Chapter 4: Moxi, may peace follow you in life
Moxi hasted home in the evening.
I was leaning against the divan as I gave him a glance and continued to read my book. He stood in the doorway for a moment before cautiously coming in. He sat down on the edge of the divan, deliberated, and then said, “I heard soldiers came today.”
I threw the book to the side, sat up, and looked him square in the eyes. “What do you want to ask me?”
He opened his mouth but did not manage any word.
“It was I who beat those soldiers off,” I told him. “Shi Qianqian was also chased away by me.”
He looked at me for a moment, and then actually smiled a rather helpless smile.
I raised an eyebrow and said, “What? So you want to marry the general’s daughter? Oh, I was wrong then; I’ve ruined your marriage. If it makes you this sad, I’ll go look for the girl and bring her back. She seems smitten with you.” I walked out the moment I finished speaking.
He pulled me back, his face slightly blushing. “Sansheng, you know that wasn’t what I meant. I’m actually very happy that you… that you would be so jealous because of me. It’s just that…”
“It’s just what?”
“The soldiers said that you’re a demon. They intend to invite the Imperial Reverend here to exorcise evil tomorrow.”
“The Imperial Reverend?” I recalled seeing that stern face yesterday in the alley.
Moxi frowningly nodded. “Sansheng, do you need to hide?”
“Hide?” I asked quizzically. “Why should I hide? I’m not a demon.” But seeing Moxi’s worried expression, I suddenly understood. “Moxi, have you always thought of me as a demon? Do you want me to hide because you’re afraid that the Imperial Reverend would uncover my ‘demonic’ identity?”
I nodded my head and muttered to myself: “I guess it’s to be expected. I’ve lived with you for so many years yet my appearance hasn’t changed a whit. When I wanted fire, I would make fire; when I wanted wind, I would make wind. It makes sense that you’d think of me as a demon. Right now, you must be afraid of me?”
After listening to my words, a sudden change came over Moxi’s face: a rare trace of anger. “Why should I be afraid of you?! So what if you’re a demon? I only know that my Sansheng has never harmed me. I’m not a heartless person. I know exactly how each person in this world treats me! Not to mention, you’re not an evil demon at all, and even if you are, I’ve already loved you and will love you for the rest of my life!”
The word ‘love’ made me happy inside. My mouth could not help curling into a smile.
Moxi had always been mild-tempered. Needless to say, he was especially gentle toward me. I rarely saw him so riled up that I found his present display rather strange. “Then what are you afraid of?”
His face stiffened. My laying bare his thoughts had slightly discomfited him. He was silent for a moment, and then he sighed. “Sansheng, I’m afraid you’ll be harassed.”
I was amused after I heard him. “Do you remember Fatty Wang’s backyard?”
He glanced at me: “Not even a blade of grass was left.”
I nodded in satisfaction. “It’s fine to be bullied as long as I can bully them back. Your wife can swallow anything except for abuse. You have nothing to worry about.”
Cheered up by my quip, Moxi did not say anything more.
In the evening when we went to wash up, I saw a small hole in his sleeve. I asked in surprise, “What happened?”
Moxi hid his sleeve away. “It’s nothing. I just had a quarrel with some soldiers today and my shirt got caught on their armor, that’s all.”
I reached my hand out: “Give the robe to me. I’ll help you patch it up.”
Under the candlelight, I patched the hole stitch by stitch. Moxi sat next to me, tilting his head to watch me help him mend his clothes. A smile lingered on his lips as though he found bliss in this little thing.
“All done.” I handed him the robe. Seeing the contentment on his face, I out of nowhere asked him, “Is the current emperor a good ruler?”
Moxi received his robe and replied, “He is a very wise sovereign.”
I nodded. “Then that great general who holds all the military power in his hands – is he also a good general?”
Moxi frowned. “If we speak of commanding troops in combat, he is undoubtedly talented. However, we do not need his kind of blood-thirst to keep the country in peace.”
I nodded again. “If he is rid of, will the people’s livelihood be better?”
“Without the general’s control, the emperor will be able to freely pass down reforms, and the people’s livelihood will naturally improve.” Moxi looked at me strangely. “Sansheng, when have you become interested in these things?”
“If there’s a way to get rid of the general for the sake of the people, will you be happy?”
Moxi’s eyes lit up, but he instantly lowered his gaze to hide that glimmer in his eyes. “Of course I would be happy.”
