Fang Zhao did not get to see anyone from the Wu family, nor did he return to the core cemetery area. It was almost his turn at the public worship area, and if he missed his number, he would not have the time to queue again. Paying his respects was more important.
Compared to the core cemetery area and the loose graves area, the public worship area was much more lively. There were a number of large and grand halls. The color theme was a solemn and ashen grey. Sculpted on the outside of the walls were murals depicting battles during the Period of Destruction.
The main hall was obviously more grand compared to the side halls. At the entrance were two thirty-meter-tall statues. The first being Yanzhou’s most famous character, Wu Yan, and the second… was Fang Zhao.
The words carved on the base of the statue were the same as the ones carved on the gravestones.
Back when Fang Zhao had been looking up the Cemetery for Martyr’s online, he had already found out that he was a door guardian of the place. However, seeing the statue personally gave him a complex mood.
The statue was molded after his image during the latter stages of the Period of Destruction. Just that, during the sculpting process, it was beautified. His facial features were made sharper and his muscles more defined. His cheekbones were raised and his eyes were enlarged. Although there were wrinkles and scars on the statue, it made him look like he was from the middle ages. Clad in his uniform, he looked bold and imposing. His head was raised, as if gazing at some far off battlefield, and he seemed as if he was watching over the land.
The expression on Wu Yan’s statue seemed milder and had more warmth. That image was quite similar to the Wu Yan of stories that were passed down from people that had actually seen him in person. During the period of the founding of the New Era, Wu Yan was smiling most of the time and gave off a friendly and amiable vibe. Even though the statue was not as sharp, it did not lose to its neighbor in terms of being imposing. This was the great person who had brought Yanzhou toward the New Era and had rebuilt their homeland.
The two statues silently watched over the people visiting the memorial halls everyday.
Qi’an city had many statues. Some were a means of signifying something, whereas others were meant for fun. Here, people respected these two statues that were a tribute.
Unlike music, sculptures had a sort of ability to inspire and impact people, and also they had the power to immortalize something.
Nothing was truly immortal. Immortality was just a relative concept.
Every era would give rise to a few immortal characters. Through events that were worth remembering, commemorating those times would immortalize those characters.
Never in his wildest dreams had Fang Zhao dreamt that he would become one.
Gazing at the statues for a while, Fang Zhao then headed over to the open-air waiting area.
Paying of respects was done at the main hall. The side halls were meant to serve as a place to rest. If there were many people, those who had obtained a number and were waiting for their turn could have a room to rest as they waited.
At the waiting area, seated next to Fang Zhao was a middle-aged couple. They were discussing which methods to use for paying their respects this year. From their conversation, Fang Zhao found out that they were mainly praying for their children, especially their eldest son who was in the midst of his military service.
"Hai.. I wonder if they are still digging now. Do you think they get a holiday on Memorial Day?" the lady kept repeating in a low voice. "It has been a while since we last heard from him. Has he been eating well? How is his health? Hopefully he gets a break on Memorial Day?"
The man patted his wife’s hand and comforted her. "It has only been five days since we received his video call. There are still five more days till we get his next video message. They will get a break on Memorial Day. Just that it is not going to be as extravagant. Most likely, they just take it as a day of rest."
During the period of military service, service personnel could not communicate with their family freely. They were limited to sending a video message to their families every ten days. Even if it was Memorial Day or any other holiday, they were not allowed to go home. All they could do was wait till their service came to an end.
On his way here, Fang Zhao had encountered many families in the same situation who were praying for the blessings of members in the military. Every year, there were lots of enlistees and thus lots of families who came to pray.
At the back was a group of youthful looking students discussing which posture they should pay their respects in so as to not fail in school.
For people in the New Era, all sorts of patterns had emerged from the simple custom of paying respects to the martyrs. There were even some people who believed that, even though the previous year’s wishes were unanswered, by changing the method, posture, materials, or even circumstances, their wishes might come true this year.
As he was watching his surroundings, Fang Zhao’s bracelet reminded him that his turn was up.
Following his reminder, Fang Zhao collected his ticket and entered the main hall.
The hustle and bustle from outside died off all of a sudden. The atmosphere inside the main hall was more tense and solemn. In the same area were many sculptures and projected images pertaining to the Period of Destruction. Some were photos of people, and others were scenes of events. These provided a brief introduction to the martyrs.
Fang Zhao spotted his own image. The photo was taken toward the end of the Period of Destruction. Fang Zhao appeared quite aged and sported many scars. He looked a little scary even though the photo had undergone some embellishment.
Fang Zhou doubted that he would be recognized even if his body from his previous life was standing right beside. He was different from the people who had survived till the founding of the New Era. He had not left many images, and those that he had left were not meticulously taken. During the Period of Destruction, there was no time to pick out clothes or choose suitable lighting or backdrops or even to pick a pose. Photographs back then were taken when they were in a situation where they could head out to battle at any time.
Looking at the ticket in his hand, Fang Zhao headed to area A in the main hall.
In the public worship area, area A contained smaller rooms. As Fang Zhao was alone, he was allocated to area A.
Following the number shown on the ticket, Fang Zhao found his assigned room and slotted his ticket into the machine at the door.
This was the first time Fang Zhao was paying his respects according to the customs of the New Era, and the experience was rather fresh for him. To ensure privacy, there were no monitoring devices or other people. The only thing in the room was a screen. Displayed on it were a few popular methods and recommended packages to pay one’s respects. Also on the screen was a guide on how to do so. Fang Zhao overlooked all of these and just selected an altar, a 500ml bottle of wine, and a retro wine bowl.
