Chapter 9: Did we use to know each other?
Hidden in the shadows of the night, I listened to their conversation while staying crouched behind a plum tree.
“Senior!” the nun was saying with some urgency. “The wolf demon is coming to invade us. Why are you allowing that demoness with unknown origins to remain here? Shouldn’t we exterminate her as soon as possible?”
I sighed. I’d already said this a thousand times. Yes, my origins aren’t clear, but I’m really not a monster! I had even destroyed that Thousand-Lock Pagoda of yours, had I still not proven my identity?! Oh, the stupidity! Humans are such idiots!
Even though I hadn’t finished grumbling, I noticed that Zhonghua was getting fairly affected. “We’ll discuss this another day.” His voice was slightly hoarse and weak, as though he had had too much to drink.
He was drunk.
The nun still wouldn’t let it go. “Senior, don’t tell me you’ve come to care for the demon because of her vulnerable facade.”
Zhonghua was getting angry. He brushed her hand off and snapped: “What nonsense are you uttering?!”
“Let’s hope I’m just uttering nonsense.” She then coldly continued: “Senior, I’m sure you haven’t forgotten. In the beginning, it was precisely because Master was softhearted that she had accepted that low-class wolf demon called Hu’yi. It ultimately led to Liubo’s crisis twenty years ago. Qingling prays that you won’t follow our master’s footsteps.”
After a length of silence, Zhonghua waved his hand and told her: “Go back.”
I pursed my lips in thought. From what the nun had just said, the wolf demon named Hu’yi had perhaps been the disloyal and betraying kind that pays kindness with misdeed. Based on my experience of inspecting countless ghosts by the Wangchuan River, however, that isn’t what he was.
The story twenty years ago apparently had some untold tales.
After the nun named Qingling left, Zhonghua stood by himself in the dark corner for a while before leaning on the wall and slowly finding his way back to his bedchamber.
I heaved a sigh as I watched his forlorn shadow.
In the past, whenever Moxi stumbled and fell, I was always there to protect my baby and feel his pain. I never let him suffer any loneliness or be hurt in any way. Yet now that he had become the high and mighty Venerable Zhonghua, he didn’t have a single helper by his side when he got drunk. He might not even be as comfortable as Chang’an who was sleeping in my room.
“Who’s there?” He sharply turned around.
I blinked a few times, increasingly convinced that he must be living a very tiring life from day to day. If even my soft sigh could catch his attention after he was this drunk, his wariness on a normal basis must be layers thick.
Hearing no answer, Zhonghua straightened up and slowly made his way to this side. I knew I couldn’t hide, so I openly stepped out and greeted him with a smile. “Oh! Good evening!”
When he saw me, his brow severely scrunched up before turning to leave, as though he had seen something extremely revolting. He walked with long strides, no longer staggering drunkenly this time.
I froze for a moment, suddenly becoming furious. Am I so hideous that you have to run away from me like that?
“Stop!” I yelled out.
His pace gained even more speed. It only took two steps before he completely disappeared from sight.
My anger flared up. Hiding from me? I’d like to see how you’ll hide from me!
I rushed back to the dilapidated hut and pulled a soundly sleeping Chang’an out from under the quilt. He blinked blearily at me, disoriented and confused. I gave him a toothy grin. “Chang’an, can you help me with something?”
Only now did he turn to look at me. He froze for a moment, screamed in fright, and then attempted to wrap himself up in a panic so that I wouldn’t see him.
I sternly dragged him out by his collar and brought him to a spot closest to Zhonghua’s bedchamber. Patting his tear-stained face, I told him: “Cry, cry as loud as you can!”
He stared at me blankly.
My lips unturned into a smile that was as radiant as it was lewd. “Although your yang is a bit small, it’s still better than nothing. And though my heart already belongs to your venerable Reverend, it’s a bit difficult to control my desire when I look at a boy as handsome as you. Won’t you indulge me today?”
Chang’an was scared stiff, as if he had been struck by lightning.
I guess that was to be expected. In the middle of the night, an unfamiliar female had broken into his room, abducted him and said she wanted to molest him. Any sane person would be shocked. I very graciously allowed him a second of stupefaction, after which, I satisfyingly heard him give a shrieking scream.
“No!” Petrified, he crawled to the edge of the force field, banging on the force field’s wall screaming: “Save me, Your Most Reverend! Save me! Chang’an is still too young! Chang’an doesn’t want to die!”
He wailed and wailed. His venerable Reverend finally clutched his forehead and came out with an glowering face. He frowningly stared at Chang’an and then growled: “Good for you!”