I nodded again. “It’s getting late. You have things to do tomorrow, go to bed.”
After the candle went out in Moxi’s room, I remained sitting in bed, eyes wide open looking out to the moonlight beyond the windowpanes.
Why would Moxi quarrel with other people for no reason? I strung along everything that had happened today and came to understand. He must’ve heard someone calling me a demon, and when he next heard the Imperial Reverend would be coming here tomorrow to ‘exorcise’ me, he momentarily could not hold back his temper and engaged in a confrontation with the others.
Moxi had always been a tolerant person, and he hadn’t been an official for long. Despite favoring him, the emperor didn’t even bestow on him an estate. Apparently, Moxi was in a very difficult position at court.
By sparring with the people from the general’s household today, I had pushed Moxi into the storm.
It was true I wasn’t anything like other people. Tomorrow when the Imperial Reverend arrived, if he were to say things such as “darkness lurks in thee” or “thou art not a life-form of this world”, then Moxi could just kiss his ideals and struggles goodbye…
No matter what I chose to do, I must not implicate him.
I thought of the gleam in Moxi’s eyes when he spoke of his ideals. I used an invisible spell and went into Moxi’s room. “It was you who gave me my three lives,” I said as I watched his sleeping face, “so it hardly matters if I must use my life to help you intercept your tribulation. And since I am your wife in this existence, I’ll have to offer my full support for whatever it is my husband wants.”
I sat by his bedside, leaned over, and softly placed a kiss on his lips. “Moxi, may peace follow you in life.”
Early next morning, a decree urgently summoned Moxi into the palace. He repeatedly reminded me before leaving that if the Imperial Reverend were to come, I must stick it out until he came back. I readily promised him.
Shortly after he left, a priest glowing with sublime aura came to the house. This Imperial Reverend looked very young from all outer appearances.
“You are bold to actually dare come to the capital after killing Abbot Kongchen.”
The first thing the Imperial Reverend said to me was this. I dazed out for a good long while before I remembered the Abbot Kongchen he spoke of was the monk who had tried to hunt me down throughout those nine years. “That’s not true. He died of old age; it didn’t have anything to do with me. I’m not a demon, and I can’t kill people.”
The Imperial Reverend scoffed. “Darkness lurks in thee. If you’re not a demon, then tell me, what are you?”
If I said I was the spirit of a stone on the Wangchuan bank, I was pretty sure he would insist I was a ghost. I pondered for a moment and asked, “Why are you so sure I am a demon?”
“We’ll know whether you are or not once I use my Samādhi Fire to verify the truth.”
I thought for a while and then nodded in agreement. “Alright, but you must do it in a crowded place and burn me on a scaffold. Let the people see it. If I am burned in the end, it proves that I am not a demon, and you must use your honor as the Imperial Reverend to proclaim to the world that you have killed the wrong person.”
He was flabbergasted by my words. At length, he said, “There better not be some tricks up your sleeve!”
“Hey, you’re a man of religion, how can you have such impure thoughts? All right, all right, I’m in a hurry. Please quickly drag me away to burn.”
I briskly walked out the door. On the other hand, he remained rooted inside the house. I frowned questioningly, went back, and pulled his arm: “Why are you being such a woman? You weren’t this hesitant when you last tried to help the old monk kill me.”
When we reached the market’s entrance, soldiers were already there to set up the scaffold. These few soldiers looked very familiar to me; I presumed they were also people from the general’s household. They became briefly stupefied when they saw that I wasn’t harmed in the least, but that I was even dragging the Imperial Reverend here. I turned around and leapt onto the scaffold, with elegance and grace, of course, sending the onlookers aflutter with wonderment.
I tied a rope haphazardly around me, waved to the reverend beneath and called out, “Hey, it’s done!”
The Imperial Reverend made no movement besides looking at me with a scowl. I also just watched him back.
Suddenly, a woman came out from the side. It was the same woman who had accompanied Shi Qianqian the other day to stir trouble in our home.
She yelled once she saw me: “It’s her! She’s a demon! She has bewitched the Chancellor and even hurt our young lady. It was so terrible that our young lady has yet to wake. Your Eminence, you must help us eliminate this monster. We must stamp out the seed of evil!” She pulled on the Imperial Reverend’s sleeve while she cried, weeping so much that the audience had to shed tears along with her. If the person she was pointing at and castigating weren’t me, I fear I would also share the same hatred with her.
