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Another fake chapter to confuse bots/thieves — it’s a crap repost of chapter 1. Refer to The Real One for The Real One.
The first lifetime, a stone appeared, turning into the burial mound of a hero, feelings unable to be broken.
The second lifetime, a boulder split, ferrying a predestined love across the Bridge, a pair of mandarin ducks flying off together.
The third lifetime, a jadeite burned, vowing to abide by an invaluable oath, eternally following each other in life and death.
Flowers bloomed all across the opposite shore, blood-like. The River of Forgetfulness’s waters trickled quietly, going three-thousand years to the East, three-thousand years to the West. Wandering souls came and went, treading on the endless Yellow Spring Road to come up the Bridge of Helplessness, pour a bowl of yellow soup down into their bellies, and thus have the entirety of their assorted previous lives go away. A crowd of beings passed the edge of the Three-Life Rock to and fro, but none spared a glance towards the place. It was evident as to how reincarnation was little more than a trance.
Beside the Rock sat a person.
It was a man. Upon drawing closer, one could see he was wearing a wide-sleeved green robe with a crude bamboo flute stuck into its waistband, and also that he was between twenty to thirty years of age even though his head was full of silver hair, unbound and scattered about randomly.
The man had his back turned to the souls on Yellow Spring Road, his front facing that smooth Three-Life Rock. All he did was sit there silently, eyes closed. It was unknown whether he was asleep or awake, and he was seemingly completely unaware that someone had been watching him for a very long time now.
Hu Jia was a newly-appointed Ghost Messenger, and had traveled amidst the Yellow Springs for no more than forty years. From the very start of his memory, this white-haired man had always been sitting there, unmoving. Whenever Hu Jia came back and finished giving a report after handling an assignment at the human realm, he would regularly go and stand at that spot, staring at the man’s rearview figure for a time.
The yin realm was a world of demons. The yang realm was inundated with light, yet did not have any fewer demons than the yin realm did. Hu Jia’s state of mind would sometimes get beyond gloomy; gazing at that back that was as motionless as a mountain would, for a moment, calm him down in a strange way.
Suddenly, a deathly pale hand was placed upon Hu Jia’s shoulder. Despite being a Ghost Messenger, he inevitably felt a wave of coldness attack him from it, which caused his senses to viciously sharpen a tad. He swiveled his head around, only to have Bai Wuchang’s papier-mâché-like face come up before his eyes. Patting his own chest, Hu Jia turned and hurriedly bowed towards him. “Soulhook Envoy.”
Bai Wuchang slightly nodded in an abstruse way. His lips didn’t visibly move, but his voice was distinctly audible. “Go call out to him, state that the time has come, and request that he get on the Road.”
“Me?” Hu Jia felt a chill. He looked at the statuesque white-haired man, then looked at Bai Wuchang. “This… lowly one…”
“Go do it,” Bai Wuchang said mildly. “I hooked a person’s soul by mistake once upon a time, harming him with separation in both life and death. He’s an infatuate who has sought yet not obtained for several lifetimes, and hasn’t had a peaceful life for several centuries. He presumably isn’t willing to talk to me.”
“Got it.” Hu Jia didn’t dare disobey the Soulhook Envoy’s words. He hesitated a bit, then asked, “What… what should I call him by?”
Bai Wuchang only replied in a quiet voice after he had apparently been momentarily stumped. “Call him Lord Seventh, everyone else does. He’ll answer.”
Hu Jia hesitated no longer, walking over to the man.
When he had still been in the human world as a child, he had listened as his private school teacher told a tale. Long ago, there was a person of extremely good technique in painting. One day, he was casually scribbling a long dragon on a wall, but he did not do the eyes. Passersby that spotted this were puzzled, and when they asked, he just said that he feared that if the dragon’s eyes were to be drawn, it would then turn into an actual dragon and leave. The onlookers simply didn’t believe him, so the helpless painter was obliged to draw the dragon’s eyes on, and it did indeed then come alive, letting out a long howl as it flew up into the sky like a cloud; that was precisely the legend within ‘painting a dragon and dotting its eyes‘.
Hu Jia didn’t know why, but at this moment, he felt that… the quietly-sitting white-haired man was like a divine dragon whose eyes hadn’t yet been drawn, and it seemed like once he called out to and awakened him, that plot of land next to the Three-Life Rock would no longer be able to retain him.
