Happy Heroes 21 PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 11 July 2008 11:33

Chapter 20 – Death: The Sole Hardship Through All the Ages

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Guo DaLu told him, “What I most want to know is your secret.”

Yan Qi: “Me?... What secret would I have?”

Guo DaLu pressed, “The secret you wanted to tell me before you died.”

Abruptly, Yan Qi pulled his hand back and did not say anything. After a long while, with a hint of laughter in his voice, he finally responded, “You still have not forgotten about that?”

Guo DaLu chuckled, “In life or in death, I will not forget.”

Yan Qi was quiet for a long time again before answering in a low tone, “But I do not want to tell it to you anymore.”

Guo DaLu: “Why?”


Yan Qi: “No real reason. It’s just because… just because…”

Before he could finish his thought, in that boundless darkness in front of them, an eerie green phosphorus flame suddenly glowed. Ghost light! A shadowy figure seemed to materialize under that terrible greenish light. Perhaps it wasn’t a human shadow but a ghost’s shadow. It appeared to flutter as it stayed in that spot, as if it could neither touch the sky above or the ground below.

Guo DaLu blurted out in a loud cry, “Are you a human or a ghost?”

There was no answer. This shadow, still unknown whether it was human or ghost, all of a sudden drifted away from them. Regardless of whether it was a human or a ghost, it was still the only speck of light in that endless blackness. And as long as there was a bit of light, it was better than being in the dark.

Guo DaLu whispered in a hoarse tone, “Can you walk?”

Yan Qi: “Yes.”

Guo DaLu: “Let’s follow it, okay?”

Yan Qi sighed, “In any case, it cannot be any worse than our current situation.”

The ghost light was hovering in front, as if it was intentionally waiting for them. Guo DaLu found Yan Qi’s hand and clutched it firmly once again. “Hold on to me. You must not let go. Good or bad, we will be together.” They had not yet recovered their strength, and their bodies still felt a little numb, but in spite of this, they still managed to rise to their feet and follow the ghost light as it moved forward.

But what was up ahead? Was it heaven? Or hell? They did not know, nor did they care because they were at least able to walk together, hand in hand, to whatever lay ahead.

As they gradually recovered and were able to move faster, the ghost light in front of them also picked up its speed. Unexpectedly, like a shooting star, it gave a flash and then disappeared. All around, it was flooded with pitch blackness again. No light, no sound. All they could hear was the beating of their hearts. They were beating rapidly. Each of them could only sense the beating of his own heart. It was beating rapidly. They could both feel that the other’s palm was clammy.

Guo DaLu reassured, “You do not need to be frightened. If we really are dead already, what do we have to fear? And if we are not dead yet, then there is even less reason to be afraid.” When a person tells another to not be scared, in his heart, he, himself, is actually terribly scared.

Yan Qi: “Should we keep moving forward or should we turn back?”

Guo DaLu: “Are we ones to turn back?”

Yan Qi: “Alright. Good or bad, then, let us first charge ahead before we talk about it.” Their grip on each other’s hand grew even tighter as they forged onward with large steps.

Out of nowhere, a voice shouted, “Halt!” As the cry resonated, seven, eight spots of ghost light suddenly flashed alight in the darkness. Ominous looking flames floated in midair.

They could see that in front of them was a massive desk. On it was a brush [for writing] pot and a stack of notebooks. Were they books or ledgers? A person was sitting behind the desk, flipping through one of the notebooks. They could not see this person’s facial features. They could only vaguely make out that he seemed to have a very long beard, and on his head he wore a crown like those of ancient times. The ghostly shadow they had been following a moment ago was beside the desk. It still hung there, neither touching the sky nor the ground. In its hand, it seemed to be holding a very large wood tablet. Could that be the Tablet for Arresting Souls? Could this be Shen Luo Dian[10]? Was that Yama [*judge of the dead] sitting there? They did not know. Neither of them had been to Shen Luo Dian before, and neither of them had seen Yama. They could sense, though, a sinister, ghostly air that sent chills up their spines.


The Yama sitting before them spoke unexpectedly. The voice was chilling and carried an eerie air also. “The pre-destined lifespan of these two people have not come to an end yet. Why is it that they are here?”

The ghost shadow answered, “Because they have committed a crime.”

Yama: “What crime have they committed?”

Ghost shadow: “The crime of gluttony.”

Yama: “What is the seriousness of their crimes?”

