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Auspicious clouds bore down on three grand palaces that glowed in the skies above. I think the memories that I lost from that time were thoroughly erased, so I spent many years in complete darkness.
Back then, humans didn’t call upon celestial phoenixes. Not that it was very hard to call for one, but with their paltry cultivation states, they could only manage to call out a single phoenix with difficulty using two people. The one that came would have to be a bird that took pity on the humans and had the compassion to help them. If it was this hard for two people to summon a live phoenix, imagine how much harder it’d be for a single person to create one successfully.
Birthing a Fang Hua Beast from a piece of wood was similar to reviving a phoenix from nie wood–two different approaches that produced equally satisfactory results. All across the Heavens, it was only the Nine Spirits Sovereign Goddess who could manage such artful magic. She was also the only one who could bring forth a live phoenix from nie wood.
I was none other than that Nine Spirits Sovereign Goddess. Even the esteemed High Immortal Zhao of Omens had to respectfully refer to me as ‘auntie.’ From seas to mulberry fields and back again was just a blink of the eye for me.
I sprawled on the ground by the Immortal’s Pool, peering at my reflection in the water. The face I wore now only resembled my original one slightly.
“The Jade Emperor said it was about time you woke up,” the Immortal of Fates laughed as he stood to one side. “I calculated with my fingers. When I saw that they were preparing to burn your body, I brought your spirit here.”
The High Immortal Zhao of Omens wiped a forehead full of sweat. “Auntie, I didn’t know it was you. I’d rather burn myself than scorch a hair on your head.”
To be honest, I didn’t know I had the chance to find back my immortal roots, either. I didn’t blame High Immortal Zhao for not recognizing me, especially when this body barely resembled my old looks. The rest of it was extremely pretty.
I remembered when I slept as the Nine Spirits Sovereign Goddess in a cave for tens of thousands of years during the era of Chaos. When I woke up, I had thoroughly understood the universe’s mysteries and had climbed onto the path of immortal cultivation. Stretching lazily, my eyes blinked away tens of thousands of years’ worth of gunk and I made my earth-shaking way to the Heavens.
At that time, things weren’t as lively as they were now. A few ancient immortals always said it was rare to see Great Immortals in the courtyard, so there were no amusements. They spent their days staring at the clouds and wishing for another celestial being to appear and be their friend. It was nothing like now, where cultivation had to meet with a few strikes of tribulation lightning to continue.
Speaking of this heavenly lightning, I couldn’t help but lodge a complaint. High Immortal Zhao was such a handsome youth before he became an immortal. Because of those three strikes of lightning, his looks were ruined in the time it took for me to open and close my eyes. Now he looked both hoary and old.
I’m getting off-topic…
Speaking of looks, I was more sloppy than others. My clansmen had naturally androgynous physiques, but I spent tens of thousands of years as a woman who couldn’t stand those blushing and shy immortal types. Still, I was unmistakably female, down to my very bones. I didn’t realize that the strange immortals who gathered to see me by the Southern Heavenly Gates would respectfully call me a sovereign instead. So it seems, that even a person born female could be made into a male sovereign god. You should see how refined I looked in the mirror, like a jade tree facing against the wind.
Remembering up to this point, my body couldn’t help but shift as I gathered some pond water and cupped it in my hands like a mirror. My actions surprised the Immortal of Fates so much that he dropped his chin to stare at me with wide eyes. High Immortal Zhao had to deeply reconsider for awhile. My face turned red as I coughed and drew my hand back. “I’ve looked at this face for so long that I’ve grown used to it.”
“You’ve been suffering for someone else’s sake these past few years. I didn’t expect you to meet with multiple disasters in the human world and suffer through multiple reincarnations. You’ve been completely reborn each time.” the Immortal of Fates nodded his head righteously. “No wonder Zhao of Omens didn’t recognize you.”
For the bold and upfront me to be reincarnated into such a delicate, fragile body was something neither them nor I could foresee. What a sad story it was…
“Speaking of which, it was the Immortal of Fates that gave me such good lives.”
He only smiled back. “This is old news, why bring it up? I don’t know if the Sovereign Goddess still remembers that Fang Hua Beast?”
“How could I forget?” I said with a long sigh.
The Immortal of Fates seemed to have brought up my heartache for no reason. After I achieved immortality as the Nine Spirits Sovereign Goddess, I wasn’t used to the cold and cheerless heavenly palace. Everyday I loafed about and made a mess of disturbances around the place. For thousands of ten-thousands of years, not one as strange as me had been born. All of the ancient immortals said I was young and inexperienced as they refused to argue with me. Actually, I thought I was genuinely steady and seasoned. Despite this, even an experienced person like myself had a serious stumble over the issue of ‘sentiment,’ enough to let me live through various emotional lives on earth.
