these things. What are you looking at me for?” In my opinion, Moxi had always been my equal. He should decide his own matters. How could I decide for him?
The other person gave another sigh, likely thinking it was nigh impossible to talk to me. As he was about to speak again, Moxi suddenly grabbed his hand, gave him a solemn stare, and nodded vigorously. He froze before laughing: “Then I’m your teacher from now on. There’s no need go to school tomorrow. It will be very difficult to learn from me; you’ll need to be prepared.”
Moxi kept on nodding. I lightly asked, “What’s your name? I can’t always holler ‘hey you’.”
He thought for a moment and then offered: “I go by the name of Bai Jiu.”
Pfft, what an uncreative pseudonym. “That’s great, I’m called Huang Jiu. This kid here is called Xiong Huang Jiu.”
Bai Jiu’s face twitched. “Miss, you have a great sense of humor…”
I lightly replied: “Not at all.”
Thenceforward, Moxi began his apprenticeship.
Not only for Moxi but even for me, ‘master’ was a completely foreign creature. Master Bai Jiu taught Moxi words, art, martial arts, and even an elegant melody or two occasionally.
He taught a lot and Moxi also learned quickly, as if after depriving him of his ability to speak, Heaven had compensated him with other talents.
His was most gifted in music. It didn’t take long before he was able to strum a song. I loved lying beside his zither stand, propping my head to watch his miniature adult appearance. His young and tender fingertips would glide across the strings. There were a few notes he hadn’t mastered accurately, but he was so darling in his confidence that one couldn’t help adoring him.
I often took advantage of Bai Jiu’s absence to quietly have my ways with Moxi.
One time, I gave Moxi a hug and a kiss.
He flushed from my kiss and was caught by his master. From that day on, just like his master, he became cautious around me as if I were some children-eating witch from the Black Mountain.
It became difficult for me to have my ways with Moxi. I resented Bai Jiu so much my blood could’ve dyed several beaches. Just as I was wondering when to chop this deadwood up and toss him back to the woods, he suddenly became busy and often disappeared for a long time.
I relaxed in jubilation. Rain or shine, I came and stuck by Moxi’s side. I didn’t know what Bai Jiu had said to Moxi, but his affection for me had turned timid and shy.
I didn’t want to force Moxi, but my grudges against Bai Jiu grew even deeper. Moxi took his studies very seriously. Even if Bai Jiu weren’t pushing him, he would exceed the daily tasks Bai Jiu gave him. He was still so young, nonetheless. Over time, he wouldn’t be able to keep this up.
I sewed a new coat for him on the first snow of the year. He held and admired it over and over, both hesitant to put it on but also reluctant to put it down. Blushing, he watched me with apprehension. At the thought of his bashfulness previously, I silently forbore the impulse to kiss him. “Tidy things up yourself. I’m going to make dinner.”
By the time I brought food back, Moxi was hugging the coat, asleep on the table.
I carried him to bed, tucked him in, and then painfully watched the small face that had grown so thin. With my power, it wasn’t impossible to protect and help him through his trial so that he may have a safe life. But it was after all his life. He should be the one deciding it. I touched his face, thinking: After this life is over, will we cross paths again? The Black and White
Guards of Impermanence said you made a good tantrum in the underworld… What’s wrong with you? I helped you pass your trial, but instead of thanking me, you’re always mean to me. You’re being ungrateful! I was nice for nothing!
And yet, no matter how poorly Moxi treated me, I couldn’t treat him the same way.
Who told him to be my love trial?!
I softly sighed. Watching him fast asleep, I couldn’t but get sleepy myself. Not caring about the food that was slowly growing cold on the table, I lay bedside, admired his face, and slowly dozed off.
It was a ticklish feeling on my cheek that woke me up.
I opened my eyes to see that Moxi was watching me with a huge grin on his face. He was holding my hair in his hand, sweeping it across my cheek and tickling me again.
I didn’t like having other people touch my precious hair, but it never mattered with Moxi. Even if it did, I could never get mad at that beaming face. I blinked a few times and said to him: “Moxi, are you having your ways with me?”
He copied my blinking and looked at me in puzzlement, not understanding what ‘having his way’ meant. I gave him a sly smile and playfully nibbled his ear. “This is called ‘having your ways’.”
He froze, clutched his ear, and turned crimson red.
As I was sighing why this child was so easily embarrassed in this lifetime, he surprisingly puckered up and gave my cheek a sounding peck.
This time, it was my turn to freeze.
He grasped my hand and wrote onto my palm with his index finger: “I love Sansheng the most.”
All I knew was that my heart was melting into a pool of bubbly warm liquid that was rippling all the way to my limbs. By the time I recovered, I planted an equally blunt kiss onto his face. I kicked away my shoes, lifted the quilt and climbed into bed, cuddling him in my arms. “Let’s not do anything today. We’ll just lie here and have a good rest.”
But how could there be such a good thing? Not long after we lay down, the quilt was snatched away.
Blue veins popped on Bai Jiu’s forehead. He looked at Moxi, then glared at me, and at last closed his eyes to restrain himself before asking in a stabilized voice: “Why aren’t you doing your homework today?”
Moxi instantly jumped away from my hug to hurry out of bed and put on his shoes.
Furious that we got bothered at such an intimate moment, I grasped Moxi’s hand while looking at Bai Jiu saying: “What are you running for? We aren’t adulterers caught in bed.”
Moxi obviously didn’t know what I meant, but Bai Jiu was livid with anger. He pointed at me: “You, you, you…” He stood rigid for half a day and couldn’t manage anything more to say. He reached for Moxi, wanting to pull him away from me. I imperturbably held onto Moxi, blocking him with one hand.
His expression worsened when he failed to grab Moxi.
I smiled smugly. “Hmph! Moxi is mine!”
“How can you subject such atrocity on a child?”
I didn’t bother with him. I turned around and petted Moxi’s head, asking: “Must you follow and learn from such a useless fogy?” In point of fact, Bai Jiu should only be in his twenties or thirties; he was a far cry from a ‘useless fogy’. But in my eyes at this moment, his ideas were so old-fashioned that he was no different from the useless fogies at school.
As soon as I said this, Bai Jiu’s face turned the color of pork liver. He looked as though he could spray dog blood in my face and then give me a good beating. Moxi hastily covered my mouth in disapproval. I pulled his hand away and asked him, “You still want to learn from him?”
Moxi looked at Bai Jiu and nodded. I caught a glimpse of Bai Jiu as he smiled a strange smile like that of a child who had just cheated while at the same time like that of a beaming villain.
For the time being, I could not tell what I was feeling. I only lightly said, “Very well. Continue learning from him, then.” Without even putting on my shoes, I went straight out the door to the tavern and spent the night there.
This was the first time I stayed out overnight. It was also the first time I got mad at Moxi, or rather it was jealousy I was feeling. He was clearly just a stranger I had saved. He hadn’t even been with us for long but the stupid child was already taking his side! Really…
That night at the pub, I sent Accountant Liu along with everyone else home. Then, I poured all the white liquor in the store down the toilet.
homonymic with ‘white wine’
yellow wine and realgar wine respectively
Chapter 13: Don’t Be Afraid, Moxi
As soon as I woke up the next day, Accountant Liu had come to see me. He pulled me to a pile of empty jars and looked as though he wanted to cry but simply couldn’t.
I heaved a sigh while slapping on a helpless look: “White wine isn’t very popular among the customers anyway. Let’s sell yellow wine.”
Seeing that even the owner herself didn’t really care, Accountant Liu naturally had nothing more to say.
I was still upset enough not to go home, and remained the entire day at the tavern. And when I didn’t see anyone coming to look for me, I got even more peeved. The stubbornness of a rock kept me at the tavern for another night.
On the third day, I loitered outside the pub for an entire morning with a sour face on and ended up scaring all our customers away. Half pulling and half dragging, Accountant Liu begged me to go back inside. I found a corner to drink. At times I felt angry, and then at times I felt sad. After consuming some alcohol, the idea that perhaps something had happened to Moxi began to nip at me. I could hardly stood still because of this fear. I got up and was about to go home when, without any warning, a small figure flew into my arms and clung onto my waist.
