Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Living to Suffer - ch18

Translator: ayszhang
Editor: Marcia

Living to Suffer chapter 18
The prequel to TDDUP


After a day of intense travel, a t’angchu joined forces with them. While Shen Liangsheng was successfully bringing Ch’in Ching back to Mount Fut’u, the chianghu seemed to have returned to normal. Most likely they understood the natural advantages of the mountain and the futility of rushing into a siege. It would be wiser to train and prepare for that inevitable, ultimate clash of good and evil.

Five days remained till the celestial date. The vessel had arrived, and although the sect had more than enough resources to guard the man twenty-four hours a day, just to be on the safe side Miao Jan personally tested his blood and evaluated his pulse to formulate a sleeping potion that would knock him out for five days.
“Miss Miao…” Highly trained guards were outside, but only Ch’in Ching and Miao Jan were in the room. Ch’in Ching muttered as he blew on the potion, “Will your formula really work? I may be unskilled, but I am a doctor nevertheless. Perhaps I could revise the recipe for you?”
“Cut your bullshit. Short as it is, your life is worth more in gold right now than this old bag of bones. Who would risk harming you?” Miao Jan was blunt but also sounded somewhat endearing like an older family member berating a child. “Also, aren’t you supposed to call me ‘Auntie Miao’ like Hsiao­-Shen?”
“Come now, don’t be beastly. How can you tease me about being in-laws when you can see what he and I have become.” Ch’in Ching downed the liquid, lay down and pulled the quilt up to his chin. Then he actually called, “Auntie Miao…”
“What is it?”
“I’m scared of pain. How about you make another potion for me so that I can sleep through the seven days after, too?”
“No can do.” Miao Jan knew very well that the vessel must be hung for seven whole days of excruciating pain. She saw how weak and sickly pale he was lying there, and she felt terrible, but she could not agree.
“Is he outside?” Of course, Ch’in Ching wasn’t serious with his request and changed the topic. “Could you do me a favour, Auntie Miao, and tell him that I want someone else to guard me. I don’t want to see him.”
“Don’t worry. He doesn’t have time to watch you all the time.” Then she added comfortingly, “Besides, you’re going to fall asleep now, and you won’t see him when you’re asleep, right?”
“That’s true.”
“Now, sleep.” She noticed he was already drifting away, so she tucked him in and repeated quietly, “You won’t see him when you’re asleep.”

She waited until Ch’in Ching had fallen asleep to leave. Sure enough, Shen Liangsheng was outside, hands clasped behind his back. His expression was impassive than ever, so much so that Miao Jan could no longer read it.
“He’s asleep. You may keep watch if you’d like.” She knew he had overheard the previous conversation but insisted on passing on the message. “It’s just that he said he doesn’t like pain. And he doesn’t want to see you.”
The man nodded before entering the room anyway. Miao Jan was left there holding an empty bowl thinking to herself, Ch’in Ching, are you still blind to the obvious? For those words to hurt they must be heard by someone who cares. This man who disregards your life, do you expect him to be affected at all?

Step by step, Shen Liangsheng approached the bed and looked down at the sleeping man.
A million things seemed to be racing through his mind, but it also seemed to have returned to its initial stage of nothingness.
He grabbed a chair and sat down by the bed, watching Ch’in Ching in silence. He tried to fish out bits of memory from that nothingness but found that all his memories slipped through his fingers like running water, evading capture.
“When you die…” His heartbeat was steady – badoom badoom – as rhythmic as a water clock, quietly witnessing the passage of time with every drip. He whispered to the sleeping man, “…I’ll forget you.”
The flame of the candle on the bedside table jumped, its flickering light illuminating the doctor’s face. A long, shallow scar trailed down from the corner of one eye, as though the man had heard the hufa’s quiet words and so began to shed tears of heartbreak.
Shen Liangsheng reached out as though to caress his face but stopped an inch away, tracing with a finger in midair the false tear streak while continuing softly,
“What are you crying for… I was just teasing you.”

