Chapter 1: I’m going to the human world to seduce him
From a time unknown, people passing by the River of Oblivion (1) began to call me the Stone of Three Lifetimes (2). Thereafter, some people spurned me, some came hand-in-hand and carved on me their romances from lifetimes past, and there were even those who stood bawling in front of me.
The River of Oblivion is called the Wangchuan in Chinese mythology. It is similar to the Lethe in Greek mythology.
She is called the Sansheng Stone where Sansheng means ‘three lifetimes’. ‘Three lifetimes’ in Buddhist context also means the past life, the present life, and the future life.
And yet, I was just a stone by the Wangchuan riverside. I neither had joy nor did I have sorrow.
I sat faithfully that way by the Wangchuan for one thousand years until I finally formed a soul one day.
All living things were to be subjected to trials of fate, but I continued to sit there harmlessly for over another century until…
My love trial came.
Reading my fortune was a white-bearded priest passing by the Wangchuan. He prophesied my coming trial to the knowing nodding of his head.
I thought he was just making up hogwash.
I was a spirit born from the Sansheng Stone; my soul was that of a stone and my heart was that of a stone. My heart had long been forged into coldness by the perennial darkness along the Wanchuan River.
There was no pain where there was no love. If my heart hadn’t ever stirred, then where would this love trial be coming from?
Or so I thought.
But everything always had its surprises.
On a gloomy afternoon in the underworld, I returned to the eternally unchanging Wangchuan from my walk as usual. I looked up. In that coincidental moment, as if sunlight from the land of the living had broken through the thick layers of fog, the cluster amaryllises lining the Yellow Springs suddenly glistened radiantly.
A man gracefully came forth.
I suddenly recalled the words a human woman passing by me had once whispered many, many years ago: “What a scholarly gentleman, so polished, so refined.” (3)
a saying that means a gentleman’s cultivation of character is like the refinement of jade, taken from The Book of Songs, Odes of Wei.
After a thousand years, my stony heart made a rare subtle tremble.
He slowly approached, of course not to see me, but rather because behind me was the Naihe Bridge one must cross in order to enter the underworld. It wasn’t easy to run into such a beautiful person, so I thought I should have a beautiful meeting with him.
I stepped forward and softly called out to him: “Sir.” I thought to curtsy to him like the well-bred ladies did in human books. But the books only said ‘curtsy’. They never described to me what specific postures and movements were entailed.
I pondered for a moment, then mimicked the ghosts bemoaning to Yanwang (ruler of the underworld) and dropped to my knees with a thud, banged my head on the ground in three kowtows, and said to him, “What is thy fair name, sir?”
she’s asking for his ‘fair name’ as a man might ask a woman
The imps nearby sucked in two deep breaths of cold air. He stood there blankly with some surprise in his eyes. For the time being, he did not answer me.
Any endeavor must be approached with sincerity, for the Black and White Guards of Impermanence’s favorite saying was: “Sincerity equals success.” This was how they had always been able to lure the mortal souls to docilely follow them back.
Hearing no response from him, I briefly wondered that perhaps I hadn’t knocked my head loudly enough and therefore hadn’t shown enough sincerity. I crawled forward on my knees and, not sparing any effort this time, fiercely knocked my head onto the ground three more times.
It seemed I kowtowed so hard that I sent three waves of shock through the ground. The imps nearby wheezed in evident fright.
I raised my head and looked up at him with a bloody face. “What is thy fair name, sir?”
Perhaps the wretchedness of my bloody face had scared him stiff. He remained silent.
I hastily wiped my face, and in the process discovered both of my hands were damp! I hadn’t known I was bleeding this much. I suddenly realized why he was in such a stupor.
I panicked. While rushing to rub myself, I ended up smudging my entire body with blood.
I looked up to him quite helplessly.
In his pretty eyes was the imprint of my reflection. Then, his eyes curved into a dazzling smile.
Even though I didn’t know what he was delighted with, seeing him happy, I, too, offered him a friendly smile complete with two rows of sparkling white teeth, not realizing doing so was adding to the terrifying look of a bloody person.
The imp beside me, Jia, leaned in nervously and pulled me up. I wouldn’t rise. He caught his breath and whispered to me, “My dear Madam Sansheng! Who are you trying to scare with that frightening face?! Do you know who he is?”
Among the spiritual beings in the underworld, my magic wasn’t particularly profound. But due to seniority, all of the imps were respectful to me. They seldom spoke to me in such a tone. I frowned and said quizzically, “Of course I don’t know who he is. I’m asking him, aren’t I?”
Little Yi looked as though he was going to sputter up blood any moment now. “My dear madam! This is Heaven’s…” He hadn’t finished when a gentle voice interrupted him.
“My name is Moxi.”
He extended his hand where I readily placed mine inside. He flipped his hand and clasped my wrist.
My wrist was my vital portal. At this moment, he only needed the slightest exertion to send me to a very horrible death. Little Jia’s and Little Yi’s unsightly faces were becoming even ghastlier than they originally were. Jia quickly pleaded, “M’lord! M’lord! Miss Sansheng has lived here by the Wangchuan River all her life. The underworld is but a humble place; the young lady does not know her etiquettes. I beg you to forgive her.”
