Chapter 10: You are really unlikeable in this lifetime
I didn’t see Zhonghua again after that day. He seemed to be really angry with me. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say he had never liked me in this lifetime.
Chang’an was still too young that I couldn’t mine any information from him. Nonetheless, he was able to solve the biggest question in my mind – Zhonghua’s master was a woman.
After hearing this, I suddenly felt as though I had been betrayed. He clearly said he’d only let me seduce him. I had been seducing him so perseveringly, yet he was…
I was so upset that I stopped running to the force field’s boundary and shouting his name.
This went on until the day Liubo’s sky darkened with a miasma so thick that it kept me wide awake. I knew then that Hu’yi was attacking.
Chang’an was as anxious as an ant crawling on charcoals, crying that he would live and die with Liubo. Annoyed with his blabbering, I knocked him unconscious and locked him in the house. Soon after my stroll in the forest, I began to hear the commotion of fighting on the other side.
Le sigh, humans are so strange. If they wanted to kill each other, then they should just do it. Why must they torture my ears with their screams? They acted as if screaming could slay their opponents on the spot.
A loud boom went off at the same time the force field was reduced to ashes after suddenly lighting up. Someone floated in the air – his robe black and his long hair flowing. Hu’yi. He swept his eyes across the plum forest. When he detected me, he landed and said, “I’ve never liked owing anyone anything. You freed me, now I’ll free you. We are even from now on.”
Le sigh X 2. He was the Imperial Reverend’s reincarnation, no question about it. This habit of giving people unsolicited grace was exactly the same.
As I was about to open my mouth to say I wouldn’t go, a cold voice came behind us: “The both of you should give up dreaming about leaving Liubo.”
I turned around. Zhonghua was pointing his sword at Hu’yi, his face frigid: “Twenty years ago I had spared your life, yet how dare you attack Liubo! I shall send you to your end today.”
I watched the expression on his face as the uncomfortable feeling in me escalated. I retreated two steps and hid behind Hu’yi, turning away from him.
Hu’yi stared at Zhonghua with something like a sneer. “I’ve no need for your favors. You can easily kill me now that you have become The Most Reverend. But can those Liubo students of yours withstand the attack of the monsters waiting outside? Is everyone who seeks divinity as powerful as you?”
The murderous look on Zhonghua’s face intensified.
Hu’yi again spoke: “Zhonghua, if you can just promise me one thing, I will in turn assure you of a way for Liubo to repel the demons without hurting one soul. On top of that, my life will be yours to deal as you wish.”
Even I was surprised after listening to him, much less Zhonghua. He spent this much effort to attack Liubo just so he could give himself a bargaining chip against Zhonghua? Suddenly, I became extremely curious about his request.
Zhonghua was silent for a moment. “What is it?”
“Free her so she can be reborn.” There seemed to be suppressed anger and sorrow in Huyi’s strained voice. “She should have been laid to rest a long time ago. Let her go!”
Upon hearing these words, Zhonghua’s face iced up even worse. “That’s out of the question.”
Hu’yi became infuriated. “No matter what, she had once been your master. She had taught and raised you up! You people have imprisoned her for twenty years. If this drags on any longer, she will cease to exist! Zhonghua, have you forged your heart into steel?”
I raised an eyebrow and glanced askance at Zhonghua, but all I saw was an expressionless face. “She fell in love with a demon and betrayed Liubo, leading to our suffering of a calamity. By our rules, she ought to be punished by having her soul locked away.”
Having her soul locked away. That meant her soul was bound so that it could not be taken away by the messenger ghosts, being held in the living world until it depletes to nothing. For souls, being trapped in the human world was an extremely cruel punishment. That was because once the soul evaporated, it would never again enter reincarnation. Nevertheless, this sorcery was as ordinary as ordinary could be in the underworld. That was because everything in the underworld was either a soul or a spirit. The messenger ghosts regularly used this spell on those who had sinned to bring them to trial before Yanwang.
I had assumed this sorcery was unknown in the human world, not expecting it was actually passed down through generations at Liubo.
Twenty years. That was enough to turn a soul to ashes…
Hu’yi gripped his fists.
