The Farewell Pavilion was meant for farewells. Zeng Jing held his wife in his arms and tried to comfort her. She turned to look at Sangsang again and again with tearful eyes and could not bear to be parted from her.
Sangsang still looked indifferent. She lowered her head to look at the stains of tears left by Zeng Jing’s wife. The stains immediately disappeared completely.
Ning Que looked at the faraway magnificent city and wondered, How could I find out a perfect way in which I would never let down the people in Chang’an or betray you?
On the threshing ground in a few miles to the south of the city, the Drunkard slowly put down his flagon. He looked at a distance, with a complex of emotions of sadness and confusion.
On the plateau of Peach Mountain numerous miles to the south of the city, the Abbey Dean sat on his wheelchair and looked into the blue sky outside the rock window. He sighed and said, “It seems Haotian does need our help,”
Long Qing asked, “What should we do?”
The Abbey Dean answered, “Haotian knows clearly what she needs to do. What we should do is to get her well prepared for what’s going to happen, for her destiny.”
The gates of Chang’an were firmly closed. There was no one in the surrounding fields. It looked clear, but no one knew that many were actually watching the Farewell Pavilion to the south of the city.
Sangsang knew that many people were watching her and waiting for her decision. She did not care because she was Haotian. She did not need to explain to anyone for whatever she did.
The big black horse automatically set the heavy black carriage on himself.
Getting into the carriage, Ning Que found that the Academy had prepared everything he needed. He took out something from a hidden drawer and inserted it into a crossing ling on the wall of the carriage. A very dim clear light appeared and the array set on the walls of the carriage was immediately activated. The iron carriage became as light as a feather.
When Sangsang got into the carriage, he was collecting his belongings: a black sword case, a black blade and a black umbrella. Being inside an iron black carriage, it was indeed like being in the night.
The black carriage proceeded on the straight road. It passed the graves of Yan Se and Wei Guangming, went through the fields of green reeds like wheat seedlings in spring, and arrived at the grassy meadows.
Beyond the grassy meadows there was a sky reaching mountain. In front of the mountain there was a unique and elegant building. In front of the building there was a newly restored archway. Sonorous sounds of reading came out from behind the archway.
“Do you want to go take a look inside the Academy again?” Ning Que looked at the familiar building and surroundings and asked Sangsang.
Sangsang did not answer but shook her head.
Suddenly the sounds of reading stopped. Remote and melodious music was played with the Chinese zither and bamboo flute, as if they were expecting a very important guest.
Ning Que got out of the carriage and saw his Brothers Ximen and Beigong who were respectively holding their zither and flute, his Seventh Sister and other Brothers, Professor Huang He and his female math professor who still wore a blue cloth gown. Somehow he found his eyes welled up with tears.
Sangsang sat inside the carriage and listened to the music of zither and flute quietly. After a long while, she finally lifted the blue curtain of the carriage and stepped onto the meadow among blossoming trees.
Many students came out from the Academy and stared curiously and confusedly at the black carriage on the meadow. They wondered who these people might be as they had awaken the entire Academy.
They were newly enrolled to the Academy this year. Ning Que knew none of them and none of them knew him. He said to the Fourth Brother, “Hope they will live longer lives.”
During the war against the Tang Empire two years ago, most of the students were either killed or seriously wounded. It did not matter whether they served in the army or in bordering cities. He took Sangsang on this journey around the human world and never gave up despite the pains and tortures he went through, just because he did not want to see that happen again.
The Fourth Brother looked at him and said, “That is up to you, Youngest Brother.”
Ning Que answered, “Don’t worry Brother, I will do my best.”
The Fourth Brother nodded to him with relief. Then he turned to Sangsang who stood under the blossoming trees and took a deep bow. All of the teachers and students of the Academy followed and bowed deeply.
Although they were hostile towards Taoism, most Tang people were still Haotian’s followers. Therefore, wherever Sangsang went, people who knew her would perform the most respectful salute and bowed almost to the ground.
The Academy was after all the Academy. They saluted to Haotian but they would never kneel to her. It was because she used to be one of them, and also because she was an enemy now.
When they bowed, they could no longer play the zither and flute, and the music was stopped.
Ximen Weiyang held his zither and stood up with tears in his eyes. He stared at Sangsang and his tears were finally shed. He sighed, “Why are you still alive?”
Sangsang replied emotionlessly, “I will never die.”
The Seventh Sister already placed a flower cloth on the meadow and settled the dishes they prepared on it. Upon hearing this she hastened. “Let them enjoy the meal first. They have a long way to go.”
Like what they had done in Linking in the South Jin Kingdom, people who had ever lived in the Academy always treated dining as the most important matter, even more important than Haotian.