“Sansheng? That’s a strange name, albeit somewhat interesting.”
I was still looking at him. I did not feel afraid since there was no murderous intent in his eyes.
He carefully studied me for a while, let go of my wrist, and instead pulled me up by my arm. “How remarkable for a stone from the underworld to have developed a soul. You didn’t know who I was, yet why did you give me such a great obeisance?”
I suddenly understood. It turned out it wasn’t that my sincerity was lacking, but that it was too profuse. I honestly told him, “You’re so handsome that I wanted to…” Untimely, my vocabulary failed me. In my panic, I randomly grasped for a word that I didn’t know since when had dropped into my brain: “I wanted to seduce you.”
Little Jia gave me a ‘you’re hopeless’ look.
He chuckled. “What a straightforward creature.”
I was thrilled, thinking it was a compliment. “Then, can I seduce you?” I hastily asked him.
He said in some deliberation, “I’ve come for my trial, so I won’t be staying in the underworld.”
What he meant was ‘no’. I lowered my gaze, a little disappointed.
“Have you always sat by the Wangchuan riverbank?” he suddenly asked.
“Would you like to go outside for a look?”
My eyes lit up; I nodded vigorously.
He faintly smiled and patted my head. “Considering that I’ve received several bloody kowtows from you, I can’t have you kowtow in vain. Since you want to leave the underworld, I will promise you three lifetimes of freedom. The three lifetimes I go through my trial are also the three lifetimes you get to have your freedom. After I return from my trial, you will also obediently come back to the Wangchuan bank, how does that sound?”
There was nothing disadvantageous about his proposal. I nodded yes.
He cast a golden seal on my wrist. “As a spiritual being, you need to learn to be smarter. Hereafter, take care to protect your vital portal.” He added, “Those who are stronger won’t always be as kind as I am.”
The two imps, Jia and Yi, contorted their faces as they escorted him away. I touched the golden seal on my wrist.
“Moxi,” I called out to him.
Standing in front of the Naihe Bridge, he held the waters of oblivion in his hand and turned to face me.
“Can I come to the human world to seduce you?”
My question was so earnest that it prompted a burst of eerie laughter from Old Meng who was ladling her amnesic soup.
His lips were also upturning into a smile. “If you can find me, then go ahead.” At his last word, he drank down the soup in one gulp.
Without turning around, he entered deep into the underworld. I kept watching him leave, and remained unwilling to divert my eyes even after he disappeared from sight. Little Yi came back from the Naihe Bridge and waved his cadaverous hands in front of me, calling: “Miss Sansheng!”
“Miss Sansheng, could you have developed some feelings for him?”
I finally turned to look at Yi and asked in seriousness, “What does it mean to develop feelings?”
Yi tilted his head in thought. “However the men and women are described in those books you always read is however ‘developing feelings’ should be.”
I pondered for a moment. In those books I frequently read, the gentleman would meet the lady, the lady then curtsied, the two next conversed in a word or two, and then they would begin to do a number of ooh ooh ah ah actions they couldn’t help themselves from. I never thought to ooh ooh ah ah with Moxi, so I really didn’t think I was developing feelings for him.
I firmly shook my head. “I haven’t developed any feelings.”
Yi gave a long sigh and muttered to himself, “That’s true, how can a stone develop feelings? I’ve thought too much.” Almost instantly, he stared at me and said, “The point is, it’s best as long as you don’t develop feelings for him! In this world, there is nothing more agonizing than the word ‘love’. This is not to say Miss Sansheng can never like somebody. It’s only because Lord Moxi is really someone no lady should ever fall for.”
“Why is that? He’s the best-looking and gentlemanly person I’ve ever met.” I paused, then added, “And he has the most pleasing voice to the ears.”
“Precisely because everything about him is so perfect that you should never ever fall for him! Lord Moxi is the God of War from Heaven. Although nothing is impossible in this world, he only cares for the world’s welfare. If his heart is occupied by the common people, will there be any space for love?”
Whether Moxi had any place for love in his heart didn’t matter much to me, but the first half of Yi’s remark gave me pause. “How can he take on something as savage as the God of War post? He’s obviously a very kind person.”
Yi almost sputtered a mouthful of blood. “Kind? But you don’t really believe that… do you?”
When he saw my nod, Yi shook his head and said in helplessness, “When the Demon clan attacked Heaven with an army of 100,000 strong, Lord Moxi led 30,000 heavenly soldiers and wiped them clean. Afterward, he led his army down to the Demon capital and massacred the entire Demon clan; blood flowed like water then. In the past decade, there has been no sound uttered by the demons. That’s because any demon three years and older has been exterminated.”
I had some impression of this event. During that time, the underworld became incredibly overcrowded. The wailing almost ripped Yanwang’s palace apart; the Naihe Bridge almost collapsed from being trampled on. Although these demons were said to have been killed by Moxi, war was in fact a matter of killing and surviving. Moxi as the God of War had the duty of resorting to force in order to suppress the rebels. His loyalties lay with his own clan. Decisive ruthlessness was only natural in battle.
I patted Yi’s shoulder. “Thank you for telling me these things. I’m heading back to the stone to do some packing now.”
Yi was confused. “Miss, where are you going?”
I grinned. “I’m going to the human world to seduce him.”