Five days passed in the blink of an eye, and Ch’in Ching awoke according to schedule. The first thing he saw was Shen Liangsheng standing beside him, and he smiled at him without much thought.
Only after the fact did he remember the circumstance he was in, and he smiled again shaking his head.
Miao Jan’s potion had placed him in a state of feigned death; thus he felt neither hunger nor thirst despite having consumed nothing for five days. Ch’in Ching left the bed, straightened his clothing and looked up at Shen Liangsheng. Perhaps he should have said something, but he knew not what to say, and so he smiled a third time.

Time is of the essence, Ch’in Ching. This way please.”
Shen Liangsheng looked at him coolly, as if he had reassembled his thoughts in the last five days and transformed himself back into the man of their first encounter: unsmiling with an aura of death, cold-blooded and perfectly rational.
It produced in Ch’in Ching the feeling that their time together was nothing more than a five-day dream.
This is who the man was originally, so this is what I got.  Ch’in Ching ridiculed himself silently as he followed Shen Liangsheng out of his prison. But it was truly stupid and pathetic of me to think he had also fallen in love.

The layout of the Hsing Sect was complex and criss-crossed with traps. Tallow torches lit the dim galleries every ten steps. Each sect member standing guard knelt on one knee and bowed when Shen Liangsheng walked by. Ch’in Ching followed behind enjoying the false glory of the situation, as he noticed to his surprise their rising altitude. He had assumed the fiend’s body would be hidden deep within an earthen labyrinth, but apparently that was not the case.
After another pot of tea’s time, they entered a spacious, empty hall. Ch’in Ching estimated the height to be greater than one hundred feet, for the ceiling was too dark and far to spot.
Shen Liangsheng stopped and turned to Ch’in Ching. The doctor thought the man had words for him to pay attention to, but the man stepped towards him and pulled him up into a bridal carry.
It was not the first time Ch’in Ching had been treated in this way, but it was indeed the first time he felt averse to it. He struggled a bit perhaps to avoid the stony air about the man.
“Don’t move,” the man ordered in a low voice as he tightened his grip, still standing in the same spot.
So Ch’in Ching could only allow himself to be held, but then came an utterance that was completely unrelated to their present situation:
“You always carry the scent of herbs. I shall remember it.”

As Ch’in Ching was getting ready to reply, his head spun and his vision blurred, pushing his words back down. Shen Liangsheng shot into the air thirty feet, bending slightly to tap his toes on the stone wall, which sent him up another thirty feet. He repeated this until they reached solid ground again, and he let Ch’in Ching down.
They were standing on a platform protruding from the wall, and before them was a massive black form, perhaps an iron gate.
Ch’in Ching had barely cracked his lips when the gates opened. From within came a blinding efflux of candlelight, and he shut his eyes against it.
In less time than it took to blink, he felt his hand being held. Shen Liangsheng walked with him past the gate and did not let go until they had entered the chamber.
“I never knew you could escort a prisoner like that. What a fascinating method.” The four t’angchu and two elders were all present. Miao Jan was the type to joke in any situation, so it was natural that she made fun of Shen Liangsheng.
“Miao-t’angchu,” someone responded from a corner. “I’m starting to think your tongue may a treasure of this sect. When we run out of money, the two of us should find a teahouse and perform some crosstalk. I bet we would make buckets of gold.”
Ch’in Ching turned to the sound, and beside him Shen Liangsheng reported in a deep voice, “Deputy, I have brought the man.”
Ch’in Ching took a good look at this man who was rumoured to be more formidable than the hufa. He was a slightly chubby, middle-aged man with kind eyes. Far from the leader of a demonic sect, he appeared more like a merchant, particularly one who chose the route of amity.
“Young lad, this must be terrible for you.” His tone was as amiable as his appearance. He approached Ch’in Ching and gave him a pat on the shoulder. “Seeing as you didn’t get a good result this life, it’s better that you walk the path of the Yellow Spring quickly and be reborn into a better life.”
“…” Ch’in Ching was at a loss for words. He finally understood where the hufa acquired his training in verbal sparring. Fortunately for them, he had little honour or decency to speak of. Any other person would certainly have been shamed to death before he could become the blood trigger.