If you asked me, as a Most Reverend, your running away the moment you saw me wasn’t any better.
I smirked and kicked Chang’an in the butt while he was lying sprawled out on the ground. “Alright, since your venerable Reverend is here to replace you, I’ll let you off the hook this time. Go back to bed.”
Chang’an looked up to Zhonghua, then looked back at me. Seeing tacit acquiescence from the both of us, he quickly scrambled up and ran away without once turning back.
I looked at Zhonghua, smiling smugly. He rubbed his forehead, closed his eyes and did not return my eye contact. “What is it?”
The veins on the back of his hand popped blue. He said nothing more and turned to go.
Before he could leave the force field, I hurried to grab his sleeve. Maybe because he was drunk, his much slower reaction had allowed me to catch him. “Why are you hiding from me? I’m not going to eat you.”
“Why should I be hiding?” he said. “You’re Liubo’s prisoner…”
“Exactly, I’m the one imprisoned. If anyone were to hide, I’d be the one hiding from you. Why are you doing this? Do I have boils or fur growing on my face? Are maggots gonna fester in your eyes if you take one look at me? Are you gonna suffer vomiting and diarrhea? Are you gonna bleed to death? Are you g…”
Before I could finish, he took a deep breath, turned around and looked at me. It was a simple and honest gaze that showed both his obstinacy and a desire to prove himself. But I wasn’t as simple as he was.
I saw in his clear orbs the images of a starry sky, of white snowflakes and fragrant plums, and of myself.
All deeply imprinted in his eyes.
It had been so long since I last saw him looking so intently at me this way. I couldn’t help but step forward and lean into him. My hands slid down from his sleeve to take hold of his hand.
I saw myself quietly smiling in his eyes. He didn’t break away from me, his gaze softening. My smile widened.
“With this muted fragrance and pure white snow, and even you, there’s nothing more Sansheng asks for.”
With this muted fragrance and pure white snow, and even Sansheng, there’s nothing more Moxi asks for. They were words Moxi had said to me in the last lifetime.
He was slightly startled upon hearing these words. A frown. Then suddenly looking to have recovered, he abruptly pushed me away and, as a result, landed himself onto the snow due to not having stood firmly. He appeared to be in a slight panic.
I wanted to come over to help him, but he blocked me with his hand. Clutching his head, he sat in the snow silently.
“Mo… Zhonghua, you…”
“Did we use to know each other?”
How was I supposed to answer that? Yes, we knew each other. Where? In the underworld, by the Wangchuan River… If I said that, he would only think I was joking.
I scratched my head, saying: “Well, if you think I look familiar, then this must be fate. Yes, fate!”
“Fate?” He sneered ironically. “How does this world have so many fates…?”
Hearing him say a line as though he had seen all there was to see in the ways of the world, I knitted my brow and asked, “And why not? Our meeting each other is fate. To be here chatting is also fate.” For a stone like me to be able to go to the mortal world to seduce you is an even bigger fate. Of course, I swallowed these words back and did not say them to him.
He lay in the snow. Under the moonlight, he took a good look at me and, after a long while, lightly uttered two words: “Cursed fate.”
I inwardly nodded. Cursed fates are still fates. These are even more lasting and persistent than ordinary fates. I was delighted, but then I thought, that wasn’t right. From the way he sounded, I needed to react with disdain. I mustn’t smile so that I could make him wait in vain. Moreover… I glanced at his posture lying in the snow.
It was such a convenient posture to jump him!
I pointed at him prettily. “Y… y… you! You are most exasperating!”
He slightly squinted his eyes, his expression becoming indecipherable.
I turned around as if I was leaving in indignation. When I got to him, I yelled out: “Whoa! Why is it so slippery?”
I pulled what I thought was a beautiful pose and slipped and fell on top of him. Being a precisely calculated movement, I should’ve fallen onto his chest, enacting the scene of a shy maiden lying in the hero’s embrace.
Little did I know I also slipped the same way Zhonghua did, crashing on top of him in a graceless position and knocking my head onto his. Unfortunately, my lips did not meet his, but smacked right onto his forehead instead.
I only heard the man underneath sounding a grunt and giving no more reaction forthwith.
By the time I clutched my head and clambered to get up, Zhonghua was lying on the ground with both of his eyes closed. There were two bleeding holes my rock-like front teeth had left on his forehead.
“Umm…” I haltingly reached my hand out to touch him. “Hey…” I patted his cheek but he still didn’t respond. I panicked a little. I couldn’t have sent him straight to Yanwang, could I have? But he hadn’t gone through his tribulation in this lifetime yet. There was going to be huge trouble this way.