I looked down. Moxi?! Hugging me, his face was firmly pressed against my stomach. He was out of breath, and after a while, still didn’t calm down.
He ignored my call. I had to call a few more times before he would nod his head against my stomach to show that he heard me. “What’s wrong?”
He only now looked up from my arms with reddened eyes. He signed to tell me that he thought I had left and hadn’t wanted him anymore.
I frowned, unable to help myself from grumbling: “You’re the one who doesn’t want me!” His eyes reddened again as though he was going to cry when I said this to him. He hastily gestured something to the effect that yesterday, Bai Jiu took him to the outskirts to practice martial arts and he also didn’t return for the day. This morning, they got back only to find me gone. He thus quickly came over here to look for me. He asked me not to chide him or to get angry with him. “Since Sansheng doesn’t like Master, Moxi won’t learn from him anymore,” he wrote onto my palm after some deliberation.
When I saw him like this, my anger, no matter how bad, also vanished.
I couldn’t but sigh. I crouched down, ruffled his hair and asked, “Why do you like Bai Jiu so much? Is he prettier than Sansheng?”
He resolutely shook his head. Pleased, I smiled. “Then how about we find another master for you?”
He kept still for a moment before writing on my palm: “Moxi wants to learn martial arts.” My brows raised in surprised. I didn’t expect Moxi to have such thoughts. As I was about to ask him why, I suddenly heard a crass male voice shouting in front of the store: “No white wine? You run a tavern but you’re actually telling me you have no wine? I don’t give a damn. I have to drink today!”
Accountant Liu profusely apologized to him.
I scowled and told Moxi: “Stay here. We’ll go back together after I take care of this.”
Moxi nervously tried to pull me back. I patted his head to reassure him and then walked out. I frowned upon seeing the person in question. The third young master of the Guan family that ran the capital rampant had actually picked my tavern to crash today. The world is full of wonders, indeed. The third young master’s father was a first-rank official in court, his older sister was the Imperial Consort, and his entire family was favored by the emperor. Normally, anyone who came across them would need to show some minimal courtesy. This third young master was a notoriously rotten dregs. He never worked, and was always found at various entertainment establishments. He loved women, money, and alcohol – a classic player exemplar.
It surprised me beyond words that such an infamous man was suddenly making an appearance at my little-known tavern.
Accountant Liu was still apologizing to him. I stopped Accountant Liu and said to the third young master: “Our store doesn’t have white wine today. If you must have some, sir, I believe there are several large restaurants at the main intersection ahead.”
The third master looked me up and down with his squinted eyes – eyes so vulgar I just wanted to gouge them out. He rubbed his chin, smiled and said, “Just now on the street, I heard that the owner of this tavern is a widow with a kid, but that she wasn’t old in the least, and even rather pretty. I didn’t believe them… but it turns out the rumor wasn’t wrong. You are quite a fetching woman.”
I lightly replied: “I guess half of that is true.”
He didn’t get mad nor angry. For a second there, he forgot how to reply. By the time he recovered, the smile on his face grew even more leering. He went up to me and grabbed my hand. “Haha! They forgot to tell me that this sweet lady was also a lonely little slut! Why don’t you let me give you some love and care today?”
I eyed him more deliberately, wondering whether to cut his tongue off first or to claw his eyes out first, or to simply neuter him and hang his winkie above the city gate tower as a favor to every woman in the world and as a warning to everyone else.
Out of the blue, a tiny figure dashed over and fiercely pushed him to the ground.
While I was still stupefied, a jug had hit the third young master and bathed him in yellow wine.
Silence all around.
Moxi’s anger appeared to not have cooled down. He went behind the counter, looked for a piece of paper and wrote a huge ‘SCRAM’ on it, then threw it at the man. Apart from the time he threw a fireball at me in the underworld, I had never seen him this furious. Maybe he had also been this furious, but he was a mature adult who knew how to control himself. As a child presently, his temper just broke loose.
I saw the onlookers quickly dispersing out of the corner of my eye. Accountant Liu looked as though an apocalypse had arrived. The helpers in the pub also turned ashen. Everyone knew what sort of retaliation was in store for us.
But I was not scared even if they were.
I was about to praise Moxi when, at the same time, he pulled me down and hugged me tight. He patted me on the back as if to give me comfort, as if to say: “It’s okay, Sangsheng, don’t be afraid. Moxi will protect you.”
I was so touched despite not knowing whether I should laugh or cry at his action. While I was squeezing him in my hug, I suddenly saw the third young master climbing up, then slamming a piece of broken shard onto Moxi’s head. My mind went blank that instant. All I could think was that nobody must ever hurt my Moxi. I immediately pressed Moxi’s head into my chest, myself leaning forward. A sharp sting pricked my head. Even though I was the spirit of a stone, the fierce blow blackened my sight and made me dizzy for a moment.
Moxi was petrified in my arms. He outstretched his hand to gingerly touch the warm and sticky blood that was slowly trickling down my forehead. Shock and fear gradually filled his eyes.
“Don’t be afraid, Moxi.”
His face was blanched.
The third young master complained of a headache and then menaced to have our heads chopped off as compensation.
Incensed, my desire to kill rose from within. I had never been treated this way in the past one thousand years. This third young master of the Guans was really the first. At this point, I seriously wanted to snip his little wiener off, stir- fry it, feed it to him, and see whether he could grow another one. Compensation? Like hell that’d happen!
Yanwang wouldn’t let me kill in the human world, but there are plenty of ways to make people suffer living deaths.
Wrath condensed in my eyes as I drew the forces of darkness to my fingertips. If he took another step, I shall directly maim his family jewels.
Just then, a figure suddenly yanked the third young master’s arm away and forced him into an awkward fall onto the ground. That person seemed to not have cooled down, for he stepped over and gave him a hard kick. “Why are there such scum in broad daylight?!”
This voice sounded very familiar. I wiped my blood away to take a closer look at him. Bai Jiu.
I pursed my lips, then turned around to look at Moxi only to find him in joy. Jealousy crept up inside of me. I covered my head and pretended to weakly fall against Moxi, feebly saying: “Moxi, it hurts so much…”
Moxi panicked and wrapped his arms around me. His round eyes reddened, but he did not dare to cry.
I leaned against Moxi while giving Bai Jiu a provocative glance. But how could he find the mood to be vindictive with me right now?
That third young master was a real useless piece of thrash. He actually passed out from a single kick! Arguing with this bully was one thing, being immature with him was one thing, fighting with him was one thing, but knocking him out cold was an entirely other issue.
Bai Jiu’s eyes swept to the far distance before he said to Accountant Liu: “We’re closing shop today!” Then he came over and asked me: “Can you still walk?”
Now that the third young master got beaten this badly, his father would never it let go. Offending a big official wasn’t a good thing for Moxi in this lifetime. The only way left was to quickly make our escape before soldiers could come to find us. We ought to flee the capital, change our identities, and then think of what to do next.
I dropped my weakling act and wiped the blood on my head. “Just some scratches. Nothing to worry about.”
Bai Jiu arched an eyebrow and said nothing.
After returning home, I had wanted to quickly pack and escape before all, but Moxi insisted on helping me bandage my wounds first, refusing to go anywhere.
In this lifetime, I had never used magic in front of Moxi. At this point, I naturally did not dare to expose myself. The only thing I could do was wait for Moxi to slowly clean and dress my wound with shaking hands.
I thought that no matter how scary the third young master was, he was just a rich kid. I didn’t expect soldiers to come until the next day at the earliest.
Unexpectedly, soldiers came that very night to search.
They gathered outside the yard, reluctant to come in. From the sound of their heavy footsteps, I knew that this was no ordinary infantry. It they were here only to capture a woman and a small child who had injured the third son of the Guans, then they were making too big of a fuss. I turned and looked to Bai Jiu who was standing in the yard. His back was turned against me, his figure solitary.
Thus when I heard these shouts from outside the yard: “Rebel Bai Qi! Resistance is futile!” I was not surprised in the least. When I saved him, I already knew this man wasn’t simple. I just didn’t think he’d be this problematic.
Bai Qi was the treasonous general. It was said that when he became dissatisfied with the emperor’s appointment of corrupt officials, implementation of severe policies, and surrender to barbarians of the east, he turned against the court and intended to overthrow the government to become the emperor himself.