He approached. The man remained unaware, sitting with his face towards the stone surface and his eyes closed as usual.
Hu Jia cleared his throat, taking great courage to reach out and lightly push on the white-haired man’s shoulder. “Lord Seventh, the Soulhook Envoy gave this lowly one something to come pass on; he stated that the time has come, and requests that you get on the Road.”
The man didn’t move, as if he hadn’t heard.
Hu Jia gulped, raised his volume somewhat, then got closer to the other’s ear. “Lord Seventh, the Soulhook—”
“I heard. I’m not deaf.”
Hu Jia stood there stupidly for a second, only reacting after half the day had passed. The man that was wholly unlike a living thing had actually opened his mouth and said words, as well as spoken them to him.
This ‘Lord Seventh”s voice was quite quiet and gentle, like the wave of a soft breeze blowing against one’s heart when in their ears. Immediately following that, he shifted a bit, his form as sluggish as if he’d been sleeping for a long time, and he moved his shoulders about. He opened his eyes with extreme slowness, casting a glance at Hu Jia.
Those eyes were absurdly clear and bright, their corners wide and outline distinct. They were curved up slightly as though they were containing a slight smile, a brilliance stored inside it, yet there was only a flash of it before it was swiftly restrained.
Hu Jia stared, thinking to himself about how this Lord Seventh turned out to be such a good-looking person.
The white-haired man sized him up for quite some time, then looked ponderous. “I don’t seem to have met you before…”
“This lowly one is Hu Jia. I am a Ghost Messenger of this underworld, and have only been at this post for not even forty years.”
The man was stunned, pinched his fingers to count on them, then shook his head with a smile. “I slept for so many years with just one shut of the eyes?”
He slowly stood up via supporting himself against the Rock, patted nonexistent dust off his form, and swept his wide sleeves out, all the flowers on the opposite shore seeming to loosely bend their heads in conjunction with his movements. When he turned to go and thus caught sight of Bai Wuchang not too far away, he wasn’t surprised, merely straightening out his sleeves and then overlapping his hands to modestly greet him. “It’s been more than sixty years since we’ve seen each other, right, Sir Envoy?”
Bai Wuchang paused. Though he still looked flat, Hu Jia felt that the man appeared to be a bit aghast. “This lowly one crosses the Bridge of Helplessness daily,” he then heard him say, “and has seen you every day, Lord Seventh. It’s only you that has never turned your head to glance at me for sixty-three years.”
The man blinked, then abruptly grinned. “Why is it that the Soulhook Envoy’s words contain a hint of complaint?”
Bai Wuchang lowered his head. “This lowly one wouldn’t dare to.”
Yet, the man was slightly taken aback. “This tone of yours… actually gives me the impression that I’ve offended you.”
“This lowly one wouldn’t dare be.” Bai Wuchang maintained his manner of speech that was even duller than a coffin. “Now that the time has since come, this lowly one requests that you come this way with me.”
“Hm, what time?” The man blinked. “Where are we going?”
“I ask that you go with me to enter this reincarnation cycle. Missing the time will not be good, as it’s already the seventh lifetime.” Bai Wuchang stopped briefly. “When this lifetime has passed, your karmic allocation with Helian Yi will then be exhausted. From this, dust returns to dust, earth returns to earth — you will not necessarily be entwined again.”
Once the two words ‘Helian Yi’ came out of his mouth, Hu Jia was startled. That was a name he had heard before; when he was still human, as a child, he had also studied at that private school. The old teacher was lecturing about history, and he specially brought up this Emperor of the former Dynasty’s resurgence period. Archaic old men seldom revealed their unbridled feelings of admiration, but he stated that the man had been born during both foreign and domestic struggles, was magnanimous and brilliant, had pulled the infrastructure from the brink of collapse by his power alone, and worked himself to his full extent; he was therefore a first-class wise sovereign throughout the ages.
He twisted his head around to look at this Lord Seventh, only to see his nice-looking pair of eyes staring straight in the direction of the River of Forgetfulness, saying nothing. Hu Jia stood at his lateral side, noticing that the man seemed to have a wisp of cloudy mist stored in his gaze, making one unable to make it out clearly, as well as displaying a somewhat vaguely listless feeling. That papier-mâché-esque face of the nearby Bai Wuchang was also hard to get hints off of. Hu Jia wasn’t sure why, but he could clearly sense that there was a layer of sorrow enveloping this Soulhook Envoy at present.
