The Ghost Slayer sits on the ground, and a moment later, he retains his usual composure, “the Pillar of Nature has been erected here for thousands and possibly millions of years. Sang Zan cleared the stone tablet, so logically the spirits imprisoned within should have been freed, but who would have thought… ghosts normally cannot cry, the spirits were screaming and wailing with the risk of shattering their own souls. Neither of us can withstand the force of their weeping, even the mountains may crumble.”
Zhao puts his hands behind his back and stands behind him in silence.
The Ghost Slayer says, “what happened exceeded my expectation.”
Zhao has yet to reply, and suddenly, his revealing mirror flashes and a rush of white swiftly emerges, pouncing towards the pillar at lightning speed with determination.
Her body has yet to leave the watch entirely, and from Zhao’s hand a transparent string grows out like spider silk, tightly securing Wang in place.
Wang is stunned. She lowers her head, and the man and ghost lock eyes with each other. Wang’s eyes are watery, but the talisman pushes her tears back. Zhao remains emotionless, appearing rather heartless.
“You ran away once under my watch, if I let you run away a second time, I will chop my head off and you can kick it like a ball.” Zhao says coldly.
Wang silently retracts a bit, and the spider silk is still restraining her.
Zhao stares at her with an unpleasant expression. Wang is scared, naturally, and looks down. Eventually, the Ghost Slayer pulls him back softly, and calmly advises, “Guardian, compose yourself, it’s best not to get mad.”
Zhao looks at him… he can reprimand his staff all he wants, but he has to show the Ghost Slayer some respect. He tries to be as calm as he can, and says to Wang, “you think if you sacrificed yourself to the Pillar of Nature you can appease the spirits? I don’t understand, do you really believe that ‘faith can move mountains’, or do you just want to become casserole?”
He started out nice, but he gets angrier and eventually howls, “are you stupid!?”
The red line round Wang’s neck grows brighter, and the talisman on her forehead flickers as she trembles. Her appearance is almost comical, like a silly zombie girl from a crappy horror flick, but nobody is laughing.
Zhao stops yelling; he finally let his anger out and begins to calm down. He sits beside the Ghost Slayer on the ground, and mercifully says to Wang, “you sit down too.”
The binding silk swivels in the air and transforms into a silvery chair, just big enough for one person to sit on.
Perhaps too much has happened in her life and afterlife, she doesn’t have the passion and rowdiness unique to ethnic minorities in the Northwest. She always seems depressed, silent, and withdrawn.
The girl’s dark hair hangs on both sides of her cheeks, floating in mid-air with no movement.
With much effort, Zhao finally manages to speak with a mild tone, and slowly says, “there are some things that outsiders can easily guess the whole truth about, do you know why?”
Zhao sighs, “that’s because it’s gonna happen no matter what; it’s fate. You cannot stop fate.”
Wang mutters, “you know?”
“I just understand people like Sang.” Zhao says, “for centuries the people had been enslaved, and nobody had ever rebelled. He was the first in his time, and he must have felt immense indignation. Such a courageous and elite man, he must have been fearless even in death, but he could not have let anyone hurt his pride. And a man’s pride has nothing to do with riches and fame; it only boils down to protecting his wife and children, and providing those he loves with a stable life, doesn’t it?”
As the Ghost Slayer hears this, he can’t help but ask, “is the Guardian the same?”
“I cannot control my fate,” Zhao cannot think of a reason why the Ghost Slayer would want to discuss something as trivial as this, and just says, “but if someone willingly and devotedly follows me, takes care of me and worries about me, and I can’t even protect them, then what kind of garbage am I? Would I deserve to be called human?”
The Ghost Slayer hides his hands in the sleeves, and tightly clenches his fists out of sight; he struggles to control his emotions. After a while, he says in a deep voice, “the Guardian is truly a romantic, one wonders who might be lucky enough to have that.”
“Eh?” Zhao is stunned by the flattery, and it certainly sounded strange coming from the Ghost Slayer. He laughs, “oh, don’t flatter me, Your Honour, I’m getting goosebumps.”
The Ghost Slayer lightly laughs, but doesn’t reply, and only says, “for the sake of his tribe, Sang bore a terrible crime, and took an immense risk to fight for the livelihood of the people. And he succeeded, he made the unlikely wish a reality, but he must not have anticipated what followed.”
