Written by: Zi Xinyu
Translated by: timebun
Between the two banks of that other shore, the place where all souls return to, was where the cold and dismal Bridge of Helplessness stood.
I was watching spirits pass by in silence. Some of them were accompanied by another spirit, while others were alone. They walked along a path lined with blooming crimson flowers, like a bloody sea, moving step by step towards that evil bridge.
Even if they were unwilling, even if they tried as hard as they could to struggle and retreat, it wouldn't change anything around them.
The sight of those lonely figures slowly drifting towards the side of the Bridge of Helplessness filled me with laments.
Why can't this hell covered in red spider lilies continue all the way up to the horizon?
Kind Old Lady Meng, can I not drink that soup in your hands?
Can I not drink it…?
As conflicted as I was, my turn still came.
"Little miss, drink some soup. Forget everything. Your next life is a new beginning, without any earthly desires or pain."
"But what about that person in my heart?"
I asked, my lips barely moving. I couldn't bear to, I wasn't willing to forget.
He was the most pampered amongst the emperor's sons: the seventh prince. Although he wasn't the crown prince, he was still heaven's favoured child; all their blessings were given unto him. He was extremely handsome, brimming with talent, and envied by all the people of the world.
The most that had ever happened between the two of us was simply how he liked to listen to me play the qin. He kept saying that I was a friend dear to his heart, and when he had nothing to do, he loved to share his inner thoughts with me.
Occasionally, he would also lament to me that he was just a prince. No matter how favoured he was, he wasn't the crown prince.
I would also give voice to my own laments. Even though I was a famed courtesan in the capital, no matter how famous I was, I was still a prostitute.
I would be happy with him even if I could only be his concubine.
However, he spent his whole life chasing after fame.
Chasing after status.
The crown prince was a threat to his position, but as a woman, I didn't have the power to help him in any aspect.
So I tried to find a way to marry the crown prince, hoping that the seventh prince would understand what I was trying to do. I would help him, and I would finally be much more than a useless prostitute.
I would help him rise up to the throne. For his sake, using that crown prince would be nothing.
Thus, when the emperor died, he succeeded the imperial throne.
As for that crown prince…
We ended up with the same fate.
I wasn't resigned to my end. My love, I still owed him an explanation!
He was the one I loved, he was the one I was supporting, and I had even died for him. Now that he had finally become the emperor, I didn't even get the chance to ask him if he had loved me.
I wanted to explain that I had married someone else, not just for his sake, but because I loved him so dearly.
Old Lady Meng smiled faintly and said, "Do you see the waters below this bridge?"
"I see them."
"Do you see the stones in the water?"
I was stunned for a moment, "Stones?"
Old Lady Meng nodded, "Go down there and become a stone. Watch the great changes in the world for seven lifetimes. After seven hundred years, you'll be able to bring your longing with you as you reincarnate into a new life to look for him."
I cast an eye at the river and jumped in without any hesitation. Jumping into the ever-flowing waters of the River of Forgetfulness was like entering a formless world without any boundaries. Other than unending desolation, only the spirits of the dead were shuffling along on the bridge.
I watched the spirits on the bridge come and go. I didn't know where the waters of the river were flowing to, but luckily, I was just a stone. I couldn't be washed away, nor could I escape.
This place was to be my prison for close to a thousand years. Ever since I had jumped into the river, my fate for the next seven lifetimes had already been decided. Thus, I watched as souls entered the river and turned into stones. Thus, I watched as souls turned into crimson flowers lining the banks of the river.
O evil red spider lilies, so you were all waiting for someone too.
I lamented that there were so many men and women lost in love. From time to time, there would always be a few souls who were willing to transform themselves into material objects, thus forming the flowers along this river and the stones of all sizes within its churning waters.
As time passed, I finally got a name.
The Stone of the River of Forgetfulness.
…what a direct name.
I looked to my side. At some point in time, a new stone had appeared there. Or perhaps that stone had already been there all along. Water brushed lightly across his stone body and slowly glided over me. What a shiny stone, like a pearl. Who are you waiting for?
Seven lifetimes, seven generations, seven hundred years in the human world.
Although things change with the passage of time, it is also true that people can still change while things remain the same.
When I finally saw him again, he was already old and withered, his hair graying. Distress was etched into his face as wrinkles upon his brow, as if he had experienced a lifetime of change in the human world.
He was standing in line, yet his gaze was directed forwards. He glanced at the area near me, then under the bridge.