Ghost shadow: “A gluttonous man, without a doubt, is a thief; a gluttonous woman is unquestionably a prostitute. The crime of gluttony, therefore, belongs in the seventh level of Hell, where for all eternity, they will not be allowed to eat until satiated.”

Guo DaLu suddenly yelled out, “Lying is an even greater crime and belongs in the Hell where tongues are yanked out…”

Yama palm came crashing down on the desk surface. “How dare you be so audacious in this place!”

Guo DaLu retorted, “You can be a human or you can be a ghost, but regardless, if you have wronged me, then I am left with no choice but to be audacious!”

Yama: “How have I wronged you?”

Guo DaLu snapped back loudly, “If you really are Yama, then you should know.”

Yan Qi unexpectedly exclaimed, “You at least should know one thing.”

Yama: “What is that?”

Yan Qi: “You can be the real Yama or you can be a fake one, but regardless, do not bother thinking that any information regarding Lin TaiPing’s whereabouts will be divulged from our mouths.”

As he declared this, Yama seemed to be slightly taken aback. Several moments passed before he stated ominously, “Even if I am a phony Yama, you are still truly dead.”

Yan Qi: “Oh?”

With a chilling laugh, Yama said, “You have already come here. Do you think that you will be able to go back alive?”

Yan Qi: “Whether we think that we can live is one matter, whether we will tell you anything is a different matter.”

Yama roared at him, “Would you rather die than say anything?”

Yan Qi: “We will not tell you means that we will not tell you.”

Yama gave a cold smirk. “Fine!” As this one word left his lips, all the flames suddenly disappeared, and all around them was a sheet of darkness once again.

Holding onto Yan Qi, Guo DaLu darted forward. At the same time, they both rushed ahead, and at the same time, they both crashed to the floor.

The desk in front of them was gone. Yama was gone. The ghost minions were gone as well. Aside from darkness, there was nothing. There were only two people. And these two people were either extremely smart or else extremely foolish.



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[10] Shen Luo Dian is in hell and is where Yama, the judge of the dead, resides. [shen luo = “many things connected together” or “continuing without bounds”; dian = a palace hall]

 

 

To the left was a stone wall. To the right was a stone wall. To the front was a stone wall. To the back was also a stone wall. Stone walls that were stronger than iron. They had finally realized that this place had transformed into a stone barrel. And so, they decided they might as well sit down.

After a long time, Guo DaLu let out a surprising chuckle. “You also noticed that that Yama was a phony?”

Yan Qi: “That Yama had to have been Madam Wei.”

Guo DaLu: “But Madam Wei does not have a beard.”

Yan Qi: “The beard was fake too. Everything was fake.”

Guo DaLu threw back his head and guffawed, “That person really is quite ludicrous. She actually thought up such an idiotic plan to try and fool us.”

Giggling, Yan Wi agreed, “Extremely ludicrous indeed.”

Though they were laughing, the sound of their laughter was not pleasant to listen to and was even worse than the sound of crying. This was because the whole situation was not ludicrous, not even the least bit, and the plan was not idiotic. If you had eaten a poisoned baozi, felt your limbs suddenly grow weak, watched as your friend’s face started turning black, collapsed unconscious, and then, when you came to, discovered that you were in a place such as this one, saw a ghostly shadow drifting above the ground, and even saw a long-bearded Yama wearing an ancient crown, would you think it was ludicrous?

Guo DaLu could no longer make himself laugh and moaned, “What she did may be ludicrous, but what she said is not.”

Yan Qi: “What did she say?”

Guo DaLu: “Yama may have been a phony, but we are no different from dead right now.”

Yan Qi: “Are you afraid of dying?”

With a sigh, Guo DaLu confessed, “I am indeed a little scared.”

All of a sudden, the flicker of a flame was seen, and it illuminated a large mound of bright yellow objects that shimmered with a golden light. Gold. Very few people in the world would ever have an opportunity to see so much gold. From the dark, a menacing voice rung out, “So long as you tell me, not only will I immediately release you, all this gold will also be yours.”

Guo DaLu jumped to his feet and cried defiantly, “Not telling, not telling, not telling!”

A sigh echoed out from the blackness. Then, nothing was visible, nothing was audible.

Another long while passed before Yan Qi spoke up. “Actually, you are not afraid of dying.”

Guo DaLu heaved a sigh. “No, I’m not. But… we are going to die for Lin TaiPing, yet he does not even know and may never know.”

Yan Qi: “Whatever you do for your friends, that is your own business. You should not need your friends to know.”