I hooked a person’s soul by mistake once upon a time, harming him with separation in both life and death, he’s an infatuate who has sought yet not obtained for several lifetimes, hasn’t had a peaceful life for several centuries, presumably isn’t willing to talk to me…
All of a sudden, he witnessed the white-haired man return to his senses, blink, and then turn to question Bai Wuchang with a bit of confusion. “Which one had Helian Yi been?”
It was like Bai Wuchang got choked. “He’s…”
The white-haired man thought hard about it, and, without waiting for the other to finish talking, slapped himself on the forehead when he had the epiphany. “Oh, you’re talking about him… I’ve got a little recollection. How is this still not over?”
Hu Jia’s expression slightly fractured — an infatuate who sought yet didn’t obtain for several lifetimes? Infatuate? This infatuate’s memory was a bit lacking.
The white-haired man glanced at him. As if understanding his internal thoughts, he leisurely explained things as he stretched out. “A human enters the Six Paths of Reincarnation, which is several hundred years passing in total, and they get reborn an unknowable amount of times. Their gender, age, name, and status frequently change; who’d remember them? Besides, I haven’t even been a human for several hundred years…”
His voice on those last few words was suppressed to a very low volume, and ended up transforming into a bit of an insipid smile on the margins of his thin lips. Gathering up his sleeves, he looked at Bai Wuchang. “If you didn’t say so, I would’ve simply forgotten. I’d machinated to my utmost back in the day, only for you to mistakenly hook Qingluan’s soul, thus having her die horribly and causing Helian Yi and I to have a falling out, right? No wonder you were afraid to speak to me just then.”
Bai Wuchang evaded his sight, head slightly bowed.
The white-haired man shook his head, came forward, and clapped Bai Wuchang on the shoulder all casual-like. “It’s been however long since that happened, yet you’ve thankfully still remembered it. A young prettyboy’s mind is indeed just as young.”
Hu Jia’s foot slipped out from under him and he nearly fell into the River.
The man guffawed.
One strip of the Yellow Springs, a hundred thousand ghosts, and everything else within the underworld all seemed to be echoing with his unbridled laugh. His slender figure had an unspeakably unrestrained aura, as if none of the Yama‘s Ten Courts were of any importance to him.
Hu Jia listened to Bai Wuchang lightly say, “This had formerly been a period of fated love spanning seven lifetimes. Due to my passing through at the time, I caused the two’s set destiny to change, and what should have been them growing old together instead changed into a clash that became animosity.”
Hu Jia was a bit shocked. “Fated love? He’s…”
“Have you ever heard of Prince Nan’ning before?”
Hu Jia couldn’t help but give an ah. “He’s… he’s…” So that’s why the Soulhook Envoy called himself ‘this lowly one’ towards this man; it turned out that he was that previous Dynasty’s Prince Nan’ning.
Bai Wuchang shook his head. “He didn’t pass thirty-two in his first life. He was too diligent, and already had a head full of white hair when he died, his obsession unchanged after his death. He refused to drink more than that one mouthful of forgetting water, then stood by the Bridge’s edge in painstaking wait for ten years, waiting for that person so they could enter reincarnation together…”
“Aren’t those who don’t drink Meng Po’s soup unable to be a human in the next lifetime?” Hu Jia asked.
Bai Wuchang nodded. “That’s why, in his second lifetime, he transformed into a flying bug. He flew beneath the lantern that person carried in the night, but unfortunately, they were an ignorant fool, and actually caught him between their fingertips and crushed him to death.”
Hu Jia didn’t know what to say.
“He waited for that man until the third lifetime.” Bai Wuchang and Hu Jia were articulating far behind that ‘Lord Seventh’. The Envoy’s voice was ant-like, repressed down low in his throat, yet each and every word was spat out with particular clearness. “That time, he was made into a black dog, which that person raised from youth. Because they suffered a downturn later on, though, they killed the dog to take its meat and eat it. The fourth lifetime, he was a pot of jasmine the person’s beloved gifted them, and was sat upon the windowsill. The person watered and tended to him with all of their heart, but after that, their beloved got married off to elsewhere. In their broken-heartedness, they turned around and moved away, ditching the jasmine at the abandoned residence where he withered and died. The fifth lifetime, he turned into an arctic fox. He was captured by them, kept in the inner residence, and provided them amusement, but because their concubine loved his fur, he suffered the pain of getting skinned…”
“What caused it to be like this?” Hu Jia stared, wide-eyed. “Each of the infinite matters of the world are karmic. He didn’t sow wickedness, so why…”
Bai Wuchang swept a look at him, shaking his head. “The calculation of karma isn’t something we can thoroughly grasp.”
