Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Living to Suffer - ch1

Translator: ayszhang
Editor: Marcia

Living to Suffer chapter 1
The prequel to TDDUP



I


As he faded in and out of consciousness, Shen Liangsheng caught the sound of rain hitting an umbrella. Showers in the summertime were swift and heavy, and when the droplets hit the canopy, they were like booming war drums rousing him out of his dreamlike state.
The first thing he saw after his eyes blinked open was the underside of an oil-paper umbrella painted with yellow reeds. The art was realistic and conveyed the plant’s submission to the elements.
He heard someone saying, “This rain will not last long. It should be ceasing soon,” and immediately tried to reach for his sword. Ch’in Ching, who was holding the umbrella and watching him, noticed the man’s twitching fingers. He leaned in closer.

There were no signs of human activity in these deserted hills other than the two of them. The heavily wounded Shen Liangsheng had come upon this abandoned shrine and attempted to enter in order to escape the rain and tend to his injuries. Unfortunately, his body gave out before he could do so, and he collapsed at the entrance.
The t’uti[1] shrine had long ago been abandoned and was so deteriorated the door had caved in and was lying askew in the mud. Shen Liangsheng had tripped on it, fallen on its wooden boards and lost consciousness for about half the time of a burned incense stick.[2]
The blood flow was too profuse to be washed away by the rain. The scarlet seeped into the boards and welled up again with the rainwater from the cracks in the wood. Rich and fresh, it was not unlike a new coat of vermillion paint on the bottom of a coffin.
Seeing this pitiful man hovering between life and death, Ch’in Ching was hesitant but still asked frankly, “What is your name? It’d be easier to erect a tombstone for you if you die.”
While Ch’in Ching was speaking, Shen Liangsheng was calling upon his core ch’i.[3] Every pathway in his body was in pain as though a thousand blades were grinding against his insides, and he could not make a sound.
Receiving no response, Ch’in Ching assumed that the man did not want to end his life here, so he nodded and remarked, “Indeed, it is better to stay alive than not.”

Although he was in excruciating pain, Shen Liangsheng did not want to pass out again, so he forced himself to stay conscious and made eye contact with Ch’in Ching.
Ch’in Ching looked back at the man and saw no signs that the man desired rescue, nor did he find any pride or stubbornness. The man’s eyes were cold and still like icy ponds reflecting his silhouette – half-bent, holding an umbrella with one hand and scratching his head with the other, all while staring intently, almost dumbly, back at the man.
Ch’in Ching coughed and straightened his back wanting to recover his image as a dignified and otherworldly figure, but even he himself wanted to laugh at the attempt, which led him to cough once more before speaking in a serious tone. “I inspected your pulse earlier. With the internal and external wounds, you are essentially on your last breath, but worry not, I am not one to leave a patient in need. Only if I were to move you…I’m afraid you might not survive the trip. What say you?”
As the hufa[4] of an esoteric sect, Shen Liangsheng had an extraordinary pulse and ch’i. He knew that his injuries were not as severe as the man thought and that it actually would be difficult for him to die even if he were to lie here and be rained on for another day and night, let alone from being moved.
Shen Liangsheng considered his choices. If he were to light his sect’s signal flare, there was no telling whether it would attract friend or foe, so it would be best to save this option for the direst of situations. At present, there was someone willing to rescue him, so he was going to let the man do so. As for the man’s background and the sincerity of his actions, he would have to wait and see.
Ch’in Ching watched the man give the tiniest nod after some silence and took it as consent to proceed. He then closed the umbrella and tucked it under his arm before bending down in an attempt to lift the man. Unfortunately, Ch’in Ching was not particularly skilled in martial arts, and the bit that he knew used techniques that were highly dependent on agility and using the opponent’s force against him. When it came to raw strength, he was not much different than someone with no martial arts knowledge at all. He truly did not have it in him to carry a man close to his own height while holding an umbrella under his arm at the same time, so he heaved a sigh and abandoned the umbrella. Using the full strength of both arms, he hoisted the man up. “Whew, that’s heavy.”
Eyes closed in a resting state, Shen Liangsheng felt the man activate his ch’ingkung[5] for the trip ahead and thought to himself, what terrible technique. If this was a portrayal of the man’s skills as a doctor, then he likely would have to cure himself. With that, he stopped paying attention to the man and the bumpy journey and began reciting his own secret mantra to heal his wounded pathways.
The name of this mantra was The Emptiness of the Five Skandhas. Although the name had its origins in the Buddhist text, the Heart Sūtra,[6] it was merely borrowed and the content had nothing to do with the neikung[7] of the Buddhist sects.[8] The essence of the mantra, however, was indeed emptiness. While activated, the ability slowed the practitioner’s pulse to a near stop. It was written in the sect’s scriptures that, at the highest level, one could sustain a state of feigned death for a century with only the tiniest shred of ch’i endlessly circulating within the body, and when revived, his power would be multiplied a hundred times over, achieving invincibility.
The name Shen Liangsheng may sound effeminate, but he was inexpressive and hard-hearted exactly as its literal meaning suggested. He had remarkable inner strength that made him exceptionally well-suited to practise this mantra. Although he had not advanced since achieving the seventh stage, when he activated the ability his pulse would become as slow and faint as that of a person seconds away from death.
With no knowledge of this, Ch’in Ching only noticed that the man in his arms was breathing more and more softly. He accelerated his already rushed pace as despondency began creeping in. Although they were total strangers, he had given his word to save him, and because of that he could not simply watch the man die in his arms.
Indeed, the summertime shower did not last long. The rain gradually eased up, and the sun appeared in the horizon. The forest, flecked with gold and reverberating with bird chirps and frog croaks, contrasted starkly with the lack of life in Ch’in Ching’s arms. He looked down at the man to find his face as pale as paper, lips drained of colour. Yet, his expression was tranquil and devoid of pain.
Better that than a painful one, Ch’in Ching thought. Man had to go through life suffering more or less. That the man could die without awareness of death and be relieved of any suffering was his fortune.[9]
Ch’in Ching looked up. His medicine hut was beyond another hill, and he doubted that the man could last until then. His arms were sore, and he was having trouble carrying the man’s weight. If he woke the man, he would only suffer, so Ch’in Ching made a quick stop and shifted the man in his arms to get a better grip.
Shen Liangsheng was meditating but still retained some awareness of his surroundings. Feeling Ch’in Ching stop, he opened his eyes thinking they had arrived but only found Ch’in Ching frowning at him. The next moment, however, Ch’in Ching pulled a crooked smile after seeing Shen Liangsheng’s eyes.
“Only a little bit more to go,” he soothed. “Are you sleepy? You can rest a while longer.”
In his twenty-six years of life, the hufa had never had anyone speak to him like a child. After only a moment, he noticed the unpleasant emotions on his face and realized that the man most likely thought he was on his last burst of energy before death. Under the shadowy sunlight, he even spotted what looked like a tear streak stretching from the corner of his eye down the cheek.
He decided to reply, “My thanks.”
Shen-hufa was hardly a good man, yet amongst the wicked he was a gentleman. Even when taking a life, he did not neglect etiquette – leaving behind a polite “Pardon me” after cutting a hole through someone – causing his fellow sect members to grind their teeth in frustration.
Hearing the man’s gratitude, Ch’in Ching cracked a wry smile, hoping that the man was not unintentionally thanking him for preparing his funeral. He felt disheartened inside, but the smile on his face only widened.
Shen Liangsheng discontinued the healing process with the mantra because firstly, the pain had subsided and secondly, haste makes waste. Since he was not in a rush, he calmly began to study the man speeding along with him in his arms. He felt absolutely no gratitude. The world was filled with various types of goodness and beauty, and also many kinds of evil and pain – ‘tis the natural way. Whether something was good or evil was of no consequence to him, for he saw it all as he would the sun and moon, or the grass and trees. He did not know what it meant to be moved.
“Hm?” After a pot of tea’s time,[10] Ch’in Ching began to notice the man’s breathing had become steadier and deeper, not typical of one who was breathing his last, and found it extraordinary. He looked down with a smile, “It appears your time has not come.”
After extensive observation, the only thing on Shen Liangsheng’s mind was that the man had not cried. It was but a long scar, thread-thin and shallow, descending from the corner of one eye like a tear streak. Only under careful examination did the truth present itself.
A scar like this did not mar the face but rather added a unique twist to the man’s otherwise unremarkable complexion. Specifically when his lips curved upwards, the scar turned his face into a smiling sob, or perhaps it was a sobbing smile.