Guo DaLu chuckled, “I had been worried you would think that dying for this reason was not worthwhile. Who knew that you actually deserve to be called a true friend more than I do?”

Yan Qi was quiet for a long moment before sighing unexpectedly. “Perhaps it is not because I am a true friend, but rather, it is simply because I have thought through this thoroughly.” He explained, “In order to find Lin TaiPing, she will not hesitate to sacrifice anything at any cost.”

Guo DaLu: “It seems so.”

Yan Qi: “If she does not hold a deep enmity toward Lin TaiPing, why would she be willing to make such a sacrifice?”

Guo DaLu: “What I find odd is, Lin TaiPing is just a young boy. How can such an enmity exist between him and individual like her?”

Yan Qi: “This deep-seated hatred must have taken root in the previous generation. She wants to exterminate both the root and the branch and therefore, must kill Lin TaiPing too.”

Guo DaLu: “That makes sense.”

Yan Qi: “Since she knows that we are Lin TaiPing’s friends, of course she will not let us go. As a result, even if we disclose to her Lin TaiPing’s location, we still must die and possibly, we would end up dying even faster.”

Exhaling a lengthy sigh, Guo DaLu smiled bitterly and said, “Now that you have reminded me of all that, I feel that I am actually not as good a friend as I have claimed to be.”

Yan Qi: “You had actually considered these points too?”

Guo DaLu: “If you had not reminded me, I would have forgotten.”

Yan Qi: “How could you forget?”

Guo DaLu: “If you deliberately avoid thinking about something, is that not equivalent to forgetting it?”

Yan Qi: “But why would you deliberately avoid thinking about it?”

Guo DaLu: “Because, that way, I can believe that I really am a true friend. When I die, I will be able to think that I am a bit nobler than other people.

Yan Qi chortled, but there was a trace of misery in the sounds of his giggles. After a lengthy period of time, he said hesitantly, “You actually have always been a little nobler than other people.”

It seemed that Guo DaLu wanted to hop to his feet. “I’m noble? You think that I’m noble?”

Yan Qi: “Nobody is born a hero. Heroism is usually forced upon people. Everyone understands this principle, yet people still cannot help fooling themselves. Only you…” He let out a light sigh, then continued slowly, “You not only are willing to admit this, you also dare to say it out loud.”

Guo DaLu: “This… this could be because I am more thick-skinned than most people.”

Yan Qi: “This definitely is not being thick-skinned. It is…”

Guo DaLu: “Is what?”

Yan Qi: “Courage! This is courage. Very few people have this courage.”

Laughing, Guo DaLu remarked, “I never thought there would be a time when you would praise me. Are you purposely trying to comfort me so I will feel a little better?

Yan Qi did not respond and only grasped his hand tightly. That ice-cold hand seemed to have gradually gotten warmer. Another long while passed before Guo DaLu broke the silence. He spoke slowly as he told Yan Qi, “We have actually not known each other for a very long time, but I always felt that you are the best friend I have ever had in my life. Wang Dong is also my best friend, yet the feelings I have for you are different from what I feel about him.”

In a hushed tone, Yan Qi asked, “How are they different?”

Guo DaLu: “I cannot tell you how they’re different. It’s just… it’s just… If Wang Dong did something that wronged me, I would forgive him without any hesitation. But if you wronged me, I would be livid.” These feelings truly were difficult to fathom. It was no wonder that he could not explain them with words.

The tips of Yan Qi’s fingers seemed to be trembling, as if he was overcome with emotion. It was unfortunate that Guo DaLu could not see the expression on his face; otherwise he might have realized a lot of things. But not knowing was a good thing also. That blurry, indiscernible feeling was in some ways even more beautiful, more wondrous. It was a pity that they did not have much time remaining to relish in that feeling.

Yan Qi suddenly spoke in a tentative tone, “I still would like to know one thing, but I’m not sure whether I should ask.”

Guo DaLu: “Ask. No matter what the words may be, you can say anything to me.”

Yan Qi: “Supposing that Madam Wei really was willing to release us and was really going to give us all that gold, would you then reveal Lin TaiPing’s location to her?”

Guo DaLu did not answer his question directly. Speaking each word deliberately, he responded, “I only know that gold one day will be spent and each person one day will be met by death. But friendship and morals will forever be present.” He gave a little laugh before carrying on, “It is because these things still exist in this world that man can be considered different from other animals.”

Yan Qi breathed a long, sad sigh. “I seem to rarely hear you say words like these. From morning to night, you always wear a cheeky grin on your face. I never thought that you knew how to say such a principle.”