Zhao says, “if I were him, and the person I loved died by the rules I set, I must have hated those people more than the old leader.”
“Not just that,” the Ghost Slayer looks up and through the smokescreen he created, staring at the towering pillar. He says softly, “not even a thousand bludgeonings would ease the anger.”
His tone exerts an appalling chill. Wang senses it and moves a little closer to Zhao.
Zhao asks, “did Sang see your execution?”
“They detained him.” Wang shakes her head, “that girl’s father said he was bewitched by me, and they locked him up for his own good.”
Zhao pauses for a moment, and then asks, “so Sang hid your body?”
“So, when you said you wanted to come back for your body and be properly buried, that was a lie?”
Wang drops her head, and after a while, she nods.
Zhao frowns and looks at her, then he looks away and says stiffly, “don’t let there be a next time.”
The Ghost Slayer sees that his attitude is softened, and continues, “and then Sang put your body into the water?”
Wang takes a deep breath, and says after a moment of silence, “yes. Our tribe believed that the mountains represent imprisonment and suppression, whereas the rivers represent thousand miles of light and freedom. When slaves or criminals died, they would be beheaded in the mountains. When the royals died, their bodies would be washed down the rivers. Sang dug up my head, and stole my body. He took the head of the girl who died accidentally, and swapped the two bodies. Then, he sewed my head and body together, and placed me into the girl’s corpse bag next to the river. He wept in front of my body all night. The next day, he watched as the people washed my body down the stream.”
She raises her head and runs her fingers softly across the red line round her neck. The stitches are tightly sewn, normally, it would appear frightening. Now, one somehow feels a wrench in the heart.
How did he feel when he was washing her face, when his fingers ran across her dead and pale profile, and when he had to sew her head and body together?
And perhaps, he never got the chance to tell her his true feelings that he always kept hidden.
How preposterous and ruthless time is; just a slight hesitation, and it will strip your life down. You will be left heartbroken, and there will be no turning back.
The two men beside her are silenced. They must be thinking about something.
“The river brought my body away but I never left,” Wang says, “I watched him. And he became another person. Originally, three people took turn to initiate voting among the tribe: Sang, the man who initiated my execution, and a respected elder. Sang married the granddaughter of the elder, and they worked together to frame the third. Two years later, the people voted for executing him.”
Zhao takes out a cigarette, and sniffs it.
“Another year passed. The elder passed away. Everyone thought he died of old age, but I saw Sang poisoning him.” Wang’s eyebrows twitch vigorously, it seems that she still cannot believe the truth… poison is the weapon of the cowardly; how did a brave warrior become a cunning coward who uses poison?
“Then his wife, and his son who was still learning to walk… his own flesh and blood,” Wang clutches at her vague white dress with her translucent fingers, “for every person he killed, he would behead them secretly, bury their heads at the mountaintop, and put a rock in their corpse bags so that their bodies would sink to the bottom of the river. Eventually, nobody in the tribe could oppose him anymore, and they all followed him with the illusion that they were making decisions out of free will. He became the new leader.”
An all-powerful leader who only wanted to destroy the tribe.
Then internal conflict arose, Sang would suppress them, but worsen the conflict behind the scenes…
The once righteous and courageous young man became a villain; the young man who held the body of his lover and wept for an entire night became cold- blooded and dangerous… just like how the dancing and singing people who only wanted to live a good life all raised their hands, and chopped off the head of an innocent girl, and even wished for her soul to be enslaved forever.
“Fifteen years after I died, a civil war broke out again. The people who used to be enslaved turned against each other and divided into two forces. This war was even more brutal than before. Corpses filled up the valley. Bloodied children wept next to the corpses. Vultures circled the air but didn’t swoop down… since Sang led the rest of the people to the ritual site, and started a fire. Standing in the flames, he pulled a switch under the stone tablet.”
Wang softly says, “the once cleared stone tablet had everyone’s names engraved on to it again. The flames burned brightly for a long time, scorching the entire valley. And the Pillar of Nature stood still, like a pillar of shame…”
The wails of ten thousand ghosts, it didn’t happen without a reason.