Such was the character we ran into. No wonder the capital was placed under curfew for so many days; no wonder soldiers came to us so soon.
Moxi grabbed onto my sleeves, shaking badly. I patted his head and warmly said, “It’s okay! Sansheng’s right here.”
But he shook his head, writing onto my palm: “Moxi will protect Sansheng.” His eyes shone bright in the dark.
Putting aside my and Bai Jiu’s conflict, this master of his had actually done his due diligence. What Moxi learned in a month with him was probably more than what he learned at school in three years.
If Bai Jiu were to continue teaching him, with Moxi’s studious and diligent disposition, there was no limit to what Moxi could achieve in his future. The thought of saving Bai Jiu flashed in my mind, but then I wondered: if I revealed magic in front of Moxi at this time, how would he be looking at me? And how would Bai Jiu be looking at me?
Not giving me much time to ponder, Bai Jiu had strode out.
He opened the courtyard’s gate. Outside, the armed soldiers were all clad in black armors, stinging my eyes with the fire light reflecting off of their blades. In addition to the fire glaring against our faces, there was also an overwhelming energy in the air that made me ill at ease.
I looked to the distance past the gate where a bright yellow palanquin sat behind layers of encircling soldiers.
My brows raised in astonishment. I didn’t expect the famous tyrannical king to place enough importance on Bai Qi to personally come and capture the fugitive. I unconsciously let out a sigh. This time, I feared I couldn’t help him even if I wanted to. Spirits of the underworld were born with a natural fear for rulers’ inherent royal energy. Even the royal energy emitting from an imbecile emperor was enough to suppress little underworld beings from lifting their heads. Even though I wasn’t suffering so bad that I could not lift my head, the strength in my body had mostly been subdued.
“Rebel Bai Qi! You’ve betrayed His Majesty by surrendering to the enemy and killing our own people! Now you even dare to assassinate His Majesty! Your crimes are unpardonable…” the eunuch condemned his crimes in a pitchy voice.
Bai Qi icily growled: “What a load of bull! If you want to arrest me, then come on over.”
Hearing this, a tremor ran through Moxi as he wanted to step out. I quietly stopped him with a shake of my head.
I, Sansheng, had always been a selfish creature. I drew the lines of friendships very clearly. The friendship with Bai Jiu wasn’t enough for me to sacrifice Moxi and myself in order to save him. For Moxi, offending the emperor had no benefits in this lifetime.
The eunuch grunted: “Go! Why haven’t you arrested the criminal?!” Soldiers instantly rushed forth.
Bai Jiu’s expression frosted up into a sneer as he directly twisted a soldier’s arm, seized his spear, flipped his hand and thrust the weapon into another soldier’s chest. “Arrest me with your ability?” he said with a laugh.
I guess it wasn’t an urban legend when they said the great general was brave and fierce, and had matchless martial arts.
The eunuch’s face couldn’t help but crumble. He looked toward the bright yellow palanquin where two gentle claps sounded.
I knitted my brow, sensing the murderous intent in the yard suddenly thickening. By the time I looked up, the walls had been lined with archers, their bows raised and strings drawn. Ordinarily, I’d have already shot them down one by one before they could even climb the wall. But the emperor’s presence had seriously impeded my senses today.
I took Moxi into my arms while secretly pooling dark forces into my palm.
Bai Jiu narrowed his eyes, glancing across the soldiers that were surrounding the small courtyard. He raised his voice and spoke to the palanquin: “This doesn’t concern them. I’ll come with you, let them go.”
The eunuch placed his ears next to the palanquin and quietly listened for a moment. He next waved his hand. The surrounding archers immediately lowered their bows.
As soon as Bai Jiu flung the spear in his hand away, the soldiers cuffed him with iron chains. I gazed after his back and sighed. Bai Jiu, Bai Jiu, you’re a great general, aren’t you? Humans are treacherous, how can you trust others like this?
Even if it were the emperor.
Not waiting for Bai Jiu to go far, the eunuch shrilly shouted: “Kill them!”
Bai Jiu, who was escorted by five or six soldiers, turned around in dismay and thundered: “Tyrant…” His voice had hardly landed by the time archers already let fly their arrows on command. Numerous sharp arrows pierced the air and flew at us. I hugged Moxi standing in the yard with nowhere to hide.
Die, or reveal my spiritual powers?
I chuckled. Did I even have to choose? Moxi was still here. If he hadn’t passed his tribulation, I’d never let him come into any harm.
I had long transferred dark forces from my palm to my abdomen. I closed my eyes to concentrate before giving off a scream. Dark forces shot out and deflected all the arrows backwards.
Instantly, a constant stream of terror rang into my ears. Many soldiers had been wounded by the backfiring arrows. They one by one fell off the wall. Even the ones who weren’t injured were scared stiff, all looking at me, aghast.
Silence, silence, and more silence.
With all eyes on me, I gave a bashful sigh: “I’m sorry for being so beautiful.”
“Demon!” Someone suddenly cried just as commotion took over the grounds.
I held Moxi’s cold hands as I gave his paled face a smile. I called to him like I usually called him home for dinner: “It’s okay Moxi, Sansheng’s right here.”
The blank look in his eyes stung my heart. At the thought of the last two lifetimes ending bleakly, I couldn’t help telling him: ”Don’t listen to their rubbish. Sansheng’s not a demon.”
But what time did I have to delay? I used what strength was left in my abdomen to leap to Bai Jiu’s side. While the crowd hadn’t yet reacted, I knocked the few burly soldiers guarding Bai Jiu unconscious, grabbed Bai Jiu’s arm, and then flew back beside Moxi.
Not looking at their shocked eyes, I lifted a finger and let the iron chains on his wrists break apart. I pushed Bai Jiu away while telling him: “Take Moxi with you. I’ll block them from behind.”
No matter how strong Bai Jiu was, he was still only a mortal. There were so many soldiers here, not to mention archers. Wanting him to block them was firstly not very safe, and secondly not very nice.
I had always been confident of my own ability. Even with only a fraction of my spiritual powers left, I still had full confidence. After all, everyone present was a mortal; the most they could do was give me some scratches. With that thought, I urged Bai Jiu to take Moxi away. I couldn’t flex my muscles with the two of them here.
Having witnessed the power of my scream, Bai Jiu did not bother asking me further. “Take care,” he simply said before he took off with Moxi.
Moxi struggled from his arms to grab onto my sleeve, showing that he was unwilling to let go and would rather die with me.
I was getting a headache. The troops on the emperor’s side suddenly reacted. “Capture the demoness and the traitor!” the eunuch shouted. “The bounty will be handsome!” But because the soldiers remembered how powerful I had been, they stalled for a long time without daring to advance. I took this opportunity to ruffle Moxi’s soft hair. “Moxi, don’t be afraid. Sansheng is very powerful. You two go on ahead and I’ll catch up to you soon.”
He stubbornly held on; panic and fear filled his eyes.
The soldiers on the other side were set to charge. Having no other choice, I steeled my heart and pried off each of his fingers from my sleeve.
Disbelief took over his eyes.
I could not bear to look. I brushed his hands off, turned my back and took two steps to the front, coldly saying, “Go!” Moxi could not speak, and therefore I didn’t get to know how he left in the end. The tears he left on the back of my hand burned a hole in my heart. It’ll be all right, I thought, it’s not forever goodbye. Moxi and I will meet soon again.
The soldiers panicked to see Bai Jiu flee. A few bold ones rushed forward, wanting to jump over me to chase after Bai Jiu.
I smiled at them. “Hold it right there.”
At the same time I gave this gentle warning, I gathered dark forces to my fingertips and waved my arm. A long yet thin, deep yet narrow flash traced across the small yard and divided several other small courtyards nearby in two.
The soldiers were on one side; I was on the other.
I burst out laughing. My laughter carried the deadly energy I had cemented for a millennium from the Wangchuan River. “Whoever crosses this line is going to get his winkie cut off.”
Chapter 14: So It’s You
I had thought it would be easy to make an escape by myself. All I needed was an invisible spell and I’d be able to catch up to Moxi in no time.
But life never turned out the way I thought it would.