Guo DaLu: “Some principles need not be uttered from the lips.”

Yan Qi: “But if you don’t say them, how can anyone know what kind of person you are?”

Guo DaLu: “I don’t need anyone else to know. As long as my friends know, as long as you know, then that is sufficient.” With a giggle, he said, “And now, I also have something that I would really like to know.”

Yan Qi: “Is it that secret that I still have not told to you?”

Guo DaLu: “Correct answer.”

Yan Qi: “You… you still have not forgotten about it?”

Guo DaLu chuckled, “I already told you: in life or in death, I will not forget it.”

For a long moment, Yan Qi was silent. Finally, he responded softly, “There have actually been many times when I wanted to reveal this secret, but I was scared that, the instant I said it out, I would regret it.”

Guo DaLu inquired, “Why would you regret it?”

Yan Qi quavered, “Because… because I am scared that once you know, you will not be my friend.”

Squeezing Yan Qi’s hand, Guo DaLu assured him, “Don’t worry. No matter what type of person you are, no matter what you have done in the past, I will always be your friend.”

Yan Qi: “Honest?”

In a loud voice, Guo DaLu started to swear, “Should I have spoken even half a sentence that was untruthful, may I suffer a terrible…”

Before the word, “death” could slip off his lips, Yan Qi had already covered his mouth and said gently, “Alright. I will tell you. I am actually a…”

Suddenly, another bright spot glowed out of the darkness and cast light upon a very strange object. It looked like an iron tube, black and about as thick as a large bowl, supported on a wooden rack.

And then, Madam Wei’s voice resonated, “Do you recognize what that is?”

Guo DaLu: “Nope.”

Madam Wei cackled, “So it seems you are not only stubborn but ignorant as well.” This sentence had just finished when, all of a sudden, the roar of an explosion was emitted from the iron tube, so loud it seemed as if the heavens were collapsing and the earth was cracking. Guo DaLu’s ears felt like they were fast becoming deaf from the quaking boom.

It seemed like half a day had passed before they could open their eyes again. In all directions, all they could see was a smoky haze. A large opening had been smashed into the stone wall opposite of the iron tube. Madam Wei’s voice was heard again. “You should know now what that is.”

Guo DaLu exhaled a long, shaky breath and asked, “Is that possibly a cannon?”

Madam Wei laughed and replied, “You have finally gotten a little smarter.” The cannon was moving and it turned so that its mouth was pointed directly at Guo DaLu and Yan Qi. “Would you like a taste of this cannon’s strength?”

Guo DaLu: “Nope.”

Madam Wei: “Then hurry and tell me..”

Guo DaLu: “No.”

Madam Wei: “Perhaps you do not yet know how powerful a cannon like this is.”

Guo DaLu: “I know.”

Madam Wei: “What do you know?”

Guo DaLu: “I have heard that such cannons are used to besiege cities, and no matter how solid a city wall may be, it still will not be able to withstand the attack.”

In amusement, Madam Wei challenged, “And if a city wall cannot stop it, don’t tell me you think you can.”

To her surprise, Guo DaLu doubled over in laughter. “Now you are the one who doesn’t understand. My skin is much thicker than a city wall.”

Enraged, she bellowed at him, “You really are not going to divulge anything to me?”

Guo DaLu did not even seem to want to bother putting in the effort to reply. He turned his head and looked intently at Yan Qi. Yan Qi’s gaze was like water, soft and tender, but his voice was hard as steel as he stated resolutely, “Counting yesterday’s incident, I have already died eight times, so what is the big deal in dying a ninth time?” “Death” itself has always been the most difficult and terrifying thing, yet when he spoke about it, he seemed very at ease with it.

Guo DaLu gave a sudden sigh and grasped Yan Qi’s hand. “I still have one regret that remains.”

Yan Qi’s tone was gentle as he reassured, “I know, but in life or in death, I will make sure I tell you what it is.”

His face brightening when he heard this, Guo DaLu declared with a wide smile, “If that is the case, what else is there in this life that I cannot let go of?”

Madam Wei smirked coldly, “Fine. Then go die.”

The mouth of the cannon was aimed at Guo DaLu and Yan Qi. “Bang!” Another thunderous blast resounded, like the heavens were crumbling and the earth was shattering. As the dust cleared, two people could be seen, crumpled together in a pile on the ground…



Some people say death is very difficult. Others say it is very easy.

What do you say?



End of Chapter 20