Chapter 6: The Venerable Zhonghua
I never knew there could be fifty years so torturous.
After I waited out my sentence, I bid Yanwang goodbye and entered reincarnation.
If I didn’t go to look for Moxi in this life, what if he gave me another fifty-year seal the next time he returned to the underworld? For this reason, I did just as he asked. I only went to seduce him when he was already feeble and old. I heard that men were most easily corrupted at this age. They had their careers, they had their families, they had already enjoyed everything that needed to be enjoyed, but life at this point was lacking a little excitement for them.
If I were to go give him some excitement now, this whole seduction thing would be as easy as pie.
It had seemed so simple in my mind, but life is always full of surprises.
The time I spent waiting in the underworld totaled about a hundred years. The darkness in me wasn’t any lighter compared to the first time I went to the human world. I’d also just left, which meant the mustiness of darkness was still fresh on me. It didn’t take long before I attracted a group of little priests like a piece of rotting meat attracting flies.
This era was a little too enthusiastic about slaying demons and sorcery had advanced so much. The group of little priests would still be a few years younger than I was even if their ages were combined and multiplied by ten. And yet they were so composed that they seemed to carry in them profound cultivation…
I wasn’t good at dealing with such serious children, so I used Yanwang’s tone to threaten them: “Scram, or I’ll throw you in a stew and eat you!”
“Arrogant, blustering fool!” The leading child raised his sword at me. “I shall exterminate you today!” he howled.
I raised my brow watching this kid, so savage for a young’un. It was apparent from his behavior that he had not been taught properly. I shook my head and blamed his teacher. As I was trying to figure out a way to escape, a woman’s shout suddenly came from the distance: “Changwu, get back this instant.” She was dressed in white, her ribbons fluttering as she flew to us like a fairy descending from the sky.
I watched her in wonderment. I would’ve never expected there to be such an ethereal person in this earthly world. But I had yet to finish admiring her when her hand all of a sudden released a white ribbon that shot out with the wind and tightly bound me.
After struggling awhile, I discovered that this thing was made from a very strange material.
The children prostrated to the woman, calling her ‘grandmaster’.
She gently nodded, told them to rise, and then stepped forward and studied me for some time. “So it’s a beautiful demon.”
I laughed. “You are also a beautiful nun.”
She coldly smirked. “Though I cannot see your origin, once you are bound by my silk tie, you won’t be able to escape no matter how skilled you are.”
I secretly wrestled with her freaky silk tie and began to feel that I actually wasn’t skilled at all. This thing was indeed a very effective rope. But if I were to be reckless, it wouldn’t be enough to keep me bound. The young lady had been too ignorant for her own good.
“Bring her back to Mount Liubo so that His Most Reverend Eminence can deal with her.” Like this, she bid the children. “Although I’ve tied the demon up, I cannot fathom her powers. You’ll need to stay vigilant. Don’t let her find a way to escape. I have an urgent matter to attend to, so I won’t be coming back with you.”
The children respectfully accepted her bidding in unison.
I’d only recently come to this world. Even if I wanted to find Moxi, I’d have no idea where to begin. It was therefore better to go with them. Not only would there be less harassment from other religious folks, I could also take this opportunity to catch Moxi’s news.
The pint-sized adults solemnly ‘escorted’ me away. Watching them made me miss the old Moxi so much. Among these children, there was only one who still had some semblance of ordinary humans left. His Daoist name was Chang’an – a mild-mannered child who was shy and reticent.
He reminded me of little Moxi in the last lifetime.
I loved watching him, but every time I peered at him, he always blanched in fright. Confused, I listened around and learned that this kid was afraid I would one day break the shackles and abduct him to pluck his yang in order to nourish my yin (1).
I suddenly felt mortified. Not only was I a spiritual being who did not need to do such embarrassing things, what yang could such a child have for me to even pluck? If I were to pluck someone’s… I must first pluck Moxi’s.
The darkness that Sansheng keeps referring to is this yin, where yin is the force of darkness while yang is the force of light. But yin-yang is also the duality of male-female, and although they are indeed talking about sex in this case, they are talking about it with a specific Daoist context where it was believed that sexual intercourse would keep the two forces in balance and lead to a healthy life, not merely as a euphemism.
Thereafter, I had to restrain myself from using those hungry eyes to look at him.
On the way, I overheard from the little priests that the reigning emperor was quite religious. Folk Daoism was flourishing among the commoners and many dignitaries were sending their children to monasteries. Additionally, Mount Liubo where they were heading to was much more prestigious than other ordinary temples.
What they strove for was divinity.
When the children said this, their faces were filled with pride, as if being a Liubo disciple was a blessing they had had to garner for hundreds of years. On the other hand, I coolly thought that although there had been mortals ascending to the sky, only one or two had succeeded every few thousand years. The rate of success was pitifully low.
These little munchkins walked very fast. We reached Mount Liubo in only a few days.
I didn’t hear any news on Moxi along the way and got quite disappointed. As I was trying find a way to tear the silk tie before they entered the mountain, I saw the golden seal on my wrist reacting again.