I wondered for a moment. It was sacrilegious to lock away a living soul. As it was, Zhonghua hated Hu’yi and vice versa. This was likely his ‘meet though in enmity’ tribulation. At this point, if he didn’t let Hu’yi release the soul, when it dissipated in due time, Zhonghua would certainly be struck by 36 bolts of lightning. With his present body made of flesh and blood, I feared he wouldn’t even be able to withstand one strike.
At this thought, I patted Huyi’s shoulder: “What kind of soul is it? Do you know where they’re trapping it?”
Hu’yi turned around to face me. Zhonghua’s eyes were also on me as he said in utter despisal: “I suggest you don’t stick your nose where it doesn’t belong.”
I pursed my lips, thinking to myself that this incarnation of Moxi’s was terribly unpleasant. And yet I couldn’t let him fail his trial just because he wasn’t nice in this lifetime. If he got struck by lightning now, then whom am I going to seduce next time?!
“Where is she?” I asked Hu’yi again.
Huyi’s eyes lit up. He had seen me destroy the entire Thousand-Lock Pagoda with one huff of breath. Too desperate at the moment to doubt me, he pointed to a tall and magnificent tower not too far from here and said, “At the top of the Million-Storey Tower. But she will still need someone to lead the way after breaking free…”
The Thousand-Lock Pagoda, the Million-Storey Tower, were they supposed to never meet in life…? This was a little too cruel. I patted his shoulder telling him to rest assured, but also glanced at Zhonghua’s increasingly murderous intent. “Stall him.” Clashes began to sound behind me. I ignored them, only hoping Hu’yi could buy a little more time.
I was born in the underworld. Even though I wasn’t a messenger ghost, I was born knowing how to escort spirits… maybe just not very professionally.
After climbing to the top of the Million-Storey Tower, I noticed a memorial tablet standing on the incense altar in the middle of an open space. Nothing was written on it, but it was very clean. It was apparent someone often came by to dust it.
I looked around without finding where Zhonghua’s master’s soul was locked. While I was scratching my head, I suddenly caught a tiny glimmer shining down from above. I looked up to the light where I saw a candle fixed on the ceiling beam. Above it was a painting – someone’s portrait, it seemed.
I jumped onto the beam and carefully studied that painting.
It was depicting a woman dressed in white from the back. Her apparel didn’t differ too much from what the priests at Zhonghua’s place were wearing nowadays. She was holding onto a branch of plum blossoms while slightly leaning forward, as if to smell the flowers.
My heart caught.
If I hadn’t seen the inscription beneath, I would’ve thought it was a portrait Moxi had painted for me and which had survived till now from our past life. “Drawn in the 10th year of Zhengwu, at Shili Pavilion in Liubo.”
Linking these matters together, it wasn’t difficult to guess that the person in this painting was Zhonghua’s master.
I couldn’t believe his master resembled me this much… thus that sense of betrayal from before quickly went away.
If the portrait was here, then… I was just about to reach out and touch the painting when a golden light gleamed and pushed me backward.
A force field.
The woman’s soul must have been locked in there. I gathered spiritual forces into my palm and then struck the force field. The golden light flickered twice before it disappeared. I joyfully brought the painting down. As expected, a white mass was found inside.
I’d seen many souls before but I’d never seen one so weak. If I had been a few days late, this thing would’ve completely died out. I recited an incantation that easily released the soul-locking spell. I placed her in my palm and gently breathed into her so that she would not dissipate on her way to the underworld.
Holding her, I jumped to the top of the tall tower and released her to the sky. She did not go, however. She floated in the air as if she was trying to remain at Liubo for as long as she could.
“Go,” I told her. “Everything in this life has become a thing of the past. Even if it’s hard to let go, you cannot return.” I thought some more and said, “The ghosts in the underworld are very nice. Tell them you know Sansheng. They might be able to get you through the back door.”
The spirit hesitated a little, and then slowly drifted down. I stared after her while she floated toward Zhonghua’s residence.
