Chapter 5 – He’s protecting you, my dear
My nape slightly burned the moment I stepped into the underworld. Of the three seals Yanwang gave me, one had disappeared. This meant that one of the three lifetimes Moxi promised me had also come to an end.
After returning to the underworld, I did not like walking alone along the Wangchuan anymore. What was the point, when I would be by myself anyway?
Each day, I leaned against the stone while waiting for Moxi to come once more through the door of reincarnation so that I could leave with him to earth.
Time tended to fly in the underworld. It only occurred to me that four decades had passed by on earth when I by chance met someone whom I considered somewhat of an acquaintance again.
I grinned at him. He, too, recognized me and was stunned for some time. It took him quite a while to recollect himself. “You?”
“Reverend, it’s been a while. You haven’t aged at all.”
He took little notice of my teasing and frowned. “Why haven’t you reincarnated?”
“I’m waiting for someone.”
I said what I said very casually, but it took him by surprise. He sighed after a period of silence: “It was I who caused you two to be worlds apart…”
I waved my hands and was about to say that it had all been the work of fate when he went on: “You’ve spent your whole life waiting in hell for him while he’s spent his entire life mourning for you on earth. I was wrong to have robbed the two of you of your happiness.” He paused, as if he was thinking of something, and then firmly declared: “What goes around comes around. Since I owe the two of you in this lifetime, I shall without fail repay you in the next.”
“There’s no need, really,” I swiftly told him. “This is between Moxi and me, and we wouldn’t want to drag outsiders into it.”
He flapped his sleeves, shook his head sighingly, and went on his way.
I believed it was unavoidable for those who lived too long to have the bad habit of using their own viewpoint to try and speculate or determine someone else’s mind.
No matter how accomplished he was as a priest in this life, one bowl of Old Meng’s soup, one step across the Naihe Bridge, and one jump down the reincarnation well would completely wipe his past existence clean.
The next life would never make up for the last’s mistakes.
After the Imperial Reverend reincarnated, I wondered if perhaps Moxi was also coming to the underworld. Each day, I gazed into the Wangchuan and groomed myself until I was so clean that I almost seemed out of place in the dreary underworld. In my free time, I sat by the stone to learn the humans’ ways. I picked up a stick and traced some circles on the ground, whispering: “Moxi, come down quickly, come down quickly.”
My sincerity must have finally moved the heavens. That day as I finished dressing myself and struck a pose on the stone, I saw Moxi stomping on the cluster amaryllises along the Yellow Springs as he made his way to me, looking rather furious.
Oh, he was furious all right.
I was still fairly confused by the time a ball of searing flame hit my feet. Startled, I quickly hopped away to dodge it.
The surrounding imps and spirits that had been watching immediately scuttled away at the sight of fire.
Not knowing what was going on, I looked over to Moxi. He was looking just as he did the first time I saw him – his presence ever heavenly.
But this heavenly creature was fuming for no reason, and it was giving me quite a befuddlement.
I felt a little aggrieved. I’d waited so long for him to come. We’d only met and hadn’t even said a thing before he already started to attack me. I was really hurt by this!
He neared and reached for my wrist. I protected my vital portal and ducked to the side, barely avoiding his clutch.
He scoffed: “So you’ve learned how to dodge and be afraid now. Why aren’t you letting me catch you? Why aren’t you letting me burn you? Have you realized that your life doesn’t come so easily and now you cannot bear to lose it?”
I pondered over the meaning behind his words. “Moxi, are you mad at me?”
“Mad?” He scoffed. “Why would I be? You protected me, sacrificed your life to shield me, and intercepted my tribulation for me. I can never thank you enough, how would I dare to be mad at you?”
I opened my mouth to say I didn’t know why he was so angry, and then to poke at his facade that his words and deeds did not line up. But seeing the fury scowling between his eyebrows, I shut up and swallowed it down, the feeling of grievance rising higher.
Seeing my aggrieved look and misty eyes, his face hardened as he rigidly said,
“You’re not allowed to cry.”
I kept looking at him with those same watery eyes.
The veins on his forehead twitched. In the end, he let out a heavy sigh. “Never mind.” His eyes softened, and then he patted my head and gave me a helpless smile. “I was really the one at fault.” Almost instantly, his expression darkened again. “Why has the scent of darkness in you gotten so much stronger?”
I hid my face sheepishly. “Since I thought you would soon be here, I’d been using the water in the stream to wash myself every day. Do you like the way I look?”
Moxi fell silent for a long while.
“I tidy things up every day,” I said, “while waiting for you to come down here. Moxi, when will you reincarnate so I can go with you?”
He frowned. “Go with me?”
He flipped his wrist as a golden seal struck me. “You are not allowed to leave the underworld for fifty years.”