Over 10,000 Years Ago
The Fang Hua Beast that the Immortal of Fates had mentioned was the cause of all these emotional lives. Back then I wasn’t steady enough for the Jade Emperor, who didn’t grant me any titles or offer me a post in any office. I lived my carefree days in leisure, frequently paying visits to the other immortals in hopes of making friends and confidants. But as time passed, I became aware of something wrong.
Besides the Moon Goddess Chang’e calling me her sister in our conversations, the Celestial General’s celestial grandchildren considered me their brother, one calling me Brother Spirit Sovereign, the other Nine Spirits Little Sovereign Brother.
I was very disconsolate.
They couldn’t even tell whether I was male or female, so this wasn’t a deep friendship at all. Slowly, I re-focused my warm hearted zeal on raising mythical beasts instead. On a typical day, I’d take care of the Most Exalted Lord Lao’s ox to the daoist deities’ flaming qilin… Not one of them escaped my attentions, until it got to the point that the Dragon King’s third crown prince would detour out of the way when he spotted me. The Immortal of Fates would often sigh, “Loving beasts to your extent is a rare sight to see.”
“That’s not true, it’s just my weakness for animals. You’re praising me overmuch, really.” I cupped my hands before my chest in obeisance. At that time, the Immortal of Fates had just been conferred the title of one who manages destinies. He used to be a bit stiff before, but now he loved to walk around my estate and play with the mythical beasts I raised. Oftentimes he’d talk to me about those furballs with a yearning look. As for me, I loved raising animals and had plenty of four-footed beasts and birds in my domain. But I didn’t love those with fur. So when he started rambling, I never paid much attention but answered him carelessly.
“None of the animals you’re raising now are rare,” the Immortal of Fates said after a pause. “I heard that after the Goddess Nüwa went through her disasters on earth, something stuck to her skirt on her way back. She was about to throw it away when I recovered it for you.”
“Was it a mythical beast? I don’t want it if it has fur.”
“If it was a furball, I’d raise it myself,” the Immortal of Fates laughed lightly. “Of all the furless beasts I know, he’s the rarest and cutest one.” He sneakily brought out a tree branch from his sleeve and offered it to me.
“You’re not trying to fool me, are you?” I knitted my brows, staring blankly.
“You’ve known me for so long. When have I ever tricked you?” the Immortal of Fates said, rolling the round, chubby stick in his hands a few times before it rolled before my feet. “Take a closer look.”
That branch was mellow and full, red with spots of black in the wood. Pinching it between my fingers, I could sense a thin strand of spiritual essence emanating from within. But after being stuck to Goddess Nüwa’s skirt and spending time with the Immortal of Fates, having some lingering essence was natural.
“There’s a Beast who can take on human form with pale white skin that emanates a fragrant scent. He also has a teardrop-shaped cinnabar mole by the corner of one eye. When the Beast dies, it burns itself out in a sea of flames and turns back into dead wood. With these details, you should know what I’m talking about, right?” the Immortal of Fates gave me a significant look.
I figured out what he meant and lowered my head with sparkling eyes. “Do you mean the fabled Fang Hua Beast?”
“Good eyes. This very object contains the soul of a Fang Hua Beast. They say it’s capable of distilling tens of thousands of worldly poisons.”
“It’s a shame that’s it’s already died and turned back to wood.”
“That’s not necessarily the end. If you plant the wood in soil and feed it a mixture of crushed medicinal plants and flowers with morning dew, you might be able to grow another exceptional Fang Hua.” There was an expression of fascination on the Immortal of Fates’s face before he looked my way. “Where are you going?”
“I’m going to find some soil and raise him.” I replied simply.
“It was just a legend. You’re really going to try?”
“Didn’t you bring him here just so I could?”
One month later, I stood in my courtyard watching the Fang Hua Beast flourish in the dirt. I couldn’t help but feel happy enough to open my doors and dragged every friend I knew into the yard to praise the Fang Hua wood.
“Look at how bright it is after growing in the dirt! Isn’t it even redder than the eyes of your furball back in the Moon Palace?”
“He’s not my furball, but my Jade Rabbit,” Chang’e replied with tears in her eyes.
Two months passed.
“Immortal of Fates, look at how cute this little fellow is. The wood’s sprouted four limbs.” I crouched on the ground, pulling him down to showcase my treasure. “Take a closer look, these four lumps look like arms and legs.”