The view was excellent from here. I looked to the distance where Zhonghua’s and Huyi’s fighting figures could be seen. Hu’yi was obviously at a disadvantage, but if he were desperate enough, Zhonghua wouldn’t have it easy either. Appearing to have been riled by the entanglement, Zhonghua drew his sword.
Hu’yi was about to dodge when, all of a sudden, he shook violently and did not avoid Zhonghua’s sword, letting the cold blade drill straight into his heart and through his chest.
I think I knew then what he saw. I also knew he must be smiling.
I waved to the two souls, sending them off to reincarnation. Together, they would see the cluster amaryllises and would perhaps even engrave their names on my stone.
From the Million-Storey Tower, I stood watching them leave. When I turned my gaze, I sensed a savage violence aiming at me. In the distance, Zhonghua was glaring ominouly. I suddenly recalled the first thing he said to me when we met in this lifetime: “If you aren’t our kind, then you are different.”
If I thought about it, my mind was indeed a little ‘different’ from his in this life. First, I had destroyed his Thousand-Lock Pagoda and freed the wolf demon Hu’yi, leading to the attacking of Liubo by the demonic army. Now, I was freeing his master and allowing the master he loved to reincarnate with Hu’yi.
The Venerable Zhonghua must really despise me!
While I gave him a smile, I abruptly caught a glimpse of a snake demon opening the cabin door not far from the plum forest. My heart shook with fear. Chang’an was still inside!
Without any time to think, I leapt and made a dash for the cabin. At the door, I saw Chang’an thrashing around in bed. Poking from his mouth was the tail of a small yellow snake, wagging creepily.
This type of snake demons loved children’s innards. They would shapeshift back to their original forms and crawl into children’s mouths until they had eaten all of their internal organs.
I took two steps forward, held down Chang’an, then grabbed his neck with one hand and the snake’s tail with the other. I struck the snake with forces of darkness and killed it right in Changan’s stomach, then slowly pulled it out from his mouth.
Out of the blue, chills ran down my spine as I heard a piercing sound ripping through my flesh.
I looked down at a sword that had impaled my stomach. Pain hadn’t made its way to my brain. Who would want to kill me? I curiously wanted to know.
I turned to look. Zhonghua was staring at me threateningly: “I won’ let you lay a hand on Liubo’s…” Mid-sentence, his pupils narrowed in on the small yellow snake in my hand.
Deadly silence filled the room. Only Changan’s vomiting sounded. He did not take long to vomit before he passed out.
“He looks so much like you did in the past that I didn’t have the heart to…” I began slipping to the floor; in my throat was a taste of pungent sweetness. “I’m not a demon.”
If it had been a mortal sword, then I wouldn’t feel anything even with a few more stabs. Sadly, Zhonghua’s sword was a blade that had been passed down from generation to generation of Liubo sect leaders. For a spiritual being from the underworld like me, it could be said to be my nemesis.
I felt my body slowly giving out and I finally couldn’t stop myself from gripping onto his sleeve. I grinned: “You are so unlikable in this lifetime, you know.”
Frozen, he gave me no reaction.
“But that day… my heart broke for you when you called for your master as you rested on my lap…”
Pain came, not only the pain from my wound, but also the burning sensation caused by the battling forces of darkness inside my body and of light from the sword. I tightly clenched his sleeve. Looking as though he had abruptly awakened from his trance, he picked me up and ran out. “There’s medicine in the main hall.”
It may have been an illusion, but I thought that the person carrying me was staggering in a way that was unlike his usual cold and staid appearance.
Why was this man so full of contradictions?
My vision gradually blurred.
After the force field was broken, the snow in the plum forest slowly melted away along with the steadily withering red plums, bringing the courtyard into dreariness.
I squinted at his profile and mustered up a cheerful smile. “Do you know why I like this muted fragrance and pure white snow?” I was murmuring at this point; even I did not hear myself. But he paused and looked down at me, the emotions in his dark eyes rolling.
At that moment, I almost thought he had broken the imprisonment of Old Meng’s soup to remember everything from the past. Then, I lapsed into darkness and saw my old acquaintances again in my trance.
I heard myself saying for the last time: “Will you say my name just once?”
He remained unspeaking.
So it turned out he didn’t even know my name in this lifetime…