Dismayed, I asked, “Why?! Didn’t you say you would promise me three lifetimes in world?”
“Yes. All I’m asking is that you come in another fifty years.”
“But you also promised to let me seduce you.”
“You can come seduce me in fifty years.”
“But you’ll be a dying old man by then. By the time I find you, we won’t have much time left to spend together!”
“Don’t come to look for me, then.”
When he finished his words, he strode to the Naihe Bridge. I was so angry that I grabbed a handful of mud and slung it straight at the back of his head.
He stood with his back against me, hence I didn’t know what kind of expression was on his face. I only saw Old Meng suddenly kneeling down and kowtowing deeply as she pleaded: “Have mercy, M’lord.”
Only then did I remember that the soil in the underworld had been trampled on by innumerable ghosts and spirits. It was the filthiest thing in the three realms. My slinging mud at his head, for a god from Heaven, was a grave insult.
He glanced sideways, his voice a little stoic: “I don’t want you to become my tribulation again.”
What a strange thing to say. For a moment, I did not understand. I only watched him drink Old Meng’s soup without once looking back. Then he entered reincarnation and was gone.
He must’ve thought I was too meddlesome and thus did not want me to go with him. This thought made me so sad that I rammed headlong into the stone crying my eyes out.
If it were someone else who had bullied me, I would’ve returned the favor tenfold.
But it was Moxi who had bullied me… it was Moxi so I could only let myself be bullied. I not only couldn’t win against him, I couldn’t even let him go.
I didn’t know how long I had cried by the time someone called out to me from outside the stone: “Miss Sansheng. Oh no, my dear Madam Sansheng, don’t cry, anymore.”
I poked my head out from the stone and looked at my visitor with swollen eyes.
“Jia, what is it?”
Jia rubbed his temple, then shook his head and said, “For the past few days, the tears pouring from your stone has made the water in the Wangchuan rise a few meters higher. It’s astonishing for a stone to be weeping this much. The souls crossing the Naihe Bridge have all been scared away. Yanwang especially bid me to come by your place so we can help you think things through.”
I nodded, then followed Jia to Yanwang’s palace in utter anguish.
Despite looking lean, the incumbent Yanwang was quite a glutton. When I saw him, he was in fact gnawing happily on a trotter.
I nodded a hello to him: “Yanwang.”
“Oh, Sansheng’s here.” He waved his hand. At once, the imp by his side brought a ham hock over to me. It was so greasy that I felt nauseated. I waved my hand and let the imp step down.
Yanwang took a look at me and said, “I heard that you’ve been nursing a heartbreak over Lord Moxi these past few days.”
Upon hearing Moxi’s name, my nose stung and my eyes began to well up again.
“No, no, don’t!” he sputtered in an effort to stop me. “Today I’ve called for you so that we can solve this knot of yours. If you keep on crying, I’m afraid the Wangchuan is going to flood.”
“Sansheng,” he was saying as he wiped his mouth, “do you know which three tribulations Lord Moxi is to undergo in the lower realm?”
I shook my head.
“To part though he is in love, to meet though there is enmity, and to seek what he cannot have. These are three of the eight tribulations in Buddhism. In his last lifetime, he had had to separate from his love. In Siming Xingjun’s Book of Fate, it is written that Lord Moxi and the general’s daughter, Shi Qianqian, were to have affections for each other but would come to live their entire lives apart due to their being on opposition sides. Such was to be the pain of parting with the person he met you, he eventually developed feelings after all the years you spent together. You wanted to help him avoid his fate, so you died to pave a smoother path for him. Well, spending a lifetime separated from you was also ‘parting with the person he loved’. You have more or less fulfilled his trial, albeit unwittingly so.”
Yanwang paused and then sighed. “You haven’t seen the way Lord Moxi had looked in the human world. Tsk tsk, he was originally such an amiable person, but for you, he had ruthlessly forced the emperor to persecute the general’s entire clan. He must’ve loved you very deeply, for he never married in his entire life. Then after returning to the underworld, he began to recall things from the past. One might think that as a celestial deity, he would be an abstemious person who does not cling to the past. And yet he is still behaving this way in front of you. Well… it’s obvious the feelings he had for you haven’t stopped. His Lordship is confining you in the underworld for fifty years simply because he wants to stagger his and your time on earth. He doesn’t want you to become his tribulation again.”
“He’s protecting you, my dear,” he was now saying to me.
I froze at his words.
“Those in Heaven look down on those of us in the underworld. Sansheng, do your best to seduce Lord Moxi. Only then would our underworld… Ahahaha, you know what I mean, don’t you?”
Yanwang’s hysteric laughter faded far, far away. Only one sentence drifted back and forth in my head. “He’s protecting you, my dear.”