I made a cry at the burning sensation only to feel a powerful energy sweeping above our heads and ruffling my hair messily.
After I brushed aside the flying hair from my face, I saw the group of little priests kneeling down toward one direction and shouting in unison: “Your Eminence!”
Ooh, so this was Liubo’s boss.
I took a closer look and instantly jumped for joy. This was what they called “wearing out your shoes” something or other but “it came without any effort” something or other (2).
She’s trying to say the Chinese proverb 踏破铁鞋无觅处，得来全不费功夫. Your iron shoes get worn out but you still can’t find the thing you’re looking for. Then when you’re not looking, it comes to you on its own.
Why, wasn’t this Moxi?!
At this time, however, he was looking at most to be in his twenties or thirties. He wasn’t old or decrepit in the slightest, and didn’t appear at all like someone who had lived in the human world for fifty years. But then it occurred to me that he was seeking divinity in this life, and he was therefore practicing magic of the immortals. Even if he couldn’t yet become a fairy, he could easily retain his youth.
I died laughing inside. Moxi, Moxi, you tried to hide from me but the heavens were cleverer than you. Let’s see how you’d be hiding from me this time.
While I was busy grinning, three swords made a “whoosh” in my direction, their murderous intent giving me chills. I stopped grinning and looked to Moxi in bewilderment.
The three blades weren’t his, but of the three white-browed, long-bearded priests behind him. They scowled, staring at me quite seriously.
Moxi coldly spoke: “What is this thing that it reeks of darkness?”
I stared at him dumbly. The look in his eyes… the look in his eyes… these were the same eyes he had used to look at Shi Qianqian in the last lifetime.
I didn’t know why but I suddenly felt fearful. I had never liked to explain myself, but I was explaining myself now: “Though darkness is thick in me, I’m really not a demon. I am the spirit of a stone. My name is Sansheng.”
The three white-bearded priests looked at each other in apparent perplexity, then turned to look at Moxi.
“If you are not our kind, then you are different. You must be rid off.” Moxi coldly announced.
His words were so decisive that I was made both sad and angry. I didn’t understand why Moxi had reincarnated into such a blockhead this time. Before I had time to say anything, flashes of swords had started to surge ahead, the white ribbon binding me also tightening.
My heart swelled with anger. Throughout the one thousand years I’d lived, except for those few times I abused myself to vent, no one had yet dared do this to me. I instantly transported my spiritual forces so I could contest with him.
If he were still the God of War, then I my only option would be to await my death. But he was at present just a human seeking divinity. He hadn’t more than forty years of magic in him. Even if his practice was more profound, he couldn’t win going heads-on with me no matter how gifted he was.
We hadn’t confronted for half an hour but Moxi’s face was already growing pale. I wondered if I should take advantage of my one thousand years in age to bully a deity who was undergoing his trial. I was going to stop when Moxi suddenly coughed out a mouthful of black blood.
Shocked, I quickly withdrew my spiritual forces.
Was my power so strong that I couldn’t control it?
I was stunned.
The three white-bearded priests exclaimed: “Venerable Zhonghua!” and rushed to support Moxi and check his pulse. The Liubo students also clamored around him.
I wasn’t worried that he would die (even if he did, I still wouldn’t worry that much). The way things were going, his ‘meet though in enmity’ fate was not yet over. If he hadn’t gone through his trial, he wouldn’t be able to reenter reincarnation.
The children worriedly surrounded him for a time before one of them suddenly stood up. I recognized him as the vicious kid named Changwu. Sure enough, he pulled his sword from its scabbard and pointed at me, saying hatefully: “Demoness, you even struck His Most Reverend while he was severely injured! You deserve to die!”
The moment he roared, the masses at once erupted in fury. The little priests pulled out their swords and angrily pointed them at me. Even the most timid of them, Chang’an, was red with anger. They simultaneously growled that they must kill me to purge evil and protect the sacred.
I hated having kids surrounding me whining for candies, and although this situation was very different from whining for candies, it was really all the same to me.
I immediately surrendered: “All right, all right! Do what you will, do what you will!”
The group of children looked left and right, none dared to make a decision. Finally, an old priest took the chance and shouted: “Lock her up in the Pagoda of a Thousand Locks under the Enchanted Lake!”
There was a deep lake on Mount Liubo that wasn’t very large but was terribly deep. It was engulfed in supernatural forces, and thus the Liubo students called it the Enchanted Lake. The priests here had spent several hundred years to build the Pagoda of a Thousand Locks under the bottom of the lake that was specially used to trap dangerous demons.
I stood on the lakeside looking down to the pagoda that loomed underneath the rippling water. I rubbed my chin in thought. This thing was certainly a good place to imprison demons. Firstly, it was overflowing with spiritual forces, so it could suppress and purify a demon’s miasma. Secondly, it was underwater! If he couldn’t breathe, then no matter how powerful a demon was, he’d only wash up as a floating corpse after getting trapped for a century or two.
Nevertheless, it was different for me and other spiritual beings. The pure essence from Heaven and Earth was exactly conducive to my body and mind; it was the perfect place to facilitate my spiritual cultivation. I didn’t bother struggling and let the children put heavy stone anklets on me before using a water suspending spell to take me to the lake’s bottom.
