Chapter 14: So it’s you
I had thought it would be easy to make an escape by myself. All I needed was an invisible spell and I’d be able to catch up to Moxi in no time.
But life never turned out the way I thought it would.
Never did I imagine the emperor would take action himself, less still did I expect this blind ruler to be so malicious.
He gave me a powerful blow and followed it with an iron net. It was no surprise I got captured.
Before being dragged into prison, I told myself that as soon as the emperor left, as soon as my spiritual power recovered, I’d make my escape.
After they dragged me into prison, however, I could only heave a weak sigh. The emperor must have seen Bai Jiu as a very serious threat, or they wouldn’t have locked me up in the palace dungeon.
The emperor firstly wanted to prevent me from escaping. He secondly wanted to extract Bai Jiu and Moxi’s whereabouts from me more conveniently. What they didn’t know was that this had coincidentally subdued my spiritual powers to their lowest.
Since I couldn’t run away, I adopted an attitude of living in peace in this dark dungeon.
The mortals’ torture instruments weren’t particularly dangerous to me. The daily whipping they gave wasn’t any different from getting my itch scratched on a scheduled basis.
Though I have to say: I was scratched very wrongfully each day.
They asked me for Moxi’s whereabouts day after day. How was I supposed to know? I honestly told them just as much but they kept insisting that I wasn’t being honest. I made a mental note to ask the imps as soon as these people arrived in the underworld whether they had any brains or not. If the answer was yes, I’d beat them to a pulp. If the answer was no, I’d simply chop their heads off and push them down the animal reincarnation well.
Since they didn’t believe me, I stopped bothering to answer. Over time, they only came to whip me once or twice out of routine. Then much much later, they stopped coming to whip me or give me food altogether. I was kept in captivity, living my days not knowing morning from night. They wanted to starve me to death, but little did they know, I was the spirit of a stone. As long as I could draw energy from the earth, I’d be able to live for centuries without any foods or drinks.
My only concern was that I didn’t know what day it was. I didn’t know how Moxi was doing outside.
This prison seemed to be very well hidden. I’d been here for a long time but I had not seen anyone else being brought in. Had I been an ordinary person, I would’ve rotted in here and nobody would know.
Fortunately, I did not fear darkness, for this environment perfectly allowed me to concentrate on my cultivation.
During this lengthy time, my spiritual powers made a slight improvement – not enough to aid me in my escape, nevertheless.
I didn’t know how long it had been by the time I finally heard another voice in addition to the squeaking rats. Everything sounded so much clearer in the dark.
The door opened and in came a single person.
I sat there dumbly. Did they not come to check on the prisoners?
He passed the fire and rounded the corner, slowly walking over this way. I squinted and gazed up at the person who came – a young lad in his twenties or thirties, dressed in a robe as pristine as snow and looking entirely out of place in this dungeon. His face was inexplicably familiar under the fire’s glow.
When he saw me, a slight change came over his serene face.
I just knew it! I had no idea how long I had been here, but I generally knew it had to have been ten years at least. Who wouldn’t be scared witless to see someone who hadn’t had any foods or drinks still living and breathing after ten years inside a dungeon? Not to mention my ghastly appearance, it was already a commendable courage he did not throw the torch and run for the hills.
“Sansheng,” he called my name. “It’s Chang’an.”
I frowned in thought; the name was a bit fuzzy in my distant memory. Quite a while later, I reacted: “Ah, the chicken little priest of Liubo.” Because I hadn’t spoken for too long, my voice came out croaking.
He furrowed his brow: “I’ll help you leave.”
I cleared my throat, smilingly saying: “You seem to be doing well. Why aren’t you afraid I would pick you like when you were younger?”
He smiled back awkwardly: “It’s been thirty years. You still remember pretty well, Sansheng.”
Thirty years. I froze.
In our last lifetime, I had gone to the underworld after Zhonghua killed me and waited two years for him there, after which I had returned to Earth to look for Moxi. We had lived together for eight years, which makes it a total of ten years. Yet Chang’an was now saying it had been thirty years.
It turned out I’d stayed in this place for two decades.
Two decades… Moxi must be twenty-eight by now. I wondered how he looked.
Leaving the palace was much easier than I thought.
Chang’an found me a servant outfit. After I put it on, he openly took me out of the palace. Along the way, I kept seeing people prostrating to him, saying: “Your Eminence, Imperial Reverend.”
Imperial Reverend? “Hasn’t Liubo always looked down on these kinds of things?” I asked him after we left the palace and while basking under the sunlight I hadn’t seen in a long time as I recited a purification rune to restore myself to my former appearance.
He looked back at me. “It’s a long story. I need to take you to someone. Let’s talk about these things along the way.”
