Friday, August 18, 2017

Living to Suffer - ch15

Translator: ayszhang
Editor: Marcia

Living to Suffer chapter 15
The prequel to TDDUP


Since he knew the exact date of his death, he used to love to count the days when he was young. As he counted, he would wish for intangible time to transform into a tangible almanac. That way he would be able to reach out and flip to that page while no one was looking and rip it out – there were a million, a gazillion pages; nobody would notice one missing page, would they?
But then as time passed and he grew older, one day he no longer wanted to be that time thief.
Even when someone told him there were two months left, and he knew these would be his last two months, he only grunted and went to sleep without seeing a single dream.

Unfortunately, his sound sleep was disturbed. He blinked open his eyes to find Shen Liangsheng standing by the bed, a hazy, white figure in his sleepy vision.
“Ch’in Ching, I’m off,” the man said flatly as he bent over and gave a light pat on his cheek.
Rolled up in quilts with only his head showing, Ch’in Ching looked like a bean sprout in a loosely tucked spring roll. With the gentle slap, his head fell to one side as his mouth went off on a clumsy rant, “Look at the time…why won’t you let me sleep…”
After his mumbling, the man left the bedside and exited with a creak of the door. His eyelids then clashed in battle twice before calling truce and reuniting. This time he had a short, transient dream.

In the dream, the summer sun was dazzling white. In the light was a silhouette, washed pale by the light.
The figure kept retreating farther and farther, but he could still see it even when it became as small as a needle point.
He did not know to whom that silhouette belonged but began to wonder if he was to run after it.
But the next thing he knew, it was gone.

The sky was painted in twilight by the time he awoke again. Ch’in Ching was actually glad that he managed to elude the first day of the year by sleeping. As for his dream, he didn’t recall a thing.
On the third day, he received the routine New Year’s letter from his shifu. In past years he would send him New Year and springtime salutations through the elegantly paced characters of poetry, but this year not only was the letter dense, it was written in a code that only the two of them understood. Ch’in Ching felt agony just looking at the tightly packed chicken scratches.
It took all his effort to translate the page to comprehensible text. A large portion was proper business: arrangements have been made in the imperial court, Huiming-tashi would give his aid, and he hoped the plan of helping the boat along the current would work. Finally, the last sentence was a little more personal.
“Hengsu, my son, with you as company, your shifu’s lifetime was not so lonesome after all.”

Look at this old geezer, Ch’in Ching ridiculed silently, calling me his son and then calling himself shifu. The fellow must be senile!
Then he sat before the chicken scratches for the entire night.
When dawn broke, he yawned and rubbed his raw eyes. Instead of going to bed, he packed a small bag, rented a carriage in town and headed off to Shaolin.

Huiming-tashi was a younger fellow disciple of Huisheng-tashi who knew about the situation at hand, and when he saw Ch’in Ching he greeted, “Amitābha, you should not have come, Ch’in-shichu.”[1]
Despite being on holy ground, Ch’in Ching wore a playful grin. He replied that he knew he should not have come, so he had not told his shifu and asked Tashi not to tattle.
The two men then locked themselves in a praying room for nearly two hours. Ch’in Ching had said he should not have come but still wanted to be a part of his shifu’s “helping the boat along” plan.
Huiming-tashi only listened quietly but in the end gave a nod of agreement. Reciting Amitābha’s name once more, he cast his eyes down with prayer beads in hand. “Ch’in-shichu, the world is filled with uncountable affinities, and ‘tis difficult to let go.” He looked back up, his words sharp, his eyes benevolent. “The world is filled with uncountable affinities, but you have let go.”
Ch’in Ching rose and replied solemnly, “The words ‘let go’ have weight in themselves, thus declaring them would become a burden. I only want to thank you for giving consent.”

After lingering for several days, Ch’in Ching finally descended the mountain after making all the arrangements.
Meanwhile, the Hsing Sect had long caught wind of Shaolin’s recent movements and its substantial increase in defence – suspicious indeed.