Never did I imagine the emperor would take action himself, less still did I expect this blind ruler to be so malicious.
He gave me a powerful blow and followed it with an iron net.
It was no surprise I got captured.
Before being dragged into prison, I told myself that as soon as the emperor left, as soon as my spiritual power recovered, I’d make my escape.
After they dragged me into prison, however, I could only heave a weak sigh. The emperor must have seen Bai Jiu as a very serious threat, or they wouldn’t have locked me up in the palace dungeon.
The emperor firstly wanted to prevent me from escaping. He secondly wanted to extract Bai Jiu and Moxi’s whereabouts from me more conveniently. What they didn’t know was that this had coincidentally subdued my spiritual powers to their lowest.
Since I couldn’t run away, I adopted an attitude of living in peace in this dark dungeon.
The mortals’ torture instruments weren’t particularly dangerous to me. The daily whipping they gave wasn’t any different from getting my itch scratched on a scheduled basis.
Though I have to say: I was scratched very wrongfully each day.
They asked me for Moxi’s whereabouts day after day. How was I supposed to know? I honestly told them just as much but they kept insisting that I wasn’t being honest. I made a mental note to ask the imps as soon as these people arrived in the underworld whether they had any brains or not. If the answer was yes, I’d beat them to a pulp. If the answer was no, I’d simply chop their heads off and push them down the animal reincarnation well.
Since they didn’t believe me, I stopped bothering to answer. Over time, they only came to whip me once or twice out of routine. Then much much later, they stopped coming to whip me or give me food altogether. I was kept in captivity, living my days not knowing morning from night. They wanted to starve me to death, but little did they know, I was the spirit of a stone. As long as I could draw energy from the earth, I’d be able to live for centuries without any foods or drinks.
My only concern was that I didn’t know what day it was. I didn’t know how Moxi was doing outside.
This prison seemed to be very well hidden. I’d been here for a long time but I had not seen anyone else being brought in. Had I been an ordinary person, I would’ve rotted in here and nobody would know.
Fortunately, I did not fear darkness, for this environment perfectly allowed me to concentrate on my cultivation. During this lengthy time, my spiritual powers made a slight improvement – not enough to aid me in my escape, nevertheless.
I didn’t know how long it had been by the time I finally heard another voice in addition to the squeaking rats. Everything sounded so much clearer in the dark.
The door opened and in came a single person.
I sat there dumbly. Did they not come to check on the prisoners?
He passed the fire and rounded the corner, slowly walking over this way. I squinted and gazed up at the person who came – a young lad in his twenties or thirties, dressed in a robe as pristine as snow and looking entirely out of place in this dungeon. His face was inexplicably familiar under the fire’s glow.
When he saw me, a slight change came over his serene face. I just knew it! I had no idea how long I had been here, but I generally knew it had to have been ten years at least. Who wouldn’t be scared witless to see someone who hadn’t had any foods or drinks still living and breathing after ten years inside a dungeon? Not to mention my ghastly appearance, it was already a commendable courage he did not throw the torch and run for the hills.
“Sansheng,” he called my name. “It’s Chang’an.”
I frowned in thought; the name was a bit fuzzy in my distant memory. Quite a while later, I reacted: “Ah, the chicken little priest of Liubo.” Because I hadn’t spoken for too long, my voice came out croaking.
He furrowed his brow: “I’ll help you leave.”
I cleared my throat, smilingly saying: “You seem to be doing well. Why aren’t you afraid I would pick you like when you were younger?”
He smiled back awkwardly: “It’s been thirty years. You still remember pretty well, Sansheng.”
Thirty years. I froze.
In our last lifetime, I had gone to the underworld after Zhonghua killed me and waited two years for him there, after which I had returned to Earth to look for Moxi. We had lived together for eight years, which makes it a total of ten years. Yet Chang’an was now saying it had been thirty years.
It turned out I’d stayed in this place for two decades.
Two decades… Moxi must be twenty-eight by now. I wondered how he looked.
Leaving the palace was much easier than I thought.
Chang’an found me a servant outfit. After I put it on, he openly took me out of the palace. Along the way, I kept seeing people prostrating to him, saying: “Your Eminence, Imperial Reverend.”
Imperial Reverend? “Hasn’t Liubo always looked down on these kinds of things?” I asked him after we left the palace and while basking under the sunlight I hadn’t seen in a long time as I recited a purification rune to restore myself to my former appearance.
He looked back at me. “It’s a long story. I need to take you to someone. Let’s talk about these things along the way.”
Chang’an told me that Liubo continuously declined after it was met with its calamity and never did return to its glorious past. Its disciples had to take off their fairy loftiness to reenter the vulgar world. Knowing I had saved his life but had ended up getting killed by Zhonghua, he had always felt guilty toward me and had been searching for my reincarnation to repay this debt.
“Sansheng, why do you still have memories from your past life?” he asked.
I didn’t know how to explain to him about all the karma that was involved. I pondered for a moment and replied: “Perhaps it’s because I couldn’t let go of your Most Reverend.”
He nodded and didn’t try to pursue that thread anymore. “Twenty years ago, there was a rumor that there was a demoness in the capital who got captured by the emperor himself. I hadn’t thought of you, but ten years ago a man came to look for me and asked me to rescue someone from the palace. That was when I found out you had been caught. Knowing it was you, I naturally agreed. In the name of the Imperial Reverend, I thus entered the palace and probed for your whereabouts all these years. It took this long but I finally got you out.”
“Is the person who asked you to save me named Moxi?”
“Yes, and no.” He softly smiled: “Do you know what kind of person this Moxi you speak of had become?”
I shook my head. He lowered his voice: “Although the capital is still safe at this time, on the battlefield ahead, the imperial army is defeated again and again. In no more than three months, this country will have a new master.” I dithered to hear him say: “The one who exterminates the enemy on the battlefront, the one who wipes out hundreds of thousands of the Empire’s soldiers, the one who brings back military exploits for the rebels is no other than Moxi.”
“But the one who asked me to save you…” as he spoke, he took me into a small courtyard in a deep alley. When the gate opened, I saw a man sitting inside.
I arched my brow. “Oh, so it’s you.”
Bai Jiu. Twenty years was a long stretch of time for human beings. He was still standing there straight and tall, but his hair had grayed and his face had wrinkled.
He was greatly surprised upon seeing me. “You… haven’t changed at all.”
I unconsciously frowned. “I’m not a demon.”
He smirked ironically: “What importance is there whether you are a demon or not? Demons eat people, people also eat people. They are all the same.” He paused before continuing: “I find myself more and more nostalgic the older I get. Now that I’ve finally rescued you, I don’t feel so haunted by old regrets anymore.”
I was so sick of listening to these humans lamenting to me about their old age. I cut him short and asked, “Where’s Moxi?”
“He should now be in Rongshan,” he told me. “That boy misses you dearly, be it day or night,” he added helplessly, his words carrying a sigh of frustration.
I glanced at Bai Jiu quizzically. The jealousy that had long been buried deep inside of me inexplicably rose again. “I like Moxi and he likes me. If I’m not there, isn’t it natural that he should miss me? Are you saying he should miss you in some kind of taboo romance?”
Standing nearby, Chang’an couldn’t help but shake with laughter.
Bai Jiu didn’t get angry. He looked at me, dumbfounded. “Why hasn’t your temper changed at all after all these years of imprisonment?”
I ignored the both of them. “I saved you, you saved me. We’re now even. Let’s part ways here. I need to go find Moxi.” I was about to go when I suddenly remembered that Moxi had honored him as his master. My brain took a turn and I came to have a general grasp of what was going on. “It’s fine that you asked Moxi to help you fight your battles and win the kingdom for you. But after that, please let Moxi go. I do not want to have to see betrayal and perfidy happening to Moxi. The boy is goodhearted, he will be sad.”
Bai Jiu did not answer. Chang’an suddenly asked me, “Sansheng, is Moxi the reincarnation of…”
I glanced back to Chang’an and said, “Yes, but that belongs to the past.”
Not wishing to waste more words, I recited an incantation and went directly to Rongshan.