I've been waiting a hundred years all alone just to gaze upon you once more. Look at me over here.
Old Lady Meng smiled faintly, "Drink some soup and forget everything. Your next life is a new beginning, without any earthly desires or pain."
Following that was sudden silence.
I watched as he picked up that bowl of Old Lady Meng's soup and downed it in one gulp without hesitation. He drifted across the Bridge of Helplessness and entered the Wheel of Reincarnation.
Underneath the bridge, I didn't know whether to cry or call.
I could only sigh. Now that I was just a small little stone, I was so helpless, so depressed, and so fragile that a single blow could break me.
Spirits on the bridge, please move a little slower.
Please don't disturb my beloved on his road to reincarnation.
I hope that his next life will be free from hardship.
That he'll get a good family.
I'm only sorry that your first life was so short.
In the blink of an eye, we were already in the second lifetime. The spirits on the bridge continued moving forward as usual, while I remained under the bridge in solitude for two lifetimes.
Only to see that he had died in the prime of his life. He was waiting on the bridge for a beautiful woman. When she arrived, the two of them drank the soup with their hands linked. In a split second, they were the envy of all the souls on the bridge.
That girl's eyes were like limpid autumn waters, shining like the stars above, and it was that beauty that matched him perfectly.
He was still as handsome as always, with elegant brows and a slender body. However, that person he was holding in his arms, wasn't Lisui.
Under that bridge on that day, I couldn't voice out my unending sadness, nor did anyone know of the bitter pain in my heart.
My body was full of wounds and my heart was barely holding on. It couldn't be helped that he had already forgotten his previous life.
I managed to wait until the third lifetime, and my stone body had finally gathered some spiritual qi. I then stealthily jumped up onto the riverbank, more or less becoming a three hundred year old stone demon.
In this life, he was a general. He caused a fuss on both sides of the Bridge of Helplessness over his wife, refusing to drink Old Lady Meng's soup and refusing to enter the Wheel of Reincarnation.
A gloomy expression sat on his brows, coupled with obvious worry. What had happened to him? Who had made him so sad?
Old Lady Meng then asked him, "Why won't you drink?"
He said, "I don't want to forget her."
Thus, Old Lady Meng smiled faintly and pointed in my direction, "Do you see that stone?"
"I see it."
"That's the Stone of the River of Forgetfulness. It has already gathered three lifetimes' worth of spiritual qi. If you carve the names of you and your loved one on that stone, you'll remain a couple in your next life."
The joy brimming over in my heart dissipated, and I ended up with wounds all over my body.
I really shouldn't have come ashore. I really shouldn't have.
I had only wanted to get a little closer to him. I had only wanted, to be seen by him.
Now I really was closer to him, and now, he was looking at me.
That person by Bai Muchen's side wasn't called Lisui.
Amongst the stones in the River of Forgetfulness that had accompanied Lisui for three lifetimes, there was no Bai Muchen.
By now, three hundred years had passed.
Have you already forgotten my face?
Following that was the fourth lifetime, and the two of them really had remained a couple. Thus, they left another pair of names on me, smiling.
Right over my heart.
They carved their second pair of names.
The waters of the River of Forgetfulness seemed to churn a little more wildly that day, but they still weren't able to wash away the names of those two people.
Four lifetimes, four generations, four hundred years. All of a sudden, I felt like I didn't want to see their faces again.
Thus I quietly returned to the river and hid until the fifth lifetime, when the two of them quarrelled and broke up, even ending up swearing that they would never meet again.
He lamented about the worries and pains of the world on the bridge. He sighed as if his very heart had left him, as tears streamed down his face. That was his promise of love to her, through life and death.
He said, that if he couldn't be with her in the next life, then he would rather choose to die. He would rather choose to disappear, and thus he turned and leaped into the River of Forgetfulness.
I darted forward, agony in my heart, but I still managed to catch him in time.
As for him, he probably thought he just landed on a stone.
Thus, the five hundred years of cultivation I had accumulated while waiting, were exchanged for his next life.
He drank Old Lady Meng's soup once again and moved forth to his next reincarnation. He still continued his relationship with her, promising once again to become her husband!
As for me, my cultivation was dispersed and I reverted back to my original form of a little stone!
I wanted to scream hysterically, but how could a stone shout? I could only watch as they rekindled their love.
Finally, in the sixth lifetime, I had already waited for him a whole six times, but the two of them were still smiling as they returned. They had remained a loving couple even in their old age, and so, they stepped onto the Bridge of Helplessness once again.