“Shen-hufa, what do you think about the idea that it’s in the Treasure Pagoda? Could it really be?”
The date was approaching, and the deputy leader had gone into isolation for cultivation. Three of the four t’angchu were away searching for the lost pages, leaving only Miao Jan and Shen Liangsheng to handle the administration of the sect. Naturally, they had no time to think about other things, so even their references for each other changed.
“That a tree hides in a forest is not far from impossible.”
“Well, I think it’s a ruse. I bet they want nothing more than for us to run circles around that crummy shrine of theirs and not go elsewhere.”
“Is there news from elsewhere?”
“Well, no.”
“Only one month remains till the celestial date. Even if it is a ruse, it requires an investigation – and sooner rather than later.
“Do you plan to depart today? Should I accompany you?”
“Elder Fang and Elder Wu should accompany me. I ask that Miao-t’angchu stay and care for the sect.”
“No kidding? So you’re actually not working alone this time?” Indeed, they agreed it would be business first, but she could not help but tease him. “I guess you know that although your dear little doctor saved you once, he can’t always be there to rescue you.”
“…” Shen Liangsheng shot her a look before rising and walking out of the hall. Only at the entrance did he reply. “I forgot to mention, Miao-t’angchu, we tried the balm. I pass on thanks from the missus.”
“…” Miao Jan still had a mouthful of tea, and she didn’t know whether to spit it out or swallow it. In the end, she shooed the man away smilingly.

Although the ancient, solemn monasteries of Shaolin certainly were not the crummy shrines that Miao Jan described, the Treasure Pagoda, hidden behind numerous temples and halls, was a two-storey wooden structure that appeared unremarkable. Shen Liangsheng and the two accompanying elders were extremely skilled, and under the cover of night they advanced with the wind, their shadows blending into one with the air. Not even the finest nets could catch the clear breeze, and thus not a soul was disturbed during their entire journey.
No sign of martial monks near the Treasure Pagoda – perhaps security was only tight on the outside, or perhaps it was a trap.
Only when he had come within thirty feet of the pagoda did he reveal himself, his figure clearly halting in midair rather than touching the ground. This logic-defying ability to freeze in midair was truly supernatural.
The two elders were indeed skilled, but ultimately they did not have the mantra that Shen Liangsheng had. Even had they sensed the danger, they would not have been able to avoid alighting upon the ground. And once they did, the world around them immediately shifted. They couldn’t even see the dirt beneath their feet, let alone the wooden pagoda thirty feet away. Up, down, left, right, it was a state of complete chaos, as though P’anku[2] had never awoken, and the heaven and sky had never been separated. Everything before them had become “empty.”
And even though Shen Liangsheng had not landed, he, too, was ensnared by the formation. Calm and composed, he did not immediately search for an exit but instead closed his eyes and felt the working of the formation in order to read its structure.
One spawns two. Two spawns three. Three spawns all things and all beings…”[3] Very soon, Shen Liangsheng opened his eyes and walked three paces forth. As he expected, a barrage of what seemed like all the blades in the world came flying at him. He remarked unemotionally, “What a death trap.”
Since he was prepared, he had activated his neikung as protection. Once, Huisheng-tashi had broken through this shield of his and dealt him a deadly blow, but that also sucked the monk dry of a century’s worth of cultivation. The storm of blades seemed boundless, but against his shield they became as lethal as feathers.
The creator of this formation evidently knew the intruders would not be that easy to repel, and after the blade rain ceased, the next attack was triggered. Metal spawns water, water spawns wood; in one moment, the world seemed to be swallowed in tidal waves, and in the next, huge logs were tumbling towards him. Man had limited power, and when it ran out, he would die in the trap.
Unfortunately for the defenders, Shen Liangsheng was not a normal man. After the second round of fire element attacks, he had a fairly good grasp of the workings of the formation. Not only did he feel confident, he even found it familiar.
“Ch’in Ching…” Once he reached the appraisal, his sword left its sheath, and he leapt not away but straight for the centre of the formation. Even he was surprised at the lack of fury within himself. Instead something unrelated came to mind – it appeared the man hadn’t been completely caught up with that girl and really did learn that book well.
“I wonder what he would have to say this time.” The centre was the crux of the entire formation, and the dangers only multiplied as he pressed forward, but he still had the luxury to ponder, “Will he let me stick a sword through him again like last time and then say ‘lesson learnt,’ or will he find some silly excuse for himself?”
“Ch’in Ching, do you really think I’d let this one go as easily as last time? Or do you truly believe I couldn’t bear to take your life?” With that, he started to feel his anger rising, but the next moment he recalled what the man had once said – Let’s say a day comes when you and I must face each other over life or death. Surely the one to die would be me while the one to live would be you – and for some reason it died down just as quickly as it had risen.
“If I knew he would get into such a mess, I would never have left him alone at his medicine hut. I would’ve taken him back to the sect and entrusted him to Miao Jan, then there wouldn’t be any of this!”
Shen Liangsheng had not wanted to take Ch’in Ching back to the sect for his own good – the Hsing Sect was a place easier to enter than to leave; the erstwhile herb retrieval was already a one-time occurrence – and now that regret had taken root, it meant he had subconsciously made his decision.
The man had predicted correctly. He couldn’t bear taking his life for something like this.