The lake scenery wasn’t too bad, I thought to myself.
After I was thrown into the Thousand-Lock Pagoda, the children began shouting to me across the iron gate. There were talismans inside, they told me. Or if I forcibly tried to break out, I’d die an ugly death. Not giving a fart, I tore a piece of talisman off of the pillar and played with it.
This was a prison for demons; everything about it was structured to deal with demons. I’d already said a thousand times I wasn’t a demon. Stupid, prejudiced humans!
Even Moxi was the same…
When I thought of this, I felt so wronged that my nose stung for a while before I was able to calm myself down.
I circled the bottom of the pagoda and found an entrance staircase. There, a night pearl shone all the way to the top. There seemed to be something up that way – too far away under the too-dim glow that I couldn’t see very clearly. I became curious. Thinking there was nothing to do anyway, I slowly made my way up the stairs.
By the time I got a better look at the thing on top of the pagoda… hah, I have to say that I suddenly wanted to laugh when I saw who was being kept inside that thing. Siming Xianjun (the God of Fate) really loved her soapy angst, didn’t she? Wasn’t this the Imperial Reverend from the last lifetime?!
Although his eyes were now green – emitting a faint coldness, although his hair was now white – giving off bizarre vibes, no matter how I looked at him, he still struck me as a dangerous monster. His hands and feet were chained in iron, his body stretched and hung in the air. A solid metal cage covered in talismans enclosed around him. This was one heck of a secure imprisonment.
He must’ve been downright scary at the time he was arrested.
A demon hunter in his past life, now a demon. This was what I’d call a karmic arrangement.
“Hey! Long time no see!” I waved at him to say hello.
“Who are you?” He stiffly spat each word out in a raspy voice. It seemed he had been locked in here for a long time.
I smiled. “I’m Sansheng.”
He knitted his brow. “Did we know each other?”
I rubbed my forehead in thought. “Well, not quite.”
No one said anything afterwards. I was dying a death of silence. I looked up to the top of the Thousand-Lock Pagoda where it was much brighter than below, the reason being that there was a hole in the ceiling.
I found it strange that here he was, chained up so securely, yet there was a wide-open hole in front of him. Weren’t they afraid he’d find a chance to run away? Or were the Liubo priests so confident in the Thousand-Lock Pagoda’s ability to imprison all demons that they gave him a window so he would yearn for the outside world and die of despair?
I’ll be damned. These priests were beyond ruthless!
I hadn’t finished fantasizing when I heard him quietly say: “Back away.”
For the time being, I didn’t know what he meant, but I obediently listened to him and retreated into the dark.
Soon, I saw the lake changing into a beautiful shimmer. Then, a beam of sunlight shot through the hole in the ceiling and hit him square in the face, his terrifying ghastliness now outlined by the the strong, bright light.
A trace of pain slowly emerged in his dull, green eyes.
I watched in horror as his skin slowly swelled up. While the sunlight became more intense, the swellings on his skin also began to blister, some even breaking open and oozing pus.
His expression only betrayed pain at the start, however. Now, he was even more still.
I’d seen so many punishments but this scene still made my stomach churn. Unable to stand it any longer, I took off my outer robe and threw it over the hole in the ceiling. Blocked by the fabric, the sunlight considerably weakened.
It took more than half an hour before the sun slowly moved away from the pagoda.
It suddenly occurred to me that it was high noon just now. Did that mean this man was burned day after day in the sun?
“Mind your own business.” He offered what he thought of my action.
I graciously did not argue with him. “How long have you been kept here?”
He said nothing for a second, and then coldly laughed. “Maybe ten years, maybe twenty. Who knows?”
I sighed, feeling very sorry for him. Nonetheless, I was also awfully curious about his fate in this lifetime. “Why were you sent here? Who locked you in this place?”
He fell silent and did not talk to me again. Thinking that every creature inevitably had some broken things in his heart he did not want to share, I did not press him any further, instead changing the subject and asked, “Do you want to get out of here?”
“What does it matter what I want? It’ll just be a delusion.”
I smugly smiled. “What if I have a way to get you out?”
He looked up at me; a glimmer abruptly sparked in his dull, green eyes.
“Well, you don’t seem like a bad person to me. At least you were nice enough to tell me to avoid the sunlight. I don’t know why you are trapped here, but you’ve been here for so long that I reckon whatever punishment it was, it should be enough by now. Since you and I could be considered to be acquaintances, I’ll be nice and save you this once, but I won’t do it for free. Since you owe me today, you’ll have to return the favor in the future.”
“And what do you want in return?”
“Recently there are some brats that really get on my nerves, but since I’m a nice girl, I don’t want to lay a hand on them. After you are freed from here, you have to give them a good spanking for me. Doesn’t have to be much, just enough so that they won’t be able to climb down from bed for a month.” I mulled awhile. “Right, there’s one that you must give special treatment to so that he won’t be able to climb down from bed for at least three months. I’ll give you the details later…”