The Immortal of Fates grew thoughtful for a while before pointing at a different place. “But what’s that tiny lump down there, half buried in the dirt?”
“I think it might be a tail,” I said hesitantly.
“Fang Hua Beasts don’t have tails.”
“Well, they’re male animals, right? Then maybe that spot is his…”
My face turned red. The two of us suddenly fell silent and stopped talking.
Three more months passed.
Under the bright sunlight, the heat inside the courtyard was intense. My armadillos and qilin led a group of mythical beasts to rest by the well, dozing with their eyes shut. Still, not one of them dared to approach it. Beneath the shade of a tree by the ancient well was a strange, nameless wood that differed from all the other trees in the courtyard. It didn’t have delicious celestial fruits or even any branches, but bore a white and delicate baby. When a breeze blew through the courtyard, it ruffled the hairs of the child, whose chubby hand twitched before he inserted a finger into his mouth. He was like a beautiful little prince.
Another mythical beast with the form of a four-winged singing snake stared at him as if enthralled, circling around him before suddenly swooping towards the branch. Before he could even get close to that child, a barrier flung him back with his feet in the air. Of course, a snake didn’t have feet, so he just rolled around a few times before flying towards the Fang Hua Beast again. Once more, he was flung away to roll about the ground. An armadillo cracked open an eye at the strange sight, before tucking its head beneath its front claw and going back to sleep.
The four-winged singing snake tried less than ten times before the shining photosphere above the child pelted him to the ground. Finally, he climbed shakily onto the floating sphere, his dirty belly hanging above the little child’s head, and contentedly rubbed against the ball of light.
A passing immortal child observed, “This snake probably thinks the the Fang Hua Beast is the Sovereign Goddess.”
A fellow immortal friend had a different idea. “With the Sovereign Goddess watching after the Fang Hua Beast day and night, it’s normal for the Fang Hua Beast to carry some of her immortal qi as well. If you look closely, you’ll see that this child’s face is fine and delicate, especially with that bright red mole at the corner of one eye. It’s an excellent detail.”
Another immortal friend mused, “Day after day, he grows more and more handsome. This Fang Hua Beast really looks quite celestial.”
And then a crowd of immortals assembled by the well to study him for awhile, filling the courtyard with their divine light and celestial auras. I couldn’t help be feel gratified watching the scene.
Four more months passed.
By now, the Fang Hua Beast had completed transformed into the shape of a young child. He had a soft, thick head of hair and fine, unwrinkled skin as fair as white jade. Across all of Heaven, there was no other child as cute as he. I sat on a mat of woven cattails with my chin on my hands, observing his face as I mused, ‘I’m already considered attractive and charming, yet you’ve eclipsed my beauty. How irksome.’
A qilin that I’d been ignoring recently anxiously took my robes in his mouth and tugged. In an instant, a part of the robes were scorched black. I kept my careful gaze on Fang Hua as I spaced out, reaching out to pat the young qilin’s head. Instead, I petted the armadillo instead. The qilin was used to people holding his head in their heads, and balked at such ill-neglect. He couldn’t help but fly into a rage from shame and spurt out a mouthful of feeble flame. The fires stopped just outside the spherical barrier surrounded the little Fang Hua, but gave the sleepy four-winged singing sleeping on its surface a nasty fright. His tail wrapped around the barrier as his body slithered down in a panic, completely forgetting the fact that he had four wings as well.
Before my eyes, my singing snake was on the verge of turning into a singed snake.
I clapped the qilin’s head and hastily covered his fire-spewing mouth. The startled snake gave out a cry and stiffened its body as it hurried down. Even a simple cry like his carried a bright and sonorous tone. Fang Hua was obviously frightened by this sudden strange noise, his body shaking in response. When I looked back at him, he’d fallen straight onto the ground.
The little Fang Hua opened his eyes for the first time and peered at me with round, bright, panic-stricken pupils. His mouth curled up as if nursing a huge grievance. Before he could start crying, I quickly picked him up and coddled him into my arms. The little fellow’s tiny fists gripped my clothes tightly. After all that fuss, he didn’t cry, but buried his face inside my robes. The bright red mole by his eye was tender and lovable. I suddenly had a feeling of satisfaction. From planting the wood to raising it successfully, a full 10 months had passed.
“He’s been born, he’s been born! Most Exalted Lord Lao, Immortal of Fates, come look! Though he lacks my heroic spirit, he’s still outstandingly handsome.”