The Imperial Reverend’s eyes frosted up as he brushed her off of him and coldly asked me, “Do you have anything to say in your defense?”
“I’m really not a demon,” I sighed.
An egg came hurling at my dress. A little kid in expensive-looking clothes made his way out of the crowd as he threw another egg at me. “You bullied my sister! You’re a bad person! You even stole my sister’s love from her! Brother Moxi clearly likes my sister. It’s all because of you!”
My brow unconsciously furrowed while looking at the two smashed eggs on my dress. But what had provoked me more was the words he said. I smirked and wiggled a finger, lifting the little brat into the air. “Kiddo, your sister likes him, but the one he likes is me.”
He thrashed about in the air. The middle-aged woman’s wailing was now trumpeting even more loudly as she kept on yelling: “Vixen, don’t you dare harm our young master!” The surrounding crowd was also starting to buzz.
“Don’t harm others!” The Imperial Reverend icily shouted. The rope bounding me tightened, strength left my finger, and the little brat was released from the air, caught by the woman.
Forthwith, a burning sensation climbed over me as a fire ignited at the soles of my feet.
The Samādhi Fire.
This mortal had really practiced the Samādhi Fire. A difficult feat, that.
In truth, I was afraid of fire. There were few spiritual beings in the underworld who weren’t afraid of fire. If one needed to differentiate a demon from a spiritual being, using fire would indeed be a good method. A demon would leave behind an orb after incineration, but spirits and humans would leave nothing behind.
I was not afraid of death, because from every point of view, I had never lived. My hometown was at the River of Oblivion in the netherworld. I was, in fact, born in the land of death itself.
The scorching fire stung me painfully. In my trance, I saw my old acquaintances. They floated in the air as they watched me being licked by the flames. I wanted to say hello to them, but I was in so much pain I could scarcely do a thing.
I didn’t know how much time had passed. As the burning sensation on my body gradually receded, the Black and White Guards of Impermanence waved their hands and called me to their sides. I hadn’t felt this light and airy in a very long time.
“Haha!” Black Impermanence guffawed as he patted me on the shoulder. “I’ve seen so many types of death, but the way you looked bathed in fire gave us several rounds of shock.”
His face was filled with such delight that I didn’t know what to say. I just placed my palms together to greet them and said a few courteous words then turned around and looked to the ground. The crowd and the woman were ecstatically cheering the Imperial Reverend’s name. As for the reverend, he was now ascending the tall scaffold alone, his eyes searching in the pile of ashes while his face gradually paled.
“Let’s go, come with your big brothers and tell us how your life has been.”
“Hold on, wait here for me just a second. I… I have something unfinished I need to do.”
They glanced at each other. White Impermanence asked, “The God of War?”
“Come back quickly.”
The imperial family’s royal aura was still as overwhelming as ever. Luckily, I had now become a spiritual entity, and it was much easier for me to enter the palace.
When I detected Moxi, he was standing opposite the emperor’s desk.
“I hope Your Majesty can protect my wife and see to her safety,” he was saying with a bow.
The emperor took a sip of tea before answering him: “A woman will always be just that.”
“Your Majesty, Sansheng is my heart and soul, and life itself.”
Warmth filled my heart. I landed near him and hugged him from behind. “Moxi, I was fortunate to have met you.”
Moxi slightly tensed. He sharply turned around, his gaze passing through me and landing on a place I knew not where.
As if he had sensed something, Moxi suddenly rushed outside.
“Insolence!” The eunuch by the emperor’s side shouted. His Majesty waved his hand to stop the eunuch as Moxi left the hall running along the palace road.
I followed him the entire way.
He first returned home. When he saw the house empty with no one in sight, his face blanched white like a sheet of parchment. He stood frozen for a moment, then ran out again. After stopping and asking everyone on the street, he finally staggered to the marketplace.
At this time, the Imperial Reverend was standing atop the high scaffold, holding a handful of ashes as he solemnly stated, “Upon my honor as the Imperial Reverend, I declare that the woman named Sansheng was not, in fact, a demon.”
The clamor by my ears all seemed to have faded away. All I saw was the emptiness in Moxi’s eyes as he reeled two steps backward.
I lurched forward to hold him, but my hands passed right through his body.
“Sansheng…” he whispered my name with a grief beyond words.
“Yes,” I answered, but I suddenly remembered he could neither hear my voice nor see me anymore.
But I was not; I was no longer in his eyes.
Just as Sansheng was no longer in Moxi’s life.