Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Love Story for All Time

Death of Guo Jing

Words and phrases blend together, so many sounds - the meanings hardly matter now. "I don't think he'll make it." "The Heavens are cruel." "He's so young..."

Out of the cacophony comes her voice. So close to death now, he's not even sure who she is: only that's she's there, and speaking. And that's all that matters.

"Birth is no beginning. Death is not an end." She's quoting Huangzi now... funny he should remember that of all things. Then comes something wet. Can barely feel it. Her lips? Tears? "I love you..." Barely heard, spoken in sadness, these words harken to memories - now dying - of words spoken not so very long ago in passion. They are the last words he hears before death.

He dies. She cries.

Such is the world under Heaven.

Arrival of Liu Feng

Dawn, and life, break upon a new day. Birds chirp innocently in the trees - the lives, the mountains of dead from past eons mean nothing to them. Birds only wish to sing.

Liu Feng stands atop the swaying tip of a bamboo tree, a vast green carpet stretching forth across hills, far as the eye can see. A pagoda, rises out of the hillside in the distance. Its red paint glistens in the sun, a single point to break the undulating sea of trees.

How long? Trying to count the grains of sand, they slip through his fingers. How many years? Whole lifetimes blend together. The ebb and flow of dharma, the Will of Heaven, the flow of Fate itself... he can feel it. Past, present, future - life and death - all coming together, all coming into focus here and now...

Finally, after so very long...

Waaaoooosh! He leaves the swaying bamboo behind as he takes to the air, his white robes and hair fluttering freely in the breeze as he glides gently to the ground just outside the pagoda.

He breathes deeply. The thought that this moment, long imagined, should become real. Even now, the world could sometimes surprise him.

Xiao Zhiwei's Story - The Underworld

Niu Tou and Ma Mian - the ox and horse demon guardians of the Underworld thrust their flaming spears; fast as lightning bolts, their thrusts resound with the crackle of thunder: the halls of the dead quake.

The huddled masses of the penitants watch in stunned silence as the young white-robed woman, far from being cleft in twain by the demon-gods instead brushes their blows aside as nothing. "Guo Jing!" If ever frantic desperation were in a voice, it is in hers: a running fight with the guardians of hell itself, searching thousands of faces.

Racing through the crowds she doesn't see the face, so many people, so many lives rush past in a blur; whole lifetimes of hopes and dreams pass by her; words, dreams and memories all tender and sweet, soon to be lost forever: they mean nothing to her. For her, there is only one face and one life that matters.

She almost doesn't see the cliff until she is upon it's very edge, stopping only just in time. Beneath is light and rising out of it is the Great Wheel, upon which life and death are forever perched.

"You are too late." His hands clasped behind his back, the Great Judge himself, Yanluo, Great King Yama - call him what name you will - stands beside her as though he's been there all along.

And then like clouds parting, through throngs of people waiting for their place on the Great Wheel to come, she sees him. The two demon guardians no longer attack, they bow before their lord and silence once again reigns in the land of the dead.

Yanluo grave voice intones. "He has already drunk from Meng Po's brew of Forgetting."

Guo Jing stares back at her, no sign of recognition on his face.

He turns away again as a tremor signals that the Great Wheel is about to turn once more.

Zhiwei's tears do not move Yanluo, as the God of Death he has waded entire oceans of them.

The Abess Zhang Hua

Sounds outside the door, someone is irritated and yelling: such commotion!

"This is the place!" A man's voice; its been so long since the abbey had heard one. One of the younger sisters are protesting. "You musn't disturb the abess!"

The doors to her chambers are flung open unceremoniously to reveal a young man standing wide-eyed in the door. "No..." Is all his voice can manage.

Lying upon her deathbed, it is all she can do to ask what the commotion is about. The man, she doesn't recognize him, is by her side in moments.

"I can't believe this..." He is saying, looking upset. Should she know him? He doesn't look familiar at all. Maybe the son of someone she knew? So many people to try and remember... nothing comes. The other girls are talking now, so many people crowding into her room. Can't an old woman get some rest even on her deathbed?

"Master Liu, can you save her?" Why would she want to be saved? To be an old crone forever - not for her, no way. The young man had her hand now, feeling her pulse, somehow though, she could tell from the look on his face their minds were one on this matter.

He is, she thinks, quite good looking... when the light hit him right. She smiles inwardly at this. He was talking to her now again, crying even. Now why would a young stranger be crying over an old nun like her? It didn't make any sort of sense. And he was jabbering nonsense too, she realized.

"You don't remember me, but I cheated death itself just to be with you. And I see you waited for me... and I looked, believe me, I never stopped. looking. It's just the world's so big, and I didn't know where you were, or how old, or even who you were but I'm here now..." It was hard to follow exactly what he was saying; gibberish mostly.

And then he said something else, something that struck her somehow... the words, the tone - it just seemed... familiar: familiar and important.

"I'm going to make you a promise."

The Underworld II - Guo Jing's Story.

"A promise?" He stares, wondering just who this girl is who has stormed the gates of hell itself and was now standing in front of him holding his sleeve and looking fierce. She is, he reflects, quite beautiful... when the light hits her right.

"Yes. You don't remember me - but I love you. Anyway..."

"It is almost time. Your judgement has been rendered. You will be reborn in 100 years..." Yanluo began reading of the details of Guo Jing's sentence.

Ignoring the God of Death, Xiao Zhiwei continues. "Anyway, that's not the promise you need to remember..." She inhales deeply, brushing aside a stray tuft of hair. "... what you need to remember - and this is very important - is that whatever happens after this, I'm going to find you. Through heaven or hell, through good or evil, in this life or the next...I will find you. And we'll be together."

Guo Jing stands on the precipice of life and death listening to a young woman he doesn't even know swear undying love to him while the God of Death stands over her shoulder trying to hurry them along. Perhaps it was the scenery, perhaps it was the girl looking out of place, and spouting words so silly and so earnest; she was like a shout of life amidst the ashen faced throngs of nameless dead. Doubt, wonder, he's uncertain what to think about this crazy girl...

"You do him no favours tainting his next life like this - it is time to go." As the lord of death speaks the words the Great Wheel begins to turn once more.

Guo Jing turns away from the girl once again, probably - he reflects - for the last time. Clean slate, a new life. Whatever that moment before was its going to disappear anyway...

And then something unexpected happens. Just as he's stepping forward, a hand seizes him and before Guo Jing, Yanluo, or his two minions can do anything the star-crossed lovers go plummeting over the cliff together.

"You're going to remember me!" Is she laughing!? In freefall Guo Jing can see the smile on her face, and the look in her eyes... and just as they are swept up in the Wheel of Rebirth, before he can make any sort of reply, she kisses him...

For a hundred and twenty years through time.


Voices fade into background noise, drifting away like a bottle out to sea. Out of it all, there's a single, crystal clear voice; his voice. So close to death, she's not even sure who he is. But he's there, and that's all that matters.

"Birth is no beginning, death is not an end..." Funny, she feels like she's heard this all before.

And then come the last words she hears before death.

And Great Wheel turns once more.


Shawn of Major said...

Ah romance...
and the Yama kings.
I'd say it's a winning combination but it never seems to work out for anyone very well.
Except the Yama Kings.

Shauna said...

I admit, I wasn't planning on reading this because it is so long (I didn't have time to read even the short ones before now), but I'm really glad I did read it. This was a great story. Sad, but a good read.