At the foothill of Rongshan was a fortress called Rongcheng – built on the mountainside and surrounded by steep cliffs. It was easily defensible and difficult to attack, but once the fortress was captured, it’d be fairly easy to charge into the capital. Rongcheng was hence the court’s last stronghold of the Imperial City. This battle wasn’t going to be easy for Moxi. Now that I was here, I could perhaps help him. For example, I could poison the water source in Rongcheng, or lit fire on their granary, or something similar.
By the time I got to Rongshan, however, I hadn’t the need to do any of these things.
The armies had engaged.
I searched for his shadow from above the chaotic battlefield.
He could not speak, so how did he give orders in battles?
While I was on pins and needles, a small voice slowly traveled, belonging to only a few people at first, then expanding to dozens, hundreds, and thousands, and finally all of the rebel soldiers chanted: “The fortress keeper has been beheaded!”
“The fortress keeper has been beheaded!” The riotous battlefield momentarily quieted down in solemnity. All eyes slowly converged at one spot. I naturally also turned to look that way.
Mountain winds suddenly picked up, sending flowers on Rongshan raining across my ears and down to the battlefield, drifting to that man in waves.
He was carrying a decapitated head sitting on horseback. The distance was too far for me to see his face. I only saw sunlight bouncing off of his cold sword, so blindingly that my eyes began to tear.
It was Moxi!
I hadn’t expected this separation would last two long decades.
You’ve become a brave general who proudly stands above thousands.
I’d left you for so long. Did you resent me?
Suddenly, I perceived a flash out of the corner of my eye. A sharp arrow was flying straight for Moxi who was on horseback. I panicked. A beam of dark energy immediately followed the arrow, and at the moment the arrow almost pierced into Moxi’s chest, it sliced the arrow shaft in half. But because the arrowhead still had momentum, it grazed Moxi’s face despite having swerved off its original track, and then plunged into the ground behind him.
Everything happened in a split second. I anxiously kept my eyes peeled to see whether he was hurt anywhere or not.
He also made a sudden upward gaze as he stared in my direction. I knew it was too far for him to see me clearly, but I had a strange feeling that he did and that he knew I was Sansheng.
The soldiers reacted and immediately surrounded Moxi in a circle.
I could see Moxi even less clearly now, causing me to burn with anxiousness. The troops around Moxi all of a sudden dispersed as he tossed the decapitated head in his hand to a soldier nearby, then lightly trod on horseback and swiftly flew toward where I was.
This time, I was sure he saw me.
I turned around and left the rock cliff. I daydreamed about the place I would be reuniting with Moxi. It should be a wonderful place complete with falling petals, amid which he would hug me and I would hug him, calling his name over and over again. We’d then develop that inexplicable urge to do a bit of those ooh ooh ah ah things and finally go find a place to properly take care of that urge.
Yes! It’d be a fairy tale come true!
Unfortunately, it was difficult for us to get in the mood for those ooh ooh ah ah things by the time Moxi found me, the reason being that right before he saw me, I had stepped onto a snare the hunters had left in the mountains.
Snap. My ankle was clamped tightly. It couldn’t have wounded me for real, but it did hurt quite badly.
While I was near tears and accusing Heaven of being blind, a figure besmirched in the bloodiness of battle swiftly walked over. I still couldn’t make out his face for he was lowering his head to carefully remove the snare for me. Afterwards, he rolled my trousers up to check whether the injury had reached my bones.
The large and warm hands that were holding my ankles trembled slightly, as if they were tensed, as if they were excited, but also as if they were abashed.
He stiffened. Without any decorum, I removed his helmet for him. I cupped his cheeks and slowly lifted his face.
Gazing at his blood-stained face, I didn’t expect to see eyes so eternally transparent even after his shares of battles and intrigues. I sighed: “You’re grown now so this must be embarrassing for you, but Sansheng really can’t wait anymore. What am I going to do?”
He didn’t know what I was going on about.
The moment my lips inched near, his eyes abruptly widened. I sighed inwardly, but still placed a kiss onto his lips in the end.
“Moxi, Moxi…” I clung onto his neck, rubbing my cheek onto his temple whispering: “I miss you so much, Sansheng misses you.”
His body went as rigid as iron. Even more rigid was his neck, refusing to tilt toward me for even half an inch. It was too tiring to cling onto him so I simply let him go, choosing to stare at him with a smile instead. “I’ve come for you, so why do you still have this look on your face?”
He slightly recovered at these words. My reflection gradually took form in his eyes. He slowly raised his hand, as if he couldn’t believe he could touch my cheek. I beamed at him, letting his rough fingers slowly graze my face – my eyes, my nose, my lips, over and over again as if to test whether the one standing in front of him was real and alive.
Finally, he hugged me with shaking hands, a long sigh drifting into my ears – a sigh that finally dispelled all the grief and sorrow of parting we had kept buried. I reckoned even if he could speak, he’d still only sigh in my ear right now.
Because we had been separated for too long, there was too much to say that our time was better used in embracing.
Unsurprisingly, he brought me back to the camp.
The use of a spell would have easily fixed the wound on my foot, but I had chanted to make it look even worse. When he saw that the bleeding couldn’t be stopped, the crease in Moxi’s brow had deepened. He transferred me onto his back and headed straightaway for the camp.
I reveled in the feeling of being so deeply cared for.
I received countless salutes from the soldiers while I was on his back. What they saw wasn’t a man carrying a woman, but rather a fairy carrying a witch, their eyeballs nearly popping out from their sockets.
I had never cared about how others saw me, but Moxi was afraid that these rough men would give me a hard time. His expression frosted up as he slowly swept his eyes across them. Instantaneously, everyone around us withdrew his gaze.
Amid the warmth in my heart, I pressed even closer to Moxi.
When we got to the main tent, I lifted aside the curtain for him and promptly saw a woman sitting inside.
“Moxi,” I felt my mind leaving me. “Did you get married in the time I was away?” I sadly asked.
Chapter 15: I’ll Never Trade
Moxi got married?
I glanced blankly from Moxi back to the woman.
She happily got up when she saw Moxi coming in. At my presence, she immediately stopped and hesitated: “She is…”
I clung onto Moxi’s neck. “My name is Sansheng.”
“Sansheng…”she muttered my name as her face suddenly darkened. “Sansheng? You’re Sansheng?” As though she didn’t believe me, she looked to Moxi for confirmation.
Seeing her sad expression, I couldn’t help but also look at Moxi. Moxi, however, ignored the both of us. He strode to the bed, laid me down, removed my shoes and socks for me, and then got up and hastily wrote “ask for the army doctor” onto a piece of paper to hand to the other woman.
She froze for a while before finally smiling sadly and staggering out of the tent.
“Is she… your wife?”
He was cleansing my wound for me when I said this. He raised his head to look at me, a smile gradually rippling in his eyes. He gently shook his head.
I nodded and said sternly: “Good, because I won’t let you.”
With the same gentle smile, he pulled my hand and gently wrote onto my palm: “Besides Sansheng, I’ve never had anyone.”
I was surprised to see him write so seriously. I scratched my head and at length cleared my throat, putting on a mature mien while caressing his hair and saying: “You’re so dashing and I’ve been away from you for so long that I really wonder how many girls have lost their hearts to you. But you’re so cold and slow… I feel sorry for these poor girls. Is it a good thing that you’re like this or not, I wonder sometimes.”
At these words, Moxi stared at me with a slight chagrin.
Most of the time, I didn’t know why he was angry. This time, I didn’t know the reason either. Not wanting to bother guessing, I said, “But Sansheng has always been selfish. Your being unfriendly and indifferent to other girls… is more to my liking.”
“Moxi, have you drugged me with something? Why do I like you so much? Why am I so reluctant to let others touch you even for a tiny bit?”
He kept peering at me, his eyes gleaming bright.
At this time, the army doctor arrived. Moxi diverted his gaze and gave his seat to the doctor.
Since my wound was made from my own spell, it was only natural that the doctor couldn’t detect anything. He just announced that it was an external wound before bandaging it and taking his leave.
Having the space to ourselves again, I eagerly caught Moxi’s sleeve so I could complain to him about how much I’d missed him. I hadn’t even warmed his sleeve, however, by the time a soldier called for him from outside the tent.