The Most Exalted Lord Lao usually conducted himself uprightly, but even he couldn’t hold onto his dao whisk at this moment. He peered at the naked child in my eyes before he spoke. “I’ve never seen you make a move in all these tens of thousands of years.” Then his eyes shifted to my stomach with a dumbfounded stare. “When was he born?”
“I haven’t seen the Nine Spirits Sovereign Goddess this happy even when she asked the Jade Emperor for the Grave Guardian Beast. She’s really given too much care into this little Fang Hua,” the Immortal of Fates said, smiling at Most Exalted Lord Lao.
Lord Lao followed with a smile of his own.
The young Fang Hua suckled on my fingers with his mouth, his tongue wrapping around my index finger as he chewed and chewed without teeth. I patted his behind and he burped. Crinkling my eyebrows, I turned to Lord Lao.
“I have a favor to ask of you.”
“Go on and speak, there’s no harm.”
“Thanks to a stroke of luck, this Fang Hua Beast was brought to Heaven. His name hasn’t been recorded in the Book of Celestials yet, so I don’t know if it’d be possible for him to cultivate the Dao from you.”
“That’s easily done. But as the Nine Spirits Sovereign Goddess, your own cultivation base is very high. Why not teach him the path of cultivation yourself?”
“I’m ashamed to say it, but I haven’t studied anything worth remembering. The Heavens were kind enough to let me ascend as an immortal in spite of this. When anyone in the divine realm speaks of the Dao, they all know that Most Exalted Lord Lao is the most erudite speaker. If you can lend a bit of your knowledge to this little one, then it’s definitely fortune cultivated from his previous lives.”
Lord Lao was satisfied with my answer and replied, “I’ll wait for this Beast to grow into human form.” He looked again at the child, who had switched from gnawing on my finger to my waist sash and looked very much like a human. Abruptly, he raised his hand in a rough measurement of height. “When this child is about this tall, bring him to me.”
I gave him no amount of thanks.
The Most Exalted Lord Lao was very pleased as he went back to his home.
“I don’t know who was it that said that old man’s prattling put people to sleep, but I didn’t expect the Nine Spirits Sovereign Goddess to esteem him so much. Your admiration has been hidden deep,” the Immortal of Fates smiled as he raised his tea.
“Truly, what one thinks isn’t what another believes,” I stroked the head of the gnawing Fang Hua, feeling a bit troubled at heart. “This child isn’t like any child of other realms or the mortal world. I really don’t know what to feed him. Originally, I wanted to give him to Lord Lao so he could raise him for me at his place with elixir pills, but he was too sharp-witted.”
The Immortal of Fates covered his mouth with his hand, suddenly choking as he caught a fit of coughing. With hooded eyes, he replied, “You’re worry too much. This Fang Hua Beast didn’t come from Heaven, so you should be fine feeding it anything. Whether or not he lives will depend on his constitution.”
As it turned out, Fang Hua’s constitution was excellent. His grow was quick and abrupt like nothing I’d ever seen before. I raised him on the fine jade-like wines of the Heavenly Court.
One month later, he had the appearance of a three-year-old child. With a white jade bowl in his hands, he delicately drank the rainwaters and dew. Chang’e couldn’t help but lament over his state, saying that I only let such a tiny child drink fine wine and rainwater, how evil. Afterwards, she commanded her celestial cricket to bring me cassia honey and two peaches of immortality from the Moon Palace with repeated warnings before he left on his cloud. I couldn’t help but drool as I looked at those vivid, juicy peaches. Legends had it that these were gifts from the Queen Mother at her last banquet, but Chang’e had left them as offerings to the altar for many years without bearing to eat them. This was a huge gift. I hugged the peaches and caressed them over and over again. By the time I recovered my senses, there was nothing but two peach pits left in my palm.
“The Nine Spirits Sovereign Goddess ate them all?” Fang Hua stepped on tiptoes to cling to the edge of the bed, shyly looking at me. “Were they tasty?” I suddenly felt as if I’d committed a grave sin.
“They were fine, but not very tasty. They can’t compare to Heaven’s flowers.”
Fang Hua nodded his head as if enlightened. The next day, I saw him lying on a tree branch in the courtyard, earnestly plucking flowers to eat. Seeing me come over, he gracefully wiped his face and adjusted his robes before offering me a commentary.
“They smell nice, but their taste is a little astringent. So peaches of immortality can’t even compare to these, it’s fine that I didn’t eat them.”
I had no words.
Meanwhile, Fang Hua ate flowers day after day until he grew to like the taste, thinking that flowers really were good things. A few months later, he’d eaten all the trees bare and ended up looking like a flower himself. Later generations that wrote on the Fang Hua Beast said that he liked to eat flowers, nectar, and medicinal plants. I think I was more or less to blame for his taste in flower petals.