“Zhonghua! Zhonghua! It can’t be that bad, right?!” I scratched my head. You are, no matter what, His Most Reverend. If you actually got knocked to death by a woman like me, this, this… if this got out, it’d be really humiliating. I hurried to pinch his Renzhong acupoint while muttering: “Moxi, don’t get me into trouble. I’ll really be condemned by the heavens for knocking a god on his trial dead. Moxi…”
I tearfully called his name for a while. He seemed to understand my dilemma for he soon groaned and then slowly opened his eyes. I elatedly sent my grateful prayers to Yanwang over and over again.
“Master…” he quietly said as he looked at me.
I froze, only now smelling the strong alcohol in his breath. I reckoned alcohol had gone to his head and he had lost his cognizance.
“Master,” he called again, “why…”
He spoke so softly that I couldn’t hear him at all. “What is it?” I leaned in and pressed my ear against his lips to listen more carefully. However, my mind was sent whirling from what he said: “Why did you develop those sorts of feelings for Hu’yi?” he asked.
Let’s not discuss what sorts of feelings Zhonghua’s master had developed for Hu’yi for now. I was more curious as to whether Zhonghua’s master was male or female.
“Was your master a man or a woman? Did your master fall in love with Hu’yi? How far did they get? What happened to them? Why was Hu’yi locked up in the pagoda? And where’s your master now?” I asked as subtly as I could, and then blinked while quietly awaiting Zhonghua’s answers.
But his head fell to the side, asleep.
I squeezed my fists.
The feeling of unsatisfied curiosity made me want to poke the two holes on his forehead. But looking at his peaceful sleeping face, I finally sighed and resignedly tore my skirt into strips to bandage his wounds for him.
Since Chang’an was sleeping inside, dragging his revered Reverend in wouldn’t be very prudent. It wouldn’t be very convenient to jump him either.
I mulled for a bit, then dragged him under a plum tree and let him rest on my lap. As for me, I leaned against the tree, caressed his forehead, took his hands in mine, and lastly placed a kiss on his lips, then fell into the most carefree sleep that I’d had in a long while.
The next morning when I woke up, I saw a pair of clear eyes staring at me. I smiled at him and waved hello: “Good morning, Your Most Reverend! You’re still here?”
He shut his eyes and took a deep breath, looking as though he was trying his best to keep calm. At long last, he said to me with some restraint: “Untie me.”
I laughed uneasily, untied the rope that was yoking his neck to my leg, and innocently said, “Can you blame me? I was afraid you’d run away.”
Not waiting for me to completely untie the rope, he struggled to his feet and scowled at me.
I spread my hands in helplessness. “I knew you’d run away after you wake up and then deny the fact that we’ve spent the night together. That’s why I’ve placed more than a dozen spells on the rope. That’s the only way to prove that you have really slept with me last night. By the rules of the humans, take responsibility, Mo… Zhonghua.”
Each time I spit out a word, his face would darken by the second, and then by the end of my speech there was even a rare shade of red in all that blackness: “Sh… sh… shame…”
He couldn’t manage a complete sentence even after trembling for a long time. I helped him out with a sigh: “Shameless.” Being able to make the ice-faced Reverend this angry was an incredibly proud accomplishment. “It’s all the same whether I’m shameless or not. Zhonghua, you still have to marry me.”
He looked at me for a moment, seeming to have calmed down. His expression gradually chilled. “Even if I were drunk, I can clearly remember everything I did. You and I are not the same kind. How could I have done that sort of thing with you?”
I asked curiously, “So you can’t do it if you’re not the same kind? Then what about your master and Hu’yi?”
Zhonghua’s expression suddenly iced over. He looked as if he could mince me into pieces. He stormed away. I was a stubborn rock. If I didn’t get a clear answer now, I wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight. I hurriedly caught up to his side and yell out to him: “Hey! What about your master and Hu’yi? What was going on with them? Your master…”
A flash of fury grazed my ears, striking the snow behind me and sending snow dust whirling in the air.
I froze on the spot.
“Hold your tongue.” He icily threw these words at me before turning around to leave.
Moxi had never looked at me that way. Even when he hurled a fireball at my feet when we were last in the underworld, he didn’t have such a chilly expression.
I’d only seen that expression from him once before. It was in the last lifetime when two thugs broke into our house and harassed me that he had put on that face.
He seemed to intensely hate hearing anyone speak of his master and Hu’yi. Perhaps besides physiological discrimination, his hatred for Hu’yi was also emotionally seated. It seemed he cared very much for his master…
His feelings toward his master might have even been a little… not so ordinary.
I thus became ever more curious as to whether his master was a man or a woman.