Moxi’s face sank as he immediately got up and walked out. I watched his sleeve leave my hands, the soldier’s calling ringing into my ears. I sighed. Twenty years had really been too long of a separation.
Sansheng may still be important to Moxi, but she wasn’t the most important anymore.
The war would not stop just because the general had picked up a woman on the side of the road.
I saw Moxi very little after we reunited. With the coming of the last battle, there was a strange air hanging above the army, almost restless, almost unsettled, and almost charged, even. Moxi was so swamped that he didn’t even have the time to rest.
I didn’t care at all what the outcome of the war was going to be; I only cared about Moxi.
Recently, as I followed the rapidly marching troops, I had been pondering what it was Moxi could not seek as part of his trial. He was now a general. He had power, he had riches. What could he possibly want but couldn’t have?
Because we’d been separated for so long, I thought I should ask Moxi directly for an answer.
When night fell, I asked several night-watchmen before I was told Moxi had left the military campground with Miss Ah Rou.
Ah Rou was the woman I saw the other day. I heard she was Bai Jiu’s foster daughter and had been very close to Moxi since childhood. She was almost universally considered to be the general’s wife. After hearing that, I had faintly nodded and declined to comment.
But today, in the middle of the night…
I couldn’t help myself from feeling hurt. I quickened my pace and circled the camp for a long time before I at last found their figures in the forest.
Ah Rou was sobbing: “Moxi, how did it become this way, how…?” I halted, turned and hid behind a tree. “He is after all the master who raised you,” Ah Rou said in misery. “Why do you have to drive him into a corner? Do you want the kingdom that much?”
I froze at her words. I slightly stuck my head out to see Moxi indifferently extracting his sleeve from Ah Rou’s hand while writing something onto her palm. Ah Rou widened her eyes in surprise: “Moxi, are you mad?!”
Moxi stared at her quietly.
“Even though you two aren’t blood related, she is like your sister, your mother. You actually want to… you really want to…” Ah Rou suddenly came to realization: “The reason you want the throne… Moxi, you want to reach the top so that nobody can stand in your way? So that you can marry her?”
Moxi’s expression iced up. He wrote a few more words onto her hand and in the end left by himself.
Ah Rou stood in place for some time. She seemed to recover eventually, but when she took two steps, as if she had lost all her strength, she leaned on a tree and slowly slid to the ground. I thought for a little while before finally coming out. I offered her my hand, waiting for her to pull herself up.
She looked at me, startled: “Aunt… auntie Sansheng.”
I ignored the way she called me and said, “I already heard everything.”
Tears immediately pooled in Ah Rou’s eyes, delicate and pitiful. She cried: “Auntie, only you can persuade Moxi now. Please persuade him, please!” “Why should I?”
If Moxi wanted the throne, I wouldn’t be the sole reason like Ah Rou said. He was the God of War; his heart would always think for the common people. No matter how he reincarnated, that duty and pride would always be ingrained inside of him.
He must have had his reasons for wanting the throne, but no matter what the reasons were, I had no right to persuade him to give up his goal.
Ah Rou was taken aback by my question. “Because, because… foster father… he will be ruthless to foster father, he…”
I sighed: “Moxi is too kindhearted to be ruthless to your father. But I can’t say the same for your father, Bai Qi.” I didn’t want to continue explaining to her. I pulled her up and said as I turned to leave: “It was my mistake to have left Moxi with you people all these years. None of you understand him. He must have not lived very happily.”
By the time I got back to the camp, I heard the sound of zither coming from Moxi’s tent from a distance away. Pleasantly surprised, I picked up my pace. I smelled the scent of plum blossoms the moment I lifted the curtain and stepped inside. The chords paused as Moxi looked up at me. Although he was smiling, his smile did not reach his eyes.
My heart ached, but I did not show it. I smiled and played the fool, walking around Moxi to give him a big hug from behind. I hung onto his neck, loathing to let go.
He slightly stiffened. I pressed close to his ears but did not speak, letting each other listen to the other’s warm rhythm.
I don’t know how long had passed before Moxi, as if finally recovered, gently patted my hand and motioned me to sit beside him. He took out a bough of plum next to the zither table and then wrote onto a sheet of paper: “I remember plum blossoms were your favorite. Today, I came across this flowering bough so I brought it back for you.”
I received the bough, held it in my hand and admired it over and over, inhaling the familiar scent. “Do you like it?”
As if they were softly strummed, my heartstrings made a quiver when I saw the four hesitant words on the white parchment.
“I love it.” I took his hand and caressed the hard callous on its palm. “All the flowers in the world can’t be exchanged for the one you picked for me.”
He curled his fingers around my hand, clasping so tightly that it hurt me.
“Moxi, play a song for me. I always loved listening to you when you were younger.” I smiled: “I want to hear something exhilarating!”
Moxi gave a nod. His fingertips swept across the strings to weave a soaring melody. There was a murderous intent like that which swept across battlefields, there was an imperious spirit of world domination, and there was even a trace of retrospection from a hero who stood alone, all sonorously played.
The piece came to a crescendo towards the end, but in it was a certain vicissitude. The notes next quickened, as if every unspoken feeling was now being poured out. While the residual resonance was still lingering in the air, I suddenly asked, “Moxi, do you want the throne?”
His hands stilled the strings, bringing the unfinished reverberation to a halting stop.
He didn’t look at me, staring at the strings instead when he nodded.
I laughed and said, “Then fight for it. I’ll follow you.” I placed the plum bough on top of the strings, caught his right hand and whispered, “This time, I won’t leave you.”
After that night, Moxi became even more swamped.
On the day they would be attacking the imperial fortress and right before going to the battlefield, Moxi suddenly dismounted his horse and, in front of everyone, clasped me in his arms. Despite feeling uncomfortable by the hard armor, I didn’t push him away. I let him linger by my side like a child for a while before I patted him on the shoulder: “Don’t worry, go.”
But how could I let him go to the battlefield alone? If I had to guess, what Moxi couldn’t seek as part of his trial was the throne. If he was destined to lose the throne, then I could at least help him stay strong after his defeat. We’d find a quiet place and live in peace for the rest of this life.
By the time he finished his three trials, the three lifetimes he promised me would also end. From that point on, we’d go our separate ways. He’d still be a superior god in Heaven while I’d continue to be an undying spirit in the underworld.
A perfect arrangement, wouldn’t you say?
When Moxi’s figure went out of sight, I recited an invisible spell and trailed behind the army.
The last battle played out with little suspense. So hopeless was the emperor’s plight that the soldiers defending his city were merely putting up futile resistance. The siege was smoothly carried out with nary a hitch in the plan. Just past noon, Moxi led his army into the city straight to the palace.
A strange feeling told me things were going too smoothly.
As if to confirm my suspicions, a white solitary figure was standing on the palace wall waiting for Moxi by the time he arrived, looking down at him and his army from above.
He must be forty or fifty by now. For a mortal, it was a feat for him to still have the energy to kick up a ruckus.
He waved his sleeve at which time archers suddenly emerged on the wall. They drew their bows, all pointing at Moxi.
The troops were in a commotion – and so they should. Bai Qi was the rebel leader; Moxi was the general in command who captured the series of fortresses. Now that they almost reached the palace, the two men were suddenly at odds. Everyone must want to know what was going on.
Bai Qi brought out a man’s decapitated head from behind him and bellowed: “The tyrant has been beheaded! Comrades, we’ve won the war!”
After a period of silence, hundreds and thousands of soldiers erupted in cheering roars.
My gaze fell upon the figure on horseback. Bai Qi had beaten him to the beheading of the emperor and had therefore manipulated everyone into regarding him as the new ruler. I finally realized why he had gone back to the capital while Moxi was still in the front line of the battlefield. I reckoned it must have been for this moment.
Bai Qi waited for the soldiers to gradually quiet down before saying: “There are numerous people who want to rule this splendorous empire, but never did I expect that you would be one of those who stoop to treacherous methods for it!” Though his voice was moderate, Bai Qi’s strong internal energy carried it to everyone’s ears clearly. His condemnation hushed the masses into silence.
“Moxi, you were eight when I took you in as my disciple. It has been twenty years since then. Everything I knew in life, I have taught you, but you have repeatedly sent people to assassinate me for this throne. I’m sorely disappointed. The tyrant has been removed on this day. It’s now also time to remove the disloyal and unconscionable student!”