I watched those two elderly people as they supported each other across the bridge. He held onto a crutch as she smiled. They looked just like a painting, piercing my heart and spirit with misery.
On the day that I reached the seventh lifetime and seventh generation, Old Lady Meng comforted me with a smile, "This is his seventh lifetime. You have the power to talk to him. You can tell him of your longing, or you can complain to him of the pain in your heart."
However, I was already devoid of any joy.
I had already loved him for seven whole lifetimes, how could I continue talking about the longing I held for him?
Thus, I smiled charmingly on that day and said, "Granny, I would like a bowl of soup."
Old Lady Meng smiled faintly and nodded.
I finally became human, and stepped onto the Bridge of Helplessness, just like he had. However, in the blink of an eye, seven hundred years had already passed and he had really forgotten all about me.
Those bright eyes only had space for that beautiful girl, filling my old stone demon soul with envy…
Thinking back to the love we had shared back then, it had already been washed away by the waters of the River of Helplessness under that bridge. The waters had also cleansed me of my desires and my hopes.
I had waited for a whole seven hundred years, but since he had changed, I no longer had the right to ask about the vow he had made in that life.
No matter what I had wanted to explain that day, or the truth I wanted to reveal.
My love had come too late.
However, why did I feel a trace of unwillingness in my heart?
That bowl of soup lay in front of me.
Old Lady Meng spoke up slowly, "Lisui, there's only one more lifetime left. You can bear your thoughts for him and finally fulfill your yearning. Why can't you wait any more?"
I smiled, "It's because of the pain in my heart. I can't weep, I can't cry, I can't speak; it's such terrible suffering."
After saying so, I lifted up the bowl in my hands and drank all the soup at one go.
I left behind my last words.
"After drinking this soup, will the names they left carved on my body disappear?"
Old Lady Meng shook her head, "Once that sort of thing has been carved, it'll remain for the rest of your lives."
Perhaps the soup was taking some time to work its magic. For some reason, I could only feel unbearable pain in my heart that I couldn't give voice to, ripping it apart from the inside.
I had already borne with his for seven hundred years.
Seven lifetimes and seven generations.
Why did those names have to remain carved into me for the rest of my lifetimes?
The rest of my lives…
Wouldn't it be better to simply let my soul disappear?
Thus, I threw myself into the River of Forgetfulness once again.
If that's so.
If I can't be with my beloved for the rest of my lives.
If I have to bless him and his new love for the rest of my lives.
Why don't I use the waters of the River of Forgetfulness to wash away those scars?
Even if my soul disappears forever, that's fine.
However, I didn't expect…
That I would land upon a stone when I jumped into the river.
I was stunned; this stone, why did it seem so familiar?
Thinking back on those seven lifetimes and seven generations, it had always been standing beside me.
"Who are you waiting for?"
I said slowly, my memory turning fuzzier and fuzzier, as if all my memories were being washed away. The flow of my memories slowly lessened… and my mind became empty…
The moment I forgot everything, I finally heard him speak.
"Since you're not going to wait any longer, I can finally stop waiting too."
It's hard to predict the great changes wrought in the world.
How would you be able to know that there'll be no one by your side when you cry in the future?
Seven hundred years ago.
The top courtesan of the capital married into the crown prince's estate.
The crown prince really loved her to the core.
He destroyed his good name, and gave up the crown prince's position all by his own will.
The whole world knew of his love for that courtesan, he loved her so much that he seemed to be bewitched.
But no one knew…
That when that courtesan had assassinated him for the sake of the seventh prince, she hadn't committed suicide after killing him.
Thus, he had embraced her.
A single sword.
Thrust through both their chests.
He knew that she had been using him.
He even knew that she had wanted to kill him.
However, why hadn't she put all her strength into her killing blow?
He even had to help her finish the deed.
Later on, on the two banks of that other shore, under the Bridge of Helplessness, within the River of Forgetfulness.
He watched over her for seven hundred years.
Thinking up to here.
He shed silent tears.
When souls reincarnate in the Chinese underworld, they have to cross the River of Forgetfulness on the Bridge of Helpfulness. Old Lady Meng stands there with a bowl of her soup. Drinking it makes you forget everything that happened in your previous life, allowing you to enter the Wheel of Reincarnation and into a new life.
You can read up more about the Chinese underworld and the eighteen levels of hell here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diyu#Eighteen_Levels_of_Hell
Read more about Old Lady Meng here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meng_Po