“Then, after that…”
“After that, following his coming back, he successively drank three bowls of Meng Po’s soup beside the Bridge.” Bai Wuchang laughed sourly. “But, for reasons unknown, the soup — which washes away the memory of all people who drink it — was actually useless on him. The times he didn’t want to forget were contrarily forgotten, and the times he wanted to forget were contrarily remembered. He’s mocked himself for these truly endless several hundred years, as there were times where he couldn’t even think of his own original name, yet had to conflictingly remember the grime of those past happenings; because of the seven lifetimes, he calls himself Jing Qi. He waited out that Helian Yi’s sixth lifetime for altogether sixty-three years, and thus had sat facing the surface of the Three-Life Rock for just as long. Coming to this point, the foreordained seven-lifetime entanglement of Helian Yi and Lord Seventh has just one occurrence remaining.”
“No wonder,” Hu Jia realized. He raised his head to look at the one unhurriedly walking in the distance, getting the overall feeling that the incomparable infatuate described in Bai Wuchang’s mouth and this easygoing, uninhibited man were not one person. Yet, with that head full of white hair that was like a pile of snow flying loosely behind him, he also felt… that this was the world’s top-tier melancholic, destitute look.
Jing Qi stood still at the Pond of Rebirth’s border, waiting for the other two for a short time. When Bai Wuchang and Hu Jia came near, he asked them playfully, “Am I going to be a human this time?”
“One of great nobility,” Bai Wuchang replied.
Jing Qi peered at him, lip curled. “Great nobility isn’t necessary. Being unworried about food and clothing and unconcerned with the material world’s events is best. It’s fine enough to let me idly muddle around until my death, in any case.”
Bai Wuchang didn’t say anything more, merely stretching out his hand. “Please.”
Jing Qi nonchalantly cupped his fist towards them, smiled, and lifted his foot to step into the Pond.
Watching him about to go in, the non-hindering Bai Wuchang suddenly bit his own finger open, then crooked it. That bit of maroon oozed out of his ghastly pale fingertip and fell into the Pond, the entire body of water thus shining a blood red. Hu Jia suffered a start. “Envoy, what are you doing?” he cried out in alarm.
Bai Wuchang ignored him, mumbling composed verses, and extended his bloody finger to poke at the space between Jing Qi’s brows, who was in the pool and unable to evade him. The latter was dumbstruck on the scene, lifting his gaze upwards; that Wuchang was as vacant-faced as ever, and his eyes were as stagnant and dazed as ever, looking straight into his own. He felt himself seemingly get abruptly pushed by someone, and he submerged in an instant, someone’s soft voice in his ears. “Your destiny was ruined with me as the cause, and you were senselessly made to wander the world, suffering the utmost of hardships. I currently have no means of recompense other than to give up all of my cultivation, and change your hair in the next lifetime to black…”
Hu Jia witnessed Jing Qi’s figure quickly sinking down, dumbfounded. The Pond’s red was nearly otherworldly in that instant, but before he had the time to call out in shock, he caught sight of the water resuming its clearness, calm and with no ripples. It was like no one had ever come, nor went.
He slowly turned his head to the side, but Bai Wuchang had since disappeared, and all that was left was a piece of human-shaped white paper drifting downwards.
With a crackle, a shadow appeared out of thin air next to him, then stooped over to pick up the paper that had fallen to the ground. Hu Jia was startled, then quickly bowed towards him. “Netherjudge…”
The black-clothed man waved him off. “Forget it.” He could only watch as the paper abruptly caught fire within the Netherjudge’s hand, becoming a lump of ashes in no time flat. The man opened his palm to a wisp of blue smoke that looked like spiritual essence, though it did not go inside the Pond. “This cycle’s Bai Wuchang was not originally a person of the underworld, and had been doing nothing more than borrowing a temporary frame in wait for his destined person,” he explained upon noticing Hu Jia standing there dumbly. “Now, he ought to go.”
Hu Jia’s lips moved, seeming to have understood something, yet also seeming to have not understood anything at all.
The Netherjudge sighed, then immersed once again into the darkness in the same exact manner he had come.