Epilogue: Death exists not
‘Remove her heart!’
Yanwang solemnly wrote down these words.
For the first time in my existence, I was kneeling in Yanwang’s palace and kowtowing to him.
In the human world, I had killed at least thousands of people and had thereby played havoc with the cycle of reincarnation. Having my heart removed was an already very lenient punishment. Yanwang had likely faced great pressure behind the scenes because of me.
Before I was sent to Purgatory to receive my punishment, the Black Guard of Impermanence sighed to me: “As a stone, it hasn’t been easy for you to gain some cognizance but now you’re going to have your heart removed… You’ll still be a spiritual being, but how will you be any different from a rock that can move?”
“Don’t I still have my brain?”
Black Impermanence continued to shake his head sighingly. Little Jia and Little Yi likewise carried a mournful expression on their faces. Only White Impermanence kept his everyday cold countenance: “Do you regret it?”
I knew what he was asking. Moxi should know by now that I’d returned to the underworld. He had now overcome his tribulations. As a god, if he were to plead for me, it was very possible I could avoid punishment. In the eyes of others, moreover, my being punished was mostly due to Moxi.
But he did nothing at all. He didn’t even come to see me in the underworld.
I gave some thought, shook my head and answered, “I have no regrets.”
I glanced back at the endless Yellow Springs. There, ghosts continued to descend, but all I saw were those glamorous yet lonely amaryllises on the roadside. Just like the day I first saw Moxi, sunlight from the land of the living was sprinkling over the ground, illuminating the flowers with its radiance.
“What a coincidence that I should see this scenery again. But what can I do?” I sighed and poked fun at myself: “Maybe once I lose my heart, I will come to regret it after all.”
White Impermanence said nothing more. He sent me to the place of punishment and then turned to leave.
The heart-removing process went by smoothly. The ghost who carried out my sentence acted with swiftness. By the time I felt the tip of the blade piercing into me, my warm beating heart had been taken from the cavity of my chest. Only until the wound was sutured did I feel any pain.
It turned out a stone without its heart could still ache.
There was a rule in the underworld that forbade the punished from receiving anyone else’s help. I thus crawled back into the Sansheng Stone by myself that day, blood coursing down my chest and dripping to the ground from my soaked clothes.
Later, while I recuperated inside the stone, Little Jia privately came to tell me that a certain fragrant flowers had grown from the trail of blood I left on the ground. Some called them plum blossoms. They were very pretty, he told me.
I didn’t believe him at first.
The underworld was a lifeless place. It had always been a land of the dead. Besides a few bored gods who occasionally came down to visit from Heaven, there had never been a living thing here. How could this hell grow its own flowers?
It was much later that I also began to smell the fragrance of plums from inside my stone.
“Sansheng,” Little Yi said to me, “you’ve been dwelling among these beautiful red flowers for so long that you’re almost no longer like us.”
I really didn’t know what he was talking about and didn’t bother to think about it. After my heart was removed, as though I had become much freer, those feelings of curiosity and reluctance all gradually faded. Only, I still sometimes saw Moxi’s image.
Nevertheless, I believed that as time slowly passed, this beautiful image would disappear from my mind one day.
Just as there would be a day when my chest wound healed and not even a scar remained.
When my wound got better, I was able to leave the stone and take a few short steps. Those plum blossoms everyone told me about had long withered.
I did not feel the slightest regret. More than ever, I was convinced that these things, be it the sunlight from the land of the living, the alluring and fragrant plum blossoms, or even Moxi who was as gentle as jade, should all become things of the past, things easily whisked away in the fluttering wind.
Life in the underworld went by not much differently from before. I continued to take my daily walk along the Wangchuan and lean against the stone to read books brought down from the human world each day.
The longing once concealed inside of me simply became a memory. Romantic stories also ceased to give my chest those throbbing beats.
One day, I returned from the Wangchuan riverbank. I looked up and again happened to see that figure standing next to me.
One of his hands was placed on the stone, his dark eyes gazing downwards. I couldn’t be sure what he was thinking, only feeling that everything had frozen with time in that stand-still moment.
“Moxi…” I parted my lips, faintly calling the two syllables I hadn’t called in a long time.
He slowly looked up at my call.
Seeing the face I hadn’t seen for so long, I couldn’t but bring my hand to my chest, to the empty place where no beating still resided.
But why was it that I couldn’t help wanting to cry?
And then it dawned on me. It wasn’t that I didn’t miss him, I was just forcing myself to not miss him, fearing the overwhelming memories would someday burst.
He was warmly smiling at me in my increasingly blurred vision. “Didn’t you say you want to seduce me? How can you hope to catch my attention with such a silly appearance?”
I stood motionless.
He smiled and held out his hand to me: “Sansheng, come over and let me take a look at you.”
My feet moved on their own to him. He stroked my hair: “Haven’t you always hated other people touching your hair?”
I honestly nodded: “That’s because it isn’t easy for a stone to grow hair.”
“Then are you upset that I’m touching your hair like this?”
I shook my head. “No, because you’re Moxi.”
His eyes crinkled in satisfaction. “You are now the God of War,” I said to him. “I can’t beat you anymore.” His hand suddenly paused, resting heavily on my hair. “Even if I could, I still wouldn’t be able to do it,” I told him.
“Don’t have the heart to?”
“Don’t have the heart to.”
He was quiet. He suddenly reached out to hold my hand, our fingers tightly interlacing. “Sansheng, come with me to Heaven. Since you love plum blossoms so much, how would you like to become the Plum Fairy?”
I looked up at him and saw that he was being perfectly serious. I knew he wasn’t joking. I unconsciously backed away in fright, wanting to break away from his hold. He tightened his grasp.
I suddenly panicked. “I’m only a spirit in the underworld, the Sansheng Stone that’s full of darkness. I shouldn’t go to Heaven. Moreover, I have now lost my heart…”
Moxi sighed: “Sansheng, you spent three lifetimes to chase me. Now that you’ve finally succeeded, you want to turn and run? This won’t do. I can’t let you go.”
“What… did you say?”
“You’ve caught me, Sansheng.”
I was dumbfounded.
Moxi took out a round glowing object from inside his lapels. “I wanted to wait a little longer before giving this to you.” He recited an incantation as the object in his hand blazed and, in an instant, vanished. Forthwith, warmth filled my chest. The warmth I hadn’t felt for a long time was diffusing in my chest once more.
Moxi had returned my heart to me.
Surging emotions suffocated my chest and sent aching warmth coursing through my body. “Moxi, I… I…” Tears filled my eyes. “I was born at the Wangchuan River so I’ve never truly lived. Since I’ve been in the land of the dead for so long, I’m afraid I won’t know how to be alive.”
He gently stroked my cheek. “This is the place that has nurtured Sansheng, and my Sansheng is the bravest spiritual being that I have ever known, so how can you not know how to be alive?”
“Sansheng, death exists not at the River of Oblivion.”
He softly caressed my hair. “Will you come with me to Heaven and do me the honor of being the God of War’s wife?”
“You’ve fallen for me, haven’t you?”
“Hook, line, and sinker,” he sighed.
I lowered my head and fell into his embrace, gently wrapping my arms around his waist and pressing my face against his chest.
“Is that a yes?”