I could only sigh as I watched the surprise in everyone’s expression. Despite being surrounded by a legion, his solitary figure on horseback made me feel a keen loneliness.
He couldn’t speak, so even if he were wronged, he could never prove himself.
At this moment, someone on the palace wall suddenly shot an arrow straight at Moxi. I panicked. Right as I was about to act, I saw that Moxi did not try to dodge but raised his bow instead. Before anyone could react, Moxi’s arrow had split the first in half. A cry instantly sounded from the wall – an archer had fallen.
The crowd was aghast.
Even I was a little surprised. I didn’t expect Moxi’s shooting to be so accurate.
“Don’t!” a sharp female voice suddenly rose from the rear of the army. A woman stumbled to Moxi: “Don’t! Moxi, don’t! No matter what, he was still the master who raised you! Moxi…”
Ah Rou’s sudden appearance spooked Moxi’s horse. Not a patient animal, it reared and looked as though it was going to step on Ah Rou with its hooves. Moxi pulled on the reins, but as if the horse were mad, he had no way to control it.
All the while, I had seen with my own eyes that someone had shot a projectile at Moxi’s horse. They wanted people to see him trample Ah Rou to death so that his wicked notoriety would become true. Anger burned inside of me. It was fine if my Moxi couldn’t seek the throne, but I’d never let you people harm him like this! I waved my sleeve, sending forces of darkness straight at Ah Rou and pushing her several feet backward.
I showed myself and landed in front of Moxi’s horse. Drawing spiritual energy to my palm, I extracted the projectile from the horse and flung it back. That soldier grunted and fell over.
My unforeseen appearance affrighted everyone. They shouted ‘monster’ and kept backing far away, enclosing Moxi and me in a circle.
Moxi dismounted his horse and then grasped my hands. He was visibly angry as he hastily wrote onto my palm: “Go back.”
“By your side is where I need to be. Where do you want me to go?”
I thus asked, and Moxi momentarily had no answer to give.
I didn’t understand the expression brewing in his eyes. Suddenly, it occurred to me that even though I wanted to stay with him all my life, did he want the same thing? Would he still think about the throne and resent me later on…? I couldn’t be sure, so I turned and asked him, “Moxi, if I can help you seize the throne, but from now on there will be no Sansheng… if it’s Sansheng for the throne, will you trade?”
He stared at me, his eyes becoming increasingly bewildered.
At that instant, Bai Qi suddenly spoke: “Sansheng, you raised Moxi up like a sister, like a mother, yet he developed untoward ideas for you. Why do you still want to save him?”
Whispers rose around us. Moxi gripped my hand tightly. He was extremely furious, but he couldn’t look any colder. He stared at Bai Qi with a murderous intent that gave me chills. I patted Moxi’s hand to appease him and laughed when I suddenly got why Bai Qi had helped Moxi rescue me. He wanted me to become a pawn to control Moxi. He wanted to completely ruin him!
“Bai Jiu, there’s something I recently often wonder about. Had I not saved you because of Moxi’s kindheartedness back then, our lives may not have turned out this way today.”
A slight change came over Bai Qi’s face. Moxi lowered his head.
“But we can’t turn back time. Moxi and I had saved you, and here we are today. I have never liked you, probably due to a certain foreboding I have. You say Moxi returns favor with wickedness, but in my opinion you are the real betrayer! After you taught Moxi martial arts, you made him fight your battles. You get to be the leader while this child sacrifices his life for you. Now that he captures the fortress, you say he wants your throne and try to get rid of him. Bai Jiu, do you think you can just take advantage of Moxi’s inability to speak and make up whatever lies you please?”
“Humph! Demoness, cease your slanderous accusations!” He waved his sleeves as arrows flew at us. Moxi pulled me behind him to shield me.
I scoffed: “Even my slander is better than your bullshit.” Dark forces from my palm blasted the arrows away.
I still wanted to curse him out, but I all of a sudden felt something rapidly flying at us from behind. I whacked it to the side without paying much attention. Unexpectedly, that thing exploded.
Shit! My eyes blurred. I instinctively reached for Moxi’s hand to shield him but in my panic, I was unable to grab onto him. Then everything darkened as I felt a heaviness weighing down on me.
I heard popping cracks, and then warm liquid ran down my cheek, smelling of pungent blood. Realizing what it was, chills coursed through my trembling body.
No one answered me. In this life, he had never answered me.
After those sounds abated, the body pressing on top of me still didn’t move. My hands shook as I climbed out from underneath. When I saw what was happening, my mind instantly blanked. “Moxi!”
The armor protecting him had shattered, countless needles pinning his back. For a second, I didn’t know where to touch him.
He lay face down on the ground, soiled with dirt. His shut eyes were no longer looking at me with tenderness, but he was tugging my sleeve the same way he had as a kid, afraid I would walk too fast and leave him behind.
My gaze dropped to my sleeve and the bloodstained words on it: “I’ll never trade.”
I smiled dazedly, suddenly realizing the stupidity of my question.
Moxi was dead.
Despite knowing he was just completing his trial and going back to the place I was only too familiar with, I still could not contain the grief surging from within. It drowned me. Now that he had finished his trial, gone was also our only connection.
It wasn’t possible to stay together any longer. There would also be no next life.
I buried my head into his cheek that had grown cold. Amidst the pungent bloody smell was a sudden burst of fragrance – the fragrance of plums.
I smiled to see a red plum flower falling out from his lapels, but desolation consumed my heart.
“Moxi, do you know why I like plum blossoms?” I whispered. “Because our fate had started with this muted fragrance. I like it only because I got to meet you.”
I only knew now why Moxi would become so angry every time he went to the underworld for his reincarnation. He was angry because I hadn’t known how to love myself, causing him this awful pain. “The traitor is dead, capture the demoness!” someone shouted.
A terrible bloodthirst suddenly rose inside of me. Moxi had died. He and I would no longer meet. Without Moxi, what had I left to linger to? Yanwang prohibited me from killing, but these people had gone too far. So what if I killed them all?!
I was originally born at the Wangchuan River. I was born in the land of the dead. What was I afraid of? These mortals were ignorant of their own foolishness. Killing them all would leave this world a more peaceful place.
I looked up to Bai Qi, who was standing on top of the distant tower, and laughed. Like mournful cries of phantoms, my laughter carried in it a thousand years of darkness from the Wangchuan River.
How could any mortal survive this? Soon, horror wailed by my ears.
But I relished in this sound. I laughed more and more delightedly.
Hundreds and thousands of soldiers started bleeding from their seven apertures. I didn’t give a damn. I just wanted to mass murder so that streams of blood would wind around the palace and contaminate its air of awe.
Amid the screams, a sobering voice made its way to my ears.
I stopped laughing and looked around only to see it was Chang’an.
He was dressed in Liubo garments. For a brief moment, I almost thought I was seeing Zhonghua. My eyes burned; a tear rolled down. I wiped it away only to see blood on my hand.
The Sansheng Stone’s tears of blood. Chang’an seemed so wistful. “Sansheng, don’t give into darkness. Don’t develop wicked thoughts.”
Chang’an sighed: “Sansheng, please consider carefully. Slaughtering is against the laws of Heaven and Earth. You shall have to suffer the punishment of losing your soul. This is nothing but a trial. You are helping Moxi cross his trial but you’re destroying the cultivation you’ve accumulated for a whole millennium.”
“So what?” I chuckled. “I am a stone, and that is what I will remain even without my soul. It’ll save me from worrying about worldly things. What is so bad about it? These people have killed Moxi. I don’t care if it’s Moxi’s tribulation. The reality is that they’ve killed him. There’s nothing wrong with my wanting them to pay an eye for an eye.”
“Sansheng,” Changan’s expression was full of grief, “it pains you to lose Moxi, but these hundreds of thousands of people are also living beings. Like you, they have loved ones. If you killed them, what would their loved ones do?”
I stiffened, looking back at those people. Some were still struggling in agony, while others had stopped breathing altogether like Moxi, lying on the ground, quietly, motionlessly…
They shouldn’t have killed Moxi, but neither did I have the right to kill them.