Although people had different practices and methods for paying their respects, they could purchase different items here at a cost. The screen was just like a self-service shopping machine. Whatever items were to be used as offerings or donations, all proceeds went to the yearly maintenance of the cemetery.
Fang Zhao did not change anything in the room. He had not even requested a cushion for kneeling. He held the wine in one hand and the wine bowl in the other. In the room was a holographic projection of a smaller core cemetery area. The giant tombstone only appeared two meters tall here, and the rows of tiny gravestones behind were glowing like stars.
Standing in front of the holographic projection, Fang Zhao knew that he was facing the huge tombstone of the core cemetery area. He stood there gazing at the projection of the giant tombstone followed by the rows of glowing gravestones behind it for two minutes before pouring the wine.
Fang Zhao poured the first bowl of wine straight onto the altar.
A toast to all who had lost their lives during that period.
Fang Zhao drank half of the second bowl and poured the other half onto the altar.
A toast to all the old comrades he would never get to see again.
Fang Zhao downed the entire third bowl in a single mouthful.
A toast to himself!
After the three toasts, Fang Zhao put down the wine and bowl. Taking a last look at the projection of the tombstone, he turned and left. Before leaving, he donated a million dollars. He did not need to purchase any of the virtual items to use as offerings. Directly choosing to donate was easier and more straightforward.
Other than the room, Fang Zhao did not take a look at any of the other furnishings in the main hall, instead just leaving and passing by the plaza on his way out.
Many people were walking about in the plaza. Children were playing under the sun with bright smiles on their faces. In the plaza, a shopping area had been specially set up. A few small shops were lined up and people who were passing through would stop to browse through their wares and purchase a few souvenirs.
"It has already been more than 500 years!"
Fang Zhao once again was clearly reminded of this fact.
He was no longer the Fang Zhao of that apocalyptic period. Now that he was a person from the New Era, he should no longer cling on to the past. No matter how hard others wished, they would not get a second chance like him. He should look forward and appreciate the new and prosperous world.
Looking at the atmosphere in the plaza, Fang Zhao uncontrollably let out a smile. He might not have gotten to see the day the New Era was founded, but he got to experience and live in the glorious new world 500 years later.
"Hey brother, two commemorative paintings for you?"
A shout from a nearby vendor woke Fang Zhao from his daze and he glanced over.
This temporary stall had many paintings of all sizes on display. This small stall specially sold paintings. These vendors were the staff in charge of cleaning and maintaining the cemetery on normal days. Every year during this period, they would double up as vendors and peddle items in a designated area of the cemetery.
There was only one main religion in the New Era, and that was believing in the martyrs who founded the New Era.
The people did not believe in gods, and yet, whether it was due to common folk coming up with the practice or merchants finding the opportunity to push their sales, the people adopted the practice of pasting two paintings beside their doors. It was to commemorate and also to pray for blessings at the same time.
What was there to paste?
Of course it was the portraits of the heroes from the Cemetery for Martyrs.
Noticing Fang Zhao’s interest in the commemorative paintings, the vendor's smile widened. "Come take a look. This year’s latest, drawn by a famous designer. Waterproof and dirt-resistant. We are the only place in the entire world selling this new design. You can buy one to stick in your office or home. Even if you don’t use it, it makes a good gift for relatives and friends!"
The vendor rattled on trying to market his goods. Fang Zhao was a little distracted. Pointing to the two paintings in the vendor’s hands, he asked, "Who are they?"
"You don’t recognize them?" The vendor exaggeratingly dropped his jaw before breaking out into an earnest smile. He thought that Fang Zhao had bad eyesight. Pointing to the two paintings, he exclaimed, "The two heroes guarding the doors of the Main hall, The great general Wu Yan and Commander Fang Zhao."
"..." Fang Zhao felt as though he was choking on a glutinous rice ball.
Unlike ordinary people, the staff of the cemetery had to be familiar with information pertaining to the martyrs. Closing their eyes, they could recite at least a hundred names, and not just the more famous characters. This was a test the staff of the cemetery had to go through every year. Who would even work in the cemetery if the staff could not even recognize the martyrs?
Once the vendor’s lips started moving, they would not stop. Other then introducing the "main hall heroes," he went on to talk about other heroes and elaborated on their glorious feats that were recorded in history books. He went on and on passionately as if buying a painting was like bringing back a god of war.
Fang Zhao looked through the vendor’s other paintings without a hint of expression. The art that was made into commemorative paintings, although slightly exaggerated, still brought out the features of the person—for example, a large moustache, a clean-shaven head, or a mole—as long as it suited them.
As for Fang Zhao’s portrait, the scars on his face were still there. But under the watchful hands of the artist, he looked less menacing. Fang Zhao admired the artist’s ability to be able to accomplish that.
What the heck was that red cape? Since when had he worn it?!
Watching Fang Zhao eye that painting, the vendor went on. "This year, there are a few new painting styles for the main hall heroes. Lots of people have bought them. Even if you don’t intend to paste them somewhere, they can be kept as a means of commemoration as well. Oh, there are others too, all famous heroes from our very own continent. Both from the Period of Destruction and the New Era. All these are also the year’s latest designs. Take a pick if you have any family members who are descendants of martyrs."
Using his fingers, Fang Zhao browsed through the stalls entire collection. "These paintings of heroes, regardless of the styles, I would like to have one set each. As for Fang Zhao… give me ten each."
"Sure thing!" The vendor grinned and diligently proceeded to pack his order.