Chang’an told me that Liubo continuously declined after it was met with its calamity and never did return to its glorious past. Its disciples had to take off their fairy loftiness to reenter the vulgar world. Knowing I had saved his life but had ended up getting killed by Zhonghua, he had always felt guilty toward me and had been searching for my reincarnation to repay this debt.
“Sansheng, why do you still have memories from your past life?” he asked.
I didn’t know how to explain to him about all the karma that was involved. I pondered for a moment and replied: “Perhaps it’s because I couldn’t let go of your Most Reverend.”
He nodded and didn’t try to pursue that thread anymore. “Twenty years ago, there was a rumor that there was a demoness in the capital who got captured by the emperor himself. I hadn’t thought of you, but ten years ago a man came to look for me and asked me to rescue someone from the palace. That was when I found out you had been caught. Knowing it was you, I naturally agreed. In the name of the Imperial Reverend, I thus entered the palace and probed for your whereabouts all these years. It took this long but I finally got you out.”
“Is the person who asked you to save me named Moxi?”
“Yes, and no.” He softly smiled: “Do you know what kind of person this Moxi you speak of had become?”
I shook my head. He lowered his voice: “Although the capital is still safe at this time, on the battlefield ahead, the imperial army is defeated again and again. In no more than three months, this country will have a new master.” I dithered to hear him say: “The one who exterminates the enemy on the battlefront, the one who wipes out hundreds of thousands of the Empire’s soldiers, the one who brings back military exploits for the rebels is no other than Moxi.”
“But the one who asked me to save you…” as he spoke, he took me into a small courtyard in a deep alley. When the gate opened, I saw a man sitting inside.
I arched my brow. “Oh, so it’s you.”
Bai Jiu. Twenty years was a long stretch of time for human beings. He was still standing there straight and tall, but his hair had grayed and his face had wrinkled.
He was greatly surprised upon seeing me. “You… haven’t changed at all.”
I unconsciously frowned. “I’m not a demon.”
He smirked ironically: “What importance is there whether you are a demon or not? Demons eat people, people also eat people. They are all the same.” He paused before continuing: “I find myself more and more nostalgic the older I get. Now that I’ve finally rescued you, I don’t feel so haunted by old regrets anymore.”
I was so sick of listening to these humans lamenting to me about their old age. I cut him short and asked, “Where’s Moxi?”
“He should now be in Rongshan,” he told me. “That boy misses you dearly, be it day or night,” he added helplessly, his words carrying a sigh of frustration.
I glanced at Bai Jiu quizzically. The jealousy that had long been buried deep inside of me inexplicably rose again. “I like Moxi and he likes me. If I’m not there, isn’t it natural that he should miss me? Are you saying he should miss you in some kind of taboo romance?”
Standing nearby, Chang’an couldn’t help but shake with laughter.
Bai Jiu didn’t get angry. He looked at me, dumbfounded. “Why hasn’t your temper changed at all after all these years of imprisonment?”
I ignored the both of them. “I saved you, you saved me. We’re now even. Let’s part ways here. I need to go find Moxi.” I was about to go when I suddenly remembered that Moxi had honored him as his master. My brain took a turn and I came to have a general grasp of what was going on. “It’s fine that you asked Moxi to help you fight your battles and win the kingdom for you. But after that, please let Moxi go. I do not want to have to see betrayal and perfidy happening to Moxi. The boy is goodhearted, he will be sad.”
Bai Jiu did not answer. Chang’an suddenly asked me, “Sansheng, is Moxi the reincarnation of…”
I glanced back to Chang’an and said, “Yes, but that belongs to the past.”
Not wishing to waste more words, I recited an incantation and went directly to Rongshan.
At the foothill of Rongshan was a fortress called Rongcheng – built on the mountainside and surrounded by steep cliffs. It was easily defensible and difficult to attack, but once the fortress was captured, it’d be fairly easy to charge into the capital. Rongcheng was hence the court’s last stronghold of the Imperial City. This battle wasn’t going to be easy for Moxi. Now that I was here, I could perhaps help him. For example, I could poison the water source in Rongcheng, or lit fire on their granary, or something similar.
By the time I got to Rongshan, however, I hadn’t the need to do any of these things.
The armies had engaged.
I searched for his shadow from above the chaotic battlefield. He could not speak, so how did he give orders in battles?
While I was on pins and needles, a small voice slowly traveled, belonging to only a few people at first, then expanding to dozens, hundreds, and thousands, and finally all of the rebel soldiers chanted: “The fortress keeper has been beheaded!”
“The fortress keeper has been beheaded!”
The riotous battlefield momentarily quieted down in solemnity. All eyes slowly converged at one spot. I naturally also turned to look that way.
Mountain winds suddenly picked up, sending flowers on Rongshan raining across my ears and down to the battlefield, drifting to that man in waves.