The dark forces in my body dissipated. The horror in the vicinity also diminished to small sobbing sounds.
It suddenly occurred to me that these three lifetimes were but a happy dream Moxi had given me. Sooner or later I would have to wake up from it. Now that Moxi was gone, I was just waking up a little sooner.
“Chang’an, since you can look into Heaven’s will, strive for divine cultivation. You’ll find success in time to come.”
I went back to Moxi’s side, reaching for his hand and touching his already icy cheek.
If these three lives were now finished, then lets end here.
I slowly closed my eyes and severed my own veins.
My soul drifted away. This time, the Black and White Guards of Impermanence didn’t come to take me. In their place was the frigid judge working by Yanwang’s side. He made a stroke with the brush in his hand whereupon my wrists weighed down with an iron chain. “Sansheng, you’ve committed murder,” he said. “I’m here to take you back to await your judgment.”
I gave a nod and said nothing more in reply. Epilogue: Death Exists Not
‘Remove her heart!’
Yanwang solemnly wrote down these words.
For the first time in my existence, I was kneeling in Yanwang’s palace and kowtowing to him.
In the human world, I had killed at least thousands of people and had thereby played havoc with the cycle of reincarnation. Having my heart removed was an already very lenient punishment. Yanwang had likely faced great pressure behind the scenes because of me.
Before I was sent to Purgatory to receive my punishment, the Black Guard of Impermanence sighed to me: “As a stone, it hasn’t been easy for you to gain some cognizance but now you’re going to have your heart removed… You’ll still be a spiritual being, but how will you be any different from a rock that can move?” “Don’t I still have my brain?”
Black Impermanence continued to shake his head sighingly. Little Jia and Little Yi likewise carried a mournful expression on their faces. Only White Impermanence kept his everyday cold countenance: “Do you regret it?”
I knew what he was asking. Moxi should know by now that I’d returned to the underworld. He had now overcome his tribulations. As a god, if he were to plead for me, it was very possible I could avoid punishment. In the eyes of others, moreover, my being punished was mostly due to Moxi.
But he did nothing at all. He didn’t even come to see me in the underworld.
I gave some thought, shook my head and answered, “I have no regrets.”
“Why?” I glanced back at the endless Yellow Springs. There, ghosts continued to descend, but all I saw were those glamorous yet lonely amaryllises on the roadside. Just like the day I first saw Moxi, sunlight from the land of the living was sprinkling over the ground, illuminating the flowers with its radiance.
“What a coincidence that I should see this scenery again. But what can I do?” I sighed and poked fun at myself: “Maybe once I lose my heart, I will come to regret it after all.”
White Impermanence said nothing more. He sent me to the place of punishment and then turned to leave.
The heart-removing process went by smoothly. The ghost who carried out my sentence acted with swiftness. By the time I felt the tip of the blade piercing into me, my warm beating heart had been taken from the cavity of my chest. Only until the wound was sutured did I feel any pain.
It turned out a stone without its heart could still ache.
There was a rule in the underworld that forbade the punished from receiving anyone else’s help. I thus crawled back into the Sansheng Stone by myself that day, blood coursing down my chest and dripping to the ground from my soaked clothes.
Later, while I recuperated inside the stone, Little Jia privately came to tell me that a certain fragrant flowers had grown from the trail of blood I left on the ground. Some called them plum blossoms. They were very pretty, he told me.
I didn’t believe him at first.
The underworld was a lifeless place. It had always been a land of the dead. Besides a few bored gods who occasionally came down to visit from Heaven, there had never been a living thing here. How could this hell grow its own flowers?
It was much later that I also began to smell the fragrance of plums from inside my stone.
“Sansheng,” Little Yi said to me, “you’ve been dwelling among these beautiful red flowers for so long that you’re almost no longer like us.”
I really didn’t know what he was talking about and didn’t bother to think about it. After my heart was removed, as though I had become much freer, those feelings of curiosity and reluctance all gradually faded. Only, I still sometimes saw Moxi’s image.
Nevertheless, I believed that as time slowly passed, this beautiful image would disappear from my mind one day.
Just as there would be a day when my chest wound healed and not even a scar remained.
When my wound got better, I was able to leave the stone and take a few short steps. Those plum blossoms everyone told me about had long withered.
I did not feel the slightest regret. More than ever, I was convinced that these things, be it the sunlight from the land of the living, the alluring and fragrant plum blossoms, or even Moxi who was as gentle as jade, should all become things of the past, things easily whisked away in the fluttering wind.
Life in the underworld went by not much differently from before. I continued to take my daily walk along the Wangchuan and lean against the stone to read books brought down from the human world each day.
The longing once concealed inside of me simply became a memory. Romantic stories also ceased to give my chest those throbbing beats.
One day, I returned from the Wangchuan riverbank. I looked up and again happened to see that figure standing next to me.
One of his hands was placed on the stone, his dark eyes gazing downwards. I couldn’t be sure what he was thinking, only feeling that everything had frozen with time in that stand-still moment.
“Moxi…” I parted my lips, faintly calling the two syllables I hadn’t called in a long time.
He slowly looked up at my call.
Seeing the face I hadn’t seen for so long, I couldn’t but bring my hand to my chest, to the empty place where no beating still resided.
But why was it that I couldn’t help wanting to cry?
And then it dawned on me. It wasn’t that I didn’t miss him, I was just forcing myself to not miss him, fearing the overwhelming memories would someday burst.
He was warmly smiling at me in my increasingly blurred vision. “Didn’t you say you want to seduce me? How can you hope to catch my attention with such a silly appearance?”
I stood motionless.
He smiled and held out his hand to me: “Sansheng, come over and let me take a look at you.” My feet moved on their own to him. He stroked my hair: “Haven’t you always hated other people touching your hair?”
I honestly nodded: “That’s because it isn’t easy for a stone to grow hair.”
“Then are you upset that I’m touching your hair like this?”
I shook my head. “No, because you’re Moxi.”
His eyes crinkled in satisfaction. “You are now the God of War,” I said to him. “I can’t beat you anymore.” His hand suddenly paused, resting heavily on my hair. “Even if I could, I still wouldn’t be able to do it,” I told him.
“Don’t have the heart to?”
“Don’t have the heart to.”
He was quiet. He suddenly reached out to hold my hand, our fingers tightly interlacing. “Sansheng, come with me to Heaven. Since you love plum blossoms so much, how would you like to become the Plum Fairy?”
I looked up at him and saw that he was being perfectly serious. I knew he wasn’t joking. I unconsciously backed away in fright, wanting to break away from his hold. He tightened his grasp.
I suddenly panicked. “I’m only a spirit in the underworld, the Sansheng Stone that’s full of darkness. I shouldn’t go to Heaven. Moreover, I have now lost my heart…”
Moxi sighed: “Sansheng, you spent three lifetimes to chase me. Now that you’ve finally succeeded, you want to turn and run? This won’t do. I can’t let you go.”
“What… did you say?”
“You’ve caught me, Sansheng.” I was dumbfounded.
Moxi took out a round glowing object from inside his lapels. “I wanted to wait a little longer before giving this to you.” He recited an incantation as the object in his hand blazed and, in an instant, vanished. Forthwith, warmth filled my chest. The warmth I hadn’t felt for a long time was diffusing in my chest once more.
Moxi had returned my heart to me.
Surging emotions suffocated my chest and sent aching warmth coursing through my body. “Moxi, I… I…” Tears filled my eyes. “I was born at the Wangchuan River so I’ve never truly lived. Since I’ve been in the land of the dead for so long, I’m afraid I won’t know how to be alive.”
He gently stroked my cheek. “This is the place that has nurtured Sansheng, and my Sansheng is the bravest spiritual being that I have ever known, so how can you not know how to be alive?”
“Sansheng, death exists not at the River of Oblivion.”
He softly caressed my hair. “Will you come with me to Heaven and do me the honor of being the God of War’s wife?”
“You’ve fallen for me, haven’t you?”
“Hook, line, and sinker,” he sighed.
I lowered my head and fell into his embrace, gently wrapping my arms around his waist and pressing my face against his chest.
“Is that a yes?”
“Yes.” -The end-