The centre was usually the place of security for the creator, so naturally the defence around it would be even more deadly.
Ch’in Ching’s formation, however, was quite peculiar. The centre had no more attacks; it was just a peaceful void.
Shen Liangsheng stepped into that tranquil space. The void was not completely black but grey like dusk on an autumn evening. And it was a foggy evening, slightly cool and moist.
A faint silhouette stood in the mist, and it became more defined with every step.
Eventually, it revealed its form.
In that moment, Shen Liangsheng was hit with the realization that it was all written in fate.
And his entire life had been but a prelude to three things – a summer shower, a glimpse of inky reeds, and one man.
For that man’s earnest gaze to find him, for his hand to reach towards him, and for the wheels of destiny to fall into place.

“Ch’in Ching.” Shen Liangsheng knew his voice harboured no temper or threat and did not expect to scare the man, but after a long time he received no response
He took a few more steps, and only then did he see – Ch’in Ching had never manned the formation himself. What he had seen were just false shapes and mirages.
“He sure disappeared quickly this time…” For once, Shen-hufa couldn’t tell if he wanted to frown or smile. He stopped in front of the figure and reached out his left hand. Sure enough, his fingers went right through the shadows without a hint of resistance.
Business was business, and he had to crack the formation. No more delays; he sliced through the figure with his sword. Channelling only a fraction of power through the blade, the mirage shattered into nothing.
With the centre destroyed, the formation was dissolved. The three saw each other again, naturally in a spot about thirty feet away from the pagoda. Shen Liangsheng did not appear very ruffled, but the two elders had a few scratches here and there.

“Greetings, Shen-shichu.”
The pagoda doors swung open, and Huisheng[4]-tashi stepped out alone with a dozen or so monks at attention behind him in what must have been the infamous Eighteen Arhats Formation.
“I am forever indebted to Huisheng-tashi for the precious lesson last time.” A weapon of destruction in hand, Shen Liangsheng was still so very polite in a way that made the two elders’ jaws hurt from clenching them. “It is my fortune in three lifetimes to be able to receive more invaluable knowledge from you again today.”
“You are too humble, Shichu. To be honest with you, the thing you seek is certainly in my hands. Only this item involves matters far greater, and I hope you will refrain from collecting more bloody sins for the sake of the lives under the heaven.”
“You overstate your words, Tashi. I only wish to retrieve what had been lost, but since you will not permit it, I will have to beg your pardon.” As he raised his sword, an aura of death amassed above, crushing the impending dawn. “Let us commence.”

[1] A title used by monks to refer to people still in the “mortal” world, literally “alms giver.”
[2] The creator of the universe in Chinese mythology.
[3] From Tao Te Ching by Laozi.
[4] This is a bug. The author has apparently mixed Huisheng and Huiming up. Either Huisheng died in Ch. 4 and this is Huiming, making the following conversation unreasonable, or Huisheng did not die and Ch. 4 and other details had been written falsely.

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ayszhang: Sorry for the late post again T_T I got sick on Wednesday and had two finals...

Edit: did nobody notice the dream sequence???

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