The young Fang Hua was extremely intelligent and grew a year in the space of ten days. In a flash, he’d become a young man. Everyone in the world of immortals knew how to transform clothes from clouds. Even the dragon kings of the sea used dragon scales for their robes. But Fang Hua had been born naked, and I’d never seen any Fang Hua skin around for him to use in making clothes. I thought he looked very cute that way, too. Still, he grew shy after growing into a young lord’s body and learned how to cover himself, making me very disappointed. Around this time, the Most Exalted Lord Li sent a boy to ask me when Fang Hua could go study the Dao from him. Every time I’d use all sorts of obstructions to block his way.
I suddenly realized that without Fang Hua in this house, there’d be no one to grind ink for me, or play chess with me, or even talk to me. There was no one else who understood me better than him and vice versa. I wouldn’t be used to a place without him. The Immortal of Fates said that this wasn’t a good omen. Thinking back to that point, the Immortal of Fates had already saw some signs and was trying to drop me hints. Yet my heart was too covered in pig’s lard to take them seriously.
In the end, I finally had an accident.
That day, I was just returning from a feast hosted by the Queen Mother of the West on the jade lake of Mt. Kunlun. The Queen Mother’s seventh daughter had told me of her longing for company of the opposite sex, leaving my heart restless. I had drunk a lot of wine as well, so I went home and fell drunkenly on the bed. I slept until midnight until thirst woke me up. Fumbling in the dark, I somehow grasped Fang Hua’s hand. A simple touch made me realize how tender and exquisite his skin was. The memory of this touch was still enough to make me think of past events. When Fang Hua was still a young child, he spoke clearly but rarely and was terrified of strangers. Because he was very attractive but docile, the other immortals couldn’t resist touching him or teasing him in conversations. Yet this little fellow was so chaste that he never took advantage of the situations. Wherever I went, he’d follow along a few meters behind. Even when he slept, it was under the same covers as me after tucking me in and handing me my pillow. He liked to rest his head by my chest before closing his eyes with satisfaction, though the flavor of this changed when he grew up.
Not only was he more respectful, he didn’t even warm my bed when winter came. Now that I was finally touching his warm hand, I couldn’t help but feel melancholy. A warm current rose up to my head as I voiced my complaints in my drunken stupor. I only remember his gentle expression was as calm as water, and very warm. He said, “The Sovereign Goddess should do as she ought.”
I was so drunk that these words didn’t even shock me. I raised my head and peered at him hazily as he smiled, the teardrop-shaped mole looking especially cute. Then I took him into my embrace.
In a moment of indiscretion, I performed dual cultivation with him.
Actually, dual cultivation wasn’t such a big deal. Could you dare say that the Jade Emperor’s mother never dual cultivated before? But even if you did, it was kept under wraps and undisclosed. If you and I both kept quiet, the other immortals would keep one eye open and the other closed. Yet back then I was still young and giddy when I did things. After I woke up and saw Fang Hua’s face look even more agreeable than usual, I decided to give him an official status. The topic that had existed as a pool of stagnant water suddenly exploded into relevance, causing a sensation. Right at that time, the Queen Mother was suffering a headache while dealing with her seventh daughter. Though the girl looked frail, she had a stubborn mouth. When her mother forbid her to see her lover on earth, she began to talk nonsense left and right. If the Sovereign Goddess can practice dual cultivation, then why can’t I? Could a mortal man be any less worthy than a mythical beast? My home became the exact target of her accusations, and the Sovereign Goddess was none other than myself. I was saddened, but the Queen Mother was helpless to do anything. I don’t know what blasphemy was shared with the Jade Emperor, but he decreed that I’d be severely punished. In hindsight, I don’t blame that seventh daughter. I was the one to test the waters in her place–indeed, they were very deep. I hoped she didn’t follow in my footsteps but lived peacefully in the Heavens instead.
My leap off the Immortal Punishment Platform was quick and light.
But I didn’t expect Fang Hua to chase after me as I fell towards the mortal world. This idiot, his name hadn’t even been recorded into the Book of Celestials yet. How could he bear the qi from the Immortal Punishment Platform? With great alarm, I used all of my cultivation base to protect his original body, completely ruining my own immortal body. It would be a big deal for other immortals, but a goddess like me knew multiple arts to protect the soul and wasn’t too concerned with losing my physical form.