Interestingly, it seemed Sangsang was still used to the lifestyle at the Back Hill of the Academy. She kept silent but sat down by the flowery cloth as Mu You said.
Ximen Weiyang wiped his tears and sat down by her side. He picked up the chopsticks and got all the vinegar-soaked cabbage heads into his own bowl. That dish used to be Sangsang’s favorite. He kept pushing them into his mouth without even chewing until it was fully loaded.
Then he started chewing very hard. The cabbages sounded crispy, but his eyebrows scrunched together. He seemed miserable either because of the sour or some unknown reasons.
Sangsang was a bit upset and that cheered up Ximen Weiyang. He thought, Although you are Haotian and although you could burn me into ashes with a single thought, there’s no way I can let you enjoy your meal today.
A farewell meal was not the last meal. It was not necessarily heartbreaking yet in no way pleasant. People from the Academy were worried that they might not be able to see Ning Que again once they leave. Otherwise they would have treated Sangsang with several swords instead of a meal.
The picnic on the meadow among blossoming trees was finished quickly. Sangsang got back into the carriage and the students left. Ning Que chatted with his Brothers and Sisters and was about to set off. Then, his Seventh Sister Mu You dragged him aside and murmured something. Upon her words he furrowed his eyebrows again.
“Where are we going?” Getting into the carriage, he asked Sangsang who seemed to be pretty exhausted.
Sangsang said, “To the west.”
Ning Que wondered after a pause, “Why is everyone going to the west?”
Sangsang asked, “Is Jun Mo already there?”
Ning Que said, “Second Brother went there for Buddhism. Why do you want to go to the Xuanzong Temple?”
Sangsang gave no explanation.
Ning Que recalled his sentiments when he was looking at the City of Chang’an from some distance. He seemed to have caught a glimpse of some idea. Is it true that everything has its own destiny? Where can I find a perfect way to not let anyone down?…Could that be Buddhism?
The iron wheels rolled tenderly on the rocky road among the meadows, making no sounds at all.
The black carriage headed west as if they were traveling back in time.
While Ning Que and Sangsang had just set off, someone had already arrived in the west.
To the very west of the Wilderness, there was a boundless cliff.
The cliff dived down into the underground with extreme steepness and spanned numerals miles.
Under the cliff there was a deep Giant Sinkhole. At the bottom of the Giant Sinkhole lied vast fields.
Right in the middle of the fields there was a magnificent mountain.
If this mountain was located above the earth, it was probably higher than Tianqi Mountain. However, because it was sunk in the Giant Sinkhole, people standing on the ground level could only see its lush peak.
Giant ancient trees flourished on the giant peak. Among the luxuriant forest scattered many yellow temples and halls. The collection of those temple and halls was the unknown place of Buddhism: Xuanzong Temple.
The Drunkard stood by the cliff and looked at the giant peak afar at his line of sight. He pondered for a long while and looked increasingly solemn.
In terms of time spent on cultivation, the Buddha started much later than him and the Butcher. However, as for the influence to the human world and the state they have reached, the Buddha had far surpassed him.
Just as the Abbey Dean had said, the Drunkard and the Butcher cultivated on human desires. They had reached the highest level that human beings could ever reach. However, the Buddha cultivated on himself. When he achieved nirvana, he had gone beyond the limitations of human beings.
When the Buddha gave teachings, the Drunkard never came to Xuanzong Temple. After the Buddha’s nirvana, he came twice but never entered, just like how he never entered the Divine Halls of West-Hill.
He could not help but feel disturbed.
Looking at the yellow temples and halls scattered in the mountain, he felt even more restless. He seemed to have realized that what the Abbey Dean said had unveiled some impossible truth.
Some clear but distant sounds of bells came from one of the temples on the peak. The bell sounds penetrated the dense forest and went beyond the buildings. They traveled all the way through the Giant Sinkhole and the Wilderness and into his ears.
There were two ways from Chang’an to the West Wilderness. One went directly to the west, crossing the Cong Ridge and Yuelun Kingdom then turning northwest west into the West Wilderness. The other went north into the Wilderness first, and then turned to the west.
Sangsang just said to the west. Ning Que chose the path to the north first because this road had many familiar sceneries and things and he hoped it could somewhat reach to her.
Going to the north, the black carriage crossed Hebei Prefecture and entered Min Mountain. They went by the place where he found Sangsang as an infant and the forest where the old huntsman used to live in. She never showed any sentiments.
Ning Que did not feel disappointed. He believed that Sangsang would eventually be touched one day and let her humanity overcome her divinity. When she becomes a real human, they would sing his songs together.
Of course they would not sing the “black pig” song, but rather the poem that was written for killing.
Ning Que kept his optimistic hopes until the carriage crossed North Mountain Road and arrived at the familiar dusty city. Then he realized that everything had changed.