“Deputy, it is almost time. Shall we light the incense?”
Elder Fang and Elder Wu were conscious of the hour, and when the deputy leader nodded, they took out from a box a stick of incense thick enough to just grab with one hand and planted it in the censer. After lighting it, they respectfully placed the censer atop a meta coffin sitting in the centre of the chamber.
Ch’in Ching had spotted the coffin the instant he entered and recognized it as the place where the fiend was resting his body.
And this stone chamber must have been the highest point in the entirety of the Hsing Sect.
It turned out that the fiend was not hiding underground even when he was in a state of feigned death. He still wanted to look down at this beautiful world from his spot high above, quietly awaiting the day of rebirth when he would assert total dominance over it.

The incense having been lit, the deputy sat cross-legged by the coffin, closed his eyes and began channelling his ch’i. The chamber fell silent. All eyes were glued to the coffin and the man. Even Ch’in Ching was curious as to how this soul trigger worked.
While he was observing, eyes squinted, Shen Liangsheng, who had been standing beside him with his hands clasped behind his back, took half a step forward and slightly to the left, partially blocking the doctor. His left hand reached backwards as well and held onto the doctor’s right hand.
Oh, give me a break. Does he not know what time it is? How does he still have the leisure to do this? Ch’in Ching tried to jerk his hand away but to no avail, so he let it be. If you say he is heartless, how would you explain this stunt? But if you say he does have a heart, how do you expect me to believe you?
Ch’in Ching naturally could not see his expression. He could only feel the hand around his hand, but even so, the air about the man was dead still. The hands were physically connected, and there was nothing else to it.

The incense was rather thick but burned very quickly. When it came to its end, the meditating man gave a sudden shudder as a strand of red brume rose from the crown of his head. As though guided by the incense smoke, the brume floated upward and circled around a few times before burrowing into the coffin. Instantly, a dazzling red light and a rumbling of thunder exploded from within as if something were trying to break out, but in the end, it gradually resided due to the lack of the last bit of energy.
“…done,” the deputy managed to make one sound before collapsing to the floor. Although the ceremony did not end his life, he had been depleted of his entire cultivation and would have to resort to living as a common man for the rest of his time.
“I shall take the deputy to his room. I leave the blood trigger to you,” Elder Fang said to Elder Wu as he hefted the unconscious man onto his back and flitted out of the chamber. Elder Wu first put away the censer and then produced another smaller box from his sleeve and approached Ch’in Ching.
“Allow me,” Shen Liangsheng requested flatly. He took one step forward and accepted the box. Still holding Ch’in Ching’s hand, he led him to the coffin.

Above the coffin were two chains. The lower one was approximately twenty feet above from the coffin while the other was a man’s length higher. Two pairs of manacles hung from each chain, the entire apparatus designed to ensure the proper positioning of the vessel over the coffin.
Without any outside help, Shen Liangsheng firmly delivered Ch’in Ching onto the bottom chain so quickly their figures were a blur. His hands were calm and steady as they first cuffed the doctor’s wrists and then his ankles. With that, Ch’in Ching was totally secured with no chance of escape on his own.
“Shen-hufa,” Miao Jan managed to verbalize after realizing to her dismay Shen Liangsheng’s intentions. “I also head the infirmary of this sect. Perhaps I should be responsible for this.”
Shen Liangsheng only spat out two cold syllables, “No need.” Still standing on the chain, he opened the box and took out a metal tube much thinner than a pinky finger.
Evidently a bloodletting tool, either end of the tube had a diagonal cut and an extremely sharp finish.
Amidst a solemn silence, Shen Liangsheng gazed steadily into Ch’in Ching’s eyes and applied force to his hand, stabbing one end into the doctor’s chest, inch by inch, into his atrium.
From start to end, the hand gripping the tube did not shake even the slightest. No hesitancy. No wavering.

Ch’in Ching’s heart was structured differently, and he would not die even with such an object inside, but the pain was excruciating.
Then when the pain overwhelmed him, his vision blackened and he lost consciousness.
The last thing he saw was the steady of gaze of Shen Liangsheng’s eye.
Within them was no emotion, only pure indifference and dead silence.