[1] T’uti literally means “soil and land” and refers to the gods/deities that reside in the local area.
[2] A unit of time formerly used in China. It is the time it takes an incense stick to burn halfway.
[3] The essence of a living being.
[4] Usually one of four guardians of a sect and the second highest position in the organization. The term derives from the Four Heavenly Kings of Chinese Buddhism.
[5] A technique aimed at enabling the practitioner to scale walls or vertical structures with little or no aid, similar to parkour. This technique has been exaggerated in the wuxia genre to include superhuman abilities like flying and levitation.
[6] An important Buddhist scripture written between 150 and 350 CE, the Heart Sutra is a meditation on the emptiness and impermanence of the world. Many scholars believe it was first written in Chinese before being translated to Sanskrit.
[7] A mainly fictional concept unique to the wuxia genre based on the Chinese concept of ch’i. It is said to be the practice that cultivates strength within the body that in turns forms the basis for external (physical) strength. Someone with great internal strength would consequently also have great physical strength.
[8] The Shaolin Sect and other Buddhism-based martial arts sects.
[9] Specifically, fortune that he had collected through doing good deeds.
[10] Another unit of time, the amount of time it takes to drink a pot of tea.

Painting, reeds

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Name analysis:

(shen): juice; almost always in modern use a family name or abbreviation of Shenyang.
(liang): cool, to cool
(sheng): life, to live, to give birth, to grow; unknown, stranger; raw, unprocessed

(ch’in): name of feudal state and dynasty, theorized origin of the name “China”
(ching): respect, to respect, to perform (rituals, ceremonies, etc)

Further reading:

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ayszhang: Hello everybody! I am back, and I've got many delicious stories for you to consume in the very near future :D 

LTS will be updated weekly on Wednesday.

I am going to be in Chicoutimi, Quebec from May 15 - June 16, Quebec City June 17-18, Montreal June 19-21. Then my prospective plans are Ottawa June 22-24, Toronto June 25-28, Waterloo June 29 - July 2. If I have any readers in that region who wants to meet up (and maybe show me around ;), you are welcome to shoot me a message.


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Living to Suffer - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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