To prove that it was abnormal for immortals to long for company of the opposite sex, much less company from different species, the Jade Emperor told the Immortal of Fates to arrange various plays for my criminal self. These were meant to cut the ill-fated bonds between me and the Fang Hua Beast so that I could reach enlightenment and ascend back to the immortal world. The Immortal of Fates had always gotten along with me. He liked to visit my home and flip through books of plays I kept in the house. I always laughed at him because the lives he judged over rarely had any complicated love or hate plots, a critique he took to heart. Now that the Jade Emperor had commanded him to determine my fate, he was eager to display his skills. Despite that, he still took the feelings between us into consideration.
Since Fang Hua could reach adulthood much faster than a regular human could reach an eighteenth birthday, the Immortal of Fates made preparations before my reincarnation to make him fall in love with a mortal woman. Yet since the idea was to prove that love between human and Beast was wrong, this love never reached fruition. That woman not only fell in love with another man, but had a child with him. Not only did she give birth to that child, but she ended up begging Fang Hua to save her dying husband and poisoned baby still wrapped in swaddling clothes. This really was a life full of cannon fodder. Fang Hua held on for a handful of years before flames turned him back into wood, redirecting him onto the path of rebirth.
Meanwhile, my soul wandered here and there, avoiding the pregnant women on Earth as I found their swollen forms distasteful. Instead, I wandered into a dilapidated temple and possessed the body of a little beggar, churning up her insides until I fit right in. I didn’t expect that as soon as I entered, a strand of the beggar girl’s original soul reawakened to struggle for dominance. I was shocked and didn’t know what to do.
Every time my immortal friends gathered together for discussions, I tended to nod off. Still, there was one line that always stuck with me whether or not I was sleeping, and that was: “All the cause and effect in the world comes from kindness or evil. Taking suffering as joy will lead to enlightenment. The ultimate price of evil is bitterness.”
It was something I believed in firmly, that good met with good and evil met with evil. Things didn’t go unpunished–it was only a matter of time. Within the complicated affairs of the world, things were constantly changing. The seeds one planted by accident in the past could grow bigger and bigger before they caught up to the culprit a long time later, seemingly without reason.
In the past, when I first arrived in the Heavens, I wasn’t used to living such a mild life. I loved running about and playing amongst the clouds. Once, I saw two twin baby nine-tailed foxes being chased by a white tiger until they huddled together to cry. Taking pity on them, I placed them into my sleeves and brought them back to the Heavens, where I told two immortal youths to look after them in a house full of mythical beasts. Since I didn’t like furballs very much, I forgot about them after awhile.
One day, one of Fu Xi’s daughters dropped by for a visit. Though the humans knew her as Lady Nüwa in the mortal realm, she was considered wishy-washy by the older immortals. Recently, an ignorant emperor had written a poem about her while burning incense in her temple on her birthday. She thought it was a great delight, and told the story to many of her immortal friends. She was probably worried that she’d missed me and came to see.
As expected, she said she’d read the poem to me as soon as she entered the door.
After hearing it, I nearly choked on my tea. The poem wasn’t too obscene, but as one of the older gods, Nüwa had been listening to prayers for rains, winds, and peace in her temples for ages. A sudden appearance of a poem like this was sure to startle her. I could understand this, but it didn’t mean she had to tell it to everyone she met.
“The raindrops on a pear blossom vie for the same delicate charms, the caged peony adorns itself with charms within the smoke” was suitable praise, in my opinion. The cadence was just a little rough in the reading. This “bring her back to Changle to wait upon the sovereign, if it’s supposed to be a joke, went too far,” Nüwa sighed.
“Elder Sister’s celestial form is too honorable and respected. Don’t speak of the emperor, even the Most Exalted Lord Lao wouldn’t dare ask you to carry him a cup of tea,” I said, presenting some tender, aromatic tea leaves.
“Nine Spirits Sovereign Goddess has spoken with reason. This vulgar man from the mortal realm seems like he wants to die.” Nüwa was a little angry when she thought of his philandering, frivolous habits.
From the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of my nine-tailed fox wearing a similar expression of resentment and shame. Surprised, I went over to hold her.
“This fox you’ve raised seemed quite clever,” Nüwa said, affectionately feeling her fine fur. After being touched with immortal qi, the nine-tailed fox suddenly roused itself and took on human form into a particularly seductive woman.
“I am willing to descend into human realm and teach the emperor a lesson for the esteemed goddess,” she said sincerely.
Later on, I realized the resentment glare from the nine-tailed fox came from the fact that she was looking at Nüwa, who was a human with a snake’s body. Just by looking at her snake tail, where was the beauty like raindrops on pear blossoms? The caged peony adorned with charms in the smoke? Whoever wrote the poem really had no taste.