When Ch’in Ching awoke, the stone chamber was empty and devoid of the previous illumination. Only two candles lit the space, rendering it as dim and eerie as the underworld itself.
The pain in his chest seemed to have ebbed, allowing Ch’in Ching to gather strength to look towards the source of the pain. He saw a continuous flow of scarlet easing ever so slowly to the other far end of the metal tube before dripping down to the coffin below. The coffin seemed to be alive and drank up every drop of it.
The blood trigger vessel is to be hung for seven days straight… Ch’in Ching reminded himself while not knowing how much time had passed.
Nor how much longer it would be.
He now truly was living to suffer.

He thought back to his early years before he had accepted his fate. He would roll about and throw fits, crying and screaming, whenever the quarterly pain hit.
There was nothing his shifu could do except hold the boy’s hand and repeat, “Fear not, Ching-er, for I am here. I will be with you.”
In the end, however, the sixty-year-old would end up weeping, too. Therefore, as Ch’in Ching grew older, he would bear with the pain stoically no matter how unbearable it became, and he never shed another tear.
Shifu…thankfully you’re not seeing this right now. If you were, I can’t fathom how your heart must ache. Ch’in Ching pondered silently. As he did so, the pain seemed to go away just a little bit.

Only the hearts of those who love you wholeheartedly would ache for you. Ch’in Ching struggled to look up towards one corner of the chamber. The voice continued quietly. But this man’s heart will not.
Shen Liangsheng stood in that nook without a sound. Ch’in Ching could not see his face through the darkness, but he thought the man appeared rather like a statue, not speaking, not moving.
It’s a crying shame that even though this man’s heart won’t ache for me… Ch’in Ching wanted to chuckle but did not have the energy to raise his lips, so he continued thinking silently. …all my tears as an adult have been shed before his eyes.

Losing consciousness, waking, losing consciousness again, waking again… He lost count of the hours and days and became numb to the pain.
Every time he came to he would look towards that corner.
And Shen Liangsheng would be there every time, as though he had been standing there the entire time he hung there, never leaving for one moment.

“What is the time?”
With the pain in his heart under control, Ch’in Ching felt stronger and spoke to Shen Liangsheng for the first time.
“’Tis the last day.”
“Ah…soon then.” Ch’in Ching exhaled in relief that the days of suffering were coming to an end. As a result, his mood lightened as well, enough for him to joke with the other man. “Say…you have not been standing there all this while…have you? Escape is futile even if I grew a pair of wings….”
“Ch’in Ching.”
Shen Liangsheng stepped out of his dark corner for the first time and approached the metal coffin. Looking up at the hanging man, he enunciated each word slowly,
“After you die, I will live on.”
“Every bit of pain you suffer now was given unto you by me.”
“And I have witnessed it with my very eyes and memorized every bit of it.”
“From this day on, I shall remember it every day and dream of it every night.”
“So that I may live in pain every single day for the rest of my life.”

So that’s how it is…
Ch’in Ching looked into the man’s eyes and saw what he had always seen. Within them was no emotion, only pure indifference and dead silence.
His heart seemed to rumble and crack, after which all that was left in it was devastation and barrenness.
Ch’in Ching realized the indifference and silence in his eyes were not for him.

But for the rest of his life.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
ayszhang: Phew...that was one heavy chapter... but you can be sure that it doesn't get any lighter from here on out... :') The ending is soon after all

On a personal note, I've moved into my home in Terrebonne, and my host family is super kind and chill. Work has been busy but very fulfilling so far (it has only been two days though)! I'm working with students ages 13-16, regular and special ed. The next project will have to wait a little bit, meaning there will be a break when I won't be posting at all. Ying and I have settled on the title "Spring Once More" and hopefully we can start posting weekly in late October :) 

My Patreon is linked here if you would like to donate a buck or two monthly. Now that I am out of university, I need to work and support myself. Any small amount is a great help and alleviates financial pressure off my back :) Thank you to the Patreons who have contributed.

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