He was carrying a decapitated head sitting on horseback. The distance was too far for me to see his face. I only saw sunlight bouncing off of his cold sword, so blindingly that my eyes began to tear.
It was Moxi!
I hadn’t expected this separation would last two long decades.
You’ve become a brave general who proudly stands above thousands.
I’d left you for so long. Did you resent me?
Suddenly, I perceived a flash out of the corner of my eye. A sharp arrow was flying straight for Moxi who was on horseback. I panicked. A beam of dark energy immediately followed the arrow, and at the moment the arrow almost pierced into Moxi’s chest, it sliced the arrow shaft in half. But because the arrowhead still had momentum, it grazed Moxi’s face despite having swerved off its original track, and then plunged into the ground behind him.
Everything happened in a split second. I anxiously kept my eyes peeled to see whether he was hurt anywhere or not.
He also made a sudden upward gaze as he stared in my direction. I knew it was too far for him to see me clearly, but I had a strange feeling that he did and that he knew I was Sansheng.
The soldiers reacted and immediately surrounded Moxi in a circle.
I could see Moxi even less clearly now, causing me to burn with anxiousness. The troops around Moxi all of a sudden dispersed as he tossed the decapitated head in his hand to a soldier nearby, then lightly trod on horseback and swiftly flew toward where I was.
This time, I was sure he saw me.
I turned around and left the rock cliff. I daydreamed about the place I would be reuniting with Moxi. It should be a wonderful place complete with falling petals, amid which he would hug me and I would hug him, calling his name over and over again. We’d then develop that inexplicable urge to do a bit of those ooh ooh ah ah things and finally go find a place to properly take care of that urge.
Yes! It’d be a fairy tale come true!
Unfortunately, it was difficult for us to get in the mood for those ooh ooh ah ah things by the time Moxi found me, the reason being that right before he saw me, I had stepped onto a snare the hunters had left in the mountains.
Snap. My ankle was clamped tightly. It couldn’t have wounded me for real, but it did hurt quite badly.
While I was near tears and accusing Heaven of being blind, a figure besmirched in the bloodiness of battle swiftly walked over. I still couldn’t make out his face for he was lowering his head to carefully remove the snare for me. Afterwards, he rolled my trousers up to check whether the injury had reached my bones.
The large and warm hands that were holding my ankles trembled slightly, as if they were tensed, as if they were excited, but also as if they were abashed.
He stiffened. Without any decorum, I removed his helmet for him. I cupped his cheeks and slowly lifted his face.
Gazing at his blood-stained face, I didn’t expect to see eyes so eternally transparent even after his shares of battles and intrigues. I sighed: “You’re grown now so this must be embarrassing for you, but Sansheng really can’t wait anymore. What am I going to do?”
He didn’t know what I was going on about.
The moment my lips inched near, his eyes abruptly widened. I sighed inwardly, but still placed a kiss onto his lips in the end.
“Moxi, Moxi…” I clung onto his neck, rubbing my cheek onto his temple whispering: “I miss you so much, Sansheng misses you.”
His body went as rigid as iron. Even more rigid was his neck, refusing to tilt toward me for even half an inch. It was too tiring to cling onto him so I simply let him go, choosing to stare at him with a smile instead. “I’ve come for you, so why do you still have this look on your face?”
He slightly recovered at these words. My reflection gradually took form in his eyes. He slowly raised his hand, as if he couldn’t believe he could touch my cheek. I beamed at him, letting his rough fingers slowly graze my face – my eyes, my nose, my lips, over and over again as if to test whether the one standing in front of him was real and alive.
Finally, he hugged me with shaking hands, a long sigh drifting into my ears – a sigh that finally dispelled all the grief and sorrow of parting we had kept buried. I reckoned even if he could speak, he’d still only sigh in my ear right now.
Because we had been separated for too long, there was too much to say that our time was better used in embracing.
Unsurprisingly, he brought me back to the camp.
The use of a spell would have easily fixed the wound on my foot, but I had chanted to make it look even worse. When he saw that the bleeding couldn’t be stopped, the crease in Moxi’s brow had deepened. He transferred me onto his back and headed straightaway for the camp.
I reveled in the feeling of being so deeply cared for.
I received countless salutes from the soldiers while I was on his back. What they saw wasn’t a man carrying a woman, but rather a fairy carrying a witch, their eyeballs nearly popping out from their sockets.
I had never cared about how others saw me, but Moxi was afraid that these rough men would give me a hard time. His expression frosted up as he slowly swept his eyes across them. Instantaneously, everyone around us withdrew his gaze.
Amid the warmth in my heart, I pressed even closer to Moxi.
When we got to the main tent, I lifted aside the curtain for him and promptly saw a woman sitting inside.
“Moxi,” I felt my mind leaving me. “Did you get married in the time I was away?” I sadly asked.