The shame in her face came from understanding the deeper meaning behind the lines, ‘wait upon the sovereign.’
As a result, she left for only a few months before the name of Daji spread far and wide to wreck havoc upon the earth. This wasn’t what Nüwa wanted, especially when she became cursed as someone who instigate an evil scourge upon the populace. The source of her evil scourge came from no less than my own household. Thereafter, a host of immortals came to see all the animals I raised, most of whom sat and stroked the fur of my other nine-tailed fox.
This fox’s name was the Star Heart Fox.
When she grew old enough to understand things, she heard everyone disparaging her twin sister for her deeds. Her eyes would hold both confusion and disappointment. I schemed to admonish her, you have to work hard, don’t learn from your sister who hoodwinked the emperor. You ought to earn some pride for our house and your species of nine-tailed foxes. She seemed to have both understood and not understood. No matter whether she did, these aspirations were smothered to death in the cradle.
When Zhao of Omens had just cultivated to a young immortal, his young immortal servant boy paid a visit to me and gifted me an intelligent cat. Star Heart Fox could never compare to her sister. She was timid and meek from the moment she was born. After meeting the tiger in her youth, her heart was always covered in fear. Then her older sister descended into the human realm and left her behind. She grew even more melancholy and anxious, even fearing the sight of cats. In her view, cats were just like tigers, only a little smaller.
And now Zhao of Omens had gifted me a cat.
After suffering panic attacks from day to night, Star Heart Fox finally ran away. I don’t know how many years passed before I heard someone mention that a female named Wu had ascended the throne as emperor and gave herself the new name of Zhao. This time, I vehemently denied any involvement with the mess.
A single chat with Nüwa gave birth to a Daji in the human world. Though it was just a casual conversation, news of it reached people’s ears. From Daji to Wuzhao, the female emperor, was a tangled knot that no one could untie. The me who had allowed Nüwa to send the nine-tailed fox to the human realm had been punished in full by the Fang Hua wood that stuck to her skirt and was brought to the Heavens. Even though everything that happened was unintentional, it was still a form of karmic retribution.
The me that had descended to this human realm to seize the beggar girl’s body knew the worth of doing good deeds when I could. Seeing her little soul struggle in her body, I dared not touch it, but went to explore her memories until a Fang Hua with a red teardrop mole appeared, along with images of her trifling mother and sick father.
In a flash, I’d understood everything and cursed the Immortal of Fates in my heart. I was terrified of karmic retribution like a turtledove that didn’t dare to claim a magpie’s nest. I feared that the little beggar wouldn’t be able to handle my divine qi and decided to seal myself away. Unfortunately, she didn’t last very long before a fever took her life away. When I opened my eyes in her place, I thought I’d always been a human. I only knew how to stuff mantou in my mouth in the face of bullies, an ordinary child who didn’t understand anything beyond curling her mouth and trying not to cry. The bruised and beaten me finally met my savior in the form of a white-robed Fang Hua who’d also been reborn anew.
Fang Hua held out his hand to mine. Every time I remembered this moment, I’d always feel a bit of pride. The reborn Fang Hua once again came to search for the orphaned child of his love, perhaps because he still harbored memories of his past life. With the hurt from his last life lingering, there was very little chance for him to fall in love with that woman’s child. The Immortal of Fates had been very meticulous in determining this life. It was too bad that he couldn’t predict that I’d not only sealed away my immortal qi and abilities, but my memories of my past life as well. I completely forgot that I’d fallen to the mortal world because of my crimes. Instead, I fell wholly in love with Fang Hua all over again. It was just like a story in one of those books, an intense love that couldn’t be taken back.
But since the Sovereign Goddess was here to pass a trial of sentiment, all sorts of tragedies befell us. I won’t talk about all the misery in between, but after separating and reuniting from misunderstandings, I met Fang Hua again when he was just a piece of dead wood in the dirt. Overcome with sorrow, I knelt before his grave and used a knife to slice my scars, feeding him blood for a long time until he assumed human form. In this life, I used to call him master, but he called me mother when he was reborn.
After going through all that, I finally reached a true understanding of the Fang Hua Beast. They were doomed to burn and die in a sea of flames if touched by sentiment, confined to the cycle of reincarnation. But I was just an ordinary human by then, with no memories of my life in Heaven. With my beloved by my side, I lived my remaining years very happily in the jianghu. Still, what was the worth of such happiness?
Human lives only lasted around sixty years, and he couldn’t be wounded by sentiment. He underwent rebirth two or three more times. I took great pains each time to revive him again and again, but even if I could hold him in the palm of my hand, the red mole by the corner of his eye would turn darker day by day. He was a creature who couldn’t experience emotions without being hurt. Even if I was made of iron, I couldn’t bear this forever.
The very last time, I held him in my arms in the Yuanjia Cave as he grasped my hand with a very content smile. I kept thinking back then that I’d seen just such a smile a very long time ago. He said, don’t save me anymore. We’ve already spent over half our lives together as an old couple. It’s enough that I can be by your side.
I cried and told him that I refused.
He stroked me with a deep sigh, the mole by his eye pitch-black. He barely had enough breath to speak, yet he cracked a joke anyways. Silly, he said, I called you my mother this time. The next time you save me, I might call you grandmother instead.
My heart at that time could only tremble in pain, but I pretended to be angry. “You’re actually bothered that I’ll be older?”
“I’ve been a burden on you these few dozen years. Your body’s already weak to the breaking point, so how can you have enough blood left to feed me? Supposing that I was reborn, I’d only see you die and leave me. If that’s the case, I’d rather sleep forever. It’s about time our story reached an end. I’ve lived very well with you these past years.”
He said, “I’m content. After I die this time, carve my wood into a hairpin and wear it in your hair.”
Fang Hua looked at me with a faint smile as he stroked my head. I wanted to stay with him forever, even in death. His body grew colder and colder in my arms, and I watched with my own eyes as he burst into flames and changed back into pitch-black wood. My heart had dried up to the point that I could cry no more tears.
At that time, peach blossom petals covered the skies outside the Yuanjia Cave, but Fang Hua wasn’t here. In the west, the sunlight shone for miles, giving me a sudden sense of panicked unease. Beneath the experience of countless tragedies, my original soul finally burst free from its seal, releasing my memories and everything else.
Fortunately, remnants of my cultivation base still remained from my leap from the Immortal Punishment Platform. I used that power to go against Fang Hua’s premature death, breaking his ties to such a mournful fate. The next life–in the next life he wouldn’t be reborn as a Fang Hua Beast. I hoped that he could be reincarnated in a womb and be born as a human, even if it was to the foreign lands in the south, and do whatever he wanted. As long as he wasn’t some human-beast anymore.
“If we happen to meet again, keep this Fang Hua wood hairpin. I’ll definitely recognize you if you find me with it.”
Only, was there another chance?
Perhaps there was none…
I used the rest of my cultivation base to fight against his fate with all my life. When the Immortal of Fates finally arrived on the scene with a host of other deities, my body had already been reduced to smoke. Even so, I managed to give them a carefree smile. The Immortal of Fates had wasted his time flipping through all those books of plays. He might have set up the beginning, but he couldn’t control the end.
As the former Sovereign Goddess, I felt both satisfied and refreshed.
 nie wood (涅梁) – nie liang, literally “alunite roof beam”, but most likely a special type of wood here.
 seas to mulberry fields and back again (沧海桑田) – canghai sangtian, idiom meaning time bringing great changes to the world.
 heart was too covered in pig’s lard (猪油蒙了心) – zhuyou meng le xin, meaning someone who isn’t very bright, who couldn’t get a clue, etc. Thickheaded like pig’s lard.
 jade lake (of Mt. Kunlun) (瑶池) – yaochi, a mythical lake by the fabled Mt. Kunlun where the goddess Queen Mother of the West was said to reside.
 Queen Mother’s seventh daughter (王母的七女儿) wangmu de qinüer, this is the same daughter that features in the folk tale of The Cowherd & the Weaver Girl.
 The raindrops on a pear blossom vie for the same delicate charms, the caged peony adorns itself with charms within the smoke (梨花带雨争娇艳，芍药笼烟骋媚妆) – lihua daiyu zheng jiaoyan, shaoyao longyan cheng meizhuang, lines from a poem that Emperor Zhou allegedly wrote to praise the Goddess Nüwa’s after accidentally seeing her statue’s face in her temple while paying his respects, as detailed in the Chinese classic novel Investiture of the Gods.
 Bring her back to Changle to wait upon the sovereign (收回长乐侍君王) – shouhui changle shi junwang, last line of King Zhou’s poem. Changle most likely referred to the name of his court.
 Elder Sister (姐姐) – jiejie, in this case, the speaker is not related to Nüwa, but referring to her as an elder sister out of respect.
 Yuanjia Cave (缘价洞) – yuanjia dong, literally the “Price of Predestiny” Cave.
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